Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pinchas, Bamidbar 27:1. Saying Yimach Shemo- ימח שמו

Some person is found to have done a terrible thing, he is a rasha gamur, a horrible person, and someone says about him "Yimach Shemo Ve'Zichro," may his name and memory be erased.  A refined  person would certainly not express himself this way, but is there anything actually wrong with saying it?

My mother once told me a story about the Ponovezher Rov. (The Rov was a dear friend of our family, and used to stay at our house when he was in Chicago.  My mother and his daughter were close friends before the war;  my mother remembers that when the German bombardment began, she met her friend on the bridge in Kovna, and she asked her, Esther, vu geist du? because she was running back into town.  Esther responded "I'm going to my family."  That was the last time my mother saw her.  The Rov also learned with my mother's brother.)  Either the Ponovezher himself told the story to my mother, or his son, Reb Avraham Kahaneman told her the story.  Someone was talking to the Rov about Ben Gurion's  virulent enmity toward religion and the policies and laws he enacted against the Torah community.  This is certainly true- Ben Gurion did not love Orthodox Judaism.  Reb Chaim Ozer writes in his letters that Ben Gurion (at that time David Gruen)  had organized a demonstration in Warsaw, and the posters advertising the demonstration proclaimed that it would be מכת מוות לאורטודוקסיה, the "death blow to Orthodoxy."  A friend of organized religion he was not.  In any case, this person used the expression "ימח שמו" "may his name be erased," against Ben Gurion.  The Ponovezher Rov immediately and vehemently  responded, "One may never say such a thing on a Jew, no matter what he is!  (The Torah says that the widow of a married man that dies childless becomes a Yevama, so that her husband's brother might marry her and carry forward the name of the man that died.)  Are you paskening that Ben Gurion would not have a din Yibum?  The Torah says "lo yimacheh shemo," and that applies even to Ben Gurion!"

The problem is that there is an opinion among the Rishonim that a Mumar, one who has abandoned the Jewish religion, does not have a din Yibum.  If such person dies childless, his wife cannot marry his brother in order to perpetuate his name.  This is the opinion of the Mordechai in Yevamos.  And if Ben Gurion's not a mumar, then I'm Rabbeinu Hakadosh.  Now it's true that we don't pasken like the Mordchai (EH 157:5).  But why did the Ponovezher react so strongly?  Why can't we rely on the Mordchai at least to be mattir cursing that devil who gave the order to fire on the Altalena/kidnapper of innocent Teimani immigrants/Socialist/all around dvar hashem bazanik/meisis umadi'ach?

It so happens that there's a Chasam Sofer in the Teshuvos (Vol. 6 #56) that is relevant to this question.  

The Gemara in Bava Basra 119b says that Moshe Rabbeinu was teaching the laws of Yibum, and the daughters of Tzelafchad came in with a question:  אם כבן אנו חשובין תנה לנו נחלה כבן אם לאו תתיבם אמנו  If we daughters are like בנים, sons, in the lexicon of the dinim of the Torah, then we ought to inherit his share of the Land of Israel.  If we're not like בנים, then our mother ought to be a Yevama and marry our father's brother, because he died without בנים!

Someone asked the Chasam Sofer that if Tzelafchad was the Mekosheish Eitzim, then he publicly violated the Shabbos, and the rule is that a mechalel Shabbos in public is considered an absolute mumar.  According to the Mordechai that a Mumar doesn't cause Yibum, their claim was flawed.  Even if they, the daughters, are not like בנים, and so he is considered to have died without בנים, there would still be no din of yibum, because the father, being a mumar, was not entitled to yibum. 

The inquirer suggested two answers: 1. Only a person who repeatedly does the sin is categorized as a "mumar."  One time, although liable for punishment, does not make him a mumar.  2. Tzelafchad intended his act to be a test case that would demonstrate the seriousness of the violation of Shabbos, and so although he did violate Shabbos, he was motivated l'sheim Shamayim.  These answers are obviously weak, and the Chasam Sofer did not like either one.

The Chasam Sofer answers the question with a chiddush.  He says that the rule that "One who publicly violates Shabbos is an absolute Mumar for all halachos of the Torah," is limited:  it does not apply to Yibum even according to the Mordchai.  The Mordechai's rule that a mumar does not cause yibum only refers to a mumar who abandons Judaism, a mumar who becomes a meshumad and joins another religion.
  לא אמרו מרדכי אלא במי שהמיר ונדבק באומה משארי האומות ויצא מכלל יהדות לגמרי על זה אמרו שאינו בהקמת שם ואין מקושש ואפילו אחאב בכלל זה

Say what you will about Ben Gurion, he wasn't worse than Achav, and he was no less dedicated to his concept of the Jewish People.

