Lechem Oni

Packing peanuts. That filler material stuck in the box to prevent breakage. You would think it has nothing to do with Pesach, right?

A few years ago, a friend showed me a halachic guide that discussed a kind of packing peanut that was wheat- or corn-starch based. The guide recommended getting rid of them for Pesach. Our first observation is that there are grounds to be lenient and the issue is complex and interesting. (Obviously, if this problem is relevant to you, you should ask your own rabbi.)

However, we have this tendency when it comes to chameitz to be more stringent than usual. This is based on the Ar”i za”l, who says that while halakhah only requires we eliminate pieces of chameitz that can possibly combine to be bigger than a kezayis, we should eliminate from our homes every taint of chameitz.

Chameitz, the Ar”i explains, is representative of the yeitzer hara, and therefore “Anyone who removes all chameitz from their house is assured of having a year without sin.”

So while it’s laudable to go after every speck of chameitz, my friend had to ask: Why are we spending day after day cleaning up dust, and absolutely none preparing for Pesach by removing our spiritual chameitz?

Good question, I thought. But what is “spiritual chameitz“? How do I get rid of something until I know what it is?

Let’s start with the converse. We know that chameitz isn’t matzah. There is plenty of Torah about the meaning of matzah. Perhaps if we look at that and take the opposite, we can get an idea of what chameitz means.

In historical order, the first time we find matzos in the Pesach story is during their servitude. Magid begins with the Aramaic words “Ha lachma anya — this is the poor bread which our forefathers ate in Mitzrayim.” In Hebrew, “lechem oni“, bread of poverty. Matzah as an experience of poverty and humility.

We are also given a second translation of “lechem oni“. Not only is “oni” a reference to poverty, but it can also be taken to mean “answer”. Matzah is also “she’onim alav devarim harbei — about which we answer many things” (Pesachim 36a). This is the matzah of which the Torah says “… וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ חָמֵץ וְלֹא יֵרָאֶה לְךָ שְׂאֹר בְּכָל גְּבֻלֶךָ. וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר… — and you shall not have chameitz, and you shall not find any leaven in all your borders. And you shall tell your children on that day, saying…” (Shemos 13:7-8)

Third, the Pesach offering must be eaten “on matzos and maror”. Matzah was eaten the night of the exodus, immediately before Par’oh expellled us from his country. Simply because Hashem said it is a “choq olam — a decree, forever” (Shemos 12:17). Matzah as obedience to Hashem.

Last, there is the matzah of the exodus itself. When “וַיִּשָּׂא הָעָם אֶת בְּצֵקוֹ טֶרֶם יֶחְמָץ — the nation carried the dough because it could not leaven” (ibid v. 34). We left with zerizus, haste to do what right.

So we find that matzah speaks to four things: humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus.

The four find parallel in the four cups of wine, giving these messages to the structure of our seder.

The first cup is filled before Qadeish. After qiddush, allowing us to drink that wine, it addresses Urchatz, Karpas and Yachatz — washing in preparation for dipping a vegetable in salt water, the dipping itself, and breaking the middle matzah in two. When we break that matzah, we say “Ha lachma anya — this is the bread of poverty that we ate in Mitzrayim”. (Most Haggados place this within Maggid, but I think making it the explanation of why we’re breaking the matzah in Yachatz fits better. None of which impacts the point of this post.) All of which refer to humility, to life as a slave in Egypt.

After “Ha lachma anya” we fill the second cup for Maggid, and leave that cup out until it is drunk at the end of Maggid — telling the story of the Exodus. This is “answering over it many things”. Learning and teaching.

The third cup is poured before Motzi, and is out while we eat the matzah, the maror, and the meal. We reenact the eating of the Pesach offering (in two different ways, the majority opinion and Hillel’s), fulfilling all the physical mitzvos of the evening still available to us. This is the step of commitment and obedience.

The last cup is before us as we sing Hashem’s praises. It’s a cup purely of redemption, of leaving Egypt — both the historical and our current Egypts — with alacrity. “ישועת ה´ כהרף עין — the salvation of G-d is like the blink of an eye.” (Idiom from Pesiqta Zutrasa, Esther 4:17, popularized by the Abarbanel’s repeated use)

Getting back to our original question, if matzah reminds us of humility, acting thoughtfully, commitment, and zerizus, what is it we need to rid ourselves of before Pesach? Egotism. mindless routine, lack of commitment, procrastination.

In this light, the Ar”i’s statement is more easily comprehensible. If we eliminate these character flaws, we’d have far less motivation to sin. Following the common customs the Ar”i’s words inspired gives us time in various parts of every room, time we could spend replaying scenes from the past year and how we interacted with our family. If we are to go beyond the letter of halakhah and remove every possible speck of chameitz, it would be appropriate to do so with thoughts of eliminating our motivators for sin.

This is a — if not the — key feature of preparing for Pesach. And if we can do so, we can merit to not only celebrate the great Shabbos of Shabbos haGadol, but also the Great Shabbos of “life of the world to come” (traditional Shabbos Zemirah).

Pesach 5761: The Four Sons Confront Tragedy

The Haggadah tells us that the Torah addresses the question of telling the Passover story to our children by referring to four different kinds of children. One is wise, one is evil, one is uncomplicated, and the last doesn’t know to ask questions. Each son asks a question, even if the last does so in his silence. We can see from the question what they are looking to take from the seder experience.

I believe these four approaches follow through in how we react to tragedy as well. Given the dismal state of current events, perhaps this is worth some exploration.

R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l (“the Rav”) addresses the question posed by the Holocaust in his seminal work on religious Zionism, “Kol Dodi Dofeik”. His position is that the question of why is there human suffering can’t be answered. Any attempt to address theodicy is going to insult the intellect or the emotions, and quite likely both. But “Why?” isn’t the Jewish question. Judaism, with its focus on halachah, on deed, asks, “What shall I do about it?”

The Rav continues by quoting the Talmudic principle, “Just as we bless [G-d] for the good, so we bless [Him] for the evil.” Just as we dedicate all the good that comes are way to be tools in our avodas Hashem, we also dedicate ourselves through our responses to suffering.

This is the wise son’s reaction. “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” The wise son is one who turns everything into a learning experience. His response to the seder is “What are the testimonial acts, the dictates, the laws, which Hashem our G-d commanded you?” How does G-d teach us to react to the events of Egypt and freedom? How am I supposed to react to tragedy?

When G-d presents tragedy to the wise son, they are called nisyonos — challenges or tests. Like the Akeidah, a learning experience for Abraham, to get him to fully realize his potential.

The second son, the wicked son, needs a wake up call. What the gemarah refers to as “yisurim”. In the weekday prayer “Tachanun” we ask G-d to forgive our sins “but not through yisurim or bad illness”.

The evil son of the Hagadah doesn’t respond to this wakeup call. He asks, — no, he says rhetorically, “What [good] is this job to you?” Our response is to blunt his teeth and point out that had he been there, he wouldn’t have been amongst those to merit the Exodus. We tell him that it’s not the tragedy that is leading him to rejecting G-d — it’s his rejection of G-d that lead him to the tragedy. I like to imagine he accepts this answer in the silence after the paragraph.

There is a second kind of yissurim, yissurim shel ahavah — tribulations of love. This is not where the person is being evil, but he’s not living up to his full potential. He too is in a rut, and G-d calls to him to break out of it and improve. G-d calls him to ahavah, to greater love and closeness to G-d.

This is the uncomplicated son, the one who believes with simple and pure faith. He asks “What is this?” and we answer with the Pesach story, with all that G-d did for us. Unlike the wise son, who wants to know all the laws of the day, all the nuances of how to react, the uncomplicated son is given motivation to cling to the A-lmighty.

Then there are times where the thing we want is a greater nisayon, a greater challenge, than the ones we don’t. And if we are not up to the challenge, if it’s a test that we couldn’t pass, G-d doesn’t make us face it.

There is a story told (Taanis 24b) of R’ Chanina ben Dosa, a man so holy that the Talmud tells numerous stories of miracles that occured to him. And yet one so poor that a heavenly Voice commented that the whole world was supported by R’ Chanina’s merit, but he himself lived off a small measure of carob from one Friday to the next.

Eventually his wife just couldn’t handle the abject poverty any longer. He agreed to her request that he pray for wealth. A heavenly hand came down and handed them a huge golden table leg. Certainly worth a fortune.

That night, R’ Chanina’s wife had a dream. They were in heaven, and all the other couples were sitting at three legged tables. Except for them. Their table only had two legs, it couldn’t stand.

Realizing that the third leg of their table was the gift they had received, she asked her husband to pray for it to be taken back. And it was.

R’ Chaim Vilozhiner associates the three legs of the table in this story with the mishnah (Avos 1:2) about the three pillars of the world: Torah, Divine service, and acts of charity. The Voice said, after all, that R’ Chanina supported the world.

The golden leg they received was the one of kindness. Until now, they had reason not to give more charity — they had nothing more to give. The story as R’ Chaim understands it (I wouldn’t say this about R’ Chanina ben Dosa on my own), suggests that R’ Chanina would have been unable to practice charity as he was worthy to had he had the opportunity.

So, R’ Chanina ben Dosa was poor.

Similarly, the person who is medically needy because that keeps him close to G-d. The person who, had he been healthy, would have been more distracted by the physical opportunities afforded him.

This is the son who doesn’t know how to ask. Unlike the wise son, who asks “How shall I respond?” or the son of uncomplicated, pure and simple faith, who asks “G-d, G-d, why have you forsaken me?” (Tehillim 22:1) this son isn’t asking anything. He isn’t capable of grappling with this issue — be it a tragedy, or be it the Exodus.

“You shall start for him.” Our response must be to help them grow.

Of course, these four sons are archetypes. Real people are wise on some issues, determined to be wrong about others. We have a simple straight to the point perspectives on yet other things, and there are those issues we aren’t prepared or ready to face. But it is only through growth that we can reach our goals as individuals and as a people.

© 2001,2002 The AishDas Society

Yom haAtzma’ut

A few years back, when Yom haAtzma’ut was also celebrated on Thursday 3 Iyyar, my father asked me what I thought about not saying Tachanun or saying Hallel. The choice of 5 Iyyar as the point at which we gained atzma’ut, independence, is itself not perfectly compelling. It was not the date we were given independence, or the date the war was won, but the date we made a declaration. No overt miracles. So even a full Zionist could question changing the liturgy for 5 Iyyar. And 3 Iyyar doesn’t even have that much!I replied that quite the contrary. Why is Yom haAtzma’ut celebrated early this year? Because the government has an office of the rabbanut , which did not want to establish a commemoration that would lead to Shabbos violation. The government doesn’t want to take responsibility for celebrations on Shabbos, or on Friday that could run into Shabbos and violate its laws.

Is not the existence of a country that adapts its commemorations for the sake of the Torah not extactly what we should be celebrating?

Rav Dovid Lifshitz spoke more than one year on the dual meaning of “atzma’ut”. Yes, we gained our “atzma’ut” our independence, our ability to be a fully capable and productive individual nation. However, “etzem” not only refers to an individual, it is also a bone or core. For observant Jews, Yom haAtzma’ut recalls what can only be considered a huge gift from the Creator, but only half of the task is done. The Jewish essence, the “etzem” is not yet manifest. We must respond to His gift.

Having a country that works to preserve Shabbos is one thing. Having one that doesn’t even need to, quite something else.

PS: In Rav Dovid Lishitz’s minyan on a year where Thursday was both an early Yom haAtzama’ut and BaHa”B, we said Tachanun, Selichos, and afterward Hallel without a berakhah.

Chayei Sarah – Kibbush and Chizuq

1. Buying Ma’aras haMachpeilah

It is interesting to note that Judaism’s holiest sites were not conquered but bought. Parashas Chayei Sarah opens with Avraham purchasing the Ma’aras haMakhpeilah and the fields around it. Later, Yaakov buys the city of Shechem from Canaanite princes, the sons of Chamor (Bereishis 33:19). Similarly, Shemuel II concludes with David haMelekh purchasing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from Aravnah the Jebusite.

R. Yoseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l, explained the meaning of qinyan, acquisition, in a speech given to the student body of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in the Spring of 1985. He noted that the root of the word qinyan is /קנה/, to manufacture. (It is also used in lesaqein, to repair.) This is because of the origin of the concept of commerce. Originally people owned what they made, the animals they raised, the plants they planted. The need for people to acquire things they were not personally able to make, lead to trading, barter, and eventually money. Purchasing uses the same root, because purchasing is a surrogate for manufacturing things yourself. I manufacture this, or provide this service, convert it into money, and exchange that effort for someone else’s manufacture or effort in providing that.

Once something is bought you have therefore also acquired its entire history. The person who sold it to you has effectively declared that “all I have done to increase its value was as a surrogate for you doing it yourself.”

2. Kibbush vs Chazaqah

R. Aharon Soloveitchikzt”l (Logic of the Mind, Logic of the Heart) writes of two kinds of acquisition. The first is “chazaqah”, holding. It comes from Hashem’s commandment to Adam “to guard the garden and keep it”. (Bereishis 2:13) This is the gift of reaching unto things through cultivation, work and dedication.

