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The Oral Torah is the Living Torah

Laws of Mamrim. 1:1:

The Supreme Sanhedrin in Jerusalem is the essence of the Oral Law. They are the pillars of instruction from whom statutes and judgments issue forth for the entire Jewish people. Concerning them, the Torah promises Deuteronomy 17:11: “You shall do according to the laws which they shall instruct you….” This is a positive commandment. Whoever believes in Moses and in his Torah is obligated to make all of his religious acts dependent on this court and to rely on them.

I highly recommend for everyone to study the subsequent two chapters on his own. As explained by R’ Kappah, ideally, and in the future, the halacha will once again be determined by a Sanhedrin. The sages will not look to the Talmud in order to derive the halacha like we do today (although perhaps we could make an argument that they stopped doing so in the last centuries and have taken on a common-law approach of only following immediate precedent). This got me to thinking about the nature of the living Oral Law and the Written Law.

When we study living organisms, whether flaura or fauna, it is sometimes in our interest to preserve specimens in certain states, but when we use the methods at our disposal to do so, we kill those organisms, taking away their potential for further  growth and propagation. When you stick something in preservatives or freeze it, it may last indefinitely, but it will never more become part of the cycle that characterizes life.

The Torah was given with two components. The written law is frozen and immutable, it may not be added to or detracted from, and is to be copied from generation to generation exactly as is. It is the DNA of the living Torah, but the actual organism is the Oral Law, which was once living and breathing and open to interpretation by its transmitters. Like all life created by God, it was dynamic and adaptable, and capable of encompassing new disciplines. In the words of our sages, it was both a tree of life for those who supported it, and the water that gave life to everything else.

Thus, we could understand why it would be so wrong to commit it to writing, to preserve it exactly as it was at a given point in time. It was only in the most urgent of situations that the sages did freeze it, to seal it as it was, as the only alternative was to let it be lost forever. But it came at a cost. The preserved Oral Law was no longer capable of living, of growing,  or of reproducing, and most unfortunately, we were left with little knowledge as to how, one day, to remove it from the paradoxically necessary yet poisonous formaldehyde and resuscitate it.




Q&A: Announcing the Molad and Rosh Hodesh

Question: This week in shul, no one had a calendar and when it came time to do birkas hachodesh, we waited until someone could find a calendar so that we could announce when the molad was, and even after we found one, the chazzan then said that Rosh Chodesh Tammuz will be Monday, when it will really be Shabbos and Sunday. What do we do now?

Answer: It seems to me that although announcing Rosh Hodesh is an important practice, it is not critical that it be done. That is, if it was omitted entirely, or announced after the service had ended, there is no problem. Indeed, in medieval times, there were more varied methods of publicly announcing when Rosh Hodesh would be. As for announcing the molad, I believe that not only is it not necessary, it might actually be undesirable according to many older opinions, including that of the Shulhan Aruch.

Some history: The original practice to announce when Rosh Hodesh would be was for the good of the congregation. Later, the two paragraphs, “mi she asa nissim,” right before the announcement, and “y’hadd’sheihu” right after, were added. Sometime about the 17th century, the prayer of Rava, which was not specifically about the new month, was also added, but it was modified to mention the new month. If you look in other prayer books, and especially in older prayer books, you will find that this paragraph is still not there, because it is problematic. As we have written about before, it is considered by the Vilna Gaon and the Ba’al Hatanya to be tahanunim, supplications that are inappropriate for sabbaths and festivals. In their days, the practice was new, and they opposed it. (I believe that this addition, like many others similar to it, persisted in the texts of the prayer books for mainly two reasons: 1. It gave the printers something to distinguish their new offerings from siddurim already on the market. 2. The cantors could use it for their music, and indeed at the Belz School of Jewish Music it is a major component of their Sabbath Prayers course. This is also true of the B’rich Sh’meih prayer said when removing the Torah from the ark.) But once again, none of these are factors in the communal prayers, and therefore if they can not be performed or if they were not performed, there is no problem. Therefore, if the leader announces the wrong day, they just have to correct him sometime, preferably right away. There is certainly no reason to have to repeat any of the prayers.

