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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Purim Song (Part 1: Facts)

The gemara in Megila 14a says that there have been many prophets to the Jewish people, and none of them added or detracted from the Torah, except for the mitzva of reading the מגילה:
ת ארבעים ושמונה נביאים ושבע נביאות נתנבאו להם לישראל ולא פחתו ולא הותירו על מה שכתוב בתורה חוץ ממקרא מגילה
The gemara seeks a source that allowed them to add this one mitzva:
מאי דרוש אמר רבי חייא בר אבין אמר רבי יהושע בן קרחה ומה מעבדות לחירות אמרי' שירה ממיתה לחיים לא כל שכן
The gemara proposes a logical derivation for the source: If when we were taken from a state of slavery to freedom we said שירה (see Rashi who identifies this שירה with אז ישיר that was sung after the Egyptians were drowned in the sea), certainly when we were saved from death to life we should read the מגילה!

The gemara asks that according to this reasoning we should also say הלל on Purim, which has the status of שירה, and everyone agrees is not actually recited on Purim.  There are three answers given.  (One of the answers will not be discussed in the main body of the posts, but we might share our thoughts about it in the comments section for those who are interested.)
אי הכי הלל נמי נימא?...רב נחמן אמר קרייתא זו הלילא רבא אמר בשלמא התם הללו עבדי ה' ולא עבדי פרעה אלא הכא הללו עבדי ה' ולא עבדי אחשורוש אכתי עבדי אחשורוש אנן 
רב נחמן:  There is in fact a genuine obligation to say הלל on Purim.  However, the reading of the מגילה itself is in place of reciting הלל.

רבא: There is no obligation to say הלל on Purim, because the salvation from Egypt is not comparable with that of Purim.  After the Exodus we were  truly free men who were the servants of Hashem and no longer slaves to Pharaoh.  However, even after the miracle of Purim we were still the servants of אחשורוש.

What questions do we need to ask, and what steps do we have to take, in order to understand this sugya?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Switcharoo (Post 5: Philosophy)

The last Rambam in תמורה discusses the issue of positing philosophical reasons for mitzvos:
אף על פי שכל חוקי התורה גזירות הם כמו שביארנו בסוף מעילה. ראוי להתבונן בהן וכל מה שאתה יכול ליתן לו טעם תן לו טעם. הרי אמרו חכמים הראשונים שהמלך שלמה הבין רוב הטעמים של כל חוקי התורה
Even though mitzvos have an independent halachic structure, it is still appropriate to spend time trying to understand the philosophical reasons behind them. "Anything for which you are able to give a reason, you should give it a reason".  The expression and the imperative to give mitzvos a reason sounds funny. What is the Rambam getting at?

Our Rebbe and Teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Chait, explained as follows. Ordinarily, it is not appropriate to just "give an explanation" because you are able to. In halacha, for instance, a svara should be well grounded (muchach), not just based upon speculation.  In the area of reasons for mitzvos, the Rambam is underscoring the importance of "giving reasons" for all mitzvos for which you have the ability. Why should this be?

The answer to this question goes to the heart of the Torah's distinction and its attitude to mitzvos. Mitzvos are not ritualistic performances whose value lies in the ceremonial feelings they engender. Rather, each mitzvah represents an idea (or many ideas) which is expressed through an action. The value of the mitzvos is primarily in bringing the person in contact with their ideas, and thereby inculcating ideas and knowledge into every aspect of one's life. If a person does a mitzvah without any knowledge regarding its reason, he cannot help but relate to it on some level as an empty ritualistic performance (the last Rambam in מעילה cautions against such an attitude).

In order to avoid this, it is necessary for him to have some true idea associated with his performance. As such, it is appropriate to try to give reasons for all mitzvos. Even if you are not confident that this is the reason (in fact, there is nothing to say that there is only one correct reason), it is legitimate to engage in a degree of speculation in suggesting a reason for the mitzvah. In doing so, you accomplish the objective of the mitzvos to bring true Torah ideas into your life.

