Friday, July 13, 2012

Pinhas (Wanderings)

“Regular Offerings In Their Order, and Additional Offerings According to Their Laws”

After a considerable hiatus, we now return to the subject of prayer—and, specifically, the prayers of Shabbat. Having treated the special Amidah blessings for Shabbat and Kabbalat Shabbat, the special prayer service added at its onset, we now turn to Musaf, the “Additional” prayer which concludes the Shabbat morning synagogue service, after Shaharit and the reading of the weekly Torah portion. Almost half of this week’s parashah is in fact devoted to the various communal offerings brought in the Temple on weekdays, Shabbat and special days—which in turn form the basis for the Musaf prayer of Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, etc. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), in most years, including this, Parashat Pinhas falls on the first Shabbat of Bein ha-metzarim, the three week period of semi-mourning for the Temple culminating in the fast of Tisha b’Av.

While all prayers correspond to the various sacrificial offerings offered in Temple (see below on the Tamid), this is particularly so regarding Musaf. As we have discussed here in the past (HY IX: Hayyei Sarah [=Mitzvot]; XII: Ekev [Individual & Community]; and see b. Berakhot 26b), there is a discussion in the Talmud as to whether the three fixed daily prayers were founded by the patriarchs or correspond to the sacrifices: that is, whether the essence of prayer is its inner devotional aspect or its fixed, formal aspect; or, on another level, if the emphasis is on the personal obligation or the communal aspect. In either event, in the case of Musaf, both on Shabbat and the other special days of the year (Rosh Hodesh and festive days), it is clear that both its origin and its essence lie in the sacrifice offered in the Temple. The central theme of this prayer is longing for the return of the Divine Presence to the Holy City, the rebuilding of Temple, and the restoration of sacrifices: “and there may we perform and offer up the Musaf of this [Sabbath / New Moon / festival] day.” Every Musaf prayer includes a quotation of the Biblical verses stipulating the sacrifices offered on that particular day. (Interestingly, the mishnah at Berakhot 4.6 even cites the view of R. Eleazar b. Azariah that “The additional prayer is only recited in the hever ‘ir” [roughly speaking: the official synagogue of the city]—that is to say, not by private individuals. Even though this is not the accepted halakhah, it is symptomatic of the public, communal nature of Musaf, corresponding as it does to the public sacrifice offered on behalf of the entire people of Israel.)

But let us go back one step: Why were there extra offerings brought in the Temple on Shabbat and festivals, over and above the Tamid, the regular daily sacrifice offered morning and evening? Sefer ha-Hinukh states that this was done to impress upon us the holiness and uniqueness of the day. (In general, the Hinukh tends to emphasis the rational, educational meaning of the mitzvot.)

But perhaps there was another reason as well. The Musaf offerings, like the Tamid, was an olah—a “burnt offering” consumed entirely upon the altar, signifying total devotion or dedication to God (see HY I: Vayikra [=Torah]). Unlike the hatat or the shelamim which, respectively, indicated guilt and the desire for expiation of sin, or, on the other hand, joy, a sense of well-being, almost a kind of fellowship with God, the olah was the paradigmatic act of unmitigated worship and service. It was a pure gift to God (remembering that in an agrarian society animals were the most valuable and universal possessions), signifying yearning for closeness to God, pure, selfless love for the Divine. Hence, the bringing of an additional, special offering on Shabbat and festivals suggests that these were days of heightened devotion, of more intense spirituality.

One of the basic notions in Judaism is that Shabbat and holidays are meant both for human pleasure and enjoyment, and for more intense spirituality and service of God. In the case of the festivals, this is stated explicitly. In a sugya at b. Beitzah 15b, the Sages debate whether holidays are meant “for you”—i.e., for human beings—or “for God.” Each side brings an appropriate biblical phrase in support of their view, until a compromise is suggested, that was accepted as halakhah for future generations: “Divide it: half for you and half for God.” Rambam, on this basis, suggests that the morning be devoted to worship and study of Torah, while the afternoon is given over to feasting, eating and drinking.

