Shut SMS #214

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

Screaming Ceremony

Q: When young people go out into the wilderness in order to scream to Hashem: "Please, Hashem, save us" or similar things, it is considered idol worship?  Is it preferable to going to a discotheque?

A: This is an invention of Breslov Chasidim.  It is not idol worship, since they are not worshipping a foreign god, but Hashem, and it is a type of prayer.  It is surely better than a discotheque. but it is obviously preferable to Daven in the normal manner (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 582:9 and the commentaries there).


Eating Etiquette

Q: Are there guidelines for polite eating?

A: Certainly.  Use utensils, don't lick one's fingers but use a napkin, don't put too much food into one's mouth, don't get food on one's clothing or beard, don't chew too quickly, don't make noise when chewing, etc.  Piskei Teshuvot 170:14.

Q: Does this apply even when one is eating alone in his house?

A: Yes.  Ibid.


Blessing the State of Israel in Birkat Ha-Mazon

Q: Did Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah say in the Birkat Ha-Mazon: "May the Merciful One bless the State of Israel, the beginning of the blossoming of our Redemption" and "May the Merciful One bless Tzahal, who stands guard over our Land"?  Can I add it?

A: Rabbenu did not say it.  You can add it but it is preferable not to make changes.  After all, you see that Rabbenu did not add it and you are not more of a Zionist than him.  The State of Israel and Tzahal are included in the blessing over the Land and the food (and see Shut Beit Mordechai #28 and Shut Be-Ohela Shel Torah 4:5 who explain that there is no blessing for the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael since it is included in this blessing in the Birkat Ha-Mazon).  


CPR Course

Q: What is preferable – a CPR course or learning Torah during that time?

A: Learning Torah, which resuscitates the soul.  Learning Torah is equal to them all.  Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that while it is a Mitzvah to save people, there is no Mitzvah to study medicine (In his Teshuvah on whether or not it is permissible for a Cohain to study medicine.  Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:155).



Q: If a man undergoes an operation to become a woman, or visa-versa, what is his/her status?

A: There is doubt whether one is a male or female, and that person is required to be strict in Mitzvot in both directions (It is written in Nishmat Avraham, Even Ha-Ezer 44:3, that such an operation is certainly forbidden.  And see Shut Tzitz Eliezer 10:25 which discussions all of the issues involved).


Flag of the State of Israel

Q: Does the flag of the State of Israel possess holiness? Does one have to kiss the flag if it falls on the floor? Must it be put in the Geniza if it is worn out?

A: No. It does not contain holiness. But one must treat it with respect (see Nefesh Ha-Rav, pp. 99-100. Shut Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:46. We heard from Rav Aharon Rakefet that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein once said that he did not regret any of the Teshuvot he wrote, except for the one about davening in a shul which has the flag of Israel, in which referred to those who had made the Israeli flag as "Wicked").


Asking a Rabbi

Q: Must one ask a Rabbi regarding everything in his personal life?

A: No.  There are things which one can solve by himself and there are things for which one needs help.  See Orot Ha-Torah, Chapter 5.

"Igrot Kodesh" ("Holy Letters") of the Lubavitcher Rebbe


Q: When some Chabad Chasidim have a question, they open the Rebbe's collection of letters and find the answer on that page.  Isn't this prohibited on account of "consulting the dead" (Devarim 18:11) or "Do not engage in sorcery" (Vayikra 19:26)?

