Sunday, March 25, 2007

Run Away From Bureaucracy

The following is a reworking (and I believe improvement) of this post that I made almost exactly one year ago.

The first 20 verses of the 12th chapter of Sh'mot is Hashem's speech to Moshe and Aharon concerning the mitzvot that prepare B'nei Yisrael for Makkat B'chorot. In verse 11 it is written:

יא וְכָכָה֮ תֹּֽאכְל֣וּ אֹתוֹ֒ מָתְנֵיכֶ֣ם חֲגֻרִ֔ים נַֽעֲלֵיכֶם֙ בְּרַגְלֵיכֶ֔ם וּמַקֶּלְכֶ֖ם בְּיֶדְכֶ֑ם וַֽאֲכַלְתֶּ֤ם אֹתוֹ֙ בְּחִפָּז֔וֹן פֶּ֥סַח ה֖וּא לַֽיהוָֽה׃

It seems that the entire procedure of the korban pesach in Mitzrayim, culminating with its consumption, was to demonstrate B'nei Yisrael's rejection of Mitzri idolatry. Why was it necessary for them to eat the korban pesach fully dressed for their journey and with, חִפָּזוֹן, great speed?

I believe the simple explanation is that it was in order to demonstrate their absolute conviction that Hashem would immediately redeem them (see Seforno). However, there does seem to be another lesson: to further demonstrate Pharaoh and Mitzrayim's lack of power before Hashem.

Let us consider the following scenario: Pharaoh is defeated. What would we expect to happen next? Most likely many months of talks and negotiations hammering out the precise terms of the defeat, how the slaves will be released, what reparations B'nei Yisrael will receive, prosecution of those who committed crimes against humanity, etc. Even more time would be spent planning out the best way for B'nei Yisrael to leave Mitzrayim and make the long journey to Eretz Yisrael. In other words, one would think that even if Pharaoh were defeated it would still be necessary to go through a slow diplomatic process - nothing can happen overnight in politics.

The geula from Mitzrayim was different - it did not occur through any know causal structure - it did not occur by playing to a pompous bureaucracy. Perhaps this is one of the meanings of "lo al y'dei malach" - not through any know causal system - it was HaKadosh Baruch Hu:

וַיּוֹצִיאֵנוּ ה מִמִּצְרַיִם--לֹא עַל יְדֵי מַלְאָךְ, לֹא עַל יְדֵי שָׂרָף, לֹא עַל יְדֵי שָׁלִיחַ, אֵלָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא בִּכְבוֹדוֹ: כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וְעָבַרְתִּי בְאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה, וְהִכֵּיתִי כָל בְּכוֹר בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, מֵאָדָם וְעַד בְּהֵמָה; וּבְכָל אֱלֹהֵי מִצְרַיִם אֶעֱשֶׂה שְׁפָטִים, אֲנִי ה" שמות יב,יב

The entire power structure of Mitzrayim was reduced to rubble. The immediacy of their exodus further demonstrated this breakdown. B'nei Yisrael demonstrated their absolute trust that Hashem would take them out of Mitzrayim immediately as a direct result of eating the korban pesach.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Ta'am of Chametz and Honey

I made a few changes/improvements on 3/22 (including a new, spicier title).

The following is a piece I wrote on the parsha for my school's "Parsha Press":

The entire second perek of Sefer Vayikra discusses the laws of menachot, flour offerings. In verses 11 through 13 the Torah presents some general halachot of menachot. I will focus on some of the ideas expressed in verse 11:

יא כָּל-הַמִּנְחָה, אֲשֶׁר תַּקְרִיבוּ לַה'--לֹא תֵעָשֶׂה, חָמֵץ: כִּי כָל-שְׂאֹר וְכָל-דְּבַשׁ, לֹא-תַקְטִירוּ מִמֶּנּוּ אִשֶּׁה לַה'.

11. Any meal offering that you offer to Hashem do not make chametz (leavened): for all leavening and fruit-honey, you may not offer/burn from it an isheh laHashem (fire-offering to Hashem).

The following is a summary of the halachot the Rabbis derive from this verse:

1) No offerings may be brought with chametz.

