Friday, February 11, 2011

A Thought on the Parsha

"And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother, for honor and for glory."

The Torah, after completing the description of the Mishkan and its furnishings in last week's parasha, turns in this week's parasha to a detailed description of the priestly garments to be worn by Aharon and his sons.   The two parshiyot actually open in very similar ways.  When the Torah commands the building of the Mishkan,  it not only commands that it must be done, but also states the purpose that it is meant to achieve: "And you shall make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell in your midst."  (Shemot 25:8).  In parallel, the Torah here not only commands that the priestly garments be made, but also their purpose: "And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother for honor and for glory."  (Shemot 28:3).     However, this purpose itself requires explanation - why, we may ask, is it necessary for the Kohanim to be clothed in honor and glory?  Why not wear humble clothes that communicate humility, or simple clean clothes that communicate simplicity?  Why are such rich clothes necessary?

On the face of it, it would seem that such rich garments are consistent with the general décor of the Mishkan, the use of gold and silver and rich fabrics which themselves communicated wealth and majesty.    Although, of course, this just broadens the question: Why was the entire Mishkan - its structure, its furnishings, and the clothing of its Kohanim - so focused on such trivial externals?  Shouldn't the message of the House of God be that God cares not about the externals, not what a person wears or how wealthy he or she is, but about who they are on the inside, what they really stand for?   "For man sees with his eyes, but God sees into the heart."  (Shmuel I, 16:7).

This question is a truly challenging one, and undoubtedly part of the answer lies in striking a balance between what will impact people given where they are, and how to bring people to where they should be.   Although we should look beyond superficialities, and teach ourselves not to be impressed by them, part of our human nature is to be impacted at a visceral level by externals.  How a person looks impacts what we think of them.  How a place or building looks impacts on our estimation of it and its function.  The beauty of the Mishkan was to impress people with the grandeur and majesty of a house of God, to instill in them the proper sense of the awe in their relationship to God.  The paradox is, that once one internalizes this awe, and understands how elevated, how infinitely different, God is from the physical world, one should then be propelled to be more like God, and learn to not be swayed by externals and shows of wealth, but by things of true value - by character, by commitment, by righteousness, by kindness.    The opulence of the Mishkan - like, Rambam might add, the very phenomenon of any physical place for God - was necessary to reach the people where they were, so that they could be elevated to where they needed to be, and it had to somehow to do that without reinforcing the values that it was working to move people from.

The beauty of the priestly garments was then part and parcel of the opulence of the Mishkan, and the deeper message of where true value lies would have to remain unstated and only - hopefully - inferred.  However, a closer look reveals that the garments were not all about beauty and wealth.   While Aharon's priestly garments, the garments of the Kohen Gadol, were made with threads of gold, crimson, sky blue, and royal purple wool, while Aharon had a gold band on his forehead, and a breastplate adorned with precious and semiprecious stones,  the garments of his son - the garments for all regular Kohanim - were unadorned and were made of simple linen (cf. Shemot 39:27-29).   The clothes of the regular Kohanim, then, were of the utmost simplicity:  an undergarment (mikhnasayim), a simple tunic (kutonet), a simple hat (migbaat), and a belt (avnet) - essentially the clothing that we identify today - li'havdil - with that of a monk. 

The Kohanim served as  living models of what it means for a person to be close to God and to dedicate his or her life to God, and through their clothes they embodied the ideal of this service, the ideal of simplicity and humility.  At the same time, the house of God and the Kohen Gadol - the one man who entered into to the Holy of Holies, the place of God's Glory - through the opulence of their appearance, expressed and embodied God's majesty, and instilled in the people a sense of God's greatness, a feeling of awe and a feeling of reverence.

Seen this way, the garments were instrumental in shaping the perception of the people, the non-Kohanim, who came to the Mishkan and witnessed them.  However, the Torah implies that the clothes were important for the Kohanim themselves: "And you shall make holy garments for Aharon your brother and his sons to minister (li'khahano, to serve as a Kohen) to Me." (Shemot 28:4).  The clothes were necessary to allow them to serve as Kohanim, not just to make an impression on the people.  And, indeed, the Gemara (Zevachim 17b) states that "When their garments are not upon them, then their kehuna, their status as Kohanim (vis-à-vis the Temple), is no longer upon them."  The Kohanim, then, could not serve unless they were properly dressed for the job.  How one dresses affects not only how others think of us and of what we do, but also how we think of ourselves, and how we relate to the nature and importance of our activities.  As job applicants are always told when going on a job interview, "Dress as you would for the job itself."  One does not dress like an executive if one is applying to be a carpenter, and one does not dress like a carpenter if one is applying to be an executive.   When we dress in a certain way we tell ourselves, as well as others, who we are and what it is that we are doing.

Thus, the Sefer HaChinukh states that the Kohanim were commanded to wear the priestly garments to shape their own self-perception:

From the reasons of this mitzvah, is the foundation that is established for us that a person is impacted according to his actions, and his thoughts and intentions will follow these actions.  Now the agent who is achieving atonement (for others) must focus all of his thoughts and intentions towards the service.  Thus, it is fitting for him to clothe himself garments that are dedicated to this service, so that when he looks at any place on his body, he will immediately remember and awaken in his heart an awareness before Whom he serves....
(Sefer HaChinukh, Mitzvah 99)

Clearly there is a lesson here for us as well.  How we dress communicates a great deal to the larger world -sometimes accurately, sometimes inaccurately - about who we are.  But perhaps more importantly, it also communicates to us ourselves - consciously or unconsciously - how we see ourselves.  How do we dress on a daily basis?  Do we dress sloppily, and communicate to ourselves that we do not deserve care and attention, or do we dress nicely, telling ourselves that as a human being, as one created in the image of God, as a person with infinite potential, we deserve proper care and respect?    Rambam, in two places (Laws of Avoda Zara 11:1 and Laws of Character Traits 5:11) states that a person must dress in a way that accurately reflects his or her commitments, values, and activities and understanding of self-worth.   Dressing in such a way, I would add, is just as important for oneself as it is for others.

There are ways to dress Jewishly and ways to totally blend in with the larger society.  When we dress Jewishly, we tell other people that we are Jewish and we stand for Jewish values and commitments, but we often fail to acknowledge that same message ourselves.    There are times when I have acted in ways that I feel are not becoming of how a Jew should act, and if it was in front of other people, and they saw me with my kippa, then I am concerned about a possible chilul HaShem that I may have caused.  But if I had been more aware that I was wearing the kippa in the first place, had I been fully conscious that I stood for what it means to be a Jew, then I probably would not have acted as I had to begin with.  Not because I would have been afraid of the chilul HaShem, but because I would have told myself that I cannot act that way, because that is not who I am, that is not how a Jew acts.

We recently read in the daf yomi, the gemara in Zevachim (88b) that, after almost 90 pages in exploring the details of animal sacrifices and how such sacrifices achieve atonement, tells us that the priestly garments achieve atonement just as the sacrifices do.  This is a very difficult statement for at least sacrifices require a giving of one's property and a high degree of attending to details, communicating the message that atonement requires serious effort and is not easily won.  But what are we to make of the fact that the priest is wearing his garments achieves atonement, without any effort on the part of the sinner?   I believe that the answer is that it is not the mere wearing of these garments by the Kohen that is critical, but the internalizing of their message and the emulating of this practice by the sinner.  If one dresses and comports oneself in a way that communicates to him- or herself who they are and what they stand for, they won't sin in the first place.  Learning how to prevent sinning in the future is at least as important of an act of teshuva as agonizing over the past sin.  Indeed, the priestly garments atone just as the sacrifices atone, and in the absence of a Temple and sacrifices, we can still embody the ideal of the priestly garments by attending to how we dress and comport ourselves, and to the messages that we thereby send to others and send to ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

Torah from Our Beit Midrash

The Gemara recognizes a number of ways in which taste can transfer from one food to another without the presence of heat.   First, there can be surface transfer when one or both of the foods are moist, such as when cheese touches a piece of meat.  In most cases, this requires a mere rinsing off of the items, although in  some cases where rinsing is not sufficient to remove the adulterating film on the surface, a more vigorous scrubbing or, when that would be counter-productive, a scraping would be required (Shulkhan Arukh, YD, 91:1, and the Pitchei Teshuva, ad. loc.).  This issue comes up frequently in cases such as buying cut, kosher fish from the supermarket.   The best way to handle such cases is to bring in one's own knife, or to work with the supermarket to ensure that they use a special knife for kosher customers who request it.  However, when this is not an option, and the fish is cut with a knife that was used for cutting non-kosher fish, the fish must be cleaned to remove any possible transfer.   Because of the adhesive surface of the fish, washing may not suffice, and the best would be to lightly scrape all cut surfaces of the fish.  However, if the establishment cleans their knives and surfaces between fish, the possibility of any real transfer decreases, and a thorough rinsing may suffice.   It should also be note, that the ability to buy cut fish from a non-kosher establishment assumes that the fish can be accurately identified as kosher.  This is the case when the skin, with scales, is still on it, or with fish that is immediately identifiable, such as salmon or tuna.  When it does not have its skin on, and it is not immediately identifiable - as with most white-fleshed fish - one cannot assume the accuracy of the labeling, as was made clear by a New York Times article in 2008.

In addition to surface transfer through touch, there can be a concern of absorbency.   Soft, porous foods, such as cooked flanken or a piece of bread will immediately absorb the liquid they are sitting in, even if everything is cold.  If my flanken falls into a bowl of milk, or my bread falls into cold chicken soup, I must acknowledge that the liquid has been absorbed and deal with the food appropriately.  (Rema, Shulkhan Arukh, YD 91:7).

The previous two categories deal with cold taste transfer that is acknowledged as such.  Beyond these cases, however, the Gemara states that there are two types of cold taste-transfer that operate through a "pseudo-heat" principle: "Says Shmuel: Salting (maliach) is like grilling, pickling (kavush) is like cooking." (Hullin 97b, 111b, 112a, 113a).    While the Gemara applies this statement of Shmuel to a number of actual cases, all the cases are those of salting.  Thus, when it comes ot pickling, the Gemara never states what the parameters of such pickling are.  Does it matter what type of liquid something is being pickled in?  Does it matter what is being pickled?  How much time does an item need to be pickled before we say that taste transfer occurs?    The field was left wide open for the Rishonim to assess the parameters of this principle of pickling.  As an extreme example of this, we may turn to Rabbenu Gershon, who states (Hullin 111b) that all the Shmuel intended to say was that if a non-Jew pickles a food, it is like he cooked it, and forbidden as bishulei nakhrim, the rabbinic prohibition of food cooked by non-Jews. 

According to Rabbenu Gershon there is no principle at all of taste transfer due to pickling, and he is free to say this because - while not consistent with the context in the Gemara -there is no Gemara that applies or discusses the rule of pickling, and thus no Gemara that precludes this interpretation.  Now, even given this, we may ask what compelled Rabbenu Gershon to explain this statement of Shmuel's so out of context, and to deny that pickling matters for taste transfer.  The answer emerges when we look at a number of mishnayot that address situations of pickling.  The mishna in Shvi'it (7:7) states:

If a new rose [from the Sabbatical year] has been preserved in old oil, the rose may be taken out [and the oil is unaffected]; but if an old [Sabbatical] rose was preserved in new oil, the oil is subject to the law of destroying [Sabbatical produce after the time for eating has ended]... This is the general principle: if one kind is mixed with a different kind and it imparts flavor [to the other], they are subject to the law of destroying.

Here we have a case of preserving - of immersing an object in a liquid that can absorb its taste - and we are told that we do not have to assume that taste will transfer.  Only certain cases (and old rose in new oil) will cause a transfer of taste, and the general rule is that we have to look at each case individually - based on factors such as what is being preserved, what liquid it is being preserved in, and how long it is being preserved - to determine if taste is transferred.   

This case-by-case approach also emerges from a series of mishnayot in Terumot (10:7-10), which give a number of special cases when taste transfers through pickling, and then states at the end that "Whatever vegetables are pickled together are permitted, save [when pickled] with leeks" (Trumot 10:10).  Bland vegetables never transfer taste through pickling, and thus are never a problem.  In line with these mishnayot, Rambam rules that pickling is only a problem in the special cases that are mentioned in the above mishnayot, or - presumably by analogy - when a kosher fish in pickled with a non-kosher fish (Forbidden Foods 15:34, Trumot 15:9-10).   We now understand why Rabbenu Gershon reinterpreted Shmuel's statement.   Shmuel seems to be saying that the general rule is that pickling transfers taste, whereas all the mishnayot state that the general rule is that it does not.  Rabbenu Shimshon (Trumot 10:8) recognizes this contradiction and leaves the problem unresolved.  Rabbenu Gershon resolved it by reinterpreting and neutralizing Shmuel's statement.

