Temimus and Deveiqus

The mitzvah of Beris Milah is introduced with the words, “אֲנִי קֵל שַׁקַּי, הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי וֶהְיֵה תָמִים — I am Kel Shakai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.”

To me, this pasuk addresses the focus of the most basic open question in Jewish philosophy. Clearly the attention of Yahadus is on keeping mitzvos. But what is the goal of following mitzvos? What is the goal of life, that mitzvos are to help us accomplish?

How are we supposed to read the quote? Is the walking before G-d that is primary, and being whole a side-effect? Or, is being whole the focus of the pasuq, and walking before G-d is a means to reach that temimus? On a deeper level, these two approaches are different aspects of the same idea. A person lives in tension between his spiritual and physical sides — neshamah vs. guf. To achieve wholeness, so that the entire person is working harmoniously, he would necessarily be serving his spiritual goal, and walking in Hashem’s path. In reverse, if one strives for deveiqus to a singular G-d, how could he be a chaotic battleground of warring urges? Cleaving to G-d forces His priorities to be yours, leaving temimus.

This is not to say that there is no distinction in approach. By stressing different elements, there are profound practical implications. For example, consider the debate between Chassidim and non-Chassidim on the importance of davening in the appointed times. We should be clear that the Chassidic position is that one must invest time to prepare for davening, even if this is at the expense of timeliness — it is not blanket permission to ignore the clock.

Chassidus is a deveiqus-based hashkafah. Therefore, when weighing the relative merits, it is more important to be able to invest time to prepare one’s mind and heart for the act of tephillah, for relating to Hashem, than when the tephillah actually begins.

To someone with a temimus orientation, however, zehirus, meticulousness, care in how each facet of the mitzvah is done, is the more important consideration. Zerizus, haste to do what’s right, is an important middah (personality trait). Both come into play when considering the timeliness of tefillah.

Both Mussar and Chassidus saw a predecessor in the Ramchal. I think this too is possible because the Ramchal appears to echo the Torah’s dialectic. For example, they have two contrasting ways of understanding the beginning of the first chapter of Mesilas Yesharim:

יסוד החסידות ושרש העבודה התמימה הוא שיתברר ויתאמת אצל האדם מה חובתו בעולמו ולמה צריך שישים מבטו ומגמתו בכל אשר הוא עמל כל ימי חייו. והנה מה שהורונו חכמינו זכרונם לברכה הוא, שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ה’ ולהנות מזיו שכינתו שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא. ומקום העידון הזה באמת הוא העולם הבא, כי הוא הנברא בהכנה המצטרכת לדבר הזה. אך הדרך כדי להגיע אל מחוז חפצנו זה, הוא זה העולם. והוא מה שאמרו זכרונם לברכה (אבות ד): העולם הזה דומה לפרוזדור בפני העולם הבא.

 

The foundation of saintliness and the root of perfect service [of G-d] is in a person obtaining clarity and realizing the truth of what is his duty in the world, and to what he has to set his sights and aspirations in all of his activities all the days of his life. This is what Chazal taught us, that a person was created for nothing but finding pleasure in God and enjoy the splendor of His Presence; for that is the true pleasure and greatest joy of all forms of enjoyment that can be found. The true place where this pleasure may be derived is the World to Come, which was expressly created to provide for it; but the path to the object of our desires is this world, as our Sages of blessed memory have said (Avos 4:21), “This world is like a corridor to the World to Come.”

So the question becomes what is the nature of this “corridor”? We cannot get the full pleasure of Hashem’s presence in this world. So, do we try our best to achieve deveiqus, connection to Him, in this world and thereby earn success in the world to come? Or is the purpose of this life to refine oneself to be capable of as much connection — and therefore as much enjoyment — in the next world, and that refinement is significantly different than connecting itself?

I would suggest that Chassidus sees itself in Mesilas Yesharim because they take the former stance, whereas Mussar sees itself because of the latter interpretation. This ambiguity is possible also because the middos listed in the beraisa of Pinechas ben Yair which the Ramchal uses as his list of topics for the rest of the text is on the one hand an exercise in self-refinement, but on the other hand framed as a latter up to holiness, Divine Inspiration (Ruach haQodesh) and the revival of the dead (Techiyas haMeisim).

As the Ramchal writes later in the chapter:

ואמנם ראוי לו שתהיה כל פנייתו רק לבורא יתברך, ושלא יהיה לו שום תכלית אחר בכל מעשה שיעשה אם קטן ואם גדול אלא להתקרב אליו יתברך ולשבור כל המחיצות המפסיקות בינו לבין קונו, הן הנה כל עניני החומריות והתלוי בהם, עד שימשך אחריו יתברך ממש כברזל אחר אבן השואבת. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא אמצעי לקורבה הזאת, ירדוף אחריו ויאחז בו ולא ירפהו. וכל מה שיוכל לחשוב שהוא מניעה לזה, יברח ממנו כבורח מן האש.

 

It is indeed fitting that his every inclination be towards the Creator, may His Name be blessed, and that his every action, great or small, be motivated by no purpose other than that of drawing near to the Blessed One and breaking all the barriers (all the earthy elements and their concomitants) that stand between him and his Possessor, until he is pulled towards the Blessed One just as iron to a magnet. Anything that might possibly be a means to acquiring this closeness, he should pursue and clutch, and not let go of; and anything which might be considered a deterrent to it, he should flee as from a fire.

Deciding what is of value in this world in terms of what brings us closer or further from G-d became the centerpiece of Chassidic thought. Whereas the Mussarist would see a couple of sentences later:

…כיון שביאתו לעולם אינה אלא לתכלית הזה, דהיינו, להשיג את הקירבה הזאת במלטו נפשו מכל מונעיה ומפסידיה.

 

… Since our coming to [this] world is for nothing but this goal, which is to obtain this closeness by rescuing his soul from all the deterrents to and detractors from it.

And so they can conclude that no, the Ramchal is talking about dealing with those issues now, in the corridor, to enable true cleaving to G-d in the World to Come.

Perhaps this plurality is the whole point of the Torah’s doubled phraseology. Because there are two groups of approaches to the same ends, we don’t want to eliminate one in favor of the other. Each person can pick out a derekh that best suits him — as long as he aims for the proper goal.

Torah im Small Jugs

What is the role of the laws of business listed in Choshein Mishpat (the quarter of the Tur and Shulchan Aruch on financial matters)?

One approach could be that working for income is a necessary evil. It’s Hashem’s punishment to Adam for eating the forbidden fruit — “with the sweat of the brow shall you eat bread” (Bereishis 3:19). However, by following these laws these activities are kosher, they are rendered permissible.

But if all it offered were the ability to deal with a necessary evil, we would have difficulty understanding a gemara about this week’s parashah.

