Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tashlich L'Mehadrin

My friend Sruly emailed this to me. I did not write it (though I made a few touch-ups) and I am more than happy to credit the author if s/he is identified.

Incidentally, I think that the only place on earth where one can aquire (and require) this entire list is the Upper West Side!



Taking a few crumbs to Tashlich from whatever old bread is in the house
lacks subtlety, nuance and religious sensitivity. I would suggest that we
can do better. Instead:

For ordinary sins, use - White Bread

For exotic sins - French Bread

For particularly dark sins - Pumpernickel

For complex sins - Multi-grain

For twisted sins - Pretzels

For tasteless sins - Rice Cakes

For sins of indecision - Waffles

For sins committed in haste - Matzah

For sins committed in less than eighteen minutes - Shmurah Matzah

For sins of chutzpah - Fresh Bread

For substance abuse/marijuana - Stoned Wheat

For substance abuse/heavy drugs - Poppy Seed

For drunkenness - Hamentashen

For arson - Toast

For timidity - Milk Toast

For haughtiness - French toast

For high-handedness - Napoleons

For having doubts - Wonder Bread

For being sulky - Sourdough

For silliness - Nut Bread

For a quick temper - Short bread

For being rude to guests - Hostess Twinkies

For jingoism - Yankee Doodles

For telling bad jokes - Corn Bread

For telling old jokes - Stale Bread

For being money-hungry - Enriched Bread or Raw Dough

For telling small lies – Fudge

For clowning around – Cream Pie

For ridiculing RYBS - Boston Cream Pie

For war-mongering - Kaiser Rolls

For racism - Crackers

For sophisticated racism - Ritz Crackers

For evangelism - Graham Crackers

For cynicism - Saltines

For being holier-than-thou - Bagels

For unfairly up-braiding others - Challah

For snobbery - Upper Crusts

For trashing the environment - Dumplings

For the sin of laziness - Any Very Long Loaf

For being hyper-critical - Pan Cakes

For political skullduggery - Bismarcks

For over-eating - Stuffing Bread or Bulkie Rolls

For gambling - Fortune Cookies

For pride - Puff Pastry

For cheating - Bread made with Nutrasweet and Olestra

For being snappish - Ginger Bread

For dropping in without calling beforehand - Popovers

For trying to improve everyone within sight -Angel Food Cake

For being up-tight and irritable - High Fiber or Bran Muffins

For sycophancy - Brownies

For rearing children incompetently - Raisin Bread

For immodest behavior - Tarts

For causing injury or damage to others - Tortes

For hardening our hearts - Jelly doughnuts

For abrasiveness - Grits

For recurring slip ups - Banana Bread

For davening off tune - Flat Bread

For impetuosity - Quick Bread

For mimicking Queen Elizabeth – English Muffins

For risking one's life unnecessarily - Hero Bread

For auto theft - Caraway

For excessive use of irony - Rye Bread

For larceny (especially of copyright material) - Stollen


Remember, you don't have to show your crumbs to anyone.

For those who require a wide selection of crumbs, an attempt will be made to
have pre-packaged Tashlich Mix available in three grades (Tashlich Lite,
Medium and Industrial Strength) at your local Jewish bookstore or through your connections at Angel's Mafia (for sins you didn't want but couldn't refuse…)

ותשליך במצלות ים כל חטאתם

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Estardition: The Heart that is Baffled

:כח יככה יהוה בשגעון ובעורון ובתמהון לבב

:על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בתמהון לבב

I have often held that Chapter 6 is the most essential chapter in my book (with the possible exception of any of the other 9 chapters). This is the chapter entitled "Getting to the Heart of the Matter" and it emphasizes the principle that, at any given moment, a person must either be situated in the One Above camp (Im Bechukosai Telechu) or in the Seven Below camp (V'Im Bechukosai Timasu) but there is no neutral middle ground (Yalkut Shimoni Vayikra 26:671).

The chapter is sub-divided into four parts:
  • The Heart Beats...the Odds
  • Pulling at the Heartstrings
  • Home is Where the Heart(h) Is
  • A Heart Filled with Anxiety

All these are meant to reflect some aspect of the pure Yiddishe heart that we pray for when we say:

...לב טהור ברא לי אלקים

When we understand the Heart of the Matter, the heart beats in perfect rhythm and so, any Jew who internalizes the true implications of Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiyeh Lecha is a true "chareid l'dvar Hashem" because, after all, the "word of G-d" is Anochi Hashem and Lo Yihiyeh Lecha - which are the only actual words that Klal Yisrael heard from Hashem. This is what Moshe Rabenu called a "heart that can know and eyes that can see" (Devarim 29:3).

Unfortunately, things are not always perfect. When we have a "heart that can know and eyes that can see" (Devarim 29:3) we are in good shape. But when we "stray after our hearts and after our eyes" (Bamidbar 15:39), instead of a "heart that knows", we wind up with a "heart that is baffled" (Devarim 28:28) – Timhon Levav.

What does this mean?

There is no question that the chareidim are the most sinful segment of the Jewish people. How do I know?

Because the chareidim invest the most time, concentration, and emotion in saying the vidui on Yom Kippur. If we say the "al cheit"s with the most ferver, it goes without saying that we must have committed the worst sins.

Of the 44 alphabetically arranged "al cheit"s, the final one, the grand coda of our confessions is: על חטא שחטאנו לפניך בתמהון לבב

For transgressions that we have committed in Timhon levav.

What is Timhon levav?*

The first pasuk of the Torah says that G-d created the heavens and the earth. This means to say that if we were standing around to see it, there would be no doubt that G-d created it all. There was a great Light that it all came from and it was unequivocally clear.

The second pasuk changes all that. All of a sudden, there is tohu va'vohu - wonderment and emptiness - and darkness on the earth. G-d has concealed the great Light. The observer can no longer unequivocally perceive G-d, and so there is tohu - wonderment - the observer is baffled. He cannot make out what he is seeing. So says Rashi: Tohu - An expression of wonder and desolation...estardition in vernacular (Old French).

When one cannot see G-d, he is baffled and confused.

Fast forward to Devarim 28:28: G-d will strike you with madness, blindness, and timhon levav - confusion.

Says Rashi: Timhon levav - a sealed heart...estardition in vernacular.

When we do not think rationally (shigaon - madness), when we do not see clearly (ivaron - blindness), then our hearts are sealed and we are confused and baffled.

As a result of not being committed to Torah and mitzvos, we get stricken with a sealed heart - a heart that is baffled and confused. And it comes together with being irrational and blind.

The Netziv in Haamek Davar (Devarim 28:28) says it with a bit more spice:

Shigaon (Madness) – Kilkul hadaas – Breakdown of sanity – Being out of touch with reality so that one cannot even comprehend a potential threat from hostile entities. This will apply to the general population. (And to the leftists, the Prime Minister, and the entire cabinet.)

Ivaron (Blindness) – A small segment of the population (and a few right wing members of Knesset) are not insane and they can comprehend a threatening situation if they see it. Still, they will be blind to what is going on and not see it.

Timhon Levav – A smaller subset (the Dattim) that will see the danger and comprehend it. Still, their hearts will be sealed and become like stone because they are powerless to do anything about it.

It looks to me that these principles can apply to community politics, as well.

The headlines of some of the most popular blogs (Hirhurim, Rabbi Horowitz, Emes V'Emunah, Cross-Currents) as well as some popular Jewish publications have been focusing of late on issues of sexual impropriety within the greater Orthodox community. And I have been mulling over whether I should address the subject.

On the one hand, I don't really think that I should. Some of the reasons:

  • I am not an expert in this topic, so what is my opinion worth?
  • I have barely 30 regular readers (AFIK), most of who are related to me, so I am basically preaching to empty seats.
  • It's a messy issue, so why get involved?
  • I can't win. If I go with the flow and join the wolf-pack, I am not contributing anything. If I take a more excusatory position, I become a naive apologist (עורון ) who is out of touch with reality (שגעון)and lose every ounce of credibility (תמהון לבב).

On the plus side, it is a very hot topic and how can I pass up an[other] opportunity to earn intercyber notoriety and condemnation? (I'm on a roll!)

But, seriously, I cannot be silent because it is the Torah world that is on trial. The term chareidi, as I write profusely, is just a battle-worn synonym for the Torah community and my [self-appointed] task is to put Torah ideals in proper perspective so that people can see them for their true value and not get carried away by sensationalist issues that hog the spotlight.

That said, I might say that the best reason for not discussing this topic is that I don't see this as a chareidi issue. In my book project, I define a chareidi as one who opens up Chumash and Rashi and follows what it says. There is nothing in chareidi ideology that promotes sex abuse.

