Avodah Mailing List

Volume 33: Number 95

Mon, 06 Jul 2015

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Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
Message: 1
From: Lisa Liel
Date: Sun, 05 Jul 2015 17:20:08 -0500
Re: [Avodah] De-Chokifying Arayos (including MZ)

On 7/3/2015 5:16 PM, Micha Berger via Avodah wrote:
> Let me take a step toward de-chokifying arayos.
Why?  I mean, you can always find reasons to turn something into a moral 
issue.  But why do you want to impose that on the halakha?  Is the 
purpose to make things even worse?


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Message: 2
From: Micha Berger
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2015 19:28:16 -0400
Re: [Avodah] De-Chokifying Arayos (including MZ)

On Sun, Jul 05, 2015 at 05:20:08PM -0500, Lisa Liel wrote:
: On 7/3/2015 5:16 PM, Micha Berger via Avodah wrote:
:> Let me take a step toward de-chokifying arayos.

: Why?  I mean, you can always find reasons to turn something into a
: moral issue.  But why do you want to impose that on the halakha?  Is
: the purpose to make things even worse?

As I quoted from RAK, because they classically were not considered
chuqim. Until our contemporaries took the issue from sexual morality
to sexual ethics, these truths were considered self-evident. It's the
choqification of dinei arayos that's inauthentic.

In any case, since one doesn't pasqen from taamei hamitzvos, the din
is the same either way. Nothhing in such exploration can "make things
even worse".

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             Education is not the filling of a bucket,
mi...@aishdas.org        but the lighting of a fire.
http://www.aishdas.org                - W.B. Yeats
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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Message: 3
From: Lisa Liel
Date: Sun, 05 Jul 2015 17:57:04 -0500
[Avodah] Be among the talmidim of Aharon

In Pirkei Avot, Hillel HaZaken says: "Be among the talmidim of Aharon,
loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close
to the Torah."

I don't get it.  I honestly don't.  If we see a bunch of Jews who don't
know anything about Judaism, shouldn't we try and get them to keep the
mitzvot?  If you know that they're more likely to violate the mitzvot
if they don't know, it's it our responsibility to teach them what God
wants of them?

The sheer vitriol I've seen from Orthodox Jews over the past days since
the Supreme Court decision making same-sex civil marriage the law of
the land in the United States has been overwhelming.  And I just don't
get it.  And it's part and parcel of the viciousness I've seen from so
many otherwise loving frum Jews over the years when it comes to this

I look at gay people and I see them overwhelmingly part of the nihilism
of the left, but I don't think being gay automatically makes people
like that.  But what else are Jews supposed to do when they're being
pushed away from the Torah?  Jews have neshamas that were at Sinai.  A
Jew who was raised without Torah has an empty space inside that's just
*begging* to be filled with Torah.

But because of the wrongheaded idea that gay people have to either
pretend they aren't gay, or they must be ostracized from the Torah
community, they wind up filling that empty space with the even emptier
slogans of the left.  Because of the belief held by so many frum Jews
that gay people who acknowledge themselves to be gay are simply
*incapable* or unwilling to keep mitzvot, we, as a community
*deliberately* withhold the Torah from them.

It makes no sense to me.  I mean, worst case, you tell someone gay,
"There are things you aren't allowed to do according to Jewish law.
Are you willing to abide by that?"  But we aren't even doing that.
We're assuming that the answer is going to be no, and by so assuming,
we're *making that happen*.

At 120, when you're standing before the Kisei HaKavod and you're asked
why you pushed so many Jews away from His Torah, I wonder what you'll


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Message: 4
From: Micha Berger
Date: Sun, 5 Jul 2015 20:34:23 -0400
Re: [Avodah] Be among the talmidim of Aharon

On Sun, Jul 05, 2015 at 05:57:04PM -0500, Lisa Liel wrote:
: In Pirkei Avot, Hillel HaZaken says: "Be among the talmidim of Aharon,
: loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them close
: to the Torah."
: I don't get it.  I honestly don't.  If we see a bunch of Jews who don't
: know anything about Judaism, shouldn't we try and get them to keep the
: mitzvot?...

First, a minor correction. Hillel says "berios", or as in the tradition
"loving people and bringing them..."

IOW, not only kiruv, but bringing non-Jews to NNoachidism.

: The sheer vitriol I've seen from Orthodox Jews over the past days since
: the Supreme Court decision making same-sex civil marriage the law of
: the land in the United States has been overwhelming.  And I just don't
: get it.  And it's part and parcel of the viciousness I've seen from so
: many otherwise loving frum Jews over the years when it comes to this
: subject.

I'm not so sure. The SCOTUS ruled in favor of a right that is based
on the idea that believing the Torah's position about homosexuality
is bigotry.

But in any case, it's like any other rule of tochachah... You need to tell
them what they're doing is wrong n a way that gets constructive change.

The usual rule for when you should shut up is "mutav sheyihyu shogegim",
but here nearly everyone involved know what we pasqen it's assur. So,
you're not turning anyone into meizidim.

