Parashat Lech Lecha: Avraham Avinu – Father of all Mankind

[Tal Chermon]

Question: Is it correct to infer from the fact that Avraham is the father of all mankind that all the nations must become Jewish?
Answer: Rashi, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereshit 17:5), hints at this very question. Avraham's name was originally "Avram" which is an acronym meaning "the father of Aram." This means that he was a national leader, the father of his nation, Aram. Later, however, his name (and together with it his mission) was changed to "Avraham" which indicates his universal task as "the father of the multitude of nations." A remnant of his former name remains in his new name which shows that despite his new universal character, he still retains his national character. He is both universal and particularistic. This is not an anomaly: the Kuzari (2:36) says "Israel is the heart of the nations." Or, as the Zohar puts it, "the mind of the nations" (Zohar, Mishpatim 108. See Orot Yisrael of Rav Kook 1, 1). The comparison to the essential limbs, the heart and the mind, indicates that Israel is on a different level of existence from the rest of mankind, which could be compared to inessential parts of the body, such as the leg or the ear. We are the central life force present of humanity. But we must remember that the heart only has significance when it is connected with the rest of the body - not as a detached organ sitting in isolation.

We are inextricably linked to the rest of the nations and have a responsibility towards them, but at the same time we are also distinct and separate from them. Along with them, we possess the Divine image that exists in mankind, but we are above them from our external vantage point, "as a Nation that will dwell alone, not counting itself among the nations" (Bamidbar 23:9). We must use our special characteristics to help them. This state of connection and separateness can be exemplified by the world of ideas. There are ideas that are common to both Jews and non-Jews and it makes no difference if they were conceived by Aristotle or, on a completely different level, by the Rambam. These ideas are broad concepts, well beyond national distinctions. A second category of thought is one where the idea is universal but the style in which it is stated is specific to each nation. Therefore, they have to be specially adapted to our specific national style before they can be adopted. This is unlike the first category that can be adopted without any alterations. There is a third class of ideas which are distinctly ours. Regarding them, we are "as a Nation that will dwell alone, not counting itself among the nations." These ideas are specifically ours and have no connection whatsoever with the non-Jews. This example in the sphere of ideas also applies to the practical world. We and our forefather Avraham are one and act identically. Avraham was connected to the nations as "the father of the multitude of nations," but also a "mighty nation" (Bereshit 12:2), naturally separated from the nations and also a source of blessing to them. In the same way, we are both nationalistic and universalistic, and a source of blessing for the entire world.

And it came to pass, after Migron…

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Noach 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: The terrible wound inflicted upon my flesh at Migron has not yet healed. It can never heal. In the middle of the night, they brutally dragged us out as though we were criminals. Young boys and young girls included. Little children in pajamas. Violence. Cruelty. “We are just following orders!” There was no one to talk to. Arabs threw our possessions out the window, breaking some of them in the process. That’s right- they used an Arab moving company to take us away. They touched the women and the girls obscenely. Big heroes for dealing with children! Somebody fainted, but they didn’t let the ambulance corps come near.
Unprecedented! The whole thing was just so pathetic, just so wretched.
Germans banished my grandmother and grandfather from their homes and told them, “Go to Palestine!” And here the Jews chase us out of our homes, at Katif and at Migron. Hearts of stone. Such a heavy blow! And now this country of mine is betraying me. The IDF is betraying me. Enough! It’s no longer my country. I don’t love it any more. I no longer feel attached to it. I am angry at it. I hate it…

Answer: Dear friend! I weep at the sound of your lament. It doesn’t matter whether I shed my tears publicly. Inside I weep. It really is terrible! But what shall we do? What do you suggest? In our country, we are all different, and we are pulling in different directions.
I fear that Gush Katif and Migron will not be the last instances of this sort. I hope and pray that I am wrong, and I strive to keep more from happening, but I can’t promise it won’t be. There are liable to be more harsh conflicts like these. So what shall we do? Shall you establish your own private country that fits your worldview?! Shall every group establish its own country? We are in this together for better or for worse.
In the last year of his life, every Saturday night, Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook would repeat the same expression: “nerves of steel”. Apparently he foresaw that we would need nerves of steel to face the new week.
By the way, there was an incident that was even worse than the expulsions from Gush Katif and Migron: the Altalena incident. Jews shot at Jews: in the midst of the War of Independence, in the Land of Israel, and for the sake of the Land of Israel. We are very fortunate that it didn’t turn into a civil war. It was then that Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda wrote his article, “Mi-Ma’amakim” [From the Depths]. And what solution does he suggest there to that outburst of hatred? Increasing our love of our fellow Jews, opening the emergency warehouses of love of Israel (Li-Netivot Yisrael 1). And even before that, he had written his article, “Et Achai Anochi Mevakesh” [I am looking for my brothers], during the “Season” [when some Jews were informing on their fellow Jewish Lechi and Etzel underground fighters to the British]. Then, as well, he set forth the rules of the conflict: no violence, no insults and no hatred (ibid.).
And still earlier, Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook wrote his article, “Al Chilul Hashem” [About the Profanation of G-d’s Name], writing that the worst thing there could be is hatred between us (Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah).
We’ve known this for a long time. Our greatest enemy is the hatred between us. It was groundless hatred that destroyed our Temple, our Land.
Read the Psalms again and again. Remember how much hatred and wickedness King David suffered at the hands of his Jewish brethren, and yet he never returned their hatred. He, too, was banished from his home and his throne. And by whom? By Avshalom, his own son.
Even so, he gave orders not to harm Avshalom under any circumstances. Beloved, suffering brother. Imagine a father who beat his son with murderous blows. The son shouted back, “You’ve gone much too far! You’ve crossed all lines! I’m no longer your son! Good bye!”
Yet he could also have responded, “Dad, I’m angry. I’m battered. I’m wounded. I’m hurt. Yet you’re still my father, and I owe you a lot. I’m staying home.”
Which of the two possibilities should one choose? I don’t know. The son will choose for himself. But let me tell you a second story:
A son beat his father with murderous blows. The father responded, “That’s it! You’ve gone too far! You’re no longer my son. I don’t recognize you as such. I’m blotting you from my memory. Get out of my house and never come back! For me, you no longer exist.” Or, he could respond, “Son! I’m wounded and in pain, angry and sorrowful, but you’re my son. I believe in you. The door is always open. I know you’ll return and I’ll always wait for you.”
Which of the two should the father choose? Here there is only one choice: the second. If the father closes the door, this son will deteriorate and will never come back. He’s a lost son.
Now let’s think together. In our case, who’s the father and who’s the son? Perhaps the government, the country and the army? Perhaps they’re the great father who is beating you so badly? Perhaps it’s they who make the decisions and run things, and you’re just a young son, trying to survive amidst the waves of rage?
Or perhaps the opposite is the case? Perhaps you’re the father, you’re the thinker, you’re the philosopher, the man of faith, the man of vision, the person who gazes into the distance based on a higher ideal, and the government is the young son, limping along and confused, captive to his own base understandings?
Indeed, who is the father here and who is the son? That depends on the argument between historic materialism and historic idealism.
Marx and Engels’ historic materialism argued that the institutions of government are what leave their imprint on history, and spirit is nothing but a pale, secondary byproduct.
Accordingly, the government is the father and you are the son.
But Hegel’s historic idealism argues that what shapes history are thoughts and ideas, ideals and beliefs. All the forms of governmental organization are then nothing but a practical translation of those ideas, coming in tow. By that approach, you are the father. The people of faith and belief are the father, and the country is only nourished, openly or surreptitiously, by that soul. Obviously, the Torah is our historic idealism. See Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s article, “Le-Mahalach Ha-Ide’ot Be-Yisrael” (Orot). Following this second train of thought, you must continue being a good and upright father, ever brave and patient, determined and faithful, with nerves of steel.
Perhaps we shall never decide who is the father and who is the son. Perhaps, we’re all just plain brothers. That’s right, brothers. Brothers who sometimes have difficult issues to deal with, like Yosef and his brothers, but still brother all the same. The true enemy is not one of us, but those who in every generation rise up against us to destroy us.
So, let us all carry on together, with nerves of steel, building in love and brotherhood, peace and friendship, for we are all truly brothers. Sometimes our brotherhood is open, and sometimes it is hidden.
Let us be strong and courageous.

