Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Remember to make an eruv tavshilin

Just received by email:
Remember to make an Eruv Tavshilin before Yom Tov to be able to cook on Friday Yom Tov for Shabbat. Please spread the word among those who may not see this email.
Here is how you do it:
Cooking on Yom Tov is permitted for the needs of the day itself; however, when Shabbat starts right after Yom Tov, the rabbis permitted cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbat provided that preparations for Shabbat are begun before the holiday. This is accomplished through an eruv tavshilin – before Yom Tov starts, take a piece of bread or matzah and a cooked food (typically a hard-boiled egg), hold them, and recite the following:

YUTorah for parashat Haazinu

Audio Shiurim on Haazinu
Rabbi Chaim Brovender: Ending With A Song 
Rabbi Ally Ehrman: Am Naval 
Rabbi Meir Goldwicht: Zechor Yemos Olam (Hebrew)
Rabbi Yisroel KaminetskyThe Connection of Vayeilech and Haazinu
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J SchacterWhy couldn't Moshe do Teshuva? 
Rabbi Baruch SimonPurity of Heart and the Yomim Norayim 
Rabbi Reuven SpolterThe Frightening Future 
Rabbi Michael TaubesBirkas HaTorah 
Dr. Raphael ZarumMoshe's Last Day 

Articles on Haazinu
Rabbi Chaim EisensteinKabbalas Hatorah Through Fire and Water
Rabbi Avraham GordimerMitzvas K'sivas Sefer Torah and Aseres Y'mei Teshuva
Rabbi Maury GrebenauThe Bracha on Joy
Rabbi David HorwitzOn the Invocation of Heaven and Earth as Witnesses 

Shiurim on Shabbat Shuva
Rabbi Nachman CohenLove Makes the Difference 
Rabbi Meir GoldwichtThe Power of Shame 
Rabbi Hershel ReichmanShem Mishmuel on Shabbat Shuvah
Mrs. Shira SmilesThe Eternal Message 
Rabbi Eli Baruch ShulmanThe Importance of Dignity
Rabbi Michael TaubesThe Haftorah of shabbat shuva 
See all 

Rabbi Jeremy WiederLaining for Parshat Haazinu
See all shiurim on YUTorah for Parshat Haazinu

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The shaking, or shaken, earth

Summary: Considering a krei and ketiv in the haftara, according to Meshech Chochma.

Post: In the haftara for Haazinu, in II Shmuel 22, we read:

ז  בַּצַּר-לִי אֶקְרָא ה, וְאֶל-אֱלֹהַי אֶקְרָא;  {ס}  וַיִּשְׁמַע מֵהֵיכָלוֹ קוֹלִי, וְשַׁוְעָתִי בְּאָזְנָיו.  {ר}7 In my distress I called upon the LORD, yea, I called unto my God; and out of His temple He heard my voice, and my cry did enter into His ears.
ח  ותגעש (וַיִּתְגָּעַשׁ) וַתִּרְעַשׁ הָאָרֶץ,  {ס}  מוֹסְדוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם יִרְגָּזוּ; וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ, כִּי-חָרָה לוֹ.  {ר}8 Then the earth did shake and quake, the foundations of heaven did tremble; they were shaken, because He was wroth.

Note the krei and ketiv. This is all part of a shir which David HaMelech sang, as it states in pasuk 1. There is a parallel song in Tehillim 18:8:

ז  בַּצַּר-לִי, אֶקְרָא יְהוָה--    וְאֶל-אֱלֹהַי אֲשַׁוֵּעַ:
יִשְׁמַע מֵהֵיכָלוֹ קוֹלִי;    וְשַׁוְעָתִי, לְפָנָיו תָּבוֹא בְאָזְנָיו.
7 In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God;{N}
out of His temple He heard my voice, and my cry came before Him unto His ears.
ח  וַתִּגְעַשׁ וַתִּרְעַשׁ, הָאָרֶץ--    וּמוֹסְדֵי הָרִים יִרְגָּזוּ;
וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ,    כִּי-חָרָה לוֹ.
8 Then the earth did shake and quake, the foundations also of the mountains did tremble; {N}
they were shaken, because He was wroth.

And there, there is no krei and ketiv alternation, but the krei is in line with the ketiv. The difference, it seems to me, is that one, וַתִּגְעַשׁ, is the third person feminine past, while the other, וַיִּתְגָּעַשׁ, is the third person masculine reflexive (or passive) past. The former matches the pattern of the immediately following word, וַתִּרְעַשׁ, while the latter matches the later occurrence of וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ in the pasuk, though the subject later is the masculine plural מוֹסְדֵי הָרִים. Given the possibility of corruption from the later word וַיִּתְגָּעֲשׁוּ, given that even in Shmuel it only appears as an alternative krei, and given that in Tehillim we only have one, I would side with וַתִּגְעַשׁ as the correct one. This is if we consider krei and ketiv as the competing possibilities, with only one being correct.

In terms of meaning, I don't really see any major difference between the alternatives. Either way, the earth is literally or metaphorically shaking.

Meshech Chochma discusses this alternation. After citing the pasuk, he writes:

"And the ketiv according to the peshat is וַתִּגְעַשׁ, and so too in Tehillim. And this is strange, for the krei is against the peshat. And it appears that it is going upon the heichal, that the heichal is shaken, and from this, the earth quakes, just as they darshen in Yoma 54b:

וחכמים אומרים מציון נברא שנאמר (תהלים נ, א) מזמור לאסף אל אלהים ה' ואומר מציון מכלל יופי ממנו מוכלל יפיו של עולם
that the earth was created from Tziyon, for it is stated {in Tehillim}, מציון מכלל יופי. And this is the center, and from there it is shaken, and from there the earth shakes, and it is pashut."

