Studying secular subjects on Shabbat

Q: Is it permissible to study secular subjects on Shabbat?
A: This is a dispute between the Rishonim. The Rambam wrote in his commentary on the Mishnah (Shabbat chap. 23 and quote in the Beit Yosef Orach Chaim 307) that it is forbidden to read books of wisdom, which are not Torah, on Shabbat and Yom Tov. This is interesting since the Rambam is usually thought to be the authorities most open to general wisdom. But according to the Ramban (Beit Yosef ibid.), it is permissible to read medical books since they contain wisdom. These two opinions at quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (ibid. #17): "It is forbidden to study on Shabbat and Yom Tov aside from words of Torah, and even books of wisdom are forbidden, and there is an opinion which permits it." The Mishnah Berurah (380:65) indicated that we act leniently but it is proper to be strict. The basic halachah is therefore that it is permissible to learn secular subjects on Shabbat but it is certainly proper to be strict. If one follows the permissible view, it includes school reading or studying for a test on the condition that one enjoys it. If such activities cause stress and fear over a test, one should refrain from studying.
It is related that the Rama once quoted a thought from Aristotle in one of his Teshuvot, and the Meharshal was upset that instead of learning Torah he learned Aristotle. The Rama responded that he was free from transgression, and even though he brought a quote from Aristotle, heaven and earth can testify that he did not learn any of his books. On Shabbat, when others were taking walks, he would learn Moreh Nevuchim and books about nature, and he saw the thought from Aristotle there. During the week, he only learned Gemara and Halachah (Shut Ha-Rama #7). We therefore see that instead of taking a stroll on Shabbat afternoon, the Rama strolled in books about nature.

Shut SMS #52

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 give a child a name with Hashem's Name in it?
A: It is permissible. When we call a child "Michael" we do not mean to say "Mi Ca-El" (Who is like Hashem).
Q: Is it permissible to think about Hashem in the bathroom?
A: No, but it is permissible to believe in Him there. Chochmat Shlomo, Orach Chaim 46.
Q: Is it permissible to hang up pictures of Rabbis in kids' room where there may be diapers?
A: Yes.
Q: Who decides when there are differences of opinions between parents?
A: They should work it out together.
Q: Without asking me, my friends asked a kabbalist about me and he said I should change my name. Am I obligated to do so?
A: Certainly not! In general, changing a name only has value when accompanied by serious repentance. Rambam. Ron.
Q: Which acts should I perform to sanctify Hashem's Name?
A: Ethical ones. Rambam, Yesodei Ha-Torah 5:11.
Q: Is it permissible to visit the Israel Museum which is open on Shabbat but has free entrance?
A: It is forbidden because its operation involves desecration of Shabbat.
Q: Should we organize an "Amen Meal" for the benefit of a sick person?
A: Give the money to Tzedakah.
Q: Is the story of the Maharal of Prague making a Golem true?
A: There is no documentation; it is a popular tradition.
Q: How does one overcome jealousy?
A: Read what is written in chap. 11 of Mesillat Yesharim.
Q: Is it permissible to read the horoscope in the newspaper?
A: It is forbidden and nonsense.
Q: Is it permissible to use dental floss on Shabbat?
A: If it is pre-ripped and on condition that it does not cause bleeding.
Q: What is the source of the Chamsa?
A: Superstition among the Arabs.
Q: Is it permissible to have a tongue ring?
A: It is forbidden because of "Chukot Ha-Goyim" – imitating non-Jewish practices.
Q: Why do we have to be "Shomer Negia" (it is forbidden for men and women to touch)? It is difficult.
A: This wonderful connection is saved for marriage. In general, it is difficult to follow the Torah, but worthwhile.
Q: Is it permissible to go to a bar or pub?
A: It is certainly forbidden because of the prohibition of men and women mingling, "Moshav Leitzim" (frivolity) and drinking, which is improper behavior.
Q: My father is arguing with my grandfather, and my father wants me to sever all contact with my grandfather. Should I listen?
A: If it is not really justifiable, you should continue your relationship with your grandfather. If a father instructs his son to commit a transgression he is not to be obeyed, and to hate a fellow Jew and not speak to him is a transgression; and this applies all the more so to one's grandfather. But try to continue your relationship with your grandfather secretly. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 143:11.

Mention of the World to Come in the Torah

Q: Why doesn't the Torah explicitly mention the World to Come?
A: Maran Ha-Rav Kook says in his book Orot Ha-Torah (5, 8) that man has a propensity for lofty spiritual matters. If we discuss the World to Come too much, people will dream about it and abandon this world, and as a result will not merit life in the World to Come. But it certainly needs to be mentioned, and it is therefore mentioned in hints. Only afterwards, when groups such as the Tzedukkim, who did not believe in the World to Come, arose within the Nation, did our Rabbis need to emphasize this matter in order to bring it into proper perspective. The way of the Torah is not to discuss broad theological issues but to leave them as basic principles. However, when these principles are challenged, they have to be explicitly discussed. And this is what our Sages did. We must therefore exert our effort in this world and not focus too much on the World to Come.

What do you see when you see a tree in Israel?

["Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah" – Beshalach 5767]

When you are walking along and you see a tree, what are you actually seeing? While it is certainly correct to say that you are seeing a tree, you are actually seeing much more than that, much more.
One hundred and seventy years ago, the French writer Alfonse De Lamartine wrote: “(Outside the walls of Jerusalem) we saw nothing living. We heard no sound of life. We found that same emptiness, that same silence that we would have expected to find before the buried gates of Pompei or Herculanum…total silence reigns over the city, along the highways, the villages… the whole country is like a graveyard.” One hundred and thirty years ago, the American author Mark Twain visited the Land of Israel and he wrote: “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent -- not for thirty miles in either direction. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings. We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds -- a silent, mournful expanse. Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We safely reached Tabor...We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world."
Did you hear that? There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere, not even an olive tree!Therefore, when I see a tree, I see the Nation of Israel rising to rebirth in our Land. For almost two thousand years, this Land was angry at us and would not smile at us. Obviously, and by no coincidence, “because of our sins we were banished from our country and distanced from our Land.”
As we know, our Sages objected to making Messianic calculations. They even said, “Let the bones be blasted of those who calculate the end of days!” (Sanhedrin 97b). If so, how can we know that the end is near? They answered, “We have no better sign of the end of days than that of Yechezkel (36:8): ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi comments, “If you see the Land of Israel yielding its fruits plentifully, be aware that the end of the exile has arrived.”
Indeed, one hundred and twenty years ago, the Land began to blossom, and since then this sign has not proven to be a disappointment. Our country is being built up, and despite all the harsh shortcomings visible in our public lives, we have to admit that we are rising up to rebirth, and we have to be happy, hold on and look forward.

I'm Losing Patience

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

Without being such a saint, I’m a pretty easy-going guy. I’m no genius, but I’m not so dumb either. I hold fast to my opinions, and I’m pretty obsessive about that. But I don’t write off all those people who disagree with me. I don’t get angry at them. Rather, I relate to them patiently, so that pretty much makes up for my being opinionated. When I see a Jew violate the Shabbat, I don’t throw stones at him, but I feel sad, and I say to myself: “That person doesn’t know any better.” When I see a Jew eat non-kosher food, it pains me, but I say to myself: “Poor fellow! He wasn’t taught.” When I meet people who want to give up part of our country to our enemies, I shudder, but I end up saying: “They’re just confused.” When I hear about a juvenile delinquent caught up in petty crimes and foolishness, it hurts me deeply, and I am filled with compassion for him. Faced with all sorts of improper, inappropriate, immodest, immoral acts, I react with patience. I say to myself: “I believe in G-d. He won’t abandon His people. Everything will work out.”
But there are extremists, the likes of which make me lose patience when I see them. When I hear someone shout, “Death to the Arabs!” I shudder. I remember the Storm Troopers’ song, “When Jewish blood squirts from the knife, then will we have it so.” The fellow who yells, “Death to the Arabs” always sugarcoats those words in a layer of fine verbiage taken from our treasury of holiness and nationalism. I remember that all that aggressiveness that hurts people and makes one forget what man is, starts with talk. When I hear an extremist call his Jewish brother, a traitor, an anti-Semite, a Nazi, etc., my patience runs out.
From my youth I recall Ionesco’s stage play “Rhinoceros”, which describes how moderate, friendly, intellectual, logical people can, without noticing it, turn into wild monsters who try to persuade their fellow man, by all sorts of arguments, that they are right. Those same brutes, closed up in their frozen world with their distorted approach, who never ever listen to anyone else, are unaware that they have turned into primitive crazies, busy trampling people.
Yes, be careful, man. I don’t know if you come from the wild, but for sure you’ve still got a bestial spirit, and you are liable to become a wild animal. Don’t fall asleep on the watch.
Certainly, during wartime we’ve got to protect ourselves, but let us not forget that our enemies are still people. Let us recall that when Yaakov was preparing for war with his brother, he “feared lest he be killed, but was troubled lest he be compelled to kill others” (Rashi on Bereshit 32:8). Let us recall Avraham, who returned from battle and was afraid because of the people he had killed (Rashi on Bereshit 15:1). Yes, in war we kill, because “if someone is coming to kill you, you should kill him first.” We have no choice. But one should not nurture a culture of murder, even by allusion. One should not speak lightly about death to the Arabs. One should not arouse the nations’ hatred.
Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, wrote that every Jew who is aware, even a child, knows that despite the terrible things that the nations did to us, we never nurtured our hatred for them (Le-Netivot Yisrael 1:17). Also, one must not talk of hatred for the nations in the name of the Torah, and certainly we mustn’t talk of hatred for our fellow Jew. The Torah was compared to water, and Israel in its elevated moments was compared to the stars, and in its lowly moments was compared to sand. Sand and water mixed together make for a swampy morass. I am therefore losing patience, because when that type of extremist gets going, it really hurts. They don’t let their fellow man live in peace, but turn the world into a powder keg.
Consider yourselves warned.

