Source: The Winding Stair and Other Poems, 1933;.
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
R' Moshe Shilat Shabbat Bi-shabato Vayigash
With respect to the reunification of Yosef and his younger brother Binyamin, we are told in this week's Torah portion, "And he fell on the neck of his brother Binyamin and wept, and Binyamin wept on his neck" [Bereishit 45:14].
The sages teach us that Yosef wept for the two Temples which would be built in the heritage of Binyamin and would later be destroyed, while Binyamin wept for the Tabernacle at Shilo, which would be in Yosef's heritage and also would be destroyed.
However, according to the principle that "every man is closest to himself," it is hard to understand why each one cried about the Temple in the area belonging to his brother and not about the Temple in his own heritage. The explanation for this is related to the emphasis in the above verse, that each one cried on the neck of the other one.
"It Lies between His Shoulders"
The following appears in the Midrash with respect to the verse, "Your neck is like the Tower of David" [Shir Hashirim 4:4] - "Just as the neck is at the top of a man, so the Temple lies at the top of the world."
At first glance this appears to be lacking something. If the purpose of the verse is to express the great height and the importance of the Temple, the image of a neck is not the best one. The neck is not the highest part of a person, since the head is higher.
A similar question can be asked about another verse which involves the Temple, "It lies between his shoulders" [Devarim 33:12]. Rashi comments, "At the high point of his (Binyamin's) land the Temple was built, although it was twenty-three Amot below Ein Itam." Again the praise of the Temple is that it is in a high place, but not the highest one.
The Rebbe of Lubavitch explains that this is on purpose and that it has a very deep significance. The Temple is specifically compared to a neck, because the role of the Temple is exactly what is symbolized by the neck.
The Neck – A Focus of Decision-Making
Chassidut teaches us that there is no point in deep thought and insight for its own sake. The essence and role of such matters is so that man will rule his body and his actions according to the proper conclusions. From this point of view, the "neck" is a symbol of the control point of the intellect over the body. On one hand, it is the neck and not the head, but on the other hand it is higher than the body and symbolizes the transfer of instructions to the body.
Just this is the role of the Temple, which has been given the task of transferring the Divine light into the world. It is also the role of the Temple which lies within every single person – "Let them make a Tabernacle for me, and I will dwell within them" [Shemot 24:8] – He will dwell within each and every person. The "head" is the soul, "which clings and attaches between the Unique One and every individual." It is linked to G-d, who is above the world. With respect to the Temple in every person's heart, it is necessary to empower the soul to lead the body here, in this world.
One is Permitted to Weep for Another
The destruction of the public Temple stems from the destruction of the individual Temple, as is expressed by the sages in our prayers, "Because of our sins we were expelled from our land."
On the topic of our individual Temples, there is no point in crying, we are duty bound to rise up and to take action! We must get our bearings and start to rebuild the Temple – to study Torah and strengthen our service of G-d. Weeping might even cause harm and weaken our spirits. On the other hand, with respect to the personal Temple of a friend, it is important for you to wake him up and to help him to mend his ways in any way possible, keeping to a pleasant path and in a calm way. However, in the end you do not directly control his actions, and he will always have free choice. From the point of view of mutual love of all of Yisrael, it is right for you to weep about the destruction of a friend's personal Temple and to pray that he will wake up and rebuild his Temple.
These then are the two lessons that the Midrash teaches us about the fact that Yosef and Binyamin weep over each other's necks. With respect to your own Temple, you should not weep, it is your task to rise up and rebuild it. With respect to your brother's Temple, its destruction should touch you so deeply that you weep!
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Recently a large group of 'problem' children were given the assignment of writing essays on the difficulties they had with their parents. The papers they turned in were misspelled but lively, listing a number of rather predicable faults - gushing, nagging, refusing affection, and so on. But oddly enough the quality most children felt their parents lacked was truthfulness. None of us, of course, likes to think of himself as a liar. In important things we make it a point to be scrupulously honest. But if we examine our daily lives closely we may find dozens of examples of small compromises, trivial evasions. These seemingly unimportant deceits should be guarded against, since they can all too easily become a part of the fabric of our existence, influencing our relationships with others. An unflagging desire for truth in every aspect of our behavior does much to provide that sense of security for which all people yearn.
