Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Heaven's Sake

On Shabbos, I heard a dvar Torah from someone whom I know to have a decidedly anti-rationalist orientation. I'm not sure if it was reflected in his dvar Torah. He asked why the spies, who were Gedolei HaDor, would have wanted to make the Bnei Yisrael miserable at the prospect of entering the Land of Israel. His answer was that the spies saw that the Bnei Yisrael were excited about going into the land, which was a deficiency in the purity of their motives; by dampening their enthusiasm, their goal was to make the Bnei Yisrael want to enter solely l'shem Shamayim.

To back this up, the speaker told a story about how when Rav Chaim of Volozhin originally decided to open a yeshivah, he went to the Vilna Gaon, who told him not to do it. A year later he asked again, and the Gra gave him the go-ahead. He asked the Gra to explain his change, and the Gra replied that on the first occasion, he saw that Rav Chaim was excited about it; a year later, he saw that he was less excited, and so it would be l'shem Shamayim.

Now, I'm not sure exactly what the speaker meant. He might have simply meant that sometimes excitement is an inappropriate substitute for genuine good motives. For example, charity campaigns sometimes have some sort of shtick to excite people into giving, which, while better than their not giving, is still not as good as people giving out of genuine altruism. That's a fair point.

On the other hand, the speaker might have been saying something along the lines of a chassidishe maaseh that a friend told me, about a rebbe who stopped giving charity for a month. His reason was that he enjoyed giving charity; he therefore wanted to stop, and train himself to be miserly, so that when he went back to giving charity, it would be l'shem Shamayim.

Now, non-rationalists don't necessarily take such a viewpoint. However, such a viewpoint is only found with non-rationalists.

As I noted a while back, Rambam explains that all mitzvos serve either to inculcate a truth, to improve one's character, or to improve society. To be sure, we can't always figure out how the mitzvos do this - with chukkim, we are obedient to God's instructions even without understanding what they accomplish, since we can be confident that He must have good reasons - but they definitely serve to accomplish something in this world. And with many mitzvos, it's very clear what they serve to accomplish. As such, to give charity out of compassion, and thereby to feel satisfaction from fulfilling one's compassionate drive, is not any kind of deficiency in the mitzvah; it's the whole point of it. (Rambam himself was very extreme in the rationalist approach, believing that such character improvement serves only to prepare one for philosophical perfection, but a more mainstream rationalist approach would agree that identifying with the rationale for the mitzvah is in no way a deficiency.)

Netziv, on the other hand, representing a non-rationalist viewpoint, says that “...all the 'reasons' for mitzvos are only to make them appealing to the intellect... but Heaven forbid to think that they are actually the main intent of the Giver of the Torah…” According to this approach, one should ideally not emotionally identify with the "alleged" reasons for the mitzvos, since they are not the true reasons; they are only an incentive for the weak.

Like I said, I'm not sure what the speaker was saying. But, either way, there is an important point here to appreciate. To be sure, we are obligated to observe the mitzvos whether we identify with them or not. But it's certainly preferable to identify with them - and that means identifying with the sentiments of the mitzvah. As a rebbe of mine once told me: When you do a chessed, you should be happy at helping someone; not smiling only superficially, and internally being focused solely on God. That's exactly what the mitzvah is all about, for Heaven's sake.

57 comments:

  1. "mitzva gedola lihyot b'simcha".

    Well, I guess that's out.

    But wait, now I think I know the secret agenda of many frum schools - make sure our kids are not too excited about learning and mitzvas - that way, they can learn to do it "lishma"!

    Where can I sign up??

    (Sorry, sarcasm is my way of sublimating abject despair!)

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  2. To be sure, you know the dvar torah is anti-rationalist because he referred to the spies as gdolei hador. Nevertheless, I think you're missing the point of the dvar torah, and it's a purely rational one. We fool ourselves all the time (this is scientifically proven). When one wants to do something he thinks is good, but from which he also gains personally, it's difficult to ascertain whether his viewing it as good is really secondary to his personal gain.

    For example, so-called gedolim have fought against measures to prevent pedophiles from teaching our children. Now any non-biased non-indoctrinated person quickly recognizes that this is because by revealing rabbinic pedophiles they lower their own prestige and open themselves up to lawsuits. But the gedolim themselves might not realize this. Some of them may actually believe that they are acting "lishem shamayim."

