Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Presumptions about Prophets

The following are just a few points on my method of teaching Navi (my focus is mainly on Neviim Rishonim). As you will see this method is closely connected to what I believe to be the purpose of Navi. These are my thoughts in the raw. Hopefully, they will encourage a good discussion.

1) Navi is fundamentally about failure. Specifically, B'nei Yisrael and its leaders' failure to fully implement the mitzvot of the Torah. The 'sins of our fathers' will forever be revisited upon us if we do not subject their deeds to scrutiny - and this, of course, is of no use if this does not spur us on to scrutinizing our own deeds. To this end, when learning Navi it is critical to clearly formulate the mitzvah with which the Navi is concerned (be it used in the general sense of all mitzvot or a particular mitzvah or class of mitzvot)

2) 'Maaseh avot siman labanim' - 'the deeds of the Fathers are signs for the sons' - many (or perhaps all) of the struggles that B'nei Yisrael go through in trying to establish their nation can already be seen in the lives of the Patriarchs. This is because the Patriarchs were dealing with fundamentally the same issue: how to strike a balance between the development of one's own soul and one's duty to family and nation. The struggle of Yaakov/Yisrael is the the struggle of all of his children. This means it is critical to compare, contrast and connect the two to uncover the message of the Navi.

3) The Navi's focus is mainly on the challenges of malkhut - kingship. This means that in order to learn the message of the Navi we must also learn how to relate to the king and his struggles. The kings struggles are, to a certain degree, like our own just amplified. However, there are unique challenges the king faces which we must come to know through the medium of the narrative.

4) Each book of the Navi is just that: a book. How we understand each part must be informed by the whole. Could one attend a class or lecture on a particular chapter of 1984 without having read the entire book and expect to gain very much? Why would one think Navi is any less worthy of such expectations? Even as one seeks to give order and reason to the apparent vagaries of this or that story one must not forget that one is reading a book. Often the puzzle is solved by remembering this.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ralbag's Preliminary Remarks on Sefer B'reishit

The following is a translation of the first two paragraphs of the Ralbag's preliminary remarks on Sefer B'reishit. Clearly this is fundamental to understanding B'reishit in general and the Ralbag's commentary in specific. Please feel free to ask for clarifications in the comments section.

Levi the son of Gershom says:

It is clearly evident to anyone who has seen the opinions of the people who lived at the time of Moshe our Master, peace be upon him, that in his days philosophy was greatly lacking. The majority of people did not admit to there being any other existence other than that which is sensed. And they had no sense of the formal cause whatsoever. Instead they thought that only a single 'matter' existed in actuality in every thing that exists. Some were of the view that what distinguishes one existence from another is only the condition of the parts of their 'matter' and in their appearance and the increase or decrease in the quantity of those parts. Some saw other reasons for change based on their individual perspectives. What the majority of people had in common at that time was that they did not see that there is an 'agent -cause'. Rather, they said that things exist spontaneously, without any 'agent-cause'. This is clear from what the Philosopher (Aristotle) cites of the opinions of the ancients in the second book of the Metaphysics.

Being that this was the case, and the intention of the Torah is to bring those who follow it to true perfection, as we mentioned, it is fitting that it should first establish for us as a foundation the true principle that there is an Agent-cause of all existing things and set us on the existence of the formal cause because without this principle there can be no gain whatsoever in the perfection of the soul. This is clear to anyone who has investigated the science of the existing things.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

David Withdraws

(שמואל ב, יא)
א וַיְהִי לִתְשׁוּבַת הַשָּׁנָה לְעֵת צֵאת הַמְּלָאכִים, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד אֶת-יוֹאָב וְאֶת-עֲבָדָיו עִמּוֹ וְאֶת-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּשְׁחִתוּ אֶת-בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן, וַיָּצֻרוּ, עַל-רַבָּה; וְדָוִד, יוֹשֵׁב בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. ס

ב וַיְהִי לְעֵת הָעֶרֶב, וַיָּקָם דָּוִד מֵעַל מִשְׁכָּבוֹ וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ עַל-גַּג בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ

(Shmuel II, 11)
1. And it was, at the return of the year, at the time of the going out of kings [to battle], and David sent Yoav and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed in Jerusalem.

2. And it came to pass, at the time of evening, that David arose from his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house...

David remains home - at the time the kings sally-forth David withdraws. What has happened? What precipitates this sudden shift in David? The great warrior stays home as his troops lay siege to Rabba-of-the-Children-of-Ammon?

David awakes from his bed - what is bothering him? What stirs him from his sleep?

What makes this war different? Let us see how the war with the children of Ammon began.

(פרק י)
א וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו. ב וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן. ג וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׂרֵי בְנֵי-עַמּוֹן אֶל-חָנוּן אֲדֹנֵיהֶם, הַמְכַבֵּד דָּוִד אֶת-אָבִיךָ בְּעֵינֶיךָ--כִּי-שָׁלַח לְךָ, מְנַחֲמִים; הֲלוֹא בַּעֲבוּר חֲקֹר אֶת-הָעִיר, וּלְרַגְּלָהּ וּלְהָפְכָהּ, שָׁלַח דָּוִד אֶת-עֲבָדָיו, אֵלֶיךָ. ד וַיִּקַּח חָנוּן אֶת-עַבְדֵי דָוִד, וַיְגַלַּח אֶת-חֲצִי זְקָנָם, וַיִּכְרֹת אֶת-מַדְוֵיהֶם בַּחֵצִי, עַד שְׁתוֹתֵיהֶם; וַיְשַׁלְּחֵם. ה וַיַּגִּדוּ לְדָוִד וַיִּשְׁלַח לִקְרָאתָם, כִּי-הָיוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים נִכְלָמִים מְאֹד; וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁבוּ בִירֵחוֹ, עַד-יְצַמַּח זְקַנְכֶם וְשַׁבְתֶּם. ו וַיִּרְאוּ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן, כִּי נִבְאֲשׁוּ בְּדָוִד; וַיִּשְׁלְחוּ בְנֵי-עַמּוֹן וַיִּשְׂכְּרוּ אֶת-אֲרַם בֵּית-רְחוֹב וְאֶת-אֲרַם צוֹבָא, עֶשְׂרִים אֶלֶף רַגְלִי, וְאֶת-מֶלֶךְ מַעֲכָה אֶלֶף אִישׁ, וְאִישׁ טוֹב שְׁנֵים-עָשָׂר אֶלֶף אִישׁ. ז וַיִּשְׁמַע, דָּוִד; וַיִּשְׁלַח, אֶת-יוֹאָב, וְאֵת כָּל-הַצָּבָא, הַגִּבֹּרִים.
(Chapter 10)
1. And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. 2. And David said: "I shall show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, just as his father showed me kindness. And David sent to comfort him through his servants, for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon. 3. And the princes of the children of Ammon said to Hanun their lord: "Do you think that David honors your father that he sent you comforters? Is it not in order to investigate the city and to spy it out, and to search it that David has sent his servants to you?" 4. And Hanun took David's servants and he shaved off a half of their beards, and he cut off their garments in half up to their buttocks, and he sent them away. 5. And they told it to David; and he sent to meet them; for the men were very much ashamed. And the king said: 'Remain seated in Jericho until your beards grow, and then you shall return.' 6. And the children of Ammon saw that they had become odious to David; and the children of Ammon sent and hired [of] the Arameans of Beth-rehob, and the Arameans of Zobah, twenty thousand footsoldiers, and [of] the king of Maacah, a thousand men, and [of] Ish-tov, twelve thousand men. 7. And David heard [of it], and he sent Joab, and the entire host of the mighty warriors.