Yaaqov crosses his family and almost all of his belongings across the river, and has to return for some small vessels. There, on the far side of the river, he encounters and battles an angel until dawn.

“And Yaaqov was left alone.” (Bereishis 32:25) R. Eleazar said: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars. From here [we learn] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body. Why [do they care] so greatly? Because they do not extend their hands to robbery.

- Chullin 91a

At first this is very hard to understand. Are tzaddiqim, righteous people, supposed to be that materialistic? However, as we see from the answer, it’s not the monetary value of their belongings, but their spiritual value that holds the attraction. It is their sanctity that holds the attraction. It is their sanctity of being acquired within the laws of Choshen Mishpat. The Gemara teaches that the honest business deal is not a concession to reality, but part of the ideal.

This can be understood using the approach of Rav Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg, the author of the Seridei Eish. In a memorial volume, he explains that Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s motto of Torah im Derekh Eretz (TIDE)– Torah with the way of the world – is about the proper marriage between the Torah and the “real world”. The union between Torah and Derech Eretz in that tiny word “im” is not haphazard. In a collection of essays titled “HaRav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch Mishnaso veShitaso“, Rav YY Weinberg writes:

The Torah, according to Rav Hirsch, is the force that gives form. Form, to Aristotle’s thought, means a thing’s essential nature — in distinction to the substance from which it is embodied. Derech Eretz is merely the matter on which Torah works.

In Aristotelian physics, all objects are composed of two things: substance and form. Substance is the inherent matter. In Greek, the word for substance is “hyle”. The Ramban uses this term in his commentary on Bereishis 1:1. The initial beri’ah ex nihilo in v. 1 was of shapeless hyle, which was then given form during the yetzirah of the rest of the chapter. Form is the shape and other properties the substance takes on. But as the design adage goes, “Form follows function.” An object is shaped to serve an intended function. Form is not only the shape that the object assumes, but also its use and its goal.

When the Torah speaks of qedushah, it usually uses the preposition “le-“, “to”. The kohen gadol wore a tzitz that reads “Qadosh laShem“, “sanctified to G-d”. In the marriage formula, the chasan tells the kallah that she is thereby “mequdeshes li“, “consecrated to me”. We use the term “qadosh” when something is consecrated for a particular function, from something assuming a Form.

Torah defines the goal of our lives, the function for which we were created. It therefore dictates the form that we give the things we do. The resulting life has qedushah. To Yaaqov Avinu, his possessions were holy because they were the substance to which he applied the Torah’s blueprint.

It indicates that the halachic business deal is not a concession to reality, but part of the ideal. Observance of the laws of Choshein Mishpat doesn’t merely render these activities kosher, it’s maqdish, it brings sanctity, it makes even business dealings sacred.

When we look at Eisav in this light, the see that he took the exact opposite approach. The Torah (Bereishis 25:28) explains Yitzchaq’s attraction to Esav with “ki tzayid befiv” which the medrash (quoted by Rashi ac loc) understands to mean “he used his mouth to ensnare”. Esav would impress his father with shows of religiosity, asking questions like the correct way to tithe salt, knowing full well that salt isn’t tithed.

Seforno understands this pasuk not to mean that Yitzchaq loved Eisav instead of Yaaqov, but rather that “Yitzchaq also loved Eisav even though he knew he was not as whole as Yaaqov.” Yitzchak originally dreamed that his sons would live together in a partnership – Yaaqov would study Torah and Eisav would provide the means with which to do so. Eisav did commit himself to the land, but he became an ish sadeh, a person who is defined by the field, rather than learning the proper path in this world, derekh eretz. He therefore fit the Torah to his own purposes, inverting the form and the substance.

To Eisav, Torah was a tool, something you manipulate, to gain material ends.

Rashi quotes Bereishis Rabba (32:25) that the identity of the angel battled was the guardian angel of Esav’s children, the nation of Edom. The confrontation between Yaaqov and Edom’s mal’akh was a fundamental event about the relationship between the idealism of Torah and the realism of being in this world. When Yaaqov embodied the proper relationship of physical and spiritual, when he saw the holiness one can imbue even the purchasing of small jars, that was when he faced the specter of Eisav.

The Avos Kept the Torah

There is a 3 way dispute on Yuma 28b about whether the avos kept all of halakhah, or just those mitzvos already given:

  • Rav: The avos kept the entire Torah
  • R’ Ashi: … even the rabbinic enactments!
  • R Shimi bar Chiya: Avraham only kept the 7 mitzvos benei Noach and beris Milah. (If we’re talking all three avos, presumably the only variation is Yaaqov and his sons keeping gid hanasheh.)

The discussion amongst rishonim is generally found surrounding the verse Bereishis 26:5.

Famously, Rashi holds like Rav Ashi. And this maximalist position has grown to be considered “normative” in many circles. It requires explaining — how did the avos know the Torah’s mitzvos before Sinai and rabbinic rulings and legislation years before the sages who made these decisions did? Did they hold like Rav Moshe Feinstein or Rav SZ Aurbach?  Did they say “morid hatal” in Shemoneh Esrei? (And what does that say, if anything, about the free will of the rabbinate? Or, for that matter, of the notion that both sides of a true halachic dispute are right, each in their own way?)

However, it should be noted that among rishonim, asserting Rav or Rav Ashi’s position as literally true was in the minority. Most rishonim (see discussions on Bereishis 26:5) hold like Rav Shimi bar Chiya. Including: the Rambam (Melachim 9:1), his son R’ Avraham, the Me’iri (intro to Avos), the Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra, Radaq, Chizquni and the Rama (okay, not a rishon). Note the inclusion of the Ramban and Ramba in that list — it’s not just the usual list of names of staunch rationalists rejecting the maximalist position.

A consequence of the rise of the liberal movements is that maximalist hashkafic positions are pushed in some circles so as to avoid their mistake of compromise. Another consequence which feeds this is a focus on studying halakhah to the exclusion of machashevah. (There are other consequences too, but I’ll stick with the relevant ones.) Between these effects, people see Rashi and think that anyone who holds a position embraced by R’ Shimi Bar Chiya, rishonim of both sides of the qabbalah-scholasticism divide, and the Rama is watering down their Torah.

More recently (relatively speaking — going back 110 years or so), a different position emerged — siding like Rav Ashi, but assuming that he didn’t mean that they literally followed every detail.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner writes (Nefesh haChaim 1:21) that the avos were in tune with the needs of their souls, and could see the spiritual impact in all the worlds by their actions, and were thus able to intuit the Torah. And then he concludes that this is why Noach and the avos were not given the Torah. Because, for example, Yaaqov could not marry two sisters nor accomplish the spiritual / metaphysical repairs thereby had the prohibition been commanded already. According to R’ Chaim Volozhiner, “kept the entire Torah” refers to accomplishing the goals of the entire Torah, not that each law of each mitzvah was observed.

