Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Treasure - A Random Poetic Selection

My Treasure

A treasure not sought after much

By elderly or youth;

A beauty not admired as such

By primitive or couth.

The satisfaction she provides

Is not for sale in stores;

No advertisements or bromides

No international tours.

The cynics and the skeptics doubt

What good she has to give;

For me she is what good’s about

And my whole reason to live.

Enjoying her the way I do

You’d think I wouldn’t share;

The truth is, if the world did too

There’d still be much to spare.

Each evening I do creep away

Enwrapped in cloak of night

And cast aside the workaday

For wisdom's sweet delight.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tisha B'av Repost

I just revisited one of my posts from last year on the topic of Fasting and Mourning. I probably should have drawn attention to it earlier given its relevance to the observance of Tisha B'av, but I suppose it is better late than never.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tisha B'av Letter 5769

Last year, I posted the Tisha B'av message that I sent to my community on my blog. This year, I am posting a different message - this is the response I sent to an email that was distributed by one of the respected administrators of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington:

Dear XXX,
I generally appreciate your thoughtful messages and I am glad to receive them. Thank you for the time and effort that you invest in crafting these missives for the benefit of our communities. I hope you accept this response in that same spirit.
I must say that I take exception to your characterization of Tisha B’av as an “ancient fast day” and your description of the Destruction of our Temples as a positive step in the evolution of Jewish religious practice, moving us to a religion that “relies more on builders than on buildings”.
Although the observance of Tisha B’av was indeed established in “ancient” times, its message is profound and highly relevant to the modern era. And the loss of the Temple, which may appear like progress to the uninitiated, was an unspeakable tragedy for the Jewish people.
If you read the prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the First Temple, which appears in the Book of Kings, you will see that the Bet Hamiqdash was not merely a physical structure in which certain arcane religious services were carried out. In fact, the sacrificial service was not the ultimate purpose of the existence of the Sanctuary – it was a minor facet of its operation.
The Temple was a symbol of Jewish national unity and the abiding relationship between Israel and the Creator of the Universe. It was a reflection of the fact that, while we may disagree on many things, we share a fundamental set of values and priorities that inspire and guide us all. It was a place that all the nations of the world would visit for instruction and education on matters of intellectual, moral and ethical import.
Nowadays, our people is quite literally lost. We no longer have great Sages to provide us with an understanding of our Torah that is decisive and compelling, so our sons and daughters exempt themselves from “Jewish studies” as quickly as possible and pursue other intellectual disciplines that are perceived as more rigorous, relevant and financially rewarding.
We no longer have a Sanctuary to visit and reaffirm our identities as Jews – a unique nation with a unique conception of God and a unique way of life that reflects our commitment to Him. The proliferation of multiple “movements” in Judaism has subdivided our nation in every possible way, leaving the definition of Judaism itself unclear and confusing.
We are busy competing with the nations of the world for material prosperity and physical pleasures, admiring – indeed, practically worshiping - the celebrities in Hollywood and the power brokers in Washington, meanwhile all but turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the injustices that abound in our society. Instead of crowding into the Temple to observe the High Priest and the scholars of Torah in worship – an inspiring vision of holiness that would perhaps motivate us to better our lives and enrich our souls – we crowd into football stadiums and auditoriums to have our superficiality reinforced by individuals who profit off of our cluelessness.
Your concern with ethical lapses is valid and praiseworthy, but ethical lapses do not appear in a vacuum. They emerge from a materialistic orientation to the world that is alienated from any transcendent purpose. One who is occupied with the pursuit of wisdom and is disinterested in accumulating wealth, honor and status will not behave unethically. Only a person attached to such things will compromise his or her principles to acquire them.
Take, for example, the fact that our own JCC is open on Shabbat. What values and priorities does this policy reflect? What sense of Jewish identity, history or destiny does it manifest? It is a tragic instance of the subordination of the spiritual to the pragmatic, and of the transcendent to the mundane. Perhaps closing the JCC on Shabbat would be a positive step in the right direction for our community. I know many non-observant Jews who would nevertheless be happy to see such a sanctification of God’s name take place. Maybe it would inspire more acts of sacrifice, more setting aside of immediate and expedient gratification for the sake of noble and eternal ends.
The return to Zion and rebuilding of the Temple that we pray for is not the product of a nationalistic vision. It is a yearning for a different kind of society, a global civilization free from the chains of self-indulgence, materialism and treachery that are imposed upon us by movies, television, and, yes, our very own schools and synagogues!
These institutions unfortunately instill in us an insatiable desire for “success”, a distaste for the wisdom of tradition and a craving for the respect of our fellow citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish. Our attachment to the petty “goods” of this society is the fuel that feeds the flame of self-absorption and injustice. Our role models and leaders promote the wrong values and we are not protesting. They are stealing our souls and we are not mourning the loss, because we barely even feel it; and, if we do, we don’t care that much anyway, since a soul cannot buy us a Venti Skim Latte at Starbucks or a Mercedes Benz.
The need for a Temple is as real today as it ever was. One day, we firmly believe that it will once again stand as a symbol of the transcendent goal toward which all of humanity should be striving and as a witness to the pettiness and frivolity of materialistic pursuits. It will assign prominence to men and women of true knowledge and fine character rather than to sports figures and influence peddlers. It will provide us with a venue to teach our children, and the world, that the search for truth for its own sake is the noblest occupation for a human being, that money, titles and honor are meaningless, and that the cost of allowing human beings to suffer in this world is too great to allow us the luxuries with which we are currently all too happy to distract ourselves.
I hope that this Tisha B’av is a meaningful one for all, and that it is the first step toward the redemption of a world that surely needs it.
All the best to you and your entire family.
Rabbi Joshua Maroof
Magen David Sephardic Congregation
Rockville, MD

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Is The Ninth of Av a Holiday?

One of the most fascinating practices of Tisha B'av is the omission of tahanunim. Typically, these more somber sections of prayer are omitted on festive occasions but are expanded and elaborated upon on fast days. We would expect that on Tisha B'av, the most intense and heart-wrenching fast day of the year, tahanunim would play a prominent role in the liturgy. Instead, they are purposefully left out of the order of prayer.

