Monday, November 28, 2005

Does our sefer torah have an extra letter(s)?

Rashi in last week's parsha (Chayei Sarah) comments on the pasuk (25,6) ולבני הפילגשם that פילגשים is written חסר and therefore we learn out that Avraham only had 1 pilegesh Hagar. The only problem is that in our sifrei torah it is actually written ולבני הפילגשים with the extra י (and therefore the drasha is not valid). In other words either our sifrei torah have an extra letter or Rashi's is missing one.

This is not the only case either. R' Akiva Eiger (Shabbos 55a) collects over 20 cases from all over Shas, medrashim, etc. where our mesora differs from either Chazal's or the Rishonim.

The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 275 at the end) quotes a Rashba who refers to this Rashi and says that if there is a conflict we go after the majority.

In short, while our mesora is very good it is not perfect and there are places where our sifrei torah are different then what Chazal and/or the Rishonim had.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Avos and their children

Both Avraham and Yitzchak had children who were not their spiritual heirs. Only Yaakov of the Avos had all of his children follow in his footsteps.

I heard the following idea from the Rosh Yeshiva of KBY R' CY Goldvicht to explain this.

Each of the Avos was known for a specific midda.

Avraham passed down to us the midda of chessed. Chessed is giving to others, but unfortunately chessed can be used for aveira purposes as well. Too much chessed is not good either. The arayos are called chessed because the arayos means a person doesn't recognize any boundaries, what is mine is mine and what is your is mine. This is Yishmael who inherited this midda but took the midda of chessed to it's aveira side and was involved in arayos.

Yitzchak passed down to us the midda of gevura. Yitzchak was a gibor in the mode of איזהו גיבור הכובש את יצרו. However, Esav took this midda to it's negative side and was a murderer.

Yaakov Avinu was able to take these 2 middos of chessed and gevura and synthesize them together and be an איש אמת not going too far in any direction. Yaakov's midda was to nullify himself and do what the situation warranted and therefore all of Yaakov's children turned out to be tzaddikim.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Understanding Davening: רצה

There is an interesting machlokes on how to read the words of רצה. We say והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון. The question is how do we punctuate it. Should we read it as והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך. ואשי ישראל ותפילתם באהבה תקבל ברצון
והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך ואשי ישראל, ותפילתם באהבה

In other words, does ואשי ישראל go with the first sentence or the second. It is not just a dispute about the punctuation, it is really a dispute about what the words ואשי ישראל mean, the punctuation depends on the meaning.

This is based on a Gemara in Menachos 110 and a medrash. The gemara there writes that the malach מיכאל brings korbanos in heaven every day. The Tur quotes the medrash that this is what the words ואשי ישראל are referring to in רצה. The Tur has another explanation that when there is no Beis ha'Mikdash, our Tefilos take the place of Korbanos. We therefore pray that our Tefilos, which are now the ואשי ישראל, should be accepted. The Gra holds that ואשי ישראל is going on the korbanos that we no longer can bring like one opinion in Tosafos

The bottom line comes out like this.

Both opinions of the Tur - ואשי ישראל goes with ותפילתם because it either refers to tefila, or it refers to the Korbanos that Michael is bringing, in either case we want hashem to accept it b'ahava along with our tefilos.
Gra - ואשי ישראל goes with the previous statement of והשב את העבודה לדביר ביתך as it is referring to korbanos and we are expressing our tefilla to Hashem that the avoda of the Beis ha'Mikdash be restored speedily.

I don't believe that there is any clear psak about this, everyone should follow their minhag. What is important is that a person should always be consistent 1 way, and understand what the words mean based on how he is punctuating it.

I remember that Artscroll takes a stand 1 way (they have to punctuate it), I don't remember which way.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Elections and the Charedi parties II

Sharon's latest move to make his own party has IMHO helped the Charedim tremendously. How so? The answer is very simple, there are now 3 major parties who are going to split the vote. It is pretty safe to assume that no party will get more then 30-35 votes and therefore the Charedi parties will be indispensable to create a coalition whether it is Sharon making a government or Labor. Given that, they will be able to extract much of what they want in exchange for joining the coalition.

In addition, Sharon's new party really hurts Shinui. Many centrist voters will vote for Sharon rather then Shinui which is a very good thing for the religious public.