: It makes no sense to me.  I mean, worst case, you tell someone gay,
: "There are things you aren't allowed to do according to Jewish law.
: Are you willing to abide by that?"  But we aren't even doing that.
: We're assuming that the answer is going to be no, and by so assuming,
: we're *making that happen*.

But the US law in question is itself to permit something you aren't
allowed to do in Jewish law, and in the Minchas Chinukh's opinion --
nor in Noachide law.

The general problem of people hating the sinner rather than the sin
isn't limited to this one. Perhaps here things are more extreme because
the accusers do not attempt to separate an instinctive loathing from
actual halachic concerns.

Either we should be getting similar bile when discussing business
cheats, or we should be getting quiet on both fronts.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             Between stimulus & response, there is a space.
mi...@aishdas.org        In that space is our power to choose our
http://www.aishdas.org   response. In our response lies our growth
Fax: (270) 514-1507      and our freedom. - Victor Frankl, (MSfM)

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Message: 5
From: Kenneth Miller
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 2015 01:46:19 GMT
Re: [Avodah] Alternate texts for the Prayer for the

R' Mordechai Harris wrote:

> Here's the one I shard last time from the De Sola Pool Siddur.
> www.aishdas.org/avodah/faxes/deSolaPoolPrayerForGovernment.pdf

R' Simon Montagu asked:

> Can you also share  the publication details and/or title page of
> this siddur? What I know as the De Sola Pool Siddur is not the
> same as in this link. I have ...

RMH's link was for "The Traditional Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals", the official siddur of the RCA, published in 1960.

A very different, longer version appears in many other siddurim, with rather minor differences:

The Hirsch Siddur, published by Feldheim
The Authorized Daily Prayer Book by Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz
The Daily Prayer Book by Philip Birnbaum
The Koren Siddur by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks
and in the new Nehalel beShabbat by Michael Haruni (website and free sample at nehalel.com)

I was going to remark that I have found this prayer only in siddurim that
have an English translation, but is not correct. First, it would seem to
appear in whichever siddur the Hirsch was adapted from. But moreover, this
same tefila also appears in my copy of "Siddur Eishei Yisrael al pi daas
Maran HaGra." (I know there are many siddurim with similar names; all I can
tell about this is that the title page lists no publisher, only
"Yerushalayim 5735".)

The Nehalel siddur is worth noting for this thread. I have not seen this
siddur to be too widespread or popular (yet - it's only from 2013), but I'd
like to point out that it has TWO versions of this prayer. The version
which is very similar to the others is on a page marked "In the United
States of America:". But the following page is marked "In the United
Kingdom and Commonwealth:", and is markedly different -- but not nearly as
different as the De Sola Pool version.

This makes me stop, and wonder, and consider the fact that although my
Hertz siddur and my Sacks siddur are both of British authorship, they both
used American publishers (Bloch and OU Press respectively), and were
possibly designed for an American audience. Which leads me to ask those of
the chevra who currently reside in the Commonwealth: What version (if any)
is said in your shuls?

Akiva Miller
Want to place your ad here?
Advertise on United Online

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Message: 6
From: Micha Berger
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 2015 09:29:02 -0400
[Avodah] Fwd: VBM-SICHOT75 - 41: The Philosophical Principles

Just because taamei hamitzvos is supposed to be one of the core topics
of this email group's host organization....

BTW, my grandfather a"h was named Pinechas after this week's sedra,
his bar mitzvah parashah. When it was time to name my oldest, I checked
with my uncle how his name appeared on their kesuvah, as their mesader
qiddushin was a key rav in my grandfather's life. (R/Dr Mirsky zt"l met
two teenage boys coming off the boat and took them under his wing. My
grandfather and great-uncle then earned enough to bribe the rest of the
family's way out of Litta before the Nazis came to power.)

Anyway, it seems R/Dr Mirsky held my grandfather's name was Pinechas,
pei-yud-nun-ches-samekh, as it is spelled in the chumash (ignoring the
size of the yud as usually written in the beginning of the parashah).
And thus the sheva is na, Pinechas - not Pinchas.

If you want to make a derashah out of a Mitzri name, it's Pi Nachas,
not Pen Chas.

Reason for this tangent... I would have expected "Gushies" to get the
sheva in the parashah name right. After all, they have the patach under
the reish in Parashat.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             If you won't be better tomorrow
mi...@aishdas.org        than you were today,
http://www.aishdas.org   then what need do you have for tomorrow?
Fax: (270) 514-1507              - Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

VBM-SICHOT75 - 41: Parashat Pinchas
Sicha of HaRav Mosheh Lichtenstein
Adapted by Motti Guttman
Translated by David Strauss
Yeshivat Har Etzion

"In Place of Your Fathers Shall Be Your Children":
The Philosophical Principles of Inheritance

The concept of inheritance arises in a number of contexts in the Torah,
most prominently in Parashat Pinchas. It is also the central topic of
the eighth chapter of Massekhet Bava Batra, Yesh Nochalin. Naturally,
the discussion of the laws of inheritance focuses largely on the
financial matters at issue among the heirs, leading to the discussion and
clarification of a number of fundamental questions regarding monetary
law. For that reason, chapter Yesh Nochalin has an important place in
the world of Choshen Mishpat.

