Thursday, July 29, 2010

G-D Works Through Nature

This week's Parsha, Eikev, reveals to us something that the Rambam has spoken of for a long time, G-D uses nature to perform miracles. Many people declare that when G-D performs a miracle it is completely unnatural and "magical." The verse says (Devarim 7:20)

כ. וְגַם אֶת הַצִּרְעָה יְשַׁלַּח יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּם עַד אֲבֹד הַנִּשְׁאָרִים וְהַנִּסְתָּרִים מִפָּנֶיךָ:

20. And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish.

Rashi, on this verse tells us what the tzir'ah is based on a Gemora in Sotah: 

The tzir’ah: Heb. הַצִּרְעָה, a species of flying insect which injected poison into them [the Canaanites], making them impotent and blinding their eyes wherever they hid. — [Sotah 36a] 

This is fascinating. Why is it that Moshe needs to tell the Jewish people that G-D is going to incite an insect that will cause a natural disease in their enemies? If G-D works through miracles, why not just say G-D will cause them to go blind and impotent. What is Moshe trying to teach us by telling us that the insect will cause this disease?

It seems to be that there is a very important lesson to be learned. Moshe is teaching us that G-D works through nature. When the Jews are suddenly victorious because a disease has run rampant in the Canaanite land, they should not think this was coincidence, but rather G-D Himself who destroyed their enemies. True, this victory came about in a natural way, but G-D's hand should be clear to each and every Jew. G-D's abilities should not be confined to only the open miracles that it is clear that only G-D could perform, but even the natural happenstances are caused by an intervention by G-D. That is the lesson of the tzir'ah, that G-D intervenes through natural means and that we, the Jewish people, should realize that this is how G-D intervenes in our lives. 

This is similar to the story of Hezekiah when he was being surrounded by the King of Assyria, Sanncheriv. In Melachim II (19:35) it says:

35. And it came to pass on that night that an angel of the Lord went out and slew one hundred eighty-five thousand of the camp of Assyria. And they arose in the morning, and behold they were all dead corpses.  

However, Josephus tells us, quoting the Chaldean historian Berosus as follows:

Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger [by a plague], for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very night of the siege, a hundred fourscore and five thousand, with their captains and generals, were destroyed (Antiquities 10.1.5).

This seems to be a very similar idea. It is not through unnatural miracles that G-D saves the Jewish people, but a manipulation of nature. A Jewish person should realize that, even though nature might do something in his or her favor, perhaps it is G-D's hand. This is what Moshe is teaching us, that we must always be aware that G-D has the power to manipulate nature and His actions are not limited to unnatural events.

However, as the Rambam and Ralbag teach us (In The Guide 3:17-18 and The Wars of the Lord in book 4 chapter 4) G-D only intervenes in nature (gives Hashgacha pratis, individual attention) for the most righteous of individuals. So, G-D allows the natural order to run the world for most individuals, but in the case of righteous people, that is when G-D intervenes in nature. Otherwise, according to the Rambam and Ralbag, there is Hasgacha klalis (general attention) that runs our lives. However, we never know if we are deserving of divine intervention and, therefore, should realize that G-D can be intervening in our lives at any moment.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rambam-Yesodei Hatorah Chapter 5 halacha 6- Saving a Deathly Ill Person By Transgressing the Commandments

כענין שאמרו באונסין כך אמרו בחלאים. כיצד מי שחלה ונטה למות ואמרו הרופאים שרפואתו בדבר פלוני מאיסורין שבתורה עושין. ומתרפאין בכל איסורין שבתורה במקום סכנה חוץ מעבודת כוכבים וגילוי עריות ושפיכת דמים שאפילו במקום סכנה אין מתרפאין בהן. ואם עבר ונתרפא עונשין אותו בית דין עונש הראוי לו: 

Similarly to that which we said by a case of being forced to do something (i.e. someone is holding a gun to your head and telling you to do something) so too [the same laws apply] by sick people. How so? Someone who is sick and on the verge of death and the doctors tell him [or her] that he [or she] can be cured with some object that is forbidden by the Torah, they can use it (i.e. pig will cure a disease, then the sick person can eat pig). [In fact,] a person can be cured using anything that is forbidden by the Torah in a life threatening case except for Idol Worship, illicit relations or killing, for even in a life threatening situation you can not use these things as a cure. If the sick person transgresses and cures himself [or herself with any of these things] the court punishes him [or her] with whatever the punishment is supposed to be [for transgressing this law].  

The idea in this Rambam is to show that in the case of an illness that is bringing someone to death and the cure is a forbidden object is basically a situation where the person is being forced to use that cure that is forbidden by the Torah. It is as if someone is holding a gun to your head and saying eat the non-kosher food or I will kill you. Therefore, the person is allowed to eat the non-kosher food, because he or she is being forced.

However, there is one big difference between this case and the case where someone is actually forcing you to transgress the law (Law 4 in this chapter), the case of transgressing one of the "Big Three" commandments. If a person has a gun held to his or her head and they are told to perform Idol Worship, illicit relations or to kill someone, if they transgress they are not punished. However, in the case of a sick person they are punished if they transgress one of these three commandments. What is the difference?

The difference has nothing to do with the persons situation. For all intents and purposes, these situations are identical. The difference comes in when we are playing the blame game. Who can we blame for the transgression in these cases. In the situation where someone is holding a gun to a Jew's head then, when they transgress the law, they are considered to be doing it against their will. As the Rambam says in fourth halacha,

"Even so, since he or she is forced to transgress he or she is not given lashes and it doesn't even need to mentioned that Beis Din (the court of law) doesn't kill him or her even if he or she is forced to kill against his or her will. The reason for this (that it doesn't have to be stated that he or she is not killed by the court of law) is because a person is only flogged or killed if the person transgresses willingly, with witnesses and a warning." 

However, in our case of a sick person, how can we say it is against their will? Whose will is it if not the sick person's? In the case where someone has a gun to your head, then you are performing the will of the person with the gun. In the case of a sick person there is only one will, the will of the sick person. One can't say that the bacteria eating away at his life has a will (nor did anyone before the 20th century know of any bacteria that could have been blamed). Therefore, if a dying person chooses to transgress one of the "Big Three" commandments in order to save his or her life, as long as there was warning, that person is liable to punishment from the courts.

Practically speaking, there is no cure, to my knowledge, that would require a person to transgress one of the "Big Three" commandments that would have any medical benefits, let alone be capable of saving a person's life. So, in the end of the day, if a person is dying, anything and everything that has proven medical benefits should be done to save the life of a dying person.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rambam- Yesodei Hatorah Perek 5 Halacha 5- You Can't Forcibly Hand Over One to Save Many

נשים שאמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחת מכן ונטמא אותה ואם לאו נטמא את כולכן יטמאו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל. וכן אם אמרו להם עובדי כוכבים תנו לנו אחד מכם ונהרגנו ואם לאו נהרוג כולכם. יהרגו כולם ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל. ואם יחדוהו להם ואמרו תנו לנו פלוני או נהרוג את כולכם. אם היה מחוייב מיתה כשבע בן בכרי יתנו אותו להם. ואין מורין להם כן לכתחלה. ואם אינו חייב מיתה יהרגו כולן ואל ימסרו להם נפש אחת מישראל:

[In a case where] there is a group of Jewish women and Idol Worshipers say to them, "Give us one of you and we will make her impure (aka rape her), but if not then we will make you all impure" then these women should all become impure and they should not hand over a single Jewish soul. So too, if Idol worshipers would say [to a group of Jews], "Give us one of you and we will kill him/her, but if not we will kill all of you" everyone should be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be handed over. If they (the Idol Worshipers) singled out a specific person and said give so and so to us or we will kill all of you, then [what should be done depends on this person]. If this person is deserving of the death penalty like Sheva ben Bichri (See Shmuel 2 chapter 20: he rebelled against King David) then you can give him/her over, but don't teach this to them (the people making the decision) as a first option. If this singled out person is not deserving of the death penalty then everyone should be killed and not a single Jewish soul should be handed over. 

This Rambam brings up the idea of "Who says your blood is redder than his/her blood" found throughout Judaic literature. Indeed, the Rambam is telling us that there is no situation where it is desirable to hand over any Jew, no matter what their status, to be mistreated by Idol Worshipers. For, the Rambam tells us that if someone is liable for the death penalty, even that person should not be handed over (although they are allowed to hand that person over). So we see that no matter what the situation a person should never consider their life more valuable than the person's next to them. All Jews are equal in the value of their lives.

I think this law teaches us the true meaning of comradery. Every Jew is responsible for the well being of every other Jew. This is what the phrase of כל ישראל ערבין זה לזה means (All of Israel is guarantors for each other; see Rashi Vayikra 26:37) It is not just that we must try to eradicate sin from amongst our nation, but also that we must protect one another like brothers and sisters.

