Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Blemished are Better Role Models (Emor 5776)

For any man in whom there is a blemish shall not approach: a man who is blind or lame or whose nose has no bridge, or who has one limb longer than the other; or in whom there will be a broken leg or a broken arm… (Artscroll translation of Vayikra 21:18-19)

Strangely, the Torah prohibits kohanim exhibiting certain physical defects from serving in the Beit haMikdash. Excluding a physically marred priest was not unusual for the ancient Near East (This Abled Body, pg. 26), but it seems inconsistent with the Torah’s broad messages regarding the relative unimportance of physical perfection.

Our greatest prophet, Moshe, the source of our Torah and the closest “confidante” of G-d, identified himself as having a speech defect, and G-d did not choose to heal him. (Shemot 4) When the prophet Shemuel was sent to select a king, and he was impressed by a candidate’s physical form, G-d rebuked him, “Human beings see with their eyes, but G-d sees the heart.” (Shemuel I 16:7) The Talmud records a story of a man who was insulted as ugly, and it approves of his response, “Go tell the Craftsman who made me.” (Taanit 20b) Torah and tradition render absurd the idea that there is any inferiority in, or any Divine rejection of, a human being whose form is damaged or incomplete.

Further: the demand for physical perfection hardly guaranteed a proper priesthood. The ranks of “unblemished” priests included Chofni and Pinchas, who abused their power in control of the Mishkan; the high priest Evyatar supported Adoniyahu’s coup; the descendants of the priestly Chashmonaim abused their power and fell in with the Greeks; and the heretical Sadducees claimed lineage from the high priest Tzaddok. We must also realize that exclusion of people with physical challenges runs counter to the respectful and protective approach to the vulnerable trumpeted throughout the Torah. How could the Torah, which inveighs incessantly against abuse of the week, perpetuate a stigma regarding people who are blind, lame, or suffer broken limbs?

One explanation is that the Torah is concerned about popular perception of the Beit haMikdash and its service. As Sefer haChinuch (275) suggests, “if [the priest] is of deficient form and unusual limbs, then even if he is righteous in his ways, his deeds will still not be found as positive in the eyes of his beholders.” This rationale is difficult, though; in other areas of religious practice the Torah harshly condemns weaknesses of the human psyche, including hedonism and miserliness. Imagine the lesson had the Torah explicitly required the inclusion of priests who exhibited physical defects!

We might understand the exclusion of the challenged kohen by recognizing that physical defects are acceptable for kings, sages, prophets and judges. In every arena of Jewish life, public and private, we promote respect for every individual, regardless of physical challenges; only regarding the kohen is the law different. Perhaps this is because the kohen who serves in the Beit haMikdash is not viewed as a human being at all; rather, the kohen is a representative of G-d. [See Yoma 19a and Kiddushin 23b.] Indeed, the prophet Malachi identifies the kohen as an angel of G-d. (Malachi 2:7) In G-d, there is no defect.

Life offers two categories of success: the easy victory, and the triumph over adversity. For human beings, the latter may be the greater achievement; as Pirkei Avot 5:23 says, “The reward is commensurate with the pain endured.” Therefore, our role models – king, sage, prophet and judge – include human beings who struggle with, and overcome, physical obstacles. The kohen, though, represents G-d, for whom there is neither obstacle nor struggle, and in whom no defect can be perceived. The Divine agent, like his Master, must represent success without challenge.

The unblemished kohen, inhabiting the Beit haMikdash of G-d, is not a role model for us. We are all incomplete and challenged in some way, and therefore our ideal role models are other challenged human beings. We would be criminally foolish if we failed to value the role model in every human being, recognizing the unique personalities, talents and contributions of people who triumph over all manner of adversity.

When we gaze upon the representatives of G-d, let us see a world in which success comes easily. But when we ask ourselves whom we wish to become, let us look upon the “blind or lame”, the one with the broken leg or broken arm, the Moshe. These are our heroes, and from them we will learn success.

[For other ideas regarding the exclusion of priests with physical blemishes, see Toronto Torah 4:29 and 6:31.]

Friday, May 6, 2016

Grief

I expect to take my teenage son to a levayah (funeral) for the first time today; it's for the grandparent of a friend of his.