So the mussar haskeil of this story is that a Jew might be a rasha, he might be a mena'eif, he might be a mumar le'chol hatorah kulla, or a murderer.  But if he is a Jew by any definition, if he hasn't rejected and abandoned his tie to Klal Yisrael, you can never say on such a person Yimach Shemo.  Even on the worst Jews, the Ribono shel Olam says veLo yimacheh shmo.

The internet is so marvelous.... I searched for the word yimacheh, because I remembered a phrase in Chazal that goes something like ימחה וימחה
and I came across an explanation in a forum on for why frummeh protesters are allowed to call the police Nazis.  Can you believe they have an actual discussion about this?  Morons.  Anyway, one of the commenters there wrote the following.  I don't know if it's assur to read on Tisha Ba'av because it makes you laugh, or muttar because it makes you cry.
וכאן המקום להעיר, וועגן זאגן ימח שמם, כידוע האט דער פאפער רב ז"ל געזאגט ביי די דעמאנסטראציע וועגן חיטוטי שיכבי געזאגט, ליגט אויף אינז דער חיוב צו זאגן ימח שמם וזכרם.
און דאס וואס מען זאגט איבער פון א גדול, ולא ימחה שמו מישראל, צו מען וואלט געדארפט מיבם זיין, קודם יש שיטת ר' יהודאי גאון מובא בטור, אף שלא פסקינן כן, אז א מומר דארף אחיו נישט מייבם זיין, ווייל ימחה וימחה, והגם למעשה פסקנט מען נישט אזוי, אבער בדיבור הי' נהוג בכל העולם בכל הדורות לומר ימ"ש. הלא אם יש"ו נוצרי שר"ת שלו הוא ימח שמו וזכרו, הי' מת בלי בנים, לא הי' אשתו מותרת בלי יבום, וכן שבתי צבי ימ"ש שכתבו עליו כן כל גדולי הדור, והד"ח כידוע כתב כן אף על בנש"ק בעת המחלוקת אשר אין לדבר מזה בזמנינו, אבל יכולים ללמוד, כי על שגץ מותר לומר ולכתוב ימח שמו

Here's a free translation, though I can't perfectly communicate the stupidity that cries out from every line.

"This is the place to remark about saying yimach shmam, it is known that the Popper Rov Z'L said by the demonstrations about the excavation of bodies that we are obligated to say yimach shemam ve'zichram.  
And that which is said in the name of a gadol "lo yimacheh shemo," where we would have to do yibum, first of all, there is the opinion of Rav Yehuda'i Gaon brought in the Tur that you don't do yibum when a mumar dies, because his name certainly ought to be erased.  Even though we don't pasken like that, but in speech the minhag is in all places and all times to say YM'SH.  If Yeshu the Nazarene, whose initials are Yimach Shemo Vezichro, would die without children, would his wife not be muttar without yibum?...and Shabtai Tzvi.....  We can learn from this that on a Sheigitz it is muttar to say and to write Yimach Shemo."

That has to be one of the great treasures of the internet:
  נהוג בכל העולם בכל הדורות לומר ימ"ש
Now is that not a minhag to be proud of?  Fine, fine people.


  1. Say a Jew smothers a little boy who came to him to asked for directions and then... [some things just can't be typed]

    THEN can I invoke "yamach shemo"?


  2. Granted that all my education of Ben Gurion has been from leftish-liberal israeli material I'm still pretty surprised how hard you are on him.

    If Agudas Yisrael (i'm referring to the political party it was then in the 30s/40s) would have been the majority leading party of the jewish yishuv at the time it's hard for me to see how Israel would have had legitemacy in the eyes of Britain (or any other of the democratic world powers of the time) to even get started. As such, at that time, in those circumstances, in that context, the religious movement WAS a threat to gaining state recognition. From ben-gurion standpoint, why would he be for encouraging religion at the cost of losing eretz yisrael? ענותנותו של זכריה בן אבקולס וכו'

