Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.
Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” — Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).

Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.

After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….

With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.

You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus
chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as “zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni‘ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

But there is one difference… Pesach, matzah, maror are in a different order – avodah (relating to G-d), Torah (self-refinement), then Gemilus Chassadim (in how we relate to others). Describing a flow downward.

First we connect to the Source of all good, by eating the qorban Pesach which shows our trust in Him and an inviation to “eat off His table”, so to speak. Then we eliminate all of our selfishness, our ulterior motives and other goals that could get in the way, as we can find modeled in our matzah. We make ourselves into conduits of that good to His Creatures. And finally we feel the pain of others in the taste of our maror and share what we received from G-d to help them through their suffering.

And more than that, we find that it’s maror that gets dipped in charoses.  Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is amitzvah 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).

(The sweetness of charoses is discussed at more length in this earlier post.)

Charoses 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)

Maror gets charoses because the ultimate purpose of life is not our self-refinement or our cleaving to the Divine, but our utilizing them to aid those in need. In fact, neither of these can be defined without knowing what a person’s function is, and therefore how we measure refinement, and what it is G-d does for creation that we can contribute to ourselves. It is through giving G-d’s Good to others that we cleave to Him, reflect His Perfection, and achieve our own.

A Thought About Maoz Tzur

(Updated again for 2009, and again for 2013.) One line in Ma’oz Tzur I particularly love.

The 5th verse of Ma’oz Tzur describes the Chanukah story. One phrase in this verse is “ufortzu chomos migdalai“, which would be literally translated “and burst open the walls of my citadel”. Mentally, I used to picture breaking down the walls of the Beis haMiqdosh, or perhaps a fortress. However, I found the following mishnah in Middos (Ch. 2, mishnah 2 in the Yachin uBo’az edition, mishnah 3 in Kahati’s — who splits up the Yu”B‘s mishnah 1 into 2 parts). The second chapter describes the Beis haMiqdosh as it would appear to someone walking in from outside the Temple Mount to the Altar. This mishna picks up right after you walk through the gate and onto the Temple Mount.

Inside of it is the soreg, 10 tefachim [appx 2'6"] high. It had thirteen peratzos (broken openings) there, that the Hellenist kings partzum (broke open). They returned and closed them off, and legislated corresponding to them 13 prostrations.

To help you picture what a soreg is, the root means woven. The Bartenura describes the soreg as a mechitzah woven out of thin wooden slats running at diagonals. The Bartenura compares it to the part of the bed used to support the mattress, with plenty of open space inside the weave.

He goes on to say that the Hellenists opened up holes in the soreg opposite each of the gates in the outer wall to let anyone see in. Note the shoresh used /p-r-tz/, the same as in the piyut. The soreg marked the limit for gentiles, they were not allowed in beyond that point. To the Hellenist mind, this havdalah bein Yisrael la’Amim, separation between the Jews and the other nations, was repugnant. It ran against their assimilationist efforts.

Rav Hutner (Pachad Yitzchaq, Chanukah 1:5) explains that emphasizing this division is why the mishnah has no mention of Chanukah. It is the Oral Torah which separates the Jews from non-Jews. Anyone can pick up a text and study it. But it’s the fact that the majority of the Torah is “written” on the hearts of the Jewish People, that halakhah is dynamic, not written ink-on-parchment, but a creative partnership between Hashem and the Jewish People, that makes it uniquely ours. This is why there is a prohibition against teaching Oral Torah to non-Jews, a prohibitions our sages debate is a kind of theft, or akin to marital infidelity. Therefore, there was special resistance against codifying the laws of Chanukah in particular, a desire by Rav Yehudah haNasi to keep them oral.

Chomos migdalei, the walls of my citadel, were not the mighty walls around the Temple Mount or the walls of a fortress. They were a see-through mechitzah, the realization that the Jew, as one of the Mamleches Kohanim, has a higher calling.

One possible reaction to assimilation is to build up the fortress walls. We can hope to stave off negative influences by reducing out exposure to the outside world. The idea that we need to stay distinct is not necessarily one that isn’t heard, but perhaps one that we are overly stressing.

I think this too is a message of the soreg. Yes, there is a separation between Jew and non-Jew, but it is only waist high and woven of slats with far more space than wood. The “walls of my fortress” are a reminder, not a solid barrier.

We are charged to be G-d’s “mamlekhes kohanim vegoy qadosh — a country of priests and a holy nation.” We need to balance the separation implied by the concept of qedushah with our role as kohanim, a priesthood providing religious leadership. We can not be priests if we do not stay to our special calling, but our special calling is self-indulgent if we do not use it to serve others. “Ki miTzion teitzei Sorah — because from Zion the Torah shall come forth.” By wallling ourselves in we not only protect ourselves, we prevent ourselves from teaching others.

This is an important facet of R’ SR Hirsch’s concept of “Torah im Derekh Eretz“. Yes, it does mean that we are to import derekh eretz, the ennobling elements of our surrounding culture and its sciences. But it also means that we are are to be the world’s moral voice, to contribute to the nobility of that society.

In the centuries of passion and scorn our mission was but imperfectly attainable but the ages of mildness and justice now begun beckon us to that glorious goal that every Jew and every Jewess should be in his or her own life a modest and unassuming priest or priestess of God and true humanity When such an ideal and such a mission await us can we still my Benjamin lament our fate?

- R’ SR Hirsch, “The Nineteen Letters”, 9th letter, tr. R’ Dr Bernard Drachman, pg 86

For this future which is promised us in the glorious predictions of the inspired prophets whom God raised up for our ancestors we hope and pray but actively to accelerate its coming were sin and is prohibited to us while the entire purpose of the Messianic age is that we may in prosperity exhibit to mankind a better example of Israel than did our ancestors the first time while hand in hand with us the entire race will be joined in universal brotherhood through the recognition of God the All One On account of this purely spiritual nature of the national character of Israel it is capable  of the most intimate union with states with perhaps this difference that while others seek in the state only the material benefits which it secures considering possession and enjoyment as the highest good Israel can only regard it as a means of fulfilling the mission of humanity Summon up I pray you before your mental vision the picture of such an Israel dwelling in freedom in the midst of the nations and striving to attain unto its ideal every son of Israel a respected and influential exemplar priest of righteousness and love disseminating among the nations not specific Judaism for proselytism is interdicted but pure humanity…

- Ibid. pp 162-163

Noach blessed two of his sons, “Yaft E-lokim leYefes, veyishkon beohalei Sheim — G-d gave beauty to Yefes, and dwells in the tents of Sheim.” To Rav Hirsch, this is a description of a partnership, Yefes’s mastery of derekh eretz and Sheim’s spiritual gifts.