    The d'var torah and maysalech point out one way to make sure the lishem shamayim is real. Remove your personal gain and re-evaluate. If you still think it's for the sake of heaven, go ahead.

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  3. I think I can see the speaker's point even though I would disagree that this was the spies' motive.
    Excitement is a transient emotion. When one approaches a task with excitement, that task only remains fun and the person doing it remains motivated only as long as the excitement remains.
    It's exciting to start a new business but that wears off once the daily drudgery of paperwork, paying bills, doing the bookkeeping, etc. kicks in.
    Same thing with the meraglim, if I understand the speaker correctly. Yese, it would be exciting to enter Eretz Yisrael and engage in a lighting quick, supernatural conquest of the land but eventually they'd have to settle down, plow the fields, build new homes, etc. The daily drudgery might not be as appealing as the excitement they once felt and this might lead to their resenting being in Israel, chas v'shalom.
    So far from this being non-rationalist, this drash seems to show a keen insight into human psychology.

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  4. Should I no longer look forward to Shabbat? I love Shabbat!
    Daily (most times at least), I enjoy davening.

    "Ivdu et HaShem b'simcha"

    The Nazir brought a karbon chatat for a reason. Since when do Jews take vows of poverty and asceticism?

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  5. >Now, non-rationalists don't necessarily take such a viewpoint. However, such a viewpoint is only found with non-rationalists.

    I disagree. Look up the term "religious enthusiasm." It's actually a very Misnagdishe ma'aseh (whether it's true or not I cannot say).

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  6. Avi said, “you know the dvar torah is anti-rationalist because he referred to the spies as gdolei hador.”

    I’m curious as to what other explanation is given for the description of the spies as “כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם”.

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  7. "I’m curious as to what other explanation is given for the description of the spies as “כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם”."

    You're like an Arab who claims he can't be anti-Semitic because Arabs are Semites. We all know what a "gadol hador" is, and it's Rav Elyashiv, not Bibi Netanyahu.

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  8. > He asked why the spies, who were Gedolei HaDor

    Ow, the anachronism.

    > On the other hand, the speaker might have been saying something along the lines of a chassidishe maaseh that a friend told me, about a rebbe who stopped giving charity for a month. His reason was that he enjoyed giving charity; he therefore wanted to stop, and train himself to be miserly, so that when he went back to giving charity, it would be l'shem Shamayim.

    This sounds very much like a Christian value, the idea that something is good only if you suffer for it. Aren’t Jews supposed to serve Hashem b’simcha?

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  9. It's not that one should suffer. The idea is that one should only feel the joy of fulfilling God's will, not the joy of the act itself.

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  10. "I’m curious as to what other explanation is given for the description of the spies as “כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם”."

    Military leaders. Note the names are different from the Nesi'im named earlier in be'Midbar.

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  11. Why didn't you ask the speaker what was his intention? It may not be too late to still do so. I hope he meant it bederch drush and not as their true intention.

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  12. I am not sure about your characterization of the Neziv's approach. It seems to me he is saying that there is always more to the mitzvah than we can understand but that there are rational purposes that we do understand. He certainly believes that all the mitzvot do have reasons and purposes as he believes that God is more like a physician than a king.
    SInce he treats issues in many places in his commentary one has to put all of the comments ot gether in order to arrive at a final judgement about what he is saying.
    Ii treat some of these issues on my Neziv dedicated website called The Profound Word.
    Thank you for your inspiring work.
    Howard Joseph

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  13. Joel:
    I’m curious as to what other explanation is given for the description of the spies as “כֹּל נָשִׂיא בָהֶם”.

    besides Avi's straightforward answer, see Targum Yonasan on the pasuk, tishalchun min kadam kol amaeikol dibehon. That is, it was each nasi who sent, not each nasi who was a scout.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  14. > It's not that one should suffer. The idea is that one should only feel the joy of fulfilling God's will, not the joy of the act itself.

    I understand, the suffering itself isn’t the point. But according to the story, one should not enjoy giving tzedakah – because then you’re giving at least in part because you enjoy it, and not totally lshaim ahmayim. Doing things you don’t enjoy is, to an extent, suffering.

    Again, the idea that something is only virtuous if you don’t enjoy it, and best if you suffer for it, seems Christian.

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  15. Josh,

    Nice try, but Calev and Yehoshua picked themselves while the others chose not to go?

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  16. I don't understand why some of our commenters attempt to justify the so-called d'var torah of this post, and why R' Natan hedges his disapproval. The very idea that one should strive to dampen the enthusiasm of those who are to be engaged in fulfilling a divine imperative, is perverse. The story cited of the Vilna Gaon and R' Chaim of Volozhin is misunderstood. If true, the story should rather be understood that the Gaon disapproved of the ego involvement of his student in the project, rather than of his enthusiasm. One can or should offer a realistic picture of prospects for an enthusiastic do-gooder, as opposed to deflating his enthusiasm for its own sake. Deflating enthusiasm has its source in jealousy and cynicism rather than some religious motivation.

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  17. Is the Netziv you cite discussing all mitzvos, or only bein adam lamakom, or perhaps specifically chukim? I've heard numerous scholars advocate an approach similar to that you attribute to him, but specifically in regard to mitzvos bein adam lamakom, not mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro.

    Often cited in this regard is the midrash (quoted in Rashi on Chumash) that says that a person should wish he could eat pork, and should refrain from doing so only because God has commanded him to refrain. The scholars I have heard have said that this approach does not apply to mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro; when fulfilling such a mitzvah, one should want to be doing it. Mitzvah bein adam lachaveiro performance should (ideally) be in character, not against the grain of one's personality. Could that be what Netziv means?

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  18. mosad:
    'nice try'
    i don't understand. take it up with the author of Targum (Pseudo) Yonasan, and tell him 'nice try'.

    'but Calev and Yehoshua picked themselves while the others chose not to go?'
    What do you mean by this? the nasi of yehuda was Nachon ben Aminadav (perek 7) and he chose Calev; the nasi of Ephraim (see perek 7) was Elishama ben Ammi, and he chose Yehoshua.

    I am not sure how you are parsing what Targum Yonasan wrote, or what I wrote. Or maybe I am missing something else...

    What I meant, again, is that each nasi from amongst the nesiim chose a scout for his shevet, and Moshe approved them.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  19. But the fact that the spies were punished and caused a huge problem including TishbAv, I think its a great lesson. DON'T think that you should not be excited about a mitzvah. One might think that you should be misarable in order to do it lishmah, but this is a MISTAKE as we see form the spies...

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  20. Y. Aharon look, since we don't know what was his point some chose to see it as urging people act leshem shomaim. The drush itself is obviously completely bizarre. Just listen to this: Gdoilei Ysrael lied to kllal Yisrael and were mozi dibas hoortez in order to motivate the kllal Yisrael to act leshem shomaim! Shomu shomaim! Can you get more twisted than this?

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  21. So the Gedolei HaDor can err, then? :)

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  22. DES: this is the Rambam's distinction. See the sixth chapter of the Rambam's "eight chapters" (introduction to Avot) who distinguishes between "so called" mitzvot sikhliyot and mitzvot shim'iyot (rational mitzvot vs. chukim) regarding how one should feel about their performance.

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  23. I'm really quite fascinated here:

    Are people ignoring the Mussar movement, or just for some reason it doesn't apply in this case?

    The Musar movement strongly believes in temporarily changing your circumstances, so that you can improve your internal workings and motivations, and not just your actions.

    This d'var torah is straight out of the mussar movement's book. It is neither rationalist, nor anti-rationalist.

    What many commentators seem to be missing is the fact that these are temporary changes intended to bring about a longer lasting improvement.

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  24. Perhaps it's just that I learned to be neurotic in New York, and it's not an authentic Jewish value, but I think that doing the mitzvot should not be a cause for self-satisfaction. A life full of the commandments should be a life full of self-doubt.

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  25. Mordechai GordonJune 20, 2011 at 1:36 PM

    Well said Y. Aharon.
    Think of it in relationship terms: If I say to my wife, I want to show you that I am completely doing this out of love and not selfishness so I will make sure that I derive no pleasure from the act at all, she would have me carted off to the loony bin! Such an approach is sick within a human relationship, why should it be different for a relationship with God? The whole point is mutuality. If I didn't get pleasure niether would she. The shared aspect is the definition of relationship.

    People who see self negation as a prerequisite to service of God do so perhaps because they see mitzvot as mechanistic, achieving some esoteric purpose in the "upper worlds" which could be sullied by my impure input.
    A more rational approach sees an act as what it is, what is invested in it and as an expression of a relationship - the more real it is, the more it means, not in some airy fairy way, but as an expression of who I am and how I relate to God (or my wife).
    Of course, on the other side is self serving egotism which negates the relationship too, from the other direction, erring on the side of sexual harassment, or in the extreme, rape.
    So the way I see it there are two extremes - self negation and self absorption, both of which are dysfunctional, whereas balanced mutuality is the healthy approach.

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  26. This d'var torah sounds a little like something that might have come from Yeshayahu Leibowitz. As far as he was concerned, anything done to saitsfy a personal desire rather than to serve God has the whiff of Avodah Zarah.

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  27. What I don't understand is why everybody is ignoring the fact that according to this drush the gdoilei Yisroel deliberately LIED and mislead the people? This the main problem here. Ametuere, is this the way to 'improve your internal workings and motivations, and not just your actions'? Is this Mussar? I think its an immoral idea and a really stupid drush.

    But wait, here is an idea from parshas Vayeirah by Serdihaler(or whatever) Rebbe from Boro Park. Why didn't Avrohom Avinu perform a Bris Mila upon himself until he was commanded by G-d? Because out of his excitement to fulfill the mitzva he was afraid that he might castrate himself! After he had been commanded to fulfill the mitzva the Divine command was 'mezamzem' his enthusiasm and was a 'shmira' for him to actually go ahead with the circumcision. This has been printed!
    Why are we so twisted and crazy?

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  28. How about the story with the Gaon being thrilled that his shamash bought the etrog at the cost of the gaon's schar for the mitzvah?
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  29. Mordechai Gordon (also Carol), thanks for the support and explication of the viewpoint that strongly objects to the posted 'd'var torah'. I would add that the torah itself inculcates the view that one should serve GOD with joy, "Instead of having served Hashem your GOD with joy and good cheer out of abundance" (Deut. 28:47).

    My complaint is therefore directed not only against the thesis of the unnamed rabbi, but also against those elements in the Mussar movement who seek to deny joy in religious service and who consider only duties. The latter, joyless point of view I consider objectionable and counterproductive, but it is not irrational.

    What is irrational is the attempt to cast the 10 spies as misguided saints. While one could attempt to interpret the original report of those spies in such a light, it becomes irrational in view of their later statements. "We can't bring the people (to Canaan); it is too strong for us (or Him)" (the word 'mimenu' can be used in the sense of 'from us' or 'from him')(Num. 13:31). This statement is far more cynical than one merely aimed at a moderation of enthusiasm - if not actual heresy. It is followed by statements of those spies that exaggerated the difficulties of surviving in the land and the hugeness of the inhabitants.

    These men aren't misguided saints, but grievous sinners who caused the wandering and death of an entire generation. The question of why such men were chosen is a separate matter. Perhaps it was just tribal politics. Moshe is clearly not the leader he once was in allowing such an scenario to play out.

    In any case, the rational the rabbi invented is entirely strange even given his assumption that those spies were righteous men.

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  30. I forgot to mention something! The speaker said that this dvar Torah was from the Ben Ish Chai. Can someone look it up?

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  31. "The idea is that one should only feel the joy of fulfilling God's will, not the joy of the act itself."

    No no no... You're missing the point.
    It's that the excitement was indicative of some ulterior driving motive such as the glory of leading a famous institution. He was feeling the joy of only the base and transient earthly benefits not "the joy of the act".

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  32. Sounds like Leibowitz to me..and as much as I may dislike his philosophy, he certainty was a "rationalist"

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  33. As far as chukkim are concerned, there are no chukkim, at least not in the sense in which we think, i.e. A Mitzvo devoid of reason.

    However, there is a reason for every Mitzvo (chuke included) Hashem has commanded us with.

    We may not know what that reason is, or we may not understand it, but there is a reason.