2) No offerings may be brought with fruit-honey.

What is the reason for these prohibitions? The Rambam maintains that the ta'am, reason, for most of the practices associated with korbanot, as well as many other mitzvot, is the Torah's desire to distance us from the practices of the idolaters. In the Moreh Nevuchim (III:46) he explains that the idolaters would use chametz and fruit-honey in their offerings to their gods. We do not do so - because we wish to distance ourselves from their practices. Additionally, the Rambam explains, this explains why korbanot (Vayikra 2:13) must be offered with salt: because the idolaters never used salt.

The Ralbag writes in his "Toelot" (meaning, lessons - in which he explains the lessons of each section of the Chumash) that he agrees with the ta'am given by the Rambam but he also gives another reason that is more particular to this case. I will paraphrase the Ralbag's comments: The ancients (before the Torah was given) believed that nature was random and they did not recognize that there is a Creator and everything has a cause. Because of this belief they thought that the products of their own craft were greater than anything in the natural world. Chametz and fruit-honey are artificial - they do not occur naturally. The Torah wants us to bring korbanot from our best products. Therefore, the Torah prohibits these artificial products to emphasize the superiority of the natural products of Hashem's Creation.

I believe the Ralbag's idea might help explain why the idolaters used chametz and fruit-honey in their offerings. The idolater serves his god as a means to furthering his own designs, dreams and aspirations. He hopes that by currying favor with his god he will gain success. Sacrifice, for an idolater, is an opportunity to impress his deity - so, of course, he gives what he believes is the most impressive fruits of his labor (man-made products). The Torah has the exact opposite intention - the offering of korbanot is an opportunity for the oveid Hashem to submit himself to Hashem and marvel at the beauty of His Creation. Hashem can not be impressed by our gifts. In other words, in the man-centered universe of the idolater the artificial is what is most impressive - in the G-d-centered universe of the Torah the artificial is only a distraction to recognizing the ultimate Wisdom of G-d's Creation.

One last thing should be mentioned. When the Rishonim or other Rabbis offer ta'amim for the chukei haTorah they are not attempting to give the reason for the mitzvah they are only attempting to give a reason. And it is imperative to seek these reasons. To paraphrase the Rambam at the end of Hilchot Temura (see also the end of Hilchot Meilah): Even though all the chukei haTorah [the korbanot are chukim] are g'zeirot (decrees) we must contemplate them - and for whatever you are able to give a ta'am (reason), do so.

For further thought: Is there a connection between this chametz prohibition and the prohibition of chametz on Pesach?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I usually do not post on "current events" but this one hit home.

I just came across this post on "Lonely Man of Mechqar (1.5)" (there is also this follow-up post) which cites a letter printed in Yated which used the diatribe against YCT as an opportunity to bash YBT (aveira gorreret aveira I suppose). I was heartened by people's comments and the letters that were printed in the Yated in response to the despicable motzei sheim ra.

[Just a quick aside: I noticed Nachum's comment about - (as far as I know) it is actually run by one musmach of YBT - he prints material written by other YBT musmachim but as far as I know the "YBT people" do not run it and most of the material (as far as I know) is his own.]

What is the heter for Yated to print Lashon Hara and Motzei Shem Ra?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Ashrei and Y'sodei HaTorah

In my post on Ashrei I wrote that two of the most fundamental ideas in Avodat Hashem are:

1) the limitation of our ability to praise/know G'
2) our absolute dependence on Him

Upon further reflection it occurred to me these two ideas are discussed in the first chapter of Hilchot Y'sodei HaTorah. The second ideas is expressed in the first halakha:

א יסוד היסודות ועמוד החכמות, לידע שיש שם מצוי ראשון. והוא ממציא כל הנמצא; וכל הנמצאים מן שמיים וארץ ומה ביניהם, לא נמצאו אלא מאמיתת הימצאו. [ב] ואם יעלה על הדעת שהוא אינו מצוי, אין דבר אחר יכול להימצאות. [ג] ואם יעלה על הדעת שאין כל הנמצאים מלבדו מצויים, הוא לבדו יהיה מצוי ולא ייבטל הוא לביטולם: שכל הנמצאים צריכין לו; והוא ברוך הוא אינו צריך להם, ולא לאחד מהם.

