יום שני, 30 ביוני 2014

Curses and Blessings

And the lord your god turned the curse into blessing for you,  for the lord your god loves you
Pinchas Leiser

The above dependant clause in Parashat Ki Tetseh, (Devarim 32 4-7) is a kind of "parenthetical statement" appearing in the context of the injunction against Ammonites and Moabites entering the Assembly of the Lord
Neither Ammonite nor Moabite shall come into the Lord's assembly. Even his tenth generation shall not come into the Lord's assembly ever. Because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and for their hiring against you Balaam son of Beor from Aram Naharaim to curse you. But the Lord your God did not want to listen to Balaam, and the Lord your God turned the curse into blessing for you, for the Lord your God loves you. You shall not seek their well-being and there good all your days, forever.
The main subject is the prohibition against Ammonites and Moabites entering into the Lord's assembly, i.e., permitting them to marry a daughter of Israel. The Torah gives two reasons for the prohibition: Ammon and Moab's refusal to provide the Children of Israel with "bread and water", and the hiring of Balaam to curse Israel. In passing, the Torah tells us that God turned the curse into a blessing.
It is interesting to note that our Sages neutralized the prohibition in two ways:
a.         They restricted the probation to males. The proper nouns "Amoni" and "Moavi" may - according to Hebrew grammar - be read as all (male and female) Ammonites and Moabites, or as specifically male members of said nations. The Sages chose the latter reading, thus excluding females from the prohibition. (Sifri, Devarim, 248; Bavli, Yevamot 69b)
b.        "Came Sanherib and mixed the nations." (Berahot 28a) - the prohibition is no longer in effect because there is no way to identify Amonites and Moabites.
Perhaps one might say that these rabbinical readings in effect turned the curse which lay upon the Ammonites and Moabites into a blessing and facilitated their joining the Jewish people and "the Lord's assembly" as members with full rights.
The transformation of the curses into blessings is not explicitly mentioned in this week's parasha; there may be intimations of such as Balaam seems to repeat himself in different formulations. For example (Bemidbar 24:13):
Should Balak give me his houseful of silver and gold, I could not cross the word of the Lord to do either a good thing or a bad one from my own heart; that which the Lord speaks to me, it alone can I speak.
That is to say: It seems that were Balaam to be given the option of expressing his true feelings, he certainly would have accommodated Balak's desires and cursed Israel; only his being turned into a conduit for the word of God defused the curse.
The transformation of curse into blessing invites us to examine the concepts of blessing and curse, their origins, their influence, their reversibility and their relativity.
What is the power of curses and blessings, and from where does it derive?
God blessed the Sabbath day when he rested from all His labor. He also blessed Adam and Eve with "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth."
The first creation in the Bible to be cursed by God is the primeval serpent in the Garden of Eden - "Cursed be you of all cattle..."
God decreed death for Adam and Eve. Eve was told "In pain shall you bear children", but she was not cursed. Adam was told "The earth shall be cursed because of you."
Cain too, following his murder of Abel, was told by God: "Cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth"
The source of these curses is God's response to Man's behavior. The Torah describes in human terms the consequences of his actions when he violates the divine will.
God's blessing of Noah and his sons upon their exiting the ark is similar to His blessing of Adam and Eve.
Noah is the first person in Scripture to curse and to bless; he curses Canaan, son of Ham, for his violation of his dignity, and he blesses "God, Lord of Shem" because Shem and his brother Yafet covered their father's shame.
It is noteworthy that Noah does not attribute the curse to the Lord, but the blessing has a connection to God, Lord of Shem. Is this curse a human emotional reaction, without a divine origin, as against blessings which derive their power from God?
In any case, Avraham is the first person to be notified that God will be involved in the blessings and the curses which people shower upon him, as is written "I shall bless those who bless you, and those who curse you shall I curse". The covenant between God and Avraham transforms, as it were, people's relationship to Avraham into relationship to the God of Avraham, and therefore He responds to these references with complete identification.
The blessing passed on from father to son - the Blessing of Avraham - becomes a central motif in the Book of Bereishit; it becomes the point of contention between Yaakov and Esav; on his deathbed Yaakov blesses his sons "each according to his blessing" (we would hardly be inclined to categorize certain of his messages to his sons as 'blessings').
It would seem, then, that all these blessings are related, in one way or another, to God as the source of the blessing.
Space does not permit dealing with all of the blessings and curses in the Torah; suffice it to recall that which is written with reference to the Priestly Benediction: "And they shall place my name upon the Children of Israel and I shall bless them." The priests are but channels through which God's blessings reach the Children of Israel.
The singular occasion of the proclamation of the blessings at Mt. Grizim and the curses at Mt. Eval (Parashat Ki Tavo) is another example of blessings and curses being transferred though human means although the origin is divine.
Returning to Balaam, we discover that our Sages, of blessed memory (Sanhedrin 105b), attempt - through analysis of the blessing emitting from Balaam's lips - to decipher what was the hidden message he wished to transmit:
And the Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth" - Rabbi Elazar said: An angel. Rabbi Yonatan said: A hook.
Rabbi Yochanan said: From that scoundrel evil man's blessing we can learn what was in his heart.
R. Johanan said: From the blessings of that wicked man you may learn his intentions: Thus he wished to curse them that they [the Israelites] should possess no synagogues or school-houses  -  [this is deduced from] "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob"; that the Shechinah should not rest upon them  -  "and thy tabernacles, O Israel"; that their kingdom should not endure  -  "As the valleys are they spread forth"; that they might have no olive trees and vineyards  -  "as gardens by the river's side"; that their odor might not be fragrant  - "as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted"; that their kings might not be tall  -  "and as cedar trees beside the waters"; that they might not have a king the son of a king  -  "He shall pour the water out of his bucket"; that their kingdom might not rule over other nations  -  "and his seed shall be in many waters"; that their kingdom might not be strong  -  "and his king shall be higher than Agag"; that their kingdom might not be awe-inspiring  -  "and his kingdom shall be exalted".
R. Abba b. Kahana said: All of them reverted back to curses, excepting the one about synagogues and schoolhouses, for it is written, "But the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing for thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee"; "the curse" [in the singular], but not the curses.
Additional Sages deciphered the hidden messages in Balaam's words, reading his blessings as concealed curses. Rabbi Abba goes so far as to claim that some of these veiled curses were actually realized.
Does this mean that one should be concerned when cursed by another, even when the curser is considered by the Torah and the Sages to be a wicked person?
True, Rav Yehuda (Sanhedrin 90b, and other locations) said: "A scholar's curses, even on insignificant matters, take effect." Curses by a sage are dangerous, because they are liable to affect a person even if he is not deserving of punishment. But this is said only in reference to a scholar's curse, and perhaps Rav Yehudah is warning scholars to guard their tongue, as per the admonition: "Scholars, be cautious with your words, lest from your words they [your students] may learn to lie."
It may be that the intention of the Torah and our scholars is to tell us that everyone's curses have power; should someone's curse match God's intention to hurt another, that someone, regardless of his righteousness or his wickedness, becomes a channel for God's will.
But perhaps the most important lesson to be learned from the story of Balaam's curses/blessings and other passages relating to the story is that curses and blessings are reversible and relative. It seems to me that both Balaam's attempts to view Israel from different angles and the placement of the blessing at Mt. Grizim and the curse at Mt. Eval come to instruct us that blessings and curses are often dependant upon points of view and meanings attached to the words. We are not dealing with absolute and irreversible concepts.
Sometimes there is a tendency to view a certain situation as a fateful curse. Such a deterministic view can lead us to despair and indifference; we feel that "there's nothing we can do" because in any case "nothing will ever change". Such feelings exist both in trying personal situations and in periods when the national and social mood is, in many aspects, at a nadir.
It seems to me that "the mouth of the ass", created on Sabbath eve at twilight, is a metaphor for hidden potentials for hope which exist within the seemingly cursed reality, coming to teach us that it is in our power to place the word of God within our mouths and to look at the world and all its inhabitants through a prism of blessing. The blessing pronounced by the priests prior to the Priestly Benediction may be understood as a reminder to bless the Jewish people "with love", - to transfer to us the ability to love and to strive for peace with all the universe's creations.
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist.

