Tazria: Speaking Lashon Ha-Ra about Secular Jews

Question: Is it permissible to speaking Lashon Ha-Ra about secular Jews? Answer: The Chafetz Chaim wrote that it is permissible to speak Lashon Ha-Ra about an "apikoros" (a heretic). Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, agreed that this is correct, but he also said that this creates a dangerous opening for every person to decide for himself who is an "apikoros." I will decide that anyone who does not think exactly like me is an "apikoros." The entire House of Israel will then be full of Lashon Ha-Ra. It is permissible for me to disagree with a G-d-fearing Jew, but I do not have to consider him an "apikoros." Further, while secular Jews certainly seem to be heretics, many authorities have already ruled that they are "Tinokot She-nishbu" (literally Jewish children captured and raise among non-Jews), i.e. Jews who did not receive a proper Jewish upbringing and education. In order to be an "apikoros," one must be knowledgeable. Someone once came to our master, Rav Kook, and said all sorts of thing against the Tanach. Rav Kook said: You are right. He said: I am?! "Yes,” replied Rav Kook, “if the Tanach is as you say then what you are saying is correct, but the Tanach is something else." The person was not denying the Tanach - he simply did not know it. This is not an "apikoros," it is an unknowledgeable Jew. Secular Jews in general are not heretics; they are simply "Tinokot She-nishbu." They have not learned and do not know, therefore do not speak ill against them. It is possible that a particular secular Jew is an "apikoros," but it is not so simple, because the "spirit of the time" is extremely strong. It may be that a person did learn Torah, but there are all sorts of influences. The Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 3:3) defined someone with a corrupt education as a "Tinok She-nishba." Today, however, one's education is not limited to one's parents, but includes the "street." What is the "street"? These are all of the possible "foggy" influences: radio, TV, the internet, books, etc… We build walls around us, but things still enter. There is a saying that the apple does not fall far from the tree. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Rav Yitzchak Herzog, was once asked: what happened with your son Chaim, who became the President of Israel and who was secular? Ha-Rav Herzog said: “The apple doesn't fall far from the tree” only applies with a usual wind, but an unusual wind can carry it far away. He was referring to the Tosafot on Baba Kamma 27b. It is therefore even possible for the son of the Chief Rabbi to receive a corrupt education -- not from the Chief Rabbi, but from what is going around in the "street." In short: Do not be quick to apply the term "apikoros".

Maran Ha-Rav Kook and Vegetarianism

Question: Must one be a vegetarian according to Maran Ha-Rav Kook? Answer: Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in "Kovetz Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom" – "Vegetarianism and Peace" – that vegetarianism is a future vision. Its importance is real, but not for today. Why not? Because it is impossible to skip stages (in human development). Some vegetarians explain that they do not eat meat in order to be compassionate to animals. That is certainly important, but we first need to master compassion towards human beings, which we have not yet done. After we finish being merciful and righteous to human beings, we will move on to animals. We cannot skip stages. We are not criticizing those who are vegetarians. If a person wants to be a vegetarian, he may do so, but it is impossible to define it as a mitzvah or even as a stringency. Someone once asked me: I am a vegetarian and I have decided to stop. Do I need a "hatarat nedarim" (annulment of vows), since someone who performs a proper custom a few times and wants to stop must perform a "hatarat nedarim"? I said that there is no need for a "hatarat nedarim," since vegetarianism is not a mitzvah or a stringency. It is a good, compassionate, and a proper character trait for one who wishes, but it is before its time. It is fine if an individual desires to be a vegetarian, but this cannot be – as Maran Ha-Rav Kook refers to it – a “communal” practice. Maran Ha-Rav Kook also warns in the same article that vegetarianism can actually be a hijacking of the feelings of compassion. This means that sometimes there are people who are cruel to other people, but because their Divine souls cannot bear this cruelty, and need to be pacified, they say: we will be vegetarians and be compassionate to animals. In fact, there were Nazis in the concentration camps who were vegetarians and some say that Hitler himself was a vegetarian! Maran Ha-Rav Kook ate meat, as did our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah. Among the letters of Maran Ha-Rav Kook is one that he wrote to our Rabbi, when he was young and not eating meat. He asked: Why aren't you eating meat? You need to eat meat, it is not our level to refrain from doing so. You know that there are many cruel people in the world and many vegetarians who are cruel. Maran Ha-Rav further wrote: A Torah scholar, along with other things, needs to know how to slaughter animals. There are certainly Torah scholars who do not know how to slaughter, but it is good and proper to know. Please learn to slaughter (Igrot Re'eiyah vol. 3, letter 780). Then, in another letter (ibid. letter 784) he asks: Did you learn to slaughter? And in yet another (ibid. letter 799): So, are you learning to slaughter? And finally, in a later letter (ibid. 839): I am happy that you learned to slaughter. Now that you have learned, you need to do so. So, did you slaughter yet (see letters 852, 853 and 860)? Maran Ha-Rav Kook pressured our Rabbi so that he did not possess an ideology that it was forbidden to slaughter or eat animals. So it is clear to us that eating meat is a vision for the future. How can we prepare for this higher level in the meantime? Slowly, in stages, through all types of Halachot which teach us that we need to respect animals, not be cruel to them, not cause them undue pain, etc…Thus we begin the process in a proper way, without completing it before its time.

Women and Talit

Question: Can a woman wear a Talit? Answer: No. The Shulchan Aruch rules that it is "Yuhara – religious arrogance" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 17:2). And if it is a Talit of men, there is a problem of "Lo Tilbash" - the prohibition of cross-dressing (Targum Yonatan on Devarim 22:5). Question: But Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in Shut Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim 4:49) that a woman is permitted to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzit although she is not obligated, with two conditions: 1. Her intention is not to rebel against Hashem and His Torah, but for the sake of Heaven. 2. The garment needs to be different from a male garment to avoid the prohibition of "Lo Tilbash". Answer: In order for this to be for the sake of Heaven and not "Yuhara", she needs to wear the Talit in private and no one should know. And, it needs to be a Talit for women (It is told that a woman once asked Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik if she could wear a Talit during davening. He responded to her: "Since this is a major change in traditional practice, we must proceed gradually." He suggested that she wear a four-cornered garment without Tzitzit for three months and then come back. She returned after three months and said that this was the most meaningful religious experience of her life. Ha-Rav Soloveitchik said: "For three months, you have been wearing a garment without any religious or halachic value, it is thus clear that your feeling comes from a source outside of the Mitzvah", and he did not grant her permission to wear a Talit).

Practicing with Music during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Question: Our Bnei Akiva Shelichim would like to do have Israeli dancing leading up to a Yom Ha-Atzmaut celebration. Is it permissible to have the classes with recorded (not live) music during Sefirat Ha-Omer? Answer: No. They should either practice before Sefirat Ha-Omer with music or during with accapella.

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #46-47

[adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Jablon from Rav Aviner's three-volume commentary on the siddur "Tefilat Amecha"] #46 When we say "Mi Ka-Mocha" - "Who is like You, Hashem," we are saying the same words that we all said together at Kriyat Yam Suf. This was an amazing miracle by itself. After having this incredible experience, every member of the Jewish People sang the same praise, word for word, together! How could this happen? At that point the entire Jewish People had Ruach Ha-Kodesh. Everyone believed what they were saying with all of their hearts and minds. And so everyone sang together "They made Hashem our King." Hashem rules forever over us. This isn’t just about the past, it’s about the present and future. The Nation of Israel is promising that Hashem is our King forever. #47 We end the blessings of Kriyat Shema with the blessing of Ga'al Yisrael. The first blessing is about Hashem ruling over nature. The second is about Torah, Mitzvot and Hashem’s love for us and choosing of us. In the Shema itself, we accepted Hashem as our King, Hashem’s Mitzvot and that he took us out of Egypt. Now we are saying that Hashem freed the Jewish People, and will do so once again. The original freeing from Egypt was the beginning. It has continued and will eventually result in the Complete Redemption. The Halacha is that we must connect "Geulah" to "Tefilah." This means that once we say the blessing of "Ga'al Yisrael" we must immediately say the Amida. We cannot speak, think about anything else or do anything else. They must be connected. This reminds us that everything we daven for in the Amida, both for ourselves and for Klal Yisrael, is part of asking for the Complete Redemption. We don’t just focus on ourselves. We focus on all of Klal Yisrael and the whole world, and that means asking for the Complete Redemption.

