Thursday, February 26, 2009

Being a Shaliach Tzibbur

WARNING - this post is heavily biased towards men. Please pardon the bias.

The other day I had the privilege (burden?) of being the Shaliach Tzibbur for Shacharit. Many of you (see warning) are aware that one of the challenges for a Shaliach Tzibbur at Shacharit is saying Tachanun. And I am not talking about the overall institution of Tachanun - which has its supporters and detractors. Rather, I am talking about the massive over-sized siddur which is generally quite helpful to the Shaliach Tzibbur because it has nice big letters. Unfortunately, for most of us the size also becomes a physical burden when it comes to saying Tachanun. How can I read from this humungous tome and lean on my arm at the same time? There actually are a select few individuals who solved this problem because they have memorized all of Tachanun. But how often is a Rosh Yeshiva the Shaliach Tzibbur for Shacharit during the week? Thus, Tachanun can present a major problem for us mere mortals who have only memorized the first line, and cannot hold the mother of all siddurim in our tefillin-wrapped hand.

I finally davened in a minyan that has a (if not THE) solution to this age old problem - a laminated copy of Tachanun that the Shaliach Tzibbur can easily carry to his seat. What a pleasant way to say Tachanun. Freed from the need to focus on holding a super-sized siddur, I was able to concentrate fully on the meaning of the words. It was a pleasure to see a simple solution to a vexing problem.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fake Rabbinic Aphorism

It was a sunny morning (actually a bad thing during a drought in Israel) and I was minding my own business quietly writing a blog post at my computer. I realized that the idea that I was talking about (Rambam’s Sefer Madda) is connected to the concept of :דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה. (Derech Eretz comes before Torah. Always best to leave “Derech Eretz” untranslated.) I decided to be a little scholarly and quote the reference for this famous Rabbinic aphorism. (And I mean FAMOUS! A Googlesearch returns a gizbillion Jewish hits, more on this later.)

First I scanned Pirkei Avot, because I was sure that I had remembered seeing it there. No luck, just a little bit of, “No Torah, no Derech Eretz and vice versa.” (I paraphrase.) Then I groan as I am forced to start up the Bar Ilan CD-ROM to do a search across Shas. No luck. Not even a single hit. At this point I am a little surprised, and I try a bunch of other searches with slight variations to the wording. No luck. (A quick tangent - I am actually using the online Bar Ilan CD-ROM which is VASTLY inferior to the actual CD. I am still annoyed at Spertus College for switching over.)

At this point I am genuinely perplexed (and annoyed at the online Bar Ilan CD-ROM’s inferior search engine), and I do a Googlesearch on this famous aphorism. I get many hits from all corners of the Jewish universe. Here is a sample of how this aphorism is described:

  • Rabbinic dictum
  • Words of the sages
  • Famous quote from Pirkei Avot
  • Something the Rabbis said

But none of these websites actually quoted a concrete source. Finally in desperation I did a Bar Ilan search on all of the seforim on the CD-ROM to get to the bottom of this issue. Barch HaShem, I received twelve hits. But then I looked at the search results and saw that more than half of them were from R. Tzaddok and the Sefas Emes. All of the references to this aphorism were after the 17th century! So much for the “words of the Sages.” Chazal had nothing to do with this saying. It is a Rabbinic saying, but a late one at best!

I was shocked. I felt like my whole life has been a lie. How can this forgery have been allowed to go on for so long? I wanted to demand that Professor Shneur Lyman immediately go on a lecture tour explaining the etymology of this aphorism. (Good name for an article. Feel free to use it.) There should have been investigative reporting by YU; the CJF (does anyone actually know what this acronym means?); Bar Ilan University; Hirhurim and the Tradition Seforim Blog. Every Modern Orthodox Torah u’Madda institution must be held accountable for this counterfeit Rabbinic saying.

Well, the truth is that the handy Avodah Index did already discuss the issue, but how could I let that stop a good rant. You can see some of the discussion here. At the end of the day, Derech Eretz Kadmah l’Torah is clearly a powerful Jewish idea. It just might be that it is a modern concept and not one that originated with Chazal.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Did Rambam Fake the Moon Landing?

