Friday, October 30, 2009

Scraping a Car That's Parked Badly

Scraping a Car That's Parked Badly 
Rabbi Yisroel Belsky Shlita

My friend's wife went to a doctor's office, and the parking lot was full. Someone had parked a car right in the middle of two spaces, making it impossible for someone to park on either side of their parked car. My friend's wife tried to park in the narrow space next to this car anyway, and scratched the parked car slightly. Should she leave a note with her phone number, or did the person "bring it on himself" for being selfish in the way he parked, making it unnecessary to leave a note?


It's a close call. There is a halacha (Jewish law) that if someone hems you in, you're allowed to get out, even if it will cause damage to the other person: Meshaber v'nichnas meshaber v'yotzei ("breaking going in, breaking going out"). If someone fills up my driveway with bottles -this is a case in the Talmud - and I have to drive out, I could just drive out and crash across the bottles, or sweep them away. Nobody has the right to blockade the public domain, or my own domain, and you're allowed to push a blockade out of the way, even if it causes damage.

So there may be some justification for cutting into that space, given the fact that the person sort of blocked my access to it, but I don't think it's the same thing. It's not so straightforward. If they denied my access to the public domain, I'm allowed to force my way out. If the other car had been parked at the entrance to the parking lot, and the only way to get through is by squeezing between two cars, and if I inevitably scratch the parked car, I am exempt from any damages. I don't have to tell them anything because it's meshaber v'nichnas meshaber v'yotzei. On the other hand, I don't know if the right to park in the parking lot has the same privilege as getting access to the public domain. It's specifically when the reshus horabim (the public domain) is blocked off or you trap someone that this rule is applicable.


Then that's when there's ein breirah (no choice). But here there was a breirah (choice).


Here there's a breirah, to park outside in the street. It often happens that a parking lot is full. And if this fellow hadn't used up the extra parking space, someone else would have definitely taken it. The only reason the space is here is because he was parked like that. So the owner of the parked car did not bring it on himself. She surely wouldn't have gotten the space, because if the space had been there, someone else would have taken it, because the parking lot was full. It's absolutely out of the question to try to squeeze in, if you think that there's a probability that you'll damage the parked car.


But there could have been two parking spaces, and he parked right in the middle, so that only one car is taking the place of two cars.


The rest of the parking lot is all full - right? There is a heavy demand right now. So if he would have moved over and parked within the confines of one space, so somebody else would have already taken the second space. So the parked car never denied you a space. Only now it appears that a space has been denied, but in fact someone else surely would have gotten it, because it's hard to imagine that a lot where 700 cars have parked wouldn't have had 701 cars parked. It's full, so that means that last space would have been filled. You can't look at the person who parked the car there as your enemy who denied you a space. Therefore you have to go park in the street, and you should not do anything to risk damaging their car.


So the answer is, you should leave a note?




At my company's pantry, I wanted to wash for bread, but didn't have a cup. There was a coffee mug there, but I had no idea who it belonged to. Can I use it to wash for bread? Even though I will dry out the cup after using it, isn't there a possibility that the owner of the cup could come by while I'm using it, and ask why I'm using his cup? Is that a potential chillul Hashem (desecration of G-d's name)?


My car hit the rear fender of another car. I asked the other person to settle this between us, without the insurance companies, and I gave him my phone number. He got an estimate of $400, and I got an estimate of $200. He said he would think about it. Three weeks have elapsed since I heard from him. It's remotely possible that he lost my phone number. Should I call him? 

Glimpses of Jewish Femininity (Part 1 of a Series)

Glimpses of Jewish Femininity (Part 1 of a Series) 
Mrs. Leah Kohn and
Adapted from a lecture by Rebbetzin Tehilla Jaeger

The Torah holds women in high esteem and, as such, assigns them responsibilities commensurate with this status. What are the feminine qualities behind the Torah's high expectations of Jewish womanhood, and how might we connect to the paradigms our sages describe?

Our next several classes address these questions. Each installment surveys Biblical sources that explore aspects of Jewish femininity, including its potential to inspire and empower others, and its role in personal fulfillment.


Ashet Chayil / "A Woman of Valor" is an ode of praise to the righteous woman, written by King Solomon in honor of his mother, Batsheva. The text, from the Book of Proverbs (31:10-31), is a compendium of the many facets of Jewish femininity. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to catalogue the attributes embedded in Ashet Chayil / "A Woman of Valor" the text provides an appropriate point of departure for our essay.

Line by line, Ashet Chayil / "A Woman of Valor," follows the letters of the Hebrew alphabet ("alef-bet"), with each line corresponding to one letter. The "alef-bet" format is Solomon's way of comparing the all-encompassing virtues of the righteous woman to the completeness of the entire alphabet. The deeper significance of the "alef-bet" also finds its way into Ashet Chayil/"A Woman of Valor." Our sages say that God combined the spiritual powers vested in each letter of the "alef-bet" as building blocks for the universe. Through the "alef-bet" structure of his text, Solomon establishes a connection between the creative potential of the Hebrew alphabet and the Jewish woman who like the letters is also a builder - her edifice being the Jewish people.

Adam's Rib and The Essence of Feminine Modesty

The Book of Genesis describes how God creates Eve:

"...[God] took one of [Adam's] sides and He filled in flesh in its place. Then Hashem God fashioned the side that He had taken from man into a woman" (Genesis 2: 21-22).

The midrash states that God's decision to use Adam's rib has a significance on par with the creation of Eve, herself. That God chooses the rib over any other part of the body suggests a great deal about His definition of ideal femininity. The rib is fundamental to structure and strength. Indeed it protects some of the most important organs of the human being. In spite of its critical function, however, the rib is concealed from view, and its importance is not readily apparent. The very making of first woman, specifically from the rib, therefore imbues Jewish femininity with hidden power and vitality.