I have mixed feelings, of course, about his readiness and so forth. But it seems to me to be important that a person's first exposure to intense grief come 1) vicariously, and 2) with the possibility of helping to mitigate it for others.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I get it!

An epiphany, as I prepare my shiurim on the closing chapters of Iyov -

Iyov = Shir haShirim!

Not exactly, of course. The roles and dynamics of the relationship at the core of each book are different. But fundamentally, both are books about:
1. a passionate desire for a relationship between the protagonist and G-d/King,
2. then launched into conflict,
3. addressed by outsiders who do not understand, and
4. brought to a resolution which is not a resolution.

Shir haShirim uses the model of two human beings pursuing a loving relationship (אהבה). One may be a king and the other a peasant, but the two are relatively accessible to each other. The conflict arises when the woman/reader falters, she then encounters people who attack her and malign her beloved, she defends her beloved. She returns to the relationship - but the book does not present a full reunion with her Beloved.

Iyov uses the model of King and citizen, with the citizen pursuing a relationship of reverence and fear (יראה). The King is not accessible, but the citizen/reader persists in the relationship. The conflict arises when the King fails to carry out justice, alienating the citizen. The citizen encounters visitors who attack him and misrepresent G-d; he defends G-d to them, even as he demands that G-d communicate with him. G-d ultimately communicates, but only to explain that true communication is not possible. Nonetheless, G-d presents the citizen with gifts, demonstrating that there is some form of relationship.

Two different religious experiences and outlooks.

It's beautiful.

There is much more here; this is going to be fun to write up for Tuesday's shiur.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A generation that does not know how to ask

A bit of a depressing thought (which is why I didn’t publish it before Pesach). I should develop further, but this is not the time of year for cynicism...

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:4) lists four types of children for whom we are instructed והגדת לבנך, “Tell your children” about the Exodus. One is חכם – wise. One is רשע – wicked. One is טיפש – foolish (in contemporary haggadot, the edition often says תם, simple, but the meaning is the same). And one is שאינו יודע לשאול – the one who does not know how to ask. These are the four children of our Seder.

Maharal, like many others, explains that the one who "does not know how to ask" is of weak intellect. This is difficult, though; is the אינו יודע לשאול like the תם-טיפש, just less bright?

Rav Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Moharan 30:6) explained this child differently – he “does not know how to repent and ask for forgiveness from G-d for sins of which he is unaware.”

Taking Rav Nachman’s idea further: The “one who does not know how to ask” is indeed bright. He can make deductions and declare assertions and debate brilliantly - but he does not know how to ask questions, with a genuine interest in learning that which he does not already know.

We are riding the wave of a communication revolution, in which all of us can publish. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and any number of photo-sharing apps offer platforms for us to proclaim our beliefs. But these media offer very little in the way of two-way communication. (And writing, “Let me know in the comments” when you really mean, “Compliment me, or tell me why you disagree so that I will be able to rebut your arguments,” doesn’t count.)

And we live in a world which interprets humility as uncertainty, and a gentle demeanour as timidity, encouraging us always to express ourselves, and to do so with force. Just look at our presidential candidates.

The result is a style which emphasizes zingers, supporting data, boasting, questions solely for the purpose of rhetorical device, and QED. There is very little inquiry for the sincere purpose of learning another point of view. We have become a generation that does not know how to ask.

Perhaps we need people to set our teeth on edge…

Thursday, April 14, 2016

We do not rely on miracles (Derashah, pre-Pesach 5776)

21st century science proclaims that human beings are actually hard-wired to believe in Hashem. Or as a headline in the on-line journal Science 2.0 put it, “Scientists Discover that Atheists Might Not Exist”. Of course, people might come to doubt Gd for a variety of reasons and due to a range of experiences, but developmental psychology, neuropsychology and evolutionary biology argue that by default, we are believers. In other words: As described gloriously in Shir haShirim, Man pursues Gd! It is in the nature of man to believe in, to yearn to believe in, a Refereed universe.

It is axiomatic that Judaism encourages us to nurture and nourish this native emunah, practicing it out of choice rather than mere biological compulsion. We dedicate two out of our three regalim to highlighting the heights our emunah can achieve:
• On Succos, we enter the Succah to celebrate לכתך אחרי במדבר, the way in which our ancestors followed HaShem in the wilderness, on faith.
• On Shavuos, we celebrate both the emunah of the farmer who sacrifices the year’s first produce, and the emunah of the Jews at Sinai who declared נעשה ונשמע, “We will do whatever You say!”