When David Dinkins ran for mayor of New York, he called the city’s diversity a “glorious mosaic”. Not the melting pot metaphor that my grandfather encountered when they came to the U.S., the idea that convinced so many others of that generation that being a “real American” meant to assimilate. Being part of the whole and contributing to the whole by maintaining and celebrating our nation’s unique identity and perspective.

We are forced to find some kind of balance: we are supposed to both be a “unique nation in the land” and also contributors of religion, spirituality and ethics to the general society. I think this same tension informs the dispute among American halachic decisors over the appropriateness of celebrating Thanksgiving. Very indirectly, Thanksgiving is derived from Judaism. It commemorates a meal the Pilgrims ate in an intentional imitation of Sukkos in worship of the Creator that we taught the world about. The very name Jew derives from that of the dominant surviving sheivet, Yehudah, who was named by his mother “for this time odeh es Hashem — I shall thank G-d”. The entire concept of Thanksgiving would not exist without us. On the other hand, it was enacted by people who thought of the trinitarian god of Christianity, and the tradition itself comes from them, not us. Does this practice belong “behind the soreg” or within it? Are we advancing the cause of our national priesthood, or are we tearing down the walls of the citadel necessary to preserve its existence?

This too underlies the tefillah of Aleinu. The first paragraph is all about the uniqueness of the Jew. “It is up to us to praise the Master of Everything… For He did not make us like the nations of the world, and didn’t position us like the nations of the land… For they bow to vanity and emptiness… and we bow, prostrate and acknowledge before the King, King of Kings…” And then, the second paragraph switches to a universalist theme. “… That we soon see the Splendor of your Might… to repair the world into a kingdom of Shad-dai, and all children of flesh will bow to Your Name, to turn to you all the heads of the land…” And what’s the connector between these themes? “Al kein nekaveh — therefore we are expectant.” Because we are Hashem’s unique people with the unique role He entrusted to us, we await the day that all of mankind come together, and “they will recognize and know, all the dwellers of the globe, that to You all knee bows, and every tongue swears allegiance.”

Unfortunately, by building up the fortress walls, we miss many opportunities to act as a priesthood. It is a shame that it’s not the most observant Jews who are most vocal about Darfur, global hunger, or the ease of reducing the loss of life to malaria. If we accuse the world for their silence during the Holocaust, then people who feel that the events in Darfur do qualify as genocide can not stand by when it happens to someone else. How much more so if we recognize ourselves as kohanim to the world! More recently, the Union for Reform Judaism is currently raising money for the Nothing but Nets program, an initiative to distribute mosquito netting in malaria ridden parts of Africa. (Communities in which they have distributed $10 nets show a 90% decline of incidents of malaria.)

Similarly, helping out at the local soup kitchen. Earlier today I received an invitation from a synagogue to serve meals there. I was disappointed, although not surprised, to see that the synagogue was not Orthodox. Yes, we need to worry about Jewish causes; there are far more people out there to see to the general need. But I was proud of the local Young Israel, who used to staff a similar kitchen on days like the upcoming Thursday (Dec 25th), when non-Jewish volunteers tend to have family obligations.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting all this as a nice Shabbos-morning style derashah on the concept of a woven 2-1/2′ mechitzah as “the walls of my citadel”. I believe this is the actual meaning of the serug, which was sufficient as a reminder, and yet allowed Jew and non-Jew to serve the same G-d at the same Temple. “For My ‘home’ shall be called for all the people ‘a house for prayer’.”

Antiochus breached the soreg in an attempt to unify his empire as a melting pot, everyone Hellenized. This would have destroyed our goy qadosh, our nations unique voice in the world. However, the ideal soreg defines a distinction, not forces a separation. Once the tile that is the Jewish people, our role as teachers, moral guides and a conduit of sanctity, is protected and intact, then it can and must be part of Hashem’s glorious mosaic. Only by having a serug can we balance integrity and priesthood.

The word migdalai not only means “my towers” or “my citadels”, it can also be read “those things that make me great.” Only by having both separation and contact of a soreg can the walls of our miqdashei me’at, our synagogues and batei medrash, truly be chomos migdalai.

Who in his time?

There were two lines from the Shemoneh Esrei of Rosh haShanah that particularly spoke to me this year — “mekhalkeil chaim bechesed – Who sustains the living with lovingkindness”, and the line from Unsaneh Toqef which tells us that on Rosh haShanah it is written and on the fast of Yom Kippur it is sealed… mi beqitzo umi lo beqitzo — who in their time, and who not in their time”?

Less than 24 hours before Rosh haShanah began I was at JFK Airport, at the funeral of a young man I watched grow up next door to me. “Sustains the living with kindness”? Can I see the generosity of allotting him a mere 22 years of life? “Who in their time”? How can that be the fate sealed for someone who was just beginning his life?

Why is the term used here for the arrival of the denoted time “qeitz”, at the endpoint (from “qatzeh”, edge, c.f. Shemos 36:33)? How does it differ from saying that the “zeman”, or “eis” (both meaning “time”) had arrived? Fortunately, we have a handle on that question from its use in the Torah.

Parashas Miqeitz opens “Vayhi miqeitz shenasayim yamim — and it was at the end of a pair of years of days”. After Yosef spent two years in prison, Par’oh’s dream leads the wine steward to remember Yosef and eventually leads to his redemption. But why does the pasuq say “shenasayim yamim”, rather than just “shenasayim”?

This duplication of terms for time is echoed later in the narrative, when Ya’akov describes his age to Par’oh as “The days of the years of my travels…” (Bereishis 47:8) as well as at the beginning of parashas Vayechi, in counting out Ya’aqov avinu’s lifespan, “… And the days of Ya’aqov was, the years of his life…” (Ibid. v. 28. Notable is the use of singular “hayah – was” referring to the days.) The repetition implies that there are distinct concepts. Yom and shanah refer to different things.

The Zohar (Pinechas 249a-b) describes a system of grammatical gender follows the conventions of sexual reproduction: Biblical Hebrew uses masculine nouns for those things that we think of as initiators that start a process. Feminine nouns take that seed and develop it into something more complete and usable. “Yom”, being in the masculine is therefore an initiator. “Yom” represents a unit of progress. It is a unit of linear time, a progress from birth to death. The culmination of history is notably called “acharis hayamim” (Eg. Sukkah 52b) and in the navi, “yom Hashem” (Eg. Sukkah 52b).

