The Magrefah and Yir’as Hashem

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b-11a) describes the magreifah, one of the musical instruments in the Beis haMiqdash, which in Biblical Hebrew is either the minnim or the ugav. Shemuel describes it as a box about 1 ammah square with a board extending from one side (for keys? to work bellows?), and 10 tubes coming out the top. Each pipe had 10 holes allowing for 100 sounds. A beraisa (meaning: before Shmuel, a first generation amora) says 1,000 sounds. In the Yerushalmi’s version (Sukkah 25a), Rav argues with Shemuel and one of them says (judging from the Bavli, I would conclude Rav) there were 100 pipes and that both say it could make 1,000 sounds, although the Yerushalmi calls them “minei zemer — distinct chords”. While this is often taken as hyperbole, I would note that 10 pipes, each of which having only one hole that can be covered to turn it off, would allow for 1,024 combinations. So 1,000 distinct chords coming from Rav’s 100 pipes  would be a gross understatement for 10 pipes with 10 holes each, not an exaggeration. Maybe around 1,000 are “zemer” rather than considered just noise.

There is another utensil used in the Beis haMiqdash called a magrefah; it is a shovel (Rashi ad loc) used to tend the coals. So I picture the pipes together, like a pipe organ’s, thus giving the instrument its name. Similarly, those who translate the coal-tending magrefah is a rake would probably assume the pipes fanned out, bagpipe-like.

Guesswork by the Church trying to reproduce the music of the Temple and therefore to copy the magrefah led to the pipe-organ. But it sounds more like some kind of combination of accordion (a box) and a bagpipe (multiple pipes). Although (unlike the pipe-organ) both have reeds, and there is no reason to believe the instrument had reeds rather than the purer tones (in the sense of fewer harmonics — think flute rather than oboe) of blowing air across the pipe itself.

In much of the music written for pipe-organ, long stretches contain a “pedal point”. Wikipedia’s explanation of a pedal point is that it

is sustained tone, typically in the bass, during which at least one foreign, i.e., dissonant harmony is sounded in the other parts. A pedal point sometimes functions as a “non-chord tone”…

Here’s their example of a pedal point in organ music

On the other hand, if we look at the size of the magrefah, the Oxford History of Music says there is a sculpture of bagpipes on a Hittite slab, dating to around 1,000 BCE. Nero y”sh played one, according to Suetonius. So that too is plausible, although it’s shape suggests more bellows than a bag. And like the pedal-point, the bagpipe has drones. To again rely on wiki for a definition of drone, it is

a pipe which is generally not fingered but rather produces a constant harmonizing note throughout play.

The prolonged deep note, because it doesn’t change, ends up fading out of conscious attention, unless you’re reading a post like this one and made to think about it. But it adds weight to what you’re hearing. The base vibrates in your bones and reinforces the feeling of full immersion in the music.

Like these successor instruments, the magrefa was likely played with a pedal point or drones, as otherwise the player had to work 10 different pipes and the air pumping system simultaneously. Aside from the archeological evidence that drones were part of bagpipe-like instruments of the era as well.

All of which is a prelude to the following metaphor…

First to quote Rav Avraham Elya Kaplanzt”l, in the title essay of Be’iqvos haYir’ah (translation from an article by R’ Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer; discussed at more length and compared to the Ramchal’s position here):

To what may yir’ah be likened? To the tremor of fear which a father feels when his beloved young son rides his shoulders as he dances with him and rejoices before him, taking care that he not fall off. Here there is joy that is incomparable, pleasure that is incomparable. And the fear tied up with them is pleasant too. It does not impede the freedom of dance… It passes through them like a spinal column that straightens and strengthens. And it envelops them like a modest frame that lends grace and pleasantness… It is clear to the father that his son is riding securely upon him and will not fall back, for he constantly remembers him, not for a moment does he forget him. His son’s every movement, even the smallest, he feels, and he ensures that his son will not sway from his place, nor incline sideways – his heart is, therefore, sure, and he dances and rejoices. If a person is sure that the “bundle” of his life’s meaning is safely held high by the shoulders of his awareness, he knows that this bundle will not fall backwards, he will not forget it for a moment, he will remember it constantly, with yir’ah he will safe keep it. If every moment he checks it – then his heart is confident, and he dances and rejoices…

When the Torah was given to Israel solemnity and joy came down bundled together. They are fused together and cannot be separated. That is the secret of “gil be’re’ada” (joy in trembling) mentioned in Tehillim. Dance and judgment, song and law became partners with each other… Indeed, this is the balance… A rod of noble yir’ah passes through the rings of joy… {It is clear from the original Hebrew that this is a reference to the rods that held the boards together to make the walls of the Tabernacle. -mi} [It is] the inner rod embedded deep in an individual’s soul that connects end to end, it links complete joy in this world (eating, drinking and gift giving) to that which is beyond this world (remembering the [inevitable] day of death) to graft one upon the other so to produce eternal fruit.

Yir’ah is the pedal-point of the shirah of life. As we say every  morning, “הַלְלוּהוּ בְּתֹף וּמָחוֹל;    הַלְלוּהוּ, בְּמִנִּים וְעֻגָב — Praise Him with drum and machol, praise Him with minim and ugav!” (Tehillim 150:4; said in Pesuqei deZimra) The pedal-point of yir’ah does not get in the way of the joy of the music, but to add the necessary gravitas to the song that pushes us to feel its importance.

Esther’s Modesty – Adar’s Joy (Anavah and Anvanus)

Yoshiahu’s Downfall

The only qinah, elegy, that we recite on Tish’ah beAv that dates back to the days of Tanakh (other than the Book of Eichah itself) is Yirmiyahu’s qinah for King Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was raised by one of the more idolatrous of our kings, Menasheh. Menasheh managed to so suppress Torah that Yoshiahu was taken by the scroll he found in the Beis HaMiqdash. Yoshiahu lead a rather successful religious revival. The gemara describes the generation as one that even in the children knew greater details of tum’ah and taharah than did the rabbis of the Talmud. Successful, but imperfect. There were still homes where idols were worshipped. They would be hidden, for example (an example referenced in the qinah), they would paint an image on the backs of their doors, so that if anyone would inspect the home, it would be hidden between the door and the wall. The style was to have a split door, 1/2 opens on each side. Therefore, they could even honestly say, whenever the doors were open and therefore the image split, that there was no idolatry in their home.

Yoshiahu was unaware of this. He thought the revival was complete. When Par’oh Necho wanted to lead an army through Israel on the way to a war, Yoshiahu wanted to rely on Hashem’s promise, “a sword will not enter your land.” Yirmiyahu warned him, that no, we didn’t merit that level of protection. Yoshiahu didn’t listen to him. Egypt still needed to travel, so since they were refused safe passage, they attacked. Yoshiahu was fatally wounded, and confessed his error to Yirmiyahu in his final breath.

Why? What blinded such a righteous king, a man Rav Hillel thought merited to be the messiah, to the message of the navi?

Interestingly, in the qinah, Yirmiyahu refers to the wicked of the generation as “leitzanim”, ridiculers. Not as wicked, sinners or idolaters. Again, why?

Leitzanus, ridicule, is a lack of yir’ah. It’s an inability to accept the significance of the truly important, of dealing with the feelings of awe and fear that that engenders. Leitzanus is therefore a symptom of ga’avah, egotism. When someone has an over estimation of his own importance, he has no room to acknowledge anything else as perhaps being more important, he can’t accept the insecurity fear engenders. A natural response would therefore be leitzanus, belittling it.