R MM Schneerson’s (the 7th Lub Rebbe’s) understanding of R’ Yoseif Yitzchaq Schneerson’s (his father-in-law and predecessor’s) position (Sefer haMaamarim 5697, pg 282, hagah titled “beruchnius velo begashmius“), is similar. That Rav and R’ Ashi aren’t being fully literal and they mean the avos accomplished the spiritual objectives of the mitzvos, and not that for every mitzvah did they physically fulfill it as we would.

Whereas it would seem that most rishonim did understand Rav Ashi literally, whether they personally hold like him or like Rav Shimi bar Chiya. And therefore they bring answers to the question of marrying both Rachel and Leah, and the like. Whether it’s because one of the Noachide mitzvos, which they were obligated in, was thus stronger than the prohibition, or a limitation such as their only following halakhos not yet given when living in Israel.

On the other hand, it is also possible that they took Rav Ashi’s words metaphorically. I posted back in 2009 sources that show that aggadic statements are spoken in metaphor was the norm amongst rishonim and pre-19th century acharonim. (And among later acharonim, I cited R’ Hirsch and R’ Yisrael Salanter.)  There I wrote:

ALL THAT SAID, it seems to be the rules of aggadic stories, even the ones that aren’t historical, that they do not have any of the “good guys” doing something we wouldn’t. And so we still find commentaries trying to justify things on a halachic basis. This shouldn’t be taken to mean they assumed the events actually occurred!

Here too… If Rav Ashi speaks in the metaphor of the avos keeping every last little halakhah, there has to be a way to understand their actions as conforming to that halakhah. If Yaaqov avinu did violate a future Torah law (in our example), then Rav Ashi wouldn’t have made his point using that metaphor.

A consequence of the rise of the liberal movements is that maximalist hashkafic positions are pushed in some circles so as to avoid their mistake of compromise. Another consequence which feeds this is a focus on studying halakhah to the exclusion of machashavah. (There are other consequences too, but I’ll stick with the relevant.) Between these effects, people see Rashi and think that anyone who holds like R’ Shimi Bar Chiya or the Ramban (never mind the staunch rationalists like the Rambam) or who considers Rav and Rav Ashi as speaking metaphorically is watering down their Torah. They both need to keep their Torah maximalist and aren’t investing time studying the other positions.


“Advertisements”:

1- I like the new (Sep 2012) translation of Nefesh haChaim by R’ Len Moskowitz. (Hebrew in back.) It balances the precision of language really necessary for a philosophical text (even to the extent that yir’ah is consistently rendered “fear/awe”) while still remaining readable. Highly recommended.

2- You’ll notice that most of the links in this post are to pages on he.wikisource.org. I don’t know too many people who use this resource. But is has a complete Chumash with Rashi, Ramban, references to Shas and Rambam and more commentaries, a complete Shas, Rambam, siddurim in various nusachos and even Nefesh haChaim. (Other sefarim are not completed yet. E.g. the edition of Arukh haShulchan is more accurate than any in print, but only for what is filled in so far.)

 

YAPITA

Yet Another Peshat in the Aqeidah

One thing highlighted by the vast rabbinic discussion of the aqeidah — we can’t expect simple, clear-cut, answers to these questions. Much like the numerous opinions in the gemara as to what led to the destruction of the Beis haMiqdash or the many explanations of Nadav and Avihu’s sin.

There is an earlier pasuq (Bereishis 21:12, tr. R’ Aryeh Kaplan): “וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אֱ-לֹהִ֜ים אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֗ם אַל־יֵרַ֤ע בְּעֵינֶ֨יךָ֙ עַל־הַנַּ֣עַר וְעַל־אֲמָתֶ֔ךָ כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ כִּ֣י בְיִצְחָ֔ק יִקָּרֵ֥א לְךָ֖ זָֽרַע׃ — But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be troubled because of the boy and your slave. Do everything that Sarah tells you. It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.”

So it would seem that Abraham knew that something was up. Here he was about to slaughter Yitzchaq, who didn’t have children yet, but he also knew that Yitzchaq that would father the nation of his covenant with G-d. What was demanded of Avraham here was two things:

(1) The suspension of disbelief, knowing that God would only allow the contradiction to be resolved in a positive way. That you can trust Him (the middah of bitachon) rather than need to know all the facts up front. And

(2) The ability to place mind before emotion, to be able to act even as the gut tells him he’s hurting his little boy. As the Mussar Letter opens (tr. R’ Zvi Miller), “Man is [created to be] free in his imagination, and bound by his intellect.”

Special Souls

The following speech was given by my son Izzy (ישראל זרחיה) at the party we made to celebrate his becoming a bar mitzvah:

It says in this morning’s parashah [Toledos], “וַיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵרְאֹ֑ת – and it was when Yitzchak got old, and his eyes weakened so that he could not see…”

There is a famous medrash about how Yitzchak became blind. Bereishis Rabba on the Akeidah tells how the angels cried over what they thought was about to be Yitzchak’s death. As they looked down at the scene, some of the angels’ tears got into Yitzchak’s eyes, and this caused his blindness.

My great-great-grandfather, Rav Yisrael Avraham Abba Krieger, asked about this. The Akeidah was a long time before Yitzchak actually became blind. In fact, our pasuk says he didn’t lose his eyesight until he was old, when it would be almost normal. If their tears caused his blindness, why did they take so long to have an effect?

Second, our pasuk has an extra word. If it would have just said “his eyes weakened” we would know that he couldn’t see. What is added to the meaning by adding the word “מֵרְאֹת – from seeing”?

His answer in Divrai Yisrael is rather long, eleven pages. But here is one idea that my great-great-grandfather raises along the way.

Rashi repeats another medrash that gives a reason for Yitzchak’s blindness. Right before we are told about his becoming blind, the Torah mentions the heartache Yitchak has from his son Eisav. Against his father’s wishes, Eisav married local Canaanite girls, who worshipped idols. From the smoke of the incense and the tears of pain that idols were brought into his own home, Yitzchak was made blind. And that is why the blindness happened just now, at this point in his life.

But these midrashim don’t have to be arguing. It could be that it took both events for Yitzchak to lose his sight. It was because Yitzchak once saw into heaven and experienced the tears of the angels that he was unable to handle his daughter-in-laws’ idolatry. The gap was just too big. Hashem saved someone that holy from having to fully relate to idol worship in his own home, The pasuk therefore says that his eyes were weakened not just “from seeing”, but “מֵרְאֹת – to keep him from seeing.”

We can learn from today’s parashah that much of what we call “being handicapped” is actually Hashem protecting one of His more holy souls.

