Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"ולא קורדום לחפור בהם"? - Blog = Spade (T/F)

In the fourth chapter of Avot it is written:
רבי צדוק אומר, לא תעשם עטרה להתגדל בהם, ולא קורדום לחפור בהם: כך היה הלל אומר, ודישתמש בתגא חלף; הא, כל הנהנה מדברי תורה, נטל חייו מן העולם.
Just wondering what people think (including lurkers): would putting adsense up on my sight be a violation of "ולא קורדום לחפור בהם"? Looking at it simply the answer would seem to be: yes it is a violation. Placing an ad on a page dedicated to thinking about Torah would be using the Torah as a platform for making money (even if realistically speaking - in my case - it would be about $.005 a year). Is there any other way of looking at this or am I being too pious?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Irony of Haman's Fall (Conclusion)

(Continued from here.)

IV. The Way of the Evil Shall Perish

When Haman is finally outed by Esther as a wicked enemy of her nation the king has more than one reason to dispose of Haman. The coup de grâce comes when Haman spreads himself out on Esther's bed to petition for his life. This is all Ahasuerus needs to see – Haman in this compromising position only reinforces the king’s suspicions against him.

And the king returned from the palace garden to the chamber of the wine drinking banquet, and Haman was fallen upon the bed that Esther was on. And the king said, “Would he also conquer the queen with me in the house?”… (7:8)

Haman’s foolishness flowed from his arrogance and ultimately led to his downfall. Haman is the ultimate example of the evil man. Evil is rooted in the conviction that one’s desire is paramount – the belief that if I desire it then it is good. Destruction is the ultimate end for the wicked; their fantasies can not be sustained. Only the one that submits to G’s dominion can have success.

לֹא-כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים: כִּי אִם-כַּמֹּץ, אֲשֶׁר-תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ.
עַל-כֵּן, לֹא-יָקֻמוּ רְשָׁעִים--בַּמִּשְׁפָּט; וְחַטָּאִים, בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים.
כִּי-יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה, דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים; וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד.

Not so the evil; but as chaff blown in the wind.

And so the evil shall not stand up in judgment; and sinners in the council of the righteous.

For God knows the way of the righteous; and the way of the evil shall perish.

(Tehillim 1:4-6)

V. Conclusion - "All the Evil Ones Shall be Destroyed"

The Megilla is the story of the danger the Jewish people faced in exile. However, I believe there is an often overlooked message: the lesson the Jewish people can learn from Haman. The Jews were in exile because of their desire for independence from G’s sovereignty, to be “…like gods/judges, knowing good and bad.”(B’reishit 3:5). They arrogantly violated G's covenant and had to face the consequences: “And if you do not pay heed to the voice of Hashem, your G, to keep, to do all his commandments and ordinances that I command you this day – and all these curses shall come upon you and take hold of you.” (D’varim 32:15) To put it simply because the Jews were haughty they were in exile.

In the Persian period of their exile the Jews encountered the tyrant Haman. This encounter served as a catalyst for their teshuva. However, it was not only Haman's plot to destroy the people that propelled them to do teshuva. He was also the ultimate personification of their own sin – haughtiness. The tyrant is a haughty man with power and because he is haughty he is cruel. Why is he cruel? Not just because he denies each individual’s sovereignty but because he denies G’s sovereignty by appropriating it to himself. The toppling of Haman not only revealed G’s absolute orchestration of all events but how absolutely pathetic are the tyrant and his schemes. And by extension how pathetic and destructive (to one's self and others) haughtiness truly is.

שׁוֹמֵר יְהוָה, אֶת-כָּל-אֹהֲבָיו; וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד.

God protects all who love him; and all the evil ones shall be destroyed.

(Tehillim 145:20)

Friday, January 19, 2007

Relevant Article

I was just reading Hirhurim and in this post he makes reference to this article by Rabbi Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of England. I think his article is highly relevant to my recent posts on the tyrannical Haman and also my recent post on b'chira.

The Irony of Haman's Fall (Continued)

(Continued from here.)

III. Fools Rush In

and when Haman saw Mordechai in the king’s gate, and he did not stand and did not move on account of him, Haman was filled with rage against Mordechai. Haman held himself back and he went to his home, and he sent and summoned his loved ones and Zeresh his wife. Haman told them of his great wealth and many sons and all the ways the king had promoted him and elevated him above all the officers and servants of the king. And Haman said, “Furthermore, Queen Esther did not bring anyone with the king to the drinking banquet that she made except me, and also tomorrow I have been called to her with the king.” But none of this is worth anything to me – every time I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate. Zeresh, his wife, and all his loved ones said to him, “They should make a gallows, fifty cubits high – and in the morning, speak to the king, and they will hang Mordechai on it – and come with the king to the drinking banquet, happy; and this idea was good to Haman and he made the gallows. (5:9-14)

His wife and friends advised him to have Mordechai executed the next morning. This was reasonable advice – it is what Haman should have done in the first place instead of going after the entire Jewish nation. But, Haman is brought down, once again, by his own haughtiness. Instead of waiting patiently till morning to make his request from the king, as he was advised, he rushes that night to the king’s courtyard to seek an audience with the king. Did it not occur to him that it might look suspicious to be lurking around the courtyard in the middle of the night? Did he not think about what kind of suspicions he could provoke - especially after having been invited to a private party with the king and Esther?

