Parashat Beshalach: The Ten Plagues

Question: Couldn't Hashem have redeemed the Nation of Israel with one plague?
Answer: Of course! Our Sages already asked: Why was the world created with ten utterances? Couldn't Hashem have created it with one (Avot 5:1)? Our world is not an expression of the divine ability to act at a single moment, but to act in stages. The Ramchal – Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato - wrote that each day the world gets closer to its perfection. All the worlds that were created previously were made piecemeal, but they all could be exalted. Our world was not created with the full power of the Master of the Universe. Hashem limited His power and revealed Himself in the way humans themselves work: little by little, according to a divine plan which continues to be actualized over time. It is not true that the Master of the Universe needed to bring plague after plague because of the stubbornness of Pharaoh's heart. On the contrary, the Blessed One caused the stubbornness of his heart in order to bring the plagues upon him. "For I have made his heart and the heart of his servants heavy so that I can put My signs in his midst, and so that you may relate in the ears of your son and your grandsons" (Shemot 10:1-2). In our days as well, do not despair that the Redemption is progressing slowly, slowly rather than in one fell swoop. This is not divine weakness, G-d forbid, but the greatest strength: for the sake of increasing the sanctification of Hashem's Name.

Don’t Free Terrorists to Gain My Release

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

I, a soldier, a fighter in the I.D.F., declare: If I am kidnapped, don’t free terrorists to gain my release. And don’t negotiate with terrorists on my behalf. As I sign this, my hand is trembling a bit, but this is the right thing to do. I don’t want that because of me, other Jews should be hurt. Don’t free murderers.
Surrendering to terror begets more and more terror. That’s why I’m signing a release card that says: “I, the signatory, a soldier in the I.D.F., hereby declare that if I fall into the captivity of one of the terror organizations, I ask that terrorists who have hurt Israel’s citizens not be freed to gain my release. I am certain that the Israeli government and the I.D.F. will do everything to save me, boldly and creatively.”
Murderers – to the prison or to the grave! That’s what will preserve the Jewish People.
That’s what will deter murderers. Don’t free terrorists to gain my release. Don’t ask my parents. They can’t decide for me. I’m the one who will decide. If I am capable of being a soldier, I am capable of deciding this as well.
I’m not afraid of anything. I saw a female soldier sign a release card too. She isn’t afraid either. I take off my hat to her! I’m not saying, “Good for her that she enlisted!” I’m saying, “Good for her that she is not afraid.”
When I go to the army, the regular army or reserve duty, I know that it carries a price.
This, too, is part of the price.
I don’t need the Talmud, Tractate Gittin, to know that you don’t pay exorbitant prices to free captives, whether because of the price the public will have to pay, or because it ruins deterrence. I can see this with my own eyes.
I simply don’t want to be freed in exchange for terrorists. I don’t want my name linked to that of a little boy, or a little girl, a man or a woman, who will be murdered because of this. I just don’t want it! I have principles. I love life and freedom, but I have other principles as well. Please honor my wishes. You don’t own me. I am my own person. I agree that the army should work to free me. That’s something else. War is war. I don’t demand this. I agree to it.
I rely on the army. Every day that I fight, I rely on the I.D.F., so I rely on them in this as well.
Remember the kidnapping of Shmuel Rosenwasser in 5730. He was a night watchman in Metulah and was kidnapped by a gang of terrorists from Lebanon. The night after the kidnapping, the State of Israel carried out an operation in the adjacent village in Lebanon, taking nine soldiers and twelve civilians captive, capturing large amounts of weaponry and equipment, and blowing up the power station that fed Lebanese radar.
For a year, Shmuel Rosenwasser was held in captivity in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and he suffered harsh torture. Fatah demanded the release of 3,500 terrorists. The State of
Israel did not surrender, and in the end, Fatah made due with the release of one terrorist.
The mathematical conclusion: 1=1. Yes! 1=1. Shmuel Rosenwasser came home on foot from Lebanon. When he arrived, the Northern Command received him with a bouquet of flowers. He was very excited and he said, “May I please have a cup of water?”
I, too, will request a cup of water…and a bouquet of flowers, if I may.

Shut SMS #147

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day! Here's a sample:
Lubavitcher Rebbe
Q: Was the Lubavitcher Rebbe a prophet?
A: No. But he was a great Torah scholar.

Groom's Dvar Torah
Q: Should we interrupt the Groom's Dvar Torah with singing during the Kabbalat Panim?
A: This is a custom which should be stopped.

Shatnez
Q: Is it permissible in a store to try on a piece of clothing which is doubtful Shatnez?
A: It is permissible, since it is not to wear but only to check the fit.

Religious and Secular
Q: Why are religious and secular Jews always in conflict with one another?
A: There is no "always". 99% of the religious and secular get along just fine. There are individuals, who don't represent anyone but themselves, who try to cause conflict, and the media shows it for all to see.

Segulah against Cancer
Q: Is it true that someone who refrains from speaking Lashon Ha-Ra will not only be cured from cancer, but will not get the disease in the first place?
A: Every Mitzvah brings blessing, and guarding one's tongue certainly helps more than other Segulot, which are not Mitzvot.

Holy Rashi
Q: How is it possible that that Holy Rashi erred in a few places regarding the geography of Eretz Yisrael?
A: 1. This is extremely rare, and everyone errs once in a while. Even the Sanhedrin could make a mistake, and there is a sacrifice mentioned in the Torah for them to bring when they do err. 2. Especially in this case, it is not an error in Torah but an error in the facts, which were inaccurately given to him (See Ramban on Bereshit 35:16 on the location of Kever Rachel that he originally wrote, when he was in the Exile, that it was location in Ramah, but when he came to Eretz Yisrael, he saw with his own eyes that it is in Beit Lechem, near Yerushalayim).

