Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Past Suffering Versus Current Suffering and Rabbinic Leadership

On Tisha Bi'av we say many Kinot, but there is only one kina that anyone says (many do not say it) that has to do with recent suffering. The majority of kinot refer to suffering that happened hundreds if not thousands of years ago. And you can forget about any kina with regards to the suffering that occurs in the State of Israel. Is this appropriate? It seems like this is an incorrect approach based on the Gemara in Brachos 12b-13a where it says:

It has been taught: Ben Zoma said to the Sages: Will the Exodus from Egypt be
mentioned in the days of the Messiah? Was it not long ago said: Therefore behold the days come,
saith the Lord, that they shall no more say: As the Lord liveth that brought up the children of Israel
out of the land of Egypt; but, As the Lord liveth that brought up and that led the seed of the house of
Israel out of the north country and from all the countries whither I had driven them? They replied:
This does not mean that the mention of the exodus from Egypt shall be obliterated, but that the
[deliverance from] subjection to the other kingdoms shall take the first place and the exodus from
Egypt shall become secondary.....  A parable: To what is this like? To a man who was travelling on the road when he encountered a wolf and escaped from it, and he went along relating the affair of the wolf. He then encountered a lion and escaped from it, and went along relating the affair of the lion. He then encountered a snake and escaped from it, whereupon he forgot the two previous incidents and went along relating the affair of the snake. So with Israel: the later troubles make them forget the earlier ones.

Apparently, we no longer have the character traits of the children of Israel that the Gemara speaks. We are stuck on the destruction that occurred hundreds and thousands of years ago (excluding the loss of the Beis Hamikdash) in a, seemingly, inappropriate way. The Gemara is telling us that the tragedies that should be our focus are the more recent tragedies. The holocaust should definitely play a larger role on Tisha Bi'av. ONE KINA??? Are you kidding me? That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Why are we focusing on destruction of small communities in Europe? Who connects to that nowadays? Also, why is there nothing about the attacks on Israel? Surely all the attacks on Israel are just as important, or tragic, as the pogroms of the middle ages. However, the attacks in Israel are more recent and as the Gemara says, "the later troubles make them forget the earlier ones." 

This lack of commemorating anything in Israel or barely commemorating the Holocaust got me thinking, "What is the cause of this?" Then, someone mentioned to me that it is amazing that we have all these kinot for different communities and different suffering throughout Europe, but hardly anything for the Holocaust or anything bad that has happened to Israel. The Rabbis of previous generations clearly were much greater than any Rabbis alive today.

It is not just that the Rabbis were greater back in the day, it is that they commanded respect and people actually listened to them. They did not say what the community wanted to hear, but they said what the community NEEDED to hear.

This brings me to a Gemara that I was reading over Shabbos, Sanhedrin 97a. It says there that "The face of the generation [of the Moshiach] will be like the face of a dog." Now, there are several explanations, but Rav Elchonon Wasserman in Ikvasa DiMishicha cites a great explanation from Rabbi Yisroel Salanter. He says that "The face of the generation" refers to the leaders of the generation. The behavior of the leaders of the generation will resemble that of a dog. When a dog walks ahead of its master it gives the illusion that it is actually leading the master, but in reality it is being lead by its master. So too the leaders in the time of the Moshiach will appear to be leading, but in reality they will just be following the will of the masses.

This is what seems to be going on here by kinot, as well as in many other situations. The Rabbinic leaders may want to institute new Kinot that do commemorate the more recent suffering that is most appropriate for us to mention. However, the masses do not want it because it is not "FRUM," or whatever other reason they want to give. Why shouldn't the leaders of our generation get together and say, "You know what, we really should give a larger commemoration to the death of 6 million Jews and the suffering of many more millions. We should commemorate the constant struggle that the Jews in Israel go through and the suffering of those on the front lines." But no, that does not happen. Apparently, we are very close to the days of Moshiach, because our leaders are more of a "yes man" to the whims of the masses (or the kinayim) than they are actual leaders.

This is not speaking of all leaders, but it does seem to be very common nowadays.    

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Daf Yomi Question Daf 2b

I started Daf yomi on Friday, probably like a lot of people, and came up with a question that I could not find an answer to. If you have any ideas let me know. Here is my question, I have not come up with a satisfactory answer. 

Rashi says close to the top of 2b that a poor person does not have a candle and that is why, we originally think, he eats his meal before the stars come out. (This makes it that the time a poor person eats is before the time the Kohanim, or priests, can eat terumah.) However, as the Gemara continues we learn that the poor person actually eats his meal when the stars come out (same time as the Kohanim can eat terumah). And even further in the Gemara at the bottom of 2b we learn that the poor person actually eats his meal AFTER the stars come out.

This is very odd to me. Rashi seems to say that it is obvious that the poor person eats his meal before the stars come out because he has no candle. If this is true, then how can the Gemara claim that the poor person actually eats his meal well after the stars have come out? The poor person either has a candle or not. According to Rashi, the poor person would not eat his meal after dark. The Mesoras Hashas in the Oz Vehadar also links this claim to a Gemara in Yuma 74b that says "You cannot compare one who sees what he eats with one who does not see what he is eating" implying someone who does not see what he is eating enjoys it less since the Gemara continues on and says "R. Joseph said: This is an allusion to [the reason] why blind people eat on without becoming satisfied. Abaye said: Therefore let him who has a meal eat only in daylight."

So, my question is this: What does Rashi think is happening with the poor person's meal? Rashi holds that a poor person has no candle, therefore, they must eat before dark. However, the Gemara comes to teach us that really a poor person eats well after the stars have come out.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Shavuous is the Most Important Holiday

In Judaism there are two main types of "holidays:" A celebration for something good that happened to us as a people or a national day of repentance either because of something bad that happened to us as a nation or a day of repentance in order to better ourselves as a nation. Both categories have days established by the Torah and Rabbis. In the first category we have holidays like Succos, Chanukkah, Purim, Pesach and Shavuous. In the latter category we have days such as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and all the fast days. By the days of repentance it is clear in the Torah why we celebrate Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, they are national days for repenting in order to better ourselves and realize G-D is our king. Also, the Rabbis make clear why we have days like Tisha Bi'av, because terrible tragedies occurred on those days. On the same note, there are clear reasons why we celebrate the holidays of Succos, Chanukkah,  Purim, Pesach and Shavuous. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orech Chaim 494:2) States:

אף על פי שהתורה לא זכרה עניין מתן תורה בשבועות, לפי שהתורה כשניתנה – ניתנה לעד ולעולמי עולמים; ואין שייך לקבוע יום מיוחד בשביל זה כבכל המועדים שרק ביום זה היה עניין המיוחד לזה, כמו יציאת מצרים בפסח וסוכות ענני כבוד בסוכות שהיתה לזמן קבוע בהליכתם במדבר. אבל התורה הוא לעד ולעולמי עולמים, ולכן תלתה התורה החג הזה בהקרבן של שתי הלחם שהיתה רק ביום זה. מכל מקום בתפילה אנו אומרים "זמן מתן תורתינו", מפני שבאותו היום שחל אצלנו שבועות, דהיינו ששה בסיון – ניתנה תורה לישראל. כדתניא בשבת (פו ב) תנו רבנן: בששה בחודש ניתנה תורה לישראל. רבי יוסי אומר: בשבעה בו והלכה כחכמים:

"Even though the Torah does not mention the subject of giving the Torah [with regards to Shavuous], because when the Torah was given, it was given for all times and it is not relevant to establish a specific day in order for [celebrating] this (the giving of the Torah) like by all other holidays that there is a specific subject designated for that day like [the subject of] the Exodus from Egypt on Pesach and the temporary booths made out of  The cloud of Glory [that we celebrate] on Succos because it was a limited time that they were traveling in the desert. However, the Torah [is not for a limited time] it is forever. Therefore, the Torah hung on this holiday [of Shavuous] the Korban (sacrifice) of the two loaves of bread that is only on this day. Nevertheless, during prayer we say "The time of receiving our Torah" because on that day Shavuous occurred, for it was the 6th of Sivan that the Torah was given to Israel. Like we learned in Gemara Shabbos (86b) "Our Rabbis taught us, On the Sixth of the month the Torah was given to Israel. Rebbe Yosei said, on the seventh, and the law is like the Rabbis."     

Basically, on Succos G-D saved us from the dangers of the desert by protecting us with the cloud of glory, on Pesach we were freed from bondage, and on Shavuous we received the Torah. However, looking at all these explanations for why we celebrate these holidays, something seems amiss. Every single holiday in the celebratory category has something in common, there was some sort of rescue for the Jewish people, except Shavuous. Yes, we received the Torah, but how can we define that as a rescue of the Jewish nation?It is clear on the other days how G-D performed miracles to either protect the Jews or rescue them from harm, but on Shavuous it is unclear what was the rescue or protection from harm.

In order to understand Shavuous we need to first discuss what happened by the giving of the Torah. For this we must look at the verses in Shemos chapter 20 and explain them. (Shemos 20:1-23)
Chapter 20
א וַיְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר: 

1 And G-d spoke all these words, saying: 
ב אָנֹכִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים:
2 I am HaShem thy G-d, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 
 ג לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל-פָּנָי:
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. 
ד לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ:
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth;
ה לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֵל קַנָּא פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים לְשׂנְאָי:
5 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I HaShem thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; 
ו וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי:
6 and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments. 
ז לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת-שֵׁם-יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא כִּי לֹא יְנַקֶּה יְהֹוָה אֵת אֲשֶׁר-יִשָּׂא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ לַשָּׁוְא:
7 Thou shalt not take the name of HaShem thy G-d in vain; for HaShem will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
ח זָכוֹר אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ: 
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 
ט שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל-מְלַאכְתֶּךָ:
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work;
י וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לַיהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה כָל-מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ:
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath unto HaShem thy G-d, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; 
יא כִּי שֵׁשֶׁת-יָמִים עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה אֶת-הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת-הָאָרֶץ אֶת-הַיָּם וְאֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-בָּם וַיָּנַח בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי עַל-כֵּן בֵּרַךְ יְהוָֹה אֶת-יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ:
11 for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore HaShem blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
יב כַּבֵּד אֶת-אָבִיךָ וְאֶת-אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ:
12 Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which HaShem thy G-d giveth thee. 
יג לֹא תִרְצַח לֹא תִנְאָף לֹא תִגְנֹב לֹא-תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר:
13 Thou shalt not murder.
13 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
13 Thou shalt not steal.
13 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 
יד לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ:
14 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. 
טו וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת-הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק: 
15 And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. 
טז וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-משֶׁה דַּבֶּר-אַתָּה עִמָּנוּ וְנִשְׁמָעָה וְאַל-יְדַבֵּר עִמָּנוּ אֱלֹהִים פֶּן-נָמוּת:
16 And they said unto Moses: 'Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not G-d speak with us, lest we die.' 
יז וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל-הָעָם אַל-תִּירָאוּ כִּי לְבַעֲבוּר נַסּוֹת אֶתְכֶם בָּא הָאֱלֹהִים וּבַעֲבוּר תִּהְיֶה יִרְאָתוֹ עַל-פְּנֵיכֶם לְבִלְתִּי תֶחֱטָאוּ:
17 And Moses said unto the people: 'Fear not; for G-d is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.' 
יח וַיַּעֲמֹד הָעָם מֵרָחֹק וּמשֶׁה נִגַּשׁ אֶל-הָעֲרָפֶל אֲשֶׁר-שָׁם הָאֱלֹהִים:
18 And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where G-d was. 
יט וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל-משֶׁה כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם כִּי מִן-הַשָּׁמַיִם דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם: 
19 And HaShem said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. 
כ לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם
20 Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you. 
כא מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ:
21 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee. 
כב וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ וַתְּחַלֲלֶהָ:
22 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it. 
כג וְלֹא-תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת עַל-מִזְבְּחִי אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ עָלָיו:
Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto Mine altar, that thy nakedness be not uncovered thereon.
There are a few questions to be asked, but firstly, G-D claims, verse 18, that He spoke to us directly and that we saw this occur. However, it appears to be that Moshe was the one that spoke to us and we did not see G-D speak from heaven as seen at the end of the previous chapter (19:25), "So Moses went down unto the people, and told them" regarding all of this in chapter 20. So, how can G-D claim that He is the one who spoke to us directly and that "Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven." That seems to be false, Moshe saw that G-D spoke from heaven, not the rest of Israel.

