Thursday, January 03, 2008

Zohar and the Gemora

The Gemora cites a braisa: There is greater stringency in oaths than in vows, and greater stringency in vows than in oaths. There is greater stringency in vows, for vows apply to objects necessary for the performance of a mitzvah just as to optional matters, which is not so regarding oaths (which do not take effect if one would take an oath against performing a certain mitzvah). And there is greater stringency in oaths, for oaths are valid with respect to matters that have substance and matters that are intangible, which is not so regarding vows (which do not take effect on intangible things).

It is noteworthy that the Zohar writes exactly the opposite. An oath, he says, can only take effect on a davar she’yeish bo mamash, something that has substance, whereas a vow can take effect even on a matter that lacks substance.

The Shoel U’meishiv in his haskamah to the sefer Beis Yisroel cites from the Neizer Yisroel that it is a printer’s mistake and the correct version of the Zohar is the way the Gemora states.

Reb Reuven Margoliyos disagrees and cites a Ramban in Shavuos who hints to the version that we have in the Zohar. The Ramban writes that according to Sod, vows do not take effect on matters of substance, whereas an oath will be effective on matters of substance.

In the sefer Mei Hashiloach, he explains the Zohar in a manner that is identical to our Gemora. We find in the Zohar that a davar she’yeish bo mamash frequently means something that has the ability to reproduce. The reason that an oath can take effect even on intangible matters is because an oath is an issur gavra, one is prohibiting himself from the object. The oath, therefore, is taking effect upon the person. The meaning of the Zohar is that an oath takes effect on the person, for he is a davar she’yeish bo mamash, i.e. man has the ability to reproduce; objects do not! An oath takes effect upon the person and not on the object. A vow, on the other hand, takes effect even on a davar she’ein bo mamash, something that does not have the ability to reproduce, i.e. objects. For by a vow, one is prohibiting the object upon himself (issur cheftza), and therefore, the vow takes effect upon the object, not upon the person.

Read more!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Question of Linkage

The Ra”n Elucidated

LINKAGE - Rami bar Chama inquired (Nedarim 11b - 12a): A piece of korban shelamim was sitting next to a loaf of bread, and he said, “This (bread) should be like this (shelamim).” Is he referring to the prohibition that the meat originally had before its blood was sprinkled on the Altar, or is he referring to the fact that the meat is now permitted? If he is referring to the fact that the meat is now permitted, the neder is not effective.

The Ran asks: Even if he is referring to the present status of the meat, the neder should be valid, for there are prohibitions that still exist in the shelamim? A tamei is prohibited against eating from the korban! The “chest and the thigh” are forbidden to any non-Kohen!

He answers: We are only concerned with prohibitions that emerge because of his vow. Any prohibition coming from his vow will be forbidden to everyone because he sanctified this animal. A prohibition that is limited to a select group of people cannot be on account of his vow and therefore, such prohibitions may not serve as an association to his present vow.

Hatfasah to a Shelamim

Rami bar Chama inquired: If someone states, “This is upon me like meat of a korban shelamim after it its blood is sprinkled (on the Altar),” what is the law? The Gemora asks: If he uses this terminology, he is essentially saying that it is permitted to him (as everyone is allowed to eat the meat of a shelamim after its blood has been sprinkled on the altar)! Rather, it must that his question was in a case where a piece of korban shelamim was sitting next to a loaf of bread, and he said, “This (bread) should be like this (shelamim).” Is he referring to the prohibition that the meat originally had before its blood was sprinkled on the Altar, or is he referring to the fact that the meat is now permitted?

Reb Chaim Brisker explains: The inquiry of the Gemora is not regarding the vower’s intention (does he mean to link the object of his vow to the original status of the shelamim or to its present status?); rather, Rami bar Chama’s uncertainty is in respect to the laws of this association. Does one associate the object of his neder with prohibitions that are now present or is the association with the essential state of the shelamim, i.e. its previous state, which is the sanctity that brought about its prohibition?

According to Reb Chaim’s explanation, we can answer a challenge to this Gemora posed by Reb Shmuel Rozovsky and Reb Naftoli Trop. They ask: Why don’t we apply the principle of “undefined nedarim are treated stringently” (we are strict in regard to its meaning until the vower explains differently)? They answer that this principle is applicable only when the vower has declared a valid neder, consisting of a legitimate language fit for a neder; however, there was uncertainty regarding his true intent. In such cases, we apply this principle and we assume that a person does not express himself for nothing. He probably meant to invoke a neder. However, in Rami bar Chama’s inquiry, the question is regarding the explanation of his words; did the vower mean to associate the object of his neder with the original prohibition of the shelamim or to its present status? If he meant to link the object of his neder to the present (permitted) status of the shelamim, he is not invoking a neder at all! When one fails to express his neder with his mouth, we cannot rule stringently.