Ga’avah also demotivates one to improve himself. I’m so good, my flaws are minor ones. I am reluctant to suggest this, but perhaps Yoshiahu, living in a culture that overly promoted in egotism, was tinged with some of that flaw himself. Therefore, he was incapable of believing that his religious reawakening was imperfect.

Shaul’s Downfall

In the haftorah for parashas Zachor, King Sha’ul fails in his duty to kill Amaleiq. He does not destroy all of their livestock, and leaves the battle before killing the Amaleiqi king, Agag. The navi Shemu’el takes Sha’ul to task for this shortcoming. “And Shemu’el said, ‘Although you are little in your own sight, aren’t you the head of the tribes of Yisra’el? And Hashem anointed you king over Israel.’” (Shemu’el I 15:17) Sha’ul eventually admits his guilt. “And Sha’ul said to Shemu’el, ‘I have sinned; for I have violated Hashem’s commandment and thy words; because I feared the people and listened to their voice.” (v. 24) Sha’ul, rather than acting like a king and teaching the people to follow Hashem’s will, allowed himself to be lead by his subjects. What does Shemu’el identify as Sha’ul’s failing? Sha’ul didn’t realize his own self-worth, and therefore does not live up to his potential and role in life.

Esther’s Success

In the story of Purim, Esther faces the same dilemma. Mordechai calls upon her to use her position as queen to save the Jewish people. She balks, and Mordechai counter-argues. “For if you are absolutely silent at this time, then will relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish; and who knows — im la’eis kazos higa’at lemalkhus, perhaps it was just for a moment as this you came to royalty?” (Esther 4:14)

There is a second link between Esther’s anavah and redemption in her repeating something in Mordechai’s name rather than get personal credit:

Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: … and (#48) saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings ge’ulah to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”

- Beraisa, Avos 6:6

Unlike her ancestor, Sha’ul, or Yoshiahu, Esther rises to her calling. (Her first cousin, Mordechai, is described as a descendent of Kish, which the midrash presumes to be the same Kish as Sha’ul’s father.) What did Esther have that Sha’ul lacked?

If not for the Anvanus of Zechariah ben Avqulos…

To explain that, I would like to introduce one more story. In the progression of events that lead to the downfall of the second Beis haMiqdash, Nero Caesar presented a healthy calf to offer to the Beis haMiqdash as a test of their loyalty, but Bar Qamtza made some kind of blemish in it that invalidated it as an offering. The Rabbis wanted to offer it anyway, since the risk to life outweighs the halakhah. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos objected, saying that people would think that it means that blemished animals may be offered. Then they wanted to kill Bar Qamtza, so that he could not report back to the Romans. Again, Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos objected, as he thought it would teach people that the punishment for damaging an offering was death. Nero heard that his offering was refused, was convinced that the Jews were in rebellion, and after checking some portents, decided to attack. The gemara interrupts the story to give us Rabban Gamliel’s assessment, “Because of the anvanus of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos our Temple was destroyed, our sanctuary burnt, and we were exiled from the land.”

There is a fundamental difference between anvanus and anavah, the laudable trait of modesty. Anavah is an awareness of our true worth and potential. It’s modesty that comes from knowing how much more one is capable of accomplishing. Anvanus, on the other hand, is crippling. It’s a lack of self-esteem, so that one does not rise to the challenge. Sha’ul was “little in [his] own sight,” he shared Rav Zechariah ben Avqulus’s anvanus and failed to accomplish the whole mission of his reign.

Pesachiah is Mordechai

The Mishnah (Sheqalim 5:1) lists those appointed for special duties in the Beis haMiqdash, naming the appointees. (The Yerushalmi opens with a dispute as to whether these were the appointees at the time this mishnah was first composed, or exemplary holders of each job.) Among them:

 …פתחיה על הקינין. “פתחיה” זהו מרדכי. ולמה נקרא שמו “פתחיה”? שהיה פותח דברים, ודורשן, ויודע בשבעים לשון.

Pesachiah [was the appointee] over the birds [sold to those who needed tahor birds for their offering].

“Pesachiah” is Mordechai. And why was his name called “Pesachiah”? Because he opened [pasach] words [of Torah], expounded upon them, and knew [all] seventy languages.

The Yerushalmi (21b in the vilna ed.) elaborates:

Come and see how great the potential of this person is, that he could open words [of Torah] and expound upon them!

The Yerushalmi continues by discussing the mishnah’s praise that he spoke 70 languages, which, while remarkable, was far from unique – every Sanhedrin had to have such people. (And all members had to be able to understand, if not speak them.)

The gemara gives three examples of women who came to procure birds, explained why they were bringing sacrifices, and were misunderstood by all but Mordechai / Pesachiah. One said they were for “עינתי”, which they thought meant “my wellspring”, a reference to zivah bleeding (zivah, unlike regular niddah, requires a bird-offering afterward), and Mordechai realized she meant “my eye” — she wanted to thank G-d after being healed from an eye condition. Another said “ימתי”, which they similarly understood as “my sea”, and Mordechai explained she too was thankful, that she was saved from the sea. The third said “זיבתי”, which certainly sounds like “my zivah”, and Mordechai again realized she was actually saying “ze’evasi” — that she was saved from a wolf.

What was unique about Mordechai was not just the technical ability to speak many languages. It was the human ability to understand others. Mordechai realized that women would not go to the Beis haMiqdash and speak so crassly as it seemed, in public no less. He understood his listener.

Perhaps this skill of Mordechai’s is also an instance of modesty leading to redemption. There linguistic similarity between anavah (modesty) and la’anos (to answer). It is all too easy to spend the time someone is speaking to me planning my “brilliant” reply. An anav listens, and truly answers. Mordechai heard the person, not just their words.

*The Chida (Mar′is ha′Ayin Sheqalim ch. 41) provides an interesting gematria to buttress this idea. Each letter in the name Pesachyah (פתחיה), relates to the corresponding letter in the name Mordechai (מרדכי). Each of the first three letters is double in value to that in Mordechai:

פ 80 = 2 x   40מ
ת400 = 2 x 200ר
ח   8 = 2 x    4ד

(Each of the last two is half the value:

י10 x 2 = 20כ
ה 5 x 2 = 10י

(The root verb of the name is doubled (פתח to מרד) because Mordechai expanded himself by opening the words of Torah in a way the people were ready to receive. This required the humility and readiness to really listen implied in the last two letters – the humility that took the “כי”, the “because” behind life’s events, and revealed a name of G-d – “י־ה”.)

Defense Mechanisms

This lack of self-esteem is actually very related to ga’avah (egotism). Ga’avah is a defense mechanism for someone who feels a constant need to prove to himself and the world that he really does have value. It’s the insecure who have a need lie to themselves, magnifying their accomplishments, minimizing their imperfections. The need to constantly prove one’s importance would also explain the divisiveness and lack of tolerance of the flaws and errors of others by the masses of his generation.

Perhaps, therefore, one can suggest a common cause for the pathologies given in the elegy for Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was one of a generation that was digging itself out of the depths. If they never shook off that self-image, then perhaps they too shared the “modesty of Rav Zecharia ben Avqulus”. This in turn led to ga’avah which fueled an inability to change on the part of those who hid their icons by ridiculing the efforts to spread change, as well as the inability of Yoshiahu to admit he might not have been successful. Leitzanus and ga’avah are both mechanisms for dealing with unhealthy anvanus.

