Category Archives: yeshiva

The Audacity of Torah

Who gave us permission to serve the Lord?

Recorded live at TCS, The Conservative Synagogue of Westport Connecticut, an exploration of the fine line between expressions of piety in the service of the Divine and the seduction of self-pride.

Using biblical, Talmudic, liturgical and Maimonidian texts and anecdotes from the Novardok school of Mussar we come to a surprising conclusion. The Torah not so much commands us to worship the Lord as it does give us permission or license. We call this the audacity of Torah.

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Access source sheet in Sefaria here.

1. There is a popular Jewish joke about the former Novardok Yeshiva, founded by Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz known as the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919). Novardok was one of the more extreme exemplars of the mussar movement that developed in Lithuania in the latter part of the 19th century. This yeshiva placed great emphasis on “the negation of the ego and the physical world”. Students wore tattered clothing and engaged in deliberately humiliating activities to achieve that end. The joke goes as follows:

Chaim, a new student, arrived at the Novardok Yeshiva. Being a novice and not knowing exactly what was expected of him, he simply observed what the other students were doing and copied them. When it was time for davening, observing his fellow yeshiva students engaged in fervent prayer and shokeling back and forth with great intensity, he did the same. During the period for Talmud study, he mimicked the others with their sing-song chants and exaggerated hand gestures. Finally, it was time for mussar self-examination, when each student retreated to a private corner, beat his fist remorsefully against his chest and repeated the refrain in Yiddish: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” (“I am a complete nothing!”) Observing the behaviour of these students, Chaim sat down and, pounding his fist against his chest, likewise repeated the same mantra: “Ish bin a gor nisht! Ish bin a gor nisht!” One of the veteran students seated nearby observed Chaim disdainfully, turned to another old-timer and commented, “Look at this one! He’s been here just one day, and he already thinks he’s a gor nisht!” source

(ח) אֶת שֵׁם הָאֵ-ל, הַמֶּלֶךְ הַגָּדול הַגִּבּור וְהַנּורָא קָדושׁ הוּא.

וְכֻלָּם מְקַבְּלִים עֲלֵיהֶם על מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם זֶה מִזֶּה.

וְנותְנִים רְשׁוּת זֶה לָזֶה לְהַקְדִּישׁ לְיוצְרָם בְּנַחַת רוּחַ. בְּשפָה בְרוּרָה וּבִנְעִימָה.

קְדֻשָׁה כֻּלָּם כְּאֶחָד. עונִים וְאומְרִים בְּיִרְאָה:
קָדושׁ קָדושׁ קָדושׁ ה’ צְבָאות. מְלא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבודו:

the name of the Almighty, the king, the great, the mighty, the awesome One; holy is He.

And they take upon themselves the yoke of sovereignty one from the other

and give permission one to another to sanctify their Creator in a spirit of serenity

with clear speech and sweet harmony

They proclaim [His] holiness in unison and reverently proclaim:

“Holy, holy, holy is Adonoy of Hosts the fullness of all the earth is his glory.”

(א) וקרא זה אל זה. נוטלין רשות זה מזה שלא יקדים האחד ויתחיל ויתחייב שריפה אלא אם כן פתחו כולם כאחד וזהו שיסד ביוצר אור קדושה כולם כאחד עונים כו’ ומדרש אגדה מעשה מרכבה הוא וכן תירגם קדוש קדוש קדוש ג’ פעמים כתרגומו:

Rashi on Isaiah 6:3

3.  They would take permission from one another so that one would not precede [the others] and be guilty of [a sin punishable by] burning; rather, they all commenced simultaneously. This is the basis for what is said in the K’dushah d’Yotzeir Or: “all, as one, respond [and proclaim God’s holiness…]”…

האם בני אדם יכולים להידמות למלאכים? מיכאל גרץ פוסטים23/02/2020

ר’ חיים בן שלמה טיירר מצ’רנוביץ’ (נולד ב1816) מסביר את הפסוק והתפילה כך:

“…כי באמת כבר כתבנו במקום אחר שמי שאוהב את ה’ יתברך לא אהבת עצמו בשום אופן, אין חילוק לפניו כלל וכלל בעשיית המצוות אם הוא עשאה או אחרים עושים ויבוא הטוב מכל מקום”.

אסור שתתקיים “תחרות” על עשיית מצוות. יהודי שעושה רק מצווה אחת ביום, עשייה זאת משמחת את הקב”ה. ואין לאדם אחר רשות לבקר אותו שזה רק מצווה אחת. והוא ממשיך:

“וזה הוא עיקר עבודתו לעשות נחת רוח לפניו, ומה לו אם יגיענו נחת רוח ממנו או מחבירו. … האוהב את בוראו אהבת אמת שמשתוקק שיגיע נחת רוח לבורא עולם, לא ישתדל כלל לחטוף המצוה מזולתו שהוא יעשנה”

אין אפוטרופסות על המצוות! אסור שחוג זה או אחר יטען שרק הם יודעים איך לקיים את המצוות, ולכן כל מצווה שיהודי אחר עושה פסול מלכתחילה. גישה כזאת גורמת צער לה’ במקום שמחה.

“ועל כן אומרים בקדושה של יוצר אצל קדושת המלאכים וכולם מקבלים עליהם וגו’ ונותנים באהבה ‘רשות זה לזה’ להקדיש ליוצרם בנחת רוח וגו’, …

ולא יחפוץ אחד להיות גדול מחבירו אף בעיני המקום, ועל כן נותנים באהבה רבה רשות זה לזה להקדיש וכו’ כי כל כוונתם שיגיע הנאה לבורא עולם יהיה ממי שיהיה מאתו או מזולתו…” (ספר באר מים חיים פרשת תצוה – פרק כח)

4. Rabbi Michael Gertz: Can Humans Resemble Angels 2/23/2020

Rabbi Chaim Ben Shlomo Tierer of Czernowitz (born 1816) explains the verse and prayer as follows:

“… Because we have already written elsewhere that whoever loves God will not act selfishly under any circumstance, there is no difference in him at all in doing the commandments whether he did or others do and the good comes from everywhere.

Ganze: There must be no “competition” for the observance. A Jew who does only one mitzvah a day does so pleasing the Almighty. And no one else has permission to criticize him that is only one mitzvah. And he continues:

“And that is the crux of his work please the Lord, and what if this Divine pleasure comes from him or from his friend. … Who loves his Creator A true love that longs for a spirit of Creator will never endeavor to snatch the mitzvah from others.

Ganz; There is no guardianship of the commandments! One or the other circle must not claim that only they know how to keep the commandments, and therefore every commandment that another Jew makes is wrong in the first place. Such an attitude causes God sorrow instead of joy.

And so they say with regard to the Kedusha: and everyone accepts them And lovingly give ‘each other’s permission’ to sanctify their creator in divine pleasure … ‘ And no one wants to be bigger than his friend even in the eyes of the God, and therefore, with great love, give each other permission to dedicate, etc. that all their intentions that come to give pleasure to the Creator of the world whether it comes from them or their fellow.

ברכות ל״ב א

וְאָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: מֹשֶׁה הֵטִיחַ דְּבָרִים כְּלַפֵּי מַעְלָה. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה אֶל ה׳״ אַל תִּקְרֵי ״אֶל ה׳״, אֶלָּא ״עַל ה׳״. שֶׁכֵּן דְּבֵי רַבִּי אֱלִיעֶזֶר בֶּן יַעֲקֹב קוֹרִין לָאַלְפִין עַיְינִין, וְלָעַיְינִין אַלְפִין.

דבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְדִי זָהָב״. מַאי ״וְדִי זָהָב״? אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: כָּךְ אָמַר מֹשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם, בִּשְׁבִיל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב שֶׁהִשְׁפַּעְתָּ לָהֶם לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, עַד שֶׁאָמְרוּ ״דַּי״ — הוּא גָּרַם שֶׁעָשׂוּ אֶת הָעֵגֶל. אָמְרִי דְּבֵי רַבִּי יַנַּאי: אֵין אֲרִי נוֹהֵם מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל תֶּבֶן אֶלָּא מִתּוֹךְ קוּפָּה שֶׁל בָּשָׂר. אָמַר רַבִּי אוֹשַׁעְיָא: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם שֶׁהָיְתָה לוֹ פָּרָה כְּחוּשָׁה וּבַעֲלַת אֵבָרִים, הֶאֱכִילָהּ כַּרְשִׁינִין וְהָיְתָה מְבַעֶטֶת בּוֹ. אָמַר לָהּ: מִי גָּרַם לִיךְ שֶׁתְּהֵא מְבַעֶטֶת בִּי — אֶלָּא כַּרְשִׁינִין שֶׁהֶאֱכַלְתִּיךְ. אָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַבָּא אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: מָשָׁל לְאָדָם אֶחָד שֶׁהָיָה לוֹ בֵּן. הִרְחִיצוֹ וְסָכוֹ, וְהֶאֱכִילוֹ וְהִשְׁקָהוּ, וְתָלָה לוֹ כִּיס עַל צַוָּארוֹ, וְהוֹשִׁיבוֹ עַל פֶּתַח שֶׁל זוֹנוֹת. מַה יַּעֲשֶׂה אוֹתוֹ הַבֵּן שֶׁלֹּא יֶחֱטָא?! אָמַר רַב אַחָא בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב הוּנָא אָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת: הַיְינוּ דְּאָמְרִי אִינָשֵׁי: מְלֵי כְּרֵסֵיהּ זְנֵי בִּישֵׁי. שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כְּמַרְעִיתָם וַיִּשְׂבָּעוּ שָׂבְעוּ וַיָּרׇם לִבָּם עַל כֵּן שְׁכֵחוּנִי״. רַב נַחְמָן אָמַר: מֵהָכָא: ״וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת ה׳״. וְרַבָּנַן אָמְרִי, מֵהָכָא: ״וְאָכַל וְשָׂבַע וְדָשֵׁן וּפָנָה״. וְאִי בָּעֵית אֵימָא מֵהָכָא: ״וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשׁוּרוּן וַיִּבְעָט״. אָמַר רַבִּי שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר נַחְמָנִי אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹנָתָן: מִנַּיִן שֶׁחָזַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא וְהוֹדָה לוֹ לְמֹשֶׁה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְכֶסֶף הִרְבֵּיתִי לָהֶם וְזָהָב עָשׂוּ לַבָּעַל״. ״וַיְדַבֵּר ה׳ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ רֵד״. מַאי ״לֶךְ רֵד״? אָמַר רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר: אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא לְמֹשֶׁה: מֹשֶׁה, רֵד מִגְּדוּלָּתְךָ! כְּלוּם נָתַתִּי לְךָ גְּדוּלָּה אֶלָּא בִּשְׁבִיל יִשְׂרָאֵל. וְעַכְשָׁיו יִשְׂרָאֵל חָטְאוּ — אַתָּה לָמָּה לִי? מִיָּד תָּשַׁשׁ כּוֹחוֹ שֶׁל מֹשֶׁה, וְלֹא הָיָה לוֹ כֹּחַ לְדַבֵּר. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁאָמַר ״הֶרֶף מִמֶּנִּי וְאַשְׁמִידֵם״, אָמַר מֹשֶׁה: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי! מִיָּד עָמַד וְנִתְחַזֵּק בִּתְפִלָּה, וּבִקֵּשׁ רַחֲמִים. מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ שֶׁכָּעַס עַל בְּנוֹ, וְהָיָה מַכֵּהוּ מַכָּה גְּדוֹלָה. וְהָיָה אוֹהֲבוֹ יוֹשֵׁב לְפָנָיו, וּמִתְיָרֵא לוֹמַר לוֹ דָּבָר. אָמַר הַמֶּלֶךְ: אִלְמָלֵא אוֹהֲבִי זֶה שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב לְפָנַי — הֲרַגְתִּיךָ. אָמַר: דָּבָר זֶה תָּלוּי בִּי. מִיָּד עָמַד וְהִצִּילוֹ. ״וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי וְיִחַר אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וְגוֹ׳״.