As for announcing the molad, the practice is so new, it is not mentioned in the vast majority of classic halachic works. It is not mandated by the Torah, nor by sages, nor by the Shulhan Aruch, nor could any of the classic codes support or reject the practice due to its novelty. (“The Mishna B’rura does not rule to say Hallel on Yom Ha’atzma’ut.”) Before recent times, the molad (the average molad, not the true molad) only mattered for 1. determining the  first day of Tishrei every year, and by extension, the rest of the calendar, and 2. according to some Rishonim and the R’ma, to calculate the last time each month that Birkath Hal’vana may be recited. As we saw earlier, the surprising and unprecedented ruling of the Pri M’gadim is that somehow the R’ma would also hold that the starting time for Birkath Hal’vana should be calculated with similar precision, exactly 72 hours after the molad. However, once this error in transmission became ensconced, we can understand why Ashkenazic congregations would announce the molad. However, the Beth Yosef, the author of the Shulhan Aruch, explicitly rejected the R’ma’s use of such an exact measurement for determining the last time for Birkath Hal’vana, and would have been the first to object to attributing the extension of the usage of such an exact measurement to calculate the first time for Birkath Hal’vana to the R’ma and other earlier authorities. The modern calendar printers make the illogical and halachically indefensible jump of declaring that because the Shulhan Aruch rules that the first time for Birkath Hal’vana is “when seven days have passed for the moon,” those seven days should be calculated as precisely as the Pri M’gadim says to calculate a diverging opinion, namely exactly 168 hours after the average, announced molad. The Beth Yosef himself would of course object to this double falsification of his opinion, which was really like that of the sages: Birkath Hal’vana is to be said on Rosh Hodesh, and there is a qabbalisitc practice to wait for seven days, but those seven days should certainly not be calculated using the R’ma’s method of calculating the end of the Bracha! How much more so would our master object to publicly announcing the molad, which gives the people the impression that indeed Birkath Hal’vana may only be recited 168 hours thereafter. I would like to find out when non-Ashkenaic congregations started announcing the molad, and if there are any older congregations or congregants who can still recall when the practice was introduced, because on the surface, it is innocuous and only takes a few seconds, and only after some major contemplation do we realize that it is not in-line with halachic traditions.

Therefore, if no one knows when the molad is supposed to be, better to just continue with the service and not make the community wait. Further, like with regards to kapparois, we should really be asking, “according to the Shulhan Aruch, may we publicly announce the time of the molad when we announce Rosh Hodesh?”

The Bright Ideological Future

A Historical Joke

by Rabbi Amichai Gordin, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School

At the end of the Six Day War, Ephraim Kishon and Katriel Gorodish (using his regular penname “Dosh”) published a book of cartoons and satire. The last cartoon in the book, which is called “Excuse Us for Winning,” was a very touching drawing. In it, “Srulik” (who represents the State of Israel in Dosh’s cartoons) looks at King Hussein, who is off to one side, with a look of shame and defeat. Srulik proposes to the King in a conciliatory tone: “For two thousand years, keep saying, ‘If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.’ Then you will get it back.”

* * * * * *

Dosh, who was not religious but was very nationalistic, understood the importance of the long period of yearning for Jerusalem. He understood that the nonreligious paratroopers who freed the Old City with tears in their eyes did not come to the fight alone. They came on the wings of their grandfathers and grandmothers, who kept the memory of Jerusalem alive for thousands of years. If not for the ancient and eternal yearning for the holy and sanctified city, we would not have been privileged to return to the Western Wall and to the Temple Mount.

* * * * * *

Not all the people felt the yearning. The liberal movement which was founded in the beginning of the nineteenth century and later developed into the Reform movement abandoned the belief in the coming of Mashiach and the return to Zion. The return to Jerusalem and Zion was removed from the texts of the Reform prayer books. David Friedlander, one of the founders of the reform movement calmly said, “I pray… for my King, for the citizens of my country, for myself and for my family, but not for a return to Jerusalem.”

In some ways, the Reform movement was the exact opposite of the secular Zionist movement. While the Zionist movement renounced the idea that Judaism is a religion and concentrated only on nationalism, the Reform movement renounced the idea that Judaism is a nationality and kept only the religion (which it also watered down to a great extent).

