Friday, August 29, 2003

Dvar torah for Shoftim #4: Was the Lubavitcher Rebbe a Navi Sheker?

Parshat Re`e addressed the issue of Navi Sheker, the false prophet, and I wrote some divrei Torah about Navi Sheker here and here.

In Re`eh, in Dvarim 13:2-3 the main identifying characteristic of the false prophet is that he tells you to worship other gods besides Hashem:

כִּי-יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא, אוֹ חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם; וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת, אוֹ מוֹפֵת.
וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת, אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר: נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתָּם--וְנָעָבְדֵם.
לֹא תִשְׁמַע, אֶל-דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא, אוֹ אֶל-חוֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם, הַהוּא: כִּי מְנַסֶּה ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, אֶתְכֶם, לָדַעַת הֲיִשְׁכֶם אֹהֲבִים אֶת-ה אֱלֹקֵיכֶם, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם.

"If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams--and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee--saying: 'Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them'; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

Parshat Shoftim also addresses Navi Sheker, but here there are two types of false prophet. One who speaks in the name of other gods, and one who speaks falsely in the name of Hashem. The identifying characteristic of a false prophet of Hashem is that he declares as prophecy that something will come to pass and it does not.

Dvarim 18:18-22 states:

נָבִיא אָקִים לָהֶם מִקֶּרֶב אֲחֵיהֶם, כָּמוֹךָ; וְנָתַתִּי דְבָרַי, בְּפִיו, וְדִבֶּר אֲלֵיהֶם, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוֶּנּוּ.
וְהָיָה, הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִשְׁמַע אֶל-דְּבָרַי, אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר, בִּשְׁמִי--אָנֹכִי, אֶדְרֹשׁ מֵעִמּוֹ.
אַךְ הַנָּבִיא אֲשֶׁר יָזִיד לְדַבֵּר דָּבָר בִּשְׁמִי, אֵת אֲשֶׁר לֹא-צִוִּיתִיו לְדַבֵּר, וַאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר, בְּשֵׁם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים--וּמֵת, הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא.
וְכִי תֹאמַר, בִּלְבָבֶךָ: אֵיכָה נֵדַע אֶת-הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-דִבְּרוֹ יְהוָה.
אֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר הַנָּבִיא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה, וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה הַדָּבָר וְלֹא יָבֹא--הוּא הַדָּבָר, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-דִבְּרוֹ יְהוָה: בְּזָדוֹן דִּבְּרוֹ הַנָּבִיא, לֹא תָגוּר מִמֶּנּוּ.

"I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him.

But the prophet, that shall speak a word presumptuously in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.

And if thou say in thy heart: 'How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?'

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him."

As I wrote here, in an earlier dvar Torah, this is only if the prophet prophesies weal and not woe, and prophesies to the public, and is labelled as a false prophet even if he was a true prophet on past occurrences. In fact, the Sifrei on Re`ei records an opinion that the prophet who is said to have performed miracles ("and the sign or the wonder come to pass") in fact performed them in the past in his role as a true prophet of Hashem. Indeed, Chazal say that Chanania the false prophet who clashed with Yirmiyahu in Yirmiyahu 28 was in fact a navi emes, as true prophet, who this time decided to give false prophecy.

Now, what does this have to do with the Rebbe? Well, many of his chassidim say he was a prophet and that he spoke prophecy. They cite instances in which he knew details about situations which were to come to pass and were reflected or hinted at in the advice that he gave people. How they distinguish this from a good intuition or ruach hakodesh (which is a very different level than nevuah), I do not know.

This is not enough on a halachic level to establish someone as a navi emet, though. (Note: To get a good understanding of navi emet/sheker, look in the Rambam's pticha to his perush hamishnayot. If you have a gemara brachot, read the first whole page, both columns, including some important comments by others on the bottom or the page.) For, there is on a halachic level a status of having o chazaka of being a true prophet. Such a navi can speak in the name of Hashem and tell the people to do something without having to provide a miracle to prove his authenticity, since his words came to pass in the past and he is well known as being a tzaddik.

Now, the Rebbe never made such public pronouncements that some event would come to pass, with his status of navi emet/sheker in the balance. That would be required to grant him this chazaka. Rather, these were private pieces of advice, and the prophecy, if you could call it that, was cloaked. His did not claim it to be prophecy. It thus was not falsifiable in the sense that someone could claim he gave false prophecy. Further, the stories you hear about true predictions are self-selected. Someone who received good advice which smacked of foreknowledge would excitedly tell others, and people are willing to promolgate such stories. Where the advice, or prediction did not pan out, there was no such urge to share the information. Even if private pieces of advice could count to establish a chazaka, we do not know that the Rebbe was unerring. In fact, I have heard from someone who heard from some people who were close to the action that the Rebbe's advice did not pan out in more than one instance, but naturally those are not the stories that are excitedly told.

There are two current claims which are being put forth showing that the Rebbe was a prophet, and both involve public prophecy.

The first was that the Rebbe wished the American troops success in their mission in Basra. Thus was during the first Gulf War. The American troops never made it to Basra, though at the time they were close to Basra.

The sicha is here:

The relevant text is:

"Our Sages note that even after the Purim miracle, we remained servants of Achashverosh. Similarly, we are also "servants of Achashverosh." Nevertheless, although we are in the midst of exile, the dominant nation in this exile is a generous country, a country who offers assistance to many nations and offers assistance to its Jewish residents. In appreciation, may G-d grant that country success in its war against Basra and may we soon merit the fulfillment of the prophecy, "Who is that coming in soiled garments from Basra?" with the coming of redemption.""

Now, if they claim that this was prophecy (that the Americans would arrive in Basra and have success in their mission there), and yet the prophecy did not come true, then the Rebbe would a navi sheker! For this was a prophecy of good news made in public. Would anyone have declared the Rebbe chayav mita as a navi sheker back then? Highly unlikely, I would say. (I would also point out that the Rebbe did not say that it was prophecy, but rather was just wishing them luck. Further, the Rebbe was playing of the word Botzra, identifying it with Basra, but could have meant success in general in Iraq, as I've actually seen paraphrased in some some web sites.) (Note is is also easy to be confused because the Rebbe does refer to prophecy, but the prophesy in this case is Yeshaya's not his own.)

Enter the recent war in Iraq. One news show interviewed various groups to see how they felt about attacking Iraq. They interviewed some yound chassidim in 770 who were saying how the Rebbe predicted this, in prophecy.

Now, where did the Rebbe predict this? The answer is the above "prophecy." If the Rebbe said American troops would get to Basra and succeed, and they did not, it could not be that a) the Rebbe was not speaking prophecy or b) the Rebbe was a navi sheker. Rather, the Rebbe was a navi emet, speaking truth, and so the prophecy will still be fulfilled. Thus, the Rebbe was predicting that in the future, America would attack Iraq and American troops would reach Basra and succeed.

In fact, after coalition forces captured Basra, I saw the claim made on that this was the fulfillment of the Rebbe's prophecy. This was put forth by the man who was in charge of publishing the Rebbe's sichot.

Now, the Rebbe clearly was talking about the war that was going on just then, not about some future war. And, that "prophecy" did not come true. So, he should be a "navi sheker." (In fact, in the latest Iraq war, American troops were nowhere near Basra. It was British troops.) Only by stretching the meaning of the "prophecy" could you transform it into another "prophecy," and claim that it is true, and you need to be a dedicated chassid to do that.

This goes against the halachot of navi sheker. If a person well-known for being a prophet (like Chanania in Yirmiyahu 28) makes a prediction and it is clear that it did not come true, he is a navi sheker. You do not reinterpret the prophets words so that what actually happens accords with them! Rather, you put the false prophet to death!

However, what I presented above is not nuanced enough of a picture. Read the article I linked to on The author states:

"During that time, I had the privilege of working as one of the oral scribes of the Rebbe, reviewing and transcribing his public talks for publication. That night, I received a telephone call from one of the Rebbe's secretaries, Rabbi Laibel Groner, who instructed me, in the name of the Rebbe, not to publish the segment of the talk that dealt with the U.S. war against Iraq.

The Rebbe had told his secretary at the time, that "these words will be applicable at a future time (10)."

{Josh's note: The footnote there, very important, states: 10) The Rebbe used the famous biblical expression, "Od Chazon Lemoed."}

As we all remember, the first Persian Gulf war ended only a few weeks after it began. On Thursday, Feb. 28, 1991, Saddam withdrew completely from Kuwait and a cease-fire was declared. The end of the war coincided with Purim, the day in which we celebrate the victory of the Jewish people against another tyrant and mass killer by the name of Haman who lived in that region some 2,400 years ago.

Two days later, on Sabbath, the 16th day of Adar 5751 (March 2, 1991) the Rebbe blessed the American government and its armed forces. He spoke of the U.S. as "a nation of generosity," allowing and encouraging Jews to live Jewishly in full freedom and prosperity. The Rebbe expressed a heartfelt prayer "that the American troops succeed in their mission in Basra."

