Friday, March 30, 2007

Haggadah Insights 2007 II

Adapted from this shiur given by R' Shalom Rosner at YU (Maareh Makomos here).

To read more of R' Rosner's insights into the Haggadah, click here.

V’hee She’amdah

It tells us in this verse that there hasn’t been just one person in history that has wanted to destroy us; rather, in each generation there are individual/s that want to see our destruction. However, on Pesach night, our emphasis is on our slavery in Egypt and subsequent redemption. Doesn’t it cheapen things to talk about how this wasn’t a one time occurrence and how others wanted us dead as well? The sefer “Kimotzei Shalal Rav” quotes a Teshuvos Ginas Bisan, who explains in the following manner: G-d promised us in Vayikra that the Jewish people would never be destroyed, and this was also something that Avraham was promised. Thus, whenever those individuals in every generation attempt to destroy us we are saved by the aforementioned promises that we will be saved. However, Pesach was different; Pharaoh didn’t want to destroy ALL of us – only the males. Thus, we were not in a situation where we could rely on the promise of Hashem. Nevertheless, Hashem saved us, even though it was a situation in which he wasn’t bound to. Thus, we see that the mention of others that want to destroy us comes not to cheapen what happened in Mitzrayim, but rather to strengthen our call for praise to Hashem.

Amaleinu – Eilu haBanim

Rashi tells us that because they saved the Jewish male babies, Shifra and Puah were rewarded with having Kohanim, Leviim, and kingship as descendents. We know we have the concept of people being rewarded “Middah K’neged Middah”/measure for measure, so how was this reward commensurate with their actions? The Brisker Rav explains in the following manner: whether or not a child is Jewish is dependent on the mother. Thus, Pharoah wasn’t trying to eliminate the Jews entirely, as he would need to kill off the women for that. However, a person gets his yichus/lineage (Kohen, Levi, etc) from their father. We therefore see that Pharoah was trying to eliminate the concept of yichus within the Jewish people. It now makes sense that Shifra and Puah were rewarded with Kohanim and Leviim, because without them, they wouldn’t exist.

Datzah, Adash, V’achav

If we already said what the 10 plagues were, why do we need to abbreviate them? The Minchas Chein answers by bringing the answer to a question originally asked by the Keren Li’David. He asks why Purim was set on the 14th and 15th if really we had won the war before then. Shouldn’t we observe Purim on the day that we were saved from the evil Haman? The Minchas Chein answers by saying that as Jews, we don’t consider ourselves murderers or warriors – we only fight when we have to. We would lead very happy lives if we knew that nobody would ever bother us and we could lead our lives as frum Jews in peace and harmony. Thus, it’s not the military victory that we celebrate but the ensuing menucha/rest. The same applies here in the Haggadah with the abbreviation; we are saying that it isn’t the individual plagues and hurt upon the Egyptians that we’re focused on, but rather the ensuing period where G-d’s glory was revealed to the world.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Haggadah Insights 2007

To view last year's Pesach Torah, click here.

More to follow...

These were adapted from this shiur given by R' Shalom Rosner from YU.

Ha Lachma Anya

At the end of the "Ha Lachma Anya" paragraph we conclude with the phrase "Next year in the land of Israel." This is also something we say at the end of the seder, when we say "Lishana Haba'ah B'Yirushalayim." When one thinks about it, it makes more sense that we say it at the end; we're done our seder, and we're saying that next year's seder should be in Yerushalayim. Why the need to mention it earlier as well? R' Menachem Genack in his Gan Shoshanim answers this question by answering another question: how can we really pretend to act like "Bnei Chorin/free people" (as it says at the end of Ha Lachma Anya)? Sure, we have many freedoms, but at the end of the day, we're still in Galus. Furthermore, we're not too far removed from a period of time in which being Jewish in a large part of the world was as good as a death sentence - with all of this, how can we act like "free" people? He answers this question with a beautiful mashul. Let's say you have a guy who's sitting in jail for 20 years, and then one day the warden comes up to him and tells him that he is being released the next day. Even though he isn't technically getting out of jail until the next day, mentally, he's already free. However, if you have a guy that's currently living in society but is to be sent off to jail the next day; while, he's technically free to do whatever he wants until the following day, he's mentally incarcerated. We see from this that what defines "freedom" and "incarceration" isn't the necessarily the physical space that one occupies; rather, it is the vision and direction that defines these terms. This is precisely the reason that we mention Eretz Yisrael here - to tell us that if we know that our goal and our vision is to end up in Israel, then mentally we're already free, even if we're technically living in a time where we aren't "Bnei Chorin."

