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April 21, 2014 / 21 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Minchas Chinuch’

A Megillas Esther In An Ir Hanidachas

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

In this week’s parshah the Torah teaches the halachos of an ir hanidachas – a city where a majority of the inhabitants serve avodah zarah. The halacha is that all of the city’s inhabitants are killed and all of their possessions are burned.

There are several criteria that must be met in order for a city to attain the status of an ir hanidachas. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 71a quotes the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer: if there is even one mezuzah in the city, the entire city is not an ir hanidachas. This is because of the earlier words in this week’s parshah: “lo sa’asun kein l’Hashem Elokeichem – [destroy avodah zarah] but do not do so to Hashem your God.” We derive from here that one may not erase Hashem’s name. A mezuzah, which contains Hashem’s name, may not be destroyed. Thus the entire city cannot be burnt since this one article cannot be erased. (We do not pasken in accordance with this opinion; rather, we pasken that the holy writings are to be buried.)

The Rambam in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 6:2 says that erasing seven names of Hashem will cause one to receive lashes for having committed the transgression of erasing His name. There are other categories of things – kisvei hakodesh (holy writings) – that may not be erased, and similarly one may not destroy the Mizbeach or any part of the Beis HaMikdash. In the latter category, however, one may destroy them if it is for the purpose of reconstruction. One only violates this lav if one destroys it and does not intend to rebuild it.

It is for this reason that when one makes a mistake when writing a Sefer Torah, he may erase the mistake – except if the mistake is in the name of Hashem. Any other part of the Torah besides the name of Hashem has the status of kisvei hakodesh; hence it may be erased for reconstruction purposes. However, none of Hashem’s seven names can be erased, even for reconstruction purposes. Therefore, if a mistake occurs in the name of Hashem, a patch must be placed over it and one may write on the patch.

Several Achronim raised the following point and question on the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer, cited above: How would Rabbi Eliezer hold if the ir hanidachas contained not a mezuzah or another article with Hashem’s name on it, but only kisvei hakodesh? For example, if only a Megillas Esther were present, would that make the city an ir hanidachas or would kisvei hakodesh also prevent the burning of the entire city — since it can only be destroyed for reconstruction purposes? Perhaps since the burning is a mitzvah, then that too is considered reconstructive and not destructive, and the city along with the Megillas Esther would be burnt.

The Mishnah in Sanhedrin 111b says that if there is kisvei hakodesh in the city it is buried, and that the rest of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions are burnt. The Gemara there (113a) says that this Mishnah is not in accordance with Rabbi Eliezer’s view. The Gemara seems to equate the halacha of when there is one mezuzah in the city to that of when there are any kisvei hakodesh.

Rashi, on Sanhedrin 71a, explained Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion this way: one mezuzah prevents the burning of the entire city because a mezuzah contains Hashem’s name that cannot be erased. Based on Rashi’s explanation, the halacha should not be the same regarding kisvei hakodesh since they can be erased for reconstructive purposes. This is evidence that the burning of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions is considered destructive, and thus the halacha of burning Hashem’s name is comparable to burning kisvei hakodesh.

The Minchas Chinuch explains that the reason that the burning of the possessions is considered destructive, even though it is a mitzvah, is because the mitzvah in this case is to destroy. Therefore, even kisvei hakodesh would prevent the entire city from being burnt since in this case they cannot be burnt.

I would like to suggest that perhaps the Gemara in Sanhedrin that equates kisvei hakodesh with Rabbi Eliezer’s view of a mezuzah is referring to kisvei hakodesh that contain Hashem’s name. However, kisvei hakodesh that do not contain Hashem’s name, i.e. Megillas Esther, would not prevent the burning of the city, and it would be burnt along with the rest of the city’s inhabitants’ possessions. The reason is that in this case, even though the mitzvah is to destroy, it nevertheless is considered reconstructive. As the pasuk in the Aleinu tefillah says: “…leha’avir gilulim min ha’aretz, vehaelilim karos yikareisun, lesakein olam bemalchus shakai – to remove detestable idolatry from the earth, and false gods will be utterly cut off, to perfect the universe through the Almighty’s sovereignty.” The destruction of avodah zarah is considered a tikun for the world. Therefore, as the mitzvah is to destroy and since it is avodah zarah that is being destroyed, it is considered a tikun.

Are Women Obligated To Hear Parshas Zachor?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

This week we read Parshas Zachor. There is a mitzvas asei for one to remember what Amalek did to us while on the road as we left Mitzrayim. If one does not remember he will have transgressed a lo sa’aseh. The Sifrei, in Parshas Ki Seitzei, says that the way in which one is to remember is by reading the parshah in the Torah that discusses Amalek’s attack, and the commandment to remember and annihilate Amalek found at the end of Parshas Ki Seitzei. The Gemara, in Megillah 30a, says that we should read Parshas Zachor prior to Purim so that the remembrance of what Amalek did should be adjacent to the reading of his annihilation.