Since we just discussed Sefer Madda, I thought that it would be appropriate to mention a great anecdote invloving: Rambam, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and Buzz Aldren (as can be seen in the photograph).

Rambam states in Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah 2:4 that not only was the moon never made of green cheese, it is not even made of earthly matter.

כל מה שברא הקדוש ברוך הוא בעולמו, נחלק לשלושה חלקים:  מהם ברואים שהם מחוברים מגולם וצורה--והם נהווים ונפסדים תמיד, כמו גופות האדם והבהמה והצמחים והמתכות.  ומהם ברואים שהם מחוברים מגולם וצורה, אבל אינם משתנים מגוף לגוף ומצורה לצורה כמו הראשונים, אלא צורתם קבועה בגולמם לעולם, ואינם משתנים כמו אלו--והם הגלגלים והכוכבים שבהן, ואין גולמם כשאר גלמים ולא צורתם כשאר צורות

Everything that God created in His world can be placed in one of three classifications. Firstly, there are those creations, such as the bodies of men and animals, plants and the molten images, which have a shape and form which always exist and can be spoiled. Secondly, there are those creations which have a shape and form which does not vary from body to body or in appearance, like those in the first category do, but their shape is fixed by their form and can never change. These are the spheres and the stars contained therein. Their form and shape are like none other. Translation taken from Jonathan’s Little Corner.

It is clear from this halakhah that Rambam believed that the planets and the moon were made of a different type of matter than the Earth is made of. (You can also read Perek 3 for a more in-depth description of the metaphysical nature of the planets.) Thus, according to Rambam, it would be impossible for a moon landing to happen. So what would be the halakhik outcome of the first moon landing on Parshat Chazon - July 16, 1969?

R. Nosson Kaminetsky told the following story about his father, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and the moon landing. (It is a great lecture and well worth listening to if you haven’t already. Here is the link to Of Bans, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, ) When they were broadcasting the moon landing on TV, R. Yaakov went to a neighbor’s house to watch the moon landing. He wanted to see whether or not Rambam was correct about the moon being different from the Earth. After seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldron on the moon, he concluded that the in fact Rambam was mistaken. In this instance his halakhah followed Aristotle and did not follow Chazal.

However, the story is not over - apparently there are a number of Jews who do not feel comfortable with the idea that Rambam could have been incorrect. They had discovered the small but persistent group of conspiracy theorists in America, who believe that the moon landing was a fraud. The proof for the forgery is that the flag (shown above) is standing straight and is not sagging. How could the flag stand straight on the moon with no atmosphere! It must be a fake. The answer to the conspiracy is that the flag is held up by a rod, because it would be disgraceful to have the American flag sagging at this historic moment. If you look closely at the picture, it seems obvious that indeed there is a rod holding up the flag.

To me, it is frustrating that some people’s belief in the Mesorah and Emunath Chachamim is so rigid, that they need to believe in a conspiracy theory. I would hope that most of the Gedolim would agree with R. Yaakov that the Rambam is incorrect. Back over here in Modern Orthodox land, I use this story as chizzuk for one of the strengths of MO versus Charedi Orthodoxy.

One final footnote to this story, one of my Rebbeim at Yeshiva told me another story about R. Yaakov and the moon landing. Apparently in the first version of the Emet l’Yaakov (R. Yaakov’s perush on the Chumash) he described watching the moon landing on TV. In the second edition of the sefer, there was a blank space where that description used to be. Finally in later editions there were no hints to the idea that R. Yaakov had watched the moon landing. Now my question is: which is the bigger danger - watching television, or stating that Rambam made a mistake?

Mishneh Torah - Sefer Madda

I mentioned in the previous post that we are going to analyze the halakhik organization of the Mishneh Torah versus Shas. For example, Shas begins with Massechet Berachot and there is no mention of any of those halakhot in Sefer Madda. One possible explanation is that Rambam organized the Mishneh Torah with introductions and general concepts at the beginning of the book, with specific details explained later. Wheras, anyone who has learned Gemara knows that Chazal start with specific details and do not always discuss the general principles.