Shut SMS #51

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: What did they learn in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever?
A: The seven mitzvot of Noach, and general ethics.
Q: Is it permissible to eat food I put under my bed?
A: One should not put food there but after the fact it is permissible to eat.
Q: Should we say Tachanun on the holiday of Sigd (celebrated by those who made aliyah from Ethiopia)?
A: Yes, but those who made aliyah from Ethiopia should not.
Q: Should one stand out of respect on the bus for an elderly Arab or Bedouin?
A: Yes.
Q: Does lipstick require kosher certification?
A: It is certainly preferable since it may have fat from non-kosher animals or have absorbed non-kosher fat on the assembly line. The basic Halachah, however, is that it is permissible since lipstick is inedible. If one intentionally eats it is a Rabbinical prohibition.
Q: Does one recite a blessing on a favored cough drop?
A: Yes.
Q: Is it permissible to go to see standup comedy?
A: No, it is "Moshav Leitzim: frivolity. Avodah Zarah 18b.
Q: My In-Laws interfere with everything in our lives and now they want us to use amulets. What should we do?
A: Treat them with respect but do what you want.
Q: Is it permissible to name a child after a non-Jew?
A: There is no prohibition, but it is certainly preferable to name after a Jew. As is known, our ancestors in Egypt were praised because they did not change their names but kept their Hebrew names. Similarly, it is certainly proper to Hebraicize a non-Hebrew name, but one is not required to do so.

Taking the Mezuzot when one leaves a rented apartment

Q: Can one who put up Mezuzot in a rented apartment take them when he leaves?
A: The basic Halachah is that one may not take the Mezuzot when leaving when a Jew is moving in there. There are, however, some solutions:
1. It is certainly permissible to take the Mezuzah Case.
2. One may replacement the Mezuzot with the least expensive, kosher ones available (Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 11 #20).
3. One may take a Mezuzah which he put up in a place where a Mezuzah is not a requirement but he wanted to be strict.
4. One can ask the new tenant to pay him for the Mezuzot, but he is not required to do so (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 291 and Be'er Golah ibid.).

Leaving Israel for my sister's Bat Mitzvah

Q: My family wants to celebrate my sister's Bat Mitzvah outside of Israel. Is it permissible to leave Israel to celebrate with them?
A: It is forbidden according to the Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 5:9), who writes that one may only temporarily leave to learn Torah, find a wife, or flee from non-Jews. Tosafot (Avodah Zarah 13b) allows leaving Eretz Yisrael for any mitzvah. But there is no mitzvah to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah outside of Israel. Do not lecture your family about it, simply say: I am sorry to say that I cannot come.

Parashat Bo: This is the Bread of Affliction

Question: It seems that this entire section was assembled during the time of the Exile as indicated by the famous declaration at the end, "Next year in the Land of Israel." If so, we can ask, why didn't they establish it before the destruction of the Temple in order to remind us that our ancestors ate this bread in Egypt?
Answer: Rav Kook explained that this statement was not created to remind us so much of the past, but to provide us with faith and hope for the future. It is to ensure that our spirit will not fall when we mention our liberation from slavery, when we ourselves, at this very moment, are in an exile of slavery, a bitter exile. When then is the benefit of the Exodus to us? We therefore remember that we ate the bread of affliction in the past, but we were redeemed, and we will be redeemed in the end. We must eat the matzah joyously, because we believe and trust that even though we are slaves now, we will be free people in the Land of Israel speedily in our days (Olay Re'eiyah vol. 2, pp. 261-262).

Time to get Back to “Orot”

