Monday, May 22, 2006

Bamidbar - ch.1-2

It's interesting how, after HaShem commands Moshe to conduct a census and tells him which men to bring along to observe the census (calling them "rosh l'veis avosav", kru'ei eidah, n'si'ei matos avosam, and roshei alfei yisro'el), and after the Torah tells us that Moshe conducted the census and provides us with the final numbers (all in chapter 1), HaShem then, when commanding Moshe regarding the arrangement of the camps in the desert, proceeds to mention the nesi'im again by name and proceeds to repeat the same census numbers that Moshe obtained through natural means. I suppose that, in the absence of anything deeper, one can say that it's an expression of HaShem's love to repeat the already-known, and that HaShem wanted to confirm that Moshe produced exactly the correct numbers.

It's interesting how Gad is the only tribe to not have a population evenly divisible by 100. Gad is also the only tribe whose nasi's name is changed between HaShem's census command and His camp formation command, from Elyasaf ben De'eul to Elyasaf ben Re'uel. I recall that my 9th grade chumash rebbe explained that both names have a connotation of perception and knowledge - the former is a lashon of da'as, while the latter is a lashon of ra'ayon.

Bamidbar is also one of the parshiyos whose name is never pronounced the way that it appears at the beginning of the parsha, as the initial phrase is B'midbar Sinai, where the initial patach that would usually be in the word is converted into a shva due to s'michus. Others include P'kudei, which appears in the parsha as Eileh F'kudei, and Tazria, which Ashkenazim would read as Ishah ki Sazria. No complaint - just a nitpicky note.

Update, 5/26: In a post on Hirhurim today, R' Gil Student linked back to a post that he made last year in which he linked to an article by Prof. Eli Merzbach at Bar-Ilan from 1999 that discusses this question, and provides several logical answers based on the rounding of odd numbers.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

Rabbeinu Gershom

On Shabbos 85b, Rashi refers to Rabbeinu Gershom as "Avi haGolah", the father of the exile. I had always heard him referred to as "Me'or haGolah", the light of the exile. What is the origin of this latter term? The question seems to be especially interesting in that Rashi was writing not too long after R. Gershom's death - according to the Jewish Encylopedia, he passed away in Rashi's birthyear of 1040 - so it would seem like the former term has chronological precedence.


Kiddushin 82a starts with a mishnah that discuss cases of yichud that arise in occupational scenarios. The Tanna Kamma states that neither a bachelor nor a woman may teach children. The gemara establishes that since the Chachamim argue with R' Yehuda (later in this mishnah) and hold that we do not have a need to institute gezeiros against mishkav zachur, the problem with each of these two scenarios must be with the parents of the schoolchildren, that a bachelor schoolteacher will run into issues with mothers bringing their children from to school and a female schoolteacher will run into issues with fathers bringing their children to school. The only permissible schoolteacher, therefore, would be a married man - although if the issue is one of yichud, why would this solve the problem of yichud with the mothers? Adderabba - to use a married woman as a schoolteacher could generate a heter of ba'alahh b'ir, making her impervious to problems of yichud, while a married man does not have the corresponding heter of ishto b'ir (but rather only ishto babayis). Perhaps we could invoke a leniency of ba'aleihen b'ir by the mothers - but this assumes that none of them are widows or divorcees. Lo n'hira li.

Be that as it may, Rabbi Eliezer is more stringent than the chachamim, and holds that not only may a bachelor not teach schoolchildren, but even a married man may not teach schoolchildren, unless his wife is present. My first instinct upon seeing this mishnah was that Rabbi Eliezer agrees with R' Yehuda and holds that we are chosheish for mishkav zachur (yes, I was motivated to look up this source due to the recent scandals...), but now it seems to me that his stringency as applied to the mothers of the schoolchildren would actually be aligned with the accepted opinion regarding the parameters of yichud. The Ein Mishpat implies that we pasken against like the Tanna Kamma, though, so I'll have to look into that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Minyan with a deadline

Since the majority of the undergrads have left campus, minyanim have been sort of spotty. Today for shacharis, we had 8 by the end of pesukei d'zimra and managed to get 10 by making phone calls, except that the delay caused us to approach a deadline at which one of the original members had to leave. In order to avoid losing our minyan before leining, the gabbai announced that we should skip the V'hu Rachum section of Tachanan, and move directly into nefilas apayim.