The commentaries explain that Tisha B'av is unique inasmuch as it is referred to in Scripture as a "moed", a holiday, and is thus entitled to the same exemption from tahanunim that is granted to other festivals. Some might assume that this means that, in the Messianic era, Tisha B'av will attain the status of a moed. The verse cited to substantiate this argument in the Book of Eikha (Lamentations), however, does not support this interpretation:

The enemy established an appointed time (moed) to destroy my young men...
What immediately strikes us about this "proof-text" is the fact that the "holiday" here is one celebrated by the enemies as they crush the Jewish people. It is difficult to see why this tragic phenomenon should serve to establish Tisha B'av as a moed for us. It is clear, though, that Tisha B'av is assigned the title of a "holiday" even now, despite the fact that its tone is far from festive.

It seems, then, that Tisha B'av is indeed a moed, a holiday in its own right. In Jewish terms, a holiday is a time consecrated to reflection on some aspect of our relationship with Hashem. On Pesah, we celebrate God's redemption of the Jewish people from bondage. On Shavuot, we rejoice in the gift of Torah knowledge with which He bestowed us. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we acknowledge the Kingship, Sovereignty and Mercy of God. On Sukkot we recognize Him as the source of material blessing and security. Generally speaking, this reflection is conducted in an atmosphere of inspiration and joy.

Tisha B'av, however, is a holiday dedicated to reflecting upon the current state of our covenant with Hashem. It is a time set aside for contemplation of the Midat Hadin, the Divine attribute of Justice and its ramifications. Like all moadim, Tisha B'av requires us to deviate from our usual routine and gather together as a community for a transcendent objective. Like all moadim, Tisha B'av is structured around a diminished involvement in workaday activities coupled with an increased involvement in prayer and the study of relevant subject matter (in this case, Eikha, Kinot, etc.). Like all moadim, the liturgy of Tisha B'av is designed to highlight the thematic focus of the day; Tisha B'av has its own Megillah as all Festivals do, extensive kinot are recited in place of Hallel and the lessons of these texts are reinforced with carefully selected Torah and Haftara readings.

Like all moadim, the purpose of Tisha B'av observances is to focus us on specific events in our ancient or recent history so as to lead us toward a greater understanding and appreciation of Hashem's ultimate plan in the world. The events of Tisha B'av, though perpetrated against us by wicked enemies, serve the function of helping us develop a clearer perspective on the stark reality of where we stand before God as a people.

Because the theme of Tisha B'av is an assessment of our covenantal bond with God and the implications of our failure to maintain it, the outcome is a day of mourning and fasting. Were we living in accordance with the Torah and fulfilling our objective as a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, however, the results of our Tisha B'av reflection would be as positive, exhilarating and uplifting as those of the other moadim of the year.

The Kinnot pick up on and develop this principle in the context of the link between Tisha B'av and Pesah. One of the classic Sephardic Kinot, "Aleikhem Edah Qedosha" contrasts the celebration of Pesah with the mourning of Tisha B'av, in the form of four questions that are presented to the community. The kinah includes the ironic refrain "why is this night different from all other nights?" Another Kinah, recited in Ashkenazic as well as Sephardic congregations, contrasts our experience of Divine Providence as we departed Egypt with our experience of the withdrawal of God's providence as we left Jerusalem as exiles.

Of course, the link between Tisha B'av and Pesah is doubly warranted. First of all, Pesah signifies the beginning of the Jewish nation's relationship with God, and their redemption from the tyranny of human government. This is precisely the opposite of Tisha B'av, which represents a return to pre-Exodus conditions, including subjection to human rule and an inability to perceive God's presence in the world. Second, it is a curious feature of the Jewish calendar that, in a given year, Pesah and Tisha B'av always fall out on the same day of the week, underscoring this parallel even further.

What is most noteworthy, however, is how both Pesah and Tisha B'av are days of reflection upon the fundamentals of God's relationship with His people. In one case, we celebrate the initial covenant that our ancestors in Egypt forged with Hashem and the miraculous transformation and redemption that resulted therefrom; in the other, we consider our abandonment of the selfsame covenant and mourn the current unredeemed state of our nation in exile. Surface-level differences in observance and atmosphere notwithstanding, the respective themes of Pesah and Tisha B'av are ultimately two sides of the proverbial coin.

In summary, Tisha B'av is, indeed, a Moed, in the sense that it is a period of time consecrated to reflection on our relationship with God and His Providence. In particular, Tisha B'av deals with our national covenant with Hashem and the principles of Divine Justice associated with it. No Tahanun is recited on Tisha B'av because it possesses the essential quality of a holiday, despite the fact that, in our current state, the tone of Tisha B'av is mournful and depressing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Anger and Error

The Sages observe that, each time the Torah describes Moshe Rabbenu getting angry, he is also depicted as erring in his conduct or making a mistake in his application of halakha. The final instance of this is provided in Parashat Mattot, wherein Moshe Rabbenu becomes aggravated when he discovers that the Jewish soldiers missed the point of the military campaign against Midian and, as a result, took far too many captives. After castigating them for this oversight, Moshe provides them with a few procedural details they were expected to observe vis a vis ritual purity and departs. Elazar, the Kohen Gadol, then instructs them as to the proper method of "purging" Midianite vessels for Jewish (i.e., kosher) use. The Rabbis state that Moshe himself should have informed the soldiers of these laws; however, because he lost his temper, he forgot to do so.

Working backwards from a chronological standpoint, the second - and probably most famous - case of Moshe getting angry is when he became frustrated, struck a rock and thereby forfeited the privilege of entering the Land of Israel. The connection between loss of temper and mistake in both of these examples is clear. In the first, Moshe's anger distracted him from the need to convey important halakhic information to the soldiers. In the second situation, the fact that Moshe became flustered led him to overreact and behave impulsively, thus transgressing the commandment of Hashem.

However, there is another instance of Moshe's anger that does not fit this mold and that is, as a result, quite intriguing. In Parashat Shemini, after the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu, Moshe commands Aharon, Elazar and Itamar - the remaining Kohanim - to proceed with the sacrificial services as planned. However, it subsequently becomes clear that, rather than consuming one of the sin offerings - precisely which one is a subject of debate in Masekhet Zevahim, and would take us too far afield of the topic at hand - that offering was burnt. Moshe becomes angry and takes the Kohanim to task for this error. Aharon, his brother, responds to the harsh criticism and deflects the stated objections to their course of action; in the end, Moshe himself acquiesces that the Kohanim made the correct decision after all. The Rabbis point to this situation as another example of how anger can cause a wise man to make errors in halakha - Moshe became angry and, lo and behold, his halakhic analysis was proven wrong!