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

Rabbi Yehuda Loew stated in Netzach Yisrael, Chapter 11, that the Jewish People’s goal is not just to elevate the individual to holiness but to elevate both the individual and the Jewish People as a whole.
Elevating the Nation to holiness means fulfilling G-d’s promise to make us a “great Nation” (Bereshit 12:2) and a “Nation of priests and a holy Nation” (Shemot 19:6). This was our mission during the First Temple Period. At the end of that period, however, in the days of the Prophet Yirmiyahu and King Yoshiah, when the signs of the impending destruction already loomed from afar, our greatest Torah luminaries were undergoing preparation to deal with elevating the holiness of individuals (Introduction to the Netziv’s “Kidmat Emek”, his commentary on She’eltot Rav Achai Gaon). That new focus continued on through the Second Temple Period. (see “LeMahalach Ha-Ide’ot BeYisrael” by our master Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook).
Presently, thank G-d, we are returning to our land. An enormous Zionist movement has arisen, replete with both light and darkness, which is restoring us to safe harbor (Orot, page 38). Yet how can we increase that light and overcome that darkness? Regarding belief and behavior of the individual, we are fortunate to have Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s great work, Mesillat Yesharim, for guidance. Yet where shall we find a “Mesillat Yesharim” to guide in matters affecting the Jewish People? The answer is that the guide we are looking for is accessible in the Zohar, and the same ideas were later recorded in the writings of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal. So, is that the solution, for us to learn mysticism? Certainly not! As the Mishnah states in Chagigah, Chapter 2, the Torah’s mystical secrets are intended only for the spiritual elite, and the same point has come down as law in Shulchan Aruch, Hilchot Talmud Torah, that not everyone should learn mysticism, but only select individuals. The masses, at best, do not understand anything of mysticism, and at worst, misunderstand it, which results in enormous damage.
All the same, mystical writings are fascinating – like drugs. We’ve got to be serious, however, not like a child who wants everything to be sweet, and to know that in our world we don’t deal with any problem without appropriate preparation. The preparation for studying mysticism is in-depth study of the non-mystical portion of the Torah, including in-depth study of tracts devoted to faith and sterling character.
So where shall the Jewish masses find the inner light? Not in cheap mysticism combined with charisma, be it Ashkenazic or Sephardic, but in in-depth study of works of faith, which have hidden in them secrets of the Torah, but translated to conventional language.
At this point we can go back to our original discussion: Where is the “Mesillat Yesharim” of the Jewish masses? It’s Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s book, “Orot”, which our master, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook, son of the author, called “holy of holies.” He used that description in his introduction to that book because it deals with the holiness of the Nation that is being reborn in our land. Whoever examines the sources mentioned at the end of the book will see that it is all taken from the Zohar and the Arizal. Rav Kook, himself, in fact said that there is not one sentence in it that does not have its source in the words of the Arizal (“LiShlosha BeElul”). It is only that he translated those secrets into everyday language. True, the book is poetic, but with effort one can understand it.
Yet the truth is that in the time of Rav Kook himself, very few people understood this book. Gradually, however, its light permeated the Jewish People, and today there are tens of thousands of people who study it. And just as regarding the character and behavior of individuals, one can immediately see an enormous difference between those who study Mesillat Yesharim and those who do not, so too with matters of the Jewish People, we can see an enormous difference between those for whom “Orot” is a major part of their life and those who do not learn it regularly, in depth. The latter will be very confused by the complex issues generated by Israel’s rebirth in their land, especially as regards our G-d-given Jewish State and army.
Thank G-d, however, the lessons of “Orot” are penetrating the entire Jewish People by osmosis, reaching both the Charedim and the secular, without their being aware of it. Such is the way of great ideas which are slowly absorbed by the masses. Thus, the secular, in a long, involved process, are presently making peace with the Torah, and the Charedim, as well, are being “Israelified” in the direction of the Jewish State and the army. Obviously, this is happening slowly and gradually, as is true with all processes, but they are occurring on a large-scale all the same. We must arm ourselves with great patience, but the fact is that both groups are starting to realize how good is the approach of “Orot”.
Thus, our present task is to disseminate “Orot” all the more throughout the Nation, both amongst the Torah scholars and the masses, and first of all, we must study it in depth ourselves. Then we will be the living fulfillment of, “G-d saw the light, that it was good” (Bereshit 1:4).

Shut SMS #50

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 set up non-religious Jews for the purpose of marriage?
A: Yes. It saves them from sin and allows them to fulfill many mitzvot.
Q: If I wear a skirt down to the floor, do I have to wear socks?
A: No.
Q: Does a younger sister have to wait for her older sister to get married before her?
A: Not in our times.
Q: If someone loses his wedding ring, is it a sign that he must repent in some way?
A: No.
Q: Can an Ashkenazi ask a Sefardic Rabbi a question?
A: If he tells the Rabbi that he is Ashkenazi.
Q: Is it permissible to go to the circus?
A: No, it is immodest and there are other problems. See Avodah Zarah 18b.
Q: What is the value of an organ donor card if the family makes the final decision anyway?
A: It has a major influence on their decision.

SPECIAL SMS Q&A ON CHOOSING NAMES
Q: Does a name influence a person's character?
A: No. Yishmael (May G-d hear) is a beautiful name but he was evil. And the opposite also exists. The deciding factor is the free choice of a person.
Q: If a person has problems in his life should he change his name?
A: It is written that only in the case where a person is extremely ill should he change his name (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 335:10).
Q: Is it permissible to give more than one name?
A: One name, two or three – it doesn't matter.
Q: Should one consult with a Rabbi for choosing a name?
A: No. People did not consult with Rabbis as much in previous generations as they do today. And anyway, the Arizal says that when the parents give the child a name, they have a spark of "Ruach Ha-Kodesh" (Holy, Divine spirit).
Q: Does a name influence a person's fate?
A: No. When our Sages state that one can change an evil decree by changing his name is explained by the Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 2:4) that if he repents in a serious way, he changes his name. This means, "I seriously repented and I am no longer the same person." This certainly changes the decree of a person. Rabbenu Nissim - The Ran – has the opposite approach (Rosh Hashanah 3b in the pages of the Rif). He said that if I change my name and every time I mention the new name, it inspires me to repent, I can change my situation. The essence of changing one's name is not a trick. The point is to say: I am not the same person, I am someone new.