David wished to do chesed with Chanun the son of Nachash just as his father had done kindness with him - no where in Tanakh does it record what chesed Nachash did for David. We can only surmise that when David was on the run from Shaul he found refuge for either himself or his family with Nachash. However, this is troubling. Nachash is one of the greatest enemies of Israel (read Shmuel I, 11)! In fact, it was Shaul's triumphant defeat of Nachash's army that consolidated his reign over Israel. Any help he gave David can only be viewed as an implementation of the principle: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Additionally, there is a deep irony in describing Nachash - in the first mention of him since the aftermath of his defeat in Shmuel I - as doing chesed? Isn't he the one that said to the inhabitants of Yavesh-Gilad, "On this (condition) will I make a treaty with you, by gouging out the right eye of every one of you, and I shall make it a reproach against all Israel. " (Shmuel I, 11:2)? What is David doing? The folly of David's international dealings quickly becomes apparent as Chanun responds with anything but gratitude and provokes (or, is convinced he has provoked and then actually provokes) a full-scale war.

Additionally, it must be considered whether David transgressed a prohibition from the Torah through his actions. We have already quoted the Radak in the previous post who cites the chazal that David had transgressed the prohibition of "לֹא-תִדְרֹשׁ שְׁלֹמָם, וְטֹבָתָם - Do not seek their welfare (peace) or their good" (D'varim 23:7). In the 6th chapter of Hilkhot M'lakhim uMilchamot the Rambam discusses this prohibition in the context of Israel's obligation to seek peace before going to war with its enemies. The exception (based on this verse) is Ammon and Moav with whom it is forbidden to seek peace. If we are to maintain the Rambam's explanation of this prohibition we must say that Chazal viewed David's chesed as an overture of peace[1].

Another framework for understanding David's misstep is the prohibition of "לֹא תְחָנֵּם - Do not be gracious to them (idolaters)" (D'varim 7:2). In the 10th chapter of Hilkhot Avoda Zara, the Rambam discusses this prohibitions. The following halakha is highly instructive for our investigation:

וְכֵן אָסוּר לְסַפַּר בִּשְׁבָחָן, וְאַפִלּוּ לוֹמַר כַּמָּה נָאֶה גּוֹי זֶה בְּצוּרָתוֹ; קַל וְחֹמֶר שֶׁיְּסַפַּר בִּשְׁבָח מַעֲשָׂיו, אוֹ שֶׁיְּחַבַּב דָּבָר מִדִּבְרֵיהֶם: שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "וְלֹא תְחָנֵּם" (דברים ז,ב)--לֹא יִהְיֶה לָהֶם חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁגּוֹרֵם לְהִדָּבֵק עִמּוֹ וְלִלְמֹד מִמַּעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִים.
And similarly it is forbidden to relate their (idolaters') praises, even to say, "How beautiful is this gentile in his appearance!". All the more so to relate the praise of his deeds, or to hold precious any thing they say, as it says, "Do not be gracious to them", they should hold no grace in your eyes, because this causes one to cleave to him and to learn from his evil deeds.

Did Ammon hold some grace in David's eyes? Why would this be? Why now? The first verse of chapter 10: " וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן - And it came to pass after this...", suggests we must look back one more chapter to the story of David's chesed with Mephiboshet the son of Yehonatan the son of Shaul for an answer. However, an analysis of that story must wait until the next post.
[1] The Rambam writes, "וְאַף עַל פִּי שְׁאֵין שׁוֹאֲלִים בִּשְׁלוֹמָם, אִם הִשְׁלִימוּ מֵעַצְמָם תְּחִלָּה, מְקַבְּלִין אוֹתָן. - And even though we do not ask/seek peace with them, if they initiate peace of their own accord, we accept them." - perhaps David thought that Nachash's chesed was the initiation he required.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

David's Mistakes?

The following are a number of source that I touch upon in the two shiurim that I have given so far on this topic. They can be hear here:

Source #1
The Ralbag points to David's chesed with Mephiboshet (chapter 9) and Hanun (chapter 10) as examples of the mishpat and tz'daka that he administered to his people:

רלב"ג שמואל ב, מן התועליות אחר פרק כא
השלשים ותשעה הוא להודיע יושר דוד שכבר היה עושה משפט וצדקה לכל עמו לא היה מעלים עינו מאחד מהם כי זאת התכונה ראוי שתהיה למלך הגון וראוי לזאת הסבה זכר גם כן שכבר חרד דוד אם נותר איש לבית שאול ויעשה לו חסד ה' בעבור יהונתן ולזה גם כן ספר שגם לחנון בן נחש השתדל דוד לעשות חסד להשיב לו גמול תחת החסד שגמל לו אביו:
Ralbag, Shmuel II, from the "Lessons" found after chapter 21
The thirty-ninth (lesson) is to make known David's righteousness, that he "administered justice (mishpat) and charity (tz'daka) for all his people". He did not lift his eye from a single individual as this is the character befitting a proper king. For this reason it was proper to also mention that David worried himself over whether anyone was left from the house of Saul so that the chesed of God could be done for him for the sake of Jonathan. This is also why it tells that David also sought to do chesed with Hanun the son of Nahash in order to repay the chesed his father did for him.
Source #2
In the following source the Ralbag, interestingly, identifies the source of the problems David begins to face later with Avshalom, Amnon and Adoniyahu as the fact that he gave them positions of authority during his life time. I find this surprising because nearly all of those events are the result (either as natural consequence or as Divine punishment) of his sin with BatSheva as the Ralbag himself explains in his 43rd toelet.
המ' הוא להודיע שאין ראוי לאדם שיתן ממשלה לבניו בחייו הלא תראה מה שקרה לדוד מהרע מפני מה שעשה בניו שרים כי לולי זה לא היה חוטא אמנון עם אחותו ולא מרד אבשלום בו ולא קרה לאדניהו מה שקרה וזה מבואר מאד:
The fortieth (lesson) is to make known that it is not fitting for a person to give positions of authority to his sons during his life. Is it not evident that the evil that befell David was because he placed his sons in positions of authority? If it were not for this Amnon would not have sinned with his sister, Avshalom would not have rebelled, and what happened to Adoniyahu would not have happened. This is all very clear.

Source #3
In the following source it is, once again, interesting that the Ralbag does not identify any wrong doing in David seeking to do chesed with the son of one of the greatest enemies of Israel.
המ"א הוא להודיע איך עמקו מחשבות הש"י ששם עשות דוד חסד לחנון בן נחש כלי להשחי' בני עמון ועזריהם כי זה היה סבה אל שילקח חנון עבדי דוד וביישם ובזם בתכלית מה שאפשר והם בעצמם היו סבה להדיח על עצמם הרעה לחשבם כי נבאשו בדוד:
The forty-first is to make known the depth of God's "thoughts". He devised that the chesed David did for Hanun the son of Nahash would become an instrument to destroy the Children of Amon and their allies. It became the very cause of Hanun taking David's servants and embarrassing and shaming them to the most extreme degree. They themselves became the cause of the evil that befell them - for they thought "they had become odious to David" (Sh'muel II, 10:6).

Source #4
The Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) cites two midrashim that point to the folly of David's choice to do chesed with Hanun.

רד"ק שמואל ב פרק י, פסוק ב
כאשר עשה אביו עמדי חסד - אמרו כי כשהיה בורח דוד ובאו אליו אביו ואמו ואחיו ואמר וינחם את פני מלך מואב הרגם מלך מואב אחר שהיו עמו חוץ מאח' מהם שברח לארץ בני עמון והחיהו נחש מלך בני עמון, ובדרש עוד לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם אתה מוצא במי שבא אליהם במדת רחמים סוף בא לידי בזיון ואיזה זה שנאמ' אעשה חסד עם חנון וגו' סוף בא לידי בזיון ויקח חנון את עבדי דודי וגו' ונצטרך להלחם עם ארבע אומות בני עמון וארם צובא ואיש טוב ומלך מעכה מי גרם לו לדוד כל זה שבקש לעשות טובה עם מי שאמר הקב"ה לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם אמר לו הקב"ה לדוד אתה עובר על תורתי אני כתבתי לא תדרוש שלומם וטובתם ואתה עושה עמהם חסד אל תהי צדיק הרבה מכאן שלא יהא אדם מוותר על התורה:
Commentary of Rabbi David Kimchi, Sh'muel II, 10:2
just as his father showed me kindness they said (B'midbar Rabba 14, 1), that when David ran away and his father, mother and brothers came to him, and it says (Sh'muel I, 22:4), "And he brought them before the king of Moab". The king of Moab killed them once they were with him except for one of them that escaped to the land of the Children of Amon, and Nahash the king of the Children of Amon kept him alive.

In another d'rash (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinchas 3) "Do not seek their welfare or their good." (D'varim 23:7), you find that one who comes to them in kindness will ultimately be disgraced. What is the actual case? As it says (Sh'muel II, 10:2), "I shall do chesed to Hanun..." and ultimately he came to disgrace: "And Hanun took the servants of David..." (v. 4) causing him to have to go to war with four nations, the Children of Amon, Aram Tzovah, Ish Tov and King Ma'akha. What caused all of this to befall David? He sought to do good with one whom the Holy One, blessed is He said, "Do not seek their welfare or their good." The Holy One, blessed is He said to David, "You go beyond my Torah! I wrote, "Do not seek their welfare or their good", and you do chesed with them! "Do not be overly righteous." (Koheleth 7:16), from here we learn that one should not put aside the Torah.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

David's Chesed

At the end of the eighth chapter of Shmuel II, David seems to have reached the peek of his reign:

טו וַיִּמְלֹךְ דָּוִד, עַל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיְהִי דָוִד, עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה--לְכָל-עַמּוֹ. טז וְיוֹאָב בֶּן-צְרוּיָה, עַל-הַצָּבָא; וִיהוֹשָׁפָט בֶּן-אֲחִילוּד, מַזְכִּיר. יז וְצָדוֹק בֶּן-אֲחִיטוּב וַאֲחִימֶלֶךְ בֶּן-אֶבְיָתָר, כֹּהֲנִים; וּשְׂרָיָה, סוֹפֵר. יח וּבְנָיָהוּ, בֶּן-יְהוֹיָדָע, וְהַכְּרֵתִי, וְהַפְּלֵתִי; וּבְנֵי דָוִד, כֹּהֲנִים הָיוּ.
15. And David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and charity for all his people. 16. And Joab the son of Zeruyah was over the host; and Yehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder. 17. And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Ebiathar were [the] priests; and Seraiah was scribe. 18. And Benayahu the son of Yehoyada [was over] the archers and the slingers; and David's sons were chief officers.

At the beginning of each of the next two chapters David is described as seeking to do chesed with two individuals:

The beginning of chapter 9:

א וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד--הֲכִי יֶשׁ-עוֹד, אֲשֶׁר נוֹתַר לְבֵית שָׁאוּל; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה עִמּוֹ חֶסֶד, בַּעֲבוּר יְהוֹנָתָן.
1. And David said: "Is there yet anyone who is left of the house of Saul, that I may do chesed to him for the sake of Jonathan?"

