Question: Doesn't it seem inappropriate to eat bitter herbs at a meal of thanksgiving and redemption? Shouldn't we eat only tasty foods?
Answer: It is forbidden for us to deceive ourselves. We must realize that there is also bitterness within glorious events, and all the more so on the way to redemption. The Messiah comes when people are not thinking about it, i.e. in unexpected ways. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (97a) says: "Three things only come when people are not thinking about them – the Messiah, finding a lost object, and a scorpion." We can ask: This is an important piece of information regarding the Messiah so that people do not despair, but why do we need to know this about a lost object and a scorpion? The Meharsha answered that this is all one subject because for one person the coming of the Messiah is like finding a lost object, while for another it is like a scorpion. It all depends on his merits (Meharsha ibid.). One who imagines the coming of the Messiah as a rose garden will be disappointed when he sees difficulties and he will rebel against the Redemption, like one who finds a scorpion. But one who knows that Redemption is acquired with suffering will rejoice at everything his eyes see, like finding a lost object. One, however, should not make the opposite error. We are not so pessimistic as to see bitterness in everything. We are realists or, more precisely, we are idealistic-realists. There are people who consider themselves as realists and see everything in black, and there are people who consider themselves idealistic and see everything with rose-colored glasses. Neither one of these will bring the Redemption. We are optimistic and we know that good will overcome evil, and that in a dynamic manner good will continue to conquer evil in the world. The Master of the Universe, the Creator of the World, is good to everything and His mercies are on all of his creatures; "G-d saw it was good," "very good." The Rambam clarified in an organized fashion how our world is mostly good and only slightly evil (Moreh Nevuchim 3, 12). Our world is good, but we must realize from the outset that there is also some bitterness in it. Rabbenu Bachya placed a condition on the service of Hashem that one must be ready to accept the bitterness (Chovot Levavot, Sha'ar Avodat Ha-Elohim, chapter 5). Our revered teacher, Rav Kook, wrote: "This is completely necessary, and any time that he says to himself 'peace, peace' and only pleasantness will follow on a paved way, he is close to the stumbling block" (Musar Avicha, p. 34). The Land of Israel is also acquired through suffering (Berachot 5a). Hillel the Elder is the one who teaches us to wrap the matzah of redemption with the bitterness of maror. He lived in extreme poverty and learned through the chimney, while he was covered with snow (Yoma 35b), and he became the "Nasi" (head of the Sanhedrin) of Israel.

Shut SMS #60

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: Is it permissible to take a walk on Shabbat?
A: Yes, for pleasure (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata, chap. 29).
Q: What is the source for the idea that if one prays 40 days straight at the Kotel, his prayer will be answered?
A: There is no source. Any prayer, even one time, is heard. There are, however, various sources about the value of prayer for 40 days based on Noach in the ark and Moshe Rabbenu on Mt. Sinai. But any prayer is heard, and there is no need for forty days of prayer.
Q: What is Ha-Rav's opinion regarding refusing orders in evacuating settlements?
A: It is a complicated issue but there are three general principles: 1. Using refusal as the flag of the struggle is improper. 2. Using Tzahal for issues which are deep communal disagreements is improper. 3. An officer who does not take into consideration the "world" of the soldier is also improper.
Q: Is it worthwhile for one to sleep in his Kippah?
A: Yes, but he is not obligated to do so (Shelah. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 2:6).
Q: I sometimes read stories on Shabbat which make me cry. Is this permissible?
A: Yes, like Rabbi Akiva who cried on Shabbat on account of his cleaving to Hashem. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 288:2 and Mishnah Berurah #4)
Q: What is the source that on one's birthday he has the power to bless others?
A: There is no source.
Q: Is it permissible to buy Tefillin from someone who does not pay taxes?
A: Certainly not (see Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:375).
Q: Is it true that the beggars at the Kotel are untrustworthy?
A: Not all of them, but almost all of them. Some collect 1000 shekels a day (The police stationed there)!
Q: I accidentally davened Musaf on Rosh Chosdesh wearing my tefillin?
A: You fulfilled your obligation (Mishnah Berurah 25:61 and see 423:10).
Q: Is it preferred to shop in a Jewish-owned store which is open on Shabbat or in an Arab-owned store?
A: Certainly in a Jewish-owned store (Vayikra 25:14).

A Ba'al Teshuvah (newly-repentant Jew) and Kitniyot

Q: I am Sefardic and I am having a guest coming for Pesach who is Ashkenazic and a Ba'al Teshuvah who was influenced to become religious by Sefardic Jews and so he eats kitniyot. Can I serve him kitniyot?
A: You may serve it to him. He knows what he is doing and asked a Rabbi what is the correct way to act. I was once at a Rabbinic conference and Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu – the Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel – was there and someone asked him a similar question: Chabad Chasidim have influenced many Sefardic Jews to become religious and they are now Sefardic Jews who have all sorts of Ashkenazic practices. Is this a problem? Ha-Rav Eliyahu responded: May it be Hashem's will that all Israel repents even if they become Ashkenazic!

Kosher medicine

Q: Do medicinal pills require kosher certification during the year and for Pesach?
A: As a general rule: all medicines which lacks taste are kosher since they are not food, and they are also kosher for Pesach. And we even turn medicine which has taste into medicine which lacks taste. How? We wrap the pill in a thin piece of paper. There are authorities who even permit medicine with taste since the ingredients which give the taste are kosher or not chametz. The non-kosher and chametz ingredients lack taste and kosher ingredients with taste are added. This is the opinion of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in the book "Halichot Shlomo" (4:6 and in notes). As a result, almost all medicines are kosher and almost all medicines are kosher for Pesach. There are organizations which publish catalogues with long lists of which medicines are kosher for Pesach as a kindness for people, since they could sum it up in one sentence: 99% of medicines lack taste and are kosher. People are concerned, however, so they publish long lists.