This last statement at the time was extremely perplexing. Did the Rebbe not know that the war had ended? Was the Rebbe unaware of the fact that the troops had withdrawn from Basra and from the rest of Iraq? After all, the Rebbe himself had predicted that the war would be over by Purim! Why, two days later, was the Rebbe praying for the success of an American campaign in Basra?"

He then claims the fulfillment was 10 years later, and that is what the Rebbe meant by a future time.

However, this is an important thing to note, that may have slipped by some readers. This man, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson, worked as "as one of the oral scribes of the Rebbe, reviewing and transcribing his public talks for publication." That is, he transcribed them and edited them. In other words, what you see as a sicha is not a pure transcription, but things might have been changed. Indeed, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, Rabbi Laibel Groner, in the name of the Rebbe, instructed him to take out part of the sicha.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Jacobson was perplexed how the Rebbe could talk about Basra when American troops were withdrawing. Didn't the Rebbe know? The answer should have been that the Rebbe made a mistake, and was correcting it by making sure it did not appear in the printed sicha.

As such, we cannot really rely on any of the sichot where the Rebbe predicted something and it came true. Even though he said things publicly, if they did not come true he could always instruct the editors to take it out! Oy! One has to wonder how many other things were taken out over the years when they were embarrassingly false predictions/statements.

One eerie thing that is left, though, is that "the Rebbe used the famous biblical expression, "Od Chazon Lemoed." This is being taken to mean that that section he was now predicting (privately) would occur in the future. This famous biblical expression is from Chabakuk 2, and means "the vision is yet for an appointed time," or else "there is yet another vision about the appointed time." Presumably, the Rebbe meant the former. The prophecy must be speaking about some event in the future, he meant. Which prophecy? Not his own. Rather, Yeshaya's prophecy. It can be interpreted as a sheepish observation about an attempt to apply a pasuk from Yeshaya incorrectly to contemporary events. Yeshaya must be talking about some event in the future.

Thus, chassidim are interpreting a cover-up of an embarrassing faulty prediction as a cryptic and mystical prophecy of things to come (and which now have passed). Again, oy.

The same type of "proof" is used to show that the Rebbi is alive. The Rebbe predicted as "prophecy" that mashiach would come in our generation:

"May the soul reach the ultimate level of ascent, the level to be
reached at the time of the Resurrection. And may this take place in
the immediate future. For ours is the last generation of the exile
and the first generation of the Redemption.

Together with all the Jews of the present generation who will
proceed to the Holy Land amidst health and joy, they will be joined
by "those who lie in the dust," the souls of the previous
generations, who "will arise and sing.""

Now, the Rebbe said "ours" is the last generation, thus including himself. Thus, mashiach must come while he is still alive. But he's dead!

The answer at this point should be either a) he was not saying this as prophecy, and was wrong, or b)he was saying this as prophecy (even though nowhere in the sicha does he say it is prophecy-check it out), and thus was a navi sheker.

Instead, some chassidim say: The Rebbe said it as prophecy, so it must be true. Thus, even though it looks like he dies, he did not die.


If this were so, no false prophet could ever be found. A prophet could say, "tomorrow at noon there will be a solar eclipse." When it does not occur, the prophet (or his followers) could say that there was a solar eclipse, even though our eyes tell us differently. How would this be an answer to the question how determine a false prophet. To refresh your minds:

"And if thou say in thy heart: 'How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?'

When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken; the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously, thou shalt not be afraid of him."

This is even so of a prophet who has a chazaka of being legit.

This way of proving a false prophet true, by the way, has a history. Specifically, that famous false prophet Chanania, in Yirmiyahu 28. Yirmiyahu tells him that if he is a false prophet he will die that year. Yet, the last pasuk of that perek informs us that he died in the seventh month. The seventh month in understood by Chazal (in the gemara) to be Tishrei, and thus he died in the next year. They answer that he actually dies before the year was up, but, under Chanania's orders, his sons hid the fact of his death and buried him afterwards to make it appear as if he was a navi emet. The chassidim who are claiming the Rebbe is still alive seem to be taking the role of Chanania's sons, but surely not on the command of the Rebbe.

In sum, the Rebbe was not a false prophet, because he never intended his words as prophecy. Only if you falsely claim he meant them as prophecy would the Rebbe be a navi sheker.

Thursday, August 28, 2003


No shiur today. Annoying, because it means I made the trek for nothing. Okay, because I was able to sub my father's Intro class (he is at jury duty), and because it means I have another week to try to finish Eruvin.

Dvar Torah for Shoftim #3: Yiftach BeDoro KiShmuel BeDoro

Within parshat Shoftim, Devarim 17:8-9 states

כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט, בֵּין-דָּם לְדָם בֵּין-דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע--דִּבְרֵי רִיבֹת, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ--אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ בּוֹ
וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, וְאֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ, אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט.

"If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose.

And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment."

The gemara, Rosh Hashana 25b picks up on the words וְאֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, "and to the judge that shall be in those days," and asks rhetorically, "would it arise in your mind that a man would go to the judge who is not in his days?" Rather we see that you should only go to the judge that is in your days. As it says in Kohelet 7 אַל-תֹּאמַר, מֶה הָיָה--שֶׁהַיָּמִים הָרִאשֹׁנִים, הָיוּ טוֹבִים מֵאֵלֶּה."

That is, each generation has its leaders on that generation's level, and those leaders should be listened to. The gemara associates this with another statement, "Yiftach BeDoro KiShmuel BeDoro."

Rav Schachter noted (a few years ago) in shiur that this is only true if the leader is not an am haaretz (=ignoramus). He has to have some modicum of knowledge in Torah. The Torah hints at this when it states, in Shmot 21:33, "Vechi Yiftach Ish Bor?!"

:) :) :)

Part of the joke relies on the fact that "ki" can mean meany things, including beginning a rhetorical question. For an example of this, look no farther than our parsha! For in Devarim 20:19, it states, כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, לָבֹא מִפָּנֶיךָ בַּמָּצוֹר?

That is, "for is the tree of the field man, that it should be besieged of thee?"

Update: Some people seem not to get the joke. Look up the pasuk "Vechi Yiftach Ish Bor." (Click on the link.) It means "When a man opens a pit" and is followed by the law of the man's obligations for damages. Yiftach in this sense means open, and is not a reference to the Biblical character, who was not around for Shmos.

Another perek!

Hadran Alach Kol Gagot! (9th perek bavli eruvin)

Towards the end is an interesting dispute between Rav and Shmuel about nifratz bekeren zavit which I recall has some applications lihalacha, and I have some observations about the gemara, but I want to develop them further first.

Today is the first day of shiur! I should change the description in the sidebar, I guess. Too bad I did not finish in time, but hopefully I will be finished in a week or two. It will be harder with all the other obligations (YU, CUNY, Revel) that now start.

In other news, it looks like I will be taking Horayot II with Dr. Steinfeld after all. Unfortunately, I missed yesterday's class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class (Horayot I) last semester, and recommend it to anyone who is reading this and could theoretically take it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Dvar Torah for Shoftim #2: A conflicting view of יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל

The previous dvar Torah addressed the commandment לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל, not to divert from what the central court decides, right or left. Rashi, following Sifrei, explains that even if they say regarding right that it is left or regarding left that it is right, you should listen to them.

Here I present a conflicting view. In Yerushalmi Horayot 1:1 we have the following statement:

"Like this that the Brayta states: perhaps if they said to you regarding right that it is left and regarding left that it is right you should listen to them. Therefore the pasuk tells us (talmud lomar) "to go (lalechet" right and left: that they tell you regarding right that it is right and on left that it is left."

This is exactly the opposite of Rashi and the Sifrei. Only right on right and left on left, but if they are wrong, you do not listen to them.

However, I am fairly certain that we can dismiss this yerushalmi as an error. Let me explain.

A parallel gemara exists in Bavli Horayot 2b. The basis of both of these gemarin (plural gemara) is the first mishna in horayot which *seems* to say that a if a bet din makes a mistake in ruling and one of the judges knew that they made a mistake, or a talmid who is fitting to give horaah knew, and one of the judges or the talmid then goes and acts on the faulty horaah, he is chayav (a sin-offering) since he did not rely on the bet din.

Now, the gemara Bavli asks why he is chayav, and concludes that he, the judge or student who acted, is chayav a chatat because he erred in "mitzvah lishmoa divrei chachamim." That is, he thought that even though he knew they judged in error, he should follow them because one should follow what the court rules, that is, I would say by way of explanation, even if they say "al yemin shehu semo`l."

The yerushalmi is dealing with the same question and comes to the same conclusion. Thus it is a parallel gemara.

However, note that I said earlier "seems." In truth, it has been shown that that is not the meaning of the mishna. Dr. Steinfeld, who I took for Horayot I last semester, wronte articles on the subject and demonstrated it to us sufficiently that I am convinced of this. I will not lay out all the proofs for this, but rather refer you to the article if you are interested.

The real meaning of the mishna is that if one of the judges, or a talmid who is fitting to rule is sitting before the court, knows that they are in error, then if a yachid, an individual, then goes and acts in accordance with the ruling of the bet din, he is himself chayav a korban and connot rely on the one given by the court. This is because in general when there is a horaat bet din, the individual is excused, but here, there was a fault, a pegam, in the horaah of the bet din, so it is not a true horaah, so he cannot be called one who relies on bet din.