There is an obvious problem, however, with this observation of our rabbis; namely, in this instance, the error most definitely preceded the anger, and not the other way around. After all, it was because of Moshe Rabbenu's incorrect belief that the sin offering should be consumed that he became angry in the first place! One cannot possibly conclude that falling victim to the emotion of anger was what caused Moshe to make a mistake here; in fact, the very opposite is true. Moshe's halakhic opinion - subsequently shown to be erroneous - inspired him with the righteous indignation that he then proceeded to vent on his brother and his nephews.

(Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that, in some versions of the Midrash - for this very reason - this example is NOT cited to illustrate the principle that anger breeds intellectual error. However, the present analysis will be based on the version of the Midrash cited by Rashi, which does include the sin offering case.)

The resolution of this difficulty can be derived from a careful reading of Rashi's comments on the incident in Parashat Mattot:

Because Moshe came into the category of anger (ba likhlal kaas) he came into the category of error (ba likhlal ta-ut), such that he forgot to mention the laws of purifying vessels obtained from non-Jews. So too do we find on the eighth day of the dedication of the Mishkan, where Moshe got angry with Elazar and Itamar - he came into the category of anger (ba likhlal kaas) so he came into the category of error (ba likhlal ta-ut). Similarly, when Moshe said "hear now rebels" and struck the rock, because of anger he erred (al yedei hakaas ta-ah).

What is the meaning of the cumbersome expression "came into the category of anger" and "came into the category of error". Why not simply state that Moshe got angry, so he made a mistake! Indeed, in the last case, Rashi employs different phraseology, writing simply "because of anger he erred". If the first, more lengthy expression is more accurate, then why did Rashi see fit to change it after already using it twice?

I believe that Rashi is conveying a profound insight with his nuanced use of language. We tend to assume that the main reason that anger is harmful is because the emotional state of rage itself interferes with rational thought and prevents us from deliberating properly. This is certainly true, but there is another connection between anger and error that is less obvious at first. Anger and error both emerge from the same root cause - interpreting reality from a subjective rather than objective vantage point.

Rashi's statement that "one who comes into the category of anger comes into the category of error" means that the same orientation toward an event that has the potential to lead to anger also has the potential to lead to error, even if anger has not yet occurred. When are personally invested in a project or event, we approach it in an very emotionally sensitive manner. This means we are likely to become angry if things do not proceed according to plan. It also means that we are prone to making mistakes in our analysis of the situation that we would not have made had we been operating more objectively.

Consider the difference in how a bride approaches the planning of her wedding and the orientation of a professional caterer to the same phenomenon. The former is likely to become extraordinarily upset if her "big day" does not meet with the highly specific expectations she has established. Precisely because of this sensitivity, she is also prone to erring in her interpretation of and/or reaction to any deviations from her vision, real or imagined.

A caterer, on the other hand, is emotionally detached from the specific wedding she is managing. She surveys the circumstances from a business standpoint, and understands the steps that need to be taken to create an elegant and meaningful event for any given client. If an error is made, she may be disappointed, but she is unlikely to become enraged. Similarly, she has the intellectual objectivity to assess and resolve apparent crises effectively without committing substantial errors.

On the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, Moshe Rabbenu should have been like a caterer faithfully and objectively executing his mission. Instead, he became like a bride, personally invested in the process and therefore highly sensitive regarding any deviation from the prescribed procedures. The dedication represented the culmination of Moshe Rabbenu's spiritual stewardship of the Jewish people up to that point, and it had to be perfect. It was tragic enough that two of the sons of Aharon perished, marring the joyousness of the event. Everything else, as far as Moshe Rabbenu was concerned, had to be in strict compliance with the specific vision he had in mind.

The subjective orientation he had to the consecration of the Mishkan led him to think rigidly about the mitsvot involved, to become attached to a highly particular way that things "had to be" and, in the end, to get angry with the sons of Aharon when they deviated from the plan he envisioned. What he failed to realize was that, because he had become so personally involved in the situation, he had unwittingly erred in his analysis of the relevant halakhot.

The same circumstance obtained with regard to the war with Midian. Here again, the situation at hand was of enormous personal significance to Moshe Rabbenu. It was his final act of leadership of the Jewish people, the sealing of his legacy for all generations. Ideally, Moshe should have liberated himself from this highly subjective framework of thought and considered matters from a purely objective standpoint. He may still have reprimanded the soldiers upon their return, but without losing his temper.

Instead, he allowed his personal investment in the battle to color his perception of the war, and he became angry when it did not meet with the expectations he had formed. His loss of an objective perspective also manifested itself in the fact that he did not fully address all of the halakhic issues that were relevant in the aftermath of the battle. He focused on maintaining the sanctity of the camp and the Miqdash - areas of the highest priority for him as religious leader - but neglected matters of practical import for the soldiers themselves, such as how to purify the vessels they had captured from Midian for kosher use.

The exception to this pattern was the case of striking the rock, in which Moshe Rabbenu, because of his personal frustration with the Jewish people and their recalcitrance, misinterpreted their complaints as rebellious in nature and became angry. This anger led him to deviate - not in thought, but in action - from the command of Hashem. The emotion of rage overwhelmed him and influenced his behavior. In the words of Rashi, in this circumstance, "al yedei kaas, ta-ah" - because of anger, he erred.

We see then how, with only a few carefully chosen words, Rashi explains to us the complex relationship between anger and error. Sometimes, it is a simple matter of cause and effect. The passionate state of rage that overtakes us impairs our judgment and we behave inappropriately, as Moshe did in the case of the rock.

However, there are times when anger and intellectual errors can emerge simultaneously from a more fundamental source - our subjective investment in the outcome of a certain process or event. In these cases, both phenomena are ultimately traceable to the mental framework through which we have chosen to perceive a given situation. Thus, oftentimes anger and intellectual carelessness appear together because they share a common origin, and not necessarily because one is the direct cause of the other. A person prone to getting angry about something is equally prone to make mistakes about it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Three Cardinal Sins

The Talmud (Yoma 9B) tells us that the first Bet Hamiqdash was destroyed because of three grave sins that had become widespread in Israel - idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. What is remarkable about this description of the failings that lead to the destruction of the First Temple is that the very same trio of sins plays a significant role in another connection.

As a general principle, a Jew whose life is endangered as a result of Torah observance is commanded to violate the laws of the Torah rather than perish. However, there are three exceptions to this rule; no matter what the circumstances, even to save his life, a Jew is never permitted to engage in idolatry, illicit sexual relations or homicide. These commandments represent the core values of Judaism - the Unity of God, the intrinsic sanctity of human life, and our mandate to transcend our base instincts so as to promote those ideals.

