Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gavra vs. cheftza

(source — strongly recommended)

Inspired by the discussion in the comments to this post. An excerpt from here:
The biblical commandments are the 613 mitzvot explicitly or implicitly contained in the Five Books of Moses. The rabbinical commandments are the laws instituted by sages throughout the generations. (For example, praying three times a day, reciting kaddish after the dead, making a blessing before eating, lighting Shabbat candles, and the festivals of Chanukah and Purim are all rabbinical institutions. Indeed, a major part of what we call "Judaism" is of rabbinic origin.)

Both are equally binding upon the Jew. The sages institute their laws by the divine authority expressed in the verse: "And you shall observe all that they shall instruct you" (Deuteronomy 17:10). Thus, the blessing recited before the performance of a mitzvah -- "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to..." -- is recited over rabbinical mitzvot as well. G-d is the sole commander of a mitzvah, whether it is written or alluded to in His Torah, or instituted by human beings to whom He imparted the authority to interpret and safeguard His laws and legislate Jewish life.

Nevertheless, Halachah (Torah law) distinguishes between biblical and rabbinical laws, applying a different set of standards to each of the two categories. One of these differences is that, according to many halachic authorities, biblical laws define the nature of their object, while rabbinical degrees are only prohibitions upon the person. For example, if biblical law forbids a certain food, this indicates that the very substance of the food is intrinsically negative and profane; on the other hand, rabbinical proscription of a certain food is strictly a prohibition upon the person not to eat it.

At first glance, this seems to indicate that rabbinical mitzvot are less "real" than biblical ones; that while the biblical law affects the very nature of its subject, the rabbinical law is superimposed over human life, having the authority to command and instruct but not to define reality. On a deeper level, however, this alludes to the fact that the rabbinical law is the more profound expression of the essence of the mitzvah as divine will.

The biblical mitzvot define the nature of our world, expressing the fact that their predominant element is the mitzvah's role as molder and illuminator of the created reality. Not so the rabbinical commandment, which is concerned only with what man should or should not do, not with how this affects him or his world. Thus it asserts the "decree" element of the mitzvah: the mitzvah as it transcends all relation to physical life, its sole purpose being the fulfillment of a divine desire.
Another excerpt, from here:
In the third chapter of Ethics of the Fathers, the mishnaic sage Akavia ben Mahalalel teaches:

"Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. From where you came -- from a putrid drop; where you are going -- to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting -- before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."

The Mishnah is known for its concise wording -- every extra word or phrase is interpreted by the Talmud to enfold many layers of meaning and instruction. On the face of it, the above-quoted Mishnah is just using lengthy, repetitious wording to convey a single idea. Upon closer examination, however, the Mishnah includes three sentences, which can be interpreted as three separate messages:

1) "Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression."

2) "Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting."

3) "From where you came -- from a putrid drop; where you are going -- to a place of dust, maggots and worms; and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting -- before the supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He."

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Akavia ben Mahalalel is in fact speaking to three different types of people: the materialist, the spiritualist, and the tzaddik.

The third and last part of our Mishnah is addressed to the materialist, who sees nothing higher -- indeed nothing other -- than the body and its needs, wants and desires. It's all but useless to speak to the materialist about his soul. So we talk to him about his body -- about the fact that it's nothing more than a bag of flesh with a slimy beginning and a maggoty end, and that there's a higher authority before which it will one day be taken to task for all it did during its earthly life.

The second and middle part of the Mishnah is addressed to the spiritual person. To him, we need not speak of the lowliness of the body; instead, we extol the virtues of the soul: "Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting." We speak of the soul's life origins as "a very part of G-d above," of the "World to Come" to which it is propelled by the good deeds of a virtuous life, and of the day it will merit to give "a judgment and accounting" before the Source from which it came and to which it shall return.

And then there is the tzaddik, the perfectly righteous individual. To the tzaddik we don't speak of the lowliness of the body, for the tzaddik's body is refined and rarified, as holy, perhaps even holier, than his soul. Nor do we speak to the tzaddik about his soul -- the tzaddik doesn't care about his soul. He's not interested in spiritual development. He's not interested in the World to Come. All he desires is to lose himself within the all-embracing reality of G-d, like a tiny candle-flame absorbed and nullified within a great fire.

