Zachor and Shamor: R' Shimon b. Yochai Part X

[Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX ]

We concluded the last installment by suggesting that R’ Shimon’s question and the Old Man’s answer lie within meaning of the ‘Zachor/Shamor’ duality of Shabbat.
‘God has spoken once; but I heard twice’
-Tehillim 62:12
The most well-known and blatant discrepancy between the Decalogue as recorded in Shemot and as recorded in Devarim is the initiation of the passage on Shabbat with the term Zachor in the former and Shamor in the latter. Perplexed by this discrepancy of meanings between the two texts which we expect to be identical in content if not form, Chaza”l suggested that these two words were uttered simultaneously by God, an act incomprehensible to the human ear. God’s statement, when it struck the human mind, refracted into two elements, Shamor and Zachor.

The Shamor/Zachor dichotomy includes a tension characteristic of the sacred in general. On one hand, the sacred is wholly transcendent, sharing nothing at all with the profane. Entering it means entering a different world. With regard to Shabbat, this aspect of sacredness, the cessation of all workaday labor, is encapsulated by the term ‘Shamor’.

At the same time, the sacred has a very important role to play vis-à-vis the profane. By experiencing the sacred, one returns to the profane with an eye toward elevating it, imbuing it with the spirit of the sacred, allowing the sacred to ‘spill over’ into the profane. This elements of Shabbat, encapsulated by Zakhor, represents the way in which Shabbat sustains the week and makes it meaningful.

Shabbat, paradoxically, is therefore both part of the week and completely distinct from it. Would Shabbat be just another day, but with a different set of prescribes activities, or an experience so divorced from the paramount reality that there would be no way to meaningfully carry it back, Shabbat would lose its centrality; only by preserving this paradox does Shabbat keep its power.
What is true of Shabbat extends to other realms of the sacred as well, including sanctified people. Israel, on one hand, is unique and wholly other, belonging to a different order of existence and enjoying a different type of relationship with God than any other nation. At the same time, Israel is charged with a mission vis-à-vis the other nation; there is a message to be spread. Israel is both a nation like other nations and an incomparable ahistorical entity. This duality is captured in the Torah’s designation of Israel as ‘a kingdom of priests and a sacred nation’, remaining wholly other yet fully participating in the unfolding of history.

R’ Shimon began this story rejecting Rome, and ultimately rejecting the temporal world, in favor of matters eternal. The old man running teaches him that it’s possible to live with the paradox of Shamor and Zachor, to remain fully rooted within Chayei Olam, and yet to participate fully within Chayei Sha’ah, and that to forsake either is to deny Israel’s mission. Indeed, those most rooted in Eternity have the most to contribute to temporality; the most transcendent Shabbos can have the greatest impact on the ensuing week.

Thus, to see R’ Shimon’s return to society as a form of ‘calming down’, a necessary moderation which follows a period of intensity, is to miss a crucial element of R’ Shimon’s transformation and, indeed, a crucial element of the Jewish religious experience: full engagement of and participation in the human sphere and communion with God are not mutually exclusive, and, in fact, can become one and the same. Mitzvah is the totality of the manner by which Eternity is trapped in a single moment of human life. R’ Shimon has gone beyond rejection, beyond the place where there’s a choice whether to accept or reject, and has arrived at a place marked by a rootedness in the Eternal on what hand, and a willingness to invest anything that temporal life may present him with the spirit of that Eternity.

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Be-Alimut?

I just saw a review of a soon-to-be-released book called Reckless Rites . I'm curious to hear more about it, if anyone reads it or knows anything about it.

UPDATE: It appears that Horowitz had an earlier article on the topic which appeared in Poetics Today 15,1 (1994) 9-54 1994 entitled "The rite to be reckless; on the perpetration and interpretation of Purim violence". It is available on JSTOR, if you have a subscription.
Hat tip for the article: Dan.


A Bizarre Statistic

Here’s a bizarre statistic:
Approximately 86,000 people registered to vote in the WZO elections.
Of those, only about 69,000 have actually voted.
If you’re one of the other 17,000, and you thought that registering=voting, lost your paper ballot, or still haven’t voted for whatever reason, you still have until the end of the month. So go to www.azm.org and finish the job.


The Dog's Day Ends

I’ve had the opportunity to hear R’ Aharon Lichtenstein speak on numerous occasions. Once, and only once, did I hear him refer to another human being as a ‘kelev’ – a dog.
For those who know RAL, it’s quite jarring to hear him speak like that. Makes you think that the fellow he’s talking about is a real scumbag.

Well, in this case the scumbag is going to jail. Enjoy the Wiener Schnitzel scraps, you SOB.

An Old Man Running: R' Shimon b. Yochai Part IX

Continued from Intro, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII

[I couldn’t let Parshat Yitro get too far away without explaining this next installment of this ongoing series, which includes a discussion of the relationship between Shamor and Zachor.But it turns out that I won't even get that far in this installment.]

