Yom Yerushalayim: Q&A – The Kotel

Direction of Davening at the Kotel
Q: Should one daven at the Kotel while facing straight ahead or turn to the left, towards the spot of the Temple?
A: Straight, since the exact location of the Holy of Holies is unknown (Le-Mikdashech Tuv p. 241. Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 3:39. And this is what we heard from Ha-Rav Neventzal and Ha-Rav Simcha Ha-Cohain Kook).

Back to the Kotel
Q: Is it permissible to turn one's back to the Kotel?
A: It is permissible just as in a shul it is permissible to turn one's back to the Torah ark. When one leaves the Kotel, the custom is to walk backwards with his face towards the Kotel until he reaches the Plaza (This was the custom of the Steipler. Orchot Rabbenu vol. 1 p. 320 and vol. 2 pp. 150-151. And also Ha-Rav Neventzal, although Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was not particular to do so. Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi – Halachot U-Minhagim p. 40).

The Kotel's Plants
Q: Is it permissible to trim the plants on the Kotel?
A: There are those who are strict with regards to them, since perhaps they have the same holiness as the Kotel (see the book "The Chief Rabbinate of Israel – 70 Years since its Establishment" vol. 2 p. 774, which discusses the dispute between the Chief Rabbis whether it is permissible to cut the plants which grow between the stones of the Kotel. Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef rules that it is permissible if an engineer establishes that they endanger the Kotel. But Ha-Rav Shlomo Goren was opposed, based on the idea that "the growth symbolizes the destruction," as is found in Megillah 28a-b. See too Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 151:1, that Shuls in a destroyed state should be left alone and the growth in them should not be cut. This is in order to heighten one's anguish. Ha-Rav Goren also notes that the Kotel has stood for thousands of years without the growth being cut).

Tearing one's Garment at the Kotel
Q: Do I have to tear my garment when I visit the Kotel after a long time?
A: We do not tear at all since it is under Jewish sovereignty (Tal Chermon – Moadim, p. 218).

40 Days at the Kotel
Q: What is the source for the idea that if one prays 40 days straight at the Kotel, his prayer will be answered?
A: There is no source. This is a new creation. Any prayer, even one time, is heard. There are, however, various sources about the value of prayer for 40 days based on Noach in the ark and Moshe Rabbenu on Mt. Sinai. But every prayer is heard, and there is no need for forty days of prayer (see Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in "Ha-Shakdan" vol. 2 p. 109).

Holiness of the Kotel's Stones
Q: Is it permissible to place one's fingers in the cracks and crevices of the Kotel?
A: The book "Mishkenot Le-Avir Yaakov" forbids it since it is forbidden to enter the Temple Mount when impure and the Kotel is considered part of the Temple Mount (chapter one of Massechet Tamid). Many authorities are therefore strict in this matter (Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik in Nefesh Ha-Rav p. 101 and the Chazon Ish in Pe'er Ha-Dor vol. 2 p. 48). But the Avnei Nezer (vol. 2 Yoreh Deah 450-451) permits it because the Kotel does not possess the holiness of the Temple Mount, and even if we say that the Kotel is part of the Temple Mount, entering with one's fingers is a "Bi'ah Bemiktzat" (a partial entrance) and is not considered entering; and even if we say that a "Bi'ah Bemiktzat" is considered entering, it is not entering in the usual manner, since people enter through the gates and not through the walls. And this is the ruling of many authorities (Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef in Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma'aravi Halachot U-Minhagim pp. 74-75 note 47 and Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach said that the great Rabbis of Israel were not concerned about this). But it is proper to be strict. And our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, was careful not to place his fingers between the stones of the Kotel and refrained from kissing a stone of the Kotel which was not protruding.

Notes in the Kotel
Q: Is it permissible to place notes in the Kotel?
A: One should daven directly to Hashem. He does not need notes (When a Torah scholar mentioned to our Rabbi the custom of placing notes in the Kotel, our Rabbi said that one should not do this, and one should even refrain from putting one’s fingers into the Kotel [since it is forbidden for an impure person to enter the air of the Temple Mount in even the slightest way]. The Torah scholar said to him, “but this is the custom of Israel [minhag Yisrael].” Our Rabbi responded, the word "minhag" [custom] contains the same letters as "gehinom" [purgatory]. Le-Mikdashech Tuv, pp. 12-13).

Trips in Yehudah and Shomron

Q: Is it permissible to travel to Yehudah and Shomron, or is it forbidden based on the commandment of "You shall surely safeguard your soul" (Devarim 4:15, 23:11)?
A: It is permissible. There is a clear distinction in halachah between a high-probability danger and a low-probability danger. If this were not the case, we would not be able to travel in a car since every year, to our great distress, six hundred people are killed in car accidents in Israel. Many more people have been killed in car accidents since the establishment of the State of Israel than in all of the terrorist attacks and all of the wars, even when they are added together. We nevertheless travel in cars, obviously with required caution, since this is called "a non-frequent damage" in halachah (Pesachim 8b). In our time there are statistical tools to verify the frequency of a danger. There is a halachic responsum on this subject by Ha-Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Rabbi of "Ramat Elchanan" (a neighborhood in Bnei Brak). A student was learning in a yeshiva in "Yesha" (Yehudah, Shomron or Gush Katif) and his parents were concerned about the danger. Ha-Rav Zilberstein proves that "a frequent damage" is five percent. This means that if – G-d forbid – five percent of the students of the yeshiva were murdered, it would be forbidden to learn in that yeshiva. This is obviously far from the reality - Baruch Hashem - since the terrorist attacks in Yehudah and Shomron are not killing five percent of the population. In fact, Ha-Rav Yitzchak Isaac Herzog in Shut Heichal Yitzchak proved, based on Shut Rabbi Akiva Eiger (#60), that a frequent danger is not five percent, but one in a thousand. Baruch Hashem, terrorist attacks in Yehudah and Shomron are not killing one in a thousand people either.

Furthermore, it is permissible to take a "small risk" for the sake of a mitzvah, and traveling throughout Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah. The Tiferet Yisrael discussed this principle on the Mishnah in Massechet Berachot at the end of chapter one. There is a story about Rabbi Tarfon who said the Shema at night while reclining according to the view of Beit Shammai. He endangered himself while doing so and the Sages admonished him for following the view of Beit Shammai instead of Beit Hillel. But the question remains: Why did Rabbi Tarfon endanger himself, since reciting the Shema is not in the category of "Be killed and do not transgress," i.e. requiring one to sacrifice his life for its fulfillment? The Tiferet Yisrael explains that it was permissible since there was only a small risk of danger. There is an additional proof from when Rabbi Akiva was in jail, and he used the water he received for "netilat yadayim" (ritually washing his hands) instead of for drinking. The halachic authorities ask: How could Rabbi Akiva endanger his life for this practice? The answer is that Rabbi Akiva understood that he would obtain more water. The danger he was taking was extremely minute and it is permissible to take a small risk for a mitzvah. This is also the ruling found in "Pitchei Teshuvah" (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 157).
In conclusion:
a. A non-frequent danger is not considered a danger according to halachah and the danger in Yehuda and Shomron is a non-frequent one.
b. It is permissible to take a minimal risk for a mitzvah and traveling throughout all of Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah.

Our Rabbi & 28th of Iyar 5727 - The Day of the Liberation of Jerusalem

Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
Yom Yerushalayim
28th of Iyar 5727 - The Day of the Liberation of Jerusalem

That Very Wednesday
"...We are reminded of that very Wednesday. How is it possible not to remember? It is impossible to forget. An emissary of the Chief Rabbi [of Tzahal], Rav Goren, came to me. To hear the news, we were, of course, incredibly excited. Afterwards a telephone message arrived from Rav Goren. We did not have a telephone in our house. It was therefore quiet, but messages sometimes came to us through our neighbors. Thus, they sent in the name of Rav Goren a message that he wanted us to know that they were drawing near, they were currently located in the area of Rockefeller [Museum] and they were going to the Kotel, and that I should be ready to travel there. When the driver arrived I asked him: ‘How did you enter?’ He said to me: ‘All of the gates were open before us.’ He brought me in an army jeep. We drove and drove. I asked him: ‘Where are you going to bring me?’ Suddenly he said to me: ‘We are on the Temple Mount.’ I was dismayed. We were across from their building [the Dome of the Rock]. The passage was in fact through the Lion’s Gate. It was then impossible to approach any other way. They therefore brought me in through this passageway. There were groups of young men there. Large groups of soldiers from our Army were passing on all sides, and I heard a voice yell to me: ‘Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah!’ This was Chanan Porat. There were other Torah scholars, a large camp of soldiers of the Army [who were] Torah scholars! We arrived at the Kotel. We danced, we rejoiced, we were moved, we embraced and kissed each other with the soldiers. There is no need to relate the genius, the righteousness and the holiness of our Master, the Chief Rabbi of Tzahal (Shilt"a) [ztz"l], who went with courage at the front of the Army, at the front of the conquerors with two weapons. Do you know what his two weapons were? A small Torah scroll and a small shofar! Afterwards, he said to me: ‘We have completed this visit at the Kotel, now I am going to Hevron.’ I jumped. I was dismayed. I was afraid. I could not understand. Master of the Universe! What is the meaning of this? He was going to Hevron with the two weapons, with the small Torah scroll and with the small shofar! The next day they informed me in the afternoon: Rav Goren is at the house of his father-in-law, Rav David Cohain [This was already after the conquest of Ma’arat Ha-Machpelah - the Cave of Machpelah]. This was how it occurred. ‘Were our mouths as full of song as the sea...we still could not thank you sufficiently’ (from the prayer ‘Nishmat’ recited on Shabbat and holidays). How is it possible, Master of the Universe, not to see this? How is it possible not to fill ourselves with faith, how is it possible not to fill ourselves with the most glorious holiness for what the Master of the Universe has done, does and will do for us, before the entire world, before all of the non-Jews, before all of the believers and all of the nonbelievers?" (Sichot Rabbenu, Yom Yerushalayim 5733 [1974], #9).

