Geshmack Dvar Torah

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Geshmack Dvar Torah of the Week: December 2009

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Yesimcha Elokim k'Efraim v'chMenashe

Why is the bracha we give to our children is that they should become like Efraim and Menashe? It could have been a myriad of other things, so what is notable about them that they were able to inherit from Yakov a portion equivalent to the previous generation, their uncles?

My Zaide explains that Menashe and Efraim were worthy of being considered Yakov's own children and two of the 12 Tribes, and this is because of their being born and raised in Egypt. It is not such a blessing to say that they should become like Reuven, Shimon etc, as they were raised in Yakov's house; it's not so much a big deal to tread the path you're already on, but the fact that 2 boys, born in Egypt, to a father who was the viceroy of Egypt who had left his heritage at 17 (and we could understand if he'd sought to cut off ties with his past, the past that he'd been cut out of by his brothers), that is a massive chiddush, that people can rise from the 49th level of tuma and become one of the Shivtei Ka. This is truly inspirational, that each of us has unlimited potential. This is the blessing we give our children, that they should transcend all obstacles, just like Efraim and Menashe.

D explains this alternately, that Yaakov switched hands, and said that the younger son would become greater. Not a peep was uttered by either, and Yaakov blessed them. There was not a hint of jealousy or animosity to the other, they were content for their lot, and Menashe was happy for Ephraim to get what should have been his. And there was no gloating on Ephraim's part, there was merely acceptance. D explains that the blessing we give to our children is that they should have this relationship with each other (which perhaps leads on to what my Zaide says?).

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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Forgiveness - Big deal?

When the brothers apologise to Yosef, he rebutted this by saying "אַל תִּירָאוּ כִּי הֲתַחַת אלֹהִים אָנִי - "Don't be afraid, for am I instead of God?" (50:19). It is unclear what exactly he means, but certainly he is not annoyed.

The Baal Haturim (info here) suggests that this is is poetic justice as this is precisely what his mother had been told when his mother had begged for children from their father, at which point he said "הֲתַחַת אֱ־לֹהִים אָנֹכִי אֲשֶׁר מָנַע מִמֵּךְ פְּרִי בָטֶן - "Am I instead of God, Who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?" (30:2)

The Maharil Diskin (info here)wonders why a simple yes/no answer isn't enough, and we can (and have) explained that he did not actually forgive them, but did not say this. We can look deeper into his words: In Parshas Matos (30:7-9) the pasuk describes a woman who makes a vow, but then her husband annuls it. In an event where she did not know he had annulled it, and she thinks she is deliberately breaking it, the pasuk says "'והֹ יִסְלַח לָהּ" - "...and the Lord will forgive her." This is astounding - she has technically done absolutely nothing wrong - her vow had been annulled at the time of her actions, and yet there is a certain something that requires forgiveness! And the same thing was true here:

The brothers thought they had committed a horrendously evil act onto their brother, and even though circumstantially it turned out for the best in the end, and the family were reunited, just as in the case of a woman who circumstantially did nothing wrong, there was still a certain something that required forgiveness. The Maharil Diskin suggests an alternate explanation to that which the Baal Haturim suggested, that this is exactly what Yosef was saying here, that due to the turn of events they had done nothing wrong, but he was not in the place of Hashem, because as we said by the woman, they needed G-d's forgiveness.

Rabbeinu Bachaye (info here) shares a frightening thought that is not worth waiting until Parshas Bechukosai to share as it is so brilliant. He takes the concept of Yosef not forgiving his brothers a step further, and suggests says this resulted in the Asara Harugei Malchus, one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish history, and one died in lieu of each of the group who'd sold Yosef. Yaakov was not told as an oath was made as a group of 10 (a minyan) to not tell him, and such an oath cannot be annulled.

But why were there 10 martyrs then, as there weren't 10 men present at the sale? Binyamin was not there, Reuven had gone home, and we can't include Yosef as part of such a minyan? There is a concept that a minyan can take place with 9 as Hashem joins in - Hashem was the 10th member of this group.