    A person is both physical and spiritual. Some Mitzvos are more for the spiritual part of us, and are therefore less understandable, and other Mitzvos are totally for the spiritual part of us, and therefore completely not understandable.

    The more spiritual awareness we develop within ourselves, the more capable we are to understand them.

    It is therefore our obligation to search out the precise reasons behind the Torah's teachings, examining and clarifying to understand everything.
    This is learning Torah for its own sake. Tractate Shabbos, 63a

    So, the more reasons one has, for a mitzvo, the more reasons one has to perform them.

    To feel joy in the act of the performance of a Mitzvo, is fulfilling God's will.

    To perform any mitzvo with joy and enthusiasm is l'shem Shamayim.

    Giving charity with joy, is l'shem Shamayim.

    Being joyful is being close to God.

    Rabbi Zelig Pliskin would have a field day with this post.

    {"Now, non-rationalists don't necessarily take such a viewpoint. However, such a viewpoint is only found with non-rationalists."} Thank God for that, and what a relief. (I mean it)

    The Baal Shem Tov taught "There is absolutely nothing that is devoid of God's essence." Likutim Yekarim 14d
    The awareness of this fact, is the ultimate l'shem Shamayim.
    o

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  34. See here, in Ben Yehoyada from the Ben Ish Chai, in the paragraph beginning veHinei yadua. This as part of his commentary on the aggada on Sotah 35a.

    While this is their motivation, it came from the yetzer hara who misled them.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  35. Ben Ish Chai (בן יהוידע)on Sotah 35:


    והנה ידוע, שהמרגלים בתחילתם היו צדיקים...אך בתחלה הטעה אותם היצה"ר שיעץ אותם להוציא דבה רעה על הארץ, והראה להם שהם עושים מצוה בדבה רעה זו, כדי לזכות את ישראל, ולתת להם שכר על ביאתם לארץ כי בלי הדבה אם יבואו לארץ, אין להם שכר על ביאתם

    The piece is much longer, but that's the core idea quoted above. It's a bit of a distortion of the Ben Ish Chai who makes it clear that it was a bad to start with. The Vilna Gaon example is clearly out of place. Indeed, assuming you're quoting the rabbi correctly, the rabbi has distorted the Ben Ish Chai! The Ben Ish Chai explains that the spies wanted to increase שכר for their Aliyah- nowhere does he write they wanted the Aliyah to be לשם שמים!! Maybe this rabbi should go back to the Ben Ish Chai and read it again.

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  36. WFB:
    Rambam distinguishes between Mitzvot Sichliot and 'so called' Mitzvot Shimiyot, not the other way around.

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  37. Now I am totally lost. Yetzer Horah caused the meraglim to mislead the Jews in order that they should get sachar?! Yetzer Horah is concerned with Jews not getting sachar for coming to Eretz Yisroel?! ONG, I am fit to be tied.

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  38. Carol,
    The Ben Ish Chai isn't saying that the יצה"ר was interested in extra reward- rather the יצה"ר desired to create an ordeal/test that otherwise would have existed. The שכר was just the enticement to ensnare the spies to fall into the satanic scheme. He wasn't interested in them overcoming the concocted ordeal, but in their downfall. An ordinary Aliyah did not present the possibility of a downfall.

    ואל תביאנו לא לידי ניסיון

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  39. Carol:
    yetzer hara wanted to cause the meraglim to sin. but how could he, when they were such tzadikim. therefore, he misled them by convincing them of this mistaken idea about sachar. this was something near and dear to the hearts of the tzadikim, the meraglim. not that the yetzer hara hoped by this to increase the sechar of the Jews.

    kt,
    josh

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  40. Josh:

    This is getting worse, not better. Now the tzaddikim deliberately mislead the Jewish nation in order that they and the nation should receive reward? Meaning that these tzaddikim serve G-d in order to receive a reward?! To lie in order to receive a reward from G-d is their concept of Avodas Hashem?! How low can we go?

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  41. Carol, please submit your comments only once (I am getting three submissions of each comment).

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  42. Carol:
    I am not saying I agree with the Ben Ish Chai.

