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.)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Value of Perpetuity (Tzav 5776)

I know people are thinking about Purim, but I am posting my Toronto Torah article this week, in case anyone is looking for a thought for Shabbos...

As lottery winners demonstrate when they choose lump sum payouts over perpetual annuities, human beings prefer immediate payment of a smaller sum over long-term payment of a larger sum. Economists explain this behaviour via the principle of “time value of money”: since money can earn interest, money is worth more to us when we receive it sooner. The longer we need to wait, the less the money is worth to us.

Applying “time value of money” to mitzvot, one might argue that “Energetic people perform mitzvot at the earliest opportunity.” (Pesachim 4a) If mitzvot lead to additional mitzvot (Avot 4:2), then we should perform mitzvot as soon as possible, the better to trigger our next mitzvah more immediately. However, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (a.k.a. Netziv) noted an opposite example in our parshah. Regarding the burning of the korban olah (burnt offering), taking more time is more highly valued. A korban olah that burns perpetually, throughout the night, is more desirable to G-d than a korban olah burned immediately.

Vayikra 6:2 instructs the kohanim, “This is the law of the korban olah, which ascends on the fire on the altar all night, until morning.” As the Talmud (Megilah 21a) explains, one may burn the day’s korbanot at any time during the night. However, Rabbi Berlin wrote, “The instruction to the kohanim is that they see to it that the flesh of the korban olah should be placed [on the altar] and consumed, little by little, until the morning. It should not be consumed immediately, lest the altar be empty of the offering.” (Ha’amek Davar to Vayikra 6:2) Rabbi Berlin explained that this is why G-d told Moshe that he must not only relate these laws to the kohanim, but he must command them – because this process requires great care and attention. (Ha’amek Davar ibid.) Here we see an inverted sense of “time value”: this mitzvah is of greater value now, because its completion will take longer.

Why do we value this extended time? And why is this emphasis on perpetuity unique to the stage of burning, and not to earlier processes? At this stage, the gift has been given, the vow fulfilled, and any necessary atonement has been achieved. The sponsors of the korban have gone home, the instruments of the Levites are silent, and almost all of the kohanim have removed their splendid uniforms and nodded off to sleep. Even if we are concerned that a fire should remain on the altar, plenty of wood is present; why do we care about how long the korban olah burns?

Perhaps the value of spending time is actually a result of the fact that the essential service has concluded. At this stage, it is only the barefoot kohen in a darkened Temple, standing in lonely worship of his Creator, with a warm bed waiting somewhere else. G-d beckons to this kohen: stay with Me.

A similar concept is found with the mitzvah of linah, in which people who bring certain korbanot remain in Jerusalem overnight, after the ritual is complete. (Chagigah 17a-b) In another example, Shemini Atzeret is seen as one last day on which G-d asks us to remain, after the seven days of Succot are complete. (Rashi to Vayikra 23:36)

This perspective is consistent with Rambam’s relationship-based explanation of korbanot. Rambam was troubled by Yirmiyahu’s prophetic declaration (7:22-23), “For on the day I removed your fathers from Egypt, I did not speak to them and I did not command them regarding burnt offerings and celebration sacrifices. Only this did I instruct them, saying: Hear My voice and I will be your G-d, and you will be My nation.” Yirmiyahu seems to say that Hashem does not desire korbanot - but the Torah itself testifies to the contrary! Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:32) explained that Yirmiyahu was teaching the importance of the relationship that accompanies, and validates, a korban. “The primary object is that you should know Me and serve no other, and I will be your G-d and you will be My nation.” As the kohen remains in the Beit haMikdash, long after the ceremonies are over, that relationship is deepened.

We are currently without korbanot, but the opportunity to experience perpetuity remains. Sitting in a synagogue to recite Tehillim privately after davening is over; singing at a Shabbat table after the meal; holding the hand of a needy person after giving tzedakah; we can be that kohen, lingering in the dark, positioning the korban olah on the altar. To us, too, Moshe commands: Give this great care and attention, all night, until morning.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Healthy Parenting vs. Halachic Parenting: A source sheet

I've been asked to speak on the topic of, "If my child needs his space to develop his own religious identity, what does Torah say about choosing between a healthy relationship and a halachic relationship?"

My first instinct, like those of others with whom I've spoken, has been to ask whether halachah could require unhealthy parenting. But then I though about cases in which halachah does expect a parent to do things which could convey unhealthy messages, depending on how they are done.

Example: Your adult son decides to marry out of Judaism, and then comes to you for help with the rent for their new apartment. Or your younger child decides to stop observing kashrut, while still living at home, and wants to be able to use your kitchen. Of course, saying "no" doesn't automatically create an unhealthy situation - a lot depends on how it's done. But there can be situations in which a No sends a message of exclusion, and damages self-image.

