Toldos 5781


Morbid perspectives[1]

ויאמר עשו הנה אנכי הולך למות ולמה-זה לי בכרה
Eisav said: “Behold, I am going to die! Why then do I need this right of the firstborn?”[2]

Chazal teach us[3] a formula to defeat our yetzer hara, our evil inclination. First, use your yetzer hatov, your inclination for the good, as a weapon to battle the yetzer hara. If that works, great. If this doesn’t work, Chazal say to toil in Torah. If that works, great. If it doesn’t, we are told to say the verse of Shema Yisrael. If that works, great. If this doesn’t work, then we are to remember the day of death. Considering this is the final suggestion, it sounds like it’s foolproof. If all else fails, remembering the day of death will surely silence a person’s yetzer hara. If that’s so, why is it the last in the list? Shouldn’t it be the first thing people try out?

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Acharei Mos / Kedoshim 5780


Ordinances and statutes[1]

את-משפטי תעשו ואת-חקתי תשמרו ללכת בהם אני יקוק אלקיכם
Perform my ordinances and safeguard my statutes, to walk in them; I am Hashem your G-d[2]

There’s a fundamental question regarding how to relate to mitzvos and personal inclinations[3]. What’s greater: a person who has a natural desire to break a prohibition, and overcomes their inclinations by listening to the Torah? Or someone who has no desire towards such prohibitions. It would seem from the words of our Sages[4] that the former is more meritorious. Someone who doesn’t desire to break the Torah isn’t as accomplished as someone who does yet overcomes their challenge. However, there are philosophers that say the opposite. They consider it lowly to desire to do evil, and meritorious to only desire to do good. However, this doesn’t have to be a dispute.

The Rambam suggests[5] that the Sages and philosophers are discussing different topics. There are two different types of mitzvos. One type is mitzvos that are highly logical[6]. Even if the Torah hadn’t commanded them, they would have been proper to follow[7]. These types of mitzvos, due to their inherent morality, would be repugnant to want to transgress. These logical prohibitions include murder, theft, overcharging, and damaging others’ property. There’s nothing lofty about wanting to kill someone, yet overcoming one’s baser desires and holding back. Of course it’s better to not want to kill. This is what the philosophers were discussing.

Our Sages on the other hand were discussing mitzvos that are not inherently logical. If the Torah hadn’t prohibited them, we wouldn’t have thought of them on our own. These are often referred to as Chukim, or decrees of Hashem. The Sages go as far as to say[8] that a person shouldn’t say “I’m disgusted by eating pig”[9], rather they should say “I desire to eat pig, but my Creator forbids it”. The same with the prohibition against wearing forbidden mixtures. There’s nothing wrong with desiring to wear them, as they’re not obviously immoral[10]. Once we know that Hashem commands against them, it’s meritorious to listen.

This division of mitzvos can be very readily gleamed from a verse in this week’s parsha. The Torah says את מפשטי תעשו, perform my Mishpatim, and חקתי תשמרו, safeguard my Chukim. Mishpatim are often translated as ordinances, and Chukim are often translated as statutes. More specifically, Mishpatim are the first category of mitzvos that we’ve discussed. They are mitzvos that are self evident why they were commanded. They are more obvious that they are moral. Chukim on the other hand are the second category of mitzvos. Their reasoning is not apparent to us, and we follow them because Hashem said so. Why does the Torah use the word תעשו, perform, when it comes to Mishpatim, and תשמרו, safeguard, with regards to Chukim?

Consider for a moment the following scenario: A merchant asks his friend to purchase for him some merchandise. If the merchant explicitly says, “Go here and buy this particular item”, and the friend complies, it’s not reasonable to attribute the purchase to the friend. He didn’t decide to purchase something; he merely followed his friend’s orders. Now, if the merchant were to instead say, “Go and buy merchandise”, then the purchase could be considered something the friend performed. It was enough of his own action to give him credit.