אָמַר רַבִּי אֲבָהוּ: אִלְמָלֵא מִקְרָא כָּתוּב, אִי אֶפְשָׁר לְאוֹמְרוֹ.

And Rabbi Elazar said: Moses also spoke impertinently toward God on High, as it is stated in the verse following the sin of those who murmured against God in the desert: “And Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire subsided” (Numbers 11:2), and this verse is interpreted homiletically: Do not read to [el] the Lord, but rather onto [al] the Lord, which indicates that he spoke impertinently….

The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai, however, say proof that Moses spoke impertinently toward God on High is derived from here, Moses’ rebuke at the beginning of Deuteronomy: “And Di Zahav” (Deuteronomy 1:1). …The Sages of the school of Rabbi Yannai said that Moses said the following before the Holy One, Blessed be He, to atone for Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf: Master of the Universe, because of the gold and silver that you lavished upon Israel during the exodus from Egypt until they said enough [dai]; it was this wealth that caused Israel to make the Golden Calf.

Rabbi Oshaya said: This is comparable to a person who had a lean, but large-limbed cow. At one point, he fed it lupines, a choice food, and soon thereafter the cow was kicking him. He said to the cow: Who caused you to begin kicking me if not the lupines I fed you? Here, too, the sin was caused by an abundance of good. The Gemara offers another analogy: Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: This is comparable to a person who had a son; he bathed him and anointed him with oil, fed him and gave him drink, and hung a purse of money around his neck. Then, he brought his son to the entrance of a brothel. What could the son do to avoid sinning? ….

Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan said: From where in the Torah is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, ultimately conceded to Moses that the reason for the sin of the Golden Calf was indeed the riches lavished upon Israel? As it is stated: “And I gave them an abundance of silver and gold, which they used for the Ba’al” (Hosea 2:10). …

In an additional aspect of the sin of the Golden Calf, God told Moses: “Now leave Me be, that My wrath will be enraged against them and I will consume them; and I will make of you a great nation” (Exodus 32:10). Explaining this verse,

Rabbi Abbahu said: Were the verse not written in this manner, it would be impossible to utter it, in deference to God.

5.

הנה כבר התבאר לך כי כל אשר התבאר לך במופת שלילת דבר אחד ממנו – תהיה יותר שלם וכל אשר תחיב לו דבר מוסף – תהיה מדמה ותרחק מידיעת אמיתתו. …

וכאשר הרגיש כל אדם שאי אפשר להגיע אל השגת מה שבכוחנו שנשיג כי אם בשלילה והשלילה לא תודיע דבר מאמיתת הענין אשר נשלל ממנו הדבר אשר נשללהו – בארו בני אדם כולם העוברים והבאים שהאלוה ית’ לא ישיגוהו השכלים ולא ישיג מה הוא אלא הוא ושהשגתו היא הלאות מתכלית השגתו. וכל הפילוסופים אומרים נצחנו בנעימותו ונעלם ממנו לחוזק הראותו כמו שיעלם השמש מן העינים החלושים להשיגו. וכבר האריכו בזה במה שאין תועלת לשנותו הנה. והמפולג שנאמר בזה הענין – אמרו ב’תלים’ “לך דומיה תהילה” – פרושו השתיקה אצלך היא השבח. וזה המרצת דברים עצומה מאוד בזה הענין – שאנחנו כל דבר שנאמר אותו שנכון בו הגדלה ושבח – נמצא בו מעמס אחד בחוקו ית’ ונשקיף בו קצת חסרון; אם כן השתיקה יותר ראויה וההסתפקות בהשגת השכלים כמו שצוו השלמים ואמרו “אמרו בלבבכם על משכבכם ודומו סלה”:

וכבר ידעת אמרתם המפורסמת (אשר מי יתן והיה כל המאמרים כמותה!) ואני אזכרה לך בלשונה (ואף על פי שהיא ידועה) להעירך על עניניה.

הַהוּא דִּנְחֵית קַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי חֲנִינָא, אֲמַר ״הָאֵל הַגָּדוֹל הַגִּבּוֹר וְהַנּוֹרָא וְהָאַדִּיר וְהָעִזּוּז וְהַיָּראוּי, הֶחָזָק וְהָאַמִּיץ וְהַוַּדַּאי וְהַנִּכְבָּד״.

הִמְתִּין לוֹ עַד דְּסַיֵּים. כִּי סַיֵּים אֲמַר לֵיהּ: סַיֵּימְתִּינְהוּ לְכוּלְּהוּ שִׁבְחֵי דְמָרָךְ?! לְמָה לִי כּוּלֵּי הַאי? אֲנַן, הָנֵי תְּלָת דְּאָמְרִינַן אִי לָאו דְּאַמְרִינְהוּ מֹשֶׁה רַבֵּנוּ בְּאוֹרָיְיתָא, וַאֲתוֹ אַנְשֵׁי כְּנֶסֶת הַגְּדוֹלָה וְתַקְּנִינְהוּ בִּתְפִלָּה — לָא הֲוֵינַן יְכוֹלִין לְמֵימַר לְהוּ, וְאַתְּ אָמְרַתְּ כּוּלֵּי הַאי וְאָזְלַתְּ! מָשָׁל לְמֶלֶךְ בָּשָׂר וָדָם שֶׁהָיוּ לוֹ אֶלֶף אֲלָפִים דִּינְרֵי זָהָב, וְהָיוּ מְקַלְּסִין אוֹתוֹ בְּשֶׁל כֶּסֶף. וַהֲלֹא גְּנַאי הוּא לוֹ! ברכות ל״ג ב

– עד הנה הגיע מאמר זה החסיד:

והסתכל תחילה שתקו ומאסו רבוי תארי החיוב. והתבונן איך הראה כי התארים אילו הונחו לשכלינו לבד לא אמרנום לעולם ולא דברנו בדבר מהם; ואמנם כאשר הצריך הכרח הדיבור לבני אדם במה שיתקים להם מעט ציור – כמו שאמרו ‘דברה תורה כלשון בני אדם’ – שיתואר להם האלוק בשלמיותיהם תכליתנו – שנעמוד על המאמרים ההם ולא נקרא שמו בהם אלא בקראנו אותם ב’תורה’ לבד;

וכבר הישירנו שלמה לזה הענין במה שבו די ואמר “כי האלוקים בשמים ואתה על הארץ על כן יהיו דבריך מעטים”

5.   Guide for the Perplexed, Part 1 59

It will now be clear to you, that every time you establish by proof the negation of a thing in reference to God, you become more perfect, while with every additional positive assertion you follow your imagination and recede from the true knowledge of God. …

Since it is a well-known fact that even that knowledge of God which is accessible to man cannot be attained except by negations, and that negations do not convey a true idea of the being to which they refer, all people, both of past and present generations, declared that God cannot be the object of human comprehension, that none but Himself comprehends what He is, and that our knowledge consists in knowing that we are unable truly to comprehend Him. All philosophers say, “He has overpowered us by His grace, and is invisible to us through the intensity of His light,” like the sun which cannot be perceived by eyes which are too weak to bear its rays. Much more has been said on this topic, but it is useless to repeat it here. The idea is best expressed in the book of Psalms, “Silence is praise to Thee” (lxv. 2). It is a very expressive remark on this subject; for whatever we utter with the intention of extolling and of praising Him, contains something that cannot be applied to God, and includes derogatory expressions; it is therefore more becoming to be silent, and to be content with intellectual reflection, as has been recommended by men of the highest culture, in the words “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still” (Ps. 4:4).

You must surely know the following celebrated passage in the Talmud (Berakhot 33b) –would that all passages in the Talmud were like that!–although it is known to you, I quote it literally, as I wish to point out to you the ideas contained in it: “A certain person, reading prayers in the presence of Rabbi Haninah, said, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous, the powerful, the strong, and the mighty.’–The rabbi said to him, Have you finished all the praises of your Master? The three epithets, ‘God, the great, the valiant and the tremendous,’ we should not have applied to God, had Moses not mentioned them in the Law, and had not the men of the Great Synagogue come forward subsequently and established their use in the prayer; and you say all this! Let this be illustrated by a parable. There was once an earthly king, possessing millions of gold coin; he was praised for owning millions of silver coin; was this not really dispraise to him?” Thus far the opinion of the pious rabbi.

Consider, first, how repulsive and annoying the accumulation of all these positive attributes was to him; next, how he showed that, if we had only to follow our reason, we should never have composed these prayers, and we should not have uttered any of them. It has, however, become necessary to address men in words that should leave some idea in their minds, and, in accordance with the saying of our Sages, “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” the Creator has been described to us in terms of our own perfections; but we should not on that account have uttered any other than the three above-mentioned attributes, and we should not have used them as names of God except when meeting with them in reading the Law.

Solomon has already given us sufficient instruction on this subject by saying, “For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy words be few” (Eccles. 5:2).