I won't have much time to speak - it's part of a panel discussion - but here is the source sheet I intend to distribute. Comments most welcome.

1.   Masechet Semachot 2:4
ומעשה בבנו של גורגיוס שברח מבית הספר, והראה לו אביו באזנו, ונתיירא מאביו, והלך ואיבד עצמו בבור
Georgios' son fled from school. His father showed him his ear, and he became afraid; he killed himself in a pit.

The importance of exploration
2.   Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Arpilei Tohar pg. 105
אמונה שאין השכל מסכים לה, מעוררת היא קצף ואכזריות, מפני שהצד היותר עליון שבאדם, שהוא השכל, נעשה עלוב מחמתה.
Faith with which the mind does not agree arouses anger and cruelty [within one's self], because the human being's higher aspect, the mind, becomes frustrated with it.

3.   Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak haKohen Kook, Orot haTeshuvah 5:6*
שלמותם של החיים היא דוקא עם המשך התגלותם על פי טבעם העצמי... וביטול עצם טבעיותם של החיים, כדי שיהיה האדם בלתי-חוטא, זהו עצמו החטא היותר גדול
The perfection of life is specifically with its revelation in its basic nature… Nullification of the basic nature of one’s life, in order to be without sin, is itself the greatest sin.

4.   Rabbi Avraham Yeshayah Karelitz, Chazon Ish, Yoreh Deah 2:16
בזמן ההעלם שנכרתה האמונה מן דלת העם אין במעשה הורדה גדר הפרצה אלא הוספה הפרצה שיהי' בעיניהם כמעשה השחתה ואלמות ח״ו וכיון  שכל עצמנו לתקן אין הדין נוהג בשעה שאין בו תיקון ועלינו להחזירם בעבותות אהבה ולהעמידם בקרן אורה כמה שידינו מגעת.
At a time of [Divine] invisibility, when faith has been cut off from the poor of the nation, punishment does not mend the gap, but only increases it, for it appears like a deed of destruction and coercion, Gd-forbid. Since our entire goal is to repair, the law [of punishment] does not apply when it does not repair. We are obligated to bring them back with ropes of love, to bring them to the radiant light to the extent we can.

5.   Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Community, Covenant and Commitment pg. 224
If Jews would like to enter a Reform temple, they should do so to their heart's content. The Orthodox should not mix in. I speak here from a pragmatic point of view: Religious coercion is harmful.

6.   Rabbi Yaakov Kanaievsky, 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 [anxious] 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.

7.   Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Grinwald, 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…

Keep a strong relationship as a parent
8.   Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Deiot 2:3
הכעס מדה רעה היא עד למאד וראוי לאדם שיתרחק ממנה עד הקצה האחר, וילמד עצמו שלא יכעוס ואפילו על דבר שראוי לכעוס עליו, ואם רצה להטיל אימה על בניו ובני ביתו או על הציבור אם היה פרנס ורצה לכעוס עליהן כדי שיחזרו למוטב יראה עצמו בפניהם שהוא כועס כדי לייסרם ותהיה דעתו מיושבת בינו לבין עצמו
Anger is a very bad trait, and it would be appropriate for a person to distance himself from it, to the opposite extreme. One should teach himself not to grow angry even at something which warrants anger. If he wishes to instill reverence in his children, household or community – if he is a leader – in order to restore good conduct, then he should act as though he is angry in order to rebuke them, but his mind should be internally calm.

9.   Avot d’Rabbi Natan 12:3
כשהיה אהרן מהלך בדרך, פגע בו באדם רשע, ונתן לו שלום. למחר ביקש אותו האיש לעבור עבירה. אמר, אוי לי, היאך אשא עיני אחר כך ואראה את אהרן, בושתי הימנו שנתן לי שלום. נמצא אותו האיש מונע עצמו מן העבירה.
When Aharon was walking on the road, he encountered a wicked man and greeted him. The next day that man wanted to transgress, and he said, “Woe is me, how could I raise my eyes afterward and see Aharon? I would be embarrassed before him, for he greeted me.” And so that man would keep himself from transgression.

10. Talmud, Bava Metzia 69a-b
הנהו תרי כותאי דעבוד עסקא בהדי הדדי אזיל חד מנייהו פליג זוזי בלא דעתיה דחבריה אתו לקמיה דרב פפא אמר ליה מאי נפקא מינה הכי אמר רב נחמן זוזי כמאן דפליגי דמו. לשנה זבון חמרא בהדי הדדי קם אידך פליג ליה בלא דעתיה דחבריה, אתו לקמיה דרב פפא אמר ליה מאן פלג לך אמר ליה קא חזינא דבתר דידי קא אתי מר אמר רב פפא כהאי גונא ודאי צריך לאודועיה...
One partner said, "I see that you are on my side!" Rav Pappa said: In such a circumstance, I must explain…

11. Tosafot Bava Metzia 69b
דוקא הכא לפי שהיה לו פתחון פה לחשדו קאמר דצריך לאודועיה משום והייתם נקיים מד' ומישראל (במדבר לב) אבל בעלמא לא
Rav Pappa was required to explain here, specifically, under the principle of 'You shall be innocent from Gd and Israel,' because the litigant had reason to suspect him. Generally, he would not be required to do so.

