Thursday, March 16, 2006

Understanding the חטא העגל

The question is obvious, how could the Jewish people who had just seen all the ניסים and were mekabel the Torah turn to avoda zara so soon after?

The Beis Halevi explains as follows. Beni Yisrael really made the עגל l'shem shamayim. They were looking for a way to worship Hashem after they thought that Moshe Rabbenu was gone. They thought that they could make up their own way of worshipping Hashem and use the עגל as an intermediary/replacement for Moshe Rabbenu. They were not worshipping the עגל per se, rather they wanted to worship Hashem through the עגל. They wanted to invent a new way of worshipping Hashem not found in the Torah. This was exactly their sin. After Matan Torah, we are not allowed to create new ways to worship hashem. Even more then that. The Beis Halevi says, eveen if a person knows that doing x will do great things in shamayim, if it is prohibited by the Torah he cannot do it. This is contrast to pre matan torah where the Avos were allowed to be creative in their worship. One answer for how was Yaakov allowed to marry 2 sisters is that he knew that for him it was the right thing, that marrying 2 sisters is what he needed to do to carry out his mission. Since this was pre matan torah he was allowed to do that.

This Beis Halevi is very important for our times. What we need to do is serve Hashem not feel good or spiritual. Today, people want to feel good/spiritual. There is nothing with wrong with that, but it has to take a back seat to serving Hashem and keeping the Torah. There is absolutely no heter to violate even the smallest issur for any "spiritual" activity.

This is one of RHS's points against many of the innovations in certain MO circles. Instead of focusing on avodas hashem and what the Torah says the person needs to do, a focus is put on the person feeling spiritual (והמבין יבין).


dilbert said...

I have to respectfully disagree. The vort is nice, but the analogy does not hold. Making an egel clearly violates 'lo ta'aseh lecha pesel'. If I count as one of the mivinim, my guess is that you are referring to women's tefilla groups. Which particular commandment are they violating? Is it that frequently cited 'berov am hadrat melech' that gets totally forgotten when breakoff minyanim and cholent minyanim get formed? Or the talmudic dictum 'chadash assur min haTorah'. oops, sorry, that is only 200 years old.

I think one needs to distinguish between spirituality OUTSIDE of halacha, and spirituality within the confines of halacha.

Maybe a more apt analogy would be the example the egel episodes gives of what happens when a group of spiritually immature people, who have looked to one leader for the answers to all their questions, and have not developed the ability to think for themselves, all of a sudden think they have lost that leader, and how quickly they can stray from the path.

bluke said...

Women's tefilla groups are actually a good example of this principle. The halacha unequivocably prefers tefilla b'tzibur over any other tefilla. Women who go to a women's tefilla group are forsaking the best tefilla according to the halacha for something clearly inferior according to halacha because they believe the women's tefilla group is more spiritual.

dilbert said...

Oh please. What about making women leave shul early so they wont mix with men? are they concerned about the women having tefilla b'tzibur? Women for many years never went to shul in many communities, and many shuls had no ezrat hanashim, and now tefilla b'tzibur for women is an overarching principle? How about the minority opinion that the ezrat nashim doesn't even count and so the women are not metzaref with the kahal? now tefilla betzibur is not even a possibility for women.

Can you go to your friend's house, and learn, and eat shalos shudes there? Well, if you had gone to shul, you would have been able to bench with a mezuman. I haven't come across that issur.

In any halachic decision, there are pluses and minuses that need to be weighed. Pluses for the women's tefilla group: more kavvanah, more learning. minuses: no tefilla b'tzibur. (I believe the issues of tefilla b'tzibur were covered extensively by the Rabbi's Frimer in their article in Tradition, circa 1998)

Its interesting that tefilla b'tzibur for women was never a concern until women's tefilla groups, makes one wonder if it is just trying to find a halachic basis for what is essentially a public policy arguement.

ADDeRabbi said...

the beis halevi is nice, but it's not what, like, the chumash says.

bluke said...

You are mixing in a whole bunch of irrelevant issues. Women are not chayav to go to shul and daven with a minyan. However, if a woman decides she does want to go to daven and now has 2 choices, a regular minyan or a women's tefilla group she needs to make a choice. The halacha is unequivacally clear that tefilla betzibur is the best way to daven. Therefore if a woman picks the womens tefilla group she is ignoring what the halacha states is the best option and instead doing what she feels serves her spirituality best. This is what the Beis Halevi thinks was the chet haegel.

Both RHS and R' Bleich make exactly this argument. RHS writes:

It is true that women are not obligated to pray with a minyan (it is also a matter of debate whether men are obligated to do so). However, when women get all dressed up on Shabbos and leave their homes to pray in an organized service, and they choose to go to a WPG instead of a minyan, they are choosing a sub-optimal mitzvah over an optimal mitzvah; they are actively rejecting the more complete fulfillment for the lesser. If they stayed home, they are opting to pray alone rather than put in the effort to go to shul. However, when they put in that effort but go to a WPG instead of a synagogue, they are making a statement that they prefer the lesser fulfillment over the greater. They are figuratively being ma'avir al ha-mitzvos, stepping over a mitzvah. That, I believe, is sufficient reason to label a WPG a distortion of Torah principles. If most of the attendees of a WPG are actively choosing it over a minyan, the WPG is an instrument of misguided Torah principles, a teacher of distorted values.

R' Bleich makes the same point:
Women who pray with a minyan have a guaranteed better reward for their prayers than women who pray with a Women's Prayer Group. If women are willing to take on the burden of leaving their homes and going to a place of prayer (i.e. they are willing to invest their money in an opportunity) and choose the lesser option of praying without a minyan (i.e. place their money in the opportunity that gives a lower return), they are making a foolish choice. Anyone who advises them to do so is giving bad advice, with all of the attendant implications.