אי אפשר לפי טבע האדם שיניח כל מה שהרגיל בו פתאום. וכאשר שלח האלוק ‘משה רבנו’ לתתנו “ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש” בידיעתו ית’ – כמו שבאר ואמר “אתה הראת לדעת וגו'” וידעת היום והשבות אל לבבך וגו'” ולהנתן לעבודתו – כמו שאמר “ולעבדו בכל לבבכם” ואמר “ועבדתם את ה’ אלוקיכם” ואמר “ואותו תעבודו” – והיה המנהג המפורסם בעולם כולו שהיו אז רגילים בו והעבודה הכוללת אשר גדלו עליה – להקריב מיני בעלי חיים בהיכלות ההם אשר היו מעמידים בהם הצלמים ולהשתחוות להם ולקטר לפניהם והעבודים והפרושים היו אז האנשים הנתונים לעבודת ההיכלות ההם העשויים לכוכבים (כמו שבארנו) – לא גזרה חכמתו ית’ ותחבולתו המבוארת בכל בריאותיו שיצונו להניח מיני העבודות ההם כולם ולעזבם ולבטלם כי אז היה זה מה שלא יעלה בלב לקבלו כפי טבע האדם שהוא נוטה תמיד למורגל; והיה דומה אז כאילו יבוא נביא בזמננו זה שיקרא לעבודת האלוק ויאמר האלוק צוה אתכם שלא תתפללו אליו ולא תצומו ולא תבקשו תשועתו בעת צרה אבל תהיה עבודתכם מחשבה מבלתי מעשה: ומפני זה השאיר ית’ מיני העבודות ההם והעתיקם מהיותם לנבראים ולענינים דמיוניים שאין אמיתות להם – לשמו ית’ וצונו לעשותם לו ית’. וצוונו לבנות היכל לו “ועשו לי מקדש” ושיהיה המזבח לשמו “מזבח אדמה תעשה לי” ושיהיה הקרבן לו “אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה'” ושישתחוו לו ושיקטירוהו לפניו. והזהיר מעשות דבר מאלו המעשים לזולתו “זובח לאלוקים יחרם וגו'” “כי לא תשתחוה לאל אחר”. והפריש ‘כהנים’ לבית ה’מקדש’ ואמר “וכהנו לי” וחיב שייוחדו להם מתנות על כל פנים שיספיקו להם מפני שהם עסוקים בבית ובקרבנותיו והם מתנות ה’לוים וה’כהנים’. והגיע בזאת הערמה האלוקית שנמחוה זכר ‘עבודה זרה’ והתקימה הפינה הגדולה האמיתית באמונתו והיא מציאות האלוק ואחדותו; ולא יברחו הנפשות וישתוממו בבטל העבודות אשר הורגלו ולא נודעו עבודתו זולתם: ואני יודע שנפשך תברח מזה הענין בהכרח בתחילת מחשבה ויכבד עליך ותשאלני בלבך ותאמר לי איך יבואו מצוות ואזהרות ופעולות עצומות ומבוארות מאד והושם להם זמנים והם כולם בלתי מכוונות לעצמם אבל הם מפני דבר אחר כאילו הם תחבולה שעשה העלוה לנו להגיע אל כונתו הראשונה? ואי זה מונע היה אצלו ית’ לצוות לנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן בנו יכולת לקבלה ולא היה צורך לאלו אשר חשבת שהם על צד הכונה השניה? – שמע תשובתי אשר תסיר מלבך זה החלי ותגלה לך אמיתת מה שעוררתיך עליו. והוא שכבר בא ב’תורה’ כמו זה הענין בשוה – והוא אמרו “ולא נחם אלוקים דרך ארץ פלישתים כי קרוב הוא וגו’ ויסב אלוקים את העם דרך המדבר ים סוף”. וכמו שהסב האלוק אותם מן הדרך הישרה אשר היתה מכוונת תחלה מפני יראת מה שלא היו גופותם יכולים לסבלו לפי הטבע אל דרך אחרת עד שתגיע הכונה הראשונה – כן צוה בזאת המצוה אשר זכרנו מפני יראת מה שאין יכולת לנפש לקבלו לפי הטבע שתגיע הכונה הראשונה והיא – השגתו ית’ והנחת ‘עבודה זרה’. כי כמו שאין בטבע האדם שיגדל על מלאכת עבדות בחומר ובלבנים והדומה להם ואחר כן ירחץ ידיו לשעתו מלכלוכם וילחם עם ‘ילידי הענק’ פתאום כן אין בטבעו שיגדל על מינים רביםמן העבודות ומעשים מורגלים שכבר נטו אליהם הנפשות עד ששבו כמושכל ראשון ויניחם כולם פתאום. וכמו שהיה מחכמת האלוק להסב אותם במדבר עד שילמדו גבורה – כמו שנודע שההליכה במדבר ומעוט הנאות הגוף מרחיצה וסיכה וכיוצא בהם יולידו הגבורה והפכם יוליד רוך לב – ונולדו גם כן אנשים שלא הרגילו בשפלות ובעבדות וכל זה היה במצות אלוקיות על ידי משה רבינו’ “על פי ה’ יחנו ועל פי ה’ יסעו – את משמרת ה’ שמרו על פי ה’ ביד משה” – כן בא זה החלק מן התורה בתחבולה אלוקית עד שישארו עם מין המעשה המורגל כדי שתעלה בידם האמונה אשר היא הכונה הראשונה. ושאלתך “אי זה מונע היה לאלוק מצוותנו כונתו הראשונה ויתן לנו יכולת לקבלה?” תחיב זאת השאלה השנית ויאמר לך ואי זה מונע היה לאלוק שינחם ‘דרך ארץ פלישתים’ ויתן להם יכולת להלחם ולא היה צריך לזה הסיבוב ב”עמוד הענן יומם ועמוד האש לילה”? וכן תחיב שאלה שלישית – על סיבת היעודים הטובים אשר יעד על שמירת המצוות והיעודים הרעים אשר יעד על העברות ויאמר לך אחר שכונת האלוק הראשונה ורצונו היה שנאמין זאת התורה ונעשה ככל הכתוב בה למה לא נתן לנו יכולת לקבלה ולעשותה תמיד ולא היה עושה לנו תחבולה להיטיב לנו אם נעבדהו ולהנקם ממנו אם נמרהו? ולעשות הטובות ההם כולם והנקמות ההם כולם? – כי זאת גם כן תחבולה שעשה האלוק לנו עד שיגיע ממנו אל כונתו הראשונה – ואי זה מונע היה אצלו לתת רצון במעשי העבודה אשר רצה וריחוק העברות אשר מאסם טבע מוטבע בנו?: והתשובה על אלו השאלות השלש וכל מה שהוא ממינם – תשובה אחת כוללת והיא שהאותות כולם אף על פי שהם שינוי טבע איש אחד מאישי הנמצאות אך טבע בני אדם לא ישנהו האלוק כלל על צד המופת. ומפני זה השורש הגדול אמר “מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם וגו'” ומפני זה באה המצוה והאזהרה והגמול והעונש. וכבר בארנו זאת הפינה במופתיה במקומות רבים מחיבורינו. ולא אמרתי זה מפני שאני מאמין ששינוי טבע כל אחד מבני אדם קשה עליו ית’ אך הוא אפשר ונופל תחת היכולת אלא שהוא לא רצה כלל לעשות זה ולא ירצהו לעולם כפי הפינות התוריות; ואילו היה מרצונו לשנות טבע כל איש מבני אדם למה שירצהו ית’ מן האיש ההוא היה בטל שליחות הנביאים ונתינת התורה כולה:

(ג) ואשוב אל כונתי ואומר כי כאשר היה זה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר ה’קרבנות’ – על צד הכונה השניה והצעקה והתפלה וכיוצא בהם ממעשי העבודות יותר קרובות אל הכונה הראשונה והכרחיות בהגיע אליה – שם בין שני המינים הפרש גדול והוא שזה המין מן העבודה – רצוני לומר הקרבת הקרבנות – אף על פי שהוא לשמו ית’ לא חויב עלינו כמו שהיה בתחלה – רצוני לומר שנקריב בכל מקום ובכל זמן ולא שנעשה היכל באשר יזדמן ושיקריב מי שיזדמן “החפץ ימלא ידו” אבל נאסר כל זה עלינו והושם בית אחד “אל המקום אשר יבחר ה'” ואין מקריבים בזולתו “פן תעלה עולותיך בכל מקום אשר תראה” ולא יהיה ‘כהן’ אלא זרע מיוחד – כל זה הענין – למעט זה המין מן העבודות ושלא יהיה ממנו אלא מה שלא גזרה חכמתו להניחו לגמרי. אבל התפילה והתחינה היא מותרת בכל מקום וכל מי שיזדמן. וכן ה’ציצית’ וה’מזוזה’ וה’תפילין’ וזולתם מן העבודות הדומות להם:

(ד) ובעבור זה הענין אשר גיליתי לך נמצא הרבה בספרי הנביאים שמוכיחים בני אדם על רוב השתדלותם והתחזקם להביא הקרבנות ובואר לכם שאינם מכוונים לעצמם כונה צריכה מאד ושהאלוה אינו צריך להם – אמר שמואל “החפץ לה’ בעולות וזבחים כשמוע בקול יי? וגו'”; ואמר ישעיה “למה לי רוב זבחיכם? – יאמר ה’ וגו'”; ואמר ירמיה “כי לא דברתי את אבותיכם ולא צויתים ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים על דברי עולה וזבח – כי אם את הדבר הזה צויתי אותם לאמר שמעו בקולי והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם”. וכבר הוקשה זה המאמר בעיני כל מי שראיתי דברים או שמעתים ואמר איך יאמר ירמיה על האלוק שלא צוונו ב’דברי עולה וזבח’ – ורוב ה’מצוות’ באו בזה? אמנם כונת המאמר הוא מה שבארתי לך וזה שהוא אמר שהכונה הראשונה אמנם היא – שתשיגוני ולא תעבדו זולתי ‘והייתי לכם לאלוקים ואתם תהיו לי לעם’; וזאת המצוה בהקרבה וכיון אל הבית אמנם היתה בעבור שתעלה בידיכם זאת הפינה ובעבורה העתקתי אלו העבודות לשמי עד שימחה שם ‘עבודה זרה’ ותתקים פנת יחודי; ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם במה שנעשה בעבודה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל הלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אתם ובטלתם התכלית ההיא והתחזקתם כמה שנעשה בעבורה והוא – שאתם ספקתם במציאותי “כחשו בה’ ויאמרו “לוא הוא” ועבדתם ‘עבודה זרה’ “וקטר לבעל והלוך אחרי אלוקים אחרים… ובאתם אל הבית וגו'” – ונשארתם מכונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים אל ‘היכל ה” ומקריבים הקרבנות אשר לא היו מכוונים כמה ראשונה: ולי בפרוש זה ‘הפסוק’ פנים אחרים והוא מביא הענין בעצמו אשר זכרנוהו והוא שכבר התבאר בכתוב ובקבלה יחד שתחילת מצוה שנצטוינו בה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ כלל ואין צריך שתטריד כלל שכלך ב’פסח מצרים’ כי היא היתה לסיבה מבוארת גלויה – כמו שאני עתיד לבאר; ועוד שהמצוה היתה ב’ארץ מצרים’ והמצוה הרמוז אליה בזה ה’פסוק’ ואמר ‘ביום הוציאי אותם מארץ מצרים’ – כי תחלת ‘צווי’ שבא אחר יציאת מצרים’ הוא מה שנצטוינו בו במרה – והוא אמרו לנו שם “אם שמעו תשמע לקול ה’ אלוקיך וגו’ “שם שם לו חוק ומשפט חוגו'” ובאה הקבלה האמיתית “שבת ודינין במרה אפקוד” – וה’חוק’ הרמוז אליו הוא ה’שבת’ וה’משפט’ הוא ה’דינים’ והוא הסרת העול. וזאת היא הכונה הראשונה כמו שבארנו – רצוני לומר אמונת הדעות האמיתיות והוא חידוש העולם. וכבר ידעת שעיקר מצות שבת אמנם היא – לחזק זאת הפינה ולקימה – כמו שבארנו בזה המאמר. והכונה עוד עם אמיתת הדעות – להסיר העול מבני אדם. הנה כבר התבאר לך שהמצוה הראשונה לא היו בה ‘דברי עולה וזבח’ – אחר שהם על צד הכונה השנית כמו שזכרנו: וזה הענין בעצמו אשר אמרו ירמיה הוא אשר נאמר בתהילים על צד ההוכחה לאומה כולה בסכלה אז הכונה הראשונה ולא היתה מבדלת בינה ובין הכונה השנית. – אמר “שמעה עמי ואדברה ישראל ואעידה בך אלוקים אלוקיך אנוכי לא על זבחיך אוכיחך ועולותיך לנגדי תמיד לא אקח מביתך פר ממכלאותיך – עתודים”. וכל מקום שנכפל זה הענין – זאת היא הכונה בו. והבינהו מאד והסתכל בו:

a. It is, namely, impossible to go suddenly from one extreme to the other: it is therefore according to the nature of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue everything to which he has been accustomed. Now God sent Moses to make [the Israelites] a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exod. 19:6) by means of the knowledge of God. Comp. “Unto thee it was showed that thou mightest know that the Lord is God (Deut. 4:35); “Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the Lord is God” (ibid. 5:39). The Israelites were commanded to devote themselves to His service; comp. “and to serve him with all your heart” (ibid. 11:13); “and you shall serve the Lord your God” (Exod. 23:25); “and ye shall serve him” (Deut. 13:5).