Even though a cursory reading of the gemara seems to show that Abaye and Rava concur with the first reading, this is a result of various girsa changes that we can trace by looking in old manuscripts. In reality, they concur with the second reading of the mishnah I presented.

The stama degemara, which is a savoraic layer of the gemara, was faced with a problem in the gemara as a result of girsa changes and misunderstood the mishna and as a result offers in an anonymous section, the answer that the judge or student was the actor and made a mistake in "mitzvah loshmoa divrei chachamim."

The parallel yerushalmi is addressing the same issue, and also looks to be a stama digemara, and thus can be partially dismissed as savoraic and based on an erroneous reading of the mishna and earlier layers of gemara.

It still is important to show that a savora had this attitude towards "yamin usmo`l." However, who will win out, the savora or the Sifrei? I would have to go with the Sifrei.

But the game is still afoot! After all, the savora did not make this up! Or, at least, the savora in the yerushalmi did not! He after all, cites a brayta/tanaitic statement. He said "tno rabanan!"

Where is this tanaitic statement? We do not see it in the Tosefta, or in any section of gemara in the amoraic layer. Where did our savora see it?

The answer, I am fairly certain, is that he saw it in מדרש תנאים לדברים פרק יז. Midrash Tanaim has a similar statement, which is actually much closer to the yerushalmi than the Sifrei in terms of language. (Thanks by the way go to Eliyahu Segal, who sent me a bunch of "yamin usmo`l texts after searching on Bar Ilan for me.)

Anyway, the text of the Midrash Tanaim is as follows:
ועשית על פי הד' שומע אני יהא שומע ואינו עושה ת"ל ועשית: מן המקום ההוא שמשם תורה יוצאה לכל ישראל: ושמרתלעשות ככל אשר יורוך מנ' שאם יאמר לך על שמאל שהיא ימין ועל ימין שהיא שמאל שמע לדבריהם ת"ל ככל אשר יורוך

"In all that they instruct you: Whence that if they tell you regarding left that it is right and regarding right that it is left, you should listen to their words? Talmud Lomar, *like all* that they instruct you."

Here, like in the yerushalmi, the basic assumption that right-right and left-left are obvious, but we shall discuss right-left and left-right exists. Further, they make an assumption, and the talmud lomar either supports that assumption (Midrash Tanaim) or destroys the hypothesis.

I would never venture to say Sifrei/yerushalmi are the same source, but with a corrupt girsa. What about Midrash Tanaaim/yerushalmi? It is a possibility, given that we do not find this brayta elsewhere, it is of the same structure, and is used by a stama degemara to justify and answer a question arising in a reading of a gemara that is flawed. The brayta may has started out in this varieant form or in multiple forms (one in accordance with Midrash Tanaim), but the one chosen was the one that would explain the gemara for the savora.

On the other hand, we might have a machloket between Yerushalmi and Midrash Tanaim, which luckily was brought to the fore as a result of this issue in Horayot.

Update: Upon further reflection, I think what I called "the other hand" is much more likely. That is, we have a genuine machloket, which we only lucked into as a result of the issue in Horayot. I think this because just because the Mishnah in the beginning of Horayot does not accord with the final reading given in that stama, he refers to another, orthogonal issue about whether a zaken mamre is obligated to follow. This can be true independently, and the wording of the brayta is different enough from that of Midrash Tanaim that it looks to be a genuine machloket.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Dvar Torah for Shoftim #1: יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל : Turning to the right/left

Parshat Shoftim begins with the command to appoint judges and enforcers in all the cities and towns, once the Jews enter the land of Israel:

Devarim 16:18:

שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים, תִּתֶּן-לְךָ בְּכָל-שְׁעָרֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ, לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ; וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, מִשְׁפַּט-צֶדֶק.

"Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, tribe by tribe; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment."

This command, it should be reiterated, is for the Jews to fulfill once the enter into the land of Israel and settle there. In the midbar, they already had a system of judges. This system was suggested by Yisro, Moshe's father-in-law, and approved by Hashem.

Yisro suggested (Shmos 18:20-22):

וְהִזְהַרְתָּה אֶתְהֶם, אֶת-הַחֻקִּים וְאֶת-הַתּוֹרֹת; וְהוֹדַעְתָּ לָהֶם, אֶת-הַדֶּרֶךְ יֵלְכוּ בָהּ, וְאֶת-הַמַּעֲשֶׂה, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשׂוּן.
וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת.
וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, בְּכָל-עֵת, וְהָיָה כָּל-הַדָּבָר הַגָּדֹל יָבִיאוּ אֵלֶיךָ, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפְּטוּ-הֵם; וְהָקֵל, מֵעָלֶיךָ, וְנָשְׂאוּ, אִתָּךְ.

"And thou shalt teach them the statutes and the laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

And let them judge the people at all seasons; and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge themselves; so shall they make it easier for thee and bear the burden with thee."

And Moshe indeed implemented this:
Shmos 18:25-26:

וַיִּבְחַר מֹשֶׁה אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל מִכָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם רָאשִׁים עַל-הָעָם--שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת.
וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת-הָעָם, בְּכָל-עֵת: אֶת-הַדָּבָר הַקָּשֶׁה יְבִיאוּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, וְכָל-הַדָּבָר הַקָּטֹן יִשְׁפּוּטוּ הֵם.

"And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves."

Thus Moshe set up a form of local government, based on Torah. However, certain cases, the difficult ones, were to be brought to him. He, who heard the Torah directly from Hashem, would know the answer, and if he did not, he could just ask Hashem.

The system of shoftim spoken of in our parsha, Shoftim, is also local - a judge in each gate. However, there is also a federal government. Just as, by the hard cases in the midbar, the judges could send the case or question to Moshe, once in Eretz Yisrael, if the local judges did not know what the law was, they could ask a central court. That central court, it seems, should be located by the Bet HaMikdash. In Shoftim (Devarim 17:8-13):

כִּי יִפָּלֵא מִמְּךָ דָבָר לַמִּשְׁפָּט, בֵּין-דָּם לְדָם בֵּין-דִּין לְדִין וּבֵין נֶגַע לָנֶגַע--דִּבְרֵי רִיבֹת, בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ: וְקַמְתָּ וְעָלִיתָ--אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ בּוֹ.
וּבָאתָ, אֶל-הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, וְאֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט, אֲשֶׁר יִהְיֶה בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם; וְדָרַשְׁתָּ וְהִגִּידוּ לְךָ, אֵת דְּבַר הַמִּשְׁפָּט.
וְעָשִׂיתָ, עַל-פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ.
עַל-פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ, וְעַל-הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ--תַּעֲשֶׂה: לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל.
וְהָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה בְזָדוֹן, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן הָעֹמֵד לְשָׁרֶת שָׁם אֶת-ה אֱלֹקֶיךָ, אוֹ, אֶל-הַשֹּׁפֵט--וּמֵת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא, וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל.
וְכָל-הָעָם, יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ; וְלֹא יְזִידוּן, עוֹד.

"If there arise a matter too hard for thee in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, and between stroke and stroke, even matters of controversy within thy gates; then shalt thou arise, and get thee up unto the place which the LORD thy God shall choose.

And thou shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days; and thou shalt inquire; and they shall declare unto thee the sentence of judgment.

And thou shalt do according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall declare unto thee from that place which the LORD shall choose; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they shall teach thee.

According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.

And the man that doeth presumptuously, in not hearkening unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die; and thou shalt exterminate the evil from Israel.

And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously."

Thus, if a question is too difficult, they should go to the Bet HaMikdosh and ask the Kohanim, or whichever judges exist there, and they will declare what the law is.

The section ends with the law of the zaken mamre, rebellious elder. As you read above, if after they decide what the law is, a judge cannot then defy that court ruling. Defying that ruling brings a death penalty. The gemara treats this issue at length.

What do you do, though, if you think that the central Sanhedrin made a mistake? A simple, pshat, reading, of the text seems to imply that Sanhedrin is the final authority on the matter and you need to comply with what they say. After all, the zaken mamre obviously thinks that they are wrong.

However, lets say they made an egregious error, which is obvious, and is not a matter of interpretation? Should one still comply?

We shall, perhaps, return to this issue in due course. First, though, I would like to examine what the Sifrei, and Rashi, have to say about this pasuk.

The pasuk states, לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ--יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל, "thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left."

The Sifrei explains the words יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל thusly:
"Even if it appears in your eyes regarding left that it is right and regarding right that it is left, listen to them."

That is, is appears to your eyes that they are wrong. No mention is made as to whether they are actually right or wrong. The simplest reading of this is that they are in fact right but you made a mistake.

Rashi has a slightly different take on it: "Even if they tell you on right that it is left and on left that it is right, and certainly when they tell you on right that it is right and on left that it is left."

The simplest explanation of this is that they are telling you something that is untrue - right is left - there is an obligation to listen. And certainly, (it almost needn't be said) if they tell you something that is indeed true, whether you think it is or not, there is an obligation to listen and if you do not you are a zaken mamre. Other explanations are indeed possible, but seem more farfetched to me.