יום שישי, 27 ביוני 2014

המוות והחיים - Death and Life

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
מחר, בתחילת פרשת חוקת, נקרא על טקס ההיטהרות מ"טומאת מת" באמצעות "פרה אדומה". עבורנו, החיים במאה ה-21 נראה הטקס הזה הזוי. כבר חכמים הבינו שאין כאן עניין מאגי. ואולי בא הדבר ללמדנו שהמוות "מטמא" (וגם כאן אין מהות קונקרטית של טומאה); כלומר שיש להתרחק מנטייה להאדיר את המוות ולדבוק בחיים.
חשוב לזכור זאת בימים אלו ולוואי  שהבחורים החטופים ישובו לבתיהם בשלום ושנוכל לבחור עבור כל בני האדם באזור הזה בתרבות של חיים
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם 

Dear Family and Friends,
Tomorrow we'll read about the ritual of purification by the "red heifer" (parah adumah). This ritual  sounds  very strange to us, who live in the 21st Century.
 Nevertheless, maybe the central issue here is that death is connected with impurity and life with purity; our Tradition sanctifies life and not graves.
Shabbat Shalom to all,
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family.

Shabbat Shalom from the Leiser family


יום רביעי, 25 ביוני 2014

The Well of Miriam


Pinchas Leiser

“Now they came, the Children of Israel, the entire community, to the Wilderness of Tzin, in the first New-Moon. The people stayed in Kadesh. Miriam died there, and she was buried there. Now there was no water for the community, so they assembled against Moshe and against and Aharon; the people quarreled with Moshe, they said, saying: Now would that we had expired when our brothers expired before the presence of God! Now why did you bring the assembly of God into this wilderness, to die there, we and our cattle? . . . Moshe and Aharon came away from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the Tent of Appointment, and flung themselves upon their faces. The Glory of God was seen by them, and God spoke to Moshe saying: Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aharon your brother; you are to speak to the boulder before their eyes so that it gives forth its water, so that you may give drink to the assembly and their cattle.
So Moshe took the staff from before the presence of God, as He had commanded him. And Moshe and Aharon assembled the assembly facing the boulder. He said to them: Now hear, you rebels, from this boulder must we bring forth water? And Moshe raised his hand and struck the boulder with his staff, twice, so that abudant water came out; and the community and their cattle drank. Now God said to Moshe and to Aharon: Because you did not have trust in me to treat me as holy before the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore: you two shall not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them. Those were the Waters of Meriva/Quarreling, where the Children of Israel quarreled with God, and He was hallowed through them.                           (Bemidbar 20:1-13)

When Chazal and the traditional commentators read these verses, they found in them an endless source for derashot, drawing from them – through speech -  “many waters”. . . and, as is known, “Water is none other than Torah”. They homiletically expounded the juxtaposition of the parasha of the red heifer to that of Miriam’s death. Similarly, with great sensitivity, they noted the connection between the death of Miram and the death of water:

“Rabbi Yossi, son of Rabbi Yehudah, said: Israel had three great leaders: Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. And they gave Israel three fine gifts: the well, the cloud, and the manna. The well – thanks to Miram; the pillar of cloud – thanks to Aharon; manna – thanks to Moshe. Miriam died – the well disappeared, as is written (Bemidbar 20) “There Miriam died”  and this is followed by “there was no water for the assembly”.  (Bavli, Taanit 9a, and elsewhere).