    But the term he uses is לזכות את ישראל. They weren't in it for reward for themselves, but for reward for klal yisrael. And reward is the natural consequence of doing a good thing. So cast it as that they wanted to give klal yisrael this supreme opportunity to do a great mitzvah with the best possible intentions.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  43. The Ben Ish Chai explains that the spies wanted to increase שכר for their Aliyah- nowhere does he write they wanted the Aliyah to be לשם שמים!!

    Ephraim - wouldn't that increased שכר be due to a more לשמה motivation? Seems to me to be what the Ben Ish Chai is saying.

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  44. הקדמות הרמב"ם מהדורת ר"י שילת, עמ' רמה: ויקראון קצת חכמינו האחרונים אשר חלו חלי 'המדברים': "המצוות השכליות". ואין ספק כי הנפשר אשר תתאוה לדבר מהם ותשתוקק אליו--היא נפש חסרה, וכי הנפש המעולה לא תתאוה לדבר מאלה הרעות כלל... אבל הדברים אשר אמרו החכמים שהמושל בנפשו מהם יותר טוב ושכרו יותר גדות--הן המצוות השמעיות, וזה נכון כי אלמלא התורה לא היו רעות כלל

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  45. Carol, you have a modern mode of thinking. The Ben Ish Chai (and those who appreciate such a 'vort') do not. There are countless examples of such things. Recently I was reading a story in Shimusha Shel Torah about Rav Shach. The story is that the Ponovezher Rav was telling a gathering of bochurim that he believed that because of the Holocaust, the worst tragedy the Jew's experienced, God compensated the great loss with a tremendous growth of Torah in a short time, and that today's yeshiva students have very keen minds. One bochur interjected that whether the Holocaust is the worst tragedy is actually a machlokes. The Gemara gives two opinions as to how many were killed at Beitar - 4,000,000 or 40,000,000. According to the latter opinion the Holocaust was obviously smaller in scale. The Ponovezher Rav replied, "You see! That's an example of what I was talking about!"

    Now putting aside a question like how serious was he, surely this story raises several questions, none of them which put the bochur or the Ponovezher Rav in a very positive light, most likely, in our view. Yet this is a story told by Rav Shach, approved of and included in this book by his grandson and son-in-law, and presumably it inspires rather than repels the masses who read this book.

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  46. 'Carol, you have a modern mode of thinking. The Ben Ish Chai (and those who appreciate such a 'vort') do not.'

    No. There is nothing modern about not lying. It's a Torah prohibition. There is nothing modern in believing that to serve G-d for a reward is wrong. These ideas are in Pirkei Avos(I,3) and in Rambam Hakdoma Leperek Chelek among many other places. The fact that people get inspired by something is not a proof of anything weather it's Rav Shach or whoever. So I don't understand your point or the ending with Beitar.

    Josh, I understood your explanations. It's a drush and not a historical reality, but it reflects a value system that is twisted and this is regrettable.

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  47. >No. There is nothing modern about not lying. It's a Torah prohibition.

    There's something modern about subjecting a homily with the aim of promoting the traditional view that everyone in Tanach are tzadikim of unspeakable proportions, unless the tradition itself is that they are reshoim of unspeakable proportions, to withering critical thinking.

    The chiddush here is that we're talking about the meraglim, but that just shows his prowess as a darshan.

    I brought the other story in because it appears that your objection is that you find the morality embedded in the idea all wrong. That's simply how you feel. Many others will feel that if the Ben Ish Chai said it then it represents a Torah truth, regardless of how it makes you feel.

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  48. There is a famous story (probably apocryphal) of a student of an adam gadol who spent a few hours on Purim looking for a poor person to be mekayim "matanos l'evyonim". He finally found a poor person, and gave him the money. After Purim, he told his rebbi what had happened. The rebbi said, "Let's try to find him a parnassah." The student protested, "But I need an ani for next Purim!" I have heard this point stated succintly: A person is not a "cheftza shel mitzva," that you deal with dispassionately like a lulav and esrog.

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  49. 'Many others will feel that if the Ben Ish Chai said it then it represents a Torah truth, regardless of how it makes you feel'.


    Fine. Then explain to me this Torah true morality that allows:

    1. To betray the nation on whose behalf you were sent.

    2. To try to outsmart God in fulfilling his commandment.

    3. All of the above in order to get reward from G-d.

    I am not against them being tzaddikim, but I just don't see how they are according to this drush. Drasha she'll dofi is a Talmudic and not a modern concept.

