President Trump and the Talmud
Has the President, the proud shver (father-in-law) of a yeshiva graduate, and also a zeydi (grandfather) of Jewish grandchildren been brushing up on halocho (Jewish law)? Will he –in the coming weeks- be relying on concepts widely discussed in the heylige Gemora and elsewhere? That topic, instead of our weekly parsha review will be covered this week. With shuls closed, there will be no laining of the parsha; avada you should –while doing little else this week and shabbis- be reviewing Parshas Vayikro on your own. Check out the archives at www.oisvorfer.com where you can find nine different postings on the parsha.
“Feed a cold, starve a fever” is an adage, it’s been around for centuries. The classic saying suggests that a cold can be squashed with adequate food intake, while a fever will burn off faster by fasting. Maxims typically date back many years and “feed a cold, starve a fever” has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever.” Shoin, the rest is history. Wherever it came from, it has become firmly entrenched in popular culture, and is still a popular piece of advice today. That was then. Ober in 2020 we’re being introduced to a new term, one the Ois believes will take its rightful place in our history books. “Starve the virus, not the economy” is what the good President will be relying on as he will be pushing hard to get people out of their homes and back to work in the coming weeks. The adage is only a few days old, if that, but it, and various iterations of it, will go down in history –Google and elsewhere- as historic and game changing. We will be exploring this concept below.
Let’s begin however with a question followed by an observation. What is spreading faster:
- Hundreds, if not thousands of creative and ingenious memes?
- The corona virus?
Says the Ois: the answer is 1! Moreover, the corona virus is a relationship builder. What’s pshat? How can we be building relationships when all physical contact and socializing have become verboten? When our daily routines have become disrupted? When weddings and other milestones cannot be celebrated with friends, and when dating has gone virtual? When with masks covering our faces while shopping, we don’t even recognize our friends and neighbor? Ober people are so creative and the corona related memes and emails are mamish brilliant and have us laughing out loud. Moreover, the short quibi style videos, from various medical professionals, layman, and even rabbis, are informative and will hopefully convince the holdouts to close their yeshiva doors.
Creativity is on display and suddenly, we’re sharing memes, emails, texts and WhatsApps with people with whom we have had little or no contact -in some cases, for many years. How does that happen? Like the virus itself, these things spread. You are the recipient of a funny meme. Or, your name appears alongside many others on an email chain. As you review the chain, you find names of people you know but are not in touch with. You also find people you can’t stand and those you stopped talking to decades ago. It’s been so long, you have long forgotten why either of you were pissed off at each years back. Shoin! Ober, the meme is so givaldig; what to do? You reply with another, one you think tops the one you just received. Think of it as Purim Shalach Monos; the very same package can be touched by many hands that day and at times you get back one you sent earlier that day. Similarly by days end, people are sending you the very same meme you shared hours earlier. What to do? You click “reply all” and shoin, suddenly you’re connected with old chaverim, even enemies. Minutes –at times even seconds later, another pops up; this one has more names and shoin: you’re in touch with classmates you haven’t seen or heard from in decades; it’s givaldig. The bottom line: corona, while distancing us physically, has somehow brought others back together. Meme sharing is fun, acts as an ice breaker, breaks the monotony, and is psychologically uplifting. Shoin, the next time you see one another in person –may that day come soon- what will be on your minds is that you shared memes during a crisis. The broiges (feud) is over and done and veyter gigangin (life moves forward). Next topic.
Let’s get real: Pesach programs at myriad hotels here in the Unites States, Israel, Europe and in other courtiers, are all cancelled, fartig for this year. People will be making Pesach at home hopefully with their families –many for the first time- but there will be cases where certain family members including grandparents and siblings will be left out as a result of this virus. Yikes!
The shock and aftershocks are still being felt by program operators –with much fall out yet to come- as money issues will force a few into bankruptcy, others into litigation posture and having to deal with reputation management. As well, thousands of disgruntled guests are left wondering if they should pursue, litigation, mediation, din torah’s, and or other methods they have –or so they believe- of persuading hotel operators to return their funds. All this got the Ois thinking azoy: It’s taka emes that the hotel operators were cheated out of this year’s revenues and profits, ober what about guests? What about the many families who have grown accustomed to being taken away by their own families? By their parents, and, or in-laws? Don’t they have rights? Are they entitled to a make-up vacation, fully, or at least partially paid for? Can they redeem their lost vacation for cash? Who says that just because a magayfo (plague) closed down the world that these good people should suffer? Are the generous sponsors under any legal or moral obligation? Have they established a chazoko (strong tradition that in some cases in our religion is tantamount to law) by sponsoring their children year after year? Do those affected have a leg to stand on? Should they be suing their benefactors, their own family members? Zicher every community has a shul member who makes his living by pouncing on companies, by filing derivative class action lawsuits; is there merit in a suit on behalf of all those bereft of their Pesach vacations?
