The Names of Our Fathers

Day 24 – Daf 25

The Gemara mentions a tradition said over by Rav Acha Bar Abba Bar Acha – Rav Acha the son of Abba, the son of Acha. This is a bit unusual that the Gemara goes to tell us the Yichus of an Amora. 

Rav Elchanan Shoff in his Birchasa V’Shirasa brings a Midrash:

Rav Yosi said that the earliest generations, all lived at the time of their ancestors, therefore they named their children based on events that were happening at the time of their birth. 

However, our ancestors no longer live for many generations, therefore we name our children after them. Rav Shimon ben Gamliel said that the earlier generations before the Amoraim used Ruach HaKodesh and therefore named their children after events when they were born. However, since the times of the Amoraim, we can’t tap into that Ruach Hakodesh, therefore we name after our ancestors.

Bereishis Rabba 37

I find it interesting as when one is naming a baby, we are often told that we have a glimpse of Ruach Hakosdesh when choosing a name. This often helps us feel comfortable with the name we chose. According to this Midrash, this does not seem to be the case. Another point is that many times we name our children names we like or based on specific events surrounding the birth of a child. For example, we may name our child Bracha or Chaim if born during a tumultuous time. According to this Midrash, we are no longer meant to be naming our children based on the events surrounding the birth, so why are we doing this?

 May we all be remembered by the Torah of our grandchildren.

Kol Isha in the Yam Suf

Day 23 – Berachos 24

The Gemara is explaining what one can recite Shema in front of and gets into a tangent and starts discussing the laws of Tznius. The Gemara goes on to state that a person may not glare at even the finger of a woman, as it is considered “Ervah”. The Gemara continues to list other characteristics of “Ervah”, including a woman’s hair, leg, and voice.

While there is much halachic discussion centered around this, that has shaped the culture of Jewish communities for centuries. I came across an interesting connection to this week’s Parsha, Parashas Beshalach. 

The Torah tells us that after the Jews sang the Shira in the Yam Suf, Miriam took all the women and they sang their own Shira accompanied by drums and dancing. 

Why does the Torah mention that the women had drums, yet does not mention any musical instruments by the Shira of Moshe? Furthermore, the Torah tells us that Miriam sang the Shira “to them”, why does the Torah need to say again “to them”, we know from the pasuk earlier that Miriam was with all the women?

The Shl’a teaches us that as soon as the women started their celebrations, all the young guys came to watch the spectacle. The Uheler Rav in his classic, Yismach Moshe, explains that the women, upon noticing this, immediately took to their instruments in order to drown out their voices, so that the men will not hear them. Miriam had to sing the Shira at the top of her lungs in order for it to be heard over the music. The Torah tells us, although Miriam was singing uber loudly, it was only “to them”, it was only heard by the women. 

However, we understand these Halachos, may we always merit to continue to praise Hashem for his immeasurable goodness. 

Thank You For Your Courage

Flipping through a publication recently, I noticed an interesting pattern. There were quite a few letters to the editor, many of them with strong takeaways. However, the majority were signed anonymously. This bothered me, as it felt like the anonymity of the authors took away the entire message. If you cannot sign your name to something, how can you expect others to listen? 

Thinking about this over the past few days, I have come to realize that we live in an age of anonymity. We have become protective of ourselves and our families to such an extent, that we are afraid to be associated with our very own actions. We, therefore, have an abundance of anonymity in our midst, ranging from letters to the editor to mega donations. Many Instagram, Twitter, and other social media users hide behind a name, not their own. It seems to have become an incurable plague. 

Why Do We Act Anonymously & What Does This Have To Do With Your Courage?

Anonymity helps to protect from stigma or other self-doubts that one has, and it is also used to do things selflessly. However, it is used too much; in fact, it appears to have become a selfish act. Why does our generation feel like we cannot show who we really are? It is as if there is the external person and the internal person, and they calibrate via the anonymous factor. 

Much has been written on the cowardice hiding behind anonymity, and how it rears its ugly head all over the internet. I would like to focus on the lack of self courage hiding behind anonymity. 

People write books, articles, letters and tweets anonymously, for many reasons, the crux of which is to protect themselves or their careers from any collateral damage. What they do not realize is that ideas, when communicated anonymously, lose their force in the battle of ideas. Pseudonyms normalize the idea that people should be frightened to express unpopular views. Consequently, they indirectly serve to delegitimize the views being expressed.

