Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sanhederin and Semicha

Here are some of the details of the mitzvah to appoint judges, as expounded by the sages. [This continues the exposition of the Chinuch’s text at mitzvah 491.]

The first set of details addresses the seating arrangement of the seventy Sanhederin. The ablest among them would be seated below the Nasi (also known as the Rosh Yeshiva). He is given the title Av Beis Din. The remaining sixty-nine would be seated alongside the Nasi in a sequence reflecting their learnedness and their age. That is, the more learned someone was, the closer to the Nasi would be his position in the series. If two (or more) individuals were of equal rank as far as learnedness was concerned, they would be seated earlier or later in the sequence based on their age. They formed a semi-circle, so that each one would be visible to everyone else.

Apart from the main judiciary body, that is the Beis Din Hagadol, two additional judiciary bodies, comprising twenty-three judges each, would be stationed nearby. One would be situated at the entrance to the Azara; and the other would be situated at the entrance to the Mount of the Temple.  The most learned individual of each of these bodies served as the Head of his respective body.

The only ones qualified to be appointed to any of the judiciary bodies (big or small) were individuals possessed of wisdom and deep understanding of Torah knowledge. They also had to possess some amount of knowledge of other areas of inquiry – including, for example, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, astrology, sorcery, and magic. They needed to be able to fall back on knowledge of these areas of expertise, in case circumstances demanded it. In addition, in order to qualify, a person – whether a kohein, a leivi, or a yisra-el – had to have privileged pedigree, sufficient to make his daughter eligible for betrothal to someone of the priestly lineage (kehuna). That it is so is derived from the verse vehisyatzvu sham imach, which is interpreted as implying that the judges that Moshe would appoint had to resemble him (in point of pedigree). [And so too for judges generally.]

Now, the only ones who could be appointed to a judiciary body, whether it be the Sandederei Gedola or the Sanhederei Ketana, were individuals who received ordination. Moshe our teacher performed ordination by hand upon his pupil Yehoshu-a – as it is written vayismoch yadav alav. He likewise performed ordination by hand upon the seventy elders whom he had assembled (to form the original Sanhederei Gedola). They, in turn, performed ordination upon others, who in their turn performed it on yet others…continuing a process that culminated in the last of the properly ordained. However, the ordinations performed subsequent to those conferred by Moshe differed from those of his in that they were not performed by hand. Instead, the issuers of ordination would carefully examine the candidate receiver of ordination. If he was found to be well versed in the knowledge of Torah; if, further, he proved himself to be well informed and of sound mind; and if, finally, he exemplified a set of personal traits that included love of truth and detestation of inequity in all its forms – then, provided that he glowingly passed all these tests of personality and intellectual ability, he would be pronounced ordained by three people who included in their number at least one who was himself ordained. Thenceforth, he would be designated with the appellation of rebbi (which is to say, master-teacher). He would, from that point onward, be empowered to adjudicate matters pertaining even to the imposition of fines.

There are numerous additional details that pertain to the qualification for appointment to judgeship. They are spelled out and discussed with due amplification in Tractate Sanhederin.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Appointing Judiciary Bodies

The Chinuch goes on to say: Judges are to be appointed over cities and, also, over the entire Jewish nation. Here is how it works. Each and every city is to have a judiciary body consisting of twenty-three appointees. Assembled in one central location within the city, they are referred to as sanhenderei ketana. They are to be chosen from amongst the choicest of the city’s intelligentsia. In addition, a body called the beis din hagadol, consisting of seventy judiciary appointees, is to be assembled into a central location in Yerushalayim. Atop the seventy is to be appointed an additional one who is to serve as Rosh Yeshiva or, as he is also referred to, the Nasi – making for a total of seventy-one. Importantly, they are all to function in the singular location especially designated for the purpose. Now, it will happen that some locales will be too small in size to purvey sanhederei ketana (small judiciary bodies) of their own. In such a case, a panel consisting of three judges should be appointed in lieu of a full-fledged (small) judiciary body. To the extent that they are able to adjudicate an issue on their own, they are empowered to do so. If, however, the resolution of an issue should be beyond their reach, they should then escalate the matter to a higher court.

Similarly, a contingent of law enforcers should be stationed along the periphery of a city, to oversee the goings on in the city’s streets and byways. They should exercise oversight over the commercial dealings of the city’s inhabitants, making sure that they are not infected by improprieties of any kind. The command from which these injunctions derive is that expressed by the verse shofetim veshoterim titein lecha bechal she-arecha. Thus the Sifri: “From where it is derived that a judiciary body is to be appointed with jurisdiction over the entirety of the Jewish people? In this regard is it written shofetim veshoterim. And from where it is derived that one judge should be appointed to stand above all the others? It is derived from titein lecha. And from what source, further, is it known that each and every tribe should have its own body of judges? The textual source in this regard is bechal she-arecha. Raban Shimon ben Gamliel contends that the source is from the juxtaposition of the words lishvatecha veshaftu. This is understood as meaning that a command is imposed on each and every tribe to carry out the judiciary function over itself. And what is the intention behind the phrase veshafetu es ha-am? It connotes that the people are to be judged forcibly.”

This is not a transient mitzva, but a permanent one.

What is the mitzva’s rationale?

It is to get people to conduct themselves in a righteous way. Ideally, people will be self-motivated to conduct themselves properly; they will not need to be prodded by external forces – such as a system of judges and law-enforcers.

However, conformance to the desirable way does not come naturally; it needs to be induced. Imposing it on the people, by force, acclimates them to it. Arousing fear in people makes them dread the consequences of ill-begotten behavior. It helps get them accustomed to doing good.

Once having become accustomed to conducting themselves properly, the people will acquire a natural propensity toward exemplary conduct. The point will be reached where they lovingly embrace justice and lawfulness, requiring no externally imposed inducement. Such is the power of habituation through compulsion. It is as effective as nature itself in bringing people to a state where the motivation to do right comes from within.

With the state having been reached where people are following in a just and faithful path and choosing to do good, the good with attach itself to them; and the Al-mighty will derive satisfaction from them.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Command to Appoint Judges

The following is a paraphrase of the text of the Sefer Hachinuch, at the beginning of Mitzvah 491.

In this week’s parsha, Shoftim, we are commanded to appoint judges and law enforcers. Why? So that they will compel the people to perform the mitzvos of the Torah. What else will they do? They will force those who have diverted from the the way of truth to return to it. They will also issue edicts, clearly obligating the people to do what is required of them and ought to be done. They will, likewise, issue decrees, delineating certain practices as being unworthy of people’s occupation. And there is more. They will establish and enforce protective barriers, rules intended to safeguard people, so that they do not perform actions that are prohibited. What advantage does having these safeguards offer? It spares people the need to decide for themselves on a case by case basis. Having to exercise one’s own discretion on a continuous basis can be fraught with danger: it exposes people to the possibility of erring and succumbing to temptation. By requiring people to conform their behavior to the protective rules that serve as barriers, the judges distance the population from the pitfalls associated with coming into close contact with (spiritually) hazardous conditions. It helps reduce people’s vulnerability to falling short and transgressing.