Chazal, and in their footsteps Rashi and others, describe a non-conventional reality – a well which accompanies the Children of Israel in the wilderness. This well is mentioned in Tractate Avot (5:6) among the ten phenomena which were created Sabbath Eve at sunset. The author of the Siftei Chachamim points out that the well was attributed to Miriam because “she waited near Moshe on the Nile, to see what what would happen to him when he was thrown in the basket.”

The waters which flowed from the well were the source of life. When Miriam died, the well disappeared, the source of life disappeared. The people react to the lack of water and Miriam’s absence indirectly, with feelings of desperation and death wishes (Rabbi Efrayim of Lunchitz, author of “Kli Yakar” explains that they did not eulogize Miriam properly and did not mourn her death in a direct manner).  Moshe and Aharon cannot cope with these feelings, and they flee to the entrance of the Tent of Appointment. Some commentators understand this flight as a failure of leadership, which finds expression further on in the parasha. Many commentators, Rishonim  and Achronim, dealt with the question of  “the sin and its punishment” of Moshe our teacher (an extensive summation of the different approaches may be found in Prof. Nechama Leibowitz’s STUDIES IN THE BOOK OF BEMIDBAR) and they found different reasons for the prevention of Moshe’s entry into Eretz Yisrael.

A plain-reading of Chapter 20:7-13, must call the reader’s attention to the connection between the striking of the rock and Moshe and Aharon’s  not entering Eretz Yisrael. :

God spoke to Moshe saying: Take the staff and assemble the community, you and Aharon your brother; you are to speak to the boulder before their eyes so that it gives forth its water . . . And Moshe raised his hand and struck the boulder with his staff, twice . . . . Now God said to Moshe and to Aharon: Because you did not have trust in me to treat me as holy before the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore: you two shall not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them”.

The Holy one, Blessed Be He, commandes Moshe “to speak” to the rock so that it release its waters; Moshe does not speak, but he “strikes” the rock. True, “many waters”  flow from the rock after its being struck, but Moshe and Aharon are accused of a lack of faith, and of missing an opportunity to publicly sanctify the Lord, and therefore it was decreed that they may not enter Eretz Yisrael, - or, more in keeping with the text – they will not bring the assembly into the land. In other words, their leadership responsibility will end before the entry into the land.

This reading ignores the wider context which includes the death of Miriam, the disappearance of the well, and Moshe and Aharon’s inability to cope with the despair which infects the nation after Miriam’s passing.  Perhaps this is the reason why the commentators do not consider the striking of the rock to be sufficient reason for the punishment given Moshe.

Close study of the verses permits a reading with reveals a connection between the different events described in the parasha – with ramifications for future generations.

The Generation of the Wilderness was an impatient generation. When it left Egypt, it was promised that it would reach its destination, a land flowing with milk and honey. The desert reality slaps the face of the generation, crises often marked by expressions of despair are heard; no food, no water, no hope. In these situations, the nation comes with harsh complaints to the leaders who brought them to “die in the desert”. We find different manifestations of this hopelessness. The sin of the Calf, Korach, the spies, the Waters of Controversy, Baal Pe’or, all these express the difficulties of this generation to manage a situation of uncertainty. Sometimes, in especially difficult moments, Moshe does not have the strength to contain the despair and the anger.

When the life of her younger brother was in danger, Miriam the prophetess, sister of Aharon, waited until Pharaoh’s daughter discovered Moshe’s basket and saved him. Thanks to that waiting, to that patience, that ability to contain unclear situations which usually arouse great apprehension, Miriam – and with her all the Children of Israel – acquired a well which was a source of life, a source of hope in a situation of wilderness uncertainty.

With Miriam’s death, the people’s ability to wait disappeared – “And when Miram died, the well was taken away”. The patience vanished. The people’s capacity (and also, temporarily, that of Moshe and Aharon) for accommodating uncertainty disappeared. Perhaps the Generation of the Wilderness – of which Moshe and Aharon were a part – is so-called because of its inability to cope with wilderness situations.

Different periods in the life of a nation are characterized by uncertainty; in order to deal with the ‘wilderness’ uncertainty, patience and moderation are needed, belief in a better future is required. Leadership which can lead a generation in wilderness situations is a “leadership which speaks”, not one which “strikes”. Only despair, resulting from lack of faith, hope, and tolerance, can create the dangerous illusion that complex situations can be resolved by use of force. The parasha of ‘Mei Meriva” –The Waters of Rebellion – and its adjacency to the death of Miriam teach us the perils attendant upon the blurring of boundaries between power and holiness. Sometimes, an entire generation  pays the price of such blurring of boundaries.
        Pinchas Leiser, edotor of “Shabbat Shalom” is a psychologist.

יום שישי, 20 ביוני 2014

מחיר המרד: הכרחי? The price of rebellion and dissidence: inevitable?