On a practical level, this brand of indispensable yet unseen strength is expressed through the quality of, "modesty." The midrash explains that with each stroke of Eve's creation, God reiterates His desire for her to be modest. Beyond Eve, the prophet Michah (6:8) includes modesty as one of three fundamental keys that unlock the Jewish people's potential to fulfill what the Torah asks of them:

"What does Hashem require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God."

Jewish modesty is so vital, so intrinsic to the Jewish woman that it influences speech, interpersonal conduct, mode of dress and private behavior. (The question of why this is even more important for women than for men will be addressed in the next class). In the same way a great person is all the more impressive when not calling attention to himself, the ideal Jewish woman is admired for the fact that she is modest in spite of her many attributes. Judaism holds modesty in high regard based on the fact that good deeds performed out of the public eye are more likely to have been done with pure intentions. Thus, Jewish modesty, as expressed by the way God created first woman, is replete with understated power and integrity.

Besides the attribute of modesty that Eve shares with women of all time, she also imparts a gift for fulfilling things incomplete. God's very creation of her is a response to the fact that Adam - already a spiritually exquisite being - will not be spiritually complete without Eve. God looks at Adam's magnificence and says, "It is not good that man be alone." In this seemingly perfect picture, God still considers Adam incomplete - until he is joined by Eve.

Thus, Eve brings to the Jewish woman an ability to guide others in a fundamental way. This capability is alluded to in one of the initial moments of Eve's creation, when God closes the incision from which He has extracted Adam's rib:

"So Hashem God cast a deep sleep upon the man and he slept; and He took one of his sides and He filled in flesh in its place" (Genesis 2:21).

The midrash explains that the phrase, "He filled in flesh," means that God heals all flesh under a woman's influence. A woman's impact can be so all encompassing and so powerful, that it seals in an inspiring fashion those with whom it comes into contact. Given its inherent subtlety, Jewish femininity may not leave an obvious imprint. Nonetheless, its effect is unmistakably deep.

Rebetzin Tehilla Jaeger has inspired scores of Jewish women worldwide. Her lecture series, "Ayelet HaShachar - Woman to Woman Inspiration," is available on cassette. Titles include, "Speech - the Power to Recreate Your World," "Marriage - the Exquisite Approach," "Our Three Mitzvot - Wellsprings of Renewal, " and "The Art of Parenting." For further information and a complete list of cassette offerings, please phone (718) 471-7141. 
To Support Project Genesis-

Lech Lechá

Lech Lechá 

[31 de Outubro de 2009/ 13 de Cheshvan de 5770]

 “Lech lechá meartzechá umimoladetchá umibeit avichá el haaretz asher areca”. Saia da sua terra e da sua pátria e da casa do seu e se dirija a terra que vou te mostrar.

Essas palavras que precisei conhecer de memória quando eu era aluno do Colégio Renascença indicam o início de uma revolução religiosa na narrativa bíblica. Deus se revela a Avram, nosso primeiro patriarca, e o convida a abandonar uma vida de idolatria, iniciando uma página nova na história da humanidade.

O chamado de Deus a Abrão fez com que ele desse origem ao Monoteísmo Ético e também ao nosso judaísmo. O Patriarca quebrou um importante paradigma e dirigiu-se à Canaã para começar uma nova filosofia religiosa.

Quando eu trabalho essa história com nossos alunos da Escola Lafer da CIP, nos perguntamos por que Deus chamava pessoas para importantes tarefas e hoje não nos chama para nada. Por qual motivo os personagens bíblicos recebiam mensagens de Deus para tarefas específicas e hoje precisamos tomar nossas próprias decisões de maneira autônoma.

Acredito que o ser humano deixou de compreender que o chamado de outro ser humano é um chamado de Deus.

No mundo contemporâneo passamos a nos preocupar com nossas necessidades individuais. Na melhor das hipóteses, cuidamos também de nossas famílias. Aquelas pessoas muito altruístas ainda se preocupam com suas comunidades. No entanto, são poucos os seres humanos que possuem empatia e defendem a dignidade de qualquer outro ser humano.

Que Deus nos ajude a compreender que o chamado do homem é sempre um chamado de Deus.

Shabat Shalom
Rabino Michel Schlesinger

Parshas Lech Lecha

Parshas Lech Lecha 
The Unique Level of Avraham

1. Continuous Commitment to Torah Mitzvos

We say every morning in the P'sukei D'zimra at the end of V'yivorach Dovid (and David Blessed Hashem...) "You are Hashem, the G-d, who chose Avram, took him out of Ur Kasdim, and gave him the name Avraham. And you found his heart faithful before You."[1] What is meant by the phrase "took him out?" We see from the Parsha that Hashem said to Avraham "Lech Lecha" or "Go for yourself..." from this we would think that there is a contradiction between what we say in the P'sukei D'zimra and the Parsha.

The Chazal explain that Ur Kasdim was the name of the kiln (in Kasdim) used to threaten Avram. As we learn, Avram was given an ultimatum by Nimrod to either bow to the idol or be thrown into the fiery kiln. Of course Avram did not bow to the idol and was thrown into the fire. Hashem performed a miracle and Avram emerged from the kiln unharmed. And as a result of Avram's great devotion to Hashem, which he demonstrated by not bowing to the idol, he was given the name Avraham, thus beginning his ascent into greatness. So we see from here that the Hashem miraculously "took" Avraham out of Ur Kasdim.

Clearly, Avraham passed an incredible test of faith and was saved and elevated to greatness; yet, we do not see that the Chazal sight the incident of Ur Kasdim as one of the ten tests faced by Avraham. This is one point that needs to be understood. Another point to be understood is Nimrod's reaction to the revealed miracle performed for Avraham. One would expect that after witnessing such marvels of Hashem, Nimrod should have prostrated himself and declared Hashem as the one and only G-d. Who could imagine a person being thrown into fire and emerging completely untouched? Yet we find that he did not react in this manner. Why?