There is a famous story about the Chazon Ish. In the beis medrash that the Chazon Ish would often go to, one of the regulars at minyan was a man with Downs Syndrome. When the man entered, the Chazon Ish would stand, the way we do for a rabbi or another great person when they enter the room. One of his students asked why. The Chazon Ish explained that Hashem makes some souls too special to relate to this world, so they are kept from being fully in it. Hashem instead gives them challenges that the rest of us do not have to face.

In a way, their handicap serves like Yitzchak’s blindness.

This is one of the nicer things I’ve learned volunteering and being my school’s representative for Friendship Circle, and by having Shuby as my roommate. Even though they don’t understand as much about what’s going on around them as we do, or maybe because they don’t, they face the world and deal with the really basic problems we usually ignore.

We just had a small party for some of the children for Friendship Circle and Count Me In, so that I can celebrate my bar mitzvah with them too. I hope it helps me take with me gratitude for everything Hashem gave me, and an appreciation for all the little steps to holiness that we so often take for granted.

At this point I would like to thank…

Small Jugs

In the beginning, or a few days later, Hashem created the sun and the moon.

In Bereishis (1:16) the Torah says: “And G-d made the two large luminaries – the large luminary to rule the day and the small luminary to rule the night – and the stars.” A famous gemara (Chullin 60b), quoted by Rashi, points out an inconsistency in the verse. R. Shimon ben Pazi asks why the Torah first describes the sun and moon as “the two large luminaries”, but then it calls the sun “the large luminary” and the moon is called the small one. The Gemara answers with a story (paraphrased).

Originally the sun and moon were the same size. But the moon complained to Hashem, “Can there exist two kings sharing the same crown?” How can both the sun and the moon share the glory?

G-d replies, “Go and make yourself smaller.”

The moon is hurt. “Master of the Universe, because I presented You with a true complaint, I should reduce myself?

Hashem offers consolation, and permits that unlike the sun, “Go and rule over the day and the night.”

The moon sees this as no consolation. If the sun is shining all day, it continues, “What good is a candle at noon?” It will out-shine me, how do I gain by shining then?”

Hashem offers an alternate consolation. “It is destined for Israel to use you to count days and years.” To this day, the Jewish people use a lunar calendar.

This too the moon finds insufficient. “Without the sun they can not count seasons either.” (Rashi, Chullin ad loc,
explains that the leap years are based upon the seasons. The second Adar is added is to insure that Pesach is always in the spring, the Jewish calendar is not purely lunar.)

G-d provides a third consolation. Righteous men will be called by your name, for example (Amos 7) “Ya’akov haqatan [the small]“, “Shmuel haQatan” [a tanna], (Shemuel 1 17) “David haqatan”.

The moon thought about it, but was still unsatisfied.

Hashem commands, “bring a kaparah, a korban of forgiveness, in My Name, for I have wronged the moon.”

Reish Lakish points out that this qorban is indicated in the Torah in parashas Pinechas, describing the offering for Rosh Chodesh, the start of the new month. The pasuq says, “And one sa’ir, he-goat, for a chatas Lashem, an expiation-offering unto G-d” (Bamidbar 28:15). No other holiday’s chatas offering include this last word, that the korban is for G-d. On Rosh Chodesh, when the moon is not visible, the qorban chatas is to “atone” for G-d “wronging”  (so to speak) the moon.

The Maharsha explains this gemara‘s metaphor by explaining that the moon symbolizes the Jewish people who appear small in this world. The midrash is a discussion about the need for Israel to be oppressed in this world, so that they may shine brighter in the next. He identifies the sa’ir, the he-goat of the Rosh Chodesh chatas offering, with Rome the children of Ya’akov’s brother Eisav. The sai’r represents the inheritor of Har Sei’ir. Both “eisav” and “se’ir” refer to hairiness. Surely of all of the nations of the world, history is dominated by Rome and the western civilization it spawned. And, like the moon, Israel’s fortunes rise, fall and rise again under its shadow.

Aside from the difference in ascendancy between Israel and non- Jews, there is a more obvious difference between this world and the next. Only in this world is there a physical existence. “Edom”, the name of Eisav’s nation, comes from the same root as adom (red) and adamah (earth) — again, this world. Hair is also a symbol of physicality, as we see from the laws of nazir and the obligation for married women to cover their hair. Yitzchaq associates Eisav with action “hayadayim yedei Eisav” — the hands are the hands of Eisav, in contrast to “qol Yaaqov“, Yaaqov deals in speech.

Yitzchaq looked to bless Eisav, and Yaaqov stepped in and took the berakhah. In an ideal world (one that doesn’t have the above competition between the physical and the spiritual), Eisav would have served as the physical supplier of what became the Jewish people. We see this in the content of that original berakhah. “And may Hashem give you from the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land…” But Rivka saw that G-d didn’t make that world. Instead, there is a basic split, Eisav goes off the path, and world history has to work out his error. And the berakhah Yitzchaq gives him instead: “Behold, the fat of the land is your dwelling, and the dew from the sky above. By your sword shall you live, but your brother you must serve. However, when you feel wronged, you will cast off his yoke.” (Bereishis 27:39-40)

“Lei’ah’s eyes were puffy” from crying, Chazal tell us (as quoted by Rashi ad loc) that this was because she was taunted that she, the older daughter, would marry Eisav, Yitzchaq’s firstborn, and Lei’ah would marry Ya’aqov. In this hypothetical ideal world, Yehudah’s kingship would have emerged from Eisav. (Whether Levi would still have been Lei’ah’s child seems less obvious.) And Eisav could have been given a second chance, but Yaaqov hides Lei’ah’s daughter Dinah during their encounter with Eisav.

What exactly is Eisav’s error? This notion that physicality is in competition with spirituality, rather than Hashem’s intended synergy. (I wrote much more on this Maharsha and other topic in parashas Bereishis to describe a progression of how the universe’s physicality first introduced imperfection (the trees not tasting like the fruit), physicality growing to loom as though it were an ends not a means, how this reached man’s soul causing the impurity of our motives, nd what Hashem gave us to do about it. See these posts: “The Origins of Imperfection“, “Adam and Pinnochio“, and “Havdalah“. The above analysis of the gemara is taken from Mesukim miDevash for parashas Pinechas.)

Rome followed in Eisav’s footsteps by considering the Hellenist legacy and Judaism an exclusive choice. And, like Eisav who simply couldn’t consider delayed spiritual gratification when he was starving and smelling a good red lentil soup, they chose Hellenism. To emulate Yavan.