Ordinary mitsvot are means to an end, they are designed to help us make the most out of our lives. Thus, it would be absurd to sacrifice our lives on their account. This would transform them from contructive tools of perfection into agents of destruction.

On the other hand, the three core sins embody the metaphysical principles of Judaism, they are outward expressions of our inner convictions about God and human nature. They are not means to an end - they point to the end itself. As such, unlike the remaining commandments of the Torah, they are not expendable under any circumstances. To compromise on them, even for a moment, would be to contradict the fundamentals of our belief, the values that make life itself worth living.

Casting these ideas aside for the sake of physical existence would be a travesty, as it would imply that our individual biological/instinctual life is an object of value in its own right whose preservation takes precedence over the affirmation of God's existence and/or His relationship with mankind. This is a hillul Hashem, a desecration of God's name, because it ascribes greater significance to material reality than metaphysical reality.The mitzvah of Qiddush Hashem, on the other hand, directs us to promote quite the opposite perspective - namely, that the metaphysical is of ultimate value, utterly transcending and even trumping the material, the particular, and the mundane.

Therefore, as the Rambam explains in the Laws of the Fundamentals of the Torah, sacrificing one's life for the sake of observing these mitsvot is a fulfillment of the commandment to sanctify God's name, as it is written in the Torah, "and I shall be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel." A Jew who violates one of these precepts in order to preserve his life is considered to have desecrated God's name through his surrender.

With this in mind, we can perhaps understand why it is the three "cardinal sins" that were responsible for the destruction of the Bet Hamiqdash. The Torah states in several places in the books of Shemot, Vayiqra and Devarim, that the ultimate purpose of the Miqdash was to provide a vehicle for communal "Qiddush Hashem" - hence the name "miqdash", which is derived from the term for sanctity or holiness. The Kohanim are commanded to sanctify God's name through their religious service, Torah teaching, and personal conduct. The edifice of the Sanctuary was designed to inspire visitors with love and reverence for the Creator of the Universe.

The Miqdash's function of sanctifying Hashem's name, however, can only be achieved when it is situated amidst a nation that is dedicated to that objective. It was designed as a means to the end of Qiddush Hashem - an institution through which the Jewish people were to accomplish their collective aim. As such, the Miqdash must be in the "right hands" for its potential to be actualized. A nation engaged in activities that are the very negation of qiddush Hashem cannot possibly appreciate, maintain or participate in the operation of a Sanctuary that is consecrated to the lofty end of elevating humanity's consciousness of God.

Therefore, it is perfectly understandable why the Jews lost the privilege of a Holy Temple as soon as they demonstrated a complete lack of commitment to Qiddush Hashem and engaged in idolatry, illicit sexual behavior and murder. These grave sins clearly indicated the alienation of the Jewish people from the core principles of Torah, principles for which one would ordinarily sacrifice one's life, and, therefore, a total disconnection from the purpose for which the Miqdash was brought into existence in the first place.

When the Jewish people abandoned their mission of Qiddush Hashem, they effectively transformed the Temple's operation into a desecration rather than a sanctification of Hashem's name. Tragically, the Miqdash was now misconstrued as an emblem of God's purported endorsement of the metaphysically bankrupt lifestyle of the Jewish people rather than a source of inspiration that would encourage them to transcend their petty pursuits.

The Jews' wanton disregard for the real objective of the Miqdash created a situation in which the Miqdash could no longer function properly and in which - since its true nature was ignored or distorted - it would, as an institution, inevitably be hijacked for corrupt purposes. The destruction of the Bet Hamiqdash, and its absence from our nation to this day, is the ultimate indication that we are not yet prepared to embrace the noble mission of Qiddush Hashem for which Hashem chose our forefathers.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Response to Yated Ne'eman

On July 10th, Yated Ne'eman, a well-known Orthodox newspaper, published a scathing critique of Open Orthodoxy and YCT with a special focus on the issue of women's ordination. A significant portion of the article was devoted to attacking me personally. In response, I sent the following letter to Yated Ne'eman, which I am hopeful that they will publish in its entirety:

Dear Editors,

The July 10th issue of Yated Ne’eman contained an article by Yisroel Lichter on the subject of “Open Orthodoxy” and women’s ordination in which my views, affiliations and public statements were completely and shockingly misrepresented. I was deeply pained by the fact that these false and inflammatory rumors about me were disseminated in Yated Ne'eman, a newspaper avidly read and respected by my rabbaim, my chaverim and myself. I thank you in advance for allowing me this opportunity to correct the misunderstandings and distortions that were conveyed in that article. I hope that, for the sake of honesty and fairness, my response will be printed in the Yated in an unedited and uncensored form.

Throughout his article, Mr. Lichter portrayed me as a radical member of the “Open Orthodox” movement, referring to me as a “left-wing fringe element” no different than a Conservative or Reform rabbi. The reality is that I have absolutely no connection whatsoever to Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and I categorically reject “Open Orthodox” ideology.

I exclusively identify myself with the Center-Right/Yeshivish segment of Orthodox Judaism. Indeed, the speech I delivered at Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony - from which select quotes were reproduced and maligned by Mr. Lichter – I mentioned twice that “I hail from the right wing of Orthodoxy”. This particular phrase was unfortunately omitted from the Yated article; however, my affiliation is well known to those who have had personal contact with me, including many representatives of Open Orthodoxy, who would be surprised to learn that I am being labeled a left-wing radical by the press.

If I were a left-wing fringe rabbi, then being condemned in Yated Ne’eman would not matter to me. The reason I am so deeply upset about the unfairness of your article – an article that asserted, in black and white, that I am not even entitled to the benefit of the doubt – is because I am very far from being a leftist. I feel as if I have been dragged through the mud in full view of my own community without so much as a chance to respond to the allegations being made against me.

Mr. Lichter claimed that I have a history of advocating controversial positions on women’s issues and that, therefore, I lack credibility. While I cannot speak for the other rabbis who were criticized in this vein in the article – I am unfamiliar with their backgrounds in this respect – I can say that this is patently false with regard to me. The only area in which I have promoted the cause of women in particular has been the area of Torah study, and the only public pronouncements I have made about this subject are the ones referenced in your article. I have neither adopted nor espoused any radical or controversial halakhic positions on this or any related topic. I have never been involved in or associated with any organizations, projects or activities devoted to the advancement of a liberal agenda.