While this idea is not stated in quite as explicit a manner regarding Shabbat, it is also implied there. In addition to the two Torah mitzvot related to Shabbat—zakhor: i.e., commemorating Shabbat, specifically by declaring its holiness through the recitation of Kiddush; and shamor, observing the Shabbat by not performing any labor—there are two Rabbinic mitzvot: kavod and oneg. The former means to honor it as a holy day, through such gestures as wearing special clothing, setting the table in a festive manner, awaiting its coming and welcoming it (the basic rudiments of what later became Kabbalat Shabbat), etc. Oneg Shabbat means to enjoy the Shabbat, to derive pleasure therefrom by eating more elaborate meals, drinking wine, enjoying the company of family and friends, marital sex, and whatever else one wishes to do within the limits of those things which are permitted therein. Moreover, the two versions of the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, have very different foci for Shabbat: the one, theocentric, describes it as a commemoration of Creation; the other, more “humanistic” or socially oriented, as providing the basic human need for a day of rest from labor—a need well understood by a one-time slave people.

The Kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions go further, explicitly stating that the Shabbat is a day of heightened potential for spiritual awareness. The Zohar interprets the verse in Ezekiel 46:1 about the inner gate of the Temple courtyard, which was closed on the six days of the week, “but on the Sabbath day it shall be open, and on the New Moon it shall be open,” as meaning that on Shabbat and other holy days the innermost gates of the human heart are open, more receptive to the spiritual. The Rebbe of Ger, the Sefat Emet, articulates in numerous places the idea that a person’s learning of Torah is somehow different on Shabbat from other days: on weekdays one must labor to understand the Torah, it is a day of human effort, whereas on Shabbat one somehow enjoys a spiritual grace (commensurate with the effort invested during the week), a kind of Divine gift of knowledge and intuitive understanding derived from the special character of the day. In a somewhat similar vein, in the Hasidic school of Lubavitch, the weekdays are devoted to “revealed Torah”—i.e., Talmud and poskim—whereas Shabbat is a time for study of the mystical teachings of Hasidism.

Having said all that, we can now understand Musaf not only as expressing longing for the renewal of the Temple service in the literal sense, with the blood and smoke of the sacrifices burning on the altar —a notion which many contemporary people find difficult to accept—but as a metaphor for our longing for the extra measure of spirituality and closeness to the Divine afforded by Shabbat and the other holy days; the journey to Jerusalem as the central image for each person’s lifelong religious quest..

One might add that Musaf is particularly central to festival days. There is a sense that the holiness and special nature of the festive days is especially linked to the Temple service. These were pilgrimage festivals, when people from all over the Land came up to Zion; its Musaf offerings were more elaborate—not only lambs, but also rams and bullocks; and the text of the Musaf prayer is correspondingly elaborate, with graphic description of the pilgrimage to the Temple and the joy of those participating thereon. (Rav Soloveitchik once observed that the festivals were days of all-encompassing joy, whereas Shabbat is only a day of “pleasure”(oneg)—a more muted, quiet kind of contentment and well-being, unlike the mass public expressions of joy on the festivals. He cited as proof the custom that the passage Yismekhu bemalkhutkah shomfrei shabbat… [“may those who observe the Shabbat rejoice in Your kingdom”] is only recited in the Musaf prayer of Shabbat, which corresponds to the Temple worship. [Albeit, while this is true of Nusah Ashkenaz, in Nusah Sefarad this passage is recited at Shaharit and Arvit as well.])

Siyyum Hashas and Avodat ha-Tamid

I’ve been meaning for some time to write about an event that took place on Motza’ei Shavuot, the night after the festival of Shavuot, over a month and a half ago. I was privileged to be present at a very special and unusual event: Siyyum ha-Shas, a celebration marking the completion of the study of the entire Babylonian Talmud, by a woman. While women studying Talmud “like men”—i.e., in depth and extensively—has become more common in recent years, it is still not an everyday occurrence for a woman to complete study of the entire Babylonian Talmud. Albeit, perhaps it oughtn’t to have been so surprising in light of the identity of the woman in question—Prof. Devora Steinmetz, a well-known scholar, formerly professor of Talmud at JTS, presently a key senior faculty member at Yeshivat Hadar in New York City, and a central figure in women’s Torah study circles. The siyyum was held at her family’s second home in Israel, at Tekoa, which she shares with her husband, David Silber, a well-known educator identified with Derisha Institute.

