Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hadran Masechet Bikkurim an Seder Zera'im of the Talmud Yerushalmi

Dedicated to Bat-Sheva bat Chana Bluma and Rephael ben Miryam may Hashem grant them perfect health

With the help of Hashem Yishtabach Shemo, I have finished learning masechet (tractate) Bikkurim, the last tractate in Seder (order) Zera'im of the Jerusalem Talmud. From the beginning of the first tractate, Brachot till the end of Bikkurim there are 11 tractates, almost 400 folio pages which took me almost two years to learn. At first I learned a page a day. When that proved to be impossible, I set aside an hour and a half each day for learning the Yerushalmi. I owe a great debt to Rav Chaim Shpitz, my Rosh Kollel and chevruta for much of this learning, for helping me with his great erudition and especially for his moral support. I also wish to thank Rav Yechiel Halevi Barlev for his commentary "yedid Nefesh" without which I would have been lost in the forest of differing and often contradictory girsaot(textual versions).Also to the Schottenstein team for their exhaustive commentary on several of the tractates.

Seder Zra'im begins with the tractate Berachot-blessings. This seems to have nothing to do with the general subject of the seder-zera'im(seeds) which has to do with the laws pertaining to agriculture and the use of the land in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nassi began Seder Zra'im with Berachot to emphasize that we can only partake of the produce of the land after we say the approppriate blessing to acknowledge Hashem as the source of all sustenance  He began with the blessings of kriat shema, proclaiming the One-ness of Hashem before we even consider partaking of his bounty. And also to say that it is not "kochi ve'otzem yadi" (human strength and striving) which brought us this great bounty.

Berachot begins with the Kohanim- "When do we recite kriat shema? From the time the kohanim enter(the Temple) to eat the teruma"  And the seder ends with the laws of how bikkurim (first fruits) were allocated to the Kohanim. Says the Yerushalmi-" Chachamim say that they (the bikkurim) are given to the leading members of the Watch and are then distributed among them as are all kodeshim (Holy offerings)
The Gemarra ends with a discussion of the usage of bikkurim and compares it with the usages that can be made of a Torah Scroll. "We have learned- it is said in the name of RaSHBaG " One can sell a Torah scroll in order to marry a woman, and to learn Torah, how much more so to sustain ones life!" Here he disputes the Bavli where RaSHBag says the opposite-that one cannot sell a Torah scroll for living expenses, It seems that the Yerushalmi is saying if you don't have enough to live how can you marry or learn Torah ?? (my peirush)
"We also learned-One who sells a sefer torah that belonged to his father will never see a blessing from the transaction, but of one who keeps a sefer Torah in his home it is said (Tehillim 112) " Treasure and wealth is his home and his righteousness will last forever."
הדרן עליך מסכת ביקורים וסדרא דזרעים ברחמיו מרובא וסייעתא דשמיא טובא אמן

Friday, November 11, 2011

Postscript to R"M Eilon

I was wrong. In the end the public prosecutor handed down an indictment against RMEilon. He refused to consider a plea bargain which would have resulted in a sentence with no jail time. He refused because he would not plead guilty to a crime he did not commit.

Last week R' Motti came out with his version of the events. (Can be seen on YouTube) He admits that he hugged those two young men, but not for any sexual satisfaction. Having been on the(receiving end of R'Motti's embrace while it was very emotional, had absolutely no sexual overtones. Rav Motti's style is very physical, something like R'Shlomo CarlebachZL(from whom I also got a hug) .who also would embrace women, again without sexual intent. Rav Motti ;accuses forum Takkana of using half truths and outright lies, and of inciting the accusors to submit a complaint to the authorities 5 years(!) after the events took place. He also related that R'Mordechai Eliyahu ZYA when he read the report of Forum Takkanah he tore it into shreds and told R'Motti that he should ignore it and continue teaching. Rav Eilyahu asked to address the forum but they refused (!!!) By the end of RMottis speech the tears were rolling down my cheeks.