Courage = 100% Accountability

A mentor taught me that when one acts with courage and knows their view is correct, it no longer makes any difference what others think. If I can express my opinion without hiding behind a mask, I am thereby empowered to follow through on my expression and not let the detractors get me down. As a caveat, courage is the ability to take 100% ownership of your actions, which includes the courage to admit when it’s a mistake.

“ The courageous can be anonymous, like fallen heroes with stars on a wall, but the anonymous are not necessarily courageous.”

Danny Pharr

Imagine everyone being true to who they are. When people express their views courageously, conversations take place, policies change, the world becomes a better place. When we hide behind a pseudonym we are enabling a status-quo that people should be afraid to express their opinion, however unpopular it may seem. As a result, it causes the opinion expressed to be rendered completely illegitimate. 

I look forward to recognizing my peers through their courageously expressed views and seeing the conversations that take place as a result of this courage. 

Are you ready?

Thank you for your courage!

Shui Haber

The Hypocrite and His Tefillin

Day 22 – Berachos 23

The Gemara is discussing the laws of entering the bathroom with one’s Tefillin. In the midst of this discussion, the Gemara relates a tragic story:

וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּתַלְמִיד אֶחָד שֶׁהִנִּיחַ תְּפִילָּיו בַּחוֹרִין הַסְּמוּכִים לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, וּבָאת זוֹנָה אַחַת, וּנְטָלָתַן, וּבָאת לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וְאָמְרָה: רָאוּ מַה נָּתַן לִי פְּלוֹנִי בִּשְׂכָרִי! כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁמַע אוֹתוֹ תַּלְמִיד כָּךְ, עָלָה לְרֹאשׁ הַגָּג וְנָפַל וָמֵת. בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהֵא אוֹחֲזָן בְּבִגְדוֹ וּבְיָדוֹ, וְנִכְנָס.

And an incident occurred involving a student who placed his phylacteries in the holes adjacent to the public domain, and a prostitute passed by and took the phylacteries. She came to the study hall and said: See what so-and-so gave me as my payment. When that student heard this, he ascended to the rooftop and fell and died. At that moment they instituted that one should hold them with his garment and in his hand and enter to avoid situations of that kind.

Rav Menachem Taksin in the Sefer Ateres Chachamim, brings down a similar story related in Shabbos (13) 

תני דבי אליהו מעשה בתלמיד אחד ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה ומת בחצי ימיו והיתה אשתו נוטלת תפיליו ומחזרתם בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות ואמרה להם כתיב בתורה כי הוא חייך ואורך ימיך בעלי ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה  ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה מפני מה מת בחצי ימיו ולא היה אדם מחזירה דבר פעם אחת נתארחתי אצלה והיתה מסיחה כל אותו מאורע ואמרתי לה בתי בימי נדותך מה הוא אצלך אמרה לי חס ושלום אפילו באצבע קטנה לא נגע [בי] בימי לבוניך מהו אצלך אכל עמי ושתה עמי וישן עמי בקירוב בשר ולא עלתה דעתו על דבר אחר ואמרתי לה ברוך המקום שהרגו שלא נשא פנים לתורה שהרי אמרה תורה ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב

The Sage in the school of Eliyahu taught a baraita that deals with this halakha: There was an incident involving one student who studied much Mishna and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, studying Torah from them, and, nevertheless, died at half his days, half his life expectancy. His wife in her bitterness would take his phylacteries and go around with them to synagogues and study halls, and she said to the Sages: It is written in the Torah: “For it is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). If so, my husband who studied much Mishna, and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, why did he die at half his days? Where is the length of days promised him in the verse? No one would respond to her astonishment at all.

Eliyahu said: One time I was a guest in her house, and she was relating that entire event with regard to the death of her husband. And I said to her: My daughter, during the period of your menstruation, how did he act toward you? She said to me: Heaven forbid, he did not touch me even with his little finger. And I asked her: In the days of your white garments, after the menstrual flow ended, and you were just counting clean days, how did he act toward you then? She said to me: He ate with me, and drank with me, and slept with me with bodily contact and, however, it did not enter his mind about something else, i.e., conjugal relations. And I said to her: Blessed is the Omnipresent who killed him for this sin, as your husband did not show respect to the Torah. The Torah said: “And to a woman in the separation of her impurity you should not approach” (Leviticus 18:19), even mere affectionate contact is prohibited.

