Monday 31 May 2010

It's Meritorious to Find Merit

Kitzur Likutei Moharan
Lesson 6:12 P. 43 in the new BRI edition..

«A person must always endevour to look for every merit and every bit of good it is possible to find ... [In people] .. even those who oppose and humiliate him. Then he will always be saved from strife...»

And I'm guessing the converse would also be true - namely that those who are full of strife - the "baalei machloqet" - are mostly fault finders.

Corporate Management styles often reflect this. From "Dilbert" to the "One Minute Manager" we see that some corporate cultures judge by finding the right and the good And others by identifying the wrong and the bad. And in which culture would you prefer to work?

And apply this to schools, too - and see how it plays out..

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Shavuos @ Breuer's

I usually use IVRIT on this blog, but hey - it's Breuer's!

I just don't understand why more shuls don't emulate these really classy, yet authentically Traditional customs. Each Holiday - so unique, so special in its own way.


Sunday 30 May 2010

The Grave Matter of Excavation and Desecration

For an in-depth analysis see R Yitzchok Breitowitz's article

"The Desecration of Graves in Eretz Yisrael:
The Struggle to Honor the Dead and Preserve Our Historical Legacy" at

Avodah's moderator Michah Berger adds

«in particular
"Halachic Problems", sec "A. The Prohibition of Excavating a Grave".
Note that there are other reasons to matir disenternment, which may help give some scale as to the exact extent of the need.»

Full disclosure:
I grew up with R Yitzchok Breitowitz in the Hartford area.


Fluidity vs. Rigidity in Medieval Thought

Originally published 5/30/10, 11:00 am.
Comparing Rishonim: Ashk'naz vs. S'pharad

One of the major factors in understanding the contrasts between Medieval S'pharad and Ashk'naz is how they approached Torah.


A classic example would be to contrast Rambam and ibn Ezra
  • Rambam was all about Halachah and Science. The most notable area of Humanities he mastered was Philosophy
  • ibn Ezra exhibited little or no expertise in Halachah or Science [unless one counts Astrology] OTOH He excelled in Poetry, Linguistics, and Parshanut

By contrast some of the greatest Talmidei Hachamim in Ashk'naz were also its greatest Pay'tanim. Examples abound but here are several
  • Rabbeinu Gershom M'or Hagolah
  • Maharam miRothenburg
  • M'shulam ben Klonymos of Lucca

These great Rishonim were highly integrated both technically and poetically. Thus they possessed greater fluidity between Midrash and Halachah It seems that in S'pharad Torah and Academics were much more compartmentalized. While in Medeival Ashk'naz being a "Renaissance Man" was expected. All of Torah Sheb'al Peh was seen as a continuum. Halachah and Aggadah were learned in Tandem.


One of the major "integrated" personalities in S'pharad was the Ramban - Nachmanides who spanned Halachah, parshanut and mysticism. Was it a co-incidence that he studied with the Baalei Tosafot?

Modern Times

A legacy of this kind of Ashk'nazi integration in modern times may be found in the late Rav Shimon Schwab ZT"L who was Rav, Dayan, and composed a Qinah, an elegy for the sho'ah.

Torah and Talmud

Doesn't the Humash flow smoothly between Mitzvah, History and Poetry? See EG Parshat Huqqat. And Doesn't the Talmud itself often display a seamless transition between Halachah and Aggadah?


Note I revised the official title. I was trying to convey a difference in approach between the two communities, but the title was a bit too strong because the dichotomy is not quite so black and white

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Saturday 29 May 2010

Failing our children; failing the future

Failing our children; failing the future
by Shammai Engelmayer

Note R Shammai Engel;mayer is a columnist is our local Jewish Newspapr
As a Jewish community, we are a collective failure when it comes to providing our children a decent Jewish education. As a community, our claim to be concerned for the Jewish future rings all too hollow because of this failure. The future can be secured only by what is done in the present on its behalf. We do precious little for our future.

Specifically, we as a community must take an active role in every aspect of the Jewish education system, from keeping class sizes manageable, to hiring the best educators available, to providing cutting-edge resources and teacher support, to maintaining well-endowed scholarship funds so that cost is never a factor in whether a Jewish child receives a Jewish education.

If you are inclined to say you have heard this before, you are correct. Our failure to act earlier, however, has thrown our community into crisis. Day school tuition has reached beyond the acceptable. Indeed, the cumulative costs of a day school education can probably buy a house in an expensive neighborhood of Teaneck. These schools (and yeshivot with strong secular education components) remain the best possible way to guarantee that the next generation of American Jews will be knowledgeable, committed Jews, and good Americans. Yet five-figure fees per student put day schools out of the reach of too many families. Add on building funds, transportation costs, annual dinners, journal ads and the like, and even fewer parents can afford it.

Many parents, especially most in the Orthodox communities in Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties, mortgage everything to send their children to day schools. They should not have to do so. No parent should ever be put in the position of deciding on whether to educate their child Jewishly based on ability to pay.
Not only is the high cost of day school education bordering on the scandalous, the quality of that education is deteriorating. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that, in some schools at least, ability to pay the tuition is of greater import than a child’s academic achievements.
The after-school programs are the next best hope to provide a quality Jewish education, but such schools (if they can even be called schools in many cases) are pitifully underfunded, woefully understaffed and deplorably under-resourced. “Quality education” all too often does not even enter into it even when the will to provide it is there, which sadly is not always the case.

Our tendency, of course, is to turn to the local federation to solve such problems. That did not work even in the halcyon days of yesteryear. Federations—ours and every other—have many other worthy institutions, projects and programs to fund, including hospitals, nursing homes, meals-on-wheels for shut-ins, family services, and so on. In the best of times, the federations could do only so much. These are not the best of times.

The only solution was and remains for the Jewish community to step in and take over the entire educational system, and turn it into the best system possible. This could be done under federation aegis, but it would be better as an independent entity with quality education as its only mandate.

There is much that full community control over its Jewish educational system can do. A community solution for after-school programs, for example, would merge the struggling non-Orthodox Hebrew schools in several contiguous communities into a single school. The higher number of students and the pooled resources would dramatically improve the quality of education. The ideological differences that exist among the streams represented in the merged school could be handled to everyone’s satisfaction. An Orthodox colleague has even suggested that these schools be located in local day schools. “Their staffs should overlap,” he said, thereby “providing extra income” for hard-pressed Jewish educators and keeping a readily available pool of substitute teachers handy. Besides, he noted, shared facilities would cut expenses. Costs can be reduced at day schools by communal oversight. For example, education standards can be imposed on all of the day schools in the area. These would include absolute secular education standards and basic religious education standards, with each school augmenting the latter to meet its own ideological needs.

This would enable such things as purchasing top-rated text books at great savings. All of the schools—day schools and the after-school programs—can also benefit from coop purchasing of cleaning supplies, food for lunch programs, and perhaps even utilities and janitorial services.

Much of the administration of the schools (obviously excluding the ideological) could be handled from a central location, as well, thereby cutting those costs. Perhaps classes could be scheduled in such a way that some teachers could be shared (hopefully resulting in a pool of highly skilled professional teachers who are paid competitive salaries and benefits). Day schools and after-school programs that refuse to participate in the communal structure are free to do so; they just will not be eligible for any communal funds whatever.