Understandably, the king had trouble sleeping that night (not to ignore the role of hashgacha in this incident) and with G’s providence he was reminded of his great debt to Mordechai and decided he must honor him.

And the king said, “Who is in the courtyard?” And Haman was coming into the courtyard of the king’s chamber to say to the king to hang Mordechai on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the kings attendants said to him, “Behold, Haman is standing in the courtyard”; and the king said, “Let him enter.”(6:4-5)

Before Haman can make his request the king asks him:

…”What should be done with the man that the king desires to honor?” And Haman said in his heart, “Whom would the king desire to have honored more than me?” And Haman said to the king, “The man whom the king desires to honor, bring the royal dress that the king wore, and a horse that the king rode upon, one that has the royal crown place on its head. And give the dress and the horse into the hand of one of the kings officers, one of the nobles, and dress the men that the king desires to honor, and ride him on the horse through the city plaza, and they will call out before him, ‘Such is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor!’”(6:6-9)

Ahasuerus must have been startled by the details of Haman’s suggestion. It could be argued that the king was testing Haman. However, whether or not this was the case he now had reason to be nervous – does Haman himself have designs on the throne? Once again, Haman’s own arrogance lays the groundwork for his own downfall – and more immediately his humiliation.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Irony of Haman's Fall

There is a deep irony in the fall of Haman - his very effort to destroy the Jews became his own undoing. I will attempt to demonstrate that his downfall can be traced to one thing: his haughtiness. This vice was at the root of his quest to destroy the Jews. Yet the moment he was moved to seek not only the death of Mordechai but also the destruction of all the Jews the seeds were planted for his own ruin.

I will demonstrate this thesis by reviewing certain elements of the Megilla's plot. I will begin with Haman’s rise to power.

I. Haughtiness Leads to Rage

And Haman saw that Mordechai would not kneel and bow before him – and Haman became filled with rage. But it was contemptible in his eyes to send his hand against Mordechai alone, for they had told him Mordechai’s nation. (3:5-6)

If not for Haman’s extreme haughtiness the intransigence of Moredechai would not have so greatly disturbed him. Perhaps he would have taken some action against Mordechai for violating the law and causing trouble but he certainly would not have become filled with rage and sought the destruction of all the Jews. His haughtiness brought him to rage which caused him to make the fatal choice which lead to his downfall. If he had only sought vengeance against Mordechai he would have remained in his elevated position – but, “all who become angry – if he is wise, his wisdom will leave him.” It should have occurred to Haman that trying to destroy the entire Jewish people might risk his prominence in Ahasuerus’s court.

II. Haughtiness Leads to False Security

After hearing the King’s fateful decree Mordechai demands that Esther intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. She petitions the king to attend a drinking banquet with Haman. Haman’s arrogance lulls him into a feeling of security.

And Haman went out on that day happy and with good heart… (5:9)

Esther’s invitation should have troubled Haman. Why would Esther invite Haman to a banquet where he and the king are the only guests? What would Ahasuerus think of this situation? Would this not look bad and perhaps make Ahasuerus jealous? Instead Haman is happy. But because of his arrogance Haman did not remain happy for long.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Unity of the חומש

I believe that one of the first things one must do to truly understand the תשב"כ is to try and identify its unity. I will try and express this unity in terms of the "what" and the "why" of חומש. In other words, "what" is the actual content and "why" or what is its purpose? There is no "right" answer to these questions (not to say they are not subject to critique) - as one develops in his understanding so to his answers to these questions will develop and change. However, I think it is an exercise that is worthwhile. I would love to hear how other people answer these questions.

To express the "what" of the חומש I will attempt to give the briefest possible synopsis of the entire book:

How the שבועה to אברהם אבינו was fulfilled through the שליחות/נבואה of משה רבינו ע"ה thereby enabling humanity to know ה'.

Explanation: I believe saying "enabling humanity" underscores the תורה's concern with humanity (not just ב"י) and also is one explanation for the inclusion of the first eleven chapters of בראשית.

The purpose of the חומש or the "why":

Enabling humanity to choose טוב.