    Altalena, I don't fully hear your complaint either. The country was suffering at the time from a split personality and split sources of authority. You can't have a country that contains within it an independent armed militia. Would it have been better to allow Etzel to act as an independent authority importing and storing arms and destory all semblance of order, מלכות, and sovereignty in this new country? Israel could have descended into civil war like many of post-colonial african states did and still are suffering from... (hats off to Begin btw who bowed his head in submission by altalena and probably spared a civil war)
    ..and finally why I don't see Ben-Gurion or those like him in any light of Mumar, rasha, etc is because let's face it, the frum community-- a wonderful beautiful cohesive society -- but when it came to anything related to engaging and dealing with the outside world it was dysfunctional, handicapped, and unequipped. I can't blame any child growing up during those times between the choice of spiritual perfection in an ivory tower versus a desire to engage in the external world and attempt to assert over it and contribute to it (what atleast that child perceives as) goodness and improvement. And also, let's face it, the beauty of math's rigor is more attractive than many cute vortlich. Like I said, I have limited knowledge on this. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. bivracha,

  3. First of all, I believe we'll find a psul yichus in his history. Second, I believe the answer is that you are welcome to bury him alive, or to draw and quarter him, or whatever else you can think of. But you can't say yimach shemo. Does that seem backwards? Or does it show that the neshama is a part of the personality that is tortured when we do aveiros? I don't know.

  4. I think it's ironic that you refuse to say yemach sh'mo by Ben Gurion, but you have no problem calling him a devil.

  5. Look, Micha, Daniel, and Anonymous, I don't know what's right and what's wrong. I'm just telling you a maaseh she'haya with the Ponovezher Rov, an Oheiv Yisrael and gadol batorah of the first water. I embellish it with the Chasam Sofer, and add some ideas here and there. Maybe the neshama is inviolate, maybe it is infinitely reparable, maybe it can be ruined and deserve to be utterly destroyed. Do I know? I do not.

    How many people do you know that can tell you a ma'aseh directly from the Ponovezher Rov or Reb Moshe or Rav Rudderman? And even those that can, you can't trust someone to tell you a maaseh rav unless he's a lamden, which I think I am. I tell you the stories. I know of their veracity at first or second hand. Do with them what you want.

    I called Ben Gurion a devil because of the wicked things he did. I also am very ambivalent about him because of the great and historic accomplishments he was involved in. I know that Begin refused to fire back, because his heart didn't let him shoot at Jews. Ben Gurion had no such qualms. Who knows what would have happened without him? Would we have a state? Would it be better or worse? I don't know.

  6. I appreciate the ambivalence towards Ben Gurion- many people even in Israel feel the same way. However, calling him a devil is not ambivalent. Also, as far as the Altalena is concerned, the idea that one country needs one army might be worth shooting over. His behavior towards the Irgun before the state is much more problematic, in my opinion. Also, I think you give Begin too much credit- not wanting to start a civil war is not the same as being unwilling to shoot Jews (although maybe he really was) this is the same begin that executed two british conscripts (one of whom may have been Jewish) and then booby trapped their bodies. 5 Jews were killed by British police in retaliation. Hardly the antithesis of the devil Ben Gurion you make him out to be. Also, the story was interesting.

  7. I wasn't trying to disagree, I was trying to say that I found it emotionally unsatisfying -- this week particularly.

  8. I hate to sound like a social liberal, but in the wake of the horror in New York, I have been thinking about punishment for crimes. What benefit is there in punishing a wicked person? Who gains? Does it ameliorate the crime even one iota? Of course, the persons he made to suffer have a natural desire to harm him in return, and it makes sense to inflict suffering on the criminal just to give the victim some satisfaction. But is there any rational basis for that? Does it make any sense at all? What benefit does the victim get? If the punishment serves as a deterrent, that's great. But just to make him suffer? Where's the benefit in that? The suffering in Gehenom, for everyone except the ein lahem cheileks, is redemptive, it cleanses, though I don't know how that works either. The metaphor of the crucible and the dross is a metaphor, but it has to have some connection to reality. We're not made of metal, and fire doesn't cleanse us. And what's the point of punishment for the ein lo chelek people? Does their suffering do anything positive? I'll just add this to the list of things I don't understand.

  9. b,

    If misery motivates regret, and regret causes any teshuvah, then the perpetrator benefits.

    I believe this is how gehenom cleanses as well. Someone with no place in olam haba is someone who made the sin so much a part of their core identity that they can't due teshuvah even when shown how wrong they are.

    BTW, according to the Iqqarim, the "fires" of gehenom are those of shame. The soul in the World of Truth, confronting what they really did and what they really are (compared to what they were made to become). IOW, it's not pain CAUSING regret (which then motivates teshuvah), it's the pain OF regret.

    Second, publishing a punishment is a deterrent, and implementing it is also a deterrent for someone else who may be considering to act similarly. So, who benefits? The person who would have been a victim but wasn't, because the person who would have attacked them instead didn't want to risk the punishment.