Source: Three Minutes by James Keller, M. M., 1950
A illuminating-brilliant-eye-opening-essay from a soon to be published hagada [I hope] in English written by a huge talmid chochom and waiting for a sponsor..... Enjoy.
The Talmud in Nedarim (51b) is wrestling with a legal question which turns into a linguistic question. The usual Hebrew word for fish is dag. If a person makes an oral or contractual commitment to deliver or remove dag, that is taken to include large fish but not small ones.
But what of the rarely used alternative, dagah? Is that a cute diminutive limited to teeny little fish, in which case that word would limit the legal obligation to small fish? Or is dagah a more general way of referring to all fish big and small?
It must mean all fish, the Talmud concludes. The proof is simple. When the plague of Blood was visited upon the Egyptians, the Torah testifies (Shmos 7:21) that the dagah in the river died. Could it be that only the small ones died and the big ones lived? Certainly not! Hashem was out to punish the Egyptians and there is no reason to think He was doing so sparingly.
Based on this, it is legally determined that dagah is an inclusive phrase for fish of all sizes, so any transaction employing that phrase will perforce encompass all fish, from the very largest to the very smallest.
The great scholar, Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskind (1818-1898) asks a simple question. Why does the Talmud wait to offer this verse as proof that dagah means all fish? The verse cited is the one at the end of the narrative, where the Torah describes the actual event. But there already is an earlier verse using dagah in reference to the plague of Blood. It comes when Moshe delivers his forewarning to Pharaoh. He tells him (7:18) that the water turning into blood will cause the dagah in the river to die.
Rabbi Diskind wonders why the Talmud did not do the logical and orderly thing, which would have been to ask from the earlier verse. After all, that verse was the threat which was fulfilled by the arrival of the plague. Thus, the same logic applies. If Moshe was threatening that the water would become blood and wipe out the dagah, it is pretty clear he does not mean to say only the smallest of the fish in the river will be adversely affected.
I would like to offer a solution to Rabbi Diskind’s challenge by presenting a far-reaching principle in understanding the system Hashem used in delivering the plagues, whereby Moshe first warned of the impending punishment and then his predictions came true. My observation is this. There is a pattern of the actual plagues eclipsing their warnings. They came to reality in a more severe form than was foretold.
Let us go through them one by one to see if we can back up this startling claim. Although Blood is the first plague, we will leave it for last in this discussion, as we investigate the text to see if this pattern truly exists.
Plague #2 is Frogs. When Moshe warns Pharaoh (Shmos 7:27), he tells him that frogs will afflict the Land of Egypt from border to border. When they arrive, the Torah says (8:2) that the frogs arose and “covered” the Land of Egypt. In practice there was full coverage, far more than the warning promised.
Plague #3 is Lice. The Torah does not record the language of Moshe’s threat to Pharaoh, but the presumption is that it is mirrored in the language of Hashem speaking to Moshe (8:12) to introduce the coming plague. There He mentions only there would be dust turning into lice all over the Land of Egypt. When this decree was enacted, the Torah reports (8:13) that “all” the dust in Egypt was transformed into lice.
Plague #4 is Wild Animals. Pharaoh was warned (8:17) that wild animals would be sent into the main population centers of Egypt, entering the homes and filling the streets. When the animals were sent, we hear something entirely new. The Torah says (8:20) that “the land was being destroyed by the wildlife.”
Plague #5 is Animal Disease. When the alarm bells were rung (9:3), they prognosticated the advent of “a very severe epidemic.” When the plague actually hit the result was that (9:6) “all the livestock of Egypt died.”
Plague #6 is Boils. They were advertised in advance (9:9) as a “rash which sprouts blisters.” They showed up (9:10) somewhat more nastily as “a rash of blisters sprouting.”
Plague #7 is Hail. It was foretold (9:18) as “a very heavy hailstorm.” When it made its appearance, it turned out to be (9:24) something far beyond any hail known to man, a miraculous confection composed of “hail with fire igniting inside the hail.”