This is an interesting way of parsing the pesukim, and one which I would not have thought of. And I think it would account for the masculine of וַיִּתְגָּעַשׁ (though ארץ might be able to support either).

Radak does not see any substantive difference between the krei and the ketiv:
[כב, ח]
ותגעש -
כתיב כמו בתהלים וקרי ויתגעש והענין אחד, וקריאת המלה מלרע וכל הענין הזה עד ישלח ממרום רמז להשחית ולכלות אויבי ישראל, כי להם הוא רעש הארץ והשמים וחשך וערפל וגחלים ואש וחצים וברק, הכל דרך משל. 
He says vehainyan echad.

The Targum renders both וַתִּגְעַשׁ  and וַתִּרְעַשׁ as the itpael. Rashi, in saying that the head of the pasuk is mechubar to its end, might be mapping וַיִּתְגָּעַשׁ of the krei to the end.

Judgement upon Japan, and knowing the reasons for natural disasters

The gemara in Yevamos 79a categorizes the nation of Israel as rachmanim, bayshanim, and gomlei chassadim. Thus:
This nation5  is distinguished by three characteristics: They are merciful, bashful and benevolent. 'Merciful', for is is written, And shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee.6  'Bashful', for it is written, That His fear may be before you.7  'Benevolent', for it is written, That he may command his children and his household etc.8 
Now, let us suppose that there is a natural disaster in some country that has not really done much harmful to Israel. There is a tsunami, and earthquake, and a nuclear meltdown. There is a death toll of about 25,000. What would you expect the reaction of a merciful people, rachmanim, to be?

  1. Feelings of sorrow and empathy to those who suffered
  2. Gleeful cackling that these are evil people who are getting the Divine justice the deserve
  3. Not (1) or (2), but still searching the deeds of the nation under the assumption that they must be sinners who are getting what they deserve
I would have expected (1). I have mostly seen what can be categorized as (2) or (3). People assume that my opposition to viewing these natural disasters as punishment for sin is a lack of faith on my part. In truth, though I think my position is theologically justified (as I've described elsewhere, and below), a good part of what compels me to oppose (3) is a distaste for the practical impact of these assumptions. While you are assuming they are getting their just desserts, you are blocked from feeling empathy.

This sort of assumption (in 3) leads to all sorts of dubious readings into why they deserve it. It was for joining with the Nazis way back in World War II. It was for hunting whales. It was for imprisoning yeshiva bachurim who only thought they were smuggling antiques into Japan, but who were really smuggling drugs. Never mind that these bachurim were not singled out for being Jews, and that this is typical of the rather strict justice system in Japan.

When we encounter troubles, we should seek out our deeds. Thus, the gemara in Brachos 5a:
Raba (some say, R. Hisda) says: If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: Let us search and try our ways, and return unto the Lord.21  If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. For it is said: Happy is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law.22  If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be the cause], let him be sure that these are chastenings of love. For it is said: For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth.23
This is an instruction to the person who is himself suffering. Let him examine his own conduct. It is not an invitation to examine the conduct of others who are suffering, and to blame them for their suffering.

Consider the case of Iyov's friends. They saw him suffering, and falsely assumed that his suffering was the result of his sins. And as we read in the end of Iyov, the last perek:
ז  וַיְהִי, אַחַר דִּבֶּר ה אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה--אֶל אִיּוֹב; וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל אֱלִיפַז הַתֵּימָנִי, חָרָה אַפִּי בְךָ וּבִשְׁנֵי רֵעֶיךָ--כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתֶּם אֵלַי נְכוֹנָה, כְּעַבְדִּי אִיּוֹב.7 And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words unto Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: 'My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends; for ye have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job hath. {S}

There are many reasons, even given by Chazal, for natural disasters in the world. Not all of them are punishment of the wicked. (I am pleased that I managed to convince someone of this recently; like this, one needs not blame the victim.)

This is besides the fact that it is entirely unjustified to take something which is part of derech hateva and blame the people for it. If there is a land which is filled with active volcanoes, surrounded with water, and lies on major fault lines, then based on the way that the world is constructed, one would expect tsunamis and earthquakes.

Thus, there are many storms at sea. This is derech hateva. The Rambam and the Ramban both say that if someone decides to go out to sea, they can be killed when a storm occurs and their ship sinks, and it is not a matter of sechar veOnesh. Because this danger on the sea is derech hateva, and who says that this individual's merit is sufficient that miracles must be performed to save him?

Someone pointed me a while back to a Rambam in hilchos taaniyot, perek 1, which can be kvetched to insist that every natural disaster, even ones which are clearly derech hateva, are not. Thus:
א מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "עַל-הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם--וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם, בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת" (במדבר י,ט)--כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּצַר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ.
Consider the examples here. Famine, plague, locusts, and things like this. Chaos theory makes many of these things impossible to predict, precisely. And so, there can be years without famine and years without locusts in a place. And if it comes on the tzibbur, they should cry out.

This is not the same as living in the middle of a desert and discovering that you don't have water, and that nothing is growing. Or living in the middle of malaria-infested swampland, year after year, and people keep dying from mosquito bites. There is the possibility of not having the batzores, dever, arbeh, etcetera, but the tzara comes. (Indeed, contrast that with the people who lived in the plains of Sharon, where the earth was weak, it seems (based on some meforshim) due to many earthquakes, such that they needed to rebuild their homes twice every seven years, where the kohen gadol regularly prayed on Yom Kippur that their homes should not be their graves. See also where the Rambam discourages living in an urban environment, because of the natural impact to health.)