In contrast, “shanah” is from the same root as “two”, “to repeat”, “to learn”, or “to change”, and perhaps even that of “to age” and “to sleep”, as in “venoshantem ba’aretz“. And notably it’s in the feminine. A shanah is not the end of a line, it’s the means of producing further.

Perhaps this is why the Malbim (Bereishis 47:8) explains Ya’aqov avinu’s reply to Par’oh as having two parts. To Par’oh’s question about years, he answers that he traveled this earth 130 years. About days, Ya’akov laments that he did not use his time as productively as did his fathers, “Few and insufficient were the days of my life’s years, and they never reached the days of the years of my forefather’s lives.” (Ibid v. 9)

Referring to just a zeman or an eis, like referring to a yom or a shanah, cannot represent the goal of the trip. It’s the qeitz, in which both the process of shanim and the progress of yamim reach a culmination. And it was at the qeitz of shensayim yamim“. A qeitz, an endpoint, can only come from both.

Some die of an old age, and some die younger. Hashem supports life, meaningful existence, with lovingkindness. Each trip is exactly the right length for a person to reach their potential. But the tragic would have been dying without getting to where he was supposed to go.

I’ll miss you Buzzy!


Selichah, Mechilah, Kapparah, Yir’ah and Simchah

Caveat: Most of these entries are extrapolations from something I learned. In this case, the entry is a chidush on top of an earlier chidush.

In Mesilas Yesharim ch. 24, the Ramchal describes the various types of yir’ah (awe / fear). This is the topic of an earlier entry. To quote:

1- Yir’as ha’onesh: fear of punishment. This is the lowest of the three. However, since even fear of punishment is a motivator, even yir’as ha’onesh is viewed positively….

2- Yir’as Shamayim: fear of [the One in] heaven. This is the lofty goal. It, in turn, comes in two flavors:

2a- Yir’as hacheit: fear of sin. This is distinct from the fear of punishment; it is a fear of the sin itself, of the possibility of erring. Mesilas Yesharim continues that when a traditional source speaks of “yir’ah” without specification, it means yir’as hacheit (fear of the sin [itself])….

It is a kind of fear of heaven that one is worried about letting G-d down, about doing something that would ruin the relationship.

The Maharal (Nesivas Olam, Nesiv Yir’as Hashem chapter 1) writes that “yir’as hacheit” (fear of the sin itself, which the Ramchal called the default definition of “yir’ah“) comes from a love of Hashem. When you love Someone, you give great importance to not disappointing Him.

2b- Yir’as haRomemus: fear of the Grandeur [of G-d]

Note that as the Ramchal progresses, the translation for yir’ah as “fear” becomes steadily less compelling, and that of “awe”, or acting with “awareness of the magnitude of what one is engaging in”, seem more appropriate….

In Vidui, we ask for three things: selichah, mechilah and kaparah. (According to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch these are in descending order — selichah is full repair of the sin, whereas kaparah is the containment of its punishment. I would like to suggest an explanation of the terms consistent with the Avudraham’s position that they are an ascending sequence.)

According to the Avudraham, selichah is being pardoned from any due punishment. This may also be the meaning of “veHashem yislach lah – and Hashem will forgive her” of her vow (Bamidbar 30:6,9,13), where the vow being annulled has not been violated. It is the release from a debt or responsibility.

Mechilah is forgiveness. There are no ill feelings remaining from the act. As Rashi writes (teshuvah #245), ““If he hugged him and kissed him, there is no mechilah greater than this.” The same idea is echoed by the Chasam Sofer (Derashos, Shabbos Shuvah). We do not obtain forgiveness from Hashem for sins done against another without first trying to obtain mechilah from the person offended. However, the Chasam Sofer writes, “In the time when the Beis haMiqdash stood, we do not find that there was an obligation for every Jew to seek mechilah from his friend on erev Yom Kippur. For it is the nature of the qorbanos to bring the hearts of men closer, and to make peace among them on their own.”

Kaparah is from the same root as “kapores“, the cover of the Aron, the “kofer“, pitch, used to cover wood for waterproofing, and the cover of “kefor“, frost, atop the manna (Shemos 16:14). And thus the preposition usually used with it is “al” (on), as we shall see, as it is also in the descriptions of kaparah through qorban in Vayiqra, 4:20, 26, 31, etc…. For whatever it’s worth, the cognate in arabic is /gfr/ which refers to covering or hiding. (This translation is that of the Ibn Ezra and Ramban, but not necessarily that of Rashi. See their respective commentaries on Bereishis 32:22, where Yaaqov’s appeasement gift to Esav is intended so that “akhaperah panav“. Also Rashi on 1:10. With thanks to R’ Avi Fertig for this last citation which pushed me to find the other rishonim.)

I would therefore suggest that kaparah is the containment of the inclination that led to the sin. This also explains the verse “Ki bayom hazeh yechapeir aleichem litaher eschem mikol chatoseichim, lifnei Hashem titeharu — for on this day, it will provide kaparah upon you to make you tahor, before Hashem you will become tahor” links kapparah to taharah. Taharah, purity (as in the “zahav tahor“, pure gold, of the menorah), is freedom from adulterations, negative habits inculcated into the soul. (See my earlier entry on the subject of taharah.) Kaparah, then is a prior step, their containment. Beyond pardon from punishment and restoration of the relationship, but starting the healing of the very self.

These three stages parallel the three types of yir’ah described above.

Selichah, pardon from punishment, is a resolution of the sinner’s yir’as ha’onesh (fear of punishment).

Someone with yir’as hacheit, who values His relationship with the Creator, is concerned with the impact of his actions on that relationship. That concern is resolved through mechilah, a restoration of that relationship.

Kaparah, by containing the cause of the sin, isolating off the personal flaw, is a step toward closing that gap between my finite self and the romemus, the greatness of the Almighty. From that kaparah, one can become a person with a healthier relationship with Hashem and with others, and from there all his debts to them would naturally be pardoned.

Teshuvah can thus be described as a return to Yir’ah.

This thought might explain why the last mishnah in Ta’anis includes Yom Kippur when it says, “There were no more joyous days for Israel than Yom Kippur and the Fifteenth of Av.” Returning back to that essay on yir’ah, there I compared the Ramchal’s yir’as hacheit (fear of sin) to Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan’s definition of yir’ah in BeIqvos haYirah (tr. R YG Bechhofer):

… 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. -mb} [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.