A Time to Express Love

One needs to dedicate special time to loving their child. When? Perhaps before they go to sleep. This is a time to express love, talk and give them a rub. This is true with a baby and an older child as well. This is a calm and quiet time, and it should be dedicated to love. A child cannot go to sleep in an environment of anger towards him: “Go to sleep! It’s late! It’s 9:30! I have been telling you for 2½ hours to go to sleep!” He then runs around until he is yelled at and he goes to sleep scolded. This is very bad. If he goes to sleep scorned it affects his dreams and his sleep. It is permissible to scold sometimes or tell your child to go to sleep, but sit with him, hug him, kiss him, love him.
The same is true in the morning. A child should not go to school scolded: “You’re not ready yet? Let’s go already! You’re late.” This is no way to go to school. Even without this, a difficult day awaits him…

Shut SMS #135

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

King Shlomo
Q: Did King Shlomo really understand what the animals were saying?
A: Yes.

Sacrifices in the Future
Q: When the Temple is rebuilt will there be sacrifices?
A: Certainly. They are mentioned in the prayers. They will only cease in the far off distant future. See Pinkasei Ha-Re'eiyah of Maran Ha-Rav Kook vol. 1.

Blessing against Heretics
Q: To whom is the blessing against Heretics referring?
A: Christians, missionaries. See Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 2:1.

Pirkei Avot
Q: Are our Rabbis' words in Pirkei Avot obligatory or just good advice?
A: In general, they are acts of piety. But each teaching must be examined individually .

Learning during Repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei
Q: Is it permissible to learn Torah during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, if there is a Minyan without me?
A: No. Mishnah Berurah (124:17. Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski says that learning Torah during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, it is a Mitzvah performed through a transgression. See Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 4:19).

Shliach Tzibur who Hates
Q: If a person calls Israeli police officers "S.S.", can he serve as a Shliach Tzibur?
A: Certainly not. But do not get involved in a dispute.

Honoring Parents and Tzahal
Q: My parents do not want me to go into the army. Am I obligated to listen to them?
A: No. Honoring parents does not apply if one's parents try to prevent him from fulfilling a Mitzvah. One should obviously try to reason with and calm them (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 240:14).

Martial Arts
Q: Is it proper to send our child to learn martial arts in order learn self-defense and strengthen his confidence, or will it accustom him to violence?
A: It is proper. It will not accustom him to violence, but – on the contrary – self-control.

Stuttering Shliach Tzibur
Q: Can a person who stutters serve as Shliach Tzibur?
A: If the community agrees.
Q: And what about the honor of Hashem?
A: Fearing-G-d is more important than this deficiency. The Gemara relates about a Shliach Tzibur who could not properly say the letters (Megilah 24b. See Shai Cohain of Ha-Rav Shear Yashuv Cohain vol. 1 #1).

Q: Is it possible to know a person's nature based on his horoscope?
A: No. We do not possess such knowledge.

Maran Ha-Rav Kook and Vegetarianism

Q: Must one be a vegetarian according to Maran Ha-Rav Kook?
A: Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote in "Kovetz Tzimchonut Ve-Ha-Shalom" – "Vegetarianism and Peace" – that vegetarianism is a future vision. Its importance is real, but not for today. Why not? Because it is impossible to skip stages (in human development). Some vegetarians explain that they do not eat meat because it is showing compassion to animals. That is certainly important, but we first need to show compassion towards human beings, and we have not yet fulfilled all of our obligations towards human beings. After we finish being merciful and righteous to human beings, we will move on to animals. We cannot skip stages. We are not criticizing those who are vegetarians. If a person wants to be a vegetarian, he may do so, but it is impossible to define it as a mitzvah or even as a stringency. Someone once asked me: I am a vegetarian and I have decided to stop. Do I need a "hatarat nedarim" (annulment of vows), since someone who performs a proper custom a few times and wants to stop must perform a "hatarat nedarim"? I said that there is no need for a "hatarat nedarim," since vegetarianism is not a mitzvah or stringency. It is a good, compassionate, and proper character trait for one who wishes, but it is before its time. An individual who desires to be a vegetarian is fine, but this cannot be – as Maran Ha-Rav Kook refers to it – a communal practice. Maran Ha-Rav Kook also warns in the same article that vegetarianism can actually become a sort of hijacking of one's feelings of compassion. This means that sometimes there are those who are cruel to other people, but because their Divine souls cannot bear this cruelty, and need to be pacified, they say: we will be vegetarians and be compassionate to animals. In fact, there were Nazis in the concentration camps who were vegetarians, and some even say that Hitler himself was a vegetarian!

Maran Ha-Rav Kook ate meat, as did our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah. In the letters of Maran Ha-Rav Kook, he wrote a letter to our Rabbi, when he was young and not eating meat, and asked: Why aren't you eating meat? You need to eat meat. It is not our level to refrain from doing so. You know that there are many cruel people in the world and many vegetarians who are cruel. Maran Ha-Rav further wrote: A Torah scholar, along with other things, needs to know how to slaughter animals. There are certainly Torah scholars who do not know how to slaughter, but it is good and proper to know. Please learn to slaughter (Igrot Re'eiyah vol. 3, letter 780). Then another letter (ibid. letter 784): Did you learn to slaughter? Another letter (ibid. letter 799): So, are you learning to slaughter? And finally a letter (ibid. 839): I am happy that you learned to slaughter. Now that you learned, you need to do so. So, did you slaughter yet (see letters 852, 853 and 860)? Maran Ha-Rav Kook consistently exerted pressure on our Rabbi so that he would not possess an ideology that it was forbidden to slaughter or eat animals.

Not eating meat is a future vision. How do we reach this future? Slowly, in stages, through all sorts of Halachot which teach us that we need to respect animals, not be cruel to animals, not to cause undue pain to animals, etc…But, in the meantime, we must concentrate even more on our treatment of human beings.

Parashat Noach: Crises and Covenant

[Tal Chermon]

Noach was an easygoing and even-tempered person. A person who becomes angry loses his senses and his soul is replaced with an idolatrous evil spirit. A person who is at peace, however, is blessed, for Hashem dwells in the heart of the tranquil (Sefer Charedim in the name of Midrash Neelam). "Noach [therefore] found favor in G-d's eyes" (Bereshit 6:8). Hashem's pleasure in man brought about a new stage in humanity's development: from individuals, nations now began to develop.

