Friday, April 27, 2007

Entering the Holy of Holies

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The Torah says (Leviticus 16:3) "with this Aaron shall enter the Holies". What is "this"? Rabbi Moshe Heinemann explains that in the prayer Unesanah Tokef recited in Yom Kippur and Rosh HaShannah, one says that "repentence, prayer, and charity remove the unfavorable decree." Above each of these three elements, the standard liturgical prayer book has the words "fast, voice, and money." The numerical value of each of these words equals 136 and the total is 410, which is the numerical vlaue of the word "this". When the Kohen Gadol enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, it is with fasting for repetence, voice for prayer, and money for charity. It is in the merit fo these three actions for which one can be saved from an unfavorable verdict for the year in the Heavenly court.

Rabbi Heinemann relates a story which occured in Baltimore. A Jewish business owner once has a gentile worker who was a loyal worker and was his empolyee for many years. One day, this worker (henceforth known as Esav), asked the Jewish man if he could be advanced his paycheck for one week. The Jew, realizing that his Friday, at the end of the week, Esav receicved his payment for that week's work and for the next week's work. On monday morning, Esav did not show up, so the Jew cancelled the check, realizing that he had been tricked.

Rabbi Heinemann then receives a phone call from a cash advance service. The properiter of this cash advance service has been given a check by Esav from the Jew and gave Esav the cash. When the cash advance service went to cash the check, they were told that the Jew cancelled the check. Realizing the fairness of the Jewish court system, they asked Rabbi Heinemann to convene a Rabbinical court to see if the Jew owes them money for cancelling Esav's check.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reactions to Zionism: A Qoton Qlassic

In recognition of Yom Ha'atzmaut, I decided that today's Qoton Qlassic post is an old discussion about the varying points of view concerning Zionism. This post is also a nominee for the Best Overall Post at the Jewish-Israeli Blogging Awards. Voting begins Sunday Night, so please be sure to vote for Reb Chaim HaQoton in all the various categories that this blog in nominated.

Here is an excerpt from the revised edition in which I quote from one of the commentators to the original post:

On November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 3379, which branded Zionism a form of racism. Although this Soviet- and Arab-sponsored resolution was rescinded by Resolution 4686 in 1991, its premise is often referenced in other debates of Zionism and racism. Chaim Herzog (1918-1997), at that time the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, symbolically tore up this resolution and stated, "For us, the Jewish people, this resolution based on hatred, falsehood, and arrogance, is devoid of any moral or legal value." A Representative in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Rep. Mark B. Cohen (Democrat), eloquently answered the U.N.’s initial claims by saying, "Racism claims superiority, while Zionism merely claims difference. Racism seeks the persecution of long powerless groups, while Zionism seeks to protect the members of a group long persecuted. Racism seeks to degrade its victims, while Zionism seeks to protect those who have been victims. The U.N. was right to repeal its discredited resolution." The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) categorized the U.N. proclamation as “anti-Semitic;” however, this description is not necessarily accurate because Judaism and Zionism have distinct identities, for some Jews are not Zionists (e.g. anti-Zionists, a-Zionists) and some Zionists are not Jews (e.g. Christian Zionists and the waning American liberal Zionists). It is unclear exactly which flavor of Zionism was referenced in the United Nations’ referendum because of the vagueness of the United Nations’ condemnation of Zionism and the multitude of differing diverse Jewish views on Zionism.
Continue Reading This Qoton Qlassic...

The Return of a Classic

Last week, I received the following email from an old blogger, Mis-nagid:

R Chaim Haqoton,

Can you please transfer ownership of to me?
I know you've been a fair steward of it, not abusing or misusing it, but I'd feel better if I had control of it.

At first, the following parable entered my head as to why I should not give him access to his old blog. Imagine a man had a idol which he not only used for idol worshiping, but also used to convince others to worship idols. Imagine if this idolater decided he does not want to use the idol anymore, so he left it outside for anyone to use. Now imagine that someone grabbed this idol and claimed that he stole it, making a huge kiddush hashem, and locked it away for two years so that no one else could ever use it. Now, imagine that two years later, the old idolater goes to this person and requests back his idol so that he can resume using it for his worship and causing others to sin with it. Does the person who took the idol have any reason to give it back to the one from whom he took it? No! On the contrary, he is probably not even allowed halachikly to return this idol to its former owner because doing so would be a violation of various transgressions, including laws about idol worship and Leviticus 19:14. So I decided not to give him back his blog totally, but I have rather decided to allow him to resume posting on his blog, but it will be under my own auspices. In doing so, I am assuming that Mr. Mis-nagid will not continue his idol worship of old, but will rather provide stimulating kosher information and discussions. So, he is not the owner of the blog, but he does retain some posting rights to the blog. Now presenting the return of Mis-Nagid.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tzara'as: A Qoton Qlassic

This week's parshiyos are Tazria and Metzora which deal with the laws of one who is afflicted with tzara'as. Here is an excerpt from a post last year dealing with those laws:

The Torah says that one who is afflicted with tzara'as is supposed to call out "Impure! Impure!" The Talmud explains that this is done so that others know that he is ritually impure, so that they can stay away from him. However, if this is the only reasoning behind the calling out, then the Torah should have obligated him to call out "Do not become impure [through contact with me]" not merely "impure". Therefore, Rabbi Dovid Povarsky (1902-1999) explains that there is another reason for the calling out: The Talmud elsewhere says that the purpose of the calling out is so that the afflicted could publicize his suffering and rouse the mercy of others to pray for him. Since the punishment of tzara'as is to counter one's anti-social tendencies, this dual explanation for the calling out "impure!" makes sense. This is because when the metzorah calls out "impure", his intention is to help the other man by warning him not to become ritually impure like himself, while the man who hears this declaration, if he is as selfless as he should be, understands it as a cry for help and then assists the metzora by praying for him. Accordingly, the double expression of "Impure! Impure" used by the metzora is justified because one refers to the metzora and one refers to he to whom the metzora is talking. This also explains why the Torah portions concerning the laws of the metzora are often read during the Sefiras HaOmer mourning period, for the mourning is because Rabbi Akiva's students were punished for not showing acting properly in their interpersonal relations . The lessons of the metzora are the antitheses to improper social behavior.

Continue Reading This Qoton Qlassic Post...

Beyond Arkaos

There's a long and venerable -- and not very pretty -- history of disputes among religious groups, especially in break-away contexts, over the trademark rights in their names. There have also, l'havdil, long been succession fights among Chasidim upon the deaths of their rebbes, which in recent years have spilled into the secular courts, despite the issur chamur against going to arkaos to resolve disputes among Jews. But this is the first time I know of where these two things have combined: A Hasidic trademark fight.

Read the rest at Likelihood of Confusion.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

In Jewish theology, much importance is attached to the day on which one dies, one's yahrtzeit, but little is mentioned about one's birthday. Rabbeinu Menachem ben Shlomo (a 12th century scholar) writes[1] that a majority of people cherish the day on which they complete years of their life because that day corresponds to the day of their birth. Therefore, on that day, they are especially happy make a party. However, this majority does not necessarily reflect Torah values, it might simply reflect the attitude of the majority of society. Indeed, many Torah authorities have differing opinions on the proper approach to the concept of birthdays. Some authorities are staunchly opposed to any celebration of birthdays, while others embrace and even encourage such celebration[2]. Yet others maintain that such celebrations are only appropriate on certain years.

The Munkatcher Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro (1871-1937), notes[3] that celebration of one’s birthday is unheard of in rabbinic literature. He writes that such a celebration is antithetical to the Jewish trait of humilty. He also writes this opposition is seemingly supported by the Talmud which determined[4] that it is better that man not have been born than man have been born. Rabbi Shmuel Edels (1555–1631) explained[5] that the sages of the Talmud counted the positive commandments (248) and the negative commandments (365) and concluded that since the negatives commandments greatly outnumber the positive ones, one who is born is more likely to become a sinner than to be righteous. This explains the Talmud’s conclusion that one is better not having been born than having been born. Accordingly, celebrating one’s birth is simply premature because the child will more likely grow up to become a sinner. Indeed, King Solomon remarked, "A good name is better than good oil, and the day of death [is better] than the day of birth”[6], for by the day of death, it is already clear whether one will be righteous or sinful. Therefore the anniversary of one’s birth is not necessarily cause for rejoicing. However, concedes the Munkatcher Rebbe, a gentile who is not bound by 613 commandments is more likely not to become a sinner; thus, for a gentile, a birthday can indeed be a time of happiness.