But the attraction to emunah can be a Trojan Horse, concealing two subtle risks:
• First: The risk that we will look for Gd in foreign places, as did the generation of Enosh and the creators of the Golden Calf, as well as generations of young Jews who have hiked the Himalayas in search of that Gd. To borrow from Voltaire: if we fail to find Gd, we might resort to inventing Him.
• And then there is a second risk: that human beings who believe in a Divine Overseer will rely fully on this Overseer, failing to value that which humanity can and must achieve on its own behalf.

Pesach comes to neutralize the risks of our natural faith. The narrative of Pesach addresses the first challenge by testifying that Gd, and only Gd, is Creator and Manipulator of our world. And the narrative of Pesach addresses the second challenge, too, by proclaiming that our liberty from Egyptian bondage was achieved not solely through the אני ולא מלאך intervention of Gd, but also through the activism of the human being:
• The dauntless persistence of our formidable ancestors who were slaves in Egypt, and who did not give up but instead retained their identity as descendants of Avraham and Sarah;
• The energy of נשים צדקניות, superlatively righteous women who kept their families going despite Egyptian slavery, and in whose merit, Chazal say, we were rescued from Egypt;
• The obstinacy of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, who refused to be intimidated by Pharaoh and the Egyptians;
• And the fearlessness of brave ancestors who, in the midst of idolatrous Egypt, slaughtered the representative of the lamb-god for the korban Pesach.
This emphasis on human action is a central lesson of Pesach: We believe in miracles, and we celebrate miracles, but we also celebrate עם ישראל, Jewish peoplehood and Jewish action, on this Yom Tov.

Of course, this emphasis on human action is not explicit in the Haggadah; the Haggadah is overtly and rightly devoted to the Gd of אני ולא מלאך, even downplaying the actions of Moshe Rabbeinu. Nonetheless, the emphasis on human endeavour is embedded in a central mitzvah of Pesach night, ושמרתם את המצות – the practice of using matzah shemurah, guarded matzah.

We use Seder matzah which has been guarded by Jews with the mitzvah in mind (Pesachim 38a-b)  – not only because we are afraid that the dough might become chametz, but because a critical component of the process of making matzah, a crucial third ingredient alongside wheat and water, is the presence of a Jew who is striving to fulfill the mitzvah of his Creator. For this reason, it is insufficient to use closed-circuit monitoring of the grain; it is insufficient to have a Jew watch a non-Jew process the flour. A Jew must personally grind, sift, mix and knead the flour, all the while maintaining his intent to create matzah for the mitzvah. [We will need to discuss "machine shemurah" another time...]

Why do we insist on Jewish involvement and concentration in crafting our Seder matzah? Rabbeinu Asher (Rosh Pesachim 2:26) explained that it’s because the Torah describes matzah as לחם עוני, which the Sages translate as bread of poverty, like the bread our enslaved ancestors ate. As the gemara says, when paupers want bread, they make it personally – and so Rabbeinu Asher wrote, בעלי מעשה וחסידים ותמימים מחמירין על עצמן כגאונים המחמירין ולשין ואופין בעצמן, that people of great deeds and great piety make sure to knead and bake the matzah themselves. And even for those of us who do not bake the seder matzah personally, we still require that a Jew make it, remembering and emulating our impoverished and enslaved ancestors on a night which is simultaneously dedicated to mimicking royalty.

As science has discovered, and as celebrated on Shavuos and Succos, the human being naturally pursues the Divine Overseer. But Pesach plays a balancing role, first by making certain that our religious search is directed toward Gd, and second by reminding us that our liberty came about with the help and merit of human effort. This is the message of matzah shemurah, which we must create by investing labour and intent.

