Sunday, November 29, 2015

VaYishlach by Ari Bar-Shain - "The world moves quickly and there is very little time to think."

Ari in the Gush Beit Midrash with his father

Black Friday is a time of rushing. Running to the store as early as possible, hurrying to the aisle where the product you need can be found, checking out, and then going as fast as you can to the next store. The world moves quickly and there is very little time to think.

After שמעון and לוי massacre the city of שכם and יעקב scolds them, God tells יעקב to ascend to בית אל.
א  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, קוּם עֲלֵה בֵית-אֵל וְשֶׁב-שָׁם; וַעֲשֵׂה-שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ--לָאֵל הַנִּרְאֶה אֵלֶיךָ, בְּבָרְחֲךָ מִפְּנֵי עֵשָׂו אָחִיךָ.
1 And God said unto Jacob: 'Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God, who appeared unto thee when thou didst flee from the face of Esau thy brother.'
The רמב"ן is puzzled about the phrase ושב שם. Why would God tell יעקב to go somewhere, establish residence, and then make a מזבח? Who cares if he first lives there?

He theorizes that perhaps the commandment if for יעקב to clear his mind before clinging to God. Prior to building an altar for Divine worship, יעקב needs to focus and get in the right mindset.

In the next few פסוקים, יעקב tells his household to remove the strange gods that are among them, collects these figures, and buries them. The רמב"ן, as he did previously, explains why this was such a critical prerequisite to going to בית אל and carrying out ה'’s command.
יעקב צוה להסיר אותה לטהרת הקדש שיהיו ראויים לעבוד את השם ולהקריב לפניו קרבן, כאשר צוה להם בטבילה וחלוף הבגדים
Yaakov commanded to remove it (the strange gods) for purification, so that they would be fitting to worship and offer sacrifices to God, just as he commanded them to immerse and change clothing.

תפילה and other forms of Divine worship require mental clarity and focus. It’s impossible to open up to God when there are other thoughts on your mind. Distractions have to be removed in order to attain proper concentration. This means both physical and mental disturbances. Your body and room in which you are davening have to be clean, as you also have to be in the right frame of mind. The משנה in ברכות even mentions that the חסידים ראשונים used to wait an hour before davening in order to direct their minds to God! It’s not just about תפילה or offering קרבנות, but also ridding the area of idols and setting aside time to dwell there before you begin.

Extremely similar to preparation for davening is preparation for שבת, as we can see in the רמב"ם. He says that it’s a מצווה to wash your face, hands and feet in warm water, put on a טלית, and sit waiting to accept שבת the way you await the arrival of a king. As we clean our bodies before and wear טליתות during davening, we also do the same for שבת.

Fridays are a dangerous time in the week. People are rushing home from work trying to cook, clean up, and get a long list of things done before שבת. This often means working until the very last minute before candle lighting. As much as possible, it’s also important to enter שבת with the right mindset. Whether it be half an hour or only five minutes, pausing and contemplating the holy time of the week that you’re about to accept upon yourself is essential.

Ari Bar-Shain

Friday, November 27, 2015

Libations: What’s the deal? by Aryeh Klein

Libations: What’s the deal?
By: Aryeh Klein
seated front right

If you pay attention to leining on Rosh Chodesh, or on any other holiday, you will notice that basically with every karban that one brings, the one who is offering the karban doesn’t only bring the animal itself, but rather brings with it wine libations, oil, and flour. These three things as a group are referred to as nesachim and there are a whole bunch of questions surrounding them. First of all, in general, we have a pretty strict list of things that we can bring onto the mizbeach. We have a lav of chulin beazara, but someone these three items make the list, whereas others don’t. Additionally, another weird point about nesachim is that if you look throughout sefer Vayikra where all of the karbanot are introduced, the only time nesachim are mentioned at all is in connection to the karban tamid. The pesukim about nesachim only appear a lot later in parshat Shelach after the sin of the meraglim. A third question about the nesachim is what are they? Neither the Rambam nor the Sefer haCHinuch count them as a separate mitzvah, they are just included in the mitzvah of karbanot. Hopefully we will now go into the parsha of nesachim and offer a few different approaches as to why they are brought.