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
מורי ורבי דניאל אפשטיין הסב את תשומת לבי לדבר מעניין (נדמה לי בשם רבי צדוק הכהן) : אחרי שהאדמה בלעה את קורח ועדתו ואחרי שמאתיים וחמישים איש נשרפו, באה כל עדת ישראל בטענה אל משה ואהרון ואומרת: "אתם המתם את עם ה'". טענה קשה זו  נשארת ללא מענה. יתכן שהדבר מלמד אותנו שגם כאשר הצדק נמצא לכאורה בצד אחד, עדיין השאלה על המחיר הכבד שמשלמים המתנגדים נשארת פתוחה ומעוררת אותנו לחשוב על ההכרחיות שבמחיר. 
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם

Dear Family and Friends,
After Korach and many others paid the price of their rebellion,the entire community complained  to Moshe and Aharon and accused them: You killed the People of G-d.
This very strong accusation remains unanswered. Maybe this teaches us that even if you are right, sometimes the price the opponents pay arouses a very pertinent question: Was it inevitable?
Shabbat Shalom to all
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family


יום רביעי, 18 ביוני 2014

Controversy vs.totalitarianism

Commending controversy - Condemning totalitarianism
Pinchas Leiser

Every controversy that is in the name of Heaven [l'shem shamayim], the end thereof is [destined] to result in something permanent. But one that is not in the name of Heaven, the end thereof is not [destined] to result in something permanent. Which is the [kind of] controversy that is in the name of Heaven? Such as was the controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And which is the [kind of] controversy that is not in the name of Heaven? Such as was the controversy of Korah and all his congregation. (Mishnah Avoth, 5, 17)
The Sages saw in Korach an archetype of a person motivated by self-interest, and therefore they categorized his protest against Moshe and Aharon as a controversy "that is not in the name of Heaven"
Perusal of the above-quoted Mishneh raises several questions:
A.     How do we differentiate between "controversy in the name of Heaven" and "controversy not in the name of Heaven?" What exactly is "in the name of Heaven"? Can a clear and sharp differentiation always be made?
B.     What is the meaning of "destined to result in something permanent"?
C.     It is interesting to note that the Mishneh chooses examples from different worlds: the Biblical world (Korach), and the early Tanaaic period (Hillel and Shammai).
The earliest attempt at differentiation between the two types of controversy is found in Avoth D'Rebbi Natan (Chap 40):
"Every controversy which is in the name of Heaven etc". Which is the controversy for the sake of Heaven? Every assembly which is with religious purpose ["L'shem mitzvah"]; every assembly which was with religious purpose was that of the Men of the Great Assembly, and that not for the sake of religious purpose is the assembly of the people of the Generation of the Scattering [i.e., the generation of the Tower of Babel].
The Sages of this Baraita replaced the concept "l'shem shamayim" - "for the sake of Heaven"- with "l'shem mitzvah" - for religious purpose, and in addition, "controversy" is replaced with "assembly". The ultimate determinant of the type of controversy is the goal of the assembly or the controversy. The motivation and the goal determine whether something is positive or negative; perhaps the Baraita is teaching that although something may seem at first to be a divisionary disagreement, as long as it is truly 'l'shem mitzvah" it does not damage the unity, whereas false unity which is not "l'shem mitzvah",divides.
The Meiri, in his commentary, understands the concept "l'shem shamayim[for the sake of Heaven] as referring to the manner in which the controversy is conducted:
[...] and said that if the other party responds and differs not in order to vex or to triumph, but rather to reach the truth, as against "not for the sake of Heaven"; "not for the sake of Heaven", iswhen he responds and differs in order to anger and to win.
The Meiri, then, determines the goal of the controversy from the manner in which it is conducted; one who is really concerned with the truth, and not concerned primarily with "winning", will not argue in a vexatious manner. "L'shem shamayim", then, is synonymous with conducting controversy with the purpose of determining the truth.
R. Obadiah of Bartinura explains "l'shem shamayim" in similar fashion, but he emphasizes not the manner in which the controversy is conducted, but rather its goal:
And I heard the word "the end" interpreted as "the goal" of the controversy. Controversy which is for the sake of Heaven is one which has as its purpose and desired end the attainment of truth. This exists, as we have said, when through the controversy the truth becomes clear. And, as is clear from the controversy between Hillel and Shammai in which halachic rulings follow the House of Hillel [Talmudic tradition attributes primacy of Bet Hillel's rulings to their gentlemanly deportment - Translator's note], but controversy not for the sake of Heaven has as its desired goal the search for authority and the love of triumph. This end is not permanent, as we found in the controversy of Korach and his assembly, where their goal and final intent was the desire for honor and authority, but the opposite was achieved.
The Talmud is without doubt a book in which 'controversy celebrates', but in reading Pirke Aboth carefully we note that the archetype of controversy for the sake of Heaven is the controversy betweenHillel and Shammai - not the controversy between their respective disciples, "the House of Hillel" and "the House of Shammai", thus teaching us that man's heart can inject power motives into a controversy which first began as a search for truth. Indeed, alongside the idyllic picture of the warm relations between the two schools we find the following:
Although Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel are in disagreement on the questions of rivals, sisters, an old bill of divorce, a doubtfully married woman, a woman whom her husband had divorced and who stayed with him over the night in an inn, money, valuables, a perutah and the value of a perutahBeth Shammai did not, nevertheless, abstain from marrying women of the families of Beth Hillel, nor did Beth Hillel refrain from marrying those of Beth Shammai. This is to teach you that they showed love and friendship towards one another, thus putting into practice the Scriptural text, Love ye truth and peace (TracYevamoth 14a),
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1, 4) tells of a majority which the disciples of Beth Shammai attained by force:
And these are some of the rulings pronounced in the upper chamber of Hannya b. Hizkiya b. Garon when they went up to visit him, and they counted and [disciples of] Beth Shammaioutnumbered those of Beth Hillel and they enacted eighteen measures on that same day. (Mishnah Shabbat 1, 4)
Our Mishnah: These are some of the rulings pronounced in the upper chamber of Hannya b. Hizkiya b. Garon when they went up to visit him, etc - that day was as difficult for Israel the day on which the calf was made.
R. Leizer said: On that day they overfilled the measure [of laws].
R. Yehoshua said: On that day they made the measure [of laws] just even.
Said to him R. Leizer: Had the measure been deficient and they came and filled it, fine, (this may be compared to) a barrel filled with nuts; no matter how many sesame seeds you add, it holds them all.
Replied R. Yehoshua: Had it been filled and they came took some away, fine; like a barrel which filled with oil, as you add water, it scatters the oil.
Taught R. Yehoshua Onaya: The disciples of Bet Shammai stood above them and they killed some of Beth Hillel. It is taught: Six of them went up and the rest stood over them with swords and daggers. (Yerushalmi Shabbat 1, 4)