Avraham had a brother named Haran, who also was in line waiting to come before Nimrod to be given the choice to bow or be thrown into the fire. Haran chose to wait and see what would happen to Avraham. He thought that if Avraham would go into the fire and perish then he would bow to the idol. If, however, Avraham emerged from the fire then he too would go into the kiln and not bow. So after Avraham appeared from the fire, Haran chose not to heed Nimrod's threat and he went into the fire. Only this time, Haran did not emerged as his brother. Nimrod observed this and concluded that there was nothing special about what happened to Avraham. Because he could see that both brothers did not bow to the idol yet only Avraham came back alive. He therefore was not compelled to change his ways and accept Hashem. But one must ask, Why did Avraham come out of the fire alive and his brother not? Avraham went into the fire because he was willing to give up his life for Hashem, while Hara n went into the fire simply because he believed that Hashem would perform a miracle for him just as He had done for Avraham. This is why Haran did not come out alive. Hashem only performed the miracle for Avraham because he was willing to die rather than bow to the idol. So this makes our question even greater. Why is this not counted as one of the ten tests faced by Avraham?

The answer lies in the following. We find that Jews throughout history from varied backgrounds were willing to give up their lives rather than succumb to idol worship. The observant Jew as well as the loosely affiliated Jew are both willing to die rather than bow to an idol. Yet we see that observing Shabbos properly is not universally undertaken. Even though observing the Shabbos is a testimony to believing that Hashem created the world. If one is willing to give up their life, which is most precious, for the sake of Hashem then why not be as committed to observing Shabbos properly? There are many excuses for not seeing it correctly. Rabbi Meir Simcha explains that a task that can be completed quickly in a single action is much easier to perform than one, which is repetitive and ongoing. Jumping into the fire takes a second; however, observing Torah Mitzos such as Shabbos is ongoing. This requires one to be at a higher level. We can now begin to understand why the incide nt at Ur Kasdim is not listed as a test and Lech Lecha counts as the beginning of Avraham's challenges.

Jumping into the fire, as we said, is instantaneous. However Lech Lecha is an ongoing process for Avraham. Avraham must leave his land, family, and countrymen and live continuously with this commitment despite any feelings to have remained with him. This is an ongoing issue. In addition, after Avraham returns from the Akeidah his wife passes away and he must pay a tremendous sum of money to acquire a burial plot. One would not regard this as a reward for performing the selfless act of the Akeidah, yet we see that Avraham is not shaken by these events. He in some way was able to push these issues aside and have complete faith in Hashem. To live in a continuous state of faith and trust despite any adverse events is a true test. This level of commitment is exceptional. Avraham did not require any level of explanation or understanding. He negated himself completely and followed the will of Hashem continuously. This is why the instantaneous act of going into the fire is not re garded as one of the ten tests faced by Avraham.

The Parsha begins with, "Hashem said to Avram, 'Go for yourself from your land, from your relatives, and from your father's house...". Everyone is in agreement that this was one of the most difficult tests that Avraham faced. Yet, on the face of it, it is difficult to understand why this would be regarded as such as great test. We see from the Chazal and the Midrash, that the relationship that Avraham had with his father, relatives, and countrymen was not desirable in any way. At Ur Kasdim, it was Avraham's father Terach that informed Nimrod that Avraham had destroyed the idols. His father basically informed on him to the authorities to be killed. The Chazal also tell us that Abraham had to hide in a cave for thirteen years because his countrymen wanted to kill him for espousing monotheism. He was a fugitive in his own country. After thirteen years of hiding and after being thrown into the fire, Hashem tells Avraham Lech Lecha. One would think that Avraham would gladly le ave immediately given the circumstances. However, Avraham's leaving is considered one of his most difficult tests. How can we understand this? The question is made even stronger, because not only does Hashem tell Avraham to leave a land filled with people who hate him, but that he would be blessed, become a great nation, with children and wealth if he leaves. Does Hashem need to give all of these incentives to Avraham in addition to asking him to leave an untenable situation? What could have been holding back Avraham from simply fleeing immediately?

2. A Test for One Person is not a Test for Another

We find that Chazal label Adam one lacking in gratitude. Hashem asked Adam "Why did you eat from the tree?"[2] To this Adam responds, "Because of the woman You gave me."[3] Adam basically blames Hashem for his mistake despite all that Hashem had done for him. According to Chazal, Hashem therefore calls him an ingrate. We find that throughout our history when we have complained to Hashem he refers to the Jewish people as "Ingrates who are descended from an ingrate." If one were able to see things correctly one would be tremendously thankful to Hashem and not blame Him or complain. But what is it that determines if we are able to see things correctly or incorrectly. If a person is an ingrate and does not want to be beholden to Hashem, then one has a warped sense of reality. However, if one truly understands that we are continuous beneficiaries of Hashem's kindness then we would be beholden to Hashem to the nth degree on an ongoing basis. And a person would not deviate from Hashem's commandments in any way.

The Gemara teaches us that a child's obligation's to the parents, in terms of honoring them, stems from the fact that a child needs to be beholden to his parents. One would not be in existence had it not been for the parents. Therefore it is obligatory to honor one's parents. Despite the nature of the relationship between parent and child, one is still obligated. Hashem commands Avraham to leave his father and community and insists that he would not be successful in his attempts to help them reach any level of spirituality. Leaving was difficult for Avraham because he believed that he had an obligation to his father and his community. Avraham could not abandon them despite how terribly they treated him. Avraham viewed his obligation as a genuine debt to his father and community. A person would still owe money to his creditor despite how the creditor treats him. This is an indication of Avraham's greatness that regardless of how badly he was treated he still felt obligated . And this demonstrates Avraham's capabilities of being completely devoted to Hashem despite any hardships because he owes everything to Hashem. Therefore Avraham was conflicted between leaving and staying; however, when Hashem commanded him to leave he went immediately without question. This was Avraham's level of self-negation to Hashem. He was able to completely forget any feeling of obligation and indebtedness simply because Hashem told him to leave. This was the test- to what degree could Avraham subordinate his own sentiment of obligation.

