Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why did Bereishis take 6 Days and 10 ma’amaros?

Why did the Torah start with Bereishis?
The fact that God created the world is a fundamental principle of our religion. God is the Almighty Creator who is in charge of world and command us to do mitzvos. In addition, Rashi mentions how it is relevant so we know why the Jews have a right to their homeland, Eretz Yisrael.
 Why did the Torah spell out so much more about history afterwards? 
Rambam explains the general lessons learned from Bereishis show that there is reward and punishment, so if people sin, they can be punished or exiled. Thus, when the cannanites has sinned for so many generations, they were punished, and the Jews took over their land, where they must keep the mitzvos or they too could face exile.
 But why did it need to go through the 6 days of creation? Why can’t the Torah just say God created the world and move on?
The Mishnah in Avos (5:1) discusses a related question – Why did God need to create the world in so many steps:
With ten ma’amoros (utterances) the world was created. And what does this teach us? Couldn’t the world have been created with one ma’amar? Rather to take retribution from the reshaim who destroy the world that was created with ten ma’amoros and to give reward to the tzadikim who sustain the world that was created with ten ma’amoros.
The Mishnah is saying man’s actions matter because God put more “effort” into creating the world. He did not just create it in one instant and that was it, but remained involved in it. This Divine involvement in the universe shows that the universe is important, and that the actions man does have consequences. This fits with the theme of reward and punishment in Bereishis that the Ramban mentions.
There is also another significance to the 6 days and the 10 maamaros. If the universe had been created in one instant, everything would be independent of everything else, and man would just be one of the creations. But because the universe was created in a process of “6 days”, everything leads up to man, he is the purpose of all of creation. Man’s actions will determine whether the creation of the universe was justified. This idea is seen in the pesukim in bereishis. On the 6th day man is created, and God tells him that he is to rule over the rest of nature that was created before him. He is the purpose of creation and responsible for everything. (See R.S. Hirsh on Avos for a similar approach.)
Q: So why does the Torah spell out the details of Bereishis? More fundamentally, why did God “take 6 days” and “10 maamaros” to create the universe, instead of creating it in one instant or with one ma’amar?
A: The process of “6 days of creation” demonstrated how man was the purpose of creation and is responsible for the whole universe. The 10 maamaros showed that the universe matters, and that God is involved in it and cares about it. Therefore man is responsible to listen to God and sustain the world, not disobey and destroy the world…

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Understand and to Comprehend: The Study of Talmud From Joshua to the Present

To Understand and to Comprehend: The Study of Talmud From Joshua to the Present
No mitsvah is as essential to Judaism as the study of Torah.[i] There are different parts to Torah study, as the Gemara states: “A person should split up his learning: one third Bible, one third Mishnah, one third Talmud.”[ii] Nowadays, most Orthodox students focus on the Talmud, spending many hours each day involved in its study. Yet, many do not know the nature of the mitsvah in which they are involved. This paper will focus on understanding this “third part” of Torah – Talmud. In order to reach a deeper understanding of its nature, it will explore the development of Talmud study and Oral Law over history.

The Nature of the Oral Torah and Talmud Study

To understand the mitsvah of Talmud, one must understand how Jews learned in the centuries before the Mishnah was written down. The only written texts they used the 24 books of Tanakh, as there was a prohibition against writing down the Oral Torah. As the Gemara states:[iii]
דרש רבי יהודה בר נחמני מתורגמניה דרבי שמעון בן לקיש, כתיב: +שמות ל”ד+ כתוב לך את הדברים האלה, וכתיב: +שמות ל”ד+ כי ע”פ הדברים האלה, הא כיצד? דברים שבכתב אי אתה רשאי לאומרן על פה, דברים שבעל פה אי אתה רשאי לאומרן בכתב. דבי רבי ישמעאל תנא: אלה – אלה אתה כותב, ואי אתה כותב הלכות.
“R. Judah b. Nahmani, the public orator of R. Simeon b. Lakish, discoursed as follows: It is written (Exodus 34), ‘Write thou these words,’ and it is written, ‘For according to the mouth of these words.’ What are we to make of this? — It means: The words which are written down you art not at liberty to say by heart, and the words transmitted orally you are not at liberty to recite from writing. A Tanna of the school of R. Ishmael taught: [It is written] ‘These’: these you may write, but you may not write ‘halakhot.’”
How was Oral Law learned before it was written down? Furthermore, why was it not permitted to write the Oral Law? It would have helped the spread of information if the halakhot were written down and not just memorized!
An important aspect of the study of Talmud is that it provides the opportunity for the advanced student to think, innovate and apply his conclusions to practice. One can study any text, but the highest level is to study God’s Word itself rather than any intermediary commentary. The masorah of Torah shebe‘al peh gave the student the principles of learning and some halakhot, but he would then derive the sources for halakhot from the Penetauch itself and apply the principles to new cases of halahah..[iv] Not every detail of every law could always be remembered, but this methodology allowed people to constantly rediscover the laws in the Torah itself.[v] There was a constant connection with the Divine word. The actual learning did not consist of reading a frozen text, but was a lively discussion of the Torah itself. The oral nature also allowed for different people to each teach and learn in their own style, since there was no text confining them. This is how Rabbi Sherira Gaon (c. 906 – 1006) describes teaching before the Mishnah was written down:
Despite the unanimity among the sages in the underlying principles and teachings, each sage taught his students with whichever order and whichever method he preferred.… Some taught general rules; others added details; and others expanded and offered many, many examples and analogies.[vi]
The prohibition on writing the oral law allowed Jews to always be connected with the Divine word itself. The study of Torah was not about the spread of information, but about this connection to Sinai.[vii]

What to Learn?