Moreover, what about the various others to include mashgichim (kosher supervisors), day camp staff, cooks, bakers, and especially the entertainment, who somehow and somewhat miraculously make their way from program to program in various states over chal hamoied? Why should they lose out? Speaking of the entertainment that kimat all programs advertise and offer, what responsibilities do these mostly frum entertainers, those who have demanded and received up-front payments -in the thousands and even tens of thousands- have to those who hired them? What does halacho say about them refusing to return monies deposited or pre-paid for a service they could not and did not render? Oh, and let’s not forget the “freebies,” those families –every Pesach program has them- who come along offering some service; do they have rights? Can they sue? Sadly, none of these suits would surprise.
Raboyseyee, all this chaos amounts to what our sages have termed a “hefsid miruba” (a huge loss), and as many know, or should- when it comes to hesfid miruba (more typically spelled hephsed merubah), our rabbis of the heylige Gemora -not all- have moved mountains –even a few halochos- to ensure that people don’t suffer financially. When hotels close, the daisy chain of people suffering losses is long. And when people can’t go to work, watch out and yikes! The danger to the economy, to Yiddin and to goyim, is unspeakable.
According to some, the time is coming very soon when certain shtibels, those where people make pledges for an aliya, will be able to collect on the spot using –even on the heylige shabbis- via Venmo, Paypal, or even MasterCard, Amex and Visa; why should the shul lose out just in case the gentleman forgets to pay, or decides that he wasn’t happy with the aliya he got? Perhaps he wanted shlishi but got rivi’ee instead!? These things do happen when people are seeking kuvid (honor) instead being focused on kovid. Shoin! And while this is avada a shtikel joke, the concept of hefsid miruba is well known and even accepted; it is emes that rabbis have moved mountains and laws to avoid large monetary losses. How does hefsid miruba work? What the hec is a hefsid miruba?
In plain English: a hefsid miruba (a huge loss) is considered a factor –sometimes- in deciding whether or not to rely on a lenient opinion of Jewish law. It works azoy: when there are two shettas (two opinions) on a matter of Jewish law –meaning two different rabbis have different opinions on a matter of law -one allows, and one disallows, the rabbis typically pasken le’chumra (rule stringently). After all, from their point of view, it’s safer to say ‘no’ knowing that Jewish law won’t be violated. Ober –at times- it comes with an exception to the rule, that exception being the principle of hefsid miruba. In such cases, where the rabbi’s ruling (saying no) may cause a hefsid miruba (huge monetary loss), they –in certain cases (more than you think), rely on the maykil (lenient) opinion and such reliance is typically rooted in the great and ingenious concept of hefsid miruba. Got all that? One more time: when a huge potential loss is involved, there are cases –many- where rabbis go lenient vs. stringent in their rulings to avoid the loss. Veyter. Ober, for hesid miruba to be in play, there must be two opinions –one stringent, one lenient, and only then, can one pull out the hefsid miruba card and shoin, all is good.
In one example found in Yora Dea (Siman 69) we find azoy: the Rema holds that if someone salted raw meat without washing it in advance, the meat is not kosher. Ober when there is a hefsid miruba, meaning a huge money loss as a result of having to discard the meat, one may wash and salt it again. The heylige Gemora and many an exegete including the P’nai Yihoishua, the Mogen Avrohom in Hilchois Shabbis and still others, agree that the concept is valid. Shoin! There are many examples of hefsid miruba and its applications and avada you should start by opening the heylige Gemora Pesochim (15b) where the Gemora discusses the difference between a hesid miruba (large loss) and losses which are considered minor. The bottom line: In a number of places, the heylige Gemora says that the Sages were more lenient when necessary to prevent a “great loss”. Think of it as a stimulus package of sorts only in the form of a law which can be relied on over and again. Why fight with Congress over and again when facing a huge loss? Pull out the heylige Gemora and shoin; in times of crisis and zicher coronavirus is a crisis, our sages provided tools to rely on. The Shulchan Aruch and commentaries (Yoreh Dei’ah: siman 126 and after siman 242) detail what qualifies as a “great loss”.
