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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Vayikra 1:2. Adam ki yakriv. Conspicuous Virtue

Rashi brings from Beitzah 20 "Adam ki yakriv," that your korbanos should be like the korbanos of Adam Harishon; just as the korbanos of Adam Harishon could not possibly have been stolen, since the entire world was his, you too may bring korbanos only if they are yours.

Dr. Zvi Krinsky said an interesting pshat in the tzushtell to the korbanos of Adam Harishon. Some people do mitzvos in a special or flamboyant way because they want to impress others; they are very makpid on hidur mitzvah when other people can see what they're doing. When they buy a lulav and esrog, or a Megillah, they are very particular about hidur, but when they buy tzitzis, they don’t spend the time or money to be makpid in hiddur. Some people only daven a long shmoneh esrei when there are people watching. (Two points— spending more for hiddur to show off, and doing mitzvos in a showy way to make people think you are a kadosh. Dr. Krinsky was talking about yuhara; I added hiddur mitzvah.) We should learn from the korbanos of Adam to be mehadeir mitzvos not to impress people— there were no people for Adam to impress— but rather because of our love and respect for the mitzvah itself, or as a way of becoming kadosh. Do the mitzvah le'sheim mitzvah, not le'sheim showing off, or showing how holy you are.

I do not think it is that simple. First of all, Reb Yehuda/Rav's rule (Pesachim 50b) of the rule of Le'olam ya'asok adam bemitzvos afilu shelo lishma.... should apply to hiddur no less than to other mitzvos. But I would argue that this kind of hiddur is not just a bedi'eved, a "mitoch shelo lishma" din, but it might actually be inherently praiseworthy.

The Gemora in Shabbos 133b, Sukah 11b, and Nazir 2b, says "hisna’eh lefanav bemitzvos," which literally means ‘beautify yourself before Him with mitzvos’. This seems to focus on the "beautify yourself with..." aspect more than the "beautify the mitzvah" aspect. The renowned dikduk expert, Rabbi Dr. Avremi Isenberg says that the use of ‘hispa’eil’ (a reflexive construction) doesn't prove anything, because the His'pa'eil form is sometimes used for Pi'eil, just as "ke’ilu hiskabalti" means nothing other than ‘ke’ilu kibalti. However, the difference is that with Hiskabalti, it means "I view myself as if I had received the money." Here, that logic does not apply, and it seems to intend the literal reading of "beautify yourself." Also, the Gemara in Yoma 70a and Sottah 41b says

אח"כ כל אחד ואחד מביא ספר תורה מביתו וקורא בו כדי להראות חזותו לרבים
which means that they brought their sifrei Torah to show other people their beauty, unmistakably indicating that ‘hisna’eh’ is meant literally-- that Chazal encourage us to take pride in how we do mitzvos, to show off how beautiful our tashmishei mitzvah are.

The first instinct, of course, is to see such behavior as vanity or Mechzi keyuhara (which, in this context, would be like "lekanteir, see Tosfos Pesachim 50b). But perhaps there’s nothing wrong with preening or being showy by beautifying a mitzvah that you are doing. Mechzi keyuhara is, of course, a terrible thing. But perhaps that’s only where you are sanctimonious, where you act in a misleading way to fool people into thinking you’re on a higher madreigah than you actually are, because people will emulate you in your other foolish behavior, or because if you later do something bad it will be a chillul Hashem, or, in the case of lekanteir, because you enjoy disparaging others. But showing off how much you spend on a mitzvah, and that your esrog is the nicest one in shul, is not necessarily so bad— it’s not a lie, and it may even foster the other people’s chavivus mitzvos-- it is constructive rivalry. Kin'as sofrim tarbeh chachma, and kin'as gvirim tarbeh ke'vod shamayim.