Jewish history also followed this progression. We first experienced the Yevanim, Hellene overlords, the Seleucid enemy whose conquest plays a role in the story of Chanukah. As Noach blessed his son, Yefes, Yavan’s ancestor, “Yaft E-lokim leYefes” — G-d gave beauty to western culture, the value of physicality and aesthetics. We should have kept it external, remembered that we, as the descendants of Sheim, have a different role, “veyishkon be’ohalei Sheim” — G-d rests in our homes. Alexander the Great was a hero in Jewish history — one whose name is still worn proudly as a traditional Jewish one. Then, we had Misyavnim, Jews who made themselves Hellene. Who lost the concept of remaining distinct (and thereby contributing), and it all unraveled. The Seleucids became an oppressive regime who tried to destroy Judaism by simply subsuming our G-d into their pantheon. But the Chashmonaim restored the notion of a distinct Jewish identity.

But that too failed. We repaired out notion of spirituality, but not how to treat others in this world. Chanukah (galus Yavaan) was a religious challenge, not one of national survival. The destruction of the Second Beis haMiqdash (galus Edom) was over our lack unity. It actually lowered our spiritual potential but also changed the nature of our people-hood to one that forces us to learn how to apply that spirituality to how we treat others. Because galus Yavan was about the two coexisting together, it was a galus that occured entirely during a period in which we actually had a Beis haMiqdash. (Thus proving that “galus” doesn’t mean “exile” — we were on our land!)

The current step in that progression is that to take those distinct peices of the puzzle and use them together. Chanukah taught us “To form the ideal Jewish people. On Chanukah we learned “אַ֭שְׁרֵי יֽוֹשְׁבֵ֣י בֵיתֶ֑ךָ, ע֗֝וֹד יְֽהַלְל֥וּךָ סֶּֽלָה׃ – Enriched are those who dwell in Your House, they shall ever praise You – Selah!” We are now learning “…אַשְׁרֵ֣י הָ֭עָם שֶׁכָּ֣כָה לּ֑וֹ Enriched is the nation that is like this…” Unity. So that we can acheive the both — “אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הָ֝עָ֗ם שֱׁ֥ה’ אֱ-לֹהָֽיו׃ — Enriched is the nation for whom Hashem is its G-d.” This is why our current struggle is with Edom, the failed vision of Eisav. The two can work together, the “sun” needn’t compete with the “moon”.

There is a Yalqut Re’uveini (an admittedly obscure, late, and Kabbalistic collection of medrash) on Ki Seitzei that connects Chanukah to a sedra often leined at about the same time — Vayishlach.

Yaaqov went back across the river to get some “pachim qetanim“, small jugs. When crossing back again to his family, Yaakov encounters an angel, identified with Eisav and his people’s guardian (among other candidates).

One of these pachim made its way down the ages to Shemu’el. Shemu’el used it to anoint Sha’ul as our nation’s first king.

From Shemu’el, the jug was eventually inherited by Elisha. When the poor Shunamit woman came to him desperate for funds so that her sons won’t be sold as slaves, Elisha told her to collect any vessel she had that could hold oil, and to borrow all such that she could from her neighbors. And Elisha then took the jug with the left over oil from the annointing of Sha’ul, and filled every utensil in her home.

(I’m sure you see what’s coming next, but to spell out the details.) This jug was then placed in the first Beis haMiqdash, not with the other jugs of oil, but with the collection of artifacts that attest to miracles (the jar of mon, Moshe’s staff, Aharon’s blooming almond branch, etc..) And the jug made it through the interegnum and was placed in a similar spot in the second bayis. The seal that most understand to be a mark of purity is taken by this midrash to also mark this special jug so that it not be confused with the regular ones.

When the Yevanim defiled all the oil, this oil wasn’t found because it wasn’t stored with the rest! (I know, if we assume this medrash is historical, it contradicts a trend of thought I developed in another recent post.) And the same miracle that supported the Shunamit is the miracle of the oil of Chanukah. The pach shemen of Chanukah was one of the pachim qetanim of Yaaqov.

Which answers the Beis Yoseif’s question: If the oil was enough for one day, the miracle was only on the subsequent days. Burning on the first day was normal. What is the miracle that we commemorate by celebrating that day too? According to this Yalqut Re’uveini, the miracle was that they filled the menorah and afterward, the jug was still full.

(The Imrei Shefer (Shabbos 21b) says something similar but less elaborate: that it’s in the merit of Yaaqov returning for the pachim qetanim that we merited the Chashmonaim finding the pach shemen.)

What’s the point of this medrash, the lesson it’s written to teach? Looking at the key themes in it, I think I can suggest an idea.

The medrash ties Yaaqov going back for the pachim qetanim his battle with Eisav’s guardian, to Sha’ul, to supporting the Shunamit to Chanukah. What do they have in common?

Why did Yaakov go back for a small jug? Didn’t he just gratefully leave Eisav behind in that area, happy that there was no fighting? Doesn’t that mean it was dangerous?

Rashi on Vayishlach quotes Chazal that Yaaqov went back because the righteous consider their money precious, because they earn their money honestly. Proper business ethics isn’t “just” the permissable way to conduct business, it actually sanctifies the activity. And therefore, the pachim qetanim were sacred to Yaaqov, not to be simply left behind.

Eisav’s role in the ideal universe was mastered by Yaaqov — he internalized the notion of the role of the physical and how to sanctify the physical. Of course at that point Yaaqov is challenged by Eisav’s guardian and succeeds.  And when he gains that mastery, that’s the moment at which Yaaqov becomes Yisrael. And according to the Zohar Chadash, Lei’ah corresponds to Yisrael, while Racheil corresponds to Yaaqov. It also says that this is why Racheil was Yaaqov’s favorite wife during the first part of his life, but after her passing, he builds the rest of his life with Lei’ah. Racheil is the “yefas to’ar — the beautiful looking” wife. It’s easy to see the spirituality of a life at battle with the physical world. Lei’ah has the deeper and longer relationship, although it’s one that must be built upon pain.

Sha’ul’s mission for his kingship is to vanquish Amaleiq. Amaleiq is a nation whose namesake forefather was Eisav’s grandson.   He is from Racheil, because his job is Yaaqov’s job rather thaan Yisra’el’s, to vanquish the improperly harnessed physicality. And then Sha’ul is succeeded by David, who is from Yehudah and thus Lei’ah, who starts the process of building the Beis HaMiqdash — sacred wealth and beauty.

The Shunamit was supported in her time of need by the rewards of Yaaqov’s sacred toiling in this world. The money which was earned through honest and forthright business dealings will always suffice.

Which brings us to Chanukah. Chanukah was a step before Eisav-Edom, back at Yavan, Rome’s role model. The Jews lost themselves to Hellene values. To a religion where even the gods represent physical forces: Ares was the god of war, Hermes was the concept of change, Venus of love, etc…

And then they find the jug of oil. The jug of holy wordliness, of sanctifying the universe through halakhah. Not disdain for the physical or the beautiful, but knowing its value — as a tool. And with that concept the Chashmonaim revived Jewish loyalty, disbanded Hellenist oppression, and restored the concept of Jewish autonomy for the next two centuries. And when we couldn’t maintain that, we still had the notion that there was a role for Yefetic culture but not a clear idea of what that role was, in stepped Edom. Through that struggle with Edom, we can restore the world to “two great lights” — Yisrael and Eisav working in harmony.