Advances Through Crises
The topic of this Parashah is the splitting of mankind into different nations and tongues. This is a very significant stage in human development. A nation is a new reality in the world. A certain philosopher once broke down the whole of creation into five categories: inanimate objects, vegetation, animals, human beings and nations. This advancement appears to have been unplanned, having resulted from the sin of the "Generation of the Dispersion" (due to the the Tower of Bavel debacle – Bereshit 11:1-9). However, matters which from our human perspective occur by default, are from Hashem's perspective ideal and intentional. We have been taught that progress is achieved through the failures that precede it, as our Sages have even said about the study of Torah: "A man does not achieve a complete understanding of the words of Torah unless he has first made errors in interpreting them" (Gittin 43a). There are many phenomena that only evolve and are only comprehensible because of the blunders and frustrations that preceded them. So it is in this Parashah. The result of the sin of the "Generation of the Dispersion" was that mankind was divided up into nations. The result of Noach's drunkenness was the characterization of these nations' spiritual nature; and the result of the sin of the "Generation of the Deluge" was the Divine covenant that the entire world population would never be destroyed again.

Hashem's Covenant with Man
The Divine covenant is not like a human contract. It is not a conditional agreement made between two parties, based on mutual interests, and for their common good. G-d's covenant is comparable to a law of nature. It is neither cancelled nor changed according to circumstances. It is a Divine creation that is even more lasting and permanent than the laws of nature. After the downfall of the "Generation of the Deluge," Hashem made a promise that never again would all mankind perish. This promise also included man's spiritual survival. Man would never lose the Divine image that he possesses. Some people despair of mankind. On seeing man's vulgar materialism, his sins and misdeeds, they think that the whole of the human species will degenerate back into barbarism. They are mistaken. The Divine covenant is an unbreakable promise that mankind, despite all of its faults and failings, will remain human and will eventually reach its lofty objective. We are fully aware of man's defects and flaws and definitely do not claim that he has already reached perfection. Only the intoxicated see the world as utopia. Our Sages interpreted the verse (Mishlei 23:31), "When he puts his eye to the cup (= concentrates on drinking) he walks on a plain," to mean that the whole world appears to the drunkard as if it is completely flat (Yoma 74b. The philosopher Liebnitz, in a book titled "Theodicee", Liebnitz creates a scenario in which there is no evil in the world. The philosopher Voltaire, on the other hand, wrote a story in which evil clearly exists, but the main character fails to see it. The story highlights the absurdity of such an approach. The theory that there is no evil in the world is in truth very profound, but becomes ludicrous if taken too simplistically. Our Prophets and great Rabbis used a similar literary ruse in their controversy against opposing views: by simplifying the opinions of their opponents to absurdity, they were able to expose the underlying falsehood in these views). While it is true that there are shortcomings and failures in the world, in the final analysis, these very setbacks are what lead to man's elevation. "The flood came and blotted out almost all of existence, however, the root of humanity that remained was spiritually strengthened. The world became firmly based and a covenant promising its perpetual existence was sealed" (Maran Ha-Rav Kook in Orot Ha-Kodesh part 3, p. 66).

Rav Aviner in the News: Killing Terrorists & Earthquakes

Better to kill a terrorist than call the police?

27 Tishrei 5772

‘Torat Hamelech’ co-author Rabbi Yossi Elitzur writes halachic ruling advocating taking law into own hands in aftermath of Schalit deal.
Rabbi Yossi Elitzur of the Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in Yitzhar and co-author of the controversial work on Jewish law, Torat Hamelech, wrote in a halachic ruling on Monday that should someone encounter a terrorist, it is preferable to shoot and kill them rather than call the police or attempt to apprehend the person in question, since he may be released in a future prisoner swap.
Writing on the Kol Yehudi website, Elitzur said that the imagined, although “not unrealistic” situation is a relevant issue in Jewish law “following the [recent] release of numerous murderers and a number of attempted terrorist attacks” since the Schalit prisoner-exchange deal was completed last week.
“When the state apparatus broadcasts in an unequivocal manner that there is almost no price to be paid for shedding Jewish blood, it is not clear if it’s a good idea to let the police take care of these issues,” the rabbi wrote.
“At the very least, if there is a window of opportunity in which you can claim selfdefense so that the [legal] framework won’t be overtly damaged, it is better to kill the terrorist and so raise the price of Jewish blood, which has been continually cheapened.”
However, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and a leading religious-Zionist figure, told The Jerusalem Post that a private citizen should not take the law into their own hands in this manner.
“Only the police can decide to do such a thing, not a private individual,” he said. “If there is a clear danger to life then of course the terrorist can be killed immediately but otherwise it is for the state to decide whether or not to give the death penalty to terrorists.”
[Ha-Rav] Aviner added that in his opinion the death penalty should be applied to prevent the recidivism which has occurred in the past among released terrorists and to serve as a warning.
In 2009, Elitzur, together with Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, authored a work entitled Torat Hamelech: Part One: Laws of Life and Death between Israel and the Nations, relating to the attitude of Jewish law towards killing non-Jews in times of war. The book states that under certain circumstances, non-Jews not involved in hostilities may be preemptively killed, including children.
In his column on Monday, Elitzur said that the ruling applied in a case where a person sees a terrorist “trying to kill Jews,” and is confronted with the question whether or not to attempt to subdue him, tie him up and call the police, or simply shoot and kill him.”
On the one hand, he wrote, the terrorist can be categorized in Jewish law as a rodef or pursuer, someone who represents a mortal threat to another’s life. Such a person, according to Jewish law, may be killed.
On the other hand, Elitzur wrote, the principle in Jewish law of abiding by the laws of the state in which one lives is an important consideration, and that just as it is dangerous to allow a murderer to remain at liberty, it is also dangerous to allow people to act outside of the law.
“However, even if in general it’s better to leave these issues to the [legal] framework, sometimes this framework creates a situation in which it is dangerous to rely upon it,” Elitzur wrote.
The logic for “an Arab murderer” is simple, Elitzur claimed. “Either he succeeds in harming a Jew and successfully escapes; or he fails, but is caught, sits in prison for a short period and is at some stage released in another concession to the Arabs; or he succeeds in killing Jews, is caught and imprisoned for a few years in decent conditions and gains an academic degree, while his friends try to kidnap another soldier to bring the State [of Israel] to its knees once again and the murderer is released.”

Jerusalem - Prominent Rabbi:
Claim of Divine Prophecy Predictions Troubling
26 Tishrei 5772

Jerusalem - Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Rav of Beit El and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalyim discounts claims that Kabbalist, Rabbi Nir Ben Artzi’s warnings several weeks ago of impending trouble in Turkey prove that he has the gift of divine prophecy, following yesterday’s devastating earthquake in Turkey.
“There are no prophets in our days,” R’ Aviner was quoted as saying in an interview with Israeli website Srugim . “Real prophecy ended 2,300 years ago and in our day only children and the mentally unbalanced have the gift of prophecy. While ruach hakodesh does exist, as described by R’ Chaim Vital in his sefer Shaarei Kedusha, it does not give one who is so endowed the ability to predict the future.”
R’ Aviner described R’ Ben Artzi as a “dear Jew, like every other Jew”, but cautioned that many of R’ Ben Artzi’s predictions have failed to materialize and suggested that those who want to know what will occur when Moshiach arrives should heed the words of the Rambam who said “no one will know what will happen at that time until it actually happens.”
While his previously written sefer “Ben Or L’chodesh” clearly states that there is no prophecy in our day, R’ Aviner insists that he was not targeting R’ Ben Artzi, but rather the notion that anyone has the gift of divine prophecy, a concept that R’ Aviner called “troubling”.
Asked to explain the cause of yesterday’s earthquake R’ Aviner told Srguim “earthquakes happen. We must daven that something like this never occurs in Israel.”