If this test were given to an average person, they would have left without issue. There would not have been any hesitation to leave such a difficult situation. One would not even have the feelings of obligation to overcome. This was a test specific to Avraham.

The Chazal teach us that we should not pass judgment on our fellow Jew until we are able to put ourselves in their place. Just as we can see that this was a test for Avraham because of his unique level and not for the average person. We have no relevance to Avraham's level of indebtedness therefore this would not be considered a test for us. Only Hashem knows what a person is able to handle and overcome. Only He can judge what is a true test.

3. The Tremendous Potential of Every Jew

The Torah tells us that after Avraham arrived in Canaan, Hashem appeared to Avraham and said, "To your offspring I will give this land."[4] Through this statement, Hashem tells Avraham two points: firstly that he would have children and secondly that the land which Hashem promised to him would be his and his children's at this moment. The Torah goes on to say that Avraham immediately built and altar to "Hashem who appeared to him" in order to commemorate this event. [5] Rashi explains that the altar was built as a memorial to attest that Hashem promised Avraham children and that the land would be his. The Ohr Ha'Chaim states that Avraham built the altar to only commemorate Hashem's appearance to him. However, Avraham at the time was childless, 75 years old, and had no land because he left his homeland at Hashem's instruction. Even though Hashem reassured Avraham by promising children and land, this was secondary to Avraham compared with the mere appearance of Hashem. He w ished to express his thankfulness and excitement about the experience of Hashem's appearance and he therefore built the altar. The experience, to Avraham, was much greater then the promises. But does the Ohr Ha'Chaim's explanation contradict Rashi's commentary on the pasuk?

The answer is no. We are dealing with two separate items. For example, we can see from a story: A 100-year-old man went to a fellow Jew and said to him that Hashem had appeared to him and that Hashem promised him a child and that the entire country was his! The 100-year-old man then goes on to state that he is going to give charity in honor of Hashem appearing to him. The average person would ask, "What about the child? What about the land you were promised? Why no mention of these amazing promises?" People relate to physical reality - a child for example, perpetuates one existence, land represents wealth. The appearance of Hashem is less relevant. It is the promise, which is important. In terms of what the world at large is able to gain from seeing the altar built by Avraham - it is the promise of children and the land (as Rashi explains); however, the Torah is attesting to what the altar meant to Avraham. To Avraham it was the experience of Hashem's appearing to him. To Avraham Hashem was everything. Children and land were only a means to an end.

The Chazal tell us that every Jew must say to himself,"When will I be able to achieve what Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yakov achieved?" Meaning, the potential of every Jew is that of each of the Patriarchs. What do we aspire to in our generation?

We read in European Jewish history that the entire community would dress in Shabbos clothing and come out into the streets to greet a Torah sage when they would be visiting their community. This behavior was the same as when a king passed through the community. This attests the mindset, values, and type of upbringing that existed during that era. What was Avraham's mindset? For example, at the Akeida the challenge to Avraham was not that he had to slaughter his only son; but rather, Avraham clearly saw in Yitzhak the potential of being his successor to espouse Hashem's existence. Slaughtering Yitzhak would have ended all of Avraham's work in this world in terms of serving Hashem. This level of understanding is accessible to every Jew, while the world at large has almost no relevance to these concepts. This is why the altar built by Avraham from the perspective of the world was to commemorate the promise of children and land, while to the Jew it is meant to represent the s pecial experience of Hashem.

4. Measure for measure

We read about the war of the kings in this week's Parsha[6]. One of the kings defeated and captured by Avraham was the King of Sodom. As a captor, the King of Sodom arrogantly comes to Avraham and tries to dictate terms even though he was the defeated party. He suggests that Avraham should take the spoils of the war and that he should take the people. The King of Sodom's behavior was indicative of the arrogance and level of the people of Sodom. As it says in the Chazal the people of Sodom recognized Hashem but openly defied Him. What should have Avraham's response been to the king's request? Perhaps he should have killed him immediately being that he had just lost the war. But this is not what Avraham did.

Avraham swears in the name of Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth, that he will not take as much as a thread or a shoe strap from the King of Sodom so that he should not say that Avraham's riches came from him. For Avraham all blessings and wealth came from Hashem. Why was it necessary for Avraham to take an oath not take as much as a thread or a shoe strap? We also find that if Hashem gives a Tzadik so much as a penny he will value it more than his existence. We see this from Yakov, when he went back to retrieve the small vessels. Evidently Hashem wanted to give Avraham tremendous wealth because he helped him to win the war. How could Avraham give this wealth to an evil person who would probably use it to do more evil?

The Gemara tells us that in the merit of Avraham's mentioning of the thread in his oath the Jewish people merited the mitzvah of tzitzit. Because Avraham mentioned the shoe strap in his oath the Jewish people merited the mitzvah of tefillin. What does one have to do with another? Is this just a play on words?

We all have conflicts of interests and they are difficult to reconcile. Avraham believed that if he were to take the wealth, albeit rightfully his, an evil person (the King of Sodom) could say that he was the person who made Avraham wealthy. That would be a chilul Hashem. Yet the wealth was his since Hashem granted it. This created a conflict for Avraham. Avraham wished to see the world clearly with no conflict. Therefore Avraham needed to take an oath to separate himself from the wealth. Once the oath was taken, the wealth was no longer available to him and the conflict resolved. He was able to see the world clearly. Rabbenu Yona explains in Perke Avos that the value of acquiring a friend is that the friend would be able to help us out of conflicts of interest that cloud our judgment. This is true because the friend does not have the same set of issues and therefore is not conflicted and he could advise us to take the correct path.

