Friday, November 22, 2019

Yafeh Sichasan shel Avdei Avos יפה שיחתן של עבדי אבות

A talk for Parashas Chayei Sarah given for the Shalhevet Girls High School in Vancouver, CA
via Skype.

Synopsis written by the Menaheles, our daughter, Mrs. Meira Federgrun:

Each week at Shalhevet, we are privileged to hear divrei Torah from a Rabbi or Rebbetzin in our community, a visiting guest speaker, or an out-of-town speaker. The inspirational words they share with us will be written in this column to enhance your Shabbos. This week we were privileged to learn with Rabbi Bechhofer, Rabbi in Monsey, NY.

This parsha repeats the episode of Eliezer and Rivka twice. Chazal are bothered by this because there are many parshiyos in the Torah that contain the basic halachos of Judaism, but most of the halachos pertaining to those topics are not written out in the Torah. They are either written in the Torah sheba'al peh, or we have to derive them ourselves from the yud gimmel middos shehaTorah nidreshes bahem. The reason for this is "Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoser miTorasan shel banim - the conversations of the servants of the Avos more than the Torah of the children."

The Gra says in Mishlei: "The primary reason a person is alive is to break the middah that he hasn't broken until now. A person has to fortify himself, and if he doesn't, why should he be alive." The one thing the Gra chooses for us to focus on is fixing our character traits: break the negative ones and develop the positive ones. R' Chaim Vital says the reason we are not forbidden in the Torah from having negative middos is because working on one's middos is a prerequisite for Torah! "Derech eretz kadmah laTorah."

Working on our middos is difficult, because as R' Yisrael Salanter says, "It's easier to learn Shas than to change one middah." This is because our character is set early on and there are many influences in our lives that contribute to our personality. But this is the reason we are alive, to change and develop ourselves.

Therefore Sefer Bereishis is the first book in the Torah because it tells us what our purpose is. We have to strive to emulate the Avos and their maasim. "Chayav adam lomar, masai yagiu ma'asai l'maasei avosai Avraham, Yitzchok v'Yaakov."  We don't have to strive for the knowledge of Moshe Rabbeinu, but to perfect ourselves by acting in the ways we learn from the Avos

From this teaching of Chazal, "Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoser miTorasan shel banim", we see that we also have to learn from Eliezer. Interestingly, Eliezer is not referred to by name at all in this parsha, but rather as "Eved Avraham." This is because Eliezer's personality became bound up in his master: he absorbed his middos and emulated his deeds.

We learn from this parsha how important it is to have teachers and role models from whom we can learn not just knowledge, but who have middos that we can emulate as well. For that is truly what's most important.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Apropos R. Michoel Ber Weissmandl on Honesty and the Holocaust


R. Michoel Ber Weissmandl on Honesty and the Holocaust - Cross-Currents

Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Disturbing Trend

Image result for fruit stand

This is an "outtake" from an article on which I am currently working, which is not yet published. The publication was not interested in including this long quotation in the article:

There is a worrisome trend in our society to adopt a very disturbing perspective, one that emerges from the following passages from a widely distributed and respected “Parashah Sheet.” From Toras Avigdor, Nitzavim-Rosh HaShanah 5779:1

Everyone knows about hashavas aveidah, the mitzvah to return a lost item to a fellow Jew. The Torah says you have to bring it back to him; it’s a mitzvah d’oraisah. And it also says there, You should not avert your eyes from the aveidah; it’s an aveirah to walk by and ignore it… So now we can look at the gemara (Sanhedrin 76b) and see how Chazal describe the sin of this man who is planting poison seeds in his mind; the one who is “adding the satiated onto the thirsty.” And the gemara says like this: What did he do? He was walking, let’s say, past a Korean fruit store and he saw a fruit lying on the sidewalk. An apple fell off the bin and in another minute someone will pass by and kick the apple into the gutter. So this man bends over, picks up the apple and puts it back on the bin. That’s all he did. He has in his mind hashavas aveidah – to return a lost article. And what does the Torah say about this good fellow, this well-mannered citizen? Maybe he should get a special commendation from the mayor? Could be. But listen to what the Torah says about him: Hashem will not want to forgive him for what he did. Not only that He won't forgive him; He won't desire to forgive him. Hashem won't even desire to forgive him?! What did this man do wrong already? He picked up the apple and put it back on the bin – that’s all he did…

All week long the Am Yisroel is busy with mitzvos. A frum Jew gets up early in the morning to go to shul and then a few hours later he’s back in shul again. Elderly men, bochurim and little children are going to shul. Back and forth, back and forth. Shachris, mincha, ma’ariv – he davens and he learns a little bit too. He puts a nickel in the pushka whenever he gets a chance.

