Monday, December 30, 2013

For the record

Yes, I haven't been posting regularly for the past several weeks.

Yes, things have been very, very busy.

No, I have not quit blogging.

Gd-willing, I will be back to posting more regularly - at least once per week, anyway - in the near future.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Frumming Out, Fitting In - A Source Sheet

Our Beit Midrash is presenting a Shiur Theatre installment this Shabbos; it's entitled "Frumming Out, Fitting In". The basic plot: The Sale of Yosef is moved up to 2013. Yosef interprets Mohammed Morsi's dreams, becomes the Chief Economic Advisor, and then is deported when Moris is deposed. Yosef comes home, after 13 years in Egypt, as a Breslover Chasid. Yaakov and Yosef then try to find a modus vivendi going forward...

In case anyone finds the topic interesting, here is the source sheet accompanying the drama:

Frumming Out, Fitting In
R' Mordechai Torczyner –

Act One: Swapping Minhagim (Customs)
1.   Tur Choshen Mishpat 368, citing Rav Sherira Gaon (10th century Babylon)
ומה שכתבת שיש מנהג במקומכם שהקונה מהלסטין וגנבים מחזיר לבעלים ונוטל מה שהוציא אם בודאי כך הוא חייב כל אדם לבלתי שנות מנהגם דאמרינן מנלן דמנהגא מילתא היא שנאמר אל תסיג גבול רעך אשר גבלו ראשונים וכ"ש בדבר שיש בו תקנה גדולה והסרת מריבה לפיכך עשו כמנהגכם ולא תשנו ושלום
As far as your local custom, that one who purchases from bandits and thieves must return it to the owners and collect his expenditures from them: If this is so, then all are obligated not to diverge from the custom. As we say: "How do we know that custom is substantive? Deuteronomy 9:14 states, 'Do not trespass the boundary of another, set by early generations.'" This is certainly true for a practice which inolves great improvement and elimination of strife. Therefore, do according to your custom, do not diverge, and be at peace.

2.   Sheiltot of Rav Achai Gaon (8th century Babylon), Vayyakhel 67
רב חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה קא שדי כיתנא בפוריא לטייה משום דקא עביד בפוריא ולא צמח כיתניה ואמאי עבד רב הכי והא אמר מר לא קבילו י"ט עילוייהו אמרי רב כהנא אתרא דנהיג שלא לעשות מלאכה אי הכי לשמותיה שמותיה אמרי כיון דלא צמח כיתניה היינו שמתא ומנלן דמנהגא מילתא היא אמר רבא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן אמר רב דכתיב שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטוש תורת אמך.
Rav saw someone planting flax on Purim. Rav cursed him for working on Purim, and his flax did not grow. But why did Rav do thus? Have we not learned that they did not accept Purim as such a holiday [on which planting would be prohibited]? Rav Kahana explained: This was a place where their custom was not to work on Purim. Then why did Rav not excommunicate him? The failure of his flax was his excommunication. And how do we know that custom is substantive? Rava bar Abba cited Rabbi Yochanan citing Rav: Proverbs 1:8 says, "Listen, my son, to the ethical instruction of your father, and do not reject the teachings of your mother."

3.   Jerusalem Talmud, Yevamot 12:1
ר' בא רב יהודה בשם רב אם יבא אליהו ויאמר שחולצין במנעל שומעין לו. שאין חולצין בסנדל אין שומעין לו. שהרי הרבים נהגו לחלוץ בסנדל. והמנהג מבטל את ההלכה.
Rabbi Ba and Rav Yehudah said, citing Rav: Were Elijah the Prophet to come and declare that a shoe may be used for the chalitzah rite, we would listen. Were he to say that we may not use a sandal, we would not listen to him, for many customarily use the sandal, and custom overrides law.

4.   Emile Durkheim (20th  century France), The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
If religion has given birth to all that is essential in society, it is because the idea of society is the soul of religion.

5.   Rich Sosis and Candace Alcorta, Signaling, Solidarity and the Sacred, Evolutionary Anthropology (2003)
These authors maintained that one of the primary functions of religion is the promotion of group solidarity.  They argued that collective rituals enable the expression and reaffirmation of shared beliefs, norms, and values, and are thus essential for maintaining communal stability and group harmony.

6.   Talmud, Pesachim 50b-51a
דברים המותרים ואחרים נהגו בהן איסור – אי אתה רשאי להתירן בפניהם.
Regarding practices which are permitted, but people customarily prohibit: You may not permit these in front of them.