Avraham had a tremendous level of commitment to Hashem and a cognizance of Hashem. In order to maintain this he took an oath to eliminate conflict. But what is the measure for measure between the thread and tzizit and the shoe strap and tefillin? We know that the mitzvah of tzizit states that, "you shall look upon them and remember all the commandments of Hashem and fulfill them."[7] Tefillin represent the dedication of the head and the heart to Hashem: "You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for you a reminder between your eyes."[8] These two mitvos are specifically related to maintaining the cognizance of Hashem. This is the measure for measure. Avraham had a continuous cognizance and clarity as to not succumb to the wealth, thus avoiding a chilul Hashem. Hashem says that in the merit of your cognizance and clarity I will give the Jews these two mechanisms to maintain cognizance and clarity like you. These are tzizit and tefillin. One must howev er understand that by looking at the tzitzit one is "reminded" of the mitzvos. In order to be reminded of something one needs to know it to begin with. Therefore one needs to learn Torah so as to be able to look at the tzitzit and be reminded of one's learning.

5. Foundation in fact

We read in the Parsha about the war between the four kings against the five kings during which the five kings were defeated. One of the kings who were defeated was the King of Sodom. The Torah tells us, "The Valley of Siddim was full of lime pits (or bitumen wells). The King of Sodom and Gomorrah fled and fell into them while the rest fled to the mountain."9 The obvious question is why does the Torah need to teach us that the King of Sodom fell into a lime pit while he was fleeing? Rashi explains the pasuk by quoting the Chazal who teach us that normally if one were to fall into this kind of pit it would be lethal; however, a miracle was performed and the King of Sodom was saved. Why should such as miracle have been performed for this evil man? The Chazal continue by explaining that some people of the world did not believe that Avraham was saved from the fire at Kasdim by a miracle from Hashem. However, now that the people witnessed the King of Sodom being saved from the lime pits, they were able to retroactively believe that Hashem brought Avraham from the fire. Therefore this pasuk is needed to teach us about the King of Sodom's falling into the lime pit in order to explain that the world was forced to believe the miracle at Ur Kasdim as a result of this second miracle.

While this explanation seems to help us understand the purpose of the pasuk, we are left with a difficulty. Avraham was a tremendous tzadik while the King of Sodom was a monumental rasha who personified evil. Both men were on opposite ends of the spectrum, yet we see that Hashem performed a miracle for both. In fact we learn that the people of the world believed the miracle performed for Avraham only through the miracle performed for the King of Sodom. What does this teach us?

We learn from here that it was important for Hashem first to establish the fact that Avraham was saved by a miracle. The further question of why Hashem chose to establish this fact through the King of Sodom is for a later discussion; however, we see that it was imperative for Hashem to establish the fact to the world regardless of the situation. How can we understand this? We know that without establishing a fact as the basis for further discussion the entire discussion is meaningless. For example, if one does not believe that millions of Jews left Egypt and gathered around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah then the factual history of the Jewish people is denied. Without the basic belief in these facts any following discussions on the meaning of Mount Sinai, the Torah, etc. have little meaning. Therefore it is important to establish the facts from which deeper understanding can be attained.

I had once said that the whole basis for Judaism is mesora, the unbroken chain of transmission from generation to generation. While we may not have been at Sinai we know that our ancestors were at Sinai as a result of this chain of transmission. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk has an interesting explanation, which will help us to further understand the power of mesora. He asks why is it so vital to honor and revere one's parents? Rabbi Meir Simcha explains that trusting one's parents stems form honoring them. Without the reverence and honor for a parent, the child would not trust the parent. This mechanism of honoring parents is a fundamental mitzvah, which is vital to the infrastructure of Judaism because it is through trust that Torah can be transmitted from generation to generation and without honor there is no trust.

We find a very unfortunate state of affairs, which stems from the gap between parents coming from one generation and their children growing up in another. This is particularly true in first or second-generation immigrant families where the children regard the parents as being antiquated. By regarding the parent as antiquated in terms of skills, jobs, etc. the child cannot have the level of trust in information transmission from the parent needed to perpetuate Judaism. Where there is no honor and reverence there is not trust and therefore to transmission. It is therefore important to re-establish the value of the unbroken chain. For example, there are those who give validity to Reform Judaism that is approximately 150 years old. However, any events or beliefs that were held prior to Reform Judaism are regarded as antiquated and archaic. Is this to say that prior to 150 years ago there were not any Torah sages? Brilliant minds? Accomplished people? This is a lack of respect and honor that stems from the breaking of the chain of transmission. Therefore we see that it is imperative to establish the facts from which all understanding will follow. Once the facts are establish only then it is possible to discuss the value of Torah.

6. Converting anxiety to growth

We read in this week's parsha about the Covenant Between the Parts, which is connected with the promise of the Land of Israel as well as the future of the Jewish people. Hashem tells Avraham that," Your offspring shall be strangers in a land not their own..."10 The Seforno has an interesting commentary on this section. He explains that Hashem is informing Avraham that the inheritance of the land by the Jewish people will be delayed. Seemingly after Yakov, the Jews should have inherited the land yet we see that the Jews spent 210 years in Egypt. The Seforno attributes this delay to the sin of the Amorite. The Amorite were a nation that lived in Canaan and whose sin had not yet reached a climax. Since their level of sin had not reached its highest point, it would be unjust to drive them out of the land prematurely. Therefore Hashem explains to Avraham that even though the land is promised to your descendants there must be a delay due to the fact the Amorite cannot be expell ed until their sin reached an apex. Hashem further explains to Avraham that the delay of inheritance should not be misunderstood as an indication of it not passing to the Jews as promised.