The Rambam continues that this is of the darkei hateshuva that people should regard this as punishment for their evil deeds:
ב וְדָבָר זֶה, דֶּרֶךְ מִדַּרְכֵי הַתְּשׁוּבָה הוּא: שֶׁבִּזְמָן שֶׁתָּבוֹא צָרָה וְיִזְעֲקוּ לָהּ וְיָרִיעוּ, יֵדְעוּ הַכֹּל שֶׁבִּגְלַל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים הֵרַע לָהֶן--כַּכָּתוּב "עֲו‍ֹנוֹתֵיכֶם, הִטּוּ-אֵלֶּה" (ירמיהו ה,כה) לָכֶם, וְזֶה הוּא שֶׁיִּגְרֹם לָהֶם לְהָסִיר הַצָּרָה מֵעֲלֵיהֶם.
And the opposing position is to consider it just minhag haolam.
ג אֲבָל אִם לֹא יִזְעֲקוּ, וְלֹא יָרִיעוּ, אֵלָא יֹאמְרוּ דָּבָר זֶה מִמִּנְהַג הָעוֹלָם אֵרַע לָנוּ, וְצָרָה זוֹ נִקְרֹא נִקְרֵית--הֲרֵי זוֹ דֶּרֶךְ אַכְזָרִיּוּת, וְגוֹרֶמֶת לָהֶם לְהִדָּבֵק בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם הָרָעִים, וְתוֹסִיף הַצָּרָה וְצָרוֹת אֲחֵרוֹת: הוּא שֶׁכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה, "וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי, בְּקֶרִי. וְהָלַכְתִּי עִמָּכֶם, בַּחֲמַת-קֶרִי" (ויקרא כו,כז-כח), כְּלוֹמַר כְּשֶׁאָבִיא עֲלֵיכֶם צָרָה, כְּדֵי שֶׁתָּשׁוּבוּ--אִם תֹּאמְרוּ שְׁהוּא קֶרִי, אוֹסִיף עֲלֵיכֶם חֲמַת אוֹתוֹ קֶרִי.
Yes, when something occurs, and people say that these things randomly happen, and it is just the way of the world, מִמִּנְהַג הָעוֹלָם, which אֵרַע לָנוּ, just happened to us -- contrast ארעי to קבע -- then this would be, according to the Rambam, דֶּרֶךְ אַכְזָרִיּוּת.

But, he is talking about the type of events in siman 1, where there is no guarantee that such a thing will happen. As such, it is a rational response to think of it as Divine Punishment, and it is a rational response, albeit possibly a rationalization, to think that it is a random chance occurrence. And the Rambam is telling us which one is appropriate to select.

This does NOT mean that if one understands plate tectonics, meaning the mechanisms of the actual derech hateva, which ensure regular earthquakes and tsunamis hundreds of times a year in a specific country; and indeed historically, even before World War II or before drug-smuggling yeshiva bachurim were arrested, such events have functioned with regularity; and it would be a great miracle, against the natural order, for such earthquakes to stop -- that the Rambam would declare these earthquakes to be outside the realm of derech hateva. And I would consider it a great kvetch to make the Rambam say otherwise. He is not here to defend himself, and clarify his remarks, of course.

The 'peshat' in Shamayim, in Haazinu HaShamayim

Summary: Tur vs. Tur, peshat vs. hanachon.

Post: According to the Tur's short commentary, shamayim at the start of Haazinu is a reference to the big cities and small towns.

"According to the peshat, the meaning of Haazinu HaShamayim is to those who dwell in the large cities which are fortified unto the heavens.; and vetishma ha'aretz is to those who dwell is villages and small towns."

Yet he does not offer this as peshat in his longer commentary:

"Some explain shamayim as referring to the angels who dwell in heaven, and the aretz as those who dwell on earth.

And some explain that this is on behalf of the rain which is from heaven, and on the earth that it should give its crops.

And what is correct is that it is the heavens and the earth literally, that the way of the pesukim is to take testimony from something which lasts and stands forever. And so too 'Hear, mountains, the dispute of Hashem' (Michah 6:2)."

It would seem that he changed his mind from one work to the other. I am not certain which one was composed earlier.

Monday, September 26, 2011

YUTorah offers Rosh Hashana To-Go

Download Rosh Hashana To-Go from YU Torah here, as a single download. Or, visit their website to see the package from previous years.

Here is a list of the individual articles, which can be downloaded separately.

  • Let There Be Light - Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm
    (Chancellor and Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshiva University)
  • The Yom Kippur Mikvah- Rabbi Reuven Brand
    (Rosh Kollel, YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago)
  • Why Do We Read the Story of Chana on Rosh Hashana
    Mrs. Mali Brofsky 
    (Faculty, Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim)
  • Admitting Mistakes - Rabbi Joshua Flug
    (Director of Torah Research, Center for the Jewish Future)
  • Sachar V’Onesh? Addressing Suffering as We Look to the New Year – Mrs. Norma Mintz 
    (Faculty, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School)
  • Even Ephraim – Rabbi Zvi Romm 
    (Faculty, Isaac Breuer College, Yeshiva University)
  • Telling Stories at Rosh Hashana: The Orality of Jewish Tradition - Professor Peninnah Schram 
    (Professor of Speech and Drama, Stern College for Women)
  • It's the Thought That Counts - Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner 
    (Rosh Beit Midrash, YU Torah Mitzion Zichron Dov Beit Midrash of Toronto)
  • Strategies for Transformative Teshuva - Rabbi Ari Zahtz(Assistant Director, Yeshiva Masmidim Honors Program, Yeshiva University)