Right after the liberation of Temple Mount, our Rabbi and "The Nazir" were brought there in an army jeep. They were not told about this and they suddenly realized they were on the Temple Mount, but decided it was acceptable for the moment to be on the Temple Mount based on the concept of "kiboosh" (acquiring land through conquering). In general, it is forbidden to be on the Temple Mount at this time (because we are impure). On the way back from the Kotel, our Rabbi wanted to return by a different route, but they were told that it was dangerous so they went through the Temple Mount. (Iturei Yerushalayim #6)

It was so very natural that the first citizens who arrived at the Kotel on the first day of its liberation were our Rabbi and Rav David Cohain "The Nazir."

Regarding the prayers of Minchah which he prayed with the paratroopers, our Rabbi said: "This was like the prayer of Neilah (the concluding prayers of Yom Kippur) in the yeshiva."

When the book "Be-Shesh Acharei Ha-Milchamah" of Yosi Gamzu was published, it included the song "Ha-Kotel - The Kotel" and one of the stanzas began: "He stood facing the Kotel, with us, the elderly Rav," accompanied by the picture of our Rabbi. Our Rabbi said: "I am not elderly." (Gadol Shimusha p. 17 #20)

Women ruling on Halachah

Q: Is it permissible for a woman to give a halachic ruling in matters regarding Family Purity?
A: In order to rule, one must have knowledge of the issues. If she knows, she can rule. This is extremely rare. The word "rule" (lifsok) means to decide in a new matter. But in issues which have been previously ruled upon, a woman can certainly rule, with the condition that she is knowledgeable in that area. And there are, in fact, women who know the Halachah in the area of Family Purity (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 242:14. Pitchei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 7:5).

Women Reciting Kadish

Q: May a woman recite Kadish?
A: On condition that she is not alone, i.e. men are reciting it and she is saying it quietly word-for-word with them, so that her voice is not heard (see Pnei Baruch 34:20. Shut Piskei Uziel #3. Teshuvot Ibra #4. Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 5:12. Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik in "Ha-Darom" #57, Elul 5748).

Shut SMS #114

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

Death Penalty for Terrorists
Q: Is it proper to impose the death penalty on terrorists?
A: Yes. In order that they not murder again, and so that others see and fear, and do not murder (Shut Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:68).

New Testament
Q: Is it permissible to read the New Testament in order to know it, but not to believe it?
A: It is definitely forbidden. Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 2:2.
Q: Is it permissible to learn it in order to combat missionaries?
A: No. Rather one should read books on how to combat missionaries.

Trust in Hashem
Q: Is it possible to say with complete certainty that things will be good for me?
A: No, since Hashem did not promise you. "Emunah U-Bitachon" of the Chazon Ish. But everything which Hashem does is according to Divine Providence.

My Wife's Cooking
Q: We were married a month ago, and I don't like my wife's cooking. Should I tell her?
A: Gently tell her what type of food you enjoy.

Hashem is Not with Me
Q: I am interesting in a particular Shiduch but she is not interested. I have repeatedly davened for it but my prayers have gone unanswered. I feel that Hashem is not with me, and it depresses me!
A: Hashem is not obligated to be with you, rather you are obligated to be with Him.
Q: What do I do in order to be with Him?
A: Learn Torah and perform Mitzvot. Mesilat Yesharim, chap. 1 and onward.
Q: And if I am with Him, He will honor my prayer?
A: He does what is good, but it is not necessarily according to your calculations.

Get Yourself a Rabbi
Q: Is it permissible for someone to have more than one Rabbi: one Rabbi who he follows in Halachah and another Rabbi who he follows regarding the State of Israel and Redemption?
A: Yes (Shach Yoreh Deah 242:12).

Divine Providence
Q: Does everything that happens to me have meaning?
A: Certainly. But we do not know what it is.

Q: After reciting the blessing of "Ha-Mapil" before going to sleep, is it permissible to learn Torah?
A: Certainly. This is not a blessing over performing a Mitzvah or over receiving a benefit, where it is forbidden to have an interruption between the blessing and the action, but a general blessing of praise for the kindness of sleep. It is also permissible to speak when there is a need (Mishnah Berurah 229:4).

A Person's Name
Q: If someone changes his name, does he change his Beshert?
A: No.

Q: Where is it written that it is forbidden to take drugs?
A: Pesachim 113a. Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:35. Nishmat Avraham, Choshen Mishpat 155:2 in the name of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. But there is no need for a source, since it is dangerous. Rambam, Hilchot De'ot, chap. 4.

Basketball Game on Shabbat
Q: Is it permissible to ask someone the results of a basketball game in which an Israeli team played, which took place on Shabbat?
A: Certainly not. It strengthens those who violate Shabbat. The Torah writes that someone who violates Shabbat receives the death penalty. We obviously would not kill anyone, but we should not flip to the other extreme – being interested in what they do.

Q: Don't withdrawals by Israel contradict the idea that the Redemption has begun?
A: No. The Redeemer is revealed, hidden and then revealed. See Ramban, end of Parashat Shemot.

Q: Where is the source that we need to advance the Redemption and not sit passively and wait?
A: All 613 Mitzvot bring the Redemption.

Q: Is rain now, after Pesach, a curse?
A: No, there was also rain beforehand. We are happy whenever it rains and we are grateful to Hashem.

Q: Is it permissible to sing Ha-Tikvah? After all, it is a secular song.
A: Although it is a secular song, the content has meaning. See Rambam in his commentary to Pirkei Avot 1:17. And we should not separate ourselves from the community. Further, the complete version of the song mentions the Temple, our Forefathers, perfecting our character traits and Hashem (Am Ve-Artzo vol. 2 pp. 251-252).

Hey Bear, It's Our Place

Question: The political world and the media are engrossed with the threat that the Arabs will declare a State in September following a vote in the UN. What is Ha-Rav's opinion?
Answer: The suggestion to establish a Palestinian state has arisen once again, and we therefore need to understand once and for all: This Land belongs to us, all of it, in the borders stated in the Tanach. As our history books write, we had a Kingdom here for thousands of years which the Romans destroyed, as mentioned in the Balfour Declaration and approved at the San Remo Conference. In brief: This Land is ours.
A friend, who went on vacation in Alaska, told me that he sat by the sea, fishing. During the flight in the small plane that brought them there, someone jokingly asked: "What happens if a bear approaches us?" Yet the group leader didn't laugh. He answered: "Look it straight in the eye and say to it: 'Hey bear, this is my place!'" Later on when my friend was fishing, he heard a rustling behind him. He turned around and saw a terrifying sight – a bear was threatening him. He had the courage to look it in the eye without blinking and to say: "'Hey bear, this is my place!" The bear growled, turned around and left.
We have to state clearly to the Arabs and the entire world: This Land is our place. It is all ours. This Land was, is and will always be, our place.

Bamidbar: Military Service and Family Units

[Tal Chermon]

The Book of Bamidbar connects the story of how we became a Nation, received the Torah, and built the Mishkan, so that the Shechina could dwell in our midst (i.e. the ideals taught us in the first three books) - with the fulfillment of our destiny in Devarim. Bamidbar is the book of transition, of being “on the way.”

In this week’s Parashah, we read of the census that was taken. The Nation of Israel crosses the desert in military formation, each tribe encamping in its own special area. The people are counted according to the number of men “able to go forth to war” (Bamidbar 1:3), all men from twenty to sixty years old. In contrast to the war with Amalek, in which only a chosen few fought on behalf of the entire nation (Shemot 17:9), in this case everyone age twenty or older must be prepared to go to war. As it says in Pirkei Avot (5:21), “Twenty is the age of pursuit”. That pursuit may be the pursuit of money, of a wife, or of the enemy.

The fact that The Nation of Israel travelled in military formation reflects our need to be prepared for war. Pacifist philosophy formulates a world in which, with a little bit of good will, all problems can be solved. If there were no armies and no weapons, the reasoning goes, everyone would live peacefully together. This is not true. Conflict between nations leads to violence. Until these conflicts are resolved, the nation must be able to defend itself.

In the desert, as we begin preparations for the journey to Eretz Israel, the Nation assumes the form of a military camp. We must be ready to defend ourselves and to conquer the Land if necessary. Although Hashem promised us that we would inherit the Land, “one does not depend on miracles” (see Ramban on Bamidbar 1:45). It is up to us to implement the Divine Promise. Similarly, King David fought for Jerusalem, even though it had been promised to him (Shmuel 1 chapters 8-9). He fought because of the promise, and not despite it. The Divine Promise is not a replacement for our actions, rather it forms the basis and validation of them.

The Children of Israel number 600,000 men of army age - a number which represents the complete Nation (Maharal, Gevurot Hashem, chap .3), and they are counted according to their families and houses of their fathers. As Maran HaRav Kook explains: “In order to comprehend the spiritual meaning of the concept of ‘Klal’ (the Nation as a whole), this ‘Klal’ must be enabled as a real nation …. The qualifications are: land and number …. Along with territory [of its own], it must have the requisite number of members… which is 600,000. Proof of this is the fact that we became a Nation in Egypt only when we had attained that number. This national requisite has not changed. That same number, encompassing all possible variations of personality and opinion, is sufficient today too to give us the character of a nation, so that no individuals may dare to set national values according to their own personal opinions” (Olat Re’eiyah vol. 1, pp. 387-388). When the War of Independence broke out in 5708, there were only 600,000 Jews in Eretz Israel. By 5728, when the Six-Day War erupted, there were about 600,000 soldiers in the army.

The Nation as an army is the very embodiment of the concept of a Nation as one united entity. The individual, his desires, his personal ambitions, his family ties - lose their independent existence and significance within the whole of the "Klal". As the Rambam states, “When he goes out to war, he is to depend on the Savior of Israel, and realize that his battle is to sanctify G-d’s Name. It is incumbent upon him to risk his life, not fearing anything nor thinking of his wife or children, but rather erasing their memory from his heart and concentrating solely on the battle” (Hilchot Melachim 7:15). In King David’s time, the soldiers divorced their wives before going to battle. It is not clear whether the divorce was unconditional or whether it took effect only if they did not return (Shabbat 56a). In any case, this is a very tangible expression of the obliteration of all personal and familial considerations in time of war.

At the same time, the national census is taken according to family membership. The family unit forms the basis of the Nation, a ‘sub-culture’ of our national culture. Our Nation’s power derives from our family units, as our Sages declared, “’Strength’ refers to Seder Nashim [that section of the Mishna dealing with family law]” (Shabbat 31a). The existence of family units means that the individual relinquishes a purely personal framework and lives within the framework of a certain group. The family is a miniature nation, and within it, the individual acquires group values. This framework imbues one’s personal life and home with national values. It is the natural, essential way to create a common set of values. All the same, “the whole is no more than the sum of its parts” (Baraita De-Rabbi Yishmael). The family is the basic national unit whereby the individual learns to identify with the nation and to accept its values.

