Saturday, February 23, 2019

Two types of service – The Dvir and the Mizbeach, the internal and external

Return the service to the Dvir of your house, also the burnt offerings of Israel (Shemoneh Esrei. Blessing of Retzei)

The Dvir is the term used in Melachim 1 (6:19) for the Kodesh hakodashim (Holy of Holies) which houses the Aron (Ark of the Covenant).
This raises a few questions. Why is the kodesh hakodashim called Dvir? Why are we requesting that the service return to the Dvir, when most of the service is performed outside on the Mizbeach (altar)? Which service are we asking to restore?
The Rambam describes two types of service in the Moreh Hanevuchim 3:32. The truest sense of service is internal, when a person is actively thinking about the knowledge of God. But the majority of our service is in action. The purpose of this second service is to accustom us to His service by removing false ideas. In this chapter the Rambam explains at length the purpose of animal sacrifice as an antidote to Idolatry. The system of sacrifice transforms the kind of service which was socially self-evident; limits it to the degree possible and redirects it towards God [1]. Even though the first service is higher by nature; as long as our energy and interest is in the physical world our primary involvement must be with the second.[2] Through this second type we learn to recognize and apply wisdom in our lives and slowly escape from a life governed by fantasy. (Prayer is also a member of the second class, but serves an intermediate role. It is external speech, but since speech is a direct expression of thought, it guides us towards a life of thought. This is why “any prayer without directed intent is not a prayer (Laws of Prayer 4:15).) As our apprehension of the reality of mind becomes greater more of our focus can shift towards knowledge but we never fully escape the need for a connection to the physical world.
Dvir comes from the root Davar, speech. The Kodesh hakodashim was the source of God’s speech to Moses from between the Keruvim. The theme of the room is God communicating to man. Inside the Aron are the Luchot which record God’s speech to us at Mount Sinai when he gave us the Torah. On top of the Aron are the Keruvim, which reflect the idea of angels; to teach us the reality of mind separate from matter which is the source of prophecy. This is why it is called Dvir, it is the room of God’s speech. It is the place where the highest service takes place, the service of knowledge of God. Even on Yom Kippur, the one time a year when regular service occurs inside, the service emphasizes the idea that God is known only through an obscuring cloud, and that our materiality is the source of that veil.
The Temple therefore has two foci. One is the Kodesh Hadodashim, which points to the ultimate service which is our aspiration. The second is the Mizbeach, the place of animal sacrifice, which addresses our current level and psychological needs.
David emphasized this duality: “”This is the house of God, and this is the altar of sacrifice for Israel” (Divrei hayamim 1 22:1). In its essence it is the house dedicated for God, but for Israel it is the altar of sacrifice. Since Israel is a nation service must be defined in a way which is accessible to all people and not only to rare individuals. This is the uniqueness of Torah; it is a law accessible to all, which guides all people, not just philosophers, towards living a life of knowing God and serving Him in a life of action which both applies and leads to that knowledge. Thus in an educational framework the actions, such as the sacrificial order, take priority; while, in its nature, service in knowledge is primary and is the objective and cause of the order of the service in action [3].
This duality is expressed in Halacha as well. In chapter 1 of the laws of Beit Habechira the Rambam discusses the Beit hamikdash as a whole, in this framework the Kodesh hakodashim is, as its name implies, the essence. But in chapter 2 the Rambam shifts focus to the mizbeach, and its unique history and identity.
Prayer also includes both of these ideas. On the one hand we face the mikdash during prayer, a direction ultimately pointing to the kodesh hakedoshim, which is the physical stand-in for the direction of the shechina (Laws of Prayer 5:3). On the other hand the times of Tefilla are based on the daily sacrificial order (Laws of Prayer 1:5-6).
In Retzei, the blessing requesting that God find favor with the Jewish people and their prayers, we request the return of service to the mikdash, the place of shechina, in these two frameworks. First the service of knowledge in the Dvir; and second the service in the burnt offerings of Israel, necessary for achieving the first. [4]

[1]In the same chapter the Rambam explains that the idea the objective of many Mitzvoth is removing falsehood, not necessarily producing something positive, is an important example of God’s merciful action in the world; the study of which serves as the basis of the Mitzvah to imitate his ways.
[2] This is related to the halacha from Yesodei Hatorah 4:13, quoted in the previous post, which prioritizes the study of the Davar Katan of halacha over the study of the Davar Gadol of science and philosophy in one’s sequence of study.
[3] In reality even the higher form of service is expressed in action of following God’s ways, since our knowledge of God is of His actions not His essence. But this sense of action, embodied, for example, in the life of Avraham is action of a different kind directly based on his abstract knowledge of God.
[4] This request for God desiring our prayers is very different than that of Shomeah Tefillah which discusses prayer as request

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Women learning Torah

"Women and slaves are exempt from Torah study" Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:1

"A woman who learns Torah has reward" Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13 (1:16 at link)

"Even though she has reward the Rabbis commanded that he shouldn't teach his daughter Torah; since most women's minds are not directed towards being educated, and they will redirect the Torah towards nonsense due to the poverty of their minds." Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13 (1:16 at link)

This is very difficult, if she has reward why shouldn't a father teach her, and if she will use the Torah for nonsense why does she have reward?