Shut SMS #134

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

Evil Spirits
Q: I haven't been feeling well for a long time. I went to be blessed by a Rabbi and he told me that I stepped on water from which spirits drank and disturbed them. The spirits are therefore taking revenge on me. Ever since hearing this I have been in a great panic.
A: There is no such thing. May Hashem bless you.

Doves and Jaundice
Q: Do doves cure jaundice?
A: No.
Q: But they cured my cousin.
A: One must prove that without the dove he would not have been cured.

Q: How do we relate to Christian Evangelists who believe that the Nation of Israel is the Chosen Nation?
A: The problem is that they also believe that the Nation of Israel will convert to Christianity. The word evangelism means the preaching or promulgation of their faith.

Shalom to a Woman
Q: Is it permissible for a boy to say Shalom to a girl or visa-versa?
A: The Gemara, Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch rule that it is forbidden. But if it is not in friendship but rather out of basic politeness, it is permissible.

Short-Sleeves for Shliach Tzibur
Q: Is it permissible for someone who is a Religious-Zionist to serve as Shliach Tzibur if he is wearing short-sleeves?
A: It depends on the custom of the place. But it is always proper to be strict and to have the Shliach Tzibur wear long-sleeves. And, by the way: there is no special Halachah for someone who is a Religious-Zionist (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:24).

Pants for Women
Q: Is it permissible for a woman to wear wide, modest pants?
A: No. This is on account of "Lo Yilbash" (the prohibition of wearing the opposite gender's clothing). But it is permissible to wear women's pants under her skirt as long as the pants are modest and not eye-fetching, and the skirt is long enough even when sitting. And this is the custom of the Yemenite Jews (Shut Minchat Yitzchak 2:108. Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:62. Shut Shevet Ha-Levi 2:63, 6:118. Shut Yabia Omer 6 YD 14. See Vayashiv Moshe, pp. 169-170, where Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was asked if there is reason to forbid girls from going skiing since they need to wear women's ski pants? He responded that it is permissible on condition that they wear a robe, dress or skirt which covers their knees over the pants. And, in general, this is even better and more modest than what our women usually wear).

Moshe Rabbenu
Q: What was Moshe Rabbenu called before the daughter of Pharoah took him out of the Nile?
A: He had seven names: His father called him Chever, his mother called him Yekutiel, his sister – Yered, his brother – Avi Zani'ach, his wet-nurse – Avi Sochi, the Nation of Israel – Shemayah. Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 167. But it is the reward of those who perform acts of loving-kindness that he is now called by the name given by Bitya, daughter of Pharoah. Shemot Rabbah 1:26.

Power of Prayer
Q: If the Master of the Universe establishes a person's fate, what is the benefit in praying? After all, Hashem already established the outcome.
A: Hashem establishes, but it is also His will that the prayer be a part of determining what will be.

Non-Jews under the Chupah
Q: Can a convert's non-Jewish, biological parents lead him to the Chupah?
A: From the outset, they should not. If it is necessary, wisely join them to others.

Roman Numerals
Q: Is it permissible to have a clock with Roman numerals in our house?
A: Yes. The regular (Arabic) numbers also come from a non-Jewish source.

Q: If Arabs throw rocks at me, is it permissible for me to throw rocks back in order to protect myself, in order to help conquer the Land of Israel, and in order to show them that Jews are not downtrodden?
A: For protection, yes, if it is a life-threatening situation. For the other two reasons, no – this is Tzahal's job.

Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Q: Do our Sages of the Talmud say that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was an apple?
A: No. It is a non-Jewish tradition.

Separation of Men and Women during Prayer
Q: If men daven outside, can I – a woman – stand behind them and join even though there is no Mechitza?
A: Yes, from a distance. There is no need for a Mechitza when davening outside.

Gold Menorah
Q: Is making the Golden Menorah, which stands near the Kotel, a violation of the prohibition of making copies of the Temple's implements?
A: There are various ways of doing so in a permissible way. For example, if the implement is attached to the ground. Shut Da'at Cohain. It is best to ask experts from the Temple Institute directly, since they are serious Torah scholars (There are, however, Rabbis who do forbid making the implements. Heard from Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter in the name of Ha-Rav Aharon Soloveitchik).

Redeeming Captives in Exchange for Releasing Terrorists

Question: Is it permissible to release terrorists in exchange for a captured soldier?

1. Captives may not be ransomed for more than their value
It is already stated in the Mishnah: "Captives may not be ransomed for more than their value" (Gittin 4:6). A fixed payment for a captive - whether he was Jewish or non-Jewish - was therefore established (Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 252:5).
The Mishnah explains that this Halachah is "because of the good order of the world" (Tikkun Olam). That is to say, because we must act responsibly for the entire Nation of Israel. We must weigh the welfare of the community against the welfare of the captive. The Gemara gives two reasons for this ruling: 1. Preventing a "burden on the community," since collecting large sums of money to free a captive harms the community and causes it great strain. 2. Discouraging extortion, since paying exorbitant sums of money in exchange for captives inevitably leads to more kidnapping. The first reason relates to an immediate problem, the second to a future one.
Our halachic authorities also describe a situation which is seen to be life-threatening: that is to say, if the captives are not redeemed immediately, they will likely be killed. Determining whether or not to redeem these individuals would appear to depend on the two reasons that were brought in the Gemara: not burdening the community, and not perpetuating kidnapping. In fact, the first issue does not apply in this case, since here we are talking about saving a life, and one who is in a life-threatening situation should be redeemed even if the community will be financially strained because of it. The second issue, however, may be of great relevance, because if we are faced with the real possibility that freeing this endangered captive will cause other Jews to be kidnapped, and therefore also to become endangered, then saving the present captive cannot be justified (see Tosafot, Gittin 58a d.h. kol mamom and Pitchei Teshuvah ibid. #4). The Rambam (Hilchot Matanot Ani’im 8:12) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 252:4) explicitly favor this second line of reasoning, and conclude that we do not redeem captives for more than their value in order not to encourage extortion. As in their times, so in ours: we should not surrender to extortion, no matter what the price, because extortion simply begets more extortion.

2. Maharam Mi-Rotenberg
It is well known that Rabbi Shlomo Luria relates in Yam Shel Shlomo (Gittin 4:10) that Maharam Mi-Rotenberg – the leader of Ashkenazic Jewry – was taken captive by the German Emperor King Rudolf I. The Maharam was leaving to make Aliyah, was captured and was held for a huge ransom. He gave a ruling regarding his own captivity: he refused the ransom money raised by his students and the community, arguing that accepting it would encourage the kidnapping of prominent Rabbis in the hopes of exchanging them for outrageous sums of money.
Although the Halachah is that an outstanding Torah scholar may be redeemed for an excessive amount (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:4), and the Maharam Mi-Rotenberg was an outstanding Talmid Chacham whose learning and piety was matched by none other in his generation, he refused to be ransomed. He held that it is better to lose some wisdom than to endanger all other Rabbis. He remained in prison, where his principal students, the Tashbetz (Rabbi Shimon ben Tzadok) and the "Hagahot Maimoniyot" visited him and asked him halachic questions. He was there until his death, seven years later. His body was held hostage for another fourteen years, until a wealthy Jew finally ransomed it.

