Friday, July 17, 2009

B'nos Midyan and Banos in General: A Guest Post (annotated)

While we are waiting for the "certain extravagantly talented scholar" to show up, perhaps I (editor's note: the writer, from whom I solicited this post while I try to regain my balance, is in fact that "extravagantly talented scholar") can contribute some random thoughts (editor's note: our guest writer is being modest, as will soon become evident.)
While I had originally wanted to focus on the complex issue of precisely why the בנות מדין were executed, regardless of whether they had actually participated in illicit relations, I decided that perhaps this is not a topic appropriate for internet exposure at this time. For those who are curious, or perhaps are involved in a situation where it is נוגע להלכה , some sources are רמב"ם פי"ב אסו"ב ה"י, כלי יקר and the חתם סופר on the פרשה/ There is also an extensive discussion in אג"מ אבה"ע חלק א' סי' ל"ח.

Actually, and again I don't propose to discuss this on the internet, the חקירה in the אג"מ (also mentioned in several places in the מנ"ח) may be the reason the פקודי החיל were unsure as to where, how, and whom to execute. This would be an answer to the question in the משך חכמה as to precisely what their (mis)calculation was.

However, there is one aspect of this episode which has practical ramifications in many of our lives.

At the end of או"ח רכ"ה is the הלכה
הרואה אילנות טובות ובריות נאות אפילו עכו"ם...אומר בא"י אמ"ה שככה לו בעולמו
One who sees beautiful trees and beautiful creatures-- even an idol worshiper-- says the following blessing: Blessed art Thou God, King of the Universe, "She'kacha Lo be'olamo," Who has such in His world.

Now בריות נאות immediately, and unfortunately, brings to [my] mind not images of a graceful gazelle, nor of a beautiful flower, but rather, of members of the opposite gender. (editor's note: obviously, this natural preference proves that aesthetic pleasure is not just an appreciation of symmetry or perfect health and functionality, because those traits are equally evident in a good horse or a good car.) In fact, between the מ"ב and the ביאור הלכה, it seems clear that the חפץ חיים has this in mind, albeit with great reservations.

On the other hand, the ערוך השולחן is clear:
ואף שאין להסתכל באשה וכו' זהו דרך הסתכלות הרבה אבל ראייה בעלמא הא בעל כרחה רואה ולית לן בה

This is based on the מעשים of רבן גמליאל and רבי עקיבא in עבודה זרה כ. Although there a ברכה in not mentioned explicitly, the (same/similar) episode is mentioned in the ירושלמי הרואה הלכה א' and there the נוסך is ובירך עליה. This is probably why the דברי חמודות , ברכות הרואה סי' י"ב ס"ק ל"ד , brings the ירושלמי rather than the בבלי.

(editor's note: I recently mentioned this bracha to my shiur. The following day, two members of the shiur independently came over and told me that they had no trouble getting to Mei'ah brachos the day before.)

However, in contradistinction to the ערוך השולחן, the מ"ב in the שער הציון quotes the
חיי אדם (ס"ג א') as saying the the minhag today is not to make most ברכות הראייה/ The מ"ב suggests that this is because the ברכה requires "...נאות ביותר...ומי יכול לדקדק..."
אני הקטן
respectfully disagree, and claim to able to be מדקדק sufficiently and with great dedication and deliberation. However, this is where the problem truly begins, and where the aforementioned reservations of the מ"ב may stem from.

Regarding the קרבן of the פקודי החיל, רש"י refers to שבת ס"ד. , where the פקודי החיל tell משה רבינו, אם מידי עבירה יצאנו מידי הרהור לא יצאנו"." If seeing the בריאה נאה of the human female persuasion engenders הרהור, then we come to the issue of אין זה מברך אלא מנאץ. And if not, then perhaps there is indeed a lack of נאות ביותר. I am certain that the members of this audience include great פרושים who have numbed themselves to the blandishments of this יצר הרע , but then they are lacking the factor explicit in the לבוש
כמו שהוא העניין בבריות טובות שיש לו הנאה לרואה ומברך על הנאתו...".
"...just as the idea is with beautiful creatures, that the observer has pleasure in seeing them and he makes a blessing on his enjoyment."

How does one safely skate the line between הנאה and הרהור? Even in a situation of אונס, such as which the גמרא states occured with רבן גמליאל and רבי עקיבא, it seems that הרהור is a problem. (editor's note: The Gemara there says that RSBG and RA, upon seeing beautiful women, made this bracha. The Gemara asks "But it is forbidden to gaze upon women because it generates within a man lustful thoughts, and lustful thoughts- regarding a women with whom you are not married- is forbidden! The Gemara answers that they only looked at these women when they, or the women, turned a corner, and so their gaze inadvertantly rested upon these women for a moment.) Similarly, the מלחמת מדין certainly qualified as an אונס and nevertheless a כפרה was required.