On the eve of the Sabbath before sunset they saw an old man holding two bundles of myrtle and running at twilight. What are these for?' they asked him. 'They are in honour of the Sabbath,' he replied. 'But one should suffice you'? — One is for 'Zachor (Commemorate)' and one for 'Shamor (Observe – these two terms appear in the Decalogue of Shemot and Devarim, and are understood as the two major categories of Shabbat observance).' Said he to his son, 'See how precious the commandments are to Israel.' Thereupon their minds were appeased.

On the Eve of Shabbat, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the holy and the mundane. It is the moment when the sacred and profane meet, where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.

At that moment, R’ Shimon sees an old man running. What a strange sight, the sun sinking beneath the horizon as an old man sprints – to where exactly? – while holding two myrtle branches. One is insufficient; two captures both elements of Shabbat. And this appeases our heroes. Who is this old man? Why is he running? Why is it so important that he carry two myrtles, not one? The strangeness of this scene hides the fact that it contains the central symbol and climax of the entire narrative.

Old men don’t typically run very well. They tend to be infirm, plodding, and generally slow. There are exceptions to the rule, though. Psalms 92:15, for example, speaks of the righteous, who will ‘remain fruitful in old age; cleansed and fresh they will be’. Not to sound trite, but Mark Twain’s famous line about the Jew comes to mind here:

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains.

-Mark Twain, "Concerning the Jews," Harper's Magazine, 1897

Indeed, what is Israel if not an old man running? Who else is so ancient yet exhibits such vigor? Is this old man not Yisrael Saba, ‘Old Man Israel’, the personification of ‘the Jew’?

And isn’t Israel’s mission to prepare the world for Shabbat? Doesn’t the Jew remain perennially in that twilight, between the sacred and the profane, already caressed by the embrace and moved by the vision of eternal Sabbath, yet tethered to the world, pulling it along with him toward that sacred time? And isn’t running, at its core, a rebellion against time itself, an attempt to make time stand still, to capture an eternity within a temporal moment (see Pachad Yitzchak on Pesach, #1)? Doesn’t the Jew bear that message as well, that eternity is already here?

Myrtle branches, a fragrant plant, move us in that direction as well. The sense of smell, in the vision of Chaza”l, is understood and the most sublime and spiritual of the senses. It takes us back to the primordial moment when God made man by blowing into his nostrils. ‘Breath’ and ‘Spirit’ are interchangeable in so many languages (all three Hebrew terms for ‘soul’ – Nefesh, Ru’ach, and Neshama – have connotations of ‘breathing’, the Latin-derives ‘spirit’ means ‘breath’, as in ‘respiration’, and the Germanic ‘ghost’ and ‘gust’ carry the same dual connotation). The nose, the sense of smell, by which God invested of Himself in man, remains a point of contact between the ordinary and the extraordinary. It, too, lives in the twilight between Shabbat and the week. Indeed, the sense of smell remains the way that Shabbat is carried over into the week.

R’ Shimon sees this Jew, and remains perplexed. Why does he need two myrtle branches? Is not one sufficient? If this scene represents the eternal Jew and his mission, then R’ Shimon, having just spent years connecting specifically with that which is most timeless, who is unencumbered by any of the shackles of temporality, who couldn’t countenance any investment in temporal ‘chayei sha’ah’, is asking about more than superfluous scented twigs.

R’ Shimon’s question and the Old Man’s answer lie within meaning of the ‘Zachor/Shamor’ duality of Shabbat.


How Anonymous, Exactly?

Out of sheer curiosity, do most of my readers know who I am? You can respond by voting in the sidebar poll. I know that many of you know who I am, because you know me, or because you saw when someone here or elsewhere temporarily ‘outed’ me, or otherwise figured it out. I still plan to keep this blog anonymous, just in case I ever apply for a job at ArtScroll or Sha’alvim for Women, among others, and so that my blogging-life and my professional-life remain distinct. I remain curious, though, how many of you out there know who I am and how many don’t.

Some Really Bad Rabbinic Humor

Warren, the sole commenter on yesterday’s post on Humor and Religion, suggests that Rabbis aren’t necessarily un-funny, just that they don’t know their limitations or their audiences. I’d like to counter with some examples of things that I’ve come up with that I believe are absolutely hilarious, but are usually either not understood or provoke much groaning. Here goes:

  • A friend (also a Rabbi) wants to open a Mexican restaurant in Jerusalem and call it ‘Ir Tzion Tamales’. I’d like to run its delivery service, whose claim-to-fame would be ‘schlepping yiddishe nachos’

  • Continuing on the food theme, I’d open a restaurant in Efrat call ‘Uchla D’Efrat’ (if you haven’t learned Gemara Beitzah, you won’t get it), a combination café/ Beit Midrash called ‘Hafuch!’, and a combination pub/ Beit Midrash called ‘LagerHeads’.

  • I think there should be a male beauty pageant in the Gush, with the winner crowned ‘Etzion Gever’.

