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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Chazal’

A Labor Of Love

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

I recently interviewed Mrs. Tziporah Lifshitz of Maaleh Adumim, Israel about the posthumous publication of the book A Day Is A Thousand Years, Human Destiny and the Jewish People, authored by her late father, Dr. Zvi Faier, and edited by Tziporah and her mother, Chaya.

I knew Tziporah as a young child when our families lived around the corner from each other in Far Rockaway. I had not seen her for many years and I was looking forward to this interview.  I also remembered her father, whom we called Herschel, all those years ago.  He was a “scholar and a gentleman,” brilliant, but warm and approachable.  I was saddened when I learned of his death and thankful that with the publication of this book, his thoughts would remain for posterity.

Tziporah, please tell me a little about your father.

My father was born in pre-war Poland. His family fled Nazi occupied Poland and lived in Southern Russia. In 1948 through the help of an aunt they immigrated to Montreal, Canada where he attended yeshiva and received a Bachelor of Science degree. He then moved to Chicago where he received a PhD from Northwestern University, in theoretical physics. In Chicago he met and married my mother, Chaya and also met his mentor, Rabbi Chaim Zimmerman, who was the head Rabbinic scholar at the Hebrew Theological College.

In 1973 our family made aliyah. My father maintained his Talmudic studies with Rabbi Zimmerman at the Harry Fishel Institute, where he received Smicha in 1976.

Recently, when I asked a relative how he would best describe my father, he said, “ He was always striving towards deeper understanding and truth.” My father was above all, a man of Torah, but he was also a man of science.

What was your part in this book?

I was very close to my father. He wrote and then we discussed many pieces together, especially during the last three years of his life. Upon his death, I assumed the editing of the manuscript, together with my mother. But he completed the manuscript. On the one hand the book is very personal and yet it is a book of lofty ideas.

What is the theme of the book?

I think I would say, what being “the Chosen People” means and what it implies for non-Jews. My father believed in the goodness of mankind. He wanted this book to be read by Jews as well as non-Jews, because what is at stake is nothing less than the future of mankind. He relates his own life experiences, the Holocaust, because this tackles the question of the relationships of Jews and gentiles. He also discusses Christianity and anti-Semitism. A key word in his world is striving. Man at full stature, is a being that strives higher and higher. Not only mundane everyday survival and managing life, but striving to reach deeper truths and new horizons. This was how he viewed mankind and history and this is how he lived his own life.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m a mother of 8 children, all born in Israel. I live in Maaleh Adumim, which is about 15 minutes outside of Jerusalem. I teach Jewish philosophy at Ulpana Tzvia, the local girls high school and I am studying for my doctorate in the Talmud department of Bar Ilan University.

You mentioned Rabbi Chaim Zimmerman as your father’s mentor. How does this relate to the book?

Rabbi Zimmerman was a part of the Brisk dynasty, and was considered a giant in Torah. My father was his student for many years and he had a profound influence on his life. Some of the concepts explored in this book are things that my father discussed with Rabbi Zimmerman and he is mentioned often in the footnotes.

Tell me a little more about the book.

My father quotes Chazal, offering his own analysis and illuminating a new dimension, especially to those who are not so familiar with the words of Chazal. He brings new insights suitable to a broad educated audience, Jew as well as non-Jews.

This book is not a coffee table book, nor is it a quick read. It can be picked up often to read a few pages and then put down, but come back to again and again.

Noach: Hashem Hates Thievery

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

“And Hashem said to Noach: The end of all flesh has come before me since the land is filled with robbery through them, and I will now destroy the land.” – Bereishis 6:13

In this pasuk, Hashem appears to Noach, telling him the world has turned to evil and He will now destroy all of life. Noach, his family, and the animals that remained pure will be the core of a new world. The reason for this destruction is stealing – “since the land is filled with robbery.”

Rashi is troubled that thievery is being treated as the pivotal point of the world’s existence. There are many sins that are worse. Rashi seems to answer this by saying that stealing was the crime that sealed their fate. Granted they were involved in other iniquities, but this was the one that actually demanded justice.

This Rashi is difficult to understand, as we know stealing is not one of the most severe sins. There are three cardinal sins a Jew is obligated to give up his life not to commit: idol worship, adultery, and murder. While stealing is certainly a serious crime, it isn’t among these – in fact, it isn’t even in their league.

Even more to the point, in a previous pasuk Rashi told us the main crimes then were idol worship and illicit relations. The Torah tells us “all flesh was corrupted.” It is clear that these more serious sins were rampant. How then can we understand Rashi’s statement that stealing was the crime that caused their destruction?

This question can best be answered with a mashal.