The other kind of acquisition R. Aharon calls “kibbush”, grasping. This kind of activity comes from Hashem’s other imperative to Adam, “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth vekhivshuhah — and subdue it”. (Bereishis 1:28)

In approaching the Benei Cheis, Avraham describes himself as “geir vetoshav anokhi imakhem — I am a stranger and a resident amongst you”. Avraham lived in two worlds, in the spiritual as well as the physical. He was amongst the Benei Cheis, but also apart from them. This gave Avraham two tools: chazaqah and kibbush.

The Western World is based on “might makes right”, “kochi veotzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh – my might, and the strength of my hand won me this battle”. The spirit of the West is “the hand of Eisav— the spirit of kibbush. Avraham didn’t feel the need to enforce his will with power, it was okay for him to be a geir.

Without kibbush society would not progress. We would have no new science or engineering, no new territory, evil would not be vanquished. But kibbush must have limits. While Hashem did command “vekhivshuhah”, He certainly wanted man to rise above the level of warring tribesmen.

The other is the gift of cultivation, of work and dedication and of reaching unto things and people through love, consideration, and guidance (“chazaqah”). We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t just constantly be looking to go further and to extend, we have to also develop what we have.

R. Aharon finds in this distinction the source of the gender differences in halakhah. Males have a tendency toward uncontrolled kibbush, while women are more focused on chazaqah. This places women on a higher spiritual plane than men. When a woman says “she’asani kirtzono — for He has made me according to His Will”, it is implied that men are further from that Will than she is. Women’s innate qualities as the last created creature (Rabbi Soloveichik words this as “the crown of Creation”), are already aimed at the fulfillment of G-d’s ultimate desire for mankind. The reason for the extra mitzvos and extra ritual placed on males is to reign in that uncontrolled kibbush.

What is that “ultimate desire for mankind”?

3. The two Batei Miqdash

R. Chaim Soloveitchik holds that there is a distinct difference between the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel that came with the first commonwealth and that of the second.

The first Temple did not create a permanent qedushah (holiness). The reason given is “that which was acquired through conquering is lost through conquering. The First Commonwealth built on land acquired in the wars of the days of Yehoshua and the Shoftim (Judges), was itself conquered.

The Second Commonwealth was “merely” an immigration of a group of Jews who decided to live in the land as Jews. It is predicated on the mitzvos done there, the education of children raised there. That kind of sanctity can not be undone. “Qidshah lisha’atah viqidshah le’asid lavo – it was sanctified for its time and sanctified for all time to come”. Even today, Har Habayis (the Temple Mount) has the sanctity of the Temple.

R. Aharon understands his grandfather’s words in the light of this distinction. The first commonwealth was founded on kibbush. It therefore had an inherently inferior qedushah. The second commonwealth was built by chazaqah. When Hashem tells Zecharia, “Not by force and not by might but by My spirit”, He is saying that the second Temple should be build on chazaqah, not kibbush, to lead to a permanent sanctification. “Neqeivah tesoveiv gever.”

Rav Aharon Soloveitchik notes Chanukah’s connection to Sukkos. According to Seifer haMakabiim, on the first Chanukah people who had just missed being oleh regel, going up to the beis hamiqdash, with their esrog and lulav, did so then at their first opportunity. Beis Shammai taught that one should light 8 lights the first night of Chanukah, 7 the second, learning from the 70 bulls offered for the mussaf on Sukkos, which also declined in number each day: 14 the first day, 13 the second, etc… Rav Yosi bar Avin or R’ Yosi bar Zevida explains that Beis Shammai are emphasizing the link between Chanukah and Sukkos. (We follow Beis Hillel, and teach that the ideal is to increase as the holiday progresses. They do not deny the connection; but rather Beis Hillel asserts an overriding halachic principle — that we increase in holiness over time.)

The concept of being a geir vetoshav is at the center of the similarity between the two holidays. Sukkos is a time when the toshav leaves his home to experience geirus in the Sukkah. Chanukah is also about the ger’s Chazaqah, the rededication of the second Beis haMiqdash. Not about winning the war – the war wouldn’t be over for years – but about being able to live in Israel as Jews, with access to the beis hamiqdash.

4. Qinyan as Chazakah

We go from looking at Rav Aharon’s elaboration of his grandfather’s concept to using his brother’s, R. Yoseph Ber’s insight to extend R. Aharon’s concept of chazaqah to things acquired by commerce as well. To buy something is to exchange a token of the chazaqah you have put into something else, and trade it for chazaqah on this object.

By combining these ideas, we understand why Chevron, Har haBayis and Shechem were bought. Buying is a means of chazaqah. It is inherently holier than if our claim were based on military victory.

The same idea can be used to understand why the gemara in Qiddushin (2a) asserts that the form of marriage is identical to that of a qinyan. This idea is proven from a gezeirah shavah (a comparison of terms) between the phrase “ki yiqach ish ishah — when a man takes a woman” (Devarim 22:13), and Avraham’s offer to Efron “nasati keseph hasadeh, kach mimeni — I have placed money for the field, take it from me” (23:13). In both cases the expression of “qichah — taking” is used.

(The halakhah is not teaching that women are ch”v bought and sold like chattel. You don’t need a gentile slave’s consent in order to buy him. Purchasing’s two parties are owner and buyer, not buyer and item bought. The fact that the wedding can not occur against her will shows that it isn’t a purchase. Second, the laws of ona’ah – overcharging and underpaying – would apply, and the value of the ring would need to be within 1/6th of the bride’s value.)

In the case of Chevron, Avraham was acquiring the entire field — from the beginning of time until the end. By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time. By using the form of chazaqah, the marriage, qiddushin, is on a higher plane. Like the ma’aras hamachpeilah, like the second Beis haMiqdash, the qiddushin thereby has the possibility of being an eternal holiness.

5. Gevurah and its Resolution

In Avos 4:1, Ben Zomah says “Who is a gibor, a warrior, one who is koveish his yeitzer, his inclination [toward evil]”. This is a proper use of kibbush, to vanquish evil, to change it into a tool for serving Hashem. It is interesting to note that the one who uses kibbush is called a “gibor”, from the same root as a word for man in the sense of specifically male as used in our pasuq in Zechariah – “gever”.

We find the term gibor in a prophecy about the messianic age. “How much longer will you stray, back-slidden daughter, and remain hidden and withdrawn? For Hashem has created something new on the earth, neqeivah tisoveiv gever — woman shall encircle man.” (Yirmiah 31:20-22)

We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can’t succeed in establishing a Paradise on earth unless we couple it with chazaqah. At the end of history, the Jewish people, the fallen daughter, the ger vetoshav, will return to Hashem. The principle missing in this galus, the balance of kibbush and chazaqah, will be restored. As man realizes that he is a spiritual being, thereby being freed from needing to be overly focused on the gibor’s battle against the yeizer. The neqeivah, the feminine side, chazaqah, will be restored to its rightful role.

In the time of the Messiah, there will be no pursuit of kibbush, rather everyone will pursue the gift of chazaqah. So women’s Divine endowment and her mandate to be true to that endowment is consonant with humanity’s spiritual and moral goals in the Messianic Era.

Why do we light the new candle first?

My son (4th grade) had a class Chanukah party, for which he was aked to prepare a devar Torah. A short vertl, a question and answer to fit in less than a minute.

My son wanted to know why we light the Chanukah menorah starting from the left candle and working your way to the right. Usually mitzvos start on the right! He was so drawn to this question, he was going to present it even though he didn’t have an answer.

Here’s what we eventually came up with (2 minutes before “showtime”):

One of the most important things in Yahadus is to constantly growing, to always try to be a greater tzadiq than one was the day before. We light the left candle first because it is the new candle. As we rule (following Beis Hillel), we light every day more than the day before because “ma’alin beqodesh velo moridin – we ascend in holiness, not refress”. We therefore start with the symbol of progress.

Pesach: Freedom from Preconceived Limitations

I appreciated this video from YU‘s Center for the Jewish Future.

Something to think about:

What does this notion of cheirus (freedom) say about the appropriate thoughts to have while cleaning the kitchen this Sunday?

What does it say about matzah, about something which is a symbol of both poverty and oppression yet also of the possibility of a sudden end to one’s troubles?

This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe.

When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All peaceful, vehinei Racheil bito ba’ah im hatzon — and here is Racheil his daughter, coming with the flock.” (Bereishis 29:6)

A few lines later, “When he is still speaking to them, veRacheil ba’ah im hatzon — and Racheil came with the flock that belongs to her father.” (Ibid v 9)

Notice that one time “ba’ah” is used to mean that Racheil was on her way, the other that she had arrived already. Rashi clarifies with a grammatical point; it makes a difference which syllable gets the trop mark and stress. The first usage was “ba’AH“, with the stress (tipechah) on the second syllable, meaning “she is coming”. The second, “BA’ah” (revi’i on the beis)– “she came”.

Everyone assumes that the line said at the end of Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder is “Leshanah haba’AH biYrushalayim — The coming year in Jerusalem”. But the Satmar Rav said this is a mistake.

We voice this desire at the close of Yom Kippur, shortly after the year began on Rosh haShanah, and on Pesach, shortly after the beginning of the year of months, the beginning of Nissan. We say it when a year just arrived. The line should not be said with the stress as “ha’AH” but rather say “BA’ah” — We are speaking of the year that just came!

Leshanah haBA’ah biYrushalayim habenuyah!
May the year that just began be spent in a rebuilt Jerusalem!

A Seder Thought

From this month’s Yashar (The Mussar Institute‘s newsletter), “How Mussar Affected My Life — Student Profile” by By Dorit Golan Cullen. (I wrote the majority of this entry in an email to The Mussar Institute’s list. It therefore was designed for people with less Jewish education but more commitment to a Mussar personal orientation than this blog’s usual target audience.)

I suggest reading the column now, if you haven’t yet, because the following is just the conclusion. Without the context and background, the point will be somewhat denuded:

Two and one-half years later, I’ve attracted wonderful people both in my personal and professional world because of the transformation of my character and my freedom to be open and honest in a different way with people.

Mussar has given me the voice to my inner feelings about my self and the people I dearly love. Mussar has also given me permission to select the people I want in my inner circle. As I write, I am feeling at peace, balance and purer than I was in the summer of 2004. Thank you for taking me on this wonderful ride called life.

Mussar can be a very freeing experience.

I think it’s no coincidence that the traditional seder is a precise 15 step program. It reminds me of one of the “ladders” found in many of the mussar texts — most famously, in the structure of Mesilas Yesharim. (Available for free in English and the original Hebrew.) We start with Zehirus – Caution, move on to Zerizus – Zeal, to Neqi’us – moral Spotlessness, to Perishus – Separation from challenges we can’t yet master, and so on. Step by step, a path from wherever we were when reading page 1 to the heights of Qedushah-Holiness.

And so too the seder. Qadeish — committing ourselves to the journey. And immediately, even with an “u-” prefix as a conjunctive, we have “uRchatz — AND Wash”. Chapter 1 — commitment. But before that commitment can cool, immediately, start washing away the unholiness of the past. And so on, step by step, from study to living through the Exodus to the point where we can partake of a meal and it be a sacred meal, to Nirtzah (from the root /רצה/, desire), where we are as G-d desires us to be.

The seder is a mussar ladder. We not only recall the Exodus from Egyptian bondage 3319 or so years ago, but also the Exodus from the spiritual degradation. The Exodus is not merely a one time event, but an interruption of history designed to show us what is constantly occurring in our own lives.

In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Mitzrayim. Translated: a pair of troubles. Everyone recalls a time when they got their lives back after being stuck between a pair of troubles, between a rock and a hard place. The assistance that G-d sent our way is our own “Exodus from Mitzrayim“. Each one not only freedom from physical or emotional bondage, but an opening for spirituality. If we only choose to climb that Mussar Ladder…

In less poetic, nitty-gritty life, to me, the big mussar challenge I will be facing this evening is giving my chlidren the seder that want and need, rather than the one I want to give. Being able to balance my duty to teach them with what it is they are ready to receive. Taking into account the differences between their world view and mine, their priorities and mine. To be empathetic enough to see how that changed with their growth over the past year. For me, that is my “uRchatz“, my taking that commitment to holiness of Qaddeish, of making qiddush on that first cup of wine, and running with it to wash away my habitual errors.

Like the Laws of Pesach

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה’ אֱ-לֹקֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן.

The wise son of the Hagaddah asks, “What are the laws of testimony, the metarational laws, and the more intuitive laws which Hashem our G-d has commanded you?” The wise son already knows much about the structure of halakhah, he is implicitly asking for a breakdown by asking for the laws by category: The eidos are comprehensible to people, but only after being taught the background of what it is they commemorate. Chuqim are laws that are beyond human comprehension, that we keep out of loyalty to and trust in the One Who commanded them. And mishpatim are laws that make intuitive sense based on human notions of law and ethics.

The answer we are told to give him is to “tell him like the laws of Pesach. Do not eat dessert after the Pesach [offering].” Usually this is understood to mean that you are to teach him all the laws of Pesach up to the very last one — do not eat after eating from the qorban.”