posts so far for parshat Haazinu

  1. Haazinu sources -- begun in 2008 as links to an online Mikraos Gedolos, by aliyah and perek. In 2009, added more than 100 meforshim on the parsha and haftorah. In 2010, further improved and expanded. In 2011, even more sources. For instance, many more meforshei Rashi and meforshei Onkelos.
  2. Rabbi Avner the apostate in a Haazinu Torah Code -- Except of course that it is a likely a bubbe mayseh, and it is no Torah Code.
  3. Is Pikei'ach Nefesh docheh ShabbosNo, that is not a typo in the title.

  1. Why Chomsky went off the derech -- He fulfilled the first part of the pasuk, of שְׁאַל אָבִיךָ וְיַגֵּדְךָ, though his father did not know enough about the topic to inform him correctly. (Deep knowledge of Hebrew is different from deep knowledge of the relevant sugyot and the derivation of a halacha.) He should have followed up with זְקֵנֶיךָ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָךְ, by asking his grandfather.
  1. 'The Vile nation', censored out of Baal HaTurim.
  2. Har Sinai, the smallest of all the mountains -- and a good question from Junior.
  3. Is corruption His? Reading shiches lo as an accusation by the children of Israel.
  4. How many lines in Haazinu? Though the printed Rambams have encoded the number of lines as 70, in the good kitvei yad, the number is 67, and people just modified Rambam to accord with their local practice. And this let Cassuto to think that the Aleppo Codex was not for real.
  5. Teshi, with a unique small yud -- that does not appear elsewhere, because there should not be a small yud in Pinchas. And possible meanings of this unique small yud, from a midrashic perspective.
  6. Does parshat Haazinu include the promise that Israel will enjoy non-kosher fats?Ibn Ezra might be able to use this pasuk to bolster his assertion in parshat Tzav that really, the only forbidden fats are on animals that are actually korbanot, but on your typical animal of the same species, the prohibition is only derabbanan. Though Ibn Ezra does not cite this pasuk of Haazinu, Shadal brings it up and dismisses it as proof.
  7. Is vayin`atz a transitive or intransitive verb? Much like oved in Arami oved avi. Given that it is usually transitive, how do we explain it seeming to occur in an intransitive context in Haazinu?
  8. According to the number of the sons of... A difficult pasuk in Haazinu, with several of the many explanations offered given the traditional reading. And the reading of the Septuagint, of angels of God, and the fragmentary reading of the Dead Sea Scrolls, of bnei el-, which works out well with developed Jewish tradition as well as Ugaritic myth, in a way that neatly fixes up the entire "problem." Perhaps a broader discussion of this in a later post.
  9. The Natural Order, and the Sun in Giveon -- trying to figure out just what is bothering Ibn Ezra in his missing commentary on sefer Yehoshua, which he hints at in this week's parsha, and why the Moon standing still is somehow an answer to his problem. I think I figured it out.
  10. Alexander's ascent, via griffin or griffin-vulture -- related to the parsha, but discusses a Yerushalmi of Alexander ascending high into the air and seeing the world like a ball. Pnei Moshe says this was via his  nesher, basing himself on Greek accounts. In fact, in (some of?) those Greek accounts, it was via griffin.
  11. Is the second Pru Urvu a blessing or a command? A post on Bereishit, but an important principle is established from a pasuk in the tail-end of Haazinu, וּמֻת בָּהָר אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עֹלֶה שָׁמָּה, where an imperative form is used for something outside Moshe's power. So too Pru Urvu.
  1. In Shadal's Vikuach, in the chapter on the age of trup, an interesting Rabbenu Bachya -- that despite the sof pasuk dividing the two psukim, it should be read as דּוֹר עִקֵּשׁ וּפְתַלְתֹּל with הַ לְיְהוָה, תִּגְמְלוּ-זֹאת. That is, "a generation crooked and perverse, Do ye thus requite the LORD?..."
  • Lech Lecha (2005): And I Will Make Your Name Great
    • Name as "Title," Name as "Renown." Towards the end, we turn to analyze כִּי שֵׁם ה, אֶקְרָא: {ס} הָבוּ גֹדֶל, לֵאלֹקֵינוּ, and claim this is a case of synonymous parallellism.
2003, 2004
  • Haazinu: The Shva Na/Nach Problem
    • A vocalization problem with Devarim 32:6: הַ לְיְקוָק, תִּגְמְלוּ-זֹאת. Is the shva under the lamed a na or nach? An interesting grammatical analysis.
  • The Shva Na/Nach Problem, Take 2
    • A reworking of the above, such that it is clearer, with more background. Additionally, an image of the Aleppo Codex is included, as well as a discussion of information provided by Ibn Ezra and Shmuel HaNagid on its pronunciation and way of writing it (with three different traditions). Also, I offer an explanation of the phenomenon. As we see in Targum, the הַ is not the heh expressing wonder, but rather a congnate of the Aramaic הָא, meaning hineh {=behold}. The open patach was initially allowed as an odd archaic feature of Biblical poetry, but then seized the lamed from the next word to close the syllable.
  • Related, at Lion of Zion: Ha'azinu's Homoeoteleuton (in Radak), 2008
  • A Source for ברכת התורה
    • Vayelech/Haazinu/ Vezot HaBeracha - A neat derivation, or hint, to the practice of saying a bracha, blessing, before and after being called up in shul for an aliya to the Torah.