The first idea is expressed at the end of the chapter:

יא [י] מה הוא זה שביקש משה רבנו להשיג כשאמר "הראני נא, את כבודך" (שמות לג,יח)--ביקש לידע אמיתת הימצאו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, עד שיהיה ידוע בליבו כמו ידיעת אחד מן האנשים שראה פניו ונחקקה צורתו בקרבו, שנמצא אותו האיש נפרד בדעתו משאר האנשים; כך ביקש משה רבנו להיות מציאת הקדוש ברוך הוא נפרדת בליבו משאר מציאת הנמצאים, עד שיידע אמיתת הימצאו כמה שהיא. והשיבו ברוך הוא שאין כוח בדעת האדם החי שהוא מחובר מגוף ונפש, להשיג אמיתת דבר זה על בורייו.

Did Hershel Shanks Fall Asleep in the Middle of the Pasuk?

In the cover article of the most recent issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (March/April 2007), "The Mystery of the Nechushtan", Hershel Shanks presents the theory of Kristin Swanson (originally published in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 64 (2002), p. 460, "A Reassessment of Hezekiah's Reform in Light of Jar Handles and Iconographic Evidence"). I do not have access to this article so my very brief critique may not apply to her actual theory - just H.S.'s presentation.

H.S. writes, "Scholars have often speculated that Hezekiah destroyed the Nechushtan because it had come to be worshiped in the Temple and hence was as objectionable as the other cultic objects condemned in 2 Kings 18:4." The problem, very simply stated, is that this is not a scholarly speculation - it is the second half of the verse in 2 Kings. Even more perplexing is the fact that when H.S. cites this verse he leaves out the second half, which he seems to consider scholarly speculation. This is the verse with the part that he left out in bold.

ד הוּא הֵסִיר אֶת-הַבָּמוֹת, וְשִׁבַּר אֶת-הַמַּצֵּבֹת, וְכָרַת, אֶת-הָאֲשֵׁרָה; וְכִתַּת נְחַשׁ הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה מֹשֶׁה, כִּי עַד-הַיָּמִים הָהֵמָּה הָיוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מְקַטְּרִים לוֹ, וַיִּקְרָא-לוֹ, נְחֻשְׁתָּן.

4. He removed the bamot and broke the matzevot and cut down the asherah; and he ground up the bronze serpent that Moshe made, for up until those days the Children of Israel would offer incense to it, and he called it (or, it was called) Nechushtan.

Without reading the second half of the verse how did he know that the nachash haNechoshet was called Nechushtan? This said, I did enjoy the article.

Friday, March 16, 2007

1,000 Hits!

Wow, I can't believe the counter has reached 1,000. Thanks to all the readers and commenters.


The following is based on discussions I had with my chevruta, DE.

The gemara on 4B in Mesekhet B'rachot:

אמר רבי אלעזר א"ר אבינא כל האומר (תהילים קמה) תהלה לדוד בכל יום שלש פעמים מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא

מאי טעמא אילימא משום דאתיא באל"ף בי"ת נימא (תהילים קיט) אשרי תמימי דרך דאתיא בתמניא אפין

אלא משום דאית ביה (תהילים קמה) פותח את ידך נימא הלל הגדול דכתיב ביה (תהילים קלו) נותן לחם לכל בשר

אלא משום דאית ביה תרתי אמר רבי יוחנן מפני מה לא נאמר נו"ן באשרי מפני שיש בה מפלתן של שונאי ישראל דכתיב (עמוס ה) נפלה לא תוסיף קום בתולת ישראל במערבא מתרצי לה הכי נפלה ולא תוסיף לנפול עוד קום בתולת ישראל

אמר רב נחמן בר יצחק אפילו הכי חזר דוד וסמכן ברוח הקדש שנא' (תהילים קמה) סומך ה' לכל הנופלים:

The gemara states that one who says ashrei three times a day is guaranteed a place in olam haBa. The gemara explains that this is because ashrei has two important features: 1) the first letter of each verse of ashrei forms an acrostic of the alef-bet; 2) it contains the verse, "poteach et yadecha" which expresses the idea that God provides us with our food (=or needs). There are other chapters of Tehillim that have these features but only ashrei has both.