The Sefas Emes points out that this explanation is quite a stretch. It doesn’t say “teach him the laws of Pesach until” the one about not eating afterward. Rather, it says, “teach him kehilkhos haPesach, like the laws of Pesach, one may not eat…”

Why isn’t one supposed to eat after eating from the Pesach offering? Because you should be left with the taste of the mitzvah in your mouth.

The Sefas Emes explains that this is the point we must teach the Chacham. He is very focused on the intellectual pursuit of understanding the mitzvos of the night. With that fixation, he might miss experiencing the Seder, the lessons that can only be learned by living through it, rather than trying to comprehend it. Torah study is important, but it can not supplant the changes one undergoes by actually performing the individual mitzvah.
Therefore we teach him that all of Torah is “like that law of Pesach: do not eat dessert after eating the Pesach offering.” Savor the experience, the taste of the mitzvah.

Hashem is Righteous

Eli Turkel summarized some thoughts from the 100 pages introduction to the sefer “The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways”, from the notes of R’ JB Soloveitchikzt”l. The format isn’t the usual for this blog, being more like his notes, but then, it wasn’t written for this blog either.


  • Many things are missing from the Tisha Ba’av tefila: Tachanun, Avinu Malkenu, Titkabel (in the morning), Neilah (unlike a taanit tzibur over rain)
  • We don’t sit on chairs only until noon unlike other dinei aveilut that apply the whole day. Nachem only in the afternoon.
  • A mourner is prohibited in all work while on Tisha Ba’av only work that disturbs ones concentration. One should cry on tisha ba’av but there is nothing equivalent for a mourner.
  • The kinot do not stress the absence of korbanot and other avodah in the Temple unlike musaf of Yom Kippur.
  • Moed” in the Eichah has nothing to do with happiness. How can Tisha Ba’av be considered a happy day.

Answer: The essence of Tisha Ba’av is “Sattom Tefillati” On Tisha Ba’av we mourn not the destruction of the Temple but rather the result that we are distant from Hashem. While between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are close to Hashem on Tisha Ba’av we are at the other extreme. Hence, it is not appropriate to add requests like Neilah, Tachanun, Avinu Malkenu or Titkabal. RYBS refused to say a request for a sick person on Tisha Ba’av. … [I]t is a day far away from approaching G-d with Teshuva. RYBS interpreted Moed in the original sense. Tisha Ba’av is an appointed time – for destruction and removal from this time. Thus we don’t say Tachanun because it is a holiday but rather because of our distance from Hashem.

We mention other tragedies like the Crusades since the essence is not the Temple but what can happen when G-d is distant.

A mourner is not required from the din to not sit on chairs. Hence the requirement on Tisha Ba’av is not because of aveilut which in fact would last the whole day and similarly for work. Rather we don’t sit on chairs because we are banned from Hashem and working would disturb are kinot. A mourner’s main obligation is “aveilut be-lev“. Inward and not crying. On Tisha Ba’av the mourning is not natural and so we force ourselves to cry. Similarly the 3 weeks build up to the highest level slowly as we learn intellectually about our distance from G-d. A mourner is emotional and begins with the worst and slowly acclimates to the world. Kinot and Eichah are central to Tisha Ba’av but not to a mourner because we must cause ourselves to feel the loss of the Temple while for a mourner it is natural.

After Mincha we begin Nechama. Paradoxically this occurs when the fire was set to the Temple. Hence we are comforted that G-d chose to destroy wood and stone rather than the nation. In the morning it was not clear what the punishment would be. [Emphasis mine. -mi] So the afternoon changes from stressing our distance from G-d to a more “normal” aveilut of other fast days though the 5 “iyunim” of a taanit tzibur continue but not sitting on the floor or titkabel and now we can say nachem.

Hilkhos Mashiach

On Avodah, Saul Newman gave the following summary of halakhos related to bi’as hamashiach from an article in the Yated. I found that the pragmatic halachic discussion gave some mamashus (tangibility) to the idea.

In conclusion, we may recite a total of eight special brachos when Moshiach arrives, in the following order:

  1. When we first hear from a reliable source the good news of Moshiach’s arrival, we will recite Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam hatov vehameiteiv.
  2. When we see the huge throngs of Jews assembled to greet him, which will no doubt number at least 600,000 people, one recites, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam chacham ha’razim.”
  3. When one sees the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash or rebuilt shuls or batei medrash, one recites, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam matziv gevul almana.” Theoretically, one might recite this bracha before the bracha Chacham ha’razim, if one sees the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash before one sees the huge throngs.
  4. When we actually see Moshiach, we will recite, “Baruch Atah Hashem
    Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av
  5. Immediately after reciting this bracha, we will recite the bracha, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam shechalak mei’chachmaso lirei’av.” According to some poskim, one may recite these last two brachos when aware that Moshiach is nearby, even if one cannot see him.

Michael Kopinsky noted on this item that it presumes that the melekh hamashiach will be a rabbinic figure as well as king. This was true for our greatest kings — David and Shelomo — but it is not a prerequisite for the job. As he asks, “Was Bar Kochva, for example, eligible for the bracha of shechalak meichachmaso?” and yet that didn’t prevent Rabbi Aqiva from deciding Bar Kochba qualified to be mashiach.

  1. When one actually sees Moshiach, one should recite Shehechiyanu.
  2. , 8. According to the Lev Chaim, on the anniversary of Moshiach‘s arrival, we will again recite Shehechiyanu to commemorate the date, and we will recite a long bracha mentioning some of the details of the miraculous events of his arrival. This bracha will close with the words, Baruch Atah Hashem Go’al Yisroel.

The Last Tish’ah be’Av

I recall one year I had just started a new camp. I was davening in the evening, at the very beginning of Tish’ah be’Av, and I heard a shofar blow. After a moment, I realized it was the PA system, that this was the camp’s “siren” marking the beginning of the fast. I have no idea how deep my belief in the constant possibility of mashiach really runs today; I have no way of checking how far down it reaches. But for that one beautiful moment, I believed.

[28-Aug-2007] I was reminded of  a similar story R’ JB Soloveitchik tells from his childhood.

The story takes place in Chaslovitch on a seder night. Rabbi Soloveitchik was a boy of 6 or 7 at the time. The seder proceeds as expected, and they get to “Shefoch Chamaskha“. As is customary, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik sent little Yoshe-Ber to open the door for Eliyahu.

And there he was! Dressed in white, a long white beard, standing at the door. Eliyahu haNavi! The time for redemption was at hand!

Until the man asked if Rav Moshe was home, he had a question. There is a halakhah that the qorban Pesach must be eaten in a single place. And, if one eats some of the qorban and then falls asleep, if he eats more of it upon waking up it’s considered a “second place”, even if it physically is the same location. Well, this man, in his kittel with a long Lubavitcher beard (Chaslovitch’s Jews was primarily  Lubavitch, despite their insistence on a Litvisher rav), fell aslessp during the seider. Now he wanted to know: Is can he eat his afikoman, or, because it commemorates the qorban Pesach, the same law would apply?

(An aside: When Rav Soloveitchik retold the story to the rabbis and balebatim in Moriah, they asked what Rav Moshe answered. He replied, roughly: How do I know? I was a little boy! I probably didn’t even understand what was going on.)

But for that one beautiful moment…

Simchah and Oneg

Simchah is related to wanting and having, because Ben Zoma defines the wealthy person as “sameiach bechelqo — happy with his lot”.

The Tanya speaks about how each aspect of the soul lives in tension between “ratzon – desire/will” and ta’anug. Thus we see that “oneg” too is related to wanting and having.

However, the mitzvah on Yom Tov is deemed simchas Yom Tov, whereas for Shabbos we speak of oneg Shabbos.
Simchah has codified requirements: for men, meat (some rishonim say that deOraisa it’s only the meat of the shelamim sacrice, but all agree that including derabbanan, it also calls for meat in general) and wine, for women, new clothing and jewelry, for children, sweets. The two differ.

Perhaps we can explain this in light of my previous entry which suggested that

… I think ben Zoma’s notion of my lot in life is the path Hashem placed before me to travel. Not where I stand now physically, socially, psychologically or spiritually. Not even where G-d is leading me. My lot is the trip along the way. The whole roller coaster ride, the peaks and the dips. … The job for which G-d created me as I am, when I live and where I live, with the people I know, the responsibilities I face, and the challenges He throws at me, solely because this is something His great plan required that required his having a Micha Berger to do it.

But in light of an Avodah discussion, I noticed that my notion also implies a possible distinction between simchah and oneg. The Tanya defines oneg as the satisfaction of a desire, the achievement of something one willed to accomplish. If simchah is satisfaction with one’s general life as a process, oneg is enjoyment of where I stand at the current point.

Rabbi Nachman Cohen, my principal as a Junior in High School, once defined Shabbos for us as “Shabbos is the island in time which is the eternal present.” Taking a break in the process to assess where one is going. Thus the greater cessation from melakhah, creative activities on Shabbos than on Yom Tov. (And even greater on Yom Kippur, where stopping to assess is even more critical.) It makes no sense to hurry up the ladder to get to the top of the wall only to afterwards realize the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall! Someone who looks back on their life with regret that they traded their role as parent to be a “success” at their career simply never kept Shabbos. And they never found oneg. Enjoyment of the accomplishments of the moment. Pausing.

All of this would imply that simchah requires more indoctrination than oneg. It is easier to take joy in what’s before you than in the more abstract concept of the path your life takes — including both triumphs and challenges. This would justify why halakhah defines exercises with which to express / internalize simchas Yom Tov in a way that it does not for Shabbos.

Perhaps this too can be explained in light of a point R’ JB Soloveitchik draws from Qabbalah. In Qabbalah there are two concepts: is’arusa delesata — the awakening [of holiness] from below, and is’arusa dele’eilah — the awakening from above. Shabbos happens every 7th day, G-d set it in motion, He is reaching down to us. It is is’arusa del’eila. Yamim Tovim depend on beis din setting the months. Thus, they are is’arusa delesata, from us up to Hashem. This is why the berakhah in the Amidah for Yom Tov is meqadeish Yisrael vehazmanim — who Sanctifies Israel and the [special] times”. The times’ holiness comes from Israel’s. For Shabbos, we simply say “meqadeish haShabbos“, no dependency on Israel.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains this idea using the metaphor of visiting. On Shabbos, we come to visit the A-lmighty. Is’arusa dele’eila — He invites us. On Yom Tov, we invite Hashem to join us. Shabbos involves oneg because when you’re the guest, the Host provides things as per your desires. When you are the host, things are patterned around the Guest’s instructions — the more structured simchah.

I think this ties in. On Shabbos, Hashem invites us to take time to be “in the moment” to check the ladder rather than climb it. Thus, the mitzvah is oneg, happiness with the moment, and the more tangible kind of enjoyment. We are His guests, enjoying what He provides us. Thus, “sheishes yamim ta’avod — strive for six days”, and then take the time for oneg — to acknowledge what needs were satisfied. On Yom Tov, the focus is on His “happiness” (so to speak), and thus is about our role in His greater plan. It’s simchah.

Recognizing Your Friend in the Dark

Rav Hutner, in the Pachad Yitzchaq for Purim, addresses the famous medrash (on Mishlei 9) which says that after moshiach comes, all the holidays will cease except Purim. This is derived from the verse (Esther 9:28) “the memory of Purim will never cease from among their descendants.”

The notion that all the holidays in the Torah are not permanent is halachically and hashkafically problematic, so I am reluctant to take this literally. But in either case the primary point is to identify the lesson the medrash is teaching.

Rav Hutner gives a metaphor of two students who were given the job of recognizing their friend in the dark. One is given a flashlight. His job is easy and immediate — shine the light on them and see. The other is given no tools. He learns to listen to voices, to recognize footsteps. At the end of the experiment, though, who learned more? When dawn comes, the first student is exactly where he was the day before. However, the second student now know more about his friend.

Pesach is the flashlight. It’s easy to see G-d’s role in the explicit miracles of leaving Egypt. But in the light of the messianic era, what does Pesach add? Purim teaches us to see Hashem even in the mundane. Purim adds to our relationship with the Creator in a manner that dissimilar and goes beyond.

To add my 2 cents (gild the lily?)…

The difference between the miraculous and the mundane is one of perspective. I’ve written about this before, based on the Maharal’s introduction to Gevuros Hashem, and Rav Dessler’s further development of the notion. In short, most of what we call reality primarily reflects the patterns we place on what’s out there. As the medrash says about the plague of blood, something can be both blood and water, depending on the observer. (See “Rav Dessler on Perception and Reality” for details; actually a good percentage of this blog is related.)

I approached the same idea from a different direction when discussing the miracles of R’ Chanina ben Dosa (Mesukim miDevash, Bo):

[T]here is a famous story of Rav Chanina ben Dosa, a miracle-working tanna who was so poor that he lived off a [qav of] carob from Shabbos to Shabbos. [Carob grew untended, and was available for free.] One week his daughter filled the Shabbos lights with vinegar rather than oil. She was distressed by this mistake, perhaps because of their inability to afford wasted oil or vinegar. Rav Chanina answered her, “He Who made oil burn can make vinegar burn.” And the vinegar burned. Rav Chanina witnessed miracles because they would not violate his free will. He saw the supernatural burning of vinegar no more proof of G-d’s existence than he saw everyday within nature. (Taanis 25a)

The next week I followed up with:

Last week, we explored the story of Rav Chanina ben Dosa’s daughter who accidentally poured vinegar into the Shabbos lamp instead of oil. R’ Chanina ben Dosa told her to light the vinegar. “He who commanded oil to burn could command vinegar to burn.” Last week we explained his statement in erms of free will; the vinegar burning would not prejudice R’ Chanina toward greater faith in Hashem any more than oil burning would.