The first possible explanation towards nesachim in general is some concept of ‘achilat gavoah’. In general, throughout maasechet zevachim and seder kodshim as a whole, we see the concept of achilat gavoah recurring again and again. It’s hard to know exactly what this means, but if somehow karbanot are food for Hashem or the mizbeach, then it would make sense to include with them other components of a meal, those being bread and wine. Again, it’s hard to understand exactly what this means, that we are giving a meal to Hashem, but this concept does exist.

A second approach is found in Rav Hersch on parshat tetzava. He rights that a karban in general is symbolic of us devoting ourselves to Hashem. He then goes on to explain nesachim and writes that “Oil represents wellbeing, wine represents happiness, and flour represents sustenance.” At the time when one tries to devote himself completely to Hashem, he gives as sort of a tax the things that represent his wellbeing on this earth as a sign that everything is that he is directly from by Hashem. It’s a nice idea; the problem is that this would not be that applicable to certain types of karbanot such as those which come to atone for sins.

There is a גמרא in berachot 14b which says that anyone who says Shema without tefillin its as if he offers a karban without nesachim. What in the world does this mean? Rav Kook suggests that a karban is composed of the four elements of the natural world which are human, animal, vegetable and mineral. The giver of the sacrifice is the human, the karban itself is the animal, the altar would be the mineral part as the mizbeach is filled with earth, and finally, the nesachim would fill the vegetable role. The idea behind giving the nesachim would be to make the karban completely part of the natural world. Using this idea he explains the גמרא in berachot as just as our karbanot are from our entirety, so too our kabalat ol malchut shamayim should be as well, and the only way to have that complete is to be wearing our tefillin. This is a nice explanation of the גמרא, and hopefully we will see another one later.

If we look back at the pesukim in Bamidbar perek 15, we notice a few interesting things. Firstly, the mitzvah of nesachim is given as mitzvah contingent on the Jews arrival in Israel. Secondly a ger is specifically included in this mitzvah, not once but four times. The Ramban picks up on the first point and says that the reason that the Jews got the mitzvah of nesachim now is because the Jews needed consoling. Hashem was telling the Jewish people that even after their sin of the spies they were going to get into Israel and by giving them a mitzvah taluy baaretz they were consoled. The Abarbanel takes this idea and expands it.

The Abarbanel starts of by asking a whole bunch of questions on this parsha, the first two being the ones that we raised. Why did the Jews get this mitzvah now, and why is a convert singled out in the mitzvah? He starts off like the Ramban that after the sin of the meraglim, the Jews needed consoling. Why was this the mitzvah given to console them? What’s special about wine, oil and flour? These things were lacking in the desert and Hashem was promising the Jews that they would be abundant once they got into Israel. These three specific items also happen to be some of the main things that Israel was promised to have- Dagan, Tirosh, and Yitzhar. In many ways it sounds like this was a new Brit for all of Klal Yisrael, a promise that they would get to Israel, and it explains many dinim about nesachim. It sounds as if Hashem is giving them a mitzvah directly opposing their mistake, they were motzei shem ra on Israel, and Hashem is promising them that Israel will have all that they need. This is literally a mitzvah coming from the land of Israel! Through this idea we can explain a whole bunch of laws surrounding the nesachim.