The beginning of chapter 10:

א וַיְהִי, אַחֲרֵי-כֵן, וַיָּמָת, מֶלֶךְ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן; וַיִּמְלֹךְ חָנוּן בְּנוֹ, תַּחְתָּיו. ב וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶעֱשֶׂה-חֶסֶד עִם-חָנוּן בֶּן-נָחָשׁ, כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אָבִיו עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד, וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד לְנַחֲמוֹ בְּיַד-עֲבָדָיו, אֶל-אָבִיו; וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי דָוִד, אֶרֶץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.
1. And it came to pass after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. 2. And David said: "I shall do chesed to Hanun the son of Nahash, just as his father showed me kindness. And David sent to comfort him through his servants, for his father. And David's servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.

Now consider this quote from the Rambam's Commentary on the Mishna:

רמב"ם, פירוש המשניות, פרקי אבות ה, ו
וחסיד, הוא האיש החכם כאשר יוסיף במעלה, רצוני לומר: במעלות המידות, עד שייטה אל הקצה האחד מעט, כמו שבארנו בפרק הרביעי, ויהיה מעשהו רב מחכמתו, ולזה נקרא חסיד, להוספתו, לפי שההפלגה בדבר תיקרא חסד, בין שהיתה אותה ההפלגה בטוב או ברע.
Rambam, Commentary on the Mishna, Pirkei Avot 5, 6
A chasid is a chakham (wise individual) who has increased in virtue - meaning to say: ethical virtues - such that he leans to some degree to one side, as we explained in the Fourth Chapter (of the eight introductory chapters to Pirkei Avot). His actions go beyond his wisdom and so he is called a chasid due to an excess - any kind of profusion being called chesed whether this profusion is for good or bad.

Was David's chesed an excess for good or was it an excess for bad? Consider this question while re-reading the rest of chapters 9 and 10.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Abstract Thought

Today my students were very upset about having assigned seats during lunchtime. After lunch they came to my class and were expressing their frustrations. I told them that we could discuss their feelings but we would have to conduct ourselves intelligently. I went around to each student and gave each one equal time to express his complaints. With a little bit of guidance each student got to speak a few times. The next step was to do some constructive criticism – I told them that I wanted to help them learn how to formulate arguments that the administration would listen to and not view as childish complaints. They agreed that this was a good idea. I then asked them if we could take a step back and take a moment to think about the topic of teshuva in eating for two or three minutes and I gave a few examples of where the halakha helps one improve the habits of eating. They found it close to impossible to break out of their emotional rut and think about that topic – every time they tried they would quickly go back to their complaints about their lunch experience. I stressed to them how important it was to be able to think clearly about the topic to be able to “enter council” but they couldn't do it – I obviously did not push the matter. They were, in the end, happy that I gave them time to air their complaints but my attempt to get them to think abstractly failed. Perhaps they are too young for this, or perhaps the feelings were too intense at that moment.

I am telling this story to illustrate the dual meaning of “abstract thought”. Abstract thought is, of course, thought about “abstract objects”, as opposed to sensible particulars - for example, geometry, mathematics, physics, etc. “Abstract thought” also refers to the ability to “abstract” oneself from one's feeling about a topic and think about it objectively. This is the kind of thought that is crucial for a judge who must “abstract” himself from the passionate pleas of the defendant and charges of the accuser in order to render a just verdict.

הִלְכּוֹת יְסוֹדֵי הַתּוֹרָה פֵּרֶק ד
נֶפֶשׁ כָּל בָּשָׂר, הִיא צוּרָתוֹ שֶׁנָּתַן לוֹ הָאֵל. וְהַדַּעַת הַיְּתֵרָה הַמְּצוּיָה בְּנַפְשׁוֹ שֶׁלָּאָדָם, הִיא צוּרַת הָאָדָם הַשָּׁלֵם בְּדַעְתּוֹ; וְעַל צוּרָה זוֹ נֶאֱמָר בַּתּוֹרָה "נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ" (בראשית א,כו), כְּלוֹמַר שֶׁתִּהְיֶה לוֹ צוּרָה הַיּוֹדַעַת וּמַשֶּׂגֶת הַדֵּעוֹת שְׁאֵין לָהֶם גֹּלֶם, עַד שֶׁיִּדָּמֶה לָהֶן. וְאֵינוּ אוֹמֵר עַל צוּרָה זוֹ הַנִּכֶּרֶת לָעֵינַיִם, שְׁהִיא הַפֶּה וְהַחֹטֶם וְהַלְּסָתוֹת וּשְׁאָר רֹשֶׁם הַגּוּף, שֶׁזּוֹ תֹּאַר שְׁמָהּ

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Love Work

This is my first post in a long time. I hope to make more posts more often in the future. Most of these posts will be meant to encourage discussion and will not be carefully edited - as is the case with most of our thoughts.

Clearly one's profession can not be thought of as purely a means. This is the surest path to depression. We spend the majority of our time working and we should want to find satisfaction in our chosen profession. The Rabbis go even further. They say that one should actually “love work.”

שמעיה אומר, אהוב את המלאכה, ושנוא את הרבנות; ואל תתוודע לרשות. (אבות א, י)

Shemayah said: Love work; hate dominion; and seek not undue intimacy with the government. (Avot 1, 10)

Why should one love work? Certainly one should find satisfaction in their work and take pride in it but why love? Additionally, why should one hate positions of authority?

Work is humbling. The need to toil with one's own hands to eek out a living intimately connects one to the larger systems necessary for success. The laborer knows and is humbled by the physical exertion of work – it's clear to him that it is not easy to make a living. The professional knows the intense training and knowledge needed for his area of expertise. Both should realize how many factors go into success - how many systems must be in place, from natural to human; how many people are involved; how many raw materials are needed; that there is no product necessary for society that is not part of some vastly larger system of production. However, the professional, though his work in general demands less physical exertion, is in a better position to have this realization because his success depends on the knowledge of these larger systems. And yet, this is precisely where the danger lies – seeing and understanding these larger systems can either humble one to the vast systems that are beyond one's control or be seen as an instrument to gain dominion over one's fellow man. This is what Shemaya warns us: “Love work; hate dominion...”.

Seeking dominion is a sign of vice. The one with the more powerful understanding of the systems of production will, in general, be promoted. This is only natural and is predicted by the laws of supply and demand – the greater the expertise the greater the scarcity and hence the demand. One need not seek dominion – one need only seek to make the contribution he can to society. Dominion as an end will surely lead to corruption – authority as a result of knowledge is a sign of virtue.