Honoring Rabbis

Q: When I heard Rabbis speaking harshly about other Rabbis, my esteem for them goes down. How do I sustain my "Emunat Chachamim" – faith in our Sages?
A: The answer is a story told in the book "Keter Shem Tov" about the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement, and his fierce opponent, Rabbi Nachman of Horodneko, who would constantly criticize him. One time that same Rabbi heard his students speaking against the Ba’al Shem Tov, and he castigated them, saying, "How dare you speak that way against a holy man!" They responded, "But you yourself spoke out against him." He then replied with exceeding severity, "The way that is permissible for me to speak is not permissible for you." He then told a story of two craftsmen who worked together for twenty years in order to fashion the king’s crown. In the end, when the time came to set the diamonds in the crown, one said it should be one way and the other countered that it should be another. The argument grew in intensity until one craftsman called the other an idiot. A passerby who witnessed the argument injected his own words and called the man an idiot as well. The first craftsman, who had called the other an idiot, then said, "Are you aware that we are friends and that we have worked together for twenty years, making the king’s crown? Our lives depend on this last detail, and that is why we are expressing ourselves so sharply. But you! Have you lifted even a finger for the king’s crown? Have you ever in your life seen the king? YOU are the idiot!"
Based on this idea, our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, honored every Torah scholar, even he if he disagreed with him, and he instructed his students to act in the same manner. When he heard a student repeat an expression which he himself had used disagreeing with another Torah scholar, he chastised him: "That which is permissible to me is not permissible to you." Occasionally when he thought that a Torah scholar erred, he spoke harshly, but on subject and with respect.
And this is how Rabbis have acted throughout the generations. For example, Ha-Rav Aharon Kotler. Rosh Yeshiva of Beit Midrash Gavoha in Lakewood, fiercely disagreed with the Satmar Rebbe, Ha-Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, but he said: "The Satmar Rav and I do not have the same approach – both in Torah learning and in political matters - but he is a giant in Torah and a giant in proper character traits." We have also heard that Ha-Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Va-Da'at, said that that despite the differences that existed between the Yeshiva world and Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik anyone who refers to him by his initials "JB" (as many did and still do) will have to give a Divine accounting in the future.
Therefore, even when Torah scholars argue over Halachah, which is called "Milchama Shel Torah" – the War of Torah (Megillah 15b), we - the insignificant - must stand in fear and awe and honor them all.

Birkat Ha-Mazon when not full

Q: Does one recite Birkat Ha-Mazon if I am still hungry because I am dieting?
A: Yes, one needs to recite Birkat Ha-Mazon even when hungry. Even though the Torah states: "And you shall eat, be satisfied and bless" (Devarim 8:10), the Rabbis established that even when you eat the amount of a "Kezayit" (volume of an olive), which is the size of a matchbox, one recites Birkat Ha-Mazon (Berachot 45a).

Parashat Vaera: The Plague of Blood

Question: "The sorcerers of Egypt did the same by means of incantations, and Pharaoh's heart was strong and he did not listen to them, as Hashem had spoken" (Shemot 7:22). Why did Hashem choose to bring plagues which the sorcerers knew how to perform?
Answer: Some explain that this is exactly how Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart by giving him the chance to think that Hashem did not perform this act, and that Moshe Rabbenu was a sorcerer. In this way, he truly did not take away his free choice. Similarly, the fact that each plague ended after a specific time was in order to provide Pharaoh with the opportunity to err as to whether it was the result of sorcery or a natural phenomenon which ended. Thus, Pharaoh was given free choice, and Hashem hardened his heart. This is like the opinion of Rabbi Yosef Albo in Sefer Ha-Ikarim, that hardening Pharaoh's heart was providing him with the opportunity to err. And Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin explained homiletically: The wonder of drowning humanity in a valley of blood, non-Jewish magicians always knew how to perform this.

"And he will rule over you" (Ber. 3:16) - Part 2

Question: Why does the man rule? Is he more "equal"?
Answer: No, both members of the marriage are equal. The wife being "ruled" over by her husband is a curse, which appears after listening to the snake. Since then the world has been "manly". It is an unhealthy world and has lead to much distress. Not only do women suffer, but the men do as well. The remedy is reunification. Return to "The bone of my bones" and "the flesh of my flesh" (Bereshit 2:23). This remedy is found among the Nation of Israel: Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivka, Yaakov and Rachel and Yaakov and Leah. We must not be enticed by the corrupt snake which crawls on the ground, but we must repair with love and brotherhood, peace and friendship.

“Supernatural Power – Is There Such a Thing?”

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Parashat Vayechi 5767]