Plague #8 is Locusts. The lead-up to the plague (10:5) anticipated the locusts would consume “all the trees which you are growing in the fields.” It did all of that, but also (10:12) gobbled up “all the herbage on the ground.”
Plague #9 is Darkness. The Torah does not present a version of the warning about the impending darkness. The Early Commentators say that the language about darkness in the warning about locusts is a hint to the plague of darkness to follow immediately afterward.
One thing seems clear. Whatever language was used mentioned only the idea of darkness per se. However, when the plague was implemented it included a shocking side effect in its final three days: absolute paralysis. The Torah depicts (10:23) a condition in which “no person could stand up from his spot.”
Plague #10 is the Death of the First-Born. The original warning (11:5) covered every first-born child, “from the first-born of Pharaoh to the first-born of the housemaid.” In the end (12:29), it went a bit further to envelop also “the first-born of the captives in the dungeons.”
Clearly, then, the pattern holds throughout. The execution always exceeds the admonition.
Our first duty, in observing this system, is to wonder about its purpose. After all, there is clearly an effort to be fair to Pharaoh in offering him the chance to mend his ways by laying out in advance the consequences of his obstinacy.
Indeed Pharaoh was afforded the same courtesy the Torah offers to every Jew: “There are no punishments unless they are preceded by warnings.” If so, why not warn thoroughly and comprehensively? Why give partial warnings rather than full ones?
I would suggest the solution lies in a discussion of the Talmud in Kesubot (33a) dealing with Aidim Zomemim, witnesses whose testimony was proven to be false. The Talmud takes note of the fact that these witnesses are killed in cases where they were trying to have the defendant receive capital punishment. This is despite the fact that the witnesses are not warned in advance that if their testimony is proven false they will receive the fate for which they framed the defendant.
What happened to the rule of “no punishments unless preceded by warnings” which is the standard for all criminal penalties of the Torah?
The Talmud answers that this is an exception based on a moral imperative. It is a central tenet of Torah justice that the punishment should fit the crime, even reflecting it to the extent possible. These pseudo-witnesses had set out to use the machinery of the court as a weapon by which to give this defendant an undeserved death penalty. Had they succeeded, he would have been punished without being warned. As a consequence, they too are killed for their crime without first receiving a warning.
This insight into Divine judgment can be applied to the sentences meted out to the Egyptians for their unwarranted enslavement of the Jewish People, a nation which had brought them nothing but loyalty and prosperity. We can do that by citing another salient factor in the saga of Jewish travail in Egypt, described briefly by the Talmud in Sotah (11b) and in detail by the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah.
There it tells of Pharaoh’s methodology in drawing the Jews gradually into slavery. At each stage, he told them some work would be necessary, but he understated the extent. By the time they realized just how bad things were going to become, they were already trapped. They were no longer equipped to resist the tyranny effectively.
Thus, Pharaoh had rendered some measure of warning before inflicting the misery, but the outcomes far outpaced the predictions. Justice demanded that Pharaoh be treated with a dose of his own medicine. Therefore the actual plagues were always somewhat more severe than the previews provided by Moshe.
With this principle firmly in place, we return to the plague of Blood. Here too the principle holds. When Moshe issued the initial warning (Shmos 7:18) he asserted that “the Egyptians would find it difficult to drink water from the river.”
However, when the plague came to pass, things were much worse than that (7:21): “The Egyptians were not able to drink water from the river.”
We are now equipped to answer Rabbi Diskind’s question. The Talmud proved that dagah means fish of all sizes from the Torah saying (7:21) that the dagah died when the river became blood. Rabbi Diskind asks why they failed to cite the earlier verse (7:18) in which Moshe warns that the dagah will die.
Now we understand perfectly. The logic of the Talmud’s proof is that Hashem would have no reason to limit the plague to the smaller fish. On the contrary, the Egyptians deserved to lose all the fish, just as they would later lose all their plants and animals. This logic is unimpeachable, but only in reference to the actual plague.
However, the warning verse might well have understated the potential impact of the plague.
In fact, it would have been perfectly within the system of partial warnings if Moshe had only threatened the small fish and then wiped them all out, large and small. Had the word dagah been used in the warning but not in the actual plague, we could not have proved that this word means the big fish as well as the little ones.