Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Future Rabbi Slifkin?

My son Simcha Shalom, of "long animals" fame, was born nearly eight years ago, right at the turbulent time of the Great Torah-Science Controversy (due to which he received his name). Recently, in the week of parashas Shekalim, he came home from the school and drew the following diagram:
He explained that the machatzit hashekel teaches us a lesson about tzedakah. The middle letter of machatzit, tzaddi, represents tzedakah, charity. If you are close to tzedakah (I think he meant on the giving end), then you merit life, symbolized by the letters chet, yud being adjacent to the tzaddi. If you are far from it, then you deserve death, symbolized by mem, tav being far it.

I'm normally not a fan of such wordplay, but this one is really neat, and it teaches a valuable lesson. I think it's great!

24 comments:

  1. This seems to be an adaptation of the comment of the Gra on this posuk.

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  2. Hopefully YU will offer him a full scholarship in honor of his famous father :)

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  3. Rabbi,
    Why would you say you're not a fan of such wordplay?

    Now, if somebody was to claim that this kind of analysis was to prove a proposition in the same way that the Pythagorean Theorem could be proved, I would agree with you.

    But that really misses the point.

    This kind of wordplay shows several things.

    1) That we love G-d's words so much that we think about them at this type of depth, and try to derive the message of justice and kindness from any aspect of it at all.

    2) Most (probably all) of the wordplay of this type that I can think of has a really nice message. Nobody's deriving that we should kill Albanians or something from such subtle clues. Just to give charity, be kind, etc.

    3) It's a harmless way to spend time. There's something to be said for that.

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  4. Ari, I agree with you. The problem is that people sometimes do try to make the kind of Pythagorean type analyses that you mention!

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  5. This brings back memories.

    Back in the day when I learned in Chabad Yeshiva's they had a similar vort.

    They explained that the Tzadi represented the Tzadik of the generation, who was of course the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    If you were close to him, then you were considered to be a Chai, soneone who is alive. If however you were distant from him, you were considered like a Mes, as if you were dead.

    Funny to see this being used in a different way on a rationalist website.

    I guess it jut goes to show that if we try hard enough we can get the verses to say almost anything we want them to...

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  6. What does the Lubavitcher Rebbe have to do with Machatzis hashekel?

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  7. You'll probably have to ask the Rebbe that question.

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  8. He used to hand out dollar bills

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  9. Rabbi Slifkin: I'm with Berl on this one. One can skin this vort in different ways,

    It's a cute vort, but really, is it worthy of a post? Sharing one's nachas fun kinder is fine, but it should be reserved for close friends and family.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  10. Joe in AustraliaMarch 1, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    It's quite likely that this is an old vort about Chassidic leaders in general and was only recently applied to the late Rebbe Z"TzL. In earlier times it was standard practice to give rebbeim a "punn" (P"idyon N"efesh), which is almost certainly conceptually tied to the half shekel.

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  11. @Lawrence Kaplan,

    The "vort" per se may not be worthy of a post, but what came out in the comments IS worthwhile. Particularly R. Slifkin's saying:

    The problem is that people sometimes do try to make the kind of Pythagorean type analyses that you mention!

    There's a tendency to either want to ascribe divinity to drash (i.e. that the drash was preordained by HKB"H and has objective/cosmic significance), or to scoff at it, saying it's absurd to think that the text could mean such a thing.

    But "wordplay" is just that - human beings playing with words. One might say that our playfulness and our penchant for identifying patterns is a divine gift, but to say that the patterns we find are themselves divine is overreaching.

    Drash is ALL "asmachta". It's a way to hook our values and teachings onto a piece text - a great mnemonic/pedagogical device, nothing more and also nothing less.

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  12. Joe in Australia said:"It's quite likely that this is an old vort about Chassidic leaders in general and was only recently applied to the late Rebbe Z"TzL."

    I recently heard that the Chabad Rebbes, as a matter of principle, were supported solely from the money of the Chassidim. Even when there was a considerable sum, that they could invest in property and the like, they refrained from doing so. (This dependence would strenghten their sense of obligation to the Chassidim.)

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  13. may you have continued nachat

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  14. L. Kaplan,

    We are his close family and friends (kind of). At the very least, a lot of us are his "fan base."

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  15. Aw, shucks, Yehudah! You are too kind!

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  16. There is a similar 'letterplay' vort from the Ohr HaMeir whose yartzheit is on Purim. He says about the word 'Matanos' as in matanos la'evyonim, that the middle letters spell 'tein' (give). Remove them (or stay far from those letters) and you are left with Maveis (death). Tzedaka Tztzil mimaves...

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  17. I don't know about the propriety of teaching this vertel to 8 year olds. Kids can be very literal and take the 'lesson' too seriously. If a child having been exposed to the idea that avoiding charity leads to death sees his parent turning away a meshulach at his door, he may be concerned that this parent will die. The correct idea, it seems to me, is to teach only the positive message that charity is life-saving, both for the recipient and giver.

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  18. If it was my son, I'd be proud. Don't worry, he'll sort out the good from the questionable as he grows up.

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  19. This may be shocking to some commenters who are not enthusiastic about you posting this.

    If you look in Rabbi Twersky's Living each day (Or was it Living Each Week? I'm not sure which one it was), where he gives a vort or a few vorts on each parsha, he gave this exact same vort as your son. So your son was mechavin to Rabbi Twerski.

    I love how people try to tell you what's "worthy of a post" on your own blog.

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  20. Lawrence Kaplan: Are you the Jewish Nachas Sheriff? From where did you derive your laws?

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  21. Student V: It is you who is being condescending to R. Slifkin. His blog is a very serious one, for which I greatly admire him, and. unike R. Twersky, he does not normally post cute vertlach. I have no laws. I just did not think it was worthy of a post given R. Slikin's high standards for his posts.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  22. To Lawrence Kaplan-

    In what way was I condescending to Rabbi Slifkin?

    It's not a vort of Rabbi Slifkin, it's a vort of his son. No one forced you to read it. Rabbi Twerski's book is published and respected for its parsha insights, not a random "cute" blogpost he put up. Rabbi Slifkin is understandably proud of his son, and I don't see what you problem is - This is a blog, not a halachic journal!

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  23. Student V: FTR: the name of this blog is "Rationalist Judaism"-- not "Parshah Insights." I do not see what your problem is. I did not think this post appropriate for this blog, given its nature. You do. Fine. I am not attacking your view, I do not know why you feel it necesary to attack mine.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  24. "I recently heard that the Chabad Rebbes, as a matter of principle, were supported solely from the money of the Chassidim. Even when there was a considerable sum, that they could invest in property and the like, they refrained from doing so. (This dependence would strenghten their sense of obligation to the Chassidim.)"

    Is this before or after the invention of the Chabad Telethon?

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