Why did the Torah here single out the ger? We know in general that a non-Jew when he brings a karban he does not bring nesachim with it. The Torah here is saying that when you convert, don’t think that you should stay to your old ways and bring karbanot without nesachim like you once did. Rather, you are now also part of this new brit with Hashem, and you too now should bring nesachim to reaffirm this brit. Through this understanding, we can now also re-explain the גמרא in berachot. Just as nesachim are some type of brit with Hashem, and without them something is lacking, so too in reciting shema without tefillin are we missing part of the brit as the tefillin are the signs of our brit with Hashem. They are a sign on our arm and on our heads that we are Hashems people. This idea also explains an interesting medrash. When Avraham defeated the kings, Malki Tzedek came out to greet him with wine and bread. Rashi brings down a medrash that this is a hint to the nesachim. What does this mean? As we know from the next parsha of brit ben habetarim, Avraham here was also worried that he now wasn’t going to get the land. He too needed reassuring from Hashem and that came now. If we are to take this medrash literally and say that there was an actual hint to nesachim here, they would be accomplishing the same purpose as they do in Bamidbar. They are symbolic of a brit between Hashem and the Jewish people, and a promise that the Jewish people will eventually make it to the land of Israel.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Toldot-Obedience by Ari Bar-Shain

Ari on the right
in The Gush Beit Midrash

Not long after אברהם was struck by famine, hunger hits Israel again causing יצחק to move. ה' appears to him and tells him not to leave the country. Live in Israel and I will be with you, bless you, and give you many descendants.
ה  עֵקֶב, אֲשֶׁר-שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקֹלִי; וַיִּשְׁמֹר, מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, מִצְו‍ֹתַי, חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרֹתָי.
5 Inasmuch as Abraham obeyed me, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
ה' promises יצחק that He will uphold the oath He took with אברהם, becauseאברהם heeded His word. But ה' doesn’t just say “My word.” He says משמרתי,מצותיחקותי and תורתי. Why so many synonyms?

רש"י picks up on the tautology and explains that really, each word represents a different aspect of אברהם’s obedience. משמרתי are גזרות להרחקה-decrees that distance ourselves from violating תורה commandments. מצותי are statutes built on intuitive morality, meaning we would keep them even without the תורה.חקותי are laws with no rational thought behind them, and the only reason we keep them is because God told us to. תורתי is mentioned to include תורה שבעל פה.

רש"י provides a nice survey of the various commandments we follow. We haveמצוות that reflect our understanding of morality and others that combat human tendencies and rationale. If the תורה only consisted of ethical law then what would qualify it as a theistic religion? There are plenty of people in the world who believe they are living moral lives, yet don’t believe in God! Judaism also has principles that we cannot wrap our heads around. Doing some מצוות we don’t understand is critical as it means we are subjugating our will and intelligence to God. Yes, there are commandments that make us live up to our higher ethical standards, but there are also some that we aren’t supposed to understand. The beauty of Judaism is merging both models together.

רש"י is teaching a timeless message, but that doesn’t mean his פירוש of theפסוק is correct. רמב"ן takes issue with one of רש"י’s underlying assumptions.רש"י, explains the רמב"ן, takes for granted that אברהם kept the תורה before it was given. How do we know this is true? What proof do we have?

According to this approach, אברהם followed the positive and negative commandments before they were given, yet we see יעקב marry two sisters,עמרם marry his aunt, and משה construct 12 מצבות! How would אברהם’s descendants permit this behavior if they are prohibitions in the תורה that their forefather outlawed on himself?

Because of these challenges, the רמב"ן presents a different theory. Like רש"י, he says each word represents a different facet of אברהם’s obedience, he just defines them differently. משמרתי is basic belief in God. מצותי are the temporary guidelines given to אברהם such as לך לך מארצך and עקידת יצחק.חקותי refers to imitatio Dei, living a life of Godly virtues. תורתי means circumcision and all of the Noachide laws.

The רמב"ן also offers categories reflecting the different areas of אברהם’s obedience. Some מצוות are more philosophical and mental, like basic faith and emulation of God, while other מצוות are more practical and concrete, like specific terminable commands, circumcision, and the Noachide laws. We are charged to serve God with both thoughts and actions. Religion is an intellectual and corporeal experience.