However, later when Moshe was recounting this event (Devarim 5:19-23) he states a very good reason as to why it seems that only Moshe spoke with G-D:
יט  וַיְהִי, כְּשָׁמְעֲכֶם אֶת-הַקּוֹל מִתּוֹךְ הַחֹשֶׁךְ, וְהָהָר, בֹּעֵר בָּאֵשׁ; וַתִּקְרְבוּן אֵלַי, כָּל-רָאשֵׁי שִׁבְטֵיכֶם וְזִקְנֵיכֶם. 19 And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain did burn with fire, that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;
כ  וַתֹּאמְרוּ, הֵן הֶרְאָנוּ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶת-כְּבֹדוֹ וְאֶת-גָּדְלוֹ, וְאֶת-קֹלוֹ שָׁמַעְנוּ, מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ; הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה רָאִינוּ, כִּי-יְדַבֵּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם וָחָי. 20 and ye said: 'Behold, the LORD our God hath shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire; we have seen this day that God doth speak with man, and he liveth.
כא  וְעַתָּה, לָמָּה נָמוּת, כִּי תֹאכְלֵנוּ, הָאֵשׁ הַגְּדֹלָה הַזֹּאת; אִם-יֹסְפִים אֲנַחְנוּ, לִשְׁמֹעַ אֶת-קוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ עוֹד--וָמָתְנוּ. 21 Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die.
כב  כִּי מִי כָל-בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע קוֹל אֱלֹהִים חַיִּים מְדַבֵּר מִתּוֹךְ-הָאֵשׁ, כָּמֹנוּ--וַיֶּחִי. 22 For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?
כג  קְרַב אַתָּה וּשְׁמָע, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יֹאמַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ; וְאַתְּ תְּדַבֵּר אֵלֵינוּ, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֵלֶיךָ--וְשָׁמַעְנוּ וְעָשִׂינוּ. 23 Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God may say; and thou shalt speak unto us all that the LORD our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.'
The people of Israel heard G-D, but were so frightened that they begged that G-D should not continue speaking to them directly, rather only through Moshe did they want to hear Him.

Getting back to the narrative in Shemos we can somewhat understand what happened. G-D was going to state all ten commandments to the entire congregation of Israel, but the congregation prevented that from happening. Thus, only a limited number of the ten commandments were said by G-D to the whole congregation and the rest were from Moshe to the children of Israel. However, the Torah writes all ten commandments in congruous order, how are we to know which commandments were said by G-D to the Jewish people? The answer, again, lies directly in the verse as can be seen in verse 19, "And HaShem said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven" and in the very next verse it says, "Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you." Now, which commandment said that the Jewish people should not make other gods? That was the second commandment. Why was it being repeated here? That was the last thing that G-D said to the Jewish people directly. Therefore, He says to Moshe to tell all of the congregation of Israel that "Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven." And what was the last thing that G-D said to them? "Ye shall not make with Me--gods of silver, or gods of gold, ye shall not make unto you."

So, what happened at Mount Sinai? Not only did G-D give us the Torah, but He spoke to us directly. Every single Jew that was there, at the base of the mountain, knew there was a G-D to the same level of certainty that they knew Moshe existed, Pharoh existed, and that they themselves existed. They saw, heard and felt G-D's presence just like anyone would feel a fellow human being standing right next to them. 

This is why Shavuous has the greatest "protection" that is celebrated more so than all other holidays. The events at Mount Sinai, culminating with the giving of the Torah, protected the Jewish people from annihilation and continues to protect us. On Pesach we were rescued from Pharoh's hand and subjugation, Succas G-D protected us from the wild animals and the barrenness of the desert, but Shavuous commemorates the constant protection that we get from G-D each and every day. 

This can be seen best by how we celebrate these holidays. Pesach we commemorate the tale of how we left Egypt. How G-D ripped us out of Pharoh's grasp and saved us from slavery. The climax of Pesach is the eating of the Matza which allows us to remember the subjugation we felt, only to relive the freedom we experienced. On Succos we dwell in temporary huts, Succahs, that remind us of the Annanei Hakavod, clouds of glory, that protected us from the desert. G-D allowed us to live in the desert for 40 years without a care in the world because of His protection. However, on Shavuous we learn Torah. What does that remind us of? It reminds us of the constant protection we receive from G-D and the constant perpetuation of the Jewish religion that the Torah provides. 

As nice as the freedom from bondage and the protection provided by the clouds of glory were, they were not grand enough to form an idea so strong that it could create a new entity so strong that it could withstand the test of time. Until the events at Sinai everyone was still an individual at heart. True, at this point they were a nation, but a nation was not what G-D wanted to create. That is why Rashi tells us (Shemos 19:2) that the Jewish people were gathered at the base of the mountain, 

כאיש אחד בלב אחד
 "Like one man with one heart." 

This was the formation of a nation, but not just a nation, a religion. If the Jewish people were like one man, that would be a nation and nations can be destroyed just like the nations of the world that have come and gone, the Romans being the best example. The Jewish people were not only like one man, they were like one man with one heart. A religion is something that connects people with more than just a physical location and mutual benefits from working together. A religion is something that binds people together through beliefs and ultimate purpose. Being part of a nation can create purpose, but not ultimate purpose. In the end of the day, people in a nation work together because it benefits the individual. The Jewish people work together specifically because it benefits the nation as a whole and the nations connection to G-D. That is why the focus of every Jew is, ideally, Jerusalem and the Temple and not their personal home. The events that we are celebrating on Shavuous are those that created this religion which, ultimately, is what gives the Jewish religion its everlasting nature. 