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  50. "wouldn't that increased שכר be due to a more לשמה motivation?"

    Probably.

    "Seems to me to be what the Ben Ish Chai is saying."

    No, it's an irrelevant corollary. The Ben Ish Chai is saying the יצה"ר seduced the spies with promises of increased reward- as opposed to a higher level מצוה.

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  51. The Rav Shach story is clear. He was trying to encourage his students and provide them with optimism. When a student brought an irrelevant objection, the Rosh Yeshiva simply stuck to the agenda at hand- and continued giving chizuk to his students!

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  52. >The Rav Shach story is clear. He was trying to encourage his students and provide them with optimism. When a student brought an irrelevant objection, the Rosh Yeshiva simply stuck to the agenda at hand- and continued giving chizuk to his students!

    I agree with that, but I am certain that the reader is not supposed to think that bochur is kind of a dope for citing a clear Gemara. The reader is not supposed to think that neither 40,000,000 nor 4,000,000 Jews could possibly have been killed at Beitar, to touch upon only one of the several "problems" with this story.

    You are correct that the way the Ponovezher Rav dealt with it can be seen in an entirely positive light, although I have a feeling that he too had no problem accepting the possibility that 40,000,000 were killed.

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  53. This is from Rabbi Shlomo Porter, the Director of Etz Chaim in Baltimore. You might find this interesting.


    A THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

    Torah Portion: Korach
    Moshe (Moses), our master teacher, the humblest of all men, stands up to the challenge of Korach and his group of 250 leaders. Korach says to Moshe, "Why do we need a High Priest? Aren't we all holy? Does a library full of holy books really need a Mezzuza?" Korach's logic sounds good, so why did G-d consider him such a negative and detrimental force?

    The answer is that G-d's plan doesn't have to conform to our logic. We only try to understand the reason behind each Mitzvah (commandment) in order that the Mitzvos should teach us more lessons. But, when our logic tells us not to put up a Mezzuza where the Torah requires a Mezzuza we need to conform to G-d's infinite wisdom.

    This reminds me of a great story about a captain of a large ship who sees a light coming closer and closer to his vessel. He signals the other ship to change direction. The light signals back that it will not change direction. The captain angrily responds, "I am a captain with high standing and you better move." The light responds and says, "I am a light house and I am not moving."

    The Torah is our lighthouse. When we accept the laws even when they don't make sense to us something magical happens. We begin to understand the eternal lessons of the Torah that have preserved us as a people to this very day.

    When we practice “Na’aseh - we will do,” then we will receive insight “Nishma,” I will understand. Sometimes our ego gets in the way of a deeper understanding of Torah. That is exactly the difference between Moshe, the humble master of Torah, and Korach, the arrogant know it all who lost everything.

    Good Shabbos,
    Rabbi Shlomo Porter

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  54. joshwaxman, I don't see that the ben-yoyada cites the ben-ish-chai in the selection that you linked. In any case, this explanation turns the 10 spies into fools. Of course, their continuing statements following the demurral of the 2 kosher spies, makes them worse than fools. The question remains as to why Moshe selected or allowed fools or sinful people for a critical mission. The view that they were actually righteous, but mistaken, doesn't really answer the question.

    While I disagree entirely with the approach of the rabbi of the post or that of the ben-yoyada (or ben-ish-chai - assuming that he was the originator of the vort), I would have moderated my language in dealing with the words of important religious figures.

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  55. Y. Aharon,

    Here's a direct link:
    http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14475&st=&pgnum=65

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  56. Now that I looked at the ben-yoyada reference again, I see that I was ignorant of authorship. The hebrewbooks caption states that both the Ben Ish Chai and sefer Yoyada were authored by Rav Chaim Yosef David Azulai (Chida) of Baghdad. I didn't intend to comment disrepectfully about a leading 18th century posek, I continue to respectfully disagree, however.

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  57. I just did it again. Kindly disregard my last historical reference. A quick read of the Hebrewbooks caption left me with the impression that the Chida (Chaim Yosef David Azulai) of J'lem (a major 18th century posek)was the author of the "Ben Ish Chai" and "Ben Yoyada". Actually it was Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, a major sefardi posek of the 19th century.

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