Prominent philosophers of the Reform movement claimed that “the end of political sovereignty of Yisrael was once thought to be a calamity, but in fact it was a sign of progress – not a fall but rather a strengthening of religion. In this way Israel was getting closer to its true destiny. Clinging to sanctity has replaced the sacrifices. Israel has arrived on the scene in order to disseminate the words of G-d to the ends of the earth.” [David Einhorn, “Olat Tamid”].

While in Europe the Reform movement continued to mention Tisha B’Av (in memory of the destruction of the Temples), this holy day was removed from the Reform siddurim in America. The destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the people in the Diaspora were not seen as a reason for mourning. “The flames which obliterated Zion lit up the hour of the birth of Israel as the Messiah, who suffers for the entire human race.” [Einhorn, ibid].

Based on this understanding, it is not surprising to find that the Reform movement was violently opposed to Zionism. Thus, while Chaim Weizmann fought valiantly to obtain the Balfour Declaration from the British government, Claude Montefiore, the head of the Reform movement in England, tried with all his might to prevent this from happening. It is quite possible that he played a part in the strong objection to the Balfour Declaration voiced by Edwin Montague, who was the Minister for India and the brother of Lilian Montague, a leader of the Reform movement in England. This opposition managed to limit the scope of the declaration and almost succeeded in preventing its publication.

* * * * * *

These guiding principles of the Reform movement disappeared during the last generation. The more the Zionist movement broadened its base and garnered support among the Jewish community, the more the Reform opposition to Zionism waned. The Reform movement, which raised high a banner of ignoring traditions and past heritage for the good of a modern spirit, treated its founders in the same way that they treated Jewish tradition. They threw their former leaders into the dustbin of history. After waiting for way to long, the movement brought Zion and Jerusalem back into its siddurim. In 1975, some thirty years after the State of Israel was established, the Reform movement finally joined the World Zionist Organization.

In view of all of this, the demand by the Reform movement to be given an area of their own near the Western Wall can best be described as a rare historical joke. Just imagine if Zehava Galon (of the leftist Meretz Party) and Yariv Oppenheimer (of the Betzelem organization) would petition the Supreme Court to allow them to buy a house in Kiryat Arba, near Chevron. The Reform movement, which firmly opposed any mention of Zion and Jerusalem and which up to 80 years ago fought tooth and nail against Zionism, is now part of a campaign to give them a section in the palace of prayer near the Western Wall. Who can say that the Angel of History doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Our mentor, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, liked to quote a Gentile wise man, who warned that anybody who marries within his own generation will remain a widower in the next generation. That is exactly what happened to the founders of the Reform movement, and that is what will happen to the leaders of the struggle for alternative marriages in Israel and for defining a new brand of Judaism.

“Her clothing is strength and dignity, and she will be happy in the days to come” [Mishlei 31:25].

יישוב פקודי שבט הלוי

ברכת משה ללוי: הָאֹמֵר לְאָבִיו וּלְאִמּוֹ לֹא רְאִיתִיו וְאֶת אֶחָיו לֹא הִכִּיר וְאֶת בָּנָו לֹא יָדָע כִּי שָׁמְרוּ אִמְרָתֶךָ וּבְרִיתְךָ יִנְצֹרוּ והביא רש׳׳י מדברי המדרש, כשחטאו בעגל ואמרתי מי לה’ אלי, נאספו אלי כל בני לוי וצויתים להרוג את אבי אמו והוא מישראל, או את אחיו מאמו, או את בן בתו, וכן עשו. והמשיך מרע׳׳ה ברך ה׳ חילו וכו׳ מחץ מתנים קמיו וכו׳ וראינו שלמרות שבני לוי עבדו את עבודת המקדש ולא יצאו חלוצים בכיבוש הארץ, מכל מקום בני לוי היו הלוחמים הכי עזים בישראל, כלוי אבותם, ועל הלויים והכהנים לא להילחם במלחמות גשמיות אלא לצאת לעזרת ה׳ בגבורים, מתי שנאספים שונאיו נגד התורה והמצוות אותות הברית בין הקב׳׳ה לעמו.

ויש לומר שמספר הלויים היה קטן מכל השבטים בגלל שהרבה מהלויים עזבו את העם כי שמעו שהם לא יקבלו אחוזת נחלה בארץ כנען, ואפילו לא יֻתָּר להם לנסות להלחם כדי לקבל חלק יותר מעריהם המצוצמות. ולזה יש הוכחות מהפסוקים ודברי המפרשים.