The first book of Mishneh Torah is Sefer Madda and it contains the following five sections of halalkhot:

  • Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah - Fundamental beliefs of the Torah
  • Hilkhot Deot - Proper personality and character traits
  • Hilkhot Talmud Torah - Laws of learning and teaching Torah
  • Hilkhot Avodah Zarah and Chukkot HaGoyim - Laws of idolatry and forbidden non-Jewish practices
  • Hilkhot Teshuvah - Laws of repentance

I am going to briefly discuss Hilkhot Avodah Zarah and Hilkhot Teshuvah. (Would that I had more time to do an analysis of all the sections!) Hilkhot Avodah Zarah discusses similar halakhot to Massechet Avodah Zarah which is found in Seder Nezikin in Shas. One possible explanation for Chazal’s organization is that Massechet Avodah Zarah discusses items that must be destroyed because they were used as part of an idolatrous ceremony. There is a connection between the Seder Nezikin topic of laws of damages, and Massechet Avodah Zarah’s items that must be destroyed. Nevertheless, Rambam’s organization seems to make more sense: first list the halakhot of emunah, then describe the issurim of idolatry.

Hilkhot Teshuvah is my favorite section in the Mishneh Torah. It is one of the classic Rabbinic works on the concept of repentance, and contains Rambam’s description of how to have the ideal relationship with HaShem. The final perek explains that this relationship is like being love sick for HaShem just like the love that is described in Shir HaShirim (or a high-school crush). The main halakhik sections of Hilkhot Teshuvah can be found in Massechet Yoma, and specifically in the final Perek which discusses the halakhot that we observe on the day of Yom Kippur. The rest of the Massechet discusses the special korbanot that were done on Yom Kippur, which Rambam places with the other halakhot of communal korbanot. Chazal organized all of the halakhot of the chagim together: both for the regular individual (like the halakhot of fasting) and for the Mikdash (like the halakhot of the Yom Kippur Avodah).

In summary, we discussed two examples of different ways to organize all of the halakhot. The halakhot of Avodah Zarah were grouped by Chazal as a part of the laws of damages. Whereas Rambam placed them in Sefer Madda, to contrast the halakhot of Emunah and learning Torah, with idolatry. The halakhot of Teshuvah were primarily grouped by Chazal in Massechet Yoma as part of the laws of Yom Kippur. Whereas Rambam placed them as the final section of Sefer Madda. I leave it to you to draw your own philosophical conclusions about why Rambam placed Hilkhot Teshuva in Sefer Madda - but you can be sure that he put them there on purpose.

Photo Credit - New Jersey Courthouse

Monday, February 16, 2009

CAT (Commonly Ambiguous Terms) - Mishneh Torah (Part II)

Another part of the gadlut of the Mishneh Torah (go read Part I if you are confused) is the literary structure. That is to say, appreciating how Rambam ordered the topics of the halakhot. In general, we give the Mishneh Torah the same textual status as the Mishnayot - there is not one word that is accidentally out of place. Not only does this status apply to the individual halakhot, but it also applies to the overall structure of the Mishneh Torah as a whole. Rambam thoughtfully and purposefully organized the 613 mitzvot into 14 books of the Mishneh Torah.

When I posted about Shas, I explained that Chazal organized the 613 mitzvot into 6 Sedarim (sections). Clearly Rambam made a significant break from Chazal’s organizational system when he wrote the Mishneh Torah. A brief analysis of how Rambam and Chazal organized the halakhot should be informative and hopefully entertaining (in a nerdy way).

Being a former teacher I am addicted to charts, and I made a special one for all of you. This chart has three columns:

  • Column 1 lists the name of each book of the Mishneh Torah
  • Column 2 lists the main topics of each book of the Mishneh Torah
  • Column 3 lists where the main topics can be found in Shas

In the following weeks to come I will dedicate one post to each of the books of the Mishneh Torah. That post will analyze some of the organizational differences between Rambam and Chazal. I hope that these posts will discuss not only a philosophy of halakhah, but also a methodology for learning philosophy of halakhah.

Book of Mishneh Torah

Topics of Book of Mishneh Torah

Where the Topics are Found in Shas


Pre-requisite to halakhah: Knowing HaShem, Talmud Torah, Avodah Zarah, Teshuvah

Massechtot Kiddushin,  Avodah Zarah, and Yoma


Shemah, Tefillah, Berachot, Tefillin

Massechtot Berachot, Menachot


Shabbat, Chagim

Seder Moed


Marriage, Divorce

Seder Nashim (except Nedarim and Nazir)


Forbidden Relationships, Niddah, Kashrut

Massechtot Yevamot, Kidushin, Niddah and Chullin


Shavuot and Nedarim

Massechtot Shavuot, Nedarim, Nazir and Arachin


Laws of Agriculture

Seder Zeraim (except Berachot)


Laws of the Beit HaMikdash and Communal Korbanot

Massechtot Zevachim, Menachot, Middot, Tamid, and Meilah


Laws of Individual Korbanot

Massechtot Pesachim, Chagigah, Bechorot, Temurah, Kritot and Horiyot


Laws of Tumah and Taharah

Seder Taharot (except Niddah)


Laws of Damages and Murder

Massechtot Bava Kama, Sanhedrin and Makkot


Laws of Ownership and Slavery

Massechtot Bava Metziah and Kiddushin


Laws of Renting, Borrowing Objects and Money, Inheritance

Massechtot Bava Metziah, Bava Batra and Shevuot


Laws of Sanhedrin, Testimony, Mourning and Kings

Massechtot Sanhedrin, Horiyot, Shavuot, and Moed Katan

Friday, February 13, 2009

SZP (Shameless Zionist Plug) - School Motto

I just got my son's first report card in Israel (since we are Olim Chadashim) and it came in a pretty blue folder with lots of photos and quotations on it. It has the first Mishnah in Pirkei Avot which emphasizes Torah, Avodah (davening) and doing Chesed. It also has a pasuk from Bereshit and one from Yishayhu - very nice ideas but nothing that is going to start an educational revolution. The final quotation on this pretty blue folder, rocked my educational world. So much so, that I realized I simply must share it with my minyan of readers out there in the blogosphere. (Quick aside - after writing a couple of self-depricating comments about the number of readers that I have, my handy-dandy blog analysis software tells me that I have 12 subscribers. Now that I have a minyan, I am not going to comment on the paucity of my audience. Rather I will simply say, "Thank you.")
לא מצאנו בשום מקום בתורה שמצווה אדם להיות למדן ובקי בכל חדרי התורה. שכן תכלית הלימוד אינה להיות למדן אלא להיות אדם טוב, לעשות הטוב ולהיטיב עם הזולת
We don't find any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a talmid chacham and an expert in all areas of the Torah. Because the purpose of learning is not to be a talmid chacham rather it is to be a good person, to do good and to act well to the other.
This is a quote from the Kotzker Rebbe and in my humble opinion (not all that humble in reality) is an excellent motto for a school. It is not that it is impossible for a school in Chutz L'Aretz to have a similar, or even the exact same motto - it's just that this pretty blue folder warmed my Zionist heart. Clearly every child is not destined to become a talmid chacham, but every child has the potential to be a mentsch.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

CAT (Commonly Ambiguous Terms) - Mishneh Torah (Part I)

I am currently reading, A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, and it is a wonderful book. However, when he discusses Albert Einstein (Chapter 8) and his General Theory of Relativity (of E=MC2 fame) - he quotes C.P. Snow. Mr. Snow made the following observation about Einstein’s theory: 

‘Without it (the General Theory of Relativity),’ wrote Snow in 1979, ‘it is likely that we should still be waiting for the theory today.’

In other words: if Einstein had not discovered this theory, no one else would have.

I have no idea how anyone can make this type of statement. There are plenty of examples of similar ideas and theories having been discovered by different people all the time. It is a little like the Top 100 People in the History of the World - how do you actually decide who is number 5 and who is number 50? I honestly find these types lists and exaggerated statements to be a source of significant irritation.