  • I want to start a comic-book series with heroes who include:
    • Halakhic Man – who is impervious to any heat not generated directly by fire, and can construct and impenetrable barrier with sticks placed approximately 9 inches apart from each other.
    • Neo-Orthodox- who flies around destroying the illusory nature of this world, demonstrating that there’s an entirely alternate version or reality accessible to those willing to set themselves free; of course, he’s persecuted by the powers that be.
    • Tom Pagum- who, despite his disgusting appearance, steps in at key moments to save the day. He’s a misunderstood hero, and thus prefers to remain unnoticed.

Ok, Warren, still think it’s just about trying too hard to be a comedian?

Some Gedolim Musings

  • I just found out via email that I’ve won Chardal’s little trivia quiz. And it wasn’t because I’ve read Ramchal’s religious poetry, but because I knew that he penned a sequel to Tehillim (aside from his sequel to the Zohar). The degree of his hubris is very much underappreciated, as is the degree and variety of his genius. His literary output, for a man who died before his 40th birthday, is mind boggling.

  • In a similar vein, there is really a small group of Jewish writers throughout the centuries, that when I see the sheer volume of what they accomplished, and the small amount of time in which they accomplished it, that I am in complete awe (that’s not to say that I think I can duplicate what others have done; it’s just that I can see how they are humanly possible. What those on this list did, I simply can’t wrap my mind around how a single human being composed works of such breadth and depth in such a short period of time). Others on the list include:

    • Rashi
    • Rambam
    • Ramban
    • Rashba
    • Beit Yosef
    • Rama
    • Scha”ch

  • There are others who seemed to have made a major impact in a brief period of time, but left very little of their own writings. The common denominator between them is that they are the exceptions to the Lichtenstonian observation that “Our Johnsons don’t have Boswells”. They include (with their respective Boswells in parenthesis):
    • R’ Isaac Luria, the Ari z”l (R’ Hayyim Vital)
    • R’ Israel Balsam, the Ba’al Shem Tov, or Besht (R’ Dovber, the Maggid of Mezeritch)
    • R’ Nachman of Bratzlav (R’ Nathan of Nemirov)


On Humor and Religion

[A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was looking for some ideas for a discussion on religion and humor for a panel discussion. The focus was on how we use humor in our professional/ religious lives. This is more or less the text I was working from in my speech.]

I see myself within a Rabbinic tradition when it comes to humor: we make jokes all the time, and the jokes aren’t very funny. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of funny Jews; some of the funniest people in the world are Jews. They just tend to avoid the Rabbinate.

The issue I’ve been asked to address is how I make humor and religion co-exist. To be honest, I have never in my life felt any tension between religion and humor, even irreverent humor. In fact, I find that the question itself betrays an attitude that, in a religious context, the only way for humor to have value is if it can somehow be used in a more productive context, employed and sublimated for a ‘higher’ purpose.

I can’t really answer the question because there’s no question. Humor doesn’t have to be in the service of something ‘bigger’, like religion. Rather, humor is intrinsically valuable. There are a number of instances that I can think of where a Rabbi, ancient or Modern, cracks a joke simply for the sake of cracking a joke. Gratuitous humor. The Torah (Bible) contains much humor. Humor and laughter are valuable in and of themselves. Nevertheless, like everything else, its value is maximized when in balance and proportion.

So the first way that I use humor in my professional life, then, would be as a role model, to show that humor and laughter are good. I use humor because I’m a human being, and happen to be in a position where fellow human beings look up to me. So, at the core, my use of humor is really no different than anyone else’s use of humor.

My father is one of the funniest people and greatest joke-tellers that I’ve ever met. He’s captivating. What’s always struck me, though, is that he always seems to have a joke to characterize whatever lesson he’s trying to articulate. I’ve tried to incorporate that into my ‘repertoire’ as well. For example, I often study and talk with students who are engaged to be married, and amongst other things we discuss sexuality in the Torah’s vision of things. One aspect that I think is central to the topic is that of ‘hesed’ or lovingkindness, pure giving, other-focused. Having sex always needs to be a gift, an opportunity to bring pleasure to your beloved, and not just an opportunity for personal gratification. I illustrate this with a joke (and first define the word ‘mitzvah’, which means ‘commandment’ or ‘good deed’):

The elderly Mr. Goldberg had a dream. In this dream, he is standing before a heavenly tribunal, being judged for his life on Earth. His record was stellar, completely unblemished. After going through his whole life, the ministering angel turns to him and says, “Mr. Goldberg, your record is so pristine that you can actually commit one grave sin and still get a seat in the front row. You’re time is up in one week; have a blast!”It just so happened that in the same South Florida complex as Mr. Goldberg lived Mrs. Schwartz, a woman whose life had been made very difficult by a husband who had been debilitated for some years. Caring for him took up much of her time and energy, and her life, as a result, became sad and difficult.Mr. Goldberg had noticed her occasionally give him the eye, so when he awoke from his dream, he already had an idea where he wanted to spend his one sin. One of their friendly conversations became a flirting match, and before you knew it, they were back in her apartment, making passionate love.When Mr. Goldberg was ready to head home, Mrs. Schwartz stopped him and said, “I just want you to know, that you did SUCH a MITZVAH!”