The other Rishonim, outside of Rambam, ignore the above mishnayot, and apply Shmuel's statement as a general rule: taste transfers when pickling occurs.   The question remains, however, when does pickling occur?   Rashi states a number of times that Shmuel's pickling refers to a case where "it was pickled in vinegar and spices" (Rashi, Hullin 97b, s.v. Kavush).   While Rashi would probably apply this to all foods which were pickled, including, say, vegetables, he does insist that the liquid being used must be a true pickling liquid.  In contrast, and at the opposite extreme, Rosh (Avoda Zara 5:11 and Hullin 8:49) states that pickling occurs in all liquids, with all foods, after 24 hours.  Thus, according to Rosh, if one put a piece of meat and a piece of cheese in a container of water, we would say that they were pickled together and that the taste transfers from the cheese to the meat and vice-versa.   Rosh derives this from the Gemara is Pesachim (44b) which states, implicitly, that if one were to leave meat in milk "a full day" that the meat would absorb the taste of the milk.  Thus, says Rosh, we can see that "pickling" occurs with any liquid after 24 hours.  Most other Rishonim, however, ignore or implicitly reject the relevance of this Gemara, presumably because - as we stated above -this is a case of absorbency (the milk seeps into the porous meat), and is irrelevant to the discussion of pickling.

Rosh, by using the Gemara about soaking meat in milk, transforms the concept of "pickling" to one of "soaking."   While this seems to take us far afield from the original statement, this opinion is adopted by Shulkhan Arukh and Rema (YD 105:1) and becomes the established halakha.  Nevertheless, as with many halakhic concepts, earlier or alternative positions do not fully disappear, and resurface in different ways.  Thus, Shulkhan Arukh while ruling that all liquids effect "pickling" after 24 hours, states that brine and vinegar effect pickling "after the time that it takes to heat up the liquid and begin the process of cooking."  This would seem to acknowledge cases of real pickling, and to be more strict with them.   However, Shakh points out that the original sources on which Shulkhan Arukh is drawing do not mention vinegar, and only mention brine.  The reason that brine is more strict, according to these sources, is not because it effects pickling, but because its saltiness is the basis for taste transfer ("salting is like roasting").   Shakh concludes the vinegar is like any other liquid and only effects pickling after 24 hours.  While Shakh is undoubtedly correct regarding the earlier sources, I would contend that "vinegar" appears in Shulkhan Arukh because the original concept of true pickling has not been totally effaced.  Thus, Shulkhan Arukh acknowledges that there is pseudo-pickling, in all liquids, and real pickling, in vinegar, and the real case demands greater stringency than the "pseudo" case.

The posek that most explicitly states that two categories exist - real pickling and pseudo-pickling - is the Nodah BiYehudah.  Nodah BiYehudah (Kama, YD 26) investigates in great depth the statement of Shmuel that "pickling is like cooking" and notes that firstly, R. Yochanan rejects this principle and, secondly, that it runs in contradiction to the mishnayot in Terumot and Shvi'it which we quoted above.  Nodah BiYehudah 's conclusion is that our ruling which applies "pickling" to all liquids after 24 hours is a rabbinic extension of the concept, and that Biblically the only pickling that transfers taste is with sharp or pungent foods in a true pickling liquid.  Thus, most cases, which are not true pickling, are only rabbinically forbidden, and in cases of doubt - for example, whether the food had actually been in the liquid for 24 hours - one can be lenient.

This dialectic, or yo-yoing of first extending the concept and then pulling it back to somewhat closer to its original meaning, also occurs in the other, more common, scenario of "pickling" and that is with storing liquids in vessels.  If I store my cold chicken soup in a metal or Tupperware container for 24 hours, does this container now become fleishig?  The general case of vessels absorbing through "pickling" is never discussed in the Gemara, but the Gemara does talk about wine casks that were used for long-term storage of wine.  These casks, according to the Gemara (Avoda Zara 33a), are considered to have absorbed the taste of wine, and are forbidden to be used without kashering.  While most Rishonim understand this to be a special case of wine and of long-term storage, Rosh (Avoda Zara 2:20), once again, generalizes this case and states that it is talking about any 24 hours of storage and would apply to all liquids.  Just as - according to him - "pickling" occurs with all liquids and after 24 hours, so is the case with liquid in vessels - the will be "pickled" and absorbed into the walls after 24 hours.