Additionally, seeking dominion leads to jealousy and animosity. Commanding authority due to superior understanding of the systems of production does not because his contribution to society is clear. The Rambam explains this beautifully:

ואלו שלושת הציוויים יש בהם תיקון הדת והעולם, כי בהעדר מלאכה יצר מצבו ויגזול ויעשוק; ובבקשת השררה יבואו עליו נסיונות בעולם ורעות, כי יקנאו בו ויאיבוהו, ויפסיד דתו, כמו שאמרו: "כיון שנתמנה אדם מלמטה - נעשה רשע מלמעלה"; וכן ההיוודעות לשלטון, הבטחון ממנה בעולם הזה רחוק, והיא מפסידה הדת, כי לא ישגיח אלא במה שיקרבהו אליו. ואתה יודע סיפור דואג. זאת, והמלך אשר התקרב אליו משיח ה' ובחיר ה' ונביא. (רמב"ם, פירוש המשניות)

These three commands are fundamental to the improvement of the social order and the world at large. Without work people's condition deteriorates and they steal and act corruptly. Seeking dominion causes many trials and tribulations in the world – it causes jealousy and animosity and corrupts the social order, as they say, “As a person gains rank below he becomes evil above.” Similarly, gaining intimacy with the government is unlikely to give one any real security and one who seeks it ultimately corrupts the social order because he only cares about what will endear him to it. (Rambam, Commentary on the Mishna)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Sound of Joy

The Rambam discusses the idea of the kos chamishi, the fifth cup, in the eighth chapter of Hilkhot Chametz uMatza.

ואחר כך נוטל ידיו, ומברך ברכת המזון על כוס שלישי, ושותהו. ואחר כך מוזג כוס רביעי, וגומר עליו את ההלל; ואומר עליו ברכת השיר, והיא "יְהַלְלוּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ כָּל מַעֲשֶׂיך . . . " ואינו טועם אחר כך כלום, כל הלילה--חוץ מן המים. ויש לו למזוג כוס חמישי, ולומר עליו הלל הגדול--והוא מ"הודו לה', כי טוב" (תהילים קלו,א), עד "על נהרות, בבל" (תהילים קלז,א); וכוס זה אינו חובה, כמו ארבע הכוסות. ויש לו לגמור את ההלל בכל מקום שירצה, אף על פי שאינו מקום סעודה.

And afterward he washes his hands and says birkat haMazon on the third cup and drinks it. And afterward he pours the fourth cup and completes upon it the hallel - and he says birkat haShir on it, which is, "They shall proclaim Your praise, Hashem, our God - all Your works...", and he may not taste anything else the rest of the night -- except for water. He may pour a fifth cup, and say on it hallel haGadol, the Great Praise, which is from, "Give thanks to Hashem for He is good", until, "By the rivers of Babylon" [meaning, all of Tehillim 136]. This cup is not a requirement like the four cups. He may complete the hallel wherever he so chooses, even if it is not the place of the meal.

For a more detailed background on this sugya I recommend this article written by Rav Ezra Bick and Rav Yair Kahn. I would like to offer an interpretation of the purpose of the optional fifth cup.

The Rambam explains the purpose of the four cups in the seventh chapter of Hilkhot Chametz uMatza:

ח [ו] בכל דור ודור, חייב אדם להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא בעצמו יצא עתה משיעבוד מצריים, שנאמר "ואותנו, הוציא משם . . ." (דברים ו,כג). ועל דבר זה ציווה בתורה, "וזכרת, כי עבד היית" (דברים ה,יד; דברים טו,טו; דברים טז,יב; דברים כד,יח; דברים כד,כב), כלומר כאילו אתה בעצמך היית עבד, ויצאת לחירות ונפדית.

ט [ז] לפיכך כשסועד אדם בלילה הזה, צריך לאכול ולשתות והוא מסב דרך חירות. וכל אחד ואחד, בין אנשים בין נשים, חייב לשתות בלילה הזה, ארבעה כוסות של יין--אין פחות מהן; ואפילו עני המתפרנס מן הצדקה, לא יפחתו לו מארבעה כוסות: שיעור כל כוס מהן, רביעית.

In every generation I man is obligated to present himself as if he himself went out at that moment from the bondage of Egypt, as it says, "and us - He took out from there..."(D'varim 6:23). And concerning this matter the Torah commands, "And remember, that you were a slave" (D'varim 5:14; 15:15; 16:12; 24:18; 24:22), meaning, it is as if you yourself were a slave and you went out to freedom and were redeemed.

Therefore, when a person dines on this night, he needs to eat and drink while he is reclining in the way of freedom. And every single person, male and femal, is obligated to drink on this night, four cups of wine, no less; and even a poor person who is supported by charity, they should not give him less than four cups. The required quantity of each cup is a reviit.

Drinking the four cups is a fulfillment of the obligation to view oneself as having experienced the redemption. The goal of the Seder is to behold God as גאל ישראל, the Redeemer of Israel. To do this we must ourselves feel redeemed. We say hallel to demonstrate that we have experienced redemption.

In "The Joy of My Heart", I wrote the following concerning the general topic of Sefer Z'manim:

The choice of "נָחַלְתִּי עֵדְו‍ֹתֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם: כִּי-שְׂשׂוֹן לִבִּי הֵמָּה." to crown Sefer Z'manim is perfect. It both captures the joyous spirit of the yamim tovim and the sorrow of the ששון, joy, not yet attained because (Eikha 5:2) " נַחֲלָתֵנוּ נֶהֶפְכָה לְזָרִים, בָּתֵּינוּ לְנָכְרִים. " - " Our heritage has been turned over to strangers, our houses to aliens. ".