Perhaps we should take that recognition of human effort a step further at our Seder, beyond matzah shemurah.
• Perhaps, without taking anything away from the Haggadah’s central motif of Divine miracles, we could still pause when we read ויתנו עלינו עבודה קשה, about the hard labour, to honour the generations of slaves who persisted in identifying as Jews;
• When we read ואת עמלנו – אלו הבנים, about the struggle of producing children in Egypt, we could pause for הכרת הטוב, gratitude to those נשים צדקניות who birthed, nurtured and raised Jewish children in the face of hopelessness;
• When we read אני ולא מלאך, the declaration that HaShem took us out personally and single-handedly, we could state, as the Tosafos Rid notes, that Moshe courageously and stubbornly brought the Divine message to Pharaoh, despite the Pharaoh’s threats in response;
• And when we read ואמרתם זבח פסח הוא לד', about the mitzvah of korban pesach, we could discuss what it took for a Jew in Egypt to tie up a lamb on the 10th of Nisan and identify it as a sacrifice for HaShem, and whether we would have the strength to buck our society in that way.

And even beyond Pesach, we should recognize the value of that human activism in the Liberty achieved in our own era. Our national return to Israel is surely a Divine miracle, but the Jews who suffered to earn it, the mothers who struggled to raise Jewish children, the leaders who practiced shuttle diplomacy, the visionaries who challenged the international political status quo – to their activism we owe a great הכרת הטוב, and a recognition that this is what Hashem has empowered us to achieve.

The early Greek philosopher Protagoras declared that Man is the measure of all things, but we don’t agree. On the other hand, we also don’t believe solely in the humble half-passage from Tehillim, מה אנוש כי תזכרנו “What is man that Thou art mindful of him.” Rather, we believe in the entire sentence from Tehillim, and its concluding promise of human potential: ותחסרהו מעט מאלקים, “You, Gd, have made us but a little lower than the angels.”

HaShem has crowned humanity with the opportunity to make our own shmurah matzah, to bring our own korban pesach, to effect our own miracles, and so to achieve glory and greatness. This Pesach, may we recognize the ways in which our ancestors did this, and may we answer the Divine call to use our Liberty to do the same.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Class: Stress in Jewish Law

I expect to speak on "Stress in Jewish Law" this Sunday morning, and I think the sources on my class materials might interest people:

Causes of Stress
1.   Monat & Lazarus, Stress and Coping: Anthology (1991), pp. 2-3 (https://books.google.ca/books?id=2RpC7YCbZM8C)
Three basic types of stress are typically delineated: systemic or physiological, psychological, and social. Systemic stress is concerned primarily with the disturbances of tissue systems, psychological stress with cognitive factors leading to the evaluation of threat, and social stress with the disruption of a social unit or system…
[T]he stress arena refers to any event in which environmental demands, internal demands, or both tax or exceed the adaptive resources of an individual, social system, or tissue system.

2.   Talmud, Moed Katan 26b
חולה שמת לו מת אין מודיעין אותו שמת שמא תטרף דעתו עליו...
If a patient’s relative dies, we do not inform him of the death, lest his mind be torn…

3.   Talmud, Ketuvot 6b
"חתן פטור מקרית שמע לילה הראשון עד מוצאי שבת, אם לא עשה מעשה." מאי לאו דטריד דבעי למיבעל? אמר ליה אביי, לא - דטריד דלא בעיל. אמר ליה רבא, ומשום טירדא פטור? אלא מעתה, טבעה ספינתו בים הכי נמי דפטור!
“A groom is exempt from Shema from the first night until Saturday night, if he has not performed the act.” Isn’t this because he is distracted by intent for [the mitzvah of] relations? Abbaye said: No – he is distracted because he has not performed the act. Rava replied: Would one be exempt because of any distraction? Then one whose boat sank at sea would also be exempt!

4.   Talmud, Niddah 9a
אם היתה במחבא והגיע שעת וסתה ולא בדקה טהורה, שחרדה מסלקת את הדמים.
If she was in hiding and her time came, but she did not check, she is presumed to be pure; fear removes bleeding.

5.   Talmud, Bava Batra 147b
מתנת שכיב מרע מדרבנן בעלמא היא שמא תטרף דעתו עליו.
The [verbal] gift of a dying person is rabbinically accepted, lest his mind be torn [in fear that it would not be valid].

6.   Talmud, Shabbat 128b
"אם היתה צריכה לנר, חבירתה מדלקת לה את הנר." פשיטא! לא צריכא בסומא. מהו דתימא כיון דלא חזיא אסור, קא משמע לן איתובי מיתבא דעתה, סברא אי איכא מידי חזיא חבירתה ועבדה לי.
“If [a woman giving birth] needs a lamp, her friend lights it for her.” That’s obvious! No – this is even if she is blind. I might have prohibited it since she does not see, but this teaches that lighting it will settle her mind. She will think that if there is some need, her friend will see it and do it for her.