Siftei Chachamim
Next, we have Siftei Chachamim, a commentary on Rashi, who says, "Even if they tell you on right, that you think that it is left, and on left that you think it is right, you should listen, and not ascribe the mistake to him but with yourself, for Hashem gave his spirit on those serving in his Temple that only truth would leave their mouths."

He is claiming that Rashi is talking about a case when the bet din was correct, and that that is the meaning of yamin shehu semo`l. This is obviously a problem. If the reisha, of right being left, is where the bet din is correct, then the seifa, of right being right, is talking about what exactly?!

Now, I often take issue with the explanation of Siftei Chachamim, but this is just too much. The explanation just does not make any sense with the text of Rashi in front of us. Siftei Chachamim, I cannot believe, would do such a thing.

The answer, I think, is that we have the wrong text in front of us, and Siftei Chachamim had the correct text in front of him. I claim that Siftei Chachamim only had the first part of Rashi, and it said:

"Even if they tell you on right that it is left and on left that it is right."

Siftei Chachamim recognized (most probably correctly) that Rashi's basis was the Sifrei, and his explanation is basically a rephrasing of the Sifrei, with an explanatory note that we can trust that the central bet din is correct because Hashem will insure it by manifesting His spirit in them. So, according to this, right is left in Rashi is only that they are saying on what you think is right that it is left. The change from "appearing in your eyes" to their "saying" is enough to give me slight pause however, since it opens the way to the idea that they are actually declaring something that is not (and that is what compelled Siftei Chachamim to speak).

We have possible independent confimation that this is the correct text of Rashi from the Ramban, who begins his perush on יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל by stating "Even if they tell you on right that it is left or on left that it is right, says Rashi." Note that he ends there, and does not make the latter statement about saying right on right.

Ramban indeed does cite what is suspiciously similar in language to the latter part of Rashi, but to mean something else - that you should more likely consider that what they say is right is right and what they say is left is indeed left, since Hashem is watching to make sure they do not err. This is what your attitude should be, not that it is a different case than the first case. Rather, even if you disagree, you should think that they are saying something correct, for Hashem would not let them err.

I think that somehow the end of the Ramban was lifted and pasted on to Rashi and then transforms both the first pasrt of Rashi and the latter part of the Ramban.

On the other hand, this second part I claim may be pasted from Ramban into Rashi does accord wonderfully by itself into Siftei Chachamim's explanation.

Even if they tell you on right that it is left or on left that it is right, says Rashi.
And the meaning is that even if you think in your heart that they are erring and the matter is plain in your eyes as you can tell the difference between right and left, you should do as His command, and should not say, "how can I eat this absolute forbidden fat or kill this innocent man." Rather say, "So commenaded me the Master who commanded on the commandments to do in accordance with all the commandments as instructed by those standing before him in the place he chose, and as they understand he gave the Torah, even if they make a mistake."

Similar to (the incident with) R Yehoshua with R Gamliel on the Yom Kippur which fell out according to his (R Yehoshua's) reckoning, and the necessity in this mitzvah is very great for the Torah was given to use in text, and He knew that the opinions would not accord in all matters the dispute would multiply and the Torah would become many Torot.

He then compares it to R Yehoshua with Rabban Gamliel (on Yom Kippur), where in order not to make multiple Torahs, they legitimately declare one opinion binding even if it is erroneous.

And (therefore) the Torah tells us the din to listen to the bet din hagadol which stands before Hashem in the chosen place what they say in the explanation of the Torah whether they recieved the explanation witness from witness and Moshe from Hashem, or if they say according to the mashmaot (implication) of the Torah."

Or else the intent is, on their intellect (da'at) He gave them the Torah, even if it appears in yours eyes like switching right for left, and certainly (kol sheken) that you should think that they are saying on right that it is right for the spirit of Hashem are on those who serve in his Temple and he does not abandon his holy ones, forever they are protected from error and the stumbling block."

Then he cites the language of the Sifrei.

Thus, the Ramban seems to be saying that even though they are wrong, this pasuk tells us to listen to a central authority so that the Torah does not become multiple Torahs. He follows up with the idea that they are not likely to err because of shmirah.

These three opinions seem reminiscent of an old joke:
Three umpires are discussing the nature of their work. The first umpire, with lots of courage, says, "I don't care if it is the bottom of the ninth inning in the seventh game of the World Series, the bases are loaded, and the count is three and two. I don't care who's batting or who's pitching, or whose stadium we are in: I call it like I see it!"

The second umpire shoots back, "Wait a minute: That's subjective." With confidence in his skills, he says with fervor, "I have such an eye for that strike zone that if one seam of that ball passes within that zone, it's a strike! I don't call it like I see it; I call it like it is!"

The third umpire shakes his head at both of them and says: "I don't think either one of you understands the nature of this craft. We aren't hired to call it like we see it, or to call it like it is. Because the bottom line is that it isn't anything until I call it!"

The umpire who calls it like he sees it corresponds to the idea that a bet din does its best, and can make mistakes. But still, (according to this opinion) one has to listen to them. This was my initial reading of Rashi.

The umpire who calls it like it is is confident that he makes no mistakes, like the opinionof the Siftei Chachamim and the latter part of the Ramban.

The umpire who calls it like it is is the first part of the Ramban. Even if factually one might vary with their opinion and they may indeed by incorrect, the nature of halacha is that we follow what they decided, and it is binding.

I hope to post more on this later, in a different post, about conflicting opinions about יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל.

Update: The Ramban, because he does call the error the bet din makes a taut, though it still is halacha, actually falls in beteen the first and the last umpire.

Another Two Prakim!

Hadran Alach Chalon (7th perek bavli eruvin)!
Hadran Alach Keitzad Mishtatfin (8th perek bavli eruvin)!

It does not look like I'm going to finish in time, though. Rav Schachter's first shiur in hilchot eruvin starts this Thursday, and I probably will be in the middle of the 10th (and final) perek by then, BUT I did not finish the first perek, or even begin the second through fourth in bavli.

Today I began the registration process for RIETS. I signed on for 4th year halacha limaaseh, which is going to be Rav Schachter's shiur in eruvin for the first 6 weeks. I also signed up for 4th years shimush. Hopefully I will be able to accomplish it this year. I'm going to try to be the Hillel presence at CUNY graduate school. Unfortunately, I could not finish registering, because YU eliminated easy credit card payment, and I did not have a checkbook on hand.

On the Revel front, I am considering Horayot II, but am leaning more at the moment towards a Thursday night class in Tannaitic Midrashic literature.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Another Perek!

Hadran Alach HaDar (6th perek bavli eruvin)!

Thursday, August 21, 2003


Egyptians (in Switzerland) suing Jews for 'stealing' the gold during Exodus.

Seems awfully familiar.
Perhaps they should read Sanhedrin 91a: This case has already been tried and lost.

has a paraphrase, not exact translation:
"When Alexander the Great ruled the world some 2,500 years ago he allowed the Jews to remain in Israel.

But it wasn't long before the other nations sent delegations to him to demand that he change his mind.

The Africans said "Israel is called the Land of Canaan (Num. 34) and Canaan was our relative! The land belongs to us!"

The Egyptians quoted Exodus 12:35 "The Jews robbed us of all our wealth when they left Egypt with Moses, we demand repayment."

The Arabs said "It says clearly in the Torah 'these are the generations of Ishmael the son of Abraham' (our section 25:12) as well as "These are the generations of Isaac ben Abraham" (25:19) We also have as much a right to the land as they do.

Alexander did not know what to answer. After all, each of them brought impressive proofs from the Torah and even he knew that the Torah is the source of truth. So he called on the Rabbi's to rebut their claims.

The Rabbi's were also in a quandary. If they answered in a way that Alexander didn't appreciate it could mean big trouble. But a simple, hunchbacked Jew called G'via ben P'sisa solved the problem.

"Let me try to reply" he said. "If I don't succeed then just say that I was an impetuous simpleton. But if I win, you can say that despite my ignorance the Torah was victorious."

The Rabbis agreed, G'via presented himself in Alexander's court and the debate began.

He calmly heard their claims stood up and immediately replied.

To the Africans he said. "If you rely on the Torah so will I. In Genesis 9:27 Canaan is called a slave and a slave has no possessions of his own. In other words, you have no claim to anything! And certainly not the holy land!"

Alexander gave the Africans three days to reply and when they realized they couldn't, they ran away in fear and shame.

To the Egyptians he said. "You claim that we Jews owe you money? It says in the Torah that over 600,000 of us, not counting the women and children, served you at hard labor for four hundred and twenty years! If you reckon it out I think you owe us much more than we took."

Alexander also gave them three days to come up with something and when they realized they couldn't, they too disappeared.

Finally (and this is what is relevant to us) he answered the Arabs. "True your ancestor was the son of Abraham. But none the less the Torah tells us (our section 25:5) "Abraham gave EVERYTHING he had to Isaac!"

Alexander gave them three days to reply and they too used the time to make their getaway.

The land of Israel remained in the hands of the Jews."