Don’t make the halachic tension worse
12. Talmud, Gittin 6b
אמר רב יהודה אמר רב כל המטיל אימה יתירה בתוך ביתו סוף הוא בא לידי שלש עבירות גילוי עריות ושפיכות דמים וחילול שבת
Rav Yehudah cited Rav: One who introduces unnecessary fear in his home will come to three sins: Immorality, murder and Shabbat-desecration.

13. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Collected Writings Vol. 7 pg. 107
Only the better student will respond to praise or criticism, and the nature of his response will depend very much on the training and treatment he has received at home. We would certainly be the last to support corporal punishment [in school]; indeed, we would be very much inclined to believe that a teacher who cannot cope with the everyday problems of school life without resorting to physical chastisement is in the wrong profession. But [regardless of what is done in school,] if thrashings are the order of the day at home, if the child has become accustomed to take criticism seriously only if he feels it upon his body, if he will listen to verbal admonition only if he sees the rod looming in the background, then the home has deadened the child's sense of morality. Such a child will hardly give his teacher's words of criticism at school the attention they deserve.

14. Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, Seridei Eish 3:95
מטעמים פדגוגים יש להניע מאמצעי כפיה בנוגע לבן הסוטה מהדרך הכבושה. כבר הזכיר כת"ר את האיסור להכות בנו גדול, וצדק כת"ר באמרו שלאו דווקא מכה ביד אלא כל אמצעי כפיה בכוח עלול להביא לידי תוצאות הפוכות מהרצוי. וכבר הוכיחו הפדגוגים המודרנים, שהכפיה או ביצוע רצון בכוח מעורר בנער בגיל מבוגר עקשנות יתר ונטיה למרידה
For pedagogic reasons, one should avoid force with a child who strays from the well-trod path. You already mentioned the prohibition against striking an older child, and you were right that is beyond striking, and it applies to all means of force; it can bring results which are the opposite of his desire. Modern pedagogues have already shown that force, or use of strength to implement one's wishes, awakens greater resistance and rebellion in an older child.

15. Talmud, Berachot 32a
מאי ודי זהב אמרי דבי רבי ינאי כך אמר משה לפני הקב"ה רבש"ע בשביל כסף וזהב שהשפעת להם לישראל עד שאמרו די הוא גרם שעשו את העגל
Rabbi Yannai's yeshiva taught it from 'ודי זהב' – Moshe said before Gd, 'Master of the universe! The silver and gold You flowed upon the Jews until they said די is what caused them to create the calf!'

16. Talmud, Moed Katan 17a
אמתא דבי רבי חזיתיה לההוא גברא דהוה מחי לבנו גדול אמרה ליהוי ההוא גברא בשמתא דקעבר משום ולפני עור לא תתן מכשל
Rebbe's maid saw a man striking his mature son. She said, "Let him be banned, for violating 'Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.'"

Judaism is a big place
17. Mishlei 22:6
חנך לנער על פי דרכו גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה:
Train a youth according to his way; even when he ages, he will not leave it.

18.      Bereishit 18:7
ואל הבקר רץ אברהם ויקח בן בקר רך וטוב ויתן אל הנער וימהר לעשות אתו:
Avraham ran to the cattle, and he took a tender and good calf and gave it to the youth, and he rushed to prepare it.

19. Midrash, Bereishit Rabbah 48:13
ויתן אל הנער זה ישמעאל בשביל לזרזו במצות.
This is Yishmael; it was to energize him in mitzvot.

20. Chafetz Chaim, Ahavat Chesed, Volume III Perek 2
גם נוכל ללמוד משם דיחנך אדם גם בניו למצוה זו, כמו שכתוב 'ויתן אל הנער' וכפירוש רש"י שזה קאי על ישמעאל לחנכו במצוות.
We can also learn from there that one should train his children in this mitzvah as well, as it is written, ‘And he gave it to the youth,’ and as Rashi explains that this refers to Yishmael, to train him in mitzvot.

21. Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, Ha’amek Davar to Bamidbar 24
כגנות עלי נהר - והנה משונה גידולי גינה לשדה, דשדה אינו נזרע אלא מין א' או שנים משא"כ זרעוני גינה המה רבים. מכ"מ 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 פר' בשלח רנ"א כל העושה מצוה אחת באמנה זוכה וכו' ובירושלמי קידושין ספ"א עה"מ כל העושה מצוה אחת מטיבין לו וכו' ומפרש בירושלמי שעושה מצוה אחת בזהירות יתירה.
That which grows in a garden is not like that which grows in a field; a field is planted with only one or two varieties, as opposed to gardens which have many kinds of seeds. Still, each garden has one central variety, and it’s only that 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 the Mechilta, “One who performs a single mitzvah, faithfully, is worthy of Divine inspiration.” Regarding the mishnah that states, ”One who performs a single mitzvah receives goodness,” the Talmud Yerushalmi explains, “This refers to performing a mitzvah with exceptional care.”