This lack is beautifully expressed in the b'rakha we say on the completion of Magid:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר גְּאָלָנוּ וְגָאַל אֶת אֲבוֹתֵינוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם, וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לַלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה לֶאֱכֹל בּוֹ מַצָּה וּמְרוֹרִים. כֵּן יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, יַגִּיעֵנוּ לְמוֹעֲדִים וְלִרְגָלִים אֲחֵרִים הַבָּאִים לִקְרָאתֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם, שְׂמֵחִים בְּבִנְיַן עִירָךְ וְשָׂשִׂים בַּעֲבוֹדָתָךְ, וְנֹאכַל שָׁם מִן הַזְּבָחִים וּמִן הַפְּסָחִים שֶׁיַּגִּיעַ דָּמָם עַל קִיר מִזְבְּחָךְ לְרָצוֹן, וְנוֹדֶה לְךָ שִׁיר חָדָשׁ עַל גְּאֻלָּתֵנוּ וְעַל פְּדוּת נַפְשֵׁנוּ. בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה, גּוֹאֵל יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Blessed are you Hashem our God King of the Universe, who redeemed us and redeemed our forefathers from Egypt, and enabled us to reach this night to eat matza and marror. So Hashem our God and the God of our forefathers should enable us to reach other convocations and festivals that are coming to greet us in peace, happy in the building of Your city and sasim, joyful in your service, and we shall eat there from the sacrifices and from the paschal offering that their blood should reach the wall of Your altar for favor, and we shall give thanks to You a new song for our redemption and on the saving of our souls. Blessed are you Hashem, Redeemer of Israel.

The lack of the ultimate redemption holds us back from being able to give the highest praise. However, this limitation is not absolute. The seder night can be so revelatory to an individual that he is able to experience the true sasson of the festival. The fifth cup represents the possibility of a personal redemption that transcends the limitations of being in exile. The hallel haGadol said on the fifth cup is none other than the kol sasson of the y'mot haMashiach, the Messianic times:

Yirmiyahu 33:

י כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, עוֹד יִשָּׁמַע בַּמָּקוֹם-הַזֶּה, אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם אֹמְרִים, חָרֵב הוּא מֵאֵין אָדָם וּמֵאֵין בְּהֵמָה--בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה, וּבְחֻצוֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַם, הַנְשַׁמּוֹת מֵאֵין אָדָם וּמֵאֵין יוֹשֵׁב, וּמֵאֵין בְּהֵמָה. יא קוֹל שָׂשׂוֹן וְקוֹל שִׂמְחָה, קוֹל חָתָן וְקוֹל כַּלָּה, קוֹל אֹמְרִים הוֹדוּ אֶת-יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת כִּי-טוֹב יְהוָה כִּי-לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ, מְבִאִים תּוֹדָה בֵּית יְהוָה: כִּי-אָשִׁיב אֶת-שְׁבוּת-הָאָרֶץ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָה, אָמַר יְהוָה. {ס}

10. So said the Lord: There shall again be heard in this place, concerning which you say, "It is desolate without man and without beast," in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate without a man and without an inhabitant and without a beast, 11. the sound of mirth and the sound of joy, the voice of a bridegroom and the voice of a bride, the sound of those saying, "Thank the Lord of Hosts, for the Lord is good, for His loving-kindness endures forever," bringing a thanksgiving offering to the House of the Lord, for I will restore the captivity of the land as at first, said the Lord.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Speaking of Great Things

שִׁמְעוּ, כִּי-נְגִידִים אֲדַבֵּר; וּמִפְתַּח שְׂפָתַי, מֵישָׁרִים. (משלי ח:ו)

Listen, for I will speak noble things, and the opening of my lips shall be right things. (Mishlei 8:6)

Concerning the ba'al lashon hara, the slanderer, David HaMelekh writes in Tehillim 12:

ד יַכְרֵת יְהוָה, כָּל-שִׂפְתֵי חֲלָקוֹת-- לָשׁוֹן, מְדַבֶּרֶת גְּדֹלוֹת.
ה אֲשֶׁר אָמְרוּ, לִלְשֹׁנֵנוּ נַגְבִּיר--שְׂפָתֵינוּ אִתָּנוּ: מִי אָדוֹן לָנוּ.

4. May God cut off all smooth lips, the tongue that speaks great things.

5. Who said, "With our tongue we will overpower; our lips are with us. Who is lord over us?"

The ba'al lashon hara is dangerous because he thinks that he speaks of 'great things'. He seeks to gain power and prominence by denigrating his fellow. He raises himself up by bringing others down. If he recognized the true majesty and dominion of God he could not be so glib and unconstrained. One who truly recognizes God's sovereignty would surely think it delusional to seek power. This is why the Rabbis say that the one who speaks lashon hara it is, "כאילו כפר בעיקר", as if he denies the most fundamental principle of the Torah: God's existence.

Lashon hara, slanderous speech, can be used as a lens with which we can focus on the mitzva of Sippur Y'tziat Mitzrayim. First of all, both are described as a kind of sippur. Sippur - normally translated: to tell a story, or to discuss - can not be so easily translated in these two cases. It does involve telling a story but in the sense that it takes in phrases like: "Now that's a story worth telling!" Both the m'sapeir (=one who tells a sippur) lashon hara, and the m'sapeir b'y'tziat Mitzrayim is motivated by greatness. While the m'sapeir lashon hara is motivated by the pursuit of his own pathetic greatness the m'sapeir b'y'tziat Mitzrayim is inspired by the greatness of God. The purpose of sippur y'tziat Mitzrayim is knowledge of God (Sh'mot 10):

א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, בֹּא אֶל-פַּרְעֹה: כִּי-אֲנִי הִכְבַּדְתִּי אֶת-לִבּוֹ, וְאֶת-לֵב עֲבָדָיו, לְמַעַן שִׁתִי אֹתֹתַי אֵלֶּה, בְּקִרְבּוֹ. ב וּלְמַעַן תְּסַפֵּר בְּאָזְנֵי בִנְךָ וּבֶן-בִּנְךָ, אֵת אֲשֶׁר הִתְעַלַּלְתִּי בְּמִצְרַיִם, וְאֶת-אֹתֹתַי, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בָם; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה.

1 God said to Moses, 'Come to Pharaoh, for I have made heavy his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I would be able to place these, My signs in his midst. 2 And in order that you tell it in the ears of your children and grandchildren how I made a mockery out of Egypt, and My signs that I placed on them. And you will know that I am God.'

The m'sapeir lashon hara also speaks of what he thinks are wondrous and great things as Rambam writes at the end of Hilkhot Tumat Tzara'at in which he discusses the root cause of tzara'at: lashon hara:

קל וחומר לבני אדם הרשעים הטיפשים, שמרבים לדבר גדולות ונפלאות; לפיכך ראוי למי שרצה לכוון אורחיו, להתרחק מישיבתן ומלדבר עימהן, כדי שלא ייתפס אדם, ברשת רשעים וסכלותם.