Different Scales of Measure

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries on the planet; the average working man there earns about 180 dollars a year. Imagine that I walk into a Savings and Loan Company in the United States and say, “I am looking to take out a mortgage on a new home.”

The loan officer will ask me, “What is your income? What assets do you have?”

I respond, “My friend, no need to worry. Why, I earn as much as ten men in Bangladesh. In fact, I don’t like to brag, but I earn as much as a hundred men there!”

Needless to say, I wouldn’t secure a loan. Because earning 1,800 dollars a year or even 18,000 dollars a year in our economy is below poverty level.

This is an example of different scales of measure. In a third world country where much of the population is starving, earning your daily bread and water might qualify you as well off, whereas in a more affluent world, it would be quite poor. More than objective wealth being the determinant of your status, it is the standard against which you are being measured. When the bar is raised, it becomes much more difficult to be considered acceptable.

So too, in the system of Hashem’s judgment, there are different standards of measure. There is din – strict judgment, and there is rachamim – the mercy system. Strict din demands perfection. There is no room for shortcomings and no place for excuses; you are responsible. You did an act that act that brought about a result, so you are accountable – utterly, completely and totally. No mitigating factors, no extenuating circumstances. You are guilty as charged.

Rachamim is very different. This system introduces understanding: “There were compelling factors.” “It was a difficult situation.” “There are few people in this generation who would have done much better.”

In the Heavenly system of judgment, there is a balance between rachamim and din. At one point, the balance may be 60 percent rachamim, 40 percent din. At another point it might be 80/20. If strict din would be in place, no mortal could stand. Even the Avos, the greatest humans who ever lived, would not have passed.

Certain times and actions change the balance between rachamim and din. Much of our davening focuses on asking Hashem to judge us more favorably, to introduce mercy into the deliberation. On the flip side, there are certain actions that strengthen the middah of din, moving the balance over to more strict judgment.

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. It isn’t that stealing is a more severe crime than immorality – it is less severe. However, there is an element to stealing that awakens din. Stealing from a person demonstrates a total disregard of his rights – it’s as if he isn’t a person. I can take away his property, even his very sustenance. Chazal tell us, “As a person acts toward others, Hashem acts toward him.” Because robbery is an abrogation of a person’s rights, it causes a change in the way Hashem judges. It is as if Hashem says, “If you act that way toward others, then I will act accordingly to you.” Therefore, stealing changes the way Hashem judges because it causes the middah of din to react more strongly.

Rav Elyashiv, Torah and Science

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

One of the biggest issues that has arisen as a result of the Slifkin controversy is the question of whether Chazal, the sages of the Talmud knew the actuality of nature. There are those who say that they did. They say that every statement recorded in the Gemarah with respect to science is an accurate reflection of nature itself. The science redacted in the Talmud is as valid as the Halacha – both being Mesorah.

There are others who say that Chazal did not know the actuality of nature but knew it only via the best science of their era. Among them are Rishonim like R’ Avraham ben HaRambam.

For many of us who have studied both the Talmud and nature via science at even a minor level the second opinion seems a lot more plausible. There are too many scientifically based statements on nature in the Gemarah that are clearly not accurate.

One of the more famous ones is the idea that lice do not sexually reproduce. This fact impacts on Halacha. One of the 39 forbidden Melachos on Shabbos is Netilas Neshama – killing an animal. The Gemarah explains that it is only forbidden to kill an animal that reproduces sexually. One is however permitted to kill an animal that reproduces asexually . This is the opinion of the Rabbanim (as apposed to R’ Elazar) and this is the Halacha today.

Lice, says the Gemarah, do not reproduce sexually and therefore one is permitted to kill them.

Rav Yitzchok Lamproti (Pachad Yitzchok) was around during the time the microscope was invented. He said that now that we know that lice do sexually reproduce, it is therefore forbidden to kill them on Shabbos. All Achronim argue with him and say that since the Gemarah says it is permitted, it stays permitted in spite of our new knowledge.

What is left unsaid in all of that discussion is the apparent assumption Chazal were mistaken about the actual science. The only question is whether this new information is relevant.

Now it should be said that there are still ways to allow for Chazal to not be mistaken about this. One way is to say that the lice that the Gemarah refers to is not the lice we know of today and that in fact it is that lice which is permitted to kill. The lice that we know of that does sexually reproduce is forbidden to kill.

Another way to look at it is that only lice that one can see with the naked eye sexually reproducing is forbidden. If one needs a microscope to see it, then for Halachic purposes it is still considered asexual reproduction.

But it seems to me that the most logical explanation is to say that they did not know then what we know today simply because they did not have the means to know it. Microscopes had not been invented yet.