It is important to remember that the Rambam is talking about handing over a person to unjust and barbaric people where the person being handed over will be abused and mistreated. However, this law does not apply to handing over a person to just non-Jews that follow the Noahide laws. The Rambam specifically says Idol Worshipers because of their base nature and unjust characteristics. However, if the just laws of a non-Jewish nation would require a punishment of a Jew living in that nation then this whole discussion does not even come up because it falls under the precept of "The Law of The Land" (found in several Gemoras, one being Baba Kama 113a).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Making Requests of G-D

This week's Parsha, Vieschanan, begins with Moshe telling the Jewish people how he begged G-D to let him enter the land. It says (Devarim 3:23)

23. I entreated the Lord at that time, saying, כג. וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר:

However, what I find very interesting is what Moshe entreats G-D for. It says in the very next verse (ibid 24):

24. "O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for who is [like] God in heaven or on earth who can do as Your deeds and Your might? כד. אֲדֹנָי יֱ־הֹוִ־ה אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַבְדְּךָ אֶת גָּדְלְךָ וְאֶת יָדְךָ הַחֲזָקָה אֲשֶׁר מִי אֵל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה כְמַעֲשֶׂיךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶךָ:

Moshe seems to imply that G-D has already shown His greatness to Moshe and that Moshe realizes that G-D is the greatest being in existence. However, the actual request being presented in this plea is in the third verse of the Parsha (ibid 25):

כה. אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן:
25. Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.

This is such an interesting way to phrase a request. First, we have Moshe telling the Jewish people that he made a request of G-D. Moshe used the language of וָאֶתְחַנַּן and Rashi tells us that means:

I entreated: Heb. וָאֶתְחַנַּן [The word] חִנּוּן [and its derivatives] in all cases is an expression signifying [requesting] a free gift. Even though the righteous may base a request on the merit of their good deeds, they request only a free gift of the Omnipresent. Because God had said to him [Moses],“and I will favor (וְחַנֹּתִי) when I wish to favor (אָחֹן)” (Exod. 33:19), he [Moses], he spoke to Him [God], using the expression וָאֶתְחַנַּן. 

I am confused. If what Rashi is saying is true, that Moshe was requesting a free gift, why does Moshe tell G-D that "You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand" that seems like Moshe is saying that G-D was closer to Him than the rest of the people. Moshe is seemingly saying that you (G-D) have shown me (Moshe) your greatness and that is why I (Moshe) should be allowed to enter the land. For, if this were not the case, why does Moshe mention that G-D is so close to Moshe? Why does Moshe not just say "Please, pretty please, let me into Israel" if it is a "free gift" as Rashi calls it?

As I was pondering this thought I realized that this speech Moshe was giving was to the Jewish people and not just being written in the Torah. Moshe was telling the Jewish people that he requested G-D to give a free gift to him, the closest person to G-D in THE WORLD. This is why Moshe emphasizes that G-D made known to Moshe His greatness. It was to impress upon the Jewish people just how close Moshe was to G-D. The point here is that even so, Moshe still needed to make a request of G-D in a manner that G-D would have to give Moshe something that he was undeserving of. This was, of course, the gift of entering the land, which G-D refused. 

Moshe was trying to teach a very valuable lesson to the Jewish people. For, if Moshe was unable to demand anything of G-d, how could anyone else? The only proper way to request something from G-D is in a manner that G-D, in His ultimate mercy, will give it to a man or woman for free. We can't make demands of G-D because there is nothing that we can do for Him. As the Rambam says in the third halacha in Yesodei Hatorah (Madah):

"If one were to think that nothing else existed other than G-D then He would exist and would not cease to exist like the rest of existence. Everything needs Him, but He does not need any one of them. Therefore, the truth of His [existence] is not like the truth of any other beings [existence]."

G-D is the only non-contingent being. We can do nothing for Him. He gave us the commandments in order that we get close to Him, but performing these commandments does nothing FOR Him. Therefore, in the eyes of G-D all men are equally deserving of anything, aka not worthy. It is only do to G-D's graciousness that He grants us anything that we ask for.

Moshe is telling us how to pray to G-D. We can't say "G-D, you owe me this because of so and so." That is a worthless and futile prayer. Even MOSHE was not able to say that. We can cry out to G-D in pain, in happiness and in desperation, but we can not demand things of G-D. We can only request things from our Father in heaven.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Thoughts On Tisha BiAv

Tonight starts the fast of Tisha BiAv. The culmination of the three weeks (if you don't hold of the three weeks then the nine days). The past three weeks (or nine days) have been a period of mourning. Why? Supposedly, on Shiva Asar Bitamuz (the 17th of the month of Taamuz) the walls of Jerusalem were breached and then the temple was destroyed on Tisha BiAv (The 9th of the month of Av). There are other reasons stated in the Gemora and other places, but this is the most publicized (and I think the most reasonable reason to mourn for). Any other reason stated for this fast and period of mourning other than the destruction of the Temple does not make sense to me. There have been so many tragedies throughout the years that Judaism has existed, why would we choose to mourn some over others? The reason we mourn the Temple, even today, is because it represents the pinnacle of Jewish worship of G-D. Therefore, if we are going to mourn something throughout the generations let it be the destruction of the Temple. For, when it is rebuilt we will again be a "complete" nation.

Also, commemorating different horrific acts against Jews throughout the years would create fast days on every day of the year, so that is not a plausible commemoration. True, we are saddened that so many Jews were killed throughout the generations and our holy scriptures were defiled, but to mourn these events on separate days is untenable. That is why Tisha BiAv is supposed to commemorate all Jewish tragedies. (Why there are other fast days and days of mourning throughout the year, I do not understand, except for Yom Kippur because it is not a day of mourning).  Indeed, these commemorations must be in tangent with Tisha BiAv in order for them to have true meaning. Why? Because what was the reason these people were killed? What was the reason they were hated and their holy books were burned? It was simply because they were Jewish. And, what is the greatest symbol and idea in Judaism? It is the worship in the Temple that represents a Jew's connection to G-D. This idea is stated most clearly in the Midrash Tanchuma (Matos 3):

Moshe told G-D, "If the Jewish people were uncircumcised, idol worshipers, or deniers of the commandments then the Midianites would not hate us (the Jewish people) and they would not run after us. It is specifically because we (the Jewish people) follow your Torah [that they hate us and try to kill us]. Therefore, it is not a "revenge" for us, but for You (G-D)." 

The Jewish people mourn Tisha BiAv because it reminds us that we are removed from G-D and we were spread throughout the nations of the world. Subsequent to that, the nations of the world then killed us, oppressed us and detroyed what we held dear. It is the principle of cause and effect, the Temple was destroyed and thereby other tragedies befell us. Therefore, we mourn, in order to remember the cause and, along with the cause, everything that was an effect of that cause.

Personally, it is very hard for me to relate to Tisha BiAv. Fasting does nothing but make me angry. I can not contemplate the past on an empty stomach, nor can I appreciate all the tragedies that befell my people. All I can focus on is my hunger and my headache. This is especially true when I have to go to school or work on Tisha BiAv. How, then, am I supposed to make Tisha BiAv meaningful? Is it by reading Kinnos that talk about tragedies that I am disconnected from? Is it by listening to Eicha which is written in a language that is difficult for me to understand? I am unsure how this day is supposed to help me remember and commemorate all the tragedies that have befallen my people.

I personally believe that one of the most important things one can do is commemorate the past. Holidays, days of mourning, and just learning history is probably one of the most important things. This is why, I believe, the Torah and many books in Neviim (prophets) and Kesubim (writings) are written in a way that tells the story of Jewish heritage. A person can not understand what they need to do in the future if they do not know what has been done in the past. The Torah is there to teach us life lessons in order that we learn how to act and how not to act. The main argument I would give for this idea is that the Torah could have just been written as a book of laws, like the code of Hammurabi, and the other books could have been written like a mussar sefer, like Mesilas Yesharim, or some other format. This idea is why I find it so necessary (and why the Rabbis instituted the idea) to mourn and commemorate the past.

However, I still do not understand how mourning has anything to do with fasting. Fasting, to me, seems like it is either to inflict pain on oneself or to attempt to grab at a higher "spiritual" position, like we do on Yom Kippur. Why do we fast if the point is commemoration and mourning? Does the person in a house of mourning fast after their relative has past away? (No, in case you were wondering.)

It seems to me that the point of Tisha BiAv is not just to mourn for the Temple, but an attempt to request that G-D allow us to rebuild the Temple. For we can see in many places like in Esther 4:3 it says:

ג  וּבְכָל-מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה, מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר-הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ--אֵבֶל גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְצוֹם וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד; שַׂק וָאֵפֶר, יֻצַּע לָרַבִּים. 3 And in every province, where ever the king's commandment and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, and fasting, and weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

What was the point of fasting, weeping and wailing? I think it is clear from the Gemora in Gittin why someone would fast (56a):

For R. Zadok observed fasts for forty years in order that Jerusalem might not be destroyed

The idea behind fasting has nothing to do with commemoration. The idea behind fasting is that we are requesting from G-D that He observe our desire for something to happen. By Megilas Esther the Jewish people were requesting that G-D save them from death and by the Gemora in Gittin Rav Tzadok was requesting that Jerusalem not be destroyed. On Tisha BiAv why is there a national fast day? Is it solely because we are mourning? NO! It is because it is a national day for us to request G-D's help and compel Him (as if that were possible) to allow us to rebuild or for Him to rebuild the Temple.