וכתב הנצי׳׳ב לפסוק המקדים את הפקודים בפר׳ פנחס וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה וְאֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן, אֹתָם–בְּעַרְבֹת מוֹאָב:  עַל-יַרְדֵּן יְרֵחוֹ, לֵאמֹר, מלשון הנהגה. שהיו מפוזרים בערי עבר הירדן. ורק המחנה ואהל מועד היה במקום אחד. וכאשר נצטוו להמנות. הכריז משה ואלעזר שכל מי מבן עשרים שנה יבא

למקום המיועד. ונדברו כולם לערבות מואב. עכ׳׳ל. וזה בעקבות כיבוש ארץ סיחון ועוג, וַיַּכֵּהוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, לְפִי-חָרֶב; וַיִּירַשׁ אֶת-אַרְצוֹ מֵאַרְנֹן, עַד-יַבֹּק עַד-בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן–כִּי עַז, גְּבוּל בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן.  וַיִּקַּח, יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֵת כָּל-הֶעָרִים, הָאֵלֶּה; וַיֵּשֶׁב יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּכָל-עָרֵי הָאֱמֹרִי, בְּחֶשְׁבּוֹן וּבְכָל-בְּנֹתֶיהָ. וכו׳ וַיֵּשֶׁב, יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּאֶרֶץ, הָאֱמֹרִי. המורם מהם, שכל פקודי השבטים אם רב אם מעט, ייתלו על ביאתם למפקד, ולא בכדִי שהשבטים הגדולים כמו יוסף ויהודה הם גם היו השבטים המובילים, והנה מרגל שבט יהודה, כלב בן יפונה, לא הלך בעצת הרשעים ונהיה לנשיא שבטו לפני הכניסה לארץ, ומרגל שבט אפרים, יהושע, גם התנגד לשאר המרגלים ונהיה לראש העם כולו. ולעומת זאת שבטי ראובן גד ושמעון בכל ספר במדבר ובדברי חז׳׳ל קנאו במנהיגים והצטרפו למרדים עד שבסוף ראינו שבני שמעון, שגם  הם לא היו אמורים לקבל נחלה אמיתית, נהיו כ׳׳ד אלפים למרות היותם נ׳׳ט אל׳ בתחילת המסעות, וקשה להתייחס ירידתם לכל כ׳׳ד האלפים שנפלו על דבר פעור, חדא דמשמע מכל השבטים נפלו, ותרי שלפחות יהיו בני שמעון כמ׳ אלפים בערך. וגם שבטי ראובן וגד בקשו לא להכנס לארץ. ופירוש הנצי׳׳ב מתיר עוד ספקות רבות בספרנו.

ובקשר ללויים, איתא בפרשת במדבר פעמיים וְהַלְוִיִּם, לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָם–לֹא הָתְפָּקְדוּ, בְּתוֹכָם. והראה האבע׳׳ז שהמלה הָתפָקדו היא מורכבת, נכתבת בבנין התפעל ומנוקדת בבנין הָפעל, ואלו בבנין התפעל תנוקד הִתְפַּקְּדוּ ובבנין הפעל תנוקד הֻפְקְדוּ. ובנעוריי בגלות ארה׳׳ב ל׳׳ע בהגיה האשכנזית-אמריקאית קראוה הוֹס-פוֹק-דוּ ״hus-puk-DOO״, שאינה נשמעת כמלה עברית בכלל וצ׳׳ע. ופירוש הספורנו שם: לא הֻפְקְדוּ עַל יְדֵי הַפּוקְדִים וְלא הִתְפַּקְּדוּ מֵעַצְמָם, שֶׁלּא הֵכִינוּ עַצְמָם כִּשְׁאָר הָעָם לְהִקָּהֵל וּלְהִתְיַחֵס. וְזֶה הָיָה קדֶם שֶׁיּאמַר הָאֵ-ל יִתְבָּרַךְ לְמשֶׁה: “אַךְ אֶת מַטֵּה לֵוִי לא תִפְקד”. כִּי אָמְנָם הִמְתִּינוּ לִרְאות מַה יְּצַוֶּה ה’ לָהֶם, מֵאַחַר שֶׁלּא הִזְכִּיר שֵׁבֶט לֵוִי עִם שְׁאַר הַשְּׁבָטִים בְּאָמְרו “וְאִתְּכֶם יִהְיוּ אִישׁ אִישׁ לַמַּטֶּה”. ונראה שלא רק שהלויים לא נפקדו (בבנין נפעל) אלא מכמה סיבות לא שָֹמו עצמם במצב הנכון כדי לההצטרף לכל העניין.