וייראוך כל המעשים, וישתחוו לפניך כל הברואים, ויעשו כלם אגודה אחת לעשות רצונך בלבב שלם!

And everything made will have fear/awe for You,
And everything created will prostrate before You,
And they will be made together in a single union to do You Will wholeheartedly!

-Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur Amidah

Angry at G-d

A friend of mine wrote this morning about his three experiences with cancer in his immediate family. He was equipped to handle his wife’s bout, abut by the time he had to deal with it for the third time, he tells me that all he felt was anger, anger at G-d. His tefillos that Rosh haShanah he describes as mechanically filling the obligation.

In this week’s parashah, Avraham famously riles at Hashem. Upon being told of Hashem’s plans to destroy the five towns of the Sodom plains, Avraham takes it for granted that there must be someone there worth saving, other than his nephew Lot and his family. “הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע? Would You even sweep away the righteous person with the evil one?” (18:23) And so it goes for the next two pesuqim, when Avraham still assumes there are 50 people among the five cities who are worth saving. Now, admittedly, he immediately catches himself when he realizes that the assumption was wrong. And Avraham avinu uses less confrontational language during the rest of his attempt negotiation. “וַיַּעַן אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר ‘הִנֵּה-נָא הוֹאַלְתִּי לְדַבֵּר אֶל-ה’, וְאָנֹכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר’ — Here, please, I have presumed to speak to Hashem, and I am but sand and ashes.” (v. 27) But that first outburst is recorded, and we are never told it was wrong on Avraham’s part.

Doesn’t Moshe rabbeinu, the most humble man in history, express anger at Hashem when he says “If You would, forgive their sin; and if not, please erase me from the book You have written” (Shemos 32:32)?

It would seem that there is an appropriate time for anger. When someone hears of something that seems like a great wrong, it would be insensitive of him not to respond with outrage. Although it’s interesting to note that in both examples, the injustice would have been aimed at a third party. There is no personal motive in either case. And Hashem even lauds examples of where that anger is directed at Him!

Anger is part of any relationship. We are called into partnership with Him in finishing His creation — of the world, of ourselves, even of expounding the Torah. Can a human being participate in a successful partnership without ever feeling angry at their partner? Marriages are not built on avoiding fighting, but on learning how and when to fight productively.

When someone gets angry at Hashem for something that happens to them, there are a number of positive assumptions motivating that anger.

By getting angry one is participating in a personal connection to the Creator. Hashem is real, I am relating to Him. He is the Cause of something I didn’t want to happen. If as part of a healthy relationship, it could be a positive thing. Far more troubling would be the distance from Hashem implied by apathy.

After all, we are the Benei Yisrael. How did we get the name Yisrael? Because Yaaqov avinu battled an angel, and the angel responded: “וַיֹּאמֶר, ‘לֹא יַעֲקֹב יֵאָמֵר עוֹד שִׁמְךָ–כִּי, אִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל; כִּי-שָׂרִיתָ עִם-אֱ-לֹהִים וְעִם-אֲנָשִׁים, וַתּוּכָל’ — And he said, ‘No longer will they call you Yaaqov, but rather Yisrael; for you have struggled with G-d and with people, and succeeded.'”

Anger at G-d may seem inappropriate. But not being motivated to struggle with our unanswerable questions about His Actions is far, far worse.

Yisrael, Yaaqov and Beis Yaaqov

Someone asked on soc.culture.jewish:

Today in my Women In Hebrew Bible class we talked about how Yaakov (Jacob) was renamed Yisrael (Israel). This was a way of redeeming him of all his past trickery. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Yaakov. He is, after all, my favorite Patriarch. But he was quite a sneaky fellow in his young life….

She then repeats the argument that it was therefore appropriate that the institution was called “Beis Yaakov” rather than “Beis Yisrael”, since they had to trick the guys into letting them have an education. First, I can’t help but note the sad state of education this represents. I hope it is not typical of what goes on as non-Orthodox adult education. But to get to the point…

Here’s my reply, from the same forum. Others already quoted the pasuq “ko somar leveis Yaaqov vesagid livnei Yisrael — so you shall say to the House of Jacob, and instruct the Children of Israel”, which our Sages (as quoted by Rashi) interpret as gently telling (tomar) the women (Beis Yaaqov) and using “words as tough as sinews (gidin)” (tagid) to the men (Benei Yisrael). So I began simply by summarizing the point.

The sages understood the term “vesomeir leveis Yaaqov” as a commandment to Moses to teach something to the women of his generation. Seems like a pretty solid argument.

Then, in reply to the last sentence quoted in particular:

In much the same way Abraham had to go through the Aqeida (the Binding of Isaac). Jacob’s natural inclination was to be honest, a deep pursuit of truth. As the prophet begs, “Give truth to Jacob, lovingkindness to Abraham, as You promised in days of old.” Look how Isaac’s fatherly blindness kept him from seeing Esau’s faults. In comparison to Javob, who identified the strength and uniqueness of each of his sons, and blessed (or cautioned) each accordingly. Might be why Jacob produced 12 keepers of the covenant, whereas Abraham and Isaac each failed with one of their sons. (But did Abraham fail? Ishmael, in the end, repented. But only after mis-raising his own children.)

Israel is the name of the Image of Man carved on the Divine Throne (as described in Ezekiel). After their all-night battle the angel calls Jacob “Israel”, meaning the one on the course spiritually upward, on the road toward that idealization. (And the human ideal is a road, not a final state…)

The renaming is not the redemption of a trickster, but G-d acknowledging that Jacob broke through that level, passed the test, and was ready to establish the Kingdom of Priests.

If anything, calling a girl’s school “Beis Yaakov” would imply that they are teaching a group of potential Images of G-d, who are still the custom there. works in progress. Pretty much true for any school.

Shemittah

( You will notice that this entry is pretty much straight lomdus rather than my usual fare. When I wrote Rafi’s bar mitzvah speech, I ran overly long. Here is an even longer earlier edition, but one that is more complete in covering my thoughts on the subject. -mi)

In parashas Behar (25:18), it says:

“Vesapharta lekha sheva` shabasos shanim sheva` shanim sheva` pe`amim vehayu lekha yemei sheva` shabasos hashanim teisha vi’arbai`im shanah.”

“And you shall count for yourself seven sabbaths of years seven years seven times and i shall be for you the days of the seven sabbaths of years 49 years.”