My perspective on women’s issues was misrepresented in your paper and many of my statements were taken out of context. The author of the article implied that I dismissed great Torah luminaries as “dogmatic” or “anti-women” because of their opposition to the notion of women holding positions of communal leadership. However, in my written teshuva, which the Yated regrettably refused to publish but which is readily available online, I explicitly cited and affirmed the Rambam’s view that serara (political leadership) is prohibited to women. Of the three teshuvot utilized by Rabbi Weiss to support his initiative, mine was the only responsum to do this; sadly, this very significant distinction was overlooked by Mr. Lichter. Anyone who examines my words carefully will see that my premises, arguments and conclusions are fully consistent with the rulings of Rav Moshe Feinstein Z”L, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Z”L, and other gedolei Torah.

All of my comments regarding expanding the range of leadership opportunities for women were made exclusively with reference to the study and teaching of Torah, and had nothing to do with women’s ordination or their employment in synagogues. In this regard, the thoughts I expressed find broad support in the writings of many Torah giants, including but not limited to the Tosafot in Masekhet Nidda, the Sefer Ha-Hinukh, the Hida in Birke Yosef, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik Z”L, Rabbi Ben-Tsion Meir Hai Uziel Z”L, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Z”L, and former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel Rishon Letsion Rav Mordechai Eliyahu.Granted, there may be differences of opinion on some aspects of this issue, but my position is a far cry from heresy.

Surely Miriam, Devorah and Hulda were well-versed in every area of Torah and halakha and provided instruction and guidance to Am Yisrael in their time. All of these women must have received a thorough education in Torah Shebichtav and Torah Shebal Peh and were certainly counted among the premiere Torah authorities of their age. Beruriah, the wife of Rabbi Meir, Chava, the grandmother of the Chavot Yair, and Rebbetzin Bayla, the wife of the Derisha, were similarly recognized and praised for their outstanding erudition. Is this not sufficient precedent for the notion that an inspired woman can achieve great heights in Torah scholarship and can serve as a role model and teacher for her people – provided, of course, that the halakhic principles of modesty and propriety, as well as restrictions on serarah, are observed?

While I realize that, without the benefit of context, some of my remarks could have been misinterpreted by the casual reader, they were not intended to have any radical or, chas veshalom, disrespectful implications. I was speaking in an impassioned manner of the value of Torah learning and my hope that its beauty be made available to a wider audience – men and women - across all segments of Orthodoxy. Moreover, I expressed my wish that scholarly women – again, both Modern Orthodox and Charedi - who excel in the study of Torah be granted the opportunity to teach and inspire other Jews rather than being disenfranchised or having their accomplishments discounted because of their gender.

Let me clarify that the criticisms contained in my speech were directed at people who - because of bias or preconceived notions - try to prevent G-d fearing women from learning and contributing to communal leadership even in halakhically permissible ways. My point was to condemn those who oppose women’s involvement in Torah study regardless of its halakhic legitimacy. Contrary to the accusations of Mr. Lichter, I did not intend to cast aspersions – chas veshalom - on individuals whose reservations and objections are firmly rooted in halakha and based purely on Shas and Shulchan Aruch, such as the great poskim of the past and present.

My participation in Sara Hurwitz’s ceremony was motivated by my desire to acknowledge her significant attainments in Torah study and to celebrate the fact that women with Torah knowledge can have a positive and lasting impact on the spiritual growth of our communities, provided that they operate within the framework of halakha. If my presence at that event was misconstrued as a tacit endorsement of Open Orthodoxy, its institutions or its peculiar interpretations of Jewish law, then I am profoundly regretful of my decision to attend.

I thank you again for allowing me to provide this clarification of my ideological affiliations, halakhic opinions and actions for the benefit of the Yated readership..

Sincerely Yours,

Rabbi Joshua Maroof

Rockville, Maryland

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rabbi Lamm on Women's Issues

From the Jerusalem Post:

Regarding the ordination of female rabbis, Lamm said his opposition was "social, not religious."

"Change has to come to religion when feasible, but it should not be rushed. Women have just come into their own from an educational perspective. I would prefer not to have this innovation right now. It is simply too early. What will happen later... I am not a prophet."

This essentially corroborates my own views as referenced in a mildly controversial JTA article a couple of months ago. It is a matter of public policy and not halakha, and - as has been widely discussed in the J-Blogosphere - most Orthodox Rabbis are aware of this fact.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Seventh Day of Pesah II

Another approach to the question of why the Torah established the seventh day of Pesah as a full-fledged holiday is expressed in many traditional sources and is widely known; namely, the seventh day is, according to the Midrashim, the day on which Hashem split the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Jewish people to pass through to safety and drowning their Egyptian pursuers. This view of the origin of the special status of the seventh day of Pesah is reflected in the Torah reading for that day - we read the beginning of Parashat Beshalah, which describes the Jews' exit from Egypt, Pharaoh's final change of heart, and the ensuing drama at the Sea.

The first difficulty with this explanation is a basic one. The Exodus was the culmination of a multi-stage process. It did not occur in one fell swoop. Yet we do not find that the Torah requires us to commemorate each of the ten plagues with a distinct holiday; we reflect upon all of them, and the lessons they represent, on the first day of Pesah.

On the surface, it would seem that the splitting of the sea is no different. It was certainly a magnificent and miraculous occurrence that is worthy of mention at the Seder; however, all things considered, it is just another component of the process by which the Jews were led by Hashem to freedom. Why does the splitting of the sea justify the creation of another full fledged holiday any more than any of the other plagues that befell the Egyptians and facilitated our liberation?

A second, equally significant difficulty pertains to the story of the splitting of the sea itself. Pharaoh had acquiesced, albeit after much resistance, to Hashem's command to release the Jewish people from bondage. They were well on their way to receive the Torah and settle in the Land of Israel. Apparently, though, Hashem was not satisfied with this outcome. He insisted upon enticing Pharoah to pursue his former slaves, so that he and his army would meet their demise in the Sea of Reeds. Why wasn't the liberation of the Jewish slaves sufficient? Why was it necessary, from Hashem's perspective, to punish the Egyptians further?

I would suggest the following answer: Through their experience of the plagues and their witnessing the remarkable turn of events in Egypt, the Jewish people had become fully convinced that it was worthwhile to commit themselves to following the path of Hashem and to leave Egyptian life behind once and for all. This, in and of itself, was wonderful, but was not a complete 'redemption'.