במפקד השני אנחנו גם רואים שהם לא הָתפקדו: וַיִּהְיוּ פְקֻדֵיהֶם, שְׁלֹשָׁה וְעֶשְׂרִים אֶלֶף–כָּל-זָכָר, מִבֶּן-חֹדֶשׁ וָמָעְלָה:  כִּי לֹא הָתְפָּקְדוּ, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כִּי לֹא-נִתַּן לָהֶם נַחֲלָה, בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. ומפורש כאן השתשלות הדבר בסוף המסעות. השבט שלהם היה אפילו יותר קטן משמעון בגלל שהם לא באו מעצמם למפקד בגלל שהם לא היו אמורים לקבל נחלה. במפקד הראשון הם לא באו משום השיבוש וחידוש מעמדם, ולבסוף לא באו כי לא רצו. 

למה קוראים פרשת בחקתי לפני שבועות

מגילה לא:
תניא ר’ שמעון בן אלעזר אומר עזרא תיקן להן לישראל שיהו קורין קללות שבתורת כהנים [התוכחה בפרשת בחקתי] קודם עצרת [חג השבועות] ושבמשנה תורה [פרשת כי תבא] קודם ר”ה. מאי טעמא? אמר אביי ואיתימא ריש לקיש כדי שתכלה השנה וקללותיה. בשלמא שבמשנה תורה איכא כדי שתכלה שנה וקללותיה אלא שבתורת כהנים אטו עצרת ראש השנה היא אין עצרת נמי ראש השנה היא דתנן ובעצרת על פירות האילן.

ומנהג ישראל בימינו שקוראים פרשת בחקתי שבת או שתים לפני חג השבועות. ויש לשאול למה דווקא בחקתי לפני שבועות וכי תבא לפני ראש השנה, ולא להפך בחקתי לפני ר׳׳ה וכ׳׳ת לפני שבועות, והלא בזה גם נוכל לקיים את תקנת עזרא. והביאו התוס׳ ומהרש׳׳ל הסברים לפי מנהגנו, ולשיטתם היִינו צריכים להתחיל עם פרשת בראשית מיד אחרי ראש השנה, אבל דוחים אותה עד השבוע הרביעית כדי שנוכל לקרא כי תבא שתי שבתות לפני סוף השנה, אבל הא תינח כדנהגינן, שאנחנו מסיימים מחזור קריאת התורה כל שנה, אבל לבני מערבא, דהיינו בני א׳׳י בזמן התלמוד ועוד אחרי זה דמסקי לדאורייתא בתלת שנין, מאי איכא למימר? אם רק קוראים את שתי הפרשיות פעם בשלש שנים, יצא שהיו צריכים להפסיק את הסדר או להוציא עוד ספר על הזה של פרשת השבוע כדי לקרוא בחקתי כל שנה לפני שבועות וכי תבא לפני ראש השנה. וחוזרת הקושיא, אם קוראים פרשה מיוחדת לפני המועד שלו הגיע התור שלה, אז למה דווקא בחקתי לפני שבועות ולא אפכא?

