Sunday, May 31, 2009

Fun and Games on Shavuos.

I had an experience "ahf alleh Yiddishe sonim gezogt" on Shavuos. I spoke in a neighborhood shul, and this is the drasha I prepared. The drasha is probably not useful to anyone until next Shavuos, but in my case, the delivery was far more interesting than the content.

I had finished the introductory part of the drasha, set up the structure, and was beginning the heart of the drasha, and suddenly I had no idea what was supposed to follow. I sat there looking at the passuk in chumash I had built the drasha on, and had no idea what preceded it and what I meant to do with it. I appeared to the listeners like a half-wit bar mitzvah boy who forgot his place in the pshetel. In that I am almost forty four years past my bar mitzvah, it was an uncomfortable position to be in, both for most the listeners and for me (although I think some listeners were getting oneg yomtov out of it). After five minutes of increasing perplexity and anxiety, in the spirit of shooting a horse with a broken leg, the Rav decided it was time to bentch. Two of my friends- doctors who had come to hear me speak- decided I needed to go to the emergency room to be examined, and another friend took me and my wife and waited for three hours, until I was admitted. After a night of physical invasion, observation and introspection, I learned that 1. I am mortal; after more than fifty years of perfect health despite a spectrum of habits ranging from execrable to negligent, some consequences are inevitable; 2. High blood pressure, untreated, can lead to circulatory dysfunction which can cause a transient inability to access memory files, 3. It is acutely uncomfortable to be the object of pity and scrutiny; 4. The attractiveness of "Live while you live and die and be done with it" as a life philosophy appears to diminish in direct proportion to the proximity of its natural consequences.

The drasha. Thanks to Chaim B. of for several of the marei makom.

Reb Akiva Eiger, in his first teshuva, says that a woman who forgets yaaleh veyavo in bentching on Yomtov does not have to repeat bentching, because simcha, and its concomitant chiyuv to make seudos on Yomtov, (where there is no Shamor/Zachor hekesh,) is a zman grama. Her husband has a chiyuv to be mesamei'ach her, but she has no personal simcha obligation. For her, the day is not mechayeiv the seuda, and so bedi'eved, if she doesn't mention the day in bentching, she does not have to repeat the bentching.
The Vilner Dayan
, the Binyan Shlomo (OC II 47), says that while this may be true on Pesach and Sukkos, he would disagree regarding Shavuos. The Gemara in Taanis says that everyone agrees you need chatzi lachem on Shavuos, because it is the day of Matan Torah, and simple logic mandates that we celebrate this day with festive meals. If so, he says, the chiyuv seuda and simcha on Shavuos is a svara; the ptur of zman grama only applies to dinei Torah, not to things that are mi'svara, as indicated in several gemaros, such as mezuza, tefilla, megilla, and daled kosos.

Reb Shlomo Kluger in the Chachmas Shlomo OC 428 says that although kiddush levana should be recited as early as possible, in Sivan it is best to say it after Shavuos: we say "chok uzman nasan lahem shelo yeshanu es tafkidam," and it was only with Matan Torah that the laws of nature were ratified and made immutable.

So the celebration of Shavuos is unique. Our bodies and souls join in a festive celebration of the culmination of the brias ha'olam, the covenant that elevated Klal Yisrael to be the earthly representatives of the Ribono shel Olam, and a roadmap and opportunity for true communion with God. But Shavuos seems relatively poor in specific mitzvos. On Pesach, when we commemorate Yetzias Mitzrayim, we reenact the geula with the Seder and eat Matza. Sukkos, we sit in Sukkos to re-experience the Sukkos Hashem provided for us in the Midbar. On Shavuos, the King of the Shalosh Regalim, we have no special mitzvos. There is an issur melacha, there are the Shtei Halechem and Shelmei Tzibur that are kodshei kodoshim, there are Kiddush and simcha, but there is no particular and unique mitzva for individuals on Yomtov. Why is that? We try to create some physical focus for the Simchas Hayom with the minhag to eat milchiks and we stay up all night; I have no doubt that the development and success of these minhagim express and reflect our desire for special mitzvos. But these are just minhagim. Why is there no special Mitzva? In fact, the Shaarei Aharon in Emor brings a pirush (whose roshei teivos don't look good in English,) that the reason Chazal, as first appears in Onkelos, call Shavuos "Atzeres," (when in fact Shavuos is the only one of the three Regalim that the Torah does not call Atzeres,) is because it has no special ma'aseh mitva and is distinguished from other days only by issur melacha- atzira mi'me'lacha!

