FNTP: Eikev – Scott

This week Scott Goldstein will be speaking as part of the Friday Night Talks Program on the topic of ‘Love & Gratitude: Taking It One Step Further’

Matot-Masei: To cry Mum or to say mum

To cry Mum or to say mum

by Dr. Jacques Abourbih

Understanding how Halachah is decided seems to be shrouded in mystery even for learned Jews. People mistake Talmudic halachic analysis for a mathematical theorem proof. This is not the case. A halachic interpretation does not apply hard logic to a set of unassailable rules. The fundamental guiding principle is applying reasonableness and practicality that will allow a point of Law to remain valid and relevant in the daily life of a Jew. In fact the interpreters will err towards a more lenient interpretation to allow more people to follow the Halachic ruling.

There are several instances when the Talmud records divergent opinions between the more stringent Shammai and the more lenient Hillel, yet it concludes with the term: “but the Halachah is according to Hillel.” Although often the ruling chooses the more lenient interpretation of the Law, it does not mean a free for all when anybody interprets the Law to suit his or her purpose of the moment.

I would like to digress for a moment to correct a historical perspective that is wrong. To do this I must first explain that rabbinical Judaism, which comprises about 95% of all Jews today, is the spiritual successor of the pharisaic Judaism in existence before the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 CE. Contrary to the historical perspective of the Pharisees commonly accepted, the Pharisees were the liberal Jews of their time. Sadducees and Essenes of the Dead Sea scrolls never allowed any possible interpretation of the laws in the Torah. The Pharisees on the contrary looked at interpretative opportunities to keep the relevance of the Torah laws in the life of Jews wanting to remain faithful to them. This process continues today at the hand of rabbinical poschim who have a solid grounding in rendering halachic decisions. Otherwise one can float so far off as to develop the most ridiculous ideas, all in the name of halacha. And we certainly have all seen examples of this.

I would like to illustrate the psak Halacha process from an example from the perasha of this week. The Torah prescribes the divorce procedure such that the husband must participate voluntarily. If the man refuses to grant a get the wife remains in the difficult position of an aguna, or in limbo. This situation, though unfair and tragic for the wife, is essentially the creation of the husband who has shown himself to be an evil criminal, and is abusing his wife in this contemptible way. Over the many years of our history the rabbis have done whatever they could for any woman so trapped in this lamentable predicament. Unfortunately, no categorical or general solution to the problem emerged.

One solution proposed recently was to apply the process of harat nedarim or annulment of vows which is presented in Matot, this week’s perasha.

The reasoning with regards to circumventing the issue of the get goes like this. A woman must obtain a get to be divorced, but only if she is married to that man. Hence if we find a deception by one or the other party there never was a marriage and therefore a get is not required.

This is similar to harat Nedarim where our rabbis explained that a man pronouncing a vow he cannot keep presents himself to the beit Din. The individual points out that his
lack of adapt or knowledge (or, more commonly, lack of foresight) of some aspect of the neder he had not considered would render the neder to be invalid.. The beit din declares the neder as lacking da’at (or awareness) at the time it was formulated, and therefore the neder is not binding. This is ruling is an example of a rabbinical adaptation to the laws in the Torah portion and is not in the Torah, as pointed out in tractate Chagigah.

An astute person may come up and say that he wants to annul a certain business transaction on the basis that he was not aware of the all consequences when he negotiated the deal. “Not so fast” says the bet Din.  The Beit Din’s annulments have jurisdiction only on contracts between Man and G-d, as we emphasize every year when we read Kol Nidre. But for contracts between Man and Man the two parties must work it out between themselves. As far as a neder or vow between Man and G-d, a person may have uttered it without full appreciation of all the consequences. But it is expected that an individual entering a business contract has exercised due diligence in foreseeing the consequences of the transaction.

Well what about divorces? Does the bet Din have jurisdiction to annul the marriage therefore obviating the need of a get? Marriage is referred to as Kiddushin, a holy act. It is a sacred vow of Man and Wife before G-d. Therefore the beit din should have jurisdiction to annul the marriage if one or the other party claim a lack of Da’at when either one entered in marriage.

The Ran explains that Kiddushin or the vows of marriage require a higher level of diligence or higher level of Da’at than would be exercised even in the case of a business transaction. Therefore the Beit din is powerless in the case of granting an annulment, even if theoretically it falls under the same category as nedarim.

The second argument against the beit din authority over annulment of marriages is raised by the rambam. He states that an individual who continues to use an object after he became aware the object to be defective after he bought it cannot claim mekach ta’ut an erroneous sale. Continued use of the item indicates that the level of the ta’ut is insufficient to warrant voiding the transaction.

Therefore a woman who remains in marriage with her husband and did not walk away from the marriage upon discovering a mum gadol or serious defect cannot claim the case of mekach ta’ut an erroneous sale, according to Rabbi Moshe Feisntein.

The counter-argument to this explanation is that marriage is not an object that you can discard if you find fault with it. A woman may not be able to walk away from the relationship even upon discovering a mum gadol, a serious defect.

And the debate goes on, with the sole intent to render halachah adaptable in fulfillment of the Torah when it says: “I have given you these laws to live by them” and our rabbis add:  “Not to die for them.”

Moses: The Leader [FNTP – Pinchas]

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10-30:1

Moses: The Leader

‘Moshe Rabeinu’ – Moses our teacher/leader/rabbi. We all remember the story of Moses and the little kid that he carried to the river to drink. That was the moment we confirmed that Moses was the right guy to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. The question now is – what makes him a great leader? This weeks parsha can be viewed as a manual that details the actions of a true leader.