ועוד קשה, דהתם בגמרא איתא שהקריאות מתקנת עזרא, ורק בתקופת האמוראים נאמר מאי טעמא אמר אביי ואיתימא ריש לקיש כדי שתכלה השנה וקללותיה בשלמא שבמשנה תורה איכא כדי שתכלה שנה וקללותיה אלא שבתורת כהנים אטו עצרת ראש השנה היא? אין. עצרת נמי ראש השנה היא דתנן ובעצרת על פירות האילן תניא ע׳׳כ לשון הגמרא. ולא נהירא, דממשנה שם ריש פרק קמא דר׳׳ה, משמע דימי ראשי שנים לחוד וימי דין לחוד, וז׳׳ל, ארבעה ראשי שנים הם:  באחד בניסן, ראש השנה למלכים ולרגלים.  באחד באלול, ראש השנה למעשר בהמה; רבי אלעזר ורבי שמעון אומרין, באחד בתשרי.  באחד בתשרי, ראש השנה לשנים לשמיטים וליובלות, ולנטיעה ולירקות.  באחד בשבט, ראש השנה לאילן, כדברי בית שמאי; בית הלל אומרין, בחמישה עשר בו. בארבעה פרקים העולם נידון:  בפסח, על התבואה.  בעצרת, על פירות האילן.  בראש השנה, כל באי עולם עוברין לפניו כבני מרון, שנאמר “היוצר יחד, ליבם; המבין, אל כל מעשיהם” (תהילים לג,טו). ובחג, נידונים על המים. ע׳׳כ לשון המשנה. ושמעינן שרק א׳ תשרי הוא גם ר׳׳ה ויום דין, אבל למרות שעצרת היא יום הדין לפירות האילן, ראש שנתם הוא בט׳׳ו בשבט. ודברי הגמרא קשים כי עצרת איננו ר׳׳ה.

וי׳׳ל דעזרא סמך על רעיונות משותפות בין הפרשיות האחרונות בספר ויקרא. בפרשת אמֹר, שני סדרים לפני בחקתי, אנו קוראים על עניין ספירת העומר עד הבאת הביכורים, וספרתם לכם ממחרת השבת וכו׳ שבע שבתות תמימות תהיינה, עד ממחרת השבת השביעית תספרו חמשים יום והקרבתם מנחה חדשה, דהיינו סופרים שבעה כפול שבעה ימים עד הקרבת הביכורים. ושוב, בפרשת בהר אנו קוראים על שנת החמשים, וספרת לך שבע שבתות שנים שבע שנים שבע פעמים, עד השנה הקדושה ביותר, ושוב בפרשת בחקתי אנו קוראים על שבע סדרים של שבעה עונשים הבאים שבע על חטואתינו, ובעיקר על אי שמירת שנת השמיטה ובלשונו יתברך הלכתם עמי בקרי. הרי שבכל פרשה מצאנו עניין הכפלות של שבע שבע, ובלשון מרע׳׳ה בפרשת כי תבא הקללות באות תחת אשר לע עבדת את ה׳ אלקיך בשמחה, והכי פרושו מי שהולך עם ה׳ בקרי, כי איש האמונה העובד את ה׳ מתוך שמחה לא בא לידי התייחסות התרחשות האירועים כסתם מקרה. ואותו רצף העניינים מופיע בפרשת כי תבוא, הפותחת במצות הפרט בהבאת ביכורים, ואחרי הבאת הביכורים על המביא לשמוח בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ–וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ. והתוכחה באה על העובר מצוה זו. נמצינו למדים שהצד השוה בין הפרשיות הוא עניין הביכורים המביא לידי עבודת ה׳ בשמחה, שהיא עקר קיום תורה ומצוות, והברכות שתחולו בקיום זה, והקללות אם לא. אלא, שבסוף ספר ויקרא, עניין השבע שבע חוזר על עצמו, והנה הוא מתאים לעונת ספירת העומר המקבלת פני חג השבועות, ואילו סוף ספר דברים משמיט את עניין השבע שבע וכולל את עניין התשובה כמצוה מרכזית הסטורית (פרשת נצבים) והיא באה מיד אחרי תוכחת כי תבא, ונמצא שראוי שנקרא כי תבא ונצבים לפני ראש השנה, בו עוברים לפניו ית׳ כל היצורים כבני מרון.

ועוד פרשו הראשונים שפרשת בחקתי הן דברי הברית שנאמרו בסיני ופרשת כי תבא היתה ברעבות מואב, אז ראוי שנקרא בחקתי לקראת יום מתן תורה.

Q&A: Mikveh for Men

Question: Is it true that a shower can replace immersing in a mikveh?

Answer: Absolutely not. Whenever the Torah requires a ritual immersion, it must be done in a kosher mikveh or ma’yan. The position of the Sadducees and the Karaites was and is that ritual ablutions do not require a ritual bath, and because of this, the halacha and minhag demand that one’s actions indicate that it is the immersion which cleanses. Thus for example, it is forbidden to shower immediately after immersion, lest others come to understand that it is the shower that removes the contamination. For more elaboration on this see, e.g., Aroch Hashulhan 201:18.