We can expand the pasuk in Bechukosai - "וְכָל מַעְשַׂר בָּקָר וָצֹאן כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹר תַּחַת הַשָּׁבֶט הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה קֹּדֶשׁ לַהֹ - Any tithe of cattle or flock of all that pass under the rod, the tenth shall be holy to the Lord" (27:32)- and there is a deeper meaning to this pasuk, in reference to Rabbi Akiva - וכי למא מת עקיבא, שהוא רואה בקר וצאן הכֹּל אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹר תַּחַת הַשָּׁבֶט הָעֲשִׂירִי יִהְיֶה קֹּדֶשׁ לַהֹ - Why did Akiva die? He was just a shepherd! When he passed under the staff (judgement?) he was the tenth, holy for G-d.

There is another allusion to this I found on Google (it's awesome) here on Parshas Vayigash (45:15), (sorry it's late,) that "וַיֵּבְךְּ עֲלֵיהֶם - and he cried on them" - we can break up עֲלֵיהֶם and read it על י ה"ם - for the ten Harugei Malchus.

Scary stuff indeed.

To end on a lighter note, I can quote my Rebbi, R' Hartman, who has an Otzar HaChochma harddrive (it's a sforim library on a hardrive) that can search keywords on a sugya, a bit like Google - about which he said "If I knew Torah like this little machine..."


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Monday, 28 December 2009

Vayechi - Handy tips from יעקב

שכל את ידיו - he maneuvered his hands... (48:14)

I saw a stunning idea from R' Moshe Sternbuch in Ta'am Voda'as. We see that Yaakov switched around his right hand with his left, so that Ephraim was under his right hand. But why did he not just tell Menashe and Ephraim to switch places?

R' Chaim Volozhin explains that the nature of the average person is to talk down the positive attributes of his fellow, but when it comes to the negative side, he is ready to speak up and even exaggerate the other's bad traits. In this way, he will look like a tzaddik compared with his friend.

Indeed, when one stands opposite his fellow, one's left is the other's right and vice-versa. This hints to the fact that his friend's right, or stature, stands opposite his left, traditionally the one seen as weaker, i.e. weakening his friend's strengths (sorry to all those lefties out there - including half of my family!), whereas his friend's left, or weaker side, is opposite his right, i.e. making a bigger deal out of his weaknesses.

Yaakov, as we know, is the ultimate man of truth, not wishing to detract or embellish any point. So what does he do? He only crosses his hands - the result being that his right hand corresponds with the boys' right and his left with theirs!

It teaches us a really important Mussar point, says R' Sternbuch - how careful we must be when relating to the strengths and weaknesses of our friends (and others!), placing our right opposite their right...

He cites the Rambam (Hilchos Dei'os chapter 6 halacha 3) for further proof - ''it's a mitzva upon every person to to love his fellow Jew as himself as it says ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Therefore, he must tell of his praiseworthy himself...'' Geshmack!

As an addendum, Gav C pointed out that the Ohr Hachaim says a beautiful idea associated with the above: it says שכל את ידיו כי מנשה הבכור - he maneuvered his hands because Menashe was the firstborn - surely Menashe being the firstborn would be reason to not cross hands!?
So he answers that just before, we were told that ''Yisrael's eyes were heavy from old age and he could not see''. This indicates that he couldn't see who was Menashe - the firstborn - and who was Ephraim. So when it came to blessing them, he knew who he wanted under his right hand. He worked out in his mind that Yosef would have placed Menashe on his right - therefore he crossed his hands because he knew where the firstborn was, and because Menashe was the בכור. Geshmack!

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Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dying of Embarrassment 

There is a Midrash that says that when we eventually go up to Heaven and are put on trial we will be as embarrassed as the brothers were in front of Yosef. The Beis Halevi shares with us a marvellous idea on this.