My son, Moshe, said that the person is only showing off with it because it is something he cares about. If he was indifferent to the mitzvah, he wouldn’t think it worth showing off with; he would spend his money on things that he wants to be identified with more, and just get by with a minimal cheftzah shel mitzvah. While showing off with your cheftzah shel mitzvah may not be a refined middah tovah, it is a middah tovah anyway, and the benefits far outweigh the detriment. Anyway, think of it like jewelry— "mitzva jewelry". It may be that the main purpose of jewelry and fashion is to show off to other people, and this vanity is easy to catergorize as ignoble; but the reality is that people do wear jewelry, and this is considered normal behavior. So why shouldn’t our tashmishei mitzvah be our jewelry? This is somewhat similar to making feasts, which appeal to our desire for good food, for seudos mitzvah. The same way that the satisfaction of our desire for rich and plentiful food, when used lesheim mitzvah, is good, so too satisfaction of the desire to stand out and be envied can be used le’sheim mitzvah.

The first person to comment on this idea said that my suggestion is panglossian and naive. He said that it is more likely that such people are not demonstrating their love for mitzvos. Rather, he sourly said, they simply take note of the things the members of their peer group desire and attribute significance to, and they acquire these things and do them in a showy way so as to demonstrate their superiority and gain the respect of those people, but they themselves really have no interest in the inherent significance of the mitzvah.

I agree that he makes a valid theoretical point. In response, I make a modification will accomodate both our opinions. That is: the exclusively public hiddur phenomenon may be a one step "Capture the Flag" process or a two step "Rolls Royce" process. "One step" is, as he said, that the mitzvah object is an arbitrary symbol of dominance and superiority, just as the Flag in the game of Capture-the-Flag is an arbitrary symbol of victory with absolutely no intrinsic value. It's just a shmatteh. "Two step" would be that the mitzvah is inherently significant, and everyone would enjoy doing it in the best and most beautiful way. On the other hand, the time, effort and expense are impediments to seeking out and buying the best esrog, for example. But since a shining beautiful esrog will elicit everyone's admiration, people are willing to spend more time and money to buy the best one possible. The example would be buying a Rolls Royce. Everyone says that a Rolls is a very stable, powerful, and luxurious car. It is definitely not a shmatteh. But who is crazy enough to spend half a million dollars for it and then worry about birds and gravel? And imagine what the kids in carpool are going to do to it. But it turns necks and elicits awe, and it symbolizes success and power, and so people are willing to spend the money.

So, my friends, you'll have to decide for yourself. In theory, both possibilities are valid: Those people who spend fortunes for mitzvos that others will see, might be playing Capture the Flag, or they might be driving a Rolls Royce.

I heard from Reb Moshe something that, I think, addresses this issue. There was a time when people would have fistfights about aliyos, and sitting on the Mizrach wall was something people would dream about and fight for for years. Now, we are all so much more civilized, and we don't mind not getting shlishi and we sit wherever we sit. Reb Moshe said that this is not because we are more mature. It is because the kavod of the aliyos and the seat in shul mean less to us. We have plenty of ways of finding satisfaction and honor at work and at home and on the golf course, so we just don't care about kavod Beis Haknesses. It's not that we are more understanding, it's that the Shul and Krias Hatorah mean less to us.

I think that something I heard from Reb Yerucham is a very good tzushtell to this topic. Harav Dovid Zupnik Zatzal once told me that he heard in the Mir from Reb Yerucham that Kin'as sofrim is good when you wish the other person would know more and you would still know more than he does, and it's bad when you would be perfectly happy if he knew less, as long as you knew more than him. The first person is motivated only by a desire to establish dominance. The second is motivated by the desire to excell in Torah, both in Gadlus beTorah and in dominance over the field.

The Wall Street Journal had a De Gustibus column on March 23, 2007, by Joseph Rago. He talked about Veblen’s 1899 "Theory of the Leisure Class," in which he introduced the idea of conspicuous consumption, defined as "specialized consumption of goods as an evidence of pecuniary strength." This is, of course, specific to the "expenditure of superfluities." The author of the column updated Veblen’s essay to extend to "conspicuous virtue." People buy more expensive things that are free trade, renewable, cage free, and live strong bracelets, partly, and allegedly, because they want to support the causes these things represent, but to a great degree because they want to proclaim their virtue. (He suggests that this trend has become popular partly because of guilty consciences about consumerism and materialism. That was certainly true in '07, but with the current recession, this fashion has attenuated.)