Question: And what about the Gemara in Berachot 22?

Answer: The sages there discuss the attempted rabbinic enactment requiring immersion for anyone who experienced a seminal emission before reciting the Sh’ma, the prayers, and blessings, and before Torah study. In practice, the enactment is not observed, but the idea brought in the Gemara is that having nine kabbim of water poured over one’s head is sufficient for the requirement they created. Here is how Maimonides ruled at the end of the Laws of Reading the Sh’ma:

All those ritually impure are obligated to read the Sh’ma and recite the blessings before and after it in their impure state. This applies even when it is possible for them to purify themselves that day – e.g., one who has touched [the carcass of] a crawling animal, a menstrual woman, a zava, or the couch on which these people have laid, and the like.

Ezra and his colleagues decreed that a man who had a seminal emission was forbidden to read the words of the Torah. Thus, they separated him from the other ritually impure until he immersed himself in a mikveh. This ordinance was not universally accepted among the Jewish people. Most were unable to observe it and it was therefore negated.

The Jewish people accepted the custom of reading the Torah and reciting the Sh’ma even after a seminal emission, because the words of Torah cannot contract ritual impurity. Rather, they stand in their state of purity forever, as [Jeremiah 23:29] states: “Are not my words like fire, declares the Lord.” Just as fire is incapable of becoming ritually impure, so, too, the words of Torah are never defiled.

Question: Why do some go to the mikveh every day?

Answer: Those who are truly pious do it in order to maintain their ritual purity just in case. Also, they have esoteric and mystical reasons for their behaviors, which is entirely a matter between them and God. For the masses though, it is apparently against the spirit of the sages’ enactment you pointed to, above. The sages mandated those immersions in order to discourage people from engaging in more than necessary sexual activity. By requiring immersion just to fulfill one’s obligations to pray and the like many times a day, laymen would learn to avoid “being around their wives like roosters.” The problem with our state-of-the-art, easily accessible mikvaoth is that immersion becomes to easy, and thus not a disincentive to avoid becoming unclean. The point of the immersion is to guard oneself from having to go back to re-immerse, but now the imposition has been removed.

Question: So should I go to mikveh every day?

Answer: If you truly want to follow the rules of ritual purity to a high standard, like the haverim mentioned in the Talmud, you should know when and why it is appropriate to immerse and learn more about how to maintain that purity by monitoring your actions and interactions with others. If you are not yet ready for an especially pious lifestyle, going to mikveh every morning without subsequently staying on guard can become pointless.

Question: Why is there a minhag to go to mikveh before Shabbos?

Answer: Kabbalisitic reasons. Maimonides would find this practice strange for those who are true students of the sages, because they specifically perform their husbandly duties on the night of the Sabbath, so what is the point of their weekly ritual purification preceding their weekly contamination  by a few hours? On the contrary, someone who wishes to follow his practice will immerse in the mikveh every Sabbath morning, thus being in a state of purity for the rest of the week.

Question: What about going to mikveh before chagim?

Answer: That has much behind it. When the Temple is standing and the service is conducted, all men have an obligation to appear in the Temple and eat of the sacrifices on the holidays, and even though the halacha is that if the majority of the nation are contaminated with tumath meth, death impurity that can only be removed by water combined with the ashes of the red cow, the rules are waived, but all must at least remove the tumath haguf, the bodily impurity caused by seminal emissions and the like, in order to participate in the services. Thus, immersion before the holidays is considered a necessary and meritorious preparation for the holiday. As you may recall, I have always personally recommended that everyone attend the mikveh the morning before Passover just in case we merit to bring the Paschal offering.

Understanding the Commandments of Passover

In light of the previous posts, we can better understand some of the other commandments of Passover.

According to Torah law, the Paschal lamb must be eaten roasted, and there are other prohibitions related to consumption of the meat. 1. It may not be eaten “cooked or partially roasted,” i.e. prepared in any way other than roasting,  2. The meat must not be left over by morning. 3. The meat may not be fed to a non-Jew, 4. a renegade Jew, 5. or an uncircumcised Jew. 6. The meat may not be removed from the house in which it is being eaten by the group. 7. One may not break any of the sacrifice’s bones. The sages further instituted that nothing be eaten after the Paschal lamb, “so that the tastes stays.”