Who invented this concept? Which of our great sages had the foresight to go lenient where money was involved? Of course that too is a machloikes (dispute), ober what we do know with some degree of certainty is this: the Rema was the one who popularized the concept of hefsid miruba, and he said (in his forward to Toras Chatas dibur hamaschil והנה), azoy: “And behold I will save myself in one respect so that the reader will not suspect me. For sometimes I will write to be lenient for a large loss, or a poor man for an important item, or for the honor of Shabbis. The reasoning is for in those places it seems to me to be completely allowed according to halocho.”Others claim that whenever the Rema allows something by relying on the principle of hefsid miruba, what he really means is that the ruling would be allowed in the ordinary course but without invoking the hefsid miruba card, one should be machmir, more stringent. So happens that the hefsid miruba concept –the idea of preventing larger losses is so critical a component, that our sages in The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 244) say (over and again) that in cases of hefsid miruba we’re not even worried about Mar’is Ayin (what will the people say in amazement). The bottom line and general rule of hefsid mruba overriding the generally accepted halocho is azoy: it works best and most effectively when the generally accepted halocho in the case at bar, is not a definitive, case closed “no.” it is instead the opinion of one ruling party and in those cases, we need not in deference to a particular authority’s opinion, be stringent and thereby cause a huge loss. In other words: When there is hefsid mruba, one is not required to absorb a huge loss in deference to a strict opinion. Understandably, hefsid miruba is not a blanket heter (blank check yes; it needs to reviewed on a case by case basis.
And the final bottom line on hefsid miruba is azoy: we can rely on this principle only when the matter is not strictly forbidden by the heylige Toirah, only when the matter is in the hands of the Rabonon (rabbis), and only when there is more than one opinion. When is that: always! Why? Because our rabbis don’t agree much on anything; so happens that in this case, it’s a plus.
In any event, as we can all see, this coronavirus is mamish wreaking havoc not just on personal freedoms we once enjoyed and temporarily don’t, not just on the financial markets, but now also on our Pesach and Pesach vacations that were being paid for mostly by others.
In an earlier posting this week, we mentioned that an Israeli farmer filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to force the rabbis to consider declaring a second month of Adar and thereby delaying Pesach by one month. And taka in Toirah times, Moishe after being approached by a group of distraught men, did just that for certain people. We read (Bamidbar 9:7)azoy: they said to Moishe “we are unclean because of the dead body of a man; why are we being held back so that we cannot bring the offering of G-d in its appointed time among the children of Israel?” In response to their plea, Moishe sought instructions from the RBSO who responded azoy: anyone who was tamei due to contact with death or who was on a distant journey at the time of the Pesach offering (14th of Nisan), was then obligated to offer the Pesach lamb one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. Those celebrating Pesach Shaynee (the Second Pesach) must eat the meat of the sacrifice together with matzah and maror, exactly as on a regular Pesach.
The cancellation of Pesach programs has certainly created a hesfid mirubah for many, ober what to do? Should the rabbis proclaim Pesach Shaynee and have the hotel operators open in May? More importantly, may those who lost out on Pesach getaways demand that their sponsors pay for their May vacations? One thing is zicher: a number of disputes between program operators and their clientele may get resolved without protracted battles.
As to the President, he’s zicher considering invoking the concept of hefsid miruba mamish as the heylige Gemora and others envisioned, as he contemplates reopening. The country. In his words “we cannot have the cure be worse than the problem.” When caught between the medicine people urging a complete shutdown for as long as it takes, and with other rabbis (in this case, his financial advisors, CEO’s of company’s facing bankruptcy, his re-election team, and many others) urging him to reopen –even if only certain areas where the coast is clear- efsher leaning on, or into hefsid miruba, he can declare that the cure cannot be worse than the problem. The cure has resulted in the erosion of billions and trillions in losses. He can be soimach (rely) on the Rama and other distinguished rabbis. Moreover, many will be suddenly healed if and when the markets and their 401’s look a bit healthier. May the coming month of Nissan bring us all freedom from the virus, and the freedom to move about as desired. In the meantime, stay safe.
A gittin choidesh Nissan, a gittin Shabbis koidesh
The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv