Shut SMS #191


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

Shehechiyanu for the Birth of a Child with Down's Syndrome

Q: Ha-Rav answered that if a child is born with Down's Syndrome, one should recite "Dayan Ha-Emet" on the distress as well as "Shehechiyanu" on the joy.  We – with Hashem's kindness – had a baby with Down's Syndrome born to us and we were very happy and are still happy, and we don't see any reason to recite "Dayan Ha-Emet"?

A: Fortunate are you!  May those like you increase in Israel.  But most people also feel some sadness, and one should therefore recite "Dayan Ha-Emet".  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ruled that Shehechiyanu should not be recited at all, and he is discussing a case where the parents are only sad and have no joy (Kav Ve-Naki #70).  But the usual case is that there are mixed emotions.

 

Tefillin which Fell

Q: What should one do if Tefillin fell on the floor?

A: The basic custom is not to fast but to redeem the fast with Tzedakah.  And one should also add Torah learning.  Piskei Teshuvot 40:2.

 

Eating at the House of a Non-Religious Jew

Q: The laws of Kashrut prevent me from eating at the house of my non-religious friends.  Isn't it more important to be strict with loving a fellow Jew and sanctifing Hashem's Name than keeping Kosher?

A: The laws of Kashrut are not a bother but service of Hashem and sanctification of Hashem's Name.  It is true that for the sake of friendship one may decide to forgo strictures but not the basic Halachah.  And one must be 100% certain that everything is Kosher (see Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 1:54, 2:43.  And see Ein Aya on Berachot, p. 361).

 

Holding Hands in Public

Q: My wife really wants to hold hands when we walk in the street.  Is it allowed?

A: Public acts of affection are forbidden.  Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 152:11.

 

Shaking a Woman's Hand

Q: In the text message response on the question: If a secular woman puts out her hand, can I shake it? Ha-Rav answered: No. Politely apologize: Forgive me, this is saved for my wife. I once heard that Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein when facing the same situation would shake her hand - the reasoning being that not shaking a woman's hand is a Rabbinic prohibition but embarrassing a person is a Torah prohibition. Was this in fact the case, and if not, what about applying the above reasoning and allowing the handshake?

A: Ha-Rav Feinstein did mention this idea in his Teshuvot (Shut Igrot Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 1:56, 4:32. See also Orach Chaim 1:113) but concluded that it is difficult to rely on it.  This is especially true since the Beit Yosef (Yoreh Deah 195) mentioned that according to the Rambam it is a Torah prohibition and one should be killed rather than transgress it!  We should not embarrass anyone, but here the woman is causing herself embarrassment. Ha-Rav Ovadia Yosef declined to shake hands with Prime Minister Golda Meir when he received the Israel Prize. And Rav Mordechai Eliyahu did not shake hands with the Queen of England.  In both cases apologies were issued to the Rabbis on the same night for putting them in that situation.

 

Relating to Jesus and Muhammad

Q: How do we relate to Jesus?

A: Our Sages say that he was an extremely talented Jew who spoiled his proper character traits and faith.  The Rambam writes that he led a huge part of humanity to idol worship and spilling of our blood.  Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 11:4 – the uncensored version.

Q: And Muhammad?

A: The Koran described him as uneducated, and as one with improper character traits and an inclination for women.  And see Rambam, Igeret Teiman.  But he has the merit that he led a huge part of humanity to the belief in one G-d (and see Teshuvot Ha-Rambam #448).

How We Should Relate to Kashrut Supervision


[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayigash 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]

 

Question: If I maintain a certain degree of Kashrut standards, and am invited to eat with a family that does not use the Kashrut supervisions that I find suitable, what should I do? I know that they will be insulted if I don't eat.

Answer: The main rule is this: All of the Rabbinical supervisions are kosher! No Rabbi would give a certificate for non-Kosher food. Our Sages said, "No Torah scholar would allow anything imperfect to emerge under his auspices” (Eruvin 32a).

It is impossible to suspect a Torah scholar of writing “kosher” on non-Kosher food.  True, anything can happen, but you need proof to believe it. Thus, food with a Kashrut certificate may be presumed kosher until proven otherwise. Obviously, some supervisions are more stringent and some are less, but stringencies are for the confines of your own home.

One needn’t be strict at the cost of insulting others. As the Jerusalem Talmud states, a basic precondition to saintliness is not humiliating others who do not conduct themselves on the same level as you (Berachot Chapter 2). Therefore, since all the Rabbinic supervisions are Kosher, and refraining from eating will humiliate others, one should eat what one is offered.

Here are two stories in this regard about the illustrious Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, both taken from the book Ve-Aleihu Lo Yibol (p. 10):

1. “In response to my question about female seminary students from abroad who go as guests to various families, and how they should conduct themselves Kashrut-wise, he decisively responded: ‘Tell them that any Rabbinical Kashrut supervision is good,’ although certainly anyone may undertake personal strictures.”

2. “After I got married, I came to Ha-Rav Auerbach and asked him: In my parents’ home and my in-laws’ home they eat foods with various Israeli Rabbinical supervisions which I do not eat from in my own home. How should I conduct myself when I eat with them?’  Rav Auerbach responded: Two witnesses attended a Brit Milah of a Sefardic family and Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld, who was present, ate the meat that had undergone Sefardic ritual slaughter. When you are the guest of family members or other G-d- fearing people, you must eat everything they serve you. It’s not a matter of anyone serving you non-Kosher food! According to the essence of the law, all Rabbinical supervisions are valid (the issue was certifications by well-known Rabbinical bodies in Israel). Some supervisions are more strict on certain matters that do not touch on the essence of the law.

I somewhat audaciously asked Rav Auerbach: Does Rav Auerbach conduct himself that way? and he responded: Certainly! When I am at a wedding, I eat chicken prepared with Rabbinical supervisions that I would not rely on in my own home."

 

 

Haftarat Yayechi: A Strange Will


 [Melachim 1 2:1-12]

 

Before his death our great King David delivered final instructions to his successor, the future King Shlomo: eliminate King David's two loyal friends: Yoav ben Tzeruyah and Shimi ben Gera (Melachim 1 2:5-9).

 

It is impossible not to be shocked by these words.  True, King David had some conflicts with these two figures, but at this moment he is almost standing at the entrance to the supreme world: shouldn't he be striving to forgive everyone?  And Yoav ben Tzeruyah faithfully served him over the course of many years!  Shouldn’t King David view his sins in a more proper perspective?  Is this really the best advice to give to the young future King who is about to fill his role: to kill the great hero of the Nation? One who carried all of the Nation's battles for independence on his back? 

 

We must first understand the sins of Yoav: "You also know what Yoav ben Tzeruya did to me and what he did to the two leaders of the armies of Israel, Avner ben Ner and Amasa ben Yeter, whom he killed; and shedding the blood of war in peacetime, and putting the blood of war on the girdle that was on his loins and on the shoes that were on his feet" (ibid. v. 5).  What is this all about?  In the first section, which is found at the completion of the ongoing civil war: "And there was a lengthy war between the house of Shaul and the house of David" (2 Shmuel 3:1) regarding the inheritance of the kingship.  Avner ben Ner, the leading personality in Shaul's house, reached the conclusion that continuing this dispute would not be profitable, and therefore worked to unify all of the Nation of Israel around David.  After this, he approached David, who was then living in Hevron, and informed him that he was now accepted by everyone.  David honored him and sent him on his way.  At that exact moment, Yoav, the leading personality in David's house, returned from a military operation and harshly attacked his King: "What have you done?...You know that Avner ben Ner came to deceive you" (Shmuel 2 3:24-25).  You are naïve, you do not understand anything about political ruses!  Yoav immediately went after Avner, "Yoav took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly and struck him there in the stomach and he died" (ibid. 27). 

 

This is the exact model of political murder.  Yoav thought he was acting for the good of the kingdom, and thought that he understood better than David what was for the best.  In his Machiavellian zeal, the ends justified the means.  In this sense, he was the anti-thesis of David: a person of pure conduct even under the most difficult circumstances.  Do not be mistaken: Yoav was not a lowly adventurist.  He was a person of stature, a spiritual giant and a national hero. But his national zeal created a context for depravity.

 

There is a second incident, with similar circumstances, that is connected to a new civil war.  Sheva ben Bichri organized a revolt against King David.  He succeeded in assembling almost all of the Nation of Israel under his flag other than the Tribe of Yehudah who remained loyal to its king.  David appointed Amsa, his Chief of Staff, to quickly gather the men of the Tribe of Yehudah as a last hope to save his dynasty.  "Amsa went to muster the men of Yehudah, but he was later than the set time which he had assigned to him" (Shmuel 2 49:1).  The reason for the delay was that the soldiers were immersed in learning Torah and could not be drafted.  It is true that it is permissible to cease learning Torah for an obligatory war, such as a war of independence or a defensive war, but not for a civil war, regardless of its importance.  Amsa decided to nullify the King's order, considering it illegal (Sanhedrin 49a), which ignited the fury of Yoav.  Yoav approached Amsa and tried to calm his suspicions by saying: "Are you well, my brother?" (Shmuel 2 20:9).  Yoav held Amsa's beard with his right hand, as if he was going to kiss him, and then killed him with his sword (ibid. 10).  Much later, in the time of King Shlomo, Yoav was tried by the Sanhedrin in a special session on these two count of political murder (Sanhedrin ibid.).

 

Nonetheless, one question still remains: Why did David, who was justifiably shocked by these two transgressions of Yoav, keep him as the head of his army?  Furthermore, why pass on the unfavorable task of punishing the guilty to the young King Shlomo – something that would endanger his standing in the eyes of the Nation, who saw Yoav as one of its greatest heroes?

 

Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, known as the Rashba and one of the most important Rishonim (early authorities), answered this question.  The background of his halachic answer is a reality of sinners who have had much power and endangered the community.  In order to completely eradicate the "sharks," the Rashba suggests cooperating with the "little fish," whose transgressions are less severe.  It is always possible to judge those sinners later if they do not repent in the meantime.  The Rashba requests that we follow the path of King David, who ignored the sins of Yoav in order for him to aid in the war against enemies of the state, those who placed immeasurable fear upon and endangered the young kingship (Shut Ha-Rashba 2:238).

 

Imagine a downtrodden town in the Wild West, in which a group of bandits instilled fear into the residents with the help of their pistols.  The concerned federal government decided to send a sheriff from one of the best law schools, a dynamo in jurisprudence, who wore a fancy suit, stylish tie and elegant glasses.  He walked into the local tavern with a pile of law books under his arm and his diploma in his pocket.  He approached one of the bandits and pointed out which section of the law he was transgressing this time.  The bandit let lose his anger and emptied the chamber of his gun into the sheriff, ending his short career.  The federal government learned its lesson and decided this time to send the fastest pistol in the West.  He did not complicate the situation by politely citing the sections of law - instead he shot the gangsters without warning.  His strategy was more convincing.  This sheriff brought quiet to the town and rode around on his white horse to ensure security for its residents.  Years past and the mentality changed.  Industry and technology spread, a modern city sprouted, but our sheriff continued to fulfill his role by riding on his horse between the cars and train tracks, shooting occasionally to keep the order.  The central government therefore once again appointed a more elegant officer with a suit, tie, etc. who would use polite phrases such as "My dear friend," "You are the hero of my youth" and "I respect you."  But now, he says: "I am the sheriff, therefore please hand in your weapon and you will receive in its place a book of tickets, a traffic whistle and a nametag.  And – oy-va-voy - if you shoot another bullet since as brave as you are, I'll throw you in jail.  Be forewarned.”

 

During the time of King Shlomo, the situation had changed.  All of the governors and generals had been replaced by civilian clerks.  Yoav was now superfluous and dangerous, since the period of the gunmen with their finger on the trigger had past.  The Nation was obviously more sympathetic to a shining soldier than a civil administrator.  This is obviously not enough of a reason to eliminate Yoav.  It would have been preferable for him to make himself and his deeds forgotten instead of participating in the continuing revolt of Adoniyah.  He did not learn to take advantage of the longevity which he was given by improving his conduct and there was therefore no way to commute his sentence.  In fact, this revolt reminded David of all of Yoav's deeds and led to his uncompromising decision to eradicate him (Melachim 1 2:28-34).

 

The great national hero did not understand that the time of warriors had passed, and now Shlomo, the man of peace, was finally King.

 

Shut SMS #190


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

Shehechiyanu for the Birth of a Child with Down's Syndrome

Q: If someone has a baby with Down's Syndrome, does he recite Shehechiyanu?  After all, he is sad.

A: He is both sad and happy.  He therefore recites "Shehechiyanu" and "Dayan Ha-Emet."  This is similar to a case in which one's wife gives birth but dies during the process, or one's father dies but leaves him an inheritance. He recites both blessings since he has both feelings (Berachot 60a.  This is unlike the ruling of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who rules that Shehechiyanu should not be recited in our case, since the parents are not joyous but sad.  Kav Ve-Naki #70).

 

Recycling Bottles

Q: Is one obligated to throw plastic bottles in the recycling bin, or is it permissible to throw them in the trash, even though it pollutes nature?

A: It is permissible to throw them in the garbage.  There are also researchers who claim that recycling bottles pollutes more than throwing them in the trash, and the green ideology sometimes exaggerates (By the way, American law requires recycling).

 

Helping a Blind Woman across the Street

Q: Is it permissible for a man to help a blind woman across the street by holding her hand?

A: One should hold her sleeve, and this is on condition that there is no woman to help her (see Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:350).

 

Tefillin on the Street

Q: Is it permissible to put Tefillin on people in the street when perhaps their bodies are not clean?

A: This is a very distant concern.

 

Calling Hashem: "Tatte"

Q: Isn't it belittling Hashem to call Him: "Tatte" – “Father” in Yiddish?

A: No.  The Master of the Universe is our Father, on condition that we remember that He is also our King.  We are sons and servants of Hashem.  But it is belittling to speak in Yiddish, as if Hashem doesn't understand Hebrew.  But it is also possible to call Hashem: Mommy, since the Kabbalists refer to Hashem as both Father and Mother.  He is above both male and female, but reveals Himself as both a Father and Mother.

 

Segulah against Traffic Accidents

Q: Is there a Segulah against traffic accidents?

A: Driving carefully and performing kindness to those who need a ride (And the Belzer Rebbe – Ha-Rav Aharon Rokeach – also gave the Segulah that if one follows the traffic laws with the strictures of the 10 Commandments, and also gives rides to those who need them, in the merit of these kindnesses which he does on the road, he will be saved from any bad occurrence.  Shut Shevet Ha-Kehati 5:241).

 

Messiah returning from the Dead

Q: Is the Lubavticher Rebbe the Messiah?

A: The RCA, the Rabbinical Council of America, decided that a Rabbi who holds that the Messiah will come from the dead may not be part of their Rabbinic organization.

 

Choosing a Teacher

Q: What is preferable – a Torah teacher with a beard, or a Torah teacher without a beard who can explain better?

A: The one who explains better, since learning Torah is a greater Mitzvah than having a beard (This is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Yosef Shlomo Elyashiv.  Kav Ve-Naki #306).

Disciples of Moshe


[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Miketz 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]

 

Question: What is the right way to learn Torah? Should I try to understand the words of our Sages and the commentaries, or should I clarify what I, myself, have to say and what seems right to me?

Answer: The main point is to acknowledge and believe that G-d's intellect is infinitely above our own humble human intellect. That is the necessary approach for our Torah learning to be real. How can my impoverished intellect be exalted enough to have any contact with the Divine intellect? It is through humbly and reverently understanding my own limitations. Yet, if I do not relate reverently to absolute divine truth, if I try a bit to address it on its own level, then I am not learning the truth of Torah, but only studying my own thoughts and feelings...

That is the question -- am I thinking, speaking and innovating, or am I listening?

Moshe’s greatness was not so much that he came up with his own innovative ideas, but that he listened to the word of G-d. Once and for all, Moshe constructed the foundation of listening to G-d. As Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook wrote: “Man’s greatness, what makes him rise above all that is exalted, is his opening himself up to hear G-d’s voice, to accept G-d’s word, not to innovate with his own ideas, not to set forth a vision, not to become entrenched in the limited resources possessed by man and by every other creature, but to accept. Moshe, the greatest prophet, the most humble man on earth, achieved this exaltedness entirely by listening to G-d, and that listening was not tainted at all by the darkness of man’s limitations. The way he listened to G-d established forever how man should do that” (Olat Re'eiyah 2, 159).

What most epitomized Moshe greatness was his listening to the word of G-d, devoid of any influences from without  that could deplete that greatness. He was free of all the pettiness of man's individuality and temporality, thus enabling him to exalt himself totally to the eternal, infinite Divine truth. If I am humble, I learn Torah in order to try to exalt my intellect to that of the Torah. Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook would explain that one must strive to bring one's intellect closer to that of the explanation by the Tosafot commentary, and not to try to bring the Tosafot commentary closer to one’s own intellect. After all, the words of the Tosafot are G-dly. They constitute Divine intuition.

But if I try to clarify what I say and not what our Sages said, than I must first define who "I" am. After all, I am just the product of a certain education and environment. If it is I who determines the Torah’s meaning, then I transform it from holy to profane. Then it is no longer G-d's word. It is I. Then I no longer have Torah.

It all depends on my humbly believing that Torah is divine, far loftier that all of man's thoughts.

We certainly have nothing against secular knowledge. But the secular must be informed and illuminated by the sacred. If, however, I arrogantly raise myself up above the Torah, engaging in intellectual inquiry or merely trying to satisfy my emotions, and I turn the holy into the profane, then I am spiritually dead. The purity of my faith has then been robbed from my soul.

When this approach gains sway, the result is spiritual destruction.

In contrast to paganism, which involves man’s listening to himself, Moshe opened the gate for the entire human race to heed G-d's word.

The primary condition for achieving any contact with the Torah is absolute humility, as Maharal explains at the beginning of Netiv Ha-Torah. Otherwise, I don't see the Torah. I only see myself. “Moshe was pleased with the gift bestowed on him, for You did call him a faithful servant. A glorious crown did You place on his head as he stood before You on Mount Sinai. He brought down in his hand the two tablets of stone” (Shabbat Morning Shemoneh Esreh)

“The word of G-d – ‘Behold, the day is coming when I will send a famine in the Land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of Hashem.’” (Amos 8:11)

Haftarat Vayigash: A United Nation


[Yechezkel 37:15-28]

 

We are a Nation who loves unity and hates dispute.  To our great distress, we have been torn apart by dissention for a long time.  In our Haftarah, the prophet Yechezkel comes to comfort us: "Harmony will return.  The word of Hashem came to me, saying: Now you, son of man, take for yourself one piece of wood and write upon it ‘For Yehudah and for the Children of Israel, his comrades,’ and take one piece of wood and write upon it ‘For Yosef, the Tribe of Ephraim and all the House of Israel, his comrades.'  Bring them close to you, one to the other, like one piece of wood, and they will become united in your hand.  When the children of your people say to you, saying: ‘Will you not tell us what these things are to you,' say to them, ‘Thus said Hashem G-d: Behold, I am taking the wood of Yosef which is in the hand of Ephraim and the tribes of Israel, his comrades, and I am placing them and him together with the wood of Yehudah; and I will make them into one piece of wood, and they will become one in My hand’” (Yechezkel 37:15-19). 

 

The terrible divide between Yosef and his brothers ended after numerous evils.  The father’s beloved son, a young genius who absorbed only theoretical wisdom, inherited his brothers' criticism for himself: "Yosef brought a bad report to their father" (Bereshit 37:2).  Fearing that they would be pushed out, as happened to Yishmael and Esav, the brothers make the horrible decision to assassinate Yosef, but before doing so engage in the lesser evil of selling him into slavery.  We have to admit that love and understanding did not reign in Yaakov's house.

 

As is known, there were continuing disputes during the course of our history between the descendant of Yehudah and the descendant of Ephraim.  After King Shaul's death, the war of inheritance continued to rage between David, a descendant of Yehudah, and the inheritors of Shaul, the descendants of Binyamin.  After King Shlomo's reign, the kingdom split into two Jewish States: the Kingdom of Yehudah and the Kingdom of Israel.

 

The civil wars between these two groups were numerous, and their fundamental fraternity did not prevent blood from flowing.  The Nation of Israel paid dearly for war between Achaz, King of Yehudah, and Pekach ben Remalyahu, King of Israel, in which one hundred and twenty thousand soldiers from Yehudah fell on the cursed battlefield (Divrei Ha-Yamim 2 28:6).  In the end, both kingdoms were exiled, one after the other. 

 

There is room to believe that all of the suffering of the joint exile would bring them closer together, but this is only partially true.  And there is certainly room to expect that the return to Israel would be accompanied by reconciliation, but things are not so simple.  A new dispute appeared between the Secular Zionists and the Ultra-Orthodox, or in the terminology of 120 years ago – the new settlement and the old settlement.  The Zionists worked for the sake of the national revival of the Jewish Nation in its Land, while the Ultra-Orthodox were interested solely in faithful observance to the laws of the Torah.  Intense mutual enmity reigned between the two camps and no less severe was their separation due to of lacking of caring and a big dose of misunderstanding.

 

In his eulogy for Dr. Theodore Herzl, Maran Ha-Rav Kook explained that these two streams are spiritual descendants of Yosef – a man of standing, statesmanship and economic wisdom – and Yehudah – a holy person responsible for the inner treasures of the Nation of Israel.  According to his opinion, a spark of Mashiach ben David (Messiah, descendant of David, who is from the line of Yehudah) is hidden within the Ultra-Orthodox and a spark of Mashiach ben Yosef (Messiah, descendant of Yosef) is hidden within the Zionists (see Sukkah 52a-b for a discussion of the two Messiahs).  The premature death of Theodore Herzl, the great leader of Zionism, contains to some extent the death of Mashiach ben Yosef following his severance from Mashiach ben David.  Maran Ha-Rav Kook emphasized that this dichotomy is a disaster for both camps, and it is essential that everyone work for the sake of national unity.  Detached from religion, the Zionist movement will find itself as a body without a soul.  And Faith without a base in historical reality will turn into a virtual floating in air (Ma'amrei Ha-Re'eiyah, pp. 94-99).  Today we can rejoice because we have progressed in the right direction of bring these ideals together - but much work still remains to be done

 

We now find ourselves in the final battle and we are not so distant from a joyous tomorrow: "And speak to them: Thus said Hashem G-d: Behold, I am taking the Children of Israel from among the nations to which they have gone, and I will gather them from all around and bring them to their soil.  I will make them into a single nation in the Land in the mountains of Israel's hills, and a single king will be king for them all; and they shall no longer be two nations, no longer divided into two kingdoms again" (Yechezkel 37:21-22).

Shut SMS #189


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

Surgery on Chanukah

Q: Is it permissible to undergo surgery during Chanukah when as a result one will miss lighting Chanukah candles?

A: Yes.  It is permissible for a person to put himself in a situation whereby he will lose out on performing a Mitzvah on account of "Pikuach Nefesh" – safeguarding his life (see Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, brought in Ashrei Ish, p. 233).

 

Working when Candles are Lit

Q: Should women refrain from working the entire time the Chanukah lights are lit?

A: It is enough to refrain for a half an hour (Mishnah Berurah 670:4).

Q: Is housework is permissible?

A: Yes.  Food prep, washing dishes and similar activities (Chazon Ovadiah – Chanukah, p. 12.  Shut Kinyan Torah 7:52 #3).

Q: If she is not at home?

A: It is permissible (Shut Mishneh Halachot, Tanina 1:530).

Q: Should men also refrain?

A: Some are strict, but it is permissible according to the basic halachah (Magen Avraham 670:1.  Mishnah Berurah #3.  Chazon Ovadiah – Chanukah, p. 14).

 

Chanukah Party for Mourner

Q: Is it permissible for a mourner to go to a Chanukah party?

A: No (Halichot Shlomo, p. 320).

 

One Who is Careful to Light Chanukah Lights

Q: Our Sages said that if one is careful to light Chanukah candles he will merit children who are Torah scholars - but many times this does not happen?

A: 1. Other reasons impede it (see Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 2:340).  2. This is a general parable.  See Ain Ayah (Shabbat 23b).

 

Permissible Uses of the Chanukah Lights

Q: It is forbidden to use the Chanukah lights except for looking at them, as we say in Ha-Nerot Ha-Lalu.  Are there any cases where it is permissible to use them?

A: 1. It is permissible to use them for looking in a book to check a halachah relating to the Chanukah lights, since using the light is for its own sake (Birkei Yosef 673:5.  Shaarei Teshuvah ibid. #3).  2. It is permissible to have one's picture taken next to the Chanukiyah, since this is not using its light (This is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv brought in Shut Va-Yishma Moshe vol. 1, p. 212). 

 

Scented Candle

Q: Is it permissible to use a scented candle for Chanukah lights?

A: Yes, and there is no problem with benefitting from the scent since one is not benefiting from the light (Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yoseh brought in Shut Ma'ayan Omer vol. 3, p. 332).

 

Blowing out Candles

Q: Is it true that it is forbidden – all year – to blow out candles?

A: Some are particular to refrain from doing so (Kol Bo #118).  But when performing a Mitzvah, we say that no bad will come to one who performs a Mitzvah (Kaf Ha-Chaim, Yoreah Deah 116:115).

 

Lighting the Wrong Number of Candles

Q: What should one do if he lights either too many or too few candles on Chanukah?

A: Extinguish or add without a blessing (Shut Ha-alef Lecha Shlomo, Orach Chaim #380.  Chazon Ovadiah, p. 29.  And see Shut Shevet Ha-Kehati 1:202).

 

Using Friend's Chanukiyah

Q: Is it permissible to use a friend's Chanukiyah?

A: It is forbidden without his permission (Ha-Measef 673, vol. 1 siman #55, based on Shut Beit Yaakov #3 that the principle: "A person is happy when his possessions are used for a Mitzvah" only applies to Torah Mitzvot and not to Rabbinic Mitzvot).

No to Hellenization and Compromise


[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Vayeshev 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]

 

"When the Greeks entered the Temple, they contaminated all the oils" (Shabbat 21).

How did they manage to contaminate everything? Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook explains that when a new yearning for the Greek style penetrates the spiritual nature of our lives, it invalidates not only those points that it touches, but the entire edifice. The weak-minded are tempted to say that the foreign strain will harm only a small portion, and to take comfort from the rest. But that's not how things are. Impurity does not leave even one corner uncorrupted (Ein Aya, Shabbat, Chapter 2, 11).

It starts with little things - with claims that you have to follow the spirit of the times, to flow with life, with beauty and with progress, and it ends with the most severe problems there are. True, one should always maintain friendly relations with people, but, as the Mesilat Yesharim explained, this is referring to people who behave properly and in accordance with the Torah and purity (Chapter 5).

Compromise is good when people are arguing with each other over money. After all, in this case a person is regarding what is his to give. Yet one cannot compromise regarding the Torah, which is not his but G-d's.

A joke is told about a meeting between the Pope, the Imam in charge of all of Islam, and the Chief Rabbi of the whole world, in order to find ways to bring world peace. The Pope said, "I am willing to forgo belief in Jesus the Christian." The Imam said, "I am willing to give up on Muhammad." The Rabbi was unwilling to concede on anything. Yet finding himself against the wall, he said, "I am willing to concede the second “Yekum Purkan” on Shabbat.” His doing so raised the ire of all the Jews of the world. They asked, "How did he dare?!"

Yet the Reform movement began by nullifying that prayer, arguing that it mentioned the yeshiva heads in Babylonia.

In such matters there is no room for compromise. We obviously cannot solve all of the problems overnight, and have to equip ourselves with patience. Yet Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook emphasized: being patient does not mean giving in. We are patient because we have no choice, but we must always speak the truth, and not surrender to the voice of the masses.

The Rabbis spoke of the generation in which the Messiah arrives as one in which “the face of the generation is like the face of a dog” (Mishnah at the end of Sotah). Some explain that a dog runs ahead of its master, as though it is leading, but truthfully it constantly looks back to make sure of the direction in which its master is running.

Thank G-d, the National-Religious public is not being Hellenized. It is full of religious and nationalist courage and fortitude. Yet it is still a lukewarm compromiser, as Rav Kook wrote to the Mizrachi Movement:

“Compromising, average views, marked by physical and spiritual weakness, will never emerge triumphant as we move towards our national rebirth.” (Igrot HaRe’eiyah vol. 2, p. 164).

“We have to be radicals. With half-baked compromises we will never rectify a thing” (ibid., pp. 123-124). “The Mizrachi, from within the World Zionist Federation, must make its voice heard. It must be the voice of fortitude, not a voice of whimpering and waffling” (ibid., vol. 3, p. 217).

We mustn’t close ranks with the masses! “One should not be embarrassed before people who mock him in his service to G-d!” (Orach Chaim 1:1, Rema).

G-d’s Torah is perfect. All that G-d said we must do and we must obey. We mustn’t subjugate ourselves to the spirit of the times. Better to find the small container of holy oil. In the end, we vanquished the Greeks – and gained another holiday! The more they wanted to make us forget the Torah, the more did Torah study spread to the entire Nation (Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin, Pri Tzadik, Vayeshev, Chanukah).

One should relate to G-d with perfect faith.

Haftarat Chanukah: Not by Might and Not by Power


[Zechariah 2:14-4:7]

 

The famous verse of the prophet Zechariah: "Not by might and not by power but by My spirit, says Hashem of Hosts" (Zechariah 4:6), seems rather strange.  After all, human history has proven through countless examples that spirit alone is not enough. On the contrary! The weapon is the deciding factor of events, and even directs their evolution.

 

So isn't this a pretty naïve stance?  In the verse itself the Master of the Universe, who is the Source of the message to Zerubavel, is called "Hashem of Hosts," i.e. of armies!  Did Zerubavel, the prince of the Jews who led the return to Israel after the Babylonian Exile, only utilize spiritual means, or did he also employ a strategy on the ground?  Didn't he take pains to build the Temple (Ezra 3-4)?  Even when the King of Persia ordered the Jews to cease building, didn't they continue to do so without his permission (ibid. 5)?

 

Furthermore, against their enemies' threats (ibid. 4:5), those new immigrants initiated rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem (Nechemiah 2:17).  It is related regarding those enemies: "And all of them joined together to fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it" (ibid. 4:2).  The response of the Jews was not only spiritual: "And we prayed to our G-d and stood on guard against them day and night because of them" (ibid. v. 3).

 

Those enemies, different non-Jews who dwelled in our Land during our absence in the time of Babylonian Exile and who toyed with the idea that this Land belongs to them, continued planning their pogroms (ibid. v. 5).  The Jews responded with strength to protect themselves: "I stationed the Nation according to family with their swords, spears and bows" (ibid. v. 7).

 

All of this military preparation did not slow down the rebuilding of the wall.  "And from that day, half of my young men did the work and half of them held the spears, shields, bows and coats of mail" (ibid. v. 10).  It was an inspiring sight: "Those who build the wall and those who carried the burden arranged it so that he did the work with one of his hands and held a weapon with the other.  And each of the builders had his sword girded by his side" (ibid. v. 11-12).  Doesn't this picture fill us with incredible pride?

 

Since this is the Haftarah of Chanukah, we ask the question: did the Hasmoneans defeat the Greeks through spirit alone, without the use of force?  And doesn't the Torah itself direct us to use weapons when there is no other way to protect our independence?  It commands us numerous times to arrange military censuses: "From twenty years and up, everyone who goes to the army in Israel" (Bemidbar 1:3).

 

There is therefore a clear misunderstanding in the reading of our verse.  In truth, the verse does not say: "Not by might and not by power but by spirit" but rather "but by My spirit."  What is worthless is might and power detached from the word of Hashem - violence for its own sake, power as its own ideal.  Everything must be illuminated by faith in Hashem, by the most pure ethical standards.

 

When Nechemiah established defensive units surrounding Jerusalem, he charged them: "Do not be afraid of them.  Remember, Hashem, who is great and awe-inspiring, and wage war for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses" (Nechemiah 4:8).  The Rambam, the great halachic authority of the laws of war, emphasizes that a soldier must wage war out of a faith in Hashem (Hilchot Melachim, end of chapter 7).

 

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, never missed an opportunity to be present at the great Tzahal military parade on Yom Ha-Atzmaut.  Each time a tank, weapon or army unit passed him, he recited the verse: "Some trust in chariots and horses, but we will mention the Name of Hashem our G-d" (Tehillim 20:8), but he would immediately add the beginning of the verse: "Through chariots and horses," i.e. we rely on Hashem, but this reliance expresses itself in an active manner, through our military efforts.

 

The Hasmoneans also acted through deep faith, and therefore their small military force with limited weapons succeeded in crushing the powerful Greek army.  This is true in our time as well.  "The secret weapon of the Israel Defense Force" is morale, faith, the inner conviction that we are fighting for a just cause, and our connection to Hashem – whether all of Israel is aware of it or not.