"Someone who was not taught by his father must teach himself when he becomes aware; as it says: "And you should learn them and you should protect to do them". And similarly you find universally that study is placed before action, since study causes action but action does not lead to study" Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:3 (1:4 at link)

Since women have an obligation in action, it would seem that Torah study has central relevance to them. Would this obligate them to study (although not under the formal heading of Talmud Torah)?

"It is a Mitzva upon all of the wise in Israel to teach all students, as it says: "you should teach them (v'shinantam) to your children" (Devarim 6:7), the tradition teaches " 'Your children', these are your students" " Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:2

It seems like this obligation, incumbent upon 'the wise', applies to both male and female students. Note that the exclusion of women from Torah study comes from the verse which applies to biological sons "and you shall teach them (v'limadtem) to your sons to speak them" (Devarim 11:19) on which the sifrei comments "Your sons, and not your daughters". This distinction fits well with the Halacha seen earlier that only the father is commanded not to teach their daughter. Apparently every one capable is required to teach a girl or woman who has become a 'student'.

"And I say that one shouldn't stroll in the orchard until he has filled his belly with bread and meat. This 'bread' and 'meat' is to know the explanation of the forbidden and permitted, and similarly from other Mitzvot. And even though the Rabbis called these topics 'a small matter' - since they said: " 'a great matter' is the 'act of the chariot' (i.e. metaphysics) 'a small matter' these are the constructs of Abaye and Rava." - It is appropriate to study them first,  since they initially settle a persons mind and they are the great good which Hakadosh Baruch bestowed for settling this world in order to inherit the world to come; and all people are able to know them, great or small, man or woman, one whose understanding is wide or whose understanding is narrow." Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 4:13 (4:21 at link)

Women are obligated in the love of God and knowledge is a necessary ingredient of that love, of which all women are fully capable (at least in the Davar Katan form which is the limit for most men and women). Yet again it seems that women have a need to study Torah.

Going back to the beginning, women are exempt from the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah (which is the combination of teaching and learning, i.e. being part of the formal transmission of Torah study through the generations). But she is not exempt from many important features of Torah study which were mentioned above. And even with regard to Mesora, women have a special role, see the Rav's eulogy for the Rebbetzin of Talne, where he describes the special Mesora of Torat Imecha. Furthermore it is obvious from real-world experience that women are capable of the most advanced forms of thought, an observation supported by the Halacha in Yesodei Hatorah.

If so, why is a father instructed to not teach his daughter? It seems that this is because a father is likely to pressure her in a way which is not best for her development, since a parent is often moved by their own psychological need for gaining honor vicariously through their children (I believe that I heard this point from Rabbi Chait). Therefore this is guidance only for a father, any one else may, and perhaps must, teach women (at least those who are interested).

This command to the father is based on the fact that 'most women's minds are not directed to learning', from modern experience this seems clearly to not be an intrinsic biological or psychological lack (there are clearly both biological and neurological/psychological differences between men and women but they don't seem relevant here). Therefore it seems to be expressing a social fact that women are not trained in thought and therefore if an individual father tries to break with that norm it is likely that to stem from his own needs. Today when girls start learning in school at a young age (and in many areas are more successful than boys) their minds are 'directed towards learning' from that very beginning and this concern doesn't apply. Therefore, perhaps, even a father may (and, since he wants the best for his daughter, should) teach his daughters.

General Notes:
1. When thinking about this topic we should take special caution since as human beings we often have an implicit bias against women. Chazal teach: "And the daughters of Tzlefchad approached - When the daughters of Tzefchad heard that the land would be divided to the tribes and not the women, they gathered to plan. They said: "God's mercy is not like man's mercy. Man has greater mercy on men than on women; but He who spoke and the world was, is not that way, rather his mercy is on everyone equally, men and women, as it says "God is good to all, and his mercy is on all of his creations."" (Sifri Pinchas) It seems that even the greatest human being, Moshe, was potentially subject to this bias, if not for the fact that his life was guided by imitating the merciful ways of God.

2. When quoting sources in the Mishneh Torah I am using the standard numbering of the halachot. In parentheses are the numbers used at the linked page. Unfortunately I don't know of an online edition which follows Rabbi Yochai Makbili's practice of keeping the original numbering while using paragraph breaks with subscripts to identify the authentic division. I would appreciate any practical suggestions people have.