Naming a baby "Herzl"

Question: Is it proper to name a son "Herzl" after the founder of political Zionism? While we believe he was an agent of Hashem and owe him much gratitude, is there a problem of naming your child after someone who wasn't religious?
Answer: It is certainly proper. And we have "Maaseh Rav" that Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin, author of Shut Bnei Banim, carries that name and he uses the name Herzl and is not embarrassed by it.

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students – Part 2

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
Serving Torah Scholars
A student who was serving in our Rabbi's home was in doubt whether when Elisha poured water on Eliyahu's hands it was considered "serving Torah scholars" (Berachot 7b, Ein Aya – Berachot chap. 1:87). Once, when he brought our Rabbi a cup of tea, he asked: "Ha-Rav, is this serving a Torah scholar?" Our Rabbi was quiet for a long time and said: "It is unclear if I am worthy of being called a Torah scholar." He was quiet again and then added: "The essence of serving a Torah scholar is learning (halachic) reasoning as Rashi explains" (Berachot 47b). (Ha-Rav Eliyahu Mali)

Fear of Heaven
After the Yeshiva moved to the new building, our Rabbi noticed that there were students who were talking during davening, and he looked at them with a severe stare. The same occurred the next day, and then a third time. On that day after davening, he went to the library and cried. When he was asked about it, he responded: If my words are not heard, it is a sign that I do not have fear of Heaven (see Or Le-Netivotai 25, 308, 326). (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald)

Young students
When our Rabbi gave permission for students to attend a protest (since there are times when stopping learning Torah leads to greater observance of Torah), this ruling was for older students and not younger students. (Iturei Cohanim #57)

Get yourself a teacher (Pirkei Avot 1:6)
Our Rabbi said that "Get yourself a teacher" requires more toil than "acquire a friend for yourself." (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald – Iturei Cohanim #266)

When My Wife Speaks with Me

It is a holy moment when my wife wants to speak to me. I do not mean when she asks if I made a sandwich for Yossi for school or where is the tape. I am talking about when she wants to have a personal conversation. Therefore, similar to all holy acts, I prepare: I shut off my cell phone, I turn off the ringer on the land line and I turn off the doorbell (I figured out how to do it). Since I haven't figured out how to turn off Yossi, Tali and Riki, I set them up with something interesting to do. If they nonetheless cry and scream, it is okay, I learned that it is actually healthy for them not always to get want they want. I then sit across from her or next to her – depending on the situation – and I listen. It is so interesting. Don't get me wrong, my wife is not a professor, lecturer or artist. She is much more than this: she is my wife. It is true. If someone else spoke to me like this, it would bore me to death. But because she is my wife, it is so interesting. I am beginning to believe that we are two beings who are in fact one.

Shut SMS #59

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: Is it permissible to place one's fingers in the cracks and crevices of the Kotel?
A: The book "Mishkenot Le-Avir Yaakov" forbids it since it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount when impure and the Kotel is considered part of the Temple Mount (chapter one of Massechet Tamid). Many authorities are therefore strict in this matter (Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik in Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 101 and the Chazon Ish in Pe'er Ha-Dor vol. 2 p. 48). But the Avnei Nezer (vol. 2 Yoreh Deah 450-451) permits it because the Kotel does not possess the holiness of the Temple Mount, and even if we say that the Kotel is part of the Temple Mount, entering with one's fingers is a "Bi'ah Bemiktzat" (a partial entrance) and is not considered entering; andeven if we say that a "Bi'ah Bemiktzat" is considered entering, it is not entering in the usual manner, since people enter through the gates and not through the walls. And this is the ruling of many authorities (Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef in Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi Halachot U-Minhagim pp. 74-75 note 47 and Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach said that the great Rabbis of Israel were not concerned about this). But it is proper to be strict. And our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, was careful not to place his fingers between the stones of the Kotel and refrained from kissing a stone of the Kotel, which was not protruding.
Q: The evil inclination causes me to sin. How do I get rid of him?
A: Read a lot of Mesilat Yesharim.
Q: An alternative medicine doctor told me to put rice on my calloused hand and bury it in dirt. My father told me not to listen to him. What should I do?
A: Do not do it. Superstition.
Q: Should I refrain from reserve duty in Tzahal because of the expulsions?
A: There is no connection. Our army is a good army which protects our Nation and Land. (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuvah 3:2)
Q: Is it forbidden to sit opposite a mirror?
A: Superstition.
Q: Do parents have to pay for something a child breaks?
A: Yes, to save him from heavenly punishment when he reaches adulthood, and to save him from the Beit Din that has to punish him. (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:454)
Q: I am Charedi but am pulled towards the Religious-Zionist community. What should I do?
A: Find a Religious-Zionist community which is also Charedi.
Q: I want to stop working for a year in order to learn Torah. Should I do this and have faith that Hashem will provide for me?
A: Faith is believing that Hashem will fulfill that which He promised, but since Hashem promised you nothing in this case, it is impossible for you to decide for Him. From the book "Le-Oved Hashem" by Rabbenu Avraham ben Ha-Rambam.
Q: There is a problem for a couple to have the same first name?
A: There is no problem.
Q: Does one have to return an immodest book to someone who lost it?
A: No, it is not a kindness.