Still, the tzaddik, too, can "come to the hands of transgression." The tzaddik, too, can sin -- not in forgetting about G-d, but in forgetting about the world. The tzaddik may backslide to the pre-Sinai reality, when there were only two things -- only G-d and man, and their quest for each other.

So the tzaddik is admonished: "Reflect upon three things." Remember that Shabbat morning at Sinai when G-d descended upon the mountain and decreed that the world shall henceforth be made real. Remember the day on which G-d decreed that your purpose in life is not to lose yourself within Him, but to bring Him into the world and uplift the world to Him.


micha said...

Chameitz is an issur cheftzah deOraisa, ner Chanukah is a chiyuv gavra derabbanan.

I believe the point of the essay you're quoting is more along the lines of the shitah of the Meshekh Chokhmah (Devarim 17:11). R Meir Simchah haKohein writes that while basar bechalav is an ontology -- it's something metu'af, the same is not true of milk and poultry.

Not so much gavra vs cheftzah as whether the issur is describing a real spiritual problem vs pragmatic advice for the person.

I'm not sure how this position dovetails with a comment in SA haRav on yom tov sheini shel goliyos. The Alter Rebbe writes that while yom tov sheini is derabbanan, the supernal force it connects the day to is the same one as on the previous day. The supernatural concept which has a deOraisa connection to 15 Nissan is the very same reality the derabbanan connect the 16th to. An ontological basis for a derabbanan, no?

Certified Ashkenazi said...

I think a possible answer is that there are some things which are chayav or ossur from themselves, and some things are relative to the people.

In all cases, there is a clear ontology for Halachos, both deoraysa and derabbanan. But deoraysa applies accross the board, and derabbanan is dependent on avoida abilities of people. Maybe there is a case of isarusa d'leila vs. isarusa d'lesata.

For instance, Rabbonim forbade blowing shofar on Rosh HaShana if it coincided with Shabbos. Reason? Because whatever shofar accomplishes, Shabbos Rosh HaShanah accomplishes by itself. (Not a perfect example, because it explains how it was conceivable for Chazal to forbid such a mitzva as shofar because of a mere possibility of prohibition; doesn't really explain the source of the prohibition — but I haven't learned either of the hemshechim that talk about this sugya till the end.)

Now, the question is: why was shofar blowing allowed during the first Beis HaMikdosh? Because what the shofar in the first BHM accomplished, Shabbos does not accomplish.

Another example of a combination of ontology and personal level.

Without doubt, halachos derabbanan have their own ontology. In fact, Purim and Chanukah are considered in Chassidus days more holy than Yom Kippur.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

Actually, in this post, I quoted this story the way I got it in an e-mail (it seems that I forgot that story and then re-told it, or something).

mor said...

I have heard about this concept before in passing from my teacher - that some achronim posit that dirabbanan issurim can only ever be on the gavra. He explained that a nafka mina which they bring would be that if you were over an issur dirabanan bishogeg,you would not need to do tshuva or require kapara of any kind. Purely gavra oriented plus shogeg equals no problem.
It is very clear that the A'R does not hold by this since he refers to that story about the man drinking cholov stam milk bishogeg and then acting like a yucky person because of it until he realized his mistake. I find it very strange that this shitta with which the A'R disagrees would be brought in a article as if it were the ultimate truth.
The fact is that most mitzvos, both deoraysa and dirabanon, clearly have both gavra and cheftza components. This is certainly true about both chametz and ner chanuka.

micha said...

But poultry and meat is an issur derabbanan on a cheftzah. As is chameitz on erev Pesach.

BTW, I mentioned the Or Sameiach, I should point out the Chazon Ish disagreed (Deshevi’is 18, #4). He says that the berakhah of success for those who observe shemittah applies today, even when shemittah is derabbanan. Implying rabbinic shemittah has a metaphysical reality.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

I don’t think there was cholov stam milk in A"R’s times. :-P I think this was a Freudian slip on your part, since according to our poskim, OU-D is treif.

On a serious note, I have never heard such a story, but I have heard of the famous letter from A"R where he says that cholov akum is metamtem moach and lev.

As I said, I think you could say that gavra and cheftza concepts from those essay refer to the fact that mitzvos Deoraysa are about the objective reality of refining sparks, while mitzvos deRebbanan are about the subjective reality and have to do with individual person’s ability to refine sparks. (I don’t know regarding things like Chanukah and Purim.)

mor said...

"But poultry and meat is an issur derabbanan on a cheftzah. As is chameitz on erev Pesach."

Where is the proof for these assertions? An issur cheftzah doesn't mean "an issur in which there is a cheftza involved" it means "an issur which is chal on a cheftza" as opposed to "an issur which is chal on a gavra." I don't remember the name of the achron being quoted by my teacher. I am pretty sure he said that there are multiple achronim who hold by this issur dirabanan only being on the gavra shitta.
Right - I meant chalav akum. My mistake - it wasn't in Tanya. Basically, there is a place in "Lessons in Tanya" (I think in one of the earlier prakim) where this story that the A'R told about chalav akum bishogeg is brought.
I am not sure I understand the whole "objective/subjective" distinction. Presumably anybody who tries can elevate klipas noga and nobody who tries can elevate 3 klipos. It seems pretty clear that the A"R holds that chalav akum has 3 klipos. Therefore, there is something assur in the cheftza itself, it is not chalav akum is not a mere prohibition on the gavra.

micha said...

There is no specific action with an issur hana'ah. That's why we learn it (in both of the cases I cited) from the lashon in the chumash "yei'akheil" -- in the passive, referring only to the object with no subject.

R' Chaim Brisker (pg 378 in the stencils) contrasts these issurim, which are on the cheftzah, with maaseh Shabbos, an issur gavra. The Igeros Moshe (OC vol 1 126:3) says maaseh Shabbos is an issur cheftzah, but I wasn't sure if getting hanaah from a melakhah done on Shabbos is derabbanan. I think it is, but I wasn't sure enough to cite it as an example.

micha said...

There was chalav stam in the A"R's day; historically it is the term for milk that the OU wouldn't certify either. The whole point of the Igeros Moshe's argument, and I presume that of those who came before him but didn't publish, is that FDA controlled milk isn't really chalav stam. Rav Moshe coins the term "chalav hacompanies" for this new reality.

I am disappointed that no one ran with my question about the A"R calling yom tov sheini a metaphysical reality. The problem is really bugging me.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

I will ask A"R’s great-great-grandson on Friday, iyH.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

I think I may have partially touched the idea here:

(Yes, I recycle my pictures.)

mor said...

Just because Rav Chaim Brisker branded a couple of issurei hanaah dirabanan as issurei cheftza doesn't mean that everyone agrees with him.

Maaseh shabbos is dirabanan.

The A'R calling yom tov sheini a metaphysical reality is the A'R being consistent.

Certified Ashkenazi said...

We have three stages:

A. People can eat chicken with milk.
B. Yeridas ha’doros. Most people cannot elevate the sparks in the chicken tikka masala anymore.
C. Chazal declare chicken with milk not kosher. Now nobody can elevate the sparks in chicken tikka masala.

At the stage B, presumably, tzaddikim could still eat chicken with milk and elevate the sparks. While eating pigs has always been a bad idea.

Micha: I think "cholov stam" is a concept invented by Rav Moishe Feinstein. Before it was either akum or Yisroel.

mor said...

Are you suggesting that, according to the A'R, if a true tzaddik, capable of refining hard to reach sparks, eats chicken with milk bishogeg, nothing really bad happens?

Certified Ashkenazi said...

>a true tzaddik, capable of refining hard to reach sparks, eats chicken with milk bishogeg

That’s an oxymoron. Hashem guards the tzaddikim. But refer to the story of the Maggid not eating in Baal Shem Tov’s house.