Shut SMS #205

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

Lag Ba-Omer

Lag Ba-Omer on Motza'ei Shabbat

Q: Often, non-Torah-mandated holidays are moved to avoid desecration of Shabbat.  Why not Lag Ba-Omer?   There will definitely be kids lighting bonfires well before Shabbat ends.

A: The problem is that it is not exactly a holiday with Mitzvot, but a popular custom.  In Shut Sha'arei Tzion (#14), Ha-Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz – the Rav of Kotel and Holy Places in Israel - discusses this question regarding the celebrations at Kever Rashbi on Meiron and says that the bonfires should be started later in the night.  This is the custom of the Admor of Boyan, but he also refers to a letter from Ha-Rav Zalman Nechmiah Goldberg (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's son-in-law) that the bonfires should be done during the day for the reasons you mentioned.  The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ha-Rav Yonah Metzger, also called for the bonfires to be lit on Sunday during the day.


Holiday on Lag Ba-Omer

Q: Is Lag Ba-Omer a holiday?

A: No, people just have the custom to have a little joy on that day.  Rama, Orach Chaim 493:2.


Cohanim at the Grave of the Rashbi on Mt. Meiron

Q: Is it permissible for Cohanim to enter Kever Rashbi?

A: No.  Halichot Shlomo, p. 366 (see Kum Hithalech Ba-Aretz #36).  


Kever Rashbi

Q: If one visits Kever Rashbi, what should he do?

A: Pray and repent. 


Chai Rotel

Q: What is the source of "Chai Rotel" - that if one donates or offers 18 Rotels (54 liters or about 13 gallons) of drink to those attending the celebrations at Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's tomb on Lag Ba-Omer, then the giver will be granted miraculous salvation?

A: There is no source.  One Chasidic Rebbe told his student to bring drinks to thirsty visitors on this spot, and in merit of this kindness Hashem would help him, as in all acts of kindness (Rotel is a liquid measure of the Turks, equaling about 3 liters, and contains no holiness).


Kever Rashbi or Torah Learning

Q: Is it preferable to visit Kever Rashbi on Lag Ba-Omer or learn Torah?

A: Learn Torah since it is a clear obligation.

Q: But the Arizal would visit Kever Rashbi on this day?

A: We are not the Arizal (We also heard this in the name of Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski).


In place of Kever Rashbi

Q: If someone is not going to visit Kever Rashbi, but wants to do something to honor Rashbi, what can be done?

A: Learn the book "Shivchei Rashbi".  Ha-Chida in Moreh Be-Etzba, p. 223.


Lighting a Candle for Rashbi

Q: Which is preferable – lighting a candle to honor Rashbi or giving the money to the poor?

A: Tzedakah - a clear Mitzvah, which is not the case for lighting a candle, which does not have a clear source (The Vilna Gaon did not follow the custom to light a Yahrtzeit candle.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 1:702).


Wood for Lag Ba-Omer Bonfire

Q: When I collect wood for the Lag Ba-Omer bonfire, how can I know that it does not belong to someone else?

A: You may not take it unless you are 100% certain that it is ownerless.

Q: But it is impossible to be certain.

A: Then it is forbidden to take it.


Sefirat Ha-Omer on Lag Ba-Omer

Q: If a person has not yet counted Sefirat Ha-Omer and says: "Today is Lag Ba-Omer", can he count with a blessing?

A: Some say that it is proper to take caution not to do so since one can count Sefirah in any language (Luach Eretz Yisrael of Ha-Rav Yechiel Michal Tukatzinsky.  Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot 1:311).  Some say that he did not fulfill his obligation and may count with a blessing (Chazon Ovadiah – Yom Tov, p. 248).  And others say that if he did so, he should not count with a blessing or hear the blessing from someone else (Shut Mishnat Yosef 7:93.  Ve-Yishma Moshe vol. 1, p. 169 in the name of Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv).


Mourner on Lag Ba-Omer

Q: How should a mourner celebrate Lag Ba-Omer?

A: He should not.


Groom Fasting

Q: If a groom is getting married on Lag Ba-Omer, should he fast?

A: Some are strict.  Magen Avraham 574:1.  Some are lenient.  Eliyahu Rabbah 493.

In Honor of Rabbi Akiva

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773 – translated by R. Blumberg]


Question: I am a counselor in the “Bnei Akiva” Religious Youth Movement. At our weekly Shabbat meeting someone brought in a new book with shocking material about Rabbi Akiva. The book describes a dark, turbid relationship with his wife, whom he abandoned for twenty-four years, and her quarrelsome relations with his third wife. It describes his tragic mistake in the Bar-Kochba Revolt, in which he, so to speak, removed G-d from history. It describes his rejection of the traditional/conservative approach to the Torah and his inventing the idea that one can interpret the Torah however one wants, so to speak removing G-d from the Torah. And other terrible things as well. We who walk in the pathway of Rabbi Akiva, obviously could not accept these things. Are we right, or are there seventy approaches to the Torah?

Answer: What all of those accusations have in common is that they have no source. They are not from the seventy legitimate approaches to the Torah but from the seventy-first, which is outside of the Torah. They are inventions, but what is worse, they constitute gossip and slander of the most heinous sort.

It is true that Rabbi Akiva wed before he met Rachel at age forty, for the Rabbis teach that he went off to learn the alphabet together with his son (Avot DeRabbi Natan 6). That son later became Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha (see Seder Ha-Dorot, s.v. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha). Yet it is clear that his first wife had passed away, for we know that the Sages of the Mishnah married only one wife, and Rabbi Akiva lived 120 years, which is a very long life. It thus turns out that after Rachel’s death, he married his third wife, who had previously been married to Turnus Rufus and had converted (Nedarim 50b, see Rashi and Rabbenu Nissim).

Yet as far as quarreling, nothing like that happened. It’s just plain libel. Likewise, he did not abandon his wife to learn Torah. Rather, as is well-known, she sent him off out of her love for the Torah, and she gave up everything for his sake.

Moreover, throughout all of the years,  Rabbi Akiva’s wife lived with his mother, working for her friends. Half of her salary she would use herself, and half she would send to Rabbi Akiva (Avot De-Rabbi Natan, Addendum 2 to Version 1, Chapter 8). Yet one can see that slander is nothing new. Already back then there was a person in her neighborhood “who would verbally embarrass and humiliate her, saying, ‘Look at this foolish woman who relented on the glory of her father’s house, went and got herself married to the very lowest of the low.  Not only that, but she leaves herself open to ridicule by claiming that he studies Torah’” (ibid.).

Rabbi Akiva does not represent a deviant stream of thought, removed from the House of Study. Quite the contrary, he represents the mainstream within the House of Study, the root of all other streams. As Rav Kook wrote in his letter to Bnei Akiva, which begins, “To those dear to my heart, Bnei Akiva,” all the streams of thought within the Oral Torah derive from that great ocean, the all-encompassing Torah of Rabbi Akiva (Ma’amarei Ha-Re’eiyah 202). There he also points out the “supreme holiness” that includes “loving Torah to the point of sacrificing one’s life amidst infinite suffering” (ibid.).

In addition, the Bar-Kochba rebellion includes no rebellion against G-d, but only fulfillment of G-d’s commandment. As Rav Kook writes, “Rabbi Akiva’s special trait, reawakening now during the flowering of our redemption and providing us with an everlasting light, was His enthusiasm and self-sacrifice to bolster every vision of redemption and rebirth for Israel and its Land. And precisely because that vision failed in his day, and Bar-Kochba fell, and together with him Israel as far as its national liberation, we are certain that the truth of Torah from his holy lips will have its day, and that day is fast arriving. Suffering will not twice befall us. Not in vain has Israel waged a war of survival and victory up until this very generation.” (ibid.)

In other words, the Bar-Kochba rebellion failed, but the principle that we bear an obligation to foment a war of liberation was correct. It is by dint of this that we will be aroused when the time comes, and then we will succeed. That time is now. And indeed, Israel’s War of Independence, our own Bar Kochba revolt, succeeded, is succeeding and will succeed.

As far as the relationship between Rabbi Akiva and Rachel, here the slander exceeds all bounds. Every schoolchild knows that the story of Rabbi Akiva and Rachel is the most marvelous love story in all our Rabbinic literature. Rav Kook, as well, highlights it in his introduction to Song of Songs as a “natural, pure love” (Olat Re’eiyah 2:4).

Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Aharon Heiman wrote a powerful work “Toldot Tana’im Ve-Amora’im” [history of the Mishnaic and Talmudic sages]. Yet although it was a work that was total erudition and total Torah, when it came to Rabbi Akiva, he could not restrain his amazement, both from Rabbi Akiva’s personality and from the love story between him and his wife:

“When he was herding the sheep of the wealthy Kalba Savua, the latter’s lovely daughter Rachel saw how humble and virtuous he was and fell in love with him. She revealed to him her love, making clear that she was ready to wed him, but only on condition that he leave her father’s sheep and go study in yeshiva.

While it is not my intent here to write love stories, we can well imagine how the daughter of the most prominent member of his people, raised in the lap of her father’s wealth, made a decision to abandon all that glory and to wed someone who was the lowest of the low, a poverty-stricken ignoramus, much older than she, with a son from a previous marriage. She doubtless knew in advance that if her father found out, he would banish them both.

We can be certain as well that this great union was not formed overnight. Akiva, the shepherd, knew very well how risky would be his first steps for the gentle soul of his master’s daughter. What great doubts he must have entertained, lest he fail in his studies, and regarding how they would support themselves while he studied. He could not decide what to do, whether to heed his beloved Rachel, or to desist.

He saw a spring, with a hollow stone sitting on top, and when he asked who had made the hole, he was informed that water dripping constantly on the stone had made the hole over time. Rabbi Akiva concluded, ‘If water can engrave stone, then all the more so can Torah be engraved on my heart.’ He immediately decided to fulfill his beloved’s wishes, and consented to wed her, and they were secretly betrothed.

Yet when her father heard that it had really happened, not only did he banish Rabbi Akiva from his home, but he banished Rachel as well, and disowned her of his possessions. Yet not only did she not recant, but in the middle of the winter she married Akiva the shepherd, the poverty-stricken ignoramus, and they both lived in a straw storage house, without a pillow under their heads. The straw would get entangled in her beautiful hair, and he would remove it. He told her, ‘If G-d allows me to become wealthy, I will make you a Jerusalem of Gold to wear on your beautiful head.’”

As far as Rabbi Akiva, himself, here is what Rav Heiman writes about his personality: “When we set out to write the history of this remarkable man, no matter how deeply we probe, and no matter how astounded we become, we will never come even half way towards discovering the heights of his greatness. Yet Divine Providence, which decreed that our Temple should be destroyed and its glory removed, brought us the cure before the illness in the person of Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef, who saved the Nation’s soul from total destruction. He was blessed by G-d with neither lineage, nor wealth nor wisdom, for he was an ignoramus and a herdsman, the son of converts, and already on in years. Yet due to a great and precious woman, his fortunes turned around, and he became one of the heads of the wise men of the generation, who brought wisdom to his own teachers, and gained enormous wealth. At the end of his life, he became the head of the entire generation, and he produced tens of thousands of students. From this we see how the crown of Torah is greater than the crown of the priesthood or kingship. The crown of priesthood was granted by inheritance to the descendants of Aaron, the crown of kingship was granted by inheritance to the House of David, and no king from the royal line could have a non-Jewish parent. Yet the crown of Torah is an inheritance to everyone.”

As for yourselves, members of the precious Bnei Akiva movement, be strong, study Torah to bring honor to our great master Rabbi Akiva, and continue to follow in his path.


Haftarat Emor: The People's Cohain

[Yechezkel 44:15-31]


Aside from holidays, the Cohanim would only work in the Temple for two weeks a year.  So what was their role during the rest of the year?


"But the Cohanim, who are Levi'im, descendants of Tzadok, who faithfully carried out the duties of My Temple when the Children of Israel went astray from Me, are to come near to minister before Me.  They are to stand before Me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares Hashem, G-d.  They are to enter My Temple and to come near My table to minister before Me and perform My service" (Yechezkel 44:15-16).


There are four fundamental positions among the Nation of Israel: King, Sage, Prophet, and Cohain.  Compared to the well-defined public roles of the other three, the Cohain seems to have been secluded in the Temple - away from the concrete reality which surrounds us.  The fact that the Cohanim wore distinct clothing only further separated them from the rest of the Nation.  "When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes.  They must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the Temple.  They are to wear linen turbans on their heads and linen pants around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire" (ibid. v. 17-18).


But when we continue reading, we see that the next verse points out that this is not so: "When they go out into the outer court to the Nation, they are to take off the clothes they have been ministering in and are to leave them in the sacred chambers, and wear other clothes, so that they do not mingle with the Nation in their special garments" (ibid. v. 19).  At the time of the Divine service in the Temple, the Cohain would separate himself and wear the appropriate uniform for his special role.  But immediately after completing his task and leaving the confines of the Temple's walls, he would not be different in appearance from the rest of the Nation.


Do not think that the Cohain was only a "man of the Temple."  The Divine service was not quantitatively the largest part of his life.  Each Cohain would, in addition to the holidays, serve only two weeks a year in the Temple.  And even on the holidays, he was on standby in the event that there was extra work to perform.  The Cohanim and Levi'im would spend the remainder of the year traveling throughout the length and breadth of Israel teaching Torah.  They served as the spiritual guides of the Nation, providing personal and communal counsel.  They therefore were also involved in rulings in the area of Halachah.  The Cohanim did not wait until people turned to them - rather they went out to the Nation.  A few times during the year, when people visited the Temple on the holidays, they saw the Cohanim in their full glory in their impressive clothing.  The meetings with the Cohanim outside of the Temple may have been more frequent, but meeting them at the Temple was qualitatively the greatest experience (see Orot, Orot Ha-Techiya 4-5).


The Cohain did not own land, have a profession, or items to sell.  He dedicated himself day and night to teaching.  He would travel around and make a livelihood from the tithes (Terumot and Ma'asrot) which each Jew would separate from his produce for the Cohanim and Levi'im.


It is interesting to point out that when the movement to return to Zion began more than 120 years ago, there were all types of people who became concerned about the material concerns of the Nation of Israel – in politics, agriculture, industry, etc. – while others saw Judaism as a theoretical religion.  Two extremes emerged: on the one side were great Torah scholars aspired to have the religion completely detached from this world; on the other side were secular thinkers who recommended a solely intellectual Judaism.


This dilemma was not new.  The spies, sent by Moshe Rabbenu, refused to enter the Land.  They did not fear a military defeat, but rather a spiritual decline. When they describe the Land as one "which devours its inhabitants" (Bemidbar 13:32), they are voicing their fear that the Nation would become pre-occupied with daily existence and lose its spiritual bearings.


But we must ask: How can we ensure a religious and spiritual existence when we are involved in the day-to-day material reality?  An individual might be able to detach himself from the physical world, exist on the minimum amount necessary, and dedicate himself to learning Torah and Divine service, but this is impossible for an entire Nation.  What then is the solution?  It is the Cohanim, who are in constant contact with the Nation and are responsible for its spirituality.  This is explained by Maran Ha-Rav Kook in his book "Orot".  He used a parable of a man who wants to cleave to Hashem not through the physical but through his mind, spirit and heart.  When his thoughts are dedicated to Hashem, they illuminate his entire body.  The same applies to human society.  In the merit of the Cohanim, who dedicate their lives to Hashem, the entire Nation takes a part in the spiritual reality (Orot, Orot Ha-Techiya 4).


When the Nation met the Cohanim in the Temple – the very men from whose rulings, teachings, and counsel they have benefited – there is no need to describe the sublime spiritual experience that occurred!

Shut SMS #204

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

Q: My grandmother tells me that Jews should not whistle.  Is it true?  Is it forbidden on account of the prohibition of follow non-Jewish customs?  And if it is permissible, is it permissible on Shabbat?

A: There is no prohibition against whistling. Outside of Israel, non-Jews whistled, so Jews refrained from doing so. In sum: Don't whistle in your grandmother's presence, out of respect for her.  And it is permissible on Shabbat (Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:182.  This is also the ruling of Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik.  Divrei Ha-Rav, pp. 197-198).


Forgot to Count Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: If someone forgot to count Sefirat Ha-Omer for an entire day and is extremely sad and embarrassed, can he continue to count with a blessing?

A: No.  Although there is an opinion which permits it.  Shaarim Metzuyanim Ba-Halachah (120:7).  But this is a lone view.


Driving Lessons

Q: Is a father obligated to teach his child how to drive, just as he is obligated to teach him a trade, since it is also essential?

A: 1. A father is not obligated to teach his child a trade.  While it is mentioned in the Gemara, it does not appear in the Halachah.  It is therefore not an obligation, but a recommendation.  2. There is also a recommendation to teach one's child how to drive, but it is much less, since driving is not an important as a trade (This is also the opinion of Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik.  Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 201).


New Apartment during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: Is it permissible to move into a new apartment or to renovate one's home during Sefirat Ha-Omer?

A: Some are strict, but the basic Halachah is that it is permissible.  Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:41 #4.  Chazon Ovadiah – Yom Tov 270.  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Ashrei Ha-Ish, p. 431.

Q: Is it permissible to have a Chanukah Ha-Bayit?

A: Yes, without music.  Chazon Ovadiah – Yom Tov 271.  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Ashrei Ha-Ish, p. 431.


Cutting Nails during Sefirat Ha-Omer

Q: Is it permissible to cut one's nails during Sefirat Ha-Omer?

A: Yes.  Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in Ashrei Ha-Ish, p. 431.


Brit Milah in Shul

Q: Is it preferable to have a Brit Milah in Shul, which is a holy place, or in a hall?

A: It is preferable in a hall, since a Shul is a place of prayer and learning, and not a place for the Mitzvah of Brit Milah.  Furthermore, people engage in idle chatter, which is completely forbidden there (Ha-Rav Yosef Soloveitchik also rules that having a Brit Milah in a Shul is not a plus but rather a leniency in order not to burden the people to go elsewhere when the Brit Milah is after the Davening.  Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 241).


Being Drafted with Long Hair

Q: If a soldier is drafted with long hair down to his shoulders, and the army demands he get a haircut, it is permissible during Sefirat Ha-Omer?

A: It is permissible and a Mitzvah since having long hair is forbidden.  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'eilat 1:23).

Tragedies and Complaints against Hashem

*From a newspaper interview, Nissan 5772


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


Two horrifying incidents occurred a week apart, both of them involving small children: Four Jews were murdered, amongst them three children at the entrance to their school in France, and a father and his five children died in the Israeli town of Rechovot when their house was struck by fire.


Why do tragedies like these happen?

We certainly do not know G-d’s reasons for doing what He does in this world.

Sometimes the righteous suffer and sometimes the wicked thrive. The Prophets long ago asked why they received no answer to this question. Moshe asked, and the Rabbis of the Talmud differed over whether or not he received an answer (Berachot 4). But even if he did receive an answer, who says that we understand it? The Books of Kohelet and Iyov deal with this question as well.

Yet the underlying principle is what Rabbi Yochanan said whenever he finished reviewing the book of Iyov: “A man is destined to die. Fortunate is he who grows great in Torah, and who toils in Torah, and who brings contentment to his Maker.” Some comment that it isn’t really referring to his “reviewing the Book of Iyov”, but to the times that things happened to him along the lines of what befell Iyov. Rabbi Yochanan had ten sons, and all of them died.

A man doesn’t know how long he will live. Some people live more and some live less.

The main thing is to fill one’s life with Torah, Mitzvot and good deeds.

One mustn’t come to G-d with complaints because of calamities. That is wrong. That is ingratitude. Two incidents such as these are rare in the State of Israel, and in other countries as well.


When was the last time eight children were killed within one week?

We must remember that before the emergence of modern medicine, two thirds of children died of illnesses. Nowadays that is extremely rare. A child’s death is absolutely terrible, and the general picture of the statistical spread does not remove a family’s suffering. If, based on the statistics, a particular illness strikes one child out of a million, for that child’s mother, it’s a hundred percent. For her, it makes no difference what happens to anyone else. But we, with a broader perspective, must recognize that our lives are Paradise.


But don’t people suffer tragic deaths all the time?

True, but every year more than 350 people, including children, die in traffic accidents, and more than 10,000 die of smoking, with a sixth of them dying from “passive smoking”.

Why doesn’t anyone get excited about that? And I haven’t even mentioned the people who die from heart problems as a result of improper eating, and those numbers are gigantic.

As noted, it is not right to come to G-d with complaints and to ask Him why He does this to us, when almost everything is full of goodness, at least in Israel. There are countries in which people don’t have anything to eat. About a million people are starving for a crust of bread. Every day, 30,000 children die of hunger. Have you seen anyone get worked up over this? No. The media doesn’t make a big deal out of this.


So it’s not a tragedy?!

Certainly it’s a terrible tragedy. The mother who lost a husband and five children is miserable, but you don’t have to paint the lives of everyone else black because of that. Every death is a tragedy. Yet the private tragedy of one person cannot distort the thinking of everyone else.

For that family, it is truly a tragedy, but, unfortunately, there are other families with tragedies too. If a family is killed in a traffic accident, is that any less sad than deaths from a terror attack or a house fire?! Yet there as well, complaining is wrong, because we are talking about very rare incidents.


And why, within one week, did two such rare incidents as these happen together?

Unfortunately, this is nothing new. People die all the time in Israel. In France, for every 100,000 people, there are fifteen murders per year. In the U.S., the figure is twenty-five, and in Israel it is eight. Unfortunately, as well, there are people who die young.


Yet the public are shocked by the last two incidents. Why?

People’s being shocked by something is no measure of the truth. Shock is not a question of faith but of psychology. If someone is told that one person has been murdered, he will be shocked, but if he is told that 100,000 were murdered, he will be less shocked. When someone tells us that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, we move on to our daily affairs, but if he describes to us the murder of one Jew in the Holocaust, we are shocked. Shock is not always an accurate gauge.

These incidents are rare, and the media gives them a lot of coverage, so perhaps that causes shock, but there are a lot of tragedies that occur that don’t receive coverage, so people think they didn’t happen.


What is G-d signaling to us via these incidents? Perhaps He is informing us that we

have to repent?

Certainly we must repent. Rambam at the beginning of Hilchot Ta’anit states that if suffering befalls a person, he must examine his deeds and repent. One time a person told his rabbi that he did not know in what area he should repent. His rabbi answered that he must first repent over that question.

We must repent all of the time, and we have a lot to repent for. All the same, we have to remember that despite these tragedies, our situation is good, thank G-d, and with all the great sorrow of the families, it is forbidden to say that G-d treats us badly, G-d forbid. There is much good, and little bad.

Sacrificing One's Soul for the Sake of Heaven


[Ashkenazim: Amos 9:7-15

Sefardim: Yechezkel 20:2-20

Yemenite Jews: Yechezkel 20:1-20]


By refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezar’s idol, Chananyah, Mishael and Azariyah displayed the type of self-sacrifice that we have come to understand as Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of Hashem's Name).  And yet, when they turned to Hashem in order to receive his acceptance, He seemingly refused to listen to them…


"In the seventh year, in the fifth month on the tenth day, some of the elders of Israel came to inquire of Hashem, and they sat before Me" (Yechezkel 20:1).  This verse is taken from the Haftarah read by Sefardic and Yemenite Jews (Ashkenazic Jews customarily read from the words of the prophet Amos).  Who were these elders who sought Hashem's advice, and what was their request?


The answers to these two questions, surprisingly, are not found in the text. This is what Hashem tells the prophet: "Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel and say to them: 'This is what Hashem, G-d, says: Have you come to inquire of Me?  As surely as I live, I will not let you inquire of Me, declares Hashem, G-d" (ibid. v. 2).  This is like an ill person coming to his doctor, only to be pushed away before he can even open his mouth.  Why are these spiritual giants, the elders of Israel, being ignored?


This strange story is explained by Professor Idra Nahar in his book "Galut Ha-Tzibur" (pp. 217-224). Professor Nahar says that in that period of exile, the Divine covenant seemed bankrupt.  The Nation of Israel was detached from the Master of the Universe, and the normal practice was NOT to inquire of Hashem.  Even more surprising still is the fact that our Sages revealed the identity of these elders as none other than Chananyah, Mishael and Azariyah, who were prepared to display self-sacrifice for the sanctification of Hashem's Name (Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah 7, 13).


To our great distress, after two thousand years of Exile, we have become accustomed to sanctifying Hashem's Name through self-sacrifice, but at this period it was quite new.  These three elders in fact were looking to ensure that their path was completely correct, and their sacrifice was not in vain.  They wanted to make sure that sacrificing one's life in such circumstances trumped the most precious thing in their eyes: life.  They therefore decided to turn to Yechezkel to receive Divine approval for their actions.  But Hashem refused to provide an answer.  It is human beings' role to decide their path through the Torah with the aid of their conscience, and to take responsibility for their choices and possible risks.  Although their request was denied, they still decided to display self-sacrifice.  This follows the words of Rashi: "And when one surrenders his life, he shall do so with the intention of dying, for whoever surrenders his life in anticipation of a miracle, a miracle will not occur for him.  And we find this regarding Chananyah, Mishael and Azariyah who did not surrender their lives in anticipation of a miracle" (Rashi on Vayikra 22:32).  Self-sacrifice is "love not dependent on anything" (Pirkei Avot 5:16).  Conditional love is fragile, and crumbles at the smallest test.  These three elders became the exemplars of courage and strength in displaying of self-sacrifice for Jews throughout our history.  They would not worship an idol of Nebuchadnezar, whether they were to be saved or not (Daniel 3:18). 


This behavior teaches us that despite all difficulties, it is incumbent upon us to preserve our faith in Hashem and continue to cleave to Him with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our might.  Even when there are periods of Divine silence, we continue to feel His love, with the understanding that this is a world of trials.  Only when our ethical behavior will not render us any benefit, can we truly act for heaven's sake.

A Chief Rabbi Vis-à-vis the Diaspora Rabbinate

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


Question (The questioner is a Rabbi in America who belongs to the R.C.A.): I saw on the Internet the conference at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim about selecting a Chief Rabbi. Do you think the Diaspora Rabbinate should be involved in these elections, or that it is an internal matter of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael?

Answer: No offense intended, but this is an internal matter of the Rabbis of the

State of Israel, for the Chief Rabbi is the Mara De-Atra [leading Rabbinic authority] of the Land of Israel, who we are obligated to obey. There are many Rabbis amongst the Jewish

People with many opinions, but the Mara De-Atra of the city or of the country is the one who has the deciding vote over everyone else. Thus, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Herzog ztz”l would print on his stationary, “Head of the Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael”. The Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael choose a Rabbi whom they wish to heed. And since the Rabbis of America, with all due respect, have no reason to listen to the Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael – no complaint intended – seemingly they have no need to involve themselves in his selection.

A parallel, but distinct, paradigm applies to the secular. They, too, have no reason to be involved in choosing the Chief Rabbi, because they do not intend to heed him. Quite the contrary: they want him to listen to them, i.e. for the Chief Rabbi to be subject to public opinion -- which itself is a new kind of idolatry. As Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Yosef Dov Soloveitchik ztz”l would call it (Divrei Ha-Rav, p. 87), the idolatrous worship of public opinion. The Rabbi does not have to be indentured to public opinion. Rather, the public has to listen to the Rabbi, let alone to the Chief Rabbi. And since the secular have no intention of listening to the Chief Rabbi, but want him to listen to them, they cannot make the selection. Bearing in mind all the differences, the same applies regarding the Rabbis of America.

Yet that isn't precisely the case. Ultimately, the State of Israel is the center of world Jewry, and what occurs there has ramifications for what happens in America as well. That does not mean that the Rabbis of America can choose who will be the Chief Rabbi of Israel, but they are entitled to express their opinion, and the Rabbis of the Land of Israel will decide to what extent to take their opinion into account.

And just as you heard at the conference, Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon Simcha Ha-Cohain Kook Shlit"a spoke at length about conversion. Conversion is a central point, and we have to stand guard on that score when it comes to choosing a Chief Rabbi. That indeed is the most difficult point for the secular public, because in Israel there are hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Soviet Union who are non-Jews. That creates a difficult situation, so there are some who suggest conversion without undertaking mitzvah observance, which is exactly what the secular want. Ha-Rav Simcha Ha-Cohain Kook emphasized that that is impossible, and that it certainly opposes the view of Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, who founded the Chief Rabbinate. Moreover, G-d forbid that someone should say things like that in his name, for a Chief Rabbi of Israel certainly cannot take that view. He pointed out that the most important thing in conversion is: "I am Hashem, your G-d" (Shemot 20). Indeed, in order to convert, it is not enough to be part of the Jewish People. Rather as Rut said, "Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d" (Rut 1:16). The struggle over conversion certainly exists in America, and one must stand guard to ensure that the parameters are not breached, that all conversions include undertaking the yoke of Mitzvot, and, obviously, that they not be performed through the Conservatives or the Reform, but only through the Orthodox and the God-fearing. If - G-d forbid - those parameters of conversion were to be breached, it would also have harsh repercussions for American Jewry.

The Chief Rabbi of Israel has to be a spiritual leader who lays out an elevated path, and not just a clerk. As is well-known, Rav Soloveitchik said that he was not interested in being the Chief Rabbi, because he held that a Chief Rabbi is a clerk, and he did not want to be a clerk, but to learn Torah and to spread Torah (Divrei Ha- Rav p. 196).

Why was Yom Ha-Atzmaut established on the Fifth of Iyar?

[Sefer Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah vol. 1 #110]


Periods of great suffering are followed by periods of great wonders.  And as is known, the quality of goodness is greater than the quality of punishment.  The prophet Michah (7:15) says, "As the days of your coming out of the Land of Egypt, I will show him wonders" (Micah 7:15). The Netziv (Rav Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin - Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva) explains that the incredible suffering experienced during the slavery in Egypt was followed by great miracles during the Exodus.  In our generation, we have seen greater suffering than in Egypt, and we will therefore certainly see greater miracles. We have already seen so many miracles with our own eyes.


Before the declaration of the State of Israel, the Americans warned us against declaring independence. How, they asked, will 600,000 Jews stand against a million and a half Arabs who were armed with English weaponry, and were aided by the armies of seven Arabs countries? The Americans also informed us from the outset that they would not recognize the State of Israel. The American Consul departed from our Land saying: I cannot watch the liquidation of the Jewish settlement. Even the Zionists of America were steadfast in their opposition to the declaration of the State. The leaders of the Jewish settlement too feared a great "slaughter of the Jews," and were in doubt. Some of them reasoned that it was forbidden to endanger the entire settlement. In the end, the decision fell to the People’s Administration (Minhelet Ha-Am, which preceded the Government of Israel).  The vote was decided by a razor-thin margin: six to four. Soon thereafter, a chain of miracles began.


Approximately one million Arabs fled of their own volition from the Land of Israel, leaving room for a million Jews who soon arrived. In his article "The Revival of the Land and its Wonders," Moshe Prager examined the wonder of the flight of the Arabs at the time of the establishment of the State in light of the verse: "I will make the Land desolate" (Vayikra 26:32).  There is no logical explanation for this strange phenomenon. Have you ever in your life seen that he who was rooted in his land for hundreds of years would suddenly uproot himself from the source of his land, lifting up his feet and fleeing in any direction that the wind would blow? Nearly half of the Arab population abandoned everything and fled in abandon, like chaff driven away by  the wind (quoted in Rav Menachem Kasher in the book "Ha-Tekufah Ha-Gedolah," p. 40). Take for example, the Arabs in Tzefat and its vicinity: they had many weapons and had prepared to slaughter the Jewish citizens of the city. The Jews did not know where to flee. They sent a delegation to the Arabs to speak to their hearts and to offer them great amounts of money to alter their evils plans, but it was of no use. So what happened?  There was a small post of the Haganah in Tzefat whose only hope was the "Davidka" – an improvised cannon.  They didn’t even know if it would succeed in shooting or would just explode in place. With the kindness of Hashem, the cannon shell came out with a powerful thunder and hit the enemy position. At that very moment a huge gap appeared in the sky and a torrential downpour began (a rare occurrence in the month of Iyar, which falls in Spring). When people arrived in Tzefat, they could not find a living soul, just as in the famous story in the Tanach about the four men stricken with the spiritual disease of tzara’at (see Melachim 2 chap. 7). In the end, the secret was revealed: everyone had fled. The few who remained in the hospital explained what had happened: the leaders of the Arabs believed that the Jews had an atomic bomb, and the frightful sound of the "Davidka" together with the uncommon rainstorm was seen as a sign that they had dropped it.


There are those who ask why Yom Ha-Atzmaut was established on the 5th of Iyar in particular, since no miracle occurred on that day. The Jewish State was declared, and with it a life-threatening situation began (Chanukah and Purim were established on the day after the "war" ended). Our Rabbi, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, explains that the courage to declare the State is the miracle of miracles, the soul and root of all of the miracles and wonders (Le-Netivot Yisrael vol. 1, p. 179). The Talmud discusses a shepherd who abandoned his flock, leaving it prey to either a wolf or a lion who came and tore it to pieces.  The Rabbis established that the shepherd’s responsibility for the slaughter depends on whether or not he would have been able to save the animals. If he would not have been able to overcome the attacking animal, he is exempt from all payment. The Talmud asks: Why is this so?  Perhaps it would have happened as for David: "Your servant slew both the lion and the bear" (Shmuel 1 17:36)? Perhaps a minor miracle would have occurred (Baba Metzia 106a)? The Tosafot describe the miracle: "A spirit of courage and the knowledge to wage war" (Tosafot ibid.). So too in the matter of the declaration of the State: "The awakening, the exerting of effort, the philosophizing and the strengthening for the drive to rescue and revive," is a miracle from the Heavens, "with a supreme and inner stimulus of power."  The fact that the Nation of Israel was filled with the spirit to fight and the knowledge to wage war is the foundation of all miracles (Le-Netivot Yisrael ibid.).  From this act flowed all of the miracles which led to the establishment and strengthening of the State of Israel.


We are fortunate to have witnessed all of these miracles and to witness Hashem's miracles every day.  In His great kindness, Hashem will show us more wonders in the future.