Wedding Changes
Q: [A woman asked:] I am about to get married, and want to be a part of the wedding ceremony. Can I recite Shehechiyanu under the Chupah?
A: Certainly. After you receive the ring recite the blessing quietly. As is known, it is permissible to recite Shehechiyanu quietly since it is said to Hashem and not in order to make a show of it.
Q: Can I recite "Im Eshkachek Yerushalayim" (If I forget you, Jerusalem)?
A: Certainly. When the groom is breaking the glass. It should obviously be said quietly. After all, it is to remember the destruction of the Temple and not in order to make a show of it.
Q: Can my Rebbetzin speak under the Chupah? She is very dear to me.
A: This is also personal, and not to make a display, she should therefore tell you a Dvar Torah in private.

Tattoo
Q: If someone is a Ba’al Teshuvah and has a tattoo from his past, is he obligated to remove it? If he does not do so, is his soul compromised?
A: He is not obligated to do so. It is obviously proper to have it removed but there is no obligation to do so (Shut Lehorot Natan 8:72. Shut Revivot Ephraim 8:308. And see Shut Minchat Yitzchak 3:11 where he rules that a Ba'al Teshuvah is not obligated to remove a tattoo of a naked woman, and the book Ma'a lot Rivka where Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski rules that a Ba'al Teshuvah is not obligated to removed a tattoo of a cross).
Q: Must the tattoo be removed before burial?
A: No.

Lashon Ha-Ra
Q: If Lashon Ha-Ra is so horrible as to be compared to murder, forbidden sexual acts and idol worship, then why isn't it mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch?
A: Thing which are horrible but known to all are not brought in the Shulchan Aruch. For example, murder, forbidden sexual acts and idol worship…

Le-Chaim
Q: Why do we say "Le-Chaim" (To life) before drinking wine?
A: Since they give wine to one who is about to receive capital punishment, so that he will not be overly frightened.

12-Step Programs
Q: Is it permissible to join a 12-step program designed to wean people off an addiction?
A: Yes. It is a very good method.

Young Women Singing at a Wedding
Q: The custom is that the bride's friends sit around her and sing together in the wedding hall, and the men hear it. What should be done?
A: The young women should certainly sing in a place where the men cannot hear. If the men do hear, they should leave that area if possible. During the time when the men daven, they should ask them to stop singing.

Red Shirt
Q: Is it permissible for a man or woman to wear a red shirt?
A: No. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chap. 3. Or any other loud, immodest color.

Non-Jew Eating from the Korban Pesach

[Commentary on the Haggadah]

One Pesach a certain non-Jew came to the Land of Israel from Babylonia pretending to be a Jew, and ate from the Pesach sacrifice. He returned home and boasted how he had deceived the Jews and ate the best portions of the Pesach sacrifice. Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira asked him: "Did they give you the fatty tail to eat?" "No," he replied. The Rabbi said: "If so, next time you have to ask for it, because this is the best part." This non-Jew obviously didn’t know that we do not eat this part, though it is sacrificed on the altar. The next year he went again to Jerusalem, and requested the fatty tail! They were shocked and asked him where he learned to ask for this part of the sacrifice. He told them that Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira told him. They sensed what was hidden in his words. They investigated and discovered that he was in fact a non-Jew and killed him. They sent a message to Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira: You are in the city of Netzivim, but your trap worked in Jerusalem (Pesachim 3b).

Why did they kill him? While it is forbidden for a non-Jew to eat from the Pesach sacrifice, as it is written, "any foreigner may not eat from it" (Shemot 12:43. Mechilta
ibid.), it is not one of the seven mitzvot of the non-Jews for which they receive capital punishment.
The commentators answer this question in various ways:
1. He stole a kezayit (an olive-size piece) of the Pesach sacrifice, and a non-Jew who steals that is liable for death. This is similar to a non-Jew who learns Torah and is liable for death (Rabbi Akiva Schleshinger, Mishnato shel Rabbi Akiva #14). The difficulty with this answer, however, is that he is liable for death by Heaven and not by a Beit Din (court). Rabbi Schlesinger explains: "A Beit Din strikes and punishes for non-Torah transgressions (Yevamot 4b), in order to prevent all breaches - in particular for attacks in matters of the Temple (ibid.).
2. Rav Kook explained that they killed him according to a temporary ruling, because of the desecration of Hashem’s Name (Tuv Ra’ayah, Pesachim).
3. Rav Zvi Hirsch Chayot (Maharatz Chayot) answered that this incident occurred after the destruction of the Temple. The Tosafot already ask: Why didn't Rabbi Yehudah ben Beteira himself make the pilgrimage? They give various answers: He did not own land in Israel, he was elderly and had no strength to ascend, or he was outside of Israel (Tosafot, Pesachim 3b). According to the Maharatz Chayot, this occurred after the destruction of the Temple when there was no obligation to offer sacrifices, and only individuals continued this practice. During this time, the non-Jewish authorities trailed the Jews, because of the fear that they would revolt. The Jews were concerned that the authorities would interpret the offering of the sacrifice and its consumption in a group as an organization to revolt. They therefore did it in secret. They feared that this non-Jew would inform against them to the authorities about the offering of the Pesach sacrifice. The authorities would smell the odor of rebellion in this act and would kill them. This was a case of saving lives, and they therefore decided to get rid of this non-Jew (kuntres "Avodat Ha-Mikdash"). My grandfather and my teacher, Rav Meir Flam, explained that perhaps the Jews combined the offering of the Pesach sacrifice and the organizing of the rebellion, and they therefore did not want the non-Jew to be in the vicinity.