According to Reb Chaim Brisker’s explanation, however, their question does not even begin. For Rami bar Chama’s inquiry has nothing to do with the vower’s intent. Rami bar Chama is inquiring into the mechanics of invoking a neder through an association. Is the association to the object’s present status or to its previous condition? The principle of “undefined nedarim are treated stringently” does not apply here.

Read more!

Monday, December 31, 2007

“From the implication of a negative, we cannot hear the positive"

The Gemora (Nedarim 11a) asks: Who is the author of our Mishna? It cannot be Rabbi Meir, as he does not hold of the concept that if someone makes a negative statement, the positive is automatically implied. [It is not chullin means that it is like a korban.] This is apparent from Rabbi Meir’s statement (in a Mishna). Rabbi Meir states: Any condition that is not similar to the condition made (by Moshe Rabbeinu) with the sons of (the tribe of) Reuven and Gad (the condition was doubled; if the condition is fulfilled, the agreement is valid, but if it is not fulfilled, the agreement is not valid) is not a valid condition. (Obviously, we not infer the positive from the negative.)

The Rishonim ask: The Gemora in Shavuos (36a) states that Rabbi Meir only holds that “the positive cannot be implied from the negative statement” only in regards to monetary matters; however, in regards to prohibitory matters, Rabbi Meir agrees that we may infer the positive from the negative. If so, the Mishna here can very well be following Rabbi Meir’s opinion, for we are discussing the laws pertaining to vows and this is not a monetary matter, but rather, a prohibitory matter?

Tosfos answers: It is evident from the Gemora there that a prohibition that involves money has the status of a monetary matter and Rabbi Meir will still maintain that “from the implication of a negative, we cannot hear the positive.” Since a vow involves money, for one is prohibiting the possession’s of his fellow on himself, Rabbi Meir would not concede in this case.

The Ran answers similarly that since by a vow, one is prohibiting the object upon himself, it is considered a prohibition that involves money.

(A difference between Tosfos and the Ran may be by an oath, where, according to Tosfos, it still would involve money because he is prohibiting himself from deriving benefit from his fellow’s possessions; however, according to the Ran, it would not be regarded as a monetary matter since the object itself is not forbidden.)

Tosfos in Shavuos answers that Rabbi Meir concedes only by a strict prohibition, i.e. one that a person will be liable to death; however, by a vow, which is not regarded as a strict prohibition, Rabbi Meir will still maintain that “from the implication of a negative, we cannot hear the positive.” (The Rashba does not agree that the Gemora states such a distinction.)

The Rosh answers: Since by a vow, we go according to the language of people, it is regarded as a monetary matter. Rabbeinu Avraham min Hahar explains: People generally explain themselves completely. Therefore, by a vow and all money matters (for the same reason), Rabbi Meir maintains that “from the implication of a negative, we cannot hear the positive.”

Read more!

Shalom Aleichem - Aleichem Shalom

We learned in the following braisa (Nedarim 10b): Rabbi Shimon says: How do we know that a person should not say (when consecrating an offering) “to Hashem an olah,” “to Hashem a mincha,” “to Hashem a todah,” or “to Hashem a shelamim” (but rather, the Name of Hashem should always be mentioned first)? It is derived from the verse [Vayikra 1:2]: An offering to Hashem.

The Yeshuos Yaakov (Y”D 148) uses our Gemora to explain our custom of greeting your fellow with “Shalom Aleichem,” and they respond with “Aleichem Shalom.” In truth, it should be forbidden to say “Shalom aleichem,” for “Shalom” is one of the Names of Hashem and we should be concerned that a person will die immediately after saying “Shalom” without having the opportunity to conclude and say “aleichem.” If this would happen, it would emerge that he had said Hashem’s Name in vain. However, since Chazal have told us that one who greets his fellow with “shalom” will merit living a long life, there is no need to be concerned that he will die immediately following saying “shalom.” This logic is only applicable to the first one greeting his fellow, for he is the one that has this guarantee. The fellow responding, however, does not have this guarantee, and that is why he replies and says, “Aleichem shalom.”

Read more!

Pious and Righteous

The Gemora (Nedarim 10a) states: Rabbi Yehudah said in a braisa: The early pious ones were eager to bring a chatas offering, because the Holy One, blessed be He, never caused them to stumble. What did they do? They arose and made a nedavah vow of nezirus to the Omnipresent, so they should be liable to bring a chatas offering to the Omnipresent (when the nezirus was completed; this was considered virtuous).