Endangering Soldiers to Save a Wounded Soldier

Question: Is it proper to endanger the lives of many soldiers to rescue a wounded soldier?
Answer: Certainly, this is part of the halachot of the army. Without acting in this manner, the army cannot function. In civilian life, this is truly a question – is a person obligated to endanger his life in order to save another person? The Radvaz writes that you only need to save him without endangering yourself as is known: "Your life takes precedence over your fellow's life." This is based on the Gemara in Baba Metzia (62a) which discusses the case of two people traveling in the desert, and only one of them has a jug of water. If both drink, both will die. If one drinks, he will make it to civilization. The Halachah is that one person drinks, i.e. a person need not save another people while endangering his own life. This is all-the-more-so true when one has the water, he is not obligated to give it to the other person. The Radvaz therefore said that it is certainly a mitzvah to save another person but one does not have to endanger himself since the ways of the Torah are pleasant (Shut Ha-Radvaz 3:625 and brought in Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 157:15). But doubtful danger to your life does not takes precedence over certain danger for another person (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 426), i.e. if you do nothing he will definitely die and if you do act, perhaps you will die. And even to the authorities who hold like the Radvaz, that a person need not save another people while endangering his own life, agree that it is permissible if there is only a slight danger. This is written in the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 329:19).
For example, Ha-Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Shut Tzitz Eliezer 10:25 #7) ruled that we do not permit donating a kidney from a living person, since there are risks involved during and after the surgery, and there is a concern of the proper functioning of the remaining kidney. But Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Shut Yechaveh Da'at 3:84) disagrees with him and holds that since there is only minimal risk and a great mitzvah involved, it is possible to donate a kidney while still alive. But this all applies to civilian life. In the army, the calculations are completed different: All for one and one for all. Although this expression does not appear in the Gemara, but in the "Three Musketeers" by Alexander Dumas, it holds true in the army.
We endanger ourselves in the army for a national purpose, obviously as little as possible, but if it is necessary – we endanger ourselves. We do not leave the wounded on the battlefield, even at the risk of endangering other soldiers.
A soldier who fights with self-sacrifice knows that he is not alone and that his comrades-in-arms will not abandon him. He gains the strength to fight based on this understanding. Without this ideal, there is no army.
In civilian life, life-threatening situations are infrequent, but the army is fraught with danger. The enemy is dangerous. Entering battle in order to kill has within it the risk of being killed. This risk is part of being in the army. We therefore take a risk in order to save our wounded fellow soldier.
Perhaps you will say: What is the logic of endangering many people for one person?! In war, the concept of "And carefully guard your souls" (Devarim 4:9-10) is different (Ha-Rav Shaul Yisraeli in his book "Amud Ha-Yemini" and the Netziv on Bereshit 9:5), i.e. we endanger ourselves when need be.
And may it be Hashem's will that He sends us peace and always returns our soldiers in peace.

Our Rabbi and the Yeshiva Students - Part 1

Our Rabbi related to every one of his students as if he were his only child. Even through thousands of students passed through the yeshiva over the years, each one thought that he was our Rabbi's most beloved. Our Rabbi would invest everything he had in any one who came to him. Even if many people or important people waited for him outside – whether for a class or a meeting – he would finish the discussion only after providing the student with what he needed.

Many times students sat in our Rabbi's house, hour after hour, until late at night. He was once asked, doesn't a certain student waste his time, since there are many students, and sometimes an entire community waits for him? He responded: "My wife also once said to me: Why do you sit so long with this young man, it is for naught. I said to her: I cannot separate myself. Someone who comes and needs me to speak to him, I devote myself, and devote myself, and devote myself without any calculation."

Our Rabbi knew the names of all of the students, and always referred to them by their first name. Each student felt that he was our Rabbi's student. It happened on occasion that a student would inform our Rabbi that he was leaving the yeshiva, and our Rabbi would burst out in tears.

When there were weak students in the yeshiva who had difficulty in learning, he would pair them together with stronger students and tell them: "Even if this holds you back, you need self-sacrifice."

Our Rabbi said to his students: If you see a "hanhagah" (practice) which I perform, do not perform it. I am not a Rebbe. Eat a meal with me because it is "seudah shlishit" (the third meal of Shabbat), not because I am a Rebbe who passes out "Shirayim" ("leftover" – there is a custom to gather around a Chasidic Rebbe and to eat his leftovers). (Romem Eldobi)


In my youth, I had a good friend and I told him all of my secrets. I really liked him. But one day, he told all of my secrets to other people and since then I hated him. He then felt sorry and apologized, but it was too late. I now tell all of my secrets to my wife, and she doesn't tell anyone. She doesn't tell her sister who she loves a lot, and she does not tell her parents who she greatly respects. She also tells me secrets. These secrets are very sweet and they bind us together. We know that this is a place that only the two of us meet and no one else is a part of it. I did not say that I tell her everything that happens to me. I have learned what interests her and what is a burden to her. I obviously do not reveal the secrets of the Mossad or the Shabak. I also do not tell her the secrets that my co-workers tell me. I am talking about all sorts of feelings and wants that I would be embarrassed to tell others, not because they are evil things but because they are personal. It is truly pleasant to have a wife of secrets.