Creating a central educational entity would also allow the community to set tuitions and collect them (including setting “family rates” for families with more than one child in the system); provide a standard system for ranting scholarships to children whose parents cannot afford the tuition; eliminate the need for parents with children in more than one school to pay separate building funds; and centralize fund-raising efforts. The central entity ould also be used to bring together children from the different ideological streams for joint activities. My Orthodox colleague suggests joint Lag B’omer outings as one example of what could be done.

For the record, this is not a modern notion. An education system financed and run by the local Jewish community was mandated nearly 2,000 years ago. Class size was regulated—one teacher for every 25 students, with a teaching assistant required when classes grow beyond that but do not yet reach 50, which would require a second teacher. “Busing” of sorts was also required, as was teacher accountability. (All of this and more is found in the Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava Batra 21a and b.)

This obligation to establish schools in each locale is so important that Maimonides would see communities destroyed for failing to do so (see his Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Torah Study, 2:1).

This is a harsh prescription, to be sure, but unless we as a community do something and soon, it is a prescription almost certain to be filled.
# # #

Friday 28 May 2010

P. Beha’alotkha- The Whispering Campaign

Dvar Torah on Parashath Beha’alotkha
Rabbi Chaim G.Z. Solomon

The Whispering Campaign

Our sedra gives us three very puzzling vignettes, back to back.  Bemidbar chapter 11 begins thusly:  “Vayy’hee ha`am k’mithon’neem, r`a b’oznay Hashem - and the people were like murmurers, evil in the ears of the Lord.  The Lord heard and His anger was kindled.  The fire of the Lord burned amongst them, and devoured (those) at the boundary of the encampment.” (Bemidbar 11:1) Curious, as generally when such devouring fires issue forth, action and consequence occur somewhat near the center of the camp.  Also, when the people complained, how was it that the murmurs were heard by God, but perhaps not by Moshe?  Further, the actual complaint is not recorded.

In a curiously connected report, verses 4 and 5, we have more complaints. “V’hasaphsuph asher b’qirbo, And the ‘mixed multitude’ that was among them had craved cravings; and the children of Israel returned to weeping, saying: Who will provide us flesh to eat! We remember the fish, which we would eat in Egypt for nothing (chinam); the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic...And Moshe heard the people weeping. The ‘asaphsuph’, frequently rendered ‘mixed multitude’, is a puzzler.  So to
the complaint of the Children of Israel - first, they ask for meat, but then ‘fondly’ remember the fish and vegetables they ate ‘for free’ in Egypt. What does ‘free’ mean here?  The Israelites were slaves, after all!  At the end of the chapter, God’s anger is again kindled against the People, and God strikes those that lusted and meat-eaters, all the People, with a very great plague.  Interestingly, it is only those who lusted whom Scripture records are there buried.

So ends chapter 11.  Chapter 12 picks up straightaway with yet another curious vignette.   Miryam and Aaron speak against Moshe.  First they complain regarding Moshe’s Kushite wife, though the specific issue is not mentioned.  Then, they turn right around and raise a complaint that can really only be taken as criticizing Moshe as arrogant, “Has the Lord indeed only spoken through Moshe?  Has he not also spoken through us?”  God hears (like the first vignette) and God’s anger is kindled against Miryam and Aaron (as in both previous vignettes).   Here though, only Miryam is punished, and even so, only with tsara`at, not death.  Why is only Miryam punished?  And why is the punishment not death?

The trope ‘yichar aph’, rendered, ‘anger was kindled’ when applied to God with respect to the `Am, the People, appears in Shmot 32 (the Golden Calf), Bemidbar 25 (Ba`al Peor), and foretold in Devarim 6, 7, 11 and 29.  In each of these instances idolatry is the relevant transgression.  In our sedra, the anger of the Lord is kindled against the people, but idolatry is not clearly the transgression.  Our sedra appears to be the only outlier in this pattern, though Moshe applies the trope ‘yichar aph’ to God when recounting in Bemidbar 32 the incident of the Spies (Bemidbar 14).  Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed 1.36) would have us categorize all such usages of this trope applied to the People as caused by the sin of idolatry.  How are we to understand Rambam’s required classification?

In the second pericope we’ve studied, the phrase ‘zakharnu, et haddaga, asher nokhal b’mitsrayim, chinam, we remember the fish, which we would eat in Egypt for nothing’ certainly could do for some unpacking.  What is this ‘chinam’, generally rendered ‘for free’, or ‘for nothing’? Sinat Chinam - baseless or causeless hatred, is a phrase with which we are all familiar, unfortunately.  What is the ‘chinam’ of our verse meant to inform?  Yoma 75a would interpret chinam here as free from the obligations of mitswoth, specifically with respect to physical immoralities, for which ‘fish’ must serve as some manner of euphemism.  Sifre Bemidbar 67 is explicit in this regard, that ‘chinam’ in this verse is to be understood as ‘free from the commandments’.   God’s anger is kindled against the people, for an act signifying a desire to shake off the yoke of Torah.  The implication of Rambam’s classification is staggering.


Whispering Campaign.
1.(idiomatic) A method of persuasion in which damaging rumors or innuendo are deliberately spread concerning a person or other target, while the source of the rumors tries to avoid detection.

In our third pericope, the exact subject of Miryam’s calumny is almost immaterial.  That Miryam could be criticizing Moshe for separating from his wife, on account of concerns over ritual purity vis a vis a perceived requirement for prophesy, well, that would be a textbook example of lashon harah.  Onqelos’ understanding of the word ‘Kushite’ as ‘beautiful’ is in consonance with Chazal’s interpretation of Miryam’s actions as in sympathy with a neglected wife, as the excuse for this criticism.  On the other hand,the possibility that Miryam is exhibiting color-consciousness would be even worse. What is curious and quite material is that it is clear from the language that Miryam was the primary speaker of the first complaint (vat’daber, not vay’dabru), and that it was God, not Moshe, that ‘heard’ (parallel to the first pericope).

1. An onomatopoeia is a word that imitates or suggests the source of the sound that it describes.

So now, what do we make of the ‘asaphsuph’?  The difficulties with identifying asaphsuph as ‘elders’, ‘strangers’, ‘foreigners’ has been dealt with elsewhere  and need not be repeated here.  We merely must construct an alternative hypothesis.  For that, though, we have really no guidance from Tanakh itself, for this is an example of a hapax legomenon, a word that appears in Tanakh only this once, so no contextual hints as to its meaning may be drawn from other instances.  The word itself is perhaps a quadriliteral, with a root samekh-peh-samekh-peh. ‘Saph-saph’.  Even if not, it is still very similar to such words as gimgum (גמגום) stuttering tzichtzooach (צחצוח) polishing tiphtooph (טפטוף) dripping shifshoof (שיפשוף) rubbing, and of course baqbooq (בקבוק) a bottle (what is the sound of liquid pouring from a bottle?)

We’ve a word in English

1. The sound of whispering

Perhaps the very word used to label these pestiferous miscreants itself is an onomatopoeia?

