Thursday, May 1, 2014

Zechira: fostering a transformational process

In the previous post we noted the surprising distinction between Kiddush and Sippur. Though we would expect that a command to remember a day, would obviously determine the time of remembrance, in fact, only the command "Remember the Shabbos day" meets our expectation. In the case of Sippur, the command "Remember this day" is understood to leave the timing of sippur yetziat mitzraim indeterminate. It is only by means of an additional command -"You shall tell your son on that day saying: 'for the sake of this'..." -that we can determine that the 15th of Nissan is the time of sippur.

Question: Why does the one command to "remember" determine the timing of remembrance in Shabbos while in Sippur we need to supplement by taking into account the additional message of "for 
the sake of this" ??

Answer: we need to explore the sort of "remembrance" the Torah is dealing with first. Once this sense of "remembrance" is understood in principle, we will be able to understand the application to remembering a specific "day".

There are two targets of remembrance: 1. Retaining data 2. Self Transformation.

1. Retaining data. Obviously, we have limited ability to retain factual details. 

This limited ability to retain facts is illustrated in our use of memory aides such as shopping lists. It is difficult to keep the 20-30 items we need to buy in mind. We therefore make to-do lists for shopping as well as the many other fact based tasks we have in a busy day.

I believe that our expectation that a command to remember a day determines the timing of the remembrance is rooted in this limiting data retention sense of memory. 

Understood as data retention, "remember the Shabbos day" translates neatly into an obligation to put reciting kiddush into the post sunset slot of our to-do list on Shabbos. Similarly, "remember this day" obligates us to put reciting the hagada into the post sunset slot of our to-do list on the 15th of Nissan.

Yet, as we know, there is a deeper aspect underlying our tendency to forget shopping items beyond our limited ability to retain data. We want to be free to pursue our wishes, unencumbered by the responsibility of tasks like shopping, or working.

This conflict over dedicating one's time to responsibility remains constant, the Franklin Planner, shopping lists and other memory devices we use merely maximize the chances of a given task being done despite the conflict.

The solution to our problem, therefore, lies in rethinking the assumption that the Torah commands of remembrance refer to retaining data. In fact, 
Zechira transcends mere data retention to address the root issue in forgetfulness- the conflicted nature of our psyche.

But what is the deeper nature of this internal conflict that the remembrance of Torah addresses? 

2. Remembrance of Self Transformation

In explication of the word "zachar" in Sefer ha-Shorashim, Radak points to the cause of internal conflict and the underlying need for remembrance. Radak illustrates the uderlying issues of "remembrance" and "forgetfulness" in the case of Joseph and the Cup bearer of Pharaoh. 

In this astute selection of the Cup bearer to illustrate the Torah's sense of "zachar" Radak points us to the 2nd kind of remembering-that of self transformation.
The high ranking Cup bearer respected Joseph's great wisdom only so long as he was powerless, a fellow prisoner needing an interpretation for his dream. The Cup bearer forgot Joseph's Wisdom as soon as his normal state of empowerment was restored.

The Cup bearer's self image was not flexible enough to acknowledge the framework of wisdom in which he was lesser than a lowly Hebrew slave. Far from maintaining remembrance of Wisdom, the Cup bearer sought to remove his focus from Joseph altogether. Vi'Lo zachar sar hamashkim et Yosef-vayishkachehu. "The Cup bearer did not remember Joseph, (instead) he forgot him".

The Cup bearer's inflexibility created a counter force of forgetfulness which held him from educational growth. Instead of translating his fortuitous experience with Joseph into a life changing opportunity, the Cup bearer hid from the tension of self transformation. 

All the Cup bearer had to do was to remember Joseph's problem solving power. Joseph's wisdom was not limited to providing a solution to the Cup Bearer's dream. In its more general sense, Joseph's wisdom could have been the basis of an ongoing educational relationship, in which the cup bearer would have gained illuminating insights, solutions to problems in each and every domain of life activity. 

Instead of embracing the opportunity, the cup bearer broke his ties with Joseph to limit the conflict it produced for his existing self concept. The cup bearer could not endure the flexibility that the process of true education entails.