With the principle that the Paschal lamb is specifically meant to be eaten, as opposed to the other sacrifices, we can easily understand this rule of the sages: the eating helps internalize the lesson, one which is to last the entire night, and that is why “the more one tells about the Exodus, the more praiseworthy,” another commandment the greatest sages fulfilled until morning.

The Sefer Hahinuch offers a reason for some of the above enumerated prohibitions. It is derech heruth, “the way of free men,” and the practice of princes  to eat meat roasted and not cooked, and they do not worry about leaving some for a later meal, nor do they break the bones of their portions while attempting to find every last morsel of meat. However, his theory has some issues. Firstly, he does not bring any scriptural or talmudic supports for his theory. Secondly, the entire idea of derech heruth is rabbinic, and it is the impetus for the laws of reclining at the Seder and drinking four cups of wine, but the laws enumerated above are all biblical. Thirdly, the Talmud records an implicit reason for eating the Passover roasted and not cooked (P’sahim 41a):

Our Rabbis taught: “[Eat not of it raw, nor boiled at all] with water.” I only know [that it may not be boiled] in water; how do we know [it may not be cooked in] other liquids? You can argue a fortiori, if water, which does not impart its taste, is forbidden, then other liquids, which do impart their taste, should all the more so be forbidden.

This passage shows us that the Sages believed that the reason for these commandments was to preserve the true and pure taste of the Paschal lamb, and this fits well with the idea that the consumption of the Passover has to be done in a way that allows for the internalization of the unadulterated lesson of the sacrifice.

As for the prohibition of removing meat of the offering from its place, Maimonides writes (9:3):

When the meat of a Paschal sacrifice has been removed from its company – whether intentionally or inadvertently – it becomes forbidden to be eaten. It is comparable to the meat of sacrifices of the most sacred order that were taken outside the Temple Courtyard or sacrifices of a lesser degree of sanctity that were taken outside the walls of Jerusalem, in which instance, everything is considered like an animal that is t’reifa.

This is reminiscent of the idea that the Jewish house stands in the place of the Temple, and the consumption of the Paschal lamb therein by the Jewish family is a kin to the consumption of the sacrifices by the priests within the actual Temple.

Thus, we can continue the equation. The meat of the Paschal lamb may not be left over just like the priests are enjoined not to leave over any meat for consumption beyond its allotted time, and the priestly portions of the sacrifices may not be eaten by priests who have served idols or who are uncircumcised, or by those who are non-priests. The seder allows all Jewish people a chance to become as holy as priests in their own holy domiciles.

As for the injunction against breaking the Passover’s bones, I have not found an analog among the halachoth of the sacrifices, but I can offer something else. On the verse Exodus 13:46 which first mentions the prohibition, Rashbam says that the bones should not be broken “with [the sacrifice] eaten in haste,” but he can not have been referring to the original sacrifice as eaten in Egypt, because this commandment was given after the Exodus, and more tellingly, applies to all future generations, who would probably not be eating their portions in anticipation of leaving Egypt. Similarly, there was and is no eternal commandment to eat the Passover with our “loins girded and our staves in our hands.” It must be that Rashbam is referring to an idea behind the consumption of the sacrifice. As we saw before, The Paschal lamb represents God’s compassion and salvation, while the matza represents our haste and enthusiasm for leaving the exile, to take a leap of faith into His hands across the great wilderness. The Rashbam is saying that the prohibition against breaking the Passover’s bones is meant to remind us what the Passover itself represents, and that we not confuse its message with that of the matza.

On a deeper level, we find that the Hebrew word for bone, ‘etzem, occurs in the same passage of the Torah but with an alternate meaning, “b’etzem hayom hazeh, on that very day did the Lord take the Israelites out of Egypt.” Our sages say that “God calculated the end” and the night of the Exodus was, according to the verse, “leil shummurim, a guarded night.” The Exodus happened at exactly the right time, not a day late nor early. The ‘etzem was preserved, and in commemoration we also preserve the ‘etzem. This also explains why the commandment was only given after the Exodus, because this facet of the redemption was only realized after the Paschal lamb was consumed.

A new Passover has come, and this afternoon the Korban was not offered because the police did not allow for it. God willing soon, those in charge of the police force will be replaced with other, kinder souls and we will merit to celebrate a complete Passover.