Ode to Religious Zionism

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

Since its inception, Religious Zionism has been the living fulfillment of what Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, its chief spiritual leader, said about himself:
"I am forever caught between two pathways, for on the one hand, I seek to establish peace and brotherhood between the older generation that is G-d-fearing and steeped in Torah learning... while on the other hand I seek to spread the love of G-d and Jewish faith and practice amongst the young people who are coming to settle the Holy Land, such that it will be to G-d's liking. I thus seek to fulfill the scriptural admonition, ‘Love truth and harmony’ (Zechariah 8:19).” (Orach Mishpat 254)
Such indeed is the intent of the “Religious Zionist” movement, as its name implies.
This movement does not involve two separate matters joined together artificially, but one cohesive matter whose strands are all woven together. Zionism, after all, is itself Torah.
But that itself is the very source of a problem. Many Jews dwelling in Zion interpret this holy combination negatively. Some view the Torah positively and the Jewish State negatively, while others do the opposite. Thus, Religious Zionism has gotten used to having stones thrown at it from both right and left. Surprisingly, however, these attacks do not weaken it, and do not dilute its numbers. Quite the contrary, the movement is on the rise and is blossoming, and the more it is oppressed, the more it grows and burgeons. Presently, Religious Zionism claims more than 10% of the Jews in our country, and its educational and ideological influence goes far beyond its relative numbers. This strength derives from two factors:
1. The constant attacks preserve it from extremism and exaggeration, and bring about a blessing.
2. Most of the time, the accusations are false and nonsensical. That is good news, for if the accusations are off target, it’s a clear sign that there are no relevant accusations to be made.
Thus, Religious Zionism is not overly excited by the attacks. Rather, it continues along its sure path. An example of this is the recent media attack – which some claim was orchestrated – whose exaggerated statistics cannot cover up its low quality.
There is a very wide range of attacks, some new and some recycled, like “exclusion of women” in society in general and in the army in particular; religious extremism and religious coercion; going too far with a Torah slant in the schools, boy-girl and men-women separation; and modesty. Obviously, these come from the liberal side of the national map.
The claims made in the news are a marvelous example of the media’s transformation of isolated occurrence into gross overgeneralizations.
Example 1: An isolated group of military cadets left the hall to avoid women singing.
Whether they were right or in error, it should be noted that they didn’t yell, curse or malign anyone. They didn’t harm the event. They just quietly left the room so as not to bother others and in order to show them respect. The whole thing was much ado about nothing.
Example 2: Several dozen young people broke into an army base and stoned officers serving in our armed forces. Certainly this is a heinous, shameful act, but, once more, it was nothing but the act of isolated, fringe individuals who represent no one but themselves.
That’s what we said: Tell me what you’re being attacked for and I’ll tell you who you are.
And that righteous institution, Religious Zionism, instead of responding with fierce attacks against their accusers (in order to discount their claims) chose rather to defend itself by endlessly apologizing, humbly fulfilling the Talmud’s words, “If your fellowman calls you a donkey, put a saddle on your back” (Baba Kamma 92b). In other words, accept what he says. This patient, tolerant approach of Religious Zionism does not derive from weakness. Quite the contrary, it derives from the valor and fortitude to stand fast. Our movement has long been inured to all sorts of attempts at delegitimization. Therefore, it carries on with its strong spirit, without cursing or insulting anyone…quietly, with self-assurance.
The same may be said regarding all of the attempts, from within and from without, to divide us.
None of these succeed at all. Neither do all the stubborn efforts to create divisiveness, attempted by all sorts of ephemeral bodies within Religious Zionism.
It’s obvious that Religious Zionism is enormously eclectic. After all, as noted above, it tiptoes between the pathways. Between Zionism and religiousness there are many pathways, a great many differences of opinion in various spheres: the Jewish State; the army; redemption; loyalty to the State; Torah study; university; Eretz Yisrael; modesty; mixed society; innovation in Torah rulings…yet all of these differences are null and void compared to our common ground, which is infinitely greater than what divides us. And what is that common ground? The Nation’s rebirth in its Land according to the Torah
For Religious Zionism, working towards harmony is not the result of an effort but is built into its very existence. After all, in the eyes of Religious Zionism, Zionism is religious by its very nature, even if people far removed from Torah are partners in it. They, too, are emissaries of G-d even if they, themselves, deny this. Complex, intricate cooperation with secular Jews flows for Religious Zionists in a natural manner. The movement is noted for its creative tolerance, towards the Charedim, the secular, the right, the left, and certainly towards all the sub-streams within Religious Zionism. How remarkable is its loving relationship with its children who have moved away from Torah, yet who are its own flesh.
Therefore, it is no wonder that all sorts of funds and non-Israeli organizations aiming to make Israel a “state of all its citizens” (as opposed to a Jewish State) work so hard to weaken and to split Religious Zionism, since they view it as the greatest glue and the greatest guarantee of the nation’s unity in its Jewishness. They invest large-scale resources and efforts to unravel Religious Zionism, to make its worldview more pluralistic and less Jewish – and nothing works for them. Even their attempts to empower various minor bodies within Religious Zionism in a centripetal direction have gained nothing. The centrifugal force is infinitely stronger.
Religious Zionism is holding to its own pathway without diverging from it, and despite all the winds blowing against it, it is becoming stronger, both in its Zionism and in its religiosity. It is producing more and more volunteers out of its ranks to combat units and to the officers’ corps. In the last Officers’ Training Program, Religious Zionists composed 40% of the group, and the synagogue on base is packed to the hilt on Shabbat. And all this is a result of an idealistic education. The vision of Ha-Rav Neriah, who said, “We shall establish yeshivot everywhere,” is being fulfilled before our eyes. And of course there are also intensive girls’ religious high schools [“Ulpanot”] and post -high school seminaries and religious colleges for girls.
Every attempt to disqualify the Religious Zionists ends up in failure. All the arguments that claim that Religious Zionism is insufficiently enlightened, or, alternately, not sufficiently pure, don’t succeed in confusing anyone. The Religious Zionist public is getting bigger and bigger, and its light is growing stronger. Obviously, things are not perfect, but all in all they’re good. Even very good, from a moral, religious, educational or nationalist standpoint. There is little criminality and little licentiousness. There is a very strong moral sense.
And in fact, apart from a few minor accusers, Religious Zionism has earned high esteem in Israel and throughout the world, and it has an influence on the life of the Nation that far exceeds its numbers. Actually, Religious Zionism almost always sets the national agenda – apart from several painful failures. Yet such is life. You don’t always succeed. Religious Zionism does not get overly excited over all those who are trying to confuse it. It is sure of its path, and the fact that there are difficulties is not due to their being on the wrong path, but due to their not yet having reached the end of the way. Religious Zionism constantly and relentlessly engages in self-criticism, with great sincerity and with an ongoing effort to improve itself. It doesn’t need outside criticism for this to occur. Likewise, it is not alarmed by all sorts of attacks against it. It is strong, it has energy and it is marching mightily forward and fighting for its views out of a love for all.
It is not tired. It is always climbing, higher and higher.