The pattern begins to come together.  These three vignettes, though not a re-telling of the same story, use several similar devices to tie them together.  In the first pericope, no one really spoke out loud, and the complaint itself was so immaterial it wasn’t even recorded.  It was those who were not central to the camp, those on the ‘outskirts’ bore the brunt of God’s kindled anger.  These, perhaps, were the people on the edge, whispering.  Whatever they were whispering, it was evil enough to warrant death.  In the second, the asaphsuph, the whisperers, goaded the People into their weeping.  The People’s complaints themselves seem logically unconnected, as if the first was merely a pretext for the second.  In their complaint, however, they rebel against God, throwing off the yoke of Torah in a baseless act of disloyalty.  God’s anger is kindled, yet the worse punishment seems to be attached to the whisperers.  In the third and final pericope, Miryam goads Aaron with a primary complaint that seems unspecific as to its nature (parallel to the first vignette) and unconnected to the secondary (parallel to the second vignette).  The secondary complaint does itself smack of an act of disloyalty against Moshe, the most humble of men, though it is God who seems to take it personally.  And who is punished? It is Miryam, the whisperer, the instigator.

So now what is left to us is to understand the severity of God’s response in the first two pericopes.  The third is easily understood as a lesson against one of several possible variations of lashon hara; Chazal and later commentators all seem quite comfortable with tsara’at as the appropriate punishment.   Miryam as the whispering instigator gives us a key to understanding the first two.  (Perhaps as a tool to strengthen the connection between the second and third pericopes Scripture uses as a play on words the root asph, gather, to describe how Miryam is to return to the camp after her seven day exile, instead of several more natural words, e.g. ‘return’, ‘enter’,  ‘come in’.)  Rambam would have us interpret these first two pericopes as instances of idolatry.   How so?  Our other clue is the Report of the Spies.  A principle message of the spies was that of God’s implied inability to see the People of Israel successfully through the settlement of Canaan.  Indeed, echoes of ‘Who can provide us meat’ are heard.  The message is clear.  Denying the omnipotence of God, ‘shorting his hand’ and through that pretext seeking to divest oneself of the yoke of Torah is no other sin than that of idolatry.  Underhanded disloyalty towards Moshe is bad enough to warrant tsara`at. Whispering others into disloyalty towards God will surely bring the severest consequences as the instigation of idolatry.

There is no middle ground between the genuine faith of Caleb and Yehoshua and the rebellious idolatry of the spies, whisperers and goaders.  Ours is to choose the path of genuine faith and loyalty to Torah. Bivrakhah,

Rabbi Chaim G.Z. Solomon, Ph.D.

Note: Rabbi Solmon is a former student of mine and is Rabbi in Mt. Dora, Florida

Tuesday 25 May 2010

The Strange Saga of Professor "Andy Loose"

Once upon a time there was a Jewish History Professor - Andrew Mussa Loose, PhD. He laboured under the "Andy" Illusion that his ancestry was from Southern Moslem Spain. Thus, he became an unabashed champion of the Rif and Rambam, and had a superiority complex towards those other, "lesser" authors. He also was demonstrably and passionately opposed to Tosafism and Kabbalism. He found them incomparable with the true Torah from Southern Iberia. They were the twin reasons how Judaism had become corrupted from its Pristine State.

Andy Loose didn't need to stick to the facts. His goal was to stick with his dogma instead. Regarding the facts he made them up to fit this agenda. Soon his colleagues joked behind his back There goes Professor Fast-and-Loose because Andy was fast and loose with the facts. When the facts don't fit the theory? "Change the facts" was Andy's credo.

One Passover - Seder Night - Andy Loose became quite loose with his wine. Soon he was stone cold drunk.

Falling to sleep in a stupor, he had a dream - nay a nightmare. He dreamt that his ancestry was not at all from Southern Spain, but rather from Northeastern France - near the Rhineland. And worse - his colleagues had found out. They mercilessly ridiculed him. "Now, Andy, you'll have to love Tosafot and to dismiss the Rambam as mere Aristotelian Speculation!" They teased; and so - in this dream - he endured complete mortification!

That morning Andy arose and then shuddered and trembled. What a ghastly thought! Andy Loose - hailing from the wine region near Alsace, why he might even be related to Rashi or Rabbeinu Tam?! - Perish the thought! Can you imagine ME as having Tosafistic tendencies? Impossible!.

Andy shook all day long. Yet, he didn't feel that Taanit Halom trumped Simhat Yom Tov, so his body attended services but his mind was elsewhere.

B"H time healed this incident, and Andy Loose grew even Looser with his articles. His colleagues felt quite embarrassed by his outrageous assertions and unsubstantiated notions, and plotted an archaeological hoax to shake Andy's foundations.

Andy's colleague Professor Demos came up with a phenomenal plot. He would plant "evidence" that the Rif was the authentic - albeit secret - author of the Zohar [which RM De Leone would later publish.] And that Rambam was in fact the author of what has been termed Tosafot. Finally, that the Mishneh Torah and the Moreh N'vuchim were in fact published by the Franco-German Rabbis

Dear Readers please note, this hoax was quite elaborate and difficult to describe in print. Suffice it to say, all the evidence of an intentional switch and cover-up were carefully planted so as to make this outrageous swap much more plausible.
Furthermore, many Rabbis, who found Andy's publications quite outrageous, were recruited to make any "reality check" match the hoax.

The plot was sprung in Spring - April fool's Day to be exact, nearly a year since Andy's traumatic "trauma."

The evidence was planted by a series of articles planted on Andy's desk. In addition several websites carried this information. But the clincher was when Rabbi Repeater was brought in to give a talk entitled "Making Shalom - the plot for Peace between Maimonides and their opponents"

The gist was: given the acrimony between the protagonists and the antagonists, that the rabbis in 1284 swapped the Northern French authors' tomes with those of the Southern Spanish ones, and emended all texts to make it appear that Rif wrote Hilchot Rabbati, and Rambam Mishnah Torah and the French wrote Tosafot.

Of course Andy was a strong personality, and was chuckling all the way through! He KNEW that his Southerners were rational and that the Northerners were the pilpulists and mystics

Several months later, on the night of Shavuot, Andy stayed up late learning his anti-Tiqqun, namely the Rambam's code. This time fatigue and not wine overtook Andy. And he woke up to find himself drift in sleep and dreaming that his entire career had really been spent defending his enemies and attacking his family. He now began to seriously wonder - had he gotten it backwards all along?

Like Saul on the Road to Damascus, Andy had both and epiphany and a turnabout. He proceeded to defend the writings of the Rif and the Rambam and to attack those of the Frankists. Except that NOW it meant promoting the Zohar and "Tosafistic Pilpul" and attacking the Mishneh Torah as a fraudulent ersatz substitute for the Talmud. After all, he needed to make up for lost time. He showed how the authentic Torah WAS indeed in Southern Spain and that no switcheroo could cause him to betray his roots - even b'shogeig!

After several years the hoax was unmasked. In a meeting Professor Demos and Rabbi Repeater sat down with Andy Loose, PhD.

Demos: Andy the pretense is over!