Maybe you’re upset?

When you decide to punish your child, you have to ask yourself: Do you truly think that you are educating him, or is the punishment perhaps merely an outlet for your anger? Maybe your’re upset? Just revenge? At first glance, it seems strange to blame you with taking revenge against your beloved child, but perhaps you feel he is ruining his life, and you harbor conscious or subconscious stress, which bursts out in a certain way. Check yourself carefully, lest the punishment be the fruit of your upset or an inner inclination towards violence, conscious or subconscious. To a certain extent, perhaps the animal within human beings resides within you? Baruch Hashem, within the Nation of Israel, this "animalism" has largely been sweetened over the generation. But remnants certainly still exist and we must free ourselves from them. While there is a place for punishing, there are limitations and conditions, and it should not be the central tenet in building a child. Therefore, before educating your child, educate yourself.

Shut SMS #107

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day! Here's a sample:
Pictures of Victims of Terrorist Attack
Q: Is it permissible to publicize pictures of the victims of the terrorist attack in Itamar in order to shock people and awaken them to action, based on the ruling of Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:150) which permits someone to bring organs to a rally against organ donation to shock people?
A: It is preferable not to publicize them since in our time it will weaken the resolve of the Nation. When the terrorists see our pain, they will be strengthened, as it is written in the lament of King David: "Do not relate it in Gat…lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice" (Shmuel 2 1:20).

Price Tag
Q: Should individuals take revenge against the terrorists by attacking the Arabs?
A: No. We should not attack Arab B. for an offense committed by Arab A. And even Arab A. should only be dealt with by Tzahal, who has permission from the Nation to wage war.

Organ Donor Card
Q: Is it permissible to sign an organ donor card? My parents oppose it.
A: It is a great Mitzvah of saving lives. Parents cannot prevent one from performing a Mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:15).

A Five Year Old Begins Torah
Q: In our days, should we follow the guideline (given in Pirkei Avot, 5:25) that a five -year-old begins learning Torah, a ten year old begins Mishnah, and a fifteen year old begins Gemara?
A: No. This Mishnah's ruling is not brought in the Rambam or the Shulchan Aruch. We should follow the curriculum practiced for generations in Talmudei Torah (of learning all them at the same time).

Plastic Surgery
Q: Is it permissible for a woman to have plastic surgery?
A: Not in order to increase beauty, but only in order to remove an ugliness (Shut Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66. Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:41).

A Beautiful Spouse
Q: Is it permissible to pray for a beautiful spouse?
A: You should pray for a spouse who finds favor in your eyes. You do not love because of beauty, but because you love, your spouse is the most beautiful in the world.

Uncovered Drink
Q: Is it permissible to drink something which remained uncovered over night?
A: In our time many are lenient, since the reason for the prohibition is the concern that a snake will put its poison into the drink, and snakes are no longer a common danger (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 116:1. Rama, Yoreh Deah 60:3).

Q: Is it permissible to be a G-d-fearing journalist?
A: Certainly. One who is careful not to lie, shame, mock, write Lashon HaRa, etc.

Blessing for the Bad
Q: How is it possible to joyously recite a blessing for the bad?
A: With the knowledge that it will be good in the end. Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 19. But this is a very high spiritual level. (When the Aderet's daughter [Maran Ha-Rav Kook's wife] died, the Aderet delayed coming to the funeral. When he arrived, he said: Since one is obligated to recite a blessing for the bad just as one recites a blessing for the good, I made an accounting and saw that I had yet to reach the level where I could recite "Blessed be the True Judge" over my daughter's death with the same joy as I recite Shehechiyanu over her birth. I therefore needed time to work on myself in order to reach the feeling of "Just as one recites a blessing for the good." Tuvcha Yabi'u vol. 1, p. 345. Aleinu Le-Shabe'ach, pp. 287-288).

Q: Is it true that Rabbi [so-and-so] performs wonders?
A: A fool believes everything. A heretic is one who does not believe anything.

Mitzvot and Feelings
Q: Can I perform a Mitzvah if I don't really feel the meaning of it?
A: Yes. A Mitzvah is service of Hashem, and it has value even without feeling, since it causes inner purification. When there is no pleasant feeling, it is an opportunity to serve Hashem for His sake, and not one's own personal benefit.

Forgetting to Light Shabbat Candles
Q: My wife fell asleep on Erev Shabbat out of exhaustion and I lit Shabbat candles in her place. Does she still have to light an additional candle each Shabbat (as a penalty)?
A: No, since the basic Mitzvah is to have the Shabbat candles lit in the house (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach #263).

Q: Is there an obligation to recite a blessing for chewing gum?
A: One must recite a blessing before, since one swallows the sweetness. But there is not a blessing after chewing the gum, since it is not a large enough amount of food (Ve-Zot Ha-Beracha, p. 393).

Q: Is it permissible to play basketball on Shabbat?
A: Yes. But only in moderation, since Shabbat is for Hashem (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:185. 4:94).

Q: Do both parents have to take care of the kids and perform housework, or is this only required of the wife, and they husband can help when he wants?
A: It is a partnership. The husband can hire others to do the work…

Monthly Bus Pass
Q: Is it permissible to give one's monthly bus pass to another person?
A: No. It is only for the person who buys it. For questions such as these, one should ask the company who provides the service.

Q: Should one be a vegetarian?
A: No. Humanity should first be merciful to human beings.

Broken Mirror
Q: Is it permissible to sleep in a room with a broken mirror?
A: There is no problem.

Meeting with one's Fiancee
Q: How many times a week should I meet with my fiancee?
A: Only when it is truly necessary.

Rabbi's Picture
Q: Is it permissible to bring my cell phone into a bathroom, when it has a Rabbi's picture as the screen saver?
A: It is permissible. It does not possess independent holiness. It is to awaken fear of Hashem.

Mixed Marathon
Q: Is it permissible to participate in a marathon with men and women?
A: It is certainly forbidden. It is immodest. See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8.

Loving Non-Jews
Q: Is there a Mitzvah to love non-Jews?
A: No. But loving every person is a condition for gaining Ruach Ha-Kodesh. (Sha'arei Kedusha of Rabbi Chaim Vital).

Q: Is it proper to be strict according to Halachah?
A: After fulfilling what is obligatory. See Mesilat Yesharim, Sha'ar Ha-Perishut.

Shemini: Dedication of the Mikdash

The Mikdash/Mishkan is the site where the Nation of Israel meets G-d. Its function is dual: it is the place where G-d comes to us, revealing Himself to us as a Nation, and the place where we come to G-d, serving Him there as His People. (see Parashat Tzav. Rambam, Hilchot Beit Ha-Bechira 1:1).

The first aspect of this revelation is exalted, abstract and objective. When the Divine Presence "descends" to this world, it undergoes extreme humiliation and diminution (Orot HaTeshuva 11:4). Our service may be viewed as a construction of "tools" which enable us to experience the Divine Presence, and to raise "this-worldliness" back up to the level of G-dliness. It is as if the Divine Light is "primary," and human light is "reflected". The Holy One lowers a ladder from Heaven to Earth, and we climb it and meet Him as He descends that same ladder.

We achieve this revelation through the Mikdash: through the service of the Shewbread and the Menora – which represent our national economy and culture (see Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Levi, Kuzari 2:26). The service in the Mikdash encompasses all spheres of human endeavor. The workers are the Cohanim, who both represent and are part of the Nation of Israel. This may be compared to a hand that both works for and is a part of one's body. Credit for work done is bestowed on the person, not to the hand.