The day of Tisha BiAv has a two-fold meaning, remembrance AND requesting. This is what we should take into the day of Tisha BiAv, we are not just supposed to be sad, we are supposed to be requesting the rebuilding of the TEMPLE. One who focuses on just the sadness of the day misses an extraordinary opportunity at supplication of G-D. We are not supposed to do other things than focus on tragedy and the destruction of the Temple for two reasons: 1) We are supposed to commemorate our loses, but 2) We are supposed to be requesting the rebuilding of the Temple.

Hopefully, this will be the year that our prayers and fasting will be recognized in such a way that it will lead to a rebuilding of the Temple. I hope that G-D will act in a similar manner to these verses (Shemos 2:23-25):

כג  וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם, וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים, מִן-הָעֲבֹדָה. 23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage.
כד  וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-נַאֲקָתָם; וַיִּזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֶת-אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק וְאֶת-יַעֲקֹב. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
כה  וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וַיֵּדַע, אֱלֹהִים.  {ס} 25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Need To Earn What You Were Promised

There is an idea in this week's Parsha, Devarim, which exemplifies what Sefer (book) Devarim is coming to teach us. The idea can be found here (Devarim 1:8)

ח. רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ בֹּאוּ וּרְשׁוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְ־הֹוָ־ה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק
וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם:

8. See, I have set the land before you; come and possess the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them and their descendants after them. 

At first glance, it seems like this pasuk is solely telling the Jewish people to go take the land that G-D promised to our forefathers. However, the Maharal in the introduction to his book "Tiferes Yisroel" reveals how we are to actually read this pasuk by telling us what the phrase נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם (set the land before you) really means. He says (here):

"This is the Torah that Moshe PLACED BEFORE the children of Israel (Devarim: 4:44)" (The Maharal says), this verse means that the Torah is an object that is sitting (there), anyone who wants to merit it (learn it) should merit it. This is why the verse does not say "This is the Torah that Moshe gave to the children of Israel," but rather "PLACED BEFORE the children of Israel" because it is like something that is sitting there before them, ALL who want to merit (to take this object) go and take it.

The Maharal makes a very interesting point based on the language of the verse. There is a difference between something that is given and something that is placed before. The Maharal is saying that the Torah is something that, if someone wants it, they have to go and get it. They can not expect to just be given this item placed before them.

Here too, in our verse, the Torah tells us that G-D made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That promise was to give them the land of Canaan, Eretz Yisroel. However, the Torah is telling us that even though the land was rightfully under the ownership of the children of Israel, it was only placed before them. What does this mean? The Maharal tells us, placed before means that it is up to the person to put the effort in and go take that object which is placed before them. G-D was not going to give the Jewish people the land of Israel unless they were willing to earn it.

This is a very appropriate introduction to the book of Devarim. Devarim is dedicated to Moshe telling the people of Israel that they must follow the commandments and do what is right, for if they do not they will lose everything. The idea is clear, one must earn that which was promised to them. We, the Jewish people, can not sit back and expect everything to come to our laps, we must go out and earn what we get. The Maharal shows that Torah knowledge is only acquired through effort and hard work based on the verse in (Ibid 4:44). Our verse, however, talks about livelihood and dwelling places. One must work hard to earn their livelihood and thereby G-D will grant them what they deserve.

There is a trend in this generation, the sense of entitlement. Everyone thinks they are entitled to this and that without any hard work. This is not true of all, but a trend that is, sadly, growing. Hopefully people will start to realize that everything must be earned and nothing comes without effort. Someone who just sits back and does not earn what he gets does not deserve what he gets. May we all be motivated to work hard in Torah and in our livelihood.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Imposing Stringencies On Others

At mincha/maariv this evening I was privy to be part of the conversation as to what time mincha would be Tisha BiAv eve. The Rabbi who usually makes the schedule decided that it should be at 6:30 PM in order to give people time to eat the Seudas Hamafsekes (meal before the fast). One of the people who is usually in charge of a lot of things in this shul came up to him and said that mincha should be later, around 7 PM. The Rabbi in charge of the schedule replied that he wanted to give time for people to eat the Seudas Hamafsekes. The other person started going off on how there was no need to give a lengthy amount of time because one could only eat a little bit of bread and water, perhaps an egg.

At this point I got involved. I quickly whipped out my blackberry, where I have a Shulchan Orech (I know, shtark right), and I immediately turned to siman 552:6. It says that that whoever is ABLE should just eat bread and water and the Rama adds that there is a minhag to dip some food in ashes. The Mishna Berura also adds that one need not minimize the amount of food they eat. In fact, they should make sure to eat enough that they are able to fast the whole Tisha BiAv.

After I showed this gentleman this passage inside, he immediately went to look it up in a Mishna Berura that was on the shelf. He thought he was so right that he said to me, "But what does the Mishna Berura say." I said tat I had just told him, but he was interesting. After reading it inside his rebuttal consisted of saying that the minhag is to not eat anything else and that no one eats more than just the bread and water.

I was so shocked how ridiculous this person was being. I told him, "Who are you to impose a Mi Sheh'efshar (whoever is able) on the whole congregation. The Shulchan Orech says that "Whoever is able" should only eat bread and water during the Seudas Hamafsekes. It is reasonable, if not our obligation, to give time to those who are not able. To this he stormed off, but what could he do, the Rabbi in charge was not going to change his mind anyway.

Then another topic in the schedule came up. This guy was upset that we were davening (praying) Maariv at 8:40. I showed him, with my trusty blackberry this (from
Fast Ends
R' Tukaccinsky    

  • The fast of תשעה באב ends with the
    emergence of ג' כוכבים בינונים at -

  •   8:41 PM
    R' Moshe Feinstein    

  • One who finds fasting difficult may eat at -

      8:44 PM

  • One who does not find fasting difficult
    should wait until the time for מוצאי שבת at -

      8:51 PM

    After this he said, "So we should wait to daven until 8:51!" The Rabbi in charge turned to him and said, "No, we want to time it so that we are done davening when the fast is over."

    I do not know for sure, but I am pretty positive that this guy who kept arguing with the Rabbi has never heard of something called tircha ditzibur (puting strain of the congregation). The Rabbi knew much better that everyone wanted to get home as soon as the fast was over, especially since it is Tisha BiAv! How come this guy thinks it is his RIGHT to force his more stringent views on others? Especially since what he is trying to do is COMPLETELY unnecessary? It is just one of these arrogant attitudes of people that don't know the proper way. That is the only explanation. Be stringent on yourself, why do you have to force others? This is especially true when the others ARE keeping the halacha CORRECTLY, but you just want to add your stringent practices on them. Is that the RIGHT way? I do not think so.

    The best line this guy had to me was, "What do you do." Personally, I am pretty stringent on myself, but that is irrelevant! The congregation is what matters and even if there are only a few people that need the more lenient approach, it is worth it that they come to shul, daven, fast and not be turned off than to force everyone to be stringent and lose them or risk them being "bitter" at G-D, wouldn't you agree?

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Why Was Moshe Commanded to Destroy the Midianite Nation

    This week's Parsha, Mattos-(Masei), has a very unique kind of commandment. G-D says to Moshe (Bamidbar 31:2)

    ב. נְקֹם נִקְמַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֵת הַמִּדְיָנִים אַחַר תֵּאָסֵף אֶל עַמֶּיךָ:

    2. "Take revenge for the children of Israel against the Midianites; afterwards you will be gathered to your people."

    There are some very discombobulating ideas being expressed here. First, why does G-D want to take "revenge" against the Midianites? Are the Jewish people at war with them or not? The language of revenge seems strange if we are referring to defending the Jewish people. If G-D was telling us to defend ourselves against the Midianites shouldn't He have said defend? Second, why is it that Moshe is the one that this whole war is contingent upon. Moshe has to fight this war and then he will pass away, but not before?! 

    The answer lies within the verses that come later on. First, let us answer why G-D uses the language of revenge. Moshe says, when repeating G-D's command: 

    ג. וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הֵחָלְצוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם אֲנָשִׁים לַצָּבָא וְיִהְיוּ עַל מִדְיָן לָתֵת נִקְמַת יְ־הֹוָ־ה בְּמִדְיָן:

    3. So Moses spoke to the people, saying, "Arm from among you men for the army, that they can be against Midian, and carry out the revenge of the Lord against Midian.

    G-D said this was the revenge for the Jewish people, but Moshe says this is the revenge for G-D. What is Moshe telling us that will answer our question of "why does G-D use the language of revenge?" The Midrash Tanchuma tells us (Matos 3) that Moshe told G-D, "If the Jewish people were uncircumcised, idol worshipers, or deniers of the commandments then the Midianites would not hate us (the Jewish people) and they would not run after us. It is specifically because we (the Jewish people) follow your Torah [that they hate us and try to kill us]. Therefore, it is not a "revenge" for us, but for You (G-D)."