The Torah here is discussing the mitzvah of Yovel, of the Jubilee year. The word “yovel” refers to the blast of the shofar which is blown on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year. In that year, any land that was divided by Joshua amongst the tribes is returned to the family that it was allotted to. Also, in the yovel year, all slaves are freed.

Yovel only applies when “kol yosheveha aleha — all of Israel’s inhabitants live on it”. Only when the majority of all 12 tribes and Levi are living within their ancestral borders — again, as Yehoshu’a divided them — does Yovel apply. There has not been a Yovel since the fall of the Kingdom of Israel, or perhaps even since the tribes in Transjordan were exiled, in the first Temple period.

The Torah is being pretty wordy, and that isn’t its normal style. Usually, the Torah will use the fewest words possible to get the idea across. Extra words imply extra, not obvious, ideas.

The Torah tells us that there is a mitzvah to count the number of years between two yovelos, two jubilee years. But why does Hashem spell out that we should count 7 cycles of seven years, and then again to count 49 years? Do we need Hashem to tell us that seven times seven is forty-nine? Can’t we do the math ourselves?

When it comes to the mitzvah of counting omer, the Torah uses similar terms. Omer is a special grain sacrifice brought during this time of year, every day from the 2nd day of Pesach, of Passover, until Shavuos. During this period there is also an obligation to count out 49 days. For example, last night we said, in Hebrew, “Today is 42 days which is 6 weeks in the omer.” There are two parts, counting 42 days, and counting 6 weeks.

For counting omer, the Torah in Vayikra (23:15) says:

“Vesafartem lachem mimocharas hashabas miyom havi’achem es omer hatenufah sheva` shabasos temimos tihyenah. Ad mimacharas hashabas hashevi`is, tisperu chamishim yom.”

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the day of rest, from the day you bring the raised omer offering it shall be seven whole weeks until the day after the seventh week, you shall count fifty days”.

The two are very similar, but we can also see some subtle differences.

The first is that by omer the Torah speaks in the plural — “vesafartem” is “and you shall count” when “you” means many people. By our pasuq, by yovel, the word is “vesaphrta”, “and you will count” speaking to only one “you”.

This is because the mitzvah of counting for yovel isn’t on each and every Jew, the way omer is. Each of us count omer. Each person needs to prepare themselves for Shavuos, for reliving getting the Torah. Yovel is one mitzvah for the entire Jewish people as a whole. The one “you” counting the years toward yovel is the nation.

Since we can’t all count together, Sanhedrin has the obligation to count as the representatives of Benei Yisra’el.

The Hapanim Yafos says that the reason why the math is spelled out by yovel is for the same reason as by omer. We learn from the pasuq by omer that we need to count both 49 days and seven weeks. As we said there are two parts to the count. Similarly when Sanhedrin would count the years toward yovel, they would have to count that it was “the 39th year” as well as being “the 5th cycle of 7 years, the 4th year of that cycle”.

There is a mitzvah that comes in cycles of 7 years, one that we just started, called shemittah. In the seventh year, the shemittah year, farmers in Israel are not permitted to work the land. The land of Israel rests. Also, in that year, all loans are forgiven.

The Torah is combining the mitzvos of shemittah and yovel, of the sabbatical and jubilee years. In fact, it is the opinion of Rebbe (given in the Yerushalmi, Shevi`is, 10:2) that whenever one does not apply, neither does the other. Since there is no yovel, shemittah today can not be the real mitzvah. We observe it only as a commemoration, to keep the mitzvah alive until we do once again live in Israel.

When Rebbe’s opinion appears in the Talmud Bavli, though, it is cited as part of a disagreement. Rebbe still says that shemittah today is not the biblical mitzvah, but his peers, the other rabbis, say that it is. That even without yovel, the Torah’s idea of shemittah still stands.

The later sages, Abayei and Rava, are quoted in the Talmud in three places trying to explain various rulings about shemittah in light of this debate. As we will see, Abayei’s position is quite clear — he assumes that the law is like Rebbe, that shemittah isn’t the biblical shemittah, and therefore one can take some leniencies. Rava’s isn’t as straightforward.

The first of these discussions is in Moed Katan 2b. There the mishnah says that one may water a fields that is on a slope, and must be watered manually, during the shemittah year. The gemara asks how this is permissible — how is one permitted to tend a field by watering it during shemittah? Abayei answers that the mishnah is like Rebbe. This wouldn’t be too surprising, since Rebbe is the one who compiled the entire structure of Mishnah, including this one. But this means that the mishnah permits watering a field on the side of a mountain because it assumes that shemittah today isn’t real shemittah.

Rava says that one can even say that the mishnah goes like the Rabbanan, the rabbis other than Rebbe, who say that shemittah is from the Torah even today. However, the Torah only prohibited the av, the actual kind of tending one’s field as framed for the laws of resting on Shabbos. Shemittah does not include any tolados, other derivatives of the same basic idea that are close enough for Shabbos to prohibit. What is being permitted in the mishnah is only one of these tolados, derivatives.

Note that Rava doesn’t actually say that he holds like the other sages. It is possible that he personally rules that shemittah is no longer the biblical shemittah. However, in explaining the mishnah, he can understand the mishnah even without assuming its author agrees.

The second gemara is in Gitin (36b). This gemara should help us understand Rava’s position.

In Gitin, the gemara asks about the justification for the law of “pruzbul“. As we said, normally all loans end at shemittah, and can’t be collected any more. Hillel enacted a kind of loophole, called pruzbul. It’s a contract, by which the loan is handed over to the court and thereby there is no one person who is obligated to annul the loan. In this way, people would still be willing to lend money to those who need it — even late in the sixth year. If they need to collect on the loan, they can write up a pruzbul and still collect.

The gemara asks how Hillel could have enacted pruzbul — doesn’t is defy a major point of shemittah?

And again Abayei appeals to Rebbe’s idea to explain the leniency. Since this isn’t the biblical shemittah, Hillel is not overriding the Torah. Maybe we can explain Abayei’s idea further by suggesting that since shemittah today is a commemoration, one remembers the Torah’s mitzvah when he does the pruzbul, and that’s enough.

The gemara continues and asks: but still, you’re overriding an earlier Rabbinic enactment. Even with our suggested reasoning behind his ruling, how does Hillel have the authority to do override an earlier and greater court?

Rava provides an answer, but we’re not sure which question he’s answering: the original one — how can Hillel override shemittah? Or the later one — how can he override even rabbinic shemittah?

According to Rashi, Rava answers the original question. In other words, he is starting from ground zero, that shemittah isn’t necessarily from the rabbis. Instead Rava assumes that shemittah is from the Torah even today, and uses a different principle. Hefker beis din hefker — something a court declares ownerless is ownerless. One once they make it ownerless, they can give it to someone else. So, they can make the borrowed money ownerless and hand it back to the lender. And on those grounds, he justifies pruzbul.

