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November 27, 2015 / 15 Kislev, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘rashi’

Pesach’s Dusty Windows (Part Four)

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

For the past several columns I’ve been focusing on “windows” – albeit dusty windows that block our vision and prevent us from looking out and seeing the reality of our Jewish lives.

These windows are everywhere; they encompass our Yom Tovim and all events that befall us. These windows speak. They send us messages. But our ears do not hear. Our eyes do not see. Our windows are covered with layers of thick dust that have accumulated over the millennia.

We have just celebrated the wonderful days of Pesach when G-d broke the chains of our bondage and led us forth to Sinai and the Promised Land. We had beautiful Seders, and while at some point our eyelids may have become heavy with slumber, we forced ourselves to remain awake as we related the story and sang the songs of the Haggadah.

In the midst of our celebration, however, it never occurred to us to look out of our dusty windows, and after Yom Tov we returned to normal everyday life.

Yet the windows of Pesach are crucial. Through them we can see our bitter exile.  Yes, the Haggadah speaks loud and clear: In every generation there are those who stand ready to pounce upon us and devour us but Hashem saves us from their hands. But few of us look out our windows and ask, Why does Hashem have to save us? Why are they trying to devour us?

We fail to understand that all of Jewish history is a replay of sorts. “Whatever happened to our forefathers is a sign” – a message to their descendants concerning what will happen throughout their long and bitter exile.

Let’s dust off the windows and study that first bondage of Egypt – the bedrock of all our future suffering.

Joseph is in Egypt and becomes the country’s viceroy. He sends a message to his father, Jacob, to come join him with the entire family. Jacob comes and Joseph, along with his entire entourage – what in our day would constitute members of Congress, the president’s cabinet, and the elite media – goes to greet him.

Paradoxically, Joseph tells his father to present himself and the family to Pharaoh as shepherds. It’s an odd message, since the Egyptians, as Rashi notes, considered sheep to be sacred and held shepherds in disdain.

Why would Joseph wish to portray his family in such a negative light? Why would he wish to alienate them from Pharaoh and the Egyptian people?

Joseph, who had survived in Egypt for twenty-two years as a lone Jew, had become an expert in preserving Jewish life in exile. He knew that in order to protect his people from disappearing, he would have to settle them in their own community where they could adhere to their own traditions without being threatened by assimilation. But for that to happen, the Egyptians would have to keep Jews apart from the mainstream of Egyptian society and isolate them in their own neighborhood, hence Joseph’s instructions to Jacob. And indeed, a “Jewish city” arose – Goshen.

Thus, Joseph laid down one of the first principles of Jewish survival – a strong, self-contained Jewish community. The Jews prospered, but while they became a vital part of Egypt, they remained a nation apart. All this came to a dramatic halt with the death of the Jacob. This change is related in the Torah in so subtle a manner that the casual student would probably not even pick it up.

Every Torah portion in a sefer Torah either starts on a new line or is separated from the next portion by at least a nine-letter space. But the last portion of Genesis, Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26), in which Jacob’s demise is announced, is not separated from the previous portion (Vayigash), and is therefore known as a “stuma” – closed.  Rashi explains that “with the death of the patriarch, the eyes and hearts of the Jewish people closed – shut down due to the anguish of the bondage.”

Failing in Order to Succeed

Monday, August 19th, 2013

The rabbis teach that we can only truly understand Torah when we allow ourselves to fail at it (Gittin 43a). Unless we push ourselves to reach for deeper understanding, where we inevitably get it wrong before we can get it right, we will not grasp the very essence of the Jewish enterprise. Rashi here seems to think that it’s the public shame of getting it wrong (and the concomitant rebuke) that strengthens one’s intellectual rigor. It is not hard to think about giving constructive feedback (“rebuke”) when it comes to moral matters, but do we care enough about ideas that we (respectfully) challenge others when ideas are misinterpreted or misapplied? How much do we really value the marketplace of ideas and the assurance that we as individuals and as a society get it right?

History is full of examples of leaders who acknowledged that persistence in the face of failure was more important than individual failures. President Abraham Lincoln, whose army suffered many crushing defeats in the early years of the Civil War, said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen — I am concerned that you arise.” A century later, Robert F. Kennedy echoed the optimistic spirit of youth when he said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” Besides for being tragically assassinated, what these presidents have in common in that their causes lasted, their legacies carried on, and they are remembered as being among the greatest and most successful men to occupy the Oval Office.

Very often, one can be lured by the traps of conformism (just follow others’ ideas or practices) or isolationism (just follow one’s own marginal ideas and practices). Our job as Jews is to break free from these ploys for mediocrity. We must challenge ourselves and the status quo to reach higher by engaging with societal ideas but without blindly accepting them.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement) and founder and intellectual-spiritual leader in his own right, was anything but a conformist. He not only told his followers to be happy, but he also encouraged them to do silly things, highly unusual for a religious leader. Rebbe Nachman stated that each person had to fall in order to rise, and stressed the universality of this concept:

[E]ach person who fell … thinks that these words weren’t spoken for him, for he imagines that these ideas are only for great people who are always climbing from one level to the next. But truthfully, you should know and believe, that all these words were also said concerning the smallest of the small and the worst of the worst, for Hashem is forever good to all.