We find that there is much to be learned from this interchange between Hashem and Avraham for our daily lives. We often pray to Hashem with various requests and we consequently experience almost endless delays in having these requests fulfilled. We are unsure if our requests, even those in line with Torah and Hashem's will, would even be fulfilled. The waiting could be distracting and agonizing, yet we see from the interaction between Hashem and Avraham that there is a tremendous opportunity. The not receiving of our requests as well as the feelings of anxiety are themselves kapara for us not being at the level which we should be.

Hashem is the ultimate in justice and He will not grant a request at the expense of some other injustice. Our faith may be tested while we anticipate the outcome of our requests, yet we must always believe that the outcome is just and in our best interest. Therefore we need to utilize the time of our waiting to grow and introspect. Avraham was at a level where Hashem made him aware of the reasons for the delay. We are not at that level and despite the unexplained delays we need to operate within Hashem's timetable and exercise faith in Him with complete understanding that the result will always be for the best.
[1] Nechemia 9:5-8
[2] Paraphrase from Genesis 3:11-12
[3] Ibid.
[4] Genesis: 12:7
[5] Ibid.

[6] Genesis: 14:1-10
[7] Shema
[8] Ibid
[9] Genesis:14:10
[10] Genesis: 15:13
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Beyond Pshat, Copyright &copy 2009 by Rabbi Yosef Kalatsky and

All Men are Created Equal, Part II

All Men are Created Equal, Part II 
Chapter 4, Mishna 15(b)

"Rabbi Elazar ben (son of) Shamua said: The honor of your student should be as dear to you as your own; the honor of your colleague should be as the fear of your [Torah] teacher; and the fear of your teacher should be as the fear of Heaven."

Last week we began discussing this mishna, and we posed two questions: (1) Is our mishna asking us to play make-believe -- to inflate the honor of our associates knowing it is beyond what they truly deserve? (2) If we are being asked to exaggerate simply so we don't underrate, why does this apply to one's own associates more so than any other Torah teacher, colleague or student?

We continued with the historical account of the death of the students of R. Akiva -- the teacher of our mishna's author -- on account of not showing proper respect for one another. To this we asked why of all people were they the students of R. Akiva -- great proponent of "Love your fellow as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) -- to fall short in such an area.

Finally, we contrasted R. Akiva's principle of "Love your fellow" with that of his colleague Ben (son of) Zoma: All human beings are created in the image of G-d (based on Genesis 5:1). Whereas R. Akiva's principle begins with love of self -- and only then (hopefully) concludes with love of all, Ben Zoma's both begins and ends with the love of the entire human race.

As we left off, it appeared that R. Akiva's principle compared unfavorably to Ben Zoma's. Focusing first on yourself may engender a form of self-centeredness. If I'm so great, I may recognize the same in others -- or I may become so full of myself as to have no patience for and interest in them. A narcissistic love of self may inhibit rather than foster love of others.

We have all seen interviews of people of great talent and/or accomplishment. They are often so full of themselves; they go on and on about their careers, their origins, what inspired them, etc. as if no one could possibly be interested in anything else. Now if we had the slightest conception of our *own* G-d-given greatness, we too might fall into the same trap -- leaving little room for the rest of mankind. This, as we explained, was Ben Zoma's basis for disputing R. Akiva.

We now approach this issue from R. Akiva's perspective -- in order to explain why he preferred his approach over Ben Zoma's. Why begin with loving oneself?

The answer is that human beings feel an instinctive love for and attachment to themselves. It is human nature to root for and never give up on ourselves -- nor our natural extensions, our children -- far beyond logic and reasonable expectations. We love and accept ourselves in spite of a lot of faults -- often ones we can't stand in others. Our self-love is irrational; it blinds us. And when one is in love, he can overlook many annoyances, bad habits and foibles.

This, according to R. Akiva, is what we must project onto others. If we begin as Ben Zoma with love of all, we will view mankind far too objectively. Do they really deserve such unconditional love? What of all their faults? What of their annoying habits, shortcomings, cultural differences, etc.? However, if we begin with our own natural love of self, we will be capable of loving others as they truly deserve. For we may recognize that our own self-love stems from something so much deeper: the recognition that we possess a divine soul, one naturally sacred and inherently beautiful. And only then can we begin to love others in the same intense and nonjudgmental manner G-d Himself loves us.

So R. Akiva had a point -- and a grand one. We will often -- always, in fact -- find in the debates of great Torah scholars that neither opinion can be considered "wrong" -- even if Jewish law often must follow one opinion alone. As the Talmud puts it, "These and these are the words of the living G-d" (Gittin 6b). Both opinions are valid and are based upon relevant, vibrant Torah truths ("of the living G-d"). And each is correct and applicable in its proper context.

Similarly, in our context R. Akiva's position is correct and relevant. Self-love is an excellent starting point to achieving universal love.

Nevertheless, there is one context in which it is potentially dangerous, very much so: in the study hall. Torah study does not merely have the potential to make one feel good about him- or herself. It makes him feel great about -- and full of -- himself. When a person studies and begins to understand the Torah, there is a feeling of vastness and grandeur. He has attached himself to an infinite body of wisdom; he experiences a greater-than-life sensation. He encounters the grandness of the Torah -- the word of G-d -- which he himself can understand, interpret and expound. It makes him feel different, greater. He is overwhelmed, he is enthused, he is exhilarated, and quite likely he is very, very swellheaded.

This can be particularly true with the beginner. We often find the greatest zeal, exactitude -- and arrogance -- in younger students who know so much less. To the new student, the world is far more black and white -- and often if you're not "in" ("black" in many circles ;-), there's little room for shades of gray. Such people often feel morally and intellectually qualified to criticize and preach to the unlearned masses who they themselves have not progressed so far beyond. This is not entirely due to immaturity or lack of knowledge. It is true in part because the student has acquired that overwhelming sense of grandness and infinity, but has not yet tempered it with the more mature understanding of the Torah and of man.