There was a relatively recent Halacha Sefer published called Orchos Shabbos that discusses this Halacha (14:30) and mentions the position of Rav Elyashiv (note 47). Rav Elyashiv says that one should be Machmir and not kill lice on Shabbos as a general rule. But he also says that according to the strict letter of the law, one may kill lice on Shabbos.

Why be Machmir? It’s possible that the lice of the Gemarah are not our lice and therefore killing our lice may actually be forbidden. But the fact that he says that according to the strict letter of the law one may indeed kill lice on Shabbos, that means that he believes the lice of the Gemarah are indeed our lice. And yet we now know that they sexually reproduce.

Why then did Chazal say that they don’t? I think there is really only one way to interpret it. Chazal simply didn’t know that because they had no way of knowing it in their day. Rav Elyashiv may feels as Rav Eliyahu Dessler did – that even though Chazal were wrong in their explanation, the Halacha was indeed transmitted masoretically and remains in effect.

We may kill lice but for reasons other than those stated in the Gemarah. The point for our purposes being that since Chazal did not have the means to know they made a mistake about the reality of nature in this case. One can conclude that even R’ Elyashiv concedes that microscopes have increased our knowledge of nature beyond that of Chazal. Is there any other way to interpret that? Even if we say that Halacha follows only what we can see with the naked eye, the fact is that what they saw with the naked eye did not reflect reality.

Bereshit: The Triple Birth of Woman

Sunday, October 14th, 2012

In this week’s Torah portion, within the majesty and mystery of creation, the woman emerges in three successive stages.

First she is an unknown entity taking shape from Adam’s rib. Then Adam gives her a name, “isha,” woman – and formulates the concept. But concurrently the name/concept “ish,” man, emerges. “L’zot yikare ISHA ki meISH lukaha zot – This shall be named woman because from man was this taken” (Bereshit 2:23). Nowhere before does the word ish appear in the Torah. Throughout creation the first human is referred to as “haAdam.” With the appearance of isha, woman, a new aspect is added to essence of the adam: he becomes ish, a man. No longer is he merely a living creature from the “adama,” earth, although he is endowed with superior intelligence allowing him to evaluate other living creatures and take dominion over them. Through the birth of woman he becomes a man.

The next verse, “Thereafter shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his woman, and they shall become one flesh” (Bereshit 2:24), adds a profound new dimension to both concepts.

The second stage is set in the woman’s encounter with the snake. Here woman is revealed as a complex creature: she is both the object and the cause of sin. Recognizing the complexity of her character, the snake chooses her as an instrument of his design. But the woman proves to be not only a passive tool: she is also an active wielder of influence. With considerably less effort than it took the snake to persuade her to take from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she induces her man to eat from the forbidden fruit. And with her act, indirectly woman has opened for mankind a new world of insight, the knowledge of good and evil, an awareness of ethics and morality which in essence has the potential to elevate humanity above the level of the animal kingdom.

Through her punishment woman reaches the third stage of her development: although it will be done in pain and anguish, she is to bear children. She is to become Mother. Because of this new and essentially central function, woman is given a new name/concept: “Chava,” eve, “the mother of all living” (Bereshit 3:20). In spite the pain of childbirth and the anguish of raising the young, motherhood prevails as woman’s most powerful drive.

In the process of giving birth, when isha-woman and chava/mother reaches the ultimate stage of her being, she becomes the first living creature to give eloquent testimony to that most supreme secret of creation, the mystery of birth. In exclaiming, “I have acquired a man with G-d,” (Bereshit 4:1), she exhibits that insight which Chazal have attributed to woman’s basic make-up. From the word “vayiven,” describing woman’s creation (Bereshit 2:22), the Chazal derive the concept of “binah,” insight as a “built-in” faculty of woman. The woman is given the gift to comprehend and appreciate the role of the Creator in the greatest and most wonderful enigma of our existence — the birth of a child.

A Colossal But Essential Pain In The Neck

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Seven years ago, I was approached by a group of friends with an unexpected request. Would I be interested in running for trustee of my local public school district?

I had no political experience and only a hazy understanding of the Nassau County, Long Island public schools. I was told our district covered roughly half of the Five Towns, and that it was a large operation with over a thousand employees. I was further told that seven trustees were elected to set policy and to oversee a budget that ran close to $100 million. And many of those policies touched yeshiva children directly, particularly in the areas of transportation and special education.

The one thing I knew on my own was that the political climate in our district had grown extremely contentious. Tax revolt had swept across Nassau County, and the local board decided to “punish” the frum community for its lack of support by, among other things, cutting special education services to yeshiva students.

