Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ki Savo—No Judgments?

A couple of weeks ago I came across R Shlomo Ressler’s Dvar for Shoftim, where he wrote about the Torah’s device of dismissing potential soldiers from duty to avoid having the “sinners” among the exemptees pointed out: that is, the Torah, even having created a category of “faint of heart” as a cover for those who felt their spiritual standing was shaky, had already decided that that wasn’t enough, that it would include, among others, newlyweds and new home- or vineyard- owners, all help cover for the “sinner” so as to not embarrass him.

I thought that this maybe hadn’t gone far enough, that maybe the point should have been that a particularly pernicious form of embarrassment or one-upmanship, even, and this is what the Torah was guarding against. I did not yet have any thing I could use as a proof text, however “shver”, so at the time I left it alone.

Then I realized that I could possibly use two inyanim for some support, however tepid, from both last week’s and this week’s parshiyot both. From this week comes the pasuk in the middle of the Tochacha: “Because you did not serve the Lord your G-d wth happiness and a good heart, ‘merov kol’.” How to translate “merov kol”? “Above all”? All the punishments of the tochacha are unleashed because G-d was served be’yirah as opposed to be’ahava?

I saw another translation that was a bit less disconcerting, to say the least: “whilst ye yet had all things”. This made more sense: given the opportunity—the unfettered opportunity—to reach the level of be’ahava as opposed to be’yirah, one can—with whatever degree of difficulty—understand the source of Divine retribution.

In either case, one might be hard pressed to find a moment in Jewish history that qualified as “rov kol”, except for maybe the moment when the Shlomo’s kingdom was united and the Beis haMikdash had been completed—at least from a national standpoint [I leave out much of what might seem to qualify from the Chumash, like Har Sinai and Hakamas haMishkan, because they occurred outside Eretz Yisrael and therefore cannot fall into the category of “rov kol”].

As additional support, I refer to the inyan of ben sorer umoreh, where the Torah creates a series of legal barriers to the punishment ever being carried out. One of the messages of ben sorer umoreh—particularly when one examines the various explanations regarding the conditions of the parents, physical and otherwise [as detailed in BT Sanhedrin, perek Ben Sorer u’Moreh]—is that no one has the perfect upbringing to the point that they could be found to be irredeemably sociopathic

So too here: no one can truly be judged for their spiritual behavior unless everyone knows that said “defendant”’s life falls unequivocally into the category of “rov kol”, and maybe not even then. Someone may know. You probably don’t.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ki Teizei—Love Stories

I always thought the concept of a “tefila kodem tefila” was a little bit over the top. If anything could lead to a, “ein ladavar sof”, that would be one: when can someone stop asking that one’s upcoming tefila be accepted? What is there was insufficient kavana during the tefila kodem tefila? Would it be appropriate to institute a tefila kodem tefila kodem…etc.?

A friend recently pointed out me that when people date nowadays, they are really dating to see if they want to date, so first dates—or the first series of dates—aren’t necessarily “dates” in that sense, but more along the lines of “dating to date”. The aforementioned concept of “tefila kodem tefila” came immediately to mind.

As may have been previously noted in these pages, the religious and moral authorities who are trying to turn back the clock to a more modest time and arrangements in dating—aside from the schools and yeshivas and seminaries that carp loudly about tznius [Rabbi Manis Friedman and Wendy Shalit come to mind]—may be taking the wrong approach using the fire and brimstone or the “kol kevuda d’bas melech penimah” tacks. All they should rally have to do is tell us how much WORK dating and interacting with the opposite sex is.

Though, to be fair to both R’ Friedman and Shalit, they do cite evidence that shows that even adolescents are experiencing a certain amount of mental taxation in their social pursuits. It is rather that the educational policy seems to be to talk about negiah and mixed dancing 24-6 [or 7] and ignore all of the actual tzaros that go along with even all that.

I would almost suggest that educators read Laura Kipnis’ Against Love, a polemic text that takes the approach that love—especially the illicit, ostensibly more “fun” kind--is just too much work to be worth it. If educators are looking to create more chaste environs without necessarily completely separating the sexes, the “too much work” tack might be a better bet.

In any case, as previously noted in these pages, the halachos of both kiddushin and gittin are learned from this weeks parsha. But even the beginning of the parsha—a completely Torah-sanctioned, but ultimately completely inappropriate, relationship which starts in war, leads to discord and the ultimate bad seed, the ben sorer u’moreh, at least according to Rashi.   I’ve heard the that the word “marriage” derives from “Mars”, known to be the [false] deity in charge of war; maybe the Torah was onto something.

But even leaving that out, just add in all the trouble with love stories: Yaakov and Rachel, Yitzchak and Rivka [nightmare in laws?], David and Bathsheba [muchan misheshes yemei bereishis, but probably not in the execution], and Yehuda and Tamar [from which Mashiach will issue, but otherwise not the best way to arrange a shidduch].

And take the ultimate expression of PDA being “inappropriate” [if not proscribed]: the gemara Baba Basra 58b, on our foreparents in the Mearas haHamachpela: “What is Abraham doing? He replied: He is sleeping in the arms of Sarah, and she is looking fondly at his head.” Is that when we can look forward to a relationship reaching its pinnacle? Now we know why there’s a joke that marriage and funeral differ only in that one has a band. [In the time of the mishna and gemara—and possibly later—funerals had bands too.]

Ki Tetzei—other than warning us that marriage isn’t always bliss—may also be warning us how much work dating is and why that relations between the sexes are so warlike; in that case, who wants to do the work?