The Maharal gives us another explanation. Most of us live within a world in which the laws we call “teva” apply. R’ Chanina ben Dosa, however, lived in a world where the laws of neis applied. In this world, oil and vinegar are equally flammable.

Purim is not simply about the possibility of miracles; it’s about being in a world where the natural is as visibly the “Hand” of G-d as the miraculous. To enter a world where oil and vinegar are equally flammable.

That is recognizing His Voice and Step in the darkness.

R’ Hutner concludes:

We see that there exist two types of light. The first is, ” G-d is my light,” and the second is, “Though I sit in darkness, G-d is my light” (Micah 7:8) The special quality of Purim is its ability to bring to the fore the light which breaks through the darkness. Just as that unique light which guides man through darkness has a unique advantage, even surpassing the normal light of the sun, so, too, the pearls of knowledge which shine through the “not knowing” of the ad delo yada of Purim, are especially precious.

Purim and Permanence

One of the questions that have pried on my conscience is exactly how we managed to let life return to normal in the past 6 years. 9/11 was supposed to make everything different, but no longer to we see all that much of the friendliness and helpfulness that was our culture for those first months.

And now, just two weeks ago, we again are immersed in tragedy. Who can blog on young boys killed, particularly on Purim? It would seem designed by the A-lmighty to have happened to boys whose death would echo across the whole Torah observant community. Boys from a Religious Zionist yeshiva, killed because they were the ones who needed to grab another few minutes in front of a seifer when everyone else was preparing to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar II. Thus awakening the chareidi sector with images of what they dream for their own sons.

Meanwhile, here in the Greater New York area we were morning a death that also seemed designed to unify the community. Of all people, Rav Zev Segal whose son is on the radio. And a type of death that left his whereabouts unknown, mobilizing many of the fine members of our various chesed organizations, and a crowd fathering worried about their radios as they wondered where his was throughout a morning’s show.

And just in case someone failed to see the unifying theme behind both events, the idea that we need to unify, there is an eerie element connecting them. Rabbi Segal was a survivor– and likely the last survivor of a previous attack on a yeshiva, the slaughter in the Chevron Yeshiva during the 1929 pogrom.

And so, the question that burns within me: How do we hold on to that unity? How do we not waste another opportunity for permanent change?

דברים כה:יז זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
יח אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃
יט וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַֽחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃

Devarim 25:17 Remember what Amaleiq did to you on your way out of Egypt.
18 When they happened upon you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear God.
19 Therefore, when Hashem gives you peace from all the enemies around you in the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you to occupy as a heritage, you must obliterate all reminders of Amaleiq from under the heavens. You must not forget.

Rashi on our verse identifies Amaleiq with a philosophy of miqreh, happenstance. Thus the use of the word qarkha — happened upon you. There is also frequent mention of the gematria of Amaleiq being the same as that of safeiq, doubt (240). They taught of a world of accident, not purpose. This is why, in the original war against Amaleiq, Moshe’s role was to sit atop the mountain with his hands raised, and “As long as the Jewish people looked Heavenwards and humbled their hearts to their Father in heaven, they prevailed.” (Rosh haShanah 2aa)

The word “qarkha“, is somewhat ambiguous, allowing Chazal (cited by Rashi on Devarim to also be taken as a derivative of “qar“, cold — “who cooled you off on the way”. Amaleiq is also identified with a cooling off of the spiritual high and prestige Israel had after all the miracles of the first half of the book of Shemos. To quote the Tanchuma:

Amalek cooled you off in the presence of others. This may be likened to a boiling hot bath, which no person could enter, for fear of being scalded. One roughneck came along and jumped into the steaming water. Although he became scalded, he cooled it off for others; now others will say that it’s possible to enter this hot bath. Likewise, when the Jews left Egypt, at the time of the Exodus, G-d split the Sea for them and all the Egyptians were drowned in it. At that time, the fear of the Jews – and G-d – fell upon all nations of the world, as is written, “Then were frightened the Dukes of Edom..” (Shemos 15:15)

Combining these two, we get an image of Amaleiq who allows our spiritual peaks cool by making up excuses, how the event we found so moving and inspiring at the time can be explained away as coincidence or a single odd event, nothing to cause us to rethink “real life”.

Amaleiq stands for that very thing that is so bothering me — the mindset which avoids holding on to permanent improvement.

And so, Purim’s fight against Haman can be viewed as a battle to see the meaning in the events of our lives, and to refuse to simply “cool off” after them. That purim, lots, aren’t random, they are expressions of the Will of G-d. Whether it is Hashem’s postponing Haman’s attack until we had a chance to do teshuvah or whether it is the difference between the goat chosen in the Beis haMiqdash on Yom hakePurim to be headed upward to G-d, or downward to ruin.

This notion that Purim explains the way to make a change permanent dovetails well with ideas we have discussed in the past. In a thought on parashas Pequdei I wrote:

There is a famous Aggadita that explains why Moshe Rabbeinu could not be the one to take us into Eretz Yisrael. Anything Moshe did is permanent. This is important, because if it were possible to abrogate one thing that he did, it brings into question the permanence of the Torah. However, Hashem knew that the time would come when the Jews would deserve punishment. By having Joshua bring us into Israel, it made the choice of exile a possible punishment.

… On the eighth day the assembly was done by Moshe. The eighth day also parallels the Third Beis Hamikdosh, which will never be destroyed. Moshe was not merely participating in the consecration of the Mishkan, but also was demonstrating the permanence of the Messianic age. The Temple will not fall again, there will be no more exiles.

But what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the power of permanence?

We find that Hashem uses two adjectives to describe Moshe. The first is anav, modest….

R. Yochanan Hasandler (Avos 4:14) describes what gives permanence to a congregation. “Any congregation which is lesheim Shamayim will end up existing, and congregation which is not lesheim Shamayim will not end up existing.”

Perhaps this too is the source of the permanence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions. Just as a congregation that is lesheim Shamayim endures, so too other activities.

In turn, when defining anavah we looked at Esther’s willingness to step forward “if it’s for this very time that you reached royalty” and how stepping forward and making something of herself required “ka’asher avadti avadti – as I am lost, so I will be lost. A balance between knowing who you are capable of being and who you aren’t.

And so, Esther too explains that road to real, permanent, change.

And, as we noted last week, Purim is permanent in a way the other holidays isn’t. It alone has a role that doesn’t end with the messiah.

And this would explain why the megillah’s story doesn’t end with the Jews’ victory in defending themselves. It continues on to tell us how to revisit the events of Purim each year. And then, the short chapter 10… After everything the king goes back to setting taxes, and Mordechai is liked by most of Jewry. Not all, this is no fairy tale ending. Everything is back to the same, but it isn’t… There is commitment for the future, and thus the journey to the second Beis haMiqdash began.

A while ago I wrote about Greek notions of circular time in contrast to Judaism, which gave the notion of progress to the world. Not that we deny circular time; each year at the seder, “a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself left Egypt”. However, in addition to the repetition of the shanah, we have the notion of incremental progress of the yom. Eis and zeman. We have the lessons we can take from that day’s new events, and the concept of chazarah, reviewing the lessons we would otherwise relegate to ancient history.

And so, to return to our opening question… How do we hold on to that unity that so clearly was engineered by the A-lmighty emerge from the tragedy of the past two weeks? First, take the lesson. Notice the unity and note how Hashem was teaching us something. Hislamdus.

Second, revisit it. Today is Purim. Take responsibility for the poor you give your money to, and when you meet them, treat them as people, not tzedaqah cases. When giving out mishloach manos, think about and appreciate the friends and neighbors who stop by. Think about renewing that friendship with the person who dropped off this year’s list but still had you among their names. And perhaps you might read this with time to still bring one last package to someone outside of your normal circle. Someone who approaches G-d differently than you do, who dresses differently and has a different social group. If enough of us bridge the gap, that gap could disappear.

Sweet Charoses

(Version II of an earlier thought.)

Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is a mitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

So which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of the sweetness of freedom?

Thinking about it, though, matzah presents a similar ambiguity. We open Magid by describing matzah as “the bread of suffering which we ate in Egypt”. Yet, later on, when we repeat Rabban Gamliel’s three things that must be said to fulfill the obligation of the seder, we say we eat matzah “because there was not enough [time] for our ancestors dough to rise”.

Again, which is it — a symbol of slavery, or of a hasty redemption?

What is interesting is that we see the same duality in the very concept of mitzvah. On the one hand, the root of the word is \צוה\, to command. This is the idea we convey before taking out the Torah, in “Berikh Shemei” (from the Zohar). “I am a servant of the Holy One, blessed be He”. We keep mitzvos for a simple reason. G-d told us to.

However, the word for “commandment” is “tzivui“. Mitzvah is built from the passive form, a less probable conjugation, “that which was commanded”. The late Lubavitcher Rebbezt”l opined that this is an allusion to a second root, \מצצ\ or \מצו\, to connect for nourishment or aim. Mitzvah can be read as the feminization of this root. Which gives us a second definition of “mitzvah” — not only are they “what G-d commanded” but also they provide a focus to our lives, a way to connect to Him. And so the selfsame Zohar we cited in the previous paragraph occasionally refers to the mitzvos as the “Taryag itin — the 613 eitzos, ideas / pieces of advice”.

In a shi’ur on the berakhah before netilas Yadayim, I suggested that this is the reason for the phrasing of berakhos on mitzvos, “asher qidishanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu — Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us…” Mitzvos are to be viewed both as an opportunity to draw qedushah and as a straightforward act of submitting to His command.

“‘The tablets were engraved (charus) by G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d.’ (Shemos 32) Don’t read ‘charus‘, but ‘cheirus‘ (freedom). For no one is more free than one is busy with Torah study.”
— Pirkei Avos 6:2

Mitzvah operates on two levels. Servitude, simple obedience to G-d. Freedom, doing what is in our best interest. And here is where the two ideas we’ve been looking at converge.

“You will guard the matzos” that they shall not come to leaven…. R. Avohu says, “It should not be read ‘matzos‘ but rather ‘mitzvos‘. Just as we don’t let matzos leaven, we similarly don’t let mitzvos ‘leaven’. Rather, if one comes to your hands, do it immediately.”
— Rashi, Sh’mos 12:17

Matzos, in the guise of “there was not enough time”, teaches us about the proper way to do mitzvos. They parallel because they both share the same dual nature. On the first level, one would assume they are unpleasant, something one would want to avoid. But by the time we’ve explored the subject, toward the end of “Magid“, you can feel how they represent the path to freedom.

The mitzvah is a yoke we accept upon ourselves because we know that Hashem commanded (\צוה\) it to nourish us (\מצצ\). On the surface layer, it is “the bread of affliction” but we eat it by choice, because we trust the G-d gave them to us to help us.

This is a major theme in the Exodus story in general. As we say in Sh’ma “I am Hashem your G-d who took you out of the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d/Legislator.”

We also have a key to understanding the apparently oxymoronic symbolism of charoses. It doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast.

Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

(It is interesting to note that due to the inclusion of the next 2 verses in bentching (“Yir’u es Hashem qedoshav…“)and R’ Yisrael Meir haKohen Kagan’s choice of title to his seifer “Chafeitz Chaim”, added to the efforts of a number of 20th century songwriters, many people are aware of the mussar content of this chapter of Tehillim. However, this preceding verse doesn’t get the same attention.

Na’aseh viNishmah — we will do, and we will hear.” Doing come first because only through the first-hand experience can we hear the beauty, the depth, of the Torah.

Tam, what does he say?

The text of our Haggadah for identifying the third son is somewhat ambiguous. The word “tam” means “simple”. It could refer to someone who is simple minded. And this is the interpretation assumed in most translations of the Haggadah — “The simple son”. And then there is the frequently repeated thought on the words “At pisach lo — you shall open [the discussion] for him”, or perhaps even “you shall Passover for him”. The verb “pisach” is in the masculine, but the noun “at” is feminine. Because teaching the simple son requires a woman’s touch, or in this case, that the father be in touch with his feminine side.

However, I have seem commentaries that note that “tam” is used in the Torah as a compliment. Simple in the sense of having a pure faith, a first-hand relationship with the A-lmighty. And so while the Chakham (who may very well be a different aspect of the same person as the Tam) is taught the laws of Pesach, the Tam is given the heart of Pesach. We could say that the Chakham is the ideal pursued by the stereotypical Litvak, whereas the Chassid is trying to be this understanding of the word Tam.

♦ ♦ ♦

When R’ JB Soloveitchik was “Berel, the Rabbi’s son”, a boy living in the predominantly Chabad town of Chaslovitch, the cheder he attended was in a room rented from the carpenter. The carpenter was a “pashuter Yid — a simple Jew” as they would have said in Yiddish. Whenever he worked, the carpenter would say Tehillim. The future Rabbi Soloveitchik noticed that he had things timed; whenever the carpenter drove in the last nail it was just as he finished the last verse of Tehillim. Regardless of the size or complexity of the piece, the man would say Tehillim at just the right speed to match.