7.   Talmud, Bava Batra 146a
שנוי וסת תחלת חולי. 
A change in [dietary] routine is the start of illness.

The impact of stress
8.   Some of the medical impact
·         Higher heart rate and blood pressure (norepinephrine neurotransmitter)
·         Metabolization of fat and protein, and elevated blood sugar (cortisol)
·         Suppressed immune responses (cortisol)
·         Flu-like symptoms, allergic reactions, inflammation (cytokines)
·         Narrowing of mental focus and loss of neuroplasticity (neural focus on the threat)
·         Shutdown of neurons (calcium flooding from overstimulation of neurons)
·         Long-term stress builds on these effects

9.   Stress can have positive medical impacts, too
·         Summoning helper hormones
·         Focus on a problem
·         Cell growth in the brain’s learning centres
·         Sense of resiliency

10. What can cause stress to be helpful?
·         Conditions which aid willpower
·         Our perception of stress (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374921/)
·         Generosity to others (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780662/)

11. Talmud, Eruvin 65a
הבא מן הדרך אל יתפלל שלשה ימים
One who comes from the road should not pray [the amidah] for three days.

12. Mishlei 18:14
רוּחַ־אִישׁ יְכַלְכֵּל מַחֲלֵהוּ וְרוּחַ נְכֵאָה מִי יִשָּׂאֶנָּה:
The spirit of a person will sustain him in illness, but who can bear a broken spirit?

13. Rambam (12th century Egypt), Regimen Sanitatis, cited in Nishmat Avraham Yoreh Deah 337:ו
יש לספר ספורים משמחים לחולה, שירחיבו את נפשו, ודברים שיסיחו דעתו ויצחק מהם.
One should tell stories which gladden the patient, broadening his spirit, and things that will remove his mind [from illness] and cause him to laugh.

14. Rabbeinu Asher (13th century Germany/Spain), Bava Kama 8:1
צריך שיהא לחולה נחת רוח מן הרופא
The patient must have satisfaction from this doctor.

15. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (20th century USA), Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:73:2
דוקא באופן שלא ידע החולה המסוכן שלפי אומדנות הרופאים א"א לרפאותו דאם ע"י זה יודע שא"א לרפאותו הרי יתבעת, שבשביל זה יש לחוש שיקרב מיתתו ויטרף דעתו שאסור בכל אופן
This [substitution] may be done only in a way that the dangerously ill patient will not know that the doctors think they cannot heal him. If this would cause him to know that they cannot heal him, he would be frightened, and this would hasten his death and his mind would be torn, which is always prohibited.

16. Melachim II 6:17
וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל אֱלִישָׁע וַיֹּאמַר ד' פְּקַח־נָא אֶת־עֵינָיו וְיִרְאֶה וַיִּפְקַח ד' אֶת־עֵינֵי הַנַּעַר וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה הָהָר מָלֵא סוּסִים וְרֶכֶב אֵשׁ סְבִיבֹת אֱלִישָׁע:
And Elisha prayed and said, “Gd, please open his eyes and he will see.” And Gd opened the youth’s eyes, and he saw, and the mountain was filled with horses and fiery chariots surrounding Elisha.

17. Talmud Yerushalmi, Shabbat 14:3, with Korban ha’Edah commentary
"והסיר ד' ממך כל חולי" (דברים ז:טו) זו רעיון.
קר' העדה: שכל החלאים תלויים בהרהורים רעים...
Devarim 6:16 says, “And Gd will remove all illness from you” – this is thought.
Korban ha’Edah: For all illnesses depend on bad thoughts.

18. Talmud, Yoma 84b
ראה שננעלה דלת בפני תינוק, שוברה ומוציאו, והזריז הרי זה משובח, ואין צריך ליטול רשות מבית דין...
If he sees that a door is closed before an infant, he should break it and take the infant out. One who is energetic is praiseworthy, and one need not seek permission from a court…
19. Talmud, Shabbat 151b, with explanation of Meiri
אמר רבי חנינא אסור לישן בבית יחידי
מאירי: וכן בכל שהוא מביא עצמו לידי נסיון של פחד אסור והכל לפי טבעו
Rabbi Chanina said: One may not sleep in a house alone.
Meiri: And so one may not do anything that would bring him to the test of fear, all according to his nature.