3. In our Day – We are at War
In this day and age, there is a new factor that influences when and how we are permitted to redeem captives: our State and our Army. When we were in the Exile, under foreign rule, what could we do? It was out of our hands. But now we have a State, and a State should not negotiate for captives. A State should wage war to save even one person.
Avraham Avinu, in his time, went to war with another 318 soldiers in order to save one man - Lot (Bereshit 14:14). Israel later waged war against the Canaanite King Arad who had taken a captive (Bamidbar 21:1-3). And even later, King David went out to save captured members of his family (Shmuel 1 30:2). Going to war – yes. Rewarding extortion - no. We do not surrender, in any way, at all.
If one of our soldiers is taken captive, or is injured in battle and remains in enemy territory, we must place even ten soldiers in a life-threatening situation to save him. Why? Because in war, there is another outstanding principle: all for one and one for all. Every warrior knows that "the crew" (Ha-Chevra) will not abandon him. When Eli Cohen, may Hashem avenge his blood (an Israeli spy who succeeded in penetrating the Syrian political establishment), fell into enemy hands, Tzahal planned an extensive military action in order to rescue him. And this was despite the fact that an operation such as this would quite possibly require more than a few human sacrifices. Operation Entebbe is another modern example.
Rav Yitzchak Hutner – former Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Chaim Berlin in New York, and author of "Pachad Yitzchak" – once visited our Rabbi Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah in Israel. Our Rabbi asked him which airline he was flying. Rav Hunter mentioned the name of a foreign airline. Our Rabbi pressed him: "You need to fly El Al." Rav Hutner responded that terrorists were beginning to hijack planes and he was therefore concerned about flying an Israeli airline. Our Rabbi stood firm, but Rav Hutner did not change his flight. In the end, the plane on which Rav Hutner flew was hijacked to Jordan (Iturei Cohanim #176). His students wanted to ransom him from the terrorists and began negotiations. Ha-Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky – a leading Rosh Yeshiva in America - ruled that it was forbidden to negotiate with the terrorists, since we are at war and cannot bow to terror (Be-Ikvei Ha-Tzon of Ha-Rav Herschel Schachter, pp. 206-208).
The State of Israel exhibited this same approach when terrorists kidnapped children in Ma’alot. Although the rescue mission ended in disaster, Israel's response was not to negotiate but to attack.
When the airplane Sabena was hijacked, Israel did not negotiate. Israeli commandos – disguised as technicians – took over the airplane.
In a similar vein, American policy too has been to attack for the sake of saving captives, even if many soldiers are killed in the process. They do not negotiate for captives and there are no exchanges. This is the proper way to act.
According to all of the above, the exchanges which are now being made on behalf of Gilad Schalit are a mistake. Our case is doubly severe, since here "the burden on the community," is not just a financial burden but a "burden of lives." Hundreds of murderers will now move around freely. And the second issue too, that of encouraging future kidnappings, is also quite real. Terrorists will no doubt rise up to perpetrate a terrorist attack, knowing full well that if they are captured they will be released in exchange for an Israeli captive. They will therefore make every effort to obtain more and more captives.
The State of Israel does not need to capitulate to kidnappers. According to the organization of Terror Victims, approximately 180 Israelis have been murdered by terrorists who were released in earlier exchange agreements. One of every two released terrorists is involved in new murders. We are therefore saving one person's life by endangering the lives of others. It is untenable. Only by not capitulating can we show our enemies that kidnapping soldiers has no reward. Only by being unwilling to exchange terrorists for captives can we discourage, rather than encourage, future kidnappings.

Question: And what if you were the Prime Minister or the Minister of Defense? It seems difficult for them not to succumb to the pleas of the parents of captive soldiers.
Answer: Someone once argued with me: "Let’s see what YOU would do if you were the mother of a captive..." We do not resort to arguments such as these. We need to clarify issues according to the truth. If I were the mother of a captive, I would certainly be in favor of the exchanges. But this fact does not transform the "exchange of prisoners" into a proper (kosher) act. This is human weakness, not objective truth.

Question: And what if there is an exchange?
Answer: The Halachah states that if one's wife gives birth to a boy and dies during childbirth, the husband recites two blessings: "Blessed be the True Judge" over his wife's death and Shehechiyanu over his son's birth. Similarly, if a person's father dies and the son receives an inheritance, he recites: "Blessed be the True Judge" over his father's death and Shehechiyanu over his inheritance (Berachot 59, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 223:1-2).
If the exchange for Gilad Schalit goes through, we will be in a similar situation, and will respond accordingly. We will mourn the release of hundreds of terrorists. Yet, at the same time, we will be overjoyed that Gilad Schalit is returning home, and will recite Shehechiyanu over the release of our holy soldier.

Oral Q&A on the Decision to Trade Terrorists in return for Gilad Shalit's Release

1. It is a mistake to release some 1,000 terrorists in exchange for a captured solider. The price is too high. The State of Israel does not need to capitulate to kidnappers. According to the organization of Terror Victims, approximately 180 Israelis have been murdered by terrorists who were released in earlier exchange agreements. One of every two released terrorists is involved in new murders. It is therefore impossible to save one person by endangering others.
We have an army, and they should go to war to save even one single person. The Americans are prepared to attack for the sake of saving captives, even if many soldiers are killed in the process. This is the proper way to act. The security establishment also opposes such exchanges. Simply put: if one does not capitulate to pressure, our enemies will stop kidnapping soldiers because they will understand that we will not exchange terrorists for them.

2. Some claim that if terrorists are released there will be tragedies. It is forbidden to predict bad things. One should not open his mouth to Satan. We are not prophets. Rather, we must act with intellect and knowledge.

3. Some claim that this whole deal is politics. There is chaos in Egypt. The State of Israel does not want to ruin its good relations with Egypt, and is therefore agreeing to the deal in order to maintain good relations. They feel, so the claim goes, that it is therefore worthwhile to release 1000 terrorists, but connects the deal to Gilad Shalit rather than to politics.

4. If Gilad Shalit is released, we will certainly recite Shehechiyanu. We will be joyous that he is returning home, and at the same time we will be sad over the release of the terrorists. The Halachah is that if one's wife gives birth to a boy and dies during child-birth, a person recites two blessings: "Blessed be the True Judge" over his wife's death and Shehechiyanu over his son's birth. And if a person's father dies and he receives an inheritance, he recites: "Blessed be the True Judge" over his father's death and Shehechiyanu over his inheritance (Berachot 59, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 223:1-2).

Preserving the Four Species throughout Sukkot

Question: How does one preserve the four species throughout all of Sukkot?
Answer: This is what one should do to preserve the four species so that they do not dry out:
1) Lulav (palm) - One should store it in a cool place such as on the floor. Do not place it in
water after it is open, rather wrap it in a slightly damp cloth. If the cloth is too wet, the lulav will become spoiled. Wrap it around the holder, or else it will become spoiled within the holder.
2) Hadasim (myrtle) - Place the lower end in water. Wrap in a slightly damp cloth (not too wet, as we mentioned), or in a damp newspaper, and place in the refrigerator or in any cool place.
3) Aravot (willow) - Wrap in up in a damp cloth. Placing the lower end in water will not help.
4) Etrog - Wrap it and keep it in a shady or cool place.