I’ll spare you the details of how we won the election. Suffice it to say we restored those services, and others as well. Of almost equal importance, we introduced fiscal discipline. When we took power, the school district budget was almost identical to the neighboring district that is responsible for the other half of the Five Towns. Today our budget is $25 million less.

And this is when you begin to understand just how important these local elections are. How much of that $25 million is paid by the frum community? No one is keeping track, but the figure probably falls somewhere between $12 million and $15 million. Think for a moment of what we would have to do to raise that kind of money in the frum community. Think of countless Chinese auctions, raffles, dinners, appeals – and still we couldn’t do it.

But we do it every year now – and all because people went to the polls and voted.

Before we took power, there were dozens of frum families that didn’t receive school busing. For the people affected, this was anything but trivial. A private company charges about $2,500 after tax dollars to transport a child for a school year. And many working families simply don’t have the ability to car pool. Well, these people receive busing now. And all because people went down to the polls and voted.

Most important of all are the frum families with special-needs children that were denied reimbursement because they wanted to place their children in frum programs. This denial cost each of those families tens of thousands of dollars every year. A law has been proposed in Albany to end this injustice – one that has received the overwhelming support of both the State Assembly and State Senate – but for now Governor Cuomo has vetoed it. In our district, these families now receive reimbursement. And all because people went to the polls and voted.

“All politics are local,” Tip O’Neill used to say, but you’d never know it from voter turnout. We’ll raise millions of dollars for frum special education, but we won’t go to the polls to vote for officials who support frum special education.

People line up to vote for president, but they rarely take the time to vote for anything else. In our school board elections, we rarely get turnout of more than twenty percent.

This is the great paradox of American politics. The elections people ignore are the ones that have the greatest impact on their day-to-day lives. An election for sanitation commissioner or small town mayor lacks the panache of an election for president or senator. But while the president is arm-wrestling with Congress over Iraq, global warming or a new farm bill, these lower officials are the ones that determine whether you get school busing, when and how often your trash gets picked up and how much you’ll pay in property taxes.

And those are the elections where your vote really matters. In a presidential election, you are .00000001 percent of the electorate, or about a hundred millionth of the total. Moreover, if you live in the tri-state area, your vote is truly meaningless because New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are almost never battleground states (though you should still vote anyway; see below).

Shabbat Chol Hamoed Sukkot

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Each year, amid the ebullient joy manifest during the holiday of Sukkot, we read the megillah of Kohelet. With its realistic perspective on the world, Kohelet provides us with the means to not only properly calibrate our joy, but to accurately understand the role of joy and happiness in the world.

The Gemara in Mesechet Shabbat (30b) relates that the rabbis feared people would misunderstand the true message of Kohelet due to its seemingly contradictory aphorisms. To prevent the dangers inherent in such misunderstandings, Chazal considered removing the megillah from circulation. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook explains that it wasn’t that Chazal doubted the holiness and importance of Kohelet. Rather, they were concerned that, due to its complex nature, people would fail to understand its true message and be misled by their own misunderstanding.

The Gemara describes how Chazal ultimately kept Kohelet in circulation because it both begins and concludes with the ideas of the centrality of Torah and Yirat Shamayim. People would question any interpretation that undermined these ideas. Armed with this reality, the Gemara quotes several examples from rabbanim who resolved some of the apparent contradictions, thus demonstrating that with study all of the contradictions could be resolved.

Thousands of years after Shlomo HaMelech wrote Kohelet its message still resonates with us. Like all sifrei Tanach, Kohelet not only spoke to the generation of its writing, but continues to speak its universal message to all generations.

In history, the truly great works and speeches are those that proved not only relevant to their contemporary audiences but have continued to inspire future generations as well. A classic example of such a speech is Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address delivered on November 19, 1863. Among the most interesting factoids regarding this speech is that it was not the main speech. The official oration was delivered by the nation’s leading orator of the day, Edward Everett. Lincoln, as President of the United States, was invited almost as an afterthought to what was perceived as a state, not federal, affair.

Everett prepared extensively for his speech. In fact, the dedication of the cemetery was delayed nearly a month because Everett needed more time for his preparation. On the day of the dedication Everett spoke before Lincoln. And speak he did—his speech lasted for two hours, which was the norm for public orations at the time. Everett’s job was to explain what happened during the battle. He explained the significance of the battle in the context of the broader campaign and overall war. His oration “Was like a modern docudrama on television, telling the story of recent events on the basis of investigative reporting” (The Smithsonian Collection Edition: The Ultimate Guide to the Civil War, “From These Honored Dead” by Garry Wills, p. 84). By all accounts Everett did an outstanding job. His oration was well-received and had accomplished its set goals.