Are goyim busy with mitzvos all day long?! Ah nechtige tug! He sees the Jew walking back and forth to shul a few times a day; he doesn’t understand wh at’s happening. He goes to church once a month and the priest says, “All your sins are forgiven,” and finished. Don’t think that the Catholics or the Protestants, even the religious ones, are the same as you, only that the religion is different. Don’t make any mistake about that! There is a very wide chasm between you and them. Goyim don’t desire mitzvos; maybe they accept a few commandments of the Torah, maybe they follow some of the Bible, but they don’t do it with any sort of cheshek, any desire. Even if they do some things, they’re zaht – they’re overfed; they’re not thirsty for mitzvos. I’ll tell you what they’re thirsty for. You walk in the streets early in the morning in a Catholic neighborhood, a respectable upper class Catholic neighborhood, and lying stretched out on the ground is a good Catholic. He’s drunk and he’s been sleeping on the street all night. I walked in the Catholic neighborhoods forty years ago and I saw that many times. Drunk all night, fast asleep in the gutter; and then he gets up in the morning, staggers home, and tells everybody, “Ooh wah! What a time I had last night!” He’s proud of himself. And did they expel him from their homes or from their churches? No! Never! It wasn’t even considered a chisaron. Many people admired him; they were jealous of him. It was an exploit! He would tell his friends about it: “Did I ever tell you about the time that I slept drunk in the gutter the whole night?!” A goy is satiated with drink! He wants mitzvos like he wants a hole in his shoe…

And so this man, when he picks up the Korean apple from the sidewalk and puts it back into the bin, he’s equating the overfed goyim with the Am Yisroel, the nation that is thirsty toserve its Creator. He equated the honor of the gentile to that of a Yisroel. When a person does that out of the generosity of his heart; when he thinks, “Since it’s a good thing to return a lost apple that belongs to a Jewish fruit man, I won't be selfish just for us alone. I’ll be generous hearted, and I’ll return it to the goy too,” so that man has to know that Hashem won't forgive him. Hashem won’t even desire to forgive him for that poisonous thought in his head of equating the honor that belongs to the Jewish nation with that of the gentiles.

Now, if you tell me that you pick it up because you want to show that Jews are good people, darkei shalom, all right, maybe. Everyone knows that if the cashier in the 99 cent store accidentally gives you more than you deserve to get, so sometimes it pays to say, “You made a mistake. You gave me too much money.” Could be. If you have a beard and a black hat, it could be it’s a mitzvah to say that. So if there are goyim standing around, if a policeman is standing there, all right, pick up the apple and put it back on the bin. Be a nice fellow so that the goyim will say, “You see that; the Jews aren’t so bad after all.” It’s a mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in the eyes of the goyim.

But otherwise pass by. Because what we’re learning here is that it’s even a bigger mitzvah to raise the honor of the Jewish people in your own eyes! And what that means is that when you pass by the fruit on the floor you keep going – and you remind yourself why you’re doing that. You don’t want to be a man who harbors poison in his mind, someone who is equating the honor of the over-satiated with the honor that belongs only to the thirsty nation. For a Yisroel, achicha, yes, you bend over and pick it up. The lost object of your brother in mitzvos you’re michuyav to return. A nation that does mitzvos, so we do mitzvos for them – it’s an honor they deserve! But the gentiles? They don’t want to do any mitzvos, so we don’t honor them with our mitzvos.

Now this I admit; let’s say you found a watch in the street and now you want to put it in your pocket. It could be you have to give it to the police. I don’t know; it could be there’s a law like that. Some places have a law that you have to bring it to the police station. So if it’s a law of the government, that’s something else. But you’re not doing it because of a mitzvah though; you’re only doing it because of the law. But no government has a law that you have to bend over to pick up the apple. There’s no such thing that when you pass by a fruit stand, you must pick up the apple and put it back – no. And so if you lean over and pick up that Korean’s apple it’s a terrible sin. And you're also doing a tremendously dangerous thing for yourself. If you pick it up with the same emotion that you pick up an apple for the Jewish food store, so the Torah says, Hashem will not want to forgive you. If you do it because you want to do a good deed – let’s say you’re not thinking and you have in mind the idea of hashavas aveidah – so you’ve committed a crime, a very great crime against the greatness of Am Yisroel. A crime?! Yes, it’s a crime. The crime is that you don’t understand, you don’t appreciate the greatness of the Am Yisroel…

“You are My firstborn son,” says Hashem. “You’re My only son.” And that’s so important that it’s something we’re expected to internalize every time we pass by the Korean fruit store. I make it a point to pass by! I wouldn’t pick it up. I make it a point to keep on walking and I remind myself, “Only for a Yisroel there’s a mitzvah.” I hope you’ll try that out next time. Because to do otherwise means that you’re planting poisonous seeds in your mind.