  10. On at least an abstract level, there is plain and simple the idea of justice. You do the crime, you pay the time. It's an issue of emes, giving a person what he rightfully deserves.

    You can ask what makes a person deserve punishment A vs punishment B. In our justice system, it's a pasuk. In a secular justice system there's what to discuss in terms of deterrent, giving victims or their families a sense of whatever, creating social norms and whatever legitimate or illegitimate motivations you may claim. But this is all in the motivation for the setup of the system. The implementation of the system is a must for the sake of justice by itself.

    Perhaps I could put it as, a "practical" concern like למען ישמעו ויראו might be a taamei hamikra for the establishment of a din, but once the din exists, ועשית הישר בעיני ה' (the pasuk by Ir Hanidachas, where it doesn't use the word טוב) is mechayev that we carry it out.

    (That last paragraph wasn't so clear. Feel free to ignore if it doesn't make sense.)

  11. From a perverse point of view [surprise, surprise], note that the Ashkenazi community as a matter of course is actively moche shem ordinary, frum, people miyisroel by rejecting yibum.

    Obviously, we have no problem with mechiyas shem when not doing so might involve an issur d'oraysa.

    So, while saying yimach shmo because of what a person did in the past may be wrong, if it involves current or probable future transgressions, there might be a difference.

    The "person" in NY, on the other hand, would probably not even be chayav misas bais din even with eidim and hasra'ah. He seems to be a classic shoteh.

    If however, as is being hinted, his abnormal behavior had been noted previously, but unreported because of a chshas of mseriah, then I am glad I am not the Ribbono Shel Olam's bookkeeper.

  12. Michael- Reb Chaim Volozhenere in both his Ruach and Nefesh Hachaim, as does the Gaon, uses your approach: Onesh is not punishment, or wages of sin. It is the natural outcome of those acts, cause and effect, in which the act generates this result. I don't get it yet.

    grunk-I hear your chiluk about possible future offenses, though there are less drastic preventatives than mechias sheim.

    I don't know what the pshat is when the yevama refuses or Chazal say don't do it. Does that equal mechikas hashem?

  13. "b", my name is "Micha" like the navi. I think your comment is in response to mine, not (my fellow AishDasnik) R' Michael Kopinsky's.

    I develop the thought I gave far more than I did here in my Aseres Yemei Teshuvah Reader, pp 1-4. I happen to mention R' Chaim Volozhiner, among others. In the second essay there are more sources, but there the focus is on two approaches within the same general concept of onesh as consequence.

  14. b- it's funny but now that you point it out it seems there's a fundamental difference between מיתת ב"ד and מלקות.

    The former is clearly not an issue of making him suffer, otherwise we would not intoxicate him before the execution תנו שכר לאובד ויין למרי נפש

    On the other hand מלקות seems to be NOTHING BUT an issue of his קלון so much so that his emotional קלון can exempt him from מלקות completely. Interesting.

    Note actually that the words מלקות and נקלה are related (although in the pasuk the lashon is הכאה and not הלקאה to be fair)
    yeyasher koach for the heara.

  15. Daniel, we are finally on the same wavelength. That's a very good observation. The essence of the punishment of malkus is how he is made to feel: Nobody in his right mind would say that before malus we should give him a cup of wine and levona so it shouldn't hurt so much or so he should be kind of drunk and be able to tolerate his shame, while in Missa, on the contrary, we do it quickly and as painlessly as possible, so it seems to be either וביערת הרע מקירבך or deterrent.

    Although the various forms of capital punishment reflect the severity of the sin, that is mostly for the deterrent value, so the observer is horrified, not because one is more painful than the other.

    Thank you.

  16. However, we do assume that misas beis din mekhaperes. If I were to defend your line of thought -- and I haven't decided if I agree with the chiluq being made -- I would instead distinguish between kaparah through suffering and kapparah through state transition. Dying will break one out of one's rut, to heavily understate things, even without pain also motivating someone to do so.

  17. But you have to agree that his point about משקין אותו קורט של לבונה בכוס של יין כדי שתטרף דעתו עליו וישתכר in the Rambam 13 Sanhedrin 2 from Sanhedrin 43a is a strong one, and highlights a fundamental distinction between Malkus and Missa.

  18. Hi Micha, I think you're blurring the concepts of כפרה versus סליחה מחילה. The former having very formal defined modes (קרבנות, מיתה ,יוה"כ, יסורים הבאים עליו), while the latter not.

