Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bava Metzia 83b - Nezek

The first mishnah in HaChoveil states that one of the compensatory payments paid by a person who damages another person is Nezek, which is evaluated by calculating the depreciation between how much the victim would have been worth had he been an eved being sold in the market prior to his disability and how much he would be worth now.

Rashi and R' Yehonasan of Lunel explain the rationale for this payment that the damager caused the victim a loss of this amount of money, that if he were to need money, he could have sold himself as an eved ivri.

This interpretation is difficult, because the mishnah which mentions an eved sold in the marketplace is clearly referring to an eved k'na'ani, as the proscription of
לא ימכרו ממכרת עבד (Vayikra 25:42) prohibits selling an eved ivri in a public manner.

The Rosh explains that we view the victim as if he were an eved k'na'ani being that an eved ivri has no method through which he could be sold for perpetuity, because the closest equivalent would be for him to sell himself for six years and six years and six more years for the rest of his life (going free whenever yoveil comes and starting the cycle again).

The Pilpula Charifta (aka the ba'al Tosfos Yom Tov) explains that the mishnah prescribes using the calculation based on an eved k'na'ani rather than the modified eved ivri method that is rejected by the Rosh for two reasons. Firstly, the modified eved ivri method is not used in normal business transactions, so that it's preferable to utilize a method that finds application in the real world to evaluate the victim's value (and going a step further outside, the modified eved ivri method would require an actuary to calculate expected depreciation, fluctuations in the slave market, and life expectancy, thereby making it overly complicated) and secondly, evaluating the victim based on individual six-year sales would be overly harsh on the damager, as throughout nezikin, evaluations are made based on wholesale quantities, rather than on smaller quantities, and using a set of six-year sales would inflate his value over what it would be for a single sale of an equivalent duration.

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Why the Kosel Wasn't Destroyed

Ariella of the Kallah Magazine blog asked for the source of the well-known story that when Shlomo built the Beis HaMikdash, the poor people built the Western Wall through their own sweat and toil, and for this reason, it was the only one to not be destroyed.

According to this article, the story of the poor people who built the western wall was told to Zev Vilnay, an Israeli historian and folklorist, by a young man at the Kosel in 1922, and Vilnay included the story in his anthology, /Aggadot Eretz Yisrael/. The aspects of this story that should raise major red flags are that that the Kosel is not the wall of the Beis HaMikdash, but rather one of the retaining walls that surrounded the structures on HaBayis, and that it was built by Herod, not by Shlomo, so that nothing of Shlomo's building survived, regardless of who built it (The pesukim don't specifically say, but I would assume that Shlomo hired professional builders to built it, as befitting the building, in the same way that Betzal'el utilized the chochmei leiv to build the Mishkan. A more populist building project was the rebuilding of the wall of Yerushalayim led by Nechemiah).

Of course, the fact that a story has no extant source doesn’t mean that it’s not true. And even if a story isn’t true, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be inspired by it (perhaps this is more of a chassidic idea?). But in this era in which we have witnessed vociferous debates over what constitutes the truth vis-a-vis the crossroads between our understandings of the Torah, science, and history, as well as in which segulos ride on horses as halachos travel by foot, it seems that one can be excused for wanting to be machmir when it comes to besorah she-nis’aleim min ha-ayin.

In an article that appeared a few months ago, R’ Mendel Weinbach of Ohr Somayach cited an amazing statement made by R’ Eliezer Menachem Man Shach:

“I fully believe only in those things that I am required by the Torah to believe. Why? Because when I reach Heaven and ask to be rewarded for my faith in G-d, I don’t want to be told that I can’t get credit for that because I believed everything else.”

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Boshes - Bava Kamma 83b

The Mishnah on Bava Kamma 83b states that the compensatory payment for embarrassing someone is dependent on the embarrassor and the embarrassee. The mefarshim (Rashi and others) explain that if a "light" person embarrasses someone, the embarrassment is greater than it would be if a great person were to cause the embarrassment.