The command to appoint judges is governed by certain specifications. Among them is a specification that mandates that judges be selected from the those in the highest tier of greatness (righteousness).

Monday, August 22, 2011

An Aberration

I would like to see if McGrath’s piece can be used as a springboard from which to launch a discussion of moral education. The dominant Schefflerian view (see MEDI) is that morality is like science, and that therefore moral education is like science education. With science, there is no finished theory: theory is perpetually in the making. There is, however, a critical method that science deploys; and, in it, reasons are adduced back and forth for the viability of current theory, and for its possible modification or withdrawal. In education too, current theory is not presented as if it were final. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Instead, it is presented along with the reasons that have been adduced in its support; and students are encouraged to assess those reason and decide for themselves whether they are adequate to the support of the theory that they are alleged to support. Students are, that is, invited to approach received theory in a critical spirit. In this way, educational activity in relation to science is seen to be modeled after scientific activity (or the scientific process) itself.
Scheffler says that it is this way in the domain of morality too. Morality should not be looked at as a finished code, one that is to be educationally imbibed or ingested. Current morality is a point of view that emanates from an ongoing process of rational deliberation. It is exactly like science. Popular convictions are subject to change, in light of outcomes of this ongoing deliberation. What morality really is, is nothing more and nothing less than this process of ongoing rational deliberation about social affairs and interrelations. Sure, students can, and should, be familiarized with current moral thinking. But this is merely ancillary to what moral education should really do. It should introduce students to a way (a method, if you will) of deliberating morality, one that relies on adducing reasons and seeing how far they stand up to scrutiny, offering alternatives if need be, and so on and so forth. Because this is the essence of morality itself, it should likewise be made the core of moral education.

Note: Does this mean that current morality should be followed and practiced in no more than a tentative (questioning) spirit? If so, this may be where the weakness of the Schefflerian approach lies.

McGrath’s thinking serves as a counterweight to this point of view. From her perspective, science is real (not experimental), and morality is no less real than science. Taking this as her point of departure, she comes up against a conundrum. There appears to be an important asymmetry between the empirical domain and the moral one. In the empirical domain, deference to expertise makes sense. It is, in any event, widely regarded as making sense. When someone seeks knowledge about something, he naturally consults a recognized expert (an authority); and he is (epistemically) warranted in accepting what he learns by doing so. On the other hand, says McGrath, when one is confronted with a moral question needing to be resolved, one does not fulfill one’s moral responsibility by acting on the basis of (moral) information obtained from another party, no matter how expert this other party may be deemed to be. Focusing on the notion of moral knowledge, she contends that one does not acquire moral knowledge through the testimony of others. (Consequently, action taken on the basis of such putative knowledge is morally impugned.) This, despite the fact that, in the empirical realm, well-chosen testimony is regarded as adequately supportive of a claim to knowledge.

McGrath’s stress is on the (alleged) fact that we are not prone to regarding moral action taken on the basis of deference to a presumed expert as being truly moral action. This, contends McGrath, poses a problem for realism. For on realism, there is a fact of the matter about this or that moral question; and provided that information about it has accrued to the moral agent in a justifying/justified way, this should suffice to such an agent’s attaining moral knowledge and performing a moral act on the basis of this knowledge. For what else might be missing? McGrath devotes the bulk of her treatment to probing possibilities as to an answer to this puzzle.

I want to suggest that there are important repercussions for a theory of moral education here. According to the premise of this puzzle, morality cannot be taught by conveying moral facts, principles, or what have you. The matter may be cast in the form of a dilemma On the one hand, it should seemingly be possible to teach morality in this way. If realism is true, then it is (as McGrath contents) facts that count. (And so too for science!) And these facts should be teachable. (Morality teaching should be entirely assimilable to, say, history teaching.) On the other hand, if McGrath is right, then moral realism notwithstanding, morality cannot be taught by the mere conveyance of facts. This, because to teach by conveyance of facts is to rely on the authority/expertise of the teacher as purveyor of the facts which, ex hypothesi, is illegitimate where morals are concerned. This, then, raises the question not only of why not but, perhaps more urgently, of whether morality lends itself to being taught at all. If a Scheffler-type approach proves unviable/untenable (as per the above-mentioned objection), then, just maybe, moral education is entirely doomed.

I want to devote the remainder of this paper to probing whether there is, indeed, cause for despair about the prospects of a viable moral education.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Of Tape Recorders and Shtenders

It was Erev Shabbos Parshas Eikev. The zeman hadlaka had arrived, and it was already beginning to become ominously cloudy on the outside. Showers were virtually definitely in the offing. After hadlaka, I set out at once for Kabolas Shabbos at shul, in the beis medrash of the Mirrer Yeshiva, in hopes of outpacing the imminent onslaught of drenching rain.

But to no avail. By the time I stepped out the door downstairs, it had already begun pouring down, big time. I was wearing that full-length plastic rain cover, the one with the hood for a hat; and on that basis, I warily ventured out onto the street and walked up the sidewalk, briefly. But no sooner had I begun than I realized I needed to find temporary shelter at once. There was no point in compromising the dryness of my Shabbos pants, even if wetness threatened no more than its bottom extremes. I thereupon made my way over to the entrance of the neighboring building, where I took cover for a few minutes, until the pace of the downpour let up some. Then, off to shul I was once again, being careful to tread between the drops as best I could.

When I got to shul, I first went downstairs to the cloak room to hang up my dripping plastic rain coat. Then I went back upstairs and entered the beis medrash, where Kabolas Shabbos was just getting underway. I took my usual route to the place I sit, on the left side towards the rear. As I maneuvered over to the siddur shelf in the corner of the room, my attention was caught by the sight of a shtender standing in the back, in front of a seat, adjacent to the shelf. What was eye-catching about it was that on it was perched a tape recorder. 

“What was a (muktza) tape recorder doing sitting on a shtender at the onset of Shabbos?” I wondered. “Won’t it interfere with someone’s use of the shtender and of the seat in front of which it was situated?" This would be a good question for Rav Nelkenbaum shlita,” I thought to myself, Rav Nelkenbaum being one of the roshei yeshiva of the Mir and a real bal halacha. But would I have an opportunity to ask him?

After Kabolas Shabbos came the roughly forty-minute intermission, designed to synchronize Ma-ariv with the time of nightfall. As is his wont, Rav Nelkenbaum entered the beis medrash a few minutes before Ma-ariv. As is his wont, he took a seat for the few intervening minutes in the rear of the beis medrash, not far from where I was. Actually, he hadn’t quite taken a seat, but he was just about to – on the other end of the very row of seats in which I was myself sitting. His presence thereby caught my notice; and I immediately lunged over to him and made ready to put to him my question. I had already rehearsed it in my mind, and made sure to so formulate it that it took on the aura of an halacha issue.