The same tendency to hide from the challenge intrinsic to encountering human wisdom can be seen in our relationship with Hashem's wisdom as well. Here too, our inflexibility of self concept obstructs translating our Encounters with Divine Wisdom into an ongoing educational relationship.

This tendency to avoid remembrance is best illustrated in our Encounter with Hashem's Divine Wisdom at Sinai. As the Cup bearer sensed the universal wisdom implicit in Joseph's dream interpretation, the Jews sensed the Universal Wisdom of Hashem implicit in the 10 d'varim of Sinai. This Wisdom was potentially applicable in 613 mitzvot to all aspects of life.

As the Cup bearer protected his sense of self in the security of his political framework, we sought to protect our sense self in the familiar "tent", a home ordered to our self concept.

23 For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? 24 Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God may say; and thou shalt speak unto us all that the Lord our God may speak unto thee; and we will hear it and do it.’ 

Yet, Hashem does not rebuke us for our need to escape His Wisdom. Instead, He posits a long term strategy of educational growth. 

25 And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spoke unto me; and the Lord said unto me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee; they have well said all that they have spoken. 26 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever! 27 Go say to them: Return ye to your tents.

This long term strategy of self transformation, in which we gradually attain maturity in our relationship with His Wisdom, is the underpinning of the Torah's notion of "Remembrance". Even as we escape to our "tents" the flexible mind maintains remembrance-- a commitment to undergo a process of growth over long periods of time. 

At strategic intervals we bring key encounters with His Wisdom to mind, in order to slowly incorporate the lessons into our lives. In this way we can gradually extend our sense of His Wisdom as it is illustrated in certain key cases (Yetziat Mitzraim, Sinai etc) to an ever greater domain of our world. In this we way we resolve our conflict with Wisdom, through slowly developing an ever deeper appreciation of the way in which the general d'varim of Wisdom we heard at Sinai, specify 613 concrete mitzvot which  illuminate each and every aspect of our lives.

 9Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes saw, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life; but make them known unto thy children and thy children’s children; 10the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me: ‘Assemble Me the people, and I will make them hear My d'varim that they may learn to fear Me all the days that they live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.’ 

Now that we see remembrance as a process, a cornerstone of educational transformation of a flexible self concept, we are in the position to answer our original question. We see why the educational process takes on remembrance of specific days. We need to regularly return to events such as Sinai and Yetziat Mitzraim to gradually internalize their message. But why would the timing of remembering days be so inconsistent? Why is the educational process of internalizing "remember the Shabbos day" limited to Shabbos, while the educational process of internalizing "remember this day" is potentially much longer than the 15th of Nissan.

We will complete this answer in the next post.

Friday, April 25, 2014

בשעה שמצות ומרורים מונחים לפניך #1

As we mentioned in the previous post, the basic principle of Kiddush -זכרהו זכירת שבח וקידוש applies in accordance with the particular Action of Hashem a given day testifies to.

In the case of sippur on Pesach, Zechirat Kedusha recognizes zecher liytizat mitraim. This recognition takes the form of personal gratitude to Hashem for his Action in the micro system of civilization, empowering us with the opportunity of education passed on from Av to Ben.

Interestingly, Rambam does not view "Zachor Et Hayom Hazeh" as the only principle operative in sippur yetziat mitraim.  In fact, "Zachor" is not even the basis of doing sippur on the 15th of Nissan.
Clearly, if we did not have an additional principle of
והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה we would have not known when to do Sippur:

Hilchot Chametz Umatza 7:1

מצות עשה של תורה לספר בנסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצרים בליל חמשה עשר בניסן שנאמר זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם ממצרים כמו שנאמר זכור את יום השבת. 

ומנין שבליל חמשה עשר תלמוד לומר והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה בשעה שיש מצה ומרור מונחים לפניך.

What is the basis of Rambam's recourse to 
והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה בשעה שיש מצה ומרור מונחים לפניך? Surely the words "Zachor Et Hayom Hazeh" indicate the timing of Zechira-- "hayom hazeh", namely the 15th of Nissan?

We do not see any parallel question regarding "Zachor Et Yom hashabbos likadesho". Clearly, the words "Zachor Et Yom Hashabbos" identify the time that the zechira should be done -- Shabbos. There is no need for any additional principle. 