This is a very nice way of describing the ‘hisna’eh’ attitude: conspicuous virtue, where the motive is partly the underlying mitzvah, but also to proclaim your virtue. In any case, the idea I said above is still true: there is a mixed motivation, but in the final analysis it stems from pride in ability to fulfil the mitzvah– I can be a better eved Hashem than you can be. Jewelry is an example of conspicuous consumption; a nice esrog, a few black Brisker Matzos, silver and vermeil tefillin boxes, are mitzvah jewelry, conspicuous virtue.

The expensively tailored frilly, lacey, kittel, a garment that is supposed to remind us of the fragility of life and its inevitable end, a garment that symbolizes simplicity, humility, and the rejection of gashmius, is evidence of either insanity or obliviousness, and deserves a post of its own. And some pictures.
1. Don't tell me about the bigdei lavan of the Kohen Gadol on Yom Kippur, the Pilusin, that cost a fortune. It's not a tzusthell; a Kohen Gadol's levisha of his begadim is a ma'aseh avodah in itself, and so it is a cheftzah shel mitzvah. Also, you don't bury him in them.
2. Please don't tell me about Rebbes that have silk-and-silver-trimmed, fur-collared Kittels. If there are, I don't want to know about it.
3. If your wife or your shver bought your kittel for you, then it's not your fault. It just means they love you.

HOWEVER: Lakewood Guy mentioned that his wife wants to buy him a fancy kittel for the seder, and said that he can use a simple one for Yom Kippur and at his levayah le'achar mei'ah ve'esrim shanim tovim ve'aruchim. It would seem that she is making a valid point, and that the symbolism of the kittel is not at all the same on those two occassions. On Yom Kippur, it symbolizes purity from sin and reminds us of the Yom Hamissah. For Yom Kippur, then, the kittel should be unadorned. At the Seder, it symbolizes Cheirus, and there is no reason to not make it beautiful. Under the chuppah, well, whether it symbolizes yom hamissah depends on who you're marrying, and whether it symbolizes purity depends on why you're marrying her.

HOWEVER II: Unfortunately, the Taz in OC 472 SK 3 says that the reason we wear a kittel at the Seder is so that our simcha doesn't get out of hand. We wear the kittel to temper our joy by reminding ourselves of the day of our death. The Taz was a Litvak. Anyway, I haven't found anyone that disagrees with the Taz. And he means it le'halacha, because he applies the reasoning to pasken that an Aveil may wear a kittel during the first year seder.

In Hilchos Yom Kippur, OC 610:4 in the Rama, he says that we wear the kittel on Yom Kippur for two reasons: to symbolize angelic purity, and to remind ourselves that every passing second brings us closer to the abyss. There, too, the Taz says that the first reason would preclude an Aveil from wearing the kittel, while the second would allow it, and he follows the second reason.

So: I would like to agree with LakewoodGuy's wife. The Taz, on the other hand, says she's wrong. For the sake of a healthy marriage, I would say that our wives really don't need to know about the Taz; I know mine would blow a gasket (what does that mean??? Too much simcha? Simcha is the mitzvas hayom!!! We've been working for a month to be marbeh simcha!!! What's wrong with simcha???? Who is this Taz????) So just be quiet and let her buy you a fancy kittel for the seder.

Note: the paragraph that was here earlier, which discussed the differences between paskening for mamonus and paskening for kodshim, is in the shop for repair. We can't tell you when it will be ready. Maybe after Pesach.


Anonymous said...