Whether you say אברהם kept the תורה or he didn’t, I think there is a consistent message. אברהם lived up to his expectations. God thrust upon him a list of obligations and אברהם complied. Our law book might be more expansive, but we too have to meet the expectations and follow the commandments whether they correspond with our sense of morality or are irrational, and whether they demand action or thought.

שבת שלום!
Ari Bar-Shain

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The story of Giants in Tanach

The story of Giants in Tanach
Aryeh Klein (photo above - Aryeh  learning in The Gush Beit Midrash)
Gush Shana Bet

Throughout tanach, there are a whole bunch of individuals who are mentioned as being giants, either explicitly by the pesukim, or by midrashim surrounding them. There are a few different approaches among the rishonim as to, who or, what these giants were and based on that perhaps we can understand what the Torah is doing by including them in tanach.

As a background there are three groups of giants in the tanach. The first set is Sichon and Og, the brothers who led their people in war against the Jews as the Jews travelled from Egypt towards Israel. The pasuk by Og says explicitly that he slept in an iron bed[1]  nine cubits long implying that he was a giant. The second set are shashay, talmi, achiman, and their giant father  who is not mentioned by name in the pesukim, who are first mentioned by Rashi as the reason behind the name of the city Kiryat Arba[2]. It was called Kiryat Arba, explains Rashi, because of these four giants who inhabited the city. Based on the mefarshim, these are also the giants that the spies encountered when they scouted out the land of Israel and returned with the report "Bnei Anakim Rainu Sham"[3], that we saw the children of the giants as we scouted.  This set of giants makes their final appearance in Sefer Yehoshua where they are driven out of the land first by Kalev[4] and then by shevet Yehuda[5]. The third set of giants is the famous Goliat who was defeated by David, and his three brothers who in Sefer Shmuel are defeated by David's lieutenants[6]. In Divray Hayamim 5:5 they are referred to as the children of Harpah, who the gemara in sotah says this is the same person as Orpah, Ruth's sister who separated from her and her mother in law following the death of Machlon and Kilyon. The Ruth Rabba explains that on the night that she separated from Naomi, Orpah slept with 100 uncircumcised men and according to some even a dog, and from that night she gave birth to 4 giant sons as a reward for the 4 mil she accompanied Ruth and Naomi.

The question that arises from all of this is, from where do these giants come from and were they really giants.

Perek vav of Bereshit says:

א  וַיְהִי כִּי-הֵחֵל הָאָדָם, לָרֹב עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; וּבָנוֹת, יֻלְּדוּ לָהֶם.
1 And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them,
ב  וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה; וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים, מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ.
2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives, whomsoever they chose.
ג  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה.
3 And the LORD said: 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for that he also is flesh; therefore shall his days be a hundred and twenty years.'
ד  הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וְגַם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם:  הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם, אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם.  {פ}
4 The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. {P}
These nefilim mentioned in pasuk daled are the first time giants are mentioned in tanach and the mefarshim understand these pesukim in a few different ways. The first approach is that of the midrashim brought down by Rashi. Rashi here and more explicitly in Parshat Shalach writes how these nfilim are angels who fell from heaven during the generation of Enosh. The midrash explains that when the angels saw Man beginning to sin they immediately came before God claiming that God should never have created Man, as he is so prone to sin. God responded by saying that the Yetzer Hara is so strong that even you angels could not have done better. Hashem sent the angels down to Earth, and immediately the angels succumbed to their Yitzrei Hara and began sinning with the daughters of man. The children they had from these relationships were the nefilim mentioned in pasuk daled and these were the forerunners of the giants mentioned later in the Tanach.