Sexual predators pop up all the time. And they always will. Rambam told us this over 800 years ago in Mishna Torah Hilchos Issurei Biah 22:19:

And the sages have said that larceny and promiscuity are things that a man's life-spirit craves and covets. And there is no community to be found at any time period that will not have people who are loose in immorality and forbidden relations...

It was going on then and it goes on now. Things haven't changed that much. Heck, even Vicki Polin in her Awareness Center lists predators that lived hundreds of years ago (see Shabtai Tzvi and Jacob Frank).

We know that the chareidi perpetrators always grab the headlines. In one sense it is actually a compliment that a chareidi miscreant is newsworthy – a man bites dog phenomenon. But, compliments aside, when it occurs in a Torah environment (a school, yeshiva, camp, or schul) and is perpetrated by a religious role model – be it a Rav or Mechanech, a Kiruv professional, Kosher butcher, or frum therapist – the Chillul Hashem is augmented and the innocence of a Torahdika upbringing is shattered.

Despite this, this is not a chareidi issue, it's a human society issue and a community issue. It exists in every community. In a chareidi community, it may involve some chareidim [Note an entry in the Awareness Center shmutz-list concerning some sex fiends in Har Nof about 5 years back has one as chareidi and one as non-chareidi]. In a non-chareidi community it involves non-chareidim. In a mixed community, there will be all types. Indeed, based on the lists of "offenders" that appear both on the Awareness Center site and the State of NY Sex Offender Registry, a chareidi molester is quite the exception rather than the rule.

It is unfortunate that schools and camps (and therapists' offices) are fertile breeding grounds for aspiring sex fiends and some of the few high profile (alleged) offenders within our own have gravitated to these posts. Still, the scant research I have done indicates that there is at least as much hanky-panky going on at home.

It seems that many of the more level headed pundits are quite aware of all this. It doesn't pay to blame the chareidim that, say, 3 people out of 1000 may be a sex offender if that's an unavoidable fact of life (note Rambam referenced earlier) and more so if in the general population, let's say, it's 5 out of 1000 (I am making up these statistics up but I believe the point is valid).

And so, the chareidi bashing has to be shifted into the management phase. How can the chareidi establishment let the known offenders off the hook?

Admittedly, it is difficult to offer a clear answer. But I will say this:

It's not because they want to.

There seems to be an inordinate amount of criticism leveled at the chareidi leaders of the various communities for not dealing with the problem. Firstly, I see in this a silver lining – the chareidim are looked up to as the community leaders. As such, these messes invariably fall upon their shoulders. But, let's be clear. Rabbanim do not create or encourage miscreants. Even the Rabbanim that have appeared to be the most negligent and inept and may have actually been protective did not ask for this headache.

Every time a new (or recurring) situation arises, people run to the Rabbanim and beseech them to “do something”. The first question is: do what?

Before anything else, the allegations need to be substantiated. Many victims and their supporters do not understand that barring a confession from the offender, they need to prove the offense. Just because they say so, or have anonymous “reliable” information, or “everybody knows it’s so” doesn’t make it so. Rabbanim are asked to take action against people based on unproven accusations. They will be in no hurry to do so.

Even when there is a confession or clear evidence, there are severe limitations as to available options. Obviously, one can report the offense to the police. That’s cool, you don’t even need a Rav for that (except, perhaps, to give the OK). Problem is, the police have the same problem as the Rav. The victim must press charges. No victims, no case.

If the offender has a position in chinuch or other community service, he can be removed from his post. This actually is frequently done except it often is accompanied by warnings, probations, negotiated clemencies and “pardons” which have traditionally rendered the whole situation ineffective. If he has a community business, you can boycott the business – if it is expendable.

The key problem is that "doing something" all too often comes at a price. And for anything that has a price, people need to do cost/benefit analyses. Exposing and punishing the offender almost always comes with collateral damage. The prime subjects are the perpetrator’s immediate family who may be enduring tremendous turmoil even without public exposure and they certainly do not need, nor deserve any more. Moreover, there are the victims themselves who stand to lose from public exposure. And in the ugliest cases, the offenders and the victims are related to each other. The Rabbanim are responsible for everyone. In many cases, for every person pressuring the Rav to “take action’ there are 10 people pressing the Rav to keep quiet.

Sof davar, we have noted a few legitimate reasons that the Rabanim do not take an active role: lack of effective options, concern for victims and other korbanos, lack of reliable information, and we can add to this threats and intimidation. Undoubtedly, leaders have been known to look the other way for less than legitimate reasons, as well: weakness of character or negligence, intentional foot-dragging (ignore it and it goes away), bribery, or complicity. But, again, the fact that they do not necessarily solve the problem, or even prolong it in some cases, does not make them responsible for its existence.

None of this should astound any of us. Except that the events of the past few weeks are a new twist. Evidently, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, New York wants to establish a layman's "task force" to deal with the issue. I am not clear as to what is the prime task of the task force. I assume that it will be a repository to lodge complaints and a resource center for assistance for victims. It's a clearinghouse where people can call up and kvetch about an offense or an offender and can listen to somebody tell him, "Sure, we've gotten complaints from other people about this fellow. We will register the complaint. You are welcome to call the police and press charges (you'll be the first one) and in the meantime, call this number for free counseling. Have a nice day and remember elections are coming up…."

Anyway, it sounds like a positive thing. What harm can it do? However, it's been reported that surreptitious forces of evil are trying to sabotage the task force and have intimidated a respected and qualified chareidi psychologist to the point of abdication.

Who did it and why? Were they "chareidi"?

I would venture to say that they are certainly not the first degree "One Above" chareidim that I define in my book as the adherents of "Im Bechukosai Telechu". It doesn't matter how they dress, what they don't eat or what their mama lashon is. And if one is not in the "One Above" camp, he is by default in the "Seven Below" camp. When we venture into the Seven Below camp, HKBH pulls away from us and leaves us to the forces of keri. We cannot see Hashem anymore and our hearts become sealed and baffled. Estardition in the vernacular. We will have shigaon - meshugaim who perpetrate this madness, we will have ivaron – blind people who do not acknowledge it. And the rest of us will be stricken with timhon levav - baffled and confused because we don't know what to do about it. Estardition.

May Hashem reveal Himself b'karov and save us from our estardition.

:ו ומל יהוה אלהיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך לאהבה את יהוה אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך למען חייך

*Credit – Rabbi Doniel Rubin and Rav Shlomo Volba in Alei Shur II, Fourth Gate Chapter1

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

[Blessed is the Judge of] Truth in Advertising

A friend sent me this in an email (some friend!):

If you can't read the text, it says: This space can be yours.

May we all be inscribed in the newspaper of Life.

לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fresh for Shabbos: Follow Up on Ki Tavo Parsha Challenge

Once again, I am disheartened to receive no takers on my last Parsha Challenge.

This one should not be so difficult owing that I practically gave it away. Let's review the issue:

It appears that Moshe Rabbenu takes a time-out in the middle of his lengthy tirade of Kellalos to give us a commercial break - a message from the Sponsor about what we have been doing wrong. This commercial break seems to comprise three pasukim - Devarim 28:45, 46, and 47. In other words, pasuk 28:47 - that we have not served G-d with joy and good-heartedness - is a follow up of the 2 previous pasukim. I.e., it is part of the problem. Then, from pasuk 28:48 and on, we return to our regular programming and continue with the [final] solution.

In other words, pasuk 28:47 has very much to do with the 2 pasukim before it and very little to do with the pasukim that come after it.

This is how I understood the pasuk for over 3 decades. I asked my 2 study partners (both of them are older than I am), and that is how they understood the pasuk as well. For decades. This seems to be the simple way to see the pasuk and I think virtually everybody sees it that way.

I think it's a mistake.

I looked at the pasuk this year and saw somehing I never noticed before. Let's look at this pasuk again:

מז תחת אשר לא עבדת את יהוה אלהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל

Now lets look at the pasuk after it:

מח ועבדת את איביך
אשר ישלחנו יהוה בך ברעב ובצמא ובעירם ובחסר כל

Did you notice something? I think pasuk 28:47 has a lot more to do with the next pasuk - and a lot less to do with the previous pasukim - than we have thought all these years.

Pasuk 28:47 is not telling us why we are enduring these kellalos! That concept was wrapped up in the previous 2 pasukim - primarily pasuk 28:45 which says that we have not been observing the mitzvos.

Pasuk 28:47 is the beginning of the next round of Kellalos! It is the opening premise of pasuk 28:48 and it is saying this:

Your next Kellala is that in place of serving Hashem your G-d in an environment of joy and good-heartedness out of sheer abundance of all...

Or, in other words -

Instead of sitting around a Shabbos table in fancy clothes with 9 kids and 25 grandchildren, fressing on Chulent and kugel with your pantries overflowing with groceries and your wine-cellars stocked floor to ceiling and all your bills paid and singing zemiros and saying over vertlach, etc., etc., etc., (pasuk 28:47)...