20. Talmud, Berachot 63b
מנין שאין דברי תורה מתקיימין אלא במי שממית עצמו עליה שנאמר +במדבר י"ט+ זאת התורה אדם כי ימות באהל
How do we know that Torah endures only in one who kills himself for it? "This is the Torah: When one dies in a tent."

21. Talmud, Menachot 99b
שאל בן דמה בן אחותו של ר' ישמעאל את ר' ישמעאל: כגון אני שלמדתי כל התורה כולה, מהו ללמוד חכמת יונית? קרא עליו המקרא הזה: לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך והגית בו יומם ולילה, צא ובדוק שעה שאינה לא מן היום ולא מן הלילה ולמוד בה חכמת יונית.
Ben Dama, nephew of Rabbi Yishmael, asked Rabbi Yishmael: For one such as me, who has learned the entire Torah, would learning Greek wisdom be permitted? To which Rabbi Yishmael cited the verse, "This book of the Torah shall never leave your mouth, and you shall read it day and night." Go find a time that is neither day nor night, and then you shall learn Greek wisdom.

22. Talmud, Eruvin 21b-22a
שחרות כעורב במי אתה מוצאן במי שמשכים ומעריב עליהן לבית המדרש רבה אמר במי שמשחיר פניו עליהן כעורב
"Black like a raven" – In whom is learning found? In one who rises early and remains late in the study hall. Rabbah said: In one who blackens his face like a raven for it [in hunger].

23. Talmud, Shabbat 153a
"רבי אליעזר אומר שוב יום אחד לפני מיתתך." שאלו תלמידיו את רבי אליעזר: וכי אדם יודע איזהו יום ימות? אמר להן: וכל שכן ישוב היום, שמא ימות למחר, ונמצא כל ימיו בתשובה!
“Rabbi Eliezer said: Repent one day before your death.” Rabbi Eliezer’s students asked him: Does one know the day he will die? He replied: Then he certainly should repent today, lest he die tomorrow; then he will repent his entire life!

24. Talmud, Berachot 60a
ההוא תלמידא דהוה קא אזיל בתריה דרבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי בשוקא דציון, חזייה דקא מפחיד, אמר ליה "חטאה את, דכתיב 'פחדו בציון חטאים (ישעיה לג:יד)'!" אמר ליה, "והכתיב 'אשרי אדם מפחד תמיד (משלי כח:יד)'!" אמר ליה, "ההוא בדברי תורה כתיב."
A student followed Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosi in the market of Zion; Rabbi Yishmael b’Rabbi Yosi saw that he was fearful, and he said, “You must be a sinner, for Yeshayah 33:14 says, ‘The sinners feared in Zion’!” The student replied, “But Mishlei 28:14 says, ‘Fortunate is one who is always afraid’!” He replied, “That is [fear] regarding Torah.”

How halachah deals with the negative impact of stress
25. Rabbi Yaakov Kanaievsky (20th century Russia, Israel), Etzot v'Hadrachot pg. 55
והוא מתחבולות היצר להכביד עליו עול העבודה עד שתהיה עליו למשא כבד, ועל ידי זה דוחהו אחר כך לפריקת עול תורה ר"ל.
Such thinking is a strategy of the yetzer [hara], to weigh upon him the yoke of serving [Gd] to the point where it will be a heavy burden for him, and to thereby push him to throw off the yoke of Torah, Gd-forbid.

26. Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Grinwald (20th century USA), Etzot v'Hadrachot pg. 85
האדם הזה שכל פעם בעשייתו רצון הבורא יתברך נפשו וכוחותיו מסובכים ברגשי אי-נעימות, פחדים, מתח וחוסר שמחה מפני עשיית המצוה – ואדרבה זו נעשית אצלו דרך הרגיל, ועשיית מצוה מתוך שמחה הוא דרך בלתי רגיל – זהו הוכחה גלויה שאין זה כוונת הבורא יתברך שמו ש"עוז וחדוה במקומו", ועיקר עשיית המצוה היא בשמחה דוקא, כמו שכתב הרמב"ם...
The person who, whenever performing the will of the Creator, his soul and his energies are ensnared in feelings of unpleasantness, terrors, stress and lack of joy because of performing the mitzvah — and just the opposite, this becomes his usual state, and performing a mitzvah out of joy is the unusual state — this is open proof that this is not G-d’s intention. “Strength and joy are in His place” (Chronicles I 16:27), and the essence of performing a mitzvah is joy, specifically, as Maimonides wrote…
27. Rabbi Yosef Karo (16th century Israel), Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 306:9
חולה דתקיף ליה עלמא ואמר שישלחו בעד קרוביו, ודאי שרי.
If a patient is ‘gripped by the world’ and he says to send [a non-Jew] for his relatives, this is certainly permitted.

28. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein (19th-20th century Lithuania), Aruch haShulchan Orach Chaim 306:20
ומ"מ שהישראל בעצמו יעשה איסור שבות לא הותרה שהרי אין זה רפואה אלא חששא בעלמא
But a Jew may not perform a rabbinic prohibition himself, for this is not healing, but only a concern.

29. Talmud, Bava Batra 156b
קונין קנין משכיב מרע אפי' בשבת... שמא תטרוף דעתו עליו.
We may perform an act of transaction for a dying person on Shabbat… lest his mind be torn.

30. Rambam (12th century Egypt), Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 11:11
מי שנשכו עקרב או נחש מותר ללחוש על מקום הנשיכה ואפילו בשבת כדי ליישב דעתו ולחזק לבו, אף על פי שאין הדבר מועיל כלום הואיל ומסוכן הוא התירו לו כדי שלא תטרף דעתו עליו
One may chant over the bite of a person who has been bitten by a scorpion or snake, even on Shabbat, to settle his mind and strengthen his heart, even though this does not help at all. He is dangerously ill, so they permitted this to keep his mind from being 'torn'.

31. Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aderet (13th century Spain), Responsum 4:245
כותבין כל קמיע, אפי' בשבת, לחולה שיש בו סכנה, או ליולדת, היכא דאינהו תבעי, ליתובי דעתייהו, אף על פי שאין אנו יודעים אם הוא מומחה, אם לאו.
We write any amulet, even on Shabbat, for a dangerously ill patient or a woman giving birth, where they request it, to settle their mind, even though we don’t know whether or not it is an “expert” amulet.

32. Rabbi Dr. Avraham Sofer Abraham (21st century Israel), Nishmat Avraham Orach Chaim 306:ד
וצריך לומר שחז"ל הבחינו בין שני מיני יתובי דעתיה. אחד שעלול להחמיר את מצבו של החולה המסוכן כך שתטרף דעתו כשלא ממלאים את בקשתו ואז יסתכן עוד יותר - ממילא מותר לחלל עליו את השבת גם באיסורי תורה כדי למנוע את זה. השני, שאמנם יגרום לו לנפילת רוחו ועצבות, אך לא יסתכן בכלל אם לא עושים את מה שהוא ביקש - כאן מותר לחלל את השבת רק באיסורי דרבנן.
One must say that the Sages distinguished between two kinds of settling the mind. In one, the dangerously ill patient’s situation would become worse, such that his mind would be torn should they not fulfill his request, and then he would enter still greater danger – so one may violate Shabbat, even biblical prohibitions, to prevent this.
The second is where it would cause his spirits to fall, and he would be upset, but he would not be in any danger if they would not do as he asked – here one may only violate rabbinic prohibitions of Shabbat.

33. Talmud, Taanit 22b
יחיד שנרדף מפני נכרים או מפני לסטין ומפני רוח רעה על כולן יחיד רשאי לסגף את עצמו בתענית
An individual pursued by non-Jews, bandits or a bad spirit [anxiety] – for all of them, one may pain himself with fasting.

34. Talmud, Taanit 12b, with Rashi’s explanation
יפה תענית לחלום כאש לנעורת. ואמר רב חסדא ובו ביום. ואמר רב יוסף ואפילו בשבת. מאי תקנתיה? ליתיב תעניתא לתעניתא:
רש"י: יכול להתענות, כדי שיתבטל צער גופו.
A fast is good for a dream, like fire for flax. Rav Chisda said: That day. Rav Yosef said: Even Shabbat. How can he make this up? Observe a fast to make up for the fast.
Rashi: He may fast, to eliminate his physical pain.