b. But the custom which was in those days general among all men, and the general mode of worship in which the Israelites were brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those temples which contained certain images, to bow down to those images, and to burn incense before them; religious and ascetic persons were in those days the persons that were devoted to the service in the temples erected to the stars, as has been explained by us. It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He did not command us to give up and to discontinue all these manners of service; for to obey such a commandment it would have been contrary to the nature of man, who generally cleaves to that to which he is used;

c. it would in those days have made the same impression as a prophet would make at present if he called us to the service of God and told us in His name, that we should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help in time of trouble; that we should serve Him in thought, and not by any action. For this reason God allowed these kinds of service to continue; He transferred to His service that which had formerly served as a worship of created beings, and of things imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve Him in the same manner; viz., to build unto Him a temple; comp. “And they shall make unto me a sanctuary” (Exod. 25:8); to have the altar erected to His name; comp. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me” (ibid. 20:21); to offer the sacrifices to Him; comp. “If any man of you bring an offering unto the Lord” (Lev. 1:2), to bow down to Him and to burn incense before Him. He has forbidden to do any of these things to any other being; comp. “He who sacrificeth unto any God, save the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Exod. 22:19); “For thou shalt bow down to no other God” (ibid. 34:14). He selected priests for the service in the temple; comp. “And they shall minister unto me in the priest’s office” (ibid. 28:41). He made it obligatory that certain gifts, called the gifts of the Levites and the priests, should be assigned to them for their maintenance while they are engaged in the service of the temple and its sacrifices. By this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, was firmly established; this result was thus obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of the people by the abolition of the service to which they were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them.

d. I know that you will at first thought reject this idea and find it strange; you will put the following question to me in your heart: How can we suppose that Divine commandments, prohibitions, and important acts, which are fully explained, and for which certain seasons are fixed, should not have been commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake of some other thing: as if they were only the means which He employed for His primary object? What prevented Him from making His primary object a direct commandment to us, and to give us the capacity of obeying it? Those precepts which in your opinion are only the means and not the object would then have been unnecessary.

e. Hear my answer, which win cure your heart of this disease and will show you the truth of that which I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Law a passage which contains exactly the same idea; it is the following: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt; but God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red Sea,” etc. (Exod. 13:17). Here God led the people about, away from the direct road which He originally intended, because He feared they might meet on that way with hardships too great for their ordinary strength; He took them by another road in order to obtain thereby His original object. In the same manner God refrained from prescribing what the people by their natural disposition would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above-mentioned commandments as a means of securing His chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him [among the people], and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is contrary to man’s nature that he should suddenly abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and the different customs in which he has been brought up, and which have been so general, that they were considered as a matter of course; it would be just as if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants. It was the result of God’s wisdom that the Israelites were led about in the wilderness till they acquired courage.

f. For it is a well-known fact that travelling in the wilderness, and privation of bodily enjoyments, such as bathing, produce courage, whilst the reverse is the source of faint-heartedness: besides, another generation rose during the wanderings that had not been accustomed to degradation and slavery. All the travelling in the wilderness was regulated by Divine commands through Moses; comp. “At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord and the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 9:23). In the same way the portion of the Law under discussion is the result of divine wisdom, according to which people are allowed to continue the kind of worship to which they have been accustomed, in order that they might acquire the true faith, which is the chief object [of God’s commandments]. You ask, What could have prevented God from commanding us directly, that which is the chief object, and from giving us the capacity of obeying it? This would lead to a second question, What prevented God from leading the Israelites through the way of the land of the Philistines, and endowing them with strength for fighting? The leading about by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night would then not have been necessary. A third question would then be asked in reference to the good promised as reward for the keeping of the commandments, and the evil foretold as a punishment for sins. It is the following question: As it is the chief object and purpose of God that we should believe in the Law, and act according to that which is written therein, why has He not given us the capacity of continually believing in it, and following its guidance, instead of holding out to us reward for obedience, and punishment for disobedience, or of actually giving all the predicted reward and punishment? For [the promises and the threats] are but the means of leading to this chief object. What prevented Him from giving us, as part of our nature, the will to do that which He desires us to do, and to abandon the kind of worship which He rejects? There is one general answer to these three questions, and to all questions of the same character: it is this: Although in every one of the signs [related in Scripture] the natural property of some individual being is changed, the nature of man is never changed by God by way of miracle. It is in accordance with this important principle that God said, “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me,” etc. (Deut. 5:26). It is also for this reason that He distinctly stated the commandments and the prohibitions, the reward and the punishment. This principle as regards miracles has been frequently explained by us in our works: I do not say this because I believe that it is difficult for God to change the nature of every individual person; on the contrary, it is possible, and it is in His power, according to the principles taught in Scripture; but it has never been His will to do it, and it never will be. If it were part of His will to change [at His desire] the nature of any person, the mission of prophets and the giving of the Law would have been altogether superfluous.

g. I now return to my theme. As the sacrificial service is not the primary object [of the commandments about sacrifice], whilst supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining it, a great difference was made in the Law between these two kinds of service. The one kind, which consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices are offered to the name of God, has not been made obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every place, or to permit any one who desires to become priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been appointed, “in the place which the Lord shall choose” (Deut. 12:26); in no other place is it allowed to sacrifice: comp. “Take heed to thyself, that thou offer not thy burnt-offerings in every place that thou seest” (ibid. 5:13); and only the members of a particular family were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restrictions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it within those bounds within which God did not think it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. But prayer and supplication can be offered everywhere and by every person. The same is the case with the commandment of ẓiẓit (Num. 15:38); mezuzah (Deut. 6:9; 11:20); tefillin (Exod. 13:9, 16); and similar kinds of divine service.

(4) Because of this principle which I explained to you, the Prophets in their books are frequently found to rebuke their fellow-men for being over-zealous and exerting themselves too much in bringing sacrifices: the prophets thus distinctly declared that the object of the sacrifices is not very essential, and that God does not require them. Samuel therefore said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:22)? Isaiah exclaimed, “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:11); Jeremiah declared: “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offering or sacrifices. But this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey my, voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Jer. 7:22, 23). This passage has been found difficult in the opinion of all those whose words I read or heard; they ask, How can Jeremiah say that God did not command us about burnt-offering and sacrifice, seeing so many precepts refer to sacrifice? The sense of the passage agrees with what I explained to you. Jeremiah says [in the name of God] the primary object of the precepts is this, Know me, and serve no other being; “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people” (Lev. 26:12). But the commandment that sacrifices shall be brought and that the temple shall be visited has for its object the success of that principle among you; and for its sake I have transferred these modes of worship to my name; idolatry shall thereby be utterly destroyed, and Jewish faith firmly established. You, however, have ignored this object, and taken hold of that which is only the means of obtaining it; you have doubted my existence, “ye have denied the Lord, and said he is not” (Jer. 5:12); ye served idols; “burnt incense unto Baal, and walked after other gods whom ye know not. And come and stand before me in this house” (ibid. 7:9-10); i.e., you do not go beyond attending the temple of the Lord, and offering sacrifices: but this is not the chief object.–I have another way of explaining this passage with exactly the same result. For it is distinctly stated in Scripture, and handed down by tradition, that the first commandments communicated to us did not include any law at an about burnt-offering and sacrifice. You must not see any difficulty in the Passover which was commanded in Egypt; there was a particular and evident reason for that, as will be explained by me (chap. xlvi.). Besides it was revealed in the land of Egypt; whilst the laws to which Jeremiah alludes in the above passage are those which were revealed after the departure from Egypt. For this reason it is distinctly added, “in the day that I brought them out from the land of Egypt.” The first commandment after the departure from Egypt was given at Marah, in the following words, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His sight, and wilt give ear to His commandments” (Exod. 15:26).” There he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them” (ibid. ver. 25). According to the true traditional explanation, Sabbath and civil laws were revealed at Marah: “statute” alludes to Sabbath, and “ordinance” to civil laws, which are the means of removing injustice. The chief object of the Law, as has been shown by us, is the teaching of truths; to which the truth of the creatio ex nihilo belongs. It is known that the object of the law of Sabbath is to confirm and to establish this principle, as we have shown in this treatise (Part. II. chap. xxxi.). In addition to the teaching of truths the Law aims at the removal of injustice from mankind. We have thus proved that the first laws do not refer to burnt-offering and sacrifice, which are of secondary importance. The same idea which is contained in the above passage from Jeremiah is also expressed in the Psalms, where the people are rebuked that they ignore the chief object, and make no distinction between chief and subsidiary lessons. The Psalmist says: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings, they have been continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds” (Ps. 50:29).–Wherever this subject is mentioned, this is its meaning. Consider it well, and reflect on it.

——————–

Footnote on “If it Were Not a Written Verse it Could Not be Said /אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאמרו

see

משה הלברטל and Moshe Halbertal Tarbiẕ /תרביץ כרך סח‎, חוברת א‎ (תשרי-כסלו תשנ”ט), pp. 39-59 (21 pages) here

Abstract

The formula ‘If it were not a written verse it could not bee said’ is a sentence that introduces few statements in the Midrash. This rare formula serves as a conscious expression that something daring is about to be said, and that without the shield of a written verse it could not be said. The analysis of the occasions in which the ‘If it were not’ formula occurs is thus a key for our understanding of rabbinic religious sensitivities. The study of midrashim that are introduced with the formula yields the following conclusions: (1) in most cases the idea expressed by the midrash is actually not written in the verse in its straightforward meaning. The formula reveals therefore a circular nature: the interpreter creatively rereads the text, and then he states that if his interpretation weren’t already in the text he would not have dared to offer his reading; (2) in answer to the problem what is considered daring in the Midrash the following pattern is manifested: most of the midrashim that are introduced by such formula represent God in anthropomorphic metaphors in which God’s role is reversed and transformed. Anthropomorphic metaphors are usually drawn from hierarchical human structures, such as king and slaves, father and son, husband and wife, etc. God is always represented as the figure which is superior in the analogous social relationship; He is the husband, the king, the father, and so on. In midrashim that are introduced by the formula ‘If it were not’, God is represented as the inferior partner in the analogy — he is a slave, a student, a wife and a defendant in a trial. In these metaphors or parables Israel or the righteous are represented as the superior figure. Another form in which hierarchical metaphors are reversed is exhibited in the Midrashim that use metaphors from non-hierarchical relationship such as friends and twins. The last part of the essay is devoted to uncover the same pattern in other midrashim that are not introduced by the ‘If it were not’ formula, and to a discussion of the significance of this phenomenon in rabbinic religious thought.

See also: Torah min Hashamayim Ba-aspaklaria shel Hadorot (Theology of Ancient Judaism) Vols. 1-2, vol. 3 by Abraham Joshua Heschel; pages 191- 198 and in English Translation: Heavenly Torah as Refracted through the Generations by Gordon Tucker pp 223 – 235

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The Choice Challenge

Every week I am reading Shai Held’s The Heart of Torah and in his second essay on parshat Va-’era’ Held once again demonstrates the depth of his scholarship and the breadth of his reading.  In discussing the age-old question of how the biblical God could harden Pharaoh’s heart yet maintain Judaism’s belief in our God-given right to freedom Held makes a suggestion.