Most Jewish students today, at least in America, have a peculiar curriculum of Torah study. They learn a little bit of Torah and Mishna in the younger grades, and then, without much knowledge, they get thrown head-first into studying gemara. Soon afterwards, without much knowledge of gemara, they are thrown into doing Iyun, which consists of spending a whole year on 10 Blatt of gemara. They do not have the knowledge that would enable them to analyze gemara on their own, so they eventually just hope to be able to analyze the rishonim and achronim. It is a system that does not work for many.
If one had create a new curriculum on his own, what parts of Torah would should be included? The primary text of Judaism is the Pentatauch, authored by God, telling Jews what they need to do and believe. It is logical that the Penetauch should be the main focus of our learning. After the Torah, Nevi’im and Kesuvim are the only other works that were always meant to be texts, and they should obviously be studied for their hashkafic teachings. Every Jew also needs to know basic laws and practical halacha, so a work of halacha (such as the Mishnah) would need to be studied. Afterwards, one can learn Talmud, where one studies the primary sources and understands how the halachos are derived from them. He can also further learn hashkafa by studying the aggados and midrashim.
This all seems like a logical curriculum, but what do chazal say to do?
The Mishnah states:
הוא היה אומר בן חמש שנים למקרא בן עשר למשנה בן שלש עשרה למצות בן חמש עשרה לתלמוד
(משנה מסכת אבות פרק ה )
They give a clear educational curriculum where children learn the basic texts well, and then later do more advanced material and analysis. How can one successfully progress otherwise?
As Chazal say:
+משלי כ”ד+ כי בתחבלות תעשה לך מלחמה. אמר רבי אחא בר חנינא אמר רבי אסי אמר רבי יוחנן: במי אתה מוצא מלחמתה של תורה – במי שיש בידו חבילות של משנה, קרי רב יוסף אנפשיה: +משלי י”ד+ ורב – תבואות בכח שור.
(תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף מב עמוד א)
A solid foundation in Mishnah is necessary for future learning in all topics:
דאמר רבי בנאה לעולם ישקיע אדם עצמו במשניות שאם ירתק יפתחו לו אם לתלמוד לתלמוד אם להגדה להגדה ר’ אלעזר בשם ר’ יהושע בן לוי אמר עמוד ברזל משנה.
ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה כא ד”ה ה בזאת יבא
Just like when you build a house, you have to make proper preparations, so too with Torah:
ד”א: הכן בחוץ מלאכתך – זה מקרא, ועתדה בשדה לך – זה משנה, אחר ובנית ביתך – זה גמ’. ד”א: הכן בחוץ מלאכתך – זה מקרא ומשנה, ועתדה בשדה לך – זה גמרא, אחר ובנית ביתך – אלו מעשים טובים. ר’ אליעזר בנו של ר”י הגלילי אומר: הכן בחוץ מלאכתך – זה מקרא ומשנה וגמרא, ועתדה בשדה לך – אלו מעשים טובים, אחר ובנית ביתך – דרוש וקבל שכר.
(תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוטה דף מד עמוד א)
Chazal considered this division of studies a requirement for everyone:
אמר רב ספרא משום ר’ יהושע בן חנניא, מאי דכתיב: +דברים ו+ ושננתם לבניך? אל תקרי ושננתם אלא ושלשתם, לעולם ישלש אדם שנותיו, שליש במקרא, שליש במשנה, שליש בתלמוד. מי יודע כמה חיי? לא צריכא – ליומי.
(תלמוד בבלי מסכת קידושין דף ל עמוד א)
And when one finally learns Talmud, that does not mean he should just learn halacha. There is another fundamentally important part to Torah, crucial to understanding the world and being a G-d fearing Jew:
רבי יצחק בן פנחס אומר כל מי שיש בידו מדרש ואין בידו הלכות לא טעם טעם של חכמה. כל מי שיש בידו הלכות ואין בידו מדרש לא טעם טעם של יראת חטא:
הוא היה אומר כל שיש בידו מדרש ואין בידו הלכות זה גבור ואינו מזויין. כל שיש בידו הלכות ואין בידו מדרש חלש וזיין בידו. יש בידו זה וזה גבור ומזויין:
(מסכתות קטנות מסכת אבות דרבי נתן נוסחא א פרק כט ד”ה רבי יצחק)
Of course, the there have been many times when there was a greater emphasis on the study of Talmud. In such times, it is even more important to stress other parts of Torah:
תנו רבנן: העוסקין במקרא – מדה ואינה מדה, במשנה – מדה ונוטלין עליה שכר, בתלמוד – אין לך מדה גדולה מזו, ולעולם הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן התלמוד. הא גופא קשיא, אמרת: בתלמוד אין לך מדה גדולה מזו, והדר אמרת: ולעולם הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן התלמוד! – אמר רבי יוחנן: בימי רבי נשנית משנה זו, שבקו כולא עלמא מתניתין ואזלו בתר תלמודא. הדר דרש להו: ולעולם הוי רץ למשנה יותר מן התלמוד
(תלמוד בבלי מסכת בבא מציעא דף לג עמוד א)
The idea of focusing on Talmud to the abandonment of other parts of Torah has been seen throughout time. Tosafot seems to be defending such a practice when he states:
בלולה במקרא ובמשנה וכו’ – פירש רבינו תם דבתלמוד שלנו אנו פוטרין עצמנו ממה שאמרו חכמים (מסכת ע”ג דף יט.) לעולם ישלש אדם שנותיו שליש במקרא שליש במשנה שליש בש”ס. אע”פ כן אנו קוראים בכל יום פרשת התמיד ושונים במשנת איזהו מקומן וגורסין רבי ישמעאל אומר בשלש עשרה מדות וכו’.
( תוספות מסכת סנהדרין דף כד עמוד א)

This tosafot serves as the commonly excepted basis for people neglecting the study of Mikra & Mishnah. Yet there are many issues. Other rishonim, such as the Ramabam, do not provide such an exemption. Rambam quotes the initial statement of chazal as is. R’ Tam’s view is quite a chidush! He takes the gemara’s attack on the style of learning in Bavel and uses it to say that with the study of our text of Talmud Bavli one fulfills learning Mishnah & Mikra. But perhaps the attack just meant they learned in a mixed-up way in Bavel, without it being far enough to fulfill the daily requirement! Presumably, the study of Talmud then had to include Mishnah & Mikra, since those were the texts being analyzed. Yet chazal still stated that one should learn Mikra and Mishnah each day in addition to Talmud. It seems that they wanted the texts to be learned on their own! There are also many places in the Talmud Bavli where there are no pesukim quoted. How do people fulfill the study of Mikra then?

But either way, its unlikely that Tosafot meant for people to be totally ignorant of so much Torah. He was not discussing the Mishnah in Avos on a child’s education. He was just discussing the daily learning of Torah, presumably for people who were knowledgeable in Mikrah & Mishnah. He was definitely not exempting people from gaining basic knowledge about the subjects they are studying! Tosafot themselves clearly knew Mikrah, Mishnah & the Talmud!
Some say since the Torah has been written down, everything is different and we do not need to learn things in exactly the same way. Perhaps this is true to an extent, maybe students do not need to spend 5 years exactly on each subject. Perhaps other texts can be used to gain knowledge. For example, maybe instead of just learning Rabbi Yehudah’s Mishnah, they can learn other works to get basic knowledge of Torah basics and halacha. (This was likely included in the word “Mishnah”.) However, the ideas that chazal were teaching still stand. It makes no sense to jump into in depth analysis of small minutiae of a few blatt of gemara while remaining ignorant of vast areas of Torah. People do not see the forest from the veins of the leaf, and they totally ignore the mountains and the river and the sky.

Why Do We Learn?

אין לך מצוה בכל המצות כולן שהיא שקולה כנגד תלמוד תורה אלא תלמוד תורה כנגד כל המצות כולן. Yet many people wonder what the purpose in all of their learning is. Talmud torah is not a “chok”, and it it important for people to understand what they should be accomplishing.

Torah – Teaching

One can understand the nature of Torah just by examining the word itself. The word “Torah” means “teaching” – Torah is for teaching a way of life. The Halacha contains the Mitzvoth and their details which explain the laws that a Jew is to follow in this world. The obvious purpose in learning the mitzvos is to know the laws and be able to keep them![1] The “teaching” also consists of teaching fundamental philosophic & ethical issues about the nature and purpose of the world. This is known as machshava, and is clearly important for a religious person to think about such issues. The third aspect of Torah is connected to the other two: “Teaching” implies the neccesity to teach the Torah to the next generation, so they will be able to practice the Law themselves, and be connected to the religious traditions of Sinai.

The Pesukim on Torah

These purposes are clearly expressed in all the pesukim that refer to the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Following are some examples.

These pesukim clearly imply that the purpose of Talmud Torah is to be able to perform the mitzvoth:

והיה כשבתו על כסא ממלכתו וכתב לו את משנה התורה הזאת על ספר מלפני הכהנים הלוים: והיתה עמו וקרא בו כל ימי חייו למען ילמד ליראה את האלהיו לשמר את כל דברי התורה הזאת ואת החקים האלה לעשתם: לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו ולבלתי סור מן המצוה ימין ושמאול למען יאריך ימים על ממלכתו הוא ובניו בקרב ישראל:

הקהל את העם האנשים והנשים והטף וגרך אשר בשעריך למען ישמעו ולמען ילמדו ויראו את האלהיכם ושמרו לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת:

ויאמר ה’ אל משה עלה אלי ההרה והיה שם ואתנה לך את לחת האבן והתורה והמצוה אשר כתבתי להורתם:

There are many other pesukim also.[2]

An important part of Talmud Torah is teaching it to the next generation. This is so they will know the halachos and proper hashkafos and be connected to the tradition back to the Giving of the Torah at Sinai.

ואהבת את ה’ אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך ובכל מאדך: והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך: ושננתם לבניך ודברת בם בשבתך בביתך ובלכתך בדרך ובשכבך ובקומך:

רק השמר לך ושמר נפשך מאד פן תשכח את הדברים אשר ראו עיניך ופן יסורו מלבבך כל ימי חייך והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך:

ויאמר אלהם שימו לבבכם לכל הדברים אשר אנכי מעיד בכם היום אשר תצום את בניכם לשמר לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת: כי לא דבר רק הוא מכם כי הוא חייכם ובדבר הזה תאריכו ימים על האדמה אשר אתם עברים את הירדן שמה לרשתה:

There are some pesukim that also mention having success, being able to stay in Israel and eventual world peace, but these are just results from keeping the Torah and teaching it to your children.