For this reason, our Parashah notes that “Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem when they offered strange fire…and they had no children” (Bamidbar 3:4). Our Sages commented, “Had they had children, they would not have died - anyone who does not attempt to fulfill the Mitzvah of having children deserves the death penalty” (Yevamot 64a). Detachment from the family framework implies isolation from the whole and aloofness and individualism in a negative sense. Great as Nadav and Avihu may have been, their personalities were private, not joined to the Nation. It is the family which brings the Nation into the home, into the heart and soul of each individual.

Megillah Reading by Women

Question: Is it appropriate for women to organize a Megillah reading and read for themselves?
A: Certainly not. There are many problems with doing so. Some authorities rule that a woman should not read for herself but hear it from a man (Magen Avraham #689). There is a doubt as to whether she can fulfill the Mitzvah for other women (Sha'ar Ha-Tziyun ibid,). There is doubt as to the correct formula of the blessing (Shulchan Aruch ibid.). And we should not change the established order of the prayers as has been done over the generations (Shut Rashba 1:323). Perhaps there is also a rebellion against the Halachah in doing so (see Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:49). There is also a problem of immodesty even though they are alone (Shut Eretz Tzvi #12 of Ha-Rav Tzvi Schachter).
It is therefore preferable to act in the same manner as all the wise and righteous women throughout all the generation (Be-Ikvei Ha-Tzon, pp. 21-37 and Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik in "Mi-Penini Ha-Rav", p. 68). But there are many other blessings that women can recite throughout their lives without any problem, and may a blessing come upon them.

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #58-59

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

The blessing of "Chonen Ha-Da’at" - you give man knowledge, is the first blessing specifically for the weekdays. Knowledge is a special gift given to human beings. The Rambam says that when the Torah says we were made in Hashem’s Image, it is talking about having knowledge. Because this is what makes us special among Hashem’s creations, it is the first blessing for the weekdays. We can use our knowledge for many things. We want to use our knowledge for that which is holy. When we say our wisdom comes "Mei-Itcha- from You" - we are recognizing that Hashem is the One who gave us any smarts we have. We did not earn it. It’s a gift from Hashem. So we have a special responsibility to use it to serve Hashem in every way that we can.

In the blessing of "Hashevenu" we ask Hashem to return us to His Torah. We are asking Hashem to help us return - which means to do Teshuvah. The first part of Teshuva comes from learning Torah. First we need to learn and understand that there is Hashem. Once someone understands this fact, they can begin to return to Hashem. And this return is to Hashem as our Father. Once this happens, Hashem can draw us near to His Avodah - His service. This is as our King. He has given us the Mitzvot and wants us to perform them. Then we can get to the highest level - complete Teshuvah before Hashem. This is when we have a close relationship with Hashem. Hashem wants us to achieve this. He wants us to perform Teshuvah and come close to Him. He wants this relationship. And so we ask Him for His help to truly return to Him.

Response to Vayoel Moshe of the Satmar Rebbe

A new HEBREW booklet (74 pgs. and

the second booklet in the series):

Alo Na'ale
Response to the book "Vayoel Moshe" of the Satmar Rebbe

Answers by
Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Shlomo Aviner Shilt"a

Edited by Ha-Rav Mordechai Tzion

20 shekels or $7 including shipping

Shut SMS #113

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

Wood for Lag Ba-Omer Bonfire
Q: When I collect wood for the Lag Ba-Omer bonfire, how can I know that it does not belong to someone else?
A: You may not take it unless you are 100% certain that it is ownerless.
Q: But it is impossible to be certain?
A: Then it is forbidden to take it.

Flag of the State of Israel
Q: Does the flag of the State of Israel possess holiness? Does one have to kiss the flag if it falls on the floor? Must it be put in the Geniza if it is worn out?
A: No. It does not contain holiness. But one must obviously treat it with respect (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 99-100. Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:46. We heard from Rav Aharon Rakefet that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein once said that he did not regret any of the Teshuvot he wrote, aside from in this Teshuvah about davening in a shul which has the flag of Israel using the term "Wicked" when referring to those who made the Israeli flag).

Ba'al Teshuva
Q: Many women don't want to marry me because I am a Ba'al Teshuvah, and people only suggest women who are Ba'alot Teshuvah, as if I am blemished?!
A: They are mistaken. But you make the same exact mistake when you refrain from considering a Ba'alat Teshuvah.

Q: Does a can-opener require immersion in a Mikveh?
A: No. It does not come in direct contact with the food.

National Depression
Q: The difficult security situation and the horrible news causes me depression. How is it possible to be happy?
A: By looking at things with one's intellect and in their proper perspective, where the good is infinitely greater than the difficult.

Lashon Ha-Rav and Sefirat Ha-Omer
Q: My fellow workers are constantly speaking Lashon Ha-Ra and it is impossible to prevent it. Is it permissible to listen to music in order not to hear the Lashon Ha-Ra?
A: Yes.

Secular Date
Q: How should one write the secular date on an invitation?
A: One should not write the Christian date at all, but only the Hebrew date. If there is no choice, then do not write the number of the month but its name, and one should skip the year all together.

Photographer of Women
Q: As a wedding photographer, is it permissible for me to take pictures of women dancing, since some of them are dressed immodestly?
A: It is forbidden. Since it is forbidden to look at women, whether modestly or immodestly dressed, even in a movie and a picture. A woman photographer is required.

Kaddish for Grandfather
Q: Should I say Kaddish for my grandfather if I am the only one who can do so?
A: You are not obligated, but it is proper. But you need permission from your parents.

Witness to a Car Accident
Q: I witnessed one car backing up into a parked car. The driver who backed into the other car did not leave a note. What should I do?
A: Ask the driver to inform the other person. If he does not, then you should inform that person.

Raising Small Animals in Eretz Yisrael
Q: Is it permissible to raise small animals in the Land of Israel today? [This is based on the Mishnah in Bava Kamma (79b) that one may not raise small animals, i.e. goats and sheep, in the Land of Israel, to prevent the destruction of crops due to the animals' grazing (Rashi)].
A: On condition that the animals are well guarded, so there is no damage to your neighbors.

Teacher Looking at Student's Cell Phone
Q: Is it permissible for a teacher to snoop around and look at a student's cell phone?
A: Only in an exceptional situation in which there is potential physical or spiritual damage to the student which would override the decree of Rabbenu Gershom (which forbids reading other people's correspondence).

New Testament
Q: It is permissible to read the New Testament in order to know it, but not to believe it?
A: It is definitely forbidden. Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 2:2.

Picture Album on Shabbat
Q: Is it permissible to sort and organize pictures in an album on Shabbat?
A: No, it is selecting.

Radio on Shabbat
Q: What should one do if the radio accidently turns on on Shabbat, and the neighbors can hear it?
A: Do not turn it off. Put something over it like a blanket. If it is not digital, turn the volume dial in an unusual way.

Police Officer during Sefira
Q: Is it permissible for a police officer to shave during Sefira?
A: If it is necessary.

Lag Ba-Omer which Falls on Motza'ei Shabbat

When Lag Ba-Omer Falls on Motza'ei Shabbat, some authorities rule that the bonfires should be started later in the night to avoid the desecration of Shabbat by myriads of Jews (including the police), especially at the grave of the Rashbi on Meiron. The custom of the Admor of Boyan, who lights the main bonfire at Meiron, is to light after midnight.
In Shut Sha'arei Tzion (#14), Ha-Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz - Rav of the Kotel and Holy Places in Israel - discusses the question of celebrating at Kever Rashbi on Meiron. He brings a letter from Ha-Rav Zalman Nechmiah Goldberg (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's son-in-law) which says that the bonfires should be lit on Sunday during the day.
The Chief Rabbis of Israel, Ha-Rav Shlomo Amar and Ha-Rav Yonah Metzger, have suggested postponing the bonfires until Motza'ei Lag Ba-Omer. This is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef. And this is indeed proper, since lighting a bonfire is not a Torah Miztvah and not a Rabbinic Mitzvah and not even a Minhag which must be observed. It is a non-obligatory custom (see the words of Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik in "Mi-Pineni Ha-Rav,” pp. 218-220), and many Torah scholars do not even light a bonfire at all. After all, blowing the Shofar and taking the Lulav, which are Torah Mitzvot, are not performed when their respective holidays fall on Shabbat, on account of a concern that some individuals will violate Shabbat. And the State of Israel postpones Yom Ha-Zikaron and Yom Ha-Atzamaut to prevent Shabbat desecration. It is all the more so appropriate that the bonfires be postponed until Motza'ei Lag Ba-Omer when it is known that many people will desecrate Shabbat if it is not postponed.
Perhaps you will say that if we postpone Lag Ba-Omer then it will not be Lag Ba-Omer but LAD Ba-Omer (the 34th of the Omer and not the 33rd)? This is not a problem: the fact is that when Tishba Be-Av (the 9th of Av) falls on Shabbat, it is postponed until the 10th of Av.
Our Rabbi – Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook - emphasized that a year in which Yom Ha-Atzmaut is moved to avoid Shabbat violation is a great sanctification of Hashem's Name, since this is proof that the Jewish State is preventing the desecration of Shabbat. The same applies to Lag Ba-Omer.
And to be sure, the Rashbi himself is greatly distressed by this Shabbat desecration, which is supposedly performed in his honor.

The Internet -- This Is War!