Rabbi Chanan Porat zt”l – A Torah Scholar Rooted in the Land of Israel

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Sukkot 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Due to the modesty of my dear friend the late Rav Chanan, due to his simple dress and his unaffected behavior, many people did not know that they were dealing with a true Torah scholar - one of the best and brightest to emerge from our yeshiva, Mercaz HaRav. They did not even know that he had received Rabbinic ordination.
Rav Chanan never sought to make the Torah a spade with which to dig. Quite the contrary: inspired by the light of Torah, he made himself into a spade. He immersed himself in a life of productive work on behalf of the Nation of Israel. This noble individual was living fulfillment of our Sages’ praise for one who practices what he preaches.
This brave paratrooper was chosen by divine providence to be among the fighters of the Six Day War, and amongst Jerusalem’s liberators, thereby publicizing the fact that the Nation’s inner holiness is G-d’s guarantee that it will survive.
And because the Land of Israel doesn’t just have to be conquered, but inhabited as well, HaRav Chanan closed his tome of Talmud and sacrificed himself to become one of those who brought Kibbutz Kfar Etzion back to life. More precisely, he sacrificed his soul.
In other words, he sacrificed his spiritual life, his Torah studies, for the sake of settling the Land of Israel.
Yet he also sacrificed his body and spirit literally. In the Yom Kippur War he was severely wounded on the southern front, and was saved through the grace of G-d. Afterwards he was one of the founders of Gush Emunim and an initiator of the settlements in Judea and Samaria.
Yet let us not suppose that only Torah and the Land of Israel interested him. The Jewish People interested him as well, and he was active in the seminars of the “Gesher” organization, which strove to link the two portions of the Nation who, unfortunately, are called “religious” and “secular”. I say “unfortunately”, because there is certainly no “secular” Jew. Every Jew has a holy soul.
Indeed, Torah, the Land of Israel and the Jewish People do not constitute three separate interests. Rav Chanan liked to relate how once they were deliberating in yeshiva over what is more important – the Torah, the Nation or the Land. They took the question to Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, and he answered with a smile: “We take the holistic approach.”
This idea, that all these goals are one, served as a guiding principle for Rav Chanan.
Therefore, even during his extensive public service tenure, Rav Chanan never ceased studying and teaching Torah. It was especially important to him to provide guidance in the quest for attaining complete faith, as in his book, “Et Achai Anochi Mevakesh” [I Am Looking for My Brothers]. There we find the foundations of the deepest, most ethereal faith, presented in a language and style that reach directly to the heart and mind of any thinking person.
The true climax of this hero’s self-sacrifice was when he entered politics – that harsh, bleak place that wears down even the noblest spirit. Yet Rav Chanan, though he walked in that complicated valley, retained all of his holiness and purity. He never fell in love with his Knesset seat -- a rare phenomenon indeed in our political sphere. Thus, when the “Matzad” political list was formed, he joined, but did not take his National Religious Party mandate with him to the new party. He instead quit the Knesset. Later on as well, he left the National Union to leave his spot free for another Knesset member.
There is a story of a Knesset member who tried to convince his acquaintances that his actions were sincere, “for the sake of Heaven”. One wit remarked by quoting G-d’s pronouncement from Yeshayahu 66:1: “My seat is the heavens". Our friend Chanan, however, really did act for the sake of Heaven. That is why he twice gave up his seat. He toiled untiringly on the Jewish People’s behalf in all that he did. He was always looking forward to see how best to renew his activities for the sake of the Nation, how not to let the light of truth be obscured, and how always to increase the Nation’s spiritual might. Indeed, Torah scholars have no rest, neither in this world nor in the World-to-Come.
After he left national politics, Rav Chanan was among those who set up the great Herzog College. He not only taught there, but also in Yeshivat Beit Orot, and in many other yeshivot, including Machon Meir. At that point it was revealed to all that here was a great Torah scholar and a deep thinker.
We can also point out that the weekly Torah leaflet he humbly edited, “Me’at Min Ha-Ohr” [a Little of the Light], contained a great deal of light. It was a gentle light, a sweet light. It wasn’t a blinding light, or a burning light.
What sphere of activity did our pristine hero not touch? He had an ongoing radio program on Galei Yisrael. He was one of the founders and heads of “Orot Ha-Chessed”, an organization which provided food, electrical appliances and clothing to people lacking means.
About a year ago, our friend Rav Chanan fell ill with cancer, but his spirit remained unharmed. In a radio interview he proclaimed that he was not afraid of death, because “death is not the end of life. Rather, one just undergoes a change. One passes on to a great light.”
Without a doubt, our hero is presently enjoying that great light, but we are left orphans. We miss his light. How shall we be comforted? We send our condolences to his wife Rachel who was his partner in work, and to his eleven children.
This Torah scholar, so rooted in the Land of Israel, so rooted in redemption, has ascended on high. Yet his spirit beats on in our midst, and in all of our enterprises. It will illuminate them forever. “The righteous in their deaths are called living”. He lives on in our midst through the enormous works he performed for the Nation’s rebirth in the Land, according to the Torah.

The Culture of Leisure

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Yom Kippur 5772 – translated by R. Blumberg]

Question: Does there exist a concept of “free time” or “leisure time”? And if so, how should one fill up that time, as for example, during “Bein Hazmanim,” vacation time from yeshiva?
Answer: According to one approach among the early and late sages (such as the Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, and the Mishna Berura), there is no true “free time”. A person has to devote every second to Torah learning. Otherwise, he violates the sin of neglecting Torah study. He is allowed to cease Torah learning only to fulfill another Mitzvah or for the sake of actions essential to life, such as eating, sleeping or work.
According to the second approach of the early sages, a man is not required to study every free second. He should be trying to study Torah as much as he can, but he is also allowed to do other things. Such is the view of Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk in his Or Sameach at the beginning of Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah, and so holds Rabbi Issur Zalmen Meltzer regarding Rambam’s ruling in Hilchot Melachim that a king [of Israel] must learn Torah every free moment. Rav Meltzer explains that the king’s heart is the heart of all Israel. He therefore derives that any other Jew is not obligated in this manner. Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook likewise leans in this direction in his article “Al Geder Chiyuv Limud Torah,” in the book “Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah”,
To summarize, according to the first approach, there is no such concept of “free time”, while according to the second approach, the concept does exist, but a person must strive to fill up that time with positive activities, first and foremost learning Torah. If not Torah learning, he should occupy himself with Mitzvot and positive activities.
Therefore, it is clear that the concept of “Bein Hazmanim” – “vacation from yeshiva” – has no real place. This term [literally “between the times”], as mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 35b), refers to taking off time to work, in other words, to engage in compulsory activities. As for “Bein Hazmanim” as practiced nowadays, it was long ago decried by Maharal and Shela. Maharal [Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague] wrote, “The worst slight against the pillar of Torah is neglect of Torah learning, for their study is irregular and not permanent, but only lasts the year. And then they ‘proclaim liberty throughout the Land’, establishing a period which they label ‘between the times’, during which everyone follows his own willful heart… thinking he doesn’t have to learn Torah at all, as though the break is called ‘between the times’ because it is not a time for Torah. And if the early sages practiced the inclusion of such a break, they most certainly had several good, Torah-compatible reasons, as we know. Now, however, the break is only being used to minimize Torah… And through this neglect, they habituate themselves to frivolity, lewdness and other unsavory activities.” (Drush Al HaTorah 26a).
The Shela [Shnei Luchot HaBrit – Rabbi Yeshayahu HaLevi Horowitz] writes, “During the ‘Bein Hazmanim’ break [when a person is neglecting Torah], he is not remembered or mentioned in Heaven, and he is uprooted from the world” (Sefer Ha-Shela 181).
If someone who learns in yeshiva decides that his chief occupation, at least for several years, will be Torah study, he should learn Torah as much as he can, and not engage in other activities.
Yet if, for various reasons, he cannot learn Torah (cf., he has a headache or some other constraint,) he should fill his time with positive activities, i.e., Mitzvot or essential activities.
What is meant by Mitzvot? Acts of kindness – for his family, for his neighbors, for the poor, for the ill, for little children… There is no shortage of channels for one’s kindness.
Essential activities include: tidying or cleaning one’s home, making repairs, and learning secular studies f(or someone who needs it for his future. Obviously one can go on excursions as well – assuming they are reputable excursions to sexually modest places where visitors do not get involved with nonsense.
Rambam, in the fifth chapter of Shemoneh Perakim, writes that there is also room for having fun, to the extent that a person needs it to air himself out. Obviously one should not exaggerate with this. Two-and-a-half months of vacation from yeshiva is certainly too much. When people work, they receive one day of vacation per month. In other words, twelve days of vacation per year – not seventy! No one needs so much time to rest.
One should therefore study Torah or do Mitzvot, or engage in essential activities. This is proper use of what is popularly known a "free time".