In this week's Parashah, after all of the preparations described in the preceding Torah portions, we are finally ready to dedicate the Mishkan. The dedication takes the form of seven days of service by the Cohanim, which lead up to the revelation of the Divine Presence. The Hebrew word for dedication - Chanuka - comes from the same root as that for education - Chinuch. The way to educate the Nation to serve G-d is through performing the service.

And then, suddenly, as the Mishkan is being dedicated, something happens: Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon, are killed. The world is only straight and simple to a drunk; we who are sober see that one crisis follows another (see Mishlei 23:31 and Yoma 75a). Birth itself is the first crisis for each individual (see Nidda 31a).

Indeed, the prototype of all crises is the Creation of the world, which begins "without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep." (Bereshit 1:2) All succeeding crises in this world are a result of the terrible descent from eternity and infinity to "formlessness and void."

The world is gradually heading towards perfection, and each crisis it undergoes constitutes an essential, integral part of reality. Of course, each individual is responsible for his own personal sins and imperfections, but in a world that is imperfect, such crises are unavoidable: "There is no saint in the world who does only good and never sins." (see Orot Ha-Teshuva 5:6)

According to the Gemara in Eiruvin (63a), Nadav and Avihu sinned by introducing humanly lit fire into the Sanctuary, "a strange fire which He had not commanded them." (Vayikra 10:1) Fire represents energy - the power behind all human spiritual and physical action. Although their motivation was to serve G-d, their energy was not directed into the correct channels. The way that they chose to connect to G-d was not one that G-d had commanded. Therefore, it was doomed to failure. The crisis of Nadav and Avihu thus teaches us how to relate to sanctity: Knowledge of the Absolute can only be achieved by our absolute faithfulness to the ways of the Torah.

The tragedy of Nadav and Avihu also teaches us how to react to crises. The philosophy of Judaism is not one of despair, but of hope. It is incumbent upon Man to overcome crises, and to utilize them as the mechanism that enables him to rise to higher spiritual levels. The fact that no words could explain what was made so vividly clear by their tragedy is reflected in Aharon’s reaction. "And Aharon was silent." (Vayikra 10:3) By internalizing this lesson, Aaron was uplifted, and was privileged to experience prophecy on a higher level than previously (Rashi ibid.).

How are you, my sweet baby?

"How are you, my sweet baby?" It is not clear that your baby understands all of the words you are saying, but he understands a part of them. He also understands the intonation and the body language.
"I love you" – he certainly understands, especially when it is accompanied by a smile.
"One second and I will come to nurse you" – he also understands this on condition it is said with a truly pleasant tone and not in frustration.
"It is time for you to go to sleep, honey" – it is clear, since you are putting him in bed.
"Blessed are You, Hashem… who brings forth bread from the earth" – he sees his father and mother blessing Hashem with seriousness and a feeling of holiness before eating, and this prepares him for the idea that a Divine Being is above.
When he sees that his parents speak to one another in love, fraternity, peace and friendship, it purifies his world and builds it.
But if he sees his parents speaking angrily to one another – his world is destroyed.
This is horrible.
Remember: this little one is not deaf or blind. He hears everything and sees everything.
May his house be filled with goodness and blessing.

Equality between Men and Women

Question: Some say that women were once inferior, but now they are equal and many Halachot should therefore be changed.
Answer: They were never inferior, and no Halachah needs to change.

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #44-45

[adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Jablon from Rav Aviner's three-volume commentary on the siddur "Tefilat Amecha"]

In the third paragraph of Shema, we have five important themes. First, we have the Mitzvah of Tzitizit. This is a mitzvah we can do throughout the day, and that reminds us of all the other Mitzvot. Second, we are reminded about our being freed from Egypt. Third, we again accept the Mitzvot as the Tzitizit are to remind us of all of them. Fourth, we learn not to follow our hearts to bad and evil ideas. Fifth, we learn not to go after our eyes and give in to our evil inclination to do bad things. Because of these crucial ideas, we say this Parasha twice a day as part of Kriyat Shema.

After we say Kriat Shema we say "Emet" - It’s true, correct, straight, beloved, wonderful, good, awesome, perfect and beautiful. To what is this referring? Everything that we have read before in the Kriyat Shema. We accept it and believe it forever. We say: "He is G-d of the world forever". He is involved in this world and cares about us. That’s again accepting the Yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. We say that someone is happy when they listen to His Mitzvot. That is again accepting the Yoke of the Mitzvot. We say that we were freed from Egypt by Him. Notice that just like in the Haggada, we aren’t saying our ancestors were freed. We were freed. So everything we have said in Shema, we state that it is true now and it is true forever.

I am a social worker

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Tzav 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

[At present, there is a nationwide strike of social workers in Israel]

I am a social worker. And I am proud of it. With all due humility, I am proud. It is hard work, but I love it. Already as a young girl I wanted to work in this field, because I love to help people. It's my nature. Therefore, even though it's hard for me, I go on. I come home burdened with all the troubles I heard during the day, and I am drawn into those troubles. Sometimes I succeed in helping, and sometimes not. Sometimes people yell at me because I don't give them the money they demand. They think I'm an inconsumable gold mine. Sometimes they just yell at me and insult me for the heck of it, because their lives are hard, and they use me as a punching bag. Sometimes they even threaten to beat me or kill me. And I go on, because I love them, because I love to help. I work hours upon hours, even without compensation, because I can’t abandon people suffering hardships. I use my own car and I pay all my own expenses except gas. It's just something I have to do.

It hurts me that I receive a minuscule salary of 4000 shekels a month for full-time work. I have girlfriends who earn even less -- 3500 shekels -- and even less than that too. My boss, who has many degrees, a high government ranking, and various pay increments, barely earns 6000 shekels. It hurts me.

I’m treating a girl who wants to kill herself. I'm treating drug addicts, dozens of them. My caseload is full to the point of exhaustion. I'm collapsing. I run around from morning till night. Sometimes I don't have time to eat anything but a quick sandwich, and I've got a stomachache besides my other pains, because my clients lash out violently at me, but I go on. Sometimes I pour out my troubles to my mother about my minuscule salary, and then she smiles at me: What's the problem? Go to a social worker!

I hug women. I hug them fiercely. Sometimes I weep with them. Sometimes, after I've consoled them, and they stop crying, I keep on crying. But sometimes I'm up against a brick wall, until a girl agrees to open up before me, and that’s harder for me than weeping. Thus, I have no tears left to cry over the fact that I earn so little.

God forbid, I'm not jealous of my younger sister who is in occupational therapist working full-time at 26 hours a week, while I work 40 hours. I'm just sad. Sometimes I don't sleep at night. I'm afraid that a murder will take place or some other tragedy with the responsibility falling on my narrow shoulders.

So you see why I don't have the strength to fight over my salary. By the way, when I said I received 4000 shekels before taxes, that isn't precise. Welfare pays part of that because I otherwise wouldn’t earn enough. In other words, I myself am a social case who receives welfare money. That is really insulting! After all, I do my job properly. I studied hard, and I have very respectable degrees. That means that even if they raise my salary it will still stay the same – it’s just that the welfare money will be cancelled. That will certainly add to my self-respect, but it won't add to my pocket.

Sometimes I think heretical thoughts about quitting and finding other work. But my heart breaks over those broken families, the drug addicts and the abused people. I toil so hard and I don't always see results. Intellectually, I know that that isn't right, and that every kind word has a result, but I don't feel it. What are you going to do? I'm human also... I want satisfaction. I want to see results with my own eyes. And all this toil in exchange for such as a small remuneration. That's aggravating. But I go on, for how are all of my sad clients to blame?

Yes! I have decided to devote myself to the weak, the poverty-stricken. They are people too. But in our country, they have forgotten that I too am human. I’ve got the feeling that they’re taking advantage of me. And it's not just a feeling. It's the truth. Certainly they're taking advantage of me. And I, with my good heart, agree to an unbearable burden and a salary of 4000 shekels before deductions.