If Pharaoh had resumed business as usual after the departure of the Jews, he may eventually have seen a rehabilitation of the Egyptian economy and infrastructure, etc. The ordeal with the plagues would have registered in the minds of the Egyptians and the Jews, in retrospect, as a challenge to Pharaoh's sovereignty that was ultimately overcome. Pharaoh took a beating but was not defeated; he may have lost the battle but he was fully capable of continuing the war if need be. While life under God's Kingship might have been proven to be viable, life under the kingship of Man would still exist, at least in theory, as a reasonable (and tempting) alternative. Torah and Egyptian culture would have been seen as two equally valid options - each with their positives and negatives, their strengths and weaknesses - but two options of substance nonetheless.

For this reason, Hashem orchestrated the splitting of the Sea and saw to it that the Children of Israel witnessed the drowning of their oppressors in its depths, as the Torah states:

And Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the bank of the Sea.

The Talmud comments that, before they saw the corpses of the Egyptians wash ashore, the Jews imagined that their tormentors had survived on the other side of the Sea, that they had withdrawn from the water before it was too late. In other words, they fantasized that the kingdom of man could prevail; although it might lose some battles, it remained a contender in the cosmic struggle for mastery of the Universe. Hashem, therefore, willed that the dead Egyptians be seen by the Jews, so that the harsh reality of their fate would be known beyond the shadow of a doubt.

And it is precisely because the Jewish people were then totally disabused of any fantasies about the potential of human dominion to contend with God that we read:

And Israel saw the great hand that Hashem manifested against Egypt, and the people feared Hashem; and they trusted Hashem and Moshe, His servant.

Indeed, the conclusion of the Song at the Sea summarizes the lesson of this dramatic event in one sentence:

Hashem will reign for all eternity -

That is, He did not merely prevail in a single battle, only to be challenged by Pharaoh or his ilk again in the future; on the contrary, He is now seen to transcend and direct any and all material forces, human or otherwise, and His kingship is therefore acknowledged as absolute.

We now understand why, whenever the Exodus is mentioned in our liturgy, the downfall of Pharaoh is emphasized alongside the salvation of Israel. There are numerous instances of this, but one that immediately comes to mind is in the blessing that follows the Shema each morning:

From Egypt did You redeem us, Hashem, our God; from the house of slaves you freed us. All of their firstborn did You kill, and Your firstborn, Israel, did You redeem, and You split the sea for them - the wicked You drowned, and the beloved ones passed through the sea; water covered their oppressors, not one of them was left.

It is not enough, then, to recognize the greatness of Hashem and His majesty alongside that of man; if our redemption is to be complete, we must become fully cognizant of the futility of human dominion in the Universe, and utterly reject the validity of any alternative to the service of our Creator. We do not simply choose the worship of Hashem as a good among other possible goods; on the contrary, we consider all other purported "options" illusory.

This attitude is captured beautifully in the closing verse of the first chapter of Tehillim:

For Hashem knows the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will be destroyed.

This, then, is the importance of the seventh day of Pesah and the splitting of the sea that occurred on it. The plagues that led to the Exodus, and the commandments the Jews were required to perform before their release from bondage, were all designed to provide the Jewish people with the education they needed to be ready to respond to Hashem's directives. The plagues convinced them of the reality of Hashem's existence and the overwhelming power of His governance, and their participation in the Paschal sacrifice demonstrated their commitment to His service. During the first six days of Pesah, we explore and attempt to internalize these themes.

The splitting of the sea, on the other hand, was not intended to establish the basic reality of Hashem and His providence but to show that there is no other reasonable basis for a meaningful and fulfilling life - whatever seems to offer such a basis is, ultimately, a house of cards waiting to be toppled. Commemorating the splitting of the sea on the Seventh Day of Pesah completes our acknowledgement of God's sovereignty by reminding us that "the way of the wicked will be destroyed"; it underscores not only our acceptance of Hashem's kingship (already manifest on the first six days of Pesah) but our absolute rejection of any humanly crafted alternative.

Thus, it is only on the Seventh Day of Pesah that we declare, once and for all, that "Hashem will reign for all eternity."

(Incidentally, we can also see from this analysis why the Seventh Day is not a completely independent holiday - it is still "Pesah", does not require a separate sheheyanu blessing, etc., because it is meant to further develop and round out our reflection upon the theme of Hashem's sovereignty introduced on the First Day of Pesah. It doesn't add any fundamentally new content to the Yom Tov.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Seventh Day of Pesah I

Why does the Torah require us to celebrate the Seventh Day of Pesah as a distinct holiday with a prohibition of work, festival prayers, etc.? This seems like a reasonable question (albeit in retrospect) since the Torah provides no explicit account of its purpose.

Over Yom Tov, I delivered two derashot (speeches) in which I offered independent - although I believe complementary, rather than mutually exclusive - explanations for the institution of the seventh day of Pesah. I will present them here as a series of two posts, and then perhaps a final summary in which I plan to explore their relationship to one another.

There is a curious verse in Parashat Re'eh that we read on the final day of Pesah in the Diaspora:

Six days shall you eat Matsot; on the seventh day it is a day of assembly/rest (i.e., atseret) to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work.

This is certainly a strange statement, and for more than one reason.

First of all, the prohibition of consuming hametz - generally expressed in the positive form, "eating matsot" - extends to the seventh day of Passover as well; it is not restricted to the first six days as the verse would seem to imply. We know this from another passuq in Parashat Bo:

On the fourteenth day of the month in the evening you shall eat matsot, until the twenty first day of the month (i.e., the seventh day of Pesah), in the evening.

A second difficulty with our verse is its structure. It evokes associations to the description of Shabbat in the Torah "six days shall you do work, but on the seventh day you shall rest", or of the Sabbatical year "six years shall you sow your field and gather its produce, but during the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it." However, in this case, not working is not the opposite of eating matsah; there is no reason to mention eating matsot in the verse at all. The Torah could simply have stated, "on the seventh day, it shall be a day of assembly to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work."

I believe that this unusual passuq contains a profound idea. The Torah continually addresses us on both a physical and an intellectual plane. Oftentimes, as in the case of abstaining from hametz, the Torah directs or stimulates our minds through the framework of the physical. However, the Torah never establishes a purely material state or performance as an end in its own right.

If Pesah were to conclude with six days of Hol Hamoed and no final "atseret" holiday, a key component of the objective of the Yom Tov would not be achieved. We would be going through physical motions that failed to culminate in intellectual or moral enlightenment. There would be a change of habits of eating, solidified over seven days' time, but no corresponding opportunity for reflection on the real meaning of that change.