The first thing that stands out in our parsha is the exchange between G-d and Moses when Moses receives the news that he will not be able to enter the land of Israel. Moses immediately responds with concern and makes sure that G-d will place someone before the children of Israel to lead them, “not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” Moses was not concerned about his status or any personal issue he may have with the news he received. His main concern is the welfare of the children of Israel. This selfless concern is what makes a great leader.

Another quality that Moses displays in his leadership that separates him from everyone else is humility. We all can learn from the humility of Moses – not just our leaders. Moses is approached by the five daughters of Tzlafchad, challenging his ruling on how the future land of Israel will be divided. Moses admits to the error in his ruling and grants the five sisters their wish to own the land mean for their dead father. The humility displayed by Moses in admitting his error and correcting it speaks volumes to his credibility as a leader. A leader that is only concerned about being right all the time will lose credibility with his followers. A leader must be humble and have the concern of his people come first – making sure that all is right – not always having to be right.

George Burns said “How come all the people who know how to run the country are cutting hair and driving cabs?” We learn form this parsha that the leader of the children of Israel does not just need to possess the wisdom to lead them – Pinchas showed great leadership skills! What G-d needed from the new leader of the children of Israel was that the core value of the leader needs to be complete and selfless care for the children of Israel. Joshua, and no one else, had such a core value to guide them in the leadership of the nation.

Shabbat Shalom!
Scott Goldstein

Korach – Free will

Our rabbis tell us that there are four classical methods to study and understand the Torah.

Peshat literally means “the simple” straight forward understanding of the passage.

Remez refers to the “hints” or the deep allegoric hidden or symbolic meaning beyond just the literal sense.

Derash is the “seeking” in the sense of inquiry or exploration of the meaning given trough similarities

Sod is the mystical secret explanation given through inspiration or revelation.

There is a mnemonic to remember those four methods of interpretation found in the word PaRDeS.

There is a baraita about four rabbis of the Mishanic period, which spans the first century period, who visited Pardes. According to the Bavli Hagigah 14b, and Yerushalmi Talmud Hagigah 2:1:

“Four men entered the pardes — Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher that is, Elisha ben Abuyah, and Akiba. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiba entered in peace and departed in peace”

It is understood here that these four sages studied Torah according to the four methods. Something happened and befell each each however, except for rabbi Akiva as they delved into the mystical and esoteric realm of Torah study.

As an introduction to our discussion about our Perashat Korach, I would like to emphasize the fate of Elisha ben Abuyah, referred to as Acher, the other one, in the Baraita. According to our understanding, Elisha ben Abuyah chose to become a rasha’, that is he committed apostasy.

How did that happen? The Baraita tells us that Elisha ben Abuyah destroyed the plant. What does that mean?

According to the Talmud Elsiha Ben Abuyah entered Heaven and saw Metatron sitting down (an action that in heaven is permitted only to G-d himself). Elishah ben Abuyah therefore looked to Metatron as a deity and said heretically, “There are indeed two powers in heaven!” The Talmud tells us that Metatron is the highest of the angels and serves as the celestial scribe writing down the actions of the Children of Israel. The Gematria equivalent of the name Metatron is equivalent to Shaddai, one of Hashem’s names. Could this have led to the apostasy of Ben Abuyah?

The Talmud states, it was proved to Elisha that Metatron could not be a second deity by the fact that Metatron received 60 ‘strokes with fiery rods’ to demonstrate that Metatron was not a god, but an angel, and could be punished. Despite this Ben Abuyah chose to persist in his error. It was a free choice.

Let us turn now to Korach. There was a terrible plague devastating the camp as a result of Korach’s rebellion.

The day after the earth swallowed Korach, Datan and Abiram the leaders of the rebellion against Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon Ha-kohen G-d sent a plague against those who railed against Moshe and his brother for causing the death of korach and the other rebels. Moshe Rabbenu tells Aaron to take the fire pan, put fire from the altar and incense on it, and take it to the community to make expiation for them and to stop a plague that had begun, and Aaron did so.  Aaron stood between the dead and the living and halted the plague, but not before 14,700 had died.

There is a remez to that pasuk to which Rashi provides insight.

Rashi explains that Aharon grabs the Angel of Death that Hashem had sent and stops him saying: “Moshe ordered me to stop you.” To which the Angel replies: “I was sent by Hashem, you were sent by Moshe!”

The Chazal tells us that Angels do not have a free will. The Angel of Death must complete the mission he was sent for, not interrupt his duty to have a chat. Yet it seems that in this instance the Angel stops his mission to debate Aharon. Eventually Aharon prevails even against the Angel of Destruction.

How did all this happen? Clearly Moshe and Aharon by interfering with the mission of the Angel of Destruction went against the will f G-d!

Both Moshe and Aharon made a choice according to their free will. They chose to change an act of revenge and destruction even though it was G-d’s will. How is that possible? We are different from Angels who have no free-will.  Through the power of free choice we have the ability to change ourselves and change nature around us for the better or the worse. The choice is ours. Hopefully the choices we make, like Moshe and Aharon will turn Chol to Kadosh.

Shabbat Shalom

Jacques Abourbih

FNTP: Scott – Shlach

This week Scott Goldstein will be speaking as part of the Friday Night Talks Program on the topic of ‘perceptions of self