Why does "zachor et hayom hazeh" of sippur require the additional principle of 
והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה, while "Zachor Et Yom Hashabbos" of Shabbos does not?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Redone essay following seder discussion

In Hilchot Chametz U’matza, Rambam explains that the “zechira” of sippur of Pesach
"זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם"” is to be understood in the same sense as "זכור את יום השבת" of the Kiddush of Shabbat.

הלכות חמץ ומצה פרק ז א מצות עשה של תורה לספר בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצריים, בליל חמישה עשר בניסן--שנאמר "זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם" (שמות יג,ג), כמה שנאמר "זכור את יום השבת" (שמות כ,ז

Question: In our experience, Kiddush and sippur seem to be fundamentally dissimilar activities. Sippur is storytelling, giving an all night personal account of yetziat mitzraim events. Kiddush is a terse conceptual statement containing no personal account of the events of Creation at all. What common nature unites these seemingly distinct, activities of Sippur and Kiddush ?

Answer: In Hilchot Shabbat, Rambam identifies the underlying nature, common to Kiddush and Sippur—the idea of the Holy. In this context, “Zechira” means to properly recognize the Kedusha character of something, in carefully formulated speech.

 הלכות שבת הלכה א מצות עשה מן התורה לקדש את יום השבת בדברים שנאמר זכור את יום השבת לקדשו. כלומר זכרהו זכירת שבח וקידוש.

The institution of “zechira”, pausing to properly recognize Kedusha, presupposes a resistance to Kedusha that must be overcome.  It is in our nature to do Craft-- constantly reorder the material world to be in in line with our ideal concepts. Letting go of our creative enterprise of constant change to reflect on the underlying System, the unchanging Kedusha of His Concept, is difficult for us.  Yet, if we are to grow as minds, we must be able to let the Wisdom of His Action into our carefully guarded creative world. We must set aside Holy times to deeply reflect on the true nature of His Action, unfiltered by the psychological categories of our creative enterprise.  Zechira reminds us that we must be open to being merely a creature overcome by wonder and appreciation for the grandeur of the Divine Creation System. The carefully ordered speech of zechira empowers us to navigate the transition from our psychological world with its loves and hates, successes and failures, happiness and sadness to reflection on the grand systems and processes of His Creation on Shabbat and Yom Tov.

 ז זכור את-יום השבת, לקדשו.  ח ששת ימים תעבוד, ועשית כל-מלאכתך.  ט ויום, השביעי--שבת, ליהוה אלוהיך:  לא-תעשה כל-מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך, עבדך ואמתך ובהמתך, וגרך, אשר בשעריך.  י כי ששת-ימים עשה יהוה את-השמיים ואת-הארץ, את-הים ואת-כל-אשר-בם, וינח, ביום השביעי; על-כן, בירך יהוה את-יום השבת--ויקדשהו.

Shabbat and Yom Tov each emphasize one of the two perspectives on Kedusha in His System: Zecher Limaase Bresheet and Zecher Liyitziat Mitzraim. Each perspective of zechira, requires its own unique form of transition from the psychological categories of our world to appreciation of His Order. In Zecher Limaase Bresheet we must appreciate Kedusha as manifest in the ongoing existence of of the Cosmic system testified to by Shabbos. זכרון למעשה בראשית

   י כי ששת-ימים עשה יהוה את-השמיים ואת-הארץ, את-הים ואת-כל-אשר-בם, וינח, ביום השביעי; על-כן, בירך יהוה את-יום השבת--ויקדשהו.  

In stark contrast, in Zecher Yetziat Mitzraim we appreciate Kedusha as manifest in the particular Order of man carried out by the unique Jewish civilization on Earth  ברוך אתה ה', מקדש ישראל והזמנים  Each transition to Kedusha requires its own adjustment to our psychic identity. The Kiddush of Shabbat seeks to recognize the Universal Order of the system of the Cosmos. Attaining the objective state of mind needed to recognize the Universal Order of the Cosmos, requires a theoretical perspective upon man’s place in the grand Order. This perspective necessarily de-emphasizes the distraction of individual experience of being a creative conqueror. We mention the political order of the species --zecher li’ytiziat mitzraim-- but do not expand upon individual experience in Kiddush. זכרהו זכירת שבח וקידוש.  