Shut SMS #146

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a day! Here's a sample:
Preparing on Shabbat
Q: Is it permissible to prepare a large quantity of salad for Seudat Shelishit in order to have leftovers for Meleva Malka?
A: No. This is preparing on Shabbat for a weekday.
Q: Is it permissible on Shabbat to take food out of the freezer for Motza'ei Shabbat?
A: No. Same as above.

School Notebooks and Torah Text Books
Q: Is there a requirement to place school Torah notebooks and Torah text books in the Geniza?
A: Yes. They are filled with words of Torah.

Looking at Fingernails during Havdalah
Q: Should one look at his fingernails before or after the blessing over the candle during Havdalah?
A: There is a dispute. But one should look before the blessing, as with other blessings of praise in which we look at the object before the blessing. Piskei Teshuvot 296:5.

Klal Yisrael
Q: Is it true that one who excludes others from Klal Yisrael actually excludes himself?
A: Yes. Pri Ha-Aretz. Brought in Olat Re'eiyah vol. 2, p. 468.

Aliens
Q: According to Judaism, is there life on other planets?
A: It is not sanctioned or opposed by the Torah (See Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Torah 14. When the first man walked on the moon, there was a huge discussion as to whether there is life on other planets. The Satmar Rebbe – Ha-Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – said with total certitude that there was no life on the moon. And from where, many wished to know, did this scholar, who was not known for astrological insight, glean this information? The Satmar Rebbe said that if there was life on the moon, the Ponevizher Rav – Ha-Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who was a most successful fundraiser for his yeshiva in Bnei Brak, would have gone there to collect!" Builders, by Chanoch Teller, p. 352).

Eliyahu Ha-Navi
Q: Does Eliyahu Ha-Navi occasionally appear in our times in the form of a regular person?
A: No. Eliyahu Ha-Navi only reveals himself to the holiest of individuals (see the book Chayei Olam, chap. 30, where Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski records many places in the Gemara, Yerushalmi, Midrash, holy books and among great Rabbis where Eliyahu revealed himself).

Secular Jew
Q: What is the problem with being a secular Jew, if I have proper character traits and contribute to the State of Israel?
A: You are in these ways similar to the religious among the nations of the world. But we must add holiness. The Jewish soul does not give up.

Ultra-Orthodox
Q: If Charedim don't go to the Tzahal, how do they contribute to the State?
A: Through Torah and Mitzvot, proper character traits and good deeds. Obviously, this does not exempt one from the army, but not going to the army does not nullify these contributions.

Attacking a Mosque
Q: Is it permissible to attack a mosque which incites its followers against Jews and calls on them to kill us?
A: Certainly. But only by Tzahal.

Long Hair
Q: Is it permissible for a boy or man to have long hair?
A: No. There are three severe Torah prohibitions that are transgressed by having long hair: 1. Creating an impediment between one's head and Tefillin, and therefore causing a blessing to be recited in vain when putting on Tefillin. 2. Following the ways of the non-Jews (which includes acts of conceit and haughtiness). 3. "Lo Tilbash" (the prohibition of men dressing or appearing as women) (Shut She'eilah 1:23).
Q: How then are there religious men with long hair?
A: Either they do not know that it is forbidden or they know and have not overcome this aspect of their evil inclination.

Allah
Q: Is Allah considered Hashem's Name?
A: Yes. Hashem's Name in a foreign language is also Hashem's Name.

Visiting the Sick on the Phone
Q: Does one fulfill the Mitzvah of visiting the sick by way of a phone call?
A: It depends on the needs of the sick (Shut Igrot Yoreh Deah 1:223 and Shut Chlekat Yaakov 2:128).

Forgotten Blessing
Q: I forgot if I recited a blessing after eating. What should I do?
A: Bless in your thoughts since there are those who say one can fulfill his obligation in thought. And there is no problem of saying a blessing in vain (Pri Megadim #209. Ben Ish Chai Matot #14).

Secular Studies
Q: I heard that a Rabbi said that it is forbidden to learn secular subjects and one must only learn Torah subjects. Those who learn secular subjects are Hellenists.
A: Where is it written?!

Our Rabbi & the Exile

Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

American
A student introduced himself as an "American". Our Rabbi pointed out that he is not an American, since America is not our Land. Rather he should say: A Jew from the Exile of America (Iturei Yerushalayim #64).

Chabad
One Chabad publication referred to the house of the Lubavitcher Rebbe outside of Israel as "Beit Chayeinu" (The House of our Life). Our Rabbi responded with great distress: "Have mercy on Zion for it is the House of our Life! How is it possible to call a house in America by this name?!" (Iturei Yerushalayim #64 in the name of Ha-Rav Yitzchak Dadon).