4 sons – Rasha

We all know that the punishment handed down to the Rasha, the wicked son, is to knock out his teeth. As mentioned last year, this is an interesting punishment. Of all of the things that we can do, we knock out his teeth? Furthermore, I assume that punishment should he doled out for a rehabilitative purpose; how is knocking out his teeth going to teach the Rasha to do right? The Koshnitzer Rebbe says that the Rasha spoken about in the Haggadah isn't totally wicked. He believes that through Talmud Torah and Tefillah, one can get closer to Hashem. However, what he doesn't grasp is how one can serve Hashem through the mundane parts of his life, like eating and drinking. We respond to him, bascially, that G-d wouldn’t have created teeth unless he wanted that we should serve him through them; so that we can use food and drink as we do at the Seder to become closer to G-d. To make the Rasha appreciate this idea we knock out his teeth, like we are saying to him, "See how well you can serve G-d now."

4 Sons – Tam
When taking a look at the four sons, if we were to rank them in order from "best" to "worst", the Tam, the simpleton, obviously wouldn't be at the top of the list. However, we know that Yaakov Avinu was known as an "Ish Tam"/simple man. Is this to say that Yaakov Avinu's service to Hashem was lacking something? Rav Moshe Feinstein explains the difference between our Tam and Yaakov Avinu as a Tam (Rav Moshe's words are: "Yeish Tam, v'Yeish Tam".) He explains that the simpleton of which the Haggadah speaks is a person who is simple by virtue of the fact that he lacks knowledge - he just doesn't know anything. However, this was not the case with Yaakov; he was known as a Chacham/wise person, certainly someone who's service of Hashem was not lacking. So what made Yaakov simple? It was the child-like manner in which he served Hashem. If you look at a child at, let's say, age 4, he/she is very obedient. Sure, the child may put up hissy-fits, but at the end of the day, what the parent says goes. This was the way Yaakov approached service to Hashem; Hashem said something, Yaakov did it. Very simple. Had this been the simpleton that our Haggadah refers to, perhaps he would be at the top. However, one that is simple merely by virtue of the fact that he lacks knowledge is not looked upon as favorably.

Avadim Hayinu

It says in "Avadim Hayinu", that even if we were all wise, all understanding, and all knowing of the Torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt. The implication from this is that there may be a time when those who are wise, knowing of the Torah, and understanding are actually exempt from certain commandments. The Minchas Asher wonders when we find such a case, where the Torah leaders are exempt. Why does that thought even enter our minds? He says that we all have the obligation of Zechiras Yetzias Mitzrayim (REMEMBERING the exodus) every day in Shema, and we may think that Sippur Yitzias Mitzrayim (TELLING OVER the story of the exodus) is the same. What's Zechirah/remembering? All it entails is the knowledge that this event occured in history. We may think that Sippur is the same idea of just basic historical knowledge and since those who are wise, knowing of the Torah, and understanding of it are on such a high level and have vast amounts of this knowledge, they are exempt from the Sippur. That is why we may have thought that these Torah leaders would be exempt, and that's why the Haggadah has to tell us that even they are obligated, as Sippur isn't only about historical knowledge. Rather, it's more about a deeper feeling and emotion to the exodus, and this is something that not even all of the Torah in the world can teach.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Parshas Tzav / Shabbos HaGadol

The beginning of Parshas Tzav deals with the laws regarding a Korbon Olah/elevation offering. There are two seemingly contrasting opinions in Chazal as to when the proper time to bring such an offering is. These criteria are much vaguer than, say, the criteria for a Korban Chatas/sin offering. We know that when one is oveir on a sin unintentionally that if done intentionally would require Kares, one brings a Chatas. Anyway, the Gemara in Yoma (36a), tells us that an Olah is brought when one fails to do a positive commandment (wearing tefillin, shaking lulav), or when one is oveir on a negative commandment that requires a positive commandment to rectify that, and one doesn’t do the positive commandment (oveir the negative commandment of not having chametz in your house, which would require the positive commandment of removing that chametz from your house). However, the Medrash Rabbah suggests that an Olah is brought for Hirhur haLev, or when one has improper thoughts.