Another reason for opposing birthday celebrations is simply the fact that the Bible only mentios such a party in conjunction with the Pharaoh of Egypt celebrating his own birthday. This implies that only someone like Pharaoh would celebrate his birthday, but such a celebration is inappropriate for a Jew[7]. Indeed, the Aderes, Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teomim (1843-1905) writes in his autobiography[8] that those who offered him birthday wishes upset him because the only instance of a birthday mentioned in Tanach was that of Pharaoh. Therefore, he reasoned that the celebration of birthdays is not a Jewish concept.

In describing the release of Pharaoh's butler from jail, the Torah says, "It was on the third day, the birthday of Pharaoh, and he [Pharaoh] made a banquet for all his servants[9]…" Targum
Jonathan explains[10] that "birthday of Pharaoh" in this context means Yom Genussa. Rashi explains[11] that "birthday of Pharaoh" literally means his birthday, the anniversary of his birth. When listing idolatrous holidays, the Mishnah reckons[12] Yom Genussa and the King's Birthday as two separate idolatrous holidays. Rashi explains that on the King's Birthday, a national holiday would annually be declared and the people would offer sacrifices to idols. Yom Genussa, according to the Talmud[13], is the day of the coronation of the king[14]. In this, Rashi is consistent with his opinion in his commentary to the Torah because Rashi understood “Pharaoh’s Birthday” to literally mean his birthday. However, the explanation of the Targum Jonathan requires explanation, for the Targum defines Yom Genussa as the King’s Birthday, yet from the Talmud it is evident that they are two separate holidays. The Jerusalemic Talmud, in discussing this Mishnah concludes[15] that Yom Genussa is "birthday"[16]. Then why is the King's Birthday listed in the Mishnah if it is the same as Yom Genussa? The Jerusalemic Talmud[17] answers that the King's Birthday is a national holiday celebrated by all of the king's constituents on the anniversary of the king's birth, while Yom Genussa is a day celebrated by each individual man and his household on his own birthday. From here, one clearly sees that the celebration of one's birthday is an idolatrous practice[18].

On the other hand, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), permitted and encouraged such celebration on one's birthday as means of inspiring appreciation. He writes in the name of his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn (1880-1950) that on one’s birthday, one should try to receive an Aliyah to the Torah (or on the Shabbos beforehand), give alms to the poor before Shachris and Mincha, and should increase his Torah study[19]. He then adds that it is also fitting to arrange a joyous gathering of friends and family on one’s birthday. He notes[20] that this is celebration is appropriate for men and women, children and adults. The Lubavitcher Rebbe also offers proof that a birthday is considered a happy occasion from the the Midrash which says[21] that HaShem delayed completing the construction of the Tabernacle until the first of Nissan so that the happiness of its completion can be combined with the happiness of the birthday of Isaac[22].

Education and Sharing Day is proclaimed anuualy in the United States of America on the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (11 Nissan) in honor and memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was originally proclaimed by American President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and has been reaffirmed by subsequent all presidents. Above is the text of President Bill Clinton’s proclamation of Education and Sharing Day for the year 2000. (Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), White House Press Release March 24, 2000)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe penned a letter[23] in which he explained that the source of the happiness of a birthday is the celebration of the essense of one’s existence. He explains that the birthday represents the renewal of one’s life in the same way that HaShem renews a person’s soul every morning. Thus, just as one thanks HaShem every morning for this renewal, one should also thank HaShem every year for the gift of life. In describing Amalek's war tactics[24], the Jerusalemic Talmud[25] explains that the Amalekites knew that because of astrological influences one cannot die on their birthday[26]. Therefore they only conscripted men into their army for their birthdays, so that none of their soldiers could ever be killed. As a result, in order to fight the Amalekites, Moses had to Kabbalistically mix-up the zodiacal constellations in order to confuse the Angel of Death and allow the Amalekite soldiers to be killed even on their birthdays. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains why a person is immune to death on their birthday based on the idea presented above. He explains that one’s birthday represents the renewal of one’s existence; thus, just like on the day one is born, life is given to him from Above, the same is true in regard to one’s birthday. For this reason, one cannot die on his birthday.

However, one can ask on this idea set forth by the Jerusalemic Talmud that one cannot die on their birthday from another Midrashic passage: HaShem promised that if the Jews follow the Torah then "I [HaShem] will fill the number of your [the Jews'] days"[27]. This means that HaShem will complete the days of those who properly observe the Torah and allow them to die in complete years, i.e., on their birthdays. Similarly, the Midrash says[28] that when Moses said on the day of his death, "I am one hundred and twenty years old today[29]" it was his birthday, making him exactly one hundred and twenty years old on the day of his death, a complete year. Indeed, the Talmud assumes that Moses was born and died on the seventh of Adar[30]. Why then do the righteous die on their birthdays if according to astrology one cannot die on their birthday? Rabbi Avrohom Maskileison (1788-1848) explains[31] that only according to the laws of astrology can a person not die on his or her own birthday; however, Jews are not bound by the influences of the zodiac[32]. Therefore HaShem causes the righteous Jews to die specifically on their birthdays in order to express that they are indeed righteous[33]. Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) writes[34] that even though Jews are not normally bound by astrological influences (called Mazel) even a Jew is afforded special protection and "luck" on his birthday. He explains that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria merited a miracle in which he miraculously grew eighteen rows of white hair[35] because it was on the day of his eighteenth birthday. He proves this linguistically from the expression used by the Talmud to say that he was eighteen years old[36]. In the realm of Halacha, Rabbi Yosef Chaim ruled[37] in favor of his own familial tradition of celebrating a birthday as a semi-holiday.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad also mentioned a custom of celebrating the anniversary of one's circumcision with which he entered the covenant of Abraham. Indeed, some understand that Abraham himself followed this custom. This custom is alluded to in the words of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) who wrote[38] that when the Torah says that Abraham made a party on the day that Isaac was weaned[39], this refers to a festivity which Abraham celebrated every year on the anniversary of the circumcision of Isaac. Since Isaac was born on the first day of Passover, this yearly celebration was held on what was later to be the eighth day of Passover in the Diaspora. Rabbi Moshe Sofer says that this celebration held by Abraham on the anniversary of his son's circumcision is analogous to the yearly birthday celebrations of the Pharaohs[40].

There is only one source in Talmudic literature about celebrating birthdays. The Talmud says[41] that when Rav Yosef reached the age of sixty, he made a festival for his rabbinic colleagues[42]. When questioned about this practice, he explained that he made the party because now that he reached the age of sixty years old, he can no longer be punished with divine excommunication (Kares)[43]. It is related that Rabbi Yisroel Isserlein (1390-1460), the author of Terumas HaDeshen, hosted a siyum (a meal of completion) on a Talmudic tractate upon reaching the age of sixty and used this to discharge himself of his obligation to make a party like Rav Yosef[44]. Accordingly, some halachik authorities seem to require one to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Rabbi Moshe Sofer used to finish Chumash with his students on the 7th of Tishrei, his birthday, and then give all those who attended extra money to buy special food[45]. His son, Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, author of Ksav Sofer, (1815-1871), mentions[46] making a siyum for his fiftieth[47] birthday[48]. As told in the introduction to Ksav Sofer[49], Rabbi Shlomo Sofer (a son of the Ksav Sofer) was accustomed to sitting in solitude and completing an entire tractate of the Talmud on his birthday. On his fifty-fourth birthday, his disciples found him crying. He explained that fifty-four in Gematria equals דן (“judge”)which reminded him that HaShem judges him on his birthday, so, he explains, when he examined of all his actions, he had realized that he has wasted too much time over the years and therefore began to weep.. Similarly, the Tzelemer Rov, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Greenwald (1893-1980), writes[50] that he heard that the Maharam Ash, Rabbi Meir Eisenstaedter (1780-1852), cried on his seventieth birthday because he felt that he would not be able to give a proper accounting of his time spent in This World. Thus, we find conflicting opinions over whether a birthday is a time for celebration and festivities or a time of introspection and self-evaluation[51].