Awareness of magnitude brings more weight to the event. It’s the difference between the joy of dancing at a siyum and that of dancing at wedding, or dancing at a friend’s wedding and dancing at one’s daughter’s. Because the wedding is so momentous, the joy is that much more intense. To return to R’ Avraham Elya Kaplan’s metaphor, the depth of my love for my son adds to the joy of dancing with him. Without the yir’ah, the awareness of what a big thing it is to put one’s son atop one’s shoulders, the joy wouldn’t be there.

Yom Kippur is a day of returning to yir’as Shamayim. And thus, a day on which we realize the depth of the gifts we receive, the accomplishments we have, and even begin to see meaning on the tribulations in our life. A day of joy.

Gemar chasimah tovah to all my readers, as well as to all who get this email and delete it unread (although those of you in that second class obviously couldn’t be reading this).

The Structure of Maggid

I recently reworked and expanded an older piece on the structure of the Seder as a whole, and why it comes in fifteen steps grouped by the cups of wine into four. This section is also a rewrite, reflecting parallel changes to Maggid in particular.

Within our framework, Maggid is the substance of the second cup of the seder. It is the cognitive aspect of progressing from the limitations of our current reality to our ideal redeemed state.

5- Maggid

Let’s begin with the relevant mishnayos, from Pesachim ch. 10:

ד מזגו לו כוס שני, וכאן הבן שואל.  אם אין דעת בבן–אביו מלמדו, מה נשתנה הלילה הזה מכל הלילות:  שבכל הלילות, אין אנו מטבלין אפילו פעם אחת; והלילה הזה, שתי פעמים.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין חמץ ומצה; והלילה הזה, כולו מצה.  שבכל הלילות, אנו אוכלין בשר צלי שלוק ומבושל; והלילה הזה, כולו צלי.  לפי דעתו של בן, אביו מלמדו.  מתחיל בגנות, ומסיים בשבח; ודורש מ”ארמי אובד אבי” (דברים כו,ה), עד שהוא גומר את כל הפרשה.

4: They pour him a second cup, and here the son asks question. If the son doesn’t know how, his father teaches him “Mah Nishtanah…” [the entire older version, as said when the pascal offering was part of the seder, is given]. According to the intellect of the son, that’s how the father teaches him.
We begin with the tragic, and end in praise.
And we expound [on the portion of the Torah] from “An Arami destroyed my father / My father was a lost Arami…” until he completes the section.

ה רבן גמליאל אומר, כל שלא אמר שלושה דברים אלו בפסח, לא יצא ידי חובתו; ואלו הן–פסח, מצה, ומרורים.  פסח, על שם שפסח המקום על בתי אבותינו במצריים; מרורים, על שם שמיררו המצריים את חיי אבותינו במצריים; מצה, על שם שנגאלו.  בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם ל[ה]ראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצריים; לפיכך אנחנו חייבין להודות להלל לשבח לפאר להדר לרומם לגדל לנצח למי שעשה לנו את כל הניסים האלו, והוציאנו מעבדות לחירות.  ונאמר לפניו, הללו י-ה.

5: Rabban Gamliel says: anyone who doesn’t say these three things on Pesach didn’t fulfill his obligation. And they are: Pesach [offering], Matzah and Marror. Pesach in commemoration of… Merorim… Matzah
In every generation a person must see himself [Rambam: show himself] as though he [personally] left Egypt. Therefore, we are obligated to give thank, laud, praise, give glory, show beauty, exalt, make great, eternalization to He Who did for us all these miracles, and took us from slavery to freedom.
And we say before him “Hallelukah…” [and so on with much of Hallel and a closing berakhah, the details of which is the topic of the next mishnah].

The mishnah spells out three requirements for Maggid.

1- Question and Answer

Ideally, the previous section of the seder was enough to cause spontaneous questions from the child. If not, the father teaches him Mah Nishatanah – or more or less, as per the child. (R’ Rich Wolpoe wondered aloud on Avodah about when Mah Nishtanah became something the child said rather than something the father said when the child had no real questions.)

The question’s answer must be phrased in a particular way — starting from the lowly, and ending in praise. In other words, highlighting that gap between the limitations of the real, and the ideal we strive for.

Rav and Shemu’el disagree as to how we view that gap.

Rav says that this is on a spiritual level, starting with Bitechilah ovdei avodah zarah — in the beginning, our ancestors were idolators.

Shemu’el says it on a physical level. Avadaim hayinu – we were slaves, but now we are free.

We can view the dispute this way: Do we attribute our spiritual redemption to Hashem? Or is redemption our own task, and Hashem’s role is to give us the tools to achieve it. Shemu’el focuses on the latter, and therefore to him yetzi’as Mitzrayim is about Hashem granting us the autonomy to pursue His goals.

We find the same dispute between them with respect to the final redemption. In Rav’s view, the messianic era will be heralded with a change in the natural order. The synagogues and batei medrash from around the world will fly up to Israel. (Although, anyone who visited the yeshivos of Ponovezh, Ramalys, Mir, etc… operating today in Israel could give a more natural explanation. In Shemu’el’s view, it is not a supernatural event. Rather, “ein bein olam hazah liymos hamashiach elah shib’ud malkhios bilvad – there is no difference between this world and the messianic era except subjugation to [foreign] kings alone”. (A position followed by the Rambam.)

And so, this requirement of Maggid involves the following elements:

1a-The Questions: Mah Nishtanah.

1b- Shemu’el’s Haggadah: Avadim Hayinu.

The completion of this first retelling ends by noting that this mitzvah is retelling the story of the Exodus, beyond the usual requirement to remember it “kol yimei chayecha – all the days of your life”.

This then invokes a discussion of the four sons, the seder in Benei Beraq, and “Yachol meiRosh Chodesh” about the uniqueness of the night, when the other commemorations exist. Notice that the arguments include various mishnayos and beraisos explaining the requirement for each of the elements we include in Maggid, explaining why Maggid does not end here and instead does include every understanding.

1c- Rav’s Haggadah: The spiritual redemption from Terach, Avraham’s father, the maker of idols. It ends with thanking Hashem that He hastened the redemption, using the earliest possible definition of the end of the exile promised in Avraham’s vision. Before we were spiritually reduced to Egypt’s level, back where the spiritual story began.

Notice the nature of these two addenda: After Shemu’el’s Haggadah, we have a long extension about how to respond. Hashem gives us physical freedom, and so we are called upon to use that to study, to teach our children. Rav’s Haggadah speaks to our spiritual redemption, but is followed by “Vehi She’omda“, how that spiritual journey has stood for us as an anchor of physical survival.