In truth, it will be very difficult for Sharon to make a government after the next election (assuming he wins). Given the following assumptions (which are very reasonable, you can play with the numbers a bit and things still won't really change):

Sharon - 30 seats
Labor - 25 seats
Likud - 20 seats
Right (National Union, Mafdal, etc) - 20 seats
Charedim - 13

If Amir Peretz keeps his word and doesn't join a unity government then Sharon can't make a coalition, the Likud, the right wing and Labor have 65 seats. Sharon will need to try to make a government with Labor and the Charedim and this will cost him a lot.

Another scenario for a government is if the Likud and the Right Wing get 48+ seats and make a coalition with the Charedim.

This is exactly why I believe that the Charedim are the big winners, in just about every scenario they are crucial to making a coalition.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The daughter of אליעזר and יצחק

Rashi quotes the Medrash that אליעזר really wanted his daughter to marry יצחק. In fact, אליעזר was a great man. Chazal describe him as "מושל בתורת רבו", "דולה ומשקה מתורת רבו לאחרים", and yet his daughter cannot marry יצחק. Why not? Chazal don't say that his daughter was not appropriate for יצחק, and in fact, the fact that אליעזר wanted her to marry יצחק would seem to indicate that she was worthy. Chazal explain (quoted by Rashi) that Avraham told him:
בני ברוך ואתה ארור ואין ארור מדבק בברוך
My son is blessed and you are cursed (Eliezer was a descendent of Canaan who was cursed by Noach) and the cursed cannot marry(?) the blessed

אליעזר was a great man, he servedAvraham Avinu faithfully and learned all his Torah. His daughter did nothing wrong. And yet, his daughter is ארור and cannot marry Yitzchak.

We see here that the Torah's hashkafa is very different from the Western one. In the West, who your ancestors are is supposed to be irrelevant, every person is supposed to be judged on their own merits. However, we see from Eliezer's daughter, that this is not the Torah view. She may very well have been suitable to marry Yitzchak, yet she cannot marry Yitzchak because she is descended from a line that is ארור. We see the same idea by a ממזר. A ממזר did nothing wrong, he had no choice in the matter and yet, he and his descendents can never marry a regular Jewish man. Our Western upbringing screams, it's not fair? The answer is that the Torah has it's own value system which is very divergent from the western one.

This relates to the discussion that Chardal is having Casualties of legitimate war where some of the commenters were very offended by his stating of the Torah position that there is nothing wrong with killing civilians in war. There is no doubt that from the Western perspective of war, killing civilians is wrong, immoral, offensive, etc. However, the fact is that the Torah has a different perspective on this and from the Torah perspective killing civilians is not only allowed but required (see the Rambam in Hilchos Melachim Perek 6).

We who grow up in the West and participate in the culture need to take particluar care that we internalize the Torah position and not the Western one.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Elections and the Charedi parties

Elections in Israel are coming soon, most probably in the February - March timeframe. Due to recent developments the Charedi parties are in big trouble.


From the founding of the state until the 1980's there was basically 1 Charedi political party, Agudat Yisrael. In the 1980's R' Shach encouraged the Sefardim to create Shas and he created Degel Hatorah. Today we have the following:
1. Aguda - represents the Chassidic communities. The Gerer Rebbe is the defacto head, most of their votes come from Chassidim, currently has 3 seats
2. Degal Hatorah - represents the Yeshivish Ashkenzai community. R' Elyashiv and R' Steinman are the Rabbinic leaders, almost all of their votes come from Ashkenazi Charedim, currently has 2 seats
3. Shas - represents the Sefardi community. R' Ovadya Yosef is the Rabbinic leader, a large portion of their votes comes from Masorti Sefardim, currently has 11 seats.

The Problems

The Ashkenazim

In the Ashkenazi world Degel and Aguda have traditionally run together for the Knesset. In the last Knesset they feuded and split. Last Thursday, I heard on an interview on Radio Kol Chai with R' Ravitz (a Degel Hatora MK ) who basically said that the political leaders could not get along and they would be running separately. This is a big problem for the following reason. The threshold to get into the Knesset is 2.5%, 3 seats. In other words a party which gets less then 3 seats is out. Lets take the following made up numbers. Each Knesset seat takes 50,000 votes. If Degel gets 120,000 votes and Aguda 130,000, running together as 1 list they would have 5 seats. However running separately they would both be out of the Knesset as neither received 3 seats. Given that they currently only have 5 seats together and they may lose votes because they were in the government during disengagement, there is a real possibility of this happening.