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

The Internet -- this is war! A serious war. The war against the evil impulse! A war against the serpent!
There is a story of some soldiers who came back from the war, having had their fill of battles and victories. An old man said to them, "You’ve come home from the small war, but the big war still awaits you." They asked him, "What war is that?” and he answered, "the war against the evil impulse" (Orchot Tzaddikim).
It certainly is a big war. If a boy spends six hours every day on the Internet, partly on appropriate material, partly on foolishness and shallow nonsense, and partly on the most
impure content imaginable, he contaminates his body and he contaminates his psyche, he
contaminates his intellect, he contaminates his soul, he contaminates his spirit. This is therefore war! Everybody must go off to war, because everybody is in danger, both young and old, both girls (albeit to a lesser extent) and boys, both secular and G-d-fearing. This is war. The evil impulse spares no one. It works over time.
Each generation has its own merits and each generation its own trials and temptations. The temptation of our generation is the electronic enemy, the Internet Serpent. And as in every generation, we are embattled on all sides (Mesilat Yesharim, chapter 1).
The best approach is to wipe out the enemy entirely, to smash it to bits, leaving no trace of it, in other words, one should not have Internet at all. It's true, there are good things there, but you lose more than you gain. Such is always the way of the evil impulse, glossing over the bad with the good, and thereby taking souls hostage.
Our Sages did not say in Pirkei Avot, “you will not sin," but "you will not come to the hands of sin" (chapter 3). If you are already in the hands of sin, if the serpent is enveloping you, then you are already in bad shape. Or, as the saying goes, "A clever man is one who succeeds in extricating himself from a situation that a wise man wouldn't have entered in the first place." So be wise.
But if you are not wise, and you've got Internet at home, because you need it for work or school, or because the situation is not under your control, or because your parents do not agree to unplug it, despite all your entreaties and despite all your wars against them, or because your spouse does not agree, or because your evil impulse does not agree, then declare war, a defensive war. Do not say, "It won't happen to me." That's the serpent talking!
This war is composed of two parts: a land attack and an air attack.
The land attack includes employing ruses. One should definitely employ trickery in this war. One should install a filter, the highest level possible, such as the "Etrog” option within the Israeli “Rimon” filter.
It is well known that many people unfortunately manage to circumvent the filter, so there are two options. The first is to use an entry password that you don't know by heart. A reliable friend should hold on to it for you, ready to open it up when you need it, or, TWO people should each have half of the password, and two are better than one. And obviously, three are even better than two.
The second possibility is to install "Webchaver", a software program that can be found on the Internet, which reports to your friend every time you enter a non-clean site.
There is also an air battle: repeat to yourself over and over how contaminating it is, how disgusting it is. To study Mesilat Yesharim day and night, especially chapters two, three, four and five on the trait of caution. And prepare yourself a slip of paper with a list of utterances of faith and ethics and law that influence your heart, and read them morning, noon and night, especially when you're going to encounter the enemy. Use it like an army manual.
Prepare a holy slip of paper that says, "Don't destroy yourself! Don't contaminate yourself! Be
aware that impurity will follow you around all day, all your life. The more you sin, the
weaker your resistance will be. If a person commits a sin and repeats it, he will come to view
it as permissible, and will no longer feel the pangs of conscience. You will feel disgusted
with yourself. It will corrupt you. But if you overcome it, how fortunate you will be. But
don't fall asleep on watch. You are liable to fall again. And if you fall, then a defensive war
will no longer suffice. You'll need a war of liberation. Don't despair. Even from the deepest
pit you can climb out. Because you've got the strength. And every day starts a war again.
Don't put your gun down. To be vanquished in battle is bad, but to be vanquished without a
fight is a tragedy.
You fell down? Get up! The righteous man falls seven times but gets up, until he falls no more. True, this demands an effort, but it's worth it. It's also interesting. Run to the battle!
It seems hard but it's possible.
Buy yourself a notebook and each day mark down how many times you've won and how many times you've lost. That way you will daily decrease your failures and increase your victories, because we ascend in holiness. We do not descend.
Set out on the way, and G-d will help you. Be strong and courageous! After you overcome four or five times it'll be a lot easier for you (the above number appears in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 1:4), after you pay your fourfold or fivefold fine.
Be aware that G-d does not send a man a trial unless He gives him the strength to withstand it.
Believe in yourself! You've got a pure soul and you will win. Even if you fall far down, you will still win.
So be pure and feel pure. Keep it up!

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #56-57

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

The most important parts of the Kedusha are when we say the words that the angels say: "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh" and "Baruch Kavod." We actually say these verses three times in davening. Earlier we said them in the first blessing of Shema. Later we will say them in "U-va Le-Tzion". And in the middle we say them in Kedusha. It is important to note that unlike the other times, when we say these verses in the Kedusha we must be standing and in a Minyan. We know we stand to imitate the angels. But why do we need a Minyan? This is because the greatest value of Kedusha comes from being in a community, not from remaining an individual. Often others think that true holiness comes from being alone. But for Jews, this is not the case. Holiness comes from doing Hashem’s will among Klal Yisrael, and doing it to glorify His Name and to be His partner as much as possible. We need to be part of the community as Klal Yisrael is the Nation whose very purpose is to make Hashem’s Name Holy. So when we do a Mitzvah we do it not just as an individual, but as a member of Klal Yisrael. And it is as Klal Yisrael that we give honor to Hashem in this world.

In the Kedusha that last verse “Hashem will rule forever, Your G-d- Tzion, praise G-d.” Rabbi David Avudraham asks why this verse from Tehilim was picked, instead of a verse from the Torah which says Hashem will rule forever. He answers that this verse was picked intentionally as it mentions Tzion, Eretz Yisrael. What is so special about mentioning Tzion in the Kedusha? This is because the great Kiddush Hashem that is discussed in the Kedusha comes by way of Tzion, by way of Eretz Yisrael. In theory Jews could live anywhere. But it is by being together in the Holy Land that we can make a true Kiddush Hashem in this world. Notice that unlike "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh" and "Baruch Kavod", this verse isn’t said by the angels. It is said only by us. We must work to actively build up Eretz Yisrael, to build a true House for Hashem in Tzion. This is how we can make a Kiddush Hashem.

The Obligation to Make Aliyah at this Time

Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook
[Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit p. 276]

The Pitchei Teshuvah (Even Ha-Ezer 75:10) wrote: "The obligation to fulfill this mitzvah applies at all times, and this is explained by all of the halachic authorities, the Rishonim and Acharonim, based on the ruling of the Ramban (Bemidbar 35:53 and additions to the Sefer Ha-Mitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Mitzvah #4).
There are those who have claimed that there is no mitzvah at this time because of the danger in traveling to Eretz Yisrael, as mentioned in the Tosafot (Ketubot 110b and see Mordechai ibid. and Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer 75:5). Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Eliyahu Klatzkin wrote a small book of Halachah called "Dvar Halachah" in which he dealt with this strange and even somewhat funny claim, since people make more dangerous trips for business (#38 p. 27a).
And there are those who claim that there is no mitzvah at this time based on what is mentioned in the Poskim that there is no mitzvah to make aliyah when one cannot find a livelihood in Eretz Yisrael (Pitchei Teshuvah ibid. in the name of Terumat Ha-Deshen and Tashbetz). Ha-Rav Klatzkin wrote regarding this idea that in practical terms it is not accurate to say that there is a livelihood outside of Israel but none in Eretz Yisrael. On the contrary, there is a "kosher" livelihood of working the Land in Eretz Yisrael, while the livelihood outside of Israel is through profiteering and the persecution of Israel.
And there are those who claim that there is no mitzvah to make Aliyah since there is a concern that one will become corrupt by being distanced from the Torah. But on the contrary, the Gemara and Poskim explain that one should live in Eretz Yisrael even in a city where the majority of residents are idol worshipers (Ketubot 110b. Shulchan Aruch Even Ha-Ezer 75:3), despite the potential negative influence. Although some authorities write that heretics are worse than non-Jews in this regard, and there is a greater chance of negative influence, Ha-Rav Klatzkin explained that the same law applies in a city in Eretz Yisrael where the majority of residents are heretics. His proof is from the Gemara in Eruvin (61b-62a. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim #385) where the law appears that it is impossible to make an "Eruv Chatzerot" (lit. mixed [ownership of] courtyards, which allows one to carry within the courtyard on Shabbat) with a Tzeduki (Saducee, i.e. a heretic), and various options are given if one lives in the same house as a Tzeduki. But there is no mention of a prohibition of living in such a place, or that one is obligated to live in a place solely populated by observant Jews. He adds that one's failure to observe the mitzvot of Hashem based on a concern that spiritual damage will result is discussed by the Gemara in Berachot (10a) regarding King Chizkiyahu, who did not engage in the mitzvah of procreation since he saw through Divine intuition that unvirtuous children would issue from him. The prophet Yeshayahu said to him: "What you are commanded to do, you must do!" And Ha-Rav Klatzkin added (ibid.): As if there is permission to act wiser that Hashem's mitzvot!
There is a story that after the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews from North Africa and Yemen made aliyah and were abandoning traditional observance. The person who headed the Department of Aliyah at the Jewish Agency was a Torah scholar named Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Shragai, and he was being eaten up inside by this fact. He did not know whether it was proper to continue to bring Jews to Israel under such circumstances. He went to the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Tzvi Pesach Frank, and asked him what to do. Rav Frank said to him: Can you do me a favor and hand me the Yalkut Shimoni? He opened it and showed him the words of the Yalkut Shimoni on Megillat Eichah (#1038): "Hashem says: If only my children, my Nation, would be in the Land of Israel, even though they make it impure." And he continued: What do you want from me - to transgress the words of our Sages?! You are not guilty for what is occurring. You must bring Jews to Israel and make every effort to connect them to Torah. Rav Shragai continued to bring Jews to Israel and he mentioned this story various times.
When the Belzer Rebbe (Ha-Rav Aharon Rokeach) made Aliyah, he came to Reb Noson (Ha-Rav Shalom Natan Ra'anan Kook, Maran Ha-Rav Kook's son-in-law) and said: You and I had differences regarding the way to bring Jews on Aliyah. We (much of the Haredi world) said that they should first be strengthened in Judaism outside of the Land and only then could they make Aliyah in order to build in holiness; you said that every one of them should quickly come on Aliyah without calculation. After the Holocaust, it has become clear to us that we erred, and we are greatly distressed over this fact.

Shut SMS #112

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

"Bibi" Netanyahu
Q: Is it permissible to refer to the Prime Minister by the nickname "Bibi", or does this infringe upon the honor of the ruling authority?
A: It is certainly forbidden. It is an infringement. One should refer to him as the "Prime Minister," or "Prime Minister Netanyahu," or "Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu" (Baba Metzia 58b. Tosafot on Megilah 27b. Al Diglo pp. 43-44).

Story of the Two Brothers
Q: What is the source of the story of the two brothers, one married and one single, who brought wheat back and forth for each other on the spot that became the Temple Mount?
A: It is of non-Jewish origins. See The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg.