This idea is best seen in the Kuzari what is known as the "Kuzari Principle." The Kuzari is a book written by Rav Yehuda HaLevi in the middle ages. It discusses many philosophical ideas in the context of a nation that existed from around 700 CE to 900 CE called the Kingdom of the Khazars. The idea that Rav Yehuda HaLevi brings down is, basically, that not only do the Jews base their religion on the events at Mount Sinai, but also the Christians and Muslims base the foundation of their religions on the events at Mount Sinai of G-D speaking to the entire congregation of Israel. It is because of this event that Monotheism became a mainstay idea in the world. As it says in the Kuzari (1:4) that the Christian Scholar claimed,

מאמין אני בכל מה שספר על כל אלה בתורה ובספרי דברי הימים לבני ישראל אותות אשר לא יתכן לכפר באמתתם כי מפרסמים היו והתמידו זמן רב ונגלו בהמונים גדולים
In short [I believe] in all that is written in the Tōrāh and the records of the Children of Israel, which are undisputed, because they are generally known as lasting, and have been revealed before a vast multitude.

and the Muslim Scholar claimed (1:9)

ט) אמר החכם המוסלימי: והלא ספרנו הקדוש מלא ספורים על משה ע"ה ועל בני ישראל ספורים אשר אין להטיל ספק באמתתם כל אשר עשה האלוה בפרעה ואשר קרע את הים והעביר בו בשלום את אשר רצה בהם וטבע את אשר קצף עליהם ואשר הוריד אחרי כן לישראל את המן ואת השלו ארבעים שנה ואשר דבר עם משה בהר סיני ואשר העמיד את השמש ליהושע ועזרו במלחמתו בגבורים וכן כל שארע לפי כן המבול ומהפכת סדום ועמורה האין כל אלה מפרסמים עד בלי השאיר מקום לספק פן יש בזה מעשה תחבולה או תעתוע דמיון:
9)The Doctor: Is not our Book full of the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel? No one can deny what He did to Pharaoh, how He divided the sea, saved those who enjoyed His favour, but drowned those who had aroused His wrath. Then came the manna and the quails during forty years, His speaking to Moses on the mount, making the sun stand still for Joshua, and assisting him against the mighty. [Add to this] what happened previously, viz. the Flood, the destruction of the people of Lot; is this not so well known that no suspicion of deceit and imagination is possible?

It is because of this event that Mark Twain eventually wrote 3000 years after Judaism was created (Harper's Magazine, September 1899)

"All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?"

We can see how important the events at Mount Sinai were with regards to rescuing, saving and preserving the Jewish people. Without G-D first revealing Himself to the Jewish people there would have been no creation of a religion. It is only because everyone knew that G-D spoke to Moshe that they were able to create this religion which presented itself as the Torah. Also, the only reason we have an oral tradition that is regarded as being from G-D and not just rabbinic interpretation is because the entire nation KNEW that G-D spoke directly to Moshe. If the Torah was directly from G-D, the explanation was clearly from G-D as well because Moshe spoke directly to G-D as witnessed by the entire nation. Hence, when we learn Torah all night we are commemorating the fact that the Jewish people heard G-D directly and from that moment onward knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that G-D spoke directly to Moshe. There is no other prophet that we can be 100% sure of except for Moshe. The Rambam even says in the Mishna Torah (Yisodei HaTorah Perek 7 Halacha 7):

ואפשר שיעשה אות ומופת ואינו נביא וזה האות יש לו דברים בגו. ואעפ"כ מצוה לשמוע לו הואיל ואדם גדול וחכם וראוי לנבואה [הוא] מעמידים אותו על חזקתו. שבכך נצטוינו כמו שנצטוינו לחתוך את הדין ע"פ שני עדים כשרים ואע"פ שאפשר שהעידו בשקר הואיל וכשרים הם אצלינו מעמידין אותן על כשרותן. ובדברים האלו וכיוצא בהן נאמר הנסתרות לה' אלהינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו. ונאמר כי האדם יראה לעינים וה' יראה ללבב: 

It is possible that a person will perform a sign or wonder even though he is not a prophet - rather, the wonder will have [another cause] behind it. It is, nevertheless, a mitzvah to listen to him. Since he is a wise man of stature and fit for prophecy, we accept [his prophecy as true], for so have we been command.
[To give an example of a parallel:] We are commanded to render a [legal] judgment based on the testimony of two witnesses. Even though they may testify falsely, since we know them to be acceptable [as witnesses], we presume that they [are telling the truth].
Considering these matters and the like, [Deuteronomy 29:28] states: "The hidden matters are for God, our Lord, but what is revealed is for us and our children," and [I Samuel 16:7] states: "Man sees what is revealed to the eyes, but God sees into the heart." (Translation found here)

This is with regard to all other prophets, but not Moshe. Moshe is THE reason we accept other prophets. That is because other prophets we are relying on circumstantial evidence, but by Moshe the entire nation saw that he spoke to G-D. This singular observation is why Judaism is able to withstand the test of time. The Jewish people saw Moshe speak with G-D and because of that we accept the Torah with its oral explanation. The Torah and its oral explanation is what keeps the Jewish people together with a common ultimate purpose and this ultimate purpose is what prevents the Jewish people from fading away. That is what we celebrate on Shavuous and that is why it is the most important Jewish holiday.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rambam- Yisdoei HaTorah Perek 7 Halacha 2: What Happens to a Prophet During Prophecy

הנביאים מעלות מעלות הן. כמו שיש בחכמה חכם גדול מחבירו כך בנבואה נביא גדול מנביא. וכולן אין רואין מראה הנבואה אלא בחלום בחזיון לילה. או ביום אחר שתפול עליהן תרדמה כמו שנאמר במראה אליו אתודע בחלום אדבר בו. וכולן כשמתנבאים אבריהן מזדעזעין וכח הגוף כשל ועשתנותיהם מתטרפות ותשאר הדעת פנויה להבין מה שתראה. כמו שנאמר באברהם והנה אימה חשכה גדולה נופלת עליו. וכמו שנאמר בדניאל והודי נהפך עלי למשחית ולא עצרתי כח: 

There are different levels of Prophets. This is similar to wisdom, [some people] have more wisdom than their friends, so too by prophecy some prophets are greater than others. [However, prophets on any level] only see prophecy in a dream, in a vision at night, or during the day after sleep has fallen on them like it says (Bamidbar 12:6), "I make Myself known in a vision, In a dream I speak with him." Anyone, when they are [overcome] with prophecy, their limbs shake, the power of their body fails, their thoughts become scrambled and the rest of their knowledge is free to understand what they are seeing (aka the prophecy) as it says by Avraham (Breishis 15:12), "Fear, a great darkness, fell on him." And like it says by Daniel (Daniel 10:8), "My glory was turned into corruptness and there remained no strength in me."      

The Rambam is describing what happens to prophets when they attain prophecy. The most interesting point made here is that prophecy occurs the same way in every prophet no matter how great the prophet or prophecy (The obvious exception here is Moshe who, in fact, communicated to G-D whenever he wanted). The Rambam bases this halacha on how the Torah, Prophets or Writings (Torah, Nevi'im, Kesuvim) describe a prophets actions or thoughts during a prophecy.