The Sippur of Pesach seeks to recognize the particular Political Order of Man. Acting as a Sovereign, asserting Divine Justice upon an Egyptian State dominated by the personality of Paroh, Hashem opens up an eternal opportunity for freedom to all individuals. Proper recognition of yetziat mitzraim requires that we de-emphasize the distraction of the Cosmic Order and expand mightily upon the metamorphosis of His Sovereignty over civilization which affords each and every one of us freedom of mind. A malchus Shamayim civilization composed of Free men affords the opportunity to be a completely different kind of conqueror. 

Rather than living a life of tyranny, enslaved by a P’aroh like personality need to dominate the Earthly system and fellow men, we become educated just minds. A free educated mind engages in the lifelong moed framework in which we apply our knowledge in beneficial harmony with the Earthly system and mankind. It is this framework of growth in human kedusha which underlies beis din’s setting up of the Moed and calendar by Divine command:  ברוך אתה ה', מקדש ישראל והזמנים

The sippur account of yetziat mitzraim therefore limits its mention of the Cosmic order and expands greatly on the metamorphosis to ongoing freedom granted each of us individually by His Redemptive Justice. Shifting from the conventions of ideology to gratitude for the ongoing individual freedom of Redemptive Justice is best facilitated by a personal formulation of yetziat mitzraim,
כפי צחות לשון המספר, in expansive sippur of the limitations of the ideological State VS the opportunity of His Order of Redemptive Justice.

המצווה הקנ"ז הציווי שנצטווינו לספר ביציאת מצרים בליל ט"ו בניסן בתחילת הלילה כפי צחות לשון המספר, וכל מה שיוסיף לספר ולהאריך בדברים בהגדלת מה שעשו בנו ומה שענו אותנו המצרים ואיך נפרע לנו ה' מהם, ולהודות לו יתעלה, על כל החסד אשר גמלנו הרי זה משבח, כמו שאמרו: כל המאריך לספר יציאת מצרים, הרי זה משבח

The zechira of kiddush and sippur, is in fact, the exact same activity-- metamorphosis from the eminently practical state of mind of the order of everyday life to the fundamentally different state of mind of theoretical recognition of the magnificence of His Order. Each zechira identifies one of the two possible paths we travel to reflecting on His Order: a. Universal Order--Hashem Creator of the Cosmos de-emphasizing the human Order  b. Particular Human Order-- Hashem the redeemer of His People Israel, deemphasizing the Cosmic Order. The specific human experience we undergo in recognizing Him through these two core acts, determines the form of rigorous speech we use, the conceptual statement of kiddush which evokes wonder at the Cosmic Order or the descriptive form of sippur which evokes gratitude and thanksgiving at the opportunity for enduring freedom within a Civilization built upon the foundations of His Order of Redemptive Justice.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Recognizing the Eternal Relevance of Yetziat Mitzraim

In Hilchot Chametz U’matza, Rambam classifies “Sippur Yetziat Mitzraim” as a  “z’chira” activity, fundamentally similar to the Kiddush of Shabbat.                                 
 הלכות חמץ ומצה פרק ז
א  מצות עשה של תורה לספר בניסים ונפלאות שנעשו לאבותינו במצריים, בליל חמישה עשר בניסן--שנאמר "זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם" (שמות יג,ג), כמה שנאמר "זכור את יום השבת" (שמות כ,ז  

Question: Rather than sharing features, Kiddush and sippur seem to be fundamentally dissimilar activities. Sippur is a form of storytelling, giving a highly descriptive account of yetziat mitzraim events, kiddush is a rigorous conceptual statement containing no storytelling of the events of Creation at all.  

Why does Rambam classify Sippur as a “z’chira”  activity fundamentally akin to the Kiddush of Shabbat?

Answer: In Hilchot Shabbat, Rambam defines the nature of “zechira” common to Kiddush and Sippur. “Zechira” means to properly recognize the nature of something in carefully formulated speech.

מצות עשה מן התורה לקדש את יום השבת בדברים שנאמר זכור את יום השבת לקדשו. כלומר זכרהו זכירת שבח וקידוש.