The joke I just told brings me to another use of humor in a religious context – the use of an inside joke. Speak to an entire group, but say something which will only reach – and amuse – a very limited segment of the audience.
Story about the ecumenical conference (somewhat like, but in many ways unlike, the one we’re participating in now). The participants, a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Minister, each spoke about mutual coexistence. At the closing session, the Rabbi noticed that the Priest and Minister had both taken subtle jabs at Judaism. When it was his turn to wrap up, he said, “really there’s nothing I can say that my colleagues haven’t already said, so I will conclude with a word from Scripture: ‘Shefoch Chamatcha Al Ha-Goyim’, ‘Love Thy Neighbor’. Amen”. Of course, the joke is that the verse quoted literally means ‘Pour Out Thy Wrath Upon the Nations’ (and concludes “who know You not”).

As a Rabbi, people tend to expect certain things from you. They expect you to have answers, to have a prepackaged speech for every occasion. I use humor to try to mix it up a bit, keep people off guard, or come out of left field. An example that some of you may remember: about a year ago, a media outlet ran an article on an active anti-circumcision group. So they called me for my opinion. So here I’m supposed to give a blurb, a sound bite, that may or may not be quoted correctly, would sound awfully trite and cliché, and attempt to describe a tradition that has been going on for millennia, and is something that still enjoys the consensus of the Jewish people. So I went a different route instead. When the reporter asked me why Jews circumcise their sons, I told him, that Jewish women like taking ten percent off of everything.

That quote did its job – it grabbed enough attention that it actually ‘stole the show’ away from the anti-circumcision activists, but it got a very mixed response. There were some who thought that I was being misogynist, stereotyping Jewish women, etc. I wrote a letter to the editor clarifying that I am in fact, against bigotry and negative stereotypes. However, the reaction of most was students that I encountered was extreme delight. One commenter was impressed that people in any position and of any faith can have a sense of humor.

This story brings me to my final point about how I use humor; humor helps me, and helps me help others, to find that balance between taking things too seriously and taking things too lightly. Part of the human condition is the tension between grandeur and smallness, being purposeful and arbitrary, dignified and depraved. Humor helps us not take ourselves too seriously, to not be led to the illusion that we’re indispensable or absolute. Yet, through humor we transcend ourselves, see beyond ourselves. The ability to mock one’s self is really a sign of maturity. It reminds me of another joke, which I’ll tell the way I heard it:
Q: how many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
(You can substitute any group that you believe takes itself a bit too seriously.)
Humor is a great tool to achieve the right balance between a sense of esteem and confidence and mission, and overemphasized gravitas on the other. Looking at the events of the past few weeks, I really believe that this is a lesson that many can benefit from.


Observations about the Naming of Synagogues

How do synagogues decide on their names?
I’ve always thought it interesting, and you can sometimes tell something about the character of the place. Here are some of my observations regarding shul names. I should note that I don’t know a darn thing about the naming of R or C synagogues:

  • Any shul which bears the word ‘ahavah’ or ‘shalom’ in it’s title is a breakaway.
  • Any shul which has a ‘siege-mentality’ name, such as Shearith Israel, Machzikei Torah, Shomrei Emunah, etc. was started by a group of people who refused to go along with the movement of an Orthodox synagogue away from Orthodoxy (either by the membership or in practice). Alternatively, it was established by a group of Holocaust refugees.
  • Chassidic shuls will often couch the identity of the Chassidus they follow in the title of the shul - Tzemach Tzedek, Aish Kodesh, Arugas HaBosem, etc.
  • The word ‘Tefilah’ is more likely to be in the name of an MO shul. The word ‘Torah’ more likely to be a more yeshivishe or chareidi shul.
  • A shul won’t be known by the last name of the Rabbi unless the Rabbi is actually the founder of the shul. No shul that progresses from a minyan of balabatim to an actual kehilla with a Rabbi will be known by the name of the Rabbi.

And some funny shul names:
  • I was once in a shul known as ‘Kesser Israel’. On one plaque, I saw it spelled as ‘Kesher Israel’ in Hebrew (i.e., quf-shin, not kof-sof). I suspected that the shul was founded by Jews of Lithuanian descent (who were notorious for not distinguishin between the ‘s’ and ‘sh’ sounds), and it turned out to be correct.
  • 15 years ago, when the Kosher hot dog stand opened at Camden Yards in Baltimore, they instituted a minyan there (Mincha at day games, ma’ariv at night games). Many wanted to call it ‘Congregation Bais Ball’. I thought that was thoroughly uncreative, and so suggested ‘Khal Ripken’.


Three Fruity Gemaras

Enjoy your Tu B’Shvat. Here are three Gemaras to take a look at if you’re feeling that you’re not celebrating or acknowledging the day as you sit at your desk.