In the last halacha we mentioned that even if a person attains all the necessary preconditions G-D still must choose to give that person a prophecy. Here, we see that a supernatural event occurs during prophecy, G-D clears the mind of the prophet so that the prophet can focus all of his or her mental energy on the prophecy. If G-D did not clear the mind of the prophet then the prophet would be incapable of understanding the prophecy. Hence, a prophet must reach a high level of knowledge even to be considered for prophecy, but that does not mean that person will be granted understandable prophecy until G-D intervenes.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rambam- Yisodei HaTorah 7th perek 1st halacha- Prophecy's Place In Judaism

מיסודי הדת לידע שהאל מנבא את בני האדם. ואין הנבואה חלה אלא על חכם גדול בחכמה גבור במדותיו ולא יהא יצרו מתגבר עליו בדבר בעולם אלא הוא מתגבר בדעתו על יצרו תמיד והוא בעל דעה רחבה נכונה עד מאד. אדם שהוא ממולא בכל המדות האלו שלם בגופו כשיכנס לפרדס וימשך באותן הענינים הגדולים הרחוקים ותהיה לו דעה נכונה להבין ולהשיג והוא מתקדש והולך ופורש מדרכי כלל העם ההולכים במחשכי הזמן והולך ומזרז עצמו ומלמד נפשו שלא תהיה לו מחשבה כלל באחד מדברים בטלים ולא מהבלי הזמן ותחבולותיו אלא דעתו פנויה תמיד למעלה קשורה תחת הכסא להבין באותן הצורות הקדושות הטהורות ומסתכל בחכמתו של הקב"ה כולה מצורה ראשונה עד טבור הארץ ויודע מהן גדלו. מיד רוח הקודש שורה עליו. ובעת שתנוח עליו הרוח תתערב נפשו במעלת המלאכים הנקראים אישים ויהפך לאיש אחר ויבין בדעתו שאינו כמות שהיה אלא שנתעלה על מעלת שאר בני אדם החכמים כמו שנאמר בשאול והתנבית עמם ונהפכת לאיש אחר:

It is a foundation of the religion (Judaism) to know that G-D causes prophecy [to occur] with people. Prophecy does not occur unless it is with a great wise person who is [full of] wisdom, great character traits, and that his or her yetzer (impulses) do not control him or her with regard to worldly things, rather he or she always overcome their yetzer (impulses) with their knowledge. Also, [this great wise person must be] someone who is full of proper broad knowledge. 

A person who is full of all these character traits, perfect in his or her body (perfect for who this person is supposed to be) [to the extant] that when they enter into "The Garden" and deal with those great and abstract subjects he or she will have the proper knowledge [that will allow them] to understand and obtain [the subject matter of these great and abstract subjects]. Also, he or she will be sanctified and separate themselves from the general path of the nation that go in [the path of] darkness of time (waste their time). He or she will zealously push themselves and teach their souls that they should not even have a thought at all regarding one of the idle subjects or [things that are] a waste of time and their schemes. Rather, his or her thoughts should always be turned upward, connected to under the Throne (of G-D) [trying] to understand those holy and pure tzuros (forms) and [he or she should] look at the wisdom of G-D regarding all [that He formed], from the first creation to the [tiny bug in the] center of the Earth and then he or she will know, through them (these creations), His greatness. 

[Once he or she reaches this level] immediately Ruach Hakodesh (Winds of Holiness aka a low level of prophecy) will rest on him or her. At the time that the wind rests on this person, their soul will be mixed with the level of angels that are called Ishim, they will be transformed into another person and they will understand with their knowledge that they are no longer similar to how they were, rather [he or she will realize] that they are above the level of other wise men, like it says by [King Saul] (Shmuel 1 10:6), "And you shall prophecy with them and you will be turned into another man."            

Rambam tells us that one of the pillars of faith is to KNOW that G-D communicates with man and then goes on to explain how a person can reach prophecy. Also, the Rambam indirectly tells us that G-D must choose to give a person prophecy even if they do everything that he states here. It is not a given that a person who even reaches this high level of wisdom and knowledge will also attain prophecy, it is up to G-D to choose who will receive prophecy. However, only someone on this level is even an option for G-D to choose from.

What is "The Garden?" It is talked about in the Gemara (Chagigah 14b):
ת״ר ארבעה נכנסו בפרדס ואלו הן בן עזאי ובן זומא
אחר ורבי עקיבא אמר להם ר״ע כשאתם מגיעין אצל אבני שיש טהור 0) אל
תאמרו מים מים משום שנאמר 2דובר שקרים לא יכון לנגד עיני בן עזאי
תציץ ומת עליו הכתוב אומר 3יקר בעיני ה׳ המותה לחסידיו בן זומא תציץ
ונפגע ועליו הכתוב אומר 4דבש מצאת אכול דייך פן תשבענו והקאתו אחר
קיצץ בנטיעות רבי עקיבא יצא בשלום

Our Rabbis taught: Four men entered the ‘Garden’,24 namely, Ben ‘Azzai25 and Ben Zoma,26
Aher,27 and R. Akiba. R. Akiba said to them: When ye arrive at the stones of pure marble,28 say not,
water, water!29 For it is said: He that speaketh falsehood shall not be established before mine eyes.30
Ben ‘Azzai cast a look and died. Of him Scripture says: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death
of His saints.31 Ben Zoma looked and became demented.32 Of him Scripture says: Hast thou found
honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.33 Aher
mutilated the shoots.34 R. Akiba departed unhurt.

It is appropriate to share the notes in the Soncino translation:
Paradise, Heb. xsrp (cf. Cant. IV, 13, Eccl. II, 5, Neh. II, 8), ‘enclosure, preserve, garden, park’ (v. B. D. B.
s.v.). L. Blau (Alitjudisches Zauberwesen, pp, 115f) seeks to prove that this account of the entry of the four Rabbis into Paradise is to be understood literally (v. also J.E. vol. V, p. 683). This view is shared, among others, by J. Levy and L. Ginzberg (v. J.E. vol. V, pp. 138f). On the other hand, M. Jast. (Dictionary) and Goldschmidt consider ‘Pardes’ a figurative expression for the mystical realm of theosophy. Rashi explains that the four scholars ascended to heaven, and Tosaf. adds that it only appeared to them that they did so. Similarly, R. Hai Gaon, who discusses the whole Baraitha in a responsum (quoted by Ha-Kotheb in ‘Ein Jacob), and R. Hananel explain that the entry of the Rabbis into the ‘Garden’ was only a vision. Both these authorities refer to the comment on the passage contained in the mystical works ‘Hekaloth Rabbathi’ and ‘Hekaloth Zutarthi’ (v. J.E. vol. VI, pp. 332-3). V. further J.E. vol. IX, pp. 515f.