Held suggests that freedom is not so much:

… a fact, but it is also—and perhaps primarily—an aspiration. Real freedom requires, R. Joseph Soloveitchik (1903–93) writes, “a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility by man without even a moment’s inattentiveness.” [Soleveitchik, On Repentance p. 143] Mindfulness and constant, exquisite attention are necessary for freedom to flourish. Freedom needs to be nurtured and attended to, not taken for granted.

R. Shlomo Wolbe (1914–2005) adds that “freedom is not at all part of humanity’s daily spiritual bread. It is, rather, one of the noble virtues which one must labor to attain. It is not lesser than love, and fear, and cleaving to God, acquiring which clearly demands great effort. We can acquire freedom, and therefore we must acquire it.” [Wolbe, Alei Shur p 155]

Freedom is, in other words, a spiritual project. In order to thrive, it must be brought into awareness (Soloveitchik) and actively cultivated (Wolbe). Then, and only then, can we soften our hearts. Shai Held. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus

Joseph Soloveitchik is widely known, especially within the modern-orthodox world as the head of Yeshiva University and scion of a famous Lithuanian Rabbinic Dynasty, but R. Shlomo Wolbe is hardly known outside of the haredi (ultra-orthodox) world which he joined at the tender age of 19.  Wolbe transferred from the University of Berlin and ended up at the Meir Yeshiva in Poland. Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 was considered the last of the great mussarniks, he was also my rebbe during the two years I studied at Yeshivat Beer Yaakov where he was the mashgiach ruchni (spiritual guide).

Rabbi Wolbe lectured and wrote extensively primarily for the “yeshiva world” on subjects such as a progressive approach to education for children and adolescents and intense introspection for adults. But there was one singular point of departure that ran through all of Wolbe’s teachings. Never take the easy road.

If he saw a yeshiva bachur (student) who had previously concealed his tzitzit, wearing them exposed, or a previously clean-shaven student, sporting a pious beard, he would call the student over and ask: “What happened to you… did you become a tzadik (saint)?” For Wolbe there were no shortcuts to piety, certainly not by a superficial change in outward appearance. The higher level of spiritual consciousness of the mussarnik could only be reached by the hard work of the heart (hovot halevavot) and the sweat of the soul.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe once asked a pupil: “Did you ever say the Shema Yisrael?” “Of course!”, said the student. “Did you say it with kavana (intention and attention)?” The pupil replied, “Yes, of course, Rabbi.” Said Rabbi Wolbe, “Tell me, while you were saying the Shema did you follow the teaching of the sages and accept the “yoke of the kingdom of heaven?” “Of course” answered the exasperated student. “And did you feel a hint of rebellion against God?” “Chas v’shalom,” replied the pupil, “God forbid, of course not… never.” “Then you have never said the Shema” replied the Rabbi. [This is how I remember the story… for a more toned-down version see a Nice Patch of Grass by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair]

Such an unvarnished challenge to religious caution and timidity lies at the heart of Rabbi Wolbe’s concept of choice insightfully cited by Rabbi Held.

But the few pages allocated to his weekly essay  does not permit Held to expand on the depth of Wolbe’s challenge and his explicit critique of his coreligionists.

I have posted the complete text below from Wolbe’s book Alei Shur, and you can follow the Hebrew text and listen to Rabbi Yoram Bogacz read and translate here (start at minute 10:38) with a great South African accent!

Permit me to provide a further excerpt.

Wolbe writes:

“It is possible that an individual can live out his days and never make a choice! Imagine a person with a pleasant disposition, who has not moved from the upbringing that he received at his parents home, he fulfills the commandments … as he was taught, his predispositions strengthen him in his [rote] behavior (he is considered a tzadik – righteous person) and no trials occur [to shake him up]. Amazingly, he could live out his days, with  good name and without him having actually chosen a path through independent intellectual review!”

Wolbe continues:

“Its an extreme example, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is on rare occasion that we make choices in our lives.  “Everything is foreseen, and freewill is given” [Ethics of the Fathers 3:15] but in truth we are governed by our natural disposition, our education, habits and biases both in terms of the fateful decisions in life and also the small day-to-day decisions… and where is the choice?” ואיה הבחירה

Between Rav Wolbe and Rav Held, we are fortunate to have teachers who challenge us to choose… and now the choice to choose is all ours!


ale shor 3

aleih shor 2

aleih shor 1

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Two State Solution – Earliest Mention in the Bible

Parshat Lekh Lekha

Rav Shai Held has written a breathtaking commentary on the Five Books of Moses, two succinct commentaries for each weekly portion.

The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion Do yourself a favor, and run (don’t walk) and buy it.

I have been fortunate to have studied at Machon Hadar, where Held is President and Dean (aka Founder and Mashgiach Ruchni).  At the book launch, we were encouraged to study a single weekly entry, in detail, with a study partner and then as a group in a class (Shiur). In my opinion, each of the two weekly pieces justify such intensive learning, not only because of the message that Held wishes to convey, but because, hidden, and sometimes overtly exposed in the short 4-5 page treatments are insights worthy of a screeching halt and complete change in travel plans. The second article on Lech Lecha is a fine example.

The article is titled: Between Abram and Lot Wealth and Family Strife and is focused primarily on the potentially corrosive nature of wealth acquisition. But segued into the discussion is a clear and powerfully suggestive reference to the dialectic between sharing/splitting the Promised Land in two and fulfilling the divine promise of a complete and Greater Israel. Abram and Lot have returned from Egypt richer and estranged. Abram offers a solution. Held writes:

… in his offer to Lot, Abram is “magnanimous in the extreme”: “Is not the whole land before you? Kindly part from me: If you go north, I will go south; and if you go south, I will go north” (Genesis 13:9). Abram’s magnanimity is enormously important and instructive: “His trust [in God’s] promise makes him gracious and generous.” Abram believes what God has told him—the land will one day belong to him and his descendants—but he does not insist that the promise must be fulfilled in its entirety at the present moment. Some modern Jewish thinkers insist that the religious person “discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfillment, in every promise a specific norm.” [ Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Man, 100.] But Genesis 13 has other ideas, emphasizing instead that sometimes the appropriate religious posture is patience and a willingness to wait. Abram understands that, ultimately, the land is a gift, not an earthly possession—and so he refuses to grasp it too tightly. The land has been promised to Abram by God, and yet he is willing to let go of part of it in the interest of peace. Abram treasures the land, but he trusts in God so deeply and values family concord so highly that he lets go of precisely what is so precious to him. Strikingly, Bible scholar Victor Hamilton notes, Abram “is prepared to sacrifice what has been promised to him, as he will later willingly offer Isaac who has been promised to him.” Jon Levenson insightfully adds: “Since Abraham is finally again promised the lands he ceded to Lot, the chapter has a certain parallel with the Akedah, in which Abraham gets back him whom he gave up and receives anew the promises that depend on the would-be offering.” [Jon D. Levenson, personal communication {with Held}, October 12, 2014. Levenson’s comments are in some ways reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.] Immediately after Abram and Lot part ways, God reiterates the promise of land and even intensifies it. Abram is to receive “the whole land . . . through its length and its breadth.” And now it is Abram himself, and not just his descendants, who will inherit the land (Gen. 13:14–17). Bible scholar Gordon Wenham observes that “the reiteration of the promises puts the divine seal of approval on Abraham’s treatment of Lot.”

Held, Shai. The Heart of Torah, Volume 1: Essays on the Weekly Torah Portion: Genesis and Exodus (Kindle Locations 999-1019). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

Held’s profound insight and implied critique of those who practice Greater Israel activism in order to comply and fulfill a divine promise needs no embellishment, certainly not by me. “the enlightened will understand” המשכיל יבין


I should note that this vote for restraint by Held, could be  mistakenly construed to echo the Babylonian Talmud at the end of Ketubot (111a) which was and is used by the ultra-Orthodox to argue for quitism and against the entire Zionist project of actively repatriating the Land of Israel.

… it is written: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles and by the hinds of the field, that you not awaken or stir up love, until it please” (Song of Songs 2:7). Rabbi Yehuda derived from here that no act of redemption should be performed until a time arrives when it pleases God to bring about the redemption. And Rabbi Zeira maintains that the oath mentioned in that verse means that the Jews should not ascend to Eretz Yisrael as a wall, i.e., en masse, whereas individuals may immigrate as they wish.

ורבי זירא ההוא שלא יעלו ישראל בחומה

While the reference to a wall is ironic, I think it safe to say that Held is not anti-activist in any sense of the word, certainly not when it comes to fulfilling the moral mission of the Hebrew Bible, nor the manifest destiny contained in God’s, and prophetic promises. It is only when nationalist activism conflicts with  “the interest of peace”, “family concord” or kavod habriut … respecting the human dignity of the other, that Held would argue for patience relating to God’s promises and activism towards God’s creations.

 

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A Thanksgiving Meal – סעודת הודיה

This week’s madlik podcast:

This week in the US we will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving meal, so what better opportunity to explore the sources and traditions of a Seuda Hodaah – סעודת הודיה  a thanksgiving meal in the Jewish tradition… and survey a collection of Thanksgiving sermons…. We’ll even explain why turkey is called Hodu… which means “thanks” in Hebrew…

If you like the madlik podcast please subscribe at iTunes.  And for your Andoids, the podcast is now available on Google PlayMusic and Stitcher.  For easy links go to madlik.com

Listen to the madlik podcast:


notes

In the Bible: After the battle of the five kings: Genesis 14: 18


יח
  וּמַלְכִּי-צֶדֶק מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם, הוֹצִיא לֶחֶם וָיָיִן; וְהוּא כֹהֵן, לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן.
18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine; and he was priest of God the Most High.
יט  וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ, וַיֹּאמַר:  בָּרוּךְ אַבְרָם לְאֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 19 And he blessed him, and said: ‘Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth;
כ  וּבָרוּךְ אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, אֲשֶׁר-מִגֵּן צָרֶיךָ בְּיָדֶךָ; וַיִּתֶּן-לוֹ מַעֲשֵׂר, מִכֹּל. 20 and blessed be God the Most High, who hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand.’ And he gave him a tenth of all.
כא  וַיֹּאמֶר מֶלֶךְ-סְדֹם, אֶל-אַבְרָם:  תֶּן-לִי הַנֶּפֶשׁ, וְהָרְכֻשׁ קַח-לָךְ. 21 And the king of Sodom said unto Abram: ‘Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.’
כב  וַיֹּאמֶר אַבְרָם, אֶל-מֶלֶךְ סְדֹם:  הֲרִמֹתִי יָדִי אֶל-יְהוָה אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, קֹנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ. 22 And Abram said to the king of Sodom: ‘I have lifted up my hand unto the LORD, God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth,
כג  אִם-מִחוּט וְעַד שְׂרוֹךְ-נַעַל, וְאִם-אֶקַּח מִכָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לָךְ; וְלֹא תֹאמַר, אֲנִי הֶעֱשַׁרְתִּי אֶת-אַבְרָם. 23 that I will not take a thread nor a shoe-latchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say: I have made Abram rich;
כד  בִּלְעָדַי, רַק אֲשֶׁר אָכְלוּ הַנְּעָרִים, וְחֵלֶק הָאֲנָשִׁים, אֲשֶׁר הָלְכוּ אִתִּי:  עָנֵר אֶשְׁכֹּל וּמַמְרֵא, הֵם יִקְחוּ חֶלְקָם.  {ס} 24 save only that which the young men have eaten, and the portion of the men which went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, let them take their portion.’ {S}

RASHI:

And Malchizedek: The Midrash Aggadah (Targum Jonathan, Ned. 32b, Mid. Ps. 76:3) states that he was Shem, the son of Noah.   ומלכי צדק: מדרש אגדה הוא שם בן נח:

 

The weaning of Isaac:

Genesis 21: 8

8 And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

                                חוַיִּגְדַּ֥ל הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַיִּגָּמַ֑ל וַיַּ֤עַשׂ אַבְרָהָם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה גָד֔וֹל בְּי֖וֹם הִגָּמֵ֥ל אֶת־יִצְחָֽק

RASHI: a great feast: for all the prominent people of the generation were there: Shem, Eber, and Abimelech. — [from Tan. Buber, Vayishlach 23] Cf. Gen. Rabbah 53:10.