The Ateres Chachamim asks why did this woman go around with her husbands Tefillin? He then explains that in our Gemara, the student died while giving respect to the Tefillin, and it was a rather unusual form of death. Therefore, his wife walked around with those very same Tefillin to ask why her husband got punished for seemingly respecting his Tefillin.

Only Eliyahu HaNavi was able to answer her that it was not about the Tefillin, but about the prostitute. He explains that this is the same student as the story in our Gemara. Because he was not careful regarding Taharas HaMishpacha, he was punished with an unusual death by way of a prostitute.

We see from here how much one must be careful to maintain an equilibrium between how he practices and acts in public and how he does so in private.

I had a teacher who often used the term NFY – Do Not Fool Yourself. Hypocrisy is a serious issue and if we act one way in a public setting and not as pious when nobody’s looking, we are merely fooling ourselves. When an incident arises where the actions one does in private becomes known, the humiliation can lead to death. Better to avoid it by remembering that we are only fooling ourselves.

Of Secrets and Stringencies

Day 21 – Berachos 22

מַעֲשֶׂה בְּרַבִּי יְהוּדָה שֶׁרָאָה קֶרִי, וְהָיָה מְהַלֵּךְ עַל גַּב הַנָּהָר. אָמְרוּ לוֹ תַּלְמִידָיו: רַבֵּינוּ, שְׁנֵה לָנוּ פֶּרֶק אֶחָד בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ. יָרַד וְטָבַל וְשָׁנָה לָהֶם. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: לֹא כָּךְ לִמַּדְתָּנוּ רַבֵּינוּ, שׁוֹנֶה הוּא בְּהִלְכוֹת דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ?! אָמַר לָהֶם: אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁמֵּיקֵל אֲנִי עַל אֲחֵרִים, מַחְמִיר אֲנִי עַל עַצְמִי.

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: בַּעַל קֶרִי שֶׁנָּתְנוּ עָלָיו תִּשְׁעָה קַבִּין מַיִם — טָהוֹר. נַחוּם אִישׁ גַּם זוֹ לְחָשָׁהּ לְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא, וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא לְחָשָׁהּ לְבֶן עַזַּאי, וּבֶן עַזַּאי יָצָא וּשְׁנָאָהּ לְתַלְמִידָיו בְּשׁוּק. פְּלִיגִי בַּהּ תְּרֵי אָמוֹרָאֵי בְּמַעְרְבָא, רַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר אָבִין וְרַבִּי יוֹסֵי בַּר זְבִידָא. חַד תָּנֵי: שְׁנָאָהּ, וְחַד תָּנֵי: לְחָשָׁהּ.

מַאן דְּתָנֵי שְׁנָאָהּ, מִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל תּוֹרָה וּמִשּׁוּם בִּטּוּל פְּרִיָּה וּרְבִיָּה. וּמַאן דְּתָנֵי לְחָשָׁהּ — שֶׁלֹּא יְהוּ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים מְצוּיִים אֵצֶל נְשׁוֹתֵיהֶם כְּתַרְנְגוֹלִים.

The Gemara is discussing the laws of when a Baal Keri, one who had a seminal emission, can learn Torah or daven. In the midst of this discussion the Gemara relates numerous incidents to prove different points.

I have quoted above two of these incidents. In the first, Rebbi Yehuda had taught that a Baal Keri can learn or teach only the laws of Derech Eretz. However, when he himself was a Baal Keri, he immersed himself for purification before teaching the Halacha. When confronted over the self contradiction, he said he is being stringent on himself. 

In the second incident we find a tradition passed down secretly that one who is a Baal Keri, need not immerse himself but can have a measurement of nine Kavin of water thrown over him and then he can learn Torah. This seems to be about 2.9 gallons of water, or about a 90 second shower. This tradition was passed secretly from Nachum Ish Gamzu to Rebbi Akiva to Ben Azzai, who went ahead and said it in public.

There are different traditions as to what actually happened: There are those that say that he publicized this in order to increase intimate relations and procreation. As he himself was a bachelor, this was something that was important to him. There are others that say that he indeed passed it over to his students in a secret, in order that they do not get too intimate with their wives and thereby distracted from their Torah studies.

From these two incidents, it is apparent that there are two or more levels of Torah. There is the level of the general populace, that which may be more lenient at times, but we see Rebbi Yehuda was stringent on himself. Conversely, we see that there was a level for the general populace to be more stringent and only those in on the secret knew about the lenient ruling. 