With this scenario in mind, we can have a fuller appreciation of the verse from our parsha. The Mishpatim, the mitzvos that are self-evident, are described as something to perform. This is because they are considered a mitzvah whose performance is attributed to us, because we would have done them anyways. As opposed to the Chukim, the non-logical mitzvos, which are described as something to safeguard. They’re performance is not attributed to us, similar to the friend performing the merchant’s command. They’re simply to be dutifully followed[11].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Sefer Apiryon by Rav Shlomo Gantzfried, the author of Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, to Leviticus 18:4

[2] Leviticus loc. cit.

[3] Shemoneh Perakim by the Rambam, Chapter 6

[4] As evident by Sukkah 52a, which says כל הגדול מחברו יצרו גדול ממנו, the greater a person is the greater their temptations. As well, the more temptations, the more reward for overcoming them (Avos 5:23)

[5] Loc. cit.

[6] Some call them מצוות שכליות. For a sampling of sources that address this type of mitzvah, see Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 1:13 and Yoreh Deah 240:12, who addresses why Hashem commanded מצוות שכליות if they were self-understood, Dor Revii Chullin Pesicha Kolleles § 2 s.v. עוד משל אחת, who feels מצוות שכליות could sometimes even take precedence over explicit prohibitions, and Chavos Yair § 166, who says the rule that the Heavenly court doesn’t punish under the age of twenty (see only applies to מצוות שכליות, but not to prohibitions that are explicit in the Torah. As well, see the following sources which say that even non-Jews are obligated in all מצוות שכליות: Rav Nissim Gaon Introduction to Shas (printed at the beginning of Berachos), Rabbeinu Bachaye to Genesis 18:20, and the Netziv’s approbation to Ahavas Chesed, all brought by Minchas Asher Bereishis § 40. See also Makkos 9b, which shows that מצוות שכליות, even though they’re not explicit in the Torah, warrant punishment, even for non-Jews (this is also brought by the Chavos Yair)

[7] Yoma 67b

[8] Toras Kohanim to Leviticus 20:26, brought by Rashi ad. loc.

[9] Chazal as we have it say pig, but the Rambam loc. cit. quotes it as milk and meat. He must have had a different version. He also quotes it from Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, whereas we have it quoted from Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah. Rashi loc. cit. quotes it the way we have it, although we have אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר and he quotes it as נפשי קצה בבשר חזיר

[10] The Rambam loc. cit. also lists forbidden relations (עריות) as an example of Chukim. What’s surprising is Yoma loc. cit., the source for the Rambam regarding מצוות שכליות, lists עריות as something self-evidently prohibited! See Rav Kapach’s commentary to the Rambam who suggests the Rambam didn’t have עריות in his version of the gemarra. The problem is I was told by my friend R’ Ari Deifik that eight manuscripts/versions of the Talmud in our possession have the word עריות, and it is quoted by many Geonim and Rishonim as is. For another approach, see the Maharsha ad. loc. Although he has a different understanding of the gemarra than the Rambam, the way the Maharsha reads it, we don’t see עריות being classified as one of the מצוות שכליות. In any event, the Rambam is simply coming from Toras Kohanim loc. cit., which as we have it lists עריות as one of the Chukim. It would seem then to be a dispute between these two sources. One possible resolution is to suggest that the עריות in either passage are referring to different types. See Moreh Nevuchim 3:49, where the Rambam finds the prohibition of a man with his daughter to be more obviously prohibited than a man with his mother-in-law. Perhaps Yoma is discussing the former, whereas Toras Kohanim is discussing the latter

[11] Sefer Apiryon points out that Yoma loc. cit. specifically uses our verse to distinguish between the two types of mitzvos. It could have used many other verses which speak of משפטים and חוקים (for example, Leviticus 19:37 and Deuteronomy 4:14). He suggests that it is because it was bothered by this distinction between תעשו with משפטים and תשמרו with חוקים that specifically our verse uses[Print]