Miriam's Well
Q: Is Miriam's Well located in the Kinneret?
A: Yes, but we do not know where. In order to locate something like this, one needs Ruach Ha-Kodesh (as the Arizal had), which we do not possess.

Q: Is it permissible, despite problems of immodesty, to go shopping at the mall (i.e. if one is not “hanging out” there)?
A: Yes, if this is the best place to go shopping. Just as it is permissible to walk in the street. Baba Batra 58.

Double Last Name
Q: After we get married, my fiancée wants our last name to include hers, because of her connection to her family.
A: There is no problem with this.

Bitter Mother
Q: I help my mother to the best of my ability but she always complains about me. How should I respond?
A: Accept the situation. This is great education for humility. Shemoneh Perakim of the Rambam, chap. 4.

Q: How can one overcome laziness?
A: Mesilat Yesharim chapters 6, 7, 8 & 9.

Meat and Milk for a Baby
Q: How long does a six-month-old baby have to wait between meat and a bottle of milk?
A: None at all. Give him what he needs, i.e. not milk chocolate (Shut Yabia Omer vol. 1 Yoreh Deah #4).

Ma'aser to My Mother
Q: Can I give my mother Ma'aser if she is in a difficult financial state?
A: Certainly. And even more money. Whatever she needs.

The Poor or a Yeshiva
Q: Is it preferable to donate Tzedaka to the poor or to a yeshiva?
A: It is a personal decision, since every yeshiva has poor students.

Tefillin at Minchah
Q: Can one put on Tefillin at Minchah?
A: The custom is not to do so.

Stealing from Arabs
Q: Is it permissible to steal from Arabs?
A: No. It is included in the Torah prohibition of theft. And even worse, it is a desecration of Hashem's Name (see Be'er Ha-Golah, Choshen Mishpat 348:1).

Swimming with Cousins
Q: Is it permissible for a girl to go swimming with her male cousins?
A: No. Men and women must keep a serious distance between them. And the law regarding a cousin is the same as for any other man. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8-10.

Glue on Tzitzit
Q: Is it permissible to put glue on the end of the Tzitzit so they do not unravel?
A: It is permissible. Piskei Teshuvot 11:14 note #85.

Shiduch during Sefira
Q: Is it permissible to begin a Shiduch during Sefirat Ha-Omer?
A: Yes.

Engagement Party during Sefira
Q: Is it permissible to have an engagement party during Sefira?
A: Without dancing and music.

Wedding during Sefira
Q: When is it permissible to get married during Sefira?
A: Sefardim from the 34th day of the Sefira. Ashekenazim from Rosh Chodesh Sivan, and also on Yom Yerushalayim, and in pressing circumstances from Lag Ba-Omer.

Attending a Wedding during Sefira
Q: Is it permissible for me to go to a wedding during Sefira?
A: Yes. Whether the wedding is during the time you "mourn" or during the time when you do not "mourn", since it is the day of the groom and bride's joy, it is permissible for you to participate (Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:159).

"On the Air with Rav Aviner"

American Friends of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim
is proud to announce our newest ENGLISH book
from the Torah of Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner

"On the Air with Rav Aviner"

What should we do with our son who hits everybody?
Is it permissible to donate organs?
Is the Lubavitcher Rebbe the Moshiach (Messiah)?
Is it ethical to kill a terrorist who has been subdued?
Did Rachel Imenu really reveal herself to soldiers in the war in Gaza?
Did man evolve from monkeys?
Is it proper to travel to Poland to visit the concentration camps?

Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner – Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem and Rav of Beit El - hosts a radio call-in show in Israel focusing on questions of Jewish Law and faith. The questions range from familial relationships to national and international issues, from the most minute details of halachic observance to broad Torah philosophy, current issues of the day to life in the World to Come. Rav Aviner is one of the leading Rabbis of Religious-Zionism today. A prominent student of Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, who followed directly in the footsteps of his father, Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, Rav Aviner answers every question from his amazing breadth of Torah knowledge, with great insight and sensitivity and with his incredible sense of humor. The callers span the entire gamut of observance and non-observance. Rav Aviner speaks to each of them "ba'asher hu sham" – in his current spiritual state.

More than 250 questions and answers!

The cost of the book is 60 shekels in Israel and $20 outside of Israel (shipping included).

To order this book, please send a check:
American Friends of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim
PO BOX 1076
Jerusalem, Israel 91009

Attn: Mordechai Tzion

Questions: mororly@bezeqint.net

A Boy who Becomes Bar Mitzvah during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: If a boy becomes a bar mitzvah during the period of Sefirat Ha-Omer, should he continue to count Sefirat Ha-Omer with a blessing after his bar mitzvah?
A: He may continue to count Sefirat Ha-Omer with a blessing based on three reasons:
1. Although he did not have an obligation to count before his bar mitzvah, he nonetheless counted. Counting is counting.
2. He had a rabbinic obligation of "chinuch – education" to count before his bar mitzvah and the mitzvah of Sefirat Ha-Omer is a rabbinic mitzvah in our time. Both obligations are therefore rabbinic in nature, and one rabbinic obligation can join with the other rabbinic obligation. Nonetheless there can be discussions whether these obligations are equal since perhaps before he is a bar mitzvah there are two rabbinic laws and after he is a bar mitzvah there is only one rabbinic law.
3. There is also an opinion among the Rishonim (early authorities) which states that each day of Sefirat Ha-Omer is a separate mitzvah. There is a dispute whether there is one mitzvah to count all forty-nine days or whether each and every day is a mitzvah in and of itself. In this dispute, the halachic authorities rule that we are strict not to continue counting with a blessing if we forget to count one day because of a doubt which opinion is correct (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 489:8). In our case, however, since we are combining a few reasons together, we can say that perhaps the opinion which states that each day of counting is a mitzvah in and of itself is the correct one.
There is in fact a dispute regarding our question. Some authorities rule that a bar mitzvah should not continue to count with a blessing. These include: Shut Pri Ha-Aretz (3:1), Shut Har Tzvi (2:76) and Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef in Shut Yechaveh Daat (3:29). Other authorities rule that a bar mitzvah should continue to count with a blessing, including: Shaarei Teshuvah on the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), Shut Ketav Sofer (Orach Chaim #99), Aruch Ha-Shulchan (ibid. #15) and Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot of Ha-Rav Moshe Sternbuch (1:313).
Based on a combination of the three above reasons, I say that one should follow the authorities who rule that a bar mitzvah should continue to count Sefirah with a blessing. Even though the basic mitzvah is to count and one who counts even without a blessing fulfills the mitzvah, the reality is that one who counts without a blessing feels that he is not really counting. This idea is mentioned in "Shearim Metzuyanim Ba-Halachah" (vol. 3 p. 129). This feeling is not correct and it is not a halachic factor, but it is an additional incentive to rule that a bar mitzvah should continue to count Sefirat Ha-Omer with a blessing.

Has the Vine Flowered?

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

“Let us go early to the vineyards. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give My love to you.” (Shir Ha-Shirim 7:13)
Let us see if the Land has begun to flower. Have we reached the stage of G-d's promise: “I will turn the desert into ponds, the arid land into springs of water” (Yeshayahu 41:18)? Let us
go out and see whether we have already merited the prophecy of, “But you, over mountains
of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My people Israel, for their return is
near" (Yechezkel 36:8). We entreat G-d. We want to return to the land, to the field, to the earth, to the farm, to the Kibbutz, to the village, to the Moshav. This, after all, is the well-known sign: "Rabbi Akiva said: you have no more obvious sign of the end of days than that of Yechezkel (ibid.): ‘But you, over mountains of Israel, shall yield your produce and bear your fruit for My Nation Israel, for their return is near’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi explains: "When the Land of Israel yields its fruit bountifully, then the end will be near, and you have no more obvious sign of the end of days than that."
The Redemption, the Messianic Era, begins with the Land yielding its fruits. In 5641, the Land began to yield fruits for its returning sons. The end of the exile began a little more than 100 years ago. The Jewish people are waiting for the Land to yield its fruits: “Let us go early to the vineyard. Let us see if the vine has flowered, if its blossoms have opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom.” The exile is described as a time of "No grapes left on the vine, no figs on the fig tree" (Yirmiyahu 8:13). We chant these words in the Haftarah of Tisha B’Av.
One time our master, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, mentioned this verse on Tisha b'Av. He wept and said, “Now there are grapes on the vine and figs on the fig tree. Now we have reached the stage of, ‘the vine flowering, its blossoms opening, the pomegranates in bloom’.”
“There I will give my love to you”: G-d responds: "There, in the Land of Israel, I will give you My love." The great repentance of the Jewish people, the great linking up between the Master of the Universe and the Jewish people occurs in the Land of Israel (Orot Ha-Teshuva 17a). Now that the blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom, there I will give My love to you.” "The green figs form on the fig tree. The young grapes [Hebrew: Semadar] give off fragrance. Arise, my darling. My fair one, come away!" (ibid. 2:13). "The green figs form on the fig tree": There still aren't any mature figs, only unripe ones. Matters still are not complete. "The young grapes give off fragrance." The grape plants as well are very young. Rashi explains: "When the flower falls off, and the grapes become separated from one another, and each grape can be individually recognized, that is called ‘Semadar’. On the surface, this verse describes a young man enticing his fiancée to follow after him." The verse describes a young man inviting his fiancée on an outing. "Come," he says to her. "This is not the time to remain at home. The winter is over. There is fresh air outside, birds and budding plants. The green figs and young grapes are forming.” The metaphor is of God telling us, "Come! Come!" As Rashi says: “‘The green figs form on the fig tree’ – The time has come for the first fruits to be brought, that you should come into the land. ‘The young grapes give off fragrance’ – The time of wine libations is drawing near.”
G-d is saying to us, “Come to the Land of Israel.” Amongst the Jewish People there were some in despair, hardly still believing. “The Israelites left Egypt well prepared [Chamushim]” (Shemot 13:18). Rashi comments, “Only one in five [Chamesh] left Egypt.” Four out of five were not privileged to leave, because they did not believe in the Redemption. Eighty percent remained there.
In our days as well, only twenty percent of the Jewish People understand that the blossoms have budded, and those twenty percent are in the Land. Eighty percent do not understand as well, and they remain in the Diaspora. G-d is rousing us, saying, “Come! There is already a beginning. The Spring has begun.” “Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, for our vineyard is in blossom” (Shir Ha-Shirim 2:15).
All the same, a problem arises. Within the Jewish people there are Jews who do harm, little foxes, small people of small faith, a small perspective lacking in wisdom and intellect, small, destructive people. "Catch us the foxes," these are foxes who ruin the vineyard, the vineyard of Israel. "Our vineyard is in blossom." Our vineyard is still in blossom. It is weak. It is only starting out. And that is the problem. Were the vineyard of Israel stronger, if they were in the full redemption, who could stand against us?! Yet everything is just starting out. It is only a blossoming. Therefore, there are small foxes who ruin it.
There are all sorts of foxes. There are Egyptian foxes, Jewish foxes, American foxes,
Russian foxes and Arab foxes. We have known many sorts of foxes in our history. Some were more powerful like Hitler. Others were small like Arafat. Compared to Hitler, Arafat was a minor fox. Some nations are foxes. There are elegant American foxes and there are also Jewish foxes. A fox is a sly but cowardly creature. Within every individual as well, there are inner, personal foxes. These are our inner passions, which sometimes ruin the vineyard -- the national vineyard, or the individual vineyard .The vineyard is in danger of ruin,especially when it is young. As Shir Ha-Shirim, Chapter 1 teaches, "My mother's sons quarreled with me. They made me guard the vineyards. My own vineyard I did not guard" (1:6). But there is no need to worry. When the vineyard becomes stronger, no fox will succeed in ruining it. When we left Egypt we were like unripe fruit. That is why we had so many problems.
And today as well, we are like unripe fruit. There is a certain logic to waiting until everyone
becomes righteous and only then to build the State, but it's not always possible to wait. The
Belzer Rebbe met Rabbi Natan Ra’anan, the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and said to him, "All the Jews we wanted to turn into saints before they came to the Land of Israel were consumed in the crematoria." You can't wait. The State of Israel today is like unripe fruit. People who are not enormous saints in Torah or in their understanding of the Land of Israel or even in mundane matters are running this country. Yet
even they will ultimately "give off fragrance". Even their deeds provide a good fragrance for
G-d. Unripe food is not the same as a fruitless shade tree. The latter will never have fruit. By
contrast, the unripe fruit will eventually ripen. You just have to wait patiently. Therefore,
unripe fruit is precious and its fragrance is good, enough so for God to tell us, "Arise my
darling! Come away!"