The Rambam continues to discuss reasons for some particulars of the institutions of תמורה and פדיון (redemption).
יראה לי שזה שאמר הכתוב והיה הוא ותמורתו יהיה קדש. כענין שאמר ואם המקדיש יגאל את ביתו ויסף חמישית כסף ערכך עליו. ירדה תורה לסוף מחשבת האדם וקצת יצרו הרע. שטבע של אדם נוטה להרבות קניינו ולחוס על ממונו ואע"פ שנדר והקדיש אפשר שחזר בו וניחם ויפדה בפחות משוויו אמרה תורה אם פדה לעצמו יוסיף חומש
The Rambam draws a parallel between the reasoning behind two different mitzvos in the Torah: (i) the law concerning one who redeems his own object that only has a monetary sanctity (קדושת דמים); (ii) the prohibition of exchanging an animal whose very substance is designated as a karbun (קדושת הגוף).

When you redeem an object of monetary sanctity, you must add on an extra 1/5 above the market value of the object.  This is because the Torah knows the psychology of a person.  Even though a person is generous in the moment when he makes a donation to mikdash, after time he often comes to regret it and tries to "cut his losses" by redeeming it for less than its true worth.  Therefore, the Torah demands that he add a 1/5.

The Rambam goes on to explain the ostensibly strange prohibition against upgrading a consecrated animal, which is not subject to being redeemed for money:
וכן אם הקדיש בהמה קדושת הגוף שמא יחזור בו וכיון שאינו יכול לפדותה יחליפנה בפחותה ממנה. ואם תתן לו רשות להחליף הרע ביפה יחליף היפה ברע ויאמר טוב הוא. לפיכך סתם הכתוב בפניו שלא יחליף. וקנסו אם החליף ואמר והיה הוא ותמורתו יהיה קדש. וכל אלו הדברים כדי לכוף את יצרו ולתקן דעותיו. ורוב דיני התורה אינן אלא עצות מרחוק מגדול העצה לתקן הדעות וליישר כל המעשים
In truth, the Torah has no qualms with a person upgrading the animal.  However, the Torah understood the psyche of man, and knew that if it let him upgrade the animal, he would come to downgrade it.  Therefore, the Torah prohibited all forms of exchange, and fined the person who tries to substitute by rendering both animals consecrated.

The distinction between how the Torah handled  redemption (by allowing it with the stipulation that the original owner add a 1/5) and substitution (by prohibiting it altogether) shows the depth of the Torah's insight into the subtle psychological thoughts of a person.

The monetary value that an object is worth can fluctuate within a certain realm.  A person can rationalize to himself that an object that he just donated whose worth is 100, is only really worth 80, but he cannot rationalize it down to 50.  By demanding he add a 1/5, the Torah ensures that he doesn't give less than the true amount. Nobody will redeem his object in order to rip off the mikdash.

However, substitution is of a qualitative nature.  If the Torah allowed you to substitute for a better animal, you would come to rationalize why an inferior animal is really better because of some specific feature that it has.  In a qualitative substitution, the Torah had no recourse but to prohibit the category as a whole, in order to prevent the person from committing a grave sin of stealing from God.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Switcharoo (Post 4: More Svara)

In the last post, we suggested that Rava maintains that there are three different qualitative types of exchange: downgrade, upgrade, and an even exchange.  Thus, if the Torah only prohibited a downgrade and an upgrade, we would need a קל וחומר to prohibit an even exchange. We suggested that Abaye argues that they are quantitatively differentiated and thereby avoids the problem of אין עונשין מן הדין.

We now suggest that even Abaye agrees that there are three different qualitative types of exchange. However, Abaye reasons that once we see that the Torah prohibits a downgrade and an upgrade, it is "revealed" that the Torah does not mean to permit an even exchange (which is worse than an upgrade).  Rather, when the Torah said "don't even exchange a good animal for a bad one", the Torah was really saying "don't exchange it in any situation whatsoever".

Furthermore,  Abaye argues that we can learn this without the mechanism of קל וחומר. Rather, we can deduce that the Torah is not truly interested in prohibiting the particular qualities of exchange, but is prohibiting the entire category of exchange. It teaches this through the explicit mention of downgrade and upgrade, but the logical implication is of one singular prohibition on the entire category as a whole. This relies on the underlying logic of קל וחומר, but does not utilize the technical mechanism of קל וחומר.

We can therefore explain the machlokes as follows:

Abaye: If a halacha is derived by the mechanism of קל וחומר, then it cannot result in an עונש.
Rava If a halacha is derived by the logic of קל וחומר, then it cannot result in an עונש.

Based upon this, Rava argues that you cannot extend from a case which is explicitly prohibited in the Torah (an upgrade) to an even exchange without the underlying logic of קל וחומר, and thereby running into the problem of אין עונשין מן הדין.  Rava therefore needs another לימוד to prohibit an even exchange.