While these two themes appear to be totally different, R’ Yisroel of Modzitz in his sefer Divrei Yisroel has a beautiful idea as to how these ideas are part of one theme. He says that we had an incorrect assumption that bringing the Olah for Hirhum haLev meant when we were thinking improper thoughts. He says just the opposite; we bring a Korban Olah when we had PROPER thoughts to do something, but, for whatever reason, we just didn’t get around to doing it. With this understanding, the two ideas above really aren’t any different; rather, the proper machshava without the ma’aseh/action, leads to the bittul aseih (not putting on Tefillin, etc.). One can think they want to do such and such as much they want; but if they don’t do it, what good was the intention? He relates this idea to the Rashi on the word “Tzav” in our Parsha, which says that whenever the Torah uses the word “Tzav” it is referring to zrizus/eagerness. In this case, it is telling the Kohanim that they have to do the service of the Korbon Olah with the same eagerness as the other Karbanos even though they don’t get to partake of this type of Karbon’s meat. Anyway, the idea is clear: when we have an idea that we want to do something, we must step into action immediately, with zrizus.

We see this idea by Avraham Avinu, as the pasuk tells us that before he went out to take Yitzchak to be sacrificed he chopped wood and shlepped it with him. The Divrei Yisroel wonders why Avraham had to chop wood before he left; he could’ve found wood when he got to his destination. Avraham, however, knew that intentions could be fleeting. As soon as he got word that he was to offer his son as a sacrifice, he wanted to put the plan into action, so he chopped the wood.

It’s apropos that this idea falls out in the month of Nissan, known to some as the “month of action.” There is a famous debate in the Gemara about when exactly the world was created. One opinion is that the world was created in Tishrei, and the other is that the world was created in Nissan. Rabbeinu Tam answers that really both are true; in Tishrei G-d started thinking about creating the world, but it wasn’t actually created until Nissan. Starting from Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we have strived to find that spark to inspire us. However, for many, that inspiration has either left us or lay dormant with us. It is at this time of year, Chodesh Nissan, when it is time to make good on our proper intentions and act on them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Kol haMarbeh...

מִצְוָה עָלֵינוּ לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם. וְכָל הַמַרְבֶּה לְסַפֵּר בִּיצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם הֲרֵי זֶה מְשֻׁבָּח

“There is a mitzvah upon us to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt; and all that increase in the telling of the Exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy.”

It is customary at the Seder to tell as many Divrei Torah as possible to fulfill that which is stated above. However, one can find many Talmudic sources that speak to the fact that in general, one should not be verbose. Rather, the preferred path is a “Derech Ketzara/a short path”, meaning that, when speaking, one should try to get his/her point across in as few words as possible. So, how do we reconcile the fact that we are supposed to elongate our speaking of Yetzias Mitzrayim while believing the preferred path in speech is one of brevity? Here are a few answers which I have heard:

Rav Yitzchak Elchanon of Kovneh (as in RIETS) gives a moshel involving a large ship at sea that has come under duress, but was then subsequently saved. The rich people on the boat are likely to be more thankful than the poor people on board, as they ostensibly enjoy their comfortable lives more than the poor enjoy their lives living in destitute. Therefore, we try to show praise by elongating our story of Yetzias Mitzyim to show Hashem that we, like the rich folk on the boat, are “Sameach b’Chelko/happy with our lot” that Hashem has given us.
Rav Shlomo Kluger says that one can tell how close someone telling a story is to that story by the amount of detail told over. When one has first-hand experience of a situation, when telling that situation over to others, he/she is much more likely to be more familiar with intricate details of the story than someone that only heard the story 2nd- or 3rd-hand. Therefore, we go into as much detail as possible to show that we believe that these events actually occurred to our ancestors and that they aren’t mere bubbamaises/tales that we are telling over.

One Talmudic source that speaks to brevity is that which is found on the Gemara in Brachos (33b) where R’ Chanina, instead of saying the normal praises in Shemonah Esrai of “hakeil, hagadol, hagibor, v’hanorah”, he continued to add his own praises of, “v’ha’adir, va’ha’izuz…etc.”. Those in his presence waited for him to complete his praises, and then said to him mockingly, “Are you done with all of this? Why do you say all of this? If the Men of the Great Assembly hadn’t decreed that one should say ‘hakeil, hagadol, hagibor, v’hanorah’, we wouldn’t even be allowed to say that!” Again, how can we reconcile this with our general rule of brevity? The Maharal says that when praising Hashem in the above manner, saying more is actually saying less. How so? When one goes through a detailed list of one’s praises, it makes it seem as though it is within that person’s abilities to quantify the praises of that person. Thus, by R’ Chanina adding his own praises, it was if he was claiming to have the ability to quantify the praises of Hashem, and it is for this reason that the onlookers spoke to him in a mocking fashion. However, when we just want to show Hakaras haTov/thanks (loose translation) to Hashem, we are allowed to go on for as long as we want.

Regarding Hakaras haTov, the famous question is asked as to why rain wasn’t created until man was created, and the simple answer given is that without man, nobody could’ve shown Hakaras haTov to Hashem for the gift of rain. When bestowing goodness upon us, Hashem enjoys the Hakaras haTov that we give him, and thus will continue to bestow goodness upon us. Therefore, while it may seem as though we are remembering and giving Hakaras haTov for that which happened in the past, it is only through this Hakaras haTov that we will merit goodness in the future.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Parshas Vayikra

I didn't have time to type anything up this week - sorry! But, see my d'var torah I posted last year for Parshas Vayikra 5766. Good Shabbos!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

More Child Exploitation its finest...

What Are you Gonna Do To The Monster - Click Here for more great videos and pictures!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

White Duke

I've been meaning to write a post detailing the correlation between Duke's pathetic year and the fact that all but four players on their roster are white. I wasn't quite sure how to approach it, but I just read an article by Steve Czaban, a local sports guru.

You couldn't have said it any better, Czabe.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Coming from a non-orthodox background, I do have a certain sense of pride in the religious strides many of my family members and I have taken. The most important thing going forward is for me to ensure that my children maintain the level of religiosity that I have worked to establish. I realize that many of my hashkafos come from this desire to pass on this level of religiosity to my children and that I think negatively upon any hashkafos that would, chas v'shalom, increase the chances of my children becoming non-frum. It would be irresponsible of me to say, "I turned out fine religiously with a public school edutcation, so that's what'll be for my children. While I imagine that there's only so much a parent can control and that external factors will also play a part, a parent still has to control what is in their power to control.

It is for this reason that I am generally opposed to movements within orthodoxy that look to change the status quo. For instance, the feminist movement within orthodoxy. I generally think that these people aren't interested in equality as a means to an end (wearing Tefillin in order to attain more spirituality), but rather as and ends in and of itself (to wear Tefillin in order to be equal). That being said, it is possible that there is a minority of feminists that do have pure intentions. Still, I am opposed to what they do, as it is a change from status quo. They, alone, may be innocuous; but the mindset isn't. The mindset that we can just change whatever we want about orthodoxy is dangerous. Sure, the lines may not shift that much in one generation, but if this mindset is passed on for generations the lines will shift to something that probably wreaks of the Reform and/or Conservative movement. This mindset, over generations, can lead to a generation of shtark non-frum Jews.

That being said, we've obviously changed as a people from that which was in pre-war Europe. There are modern issues that must be dealt with; things that couldn't have been fathomed in the yesteryear. But who decides what changes are appropriate? I don't think this responsibility, or priviledge, lies with the individual; rather, it should be upon the rabbinate. I imagine that far less of the orthodox world as a strong kesher/bond with an established member of the local rabbinate as was the case in the past. Rabbis are tools there for our using, and less reliance on them can lead to individuals making decisions which may seem innocuous on the surface, but may be infected with a dangerous mindset.

I think many people believe that all they need to do to ensure future generations of frum children is to give them a Jewish education. While this is certainly part of the picture, there are proper hashkafos and mindsets that must be passed from parent to child in order to maximize the chance of this happening.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Parshas Vayakhel / Pekudei

וְהַנְּשִׂאִם הֵבִיאוּ--אֵת אַבְנֵי הַשּׁהַם, וְאֵת אַבְנֵי הַמִּלֻּאִים: לָאֵפוֹד, וְלַחשֶׁן.

“And the leaders [of the tribes] brought onyx stones, and stones for setting into the ephod and breastplate.” (Sefer Shemos, 35:27)

Rashi comments on this Pasuk that the Nesiim/leaders had agreed to donate to the Mishkan all that was lacking from the donations of the rest of Klal Yisroel. However, the donations of the rest of the people were so plentiful that there was nothing left for the Nesiim to give, so they brought the items listed in this verse. While the general attitude of filling in wherever needed may be construed as noble, Rashi notes that because they were lax in offering something upfront, their title of “Nesiim” are lacking the Yuds that normally are included in the spelling of this word.

This approach to mitzvos is in stark contrast to the actions of Avraham Avinu, who we are told ran to welcome guests to his tent. The Sforno there says that the zrizus that one shows for a mitzvah is shows how important that mitzvah is to him/her. In the case above, the delay in donating to the Mishkan shows that the Nesiim viewed these donations as less important than they really were; or else, they would’ve donated initially.

There is a verse in Mishlei which basically states that “…a lazy person has a fence of thorns, but those who aren’t lazy have a clear path.” The Metzudas Dovid there says that the fence of thorns is all of the excuses that lazy people use to explain why they don’t take the initiative. However, those who aren’t lazy don’t use these excuses, thus, their path to action is clear. One can easily say, “I’ll pick up the slack from what everyone else doesn’t do”, but that isn’t near as noble as one who doesn’t use any excuses and takes the initiative from the get-go.

I believe that the remedy for such an attitude can also be found in this week’s reading. In the 2nd half of our reading, Parshas Pekudei, the verse tells us that, “Moshe erected the Mishkan”, and then explains that he first put up the base, then the poles, etc etc. The Sforno comments that the ceiling to the Mishkan was also called the Mishkan, so the verse is telling us that Moshe first put up the ceiling, and only then made the base, poles, etc. How could it be possible to make the ceiling to a structure before the foundation? He answers that either people held up the ceiling, or it was a miracle, and R’ Reuvein Feinstein notes that this teaches us that when one is about to undertake a task, it is important that he/she has the goal in mind from the outset. Moshe needed a reminder of what the point of this construction was.

Many of us go through the motions in life, Yiddishkeit, etc, not really knowing where we’re going. We graduate high school, learn in Israel, go to college, and so forth, but where are we headed? What do we want to be? How do we want to act? If we are able to have goals in mind from the outset, we will be less likely to act like the Nesiim, and more likely to act like Avraham Avinu.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Awkward Time

Whether I am the guest at someone's house, or having guests myself, I always find the amount of time after Kiddush and before washing as an awkward one. This is even more so when I am eating by someone with whom I am not closely acquainted, or having guests with whom I am not closely acquainted. I'm never sure what the protocol is for situations like this.

Do I invite everyone to washing immediately? Doing this might seem rude to some people…

Do I start a conversation, which could eventually turn into 10-15 minutes? If so, why can't this wait until the meal starts?

So really, the only conversations that start now are awkward, superficial ones, so it's no surprise things get weird during this time. Often times, there may even be an awkward silence, which is worse than all of the above. For these reasons, I'm all for washing before Kiddush and then jumping right into HaMotzi, something the Shulchan Aruch poskins and something many from German descent follow. If only I could bring myself to actually do it..

Friday, March 09, 2007

Parshas Ki Sisa

וְאַתָּה דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמר, אַךְ אֶת-שַׁבְּתתַי, תִּשְׁמרוּ: כִּי אוֹת הִוא בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, לְדרתֵיכֶם--לָדַעַת, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה מְקַדִּשְׁכֶם.

“And you speak to the B'nei Yisrael, saying, BUT You must still preserve My Shabbos, for it is a sign between Me and yourselves for your generations to know that I Ad-noy am making you holy.” (Sefer Shemos, 31:13)

Chazal teach us that any time the Torah uses the word “Ach/but” it is coming to exclude something from the statement in which it occurs. Rashi, on this Pasuk, comments that it is excluding work for the Mishkan on Shabbos; meaning, you might think that the work of the Mishkan can be done on Shabbos, but since we have the word “Ach”, it is excluded. The Ramban, however, disagrees. He doesn’t understand how the word “Ach” in a verse which is talking about Shabbos can possibly seem to exclude work from the Mishkan – a separate topic altogether. It can only make sense that the word “Ach” in a verse discussing Shabbos can come to limit or exclude certain restrictions on Shabbos. As such, the Ramban says that the word “Ach” in our verse teaches us that melacha/work for a Bris Milah and Pikuach Nefesh (to save someones life) can be done on the Sabbath, even though we may think that Shabbos trumps both of these.

The Chasam Sofer points out that really Rashi agrees with what the Ramban says (that we do a Bris and Pikuach Nefesh on Shabbos) and that the Ramban agrees with what Rashi says (that there was no work of the Mishkan done on Shabbos). Where they differ, however, is where each of these ideas is learned out from. What follows, says the Chasam Sofer, is a very important hierarchy. The Mishkan, which we view as one of the holiest things to the Jews, is on a lower level of Kedusha than is Shabbos. Sometimes we may take this for granted, being that we have Shabbos 1 out of every 7 days. Nevertheless, we see that it is holier than the Mishkan, for even the work on the Mishkan ceased on Shabbos. And then, trumping both the Mishkan and Shabbos is the value of a human life, for we do whatever possible to save a human life, even if it means violating Shabbos. Kedushas Yisroel on both an individual and communal level is something that cannot be overrated.

We also learn the importance of Kedushas Yisrael elsewhere in the Parsha; specifically, regarding the Ketores/spices. The Gemara in Krisus notes that any Taanis Tzibbur/public fast day in which the “sinners of Israel” don’t join in is not considered a true Taanis Tzibbur. Interestingly, the proof brought by the Gemara is from the Ketores in our Parsha. The explanation is as follows: not every spice included in the “cocktail” of spices burnt in the Mishkan smelled good by itself – it was only when they all came together did they produce the fragrant aroma. So too is the case with the Jewish people. True, certain individuals may not be acting in the proper way; true, an individual may not be living up to his/her expectations. Nevertheless, it’s the sum of its parts that makes the Jewish people who they are. If one lives life with the constant recognition that they are holier than two central items in Judaism (the Mishkan and Shabbos) and that they are part of something larger than themselves, it becomes much harder to become depressed when one’s situation isn’t as they want it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Asher Karcha...

Not that we need any more evidence that Duke is today's Amalek, but nevertheless we now have some more after Gerald Henderson's brutal elbow/forearm to Tyler Hansbrough in yesterday's Duke/UNC game. Dickie (read: Dookie) V is quick to label Duke as the classiest college basketball program in the country. That's easy to do, however, when you're winning. Interesting how things change when you're having a down year. Have a look for yourself and you be the judge:

Check out Pat Forde's take on the incident.

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Me as the Pope

Me with the feigel UPS driver

Rabbi Lerner


Me with Jewbaby

The boys

Jewboy, the Feigel UPS Driver, and a Geisha

To mimic Jewboy: Purim was great success!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Purim Torah 5767

To see the Divrei Torah from last year, click here.

Purim 2007

The Nesivos Shalom questions why on such a holy holiday like Purim we sit around drinking and joking around. After all, it is said say that “Yom haKipuurim K’Purim”. How can we celebrate a holiday that it just as holy as Yom Kippur in the fashion that we do? He explains that being “Mevusam” until we reach the point where we can no longer tell the difference between “Baruch Mordechai” and “Arur Haman” can have an added meaning aside from the simple understanding.

He quotes the Maharal who says that Purim is a time to be “Shalem Im Bor’o, Shalem Im Chaveiro, v’Shalem Im Atzmo; that it’s a time to be “complete with his creator, complete with his friend, and complete with himself. He explains that one’s interactions with each of those 3 can have attributes, both of Baruch Mordechai and Arur Haman.

First, Shalem Im Bor’o – being complete with his creator (G-d). There are times when a person has total faith in G-d and one is striving in Torah and Mitzvos in order to make Hashem happy. This is serving Hashem with the attribute of Baruch Mordechai. However, there are bound to be times that for whatever reason, our faith in Hashem may be lacking, and we may not be doing everything we can to make our relationship with him the best – this is serving Hashem with the attribute of Arur Haman. We try to reach the point on Purim where we can’t tell the difference between these two ways of relating to Hashem; that our Arur Haman way that we sometimes serve Hashem should be uplifted and indistinguishable from the Baruch Mordechai style of serving Hashem.

Next, Shalem Im Chaveiro – being complete with his friends. We all have friends that we feel are very close to us; they’re there for us all the time, and we rely on them heavily at times. These friends are our Baruch Mordechai friends. However, we also all have friends that at one point may have been Baruch Mordechai friends, but, for whatever reason have fallen out of our good graces. Perhaps we’ve just lost touch, or perhaps one party did something to offend the other – these are our Arur Haman friends. Again, we try to reach the point on Purim where these 2 types of friends are indistinguishable; that our Arur Haman friends are uplifted to be viewed in the same light as our Baruch Mordechai friends.

Finally, Shalem Im Atzmo – being complete with oneself. There are times when we are content with who we are as people, whether that be as a Jew, a husband/wife, a son/daughter, a brother/sister, etc. At times like these, we are Baruch Mordechai people. However, it’s inevitable that there are times when we may be disappointed with our actions or with ourselves as individuals – this is being “Arur Haman” with oneself. Again, we try to reach the point on Purim where these lines become blurry; where being “Arur Haman” with ourselves is lifted up to be on the level of being “Baruch Mordechai” with ourselves.

All of this being said, we cannot ignore the simple understanding of the saying that we are obligated to be mevusam (translate that as you please) on Purim. The Nesivos Shalom points out that it says that we need to be Mevusam B’Purya, and it doesn’t say that we need to be Mevusam B’Yayin B’Purya. The Slonimer says that we see from this that, while we drink in excess today, it shouldn’t be the wine that is intoxicating – rather, it should be the holiness inherent within Purim that is intoxicating.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Parshas Tetzaveh / Purim

“וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית--לַמָּאוֹר: לְהַעֲלת נֵר, תָּמִיד.”

“You shall command the B'nei Yisrael and have them bring you clear olive oil, [made from olives that were] crushed for lighting, to keep the lamp burning constantly.” (Sefer Shemos, 27:20)

The commentaries question the first words of the Parsha, “V’atah Titzaveh/and YOU shall command…” It almost seems as if G-d wants the message to be sent through Moshe in a way that the Jews will believe that the command came from Moshe himself, and not Hashem. We can contrast this with so many other instances where Hashem wants a message relayed to the Jewish people, where it will simply say “Speak to the Jewish people, saying…”; clearly our verse is different.

Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, from the Satmar dynasty, answers our question in light of that which the verse (Bamidbar 12:3) calls Moshe, “Anav m’od mikol adam/the most humblest of all people.” One may think that 100% avnivus/humility is the way to approach life, but R’ Teitelbaum says that we can see from this that it isn’t the case. How so? The verse immediately preceding that which we read on Purim morning says:

“וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקוֹם, מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה: עַל-רִיב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְעַל נַסּתָם אֶת-יְהוָה לֵאמר, הֲיֵשׁ יְהוָה בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ, אִם-אָיִן.”
“And the name of the place was called Massah, and Meribah, because of the striving of the children of Israel, and because they tried the LORD, saying: 'Is the LORD among us, or not?”

R’ Teitelbaum says that it certainly wasn’t the case that the Jews were really questioning whether or not Hashem was in their midst. Rather, they wanted to know if they needed to serve Hashem with the attribute of “Yeish” (a feeling of importance/slight Gaivah); or rather, with the attribute of “ein” (nothingness, anivus). It seems from the verses that they choose to serve Hashem while viewing themselves as “nothingness”, which, as the Pesukim continue, lead to Amalek’s attack upon us. It says by the attack of Amalek happened in “Refidim”, which can be explained that they were “Rifu Yidaheim m’haTorah/their hands forgot the Torah. Because they had viewed themselves as total “nothingness”, they subsequently were unable to see the importance in anything that they did – including Torah.