I would like to take up two issues:

1) In the course of the gemara's discussion it says that the 119th chapter of Tehillim is superior to ashrei - in regards to the first mentioned feature - because each letter of the alef-bet is represented eight times (i.e., eight verses for alef, eight verse for bet, and so on).

Why would it be superior for each letter of the alef-bet to be repeated eight times? Even more importantly, what is the significance of a chapter of Tehillim forming an acrostic of the alef-bet?

2) Why would one be guaranteed a place in olam haBa for saying ashrei three times a day?

In Tehillim 106 it is written: "מי ימלל גבורות ה' ישמיע כל תהלתו" - "Who can relate the mighty deeds of G' - make known all of His praise?" This is one of the most basic principles of tefilla. There is a limit to how much we can praise G' for one simple reason: we are limited in our ability to know Him. I believe the use of the alef-bet acrostic expresses this idea. It is as if we are saying: "We have a limited tool with which to praise You, G': our speech. We will fully exhaust this capacity (by using all the letters) but, as we said, it is clearly limited, being composed of only twenty-two (chaser achat) letters."

So why is it better to repeat each letter eight times? If anything, it would seem to detract from the message of limitation. I believe the Meiri (and I think the Radak says almost the same thing1 - but I don't have access to it right now) expresses the point beautifully in his introduction to Tehillim 119. He states that he does not know what the intention of the eight-fold repetition is. However, he does offer an intriguing theory: because David HaMelech's overwhelming desire (to know G's ways/learn His Torah/serve Him) he hints at his desire to remove himself from all physical pursuits and to only involve himself in the physical in so far as it is necessary to sustain his soul; to subordinate all his physical powers to the service of G', as he indicates when he writes (Tehillim 119:10), "בְּכָל-לִבִּי דְרַשְׁתִּיךָ" - "With all my heart I seek you..." The Meiri explains how the number eight hints at this idea: the body has eight parts: the five sense; the vegetative soul; the desiring/sentient soul; the rational soul2. Now we can see why the eight-fold repetition is superior. The alef-bet expresses our desire to fully exhaust our faculty of speech in the praise of G'. The eight-fold repetition of the alef-bet goes further - it expresses our desire to fully exhaust all of our faculties in the service of G'.

So why would one be guaranteed a place in olam haBa for saying ashrei three times a day. I think the significance of three times is clear: this is the number of tefillot we say each day, our most regular form of avoda. Ashrei expresses two of the most fundamental ideas in our Avodat Hashem: 1) the limitation of our ability to praise/know G' - expressed in the alef-bet acrostic; 2) our absolute dependence on Him - expressed in the verse "poteach et yadecha". It is reasonable to say that one who truly inculcates these ideas (stating them is simple) in their Avodat Hashem is guaranteed a place in olam haBa.


1 In the הוצאת מקיצי נרדמים of the Meiri on Tehillim, Yehuda Paris mentions in his notes (he references אגרות שד"ל p. 537 - I do not have a copy of this book), that are printed after the פירוש, that much of the material in the Meiri's commentary was taken from the Radak's long commentary on Tehillim.

2 I find it strange that the Meiri and other m'farshim struggled to find the meaning of the number eight. We have many examples throughout the Torah of eight: milah; the eighth day of/after the miluim; sh'mini atzeret. - R' Leibtag discusses the significance of this number in this shiur. He says, "Thus, the eighth day represents yet one more level of progression in the creation process, which first took place in seven days. [This is what the Maharal calls "m'al ha'teva" - above nature!]" I, בע"ד, would suggest that the eighth day (or an eight-fold repetition) signifies man's role within the Creation - how man acts, or even improves upon, this creation. This explanation would do away with the necessity to count the parts of our body. It seems the Meiri and other m'farshim found eight problematic because it is not a "natural" number like seven and ten (עיין שם).