Friday, August 24, 2007

Parshas Ki Seitzei

Sorry, no time for anything this week. CLICK HERE to read last year's Dvar Torah.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Parshas Shoftim 5767

To see last year's Dvar Torah, CLICK HERE.

Adapted from a shiur given by R' Baruch Simon.

לא תַסִּיג גְּבוּל רֵעֲךָ, אֲשֶׁר גָּבְלוּ רִאשׁנִים--בְּנַחֲלָתְךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּנְחַל, בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ נתֵן לְךָ לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.

“Do not move back the boundary of your neighbor that the first [settlers] determine in your territory that you will inherit in the land that Ad-noy, your G-d, is giving you to inherit.” (Sefer Devarim, 19:14)

Literally speaking (at least according to Rashi), this verse teaches us that we shouldn’t move boundaries dividing our land form our neighbor’s. The Ramban says that this verse is specifically referring to the tribal borders of Eretz Yisrael. He continues to explain that by moving these borders of Israel one is, in a sense, undermining the Hashgacha of Hashem in the Gorel/lottery system used to divide the land.

The Sifri, who the Ramban actually quotes in his notes on this idea, adds further. He says, lets assume there is a machlokes on a certain matter between R’ Elazar and R’ Yehoshua, and one holds that the certain item is Tahor, and the other says Tamei. You, however, forget the exact ruling and switch up the opinions of who says which. In this case, says the Sifri, you have violated this prohibition, as you have moved the “boundary” of their rulings. The Arizal explains here that within every Halacha that Moshe gave to the Jews, he gave 49 reasons that it should be permissible and 49 reasons that it should be forbidden. Every person, when ruling on this matter, will have a natural inclination one way or another. Thus, to switch up the rulings of R’ Elazar and R’ Yehoshua is more than just a brief mental lapse; according to the Arizal, you’re switching up their entire “Shoresh haNeshama” that lead them to rule in the way that each did.

Similarly, it says in the Avos d’Rav Nosson that if someone learns for 6 months without reviewing and a person comes to ask them whether something is permissible or prohibited, the person making the ruling will switch up the ruling. That is, if the Halacha really is that the thing is permissible, the person who doesn’t review will say it is prohibited; and vice versa. It goes on to say that one who learns for 12 months without review will come to switch up which opinion says what. That is, if R’ Elazar is the one who the Halacha goes in accordance with, the person making the ruling will say it in the name of R’ Yehoshua. The question here is obvious: when thinking about Halacha, we obviously forget the source for the Halachos (who it is quoted in the name of) that we learn before we forget the Halacha itself. So, why, according to this, do we forget the Halacha first?

The answer given is that after 6 months, you’ll forget the Halacha, as this is a mere detail. It happens to be that nowadays who said what a detail to us is also. However, if you really understand the person that is saying something, you’d realize that what they say isn’t a detail; rather, it’s helping to get a better understanding of the essence of that person. For example, regarding my friends, I am likely to forget specific details about things that happened between us, but am I less likely to forget the type of person, in general, that he is.

The lesson here is that when we get to understand people, we realize that everyone’s essence is different. There’s no mitzvah to try to make everyone the same in our minds. Regarding ourselves, we shouldn’t be upset by the fact that we don’t fit into a cookie-cutter mold that it often seems that the community is trying to fit us into. Or, regarding others (and our children), we shouldn’t expect everyone to be like we are or to try to mold our children into some mold that we have envisioned for them. To say otherwise would be like saying the opinion of R’ Elazar in the name of R’ Yehoshua.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Parshas Re'eh 5767

To see last year's Dvar Torah, CLICK HERE.

Adapted from a shiur given by R' Baruch Simon

כָּל-הַבְּכוֹר אֲשֶׁר יִוָּלֵד בִּבְקָרְךָ וּבְצֹאנְךָ, הַזָּכָר--תַּקְדִּישׁ, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ: לֹא תַעֲבֹד בִּבְכֹר שׁוֹרֶךָ, וְלֹא
תָגֹז בְּכוֹר צֹאנֶךָ.

“Every firstborn that is born in your cattle, and in your flocks---a male--- you must consecrate to Ad-noy, your G-d; you may not work with your first-born ox, or shear the first-born of your flocks.” (Sefer Devarim, 15:19)

The Bechor (firstborn) sacrifice is unique by virtue of the fact that it attains its status of “Hekedesh”/consecrated by simply being born. When the animal passes through the mother’s womb, it is automatically consecreated; Chazal refer to this type of sacrifice as “Kadosh M’eilav”, loosely translated as “inherently holy”. This differs from all other Karbanos which become consecrated only after verbally declaring that animal should be Hekdesh.

Rashi, quoting the Mishna in Arachin, wonders why, if the Bechor is consecrated automatically, does the Pasuk tell us that “you must consecrate”. Why do we need to do anything if it is inherently holy? Furthermore, there is an explicit Pasuk in Parshas Bechokosai (Vayikra 27:26) that tells us that a person SHOULDN’T consecrate the first-born…what gives?

Rashi, quoting the Mishna in Arachin, answers according to the Rabbanan, who say that the Pasuk in Bechukosai which says that a person shouldn’t consecrate the animal means to tell us that we cannot consecrate it for something else. We are therefore prohibited to bring this animal as a sin-offering because it already has the status of a Bechor. However, our Pasuk which tells us to consecrate the animal is telling us that even though there is inherently holiness by virtue of the fact that the animal was born, nevertheless, we still have a Mitzvah to verbally consecrate the sacrifice like any other.

This is actually an entire Halachic sugya in Nedarim. The Gemara there discusses which types of utterances make a Neder into a valid one. The rule is that if someone says that they want to “make this apple assur to me like a Karbon Chatas”, that works, as one can use an utterance of something that needs a verbal declaration to make it assur. However, regarding something that doesn’t need a verbal declaration to make it assur, one couldn’t use that in an Neder utterance. Thus, if one says that they want to “make this apple assur to me like pig”, it is no good, as pig is assur to us even without verbal declaration. The question arises, what about Karbon Bechor? On one hand, we could say that it is like making a Neder with a Karbon Chatas, because, as our Pasuk tells us, even a Karbon Bechor needs verbal consecration. Or, on the other hand, perhaps it is like making a Neder with a pig, as the Karbon is assur to us as soon as it is born, even without verbal consecration, like a pig.

When we look at this idea, it is a bit bizarre. Why do we have do verbally consecrate the animal if it is inherently holy? Furthremore, by other Karbonos, if we don’t verbally consecrate them they are 100% permissible for us to eat; this is not the case by Bechor – even without our verbal declaration they are already Kadosh. The Sefer Yeraim and the Smag suggest that while it has inherent holiness, we still are obligated to show some sort of Chavivus/endearment to the Mitzvah.

The underlying message here is that anything that has Kedushah or is meaningful in life requires effort. Things that happen by themselves often have little value. This is evidenced by the fact that the Torah can’t handle us, in the case of Bechor, to be inactive participants. Rav Schachter points out a Meshech Chochmah which examines why, when the Shofar blew at the end of Matan Torah, could anyone ascend the mountain. He answers there that while Matan Torah was surely an awesome event, what made it awesome was our active partnership in accepting the Torah. It wasn’t simply the Hashem was giving us the Torah, but rather, we were receiving it. Once we had received it and were ready to be on our way, the mountain lost its awesomeness and anyone could ascend. Whether it’s the beginning of a new school year or just the beginning of a Yom Tov season, we should realize this lesson that whatever we wish to accomplish can only be attained through our active partnership in whatever it is that we’re doing.