7.   Rabbi Ben Zion Uziel (20th century Israel), Piskei Uziel b'She'eilot haZman 2
כל חלוקי מנהגים בתפלות, מעשי המצות והוראות חלוקות בענינים צבוריים שנעשים בפומבי בבית הכנסת אחד, הם בכלל אזהרות לאו דלא תתגודדו; וקרוב הדבר לומר שזה הוא בגדר מצוה הבאה בעבירה, וברור הוא שאין זה מצוה מן המובחר ואדרבה מצוה עלינו לקיים ולהבליט בכל מצבינו ועבודתינו לצור ישענו אחדות עם ישראל ותורתו, שבה מתפאר בעמו.
All division of custom in prayer and mitzvah activities, and contradictory rulings issued regarding communal matters performed in public in one synagogue, fall under the prohibition of "You shall not split yourselves." One could almost call this a mitzvah achieved through transgression! It is clear that this is not the choicest form of the mitzvah; just the opposite, we are obligated to maintain and make evident, in our every situation and service of the Gd of our salvation, the unity of the nation of Israel and its Torah, via which Gd is glorified among His people.

8.   Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet (Rivash) (14th century Spain), Responsum 105
ואפשר שיש דברים שאין סתם מנהג מבטל הלכה, אלא הלכה רופפת, אבל הלכה ברורה, אין מנהג סתם מבטלה, אלא מנהג שהתנו עליו בני העיר.
[This source deals with protocols for contracts, established by local custom.] There may be cases in which a generic custom will not override law, unless that law is uncertain. Clear law cannot be overridden by generic custom, but only by custom stipulated by communal agreement.

9.   Rav Hai Gaon (10th century Babylon), cited in T'mim De'im of Raavad 119
מנין אנו יודעים כי יש עלינו מצוה לתקוע ביום זה? ועקר התורה הכתובה מנין אנו יודעים כי היא תורת משה שכתבה מפי הגבורה, אלא מפי עם ישראל, הנה אלו המעידים עליה גם הם מעידים כי במעשה יצאנו ידי חובותינו וכי כן העתיקו בקבלה מפי הנביאים הלכה למשה מסיני. ודברי הרבים הוא המוכיח על כל משנה ועל כל גמרא, ויותר מכל ראיה מזה פוק חזי מה עמא דבר, זה העיקר והסמך ואחר כך אנו מביטים בכל הדברים שנאמרו במשנה או בגמרא בענין הזה, ומה שיעלה מהם ויתרץ כאשר את נפשותינו מוטב, ואם יש בה כלום שלא יתכוין כאשר בלבבינו ולא יתברר בראיה אינו עוקר את העיקר.
How do we know that we are obligated to blow shofar on this day? And regarding the essential text of the Torah, how do we know that this is the Torah of Moshe, written from Gd's word? It is from the mouth of the Jewish nation. Their mouths testify to it, and they also testify that our deeds fulfill our ritual obligations, and that this has been transmitted by tradition from the prophets, the law of Moshe at Sinai. The words of the masses testify to every mishnah and gemara, and beyond any proof is the [Talmudic] principle, "Go see what the nation says." This [national practice] is the essence and basis, and after that we look at the declarations of the mishnah and gemara in such matters, and whatever emerges from them and we resolve is good. Anything that does not match that which is in our hearts and which cannot be proved does not uproot the essence.

Act Two: Accepting personal stringencies
10.      Maimonides (12th century Egypt), Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deiot 4:2
לא יאכל אדם עד שתתמלא כריסו אלא יפחות כמו רביע משבעתו
One should not eat to the point that his stomach is full; he should lack about one-quarter of his satiation.

11.      Rabbi Yehudah haChasid (12th century Germany), Sefer Chasidim 12
והגדר הגדול והמופלא עזיבת המאכלות. כי שביעת המאכלות מביאים לידי הרהורים רעים. כיצד הי' לפניו מאכל מדגים או מבשר או משאר מעדנים אל ימנע מלאכול כלל אלא משום יראת ד' שלא למלאות כרסו עד כדי השגת תאותו
The great and superior fence for this [special piety] is abandonment of food, for satiation brings on bad thoughts. How should one practice this? If he has fish or meat or other delicacies before him, he should not refrain from eating altogether, but out of awe of Gd he should not fill his belly to the complete realization of his desires.