...That you could have and should have done but you didn't; instead of all that...

You will instead be serving your enemies (and their gods) in foreign lands in an environment of hunger, and thirst, and nakedness out of a lack of all (pasuk 28:48)....

Now we see that this pasuk is not giving a new and perplexing reason for the Kellalos. It is a Kellala! And now we understand the conjoining "vav" at the beginning of pasuk 28:48.
I truly think that this is the rudimentary pshat in the pasuk.

תכלה שנה וקללותיה, תחל שנה וברכותיה

Thursday, September 18, 2008

310 Eternal Gold Medals

ט יקימך יהוה לו לעם קדוש כאשר נשבע לך כי תשמר את מצות יהוה אלהיך והלכת בדרכיו
י וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם יהוה נקרא עליך ויראו ממך

The Greek games have come and gone. The games are a global competition of the athletic prowess of all the nations. To see which nations and which athletes are the best. Who can win the most medals for his nation. The athletes are the best of the best. And the winners are the best of the best of the best. The best men (and women), the best athletes, the best competitors, the best Human beings.

The Greek games. The beauty of Yefes. The glory of Man.

The State of Israel also sent their best. As did many other nations. And they won a few medals (5 silver, 1 bronze) as did many other nations. And they ranked in 39th place – tied with four other nations. And the athletes went home – back to their nations.

We sent our very best. Not just to some of the regular Olympics, but to the Paralympics, as well. One of those who we sent was Shai Haim.

I don't know anything about Shai Haim. Rabbi Stewart Weiss told us who he is. He wrote a wonderful column about him that was printed in the Jerusalem Post. He tells of how strong he is inside and out. How he valiantly laid down his life on the battlefield and all but lost it. How he came back from the valley of death and built a new life. And how he selflessly helps others who are likewise maimed and shattered.

There is no question Shai Haim is a good man, a good soldier, and a good Israeli. A terrific human being. Shai Haim is certainly the best of the best. He is an icon of human strength; of human courage; of human resolve, determination, and perseverance; of human triumph over adversity.

Human – Human – Human…

And now he was representing us in the Paralympics. The Greek games to show the world who are the best humans.

Yavan - Yavan -Yavan...

There is no question Shai Haim is a good man, a good soldier, a good Israeli. But, is he a good Jew?

I am sure all of my liberal readers (if I have any) will say, “Who are you to even broach such a question? What makes somebody a good Jew anyway?”

The answer is: a good Jew is one who fulfills his tafkid and is an עובד השם. I wrote a whole book about what that means.

I saw the article in the Jerusalem Post with the accompanying picture. And I was troubled by it. Many saw it as a tribute. I saw it as a eulogy.

A smiling head held high. Powerful arms at the ready. A radiant wife by his side – a bas melech. And I wondered...

…does a shel rosh sit on that high head in the mornings?
…does a shel yad adorn those powerful arms?
…does his wife's radiance need to be available for all to see?
…can his powerful frame support the yoke of Torah?

Perhaps Shai is closer to observance than I know. Perhaps I am totally not being dan l'kaf zchus. But the article doesn't mention it. And the picture doesn't show it.

I know nothing about Shai Haim beyond what the column says. But the column says this: Shai Haim is not content to be a good anything. Shai Haim wants to be the best. The best of the best of the best.

The Torah says we need to show the nations of the world that we are the best. But how?

The Torah says (Devarim 28:9):

ט יקימך יהוה לו לעם קדוש כאשר נשבע לך כי תשמר את מצות יהוה אלהיך והלכת בדרכיו

G-d will establish you as a holy nation as He has sworn to you - when you keep the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and when you walk in His ways.

Not by playing basketball in a wheelchair. The best Americans can do that. The best Europeans can do that. The best South Africans can do that. Even the best Asians can do that (you don't get much height advantage in a wheelchair).

And then what?

י וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם יהוה נקרא עליך ויראו ממך

And the nations of the world will see that the name of Hashem is called upon you - and they will be fearful of you.

The Torah is not just talking to us chareidim. The Torah is talking to Shai.

The last mishna in Shas (Uktzin 3:12) says that G-d is destined to bequeath each tzaddik with 310 worlds. Shai - שי = gematria 310.

310 worlds! For what? How?

G-d will establish you as a holy nation as He has sworn to you - when you keep the commandments of Hashem, your G-d, and when you walk in His ways.

My steady readers (all 3 of you) might recall that this is not the first time that I am "coming down hard" on another Jew. I did it earlier in a series of posts about Miriam Shear. On the surface it looked as if my sole purpose with those posts was to vindicate the "chareidi" side of the incident. To defend the accused and to hang the accuser out to dry. As if I am a vengeful wolf out to get her.

I suppose that fits a typical profile in the blogosphere. But that's not my game. Anybody who actually went so far as to read my book knows that I am trying to get everyone in, not out. Even Ms. Shear. Besides the defensive aspect, my posts were meant to be a sincere message to Ms. Shear:
You have joined the nation that is being discussed in Devarim 28:10,11. This is no small achievement. Why come all this way and fall short?

Believe it or not, it truly distresses me to see a person who has come so far, fall so short. No, it is obvious that I do not know how any person will be judged - not Miriam Shear, not Shai Haim, not myself - and the incident that I dealt with is just one event in a very complex life. But... hindsight is 20-20 and I know a missed opportunity when I see one. You came so far and you had multiple chances to make a Kiddush Hashem. And you passed them all up. For what? To get your name all over the Internet? To get 3000 people to email you with "support"?

You could have earned 310 worlds. And now, in place of וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם יהוה נקרא עליך ויראו ממך we instead have והיית לזעוה לכל ממלכות הארץ . Was it worth it?

What a shame! What a chaval! The Shechina is crying and I am crying. It hurts.

The yetzer hara (a.k.a. Satan and the Angel of Death - Bava Basra 16a) challenges the very best people (that's why I am in the clear). He tries convincing them that they are good people who have accomplished great achievements. “Go take your achievements and show them to the world”, he says. “So people will write you up in papers telling you how much of an inspiration you are. You have made your imprint on the world. You do not to need to observe mitzvos. You do not need to pray and learn. You do not need to dress with modesty. You have made a great contribution to your people. Your reward is assured. You are a tzaddik. You will get 310 worlds (if not 72 virgins). You are great. You are strong. You have arrived!”

Don't believe him.

Rabbi Weiss asserts that Shai wears "an eternal gold medal around his neck" Don’t believe Rabbi Weiss, Shai. That eternal gold medal is not so eternal. It only lasts 120 years. After that, we are asked: נשאת ונתת באמונה - קבעת עתים לתורה ? We are not asked how we did in the Greek games in Beijing.

Shai, you have more medals to win. They are the gold crowns that we all must win by putting נעשה in front of נשמע .

Rabbi Weiss writes that "Shai is a strong, strong man - however one measures strength". Perhaps I measure it differently. איזהו גבור? הכובש את יצרו . Shai, you are a strong man. A very strong man. But you have not yet won the "eternal gold medal".

Rabbi Weiss says that your life is without boundaries. But sometimes a man can travel the world, to China and New Zealand and Australia, and still have not broken out of the boundaries. You have come so far. You have accomplished so much. Perhaps you will never walk again (let's hope you do) – but you can fly. Now it is time to be mekadesh shem shamayim. You can't do that in China or in New Zealand or Australia. You have to do it right here. Don't miss the opportunity. It would be such a waste! Don't sell yourself short Shai. Shai! 310! 310 worlds! 310 eternal gold medals! You can do it! Go for it.

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא להנחיל לכל צדיק וצדיק, של ש מאות ועשרה עולמות, שנאמר (משלי ח, כא) "להנחיל אהבי יש ואצרתיהם אמלא".

Cheileich l'oraisa!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Service with a Smile...Or Else! : Parsha Challenge - Parshat Ki Tavo

תחת אשר לא עבדת את יהוה אלהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל

This week's Parsha features Moshe Rabbenu's version of the Tochacha. And it is a doozey! 98 Kellalos!!! What a list!

I sure don't want to be there when (ר"ל) they come around (I don't like Ike)!