Is Pikei'ach Nefesh docheh Shabbos?

Summary: No, that is not a typo in the title.

Post: I discovered a hilarious midrash, brought down and discussed by Emek Halacha (HaMidrash veHaMaaseh), R' Yeshaya Yosef Margolin.
In Midrash Rabba (in this siman):
'A halacha, one who has troubles with his ears, what of healing it on Shabbat? So taught the Sages: Pikuach nefesh docheh Shabbat.'
This Midrash is entirely surprising. For if it is dealing with a sickness which has danger {sakanah}, have we not until this point heard that pikuach nefesh is docheh Shabbos? Is it not explicit in the Mishnah at the end of Yoma as well as in several braytot. And if it is danger only to limb, which appears to be the simple implication of the language 'One who is choshesh in his ears', behold in truth we do not violate a Biblical prohibition, as is stated in Maggid Mishnah, perek 2 of Hilchot Shabbat, and in Bet Yosef siman 328. And either which way, it requires explication, for what reason Chadal leaned this question of theirs in the midrash upon one who was choshesh in his ears specifically, and later on in our words it shall be explained."

Read on in Emek Halachah if you are interested in his resolution. I did not read it all the way.

But the midrash is extremely funny, as stated, though I am not certain that this is on purpose. As I would read it, there is an implicit al tikrei here. Read not פקוח but rather פקיח. A pikei'ach is one who has functioning hearing, as opposed to an ilem or a cheresh, a mute or a deaf-mute. Thus, pikuach nefesh, making certain that the nefesh remains a pikeach, is docheh Shabbos.

Perhaps. That was my first instinct when seeing the midrash. It turns out that this drasha was all in my mind. For it seems that the midrash was not quoted accurately. As it appears at Daat's Midrash Rabba:
אדם מישראל שהיה חושש באזנו, מהו שיהא מותר לרפאותו בשבת? 
כך שנו חכמים:

כל שספק נפשות דוחה את השבת וזו מכת האוזן אם סכנה היא, מרפאים אותה בשבת. 
רבנן אמרי:
מבקש אתה שלא לחוש באזניך ולא אחד מאיבריך, הטה אזנך לתורה ואת נוחל חיים.

שנאמר: (ישעי' נה) הטו אזנכם ולכו אלי שמעו ותחי נפשכם. 
This does not specifically mention pikuach nefesh, but rather safek nefashot, and if this affliction of the ear rises to the level of sakanah, then it is docheh Shabbos. (And if it does not, is the implication, then it is not docheh Shabbos.)

Why mention specifically the ear here, as opposed to any other ever? Not for any halachic implication or effect, as it seems Emek Halachah is going to take it. Rather, this is Midrash Rabbah, which is a non-halachic midrashic work. It is midrash aggadah. But it uses the halacha as a jumping-off point for it homiletic teaching, of inclining one's ears to Torah, such that one will inherit life, etc.

And so, no other ever would have been appropriate to mention in context, even though of course those other eivarim would have the same halacha. And the purpose is not to teach the halacha, which of course everyone already know -- it is so, so basic. It is to spin off from their into the homiletic material.

Whether the midrash was discussing sakanas eiver or sakanas nefesh is perhaps ambiguous, and can be discussed and resolved. But that was surely not the point of the midrash.

A gemara that speaks of healing ears on Shabbos is Avodah Zarah 28b:
Said Raba b. Zutra in the name of R. Hanina: It is permissible to restore the ear into its proper position on the Sabbath. Whereon R. Samuel b. Judah commented: Only with the hand, but not by applying medicines. Some report: By applying medicine, but not with the hand, the reason being that it causes soreness.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rabbi Avner the apostate in a Haazinu Torah Code

Summary: Except of course that it is a likely a bubbe mayseh, and it is no Torah Code.

Post: In Seder HaDoros, by Rabbi Yechiel ben Rabbi Shlomo Halprin, on page 56b, written about 1697, we read:

"And I have received a tradition that the Ramban had a student by the name of Rabbi Avner, who became a Sadducee {presumably, Christian; perhaps a Karaite?}. And his mazal cased him to become great, and he was awesome throughout the land. After these days, on Yom Kippur, he sent and brought the Ramban his teacher before him. He slaughtered by himself a pig, cut it up, cooked it, and ate it. And after he ate it, he asked the rav how many kareses he had violated. And the rav answered him that it was four. And he said that it was five. And thus, he wished to dispute with his teacher. And the Ramban cast his eyes upon him in anger, and that man fell silent, for he still retailed a bit of fear of his teacher. And in the end, the rav asked the man what brought him to apostasy. And he answered him that one time, he heard him {=the Ramban} darshen in parashat Haazinu that in that parashah were included all the mitzvos and all the things in the world. And since this was to him something impossible, he became another person. And the rav answered and said 'I still maintain this. Ask what you will.' And the man was extremely astonished and said to him, 'If so, please show me if my name name is written there.' And the Ramban answered, 'You have spoken well, that which you seek from me.' And immediately, he went into the corner and prayed, and the pasuk came to his mouth {Haazinu 32:26}, 

כו  אָמַרְתִּי, אַפְאֵיהֶם;  {ר}  אַשְׁבִּיתָה מֵאֱנוֹשׁ, זִכְרָם.  {ס}26 I thought I would make an end of them, I would make their memory cease from among men;

that the third letter of each word spells out the name of the man, which is R' Avner. And when he heard this matter, his face fell, and he asked his teacher if there was any cure to his hurt? And the rav said to him, you have heard the words of the verse. And the rav went on his way, and immediately, the man took a boat without sailors or oars, and went wherever the wind blew, and no more was known of him. (And see in Emek haMelech, shaar rishon, perek dalet.)"