It is like the Zohar’s comment on the words “Chanokh walked himself with G-d, and he was gone for G-d had taken him” (Bereishis 5:24). The Zohar states that Chanokh was a shoemaker, and with every stitch he not only attached the uppers to the soles, he also pronounced names of G-d and unified the worlds. And at some point his soul simply sored upward and left this world without dying. (Similar in kind to Eliyahu’s mode of passing.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Rav Soloveitchik would repeat the Vilna Shoemaker Dilemma. While the Gaon studied Torah in Vilna, there was another man, not recorded by history, who was Vilna’s shoemaker. He wasn’t a gifted genius, nor capable of sleeping in half-hour installments and accomplishing work 22+ hours a day. Of course, in terms of Torah the Vilna Gaon knew more and taught more. But the shoemaker spent his days banging at his shoes and saying Tehillim with pure thought. He too accomplished everything he could with what Hashem gave him. Who was holier?

And in a statement one would have expected from a chassidic story, not this heartland of Lithuanian learning, the answer is simply “We can’t know.”

I think it’s no coincidence that Rav Chaim Volozhiner, a student of the Vilna Gaon, tells a story which concludes: “And there I hear a voice from the street. I put my head out the window and I see Eli the shoemaker running excited. ‘What happened Eli? What happened to the light of the sun? Why are the birds singing so loudly? Why are all the trees suddenly blooming?’ The shoemaker responded ‘Don’t you know rebbe?’ The shoemaker gave me a look at said, ‘Moshiach came'”

♦ ♦ ♦

The version of the four sons in our Hagaddah follows the Talmud Bavli. In the Yerushalmi, there is no such ambiguity — this son is call the Tipesh, the child who isn’t as bright as most of us.

As a procedural question, textual variants can be taken two ways. The first approach would be to assume there is no dispute, that these are simply two different expressions of the same basic idea. Which would imply in our case that “tam” would have to mean “simple minded”. The other is to assume that the Bavli intentionally used a different word than the Yerushalmi in order to express a difference of opinion. And therefore “tam” here would be someone who is “spiritually unconflicted”, wholeheartedly a servant of G-d.

I happen to have a son who would be called a “tipeish” if the term hadn’t been turned into an insult. Shuby has Downs. But he truly is tam in both senses of the word: because his understanding of the universe is so uncomplicated, if I tell him “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere” — He is. To Shuby, when reminded of the fact, Hashem’s Presence is just as real and immediate as mine.

The Vilna Shoemaker or Chaslavitch Carpenter were not among history’s Chakhamim (although there is no reason to believe they were any less bright than most). But they were Temimim; they lived their lives with only one goal — to serve Hashem with the upmost of what He gave them.

Their worldview is captured by Shalom Aleikhem in the mouth of Tevye the Milkman. He may mangle every verse or statement of Chazal that he tries to repeat, but his life is a continuous dialog with the A-lmighty. We meet him coming home moments before candle-lighting on Friday afternoon. He is pulling his milk cart, and muttering something. As we get closer, we hear him ask the A-lmighty, “But did You have to break my poor horse’sWas that necessary? Did you have to make him lame just before the Sabbath? That wasn’t nice. It’s enough you pick on me. Bless me with five daughters, a life of poverty, that’s all right. But what have you got against my horse’s leg?” And so he continues, his constant discussion. In his own little way, Tevye fulfills “Shevisi Hashem lenegdi tamid – I place Hashem before me constantly” in a manner matched by few who have greater erudition.

Of course, the true goal would be to have both.

Eizehu chakham? Halomeid mikol adam.” Ben Zoma teaches us, “Who is wise? Someone who can learn from anyone.” Finding what to learn from the Vilna Gaon is trivial. But what are we to learn from the third son? “Tam, mah hu omeir?

This temimus, this purity of belief and personality is accessible even — no, let me write “more so” — to the Yerushalmi’s tipeish, the simple boy who may not be able to understand everything going on around him, but who uses the all the beauty Hashem gave him to touch heaven with his fingertips.


A couple of years ago I collected some of my own thoughts and others from around the web into a commentary on the Haggadah shel Pesach. I took special care to give the seider a definite structure, as in this blog entry, in accordance with the meaning of the word seider, order.

Blogged Divrei Torah about Pesach are all available by  visiting this category.

Earlier divrei Torah for Pesach:

Toras Aish 5762 Lekhem Oni and Packing Peanuts

Aspaqlaria 5764 Who Knows Four?


There are three words for counting that factor prominently in the Torah.

Parashas Pequdei gets its name from Moshe Rabbeinu’s accounting of all the material collected for the mishkan. The root \פקד\ has three meanings altogether:

  1. To count out inventory
  2. To remember, “veHashem padas es Sarah ka’asher amar — and Hashem remembered Sarah [so that she could conceive Yitzchaq, as He said..” (It is worth comparing this usage of “paqad” with “zachar“.)
  3. To appoint, as in Yoseif’s method for running Egypt’s storehouses – “vayafqeid peqidim“.

I point this out in relationship to another root used to mean counting, \ספר\, which also has three meanings. This is mentioned in Seifer haYetzirah, discussed by the Kuzari (4:25), and is the reason why the 10 sefiros are called sefiros. It can mean:

  1. Counting, as in mispar (number)
  2. To cut — from which we get sapar (barber) and misparayim (scissors)
  3. To tell, lesapeir, or a book seifer

There is also a third word used for counting, but we only find it with respect to counting people. In parshios  Beamidbar and Naso, Hashem commands Moshe “nasa es rosh — count the heads”.

What is the difference between counting in the sense of /pqd/ or nasa, and counting as denoted by lispor?

Parashas Naso’s counting comes immediately before a discussion of the nesi’im a term from the same root meaning the head of a sheivet (tribe). The word reuse would seem to indicate that this, like pqd, is about appointments. In both cases, we’re looking at individuals as individuals, and pointing out their distinct role.  A paqid is given a special duty, just as a nasi is, and just as you can emphasize the worth of each individual, “raise their heads” when ou count them, you can show the destination of each item donated when you make an accounting. Which would also explain the meaning of “to remember” one particular person rather than letting her remain part of the whole.

Lesapeir, however, is to cut. The items being counted are counted as pieces of the whole. The story isn’t simply being said over (lehagid) one must spell out each element. The verbal step of the seider may be called “maggid“, but the mitzvah of the night, which goes beyond the verbal into the foods of matzah and maror, of re experiencing the tears of karpas and the joys of Hallel, is “sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim.”

Lesapeir sipur isn’t to give a one sentence summary: “There was a car accident.” It’s to divide that one thesis into its parts, telling detail. “So and so got a call on his cell phone. He was distracted, and didn’t notice the car making a right turn ….” Thus the connection to cutting.

It is not coincidental that this is in pedagogic question-and-answer form, a teaching format. Because that’s lesapeir. When the last of the prophets needed to organize the Torah into a format usable even as prophecy ebbed away, our rabbinic leadership (the usage of the word “rabbi” in this way didn’t begin yet) we called the soferim. In part because they counted out the letters of the Torah, to insure accurate reproduction of the Torah even after the Babylonian exile. And thus they were also sofrim in the sense of writers of the seifer which contains the sipur.

But perhaps foremost, they were the ones who made halachic analysis as we know it today possible. During their era was the story of Purim, and the Jewish people’s response to it. “Qiymu veqiblu haYehudim — the Jews established and accepted.” Chazal, perhaps wondering about the redundancy of “qiymu veqiblu“, comment “qiymu mah sheqiblu qevar — they established that which they had already accepted” in Sinai (Megillah 7a). They gave it a spelled out analyzable basis that didn’t require prophetic grounding. The concept of having short memorizable paragraphs describing established law, the notion which became the Mishnah, began.

But also because they represented a shift from being able to speak from a prophetic identification of the big picture principles to a need to reason from individual facts. Lisapeir, to tell the idea detail by detail.

Rav Chaim Brisker asked what the difference was between the obligation of zekher yetzi’as Mitzrayim (remembering the departure from Egypt) which is a daily experience, morning and evening, as part of Shema, and the night’s obligation of sippur Yetzi’as Mitzrayim (see Haggadah miBeis Levi p 110). He answers that zekher requires only saying one sentence. As R’ Elazar ben Azaryah puts it, “Behold I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit understanding why yetzi’as Mitzrayim must be said — shetei’amer — at nights. Until Ben Zoma expounded it..”

Sippur, however, has 4 elements:

  1. Ideally, it should be told to another in question and answer form.
  2. One must start the telling with genus (discussing our disgrace), and end with shevach (praise).
  3. It must include a discussion and performance of the three mitzvos of the night: pesach, matzah, and maror.
  4. It must tie the events to the date, the night of the 15th of Nissan, on which they are being recalled.

(These can be mapped to different sections of Maggid. See “The Structure of the Seder“.)

In our language, the difference is between simple amirah and sipur.

Defining Ge’ulah

R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [– HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, ” חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶ֥ת נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ, צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ׃ — Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace kissed each other.” [Tehillim 85:11] Love said, “Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”; Truth said, “Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood”; Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds”; Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

Rav Shim’on Shlop writes about the difference between the first luchos and the second ones.

AS A BEGINNING OF this preparation, so that one is ready to acquire Torah, the Torah requires specific conditions. The first condition is toil and contemplation, as our sages explain “‘If in my statues you go’ (Vayiqra 26:3) … that you should be toiling in the Torah.” (Rashi ad loc, quoting Toras Kohanim 26:2)

One can use this to explain the whole notion of breaking the [first] Tablets, for which I have not found an explanation. At first glance, understanding seems closed off. Is it possible that Moses our teacher would think that because the Jews made the [Golden] Calf they should be left without the Torah? He should have just waited to teach them until they corrected their ways, not break them altogether and then have to fall before Hashem to beg for a second set of Tablets. Our sages received [a tradition that] there was a unique ability inherent in the first Tablets. As it says in Eiruvin (folio 54), “What does it mean when it is says, [of the first Tablets] ‘[The Tablets were made by God and written with God’s script] engraved on the Tablets’ (Shemos 32:16) ? Had the first Tablets not been destroyed, the Torah would never have been forgotten from Israel.” (Eiruvin 54a) Which is, they had the power that if someone learned them once, it would be guarded in his memory forever. This quality Moses felt would cause a very terrible profaning of the holy to arise. Could it happen that someone destroyed and estranged in evil deeds would be expert in all the “rooms” of the Torah? Moses reasoned a fortiori from the Passover offering about which the Torah says “no foreign child shall eat of it.” (Shemos 12:43 [To explain: If one offering can not be possessed by a non-Jew, how much more so should the entire Torah not be possessed by someone who is not merely a non-Jew, but an evil person.]) Therefore Moses found it fitting that these Tablets be shattered, and he should try to get other Tablets. The first Tablets were made by G-d, like the body of writing as explained in the Torah. The latter Tablets were made by man [Moshe Rabbeinu], as it says “Carve for yourself two stone tablets.” (Shemos 34:1) Tablets are things which cause standing and existence, that it’s not “letters fluttering in the air.” Since they were made by Hashem, they would stand eternally. But the second ones, which were man-made, only exist subject to conditions and constraints.

The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Yir’as Hashem [Awe/Fear of Hashem] and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” (Devarim 34:12 [the Torah’s closing words])

Introduction, Shaarei Yosher

Thus, with the giving of the Second Luchos, the Torah was made a dynamic process. Rather than a Torah entirely contained in writing, external to the people for easy reference, it is now make part of the people, and part pf our process of growth in both wisdom and in middos. (And even, as Rav Shimon continues, of our material progress.)

R’ Chaim Brisker (Derashah 17) writes something similar to Rav Shimon Shkop’s words on the second luchos. He says that the first luchos contained the entire Torah, even down to “a question a student will ask his rebbe in the last generation.” With the second luchos came the concept of Oral Torah and the need for Torah study. They entail Hashem’s choice to make Torah less well known but more internalized into the people. Making the nation Hashem’s “parchment”.

Rav Chaim refers to the thught of Chazal which says that had we not made the Golden Calf, the redemption from Egpt would have been the complete redemption. That sin necessitated further exiles, a longer process to reach the ultimate ge’ulah, And this is why the first luchos could not exist in a post-calf world — for two reasons. First, because without the Torah being intimately tied to the Jewish People, our host nations would have co-opted it. And second, the unity of the people and the Torah would give us a self-definition that would enable us to survive as a distinct people.

The picture I am drawing using the concepts of Rav Shimon and Rav Chaim is of history as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history.

It certainly sounds like a definition of ge’ulah, redemption, in the sense of describing the redemption of the universe and of the human condition.

Following his theory that phonetically related roots are similar in meaning, Rav Hirsch places the “ge’ulah” in the same family as \יעל\ (to progress), as ג and י are articulated in the same part of the mouth, as are א and ע. The meaning would also be shaded by other \גל\ roots that lack the middle א semivowel — \גלל\ (to revolve) and \גלה\ (to reveal). Our definition can thus be phrased as “a process for the the ultimate revelation of truth.”

And thus it is no surprise that the dips in the process, where it takes what looks like a step away from the embodiment of Truth in order to cause a greater revelation, is called “galus” (exile).

There is an interesting implication here. (The startling element is not in my embellishments, but in the original Qetzos.) Torah is not being described as Truth. Rather, it is the seed and process from which Truth blossoms.

One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his position as follows:

The Maharal’s position is that “divrei E-lokim Chaim — the word of the ‘Living’ G-d” is simply too rich and too complex to exist in this world. Therefore they are mapped to oversimplified models, related to Hashem’s words the way a shadow is a flattened representation of the original. And thus, different people looking at the problem from different directions will get different shadows — even though they are all accurate representations of the same thing.

To finish out the metaphor: The angle at which we look at Devar Hashem is our “derekh“, our path in how we . This derekh, just like the lamp, is determined by two things: mei’ayin basa, ule’an ata holeikh — from where do you come, and to where are you going? Where the lamp is, and the angle it points. Different people were put together differently, and can have different emphases in how they interpret the ultimate goal.

The complexity of Devar Hashem causes the illusion (to us) of paradox. It’s no more real of a paradox than the 5 blind men who argue about the nature of the elephant. The one who felt the elephant’s ear would argue an elephant is like a fan. The one who felt its leg would think it is like a tree. But it’s only because we can’t capture the full picture.

It is possible to say that history is the process of closing the gap between Truth in its full richness, and Torah as our ability to make it manifest. Or, as the mequbalim would say, “Lesheim yichud Qudshah berikh Hu uShechintei – For the sake of the unity of the Holy” — i.e. Remote — “one and His Presence” — i.e. as we Perceive her amongst us.

Ge’ulah and Accepting Hashem as King

(Significantly expanded May 6th.)

When someone hears bad news, such as a death, the gemara (Pesachim 50a) tells them to say the berakhah of “Dayan haEmes“. This phrase is often translated “the True Judge” as though it were a noun-adjective pair. But that would have a hei hayedi’ah (a leading “ha-” prefix meaning “the”) on both words. If “emes” were an adjective, it would be “haDayan haEmes“, figuring that “amiti” is a newer construction for “true” as an adjective than the berakhah. (Or perhaps the commonly said “Dayan Emes“, but that might have the heretical implication ch”v that Hashem is “a”, not the only, true Judge.)

Here, the form is that of a semichut (literally: attached form), used to mean “the A of B”. Such as Benei Yisrael, the Children of Israel. This form takes the hei hayedi’ah on only on the second word. A head of Pharoah’s executioners would be “sar tabachim”, but in Bereishis 39:1 the head is called “sar hatabachim” — prefix only on the second word. This is possibly because the noun doesn’t require more specification than being told it’s of something else. In English we say “the Children of Israel”, but in Hebrew it would appear that since the children are being specified as being Israel’s, we don’t need a “the”.

In any case, “Dayan haemes“, being a semichut, would mean “the Judge of Truth”. Semantically, one is accepting the tragedy as an expression of His Justice (which is true), the other is an acknowledgment that Hashem is the One Who judges which truths to reveal, and which to keep hidden from us. I therefore prefer “Dayan ha’Emes“, which acknowledges the reality that I am not capable of coming to terms with the death, even if I intellectually know in theory that He has good reasons. Aside from it simply being more correct since it’s the original form as found in the gemara.

Rav Hutner gives a related thought, that I was holding on to to use closer to Rosh haShanah. But I found that Kollel Iyun haDaf (no name given, I’m guessing it’s from the Rosh Kollel, R’ Mordechai Kornfeld) did a better job than what I had started doing last Elul. So, rather than hold onto it. I will just share the relevant part of the kollel’s Insights into the Daf email for Rosh haShanah 32b.


QUESTION: The Gemara discusses a dispute whether the verse, “Shema Yisrael Hashem E-lokeinu Hashem Echad,” is considered a verse of Malchiyos such that it counts as one of the ten verses which must be recited in the Musaf Shemoneh Esreh of Rosh Hashanah.

RAV YITZCHAK HUTNERzt”l (in PACHAD YITZCHAK, Rosh Hashanah, Ma’amar 11) asks that the Gemara earlier (32a) says that “Ani Hashem E-lokeichem” is the source for reciting verses of Malchiyos. Why, then, is there any argument whether the verse of Shema Yisrael counts as an expression of Malchiyos? The words “Hashem E-lokeinu” in the verse of Shema Yisrael should be the ideal expression of Malchiyos, because the verse of “Ani Hashem E-lokeichem” is the undisputed source for Malchiyos!

Conversely, when one recites Keri’as Shema he must recite the verse in its entirety, including the words “Hashem Echad,” in order to properly fulfill the Mitzvah to accept Hashem’s Kingship upon oneself. If he omits the words “Hashem Echad,” he has not properly expressed his acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship; the words “Hashem E-lokeinu” are not sufficient. Why, then, is “Ani Hashem E-lokeichem” a valid source for reciting Malchiyos if those words do not fully express Hashem’s Kingship?

Another difference exists between the acceptance of Malchus Shamayim of Keri’as Shema and the acceptance of Malchus Shamayim in the blessing of Malchiyos on Rosh Hashanah. In Keri’as Shema, one accepts upon himself the Kingship of Hashem with an emphasis on the love of Hashem, “v’Ahavta Es Hashem.” On Rosh Hashanah, in contrast, one accepts upon himself the Kingship of Hashem with an emphasis on the fear of Hashem (as Rosh Hashanah is the first day of the “Yamim Nora’im,” the Days of Awe). What is the basis for this difference?

ANSWER: RAV HUTNERzt”l cites the words of Rashi on the verse of Shema Yisrael. Rashi explains that the verse means, “Listen, O Israel: Hashem, Who is our G-d now in this world, will be One G-d [accepted by all people] in the World to Come.” This principle is expressed in the Gemara in Pesachim (50a) which says that in this world Hashem is not recognized by all as One. The Gemara adds that in this world man does not recognize the singular goodness behind all that happens. Consequently, in this world a person recites one blessing for bad tidings (“Dayan ha’Emes“) and a different blessing for good tidings (“ha’Tov veha’Metiv“). Times of suffering appear to be times of strict judgment and punishment, while times of prosperity appear to be times of mercy and goodness. Olam ha’Ba will be different; there, one will recite one blessing, “ha’Tov veha’Metiv,” on all that happens, because “on that day Hashem will be One and His Name will be One” (Zecharyah 14:9). (See Insights to Pesachim 50a.)

Rav Hutner explains that man’s mission on Rosh Hashanah is to accept Hashem as King in this world according to the limits of his perception in this world. A person in this world cannot fathom the concept of Hashem’s Kingship the way it will be revealed in the World to Come when “Hashem will be One and His Name will be One.” In this world, we do not see Hashem as Echad, but rather as both “Dayan ha’Emes” and “ha’Tov veha’Metiv.” Therefore, when we accept upon ourselves Hashem’s sovereignty on Rosh Hashanah, we must do so with the expression of “Ani Hashem E-lokeichem” — without the additional “Hashem Echad” — “Hashem is One.” This verse expresses the way we perceive Hashem as King in this world. The acceptance of Hashem as King the way He will be perceived in the future is not part of our present experience, and thus such an acceptance cannot comprise a full-hearted acceptance of Malchus Shamayim.

In contrast, in our acceptance of Hashem’s sovereignty in Keri’as Shema, we proclaim our belief in the way Hashem will be recognized in the future when His true Oneness will be revealed to and perceived by all. Accordingly, one does not fulfill his obligation properly if he recites Shema Yisrael without the words “Hashem Echad,” for he omits the essential component of the future acceptance of Hashem’s sovereignty, that Hashem will be recognized as One. On Rosh Hashanah, however, these words are not an ideal expression of the this-worldly Kingship of Hashem which we proclaim in Malchiyos. (Even though the verse “Shema Yisrael” also contains the words “Hashem E-lokeinu,” that phrase is not the main point of the verse and thus “Shema Yisrael” does not count as a verse of Malchiyos. Alternatively, the phrase “Hashem E-lokeinu” in the verse is not an expression of our acceptance of Hashem as King, but it is a statement of fact: “Hashem, Who right now is our G-d….” In order to be considered a verse of Malchiyos, the verse must contain an acceptance of Hashem as King and not merely be a statement of the fact that Hashem is our G-d. See PACHAD YITZCHAK, ibid. #22.)

This also explains the emphasis in Keri’as Shema on the love of Hashem (“v’Ahavta“). Keri’as Shema refers to the time in the future when we will perceive Hashem as “ha’Tov veha’Metiv” and we will be drawn to Hashem through our love for Him. In this world, in contrast, when we accept Hashem as our King as we perceive Him now — as the judge of mankind, “Dayan ha’Emes,” and as “ha’Tov veha’Metiv” — we accept His Kingship through an expression of awe and fear.

Rav Hutner sees the split in our perception of Hashem between “Dayan haEmes” and “Tov uMetiv” as being a consequence of what we have been identifying with the casting down of Truth for the creation of man. And thus resolved in the World to Come.

We see something similar in the opening chapters of the Chumash. In chapter 1, describing the creation of the world, man appears only as the pinnacle of that process. And G-d is called simply “E-lokim”. When the Torah switches in chapter 2 to tell the story of the creation of man as a decision-maker, with a mental life of his own, He is described as “Hashem E-lokim“. A split but integrated perception of G-d. (I wrote on this topic in the Mesukim miDevash for Parashas Bereishis.) After the first sin, the names start being used alone, with some exceptions, which call for treatment. Notably, in the Merkavah, beyond the olam – elem, Yechezqeil haNavi speaks to “Hashem E-lokim” (albeit spelled A-dny Y-HV-H).

As Rav Hutner writes, history progresses until ge’ulah. “On that day, Hashem will be one, and His name will be one.”

Returning to our opening gemara, R’ Achar bar Chanina says that on that day there will only be one berakhah. We would understand the Truth, and there would be no unpleasant news. On all events we will bless haTov vehaMeitiv — that Hashem is “Good and the Bestower of good”. Similarly, Rav Nachman writes that we will no longer need to use the name Ad-nai where the quote has the tetragrammaton. The four letter name, representing Divine Mercy, will not be occluded by the tragedies of history, and can be said with proper comprehension.

Mourning During the Omer

א: אלו הימים שבין פסח לעצרת, מוחזק אצל כל ישראל זה שנות מאות רבות לימי דין וימי אבל, מפני שבזמן הקצר הזה מתו שנים עשר אלף זוגות תלמידי חכמים תלמידי רבי עקיבא, כדאיתא ביבמות (סב:), וכולם מתו במיתת אסכרא (שם).ועוד: ראינו שעיקרי ימי הגזירות בשנות מאות שעברו בצרפת ואשכנז הוו בימים אלו, כמבואר מהפיוטים שעשו קדמונינו על שבתות אלו שבין פסח לעצרת. והם מלאים קינים והגה והי. ויש עוד טעמים על ימים אלו שהם ימי דין (עיין ח”י סעיף קטן ג).ב: ולפיכך נהגו כל ישראל מימות הגאונים שלא לישא אשה בין פסח לעצרת. ולא חילקו בין נשואין דמצוה, כגון מי שלא קיים עדיין פריה ורביה, אם לאו. ואף על גב דבאבלות גמורה יש חילוקים, מכל מקום בכאן החמירו על עצמן. ומכל מקום מי שקפץ וכנס – אין עונשין אותו, כיון שעשה מצוה. וכל שכן כשראה שיכול השידוך להתבטל.אבל לארס ולקדש – שפיר דמי. וכן אצלנו לעשות שידוכים ולכתוב תנאים – מותר, שמא יקדמנו אחר. ומותר לעשות סעודה, אך לא בריקודין ומחולות. וכל שכן שאסור לזמר בכלי זמר. וכן סעודת הרשות מותר, כמו סעודות מריעות, ובלבד בלא ריקודין ומחולות.

493:1 These days which are between Pesach and Shavuos are held by all of Israel now for many hundreds of years to be days of judgement and mourning. Because in these short days, 12,000 pairs of sages, students of Rabbi Aqiva, died (c.f. Yevavmos 62b). And they all died of askara.

And more, we see that the majority of the days of the decrees in the early hundreds [of the 6th Jewish millennium, ie the Crusades] that were passed in France and Germany were in these days. As is explained in the liturgical poems that our predecessors composed for these Shabbasos between Pesach and Shavuos, which are full of lamentations, contemplations and outcry. And there are other reasons why these are considered days of justice.

493:2 Therefore all of Israel since the days of the geonim adopted the custom of not marrying a woman in the time between Pesach and Shavuos. And they didn’t distinguish between someone who is getting married for a particular mitzvah (such as if he didn’t yet have children) or not. Even though in full mourning there are such distinctions, in this case they were stringent on themselves. In any case, someone who violates this custom and weds is not punished, becuse he did a mitzvah. All the more so if he saw that the engagement could fall apart.