The Sefer HaChinuch states in mitzvah 603 that women are exempt from the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us. He explains that this is because it is not upon women to wage war against and avenge the enemy. It is evident that the Chinuch holds that the mitzvah of remembering Amalek’s action against us is a prerequisite to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek; therefore the fact that women are not obligated in the war against Amalek is reason to exempt them from the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us.

The Minchas Chinuch asks several questions on the Chinuch’s ruling. One point he raises is that the Gemara in Sotah 44b says that everyone must go to war for a milchemes mitzvah – even a kallah from her chuppah. Additionally one can question the Chinuch’s writing in mitzvah 425 regarding the mitzvah that even women are obligated to fulfill, namely to kill the seven nations. Evidently women are obligated to wage war, and thus even according to the Chinuch’s logic (that the two mitzvos are connected) they should be obligated in the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us.

My rebbe, Reb Shmuel Birnbaum, zt”l, suggested that we can differentiate between the mitzvah to annihilate Amalek and the other mitzvos. The words of the Chinuch indicate that, in his opinion, the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek is in essence to take revenge. As the Chinuch says: ”for it is upon men to wage war and avenge the enemy – and not women.” Regarding the mitzvah to destroy the seven nations, the Chinuch writes that “the seven nations started worshiping all sorts of idols… therefore we are commanded to destroy them… by performing this mitzvah and succeeding to annihilate them we will have benefited, for we will no longer be able to learn from their ways.” The source for this (regarding the obligation to kill the seven nations) is the pasuk in Devarim 20:18: “So that they will not teach you to act according to all the abominations that they performed for their gods.”

The essence of the mitzvah to annihilate the seven nations is to rid the word of evil and bad influences. The essence of the mitzvah to annihilate Amalek is to avenge them. Women are obligated to go to war; however, when the essence of the war is to avenge, they are exempt. As the Chinuch says, it is upon the men – and not the women – to avenge. Therefore for a milchemes mitzvah or to kill the seven nations, women are obligated. They are only exempt from the milchamah against Amalek, since it is a war whose purpose is to take revenge.

Reb Shmuel added that there is a possible nafka mina (difference) between the two mitzvos. If there is one who is about to die on his own, is there an obligation to kill him? If he is an Amaleki, we would still be obligated to kill him to take revenge. But if he is from the seven nations, where the purpose of the mitzvah is to rid the world of evil influences, perhaps there would not be an obligation to kill him since he is going to die anyway and thus not influence either way.

I want to suggest another answer to the Minchas Chinuch’s questions on the Chinuch. The Radvaz, in his commentary to the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 7:4) where the Rambam writes that for a milchemes mitzvah even a kallah from her chuppah must go to war, asks the following based on Tehillim 45: “Is it the derech for women to go to war? Does the pasuk not say that the glory of a woman is inside?” The Radvaz answers that perhaps the role that the women assumed in the war was to bring provisions to their husbands.

Based on this, we can explain that although women are an integral part of the war they do not partake in the actual killing of the enemy. As previously mentioned, the Chinuch is of the opinion that the mitzvah of remembering what Amalek did to us is a prerequisite to the mitzvah of annihilating Amalek – for as the Rambam, in Hilchos Melachim 5:5 and Sefer HaMitzvos mitzvas asei 189, explains: one should bring himself to remember what Amalek did to us so that he has the mindset to wage war. We can suggest that only one who is obligated to partake in the actual killing of Amalek is obligated to remember what Amalek did to us. Therefore women are exempt, since they do not partake in the actual killing of Amalek.

Chava Roth’s Meanings

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

Chava Roth, Paintings

Chassidic Art Institute

375 Kingston Ave.,

Brooklyn, N.Y. 11213;

(718)-774-9149.

Noon-7 p.m.; Sunday – Thursday

Zev Markowitz, director


 

Pleasure and Meaning. In the visual arts they are equally essential. The pleasure of looking at an object, its contours, colors, texture and subsequent visual excitement is fundamental to engaging the viewer. Lacking visual enjoyment and complexity, a painting, drawing or print will quickly lose the interest of the viewers, and they will move on to a more rewarding visual experience. And a rewarding visual experience is the foundation of ascertaining the meaning of a work of visual art. Whatever the meaning, it must unfold slowly, through the pleasure of following complexity of composition, color and surface. If you get it instantly, you are looking at an illustration, simply a superficial visual sign, not a work of art. Chava Roth’s current exhibition of paintings and watercolors at the Chassidic Art Institute offer us both pleasure and meaning in decidedly unexpected ways.