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in telling this over -- see here at Shirat Devorah -- stresses that the rabbinic title, the R', was still present in his name. This is the sort of thing that the Rebbe, with his focus on kiruv rechokim, would notice and stress. I don't know that this was the intent, more than the focus on the negative message in the verse towards an apostate, as well as his path towards making amends.

This is an awesome story, in which we see the ruach hakodesh of the Ramban, the comeuppance of an apostate, and the message that the Torah is all-encompassing, and thus certainly relevant to our own lives. In addition, it seems to be a bolstering of the Torah codes, since someone as great as the Ramban put forth this Torah code.

Except, of course, it is not a Torah Code. There is no regular skip interval. Between the first few letters are six letters, but between the nun and the resh of Avner, there are only five letters. Rather, it is a more classic sort of kabbalistic derasha, finding the Xth letter of each subsequent word. This is the sort of thing we find regularly in Baal HaTurim. And Torah Codes proponents might well dismiss this sort of code as mathematically irrelevant, since it is not a priori. After all, one needs just look for any skip until one encounters one word, Avner. I say this just to stress the divide that exists between classic derashot of this sort and the Torah Codes. It is a different sort of derasha, where they make up their own, mathematically-grounded, rules.

Who was this Avner? If he really rose to such prominence and fame, shouldn't we have heard about him?

Well, it turns out that there was a famous apostate named R' Avner, in about the same time and place as the Ramban. The sefer Seder HaDoros does not identify him in particular, but it makes sense that he is referring to Avner of Burgos. The Ramban lived in Gerona and Avner was of Valladolid, both cities in Spain. Here is a bit about Avner, but read the whole article (drawn initially from JewishEncyclopedia):
Abner of Burgos (ca. 1270-ca. 1347, or a little later) was a Jewish philosopher, a convert to Christianity and polemical writer against his former religion. Known after his conversion as Alfonso of Valladolid.

As a student he acquired a certain mastery in Biblical and Talmudical studies, to which he added an intimate acquaintance with Peripatetic philosophy and astrology. He was graduated as a physician at 25, but throughout a long life he seems to have found the struggle for existence a hard one. In 1295, he reportedly treated a number of Jews for distress following their experiences in the failed messianic movement in Avila. As Abner reports in his Moreh Zedek/Mostrador de justicia, he himself "had a dream" in which a similar experience of crosses mysteriously appearing on his garments drove him to question his ancestral faith.

Not being of those contented ones who, as Moses Narboni says in his Maamar ha-Beḥirah (Essay on the Freedom of the Will; quoted by Grätz, p. 488), are satisfied with a peck of locust beans from one Friday to another, he resolved to embrace Christianity though at the advanced age of sixty, according to Pablo de Santa María (Scrutinium Scripturarum); according to other writers he took this step soon after he was graduated in medicine. According to the statements of his contemporaries, such as Narboni, he converted, not from spiritual conviction, but for the sake of temporal advantage. Something of the apostate's pricking conscience seems to have remained with him, however, although he was immediately rewarded with a sacristan's post in the prominent Metropolitan Church in Valladolid (whence he took the name of Alfonso of Valladolid). The argument that Abner converted for material gain is put in to question by the fact that his post as a sacristan was extremely modest and he never, throughout his long and public polemical career after conversion (ca 1320-1347) advanced in his post to something more lucrative.
The "problem" with this Avner being the student of the Ramban in question is that Abner of Burgos was born in 1270 in Spain, while Ramban died in 1270 in Eretz Yisrael. They would not have met, and so certainly he would not have been a student. Furthermore, there are no records of this Avner of Burgos repenting and going off on a boat, never to be heard from again. Still, I would stand by the identification, and say that whoever composed the story figured that this was someone who lived a generation after the Ramban in Spain, so it makes sense to make him a student of the Ramban. Also, because apparently Ramban did make a statement about everything in Jewish history being contained in Haazinu, so it just worked out so perfectly.

Rabbi Joshua Hoffman discusses this story here.
The Sifrei praises the shira, or poem, of Ha'azinu, because it includes the present, the past, the future, and the world to come. Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachya both write that all of Jewish history is included in the parsha of Ha'azinu. Ramban, in fact, writes that it is called 'shira' because the Jews had a practice of reading it regularly as a song, with joy, and Rambam, in his Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer, 7:13, mentions a practice of reading Ha'azinu every day. Rabbi Yechiel Halperin,an eighteenth century ancestor of the famed Rabbi Gavriel Zev Margolis, whose seventieth yahrzeit was observed on the tenth of Elul this past year ( 5765), mentions, in his Seder HaDoros, a story regarding a student of the Ramban, Abner of Burgos. Abner became an apostate and told the Ramban that it was this teaching of his, that every person can find a hint to himself in parshas Ha'azinu, that led him to abandon the Jewish faith. Ramban then demonstrated to Abner that his name is, indeed, alluded to in the verse, "I said I will scatter them, I will cause their memory to cease from man" (Devorim, 32:26). Abner was so overwhelmed by this proof, so the story goes, that he sailed off alone on a boat, never to be heard form again. it [sic] While this story, as many of the stories found in Seder HaDoros, may be apocryphal, it bespeaks a profound truth, as we will see. 
(A bit about Rabbi Hoffman and his Netvort:
Netvort, founded by Rabbi Josh Hoffman in 1998/5758, is an essay on the weekly Torah portion ("parsha") that aims to find a message meaningful to the contemporary reader through use of rabbinic commentators from throughout the ages. Netvort currently has some 600 email subscribers.