The question I posed was then this. Given that the Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim, siman 308, se-if 3 rules that it is permissible to handle (on Shabbos) a davar shemelachto le-isur if it is done letzorach gufo or letzorach mekomo, should it not be alright for someone to physically remove that tape recorder – I pointed to it – from the shtender in order to daven by that shtender? To which he responded that it was not permissible, not at least according to the Mishne Berura. In particular, he said, the Mishne Berura rules that one should not handle a davar shemelachto le-isur letzorach gufo o letzorach mekomo if another alternative is available. In the case in point, he intimated, there were plenty of other seats and shtenders at which someone who wanted to daven could sit and stand. So an alternative was indeed available!

This is the gist of what he said. (I pressed him for an answer to a hypothetical case where it was crowded and no other shtenders were available. In regard to this, he recommended tiltul min hatzad.) Naturally, I accepted his answer, at the time, surprised by it though I was.

But after a while, I took the opportunity to check out the Mishne Berura. What I found was that, to my way of reading it, the situation was other than what Rav Nelkenbaum had made it out to be. The Mechabeir states that it is alright to handle a davar shemelachto le-isur if it is letzorach gufo or letzorach mekomo. The Mishne Berura glosses the words letzorach gufo with the comment that if another davar is available to serve the tzorach, one that is not melachto le-isur, then one should use such a davar instead. In other words, one should restrict one’s use of a davar shemelachto le-isur letzrach gufo to cases where it is absolutely necessary.

Seeing this, I immediately sensed that, by any straightforward reading of the Mishne Berura, the Mishne Berura did not intend to restrict use of a davar shemelachto le-isur letzorach mekomo in a similar fashion. The gloss is a gloss on letzorach gufo only. And it seems to be stretching it a bit (much) to presume that it is also intended as a qualification on the dispensation of tzorach mekomo.

I say this because it seems to me that there is a sound basis on which to distinguish the two in this regard. Let us begin by noting that the rationale behind the dispensation of handling a davar shemelachto le-isur in cases such as these is that a davar shemelachto leisur is a relatively weak manifestation of hakta-a, and that therefore, where there is a need for its use, its weak haktza-a is not deemed a factor to be reckoned with.

Let us now zero in on the idea of need. When there is a need for something to be done, there is, in effect, a need for utilizing an instrument with which that thing gets done. Even so though, the need for this instrument is secondary to the need for getting the thing done (with its use) per se. The latter is, after all, the raison detre of the whole affair.

Keeping this in mind, we can readily distinguish between the cases of letzorach gufo, on the one hand, and letzorach mekomo, on the other, insofar as these needs serve as dispensations for handling a dava shemelachto le-isur. Where the need is legufo, the concern is with  an instrument that is to be used in bringing about the desired effect. Substituting another instrument (one that is not melachto le-isur) instead in no way impacts negatively on achieving this very desired result. Consequently, fulfillment of the need is not seriously thwarted by the imposition to use another instrument. By contrast, where the need is lemekomo, what is at stake is the very thing whose realization is sought: having an uncluttered place in/on which to perform one’s activity. It is not merely a question of what instrument to use for the purpose but of actualizing the purpose itself. That other places are available is therefore irrelevant: the sought objective is, after all, centered on this place in particular.

Now, the case in point concerned a situation where the tzorach was a tzorach mekomo: the shtender was needed to daven at. So if my reading of the Mishne Berura is correct, the fact that other shtenders were available should not affect the permissibility of using the one upon which the tape recorder sat, by removing the tape recorder (in the normal way).

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Structure of the Kadish

In Kadish (shaleim) we say: yisgadal...shemei divera chirusei veyamlich uvizman kariv. And here we say: ve-imru amein. We continue: yisbarach...da-amiran be-alema ve-imru amein. This is followed by: tiskabeil...kadam avuhon divishmaya ve-imru amein. Then comes: yehei yisrael ve-imru amein. Finally: oseh kal yisrael ve-imru amein.

Notice that the reciter is constantly importuning the congregants to say amein. Why does he have to do this? Couldn’t the congregants answer with amein without being asked by the reciter to do so (each and every time!)?

Perhaps, you will say, not. The congregants are answering in response to the reciter’s elicitation. To this I offer the rejoinder: it is not in every case that the congregants’ reply of amein comes in response to the reciter’s importuning. Consider the amein that is said at the beginning, right after yisgadal veyiskadash shemei raba.

In response, you will likely say that this instance is indeed aberrant. Not only is it perplexing why this amein, unlike all the others throughout the Kadish, is answered uninvitedly; it is, on the face of it, strange that amein should be said here at all. The problem is that the thought has not yet been completed. It is being interrupted in mid-course for a response of amein. Why should this be so? Why shouldn’t the reply of amein patiently await the conclusion of the thought: ba-agala uvizman kariv?

Here you might interject: the verse of yisgadal is a composite of two disparate thoughts. One comprises the words yisgadal veyiskadash shemei raba be-alema divera chirusei. The other, then, comprises the words: veyamlich malchusei bechayeichon...ivizman kariv. But the rejoinder to this is that, first, if this were so, the amein shouldn’t be said until after the words veyamlich malchusei. Why is it said as soon as after shemei raba?

And second, it seems incongruous in the extreme to suppose that here being inserted as an entirely independent clause (if you will). Why should the recital of the praises of the Kadish be interrupted by a prayer for the restoration of His Kingdom. It seems far more natural to suppose that the stream begun by veyamlich is a continuation of the larger stream begun by be-alema. What is being asked is that: His great Name should be glorified and sanctified in the world that He created according to His desire and in which His Kingdom will be restored...speedily. It is as if the verse had read: yisgadal veyiskadash shemei raba be-alema divera chirusei veyamlich BEI malchusei...

But on reflection, I don’t suppose this is right. I think that there is no missing bei. The verse is to be read as saying, yisgadal veyiskadesh shemei raba be-alema divera chirusei. And veyamlich malchusei bechayeichon...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Political Multiculturalism

America is a democracy. It is a liberal democracy. It is democratic in that it decides political issues, issues of governance, by popular election. The public elects its political office holders. They, in turn, legislate and execute legislation. It is liberal in that it is committed to limited government, a precept enshrined in its constitution. It promotes public liberty by leaving its citizens free to go about their business without (undue) government interference.

Now there is talk of multiculturalism. Is it compatible with liberal democracy? There appear to be cross-currents of thought on this  question. On the one hand, the freedom that liberalism promotes carries in its tow the freedom to freely adopt any particular cultural orientation, without impediment.