An Interesting Letter to the Editor in the Jewish Press about Perek Shira

A while ago, they published an article about Perek Shira, its importance, and then proceeded to promote a new book. This week, there is an interesting letter to the editor:

What Hashem Expects From Us

In the Aug. 8 issue of The Jewish Press, Elisha Cohen extols the virtue of reciting
Perek Shira as a segulah for both benefits and maladies. He writes that Rebbe and Rabbi
Eliezer the Great thought it good to recite this perek. Mr. Cohen, however, neglects to
quote the source of this claim. Many readers might be inclined to assume that this is
written in the Mishna or Gemara. I have searched these texts and cannot find a
reference to Perek Shira. It is incomprehensible that Rebbe, the redactor of our Mishna,
would leave out such an important idea from the Oral Law. It also seems strange that
none of the Taanaim or Amoraim discuss this in all of the Gemara.

In Mr. Cohen`s article he tells many stories of how Perek Shira helped people in
different ways. In Parashat Eikev, Hashem tells us what we need to do to prevent
infertility and other illnesses from coming to us. In just the first five pesukim (Devarim
7:12-16) Hashem tells us that if we follow his mitzvot, He will fulfill the covenant of our
forefathers. He will bless our children and produce, we will be blessed among the
nations, there will be no infertility, He will remove sickness, and any malady that
occurred to us in Egypt will be removed from us and placed on our enemies.

Hashem is clear what we need to do. Nowhere in our Torah does it say that reading
some pesukim will remove affliction from us. All we need to do is follow His will and keep
His Torah. Rambam in the his Yad Hackzacha (Sefer Mada, Hilchot Avodat Kochavim
11:12) says that one who is ill and says pesukim to heal himself is a kofer baTorah (one
who denies Torah).

Instead of relying on Perek Shira or chassidish rings, it would greatly benefit Klal
Yisrael if we learn from the Torah and keep Hashem`s mitzvot as He commanded us at

Mark Roth
(Via E-Mail)

I'll try at some point to give a writeup about perek shira.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Re`eh #3: How can you tell if a prophet is false?

This is in response to a query by Dov, so here is my response.

There are two ways. First, you can tell by the message. If a prophet tries to tell you to serve avodah zara, this is explicit in the parsha that he is a false prophet, to be killed. Further, Chazal make a diyuk (you can see it in the Sifrei if you have it in your mikraos gedolos) that if a prophet tries to change the existing corpus of dinim diorayta, and this means on a permanant basis, not as a horaat shaah, temporary emergency basis, then he is a false prophet. If one the other hand the prophet tells you to do tshuva and to serve Hashem, he is probably a true prophet. (See Yirmiyahu 28:8, and see how this can be derived from there.)

Second, if he claims something will happen and it does not. The restriction on this is that if was something bad, Chazal say (in some opinions at least) that Hashem could change his mind if the people do tshuva, so this is a warning, and then the person is not a false prophet. A good example would be Yonah, who prophesied the fall of Ninveh, and they did tshuva and it was not destroyed. Yonah feared, though, that people would wrongly suspect him of being a false prophet (according to some, that is why he did not want to go to Ninveh in the first place).

However, if a prophet prophesies about good to come, Hashem will not retract (this on the basis of various psukim.) If you check out Yirmiyahu 28th perek, Yirmiyahu has a showdown with Chanania ben Azur, where Yirmiahu predicts doom and gloom as per usual, while Chanania predicts redemption. Yirmiyahu's statement to Chanania may very well be (and is, according to some meforshim) that Yirmiyahu cannot in this instance be shown false, since failure to occur might come as a result of tshuva, and as such he hoped Chanania's prophecy would come true. However, Chanania has much to lose, and his status as a prophet is as stake.

Specifically, look at psukim 8 and 9:

8: The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence.

That is, they, like I have said bad things.

9: The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the LORD hath truly sent him.'

In Hebrew:
הַנְּבִיאִים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ לְפָנַי וּלְפָנֶיךָ--מִן-הָעוֹלָם: וַיִּנָּבְאוּ אֶל-אֲרָצוֹת רַבּוֹת, וְעַל-מַמְלָכוֹת גְּדֹלוֹת, לְמִלְחָמָה, וּלְרָעָה וּלְדָבֶר.

הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר יִנָּבֵא לְשָׁלוֹם--בְּבֹא, דְּבַר הַנָּבִיא, יִוָּדַע הַנָּבִיא, אֲשֶׁר-שְׁלָחוֹ יְהוָה בֶּאֱמֶת.

That is, such a prophet can be subject to a test, for he prophesied good to come, which Hashem will not retract from.

Others, of course, explain these psukim differently.

The final caveat is that a person communication between Hashem and a prophet not intended for public consumption might not come true, if merits are decreased and it is no longer deserving. The idea is that Hashem will not play with the minds of the masses, offering them false hope only to dash it, so good in a public prophecy will not be undone, but in a private prophecy Hashem would. Thus, Yaakov was afraid when Esav approached with 400 men, even though he had a previous promise from Hashem, since perhaps his merits had been exhausted.

The above is all based on the Rambam.

Re`eh #2: Can a false prophet perform miracles?

There is an interesting dispute I saw the other day in the Sifrei. In Re`eh, we are warned not to listen to a false prophet, even if he performs miracles. Deuteronomy 13:2-3: "If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams--and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee--saying: 'Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them'; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God putteth you to proof, to know whether ye do love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

In Hebrew, (let us see if it comes out):
כִּי-יָקוּם בְּקִרְבְּךָ נָבִיא, אוֹ חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם; וְנָתַן אֵלֶיךָ אוֹת, אוֹ מוֹפֵת.
וּבָא הָאוֹת וְהַמּוֹפֵת, אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אֵלֶיךָ לֵאמֹר: נֵלְכָה אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יְדַעְתָּם--וְנָעָבְדֵם.
לֹא תִשְׁמַע, אֶל-דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא, אוֹ אֶל-חוֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם, הַהוּא: כִּי מְנַסֶּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, אֶתְכֶם, לָדַעַת הֲיִשְׁכֶם אֹהֲבִים אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, בְּכָל-לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁכֶם.

How can a false prophet produce a true miracle, especially since according to the Sifrei these miracles involve things like moving of celestial bodies not in their normal courses, etc? In the Sifrei, one opinion says that, as the pasuk states, Hashem is testing us. The other opinion objects. How could Hashem cooperate to such an extent, to confuse his people. Rather, this is a true prophet who performed miracles for true prophecies in the past, and now diverts himself to provide false prophecy. He has already been established on the basis of the past miracles to be true, so we should not believe him now, on the basis of his content, to worship other gods.

This is a bit hard to understand, since then how is Hashem "testing us," via the miracles. Answers are possible, but these are left as an excercise for the reader. (One suggestion: Hashem knew in advance that eventually the prophet would turn false.)

The Rambam in fact talks about how only initially does the prophet need to provide signs and miracles to proof himself real, and later on relies on chazaka, the assumption based on status quo and past performance that he is real.

A perek!

Hadran Alach Keitzad MeAbrin! (5th perek eruvin, bavli)

I did not actually finish the prakim up to the fifth. I was in the middle of the 1st, actually, on Thursday, when the blackout hit. I learn usually on the way to and from work. I was not going to carry the Artscroll with me as I waled from Manhatten to Kew Gardens Hills, so I left it at work. At my parents' house, there was the second volume of Artscroll Eruvin, so I picked up from there, and it starts from the first perek.

The Artscroll continues to be a draw for strangers. As I was getting off the 3 train at 42nd Street today, a lady asked me if this was the Talmud. I told her yes, and added that it it is in Hebrew but with an English translation. She said she wished I had been sitting next to her (so that she could have read over my shoulder).

There is an incredible thirst for knowledge out that, that is not being filled.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Parshat Re`eh: Don't Add Nor Subtract: Mitzvot or Avodah?

Parshat Re`eh contains the prohibitions of bal tosif and bal tigra, not adding and not subtracting from the mitzvot. The specific verse is 13:1, or perhaps 12:32. And therein lies the issue. The verse states, "et kol hadavasr asher anochi metzaveh etchem, oto tishmeru la'asot; lo tosef alav velo tigra mimenu." "What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."

This is taken by Chazal to refer to mitzvot. Rashi cites the Sifrei that bal tosif means includes a prohibition to add to the particulars of mitzvot. That is, 5 chapters in tefillin rather than 4, 5 species for lulav rather than 4, 4 blessings in the priestly blessing (birchat kohanim) rather than 3.

That is not an entirely accurate Rashi, at least if Sifrei is his source. For, the Sifrei takes lo tosif alav to mean not to add to the number of tzitzit or to the species in the lulav bundle, and lo tigra to mean not to deduct from their number. However, birchat kohanim is derived from earlier in the pasuk, "kol hadavar," that even a "davar" you should not "tosif alav."

If you look at context, though, the subject does not seem to be mitzvot. This is a difference between pshat and drash. Pshat is literal, and is based on context. Drash is hyper-literal, and pays attention to the specific import of specific words used in the verse, ignoring context.

The context is how we should not adopt the methods of worship of the Canaanites. Verse 12:2 states "Ye shall surely destroy all the places, wherein the nations that ye are to dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every leafy tree." And verse 12:3 states "And ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods; and ye shall destroy their name out of that place."