On a superficial level, we can understand this Midrash by simply saying that we cannot bluff someone who sees the bigger picture. The brothers claimed that their brother was not with them, but Yosef knew why he wasn't really with them, and when he revealed himself to them, they actually died of embarrasment according to some commentators. Even if we don't learn this, it's clear what the metaphor is trying to portray. There was nothing they could say.

But we can look at it in a deeper fashion, and admire the nobility Yosef displayed. For one: וְלֹא יָכֹל יוֹסֵף לְהִתְאַפֵּק לְכֹל הַנִּצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיִּקְרָא הוֹצִיאוּ כָל אִישׁ מֵעָלָי וְלֹא עָמַד אִישׁ אִתּוֹ בְּהִתְוַדַּע יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו - Now Joseph could not bear all those standing beside him, and he called out, "Take everyone away from me!" So no one stood with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.

On which Rashi says: ולא יכול יוסף להתאפק לכל הנצבים: לא היה יכול לסבול שיהיו מצרים נצבים עליו ושומעין שאחיו מתביישין בהודעו להם - Now Joseph could not bear all those standing: He could not bear that Egyptians would stand beside him and hear his brothers being embarrassed when he would make himself known to them. [From Tanchuma Vayigash 5].

We must not forget that at this point, from the brothers perspective at least, they had been harrassed and interrogated by a foreign ruler, and they had him on their own; he was unguarded. There was every possibility they'd have murdered him and escaped, but he could not bear to embarass them publicly.

But moreover, from 44:20, Yehudah explains that they have an old father and attempt to explain that they do not want to bring Binyamin to Yosef for their fathers sake.

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו - And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence.

The Beis Halevi points out that the first thing he said to them after telling them who he was, was "is my father still alive?". Clearly he knew he was alive, as Yehudah had spoken at length about him. The fact he asked this question anyway is telling, heartrending and completely ironic. It really means "Is he not my father too? Was he not alive back then for you to not have abandoned and disowned me? Is he only alive to you now?". And they could not say anything, because of course he was right, their hypocrisy had been revealed, which caused them to die of embarrassment, whether we take that literally or figuratively. This is tochacha in its true form (tochacha, usually translated as rebuke, is a form of the word lhochiach, to prove).

There was nothing they could say, but instead of shouting at them he simply said גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ - "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer (45:4). He hugged them all, and it is simply unfathomable for any of us to have acted in such a way, even when faced with lesser evils than he'd suffered, and it is no small wonder we call him Yosef HaTzaddik with middos (character traits) such as these.

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Monday, 21 December 2009

Vayigash - A New Approach

ויגש אליו יהודה ויאמר בי אדני - And Yehudah approached him and said, 'please my master...' (44:18)

Another insight into the brilliance of the ta'amei hamikra (cantorial notes): The Vilna Gaon points out that if you look at the notes on these words, you'll see something astonishing - kadma ve'azla, Revi'i, Zarka, Munach and Segol. But what is so amazing about this? Surely these are standard notes in a pretty standard format?

If you look back to Parshas Miketz (43:9), Yehudah guarantees Binyamin's safe return by saying, 'If I don't bring him back to you and place him before you, then...וחטאתי לך כל הימים - I will be sinning against you all the days'. The Midrash explains this last phrase to be referring to Olam Haba.

Now let's have another look at our notes and we will get an insight into what the Vilna Gaon was referring to - firstly, kadma ve'azla, Revi'i - Yehudah, the fourth son (revi'i) went and stepped forward (קדם ואזל) to confront Yosef. Surely Reuven should have been the one to step forward - why Yehudah?
Because he threw himself into a situation where he would be 'rested from being parted from the Am segula, in Olam Haba - (זרק את עצמו מלנוח בתוך עם סגולה). This is Zarka, Munach and Segol - and Yehudah is prepared to give up everything for his brother.


Postscript: I do intend at some point, to explain my comment from a previous post, where I suggested that the ta'amei hamikra might be the genius of Chazal, as opposed to the widely accepted view (from the Gemara) that they are Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai...