Loose: Aha I've been duped. I had been right all along! Now I'll restore the pride of South Spain to its primacy. Yada Yada Yada

Demos: No I mean the pretence that YOU'RE a rationalist! It's clear now that you're REALLY a Southern Spain chauvinist, and that ideology had NOTHING to do with it. Our hoax unmasked your true colours! You're an Andy Loose Bigot, NOT an anti-pilpul or anti-mystical scholar. Your publications are a kind of sham. You're not defending an ideal, you're promoting your family's legacy! No wonder you have such a disregard for facts. Your passion is about ego and "yichus" and not about principles.

AndyLoose was even mortified worse than in his dream! His entire persona was bared "naked" in front of Demos and Repeater

Repeater: Andy, don't worry. Demos is here to unmask you and to set the record straight. I'm here to guide you to do t'shuvah and to unshackle you from the burden of your rigid, self-righteous positions. From now on, I will coach and mentor you how to be open-minded and to see the truth that both Tosafot and Rambam had value that transcends their borders, and that that Hashem wants an elu v'elu accpetance of all great Torah scholars, and not family-based partisanship.

Andy was not used to being BIG. He had a career of being small-minded, and petty, not a big-minded universalist! Such. Transformation was beyond his hen

R Repeater repeated: You're not alone. You'll have help. We'll transform you into a loving compassionate Jew that transcends geography and sees value in all facets of Torah scholarship, both the rational and the mystical. You will be loved and not despised and you will radiate charisma by judging ALL your colleagues favourably. You will now truly observe "B'Tzedek Tishpot Amitecha" in a win-win way.

Loose: I feel like Ebenezer Scrooge! A few dreams and I've been transformed from a hateful, spiteful, partisan, to a philanthropist, a lover of humanity and of its diversity! Baruch Hashem

Loose continues:
Demos and Repeater you should be shot for what you've put me through! ;-) But if you succeed, I'll hang "Medals of Honour" around the both of you! I'm both flabbergasted and relieved. I actually need not defend my family any longer! I can now see validity in BOTH sides

And Andy Loose Lost his Andy Illusions and lived a saner and more peaceful co-existence with all of his colleagues and fellow Jews.

The End



Monday 24 May 2010

Ethical Dilemma #4 - 2 Rudes Don't Make a Right

Thanks to Sammy the Gabbai for relating story to me....

The Players:
• Yonatan - a prominent member of Sammy's Shul
• David - his brother-in-law and guest
• Shim'on - a self appointed decorum "Cop" ;-)
• R. Shlomoh - The local Rav

Once upon a time Yonatan invited his brother-in-law David to visit on Shabbat.

Yonatan came to shul early and David - having davened Minchah already - came to meet him there just at "L'chu N'ran'nah" time.

NB: this is a time where hefseq is not an issue.

Yonatan called David over to sit with him and greeted him warmly

This fellow Shim'on - a fanatic for decorum - got bent out-of-shape and shushed them quite demonstratively. He wasn't requesting silence, he demanded it! - I.E. by his demeanour.

David was taken aback a bit from this lack of hospitality - and even hostility - towards a "newcomer".
Yonatan - trying to make shalom - said that Shim'on is quite makpid on decorum and that's just the way he is

Later that Shabbat the 2 brothers-in-law approached Rav "Sh'lomoh" and discussed this.

R. Sh'lomoh made the following observations

A. Shim'on - and everyone else - has a right to decorum, and the right to feel that Yonatan's greeting was itself "rude"

B. "OTOH do 2 rudes make a right?" He asked rhetorically. It seems Shim'on COULD have shushed in a kinder fashion the first time, and saved his rudeness ONLY for the case of repeat offenders. Thus he might have done the "right" thing but did it the "wrong" way.

C. It seems unlikely that Shim'on's menchschlichkeit quotient would ever get raised by reproving him.

D. OTOH holding a grudge is not good for "Shalom Bayyis" within a small shul. So R Shlomoh asked Yontan to not take Shim'ons's gruffness personally.

To that last suggestion, Yonatan countered saying - given Shim'on's chronic "irritability" - it seems prudent to avoid Shim'on in the future as best as he can.

R. Shlomoh pondered this approach

Dear Readers:
What do you think is the optimum approach to this situation?

Given that:

1. Nearly everyone wants decorum
2 The Rav wants guests like David to feel welcome and at home.
3 While Fixing Shim'on does not seem to be a feasible project,
4 Should Shim'on be be left off the hook completely?


Sunday 23 May 2010

Perfect Misunderstanding 9 - Hallel on Rosh Hodesh - With a Bracha or Without?

There is a long dissertation behind this post, but to be brief let's hit some main points:

  1. The Talmud specifies gom'rim [completing in Ivrit and learning in Aramaic] Hallel on 18 occasions in Israel and 21 in the diaspora
  2. As such saying Hallel on Rosh Hodesh is not to be completed
  3. Ergo say Sephardim say it sans a Bracha
  4. Now the Talmud notes this was a minhag encountered in Bavel by Rav
  5. And Rashi rejects a bracha on a minhag
  6. Rabbeinu Tam says that Minhag Triggers a Brachah; e.g. 2nd day of Yom Tov
  7. However all of the Above are dancing around the philological correct read of the text
  8. The Talmud above also Specifies YACHID - meaning the limitation of bracha to 18/21 is itself limited toItalic an individual
  9. The Braitto referred to above does not address a tzibbur or perhaps even a pair
  10. Thus Rema states that in absence of a Minyan find at least one other person to respond to the Hallel on Rosh Hodesh in order to comply with the letter of the law.
  11. The Shulchan Aruch Harav and the Aruch Hashulchan both recommend a compromise: Viz. have the Sheliach Tzibbur say the bracha on behalf of the tzibbur.
  12. This minimizes the quantity of Brachot
  13. AND it demonstrates the Tzibbur aspect to the exclusion of the individual


Saturday 22 May 2010

Perfect Mis-understanding 8 - Why to hide one's face during Blessing over Ner Shabbat?

  • Sephardim generally make the Blessing on Ner Shabbat PRIOR to lighting. This is in keeping with the principle of reciting the Blessing PRIOR to the performance of the Mitzva
  • Ashkenazim - possibly based upon a mis-read of Halachot G'dolot - Bless after the lighting. Then comes the practice [Minhag] of covering one's face whilst reciting the Brachah. Why?

The common reason given is that since the order of blessing & Mitzva have been reversed, one needs to avoid benefiting from the lighting until the Blessing has been completed. Actually this reason is quite rational

While working in a nursing home I heard different explanation. The way I heard it was:
You see during Roman times people worshipped FIRE so in order to NOT be perceived as blessing the fire Jews covered their faces.
The way I interpret this is that the Parthians were fire-worshippers and this was indeed a halachic problem for those blessing the fire AFTER the lighting! So it makes sense to cover one's face while blessing on the Shabbat Candle not because of going out of order per se, but since the light/fire is there while the blessing is recited it behooves us NOT to bless the fire itself lest it be construed as fire-worship


Thursday 20 May 2010

P. Nasso, A New Perspective on Etz Hada'at

In reviewing the Parshah with the Artscroll Ba'al Haturim Humash, I noticed a secondary aspect to Havvah's "sin" of eating from the "Eitz Hada'at"

The original take on Original Sin is that Adam exceeded his authority by telling Havvah not to TOUCH the fruit. IOW, his Humra was so easily debunked by the Nahash, and Adam's credibility was sunk - and so Havvah HAD to give into temptation! Or did she?