Explanation: it is through the נבואה of משה רבינו ע"ה that humanity (first ב"י) can choose טוב. This is more than just choosing the ultimate טוב it includes all of the means necessary to stay on the דרך to attain that טוב. In other words, we learn not just an abstract point about what טוב is but we are given 1) the specific means to attain it - in the מצוות and 2) paradigmatic stories that provide us with the best framework to grasp the need for and purpose of such a system.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King Day

I just remembered it is Martin Luther King Day. It is a very important day for me. In 1992 I was still in public school. On MLK Day I had off from school so I spent the day with Rabbi Maroof at the high school he was attending - TASC (which sadly closed down this year). That day was a major turning point in my life. One year later I was going to TASC (I recognize the pun) and two years later I made my first siyyum (on MLK Day). So I just wanted to express my hillul and hodaya to Hashem.

רשות כל אדם נתונה לו

I wanted to quickly relate an interesting question one of my students asked me. I believe the answer to that question is an important though often overlooked idea.

I was discussing the idea of God's justice - as explained in Rambam (sticking to the MT to keep things simple) - namely, the idea that "כל-דרכיו משפט". I told them that we know God is absolutely just - He relates to every single individual in accordance with his z'chuyot and avonot. However, only God can weigh an individuals z'chuyot and avonot so only He can say what is just for each individual (nothing original here - I was just paraphrasing Rambam in Hilchot Deot Chapter 3). I made a comparison between the laws of nature that we can discover and then use to explain natural phenomena and the "laws" of hashgacha that we can know in a general sense but can not use to explain the "human phenomena".

Then one of the students raised the following difficulty:

If we believe in b'chira then consider the following case: Levi wants to kill Shimon but God has determined that it is not just for Shimon to die. So in line with "כל-דרכיו משפט" God will prevent Levi from killing Shimon but that would contradict Levi's free-will.

What the student did not understand is that b'chira has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of motion or action. B'chira is the choice between being good or being evil. In the students example Levi's choice to do evil was not withheld from him only the fulfillment of that choice was withheld. If Levi is not successful in killing Shimon does that make the act any less evil? I believe a careful reading of the fifth chapter of Hilchot Deot will make this point even clearer.

Notes מסכת ברכות #1

I recently started to learn B'rachot again. I am making an attempt to write up notes. My goal is to be as clear as possible and to only write those things that I think are particularly interesting or insightful.

מסכת ברכות פרק א

א,א מאימתיי קורין את שמע בערבין: משעה שהכוהנים נכנסין לאכול בתרומתן, עד סוף האשמורת הראשונה, דברי רבי אליעזר. וחכמים אומרין, עד חצות. רבן גמליאל אומר, עד שיעלה עמוד השחר.א,ב מעשה שבאו בניו מבית המשתה, ואמרו לו, לא קרינו את שמע. אמר להם, אם לא עלה עמוד השחר, מותרין אתם לקרות.א,ג ולא זו בלבד, אלא כל שאמרו חכמים עד חצות, מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר. הקטר חלבים ואברים, מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר; כל הנאכלים ליום אחד, מצותן עד שיעלה עמוד השחר.א,ד אם כן, למה אמרו חכמים עד חצות--אלא כדי להרחיק את האדם מן העבירה.

Is Rabban Gamliel disagreeing with the Chakhamim? If so why does he discuss their opinion with his sons? Additionally, why do his son's not know his own position?

Rabban Gamliel does not seem to be disagreeing with the Chakhamim. Even though he is presented as a separate position it is clear from his discussion with his sons that he agrees with the Chakhamim. His sons knew that the mitzva of K"S was "all night". However, they were unclear on the intention of the g'zeira of "until midnight". In other words, they did not know whether the g'zeira was a simple prohibition or whether the Chakhamim had invalidated any K"S said after midnight. If it was a simple prohibition then even though his sons transgressed this g'zeira they could still fulfill the mitzva of K"S until day-break. However, if it was an invalidation than there would be nothing they could do.

Rashi explains that the purpose of this g'zeira is to encourage a person to not procrastinate and "forget" to say K"S. Both ways of understanding the g'zeira would accomplish this objective. However, it would be a far more affective "encouragement" if the Chakhamim actually invalidated any after-midnight K"S. This is what Rabban Gamliel clarifies for his sons (and what he meant in the first half of the mishna): the Chakhamim's g'zeira was only a prohibition not an invalidation.

Rashi does not appear to follow this approach. He writes on 3A (D"H:"Lav R' Eliezer Hi") that Rabban Gamliel does not have the s'yag ("fence") of the Chakhamim. It seems that according to Rashi Rabban Gamliel's sons did not know what their own father's position was. It is also unclear, according to Rashi, why Rabban Gamliel was so concerned with explaining the Chakhamim's position.

Rambam does seem to follow the above approach. He writes in the Peirush HaMishnayot that the halakha is like Rabban Gamliel. In the Mishne Torah (Hilchot K"S, 1:9) he writes that the mitzvah of K"S is until midnight but if one transgressed and read later - until amud hashachar - one fulfills his obligation. He explains that "they" only said until midnight to distance men from sin.