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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Random searches?

The Pasuk says "וַיְחַפֵּשׂ בַּגָּדוֹל הֵחֵל וּבַקָּטֹן כִּלָּה וַיִּמָּצֵא הַגָּבִיעַ בְּאַמְתַּחַת בִּנְיָמִן - "He searched; he started with the eldest and finished with the youngest, and the goblet was found in Benjamin's sack" (44:12). You would think this means he searched from Reuven's bag until Binyamin's bag. Not so. The Midrash Rabba says that the eldest referred to was in fact Shimon. And Yosef only searched this eldest and the youngest, Binyamin. The Griz, the Brisker Rav asks how the Midrash reached this conclusion.

He answers in the name of the Maharil Diskin that in 44:8 the brothers said a kal v'chomer, one of ten in the Torah, that" הֵן כֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר מָצָאנוּ בְּפִי אַמְתְּחֹתֵינוּ הֱשִׁיבֹנוּ אֵלֶיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן וְאֵיךְ נִגְנֹב מִבֵּית אֲדֹנֶיךָ כֶּסֶף אוֹ זָהָב: - Behold, the money we found in the mouth of our sacks we returned to you from the land of Canaan; so how could we steal from your master's house silver or gold?". However, there are two people who did not make this kal v'chomer: Shimon and Binyamin! Binyamin was not there so he could not say he was as honest as his brothers who returned Yosef's gold, and in 44:24 it says " וַיִּקַּח מֵאִתָּם אֶת שִׁמְעוֹן וַיֶּאֱסֹר אֹתוֹ לְעֵינֵיהֶם - and he took Simeon from among them and imprisoned him before their eyes".

So the pasuk is actually telling us that the only people who were searched were the oldest and youngest of the people whose honesty had not been proven, Binyamin and Shimon!

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Is there a hidur mitzva after the mitzva is done?

There is a concept of hidur mitzva, which means that we can make the mitzvos we do more beautiful. Examples of this are taking nice esrogim on Succos, getting larger tfillin, getting a megillah written by the best scribe, among many countless others.

The basic level of the mitzva of Chanuka is ner ish uveiso, where the man of the house will light one candle each night for his household. A step up is called mehadrin (beautiful), where the man will light progressively as the holiday progresses. The best is called mehadrin min hamehadrin, which is what most tend to do, whereby each member of the household will light progressively.

The Rambam (a Sephardi) says something most interesting that people don't normally notice, but the Griz (The Brisker Rav) points out that the Rambam says the word Madlik, as opposed to Madlikin, which indicates his view is that there is no such step as the final one we mentioned, that the best mitzva one can do is for the householder to light progressively or recessively, but not for each member to.

This is at odds with the Rema (R' Moshe Isserles, whom Ashkenazi Jews tend to hold like) who holds that each person lighting is mehadrin. So whow are we to understand the Rambam's position, and why does the Rema argue?

We can look to a Gemara in Shabbos that can perhaps shed light on this issue. The context is Bris Milah, where the Mohel realises afterwards that he has left something called tzitzin (small piece of skin). There are two types of tzitzin, the type that leaves the baby boy considered uncircumcised, and the type that doesn't matter. The Gemara concludes that eino chozrin al tzitzin she'einon meakvin, that there is no need for the Mohel to perform the Bris again if it is the type which does not matter.

Rashi explains that this is only on Shabbos that the Mohel doesn't return, but that on weekdays he would. The Rambam says that he wouldn't go back to perform the operation again even on a weekday.

So the Brisker Rav, the Griz, explains to us what the issue really is: after the shaas mitzva is gone, you can't make it better. There is no doubt that this is the case on Shabbos, where everyone agrees that you don't break it for the hidur, but the Rambam sas that once the Mohel is finished the Bris, he can't make it any more mehudar than it was, as the Mitzva has been completed.