However, to get engaged — this is very good. And so matching couples and writing tana’im [engagement agreement terms; i.e. formally getting engaged] is considered permissible by us “lest someone else will arrive first” [as the Talmud puts it]. And one may make a party, but not with dancing. All the more so it is prohibited to make music with instruments. Any non-mitzvah party is also permissible, such as a meal just for friendship, as long as there isn’t dancing.

– Arukh haShulchan, Orakh Chaim 493:1-2

(Sidenote on askara. Most translate the word to mean diptheria, that Rabbi Aqiva’s students died in an epidemic. According to Rav Hai Gaon, “askara” is a transliteration of the Greek word “sicari”, a dagger, or the class of soldier who were armed with daggers. He understands them to have been killed during the Roman persecutions.)

Notice that the custom of not making weddings dates back to the ge’onim, before the Crusades. The implication here is that not making weddings is a practice that commemorates the loss of Rabbi Akiva’s students in particular.

ג: וכן נהגו במדינות אלו שלא להסתפר בימים אלו, והוא גם כן עניין אבלות. ומי שהסתפר – קונסין אותו על שעבר על המנהג ולא עשה מצוה. ופשוט הוא דאם צריך לבריאותו להסתפר דמותר. וכן כשיש מילה בימים אלו מותרים בעלי הברית, דהיינו המוהל והסנדק ואבי הבן, להסתפר ביום שלפני המילה סמוך לערב, מפני שיום טוב שלהם הוא.

493:3 And similarly they enacted a custom in these countries not to get a haircut during these days, for it too is a concept of mourning. And whomever gets a haircut — we fine him for breaking a custom, not a halachic obligation. It is simple that if he needs to get a haircut for his health, it is permitted. Similarly if there is a beris during these days, the people involved in the beris — the mohel, the sandeq, and the baby’s father — are permitted to get a haircut right before the evening of the day before the beris, because it is a holiday for them.

– Ibid, no. 3

Notice that the custom of not cutting one’s hair is described as later, and particular to the lands R’ Yechiel Michl Epstein (the author) lived in, the lands the Ashkenazim moved to when fleeing the Crusaders.

It would seem to be implied that omer mourning customs grew in two stages:

During the ge’onic period, the custom arose not to make weddings which grew into a ban on all parties that include dancing or musical instruments.

After the Crusades, the communities consequently founded in Eastern Europe intensified the mourning of the omer period by also including a ban on haircuts.

The two events being commemorated, though, apparently happened during different parts of the omer. There is a tradition, recorded in the Qitzur Shulchan Arukh, that part of the celebration of Lag baOmer is that it marks the end of the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students. In other words, Rabbi Akiva’s students died in the first 32 days of the omer. However, the Crusaders arrived at the Rhineland at the beginning of the First Crusade (1096) in the second part of the omer. The Jews of Speyer were attacked on the 23rd day of the omer, the ghetto in Worms (Vermaiza, as Jews called it) was attacked for a period starting on day 38, Mainz on day 45, and Cologne on Shavu’os.

And yet, each became associated with the concept of sefiras haOmer as a whole not with their specific dates. How did that arise?

Rabbi Aqiva was a survivor. He was killed in the Hadrianic persecutions sometime around 135 CE, which means he was alive during the fall of Yerushalayim, the destruction of the second Beis haMiqdash and the Roman conquest of Judea.

An entire world destroyed because of sin’as chinam — hatred that had no basis, or perhaps that had no productive purpose. The Judaism they knew, centered on the Beis haMiqdash, was gone. Rabbi Aqiva heard of some people who refused to ever sing again, to ever eat meat again. “How can we have meat on our tables, when His is bare? How can we sing for ourselves, when the levi’im have stopped singing His praises?” And Rabbi Akiva had to teach them that life goes on. As Bereishis Rabba puts it — before He created this world, “hayah borei olamos umacharivam — He was creating worlds and destroying them.” Rabbi Aqiva imitated this quality, out to rebuild the destroyed world.

Of all the special times at the Beis haMiqdash, most of the special worship was on holidays. That’s when we had the qorban mussaf, when people were obligated to travel to Yerushalayim with their shelamim and todos, with their bikurim. All of these days carry a biblical obligation to be happy. All but one period — the omer. The omer is a time when that lost world was felt, and there is no countermanding obligation to celebrate the day.

But Rabbi Akiva was determined to go on. To build a new world. And so he built an education system, 24,000 students strong. But they too hadn’t fully purged themselves of the problem. While they didn’t outright hate each other, they failed to accord their peers the proper respect. And Hashem then destroyed that world he was building.

When did He do so? During the omer, the time when everyone was already feeling particularly homesick for Hashem’s presence among us.

But Rabbi Aqiva started again, building a third world. This time he only had five students to work with. And this time his world flourished, and still survives. He handed the mishnah compilation project to Rav Meir, who in turn passed it to Rav Yehudah haNasi, and from it all of our halakhah flows. Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai similarly became the founTainhead for Qabbalah. It is no coincidence that Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai’s day of celebration is also during the omer.

Similarly, the Crusaders destroyed a world. Ashkenazic Torah centers move from Ashkenaz to Easter Europe, with a relatively small number of “Yekkes” remaining. We held onto that old world nostalgically; even as we rebuilt new communities in Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Galicia, etc… we held onto Yiddish, a Germanic language, as part of our tie to that past. Destroying worlds and rebuilding them.

The omer, it would seem, became a time for mourning those lost worlds. That’s the unifying theme of these tragedies. The custom of mourning on omer began with a halt on weddings. Who can think of building a bayis ne’eman beYisrael, an everlasting home in Israel, in this period?

Even today, as we rebuild after the greatest tragedy to befall the Jewish nation since the destruction of the Temple and the consequent loss of life — a tragedy that underlies and enabled every calamity of this exile.

The famous seder in Benei Beraq mentioned in the seider happened during Rabbi Aqiva’s “third world”. Rabbi JB Soloveitchikzt”l asked about it: Why would the students interrupt the teachers’ seider to tell them it was time for Shema? Here were 5 of the greatest rabbis in Torah history, and they had the chutzpah to think they needed help on a basic point like when to say Shema? Did they think that they weren’t sufficiently cautious in this mitzvah?

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that that was the point of the story. Not that the teachers needed teaching, but they needed to be reminded that there was a new generation. As long as there are people carrying on, saying Shema each morning and evening, the world will be rebuilt.

Rabbi Soloveitchik too saw the old world before it was destroyed, and strived to build a new one in America. He once caught himself overjoyed listening to some children in Maimonides learning a mishnah: For this, I get excited? Children in Chaslovitch would have known such things far younger. Would have known more. Would have lived in a world where they don’t need school to be taught basics like tzitzis and yarmulka.

But R’ Soloveitchik tied it to this idea. You take what you have, and you build anew.

We must build again. Step by step, day by day. And that too is a message of this period; in fact, it’s part of the original biblical message. “With 48 qualities the Torah is acquired…” and one day of review.

Today is the 38th day of the omer.

Mourning During the Omer, part II

As I wrote in the previous post, there are two events that we are commemorating by mourning during the omer, and they seem to have happened on different dates. Rabbi Aqiva’s students died in the first part of the omer, while the Crusaders reached Ashkenaz in late Iyar. Depending upon which is event you consider primary, I could see justifying observing either part of omer.

Akiva Miller found 12 different methods all told for observing the omer and posted them to mail-jewish (back before Avodah existed). Looking over his sources, I made slight modifications to produce the following.

  1. The Ari, as per the Shaarei Teshuva 493:8, who is quoted by R’ Eider, “Halachos of Persach” vol II, pp 330-331. It’s also mentioned by R’ Blumenkrantz, “The Laws of Pesach – A Digest”, 5753/1993 edition, pp 17-2, 17-3, as custom 4a. All of these use the phrase “ad Erev Shavuos” implying that one may get a haircut erev Shavuos during the day. They make no mention of not having to observe Lag Ba’omer.
  2. Same as A, but ends the morning of the first of the Yemei Hagbala.
  3. Rama 493:2, as per Mishnah Berurah (MB) 493:6 and Bei’ur Halachah “Yeish Nohagim” (BH). In the BH, it is the second custom listed under the first opinion. It’s mentioned in the Igros Moshe (IM; 2nd custom) and R’ Eider (ibid; B), quoting this Rama, Blumenkrantz (ibid; custom 1) and R’ Aharon Fleder in “Moadei Yeshurun”. In the last two sentences of the teshuva, R’ Moshe says that the Rama was giving this opinion for Sepharadim, disagreeing with the Shulchan Arukh (SA; next).
  4. SA 493:2, as explained in the MB (ibid) and BH (ibid; 1st custom in the 1st opinion), the Aruch haShulchan 493:4, Igros Moshe (ibid; 1st custom), R’ Eider (A) and R’ Blumenkranz (custom 2). [R’ Ken Bloom added in a comment (below) that this “is also the opinion of R’ Ovadia Yosef, found in Hazon Ovadia Hilchot Yom Tov, and in Yalkut Yosef.”]
  5. BH (ibid; second opinion). He takes this as an explanation of K, and not a separate custom. IM (6th minhag), quoting the Magen Avraham (no reference), however, R’ Moshe holds no one follows this custom. Of the 39 days, 6 are going to be Shabbos, leaving 33.
  6. IM (5th minhag), quoting MB 493:15 from Siddur Derech haChaim. This is the custom of Frankfurt.
  7. Magen Avraham, as per Beer Hetev 493:8, MB 493:15 (who also quotes Chayei Adam), AH 493:6, IM (4th minhag), R’ Eider (C, “The is…”), R’ Blumenkrantz (custom 3b), R’ Felder and is the custom in Elizabeth.
  8. Be’eir Heiteiv 493:3, quoting Or Zarua
  9. R’ Blumenkrantz (custom 3a)
  10. IM (3rd Minag) quoting the Rama 3 and MA 5, and R’ Felder.
  11. Rama 493:3, first opinion, as explained by MB 493:14 (2nd half) and 493:15 (1st sentence), Beer Hetev 493:7 (quoting the Bach), Beiur Halachah (ibid; 2nd opinion), R’ Eider (C: first 2 paragraphs).
  12. Akiva lists the first two opinions of the Beiur Halachah as (what I rendered into) D and C above. The BH doesn’t believe anyone holds by the third opinion, so it isn’t listed.

R’ Moshe lists 6 customs, given here as: D, C, J, G, F, and E. R’ Moshe says that the Rama paskened against the first of these (i.e. D), and that in practice, no one follows the last (E). He shows that the other 4 are variations of the same minhag, and therefore one can switch among them without annulling the implied vow of having followed one particular custom.

The two most common minhagim are probably C and either J or K.

(Key: █ – mourning entire day, ▀ – mourning only at night)

Isru Chag
24 – 29 Nissan
1st day R”Ch Iyar
2nd day R”Ch Iyar
2-17 Iyar
Lag Ba’omer
19 Iyar
20-29 Iyar
R”Ch Sivan
2 Sivan
1st Yom Hagbalah
2nd Yom Hagbalah
Erev Shavuos

Coronating G-d

(Significantly enlarged from the 2005 version. -micha)


Melukhah (kingship) is a major theme, if not the major theme of Rosh haShanah. Aside from the ubiquity of the word in our liturgy for Rosh haShanah and the Ten Days of Teshuvah, we find another indication in the Amidah for Rosh haShanah‘s Mussaf. Three blessings are inserted to the middle of that AmidahMalkhios (statements about G‑d being King), Zikhronos (about His acting on His “Memory”) and Shoferos (about shofar, about the glory and noise of divine intervention). Like every holiday and Shabbos, though, there also has to be a Birkhas haYom, a blessing about the day. For Rosh haShanah Mussaf, Malkhios is fused with the Birkhas haYom, because kingship is the message of the day.

When Yoseif tells his brothers his dreams, they ask, “מָלֹ֤ךְ תִּמְלֹךְ֙ עָלֵ֔ינוּ אִם־מָשׁ֥וֹל תִּמְשֹׁ֖ל בָּ֑נוּ?” (Bereishis 37:8), which the JPS translation renders “Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?” Usually this is taken to be a repeated question, the two halves meaning roughly the same thing.

The Ibn Ezra suggests otherwise. When commanding us to appoint a king, the phrase is “שׂ֣וֹם תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֨יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ – appoint for yourselves a king” (Vevarim 17:15). A melekh (king) is appointed by the masses, he rules by the acclimation of the people. This stands in contrast to the mosheil (ruler) who, however well intended, has to rule by imposing his (or His) will on them.

The brothers are saying that they weren’t ready to place Yoseif as a king over themselves. “You think you would be melekh, an accepted king over us? No, you would only stand as mosheil, in opposition to our will.”

The Vilna Gaon takes this idea and applies it to several verses we know from the siddur.

” כִּ֣י לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָ֑ה וּ֝מֹשֵׁ֗ל בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃ – For G‑d’s is the Kingship, and He rules over nations…” (Tehillim 22:29) Hashem has the Melukhah, in potential He is King. However, as the nations do not yet accept Him willingly as their King, Hashem serves for them as their mosheil.

” מַֽלְכוּתְךָ֗ מַלְכ֥וּת כָּל־עֹֽלָמִ֑ים וּ֝מֶֽמְשַׁלְתְּךָ֗ בְּכָל־דּ֥וֹר וָדֹֽר׃- Your kingship is a kingship for all eternity; and/but your rule is in every generation and generation.” (Tehillim 145:13, said in “Ashrei“) Malkhus is truly eternal. Memshalah will only last from generation to generation, through the course of history.