Shut SMS #133

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day! Here's a sample:
Q: When a mother does things for her children – it is a mitzvah?
A: Certainly! A great Mitzvah! A huge Mitzvah!

Prayer for the State of Israel
Q: I heard that there are Religious-Zionist Rabbis who have stopped reciting the Prayer for the State of Israel?
A: Perhaps. But only a negligible amount (see the book Rosh Ha-Memshalah pp. 127-128).

Rav Kook's Rav
Q: Who was Rav Kook's Rav?
A: He had a few, but the main one was the Netziv.

Ma'aser Kesafim
Q: To whom should one give Ma'aser Kesafim?
A: The poor.
Q: What is the definition of a poor person?
A: Someone who is lacking essential items.
Q: Can I please have examples of essential and non-essential items?
A: Washing machine – essential, dryer – non-essential. Oven and stove – essential, microwave – non-essential. Telephone – essential, cell phone – non-essential. Bus-fare – essential, car – non-essential.

Mother's Blessing
Q: Can a mother give the children a blessing after the father on Shabbat night?
A: Certainly.

Blessing on Shul Talit by Shaliach Tzibur
Q: Does a Shaliach Tzibur recite a blessing on a Shul Talit?
A: The custom is not to do so. Piskei Teshuvot 14:7.

Q: Where is it written in the Torah that one should be orderly and neat?
A: The Torah does not need to write it. After all, proper character traits precede Torah, i.e. normal humanity.

Joking with Students
Q: Is it permissible during an overnight trip with my students to jokingly take the shoes of the new students in the class, while they are sleeping, and put them outside in a field? It is not in order to cause them distress but as a joke.
A: If you are certain that they will not be distressed and they will think it is funny. If you are uncertain, and you want to joke around, then take your own shoes and put them outside in a field.

The Government of Israel
Q: Some say that since the Government is corrupt, as we saw with the expulsion from Gush Katif, we should not participate in it.
A: It is true that this was an extremely severe event, and that the Government has done many other corrupt things, continues to do them, and will do so in the future. But we must judge it by the majority of its actions. And the positive done by the Government immeasurably outweighs the negatives.

Tachanun on the Day One Made Aliyah
Q: Do I recite Tachanun on the anniversary of making Aliyah?
A: No. It is a holiday. The Rambam established a personal holiday on the day he made Aliyah.

Hugging and Kissing in Shul
Q: Is it permissible to hug and kiss a friend in Shul?
A: In general, it is forbidden (Shut Orach Mishpat #22). Although Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein would kiss his grandchildren in the Beit Midrash of his Yeshiva "Metivta Tiferet Yerushalayim". He held that the prohibition against expressing love in Shul [Rama, Orach Chaim 98:1], which serves to “instill within one’s heart that there is no love like the love for the Almighty, Blessed is He", is only during the times of prayer, since the Shulchan Aruch brings this law in the Laws of Prayer and not in the Laws of the Holiness of a Shul. Meged Givot Olam vol. 1, p. 92. And when Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira – Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Ha-Rav – visited Yeshiva University, he met Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik in the Beit Midrash and Ha-Rav Shapira kissed Ha-Rav Soloveitchik for all to see. Many were surprised, and asked: How could Ha-Rav Shapira kiss him when the Halachah is that it is forbidden to kiss another person in a Shul or Beit Midrash? Ha-Rav Nacham Lamm – President of the Yeshiva – explained that Ha-Rav Soloveitchik has the law of a Sefer Torah, and it is impossible to pass him without kissing him. (Rosh Devarcha, pp. 174-175. "Vayehe Binso'a Ha-Aron" – eulogy for Ha-Rav Shapira by Ha-Rav Eitan Eisman, p. 45. And see Shut Yechaveh Da'at 4:12 where Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef discusses the Sefardic custom to kiss the Rabbi's hand as a sign of respect, and therefore permits it in a Shul).

Extreme Left
Q: How should we relate to extreme left-wing Jews who speak with the enemies of Israel?
A: As people who are confused.
Q: Why do they want to destroy the Land their ancestors built?
A: They don't want to destroy it. They want to build it. But they mistakenly think that giving up parts of our Land will bring salvation to the Nation and the Land. By the way, among the builders of the Land were left-wingers.

Serenity Prayer
Q: Who wrote the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference"?
A: Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, a liberal neo-orthodox, American theologian. 5652-5731.

On Yom Kippur: Repentance and Free Choice

[From Rav Aviner's commentary of the Book of Yonah]

Question: Was Yonah's first repentance considered repentance?
Answer: The Chafetz Chaim discusses this question in the Mishnah Berurah (6:22:7) and writes that we read this Haftarah on Yom Kippur because it discusses repentance and demonstrates that we cannot flee from Hashem's will. He further explains (in the Sha'ar Tzion) that sometimes a person despairs that he does not have the ability to repair himself, and will therefore continue to act in the same way. If Hashem decrees that he will die because it, he will die. But this is a mistake, since in the end anything Hashem wants him to fix will be fixed. The person will return to this world again and again until he eventually fixes the problem. Why then does a person have to experience the pain of death and the grave? We learn this from Yonah. Hashem wanted him to go and prophesy, but Yonah refused and fled to the sea, a place where, as we know, the Divine Presence for prophesying would not rest on him. We see that he also drowned in the sea, and was swallowed by a fish and remained inside it for three days. It certainly appeared that he was not going to fulfill Hashem's instructions. Nonetheless, we see that in the end, Hashem's will was fulfilled, and Yonah went and prophesied. This follows what our Sages say in Pirkei Avot (4:29): "And do let not your evil inclination promise you that the grave will be an escape for you - for against your will you were created, against your will you were born, against your will you live, against your will you die and against your will you are destined to give an account before the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed Be He" (Sha'ar Tzion ibid.). The Master of the Universe wanted Yonah to repent, he therefore directed events in a manner that would bring this about without taking away his free choice. He repented the first time, but it was not complete repentance. The second time he fully repented. We learn from this that both the low level repentance of the people of Nineveh and the supreme repentance of Yonah was accepted by Hashem.