And there’s also this fruity Mishna that I posted about a while ago. It’s one of my personal favorites.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף מ עמוד א

אילן שאכל ממנו אדם הראשון, רבי מאיר אומר: גפן היה, שאין לך דבר שמביא יללה על האדם אלא יין, שנאמר: +בראשית ט'+ וישת מן היין וישכר; רבי נחמיה אומר: תאנה היתה, שבדבר שנתקלקלו בו נתקנו, שנאמר +בראשית ג'+ ויתפרו עלה תאנה; רבי יהודה אומר: חטה היתה, שאין התינוק יודע לקרות אבא ואמא עד שיטעום טעם דגן.
Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 40a
What was the tree from which Adam ate?
     Rabbi Meir says: It was a grapevine, because nothing brings woe onto man like wine, as it says [about Noah in Bereishit 9], “And he drank of the wine and became drunk”
     Rabbi Nehemia says: It was a fig, so that their object of ruin was also their object of repair, as it says (Bereishit 3) “And they sewed together fig leaves”.
     Rabbi Yehuda says: It was wheat, because a baby doesn’t k now how to call ‘Abba’ or ‘Eema’ until he tastes the taste of grain.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף נז עמוד א

אמר רבי חייא בר אבא: הרואה חטים בחלום - ראה שלום, שנאמר: +תהלים קמ"ז+ השם גבולך שלום חלב חטים ישביעך. הרואה שעורים בחלום - סרו עונותיו, שנאמר +ישעיהו ו'+ וסר עונך וחטאתך תכפר. אמר רבי זירא: אנא לא סלקי מבבל לארץ ישראל עד דחזאי שערי בחלמא. הרואה גפן טעונה בחלום - אין אשתו מפלת נפלים, שנאמר +תהלים קכ"ח+ אשתך כגפן פריה. שורקה - יצפה למשיח, שנאמר +בראשית מ"ט+ אסרי לגפן עירה ולשרקה בני אתנו. הרואה תאנה בחלום - תורתו משתמרת בקרבו, שנאמר +משלי כ"ז+ נצר תאנה יאכל פריה. הרואה רמונים בחלום, זוטרי - פרי עסקיה כרמונא, רברבי - רבי עסקיה כרמונא, פלגי - אם תלמיד חכם הוא - יצפה לתורה, שנאמר +שיר השירים ח'+ אשקך מיין הרקח מעסיס רמני, ואם עם הארץ הוא - יצפה למצות, שנאמר +שיר השירים ד'+ כפלח הרמון רקתך. מאי רקתך - אפילו ריקנין שבך מלאים מצות כרמון. הרואה זיתים בחלום, זוטרי - פרי ורבי וקאי עסקיה כזיתים, והני מילי - פרי, אבל אילני - הויין ליה בנים מרובין, שנאמר +תהלים קכ"ח+ בניך כשתלי זיתים וגו'. איכא דאמרי: הרואה זית בחלום - שם טוב יוצא לו, שנאמר +ירמיהו י"א+ זית רענן יפה פרי תאר קרא ה' שמך. הרואה שמן זית בחלום - יצפה למאור תורה, שנאמר +שמות כ"ז+ ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך. הרואה תמרים בחלום - תמו עונותיו, שנאמר +איכה ד'+ תם עונך בת ציון. אמר רב יוסף: הרואה עז בחלום - שנה מתברכת לו, עזים - שנים מתברכות לו, שנאמר +משלי כ"ז+ ודי חלב עזים ללחמך. הרואה הדס בחלום - נכסיו מצליחין לו, ואם אין לו נכסים - ירושה נופלת לו ממקום אחר. אמר עולא, ואמרי לה במתניתא תנא: והוא דחזא בכנייהו. הרואה אתרוג בחלום - הדור הוא לפני קונו, שנאמר +ויקרא כ"ג+ פרי עץ הדר כפת תמרים, הרואה לולב בחלום - אין לו אלא לב אחד לאביו שבשמים

Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 57a

Rabbi Chiya bar Abba says, one who sees wheat in one’s dream – has seen peace, as it says “He endows your realm with well-being, and satisfies you with choice wheat” (Psalms 147:14).
One who sees barley in one’s dream – his sins depart from him, as it says, “your guilt shall depart and you r sin be purged away” (Isaiah 6:7). Rabbi Zeirah says “I did not leave from Babylon to the Land of Israel until I saw barley in my dreams.”
One who sees a grape vine in one’s dream. If it is abundant – his wife will not miscarry, as it says, “You wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house” (Psalms 128:3). If it is choice vine, he should await the Messiah, as it says, “He tethers his ass to a vine, his ass’s foal to a choice vine” (Genesis 49:11).
One who sees a fig in one’s dream -- the Torah he has learned will be preserved within him, as it says, “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 27:18).
If one sees pomegranates in one’s dream. If they are a few, his business shall be fruitful like pomegranates. If they are many, his business shall be plentiful like pomegranates. If they are spilt in half: If he is a sage, he should anticipate Torah, and if he is an ignoramus he should anticipate mitzvot, as it says “Your brow behind our veil gleams like a pomegranate split open” (Song of Songs 6:7). What does the word “brow” (“rakateich” in Hebrew) mean? Even the “empty ones” (reikanim) among you are full of mitzvot like a pomegranate.
If one sees olives in one’s dreams – his business will be fruitful and plentiful like olives. This is true only if he sees fruit, but if he sees an olive tree, he will have many children, as it says, “Your sons like olive saplings around your table” (Psalms 128:3). Some say that if one sees olives in one’s dreams, he will have a good name/reputation, as it says, “The Lord names you ‘Verdant olive tree,’” (Jeremiah 11:16). If one sees olive oil in one’s dream, one should await the light of Torah, as it says, “they shall bring you clear oil of beaten olives” (Exodus 27:20).
If one sees dates in one’s dreams – his sins have expired, as it says, “Your iniquity, Fair Zion, is expiated (TaM the first two letters for the Hebrew word TaMaR--date)” (Lamentations 4:22)…
If one sees myrtle in one’s dream, his business dealings will be successful. If he doesn’t have business dealings, he will receive inheritance from a different source. Some say Ula says the following while others some say it comes from a Mishnah, that this is true only if he sees it in bunches.
If one sees a citron fruit (an etrog) in one’s dream, he is beautiful to his Creator, as it says “the fruit of a beautiful tree …” (Leviticus 23:40).
If one sees one date palm, a lulav, in one’s dream, he has one heart for his Father in heaven.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף כג עמוד א