To properly recognize something in speech, we must identify its functionality within His system of Creation. Our question confuses the underlying substance of zechira (that is, the recognition of functionality within His system) with the form of rigorous speech used to accomplish this recognition (formula or description). The underlying substance of Zechira remains the same in Kiddush and Sippur-- it is only the rigorous form of speech used to express this recognition which changes.

The reason for this shift in speech, from the conceptual formula of Kiddush to the descriptive sippur of yetziat mitzraim, lies in the differing human experience of Hashem's action each recognition demands. 

The Kiddush of Shabbat recognizes and celebrates the universal Chasdei Hashem, expressed in the Creators Sovereignty over the Cosmic Order of the system of the Universe. We recognize the Cosmic order in the somewhat detached abstract manner of theoretical man. To overemphasize the human Order is to become distracted, to fail in properly acknowledging the Universal order of the Cosmos. Kiddush therefore employs conceptual statements, including no description illustrating the impact on man at all. Kiddush refers to the good of man--zecher liytiziat mitzraim-- but does not overemphasize our individual good. 
The Sippur of Pesach on the other hand, recognizes the particularistic aspect of Chasdei Hashem, His Sovereignty over the Political Order. His Sovereignty  became manifest through yetziat mitzraim, in which Divine Justice was imposed upon our oppressors. We recognize the imposition of Justice in the Political order as citizens of Israel, the current generation of children of the first generation to be made free through His Justice.

Recognizing His Sovereignty over the Political Order is done in the manner of storytelling, as every parent transmits identity forging personal reflections to their children and family. A parent who remains purely clinical, who is not personally transformed by his storytelling of yetziat mitzraim, has not understood the nature of yetziat mitzraim at all.  "זכור את היום הזה אשר יצאתם" therefore, includes a careful sippur / account capable of transmitting the personal relevance of the events of the night of 15th of Nissan from father to son.

We must therefore view ourselves personally as victims of Egyptian oppression and we must view ourselves personally as beneficiaries of Hashem’s justice upon our oppressors.

בכל דור ודור חייב אדם להראות את עצמו כאילו הוא בעצמו יצא עתה משעבוד מצרים

וכל מה שיוסיף לספר ולהאריך בדברים בהגדלת מה שעשו בנו ומה שענו אותנו המצרים ואיך נפרע לנו ה' מהם, ולהודות לו יתעלה, על כל החסד אשר גמלנו הרי זה משבח

The proper sippur account of yetziat mitzraim produces overwhelming gratitude for the Divine Chessed granted each of us individually. Arousing gratitude for our individual freedom is best facilitated by a personal formulation of yetziat mitzraim,
כפי צחות לשון המספר, in expansive sippur.  
כל המאריך לספר יציאת מצרים, הרי זה משבח
  מצווה קנז 
הציווי שנצטווינו לספר ביציאת מצרים בליל ט"ו בניסן בתחילת הלילה כפי צחות לשון המספר, וכל מה שיוסיף לספר ולהאריך בדברים בהגדלת מה שעשו בנו ומה שענו אותנו המצרים ואיך נפרע לנו ה' מהם, ולהודות לו יתעלה, על כל החסד אשר גמלנו הרי זה משבח, כמו שאמרו: כל המאריך לספר יציאת מצרים, הרי זה משבח
The zechira of kiddush and sippur, is in fact, the exact same activity-- recognition of His beneficent acts. Each zechira identifies one of the two possible ways we recognize Hashem as a Benefactor: a. Universal Benefactor--Hashem Creator of the Cosmos  b. Particular Benefactor-- Hashem the redeemer of His People Israel. The specific human experience we undergo in recognizing Him through these two core acts, determines the form of rigorous speech we use, the conceptual form of kiddush or the descriptive form of storytelling appropriate to communicating His Sovereignty over the Political Order composed of the father's and sons of Israel.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Clashing civilizations

Last week saw a battle between Israel and Hamas. At the surface level, the conflict was about deterrence, Hamas had to be convinced it lacked the power to shower rockets on Israel. 