According to the Rambam "The Garden" refers to the subjects dealt with in the first 4 chapters of Yisodei HaTorah as can be seen in Chapter 4 Halacha 13 .(Nothing to do with mysticism) Accordingly, Rabbi Akiva could have been a prophet, but it seems like G-D never chose to grant him the gift of prophecy.

The Rambam refers to "under the Throne of Glory," what does this refer to? This is referring to the Chayos and angels in general as can be seen in Yisodei HaTorah perek 2 halacha 7. The Rambam is telling us two things in a single phrase. First, a true wise and knowledgeable person focuses their energy on trying to understand that which is important and complicated, metaphysics. Secondly, Rambam is telling us that we must focus our energy on trying to understand only that which is BENEATH the throne of glory, not above. Why? Because, according to the Rambam, it is impossible to understand G-D. It is a waste of time and effort to try to comprehend G-D and, therefore, only fools and simpletons try to understand what is above the throne of glory. Wise and knowledgeable men only focus on what is BELOW the throne of glory.

When the Rambam uses the phrase "From the first creation to the [tiny bug at the center of the earth]" he is referring to what was written in Yisodei HaTorah Perek 2 halacha 9.(See comments there) The first creation is referring to the most spiritual of all beings, the Chayos, and the center of the earth is referring to the most physical of all beings, the bug at the center of the earth. 

Rambam says that a prophet needs to attain the level of the angels that are called Ishim to even to be considered for prophecy. Ishim are the lowest level angel and have been discussed before in Yisodei HaTorah perek 2 halacha 7. In that halacha I discuss what Ishim are.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rambam Yisodei HaTorah Perek 6 Halacha 9: Which Names of G-D In The Torah are Considered Holy

כל השמות האמורים באברהם קדש אף זה שנאמר אדני אם נא מצאתי חן הרי הוא קדש. כל השמות האמורים בלוט חול חוץ מזה אל נא אדני הנה נא מצא עבדך חן. כל השמות האמורים בגבעת בנימין קדש. כל השמות האמורים במיכה חול. כל השמות האמורים בנבות קדש. כל שלמה האמור בשיר השירים קדש והרי הוא כשאר הכנויין חוץ מזה האלף לך שלמה. כל מלכיא האמור בדניאל חול חוץ מזה אנת מלכא מלך מלכיא והרי הוא כשאר הכנויין: 

All of the names (of G-D) stated in [the stories] of Avraham are considered holy, even this that is said (Bereishis 18:3) "My Lord, if, please, I have found favor," behold this is holy. (In the Kesef Mishnah it says that there are some who hold this "My Lord" is referring to angels and is, therefore, not considered holy. In fact, in the Moreh Nevuchim Section 2 Chapter 42 the Rambam himself writes that this name is not considered holy.) All of the names (of G-D) stated by [the stories] of Lot are not holy except for this (Ibid 19:18-19), "Please, no, My Lord. Behold, please, your servant has found favor." All the names (of G-D) stated by [the incidence] at Gibeah in Binyamin (Shoftim 20) are holy. All of the names of G-D stated [in the stories of] Micha are not holy. All the names (of G-D) stated [in the story] of Navos (Kings I 21) are holy. All Shlomo stated in Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) is holy, in fact they are like the other nicknames (of G-D) except for for this (Shir Hashirim 8:12) "The thousand are yours Shlomo." (In the allegorical rendering of this verse according to Rashi, Shlomo actual refers to "the one who peace belongs" aka G-D) Every "King" that is stated [in the stories of Daniel] are not holy, except for this (Daniel 2:37), "You King, King of kings." In fact, it is like every other nickname [of G-D].

The reason the Rambam explicitly talks about these names of G-D is because there is an argument in the Gemara or among Rishonim whether or not each one of these names are considered holy or not. Even within these opinions there is an argument about which specific names of G-D in these stories are considered holy or not (e.g. some hold that yud kay vav kay is holy even in these stories). It is important to note that the Rambam seems to be saying that even the seven names stated in the second halacha of this Perek would be considered not holy in these stories where all of G-D's names are considered not holy. Showing that in these stories, none of the names every refer to G-D, but rather to either angels or idols, except for the stated exceptions.           

Rambam Yisodei HaTorah Perek 6 Halacha 8: Holy Writings

כתבי הקדש כולן ופירושיהן וביאוריהן אסור לשורפם או לאבדם ביד והמאבדן ביד מכין אותו מכת מרדות. במה דברים אמורים בכתבי הקדש שכתבם ישראל בקדושה אבל (אפיקורוס)מין ישראלי שכתב ספר תורה שורפין אותו עם האזכרות שבו. מפני שאינו מאמין בקדושת השם ולא כתבו (לשמו) אלא שהוא מעלה בדעתו שזה כשאר הדברים והואיל ודעתו כן לא נתקדש השם. ומצוה לשורפו כדי שלא להניח שם (לאפיקורוסים)למינים ולא למעשיהם. אבל (עובד כוכבים)גוי שכתב את השם גונזין אותו. וכן כתבי הקדש שבלו או שכתבן (עובד כוכבים)גוי יגנזו:

All holy writings, their commentaries and their explanations are forbidden to be burned or destroyed with the hand (directly). One who destroys them with his or her hand receives Rabbinic lashes. What types of [holy writings] are we speaking of? Holy writings that a Jew wrote with holiness (holy intentions). However, if a heretical Jew writes a Sefer Torah, [that Sefer Torah] is burnt along with the divine names [written] in it. [The reason the Sefer Torah is burnt] is because [the heretical Jew] does not believe in the holiness of G-D's name and only writes [the Sefer Torah] with the thought that [the Sefer Torah] is like any other thing (e.g. like the Odessy). Since his or her thinking is like this (that the name of G-D and the Sefer Torah have no special holiness) G-D's name is not [considered] holy [in this situation] and it is a commandment to burn it (the Sefer Torah written by the heretical Jew) in order that we not leave G-D's name to heretics and their deeds. However, a non-Jew who writes G-D's name, that [name] must be buried. Also, holy writings that they own or that were written by a non-Jew must be buried.     