In Nevi’im, the purpose of talmud torah is also clear. In the beginning of Sefer Yehoshua, G-d commands Yehoushua to learn the Torah, a verse which is often quoted in halacha:*

רק חזק ואמץ מאד לשמר לעשות ככל התורה אשר צוך משה עבדי אל תסור ממנו ימין ושמאול למען תשכיל בכל אשר תלך: לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך והגית בו יומם ולילה למען תשמר לעשות ככל הכתוב בו כי אז תצליח את דרכך ואז תשכיל:[3]

This is also seen in Kesuvim:

ויקם עדות ביעקב ותורה שם בישראל אשר צוה את אבותינו להודיעם לבניהם: למען ידעו דור אחרון בנים יולדו יקמו ויספרו לבניהם:

כי נר מצוה ותורה אור ודרך חיים תוכחות מוסר:

The Torah is clear on what the purpose of learning Torah is. In (eventual) future posts, I hope to discuss later sources, what “Torah Lishma” means, and more.!

[1] As the above quote continues: שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה, לפיכך התלמוד קודם למעשה בכל מקום

[2] For example:

אם לא תשמר לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת הכתובים בספר הזה ליראה את השם הנכבד והנורא הזה את ה’ אלהיך:

כי תשמע בקול ה’ אלהיך לשמר מצותיו וחקתיו הכתובה בספר התורה הזה כי תשוב אל ה’ אלהיך בכל לבבך ובכל נפשך:

[3] See also: רק שמרו מאד לעשות את המצוה ואת התורה אשר צוה אתכם משה עבד ה’ לאהבה את ה’ אלהיכם וללכת בכל דרכיו ולשמר מצותיו ולדבקה בו ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם:

Talmud Torah

I am beginning a new blog series which will discuss The Written and Oral Torah, learning Torah, and maybe education. These posts will be based on some notes I’ve had sitting on my C-drive the last couple years. I will start with a few questions:

  • Why couldn’t the Torah SheBal Peh be written down? Wouldn’t it have been a lot more efficient?
  • How did Talmud Torah develop over time?
  • Why do we learn? And why so much gemara? What and how should we learn?

I hope to discuss these issues and more in the posts to come. Please feel free to comment on these posts! You can also put any answers or general thoughts as a comment on this post.


Since we started Sefer Vayikra this past shabbos, I figured I’d publish a draft of Some Kornbanos Q&A’s (based on some post-Yom Kippur notes).
Q: What was the purpose of korbanos? Does God need our animals?
A: The commentaries explain how meaningful the process of bringing a chatas is for teshuva. He leans on the animal and recites viduy and then the animal is burnt up. In a way, he deserved to die for having sinned, and the animal takes his place. Parts of the animal go to the Kohanim who will pray for him.
Q: What’s the purpose of other Korbanos besides a chatas?
A: What’s the purpose of prayers? Does God need our prayers? Rather, it is for us, so we can come close to God through prayer. Yet it is often difficult to have the proper kavana when praying and many people rarely feel close to God. When one brings a korban, he is physically giving, as it were, something to God. This makes a serious impression on him, and helps him have the proper kavana. The very word “Korban” means to come close, and korbanos were often offered to be able to reach a state of nevuah. The shlamim sanctifies one’s meal, and also helps provide for the kohanim, like many korbanos. An olah represents total dedication to God and can help elevate one spiritually.
Q: Fine, so a personal korban helps one connect to G-d, but what to korbanos shel tzibbur do? How do the tamid and mussafin elevate anyone? How does the Yom Kippur avodah provide any kapara? How does it help Yamilee, a Jew in the Galilee, when the Kohen performs the avodah?
A: The kohanim are the Jews’ shluchim* to perform the avodah on their behalf, and when they bring korbanos they are fulfilling the purpose of korbanos for everyone. But each individual has to be connected to it in some way to benefit from it. That’s why they all gave money for the korbanei tzibbur. The kohanim are like a shliach tzibbur being motzei people, where if one doesn’t have kavana, he’s not yotzei. If one doesn’t do teshuva on his own, the avoda of yom kippur won’t help him. The korbanos can help a person, even without him being physically in the Beis HaMikdash. He can still connect with the bringing of the korbanos and the avodah. That is why the Jews would gather in ma’amados in parallel with the bringing of the korbanos. One group would actually go up to the mikdash and experience the Mikdash and the Avodah. But the other group would stay home and fast and pray and read from the torah. In that way they would connect with the korbanos and connect to God.
Even nowadays, when there is no longer a Beis HaMikdash, we can still connect to the korbanos, and benefit in similar ways:
אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר ר’ יונתן: אלו תלמידי חכמים העוסקים בתורה בכל מקום, מעלה אני עליהן כאילו מקטירין ומגישין לשמי; ומנחה טהורה – זה הלומד תורה בטהרה, נושא אשה ואחר כך לומד תורה. +תהלים קל”ד+ שיר המעלות הנה ברכו את ה’ כל עבדי ה’ העומדים בבית ה’ בלילות – מאי בלילות? א”ר יוחנן: אלו ת”ח העוסקים בתורה בלילה, מעלה עליהן הכתוב כאילו עסוקים בעבודה. +דברי הימים ב’ ב’+ לעולם זאת על ישראל – א”ר גידל אמר רב: זה מזבח בנוי ומיכאל שר הגדול עומד ומקריב עליו קרבן; ורבי יוחנן אמר: אלו תלמידי חכמים העסוקין בהלכות עבודה, מעלה עליהם הכתוב כאילו נבנה מקדש בימיהם. אמר ריש לקיש, מאי דכתיב: +ויקרא ז’+ זאת התורה לעולה למנחה ולחטאת ולאשם? כל העוסק בתורה, כאילו הקריב עולה מנחה חטאת ואשם. אמר רבא: האי לעולה למנחה, עולה ומנחה מיבעי ליה! אלא אמר רבא: כל העוסק בתורה, אינו צריך לא עולה (ולא חטאת) ולא מנחה ולא אשם. אמר רבי יצחק, מאי דכתיב: +ויקרא ו’+ זאת תורת החטאת וזאת תורת האשם? כל העוסק בתורת חטאת כאילו הקריב חטאת, וכל העוסק בתורת אשם כאילו הקריב אשם
תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות דף קי עמוד א ]

Drinking on Purim

Draft for Purim
Two years ago, a popular blog wrote, claiming to be following the rema, “There is no mitzva to get drunk on purim“. This is the actual halacha in the Shulchan Aruch:
חייב אינש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי.
הגה: ויש אומרים דאין צריך להשתכר כל כך אלא שישתה יותר מלימודו (כל בו) ויישן ומתוך שיישן אינו יודע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי (מהרי”ל). ואחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים ויש אומרים דאם הזיק אחד את חבירו מכח שמחת פורים פטור מלשלם (תרומת הדשן סימן ק”י).
Shulchan Aruch [Directly quoting the gemara]: One is obligated to [get drunk] on purim until he doesn’t know the difference between “curse Haman” and “bless Mordechai“.
Rema – Some say you don’t need to get so drunk, rather drink more than usual and sleep and then since you’re sleeping you won’t know the difference between “arur haman” and “baruch mordechai“. Whether [one drinks] a lot, or a little, as long as long as he is “mekavein libo l’Shamayim“.. And some say if one damages [property of his] friend from the koach simchas purim he is patur.
So the rema actually says is there’s a mitzva either way as long as you have the proper intentions. He quotes a “yesh omrim” at the beginning as a kula to rely on if you don’t want to get so drunk. A yesh omrim at the end says you’re pattur from damage you cause on purim, likely from being drunk!
The gemara and rishonim are clear on the matter, there is a mitzva to get drink on Purim. How much does one have to drink? This question has caused a lot of confusion. A literal reading of the gemara implies an extreme of drunkenness, one probably impossible to achieve. The rema, quoting the meharil, suggests that one can just drink a bit extra and then go take a nap and while sleeping he won’t know the difference between “curse haman” and “bless mordechai“. This pshat seems somewhat dochek. The gemara did not need to use such an expression to say you should take a nap, it could have said that much more clearly. And what does your nap have to do with drinking or simcha? A comment on the above-mentioned post suggested that instead you drink a little and then run around a table until you’re dizzy. That seems like another possible interpretation.
Some say the rema’s explanation fits with the Rambam:
הלכה טו
כיצד חובת סעודה זו שיאכל בשר ויתקן סעודה נאה כפי אשר תמצא ידו, ושותה יין עד שישתכר וירדם בשכרות.
“..and drink wine until he’s drunk and falls asleep from his drunkenness.”
Yet the Rambam emphasizes that the sleep is from your drunkenness, which is not what the rema said, and would not happen with just “יותר מלימודו”.
Some point out the gematria of “baruch mordechai” equals the gematria of arur haman. “ad d’lo yada” means you are too drunk to figure that out.Its an interesting gematria, but if they’re equivalent, only a drunk person would think they’re different! It should say “ad shelo yada sh’ein bein arrrur haman l’baruch mordechai“! It also seems slightly unlikely that the gemara meant a gematria. So what is p’shat?