[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah - Vayakel-Pekudei 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: People have all sorts of dreams, good, bad, and strange. Do dreams have spiritual significance, or are they meaningless? And even if they do have meaning, is it healthy to pay attention to them?
Answer: Our Master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote that the Torah distances us from delving into all sorts of unclear visions, and that it forbids Ov, Yidoni, inquiring of the dead, and all sorts of sorcery. Instead, it instructs us to live with the living. The only exception is dreams. The Torah instructs us to relate to dreams during our lives, and it also teaches us that dreams can be significant, just as nature has its own laws (Igeret HaRe’eiyah, Igeret 79). Surely we see from the Torah that there was truth to the dreams of Yosef, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar. Likewise, regarding bad dreams, the rabbis enacted personal fast days, as well as the “Hatavat Chalom” ceremony for improving a dream’s outcome, and special prayers to be recited during the Priestly Blessings.
Yet all that applied to earlier times.
In recent generations, the great halachic luminaries greatly decreased their interest in dreams (see the Mishnah Berurah 220:1, and the sources I bring later). And also regarding dreams, about which it is written that we should fast for them even on the Sabbath (Orach Chaim 288:5), recent luminaries said not to fast for them on weekdays, not to hold the "Hatavat Chalom" (improving a dream) ceremony, and even not to recite the special prayer during the Priestly blessing. In this regard the Chazon Ish wrote:
“Many times I had such dreams, and I paid them no mind. It is proper to recite the Ribono Shel Olam prayer about dreams during the Priestly Blessing.” (Igrot Chazon Ish 2:149) The reason is that they decided that these are the sort of dreams that our sages determined to lack meaning, as they only reflect one’s own thoughts (Berachot 55b). As Daniel wrote (Daniel 2:29), “Your thoughts came while on your bed.”
For example, Mishnah Berurah writes that a bad dream after a fast day should not arouse worry since it is the result of the affliction from the fast day, and the same applies to any dream that follows great pain (Orach Chaim 220, Sha’arei HaTziyun 1).
Likewise, if someone dreams that his teeth fell out, if he suffers from toothaches he should not worry (Orach Chaim 288, M.B. 18). The same applies if he worried about something by day and then dreamt about it by night (ibid., M.B. 7).
Kaf HaChaim wrote similarly regarding someone who dreams about the end of Yom Kippur during the days leading up to Yom Kippur (Kaf HaChaim 17). And, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel wrote the same about the bad dreams of people who are not in the best of health (Parashat Miketz).
Today, life has changed greatly from former times, which were more tranquil. Most people lived in villages or small towns, far from the urban crowds, and they were less exposed to earthshaking news.
Today, however, people are bombarded with information day and night from all the media, and they hear about all sorts of terrible happenings. Someone won’t necessarily dream about such things the day after they occur, but such news is stored away in the subconscious, and it bursts forth as dreams from time to time. To the extent that the news is worrisome, it results in nightmares (Piskei Teshuva, ibid.).
Aruch Ha-Shulchan wrote that when people are absorbed with the vanities of this world, those matters find expression in their dreams, especially if they eat a lot before bedtime. Then the digestion process influences the imagination, and such dreams are not real, and they have no meaning (Aruch Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 210:1).
Therefore, one should not worry about his dreams at all. He need not fast over them, and he should further take into account that fasting weakens one’s ability to serve G-d, and sometimes causes anger and nervousness (ibid., 13).
If someone is greatly disturbed by a dream all the same, he can perform a "Hatavat Chalom" ceremony before three friends, or recite the special prayer during the Priestly Blessing. By the way, even in former times, "Hatavat Chalom" was only for people who were distraught over a dream (Orach Chaim 220:1). Certainly the best thing is to learn Torah and give charity, and if one repents, all will be well for him.


Question: What is Ha-Rav opinion about being on facebook?
Answer: Facebook is complex because it is a good social connector but there are also many problems: immodesty, Lashon Ha-Ra, inappropriate relationships, etc. As a result, this medium is improper and we say: "His gain is offset by his loss." One should therefore distance himself from it.

The Integrity of the Land of Israel according to Halachah

Question: Why is it forbidden to give part of Eretz Yisrael to the Arabs?
Answer: According to Jewish Law, we are obligated to hold on to the full breadth of our Land and not to give a portion of it to another nation, on account of three reasons, each of which is sufficient in and of itself:
Saving of Lives - The survival of Israel in our Land is accomplished by the removal of the enemy’s army as much as possible, and also by a national "standing at full stature," since anything we yield brings continued pressure. For the sake of the survival of Israel, there is a need to sacrifice one’s life, as we are commanded, "Do not stand idly while your brother’s blood is shed" (Vayikra 19:16): If you see a fellow drowning in a river, or bandits are attacking him, or a wild animal is attacking him, you are obligated to save him (Sanhedrin 73a). According to various Rabbis, even if there is potential danger for the one who came to rescue, he is obligated to act to rescue one who is in a situation of certain danger (Hagahot Maimoniyot, Rambam – Hilchot Rotze’ach U-Shemirat Nefesh, chap. 1, Kesef Mishnah ibid., Beit Yosef Choshen Mishpat 426 in the name of the Yerushalmi). This is also implied by the literal meaning of the words of the halachic authorities, who mention: "One who is drowning in a river or bandits are attacking him or a wild animal is attacking him," since clearly there is also potential danger in rescuing, and the authorities did not limit the obligation of rescuing only in a rare circumstance when there is no danger. This applies all the more so when we are not discussing the saving of individuals but the saving of the entire Nation of Israel. Sacrificing one’s life is what saves blood.
The Mitzvah of the Settling of the Land of Israel - We are commanded to dwell in this Land, to settle it and to possess it, which means according to the words of the Ramban: "do not abandon into the hands of any other nation" (Positive Mitzvah #4 in additions to Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot). This applies to every part of Eretz Yisrael (ibid.). For this mitzvah, if there is a need, we are commanded to sacrifice our lives, and even to enter into war, which is necessarily a dangerous venture. We will not attain security and peace by yielding, but on the contrary, by strength and by "standing at full stature."
Sanctification of G-d’s Name - We are commanded to sanctify G-d’s Name: "And I will be sanctified amongst the Children of Israel" (Vayikra 22:32), and there are many levels and shades of this great mitzvah (see Yoma 86a and Rambam - Hilchot Yesodei Ha-Torah, chap. 5). There is sanctification of G-d’s Name by individuals and there is sanctification of G-d’s Name by the entirety of the Nation. We are commanded to be partners in the great act of Hashem of the return of the Nation of Israel to its Land and its redemption in it, and to perform anything which is in our power for the sake of this great sanctification of G-d’s Name (see Le-Netivot Yisrael of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook vol.1, pp. 118-127).