Thus, we are to destroy their places and items of idol worship. Verse 4 says that you should not do so to Hashem, which either means not to use these forms of worship, or not to worship in disparate locations but in the one central place mentioned in verse 5. (It does NOT mean that one should not destroy the places of Hashem. So much is obvious and would not need to be said.)

Then, the psukim say how we should serve Hashem when we are settled securely in Eretz Yisrael and the Bet Hamikdash is built.

Verses 29-31 states that when we conquer Eretz Yisrael, "take heed to thyself that thou be not ensnared to follow them, after that they are destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying: 'How used these nations to serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.' Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God; for every abomination to the LORD, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods."

This is the same instruction as before, except more explicit. Do not look to other nations' worship. The same instruction as before, not to do the same to Hashem, that is, the mode of worship. Why? Because their mode of worship is abominable to Hashem, and that is why He did not command us to do it.

Now we turn to the all-important next pasuk. To reiterate the pasuk, "All this word which I command you, that shall ye observe to do; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."

In context, the pasuk is saying that Hashem commanded us the type of worship He wants. You should not seek to change it, to either add to it from things you see other nations doing, nor delete anything from the worship. Hashem has told us exactly what He wants.

The connection of this pasuk is made in two ways. The Jewish separation, in the form of a ptucha, follows this pasuk, which means that it closes the previous section. As such, it should mean, in pshat, the forms of worship and not mitzvot in general. (The next discussion is a false prophet, and, as perhaps I shall show later, one could argue that it could be attached to the next section.) Similarly, in the King James Bible, they make this verse the 32nd and the 12th perek, to show it closes the discussion. However, in our printings of Chumash, and in JPS's translation, it is the 1st pasuk of the 13 perek. Prakim were imposed by the Christians, so it is not clear who is responsible for the 1 pasuk shift and what it was originally, but the intent, and effect, of placing it in a new perek is to divorce it from the context of worship and make it refer in general to mitzvot in general, and perhaps with specific implication to the section that follows, that of the false prophet.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Special Tu BeAv Edition!

Tu BeAv is a great day in Jewish history for shidduchim. It's a great day for me, as well, for I got married on Tu BeAv. Today has actually been eerily marriage-oriented so far.

I like to learn gemara on the subway. Since I work and go to school, the hours spend commuting comprises the only time I really have to study gemara independently. And one thing I've noticed is that when you are visibly Jewish (wearing a yarmulka) and doing a visibly Jewish or out of the ordinary thing, you tend to attract attention. Thus, when I spend a week on the subway last summer tying the techelet (blue strings) onto my tallit, I became approachable and people with nominal connections to Judaism and even non-Jews who were somewhat interested in Jewish topics approached me and initiated conversations about tzitzit, about Torah, etc. Two weeks ago I was learning yerushalmi eruvin and someone asked my about the tetragrammaton, and what I knew about it, and how it related to things he was learning in (possibly new-agey) Sanskrit spirituality.

So today I was reading my Artscroll Bavli Eruvin and I was approached by Kareem, who asked if I knew how to write Hebrew. He wanted me to write down on a piece of paper the Hebrew ktav ashuri (assyrian script) for "one flesh." He saw I could read the gemara which had Hebrew looking words. He wanted to put the text as an inscription on his and his wife-to-be's wedding rings; they were to be married in about a year from now. The words "basar eched," one flesh, are meaningful in that they describe the marriage bond between man and woman in the beginning of Bereishit (Genesis). And so I obliged.

I transferred from the 1 train to the 3 train, and then at 42nd Street to the 7 train for one stop. I sat down next to a woman, who glanced over at what I was reading asked asked me about the different types of English/Hebrew gemaras out there, how she could obtain one, what the price of one or a set was, and what the best one was for someone who had not studied it before and was not familiar with Aramaic and Hebrew. She was getting married, and her husband-to-be had never studied gemara but wanted to start.

We shall see how the day develops.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Proof by contradiction in the thought of Chazal

I was thinking more about that yerushalmi I cited earlier, about the dispute between R Yochanan and Resh Lakish about whether mountains can function as walls to remove the status of reshut harabim from cities. I was discussing it at the Shabbos table as a guest at someone's home, and another guest's reaction was, "I hope you don't mind me saying this, but this all sounds absurd." I launched into appropriate apologetics, but it made me think more about what is going on, on a higher level, in this gemara and others, and how while the particulars seem extreme and farfetched, once you understand the system in which it is working, you can see a wonderful thought process going on.

There is a particular method of proving theorems in mathematics and computer science called proof by contradiction. Assuming you have some body of knowledge you are sure about, in the form of axioms and theorems which have already been proved. You want to prove some new theorem. To do so, you negate the theorem. That is, if I wished to to prove that it is raining outside, I would assume, that it is not raining outside. Then, I would derive, via some methods of proof, some statement that is false, and is known to be false because it contradicts some axiom or theorem already proved. Since we derive something false, some earlier assumption must be false. And, we only made one assumption, the negation. If the negation of the statement we want to prove is false, then the statement we want to prove is true.

Warning: heavy computer science terminology ahead
As an example, ATM is a language consisting of Turing Machines which halt and accept their input. We would like to know whether ATM is decidable - that is, whether we can construct a Turing Machine, that takes as input another Turing Machine B as well as B's input, and accepts the input if B would halt and accept B's input, and rejects the input if B would either loop indefinitely or would halt and reject B's input. This is a very useful type of Turing Machine to have. However, we prove via a method called diagonalization that such a Turing Machine cannot possibly exist.

ETM is another language, which consists of all Turing Machines that reject on all inputs. We want to show whether a decider for ETM exists. Such a deciding Turing Machine takes another Turing Machine B as input, and accepts if B will not accept any input, and rejects otherwise.

We prove that a decider for ETM cannot exist, not by analyzing ETM in any way to show mathematically that it cannot exist (which we can, by the way, do). Rather, we prove by contradiction.

We assume, for the purposes of contradiction, the negation of the statement we want to prove. So we assume that there is a Turing Machine C that decides ETM exists. Using C, we can construct a Turing Machine D which decides ATM. But, we know from before (we proved via diagonalization) that such a decider cannot exist. It must be that some statement or assumption we made earlier must be false, and the only assumption we made was the negation of the statement we wanted to prove. We assumed that a decider for ETM could exist, so it must be that a decider for ETM cannot exist.

And now back to the Torah

I think the same proof by contradiction occurs occasionally in the gemara. That is, we want to prove that a halacha, or halachic principle, is true. Rather than analyzing psukim, or mishnayot and braytos, or perhaps the halachic parameters of the question to determine truth or falsity, we demonstrate that assuming the opposite yields a falsehood or absurdity. Thus, proof by contradiction.

Axiom: Every law the Torah speaks about must exist in the real world.

Thus, as a made-up example, there is a mitzvah of sending away the mother bird before taking the eggs. If Chazal were to use hermeneutics to free from this obligation any birds whose species have feathers, all birds would be excluded, and then the Torah would contain a pasuk speaking about something that does not exist, which contradicts our axiom (which we know to be true), and so our assumption - that birds whose species have feathers are not within the commandment, would be false.

(This is NOT the same as "ain koach biyad chachamim laakor davar min hatorah," which refers to rabbinic enactments, rather than elaborations of Biblical law.)

Some examples of this in action occur on Bavli Chullin 10b-11a and on. There, we try to establish that first chazaka and then going after the majority are principles which are effective in the Biblical plane.

For the purposes of contradiction, they assume that chazaka does not exist. How then, asks R Shmuel bar Nachmeni, when the priest (Leviticus 14) seals up the house stricken with leprosy for 7 days. Perhaps from the time he observed it the leprosy had shrunk from the required size. The Torah speaks of the priest doing it, and the lack of a principle of chazaka would invalidate the entire process. It must be our assumption is false and chazaka does indeed exist.

R Acha bar Yaakov protests, perhaps the cohen walked out backwards, facing the leprosy. That is, by changing a detail not mentioned in the text, we can still assume the negation (the lack of chazaka) without achieving our desired contradiction.

Abaye answers two answers. Firstly, (the pasuk says "veyatza hakohen," the priest shall leave, and walking backwards is not called "yetziah," leaving. Thus, the cohen leaves facing forwards and so without chazaka the leprosy cannot be assumed to exist, so he cannot close up the house. Furthermore, what if the leprosy is on the back of the door? (This latter point I realize now is a sticking point for me, for Abaye is arguing here that in all cases, including the case with the back of the door.) The gemara continues arguing this case back and forth.

Similarly, by rov, majority, they try to prove from the head an olah offering, which cannot be broken apart, which presents a problem, for perhaps it is traif if the membrane of the brain were pierced, and then from a paschal offering, whose bones cannot be broken. They suggest that one might be obligated to burn through the skull with a coal, thus not breaking bones. The gemara continues. Thus, they try to show that rov must exist, for if we assume the negative, a mitzvah dictated in the Torah could not exist. This is pure proof by contradiction.

Now back to our yerushalmi (8:8) about a city surrounded by mountains:

"R Leizar asked R Yochanan, those cities surrounded by mountains, may one throw from it to reshus harabbim (public domain), or from reshus harabbim into it? He said to him, by your reasoning, there would never be any reshus harabim in the world!"