Was this the proper move to make, or would we have been better off saying the full Tachanun and potentially not having a minyan for leining?

Perhaps it would have been proper to say V'hu Rachum after davening?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Ba'al Zevuv

Ba'al Zevuv, deity of Ekron (or, if you'd rather, Beelzebub/The Lord of the Flies). What's the deal with making an idol out of a fly?

Perhaps Ba'al Zevuv was a deity of disease and death, and thus would be symbolized by the fly, which spreads filth and disease and is attracted to dead things. This usage of the fly in Tanach can perhaps be seen in Koheles 10:1, which refers to z'vuvei mavet. The JPS edition that I have in front of me translates this phrase as dead flies, but that would better be expressed as "z'vuvim meitim". The phrase used would seem to literally mean "Flies of death", i.e., flies that are associated with death.

This theory about Ba'al Zevuv is supported by the fact that, when Achaziah son of Ach'av became ill (injured?) after falling through his upper chamber (II Melachim 1:2), he sent messengers to pray to Ba'al Zevuv, rather than any of the other gods in the regional pantheon. The significance of this is underscored by the fact that Ekron, the Philistine nation associated with Ba'al Zevuv, had not been a major player in regional politics for more than a century, if indeed they now existed as an independent nation at all, since David had subjugated them.

Perhaps when the P'lishtim captured the ark and, in response, were smitten with hemorrhoids (t'chorim) (I Shmuel 5:6), they sent golden figurines of mice and hemorrhoids as gifts along with the ark when they returned it, as a tribute to what they perceived to be analogous to their own god of disease and death.

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One in a thousand and Yehuda ben Teima

In Koheles 7:28, Shlomo writes "I have found one man in one thousand, (but a woman from all of these I have not found)." Rashi quotes the famous ma'amar Chazal (Vayikra Rabbah 2:1) that says, "The way of the world is that 1000 enter for mikra (Tanach). From these, only 100 go forth and succeed to be worthy of mishnah. Of these 100, only 10 go forth for gemara, and of those 10 who enter mishnah, only one goes forth for hora'ah." It seems to me to be saying that 90% of Jews should limit their learning to only Tanach, without touching the Torah she-b'al peh, the 9% who have succeeded (I suppose this means achieving mastery of the texts) should move on to the basic text of the mishnayos, and only 1% should move beyond the basic mishnayos to the discussions of the amora'im and the like. Practical halacha would likely not be included in this proscription against learning advanced materials, as such knowledge is necessary in order to properly perform the mitzvos and avoid aveiros, but the vast majority of learning Jews would be entirely ignorant of most of the yeshivish masachos, which would apparently not be a bad thing.

Perhaps one can tie this ma'amar Chazal into the statement of Yehuda ben Teima in the 5th perek of Avos, in addition to the statement of Chazal, derived from the Levi'im, that a student who does not meet with success after 5 years will never find success: A child has between the ages of 5-10 to master mikra. The 10% who do have between 10-15 to master mishnayos. The 10% from that group who do have between 15-20 to master gemara. Beyond that, ben Teima says that a person enters the phase of life "lirdof", to pursue, which is often explained as referring to pursuing a livelihood, as by this point, he should have either been filtered out of the yeshiva system and diverted into the working world, or he should have reached the level of basic hora'ah - but even then, being that one is not allowed to make a parnassah off of Torah, he would have to get a job anyway, like almost all of the Tannaim and Amoraim did. This is contrary to the common practice nowadays, where everyone is pushed on to the more advanced areas of learning, which often leads to a situation where people possess towers of Torah she-b'al peh knowledge built on stilts.