On the other hand though, the liberalism that promotes this freedom is itself a cultural orientation. As such, it competes with alternative cultural orientations, some of which are inimical to the very freedom touted by the liberal view. Accept multiculturalism wholesale, and you have exposed yourself to infiltration by cultures hostile to the freedom you cherish. You have opened the floodgates to incursion by the foes of freedom. You have set up conditions favorable to the spread of cultural opposition to the various freedoms, including the freedom to freely choose and adhere to a given culture, including liberal culture. How to escape this dilemma?

Ostensibly, it is inescapable. This, then, augurs ill for the adoption of multiculturalism by a liberal democracy. If its liberalism is to be preserved, multiculturalism must be jettisoned. Multicultural liberal democracy is an oxymoron.

Or so it would seem.


It may be argued that there is no problem here. Contrary to what has been assumed, liberalism is not a culture. It is a culture-neutral determination not to impose a culture (which, in itself, does not constitute any kind of cultural orientation) and to leave everyone free to adopt, individually, any culture. It relies on the good sense and good will of the people to perpetuate adherence to this governing norm, and to make political choices that will keep it in place. (In and of itself, it is merely a starting point, an initial position, one whose continuation strongly recommends itself to the sensible mind.) However, by pursuing democratic procedures, people are, in principle, perfectly at liberty to adopt an orientation that is entirely at odds with this norm, and to endure the consequences. To be sure, there is a liberal cultural orientation that is diametrically opposed to the denial of individual freedom. It has its many adherents; and they abhor any form of extraneous imposition. They will cast their ballots in a way reflecting their championing of freedom. But this is something apart from the basic political norm of liberalism, makers of this case will say.


Suppose society has a culture that promotes freedom. It encourages everyone to be free to adhere to the (political) outlook they please. Now suppose that some people freely choose to subscribe to a philosophy that says that people should be compelled to conform to certain practices. It says, that is, not that people should be free to conform to those practices if they so choose. Rather, it says that they should be made to conform if they should fail to do so of their own volition. (How it will impose its will is a separate question. It may resort to educative measures, for example.) The inevitable outcome is that the society no longer has the culture of freedom it had originally espoused. Initially, this might affect only a certain segment of the larger population. That is because the sub-culture in question presumably does not control the larger society. Consequently, only that segment over which it does exercise control will be affected. Now, this already points up the unviability of the principle upon which this society is based. The principle is, after all, meant to assure freedom to all its members. However, matters are liable to become further exacerbated. Suppose the freedom-opposing segment wrests political control of the government. This is particularly possible in a democracy, where governance is decided by popular vote. In that eventuality, the group in question is now in possession of a great deal of coercive power. Before long, everyone will come under its dominion. Individual freedom will no longer be anywhere in evidence. What this shows is that promoting a policy of freedom to be free to suppress freedom is a losing proposition. It is not self-sustaining. It eventually undoes itself. If a society values its freedom, it has no choice but to limit individuals’ freedom to actions that do not curtail other people’s freedom – their free exercise of choices.

In political philosophy texts they ask what justifies political authority. Why should people, like me and you, submit to it? But what kind of question is that? What choice have we? Political authority is coercive. And it has the means of enforcing its mandates. It is from this that it derives its power: sheer brute force. It is too strong to be subdued by a competing power. If it weren't, it would give way. Power always goes to the mightiest. This is the way of nature. At any given moment, a political configuration reflects perceived (strategically adjusted) distributions of power.     

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Telling a Na From a Nach

How to tell a sheva na from a sheva nach?

Where the leading letter of a word is punctuated with a sheva, it is a sheva na.

Where two letters punctuated with a sheva occur in immediate succession, the second sheva is a sheva na and the first a sheva nach.

Where the occurrence of a letter is immediately followed by another occurrence of itself and is punctuated with a sheva, the sheva is a sheva na.

A sheva punctuating a letter that occurs right after a letter punctuated by a big vowel is, provided that this latter letter is not accentuated (i.e., does not head an accentuated syllable), a sheva na. But if the latter letter is accentuated, then the sheva of this sheva-punctuated letter is a sheva nach.

A sheva punctuating a strongly modulated letter (bearing a dagesh chazak) is a sheva na.

The sheva of the trailing letter of a word is a sheva nach (if two of them occur in succession, both are a sheva nach).

Recall: there are big vowels and small ones. A letter punctuated by a sheva that occurs right after a letter punctuated by a small vowel has a sheva that is a sheva nach. However, this applies only where the small vowel in question has not been truncated. If it has been truncated, then the sheva in question is a sheva na. Furthermore, if the letter bearing a small vowel has received a strong modulation, then the sheva of the ensuing letter is, likewise, a sheva na.

The sheva of a letter that comes right after an occurrence of the vav-of-attachment (vav hachibur) is reckoned a sheva nach (as if it had followed a small vowel).

The sheva of a letter that follows the occurrence of a letter punctuated with a big vowel is, if the letter punctuated with a big vowel is (also) accentuated, a sheva nach.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Nach and Na

Last time we touched on words, letters, and vowels, focusing on the sheva. We characterized the sheva as neutral in comparison with the other vowels, which represent distinct enunciations. We noted that there were two senses in which the sheva might represent neutrality. In one, it represents the absence of vowel enunciation; and in the other it stands for an enunciation that is tame in comparison with the enunciations represented by the other vowels. We now want to point out that the former is called a sheva nach and the latter a sheva na. The nach in sheva nach connotes resting; the na in sheva na connotes moving. Another way of looking at it is to say that a sheva na is used to designate receptivity, while a sheva nach is used to suggest conveyance.  When a sheva nach occurs, the affected letter does not initiate an enunciation at all. It merely receives the enunciation conveyed by the letter that precedes it, according to its vowel-indicated enunciation. That is, some letters – most – are enunciated from, as it were, the bottom; but others, as is the case with a letter inflected by a sheva na, are enunciated from the top. It is rather as if the enunciation of the vowel precedes the articulation of the affected letter – and not the other way around. A sheva na, by contrast, operates comparably to the various other vowels. The sound it represents is enunciated after the letter itself has already been articulated – or, if you will, it modifies the articulation of this letter. As a consequence of this difference, the sheva nach will be understood to necessarily occur at the close of a syllable; while a sheva na will be seen as commencing a new syllable.


