Friday, February 26, 2010

Dvar Torah on Purim based on a shiur from Rav Wolfson zt"l

This year instead of writng my own dvar torah for Purim, I decided to reproduce I shiur that I heard from Rav Wolfson t"l in 5764.  L'iluyei nishmaso here is the shiur.

I tried attaching the pdf file I sent out but it is too complictaed. If you want the pdf version (which is really the same thing here but I just used hebrew instead of english for some of the words) you can email me at

The gemara in Megilah 11b: explains that the reason Achashveirosh made a seudah was to celebrate the fact that Klal Yisroel had been in golus for 70 years and had still not been redeemed. Yirmiyahu had promised that the B’nei Yisroel would be in golus fro 70 years. Achashveirosh figured that the fact that the B’nei Yisroel were still in golus after 70 years must mean that HKBH had forgotten about them and they would no longer be redeemed. The gemara tells us that Achashveirosh miscalculated. We know that there were two stages of golus during the first Beis HamIkdahs. During the eigth year of Nevuchadnetzar’s reign he took Melech Yehoyachin and parts of Klal Yisroel into golus. Then 11 years later in his 19th year he took Melech Tzidkiyahu into golus and destroyed the Beis HaMikdash. Achashveirosh started counting the 70 years from the time of the first golus, when Yhoyachin went into golus. However, the gemara says, he should have started counting from the time that Yerushalaym was destroyed which was when Tzidkiyahu went into golus. The question that we can ask is what was Achashveirosh’s hava amina? Why did he initially think that the 70 years should start from the first golus, the golus of Yehoyachin. Furthermore, where did he go wrong? Why did the counting of the golus start from golus Tzidkiyau and not from golus Yochonya.?

The gemara in Makkos (22b) says “how foolish are people who stand for a sefer torah but do not stand for the talmidei chachamim who learn the Torah. In the Torah it says someone who is chayav malkos gets 40 lashes, and the chachamim came along and said it means 39 lashes” From here we see that talmidei chachamim are to be considered more chashuv than a sefer Torah. However, the Parashas Derachim (Derech tzadikim Derush 24) asks that we find the opposite idea in a gemara in Kiddushin.The gemara in Kiddushin (31b) asks, “how do we know one must stand for a sefer torah”? The gemara answers we learn it from a kal v’chomer, if one must stand for those who learn the Torah, than kal ‘chomer one must stand for a sefer torah itself. It would seem that this gemara implies that a sefer torah is greater than a talmid chacham ,which is the opposite from what the gemara in Makko implies. The Parashas Derachim answers that it all depends on what type of talmid Chacham we are talking about. If it is a Talmid Chacham that just has the yediyos of the whole Torah, then the Torah is bigger than him. After all, since his whole kovod comes because of his yediyas HaTorah, so the Torah itself should be greater. However, if the talmid chacham, besides knowing the torah is also a morah hora’ah, i.e. he knows how to pasken and explain the Torah, then he is considered bigger than a sefer torah. A talmid chacham who can look at the Torah and explain 40 lashes really means 39 lashes, this type of talmid chacham is bigger than the Torah.

Based on the Parshas Derachim we can now understand why Achashveirosh thought that the golus should start from golus Yehoyachin. The Navi tells us that among those who went into golus with Yehoyachin were the “charash u’masgeir”. Who were the “charash u’masgeir “? Chazal tell us that these were the talmidei chachamim and members of Sanhedrin who were sent to Bavel during the first wave of golus. Achashveirosh understood the power of the talmidei chachamim . He realized, as we see from the gemara in Kiddushin, that when the chachamim have the ability to pasken and explain the Torah, that they are greater than the Torah itself. It is for this reason that Achashveirosh thought that the golus of the chachamim, the first golus, was more tragic than the second golus, even though the second golus culminated with the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore, it made sense to start the count of 70 years from the time the chachamim went into golus and not from when the Bayis was destroyed.

L’chorah, Achashveirosh’s cheshbon made sense. Why does the gemara say that he made the wrong calculation and he really should have started counting from the 2nd golus? What was his mistake? The answer is that at the end of Megillas Esther it says “Kimu V’Kiblu HaYehudim”. The gemara (Shabbos 88a) learns from here “Kimu mah sheh’kiblu kvar”-that B’nei Yisroel reaccepted the Torah that they had previously accepted at Har Sinai. In other words, there was another Kabbalas HaTorah during Yimei Purim. This teaches us that even in a time of golus, a time of hester panim it is still possible to have a kabbalas haTorah. The reason is that it is impossible for Torah to go into golus. Klal Yisroel can be in golus, but the Torah and by extension the Talmidei Chachamim who learn and teach the Torah, cannot be in golus. Wherever the chachamim are that is where the Torah is supposed to be. Based on this, it would then come out that the first golus of the talmidiei chachamim was not as bad as the 2nd golus because in essence the chachamim never went into golus. Therefore, the real golus only started from the golus of Tzidkiyahu and that’s when the seventy years should have been counted.