However, the issue of inheritance is not merely monetary. The yerusha
(inheritance) is not simply money that we have to decide what to do
with. Of course, it is preferable to award the estate of the deceased
to his surviving relatives, and not to the state or the income tax
authorities; the gemara itself notes, "Should the town collector be the
heir?" (Bava Batra 110b). This, however, is not the essence of the laws
of inheritance.

Inheritance -- Breaching the Boundaries of the Present

At the heart of the concept of inheritance lies a significant principle:
that of permanence and continuity. When Avraham Avinu entered the Land,
he was forced to pitch his tent in different places and live the life
of a wanderer. In contrast, the idea of inheritance establishes that a
person should not live a life of impermanence. Moshe expresses the desire
for a state of permanence in his words to Israel at the plains of Moav:
"For you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance" (Devarim
12:9). This verse was also expounded as referring to the Temple. The
idea of inheritance, in this context, creates existential permanence,
which is reflected in Halakha. From the time that Jerusalem was selected,
it became the permanent site of the Temple, and from that point on,
offering sacrifices on bamot was forbidden due to the damage that this
would cause to the idea of the Temple as the chosen inheritance.

Inheritance constitutes permanence and it creates continuity because it
allows the individual to breach the boundaries of the present. From the
time of creation, reality dictates that "One generation passes away and
another generation comes, but the earth abides forever" (Kohelet 1:4).
Man's days are numbered, and sooner or later he will disappear from the
world. By his very definition, he is temporary -- like the flower that
fades, the shadow that passes, the dust that floats, and the dream that
flies away. He is here today and in the grave tomorrow. In contrast,
his inheritance remains and affords him continuity. From parent to child
and from child to grandchild and great-grandchild, the chain continues
and death does not sever it. To a certain extent, this allows one to
overcome death and oblivion.

Ownership of property and land in itself does not preventing transience
or create continuity; it is the identification of inheritance with the
family and its heritage in the past and the present that creates the
permanence and continuity. A central concept in Jewish law is the concept
of the "house," which denotes a family that constitutes a unit of common
heritage -- "After their families, by the house of their fathers." We are
familiar with this concept from various realms of Halakha. For example,
a man whose brother died without children marries the widow through yibum,
levirate marriage, in order to continue the family, and he is thereby able
to perpetuate the name of the deceased, since they belong to a common
"house." Because of the great importance that the Torah attributes
to perpetuating the name of the deceased and continuing his legacy,
it established the mechanism of levirate marriage despite the personal,
familial and halakhic difficulties entailed in marriage to one's brother's
wife. Indeed, the mitzva of yibum takes precedence over the mitzva of
chalitza because of the mission of perpetuating the brother's name.[1]
The language of the text itself creates a connection between yibum and
inheritance, as the purpose of the mitzva is defined as "to perpetuate
the name of the deceased on his inheritance."

The principle of continuity and its importance in a person's life is
further reflected in the statement of Chazal (Nedarim 64b) that includes
one who does not have any children among those who are considered as if
they were dead.

While continuity expresses itself on the concrete level through the
transmission of property, much more important, of course, is ensuring
continuity on the level of values, goals, and existential aspirations,
which constitute the true heritage that a person leaves behind. The
prophet Yeshaya emphasized how a person's eternal heritage endures:

    For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep My Sabbath, and choose
    the things that please Me, and take hold of My covenant. And to them
    will I give in My house and within My walls a memorial better that
    sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall
    not be cut off. (Yeshaya 56:4-5)

Indeed, there is more than one plane on which a person achieves
inheritance and continuity. Inheritance is part of the system that turns
the transition between generations into something permanent and stable,
allowing family identity to be transmitted across the generations.

In this light, we can understand Chazal's critique of a person who leaves
no inheritance. As we read in a mishna in Yesh Nochalin (Bava Batra 133b):

    If a person gives his estate in writing to strangers and leaves out
    his children, his arrangements are legally valid, but the spirit of
    the Sages finds no delight in him.

The reference here is not to a person who did not leave an inheritance due
to poverty or distress, but rather to a person who decided to give away
his estate for other purposes, as positive as they may be,[2] or based
on the perception that his children should fend for themselves. The
idea behind this mishna is the need to leave a legacy for future
generations. The principle of passing down to the next generation is of
central importance.

Know From Whence You Come!

This perception of inheritance is rooted in a general and comprehensive
idea that pervades all of Jewish life -- namely, that we do not live
only in the present. Judaism rejects a horizontal perspective on man,
according to which man is connected only to his current environment. Our
relationship is not only with this generation. Rather, our sights are at
all times directed at "the one who stands here with us this day before
the Lord our God, and also with the one who is not here with us this
day" (Devarim 29:14). The hope is to establish a relationship of shared
destiny with the past, on both the national and the personal level.

This is why we mourn to this day various historical events that happened
to our ancestors. We do not say, "What happened, happened." The sense
of pain and tragedy that Jewish law demands of a person indicates that
it expects one to experience these things in unmediated fashion, as if
they occurred to people he knows, and not only that he relate to them
as events of the distant past for the purpose of learning a lesson from
history. "In every generation one must see himself as if he went out
from Egypt." Just as a Jew is expected to feel the pain of his Jewish
brothers injured in terrorist attacks in Argentina, Turkey, Paris, or
Afula, regardless of the geographical distance between them, because all
of Israel are responsible for and close to one another, he is similarly
expected to feel pain over events that took place a long time ago.