Answer: I think its likely that “ad d’lo yada” was not meant to be taken literally. It doesn’t mean you don’t know the difference, that’s practically impossible. It just means you should get quite drunk, “ad d’lo yada” is a good expression for that.
It could be that is how the Rambam understood it also. The Rambam wanted to give a more exact definition for “quite drunk”. A person who gets properly drunk eventually falls asleep from his drunkenness.
Anyways, being that there’s clearly a mitzva to drink on purim, why do so many people have issues with it? One of the main reasons is they think that drinking is an inherent evil that should always be avoided. This does not seem to be the approach of chazal. For one, drinking was much more common then and people would not always stay 100% sober. It was likely considered a good thing to get somewhat drunk on shabbos and yomim tovim. The gemara in Rosh Hashana discusses the torch-wavings that were done to notify people of the New Month. Yet on motzai shabbos, as explained by rashi, people might think the reason no torches were waved was because everyone was still too drunk from shabbos. There are other places where rashi mentions this also. It was clearly accepted to get drunk on shabbos. (See also the rashi in chumash which criticizes those who don’t drink.)
I admit that maybe not everyone should get drunk, and that its important to not go too far. But it is very good when Jews gets drunk and say over Torah and Tishbachos. Chazal emphasize this:
ביום השביעי כטוב לב המלך ביין, אטו עד השתא לא טב לביה בחמרא? אמר רבא: יום השביעי שבת היה, שישראל אוכלין ושותין, מתחילין בדברי תורה ובדברי תשבחות. אבל אומות העולם שאוכלין ושותין – אין מתחילין אלא בדברי תיפלות… ן ..
Wine has potential for good and bad. Chazal mention this idea in many places (see Sanhedrin 70a). When drunken at the correct time and place an person, it can be an important mitzva. On purim there’s a mitzva to have a seuda, and part of it involves drinking and getting drunk.
Some say anyone under 21 cannot drink because its illegal, and “dina dmalcusa dina”. Dina d’malchusa doesn’t necessarily apply to all matters, and especially not when up against halacha. But anyways, the law makes exceptions for religious reasons, and as we’ve seen, there are religious reasons to drink on purim! Also, does anyone really think that this law is widely followed?
A more serious issue people raise is the potential health risks. This is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed. I just don’t think calling for an outright ban on drinking is the correct approach. People will still drink anyways, and those who listen will be missing the mitzva. Instead, there should be strong calls for people to make sure they don’t go too far. For example they should just purchase the amount of wine that is safe to drink, and not drink anything else. A balanced approach to drinking will prevent health risks.
Drinking on purim is rare opportunity for a mitzva. In other places and times and nations, people get drunk throughout the year. I don’t see what the big problem is with getting drunk once a year.

The Building of the Mishkan – Draft

Question: Why does the Torah give such detailed descriptions of the building of the mishkan? It was a one-time event that does not seem to be so relevant to future generations. Are there any fundamental lesson or practical laws that can be learned from it?
Answer: Actually, the largest area of Halacha, the Laws of Shabbos, are learned from the building of the Mishkan. The Torah’s descriptions of the different fundamental acts necessary for its construction help teach the fundamental 39 melachos that are forbidden on Shabbos. We rest from the 39 melachos on Shabbos to remember God’s resting from Creating the world. The melachos are 39 fundemental physical acts of creation that symbolize God’s act of creating the world and were therefore used to create the mishkan. Just as God created the world, we were given the ability to create God’s sanctuary in this world. The fact that God granted us the ability to bring holiness into this world can be considered greater than the act of creation of heaven and earth:
דרש בר קפרא: גדולים מעשה צדיקים יותר ממעשה שמים וארץ, דאילו במעשה שמים וארץ – כתיב: +ישעיהו מ”ח+ אף ידי יסדה ארץ וימיני טפחה שמים, ואילו במעשה ידיהם של צדיקים – כתיב: +שמות ט”ו+ מכון לשבתך פעלת ה’ מקדש אדני כוננו ידיך. [תלמוד בבלי מסכת כתובות דף ה עמוד א]
The detailed description of the building of the mishkan teaches more than the fundementals of Hilchos Shabbos. It teaches us the about the purpose of creation, about creating holiness in this world. Nowadays, we no longer have a Mishkan or a Mikdash, but by learning the Torah’s description of the Mishkan, we are able to connect with the sanctity of the mishkan and with the fundamental lessons it teaches.
אלו תלמידי חכמים העסוקין בהלכות עבודה, מעלה עליהם הכתוב כאילו נבנה מקדש בימיהם.. [תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות דף קי עמוד א] א

The Ox that Gored

לה) וְכִי יִגֹּף שׁוֹר אִישׁ אֶת שׁוֹר רֵעֵהוּ וָמֵת וּמָכְרוּ אֶת הַשּׁוֹר הַחַי וְחָצוּ אֶת כַּסְפּוֹ וְגַם אֶת הַמֵּת יֶחֱצוּן
לו) אוֹ נוֹדַע כִּי שׁוֹר נַגָּח הוּא מִתְּמוֹל שִׁלְשֹׁם וְלֹא יִשְׁמְרֶנּוּ בְּעָלָיו שַׁלֵּם יְשַׁלֵּם שׁוֹר תַּחַת הַשּׁוֹר וְהַמֵּת יִהְיֶה לּוֹ: ס

35 And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, so that it dieth; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the price of it; and the dead also they shall divide. 36 Or if it be known that the ox was wont to gore in time past, and its owner hath not kept it in; he shall surely pay ox for ox, and the dead beast shall be his own.

Question: When a normal ox gores another ox, the owner is obligated to pay up to half the damage it caused. Yet he need not pay more than the value of his own ox that gored. Why is that?

Answer: When a person takes his ox into the public, he is responsible to watch it from causing normal ox-damage, like eating something. But cannot be fully expected to prevent unusual events such as the ox goring another ox or other violent acts. Therefore he only pays half damage. Even that may be too great a burden for him. What if his $100 ox gores a $1000 ox? He’ll go bankrupt! Since it’s not something he’s fully responsible for anyways, the Torah doesn’t want him to go into economic ruin. All that is certain that we can collect from is the very ox that gored. That is what he brought into the public domain and it his “guarantor” on any damage it may cause.

An example for modern readers would be if someone driving a cheap car gets into a collision with a much more expensive car. Its unlikely he will be able to pay for the damage, so it would be reasonable to have laws that limited his payments to the value of his own car.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Science vs. Scientism

In a recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal entitled “God and Science Don’t Mix”, the cosmologist Lawrence Krauss argued that science implies atheism, or at least Deism. His argument can be summarized as follows:

  • Science tries to explain nature without calling on miracles or Divine Providence.
  • Science has been very successful.
  • This proves there's no miracles or Divine Providence.
  • The big religions assume there is.
  • Therefore they’re all false.
  • Also, look at Iran to see how bad religion is.

There are many flaws with his argument, and I will discuss some. The fact that science assumes there are no miracles does not mean there never are. Scientists study nature, but their may have been rare, supernatural events in the past. How does science disprove that possibility?

It may be hard to observe Divine Providence, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. I wrote to the Wall Street Journal:

Lawrence Krauss’s argument is similar to that of the 19th-century Materialists. They claimed everything was made of atoms, and if given enough information, the entire past and future could be predicted. Such a proposition left no room for free will or Divine providence. The development of Quantum Mechanics in the 20th century showed that, in truth, nothing could be predicted with exactitude; the smallest particles operated by apparent randomness. This randomness provides a hidden mechanism for God to intervene in the world.

While the letter isn’t exactly publish-quality, my point is clear: The Deism of the 1800’s cannot be justified when facing the mystery of the Quanta.