Lfi kavod of Moshe, it could be argued that the person showing off with a mitzvah object is using that as his means of display not because he considers the mitzvah valuable but because he considers the opinion of those he is preening in front of valuable and they consider the mitzvah to be valuable.
Why he considers the opinion of one particular group as more important than another requires a social scientist's or psychologist's analysis

Barzilai said...

But there always has to be some rationalization for the behavior. It's rare, I think, for someone to buy something exclusively because of the effect on others in the peer group (not counting mating displays.) You buy a powerful car because your neighbor will envy you, but also because a powerful car is exciting. You buy jewelry to show off, (shalfa ume'chavia,) but also because the material is both rare and beautiful. You could get things that are just as beautiful but made of glass and brass, but they wouldn't retain value, and they don't have the aura of rarity. Same thing with mitzvos; of course, there's the element of vanity and preening, and that may be the dominant motive. But at least the person is also rationalizing his decision, and he really believes that he's spending the money because he wants the best mitzvah.

It's a mixed motivation, like the Mishna Berura that says that a melamed is called an osek bemitzvah, even though he's motivated by needing to have a job so he won't starve, because he also is motivated by a desire to teach. We don't say that motives are botel berov. Actually, I think Rashi in Sukka by Mochrei tefillin says not like that.

Chaim B. said...

>>>Also, some achronim hold that even if you win the animal in Beis Din, since klapei shmaya you may be wrong, the animal would be a safeik de'oraysa.

Who says such a sevara?
It almost begs the old question of why not treat every din torah as a sfeika d'oraysa of lo tigzol at least k'lapei shemaya -- for many reasons that logic is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Since your so wonderfully kind earliear Iwill push for more(give them a Hand they want an arm) What was Reb Moshe Opinion on Grape juice for the Seder was he against it like a ceartin Roov from BP says or not like I heard others say thanks

Barzilai said...

OK, Chaim, I admit that it was not smart to throw that line in, basically ignoring the whole sugya of gazul and then suggesting that chezkas mori kama is not good enough to be machri'a for chulin be'azara.

However: Ohd chazon lamo'eid. Let's see if what I said is defensible. I will either write you directly or post here or both.

Chaim B. said...

Please post!

Barzilai said...

Regarding grape juice at the seder, Reb Moshe held that it is a bidieved. He held that chamar medina has to be something that has a kick, either caffeine of alcohol, something that makes the drink more than just something to quench the thirst or nourishment. So although bedieved you are yotzei with grape juice because it is kosher for nesachim bedieved, it is not really chamar medinah, and for siman cheirus, you really should have a drink that is inherently special.

LkwdGuy said...


My wife is insisting on buying me a frilly, lacy kittel for Pesach. I insist that I don't want it and my plain simple kittel that I have been wearing for the past 10 years is exactly right for me. Her response is that I can keep the simple one for Yom Kippur and to be buried in and use the frilly, lacy one for Pesach only. Any thoughts?

Barzilai said...

LkwdGuy, that is a very interesting point, and I editted the post to address it.

LkwdGuy said...

Anyway, I haven't found anyone that disagrees with the Taz. And he means it le'halacha, because he applies the reasoning to pasken that an Aveil may wear a kittel during the first year seder.

In defense of my wife, see Igros Moshe YD4 61:7

Barzilai said...

Ok, I looked at the teshuva; I was surprised, because the Taz only says the "malachei hashareis" symbol for Yom Kippur, and Reb Moshe says that the reasoning applies to Pesach as well. Thank you for the mareh makom. I will insert it into the blog, I hope, tomorrow.

Brief review of the teshuva: Can an aveil wear a kittel on YK and Pesach. Answer-- there are two reasons. Simcha and chashivus, like malachei hashareis, and the somberness of remembering the yom hamisa. Since the latter symbolism is utterly lost on the poeple of our time, by default, the dominant semiotic is the former, and this is inappropriate for an aveil.

Bottom line relevant to our discussion- that we wear kittels at the seder for the chashivus and beauty they bring. If so, there's nothing wrong with a fancy kittel for the seder.