    The Midrash Tanchuma is telling us a very important point. This dialogue between Moshe and G-D most likely did not happen. However, the idea behind the dialogue is something that Moshe figured out and used to interpreted G-D's words. When G-D told Moshe to take revenge against the Midianites for the sake of the Jewish people, Moshe knew that it was not actually a defense of the physical nation of Jewish people. If G-D truly wanted the Jewish people to attack Midian in order to protect themselves, G-D would have said just that. Through G-D's words Moshe unlocked the true idea hidden behind the word revenge. It was G-D telling Moshe that the Midianites tried to kill the Jewish people, not because they (the Midianites) were afraid of them (the Jews), but because they hated them. Why did the Midianites hate them? Because the Jewish people follow the Torah from G-D. This is why G-D said that the Jewish people NEEDED to take REVENGE on the Midianites, because the language of revenge is a retribution for those who desecrate the divine name. Like it says by what will happen if the Jewish people desecrate G-D's commandments (Vayikra 26:25):

    כה  וְהֵבֵאתִי עֲלֵיכֶם חֶרֶב, נֹקֶמֶת נְקַם-בְּרִית, וְנֶאֱסַפְתֶּם, אֶל-עָרֵיכֶם; וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי דֶבֶר בְּתוֹכְכֶם, וְנִתַּתֶּם בְּיַד-אוֹיֵב.

    And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall execute the vengeance of the covenant; and ye shall be gathered together within your cities; and I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.

    Therefore, what was happening here in our Parsha, is that the Jews were commanded to eradicate the people who tried to erase and desecrate G-D's name. The Midianite's hatred for G-D manifested itself in the form of trying to kill the Jewish people, G-D's people that represent His will. Therefore, the only way to punish this act and make sure an attack like this would never happen again was to destroy the Midianites as a nation so they could never harm G-D's people again. 

    This is why when the Jewish people came back from the war Moshe was so angry with them and commanded them to destroy the Midianites as a nation. As the verses say (Ibid 12-17):
    ב  וַיָּבִאוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן וְאֶל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶת-הַשְּׁבִי וְאֶת-הַמַּלְקוֹחַ וְאֶת-הַשָּׁלָל--אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה:  אֶל-עַרְבֹת מוֹאָב, אֲשֶׁר עַל-יַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ.  {ס} 12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and unto Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp, unto the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan at Jericho. {S}
    יג  וַיֵּצְאוּ מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, וְכָל-נְשִׂיאֵי הָעֵדָה--לִקְרָאתָם:  אֶל-מִחוּץ, לַמַּחֲנֶה. 13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
    יד  וַיִּקְצֹף מֹשֶׁה, עַל פְּקוּדֵי הֶחָיִל, שָׂרֵי הָאֲלָפִים וְשָׂרֵי הַמֵּאוֹת, הַבָּאִים מִצְּבָא הַמִּלְחָמָה. 14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who came from the service of the war.
    טו  וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם, מֹשֶׁה:  הַחִיִּיתֶם, כָּל-נְקֵבָה. 15 And Moses said unto them: 'Have ye saved all the women alive?
    טז  הֵן הֵנָּה הָיוּ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּדְבַר בִּלְעָם, לִמְסָר-מַעַל בַּיהוָה, עַל-דְּבַר-פְּעוֹר; וַתְּהִי הַמַּגֵּפָה, בַּעֲדַת יְהוָה. 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to revolt so as to break faith with the LORD in the matter of Peor, and so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.
    יז  וְעַתָּה, הִרְגוּ כָל-זָכָר בַּטָּף; וְכָל-אִשָּׁה, יֹדַעַת אִישׁ לְמִשְׁכַּב זָכָר--הֲרֹגוּ. 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
    The warriors of Israel did not understand why they were going to war. They thought that they were fighting to protect themselves. The Midianites were an enemy that they needed to protect themselves from, therefore, they destroyed the army of Midian and took the spoils of war. Moshe was angry because they were supposed to fight a battle against those who desecrated G-D's name and not for the nation's protection. True, they would both lead to war with Midian, but the requirement to demolish the Midianites as a nation only existed when fighting against them BECAUSE they were trying to desecrate G-D's name by killing the Jewish people. Therefore, Moshe told them to kill the women (because they caused the death of many Jews) AND male children, because this would wipe the Midianites out from ever becoming a nation again. As the Seforno tells us (31:17):

    פסוק יז
    הִרְגוּ כָל זָכָר בַּטָּף. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאֵין רְאוּיִים לְמִשְׁכָּב, וְזֶה לִנְקָמָה שֶׁלּא יִשָּׁאֵר לְמִדְיָן נִין וָנֶכֶד.

    Kill all the male children: Even though they could not have had relations [with anyone from Israel due to their age], still because this is revenge [for G-D, they were told to kill them] in order that there not remain any male children or male grandchildren to the Midianites [which would end their time as a nation]. 
    This idea that the Seforno tells us comes from the verse in Yishaya (14:22)

    כב  וְקַמְתִּי עֲלֵיהֶם, נְאֻם יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת; וְהִכְרַתִּי לְבָבֶל שֵׁם וּשְׁאָר, וְנִין וָנֶכֶד--נְאֻם-יְהוָה 

    And I will rise up against them, saith the LORD of hosts, and cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and offshoot and offspring, saith the LORD.  

    The Radak on this pasuk tells us:  
    נין-הוא הבן
    ונכד -הוא בן הבן  

    נין-This refers to the son and ונכד, this refers to the grandson. And this happened to the Babylonians, their nation was completely wiped out.

    So we see that the whole idea here is that G-D commanded Moshe to take revenge for His sake and wipe out the Midianite nation. 

    However, the reason G-D needed Moshe to fulfill this command was that he was the only one who understood the true interpretation of G-D's words. Had anyone else been charged with this command, they would have misunderstood and they would have treated this battle like a regular war of self-defence. Therefore, Moshe needed to take charge of this battle and only then would the Jewish people enter the land and Moshe would pass away in peace.

    The warriors in this story did not realize that they represented G-D's will in this world. They thought the Midianites feared them as a military power and that is why they tried to destroy the nation of Israel. However, G-D told Moshe that this was not the case. Those Midianites hated the Jews because of the Torah and the G-D that the Jews represented. Therefore, the Midianites would never be able to live peacefully with the Jews, because they despised their essence.    

    I think we can learn a very valuable lesson from this idea. Every Jew, everywhere, that keeps the Torah and commandments represents G-D's will in this world. When people attack us or show hatred towards us, it is because of what we represent and not the physical danger we pose to them. G-D has endowed us with a great role in this world, to make his name great and represent truth and righteousness. There are people, represented here by the Midianites, that hate and despise these ideals and that is why they hate and despise us as a people.

    Monday, July 5, 2010

    How Different Were the Rambam and the Maharal

    The Rambam (Maimonides) is known as the Paradigm of rationalistic Judaism. Whenever someone wants to show how rational Judaism is they often find themselves quoting the Rambam. On the other hand, the Maharal is the champion of the non-rationalistic (mystic) approach to Judaism. One will often hear a Gemora, that sounds absurd, explained allegorically due to the Maharal's approach. Also, the fact that Maharal believed in Astrology, demons and other mystical creatures and devices, while the Rambam denied their reality, separates these two great thinkers. However, after reading the Rambam's "Introduction to the Chapter of Chelek" I see that these two Torah giants, that are on the opposite sides of the rational vs non-rational argument, had a very similar approach to understanding Aggadita in the Gemora.

    First let's hear what Maharal says (found here):

    Be'eir haGolah #4 (p 51), translation R' Mordechai Becher, posted to
    V15n9 by RGSeif:

    Now you will see that most of the words of the Sages were in the form of metaphor and the analogies of the wise... unless they state that a particular story is not a metaphor, it should be assumed that it is a metaphor. The matters of great depth were generally expressed by the Sages using metaphors, and should be understood as metaphors unless they are explicitly indicated to be taken literally. And therefore one should not be surprised to find matters in the words of the Sages that appear to be illogical and distant from the mind. (Berachot 61a:The evil inclination looks like a fly)

    So the Maharal explains Aggadita Gemoras, as a general rule, as allegories and metaphors. This is what one would expect from a non-rationalist, because he is trying to show how the Sages were never wrong. Therefore, anything they say that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted as the Sages being wrong is changed into an allegory in order to show they had a deeper meaning and thereby they are saved the embarrassment of being proven inept. However, wouldn't we assume that a rationalistic approach would be to assume that the Sages made incorrect statements?