The other way to understand ben Teima would be in dissent to the other two ma'amrei Chazal, saying that *everyone* moves on to Mishnah and Gemara, despite the fact that they may not have acquired the requisite foundation to enable them to learn the more advanced materials properly. Perhaps one can defend the modern practice by drawing analogies between it and this reading of ben Teima, but the previous understanding of ben Teima seems to me to be more logical.

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Eiruv Tavshilin

According to the Mishnah Brurah (O.C. 527:11), the Maharil had the practice to take the bread of his eiruv tavshilin for lechem mishnah and cut it for seudah shlishis, with the reasoning that once one mitzvah has been done with it, let him perform another mitzvah with it. When I first saw this, I wondered why specifically he should use it at seudah shlishis as opposed to at a different meal, but upon reading the Ba'er Heiteiv (p.2), I saw that he uses a slightly different wording, stating that he should take it for lechem mishnah *on the night of Shabbos* and the next day, at seudah shlishis, should cut it; this way, he has involved it in two different seudos, while only using it up during the latter. However, I wonder why the Ba'er Heiteiv only mentions the evening meal and seudah shlishis; once we're taking it out for two meals, why not take it out for all three meals?

Update, 5/22: The Be'eir Heiteiv (p. 14) and the Mishnah Brurah (p. 48) both mention this halacha a second time later in the siman, and both mention using the eiruv bread for lechem mishnah at all three meals - although I'm still not entirely clear on the B.H.'s wording in p.2. I suppose that one can extend this ruling to also use the bread as lechem mishnah on yomtov, but this is probably a very, very bad idea.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Shimshon's first date

The first woman in Shimshon's life was a Philistine woman from the town of Timnah, whom he sees when he happens to be in the town. He then asks his parents to set him up with this woman, and after expressing their surprise, they agree. He goes down to Timnah with his parents. He then appears to separate from his parents, as he is alone when he single-handedly defeats a lion that he comes across.

In 14:7, it says "Vayeired Vay'dabeir el ha-isha" - And he went down, and his spoke (el) the woman".

Rashi quotes Targum Yonasan ben Uziel, who translates "el" as "regarding", explaining that Shimshon spoke to the woman's relatives.

Radak gives two possibilities - either that he spoke to her relatives asking that they give her to him as a wife, or that he spoke to the woman herself, asking if she would marry him.

Metzudas David says that he spoke to her, to determine if she was intelligent, and found that she was.

Malbim says similar to the Metzudas David, that he spoke to her to determine her intelligence, her midos, and whether she liked him.

I recall hearing that the Rambam explicitly says that the woman converted, so perhaps one can read this into the conversation that he had with her (at least according to those opinions that said that he spoke to her in person).


P' Kedoshim: What is Kedusha?

The following is a dvar Torah that I gave on Friday night between mincha and maariv at the Penn Hillel. I didn't write it down beforehand, but I think that this version covers most of the points that I made:

Parshas Kedoshim is one of the most eclectic parshiyos in terms of the sheer scope of the mitzvos contained therein. However, the one command that overshadows the rest of the parsha can be found in 19:2: “Kedoshim tihyu, ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokeichem”. – Be holy, for I, Hashem, your God, am holy.

The Ramban quotes Toras Kohanim which explains this command as “perushim tihyu” – Be separate. He explains that following P’ Shmini, which dealt with the laws of kashrus in terms of what can and cannot be eaten, and P’ Acharei Mos, which dealt with various types of forbidden relationships, one might decide to overindulge in the eating of kosher food and in relations with one’s own wife, which were not proscribed by the preceding restrictions. For this reason, the Torah tells us to separate ourselves from even that which is permitted to us, by enjoying it only in moderation.

However, why did the Torah specifically choose to use the term “kedoshim” to express this idea, rather than, for example, “perushim” or “tehorim”? “Kadosh” is a very frequently used word within Tanach, that carries with it certain connotations. What additional lessons can be learned from the choice of this word?