12.      Talmud, Berachot 17b
כיון דכולי עלמא עבדי מלאכה ואיהו לא קא עביד - מיחזי כיוהרא
[Addressing a personal stringency to avoid work on Tishah b'Av, in a place where the community normally does work:] Since everyone does work, and he does not do work, this will appear like self-righteous arrogance.

13.      Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (20th century Poland), Biur Halachah 639:7 וכל הפטור
זה הכלל הוא דוקא במקום שיש בו צד איסור כמו במצטער דהוי חילול יום טוב
[Regarding the Code of Jewish Law's condemnation of a Jew who sits in a succah in the rain:] This applies specifically where there is a violation of law involved, as in the case of one who is pained, thereby desecrating Yom Tov.

14.      Tosafot Chullin 2b אבל
וא"ת והא כתיב (בראשית כח) וידר יעקב נדר וכתיב (יונה ב) את אשר נדרתי אשלמה וי"ל דבשעת צרה שרי כדאמרינן...
[Regarding rabbinic disapproval of taking vows:] You might ask: Genesis 28 records, "And Yaakov vowed," and Yonah 2 states, "That which I have vowed, I will fulfill!" One could say that in a time of need this is permitted…

15.      Talmud, Bava Metzia 30b
והודעת להם (שמות יח) זה בית חייהם את הדרך זו גמילות חסדים ילכו זה ביקור חולים בה זו קבורה ואת המעשה זה הדין אשר יעשון זו לפנים משורת הדין... דאמר רבי יוחנן לא חרבה ירושלים אלא על שדנו בה דין תורה אלא דיני דמגיזתא לדיינו אלא אימא שהעמידו דיניהם על דין תורה ולא עבדו לפנים משורת הדין
"And you shall inform them" – This refers to [Torah] their source of life. "The path" – This refers to acts of kindness. "They will walk" – This is examining the sick. "In it" – This is burial. "And the deed" – This is justice. "They will perform" – This is to transcend the letter of the law… As R’ Yochanan taught, that Jerusalem was destroyed only because they judged the law of Torah therein. Should they have used the laws of force?! Rather, they insisted on the law of Torah, and did not transcend the letter of the law.

16.      Talmud, Pesachim 40a
בעל נפש - אפילו חיטין דשרירי לא ילתות.
A person of spiritual strength will not even soak wheat, which is tough, on Passover.

17.      Nachmanides (13th century Spain) to Leviticus 19:2
בא הכתוב, אחרי שפרט האיסורים שאסר אותם לגמרי, וצוה בדבר כללי שנהיה פרושים מן המותרות.
After the text specified that which is entirely prohibited, it instructed, generally, to separate from the permitted.

18.      Talmud, Berachot 30a
מהיות טוב אל תקרא רע.
Given the chance to be good, do not put yourself in a position to be called bad.

19.      Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein (21st cent. Israel), Does Judaism Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakhah?
If, however, we recognize that Halakhah is multiplanar and many dimensional; that, properly conceived, it includes much more than is explicitly required or permitted by specific rules, we shall realize that the ethical moment we are seeking is itself an aspect of Halakhah.

20.      Deuteronomy 13:1
אֵת כָּל־הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם אֹתוֹ תִשְׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת לֹא־תֹסֵף עָלָיו וְלֹא תִגְרַע מִמֶּנּוּ:  
Regarding all that I command you, take care to practice it. Do not add to it, and do not subtract from it.

Act Three: Personal Practices, Communal Strife
21.      Talmud, Nazir 4b
אמר לי: רועה הייתי לאבי בעירי, והלכתי לשאוב מים מן המעיין ונסתכלתי בבבואה שלי, ופחז יצרי עלי וביקש לטורדני מן העולם, אמרתי לו: ריקה! מפני מה אתה מתגאה בעולם שאינו שלך, שסופך להיות רמה ותולע'? העבודה, שאגלחך לשמים! עמדתי ונשקתיו על ראשו, אמרתי לו: כמותך ירבו נזירים בישראל
He told me, "I was a shepherd for my father in my town, and I went to draw water from the spring, and I saw my reflection. My nature became agitated and began to draw me from the world. I told myself: Empty one! Why are you arrogant about a world that is not your own, when in the end you will be decay and worms? By the Temple Service, I will shave you off for the sake of Heaven!" I stood and kissed him on his head and said, "May there be many more nazirites like you in Israel."