Question: Recently, a man who professes to have abnormal powers enabling him to uncover secrets, read people’s thoughts, influence objects from a distance and other para-psychological acts, has been looking for an heir, and most of the candidates are demonstrating their wonders on Television. It looks very convincing. Is there any truth in this? What kinds of powers do they possess?
Answer: Our great master, the Rambam, enumerates three reliable sources for a man’s knowledge: intellect, experience and prophecy. The rest, he says, is nonsense.
By “intellect” [Hebrew “sechel”] he means clear theoretical proofs. By “experience” [Hebrew “nisayon”] he means phenomena we encounter through our senses, without any possibility of it being a delusion. As for “prophecy” [Hebrew “nevu’a”] he includes “Ruach Ha-Kodesh”, divinely inspired intuition (Igrot Ha-Rambam, Ha-Rav Shilat Edition, 479).
As far as the abnormal powers mentioned above, (1) obviously there is no source in the Torah alluding to any of them. (2) Logically, such powers contradict well-established laws of science. For example, parapsychologists argue that telepathic brain waves operate with the same intensity at a distance of one meter or a thousand kilometers, which contradicts Coulomb’s Inverse Square Law, which states that an electromagnetic or gravitational force decreases in accordance with the squaring of the distance. Likewise rays are blocked by a wall of lead or by a mesh of conducting material, i.e., a “Faraday Cage”.
What remains is the empirical or experiential aspect, yet let it be said right away that anecdotal evidence, no matter how reliable it might be, has no value as scientific testimony. Such evidence provides nothing more than a point of origin for scientific research. Science has no prejudices. It rejects nothing. Yet it accepts nothing without proven arguments, and it is systematically suspicious if something contradicts the known laws of nature. Generally speaking, parapsychologists tend not to cooperate with scientific researchers. Indeed, the more systematic and critical is the research, the less parapsychology passes the test.
In any event, one-time incidents have no scientific validity, because “reproductibility” is the cornerstone of the scientific method, in other words, the ability to recreate an attempt in any laboratory.
Parapsychology is not a new claim. Rather, it is thousands of years old. For over 120 years it has been researched scientifically, including by scientists with a sympathetic bent for it, but in the meantime nothing has been proven.
There are performers who recreate all the phenomena of parapsychology by way of known tricks, and they earn a living entertaining people in this way. This, as well, requires halachic deliberation (see Chochmat Adam, Klal 89:6 and Shut Yechaveh Daat 3:68). Yet there is a serious problem when people believe they are encountering extrasensory perception, and they lose their ability to be critical. For someone devoid of scientific education, telepathy seems no more strange than a radio. Quite the contrary, it seems simpler, because it requires no apparatus.
Unfortunately, there is a widespread phenomenon at work here which is called the “flight from reason”. This is causing a nationwide renaissance for parapsychology. The Society of American Magicians has taken upon itself a permanent challenge: to recreate any act whose perpetrator claims to have performed with supernatural powers. So far, they have met the challenge. Their achievements include mind-reading; telling the future; bending spoons by non-miraculous means; psychological and technological pranks and sleight-of-hand. The magicians have had impressive success, pulling rabbits out of hats; cutting people in half and attaching them back together again; guessing people’s I.D. numbers and then pulling the I.D. card out of the neck of its owner; levitating objects without touching them; making an elephant disappear; or even the Eiffel Tower…
In 1964, the magician James Randi, an expert at deceiving crowds, offered a thousand dollar reward to anyone who could prove, under scientific scrutiny, the existence of abnormal, supernatural forces, In the meantime, the reward has grown to a million dollars, and no one has won it. When candidates become aware that they must be tested by scientists, most of them refuse to sign their consent to those stipulations. Even those who have gone ahead, numbering more than a thousand, have not passed muster. In 1976, CSI was founded, for the scientific investigation of supernatural claims. The organization includes university scientists, magicians and even the Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov. It has exposed attempts to deceive the masses, such as “paralyzed” persons who suddenly rose from their wheelchairs when they really had never been sick; or spiritual healers who know the secrets of their patients, but who gain their knowledge through trespassing the patients’ computers, or by way of a disguised assistant who talks with the patient and then informs the healer of the information behind the scenes.
The one Israeli most famous for such pranks was investigated by researchers and did not succeed in deceiving them. They exposed his deceptions and documented them with the aid of a video camera. He then sued CSI for libel, lost the case, and was slapped with a large fine. He then sued his own lawyers for inferior defense, and lost once more. One has to wonder how someone who professes to know the future didn’t know in advance that he would lose the case.
In general, those who argue that supernatural powers exist do not dare to bring back the dead or to guess what will succeed in the stock market or the number that will win the big lottery number. They also do not create money out of nothing. Otherwise, they wouldn’t need to work in this profession.
Here are several examples of how it works: Bending spoons is a simple deception. The spoon is bent to begin with, and it seems to slowly bend out of shape through its being held in a particular manner, employing circular motions. Another method is this: Hold the spoon between the thumb and the index finger in such a manner that the handle will be concealed by the hand, and such that through finger movements the spoon will look bent. Anyone standing nearby will immediately discern this.
What about those wonder workers who bend the spoons of television spectators with the help of their thoughts? Indeed, later on hundreds of spectators call up after finding bent spoons in their homes. Certainly, out of a million spectators, there will always be several hundred with bent spoons in their homes.
The same applies as far as watch-fixing through the television. The spectator is requested to pick up and to put down his broken watch several times, and to move it right and left several times. If the watch is mechanical, sometimes a speck of dust that was stopping it up falls out. If it is battery operated, sometimes such a watch can start working again for a short while if you move it around. If a million people are watching the show, several hundred will call up, swamping the studio with their success stories, and this makes a big impression. When this happens, those who did not succeed, accounting for 99%, attribute their failure to not have concentrated sufficiently. I will not tire the readers by elaborating on the methods of counterfeit telepathy, counterfeit telekinesis, etc. Let me just say this: Please! Do not lose your ability to be critical. Believe in the miracles publicized in the Written and Oral Torah. Believe in miracles that science has proven. But don’t be like the fool who believes everything he hears.

Is Eilat part of Eretz Yisrael?