In her hadran, the informal talk she gave on this occasion (the term is taken from a collection of passages recited at the conclusion of each tractate), she spoke about the idea of temidut—constancy in the service of God, which she saw as embodied in the commitment to study a page of Talmud every single day, completing the entire Talmud Bavli in seven years. (Devora began her study of the Daf Yomi with Niddah, the final tractate; thus, the last major tractate she studied was Tamid, which discusses the laws of the fixed daily offering; as noted, this is also one of the topics of this week’s parashah.) She saw the idea of fixed, regular study as manifesting the idea of the tamid—a fixed, constant act of service to God, which may be less exciting and less dramatic than the concentrated excitement of peak moments or special events, but forms the basis of serious, ongoing religious life. This was the significance of the Korban Tamid in the Temple as of old—the sacrifice offered at the beginning and end of each day, whatever else may have been going in; it is the idea underlying daily prayer; and the same idea is manifested in regular, daily Torah study, קביעת עתים לתורה, “fixing time for Torah.” This may take the form of the Daf Yomi, the “daily page” of Talmud, an idea introduced over 80 years ago by R. Meir Shapira of Lublin, in which the Talmud is studied following a fixed schedule by Jews all over the world, completed every seven-plus years; today; or, more generally, by any fixed daily routine of Torah study at a certain time every day—be it Talmud, Mishnah, halakhah, Tanakh, Jewish thought, or whatever. This is a basic Jewish concept, and at heart very simple: The Torah is the heritage of all, and every Jew should devote time to its study every day.

I would like to comment about an alternative model of Torah study, which has taken deep root in a major group within Orthodox Jewry: namely, that every adult male, or as many as possible, should engage in Torah study all day, to the exclusion of all else. This idea seems to me rather strange. It is, first of all, unfeasible psychologically—only a small minority of people are capable of being perpetual students; those who are not, if coerced to do so by social pressure, will no doubt waste or fritter away much of their time, and end up neither true scholars nor productive citizens. More important, it is problematic ethically, in that it requires being supported financially by others—one’s wife, a wealthy father-in-law, communal funds, or the State budget—and leaving to others all the other tasks needed to keep society going in a secure manner. (Indeed, Maimonides condemns this approach in scathing language in three separate places.) Moreover, in times past this was not the model for the Jewish people, neither in Eretz Yisrael in ancient times nor in medieval Diaspora communities; it is an invention of the past half-century. Many of the Sages were artisans or merchants, while those few who were exceptional scholars served in Rabbinic or judicial office and received salaries as such. Yet somehow, this bizarre idea has taken root and become the model for mass Torah study, so much so that the idea that Torah scholars be required to do anything else with their time (e.g., serve in the military defending their country like everyone else), even for a limited number of years, is seen as an affront, tantamount to asking them to forsake their religion. Their leaders have even succeeded in convincing people outside of their closed world—secularist or modern-Orthodox intellectuals and politicians—to back this idea, with the argument that to do otherwise would bring about “a schism within the people” (as if it doesn’t already exist!). Israel is a very strange place.

The time has come to restore the centrality of the model of the ordinary person who sets fixed times for Torah study within the context of a normal, active, “worldly” life. “May all your children be learned of the Lord; the great shall be the peace of your children.”

A Technical Comment About This Blog

One of my devoted readers asked a technical question about how to locate material from previous years on my blog ( . Now and again, when mentioning in passing one or another point, I will refer to an earlier, fuller discussion of that issue in a previous number of Hitzei Yehonatan, using the format: “see HY III: Tzav (Midrash)” or “see HY VIII: Vaethanan (Rashi).” My friend commented, quite rightly, that the postings in the blog do not contain the Roman numeral or any other indication of year, and therefore he wondered how one could find it. The answer is simple: every cross-reference contains the name of the parshat hashavua (or holiday) in which where the discussion appears, followed by the short title of the series, each year having a unique series title (Torah, Haftarah, Hasidism, Zohar, Psalms, etc.). In the above case, by going to Google and searching under Hitzei Yehonatan + Tzav [i.e., parasha name) + Midrash (i.e., series name), one can find the posting desired.

In addition, I hope, in the very near future, to make the blog more user-friendly by assigning keywords to each posting as an aid in searching. I also hope (if God gives me the time) to introduce links, not to mention filling in the lacunae in the blog. But for the time being it should be possible to find any material sought using the above method.

For the convenience of readers, I provide a list of the topics (series titles) of each year of Hitzei Yehonatan: I: Torah; II: Haftarah; III: Midrash; IV: Hasidism; V: Rambam; VI: Psalms; VII: Months; VIII: Rashi; IX: Mitzvot; X: Zohar; XI: Aggadah; XII: Individual & Community; XIII: Wanderings.

Balak (wanderings)

To be posted

Hukat (Wanderings)

To be posted

Korah (Wanderings)

To be posted

Shelah Lekha (Wanderings)

To be posted

Beha'alotkha (Wanderings)

To be posted