It is difficult to know where to begin to critique these passages. They purport to be based on a gemara in Sanhedrin. This may or may not be a valid assertion. There are several legitimate understandings of that gemara that would not lead us to those assertions. But, much more to the point, the author of those passages utterly disregards the diametrically opposite approach that emerges from the words of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach in the Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 8b.

Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach dealt in linen. His students said to him: “Rebbe, desist from this trade. We will buy you a donkey [to make an easier living as a donkey driver] and you will not have to toil so much.” They went and purchased a donkey from a bandit. The students subsequently found a precious stone dangling from it. They went back to Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and said to him: “From now on you need not exert yourself.” He asked: “How so?” The students responded: “We purchased a donkey for you from a bandit and a precious stone was dangling from it.” Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach asked: “Did the donkey’s seller know that the stone was there?” They answered: “No.” He then said to them: “Go return it.” The students remonstrated with Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach: “Although theft from an idolater is prohibited, is one not permitted to keep an object that an idolater has lost?” He responded: “What do you think, that Shimon ben Shetach is a barbarian? More than all the wealth of the world, Shimon ben Shetach desires to hear [the non-Jew say]: “Berich Eloko d’Yehudo’ei” (“Blessed is the God of the Jews”). 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Facebook Group Links

Yeshivas HaOlim
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A group to notify of (and discuss) Rabbi Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer's and others' Divrei and Shiurei Torah.

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Minhag, Halacha, Chumra What, Which and Changing Them

A Toras Dovid (former Ohr Somayach) shiur on defining Minhagim, Halachos and Chumros, and if and when to adopt, reject, or change them.

Parashas Vayeira 5780: Discussions of "Gedolah Hachnassas Orchim" and Avraham Avinu's case for the people of Sdom.

Parashas Vayeira 5780: Discussions of "Gedolah Hachnassas Orchim" and Avraham Avinu's case for the people of Sdom.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

A great Rashash - Sanhedrin 97a

See my previous post on 6093 and 340. I found that post and this post in the Yalkut Mefarshim to Sanhedrin 97a. The Rashash, Rabbi Shmuel Strashun (pictured above) was well-to-do, so it would be natural that a statement that Moshiach will not come until the perutah will be eliminated from the pocket might cause him some concern! His pshat was very relevant (indeed, even more so today!):

6093, not 6000! 340, not 310!

Over Shabbos, I found in the Maharsham on Sanhedrin a hitherto unknown to me Osi'os d'Rabbi Akiva in which it is stated that the world will not end at the year 6000, but at the year 6093! 

בתי מדרשות חלק ב - מדרש אותיות רבי עקיבא השלם נוסח א - אות ב 
דבר אחר בית מה נשתנה בית מכל האותיות שברא בו הקדוש ברוך הוא כל סדרי בראשית אלא מפני שגלוי וידוע היה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא ששני פעמים עתיד העולם ליחרב אחד בימי המבול ואחד בסוף ששת אלפים ותשעים ושלש שנים שבי"ת בגימטריא שנים

Tonight I consulted the Google HaDor, which led me to the page copied below, from the Torah Temimah's Tosefesr Brocho. What the Maharsham brings as marei mekomos, the Tosefes Brocho brings as fuller citations - of later sources that reference the 6093 years. As you can see, he also suggest why specifically this number, but I did not do the calculations to verify his suggestion, and I'm dubious about it any event.

Once we're talking chiddushim from the Osi'os d'Rabbi Akiva, here's another:

 בתי מדרשות חלק ב - מדרש אותיות רבי עקיבא השלם נוסח א - אות י 
דבר אחר שם עולם מלמד ששלש מאות וארבעים עולמים עתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא להנחיל לכל צדיק וצדיק לעולם הבא שכך שם בגימטריא

Not 310, as in the last mishnah in Shas, but 340!

A little before that, the Midrash gives support to The Bechhofer Theory as to the pshat in that mishnah:

ומהו ושם מלמד שעתיד הקדוש ברוך הוא לגלות שם המפורש לכל צדיק וצדיק לעולם הבא שנבראין בו שמים החדשים וארץ החדשה כדי שיהיו כולם יכולים לבראות את העולם חדש שנאמר (ישעיה נו ה) שם עולם אתן לו אשר לא יכרת ומנין שזה הוא שם המפורש נאמר כאן שם עולם ונאמר להלן (שמות ג טו) זה שמי לעולם מה להלן שם המפורש אף כאן שם המפורש