Nevertheless, I am going to be a hypocrite and go against everything I just said! Rambam’s Mishneh Torah is one of the greatest works of Rabbinic literature from the period of the Rishonim. And I am pretty sure that this is not an exaggeration.

The Mishneh Torah is a law code, which attempts to posken every halakhah from the Gemara. It is a milestone in the history of the development of psak halakhah because it is the first law code since the Gemara that attempted to claim to be a book of authoritative psak halakhah for all of the Jewish people. (The earliest law code is the בעל הלכות גדולות (BeHaG), but it was not meant to be as authoritative over all the Jewish people.)

However, the reason that I am awed by the gadlut of the Mishneh Torah is because of its modern literary flexibility. In simpler words, it is amazing how the Mishneh Torah becomes a subject for almost all of the types of Torah learning.

o        Halakhah - A bit obvious, I guess.

o        Gemara - Thanks to R. Chaim and the Briskers, Rambam is just as much a part of learning Gemara as Rashi and Tosafot. (maybe more, gasp!)

o        Machshava - Certainly Sefer Madda was actually written as much a work of Machshava as Halakhah. There are also many other pieces throughout the Mishneh Torah which have become cornerstones of Machshava.

o        Parshanut - This is a little bit of a stretch, but even the Ramban will quote the Mishneh Torah from time to time.

Alas, I was recently convinced that the Rambam is not a kabbalist and thus the Mishneh Torah has nothing to add to Kabbalah. (I have not even looked at the cover of Menachem Kellner’s book on this subject. Also, you do not have to go much farther than the first chapter of the Tanya to see that he quotes Rambam. So maybe some of you out there in the blogosphere will disagree with me.)

As you can see from the title of this post - there is still more to come concerning Rambam. Stay tuned!

Photo Credits -

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tu B’Shvat Blossoms with R. Tzaddok

R. Tzaddok devotes an entire section of the Pri Tzaddik on Sefer Shemot to Tu B’Shvat. I would like to highlight two ideas that he discusses there. (Note - I recommend reading the entire first piece in this section, but it is not for the faint of heart.) The first idea discusses specifically the significance of fruit and the second idea discusses the general concept of eating.

HaShem created human beings in Bereshit Perek 2,.and they were commanded to eat as part of their utopian life. Furthermore, their food was specifically the fruit from trees.

2:16 - HaShem commanded Adam to eat from all of the trees of Gan Eden.

Even before the sin of the Etz HaDa’at, Adam and Chava were intended to eat food for physical sustenance. The purpose of eating was to enable them do HaShem’s mitzvot in this world.

The ultimate Kabbalistic goal of doing mitzvot, is to harmonize and unite all of the Olamot (worlds). When the Olamot are harmonized then the direct positive influence of HaShem can be experienced in our world. Unfortunately, the sin of the Etz HaDa’at permanently crippled this harmony. (Today one of our goals is to try and repair the damage of the sin of the Etz HaDa’at by doing mitzvot - to be explained in depth at another time.)

R. Tzaddok continues and explains that when people (he actually says it is for the Tzaddik, but aren’t we all really tzaddikim? Or at least we can try to be,) begin to do teshuvah in order to improve themselves, they should first master their physical desires. They begin by doing teshuvah on their eating habits.

(A quick aside about the teshuvah of eating. Rav Kook discusses in Orot HaTeshuvah Perek 1 that the first stage of doing teshuvah is physical teshuvah. You should be in good health, and that includes good eating habits, before you focus on improving other aspects of your life. Rambam includes the halakhot of proper eating in Hilkhot Deot, which is in the first section of the Mishneh Torah. These are two good examples that physical good health, including eating habits, is a prerequisite for doing teshuvah and doing Torah and Mitzvot.)

This type of teshuvah is not only for individuals, but it is also one of the hidden messages of Tu B’Shvat. Shvat is the beginning of a teshuvah cycle in the Jewish calendar. We begin to fix our eating habits in Shvat to prepare for the teshuvah of Nisan.