We can also add one more point. Yirmiyahu Hanavi in Eicha asks “Tivu B’Aretz Sh’areha”. The The Medrash Eichah explains that the gates of Yerushalayim were not destroyed because they showed kovod to the aron by opening their doors to allow the aron to come inside. Yirmiyahu was asking why is it that the gates of Yerushalayim were not destroyed because they showed kovod to the aron, while the talmidei chachamim who learn the Torah found in the aron were killed and sent into golus. The Parshas Derachim explains that the Medrash is referring to the Sanhedrin and takmidei chachamim who explain the Torah and pasken halacha. As we mentioned above, these talmidei chachamim are greater than the Torah and that is about whom Yirmiyahu was asking his question. The Parashas Derachim says that Yirmiyahu could not answer his question. However, perhaps we can answer based on what we said above. The golus took place before the zman of Purim of “kimu v’kiblu”. Therefore, the ma’aleh of chachamim who were mora hora’ah being greater than Torah did not exist. It was only after the zman of Purim did we have this ma’aleh.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Taanis Esther vs Tisha B'Av: Which one is more chamur?

If you ask most people they will tell you that Ta'anis Esther is much more lenient than Tisha B'Av. After all, Tisha B'Av has the 5 restrictions and the Rema paskens that pregnant and nursing women don't have to fast on Ta'anis Esther. However, it is not so simple.

There is a machlokes Rishonim what the m'kor is for Ta'anis Esther. Some say it is a minhag patterned after the 3 fasts that Esther and Mordechai imposed on B'nei Yisroel before she met the king. However, the Ra'avad brought by the Ran in Ta'anis Perek 2 learns it from the posuk "divreio tzomos v'za'akasom". The Ra'avad is understood to mean that Ta'anis Esther has the status of Divrei Kabbala, just like the mitzvos of Purim.

The question is, what is the status of Ta'anis Esther when it is a nidche. The Avnei Nezer writes that the status of Divrei Kabbala only applies to 13th of Adar. When the fast is pushed back to Thursday, the 11th of Adar, it is a regular takana d'rabanan. The Avnei Nezer clearly understands that a ta'anis nidcheh is a different takana and is not tashluimin for the original fast. The Shvus Ya'akov disagrees and says just like we darshen "z'manim tuva"  tolearn you can lein the megilla on the 11th thru 15th of Adar, we also use the drasha to tell us Ta'anis Esther can be the 11th of Adar m'divrei kabbalah. One could argue, that the Shevus Yaakov agrees with the Avnei Nezer in principle that that a ta'anis nidcheh is a different takana and is not tashluimin for the original fast. However, by Ta'anis Esther we have a drasha telling us the nidche fast is included in the divrei kabbalah. However, by other fast days-like Tisha B'Av, he would agree it is a lesser status than the original fast.

The halacha is that a Ba'al Bris can eat when Tisha B'av is nidcheh. How about on Ta'anis Esther? According to teh Shvus Yaakov one could argue that Ta'anis Esther that is nidcheh is still divrei kabbala and a Ba'al Bris could not eat unlike Tisha B'Av nidcheh which is a lesser status than the original day.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Baruch Dayan Emes.

The great talmid chacham, dayan and poseik HaRav HaGaon Rav Issur Wolfson zt"l was niftar this past Friday night. I generally try to avoid writing personal topics on my blog, but in this case I feel I must make in exception. It is a tragedy to his family (his 2 youngest sons are not even Bar Mitzvah), to our community of Passaic and to Klal Yisroel. We lost a giant today, and I feel it is only proper to mention a little about him. It is not an exaggeration to say that he literally had kol hatorah kulo at his fingertips. It wasn't just Chumash, Rashi, Ramban and Ohr HaChaim. It was Shas, Rishinim, Achronim , Shulchan Aruch and Psokim. It was Yerushalmi, Medrash and Zohar. Mussar Seforim, machshava seforim, and everything in between, both nigleh and nistar. I know after people die, the maspidim like to exaggerate. I can guarantee you that when I say he knew kol hatorah, both nigleh and nistar that it is not an exaggeration. A friend of mine used to learn with him once a week, and he told me that a number of times they would come across a medrash and Rav Issur zt"l would say, I never heard of that medrash. He didn't mean that the medrash exists just he hadn't learned it yet. What he meant was that we don't have that Medrash- it is not found anywhere in our editions at all. As more than one of the maspidim said at the levaya, he was a walking sefer torah. Someone who lived and breathed Torah. When he would walk in the street you could tell his mind wasn't in this world, but rather he was absorbed in whatever sugyah he was learning.

I was zocheh to have a personal kesher with Rav Issur zt"l and I just want to share a few points so that others might appreciate what we lost.