There's an ironic passage in the Talmud I like to quote regarding this. It states that when a student of the scholars gets angry, "it is the Torah which heats him up" (Ta'anis 4a). This sounds at first like a very noble appraisal: His anger is not his own; he is championing G-d's cause.

The Talmudic commentator Rashi, however, understands it somewhat more realistically and unsentimentally: We are not dealing with a scholar but a student of scholars. He feels very grand due to his new-found knowledge. Because of this, he takes things much more to heart -- and gets far more carried away. And, concludes Rashi, we must be patient and put up with him till he outgrows it. ;-)

This, we may suggest, caused the downfall of R. Akiva's students. Beginning with love of self simply does not work in the competitive world of the yeshiva (Torah academy). Loving myself, the Torah scholar, is no pathway towards universal love. It will cause quite the opposite. It will create intellectual rifts of conflict and misunderstanding. I will ever be surer of my own convictions and less patient of those who disagree. The most subtle and minuscule issues of belief and practice -- which to the layman appear ridiculously inconsequential -- will to great scholars and theologians be matters of utmost significance -- over which they will viciously fight to the death. Someone who doesn't dress, act or think just as I do is the most abominable of apostates, doomed to utter and eternal damnation.

As a result, R. Elazar, a later student of R. Akiva and author of our mishna, formulated a different principle. When it comes to our Torah colleagues, we must minimize ourselves -- almost taking ourselves out of the picture entirely. It is not so much that we exaggerate the worth of others, but that we remove ourselves from the equation, and by so doing increment their relative worth by one. If we take into consideration our own relationship with the Torah we may feel too good about ourselves to give our associates the respect they deserve. Someone very wrapped up in and proud of his own achievements may not feel the same pride in his student's or colleague's Torah thoughts. He may consider them a threat -- infringing upon his own sense of self-worth. His feelings of grandness stem from his own special relationship with the Torah, the unique set of insights and explanations he has originated. The accomplishments of anyone else may be perceived more as a threat than an ind ication that others too can and do achieve greatness through the Torah.

This is the self-effacing approach suggested by our mishna. We may strive and exert ourselves in our quest for growth in Torah, but in the final analysis we must see ourselves as passive recipients of G-d's great gift of wisdom. The Talmud states that the Torah remains with one who makes himself as nothing (Sotah 21b). Only one who is a nothing can become a something. (Makes sense, doesn't it? ;-) Such a person does not attempt to inflate himself by swallowing up the infinity of Torah. He humbles himself, attaches himself to G-d's Torah, and by so doing merits to be recipient, bearer and teacher of G-d's living Torah.
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Pirkei Avos, Copyright &copy 2009 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Introductory Mishna

We have finished the Maharal's introduction to his explanation on Pirkei Avoth. What I presented was very close to an orderly translation of his writings (editing for a smooth flow, or to exclude things that don't lend themselves to a concise written explanation). You may have realized that the parts that were in parenthesis were my "editorial" comments. In this class I will present what is known as the introductory Mishna when reciting Pirkei Avoth. Its source is the opening Mishna of Chapter 11 of Masechet Sanhedrin, and the Maharal spends some time explaining why it opens the weekly recital of Pirkei Avoth. I will again present what is basically a translation of his explanation (with my comments in parenthesis), leaving out the lengthy second half of his explanation.

The Maharal frequently begins his explanations with questions challenging the textual and logical percision of the Mishna. Why did the Rabbis use this example, what is the connection between the elements included together in any specific Misha, did the quoted verse really demonstrate the validity of the idea it was supposed to support. These problems are frequently solved by going below the superficial understanding, and showing the relationship between underlying principles. We will have this frequently. In this Mishna, it stands out in the quoted verse of the Mishna.

Next class, I will begin with the Mishnayot from Chapter 1, and I will present more of a summary of the Maharal's ideas in a free- flowing form, incorporating my understandings in the body of what I write. I hope this will be valuable for everyone, and those of you who have the time and the ability may want to check my presentation against your own reading of the original text.

"Every member of the nation of Israel has a share in the World to Come, as it is written 'For your nation has all righteous people; they will inherit the land forever. They are the stick of My saplings, My handiwork to glorify me.'"

There are a number of difficulties in understanding this Mishna. Firstly, how does the verse "Your nation has all righteous people; they will inherit the land forever" (Isaiah 60:21) teach about the World to Come, something which is not mentioned at all in this verse? (If the idea needs textual validation, this text doesn't seem to "deliver the goods!) Secondly, why is "saplings," referring to the nation of Israel, written in the plural rather than singular? And why is Israel referred to as a sapling rather than a tree?

The righteousness of the Nation of Israel referred to by the prophet is not due to their deeds, for a) it is impossible for the entire nation to be composed only of righteous people; b) then only the righteous should merit "inheriting the land forever." Yet the prophet says that the entire nation inherits it. Rather, the righteousness referred to by the prophet is an intrinsic component of the Nation of Israel, and it is this which qualifies every member of the nation for a portion in the World To Come, independent of their good deeds. The Jewish nation was created flawlessly, being compared to the "solet," fine flour which has no residue. G-d created both the finite present world (Olam Hazeh), as well as an infinite and higher level World To Come (Olam Habah). The most appropriate ones to be the inheritors of this elevated World To Come are the members of the purest and most elevated nation, Israel.

(This perspective of the Maharal on the Jewish people is discussed at length in his work "Netzach Yisrael." The Kuzari, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi presents a similar perspective. It is built on an understanding of the covenant made between G-d and Avraham.)

The quoted verse tells us that because the nation is intrinsically righteous, they will inherit "aretz," land, for eternity. The word "aretz" is used a number of times in scripture in conjunction with the concept of "chaim," eternal life. Some examples are "G-d, in the land of life" (Isaiah 38:11); "my portion in the land of life" (Psalms 142:6); "exiled from the land of life" (Isaiah 53:8); "and I will give glory to the land of life" (Ezekiel 26:20, referring to the land of Israel).