In other words, Rashi says that Rava does hold like the other Rabbis, that the Torah’s shemittah applies even today.

Tosafos disagree with Rashi. They say he is coming to answer the second question and he is adding to Abayei’s answer. They say that even according to Rava, the law is like Rebbe, and we assume shemittah is NOT biblical.

Rava is answering how Hillel can overturn the earlier sages, those who said we should continue to observe shemittah as a commemoration. He says that Hillel doesn’t override them. Instead, the court is using its power to hand money from one person to another.

Tosafos therefore have no later sage who upholds the opinion that shemittah today is from the Torah, so they clearly rule that it isn’t.

But, Rashi makes this out to be a debate between Abayei and Rava as well. Abayei, like Rebbe, says that shemittah is only a commemoration; while Rava, like the other Rabbis of Rebbe’s day, says that the original Torah law still applies.

However, Rashi states his own position when explaining a third gemara. Sanhedrin (25a) again questions a leniency about shemittah. The Romans levied a new tax, and R’ Yanai allowed sowing during shemittah so that people could pay it in the seventh year too. Rashi there assumes that the law is Rabbinic, and R’ Yannai rules that they never imposed such a costly commemoration. Much like Abayei’s explanation of why one can water a field that is sloped.

In contrast to Rashi and Tosafos, the Ramban comments on Gitin, the gemara on pruzbul, that shemittah is from the Torah even today. After all, this is the majority opinion against Rebbe, and we almost always rule like the majority. This is also the opinion of the 19th century responsa of the Beis Haleivi and the Netziv.

On the other hand, the Me’iri on that gemara in Gitin is MORE lenient than anyone else we mentioned so far. He says that not only isn’t the mitzvah from the Torah, there isn’t even a rabbinic mitzvah of shemittah today! During the 2nd Temple period, a rabbinic yovel was observed. The Me’iri understands Rebbe to say that when that rabbinic yovel existed, there was also a rabbinic shemittah. However, today shemittah is only a minhag chassidus, a nice custom, not a halachah.

All this helps us understand our opening pasuq from the Torah. We are told to count “sheva` shabasos shanim” — seven sabbaths, shemittos, of years, because shemittah is inherently connected to yovel.

Perhaps we can go one step further. There is a debate in Eiruchin (24b) as to when the eighth shemittah ought to be. Should it be seven years after the previous shemittah, like the weeks, going by sevens forever? Or, do we not count the yovel year toward the seven for shemittah?

In the first opinion, given by R’ Yehudah, one yovel could be the year after the seventh shemittah. But the next shemittah will be only SIX years after that. So that by the time you get to the 50th year the next time around, it will be the SECOND year after shemittah. Yovel‘s place within the shemittah cycle will drift.

Going back to the two quotes from the Torah at the beginning of this devar Torah, this is actually closer to counting omer. Omer too we are told to count 7 weeks, but we don’t mean starting on Sunday and keeping the weeks of omer in sync with the weeks of omer counting. Even though the word used in the Torah for week was “shabbasos” — Sabbaths. Instead, it is merely 7 period of 7 days. Whatever day of the week that period might end on.

So, when it says by yovel shabbasos shanim — Sabbaths of years” it doesn’t mean 7 Sabbaticals, but merely 7 cycles of 7.

The second opinion would not count yovel toward the shemittah cycle. The first shemittah of every yovel would therefore be the 7th year of the yovel. Instead of shemittah being an independent cycle of 7 years, it is set up as the 7th, 14th, 21st and so on in the yovel cycle. Shemittah and Yovel are parts of the same cycle.

We could suggest a reason based on the opinion of Rebbe. He makes shemittah dependent on yovel because they are parts of one bigger picture. Which is why they’re on the same cycle.

Looking at it the other way, if you say that yovel doesn’t count toward the shemittah cycle, what happens to shemittah when there is no Yovel? Because yovel isn’t skipped, shemittah is in a different pattern than it used to be. Which fits Rebbe, who says it’s only commemorative.

In which case, we can answer one last question. The Ramban rules that shemittah is still a Torah law, following the principle of ruling like the majority. How then can anyone else rule otherwise?

However, in the debate about whether to count yovel amongst the 7 years toward shemittah, it was the majority who said that one should not. That majority would therefore say that shemittah today, being every 7th year with no exceptions, is not the same as the original mitzvah. It is not Rebbe’s opinion alone.

Whatever the status is today, may we observe the next shemittah because of the Torah law; with the mitzvah of yovel restored because the people of Israel will have returned to our homes.

Noach and the Use of Wine

We were discussing on Avodah the origins of the idea of Qiddush. I argued that the notion of celebrating or thanking G-d with wine would seem to be one people would stumble upon naturally, arguing from Noach’s instinct to plant a vineyard.

Rn Toby Katz noted that I was making an unsupported assumption:

“Celebrating”? as Noach celebrating the “human condition” of having almost everyone you know dead in a world-wide catastrophe, and desperately wanting to escape the pain and grief of it all?

Interesting question: Was Noach drinking to forget, or to thank G-d for being saved? I really just assumed the latter. But looking at the context, I can see why I did so.Here is the sequence. Noach:
– gets off the ark,
– brings olos (entirely consumed offerings) thanking Hashem for being saved, and
– enters into a covenant with HQBH.

This covenant ends with “peru urevu … umora’akhem vechitekhem” (a repetition of the blessing to Adam to be fruitful, multiply, and dominate the creatures of the earth). In
short, the attention is firmly on rebuilding a future. As it is the introduction to the story about Noach getting drunk, where Hashem again lists those who left the ark, and introduces Kenaan.

So that explains why my mind went in that direction.

Looking at Rashi to answer this question, I also noticed the following:

Rashi makes a point of telling you that Kenaan is introduced because this story explains the root of Kenaan’s cursed state. Notice that it all starts with wine.

In saying Noach returned to his tent, the word “ohaloh” is oddly spelled with a final hei rather than ending with a vav to complete a full cholam, the usual suffix for “his”. Rashi tells us this is a reference to the 10 Shevatim, who were also called Ahalah — after the Shomeron. (A nickname for the Northern Kingdom that finds its way into Yom Kippur’s Qinos.) And why? Because the 10 Shevatim were lead astray through grape – “hashosim bemizreqei yayim — who drink wine from bowls and annoint themselves with the first of the oils, but are not pained by the downfall of Yosef (Amos 6:6)”.

There would seem to be an implied undercurrent of the 10 Tribes being accused of assimilating the attitude toward wine their Canaanite neighbors picked up from / demonstrated in this story.

And, judging from Amos, the problem with wine that Rashi is focusing on when explicating the story of Noach is inappropriate revelry.