Saturday 28 November 2020

Mussar: Re: One's Money

first posted January 12, 2013

Courtesy of Derech Emet Group.

Chovot HaLevavot, Shaar Avodat HaBitachon, Intro, page 360:

...he [a person with correct trust in G_d] views it [his money] as a deposit that he was commanded to use in specific ways and for specific purposes for a limited time.

If it stays with him a long time, he will not become arrogant because of it [or sin rebelliously because of it] and he will not remind the people who he was commanded to donate to [the recipients of his kindness] about. his goodness [that he gave to them], and he will not seek repayment or thanks or praise, [because he was only doing his job by helping others].

Instead, he thanks his Creator for having made him an agent [literally, cause] of kindness.


Chovot HaLevavot was written around year 1040 of the Common Era by Rabbi Bachya ben Yosef ibn Pakuda, who lived in Saragossa, Spain.

Chovot HaLevavot was written in Arabic. and later translated into Hebrew.

Best Regards,

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Meaning of Netzach (this is an improved version of a previous article)

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First 

                                     The Mutiple Meanings of the Word “Netzach”

           The precise meaning of this word is very relevant to us daily.  In the prayer דויד ויברך we assign to God “ha-gedulah, ve-ha-gevurah, ve-ha-tiferet, ve-ha-neitzach, ve-ha-hod.” This is a verse in Divrei Ha-yamim (I, 29:11). We need to determine what the root  נצח  means here. In Tanach it usually has the meaning “eternal.”  In Rabbinic Hebrew, it is often used with a “strength, victory” meaning. Which meaning is being used here?

           (Regarding the noun forms, “netzach” and “neitzach,” these appear 45 times in Tanach.  Usually the vocalization is “netzach.” Four times the vocalization is “neitzach.” There is no difference in meaning.  It is merely a function of the trop.)

          The Even-Shoshan concordance gives 40 of these 45 occurrences the meaning “eternal.” Aside from these, in two occurrences (in Isaiah 63) the word seems to have the meaning “blood.” But this meaning probably derives from a meaning like “eternal life force.” So now our key question is whether  נצח has a meaning related to “strength, victory” anywhere in Tanach?

             Even-Shoshan claims it does three times.  First, he gives it the meaning “strength” in the famous phrase at I Sam. 15:29: “neitzach Yisrael lo ye-shaker ve-lo yinachem...” But this is very surprising. “Ve-lo yinachem” means “he will not change his mind.” This strongly suggests that the meaning of נצח here is “The Eternal One.” The entire phrase means: “Also the Eternal One of Israel will not lie and will not change his mind.” This is how the verse is understood by both Daat Mikra and Malbim. (Admittedly, many of the traditional commentaries interpret the phrase with a “strength, victory” related meaning. But the traditional commentaries were influenced by the interpretation of the Targum and by the widespread “strength, victory” meaning in Rabbinic Hebrew.)

              Even-Shoshan also gives  נצח  the meaning “strength” at Eikhah 3:18: נצחי אבד. While this is possible, נצחי  here is parallel to  תוחלתי which means “my hope.” Therefore, the more probable meaning is “my eternity.” See Rashi.

               Finally, Even-Shoshan gives  נצח  the meaning “strength” in our verse in Divrei Ha-yamim. Similarly, the traditional commentaries give it a “strength, victory” meaning. But in my view, it does not mean “strength” anywhere else in Tanach (except perhaps at Dan. 6:4 in the Aramaic section.)

                As to siddur commentaries, The Complete ArtScroll Siddur translates our word in דויד ויברך with the strength-related word: “triumph.”  Every other English siddur translation and commentary that I have seen does something similar.  (But after I wrote this sentence two years ago in an earlier version of this article, Shulamis Hes showed me her Nehalel siddur, published in 2013, which has the translation: “permanence”)

                 If you agree with my analysis above, נצח never has a strength-related meaning in Tanach and 44 times it has a meaning related to “eternal” This strongly implies that this should be its meaning in its 45th occurrence. I.e., we are assigning “Eternity” to God. Malbim on our verse in Divrei Ha-yamim agrees with my approach to this verse. It is of course significant that the word “neitzach” is not placed next to the word “gevurah,” but between the words  “tiferet” (=splendor, glory) and “hod” (splendor, glory, majesty). (In Yishtabach, just a few pages later in the siddur, “netzach” is placed next to “gedulah” and “gevurah” and obviously means something like “strength.” But Yishtabach is not a quote from Tanach.)

                  What is the origin of the Rabbinic meaning “strength, victory”? It seems to be the Aramaic meaning of the word. This meaning is already found, prior to Rabbinic Hebrew, in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Of course, it is possible that this meaning already existed in Hebrew by the time of Divrei Ha-Yamim, a late book of Tanakh. But a strength-related meaning at Divrei Ha-yamim 1, 29:11 does not fit the context.  

                    Do the “eternal” meaning and the “strength,victory” meaning have a common origin?  Certainly, things that are “eternal” are also often “strong,” so a common origin is possible.