In order to understand what properties make someone or something “holy”, we must look at other verses that describe something as “kadosh”. One case in which we find someone referred to as holy is in Melachim II 4:9, where a great woman of Shuneim notes regarding the prophet Elisha “Kadosh hu”, he is holy. On Brachos 10b, Rav and Shmuel argue over what quality the woman detected in him that led her to make this statement. One holds that she noticed that she never saw a fly over his table where he was eating, while the other holds that she never saw a stain from a seminal emission on his bedsheets. This passage also gives us a good example of someone who is not called holy, as the gemara there expounds on the use of the limiting word “hu” that she used to exclude Elisha’s student Geichazi as being distinctly not holy. The gemara mentions an incident (5:27) to support this contention, in which, following the death of her son, the Shunamite woman grabbed Elisha’s legs in beseeching him for mercy (Ralbag). According to the gemara, Geichazi reacted by grabbing her by “the glory of her beauty”, a place in which he clearly should not have grabbed her. Nonetheless, perhaps one can defend Geichazi’s actions. Geichazi saw his master being physically accosted, and, serving as a bodyguard, took immediate action to remove the offender. He did not have time to think things through and remove her gently, but rather grabbed her as quickly as possible, and ended up touching her in the wrong place. This being the case, what particular aspect of his actions defines him as being “unholy”?

One passuk in which Hashem is referred to as holy is the famous one in Yeshaya 6:3, “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh Hashem Tzevakos, m’lo chol ha-aretz k’vodo” – Holy, holy, holy is Hashem; the entire world is filled with His glory. It is interesting that the prophet specifically expands on God’s holiness by noting the scope of His connection and involvement with the world, rather than through His characteristics which distinguish Him from the world that He created.

To provide a third data point, we can look at kodshim – korbonos – which by their very name are referred to as “holy”. There are numerous halachos that require that korbonos be treated with special care. This week’s parsha touches on the halachos of nosar and pigul. The first of these refers to a korbon that is not eaten within a certain period of time, while the latter refers to a korbon for which the kohen performing its avodah had, while doing its avodah, an intention to eat the korbon beyond its deadline. In both of these cases, the korbon becomes invalid and prohibited to eat. Even beyond that, they become “unholy” in a fashion, in that they transmit impurity to one who touches them and incur a penalty of kareis to one who eats them. Another interesting halacha is that kedusha can be transmitted from meat of a korbon to other food, a vessel, or a garment, much as tum’a can.
We therefore see that kedusha is not simply a passive status, defined by an absence of another quality (as is the case by taharah), but rather is an active, dynamic state, that can pass on its characteristics to other objects. Unlike a tahor object, that can remain tahor indefinitely in the absence of any direct stimulus that is m’tamei it, an object that has kedusha can easily have this status taken away due to a moment’s improper thought or lack of thought altogether. Even if all of a korbon’s requirements are satisfied, it still expires after a certain period of time, and becomes invalid for use in that way.

This dynamism is also emphasized by the pasuk quoted earlier from Yeshaya. Hashem’s holiness is not projected by His separation from the world, but rather by His involvement in the world. The Chasam Sofer on the parsha draws a contrast between the holiness sought by Jews and that sought by the holy men of the non-Jews. The priests and monks of many other religions theoretically strive towards complete asceticism, a total eschewing of all physical pleasures. This is antithetical to the Jewish idea of holiness. The Ramban quoted above defined holiness as sanctifying oneself through that which is permitted. Although one’s physical indulgences must be regulated, one is still allowed, and even encouraged, to enjoy the physical pleasures of this world in a proper manner. There is therefore a very thin line between properly utilizing the physical world and improperly using it. It is precisely through meeting the challenges that such temptations present us that we reach the level of holiness.

With these concepts in mind, we can return to Elisha and Geichazi. Elisha’s holiness was not evident to the Shunamite woman through how he davened or otherwise interacted with God, but rather in how he conducted himself in his mundane, physical activities. Even when he was at his table, he conducted himself in such a manner that his table obtained the same holy quality as the mizbei’ach in the Beis HaMikdash, for which a similar miracle was reported. When he was in bed, a place in which his watch could have been lowered, he still never experienced any seminal emission, as he was careful to always maintain his same level. This is in contrast to Geichazi. Geichazi’s unholiness was seen from how he acted under stress. Although his actions may usually have been proper, when he was faced with one moment of uncertainty, he reacted by performing a very improper act.