2- Expounding

In contrast to the more natural question-and-answer retelling (sipur) that is at the center of the previous sections, the next thing the mishnah requires is expounding (derash) the words of Devarim, finding details about the Exodus lurking in each word of the section.We look for G-d’s “Hand” in all its nuances in the miracles of the plagues and the crossing of the sea.

3- Rabban Gamliel’s Haggadah: Identifying

Then we find Rabbi Gamliel’s requirement that Maggid can not be divorced from the food mitzvos of the evening, the substance of the third cup, when the night of the Exodus is relived. “A person must see or show himself as though he personally went out of Egypt.” Even the retelling must be subjective, in the first person. The exercise, while cognitive, can not remain abstract.

To the extent that the portion of Hallel found in Maggid derives from Rabban Gamliel’s portion of the hagadah. “Lefikhakh — therefore.” It is because the miracle is a personal one, that I too was redeemed when my ancestors were, that necessitates saying Hallel even at night.

The author of the Hagadah took all three elements of the mishnah, across multiple understandings of the essence of the night, and wove them together to make a single text that satisfies all the opinions. “And whomever says more, he is praiseworthy.”

Who knows four?

The number four appears in the seder so frequently that its presence is often commented upon:

  • The four cups of wine — and the four terms of redemption and the four mentions of the word “cup” when the butler discusses his dream with Yoseif, the sources of this law;
  • The four questions;
  • The four “barukh“s in “Barukh haMaqom“;
  • The four sons;
  • The four names of the holiday: Pesach, Chag haMatzos, Chag haAviv and Zeman Cheiruseinu;
  • The four matzos…

“The four matzos“? Don’t we in fact have three (or, as R’ Moshe Feinstein and R’ JB Soloveitchik did, following the Vilna Gaon, have two) matzos on our seder table? What I mean by that are the four meanings we associate with the mitzvah of matzah:

  1. We start with “Ha lachma anya — this is the poor man’s bread which our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt…” The bread of servitude. “Lechem oni — bread of poverty.”
  2. Then we ask questions, and teach Maggid embodying the other idea of “‘lechem oni’, she’onim alav devarim harbei — that we answer upon it many things.”
  3. We have the matzah upon which one must eat the qorban pesach. Historically, this concept of matzah was given third, before the actual redemption.
  4. The matzah also represents the haste of the exodus itself. Rabban Gamliel’s is the matzah that we eat “because the dough lacked [the time] to leaven before the King of Emperors. the Holy One blessed be He, revealed Himself to them and redeemed them.”

In the song “Echad mi yodei’ah?” each verse combines the answers of the previous verses. So that when you get to “Who knows four?” the answer is “Four are the mothers, three are the fathers, two are the luchos haberis, one is Hashem…”

I would like to suggest that the answer doesn’t end after the word “imahos” (mothers), but includes the whole sequence. The meaning of four is due to the meaning of three, which flows from the meaning of two, which in turn comes from the One.

G-d is One.

Man is created in His Image, which means we exist to similarly be free-willed creative beings, but also we exist as recipients of His good. Therefore man lives in two worlds: G-d’s and the one we share with our fellow man. And these are expressed in the two tablets: one containing mitzvos between us and Hashem, the other between people.

This balancing act requires that we have three loci in our soul: our existence in this world, our existence in heaven, and the world within our minds, where we choose between them. The chesed of Avraham, the avodah of Yitzchaq, and the torah study of Yaaqov. Three are the fathers.

As actors, we act in three planes. However, in receiving from G-d, we realize we receive on planes beyond three — reception is perceived in fours. Rosh haShanah, when we act to repent and earn our redemption, we have a three-part Mussaf (Malkhos, Zichronos, Shoferos). Pesach, the gifted redemption, is in four.

The meaning of four is therefore built on that of three, which in turn comes from two and The One.

The work of the seder is therefore to make the transition from being a oni (impoverished), a creature batted around by the winds of fate, living in “Mitzrayim” between two narrows, between “the pan and the fire”. And both through thought and through deed we accept our redemption, becoming a servant of G-d.

To take things in a slightly different direction for a moment…

The Rambam famously breaks down teshuvah into four steps:

  1. charatah (regret),
  2. vidui (confession),
  3. azivas hacheit (abandoning the sin), and
  4. qabbalah al ha’asid (resolving to do better in the future).

Now, as R’ Ephraim Becker puts it, Mussar is about three things: the real, the ideal, and the path to get there. If we applying this to the four steps in Hilkhos Teshuvah:

  1. Charatah — One begins with an awareness of the problem.
  2. Transformation from the flawed reality to the ideal occurs via two channels — cognitive and behavioral.

  3. Vidui — verbally reinforcing the concept of change
  4. Azivas hacheit – implementing the new behavior
  5. and finally, with Hashem’s help, one can succeed at

  6. Qabbalah al haasid — and actually better live up to the ideal in the future.

The same pattern is seen in the “four matzos”:

  1. Poverty and suffering of the “poor man’s bread”, transformed through
  2. Torah study (“the bread over which we answer many things”) and
  3. mitzvah observance — including the obligation to eat the qorban with matzah, becomes
  4. redemption — “Hashem’s salvation comes as in the blink of an eye”, the matzah baked on their backs as they fled Egypt.

The four Mothers, the four elements of reception.

The story of Mitrayim and Yetzi’as Mitzrayim is that exile and troubles exist for the sole purpose of turning them into opportunities for growth and redemption. 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.

That too is how the four cups divide the seder:

1- First cup :

Qadeish: necessary before drinking wine
Urchatz: necessary before…
Karpas: Vegetables, as in “the cucumbers we had in Egypt” that the exodus generation complained of missing in the desert, dipped in salt water resembling tears
Yachatz: breaking the middle matzah, because poor people need to save for later, and saying “Ha lachmah anya“. By using the cups to separate the steps of the seder, “Ha lachmah anya — this bread of poverty”, becomes part of Yachatz an explantion for why we are breaking the middle matzah, and Maggid begins with the filling of the next cup.

The first cup is dominated by symbols of life in Mitzrayim. Reenacting servitude. But also, the reason given for karpas and yachatz i s also to motivate our children to ask the questions upon which we base Maggid. We create an awareness or our need for redemption.

Then we fill the second cup…

2- Second cup:

Maggid: telling over the story. The matzah of teaching. A cognitive analysis of redemption. (I intend to revisit the structure of Maggid in a future post.)

3- Third cup:

Motzi, Matzah, Maror, Koreich, Shulchan Areich, Tzafun, Bareich: these steps will (G-d willing, soon) be the actual eating of the qorban pesach “on matzos and maror“. The matzah of the mitzvah, and of reenacting the night Hashem took us out of Egypt, eating the offering as they did on the night of redemption. An experiential repeat of redemption.