Q: Is Eilat a part of Eretz Yisrael or outside of its borders?
A: Eilat is part of Eretz Yisrael for three reasons:
1. Eilat is mentioned in the Tanach and it is possible that it is part of the Land to be conquered. While it is not completely clear that it is part of this Land, it is certainly belongs to Eretz Yisrael.
2. Even if we say that it is not part of the Land to be conquered, it is part of the Land promised to us in the future. In this case, there is no obligation to conquer Eilat, but one who lives there fulfills the mitzvah of settling in Eretz Yisrael.
3. And if we say that Eilat is not part of the Land to be conquered and it is not part of the Land promised to us, the fact is that we did conquer it in the War of Independence. After all, the Rambam wrote in Hilchot Melachim (5:6) that when a King of Israel conquers land, that land is considered part of Eretz Israel. And Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote that the State of Israel would be considered the quasi-Kingdom of Israel (Shut Mishpat Cohain p. 338).
Each of these reasons is enough to show that Eilat is part of Eretz Yisrael and all the more so when they are joined together (See Shut Tzitz Eliezer 3:23, responsa of Ha-Rav Ben Tzion Uziel ibid. and Ha-Rav Shaul Yisraeli in Eretz Chemdah vol. 1 sha'ar 1, 9).

Punishing a child who refuses to help

Q: Is it permissible not give a child candy, when everyone else is getting, because he refuses to help in the house?
A: In general, one does not need to use punishment in educating a child, since we want him to help willingly and not because of pressure. We want him to understand that not only is there an obligation to help, but it is meritorious and pleasant to help. It is not possible to achieve this goal by force. In rare instances, one needs to use force if a child is doing something dangerous and we need to punish him, but in general this is not the way. If we force him to help, he will look for every possible way to get out of helping and/or he will have a bitter taste of helping when he grows up. You should therefore talk to him – not during the time you are asking him to help but at an opportune time – and say: There are many chores to do in house, and we work hard for everyone. Everyone in the family needs to do one chore. Give him a list and everyone can choose what they would like to do. And when they do it, give them a prize. Otherwise, helping will be seen as a punishment. More than him helping in this particular instance, we want to affect his character, and this is impossible by force. Ha-Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal related a beautiful idea in his book "Eim Ha-Banim Semeichah" (pp. 78-79): "I heard something beautiful on this idea in the name of our Rabbi, the brilliant and holy man of G-d, R' Bunim of Peshischa on the verse (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:4): 'Draw me, we will run after You.' He explains that there are two ways to acquire an animal by 'Meshichah' (pulling): 1. The buyer calls the animal and it follows after him. 2. He hits the animal with a stick and it runs in front of him. In each of these methods, he acquires the animal through 'Meshichah.' The only difference is that in the first way of 'Meshichah' when he calls to the animals, the owner walks ahead and the animal follows after him, while in the second way of 'Meshichah' when he hits the animal, the animal walks in front and the owner is behind. Which method of 'Meshichah' is preferred by the animal? The 'Meshichah' by calling is certainly preferable since he does not experience any pain. The 'Meshichah' by hitting hurts him and he suffers from the blow." We therefore see that the way of encouraging the child to help is by calling out to him in love.

Parashat Shemot: I Come From Eretz Yisrael!

"An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds, and he even drew water for us and watered the sheep" (Shemot 2:19)

Moshe Rabbenu looked like an Egyptian. He dressed like an Egyptian, had an Egyptian haircut, an Egyptian beard and an Egyptian accent. He looked like an Egyptian from head to toe. But our Rabbis expressed somewhat of a criticism of Moshe Rabbenu. They state (Devarim Rabbah 2:8): "One who identifies with his Land will be buried in the Land, and he who does not identify with his Land will not be buried there." Yosef identified with the Land when he said: "For indeed I was kidnapped from the Land of the Hebrews" (40:15), and he was therefore buried in Shechem. But Moshe Rabbenu did not acknowledge the Land. When Yitro's daughters say to their father: "An Egyptian man saved us from the shepherds," Moshe heard himself being referred to as an Egyptian and kept quiet. Based on this, our Sages conclude that since Moshe did not identify with the Land, he did not merit being buried there.

Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtza, one of the great Chasidic Rebbes in Poland, asked this question: what did they want from Moshe Rabbenu? Yosef saying that he was from Eretz Yisrael made perfect sense: he was raised there. But Moshe was born and raised in Egypt! Was he expected to lie and say he was from Eretz Yisrael? His answer: Every Jew is obligated to see him or herself as an Israeli. Even if he was born elsewhere – by historical error - he nonetheless belongs to the Land of Israel. A Jew should always say: I come from Eretz Yisrael! Rabbi Moshe from Kutzi, the author of the "Semag" and one of the Tosafot, would sign his name: "Moshe from the Exile of Jerusalem who is in France." It is true that I am in France, but I am from Jerusalem. When a Jew is asked: "Where are you from," he must therefore respond: I come from Eretz Yisrael.

I was once invited to a Brit Milah. When we sat down to eat, a man quickly ran into the hall and said: "When is the Brit Milah?" The participants told him: "It just ended. Mazel Tov!" He took a deep breath: "Oy vey, I missed it!" He sat down at the meal. I was sitting nearby and heard his conversation with the others.
- They asked him: "Where are you from?"
- He proudly said with a German accent: "From Frankfurt am Main!"
- I thought to myself: Poor guy, he came all the way from Frankfurt am Main to the Brit Milah and missed it by a few minutes… Everyone felt sorry for him.
- They asked: "What kind of work do you do?"
- He said: "I sell Sifrei Kodesh (holy book)."
- "In Frankfurt am Main?"
- "No, no. In Bayit Ve-Gan (a Jerusalem neighborhood)."
- ????
- "I live in Bayit Ve-Gan."
- "Didn't you just say that you are from Frankfurt am Main?"
- "Yes, yes. I live in Bayit Ve-Gan but I am from Frankfurt am Main!"...
He may live in Bayit Ve-Gan, but where is he really from? Frankfurt am Main! He breathes Frankfurt am Main, thinks about Frankfurt am Main and lives Frankfurt am Main. This is how German Jews felt right before the Holocaust.