 

משתה גדול: שהיו שם גדולי הדור, שם ועבר ואבימלך

חיי אדם כלל קנ”ה סעיף מ”א ומשנה ברורה סי’ תר”ע סק”ט בשם המהרש”ל

The Thanksgiving Sacrifice: Leviticus


יב
  אִם עַל-תּוֹדָה, יַקְרִיבֶנּוּ–וְהִקְרִיב עַל-זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָה חַלּוֹת מַצּוֹת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשֶּׁמֶן, וּרְקִיקֵי מַצּוֹת מְשֻׁחִים בַּשָּׁמֶן; וְסֹלֶת מֻרְבֶּכֶת, חַלֹּת בְּלוּלֹת בַּשָּׁמֶן.
12 If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour soaked.

 

 

Vayikra Rabbah 9:7

ר’ אלעזר ור’ יוסי בר חנינא ר’ אלעזר אמר: שלמים הקריבו בני נח. רבי יוסי בר חנינא אמר עולות הקריבו בני נח  …  מתיב ר’ אלעזר לרבי יוסי בר חנינא (שם יח): ויקח יתרו חותן משה עולה וזבחים לאלהים. דא מה עבד לה רבי יוסי בר חנינא? עבד כמאן דאמר לאחר מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. איפלגו רבי חייא בר אבא ורבי ינאי חד אמר: לאחר מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. וחד אמר: קודם מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו. אמר רבי הונא: ולא פליגי. מאן דאמר קודם מתן תורה נתגייר יתרו, כמאן דאמר, שלמים הקריבו בני נח.חת

Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Yochanan [said] in the name of Rabbi Menachem from Gallia: In the time to come, all sacrifices will be annulled – but the sacrifice of thanksgiving will not be annulled. All prayers will be annulled, but the prayer of gratitude will not be annulled. This accords with what is written [Jeremiah 33:11]: “The voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say ‘Give thanks to the LORD of hosts’ etc.” – this is the prayer of gratitude. “Those who bring [the sacrifice of] thanksgiving to the House of the LORD”: this is the sacrifice of thanksgiving. Thus David said: “I owe You vows and will offer you thanksgivings” [Psalms 56:13] – not “thanksgiving,” but “thanksgivings,” [indicating both] the thanksgiving prayer and the prayer of gratitude.

In the Talmud: Tractate Berakoth  46a

  1. Zera once was ill. R. Abbahu went to visit him, and made a vow, saying, If the little one with scorched legs1 recovers, I will make a feast for the Rabbis. He did recover, and he made a feast for all the Rabbis.

Modern Times:

Chabad Hasidim celebrate the 19th of Kislev to commemorate the release of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe;  Schneur Zalman from jail…. also considered to be the Rosh Hashana of Chassidus.  Also the day the Rebbe walked out of his room for the first time since his heart attack on shemini atzeret (1978)..for the Chassidim this was huge and still is for they  feel that this day is hodoo of his recovery and hence his subsequent relationship to them. So in this sense- yes, it’s and seuda hodoo despite the length of time. Also 12 tammuz the previous Rebbe release from prison in Russia. (all events that allowed the next frame to occur which leads to today )

The 30th day of Nissan

See a reference in a luach (הלכה יומית) here to the custom to have a  on the anniversary of the UN Vote for the partition of Palestine and the resulting birth of Israel:

א‘ ל‘ ניסן. מה משמעותו של יום העצמאות

יום היום בו הוכרזה המדינה בשנת תש“ח, הינו יום שמחה ותודה לבורא עולם, על הנס הגדול שעשה לנו בהקמת המדינה. אף על פי שאויבנו לא רצו בהקמת המדינה היהודית, הכריזה המועצה הזמנית על הקמת המדינה היהודית, ונחתמה מגילת העצמאות

יש לקיים סעודת הודיה ביום זה, ולברך את ה‘ על כך

Prayers:

See Alan Brill’s: The Book of Doctrines and Opinions: notes on Jewish theology and spirituality.

Service for Thanksgiving Day 1905- In Commemoration of 250 Years of Jews in the US.

by Rev H. Pereira Mendes of the Spanish- Portuguese synagogue of NY offered in 1905 at a special convocation to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the settlement of Jews in the United States.  2005 was 350 years….

 

Throughout the past ages Thou hast carried Israel as on eagles’ wings. From the bondage of Egypt, through the trials of the wilderness, ….From nation to nation Thou didst lead us, until the hand of the oppressor was weakened and the day of human rights began to dawn

Thou hast opened unto us this blessed haven of our beloved land. we lift up our hearts in gratitude to Thee, in that two hundred and fifty years ago Thou didst guide a little band of Israel’s children who, . seeking freedom to worship Thee, found it in a land which, with Thy blessing, became a refuge of freedom and justice for the oppressed of all peoples.

O Lord, look down from Thy holy habitation from heaven and bless this Republic. Preserve it in the liberty which has been proclaimed in the land, and in the righteousness which is its foundation. Bless it with prosperity and peace. May it advance from strength to strength and continue to be a refuge for all who seek its shelter. Imbue all its citizens with a spirit of loyalty to its ideals. May they be ever mindful that the blessings of liberty are safeguarded by obedience to law, and that the prosperity of the nation rests upon trust in Thy goodness and reverence for Thy commandments.

Bless the President and his counselors, the judges, lawgivers, and executives of our county. Put forth upon them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and the spirit of might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. May America become a light to all peoples, teaching the world that righteousness exalteth a nation.

Our Father in Heaven, Who lovest all nations, all men are Thy children. Thou dost apportion tasks to peoples according to their gifts of mind and heart. But all, are revealing Thy marvelous plans for mankind. May the day speedily dawn when Thy kingdom will be established on earth, when nations shall learn war no more, when peace shall be the crowning reward of a world redeemed by justice, and all men shall know Thee, from the greatest unto the least.

————–

Service for Thanksgiving Day 1940 – Rabbi Joseph Lookstein at Kehilath Jeshurun in New York

We thank Thee for the beauty and utility of Thy creations, for the flowers which are the stars of the earth even as the stars are the flowers of heaven; for the fertility of the soil and the abundance of its products; for the food that is borne within its bosom and the waters that flow from its deep and inner fountains; for the air that surrounds all creatures and that holds within its invisible self the secret and power • of life.

Almighty God, we pray that we may remain true to the destiny for which we were created. We pray that the dignity of human per­sonality may be preserved and the reverence of man for man may continue. We pray that the beautiful heavens that Thou didst spread over our heads may not be darkened by the clouds of hate and that the magic carpet which is earth may not be disturbed by the tramp of hostile feet. We pray that man’s inhumanity to man may forever end and that human genius may continue to strive for greater perfection and for nobler fulfillment. Let man come to understand that he is closest to God when he is nearer to man, that he worships at Thy holy throne when he serves Thy creatures and that he is within Thy holy shrine when he is at one with his fellow-beings.
We pray sincerely for America and the ideals of democracy and freedom that are here enshrined. May she be strong to withstand all the currents that assail her and all the forces of evil that would invade her sacred precincts. A tower of light to her own citizenry, may she cast a steady beam and light up all the dark areas of the world and show to a perplexed and straying humanity the path of freedom, of life and of peace.

Rabbi and Congregation.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to Thee, oh Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

 

Cf Leonard Cohen “if it be your will” 

—————–

1951 The Faith of America: Readings, Songs and Prayers for the Celebration of American Holidays by Mordecai Kaplan; Williams, J. Paul; Kohn, Eugene Kaplan

faith-of-america

 

Intro

THANKSGIVING DAY: a day devoted to a grateful awareness of the blessings of American life. A blessing not appreciated is easily lost. If we take for granted the blessings that we enjoy by virtue of our living in a land of almost boundless opportunities and take no thought to the moral foundation on which the welfare of our people rests, those blessings will sooner or later be lost. Thanksgiving should be used to make us aware of those moral foundations, of our dependence on divine justice and love for the continued enjoyment of the blessings of American life.

Prayer

The Significance of the Day

OUR GOD AND FATHER, it is good to give thanks to Thee and to acknowledge Thy blessings. Only thus

can we savor them to the full. In the hurried pace of our lives and in our preoccupation with the petty and the trivial, we are prone to take Thy gifts for granted. Oblivious of thy bounties, we sinfully waste the opportunities they afford us for living the good life. Therefore, do we set aside this day for thanksgiving.

We thank Thee for the land and for its fruits by which we live. We thank thee for the vigor of body and mind that enables us to exploit the fertility of our country’s fields and forests and the buried treasures of its mineral wealth. We thank Thee for the varied beauty of its landscape, for the grandeur of its mountains, the hospitality of its plains and prairies, and the gleaming vistas of ocean from its coasts.

We thank Thee for the inspiration of our country’s history—for the courage and hardihood that sustained its explorers and pioneers, for the heroism that inspires its fighters for freedom and equality, for the enterprise that builds its teeming cities, for the arts that express the beauty and meaning of its way of life, for the just laws and free institutions that enable its people to work together in peace and harmony.

Grant, O God, in Thy grace, that we may perfect our national life to the measure of Thy bounty. Grateful

for the gifts Thou hast bestowed upon us, may we use them to extend the area of freedom, justice, and good-will among men. May our use of Thy, gifts bear. Witness to mankind that life is good when lived according to Thy benign will, O gracious Giver of all good. AMEN.

————-

George Washington – Thanksgiving Proclamation Issued on October 3, 1789

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us)

———–

In hard times

A THOUGHTFUL MIND will perceive propriety in a service of thanksgiving on the ground, not only of any exceptional benefit, but of the continuance of those ordinary blessings which give its gladness and beauty to life. The preservation of our life itself from casualty or from disease, which might have fallen upon it, is no less a sign of God’s goodness than a narrow escape from what seemed certain death. And so, though any given year may not have been marked by what we should call conspicuous blessings, it is right and proper that we should meet to give thanks for that bounty of heaven which has not failed, for our personal life, and health, and happiness, for the undisturbed serenity and tranquility of our homes, for the maintenance of public order, content and liberty, for the peaceful progress of industry, for the regular and beneficent operations of nature. The hand of God is in all this, as well as in the events which more strikingly exhibit His goodness and His power . . .