The Malbim takes a completely different approach. The Malbim starts off quoting the medrashim quoted by Rashi that Bnei Elokim refers to angels who literally fell from Heaven. He expands this opinion saying that some people go so far in it, claiming that this is the source behind people viewing the rulers of the Egyptians as semi-divine. He then completely rejects this whole approach. Instead, he translates the nefilim and Bnei Elokim as just a term for great people, the leaders of the generation, similar to how we use the word idolize nowadays about people we respect. Why then are they called nefilim? Because they caused the world to fall. These people were the leaders of the generation, and they did not lead their people properly. The Malbim in general throughout tanach would view these giants as giants in stature, and not necessarily giants in physique.

The Ramban has a third approach similar in that to the Malbim. Instead of viewing these nefilim as some type of supernatural creatures as the midrashim do, the Ramban translates Bnei Eolkim as additional children of Adam and Chava. The pesukim say by Adam and Chava that they had more children after giving birth to their first three that are mentioned by name, and this pasuk is referring to those children. Adam and Chava were created בצלם אלקים and it would reason to claim that their children were just more perfect then other humans as they were directly descended from those that God had created himself.

To summarize so far, we have seen three approaches as to how we view these supposed Giants. Rashi supported by the Midrashim views them as actual Giants. Born from both man and angel, these beings were just stronger, larger, and greater than normal humans. The Malbim holds that these are just the leaders of the world. They were people that were looked up to, and when they failed to lead their generation properly, their entire generation fell. The Ramban in a similar vein says that they were normal humans, just slightly better ones due to their genes.

I believe that no matter which way you go here in regards to who these giants were, the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. If you go in the direction of Rashi that these are angels and descendants from angels, then we see even angels succumbing to the Yetzer Hara despite the fact that they are a lot closer to perfect than Man. If so, the question arises why did God create Man if they are bound to fail? To answer this question I want to relate an idea that Rav Bick gave over in a shiur on teshuva. He posed the question “What was the world missing that perhaps was a catalyst for Gods creation of humans”? The answer he gave was the idea of improvement. God is perfect, and as such there is no idea of improvement or progress. We as humans, who are far from perfect, can, and should, always work on ourselves to improve. This is one lesson that can be derived from the Giants appearance in these pashiyot.

If you take the view of the Malbim and the Ramban a completely lesson comes forth from these pesukim. The Torah here is telling us that in the generations of Enosh, Moshe, and of David there were leaders in the world that people looked up to and respected. These leaders had tremendous potential to do well and lead their people in the right direction. However, they failed, and failed so badly that the Torah refers to them as nefilim. They were the ones who brought the world around them crashing to the ground. The Torah expects leaders and those with leadership potential to take responsibility for people around them and events around them. Those who don’t are literally causing the world around them to fall and crumble to the ground.

[1] Devarim 3:11
[2] Bereshit 23:1
[3] Bamidbar 13:28
[4] Yehoshua 15:14
[5] Shoftim 1:10
[6] Shmuel Bet 21:15-22

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tish Chatanim 5776 / 2015

Shavua tov-
I just wanted to share with all of you a quick report of a great event that was held in yeshiva last night.

This year the yeshiva honored “Moshko” with Chatan Torah and Rabbi Dov Karoll with Chatan Bereishit.  For those who don’t know, Moshko founded the yeshiva (as well as Alon Shevut, Efrat, and more).  Rabbi Karoll was honored for having served as the personal assistant to HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l for the last few years of his life.

For the last many years, the chatanim have been honored at a tish the first Shabbat of zman, with speeches by the roshei yeshiva and attendance by the ramim and talmidim.  In recognition of the fact that Moshko does not live in Alon Shevut, the yeshiva made this year’s tish on motzei Shabbat.

Stay tuned for audio/video and pictures on the yeshiva facebook and youtube accounts.  It was really a special event and some of the highlights were stories from Moshko about how he got the original funding for the yeshiva building and the government approval for all his plans to rebuild Gush Etzion, and some great stories about HaRav Lichtenstein zt”l from Rabbi Karoll.
Kol tuv,

Yonatan Shai Freedman