Shut SMS #58

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: I learn Torah with someone who is twice my age, and he has a different view of Torah scholars than I do. Should I continue to learn with him?
A: If it has an effect upon your view, then you should stop. (see Shut Ha-Radvaz 4:187)
Q: What is the blessing on quinoa?
A: Before "Ha-adama" and after "Nefashot."
Q: Does a reflector vest require Tzitzit?
A: No, it is not a garment.
Q: If it is Hashem's will that a person die, why do we cry?
A: Because we love him.
Q: I saw my father transgressing a mitzvah. Should I point it out to him?
A: Ask him if he wants to talk about it.
Q: I finally received a divorce after many years and despite the horrible behavior of my former husband. Is it appropriate to make a meal of thanksgiving?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it a mitzvah to give Tzedakah to everyone who asks?
A: If you are certain that they need the Tzedakah.
Q: What should one do with missionary literature?
A: Throw it in the garbage.
Q: Is it permissible for a man to go to a work out club which also has women?
A: Certainly not. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8.
Q: I saw two kids sneak on to the bus. What should I do?
A: Point out to them that they should pay. If they do not listen – inform the driver. It is for their own good.
Q: Do I have to forgive someone who hurt me?
A: If they placate you in an appropriate manner.
Q: I am in the middle of learning and my father sent me a text message. Should I answer?
A: Yes, instead of text messaging me.
Q: Is a Kippah with holes for style considered Kosher?
A: Yes, the essence is that it is big. Some say that it should cover the majority of the head, and the lenient position is that it is seen from all sides. (Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:1, Shut Yechaveh Daat 4:1. Shut Yaskil Avdi vol. 6 p. 292a)
Q: Are vitamin supplements considered like medicine on Shabbat and forbidden or like food and permissible?
A: They are forbidden like medicine. It is possible to take them before and after Shabbat. (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata 34:20)
Q: Can one fulfill his obligation to recite a blessing by hearing someone else recite a blessing for him on the telephone?
A: No, one does not hear the person's actual voice but a reproduction. One should however recite “amen” as one would in the shul in Alexandria. (Sukkah 52a, Shut Minchat Shlomo 1:9, Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:91)
Q: Is it proper to wear a shirt with part of a Torah verse without Hashem's Name?
A: It requires two coverings to go into the bathroom. It is not proper. (Shut Tzitz Eliezer 16:30)
Q: What is the Torah source for the prohibition of men and women touching?
A: "Do not approach" (Vayikra 18:6. Sefer Ha-Chinuch 188).
Q: My brother is meeting a young woman for the purpose of marriage. He is very dominating. Should I tell her?
A: Certainly. (Kehillot Yaakov on Yevamot 60 #38)

Where are the Vessels of the Beit Ha-Mikdash (Temple) Today?

[Commentary to the Book of Esther, pp. 23-24]

We do not know exactly where. Some say that they are in the Vatican, other say in other places, but the truth is that they are buried somewhere under the Temple Mount. King Shlomo dug tunnels under the Temple Mount, because he knew through his Divine Spirit that the Beit Ha-Mikdash would be destroyed.

Question: Isn't it written that Nebuchadnezar took everything (see Megillah 12a)?
Answer: The vessels which he took were replacement vessels. The original vessels are located under the Temple Mount.

Question: Aren’t there vessels in England which are associated with the Temple?
Answer: Perhaps, but the real ones are under the Temple Mount.

Question: The Menorah and the Table of the Show-Bread also?
Answer: Yes. As is known, Titus stole the Menorah. We see this in the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Jews of Rome have a custom to say Lamentations there on Tisha Be-Av. But those vessels are also replacements. There were ten Menorahs (Menachot 29a, 98b-99a) and many vessels. We do not know if he took the actual Menorah or a fake which was placed in the Beit Ha-Mikdash in order that he would think that he plundered the Temple. Even if he took the actual Menorah, there are nine others. Nonetheless there is no need to search for them today. When the time comes, everything will be found including the Ark of the Covenant and the jar of "man" (manna) as well.

Question: Did anyone ever search for the vessels of the Beit Ha-Mikdash?
Answer: Many certainly searched, but they did not find them. There are different stories and fables.

Question: What about those people who claim to have seen the Ark?
Answer: Anything is possible. Nevertheless, everything that they saw also disappeared. Do not worry, there are others. Incidentally, my daughter who studies art made a relief of the Arch of Titus. She brought to my attention the fact that the direction of those walking is not from Yehudah to Rome, but the opposite, from Rome to the direction of Israel, and this is true today. We are all returning home!

Married Students and Stipends

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
A number of students tried to refuse financial support from the Yeshivah (perhaps due to the opinion of Rambam and one should not receive money for learning Torah), yet our Rabbi was adamant that they receive a stipend.
In response to the claim that some married students received higher stipends than others, our Rabbi requested of Rav Noson (Rabbi Raanan Kook, Maran Ha-Rav Kook's son-in-law) to make all Yeshivah stipends equal so that there be no jealousy among students. In response to Rav Noson's, "Where will I come up with the money," our Rabbi responded, "From the place where there is for one, you will find for all."
When there came a request to increase stipends for students with larger families, our Rabbi said, "Mercaz Ha-Rav is not a Kollel. We help students until they find their place in life, with an emphasis being placed on the Rabbinate or education."