Abaye counters that this extension need not make use of the mechanism of קל וחומר, but can be accomplished through a logical analysis which reveals the underlying general prohibition of the Torah.  He therefore gets around the problem of אין עונשין מן הדין and needs no further לימוד to prohibit an even exchange.

A support for this way of interpreting the machlokes (as a universal question about how to understand אין עונשין מן הדין, as opposed to a particular dispute in  תמורה) is from the fact that the same machlokes between Abaye and Rava appearing in a totally different context in the gemara in Sanhedrin 76a:
בתו מאנוסתו מנין האמר אביי ק"ו על בת בתו ענוש על בתו לא כל שכן וכי עונשין מן הדין גלויי מילתא בעלמא הוא רבא אמר אמר לי ר' יצחק בר אבדימי אתיא הנה הנה אתיא זמה זמה

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Switcharoo (Part 3: Svara)

The place to begin is by defining the difference between the three different cases of switching:

1) "Bad for good" is a downgrade of the animal of קדשים.
2) "Good for bad" is an upgrade to the animal of קדשים.
3) "Good for good" is an even exchange for the animal of קדשים.

According to Rava, these three cases are qualitatively different types of exchanges.  If you only knew that "bad for good" was prohibited, you would say that the Torah only prohibits downgrading the animal of קדשים.  Thus, the Torah teaches "good for bad", that even an upgrade of קדשים is prohibited.  Rava argues that this still does not teach us that an even exchange is prohibited.  In order to extend the prohibition from an upgrade to an even exchange, you would need a קל וחומר.  However, this would not result in lashes because of אין עונשין מן הדין.

Abaye argues that there is another way to understand the לימוד of "good for bad".  You can look at the three types of exchanges as quantitatively differentiated.  There are exchanges where you give less, give an even amount, or give more for the original animal.  When the Torah says you can not exchange good for bad, it is teaching that you cannot exchange the animal of קדשים no matter what, even if you give a more valuable animal than the original. This conceptually includes an even exchange.  This would be akin to the Torah saying that you could not exchange it for $200; this would then include the idea that you cannot exchange it for $100 (בכלל מאתים מנה). You do not need a קל וחומר for this.

In summary, if you look at the "good for bad" as teaching a different qualitative exchange (an upgrade), then you need a קל וחומר to extend to the third qualitative category of an even exchange. However, if you look at "good for bad" as prohibiting any exchange even if you give the highest quantity (good), then this includes an even exchange where you give the same quantity, without the need for a קל וחומר.

According to this svara, the machlokes is really about how to learn the לימוד regarding the different categories of תמורה.  The discussion between Abaye and Rava about אין עונשין מן הדין is a result of this machlokes.  In the next post, we will suggest a different svara which learns this as a machlokes regarding how Abaye and Rava understand אין עונשין מן הדין.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Switcharoo (Part 2: Methodology and Approach)

The first place to start is in trying to understand Abaye's perplexing response to Rava.  This is a general methodology point, that it often pays to begin with the type of problems that don't seem to make sense even on a superficial level.

Abaye doesn't seem to be addressing the problem of אין עונשין מן הדין, as he still seems to be using a קל וחומר in order to "reveal" what the Torah is really saying.  Were it not for the fact that Abaye is employing the logic of "how could substituting a good one in place of a good one, be any less prohibited than in place of a bad one", he would not be able to reveal what the Torah's true intent is!  To put it another way, what exactly is Abaye "revealing"?

Secondly, from the fact that the Torah prohibits substitution through three different cases (good for bad, bad for good, good for good), we can infer that there is a conceptual difference between these cases.  Even though the ultimate result according to both Abaye and Rava is that exchanging is forbidden irrespective of the case, the Torah did not simply say "Do not exchange", but rather taught us the prohibition through a series of cases.  This tells us that we should try to understand these three cases on a deeper conceptual level before we try to define the machlokes between Abaye and Rava. Once we have a basic understanding of the three cases, we can then consider if Abaye and Rava learn the series of derivations differently.

Finally, we have to ask ourselves whether Abaye and Rava are arguing about their understanding of the area of תמורה, or if they agree about תמורה but argue about the area of אין עונשין מן הדין.  This is something we don't think can necessarily be answered until after we first understand and resolve the prior two issues.  Only afterwards will we be in a position to try to define their argument precisely.