The Midrash adds [P. 1395] that Havvah slandered Adam in her mind "All that my teacher [I.E. Adam] instructed me is false"
NB: the brackets re in the original.

Thus we see, Hashem is giving Adam a Mitzvah. And Adam -acting as a "Rabbi" -violated "bal Tosif" by over-instructing Havvah and thereby enabling the Nahash to override the original Mitzvah, too.

But - what's the slander? After all Havvah seems correct! She was after all misguided by her Rabbi!

This "slander" is a secondary aspect and highly instructive to any Talmid who finds a flaw in the instructions of his Rebbe.

What happens when a Rebbe has apparently said something flawed, or even C"V something definitely flawed. What SHOULD be his/our reaction?

Let me re quote with emphasis "ALL that my teacher instructed me is false"

Well this itself is jumping to a false conclusion! Making an error might impeach one's credibility! Furthermore, even while Adam was not infallible, it does NOT mean ALL he said was ipso facto FALSE!

And so how Should Havvah and/or our hypothetical Talmid should have reacted to a perceived flaw in instruction?

1. "While there was a flaw in what my Rebbe said NOT All that my teacher instructed me is false" A Rationalist Approach

Or better

2. "Despite a possible flaw in what my rebbe said, SOMETHING, [I. E.some core principle] MUST be true even if he failed on some detail". The approach of a "Believer"

Had Havvah reacted so, and said "wait a minute, Nahash! Just because I CAN touch this fruit - it doesn't mean I should go ahead and eat it!". Had she exercised some caution here...

At any rate, this is not about berating Havvah, it's about teaching our hypothetical Talmid not to over-react and to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Yes Adam erred on the side of caution, but this does not license one to throw caution to the wind


Many years ago, when I took my driver's test, my instructor told me
"Rich, the speed limit on the course is 25 MPH. But go about 20 anyway". I proceeded to go 15! And thus the inspector was impatiently at his wit's end! But even though he lectured me about being able to make quicker reactions, he DID pass me. My caution, though annoying, was not fatal!

Now imagine had I said to myself "my instructor said 20, but the sign really says 25 - so I'll do better and go 30!" I might still be trying to pass to this day! ;-)

As you see, "fools rush in..." Adam might be faulted for over-compensating, but some level of trust - of emunat hachamim - is a must for Torah Observance


Tuesday 18 May 2010

Perfect Mis-undertanding 7 - Definiton of Pirkei Avot (Short Version)

The best definition of Avot?

Avot refers to Avot Beit Din! and that's because it is connected to Masechet Sanhedrin - hence its location in N'ziqqin.

[FWIW Bartenura kinda alludes to this defintion!]

Defintion of Pirkei [or Pirqei]?

Pirka is a Shabbat afternoon study group.

I will repost the long version BEH

For now
Avot refers to the middot and wisdom needed to act as an Av Beth Din and became a Shabbat Afternoon TextBook - probably during the Ga'onic era


Monday 17 May 2010

Shavuot Yitro and Ruth

There used to be a popular game show called "You DON'T say"
It was introduced so:
"It's NOT what you say that counts, it's what you DON'T say!"

What don't we lain on Shavuot?

Well we DO lain about Ruth. Ruth embraced Judea first and then Hashem. "Ameich ami Vaylokayich Elokay" her Judaism was a commitment to join the people of Israel, not Just the God of Israel.

To be a "Mamlechet Cohanim v'Goy Qadosh" means to serve God via the society, the peoplehood, the nation.

And we DO read the above Passuq!

But what DON'T we lain? We start baHodesh Hashlishi we skip the story of Yitro. Why? Did not Yitro ALSO embrace Hashem above all other gods?

Indeed Yitro did. So why not lain it? Because Yitro became a prototypical Ben No'ach good guy. He embraced the ONE TRUE GOD. But when it came to embracing Israel and its destiny, Yitro rejected that. What is the passuq before baHodesh hashlishi state? Vayelech Lo el artzo.

Yitro was into the theology of the Best God, the winner of the Pageant. The GREATEST of the GREAT.

When it came to Israel and Mattan Torah? Vayelech lo el artzo. Bye Bye Moshe Rabbeinu. Nice knowing you!

But Ruth "dovqa vah". She refused to leave Naomi, her family, the tribe of Judah, and the Peoplehood. Ruth's embrace was total and not partial - without compromise.

And so WE embrace the reading of this National Destiny of Torah, and reject reading the personal odyssey of the individual who - while embracing Hashem - refuses to join the national destiny and to go it alone.

Hag Samei'ach

Sunday 16 May 2010

Results of Poll on: What is Most Important

In our last poll, we inquired:

POLL: Most Important?

We'll admit that this poll is highly simplistic and if there is one thing that Nishma emphasizes again and again, it is that Judaism and Torah are highly complex and therefore are not subject to simplicities. Nevertheless, sometimes the most simplistic of questions can provoke some significant soul-searching. This could offer such an occasion and, if it does, we would be successful.
So, even though there is much overlap between these answers and it is hard to contemplate one without the other...
what do you think is the most important aspect of Torah Judaism?

A) What we DO as Jews (ex. conformity to mitzvot);

B) Who we ARE as Jews;

C) How much Torah we master;

D) How closely we relate to Hashem (d'veikut);

E) Our own self-perfection (ex. our menschlichkeit quotient).

Your Responses (total 20)

Option A - 15% (3)
Option B - 15% (3)
Option C - 15% (3)
Option D - 20% (4)
Option E - 35% (7)


Rabbi Hecht

To paraphrase Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, I, as did the largest segment of respondents, favour Option E for within it I see all the other options.

Rabbi Wolpoe
Not to be argumentative but option E could/would include Reform or Ethical culture if being a "mensch" was all it took!
So it might indeed be number 1 on our list of priorities but I would NOT see it as all-inclusive

Saturday 15 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understanding #6 - Fasting on 10th of Tevet

From the Avodah List:

On Sun, Jan 11, 2009 at 4:59 AM, Danny Schoemann wrote:
In response to one of my Halocho-a-day posts people keep on writing in informing me that if 10 B'Teves were to [theoretically] fall on Shabbos, we would fast. Over the years I've heard this from various people. Where does this Halocho come from? The SA in OC 550:3 says "if these 4 fasts fall on Shabbos that are deferred to Sunday."


- Danny

See the following link

My Response:
I think this is another perfect mis-understanding. This is the ONE fast of the four that falls on FRIDAY and we fast anyway. And since we do fast PAST kabbalat Shabbos until tzeit this probably contributed to the mis-understanding. [Note some say fasting this late is NOT necessary but the Minhag is to fast until Tzeit]

So these factors IMHO have caused a a perfect mis-understanding leading people to BELIEVE that if it DID fall on Shabbot we would fast. But had they consulted as you did - it is obviously false - a pashut Kal vachomer from Tisha b'Av.


Friday 14 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understandings #5 - Why no Blessing for Hodesh Tishre?

Why is there no Hodesh Benching [blessing of the New Month] before Tishre?