This Jerusalem newspaper article (Havazelet, February 3, 1909) describes the celebration of the 93rd birthday of Rabbi Shmuel Salant. Many great Torah sages of Jerusalem attended this celebration and offered a toast to Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s long life and the stengthening of the Torah and settelement of Israel. It is also reported that Rabbi Chaim Berlin (1832-1912) brought him a cake with a special blessing in Hebrew written on it whose numerical value was equivalent to the year 5669. Rabbi Matis Blum relates (Torah L'Daas Volume 6, pg. 258) that Rabbi Moshe Kolodny (director of Agudath Israel of America archives) showed him this article. (Courtesy of the Jewish National and University Library and the David and Fela Shapell Family Digitization Project)

Rabbi Moshe Greenwald of Chust (1853-1910) writes[52] that despite the prevailing practice it is inappropriate for one to celebrate his seventieth birthday. He writes that it is a boorish custom and has no source in rabbinic tradition[53]. Nonetheless, Rabbi Chaim Palagi (1788-1868) writes[54] that from his seventieth birthday and onwards he hosted a festive meal for his rabbinic colleagues on his birthday. Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Chizkiyahu Medini (1833-1904), Chief Rabbi of Chevron and famed author of Sdei Chemed is reported to have celebrated his seventieth birthday at which his students offered a toast to his longevity[55]. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (1838-1933), was said to have summoned his close disciples Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman (1874-1941) and the Ponovzher Rov, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman (1886–1969), on his seventieth birthday in order to recite in their presence the Shehecheyanu benediction[56]. Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Herman (1879-1967) is also said to have celebrated his seventieth birthday[57]. Although the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel Salant (1816-1909), did not necessarily celebrate his seventieth birthday with festivites, he marked the occasion by giving extra money to the poor of Jerusalem[58].

In recent times, centenarian leaders of Jewry have also taken to celebrating their birthdays. Notably, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is reputed[59] to have held an event marking his 100th birthday and Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg is said[60] to have done the same on his 101st.

Cursing one's birthday is an expression of one's dissatisfaction in one's life situation. The Midrash says[61] that two people cursed the day on which they born: Job cursed[62] the day he was born as a reaction to all the suffering to which he was subjected. Jeremiah also cursed the day of his birth[63] as a means of conveying the message of his bitterness in having to foretell the destruction of the Holy Temple, and worse, his knowing that the prophecy was destined to be fulfilled. Nonetheless, the significance of one specific birthday can serve as inspiration and hope for a brighter future: The Midrash says[64] that on the day of Tisha B'Av, the Messiah will be born. May it be the will of HaShem that he whose birthday is Tisha B'Av shall arrive soon, accompanied by the building of the Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] Midrash Sechel Tov to Genesis 40:20

[2] Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) writes (responsa Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim vol. 1 §104, vol. 2 §30, vol. 4 §36) that the happiness of a girl’s Bas Mitzvah is no different than the happiness of any other birthday. This implies that Rabbi Feinstein agrees that happiness is an appropriate sentiment for birthdays. See responsa Yabia Omer (Orach Chaim vol. 6, §29).

[3] Divrei Torah §5:88

[4] Eruvin 13b

[5] Maharsha to Eruvin 13b

[6] Ecclesiastes 7:1

[7] See Otzar Kol Minhagei Yeshurun (pg. 60 in standard edition, pg. 304 in St. Louis edition, 1917)

[8] Nefesh Dovid pg. 41, (Tel Aviv, 1982)

[9] Genesis 40:20

[10] Targum Jonathan to Genesis 40:20

[11] To Genesis 40:20

[12] Avodah Zarah 8a

[13] Avodah Zarah 10a

[14] It is unclear whether this is specifically the day of the coronation itself or it is an anniversary of the day of the coronation celebrated annually like the King's Birthday.

[15] Avodah Zarah 1:2

[16] Rabbi Yosef of Trani (1538-1639) writes (Teshuvus U’Piskei Maharit HaChadashos, Shemos Gittin, pg. 244, Machon Yerushalayim, 1978) that the word Genussa is related to the Greek word γέννηση (Genesis) meaning “birth”.

[17] As explained by Rabbi Moshe Margulies (d. 1781) in Pnei Moshe to Jerusalemic Avodah Zarah 1:2

[18] Although, in his commentary to the Bible, Rabbi Dovid Altschuler (an 18th century Bible exegete) mentions (Metzudas Dovid Hoshea 7:5) that even Jewish monarchs celebrated their birthdays, this does not validate the practice because in the context which this is mentioned, the Prophet Hosea is actually rebuking the nation for celebrations which consisted of drinking and other forms debauchery.

[19] Shaarei Tzedaka §72, Kovetz Divrei Torah (Vol. 17, pg. 115)

[20] Likutei Sichos vol. 24, pg. 178

[21] Tanchuma (Pekudei §11)

[22] He mentions that although it has not been customary amongst Jews to publicly celebrate birthdays, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn (1860-1920) instituted that the birthdays of Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) should be celebrated as a full-fledged Yom Tov (18th of Elul) and that “Gut Yuntiff” is the proper greeting on that day.

[23] Toras Menachem 5748, vol. 3, pg. 152

[24] See Exodus 17:8-16

[25] Jerusalemic Talmud, Rosh HaShannah 3:8

[26] The actual term used by the Jerusalemic Talmud to refer to birthday is Yom Genussa, this is consistent with the aforementioned explanation of the Jerusalemic Talmud in Avodah Zarah that Yom Genussa means birthday, not the day of the king's coronation as explained in the Babylonian Talmud.

[27] Exodus 23:26

[28] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §360

[29] Deuteronomy 31:2

[30] When Haman was planning the genocidal anhilation of the Jews, he drew a lottery to determine during which month he should carry out his sinister plot. Through the lottery, Haman happily resolved to exterminate the Jews in the month Adar because Adar was the month in which Moses died, which shows it is an inauspicious time for the Jews. However, the Talmud notes that Haman did not realize that not only did Moses die during Adar, but Adar of Moses’ birth (see Megillah 13b, see also Sotah 13b, Kiddushin 35a, and Rosh HaShannah 11a).

[31] Mitzpeh Eisan to Megillah 13b

[32] See Shabbos 156a

[33] See Zayis Raanan to Yalkut Shimoni (Habakuk, §564) who explains that the Jerusalemic Talmud only means to say that one cannot be killed on his birthday, but can die on his birthday. This explains why the Amalekites chose only “birthday boys” to serve in their army, for they cannot be killed.

[34] Ben Yehoyada to Brachos 28a

[35] Brachos 27b-28a

[36] The Talmud says "that day he was eighteen" instead of saying "at that time he was eighteen" which implies that on that day he became eighteen years old.

[37] Ben Ish Chai, Year 1, Parshas Re'ay §17

[38] Toras Moshe to Genesis 21:9

[39] See Genesis 21:8

[40] Indeed Rabbi Moshe Sofer is quoted as having said that a Jew should not celebrate his birthday, rather he should celebrate the anniversary of his circumcision. See responsa Afraskta D’Anya (§123) and Minhagei Baal Chasam Sofer HaChodosh (additions to chapter 7, §9).

[41] Moed Katan 28a

[42] See Iyun Yaakov there who infers from the wording of the Talmud that even if one would make a party for his sixtieth birthday, one should only do so with Torah Scholars, but should not invite his “friends” to such a party.

[43] Rabbi Avrohom Binyanim Zilberberg (1890-1962) in responsa Maharaav (vol. 2, §61) testifies that the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Alter (1866-1948) indeed made such a celebration on his sixtieth birthday.

[44] Leket Yosher, pg. 40

[45] Minhagei Chasam Sofer 7:14

[46] Responsa Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah §148

[47] See explanation from Rabbi Dov Meir Eisenstein (Zichron Shlomo, pg. 205) as to why he made this celebration specifically at the age of fifty.

[48] Rabbi Nosson Gestetner (1932-2010) explains (in a letter printed in Zichron Shlomo, pg. 200) that although the Talmud decided that one is better off not having been born than having been born, Tosafos HaRosh (to Eruvin 13b) explain that this was said in regard to the beginning of one’s life, when it is unclear whether he will be righteous or not. However, if a person indeed turn out to be righteous, then it is more worthwhile for such a person to have been than not have been born. Therefore, for a righteous person, a birthday indeed is a day of celebration. This explains why Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Binyamin Sofer specifically made a siyum and celebration on his birthday.

[49] See Ohel Leah, pg. 29

[50] responsa Megdalos Merchakim, §31

[51] Although, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

[52] Responsa Arugas HaBosem (New York ed., Orach Chaim §215)

[53] Although, his son, the Tzelemer Rov, concedes (responsa Megdalos Merchakim, §31) that Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach (1639-1702) ruled (responsa Chavos Yair §70) that one should recite the benediction, Shehecheyanu upon turning seventy years old. This benediction is recited exclusively at joyous occasions. However, Rabbi Eliezer Chaim Deutsch of Bonyhad is quoted (by his son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef HaKohen Schwartz, in responsa Ginzei Yosef §4) as having ruled that one should not recite Shehecheyanu on any birthday, even the seventieth, unless there is another halachikly acceptable reason for reciting the benediction. Such is the opinion of many other poskim (e.g. Pri Megadim, Birkei Yosef, Pischei Teshuva, Chasam Sofer, Kaf HaChaim).