אמר רבי יוחנן: כל ימיו של אותו צדיק היה מצטער על מקרא זה +תהלים קכ"ו+ שיר המעלות בשוב ה' את שיבת ציון היינו כחולמים. אמר: מי איכא דניים שבעין שנין בחלמא? יומא חד הוה אזל באורחא, חזייה לההוא גברא דהוה נטע חרובא, אמר ליה: האי, עד כמה שנין טעין? - אמר ליה: עד שבעין שנין. - אמר ליה: פשיטא לך דחיית שבעין שנין? - אמר ליה: האי [גברא] עלמא בחרובא אשכחתיה, כי היכי דשתלי לי אבהתי - שתלי נמי לבראי. יתיב, קא כריך ריפתא, אתא ליה שינתא, נים. אהדרא ליה משוניתא, איכסי מעינא, ונים שבעין שנין. כי קם חזייה לההוא גברא דהוא קא מלקט מינייהו. אמר ליה: את הוא דשתלתיה? - אמר ליה: בר בריה אנא. אמר ליה: שמע מינה דניימי שבעין שנין. חזא לחמריה דאתיילידא ליה רמכי רמכי. אזל לביתיה, אמר להו: בריה דחוני המעגל מי קיים? - אמרו ליה: בריה ליתא, בר בריה איתא. אמר להו: אנא חוני המעגל. לא הימנוהו. אזל לבית המדרש, שמעינהו לרבנן דקאמרי: נהירן שמעתתין כבשני חוני המעגל, דכי הוי עייל לבית מדרשא, כל קושיא דהוו להו לרבנן הוה מפרק להו. אמר להו: אנא ניהו, ולא הימנוהו, ולא עבדי ליה יקרא כדמבעי ליה, חלש דעתיה, בעי רחמי ומית. אמר רבא, היינו דאמרי אינשי: או חברותא או מיתותא.

Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a

R. Johanan said: This righteous man [Choni the Circle Drawer] was troubled throughout the whole of his life about the meaning of the verse from Psalms (which we sing before the Grace after Meals on Sabbaths and festivals), "A Song of the Steps, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers."
He wondered: Is it possible for one man to live long enough to dream continuously for seventy years? [As it is written, "For the Lord said: When Babylon's seventy years are over, I will take note of you, and I will fulfill you to my promise of favor--to bring you back to this place." (Jeremiah 29:10)]
One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, “How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?” The man replied: “Seventy years.” He then further asked him: “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied: “I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.”
Choni sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon which hid him from sight, and he continued to sleep for
seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, “Are you the man who planted the tree?” The man replied: “I am his grandson.” He then exclaimed: “It is clear that I have slept for seventy years.” He then caught sight of his ass who had since given birth to several generations; and he returned home. He asked, “Is the son of Choni the circle drawer still alive?” The people answered him, “His son is no more, but his grandson is still living.” He said to them: “I am Choni the circle drawer,” but no one would believe him. He then walked to the House of Study and there he overheard the scholars say, “The law is as clear to us as in the days of Choni the circle drawer, for whenever he came to the House of Study, he would settle for the scholars any difficulty that they had.” Whereupon he called out, “I am he!” but the scholars would not believe him nor did they give him the honor due to him. This hurt him greatly and he prayed [for death] and he died. Raba said: That is why the folks say, Either you have companionship or you may as well be dead.


Lamewood Dvar Torah

Pretty lame D'var Torah on Not The Godol Hador (quoting some Lakewood guy). Not that I haven't heard stuff like this before, but it goes beyond stupid.

First of all, the premise of it is that the mon was designed to teach people how to think, because the only way that it tasted like anything was if you concentrated, is patently ridiculous.
But we grant homilists poetic license. On to the crux of the issue.