So that's it. I love my job so much! It's my mission. I don't know how I've got the courage to strike. I surprise myself. Sometimes I remember all those people who need me and miss me and my heart breaks. But good and wise people are encouraging me, "Keep up the strike!" and, "Good for you! Why did you wait so long, you goodhearted people." Don't think money is all that interests me in life. It’s just not pleasant for me that my parents have to help me. And also I'm getting worn down. It's a lucky thing that I'm a bit of a social worker for myself, constantly teaching myself to be optimistic and to see the good, the cup that is half full, and not to sink into sorrowful thoughts. That's my comfort: that compared to those families in distress that I deal with, I'm in good shape. All the same, it's no consolation.

With all of my optimism, I hope the day never comes when I break down. With all the best intentions, my family is growing, and we need an income, and as I already said, I don't enjoy taking from my parents. But I know I will keep on going, because what will happen to all the battered and abused women, rape victims, the victims of harassment and suffering -- and all the others, and all the others still? Enough! I've got to stop digging away at myself with all of these thoughts! The more I think, the more torn I am.

And altogether, this is a strange strike, which doesn't apply to emergency cases. Every day I've got an emergency case, sometimes in mid-meal, or in mid-sleep, or while I'm with my family.... I'm going crazy from the workload. So I am insulted that my work is not appreciated. Yes, I am truly insulted. It hurts me to the core. The issue is both the money and the insults. It's so hard for me to strike. I'm really not that way. It tears me up inside, and yet I go on striking.

Just don’t get me wrong. I'm a woman, and my entire talk so far has been about female social workers, but obviously there are male social workers too, and they are wonderful, really wonderful. They deserve so much admiration for having entered our field... Oops. I didn't really mean that. Certainly this is everybody's field.

And in conclusion, a drop of consolation: My daughter, 16 years old, told me: "Mom, when I grow up, I want to be a social worker like you..."

Celebrating Purim after a Terrorist Attack

[A letter written by Rav Aviner in Adar 5762 to high school girls in Ulpanat Lehava in Kedumim who asked how to celebrate Purim following a terrorist attack in the shopping center in Karnei Shomrom. To our great distress, the message is needed once again following the horrible murder of the Fogel Family (May Hashem avenge their blood) last week in Itamar.]

Dear young women of Ulpanat Lehava,
May Hashem comfort you
for the loss of your friend
and may it be His will that He sends a speedy
recovery to the wounded girls.
We truly are experiencing great pain
and our souls are wounded and crying.
How is it possible not to cry? And how is it possible to be comforted?
Nonetheless, we are all commanded to fulfill
"When Adar enters we increase in happiness."
It is not because we want to rejoice,
but because we are obligated to rejoice.
In every generation we are obligated to rejoice,
and all the more so in the generation of
"When Hashem returns us to Zion, we will rejoice."
This is our weapon against the end of life.
These evil dregs of humanity
do not have the power to destroy our holy State.
But they do have the power to cause pain, sadness and despair
which can lead to withdrawal, G-d forbid.
It is therefore forbidden to be distressed or to despair.
Rather we must always hold on to the weapon of joy,
as the words of the Admor Ha-Zaken, Ba'al Ha-Tanya say:
with the help of joy, it is possible to defeat the evil inclination.
And it is also possible to defeat the enemy – the evil Haman.
We must wipe away the tears and rejoice
for the Nation of Israel, for the Master of the Universe
and for your friend, may the memory of the holy one be a blessing,
who looks down upon you from on high
and says to you: Continue on, do not become weak.
We will certainly also cry and say Tehillim,
and remove some of the frivolity from the celebration,
and take some of the money for the party and donate it to perform kindnesses,
but we will continue to rejoice,
And to serve Hashem in joy
even under difficult conditions.
Dear young women, be strong and courageous.
You are students of Queen Ester,
who displayed self-sacrifice for the Nation of Israel,
and who knew, even at the most difficult moments,
how to bear royalty and nobility.
May Hashem send you comfort from the source of comfort
and dry your tears
and give you good, pleasant and happy days.

With blessing,
Shlomo Aviner

Shut SMS #106

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner answers hundreds of text messages questions a day! Here's a sample:

Dying Animal
Q: If an animal is seriously injured and is suffering, is it permissible to put it to sleep?
A: Yes. It is recommended because of "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chaim" – preventing an animal from suffering.

Perfume for Men
Q: Is it permissible for a man to put on cologne?
A: Yes, in moderation. Especially if it is to remove a bad smell.

The word "Gosh"
Q: My mother made Aliyah from America and sometimes uses the word "Gosh". Is this a problem because of the prohibition of mentioning names connected to idol worship?
A: It seems that this is an expression of surprise, with no connection to idol worship. It is also not connected to [the word] “G-d”.

Public Display of Affection
Q: Is it permissible for a couple to display physical affection in public?
A: No. Shulchan Aruch. And also Kitzur Shulchan Aruch of Ha-Rav Shlomo Ganzfried 152:11.

False Report
Q: I provide care for an elderly man. Is it permissible for him to report that I worked more hours than I actually did so that I can earn more money?
A: Certainly not. This is a false report and also theft.

Motza'ei Shabbat
Q: I feel depressed every Motza'ei Shabbat. What should I do?
A: This is a known phenomenon that results from the departure of the extra soul one receives on Shabbat. You should have Melave Malka with Zemirot and read Mesilat Yesharim.

Social Workers' Strike
Q: Is it permissible for social workers to strike when it may negatively affect children for whom they care?
A: Yes. It is a present loss in return for a future gain. For situations involving children at risk, there is a special committee to continue helping them.

Hotel Soap
Q: Is it permissible to take soap which is left over in our hotel room?
A: Yes, it is a present for the guest.

Educating Parents
Q: I have tried many times to explain to my parents the importance of answering Amen to my blessings, but they stubbornly insist that I should not bother them. What should I do?
A: Do not try to educate your parents.

Modeh or Modah
Q: When reciting "Modeh" upon waking in the morning, should a woman say "Modeh Ani" (like men) or "Modah Ani" (specific to women)?
A: Modah.

Arabs in Israel
Q: How do we solve the problem of the Arabs in Israel?
A: We need to strengthen our own conviction that this is our Land. Then the Arabs will make their own decisions. The loyal citizens will remain and the rest will leave.

Relating to Arabs
Q: How should we relate to an Arab who is definitely free of sin?
A: Do not hate. Treat with politeness, respect and humanity.

Hating Arabs
Q: Is it permissible to hate Arabs?
A: One may hate only evil Arabs.

Ultra-Orthodox and the Army
Q: How can we understand the fact that the Ultra-Orthodox do not go to the army?
A: This is truly difficult to understand. Have patience, they will slowly go to serve.

Wife and Parents
Q: I am torn between my wife and my parents. What should I do?
A: You and your wife are one being. Decide together what to do.

Obligatory War (Milchemet Mitzvah)
Q: Are the wars of Israel at this time considered obligatory wars?
A: Yes. 1. According to the Rambam, they protect Israel from its enemies. Defensive War. 2. According to the Ramban, they are to conquer the Land. War of Independence (see the book "Am Ve-Artzo").

Q: I feel more connected to Hashem when I wear a really small Kippa.
A: The Halachah requires a larger Kippa. One should not bend the Halachah to suit feelings of connectedness, but rather should bend themselves to the Halachah and the Torah, since the Torah is etched in your soul (and this is the true source of your connection).
Q: Then why do I sometimes feel better when I sin?
A: It is not you who feels better, but the evil inclination within you.

Q: If Moshe received the Torah at Sinai, then there is one truth. Why then are there so many disputes in Judaism?
A: Hashem told Moshe Rabbenu many reasons to rule one way and many reasons to rule a different way. Yerushalami. And also Tosafot Shantz, beginning of Eduyot.