The oft-stated answer is: "in order to confuse the Satan" [k'dei l'arbeiv hasatan] Well, the Sattan must be REALLY confused to not "get it" 'after all these years!

As stated in the previous perfect mis-understanding, we often know what to do [or in this case what NOT to do] but do we know the REAL reason? I posit that there is likely to be a more rational rationale for this omission. Here is my hypothesis:

The REAL underlying rationale for not blessing the new month for Tishrei is that it creates a Halachic dilemma!

  • OTOH If one ONE day is mentioned, it would lead to the erroneous assumption that only ONE day of Rosh Hashsana is to be observed!
  • OTOH If TWO days are mentioned, it would avoid the above problem, but it would lead people to believe that Day ONE is the 30th of Ellul and Day 2 is the FIRST of Tishre, when in fact day ONE is Tishre ONE and Day TWO is Tishre TWO. This is because every 2-day Rosh Hodesh is assumed to be day 30 of month 1 and Day 1 of month 2. Tishre breaks the mold!
Therefore the confusion has little to do with the Satan per se but more with making a highly unconventional birkat/kiddush haHodesh. There is no way to do this w/o creating an ambiguity in the calendar - and so let's blame the Satan for OUR confusion! Years later, I confirmed this hypothetically more rational explanation in the Shulchan Aruch Harav who says something along the same lines.

I guess that at some point of history the reason given was "in order to avoid confusion". And that later on this explanation morphed into "In order to confuse the Satan." So again the common practice is revealed as sensible, it's just its accompanying story that is re-examined and shifted to make more sense


Previously Posted 9/17/07

Thursday 13 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understandings #4 - Bowing down on mats


Let's call this Wolpoe's Law #1 for Torah Sheb'al Peh [TSBP]
  • We often know WHAT to do
  • We often do not know the correct reason WHY we do it?

Historically, Jews migrated transporting mimetic customs, but due to persecutions and to uprooted communities the rationales did not always survive these migrations. For a REALLY good illustration of this, see the Original Star Trek Series Star Trek Episode 54 - season 2 - the Omega Glory - about the "Yangs" and "Coms" where Capt.Kirk corrects the corrupted Mesorah of what's holy to the Yangs...


I once asked by "yekkishe" Kehilla- why do we use mats. or towels or other coverings when we bow Kor'im on the Yamim Nora'im?

Their virtually unanimous Answer was:
"Why - to keep our pants from getting soiled from the dirt on the floor!"

Spoken like True Yekkes -smile-, their highly rational answer matched their life-style to remain neat and clean; but it ignored the Halachic significance of this practice. [viz. It is prohibited to bow down on stones outside the Beis Hamikdash.] Well, no one had taught them properly, so I was not surprised; and this post is withou malice to these relative innocents. It's just that people project and perpetuate rationales and justifications without being aware of the original facts that triggered the process in the first place.


We need to be careful here. To Paraphrase R. Avraham Ben HaRambam's comments on Aggadita: There are 3 possible positions we can take:

  1. Cynical: Since the REASON is silly, therefore the practice is silly.
  2. Fundamentalistic or Pietistic: Since the Practice is proper, therefore the reason given is somehow correct or infallible.
  3. Rational but Religious Skeptic: The practice may make sense, but the rationale is suspicious. PERHAPS a better rationale can be gained from proper understanding of the sources and the history. Let's throw out the "klippah" and preserve the fruit - as R. Meir did with Elisha ben Avuyah.
The 1st position is contrary to being a seriously faithful religious persona [Rav JB Soloveichik's homo religioso.] The 2nd position is a kind of knee-jerk "no-nothingism" that would portray Torah followers as a group of mindless automotons. The 3rd position proposes to continue to use mats & towels, etc., yet to seriously question the idea that it is a device to keep our pants clean and to research the matter further. Then we would find the Halachic consideration of not prostrating on stone floors outside the Mikdash, etc.


Perhaps this investigation of rationales is an integral part of Nishma. We can pietistically presume that the practice is somehow correct; yet upon reflection, we then rationally question the rationale in order to find a more elegant solution to our curiosity. This 3rd position is a form of the "Golden Mean" between mindlessness and cynicism.

More Mis-understandings later.

Previously Posted: 9/17/07

Kabbalah and the Masses

A Simple Hashqafic Overview

I think both Kabbalists and anti-Kabbalists would be best served by studying the classic Secondary Ethical works of Kabbalists first

M'silat Y'sharim
Tomer D'vorah
Shaarei Q'dushah
Sh'mirat Halashon [especially areas on Ahavat Yisra'el]

Nefesh haChaim
Ru'ach haChaim on Avot
A whole sub-set of:
• Breslover Writings
• R Aryeh Kaplan's writings

Also I would recommend the Baal Hatnya's Hilchot Talmud Torah [but NOT necssarily the Tanya itself] for beginners

For some pre-cursors I would suggest
Midrash Rabbah
Tanna d'vei Eliyahu
Even En Jacob


A Kabbalist friend who mentors others - warned all initiates to cover part one of Moreh N'vuchim first - in order not to see anything in Kabbalah as physical, but rather as conceptual

He stated, only after the Moreh stamped out all anthopomorphisms FIRST was kabbalah safe to say what it said. Without the Moreh [at least part 1] to teach the proper path [pun intended] people could fall into traps.

Another Kabblistic Master teaches Parshah from a mildly kabbalistic perspective

He often opined that people were too "eager" for Kabbalah and he suggested becoming grounded in Talmud and Rambam first - and along side with - any Kabbalah.
From other statements he made I think Shulchan Aruch would also do the trick.

Another "sanitized" set of writings are the works of the Maharal, who reformatted Kabbalistic concepts using non-Kabbalistic terminology. This way he avoided some of the pitfalls of S'PHIROT etc.

To me ALL mystical traditons - EG even Gnostics - are about bridging the gap between the Divine and the Human

Thus the first step here is Psalms - and the Midrashim on Psalms that lead one to "uvo tidbaq" AKA d'veiqut.

Shir Hasheerim is from the same genre and depicts a love story, alternatively between Hashem and Israel or between Israel and the Torah. Its Midrashim are also instructive in cleaving to the Divine.

That said, I don't recommend Kabbalah to the vast majority of Jews. I see it for "y'chidei s'gulah" for the advanced esoteric types.

I don't know enough about the Zohar or the writings of the Arizal to make an intelligent comment. I do know that the Ari's writings did cause or create several baalei t'shuvah with whom I am acquainted.

To me Torah essentially performs a dual mission to foster:
1 Ethics/menschlicheit
2 Q'dushah/holiness

Those are the litmus tests

Ahavat Israel is. Close third


Wednesday 12 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understandings #3: Cheshvan or MarcheShvan

I originally read Ari Zivotofsky's article in Jewish Action. Ari Zivotofsky & I think somewhat alike - i.e. we both desire to dispel certain mis-understandings...

See Ari Zivotovsky artcile in PDF format at:
AZ Article

Here is how I blogged it on my Rabbi Wolpoe Comment on Tuesday, September 19, 2006
See my post regarding Kivnei Maron.

As far as I can tell all Rsihonim, {e.g. Rashi, Tosafos, etc.} used the termed MarchSvhan as one long word.