Smack in the middle of the pack, Moshe takes a time out from all the Kellalos to remind us what transgressions they are due to. I am going to quote a sequence of 4 pasukim (Devarim 28:45-48):

מה ובאו עליך כל הקללות האלה ורדפוך והשיגוך עד השמדך כי לא שמעת בקול יהוה אלהיך לשמר מצותיו וחקתיו אשר צוך
מו והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם
מז תחת אשר לא עבדת את יהוה אלהיך בשמחה ובטוב לבב מרב כל
מח ועבדת את איביך אשר ישלחנו יהוה בך ברעב ובצמא ובעירם ובחסר כל ונתן על ברזל על צוארך עד השמידו אתך

Okay, here is what it looks like it's saying (and this is how I think most people see the sequence of the pasukim):

Pasuk 45 is repeating to us what this chapter in Chumash is about, "And all these curses will come upon you and pursue you and reach you until they destroy you because you did not hearken to the voice of Hashem your G-d to keep His mitzvos and statutes that He commanded you."

Sounds like a fair reason for a whipping.

Now comes pasuk 46, "And they shall be for you for a sign and a wonder and to your children for all time."

Okay. It is going to be something that we won't be able to forget for quite some time.

Now comes pasuk 47, "In place of this that you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and in a good-hearted manner from an abundance of all."

Seems to be summing it all up.

So now, we had a break in the action of 3 pasukim - 45, 46, and 47 - in which the "court clerk" rereads to us the "charge sheet." But something doesn't look right. Let's take another look at pasuk 47:

In place of this that you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and in a good-hearted manner from an abundance of all.

Hold on! Stop right there. You mean that we did indeed serve G-d, only it wasn't with the greatest enthusiasm and that's why we get this tremendous unforgettable Holocaust? Just because we didn't serve with a smile? All this suffering and agony and death and destruction and exile? Because we didn't serve with enthusiasm?

Isn't that a bit over the top?

And, besides, didn't Moshe tell us only two pasukim back that we weren't doing the mitzvos? So don't I already know why this is happening? Why, only 2 pasukim after being convicted of total insubordination are we standing trial again on lesser charges?

Finally, Moshe is done and now pasuk 48 continues with the Kellalos as if nothing interrupted it from the last Kellala, "And you shall serve your enemies..." With the conjoining "vav" - "And you will serve..."

What is the deal with this mysterious pasuk 47?

This question has bothered countless commentaries and has bothered me for decades. Until, all of a sudden, I noticed something. I am not sure most of us are reading these pasukim right.

What do you think?

We'll discuss it in a day or two, IY"H.

Distribution Update

As of September 15, 2008, One Above and Seven Below is no longer available at Shanky's. It is still available at many retailers in Israel and can be requested from the author at:

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For availabilty in the US please see:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sefer Krisus: The Fallacy of Marriage Annulments

והיה אם לא תמצא חן בעיניו כי מצא בה ערות דבר וכתב לה ספר כריתת ונתן בידה ושלחה מביתו

Parshat Ki Teitzei has passed us up and it didn't dawn on me until now that I missed an opportunity to discuss the Agunah issue. I suppose being one Parsha behind is not too bad so I'll give it a go.

My plan is to include a chapter in my upcoming Volume 2 of One Above and Seven Below that discusses the Jewish/Chareidi/Halachic Beit Din system - (a) how it is supposed to work, (b) how it is not supposed to work, and (c) how it actually does work (more like b than a). Within the confines of this chapter, I intend to deal with the divorce courts and the Agunah issue. As I do more research, I suspect Agunah itself may need its own chapter. Further research suggests it may need its own book.

There is no argument that any true Agunah situation is an awful, heartbreaking tragedy and that we must move Heaven and Earth to resolve each case within the constraints of Halacha. Nevertheless, trying to "override" Halacha can wind up doing more harm than good.

Since this is a Blog and not a book, I will limit myself to briefly addressing one aspect - the proposal to implement unilateral annulments in lieu of a get. This proposal is well advanced and promoted by the left-wing modern Orthodox who seem to think that there is some basis for it in the Talmud. One of the most outspoken proponents of annulments is the renowned Rabbi Shlomo Riskin founder and Rabbi Emeritus of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan and currently Rabbi of the American community in the town of Efrat. Rabbi Riskin never tires of quoting the references in the Talmud that seem to indicate that annulments without a get can work. Of course, it is easy to quote passages and broadcast them to the masses as long as one does not analyze what they are really saying.

To understand why annulments are unfounded we first have to distinguish between two situations:

(A) An established marriage - the union was Halchically valid and was entered into and consummated with full intent and good faith by the parties and they have considered themselves and have been considered by society to be husband and wife for any amount of time.

(B) A contested marriage - The marriage was performed under questionable Halachic validity, was challenged from the outset by at least one of the parties, and/or at least one the parties has never acknowledged being married.

In Situation A it is universally acknowledged that the marriage took effect. The question at hand is the validity of the divorce. In Situation B, the question at hand is whether there was a valid marriage to begin with. This question is adjudicated before the union progresses any further.

The term - Afkinhu rabbanan - the Rabbis annulled - is brought down in six places in the Talmud which is 5 cases (2 of the 6 are repeats). 3 of the 5 deal with Situation A (Gitin 33, Gitin 73, and Ketubot 3) and 2 deal with Situation B (Bava Batra 48, Yevamot 110). In all 3 cases of Situation A (established marriage) a get was delivered. The logic of Afkinhu is merely employed to validate the get. Thus we have no precedent to annul an established marriage without a get.

Even in the two cases that deal with a contentious marriage (it actually was not a marriage but a betrothal - kiddushin), in one of them (Yevamot 110), the logic of Afkinhu is mentioned as the reasoning for the opinion that is not accepted as Halacha. The ruling is that the woman requires a get from the interloping husband!

Thus, from all five cases, the only situation where a woman is released without a get is in Bava Batra 48 which is the case of betrothal under duress. There, a woman was coerced (physically) into accepting a betrothal, but she immediately contested it and never entered into marriage. Thus the ruling is that the betrothal never took effect and, therefore, there was no need for a get.

Rabbi Riskin has stated his position numerous times. I first noted it in his Shabbat Shalom column in the Jerusalem Post from August 30, 2001 (I do not have a copy or link to this article - it is seven years old).

To set the record straight, I fired off a Letter to the Editor which essentially says exactly what I wrote above. I still have a copy of that letter which I will paste (note the letter was a bit long and I suggested that they omit the "lumdos" in the brackets for printing):


I find it difficult to comprehend Rabbi Riskin's call (SHABBAT SHALOM: An unhappy couple can be divorced - Aug. 30) for "the establishment of a special Jerusalem Court empowered by a decree of the Chief Rabbinate to abrogate marriage unilaterally" - i.e. without a Get. Proponents of annullment stress the fact that the argument "the rabbis have cancelled the marriage" appear five times in the Talmud (B.T Gitin 33, Ketubot 3, Bava Batra 48, Yevamot 110, Gitin 73). Nevertheless, none of these sources advocate dissolving an established marriage without a get.

[Of the five Talmudic sources cited by Rabbi Riskin, only three deal with dissolving an established marriage (B.T. Gitin 33, Gitin 73, and Ketubot 3). In one of these (Gitin 33) the argument represents the opinion that is rejected by the Authorities. In all three, the argument is used as reasoning to validate the get. The text of Maimonides, for example, (Hilchos Gerushin9:18) states that "the divorce (i.e., the get) is valid", not that the marriage is cancelled "retrospectively" sans get. The other two sources (B.T. Bava Batra 48, Yevamot 110) deal with betrothals that are contentious and are challenged at the time of their occurrence. The halachic ruling in Yevamot 110 is against the proponent of the "cancel" argument - rather, that a get is required. Bava Batra 48 (Betrothal under Duress) indeed invalidates a betrothal - NOT consummated by marriage - without a get. Seemingly, this is only when contested at the first opportunity after the occurrence.]

I am appalled that a Talmudic scholar such as Rabbi Riskin supports a position that has no Talmudic backing and is rejected by most contemporary Orthodox authorities.

Yechezkel Hirshman

Har Nof, Jerusalem

I sent this letter both to the Jerusalem post and a cc to Rabbi Riskin at

The Jerusalem Post did not print the letter and I received no response from Rabbi Riskin.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Nobody Outsmarts G-d

I just received this story in an email. I don't know if this is fresh or recycled - I haven't heard it yet. The sender says it's true (sure - they all are). But it's a neat story either way. I copy/pasted it in so it is just as I got it. I have no idea who Rabbi Diamond is.

The Power of Prayer

Rabbi Diamond told us an incredible true story that happened recently. An elderly lady in a nearby nursing home passed away. Her children, who always visited her and took care of her, did their duty and did a proper Jewish Tahara and burial.

On the 5th day of sitting Shiva,the phone rang and the daughter sitting Shiva answered the phone. On the other end of the phone was her mother who she just buried. The daughter, in shock, immediately fainted. The phone rang again and it was her mother again, complaining that no one came to visit her that week. The family then rushed to the nursing home and it turned out there was a mix up at the nursing home and it was her roommate that passed away and not this lady.