At a deeper level, the roots of conflict are civilizational- Judaism and Islamist Hamas have incompatible claims to one and the same territory. These opposing claims emanate from two competing narratives of God’s Creation, both of which constitute their civilization's sense of legitimacy and its law. 

In both cases, to be legitimate, National sovereignty must be an extension of Nature created by God. The Created world has a law for every one of its parts, for the most remote galaxies, the Solar system and for Earth. Man is no exception to this general rule, as another part of Creation occupying space on Earth we too must act in accord with His law that controls all aspects of Creation.

For Islamists, the proper method for extending law to man is Islamism. Each and every man must live as a citizen in a world wide Caliphate- under Muslim sovereignty. This world wide Caliphate may begin in areas of Muslim power, ie where the "prophet" Muhammed first dwelled. But this merely a practical issue, from the initial staging ground the Caliphate is meant to extend outward to mankind generally.

 As a Non Muslim State within the immediate bounds of sacred territory dwelled in by Mohammed, the existence of Israel is a desecration of scripture, the height of affront to nature. The Islamists interpretation of religion demands that the territory currently under Israeli illegitimate occupation be made part of the emerging  Muslim Caliphate. The rocket attacks staged by Hamas are a stage in the larger campaign to liberate the land and establish the full Caliphate through Holy war of Jihad.

For Jews, sovereignty is also a matter of extending law into the domain of man, this extension is also to be done by scripture. It is in precisely this light that the restoration of Jewish Sovereignty in the territory of Israel is a fulfillment of scripture. Abraham received a covenant from Hashem that the Jewish people would inherit this land. The return of Jewish sovereignty is a redemption of the land, the end of a forced expulsion from our natural home. In the words of Israel’s declaration of independence:

The Land of Israel, was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Impelled by this historic and traditional attachment, Jews strove in every successive generation to re-establish themselves in their ancient homeland. In recent decades they returned in their masses. Pioneers, ma'pilim (Hebrew) - immigrants coming to Eretz-Israel in defiance of restrictive legislation] and defenders, they made deserts bloom, revived the Hebrew language, built villages and towns, and created a thriving community controlling its own economy and culture, loving peace but knowing how to defend itself, bringing the blessings of progress to all the country's inhabitants, and aspiring towards independent nationhood.

While this particular clash with Hamas is getting headlines and dominates conversation, in principle there is nothing new about it- Hamas is but the current opponent in a historic process. The Jewish nation was founded upon a core underlying dialectic about the nature of man’s place in the world, the legitimate way to extend natural law into the political arena and its laws for citizens. This dialectic Judaism brings into mankind is the basis of redemption and is the central thread of the Torah story. 

We will deal with this central thread of the Storyline of redemption in the next post. It is in the context of exploring the dialectic about extending the concept of natural law into terms applicable to legitimacy in sovereignty and law that we will move toward an answer to the original question. How does one preoccupied with material security afforded by Goel Yisrael ever come to recognize the Creator of Shamayim V'aretz.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The centrality of Redemption

In discussion with my friend David Guttman an extremely important topic came up, one I would like to clarify my thoughts about and receive feedback from others. See here . The discussion emerged from reading Jim Holt’s new book “why does the world exist”.  As the ambitious title implies, the book deals with the question known today as: “why is there something, rather than nothing”?

The central tenant of Judaism is that nothing but God is a “first existent”, necessarily existing without need of any cause. Attaining deep knowledge of the contigency of Creation upon God the ‘first existent” is therefore the very foundation of the Mitzva system- it is the ultimate goal the Torah guides us to attain.

But how do we reach this lofty goal? Rather than meditating on the Cosmos' need for His causal force, as Avraham Avinu did, our interest in “needs” is self-centered.The focus of our prayers is our material security, as individuals and as citizens of the Jewish nation and the world. We seek his Kingship, his powerful Hand acting to decimate our enemies and secure Israel’s well-being.

This preoccupation with material well being starts from the earliest times, from the sojourn of our forefathers in Egypt. We did not cry out to Hashem the Lord of our father’s to aid us in solving Father Abraham’s question “why there is something rather than nothing”. Our interest was much more material than that, we called out only when our personal existence was in crisis.