Only later did it slide into a mis-understanding of Mar-Cheshvan as 2 words.
Ari Zivotofsky has documented the correct etymology in an article in Jewish Action magazine. MarchShvan therefore indicates
March - month
Shvan - eight.

It is Chaldean for the 8th month!

MarchShvan = Yerach Shmon{e} implying that an embedded inversion of the Meme occured. This would imply ALSO the 8th month with a more Hebraic etymology.

Either way the fanciful ideas that Cheshvan is a word or a month are mis-leading. It is NOT an independent word.

Mail Jewish Volume 38 Number 52:
Marcheshvan-- from the Akkadian "Warchu Samnu" which is cognate to the Hebrew "Yareach Shmoneh," or "Moon {Month) Eight." He says that "m" and "w" frequently get interchanged in Akkadian (see below under Sivan), and I know that "y" in Hebrew sometimes corresponds to "w" in other Semitic languages. "Yareach" and its cognates in other Semitic languages might originally mean "wanderer" and be related to Hebrew "oreach."
The problem is not with this discovery my friends.  Virtually every Rishon says Marcheshvan
and NOT Cheshvan.

The questions are:

  1. How did the original term get lost when it has been carefully preserved in Talmud, Rashi, Rema, etc.?
  2. How did the original meaning get morphed into fanciful "Kiddie Midrash?"

Kol Tuv- Best Regards,
Rabbi Richard Wolpoe

Previously Posted: 10/16/07

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understandings #2 - Side-Stepping

Originally published 5/11/10, 11:00 pm.
Q: Why do we recited the beginning of Musaf at the Bima facing side-ways?
A: This is perhaps the result of another perfect Mis-understanding!

Take the background into consideration.  There is a valid reason for saying the Haftara at the side and not facing frontwards. This is because the Haftarah must be demonstrably inferior to the Torah reading. A "shinuy" or deviation is needed. Plus, by putting one's back to the Torah whilst reciting the Haftarah might be construed as further dissing the Torah!

On the other hand, reciting Yekum Purkan or other prayers while facing sideways is totally unnecessary. There is no demonstrated dissing of the Torah because the Shliach Tzibbur is facing the Holy Ark. Putting his back to the Torah in that context is not viewed as disrespect. What has happened, is that a valid minhag in one context is morphed into a misunderstanding and "shitck" in another context.

For example - this is like requiring covering the bread during Havdalah when one has no intention of subsequently saying Hamotzi. It is therefore not analogous to Kiddush in which "haMotzi" will follow and the Challah is being disrespected whilst reciting a blessing on the wine!

AHA Rabbi Wolpoe - but Ruth, ShirHashirim, and Esther etc. are recited facing forward ! Isn't that dissing the Torah!

Good question: I'm glad you asked. With Ruth, and so on, the Torah has not yet been removed from the Aron.
With Esther [at least in the AM reading] it has already been put away!

It is only during the Haftara that the Torah remains present, changing the dynamics of the choreography of the direction.


Previously Posted 5/24/07

Monday 10 May 2010

Perfect Mis-Understandings 1 - Akdamuth

I began a series of postings a while back on the issue of "perfect mis-understandings"…

In reading R. Eliyahu Kitov's Sefer Hatoda'ah I was reminded of several separate mis-understandings about Akdamauth.

  1. It is in Aramaic due to some esoteric reason – such as to keep the angels from understanding it
  2. The old custom of reading Akdamuth after the Torah Reader reads the 1st verse must be abolished. This is why most congregations read it PIROR to the Cohen's blessing on the Torah., otherwise it would constituted an interruption of the Torah reading.
  3. Akdamuth is an introduction to the Torah reading.

This mis-understanding is understandable. The mis-perception is based upon the way we read the Torah today and trying to retrofit that model onto Akdamuth. In Talmudic lore this is Hazakah dehashta, viz. that the status quo of today is projected back in time – and her it is most anachronistic.

The competing principle in Talmud is. Hazakkah demei'ikara; i.e. the presumptive status quo is from the beginning of the process. In this case how was the Torah read in Talmudic times? I'm glad you asked! Following EACH AND EVERY verse a translation was rendered into Aramaic! There was no hefsek, or interruption by using Aramaic, indeed it was part of the process! Furthermore, Aramaic was colloquial, hardly esoteric.

Thus, the entire point of Akdamuth is as an introduction to the TARGUM on the Torah reading. Thus is MUST follow the first Torah verse and it would naturally be in Aramaic!

Rabbi Wolpoe- this is a nice hypothesis, but have you ANY evidence at all for this phenomenon!? I'm glad you asked! The Yatziv-Pithgam poem on the 2nd day of Shavuoth is recited following the 1st verse of the haftarah {at least in those congregations that recite it at all}. It is in Aramaic, and yet no move has been made – As far as I know – to relegate it to prior to the Haftarah. Why not? Answer: It is an introduction to the Targum on the Haftarah! There, the connection is more obvious - because the final line actually names Yehonathan – the author of the Targum on the Haftara – explicitly. We thus have a parallel on Shavuoth demonstrating this model clearly and concisely. The Artscroll book on Akdamuth makes a similar point in a more speculative fashion. The "ancient" custom of reciting Akdamuth following the 1st verse is maintained in the German rite. Without necessarily know the precise mechanism, the presumption was that this was indeed a correct phenomenon and ought not to be tampered with. While blind trust can lead to unfortunate mis-understandings, too it appears that the critics of this custom simply failed to make the correct sense out of the structure as it was.

We can now debate that since we no longer use a meturgeman a translator- ought we not shift the Akdamuth to before the Torah reading? That is indeed a good point, after all it recognizes the validity of the original structure, and the reality of it now being a bit obsolete where it is. But, at least this shift would be based upon a deeper and more empathic understanding of the dynamic.

Kol Tuv,

Previously Posted: 5/22/07


Well Put Rabbi Wolpoe!
MY Artscroll Shavuoth Machzor had the Y'ztiv pithgam was
1. Esoteric/Qabbablistic, - although the material seems pretty straightforard!
2. It claims that Yehonathan the humble is an oblique reference to Moses our Teacher when it is really a reference to Yehonathan ben Uziel!

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

And the Reference in context to Moses MAKES NO SENSE! This is a HAFTARA! Why would the poet refer to Moses our lawgiver in an intro to a Haftara! this is not oblique, it is misleading! And would be a perfect mis-understanding!

Sunday 9 May 2010

Finding the Good - Parshat Bamidbar

Re-Printed with permission from the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent and the Author

Deconstructing Life: Not All Black and White

May 17, 2007

BAMIDBAR, Numbers 1:1-4:20

Politicians commonly complain that a statement or even a single word they uttered was taken out of context. It's a complaint we'll hear many times as the race for the White House heats up. Likewise, the name of this week's Torah portion, Parshat Bamidbar, can be taken out of context. It opens by telling us that "God spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai."

So we see that the Israelites were in the wilderness. The word "wilderness" -- when taken out of context -- has a very ominous sound. You tend to think of it as a place of emptiness, where you might very well be lost and cut off from the outside world. The wilderness is a place of danger.

A superficial reading of the events that occur in the wilderness supports the idea that it's a place of danger. The book of Numbers is full of catastrophic events the Israelites bring upon themselves.