Parashat Vaera: And if He had not Brought Out

[Rav Aviner's commentary on the Haggadah]

Question: "If The Holy One, Blessed Be He, had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, we, our children and our grandchildren would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt." How are we to understand this statement? Pharaoh died a long time ago and his offspring have disappeared. There would certainly have been changes and insurrections during the last thousands of years.
Answer: This statement means that if it were not for the Exodus the entire world would have remained unchanged, as if the same Pharaoh was still reigning. The world would not have advanced if not through the auspices of the Nation of Israel and the Torah. If it were not for the appearance of this brilliant, illuminating event, the renewal of this great light, the entire world would have had nothing to influence it, and would have been, in a sense, frozen in place (Olat Re'eiyah vol. 2, p. 268 and Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, ibid., p. 27). Therefore, "The Exodus from Egypt will eternally remain the springtime of the entire world" (Meged Yerachim – Nisan – Rav Kook’s sayings for each month). “It is not only the springtime of the Nation of Israel, but the springtime of humanity. The Exodus from Egypt was an occurrence like this: only from one angle can it be viewed as an event that occurred once in the past, remaining only as a memory…But truly…the essential act of the Exodus from Egypt is one which has never ended. It revealed the Hand of Hashem in a way that the whole world could clearly see, as part of human history. It is the bursting forth of the light from the soul of the Living G-d and operates throughout the expanse of the entire world. Israel merited this revelation, in which magnificence and incipient holiness will cause great lights to shine in every dark place, for all generations" (Orot Re'eiyah vol. 1, p.26).

Divided Opinions without Divided Hearts

[This segment was broadcast on Arutz-7 approx. one week prior
to Yigal Amir's assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin z”l]

A friend of mine asked me, "How can I not hate those people? After all, they have terrible opinions and ideas which are simply dangerous for the Nation, the Land, and the State of Israel! Must I maintain cordial relations with them, and nod to everything they say?"
The answer, of course, is no: he need not agree with all that they say. But he also must not hate them. His entire question is based on a blurring of two different concepts. Disagreements are legitimate, and sometimes even necessary. One is obligated to wage a forceful intellectual confrontation against ideas that may destroy the Jewish people. But this is a far cry from an obligation to hate the person expressing those ideas. Divided opinions – yes. Divided hearts - no. We must understand that even when an idea is hateful, the man expressing it is not.
"But," comes the response, "it is too difficult to make this distinction. After all, it is only natural to identify the person with what he says." The answer to this is that it may be hard to make this distinction, but we have no choice. We cannot make one big salad out of everything. We must understand that if, for example, one takes a certain political stand, it doesn't constitute his entire identity. We must remind ourselves that the man is not a "political animal" whose entire being is merely a support system for his party's opinions. He also breathes, and goes to work, and has a family, and does kind acts for others. Why must we box his entire personality into one narrow compartment? It is incumbent upon us to separate in our minds between the man, and the opinions that he holds. For if we don't, but instead form stereotypes, and create mental caricatures - blowing this one aspect of his personality way out of proportion - this distorted image replaces our perception of him as a human being created in the image of G-d, and we begin to view him as a foreign object, a "political animal."
From here easily arises the (mistaken) dispensation to hate, and to attack, and, who knows, even to murder.
True, it is often natural for the relationship between people with opposing ideas to deteriorate. At least one side will almost inevitably begin to feel less respect for the other. The solution for this is simple: communication. They must talk with each other, listen to each other, and exchange ideas. Should we then start to organize symposia, or public meetings? No, no - nobody ever really understands each other in those types of settings. I am referring to small groups, such as one-on-one, or maybe a few more. The English sociologist Parkinson once said that the exchange of ideas is most effective between three and five people. If there are any more than that, the person is no longer talking, but making a speech. Speeches don't help bring about true understanding among people, talking does.
Everyone knows people whose opinions differ from theirs: friends, colleagues, family members. In every family there are Jews of Ashkenazic descent and Sefardic descent, religious and non-religious, conservatives and liberals, Charedim and Zionists. Open a friendly dialogue with them, and you will reap a double benefit. First of all, you will destroy his caricatured perception of you, and second of all, it will destroy your caricatured perception of him. I'm not saying that you will convince him of your position, but rather that each of you will begin to see the other as a human being, and therefore deserving of your respect and love.

Our Rabbi and Neuteri Karta

Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

Joining in Protest
Neuteri Karta organized a protest against taxes on education which were established by the British in Eretz Yisrael, which would then be divided up by the municipality in a relative manner. Our Rabbi also participated in the protest. A student was surprised: Why is Ha-Rav participating in a protest with Neuteri Karta, who caused him so much trouble to his father (Maran Ha-Rav Kook)? Our Rabbi responded: "For what they did to Abba Ha-Rav z"l, they either have received a punishment or will receive one. Where they are correct – they are correct!" (Iturei Yerusalayim #64 in the name of Ha-Rav Yitzchak Dadon).

Meah Shearim
Our Rabbi said that not everyone in Meah Shearim is Neuteri Karta. In fact, many people in Meah Shearim would greet him warmly (Iturei Yerushalayim #64).

Finding a Minyan
It once happened that a student did not daven Maariv at the conclusion of Shabbat. He therefore went to find a minyan in Meah Shearim, and he met up with our Rabbi who also had not davened Maariv. Our Rabbi spoke with the student for an hour and three-quarters about the Neturei Karta, who are against the State of Israel and against Tzahal, even at a time when the Master of the Universe is showing us all of the signs of the Redemption, and when everything written in Yechezkel chapter 36 is materializing before our eyes. After all of this, our Rabbi brought him to the shul of the Chasidim of Reb Arele Roth (a group known as Toldos Ahron who are intensely anti-Zionist), not by way of the main road but by way of the courtyard. When they entered the large hall, all eyes turned toward him. They finished the blessing after eating and davened Maariv as if they were completely on fire. They then stood in line to say "shalom" to our Rabbi. After they left, the student asked, "Before we arrived I heard an hour and three-quarters from you against the Neturei Karta, and now they stand in line to say "shalom" to the Rav?" Our Rabbi responded, "One can learn from everyone. How to pray - this is learned here. You should know that when father, Ha-Rav ztz"l, desired prayer of 'all my bones would speak' (Tehillim 35:10), he would come here." Two weeks later, the student was walking in Meah Shearim. One of the Chasidim of Reb Arele ran after him, saying "Send regards to Rav Tzvi Yehudah from so-and-so." When he related this to our Rabbi, he responded to him, "He is an expert in the writings of my father, Ha-Rav, but he learns them in secret, because if this was discovered he would be in danger, as he was born into Neturei Karta." In fundamental and principled matters, our Rabbi did not differentiate between this stream and that stream. For example, in protests against autopsies, our Rabbi would always participate with different Orthodox streams (Iturei Cohanim #248 - in the name of Ha-Rav Binyamin Eisner).

Go be a Preschool Teacher

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

Question: I can’t decide. On the one hand I have a natural inclination towards being a nursery school teacher (Ganenet) and spending all day tending to sweet little children. On the other hand, I feel like I have talents that go beyond that, and I’m afraid that I’ll feel like I’ve squandered those talents just to be a babysitter who plays with children and cleans their noses. It’s true that the children also learn all sorts of interesting things, but that’s a very minimal part of the day. As a teacher of older children I’m sure I would be able to teach a lot more.
Answer: If you feel inclined towards being a preschool teacher, don’t hesitate! Go for it! Preschool isn’t just babysitting. It’s a lot more than that. Obviously, we’re not making light of babysitting, which is an enormous kindness for poor mothers who are forced to go out to work, and who with great trepidation place their children in the hands of another woman to care for them. Also the small child is beside himself, wondering why he has suddenly been abandoned to the care of another woman, as though his parents want to get rid of him. He’s liable to suffer separation anxiety, and when the caretaker is wise and motherly, he feels wonderful and safe – obviously, not like with is own mother, but still wonderful.
Sadly, sometimes things are difficult and complicated in his own home, and for various reasons the infant or toddler feels hurt and unwanted. In such a case, daycare becomes the only place that provides him with a safe haven.
Obviously, we must add that there are women who go to work not because of poverty, but because they feel the need to do something else. That, as well, is considered a serious, justified reason to place a child with a caretaker. We are not making light of toddler daycare, but are making the point that preschool has yet another dimension to it.
Likewise, we are not making light of the various things children learn in pre-school. A small child is not a little idiot. He is a small, wise person. The intellectual talents that develop in him at an early age are the basis of all his future learning, especially in light of the findings of Developmental Psychology. We know that these years are decisive as far as a child’s future abilities. The small child internalizes the buds of rational thinking. He also gains familiarity with the world around him. Yet nursery school is more than that. It is not a little school. It is not a little academy. It is something else.
There is something else important in preschool: friends. The child learns to get along with others, to show them consideration. To listen to them. He learns to give help and to receive help. He learns to participate in group play. He learns discipline. All this prepares him to integrate into society. Don’t we often see people who are incapable of getting along with others, in their family, in their marriages, at work, in their nation? Why wait for a special time to solve this problem when it will involve many hardships? Why not begin with early childhood when it’s so simple and easy? Indeed, by such means we bring the small child an enormous blessing.
Still, preschool is even more than that. It’s more than preparation for life in society. It’s more than taking care of children. It’s more than a miniature academy. It’s more than a workshop in how to cooperate.
So what is preschool? It’s a place where the child grows and develops, body and soul.
He develops naturally. We don’t try to instill in him what isn’t already there. Rather, we try to help him to bring out what he already has within – with the help of an environment that is appropriate to his character and his traits. After all, why is “kindergarten” called that? Because the child is likened to a flower, and just as every flower needs a garden and a gardener, so does every child need a kindergarten and a teacher, not to infuse him with what he doesn’t have, but to reveal what he does. How? Through his natural movements. And what are they? Mostly play.
All this is based on a universal assumption: even a small child possesses the image of G-d. He has divine worth stored away, and that divine content has to be uncovered by way of the right environmental conditions.
In “Israeli Culture” (Le-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1), the first article Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook wrote in his life, he explained that the function of education is to uncover man’s hidden traits, and to thus enable him to succeed in all he does. If, however, we try to infuse man with elements that are foreign to his personality, he is liable to become an unsuccessful person. It’s like organ transplants. Even though they are for a man’s own good, the body fights against them as against a foreign object that invades the body. In order for the transplant not to be rejected, the immune reaction has to be suppressed. In other words, the person’s intrinsic nature has to be weakened.
Therefore, a natural paradise has to be created for the child, in which each child can grow freely in his own way. This definitely involves minimizing the academic aspect and the social-obedience aspect. The main thing is the personal aspect.
This is the goal of all of the activities there: running, dancing, group games, songs accompanied by pantomime, walks and visits to the neighborhood, study of flora, seeinghow things grow (to help the child to understand how he, himself, grows), and especially, all sorts of very intelligent games that help the child develop all his strengths. And the preschool teacher receives in-depth professional training in order to direct the child in all these spheres.
Yes, the whole child has to be educated: physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, and in science, general knowledge, ethics, and faith. And really they are all one, flowing forth from the one G-d whose name is one. The child must flourish with the unity and harmony of all his energies.
That is the preschool teacher’s job.
The rest of the world has also begun to arrive at these conclusions, bolstered by the appearance (about 200 years ago) of the “New Education” advocated by Rousseau, Pestalozzi, and in particular, Fröbel, followed by Montessori. The aim of the Old Education was to fill the pupil with information, in the greatest quantity and quality possible. The aim of the New Education is to involve the pupil in the learning and educational process.
Therefore, play isn’t just play. It, and other activities like drawing, reading, writing and music, are powerful pedagogical pursuits. To be a preschool teacher is no small feat. It’s something great. Our sages compared Torah scholars to the sun, and teachers of small Jewish children to the stars. Seemingly the sun is much larger, but that isn’t true. There are stars a million times as large, but since they are far off, they look small. The Ben Ish Chai explains this in his book “Ben Yehoyada”: The child looks small, because his full size is still far off, but truthfully, he is big.
This is especially so in light of the emergence of Depth Psychology, which likewise has determined that early childhood is the decisive age for shaping a person’s inner personality.
Preschool involves marvelous educational creativity, perhaps the most marvelous there is. It’s a bit like post-high school yeshiva. There the learning is independent, such that a person achieves true spiritual freedom.
Actually, the ideal preschool is a child’s home. It’s his mother, the simple, loving mother. Preschool is a reflection of home, and the main characteristic of the preschool teacher is motherliness. She enlists her motherly love to sing “mothers’ songs” to the child, to foster the child’s appreciation of nature, of the world, of the love of G-d, of the love of everything, and thus to escape his selfishness. This is the meaning of “your mother’s instruction” (Mishlei 1:8).
Preschool is a family-oriented educational philosophy. It’s an atmosphere of trust and intimacy. It means escaping from selfishness, not necessarily in the sense of preparation for living in a society, but in becoming open to the world at large, to the Master of the Universe.
Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, in his Igeret HaChinuch (170), explained that the chief purpose of education is to make man upright and good, and the secondary purpose is to prepare him for life’s battles.
And indeed, that is the purpose of preschool. The main thing is not the preparation for professional life, but one’s personal growth. It is not to become a useful citizen, but a human being.
We said that a game is not just a game. It develops the body, the intellect, one’s good traits. Preschool games are well-planned to facilitate the child’s development, his understanding of the laws of nature and of life, not through lectures but through independent activities. Indeed, it is the child’s right to develop according to his nature, and games are what most characterize him at this age.
By the way, cleaning a child’s nose is also something important that shouldn’t be scoffed at. The concern the teacher shows for the small child’s hygiene also belongs to the warm, friendly approach of the preschool teacher. She also helps the child in his relations with his peers. She creates a simple, safe and sheltered environment. A heaven on earth.
Much more than what I said has to be said about the marvelous preschool. You, after all, are a mother, or you will be one. Every mother is a preschool teacher, and every preschool teacher is a mother. Surprisingly enough, in State-Religious education, there is a shortage of preschool teachers. It’s as if being a preschool teacher is not a respectable profession. That’s not so. It is very respectable indeed. It is very important. It is the foundation of all else.
Good for you that you yearn to be a preschool teacher! Good for you that you received such a gift from the Master of the Universe!
Go be one!

Shaking hands with an elderly woman

Q: Is it permissible to shake hands with an elderly woman?
A: No. It does not matter whether she is elderly or young. Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef once received the Israel Prize, and it was presented by the Prime Minister, Mrs. Golda Meir. She put out her hand, but he did not shake it. People said that it was not polite. He responded: The Torah is more important than politeness. And Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu once met with the Queen of England and she put out her hand. There were cameras from all around the world, but he stood still like a soldier and did not shake it. That evening Rav Eliyahu received a letter from the person responsible for royal protocol apologizing for the incident. They checked the books of protocol for the British Kingship, and found that the Queen of England was not to put out her hand to a Jewish Rabbi (A Jewish Rabbi!). Therefore, if you do not shake a woman's hand, you have the authority of Halachah, Ha-Rav Yosef, Ha-Rav Eliyahu, and even the Queen of England (who is extremely polite)! One must has to think ahead of how to deal with such a circumstance should it occur: carry a bag in each hand. Have a ready response: I am saving my hand for my wife. Or: My Rabbi is strict and says it is forbidden. What can I do?

Shut SMS #145

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

40 Women Separating Challah
Q: Is there a Segulah for finding a match, healing, fertility, etc. if 40 women to separate Challah together on a Friday? Is it permissible for some of the women to separate Challah on Thursday if there is a pressing need?
A: This is a new creation, which has no source. There is certainly a level of holiness in separating Challah – just as there is holiness in the fulfillment of every Mitzvah – but there is no source for 40 women separating it together. It can therefore be performed in this manner.

Checking Tefillin
Q: How often must one have his Tefillin checked?
A: There is no set schedule. It is even possible not to have them checked throughout one's entire lifetime. But if they were exposed to moisture or extreme heat, it is certainly proper to have them checked (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 10:26).

Abandoning Torah
Q: Why do some religious youngsters abandon Torah?
A: Sometimes on account of confusion regarding faith, sometimes on account of the evil inclination, sometimes on account of both.

Trees of Arabs
Q: Is there a halachic problem with uprooting olive trees of Arabs?
A: It is certainly forbidden to cause them damage. If there is a security or national need, only Tzahal is permitted to perform this act in the name of the Nation.

Mirror for Tefillin
Q: Is it permissible to use a mirror to make sure that one's Tefillin is in the correct place?
A: Yes. There is no problem of "Lo Tilbash" (the prohibition of men dressing or appearing as women), since the prohibition is against beautifying oneself in front of a mirror, and here one is simply ensuring that his Tefillin are in the proper place (Rama, Yoreh Deah 156:2. Shut She'eilat Shlomo 3:26. It is related that the Griz – Ha-Rav Velvel Soloveitchik of Brisk – once visited a Chasidic town and used his mirror to place his Tefillin correctly, as was his usual custom. The town's people placed the Teshuvot Divrei Chaim [Orach Chaim 2:6] next to where he was sitting in Shul which says that it is a "Minhag Borot" – custom of boors, i.e. the uneducated – to look in a mirror for proper placement of one's Tefillin. The Griz said to them: "We will use a Chasidic story: Reb Moshe Leib Sassover ztz"l said regarding the halachah which says that anyone who sits in the Sukkah while it is raining is a 'Hedyot – ignorant': 'It is worth being called ignorant as long as I fulfill the Mitzvah of Sukkah'. I say the same thing: It is worth being called a boor as long as the Tefillin are resting on my head in the exact spot." Uvdot Ve-Hanhagot Le-Beit Brisk vol. 3, pp.179-180. And there is a picture of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv looking in a mirror to ensure that his Tefillin are in the proper spot. Ha-Shakdan vol. 1, p. 261).

Breaking Dancing
Q: There is a problem with break dancing?
A: It is not gentle.

Mouth-to-Mouth Resuscitation
Q: Is it permissible to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Perhaps the sick person has a contagious disease.
A: There is a minimal risk, which we would certainly take in order to save another person.

Kiddush Levana during the Day
Q: Is it permissible to recite Kiddush Levana during the day if the moon is visible?
A: No. One also may not recite it at twilight. The moon must be prominent.

Beauty of Eretz Yisrael
Q: How is it possible that there are places more beautiful in the world than in Eretz Yisrael?
A: There aren't! A man does not love his wife because she is beautiful, but on account of his love for her, she is the most beautiful in the world. See Netiv Ha-Emet of Maharal. And the same applies to our Land.

Mikveh
Q: After men immerse in the Mikveh, should the water be changed for the women?
A: Yes. It bothers them. In essence, it is the women's Mikveh. It is permissible for men to use it only if it does not bother the women.

Tefillin Straps
Q: Should one blacken both sides of the Tefillin straps in case they flip over while wearing them?
A: It is enough to blacken just one side (This is also the ruling of HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Va-Yishma Moshe, p. 32).
Q: If the Tefillin straps are blackened on both sides, and some of the black color rubs off from both sides, do they combine together to be considered blackened?
A: No, the outer side is what counts.
Q: Does one need special color to blacken them?
A: It is sufficient to use a regular magic-marker. It is not made from a non-Kosher animal.

Shave a Girl's Head
Q: Is it permissible for a girl to shave her head bald?
A: No. "Lo Yilbash" (the prohibition of women dressing or appearing as men, or vice versa). And the same applies for having a short haircut like a boy.

Parashat Vayechi: "Please Do Not Bury Me in Egypt" (Bereshit 47:29)

Moving the grave of Rebbe Nachman to Israel

Question: There have been many issues regarding Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman (in the Ukraine). Is it a good idea to bring him to Israel?
Answer: The Gemara at the end of Ketubot (111a) explicitly says that it is good to bring the deceased to Israel, and many people do so. The Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud -Kilayim 9:3) brings a criticism: “He lives outside of Israel, but is buried in Israel. “ Nonetheless, one who is buried outside of Israel is not comparable to one who is buried in Israel, because being buried in Israel is like being buried under the altar. And even better than being buried in Israel is to die in Israel, and even better still is to live in Israel. Throughout the generations, they brought people to be buried here. Many of the followers of Rebbe Nachman wrote and received approbations from great Rabbis – including Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef - that Rebbe Nachman should be brought here, because Rebbe Nachman saw himself connected to the Land of Israel and wrote about it in various places. It was his desire to be buried here. Even if he did not say anything about it, it is obvious that that all of the righteous, and even the simple, want to be buried here, and all the more so Rebbe Nachman.
Q: Is there any idea that he could help others during the Ressurection of the Dead if he is there?
A: No, he could always travel there if they need help. The Gemara at the end of Ketubot explains that those buried in Israel are resurrected with greater ease, while those buried outside of Israel experience "gigul atzamot – rolling in tunnels" to Israel. We don't find that he is needed to gather the people there. If the need did arise, he could go there.

It’s So Easy to Love

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

It’s so easy to love, to smile at life, to listen to life’s song, to let it caress you, to let our hearts open the window to the sun of love that makes us better people.
Let us love G-d. Let us love the Jewish People, every human being whoever he may be, every creature, every living being, every speck of sand, every plant and every flower. Let us love the whole Torah, every Mitzvah, every religious custom, every law, every letter, every good trait.
Let us love our Land, every city in it, every settlement, every mountain, every hilltop.
Let us love love itself! Let us love the fear of G-d. Let us love seriousness. Let us love joy.
Let us love. Let us love!
It’s so easy to love. It’s so natural. Let us love the fresh air. Let us love the blue of the sky, the soul so full of hope. Let us love courage and valor. Let us love the water and the earth, the rain and the snow.
Let us love saying “please”. Let us love saying “thank you”. Let us love being good.
Let us love being gentle. Let us love everything we have seen, everything we have heard, everything we have experienced. The past, the present and the future. The young and the old, girls and boys. Let us love. Let us love! It’s so easy!
Let us love the soul. It is so full, oh so full! Let us love our good moments, and our bad ones as well. Let us love being at home. Let us love being away. Let us love this world. Let us love the World-to-Come.
Let us love our pathway through this world. Let us love crossing the river to another world. Let us love meeting G-d here. Let us love meeting Him there. It’s so easy to love.
Let us love resting there, receiving the reward for our efforts there. Let us love singing with the angels there.
Let us love our toil here. Let us love staying alive here. Let us love serving G-d here.
It’s so easy.
Let us love G-d here. Let us love G-d there. Let us love G-d everywhere. Let us love to love. To love!

Hilchot Sheleg – Laws of Snow #5

Immersing in snow
Q: May one immerse oneself in the snow as in a mikveh?
A: Even if there are forty Seah of snow (about 200 gallons) in one seamless area there is still a dispute as to whether or not one may immerse in it. It is quite difficult, since the snow must touch all parts of the body.
Q: What about immersing one's hands for "netilat yadayim"?
A: Again there is a need for forty Seah. Since some authorities rule that one may not immerse one's hands, no blessing should be recited if one has no choice but to do so.
Q: Can one immerse a utensil?
A: This is also a dispute (see Pitchei Teshuvah, Yoreh De'ah 108).