The Mishnah does not reveal how Bet Shammai achieved the majority which resulted in the enactment of a number of their rulings on that day. In the Talmud itself there is a controversy between R. Eliezerand R. Yehoshua regarding the way in which these measures should be evaluated; do they strengthen or do they weaken. But it is absolutely clear that the opening passage of the discussion "that day was as difficult for Israel the day on which the calf was made", referring to the violent manner in which the majority was achieved, expressed dissatisfaction with the silencing of controversy and argument between the two schools. Indeed, Tractate Sotah (47b) quotes a statement - originating in the Tosefta - which views the controversy as resulting from lack of proper preparation:
"With the increase of disciples of Shammai and Hillel who had not served [their teachers] sufficiently, dissension increased in Israel and the Torah became like two Toroth". It is possible, however, that this statement disparages not the existence of controversy per se, but even hints at the Yerushalmi story relating to the manner in which the controversy deteriorated into violence.
In contradiction to this statement, there exists another famous one in Tractate. Haggiga (3b) in praise of controversy:
And he [R. Elazar b. Azaria] also took up the text and expounded: "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails well planted are the words of masters of Assemblies, which are given from one Shepherd". Why are the words of the Torah likened to a goad? To teach you that just as the goad directs the heifer along its furrow in order to bring forth life to the world, so the words of the Torah direct those who study them from the paths of death to the paths of life. But [should you think] that just as the goad is movable so the words of the Torah are movable; therefore the text says: 'nails'. But [should you think] that just as the nail diminishes and does not increase, so too the words of the Torah diminish and do not increase; therefore the text says 'well planted'; just as a plant grows and increases, so the words of the Torah grow and increase. 'The masters of assemblies': these are the disciples of the wise, who sit in manifold assemblies [lit. "assemblies assemblies"] and occupy themselves with the Torah, some pronouncing 'clean' and others pronouncing 'unclean', some prohibiting and others permitting, some disqualifying and others declaring fit.
Should a man say: How in these circumstances can I learn Torah? Therefore the text says: 'All of them are given from one Shepherd'. One God gave them; one leader uttered them from the mouth of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He; for it is written: 'And God spoke all these words'. Also you make your ear like the hopper and get you a perceptive heart to understand the words of those who pronounce unclean and the words of those who pronounce clean, the words of those who prohibit and the words of those who permit, the words of those who disqualify and the words of those who declare fit.
R. Yitzchak Minkovsky of Karlin (1787-1849), in his commentary (Keren OrahYevamoth 122b) explains the above as follows:
"Who sit in assemblies assemblies" - the repetition is intended to point out two kinds of assembly, one material and the second spiritual; that the two unite in their soul to direct everything toward a single source, to the ways of the Oneness and the goal of study for its sake, so it seems to me. And when they convene with this intent, some ruling that something is impure and others declaring it clean, the unity and the love from all the extremes will increase if there rests upon them the light of Torah, its secrets will be revealed to them and they will be like saplings "well planted", and this is what is written "V'et Waheb bdsufah[literally translated "Against Waheb in a whirlwind", but homiletically read as] "and in the end there is love because the aim of this controversy is to increase love and unity. This, then, is the [R. Elazar b. Azariah's] explanation: Lest one say, 'How can I study Torah from now on?', because without understanding the intended goal, controversy would seem to be a dividing factor, and how can both sides continue to exist? Therefore does it (Tosefta Sotah 7, 12) teach us "All were given by a single shepherd, one God gave them, one leader spoke them, all from the Master of all creation, blessed be He. This refers to our words above, because they have a single source, and one God gave them, etc., from the Master of all creation, blessed be He. And just as the purpose of Creation was criticized by some at the time of Creation. They too were created in order to achieve the Blessed One's uniqueness and unity, for He is one and His name is one, and so did the Torah effect wholeness, for through the sages' disputes light was increased and they comprehended its truth that the Torah is a single, complete, and true entity. And this is what the Sages said (Aboth 5, 17) "Every controversy which is in the name of Heaven is destined to result in something permanent" because its purpose is the purpose of existence and of unity.
According to this elucidation, controversy, when conducted in the name of Heaven, is not only for the sake of clarifying the truth but also for the purpose of achieving true unity, as expressed in the wonderful words of Rav Kook in Olat R'iyah (p. 330) in reference to "Scholars increase peace throughout the world":
Some mistakenly think that world peace cannot be established unless through a single hue of opinions and attributes, and therefore when they see scholars delving into wisdom and Torah knowledge, and their study results in a proliferation of positions and approaches, they think that they [the scholars] are causing controversy and the opposite of peace. This is not true, for true peace can come to the world only through the multiplicity of peace. The multiplicity of peace means that all sides and approaches be seen, and it will become clear that all have a place, each according to its value, its place, and its matter.
At the beginning of Tractate Gittin (6b) the Talmud records a meeting between R. Abiathar and the prophet Elijah:
R. Abiathar soon afterwards came across Elijah and said to him:
'What is the Holy One, blessed be He, doing?' and he answered, 'He is discussing the question of the concubine in Gibea.' 'What does He say?' Said Elijah: '[He says], My son Abiathar says So-and-so, and my son Jonathan says So-and-so,' Said R. Abiathar: 'Can there possibly be uncertainty in the mind of the Heavenly One?' He replied: Both [answers] are the words of the living God.
Perhaps this dialogue between R. Abiathar and Elijah - who represents Heaven in determining that "Both are the words of the living God" - echoes a discussion in Tractate Eruvin (13b) regarding the controversies between Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai: "Both these and these are the words of the living God". (My thanks to Rabbi Benny Lau who called my attention to this link). Even in Heaven controversy has representation, i.e., the Heavenly vision encompasses this complexity, and this being so, it may be that "controversy in the name of Heaven" is that controversy which brings us closer to the complex and encompassing vision which exists in "Heaven". May it be His will that we be wise enough to conduct the most important and most difficult controversies in a spirit of mutual respect, for the sake of clarifying the truth, and thereby we will succeed - if only in small measure - in accomplishing R. Menachem Mendel of Kotsk's elaboration on the words of the Psalmist "The heaven is the Lord's heaven, and the earth He has given to mankind" - in order to turn earth into "Heaven".
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist

יום רביעי, 11 ביוני 2014


Pinchas Leiser

            The reader of the  “meraglim” (the spies) narrative discerns that the Torah does not call the group of men sent by Moshe to tour the Land ‘meraglim’; that appellation was applied to them by our Sages.

            The Torah does employ the term, but places it in the mouth of Yosef, as he accuses his brothers:  “And Yosef recalled the dreams which he had dreamt, and he

said to them: You are meraglim –to seek the weakness of the land. have you come.” (Bereishit 42:9)

            ‘Meragel’ is, in this context, one who has come to scout “the weakness of the land”.

            Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the commentary Baal Haturim, links Yosef’s ‘accusation’ of his brothers to our parasha’s story of the meraglim, and these are his words: “You are spies!” –  This means “you and not I, for Yehoshua, who will descend from me, was not partner to  the spies’ scheme.” And they said: “Your servants were not spies” - Yehuda was the one who spoke, for he was the main speaker; “and from me will descend Calev who was not partner to the spies’ scheme.”  “. . . were not . . .”  is  the gematriya equivalent of ‘Calev’.
                                                                                                                                (Baal HaTurim, Bereishit 42:9)

            The Torah designates the spies ‘anashim’ – ‘men’ – denoting honorable men, even brave men.  For example, Rashi:
            “All of them menThe term ‘anashim’ in Scripture always denotes importance, and at that moment they were all honorable men.
            Or Ibn Ezra:
            And the reason for [calling them] “anashim”:  They were renowned and were heroes.
            And also Sforno:

            “All of them men” – brave men.  “And these are their names” –  all important, each by his name according to their qualities.
Our Sages of the midrash sensed the difficulty, and dealt with the question of the character of those “spies.”

            “He who sends a message by a dullard will wear out legs and must put up with lawlessness.” Were the spies dullards? Has it not been said “Send you men [anashim]”, and whenever scripture says ‘men’ it indicates they are righteous men! Similarly it says (Shemot 17): “And Moshe said to Yehoshua, Chose for us men.” And thus does it say (I Samuel 17)  “And in the days of Saul the man was already old, advanced in years.” And also (I Samuel 1) And if You will grant your maidservant a male child [literally – seed of men]”.   Are all these to be termed ‘dullards’?  They, the spies, were called ‘dullards’ because they spoke slanderously of the Land, as is written (Proverbs 10) He who spreads calumny is a dullard”.  Despite this, they were great men,  but they made dullards of themselves, and about them Moshe said (Devarim 32): Indeed, a generation of overturning are they, children in whom one cannot trust.” They were chosen from among all Israel by The Holy One, Blessed Be He,  and by Moshe, as is written (Ibid 1) The matter was good in my eyes, so I took from among you twelve men” – indicating that they were tzaddikim  in the eyes of Israel and in the eyes of Moshe, but Moshe was reluctant to send them without consulting with The Holy One, Blessed Be He,  regarding each one of them, “So-and-so from this tribe” and He said, “They are suitable”.  And from where do we learn that The Holy One, Blessed Be He,   said that they were suitable? It is written (Bemidbar 13) “So

Moshe sent them from the Wilderness of Paran, by order of God” and afterwards, at the end of forty days, they turned around and generated  all the trouble, and caused that generation to suffer that punishment, as is written, “ a generation of overturning are they”,  for they were chosen as tzaddikim, and turned about, and therefore does it say, “Send for yourself  men . . . and these were the names of the men.”  
(Bemidbar Rabba, Bemidbar, Parasha 15:5)

                Our Sages are, in effect, emphatically stressing the careful process of selection which the spies underwent. They were tzaddikim in the eyes of Israel and of Moshe, and even received a ‘hechsher’  from The Holy One, Blessed Be He,  Himself. 
            Many explanations have been offered as to the seriousness of their sin. Was it their complaint and the devastating influence upon the nation? Was there a lack of
faith? Is it that they were assigned to describe what they saw,  and they sinned by failing to discriminate between factual report and judgmental evaluation, as often happens today with tendentious and selective reporting?

            I would like to suggest another perspective, based upon a plain reading of the text.
            In Chapter 13, verses 30-31, we read Calev’s reaction to the words of the spies: “Now Calev hushed the people before Moshe and said: Let us go up, yes, up,  and possess it, for we can prevail, yes, prevail against it.  But the men who went up with him said: We are not able to go up against the population, for it is stronger than we!”

            The addition of the argument “for it is stronger than we!” – is explained by Rashi, following the Talmud in Sotah: “They said this, as it were, against God.” [Note: the Hebrew for ‘than we’ – mimenu – can also mean “than he”].  In other words, the population is not stronger than we, but stronger, as it were, than The Holy One, Blessed Be He.  This explanation sheds light on the severe mistake of the men, leading to their punishment and to their being branded ‘spies.’