Purim on Motza'ei Shabbat

Question: What are the special Halachot when Purim falls after Shabbat?
1. Bringing the Megillah to Shul on Shabbat: We do not read the Megillah when Purim falls on Shabbat (though nowadays only Shushan Purim can fall on Shabbat). This was decreed in order to prevent one carrying it into a public domain (which is forbidden on Shabbat). There are later authorities (i.e. Aruch Ha-Shulchan Orach Chaim 693:3) who forbid carrying the Megillah on Shabbat on account of it being Muktzeh (something that may not be moved on Shabbat), but most authorities disagree and permit it (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 688 and Mishnah Berurah #18). Bringing it to Shul is permissible all the more so on a regular Shabbat (i.e. which is not Purim). There is, however, a problem of bringing the Megillah to Shul on Shabbat because of the prohibition of preparing on Shabbat for a weekday. If one does bring the Megillah to Shul on Shabbat, one should be sure to learn something from it at Shul on Shabbat itself.

2. Children Dressing in Purim Costumes on Shabbat: Children may dress up in a costume on Shabbat before they come to Shul, since they will have enjoyment from the costume on Shabbat itself. It is therefore not considered as if one were preparing on Shabbat for a weekday. This is obviously on the condition that there is no part of the costume which is Muktzeh, and it does not involve painting, [forbidden] tying, and other similarly forbidden things.

3. Noisemakers on Shabbat: Noisemakers are definitely forbidden on account of Muktzeh. And even if they are not Muktzeh, it is impossible to bring them because of preparing on Shabbat for a weekday, since it is not possible to rely on the solution of using them on Shabbat itself, since one may not make noise from any type of instrument, objects, etc. on Shabbat.

Summary: It is permissible to bring a Megillah to Shul while it is still daytime on Shabbat provided that one learns something from it. It is permissible for children to dress up in a costume while it is still day time, but it is forbidden to bring noisemakers.

Sending Mishloach Manot to Tzahal Soldiers: Two Teshuvot

I suggest that the community seriously limit sending Mishloach Manot to friends, and to concentrate on sending them to the soldiers in the area, whose lives are difficult. According to Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, the reason for sending Mishloach Manot is to increase love between Jews, and according to the author of Terumat Ha-Deshen, to provide someone with food for the festive meal of Purim. Regarding soldiers, both reasons apply. Therefore, no one should be offended if he does not receive a Mishloach Manot from his friend, and all of us will be aware that our gifts are lovingly going to the guardians of our security.
[Shut She’eilat Shlomo vol. 5 #49 in the original edition]

A year ago we began a tradition of seriously limiting sending Mishloach Manot from one person to his friend and to give Mishloach Manot to soldiers who safeguard our security, and it is appropriate for us to continue to do so. This year there is also an organized trip to an army base. Everyone should therefore donate to Tzahal. Do not be offended if you do not receive a Mishloach Manot from a friend. I guarantee that he is your friend with all of his heart.
[Shut She’eilat Shlomo vol. 1 #234 in the original edition]

You can send Mishloach Manot to Tzahal soldiers through the following websites:
www.hebrongifts.com/mimafoso.html, http://pizzaidf.org or

Open Letter to an Honest, Upright Member of the Human Race

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah - Vayikra 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Dear friend,
I'm writing to you in the name of the People that dwells in Zion, although I have not been appointed to do so. Nonetheless, since I don’t wish to present you with opinions but with simple facts, I don't need to be appointed. Thus I'm not writing to change your mind, but only to provide you with some facts, because I'm afraid you're being fed lies about us. All the truths I'm going to tell you can be corroborated in the books on Middle East and World history.

First falsehood: This Land has always been the homeland of the Palestinian People, and was taken from them by us.
This isn't true! We have lived here from time immemorial, and we were expelled by the Romans. Almost all of the Arabs arrived here just before the War of Independence, when the British intentionally opened up all the dry-land borders to them. We are the only people on Earth for whom this has been a homeland.

Second falsehood: This country was conceived in sin following an aggressive, illegal conquest by the Jews.
I beg to differ. Israel was the result of a British legal obligation and an international agreement following the First World War, which was reconfirmed after the Second World War.

Third falsehood: The Israelis want to destroy the Arab countries in particular, and the whole Muslim world in general.
Not so! The Arabs started each of the wars against us, and not vice versa: the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six-Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, the Gaza War, etc. etc. And our army -- as its name makes clear, is the I.D.F., the Israel DEFENSE Forces. All of our wars were and are wars of defense.

Fourth falsehood: The Israeli Army mistreats Palestinians.
Also untrue! Our army is exceedingly moral, the most moral on Earth, going beyond the conventional norm. Many of our soldiers have died so innocent civilians would be spared.

Fifth falsehood: The State of Israel oppresses the Arabs in its midst.
Wrong. They have a status unparalleled in any Arab country: the right to vote for the government. They have their own Knesset members and ministers, they can study in University, and become high-ranking judges and officials. Unfortunately, many of them engage in terror, out of a sense of enormous ingratitude, and their brethren do not protest this forcefully.

Sixth falsehood: When there are two states for two peoples, operating in good neighborliness and cooperation, there will be peace in the Middle East.
That is not so. This idea was already raised 80 years ago in 5680, and it's because of that that we are at war. Already in 5686 we agreed to the establishment of two states and the Arabs refused. It turns out that we made a mistake. The British had already established two states, ours and Jordan. Every time we agreed to such a solution, the result was another war. It thus turns out that this solution is only good theoretically, not realistically. And this is before we even consider it from a moral standpoint.

Yes, my dear friend, examine the historical facts and you'll see that with the help of some fanatical brainwashing, victim has been turned into aggressor, justice into injustice, truth into falsehood, and reality into a kind of irrational, hallucinatory insanity.
And in conclusion, I shall allow myself to quote several lines from an old song of ours
from after the War of Independence, called "Our Tiny Land":

Our tiny Land
It’s my Land, mine!
I love it so!

Our tiny Land
Little mother of mine
You love your son so much.

Our tiny Land
After 2,000 years of exile
I’ve returned to you.
You’re my one and only.
I am wed to you forever!
Live forever, my Land!

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #42-43

[adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Jablon from Rav Aviner's three-volume commentary on the siddur "Tefilat Amecha"]

In the second paragraph of Shema, we accept that Hashem has given us the Mitzvot and that we will follow them. As part of this, we read that we are “to love Hashem Your G-d and serve Him with all your hearts and all your souls.” This is very important. Our motivation to fulfill the Mitzvot is our love of Hashem. Although one can perform Mitzvot without love or desire, this is far less than ideal. Doing the Mitzvot with joy is part of the Mitzvot themselves. To perform Mitzvot without love and joy and only out of obligation is like a husband telling his wife, “I don’t really love you. I’m just with you because I promised.” Thus, we are told in the Shema that loving Hashem is part and parcel of the Mitzvot that we deserve.

In the second paragraph of Shema, we accept that Hashem has given us the Mitzvot and that we will follow them. As part of this, we learn the principle of reward and punishment. If the Jewish People perform the Mitzvot, we are rewarded. If not, we are punished.
It is important to note that the punishment includes lack of rain and crops, and that we will be sent out of Eretz Yisrael. We see that living outside of Eretz Yisrael is neither ideal nor enjoyable. It is a punishment. This is because while it is true we can serve Hashem outside of Eretz Yisrael, we can only do so as individuals. The only way to serve Hashem as a Nation is in Eretz Yisrael. This is why Hashem told Avraham Avinu to go to Eretz Yisrael where He would make him into a Great Nation - not just a great person. Therefore, the greatest punishment is to be sent away from the good land that Hashem has given us.

Shut SMS #105

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner answers hundreds of text messages questions a day! Here's a sample:

Tree Hanging over into a Neighbor's Yard
Q: If a tree is hanging into a neighbor's yard and it is bothering him, is the owner of the tree obligated to trim it?
A: No. But, as opposed to what was previously published, the one who is being disturbed may trim it. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 155:32. Shut Chelkat Yaakov 1:175. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 417:4.