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #54-55

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

The second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei is called "Gevura" (strength). It discusses Hashem’s heroic strength and power. This "Gevura" is always present, even if it is sometimes hidden. The greatest example that we will ever see of this is Techiyat Ha-Meitim - the Resurrection of the Dead, which will occur at some point after the coming of the Mashiach. This miraculous event could certainly only be performed by Hashem. We know that this will eventually happen, even if it may be a long way away. We wait and never give up.
It is important to note that Techiyat Ha-Meitim applies not just to individuals. It also applies to nations. Exile is filled with terrible pains and suffering. People have thought for centuries that the Jewish People would disappear. But the Jewish People are being reborn even stronger and greater than before. Hashem restores us to life, both as individuals and as Klal Yisrael.

In the third blessing of "Ha-Kel Ha-Kadosh", we say to Hashem that "Kedoshim praise you daily." Who are these Kedoshim? One explanation is that these are the "Melachim" (angels). Another explanation is that we are the Kedoshim. Am Yisrael is the Kedoshim. These aren't necessarily contradictory explanations. The Ramchal explains that someone who becomes a Kadosh becomes like an angel. Hashem made angels and He also made people that can become like angels. We can become Kedoshim through our actions, thoughts and treatment of others. Learning Torah is a part of this. But we also have to act in a holy way. If someone learns a lot of Torah but acts improperly or dishonestly, it is a tremendous desecration of Hashem. People question if the Torah and its mitzvot are worth anything if someone who is supposedly a Torah Jew acts badly.

Women and Aliyah to the Torah

Question: Is it permissible for a woman to receive an Aliyah to the Torah?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 282:3) rules that she may not.

Women's Tefillah Group

Question: May women organize a Women's Tefillah Group with a Torah reading?
Answer: No. There is no such concept, it is a new creation. We may not invent Halachot. See what Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter wrote: that there are 12 prohibitions violated by doing so (Be-Ikvei Ha-Tzon pp. 21-37). See also Ha-Rav Soloveitchik in Mi-Penini Ha-Rav pp. 67-68).

Educating During Adolescence

We mentioned that a child should not begin school until the age of six. But even before the age of six a child should not be abandoned. The Sefer Ha-Chinuch (Mitzvah #419) writes that when the child begins to talk, we teach him the verse "Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe" and the first sentence of the Shema, and teach other verses little-by-little.
The verses of the Torah are not only sustenance for the intellect: they are primarily for the soul. They help the soul grow.
But, all-in-all, it must be done without pressure. The Sefer Ha-Chinuch, whose author is unknown (some say it is Rabbi Aharon of Barcelona), continues that one should not overburden a child in learning since his limbs and heart are gentle. When he grows and strengthens himself, physically and spiritually, he will be able to withstand the rigors of learning.
This is the general principle that during adolescence: the foundation must be laid with love and pleasantness, without coercion, in order to awaken his desire to learn.

Shut SMS #111

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

Hanging Signs
Q: Is it permissible to hang signs for Jonathan Pollard in a public place?
A: Only in places where it is allowed by law.

Proposal with a Ring
Q: Should one propose marriage with a ring?
A: This is a new creation. One should refrain from doing so since there is a concern of Kiddushin. If it is done, it should be without witnesses.

Broken in the Mail
Q: I ordered something by mail and it arrived broken. Who is responsible for the damage?
A: The sender. He is obligated to wrap it properly so that it will not break. If it was wrapped properly, the postal service is responsible.

Talit Covering the Head
Q: Should one daven the Shemoneh Esrei with the Talit covering his head?
A: It depends on the custom of the place. Some do so, others do not. In some communities only Torah scholars or married men do so (Mishnah Berurah 8:4, 91:6. Nefesh Ha-Rav pp. 104-105).

Ring for a Soldier
Q: Is it proper for a married soldier to wear a wedding ring so that the female soldiers on the base know he is married?
A: Yes. This is a good idea.

Bus Transfer
Q: Is it permissible to give a bus transfer to a friend?
A: No. It is designated for the one who purchased the ticket.

When is the "Right Time"
Q: How do I know when I am ready to get married?
A: Ask your friends who know you personally.

Q: Is it permissible to do yoga?
A: The technique is permissible, but only without their beliefs.

Keeping Love Alive
Q: How does a couple keep their love alive for the long run?
A: A daily conversation of 20-30 minutes to express thoughts and feelings.

Tachanun on Yom Ha-Atzmaut
Q: I learn in a Charedi yeshiva in which Tachanun is said on Yom Ha-Atzamaut. I disagree with this practice. Should I leave when the others say it?
A: It is permissible to stay, and not recite Tachanun yourself. But not in defiant way, since you are required to honor the Torah, and this is the place where you learn.

Women Dancing with the Torah
Q: I don't see why it is forbidden for women to dance with the Torah on Simchat Torah. I feel passionate about it.
A: It is nonetheless forbidden. Perhaps this is only the first request, which will bring other similar demands in the same vein. If it is only an isolated request, perhaps there will be women dressed immodestly and it is not proper for them to hold the Torah. And if they are dressed modestly, perhaps they not are in a state of purity. And if they are in a state of purity, perhaps there motive is not pure, i.e. they want to imitate or compete with men. And if you say that their motive is pure, we still should not change the established custom which has been observed for thousands of years. Regarding your passion: it is preferable for you to be passionate in observing that which you are obligated to do, as the reward for one who is commanded to observe something and does so is greater than one who is not commanded to do something and does so.

Christians in Israel
Q: How should we relate to Christians who want to be drafted into Tzahal and establish a settlement in the Shomron?
A: We do not encourage Christians to live in the Land. This is the Land of Avraham Avinu who fought against idol worship.

Separate Seating at a Wedding
Q: I want separate seating at the wedding and at the meal, but my fiancée does not. What should we do?
A: According to Halachah, you are certainly correct. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:8. But there is a difference of opinion between you and you fiancée, and there will be many more throughout your marriage. You have to decide together.

Disparaging Torah Scholars
Q: I am distressed by the disparaging of Torah scholars that is prevalent in our community, since it is baseless hatred and disgraces the honor of the Torah. What should I do?
A: Increase your honor of Torah scholars and baseless love. It will help to heal.

Eliyahu Ha-Navi
Q: Was Eliyahu Ha-Navi born from a woman?
A: Yes. And Moshe Rabbenu. And the Messiah will also be born from a woman.

Red Meat and Chicken
Q: Is it permissible to eat red meat and chicken mixed together?
A: It is permissible.

Killing a terrorist when he has stopped murdering

Q: Is it ethical to kill a terrorist when it is logical to assume that he will no longer murder?
A: This question can be divided into two parts: 1. From the perspective of reality, how is it possible to be certain that he has stopped murdering? It is impossible to know. 2. Even if we know that he will no longer murder, we must still kill him. But why – isn't this the law of a "rodef" (literally "pursuer" - a case in which one is permitted to kill a pursuer so that the pursued person is saved from harm)? If he is in pursuit, we kill him and if he is not in pursuit, we do not kill him. There are three answers given by halachic authorities: a. The terrorist is not finished being a "rodef". He is not an "individual rodef" who is angry with a particular person and wants to kill him, he is a "communal rodef" who wants to kill Jews and he does not care which Jews they are. If we capture him, put him in jail, and he is later released, as is the custom – to our great distress – he will continue to murder. The organization of parents of those murdered by terrorists has exact records which state that more than 180 Jews have been murdered by released terrorists who have murdered again. This means that when you free a terrorist with the proper goal of helping Jews, you endanger more Jews. This person is therefore not a one-time "rodef," but a perpetual "rodef." b. The halachic authorities also say that you should kill him in order that others will see and be frightened. This "rodef" is teaching other "rodefim" through his action. If he kills Jews and when the police approach, he gives up and we have mercy on him, we encourage others to act like him, thus endangering other Jews. Therefore, in situations like these, we must be extremely ethical. The question is, ethical to whom – the "rodef" or others Jews? Answer: to both of them. We must be ethical to the Jews who have done nothing wrong and to him, since if we kill him, we stop him from killing others and lessen his "Gehinom" (punishment in the World to Come). The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (71b) says that the "ben sorer u-moreh" (the rebellious son – see Devarim 21:18-21) is killed on account of his future. While he has done many things wrong, he has not committed a sin for which he is liable for capital punishment, but he is killed so that he will die innocent and not guilty. In our case the terrorist is already liable, but he should die liable and not even more liable. We do not use the concept "he should die innocent and not die guilty" to create new laws, but to explain them. C. These are halachot of war, and in war, we do not lock up an enemy who is shooting at us, but we fire back at him. This is similar to what King Shaul said to the "Keni" (Shmuel 1 15:6): "Go, depart, go down from among Amalek, lest I destroy you with them." This means, even though you are my friend, if you are there, you could get hurt or killed. In the halachot of war, we do not make such calculations as it says, "The best of the non-Jews should be killed." The Tosafot raised a major difficulty with this statement: how can we say such a thing when according to halachah it is forbidden to kill a non-Jew and all the more so the best of the non-Jews (Tosafot to Avodah Zarah 26b and see Beit Yosef Yoreh Deah 158)? Tosafot explained that this statement refers to a time of war. This non-Jew seems pleasant or, in our case, he killed but he will be pleasant. No, we did not make such calculations in a time of war; even a pleasant-seeming non-Jew is killed.
In sum: we therefore see that killing a terrorist is ethical.