In the שעור דעת "קרבנות" (חלק ב' צ'), the מהרי"ל בלאך deals with this episode and this point. He notes the greatness of רבן גמליאל and רבי עקיבא who didn't eradicate the admiration of the beauty, but rather, instead of focusing on the object, immediately redirected their emotions to Hashem, the creator of this beauty. Indeed, on a separate point, this is the only way to avoid the problem of לא תחנם, which according to many poskim is a דאורייתא. This is explicit in both the ירושלמי and the Bavli, . ואכמ"ל.

It seems, לעניות דעתי, that anyone who cannot meet this criterion should probably follow the חיי אדם and משנה ברורה: don't make the ברכה.

Incidentally, this is also an explanation of why יעקב was saying קריאת שמע when he was reunited with יוסף: he took the overwhelming emotion of joy he was feeling and refocused it into his relationship with the Ribbono Shel Olam.

בדרך צחות, there is another problem. In several places, חז"ל mention that one of the consequences of the חורבנות is that Jewish women are no longer as attractive as their counterparts outside of the religion. For example, in איכא רבתי , the מדרש relates that one זונה forgave her coworker every insult except that she said she looked Jewish. [פרק א' פסוק י"א].

This would probably result in שככה לו בעולמו being recited primarily upon seeing non-Jewish women, which would be an insult to Jewish women. Note that the two episodes in the גמרא focus on encounters of the non-Jewish kind. If the point was just that the ברכה applied to non-Jews and women, a single case would have been sufficient, as is found in the ירושלמי.

And lest you think this is not a serious problem halachically, consider the מהרש"א עבודה זרה נ"ה. ח"א ד"ה כלום He posits that the קנאה of פנחס was both for the issue of בעל פעור, and for the fact that the בני ישראל were being מזנה with בנות מואב הפחותים"/" I.e., he killed זמרי because he insulted Jewish femininity by shacking up with a non-Jewish lowlife (rather than with a nice Jewish woman????!). This is what הבועל ארמית קנאים פוגעים בו s about!

This is not just aggadic דרוש. In the אגרות משה mentioned above, ר' משה invokes this פשט in his analysis of why קנאים פוגעים בו does not continue after the זנות is terminated.

If so, one must be very leery of doing anything that insults Jewish women, both from a halachic and from an actuarial perspective. As long as the expression "שיין וי א שיקסע" has currency, it would be appropriate to refrain from reciting the ברכה of שככה לו בעולמו .

Then of course there is the story that everybody claims is absolutely true and happened in his Yeshiva when he was there. It seems that a bochur noticed an attractive young lady at a חתונה and went over to her with the line, "When I saw you, I immediately made the ברכה of שככה לו בעולמו." She looked him up and down with total disdain and responded, "And when I saw you, I made ברוך משנה הבריות."

In any case, de gustibus non est disputandum, or על קול מראה וריח אין להתווכח בלע"ז .

The following picture was from an article on creatures that "nature" blessed with an extra measure of ugly, and yet I find the subject rather touching. This is a blobfish, found in deep waters near Australia and New Zealand. For some reason, I look at it and think of an alter Yid. That nose! Fish don't have noses!!! It MUST be a גלגול.

This entry is a hack: the owner of the site is not responsible for its contents; the poster is generally not responsible.

(editor's notes:

1. There is a machlokes whether one makes "shekacha lo be'olamo on something that was created contrary to Halacha, such as a mamzer or a hybrid. The She'eilos Ya'avetz 1:63 says you do, just as you would make a birkas haneh'enin if you eat a fruit from a kila'ei ilanos tree, but others argue. See Halacha Ravachas 265:2.

2. A book was published in In 2007called “Only a Promise of Happiness”, by Alexander Nehamas, professor of philosophy at Princeton. He talks about the evolution of the philosophical approach to beauty, beginning with Plato, who, in Phaedrus, describes how the sight of a beautiful (girl) could arouse a state of emotional exaltation and rapture, causing the viewer to forsake all else. Over time, Plato argued, the desire to posses a particular beautiful individual could lead to a “love of all the beauty of the world” and ultimately to a “longing for goodness and truth.”

As Michael J. Lewis said in his review in the Wall Street Journal on April 14-15, 07, “Plato’s association of beauty with both carnal experience and moral enlightenment is alien to modern sensibilities. These days we can imagine beauty leading to ungovernable rapture but not moral goodness. The modern aesthetic encounter, as Mr. Nehamas describes it, is a morally neutral affair, divested of ethical content.”

Chazal, however, were more 'evolved' than either Plato or Professor Nehamas. Chazal teach us that the examined life requires that aesthetic encounters be invested with spiritual content.

3. Thank you, guest poster, for three things. For your interesting analysis of the bracha on human beauty; for providing an example of something you would make Meshaneh Habriyos on; and for not providing an example for She'kacha lo be'olamo. Although I would have suggested this naughty example of feminine pulchritude:



  1. Based on "שארית ישראל לא יעשו עולה," the גמרא in :בבא מציעא מ"ח says that a corrupt Jew is not עושה מעשה עמך

    Based on the מדרש איכה, can we say the same about an exceptionally beautiful Jewess?

  2. BH most readers of this blog are metzuveh ve'oseh on Tzitzis.

  3. Does the face-slappy thing work without תכלת ? I've never tested it.

  4. No doubt because you don't wear t'cheiles.