Monday, February 21, 2011

Calf vs. Spies

Rav Yair Kahn at Yesiva Har Etzion discusses the difference between the Cheit Ha'aigel and Chet Hameraglim. In both cases Hashem was going to destroy the Bnai Yisrael until Moshe Rabbeinu begged him to forgive them. However, in the case of the aigel, he was able to continue until Hashem agreed to continue with the people and take them into Eretz Yisroel. Even though every punishment that we would undergo in the future would include part of the punishment for that chet, we were still forgiven and Hashem explicitly says, וסלחתי כדבריך.  On the other hand, after the Chet Hameraglim, Moshe Rabbeinu is unable to continue and the entire generation is condemned to death. The only "leniency" is that Hashem allows them to die naturally over the course of the next 38 years rather than killing them all at once.

One would think that the idol worship of the calf would be more serious than being panicking and attempting to run away when being faced by war. Rav Kahn points out that the Chet Ha'aigel was not really a rebellion against Hashem, but was an attempt to replace the missing Moshe Rabbeinu (whom they thought was dead after 40 days on the mountain) with another representative. On the other hand, the Chet Hameraglim was a complete rebellion against Hashem and an attempt to totally reject Hashem's purpose for Bnei Yisroel.

Another aspect actually ties into the reason that Avraham Avinu sent Eliezer to his family to get Rivkah as a wife for Yitzchak rather than take a woman from the Canaanim. Both groups were idol worshipers. However, the family of Bethuel were idol worshipers because of an error in analysis. The Canaanim were idol worshipers because of a basic flaw in their makeup.

Similarly, the Chet Ha'aigel was an error in analysis. Only 3,000 out of 600,000 actually worshiped the aigel and were punished by death. The rest fell prey to the mistake that caused them to believe that they were just setting up a representation of Hashem to help them. Their bsic desire was to be closer to Hashem and follow what they thought was His will. The meraglim on the other hand fell prey to a basic flaw in character. They insisted on putting their own wishes, desires, and fears ahead of the explicitly stated commands of Hashem. We see this in a number of places in the story. From the very beginning when they said that "we appeared to them as grasshoppers and so we were in our own eyes", to the end when the "acknowledged" their mistake by attempting to go up an conquer Eretz Canaan even though Hashem told them not to. Even their "atonement" was actually a rebellion against Hashem.

Rabbi Kahn points out that the difference between the two sins is also shown in the tragedies of the fast days that were instituted on those days. The Chet Ha'aigel occurred on Shiv'a Asar B'Tamuz, while the Chet Hameraglim was on Tish'a B'Av. It was the Chet Hameraglim that triggered the final destruction and the full mourning. The tragedies that occurred on Shiv'a Asar B'Tamuz were things that could be forgiven and recovered from. The destruction of Tish'a B'Av was final and could only be endured. As Rabbi Kahn says
The reason that the fast of Tisha Be-Av is observed in such a unique way is because it does not commemorate a calamity that can be removed through prayer and repentance; it is rooted in historical events that led to a gezeira (decree) that could not be changed. The meraglim episode led to the decree that the generation would perish in the wilderness. Later in history, the Temples were destroyed on Tisha Be-Av. Prayer and repentance could no longer prevent the destruction. It already was too late.   

As opposed to calamity, a gezera cannot be removed. It expresses not Divine Providence, but rather the distancing of the Divine Presence and God "hiding His face," as it were. "R. Elazar said: Since the day on which the Temple was destroyed, there is a wall of iron that stands between Yisrael and their Father in Heaven" (Berakhot 32b). The reaction to a gezera is not prayer, but rather mourning and surrender to God's inscrutable will:  "And R. Elazar said: Since the day on which the Temple was destroyed, the gates of prayer are locked" (ibid.).