The reason land is associated with life is that among the four basic elements - -fire, wind, earth, and water - - earth is the one that can be located as the center of the world. (This is true on a physical level, with land perched on top of the 75% of the earth made up of water, while fire and air rise above the land. This is also true on a conceptual level. When the Rabbis speak about something being at the "center" they usually mean that it is the main element, of primary importance. Since man lives on the land, and the world exists for man, the land is considered the element which is in the center.) The power of the center is that it is the point where everything is in balance, not skewed towards an extreme or an edge. The Hebrew word for edge is "keitz" which also means a termination point, implying an end. The center, the point of balance, is where we find life and eternity, for this point is the most distant from any extreme, and it as the extremes that we find ter mination and death.

(This idea appears in a number of places in the works of the Maharal. See Gvuros HaShem Ch. 46. The practical implications of this idea are enormous, and we will come back to them a number of times during Pirkei Avoth. In a "sound-bite", it is a treatise for a life of balance and harmony, eschewing extremes and extremism in every area.)

By being located at the center, at the point of balance, which is where a righteous person is, they are situated furthest away from any point of termination, thereby acquiring eternal life. This is the meaning of the verse "...righteous people... will inherit the land forever."(Smilarly, the Maharal interprets the Mishna (Kiddushin 39b) which teaches that one who does a Mitzva receives "good", long life, and inherits the land. If the intent was that he inherits the land of Israel, asks the Maharal, then how do we explain all those righteous people who died outside of Israel. Rather, "inheriting the land" refers to eternity, as does our Mishna.)

"They are the stick of My saplings." A sapling in its primary state is the trunk of the young tree, before it has developed any branches that grow out of the sides. The branches that go in different directions deviate from the center towards the extremes, implying termination. But the nation of righteous people never deviate to extremes, always remaining exclusively in the center, the way a young sapling has only its center, before it develops its side branches.

The plural, "saplings," is used to represent the many nations that G-d has "planted" in the world (the nations being represented as trees) but each of those is really considered like a branch of the central trunk, which is the Nation of Israel. Branches go off the central trunk, and as something which deviates from the center they terminate, while Israel, the central branch, is eternal.

"...My handiwork to glorify me." Because the Nation of Israel is the work of G-d's hands, more so than the rest of the nations, it is imperative that they reside in the eternal World to Come. Would they not be there, it would indicate a deficiency in G-d's handiwork, something which is inherently impossible. Even though all of G-d's creations are his handiwork, they are not called "banim," His children, the way Israel is. Other nations were created to serve Israel, while Israel was created as the primary nation, an end in and of itself. Therefore, they alone are called "banim", and their absence or deficiency would compromise the glorification of G-d.

Understanding the difficulties we have raised imparts depth and clarity to this Mishna, and shows how the quoted verse validates that every Jew, by virtue of his membership in the holy nation of Israel, has a portion in the World to Come.

This Mishna, which is the opening of Chapter 11 of Sanhedrin (90a) was chosen as an introduction to the weekly recital of Avoth, while the Mishna at the end of Makkos (23b; Ch. 3, Mishna 16) was chosen to close the weekly recitation. This custom requires explanation.

When the Wise Men of the generation foresaw the difficulties and troubles of our long and bitter exile, reciting this Mishna was instituted in order to comfort Israel through the knowledge of their elevated state. If the nations of the world are rejoicing in their wealth and success, Israel should know that they can rejoice in their own destiny and ultimate success. The attainment of their place in the World To Come derives from their fundamental creation as the special handiwork of G-d (giving them confidence in their ultimate well-being).

Beyond that, they also have an elevated state due to their balanced character traits and moral behavior. This develops from their being created as a good and virtuous nation, in contrast to other nations whose foundations are evil, and whose basic character contains promiscuity, murder, and corruption. (This less than "politically correct" perspective requires elaboration which is beyond the scope of this forum. The issue of the special role the Jewish people play in the world, and how we got there, is discussed by many commentaries. In addition to the Maharal and Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi that I quoted above, the Ramchal in "Derech Hashem" as well as the Rambam (in the Yad HaChazaka, in a number of his letters, and in the Moreh Nevuchim) and the Ramban in various places, all present various perspectives on this issue.) Finally, the ultimate grandeur of the Jewish nation is the Torah they have, as described by Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia at the end of Makkos.

The structure of the recitation of Avoth is built on this progression. We open with the Mishna from Sanhedrin that describes the superiority of the Jewish nation attained through their creation. This innate status facilitates their attainment of superior character traits and moral behavior, derech eretz, which is taught to us during our reciation of Avoth. And the attainment of this derech eretz facilitates, and is a prerequisite for, the attainment of Torah (as we will explain in Chapter 3, Mishna 19 "If there is no derech eretz, there can be no Torah"), leading us to conlcude our reciation of Avoth with the Mishna in Makkos teaching the merit of an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos.

This progression also reflects the process of creation. First the world was created, followed by 26 generations of derech eretz without Torah, and only then was Torah given.

So we have three stages of elevation in which the Jewish nation can rejoice despite all the difficulties they experience in their exile: Their initial creation, their attainment of superior character traits, and ultimately their immersion in Torah, all of which leads to their special place in the World to Come.

Shabbos (when Avoth is customarily recited) is a most suitable time for this rejoicing. The special day of rest was given to no other nation, and indicates the special status of the Jews. We recite in the Shabbos prayers: Moshe will rejoice with the gift of his portion (the Shabbos)... And You did not give it to the nations of the lands, nor did You bequeath it to worshippers of idols, and in its rest the uncircumcised will not dwell. But only to...the offspring of Yakov whom you have chosen...

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.