4- Fourth cup:

Hallel, Nirtzah: Praising G-d. The post-redemption Jew.

There were 15 semicircular steps up to the last courtyard before the Temple. The levi’im would stand on them and sing. When ascending them for certain ceremonies, they would pause at each step and sing the 15 chapters of Tehillim that begin with the words Shir haMaalos (a song of ascents) or Shir laMa’alos. Ffifteen then is a number by which we ascend to sing G-d’s praises, and speak of his loftiness. For this reason there are 15 things that Hashem did for us in the Exodus which we count out in Dayeinu — any one alone would justify the seder night. And there are therefore 15 steps in the seder.

Something to think about tonight, during bedikas chameitz: Chameitz then is the ignoring of this gift of redemption. Standing back when the opportunity is there. The passivity of letting the dough rise. Falling short on one’s Torah study and mitzvah observance; perhaps one even takes these tools in hand, but doesn’t use them redemptively. This is the chameitz of which the Ari haQadosh writes, “Anyone who removes all chameitz from their house is guaranteed to have a year without sin.”

Chag kasher vesamei’ach! (belashon “lo zu af zu“)

Dai- Dai- Einu…

Chassidim have a tendency of finding lessons in Jewish practices on the basis that “if they are not prophets, they are the ‘children of prophets'”. (“Children of prophets” is an idiom in Tanakh for those studying for prophecy.) Along those lines…

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I lack the patience to sing the entire Dayeinu, all 15 stanzas, to that “Dai, dai-, -einu, dai-, dai-, einu…” tune. So, we tend to only bother every fifth stanza or so.

However, even something as late and as trivial as this may have a deep holy lesson for us!

From the Y-mi Berakhos 67b-68a, in a discussion of things that the sages decreed down below and was ratified in the heavenly court:

R’ Avun in the name of R’ Yehoshua ben Levi: Even maaser [tithes, which is rabbinic when the majority of Jews aren't living in Israel]. As it says (Malakhi 3:10) “Bring all the maaser[, so that there may be foor in My house... would I not open the windows of heaven and pour for you a blessing ad beli dai]”

What is “ad beli dai” [until there is no enough]?

R’ Yosi bar Shim’on bar Ba in the name of R’ Yochanan: Something that is impossible to say about it “enough” is a berakah.

R’ Berachah, R’ Chelbo, and R’ Aba bar Ilai [68a] in the name of Rav: until your lips tire of saying “dai — enough”.

So it would seem there is value to a tune that thanks Hashem for all the berakhos He bestowed on us during the Exodus that tires out our lips saying “dai“!

Memories of His Child Ephraim

(My first attempt at this post was seriously flawed, both typographically and in flow. This is a significant reworking. If you have ideas for further improvement, they’re eagerly invited.)


Why is it that we established the custom to read the Torah once annually from Shemini Atzeres to Shemini Atzeres, thereby turning the second day of Shemini Atzeres (the only day, in Israel) into Simchas Torah? What’s the connection between completing the Torah and Shemini Atzeres in particular?

Second, Rosh haShanah is called “Yom haZikaron“, or “Yom Zikhron Teru’ah” (the Day of Remembrance, or the Day of Remembrance of the Broken Shofar Cry). At of the three berakhos that make up the heart of the Rosh haShanah Mussaf, Zikhronos is the longest. But what do we mean when we praise Hashem for remembering? What does He remember? For that matter, what does “memory” mean when speaking of the One Who created time, rather than a person who lives within its flow?When a person remembers, his brain is reliving now something that happened in the past. For Hashem, though, there is no first-hand experience of time, no “now” and no “past”. What then does Zikhronos mean?

I assume you’re now wondering a third question — what do the previous two questions have to do with each other?


When we look at the Jewish Year, we find the holidays mentioned in the Tanakh are grouped around two seasons: fall and spring. In the fall, we have the Yamim Nora’im, Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres. In the spring: Purim, Pesach and Shavu’os. The gemara compares Purim and the holiday the Torah calls “Yom haKippurim“. It also compares Pesach and Shavuos, learning many laws from one to the other on the basis of a gezeira shava (comparison due to similar terminology) because both are placed on the 15th of the month. And Shavuos is called by our sages “Atzeres“, a parallel to Shemini Atzeres.

Purim commemorates the completion of the process that began on Shavuos. On Shavuos, we accepted the Torah because “He held over them the mountain like a barrel”, Hashem threatening to crush the Jewish people if they would decline. This situation lasted all through the prophetic period, where sin often had supernatural consequences. It’s only after G-d “Hides his ‘Face'” on Purim, acting while hiding through nature, that “qiymu vekiblu haYehudim“, the loyalty to the Torah took on a higher level. (And the centrality of willing acceptance by the Jewish People is also why Purim had to be rabbinic, from us, rather than decreed by Hashem.)

And so, given those pieces of the structure of the year, I would expect reflections of Shemini Atzeres to illuminate our understanding of the Yamim Nora’im, as there should be a connection between them similar to that between Shavu’os and Purim.

On each day of Sukkos there is a different number of bulls offered in the mussaf offering. On the first day, 13 bulls; the second day, 12, and so on until on the 7th day 7 were brought. All together, 70 bulls. The gemara (Sukkah 55b) teaches that these 70 bulls are one each for the 70 nations of the world. The medrash (Yalkut Shim’oni, Bamidbar 684) references Tehillim “Instead of My love — they hated Me.” (109:4) “R’ Yehudah said, ‘How foolish are the nations! They lost something, and they don’t even know what it is they lost! When the Beis haMiqdash stood, the mizbei’ach would bring them forgiveness.” — Through these 70 bulls — “Now – who will bring them forgiveness?”

And then on Shemini Atzeres, one bull. An offering for the Jewish People. “This can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who said to his servants:, ‘prepare for me a great banquet.’ On the final day he said to his beloved, ‘prepare for me a small meal so I may enjoy your [company].'” (Sukkah 55a)

The connection between Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah is that expressed in the berakhah said before studying Torah. When the gemara asks what that berakhah should be, Rav Hamnunah’s answer, “asher bakhar banu mikol ha’amim venasan lanu es Toraso… — Who has chosen us from all the nations and given us His Torah… who gives the Torah” is called the elite of the various suggestions.

Shemini Atzeres, the one day at the end of the fall holiday series dedicated to the special relationship between G-d and the Jewish People is therefore also the day of commemorating that He gave us the Torah.” To be “the Chosen People” is to be the “benei beris“, people of the covenant.