                    נצח is found one time in the Aramaic section of Tanach, at Dan. 6:4. Here, the meaning may be related to “strength,” but many believe that the meaning here is “distinguished himself.” Aramaic has a meaning of  נצח as “shine, bright.” If the meaning here is “distinguished himself,” this may have derived from a “shine, bright” meaning. See the Soncino comm. on this verse.

                  Perhaps Hebrew too developed a meaning of  נצח as “shine, bright.”  This meaning is found, a bit later than Tanach,  at Ben Sira 32:10 and 43:13.  Accordingly, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament and others suggest that the meaning of the word at 1 Divrei Ha-yamim 29:11 may be “radiance” or “splendor.” This fits the context better than “eternity.”

                   Now let us deal with our ubiquitous word  למנצח. נצח is used as a verb several times in Tanach. See, e.g., Ezra 3:9. It clearly means “to supervise.” So למנצח almost certainly means: “to the musical supervisor.” What follows it is an instruction about how the psalm is to be performed. See, e.g., Daat Mikra to Hab. 3:19, and Soncino to Ps. 4:1

                It seems difficult to connect this “supervise” meaning of נצח  with the “eternal” meaning. But          some connect the “supervise” meaning with the “shine, bright” meaning. A suggestion is that from the “shine, bright” meaning came a “distinguish oneself” meaning. One who distinguishes himself then becomes the supervisor. I find this farfetched.

              So far I have mentioned four different main meanings of נצח: 1) eternal, 2) supervise, 3) shine/distinguish oneself, and 4) strength/victory. Surprisingly, the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon, the Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon, and Ernest Klein are all willing to assume a  relationship between all of them, without providing any explanation!  I endorse the view of the article in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament: “philologists are uncertain as to their relationship.”

             One reason I have always been interested in this root נצח is because it is found in one of the most famous stories in the Talmud, the story of R. Eliezer and the oven (BM 59b). The Sages decide that the halakha must always follow the majority of the Sages. They reject the opinion of R. Eliezer, even though R. Eliezer has a “bat kol” descend from heaven and state that the halakha is always in his favor. We are told that, upon hearing all of this, God concludes: “nitzchuni vanai.” This obviously means “my children have defeated me.” But a famous (homiletical) interpretation makes the alternative suggestion that the proper translation here is: “my children have eternalized me.” I.e., by making the determination of the halakha subject to the majority of the Sages (and not Divinely fixed at the outset), the halakha is thereby made flexible so it can last eternally.   (P.S. I need the source for this interpretation. Please tell me if you know.)     

            The verse Neitzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker was the source for the name of the נילי  group, which was active from 1915-17, spying for Britain. I was thinking: Did they choose the name for the group because they believed נצח  had the “strength/victory” meaning? Or did they understand the word with the “eternal” meaning? Or perhaps they chose the word because they liked the multiple meanings? Since this was an espionage group and they did not file public records, I suspect we will never know!


Mitchell First hopes to write illuminating and strongly convincing articles for the Jewish Link eternally.   He can be reached at


Monday 16 November 2020

Are we confronting the different definitions of "JEWISH'?

 This video, at, is entitled:

We Are Family: Rethinking Race in the Jewish Community | Rabbi Angela Buchdahl |Yom Kippur 5781/2020

What we really are encountering -- even as we also, at the same time, attempt to avoid this issue -- is the simple fact that the very definition of "Jewish" is in flux and people still talk as if all agree on its singular meaning. It's not -- this is what I think Jewish means. It's -- this is what we all really agree Jewish means. And even though that is so problematic, we are not willing to state the basic reality -- that is what you may think Jewish means but it is not what others think Jewish means. It's all around us: there are different definitions of Jewish. We still though, do not want to confront this

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Saturday 14 November 2020

Mussar: Rav Chessed v'Emet

In the 13 Middot it states
"V' Rav Chessed v'Emet"

The Mussar haskeil? Get yourself a lot of Chessed, THEN say the Emet.
Otherwise your "Emet" may do more harm than good.

Shanah Tovah,
Best Wishes for 5773!

Thursday 12 November 2020

1827: Russia Begins to Draft its Jews

 From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First 

                                 1827: Russia Begins to Draft its Jews

         One of the major events in the history of Russian Jewry was the imposition of military obligations on them by Czar Nicholas the First in 1827.  Here is the background (taken from The Jews in Poland and Russia, by A. Polonsky, 2013, pp. 81-82):

         “The induction of Jews into the army elsewhere in Europe was part of the process of transforming them into citizens. This was not the case in Russia. Here, military service was not a general obligation but was imposed selectively on different estates and social and religious groups. Jews had initially been exempt from military service after the incorporation into the empire of the areas where they lived. They were all classed as merchants from the point of view of conscription and were required to pay a 500 rouble exemption tax. There were occasional discussions over whether they should be drafted, but they were generally felt to be unsuitable as recruits. This was not the view of Nicholas.  He was a convinced believer in the value of the army as a school for virtue which could play a major role in the transformation of his Jewish subjects...”