Shoel U’meishiv asks: Tosfos writes in several places in Shas that Hashem does not cause the righteous to stumble only in respect to prohibitions dealing with eating; however, they may stumble by other prohibitions. If so, it is still possible for them to bring a chatas offering, when they stumble in other prohibitions, so why were they compelled to take a vow of nezirus?

He answers that Tosfos only said that in regards to the righteous people. They may stumble in other prohibitions. However, the pious people are on a much higher level and Hashem would not allow them to stumble in any prohibition.

Read more!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Locks of Hair Arranged in Curls

The Gemora (Nedarim 9b)states: A nedavah for nezirus is regarded as virtuous in cases such that of Shimon the Righteous (a great Kohen Gadol who served in the beginning of the second Beis Hamikdosh). For we learned in a braisa: Shimon the Righteous said, “I never ate from the meat of an asham sacrifice offered by a nazir who had become tamei except for one case. There was once a handsome young man from the south with beautiful eyes and locks of hair arranged in curls (who had become tamei and came to the Beis Hamikdosh to have his hair removed and to offer the required sacrifice). I asked him why he had taken upon himself a vow to become a nazir, which would eventually lead to having such beautiful hair removed
(even if he would have completed his term of nezirus without becoming tamei, a nazir shaves his head upon completion). He responded to me, ‘I was a shepherd for my father and one day I went to a spring to fill my pail of water and saw my reflection in the water. My evil inclination suddenly tempted me to take advantage of my looks and wished to drive me out from this world. I said to my evil inclination: Wicked one! Why are you being so haughty in a world that is not yours, with one that in the future will be worms and maggots? I swore at that time to become a nazir.’ I was so impressed (by his piety) that I kissed him on his head and said to him, May there be more vowers of nezirus like you in Israel.”

The question that is asked is why the young man with the locks of hair arranged in curls did not simply go to a barber for a haircut to remove this temptation.

Rabbi Mendel Weinbach answers that on the way to the barber he was likely to change his mind and give in to temptation. The only solution was to immediately take upon himself a vow of nezirus which would eventually force him to eliminate his hair and the problems that accompanied it.

Click below for more on this topic matter.

Food for Thought

*** What was the necessity to state that the nazir came from the south? What difference did it make where he came from?

*** How was he permitted to look at his reflection in the water; isn’t it forbidden for a man to look at a mirror?

*** Why connection is there between the “haughtiness” of the evil inclination and the temptation to sin?


By Rabbi Yosef Levinson
The Torah details the laws which apply to one who makes a vow to be a nazir. He must refrain from drinking wine and eating fresh grapes and raisins, grapeseeds and skins. He may not shave his hair; rather he must let it grow long. A nazir may also not defile himself by coming in contact with a corpse. And when the term of his vow has ended, and the nazir wishes to revert to his former life, he must first shave off all his hair and then bring korbanos, offerings, to Hashem. In total, there are ten mitzvos pertaining to the nazir (Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvos 368:377).
The mitzvos which are enumerated in the parsha of nazir were given by Hashem in order to provide a means of self-sanctification for one who wishes to do so. The Chinuch (mitzva 374) writes that by abstaining from wine, one breaks his desires and humbles himself. (While one's main focus should be on spiritual pursuits, nevertheless one should not ignore his physical needs. Abstaining from wine allows the nazir to break his desires in a manner that is not detrimental to his health, Sefer HaChinuch, ibid.)

The Chinuch adds that this is also why the nazir must let his hair grow long. By not concerning himself with his appearance, he humbles himself. Similarly, the nazir shaves his hair completely at the end of his nazirus because there is no doubt that either, extremely long hair or totally bald distorts the appearance of man.

The Chinuch proves that the purpose for growing the hair is to subdue the yetzar hara, evil inclination from the following anecdote recorded in the Gemara (Nedarim 9b). "Shimon Hatzaddik (who was the Kohen Gadol) related that once a certain nazir appeared before him. The man had beautiful eyes, was very good looking and his locks were arranged in curls. Shimon Hatzaddik asked him: 'Why do you make a vow of nazirus, which necessitates that you destroy your beautiful hair?' (For he will be required to shave his head at the end of his nazirus.) The man replied: 'I was a shepherd for my father. Once I went to draw water from the well and gazed at my reflection in the water. My yetzer hara seized me and wished to drive me from the world. I said - Rasha (wicked one), why are you conceited in a world that is not yours, with one who is destined to be consumed by maggots and worms? I swear that I will shave you for the sake of Heaven.' "

The Steipler Gaon, HaRav Y. Y. Kanievsky zt"l observes that although the shepherd did not mention the sin that the yetzer hara was enticing him to transgress, nevertheless from his response to himself, we see that he was concerned lest he become conceited. Indeed there is nothing that can drive one from both this world and the next, other than ga'ava, haughtiness. As it is written: "It is an abomination to Hashem, all who are haughty in their heart (Mishlei 16:5)." Chazal also say that regarding one who is conceited, Hashem says: "I and him cannot live in the world together" (Sota 5a). The Shechina departs from a ba'al ga'ava and he is left to his own defenses to combat his yetzer hara and survive in this world.