The year that is ending has not been what we commonly call a “good” year. It has been rather a bad year in the history of other nations, in business and in politics within our own borders.

How then shall we meet the call which invites us to give thanks today to God for His goodness. We might try to banish from our minds these gloomy facts….
And yet it is more likely to be useful to look at the facts as they are and to ask whether, if we should judge them aright, we should not find, not in spite of them, but in them, traces and tokens of God’s goodness and occasions for praise. We mourn, for example, the decline of our material Prosperity, but it is a shallow view of things which regards material prosperity as an unmixed good for a man or for a nation. The psalmist who said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted,” uttered a truth which finds abundant confirmation in national as well as in personal history. Look at your neighbor whom you knew as a poor boy and who now is worth his millions. . . . He used to be considerate of others, helpful to those who needed help, nobly generous with what little he had to give. Now he seems to think that poverty is a crime, and it is easier to get a flame out of an iceberg than a dollar out of his purse. Once he judged men by their moral character. Now he speaks of them as “worth” whatever their property would sell for in the market. . . . What has made the change in him? Nothing but his success. . . .
And the same thing is equally true of a nation. The unparalleled development of the material resources of the American people in recent years has astonished the world, but it has also awakened the gravest solicitude of thoughtful minds. The ever rising tide of wealth, the vast increase and wide diffusion of luxury, the reckless extravagance and waste which have been common, the senseless rivalry in vulgar display, the growing tyranny of money in the hands of rich men and rich corporations, the wild fever of speculation, the prostitution of public office to an unrestrained desire of wealth, the increased inequality, and, in consequence of this, the deepening animosity of the classes of which society is composed, the swift and shameless spread of corruption in politics, the intrusion into the place of legitimate and honest business of the methods and morals of the gambling room, the growing frequency of gross violations of trust—all these things . . . have come as the direct and inevitable fruit of the era of prosperity which now—for a time at least, is ended. . . .
As you try to gather up your reasons for thanksgiving, do not turn your thoughts away from the things which at first seem dark. . . . Look at them, rather, frankly . . . and see if the goodness and the mercy of God are not manifest in them. So may your sorrows be turned into joy, and your sore disappointment into confident hope. So may you gain the height of adoring trust whereon he stood who long ago declared: “I will bless the Lord at all time: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

  • Edward B. Coe

——-

Turkey

The guinea fowl bears some resemblance to the then-recently found American bird. Though it is native to eastern Africa, the guinea fowl was imported to Europe through the Ottoman Empire and came to be called the turkey-cock or turkey-hen. When settlers in the New World began to send similar-looking fowl back to Europe, they were mistakenly called turkeys.

Every language seems to have radically different names for this bird. The Turkish word is hindi, which literally means “Indian.” The original word in French, coq d’Inde, meant rooster of India, and has since shortened to dinde. These names likely derive from the common misconception that India and the New World were one and the same. In Portuguese, it’s literally a “Peru bird,” and in Malay, it’s called a “Dutch chicken.”

Hodu – India

הֹדוּ Hôdûw, ho’-doo; of foreign origin; Hodu (i.e. Hindustan):—India.

India = “flee away” or ” give ye thanks” Strongs Lexicon H1912

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to the yeshiva and back, part two

Machon Hadar

The first time I heard of Machon Hadar was when the book Empowered Judaism by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer came out in 2010. The book was based on an obvious question…. Obvious to anyone with a strong Jewish background in authentic Jewish practice and schooled to study Jewish texts in the original Hebrew and Aramaic. Obvious to such a literate Jew (or someone who aspires to same) who also subscribes to gender equality, is wise to the fact that non-Jews are not only the children of God but also capable of channeling the deepest spiritual truths, and believes that a rejection of the scientific knowledge garnered from the intellect that God has bestowed on humanity is a rejection of God Herself. The question is not profound it is pedestrian:

empowerd-judaism

Why is it that when I walk into an Orthodox house of worship, that even though I must put aside MY Judaism with many of my beliefs and standards, I feel as though I am exposed to an authentic rendition of Jewish practice and learning.  Why is it when I walk into my local Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist congregation whose ideologies more closely reflects my own, I am for the most part…. left without a charge?

The answers Kaufner provides are mostly programmatic and the book is well worth reading for anyone whose institutional Judaism is, by default, mostly nostalgic and who finds comfort in his or her local Chabad or visiting the Yeshiva or shul of their youth for a quick but hardly sustaining fix.

elie-kaunfer

Rabbi Elie Kaunfer

In a nutshell, Kaufner and his cohorts argue that the non-orthodox variations of Judaism have been backed into a catch-all, processed Judaism-Lite where they become the de facto address for less than literate remnants of the Tribe.  These non-Orthodox varieties were created by educated and progressive scholars and thought-leaders but were forced to dumb-down their content, context and delivery to reach the lowest common denominator. If your local Conservative Synagogue were an opera house it would perform Aida in English, calling out page numbers and offering prompts as to when audience members should applaud, be seated and remain quiet.

Independent minyanim were organically created prayer groups, sans Rabbinic and other adult supervision, which started in American college and graduate schools.  They were launched by the best and brightest graduates of Hebrew Day Schools including Solomon Schechter schools. These young adults found each other and created spaces and times to pray and study while they pursued their higher educations.  Many of the leaders were children of Conservative Rabbis or Judaic and Ancient Near Eastern studies academics.   The three founders of Machon Hadar all met at Harvard (no one’s perfect). Kaufner, the son of a Conservative Rabbi, Ethan Tucker the son of renowned Conservative Rabbi Gordon Tucker (and Hadassah Lieberman), and Shai Held, the son of Moshe Held, a world renowned scholar in Ugaritic and Akkadian that I studied under at Columbia, back in the day.   These guys do not look over their shoulder for approval and acceptance as many Conservative Rabbis do.  They have a refreshing sense of entitlement necessary, I would venture,  to reclaim Judaism on their own terms.[i]

Rabbis Ethan Tucker and Shai Held

Rabbis Ethan Tucker and Shai Held

It took me six years to answer an ad for an Executive Week-long Yeshiva at Machon Hadar which rents space a whopping 3 blocks from my NY apartment….. kinda like the girl next door…

Family members and friends routinely go on yoga retreats or to a spa, I thought, why shouldn’t I go back to yeshiva…

What appealed to me was that there was a placement exam for those claiming to be Talmudists.  This might be the real deal, I thought. I received a call with an e-mail containing a link to a Talmudic text from Rabbi Miriam-Simma Walfish, Yeshivat Hadar Faculty. I was given no context for the text and stumbled my way through, making sure that my mistakes sounded like learned mistranslations.[ii] Rabbi Miriam was very understanding and granted me advanced placement…. This was going to be fun!

For the next week I spent every morning in a study hall that looked identical to the one of my youth, and was populated by the brightest, cheerful, mostly Ivy League college students.  These young scholars had interrupted their higher degrees in Physics, English Lit, Sociology, Pre-Law and Pre-Med to rigorously study Jewish texts as Hadar Fellows for the summer.  There were about 100 of them and 40 of us (older) “Executives”.

 

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We started every morning with the morning service, donning Talit and Tefilin and using a nusach guaranteed not to offend anyone’s religious and egalitarian sensibilities.[iii]  Dare I mention that we were men and women?  This new generation of Fellows were as natural and comfortable with co-educating and cross-davening as fish in water.  For me, it was as if the end of days had arrived (did I just say that?)

After breakfast we broke up into groups based on our proficiency. I was paired with two lawyers who had been attending the week-long summer yeshiva for a few years. We were given original Aramaic Talmudic texts to prepare.  I felt the rust of bitul Torah and the deficit of a lack of formal schooling in Aramaic diction (not part of the curriculum at the traditional Yeshivot I had attended).  We spent the mornings of the entire week analyzing the Talmud’s understanding of damages to be paid for secondary and arguably, unrelated pain and/or incapacitation caused by someone who inflicted a wound on another.  Most of the Talmudic discussion was based on the interpretation of two either emphatic or spurious words in the Biblical text.

if he rise again, and walk abroad upon his staff, then shall he that smote him be quit; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be healed, surely healed. (Exodus 21:19)

אִם-יָקוּם וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּחוּץ, עַל-מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ–וְנִקָּה הַמַּכֶּה:  רַק שִׁבְתּוֹ יִתֵּן, וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא

Very technical, very challenging and very engrossing.  After our hour of preparation, we were skillfully lead through the texts by our Rebbe, Rabbi Aviva Richman.

Her ability to slice and dice, decipher and explicate the conflicting texts was better than any Talmud shiur I have been privileged to attend…. seriously.   Interestingly and uncharacteristically, I enjoyed her direction more with regard to the legal texts and less when she introduced more spiritual or theological elements to the discussion.  With a smile, she tagged me as the class cynic and I was happy to oblige.

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Rabbi Aviva Richman

In the afternoon sessions, we broke away from the Fellows and joined together, combining all levels of proficiency for break-out sessions led by the scholars of Hadar and some invited guests.  These were not scholars giving well-rehearsed stump speeches, taught many times before but rather active learners sharing with us subjects they were themselves struggling with and discovering.  Shai Held spent an hour comparing and contrasting the secular philosopher Martin Buber with the controversial halachic behaviorist Yeshayahu Leibowitz. Listen here.  Ethan Tucker shared with us his discovery of Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Glasnera, known as the Dor Revi’i, who was a great grandson of the anti-enlightenment and anti-Zionist haredi scion; the Hatam Sofer.  The Dor Revi’I was not only one of the first haredi Zionists but, more to the point, embraced the evolved moral/asthetic sensibilities of the Enlightenment over the accepted ethical standards of the Torah world. See here. Jason Rubenstein shared with us representative comical aggadic texts regarding the afterlife and discussed why the Rabbis took so flippantly a subject which was the stock and trade if not the ultimate payout of other competing religions such as Christianity. One of the most interesting sessions was on medical ethics and lead by guest scholars Nancy Dubler, a world renowned expert in medical ethics and her student/colleague R. Edward Reichman who (amongst other insights) shared the story of the martyrdom of Haninah ben Teradion as Talmudic case law supporting the difference between withholding (permitted according to halakha) and withdrawing (not permitted) life-sustaining treatment. [iv]

We ended every day with dinner including further discussion of the day’s learning and getting to know our fellow travelers.  A week of these day-long sessions was reminiscent of the swimming in the sea of Torah of my youth.  Machon Hadar’s leadership is convinced that this type of multi-day holistic deep-dive or immersive experience will be key for generating the kind of intensity required to navigate today’s world Jewishly.

Bar-B-Q dinner at Hadar

Bar-B-Q dinner at Hadar

My fellow executive travelers were of every flavor and level of learning and each added to the experience and to my enthusiasm for the potential of the Machon Hadar model. There was a reform Rabbi from Florida and the wife of an American diplomat who has advised every administration in Middle Eastern affairs for the last 30 years. Both of my study partners were lawyers, and one was actually pursuing a graduate degree at JTS.  There was even a Professor of Old Testament, born Jewish but raised and practicing as a Christian… who I have continued to correspond with and who deserves special mention.  Dr. J. Richard Middleton caught my attention on day one.  Those of you who know me, know of my aversion to Jewish Messianism, at least now that we have returned to Zion.  I had not planned on sporting my LoBa kippah at the Machon since I didn’t expect to find any Na Nach’s or Chabadniks wearing their religion on their heads either.  You can imagine my surprise when I first spotted Richard wearing a “long live the King Messiah” Chabad yarmulke… only to learn that he was truly a Messianic Jew! Born biologically Jewish but raised in Jamaica as a Christian and now an Old Testament Scholar Richard is currently working on the theology of lament as expressed in Abraham and Job (see here). Richard had corresponded with Shai Held who had suggested he join our group for the week.  Richard wrote up his impressions on his blog.  When Richard told one of his Jewish relatives that he was going to Yeshiva she gave him the kippah.  The perfect expression of form and function, media and message.  The Rebbe must be smiling in his Ohel.