"Resh Lakish said, 'Indeed there is no reshus harabim until it is mefulash (open on both ends - this means, for example, open-ended on North and South, or alternatively, on East and West) from one end of the world until its (other) end."

"This seems the reverse of the opinion of Resh Lakish, who said 'There is no reshus harabim in this world, but there will be in the future to come, as it it said, (Yeshayahu 40:4), "kol gey yinasei," "every valley will be lifted up."

I said originally that there seems little contradiction within Resh Lakish. I now want to revisit this gemara.

R Yochanan rejected the idea of a city surrounded by mountains being a non-reshus harabbim (i.e. either a karmelis or a reshus hayachid). Why? Assume for the purposes of contradiction that the mountains would make it into a non-reshus harabbim. Then, we could say, as Resh Lakish actually does, that the only reshus haraabim would exist would be if it were mefulash (open) from the end of the world until its end. That is, no reshus harabim could exist in such a situation, says R Yochanan. However, we know there is a Biblical status of reshus harabbim, and a penalty of kares or chatas for advertently or inadvertently carrying from between a private and public domain, so reshus harabbim must exist. Thus, the assumption we made, that mountains prevent reshus harabbim's from, being reshus harabbims, must be false!

Note this discusses no feature of mountains (slope, being the product of nature rather than man, etc) that would invalidate them, but just the fact that we would arrive at an absurd conclusion.

The difficulty with using a reductio ad absurdum is that your opponent may take your absurdum and maintain it. This is in fact what Resh Lakish does. He claims the far reaching effects of mountains used by R Yochanan, and maintains that it is indeed so. However, his wording seems to suggest that there are some locations, though rare, which are indeed mefulash from one end of the world to the other, and in those grid coordinates we have reshus harabbim. Thus, we have no proof by contradiction, for the Torah's statement as to the existence of reshus harabbim is validated in reality.

(Alternatively, and I do not agree with this at all but am merely observing the possibility, one might say Resh Lakish was merely speaking out the reasoning for R Yochanan which was cited very tersely. At any rate, Resh Lakish's second statement surely argues with R Yochanan, but perhaps this is the meaning of "mechalfa shitetei deResh Lakish.")

Resh Laskish's second statement allows for the lack of the existence in reshus harabim in the present reality, since it will exist in the future. It is not clear that R Yochanan would disagree with such a statement, since this "future reality" argument does not seem to be juxtoposed to R Yochanan's statement.

Application to other situations.
A continental shelf surrounds all continents, and rises steeply for a sufficient height (certainly more than 10 tefachim). As such, this should make walls around all continents. Some suggest it, and people discuss the halachic applications of this, since this could theoretically take away the reshus harabbim status of certain places. Reshus Harabim is a major impediment to creating an eruv, for we can only make an eruv with tzuras hapesach etc. for a karmelis. (At least, that is what is commonly assumed. I think I can show this assumption to be false, but this is a topic for a later, more involved essay.)

I think there should be no question that the continental shelf cannot form walls to eliminate the status of reshus harabbim. Why? I make no appeals to the physical/halachic dimensions of a continental shelf. Rather, I point out, as R Yochanan did by mountains, that if we say this is the law then there would be no reshus harabbims in the world. Thus, via a proof by contradiction, they connot exist. We need not be concerned why the cannot exist. An explanation exists, but we need not know it, and it may not even be possible to know it (explanations of it might be rationalizations, and extrapolations to affect other halachos seems risky in terms of a strong possibility of determining a false halacha).

Further, we cannot even appeal to Resh Lakish. By mountains, he either maintains that reshus harabbim is rare but does exist, or does not exist now, but since all mountains will be flattened and all valleys lifted up, reshus harabim will exist. With continental shelves, no reshus harabim can exist now, and there is no verse telling us that continental shelves will be eliminated. So, Resh Lakish agrees to R Yochanan's principle, and so he would agree here that continental shelves are not efficacious, proving it by contradiction.

Postscript: bavli Eruvin 8a discusses a mavoi, one wall of which is formed by a steep rise from the sea or river. Such a wall is deemed invalid lest the sediment shift and change the slope to one that will not form an halachic wall. This seems to be rabbinic, so would not present a problem Biblically. Further, sediment shift could not reasonably eliminate the continental shelf. That is a limited discussion about the halachic parameters of a continental shelf. We still have, I maintain, the proof by contradiction.

{Updated Jan 18 2005 to allow comments and to correct some spelling errors.}

Friday, August 08, 2003

Another perek! And masechta!

Hadran Alach perek HaMotzei Tefillin! (yerushalmi eruvin 10th perek)
USlika Lah Masechet Eiruvin!

On to Bavli Eiruvin.

Nachamu parsing issue:

The third pasuk in the haftara (Yeshaya 40:3), states, "kol korei bamidbar panu derech hashem, yashru ba'arava mesila lelokeinu." There are two ways of translating this pasuk. The first, and more famous one, is "a voice cries out in the wilderness: clear a path of Hashem..." The second is "a voice cries out: in the wilderness clear a path of Hashem..." The difference is that in the first one, "bamidbar," "in the wilderness," is where the voice calls out, while in the second, it is where they should clear a path.

Doing a search on google for "a voice cries in the wilderness" (quotes included) reveals many results of each (results are skewed differently for searches of "a voice cries out in the wilderness," with the extra word "out"). JPS's translation has the clearing, rather than the crying, happening in the wilderness.

Ibn Ezra *seems* to say that the voice is in the wilderness, for he says in his commentary that the voice calls "panu," "clear," rather that "bamidbar."

I think that the dictates of Biblical poetry strongly recommend that bamidbar is part of the quote. The full pasuk is:
A voice calls:
(In the wilderness) (clear) (the path of Hashem)
(make plain) (in the desert) (a highway of our G-d)

(In the wilderness) (bamidbar) matches (ba'arava) (in the desert)
(clear) (panu) matches (make plain) (yashru)
(the path of Hashem) (derech Hashem) matches (a highway for our G-d) (mesila lelokeinu)

If you take bamidbar outside the quote, you lose the lovely parallelism.

More than this, the trup (cantillation) on the pasuk represents a very ancient tradition of how to parse the psukim, and it has the major dichotomy (the etnachta) by derech Hashem, splitting the pasuk in twain:

(A voice calls) (In the wilderness) (clear) (the path of Hashem) {MAJOR DICHOTOMY}
(make plain) (in the desert) (a highway of our G-d)

Within the first section, the first MINOR DICHOTOMY, in the form of a zakef katon, splits the subsection in twain, again.

(A voice calls) {MINOR DICHOTOMY}
(In the wilderness) (clear) (the path of Hashem) {MAJOR DICHOTOMY}

There are further minor dichotomies, but they simply break up the quote into smaller pieces until none contains three words. So, the trup unambiguosly supports the wilderness being where they clear, rather than where the quote is spoken.

I don't think this means Ibn Ezra would argue. The problem is that it seems that the medieval meforshim only understood the trup to consist of conjunctive (avadim/mesharsim) accents which bind and disjunctive (melachim) accents which split or cause a pause. Some made multiple levels of these accents in terms of power of pause, but they did not seem to see the trup for what it is, a continuous dichotomy, that is, continually splitting subsections in twain, or determining of two disjunctive accents of equal weight, which takes precedence.

Explanation: Warning: very technical, but you might learn something
In this specific case, there are three accents which might serve as the first minor dichotomy. There is a zakef katon on "korei," "calls." There is a zakef gadol on "bamidbar." Finally, there is a tipcha on "panu," "clear."

Let us consider each candidate to be the first minor dichotomy (that is, that which breaks the half-clause of our pasuk in two) in turn.

(First, you must know that specific accents serve to break clauses in two, and those accents are chosen as a function of the accent marking the end of the clause and the number of works the accent stands from the end of the clause it breaks up.)

Can it be the tipcha on "panu?" Absolutely not, because that would form a clause which ends in a tipcha. Such a clause, when it would be broken further in two, would need to be proken by means of the tevir accent, but there is no tevir earlier in the pasuk, but rather two zekefim, which can never break up such a tipcha-ending clause, and are thus completely out of place.

Can it be the zakef gadol on "bamidbar?" Absolutely not, first and formost because a zakef gadol only occurs when it breaks a clause it two and the portion beforehand is only the word on which it stands. That is, if this were the break, it would need to be a zakef katon, rather than a zakef gadol. Further, even were it a zakef katon, it would form a clause ending in zakef katon, and such a clause we would expect to be broken up in two by a pashta or a yetiv, yet it is not. There is a zakef katon beforehand, and that cannot break up a clause ending in zakef katon, and thus it stands out of place.

Now, for the correct candidate. The minor dichotomy is the zakef katon on "korei." The only word before it is "kol," which gets the subservient conjunctive accent munach. (We do not break a clause in twain if it has less than three words.) The second part of the clause is then fairly long, and ends in the etnachta that we had from before. It can nicely be broken in twain by the zakef gadol on bamidbar. Then, we have "panu derech hashem" ending in an etnachta. Again, we break up the clause, this time on "panu," with a tipcha. Finally, we have "derech Hashem," which is two words, so we need to split no more, so derech gets the conjunctive accent mercha.