Beautiful Voice
Q: A young man feels that it is important for his future wife to have a beautiful singing voice. Is it permissible for him to ask a Shiduch to sing for him for a short time?
A: G-d forbid. It is forbidden to hear Kol Isha. He can ask his mother or sister to listen to her, but this is beyond the pale, and I would not recommend that the young woman marry him.

Verse on an Invitation
Q: Is it permissible to write a verse on a wedding invitation?
A: No, since in all likelihood it will be thrown in the garbage. See Rosh Hashanah 18b that the Sages established a holiday on the day they succeeded in removing Hashem's Name from documents (Shut Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:135).

Q: Is it permissible to have a census in Israel?
A: Yes. They are not counting people but papers, as in "And he counted them in Bezek" (Shmuel 1 11:8 – Shut Mishpatei Uziel, Choshen Mishpat, Shut Inyanim Klali'im at the end of the book #2 p. 228. Shut Aseh Lecha Rav 6:378. Torah Sheleimah vol. 21, pp. 161-168).

Q: As a barber, is it permissible for me to cut a person's hair not according to Halachah if that is what he requests?
A: It is certainly forbidden (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 181:4-6).

Wedding Dress
Q: I heard that it is forbidden for a new bride to lend out her dress during the first year. Is there such a problem?
A: There is no problem.

Q: Is it ethical to get married on the anniversary of the tragedy of the World Trade Center?
A: Yes. There is no disrespect in doing so. And, in general, we do not use the Christian date.

Mezuzah in an Office
Q: Is there a need to put up a Mezuzah in an office? After all, we don't live there.
A: Yes, since you eat and drink there.

Shiduch with Someone Whose Parents are Divorced
Q: Should I meet with someone whose parents are divorced, or is there a concern that he will have an inclination to get divorced?
A: You should meet. The essence is the person himself and whether or not he has proper character traits. The same applies to a woman.

Q: Is it permissible to visit the synagogue of Karaites?
A: No. They are heretics (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 159:3. Rama, Even Ha-Ezer 4:37).

Alarm Clock
Q: Is it permissible for me to set a loud alarm clock if it will also wake up my roommates?
A: Only if they agree, or if it is at the time when everyone needs to get up. If not, put it close to your ear in order not to disturb them.

Trimming One's Beard
Q: Is it permissible to trim one's beard with scissors without touching the skin?
A: Yes (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 181:10).

Dyeing Hair
Q: Is it permissible for boys to dye their hair?
A: No. The prohibition of "Lo Tilbash" (the prohibition of men dressing or appearing as women - Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 182:6).

Q: What is the meaning of the word "Ashkenazi"?
A: A Jew who comes from the Exile of Ashkenaz, i.e. Germany. We should not use the term "Ashkenazi" rather we should say one who immigrated from the Exile of Ashkenaz, and we should not say "Sefardi", but rather one who immigrated from the Exile of Sefard. The same applies to Yemen, Ethiopia, etc. None of these is our land.

Hair Covering
Q: I am going out with a woman who has proper character traits and is G-d-fearing, and is a perfect match for me, but does not want to cover her hair after marriage. Should I stop dating her?
A: No. Since she has a good heart and is G-d-fearing, it is certain that she will agree.

BS"D ("With Hashem's Help" in Aramaic)
Q: Why do we write BS"D?
A: It is a new custom. One can also write B"H (in Hebrew). Neither possesses any holiness, since they are abbreviations.

Q: Is it permissible to throw a page with BS"D in the garbage?
A: Yes. And one may also bring it into the restroom (Rama, Yoreh Deah 276:10. Aruch Ha-Shulchan ibid. #28).

Cross-Dressing for Purim
Q: Is it permissible for a man to dress as a woman for Purim?
A: Some authorities permit it, but most forbid it. It is therefore proper to refrain. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim end of siman 696 and Mishnah Berurah ibid (Aruch Ha-Shulchan ibid. #12. Shut Yechaveh Da'at 2:50. Orchot Rabbenu 3:60. A close associate of the Chazon Ish entered his house on Purim with his 4-5 year old daughter wearing pants, the Chazon Ish said: This is education? Dinim Ve-Hanhagot of the Chazon Ish 22:10).

Cholent Egg
Q: If I ate an egg which was cooked in a meat Cholent, am I Fleishig?
A: Certainly. The shell is permeable.

Kiddush and Modesty
Q: How do I make Kiddush if there are married women there without their hair covered?
A: With your eyes fixed on the Siddur.

Meat and Milk
Q: I accidentally drank milk before the end of 6 hours from eating meat. Do I recite a blessing afterwards?
A: Yes.

Splitting the Bill
Q: When I go on a Shiduch with a young man, who should pay for the meal and the expenses?
A: You should split the bill. If it is only a drink for a few Shekels, he can pay. But if it is a significant amount, you should split it. After all, maybe he is poor, or maybe he has gone on a lot of Shiduchim, and it is not right that only he should pay. Therefore, even when he says that he will pay it all, you should insist that you pay half.

Notes in the Kotel
Q: Should one place notes in the Kotel?
A: No. We should pray to Hashem.
Q: If my students want to put in notes, should I stop them?
A: Let them do as they please.

Return Fire

Question: Recently, so many people are attacking Ha-Rav from different directions. Why doesn't Ha-Rav fight back?
Answer: I, the small one, try to hold on to the coat-tails of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, who wrote that when it comes to war, my path is always to distance myself from the conflicts of war and for some things I yield for the love of peace (Igrot Ha-Re'eiyah 1, 363).

I am a Cohain

[originally written for a children's magazine
and appears in the book "Mikdasheich Tuv", pp. 57-60]

Shalom. I am a Cohain, but if you look for me in the Beit Ha-Mikdash, it is also certain that you will not find me. You think my entire life revolves around issues concerning the Beit Ha-Mikdash and sacrifices? You will be surprised to hear that I am only in the Beit Ha-Mikdash two weeks a year, because we are divided into twenty-four groups called "Mishmarot," and it is also crowded on the holidays with many Cohanim serving. You will obviously ask what I do all year long. I am something like a teacher.
We were once reprimanded by one of the prophets. He was exasperated that there were Cohanim who were like robots performing the sacrifices and who did not relate to the Beit Ha-Mikdah and other holy acts and objects with "Cherdat Kodesh – trembling of holiness." We were very distressed, but we "profited" by receiving a job description: "For the Cohain's lips should guard knowledge, and they should seek Torah at his mouth, for he is a messenger of Hashem of Legions" (2:7). The prophet's name is Malachi, but he did not invent anything. He only reminded us of the words of Moshe Rabbenu which we had forgotten: "They shall teach your statutes to Yaakov and Your Torah to Israel" (Devarim 33:10).
That’s it, I am a teacher. Not just a regular school teacher, but someone capable of being a supreme teacher, like an angel. Not an official teacher, but a personal, intimate teacher. Not a teacher with a fixed position, but a "traveling" teacher. But the two weeks that I spend in the Temple, they are the heart of my time. You know that there are different levels in the Temple: The Temple Mount, the courtyards, the Holy, the Holy of Holies. And what is in the Holy of Holies? The Torah. I am full of Torah, full of the word of Hashem and I bring it to others. What do you think? How can I give it to others if I do not possess it myself?
Understand me. We, the Cohanim, are not an isolated and separated group. We are with you. We are connected and attached to you. All of the effort we exert in life is for you. You have certainly heard about out elder, Aharon Ha-Cohain, of whom it is said: "Aharon shall bear the names of the sons of Israel on the Breastplate of Judgment on his heart when he enters the Holy, as a constant remembrance before Hashem" (Shemot 28:29). The entire Nation of Israel is on his heart.
I have nothing. I do not have fields. I do not have vineyards. I do not have factories. Everything I have is for the Nation of Israel. But I do not worry. I know that any place I go, I will receive from a cheerful face what I need for a modest life. And you also do not need to worry that perhaps "you will be embarrassed" that you spend your entire lives involved with physical work. You know that there are religious people who are against building the Land, agriculture, and the army. They fear that the profane will swallow up the holy. I am not afraid. Just the opposite, I think that it is impossible to build a state with half of one's energy. But what about fearing the profane? On account of this, I exist and am traveling among you. I am an "angel" who travels among the living. My world is not outside of life or after life. It is even forbidden for me to come in contact with the dead; I am among the living. I am not a Cohain who is closed-off, but a Cohain who travels around.
Every place I go, everyone excitedly brings me something from his fruits. This one brings oranges and this one brings bananas for my children. I do not force anyone; just the opposite, everyone happily gives me. I am also happy to give them what I have. Over the course of a few weeks I soak up incredible holiness in the Beit Ha-Mikdash, and pass it out all year long, in an endless number of personal conversations with everyone. There are also sometimes complex questions in life, and there is someone with whom to take counsel. It is true that there are judges and sages for this purpose, but it sometimes preferable to have a Cohain. I did not invent this idea. It is explicitly written that if you are in doubt about something: "You shall go to the Cohanim, the levi'im and the judges who will be in those days" (Devarim 17:9).
I will now reveal a secret to you, the entire truth. Everything I do for you is because I love you. Yes, I love you, I love all of you. When I bless you, I do not simply say a blessing, but I say: "Who has made us holy with the holiness of Aharon, and has commanded us to bless His Nation Israel with love." This is the holiness of Aharon: "Loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and bringing them closer to the Torah" (Pirkei Avot 1:12).