It would be helpful to compare the attitudes of the two greatest physicists of all time - Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. Einstein had a similar attitude as Mr. Krauss'. To quote an article from Time Magazine:

But there was one religious concept, Einstein went on to say, that science could not accept: a deity who could meddle at whim in the events of his creation. "The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God," he argued. Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic causality.

Einstein strongly believed in absolute determinism, and felt that science precluded both the notion of Divine Providence and of freewill. He felt such an attitude made it easier to forgive both others and himself for wrongdoings. He held these philosophical convictions so strongly that even as the evidence mounted for the new physics, Quantum Mechanics, he refused to accept it. To his dying day he believed that “God does not play dice with the cosmos”. In another case, which Einstein later called his “greatest mistake”, he fudged his relativity equations to maintain a belief in an eternal universe. Einstein may have felt his beliefs were principles of science, but they were just examples of the bias of scientism.

Isaac Newton was, in many ways, the father of science. His theory of gravity united the heavens and the earth. Did this discovery cause him to reject his religion? Actually yes, but he didn’t become an atheist or Deist. After discovering the unity of the universe, Newton rejected the Christian trinity as idolatry, and accepted the One God of Moses. He even risked his career by refusing to take Christian oaths.

Newton realized the order and unity of nature do not point to atheism, but rather to the One Creator. God and science get along just fine, it’s God and scientism that don’t mix.

Back to Blogging

I haven't blogged for a while, I think I'll try to put up some posts in the coming days.
A lot has happened since my last blog post. I finished my 20th lap around the sun, and I thought maybe it's time to change the name of my blog. I'm considering "The Path from Sinai" at I'm also thinking of moving my blog to Wordpress, they have some features Blogger doesn't. I put a poll on the side so readers can vote for their preffered name. You can also leave suggestions in the comments section of this post.
I also started a new website, Ezinagro, which in its early stages. Its eventual goal is to help people find the best website on any topic, and it has many sites you may not have even thought of looking for. Readers of this blog are encouraged to visit Ezinagro, click on its links, and maybe buy some advertising links of their own.

Monday, May 18, 2009

New Talmudica Post

Because this past week's parsha discussed Jewish slaves, I decided to publish some Talmudica charts on the topic. I also published some selected ha'aros from my old talmudica pages. Just visit Talmudica. The old pages are still at geocities and can also be accessed at theses links: 29-33 34-40.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Megillah Shiurim

Talmud used to be actual Bal Peh discussions of the Torah and known halachos. The gemara text is a preserved form of the original live discussion. This shiur is a return to the gemara's original style. Instead of reading the gemara text, the shiur is the gemara discussion. The best way to prepare for these shiurim is to first read the relevant pesukim, mishnayos and braysos. The main halachik pesukim for all of Meseches Megillah are Esther 9:15-32. Below is the relevant mishna and braysa for this shiur.

מתני - קראו את המגילה באדר הראשון ונתעברה השנה קורין אותה באדר שני. אין בין אדר הראשון לאדר השני אלא קריאת המגילה ומתנות לאביונים:

ברייתא - קראו את המגילה באדר הראשון ונתעברה השנה קורין אותה באדר השני, שכל מצות שנוהגות בשני נוהגות בראשון חוץ ממקרא מגילה. ר''א ברבי יוסי אומר אין קורין אותה באדר השני שכל מצות שנוהגות בשני נוהגות בראשון. רשב''ג אומר משום רבי יוסי אף קורין אותה באדר השני שכל מצות שנוהגות בשני אין נוהגות בראשון. ושוין בהספד ובתענית שאסורין בזה ובזה.

The first shiur I'm publishing is similar to Megillah 6b. I already had made chazara shiurim up to daf 6, and I may publish "Torah SheBal Peh" shiurim until daf 8. I tried unsuccessfully to publish this shiur Purim time. I'm publishing it now as a video, because that's ironically easier than publishing an audio file.

Updates: The next shiur, based on Megillah 7a, is now online, and both files are now in audio!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Should A Terrorist Be Released For A Soldier's Remains?

This was YU's assigned essay choice. Most of the arguments in the essay also apply to the exchange of terrorists for a live soldier.

YU Honors Essay A1

Should A Terrorist Be Released For A Soldier's Remains?

"Who is wise?" Alexander the Great asked the Jewish Sages.i "He who foresees the consequences of his actions," they responded. No advice could be more prudent for the leader of any state, from the Greek Emperor of antiquity to the current Prime Minister of Israel. What may seem like a desirable action now, could turn out to have disastrous results in the future. This issue has to be kept in mind when considering releasing a terrorist for a soldier's remains.

In any moral question, one must compare the potential benefits and losses. Judaism regards the recovery of captives as one of the greatest mitzvoth a person can do. Even so, the Talmudii states that captives should not be redeemed for more than their value. Proper burial is also an important mitzva, but there is no obligation to undertake undue expense,iii and certainly not a high ransom. Recovering the body will also help comfort the soldier's relatives, surely a worthy cause. The benefits of recovering the body are clear: to respect the dead and to comfort the living. The question remains: is it worth the cost?

Freeing a terrorist for a soldier's body can cause great harm. The terrorist who is released comes back as a hero, ready to commit more murder.iv In addition, the terrorist groups are encouraged to attempt more kidnappings when they see the rewards they get. This is why the Talmud forbade paying too high a ransom even for living captives.

Releasing terrorists has caused Israel big problems in the past. In 2004, Israel released over 400 terrorists in exchange for Hezbollah releasing one captive and three soldiers' bodies. Hezbollah considered it a great victory and they promised more kidnappings in the future.v Two years later, they fulfilled their promise, and caused the Second Lebanon War, in which the freed terrorists added to their manpower. The cost of recovering the captives two years earlier was the 160 lives Israel lost in the war.

Proponents of such trades claim Israel has a moral obligation to retrieve the soldiers who fought for their country. They also claim the trades are necessary for boosting soldiers' morale. When Israeli soldiers see that they will never be abandoned, and that Israel will do anything to rescue even their dead bodies, they will fight with greater courage.

In truth, these arguments raise issues that demonstrate the opposite. Israeli soldiers go out to battle knowing they may not come back. If they die in battle, they know they gave their lives for the security of their country. By risking future lives to recover their bodies, the soldiers' sacrifice becomes the cause of Israel's insecurity. It would also harm army morale: soldiers risk their lives to capture a terrorist and then the government releases him for a dead body.

Alexander the Great created a large empire, hoping to unify the world, but he failed to foresee that it would collapse and cause more strife. The Prime Minister of Israel should look beyond the immediate benefit of recovering a soldier's remains, and recognize that it is not worth the consequences of releasing a terrorist. Only then would he truly be wise.

iTalmud Bavli Tamid 32a

iiibid. Gittin 45a

iiiYorah Deah 357 - Pischei Teshuva s"k 1 citing the Chavos Yair. The case involved a gentile governor keeping a Jewish body ransom for a large sum. The Chavos Yair ruled it was not necessary to give in to the demand.

ivA report by the Almagor Terror Victims Association showed that 14% of released terrorists were later re-arrested for murder, and they were responsible for the death of 123 Israeli civilians. ( see also (


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Yisro - Man of Truth

Yisro hears about the great things G-d did for the Jews so he travels to their camp in the desert. His son-in-law, Moshe, gives him a big welcome and they have a big meal to celebrate his arrival. The Torah continues...

{שמות יח} ויהי ממחרת וישב משה לשפט את העם ויעמד העם על משה מן הבקר עד הערב. וירא חתן משה את כל אשר הוא עשה לעם

ויאמר- מה הדבר הזה אשר אתה עשה לעם מדוע אתה יושב לבדך וכל העם נצב עליך מן בקר עד ערב:

ויאמר משה לחתנו- כי יבא אלי העם לדרש אלהים. כי יהיה להם דבר בא אלי ושפטתי בין איש ובין רעהו והודעתי את חקי האלהים ואת תורתיו:

What Most People would say: Okay, sounds important, I won't bother you any further.