[Miriam was afflicted with tzaraat for saying a very limited form of lashon hara against her brother Moshe...] All the more so, evil, foolish people who say big and wondrous things at length; therefore it is proper for one who wants to properly align his path to distance himself from their dwelling places and from speaking with them so that he will not get caught up with them, in the web of the evil and their foolishness.

The m'sapeir b'y'tziat Mitzrayim speaks at length of the truly wondrous and truly great deeds of the Almighty (Hilkhot Chametz uMatza chapter 7):

מצות עשה של תורה לספר בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצריים

It is a positive commandment from the Torah to tell of the miracles and wonders that were done for our forefathers in Egypt.

וכל המאריך בדברים שאירעו ושהיו, הרי זה משובח

Anyone who expands upon the matters that happened and that were - this is praiseworthy.

There is another halakha concerning how one must tell the story of y'tziat Mitzrayim (Hilkhot Chametz uMatza, chapter 7):

וצריך להתחיל בגנות, ולסיים בשבח.

It is necessary to begin with denigration and end with praise.

The halakha demands that we do this in two ways:

כיצד: מתחיל ומספר שבתחילה היו אבותינו בימי תרח ומלפניו, כופרים וטועין אחרי ההבל ורודפין עבודה זרה; ומסיים בדת האמת, שקירבנו הקדוש ברוך הוא לה, והבדילנו מן התועים, וקירבנו לייחודו. וכן מתחיל ומודיע שעבדים היינו לפרעה במצריים, וכל הרעה שגמלונו; ומסיים בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לנו, ובחירותנו.

How [does one begin with denigration and end with praise]? Begin and tell that originally our forefathers in the days of Terach and before him were heretics and were swayed after vanity and chased after idolatry; and conclude with the true religion - that the Holy One Blessed is He brought us close to Him and separated us from the wayward and brought us close to His Unity.

And also, begin and inform that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and all the evil he caused us; and conclude with the miracles and wonders that were done for us and with our freedom.

What greater denigration can there be than being slaves and idolaters! The slanderer also denigrates, however, that is where it ends (Hilkhot Deot, chapter 7):

...הוא המספר בגנות חברו

...he tells of the scorn of his fellow

In contrast, speaking of the B'nei Yisrael's degradation is only a means to recognizing and praising God (Tehillim 113):

ז מְקִימִי מֵעָפָר דָּל; מֵאַשְׁפֹּת, יָרִים אֶבְיוֹן.
ח לְהוֹשִׁיבִי עִם-נְדִיבִים; עִם, נְדִיבֵי עַמּוֹ.
ט מוֹשִׁיבִי, עֲקֶרֶת הַבַּיִת-- אֵם-הַבָּנִים שְׂמֵחָה:

7. He lifts the pauper up from the dust, from the dungheap He raises up the needy,

8. To seat [him] with princes, with the princes of His people.

9. He seats the barren woman of the house as a happy mother of children. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Joy of My Heart...

This past Shabbat I gave a shiur on Rambam's Sefer Z'manim - the following is a brief overview.

Before each of the fourteen books of the Mishne Torah Rambam puts two verses. The first is always the same: (בשם ה', אל עולם (בראשית כא,לג, which gets across the message that ultimately every part of his work was written for the sake of God's name (ואכמ"ל). The second verse always serves to underscore the underlying theme of each book. The third book of the Mishne Torah, Sefer Z'manim, the Book of Times begins with the following verse from Tehillim (119:111):

נָחַלְתִּי עֵדְו‍ֹתֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם: כִּי-שְׂשׂוֹן לִבִּי הֵמָּה. (תהילים קיט,קיא).

I inherited your testimonials for all time, for they are the joy of my heart.

(or, Your testimonials became my eternal heritage, for they are the joy of my heart.)

Sefer Z'manim includes all of the mitzvot that occur in a known time, as the Rambam describes it in his introduction to the Mishne Torah. This is Rambam's list of the ten halakhic sections of this book:

הלכות שבת, הלכות עירובין, הלכות שביתת עשור, הלכות שביתת יום טוב, הלכות חמץ ומצה, הלכות שופר וסוכה ולולב, הלכות שקלים, הלכות קידוש החודש, הלכות תענייות, הלכות מגילה וחנוכה.

The verse from Tehillim seems mostly appropriate. After all, most of these halakhot are dealing with holidays and holidays should be joyous. However, as usual with Rambam, the waters get much deeper. ששון is not just another word for שמחה. In nearly every example of this word in Tanakh1 it is used to describe the opposite of mourning and despair - specifically, the mourning and despair that B'nei Yisrael feel over the loss of the Mikdash and their land (also called their נחלה, heritage). Rambam knew this - but, before I show how we know he knew this I want to make one general comment about the Mishne Torah.

To make the vast system of Torah Sh'ba'al Peh comprehensible the Mishne Torah had to be divided into separate books - each dealing with a separate topic. However, the Torah is really one way of life and everything is interconnected. Rambam shows this interconnectedness by providing bridges between the books. At the end of each book is a bridge to the next. At the end of Sefer Ahava Rambam appends the Seder HaTefilla and at the very end of the Seder he lists the seven haphtarot read on the seven Shabbatot between Tisha B'av and Rosh HaShana:

סג וכן נהגו רוב העם, להיות מפטירין בנחמות ישעיהו בן אמוץ, מאחר תשעה באב עד ראש השנה:

בשבת שאחר תשעה באב--"נחמו נחמו, עמי" (ישעיהו מ,א) עד "עלות, ינהל" (ישעיהו מ,יא);

בשנייה--"ותאמר ציון, עזבני ה'" (ישעיהו מט,יד) עד "וגואלך, אביר יעקוב" (ישעיהו מט,כו);

בשלישית--"ענייה סוערה" (ישעיהו נד,יא) עד "כי פיארך" (ישעיהו נה,ה);

ברביעית--"אנוכי אנוכי הוא, מנחמכם" (ישעיהו נא,יב) עד "שבייה בת-ציון" (ישעיהו נב,ב);

בחמישית--"רוני עקרה, לא ילדה" (ישעיהו נד,א) עד "גואלך, ה'" (ישעיהו נד,ח);

בשישית--"קומי אורי, כי בא אורך" (ישעיהו ס,א) עד "בעיתה אחישנה" (ישעיהו ס,כב);

בשביעית--"שוש אשיש בה'" (ישעיהו סא,י).