(All corrections were made based on the text of the Rambam Frankel)

This halacha can tell us something that I hinted at in the last halacha. If a believing Jew writes any holy writings: commentaries, Chumash (five books of Moses), or any name of G-D, it is considered holy merely with their intentions. However, if a Jew who does not believe in G-D writes any of these things then it is impossible for him or her to use their intentions to infuse that object with holiness.

On the other hand, if a non-Jew writes the name of G-D it seems like we are worried that they can infuse their writings with holiness. Why? Because non-Jews can believe in G-D. If a non-Jew believes in G-D, then if he or she writes the name it has the same amount of holiness that a name written by a Jew has. The reason we must bury these writings has nothing to do with the reason we burn a heretics writings. The only reason we bury a non-Jew's writings is because we are in doubt if he or she actually believes in G-D. Therefore, we must treat their writings as we treat a Jews writings and bury them and not burn them.     

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Rambam Yisodei HaTorah Perek 6 Halacha 7- Destroying Stones of The Mizbaiach (Alter), Temple, or Temple Courtyard

הסותר אפילו אבן אחת דרך השחתה מן המזבח או מן ההיכל או משאר העזרה לוקה שנאמר בעבודת כוכבים כי את מזבחותם תתוצון וכתוב לא תעשון כן לה' אלהיכם. וכן השורף עצי הקדש דרך השחתה לוקה שנאמר ואשריהם תשרפון באש וכתיב לא תעשון כן לה' אלהיכם:

If someone removed even one stone, in a destructive manner, from the Alter, the Temple or from the rest of the temple courtyard he or she is given lashes for it says with [regard to] Idol Worship (Shemos 34:13) "Their alters you shall break apart" and it writes (Devarim 12:4) [with regard to destroying Idol Worship objects] "You shall not do this to Hashem, your G-D." Also, someone who burns sanctified wood in a destructive manner receives lashes, for it says (ibid 3) "And their sacred trees shall you burn" and it says (Ibid 4) "You shall not do this to Hashem, your G-D." 

In this halacha the Rambam moves on to talk about a Chilul Hashem (desecration of G-D's name) that is no longer focusing on G-D's written name. This halacha teaches us that someone must destroy sanctified objects in a malicious manner in order to be punished for transgressing this halacha. Furthermore, it seems like it must be in a malicious manner and directed towards G-D, if it is just to anger other Jews, perhaps it would not be a transgression of this halacha (This is my own thought based on the pasuk that is brought). However, if you take a stone from the Temple and use it to build a house, or if you burn a fire to keep warm using sanctified wood, you are not transgressing this commandment. Chilul Hashem requires a type of malignant behavior that displays a persons disdain for G-D. Someone needs to show the same hatred to G-D that G-D shows toward Idol Worship in order for this halacha to apply to them. 

This idea can allow us to understand how rare it is to find a true apikores (someone who rebels against G-D). Most people in the Jewish religion nowadays either do not believe in G-D or they believe in G-D and try to follow his commandments or what they perceive as his commandments. It is very rare to find someone who says that they believe in G-D and they hate Him and specifically go against His will. From the people I have met there seems to be certain general categories of how people act in the Jewish religion. Firstly, there are those who do not believe in G-D. Secondly, there are those that believe in G-D, but they do not believe most of what Orthodox Judaism says is truly His will. Finally, there are those who believe that what Orthodox Judaism says is His will is actually His will. The first category can do anything against G-D's will and it is not a true Chilul Hashem or an act of an apikores because they do not believe G-D exists, so there is no ill will towards G-D. The second category has people who believe they are following G-D's will and this is true of the third category as well. A true apikores can only come from the second or third category and finding people who believe in G-D and hate Him is rare. Most people, nowadays, just stop believing in G-D if they don't want to follow His will. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Rambam- Yisodei HaTorah Perek 6 Halacha 6: How To Get Rid of A Vessel With G-D's Name On It

First, I would like to apologize to anyone who cares that I have not been writing lately. I have been extremely busy with medical school. So, here is the next halacha in the Rambam that I am up to on my blog:

כלי שהיה שם כתוב עליו קוצץ את מקום השם וגונזו. ואפילו היה השם חקוק בכלי מתכות או בכלי זכוכית והתיך הכלי הרי זה לוקה אלא חותך את מקומו וגונזו. וכן אם היה שם כתוב על בשרו הרי זה לא ירחץ ולא יסוך ולא יעמוד במקום הטנופת. נזדמנה לו טבילה של מצוה כורך עליו גמי וטובל ואם לא מצא גמי מסבב בבגדיו ולא יהדק כדי שלא יחוץ שלא אמרו לכרוך עליו אלא מפני שאסור לעמוד בפני השם כשהוא ערום:

A vessel that has G-D's name written on it [can only be disposed of] if one cuts out the name and then buries it (the piece with the name). Even if G-D's name is carved into a metal vessel or a glass vessel and [the vessel is melted] the [person who melted the vessel] receives lashes, rather cut out its place and bury it (the place with the name). Also, if G-D's name is written on a person's skin, then he can not wash, moisturize, or stand in a place with garbage. If it is time for him to do a commandment type of bathing, he should wrap a reed-rope on [the area G-D's name is written] and bathe. If he can't find a reed-rope then he should wrap [the area with G-D's name] with his clothing. However, it is not that he is wrapping [the garment around the area of the skin] in order that the area not be cleaned, rather the only reason they say (the Chachamim of the Gemara in Shabbos 120a) that [G-D's name needs] to be wrapped is because it is forbidden to be in the presence of G-D's name naked. 

This halacha shows that writing and carving are considered the same act. Whether an object was written on with a pencil, which is extrinsic to the object, or someone carved the name of G-D with a knife into the vessel, which is intrinsic to the object, these both constitute acts of writing out G-D's name in a way that the name is holy, if it was written with the proper Kavanah (intention). However, this is not always the case, there are many times where carving is not considered the same as writing. However, that will be seen in later halachas in the Rambam if I ever get there on this blog.  