[54] Ginzei Chaim, Yud, §16

[55] HaMe’assef, Teves 5665

[56] Chofetz Chaim, Chayav U’poalav, vol. 1 pg. 312. However, see Kovetz Ohr Yisroel (vol. 24, pg. 193 fn. 103) which questions the veracity of this account. See also Chofetz Chaim, Chayav U’poalav, vol. 1 pg. 25, fn. 1 which recounts that on his nintieth birthday that, Rabbi Kagan declared that he merited such a long life because of his efferts in spreading awareness about the severity of the sin of gossip through his work Chofetz Chaim

[57] “All for the Boss” by Ruchoma Shain (pg. 365)

[58] Otzar HaChessed Keren Shmuel (pg. 26) relates that Rabbi Shmuel Salant’s age and date of birth remained a mystery as the Jerusalemites were not prone to publicly celebrating birthdays. However, both became apparent when, on his seventieth birthday, Rabbi Shmuel Salant contributed a generous sum of money to the poor of Jerusalem in honor of his birthday. That book also relates (pg. 36) that Rabbi Salant’s students and constituents founded an organization to help the poor in Jerusalem in honor of Rabbi Salant’s nintieth birthday.

[59] See “Yomim Al Yimei Melech Tosif: Marking Maran Rav Elyashiv’s Shlita 100th Birthday” (Yeshiva World News, March 15, 2010)

[60] See “Marking HaGaon Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg’s 101st Birthday” (Yeshiva World News, September 26, 2011)

[61] Yalkut Shimoni, Prophets, §301

[62] Job 3:1-9

[63] Jeremiah 20:14-18

[64] Jerusalemic Talmud, Brachos 2:4, Lamentations Rabbah 1:51

Monday, April 16, 2007

Lucky Seven

The tractate which deals primarily with the laws of Yom Kippur is called Yoma, "the day" because Yom Kippur is the single most uniquely sanctified day from all the days of the year[1]. The tractate begins[2] with the description of the High Priest's seclusion from society into the Holy Temple enclave for seven days before Yom Kippur, starting with the words, "Seven days before Yom Kippur, we separate the High Priest…" The Tosafists noted[3] a particularity in the wording of this opening Mishnah, for it says the number of time units before the actual time unit (i.e. the Mishnah says "seven" before it says "days"). Rabbi Yosef ben Raphael of Vilna explains[4] that since the Mishnah is discussing an event which occurred before Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur is the point-of-reference for the tractate of Yoma, the redactor of the Mishnah deemed it necessary to write the number of time units before Yom Kippur before defining the actual time unit used. Similarly, Tosafos[5] and Tosafos Yeshanim point out that in this Mishnah the date is mentioned before the occurring event (i.e. it says "seven days before Yom Kippur" before it says "we separate the High Priest…"). Rabbi Elazar Moshe Horowitz explains[6] that since the act of secluding the High Priest occurs only once and is not repeated, then the act itself is only secondary to the time during when the seclusion is supposed to talk place. Therefore, the date is mentioned before the action. Alternatively, Rabbi Yehoshua Falk (1555-1614) explains[7] that the wording of the Mishnah is based on the wording of Leviticus 8:32 which refers to the seven-day seclusion of Aaron and his sons before the inauguration of the Tabernacle[8].

Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631)[9] explains that the tractate discussing Yom Kippur specifically begins with the word "seven" because the number seven is a specially portent number. Even though the Sabbath is considered the highest elevated day on the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is considered on the same spiritual level as the Sabbath. In fact, Yom Kippur is referred to as the "Sabbath of Sabbaticals.[10]" There are six holidays which are called Yom Tov; they are, Rosh HaShannah, Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres, the first day of Passover, the last day of Passover, and Shavuos. They are not on the same plane of holiness as the Sabbath as is evident from the fact that work in preparation for food is permitted[11]. The Midrash compares[12] This World to Friday and the World to Come to the Sabbath, saying that one should work on Friday (in This World) to prepare for the Sabbath (The World to Come). Rabbi Eidels extends this comparison of the World to Come to the Sabbath to apply even to Yom Kippur because just as there is no physical pleasures such as eating or drinking in the World to Come, so too such pleasures are forbidden on Yom Kippur[13].

In the numerology of Judaism, seven plays a significant role—especially in regard to periods of time associated with seven. The week is a period of seven days culminating with Saturday, the Holy Sabbath[14]. The Sefiras HaOmer period is a counting of seven periods of seven days, seven weeks between Passover culminating with the fiftieth day, Pentecost[15]. Similarly Sabbatical cycle is a period of seven years climaxing at the seven year, the Sabbatical year[16]. After seven cycles of Sabbatical cycles is the Jubilee year, in the fiftieth year[17]. The world is destined to last for seven millennia, and the seventh millennia will usher in complete annihilation[18]. Rabbeinu Bachaya explains[19] that the world is destined to last through seven such cycles of seven millennia, each time being destroyed and re-created by HaShem; however, in the end of the seventh cycle, the world will be completely destroyed and not recreated. We are in the midst of the seventh cycle of seven thousand years.

[1] See Maharsha to Yoma 2a
[2] Yoma 2a
[3] Tosafos HaRosh to Yoma 2a
[4] Poras Yosef to Yoma 2a
[5] Tosafos on the tractate Yoma is ascribed to Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293), see Siach Yitzchok and the glosses of Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) to Yoma 2a
[6] See his glosses to Yoma 2a
[7] Pnei Yehoshua to Yoma 2a
[8] See Maimonides' commentary to the Mishnah, Yoma 1:1, who uses this verse as the source for the required seclusion before Yom Kippur.
[9] Maharsha to Yoma 2a
[10] Leviticus 23:32
[11] See Exodus 12:16
[12] Ecclesiastes Rabbah to Ecclesiastes 1:15
[13] Leviticus 23:27, Numbers 29:7
[14] Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 31:12-17
[15] Leviticus 23:15, Deuteronomy 16:9
[16] Leviticus 25:1-7
[17] Leviticus 25:8
[18] Sanhedrin 97a
[19] Midrash Rabbeinu Bachaya to Leviticus 25:2

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Wine and Alcoholism: A Qoton Qlassic

A new suped up version of this essay has replaced the old version of this Qlassic Qoton post (it was one of the first posts in the history of this blog). Here's a small excerpt:

The Talmud says that one who uses wine to ease one’s mind and comfort one’s self has the wisdom of seventy elders. Similarly, the Talmud says that one who drinks wine, even if his heart is as blocked as a virgin, will becomes wiser. However, these intelligence-producing properties of wine are only present if the wine is used in controlled moderation, as Rabbi Meir HaLevi Abulafia (1170-1244) pointed out in the context of the latter Talmudic quotation, drinking a lot of wine makes one become stupid. Indeed the Midrash elaborates on the imagery of one in a drunken stupor; the Midrash says that before one drinks wine, he is as innocent as a lamb that knows nothing and is as still as a sheep before the shearers who does not know of its own fate. If he drinks a certain amount of wine, he becomes strong like a lion and will declare that no one is like itself in the world. If he drinks excessively, he becomes like a pig that dirties itself in its own urine and defecations. If he becomes drunk, he becomes like a monkey who drunkenly dances in front of all, laughs uncontrollably, emits profanities from its mouth, and is no longer aware of what it is doing.

Continue Reading This Qoton Qlassic...

King David is Alive!!!