Why is this? If we have a lenient ruling, why is that only kept as a secret tradition amongst the Tannaim? Additionally, if Rebbi Yehuda ruled leniently for everyone why is that leniency not good enough for himself, and if it was not good enough for himself, why is he letting others be lenient?

It seems that there are two tracks here, one for those in the know and one for the general population. I am curious where this idea comes from and why this is so. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

The Novelty of Birchas HaTorah

Day 20 – Berachos 21

מִנַּיִן לְבִרְכַּת הַתּוֹרָה לְפָנֶיהָ מִן הַתּוֹרָה — שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי שֵׁם ה׳ אֶקְרָא הָבוּ גֹדֶל לֵאלֹהֵינוּ״.

And from where is the mitzva by Torah law to recite the blessing over the Torah before it is read, derived? As it is stated: “When I proclaim the Lord’s name, give glory to our God” (Deuteronomy 32:3), meaning that before one proclaims the Lord’s name by reading the Torah, he must give glory to God.

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 47) teaches us that the obligation to recite Birchas HaTorah is incumbent upon women as well as men. The Beis Yosef explains that women need to learn the laws pertinent to them. 

The Gra argues strongly on this and explains that as women do not have a specific commandment to learn Torah, you cannot say the they must recite Birchas Hatorah for the laws they are obligated in.  

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch earlier (OC 17) taught us that women do not make a bracha on a Mitzvas Aseh SheHazman Grama, a mitzvah bound by time, as women are not obligated in these mitzvos.

Learning Torah is a mitzva that is bound by time, as the Torah tells us you should learn Torah when you wake up and when you go to sleep. Why does the Shulchan Aruch rule that women need to make a Bracha on Torah and not on other time-bound mitzvos?

The Brisker Rav explained  that Torah is different than any other mitzvah. From the fact that we have a seperate pasuk to teach us that one should say Birchas HaTorah, we see that this is not merely a bracha on a mitzvah. Rather, Torah is something that requires a Bracha, part and parcel of learning Torah is making a bracha on it. Therefore a woman needs to make a bracha as well on learning Torah as the bracha is part of the Limud.  

Rationalism & Kiddush Hashem

Day 19 – Brachos 20

There is an interesting Gemara that has left me puzzled.

Rav Papa asked Abaye why did miracles happens so often in previous generations and we do not see too many miracles in our generation, which seems more learned in Torah? 

Abaye responded that previous generations were Moser Nefesh Al Kidush Hashem, they were wholly dedicated to the sanctification of God’s name, and our generation is not.

Abaya then proceeds to give an example of an incident of Mesiras Nefesh of the previous generations. 

Rav Adda bar Ahava saw a non-Jewish woman who was wearing a garment made of a forbidden mixture of wool and linen [karbalta] in the marketplace. Since he thought that she was Jewish, he stood and ripped it from her. It was then divulged that she was a non-Jew and he was taken to court due to the shame that he caused her, and they assessed the payment for the shame that he caused her at four hundred zuz. Ultimately, Rav Adda said to her: What is your name? She replied: Matun. In a play on words, he said to her: Matun, her name, plus matun, the Aramaic word for two hundred, is worth four hundred zuz.

This incident leaves more questions than answers.

Firstly, how is this related to the concept of Kiddush Hashem? In fact, it seems the opposite is true, it seems like a Chilul Hashem?

Moreover, we have seen throughout our galus, million of Jews go to their death for the sanctification of God’s name. What does it mean that our generation no longer dedicates themselves for Kiddush Hashem?

Rav Kook explains this Gemara at length in Ein Ayeh. He explains that Mesirut Nesfesh al Kiddush Hashem, does not necessarily mean that they died in sanctification of God’s name. Rather, that the previous generations had a higher level of Shleimut, wholesomeness. They understood things beyond what the sechel can grasp, it was almost at a subconscious level, they saw the absolute truth of the matter and immediately acted upon it, before the thought entered the sechel and they started to rationalize their actions. They were able to daven to Hashem without Cheshbonos, just with a form of pure Emes. This is what Abaye called Kiddush Hashem – the ability to think about something through the lens of Emes and the perspective of Hashem, without rationalization. To this tefilla, Hashem can change nature and perform a miracle. 

This was the sort of Mesiras Nefesh which Rav Adda bar Ahava displayed, he saw something and acted immediately, even before he was able to discern if the woman was actually Jewish.

While we are no match for the generation of Abaya and Rava, we can learn from this that once we start rationalizing things, we lose half the truth. Let us approach Torah with Emes and achieve Shlemut and constant closeness to Hashem.