However, Rebbe Nachman went further, stating that it is “a great thing for a person to still have an evil inclination.” Even the tendency to evil could serve G-d, as people worked through these passions and eventually overcame them. To Rebbe Nachman, it seems, spiritual stasis is the only unacceptable path.

We must be willing to learn and debate with others. Ideas matter. Inevitably that will lead to some level of shame when we get it wrong, but the promise land afterwards is much greater. It offers a culture of more honest, informed, connected individuals who are willing to be vulnerable for the sake of truth and who are willing to be wrong in order to get it right. Our great rabbinic and presidential leaders wouldn’t have it any other way.

Who Were Yosef’s Eidei Kiddushin?

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Note to readers: This column is dedicated to the refuah sheleimah of Shlomo Eliezer ben Chaya Sarah Elka.

In this week’s parshah Yosef brings his two sons to his father Yaakov to receive blessings before his death. Rashi tells us that when Yaakov was about to bless Yosef’s sons the shechinah left him as a result of some of Yosef’s sons’ evil descendants. Yaakov then asked Yosef, “Who are these?” Rashi interprets this question to mean the following: from where did they come from that they are not worthy to receive blessings? Yosef’s answer: they are my children that Hashem gave me “bazeh – in this.” Rashi explains that Yosef showed Yaakov the shetar kiddushin and kesubah. Rashi elucidates that Yaakov’s question was based on the assumption that they were not born from kedushah – to which Yosef showed him that he married Asnas and had a proper kiddushin and nissu’in.

Many Acharonim discuss how Yosef’s kiddushin was valid, when the Gemara in Kiddushin (65b) clearly states, “ein davar shebe’ervah pachos mishtayim – any matter relating to ervah must have two [kosher] witnesses in order to be valid.”

The sefer, Yitziv Pisgam, authored by the Klausenburger Rebbe, suggests that perhaps Yosef did kiddushin via hoda’as ba’al din (admitting that they married). He suggests that this is the meaning of the word “bazeh” that Yosef used, for the Torah source that one’s admission is acceptable as testimony is from the pasuk in Parshas Mishpatim: “ki hu zeh.” Therefore Yosef’s answer to his father that he performed kiddushin using hoda’as ba’al din is derived from the word “zeh.”

However, the Gemara in Kiddushin 65b discusses whether hoda’as ba’al din would suffice for kiddushin. Regarding monetary matters, if one admits that he owes money his testimony outweighs the testimony of even 100 actual witnesses. But whenever his admission affects others, he is not believed. The Gemara says that regarding kiddushin one’s admission affects others – and is therefore not believed.

The Rishonim disagree as to whom the admission affects. Rashi (Kiddushin 65b) and Tosafos (Gittin 4a) say that it affects the relatives of the man and woman, with the relatives now forbidden to the new couple. The Rashba writes that it affects all the men in the world who cannot marry her since she is a married woman. However, according to both explanations, hoda’as ba’al din would not have been applicable to Yosef. So how was his kiddushin valid?

I want to suggest that prior to mattan Torah this halacha would have been different. The Rambam writes in Hilchos Ishus 1:1 that before mattan Torah, if a man and a woman would agree to marry and wanted to live together they would simply live together. The act of living together was a union that rendered a woman as married, forbidding her to be with anyone else. Many believe that bnei Yisrael, prior to mattan Torah, only had a status of Yisrael l’chumrah. Since Yosef and Asnas could have simply lived together, thereby rendering her as forbidden to the entire world (as bnei Noach), there was no problem that their hoda’ah would deem her forbidden – since they could have forbade her without kiddushin.

This suggestion only fits according to the Rashba, who explained that the people affected by hoda’as ba’al din of kiddushin are all the men in the world who the woman becomes forbidden to as a result of their admission. Since they have the ability to forbid her without their admission, they can also do so by admitting that they are married. However, according to Rashi and Tosafos, the relatives of the man and woman would not become forbidden to them if they would simply live together. So we still need to explain how, in their views, the kiddushin was valid.

Perhaps I can suggest another solution to answer the question in accordance with Rashi and Tosafos’s view. According to many, bnei Yisrael, prior to mattan Torah, had the status of bnei Yisrael. But they had to undergo a gerus process in order to achieve that status. The Maharal (Gur Aryeh, Parshas Vayigash 46:10) says that even though they were born to a mother who had already performed the gerus process, the offspring would have to convert as well. A ger is considered as not related to his biological relatives. The Maharal explains that this is how Shimon was allowed to marry Dina, his sister from his mother and father – as they were not related (they were gerim). It also explains how Yaakov married two sisters.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/who-were-yosefs-eidei-kiddushin/2012/12/26/

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