“Don’t Believe Lashon Hara”

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Chayei Sarah 5767 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Don’t believe a single word of evil gossip from anyone! Don’t listen to it altogether! That itself is forbidden. Yet if you happen to hear it, don’t believe it. There’s so much Lashon Hara in the world! There’s so much falsehood and slander!
Tales were spread about Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook that he was a closet Christian, about Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto that he was a false Messiah, about Rambam that he had become a Moslem, about the Prophet Jeremiah that he had cohabited with a harlot, about Moshe that had committed adultery with 600,000 women!
Even what you see with your own two eyes, don’t believe! Maybe you don’t know all the details, and if you did it would change the picture. This is called giving the benefit of the doubt, not in the sense of wearing blinders and emotionally distorting the truth, but in the sense of clarifying what the truth is. Yet let’s not forget that the truth means all the truth. This is the rule. Even what you see with your own eyes, don’t believe!
The story is told that Rabbi Aryeh Levine saw someone purchase a flower pot in the middle of a funeral. He was very puzzled. Yet when he clarified matters, he found out that the departed had a dangerous, contagious disease. The hospital had therefore decided to burn all his effects, including his Tefillin, unless they would be taken directly for burial. That person therefore bought a flower pot in order to bury the Tefillin.
A woman was once waiting for a plane at the airport, munching on sugar wafers. Suddenly she was called up to the desk to clarify matters. When she returned, she saw a man of Charedi appearance unabashedly eating her sugar wafers. She didn’t wish to insult him, so she took a wafer and began to eat it, in order to hint to him that they were hers. Yet he did not take the hint and continued to eat. He ate one and she ate one, until the package was finished. She was astonished by his chutzpah, but kept quiet. Yet when she settled down in the plane and opened her bag, she saw her package of wafers inside, and she then recalled that she had put them in her bag when she went to the desk. Suddenly the story took on an entirely different hue.
The story is told that when the Arizal arrived in Tsefat, he was appointed to a committee that dealt with sin. Very early one morning, a member of the committee rose to pray at sunrise, and as he opened his window, he saw a married woman leave her home and approach the courtyard of a man known as an adulterer. The man was very shocked, and after services he assembled the committee and told them about the terrible deed of that woman. The Arizal said to him, “Quiet! How dare you to speak so about a reputable Jewish woman? In the same courtyard where that adulterer lives, a visitor from the Diaspora has found lodgings. That visitor has brought money and a secret letter from this woman’s husband, who insisted that the money and letter not be delivered to the woman by a third party, but directly. She therefore went there, and so modest is she that she chose to go early in the morning when there is no one else on the street so that no one would look at her.” The committee member responded, “Forgive me, Rebbe! Forgive me!” Yet the Arizal answered, “It isn’t me you have to ask for forgiveness, but that righteous, modest woman whom you suspected!” Another story is told of Rabbis who held a large gathering in order to deliberate on the problems of the generation, and afterwards ate a meal together. In the middle, the senior Rabbi rose and informed the others that he would show them a marvelous sight. From his pocket he removed a coin from the time of King David, which he would use for such rituals as “redeeming the firstborn.” The coin passed from hand to hand, and all the Rabbis were very excited. Yet at some point it disappeared. Everyone looked for it on the table and the floor, but the coin had disappeared into thin air. An unpleasant mood developed. The senior Rabbi said, “Perhaps one of the Rabbis unintentionally, out of habit, put the coin in his pocket. Please, let’s everyone have a look.” They were a bit insulted. They searched, but they didn’t find it. The mood was now grave. The senior Rabbi said, “Perhaps accidentally the coin fell into the pocket of one of you, without your noticing it. Rabbis have lots of pockets too. Perhaps a Rabbi is unaware of all his pockets. I therefore suggest that every Rabbi should examine the pockets of the Rabbi sitting on his right.” The Rabbis felt very uncomfortable at this, but out of respect for the senior Rabbi they performed his request, but they didn’t find anything. There was one elderly Torah scholar, however, who said forcefully to the man on his left, “No one is going to search my garb!” “Why not,” his neighbor asked. The elderly Rabbi turned red in the face, but he insisted, “No one will search me!” The senior Rabbi turned to him and asked, “Then what you do suggest?” “I don’t suggest anything!” he cried. Everyone was silent. The mood was terrible. A heavy silence enveloped the chamber. After ten minutes, the waiter burst in holding the coin. He had accidentally cleared it away with the tray of dishes. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, gazed shamefacedly at the elderly Torah scholar whom they had suspected. They then asked him why he had refused. He then put his hand into his pocket, took out a similar coin and said, “I too brought an identical coin to show everyone, but when the senior Rabbi showed his, I saw no reason to compete with him. And now, who would have believed me that I too had such a coin?...” Everyone lowered his head in shame and said, “It was worth coming here just for this to happen.” Now do you understand? Don’t believe a word of evil gossip, even what you yourself have seen!

Bulk shopping on a friend's membership

Question: It is permissible to buy items in a bulk-shopping store on a friend's membership?
Answer: If the store allows it.

Shut SMS #57

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets "Ma'ayanei Ha-Yeshu'ah" and "Olam Ha-Katan." Here's a sample:
Q: Is it permissible for cousins of the opposite gender to touch?
A: No, it is only permissible for parents/children and grandparents/children. And it is permissible for siblings if it is not for affectionate purposes.
Q: I took money from my brother without permission. How do I return it without shame?
A: Return it secretly.
Q: Does one have to wait 6 hours between meat and milk or is 5 hours enough?
A: 6 hours. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 89:1. Unless one has a halachically based tradition to wait 5 hours.
Q: Is it permissible to daven Shacharit at the beach?
A: After the fact, since one needs to daven in a closed area.
Q: Is it permissible to reuse a stamp not crossed out by the post office?
A: No, there is a mitzvah to return a lost object.
Q: Is there a source to keep Eretz Yisrael beautiful?
A: Yes, the end of Ketubot.
Q: Is it permissible to take a towel from a hotel? They charge more money because they know people will take them.
A: It is certainly theft.
Q: What should one do with a ripped flag of Israel – Geniza or garbage?
A: Put it in the garbage. When it is ripped the honor is gone.
Q: Do I have to tell in a job interview that I am pregnant?
A: Depending on the law.
Q: Is it permissible to daven Shemoneh Esrei out loud if it adds to my kavana?
A: Yes, if you are davening alone (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 582:9. Mishnah Berurah #24).
Q: My father has a custom which is not found in Halachah books. Should I change it or continue since it is the custom of my ancestors?
A: Continue it after you inquire among Torah scholars if it is a proper custom.