    This does, in fact, seem to be the view of the Rambam and his son, Rav Avraham. From Rav Avraham's Essay on Aggadita (Found Here):

    To begin with, let me point out that if a person puts forward a certain theory without offering proof, expecting people to accept it at face value just because they respect him, he is sadly mistaken; his approach flies in the face of both the Torah and common sense. It goes against common sense, because he wants people to believe something without evaluating and investigating whether it squares with the facts. And it runs counter to the Torah, because it goes against the truth and is unethical. The Torah [tells us not to curry favor with anyone], saying [to a judge], "Do not give special consideration to the poor, nor show respect to the great" (Leviticus 19:15). And it says also, "Do not give anyone special consideration when rendering judgment" (Deuteronomy 1:17). And there is no difference between a person who believes an idea without supporting evidence and one who trusts a person's statement simply because he respects him and holds that it must be true since it comes from a great scholar. This does not prove that the statement is true.
    Accordingly, we are not required to endorse all the theories of the Sages of the Talmud on medicine, physics, and astronomy in every respect just because we know the authors to be outstanding personalities and eminent scholars in all facets of the Torah. Of course, when it comes to Torah knowledge, the scholarship of the Sages is unsurpassed, and it is their responsibility to teach it to us, as it says, "You must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you" (Deuteronomy 17:11), but this does not necessarily apply to all other branches of knowledge. You can see that even the Sages themselves when faced with an issue that could not be proven by debate and logical arguments, said, "I swear, that even if Joshua b. Nun had said it, I would not have obeyed him!" (Berachot 24b)3Which means, "I would not believe him although he was a prophet, since he cannot prove his point by the talmudical rules of logical argument."
    Let me offer you one conclusive proof that no one will refute. It is this: We find that the Sages themselves said that the opinions expressed in the Gemara with regard to general medicine are not borne out, like for instance when the Gemara says that wearing a "preserving stone" is a safeguard against miscarriage, or other things mentioned in tractate Shabbat. They tested these remedies and found them not to have any therapeutic value.
     Also, the Rambam himself speaks of the Sage's ability to make mistakes in scientific matters. He says (The Guide for the perplexed 3:14 found here):
    You must, however, not expect that everything our Sages say respecting astronomical matters should agree with observation, for mathematics were not fully developed in those days: and their statements were not based on the authority of the Prophets, but on the knowledge which they either themselves possessed or derived from contemporary men of science.
    So we see that Rav Avraham and his father, the Rambam, admit that the Sages could err in non-Torah related areas. However, this does not mean that we are supposed to understand their Aggadita Gemoras (non-halachic) in a literal fashion. For Rav Avraham also says in his introduction (Essay on Aggadita):

    It is important to understand that the homiletic expositions and stories in the Talmud have underlying meanings that are shrouded in secrecy, and most of the commentators did not even attempt to probe their deeper meaning.
    .... If you follow my guidelines in understanding the aggadic teachings of the Sages, you will come to grasp their deeper meaning, and, as a result, you will not make light of them or deny that they are true. Neither will you fall into the trap of thinking that the miracles that happened to the Sages are as momentous as those that happened to Moses and Israel at the parting of the Red Sea, or as remarkable as the parting of the Jordan for Elisha and Elijah. Such misconceptions arise when you take the derash (i.e., homiletic interpretations) literally and accept only the surface meaning of the text. But there is abundant evidence to show that the aggadic tales and teachings, aside from their plain meaning, have profound hidden significance.
    The Rambam also discusses this idea in a few places. First, the Rambam says later on in the same chapter of The Guide quoted above (3:14):
    But I will not on that account denounce what they say correctly in accordance with real fact, as untrue or accidentally true. On the contrary, whenever the words of a person can be interpreted in such a manner that they agree with fully established facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man to do so.
    The Rambam is pointing out here that in every instance that we CAN interpret the Sages to be in congruence with the facts, we should. This idea is even more explicitly discussed in the Rambam's introduction to Perek Chelek (The 10th chapter of Mishnayos Sanhedrin and Talmud Yerushalmi and the 11th chapter in Talmud bavli). The Rambam discusses three groups of people that interpret the Sages words on Aggadita (non-Halachic discussions):

    What you need to know, with regard to matters pertaining to the words of the Sages (May they be remembered for blessings), is that there are three groups of people (who interpret their words).

    1) The first group, and it is the majority of what I have seen [in the sense] that I have seen their books or I have heard about what they say from others, [is made up of people] that interpret the Sages based on their simple reading and they do not believe the sages have a hidden meaning in any way. [The people in this group believe] that the impossible things the Sages say are obligatory for existence. Indeed, these people [interpret the sages this way] because they do not understand the Sciences and they are far from understanding [deeper meanings]. There are none among them that are men of integrity that can realize this by themselves (that some of the words of the sages are similes and therefore the message is the main point and not the simple meaning) and there is no one that points this out to them. The [people of this first group] hold that the Sages, may they be remembered for blessings, with all their righteous and sweet words only intended what could be understood according to their (the people of this first group) knowledge, which is the simple (vulgar) reading. [They believe this] even though some [of the Sages words (understood according to the simple meaning)] lead to slander against the Sages and they (the words) appear to be far from intelligent [so much so that] if they were read and explained according to their simple and vulgar meaning to a regular person, even more so to a wise person, the [regular person or wise person] would be in wonderment of how [anyone could think this] and they would say, "How could it be that there is a man in the world that thinks like this?!?! Also, [how could it be] that anyone thinks this is an acceptable belief and even more so that it is a proper belief?"

    This is the group (the First group) that has a lack in knowledge that troubles themselves with their foolishness because they honor and glorify the Sages, according to their(this First group) understanding, [but really] they denigrate the [Sages] without understanding them. By the life of G-D (A serious exclamation)! This group destroys the beauty of the Torah and darkens its radiance and they are assigning to the Torah of G-D the opposite of what it is intended to be. For G-D said regarding the Perfect Torah (Devarim 4:6), "[The nations of the world] shall hear all of these decrees and say 'Surely this is a wise and discerning people, a great nation!'" However, this group tells over the literal words (not according to the allegory and true meaning) of our Sages, may they be remembered for blessings, that when other nations hear these words they say, "Only a nation of fools and rascals that is a puny nation [would say this]."

    The majority of the time this is what is occurring with the interpreters [from this group]: They are explaining and making known to the greater nation [ideas] which they do not know (causing them to distort these ideas of the Sages). Who would grant [the people from this group], since they do not know or understand, that they should be silent[, that would be Wise for them]. In the same manner that it says [in Iyov 13:5,] "Who would grant that you fall utterly silent; that would be a wise thing for you!" Or they should say, "We do not understand the intentions of the Sages in this case, and we do not know how to explain it." However, they think that they understand it and try to make known and explain it to the nation according to their weak mental [abilities]- they do not explain what the Sages actually said. They preach at the head of the nation [their understanding of] tractate Brachos and Perek Chelek and other things according to the literal understanding, word for word. (Translation and elucidation provided by me, E-man)

    I will translate the rest later, but for our point I think it is clear what the Rambam is saying. We must understand the words of the Sages, when they seem contrary to the truth, in an allegorical and metaphorical way when possible. The Sages, in Aggadita, were trying to teach us deeper meanings and the simple reading of their words is worthless. Not just worthless, but detrimental! The Rambam insists that we understand the words of the Sages in a deeper way and not make them seem unintelligent.

    This view of the Rambam seems to make him almost in the camp of the Maharal. Both believe that the words of the Sages have a deeper meaning and excluding that deeper meaning is an incorrect way to learn Aggadita. The only thing that separates the Rambam and Maharal is to what extent the Rabbis sayings were to be made into allegories. The Rambam and his son, as we have shown above, believe that the Sages were incorrect in believing in the power of astrology and other mystical types of things. However, the Maharal believes that astrology and other mystical things, like Sheidim, do actually exist.

    Therefore, the Maharal and Rambam agree on most things in the Gemora, when the Sages say something that seems untenable, we must try to understand the deeper meaning in their words. Where the Maharal and Rambam seem to differ is, basically, their own views on certain laws of science. The Maharal believed in Mysticism and, therefore, did not need to make the Sages words into allegory only type of Gemoras, whereas, the Rambam would have to make these Gemoras into allegories or individual opinions of Sages.

    However, whether you are a rationalist like the Rambam or a mystic like the Maharal, it seems like no one would condone a simple literalistic interpretation of the untenable Gemoras unless it is IMPOSSIBLE to explain otherwise. Only then is one to claim, according to the Rambam, that this Gemora is a Daas Yachid (individual opinion that we do not hold like). The Maharal says that the words of the Sages should be understood as metaphors "unless they state that a particular story is not a metaphor." Showing that there are practically no Aggadita Gemoras that one can assume are literal. The Rambam also says (In Perek Chelek while dealing with the third group, the right way to understand the Sages), "Everything the Sages say that are impossible we should understand them as speaking through the language of puzzles and parables."

    However, there are some Gemora's that the Rambam finds impossible to explain as parables and is willing to agree that there are a few beliefs found in the Sages that are false. However, he explains that these beliefs are not communal beliefs by the Sages. When there are beliefs that the Sages have that contradict logic and reality AND they are impossible to relate through allegories or metaphors THEN the Rambam ascribes those beliefs to a minority opinion in the Sages. As the Rambam says in his letter on astrology (found here):

    I know that you may search and find sayings of some individual sages in the Talmud and Midrashim whose words appear to maintain that at the moment of a man's birth, the stars will cause such and such to happen to him. Do not regard this as a difficulty, for it is not fitting for a man to abandon the prevailing law and raise once again the counterarguments and replies (that preceded its enactment). Similarly it is not proper to abandon matters of reason that have already been verified by proofs, shake loose of them, and depend on the words of a single one of the sages from whom possibly the matter was hidden. Or there may be an allusion in those words; or they may have been said with a view to the times and the business before him. (You surely know how many of the verses of the holy Law are not to be taken literally. Since it is known through proofs of reason that it is impossible for the thing to be literally so, the translator [of the Aramaic Targum] rendered it in a form that reason will abide. ) A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back...

    What we see from here is that the Rambam seems almost identical to the Maharal in his understanding of difficult statements by the Sages. It seems that whether you are a rationalist or a non-rationalist, the simple meanings of the Sages does not reveal a real difficulty in the Sages as a whole. As a whole, the Sages were never wrong, according to the Rambam and the Maharal. However, there were some Sages that, individually, were incorrect in their understanding of some sciences. This would also explain why the Rambam and his son seem to ascribe misinformation to the Sages. They mean that there are som INDIVIDUAL Sages that err and believe in the power of astrology and other mystical things.

    As stated above, it seems like the Rambam and Maharal do not differ in HOW to read the Gemora. Rather they argue on scientific fact. The Maharal believes in mysticism and, therefore, believes the Sages also believed in mysticism and finds no reason to relate these teachings of the Sages as allegories. The Rambam disagrees about mysticism and, therefore, he DOES relate these statements of the Sages as allegories.

    Sunday, July 4, 2010

    Rambam- Yisodei Hatorah Perek 5 Halacha 4- What Happens If You Do Not Sacrifice Your Life When It is Required

    כל מי שנאמר בו יעבור ואל יהרג ונהרג ולא עבר הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו. וכל מי שנאמר בו יהרג ואל יעבור ונהרג ולא עבר הרי זה קידש את השם. ואם היה בעשרה מישראל הרי זה קידש את השם ברבים כדניאל חנניה מישאל ועזריה ורבי עקיבא וחביריו. ואלו הן הרוגי מלכות שאין מעלה על מעלתן. ועליהן נאמר כי עליך הורגנו כל היום נחשבנו כצאן טבחה. ועליהם נאמר אספו לי חסידי כורתי בריתי עלי זבח. וכל מי שנאמר בו יהרג ואל יעבור ועבר ולא נהרג הרי זה מחלל את השם. ואם היה בעשרה מישראל הרי זה חילל את השם ברבים ובטל מצות עשה שהיא קידוש השם ועבר על מצות לא תעשה שהיא חלול השם. ואעפ"כ מפני שעבר באונס אין מלקין אותו ואין צריך לומר שאין ממיתין אותו בית דין אפילו הרג באונס. שאין מלקין וממיתין אלא לעובר ברצונו ובעדים והתראה שנאמר בנותן מזרעו למולך ונתתי אני את פני באיש ההוא מפי השמועה למדו ההוא לא אנוס ולא שוגג ולא מוטעה. ומה אם עבודת כוכבים שהיא חמורה מן הכל העובד אותה באונס אינו חייב כרת ואין צריך לומר מיתת בית דין. קל וחומר לשאר מצות האמורות בתורה. ובעריות הוא אומר ולנערה לא תעשה דבר. אבל אם יכול למלט נפשו ולברוח מתחת יד המלך הרשע ואינו עושה הנה הוא ככלב שב על קיאו. והוא נקרא עובד עבודת כוכבים במזיד והוא נטרד מן העולם הבא ויורד למדרגה התחתונה של גיהנם:

    In any situation where [the law is] that one should transgress and not die, if [a Jew] dies and does not transgress he or she is deserving of the death penalty. In any situation that [the law says] one should die and not transgress and the person dies and does not transgress, this is a sanctification of the holy name. If there are 10 Jews present then this is a sanctification of the holy name in public like [it was sanctified by] Daniel, Hananiel, Mishael, Azariah, and Rebbe Akiva and his companions. [His companions] are the 10 people killed by kings [the Romans] that there are none higher than them. About them the verse says(Psalms 44:23), "Because for your sake we are killed all the time, we are considered as sheep for slaughter." It also says (Ibid 50:5), "Gather my devout ones unto me, sealers of My covenant through sacrifice."

    Every situation that [the law states] one should die and not transgress and he or she transgresses and does not die, this is a desecration of the holy name (G-D). If this occurs in front of ten Jews then this is a desecration of the holy name in public, as well as a bittul (loss of opportunity) to do the positive commandment of a sanctification of the holy name and it is a transgression of a negative commandment of desecration of the holy name. Even so, since he or she is forced to transgress he or she is not given lashes and it doesn't even need to mentioned that Beis Din (the court of law) doesn't kill him or her even if he or she is forced to kill against his or her will. The reason for this (that it doesn't have to be stated that he or she is not killed by the court of law) is because a person is only flogged or killed if the person transgresses willingly, with witnesses and a warning. For it says in regards to someone who gives his offspring to [the idol] Molech (Vayikra 20:6), "I shall concentrate my attention upon that person." From a teaching (tradition) it was taught that this verse refers [to a case] that was not forced, or due to negligence, or due to a mistake. Just like idol worship, that is the most severe [transgression], that has someone forced to worship it, that person is not punished with Kares (cut off from the nation) and we don't even need to mention that person [is not] put to death. How much more so to other commandments that are stated in the Torah [that we need not mention that someone who transgresses them they are not punished].

    Concerning illicit relations, it says (Devarim 22:26) "And to the young girl you shall do nothing, [for she did not commit a capital sin]."

    This law is mainly a summary of the previous laws, but it is very important because it tells us that someone who does not sacrifice their life, when it is required, they can not be punished. Even though the Torah seems to demand that someone sacrifice their life in certain situations, there is no punishment if this is not done. In essence, sacrificing one's life is commendable, but not enforceable.

    I think this is an important idea, because how can anyone be EXPECTED to give up their life. If this was truly demanded I think many people would fail in this requirement. However, throughout the generations MANY Jews did give up their lives and fulfilled a great sanctification of the holy name. If they had not, nothing would have happened to them, but they did it anyway. This reveals such an amazing Jewish spirit that really impresses a valuable lesson, the Jewish religion is greater than any one man. The people have an amazing passion for the religion and have an amazing love for G-D.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    Rambam's View of Sheidim(demons) In the Gemora

    (Some Updates and revisions have been added)
    Over at Rationalist Judaism there was a very interesting discussion about Chazal's (the Rabbis of the Gemora) beliefs, specifically about Sheidim (demons), and whether the Rambam was representing what Chazal believed or whether he "argued" with them. Josh Waxman over on Parshablog took the Gemora that I brought over in the comments on Rationalist Judaism and argued with my interpretation of the Gemora. What I would like to do is show how the Rambam's approach to Sheidim (demons), Astrology and other magical things that are mentioned in the Gemora is consistent with at least some opinions in Chazal.

    First, we must analyze what it is that the Rambam believes. I would like to suggest two different ideas that the Rambam is likely to use when confronting a Gemora that seems to be non-rational, aka it seems to be acknowledging the existence of magic, demons or astrology. The Rambam states in his famous letter on astrology that can be found here in translated form (By Isadore Twersky):

    The summary of the matter is that our mind cannot grasp how the decrees of the Holy One, blessed be He, work upon human beings in this world and in the world to come. What we have said about this from the beginning is that the entire position of the star gazers is regarded as a falsehood by all men of science. I know that you may search and find sayings of some individual sages in the Talmud and Midrashim whose words appear to maintain that at the moment of a man's birth, the stars will cause such and such to happen to him. Do not regard this as a difficulty, for it is not fitting for a man to abandon the prevailing law and raise once again the counterarguments and replies (that preceded its enactment). Similarly it is not proper to abandon matters of reason that have already been verified by proofs, shake loose of them, and depend on the words of a single one of the sages from whom possibly the matter was hidden. Or there may be an allusion in those words; or they may have been said with a view to the times and the business before him. (You surely know how many of the verses of the holy Law are not to be taken literally. Since it is known through proofs of reason that it is impossible for the thing to be literally so, the translator [of the Aramaic Targum] rendered it in a form that reason will abide. ) A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back...

    The Rambam seems to be of the opinion that any Gemora that seems to understand that magic, astrology or demons (mystical demons) are real is a daas yachid (lone opinion) that was unaware of the truth in these matters, or perhaps there is another way to explain these Gemoras as not being a problem. This other reason is most clearly explained by the Rambam's son, Avraham ben HaRambam. He says in reference to aggadita (story, as opposed to halachic) gemoras (found here):

    The second part of the stories consists of such stories as did not a[c]tually occur but were seen in dreams; they speak of them as real stories, because they believed that no thoughtful man would ever mistake them for real facts; as the one (Vol. I, 24.)We are taught (in a Baraitha) R. Ishmael said: “Once upon entering the holy of holies, to prepare incense, I noticed etc.,” and many other similar stories. And the same is true regarding certain stories in which are mentioned the visions of the prophets, how G-d spoke to them, and also the stories of demons. The thoughtless observer who, for the sake of believing, thinks that these things occurred exactly as stated though the facts are contrary to common sense, in doing so, is both foolish and ignorant of the laws of nature. (Introduction to the Agada, Abraham son of Moses Maimonides, translated by Rabbi S. H. Glick in the preface of Volume 1 of his translation of “En Jacob” page XIV).

    These stories that go against logic are to be explained as allegories or dreams. Thereby, we have two different ways the Rambam can understand a Gemora, either it was written by a lone opinion (Daas Yachid) or it is meant as an allegory.

    To further reinforce our knowledge that the Rambam did not believe in magic, astrology or mystical demons we must turn to the Mishna Torah in the Laws of Idol Worship (11:16):

    All these matters [i.e. necromancy, enchantment, et cetera] are all matters of falsehood and deceit, and it was with these that the early idolaters made the other [non-idolatrous] gentiles deviate and follow them. It is not fitting for Jews, who are the cleverest of the clever, to use such nonsense, or even to think that they are of any use, for it is written, "Surely there is no enchantment in Jacob, or divination in Israel" (Bamidbar 23:23), and it is also written, "For these nations, whom you shall dispossess, listen to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so" (Devarim 18:14). Anyone who believes in these or similar things and privately thinks that they are true and wise, but that [we don't practice them because] the Torah forbade them, is a fool and lacks knowledge, and is in the category of women and children, who are lacking in knowledge. But those people who are wise and of a perfect mentality know very clearly that all these things that the Torah forbade are not wise, but are merely stuff and nonsense which those lacking in knowledge follow and because of which abandon the ways of truth. Because of this, when warning us against these nonsenses, the Torah says, "You shall be perfect with the Lord your God". (Devarim 18:13)

    The Rambam makes a pretty intense stance against any type of mysticism. He believes they are all illusions and falsehoods with no power. Also, the Rambam believes this to be the position of the Torah and that of Chazal (the Sages). There are many answers that are needed for several Gemoras. However, I would like to focus solely on Sheidim for now. Perhaps at a later date I will deal with Gemoras on astrology, magic and other such things, but for now I would like to narrow the Explanation to Sheidim (demons) that are found in the Gemora.

    In order to do this, it is imperative that we understand what the Rambam's view of Sheidim (demons) is so that we can explain it. Luckily, the Rambam talks about this in the Moreh Nevuchim (The Guide for the Perplexed 1:7):

    As regards the words, "the form of Adam, and his likeness," we have already stated (ch. i.) their meaning. Those sons of Adam who were born before that time were not human in the true sense of the word, they had not "the form of man." With reference to Seth who had been instructed, enlightened and brought to human perfection, it could rightly be said, "he (Adam) begat a son in his likeness, in his form." It is acknowledged that a man who does not possess this "form" (the nature of which has just been explained) is not human, but a mere animal in human shape and form. Yet such a creature has the power of causing harm and injury, a power which does not belong to other creatures. For those gifts of intelligence and judgment with which he has been endowed for the purpose of acquiring perfection, but which he has failed to apply to their proper aim, are used by him for wicked and mischievous ends; he begets evil things, as though he merely resembled man, or simulated his outward appearance. Such was the condition of those sons of Adam who preceded Seth. In reference to this subject the Midrash says: "During the 130 years when Adam was under rebuke he begat spirits," i.e., demons; when, however, he was again restored to divine favour "he begat in his likeness, in his form." This is the sense of the passage, "Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and he begat in his likeness, in his form" (Gen. v. 3).

    The Rambam believes that Sheidim (demons) are regular human beings that are immoral and cause harm to others. This is an important tool for understanding the Gemoras that talk about sheidim (demons) according to the Rambam.

    Before entering into the Gemoras let us just sum up what we know up to this point. The Rambam believes that all mystical things are falsehoods. Other than the belief in G-D which is a Mesorah from our forefathers who SAW Him, we trust our senses and scientific evidence above all else. This is not just the opinion of the Rambam, but of most of Chazal (the Sages) as well. If a Gemora seemingly contradicts this it is either allegorical, the opinion of a lone sage that was unaware of the falseness of mysticism, or the Gemora is not being properly understood. Now, let us continue onto the Gemoras.

    I think it is most appropriate to bring the Gemorah that the Rambam is dealing with in "The Guide for the Perplexed." The Gemora is found in Eruvin 18b, it says:

    R. Jeremiah b. Elazar further stated: In all those years during which Adam was under the ban he begot ghosts and male demons and female demons, for it is said in Scripture: And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years and begot a son in his own likeness, after his own image (Breishis 5:3), from which it follows that until that time he did not beget after his own image. An objection was raised: R. Meir said: Adam was a great saint. When he saw that through him death was ordained as a punishment he spent a hundred and thirty years in fasting, severed connection with his wife for a hundred and thirty years, and wore clothes of fig [leaves] on his body for a hundred and thirty years. (How then could he have begotten children?) — That statement (That Adam begot ghosts, male demons and female demons) was made in reference to the semen which he emitted accidentally.

    There is an identical Yalkut Shemoni in Breishis 42 that replaces the name of R. Jeremiah b. Elazar with Rav Elazar ben Ezaria. Now, it would seem like there are two ways to understand this story. Either Rav Meir is coming to argue on Rav Jeremiah and Rav Elazar, or he is coming to explain them. If Rav Meir was coming to argue, then the Rambam makes a lot of sense, Rav Meir is just an opinion that is mistaken because he believed in magic and we do not hold of that. However, if he is coming to explain Rav Elazar and Rav Jeremiah then Rambam has to explain this as allegorical. The best way to explain it would, seemingly, be that Rav Meir is arguing on Rav Jeremiah and Rav Elazar ben Azariah. Rav Meir is holding that these Sheidim came from Adam's accidental semen emissions (non-natural) and Rav Elazar/R. Jeremiah are holding the "Sheidim" are a product of an actual pregnancy (natural). This seems likely because the Gemora brings in the word Meisavay which means Rav Meir is challenging them. (It would seem like Rav Elazar ben Azaria and Rav Jeremiah would hold that maybe Adam did separate for a time, but not necessarily 130 years, that is a bit excessive.)

    Still, the Gemora says that Adam and Chava begot Sheidim (demons) even according to Rav Elazar and Rav Jeremiah, so how are we gonna explain that? We already did! The Rambam in "The Guide" that we quoted above says that Sheidim (demons) are real, however, they are not supernatural beings. These demons are just normal men who are wicked and cause harm to others. Therefore, we have a rationalistic approach to the Gemora that excludes magic and mysticism (like Rambam wanted) yet we have a perfectly logical and simple understanding of the Gemora.

    Now, for the final idea that I would like to present. There are a series of statements made by Abaye in Chullin 105b that seem to indicate that he was originally taught that Sheidim (demons) do not exist, but then his Master taught him that really there were such a thing as demons. Here is one such example that will also help us with a later Gemora:

    Abaye also said: At first I thought the reason why one does not sit under a drain pipe was that there was waste water there, but my Master has told me. It is because demons are to be found there. Certain carriers were once carrying a barrel of wine. Wishing to take a rest they put it down under a drain pipe, whereupon the barrel burst, so they came to Mar son of R. Ashi. He brought forth trumpets and exorcised the demon who now stood before him. Said he to the devil, ‘Why did you do such a thing?’ He replied. ‘What else could I do, seeing that they put it down on my ear’? The other [Mar son Of R. Ashi] retorted: ‘What business had you in a public place? It is you that are in the wrong, you must therefore pay for the damage’. Said the devil, ‘Will the Master give me a time wherein to pay’? A date was fixed. When the day arrived he defaulted. He came to court and [Mar b. R. Ashi] said to him, ‘Why did you not keep your time?’ He replied. ‘We have no right to take away anything that is tied up sealed, measured or counted; but only if we find something that has been abandoned’.

    For some reason Abaye thought that Sheidim (demons) did not exist, but once his Master told him about them then his original thinking was out the door. Who was this Master? It was none other than his adoptive father Rabbah bar Nachmani. As Rashi tells us in Shabbos 22a (DH Kol Milay Dimar): This refers to Rabbah Bar Nachmani. So we see that Abaye only started believing in Sheidim(demons) after Rabbah bar Nachmani told him about it. There are several instances of this on the page in Chullin 105a, but I am just bringing in one example.

    Let us note that Rav Yosef was the head of the academy at Pumedisa, where Abaye learned and he later became the head of the Academy after Rav Yosef. Rabbah bar Nachmani was Rav Yosef's famous bar plugta (debater). As noted in Sanhedrin 17b, they were both at the academy in Pumbedisa and were famous for being bar plugtas, always arguing. This is important to have in mind because we are about to show how Rabba bar Nachmani believed in mystical Sheidim (demons) and Rav Yosef can be understood to not believe in them. Therefore, Abaye was originally taught like Rav Yosef, but when he was done learning from Rav Yosef, Rabbah started teaching him about demons.

    If we make this conjecture then we can explain the following two Gemoras in a very appropriate way according to the Rambam. There is a Gemora in Baba Kama that discuses an abandoned house that most commentaries explain to be talking about a Sheid (demon). It says (Baba Kama 21a) :

    R. Sehorah slated that R. Huna quoting Rab had said: He who occupies his neighbour's premises without having any agreement with him is under no legal obligation to pay him rent, for Scripture says, Through emptiness(ושאיה) even the gate gets smitten.(Yishayahu 24:12) Mar, son of R. Ashi, remarked: I myself have seen such a thing and the damage was as great as though done by a goring ox (Better translation is- "I saw it and it was like a goring ox") and. R. Joseph said: Premises that are inhabited by tenants keep in a better condition. What however is the [practical] difference between them? — There is a difference between them in the case where the owner was using the premises for keeping there wood and straw.

    This seems like a perfectly harmless Gemora, no mention of Sheidim (demons) at all. However, Rashi (and several other Rishonim) here and on page 97a explains that שאיה is the name of a Sheid (demon). So what is going on here? R. Sehorah is telling us that a person dwelling in a house keeps the demon Shaya away and Rav Yosef argues and says there are no demons, rather a person who lives in a house fixes the problems that arise. Also, Mar bar Rav Ashi says that he SAW this Sheid damaging and it was like a goring ox (the translation from Soncino has something to be desired). This makes perfect sense because, as we showed earlier, Mar bar Rav Ashi believes in Sheidim (demons) so much so that in Chullin 105b he was the one who exorcised a demon! So, it seems like we have Rav Sehorah and Mar bar Rav Ashi on the side that Sheidim exist and it is Sheidim that damage the house and on the other side we have Rav Yosef who, seemingly, does not believe in Sheidim and therefore concludes that the benefit here is that a person will fix the broken parts in a house.

    So far, we have been able to use the Rambam's principles perfectly to explain these Gemoras. However, there is a Gemora in Pesachim 110a that appears to show that Rav Yosef believes in Sheidim (demons). It says there:

    R. Joseph said: The demon Joseph told me [that] Ashmedai the king of the demons is appointed over all pairs.’ and a king is not designated a harmful spirit. Others explain it in the opposite sense: On the contrary, a king is quick-tempered [and] does whatever he wishes, for a king can break through a wall to make a pathway for himself and none may stay him.

    Here, it appears to be saying that Rav Yosef is talking to a demon about demon issues. However, if we take a closer look, the Rambam tells us that sheidim (demons) are really just regular people that are wicked. So, perhaps this demon Joseph was just a wicked person. Also, the subject matter that they were discussing ended up being ambiguous, as seen by the contradiction of whether Ashmedai is a damaging spirit or not. Rav Yosef appears to be trying to show us that there is no clear answer about Sheidim (demons), adding to the idea that they are probably not really mystical.

    This is in contrast to Rav Papa, who believes in mystical Sheidim (demons), who comes and argues with Rav Yosef. He says the very next word in the Gemora:

    R. Papa said, Joseph the demon told me: For two we kill; for four we do not kill, [but] for four we harm [the drinker]. For two [we hurt] whether [they are drunk] unwittingly or deliberately; for four, only if it is deliberate, but not if it is unwitting. And if a man forgot himself and happened to go out, what is his remedy? Let him take his right-hand thumb in his left hand and his left-hand thumb in his right hand and say thus: ‘Ye [two thumbs] and I, surely that is three! But if he hears one saying, ‘Ye and I, surely that is four!’ let him retort to him, ‘Ye and I are surely five!’ And if he hears one saying, ‘Ye and I are six,’ let him retort to him, ‘Ye and I are seven. This once happened until a hundred and one , and the demon burst [with mortification].

    The point of Rav Papa is to counter Rav Yosef's claim that demonology is ambiguous and show that everything is specific. Also, notice that in Rav Yosef's story this Joseph character is talking about some other demon, implying that he himself is not necessarily a demon, while in Rav Papa's story the Joseph character IS talking about himself as a demon. This is just another argument between a believer in mystical demons and someone who does not believe in mystical demons.

    This is not an exhaustive list, but a mere peek into what explanations are possible. The Rambam is a very acceptable position and is not something that necessarily goes against Amoraim or Tannaim. Clearly, there is no reason to immediately claim that the Rambam goes against all of his predecessors. As I have said before, Aristotle, who did not believe in anything mystical, lived long before the Rambam, Amoraim and Tannaim. To claim that only mysticism existed in the times of Chazal (the Sages) is to deny plain and simple facts. True, there were probably people among the Sages that believed in mysticism, but there were probably Sages that did not.

    The question here is what is the truth and what is the myth that crept in? When the Torah was given was there mystical Sheidim (demons) that had supernatural powers and Greek Hellenism effected some of the Sages and caused them to err? Or perhaps the opposite is true and the Persian/Babylonian Mysticism corrupted some of our Sages.

    All we know for sure is that nowadays it seems like these things do not exist and that is all we can be certain of. However, the Rambam has definitely not corrupted the Mesorah in this situation.

    Discrimination Against Women

    This week's Parsha, Pinchas, talks about the situation with the daughters of Tzelafchad. Their father passed away and he had no sons. They approached Moshe and asked why they should not inherit their father's property. Moshe inquired of G-D and Moshe told them that G-D concurred with them and they should inherit their father. This, seemingly, shows the inherent bias against women found in society. Interestingly enough, the Torah Temimah talks about this by the verse in Bamidbar 27:1,

    א. וַתִּקְרַבְנָה בְּנוֹת צְלָפְחָד בֶּן חֵפֶר בֶּן גִּלְעָד בֶּן מָכִיר בֶּן מְנַשֶּׁה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹת מְנַשֶּׁה בֶן יוֹסֵף וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֹתָיו מַחְלָה נֹעָה וְחָגְלָה וּמִלְכָּה וְתִרְצָה:

    1. The daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came forward, and his daughters' names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

    The Torah Temimah brings in a Sifri that says, "Since the Daughters of Tzelafchad heard that the land would be divided among the tribes and not among women they all went to seek advice. They were told that G-D's mercy is not like that of flesh and blood. Flesh and blood have more compassion on men than women, but G-D has mercy on everyone equally as it says in Tehillim (Psalm 145) "And His mercy is on all his handiwork."

    The Torah Temimah says that he was unable to find a place that explicitly says that flesh and blood is more compassionate to men than women. However, he does bring several Gemoras that prove this point.

    He says, "The Gemora in Horayos on 13a says that a man is ransomed before a woman. This is most probably[, according to the Torah Temimah,] because he has more kedusha (holiness) since he is obligated in all the Mitzvos and the greatness in a man due to his role in settling the land. Also, in Baba Basra on 16b it says that praiseworthy is the person that has male children and there is the Gemora in Niddah 31b that says when a boy comes into the world peace follows." There are many more, but these are just examples that prove the bias against women.

    The question here is why does the Torah Temimah bring up this Sifri and what can it teach us about this bias against women? Is the point here that we should treat women differently than they are being treated by the Gemora or that women should be treated like this?

    First, let's explain some reasons why these Gemoras are not as bias as they seem. The Gemorah is speaking about why men are redeemed before women. Now, the Torah Temimah says it is due to their holiness, that might be true, but it is mainly because the man will be sodomized whereas the woman will be raped. The Gemora is telling us that it is worse for a man to be sodomized than for a woman to be raped. The Next Gemora, Baba Basra, speaks of having male children vs female children. The reason why it is better to have male children is mainly because a father has to worry about his daughter much more than his son. The daughter usually costs more money, needs more protection by the father and other things that create a lot of stress for the father. However, with a son, there is a lot less stress and worry for the father.

    However, even though the Gemorah is not as biased as it would seem, there are still problems. The point of the Sifri, I think, is that men should not be biased against women. Obviously, this has been a problem for a long time, throughout the history of man. It was not until recently that women have had the right to vote and other such privileges (Still, in some places in the world women still do not have these rights). The Sifri is telling us an important lesson, all people are created by G-D, no one is more special than anyone else. Discrimination is something more abhorrent than any of the abominations talked about in the Torah. We should all strive to be like G-D, merciful and charitable on ALL creations equally.

    However, because of all this discrimination against women for the past 5000 or so years, there has been a turn around. Women do not just want to not be discriminated against, but some want to change the role of women completely. They want to make women into men, which makes no sense. Obviously, men and women are different. Their emotions are different, their bodies are different and their capabilities are different. G-D made Adam and Eve and meant for them to live eternally in the garden of Eden. However, they sinned and were banished. The Torah tells us (Genesis 3:16-17) that Eve was now to have pain in child birth and Adam was to live by the sweat of his brow. These punishments highlight the very different roles of men and women.

    It is truly remarkable that Moshe did not know the law in the case of the daughters of Tzelafchad. Why did Moshe have to ask G-D for the ruling in this case? It seems obvious, in light of the Sifri, Moshe did not understand the difference between the role of the women and discriminating against women. I mean, even today we think they are the same thing, but to the opposite extreme. People say, "How can you say a woman should raise her family, that is sexist!" What these people fail to understand is the same thing that Moshe failed to understand, just because women have specific roles and purposes in life does not mean they are to be discriminated against. Women have just as much right to a fair trial and to their opinions, but G-D endowed them with the capabilities to raise children and nurture a family, among other things. G-D did not give these abilities to men, but to women. A woman's physiological makeup makes her more capable to raise a family and properly care for them. This could be the reason why it is so rare for a father to win sole custody of a child in court when there is a divorce. However, just like women are made to compliment men where men are lacking so too men were made to complement women where women are lacking.

    This is not to say G-D does not want women to get jobs. I am not speaking about that at all. I am talking about the different roles within the Jewish religion for men and women. Men have an obligation to perform all time bound commandments as well as non-time bound commandments. Women have no such obligation. Why is this the case? Aren't men and women supposed to be equal? The answer is yes, but G-D, in his infinite wisdom, realized there are needs of children that demand a lot of time. The woman was given the special capabilities to raise the children and nurture them. This is why women are allowed to perform all time bound commandments, but are not obligated to do so, because they have a different purpose in the Jewish family. No one should prevent a capable woman from performing time-bound commandments, but it would be ludicrous to COMMAND women to do such things. As hard as all of the commandments are on men, imagine if women, who usually have less time if raising a family, were forced to perform all the commandments that are required of men. It would be disastrous.

    In the end of the day it seems like the message from G-D to the children of Israel is this: True, men and women have very different roles in the Jewish family. However, this in no way effects their rights in court or how they are to be treated. Men and women are supposed to be equal in matters of law. Just because a woman is a woman does not mean she should lose her court case to a man. Everyone has the same rights and the judge has the responsibility to recognize these rights and act accordingly.