So now the nursing home had the grim job of informing the children of the other lady that their mother died 5 days ago. The nursing home called and was trying to break it to these children slowly but before they could even tell the children what happened, the children callously answered if this call has anything to do with our mother they are not interested. These children said 'All day long our mother wastes her time and just prays and prays and says Psalms'. The children then added -'And the one thing she prays for is that when she dies she should have a proper Jewish burial. But,' the children cruelly said, 'We will outsmart her and when she dies we will spite her and make sure she will not have a proper Jewish Burial'.

The nursing home then explained to them it was too late as she already received her proper burial!

Rabbi Diamond said look at the power of prayer and to the extent Hashem will turn the world around to answer a prayer. Here this pious religious lady only prayed for one thing, a proper burial, knowing it was almost impossible, yet she didn't give up. So Hashem orchestrated this whole mix up to respond to the prayers of this lady. Rabbi Diamond said anyone of our prayers can have the same potential and power.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Yesterday - All One's Troubles Seemed So Far Away

Niflaos M'Torasecha strikes again.

Let us discuss the word אתמול - Yesterday (but let's do it today).

This word appears in consecutive roshei teivos one time in all of Tanach!! (No occurrences at all in sofei teivos.) And the lone occurrence is in - you guessed it - the Parsha that we read yesterday - Parshat Ki Teitzei.

In Parshat Ki Teitzei, in the passage that deals with lost possessions, we have the pasuk (Devarim 22:3):

וכן תעשה לכל אבדת אחיך אשר תאבד ממנו ומצאתה לא תוכל להתעלם

Rav Aharonovsky, ShLiT"a wants to suggest that the most precious thing that one can lose is אתמול - Yesterday, because this is one thing that one can never get back.

He goes so far as to quote the famous verse that has been attributed to one of the rishonim:

אדם דואג על איבוד דמיו
ואינו דואג על איבוד ימיו
דמיו אינם עוזרים
וימיו אינם חוזרים

A man will cry for money misspent,
But for days that are gone he does not lament.
His wealth will not help at the time he will grieve,
And a day that has passed he can never retrieve.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fresh for Shabbos: Follow up on Nationality of Ruth

It is time to solve the puzzle about Ruth's nationality. First, let us briefly review the issue:

  • Rashi in BaMidbar (22:4) quotes a Midrash Tanchuma that claims that Balak was actually Midyani.
  • Talmud Bavli (Sotah 47a, etc.) maintains that Balak was a direct ancestor of Ruth and two places indicate the ancestry to be directly patrilineal.
  • In Yevamos 78b and Rambam (Hilchos Issurei Biah 12:21) it is ruled that for non-Jews, nationhood is determined by patrilineal ancestry.
  • Therefore, Ruth is actually Midyani and not Moavi.


Before we go on, let us discuss what exactly may be the ramifications of this astounding revelation. There are two major ones. The first of which I noted in my initial post:
If Ruth is not actually Moavi, there is no need for a controversy during the time of Boaz and again when Doeg HaAdomi challenged Dovid's legitimacy (TB Yevamos 76b).
Let's call this Axiom A.

There is a second ramification that I consciously omitted:
Chazal explicitly link Dovid's and Ruth's pedigree to Lot (Bava Kamma 38b; Midrash Rabba Breishis 41, 50). If Ruth is actually a Midyani and not Moavi, then there is no true blood line up to Lot.
Let's call this Axiom B.

There is one other issue that I wish to posit:
We chareidim are very respectful of Chazal and take their words very seriously and literally as Chazal themselves do (see Sanhedrin 69b and Ben Ish Chai on Zevachim 113b). We always consider the words of Chazal to be accepted as factual – especially when they do not involve supernatural aspects – unless we are forced to view them otherwise.
Let's call this Axiom C.

As a supplement to Axiom C, we very much prefer not to have to modify or update the words of Chazal with details that are not explicitly implied in the text.
Let us call this Axiom D.

With this in mind, we can examine possible approaches to this issue and their impact on our list of axioms. There are a number of possible approaches. However – each one comes at a price.

To my dismay, only one reader cared to suggest approaches to this issue. A studious fellow who identified himself as Josh Waxman which I will assume to be his true name. Reb Josh suggested 2 approaches and then commented that I may have better ones. To R' Josh I say: I wish I did.

His first suggestion was that the Midrash Tanchuma and Talmud Bavli are two unrelated perspectives that are not meant to harmonize.

In other words, the Talmud Bavli that says that Ruth descended from Balak does not mention anywhere that Balak is a prince of Midyan. As such, TB can hold that Balak was a pure blooded Moavi and we have no issue. Likewise, the Midrash Tanchuma that says that Balak was a Midyanite does not suggest that he was an ancestor of Ruth or of Eglon. Eglon, not being Balak's descendant, would have been a true blooded Moavi. So each one can stand on its own podium but cannot harmonize with the other.

With this approach, Axioms A, B, and D are not impaired but Axiom C - the literal veracity of Chazal - is severely compromised since we cannot view both of the maamarei Chazal to be factual.

I believe that this is the most logical approach and it is the one that I personally support. To sacrifice Axiom C is a bitter pill to swallow but we are forced to go this route on other occasions as well. There are numerous cases of conflicting Midrashim even in Talmud Bavli itself such as the gemara in Sanhedrin 106b that suggests that Bilaam HaRasha, who died in the year 2488, never reached the age of 35. This would be in clear contradiction of the Chazal that he was one of Pharaoh's advisers before Moshe's birth 120 years earlier – as pointed out in Rashi (Sanhedrin 106b s.v. Bar Tlasin) – and also of the Chazal in Zevachim (116a) that says that Bilaam was a world leader at the time of Mattan Torah in 2448.

At this point I will say that I am much taken aback that I have found almost no authorities who deal with this question at all. In all my searches, I have found two unlikely heroes. Neither of them is prepared to go with Reb Josh's first approach and to sacrifice Axiom C.

The first of these two heroes is the Mahari"t on Masechet Kiddushin (67a) which I found quoted in a sefer entitled Mishbitzos Zahav on Megillat Ruth by Rav Shabsi Weiss (hat tip: Rabbi Dovid Solomon). The Mahari"t that he quotes poses the question exactly as I wrote it in my original post and answers the question exactly as Reb Josh Waxman writes in his second approach. This is that the decree of "Lo yavo Amoni…" applied no less to Balak himself regardless of his blood nationality, and so, the controversy was legitimate even if, technically, Ruth was a Midyanite.

This approach sustains Axioms A, C, and D but it does not repair the damage to Axiom B. Of course, we can artificially sustain Axiom B if we accept this approach and add to it that since the wives of Balak's descendants were most likely true Moavites, there is a blood line up to Lot even if not patrilineal. It is very "b'diavad" and is like saying that at least 50% of Kohanim can actually be called Midyanim since at least half of Kohanim descend from Elazar and his wife was a Midyanite. (Likewise all of humanity is descended from Kayin because Noach's wife was Kayin's descendant – Rashi Breishis 4:22 s.v. Naama).

The second authority that I found is the Piskei Tosafos at the back of Masechet Sotah (in the produce department). He addresses the passage in Sotah 47a that discusses Ruth's lineage. Curiously enough, there are no Tosafot on Sotah 47a nor in all of Perek Egla Arufa. In item 56, he states as follows:

Balak was from the princes of Midyan and his daughter married a Moavi. Ruth was a daughter's daughter to Eglon. As a reward for his rising from his throne, Ruth descended from him.

Thus, Piskei Tosafos solves the problem by modifying the context of Talmud Bavli to acknowledge that Balak was Midyani and that he begat Ruth BUT he posits that it was not pure patrilineal descent. Ruth did not emanate from his son but rather his daughter whose husband was Moavi.

Two things are clear from Piskei Tosafos: (1) He was definitely bothered by the problem – one of the very few and (2) he went to great lengths to avoid violating Axiom C. His approach will sustain Axioms A, B, and C very nicely but the price to pay is to modify the text of the Talmud from its literal context and thus to violate Axiom D. Perhaps, that is the smallest price to pay.

So, to sum up, we have discussed three approaches to our problem. Two are to be found in respected sources and these are the only written sources that I have found to date. What I intrigues me is that neither of these commentaries want to take the easy route (Approach #1) at the expense of Axiom C. To my knowledge, none of the great classical commentaries address this problem. This can mean one of two things:

  • They did not notice it – (hard to believe - well, I did).
  • They do not consider it an issue because they will accept Approach #1 and do not care to go to great pains to sustain the integrity of Axiom C - Axiom C is expendable.

Axiom C refers to the extent that we can rely on Chazal's explanations as being factual. This is one of the greatest debates of today.

Tishbi Yitaretz Kushyos U'sfekos

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The True Enemy - An Ellul Message from Rav Asher Weiss, Shlit"A

In the Aggadic portion of last night's (Sept. 8) shiur, HaGaon Rav Asher Zelig Weiss, ShLiT"A, discussed the opening pasuk of Ki Teitzei - "When you go out to wage [the] war against your enemy..."

He cited the well-known explanation of many darshanim (including Ohr HaChayim in Devarim 21:11) that this pasuk is referring to the greater war - the war that each person must wage against his yetzer hara. This is implied from the style of the pasuk. It does not read: Ki teitzei l'milchama - when you go out to wage a war - but, rather, it reads: Ki teitzei la'milchama - when you go out to wage the war. Not just any war...

He linked this to the aura of Ellul as we customarily recite Psalm 27 which says:

אם תחנה עלי מחנה לא יירא לבי אם תקום עלי מלחמה בזאת אני בוטח

If a war (מלחמה ) should arise upon me, in this (זאת) I am confident...

The word זאת is always a reference to Torah as it says זאת התורה - אדם כי ימות באהל and it says וזאת התורה אשר שם משה , etc. So, apparently what King David is telling us is that the remedy for the מלחמה - the great battle against the yetzer hara - is זאת - Torah. This is in line with the famous gemara in Kiddushin (30b):

כך הקב"ה אמר להם לישראל בני בראתי יצר הרע ובראתי לו תורה תבלין ואם אתם עוסקים בתורה אין אתם נמסרים בידו שנאמר הלא אם תטיב שאת ואם אין אתם עוסקין בתורה אתם נמסרים בידו שנא' לפתח חטאת רובץ ולא עוד אלא שכל משאו ומתנו בך שנאמר ואליך תשוקתו ואם אתה רוצה אתה מושל בו שנאמר ואתה תמשל בו

So says G-d to Israel: My son, I have created a yetzer hara and I have created the Torah as an antidote. If you will busy yourselves with the study of Torah, you will not be given over into his hands...

And so, the message is that the sole antitdote to the influence of the yetzer hara is the study of Torah.

He then went on to challenge this concept from the following Chazal:

א"ר לוי בר חמא אמר ר"ש בן לקיש לעולם ירגיז אדם יצר טוב על יצר הרע שנא' רגזו ואל תחטאו. אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יעסוק בתורה שנאמר אמרו בלבבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יקרא קריאת שמע שנאמר על משכבכם אם נצחו מוטב ואם לאו יזכור לו יום המיתה שנאמר ודומו סלה.

A person must always infuriate the yetzer tov against the yetzer hara... if he is victorious, well and good. If not, he should busy himself with Torah study. If he is victorious with this, well and good. If not, he should recite the kriat shema. If he is victorious with this, well and good. If not, he should remember that the day of death will come...
Rav Weiss asks: If Torah study is the true antidote, why do we require some alternative backup remedies? How is it possible that Torah does not work, and what do we gain from these other suggestions?

He answers that Torah and only Torah is the antidote for the yetzer hara. Nevertheless, it is similar to all medicines that must be "taken as directed". Some medicines are to be taken on an empty somach and others only just before or just after meals. In some cases certain foods will nullify or exacerbate the effects of the medicine, or certain other medicines or alcohol, or certain medical conditions (i.e., if a woman is pregnant or nursing or if one has hypertention, etc.).

Therefore, for people who are in the proper state of spiritual health and maintain a proper "spiritual diet", the Torah study alone should be sufficient. However, for one who has a more severe condition, he may need a booster to supplement the Torah study (which cannot be dispensed of). He may have a problem in emunah and as such, his Torah study alone will not do the trick. And so, in order to strengthen his emunah, the gemara suggests that he recite kriat shema. Then, with a new surge of emunah, his Torah study will succeed.

The gemara continues that if that still doesn't work, he may have another "condition". He may have a strong case of gaavah which prevents the Torah study from penetrating to his soul. As such, the gemara suggests that he remind himself of his eventual demise as the Mishna in Pirkei Avot says:
Look at 3 things and you will not come to the hands of sin. From whence you came, to where you are going and before Whom you must account...To where you are going - to a place of dust, maggots, and worms...
If even this does not work, then one has already "come to the hands of sin" and he must first do teshuva before the Torah study will help.

May we all be victorious in the battles of the greatest of wars!

Checks and Balances - Excerpt of Halachic Portion of Shiur from Rav Asher Weiss, Shlit"A

On Monday of Parshat Ki Teitzei (Sept. 8), HaGaon Rav Asher Zelig Weiss, ShLiT"A gave a shiur on Shmittas Kesafim. His main discussion was about how a pruzbal works - i.e., what exactly is one giving over to Bet Din and why does that permit the creditor to collect his debt. Toward the end of the Halachic portion, he discussed what types of debts are affected by Shmittas Kesafim if there is no pruzbal and, therefore, require a pruzbal.

One of the more interesting issues was if one is holding a check that has not been deposited or cleared. He said for checks that are post-dated for after Rosh Hashannah, there is no need for a pruzbal because Shmittah does not affect debts whose payment time has not arrived. For current checks, he quoted many contemporary poskim who maintain that since checks are passed from person to person (even third party) and are accepted as payment, they are like monetary bills and there is no need for a pruzbal.

He disagrees with this psak and holds that any check that has not yet cleared the bank is an uncollected debt and requires a pruzbal. He qualified it by saying that the State of Israel is a world leader in numerous categories. One of these is that the State of Israel is #1 in the world in the volume of returned checks. He claims that since, if a check (here in Israel) has not yet cleared the bank, there is a fairly reasonable likelihood that it isn't going to clear the bank, then any check must be looked upon as an uncollected debt.

What Nationality was on Ruth's Teudat Zehut? - Parsha Challenge: Parshat Ki Teitzei

לא יבא עמוני ומואבי בקהל ה' גם דור ... עד עולם

This issue actually belongs in Parshat Balak but it is relevant to our Parsha, as well. It is one of the most confounding questions on the commentaries of Chumash and I am astounded that virtually none of the commentaries even raises the question.

The question is this:

The Talmud Bavli states in no less than 4 places (Nazir 23b, Sanhedrin 105b, Horayos 10b, Sotah 47a) that Ruth was a direct descendant of Balak. In at least 2 of those (Sanhederin and Horayos), it indicates that she was a direct patrilineal descendant.

In Parshat Balak (BaMidbar 22:4) Rashi quotes from Midrash Tanchuma that Balak was not qualified to rule over Moav because "he was from the princes on Midyan". So, according to the Tanchuma, Balak was not a true blooded Moavi at all, but rather a Midyanite!

Now, the gemara in Yevamot (78b) tells us that "for non-Jews, nationality follows the male anscestor". As such, if Balak was a Midyanite, as the Tanchuma asserts, and Ruth was a direct patrilineal descendant of Balak as the Talmud Bavli asserts, then Ruth's nationality should not be registered as Moavi but rather as Midyanite!

If so, what was the basis for the controversy in the days of Boaz?? Ruth was not truly a Moavi at all!

Does anybody have any ideas how to reconcile this? Does anybody know any commentary that deals with this question?

Please tell me!

I havc been searching and searching for years. In a few days, BL"N, I will disclose what I have found.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Shalom Bayit in the Midst of War (or How to Have Exceptional Kollel Sons Without Even Trying)

The gemara in Eruvin 100b states:

א"ר שמואל בר נחמני א"ר יוחנן כל אשה שתובעת בעלה לדבר מצוה הווין לה בנים שאפילו בדורו של משה לא היו כמותן דאילו בדורו של משה כתיב הבו לכם אנשים חכמים ונבונים וידועים לשבטיכם וכתיב ואקח את ראשי שבטיכם אנשים חכמים וידועים ואילו נבונים לא אשכח ואילו גבי לאה כתיב ותצא לאה לקראתו ותאמר אלי תבוא כי שכור שכרתיך וכתיב ומבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים

Says Rav Shmuel bar Nachmeni says Rabbi Yochanan: A wife who petitions her husband for marital relations will have sons that surpass in wisdom even those of the generation of Moshe Rabeinu. For in the generation of Moshe the pasuk sought out Chachamim, Nevonim, and Yeduim but they could only locate Chachamim and Yeduim. There were no Nevonim (masters of Bina) to be found. However, Leah who "came out" to entice Yaakov gave birth to Yissachar whose descendants are called "yodei bina l'itim"...

Niflaos MiTorasecha says that this Talmudic passage is indicated in the following pasuk from Parshat Shoftim (Devarim 20:11):

יא והיה אם שלום תענך ופתחה לך והיה כל העם הנמצא בה יהיו לך למס ועבדוך

The roshei tevos of the four words: אם שלום תענך ופתחה is אשתו (occurs twice in the Torah and 5 times in all of Tanach).

As such, the message of the pasuk is: And it shall be, if she - your wife - responds to you with peace (greets you) and is open to you (let's not get carried away!) and it shall be that all of the population that is found inside her - her offspring - shall be למס ועבדוך - they shall be as shevet Yissachar upon whom it is written (Breishis 49:15): ויהי למס עבד

Note that Rashi comments on those words in Breishis 49:15:
למס עבד. לפסוק להם הוראות של תורה וסדרי עבורין שנאמר (דה"א יב) ומבני יששכר יודעי בינה לעתים לדעת מה יעשה ישראל ראשיהם מאתים. מאתים ראשי סנהדראות העמיד וכל אחיהם על פיהם:

This is the same pasuk that is referenced in the gemara in Eruvin!

Now, I wonder - why is this hidden message encoded in a pasuk about how to wage war???

P.S. Before you fellas go to town on this code be aware that there are 3 occurrences in the Torah of the word אשתו in sofei teivos (6 in all Tanach). One of them is from last week's Parsha (Devarim 15:2):

וזה דבר השמטה שמוט כל בעל משה ידו אשר ישה ברעהו לא יגש את רעהו

Which seems to hint that one is not allowed to exert undue duress upon his wife!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Parshat Shoftim and Jewish Nationalism - Giving it our Best Shot

Parshat Shoftim is upon us. This is the main Bible of the Religious Zionists because this Parsha discusses all the issues of Jewish Nationalism. It discusses the governmental structure which consists mainly of two parts:

  • The legislative and judicial branch - the Sanhedrin
  • The executive branch - the Monarch
Each has their powers and limitations and essentially provide a "checks and balances" structure. In addition, Judaism has it's "church" class - the Kohanim and Leviim.

And it discusses the issues of military engagement.

I thought that when Parshat Shoftim rolls around, it would be a great time to give a preview of the nationalism and army issues that I am going to need to discuss (eventually). But the hour is late and time is short so I will only mention the points of contention and leave the details for later:

  • Can today's government be considered a Jewish national government?
  • What are the qualifications for a King?
  • Who has to show up for a war and who not?
  • What is a war?
  • What is the difference between a milchemes mitvah and a milchemes rishus?
  • What is the Halachic age for army service? (This is a tough one that will surprise many).
  • What are the responsiblities of the "church" class in this regard?
  • Can one be part of the "church" class even if he is not from Shevet Levy?
  • Does any of this apply today?
And the obvious impact of all this is to determine from a Halchic perspective if chareidim who avoid army service in today's Israel are in compliance or in contempt of Halacha L'maaseh.

I don't really need to discuss it because, for the most part the answers are all to be found in the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim (and that famous one in Hilchos Shemitta V'Yovel 13:12-13).

All that said, it's been a while since I posted a joke (to lighten up our Ellul) so here is a golden oldie (I assume that most readers are on the younger side and haven't heard all these ancient relics):

The Russian authorities set their eyes on a whole group of Yeshiva boys and drafted the whole lot. The Yeshiva boys did quite well in basic training and they excelled in marksmanship. Naturally, when the hostilities broke out, these Jewish infantrymen were rushed to the front lines.

They were told to dig in to their position and lay in wait for an anticipated charge from the enemy. They did not have to wait long as they were suddenly confronted by a surge of enemy soldiers rushing at them.

The commander ordered them to "Fire!"

No response.

"Fire!" screamed the commanding officer.

No response.

Totally frantic he screeamed again, "Fire! Fire, you idiots! How come nobody is shooting?"

One yeshiva bochur looks up at him and says:

"Can't you see? There are people in the way. Somebody is going to get hurt!"

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Parah Aduma Syndrome: Pop Music and Paper Tigers - Part 1

Author's note: this post is in reference to a current feature article in the Jerusalem Post. As of the last time I checked, this article has generated no less than 150 Talkbacks - more than the item about Tony Blair's sil stuck in Gaza. This post is a first draft and may go through future updates. This deals with the subject of the article but not the article itself. That is planned for Part 2 (if I find the time).

Re: Haredim move to eradicate 'foreign' pop

What's good and what's bad?

Well, we can figure out the answer if we substitute some words. Let's substitute the word good with beneficial and substitute the word bad with harmful.

Now, let's ask again - what's beneficial and what's harmful?

It all depends on what or whom we are trying to benefit and what or whom we don't want to harm. If something benefits what we want to benefit, it's good. If it harms what we want to benefit, it's bad.

Is music good or bad? Or, as Don McLean put it: Can music save your [im]mortal soul?(My answer: Yes it can, but not Don Mclean's music)

And the answer is: it depends on what you want the music to do for you. It depends on what is your ultimate goal, your agenda. If the music helps you get there, it is beneficial - and something beneficial is good. If it hampers your progress, it is harmful - and something harmful is bad.

But, if this is true, then the good/bad ratio depends more on the person than it does on the music. It is possible that the same music may help one person achieve a positive goal and it may hamper somebody else. This means that the same music may be good for one person and bad for another.

We chareidim have a term for something that is good for one person and not good for another. We call it a Parah Adumah - a red heifer. The sages said that the red heifer is illogical. It is illogical because it purifies the contaminated and contaminates the pure. All things that can help some people and hurt others are Parah Adumas. There are so many Parah Adumahs in this world and music is just one example. Prescription drugs are Parah Adumahs for all of humanity. Any specific one will help some people and harm others. And in the Jewish world, there is a plethora of Parah Adumas - wealth is a Parah Adumah, vacations and summer camps are Parah Adumahs, secular education and Torah u'Madda is a Parah Adumah and Nachal Chareidi is a Parah Adumah.

So, now the question becomes -are Parah Adumahs good or bad?

On an individual level there is no question. To the individuals that they benefit they are good and to the individuals that they harm they are bad. The question is on the societal level. Are they good for the Jews or bad for the Jews?

And here the answer must me: if they do more good than bad, then it is יצא הפסדו בשכרו - the loss is absorbed in the gain - but if they do more bad than good, it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו - the gain is absorbed in the loss.

So now the question is: should we banish the Parah Adumahs from the Jewish world?

And to answer that, let's ask this: why are there so many Parah Adumas in the Jewish world?

The answer is: because of the erev rav, the mixed multitudes. It is because this is the curse of the eitz haDaas. The tree was the tree of knowing good and bad. It changed a world of only good into a world of good and bad mixed together. A world of Parah Adumahs. When we received the Torah, we briefly restored the world to the way it was before the sin of the tree of knowledge. A world of only good. It was good, and it was brief (just like the first time). And then... it happened again.

The first time it was the serpent. But the second time it was the erev rav. The erev rav could not live in a truly good world that was mostly intangible. They needed a tangible world. So they petitioned for a golden calf. The rationale behind the golden calf was to have a tangible intermediary between them and G-d. The problem with the rationale is that it immediately changes from rationale to rationalization and they forget about G-d and just worship the intermediary.

G-d wasn't happy. He said (not a real quote), "I'll let you off the hook from this golden calf if you deal with this Parah Adumah".

They're ba-a-a-a-ack!!!

So G-d gave us these Parah Adumahs because we need them. We worship the golden calf and we have the mixed multitudes in our midst and we need them. We need music and wealth and vacations and summer camps and secular education and Nachal Chareidi. All these things can help people. They can help purify the "contaminated". But they all have risks. They can contaminate the pure. But G-d said of the Parah Adumah (real quote): "This is the law of the Torah." We cannot banish it.

Or can we?

There is a part of us that wants to banish the Parah Adumahs. Who are they?

They are the Bnei Levy. The Bnei Levy are the Torah scholars of Israel. They are the idealists of Israel. They are the zealots of Israel. Moshe was a Levy, Korach was a Levy, Pinchas was a Levy, Shmuel was a Levy. They defied Pharoah's decrees in Egypt. They circumcised their young in the desert. They carry the Holy Ark. Oh, and one other thing. They are the musicians of Israel.

The Bnei Levy did not worship the golden calf, and so, do not require a Parah Adumah.

We who worship the golden calf cannot banish the Parah Adumah. But the Bnei Levy can.

Perhaps, as Rambam writes (Sefer Zerayim, Hilchos Shmittah V'Yovel 13:12-13) It is our job to emulate the Bnei Levy and to grind the golden calf to dust. With the dust of the golden calf we can replace the ashes of the Parah Adumah. Those who can do it will restore the unequivocal good. And for those who cannot the Bnei Levy will...

"...say to his father and his mother, 'I did not see him' and to his brother 'I do not recognize you' and to his son, 'I do not know you'..." (Devarim 33:9, see Rashi ad loc.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Poorer than Hillel

Most of us are familiar with the gemara in Yoma 35b that says as follows:

The rich, the poor, and the wicked (lustful) will all come to judgement. To the poor man they will ask, "Why did you not busy yourself with Torah study?" If he will answer, "I was destitute and was preoccupied with my livelihood..." he will be admonished, "Were you any more destitute than Hillel?"