    For example, a person who does teshuva, cries, and suffers for a chillul shabbos will still be חייב to bring a חטאת regardless. The Rambam shows this difference in his organization of Hl' Teshuva, the first perek being of Kapara, the second of סליחה ומחילה, see there.

    There is furthermore a difference between effecting a כפרה objectively in the world by being killed by beis din or bringing a korban, and that of having that kapara COUNTED FOR YOU by way of וידוי. All this is in the Rambam in those first 2 perakim as per my Rebbe taught.

  19. I don't blur them, I simply define them differently than you are. See my Yamim Noraim reader pg 36 (the 38th pg in the file). I emphasize the etymology of "kaparah" from the root meaning "to cover" (c.f. the "kapores"), and conclude "Kaparah is the containment of personal flaw. A step toward closing that gap between my finite self and the romemus, the greatness of the Almighty."

  20. Micha- True that we differ because I understand כפרה as to wipe away but I don't understand how your position will work with the Fact that the chiyuv kapara of bringing a korban is irrespective of personal self-refinement as it were. If were in any way possible that "containment of personal flaws" would suffice for kapara then bringing a chatas would be a ספק חולין בעזרה...? that's not subject to personal interpretation...

  21. Mitzvos maasios don't require kavanah because their point is to provide the context that causes the kavanah. In other words, you're yotzei tzitzis either way (and thus can wear them on Shabbos without an eruv) because the purpose of tzitzis is so that at least once in a while "...zekhartem es kol mitzvos H' va'asisem osam".

    Similarly, bringing a chatas without teshuvah doesn't effect a containment of the flaw nor pardon you from punishment (selichah), nor repair your relationship with the Almighty (mechilah). Was that not one of Yeshaiah's and Yirmiyahu's central themes?

    (Besides, how would it be Just for an unrepentant sinner to do some ritual formula and get a "get out of jail free" card for it?)

    The chatas is there as a tool to use to help achieve kaparah, and as such a tool is qadosh even when things don't "click" for the meqareiv and he can't maintain the right kavanos.

  22. Bringing a korban without vidui and teshuva is still effective for kapara as is evidenced by the fact that vidui is not מעכב and I'm not חייב to bring another חטאת. Nevertheless the kapara is not כפרה להן (kapara FOR THEM) without תשובה.
    וכן בעלי חטאות ואשמות--בעת שמביאין קרבנותיהם על שגגתן או על זדונן, אין מתכפר להן בקרבנם, עד שיעשו תשובה, ויתוודו וידוי דברים: שנאמר "והתוודה--אשר חטא, עליה"

    I burned down your house. Evil. Your house gets rebuilt at no cost to you and that evil is "wiped away" ( קרבן וכפרה). The difference is: was I the one who is considered to have rebuilt it and the slate is clean even vis-a-vis me (קרבן ווידוי) or it wasn't me that rebuilt it, it was a third agent(קרבן בלי וידוי), in which case while the evil of a destroyed house has been taken away (and hence no chiyuv to bring another chatas), the evil of my having burnt your house down in the first place is not...

    I guess unfortunately this is not the right medium for this kinds of back and forths. anyway, if you wish to look into it further see the shiurim of R' Matis Weinberg on Hilchos teshuva perek 1.
    blessings, Danny

  23. Again, the chiyuv is not the kaparah, it's bringing a chatas. Therefore, your proof that one wouldn't have to bring a second one doesn't say much.

    Abayei (Sanhedrin 47a) says that a qorban without teshuvah does NOT acheive kaprarah. And according to the Ramban, kaparah requires machashavah, dibbur and maaseh -- involving the whole person. There is no kaparah without teshuvah and vidui, all three.

    To explain why I find your assertion theologically problematic: A qorban's value is its role in enabling kaparah, not in some supernatural-causal way it can obtain kaparah and thus exempt one from divine justice.

    (Similarly the etzem of YK is only mechapeir someone who actually embraces the etzem of YK.)


  24. I am copying an interesting letter from the modest Nachum J that referred to this post:

    I saw a quote from [one of the many] minhagei chasam sofer
    [ironic since he’s the source in your post]
    that he referred to shbtai tzvi with the yimach shemo appelation,
    though you could argue that he’s one of the few that truly earned it
    [ with the o’malley’s for taking the dodgers out of brooklyn]

    any way it’s at the end of perek 1 in the miliuim page 72 in a discussion about someone saying tikkun chatzot without feeling MUST be a follower of shabbtai tzvi yimach shemo