Why did we sometimes split the etnachta with a zakef katon, sometimes zakef gadol, sometimes with tipcha? As I said earlier, it is a function of the specific accent at the end of the clause AND the amount of words away from the accent. One or two words away merits a tipcha. Three or more merits a zakef. 8 or 9 or more merits a segol (as is munach zarka munach segol), which is a special form of zakef. Further, when only one word will be before the clause and other conditions are met, we use a zakef gadol rather than zakef katon.

End Explanation

Now, Ibn Ezra was not thinking of this, and so he could explain the pasuk either way, since zakef gadol and zakef koton seem to be equal accents. He certainly would never go against the trup except under extreme duress, which does not exist in this case. So, I think this is the correct explanation of this pasuk.

Have a restful shabbos.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

I passed!

I passed my first year comprehensive examination in the Ph.D. program in Computer Science at CUNY. Hooray!

Two more perakim!

Hadran Alach Keitzad Mishtatfin! (8th perek yerushalmi eruvin)
Hadran Alach Kol Gagot HaIr! (9th perek yerushalmi eruvin)

VeEtchanan - Nachamu: Every Valley Shall Be Lifted Up

The haftara of VeEtchanan contains the following message: (Yeshayahu 40:3-5) "A voice calls: 'Clear ye in the wilderness the way of the LORD, make plain in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the rugged shall be made level, and the rough places a plain; And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.'"

Ibn Ezra explains this to mean that those in exile will return to the holy mountain (the Bet HaMikdash) and this is the "derech Hashem," the "way of the LORD" mentioned in the first pasuk I cited. (I think Ibn Ezra actually translates that pasuk slightly differently, as "a voice calls in the wilderness: clear ye the way of the LORD." More on this dispute about how to translate this pasuk and who is right in another dvar torah, if I get the chance.)

Ibn Ezra explains the import of "kol gey yinasei, vechol har vigivah yishafelu," "every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, etc," that the returnees from exile will have easy time returning, without much effort, for the way will be made level.

Chazal speak elsewhere about how the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, which encompassed and led the Jews as they made their way through the wilderness the first time towards Eretz Yisrael, also made the ground level, lifting up valleys and leveling mountains.

However, this pasuk about all valleys being lifted up and all mountains and hills made low surfaces in an interesting halachic dispute in the 8th perek of yerushalmi Eruvin, in the 8th halacha. Beginning in the middle:

"R Chiya bar Bo said, 'R Chanania ben Akavia did not speak {his din to permit a gezoztera on Shabbos (with specific details mentioned earlier in the gemara which will take us too far afield) - a platform over the water with a hole through which you draw water} except by the sea of Tiveria, since mountains surround it." {explains Rav Kanievsky, and thus, the ikkur hadin is that it is ??reshus harabbim??, but miderabbanan it is treated as a karmilis}.

"R Leizar asked R Yochanan, those cities surrounded by mountains, may one throw from it to reshus harabbim (public domain), or from reshus harabbim into it? {In other words, is it considered reshus hayachid = private domain?) He said to him, by your reasoning, there would never be any reshus harabim in the world!"

"Resh Lakish said, 'Indeed there is no reshus harabim until it is mefulash (open on both ends - this means, for example, open-ended on North and South, or alternatively, on East and West) from one end of the world until its (other) end."

"This seems the reverse of the opinion of Resh Lakish, who said 'There is no reshus harabim in this world, but there will be in the future to come, as it it said, (Yeshayahu 40:4), "kol gey yinasei," "every valley will be lifted up."

{Josh: and it continues, every mountain and hill will be made low. So, the world's surface will be flat and so the mountains will not act as walls to make all areas a karmelis.}

This is a contradiction within Resh Lakish only slightly, since in one place he said it is very unlikely (since you need mefulash), and in the other place he said there is no place that will be mefulash. It seems to be simply a rephrasing rather than a contradiction, with the first giving the reason, the second saying it does not exist, but in the future it will exist since all will be flat.

It is not clear whether Resh Lakish holds it is a karmelis or even Rabbinically a reshus hayachid. The gemara proceeds to say a mishna seems to argue on Resh Lakish by classifying something only "shvilei beis gilgal and the like" as a reshus hayachid... One also has to wonder, if we do agree to Resh Lakish, if there is any limit now that we know the world is an oblate spheroid. After all, if you keep traveling to the north, you will reach the North Pole, and from there you will travel south, until the mountain you find is actually possibly directly under your city. Would we say you should only consider the hemisphere whose midpoint is where you are currently standing. Or perhaps some lesser angle of ascent/descent is acceptable.

Have an easy and meaningful fast, and a good Shabbos.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Parshat VeEtchanan - The significance of "Nachamu"

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Nachamu, since the Haftarah we read for VeEtchanan is Yeshayahu's prophecy which begins (Yeshayahu 40:1) "Nachamu Nachamu Ami," "you shall comfort, you shall comfort, my people." (More on the meaning of the word nachamu later, in another dvar torah.)

I think, though, that a yerushalmi brachos (2:4) can shed some more light on the significance of "Nachamu."

There, there is a discussion about the name of Mashiach, based on psukim and the like. We will jump in in the middle of the discussion.

"R Yehoushua ben Levi said 'Tzemach is his name.' R Yudan the son of R Aibo said 'Menachem is his name.' Chanina the son of R Abahu said, 'and they do not argue, for the gematria of this is equal to the gematria of this one. Thus Tzemach = Menachem.' (Not sure if this is anonymous or a continuation of Chanina's statement - seems anonymous, and R Bon replies to it. I don't know the respective generations:)

"And this assists that which R Yudan the son said. A story happened with a Jew who was standing plowing. His cow moo'd before him. An Arab passed by and heard her (the cow's) voice. He said, {Josh: knowing how to speak cow} 'Jew, Jew, untie your cow, untie your plow, for the Bet HaMikdash has been destroyed.' (The cow) moo'd a second time, he (the Arab) said to him, 'Jew, Jew, tie your cow, and tie your vessels (of plowing), for the Messianic King has been born.' He (the Jew) said 'What is his name?' 'Menachem.' He (the Jew) said, 'From where is he?' He (the Arab) said, 'From the capitol of the king of Bet Lechem in Yehudah.'

"He (the Jew) went and sold his cow and sold his vessels and he made himself into a seller of swaddling clothes for nursing babies, and he would enter a city and leave a city (travelling while selling swaddling clothes) until he entered to that city. And all the women bought, and the mother of Menachem did not buy. He heard the voice of the woman saying 'Mother of Menachem, mother of Menachem, come and buy for your son.' She said, 'I desire that the enemies of the Jews (pious way of saying "her son" which diverts the evil of the statement) should be strangled, for on the day he was born the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed.' He said to her, 'I trust that in his steps it was destroyed and in his steps it will be rebuilt.' She said to him, 'I have no money.' He said to her, 'What does it matter to me? Come and buy for him (Menachem). If you have none (no money) this day, after days I will return and take (payment).' After some days, he returned to that city. He said to her, 'What is happening with the nursing babe?' She said to him, 'From the time I (last) saw you, wind on whirlwind came and grabbed him from my hands.'

"R Bon said, 'Why should we learn from this Arab (that Mashiach is born the same day as the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash)? Is it not a full verse (Yeshaya 10:34)
"Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one."
{J: elsewhere, Lebanon is equated with the Bet HaMikdash which whitens (melaben) the sins of the Jews.} What does it say afterwards? (Yeshaya 11:1) "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse."

We can see from this story the meaning of Nachamu. For the first moo signified that the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed. But with "nach a moo," another moo, the Mashiach was on his way, and the Bet HaMikdash would be rebuilt! :) :) :)

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Another Two Perakim!

Hadran Alach HaDar Im HaNachri! (6th perek yerushalmi eruvin)
Hadran Alach Chalon! (7th perek yerushalmi eruvin)

0 for 2!

It's time for another retraction! Last week, I declared that I thought Rav Kanievsky's explanation of a particular gemara (Yerushalmi Eruvin 3:2) was incorrect. I tried explaining the gemara on the basis of the context which was that a minor could deliver an eruv, so when the gemara said "R Yehoshua said, 'Why do we [/they] make an eruv chatzeiros?'" it meant why can minors make an eruv chatzeiros, rather than why do we need an eruv chatzeiros at all when we have shitufei muvaos.

It turns out the entire section of gemara occurs elsewhere in the gemara, divorced from the context of minors (the mishna actually discussed onas peutos and minors 3 mishnayos earlier). The mishna in Yerushalmi Eruvin 7:9 states "they only [instituted] to make an eruv chatzeiros so they don't forget the tinokos (babies) - [meaning that the children will not forget the laws of eruv].

Then we have the statement of R Yehoshua ben Levi and the story of the women who were enemies who made peace. This seems the origin of this cut of gemara, and it was cited earlier because it fit in the context. Rav Kaneivsky was obviously cognizant of this other yerushalmi when he wrote his perush, and I wasn't. I still have slight reservations, but Rav Kanievsky's explanation seems to be on the mark.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Another Perek!

Hadran Alach Keitzad MeAbrin (5th perek yerushalmi Eruvin)!


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