Even outside the context of the Yomtov of Shavuos, the basic commemoration of Matan Torah seems relatively minor. The Passuk in Devarim 4:9-10 say that we must never forget what Hashem has told us, Hishamer lecha pen tishkach...Yom asher amadeta lifnei Hashem Elokecha beChorev, but the Rambam does not count this as one of the Taryag. The Ramban, in his list of Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh (#2) lists this obligation to remember Mattan Torah as one of the Mitzvos that he holds the Rambam should have included. In truth, both the Rambam and the Ramban need iyun. The Gemara in Menachos 99b says that the passuk in Devarim teaches that one who causes himself to forget any halacha has transgressed a torah prohibition, but the Gemara says nothing of the Ramban's Lahv. The Gemara in Kiddushin 30a uses the passuk to teach that if one teaches a grandchild Torah it is as if he is standing in front of Har Sinai while the Torah was given, again no mention of the Ramban's Lahv. On the other hand, the Rambam does not list any issur of forgetting divrei Torah, seemingly ignoring the Gemara in Menachos, and also leaves us wondering what to do with the words in the passuk "yom asher amadeta."

The Rambam, the Megilas Esther in Sefer Hamitzvos explains, didn't list this as a mitzvah, because it is, pardon the barbarism, a meta-mitzvah; it reinforces as a general matter the entire Torah. Although Anochi is a mitzvah, that is because Anochi requires that we learn to see God in His bri'ah. This, however, does nothing but remind us to remember and do all the mitzvos which we have already been told to remember and to do. Also, as the Rambam stresses in the Morah, he holds that the great importance of empiricism mandates that we eschew fanciful imaginings, and not imagine things that are outside of our experience of reality. We can't remember standing at Har Sinai, so we shouldn't create fanciful images of having been there. The Ramban deals there with the Gemara in Kiddushin.

So certainly according to the Rambam, who must view this passuk as a general reinforcement of the mitzvos and limud of the Torah, the national memory of Mattan Torah does not devolve into any practical zikaron requirement. Even according to the Ramban, that there is a mitzva of Zikaron, how does this mitzva compare to the mitva of Zechiras Yetzias Mitzrayim? One would think that Mattan Torah, that singular and unimaginably spiritual formative event, would be central to our tefillos. But Yetzias Mitzrayim is ubiquitous; in Tefilla, in Kiddush, it is constantly repeated. Mattan Torah is almost totally absent from our daily thoughts. Why is this so?

Reb Aharon Kotler (quoted in Kuntres Ha'inyanim Le'chag Hashavuos) writes that Mattan Torah is an ongoing event, it is the Kol Gadol Velo Yasaf-- lo passak. Zichronos, commemorations, are memorializations, and are appropriate only for an event that took place in the past and which resonates in the present. Mattan Torah, however, is a current event; bechal yom, yihyu be'einecha kechadashim. We sit at a seder primarily because we were redeemed at the time of Yetzias Mitrayim, and the time is one of possibility of Geula; we dwell in Sukkos because we dwelled in Sukkos, and the time is one of stronger Hashgacha Pratis. But to do something that recalls Mattan Torah would be wrong and false; we shouldn't be recalling Mattan Torah; we should be experiencing it in real time just as we did in Sinai three thousand years ago. One who is experiencing a current Mattan Torah doesn't need to artificially reinforce the experience, just as someone who lives in Florida and can look out the window and see the beach won't have a souvenir starfish on his living room mantle.

I don't think Reb Aharon would agree with this, but I would extrapolate on his approach. We assume that Matza and Lulav and Sukkah are ways of remembering the events of the past. This is certainly true. Also, we accept that Mitzvos are beyond human comprehension, and we do them because God commanded us to, knowing that there may be many hidden reasons, and that we do them even if we don't know the reasons. Indeed, this is clearly true, because many mitzvos were done before the reason given for them occured, such as Matza and Parah Adumah and Pidyon Haben. So let us speculate: Perhaps these mitzvos are not only ways of evoking the past, but are actually ways of recreating the past; of actualizing the potential of the past and bringing it into our time. The Geula of Mitzrayim stems from the segula of that date for geula in general. Be'Nissan nigalu, be'Nissan asidin le'hi'ga'el. By creating a tableau vivant, by sitting at the seder and seeing ourselves as if we had just left Mitzryim, by eating matza as our ancestors ate matza the night they left Mitzrayim, perhaps we recreate, we stimulate, we call up the power of Geula. It's a segula; not the cheap superstitious segulos of our times: the matza is not a juju or a fetish that we shake at our enemies; it is a real segula that the Ribono shel Olam has provided for us to summon up the power of geula. One might say that it is invocation through evocation.

Such Segula Mitzvos, however, are totally unnecessary for Shavuos and for Mattan Torah. Mattan Torah is not an event of the past that resonates in the present: it is an ongoing and universally accessible reality, and no summoning up is necessary. Just sit down, open a Gemara, perhaps learn with your grandchild (Kiddushin 30a), and you are standing at Har Sinai.
In any case, let's think about the lomdus of the Machlokes Ramban and Rambam. Why does the Rambam hold there is no chiyuv zechira while the Ramban holds there is? I say it is the same machlokes as the machlokes Rashi and Tosfos in Yevamos 49b whether we say "ee lo tafsi pak'i."
Reb Akiva holds that kiddushin cannot be executed when the partners are prohibited to marry. The Chachamim hold that even if they are transgressors, the marriage is a legally recognized marriage, although we force them to divorce. According to Reb Akiva, what if there was a non-problematic and legal marriage, and during the course of the marriage, an event occurred which prohibited this union. According to Rashi, "ee lo tafsi, paki." A prohibition which interferes with the execution of a marriage, which would prevent a marriage from being created, will equally end an existing marriage. Ee lo tafsi, paki; if it couldn't take hold, it is annulled. Tosfos argues. Tosfos holds that although if the prohibition preceded the marriage, it would prevent the marriage from taking place, it does not end an existing marriage.

Achronim have said that the essence of the machlokes Rashi and Tosfos revolves around the theoretical nature of a marriage contract. According to Tosfos, when a marriage is created, there is a change in the state of the parties, and this change of state is permanent and self-contained. According to Rashi, a marriage contract is permanent only because it is self-renewing. The contract creates a marriage for the moment of acceptance, and separately it renews itself the next moment, and so on for every moment of the parties' lives. As the Rogotchover is quoting as having said upon hearing this idea, tell Reb Chaim mazal tov, since according to him he is getting married anew every moment.

The Rambam holds like Tosfos. Mattan Torah was the Yom Simchas Libo, the eirusin, of Klal Yisrael to the Ribono shel Olam. This was a permanent change in status. We were all born; the fact we are alive is because we were born at a certain point, and we continue living. It's not a new chalos "life" every second. We get married, and we are married people, and we stay that way. The bechira of Klal Yisrael and the eirusin of Torah took place, and what we are stems from that event, which we remember on Shavuos. The Ramban holds like Rashi. The eirusin of Klal Yisrael was not a one time event; it is a forever self-renewing event. Every time we open a Gemara, every time we do a mitzvah, we are doing it because at that moment Hashem is telling us "Learn! Do Mitzvos!" and we are being mekabeil. This is why the Ramban tells us that we need to constantly renew the awareness of our kabalas hatorah, the eima, yira, reses and zei'ah that must accompany Kabalas Hatorah. We must remind ourselves of the nesina because it is recurring every second of our lives.

While there may be a machlokes rishonim whether there is a mitzvas zechira of Mattan Torah, there is absolutely no doubt about another zechira: Zechiras Maaseh Ha'Eigel. This is because what happened forty days after the Aseres Hadibros? The Chet Ha'Eigel. Unless we learn that lesson, remembering Har Sinai will be a waste of time. Forty days after the actual Mattan Torah, after Krias Yam Suf, after Yetzias Mitzrayim, an aveira was publicly done which insulted and denigrated the entire Torah and contravened Hashem's will. How can this have happened? It happened because things we get as gifts are cheap. If we don't work hard to earn the gifts we receive, we consider them worthless and lose them. Obviously, Klal Yisrael had spent the time of Sefira growing and learning what it meant to be Avdei Hashem and not slaves to mankind or to one's physical desires. It wasn't enough. After receiving the Torah, they should have worked harder to incorporate its lessons. They didn't, and the Matana of Torah remained a Matanah, not something they earned, and it never penetrated their souls. What you don't work hard for is very difficult to keep. A thrilling Mattan Torah, hearing and seeing and smelling the fragrance of the Aseres Hadibros, all that was not enough. It was ephemeral and superficial and ultimately fell by the wayside as they found that other religious options could be much more exciting.

Here's an East Side story; no names, but it's a maaseh she'haya that really did happen.
In the thirties and forties, being a shomer shabbos was extremely difficult for working men. This man, as many others, came home most Fridays with a pink slip and his last day's salary. But he came in with enthusiasm, and said "It's erev Shabbos! Ba Shabbos ba menucha! Baruch Hashem we have Shabbos, and next week I'll find another and a better job." Over time, he was able to make his own business, and slowly accumulated some money, and finally he bought a little house. Come Sukkos, after all the years of eating in community sukkos, for the first time he built his own sukkah in the tiny back yard. He and the kids went out to decorate it, and as they stood there wondering what to use, he said "Wait! I have the perfect decoration!" He ran into the house, and came back with a shoe box, and took out hundreds of pink slips. "This", he said, "is the perfect decoration. Every soldier has ribbons and medals he gets for the wars he fought and the wounds he got, and these are my medals and ribbons for Shemiras Shabbos and Kavod Shabbos." And he covered one whole wall with the pink slips. This is a man who earned Shemiras Shabbos. For many, Shabbas remains as it was given, a Matanah Tova. For this man, it was both a Matanah Tovah and earned.

Ne'ilas Hachag does not mean that the last man out of the building closes the lights and locks the doors. Ne'ilas hachag is the locking of Gan na'ul achosi kallah. Klal Yisrael and the Torah are the Chasan and the Kallah, and the Ne'ilah is how we lock in the his'orerus of the Yomtov, the aliyah ruchnis of Mattan Torah, and how we enrich our life-long work of earning the Matana Tova of Mattan Torah.
(For an extended discussion on how a Ne'ilas Hachag strengthens the hisorerus of Yomtov, see Ohr Gedalyahu on Pesach, which I heard about after writing this.)


  1. Refuah Shleimah.

    If your HBP is anxiety-related, I recommend, as Chazal does, decreasing your food intake and increasing your [alcoholic] liquid ration. You are, after all, more than "thirty years past your bar mitzvah."

  2. On days you can carry a paper outline, when you lose your place, quickly scan it to pick up the last major point you remember having made, and repeat it (which is a favor to your audience anyway.) Then you work forward again. When you can't tote a piece of paper, prepare by making the outline and then associating each of the major points with an object in a familiar room -- e.g. "put" the Rambam on the flatscreen, the Raavad on the auxillary drive to its right, the first Gemara on the telephone to its right, the second Gemara on the sidetable to its right, the Ohr Sameyach on the photo of Zayde on the wall to its right etc. Rehearse these "puttings" a few different times till you have them down cold. Then, when you're delivering, you fetch the points of your outline from your mental picture of the room, as you work your way through the objects from left to right. If you get lost, run through the objects to the last one you remember reaching, repeat its associated point, and work forward. And pause for a deep breath and *relax* whenever you need to!

  3. This happened to my rebbe once in the middle of shiur. He is 82 and it was really scary, he just couldn't remember the shiur. They couldn't find what was wrong with him afterwards though. Hope you are feeling better and keep up the great divrei Torah!

  4. Thank you, 11:54 PM. The problem is definitely hereditery, although I think it is more a matter of epigenetics than genetics. Thirty was a slip. I fixed the number.

    1:12 AM, I definitely am going to try your suggestions. If I ever speak berabim again.

    e-man, thanks. At this rate, by the time I'm 82, I'll be lucky to be remembering where my pants belong.

  5. >>>suddenly I had no idea what was supposed to follow

    This happens to me on a regular basis when I have to get up and speak : )

    In all seriousness, hope you have recovered!

  6. " they found other religious options more interesting and engaging and thrilling."

    As in ... arayos.

    Cherchez la femme. [That's French, not Latin. Please don't delete me...]

  7. No, that would be quaero muller, or requiro mulier. I think I'll chop off some of the adjectives there. I was thinking too much about how much fun a religion whose primary purpose was eliminating shame would be.

  8. (Un)fortunately, we are bayshonim bnei bayshonim...

    Of course, for many Litvaks, there is also that little epigenetic problem (viz supra @12:31 pm).

  9. Update:
    Carotid Artery: enviably clear.
    Blood Pressure: high, but not terrible.
    Bad Cholesterol: could use controlling, but also not a crisis.
    Good Cholesterol: much lower than it should be. Strange: I eat nuts, avocado, and so on.
    This is all very frustrating. I would like a finding of something serious that is easily cured. I really don't like the possibility of simple half wittedness striking. Unfortunately, I don't get to choose the results of the tests.

  10. a) exercise - equivalent of 5 miles walking/day

    b) gribenes - for the best kind of cholesterol

    c) siyata dishmaya

    Not necessarily in that order

  11. Ho Ho, schadenfreudeJune 2, 2009 at 10:56 PM

    The day may yet come when science learns that the combination of caffeine, nicotine, and gribenene is the magic bullet, but so far, it looks like it's just a bullet.

  12. I'm not up to Lipitor yet; my doctor (I hate to say I have a doctor, darn it!) says he wants to focus on the blood pressure before fiddling with the other issues.

  13. Take care of yourself. No ifs, and, or, Butts

  14. H H Schadenfreude, I like the idea of a gribenene molecule. They're isolating and marketing lycopene from tomato skin and resveratrol from grape skin; how long can it be till we see Gribenene pills from chicken skin?

  15. new yeshivish blog

    'Not Brisker Yeshivish'


  16. are you ok? nothing new in two weeks? please have rachmonus

  17. "The Vilner Dayan, the Binyan Shlomo (OC II 48)" (It's OC II 47)

    "the ptur of zman grama only applies to dinei Torah, not to things that are mi'svara, as indicated in several gemaros, such as mezuza, tefilla, megilla, and daled kosos" - Not exactly what he says

    Thank you for a very interesting Torah blog!

  18. Thank you, Anonymous of May 28, 2013 for the correction and for the link. I made the change.

    I also appreciate the chizuk. People who are looking for leitzanus run away after realizing this is a serious site, and people who are looking for serious Torah don't come here because of the title. And even people that are looking for Torah on the net want to be spoon fed. So it's nice to see that some people do manage to come and read critically.

  19. I actually wondered about your title. Havolim? Maybe Mesikus would be a more appropriate title. I really enjoy the seriousness and the creativity I find here.