The Rema and Rashi disagree, and say that yes, you can! This is the difference with regard to lighting Menoras; The Rambam says that once the householder has lit, there is no hidur mitzva for the rest of the householders to perform a hidur, as the mitzva has already finished when the householder lit the first light, so the hidur stops once he has lit additional lights. Any further attempts at hidur ie mehadrin min hamehadrin are after the shaas hamitzva, so are unnecessary.

We hold like the Rema and Rashi, that we can do hidur after the main mitzva has been completed, which is why each of us lights our own Menora.

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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Cow Spirituality. What?

I heard this from my Rebbi, Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman Shlita, to whom I owe everything. He is also the inspiration for the blog title, "Geshmack" is his catchphrase you see :)

וְהִנֵּה מִן הַיְאֹר עֹלֹת שֶׁבַע פָּרוֹת יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה וּבְרִיאֹת בָּשָׂר וַתִּרְעֶינָה בָּאָחוּ - And behold, from the Nile were coming up seven cows, of handsome appearance and robust flesh, and they pastured in the marshland. (41:2)

יפות מראה: סימן הוא לימי שובע, שהבריות נראות יפות זו לזו, שאין עין בריה צרה בחברתה - of handsome appearance: This was a symbol of the days of plenty, when creatures appear handsome to one another, for no one envies his fellow. — [from Gen. Rabbah 89:4]

This describes Paroh's dream as he sees it. But why does Rashi interpret the dream, isn't Yosef about to do that, and differently? Where did Gen. Rabba (source) get this from?

It is interesting to note that the words יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה are used, which we translated as having "handsome appearance". This is an imprecise translation. If we look to 29:17, "וְעֵינֵי לֵאָה רַכּוֹת וְרָחֵל הָיְתָה יְפַת תֹּאַר וִיפַת מַרְאֶה - Leah's eyes were tender, but Rachel had beautiful features and a beautiful complexion." What is the difference between תֹּאַר and מַרְאֶה? Rashi explains that תאר: הוא צורת הפרצוף לשון (ישעיה מד יג) יתארהו בשרד, קונפ"ס בלע"ז [מחוגה]: - features: That is the form of the countenance, an expression similar to (Isa. 44: 13)“he fixes it (יְתָאִרֵהוּ) with planes (בַשֶׂרֶד) ,” conpas in Old French, outline, shape.

So תֹּאַר is a physical beauty. But what is מַרְאֶה ?
מראה: הוא זיו קלסתר - complexion: That is the shine of the countenance.

So מַרְאֶה is more of a spiritual/aura/radiant beauty. However, when Paroh dreamed he dreamed of יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה cows, spiritually beautifully cows. If the idea of spiritual cows sound absurd to you, you're not alone: so did Paroh! When he recounted his dream to Yosef (41:18), he changed what he saw to וִיפֹת תֹּאַר, physically beautiful cows, rather than what he'd seen, יפות מראה spiritually radiant cows!

But Rashi and Gen. Rabba that we quoted ("when creatures appear handsome to one another, for no one envies his fellow") worked out what the dream was when we knew that really they'd been spiritually beautiful. Cows don't have spirits: people do. So clearly, the cows are metaphors for people. This is also how Paroh knew that Yosef's interpretation was right, as he saw that this interpretation accurately describes the nature of people, something he'd seen in his dreams and failed to recount.

But we can answer our original question: why is Rashi interpreting the dream? So the answer is, he isn't! He's pointing out to us that יְפוֹת מַרְאֶה should not theoretically be there, and the fact it is shows that there was more than meets the eye, he is telling us to question this.

This Dvar Torah should be a Zchus for the Neshama of Rut Nechama bat Noam Shlomo (v'Revital)


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Friday, 11 December 2009

Because That If....?