Question: But doesn't this contradict free choice?
Answer: The meaning of free choice is that the Master of the Universe does not interfere with a person's decisions. If there are two possibilities, one good and one bad, Hashem does not interfere and force a person to do the good or the bad. If a person has the choice to steal or not, there is no inner, divine power which forces him in either direction (unless he has a severe emotional illness and thus does not have free choice. In this case he is controlled and by an unconquerable inclination, a fact which is taken into consideration both by Halachah and the secular courts of this world). The Master of the Universe pursued Yonah and caused him to have certain experiences and to be brought to different places, until he finally repented (see Tosafot Yom Tov, Avot 5:6). The Mishnah Berurah teaches us that even if Hashem has to bring a person to the world again in a different reincarnation, He will do so until that person repents.

In order for free choice not to be nullified, Hashem directs a person's situation, so that eventually he performs the will of Hashem of his own volition. As proof for this idea, the Mishnah Berurah brings the teaching of our Sages in Pirkei Avot: "And do let not your evil inclination promise you that the grave will be an escape for you." Hashem wanted Yonah to repent and he did not do so. He was even on death's doorstep, where it seemed as if there was no possibility for him to repent. But this was not true: "for against your will you were created." Hashem took him from "She'ol" (the lower world) and brought him back here and he repented. "But He devises means, that none of us be banished" (Shmuel 2 14:14). In fact, our Sages say that after Hashem spoke with Yonah about the kikayon, he prostrated himself and said: "Direct Your world with the attribute of mercy, as it is written (Daniel 9:9) 'For Hashem our G-d of mercy and forgiveness'" (Yalkut Shimoni at the end). Of his own free will, Yonah repented completed.

Yonah's experience within the fish was therefore not only an even that occurred in reality, but was also a parable to show us that the Master of the Universe does what He has decided to do (according to the secrets of souls), i.e. some people live and others die. This is the basis of the Vilna Gaon's commentary to the Book of Yonah.

We clearly saw this idea in the previous generation. The Holy One Blessed Be He decided to establish the State of Israel for us and nothing could change this fact, despite all of the internal and external obstacles. On the contrary, those who wanted to block the establishment of the State actually sped up and advanced its establishment, since Hashem decided that the time had arrived. Great international pressure was exerted on the British to establish a national home for the Nation of Israel, as they had accepted in the Mandate. They transferred the decision to the United Nations with the confidence that there would not be a majority in the UN for a Jewish State, since the Muslims were opposed and the Communists and Americans would never follow the same path. But behold, the unbelievable occurred: there was a majority on November 29th! Everyone voted according to his own considerations. The Russians wanted a stronghold in the Middle East against the Americans. The Americans wanted to evacuate the Displaced Persons camps of Jews in Germany and use them for military bases against the Communist Block. Thus, what the English tried to do to bring us down actually helped to build us up. After the decision, everyone panicked and tried to renege. The British said that the UN decision was only an opinion. Many Jews living in the Land of Israel had their spirits broken and considered giving up on the establishment of the State. But the day after the UN decision, the Arabs increased their acts of hatred and began their war against us until the British finally decided to leave the Land of Israel. So in whose merit was the State established? "In the merit" of the Arabs. If they had sat quietly, the British Mandate would have remained here.

Many times in the history of the Nation of Israel, we see that Hashem uses what other people want to do to us to advance His own plans (Maamrei Ha-Re'eiyah of Rav Kook, pp. 360-362). In the martial arts of Judo, there is a technique of using the power of the attacker to his own detriment. This is similar to the way that the Holy One Blessed Be He uses the wickedness of evil people and the transgressions of sinners in order to achieve His own goals.

To summarize, the words of the Mishnah Berurah are two ideas which are in fact one: 1. The power of repentance. 2. The impossibility of fleeing from Hashem. They intermingle into one idea: It is impossible to flee from repenting before Hashem.

Whether it is low level repentance, hasty repentance or even repentance out of fear, it is still considered repentance – "Hashem is good to all and His mercy extends to all of His works" (Tehillim 145:9).

Four Pathways to Marriage

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

There are four pathways to marriage, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. What they have in common is that they are all good and straightforward, and everything depends on the person himself. The four pathways are: Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah.
What is Sarah’s pathway? Sarah was a relative of Avraham, his niece. They were well aware of each other over many years' time, and there were no surprises involved. Everything was known in advance. Everything was fine and upright.
What about Rivkah? That was a set-up, a match. Yet it wasn't a set-up like nowadays, where a boy and a girl meet once, and then again, and examine their compatibility. Rather, it was a prearranged match, such as was practiced in ancient times, and today is very rare. Yitzchak had more faith in Avraham's servant Eliezer than he had in himself. Yitzchak had been offered up as a burnt offering. He was a holy of holies. By contrast, Eliezer was one who soaked up wisdom from his master Avraham, and would teach it to the masses. He was well acquainted with the ways of the world. He considered what to do, and in the end found the Matriarch Rivkah and said to her something along the lines of, “With this ring/jewelry you are hereby betrothed to Yitzchak, in accordance with the laws of Moshe and Israel.” When Rivkah and Yitchak met for the first time, they were already married. Only sometime later does the Torah recount that Yitzchak loved Rivkah.
And what was Rachel’s pathway? When Yaakov saw Rachel for the first time, he immediately saw that this was the soul intended for him, and the seven years of work he did to attain her felt to him like only a few days.
And how was it with Leah? It was a forced marriage. In other words, Yaakov thought he was marrying Rachel, but the morning after the wedding, he discovered that he had wed Leah (Bereshit 29:25). Obviously he was very surprised, and we, too, are surprised by the apparent audacity of the Matriarch Leah. Yet the Torah does not say that Yaakov rejected the match. Rather, he accepted it.
Four pathways to marriage, four different beginnings, and yet all of them leading to love, harmony and friendship. We thus derive that it is not the beginning of the marriage that is important, but the continuation of it over time.
Marriage is a long road, a long haul, and shared journey.
To what may it be compared? To a long race. In a 100 meter dash, the person who does not start exactly on time can lose on that account. Even a second's delay can ruin his chances of success. But in a forty-two kilometer marathon, even a full-minute's delay need not be critical. A less-than ideal beginning can still end well. Marriage is the same way.
A boy once asked his father, “Daddy, how much did Mommy cost you?” His father answered, “I can no longer recall what I paid for the ring, but I must keep paying all my life.” And what is this never-ending payment? According to the Ketubah: "love and honor, support and [provision]”.
Imagine an advertising flyer for some product that states in bold letters, “Only 100 shekels!” and in the fine print: “and another 50 shekels every month for the next ten years…” This is in essence what the groom agrees to. He says to his bride: “With this ring you are hereby betrothed to me [immediately],” but I am also signing a Ketubah that obligates me to keep showing you kindness on a daily basis.
We may also compare this to being in the army. In our holy army everything is certainly well-organized, but sometimes there are surprise missions, and the commander must announce to his troops: “Forward! We’re moving out. We’ll organize ourselves along the route.”
Marriage too is called a “route" (in beginning of Tractate Kiddushin). One has to keep investing in it along the way. One has to make a constant effort to stay on the path. Couples don’t fall in love out of the blue forever. Couples make this decision together, over and over, throughout their long journey together.