In Parshat Shelach, spies are sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Ten of the 12 of them return to the Israelite camp with a negative report, thus leading the people to suggest retreat to Egypt, the land of bondage. The Israelites are only saved from extermination through the intervention of Moses, but God decrees that this generation -- the generation of the Exodus -- will die in the desert.

Moses and Aaron are also barred from entering the Promised Land when they fail to sanctify God's name in Parshat Chukat. God commanded Moses to sanctify his name by bringing forth water from the rock by speaking to it; instead, Moses lost his temper and struck the rock twice.

And, of course, there is the rebellion of Korach, Dathan and Abiram, who challenge the divinely ordained leadership of Moses and Aaron in Parshat Korach. The rebellion is put down, but only after 14,000 Israelites die.

So Bamidbar -- "the wilderness" -- seems to be a place of disaster. But if we look at the events in the context of the rest of the Torah, the picture's not as bleak. Though the generation of the Exodus perishes in the wilderness, their children do enter the Promised Land.

In other words, the Children of Israel lived on to fight another day. Under the leadership of Moses' successor, Joshua, the Israelite were provided with the youthful, energetic leadership, which was needed for the eventual conquest of Canaan.

The Big Picture
The peaceful transition of leadership between Moses and Joshua was able to take place because the rebellion of Korach was put down, demonstrating that God's chosen leaders were beyond challenge.

The precedent of a peaceful transition of power is a key element for national survival. The Northern Kingdom of Israel failed to survive in part because it was shaken by constant insurrections, which destabilized the kingdom's leadership at a time of foreign threat when strong leadership was most needed. On the other hand, the southern Kingdom of Judah survived even in exile, partly due to the stability of its leadership.

It is tempting to analyze (and over-analyze) each event -- big or small -- that takes place in our life. If we take each thing separately and divorce it from the narrative of our life, every event becomes magnified. If the event is a negative, it devastates us. What is the solution to this basic human tendency?

By viewing individual events within the context of our lifelong narrative, we are able to see the big picture, and realize that things are not really as bad as they appear at any particular moment. And if we look closely enough, we can see the hand of God operating in our lives -- just as it operated in the lives of our ancestors who lived in the wilderness.

After all, Am Yisrael Chai, the People of Israel live.

Rabbi Steven Saks is the religious leader of AKSE Wilmington, DE

Note: Rabbi Saks is also a student of mine.

- Rabbi Rich Wolpoe

Previously published 5/21/07

Friday 7 May 2010

Avot and the Great Paradigm Shift - Answers

By way of background, it will be helpful to view the separate tractate Avot as an evolving document, instead of it being separated into its own tractate by Rebbe - the editor of the Mishnah.

However, Avot refers to a position, that is Av Beit Din. This masechet is specifically geared to the Avot Beis Din throughout our history. (Another possiblity it that Avot means "principles", for example, Arbo'o Avot neizkin, Av melocho, etc., but, I prefer the first answer.}

Regardless of what Torah was received at Sinai as opposed to what was received later on, Moshe received the position of Av Beit Din at Sinai. This dovetails well with those who date the the "mimochorat" in Yisro as the day following Mattan Torah.

Specifically he gave to Yehoshua not the body of the Torah, rather the administration, or the authority of the Torah. Yehoshua was Moshe's successor as "Trustee" of the Torah. While all of Israel could learn the Torah, and had to follow the Torah, only Yehoshua, and his successors were responsible for adjudicating, legislating, and administering the Torah.

Since it refers to the guidelines and the wisdom of Avot Beis Din, therefore it is connected to Tractate Sanhedrin.

Kol Yisroel indicates a tremendous paradigm shift. That which was the private province of the Avot Beis Din is now being taught to and learned by ALL of Israel. This paradigm shift is hinted at by the dictum of the Anshei Knesses Hagdolo -Ha'amidu Talmidim Harbei. As a reaction to the Babylonian exile, the Beis Din was concerned that if a future exile were to occur, all of the Torah theory could be lost since it was concentrated into a small elite body. The solution was to disseminate Torah widely, in order to preserve the tradition and not to keep all of the Mesorah's proverbial eggs in one basket.

The Mishna Kol Yisroel serves to underline the paradigm shift. Avos is no longer the exclusive province of Avos Beit Din, but now becomes the possession of all of Israel. Also see the connection above to Tractate Sanhedrin.

PIRKA is the Term used for Shabbat Afternoon studies. PIRKEI Avot originally referred to the sereis of 5-6 Shabbat Afternoon Seessions that were instituted between Passover and Shavuot>

Kol Tuv- Best Regards,
Rabbi Richard Wolpoe
Originally Posted on on Fri, 29 Jan 1999 08:40:59 -0500

Thursday 6 May 2010

Schadenfreude IV - Mishlei & Avot

Schadenfreude - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

«The Book of Proverbs mentions an emotion similar to that now described by the word schadenfreude:
"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him." (Proverbs 24:17–18, King James Version).»

Avot 4:19 Quoting this verbatim
19. Samuel the Small would say: "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G-d see, and it will displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him [to you]" (Proverbs 24:17-18).
Translation from

So far as I know it is the only Passuq quoted verbatim as an entire Mishnah


Wednesday 5 May 2010

Avot & the Great Paradigm Shift - The Questions

Note: Below is the first half {Namely the questions} of my outline of a lecture I gave in Teaneck on Motsoai Shabboat P. Vo'eiro {1999}:

Following Passover, there is a custom to recite one or more chapters from Masechet Avot. During my classes on Avos given during this time period over the years, several points evolved into a new understanding regarding the history of this most popular Masechta. My thoughts emerged from the following questions with which I began my presentations. I pose these questions again to give a chance for you to ponder the issues. In future postings I will present my ideas on the subjects touched upon in these questions.


  1. What does the name Avot mean? If it means "ancestors", how is it that the first quoted Ancestor is from Anshei Kenesset haGedolo and does not include Avrohom, Moshe, etc.? It is obvious from the text, that all ancestors prior to Anshei Kenesses haGedolo are virtually ignored.
  2. What is meant by the Mishno stating: Moshe Kibel Torah Misinai when Hashem gave him the Torah? Furthermore, Bamidbor and Devorim came after Sinai? In other words what specific transmission took place At Sinai and NOT later?
  3. The Mishneh states Moshe.. umesoro LeeHoshua. Didn't Moshe give the Torah to ALL of Yisroel? As it says: Vezot Hatoroh _ Lifnei Benei Yisroel? And Tzivo Lonu Moshe, Morosho Kehilat Yaakov? IOW: what "Torah" was given to Yehoshua that was NOT given to all of Yisroel.
  4. What is the connection between Avot and Seder Nezikin?
  5. How did it come about that Avot is learned publicly?
  6. What is the significance of introducing each perek by the Mishno Col Yisroel Yesh Lohem_? What is the specific connection is there between this Mishnah from Sanhedrin and Avos. That is since it is NOT an intrinsic part of Avos, why is it added in the public learning of Avos?
  7. Why is it call PIRKEI Avot?

First Posted on the Avodah list:
Date: Thu, 28 Jan 1999 10:17:27 -0500