To summarize our findings, holiness is a dynamic state, that one must constantly strive to maintain at all times, and which can be lost through even a moment’s faltering or loss of focus. At the same time, it is not epitomized by a removal of oneself from the world, but rather by embracing the world around oneself, by using it properly and by influencing it for the better. It is characterized by the recognition that every moment is valuable and that all of one’s actions must be accomplished within a deadline. May we all be able to use these ideas in reaching our own personal potentials in holiness.

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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sources of minhagim - kedusha and kri'as shema

1) What is the source of the practice of some people to turn left and right when saying the words "v'kara zeh el zeh v'amar" in kedusha?

2) What is the source of the hakpada of some people not to interrupt between the 2nd bracha before kri'as sh'ma and sh'ma, even by saying amein to that bracha (to the extent that they make it a point to conclude the paragraph at the same time as the shatz)? According to the accepted opinion of R' Yehudah in Brachos 2:1, one is even allowed to respond to a greeting between those two passages ("meishiv shalom l'chol adam") - so is there anything more to this practice than hyperstringency (or hyperleniency on saying this amein, if you'd rather).

Update, 6/29: It turns out that the p'sak of the Shulchan Aruch is that one is not allowed to interrupt between the 2nd bracha before Shema and Shema - the Shulchan Aruch HaRav explains that it's similar to any other bracha before a mitzvah. The Darchei Moshe, though, argues with this, being that the brachos of kri'as shema are not traditional pre-mitzvah brachos, as evident from the lack of the usual formula of Asher Kid'shanu, etc. I'm not sure how to fit the above mentioned mishnah into this shita. At least I'm an iota less ignorant now, though.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Shir HaShirim

Followup to the previous post: None of the major rishonim seem to answer my question about the shiur of milk outright, but a number of them also use the term achilah to refer to milk. Perhaps during the time of the mishnah (continuing into the time of the rishonim) milk was not often imbibed in its liquid form, due to spoilage problems, but rather was first processed into some thicker form, like a yogurt or somesuch. This would explain why milk is still included amongst the list of liquids, as it does originate in liquid form, but since its use was often in a semisolid form, it carried a more stringent shiur than other liquids.

New business: If it's considered a siman tov when two aspects of one's learning intersect (as my chavrusa often mentions), what's to be said in the case when one's learning just misses such an intersection? Such is the case with the Nach yomi schedule that said chavrusa and I are working on, in which this week we finished Shir HaShirim and are now moving through Rus.

I found the ending of the sefer to be a very interesting one. The book is comprised of a dialogue between two lovers (specifically, the dod and the ra'ayah) who express their love and longing for one another, both to each other and to a third party (the "b'nos Yerushalayim", in the case of the ra'ayah). At the end, the ra'ayah says to the dod: "B'rach dodi, ud'mei l'cha litzvi o-l'ofer ha-ayalim al harei vater" - "Flee, my beloved, and be like a deer or a gazelle upon the mountains". Rashi understands this as a wish that HaShem (the dod) should "flee" from the galus, and bring the ge'ulah. Metzudas David explains this passuk and the previous one as an exchange in which the dod tells the ra'ayah to whisper to him while they are in the public garden, so that no one else can hear her words of love, to which she responds that it would be even better for them to go to a more private place (i.e., the mountains = the Beis HaMikdash), where they will be able to privately share their love without having to resort to whispering.

In any event, the last passuk is a very dissonant ending, as the sefer does not end with the dod and ra'ayah finally uniting, but rather ends with the hope that they will eventually unite. This highlights the fact that the book is analogous to Eicha, in that it is devoted to a lament for something that is lost (in this case, the closeness of the dod and the ra'ayah), which can only end with a heartfelt request that the gap quickly be filled - as, in truth, since the Dod and ra'ayah are still separated by the breadth of the galus, a happy ending is not yet possible.

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