Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bava Kamma 2b - Keren

A b'raisa learns out that the word N'gicha, goring, refers to damage caused by an animal's horn from two pesukim. The first is a passuk from Melachim in which the false prophet Tzidkiyah ben K'na'anah makes for Achav a set of iron horns and tells him, "With these shall you gore Aram". The second is a passuk from Moshe's bracha to shevet Yosef, in which he says that he has the "horns of a re'em", which he shall use to gore nations.

The gemara says that the reason why we need the second passuk is to tell us that the classical damage of n'gicha is even with an animal's own horns, as we might have said that the dichotomy between shor tam and shor mu'ad only applies to a case where an ox "gores" by holding a detached horn in its mouth (similar to the detached horns of Tzidkiyah ben K'na'anah), while for an ox's own horns, it's mu'ad from the onset, as this would be considered normal. Hence, the second passuk tells us that the parsha of n'gicha and the included dichotomy applies even by an animal's own horns.

However, this being the case, why do we need the passuk of Tzidkiya ben K'na'anah if the b'raissa would bring down the passuk from Yosef, anyway?

Update, 10/19/07: A few months after this post, I finally purchased a Kovetz.

Tos' Talmid Rabbeinu Peretz answers that if we didn't have the passuk of keren t'lusha, we might think that keren t'lusha is patur l'gamrei.

Tos' Talmid R' Tam vR' Eliezer provides the same answer, and also suggests that the gemara often brings down a set of pesukim of which only one is essential to a drash "k'dei l'hagdil Torah".

The Shittah Mekubetzes b'shem Mahari Kohen Tzedek answers that if we only had the pasuk of Mechubar, from Yosef, we might have thought that only a keren mechubar has a din of ha'ada'ah, but that a kered t'lusha is tam even after doing it 3 times - hence, we have two pesukim to tell us that both types of keren fall under the category of keren tam that can become mu'ad.

The Chasam Sofer writes that based on Rashi on the passuk by Yosef, which states that an ox is strong while a re'em is not, we might say that negicha applies only to the horns of a re'em, but applies to even the body of an ox. In the passuk from Melachim, Tzidkiyah ben K'na'anah tells Ach'av that "With these shall you gore Aram"; mi-kan that negicha is strictly with the horns (while with the body is called negifa - maybe otherwise we'd think that negicha of the horns and negicha of the body can be combined into one set of ha'ada'ah.)6


Why Snow is Pretty

A little while ago, a friend and I were looking out our respective windows as we conversed through Google Talk, and noticed the snow falling outside heralding the beginning of a minor snowstorm. My friend noted the beauty of the fresh snow on the ground prior to its being soiled and compressed by passersby and vehicular traffic. I immediately responded that such an observation depends on one's frame of reference, as to whether one sees greater beauty in pristinity or in application. Is there greater beauty in a layer of fresh, smooth, snow that casts its sleep-inducing spell upon the world in its embrace, or in a beaten and discolored layer of two-week-old snow that demands nothing more than a cursory attention? Is there greater beauty in a 5-year-old child whose countenance reflects a pure mind that has not yet been shaped by societal expectations, or in a 95-year-old man whose body and mind both reflect a lifetime of ravage? Do sefarim smell better when they are first taken off of the bookseller's shelf or when they are laid to rest in a g'nizah - to say nothing of the comparison between the bloody veneer that coats a newborn child versus the pale cleanliness of a shell that has been emptied of its spirit? None other than Shlomo HaMelech registered his opinion on this last pair, stating that the day of death is preferable to the day of birth (Koheles 7:1).

I am an engineer. My mind has been shaped through manifold problems and physical scenarios to have an admiration for the conquered and the defined, even while maintaining a sense of wonder at untouched beauty and potential. I once heard in a shiur by R' Yisroel Reisman an idea brought down in l'Or HaHalacha (by R' Shlomo Yosef Zevin, p. 304) [I found this source also referenced in a dvar Torah by R' Mordechai Willig located on TorahWeb] that sees this dichotomy as an idee fixe in the machlokos of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel all around Shas. Beis Hillel tends to focus on an object or person's absolute identity and value, while Beis Shammai focuses on what an object or person can become.

Taking some examples, Beis Shammai (Brachos 51b) holds that the proper bracha on fire at Havdalah is SheBara Ma'or HaEish, referring to the pure monochromatic flame of Creation that serves as a prototype for all future fires, while Beis Hillel holds that the proper bracha is Borei Me'orei HaEish, referring to our current heterogeneous flames, and acknowledging their value for what they are.

Beis Shammai (Shabbos 21b) holds that the neiros Chanukah decrease as the holiday progresses, as the potential chemical energy contained within the miraculous oil decreased over time, while Beis Hillel focuses on the duration of the miracle that has lasted thus far in the positive sense.

Beis Shammai (Eruvin 13b) holds that it would have been better off for man to not have been created, as when the time comes that a person's body and mind break down, he can be assured of never having achieved his fullest potential, while Beis Hillel focus on a person's positive achievements and argue that they provide sufficient justification for man's creation.