Two Articles for Yom Ha-Atzmaut - Building Eretz Yisrael Together: The Charedim and the Secular, and Everyone in Between

The Charedim and Self-Sacrifice for Eretz Yisrael
Question: You often say that Eretz Yisrael requires self-sacrifice, and you quote numerous sources about this. Yet Charedi rabbis do not hold this way. Instead, they emphasize the Mitzvah of “Guard yourself very carefully” (Devarim 4:15). How can we know which is the right way?

Answer: I have never seen a halachic ruling by a Charedi rabbi stating that Eretz Yisrael does not require self-sacrifice. Moreover, throughout the generations, Charedim have shown self-¬sacrifice for Eretz Yisrael. They’ve moved here, lived here and established settlements here, all under dangerous conditions. Petach Tikva was founded by Charedim from Jerusalem in 5635, under danger of malaria, as the famous Hebrew song, “Yoel Moshe Solomon” relates.

Likewise, it was not always easy in Jerusalem itself, facing the hostility of Arab neighbors. The people suffered from contagious diseases, lethal plagues, attacks by bandits, poverty, lack of food, and worst of all, lack of water. Small children cried out day and night, “A little water!” Many families moved to Jaffa and Gaza. Out of despair they would drink from foul cisterns. In 5589 a miracle occurred through the disciples of the Vilna Gaon, and a spring poured forth outside the city for eight days, an hour and a half each day, enabling them to carry off thousands of flasks of water (see the book “Mossad Ha-Yesod,” pp. 124-125).

Here is a Charedi story:
During the 5689 riots, on Friday, the 17th of Av, rioters ran wild throughout the country, cruelly ransacking and murdering. In the afternoon, thousands of inflamed Arabs stormed out of the Mosque of Omar after being saturated with the hateful incitement of the Mufti, Haj Amin Al-Huseini, and marched forward, armed with knives and clubs. Most of them advanced towards the neighborhoods of Meah Shearim and Beit Yisrael, with cries of “Slaughter the Jews.” At the head of the inflamed throng marched an Arab sheik, waving a long sword and firing up the rioters not to have pity on men, women or children, since it was a holy war -- a jihad.

When the rioters reached the Italian hospital, two Charedi youths emerged from the flour mill at the southern edge of Meah Shearim and advanced towards the rioters. One of them, who had curly side-locks flowing from under his hat, pulled out a pistol and shot straight into the mouth of the sheik walking in front, and he died on the spot. The inflamed masses were seized with fright and they began to flee in the direction of Damascus Gate, while the two youths chased after them, throwing a hand grenade which killed three more rioters. Moreover, the rioters trampled one another to death during their escape.

That same bearded youth who fired the pistol was the saintly Rav Aharon Fisher, father of the illustrious Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fisher, Chief Rabbinic Justice of Edah Ha-Charedit in our own times.

The next day, the great Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, who lived in the Old City, had to go to Meah Shearim as a Mohel. His family and friends were terribly worried about him, and they begged him not to go, but he insisted. He would not forego the Mitzvah.

The eighty-year-old rabbi, clad in his tallit, walked to Meah Shearim not by way of the Jaffa Gate, but by way of the Damascus Gate, a troublesome spot even in normal times. He walked calmly along the same route where thousands of murderers had walked, in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of circumcision, and he returned by way of the Jaffa Gate. When he was later asked why he went specifically by way of the Damascus Gate, he responded, “So that the Arabs would not think that they had succeeded in banishing the Jews from even one corner or street in Jerusalem.” And why had he returned by way of Jaffa Gate? “Such is my regular custom, in order to fulfill the words, “Walk around Zion. Circle her” (Tehillim 48:13) (Be-Dor Tahapuchot, Rav Shlomo Zalman Zonnenfeld, pages 226-229, 393-396).

It is well-known that the illustrious Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld was not a Zionist. Quite the contrary, he ascribed to the opposite view. He was the most Charedi of Charedim, and an opponent of Maran Ha-Rav Araham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook.

To say that the Charedim did not sacrifice themselves for this Land is a severe libel. Meah Shearim was established on a spot where people were afraid of bandits. The Charedim sacrificed themselves for the Land, or more precisely, for the word of G-d, who commanded us to settle the Land.

Weiss Shendor Wakes Everyone for Selichot?!
In the midst of the Holocaust, a brilliant Torah Scholar, Ha-Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal (who had been an anti-Zionist but changed his opinion during the Holocaust), delivered a Dvar Torah in Slovakia when he returned there during some stage of his hiding from the Nazis. He was responding to the Ultra-Orthodox view against returning to Eretz Yisrael because of the secular nature of Zionism.
He said: What can we say, how can we speak and how can we justify ourselves? G-d has found the sin of your servant.
I will tell you a story: In a small town there was a Shamash of a Shul who died, leaving behind a widow. The people of the community thought about how they could provide her with some financial support, for at that time there was no pension for widows. Perhaps it would be possible to allow her to continue the work of her late husband. On the other hand - it is not proper for a woman to serve as the Shamash of a Shul. Eventually it was decided that she would carry out those activities that could be performed outside of the synagogue, while the tasks of the Shamash during prayer times would be filled by the worshippers themselves, on a voluntary basis. Thus the woman would be able to continue earning the salary that her husband had received.
It came time for "Selichot," and as part of her job the woman had to get up and go about from house to house in the village, waking the people for Selichot. She took the special "Selichot Klopper" in her hand and headed for the most distant house in the village – the home of Weiss Shendor. When she knocked on the door, Weiss Shendor awoke, alarmed at the disturbance at such an unusual hour. When he opened the door and saw the wife of the Shamash, he asked what she wanted. She explained that as part of her duties she had to go from house to house, waking everyone for Selichot. When Weiss Shendor heard this, he tried to persuade her that it was not seemly for a woman to go about outside so early in the morning, in such cold and wet weather, and that it would be better if he did the job in her stead. The woman accepted the offer and handed him the "Selichot Klopper," and Weiss Shendor set off to wake up the people.
Upon knocking at the first house he was asked to identify himself. He answered, "I am Weiss Shendor, and I have taken it upon myself to wake up the people for Selichot."
The house owner was incensed. "Weiss Shendor? A pork-eater like you isn't going to wake me for Selichot!" With that he slammed the door and went back to sleep.
He went off to the second house and again came the question, "Who is it?" Again he gave the same reply, and again the same response: "Weiss Shendor? A Shabbat desecrator like you will not come and wake me for Selichot!" Again a door was slammed in his face.
The same thing happened at the next house: "A swindler and gambler like you will not wake me for Selichot!" – and so on, at every house throughout the entire village. The wake-up round ended with nothing more to show for itself than a trail of scorn and disdain. Not a single person got up for Selichot.
When the congregation was gathered for the morning davening, the Rabbi asked: "What happened this year - no one came to the Shul for Selichot?" The people started justifying themselves and explaining that it was all Weiss Shendor's fault. He was a shady character who was notorious throughout the village. Because it was he who had come to awaken them for Selichot, each of them had refused to come.
"Fools!" responded the Rabbi. "It's true that Weiss Shendor is guilty of everything that you've accused him, but at this time he was waking you for Selichot. He wasn't doing any of the bad things that he's known for. So why didn't you get up?”

Here Rav Teichtal burst into tears and shouted: It's true that the Zionists desecrate Shabbat and so forth, but it was they who awakened the Nation and shouted: "Get out of the rubble, the non-Jews hate us, there is no place for us, except in Eretz Yisrael" – and we didn't listen!
(Based on the testimony of Mordechai Rosenfeld, who was present during Rav Teichtal's talk, as recorded in Be-Sheva, vol. 163, 3 Tishrei 5766).

One Shepherd or Several?