22.      Rabbi Yehudah haChasid (12th century Germany), Sefer Chasidim 11
וזה שורש החסידות שצריך לעשות לפנים משורת הדין בכל דבר שנאמר (תהלים קמ"ה י"ז) וחסיד בכל מעשיו
This is the root of piety: One must transcend the law in all matters, as it is said, "Gd is pious in all of His deeds."

23.      Mishnah Berachot 2:5
מעשה ברבן גמליאל שקרא בלילה הראשון שנשא אמרו לו תלמידיו לא למדתנו רבינו שחתן פטור מקריאת שמע בלילה הראשון אמר להם איני שומע לכם לבטל ממני מלכות שמים אפילו שעה אחת:
Rabban Gamliel recited Shema on the night he was married. His students said to him, "Haven't you taught us, our master, that a groom is exempt from reciting Shema on the first night?" He replied, "I won't listen to you, to keep myself from recognizing G-d as king even for a moment."

24.      Lawrence Kohlberg (20th century USA), Stages of Moral Development
III. Post-Conventional, Autonomous, or Principled Level: The individual makes a clear effort to define moral values and principles that have validity and application apart from the authority of the groups of persons holding them and apart from the individual's own identification with the group.

25.      Proverbs 22:6, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch translation
חנך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה:
Raise the boy according to the course his life will take when he is grown; then he will not depart from it even in his old age.

26.      Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Chatam Sofer) (18th/19th century Hungary) 1: Orach Chaim 197
כל האמור להלכה בש"ע היא תורה נתונה לכל ישראל בשוה ואין בודד במועדיו, אכן מי שאין לו אלא תורה אפילו תורה אין לו [עי' יבמות ק"ט ע"ב] כי זה נעשה מצות אנשים מלומדה ואב לבנים יודיע, ע"כ כל המתחסד עם קונו ניכר במעלליו מה שלבו בודה לשם ד' להזיר נזיר מכל מה אשר ידבנו לבו ובזה אין סגנון א' עולה לשנים כי אין לב ב' בני אדם שוה באהבת ד'
All of the law which is contained in the Shulchan Aruch is that which was given equally to all Israel, with no one excluded. However, he who possesses only Torah does not even possess Torah (see Yevamot 109b), for then his performance becomes trained habit, and that which fathers pass on to sons (Yeshayah 38:19). Therefore, he who would act piously with his Creator would be recognized by his deeds – that which his heart originates for the sake of heaven, to vow as a nazirite in whatever manner his heart desires. In this matter no two individuals have the same style, because no two people love Gd in the same way.

27.      Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv) (19th century Russia) to Numbers 24:6
כל גן יש בו מין א' שהוא העיקר, אלא שסביביו נזרע עוד הרבה מינים מעט מעט. כך כל איש ישראל מלא מצוות ד' אבל כל א' יש לו מצוה א' ביחוד להיות נזהר בה ביותר כדאיתא במכילתא פ' בשלח רנ"א כל העושה מצוה א' באמנה זוכה וכו' ובירושלמי קידושין סוף פ' א' על המאמר כל העושה מצוה א' מטיבין לו וכו' ומפרש בירושלמי שעושה מצוה א' בזהירות יתירה.
Each garden has one central variety, and small quantities of other varieties are planted around it. So, too, each Jew is filled with the mitzvot of Gd, but each has one special mitzvah in which he is extra careful, as is seen in Mechilta [Beshalach 251], “One who performs a single mitzvah, faithfully, is worthy of Divine inspiration.” And in the Jerusalem Talmud [Kiddushin 1:9], regarding the statement, ‘One who performs a single mitzvah is given good things,’ they explain that this refers to a person who designates a single mitzvah for himself, and never violates it.

28.      Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook (20th century Israel), אל חכי שופר
אל נמוד כל קנין רק לפי מדתנו.
נדע כי כל אחד הנהו רק פרט,
חלק אחד, אחוז מקהלינו,
ומה יוכל על הכלל לדון, הלא מעט...
כל איש לחפץ לבבו ילך ויצליח,
ומתנובות כפימו עמם ירוממו.
כל אחד במקצֹעו רוח חיים יפיח,
בבנותו לו בית, הריסות עמנו יקוממו.
We will not measure every acquisition by our personal measure.
We will know that each individual is only a unit,
one portion, a share of our community,
and how could the whole judge but little?...
Each person toward his heart's desire will travel and succeed,
and from the fruit of their hands, their nation will be elevated.
Each in his trade will breathe the breath of life;

when he builds for himself a home, the ruin of our people will be rebuilt.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Peace first, Chanukah second

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, in his Smiling Each Day, tells of a Jewish community composed of many different religious sects, each one adhering to its own rabbi's authority. At one point a dispute erupted, mushrooming to such an extent that an outside sage was imported to resolve the strife.