And, as I wrote, that implies that we should expect the notion of covenant to be central to the Yamim Nora’im as well.


The Zohar writes, “‘אַבְרָהָ֣ם ׀ אַבְרָהָ֑ם’ (Bereishis 22:11) has a pesiq [a pausal trop mark “׀”] between the two names, whereas ‘מֹשֶׁ֥ה מֹשֶׁ֖ה’ (Shemos 3:4) has no break.” When Hashem calls Avraham at the Aqeida He uses Avraham’s name twice and there is a mark there telling us there is a pause, in how we read it. When Moshe is called, also with a doubling of his name, as the Burning Bush, there is no pause. What is this distinction the Zohar is drawing our attention to?

Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Ru’ach Chaim 1:1) answers this question using a description from the gemara. In Yevamos 49b, the prophecy of most prophets is compared to seeing through a cloudy lens or mirror (aspaqlaria shei’na mei’ra), but Moshe’s prophecy was through a clear lens or mirror (aspaqlaria hame’ira). Even the prophets have a layer of physicality which clouds up their view, which divides our souls into a higher level that is more aware of the Divine and a lower level that lives in a body. For most of us, our consciousness stays with our lower selves. A prophet can sometimes “see” from the perspective of the higher soul above that barrier. But it’s a cloudy vision. Moshe entirely lacked that barrier. He had only one self.

Rav Chaim explains that for all his greatness, Avraham too experienced that split. Therefore Hashem calls two Avraham’s – the one where his awareness resides, and the higher soul in heaven. Moshe’s call lacks that “pesiq”, that pausal line, representing a lack of barrier, a unity of the lower “Moshe” and the upper one.

At the moment a person is first born, he is pretty much all potential. Everything that baby will accomplish in life lies before him. He didn’t yet build that line, that gap between who he is and who Hashem created him capable of becoming.


The contents of birkhas Zikhronos doesn’t describe a memory of the past, it describes remembering for the future. “You remember all the actions of the world… And upon the nations, it is sentenced: which to the sword, and which for peace….” The berakhah continues asking Hashem to remember us the way He remembered Noach, “and also Noach you remembered in love, and You appointed him in a statement of salvation and compassion…” And then citing the pasuq, “And G-d remembered Noach and all the living things and all the animals with him in the ark, and Hashem made a wind pass over the earth, and the water subsided.”

The other nine verse of Zikhronos are also about Hashem remembering his covenants with us. More so, His remembering that which He found in us making us worthy of the covenants. Among them:

“And G-d heard their cries, and G-d remembered His covenant with Avraham, with Yitzchaq, and with Ya’aqov.”

“And I will remember My covenant of Yaaqov, and also My covenant of Yitzchaq, and also my covenant of Avraham I will remember, and I will remember the land.”

“He gave food to those who are in awe of Him, and He always will remember His covenant.”

“Go our and call in the ears of Jerusalem to say, ‘So says Hashem: I remembered for you the lovingkindnesses of your youth, the love of your wedding, your walking behind Me in the wilderness, in the unfarmed lands.”

“I remembered my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I established with you an eternal covenant.”

And finally, “My dear child Ephraim, isn’t he a delightful child? For often I speak about him, I will remember him still…”

Yahadus has a focus on the notion of beris, of a covenant where two parties join together for their common good. (Unlike a contract, where each is aided in their own good in exchange for helping the other.) Man is redeemed through the covenent, through joining together with other and with G-d to work for a good that is greater than Himself.

Teshuvah on our part is critical. But Hashem controls the situations we face. Whether we live in a world that poses challenges to our efforts or makes them easier.

Just as Shemini Atzeres, the day of celebrating our chosenness as a people, naturally became Simchas Torah, the day we celebrate the covenant, the mission for which we were chosen. Zikhronos is a call to remember the person who entered the beris, the person for whom hopes were so high. But since we are speaking of the Creator, when say the word “Zokheir” we really mean “acting in a manner that, if done by a person, would be interepreted as being driven by memory”. When we ask Hashem to “remember”, we’re asking Him to help us reignite the plans we made together.

Zikhronos is G-d remembering our potential, and from that, His plans for us. As it closes “… Zokheir haberis – Blessed are You .. the Rememberer of [or Who Remembers] the Covenant.”  It is our calling out to Hashem to invoke that beris. To remember the “delightful child” He created us as, and to make that potential manifest.

We can use this idea to enhance the notion of teshuvah – which literally translates to “return”. Not only is it a person’s return to Hashem, it’s a person’s reapproachment to the person Hashem created him to be, and the role for which He was created.

This  is the “dear child Ephraim” of the berakhah of Zikhronos.

Halakhah and Phenomenology – Chazaqah

At this point we’re so far mid-stream, that unlike the previous post, I’m not going to summarize the basic thesis or even pretend to try to translate terms already used. Instead, I will just point out the conclusions so far with respect to birur from just the last two posts (parts 2 and 3). Then we’ll discuss the concept of “chazaqah” and conclude with an observation of how these rules of birur interplay.

There are two sorts of logic used:

Qavu’ah logic: the reality was once experienced, so the halakhah was once established, but now unknown. This includes cases of qavu’ah, eidus and hapeh she’asar, so far. The doubt remains a doubt, and therefore is ruled stringently if in Torahitic law, and leniently in rabbinic law.

Parish logic: the scientific reality is within the realm of human experience, but never actually was experienced. Therefore, people relate to the item in terms of personal doubt. It’s the doubt that becomes the topic that we decide halakhah upon. Rov isn’t what is more probable as treated in a mathematical, statistical, way. It’s not estimates about scientific reality, it’s mental attitude. And since people do think in terms of “maybe” and probably — including the possibility of believing contradictory maybes or probabilities at once — in these cases majority is considered.


In normal situations of testimony, the words of a witness (or, via migo, those of a litigant), by establishing that the reality was observed, put us in the realm of qavu’ah as opposed to that of parish. Once testimony is accepted, rules for resolving a safeiq by allowing certain assumptions about the underlying situation (e.g. rov) become irrelevant.

One class of rules of birur, doubt resolution, is chazaqah. There are two subcategories of chazaqah (the following terminology is that of the Revucha diShmaatsa on the Shev Shma’atsa cited below):

1- The first is chazaqah dimei’ikara, where we assume that things remain the way they were last perceived until someone experiences otherwise. For example, a chalaf (knife used for shechitah) is supposed to be checked before each shechitah), but if it wasn’t the meat is still kosher. The knife has a chazaqah of being kosher since the last time it was checked. If the knife is lost and can’t be checked, the meat is kosher.