            When acting out of deep awareness of justice and of fulfilling the will of God, motives must be pure. The spies began to relate to the struggle over the Land in terms of weakness and strength.  Power, as the central factor in determination of the destiny of men and nations, became for them the idol to which they bowed. It makes no difference that in this particular case they considered themselves the weak and the inhabitants of the land as the strong; the determining factor is power, not the will of God and His promise. Rashi’s explication (stronger than, as it were, He”) underscores  the important distinction between these two sets of values.  There can be no connection between the belief that history unfolds according to Divine law – which moves towards perfection of the world under the reign of God --  and the belief in the ability of military might to solve human problems. These are two separate and contradictory value systems. Maybe this is the reason that the spies and the Generation of the Wilderness are unable to reach the world to come; the concept of a world to come demands man’s  maximum closeness to the spiritual dimension which is in opposition to any power principle.  The important conclusion which this story has for all generations is that no man – even tzaddik and  sage – is immune to the danger of confusing power with the principle of justice.  Any man can easily be tempted to believe in solutions based on the exercise of power.  Every one of us can be either “man” or “spy”.  Said God to Zerubavel (Zecharya 4,  the Haftara of Behaalotcha): “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit – said the Lord of Hosts.”
                                                Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist

יום חמישי, 5 ביוני 2014

הדגה והמן - Idealized past and lose of hoop

לבני משפחתנו, חברותינו וחברינו היקרים,
אתמול חגגנו את שבועות ועמדנו למרגלות הר סיני באירוע מרשים; ראינו את הקולות. מחרתיים, נקרא בפרשת בהעלותך על אכזבת העם מהתפריט המדברי, המן שירד לעם מהשמים. אכזבה זו גרמה לבני ישראל להתגעגע לזכרונות  מהתפריט העשיר והמגוון במצרים. ההסתכלות אחורה למצרים שהפכה לאידיאל נוסטלגי (זכרנו את הדגה אשר אכלנו במצרים חינם...) קשורה במידה מסוימת לתגובת המרגלים והעם עליה נקרא בשבת הבאה; המרגלים לא היו מסוגלים לחשוב על עתיד טוב יותר, כי לא האמינו ביכולתם להגיע לארץ המובטחת כדי לחיות בה.
ואולי בא הדבר ללמדנו שהתרפקות על העבר אינה מאפשרת את האמונה בעתיד טוב יותר ואבדן התקווה לגבי העתיד עלולה לגרום לאידיאליזציה של העבר.
שבת שלום לכולכם
פנחס, ציפי ומשפחתם


Dear Family and Friends,
Shavuot is over and here we have   Shabbat again: this enables us to look  backwards, but also to look forward.
In the Torah section we read yesterday, we read about the Big Event of Revelation , tomorrow while being disappointed by the manna and losing hope about the future, the liberated slaves, looking backwards, idealised Egypt; maybe this is very strongly connected to what we'll read next  week on Shabbat about the "explorers" who had the opportunity to have a look at the prospective future, but didn't believe in the possibility of reaching the Promised Land and live there. Maybe this teaches us that being  stocked in the past doesn't enable us to believe in a better future and losing hope and faith in the future causes us to idealize the past.
Shabbat Shalom to all
Pinchas, Tzippie and Family

יום רביעי, 4 ביוני 2014

here shall be one law for you, whether stranger or citizen of the country
Pinchas Leiser