This is why the Torah had to create the seventh day of Pesah - it is a day for contemplating and internalizing the lessons and implications of our separation from hametz, a day for connecting the physical experience of the holiday - what feels like the essential experience, for most people - back to the fundamental themes and principles we articulated at our Sedarim on the first days of Pesah.

Now we can better understand the verse with which we opened our inquiry:

"For six days you shall eat matsot" - that is, you shall engage in a physical action/abstention, beginning with the Seder of the first night of Pesah, but extending five days beyond it and preserving a measure of its holiness for the duration of an otherwise mundane week.

"And on the seventh day it is an atseret to Hashem, your God, you shall do no work" - that is, on the seventh day you must elevate yourselves even further than you already have through your period of abstention from hametz; you must remove yourselves, not only from certain foods, but from the workaday mindset altogether. This way you can consecrate your time and energy to reflection upon the deeper significance of the hametz-free existence you have maintained, and you can walk away from the holiday both edified and inspired.

In a subsequent post, I will explore an alternative reason for the institution of the seventh day of Pesah and then, hopefully, we will see how the two approaches are interconnected.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pesah, Sukkot and Sefirat HaOmer

As I have discussed in several earlier posts, the two seven-day festivals instituted by the Torah, Pesah and Sukkot, both address elements of our physical existence. Pesah changes our staple food from conventional bread to matsah. Sukkot alters our dwelling from a permanent house to a Sukkah. Both holidays are also followed up by one-day celebrations that revolve around the intellectual or spiritual dimension of Jewish life - Shavuot and Shemini Atseret, respectively.

One of the unusual features of Pesah is the "intrusion" of the counting of the Omer. Immediately after the first day of Passover, we begin the process of moving toward Shavuot. We don't even wait for the seven day festival to conclude before setting our sights on the next holiday in the calendar. Indeed, the Torah commands us to harvest the Omer offering - and, hence, to begin the count - right after the holiday, on the "morrow of the rest day". This is taken to mean that we should not even wait until the next morning; harvesting and counting start as soon as the first day of the festival is over. What is the rush? Why can't we complete the celebration of Pesah before hastily transferring our focus to Shavuot?

The noteworthy starting point of the Omer count highlights a more general quality of Pesah as contrasted with Sukkot. Sukkot is the epitome of a joyous holiday in the Torah. Every one of its seven days has a distinct set of sacrifices that are to be offered. We say a blessing each time we dwell in the Sukkah. The four species are taken every day with a blessing and full Hallel is recited for the duration of the holiday. The Jewish people are, at least ideally, bidden to remain in Jerusalem and "celebrate before Hashem for seven days". The eighth day, Shemini Atseret, ushers in a whole new level of holiness that warrants a distinct sacrificial order, special blessings, prayers and an additional element of joy.

In the case of Pesah, on the other hand, all of the positive mitsvot - the paschal sacrifice, eating matsah and maror, telling the story of the Exodus and reciting the full Hallel - are fulfilled on the first night and day of the festival. Thereafter, observance of Pesah manifests itself only as the abstention from hametz for the entire week. The sacrifices offered in the Temple on the seven days of Pesah are all identical. The Jewish people are not especially encouraged to remain in Jerusalem after the first day of the holiday; indeed, the Torah states (with regard to the Paschal sacrifice) "and you shall roast it and eat it in the place that Hashem, your God, will choose, and in the morning you may turn back and return to your tents. For six days shall you eat matsot and on the seventh day shall be a day of assembly dedicated to Hashem, your God; you shall do no work." The implication is clear that, unlike the days of Sukkot, the final six days of Pesah are of lesser significance than the first. Even the seventh day, with its prohibition of work, does not have its own identity, blessings or special sacrificial order; it is more like a day of Hol Hamoed that has been promoted than a bona fide holiday in its own right.

What is the reason for the stark contrast between the respective structures of Pesah and Sukkot? And how can this explain our premature commencement of the counting of the Omer?

I believe that Pesah and Sukkot represent two opposite orientations to the material world. Pesah is about breaking our attachments and addictions to the luxuries of physical life. We distance ourselves from idolatry through the Paschal sacrifice and embrace matsah, the bread of servitude, as our staple food. In essence, though, our observance of the holiday is reflected in the negative, through privation. We define ourselves on Pesah by what we are not - we are not Egyptian sheep-worshippers. We are not hedonistic pleasure-seekers. We are prepared, by virtue of our disentanglement from these alternative lifestyles, to begin the process of receiving the Torah and serving Hashem.

This is why the first day of Pesah stands apart from the remaining days. It is on the first day that, through sacrificing the Pesah offering and adopting matsah as our bread, we clearly demonstrate our non-Egyptian character as a nation and our readiness to pursue a transcendent purpose. The six subsequent days make the impact of this demonstration manifest, but do not contribute anything to its content. Our observance of Pesah consists, then, in a major "event" on the first day, followed by mere abstention from hametz for the other six.

This fits beautifully with the lesson of another fascinating verse in the Torah that I have addressed on this blog in the past, "do not eat on it [the Paschal sacrifice] hametz; for seven days you shall eat matsot - the bread of affliction - on it." We are only permitted to eat the Paschal sacrifice on the first night of Passover. Why does the Torah command us to eat matsah "on it" - that is to say, with the Paschal offering - all seven days? The answer is simple. The Torah means to draw our attention to the fact that by abstaining from hametz/eating matsah seven days, we are carrying the message of the Pesah offering forward; it is still with us, we are still reacting to it. The revelation of Hashem's presence represented by the sacrifice has inspired us to take up the bread of servitude but to devote our energies to the service of the true King - Hashem - rather than the service of man.

We can now see why Pesah seems to stop short after the first day; as soon as it no longer expresses itself in positive activity, it no longer warrants full Hallel, new sacrifices, special blessings or an extended stay in Jerusalem. There is nothing novel to be had on the subsequent days, only a continuation and consolidation of what has already, at least essentially, been accomplished. Even the seventh day, which commemorates the splitting of the Sea, really just drives home the principle of the futility of the worship of human beings and/or idols and the ultimate sovereignty of Hashem. It is a reflection back on the implications of the Exodus and the significance of our week-long observance of the holiday rather than the introduction of any new theme.

Sukkot, on the other hand, is about establishing a home in the framework of service of Hashem. Unlike Pesah, which is about extricating ourselves and moving upward and away from materialism, Sukkot is about transitioning downward from the transcendence of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur to the gritty realities of life. This is no simple matter; living in the Sukkah day by day brings us ever closer to the ideal of integration and harmony of the material and intellectual elements within us. Our success in progressing toward this ideal is celebrated joyously on Shemini Atseret.