Following Everett, Lincoln stood up with his sheet or two of paper. Lincoln understood the moment as well. He had been looking for an occasion to lay out his war aims and give meaning to the war. The fact that so many state governors and other notables would be at Gettysburg that day convinced Lincoln of the importance of the opportunity. With a mere 270 words Lincoln proceeded to ensoul the war through the departed souls of the soldiers. Lincoln also set out to change how people viewed the Constitution and the purpose of the country. “Everett succeeded with his audience by being thoroughly immersed in the detail of the event he was celebrating. Lincoln eschewed all local emphasis. His speech hovered far above the carnage…Lincoln was after an even larger game—he meant to ‘win’ the whole Civil War in ideological terms as well as military ones. And he succeeded: The Civil War is, to most Americans, what Lincoln wanted it to mean” (p.85).

After the Gettysburg Address the Civil War was no longer a war about slavery or states’ rights. It became, as Lincoln framed it, a far loftier war, imbued with universal and perennial significance as to whether: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

To write and deliver a speech that transcends its local time and place requires a leader who not only understands what his immediate constituents need, but one who has universal and long-term goals. Without local vision the leader’s speech and comments will seem meaningless to the immediate audience. Without the vision to see the universal in the local and the future in the immediate, the speech, no matter how important to the local audience, will remain a citizen of its original time and place.

Torah Lengthens Life

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Chazal tell us that Torah is our life and the length of our days. Here is a story that proves this statement quite literally.

In Yerushalayim there lived a family in which all the children passed away at an early age. Everything possible was done to protect the children from illness and the slightest danger, however, it was to no avail. Not one child lived past the age of 18.

The family finally appealed to Rabi Yochanan:

“Please help us, help us to have children who will live to an old age like all normal children.”

Rabi Yochanan responded: “It is possible that you are descendants of Eli Kohen Gadol, whose family was cursed with death before old age. There is only one possible method of help. You must study Torah and make sure that your children study Torah. This is the only assurance of life, as it says: ‘For it is your life and the length of your days.’”

The family heard the words of Rabi Yochanan and all of the members began to study Torah day and night. Baruch Hashem, things changed and their children began living.

Overjoyed, the family met to discuss how to repay Rabi Yochanan.

“What can we give the great Rabi Yochanan for giving us this great lifesaving advice? We know that he will not accept money as he lives simply and is satisfied with what he has. Let us, therefore, repay him by naming our children after him.”

And that is exactly what they did, so much so that they eventually came to be known as the Family of Yochanan.

Rachel, Wife of Rabi Akiva

How often does a wife have the dominant influence over her husband, helping to guide him along the correct path? One woman who did was Rachel, daughter of Kalba Savua, the wife of the great Rabi Akiva.

In Yerushalayim there once lived a very wealthy man by the name of Kalba Savua. He not only possessed great riches, but was also honored greatly by the Jews of his time for he took part in all communal affairs. He had been blessed with a daughter, Rachel, who had great beauty and wisdom.

All the important families in Yerushalayim admired her and wanted her for their sons. They offered a great deal – all that any young maiden could desire. Rachel, however, was persistent in her refusal.

“Wealth is false and mere family lineage is vanity; what is truly important is to find a man who is truthful and of high moral character and principles,” she would say.

Days went by and Rachel continued to refuse the tempting offers of the wealthy families, looking instead for the one person who filled the requirements she considered important.

Her father owned vast numbers of sheep and cattle and Rachel was used to going out in the fields and looking over her father’s property. One time, as she walked she met one of the shepherds. Over time they got to know each other and Rachel was sure that this was the man she wanted to marry.

His name was Akiva the son of Yosef, and he was possessed of wonderful character and moral traits. Unfortunately, he had never been given the opportunity to learn and so he remained woefully ignorant of the Holy Torah. He promised Rachel, however, that if they married he would go and study Torah.

Rachel approached her father: “Father, I have found the man whom I desire to marry and I wish your blessings.”

When Kalba Savua heard these words he was overjoyed.

“I am very happy for you. Who is the man that is to be your future husband?”

“His name is Akiva Ben Yosef, and he is a shepherd who takes care of some of your flocks.”

Kalba Savua turned pale.

“What? I can hardly believe my ears. Do you mean to say that you have refused the hands of so many worthy young men and want to marry an ignorant and worthless shepherd? Stop talking such nonsense and put the thoughts out of your mind lest you bring shame down upon your head and upon that of your family.”

But Rachel only shook her head and said: “No, I have made up my mind and I intend to marry Akiva.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/kidz/midrash-stories/torah-lengthens-life/2012/09/28/

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