The Sefardim

Shas has always appealed to Masorti Sefardi voters and therefore has had much more success then the Ashkenazi Charedi parties. However, with the election of Amir Peretz as head of Labor this may end. Amir Peretz appeals to the same Sefardi Masorti voter. He is one of them. In fact, he is less threatening then Shas because he is not really religious and has no coercive religious agenda. There is another issue as well. For the past 2-3 years Shas has been campaigning as the party of the working man and the poor. Until now, they had no competition. However, again, Amir Peretz appeals to this sector as well. He is a populist who has a reputation of working for the little guy. Many voters may rather vote for him because he has a chance to be Prime Minister then Shas. Therefore, the general consensus is that Shas may lose up to half their seats leaving them with 5-6 seats.


Shinui, if they play their cards right may also benefit or at least keep their current strength. There are many middle class Labor voters who will never vote for Amir Peretz, they fear that he will turn the clock back, raise taxes etc. If Shinui campaigns as the party of the middle class they may have some success.

Doomsday Scenario

The doomsday scenario for the Charedi population is the following:

  • Degel and Aguda run separately and neither passes the threshold and therefore there is no Ashkenazic Charedi representation in the Knesset.

  • Shas gets only 5 or 6 seats

  • Shinui retains it's current strength 15 seats

This would be a complete and utter disaster for the Charedi world. The flow of money to the Yeshivos, kollelim etc. would be completely cut off. The Charedi population thinks the past few years under Netanyahu were tough, under this scenario things would get much tougher.

What are the odds of this happening? Not high but definately possible, stranger things have happened.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fascinating new article by R' Slifkin

The article is about whether elephants can jump (Tosafos in Kiddushin says that they can and science says that they don't) which may not interest everyone. However, he uses this as a jumping off point for a fascinating discussion of how to deal with this kind of conflict where the rishonim seemed to have used incorrect scientific information.

[Hat tip Hirhurim]

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What was so great about the עקידה?

Throughout history Jews have been moser nefesh including sacrificing their children. Why is Avraham Avinu praised so greatly? Was the עקידה a greater test then many of the things that happened in the holocaust? The same question can be asked about Yosef. He is highly praised for withstanding temptation with Potiphar's wife. Again, is this really so great? Don't people withstand these temptations daily?

The answer is based on what R' Chaim Volozhin writes in Ruach Chaim (his commentary to Pirkei Avos). He explains that Avraham Avinu's nisayon was truly much greater then ours. He was the first one to overcome this nisayon and brought this power down from heaven and passed it along to his descendents. The Avos when they passed a nisayon were able to implant that strength into our spiritual DNA, so that we now already have that strength (the Ramban makes a similar point when he says maaseh avos siman l'banim). In other words, Jews have the strength to be moser nefesh only because Avraham Avinu was moser nefesh and brought this strength down to earth and passed it down to his descendents. In fact, it turns out that for us the nisayon is not nearly as great as Avraham's nisayon was because Avraham Avinu and Yosef paved the way. As Newton stated If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. If we can overcome nisyonos it is because we are pygmies standing on the shoulders of the giants, the Avos.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What was the purpose of the Akeda?

Most of the mefarshim explain the Akeda as some kind of test of Avraham's emuna in Hashem. The Rashbam however, has a very different fascinating pshat which is very relevant to events in Eretz Yisrael.

The Rashbam says that whenever the Torah uses the phrase ויהי אחרי הדברים האלה it is referring back to what just happened (he brings numerous examples). Here also the Rashbam says, the Akeda is a reaction to what just happened, Avraham's treaty with Avimelech. Hashem was angry with Avraham for making a treaty with Avimelech and giving away part of Eretz Yisrael which Hashem had just promised to Avraham. Avraham made the treaty to protect his son. Therefore Hashem told him, go bring your son as a korban and see if your treaty protects him. Hashem's message is clear, he tells Avraham, all you need is to have faith in me, I will protect Yitzchak and his descendents and I and only I,will ensure that the Jewish People inherit EY. Nothing else (treaties, Presidents, etc.) can protect the Jewish People and EY except for Hashem.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Was Avraham correct in going to Egypt?

In this past week's parsha (Lech Lecha) there is a famine in כנען and Avraham goes down to Egypt. Rashi comments that the famine was only in כנען and it was one of the ten tests that Hashem tested Avraham with and he passed. The Ramban however disagrees. The Ramban writes that Avraham made a mistake in going to down Egypt and then he made a further mistake in telling the Egyptians that Sara was his sister. The Ramban says that he should have had faith in hashem in both cases.

Again, we see a very different approach between Rashi and the Rammban to the Avos.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Shimon Peres loses again

In a surprising upset Amir Peretz won the Labor Party primary to become the head of the Labor Party. Shimon Peres added to his long string of past defeats.