What was the role of R' Aharon Lichtenstein in this travesty? It is reported that he is sorry that he ever got invoved.But it is too late. When R' Mottis innocence is clear to all R'Lichtenstein should be the first come forward in sackcloth and ashes and get down on his knees to beg forgiveness from Rav Mordechai Eilon

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Tzohar Of Rav Mordechai Eilon

"עת צרה  היא ליעקב וממנה יושע"
איכה באה הישוע מתוך הצרה? אותיות  צרה  הם גם אותיות  רצה ו צהר  הצדיק מתוך רצון טהור לעשות רצון השם יכול להפוך חשכת  צרה לאור הצהר
 נועם אלימלך
"It is a time of trouble for Ya'akov and from (within) it  he will be saved"
 How does salvation come from within the trouble? The letters of the word for trouble צרה are also the letters for the words for will-רצה and  tzohar (the light in Noah's ark)  צהר
From the pure will to do the will of Hashem  a righteous person can  transform the darkness of misfortune  to the light of the tzohar.
Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhansk-Noam Elimelech  

This Shabbat is parashat Noach which is the parasha in which the word "tzohar" appears. I am always on the lookout for a new interpretation of tzohar (I already know of at least ten). My daughter was at the sheva brachot  celebration of the marriage of the son of Rav Mordechai Eilon last year on shabbat parashat Noach. She brought home a pamphlet with the dvar torah that the Rav gave which included a new (for me) interpretation of tzohar based on the Noam Elimelech quoted above.

First a few words about R'Mordechai Eilon. I consider him to be one of my Rebbes, one of the three or four Rabbis who most influenced me spiritually. When I was learning in Yeshiva in Yerushalayim I would go every week to hear the shiur he gave in the Yeshurun synagogue.Hundreds would come to this shiur. People would be standing in the aisles and three deep in the back. I would go a half an hour early to get a seat in the front.When Rav Motti (as he liked to be called) came in and took his place at the lectern you could feel the electricity in the air. Then Rav Motti would begin speaking in his deep mellifluous baritone and continue for an hour and a half without notes. His shiurim were a tapestry of pshat plus insights from baalai mussar and chassidut.I have never in my life seen or heard anyone with anywhere near the charsma of Rav Mordechai Eilon. In the quote from Noam Elimelech Rav Motti asks how can one be saved in a time of trouble. He knows whereof he speaks. Several years ago he was accused of "inappropriate behavior" involving two of his students. A self appointed "forum" of rabbanim and other leading personalities of the National Religious sector led by R' Aharon Lichtenstein summoned him for a hearing. Although he denied the charges he agreed to go into "galut" to the settlement of Migdal near the Kinneret. He agreed to this  to protect his accusers  so their names would not be  made public. His talmidim refused to accept this gezeira and flocked to Migdal to hear their Rebbe's Torah. Last year the Forum made the case public and Rav Motti came back to giving shiurim in Jerusalem and elsewhere. His shiurim now lean more toward pnimiut haTorah with Kabbalistic overtones and references to the Chassidic masters formost the Tanya of  Admor  Schneur Zalman of Lyadi founder of the Chabad movement. In the meantime he has had a hearing by the public prosecutor who has decided there is no case for an indictment.

This background explains why R' Eilon brought the peirush of the Noam Elimelech. From within his own troubles he found the strength to focus his will on disseminating Torah and through the confluence of  his will with the will of Hashem he became the tzohar la teivah, to bring the inner light of the Torah to Am Yisrael

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Siyyum Masaechet Challah Talmud Yerushalmi

                                                     This siyyum is dedicated to my dear sister Batsheva bat Chana Bluma   
                                   and her husband  Raphael ben Miryam may Hashem grant them perfect health

With the help of Hashem yitbarach I recently finished the study of another masechet of the Talmud Yerushalmi, masechet Challah. The general subject of the masechet is the mitzvah of hafrashat challah, taking a certain amount of the dough that is made from the five grains (wheat, oats barley spelt and rye) as an offering it to the Cohanim. According to the law of the Torah this is a mitzvah only in Eretz Yisrael but Chazal extended it to chutz laaretz with some differences in the observance of the mitzvah