My connection to Rav Issur zt"l started about 8 years ago, shortly after I had moved to Passaic. He started giving chumash shiurim, and I was zocheh to be one of those that attended the shiurim. He gave these shiurim for 3 years and for the last 1.5 years I was the only one going. He would come into the shul , I would take out my notebook and tape recorder and he would say the shiur. I asked him a few times if he wanted to stop giving the shiurim, and he told me that as long as one person comes it is k'dai to continue. Although he only spoke for 30-35 minutes at a time, he was able to pack so much into each shiur, that to properly explain each shiur could take a couple of hours. He would weave together gemaras and medrashim along with a zohar or a GRA and sometimes even a Ramban to come up with unique and creative insights into the parshah. On more than one occasion he even made diyukim in some of the piyutim that we say in davening. Many of us don't even say the piyutim and even if we say them, we have no idea what they mean. Rav Issur zt"l not only knew them and understood them but he was even able to darshen them!

Besides his gaoness in Torah, he was a gaon in anivus. I believe it was Rav Meir Stern the Rosh Yeshiva of Passaic, who said over that it wasn't pshat that he was a gaon in Torah and also an anav. But rather his anivus was part and parcel of his gadlus. I would venture to say that 80% of Passaic either never heard of him or did not fully appreciate who he was. On the one hand this is a crying shame. On the other hand this is a perfect reflection of who he was-a gaon in anava who had not the slightest interest in being famous. I personally experienced this many times when I would ask him a shailah. I still remember I was once walking with him in the street and I asked him a shailah. He told me that he once answered a shailah in the street and he realized afterward that he made a mistake. From then on he decided not to answer a question in the street. I can guarantee you that he knew the answer. But his anivus would not let him answer me right away. Most of the time I asked him a shailah he would tell me to bring him a shulchan aruch or a mishna berura. Without missing a beat he would open to the page and tell me the answer. He didn't need the sefer to answer the question. He needed the sefer to protect his anivus. His son in law mentioned that everyone knew you could ask him where to find any gemara in Shas. However, when he would answer you he would always tell you it could be found 2-3 blatt away from the right daf. He didn't want to come across as a ba'al gava'ah.

I once saw an interesting idea from Rav Yaakov Hillel. He writes that most people think a tzaddik nistar is someone who looks pashut and simple but is really a tzaddik. This is wrong. Rav Hillel writes that a tzaddik nistar is someone like Rav Shach zt"l. How could this be? We all know what a great gaon Rav Shach was. The answer is that a tzaddik nistar is someone who even though you think you know his gadlus, there is ten times more you don't know about. As much as you think you know him, you really don't. In my mind, Rav Issur was a tzaddik nistar. For all that we knew about him, there was so much more that he kept hidden and private.

We lost so much with his petirah. In my mind it is like a spiritual 9/11. Who knows how much beracha and shemirah he was providing to Passaic and Klal Yisroel. We have now lost it. Rav Meir Stern summed it up so succinctly when he said that it is incumbent on all of us to make up for the loss of his Torah. He was such a giant that it seems almost impossible . HKBH should grant a nechama to his family, to his community and to Klal Yisroel.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Parshas Yisro:Zachor V'Shonar_Trei Kalei Lo Mishtamai

I haven't posted in awhile so I thought I would put something up before Shabbos.

Last week I discussed the issue of trei kalei lo mishtamai. The gemara learns it out from the fact that zachor and shamor were said at the same time and this is called a neis because it is impossible to hear 2 things at once. The gemara says the only exception is where you ar ehearing something that is chaviv like megilla or tekias shofar. There is a machlokes Rishonim why chaviv works. The Ritva says you are able to concentrate on one voice. The Ran says you hear both voices but you can understand both of them. A nafka mina is found in the Biur Halacha in Hilchos Shofar. If you hear 3 kolos from 3 people at the same time have you heard 3 kolos or 9 kolos? According  to the Ritva we would say you only heard 3 but according to teh RAn you could say you heard all 9. The Mishna Brerura  is machmir like the Ritva.

I famous issue that comes up based on this rule is how many people should say kaddish at one time. The Binyan Tzion and Chasam Sofer felt only one person should say kaddish because of trei kalei lo mishtamai. The Chasam Sofer held the point of saying kaddish was that it was a zechus for the niftar to have so many people answering amein. Since it is an issue of hearing kaddish the klal of trei kalei lo mishtamai applies here. Rav Ya'akov Emden in his siddur brings the minhag of sefardim to have everyone say kaddish. The Binyan Tzion argues that since sefardim daven togetehr it is easy to hear what everyone is saying and the rule of trei kalei lo mishtamai would not apply. Ashkinazim are not so unified and if everyone would say kaddish you wouldn't be able to understand anyone.

One could also argue that the ma'aleh of kaddish is in saying the tefilla regardless if people hear it so again the rule of trei kalei lo mishtamai wouldn't apply.

The Tzitz Eliezer seems to like the minhag of one person saying kaddish but he won't say it is wrong to do otherwise. Other poskim suggest everyone saying kaddish come to one area to minimize the problem.