The case of vessels is not mentioned in the Shulkhan Arukh in Yoreh Deah (see, however, Orah Hayim 447:5).  Nevertheless, Taz and Shakh (YD 105) both assume that it takes place, in line with the ruling of Rosh.  However, they both state that if one uses this Tupperware, now - after 24 with chicken soup - fleishig to store milk in for 24 hours, that the milk would still be kosher, since after those 24 hours any meat taste absorbed in the walls of the Tupperware would be considered to have gone bad.  Nevertheless, it would still be forbidden to use this Tupperware at the outset for milk, since one cannot use even old non-kosher or wrong-gendered vessels, at the outset, with kosher or other-gendered food.

However, just as in the case with food, there is some pull-back from this very general ruling by vessels.  A number of Achronim believe that the rule would not apply to hard, non-porous materials, such as metal, stone, plastic, or glass vessels.  (Some poskim are lenient with glass and strict with metal and stone).  Others say that it would not apply to kosher foods -such as the chicken soup example above - and only apply to non-kosher foods.  (See Darkhei Teshuva, YD 105).  Although normally poskim do not make such case-based distinctions and, indeed, Taz states that he can see no formal halakhic basis to be more lenient by metal vessels, it is not surprising that they do so here.  When the rule has been abstracted and extended so far from its original meanings and moorings, it is not surprising that there is a pushback to bring it closer to its more native meaning and more manageable scope.

Happenings at the Yeshiva

In the yeshiva, students continued learning Shabbat, focusing on when one may ask a non-Jew to do a melakha for you - and laws of Basar BiChalav, looking at cases of transfer of taste without heat.

On Sunday, February 6, we hosted a YCT Wives program for wives of our musmachim, to help provide a setting for training, networking, and conversation.  There were fabulous sessions with Toby Weiss and Suzy Marder on the challenges and opportunities of being a rabbi's wife (and perhaps even a "rebbetzin").  The participants also met with Dr. Michelle Friedman and Miriam Schachter to talk about exploring boundaries and their own challenges and struggles.  It was a huge success and we look forward to doing it again!

We also had some fabulous guests this week.  Rabbi Dov Zinger, Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Makor Chayim, the Steinsaltz Yeshiva High School in Israel, and head of the Beit Midrash LiHitchadshut, visited our yeshiva and spent a morning with the students, learning Gemara and framing and reflecting on how we learn and how we teach, and how we can do say in a way of close attention, mindfulness, and connectedness.   Students were very taken with Rabbi Zinger, a truly great spiritual personality, and we look forward to continue having him at the yeshiva and working and learning with him in the future.  

Rav Zinger was joined by a former teacher of Makor Chayim, Rabbi Dr. Maoz Kahana, a tremendous scholar who is now in the States spending the year at NYU as part of its Tikvah fellowship.  We look forward to bringing Rabbi Dr. Kahana in at a later time to teach and learn with the students.

We also welcomed back Dr. Reuven Kimelman, a world-class scholar on Jewish Liturgy from Brandeis University, as part of our Visiting Scholars series.  Dr. Kimelman taught the second in a series of three lectures on the topic of the Shema liturgy.  Students were thrilled to be taking the class with Dr. Kimelman and eagerly await the final class next week.

And, finally, a big MAZEL TOV to Seth (YCT 2006) and Jamie Braunstein on the birth of a baby girl last Thursday night.  This Sunday, there will be a simchat bat both for Seth and Jamie's daughter, as well as a separate simchat bat for Simon (year 3) and Sivan Livson's daughter.  She'tizku li'gadlan li'Torah li'Chuppah u'li'ma'asim Tovim!  

A MAZEL TOV also goes to Josh Strosberg (year 3) on his engagement last weekend to Andrea Ginsburg of St. Louis, MO. Josh met Andrea while doing his pulpit internship at Bais Abraham Congregation in St. Louis. There was much dance and celebration in the Beit Midrash on Monday morning in their honor.