Letters are like Yidden. Take the members of a shul. Each is a soul unto himself. But taken by himself, he can’t do anything. He can’t express himself. He has got a sound to make, but he can’t vent it. So he takes a job and finds his place. Now he has a voice. Now he can make himself heard. He speaks as an occupant of the job role he performs. The role enables him to make his inner self be heard. The role per se has nothing to say. But it equips its holder with a medium through which to express himself. It not only gives him a voice; it also assigns him a position in a social structure. As a result, he is brought into relations with occupants of various positions – his own and others – in this structure. The position he occupies determines the relations he enjoys with co-members. Relations with co-occupants of the role are particularly strong. But relations with occupants of adjacent roles need not be too weak either. And sometimes these latter relations mushroom into indirect relations with occupants of non-adjacent roles. And on and on it goes. Not only that, the position itself is affected and modified as a result of its composition in occupants. They help define its very essence. In turn, the occupants are brought into relations with new sets of people. For as a result of their impact on the role they occupy, they have caused this role form relations with roles hitherto unavailable. And when roles interrelate and grow interdependent, so do the occupants of those roles. It is an ever spiraling process.           
All of this impacts dramatically on the capacity of the member to express himslf and make himself heard.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Letters and Vowels

There are words, syllables, letters, and vowels. Words are comprised of syllables, and syllables are comprised of letters. Letters are strung together to form syllables, which form words. Letters strung together do not, of themselves, determine the enunciation of a word. Letters hardly admit of enunciation at all, without supplementation by vowels. Vowels therefore hold the key to the enunciation of a word, conceived of as already consisting of a particular string of letters.

At the same time though, vowels are not integral components of words, as letters are. They merely make manifest the intended interpretation of a word’s letters. They indicate the patterns into which the component letters of a word enter (or fall). Of course, I’m not referring to the vowels per se. They are mere symbols. They symbolize the underlying sounds-enunciations. It is the sounds represented by the vowels that do the work of demarcating the syllabic structure of a word.

Syllables are of two kinds, open and closed. With an open syllable, the sound of a vowel trails; with a closed one, that of letter (consonant) does. However, even a syllable having a trailing vowel may be closed, if it is directly succeeded by an accentuated letter. In that case, the preceding vowel closes the syllable (to which it belongs) off.

Vowels are of ten kinds. Five of them are big; the remaining five are small. Apart from these, there is an eleventh vowel: the sheva. Whereas the ten basic vowels each define another form of enunciation (which is a modification of the enunciation of a letter), the sheva occurs where distinctive enunciation is intended as being bypassed. In other words, the occurrence of a sheva indicates something of a neutral enunciation, one that does not render the affected letter’s enunciation distinct.

We have just been told that the sheva represents a neutral enunciation. However, we have not been told what this means. As it transpires, an enunciation, as indicated by a sheva, may be neutral in either of two senses, varying with the context (situation). It may be neutral in the sense of being minimal, showing no articulation beyond the basic requirements of enunciability. On the other hand, a sheva’s enunciation may be neutral in the sense of standing for a null sound-value. Here there is no enunciation to be discerned at all. Each of these has its legitimate uses.

However, for the moment, we shall want to close on this note.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Western Philosophy, First Installment

Philosophy begins with Plato, a Greek from Athens. He founded a school, regarded as the precursor of the modern university. Situated in Athens, it was called the Academy. In it he taught philosophy and other subjects as well. Politics comes especially to mind. He was especially keen on the study of mathematics, which he saw as importantly linked to philosophy. Plato flourished in substantially the 400s and early 300s b.c.e. This was the time when, shortly after the time of Pericles (the military general and statesman, famous for leading Athens to ascendency through victory in the Persian wars), Athens was occupied in the Peloponnesian wars, in which it met with defeat, having been overwhelmed by Sparta. Culturally/intellectually speaking, Athens was heir to the great literary tradition represented most notably by the works of Homer, the Odyssey and the Iliad. There wasn’t any philosophy in those works; but they did vividly portray the moral outlook (centered on honor and heroism) of the Greek culture. Apart from Homer, there is also the literary work of Hesiod, and of others, to bear in mind. However, here we shall blithely pass over all of these. We’ll conclude this paragraph by mentioning that Greek city-states, Athens in particular, were run politically as democracies in the direct sense – meaning that issues were decided by popular vote, taken in the Assemblies (with various strictures as to who was qualified to belong to the franchise). Now, as promised, to the next paragraph.

We began by noting that Plato inaugurates philosophy. But this is, of course, an inaccuracy. Plato was immediately preceded by his rightfully famous philosophy-teacher, Socrates. And as I shall point out in a moment (actually, in another post, G-d willing), Socrates in turn was preceded by yet others. Why, then, claim that Plato was the original Western philosopher? The answer is that there is something to be said for basing a narrative like the one I am developing on the notion that, to qualify as a historically significant philosopher, a figure has got to be known substantially through his writings. Socrates did not write; and though some of Socrates’ precursors did write, they are not substantially known through their writings, as their writings have been lost to us. Plato, on the other hand, famously wrote dialogues, which – judging by the consensus of opinion – stand at the foundation of all subsequent philosophical theorizing. So the choice of Plato is amply justified.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

From Likutei Ma-harich On Rising in the Morning

In the Gemara of Berachos, at the conclusion of Perek Haro-eh, we encounter the following: When he wakens he recites elokai neshama shenasata bi tehora...(My G-d, the soul that You have put in me is pure...). This is a blessing of thanks for G-d’s having returned to him his soul. However, it is not our custom to recite any beracha (blessing) before performing netilas yadayim – washing the hands. For the reason for our departure from the unqualified statement of the Gemara, see Rabeinu Yona’s comments to this passage in the Gemara, in which he explains that in the Talmudic era people were saturated with holiness. Consequently, they were punctilious about maintaining their sanctity, once having washed their hands. (In other words, they would wash their hands before retiring for the night and maintain their pure state throughout the night, by scrupulously refraining from touching themselves in places touching which would compromise their cleanliness.) We, on the other hand, who are incapable of steadily maintaining our cleanliness in a comparable manner, ought not to recite a blessing until having washed our hands. Consult this source for further details.

The Seder Olam states (and the Magein Avraham cites his statement at the conclusion of section 4) that one should offer praise and thanks to the Al-mighty, may His name be blessed, and enunciate immediately upon getting up [in the morning]: modeh ani lefanecha melech chai vekayam shehechezarta bi nishmasi bechemla raba emunasecha (I give thanks to You, the live, eternal Sovereign, for mercifully returning to me my soul. Immense is Your trustworthiness.) (One should pause briefly between the words bechemla and raba emunasecha. See the Yad Efrayim for more on this.) Reciting this does not require washing one’s hands, as neither a name nor an epithet is mentioned in this recitation-formula. See the Seder Olam for more on this. In regard to the intention behind the word bechemla, see what the Tola-as Yakov says in connection with the Elokai Neshama prayer, the gist of which is as follows. When the soul ascends at night On High to give an accounting of its actions, justice dictates that, if it should be found guilty, it should no longer be returned. See the Tola-as Yakov’s elaboration. The source of this assertion is the Zohar Hakadosh (Va-eschanan 269), where it said that, upon rising in the morning, the individual should offer praise to the Al-mighty for returning him his soul. It is an act of immense kindness on His part to have done so, considering that it is blemished with guilt in various ways and known to Him to be so. This notwithstanding, the Al-mighty restores his soul to his body. Consult this passage in the Zohar for further insight.

Now, the phrase raba emunasecha is to be understood in accord with the Midrash, cited by the Tur (46), which, citing the verse chadashim labekarim raba emunasecha, offers a simile: A man deposits one of his belongings to his friend for safekeeping, and this trustee returns it to him in a decrepit, ruined state. In contrast, when a man deposits his soul in a weary state to his Creator at night, He returns it to him in a renewed and much rejuvenated condition. This, then, is intimated by the phrase raba emunasecha (immense is Your trustworthiness). See the Midrash for further elaboration.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Platonic Diversion

A number of followers have been asking me to say something about Plato’s Republic – perhaps his best-known dialogue – or at least to give over its gist. In what follows, I don’t venture any original thoughts about it, but I make a sheepish attempt at giving over the gist of some of the Republic’s thrust.

The main thesis of the dialogue is that the perfect state is one governed by philosophers kings. Philosopher kings are steeped in knowledge and have insight into the truth of things. They feel a sense of duty to go out and serve the state by providing guidance and direction, informed by their immense understanding of reality. But how does one become a philosopher king?

This forms the brunt of the story. To be a philosopher king, one has to have intelligibly apprehended the form of the good – in its myriad relations. And to master the form of the good, one needs to intellectually contemplate the various forms in their totality. For binding them together and standing at their apex is the form of the good. Having met with the form of the good, the philosopher is inevitably driven to exemplifying moral rectitude in his own conduct.

How, then, does one go about in apprehending the forms? The answer is through engaging in dialectic, a form of metaphysical study. Yes, but what sets dialectic apart from other forms of study? It is distinguished by the fact that it pays no attention at all to things as they are perceptibly manifest. It focuses entirely on the true natures of things, that is to say, their abstract forms. It reasons them out purely intellectually, without having recourse to concrete, this-worldly examples. Good; but how does one gain the capability of engaging in this kind of study? After all, it seems so remote and detached.

Plato’s answer: by undergoing a proper education, one with a focus on mathematical subjects. Pure mathematics is empirically detached, meaning that it deals exclusively in abstractions. It might on the periphery draw on tangible instances of the forms it seeks to understand; but it nevertheless engages the mind in a good deal of abstract contemplation. Its study goes a long way toward preparing the mind to dabble purely in the essences, or forms, themselves. In this way, it helps liberate the mind from the gravitational pull of sensory encounters. And insofar forth, it is an integral component of a would-be philosopher’s education. (It is by no means the sole component; but its intense study is what immediately precedes taking up the study of dialectic.)

With a contemplation of forms and an apprehension of the good, backed by ample drill in mathematics, having been achieved, the philosopher is ready to rule. Yet the public at large resists rule by philosophers. Why would this be? It is owing to the fact that philosophers exhibit an aloofness that causes them incur the ire of the uninitiated. The public is simply incapable of properly assessing their value. Plato employs the image of a cavern to illustrate the point about the philosopher’s flight to the world of intelligibles.

He says to imagine a situation in which prisoners, facing a wall, are chained to the ground, so that they cannot move about or look to the side or to the rear. Behind them, extending over the entire length of the wall they face, runs an elevated passageway, sealed at the front by a low-standing divider. The prisoners’ backs are turned to this passageway; and behind this passageway there burns, in turn, a blistering fire. A winding path leads from this point out unto the exterior of the cavern.

Now, on the passageway lying to the rear of where the prisoners are standing a procession occurs, in which puppet figures of various sorts are found carrying things over their heads and running to and fro. Owing to the fire burning in the background, an image of these goings about is projected onto the wall that the prisoners are facing – in the form of shadows. The shadows of the passing figures and objects are thus cast upon the wall for the prisoners to see. Over time, the prisoners have become accustomed to them, and have developed avid interests in the variegated courses of action that these shadowy images (seem to) take and in the fluctuations they undergo. This is no different than the way people in the real world are captivated by events pervading life in the actual community.

Bear in mind, now, that these prisoners have been chained to the wall since infancy and have never witnessed the light of day. They have never had occasion to experience things in the real: not even the objects moving in the passageway or, for that matter, the fire burning behind them. What this means is that, for them, the shadowy scene on the wall is the totality of reality.

This much is background. At this point, Plato says to imagine that someone comes along and unchains one of the prisoners. The prisoner is now free to look behind him and behold the sight of the figures and objects moving about in the background, the images of which are projected onto the wall that the prisoners face. He is now free, also, to view the fire, which is the source of the light by means of which the prisoners gain a view of the shadowy figures jumping about in front of them. Yet, this prisoner resists taking in these various sights, being, as he is, blinded by the sudden onslaught of light emanating from the fire. He is, moreover, bewildered by the entire scene and reluctant to venture out for fear of what the situation might hold in store. To him, it appears so very unreal.

He is, however, nudged by his liberator to take incremental steps and make his way out of cave. He slowly and unsteadily hazards the trek, passing the various bodies and artifices along the way. Finally he finds himself on the path leading to the exterior of the cavern. As he approaches the opening, he experience his first whiff of light’s illumination, coming from the outside. Soon he has exited the cave and been thrust into the light of day, illuminated by the sun’s rays.

Once again, he is overwhelmed by the the shining bright light and seeks escape by casting his gaze downward. He finds himself looking into a pond of water, in which are reflected images – such as his body – from above. The sight of these images is all he can muster at first. But then he looks up somewhat and begins to catch glimpses of the various objects populating the surroundings. These are the very objects at whose watery images he looked at just a moment earlier, and whose visibility is owing to the light carried by the sun’s beaming rays. As he becomes increasingly acclimated to them, he casts his gaze further upward and is met with a view of the sun itself, providing the light through whose agency the things he sees around him are made capable of being seen. At that point, he is, however, taken back into the cave.

As he enters, he finds himself fumbling about,owing to the dungeon-like darkness that prevails. He only awkwardly makes his way around, missing his steps here and there. It is rather like he can hardly abide the experience. In any event, he chances to encounter his erstwhile comrades, who heap on him the meanest kind of derision. Noticing his shaky gait, they hasten to treat him as someone who has succumbed to utter deliriousness. Just the same, he approaches them and tells them of the amazing sights he has blissfully witnessed.

He tries to persuade them of their sorry sordid state that is entirely permeated by fancifulness. They laugh at him, thinking loudly that he knows not a thing whereof he speaks. They accuse him of having stepped out into a netherworld, totally devoid of reality. He, in turn, tries his level best to impress upon them the baselessness of what their misty experience affords them and to convince them of its source in a far more imposing reality.

The moral of the story is an analogy: The world of perceptible experience is to the intelligible world of forms as the shadowy images of the cave are to sun-illuminated objects of the outside world. Just as in the tangible world objects receive their visibility through the light emanating from the sun, so too in the intelligible world the form of the good provides a driving axle to the myriad forms that are systematically interrelated. And just as in the tangible world sensory experience affords access to physical phenomena, so too in the intelligible world contemplation offers insight into abstract forms. The non-philosophical public at large is, however, resistant to this perspective and, therefore, to the rule of the philosopher king. To them, his vision of things is flawed throughout; and he is ill-equipped to hold forth effectively in the hustle and bustle of everyday social living. Philosophical rule must therefore be imposed upon the people non-voluntarily – at least at first. It is for their good. The situation in this regard invites comparison to the ridicule the liberated prisoner receives at the hands of his erstwhile fellow prisoners. 

Plato is not unaware that instituting this kind of governance is a formidable task, and that initial conditions have to be set up so as to be accommodating of the requisites of implementation. To this end, he describes at length what other social arrangements have to be made. He says that the state (i.e., society) is to be divided into three classes of citizens or inhabitants: the guardians, the auxiliaries, and the artisans. The artisans produce and live a life of personal enrichment. But the guardians and auxiliaries are charged with protecting and governing the state. To qualify, they have to meet stringent standards. Having qualified, they need to undergo a formidable education. In its early phase, this education consists in cultural and literary studies, comprising music, poetry, and the various arts. But youth’s cultural exposure needs to be limited to what is worthy of their natures; and to the end of assuring that it is, the state exercises harsh censorship, banishing impure specimens of literature and art forms from the stage and jettisoning their authors and producers along with them. The point of imposing these measures is to guarantee that the young develop along desirable lines.
We would be remiss if we did not stipulate that the education that Plato advocates for youth at this stage comprises physical exercise - gymnastics - in addition to the musical, cultural studies just emphasized.

The best of the youth receive continuous promotion and go on to become guardians proper, that is, rulers or philosopher kings. The remaining select, provided they prove themselves adequate, take their positions alongside the full-fledged guardians and become auxiliaries: soldiers with military duty. 

Education is but one aspect of the overall arrangement, though. The different classes, especially the lowest, have to be made to be content with their fates. Otherwise, conditions aren’t conducive to the manageable imposition of elite rulership. The state therefore resorts to feeding its citizenry myths, having the people internalize these myths and reconcile themselves to their alleged determinateness. The myths tell them that their class assignments are not arbitrary but necessary. The artisan class is thereby quelled.

However, the guardians must be dealt with specially. They have to be relied upon to defend the state; and they are expected to be able to act selflessly in behalf of the state. What arrangement might the state make to secure the guardian’s unflinching loyalty? Plato answers with a form of communalism.

He wants to see the state set aside a spatial region for the express use of the guardian class, where they live together and share common resources as one happy family. They meet as one in their common dining facilities, sleeping quarters, and recreational grounds, women as well as men. They roam freely amongst themselves, unobstructed. Property is not owned privately; people are not possessed of valuables (or other durable belongings); and wealth is not accumulated. As a result, self-interest is immeasurably diminished, and dedication to the common good is appreciably enhanced.

And that’s merely the beginning. To be added is that the nuclear family is abolished, with mating done rotationally and selectively for optimal breeding. Biological parentage is made little of, so that children can look at all adults as their forebears and adults can view children’s upbringing as a shared, collective charge. With this social scheme in place, guardians, future and present, are disabused of their preconceived notions of personal interest: they are enlisted in the cause of working toward the greater good.

They need merely to proceed with their philosophical education.

Plato acknowledges that guardians might, under these austere conditions, not themselves be as happy as they could otherwise be. But he drives home the point that guardians have to be persuaded that the object of the overall social arrangement is not to make one party, or one group, as happy as can possibly be; but rather to achieve the greatest degree of happiness for the state taken as a whole. The happiness of a part of the whole needs to be sacrificed for the maximal happiness of the whole. However, it is not, for Plato, a foregone conclusion that, on balance, guardians will not themselves be happier vis-à-vis the lives they lead.

In any event, they will make society better.

At this point, it needs to be interjected that Plato is not content simply to give an account of the structure of the good state. He wants, further, to extrapolate from this account to the case of an individual. He is interested in the question of what makes someone a good man, and of why someone should want to be good. He suggests that just as what makes a state a good state is that it is divided into classes, that each class faithfully adheres to its own role and does not venture to trespass over onto another’s, and finally that the state is governed and controlled by the one class that possesses immense knowledge and understanding; what, similarly, makes someone a good man is that his psyche, which comprises three parts – wisdom, courage, and temperance – operates so that each of its parts adheres to its own domain and does not presume to venture into that of another, and so that the other parts subordinate themselves to the dominion of wisdom. The person is therefore properly integrated and experiences optimal satisfaction as a result. His weakest aspect, the part of him that desires, may not in and of itself achieve total satisfaction. But to harp on this is to miss the point, already noted in connection with the state, that what counts is not the happiness of this or that part but, rather, the happiness of the whole. The work that his parts do has to be coordinated so as to achieve the maximum degree of satisfaction for the man as such. As a result, he is not only moral but happily moral.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shabbos Preparation

Everyone should do his best to provide meat, delectable fish, and excellent wine. For it is a mitzva to eat fish at each of the Shabbos meals, provided that it does him no harm. However, if it does do him harm, or even if he simply does not like fish, he should not partake of fish. The reason being, Shabbos is meant to be a source of enjoyment, not of discomfiture. In addition, he should sharpen the knife, as this too is accounted an honor for Shabbos. He should, further, put the house in order, drape the beds, and spread a cloth over the table, keeping the table covered for the duration of the Shabbos day. Some go so far as to spread two tablecloths upon the table. He should be extremely joyous about Shabbos’ immanent arrival, keeping in mind how excited he would be were he anticipating the arrival of an important person, and how far he would go to tidy up the house in such a person’s honor. All the more so should he make preparation in honor of the Shabbos Queen.... It is a good idea to taste on erev Shabbos the Shabbos food cooking in the pots – to make sure that it tastes good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Honor of Shabbos

I have got some developing, breaking news to report. It is from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Hilchos Shabbos, 72:4.

I paraphrase.

It is written, zachor es yom hashabos lekadsho (Remember the day of Shabbos, to sanctify it). What this means is that a person should remember, and sanctify, it on each and every day. How so? If, on a regular day, he should happen across a desirable food item, one that is not readily encountered and, also, not immanently perishable, he should step up and procure it in honor of the day of Shabbos. Moreover, on erev Shabbos, a person is particularly strongly adjured to rise early and shop around to procure the things that will meet his Shabbos needs. He is, in fact, given a special dispensation: he may dispatch his shopping obligation before having davened the morning prayer – with the proviso that he will not thereby have arrived late for the public prayer service (tefila betzibur). Furthermore, it is preferable to do the sopping that one does in honor of Shabbos on erev Shabbos to doing it on Thursday. There is, however, an exception to this rule: when the item in question requires substantial preparation, he should obtain it earlier – presumably on Thursday – so as to be able to prepare it adequately. Something else: in regard to anything he buys for consumption on Shabbos, he should make it a point to expressly declare his intention that he buys it for the honor of Shabbos. On a related matter, among the various edicts that Ezra enacted, there is one to the effect that one should do one’s laundry on Thursday, so as not to be encumbered by the demands of this chore on erev Shabbos, when one needs to be free to tend to one’s Shabbos requirements.

It applies to everyone alike that, even though he has plenty of servants of whose services he can avail himself for getting his various chores done, he should still make it a point to personally indulge in some act for the express purpose of honoring Shabbos thereby. He should, in this way, seek to emulate the Amoraim. Rav Chisda, for example, is reported to have cut the vegetables thinly; while Raba and Rav Yosef would chop wood and Reb Zeira would light the fire. Rav Nachman, in turn, fixed up the house, gathering in utensils needed for Shabbos and hauling out vessels designated for weekday use. Everyone should follow in their example, and refrain from thinking that it is beneath him to sully himself with such mundane undertakings. On the contrary, it is a boon to his honor that he honors the Shabbos.

It is ubiquitous among the diffuse communities of Jewish people to hold to the custom of baking bread loaves in the home in honor of Shabbos. This applies not only to those who are in the practice of partaking of pas palter during the week, for whom adhering to pas yisrael on Shabbos would constitute an upgrade (in level of observance). It applies as well to those accustomed to eating pas yisrael during the week: they too are enjoined to make home-baked loaves for Shabbos. This is so that the woman of the household will fulfill the command (mitzva) of separating chala. For Adam, the first man, had been created on erev Shabbos, and – having been created first – was the chala of the world. But the woman transgressed and, consequently, precipitated his downfall. She needs, therefore, to make amends for the catastrophe she brought about. This she does by baking loaves and separating chala. Three loaves are made: a big one, a middle-sized one, and a small one. The middle one is designated for the feast of the night (Friday night). The big one is used for the daytime meal, to signal the fact that the day period of Shabbos deserves greater honor than does the night period. Finally, the small loaf is set aside for the third meal.           

Monday, August 1, 2011

Teaching and Learning

velimadtem osam es beneichem ledabeir bam beshivtecha beveisecha uvlechtecha vaderech uvshachbecha uvkumecha. On the face of it, the verse says: You should teach them (the laws) (to) your children, to speak in (or about) them, when sitting in your house...

A question that arises is: What is the force of to speak in them? Is it to be understood as saying, teach your children to speak in them? In other words, get your children to speak about the laws: this is what you are enjoined to do (in your teaching). Or, is it rather to be understood as saying that you should teach them (the laws) to your children, so that they will...later, of their own accord (as it were), come to speak of them? We put this aside for a moment and raise another matter, one that is indifferent to the two sides of the question just raised.

The verse says, to speak in them...besivtecha beveisechawhen you sit in your house. It sounds as if it is saying that you should teach them to your children, so that they will speak in them when you sit in your house and travel on your way, etc. Which seems incongruous! Why would you want to anchor your children’s study to the intervals and highlights that punctuate your routine/schedule? You would think that their study sessions should, rather, be pinned to judiciously selected segments of their respective schedules!

Perhaps, someone might say, this is what it means. The mode of expression merely switches from addressing you to addressing them. However, the suggestion of a switch like this occurring in mid course seems a bit excessively farfetched. So what then?

Another suggestion: beshivtecha beveisecha applies, not to when they, the children, should learn/speak of them, but rather to when you should teach them (i.e., your children). Do your teaching to your children when you sit in your what the verse is saying. This sounds plausible. We need, it light of this suggestion, to reconsider the two sides of the question raised up front.

That question concerned the object of teaching: what is it that we are enjoined to teach our children? On one view, ledabeir bam addresses this matter, asserting that you are enjoined to teach your children to speak in them, meaning in the laws of the Torah. One question for this view concerns the word osam. On the face of it, it is out of place. Apart from this, there is also the consideration that, if what you are enjoined to teach is that they should speak in them, it is a bit hard to understand why this teaching should be anchored to discrete intervals in your daily schedule. Ostensibly, you could hammer in the importance of studying and speaking in learning on an opportunistic basis – whenever the occasion arises. Finally, is it really plausible to assume that we are being told to teach our children to speak about the laws? Does it not make more sense to say that that we are being enjoined to actually teach them the laws? It would seem to me that the answer is yes: the object of our teaching should be the Torah itself.

On this understanding, the intent of ledabeir bam is not that of supplying an object of teaching but, rather (to repeat), to accentuate that the point of teaching them the laws of the Torah is to get them not only to practice the mitzvos but also to speak of them and to study them – and, in turn, to pass them on to their young. This, then, accords with the last suggestion made, the one, namely, that beshivtecha beveisecha... is a characterization of when you should do your teaching: do it at all sorts of times of the day, under a variety of circumstances. On this view, the object of teaching is specified by the word osam (thus accounting for its presence) – which alludes to the laws. Do your teaching of the laws, the verse says, as you engage in pivotal activities throughout your day.   

I believe that the verse’s stream of cantillation supports this reading of the verse. An esnachta occurs under the word bam, signaling a separation from the immediately ensuing beshivtecha... Beshivtecha is thus freed up to modify the leading verb velimadtem.

Equally important, this reading of the verse makes it out to run parallel with the corresponding verse in the first parsha of kerias shema. There it says: veshinantam levanecha vedibarta bam beshivtecha beveisecha... This latter verse, ostensibly, tells you to do two things: teach them to your children and speak in them. It then tells you to do these things under various circumstances, at various junctures of the day. These specifications pertain to both of the injunctions enunciated. (Proof: once again, an esnachta occurs under bam.) Consequently, it is the command to teach that is being qualified by the stated specifications as to when. Thus the one parsha is revelatory of the proper reading of the other.

And incidentally, there may be another respect in which the first parsha sheds light on how the second is to be read and understood. We had occasion to fuss over the phrase ledabeir bam; and we settled on the understanding that it was an allusion to a future payoff of the effort to teach children Torah: they will, in time, come to study Torah (speak of it) on their own. However, pursuing the method of extrapolating from the first parsha of kerias shema to the second, we are afforded another perspective on the interpretation of this phrase. We may understand ledabeir bam as meaning that you should teach them to your children so that you will speak in them, as you do so. You will thus be teaching and learning at all hours of the day. Indeed, you will be teaching and learning at once! This reading creates a really neat symmetry between the verses of these two parshios – which makes the reading compelling in the extreme.