This objective authority interviewed the various sides and investigated the issue at length before proposing a solution. When he finally presented an idea, though, one of the interested rabbis rejected it. He tried an alternative proposal, but another participant shot it down. A third approach was similarly demolished. Finally, he threw up his hands in exasperation and declared, "Now I understand why Avraham asked G-d regarding Sodom (Genesis 18:24), 'If there are fifty tzaddikim [righteous people] in the city, won't you desist from destroying it?' Avraham's logic was simple: If there are fifty tzaddikim in the city, they will make sure to bring it to ruin themselves; there is no need for You to intervene!"

The lesson of the story, to me, is that people pursuing righteous goals sometimes forget that they have homes, families, and a world to maintain, and that shalom in that home, family and world must be given greater priority than our other pursuits.

The Talmud (Shabbat 23b) seeks to educate this forgetful Jew, declaring, "It is obvious that a Jew who must choose to spend on either the lights of Shabbat or the lights of Chanukah should spend on the lights of Shabbat, for the sake of the peace they will provide for the home." The core purpose of our Shabbat candles is to illuminate our homes in a dignified way, so that people will be able to enjoy Shabbat in peace, without tripping over obstacles and squabbling with each other. This goal is deemed so important that it even overrides the imperative to publicize Divine miracles through the lights of Chanukah.

This law is remarkable in light of the fact that the minimum length of time required for the lights of Chanukah to burn is just thirty minutes. We are talking about reducing the fuel for one's Shabbat lamp by only thirty minutes – and even that brief length of time is considered so important that it trumps the Chanukah lights. Judaism decrees that it would be better to omit all thanks for the Divine miracle than to have a home in pain for thirty minutes.

The home exists on multiple levels; there is the literal house, the broader family, and the still-broader community. On each level, we need to preserve our shalom bayit, the peace of our home, lest people be pained. On each level we must remember the Divine mandate: Without the lights of Shabbat, one might as well not have the lights of Chanukah. First we build community and create shalom, and then we are able to celebrate Chanukah and thank G-d for the miracles. May we merit to have both parts, the shalom and the gratitude to G-d, in our homes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tefillin returned!

With great gratitude to HaShem, and with great thanks for all of my friends who helped look for the tefillin and advertise their disappearance, I am glad to report that the tefillin were returned this morning. It seems that someone mistook them for his own and took them home from shul the other day.

Were there lessons learned? Quite a few, yes...

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My tefillin were taken

I am beyond despondent.

I never leave my tefillin in shul, unless they are in a locked locker, but I did it on Monday because I knew that I would be in a rush on Tuesday morning. Then, Tuesday morning - today - they weren't there. I searched, others searched. The shul put out an email. I offered a reward on Kijiji and Craigslist.

I jump ever time an email shows up in my inbox, but there is no news.

It's not just the tefillin. Really, to be honest, it's not the tefillin at all - it's the tefillin bag, which my grandmother a"h made for me - you can read about it, and see a picture, in my post here.

Everyone leaves their tefillin in that shul (Clanton Park Synagogue). I saw someone else's tefillin on the same shelf this morning, while looking for my own.

Of course, people said, it could be that someone took yours by accident. And that could be - but it's very unlikely, given that my bag is very distinctive, and that my bag has my contact information in it and I've heard nothing.

Searching the Internet turns up stories about tefillin ending up in pawn shops. Should I scout out Toronto's pawn shops? I've thought about it.

I had to give a shiur today, which I did. I skipped a chuppah, but did go to a shul dinner (different shul) for a time, but had no taste for it.

I'm supposed to be working on a few shiurim and speeches tonight, and a new shiur theatre, but I have no taste for that either. I answered a few old emails.

I'm not used to being at such loose ends, but tonight I'm feeling a lot of guilt for leaving the tefillin there, and mourning for losing this connection with my grandmother.

You know how people say, "If I could just take back X"? That's me right now.

For a while today I was sure this was just a dream, and I was going to wake up, but no luck.

Just despondence.