In Shvat, you improve your eating habits. In Adar, you are now ready to celebrate the physical redemption of Purim. And finally in Nisan, you are ready to begin the full redemption at Pesach. (At Purim Haman sought to physically destroy the Jewish people, and we physically (Purim seudah) commemorate his downfall. According to R. Yehoshua in the Gemara Rosh HaShanah, the ultimate redemption will be in Nisan.)

Tu B’Shvat begins a teshuvah cycle that culminates in Pesach. And the fact that Tu B’Shvat is the Rosh HaShanah for trees is connects us back to Gan Eden, which is the utopian existence that we are trying to regain.

Have a meaningful Tu B’Shvat.

(One final note - it is not a coincidence that Tu B’Shvat, Shushan Purim and Pesach are all on the fifteenth of the month!)

Photo Credits: Free photos for websites -

CAT (Commonly Ambiguous Term) Tu B’shvat

Today is Tu B’shvat (the Hebrew calendar date: 15th of Shvat=ט''ו בשבט) and everyone knows that it is the Jewish tree hugging holiday. And some of you may even know that it is really the Rosh HaShanah for trees. But why does a tree need a Rosh HaShanah? Should I go outside and blow shofar for the trees in my yard? A quick look at the original source  for Tu B’shvat should clear up a lot of confusion. (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:1)

באחד בשבט ראש השנה לאילן כדברי בית שמאי בית הלל אומרים בחמשה עשר בו.

Beit Shammai says that the Rosh HaShanah for trees is on the first of Shvat. Beit Hillel says that it is on the 15th of Shvat.

We once again posken the halakhah of this machloket like Beit Hillel and celebrate the new year for trees on the 15th of Shvat. The Mefarshim of the Mishnah tell us what we are actually celebrating: the arcane subject of Terumat and Ma’asrot (agricultural tithes). The halakhah is that you can only tithe fruit that has grown in the same calendar year. Tu B’shvat marks the beginning of that calendar year. Thus, apples that grew in the month of Tishrei cannot be grouped together with apples that grew in the following month of Adar. Those apples are from separate years and must be tithed individually. All of you fellow Israelis, any fruit that has started budding today cannot be be tithed with any fruit you may have sitting around in your refrigerators. Please consult your LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi) for any halakhah l'maaseh questions.

One last note - the halakhik term fruit applies to produce that grows on trees. (That is why we say tree hugging and not vine hugging.) Olives are halakhik fruit, but strawberries are not.

Happy Tu B’shvat.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Parshat BeShalach - Who is free and who is a slave?

One of my favorite divrei Torah of the Ishbitzer Rebbe from the Mei HaShiloach appears in Parshat BeShalach. The Parshah is discussing the journey that B’nei Israel takes from Mitzraim to the famed Yam Suf. The Torah states that HaShem did not want B’nei Israel to travel on the Plishtim road, which is the faster route to Eretz Israel. Instead they marched in a zigzag pattern making various stops along the way to Yam Suf. One of the cities that they camped near was called, “Pi HaCherut” which is translated as: The Entrance to Freedom. (Shemot 14:2)

In the next pasuk, Paroh realizes that he has allowed all of B’nei Israel to escape from Mitzraim and describes them as, “crazy in the desert.” He then girds his loins, and takes his army to chase after B’nei Israel which brings us to Kriat Yam Suf.

The Mei HaShiloach explains that this place was called Pi HaCherut because it was a city dedicated to hedonism. (Not unlike modern day Las Vegas. Although the phrase, “What happens in Pi HaCherut, stays in PiHaCherut,” doesn’t really flow.) The Mei HaShiloach continues and states that Paroh’s observation that B’nei Israel are, “crazy in the desert,” does not refer to their circuitous march. Rather this phrase refers to the contrast between the inhabitants of Pi HaCherut and B’nei Israel.

B’nei Israel have already begun the process of accepting the yoke of Torah and Mitzvot. They have already begun to limit their choices in life - for example, they will only eat kosher food, and they will not practice adultery. B’nei Israel are crazy when compared to the population of Pi HaCherut. Why would anyone willingly choose to deny themselves physical pleasure?