"And he will rule over you" (Ber. 3:16) - Part 1

Question: Why isn't there equality in a family according to the Torah? Why should my husband rule over me?
Answer: This is a curse, not the ideal situation. This curse appears after Adam and Chavah sinned, on the advice of the snake, which is the evil inclination. Before this point, the Torah does not say that Adam ruled over his wife, rather he called her: "The bone of my bones" and "the flesh of my flesh" (Bereshit 2:23). This means that a couple is one soul with two bodies. There is therefore nothing inherent about ruling or being ruled over. But the sin mixed up this state. Adam and Chavah followed after the evil inclination and as a result their inner unity was destroyed. The man, the stronger of the two, is thus able to rule over his wife. But this is certainly not Hashem’s intention or will. This is a curse, but there is no curse which is beyond remedy. This is the challenge.

The Little Prince as a Moral Tract

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Parashat Vayigash 5770 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: I heard that the book, The Little Prince (by French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), is full of Christian messages, hence it should be avoided. Answer: Not so. It includes moral lessons of value to all mankind. This work is read all over the world. It has been translated into 180 languages and dialects, and has been ranked number four on the list of the world’s best books from the last hundred years. It success derives from its having been written in a simple, endearing style suited to children. Its messages are profound, and are expressed in the form of symbols meant for adults.
Moreover, it encourages the adult to go back to the child within him and not to lose the innocence of childhood. It contains criticism about the illogical manner in which adults behave, in that they forget the simple truths:
“That's the way they are. You must not hold it against them. Children should be very understanding of grown-ups. But, of course, those of us who understand life couldn't care less about numbers!”
The Little prince travels through the world, looking for a personality of true worth. Yet he encounters only laughable types, trapped in their loneliness: The king, who rules over an imaginary kingdom, ordering everybody to do things that they do anyway, and who treats the little prince as a subject.
The egotist, who views the little prince as an admirer, and whose ambition it is to be admired by all. Yet he lives all alone on his planet.
The alcoholic, consumed with shame due to his alcoholism, who keeps drinking in order to forget his shame, caught in a vicious cycle.
The businessman, who never ceases counting the stars, thinking they belong to him, and who plans on using them to buy other stars.
The streetlamp lighter, stuck in his own world of meaningless, automatic behavior. His job is to turn on the streetlamp at the start of the night, and to turn it off in the morning. Yet his planet revolves faster and faster until he is turning the streetlamp on and off without pause, and he has no time left for himself.
The geographer, who is busy producing thick roadmaps, but never encounters anything outside of himself. When he wants to document the world of the little prince, the little prince tells him that on his planet there is a beautiful rose. Yet the geographer explains to him that is unfamiliar with roses. The little prince is shocked that the geographer deals with life’s externals, and is missing out on the important things like the rose, which symbolizes man’s search for his true help-mate. The little prince looks for a life of meaning and finds empty worlds. Particularly disturbing is the image of three gigantic baobab trees holding the little planet with their roots and threatening to blow it up. All this happens because the seed of the baobab tree resembles that of the rose, hence it is related to complacently and no one sees its inherent danger, so they neglect to weed it out. This is an allusion to all kinds of evil forces which seem friendly at first, but if one falls asleep at the watch and doesn’t strike them immediately, they develop into monsters. This hints at Nazism and fascism, which at first seemed friendly as a rose. The depiction of the baobab trees is very frightening, as a warning of the terribly urgent need to deal with them. Obviously, the same thing applies to all the seeds of evil in every generation, in every country and society.
The little prince is busy endlessly weeding the baobab roots, which are trying to take control over his planet, as well as with sweeping the craters of the three dormant volcanoes on his planet – even dormant volcanoes have to be watched carefully. We learn that the author’s invitation to us to rediscover the child in us – “All the grown-ups were once children, although few of them remember it” – is not just entertainment, but a very serious, responsible task, hidden within innocent childhood. The third thing on the little prince’s planet is a rose, the ideal mate he longs for. Yet here, again, disappointment awaits him. The rose is truly very lovely, but it has its thorns: it is arrogant, coquettish and demanding. It truly has thorns.
Moreover, in his search for true friendship, he comes upon a garden of roses, discovers that his own rose isn’t the only one, and becomes very miserable. Then he meets the fox, who at first seems very odd to him, but ends up teaching the meaning of deep friendship, and teaching him how one forges a true bond. The fox says, “One only understands the things that one tames”… “It is the time you have wasted for your rose, that makes your rose so important for you”… “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
After much searching, the little prince goes to see the sunset, but his planet is so small that it suffices for him to move his chair several meters: there’s no need to go far to gain contentment. It’s here.