The ability to draw from our heritage and know what happened to our
ancestors is important in itself. The actions of our forefathers interest
us, regardless of the spiritual insights that can be derived from them,
because of the feeling of existential partnership between us and our
ancestors. Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov, Rachel and
Leah, are not only the nation's patriarchs and matriarchs, but also
our forefathers. They are not only lofty figures, but also Grandpa and
Grandma -- and for this reason the Torah shared their lives with us.
Just as a grandson is interested in hearing from his grandfather or his
grandmother about life in Eastern Europe or North Africa a century ago,
we want to know what happened in Mesopotamia during the time of Avraham
and Sara. A person's life in the present is intertwined with the history
of his forefathers in the past. One is intricately connected to his past;
one does not grow up in a vacuum.

Models of Inheritance

The first mishna in Yesh Nochalin presents us with a number of possible
models for those who inherit and those who transmit inheritance:

    Some [relatives] inherit [from] and transmit [to each other]; some
    inherit but do not transmit; some transmit but do not inherit;
    some neither inherit nor transmit.

Clearly, the ideal is that a person should inherit and transmit
inheritance, that he should be numbered among those who are "nochalin
u-manchilin." As stated above, the inheritance is not simply property for
the heir, but rather constitutes a familial plot filled with existential
significance. He inherits -- deciding to connect himself to his past
and to his heritage. And he is interested in transmitting inheritance --
adding his contribution to the heritage, the personal layer that he adds
to the inheritance and passes down to the next generation.

In contrast, there are those who inherit but do not transmit, "nochalin
ve-lo manchilin" -- who draw from the past and connect to it, but are not
capable of passing their heritage on. Perhaps this is because they do not
consider this stage important, or perhaps they lack the capacity to give
their heritage over to others and to connect to the next generation. Such
a person does not know how to take from the past and interpret it for his
children in the future. He is familiar with the world of the past, but
he lacks the tools to apply the past and its heritage to the challenges
of the present and the future.

The reverse case also exists -- "yesh manchilin ve-einam nochalin,"
there are those who transmit but who do not inherit. They wish to pass
on their personal legacy, but they are cut off from the past, or so they
imagine. In their eyes, everything began in their generation. Previous
generations erred or were weak; there is no need to receive their
inheritance, laden with the outdated baggage of Diaspora life. This
heir is not prepared to connect to the past or to recognize that he is
dependent upon it. Blinded by his present achievements, he is alienated
from the past and the weight of tradition.

The most tragic group neither inherits nor transmits inheritance, "lo
nochalin ve-lo manchilin." They are cut off from every bit of the past.
They live only in the present and are utterly devoid of worry about the
future -- "After me, the deluge."

The concept of inheritance serves as a bridge between the past and the
future. In this context, the individual is merely another link in a
chain. If we consider the chain of tradition recorded by the Rambam in
his introduction to the Mishneh Torah, more important than any particular
Sage is the very chain of tradition itself. The value of each link lies in
the fact that it allows the chain to continue. This is the connection and
bridge between all the generations, from Avraham Avinu until the Mashiach.

Spiritual Heritage through Physical Means

As noted above, the transmission takes place through tangible means as
well. It is obvious to us that it is values and ideas, Torah and mitzvot,
that constitute the heritage that passes from one generation to the
next. It is easy to understand the statement: "Moshe commanded us the
Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4). It
is more difficult to grasp that the Torah also attaches great importance
to tangible inheritance, to the transmission of physical property.

Chazal teach us that "monuments are not built for the righteous; their
words are their memorials" (Bereishit Rabba 82). We do not set up statues
or tombstones for the righteous, for it is their spiritual legacy that
serves as their memorial. Nevertheless, the ability to touch the past by
way of some object bestows additional meaning on that heritage. Touching
the physical possession of a deceased relative gives a person the sense
of an unmediated encounter with the past. One generation passes away
and another generation comes, but an object that remains provides a
connection to the earlier period.

Man is a physical creature, and contact with material objects is
meaningful to him as a reminder of and bridge to the past. Not only
is it meaningful to transmit the life story of the deceased to future
generations and to talk about his values, but it is also important to be
able to connect with him on the most basic level. When a person comes
across an object that belonged to his relative, it is important to him
even if it lacks monetary value or is in no way unique. The tangible
item turns the past into something immediate on a level that cannot be
achieved by any other means.

A number of years ago, a Torah scroll that belonged to the Ran and
a seal that was reportedly that of the Ramban were displayed in an
exhibition devoted to Spanish Jewry before the expulsion. It is difficult
to describe the thrill that I felt when I understood that this seal was
once held by the Ramban himself and that the Ran had once used this Torah
scroll. I also remember the feeling of immediacy that I felt when someone
showed me an etrog box that had once belonged to R. Akiva Eiger. We are
physical beings who come from the dust, and physical things therefore
speak to us. Paradoxically, it is precisely material objects, which are
essentially transient, that maintain their permanence for centuries,
creating a bridge between the past and the future.