The Steipler continues that when one is praised for his accomplishments, he is overjoyed. At times, he might let this joy "go to his head" and he begins thinking that he is deserving of honor. One must be wary lest he fall into the trap of haughtiness. We see how this shepherd trembled when he saw his handsome features and realized that it might lead him to ga'ava. He therefore took an oath of nazirus.

HaRav Yerucham Levovitz zt"l points out that growing one's hair can have the opposite effect and can lead to ga'ava as is evident from Shimon Hatzaddik's story. It all depends on one's intent. One may become obsessed with his appearance and become conceited. Hashem despises such a person. On the other hand, if one lets his hair grow so that he appears disheveled, he will be humbled. Such an individual is Kadosh L'Hashem, holy to Hashem. Moreover, the hair itself becomes kadosh. This is meant literally - the law states that it is forbidden to derive pleasure from the hair of a nazir. Thus, the status of the nazir's hair is similar to the status of Kodashim (articles sanctified for the Beis Hamikdash).

This is the lesson of the nazir. We must realize the significance of humility. In addition, the nazir teaches us that we have the ability to elevate and sanctify ourselves. If by abstaining from wine and letting one's hair grow, a nazir is sanctified, all the more so, one who sincerely undertakes to improve himself and tackle his desires and bad character traits, is Kadosh and beloved to Hashem.
Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson and reprinted here with permission

Maharal on the Yetzer Harah

By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky

That man's yetzer harah exists only as a result of his arrogance is alluded to by the Rabbis in a number of places. In Nedarim (9b) Shimon HaTzaddik said: I have never partaken from a Nazir sacrifice, except for one time. Once, a person came from the south (at the conclusion of his nazir period) and I saw that he was very handsome, with his hair arranged in long curls. I said to him: My son, why did you see fit to destroy such beautiful hair? (A nazir must cut off all his hair at the end of the nazir period. By undertaking to become a nazir, he ensured that all his hair would have to be cut off.) He said to me: "I was a shepherd for my father in my home town, and I once went to draw water from the spring. As I looked at my reflection, my yetzer harah surged forth in an effort to distract me and undermine my existence. (The commentary attributed to Rashi explains that when he saw how handsome he was, his yetzer harah wanted to seduce him to improper behaviours.) I said: 'Evil one! How can you be arrogant in a world that is not yours, trying to incite one who is destined to become a worm (in the grave). I swear that I will shear you for the sake of Heaven.'" Immediately, I (Shimon HaTzadik) stood up and kissed him on his forehead and said to him "My son, there should be many more Jews like you who commit to a nazir period. It is those like you to whom the Torah refers in the verse 'A man who will make a nazir oath, for the sake of G-d(Bamidbar 6:2)'."

We see that when the man saw how handsome he was (leading to a feeling of arrogance) the yetzer harah was immediately aroused, with the intention of distracting him and leading him astray in order to undermine his existence. For this is the goal of the yetzer harah: To destroy a structure which has a stable existence. When the structure is already in a tenuous state, there is no need to undermine it further, and the yetzer harah leaves it alone. This young man recognized how vulnerable he was to the yetzer harah, and in order to remove (and undermine) the source of his arrogance (which he understood as being the breeding ground for the yetzer harah, and caused by a lack of sufficient clarity of his dependency on G-d) he vowed to cut off his hair for the sake of Heaven. (How much of our arrogance is caused by unwarranted attention given to our appearance? How much of that attention is caused by our need to cover up our own feelings of insecurity?) It was for this reason that Shimon HaTzadik praised him with the blessing that there should be more Jews who undertake neziruth for these pure motivations, and applied the phrase "an oath for the sake of Heaven" to this person.

Normally a person vows neziruth out of remorse for a sin that he committed. But as the neziruth drags on, he may come to regret the neziruth itself, as it becomes more difficult than he anticipated. This regret is even more likely when the person began the neziruth out of feelings of remorse for an earlier act, indicating that his decisions are frequently subject to vacillation. Just as he swung from a sinful act to an act of self-denial, it is possible that, as the difficulty of the neziruth weighs on him, he will once again change his mind.