The seventeenth of Tammuz, despite the five tragic events which took place on that day, is defined as a day of calamity. It is true that on this date the first set of tablets were shattered, but following prayer on the part of Moshe Rabbeinu and teshuva on the part of the nation, we merited to receive the second luchot. On this date, the walls of Jerusalem were indeed breached, and the enemies stood ready to enter, and it was therefore a time of calamity for the Jewish nation, since the destruction had not yet occurred. But on Tisha Be-Av, a tragic decree had already been issued. Despite Moshe's entreaties, the attempts to mitigate the sharpness of the decree, the attempt to repent and continue on to Eretz Yisrael was futile and reached its tragic conclusion at Chorma (Bamidbar 14:45). 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Moshe Rabbeinu is not in Parshas Tetzaveh

Many meforshim discuss the reason why Parshas Tetzaveh is the "only" parsha (since his birth) that Moshe's name is not mentioned. Technically, his name is also not mentioned in eikev, r'ei, and shoftim. However, those three parshios are quotes of Moshe Rabbeinu's final speech. As a result, they would not be able to have his name in them, as a person does not normally speak of himself, by name, in the third person (Bob Dole notwithstanding). The meforshim connect this with Moshe's request to be "erased from the Torah" if Hashem would not forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the aigel hazahav (golden calf). However, the question still remains, why was this parsha chosen.

Since the request was given in Parshas Ki Sisa, next week, this parsha is the last occasion prior to the next reading of the request for it to be honored. This shows Hashem's reluctance to actually remove Moshe from the narrative.However, there are other reasons for doing so. Rabbi Sorotzkin points out that this parsha is the one that is always read during the week of Moshe's birthday and yahrtzeit (death anniversary) and as such contrasts with the situation in "other religions" which connect all their observances and holidays to the founder's life and death. Instead, the very lack of a celebration or mention of Moshe's name at this time shows that the important events are those of the Torah and the establishment of service of Hashem.

Another point is that it shows the humility of Moshe Rabbeinu in that he joyfully withdrew to allow his brother, Aharon, to be fully recognized as the Kohen Gadol and acknowledge his full authority over the spiritual realm. Indeed, Rabbi Sacks points out that this is a necessary occurrence for there to be a valid and lasting society. As he says in this week's Covenant and Conversation
There is though a deeper message, the principle of the separation of powers, which opposes the concentration of leadership into one person or institution. All human authority needs checks and balances if it is not to become corrupt. In particular, political and religious leadership, keter malkhut and keter kehunah, should never be combined. Moses wore the crowns of political and prophetic leadership, Aaron that of priesthood. The division allowed each to be a check on the other.
 Thus, it is a necessary factor for the existence of the nation of Israel.

Moses must show the people – and Aaron himself – that he has the humility, the tzimtzum, the power of self-effacement, needed to make space for someone else to share in the leadership of the people, someone whose strengths are not yours, whose role is different from yours, someone who may be more popular, closer to the people, than you are – as in fact Aaron turned out to be.

Lehavdil: in 2005 the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin published an influential book about Abraham Lincoln entitled Team of Rivals. In it she tells the story of how Lincoln appointed to his cabinet the three men who had opposed him as candidate for the Republican party leadership. William Henry Seward, who had been expected to win, eventually said of him that “his magnanimity is almost superhuman . . . the President is the best of us.” It takes a special kind of character to make space for those whom one is entitled to see as rivals. Early on, Aaron showed that character in relation to Moses, and now Moses is called on to show it to Aaron.

True leadership involves humility and magnanimity. The smaller the ego, the greater the leader. That’s what Moses showed in the parsha that does not mention his name.
I could bring up the modern politicians who have shown the reverse trait so that we know what problems that they have caused. This is true not only in the United States, but also in the State of Israel. I will not mention specific names but we all know who they are and what they have done.

Another point can connect this parsha with Parshas Zachor. Just as we must erase the memory of Amalek, we also "erase" the memory of Moshe Rabbeinu who fought Amalek. Just as the Mishkan was created as a communal effort, so too is the fight against Amalek a communal effort. Thus, we do not "remember" the individual who gave us the basis for the mishkan but we show it as a full communal effort. with the Kohanim becoming the representatives of the people. The bigdei kehunah show this status. The Kohen Gadol is not specifically Aharon but whoever is in that office will show the greatness that Hashem has assigned to the office. Just as Aharon took over the office from Moshe, so too will each of his successors take over the office and be responsible for the generation in which he serves.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