The Talmud says regarding Jacob's state of living, simply, "Jacob, our father, did not die.[1]" In contrast, a popular refrain declared by the Jewish Nation for many generations, as a source of inspiration through many trying times, states, "Dovid Melech Yisrael Chai V'Kayam, meaning, "David, king of Israel, is alive and enduring.[2]" Jacob simply did not die, but King David not only remains alive, but continues to live. The Stropkover Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam, explains[3] this interpretive anomaly in the contrast between Jacob and King David. The Midrash[4] says that when King Solomon was inaugurating the First Holy Temple, he met some difficulty squeezing the Holy Ark, which was ten cubits wide into the Holy of Holies, whose entrance was also exactly ten cubits wide. In order to remedy the situation, King Solomon called upon the merit of his father, King David, so that HaShem should perform a miracle and save him from great embarrassment. He brought the coffin of his deceased father into the Holy Temple, whereupon his father, King David, arose from the dead[5]. Rabbi Halberstam reasoned that the decree that all humans are destined to die is specifically if one is alive, then he is supposed to die, but if one already died and has been resurrected, there is no decree that he should die again. Therefore, one can explain that after King David arose from the dead, he was alive and furthermore, he shall continue to live because the limits of human mortality do not apply to one who already experienced death and returned from the dead. May it be the will of HaShem that the scion of the Davidic dynasty shall save the Jewish Nation and bring about the building and inauguration of the Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] Taanis 5b, See Rashi to Genesis 49:33 who proves this based on the connotation of a scriptural verse.
[2] This phrase is not only found in popular songs, but is a liturgical part of many joyous occasions (such as Kiddush Levana and its grouping with the phrase Mazel Tov).
[3] In a speech in Los Angeles on the night of 7 Shevat, 5767
[4] Exodus Rabbah §8
[5] Although see the parallel to this Midrash at Yalkut Shimoni, Prophets, §193 which does not mention this detail.

Friday, April 13, 2007


[Comments to this post should be posted on the original post, here.]
Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Mazal Tov, I especially appreciate your citation of the Ben Ish Hai.

I personally had understood the value of dine mamonot for sharpening the intellect differently. Unlike most areas of halacha, which deal with material objects and concrete activities, the phenomena dealt with in dinei mamonot are by definition abstract entities - ownership, partnership, kinyan, etc. - and therefore our analysis of these subjects occurs on a more transcendent plane of thought.

This would also explain why dinei tuma v'tahora are considered the entryway to ruah haqodesh - the abstraction they involve is even greater, since the constructs of purity and impurity operate independently of any material base whatsoever, they are purely theoretical.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Interesting view. Although, upon further examination, I realized that most of Torah deals in ideas that are purely theoretical and you cannot physically see any differences if not for the Torah's specified guidelines. For example, just as ownership is not necessarily a physical trait but is a "legal right", so too the difference between produce which belongs to the grower and produce which belongs to the poor/Levites/Kohanim is not physically discernible, the same is true in regard to the difference between a day that happens to be Shabbos or Yom Tov in contrast to a day which is a normal weekday, or the difference between a married or unmarried woman (although in these last two differences, the difference is sometimes superficially manifested in a way that one can easily tell the different, i.e. on Shabbos people wear Shabbos clothes and married women cover their hair while single women do not), the difference between an animal that is consecrated as one Korban over another type of Korban, the difference between something which is ritually pure or impure, etc... I just brought examples from every Order of the Talmud. Rather, if anything, one can say a pshat that is the complete opposite of yours. All other facets of Torah learning deal with theoretical ideas, but those dealing with civil laws seemingly deal with more practical laws (so for example, every argument in Nezikin would seem to be an argument in the reality of the world), therefore, one would think that the learning of civil laws under the Torah's guidelines would not have the same supernatural effect that learning any other topic in the Torah would have. Therefore, the Mishnah had to tell us specifically that even the laws of money have this supernatural effect on one who learns it just like learning any area of Torah. See Einei Shmuel to Bava Basra 175n who says this pshat.

A Fish with Scales and No Fins

This week's parshah, Shemini, discussed the laws of Kashrus. This blogger discusses the effects of children who eat non-Kosher, yet some irreligious bloggers are proposing changing the standards of Kashrus within the Orthodox community.

This blogger discusses the famous question as to whether the Leviathan is a Kosher fish or not.
Speaking of Kosher fish:


OPINIONS: The Mishnah says that in order for a fish to be Kosher, it must have both fins and scales (as the Torah teaches in Vayikra 11:9). The Gemara quotes a Mishnah in Nidah (51b) that states that any fish that has scales also has fins, but some fish have fins and do not have scales.

According to the Mishnah there, any fish that has scales is presumed to be Kosher, because if it has scales then it also must have fins. Is this an absolute rule, or are there exceptions?

(a) The KEREISI U'PLEISI (YD 83:3) asserts that the Mishnah is saying that a *Rov*, a majority*, of fish that have scales also have fins, but not that *all* fish that have scales also have sins. Accordingly, he writes that if a fish is found that has scales and not fins, it does not contradict the statement of the Mishnah that most fish that have scales also have fins.

(b) The TAZ (YD 83:3) writes that it is impossible that there could be any fish in the world that can have scales and not have fins. The PRI MEGADIM in MISHBETZOS ZAHAV proves this from our Gemara. The Gemara asks that if we need to know only that a fish has scales in order to determine that it is Kosher, then the Torah should require only that a fish have scales in order to be Kosher. The Gemara's question does not make sense if the rule that all fish that have scales also have fins is not an absolute rule. If there exist certain fish that indeed have scales but no fins and therefore are not Kosher, then it certainly was necessarily for the Torah to require us to find both scales and fins on the fish in order to permit the fish! The Gemara's question clearly indicates that this is an absolute rule. This is also the opinion of the MACHZIK BERACHAH (YD 83:8). (For a possible refutation of this argument, see HA'KESAV VEHA'KABALAH to Vayikra 11:9.)

The Pri Megadim continues to prove that this is also the view of the PERISHAH (YD 83:7). The Perishah writes that if we find a fish that has scales and not fins we assume that its fins fell off in the water. The Pri Megadim says that if it is possible that there exist fish that have only scales and not fins, then how can we assume that the fins fell into the water? It certainly is unusual for fins -- which are usually strongly attached -- to fall into the water. It is more likely that the fish is a member of the species that have scales but not fins. If, however, the rule of the Mishnah is absolute and there is no fish that has scales and not fins, then the only possibility is that the fish that was found had fins but its fins fell off while it was in the water, as the Perishah says.

The MA'ADANEI YOM TOV (3:67:5) also maintains that the Mishnah is teaching that there is no fish that has scales but not fins. He relates that RABEINU AHARON ROFEI ("the doctor") brought him a poisonous fish called the "Stincus marinus," which was used for medical purposes after its poison was extracted. It has a spine and a wide head (which some write is another sign of a Kosher fish; see REMA YD 83:4), scales, and no fins, but four small legs like those of an animal. The Madanei Yom Tov initially thought that this fish developed only through crossbreeding after the tradition was established that all fish that have scales also have fins.

However, he concludes that there is a different reason for why the Stincus does not contradict the Mishnah's principle. The Torah states, "Any [fish] that has fins and scales... you shall eat them" (Vayikra 11:9), and in the next verse it states, "And any [fish] that does not have fins and scales... of all that crawl in the water, and of all living creatures that are in the water, they are disgusting to you" (Vayikra 11:10). Why does the Torah mention in the second verse things that crawl in the water and things that are living creatures in the water? The Ma'adanei Yom Tov concludes that the Torah is distinguishing between *fish* that live in the water from *other* creatures and animals that live in the water. When the Gemara here asks that once the Torah requires us to find scales on a fish in order to permit it, it does not need to require us to find fins, it is referring to the *first* verse (11:9), since all fish that have scales also have fins. In contrast, the second verse is discussing other creatures and animals that live in the water. It is necessary for the Torah to explicitly prohibit such creatures, because it is possible to find one that has scales and not fins (such as the Stincus).

The DARCHEI TESHUVAH (83:27) quotes a similar approach proposed by the YA'AVETZ. (See Pri Megadim there for further discussion regarding the Kashrus status of the Stincus.) See also the CHIDUSHEI CHASAM SOFER here who writes that the Stincus poses no problem whatsoever, because it is not a fish, but a terrestrial lizard of the skink family.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Hair on Pharaoh's head

The Jerusalem Post Article:

Indiana Jones would be proud. The mythical archaeologist of Hollywood fame undoubtedly would have smiled at the news last week that Egyptian authorities had succeeded in recovering a few strands of stolen Pharaonic hair offered for sale on the Internet by a French postal worker.

After Jean-Michel Diebolt advertised the whiskers in his possession at a sale price of 2,000 Euros, the Egyptian government lodged a furious protest with Paris, which promptly arrested Diebolt and oversaw the hairs' quick return to Cairo.

The fuzz in question had belonged to the mummy of Ramses II, whom some historians have identified as the Pharaoh from the Biblical account of the Exodus.

It seems that some 30 years ago, the mummy developed a fungal infection (you'll have to ask a dermatologist to explain that one…), so it was sent to Paris for analysis, where Diebolt's father relieved it of some of its hair, which has now thankfully been reunited with its original owner.

But this story is about far more than just Pharaonic follicles, for it shows how a nation, with just a little bit of feisty determination, can reclaim its stolen national artifacts and looted ancestral heritage. And it's time for Israel and the Jewish people to learn from Egypt's example in this regard.

