Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sanhedrin 70 - Ben Sorer U'moreh

There are two fundamental questions in regards to the בן סורר ומורה.

The first is, Don't we believe that every Jew has a chance to do Teshuva, and deep inside has the potential to climb out of whatever pit he has dug for himself? How can we kill a young man על שם סופו - because of what he will be in the end? Isn't there free will? How do we know for sure that he will end up so bad?

The second question is, What does the gemara mean when it says that the case of the בן סורר ומורה never happened, so it is there to learn and receive reward?

I believe that these two questions actually answer each other. The very fact that the בן סורר ומורה case can never happen teaches us indeed as we originally assumed. There is never really a possibility of a child being so bad that there is no hope and he is killed because of where we see him going. The Torah gives us this whole involved case with all these prerequisites to show us that it is impossible for a person beyond hope to really exist. Then why does the Torah even mention this case at all? The answer is so that we can learn this very lesson from the Torah - דרוש וקבל שכר.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sanhedrin 68 - R' Eliezer's final hours

The gemara brings the interesting story of R' Eliezer's death. The sages came to visit him as he was dying, but would not come within a certain distance of him. This was because they had placed a ban on him because he had been adamant in his opinion and had not submitted to the majority (see Rashi). When he asks them why they had not come until this time, they respond that they did not have an opportunity. Rashi explains that this was said, despite the fact that the true reason was because of his excommunication, in order not to make him feel bad. He then told them that as a result of the fact that they had not come to learn from him, they would die a brutal death. He then proceeded to say that he, himself, had not gained all that was possible from his teachers ("I was like a dog lapping up the sea"), and his students, as well, did not gain as much as they could from him, despite the fact that he taught a lot. He then proceeds to tell how he was extremely well-versed in the areas of nega'im and kishuf, and how no one asked him questions in these areas, except for R' Akiva in the area of kishuf.

It is interesting that he describes his knowledge in terms of the number three hundred or three thousand. It could be explained that the number three (which is here divided by ten to give us three hundred parts, and possibly again by ten to give us three thousand parts) represents the first three sefiros of the seven lower sefiros, which are chesed, gevurah and tiferes. These three sefiros describe the ability and desire to give from the side of the giver, but do not actually involve an interaction with the receiver. This would flow nicely with his theme that he had much to teach, but no one to receive.

His students then proceed to ask him a question in regards to his opinion in a case that they argued with him. The case involves the status of a vessel that is made to permanently receive, in that once it is filled, it is closed up. R' Eliezer held that it is called a vessel, and that its reception has significance, whereas the sages held that a vessel only has significance in its reception if it is filled, emptied, and filled again, but not if it is only filled once and remains filled. It seems clear to be, be'H, that this argument is actually a philosophical debate between the sages and R' Eliezer as to what one's approach should be to one's learning. R' Eliezer held that once one understands a concept, and it fills his mind (paralleling the filling of the vessel), if one closes his mind to other understandings, it is still considered that he is a vessel. The sages disagreed, and held that in order for one to be considered a proper vessel for Torah, one has to be able to question that which one has previously received, in light of new information that has been presented by other opinions. If one can not empty that which is inside of himself in order to accept more information, he is not considered a vessel at all. Thus, there was a subtle hint in their statement as to why they had not come until now.

It would also seem that the second question they asked was a subtle response to R' Eliezer saying that they had not received all the Torah that they could have from him, and therefore they were intrinsically flawed, and would die horrible deaths as a result. They spoke of another case where they disagreed, which was where there was a shoe that was still sitting on the mold on which it was made, and was completed, for all intents and purpose, save for the fact that it needed to be removed from the mold in order to be worn. In this case, R' Eliezer held that the shoe was not completed, because it could not yet be used, and was therefore not considered a vessel. The sages, however, held that since it did not require a craftsman to remove it from the mold, it was considered that it was not missing a significant act to complete it, and therefore it had the status of a completed vessel. This could reflect the fact that R' Eliezer held that these sages were like incomplete vessels, who were in the process of molding themselves after their teacher. Although they had gained a lot, they were not yet complete, and because they did not yet remove themselves from the mold, as it were, they were not considered vessels. The sages, however, held that they had molded themselves as much as they could after their teacher, and the remaining work they had to do was a 'maaseh hedyot' - an act that did not require a professional. They held that the finishing touches on their 'vessel' could be done on their own, and did not require a teacher, and thus, they held that they were completed vessels in this sense. R' Eliezer was explaining to them that he was, in a sense, the shoe that was filled in order for other shoes to be molded around it and formed into vessels. Thus, even though they argued with him, and they seemed to be a majority, in truth, they were not completed vessels, and were not fit to argue with him. This was why R' Yehoshua immediately got up on his feet and lifted the ban that had been on R' Eliezer, because they now understood his thinking, and they realized that R' Eliezer was indeed on a different plane than they were. This is also reflected in the words of R' Akiva, where he describes R' Eliezer as "my father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its parashim," that R' Eliezer was like a father, on a different level altogether from the sages around him, and like a chariot upon which the people of Israel would ride, a vehicle for them to become great in Torah. He was the one who carried them, on a completely different level than those he carried.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sanhedrin 2-3 Judges - Elohim

It is interesting that the Gemara understands that when the Torah says the word elohim in reference to judges, this teaches that the judges must be מוסמכים, having received their ordination in a line going back to Moshe Rabbenu. Generally speaking, the word elohim is most interesting, in that it is the name of Hashem, while at the same time, it can refer to other powers, for example, אלהים אחרים - other gods; or, as we find here, judges. One could ask, Why are idols and the like referred to as other elohim? If anything, they should be referred to as 'absolute nothings!' The answer is, as the Ramchal writes, that the many different celestial beings, for example the stars, etc, are indeed invested with power. Hashem sends down his Divine influx through them, and they are thus referred to as elohim. This denotes the fact that they are rooted in Hashem's power. When people would worship them as something separate from Hashem, as having power of their own, this was a complete severance that would eventually cause them to forget Hashem. This was the ultimate mistake of idolatry. Here, the word elohim is used to refer judges, and specifically judges with סמיכה going back to Moshe Rabbenu, because their power comes directly from Hashem. There is no severance from the source of their power. A judge that lacks this type of semicha can only be referred to as a שופט - a judge without that connection to the true Source of all power and guidance.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BB 4 - Gina vs. Bika

The Gemara understands that it is more likely that the custom will be to build a wall in regards to a גינה - a vegetable garden or fruit orchard - than a בקעה - a field meant to grow grains. The question is, Why?

נ"ל בע"ה that the understanding is that the whole reason that we would build a wall is to prevent מראית עין - the Evil eye. That being the case, it is more likely for someone to look jealously at a field that is immediately ready for consumption - the vegetable garden or fruit orchard - as opposed to a field of grains that require many steps of processing before the produce can be consumed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Baba Basra 2-3 - damaging sight

(To prevent any 'mar'is ayin,' this post was posted in America, and while it is already Shabbos in Israel, it is not yet Shabbos in the US.)

The gemara introduces us to the concept of hezek re'iyah. At the simplest level, this means that it is possible to cause damage to another with one's vision. The question is, What is the damage that is being discussed here?

I understood that there are at least two different types of damage spoken of here. One is that there is a damage that can be caused by simply looking with an 'ayin hara' - evil eye - at someone elses property. Another understanding is that there is a damage that is caused when a person can not go about his private affairs because I have visual access to his domain.

It is significant that the Gemara, as it continues onto daf gimel, gives two different assumptions as to whether or not the responsibility for preventing this type of damage is upon the neighbor who 'sees' or it is upon the one who is being looked at. The first assumption of the Gemara is that 'hezek re'iyah lav shmei hezek' - damaging sight is not considered a damage. This would mean that the 'offender' who is seeing is not the problem, but rather it is the problem of the one being seen. The question is, Why? The second section of the gemara assumes the opposite, that in fact this type of damaging sight is indeed a significant damage and is the responsibility of the one who is looking. Again, the question is, Why?

If we try to understand more deeply the two different explanations we gave earlier, we will see that the difference between them will indeed be upon whom the responsibility will be placed.

If we understand that the damage here is based on the concept of ayin hara - evil eye - then we need to understand what is an evil eye? The concept of the evil eye is that if someone (we will call him Reuven) looks jealously at another's property (we will call him Shimon), it brings about a question in the heavenly court as to whether or not the one who owns it really deserves it. Thus they look at the records for Shimon and if he is indeed unworthy, he may lose it because of Reuven's negative look.

Of course, this begs for explanation. Why should Reuven lose something because of Shimon's bad thoughts? If anything, we should judge Reuven the negative thinker, not Shimon! The answer is that there is a responsibility on Shimon to be tzanuah - to be modest and not show off the good things that he has. The negative thought that Reuven has is a result of Shimon's showy way of life, and thus, Shimon is judged, for his lack of modesty has brought about a negative thought on the part of Reuven.

Once we understand this, we can understand why hezek re'iyah is not considered the responsibility of the one who is looking. It is the problem of the one who is being looked at! Therefore, he is the one who must build a wall to protect himself.

In the other understanding, however, the damage that is being caused is because the one who is being looked at (again Shimon) can not go about his private affairs because there is someone (again Reuven) 'intruding' with his gaze. This limitation is solely the responsibility of the gazer, and thus we would say the concept that hezek re'iyah is indeed considered a damage, and the responsibility is upon the gazer to prevent himself from damaging and to therefore build a wall.

Friday, May 22, 2009

BAM 27 - Returning only a Jew's lost objects

How do we understand the fact that the Torah only obligates us to return the lost object of a Jew?

Another place we have this question is in regard to the prohibition of taking interest on a loan, which is only forbidden when lending to a Jew, but not to a non-Jew. The question is, Why?

נראה לי בע"ה that the reason is as follows. (I believe the following is based on the Chofetz Chaim in Ahavas Chessed.) If we think about it, it really makes sense that one should charge interest to someone who is borrowing money. After all, they are receiving a benefit from my money, perhaps investing it in a lucrative business, while I sit at home without the money myself. There is certainly a monetary value to that, which I should be able to charge. Similarly, if someone loses an object, it should rightfully belong to the person who has found it, and not the one who lost it - as my 11th grade rebbe, Rav Yehoshua Kalish used to say, possession is ten-tenths of the law. If you have it, it's yours. If you lose it, it's gone!

The Torah, however, tells us a tremendous חידוש. This is that every Jew is considered your brother. A sibling identifies with his brother and would give him back an object he lost, despite the fact that he has every right to keep it. Similarly, a person who loves his brother would never charge him interest on a loan, but do it as a favor, completely altruistically. Hashem expects us to view every other Jew as our brother. This is a special relationship that Hashem desires to exist between the members of His chosen nation. These requirements are extra and beyond what is naturally called for. This is why they only apply to one's fellow Jew, and not to a non-Jew.