Never give up hope
22. Talmud, Kiddushin 30a
"חנוך לנער על פי דרכו" - ר' יהודה ורבי נחמיה חד אמר משיתסר ועד עשרים ותרתין וחד אמר מתמני סרי ועד עשרים וארבעה.
“Train a youth according to his way (Mishlei 22:6)” – Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nechemiah debated: One said from 16 to 22, the other said from 18 to 24.

23. Midrash Tannaim to Deuteronomy 20:12
“Besiege it” – Surround them on all four sides. Rabbi Natan said: Give them one path, through which to flee.

24. Ramban to Sefer haMitzvot, Added Aseh 5
מצוה חמישית שנצטוינו כשנצור על עיר להניח אחת מן הרוחות בלי מצור שאם ירצו לברוח יהיה להם דרך לנוס משם כי בזה נלמוד להתנהג בחמלה אפילו עם אויבינו בעת המלחמה ובו עוד תקון שנפתח להם פתח שיברחו ולא יתחזקו לקראתינו...
We are instructed that when we lay siege to a city, we must leave one of the directions without siege, so that if they wish to flee then they will have a place for flight. This way we will learn to act with mercy even with our enemies in a time of war, and it will also help in that we will give them an avenue to flee and they will not strengthen themselves against us.

25. Midrash, Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 29
שלח ישמעאל ולקח לו אשה מבנות מואב. לאחר שלש שנים הלך אברהם לראות את ישמעאל בנו, ונשבע לשרה שלא ירד מעל הגמל במקום שישמעאל שרוי תמן, והגיע לשם בחצי היום, ומצא שם את אשתו של ישמעאל, אמ' לה היכן הוא ישמעאל, אמרה לו הלך הוא ואמו להביא פירות ותמרים מן המדבר, אמ' לה תני לי מעט לחם ומים כי עייפה נפשי מדרך המדבר, אמרה לו אין לי לחם ולא מים, אמ' לה כשיבא ישמעאל הגידי לו את הדברים הללו וב"ן חכ"ם כחצ"י חכ"ם ואמרי לו זקן אחד מארץ כנען בא לראותך ואמ' חלף מפתן ביתך שאינה טובה לך, וכשבא ישמעאל מן המדבר הגידה לו את הדברים הללו, ובן חכם כחצי חכם, והבין ישמעאל ושלחה אמו ולקחה לו אשה מבית אביה ופטימה שמה, ועוד אחר שלש שנים הלך אברהם לראות את ישמעאל בנו, ונשבע לשרה כפעם ראשונה שאינו יורד מן הגמל במקום שישמעאל שרוי שם, והגיע לשם בחצי היום ומצא שם אשתו של ישמעאל ואמ' לה היכן הוא ישמעאל, אמרה לו הוא ואמו הלכו לרעות את הגמלים במדבר, אמ' לה תני לי מעט לחם ומים כי עייפה נפשי מדרך המדבר, והוציאה לחם ומים ונתנה לו, עמד אברהם והיה מתפלל לפני הב"ה על בנו ונתמלא ביתו של ישמעאל מכל טוב ממין הברכות, וכשבא ישמעאל הגידה לו את הדבר וידע ישמעאל שעד עכשו רחמי אביו עליו כרחם אב על בנים
Three years later, Avraham went to see his son Yishmael. He swore to Sarah that he would not descend from his camel where Yishmael lived. He arrived at midday and found Yishmael's wife there. He asked her, 'Where is Yishmael?' She said, 'He and his mother have gone to bring fruit and dates from the wilderness.' He said, 'Give me a little bread and water, for I am tired from traveling in the wilderness.' She replied, 'I have neither bread nor water.' He said to her, 'When Yishmael returns, tell him… An old man from the land of Canaan came to see you and said "Change the doorstep to your house, for it is not good for you." When Yishmael came home from the wilderness his wife told him these things, and Yishmael understood.

His mother sent for a woman from her father’s house, named Fatima. After another three years, Avraham went to see his son Yishmael… He said, 'Give me a little bread and water, for I am tired from traveling in the wilderness.' She took out some bread and water and gave it to him. Avraham stood there and prayed to Gd for his son, and Yishmael's house became filled with all manner of good blessings. When Yishmael came home, his wife told him what had happened and Yishmael knew that now his father's mercy was upon him as a father’s mercy is upon his son.