Needless to say, I brought my LoBa Kippah to class and Richard and I struck our pose.  Wouldn’t that all kippot could get along so well..

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I’m looking forward to learning more at Machon Hadar…. let me know if you want to join me….

—————————–

[i] Machon Hadar represents a best-case example of what Scott Shay in his book Getting Our Groove Back: How to Energize American Jewry argues has been the historic and de facto role of Conservative Judaism and should rather be it’s mission; to serve as fertile soil and a Petri dish for creativity and break-away mini-movements such as Reconstructionism, Havura Judaism and Hard.  See chapter X, Reimagining the Conservative movement.

[ii] If you’re interested, here’s the text I was shown:

 

First:

 

חולין ומשמשיהן פטורין מן הסכה. אוכלין ושותין עראי חוץ לסכה

And after I stumbled through this… then

text

[iii] See Guidelines and Information about Davening at Mechon Hadar which we received before the week at the yeshiva: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9fRO_dfXpziZWk2NzB0YUpnUjlqM2ZXNWItczBSc0hYMU4w/view

 

[iv] from “Open then thy mouth, that the fire may enter and the sooner put an end to thy sufferings,” advised his pupils. But Haninah replied, “It is best that He who hath given the soul should also take it away: no man may hasten his death.” (withdrawing) Thereupon the executioner removed the wool and fanned the flame, thus accelerating the end, and then himself plunged into the flames and tey both went to heaven (Avodah Zarah 17b) … see: R. Zalan Nehemia Goldberg. In the fall of 1978, R. Goldberg published his opinion in Moriah one of Israel’s leading halachic journals where he maintains that, under specific guidelines, removing a ventilator from a patient who is a terefa would not constitute homicide. The obligation to “heal” or “save” this patient’s life would not apply since the efforts would be futile, and, of critical importance, “we have no obligation to save one’s life where he prefers death to life.” R. Goldberg cites two sources to support his contention that we have no obligation to save this patient’s life against his wishes. R. Hanna ben Teradyon, the great martyr (Avoda Zara 18a), was wrapped in a Torah scroll and put to death by fire. His executioner placed tufts of wool soaked in water on his chest in order to prolong his suffering. Ultimately, R. Hanina permitted his executioner to raise the flame and remove the wool in order to hasten his death. Since R. Hana acquiesced to the hastening of his death, R. Goldberg infers that there is no obligation to prolong a life of suffering in the face of impending death. See here p 52

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to the yeshiva and back – part one

Beer Yaakov

A yeshiva bachur is a young man who studies in a traditional Talmudic academy; a Yeshiva.  It is said that you can take the bachur out of the yeshiva but you can’t take the yeshiva out of the bachur.  I define myself and my relationship with Judaism in many ways. I’m post-orthodox, traditional but not halachic, evolved and evolving, but one thing I will always be; is a yeshiva bachur. Guilty as charged.

If there is one concept or disposition that I cannot shake it is Bitul Torah. Literally the nullification of Torah, but more precisely the prohibition against wasting potential Torah study time. According to no less of a source than halachipedia: “It is imperative upon a person to use his free time for Torah study. If one wastes one’s free time on useless means, one is in violation of Bitul Torah.” The very concept of time is redefined in the Yeshiva world (and it is a world unto itself) where there are texts to be studied and concepts to be argued from morning to night and every second is literally… fleeting.  The Talmud has a powerful expression to emphasis the point.

אם תעזבני יום יומים אעזבך

“If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.” [i]

This is an early allusion to the economic concept of opportunity cost.  There is always Torah to learn and it does not wait for you, it keeps moving. You cannot return to where you left off, it has already left and gone. If you miss a day of learning you have lost both the day you could have had and the day you had.  This heightened sense of time, especially as relates to study, is for me the essence of the yeshiva and that sense has never left me.

Said Professor Saul Lieberman; when his learning was interrupted by someone asking for his time “money I have, time I don’t”.  A contribution he could make, an appearance, not so much.

In the yeshiva, learning has less to do with the knowledge gained than with the act itself.  A learned scholar who does not constantly add to his knowledge is of less worth that a less intellectually endowed student who sits and learns… day and night.  When shown a very learned businessman, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the head of the yeshiva of my youth was unimpressed and quipped “If you know how to steal but don’t steal, does that make you a ganif (thief)? … If you know how to learn but don’t, does that make you a lamdin (learner)?” … not exactly.

The second most impactful characteristic of the bachur yeshiva is purity verging on naiveté.  A popular song, actually a chant, sung over and over again in a trance-like hora is from the Shabbat liturgy:

וְטַהֵר לִבֵּנוּ לְעָבְדְּךָ בֶאֱמֶת

Purify our heart to serve You in truth

see

Ironically this song was also taken by the Israeli secular pioneers (halutzim) to celebrate their pure and undivided and untarnished focus on the labor (avodah) necessary to build a new land.

Listen[ii]:

The pioneers translated this purity into the simple life of the kibbutz which eschewed makeup, jewelry and bourgeois accouterments. For the yeshiva bachur it was the simple life of the monk, lehvdil.

פת במלח תאכל ומים במשורה תשתה ועל הארץ תישן וחיי צער תחיה ובתורה אתה עמל

אם אתה עשה כן, אשריך וטוב לך, אשריך בעולם הזה וטוב לך לעולם הבא

Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah. If so you do, “fortunate are you, and good is to you” (Psalms 128:2): fortunate are you in this world, and it is good to you in the World To Come.[iii]

Which brings me to my return to the yeshiva, part one.

I was near Beer Yaakov on a recent visit to Israel so I decided to return… return to the yeshiva of my youth.

As a nineteen year old, I went to Yeshiva Beer Yaakov at the advice of my cousin Aviezer Wolfson, a businessman, scholar and composer. Aviezer had studied at the yeshiva and my grandfather, Charles Wolfson and his brothers had financed the buildings and sefer Torahs at the Yeshiva.  The main attraction was the Mashgiach Ruchni (spiritual guide), Harav Shlomo Wolbe who was considered when he passed away, the last of the great Mussarniks. Rav Wolbe was a card carrying Haredi who was raised in a secular home and graduated from the university of Berlin in 1933.  He ended up (it’s a long story) at the Meir Yeshiva as a student of Rav Yerucham Levovitz a student of the Alter of Kelm a disciple of Rav Yisroel Salanter the founder of the Mussar Movement. Learning under Rav Wolbe, especially in small, by invitation only, vaadim, was a unique privilege and opportunity to be directly connected through him to Rav Yisrael Salanter, this founder of a  lesser known but unique movement that coincided with the emergence of Hasidism and the haskalah. Rav Wolbe took one student every year to study Chumash with Rashi every morning.  In my second year at the yeshiva, I was that student.

Lieberman and Wolbe

Prof. Saul Lieberman and Rav Shlomo Wolbe

Lieberman Wolbe and Stern

don’t ask.. I don’t remember what we were discussing…

Liberman Wolbe and Sterns

Rav Wolbe, Geoffrey (Shlomo), Orna, Jane and Chaya

Wolbe and SternHere are previously unpublished photos of Rav Wolbe at my Sheva Barachot with Professor Saul Lieberman (who was mesader kiddushin at my wedding).

Wolbe speaking

 

 

 

 
It took me a while to find the Yeshiva.  In my day, it was isolated amongst orange groves and it’s students emerged from their isolation only once in every six shabbats to return to the civilized world.  Now it is pluck in the middle of the urban sprawl of a bustling city of Beer Yaakov, necessitating a privacy curtain (those Halutzim had built well…).

prviacy curtains

Even with all the privacy, I could already tell from the signage that the Yeshiva had fallen….  on hard times.  I couldn’t get over the fact that my isolated yeshiva was now in the middle of a city. There used to be orange groves there now it was a major thoroughfare.

panorama

Once I made my way past the privacy curtains I saw the students gathered around a printed notice on the door to the study hall.  I made my way in and read with disbelief that the yeshiva had been without electricity since the beginning of the month and the administration was pleased to announce that they had finally negotiaated a payment plan with the electric company.

According to matzav.com (The Jewish world at your fingertips)

no electricty

Here’s the notice posted the day of my visit on May 23rd:

notice

The notice thanks the students for their savlanut (patience and endurance) and thanks God for helping to craft a deal with the power authority.  That said, there are strict regulations, punishable with fines for misusing electricity for private air conditioning in the dorms.

Here’s a picture of the aforementioned generator, which in my day was used every Shabbat so that the yeshiva was not powered by electricity produced by Jews on the Sabbath.

generator

The yeshiva baring my Uncles name was in disrepair.

Isaac

 

But inside, I was just in time for the afternoon service.  When I pray now, I am usually one of the last to finish…  but here at my roots, I was amongst the first.  At Beer Yaakov, on a simple everyday afternoon mincha service no prayer is finished before its time… prayers are savored like a fine wine, not gobbled like fast-food. I guess that stayed with me.

beit medrash

My  visit to Beer Yaakov that day was spontaneous and I was not dressed in the uniform white shirt and black pants.  I had no jacket and only my LoBa Kippah, which I turned inside out (ונהפכו).  I felt very comfortable and no one either approached me to say Shalom Alechem nor did they stare at me…. I was just another guy coming in, probably to say kaddish. I started walking around the “campus” and a student approached.  “I studied here” I said… under “Rav Wolbe” I added.  Now there was interest.  Now I was a link.  Students gathered as I described how it was and asked to see and describe the dining room and dorm as I remembered them.  “Where is Rav Wolbe’s house” I asked.  To my shock, the home were we gathered late at night for a vaad was now condemned.

Rv Wolbe's house

It  was sad, but maybe fitting.  The master had passed and so had an era.  The student who showed me around had the purity and simplicity that I had remembered and the food in the dining room was as sparse as I remember it…. and the Torah was being studied with only bread and water and apparently no electricity.  For me and the students, Rav Wolbe’s wisdom still echoes in the hall.  It was time for me to go.

There is much written in the agadata (non legal texts of the Talmud) about a grove (pardes) and a destroyed edifice (chorvah).  On my return to the Yeshiva of my youth I found a pardes that is no more and a chorvah that contains much of my core.  I left the Yeshiva that day.  Needless to say, the yeshiva remains in me.

———————–

[i] Sifrei on Deut. 11:22, Yerushalmi Ber. 9:5, Midrash Shmuel 1 as quoted in Rashi Deuteronomy 11:13 Similar is [the meaning of]“And it will be, if you forget” (אִם שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח) (Deut. 8:19): If you have begun to forget [the Torah you have learned], eventually you will forget all of it, for so it is written in the Megillah 1: “If you leave Me for one day, I will leave you for two days.”

[ii]Vitaher Libeynu (And Purify Our Hearts). 5:58 – 7:25 here.

[iii] In the name of Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi Pirkei Avot 6:4

 

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