The Pasuk says: " כִּי אִם זְכַרְתַּנִי אִתְּךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִיטַב לָךְ וְעָשִׂיתָ נָּא עִמָּדִי חָסֶד וְהִזְכַּרְתַּנִי אֶל פַּרְעֹה וְהוֹצֵאתַנִי מִן הַבַּיִת הַזֶּה - ??? remember me when things go well with you, and please do me a favor and mention me to Pharaoh, and you will get me out of this house." (40:14). The words כִּי אִם do not really belong here, as the translation above clearly shows - they do not add or change any meaning in the Pasuk. כִּי אִם translates loosely as "because that" and many variations. Certainly this translation isn't helpful in understanding the Pasuk, so what are they there for? As we have seen many times, it is because we have not understood the context clearly enough.

There is a story told by the Brisker Rov in the name of his father R' Chaim Brisker about the Rav of Kovno, (present day Kaunas in Lithuania). The story occurred while General Napoleon was marching through Eastern Europe. The lords and gentry wanted to please Napoleon as his armies passed through their lands, and they wanted to honour him by making a lavish evening whereupon they would bestow gifts and treasures to him. The province's leaders each took their turn to present him and his delegations with their offerings, and after a while, he noticed none of the Jewish community were represented, and he was relatively good to the Jews and questioned how come there were no Jewish leaders at the ball. The pronvince's leaders shuffled around uncomfortably, and explained that they did not feel the Jews to be members of society worthy enough of honouring Napoleon. He flew into a rage and insisted they bring a rabbi, and the gentry grew nervous. They sent for the rabbi from the nearest town, which happened to be the Rav of Kovno. (I couldn't find out who this was at the time of writing...) He was rushed to the ball and Napoleon requested that the rabbi say something truthful, something he'd felt was lacking in the previous speeches. The gentry were quaking at this point.

The Rav said that that week's weekly portion was ours, Vayeshev, and he'd never understood why the Pasuk had said כִּי אִם until the sequence of events that had unfolded that night that had enabled him to have an audience requested by Napoleon. He explained that without context, we don't see the bigger picture, (a concept we discussed regarding Chanuka already,) with regards to what on earth Napoleon was doing in this far flung corner of Europe. He said that things do not just happen "by the way". Everything is ordained, everything is planned in Heaven. Yosef was saying to the butler that he was innocent, and certainly that was the case: how does one prevent a fly falling into the wine as you drink it? But nevertheless he was imprisoned? Loosely applying this with the translation of כִּי אִם, "you are here because ie in order that you must remember me when things go well with you".

The Rav then proceeded to tell Napoleon that the reason he was near Kovno was because the Jews were being oppressed terribly, and he was here to save them. Napoleon applauded, and save them he did - he removed the gentry's stewardship over the Jews (albeit temporarily!).


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Monday, 7 December 2009

Being Thankful - for What?

I was fortunate to hear this from R' Yaakov Hillel recently, and it is an absolute gem. He asked the Beis Yosef's question, and shared a very sweet idea about gratitude. The question is why we celebrate 8 days of Chanuka and not 7, seeing as there was enough oil for a day, meaning the extra benefit form the miracle was 7 days worth.

Chacham Hillel pointed us to a Rashi (29:35) that is based on a Midrash: הפעם אודה: שנטלתי יותר מחלקי, מעתה יש לי להודות - This time, I will thank: since I have taken more than my share. Consequently, I must offer up thanks. — [from Gen. Rabbah 71:4].
Although simple understanding of this would indicate that her rationale was that each wife would be mother to 3 of the tribes, and now that she had exceeded her fair share, she was grateful for the extra good G-d had done to her, but Chacham Hillel tells us this is not so.

The beauty (and difficulty!) of the Hebrew language is that it is hard to accurately translate as we don't know what the writer's intent was. But we can interpret Rashi differently - I've exceeded my portion (3), now I realise I ought to have been thankful before, ie she realised that there are no cheshboinos (plans), we can't second guess G-d. She realised she was wrong to have assumed that 3 is a "fair share", that even what is natural and makes sense is a miracle. This is a hard hitting idea. Each breath we take - who says that all the mechanisms that enable you to breathe - enable you to breathe? Who says up is up? By what mechanism is water wet? What binds all the atoms that you are made of? These are all absurd examples, but that is exactly the point - we are so familiar with things we consider "normal" and "natural", that we erase the incredibility we should really see this, we see them as "natural".