For those who don't know, Amir Peretz is the head of the Histadrut, Israel's main labor union, and is best know for the many strikes that he has led against the government. He is an economic populist, with a socialist outlook on the economy (he was against all of Netanyahu's reforms), is on the left with regards to the Palestinians and is a Sefardi from a development town.

I will play at being a political commentator and give my assessment of the winners and losers and what is in store ahead.

The Winners
  • Amir Peretz

  • Tomi Lapid and Shinui - The middle class will not vote for Amir Peretz. They know him as the person who ruined their vacation by closing the airport, prevented them from getting a passport to leave the country, closed the ports, etc. No one in my office even those who always voted Labor will vote for him. Shinui, will now try to pick up these voters and become the party of the middle class.

The Losers
  • Shimon Peres

  • Shas - Amir Peretz being a Sefardi and an economic populist will take many of Shas's Sefardi Masorti voters which will weaken Shas in the next election

  • Ariel Sharon - Sharon could deal with Shimon Peres, he will not be able to deal with Amir Peretz and there will be new elections in the next 4-5 months

What does this mean for the average person in Israel?
  • There will be early elections

  • Both Labor and Likud may split with Sharon, Peres, and other old guard Labor and Likud figures forming a new party.

  • The Charedi parties (mostly Shas) will lose seats and may face tough times especially if Shinui picks up seats

  • Tomi Lapid and Shinui (unfortunately, as they are rabidly anti-religious) have become relevant again.

One more note, the latest polls show that a union of the NRP (Dati Leumi) and the National Union (headed by Benny Elon) whould get 20+ seats, a huge improvement for the right wing over what the number of seats that they won in the last election. That many seats will give them a tremendous amount of power, it will be difficult to form a government without them.

The next few months will be fascinating to watch as everyone jockeys for position in the elections, unfortunately, this is very bad for the economy because there will be no 2006 budget until after the elections.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Belzer Rebbe tells his Chassidim to learn a trade and go out to work

In last weeks Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew edition, Parshas Noach) they had a long piece about the Belzer Rebbe's post Simchas Torah address (this is a tradition in Belz that right after Simchas Torah the Rebbe gives an address about the important topics for the new year) to his Chassidim. It was a very interesting piece and one of the things that he talked about was learning and kollel. I will now paraphrase what he said as reported in Mishapacha.

While learning in kollel is very important, everyone needs to learn a trade that they can support themself and their family with. Every avrech should take a few hours a day while learning in kollel and learn a trade. After a year or 2 of kollel every avrech needs to evaluate his situation, those that are not succeeding need to go out and make a living in their trade.

I see that the Jerusalem Post (Hassidim to study 'secular' trades) reported about this as well, their version is a bit different then Mishpacha, but the bottom line is the same, the Belzer Rebbe is telling many of his Chassidim (except those who are very talented in learning) to learn a trade and go to work.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the Charedi world responds.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

When do we start saying ותן טל ומטר לברכה?

In EY we started saying it tonight on ז' חשון. Outside of EY we start 60 days after the tekufa, which today is assumed to be December 4th or 5th. This calculation has always bothered me greatly for the following reason. If you look at the Beis Yosef (and all the other poskim from that time)you will see that he writes that 60 days after the tekufa was November 22. However, the later acharonim all say, that was based on the Julian calendar, but now, since the world changed to the Gregorian calendar which meant that when they changed they skipped 12 days, we start on December 4th. I don't know much about these issues, but this seems very difficult to me. Those 12 days were a 1 time adjustment because the Julian calendar was not accurate enough, if so why should the 60 days from the tekufa change (it was a 1 time thing to fix the calendar drift)? Isn't the tekufa still around September 21st? In short, the Gregorian calendar just fixed the drift of the Julian calendar by skipping 12 days (once) and changing the leap year rules, why should that change when 60 days from the tekufa is?

I would really appreciate an answer or a pointer to someone who discusses this issue, this has bothered me for a long time.

Sara's oppression of Hagar

In next week's parsha (לך לך) the Torah tells us how Sara gives her maidservant Hagar to Avraham and Hagar becomes pregnant. Hagar then looks down on Sara, Sara complains to Avraham and Avraham tells her, do what you want with Hagar. The pasuk (ט"ז,ו) then states ותעניה שרי ותברח מפניה Sara oppressed her (Hagar) and she ran away .

The Ramban in a very short but important comment states that Sara's behavior towards Hagar was improper and in fact an aveira. Avraham's acquiescense to her behavior was an aveira as well. The Ramban then says that this behavior/aveira had ramifications for the Jewish people as a whole, because of Sara's oppression of Hagar, Hagar's child, Yishmael, was given permission to oppress the Jewish people.