At the culmination of history, ” וְהָיָ֧ה ה’ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִֽהְיֶ֧ה ה’ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃ – Hashem will be King over the entire world, on that day Hashem will be One, and His reputation will be One.” (Zechariah 14:9, Aleinu) In the messianic age, after the “generations”, Hashem will be Melekh over the other nations as well. At that time, “veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos ritzonicha… – and they will all make a single union to do Your will” (High Holiday Amidah) as willing subjects of the King.


In Pachad Yitzchaq for Rosh haShanah (ma’amar 11), Rav Hutner notes a curious question in the gemara. (I discussed this earlier, in the class I gave on VeHayah im Shamo’ah, you can listen to it here.)

The first paragraph of Shema is said as a daily acceptance of G-d as King. Qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim – accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of [the One in] heaven. However, nowhere in the paragraph does the word “Melekh” actually appear! In what sense is Shema accepting Hashem’s Kingship?

The gemara in Rosh haShanah describes the structure of the Mussaf Amidah for the day, and tells us that each of the three additional berakhos should be buttressed with 10 verses from Tanakh: three from the Torah, three from Kesuvim, three from Navi, and a final verse from the Torah. In practice, this last verse is the opening verse of Shema. But the gemara, while our norm was still developing, asks whether that verse, “Shema Yisrael…” may be used as one of the verses for Malkhios. (Rosh haShanah 32b)

Rav Hutner asks: What’s the question? If we say this very verse every day for the sole purpose of accepting Hashem as King, how could it not be viable for the very same declaration on Rosh haShanah?

More so, the gemara’s source-text on the previous page (32a) for saying Malkhios altogether is from the end of Shema, “ani Hashem E‑lokeichem – I am Hashem your G‑d.” How can this be the entire basis of the obligation, and yet the words “Hashem E‑lokeinu Hashem Echad” are not only non-ideal, but the gemara can ask whether they are even sufficient to fulfill it?

Third, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of qabbalas ol Malkhus Shamayim that is part of Shema, one must also say the words “Hashem Echad“. So then why is the source for Malkhios given as “ani Hashem E-lokeichem“, a formulation that doesn’t declare Hashem as One? Why wasn’t the first verse of Shema cited?

It would seem that the manner in which this daily acceptance of ol malkhus Shamayim without actually calling Him “Melekh” is fundamentally different in kind than what we are trying to accomplish on Rosh haShanah.

Rashi explains Shema as saying, “Listen and accept Israel, Hashem, Who is our G-d now, in this world, will be, in the World to Come, One G-d [accepted by all].” In what way is G‑d’s presence in this world not unified? We do not perceive Him as One. As we learn in Pesachim (50a), it is because we do not perceive Hashem as one that we have two distinct blessings. When something good happens, we say “haTov vehaMeitiv – the Good and the Bestower of good”, but when something bad happens we say a berakhah that calls Him “Dayan haEmes – the Judge of truth”.

(As we saw in another essay, the Ketzos haChoshen understands this berakhah as accepting G‑d’s judgment as to when to hide truth, and when to allow it to be visible. The process of revealing the truth, of letting “the truth spring forth from the ground” is what we call ge’ulah. And so, this judgment of the truth only occurs before the final redemption.)

In the redeemed world, we will be able to see the good in everything, and thus Hashem’s Oneness. As we quoted from Zechariah, ” וְהָיָ֧ה ה’ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָ֑רֶץ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִֽהְיֶ֧ה ה’ אֶחָ֖ד וּשְׁמ֥וֹ אֶחָֽד׃ – Hashem will be King over the entire world, on that day Hashem will be One, and His reputation will be One.”

In the first verse of Shema, we are speaking of this future time, when Hashem will be King over everything. For this idea, speaking of the latent “Hashem Echad” which we know is there, but can’t be perceived, is a critical component of the obligation. The gemara’s conclusion, that the verse may be used for Malkhios after all (which we do, as the last, 10th verse) is based on the clarification given in the rest of the paragraph, “Ve’ahavta — And you shall love Hashem your G-d and serve Him…” that the intent is also making that Platonic Kingship manifest in this world. Even though this is not explicit in the verse itself.

We also touched on this kind of Kingship along the way in our previous discussion. On the verse “כִּ֣י לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָ֑ה וּ֝מֹשֵׁ֗ל בַּגּוֹיִֽם׃ – For G‑d’s is the Kingship, and He rules over nations…” my explanation took it for granted that when speaking of malkhus as Hashem’s possession, we were referring to Kingship in potential.

Similarly, we say in Adon Olam,

אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא

לְעֵת נַעֲשָׂה בְחֶפְצוֹ כֹּל  אֲזַי מֶלֶךְ שְׁמוֹ נִקְרָא

Eternal Master Who was King before all things were created

Once He, with His Will, made all, then his name was called “King”.

Hashem is unchanging, He was King in some ideal sense even without creation. But to be a king, “ein melekh belo am – there is no king without a nation” declaring Him their King.

In Shema, we are referring to “asher Malakh”. On Rosh haShanah the goal is to make that manifest in this world – “azai Melekh shemo niqra“. Not the theory of Kingship, but actually declaring Him as King. “Hashem E-lokeikhem” even before we reach the point of “Hashem Echad“.

This is why the gemara can be unsure if Shema can be used for the obligation of Rosh haShanah. It describes the ideal of Kingship but lacks an outright statement of calling Him “Melekh“.


Why is it so essentially part of Rosh haShanah to declare our active acceptance of Hashem as King?

As we saw from Adon Olam, this is one of the reasons for which man was created. The shift from Asher Malakh before we existed to “Melekh” shemo niqra. We therefore declare His Kingship on the anniversary of the creation of Man, Rosh haShanah.

It’s interesting to note that the man-Melekh relationship is a sub-theme in Purim as well. There is no over mention of G‑d in the book of Esther. However, the Talmud tells us that each occurrence of the word “melekh” that appears in that book (without naming the king) can be understood midrashically as a reference to G‑d. When Esther approaches the king, which is apparently Achashveirosh but has some parallel in her approaching the King as well, she opens her request with the word “Uvchein” (“therefore” or “with this”). Similarly as do a number of requests in the blessing of the day for the High Holidays (and therefore the Rosh haShanah Mussaf berakhah about Divine Kingship).

When Moses asked “הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃ – Please show me Your Glory” (Shemos 33:18), Hashem’s answer was to give to him the 13 terms describing the aspects of Divine Mercy. Hashem’s Glory is his Mercy. And so, on Rosh haShanah we ask, “Meloch al kol ha’olam kulo bichvodecha –  be King over all the entire world in Your Glory” (Siddur). Thus, his “throne” is Mercy, as we say in Selichos “Keil Melekh yosheiv al kisei rachamim – G‑d, King, “sitting” on the throne of Mercy.

A Melekh need not impose His will in the same way that a Mosheil does. A Melekh, therefore, has the opportunity to act with kindness and mercy at times when a Mosheil could not. We therefore introduce High Holidays, the days of judgment, by declaring G‑d’s melukhah. By voluntarily accepting Him as king we obviate the need for G‑d to direct us on the right path through trials and tribulations. The point of Rosh haShanah is accepting Hashem as our Melekh not just in theory, but declaring our acceptance of His Reign, thereby changing His relationship to us from one of Mosheil to that of Melekh.

We, on the anniversary of Hashem creating His subjects, declare Him as King, and thereby enthrone Him as a Merciful one.

And with what? With a Shofar

אמר רבי יהודה משום רבי עקיבא … אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: … ואמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות: כדי שתמליכוני עליכם. זכרונות: כדי שיעלה זכרוניכם לפני לטובה. ובמה? בשופר.

Rabbi Yehudah said an idea from Rabbi Aqiva …: The Holy One, blessed be He said, “… say before Me on Rosh haShanah, Malkhios, Zikhoronos and Shoferos.
Malkhios: so that you shall make Me King over you;
Zikhoronos: so that your memories shall come before Me;
“And with what? With a shofar.”

– Rosh haShanah 16a

(Sidenote: There is a dispute as to what this implies as to the nature of the obligation. Rashi holds that these berakhos are mandatory from the Torah, if said with / as part of shofar blowing. He says that Malkhios is the essence of the day, as we see in practice we combine it with the usual holiday blessing for the day. And the words “yom zikhron teru’ah — a day of memory of horn-blasts” obligates us in Zikhronos and Shoferos. The Ritva in general holds that asmachtos, usually translated as mnemonic devices, are actually hints from G-d that an idea is a good one, but not mandatory. Thus a law from an asmachta is one that was suggested by G-d but made obligatory by the Chakhamim. Here, the Ritva says it’s an asmachta — G-d said “say before me”, but it wasn’t made mandatory until the Chakhamim codified it.)

מתנ': כל השופרות כשרים חוץ משל פרה מפני שהוא קרן אמר רבי יוסי והלא כל השופרות נקראו קרן שנאמר (יהושוע ו) במשוך בקרן היובל:

גמ': … עולא אמר היינו טעמא דרבנן כדרב חסדא דאמר רב חסדא מפני מה אין כהן גדול נכנס בבגדי זהב לפני ולפנים לעבוד עבודה לפי שאין קטיגור נעשה סניגור

Mishnah: Every shofar is kosher except for that of a cow, because it’s called “qeren“. Rabbi Yosi said: but isn’t every shofar called “qeren“,  as it says “In the middle of the qeren of the yoveil” (Yehoshua 6)?

Gemara: Ula said: What is the reason for the Rabbanan [the unnamed first opinion in the mishnah]? [Because they rule] like Rav Chisda. For Rav Chisda said: Why doesn’t the kohein gadol wear the bigei zahav — [his full uniform, including] the golden clothes when lifnai velifnim — before Me and within [the Holy of Holies]? Because a prosecutor can not be turned into the defense attourney.

– Rosh haShanah 26a

Rav Dovid Lifshitz addressed these gemaras in his pre-Rosh haShanah shiur of 1989. (See here for an entry that opens with another thought from that talk.)

Notice that the kohein gadol did wear the full bigdei zahav the rest of Yom Kippur, including when doing the other parts of the service of the very same qorban! The notion that ein qeteigor naaseh saneigor, that the prosecution can’t become the defense, is not a law in atonement, it’s a law in lifnai velifnim.

What then does it mean when this rule applies to shofar? Rashi points out that the gemara is assuming a comparison — listening to the shofar is tantamount to entering the Holy of Holies, only performed by the kohein gadol on Yom Kippur!

To add something of my own to this thought, in the Sifra’s version of the thought Rabbi Yehudah repeated from R’ Aqiva, it concludes, “ובמה? בשופר של חרות — And with what? with a shofar of freedom.”  As Yeshaiah writes (27:12) “יג וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא יִתָּקַע֮ בְּשׁוֹפָ֣ר גָּדוֹל֒ וּבָ֗אוּ הָאֹֽבְדִים֙ בְּאֶ֣רֶץ אַשּׁ֔וּר וְהַנִּדָּחִ֖ים בְּאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם וְהִשְׁתַּֽחֲו֧וּ לַֽה’ בְּהַ֥ר הַקֹּ֖דֶשׁ בִּירֽוּשָׁלִָֽם׃ — And it will be on that day, he will blow a great shofar, and those lost in Ashur and those taken captive in Egypt will come and they will bow to Hashem on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.”

Similarly, the shofar‘s blow at the shemittah year declared the freedom of slaves. A slave who refuses his freedom, preferring to live under his master’s patronage, has his ear pierced.  The ear that heard “ki avadai heim — for they are My servants” (Vayiqra 25:42) should know “My servants — and not servants to my servants” (Bava Metzi’ah 10a).

Cheirus appears associated with the tablets, which rested in the ark in the center of the Holy of Holies.”חָר֖וּת עַל־הַלֻּחֹֽת׃’ “אל תקרי חָרוּת אלא חֵרוּת — ‘engraved (charus) on the tablets’ (Shemos 32:16) — don’t read ‘charus‘ (engraved), rather ‘cheirus (freedom).” Note also how Yeshaiah associates the shofar’s call with coming to the Temple Mount. The shofar‘s call to freedom would seem to be an echo of the freedom engraved on the luchos.

Back to rebbe’s shiur…

Remember the feeling when you first came to the Kotel. The wall which Hashem promised us would stand until the end of time, whose persistence is testimony to our relationship with Him. And you reach the stones, the wall around the Temple Mount, and the feeling is overwhelming. Picture the emotions one would have being able to actually enter the courtyard. To be a kohein entering the Temple itself. To be the kohein gadol, after a week of preparation, now on the holiest day of the year busy with the holiest of service, to enter lifnai velifnim.

That’s Shofar.

How does one accept Hashem as Melekh, and remember our faults so that He remembers our potential? At that moment — “with the shofar.”

(Rebbe actually presented this thought before giving a source. After the students were entranced with the rebbe’s great chiddush, his passionate novellum, he asked one of them to read the Rashi and Tosafos. Had they known it was “just a Rashi”, they wouldn’t have listened the same.)