There is an amazing Gemara (Taanis 25a) about the righteousness and power of R' Chanina ben Dosa, that illustrates this point. He came home one Shabbos and saw his daughter weeping, and he asked why. She informed him that she had lit a lamp for Shabbos, that she had thought was filled with oil, but was in fact filled with vinegar, and she was weeping that they would have no light for Shabbos when the wick reached the vinegar, at which point it would extinguish. The reply: "מי שאמר לשמן וידלוק הוא יאמר לחומץ וידלוק" תנא היה דולק והולך כל היום כולו עד שהביאו ממנו אור להבדלה - "He who said that oil should burn will also say to vinegar to burn." And the lamp burned the entire (night and following) day until they lit a Havdala candle with it. This story speaks volumes about how skewed our perceptions are: nature is not natural.

R' Hillel explains that we celebrate the "extra" Chanuka to teach us something that seems so obviously in our faces that we don't see it - that we must be thankful for every single thing we have and do.

The way of a Jew is "modeh ani" - it's a chiddush, some people don't wake up. Thank you Hashem. "Zokef kfufim", "matir assurim", some people can't walk; paralysis, suddenly, after a lifetime of mobility. Thank you Hashem. When we realise that not only are the "miracles" miracles, but everything in between - "nifle'osecha v'tovosecha sheb'chol es, erev v'voker, v'tzohoroyim" - then we're really on our way to true hodo'oh of HaShem, and a better understanding of Hashem as the constant Boreh Olam.

[And then, just to add some R' Noach Weinberg zt"l (who he didn't mention), this is what really leads you to happiness, in line with Chazal's sameyach b'chelko. If you really understand your chelek, if you really grasp all that you have, if you take nought for granted and truly value the billion good things in your life, if you just stop for one minute a day and actually *try* to count your countless blessings...that's the "Happiness Game".]

Thanks Doniel for clarifying!

Also, Brisk Yeshivish has a post I enjoyed greatly on Chanuka.

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Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Lame Excuse?

ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר...ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו - 'and a man wrestled with him until dawn...and his hip-socket was dislocated when he wrestled with him.'

Once we are told that "a man wrestled with him", isn't the repetition - "when he wrestled with him" a little redundant?

The Ksav Sofer points out that Rashi gives two interpretations on the word ויאבק: firstly, the word is from אבק - dust - that they kicked up a lot of dust through their movements. Or שחבקו ואבקו בזרועתיו - that they were embracing with their arms (which is also an essential part of wrestling, of course).

The first interpretation is in line with the way that enemies fight with each other, whereas the second has echoes of the way that friends embrace. This is precisely what Chazal mean when they discuss Maaseh Avos Siman LeBonim (This is a principle that very basically, histroy repeats itself to people's descendants) - see last week's post by SG for another example: there are two ways in which the enemies of the Jewish people try to bring them down (as is famously noted by Chazal in a number of a places - מיד אחי מיד עשו - he needed to be saved from both aspects of Esau as we are about to discuss). The first is by harsh decrees, pogroms, crusades etc. But what happens when they try this? You only need to hear what the Mossad agent who caught Eichmann (according to some - Isser Harel) stated that Eichmann said upon his capture - שמע ישראל ה' אלקינו ה' אחד - Shema Yisrael!

When questioned about how he knew this, he testified- as did many other Nazis, that it didn't matter which type of Jew was in the gas chamber, this was the constant phrase on the lips of those holy martyrs. When oppressed, the Jew gets closer to G-d. This doesn't work for our enemies. So they try another way - they befriend us, influence us, try to make us one of them. Through this, says the Ksav Sofer, they make us be פוסח על שתי סעיפים - straddling both worlds, so that we have one foot in both worlds and thereby are not totally part of either one, making us unable to walk properly...hence the limp This is the second interpretation of Rashi - because the initial wrestling did not work in overcoming us, they resort to the embrace. Unfortunately, history has shown the second method to be deadlier, as it distances us from G-d. Through this ותקע כף ירך יעקב - the point of the Bris is dislocated!

