Saturday, October 29, 2005

On Adam and Shehechiyanu

My younger son (S2) is currently in fourth grade. Like most fourth graders in Orthodox yeshivos, S2 comes home every week with Divrei Torah to tell by the Shabbos table. He came home this week with four Divrei Torah to tell over. I was generally pleased with them - with one exception.

The exception deals with Genesis 3:21:

וַיַּעַשׂ ה אֱלֹקים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר--וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם
And Hashem made for Adam and his wife leather garments and clothed them.

S2 then asked (via his rebbe) why it had to be leather garments, rather than, say, linen or wool garments.

The answer, according to S2's rebbe, lies in a Halacha in Shulchan Aruch which states that one must make a Shehechiyanu for new garments. However, leather garments are an exception from this rule because an animal had to die in order to produce the garments. Now, if God had made for Adam wool garments, he would have had to make a brachah on them before putting them on -- which he could not do because he was naked! So, in order to save Adam from having a shailah as to whether or not to have to make a Shehechiyanu, God made leather garments for Adam.

Now, I certainly don't have a problem with the rebbe teaching B'raishis literally, even if I personally don't put a premium on the literal view of it. I do have a problem, however, the Rebbe teaching that Adam somehow knew Shulchan Aruch and was even remotely concerned with making a bracha of Shehechiyanu on his new garments. Adam certainly knew nothing of the brachah of Shehechiyanu and certainly knew nothing of the concept of making this brachah for new clothing (clothing had never been in his experience before anyway -- why would he know any halachos of clothing?

Of course, this is not the first time I've heard of this sort of "anachronistic scholarship." The same principle is applied to explain what Ya'akov's sons did with the money that they got from the sale of Yosef. As the reasoning goes, they bought shoes with the money so that they would not have to make a Shehechiyanu on the ill-gotten goods (as if after having committed an act of kidnapping and selling, they were suddenly such tzadikkim as to be worried about a bracha on a piece of clothing).

But it's very interesting how this "anachronistic" knowledge of halacha disappears in other places. Amram, Moshe's father married his aunt. Didn't he know that it was against halacha to do so? Sure, it was before the Giving of the Torah and technically permitted -- but then again, there was no requirement to make a Shehechiyanu on clothing before Mattan Torah too (or even after it, of course -- the requirement to make a Shehechiyanu on new clothing is only a Rabbinic enactment).

I find it sometimes quite hysterical how the stories of our ancestors and biblical personages get hopelessly complicated by assigning to them knowledge of events or Jewish law that they could not possibly have had. They take our original ancestor and somehow turn him into someone who not only had knowledge of the Torah, but also the Rabbinic requirement of making Shehechiyanu on clothing and an expert on the parameters of that ruling.

The Wolf

12 comments:

The Hedyot said...

I've observed and commented on this ridiculous thinking on more than one occasion. In a minor dvar torah, it's one thing, but it's much worse when people think it's an absolute truth that dovid hamelech or moshe rabbeinu actually followed the mishna brura. So ridiculous.

Why don't you confuse your son a bit and ask him how, if Adam wasn't allowed to make a bracha when naked, Hashem could have told him to eat from all the trees in gan eden? After all, how could he eat if he couldn't make a bracha due to being naked?

The Hedyot said...

IMHO, part of the reason people think these things is because it's consistent with their absolutist and one-dimensional view of halacha and judaism. After all, if following halacha is the goal of a jew and it's the ratzon Hashem and it's timeless and true, then obviously every proper torah-true Jew in every era would be observing it always. (Ok, we'll put aside the fact that Adam wasn't a jew, and Torah didn't exist then as we understand it...)

Only someone who views halacha and following torah through such an infantile and juvenile perception would extrapolate such behaviors towards biblical figures.

Tova said...

Maybe they're just trying to stick in an extra halachah lesson and doing a bad job.

queeniesmom said...

These type of comments always have us laughing (to ourselves) at our Shabbat table. Like you our 4th grade daughter gets these things also, we try to be good about it but it's very hard at times.

The best are the Shame V'Aver stories, can someone please tell me what they studied for sooooo.. long, as there were only 7 laws at the time.

We'll just suspend reality for a while as this makes for a good story and doesn't allow for any questions that we'd rather not answer. Gotta love the mind set, but I'll just keep my can opener handy to pry open my kids minds a bit after hearing some of these bubamisers. I'll gladly share it with other like minded individuals.

Romach said...

One of my rebbeim used to lament the fact that his children would come home from Yeshiva, the rebbe having told them that food tastes better if you make a bracha on it.

At least in Wolf's case, the question raised by Hedyot, the child *might* not realize the fallacy of the answer. But to tell a kid that food tastes better if you make a bracha...way too easy for the kids to trip the rebbe up on

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I have so much to say about this kind of anachronism that I don't even know where to begin.

Perhaps a post...

BrooklynWolf said...

Thanks for the comments everyone...

I'm not really looking to confuse S2 Hedyot. The last thing I want to do is confuse him more.

And you're dead-on right regarding your last comment.

Tova,

I highly doubt that was the case. I'm willing to bet that it was meant at face value.

Queenies
Well... if you want to hold of the opinion that the Avos kept the Torah (which is a legitimate opinion -- yeah, yeah, I know Ya'akov married two sisters and Avraham served milk and meat) then you can certainly argue that they spent time studying the mitzvos (as to how/why Shem and Aver had access to these mitzvos is beyond me -- and who else attended this yeshiva anyway?)

Romach,

That's just sad. Certainly the rebbe didn't actually believe it and was just using it as a carrot to get the kids to make b'rachos. But, nonetheless, that is soooo short-sighted and will ultimately backfire.

Fred,

I look forward to it.

The Wolf

Rebeljew said...

Welcome to the wacky world of the "mystical approach".

Anonymous said...

Um, I do agree that this anachronistic stuff sounds kind of strange, but who is to credit/blame?

Chazal specifically say that Avraham kept even Erev Tavshilin/Eruv Techumin!

Anonymous said...

thats in Yoma 28a

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Chazal specifically say that Avraham kept even Erev Tavshilin/Eruv Techumin!

There is a geonic, rishonic and acharonic tradition that in the area of Aggadah Chazal often taught through the medium of allegory or other non-literal expressions. There is no reason to take something that confounds the sechel literally. It would be a perversion of Judaism to just dismiss these types of Aggadahs as nonsense rather than to try to understand it in a sensible fashion. But Avraham didn't actually make eruv tavshilin, my friend.

Manny said...

The Wolf: "Avraham served milk and meat". Yeah, so what? He served milk THEN meat, no problem there. The real question is how many hours did he wait after meat to eat milk?