The need for connection through objects, which is natural and self-evident
given that we are humans of flesh and blood, also underlies the Torah
and the practical mitzvot. Judaism is not built exclusively on vague
and abstract values. In response to the human need for concreteness, a
system of practical commandments was created in order to express a system
of ideas. The performance of mitzvot creates a channel for religious
experience and opens the way for a connection between man and God. The
experience associated with taking a lulav or eating matza reflects how
much an object plays a role in the human religious experience.

In a person's private life, intimate family connections are not based
exclusively on profound conversations about noble values, but are rather
manifest in shared day-to-day experiences, including the trivial problems
that engage an ordinary family in everyday conduct, such as who will wash
the dishes or fold the laundry. Similarly, this component of activity
that is ongoing but not uplifting plays a role in our observance of the
mitzvot. Just as a family lives closely together and creates connections
even through banal activities, the mitzvot create a common religious
experience with God among all those observing them.

Thus, objects can provide existential meaning, but this depends upon the
eye of the beholder. A person who relates to an inheritance merely as
a set of objects and not as a means to continue the past will not see
any unique significance in those objects.

The Uniqueness of the Firstborn

Thus far, we have discussed the idea of heirs and inheritance in general,
the concept of personal and national heritage in the sense of "You are
the children of the Lord your God" (Devarim 14:1). We have not discussed
any unique status of any of the heirs. This indeed follows the model
of the first half of Yesh Nochalin. At this point, we must move on to
the second half of the chapter and to the concept of the birthright,
the special privileges bestowed upon a firstborn.

In addition to the passage dealing with inheritance in Sefer Bamidbar,
a passage in Sefer Devarim assigns special status to a firstborn son. The
concept of the bechora, primogeniture, is not merely factual but rather
value-laden. This is reflected in the gemara's emphasis on the idea of
"recognizing" the firstborn (based on the word "yakir" in the verse). The
birthright expresses an interpersonal relationship unique to the parent
and firstborn; it assumes a certain connection between them. Therefore,
a firstborn only inherits a double portion if he was alive during his
father's lifetime (Bava Batra 142b) and the father recognizes him as his
firstborn son (127a).[3] For this reason, we also maintain that "the Torah
calls it [the firstborn's double portion] a gift." In Halakha, a gift is
not merely a certain type of acquisition, but rather an expression of
intimacy. The firstborn inherits as one who receives a gift, directly
from the father and not through the house or family. All of a person's
strengths are reflected first and foremost in his firstborn. A father
is supposed to feel a partnership with his sons, and the firstborn is
the first child with whom this closeness is created.

The Concept of Birthright in the Bible

The birthright is referred to prominently in three contexts in the Bible:
the struggle over the birthright between Yaakov and Esav; the story of
Yaakov's two firstborn sons, Reuven and Yosef; and the description of
Israel as "My son, My firstborn" (Shemot 4:22). These models point to
the importance attached to the firstborn, as well as to the dangers that
this status creates.

Concerning the opportunity and the danger posed by the birthright,
it is appropriate to cite two midrashim from Avot De-Rabbi Natan:

    Israel were called "sons," as it is stated: "You are the sons of the
    Lord your God" (Devarim 14:1), and the ministering angels are called
    "sons," as it is stated: "The sons of God came" (Iyov 1:6), and you
    do not know which are more loved. When it says: "Israel is My son,
    My firstborn," [it makes clear that] you are more precious to me
    than the ministering angels. (44a)

The firstborn is perceived here as a clear expression of endearment and
special closeness. Another midrash in Avot De-Rabbi Natan speaks in a
different tone, recognizing that not every firstborn is dearly loved:

    Israel is precious, for in His time of anger they are called
    "sons." In His time of anger they are called sons, and even at
    a time when the verse says: "Not His is the corruption, but the
    blemish of His sons" (Devarim 32:5) -- sons in whom I have no trust,
    corrupt sons. Therefore, the Sages taught that they are called sons
    of God... But not every firstborn is precious and dear. There is a
    firstborn who is precious and dear, and there is also a firstborn
    who is not precious and dear. (8a)

This midrash points to the problematic nature of the firstborn. It is
simple to speak of the beauty and loftiness of the idea of Israel being
"My son, My firstborn." But this does not necessarily reflect reality,
as we find in the stories dealing with the birthright in the book of

Yaakov vs. Esav -- Values vs. Money

Esav views inheritance as a way to acquire property: "Behold, I am at
the point of death, and what profit shall this birthright be to me?"
(Bereishit 25:32). Ostensibly, the opposite is actually true! It is
precisely at the point of death that the birthright acquires greater
importance, for through it Esav could be counted as part of the line of
the house of Avraham and as a link that transmits the heritage of the past
to the coming generations. In this way, his memory would be preserved
for generations, even after he dies. But Esav understands that he will
derive no monetary gain from the inheritance, as he is about to die,
and he is therefore prepared to sell his birthright for a pot of lentils.

The commentators discuss the manner in which Yaakov took the birthright
from Esav, and the Rishonim deal with the legal question of how Yaakov
could acquire the birthright even though it was something that had not
yet come into existence ("davar she-lo ba le-olam"). Many explanations
have been offered, but it is possible to suggest one very simple answer.
Esav did not sell the birthright to Yaakov; he lost it because his
actions proved that he was not worthy of it. His very readiness to sell
his birthright for a pot of lentils attested to his attitude toward
the birthright and to his alienation from the world of Yitzchak. Anyone
who scorns the birthright demonstrates that he does not understand its
significance, and thus forfeits it.

Sometimes, a child relates to his parents as an infinite source of
rights. He wishes only to receive benefits and service from his parents;
he is not prepared to accept the burden of transferring the legacy of
previous generations. It is not for naught that the midrash (Bereishit
Rabba 67:8; 75:9) describes Esav as ready to arrange for the murder
of Yaakov and Yishmael in order to inherit the entire inheritance of
Avraham. When the birthright is perceived not as a responsibility and
sacred mission, but as an opportunity to profit at the expense of others,
when the attitude toward inheritance is like that toward any monetary
matter, it is not surprising to find that a violent man would be prepared
to kill the other heirs and to employ a variety of schemes in order to
inherit more assets.

Yaakov, in contrast, views the birthright not only as a right, but as a
mission. He wants to perpetuate Avraham's blessing in the world, and he
sees the birthright as a destiny that will confer that mission upon him.
It is not by chance that Chazal saw the pot of lentils as a dish denoting
mourning over Avraham's passing, for it is around this event that the
debate focuses. The test is whether to view this as an opportunity for
profit -- on the tangible level, through the eating of the beans, and on
the symbolic level, through benefit from the property of the deceased
-- or as a call to assume responsibility and accept the authority of
the firstborn.

Reuven vs. Yosef -- Competition vs. Continuity

Another pair of brothers who compete over the birthright presents us
with a different model that is problematic for a different reason. On
the one hand, "Reuven, you are my firstborn, my might and the beginning
of my strength, the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power"
(Bereishit 49:3). It is upon Reuven that Yaakov pins his entire future
and all of his hopes. On the other hand, "Unstable as water, you shall
not excel; because you went up to your father's bed; then you did defile
it: he went up to my couch" (ibid. 49:4), and in Divrei Ha-Yamim: "Now
the sons of Reuven the firstborn of Israel -- for he was the firstborn,
but since he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the
sons of Yosef the son of Yisrael" (I Divrei Ha-Yamim 5:1). Because he
defiled his father's bed, the birthright was taken away from Reuven.
Esav was indifferent to the birthright and to the past; he sought in his
inheritance only monetary gain. Reuven suffers from the opposite problem
-- he sees himself as competing with his father and contending against
him. No matter how we understand the specifics of Reuven's sin when
he defiled his father's bed, the implication is the same -- it was an
attempt to push his father aside and take his place during his lifetime.
Reuven challenged his father's standing as head of the family. He rejected
Yaakov's authority, and by doing so he impaired his own standing.

The way of the world is that at some stage in a person's life, there
is a reversal of roles. The strong parent, the firm rock, turns into a
frail old man, at which point the sons must help the parent. Sometimes,
they are even compelled to make decisions for the parent. Indeed, at
the end of Yaakov's life, when he arrived in Egypt a broken and ill
man, Yosef made various decisions for him. All this is possible and
appropriate when the father is old and weak, when there is no other way,
but not when the father is at the height of his strength and is fit to
stand on his own two feet. The firstborn is meant to be the continuation
of his father, but not his replacement who is in competition with him.
The father bestows the birthright -- "The Torah calls it a gift." A son
may not take the birthright by force.

The similarity between Reuven and Yaakov could have prepared Reuven to
be his father's successor. However, when that similarity is interpreted
as competition, the firstborn's reward is cancelled out by his loss.
Yosef was also similar to Yaakov, but he knew how to actualize that
similarity at the proper time and not to replace him while he was still
alive. The birthright was thus taken from Reuven, as from Esav, because
he was unsuited for it.

The transfer of property from an unfit son is the subject of a dispute
between the Sages and R. Shimon ben Gamliel (133b), and we rule that
property should not be transferred even from a wicked son to a good
son. But in such a case, we are not dealing with an impairment in
the firstborn's functioning as a firstborn, but rather with a general
problem, and we therefore do not want to cancel the birthright. However,
when the son sets himself in competition with his father, when he defiles
his father's bed, the birthright is removed from him.

The Actions of the Fathers are a Sign for the Sons

The relationship between God and Israel should be examined in a similar
manner. As stated to Moshe, Israel is "My son, My firstborn" (Shemot
22:4). What this means is that on a certain level, all the nations
are God's children; the birthright does not negate the standing of the
other brothers, but rather bestows a certain advantage on the firstborn
while recognizing the others as sons.[4] But how are we to understand
our relationship to God as His firstborn? Are we more precious to God
than the ministering angels, as is stated in the first midrash cited
above? Or are we perhaps like the firstborn who is not cherished and
dear, as he appears in the second midrash? Will we be alienated from
God? Will we be like a firstborn who is first among his brothers, but
aware of his place? Or perhaps, God forbid, we will view ourselves in
competition with God?

Of course, the desired model is a permanent and meaningful relationship in
which the individual feels the presence of the Shekhina, one in which he
does not view the relationship between man and God as an interesting idea
but nothing more. A child feels the presence of his parent and maintains a
strong relationship with him, despite the differences in standing between
them; this is also true of the relationship between Israel and their
Father in Heaven. This is the challenge with which we are faced. A person
who feels the responsibility of being a fitting firstborn to God justifies
his birthright, but also assumes responsibility. The greater and deeper
the responsibility and purpose, the greater the spiritual achievement.

However, the spiritual danger is also greater. The same things that create
obstacles in the relationship between a son and his parents are liable
to ruin the relationship between man and his Maker. One can encounter a
problem in the form of what we saw regarding Esav; a person recognizes
the existence of God, but views the connection between him and his Father
in Heaven as a means of satisfying his own pleasures and fulfilling his
needs. In such a case, his heritage interests him only for the purpose
of generating profits, and nothing more. He does not see his heritage as
an obligation or mission, but rather as "a spade for digging," a source
of personal gain.

Alternatively, there is the situation of Reuven, which is reflected in
the feeling that God is "strangling" him, leaving him with insufficient
leeway due to the Shekhina's presence in the world. Just like a child
rebels when he feels constrained by a parent or when he senses that the
parent with his power and status overshadows him and his capabilities,
a person's feelings about God may be similar. The proper situation,
both with respect to the parent-child relationship and with respect to
the relationship between man and God, is that man should find his place
within a framework of existing laws and recognize that there are factors
above him. Within these boundaries, he will be able to find his uniqueness
and express his personal development. A firstborn like Reuven, who feels
that he cannot exercise his strengths together with the strengths of God,
is a firstborn who lacks the appropriate "recognition."

Let us move from the People of Israel to the Land of Israel. The Land was
also given to us as an inheritance and a heritage. Here, too, the aim
is to see it as God's inheritance and to reach the realization of "You
shall bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance"
(Shemot 15:17), with the physical land serving as an expression of the
spiritual connection and relationship between God and His people. Here,
too, however, there is the danger of being caught up in the perspective
of profitability and materialism, which views the Land exclusively as
a place of leisure and profits. As opposed to "the mountain of Your
inheritance," Datan and Aviram view the Land as "an inheritance of
fields and vineyards" (Bamidbar 16:14), and nothing more. The children
of Reuven and Gad preferred to receive their inheritance on the east
bank of the Jordan, as that was advantageous for their animals and
business. They did not ask themselves about the effect that their step
would have on their inheritance as a sacred place or as the land of their
forefathers. In opposition to "an inheritance of fields and vineyards"
stands "the mountain of Your inheritance."

Furthermore, since the inheritance is not land but rather a heritage,
it exists, under certain condition, even without land. Not only is there
the mountain of Your inheritance, but God is also the inheritance of
the priests and Levites, substituting for the inheritance of land. We
not only have God's intention "to give it to you for a heritage"
(Shemot 6:8), but also "Moshe commanded us the Torah, the inheritance
of the congregation of Yaakov" (Devarim 33:4). Needless to say, the
fitting situation for the ordinary person is the realization of the
two inheritances, both of the Land and of the Torah. At times, however,
it is one heritage that sustains us, while the other is missing. This
was the case throughout the long years of exile, when the heritage of
the Torah allowed Israel to survive in the lands of their dispersion.
Similarly, in recent generations, the secular Zionist movement adopted
for itself the heritage of the Land without a Torah heritage. Indeed,
the core challenge facing secular Zionism and the State of Israel in
this regard is viewing the country's heritage as an ancestral heritage
and an expression of Jewish identity that is connected to the people
of Israel throughout the generations, and not only as an inheritance of
fields and vineyards.

"A Ladder Set upon the Earth, and the Top of it Reached to Heaven"

The chapter of Yesh Nochalin presents a sublime model of a system of
inheritance that depends on the values that we have discussed. Very often,
however, reality slaps us in the face. Inheritance disputes are a common
and painful phenomenon. Unfortunately, these struggles are widespread and
they destroy families. Values and ideals of great importance are shattered
against the rocks of family disputes; instead of attaining achievements,
they engage in conflict. Instead of the past serving as an inspiration and
guide for the future, a person can destroy his future and fill it with
conflicts from the past. Instead of the "house" inheriting the deceased
and passing the family heritage down to the other members of the house,
the house is split and destroyed in the storms of dispute.

One should not make the mistake of thinking that such disputes are
driven solely by profits. Often, the conflicts are grounded in what
appears to be holiness. Struggles arise around the question of who
will be a better successor, who will more faithfully represent the
heritage and values of the deceased. Each side is convinced that he
alone can express the family truth, while the other side will betray
it. He therefore enters into battle against his brothers and sisters,
without realizing that he is thereby destroying the family and defying
the wishes of the deceased. These "holy fights" create the antithesis
of the concept of inheritance.

The challenge of inheritance and creating a heritage is indeed great,
and it therefore often leads to tension. Nevertheless, Yesh Nochalin
presents us with a meaningful model on the existential level, both with
respect to the family and the past and with respect to our lives with
God. May we merit to meet these challenges.

(This sicha was delivered in summer 5767 [2007]. The original Hebrew
adaptation was reviewed by Rav Mosheh Lichtenstein.)


in Bekhorot. In this context, we will not consider the dispute between
Abba Shaul and the Sages.

[2] Most authorities are uncomfortable even with one who donates all of
his property to charity.

[3] As a result, someone whose status is in doubt is excluded from the
law of the birthright: "A son and not a tumtum [a person of undetermined
gender]; a firstborn, and not a doubtful firstborn." This is also the
basis for the law of "recognition," which according to many authorities
is not based on credibility, but on the creation of a connection between
father and son, credibility being the byproduct.

[4] See the commentators ad loc., especially Ibn Ezra and Seforno. Rashi
apparently understood differently and deliberately chose to deviate from
the plain meaning of the birthright.

Go to top.

Message: 7
From: Micha Berger
Date: Mon, 6 Jul 2015 16:31:35 -0400
[Avodah] Defining Tzeis

I wrote the following to FB. If anyone can add or make corrections before
the thread there dies, I would appreciate it.

I think I summed up the highlights of the sugya as I understood it
from previous conversations here.

Tir'u baTov!

[Someone asked what the sources in question were, so I replied:]

Shabbos 34b-35a, 35b; Pesachim 94a. As Tosafos on Pesachim note, in
Shabbos (34b) R' Yehudah is quoted as saying bein hashemashot (sunset to
the stars coming out) is 3/4 mil (or 2/3 mil, depending on which amora's
version of R' Yehudah you're using, but we hold 3/4), but in Pesachim
he says a person can walk 4 mil after sunset before the stars emerge.

Rabbeinu Tam notes a slight difference in language. It takes 4 mil
"misheqi'as hachamah," in Pesachim, but 3/4 mil from "mishetishqeh
hachamah." RT therefore resolves the two gemaros by saying sunset takes
3-1/4 mil. So, 4 mil from the beginning of sunset will take you to 3/4
mil after sunset, which is R' Yehudah's tzeis.

The Vilna Gaon's resolution of the confliciting gemaros (OC 235 and 261)
is not to split sunset into a beginning an end, but to split tzeis. The
halachic tzeis is 3/4 mil after sunset. The gemara in Pesachim is using
the term colloquially, not halachically, and simply refers to "all the
stars" rather the standard 3.

The Re'eim (R' Eliezer of Metz, Seifer Yerei'im, written in the 1170s)
splits both -- the two gemaras are discussing different sunsets AND
different tzeis. To him, the gemara in Shabbos is saying sheqi'ah
(which we usually translate "sunset") is 3/4 mil BEFORE the sun hits
the horizon, and tzeis is when the sun is at the horizon. Whereas the
gemara in Pesachim then measures how much after the sun is below the
horizon that the sky is fully dark.

Note that both the Vilna Gaon and the Re'eim assume the gemara in
Pesachim is using at least one of the idioms differently than the gemara
in Shabbos, and therefore it has no bearing on halakhah. ... [Material
in response to what someone else wrote, ellided.]

BUT... The Vilna Gaon understands the defining feature to be the emergence
of stars, not the fixed time R' Yehudah gives. And therefore inflates
the 3/4 mil to adjust from Usha (R' Yehudah's home town) to Vilna.

Which brings us to the third topic, on the other side of the page on
Shabbos (35b). Again it's R' Yehudah, quoting Shemu'el's prescription
of which stars to watch for: [If you see] 1 star, it is day; 2 -- bein
hashemashos; 3 -- night. Rabbi Yosi said, "Not large stars that are
visible in the day, nor small stars that are only visible at night,
but medium stars..."

35b cannot describe 3/4 mil after sunset. Even in Usha or Nehardaa
(Shemuel's home town, today's Anbar, central Iraq, on the Euphrates),
you will not see 3 middle sized stars 18 min after sunset. R Michl
Tukaczinsky and R' Dovid Spitzer did the observations in Jerusalem, and
found it takes 31-43 min or 28-40 min, respectively. (Use the smaller end
of the range for rabbinic fasts, like the OP, and the larger for Torah
laws like Shabbos. Jerusalem is closer to the equator than either city,
not that I think it's by enough to matter much.)

Rav Moshe Feinstein similarly gave 50 min for Shabbos, 31 for rabbinic
fasts -- but then, NY's days vary more in length, so a "never later than"
will be more minutes after sunset.

With a computer, we could translate all these numbers into degrees
below the horizon, as that would tell us how dark it would be outside,
and therefore how many stars could be seen, if we weren't bathed in
artificial lighting.

And even then you get into questions about which stars. The western
horizon (the side with the glow of sunset) will show stars well after the
east. Three stars seen at once (near each-other) or total when scanning
the whole sky? Etc...

Rather than decide whether we follow Shabbos 34a or 35a, even those who
do not use Pesachim to shed light on 34a pad the 3/4 mil to plausibly
allow for people to see three medium sized stars. Given the fact that
it's this measure which actually gives the landmark on our clock its name,
assuming it is less definitional than a fixed time delay is difficult.


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