But this young man wasn't motivated by any regret, making his neziruth purely for the sake of Heaven.
(When the source of activity is reactive, it embodies the potential for regret, and is also built on personal motivations - in this case, the desire to protect himself from damage and to eliminate guilt. So the element of lshaim shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, is lacking. When one's behavior is proactive, as it was in the case of the young man in our story, the motivation is to reach beyond the level at which he finds himself, out of an altruistic desire to elevate himself to become closer to G-d. We have discussed in a number of the shiurim the difference between service of G-d out of love and out of fear. Service out of fear includes a dimension of personal motivation. You are afraid of what will happen to you if you don't do the right thing. Service out of love is purely altruistic, and is therefore on a much higher level. This also has relevance to chumroth, adapting halachic stringencies. The Mahral in Chapter 1 indicates that the proper motivation for these stringencies is an intense love of G-d, with the desire to reach higher spiritual levels in order to come closer to Him. Too often, however, people are motivated to increase stringencies out of fear and self-centered motivations.)

(The Maharal will now elaborate on how each element of the young man's story reflected the purity of his motivations, and the fact that he was not acting in a way in which future regret was likely.)

The reason it mentions that he "came from the south," which is a long distance (from Jerusalem, where the nazir sacrifice was brought) is to emphasize that the person knew when he made the vow that he would have to travel that long distance to bring the sacrifices. This diminished the likelihood that the great distance he would have to travel would subsequently cause him to regret that he took the vow. Only unanticipated difficulties, those which a person rarely experiences, such as abstaining from wine for a significant time, raise the possibility of later regret.

The reason that it mentions that he was "a shepherd for his father in his home town" is because the yetzer harah besets a person when he is idle instead of being involved in productive activity. If the young man's yetzer harah was aroused due to his own idleness, then he would have been responsible for having invited the yetzer harah to entice him. Activities which would then be necessary to neutralize that self-inflicted yetzer harah could not be termed "for the sake of Heaven," but would have been a protective measure taken for his own welfare, in response to his own negligence. Therefore, it was significant that he had been a shepherd (a productive activity), not wasting his time in an idle way and not making himself vulnerable to the yetzer harah. Furthermore, the work of being a shepherd was being done for his father, so he was involved in a mitzvah (honoring his father) further insulating him from the yetzer harah. In addition, the task was being done in his home town, where he felt subject to the influence and authority of his father (which enhances humility, further insulating him from the yetzer harah) . Had he been far away from his home, he may have felt the desire and the ability to resist the authority his father, creating a sense of independence and arrogance, inviting the control of the yetzer harah. A neziruth made to in response to a feeling of independence and arrogance would not be judged purely "for the sake of Heaven." (When a person travels away from home, there is a common tendency to lower our inhibitions compared to the way we would behave at home. This is true for young men and women going away to university or camp, and for adults away on vacation or a business trip. This is an important and very relevant insight that we have from the Maharal's explanation.

But the young man did nothing to induce the yetzer harah. Rather it came upon in an unexpected way, as he unexpectedly saw his reflection in the pond and realized how handsome he was, inducing an urge to show off this beauty. This attack by the yetzer harah was no fault of his, and the response to become a nazir, resulting in his cutting off his hair, was purely "for the sake of Heaven."

(In order to fully to understand the connections being made by the Maharal, we again need to focus on the difference between serving G-d out of love and out of fear, which we discussed in the first chapter, especially in Mishna 3. Most dependable people will intervene to rectify a situation for which they feel responsible, with an element of ego being one of the motivating forces. So in the case where the individual was responsible for creating his vulnerability to the yetzer harah, the response to neutralize that yetzer harah can be viewed as having a self-centered component. But when someone observes a situation for which he has no responsibility, he will only take action to rectify a problem if he feels a connection to the outcome on a transcendent level. You look to help a loved one without examining how the situation developed, because of your love and commitment to that person. It is an altruistic and giving perspective. When someone finds himself in a situation where he has a legitimate excuse for inaction, the motivation for taking action is on a higher plane than action taken when one will be blamed for a negative outcome. So, when our young man found himself beset by the yetzer harah through no fault of his own, it would have been very easy to succumb to that yetzer harah. His proactive response, not looking for excuses but looking to do what needed to be done to fulfill the will of G-d, is the result of "service out of love," and is why Shimon HaTzakik referred to this as a nezirut that was purely "for the sake of Heaven," motivated by something that transcends the individual.)

From every element of this story, we see that the source of the yetzer harah is arrogance, with the goal of distracting man from the purpose of his existence in the world, leading to his ultimate destruction.

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell's and Midreshet Rachel for Women.


Read more!