If one can gain more knowledge using the same level of effort, there is what to talk about, but more often they are used to gain more knowledge with less effort, which is precisely the opposite of the lesson of the mon.
Let's not talk about the math here. Saying that I can gain more knowledge with the same effort is EXACTLY THE SAME as saying I can get the same knowledge with less effort. It just depends when you stop learning.

But let's put that to the test; should I not use the Bar-Ilan CD because I should be flipping through the Noda B'Yehuda looking for a particular responsum? Should we not use laser printed seforim, or ones that take out abbreviations, because squinting or confusing R' Yosef Karo with the prohibition on seeing chametz on Pesach (same abbreviation) will somehow help the Torah penetrate?
What about using printed seforim at all? Aren't they easier than handwritten manuscripts, which certainly worked well enough for the Rishonim? And why use Rashi? He's a crutch! Figure out the Gemara without him!
Let's not even talk about the Rambam. Especially not the Yad. Especially not what Rambam writes in the Intro to the Yad.

It boils down to this. Real learning is not the absorption of information, but real learning can't take place without it. If you can find a shortcut to absorbing the information, by using mnemonic devices, ArtScroll, coffee, Adderall, cerebral implants, CDs, or whatever - go for it.
Could be that this guy is referring to other 'aids that make learning easier'. But what? Using an actual curriculum instead of just assuming that someone will 'pick it up' at some point between 5th grade and 3rd year beis medrash? Using dictionaries? 'Tools for Tosafos'?

If he means that one should learn the Rishonim inside and try to make sense of them instead of just jumping to the Acharonim, then I agree. The Kehillas Yaakov really does impede the progress of lamdanim by allowing them to think that they understand the sugya when they really just touched the tip of the iceberg, and one understanding from amongst many.
Oyb men tracht nit, a ta'am hot dos nit.


Three Tangentially Related (ADD) Musings

  • I must say, that for all of the flak that Iran’s taken lately, they’re handling this cartoon controversy the best. The Holocaust cartoon campaign is misguided but nonviolent, nondestructive, and quid pro quo. It will get the message across more effectively than any rioting or embassy-torching. And I think it’s really funny that they took Krum’s advice and are renaming the Danish. Next, the Great Dane will be renamed Mohammed’s Poodle.
  • And speaking of large dogs, two years ago I had perhaps my most memorable Megillah reading. I’ve layned the megillah for about 15 years now, and I always try to make a point of finding folks who would otherwise not hear the megillah. That year, there was a woman in the community who was recovering from surgery and couldn’t really move around much, so they asked if I could come by and lain for her. Present for the reading was the woman, her husband, and their three large dogs. Three large dogs in a small apartment means that the apartment smells like dog and dog food. Plus, these were apparently shedding dogs, because I could feel my nose start to tingle as soon as I walked in. Anyhow, at first they tried to lock the dogs in one room while I layned in the another, but the dogs weren’t crazy about that and raised quite the ruckus. So we moved the dogs out to where I was layning, and they calmed down. I was layning at blazing speed, racing against time before I erupted in sneezing fits. 21 minutes was my personal record, and I was going for broke. But the dogs had other ideas. The first time I reached the word ‘Haman’, the (human) couple began clapping and stomping. Needless to say, this spooked the dogs, who started barking like crazy. When they finally calmed down, it wasn’t long before the same happened at the next ‘Haman’. After a little while, the dogs had been well-trained to bark like crazy whenever they heard the word ‘Haman’, much to my chagrin (though Pavlov was no doubt schepping nachas). And inevitably, I started sneezing, but I tried to hold back until the Haman breaks. So every time I said Haman, the couple would be clapping and stomping, the dogs would be barking, and I would be sneezing. I’m glad I can laugh about it now.
  • And speaking of holidays, we’re in the period between the American midwinter holiday (Groundhog’s Day) and the Jewish midwinter holiday (Tu B’Shvat), but there’s another very important holiday that has just passed - Cellphone Day. It’s the day that the February billing cycle begins, meaning that however many minutes you purchase each month, there are only 20 weekdays to go through all of them, even less considering that Friday afternoons are pretty much out. Everyone has a different one, but if yours falls on a Shabbat or Sunday, it’s nidcheh to Monday, which is the first weekday that you can make calls without cheshboning how many minutes you’re using. No tachanun, because you’re on the phone.