          “The quota varied from year to year, but generally the Jews were required to furnish four to eight recruits for every thousand tax souls… Jews were inducted into the army between the ages of 12 and 25. Those over 18 served for twenty-five years in the regular army; those under 18 served in special cantonist battalions…until they reached the age of 18, when they commenced their twenty-five-year service. Cantonist battalions had [already] existed for other categories of recruits…Those who served in them were educated in special boarding schools attached to army camps which had first been created in 1805 for the sons of Russian private soldiers.”

          “Some categories of Jews were exempt...As was the case with all groups liable for inscription, the local community was collectively responsible for its implementation… [Jews were to stay] only in Christian homes during their travels and were forbidden contact with local Jews. Jews who completed their military term were eligible to serve in the civil service.”

           “This was a punitive law and its introduction was the cause of appalling suffering and of major disruption to Jewish life.  In all, during the reign of Nicholas I about 70,000 Jews served in the Russian army; between 4.5 and 6.5 percent of Jews in Russia were conscripted. One reason why service in the army was so hated by the large majority of the Jewish community was that…conversion [of those drafted] was openly encouraged….Perhaps at least half of the cantonists [converted]…and a substantial number of adult recruits did so between 1827 and 1854…”

         “The involvement of the communal leadership in enforcement of conscription caused enormous shock, undermining deep-rooted traditions of social solidarity. It precipitated a breakdown of communal bonds, which manifested itself in a number of ways, including violent protests against the khappers (those who seized people in order to conscript them) and the kahal…”

          To explain a bit further, the fact that between 4.5 and 6.5 percent of Jews in Russia were conscripted does not sound so terrible. The problem was that every day you did not know if your child would be one of those khapped by the kahal!

          What is most interesting is the response of the Eastern European Karaites. To give a little background, in the centuries after the foundation of Karaism in around the 8th century C.E. (the foundation of this sect is a complex subject), major Karaite communities flourished in Israel, Turkey, Egypt, and Iraq. Karaites did not arrive in Eastern Europe until the 13th to 15th centuries.  Just like their Rabbinic Jewish brethren, they suffered in the massacres in Eastern Europe of 1648-49.

       But what happened in 1827? Two leading Karaites from Crimea, Simhah Babovich and Joseph Solomon Lutski, went to St. Petersburg to petition the Czar to exempt them, and they were successful. The latter wrote an account of their journey. It was intended to be read in Karaite synagogues in Eastern Europe annually in celebration of their success. It was written in a style parallel to the book of Esther. It is called “Iggeret Teshu’at Yisrael.” (The Hebrew text with English translation can be purchased at a reasonable cost. It is found in Karaite Separatism in Nineteenth-Century Russia by Philip E. Miller.)

            The “Iggeret” begins as follows:  “In the days of Nicholas the first, the great Czar and emperor (may he live forever!) who ruled all the Russias and other places, in the year 1827 according to the Christians and in the year 5588 since Creation according to us…a royal order was given….It was a new law to be established for generations to come, one unknown in earlier days. It was the king’s express command that letters be sent by messenger to all the officials in his kingdom in which it was explicitly stated that men from among the Jews be taken for military service in equal measure to other nations and tongues under his rule…The Jews would not be permitted to buy men of other nations or to give substitutes other than their own nation’s sons…Great was the mourning, fasting and weeping among the Jews when the king’s order reached each province…As the word “Jews” was written in the text of the decree, and as it was understood afterwards in some places that the decree was to include each and every Jewish sect and did not exclude the Karaites, the officials in the Crimean towns included us Karaites in this decree as well…”

         I admit that I have not read this work and how the Karaites successfully argued for their exemption. I believe a main argument was that because they did not follow the Talmud, the decree should not apply to them.

        This was not the Karaites’ first political success in Eastern Europe. In 1774, the Karaites in Austria were able to obtain preferential treatment from Empress Maria Theresa: they received an exemption from the marriage tax and half of the poll tax that was placed on the Jews. Also, in 1795, the Russian regime imposed a poll tax on the Jews that was double what was imposed on Christians and Catherine the Great granted the Karaite petition for an exemption.

        Subsequent to their success in 1827, the Karaites in the Russian empire received full recognition as Russian citizens in 1863.  The Karaites of Eastern Europe continued to minimize any connection to the Jews in order to avoid harsh governmental treatment. Later they were able to convince the Nazis that they were descended from Turkish tribes and most were spared in the Holocaust.


           This column is based on an article by Daniel Lasker online at Tablet Magazine, Sept 11 2020, “Inventing the Karaites.” Lasker is a professor at Ben-Gurion University and one of his specialties is the study of the Karaites.


Mitchell First can be reached at His website is He is not related to Czar Nicholas the First. (One time in his youth, when he was in Europe, making a collect call to his parents, the operator thought he identified himself as “Mitchell the First”!)