Monday, January 2, 2012

Chareidim Who Ignore History Are Doomed To Repeat History's Mistakes

The events in Beit Shemesh and the general Israeli population's reaction reminds me of a story told over in the Talmud and Josephus. (I am not talking about Kamtza and Bar Kamtza because that is not analogous) I am talking about the story found in Kiddushin 66a and Josephus Antiquities Book 13 section 10 that deals with King Yannai's transformation from a follower of the Pharisees to the Sadducees. First let us see the source in Kiddushin 66a (Translation found here):
It once happened that King Jannai went to Kohalith in the wilderness and conquered sixty towns there. On his return he rejoiced exceedingly and invited all the Sages of Israel. Said he to them, ‘Our forefathers ate mallows when they were engaged on the building of the [second] Temple; let us too eat mallows in memory of our forefathers.’ So mallows were served on golden tables, and they ate. Now, there was a man there, frivolous, evil hearted and worthless, named Eleazar son of Po'irah, who said to King Jannai. ‘O King Jannai, the hearts of the Pharisees are against thee.’ ‘Then what shall I do?’ ‘Test them by the plate between thine eyes.’ So he tested them by the plate between his eyes. Now, an elder, named Judah son of Gedidiah, was present there. Said he to King Jannai. ‘O King Jannai! let the royal crown suffice thee, and leave the priestly crown to the seed of Aaron.’ (For it was rumoured that his mother had been taken captive in Modi'im.) Accordingly, the charge was investigated, but not sustained, and the Sages of Israel departed in anger. Then said Eleazar b. Po'irah to King Jannai: ‘O King Jannai! That is the law even for the most humble man in Israel, and thou, a King and a High Priest, shall that be thy law [too]!’ ‘Then what shall I do?’ ‘If thou wilt take my advice, trample then, down.’ ‘But what shall happen with the Torah?’ ‘Behold, it is rolled up and lying in the corner: whoever wishes to study. Let him go and study!’ Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Immediately a spirit of heresy was instilled into him, for he should have replied. ‘That is well for the Written Law; but what of the Oral Law?’ Straightway, the evil burst forth through Eleazar son of Po'irah, all the Sages of Israel were massacred, and the world was desolate until Simeon b. Shetah came and restored the Torah to its pristine [glory]. 
The Josephus details are a little different, but overall the idea is the same (Josephus Antiquities 13:10 translation found here):
However, this prosperous state of affairs moved the Jews to envy Hyrcanus; but they that were the worst disposed to him were the Pharisees, who were one of the sects of the Jews, as we have informed you already. These have so great a power over the multitude, that when they say any thing against the king, or against the high priest, they are presently believed.  Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs, and greatly beloved by them. And when he once invited them to a feast, and entertained them very kindly, when he saw them in a good humour, he began to say to them, that they knew he was desirous to be a righteous man, and to do all things whereby he might please God, which was the profession of the Pharisees also. However, he desired, that if they observed him offending in any point, and going out of the right way, they would call him back and correct him. On which occasion they attested to his being entirely virtuous; with which commendation he was well pleased. But still there was one of his guests there, whose name was Eleazar, a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices. This man said," Since thou desirest to know the truth, if thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high priesthood, and content thyself with the civil government of the people," And when he desired to know for what cause he ought to lay down the high priesthood, the other replied, "We have heard it from old men, that thy mother had been a captive under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes." This story was false, and Hyrcanus was provoked against him; and all the Pharisees had a very great indignation against him.  Now there was one Jonathan, a very great friend of Hyrcanus's, but of the sect of the Sadducees, whose notions are quite contrary to those of the Pharisees. He told Hyrcanus that Eleazar had cast such a reproach upon him, according to the common sentiments of all the Pharisees, and that this would be made manifest if he would but ask them the question, What punishment they thought this man deserved? for that he might depend upon it, that the reproach was not laid on him with their approbation, if they were for punishing him as his crime deserved. So the Pharisees made answer, that he deserved stripes and bonds, but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death. And indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments. At this gentle sentence, Hyrcanus was very angry, and thought that this man reproached him by their approbation. It was this Jonathan who chiefly irritated him, and influenced him so far, that he made him leave the party of the Pharisees, and abolish the decrees they had imposed on the people, and to punish those that observed them.
 In both of these versions there is one common theme, there is a Pharisee that insulted the king inappropriately and this allowed for the king to be swayed by one of the Sadducees to become evil. Obviously, if there was no wicked Sadducee there would have been no problem, but that is the point, there is always a "wicked Sadducee." Had the foolish Pharisee, who was punished in both stories (see commentaries on Kiddushin 66a), not insulted the king based on a foolish assumption NOTHING bad would have happened. His ridiculous attempt at righteousness caused much death and sorrow for the Jewish people.

The question is who should be blamed in a situation like this? Obviously, we give blame to the Sadducee, but that is expected of him. The Sadducee is the antithesis of Torah Judaism, should we have expected him to stay silent when the Pharisees allowed the king to be insulted? No, he was doing what was in his nature. It would be foolish for us to place the true blame on the Sadducee just like it would be ridiculous for us to place blame on a lion released from the zoo for mauling a person. Obviously, you place blame on the lion keeper that freed the lion and not the lion itself. The Sadducee in this case was a malicious animal that was "caged" because King Yannai was an ardent follower of the Pharisees. However, the Pharisee that insulted the King's lineage and status "released" this caged beast and allowed it to maul the Pharisees.

This is exactly what is going on in Israel today. Obviously, there are left wingers that are anti the Chareidi way of life that are waiting to jump on them at every moment. The only way the Chareidim can stave off their criticism is by being completely innocent (which has hardly been the case in the past). However, when you have people that associate with the Chareidim and are not denounced by the Chareidi leadership in Israel that do such disgusting acts what do you expect from the left wingers? It is not their fault that they are criticizing the Chareidi community, that is what they have been doing all along. However, since these acts are SO INCREDIBLY reprehensible everyone is listening to them now. They are able to turn the general public against the Chareidim in a way that was not achievable before.

The only way for the Chareidim to stave this crisis off is by giving these thugs the harshest punishment. In the Josephus story (and in the commentators to the story in Kiddushin) we see that the reason King Yannai was so furious at the Pharisees had nothing to do with this single Pharisee. What upset King Yannai was the reaction of the greater Pharisee community. They did not punish the Pharisee that insulted him harshly enough. If the Chareidi community would disavow this sect with the harshest criticism then the general Israeli public would be much more forgiving. NONE of the Chareidi leadership has done anything to disavow these disgusting thugs. That is what is so frustrating. The Chareidi apologists fail to see this. If you do not punish those within your ranks appropriately, you are at fault. You can cry and cry about how they are not 'REAL" Chareidim (whatever that means), but until you take actions against them your words are meaningless and the "King" (the Israeli Public) will punish you for being complacent with their acts.