Known for decades as "The Hoffer", the author studied in Skokie Yeshiva, Yeshivat Mercaz HoRav, and Brisk Rabbinical College, where he received semicha from Rav Aharon Soloveichik. He also studied under Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik at Yeshiva University, as well as in YU's Kollel Elyon. He received an MA in Modern Jewish History at YU's Bernard Revel Graduate School, where he is currently pursuing a PhD.

Thus, he agrees with the identification of R' Avner with Avner of Burgos, and also that this story, along with many stories in Seder HaDoros, may be apocryphal. "Apocryphal" is the scholarly term. We would simply say that it is a bubbe mayseh.

If I had to guess, the story began as someone (a random person, perhaps a rabbi) finding a negative encoding of this sort for Avner in Haazinu. (Did this Avner ever criticize this rabbinic statement?) They promulgated this as a response to the apostate that everybody hated. And the story developed from there.

It is, perhaps, an effective story, to convey important lessons. Still, it would be nice if it were actually, you know, true.

Interesting Posts and Articles #244

1) On the Main Line considers some good zombie advice. There is an instruction from R' Yehuda HaChassid to stuff the mouth of a deceased woman, who had consumed children, with dirt, to prevent her from continuing this practice after death. He relates this to burial practice in Ireland from the 700's.

2) According to Rubashkin, as an expression of his unbelievable bitachon, he will be released within three or four days:
May it be so. But I don't think that this is really how it works. His point might be that he must assume this attitude of bitachon, and this will help. "Even before" might just mean that yeshuas Hashem keheref ayin, so it may even be before that. But he surely does not know Hashem's plan.

3) At Fink or Swim, a detailed summary of the Rubashkin case. This as a background to another post: How did we get here? Explaining the unabashed support for Rubashkin.

4) DovBear with yet another post on shelo asani isha. And Rabbi Joshua Maroof at Vesom Seichel weighs in further.

5) Rationalist Judaism with halachic reality and empirical reality. And with a post on Mars Attacks!

6) Life In Israel reports that the kannoim / thugs are being hit hard.

7) Balashon wakes up with a post on Bar Mitzvah and on Bar.

8) Hirhurim with more on electricity and Shabbat.

9) Hackers beat the SSL encryption used by millions of sites.

10) The Muqata on missionaries in Modiin.

11) Here on parshablog, Torah on the Moon.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Haazinu sources -- 2011 edition

by aliyah
rishon (Devarim 32:1)
sheni (32:7)
shlishi (32:13)
revii (32:19)
chamishi (32:29)
shishi (32:40)
shevii (32:44)
maftir (32:48)
haftara (II Shmuel 22) -- with Malbim

by perek
perek 32

Rashi, in English and Hebrew
Shadal (here and here)
Daat -- with Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, Rabbenu
Bachya, Midrash Rabba, Tanchuma+, Gilyonot
Gilyonot Nechama Leibovitz (Hebrew)
Tiferes Yehonasan from Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz
Toldos Yizchak Acharon, repeated from Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz -- nothing until end
Chasdei Yehonasan
Divrei Yehonasan
Even Shleimah -- from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich
R' Saadia Gaon's Tafsir, Arabic translation of Torah (here and here)
Zohar, with English translation
Baal Haturim (HaAruch)
Imrei Shafer, Rav Shlomo Kluger
Ibn Gabirol (nothing until end of Devarim)
Rashbam -- and here

Friday, September 23, 2011

posts so far for parshat Vayelech

Here is a link to the mobile version of these posts. This will allow you to print each post without worry for the advertisements on the sides.

  1. Vayelech sources -- from 2008, links by aliyah and perek to an online mikraos gedolos, as well as links to many meforshim on the parsha and haftara. In 2009, more meforshim, plus groupings into categories like Meforshei Rashi and trup. In 2010, further expansion. And in 2011, even more meforshim, in many categories.
  2. YU Torah on parashat Nitzavim / Vayelech
  3. Would Moshe's death pain Yocheved if she was already deceased There are two ways of interpreting the Yalkut Shimoni, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky supports each one. Then, I bring in some girsological evidence.
  4. Hashem is *your* God. Does this make Moshe a heretic Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz asks a question based on a non-existent pesikdarshened in a particular manner. Does this derasha then make Moshe a heretic, as bad as Yeravam ben Navat?
  5. The order of Rashi at the start of VayelachIndeed, some people reorder it.
  6. Elohei Neichar-HaAretz --  Why does the makef connect neichar to ha'aretz, rather than to elohei? How Ibn Ezra, Onkelos, and Shadal deal with this strange phenomenon. This on Vayelech, but I neglected to post it in its time.
  1. Length of days -- Does it refer to long life, or long dwelling in the land of Israel?
  1. Did Ibn Ezra endorse idols? A cryptic Ibn Ezra is interpreted this way, seemingly plausibly, by Mekor Chaim, one of his supercommentators.
  2. An alternative to Ibn Ezra as endorser of idolatry -- I didn't have time to ruminate fully on this, but here is Ibn Caspi's interpretation of this cryptic Ibn Ezra, in which Ibn Ezra is giving a reason against idolatry.
  3. Moshe didn't go anywhere! Despite the pasuk stating Vayelech. And there is no real "difficulty", such that there should be a reason to prefer variants to the masoretic text.