VARIOUS JEWISH historical relics, such as ancient Hebrew manuscripts, incunabula and religious items, now grace the galleries and storehouses of museums worldwide, when their rightful place is here at home, in the Jewish state. Yet hardly anything is being done to retrieve them.

The Vatican, for example, is said to have the largest repository of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, accumulated over the centuries as a result of church-inspired pogroms and persecutions. These include early medieval copies of the works of Maimonides and Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, along with some of the earliest-known illuminated copies of the Bible.

These treasures are Jewish in content, in history and in origin, and many were ripped from the hands of their owners just moments before their massacre, forced conversion or expulsion. Why they should these stolen pieces of our heritage now sit abandoned in a Vatican basement rather than being returned to their rightful owners, the Jewish people? And how about the 14th century rimonim, the decorative silver ornaments known in English as finials which are placed on the wooden staves of a Torah scroll, that currently sit in the La Seu Cathedral in Spain's Palma de Majorca? What does it say about our sense of national pride that we allow these sacred religious objects to be displayed in a Catholic church?

Similarly, there is hardly a major museum in all of Europe that does not have a collection of Jewish artifacts, at least some of which were surely obtained through dubious historical circumstances. Shouldn't we be fighting to get them back? Egypt, by contrast, has not remained silent over the fate of its national heritage. Indeed, in recent years, Egyptian antiquities officials have been waging a vigorous campaign aimed at regaining the country's countless relics that were pilfered over the centuries by various European explorers, scientists, archeologists and museums.

In 2002, the Egyptian government's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) established a special department which was empowered by the state to locate and identify such objects with the aim of retrieving them.

As anyone who has ever walked through the British Museum in London surely knows, much of the Nile's ancient past was carried off overseas for study and display. These include items ranging from the famed Rosetta stone, which enabled researchers to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, to various mummies, papyri, sculptures and other historical objects.

While Cairo does not always manage to convince foreign governments and museums to return the items in their possession, they occasionally do succeed, as the case of Ramses' hair recently demonstrated.

AND EGYPT is not the only country to be pressing such claims. As the Associated Press reported last June, "In recent years, Italy has become more aggressive about objects it believes were wrongfully taken from its borders." In February 2006, New York's famed Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to return nearly two dozen historical artifacts that Italian officials said had been taken illegally from the country.

Other countries, such as Peru, Kenya, Turkey and Tajikistan, have followed suit, and have also started pressing to retrieve items that are part of their national and cultural birthright.

Just two years ago, Ethiopia succeeded in getting back a 1,700-year old obelisk that had been looted by Italian troops back in 1937. And last July, Greece concluded a deal with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles regarding the return of two ancient Greek artworks to the Mediterranean country.

These cases all underline the fact that a country need not be economically or militarily powerful to pursue the justness of its cause. By standing firm on moral principle and historical truth, a nation can often bring about the return of its stolen goods.

Israel and the Jewish people need to begin addressing this issue in a far more concerted manner. Efforts should be made to locate and trace the origins of various Jewish historical and religious artifacts being held by foreign governments and institutions.

Israel's Foreign Ministry, and Jewish organizations worldwide, should then launch an international campaign to retrieve these precious parts of our heritage, using diplomacy, public pressure and other tools of persuasion to get them back.

A good to place to start would be with the Vatican, which more than any other institution is responsible for much of the horrors and tragedy experienced by European Jewry over the centuries. That Rome should now be sitting on so much ill-gotten Jewish property is both morally obscene and historically unjust, and needs to be corrected.

The Greeks, the Egyptians and others have managed to recoup at least some of their nation's stolen relics. With a little bit of collective resolve, there is no reason why Israel and the Jewish people can not do the same.

[Hattip: Some forum]

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wisdom in Money

A Mazel Tov is due to myself for having finished the Tractate Bava Basra earlier
today. Here are som concluding thoughts on the Talmud's largest single tractate:

The Mishnah teaches[1] that one who wishes to become wise should engross himself in the study of the laws concerning money. The Mishnah continues to said that monetary laws is the greatest of all the branches of Torah learning, for it is like an ever-flowing spring. Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz of Danzig (1782-1860) explains[2] that no other branch of Torah law provides the human intellect with as wide-ranging a field for analytics and reasoning as much as civil law does; therefore, its study mentally sharpens the mind. Monetary law requires the involvement of human logic in making practical halachik decisions and drawing analogies between rules establish in precedents set by Rabbis of previous generations. Clearly, monetary laws require the most amount of mental agility, for in other situations of halacha, such as the disqualifying blemishes on a ritual sacrifices[3], previous rulings which are similar to a situation at hand bear no relevance to the situation at hand, and one cannot use such an established precedent. However, in cases of monetary dispute, the Judges (called a dayanim) must use halachik precedents in deciding their verdict. Furthermore, in most questions of Halacha, when in doubt, one can always act stringently as means of "playing it safe", but in situations of financial matters, one cannot simply rule stringently because a stringent ruling for one party is actually a lenient ruling for the opposing plaintiff. Therefore, in cases of money, Halacha sets certain principles in how to rule, including imposing the burden of proof on the claimant, not the defender.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) points out[4] the numerical value of the Aramaic word used for "money" (mammon) equals the numerical value of the Hebrew word "in-depth" (Iyun). According to this, he explains that the study of the laws of money leads to wisdom because of its in-depth nature and how every set of circumstances requires its very own in-depth investigation and analysis in order for any ruling to be justified. Since a judge of civil law must be so meticulous, the study of civil law in a Torah setting sharpens one's mind. Moreover, Rabbi Yosef Chaim says that the numerical value mammon also equals the Hebrew words for "ladder" (sulam). Accordingly, when one engaged in the study of the laws of money, one is ascending the metaphoric and/or Kabbalistic ladder which leads to a complete wisdom in the study of the living Torah. This explains the tradition, maintained by the mainstream Yeshiva world, in specifically studying Talmudic tractates that deal with monetary rules. In studying such laws, one is not only acquiring an understanding of the legal system as imposed by the Torah, but one is also slowly gaining the mental components used to eventually gain an infinite wisdom in the Holy Torah.

[1] Bava Basra 175b
[2] Tiferes Yisrael to Bava Basra, Chapter 10, §84
[3] Chullin 48b. This example is from Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1731-1805) who has a similar discussion in Panim Yafos to Exodus 22:1
[4] Ben Yehoyada to Bava Basra 175b

Rashi and Ibn Ezra

Some added analysis to a discussion which began here.

Seemingly, the understanding of Rashi[1] that Jochebed was one of the seventy souls of Jacob's family who immigrated to Egypt is only explicable according to commentary of the Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (1092-1167)[2] who explained that only the Egyptians of the previous generation died out before the Jews' enslavement began. This is because if the entire generation of Jews died before the enslavement, then Jochebed should have died before the enslavement, and she therefore could not have been the heroine of the story of the Exodus, so if Jochebed were to be one of those who descended to Egypt, Rashi had to understand that only the Egyptians of that generation died before the enslavement, but not necessarily the Jews. However, if this is true, then Rashi did not have to explain that Jochebed was born between the walls of no man's land between the Egyptian borders, explaining that she was born before the Jacobean family descended to Egypt at all would have sufficed. Rather, one can explain[3] that Rashi could even have understood like the Chizkuni or like his grandson that all the Jews of Joseph's generation died before the slavery began, but Jochebed was not considered part of that generation specifically because she was born "between the walls". Therefore, she was considered close enough to the previous generation to merit being enumerated in the seventy souls who immigrated to Egypt, yet she did not die before the indenturing of the Israelites as slaves because she was considered part of the next generation. Consequently, Rashi is not restricted to the explanation of Ibn Ezra[4].