Looking in the mirror to adjust Tefillin

Q: Is it permissible to look in a mirror to make sure that one's Tefillin is in the right place?
A: The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 182:6) writes that it is forbidden to look in a mirror because of "Lo Yilbash" (not to dress or act in a way like a woman). But the Rama (Yoreh Deah 156:2) says that it is permissible to look in a mirror in order to put oneself together in a place where men have the custom to look in a mirror. It is forbidden, however, for one to make oneself look pretty. This is what Yosef did when he primped his hair and then Satan said: "Now, he is mine" (Rashi on Bereshit 39:6). There are some authorities who rule that a small mirror for Tefillin is a "custom of ignoramuses" (Shut Divrei Chaim vol. 2 Orach Chaim #6, Shut Va-Yoel Moshe Orach Chaim #4 and Shut Tzitz Eliezer 12:6 #2). And other authorities, based on the words of the Rama, rule that it is permissible to look in a mirror to make sure one's Tefillin is in the proper place. It is related in the book "Uvdot Ve-Hanhagot Le-Beit Brisk" (vol. 3, pp. 189-180) that Ha-Griz – Ha-Rav Velevele Soloveitchik – once visited a city and used a mirror to make sure his Tefillin was in the correct place, as was his custom. At his seat, someone placed a copy of Shut Divrei Chaim opened to the Teshuvah which refers to looking in a mirror to adjust one's Tefillin as a "custom of ignoramuses." Ha-Griz said to the people there: "I will use a Chasidic story (since the Divrei Chaim was Chasidic, while he was a Mitnaged). Reb Moshe Leib Sasober once said about the Halachah that one who sits in a Sukkah while it is raining is an idiot (Rama, Orach Chaim 639:7): 'It is worthwhile for me to be called an idiot as long as I fulfill the mitzvah of dwelling in the Sukkah.' I say the same thing: 'It is worthwhile for me to be called an ignoramus as long as the Tefillin sit in the precise spot on my head."

Giving a daughter a kiss

Q: Until what age it is permissible for a father to give his daughter a kiss?
A: It is permissible at all ages, even when she is an adult and even when she is married, as the Beit Shemuel wrote on Even Ha-Ezer in the Shulchan Aruch (21:14).

Parashat Ki Tisa: Spiritual Repair

[Tal Chermon p. 181]

After the sin of the Golden Calf came the spiritual repair. It is true that there are crises in the world. The world is not a plain. There are mountains and valleys. We cannot deny it. We know that there are crises, but there is no need to panic on account of them. We can overcome the crises and spiritually repair ourselves through the Divine treatment found in the world of the Torah given to us by Moshe Rabbenu. The Torah can only be properly fulfilled after first stumbling in it (Gittin 43a), and by overcoming difficulties one attains a great possession. We received a second set of the Ten Commandments and repaired our relationship with Hashem. Out of the crisis of the sin of the Golden Calf, we clarified our proper relationship to Torah and to the Divine Presence which dwells among us.

Our Rabbi as an Educator

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

Our Rabbi did not try to imprint his personality on his students, but opened the personality of each and every student. He would therefore talk to each student in a different way based on their strengths and weaknesses. Our Rabbi refused to create photocopies of students, although many of the students desired this. Rather he wanted to bring out the blessing contained in each of them.

In order to instill within the students the fundamental ideas of the holiness of the Torah, the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, our Rabbi would repeat the same thoughts hundreds of times until the students knew them by heart. He would use the same story, same expression and even the same facial expression. He did not repeat these ideas because he thought the students did not know them, but he decided that there was an educational need to do so (see Rashi on Shemot 6:30). These ideas thus became an inseparable part of the students. In times of crisis, especially in communal matters, these ideas find expression.

Our Rabbi once told one student one thing and another student the exact opposite. When asked why he did this, he answered that in the past there were both Hillel and Shammai. Shammai was able to chase away with the builder's measuring stick because there was Hillel and Hillel was able to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot because there was Shammai. But what can I do since I have to be both Hillel and Shammai. (Gadol Shimusha of Rav Avraham Remer, p. 51)

A Match in Heaven

Q: I heard that Hashem decides who one will marry. Why then should I worry? I will marry the first woman who agrees to marry me. After all, it is impossible that this would go against Hashem's will.
A: It is correct that Hashem decided before you were born who you will marry, and she is the right woman for you and you are the right woman for her. This is a wonderful Divine gift, but it is possible to lose the gift, just as Adam and Chava lost the Garden of Eden on account of their sin. A person receives an amazing body but he can destroy it with improper behavior. The Book of Mishlei (19:14) says: "But an understanding wife is from Hashem," but the Zohar (Vayechi 229, 1) says that a man's behavior can cause him to lose it. For example, a man can lose a woman with sterling character traits on account of his stupidity in searching for a beautiful woman. He forgets: "Grace is deceptive, and beauty is vain" (Mishlei 31:30). She certainly needs to be pleasant in his eyes, but the essence is not to forget: Never judge a book by its cover…

“I am Depressed”

["Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Tetzaveh 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: I am depressed, and I am depressed by the fact that I am depressed. Will I ever get out of it? People tell me, “Move on! Get a grip! Take control! Stop babying yourself! You can break out of it if you want.” And this depresses me all the more. Is it really enough for me to WANT to get out of it for me to succeed? I am suffering so much. My mood is so terrible. I am sunken in despair. Nothing interests me. Nothing is fun for me. I feel worthless. I feel like no one loves me, like no one wants me near them. I’ve become a rag, depressed and in pain. Can I get out of this? Will I ever see the light of day? Will my smile ever return?
Answer: You’ve got a lot of reasons to be optimistic. There’s no reason to suffer, and mental anguish is no less real than physical pain. Most of the time, the problem can be solved or alleviated. You’ll break out of it, because you haven’t resigned yourself to your plight. You want light. That’s a sign that inside you are strong. Within an ocean of pain there is a powerful island of health that can slowly be expanded. But first of all, don’t blame yourself. It’s not your fault. The causes of your depression are complex: chemical changes in the brain, heredity, a response to difficult occurrences from childhood or from the recent past, severe economic crises, a broken home and low social status.
You are not guilty. You are not interested in being depressed. You do not enjoy being depressed. You would pay all the money in the world to break out of it. Hush up the people who chastise you, and don’t chastise yourself. Don’t fall into deep ruminations, prying too deeply into yourself. You’re not alone with this problem. 5.5% of this country is like you, consisting of 7% of all women and 4% of all men. Obviously, other people’s suffering is no consolation to you, but you should still be aware that you’ve got many people in the same boat, and they’re not guilty either. Not everyone is the same. Depression finds expression in many different forms: having no appetite, or too much appetite, sleeping too little or too much, losing or gaining weight, diarrhea or constipation, aggressiveness or passiveness, anger or sadness, low self-image and self-hatred, loss of ability to concentrate and memory loss, negatively judging others and being overly self-critical, and a lost list of many other forms of pain and suffering. What they all have in common is that the people with these problems are not guilty.
I do believe you that you have tried everything to get out of it, and that you are still trying by your own efforts, just you haven’t succeeded. People don’t always succeed at this on their own, so go for professional help. Don’t be embarrassed. You didn’t choose this for yourself, and you’re allowed to get help. Afterwards you’ll get better and you’ll help others. Tell the professional everything that is happening to you, even if it seems stupid to you. He won’t make fun of you. He won’t castigate you. He certainly won’t behave like the Puritans in America who placed hard work on a high pedestal – which was obviously justified – and severely punished the depressed people for the crime of sloth, as the most severe crime.
First go to a family doctor skilled at providing depressed individuals with their initial treatment, so he can locate physical causes and diagnose physical symptoms. Then go to a clinical psychologist, and even if that doesn’t help, go to a psychiatrist so he can prescribe medications. Don’t be embarrassed to take medications. They don’t stigmatize you as being insane. When there is a chemical imbalance in the brain, anti-depressants restore that balance. Today there are really excellent medicines, wonder drugs that reveal the divine image within science. There is no reason to fear side effects. Obviously, don’t take these medications on your own without a doctor’s recommending them. By the way, even a family physician is entitled to prescribe anti-depressants, or a psychiatric social worker.
Don’t be afraid of psychologists, either. The cognitive approach helps you to think positively, to melt away your depressed thoughts logically, to get used to seeing the present and the future in an optimistic light, and to stop blaming yourself for your failings. You might wonder: “What do I need a psychologist for? All this thinking I can do on my own!” Indeed, even working with a psychologist, you do it by yourself. He only helps you to do it by yourself, his being experienced and objective. By the way, alternative treatments have not proven effective in psychological research. Yet bio-feedback treatment, despite its sounding “alternative”, is totally scientific and produces good results in numerous psychological realms.
Moreover, if you see that your friend is sunken in depression or anxiety, please be so kind as to convince him to go for professional treatment. As stated, however, don’t chastise him, but provide him with support, love and friendship. That’s what friends are for.
We rabbis are not doctors, psychologists, or social workers. All the same, we can give you some advice on good things to do that don’t require professional knowledge. 1. Activities. Stay busy with as many activities as possible. That way you’ll take your mind off you situation.
a. Physical activity. Obviously, this is good for one’s physical health, but it also causes the release of endorphins, which kill pain and improve one’s mood. Run, swim, ride a bicycle.
b. Creativity. Draw and write. Churchill, who suffered from depression even though he seemed the opposite, began painting when he was forty years old after a very severe political setback.
c. Volunteer. Help others who suffer from depression or other problems. When you concentrate on the problems of others, you will forget your own problems. You will also have self-satisfaction from doing good, and you will feel content.
In his medical writings (translated from the Arabic by Dr. Sussman Muntar), Rambam wrote to the King of Egypt regarding his son, the prince, who was deep in depression, that he should study moral treatises and fulfill what they said.
2. Sociality. Spend time with friends. Once more, don’t spend time with friends who chastise you, but friends who offer you support and love and encouragement. That way you’ll break out of your loneliness, which, itself, can put a person into depression. And if you can’t find friends, then adopt the sort of pet that becomes friendly with people, like a dog or cat.
3. Happiness. Rambam writes that depressed people should sing, play musical instruments and go on trips to beautiful places (Shemoneh Perakim, Chapter 5). As is known, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that one should do anything one can to chase away black depression, even engage in silly talk.
4. Soothing activities. There’s no need to go to India for this. One can find all one needs by regular activities much more cheaply.
5. Sleep. Try to get regular sleep. That regulates life.
6. Study. Read up on depression. Sometimes that itself is depressing, but there are people who find solace in the very act of knowing.
This was some advice. Everyone should pick whatever is appropriate for him. As for you, dear reader, if you have any things that you’ve tried yourself, please write me. You might now ask: “Maybe with the help of all this advice I’ll get out of my depression by myself and not need professional help?” It’s possible. But with professional help, it will go faster. As we say in our prayers, “Cure us SPEEDILY”.
But you will break out of it. Yes you will.