The concept of the ger [stranger], which is mentioned in our parasha in connection with the paschal sacrifice and the "second" Pesah, is ambiguous. The plain meaning of Scripture does not make it clear whether it refers to a ger tzedek [convert to Judaism] or to a ger toshav [resident alien] - a stranger who lives among us who has taken upon himself the observance of a minimal number of commandments (the seven Noahide commandments, or, according to a differing opinion, the avoidance of idolatry).
The Sages, together with the majority of traditional exegetes, understand the ger mentioned in our parasha to be a ger tzedek, making it obvious that he would be required to celebrate the paschal sacrifice and even the second Pesah if some justified reason kept him from bringing the paschal sacrifice in its proper time.
This explanation does create a certain difficulty for our understanding of Scripture: it is all too obvious! A convert is in all things like a Jew and a citizen of the land. Why would it be necessary to make a special point of his obligation to make the paschal sacrifice?
Furthermore, the Torah makes numerous mentions of the stranger living amongst us in various contexts, and it seems that the plain meaning of the text does not refer to a convert, but rather to a stranger who lives in our midst.
The word ger first appears in the Covenant of the Pieces [Brit ben ha'betarim], when the Holy One blessed be He says to Abram, Know verily that your offspring shall be a ger in a land not their own (Bereishit 15:13).
When Abraham turns to the Hittites to ask them to apportion some land for Sarah's grave, he says: I am a ger and resident with you, give me a burial site among you, and I shall bury my dead from before me (Bereishit 23:4).
The ger mentioned in Bereishit is certainly a stranger who continues to preserve his ethnic and cultural identity.
When Moses' oldest son, Gershom, was born, the Torah explicates his name's meaning: She bore a son whom he named Gershom, for he said, "I have been a ger in a strange land" (Shemot 2:22). Here too we see the word ger referring to alienation, and not to some process of conversion. Neither have we heard of any earlier process of conversion.
For the first time, in parashat Bo, in the section in which the Israelites are commanded to perform the paschal sacrifice, we find mention of the ger who must undergo circumcision in order to offer the paschal sacrifice: If a ger who dwells with you would offer the Passover to the Lord, all his males must be circumcised; then he shall be admitted to offer it; he shall then be as a citizen f the country. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it (Shemot 12:48)
Despite this, in parashat Kedoshim the Torah uses the following formulation to warn us against cheating a gerWhen a ger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The ger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were gerim in the land of Egypt: I the Lord am your God (Vayikra 19:33-34).
Here it seems clear from the language of the passage that it refers to a stranger living in our midst, similar to the Israelites who were gerim [strangers] in Egypt. R. Abraham Ibn Ezra's interpretation of the passage seems to imply such a reading:
When a ger resides with you: He is mentioned after the elderly person, and the reason is that just as I warned you to respect the aged Israelite because he is powerless, so too I have warned you to respect the ger, for your power is greater than his, our since he has no power at all, since he resides in your land by your permission. (Ibn Ezra on Vayikra 19:33)
In parashat Behar, the Torah speaks explicitly of the ger and the resident:
If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority, and you hold him as though as ger and resident, let him live by your side. (Vayikra 25:35)
If a resident and ger among you has prospered, and your kinsman living in straits, comes under his authority and gives himself over to the ger and resident among you, or to an offshoot of a ger's family. (Vayikra 25:47)
Indeed, the RaMBaM rules that we must sustain the ger toshav:
It is forbidden to an Israelite to give a free-gift to an idolater, but he may give it to a ger toshav, for it says, give it to the ger within your gates and he shall eat it, or sell it to a foreigner - as a sale, not as a gift. But it may be given to a ger toshav either through sale or as a gift because you are commanded to sustain him, for it is sad, ger and resident, let him live by your side(MishnehTorah Hilkhot Zekhiyah U'Matanah 3:11)
R. Hayyim ben Atar explains the importance of this commandment in his commentary on the Torah, Or HaHayyim:
ger and a resident...: The point of his claim is based upon what the RaMBaM wrote in chapter three of Hilkhot Zekhiyah U'Matanah"He may give it to a ger toshav, for it says, give it to theger within your gates and he shall eat it, or sell it to a foreigner." You must know that all of our holy Torah is rational, particularly in connection to matters of earthly governance. Rationality requires that the residents of the land sustain a person who is a ger and resident among them, giving him a free gift, just as we do. That is [the point of] Abraham's claim, I am a ger and resident, give me. He was careful to specify ger, and not merely resident, in order to say, "Even though I am a ger and not one of you, even so, I am still a resident..." (Or HaHayyim 23:4)
The ger is mentioned twice in the book of Bamidbar in connection with the sacrifices. In our parasha:
And if a ger who resides with you would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord, he must offer it in accordance with the rules and rites of the Passover sacrifice. There shall be one law for you, whether ger or citizen of the country. (Bamidbar 9:14)
And in the parasha of Shelah:
And when, throughout your generations, a ger who has taken up residence with you, or one who lives among you, would present an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord - as you do, so shall he do. (Bamibar 15:14)
The Sages and most of the commentators say that our parasha and Shelah both refer to a ger tzedek. On the other hand, R. Saadya Gaon writes:
ger who has taken up residence : A ger who has converted and entered the religion, or who lives among you throughout their generations, and he comes to make an offering, wanting it to be acceptable and desirable before the Lord. (R. Saadya Gaon on Bamidbar 15:14)
It seems, therefore, that understanding the notion of the biblical ger is a complex affair.
On the one hand, it is clear that we owe moral and religious duties towards the ger who dwells among us, who is known to the Sages as a ger toshav. We are commanded to sustain him, to treat him justly, and it is prohibited to cheat him.
This command is rooted in the memory of the exodus from Egypt: We have experienced slavery and the life of the stranger, and so we can understand the ger's sensitivities and vulnerability. That historical memory demands of us ethical and just behavior towards the members of other nations who dwell among us. True, there is some problem in the halakhic literature regarding the technical definition of a gertoshav. However, HaRav Herzog produced an interesting responsa calling for a renewed discussion of the topic. Since we are not presently engaged in a halakhic investigation, there is no need to enter into those details.
On the other hand, when it is a matter of the ger's participation in the paschal sacrifice, he is required to enter the covenant, since no uncircumcised person may eat of it.
The RaMBaN's offers an especially interesting comment on the verse from our parasha dealing with the ger and the paschal sacrifice:
The point of ger who has taken up residence is to command the gerim regarding the Passover taking place in the wilderness when the Israelites were commanded about it. It could be that the passage in the parasha of Bo and if a ger lives among you and made the Passover offering (Shemot 12:48) refers to the Passover of Egypt, as I explained there (verse 43), and it meant that thegerim who were leaving Egypt as part of the mixed multitude should make the Passover since they were also involved in that miracle, but [it would seem,] those who converted afterwards in the desert or in the Land of Israel would not be required to make the Passover offering, since neither they or their fathers belong to the category of [those who can say] and you took us out from there(Devarim 6:23). That is why it was necessary to [specifically] obligate them here to observe the Passover in the desert and in the Land. (RaMBaN on Bamidbar 9:14)
The RaMBaN understands that the mixed multitude, that is to say, the gentiles who left Egypt together with the Israelites, were obligated to perform the make the first Passover offering, because they were participants in the experience of redemption together with the Israelites.
A shared lot allows members of another nation feel that they are partners in the same process. Afterwards, when later generations had not personally experienced the exodus from Egypt, the sharing of collective memory was no longer based upon biology, but rather upon voluntary entry into the covenant.
The complicated realities of the State of Israel and the Land of Israel require us to deal with the issue of historical memories and narratives which are not jointly held by Jewish and gentile residents, together with the demand of morality and Torah for equality and justice that do not discriminate between Jew and stranger. Perhaps this is the challenge of a society aspiring to be Jewish and democratic.
Pinchas Leiser, editor of Shabbat Shalom, is a psychologist.