By Women, For Women

In the wake of my recent post on Sha’alvim’s new hire, I have tried to figure out which American Seminaries in Israel are run by women. Needless to say, no Yeshiva is, but amongst the Seminaries, there are 9 that I count, amongst which 4 are run by women who are very much meyuchasot. Seems that yichus then plays a very strong role in the ability for a woman to head an institution of learning. There also seems to be a greater proportion amongst Seminaries for post-college women and institutions with Israeli programs. There is no pattern for how ‘modern’ the place is, and there even seems to be a tendency toward chareidi schools. They are

  • Migdal Oz (headed my Mrs. Esti Rosenberg, nee Lichtenstein, yes, that Lichtenstein)
  • Michlalah (headed by Mrs. Devorah Rosenwasser, daughter of Rabbi and Rabbanit Copperman, the school’s founders)
  • Bais Yaakov Yerushalayim, aka BJJ (headed by Rebbetzin Bruriah David, nee Hutner, yes, that Hutner)
  • Nishmat (headed by Rabbanit Chana Henkin, again, a name which needs no introduction)
  • MaTan (headed by Rabbanit Malka Bina, daughter of R' Milikowsky of Baltimore, and wife of R' Aharon Bina of Netiv Aryeh)
  • B’aer Miriam (headed by Mrs. Orbach, whose first name I don’t know)
  • Shearim (headed by Rebbetzin Holly Pavlov)
  • Machon Gold (headed by Mrs. Shani Solow)
  • Berot Bat Ayin (headed by Rabbanit Chana Bracha Siegelbaum)
If you know others, please share.


Ran Out of Adderall, so Here's the Most Random Post Ever

  1. I’m participating in a panel on ‘the compatibility of religion and humor’ later this week, with a Priest and a Minister (it even sounds like the beginning of a joke). I’ve got some ideas, but am on the lookout for more. There’s so much there. I want to start w/ the idea that God has a sense of humor (‘yosheiv shamayim yischak, HASHEM yil’ag lamo’) and move forward from there, but any ideas would be great. When I agreed to participate in this panel in November, none of us had any idea how timely the topic would be.
  2. In preparation for the date that my 5-year-old daughter and I have to see ‘Curious George’ this Sunday, we viewed some trailers on my laptop. [I should mention that our mutual fascination with George started 2 years ago, when she and I went as George and the Man in the Yellow Hat for Purim. We were awesome!] Anyhow, she asked me why George was on my computer. I explained to her that he isn’t. Really, George is on a computer somewhere far away, probably California. I sent a signal telling that computer to send George to my screen. My computer talks to the computer where George is by flying through the air from my computer to the neighbor’s computer, and from there through wires all the way to George’s computer. And the whole thing takes just a few seconds. I’m in awe of the fact that this is the kind of thing that she’ll grow up taking for granted.
  3. Krum recommends that the Arab world “give Denmark the French treatment. Re-name the Danish the Pastry of Muhammed (sic)”. ROTFLMAO!
  4. It was nice to see another blogger posting about Levinas for a change!
  5. The officials robbed the Seahawks of a Super Bowl victory.
  6. Parshat Bo reminds me of one of my favorite teaching stories. I was teaching a pre-Pesach series on the development and structure of the Hagaddah (it wasn’t nearly as boring as that sounded) entitled “From Moses to Maxwell House” to a group of adults at a Conservative Synagogue. We started by learning the relevant parts of the Chumash. Reading the latter portion of Parshat Bo inside. We were trying to make sense of it – what parts are God to Moses, what parts are Moses to the Israelites, what’s about ‘Chag Ha-Matzot’, what’s about ‘Chag Ha-Pesach’, what’s one-time instruction, and what’s for posterity? One of the women in the group, trying to figure all of this out, looks up from her Etz Hayim Chumash and says “This is really complicated stuff”. She was in her fifties, and had finally graduated third grade!


You See, You Need a Man...

[UPDATE: Shaalvim has taken the quoted line off of their site. I cut and paste that quote directly from the Shaalvim website. It seems that someone at Shaalvim reads my blog (or mowoman, or bloghd, both of whom linked to this post). I consider this to be a Pyrrhic victory.]

I don't know any of the people involved in this, but I find it to be bizarre and downright disturbing. It seems that Shaalvim for Women will be replacing their founder and menahelet because, well, she's not a Rabbi. Here's the line:

The yeshiva has decided to appoint a Rav as the Menahel of Sha’alvim for Women.
I've had a series of posts on semikhah sitting in my gut for a while, and this might provide the impetus to get it out there.

Let me begin by stating for the record that there's a real problem that there's no way to recognize a learned Orthodox woman. Before you start with the apologetics, let me state that as a recognized Rabbi, everything I pay in rent and utilities, a substantial chunk of my salary, is taxed at a much lower rate than the rest of my salary. I am eligible for a higher salary because a rabbinical degree is recognized as an advanced degree, usually on the level of a Master's. There are also a number of positions, not just rabbinical positions, open to ordained rabbis. A qualified Orthodox woman gets none of these benefits, even if her job description and education is identical to that of another rabbi, because there's no such thing as semikha for Orthodox women. The truly funny thing is that R and C women get all of these benefits, and it's becoming increasingly easy for Orthodox men to get semikha (see here). And here there's actually a pressing need for some way to recognize the achievements of Orthodox women so that they can get the benefits that they would accrue if they were a different gender or denomination, and we are moving in the opposite direction.

I should note that this has nothing to do with feminism, or equality, or even women getting Orthodox semikha. It's not about granting women a certain 'status', but about finding a way to articulate their qualifications to fill certain jobs and accrue certain benefits that they are fully qualified for and entitled to. Yashrus isn't feminism, is it?

Go Ahead, Punk. Boycott my Country