What Yisro said:

ויאמר חתן משה אליו- לא טוב הדבר אשר אתה עשה: נבל תבל גם אתה גם העם הזה אשר עמך כי כבד ממך הדבר לא תוכל עשהו לבדך: עתה שמע בקלי איעצך ויהי אלהים עמך היה אתה לעם מול האלהים והבאת אתה את הדברים אל האלהים: והזהרתה אתהם את החקים ואת התורת והודעת להם את הדרך ילכו בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשון: ואתה תחזה מכל העם אנשי חיל יראי אלהים אנשי אמת שנאי בצע ושמת עלהם שרי אלפים שרי מאות שרי חמשים ושרי עשרת: ושפטו את העם בכל עת והיה כל הדבר הגדל יביאו אליך וכל הדבר הקטן ישפטו הם והקל מעליך ונשאו אתך: אם את הדבר הזה תעשה וצוך אלהים ויכלת עמד וגם כל העם הזה על מקמו יבא בשלום:

How the People around might have replied: Yisro, relax. You just got here! Not so long ago, you were fattening cows to every god in the world! And you're talking to Moshe, the greatest prophet ever! He probably knows what he's doing, but he'll ask you for his advice when he wants it. You don't need to give a whole drosho just like that! What are you trying to do, get a new parsha in the Torah?

But that is not what Moshe said..

וישמע משה לקול חתנו ויעש כל אשר אמר: ויבחר משה אנשי חיל מכל ישראל ויתן אתם ראשים על העם שרי אלפים שרי מאות שרי חמשים ושרי עשרת: ושפטו את העם בכל עת את הדבר הקשה יביאון אל משה וכל הדבר הקטן ישפוטו הם:

Yisro was the man of truth. Many people just follow everyone around them, never questioning a thing. But not Yisro. He tried out every religion, never satisfied until he found the truth - Judaism. He joins the Jews, but he notices their courts are not being run so efficiently. Many people would just keep quiet, but not Yisro. If he had just accepted things as they were, he would still be a priest to the Midanite deities. When Yisro saw that things could be run more efficiently, he said so! He was worthy of causing an extra parsha to be added to the Torah. Moshe realized Yisor's suggestion was good, and he recognized the importance of having such a man with them:

(Bamidbar) ויאמר אל נא תעזב אתנו כי על כן ידעת חנתנו במדבר והיית לנו לעינים:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Blessing Over Bad

Based on my YU Honors Essay

The Blessing Over Bad

Monotheism, Providence and the End of Days

When the people of the bronze age looked at their world, they saw a great variety of natural phenomena. There was fire and water, wind and clouds. The sun was dominant by day and the moon at night. The world appeared to be under the control of many different forces, so mankind worshiped many different deities. But one man delved deeper. He searched beyond all of nature's apparent discordance and realized there was an underlying unity. The sun and the moon, the wind and the clouds, were all part of a greater whole, there was one Source to it all. The man was Abraham, the father of Judaism, and he had discovered God.1

The primary teaching of Judaism is that everything, whether sunshine or rain, whether good or bad, comes from one God. When we hear good news, we make sure to bless Him in gratitude and recognition for the good He has shown us. It is equally important to acknowledge God when we hear bad news. The polytheist or heretic may attribute his misfortune to another god or to randomness, but we believe everything that happens comes from one Source. When we bless God over bad news, we affirm this fundamental belief.

The blessing also has a deeper meaning. The way we react to events helps determine their effects. When misfortune happens, it may seem like it can only cause harm. However, if we consider it as a Divine wakeup call, it helps cause repentance. If we realize the bad has come because of our sins, it can serve as atonement for those sins.2 Even if we cannot understand why the bad is happening to us, by recognizing that God is the source, we come closer to Him. By blessing God on our misfortunes, we express the faith that transforms bad into good.

If instead, we considers the bad that befalls us as chance, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. "If you go with me randomly I will go with you with the wrath of randomness" When the Jews do not recognize the message, God withdraws His protection and shows them what happens when they are actually left to random forces.

The polytheists of ancient times thought the world was the product of many powers, but modern science has proven them wrong. The many apparent forces of nature, from sunshine to wind, all follow the same physical laws, hinting to one Creator. Similarly, we have faith that the many events of history, from exile to redemption, all follow the same plan, guided by one God. We may not understand our misfortunes now, but the days will come when we will.

Abraham recognized the unity in nature thousands of years ago. By having faith and blessing God for everything that befalls us, we are are following in our forefather's footsteps. We are traveling on the path that will lead to the ultimate recognition of God by all of humanity, when all will understand the great unity of both nature and history. In the words of our sages3:

"...On that day will the Lord be One and His Name One" - Is the Lord not One now? ...This world is not like the Next World. In this world we say the blessing, "The Good and Beneficent" on good news and "The True Judge" on bad news. But in the Next World, we will say "The Good and Beneficent" on everything.

1See Bereishis Rabah 35, 39

2Its a basic Jewish idea that suffering atones for sins, but how does that work? I think it is more than just some sort of point system! The onesh one suffers in the next world is the intense shame he will feel for having sinned. But if he considers his suffering here as serving that purpose, then it does. It also helps him repent and come closer to God.

3Talmud Bavli Pesachim 50a

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pride Prejudice & Punctuation

almost all books people read nowadays come with punctuation whether a novel a chemistry book a rambam or even a chumash everything comes with punctuation theres a simple reason for this punctuation makes things easier to read without diluting or altering anything and yet for some reason when it comes to learning the text that needs it most people dont use punctuation the talmud contains the complicated discussions of torah shbal peh and would obviously benefit from some punctuation and yet everyone from brisk to yu from lakewood to migdal oz doesnt use punctuated gemaras why is that these are the reasons they give it makes no difference whether or not theres punctuation once you get used to it struggling over the punctuation is part of the necessary amelus of talmud torah especially when theres a machlokes in punctuation in addition the amelus helps you remember what you learned punctuated gemaros have a different tzuras hadaf which is assur to change how will you find a gemara in another shas how will you learn to read a real gemara if you use a punctuated one none of these arguments seem very strong ill go through each one it makes no difference whether or not theres punctuation once you get used to it having punctuation makes things clearer especially when reading the complicated back and forth of gemara having things punctuated helps ill admit its not the biggest deal but ive seen great scholars struggle for a moment to figure out the punctuation theres a reason everything else in the world is punctuated including most blog posts struggling over the punctuation is part of the necessary amelus of talmud torah especially when theres a machlokes in punctuation in addition it helps you remember what you learned with a punctuated gemara a person can think about the real issues of the gemara beyond how to read the words he can figure out matters of substance beyond where the comma goes a machlokes in punctuation is extremely rare i know of just as many questionable two dots and the punctuated gemara can mark it in those few cases having paragraphs and punctuation allows a person to go through things quicker and see it clearer giving him more time for chazara all of which helps him remember better see picture but why just ban punctuation there are all sorts of shortcuts all around the gemara page first it started with the mesoras hashas and the ayin mishpat and now they have likutei rashi and hagaos vtzionim not to mention the pesukim on the side which might cause someone to read tanach i think all these new laser print gemaros should be banned and people should return to using old manuscripts preferably with some letters rubbed out that would be true amelus punctuated gemaros have a different tzuras hadaf which is assur to change how will you find a gemara in another shas i dont know of punctuated gemaros that keep the tzuras hadaf but it shouldnt be too hard to make its just a technical detail tuvias edition is aimed for beginners so its filled with nekudos but no punctuation personally unless youve already finished shas with the old daf i think its time to use a different tzuras hadaf it was made by gentile printers hundreds of years ago and wasnt laid out perfectly there were no computers and they put tosafos on the page ok thats a separate issue using a different tzuras hadaf might make it a little harder to find something in another gemara but most of the time youll be using your own gemara anyways you can always look things up in the index or do a search on the computer it doesnt seem like a very big issue how will you learn to read a real gemara if you use a punctuated one for one you wont need to read the old fashioned gemaros because youll always be able to use a punctuated one but using a punctuated gemara will probably help people be able to use the other ones because theyll have been able to learn more gemara and have more experience which brings me to another point even if theyre against punctuated gemaros why on earth cant they let 5th graders use them it definitely would make a difference for beginners and they would be able to pick up gemara skills significantly quicker of course the question is based on the questionable assumption that the schools goals are to educate the kids see 31 years of batalah: i think all their arguments are just justifications for what they already have they use punctuation in all other seforim even though all the same arguments could be applied to mishnayos and rishonim they even use a full pasuk marking and trop system in torah shebichsav which actually was given from G d in a perfect umarked form if theres anything that shouldnt be punctuated its chumashim gemaros on the other hand are torah shebal peh and punctuating them just makes them more like the spoken word no one would say any of these arguments if gemaros had already been punctuated these are just ways of justifying things the real reasons people are against punctuated gemaros are not the justifications they say its very hard to accept any change especially something youve been doing a long time after having struggled so much as a beginner without punctuation its difficult to recognize there wasnt much of a point also it takes courage to read from a punctuated gemara you risk looking like youre not capable of reading from a real gemara the real reason gemaros arent punctuated is not because of any of the justifications given many of the kisvei yad did have some punctuation in them it was just too hard for the printers to print so they left it out the beginning of some mesechtos like brachos have some periods in them but it sort of tapers out at least they tried nowadays when the gemaros can easily be punctuated and published theres no reason to continue using gemaros from the 1500s this whole post may seem like making a mammoth out of a mole but it represents much more the refusal to change the gemaros are a prime example of refusing any change even a halachikly legitimate change for the better i think this is a point everyone can agree on

Friday, December 26, 2008

Talmudica Launch

The Talmud is a large uncharted ocean. Its pages are difficult to traverse, and even harder to remember. Most people learn the Talmud from a text without punctuation or charts. It is difficult to get a clear picture of the surroundings.