A Dialogue about Zionism and the Return to Judaism

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Pekudei 5771 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Maran Ha-Rav Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohain Kook wrote many times that the Jewish people's return to Zion would immediately bring spiritual rebirth and a return to Judaism, but we don't see anything like that.
Answer: First of all, you've got to understand that with processes on a national scale the word "immediately" doesn't mean the same thing as with processes involving individuals.
For example, the Torah says that if Israel sin, they “will rapidly vanish,” but in biblical times it took 850 years for them to be exiled. Second of all, not everything is visible. There are also psychological processes developing deep within the national awareness, understanding, will and fortitude. Thirdly, we have to understand that the very return to the Land and the rebuilding of the Land, the establishment of a State and army, the unity of Israel and the wars of Israel, themselves constitute repentance, as is explained in the first chapter of Orot Ha-Teshuva. By the way, this understanding that national rebirth will bring in its wake spiritual rebirth is obviously not an invention of Rav Kook. It can be found in the writings of our medieval Rabbis, our ancient Sages, and even in explicit verses in the Torah section on repentance (Devarim 30), and in the prophetic vision of the ingathering of the exiles (Yechezkel 36).

Question: But what about the return to mitzvah observance amongst the Nation at large?
When will that happen? How can we be a part of that?
Answer: In the Nation dwelling in Zion, there is more and more interest being shown in Torah and in its study. In contrast to the exilic situation of before the return to Zion and its beginning, of opposition to the Torah and worse -- scorn for the Torah, there is today more and more Torah study in various formats.
The books printed the most in our country for the use of people far from Torah are holy books. This, after all, is the chronology of national repentance at large, as described by Rav Kook in his work “Orot HaTeshuva”, in the section called “Tosefet HaTeshuva”: 1. Respect for our faith. 2 Love of our faith. 3. Study of our faith. And 4. observance of our faith. First comes respect for our faith. In other words, even though they don't agree with our faith, they still respect and admire it. That is, they admit that it has importance and depth.
This will lead to love of our faith, in other words, a recognition that even though they don't
fulfill it, they still admit that it is something that adds sweetness and light to life, and altogether makes life worth living. This will lead to study of our faith. In other words, even though they don't fulfill it, a fierce desire will be aroused to study that faith which for thousands of years, until this very day, has been so respected and beloved. And in the end, profound, serious study will lead to observance of the faith, for blessings influence our deeds. Obviously, not all Jews are on precisely the same page in this process. Rather, each one is in his own place, but in general, such is the general process. And what we, who keep Torah and Mitzvot, can do is to increase respect for our faith is not to cause a profanation of G-d's name through immoral behavior. Such behavior, coming from us, leads many people to think they don't need religion at all to be moral, and that they can even be more moral outside of faith. Quite the contrary, we've get to increase our moral behavior. It's not words that have the main effect, but deeds, as Rav Kook explains in his book, “Eder HaYakar”. And obviously, today as well there are Jews who are returning to the fold, and that makes us very happy, but they are a small, unrepresentative minority.

Question: Is what you have in mind the flow of people to Kabbalah and neo-Hasidism?
Answer: That is a negligible phenomenon, resulting from the an unhealthy, spiritually lazy thirst for what lies beyond the level of man, as is explained in Rav Kook’s “Orot”. As for “Neo-Hasidism”, that is our version of the “New Age” thinking that focuses on spiritual experiences and places man, rather than G-d, at the center of the universe.

Question: But the fact is that a lot of people are being caught up in this?
Answer: First of all, we’re talking about a small number of people creating a false impression of strength due to excessive media exposure. Second of all, the truth of a spiritual approach cannot be tested according to practical yardsticks of success. The test has to be long-term, and especially, Torah-based. Third, New Age and its various permutations contain a spark of truth -- in response to the spiritual emptiness of the culture of hedonistic technology. But it is not the healthiest response.

Question: Can we say that, for us as well, the reawakening to religion is a product of the crisis over Zionism having collapsed and no longer attracting people who find in it sustenance for their lives?
Answer: That's not so. Zionism hasn’t collapsed. People believe in our country and they believe in the army. Here, too, one must avoid some of the editorials in some of the media, or the writings of some intellectuals lacking moral and national responsibility, who do not represent the broader strata of the nation, in all its streams. Quite the contrary, the interest shown in Judaism is a continuation of Zionism, as we said at the beginning. In other words, it constitutes an inner clarification of Zionism’s greater goal, of the State of Israel’s deeper meaning, of the true Jewish culture, what was called before the State’s establishment, “the cultural question”. In other words, everyone agreed that a state had to be established, but the deliberations and decisions regarding its spiritual content were pushed off for afterwards when we had more breathing space. Thus, the return to Judaism in its larger national dimensions precisely derives from Zionism.

Question: Yet don’t we simultaneously bear witness to the post-modern entrenchment of individualism?
Answer: Here as well, we’re talking about a minority that engages in a lot of prattle. The mainstream of our Nation has values and is moral, and possesses an idealistic concern for its fellow man. We certainly will not deny that we are beset by harsh spiritual crises, as Rav Kook forewarned us in his book Orot, as far as the spiritual rebellion against materialistic complacency. There, as well, however, we must discern that the crisis is external and has not harmed the deeper entity which is precious and pure, although finding expression in various ways.

Question: Even if we admit that the totally secular are moral, idealistic people, how are they considered Jewish, if they are bereft of religion?
Answer: That may well be the crux of the matter. WE ARE A NATION BEFORE WE ARE A RELIGION, even if our faith is our national essence, an expression of our people’s soul. Our Sages therefore said, “A Jew, even if he sins, remains a Jew.” He is a Jew in his inner essence, in his pure soul, in his belonging to our Nation. “You are sons to Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 14:1) – Even if Israel do not behave like sons, as our Sages explain, and even if they err and are confused and sin, they are still called “sons,” albeit “foolish sons” (Yirmiyahu 4:22). Sometimes they may even be called “sons who lack faith” (Devarim 32:20), which is worse, but even if they don’t believe, even if they are heretical, they are still sons. Still worse, they are also called “children that deal corruptly” (Yeshayahu 1:4). Yet if they worship idols they are still called sons, as occurred during many periods of our Nation.
Finally, do not imagine that those sinful sons are “second class citizens”. That isn’t the case.
Rather, they remain excellent sons, as it says, “Instead of their being told, ‘You are not My people’, they shall be told, ‘You are the children of the living God.’” (Hoshea 2:1).