Sha’ul also falls to ga’avah. Like many anvanim sought his validation from others, and so Sha’ul bowed to the will of the people, to prove to them he is worthy. Anvanus does not lead to anavah, in fact, his quest for approval he is lead to ga’avah, bragging.

Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos tried to escape his anvanah through yet another tactic, the game of “Yes, But”. If the situation is unsolvable, then one can’t be blamed for failing. In this “game”, one person proposes solutions “Why don’t we…”, to which the anvan responds, “Yes, but…” “Why don’t we offer the sacrifice even though it’s blemished, since risk to life overrides the prohibition?” “Yes, but then people will think it’s permissible in all circumstances.” “Why don’t we kill Bar Qamtza, and save the Jewish People?” “Yes, but then people would think it is permissible in all circumstances.” Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulus is so sure he is incapable of solving the problem, the problem grows to insolvable size.

Rav Zechariah ben Avqulus’s actions lead to Tish’ah be’Av. “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim besimchah — when the month of Av enters, we reduce in joy.” Anvanus leads to a diminution of joy.

Healthy Anvanus

We can also find positive examples of human anvanus. “And so, when Hashem’s aron was brought to the city of David, Michal bas Sha’ul looked out the window and saw king David leaping and dancing before Hashem; and she was ashamed of him in her heart.”

To Michal’s eye, it was not fitting for the king to leap and dance in public. David, on the other hand, didn’t overestimate his worth. Rather than “Who am I to do…?” he said “Who am I that I should not?”!

It is noteworthy that Michal is described as “Sha’ul’s daughter” when she mis-assesses the value of his actions. She thought she learned from her father’s error that anvanus is a mistake. But it isn’t always.

Yehoshua’ distinguished himself from among Moshe’s students by being the one to arrange the seating for the classes. (Bamidbar Rabba 21:14) He did not decide that since he was the next to lead, and the leader of our army, that such things were beneath him.

Rabbi Yochanan said: Everywhere that you find Hashem’s Gevurah [Might], you find His Anvanus. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Navi, and a third time in Kesuvim.

It is written in the Torah, “For Hashem your G-d is G-d over all forces [E-lokei haElokim]” and it says right after it, “… Who executes the justice of orphans and widows.” (Devarim 10:17-18)

It is repeated in the Navi: “So says the High and Uplifted, Dwelling Eternally and Holy One” and it says right after it “…Who dwells with the afflicted and those of depressed spirit.” (Yeshaiah 57:15)

It is a third time in Kesuvim, as it says “Praise the One who rides on the heavens, Whose name is ‘Kah’” and it says right after it “… the Father of orphans and the Judge for widows”. (Tehillim 68:5)

I defined anavah as awareness of everyone one could be but aren’t. That is a “good thing”, in that it motivates person to constantly strive to improve. In contrast to the anvan, who thinks they are incapable and therefore refuse to act. A person can be an anav or an anvan. But neither make sense when speaking of Hashem. He is neither less than His Potential nor does Hashem underestimate His Worth. We are not speaking of a literal self-image, nor a motivator.

When we speak of Hashem’s Anvanus as opposed to His Gevurah, we can only be describing how His actions appear to us. Anvanus therefore means His willingness to do things even when it may not befit appearances of Honor, to perform acts of kindness even when the kindness does not fit our mental image of honor and authority. Gevurah is that authority, when power leads to away from activities of narrower scope.

When a person thinks of Might, he thinks of someone who moves amongst kings, not someone who helps the downtrodden, the orphan, the widow, the depressed. This kind of anvanus, being willing to help rather than think it beneath our station, is a Divine example we are to emulate. As a necessary prerequisite for chessed (lovingkindness) to those needier than us, it is presented in the gemara a balance to the strict towing-the-line of gevurah.

Anavah, the Path to Happiness

Anvanus therefore requires a fine line. Too much, and one believes every worthy act is above their abilities, too little, and they are all beneath his station. Anavah, an awareness of both one’s abilities and of how much more one can tap them, gives us a means to find that balance.

Purim, on the other hand, arose from Esther’s true, healthy, anavah. Esther started down the road of “Yes But”, but Mordechai’s words shocked her into the realization that “le’eis hazos higa’at lamalkhus”, that her royal station demanded action from her at this time. She did not rest on her laurels, but was motivated by knowing how much more she was capable of accomplishing. Anavah culminates in the victory of Purim. “Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimchah — when the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy.”

What is Frumkeit?

The word “frum” has become a near-synonym for Orthodox. How this came to be is noteworthy.

“Frum” descends from the German “fromm“, meaning pious or devout. In pre-war Yiddish, usage appears to have varied widely. On the one hand, those who named their daughters “Fruma” clearly thought being frum as complementary. On the other, there was an idiom, or as Rav Aharon Kotler often put it, “Frum iz a galech; ehrlich iz a Yid – the town priest is ‘pious’, a Jew is refined.” I also heard the first part from Bergers of that same generation, “frum iz a galech“.  Admittedly, both data points from Lithuanian Iddish.

How did the word “frum”, then, ever catch on in the Yeshiva world, a community that aspires for continuity with the yeshivos of Lithuania? How did a word go from being a scornful description of the wrong kind of religiosity to a self-label?

I think that’s it’s for the same reason why kids who are eating at McDonald’s are branded “at risk”, but those who are chronic liars are not. The first group are “at risk” in the sense of their risk of leaving the community and no longer staying exposed to our values — and thus losing the likelihood of returning. Which means we’re defining ourselves by how we differ from non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews — not by what’s most important.

To some extent, when we use it as a self-identification, we are still thinking of frum in its original, ritual centric, meaning. A frum Jew is one who belongs to our community, and thus is following Orach Chaim, Even haEzer and Yoreh Dei’ah. And as implied by my comparison, this is an important threshold — it’s the line between someone who wishes to remain influenced by our teachings and culture, and those who do not. But it does not accurately reflect priorities. “Ehrlich is a yid.”

It is the original derogatory usage which is clearly the starting point for Rav Shelmo Wolbe’s essay on Frumkeit, in Alei Shur II pp 152-155. R’ Wolbe takes the informal usage of yore and gives it a robust, specific, technical meaning. In his hands, the word “frumkeit” refers to an etiology for a specific kind of cul-de-sac on the path of religious growth. Rav Wolbe opens:

וְאָמַר “סֹלּוּ! סֹלּוּ! פַּנּוּ-דָרֶךְ! הָרִימוּ מִכְשׁוֹל מִדֶּרֶךְ עַמִּי.”

And He will say, “Build it up! Build it up! Clear the way! Lift the stumbling-block out of the way of My people.

- Yeshaiah 57:14

On the narrow path to Truth in serving G‑d there is a major impediment which is called “frumkeit” (religiosity) – a term which has no clear and exact translation. “Frumkeit is the natural urge and instinct to become attached to the Creator. This instinct is also found amongst animals. Dovid said, “The lion cubs roar for their prey and ask G‑d for their food” (Tehilim 104:21). “He gives to the beast his food and to the young ravens who call to Him” (Tehilim 247:9). There is no necessity why these verses should be understood as metaphors [and therefore they will be read according to their literal meaning]. Animals have an instinctive feeling that there is someone who is concerned that they have food and this is the same instinct that works in man – but obviously at a higher level. This natural frumkeit helps us in serving G‑d. Without this natural assistance, serving G‑d would be much more difficult.

As you may have noticed following this blog, I am a strong advocate for a thoughtful and passionate approach to religious observance. As the name says, a fusion of passionate aish with the rigor of das’s law-based rite forming a new thing, a new word, “AishDas“. But in my discussion of thoughtful Judaism, I have always presumed the antonym of thoughtless Judaism, observance based on habit, on culture. Putting on tefillin merely because “that’s what is done.”

Rav Wolbe notes a different alternative to thoughtfulness — instinct. To Rav Wolbe, frumkeit is an instinctive drive to be close to the Creator. It is not even specific to humans; the frumkeit instinct is what King David refers to when he writes, “כְּפִירִים שֹׁאֲגִים לַטָּרֶף, וּלְבַקֵּשׁ מֵאֵ-ל אָכְלָם — lion cubs roar at their prey, and request from G-d their food.” (Tehillim 104:21) And, “נוֹתֵן לִבְהֵמָה לַחְמָהּ, לִבְנֵי עֹרֵב אֲשֶׁר יִקְרָאוּ — He gives the animal its food, to the ravens’ offspring who cry.” (147:9)

What can go wrong with something that draws us to the Almighty, even if it is instinctive? Rav Wolbe explains:

However this frumkeit, as in all instinctive urges that occur in man, is inherently egoistic and self-centered. Therefore frumkeit pushes man to do only that which is good for himself. Activities between people and actions which are done without ulterior motivations are not derived from frumkeit. One who bases his service of G-d entirely on frumkeit remains self-centered. Even if a person places many pious restrictions on himself – he will never become a kind person and he will never reach the level of being pure motivated. This is why it is necessary that we base our service of G-d on commonsense (da’as). (Study Sotah 22b lists 7 types of activities which it labels as foolish piety. Each one of them is a manifestation of frumkeit without commonsense). Commonsense has to direct our service of G-d. From the moment we desert commonsense and act only according to frumkeit, our Divine service becomes corrupted. This is true even for a person on the level of a Torah scholar.

Instincts are inherently about survival, self-preservation. As we see in the pesuqim cited in Alei Shur, the lion cub and the raven calls out to Hashem to get their food. Rather than being motivated by thoughtfulness, frumkeit is the use of religion to serve my ends.

A while back I posted about something I called the paradox of performing mitzvos bein adam lachaveiros lishmah — doing interpersonal mitzvos for the sake of the mitzvah:

What is the purpose of such mitzvos? To develop feelings of love and caring toward others; to expand our natural focus on ourselves to include others. Does the lishmah (lit: for itself) mean doing the mitzvah for the sake of doing a mitzvah? If it does, then we are not focusing on caring for other people, we are focusing on Hashem. On the other hand, if we define lishmah as being “for the purpose for which we were given the mitzvah (as best we can understand it)”, we would conclude that mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro “for itself” means doing it without thought to its being a mitzvah. As I said, a paradox.

Rav Wolbe quotes the Alter of Slabodka’s treatment of this question:

Ve’ahavta lereiakha komakhaand you shall love your peers like yourself.” That you should love your peer the way you love yourself. You do not love yourself because it is a mitzvah, rather, a plain love. And that is how you should love your peer.

To which Rav Wolbe notes, “This approach is entirely alien to frumkeit.” The frum person is the one who makes sure to have Shabbos guests each week, but whose guests end up feeling much like his tefillin — an object with which he did a mitzvah. A person acting out of frumkeit doesn’t love to love, he loves in order to be a holier person. And ironically, he thereby fails — because he never develops that Image of the Holy One he was created to become. The person who acts from self-interest, even from the interest of ascending closer to G-d, will not reach Him.

One must approach a mitzvah with a drive to see the deed done, rather than the self-interested drive to be the one doing it. This is “mimaaqim qarasikha Hashem — from the depths I call out to you, Hashem.” I reach for G-d not while instinctively grasping for loftiness, focusing on how can I make me more lofty, but when I subdue myself for the sake of the deed. To honor Shabbos out of a sense of honor, to give to the poor because one feels such love and empathy that nothing else would be thinkable.

This is why mussar is primarily a study of da’as, of wisdom and thoughtfulness.

The Value of Money

There is an often-cited dispute between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

ת”ר ואספת דגנך (דברים יא:יד) מה ת”ל לפי שנא’ (יהושע א:ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך יכול דברים ככתבן ת”ל ואספת דגנך הנהג בהן מנהג דרך ארץ דברי ר’. ישמעאל ר”ש בן יוחי אומר אפשר אדם חורש בשעת חרישה וזורע בשעת זריעה וקוצר בשעת קצירה ודש בשעת דישה וזורה בשעת הרוח תורה מה תהא עליה אלא בזמן שישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י אחרים שנא’ (ישעיהו סא:ה) ועמדו זרים ורעו צאנכם וגו’ ובזמן שאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י עצמן שנא’ (דברים יא:יד) ואספת דגנך ולא עוד אלא שמלאכת אחרים נעשית על ידן שנא’ (דברים כח:מח) ועבדת את אויביך וגו’ אמר אביי הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידן כר’ שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן

The Rabbis repeated: “And you shall gather your grain” (Devarim 11:16) What does this come to tell us?

Because it says “Do not let this Torah book be absent from your mouth” (Yehoshua 1:8) Could it be that these words are to be understood literally [i.e., that one must study Torah perpetually]? No, since the Torah writes ‘And you will harvest your grain…’ (in other words) practice the way of the world (i.e., earn a living) alongside (the words of Torah) – these are the words of Rabbi Yishmael.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Could a man plow when it’s plowing time, plant when it’s planting time, harvest when it’s harvest time, thresh when it’s threshing season and winnow while there’s wind? What would become of the Torah? Rather, at a time when the Jews do God’s Will, their labor will be done by others, as it says (Yeshaya 61:5): ‘And strangers will rise and shepherd your flocks…’ But at a time when Israel does not do God’s will, they will [need to] do their labor themselves, as it says (Devarim 11:14): ‘And you will harvest your grain’. And that is not all: they will be forced to do others’ labor as well, as it says (Devarim 28:48): ‘And you will serve your enemies…’

Abaya said: Many have acted like Rabbi Yishmael and it worked; like Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and it did not work.

I think I just encountered a Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 8:8, vilna 43b-44a) that might shed light on why Rabbi Shim’on was so reluctant to endorse working for a living. This is his opinion of human psychology when it comes to money:

תני רבי חייה במחתרת אין לו דמים חוץ למחתרת יש לו דמים תני ר”ש בן יוחי אפילו חוץ למחתרת אין לו דמים לפי שממונו של אדם חביב עליו כנפשו.

Rav Chiyah repeated: [If a burglar is killed while still] in a tunnel [to rob someone and possibly attack the people within and kill them], he has no blood [i.e. the killer is not held guilty of murder. If it is outside the tunnel [and the threat he poses to life subsided], he does have blood.
Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai repeated: Even outside the tunnel he has no blood [a person isn't guilty for killing him], because a person’s money is as dear to him as his living soul.

So, in Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai’s eyes, money is so all consuming it is up there with threat to life, and a person could not be blamed for killing a potential burglar.

With that opinion of how much wealth can distract someone, is it surprising Rabbi Shim’on assumes that having a job would naturally lead to total neglect of the Torah?

Tools and Goals

The chorus of a song we used to sing in my day, decades ago, in NCSY began:

Torah and mitzvos, these are our goals

Serving Hashem to strengthen our souls…

If we truly thought Torah and mitzvos are our goals, then we wouldn’t be looking beyond them to suggest we “serv[e] Hashem to…” something.1 The lyrics initially sound true in an obvious way, but actually each line describes a slightly different worldview, and the clash between them raises fundamental questions about how we should be viewing our life work:

Is observance the ends, the purpose, of our lives, or is it the means and the goal lies beyond it? And if they are the means, do we need to consciously frame the purpose of our lives, or should we just concern ourselves with following the halakhah, and rest assured that the goal will take care of itself?

Continue reading

  1. I don’t intend to critique a song written for a teens to sing at Shabbatonim by nit-picking over details of word choices as though I thought the song was intended to be a philosophical treatise. I do realize the primary goal was rhyming scheme and singability, not precision. I am just using these lines illustratively. []

Compassion for Our Enemies

Updated 1/8/2014.

We have a minhag to pour out 16 drops of wine, once at each mention of a makah that befell the Egyptians. The earliest mention of this custom is in the Maharil (according to R’ Joseph Tabory, on Avodah), who says the reason is that we are promised “any distress which I placed upon the Egyptians I will not place upon you”. As the cup of wine represents Jewish redemption, thus the drops are us asking Hashem to spare us these troubles and send them to our enemies. It is also documented in numerous places that those who remove the wine with their index finger are commemorating the Egyptian mages’ description of the plagues, “it is the ‘Finger’ of G-d”.

The most common reason we pass around, however, is that we’re diminishing our joy out of compassion for the suffering of other human beings, even the Egyptians. This reason is relatively new, but it is found in such authoritative locations as the hagaddah of R’ SZ Aurbach and appears as a “yeish lomar” (it could be said) in that of R Elyashiv (pg 106, “dam va’eish“).

So the question arose on both Avodah and soc.culture.jewish.moderated whether the value of compassion for our enemies is authentically Jewish, and more relevant for those who saw the references to these hagados, the origin and history of it.

The search seems to center on the question of why we say Chatzi Hallel (an incomplete Hallel; hereafter CH) on the 7th day of Pesach.

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b) gives the reason that from the second day onward, the qorban for that day was the same as the one before. The days of Pesach lack a newness that those of Sukkos have, and therefore there is CH on all but the first day of Pesach, but full Hallel on every day of Sukkos.

The Pesiqta deRav Kahane (Mandelbaum Edition, siman 29, 189a) gives us a different reason. It tells the story of the angels singing/reciting poetry at the crossing of the Red Sea, which was on the 7th day of Pesach, and Hashem stopping them saying “Ma’asei ‘Yadai’ tov’im bayam, va’atem omerim shirah — the work of My ‘Hands’ is drowning in the sea, and you say shirah?”

The Jews, on the other hand, sang “Az Yashir” unimpeded. It would seem to me therefore that we were allowed to rejoice, but there is a limit or a sadness mixed into that joy.

This is midrash is quoted by the Midrash Harninu and the Yalqut Shim’oni (the Perishah points you to Parashas Emor, remez 566).

The Midrash Harninu or the Shibolei haLeqet (our only source for the Midrash Harninu) associate this midrash with “binfol“. This is despite the fact that the pasuq of “binfol” would literally mean not rejoicing at all, and here it’s being used to argue for ambivalence — merging the joy of the neis with the sorrow of what was necessary to be done to the Mitzriyim.

The Beis Yoseif (O”Ch 490:4, “Kol“) cited the gemara, then quotes the Shibolei haLeqet as a second reason.

שבלי הלקט (סי’ קעד סט:) כתב בשם מדרש הרנינו פרשת סוכה שהטעם שאין גומרין ההלל כל ימי הפסח הוא לפי שנטבעו המצריים וכתיב (משלי כד יז) בנפול אויבך אל תשמח.

And in the Shibolei haLeqet it is written in the name of the Midrash Harninu that the reason why we do not finish Hallel on all the days of Pesach[, only on the first] is because the Egyptians drowned. As it says “Binfol oyivkha, al tismakh” (Mishlei 24:17).

The topic of CH was discussed in a column in Jewish Action by R’ Ari Z Zivitofsky. Here are some of the sources he identified.

The Taz gives this diminution of joy as the reason for CH on the 7th day (OC 490:3), as does the Chavos Ya’ir (225).

The Kaf haChaim (O”Ch 685:29) brings down the Yafeh haLeiv (3:3) use this midrash to establish the idea that we mourn the downfall of our enemy in order to explain why there is no berakhah on Parashas Zakhor (remembering the requirement to destroy Amaleiq).

R’ Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon vol III pg 3) says that the gemara‘s reason for CH (that the qorbanos are the same as for the previous day) is meant to address only chol hamo’ed, and our medrash is the primary reason for the 7th day of Pesach.

Which exhausted what I found on CH and R’ Zivitofsky’s column.

Back on Avodah, R’ Jacob Farkas found the Meshekh Chokhmah (Shemos 12:16uveyom“), who uses “binfol” and our medrash as an argument for disassociating Purim and Chanukah from their military victories. We celbrate our salvation, not their downfall. He also cites R’ Shelomo Alkabetz (Manos haLeivi 9:20 “Vayikhtov Mordekha“) who writes that because “HQVH does not rejoice in the downfall of the evil”, we too should not rejoice at their downfall — imitatio dei. We therefore celebrate Purim only for our deliverance.

R’ Dov Kay points us to the Netziv’s into to HaEimeq Davar, Bereishis. He defines “Seifer haYesharim” as the book about those who showed concern even for the wicked, that this quality is what defines being yashar. He holds up Avraham’s atittude toward the people of Sedom as an example for us to follow.

So, regardless of whether this is the reason for CH on Pesach day 7 or for spilling wine at the seider, or just a lesson one can learn post-facto from one or both of these, I think we have succeeded in well establishing the Jewishness of the idea that we have compassion for the death of even evil people.

(In an earlier devar Torah I suggest that this mixture of emotions is a necessary element before an event is called a “yeshu’ah” in Tanakh. That it is in common between Noach getting saved, and why the rainbow is a mixed message, why Lot’s wife was punished for turning back when she was saved, and our case of the mal’akhim at Yam Suf, who had no right to sing praises since people had died and it wasn’t they who were saved.)

Similarly, this recognition of the role of ambivalence is found in the halakhah that someone who is left a large inheritence must say both the berakhah of “Dayan emes“, mourning the death, and “hatov vehameitiv” on becoming wealthy.

Here, the balance must be struck between two verses: “binfol oyivkha al tismakh — when your enemy falls do not rejoice” (Mishlei 24:17) and “ba’avod reshaim rinah — with the destruction of evil there are shouts of happiness” (11:10). The Zohar writes that the happiness is only when the destruction is to cure the evil, and therefore comes with their atonement. When they die because they are oyevim, enemies, who need to be eliminated to save the good rather than in the right time for their own sake, there is no joy. The gemara‘s resolutions (Sanherin 39b) is that while Hashem does not rejoice, He does call upon others to rejoice. However the Maharsha relates this back to the story of “the work of My “Hands’ is drowning…” The others rejoice at being the beneficiary of G-d’s good, even while recognizing the loss necessary for us to be saved from the wicked.

Interesting is one of the gemara’s prooftexts, found also in the Yerushalmi parallel at 4:9, 23b, is from a battle in Hodu Lashem, ki le’olam chasdo — Sing to Hashem, for His lovingkindness is eternal.” Rav Yochanan notes that two words are missing compared to the version in Hallel, “ki tov — for He is Good”. Because we do not consider the death of the wicked good. It is important to note that this is about the death of non-Jews, of longstanding enemies of the Jewish people since the Exodus! In the Yerushalmi, this is held in contrast to “ba’avod resha’im rinah — one should rejoice at the loss of the wicked” to yield a different resolution than the Maharsha’s understanding of the Bavli. The loss of the wicked through teshuvah would have been a source of joy, their downfall through death is to be mourned.

One can’t say (deapite the idea’s popularity in some circles), it’s an assimilated liberal or Christian value that was brought in through liberal Judaisms, or promoted by kiruv workers who want a more palatable Judaism to sell.

So why doesn’t “mi shemeracheim al ha’achzarim… — one who is merciful to the cruel will in the end be cruel to the merciful” apply? Perhaps it is because we aren’t talking about ignoring the very real need for their destruction. Unlike Sha’ul, who inappropriately saved Agag, we are not saying the Mitzriyim should have been spared. Rather, that it’s sad that things had come to this.

Someone who r”l needs to have a leg amputated should have it removed. He’ll mourn its loss and the loss of everything he could have done with it, but will still give his okay for its removal. “Mi shemeracheim” is the doctor who lets the patient die because he had pity on the leg.


The Netziv (Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin 1816-1893, last Rosh Yeshiva at Volozhin) wrote a relatively famous piece in Meishiv Davar (1:44) that is quoted a lot this time of year. I thought I would translate a core section (pg 52, col 2, paragraph starting “Vehinei). The context is that the Netziv just discussed the prohibition against going into business with minim (heretics) lest one get influenced.

The extremists ruled and came up with a plan to be guarded in this generation by separating one from the other altogether, the way Avraham separated from Lot. But with all due respect to the extremists this plan is hard to the body of the nation and its survival like swords.
For in time when we were in our Holy Land it was as if with our permission during the Second Temple that the land was conquered, the Temple destroyed and the Jews exiled because of the dispute of the Pharasees with the Sadducees and also caused by much pointless hatred which is not according to the law. That is, at the time that one Pharasees saw someone lenient in some matter, even if [the other] wasn’t a Sadducee at all, but was sinning, still because of pointless hatred they judged him to be a Sadducee and would attack him and from this bloodshed multiplied….

And all this isn’t unimaginable to Heaven forbid happen in our time as well! For my own eyes saw one of the Orthodox decide that another wasn’t acting according to his way in serving G-d, and ruled that he was a heretic and distanced himself from him. Now they chase after one another in a false illusion that it is permissible, and destroy the entire nation of G-d (Heaven forbid)….

Siimilarly the Netziv writes in his introduction to the Book of Bereishis (HaAmeq Davar, pesichah):

The subject is explained in the song of Ha’azinu on the words, “הצור תמים פעלו וגו’ צדיק וישר הוא — The Archetype Whose work is perfect… He is Righteous and Upright”. (Devarim 32:4) That is an upright praise to justify the Holy One’s Justice in the destruction of the Second Temple, which was “a warped and twisted generation” [c.f. Devarim v. 5]. For they were righteous, pious, and toiled in the Torah, but they weren’t upright in the ways of the worlds. Therefore, because of pointless hatred, because in their heart they accused anyone who they saw acting in a manner unlike their opinions in yir’as Hashem of being a Sadducee and a heretic. They came through this to bloodshed via internal divisions, and all the evils in the world until the Temple was destroyed.

On this was the justification of the Judgment. That the Holy One is upright and doesn’t pardon “righteous people” like these, only those who walk in the upright paths also in the ways of the world. And not through treachery even if were for the sake of heaven. For this causes the destruction of creation and the elimination of settlement of the land.

Taken Tish’ah beAv morning, 2013

If I may add what I believe to be the real hard part… We have to read the Netziv’s words not as a description of those who demonize us and those like us, our way of serving G-d, but of our own “justified response”. The end of internal divisiveness in the Jewish community will not come through identifying another camp as guilty and separating ourselves from them!

But what if the “other” isn’t being demonized, but really is a threat? Didn’t our first citation from the Netziv open with an obligation that would keep us somewhat apart from the real heretics?

Tosafos (Pesachim 113b “shera’ah bo) ask about the word “sonei“.

ואם תאמר דבאלו מציאות (ב”מ דף לב: ושם) אמרינן אוהב לפרוק ושונא לטעון מצוה בשונא כדי לכוף את יצרו והשתא מה כפיית יצר שייך כיון דמצוה לשנאתו וי”ל כיון שהוא שונאו גם חבירו שונא אותו דכתיב (משלי כז:יט) כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב הָאָדָם לָאָדָם ובאין מתוך כך. לידי שנאה גמורה ושייך כפיית יצר:

This requires a lot of explanation, so I won’t try a literal translation. The Gemara (BM 32b-33a) says that if someone has to choose between unloading a friend’s donkey, or loading that of someone he hates, one should choose helping the one he hates, because overcoming the yetzer hara is a mitzvah. (In other cases, unloading has priority over loading, because of the weight on the poor animal.)

But from the gemara the Tosafos are commenting on in Pesachim, we learn that this rule

applies to unloading an enemy’s donkey even where the enemy is a sinner of the sort that we’re supposed to and even obligated to hate him. So they ask, why then is there a mitzvah to overcome that hatred? Tosafos answer that the justified enmity can cause a cycle of hatred. As is says in Mishlei 27:19 “As with water, one surface (literally: “face”) answers another, so too the heart of a person to a person”. And so the measure of hatred one is supposed to have can grow, “uva’in mitokh kakh lidei sina’h gemurah“. And so, we must control the yeitzer even when hatred is appropriate, lest it grow to complete hatred.

To capture this latter thought, I originally named this post “Hatered”, intending to mean “Hater-ed”, but then realized it just looked like another instance of my bad spelling. But that’s really what we’re talking about more than the issue of avoiding hating. Since Tosafos discuss a case where hating is called for. Rather, they warn against turning into a hater, getting “hatered”.

Ways of Peace

In a comment on my recent post “Infinite Worth“, Raffi asked:

Hey – would you elaborate on your intriguing definition of darkhei Shalom as “walking the path of He Who makes peace”?

Vav — I’d be glad to. (Now aren’t you glad I don’t inject my sense of humor into this blog too often?)

The factoid behind Raffi’s question is that the phrase is usually taken to be pragmatic. The way I learned it in grade school was that we violate Shabbos to save non-Jews because it’s important to keep the peace lest they kill us. Similarly, there is a concept that is batted around synonymously, “mishum eivah” — because of animosity.

Despite these understandings being commonplace in discussion, they do not stand up to scrutiny. This was first brought to my attention in an email from Yeshivat Har Etzion (“Gush”) too many years ago to find, which contained notes from a lecture given by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein shlit”a. The same thesis appears in his “In The Human and Social Factor in Halakhah”, Tradition 6 (2002) pp. 89-114, made available on-line by the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education (Bar Ilan Univ.) What I write below will be based on my memory of the email in addition to the essay.