35. Rabbi Shabbtai haKohen (17th century Poland), Shach Yoreh Deah 338:1
דוקא בנטה למות, אבל בלא נטה למות אין אומרים לו התודה, כדי שלא יהא נשבר לבו. ואף על פי שא"ל 'הרבה הולכים בשוק ומתודים,' מ"מ כשאומרים לו לאדם "התודה שכן דרך כל המומתים מתודים" ידע הוא שמסוכן הוא מאד...
Specifically where he is dying. If he is not dying we do not say, “Confess”, so that his heart will not be broken. Even though we say, “Many people walk about the market after confessing,” when we tell someone “Confess, for those who are put to death confess,” he knows he is in very great danger…

36. Rabbi Shabbtai haKohen (17th century Poland), Shach Yoreh Deah 242 Hanhagat Hora’ot 3
ושעת הדחק היינו דוקא במקום הפסד מרובה, או בהפסד מועט לעני בדבר חשוב, או לעשיר לכבוד שבת ויום טוב, או לכבוד אורחים.
A time of strain is specifically a case of great loss, or lesser loss for a pauper regarding a significant item, or a wealthy person for the honour of Shabbat and Yom Tov, or the honour of guests.

37. Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth (20th-21st century Israel, Shemirat Shabbat k'Hilchatah 34: note 52
ושמעתי מהגרש"ז אויערבך שליט"א דכל שיש בו משום כבוד הבריות כגון שהליחה נוזלת לו מן האף יש להקל טפי
I have heard from Rabbi Shlomo Zalman that where dignity is involved, such as the liquid is running from his nose, there is room for greater leniency.

38. Rabbi Yisrael Ganz, cited in Religious Compulsions and Fears pg. 132
In cases that come before you regarding sufferers of religious compulsions, I think it is important to recall that which the gedolei Yisrael, such as the Steipler Rav, ztvk"l, and the gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, ztvk"l, and others, have opined on this matter, that in every case of doubt in the halachah, one is to decide on the lenient side of the question. Likewise, even if it is unclear whether there is a doubt, one is also to be lenient…


Does Jewish law think stress is surmountable?
39. Rabbi Yosef Karo (16th century Israel), Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 345:3
גדול המאבד עצמו לדעת, והוא אנוס כשאול המלך, אין מונעין ממנו כל דבר.
For an adult who knowingly takes his life, and he was compelled like King Saul, we withhold nothing.

40. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (20th century Israel), cited in Nishmat Avraham Choshen Mishpat 12:ה
שמאחר ואין גוף האש סכנה, כי אם מה שנותן אל לבו ומצטער ואינו מתחזק בבטחון בהשי"ת, דבר זה נחשב כאילו האדם מתאבד בידים.
Since the fire itself is not dangerous, but he only puts it into his heart and is pained, and he does not strengthen himself with faith in Gd, this is considered like a person who actively takes his own life.

A few coping mechanisms
41. Mishlei 12:25, per two views in Yoma 75a
דְּאָגָה בְלֶב־אִישׁ יַשְׁחֶנָּה וְדָבָר טוֹב יְשַׂמְּחֶנָּה:
1: When worry is in a person’s heart, he should remove it. A good word will gladden it.
2: When worry is in a person’s heart, he should speak of it. A good word will gladden it.

42. Tehillim 55:23
הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־ד' יְהָבְךָ וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ לֹא־יִתֵּן לְעוֹלָם מוֹט לַצַּדִּיק:
Throw your burden upon Gd, and He will support you. He will never let a righteous person collapse.

43. Devarim 16:14
 וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ וְעַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתֶךָ וְהַלֵּוִי וְהַגֵּר וְהַיָּתוֹם וְהָאַלְמָנָה אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ:

And you shall rejoice on your festival – you, your son and daughter, your male and female servant, and the Levi and the stranger and the orphan and the widow at your gates.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The problem with Gmail's April Fool's "Drop the Mic" feature...

... is that it's for the wrong population.

The people for whom I want to use it won't get it.
The people for whom I will actually use it are the people whose replies I do want to see.

Life isn't fair.

(And if you don't know what I'm talking about, see Gmail's explanation here.)