Fresh snow is a blank canvas, both in the aesthetic sense and in the deeper sense of the challenges that it produces for us. Nonetheless, there is also beauty contained within a neglected dark patch of snow on the side of a street that serves as the sole sign of man's rising up over the challenges of nature, and a fulfillment of his imperative to "fill the earth and conquer it" (Bereishis 1:28).

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Heavenly Bodies

Shabbos 156a, among other sources, lists 7 heavenly bodies visible from the earth. Chamah, the Sun, is so called because it is the source of heat. Levana, the moon, is so called because it looks white. Nogah, Venus, is so called because it is the brightest of the "smaller bodies" visible from earth. Ma'adim, Mars, appears red from earth because its surface is covered in rust. Shab'tai, Saturn, has the 7th longest cycle out of the heavenly bodies (as it has the longest orbit - Uranus, Neptune, and the Kuiper-belt-object-nee-planet Pluto are not visible with the naked eye).

Mercury is known as Kochav, meaning "Star". According to Wikipedia, this term is short for "Kochav Chamah", the Star of the Sun, since Mercury is the closest to the Sun.

The remaining heavenly body is Jupiter, known as Tzedek, righteousness. It seems that this would have to do with the planet's largest size amongst the other smaller bodies, which led a number of ancient peoples to tag the planet with the name of their chief deity. Perhaps Tzedek was therefore a euphemism to avoid using an idolatrous name for the planet.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Kava'ta Itim LaTorah?

Last Elul, I posted a summary of a dvar Torah that I wrote some years earlier for P' Vayeilech contrasting the two mitzvos found in that parsha on the basis of regularity vs. randomness in one's avodah. The communal Hakheil represents the need for a person to have regular experiences that aid in one's avodah, while the personal obligation of writing a sefer Torah represents the need to take steps to ensure that one continues to grow in one's avodah even when circumstances do not lend themselves to such regularity. I brought down the opening line of Medrash Shmuel, which expounds a passuk in Tehillim to refer to an obligation to learn Torah even outside of regularly scheduled times.

In today's Daf Yomi Discussion List (35:3), put out by the Kollel Iyun HaDaf, R' Dov Bloom quotes the Sha'arei Teshuva (O.Ch. 156:2), who brings down an idea from the Hafla'ah similar to that of the Medrash Shmuel. The Hafla'ah notes that kovei'a, in the sense of "Kava'ta ittim laTorah" (Shabbos 31a) does not mean to set, but rather to steal (see Malachi 3:8-9). Understood in this way, when one arrives in Shamayim, he will be asked not whether he fixed times for Torah, but rather whether he constantly stole whatever time he could from his other daily activities in order to engage in learning Torah. The former is by necessity finite, but the quest for the latter, in the ideal circumstance, can encompass one's entire week, much as Shammai HaZakein succeeded in expanding the finite Shabbos into his entire week by constantly stealing away time during the week to honor it.

Although it is clearly a necessity that one learn on a regular basis, if one limits himself to only these regular times, his avodah appears to be lacking in a vital component.

Interesting, shortly before I heard this idea, someone posted a comment on a post on R' Harry Maryles' Emes Ve-Emunah blog asking if blogging was considered kove'ia ittim. When I first saw this question, I thought it was silly, but based on the reading of the Hafla'ah, it very well could be that visiting a blog focused on Torah (of which, B"H, there exist a good number) may constitute "stealing away" time from one's lunch period for learning.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

Beshalach 1 - Nachum

In the absence of any thoughts on the parsha worth relating (or, more charitably, the time necessary to coherently formulate said thoughts), I have apparently decided to allow my blog to devolve into a humor blog. Shloshim yom, I suppose.

Anyway, the story goes (as related by a rebbe/coach of mine in high school), that a guy entered the beis medrash holding a Mishnayos Shabbos. He goes to the first guy whom he sees learning, and shows him the first mishnah: "Lo v'zefes, v'lo v'sha'avah, v'lo v'shemen kik, v'lo v'alyah, v'lo v'cheilev Nachum" - One may not light the Shabbos lichts using pitch, wax, cottonseed oil, sheep-tail fat, or the fat of Nachum. The guy asks, "What exactly is this Cheilev Nachum?". The second guy shakes his head, and says, "You're reading it all wrong. There's a period following the word cheilev. It should be read "V'lo v'cheilev. Period. Nachum HaMadi omeir...". The first guy angrily shakes him off, and goes to the next person he sees. Same question, same answer.

After the guy asks several people the same question, one guy finally gets smart, and realizes that the nudnik won't stop bothering everyone unless he gets an answer, so says to him, "Oh, Cheilev Nachum! There's an interesting story behind that.

"When B'nei Yisroel were ready to leave Egypt, everyone was very excited to finally leave their servitude. The one exception was a guy named Nachum. This Nachum, during the years of slavery, had developed a biofuel factory which was doing a booming business. Therefore, when all of the Jews were leaving Egypt, Nachum stayed behind to continue to run his factory. As a k'nas for his refusal to leave Egypt, Chazal made a decree that any fuel manufactured by Nachum could not be used for Shabbos lichts.

"And where is this episode alluded to in the Torah? In the first passuk of this week's parsha: 'Vay'hi b'shalach Par'o es ha-am -- V'lo Nachum' "

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