Most trivially, neither idiom is used not used exclusively where there is real risk to life or limb, but that would have to be the meaning of the phrase if it were pragmatic grounds to override Shabbos.  Mishum eiva is applied between father and child on Bava Metzia 12a; on Yuma 12b to the kohein gadol; and on Kesuvos 58b, between husband and wife. So avoiding eivah is a value of some sort detached from the value of saving people from future retaliation.

But we were looking at darkhei Shalom in particular.

There is a story in the gemara (Sukkah 53a) where David haMelekh dug deep holes into the ground as part of his preparations for the future building of the Beis haMiqdash. He dug far enough down to hit the tehom, the subterranean water, and the water came up threatening to drown the world. Achitofel wrote the name of G-d on a pot sherd and through it down the hole, thus stopping the water. He reasoned from the law of sotah, where a paragraph of the Torah that includes Hashem’s name is written on a parchment, dissolved in water (along with some dust from under the Beis haMiqdash) and given to a sotah — a married woman accused of adultery who then is found alone with the suspected paramour. Achitofel reasoned that if Hashem’s name may be erased to save one marriage, then of course it may be erased to save the entire world.

The Rama (teshuvah #11) says this is a general principle that preserving the peace is a value that can at times override prohibitions. As Rav Aharon Lichtenstein translates the relevant snippet of the responsum:

We have learned from here that it is permissible to modify [the truth] for the sake of peace, and it is permissible to violate the injunction, “Thou shalt distance thyself from falsehood.” [The consideration of peace] also overrides the biblical prohibition of “Thou shalt not do thus to the Lord thy God,” which bans the erasure of God’s Name, as is explained in the Sifri to Parashat Re’eh and counted by the Rambam and the Semag in their respective enumerations of the mitsvot. Since this is so, I say that it is also the case that [peace] overrides the prohibition of defamation; in other words, it is permissible to defame another if one’s intention is for the sake of Heaven and for a good cause, [namely,] to promote peace.

But what makes the whole thing open-and-shut is the Rambam’s explanation of how we are to relate to non-Jews and why (Hilkhos Melakhim 10:12):

אַפִלּוּ הַגּוֹיִים צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקַּר חוֹלֵיהֶם, וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וּלְפַרְנַס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵּי שָׁלוֹם: הֲרֵי נֶאֱמָר “טוֹב-ה’ לַכֹּל; וְרַחֲמָיו, עַל-כָּל-מַעֲשָׂיו” (תהילים קמה:ט), וְנֶאֱמָר “דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי-נֹעַם; וְכָל-נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם” (משלי ג,יז).

[Not only Jews and geirei toshav (resident aliens),] even for non-Jews our sages commanded to visit their sick, bury their dead [as] with the Jewish dead, support their poor among the Jewish poor, because of darkhei Shalom. For it says, “Hashem is good to all, and His Mercy is on all that He made.” (Tehillim 145 “Ashrei” v. 9). And it says, “[The Torah]‘s ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace.” (Mishlei 3:14, also said when returning the Torah to the aron)

The Rambam’s prooftexts show that darkhei Shalom is:

1- Imitatio dei. This is why I have been capitalizing the “S” in “darkhei Shalom“. I believe from this perspective, we are actually using Shalom / Peace in its use as an appelation for G-d. To go in His Peaceful Way.

Note how the kindnesses listed are behaviors we learn from Hashem’s examples:

ואמר רבי חמא ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב (דברים יג:ה) אחרי ה’ אלהיכם תלכו וכי אפשר לו לאדם להלך אחר שכינה והלא כבר נאמר (ד:כד) כי ה’ אלהיך אש אוכלה הוא אלא להלך אחר מדותיו של הקב”ה מה הוא מלביש ערומים דכתיב (בראשית ג:כא) ויעש ה’ אלהים לאדם ולאשתו כתנות עור וילבישם אף אתה הלבש ערומים הקב”ה ביקר חולים דכתיב (בראשית יח:א) וירא אליו ה’ באלוני ממרא אף אתה בקר חולים הקב”ה ניחם אבלים דכתיב (בראשית כה:יא) ויהי אחרי מות אברהם ויברך אלהים את יצחק בנו אף אתה נחם אבלים הקב”ה קבר מתים דכתיב (דברים לד:ו) ויקבר אותו בגיא אף אתה קבור מתים:

And Rabbi Chama beRabbi Chanina said: Why is it written, “You shall walk following Hashem your G-d”? (Daverim 13:5) It is possible for a person to walk following the Shechinah? Doesn’t it already say, “For Hashem your G-d is [like] a consuming Fire?” (4:24) Rather, it means to walk following the attributes of the Holy One blessed be He [as He shows Himself to us]. Just as He clothes the naked, as is written: “And Hashem E-lokim made for Adam and his wife cloaks of leather and dressed them (Bereshis 3:21) So too you should cloth the naked. HQBH visited the sick, as is written: “And Hashem appeared to [Avraham after his beris milah] in Oak-woods of Mamrei” (Bereishis 18:1) So you you should visit the sick. HQBH comforted mourners, as is written: “And it was after Avraham’s death, and G-d blessed his son Yitzchaq” (Bereishis 25:11) So too you should comfort mourners. HQBH buried the dead, as is written: “And He buried [Moshe] in the valley” (Devarim 34:6). So too you should bury the dead.

- Sotah 14a

2- Darkei Shalom is the defining feature of halakhah.

Far from what I was taught as a youth, darkhei Shalom (and even mishum eivah, the avoidance of animosity) are not mere accommodations of an imperfect reality, but speak to the heart of Torah.

A Retrospective Implication of Bitachon

Saying that I have bitachon, trust that Hashem sets up the world I experience to maximize my opportunity for success, implies that I believe that all of my failures are due to my own decisions.

So, if I am not succeeding, there are really only two possibilities. Either

  • I am not carrying my own side of the partnership. In which case, Hashem gave me the best chance of success and I made some wrong choice along the way. Or
  • I have a false definition of “success”. I chose the wrong goal, the wrong thing to try to succeed at. Again, the mistake was all mine.

So, doesn’t bitachon force me to take ownership of everything that turns out other than I’d like?

No rest for the weary…

(This post is a different treatment of the same themes as “Mas’ei — the Journey as a Name of G-d“.)

וַיֵּשֶׁב יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵי אָבִיו בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן.

And Yaaqov settled in the land of his fathers’ dwelling, in the land of Canaan.

– Bereishis 37:1

(איוב ט) “אם שוט ימית פתאום…”
אנטונינוס שאל את רבינו, אמר לו: מהו דכתיב: אם שוט ימית פתאום?
אמר רבי: גזור דיסב מאה מגלבין, והוא יהיבין מאה דינרים, דין סכום לדין, ודין סכום לדין, ולא מפקין מידיה כלום, כענין הזה מלעיג על המוכה. (שם) למסת נקיים ילעג.
אמר רבי אחא: בשעה שהצדיקים יושבים בשלוה, ומבקשים לישב בשלוה בעולם הזה, השטן בא ומקטרג. אמר: לא דיין שהוא מתוקן להם לעולם הבא, אלא שהם מבקשים לישב בשלוה בעולם הזה. תדע לך שהוא כן, יעקב אבינו ע”י שבקש לישב בשלוה בעוה”ז, נזדווג לו שטנו של יוסף.

“If the scourge slay suddenly[, it will mock the tragedy of the blameless.]” (Iyov 9:23)

Anthony asked our rebbe [R' Yehudah haNasi]. He said so him “What does it mean, ‘If the scourge slay suddenly…’?”