We see 2 important lessons from this Ramban.
1. The root cause of the Arab hatred towards us is Sara's oppression of Hagar (very similar to מעשה אבות סימן לבנים which the Ramban says many times in Bereishis)
2. The Ramban was not afraid to say that Sara (and Avraham) sinned here.

Note: many other commentators disagree with the Ramban and offer various explanations as to why what Sara did was not a sin (for a summary of these see the Artscroll commentary, in addition see the Netziv who directly argues on the Ramban).

Sunday, November 06, 2005

What was the חטא of the דור הפלגה?

The Ran in his Derashos (Drasha א) has an interesting explanation. He explains that really they did no sin and that there was no punishment. He says that they wanted to have 1 world government. This is not an aveira but it is something that Hashem does not want. 1 world government means that there is nowhere to run. If Nimrod had ruled the world Avraham would have had nowhere to go. Therefore Hashem split them up and created nations and languages so that there would always be somewhere for the believers in Hashem to run to. The Ran writes that this has applied throughout history to the Jewish people up to and including his time. We know that from the Ran's time until today the same thing has applied. Whenever we were kicked out of 1 country a different country took us in.

Based on this, we should be concerned about the UN and the push to 1 world government. As the Ran says this is not Hashem wants and is bad for the Jews.

Edited on 11/8 to fix some minor mistakes

Name a street in Lakewood

The right to name a street in Lakewood is being auctioned off on EBay. Right now it is only $1200. EBay: Rights to name a street in Lakewood NJ

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Melacha of בורר

I would like to present a fundamental machlokes about בורר which will hopefully give people new insight into the melacha of בורר. Note, this post does not go into any questions relating to practical halacha.

The Baal Hamaor in Perek Haoreg writes that even though in general a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה is פטור, בורר is an exception because the definition of the melacha of בורר is taking פסולת from אכל which is a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה and therefore the general principle of מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה is פטור doesn't apply to בורר.

The Ramban in Shabbos ק"ו: disagrees and claims that בורר is a מלאכה שצריכה לגופה.

What is the machlokes?

It would seem that the machlokes is what did the Torah prohibit when it prohibited בורר? Did it prohibit the action (selection) or the result (making the food better like the melacha of cooking)?

The Baal Hamaor holds that the melacha of בורר is the action of selection. This is why he calls it a מלאכה שאין צריכה לגופה because the thing that you are doing the melacha on, the פסולת you don't want.

The Ramban on the other hand holds that בורר is a prohibition of making the food better (purifying it), therefore it is a מלאכה שצריכה לגופה as the melacha relates to the food which you want.

There are a number of very important נפקא מינא based on this. I will mention 2 here.

1. Is there a prohibition of Borer where the items are clearly separate distinct items (e.g. socks)?

The אור שמח states that the prohibition of בורר doesn't apply where the items are separate items even if they are mixed up. The only time there is an issur of בורר is where the 2 things blend into 1. A good example is chulent, all the different components blend in and it is 1 chulent, to pick out the beans would be בורר. However, socks are clearly identifiable items and therefore there is no בורר.

The other poskim disagree with the אור שמח and hold that there is בורר in this case as well.

The machlokes could be this machlokes. The אור שמח understands בורר like the Ramban, the issur is to make the food better. By clearly identifiable distinct items like socks, there is no תיקון. If I have blue socks and black socks mixed up, if I take out all the black socks I have not improved the blue socks in any way shape or form. The blue socks remain the same old blue socks that were there before I took out the black socks. Since the issur of בורר is to improve the food here there is no בורר as I have not improved the blue socks. Only in something like chulent, where if I take out the thing I don't like I have improved the chulent is there בורר.

The other poskim hold like the Baal Hamaor that the issur is the act of selecting. Therefore there is no difference between socks and chulent.

2. If the פסולת is more then the אכל can you take out the פסולת? Tosafos say no, since the פסולת is greater taking out the אכל is the normal way of בורר. The Ramban disagrees and always allows you to take out the אכל.

This also can be explained based on the above. Tosafos hold like the Baal Hamaor, the action of selecting is prohibited, therefore where the normal way is to take the food that is prohibited. The Ramban is לשיטתו that the issur is making the food better. Therefore you can always just select the food.

This is clearly a fundamental machlokes and needs to be applied to all of hilchos בורר. The 2 נ"מ that I listed are just the tip of the iceberg.