If this is the case, how can we understand the kal va-chomer at the end of P' Beha'alos'cha by Miriam (12:14): "If her father had spit in her face, would she not be embarrassed for 7 days? How much more so should she seclude herself in embarrassment for 7 days being that God Himself displayed his rebuke towards her!"? Being that even the great tzaddik Amrom would be an adam kal relative to HaShem, how can we say that Miriam should be more embarrassed by God's rebuke than by her father's rebuke? (I don't see a difference between busha and k'lima as described in the passuk)

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the reason for the distinction for the difference between an adam kal and an adam gadol, as it seems counterintuitive. I don't see how it would be more embarrassing to be slapped by a vagrant on the street than to be slapped by one's rebbe.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Dimensional Oddities in the Mishkan

The first half of the 17th chapter of Maseches Keilim discusses the various units of measure that appear in halacha. Mishnah 10 notes that, although an amah, the cubit-based unit of length, is usually equal to six handbreadth-based tefachim, the amos with which the keilim of the Mishkan were measured were actually only five tefachim in size. Hence, for example, the size of the aron would be only 2.08 X 1.25 X 1.25 amos when measured using normal units, rather than the 2.5 X 1.5 X 1.5 indicated by the pesukim. The opinion of R' Meir differs slightly from that of R' Yehudah stated above, but also acknowledges that for certain parts of the Mishkan, these smaller amos were used. Why is this the case?

There are also several other dimensional oddities that occurred in the Beis HaMikdash. One example of such is the Aron which, according to Megillah 10b, did not take up any space in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. Another, described in the 5th perek of Pirkei Avos, is the miracle that despite everyone being packed together in the Courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Kippur, they still had plenty of room to bow down when the kohen gadol pronounced the name of God.

Stephen Greenman notes these oddities in an essay* that appears in _Encounter_, a set of essays published by the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists (H. Chaim Schimmel and R' Aryeh Carmell, ed.). He suggests a potential correlation to the special theory of relativity, which states that as the velocity of an object approaches the speed of light, its length along the axis of its motion decreases asymptotically. Applying this idea to the matter at hand, perhaps the greater holiness of the keilim of the Mikdash causes a condensation of their perceived volume. So, too, when the people in the Azarah heard the name of God pronounced, perhaps their bodies underwent a similar temporary shrinkage. The aron, the center of the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash upon which the shechina rested, is analogous to an object traveling at the speed of light itself, which has no volume at all. Much as special relativity has a negligible effect on our everyday activities, which occur at velocities much lower than the speed of light (roughly 650,000,000 miles per hour), so, too, would this analogous relationship have an imperceptible effect outside of the Beis HaMikdash.

The author provides further data points connecting physical energy and holiness in the article, as well as analogs to the relativistic condensation of time as one approaches the speed of light, but does not pass judgement on whether the juxtaposition of the two concepts is anything more than an intriguing parable.

* "Relativity and the Bet HaMikdash: a metaphorical extrapolation or an intriguing parable?"

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

R' Scheinberg's Sets of Tzitzis

One of the things that R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, mara d'asra of Kiryas Mattersdorf, is known for is his wearing numerous bigdei dalet k'nafos, each carrying on it the requisite four tzitziyos according to a different shittah. Although one can trust that he knows what he's doing - tzitzis, after all, is one of the Taryag mitzvos, so is certainly worthwhile to ensure that one is fulfilling properly - the whole situation seemed to be a bit odd. The halachic process enables us to be confident that we're fulfilling the mitzvah properly by simply following the mesorah passed down to us from previous generations - and especially with tzitzis, which is exceptionally lenient b'diavad - so why did RCPS feel it so urgent to be yotzei every single da'as yachid, while none (to my knowledge) of his contemporaries or predecessors ever went to such lengths?

I recently heard an amazing explanation of RCPS's actions (from an adam ne'eman on a discussion list to which I subscribe) that places his actions in an entirely different context. Years back, one of his children was undergoing a medical procedure. RCPS made a neder that if his child survived, he would be extra careful with the mitzvah of tzitzis, perhaps chosen as an ostensibly simple mitzvah. Upon the fulfillment of the condition of his neder, he realized that being m'dakdek in the mitzvah of tzitzis meant being absolutely certain that he was yotzei l'chatchilah according to all shittos. And hence, he began to wear some large number of bigdei dalet k'nafos.

Gadlus is not about going eons beyond one's obligations based on the chumrah of the month. Gadlus can simply be ensuring that one fulfills whatever obligations are set upon him.

Update, 2/8: My chavrusa asked me on Facebook whether wearing sets according to many different shitos would constitute a tartei d'sasrei, in that some shittos would invalidate the sets of others, so that mimah nafshach he'd be wearing 4-cornered garments without tzitziyos and thus would be m'vatel the aseih altogether.

I'm not aware of what these dei'os yachid are, but at least according to the normative p'sak, it's very difficult to invalidate a tzitzis b'di'avad - IIRC, as long as one has 4 strings of around an inch-and-a-half in length (on both ends combined, even if one is entirely cut off), tied together with a single knot and one cyclical wrapping, the tzitzis is kosher. The differences probably lie in the l'chatchila formulation of the knots and wrapping.