Amazingly, what follows is ויזרח לו השמש - the sun shone for him - i.e. after the dark period which equates to the harsh treatment of Galus, they attempt the sunshine or friendly treatment. This is the bit that damages us the most and we are פוסח על שתי סעיפים - in two places. And - this is the best part - it is this which indicates the inability to walk properly, or the limp. What are the words which follow ויזרח לו השמש? That he had a limp on his hip, the area of the Bris that signifies are relationship with G-d!

Incidentally, this explains the reason he asked to be saved "miyad achi miyad Eisav", on the one hand the destroyer, on the other, his brother, how could he resist?

Geshmack !

I am indebted to my dear chavrusa Gav C for alerting me to this most beautiful idea. Let us hope that, although we all have our imperfections, we still have the strength to lead each other towards the real sunlight. Remember: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king!

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Wednesday, 2 December 2009

What's so special about Jewish children?

The Pasuk says "ה. וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַנָּשִׁים וְאֶת הַיְלָדִים וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה לָּךְ וַיֹּאמַר הַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ - And he (Esau) lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and he said, "Who are these to you?" And he (Yakov) said, "The children with whom God has favored your servant." (33:5)

Esau wasn't a fool, he knew Yakov had his family and entourage with him. This is obvious, as he brought a small army with him to kill them all. So why then, does this conversation take the form of a chance meeting, as if it weren't apparent who they were and what their connection to Yakov - the head of the family, was?

Clearly, there is something else afoot. The Chafetz Chaim says that Esau saw something different in these children, and he was correct for identifying this difference. They were the first Jewish children - we are Bnei Yisrael, and Yakov's children were the first of the lot! He saw a difference in them from other children he'd encountered, and we need only look at Yishmael and Esau themselves to see how children behaved in that society, so naturally Yakov's children owuld act differently.

The Chafetz Chaim explains that the answer to what made them different is in Yakov's answer. He answered "אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ - with whom God has favored your servant". Why did it not say the normal word for giving - נתן, instead it says חָנַן. The Chafetz Chaim teaches us that there is something else to be learned here that what made these children different was the merit of חָנַן- the Roshei Teivos of the 3 Mitzvos only women can perform - חלה ,נר , נידה - the laws regarding the seperation of Challah, lighting Shabbos candles, and family purity. Yakov said within his reply to his brother what made his children special, that his wives observed these laws. (Hamekubal's blog pointed these obligations out just the other day).

There are other interpretations of the נר part of observance, which just translates as light. The Sforno explains it to mean the light of Torah - it is a mother's obligation to ensure her children know Torah - "v'al titosh Toras imecha". How do we see this? There is a Gemara in Niddah which says that every baby in its mother's womb has 2 things - an angel that teaches the baby the whole Torah, which it forgets at birth when the angel taps its lip, and a light above its head. We don't see babies born with lights above their heads, so what does this mean? This means that the mother provided the circumstances through which the light of Torah shone on the child before its birth, and the mother is meant to nurture this "spark" into a full blown flame throughout the child's life.

There is a short story told about R' Yaakov Galinski and the Chazon Ish circa 1953, that explains us what the light or Torah does. They were walking together in the street at night, and were walking under streetlights. The Chazon Ish said "Wow!" every time he walked under a light, and his student, R' Yaakov asked what was going on. The Chazon Ish obliged, and explained a phenomenal lesson that Neil will appreciate. We are not meant to be arrogant people, but how does one work on this character trait if it is innate? The further away from the streetlight/light of Torah we are, the bigger your shadow appear. The closer we get to the streetlight/the light of Torah, the smaller we realise we actually are.

Geshmack ! Feedback appreciated :)

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