The gemara goes on to relate that Hillel used to work everyday until he earned a half dinar. From this half dinar, he used half to support himself and his family and the other half to pay the entrance fee to the yeshiva. One day, he was not able to earn the money and could not pay the entrance fee. As he was denied entrance, he climbed to the roof of the study hall and sat near a skylight to hear the session. He remained there oblivious to a heavy snowfall until he lost consciousness. Eventually, he was discovered, rescued, and revived.

I have always had difficulty with this story. The brevity of this story leaves many details undisclosed. One question is: Does "half" mean literally half? Was the cost of admission equal to the minimal amount of a day's living expenses for a family?

I guess tuition was as expensive then as it is now.

A more likely approach is that the word "half" does not mean a literal 50% but means "a portion". In many places in the Talmud, any amount less than a whole (100%) is called "a half" such as the shitta: חצי שיעור אסור מן התורה .

Be that as it may, there were other more substantial questions. One of the main ones is:
If he could earn enough to cover his most basic needs in a few hours a day, why is that called being poor? Okay, so he had no extravagances - but he didn't need any. He could meet his daily basic needs in a few hours a day. A poor person is one who cannot meet his minimal needs. It doesn't seem like he was in debt. Yet, so many of us that work all day long are in debt. Aren't we poorer than Hillel?

What were his working hours? What did he do? Did he go to college and have a degree in accounting or engineering and work part time in an office?

I don't get that impression. It seems to me that he did not have any formal vocational training and hired himself to do odd jobs like shlepping or handywork. But, does this mean that although he was an unskilled laborer, he could nevertheless meet his minimal needs in a few hours? Did he pay any taxes on the money? Bituach L'umi and Mas Briut?

Who is included in the term "anshei beito" - his family members? Is that just his wife, or does it include his children? How many children did he have at that time and how old were they? Did poor people support their children then? Did he have to pay tuition for his children? Did he have to buy diapers? Did they wear costly glasses that break and get lost? Did they get cavities in their teeth or need braces?

Where did he live? Did he rent or own? Did he have a mortgage? Did he have to pay arnona and mandatory insurance? If somebody trips over their own feet in his house, could they sue him? How much did he pay for Gema"ch? (גמ"ח = גז - מים - חשמל ) Did he have a washer, dryer, and refrigerator that soak up electricity?

Was he not able to get along without these things and still meet the typical living standards of lower income people of his time and place?

If anybody knows Hillel's secret* about how to "work for a living" and meet all of our most basic needs and yet be able to spend most of our time in the bais midrash like it says in Rambam, Talmud Torah 3:7 and Shulchan Aruch Yorah Deah 246:21 (also Orach Chaim 156:1; see Mishna Berura s.k. 2 and Biur Halacha) - please tell it to us.

Is Hillel here? Is Hillel here? (Shabbos 31a)

*I highly doubt that he practiced birth control.

Monday, September 1, 2008

More on Chareidi Poverty - A Bracha from the Gerrer Rebbe ZT"L

Last Friday night - Parshat Re'eh - Rabbi Hillel Cooperman, son of Rabbi Yehuda Cooperman of Michlala, spoke at Kehillat Bnei Torah on behalf of Tomchei Shabbos in Har Nof.

He told over that shortly before HaGaon Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, ZT"L passed away, he was graced with a visit from the Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, ZT"L. The Gerrer Rebbe asked him if he would object to hearing a "Chassidishe vordt". Rav Abramsky invited him to proceed. The Gerrer Rebbe said as follows:

The pasuk says (Devarim 15:11):

יא כי לא יחדל אביון מקרב הארץ על כן אנכי מצוך לאמר פתח תפתח את ידך לאחיך לעניך ולאבינך בארצך

...therefore I am commanding you to say - you shall surely open your hand ...

What is the meaning of the word לאמר - to say? To say what? To whom?

The Rebbe explained that the gemara in Bava Basra (9b) says as follows:

ואמר רבי יצחק כל הנותן פרוטה לעני מתברך בשש ברכות והמפייסו בדברים מתברך בי"א ברכות

One who gives a prutah to a pauper is blessed with 6 blessings. And one who soothes him with words is blessed with 11 blessings.

The gemara indicates that it is better to give the pauper encouragement than to give him money. (Most poor people will debate this point. See Tosafot ad loc. What it really means is that it is a second phase to giving charity which has more potency).

The Rebbe continued that it is this point that is being indicated in our pasuk. The pasuk is saying that after I have already commanded you (in the previous pasuk, 15:10) to give charity, there is a second, more sublime phase of giving charity; and that is to say soothing words to the pauper. As such the pasuk says:

I am commanding you to say - to the pauper - thus: in the future, you will be able to surely open your hands to your more unfortunate brother...

Does Working Work? - My Cross-Currents Comment

As usual, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum presented an exemplary critique of the economical crisis within contemporary Chareidi society. Midway through, Rabbi Rosenblum enumerates the potential remedies as follows:

“THREE SOLUTIONS ARE commonly offered to the destructive poverty in the Israeli chareidi community (though the problem is hardly limited to Israel): greater government support; increased contributions from rich Jews abroad; and adopting a simpler lifestyle.”

Commentor #4 voiced the thinking of the masses with this note:

How can you possibly say you want to talk seriously about poverty and not even mention the only real solution: WORKING FOR A LIVING. There is no other solution.

Comment by Seriously — August 31, 2008 @
1:26 pm

The editor confirmed that this is the thinking of the masses with this insertion:

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Within an hour of receiving this comment, perhaps another fifteen came in, all making the same point. We suspect that there will be many more. We remind our readership - and those who take the trouble to respond - that we are trying to avoid posting comments that say the same thing. There is no question, however, that many of our readers all have the same solution in mind - and reacted extremely quickly, and emotionally. All comments received so far, including some strong ones, were civil and appropriate. The only reason you are not seeing them is the policy on needless repetition.]

As usual, I see things dfferently. for two reasons:

  1. I live in Israel.
  2. I don't think like the masses.

Here is a comment I submitted to Cross-Currents (note that Cross-Currents' moderation system is painfully slow. This may take some time to appear - if it isn't canned totally):

I hate to swim against the tide, but I guess that is what I am [in]famous for. I am not speaking for Rabbi Rosenblum nor did I discuss this matter with him, but my acute understanding of Israeli society and the Israeli workforce - of which I am a part - leads me to surmise that the reason Rabbi Rosenblum did not offer what everybody calls “The Obvious Solution” is because it is not an obvious solution. This “solution” is presented as some magic all benefit/no cost just-get-up-and-do-it fix that is more elusive than realistic.

The details of this are too complex to articulate in a blog comment and I am gathering material for a chapter in my book project about this issue that I can assure you will not be brief.

One earlier poster (ZB #9)touched on some of the issues. A few additional points - the work environment in Israel is not chareidi friendly both in terms of tznius in the work place (worse than the US IMO)and work hours. Even shabbos is a problem especially in International concerns - true, the law requires compliance to Shmiras shabbos but, in practice, a Shomer Shabbos worker will have a hard time competing for a position against one who is not (likewise, the chareidi worker who must leave his job at 6 pm to be home for his kids and to maintain a seder will have a hard time competing for a position with an unmarried chiloni who is willing to work late). To debate poster 11, low paying unskilled jobs are not an “obvious solution”. Nobody has time to wait till Rome is built. As my father always says, “Even before you arrive at the tavern, you already need a drink.”

The system is also not large-family friendly. There is no such thing as deductions for dependents for a working man (there is for women). A man who works in Israel with 12 children pays the same taxes as a bachelor. Not a penny less. That is why there are child allowances.

Israeli living is expensive for everyone. The average Israeli secular Jew with only 2-3 kids that go to public school can only maintain a decent standard of living because both spouses work with all the accompanying social hazards. For a chareidi lifestyle where the mother cannot work and the father gets no tax breaks and the average salary is currently between 6-7000 shekels/ mo ($2000 BEFORE taxes) even working does not get the job done. Of course it’s better than nothing but now we return to ZB’s points.

Most posters are unaware or ignoring that only a limited segment of Chareidi family heads (bet 40,000-60,000) learn full time. And even those, if the wife can work, she does. Ironically, many of these are in better financial condition than the working ones.

I could go on and on but all I really need to say is this: for all non-Israelis who fantasize that “working for a living” will answer Chareidi poverty in Israel, please take your lucrative skills that you developed for years and pick yourselves up and come over here to live and work for a living and see how far it gets you.

My contacts at Nefesh B’Nefesh are standing by for your applications.

See you soon.