  • "And I am not able"-- does this mean that Moshe physically was not able, due to his advanced age? If so, what about the pasuk describing him in old with the same vigor as in his youth? And how many meforshim grapple with this.
  • A Source for ברכת התורה
    • Actually crosses over to Haazinu and VeZot HaBeracha as well. A neat derivation, or hint, to the practice of saying a bracha, blessing, before and after being called up in shul for an aliya to the Torah.

posts so far for parshat Nitzavim

Here is a link to the mobile version of these posts. This will allow you to print each post without worry for the advertisements on the sides.


  1. Nitzavim sources -- begun in 2008, as links by perek and aliyah to an online mikraos gedolos. Then, in 2009, I added a whole slew of meforshim on the parsha and haftara, organized into sections like midrash, Ibn Ezra and his supercommentators, masorah, and so on. In 2010, further improved and expanded. Now, in 2011, I greatly expanded the number of meforshim. For instance, there are many more meforshei Rashi, and a few kitvei yad of Rashi.
  2. YU Torah on Nitzavim / Vayelech.
  3. Torah is accessible to all --  A lovely homiletic, midrashic, explanation of the pesukim by Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz. We don't need ruach hakodeshmazal, or living in Eretz Yisrael to attain Torah.
  4. Torah on the Moon -- Must we fetch it from there? Did Chazal think we could travel to the moon?

  1. Does Hashem have nostrils? Do they smoke?  I think the Samaritans emended the text because they were uncomfortable with the imagery. Does Rashi endorse a non-corporeal God with his comment?
  2. Length of days -- Does it refer to long life, or long dwelling in the land of Israel?

  1. Is Sefer HaTorah masculine or feminine? Discussing Rashi's explanation of the changing between zeh and zot on the basis of the placement of a tipcha.
  2. Did the Canaanites fool Moshe in the same way the Giveonites did? Trying to understand Rashi, and the way he understood or interpreted the midrash.
  3. Were spirits of future generations present during the covenant in Nitzavim? Tanchuma says yes, but Ibn Ezra doesn't think it is necessary. Abarbanel reinterprets the midrash using philosophical derash, but I don't find it compelling. And I explain how the Tanchuma may have parsed the pasuk differently in order to arrive at this derash.
  4. The trup on the big nose -- how it should be parsed in accordance to the trup, and how it would be parsed if we follow how Shadal would rewrite it if he had his druthers.


  1. Nitzavim as standing or remaining, as a nice blend of peshat and the theme of drash.

  • A source for birchat haTorah
  • The Torah Is Not In The Heavens
    • I suggest that pshat in this instance is the interpretation of the allegory, and that, as a continuation of "it is not too difficult," it means that it is accessible to you.
      The Midrash will take it hyperliterally to refer to Moshe's ascending Mt Sinai, and adds: 

      Moshe said to them, "that you should not say that another Moshe will stand and bring us another Torah from heaven, I therefore preempt this by informing you that there is not left of it in heaven."
      What motivated this midrash? Perhaps this a response to Christians, or to false prophets trying to innovate new law. Also, the "of course" factor - the Jews know Moshe took the Torah from heaven, so what is he adding?
      The Midrash adds other explanation, highlighting the completeness of the Torah brought down - it and the crafts of its trade - humility, righteousness, and uprightness, and the giving of its reward.
      Finally, an anti-Torah u-Madda explanation from Shmuel, who was an astrologer. The Torah is not found in astrologers, whose craft is in {looking at} the heaven. When they protested that Shmuel himself was an astrologer, he responded that he only studied astrology when in the bathhouse. I observe that studying secular matters in the bathroom is a good strategy for increasing time for learning. Note that Shmuel agrees to the value of learning secular subjects such as science, but only at a time when one could not otherwise be learning Torah.
  • A Midrashic Source for Daf Yomi
    • As mentioned above, with the Torah not being in the heavens referring to accessibility/attainability, the Midrash discusses various psukim as referring to Torah seeming unattainable and how one can attain it. Read it all in the post, but it ends with an idea similar to Daf Yomi:

      Rabbi Yannai said, to what is this matter comparable? To a loaf of bread which is suspended in the air {presumably from a string from the ceiling}. The fool says, "who is able to bring it?" And the rational man says, "Did not someone suspend it there?" {And if someone was able to access that space to suspend it there then it must be possible for others to access it as well.} He brings a ladder, or a pole, and brings it {down}. So too he who is foolish says "When will I {have time to} read all the Torah.

      And he who is rational, what does he do? He learns a single perek {chapter} every day until he finishes the entirety of Torah.

      So says Hashem, לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ, " it is not too hard for thee." That is, לֹא-נִפְלֵאת הִוא, "it is not too hard." And if it is too hard, מִמְּךָ, "it is from you" that you are not invliving yourself in it. This is what is meant by the verse כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת.
  • רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם
    • "Your tribes" breaks the order of progression from upper to lower classes. After offering my own improbable suggestion, I go through some of the interesting possibilities.
      smichut to mean the heads of your tribes.
      Ramban: Both רָאשֵׁיכֶם and שִׁבְטֵיכֶם are general (
      klal), and the continuation in this and the next verse elaborate.
      Seforno: שִׁבְטֵיכֶם = רָאשֵׁיכֶם
      שִׁבְטֵיכֶם a has at its root שבט, staff, and means leader; The heads who have the shevet, staff, of ruling. (Think of the parallel מטה.)
      Tg Yonatan: Like Seforno, but רָאשֵׁיכֶם of Sanhedrin, שִׁבְטֵיכֶם = officers.


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