[1] To Genesis 46:15
[2] To Exodus 1:6
[3] I arrived to this conclusion with the help of Rabbi Michael Katz on the last day of Passover, 5767
[4] Incidentally, the words of Ibn Ezra himself (to Exodus 1:8) require further examination because, in explaining the verse concerning the "new king" he ignored the both explanations of Rav and of Shmuel from the Midrash and Talmud, and he explains that "new king" refer to the establishment of a new dynasty starting from a king who had no royal blood within him.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Holy Songs

The term “song” as used in the Holy Scriptures (Shir and/or Shirah) refers not only to mere singing, but also to a unique type of spiritual phenomenon. A song is the manifestation of feelings vocalized into words, which represent a spiritual connection to esoteric concepts; songs reflect a belief of the intellect fused with the subconscious righteousness of the soul. Songs are especially used to commemorate happy occasions or to express one’s emotion during a joyous occasion. The core focus of a song’s content usually speaks the praises of G-d (whether overtly or not[1]), but the actual circumstances behind the cause for the thanksgiving can also be mentioned within the song. According to Nusach Sefard[2] there are eleven expressions of song—admitting/acknowledging thanks, praising, lauding, glorifying, extolling, beautifying, blessing, eternalizing His victory, exulting, and exalting. Conversely, song is included in the fifteen descriptions of His praise: Song, laud, praise, music (hymns), strength, rulership, triumph, greatness, powerfulness, and epitome of praise, splendor, holiness, kingship, blessings, and acknowledgments of thanksgiving[3]. Thus, song is an expression of praise, and praise is an expression of song; this is because the raison d’etre of song is to be used as a means of expressing praise to the Almighty. Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus (1944-2001) explains[4] that a zemer, a hymn, is the highest form of song because the singer is so emotionally charged, that the words cannot be properly enunciated without being sung in the form of a melody.

Rabbi Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef Luria of Bialystock (d. 1867) writes[5] that the entire world is compared to a symphony with all its various elements acting as the instruments within the great orchestra of the world. Human song is only one part of this grand orchestra of music that gives praise to the Creator. The animals, plants, celestial bodies, demons, angels, and topographical entities all praise their Creator through song, as well. The Midrash relates[6] that when King David finished writing the Book of Psalms, he grew proud of himself and rhetorically asked HaShem, “Is there anyone who recites more songs and praises than I do?” At that moment a frog appeared and told David that he “spoke three thousand aphorisms and his song was a thousand and five“[7]. The Mabit, Rabbi Moshe ben Yosef di Trani the Elder (1505-1585) tells[8] that after King David finished his magnum opus, Psalms, the divine spirit fell upon him once again, and he merited writing Perek Shira (“Chapter of Song”). This treatise details the songs that each of G-d’s creations sings every day to honor and praise their Creator. There are deep Kabbalistic explanations in understanding why each verse was attributed to whomever or whatever creation it was attributed (e.g. see footnote[9]). Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar of Morocco, (1696-1743) writes[10] that HaShem created speech in all creations in order for them to praise Him, for it says, “Everything works for HaShem for its own sake”[11].

Even the angels in heaven busy themselves by singing of G-d’s praises. Elijah the Prophet tells[12] that the ministering angels do not say their songs of praise above in heaven until the Jews below on earth begin saying their songs. Indeed, two later prophets, Isaiah and Ezekiel, testified to the fact that in heaven the angels spend their time praising the sovereignty of G-d’s rule[13]. When the Jews repeat the proclamations of these angels in the Kedusha services at least three times a day, they stand with their feet together to mimic the angelic originators of those phrases, as angels have only one leg. Furthermore, at the time that Jacob—who was soon-after to be renamed Israel—was engaged in a wrestling match against the ministering angel of the Nation of Esau, Samael, the latter had to leave their fight early in the morning[14] in order to return to heaven so that he may continue saying his praises of G-d[15]. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740-1810) writes[16] that if one wants to sway the attitude of a nation in order for them to have a more favorable view of the Jews, he need only know the specific song of that nation’s angel when it sings, blesses, and praises HaShem. This is because an angel has to love the man who knows his song, and becomes compelled to do the will of such a man. Therefore, writes the Berditchever Rebbe, one who says the entire Perek Shirah, especially daily, is great[17]. While fighting with Jacob, the ministering angel Samael asked to be released "for the morning has arrived"[18]. The Talmud explains[19] that every angel is given an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear in front of the King of Kings and sing praises to Him, and this angel had eagerly waited eternity for his chance to do so, but at his given time he was pre-occupied with fighting Israel. Even for angels, the privilege of singing HaShem's praises is not always granted, but is a much sought after task; this again proves the power of song.

Even though HaShem did not allow the angels to sing of His praises during the splitting of the Red Sea because the Egyptians were drowning; He did listen to the song sung by Moses and the Israelites[20]. The question arises as to why He rejected the praise of the angels, but accepted the song of the Israelites. Rabbi Aharon Kotler (1891-1962) explains[21] that there are two types of song. The first type of song is a religious experience in which one recognizes the goodwill of HaShem and through such song, one brings one's self closer to belief and recognition G-d by singing His praises. Such song also expels foreign ideas from within one's heart and soul. The second type of song merely sings of His praises and power. The Jews at the Red Sea were singing the first type of song, which is so powerful that HaShem disregarded the fact that his own creations—the Egyptians—were dying the sea. However, the angels were plainly singing His praises for not other purpose than to merely praise Him; HaShem refused to accept such a level of song because it was indeed not a completely joyous hour because his creations were drowning in the sea.

The metaphysical effects of song are quite clear in the Midrash. The Midrash says[22] that not everyone who wants to sing to G-d can sing, rather, one for whom a miracle occurs and sings a song in gratitude of the miracle should know that all his sins are forgiven and he is like a new creation. Similarly, the Midrash says that after the Jews sang following the splitting of the Red Sea, after Deborah sang following the defeat of Sisra[23], and after David sang following the downfall of all his enemies, they were all absolved of their sins[24]. This power of song is specifically in the first type of song, which has a metaphysical effect on its singer that can cause all his sins to be forgiven. Songs induce a special inner connection which one has with G-d. Rabbi Aharon Kotler explains[25] that this is why the Torah is called a "song"[26], because just as through song one recognizes the awesome power of HaShem and achieves a special spiritual connection which is impossible to attain through almost any other medium, so too one can build such a bond with Him through the study of Torah.

The power of song is so great that Rashi says[27] that after Deborah’s song, the entire Jewish Nation was forgiven from all of their sins. The songs of the animals were so powerful they had the power to destroy the entire Assyrian Army of Sennecharib overnight on the first night of Passover, thereby saving Jerusalem from its besiegement[28]. However, despite all these favorable results of performing a song in HaShem’s honor, the converse is also true; the lack of song can sometimes produce unfavorable and even dangerous consequences. The Talmud says[29] that had King Hezekiah sang thanks because of the destruction the Assyrian Army, he would have been anointed as the Messiah and the redemption would have occurred immediately. However, since he did not, the Messiah did not yet arrive and they Jews have been subsequently exiled for over a millennium. Rashi says[30] that the sun and moon only continued to exist after they were at a standstill and ceased their singing because Joshua carried out his singing on their behalf. Had Joshua not have continued the singing, the sun, and the moon would have been destroyed. Rabbi Avrohom Ibn Ezra (1092-1167) explained that the sin of Moses[31] was that he did not sing to the rock, which he hit and for this, he was punishment by being banned from the Holy Land. It is imperative upon all Jews to follow suit of the Jews[32] who recognized their divine miracle, realized the need for singing His praise, and actually went out and sang to Him.

When the Torah refers to "atonement"[33] for the Israelites, the Talmud understands[34] that this "atonement" refers to the Levitical singing, which accompanied the sacrifices. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 2448, Aaron and his sons became the official priests of the Tabernacle. Upon the offering of the first sacrifice, a fire descended from heaven. When all the Israelites saw this fire, they sang a happy song[35]. The Midrash explains[36] that only once they saw the Heavenly fire descend and consume the sacrifices did they open their mouths to sing. Rabbi Aharon Kotler sees from here that for one to be on the spiritual level needed in order to awaken emotions powerful enough to stimulate song, one must be affected by a visual stimulus. Indeed the Torah says, immediately before detailing the song, which the Israelites sang at the Red Sea, "Israel saw the great hand which G-d used in Egypt and the nation were in awe of HaShem, and they believed in G-d and in Moses, His servant.[37]" This sight of the power of HaShem is a prelude to the song of Oz Yashir, which the Israelites sang as recognition of HaShem's miraculous salvation of the Jews from Egyptian forces. Rabbi Yaakov Reischer (1670-1733) explains[38] that since the Jews resolved to recognize the miracles of G-d, they merited having the privilege of singing His praises after they saw His Heavenly hand come and save them by means of supernatural phenomenon such as splitting the sea. Indeed this mystical vision was so powerful that the Midrash says[39] that a maidservant at the Splitting of the Red Sea saw more than Ezekiel, the seer of the vision of the chariots, and all the other prophets.