The last Mishnsh in the masechet deals with  the laws of taking challah in chutz laaretz and goes on to compare it to the mitzvah of  bikkurim (first fruits) and asks if there is a case where bikkurim can be brought from chutz laaretz.. The gemarra learns the halacha from a case that came before the sages. A certain Jew named Ariston brought bikkurim from Apamia ( a region of Syria) and the sages accepted it. This requires an explanation since the basic law of the Torah is that bikkurim are only brought from Eretz Yisrael. We learned in the Mishna (48A) He who buys land in Syria is as if he bought land close to Jerusalem.That is to say that  Syria which was conquered by King David even though it is not part of the inheritance of the tribes promised by Hashem in the Torah, has some of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and Chazal decided that it is permissable (although not obligatory) to bring bikkurim from those regions of Syria which were conquered by King David. The Bavli (Gittin 8A) says that it is permissable even to ask a non Jew to write a deed on Shabbat for the purchase of land in Syria. The Yerushalmi extends this to the bringing of bikkurim from Syria. The question remains why bikkurim is different than Truma which  definitely cannot be brought from chutz laaretz including Syria. This is difficult since in most respects bikkurim is similar to truma. The Yerushalmi explains that the difference is that bikkurim is the sole responsibility of he who brings it. He has the responsibility of bringing the bikkurim to the Kohen in the Temple, whereas truma is left on the threshing floor and the Kohen is himself responsible for taking it. If it were permissible to bring truma from Syria than the kohanim would be tempted to leave Eretz Yisrael and go to Syria to take the truma, and Syria even though it has some of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael it also has tumat eretz ha amim. There is no such problem with bikkurim since it must be brought to the Temple and the Kohen does not go out to get it.

There is another difference between truma and bikkurim. Truma is an obligation that must be given to the Kohen. Bikkurim on the other hand is more an expression of thanksgiving to Hashem for giving us the blessing of sustenence. I would learn a kal vachomer from bikkurim to limud Torah. If we express thanksgiving to Hashem tor granting us earthly blessings  how much more so must we thank Hashem for giving us the opportunity of learning his holy Torah, every masechet, perek and pasuk.

                                          Hadran alach masechet Challah 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Duchenen- The Priestly Blessing

And  Hashem spoke unto Moshe saying:"Speak unto Aharon and his sons saying:
Thus shall you bless the children of Israel , say unto them
May Hashem bless you and keep you
May  Hashem make his face shine upon  you and be gracious unto you
May Hashem lift up his countenance unto you and  grant you peace
So shall they put My name upon the children of Israel and I will bless them"

In Parashat Naso, after the laws of the Nazir, the Torah brings the commandment of Birkat Cohanim-the priestly blessing. This is called "duchanen" in Yiddish after the word duchan (originally a hebrew word) which means the platform from which the Cohanim blessed the people in the temple.

I havealways felt that the duchenen holds a special place in the synagogue service. It is said that the Shechina (the appearence of G-d in this world) emanates from the hands of the Cohanim when they bless the people. This is the only ceremony from the Temple that we continue to perform in the synagogue. Just as the Cohanim in the Temple ascended the duchan to bless the people, today they get up in front of the congregation, remove their shoes ( as was required in the Temple), put their talitot over their heads and raise their hands in a special configuration. I always get a spiritual high when they intone the same tripartite blessing that was said in the Temple 2,000 years ago.

One of the privilages of living in Eretz Yisrael is that we have birkat Cohanim every day. In the galut birkat Cohanim is done only during musaf of the holidays. Why is this so? According to the RAMBAM and Sefer Ha-Chinuch, birkat Cohanim is one of the 613 laws of the Torah, and must be said every day.
Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook ZTZL said that the essence of the blessing is "simcha"(joy or gladness). The Jews in galut lack simcha because of all the troubles and tribulations of living among the Goyim. Only on the holidays is there an atmosphere of joy and gladness as we are commanded "vesamachta bechagecha" (be joyful on your festival) Only then can the Cohanim bless the people. The REMA and the Mishna Brura paskened that in the galut ducchanen is done only on the festivals and yom Kippur.

Harav A.I. Kook ZTZL said:" From the source of exalted unity the divine sovereignty of the commandment (of  birkat Cohanim) is revealed in His world as a blessing of love, chesed and rachamim" Only in Eretz Yisrael in the time of the ingathering of the exiles, can that exalted unity be found. This is part of the beginning of  our redemption, may Hashem fulfill it speedily and in our days.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bar Yochai

Thirty nine years ago like this year Lag B'omer was motzai shabbat.Where was I on that shabbat? Thats right I was in Meron for the Hilulla of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
I wasn't yet 21 years old and just married a couple of months. Risa and I decided along with two other couples to make the trip from Yerushalayim to Meron for Lag B'Omer. No one had a car. We packed everything we needed for 3 days and got on an Egged bus for the North. We arrived at Meron on Friday, set up our tents and got ready for Shabbat together with the hundeds already on Mt Meron near the Holy site where Rashbi is buried.