Reopening the Rambam system online Beit Midrash

After God decreed that our Pittsburgh Chaburah be separated. Our memory of that learning reawakened Rabbi Sacks' dormant desire to have an online Beit Midrash to develop further our understanding of the Rambam's system of Torah and Mitzvah. We invite other students, who have turned in their respective directions, to rejoin this quest with their discoveries and thoughts and to learn from the master.

The purpose of a Beit Midrash is for active participation. Please comment! If anyone has something to post please send it to either Rabbi Sacks or myself. As Rabbi Sacks often reminds us, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. We can also post open threads if people want to post thoughts or questions from their own studies that they don't feel comfortable calling a post. 

I will try to post both things I have merited to learn with Rabbi Sacks as well as applications of his methods to new topics. Hopefully he will have time to post as well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

ב  ספר תורה הכשר--נוהגין בו קדושה יתרה, וכבוד גדול.  אסור לאדם למכור ספר תורה, אפילו אין לו מה יאכל, ואפילו היו לו ספרים רבים, ואפילו ישן ליקח בו חדש.  לעולם אין מוכרין ספר תורה, אלא לשני דברים--שילמוד תורה בדמיו, או שיישא אישה בדמיו:  והוא, שלא יהיה לו דבר אחר למכור.
Torah Market?

הלכות ספר תורה פרק י

א  נמצאת למד שעשרים דברים הן, שכל אחד מהן פוסל את ספר תורה.  ואם נעשה בו אחד מהן--הרי הוא כחומש מן החומשין שמלמדין בהן התינוקות, ואין בו קדושת ספר תורה, ואין קורין בו ברבים; ואלו הן:  (א) אם נכתב על עור בהמה טמאה; (ב) שנכתב על עור בהמה טהורה שאינו מעובד; (ג) שהיה מעובד שלא לשם ספר תורה; (ד) שנכתב שלא במקום כתיבה, על הגוויל במקום בשר ועל הקלף במקום שיער; (ה) שנכתב מקצתו על הגוויל, ומקצתו על הקלף; (ו) שנכתב על דוכסוסטוס; (ז) שנכתב בלא שרטוט; (ח) שנכתב שלא בשחור העומד; (ט) שנכתב בשאר לשונות; (י) שכתבו גוי וכיוצא בו משאר פסולים; (יא) שכתב האזכרות בלא כוונה; (יב) שחיסר אפילו אות אחת; (יג) שהוסיף אפילו אות אחת; (יד) שנגעה אות באות; (טו) שנפסדה צורת אות אחת עד שלא תיקרא כל עיקר, או תדמה לאות אחרת, בין בעיקר הכתיבה, בין בנקב, בין בקרע, בין בטשטוש; (טז) שהרחיק או הקריב בין אות לאות, עד שתיראה התיבה כשתי תיבות, או שתי תיבות כמו תיבה אחת; (יז) ששינה צורת הפרשייות; (יח) ששינה צורת השירות; (יט) שכתב בשאר הכתב כשירה; (כ) שתפר היריעות שלא בגידי טהורה.  ושאר כל הדברים--למצוה, לא לעכב.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Rambam's Different order of Sifrei Tanach

טו  מותר לדבק תורה נביאים וכתובים בכרך אחד, ומניח בין כל חומש וחומש ארבע שיטין, ובין כל נביא ונביא שלוש שיטין, ובין כל נביא ונביא משנים עשר שלוש שיטין--שאם בא לחתוך, חותך.  וסידורן של נביאים, כך הוא--יהושוע, ושופטים, שמואל, ומלכים, ירמיה, ויחזקאל, ישעיה, ותרי עשר; וסדר הכתובים--רות, ותילים, ואיוב, ומשלי, וקוהלת, ושיר השירים, וקינות, ודנייאל, ומגילת אסתר, ועזרא, ודברי הימים.

Friday, June 29, 2018

יב  ספר תורה שאינו מוגה, אסור לשהותו יתר על שלושים יום, אלא ייתקן, או ייגנז.  ספר שיש בו שלוש טעייות בכל דף ודף, ייתקן; ארבע, ייגנז; ואם היה רוב הספר מוגה, והשאר יש בו ארבע טעייות בכל דף, ונשאר אפילו דף אחד מאותו השאר המשובש בלא ארבע טעייות--הרי זה ייתקן

 יג  במה דברים אמורים, שכתב המלא חסר, שנמצא תולה האותייות ששכח ביני השיטות; אבל אם כתב החסר מלא, אפילו יש בכל דף ודף כמה טעייות, הרי זה מתקנו, מפני שהוא גורד ואינו תולה.