Rashi[40] explains that the manifestation of HaShem's presence was so apparent, that the Jews at the Red Sea could literally point their fingers and exclaim, "This is my G-d![41]" The Talmud says[42] those Jew who, as children, were saved by open miracles from HaShem in Egypt (during the infanticide decrees), later were the first to recognize His presence at the Sea. Nonetheless, all the Jews showed their appreciation to G-d for Him saving them by joining in the song. The Talmud says[43] that even fetuses inside their mothers sang His praises at the Red Sea. Since she watched her little brother for twenty minutes[44], Miriam was rewarded that the entire Jewish nation waited seven days for her to be healed before they continued their travels. This shows that HaShem rewards one five hundred times the amount of his good deed. Rabbi Aharon Kotler reasons that if one who says to an idol, "You are my god" is punished with execution by stoning[45], then surely one who said about HaShem "This is my G-d" should be exceedingly rewarded over five times the amount of his good deed.

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1820-1892) says[46] that while there were supernatural phenomena involved in the splitting of the sea to save the Jews, there was no such miracle used to drown the Egyptians. Rather, HaShem allowed to powers of nature to kill the Egyptians in the Sea, while He used His powers beyond nature to save the Jews. Nonetheless, one of the factors in the Jews' outpour of gratitude to their Creator was indeed the fact that He killed the Egyptians while sparing them. The Midrash explains[47] that from the creation of the world until the time that the Jews stood by the sea (2448 years), no one sang praise to HaShem except for the Israelites. The Midrash elaborates, He created Adam, and Adam did not sing; He saved Abraham from a fiery furnace and from powerful kings, and Abraham did not sing; He saved Issac, and Issac did not sing; He saved Jacob from Samael, Esau, and the inhabitants of Schem (Nablus), and Jacob did not sing. However, once Israel came to the sea and He tore it apart for them, they immediately began to sing His praises. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv explains[48] that since the main reason for thanks at the sea was that HaShem wrought revenge upon the wicked Egyptians, the Israelites were the first people in history to sing His praises because before them a need for such revenge never arose. He explains that this also explains the rationale behind the Jews' song at the well[49] and after Deborah's victory.

The word "Song" in Hebrew is unique because it is a noun that appears in a male form and a female form. The male tense for the word "song" is Shir, while the corresponding term in the female tense is Shirah. Tosafos quotes a Midrash that says[50] that the female form, Shirah, is used in reference to all songs, except for the songs which will be sung after the heralding of the Messiah, which are referred to as Shir. Tosafos explain that since women bear the pain of child-birthing, then Shirah, the female tense of "song" refers to all songs afterwhich there will remain a pain. This means all songs which only reflect a temporary lax in the extreme suffering of the Jews in exile are referred to in the female tense because the affliction is due to return, so the happiness is fleeting. However, songs of the Messianic Era reveal a complete and eternal bliss and thus can be referred to as Shir, which does not connote any pain associated with the happiness. This discussion of the nature of song is within the context of the Mishnah[51] which says that one is obligated to praise HaShem who performed many miracles in redeeming His nation from servitude in Egypt and who shall take us out from slavery to freedom, from sadness to gladness, from mourning to celebrating, and from servitude to redemption. Amen.

[1] All the songs mentioned below explicitly mention His praise, except for a few in Perek Shirah that make no sense on the surface but in a deeper meaning (see below) are great praises and the entire Shir HaShirim, which is an allegory. If a song like Shir HaShirim was written with holy intentions, as Solomon had when he wrote it, it can achieve high spiritual potential. However, it is not for people nowadays to write love stories and try to pass it off as a song praising G-d. In order for a song to be called a proper song, it should praise G-d. In contemporary times, there are musicians who call their music "songs" but those song are usually devoid of any spiritual content and most of the time have disgusting content (e.g. songs about rape, murder, drinking, etc...). It is best to stick the songs that were written through divine inspiration as a means of praising G-d.
[2] This is based on Lurianic Kabbalah from the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchok Luria (1534–1572). These eleven expressions are mentioned in the Passover Haggadah, at the end of the Psukei D’Zimrah “Chapters of Hymns” services on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and at the concluding benediction of Hallel. Nusach Ashkenaz omits “eternalizing His victory” from the list. Rabbi Yehudah Low, The Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) writes (Gevuras HaShem, Chapter 61) that the Ashkenazic tradition is very much more accurate.
[3] These fifteen expressions are mentioned daily in the Yishtabach prayer.
[4] Shabbos Malkasa
[5] Kenaf Rananim, printed in 1842
[6] Yalkut Shimoni, end of Psalms, §150
[7] Kings 1 5:12
[8] Beis Elokim
[9] According to the Arizal, every kosher animal (as defined by Leviticus Chapter 11) gets its lifeline from the first letters of the Tetragrammaton, while the lives of non-Kosher animals are sustained through the latter two letters of HaShem's name. The last verse in Psalms (Psalms 150:6) states, "All souls praise G-d, praise G-d”. According to Kabbalah, this passage means that all soul-bearing creatures praise G-d using His name containing the letters “Yud-Hey.” According to the Arizal that only kosher animals have a connection to that two-letter name, how can every animal praise HaShem with that name? One can answer that every type of animal has a kosher counterpart because the Talmud says (Chullin 127a) every animal that exists on the dry land exists on the sea, and the Talmud elsewhere (Avodah Zarah 39a) explains that one is kosher, and the other is not. So for every animal there is a type (whether it is the sea version or land version) which is kosher and has a connection to the first half of the four-letter name. However, the Talmud in Chullin explicitly excluded the weasel, Chuldah from this sea-land rule, and the weasel is decidedly a non-Kosher animal (Leviticus 11:29), which uses the latter half of G-d’s name, so how can the verse in Psalms say every soul praises G-d through the name of “Yud-Hay”? (This assumes contrary to the words of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821), who wrote in Nefesh HaChaim that animals do not have souls.) The Ben Ish Chai (Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, 1832-1909) answers (Ben Yehoyada to Chullin 127a) that indeed the weasel does not praise G-d with that name, rather the weasel is the one who recited Psalms 150:6, as he testifies that the rest of the world praises HaShem so. This is why King David ascribed that verse to the weasel in Perek Shirah. Perhaps this is the intent of Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697-1776) in his cryptic citation of Chullin 127a in his commentary Zimras Ha’Aretz (printed with his famous siddur) to Perek Shira.
[10] Ohr HaChaim to Genesis 3:1
[11] Proverbs 16:4
[12] Tana Devei Eliyahu HaNavi, Seder Eliyahu Zuta, §25
[13] See Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 3:12
[14] Genesis 32:27
[15] Chullin 93b
[16] Kedushas Levi, 2:2
[17] In a Tannaic preface to this work, three Tannaim (Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol, Rabbi Eliezer, and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the compiler of the Mishnah) wrote of great blessings granted to one who busies his or her self with Perek Shirah. Rabbi Mordechai Gross (Chief Justice on the Rabbinical Court of Bnei Barak) writes that the recitation of Perek Shirah is heard in the highest places of Heaven and can have great influence in the Heavenly courts for a favorable judgment. Such songs can ascend and penetrate through all seven layers of heaven and reach directly to HaShem Himself.
[18] Genesis 32:26
[19] Chullin 91b
[20] See Megillah 10a and Exodus 15:1-21
[21] Mishnas Rabbi Aharon, Volume 3, Pesach §1
[22] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, §254
[23] Judges, Chapter 5
[24] Samuel 2, Chapter 22
[25] Mishnas Rabbi Aharon, Volume 3, Pesach §1-2
[26] Deuteronomy 31:19 commands one to write "this song" and Nedarim 38a understands that "this song" refers to the entire Pentateuch.
[27] To Judges 6:1
[28] Sanhedrin 95b
[29] Sanhedrin 94a
[30] Avodah Zarah 25a and Joshua 10:13
[31] Numbers 20:8
[32] As explained by Rashi to Exodus 15:1
[33] Numbers 8:19
[34] Jerusalem Pesachim 4:1
[35] Leviticus 9:24
[36] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §523
[37] Exodus 14:31
[38] Iyun Yaakov and elaborated upon in the name of his responsa work as cited in Eitz Yosef.
[39] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah §244
[40] To Exodus 15:2
[41] Exodus 15:2
[42] Sotah 11b
[43] Sotah 31b
[44] See Tosafos to Sotah 11a and the Maharsha there
[45] Sanhedrin 60b
[46] Beis HaLevi to Parshas BeShalach
[47] Exodus Rabbah, §23:4
[48] Divrei Aggadah to Parshas BeShalach
[49] Numbers 21:17-20, see Rashi there who explains (using Brachos 54a-b) that the Jews saw that HaShem avenged the Amorites.
[50] To Pesachim 116b
[51] Pesachim 116b

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