It follows from this that total humility, it seems, is what lead to Amalek’s attack on us. And this is why the Pasuk at the beginning of our Parsha emphasizes that the order is to seem as if it came from Moshe, saying that even though he is the most humble of people, he shouldn’t just view himself as a puppet; rather as an individual that has something to offer; a person that should serve Hashem with the attribute of “Yeish” and not with the attribute of “Ein”.

Finally, the Ozhrover Rebbe says that the word “Tishkach” should be split into two words, “Tash Koach”/I have no power.” The idea of Purim and Amalek is “Lo Tishkach”; don’t think that you have no power or that you are a nothing. If, however, we are Tash Koach, we are living our lives in a way that Amalek wants us to; not in a way that Hashem wants us to.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Leaving Early

Watching a basketball game, whether it be college or NBA, one is likely to hear the commentators giving their two-cents as to whether or not players should leave college early or skip college entirely in order to play in the NBA. The reason you'll most commonly hear given is that players need to gain maturity in college. Presumably, those coming right from high school are less capable of jumping into a multi-million dollar lifestyle; after all, they've probably lived with their parents through their high school years. The NBA thought so much of this that starting this year, they instituted a rule, essentially requiring players to go to college for at least one year. If this rule weren't in place, it is clear that both Greg Oden and Kevin Durant would be in the NBA.

However, if that's the case, why don't you hear about high school baseball players making the immediate jump to the professional ranks. In last year's draft, 14 of the 30 players selected in the first round came straight from high school, compared with only 3 of 30 selected in the 2005 NBA draft draft (the last draft where players could come directly from high school). If students coming out of high school need to gain maturity before playing professional sports, why no huge uproar about high school baseball players?

Therefore, I think there's another reason why people are so concerned specifically with basketball (although I do think that one gains maturity in college). I think the cause for concern regards what happens to a basketball player vs. a baseball player when their talent doesn't translate to success at the next level.

First, in baseball, even after you get drafted you have the opportunity to assess if your draft position, potential signing bonus, etc., are worth making the jump to the game. If one feels these factors are not in his favor and thinks that a/another year of college ball would improve his game, he can choose not to sign and return to college. However, in the NBA game, once one makes the final decision to go through and test the draft waters, he loses all NCAA eligibility. Thus, if he received bad information about his draft status from outside sources (which apparently happens frequently) and didn't get drafted, he can no longer go back to college to play ball.

Lets, for comparison's sake, say that a baseball player did actually sign out of high school, and his talent didn't pan out. When you compare this type of person with someone whose basketball talent didn't pan out, I think the baseball player has a better chance of "making it" in life. It's no secret that basketball is largely an urban game and a good percentage of players come from inner-city neighbors. These are the same inner-city neighborhoods that are more likely to have sub-par schooling districts. These are the same inner-city neighborhoods that likely have drug and gang sub-cultures. A combination of all of these factors, as a general rule, probably leaves the bust-for-an-NBA-player less than qualified for admission into a college, sans basketball talent. Since his eligibility is gone due to going through with the NBA draft, he can no longer use his basketball talent to help him gain admission to a college or university. This person, IMHO, has a decent chance of ending up in the drug or street sub-culture.

Contrast this with the bust-for-a-professional baseball player. Baseball, while also played in urban settings, is definitely more of a suburban sport. Besides the fact that suburbia is better equipped real estate-wise to have baseball fields, baseball is a more expensive sport to play. Cleats, bats, balls and gloves all cost a pretty penny. Those living in an inner-city environment may have less resources to put their child out the diamond. Contrast this with basketball which can be played at a high level in street clothes and a basketball. Overall, I believe that the average baseball player's family has a higher income than that of an inner-city basketball player. Additionally, the places where these people live probably has more funding for better schooling and is less likely to have drug or gang sub-cultures. So, when the baseball player's talent doesn't pan out, he's more likely to be qualified for admission into a college or university.

This, I believe, is the reason that you don't hear about any problem with high schoolers jumping right into the MLB draft; If the sole reason were maturity, you would.