A new work is needed, one that will chart the Talmud. Things will be much clearer when they're all converted to charts and symbols. That is the task I have begun.

Announcing the launch of a new website:

to view its first pages click on the following links:
Kidushin daf: 29-33 34-40

It is a humble start, not fully complete, without a consistent system. Right now it can be used as an aid while learning the gemara or for chazara. Perhaps it can be developed enough to be able to be learned on its own.
But it's a start. Perhaps others will continue it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Akeidas Yitzchak

There are many issues involved in the story of the akeida. In this post, I wonder what happens when one combines 2 classical questions.

ויהי אחר הדברים האלה והאלהים נסה את אברהם ויאמר אליו אברהם ויאמר הנני
ויאמר קח נא את בנך את יחידך אשר אהבת את יצחק ולך לך אל ארץ המריה והעלהו שם לעלה על אחד ההרים אשר אמר אליך

So begins the parsha of the Akeida. G-d tells Avraham to sacrifice his son, and then just as he is about to do it, G-d tells him:

אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ואל תעש לו מאומה כי עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלהים אתה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך ממני

Question One: How could G-d go back on His word? If He said that Yitzchak should be slaughtered, how could He then say “Just testing!”? G-d's word is Truth!

Answer: G-d didn't tell Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak, He just said “ha'alehu sham l'olah”, a somewhat ambiguos command that doesn't necessarily include slaughtering. Once Yitzchak was put on the mizbeach, that was enough. The command was fulfilled, and Akeidas Yizchak became an everlasting merit for our people.

Question Two: What was the big test for Avraham? G-d commanded him directly to bring his son as a korban! How could he have ignored a direct Divine command?

Answer: Avraham could have come up with some powerful arguments to not listen to the command. “G-d commanded man never to murder, how could I kill my own son? Moreover, G-d promised me that Yizchak will become a great nation, when he said:

ויוצא אתו החוצה ויאמר הבט נא השמימה וספר הכוכבים אם תוכל לספר אתם ויאמר לו כה יהיה
and some time later..
כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע.. can't be that I should kill him!” But Avraham listened to G-d and went to slaughter his son. He passed the test.

Now, does everything make sense? But one second..

...Question: If G-d just meant Yitzchak should be put on the mizbeach, why did Avraham pull out a knife and get ready to kill his son? Didn't he know that you can't murder? Didn't he know the promise? If in truth, G-d's command just meant put him on the mizbeach, why did Avraham try to do so much worse?!

For Further Emphasis: If G-d really meant for Avraham to kill Yitzchak, we understand why Avraham tried. But then how could G-d have changed His mind? And if G-d actually used a truly ambiguous command, then why did Avraham interpret it to mean something so crazy?

Answer: “Ha'alehu..” cannot just mean put Yitzchak on the mizbeach and take him down. Thats not what the words mean. It says “l'olah”! Putting Yitzchak on a mizbeach and doing nothing is nothing. “Ha'alehu” means put Yitzchak up as an olah, with full intentions to slaughter him just like an olah.

Avraham had to realize that when G-d commanded him to bring Yitzchak as an olah, He meant it. It was docheh any prohibition or promise from before because it was a direct command from G-d. Avraham didn't know what would happen, but he realized he would have to bring his son as a genuine olah.

Avraham traveled to the mountain and went up with Yitzchak and put him on the mizbeach. Then Avraham tied Yizchak down. Then he pulled out a knife, ready to slaughter his son. Only now, at this moment, did G-d say

אל תשלח ידך אל הנער ואל תעש לו מאומה כי עתה ידעתי כי ירא אלהים אתה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך ממני

Until Avraham showed he was totally ready to actually sacrifice his son, “Ha'alehu sham l'Olah” was not fulfilled. But once avraham raised the knife, it showed he had actually brought Yitzchak as an Olah. He hadn't slaughtered Yitzchak, but the command had been fulfilled. Yitzchak became a complete Olah, and the “ashes of Yitzchak” become an eternal remembrance before G-d. Avraham had fulfilled the nisayon of “Ha'alehu sham l'Olah”, no murder had been committed, and now Yitzchak could truly grow into the great nation of the promise:

ויאמר בי נשבעתי נאם יהוה כי יען אשר עשית את הדבר הזה ולא חשכת את בנך את יחידך: כי ברך אברכך והרבה ארבה את זרעך ככוכבי השמים וכחול אשר על שפת הים וירש זרעך את שער איביו: והתברכו בזרעך כל גויי הארץ עקב אשר שמעת בקלי

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Pesukim of Malchiyos, Zichronos and Shofaros

In the rosh hashana mussaf, we read 10 pesukim from Tanach for each section mentioned above. We read them in the following order: Torah, Kesuvim, then Nevi'im. The question is obvious: Why does Kesuvim come before Nevi'im?

Readers of Nebach are probably thinking “Everyone knows the answer to that! Artscroll p. 454 gives 2 answers!”: We have to start with the torah because its so important, and then we follow the rule “ma'alin b'kodesh v'ein moridin” and do kesuvim, then navi. That answer sounds a little bit forced. Alternatively, since King David wrote most of the Kesuvim pesukim said in mussaf, and he came before the nevi'im, so we say kesuvim first.

While davening, I realized another, similar answer. Its quite simple and obvious. The pesukim in kesuvim are primarily about the past and the present. G-d has reigned, He reigns. He remembers people, past and present. The shofar blows. This is especially true if you just read the pesukim as they are in the machzor.

The pesukim from navi are primarily about the future. G-d will be King, G-d will remember us, the great Shofar will blow. This is obvious just from the quotes alone. Therefore, we first read the pesukim about past and present, and only then read the prophecies of the future.

The 3 Billionth Sinner (draft)

(This post was written after Rosh Hashana, but I only got internet access now.)

The Ramabam, based on the gemara, says a person should always view himself as if he has a perfect balance between zechuyos and avonos and any deed he does now will tip the balance. He should also think the whole world is in a perfect balance, and his next action could either save the world or ruin it.

I used to be bothered by this. What are the chances of everything actually being in a 50-50 balance? What is the point in imagining such a unlikely thing? I could imagine the conversation within a potential sinner's mind:

Yetzer Tov: Wait, Don't sin! Maybe the world is tied right now at exactly 32.7 trillion mitzvoth and aveiros. This one sin might tip the balance!”
Yetzer HaRa: I don't think you a career in law would be good for you.

Next question: What is the point in voting? There's almost no chance that your one vote will tip the numbers! True, if everyone thought like that, no one would vote. When that happens, go ahead and vote! In the meantime, its like buying a lottery ticket without any prize!

Case 3 – Based on a true story! : Dovid's* school is having a trip the next day and the organizers need to know how many people are coming so they know how many busses to call. The sign-up list is a two-minute walk from his room.
Dovid's thoughts: Whats the point in signing up, there's no chance I'll be the 51st person on the last bus. And I could always sit on that seat by the steps.
Should he sign up? (You might notice the questions are getting easier.)

The next day: Dovid hadn't signed up but tries getting on a bus. Unfortunately, there are 42 other people who had the same thoughts as Dovid. There's no space for most of them, so they have to remain in school while everyone else goes on the trip.