1b- If the knife is checked, and is found to be flawed, then the chazaqah is called a chazaqah de’ikka rei’usa (a chazaqah where there exists a flaw). Which in general would still have some significance (Shev Shmaat’sa 1:7,8). However, here it is trumped by the chazqah the meat holds, that before it was slaughtered it wasn’t kosher. (Rambam Hil’ Shechitah 1:24, Shulchan Aruch YD 18:11)

2- The second kind of chazaqah is the chazaqah disvara. These are rules of nature or human nature that we can presume were obeyed. An example is “ein adam chotei velo lo”, a person won’t sin unless he’s trying to personally benefit from it.

I think these two kinds of chazaqah actually operate on two different levels.

According to the Shev Shma’atsa (6:22), of the two, only chazaqah dimei’ikara has authority in the face of two conflicting sets of eidim. Meaning that if two witnesses testify for the prosecution and two testify for the defense, but an initial state was once known, we still assume the items involved are in their initial state.

Chazaqah disvara, the Shev Shma’atsa continues, adds no credibility to that side’s argument beyond the other. If the defense not only has witnesses, but his side of the case is also supported by a lack of motive (as we said “ein adam chotei velo lo“), it is still considered by the court to still remain a balanced dispute.

Why the difference?

A chazaqah dimei’ikarah is a situation where reality has been experienced. The chazaqah tells us not to reopen the doubt. It therefore operates in the same domain as qavu’ah and as testimony. If halakhah must address the world as experienced, this is how people last experienced the world.

It’s like leaving a room in which someone is sitting in a chair reading. When you come back 8 hours later, you see the person in the same chair with the same book. Our natural assumption is that the person is still reading. It is possible, though, that they got up and only returned shortly before we did — but it’s not natural to consider that possibility; it’s at best a second reaction. We relate to objects given their last known state, and assume no change until we have reason to believe otherwise. That is the reality, the world-as-experienced, and thus halakhah is determined on the same level as the conflicting witnesses.

A chazaqah disvarah is much like rov. A rule of thumb tells us which possibility is the more likely — when in doubt, assuming things went as they usually do. Chazaqah is even stronger than that, giving us the power to assume things went according to the norm, and we needn’t even consider that this might be the exceptional case.  But still, it’s parish logic.

Once we have eidim, though, we can’t look at the situation in terms of the various alternatives. One and only one of them was experienced by whichever eidim are being honest, and therefore a halakhah for that specific case already exists. Chazaqah disvara resolves the wrong kind of doubt for this situation, and therefore adds nothing to the argument.

But beyond establishing that a chazaqah disvara is a kind of super-rov, and using that to explain the Shev Shmaatsa’s distinction, I don’t have much to say about it. So in the next section of this post, we will only be discussing the chazaqah demei’ikara, and therefore I will follow the usual convention of not using an adjective to distinguish the two.

Interaction of Rules

The mishnah on Qiddushin 64 discusses the case of a dying man r”l who says he has children. Abayei adds to the case (because of a contrast to a halakhah in a related beraisa) that we didn’t know anything about his having children. Therefore after his death, she stands in a chazaqah of not being a yevamah — she obviously wasn’t one before he died!

The man stood to gain nothing from his claim. This is a case of “mah li leshaqeir” (“what do I gain by lying?”) which is similar enough to migo to be considered a subtype by numerous rishonim ad loc. Credibility is given to the claimant again because assuming he is lying would make his action irrational. Here it’s a different reason then the existence of a better lie (migo) but the point is the same.

So, permitting her to remarry is supported by a chazaqah, but prohibiting her is a migo (or a migo-like structure).
The man is believed. The conclusion of the gemara is that a migo “trumps” a chazaqah.

This fits nicely within the model we have been developing. The presumption of the chazaqah dimei’ikara is only a chazaqah, a presumption, and can only apply in the absence of a new, credible po’al experience. It tells us to continue with what was last perceived about the reality.  Migo established a new observation; the claimant establishes a new perception, and thus a new halakhah.

Notice, this means something very unexpected.

1- We just said that given a chazaqah supporting one side’s position, and a migo supporting the other, the migo has the stronger claim.

2- In the previous section we saw that migo in the context of conflicting testimonies has no weight (as we said earlier, this is because we don’t compare quantities of testimony);

and yet:

3- chazaqah in the case of conflicting testimonies does factor in.

To highlight the oddity, note that cases (2) and (3) imply that:

3b- If the chazaqah and the migo conflicted in the situation where contradictory testimonies were also presented (trei utrei), the migo would be ignored, the chazaqah would not. Unlike case (1), the same situation in the absence of trei utrei, where migo would have priority over chazaqah!

This non-intuitive conclusion can also be explained using our model for qavu’ah logic. The two rules differ on the time of the reality that is established.

In the case of a chazaqah, we are establishing a halakhah based on the perception at an earlier point in time than the moment in question. When we have no later perception, we have to carry that reality forward in time. People naturally assume the world didn’t change — only until they learn otherwise.

The witnesses are in conflict about the reality at the time in question. Migo as well is about the present, not the past. Therefore all of these carry more evidentiary weight than a chazaqah from the past.

On a given question of qavu’ah, where we know something was perceived but we don’t know what, we said that quantity doesn’t matter. Therefore, with the migo added into the balance of eidim, it’s like more eidim added to the balance — the sides are still considered equally. (Again: This is the notion that once halakhah is established, we don’t play “Russian Roulette” with minority chances of violating it. It is only in considering the perception of a reality that we allow the fuzziness of doubt be the reality, and thus consider which is more likely as a factor.)

And so, revisting this odd triangle with rationals:

1- Migo usually has a stronger claim than chazaqah because it’s about a perception of reality closer to the time in question.

2- But it has no weight once the question of that later reality was rendered unresolvable by a dispute over what it was.

3- In which case, we can still fall back on the earlier perception, chazaqah.


And all of this halachic discourse of the past three posts was grounded on the idea that we resolve doubt in reality psychologically, including thinking “it probably was…”, whereas we do not in doubt in something that was attested to — either subsequently lost in a mixture (qavu’ah), time went by and something might have changed (chazaqah demei’kara), or we don’t know which person really accurately is reporting their perception (conflicting testimony or the claimant is a litigant but migo or hapeh she’asar gives him some credibility).

Because we base halakhah on how it will cause people to react, not on unexperiencable objective realities that will do little to help a person ascend the Mountain of G-d.