Roth’s primary métier is the painting of Jewish still lifes as we extensively explored in the January 2001 review in these pages. She continues to show these rarified gems of tradition and nostalgia. Centered on the symbols of Jewish scholarship and learning, her compositions have if anything become stronger. “Still Life (Chaiye Adom)” is rooted in an open sefer, its pages frayed in a binding that has long since given up holding anything together. The covers simply form a container for a mass of loose pages, ostensibly perused year in and out. Rising from the spine of the sefer is a silver candlestick with a handle. At the top, the mostly burnt candle is extinguished. To the right, a crumpled, red tefillin bag stands guard over the surrounding books, each well used and worn. The absent scholar’s eyeglasses mark the place in one of the books.



The simplicity of the triangular composition with the candle at the apex creates a deceptively nostalgic image. While we first think this painting evokes timeless Torah values of learning and piety, at second glance something very different emerges. We notice that the picturesque sefer is so tattered that it is practically unusable. Additionally the tefillin bag is suggestively open, as if its prize contents have been carelessly put away, tossed on the littered tabletop. Finally the unlit candle stops us cold. Here in the apogee of the composition, the place where our eye is inextricably led, there is no flame, no light, perhaps no future. Roth’s lush rendering of frayed paper and bindings invites us to the pleasure of uncovering the complexity of her meanings.


Kesuvos,” another Jewish still life, is similarly based on a triangular composition. But here the effect is altogether different. The primacy of learning, expressed by the open Gemara surrounded by other sefarim and two volumes of the Minchas Chinuch, is here made more complex by the intrusion of two distinct mitzvos, tallis and tefillin. The same old-fashioned, red tefillin bag (here mostly closed) is joined by a tallis hastily removed and put on the table, its stark black and white pattern contrasting with the warm tones of the books. The red drawstring of the tefillin bag symbolically embraces the open Gemara, further integrating learning and the performance of mitzvos. Two mysterious scrolls in a blue glass container center the composition that is framed by a dramatic striped drapery swag, swept back to uncover the tableau. The strong central lighting on the objects and the drapery curtain create a theatrical effect, a kind of visual, “Behold!” This pictorial device, frequently seen in eighteenth century still lifes, makes the painting an affirmation of traditional Judaism.


Roth is also showing a number of Jewish genre subjects, all taken from scenes of Jerusalem. Many are of chassidim walking the streets and alleys of Zichron Moshe clad instreimel and tallis. These picturesque images, usually drawn from multiple photographs she has taken and then combined as a visual resource for her paintings, show a consummate interest in the details of everyday life in Jerusalem. One outstanding example is “Four Soldiers.” Two white-stockinged chassidim trudge up a narrow street in the old city parallel to two IDF soldiers on patrol, automatic rifles slung across their backs.


While the message that both military might and religious piety are necessary for the Jewish state is quickly ascertained, the complexity of composition encourages further scrutiny. Two arches, each slightly different, join the pairs. The green khakis contrast just enough with the black and white traditional clothing to maintain separation. In fact the tension-filled contrasts, at first uniting and then separating, emerge as a running leit-motif that animates the image. The soldiers are in sunlight and yet directly under an awning, while the opposite is true of the chassidim, in a well-lit shadow open to the sky above. Even though both pairs are seen from behind, their body language indicates they are equally engrossed in their private worlds, almost oblivious of each other. Together and yet separate they guard the city.


It is perhaps the fresh perspective on Jewish life that animates Roth’s best work, making us reassess the familiar. “Men at the Wall” is easily the most intriguing painting in the show for this very reason. We are initially seduced by the stock image of pious Jews praying at the Western Wall. They are supplicating, pleading, saying Tehillim and confiding to G-d their innermost needs. Emerging from the afternoon shadows the four primary figures, each attired in a long beckesheh and black hat, face the Wall. Above them, the familiar foliage spouts from the crevices in the ancient stones. Superficially, a totally predictable image. But it is in the details, that a much more complex and emotional meaning emerges.


Playing again on contrasts, Roth has set up two opposing movements that express an optimistic understanding of what actually occurs during a visit to the Wall. The men face in, implore into what appears to be unyielding stone, in an ordered assault on Divine distance. In response the Wall blooms, the foliage bursts out, practically erupting in green, yellow and white blossoms showering the pious with symbolic verdant sustenance. A dialogue has been established affirming the faith that G-d indeed answers prayers. Anchoring this visual conversation is the red velvet, covered-bimah in the lower left, at once representing Torah and, its aron-like shape in line with the shadowed wall, death. One third of the image reminds of mortality while the majority is a dialogue that establishes meaning in Jewish lives and gives hope for the future.


Through the pleasure of picture making, Chava Roth forces us to take notice of unexpected meanings and observations that slowly but surely emerge from the everyday. The pleasure of the excursion to the prize of meaning is well worth the trip.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/chava-roths-meanings/2006/01/25/

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