A better example: The Altlantic Voyager is giving out tickets for its maiden voyage. It needs to know how many people are coming because it can only hold a certain number of passengers. If too many extra people get on, the boat will sink in the middle. 73 people sneak onto the boat, and the boat unfortunately sinks. Luckily, most people manage to get into lifeboats, and they return home. The surviving stowaways are arrested upon their return home.

At one of the stowaway's courtcase:
Lawyer for the Defence: If my client had been the only stowaway, the boat wouldn't have sunk. And even if he hadn't been on the boat, it would have sunk anyways! He did no wrong!
Q4: Your'e the jury. Should Simon go free?

Each and every person who didn't get a ticket for the boat was part of the reason the boat sunk. It doesn't matter if he was the actual person who crossed the limit, the group as a whole sunk the boat.

When someone doesn't vote, he is among the group of non-voters who could have made a difference. Each one of them is responsible for the their candidate's defeat. They are like the people who didn't sign up on for the bus or boat. The candidate knows how important it is to get his supporters to vote and spends millions trying to get that to happen. He's the one who truly knows how important voting is.

Similarly, each and every sinner is the individually responsible for the world being guilty. He's part of the guilty group who sunk the world.

Whether for voting or being judged, make sure your in the right boat.

*not his real name

Friday, October 03, 2008

Heter Mechira

The shemittah year is over, but I figured I'll publish some notes on Heter Mechira. Its based on an article in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and on the book Shemittah and Yovel by Dayan I. Grunfeld. Its mostly accurate.

In the early 1900's, the frum residents of Israel would have faced serious hunger problems if they couldn't work the land on shemitah. They came up with a heter mechira in which they would sell the land to a gentile, and have gentiles do some work for them. Nowadays, the farms would lose much international business if they didn't produce food every 7th year. Therefore they use the heter mechira and work the land themselves. For the heter mechira to be muttar to do, all of the following halachic leniencies must be true. (It may be easier for the shemitah food to be kosher to eat.)

    1. Shemitah nowadays is 100% d'rabanan. Other parts of the heter rely on this.

Although there aren't that many views that dispute this, it may be that shemitah should be considered like a d'oraysa because it was accepted with an “curse & a oath ” [see Nechemia 10].

    2. Selling the land uproots the kedusha from both the land and the fruit. (Otherwise there would be no point.)

Although even many haredim in Israel are lenient, its not such a simple issue. The main machlokes is between R' Yosef Karo and the Mabit. There is a teshuva of the Rambam that supports the Mabit.

Correction: Many people are lenient and treat peiros nachri without kedushas shevi'is. But almost everyone holds that it is forbidden for a Jew to work on land owned by a gentile. The hetter mechira relies on a minority opinon that permits it.

    3. A “Ha'arama Nikeret” is muttar.

This isn't such a serious problem, especially since shemitah is d'rabanan.

    4. It is permitted to temporarily sell Jewish land to a gentile.

This is where the heter runs into serious issues. If the sale is real, it should be forbidden. Even renting land to a gentile is rabbinically forbidden! The HM proponents have 2 responses. 1.A temporary sale is permitted yet still works to uproot the kedusha. 2. Its permitted to sell land to Muslims.

Its questionable who exactly the issur to sell land to applies, but an accurate girsa of Rambam Perush HaMishanyos includes all gentiles.

    5. The sale is considered a real sale.

If you sell a whole country to one Arab, but there's no way he'll be able to use it in any way, is the sale real? The government doesn't recognize the sale, and Dina d'Malchusa Dina should make it void.

Some Heter proponents rely on the opinion that Dina d'Malchusa Dina doens't apply in Eretz Yisroel because every Jew has a portion in the land.

Other issues

Shemitah was accepted during much harder times and kept through much worse conditions. They never tried such a heter then. A midrash talks of the gentiles who mock the Jews for eating thorns during the shemitah year.

As Israel got richer, the one-time heter became even more lenient. What was once a horas sha'ah to allow non-Jews to do issurei d'rabanan grew into the heter today where shemitah is treated like any other year.

Other Kulas

R' yannai told the people to work the land during shemitah to pay their tax. Perhaps it was similar hardships as now.

Tosafos suggests it was actual pikuach nefesh. The historic evidence shows that a cruel Roman general was waging war against the Persians, and he probably wouldn't have exempted the Jews from their taxes!

According to the Ba'al HaMa'or, shemitah is voluntary!

I would say this das yochid is cancelled out by the da'as yochid that shemitah is d'oraysa. If your choshesh for one, you should be choshesh for the other.

There is some question what the exact year of shemitah is. Perhaps that safek can help to be lenient.

Safek d'rabanan l'kula doesn't apply if it would be mevatel the mitzvah.

The Ironies.

On many issues, each side takes the opposite views of what they usually would hold so they can be for/against the heter mechira. (Or they keep to their veiws and refrain from using an argument.)

1. You can sell sell land in Israel to Muslims.

2. Dina d'Malchusa Dina doesn't apply in Eretz Yisrael.

You wouldn't here the DL community make these argument in other contexts, and many don't even use them for heter mechira.

3. Manuscripts show the girsa in the Rambam was really goy, not akkum.

4. The historic evidence shows Tosafos was right when they said it was pikuach nefesh.

Charedim don't like basing halachos on more accurate manuscripts, and definitely not on historic evidence.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Blood of the Burglar

These are my cartoons on "בא במחתרת" about a burglar's break-in as discussed in the 8th perek of Sanhedrin. I didn't write the final page of p'sak, and the cartoons need a little shading in, but otherwise it's done.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Ta'anis Esther

[this is based on a post from 2 years ago and will be published in Peiros Ha'aretz.]

This coming Thursday, the 13th of Adar, is Ta'anis Esther, a puzzling fast day. According to many opinions, this fast commemorates the fast the Jews fought during the war against their enemies on the 13th of Adar. According to others, it is in memory of the 3 days the Jews fasted before Esther went to see Achashverosh. That occurred during Pesach time, so it seems strange to mark this fast on the wrong date. But either way, why is it necessary to fast, no tragedy happened on Ta'anis Esther! Also, according to some opinions, it shold be forbidden to fast on the day before a holiday! What was the great need to fast before Purim?

Purim is an unusually jubilant day in the Jewish Calendar. There are the mitzvoth of mishloach manot and the festive seudah, and there's even a mitzvah to get drunk! This is besides all the customs that have become common, such as wearing costumes.

But matters were very different for the Jews in the times of Haman. A royal decree had been passed, calling for the annihilation of all the Jews. People did not know what would happen. It was scary times.

In the end, the Jews were miraculously saved, but because of an important reason: They did Teshuva. Haman had caused the Jews to wake up, and they fasted and repented. G-d then caused the miraculous turnaround of Purim.

On Purim, when we celebrate with such ecstasy, there's a risk we might become too light-hearted. There are still those who seek to destroy us, and it is vital we don't miss the message. Therefore, on the day before Purim, we recall the troubles and worries the Jews went through, and more importantly, we remember the reason they were saved, and we do teshuva ourselves. Only then can we celebrate a meaningful Purim.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Slifkin and Darwinism (draft)

Although it's been some time since I read the book, I felt I should try to bring to a close the Slifkin & Darwinism series. The last post on this topic pointed out that Science wasn't as perfect as Slifkin claimed. In this post I'd like to discuss Darwinism specifically.

Slifkin says that the science of Darwinism should be judged separately from any implications people draw from it. This is true to a point. But if an ideology allows people to be "intellectually fulfilled atheists" [-Dawkins], perhaps that is part of the reason that it became so widely accepted. The fact that Darwinism and social darwinism developed together and led to Nazism also says something about it.. [eval on own w/o faith in sci random make sence?]

So we cannot just have faith in the Darwinist's words. We must compare their beliefs to ours. They are materialists, who do not believe in anything above the physical. Therefore, they have to pick between aliens having created life or it having spontaneously arisen. Because of many obvious problems with the former (how did the aliens arise?), most scientists prefer the latter.

Fine, that's what they're forced to believe, but why would a religious person accept that? How could someone like Slifkin accept this ideology of randomness? A perfectly encoded string RNA does not just form on it's own. And definetly not with the similarly amazing proteins (all just happening to be made of the just right order of 'left-handed' molecules) to carry out its instructions!

Life could not have arisen and evolved just by unguided forces. There was a Guiding Hand.