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

Question: Do we, the religious Zionists, have one shepherd as do the Charedim, or several?
Answer: There are several shepherds, and all of them are beloved. Once we could say that we had one shepherd: Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, and after him, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, but now we have several shepherds.
Yet when we say "shepherd", we have a preliminary question to clarify: upon which green pastures is he shepherding the flocks, and where is he leading them? And if the shepherd does not know which direction to go, he must look at the flock: “If you do not know, fairest of women, Go follow the tracks of the sheep” (Shir Ha-Shirim 1:8). As is well-known, Ikvei HaTzon [the tracks of the sheep] is the name of a book by Maran Ha-Rav Kook, in which the Shepherd explains the characteristics of the sheep, as far as how to lead them.
Now then, where are the sheep headed? The answer is simple: we are rising to rebirth.
We are not ignoring all the shortcomings in our communal lives, writes Rav Kook in his book Orot. Yet even taking all that into account, we have to concede that we are being born anew as a Nation, a Nation in its Land and in its State.
And here is where the shepherd’s task comes into play: we need workers and soldiers, and no less than that, we need men of faith and men of spirit. That is the shepherd’s task: to invest a soul into the Nation’s rebirth, or, more precisely, to uncover the soul hidden within the Nation's rebirth.
In this regard, Maran Ha-Rav Kook had four ideas about who should do this:
1. The Charedim. Certainly the Charedim, who are devoted to Torah and Mitzvot, to the fear of G-d and to sterling character, should be the natural spiritual leaders of the Nation's rebirth. Yet, as is well-known, that has not materialized. Why not? This is not the place to analyze that. It suffices for us to accept the fact that the Charedim have not taken an interest in the Nation’s rebirth in its Land.
2. The Mizrachi. Seemingly the Mizrachi is suited precisely to this. After all, engraved upon its flag are the words: the Nation of Israel in the Land of Israel according to the Torah of
Israel. Yet here a problem arose, writes Rav Kook in his letters: the Mizrachi are compromisers. They compromise both on Torah and on the Land of Israel. Since they compromise on Torah, the Charedim are not attracted by them, and since they compromise
on the Land of Israel, the Zionists are not attracted by them.
Yet, let us not fall prey to slander. Their compromises do not necessarily stem from weakness, but from a calculation of national responsibility, that in order to gather vast numbers under that umbrella, they mustn't be overly precise - they should round out corners. Once more, this is not the place to discuss this. Suffice it to say that in actual fact, the Mizrachi did not fulfill its role of leading the Nation.
3. Degel Yerushalayim. Therefore, Maran Ha-Rav Kook conceived the idea of establishing a new movement that would bind together within it Charedim devoted to the Nation’s rebirth. After all, they will be Charedim, hence the God-fearing public will place their trust in them, and since they will be devoted to the Nation's rebirth, the Zionists and the nationalists and the builders will derive from them a lofty spiritual soul. Obviously, all this would not happen in one day, but through a prolonged process. Yet this plan did not succeed either. Once more, we will not discuss why, although that is very important. Rather, we will advance in our analysis.
4. Mercaz HaRav. The fourth idea, which has in fact succeeded, was Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, the Central Universal Yeshiva. The Yeshiva itself has undergone changes and transitions, but
it addresses young people profoundly connected to the Nation’s rebirth, to the rebuilding of
the Nation in its Land, to the Army and to the State, and it raises them up in Torah until they
become great Torah scholars. Rav Kook and Rav Tzvi Yehuda envisioned the correct process, and from the Yeshiva, whose beginnings were small, were born numerous Yeshivot, spread throughout our Land, each with its own special hue. The result has been hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of great Torah scholars glorifying the Nation and serving as
its spiritual leadership. Myriads of women have obviously contributed as well.
Clearly, when we say "leader", we do not mean a dictator before whom all stand at attention, but somebody who gradually taps into all of the spiritual resources stored away in the
Nation. As with any human process, ups and downs are likely to occur. It is important to note, however, that while dozens and dozens of Yeshivot stemmed from Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav, each with its own particular character, anyone who takes a look at them in the spirit of intellectual tranquility, must admit that there are no great differences between these "daughters" of the mother-Yeshiva. What divides them is minor compare to what unites them: the Nation's rebirth in its land according to its Torah.
True, these small differences bring with them large arguments, yet such is the nature of the lively world of the spirit. This is also the impression one gets from studying Talmud and Jewish law. He thinks he is drowning in a sea of crashing waves, of countless debates, but the truth is that the Rabbis agree on 99% of the issues, with the “world wars” being fought over that 1%.
Yet the very existence of those hues needn't bother us. The main thing is that everybody should respect everybody else. Differences of opinion -- yes. Divided hearts -- no.
It is natural for there to be differences of opinion. There always have been and there always
will be. Even when the Sanhedrin arises and there is one law, there
will still be diverse opinions. But out of this plethora of views will come a single halachic decision, and even that decision could be reversed over time. As is explained in the first chapter of Mishnayot Eduyot, that is the “banquet hall” to which we aspire – a time of uniform law. In the meantime, however, we remain in the “waiting room,” where we are expected to honor one another. We needn’t agree, but we have to show respect. We mustn't ridicule. We mustn't engage in name-calling. We mustn't compartmentalize or assign labels. After all, the ends do not justify the means. One does not perform a Mitzvah by way of a sin. And even for the sake of the greater goal of one's view winning out, one mustn't ridicule anybody, let alone a Torah scholar. And even more so we must not ridicule anybody in the public media for all to hear. That is not the “waiting room” that will lead us to the “banquet hall”.
Indeed, amongst the Rabbis who have spread out from the central Yeshiva, there are many variants: some are more open, some are less so; some love secular knowledge more and some less; some take an interest in culture, and some back away from it; some are more devoted to the State and to the Army, and some less so, and so on, through all the various differences.
At such a time, we have to remember that it is impossible to unite by force or to force our views upon others. After all, we are not talking about small details which one can sometimes forgo for the sake of unity and peace, but about differences in approach that very often are deeply ingrained in the life force of that Torah scholar. It may represent his raison d'etre, through which he views his entire mission.
Therefore, there is also a blessing in the fact that each sapling keeps a distance from the other saplings, as in the metaphor of Maran Ha-Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh 3:15), lest they steal air and sun and water from one another. Each sapling can develop in a totally free manner. And when it grows up and becomes strong, all of the saplings will join together and the entire row will appear in all its perfection.
Indeed, every approach has to be clarified and strengthened on its own terms, for when all is said and done, a new question stands here before us: the Nation's rebirth. Certainly this is an age-old question, yet for us, no question could be newer. And such was the practice of the first scholars of the Mishnah: every one of them delved as deeply as he could into his
master’s words, in order to pass them on as an inheritance down through the generations.
They did not engage in comparing their master’s approach to other approaches, with questions and answers. Rather, their mission was this: to delve deeply and to understand and to clarify and to strengthen the words of one's master. Only later generations could engage in the work of comparing and unifying after each approach had been well fortified, as may be understood from Rashi on Niddah 8b, at the bottom.
The guiding principle must be for each one to tend to his own garden without trampling the garden of his fellow, and the magnificent end will come.
Parenthetically, it is not clear that among the Charedim there is only one shepherd.
And indeed, this whole communal division between Charedim and Religious Zionists has
no place. There is only one Torah. Neither does the communal division between secular and religious have any place. We are all one people. “And who is like Your Nation, Israel, one Nation in the Land" (Shmuel 1 7:23).

Kitzur Tefilat Amecha #52-53

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

One of the ways in which we describe Hashem in the Shemoneh Esrei is El. This is one of Hashem’s names, and relates to Chesed. Therefore, in the Shemoneh Esrei, after we twice describe Hashem as El, we say that he does “good Chesed.” By saying this now, when we are praising Hashem, we are recognizing that everything we have in our lives is due to Hashem’s Chesed and mercy. We are not entitled to any of it. Without this Chesed, nothing would remain.
We describe Hashem’s Chesed as “good.” Can there be Chesed that is not good? There are certainly things that may appear to us as good, but turn out to be bad. For example, if a parent gives a child too many sweets, the child may think it is good - but it’s really bad. But all of Hashem’s Chesed is good. Sometimes we don’t see the “big picture” and feel that things are not good. But eventually, even if it takes many years, it becomes clear that Hashem has indeed done Chesed for us. The Gemara in Pesachim notes that in this world we say the blessing of “Dayan Ha-Emet” for bad news and “Tov Ve-Ha-Meitiv” for good news. But in the world to come we will only say “Tov Ve-Ha-Meitiv” as we will recognize that everything Hashem does it truly for the good.

The first blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei ends with our blessing Hashem as the protector of Avraham. Despite all of the difficulties and challenges Avraham faced, he was protected. He experienced many miracles. The Rambam says that the closer someone gets to Hashem the more Hashem protects him. Avraham was so close to Hashem that Hashem always protected him. This protection carries down for all generations, even if it is at a different level then Avraham had. Klal Yisrael, as a Nation, has this protection, and we need to be thankful to Hashem for this special gift.

"A five year old begins to learn Chumash"

As is known, our Sages established that a five year old should begin to learn Chumash (Avot 5:21). As in all human endeavors, however, we must remember that life is not a science and this is an average age, not a strict requirement.
In general, children cannot control themselves until this age. Rabbi Moshe ben Machir therefore writes in his book "Seder Ha-Yom" not to bring a child to school before this age, since it causes the child much distress with little benefit. One Rabbi in the Gemara told his student, who was a teacher, not to accept a child until the age of six and then feed him like an ox (Ketubot 50 a). Before that, only feed him small portions.
But do not be mistaken: none of this should be done with coercion. One must create a pleasant atmosphere through which the desire to learn is awakened within the child (Rashi ibid.).

Celebrating after Osama bin Laden's Death

With America and the entire world riveted by the US Military's success in assassinating Osama bin Laden, we felt it important to bring you Rav Aviner's response to the death of Yassir Arafat (in 5765).

When Your Enemy Falls, Do Not Rejoice?

It is true that it says in Mishlei (24:17): "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice," but there are enemies and there are Enemies.

The Talmud in Megillah (16a) relates that when Mordechai was led around on the horse by Haman, he did not treat him exceedingly mercifully. When Haman questioned him: Doesn’t the verse say, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice"? Mordechai responded: This does not refer to you.

Arafat was like Haman. He not only wanted to kill Jews, but actively did so, and left many widows, widowers, and orphans, as well as thousands of wounded and suffering. We could say that every child in Israel has a wound on his soul for a person who was close to him who was murdered.

It is also true that when the angels wanted to sing and join with the song of the Children of Israel after the Splitting of the Red Sea, the Master of the Universe prevented them, saying: "My handiwork has drowned in the sea and you are singing a song?" (see Sanhedrin 39b and Megillah 10b). This is correct, and yet the Children of Israel did sing! How so? We are not angels. As the Admor of Pisetzna, Rav Kalman Kalonymus Shapira, wrote during the Holocaust (see "Aish Kodesh"): Was an angel ever hit? Was an angel ever murdered? Was an angel ever humiliated? We were! The angels did not suffer as we did in Egypt, so they could not sing. But we did suffer -- suffered immensely -- and therefore during the Exodus from Egypt "Moshe sang." And Miriam and the women also went out with singing and dancing after the Splitting of Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. And so, for Arafat, as for the Egyptians, we say, "and joy went through the camp" (Melachim 1 22:26) and we say "when the wicked perish, there is joy" (Mishlei 11:10).

May we be comforted by the building of Jerusalem.