How is Tetzaveh connected with Korach

Rabbi Sorotzkin's Insights in Torah writes about the meil (coat or jacket) that the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) wore. This garment is made completely of tcheiles.  When Korach rebelled, one of the two questions that he asked was whether a four cornered garment made all of tcheiles requires tztzis. In fact, the Minchas Chinuch states that the meil was just such a four cornered garment. The Kohen Gadol was not required to put tzitzis on the meil even though it was required under normal circumstances. This is similar to the avnet (belt) which was made of sha'atnez and would be forbidden in any garment other than the uniform of the Kohen. We see from this that the answer is that any other garment made all of tcheiles would require tzitzis.

It is Interesting to consider the reason that things that are forbidden in "normal life" are required as part of the avodah in the Beis Hamikdash.Other examples are the karbanos (sacrifices) which involve a number of forbidden melachos normally forbidden on Shabbos (such as slaughtering animals).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

How to ask for Tzedaka - Parshas Terumah

Rabbi Horowitz raised an interesting point at Shalosh Seudos for Parsha Terumah (which included the Shevah Brochos for the daughter of a member of our shul). The pasuk that starts Parshas Terumah is

ויקחו לי תרומה
מאת כל איש אשר ידבנו לבו
תקחו את תרומתי
וזאת התרומה ...
ועשו לי מקדש
ושכנתי בתוכם
  1. Take for me Terumah
  2. From every man whose heart motivates him
  3. Take My Termah
  4. This is the Terumah that you should take (followed by details of the 13 types of items) ...
  5. And make for Me a Mishkan
  6. So that I might dwell among them.  
Rabbi Horowitz pointed out that when requesting money for a particular purpose, the normal course of events is to explain the purpose of the request first. Then we get the entire justification showing what is needed and how it will be expended. Only then do we get the plea for the money. The question is, why do we first get the request (in three different forms), followed by the exact details, and only at the end do we have the purpose of the expense, followed by the justification for that expense.

Rabbi Horowitz compared this to the question as to why the Chashmonaim needed to search for pure uncontaminated olive oil when they rededicated the Bais HaMikdash. Halachically, they could have used the tamei oil since there was no other oil available. The Avnei Nezer points out that when starting a new endeavor, one does so in the best way possible. This sets the foundation for the entire enterprise and enables it to be built up properly. This is like the education of a child. It ensures that the child will grow properly and continue to develop in the right path. The rabbi then spoke about the Choson and Kala and how the foundations that have been set by their families will affect the "bayis neeman beYisrael" that they are now in the process of building.

The Aish HaTorah printout speaks about the three languages of giving that are shown here. The first is for those who give lishmah, for the purest of motives. The reason that they give tzedakah is for love of Hashm. The second motive speaks about those people who feel sorry  for the poor person that they are supporting or who are enthusiastic about the particular cause that the money will go to. THe third category is those who are embarassed to be seen not giving or who regard the money as a "tax" that they are required to give. In any case, the money is to be accepted without inquiring into the motives of the giver. The giver is appreciated for his actions and the project will end up causing the final benefit to the community as a whole.

I have seem commentaries pointing out that the most miniscule misstep at the beginning of a project can lead to major catastrophe down the road. A fraction of a degree of the proper course can result in missing the target by a massive amount after having traled a great distance. Imagine two radii of a circle. One can step from one to another easily at the beginning. However, they can end up millions of miles apart.

Update: Rabbi Sorotzkin made an interesting point. Why was the building of the mikdash accomplished through donations, while the upkeep required the tax of the Chatzi Shekel? This shows that human nature has not changed. People are willing to donate lavishly for many causes as long as the result is something visible. However, the necessary upkeep and maintenance cannot be left to donations. Rabbi Sorotzkin mentioned a major meeting of the great rabbis of Europe to get funds for the Lithuanian Yeshivos. Someone asked how com Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin was able to raise so much money for his yeshiva? Rabbi Sorotzkin pointed at that once the yeshivah was built, Rabbi Shapiro would have just as much trouble raising the money for the needed food and upkeep as all the others (and that is what happened). Even Hashem could not rely on voluntary donations for the upkeep.