Because every day of Sukkot embodies another stage of progress toward a desired goal, every day has its own sacrifical service, a full Hallel, Lulav and Etrog, etc. The joy of Sukkot extends to all seven days, waxing rather than waning as we build up to the culmination of the process on Shemini Atseret. Unlike Pesah, which expresses itself in the creation and sustaining of a negative (i.e., the avoidance of hametz), Sukkot is a holiday full of constructive and positive commandments, where every day is a milestone worthy of celebration.

This approach to Pesah can also help us explain why we begin counting to Shavuot as soon as the first day of Pesah is concluded. The break away from Egypt leaves us in an intellectual and moral vacuum; we know what we are not, but the mitsvot of Pesah do not provide us with the means to express what we are. For this, we must wait for Shavuot, the occasion of the giving of the Torah. So even as we are still abstaining from hametz to demonstrate the pervasive impact of the message of the first day of Pesah on our lives and households, we are simultaneously preparing ourselves, day after day, to stand at Mount Sinai as true servants of Hashem. The latter six days of Pesah form a part of this transformation, but six more weeks are necessary before we ascend to the pinnacle of spiritual development commemorated on Shavuot. And the desire to fill our inner emptiness with Torah substance is so powerful that we cannot help but initiate our countdown to Shavuot as soon as the first day of Pesah is over!

Hag Kasher V'Sameah to all. After the holiday, I hope to further expand on some of these themes.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

How Does Eruv Tavshilin Work?

In principle, it would be prohibited to prepare food on Yom Tov for consumption on Shabbat. To circumvent this restriction, the Rabbis instituted Eruv Tavshilin. Whenever a holiday falls out on a Friday - or, as in our case, Thursday and Friday - we take a piece of bread (matzah) and a cooked dish (oftentimes a hard boiled egg) before the holiday begins. We recite the blessing and eruv declaration and set the food aside for Shabbat use. It is said that, in this way, we demonstrate that we have commenced our preparations for Shabbat prior to Yom Tov. This permits us, in effect, to complete those preparations on the holiday itself.

On the surface, it is not clear what this legal fiction really accomplishes. After all, in the final analysis, we will be cooking and toiling on Friday, a Yom Tov, for the sake of Shabbat, in contradiction to the essential halakha that forbids such activity. What do we gain from this apparently contrived "solution"?

An answer to this difficulty can be gleaned from the Rambam. In the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam codifies the laws of Eruv Tavshilin in the sixth chapter of the Laws of Yom Tov. Strangely, however, he changes the topic of the chapter midstream, in halakha 15, and begins expounding upon the mitzvot to honor Yom Tov and rejoice therein. What is the connection between the technical performance of Eruv Tavshilin and the commandment to celebrate on the Holidays? (Incidentally, this unusual juxtaposition is not only found in the Rambam's presentation. The Talmud, in the very beginning of second chapter of Masekhet Betzah, also discusses the laws of rejoicing on Yom Tov in the midst of its exploration of the laws of Eruv Tavshilin.)

It seems that when Yom Tov falls out on Erev Shabbat we are faced with a unique conundrum. On one hand, Friday is generally the day that the Torah designates as a time of preparation for Shabbat. A double portion of Manna fell for the Jews in the wilderness on Friday and they were commanded "it is Shabbat, a holy day of rest unto Hashem, tomorrow - so whatever you will bake, bake now; whatever you will cook, cook now; whatever is left over, save for the morning."

On the other hand, Yom Tov is a day of rejoicing - a day when, by definition, one should not be preoccupied with preparations for anything else. One's mind and heart should be fully engaged with the thematic content and spirit of the holiday. So, in a certain sense, a Friday Holiday is an inherent contradiction in terms - it is a Yom Tov, a day good in its own right and worthy of its own recognition, but is simultaneously a Friday, a day designated to serve the needs of Shabbat observance.

This, I believe, is the basis for the concept of Eruv Tavshilin. Were we to begin our Shabbat cooking and preparation on Friday, we would be implying that this particular Friday, like all others, is a vehicle for Shabbat and not a time of sanctity in its own right. The Eruv Tavshilin reminds us that, while we are permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat, that cooking should be seen as a secondary activity, an afterthought, as it were, and not as the main event of the day.

It is of no moment that we do more work for Shabbat on Yom Tov, quantitatively speaking, than we did before Yom Tov. The point is that the requirement to commence food preparation in advance defines the activity on Yom Tov as the completion of a process begun beforehand. Were we to begin cooking from scratch on Yom Tov for Shabbat, this would serve to establish the very identity of the day as a day of preparation. Beginning Shabbat preparations before Yom Tov makes the statement that the work we do on Yom Tov for Shabbat is not a reflection of any change in the essential nature of Yom Tov and should not be seen as compromising its sanctity. We are merely "finishing up" pre-Yom Tov chores on the Holiday.

This explains why the Rambam linked Eruv Tavshilin to the mitzvah of celebrating on Yom Tov. Celebration on Yom Tov is tied to the fact that we view it as a day of holiness and significance in its own right. This significance can be diminished when Yom Tov falls out on Friday and is "hijacked" by the demands of Shabbat preparation. If we relate to the Friday Holiday as little more than a period set aside for Shabbat cooking, this will undermine our ability to genuinely celebrate it.

The impact of such a breakdown would not be limited to the Yom Tov that happens to fall out on Friday. Indeed, the Rabbis were concerned that permitting cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbat could compromise people's esteem for Yom Tov across the board, even when it is observed in the middle of the week. The very fact that Yom Tov can occasionally be instrumental in serving the needs of another day - Shabbat or otherwise - could detract from its importance, sanctity, and joyousness in the eyes of the population at large.

This is where Eruv Tavshilin comes in and "redeems" the joyous quality of Yom Tov. Eruv Tavshilin conceptually transforms the cooking that will take place on Friday into the legal equivalent of an afterthought. This, in turn, underscores and emphasizes the independent significance of Yom Tov, even when it falls out on Friday. As a result of fulfilling the Rabbis' commandment of Eruv Tavshilin, the character of Yom Tov as a time of rejoicing - regardless of the day of the week on which it is celebrated - is preserved and reinforced.

I have more to say about this general area, and further related sources on which to comment, but I will have to save it for Hol Hamoed!

Hag Kasher V'Sameah.