The first haphtora begins with the words "נחמו נחמו, עמי" - "Be comforted, be comforted my people..." - by the seventh Shabbat we have been sufficiently consoled to read, "שוש אשיש בה'" - "I shall rejoice with God...". Here is the text of the first two verses:

י שׂוֹשׂ אָשִׂישׂ בַּיהוָה, תָּגֵל נַפְשִׁי בֵּאלֹהַי--כִּי הִלְבִּישַׁנִי בִּגְדֵי-יֶשַׁע, מְעִיל צְדָקָה יְעָטָנִי: כֶּחָתָן יְכַהֵן פְּאֵר, וְכַכַּלָּה תַּעְדֶּה כֵלֶיהָ. יא כִּי כָאָרֶץ תּוֹצִיא צִמְחָהּ, וּכְגַנָּה זֵרוּעֶיהָ תַצְמִיחַ--כֵּן אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, יַצְמִיחַ צְדָקָה וּתְהִלָּה, נֶגֶד, כָּל-הַגּוֹיִם.

10. I will rejoice with the Lord; my soul shall exult with my God, for He has attired me with garments of salvation, with a robe of righteousness He has enwrapped me; like a bridegroom, who, priestlike, dons garments of glory, and like a bride, who adorns herself with her jewelry. 11. For, like the earth, which gives forth its plants, and like a garden that causes its seeds to grow, so shall the Lord God cause righteousness and praise to grow opposite all the nations.

Notice how for the first six haphtarot Rambam gives the beginning and ending of each but for the seventh he only gives the beginning. I think the reason is clear: he is building a bridge to Sefer Z'manim. This is not merely a linguistic segue - he is preparing us for a nuanced reading of the pasuk from Tehillim. ששון is not just happiness but exultation - the kind of happiness which is felt after being saved from the depths of ruin and despair. The neviim often compare this to the joy of the groom over his bride on their wedding day - a transformative moment which one can point to and say, "there was everything before and everything after". This makes perfect sense. The עדות, the testimonials, commemorate events that mark the redemption and salvation of B'nei Yisrael - we should not just feel happy on such days but exultation. A slave freed from bondage is not merely happy - he exults in his new life!

However, the waters get deeper still. The mention of ששון can not help but bring to mind its contrary. The neviim speak of ששון almost exclusively in their נחמות, their words of consolation and comfort to a nation bereaved of its נחלה, its heritage. Take, for example, the words of Yishayahu (61)

א רוּחַ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, עָלָי--יַעַן מָשַׁח יְהוָה אֹתִי לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים, שְׁלָחַנִי לַחֲבֹשׁ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי-לֵב, לִקְרֹא לִשְׁבוּיִם דְּרוֹר, וְלַאֲסוּרִים פְּקַח-קוֹחַ. ב לִקְרֹא שְׁנַת-רָצוֹן לַיהוָה, וְיוֹם נָקָם לֵאלֹהֵינוּ, לְנַחֵם, כָּל-אֲבֵלִים. ג לָשׂוּם לַאֲבֵלֵי צִיּוֹן, לָתֵת לָהֶם פְּאֵר תַּחַת אֵפֶר שֶׁמֶן שָׂשׂוֹן תַּחַת אֵבֶל--מַעֲטֵה תְהִלָּה, תַּחַת רוּחַ כֵּהָה; וְקֹרָא לָהֶם אֵילֵי הַצֶּדֶק, מַטַּע יְהוָה לְהִתְפָּאֵר.

1. The spirit of the Lord God was upon me, since the Lord anointed me to bring tidings to the humble, He sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to declare freedom for the captives, and for the prisoners to free from captivity. 2. To declare a year of acceptance for the Lord and a day of vengeance for our God, to console all mourners. 3. To place for the mourners of Zion, to give them glory instead of ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning, a mantle of praise instead of a feeble spirit, and they shall be called the elms of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, with which to glory.

At the end of Sefer Ahava Rambam is setting the mood for Sefer Z'manim. The adorer of Sefer Ahava yearns for the rapturous encounter of the chagim but in place of joy there is mourning. After Tisha B'av how can there be Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Sh'mini Atzeret, etc.! Every yom tov is tinged with sadness. This verse from Eikha (5:15) sums it up perfectly:

טו שָׁבַת מְשׂוֹשׂ לִבֵּנוּ, נֶהְפַּךְ לְאֵבֶל מְחֹלֵנוּ.

15. The joy of our heart has ceased, our dancing has turned into mourning.

Rambam's message is clear. The choice of "נָחַלְתִּי עֵדְו‍ֹתֶיךָ לְעוֹלָם: כִּי-שְׂשׂוֹן לִבִּי הֵמָּה." to crown Sefer Z'manim is perfect. It both captures the joyous spirit of the yamim tovim and the sorrow of the ששון not yet attained because (Eikha 5:2) " נַחֲלָתֵנוּ נֶהֶפְכָה לְזָרִים, בָּתֵּינוּ לְנָכְרִים. " - " Our heritage has been turned over to strangers, our houses to aliens. ".

This is clearly reflected in Hilkhot Ta'aniyot, the Laws of Fasts. In the fifth chapter he discusses the laws of those days which we fast to mourn the tragedies of our past. In the last halakha of this chapter he writes:

יט כל הצומות האלו, עתידים ליבטל לימות המשיח; ולא עוד, אלא שהם עתידים להיות ימים טובים וימי ששון ושמחה, שנאמר "כה אמר ה' צבאות, צום הרביעי וצום החמישי וצום השביעי וצום העשירי יהיה לבית יהודה לששון ולשמחה, ולמועדים, טובים; והאמת והשלום, אהבו" (זכריה ח,יט).

All the fasts, they are, in the future, to be nullified, in the days of the Mashiach; not only that, but they are, in the future, to be yamim tovim and days of ששון and שמחה, as it says (Z'charia 8:19) "So said the Lord of Hosts: The fast of the fourth [month], the fast of the fifth [month], the fast of the seventh [month], and the fast of the tenth [month] shall be for the house of Judah for joy and happiness and for happy holidays-but love truth and peace. "

In upcoming posts I will discuss how this same theme is expressed in Hilkhot Chametz uMatza and also in Hilkhot Megilla.


1 22 total, not including the 27 variation of the shoresh שיש and 17 instances of משוש; most being in Yishayahu and Yirmiyahu, third place going to Tehillim, fourth place - Esther, and Z'charia and Yoel tying for fifth place with one example.