...Assuredly, the guaranteed benefits of tefillah be-zibbur outweigh those of any possible subjective experience.

bluke said...


I never said it was. However, I think that it is an important message for our time.

dilbert said...

In my shul we used to have a bunch of ladies who would come to shul, and go set up kiddush. I dont think they ever actually set foot in the sanctuary. I dont think anyone ever said anything to them except 'thank you for cutting the kugel.' Apparently no one told them it was assur to come to shul and not daven.

There are two points here:

1. With great respect to RHS and R. Bleich, I do not think that there is unanimity that tefilla b'tzibbur for women is such an important issue that it trumps anything else. I have never read that the Rav objected to women's tefilla groups on these grounds. t'filla b'tzibbur is a hidur mitzva, and the obligation is for men to make sure there is a tzibbur.

Are there any analogies in other areas of halacha?

can you go buy a ugly etrog when you could have bought a beautiful one?

can you give tzedaka face to face when you could have given it annonymously?

The list can go on and on. The point is that an awful lot of halachic emphasis has been placed on a hidur mitzvah, and I am pretty sure there are competent authorities who dont think there is any involvement for women in tefilla b'tzibur anyway(I have to look it up).

2. Even if one accepts the hidur mitzva and it is important, the issue is also one of selective application of the principle. There are many many other situations where this could be applied, and isn't. For example, as mentioned in the first place, going out and not davening in a minyan or skipping an opportunity to bentch with 10. Davening in school(bais ya'akov- all the girls daven together, maybe they should go daven with a minyan every morning). There are many many instances where one could apply this principle, but it doesn't get applied.

All of which leads me to believe that the issue of t'fila b'tzibur for women is a just a shver halachic excuse for what is a a public policy decision. I actually am pretty ambivalent regarding women's tefilla groups. But it kills me to see rebbayim that I respect turn themselves inside out and into knots trying to find a glimmer of a reason to say it is assur. Much better they should admit that there really isn't a solid specific halachic ground on which to object, but say that they think it shouldn't be done because they dont think it is right 'halacha cach aval aiyn mor'in kayn'.

dilbert said...

R. Eliezer Berkovitz- "Their(the woman's) prayers in a synagogue do not change in essence and do not become part of the tefillat tzibbur. Indeed, women are ouside the commmunity, and even in the synagogue their prayer remains tefillat yachid, the private prayer of an individual. There is indeed a great deal of difference between communal and individual prayer, but only for men. Only for them is tefillah be-zibbur of greater importance than tefillat yachid. For women, however, tefillah betzibbur is an impossibility."

bluke said...

That statement from R' Berkowitz has no source to the best of my knowledge and is certainly not normative halacha.

bluke said...

That statement from R' Berkowitz has no source to the best of my knowledge and is certainly not normative halacha.

Anonymous said...

"I do not think that there is unanimity that tefilla b'tzibbur for women is such an important issue that it trumps anything else."

actually once there already are ten people, it's hard to make a distinction between tefila betzibur for men and women. All the reasons that apply for men daveningin a tzibur that already exists apply to women. As is well known, there is considerable reason to think tefila betzibur is only strongly encouraged for the 11th man, not mandatory. For those who pasken that tefila betzibur is not an absolute chiyuv, it would seem that that only practical and sociological factors led to it being emphasized for men and not for women.

dilbert said...

I suggest you read this:

It is the article by Rabbis Dov and Aryeh Frimmer that was printed in Tradition 1998.

section B 1 addresses the issue of tefilla b'tzibbur. They basically refute RHS point by point.

dilbert said...

by the way, you say that R. Berkowitz's statement has no source. Does that mean that you think he made it up? Your quotes from RHS and R. David Bleich also did not give sources. I assumed that they were basing themselves on sources and tradition. Do you deny R. Berkowitz the same courtesy?

bluke said...

I don't deny him the same courtesy. The statement by Chazal about tefilla betzibur is well know. To say that women can never be included in tefilla betzibur is a big chidush and needs a source

bluke said...

Their argument is not very convincing to me. The fundamental point is that these women are giving up things that Chazal stated were very important (e.g. tefilla betzibur and devarim shebkedusha) and which are objectively good, for subjective spiritually. This does not mean that women should not pray at home. It means that when given a choice between 2 alternatives, 1 objectively sanctioned by Chazal and the other subjective spiritually the first alternative should be chosen.

dilbert said...

Where can you point to Chazal saying that tefilla b'tzibbur is important on a participatory basis specifically for women? And if the GRA and others are telling women to stay home and not go to shul, doesn't that say something about how much they value the women's contribution to or benefit from tefilla b'tzibbur? To paraphrase your arguement, given the choice of tefilla b'tzibbur and staying home, the GRA said to stay home. Between davening b'yachid and b'tzibbur, the GRA said b'yachid. Doesn't this show a tremendous lack of value on women's tefilla b'tzibbur?

bluke said...

I do not believe that the Gra is really relevant here. Women are not chayav to daven with a minyan according to anyone and therefore the Gra recommended that they stay home for various reasons which may or may not apply today.

RHS and R' Bleich are making a different point. They are saying, once a woman decides to go out of her house and go to some kind of prayer group she needs to make a choice about where to go. Here they claim that the halacha greatly prefers tefilla betzibur over any other tefilla and therefore if a woman is making the effort to leave her house and daven she should go to a shul and not settle for a second best experience

dilbert said...

As I asked before, what is the source that tefilla b'tzibbur is better than b'yachid specifically FOR WOMEN?