23 And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.25 And God saw the children of Israel, and God took cognizance of them. {S}

Our forefathers in Egypt came to believe in God through illustrations of Yad Hashem, His beneficent power to sustain us in material security and to deliver Israel from crisis.This interest in Hashem's mighty "hand" reaches its height at yam Suf, instigating the song of Az Yashir.

28 And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, even all the host of Pharaoh that went in after them into the sea; there remained not so much as one of them.29 But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.  30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea-shore. 31 And Israel saw the great hand which the LORD displayed upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in His servant Moses. {P}
Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the Lord, and spoke, saying, I will sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider has he thrown into the sea. 

This central fact, that our service is centered on Hashem’s "hand", is canonized in the culmination of Keriat Shema. We conclude Shema and enter tefilla focused upon recalling the event of Yam Suf, the quintessential illustration of His power. 
Shira chadasha shibechu geulim... the redeemed ones sang a new song (az yashir). All together they gave thanksgiving and recognized His Kingship saying : Hashem will rule for all eternity!
How is one whose service to Hashem centers on attaining security ever to be led to seek the "First Existent"?  How are we to move from focusing on the mighty hand of the Goel Yisrael, to seeking the cause of the Cosmos / Boreh Shamayim V'Aretz?

I will attempt to answer this in the next post exploring the centrality of the notion of "Redemption" as a preliminary stage in service to Hashem.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Theme of Sefer D'varim

ויהי בארבעים שנה, בעשתי עשר חדש, בראש חודש שבט, הקהיל את העם ואמר להם: הגיע זמן מותי, ואם יש בכם מי ששמע הלכה ושכחה, יבוא וישאלני ואבאר אותה, וכל מי שנסתפקה עליו שאלה יבא ואפרשנה לו, כמו שנאמר " הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמורRepitition or Review
Rambam, based upon Chazal, says that before his death Moshe offered one last opportunity to remember Halachot that had been forgotten, and to ask questions that remained unresolved. Upon reflection, this offer of a "final review" is highly problematic.

First of all, the Torah's term used to characterize this final teaching " הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמור" is "biur" which refers to "explanation" rather than "review".

In addition, for Moshe to push the people to learn halachos they had neglected, would be a sharp departure from his lifelong educational method. Clearly it was known that the Jews were forgetting Halachot, yet Moshe, wisely, followed a developmental approach, giving the Jews room to grow in Talmud Torah at their own rate. Why would he change this educational strategy at the end of his life?

The efficacy of offering one last review is also highly questionable. Moshe must have covered all the halachot many, many times during the 40 years in the desert. As Chazal point out, Moshe offered to review forgotten Halachot, not to teach new ones. Why would one more cycle of study solve the problem of forgetting Halachot, when 40 years had failed to do so?

The questions rest upon the assumption that Sefer Dvarim offers another instance in the same curricular cycle that had been going on for so many years. From this point of view, doing one more cycle of a curriculum which for 40 years has faiLed to remove forgetfulness from the people is irrational, inconsistent and futile. Rather, Rambam's reading of "הואיל משה באר את התורה הזאת לאמור presupposes viewing Sefer D'varim as a fundamentally new framework of study.

Up until Sefer Dvarim, study had been in the context of Talmud Torah, which by nature is ordered around personal development. From its very beginning the courts were set up to deal, first and foremost, with Mishpat, resolving disputes over property, the quintessentially personal domain.

In contrast as the name of the Sefer- "Dvarim" - suggests, Moshe's final teaching articulated a complete formulation, a precise order of D'varim which would serve as a new framework of Mesorah for all generations. Moshe saw the time of his death as a unique opportunity to frame Torah in its Mesorah context. It is in the moments prior to death, when the leader's objectivity is most evident, that such a perspective is possible. The follower is naturally focused on the reality of continuity, in light of the leaders approaching demise. Mussar that a youthful follower would previously have angrily rejected as an intrusion into his personal affairs, will at the proper historic moment, be perceived in its civilizational, rather than personal context.

It is in this context, that the last teaching is properly understood. This review is meant as an integral part of the emergence of a systematically presented Mesorah in clear, precise "Dvarim". In this sense, the review is in fact a true "biur" of the Torah not as another instance of the Talmud Torah that had been done up till then.