Rebbe answered: [Say] it was decreed that he would have 100 lashes and he would get 100 dinar [for his suffering]. But only the full amount [of lashes] matches the full amount [of pay], and the full amount [of pay] matches the full amount [of lashes]. Like this they mock the battered — “it will mock the tragedy of the blameless”.

Rav Acha said: “When the righteous dwell in tranquillity or desire to dwell in tranquillity in this world, the satan comes and accuses. He says: ‘Is it not enough that which is prepared for them in the World to Come not enough, that they seek to dwell in tranquility in this world?’  You should know that this is so, for Yaaqov avinu sought to dwell in serenity in this world and the ‘Satan’ of Yosef attached himself to Yaakov: ‘Yaakov settled down’, but ‘I had no tranquility, no quiet, no rest, and trouble came’ (Iyov 3:26):

  • ‘I had no tranquility’—from Esav;
  • ‘No quiet’—from Lavan;
  • ‘No rest’—from Dina;
  • ‘And trouble came’—the trouble of Yosef.”

– Medrash Rabba ad loc (84:3), quoted by Rashi

Why is it so terrible that Yaaqov wanted to rest? He finally got out from behind his conflicts with Eisav and with Lavan, would it have been so bad had Hashem just given him a few years of peace?

Rashi  quotes Rav Acha. The righteous are getting the world to come, that should be enough for them. The reason why, though, is more inherent in Rebbe’s words. A person is in this world to accomplish something. No matter how much that person accomplishes, getting only most of the way there isn’t getting the job done.

בן זומא אומר: … איזהו עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר: (תהלים קכח:ב): “יגיע כפיך כי תאכל אשריך וטוב לך.” “אשריך” — בעולם הזה. “וטוב לך” — לעולם הבא.

Ben Zoma would say: … Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot. As it is said: ‘When you eat from the toil of your hands, you are fortunate and it is good for you’ (Psalms 128:2). ‘You are fortunate’ — in this world; ‘and it is good for you’ — in the World to Come.

– Avos 4:1

When speaking publicly, I often use this story from the Kotzker Rebbe, a Chassidic master known for his sharp wit.

The Kotzker Rebbe once asked his students: There are two people on a ladder, one on the fourth rung, and another on the 10th, which one is higher?

The book where I saw this thought doesn’t record his students’ answers. I assume some recognized it as a trick question, and answered that it was the one on the fourth, some answered the 10th figuring the rebbe was leading them somewhere, and others were silent. But the rebbe’s answer was succinct, “It depends who is climbing the ladder, and who is going down.”

What is relevant isn’t our state at any point in time, it’s how we’re changing.

Given that idea, 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.

My lot isn’t what I have at any particular point in time. Not in the physical sense, although someone who makes $25,000 a year and is content is certainly wealthier than the millionare who is consumed with craving his next million. My lot, in ben Zoma’s sense, isn’t even my current spiritual state. It’s the road I’m to travel.

And I think this was Yaaqov avinu‘s mistake. He chose to rest, thinking it was time to be content with what he had then, rather than the notion of life in the process. He hadn’t finished all the work necessary for his life’s mission; it wasn’t time yet to stop.

I think this understanding is reinforced by Ben Zoma’s choice of proof-text and its image of eating by the work of one’s hands. “‘Fortunate’ in this world”, along the way, “and ‘it is good for you’ in the world to come” in terms of what you accomplish. The verse’s language can be taken as one of process, working toward a goal.

Here is the test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.

- Richard Bach

The Alter of Kelm (R’ Simcha Zisl Ziv 1824-1898, Lithuania) says something similar in Chomkhmah uMussar, but nothing I could figure out how to reduce to a “sound bite”. Self perfection is the work of a life-time, but that’s exactly why we were given a lifetime.

The whole being-vs-becoming distinction is central to existentialism. Kierkegaard’s central problem was that of becoming a Christian, in explicit contrast to being one.

Sartre’s “Existence precedes the essence” is about the fact that the essence of a person is the process his existence follows. And thus a person exists before his essence does. In contrast to a building, where the essence inhabits the architect’s mind and blueprints before it exists. You could know everything there is to know about a table just by knowing how it will be built and what it’s from. Essence precedes existence. Not so for people.

[M]an first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world — and defines himself afterwards.

- Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism

Here’s a related thought from R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch’s (1808-1888, Germany) commentary on themes from Mishlei:

Man can aspire to spiritual-moral greatness which is seldom fully achieved and easily lost again. Fulfillment lies not in a final goal, but in an eternal striving for perfection.

The Alter of Novhardok (R’ Yosef-Yoizl Horowitz 1849-1919) studied under the aforementioned Alter of Kelm. (Alter is a title meaning “elder”; the intent of their students in using this title was to connote a grandfather-grandson relationship.) Here’s a related quote, also from my signature generator, from his Madreigas ha’Adam, but written in the reverse:

Man wants to achieve greatness overnight, and he wants to sleep well that night too.

Last, a thought from the Mussar Movement’s founder, R’ Yisrael Salanter (Lipkin 1810-1883, Lithuania), along the same lines as R’ Hirsch (above):

One doesn’t learn mussar to be a tzaddik, but to become a tzaddik.

The knowledge that this process is what constitutes my curriculum, something tailored specifically for the needs of my soul is quite comforting. The notion that there is something that Hashem’s plan for the universe needed me to do — and only I can do it.

The “payment” Rebbe speaks of is the World to Come. And perhaps, although this may just be homiletics, we could use this identification of “cheileq” (lot / portion) with the person’s entire path through life to explain a grammatical anomaly in another mishnah. The first mishnah in Sanhedrin pereq “Cheileq” (ch. 10 or 11, depending upon edition) begins:

כל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא. שנאמר (ישעיה ס) “וְעַמֵּךְ כֻּלָּם צַדִּיקִים, לְעוֹלָם יִירְשׁוּ אָרֶץ; נֵצֶר מטעו מַטָּעַי מַעֲשֵׂה יָדַי, לְהִתְפָּאֵר.”

All of Israel [Rambam: in good standing, i.e. those who believe the 13 foundations of our faith] have a portion toward the world to come. As it says “And your nation, they are all righteous, they shall inherit the land eternally; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, for glorifying Myself.”

(The proof is based on the idea that only the World to Come is a “land” which a person holds eternally.)

Notice the mishnah says that every Jew has a “cheileq le‘olam haba — a portion toward the world to come.” Why doesn’t it say “cheileq be‘olam haba — a portion in the world to come”? Perhaps the mishnah is referring to cheileq in our sense of the term, a person’s lot in terms of their entire existence. In which case, we should translate the mishnah as, “All of Israel have an existence that is a path leading to the world to come”. And, as the Rambam warns, assuming they choose to actually grasp that entire path and walk the road to its intended conclusion.

When I start to feel like I’ve been treading water too long and my arms are getting tired and I’m scared that my head will soon go under, I try to return to the mental image that epiphany gave me. (And I hope I relayed, as it’s hard to convey an epiphany, as I can’t share that “Aha!” feeling, just paint the ideas.)  It doesn’t always work, but overall the idea helps keep me sane.

My lot in life is the ladder that I alone can climb. This is climbing the ladder, the process of becoming, Rav Hirsch’s “eternal striving”, the work of a lifetime, not a single night (with a good night’s sleep fitted into it, to boot!). It is 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.