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.

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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.

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