Question: So we can then ask the opposite question: Don’t we need to add universal ideals to the Torah? Maybe that’s what will bring the Torah closer to the secular?
Answer: We don’t have to attach anything to the Torah. G-d’s Torah is perfect, complete, all-inclusive, containing in it all the universal values. Quite the contrary, they are not an addition to the Torah. Rather, they are a sort of foundation to the Torah. Refined behavior precedes the Torah. Human morality is the introduction to the Torah. When that morality undergoes the melting pot of the Torah, it becomes infinitely enhanced. Hence, nothing need be added to the Torah. Rather, we must add on to ourselves more and more portions of the moral, universal component of the Torah.

Question: But don’t we simultaneously see a process of increasing distance, of hatred for the religious, for the Charedim, for the settlers, for the Right Wing, etc.?
Answer: That isn’t so. That’s just the hatred of the media, which does not represent the people. In mainstream society there is increasing brotherhood between the different streams, within the family, at work, and especially in the army. More and more we are becoming one Nation. Who is like Your people, Israel, one Nation in the Land!

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #40-41

[adapted by Rabbi Shmuel Jablon from Rav Aviner's three-volume commentary on the siddur "Tefilat Amecha"]

We say the Shema twice a day. The first verse is the very symbol of all of Judaism. Perhaps it is possible to say that the entire Torah is found in Shema Yisrael. When we say this verse we are saying we accept the Hashem as our King in all areas - both as individuals and as a community. We need to accept Hashem as our King in how we act - through our honesty, uprightness, love for all, and peace. We need to accept Hashem as our King in our modesty and in our connection to Eretz Yisrael. Some people want to accept Hashem only in some areas and not others. But this is not what we are supposed to do. "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeynu, Hashem Echad." Hashem is One and his Torah is One. We therefore need to accept Hashem in every way and accept all that He expects of us. When we accept Hashem's rule in all areas of our lives, this is also called Emunah (faith) and Devekut (deep connection to Hashem)

In the first paragraph of Shema, we read that we are to love Hashem “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” In Mishnah Berachot, we learn that “your heart” means with both our Yetzer Ha-Tov (good inclination) and Yetzer Ha-Ra (evil inclination). It is obvious how to serve Hashem with our positive desires. How do we serve Him with our negative desires? The answer is we serve Him when with our negative desires when we don’t follow them. When we fight back again our negative desires and say we’re not following them because we serve Hashem, that’s how we serve Hashem with our Yetzer Ha-Ra.
“With all your soul” means to serve Hashem with our lives. Just like Rabbi Akiva did, we are willing to sacrifice our lives for Hashem. The Mishnah explains “With all your might” in two ways. It can mean with all of our money and resources. It can also mean with all that we serve Hashem not matter what He has measured out to us. So we see that Hashem wants us to love Him with every part of our being, all of our desires, all of our resources and in every situation. And since this is what Hashem has asked of us, we know we are able to do it.


What would a Rabbi do if he saw a child eating non-Kosher food? He would certainly admonish him and throw it in the garbage! What would a responsible Beit Din do if it saw a child eating Treif? They would, of course, hit him so that he would learn a lesson once and for all!
Wrong! They would not do anything. This is indeed the opinion of our Sages that if a child if eating Treif, the Beit Din is not obligated to take it from him (Yevamot 114a). How radical they are! – i.e. radical in patience. This ruling is also found in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim #343).
Parents are obviously obligated to educate their children, but this is to be done without pressure, hurtful criticism, yelling, or insults. We must talk to our children, but everything is dependent on the tone we use. We must establish boundaries, but everything must be done with a smile. We must educate them, but without hurting them. We must help get on the right path, but without weakening them emotionally or breaking their self-confidence.
In one word: Patience. Or even more so: With love.

Shut SMS #104

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text messages questions a day! Here's a sample:

Non-Hebrew Songs and Secular Songs
Q: Is it permissible to listen to non-Hebrew and secular songs?
A: There are three conditions: 1. Kosher words (Rambam on Pirkei Avot 1:17). 2. A kosher tune that does not stir up base urges (Rambam, Igrot p. 428). 3. A kosher musician. If he is Jewish – he observes the 613 Mitzvot. If he is not Jewish – he observes the seven Mitzvot of Bnei Noach. Shut Mishneh Halachot (6:108). It goes without saying that a man may only listen to a male singer; a woman may listen to either a male or a female.

Motza'ei Shabbat Haircut
Q: What is the source for the prohibition of getting a haircut on Motza'ei Shabbat?
A: There is none. It is permissible.

Blessing on Coconut Milk
Q: What is the blessing on coconut milk?
A: Shehakol, since it is not the essence of the fruit (Ve-Zot Ha-Beracha p. 396).

Shomer Negi'ah
Q: Why does one need to be "Shomer Negi'ah" (to refrain from physical contact with the opposite gender)?
A: One must maintain great distance between the genders. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8. Just as it is forbidden to benefit from food until one recites a blessing, so it is forbidden to benefit from a woman until after the seven wedding blessings.

Q: Should I be concerned that Hashem will not answer my request?
A: Hashem is not your servant, G-d forbid; all we may do is petition Him.

Q: Should we have our children vaccinated? People mention that there are risks involved.
A: The chances of side-effects are extremely low compared to the hundreds of millions of child who receive vaccinations. In life-threatening situations we follow the majority, and all the more so when the minority of cases is (numerically) negligible.

Palm Reading
Q: Can a person really know what is in a person's soul through palm reading?
A: No. It is nonsense. Although it is mentioned in the Zohar, what is done now is nonsense. It is also forbidden on account of "Darkei Emorite" (the ways of the Emorites, i.e. superstitions, close to idol worship).

Q: How do I overcome the jealousy which bubbles up inside of me?
A: By understanding that Hashem gives each person exactly what is good for him, and that one kingdom does not overlap with another, not even a little. Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 11.

Q: I have experienced all types of suffering. It is written that one who suffers should investigate his actions. How can I know what my transgressions are?
A: It is a private matter. Each person must check his own sins.

Studying Kabbalah
Q: I am 16 years old. Can I beginning learning Kabbalah?
A: Certainly not. The commentators on the Shulchan Aruch write that one should not learn Kabbalah before the age of forty (Shach, Yoreh Deah 246:6). In general, the secrets of the Torah are to be studied only by special individuals. The Mishnah Chagigah, chap. 2.

Q: What transforms Tzahal into something which is holy? After all, it performs profane acts.
A: Serving in Tzahal is a three-fold Mitzvah: Protecting the Nation of Israel, protecting the Land of Israel, and sanctifying Hashem's Name. And regarding a Mitzvah, it is said: "Who made us holy us with His Mitzvot (Mei-Chayil El Chayil vol. 1 p. 168).

Q: Why do we pray if everything was decreed on Yom Kippur?
A: Prayer is beneficial even after the decree. Rosh Hashanah 17b.

Q: Why is it important to do everything based on intellect?
A: One should also base their actions on other strengths in one's soul. But the intellect is the king, helping to prevent mistakes which occur on account of the other strengths (i.e. emotions). See Moreh Nevuchim 1:2 that the intellect is the "Image of G-d."

Female Medical Clown
Q: Can a woman be a medical clown?
A: Yes, for woman and children.

Tilting Tree
Q: My neighbor's tree is tilting into my lawn. Whose responsibility is it to cut it?
A: His. It is his tree and his responsibility.

Q: Does a pocketknife require immersion in a Mikveh?
A: If it is used for food.

Hidden Recorder
Q: Is it permissible to record someone without his knowledge?
A: Certainly not. It is deception.

Bread on a Bus
Q: If I am on a long bus trip, is it permissible to eat bread without Netilat Yadayim?
A: Yes, by wrapping both hands in plastic bags or some other covering (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:14).