The Mei HaShiloach emphasizes that in reality Paroh’s observation is completely wrong. The former slaves, B’nei Israel, are now showing their true freedom because they can choose what actions to take in life. Whereas, the free inhabitants of Pi HaCherut are actually slaves to their own physical desires.

I first read this piece by the Mei HaShiloach over ten years ago, but this powerful message has stayed with me since. True freedom is not an expression of freedom of action; true freedom is an expression of choice. Similar to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot:

איזהו גיבור? הכובש את יצרו.
Who are strong people? Those who can control their passions.

Shabbat Shalom

Photo Credits -

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Gedolei Yisrael - The Ishbitzer Rebbe

My son actually has a once a week class at his school called Gedolei Yisrael (I believe that the class is actually pronounced in an Israeli accent and not in Ashkenazus) where they learn about a different great Rabbi every week. So I thought I should do a Kabbalah u’Madda version - no rationalist non-mystics allowed. (Don’t worry I will go back and discuss the great rabbinic mystics that were mentioned in earlier posts. For example, Ramban, R. Tzaddok and others.)

The Ishbitzer Rebbe is R. Mordechai Leiner (1801-1854) and his sefer that he wrote is called the Mei HaShiloach (The Running Waters). Actually, his sefer was written by his talmidim and is based on divrei Torah that he gave either on Shabbat morning or at Seudat Shlishit.

(It is common amongst seforim “written” by Chassidic Rebbes, that they were actually written by their talmidim. The best example of Chassidic ghost-writing is R. Nachman of Breslav. R. Nachman only wrote Likkutei Maharan, and the other billions and billions (said in a Carl Sagan accent) of Breslover seforim were actually written by his talmidim - most notably R. Nosson.)

The Ishbitzer Rebbe was one of the main talmidim of the Kotzker Rebbe - R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. The Kotzker had a number of well known talmidim and he was known for his uncompromising approach to all aspects of life and his acerbic wit. The Kotzker is certainly worthy of his own post as a Gadol b’Yisrael (Israel?) and I will discuss him at a later date.

I would emphasize two aspects of the Ishbitzer Rebbe's divrei Torah:

  • He often has very creative insights to the Parshah and Torah ideas.
  • He will often justify the actions of the רשעים the wicked personalities in the Chumash. See his explanation of the stick gatherer (איש מקושש) in Bamidbar 15:32,

This second aspect often made his ideas controversial and not coincidentally R. Shlomo Carlebach z"l was a big fan of his sefer. The Mei HaShiloach is a two volume sefer, mainly on the Parsha but also contains some ideas on shas. His descendants would later create Radzhyner Chasidut.

Monday, February 2, 2009

CAT (Common Ambiguous Term) - SHAS

Shas is not just an Israeli political party, it is also an acronym for Shishah Sidrei Mishnah - all the six orders of the Mishnah. In the yeshivish vernacular shas generally refers to the entire Gemara (Talmud Bavli). Recently a couple of bar mitzvah boys in my neighborhood finished learning the entire Mishnah for their bar mitzvah and this learning was called, “Shas Mishnah.” (As an aside - it is quite an impressive accomplishment both for the parents and the child.)

The six orders of the Mishnah are:

·         Zeraim - Laws of Agriculture

·         Moed - Laws of Shabbat and the Chagim

·         Nashim - Laws of Marriage and Divorce

·         Nezikin - Laws of Damages and Civil Laws

·         Kodshim - Laws of Korbanot and the Beit HaMikdash

·         Taharot - Laws of Ritual Purity

The mnemonic to remember them is: זמן נקט (Zeman Nekat)

One of the reasons I wanted to explain this CAT, is that a lot of machshavah can be learned from how Chazal organized the halakhot and mitzvot in shas. (See Pri Taddik on Chanukkah for an example of this type of machshavah.)

I just started a new chavrutah and we are learning the Tzidkut HaTzaddik by R. Tzaddok HaKohen. R. Tzaddok opens with an analysis of why does shas begin with Massechet Berachot. Unfortunately, I cannot summarize his ideas now and I am forced to leave you in agonizing suspense. I promise not to abandon my faithful readers for long. (I believe I may actually have four readers! I am working hard not to get too big headed.)