I will never forget that Shabbat. I dovened with the Sfinka Chassidim. At the end of Kabbalat Shabbat everyone got up to dance. About fifty men, hands linked at the waist and the small of the back formed a circle. Slowly at first we began the dance, a shuffle really. We were singing "pizmon Bar Yochai" Invoking the name of the Holy Tanna "Bar Yochai, nimshachta oshrecha, shemen sasson mechaveirecha"  "Bar Yochai you are annointed in gladness" Singing the refrain over and over, stamping one step back and two steps forward. This continued for more than half an hour, but I lost track of time and place. The strangest thing was here I was dressed in a short sleeved white shirt and kippa seruga in the middle of a throng of black coated chassidim wearing fur shtrrimels, but no one looked at me as if I didn't belong. It was as if we weren't in Israel 1972 but were connected to something above and beyond the present. It wasn't hard to imagine that there were Jews who almost 2,000 years before had come to this mountain in the Gallil to bury their Rebbe, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hadran Ma'asrot Yerushalmi

I once heard from my teacher and rabbi Rav Shlomo Aviner shlita, that a ben-torah must learn all of the written Torah and all of the oral Torah of the Tanna'im at least once in his lifetime. This would include Tanach,mishna, tosefta , midrash halacha and aggada and of course Gemarra Bavli and Yerushalmi.

I had the great zechut of finishing all of the Gemarra Bavli with my rav muvhak Rav Yechezkel Daum ztzl, twice in two cycles of  seven years each. Two years ago I started learning Gemarra Yerushalmi with the intention of  learning one daf every day. I soon discovered that I would have to devote an entire seder (4hrs) in order to finish a daf every day.There is no Rashi on the Yerushalmi and there are many girsaot often contradictory.Instead of the shakla vetaria (give and take discussion) of the Bavli, the Yerushalmi learns by tradition of rav letalmid with many maaseh rav as examples.In the end I did hattarat nedarim on my intention of doing .daf yomi, but I continue learning Yerushalmi one or two hours a day. So far I have finished Berachot,Peah, Demai, Kilayim,Trumot and most recently  Ma'asrot.

I made the siyyum of masechet Ma'asrot in honor of the Yohrtzeit of my father in law, Abe Rich Alav Hashalom. who passed away 11 years ago erev Pesach. Another word for a siyyum is hadran, from the Aramaic meaning to repeat. We give thanks that Hashem has helped us to learn this masechet, may he help us to repeat and learn other masechtot in the future. The subject of Ma'asrot is the mitzvah of tithes, taking 10% of all agricultural produce for the Cohanim and Leviim. The last Mishna in Ma'asrot deals with the obligation of taking ma'aserot from grains and seeds. There are three dinnim:
1-The five grains;wheat oats spelt rye and barley must be tithed d'oreita and even grain that sprouted from what was tithed must again be tithed.
2-Kitniot (legumes) must be tithed derabbanan, and what sprouts from it is exempt.
3- Zir'onei gina (garden seeds) which are not ordinarily for human consumption are exempt from tithes.
The Gemarra brings a maaseh that came before R' Yochanan. A woman was carrying a basket of asparagus, some seeds dropped on the ground which sprouted. The question was asked whether or not maaser must be taken from the sprouts. Rav Yochanan ruled that the sprouts are exempt from all tithes.
One of the the talmidim who was present, Rabi Hiyya Bar Vah said to Rabi Yochanan that it is clear from the Mishnah that asparagus seeds are considered zironei gina and of course the sprouts are exempt even though the vegetable itself must be tithed.Rabi Yochanan replied disparagingly, "You Babylonian! I gave you the oyster and you show me the pearl? Had I  not made the ruling you would not have been able to answer! Here we see the Yerushalmi typically learning the din from tradition and case law. We also see some of the tension between the Tannaim of Eretz Yisrael and those of Bavel.

                                                                     Hadran alach masechet Ma'asrot