A: The commentators of the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 179:4) mention that it is permissible to open a holy book and find an answer, and this is even called a "minor prophecy" (Chida in Shiyurei Beracha, Yoreh Deah 179:1 in the name of the Maharikash.  Shut Chaim Shaal 2:38 #41.  Shem Ha-Gedolim, Erech Nun #14.  Mishnah Berurah 322:24.  Aruch Hashulchan 322:8.).  This means that there is no prohibition.  There is a similar method of opening the Tanach and locating verses which answer particular questions.  This is called "Goral Ha-Gra" – the lottery of the Vilna Gaon.  There is the famous story about the Tzadik of Jerusalem – Reb Aryeh Levin – in which he used the "Goral Ha-Gra.  During the Israeli War of Independence, a group of thirty-five soldiers was sent to provide additional defense for the Gush Etzion Settlements.  Tragically, everyone in the group was killed.  After the war the bodies were discovered but the Chief Rabbinate of Israel was unable to identify twelve of them.  Reb Aryeh Levin used the Goral Ha-Gra – which involves using a particular format of the Chumash and flipping the pages back and forth until eventually a particular verse is chosen.  In each case, the verse chosen clearly identified particular body with a fallen soldier (See "A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin," pp. 111-117).  The "Goral Ha-Gra" was also used by Ha-Rav Aharon Kotler when he wanted to immigrate to Israel from Russia, but Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein was greatly urging him to come to America in order to strengthen Judaism there.  The verse which came out in the "Goral" was "Hashem said to Aharon: Go meet Moshe in the desert" (Shmot 4:27).  He understood this to mean: "Hashem said to Aharon" – this was a hint to his name Ha-Rav Aharon Kotler.  "Go meet Moshe in the desert" – Go meet Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein who is in the spiritually desolate desert of America.  Ha-Rav Kotler indeed went to America and established the yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jeresy, which today is one of the largest yeshivot in the world (see the book "Ha-Gaon," p. 1118 by Ha-Rav Dov Eliach).  And it is related in the book "Lev Eliyahu" (vol. 1, p. 35 in introduction) that Ha-Rav Elya Lopian used the "Goral Ha-Gra" (he once told his students that he received this "Goral" from the Chafetz Chaim) before he moved to London.  The verse which came out was: "I will descend with you to Egypt and I will surely bring you up" (Bereshit 46:4).  There is therefore no prohibition in acting this way, but that does not mean that it will work - it depends on who performs it.   Reb Aryeh Levin, Ha-Rav Aharon Kotler and Ha-Rav Elya Lopian were Torah giants and holy individuals.  It is possible to ask any question in the world through the "Igrot Kodesh" but that does not mean that everyone will receive a true answer, since, although it is a minor prophecy, not everyone is suited to receive it.  It is related that Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik – the Brisker Rav – who was a completely righteous person – once tried the Goral Ha-Gra.  He opened the Chumash, landed on the verse: "You shall be wholesome with Hashem, your G-d" (Devarim 18:13) and he stopped (Ha-Gaon, pp. 1126-1127).  Similarly, it is written in the book Orchot Rabbenu (p. 218) that Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said that this father – the Steipler Gaon – was not in favor of using the Goral Ha-Gra for two reasons: 1. We do not know exactly how to do it.  2. You shall be wholesome with Hashem, your G-d."  Therefore, someone who acts this way does not perform a transgression, but this is not the way of the Torah.  If you want to know the answer to a question you have to exert effort or take counsel with a Torah scholar.


Shut SMS #213

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

Falun Gong

Q: Should we protest the horrible abuses which Falun Gong is undergoing in China?  After all, we are a small country and cannot solve all of the world's problems.

A: We cannot solve them, but we are obligated to protest as well as to act.  The fact is that their government fears this and denies it.

Q: Why do we care? They are idol worshippers!

A: It does not appear that Falun Gong or Falun Dafa is idol worship.  It is a technique of exercise with a little meditation and perfecting of one's character traits, such as truth and compassion.  And we should certainly save them from injustice.

Q: But there is a swaskita in their symbol, like the Nazis.

A: G-d forbid, they are not Nazis.  The swaskita is an ancient symbol from the Far East which the Nazis adopted.  They are good and ethical people.

Q: Is it true that in China they take organs for transplant from members of Falon Gong against their will and they die from this?  This is horrible!  This is like what the Nazis did!  Why are we silent?!

A: Some researchers make this claim but it has yet to be proven by international organizations.  What is certain is that they abuse them in an extremely cruel manner, make false arrests and torture them to death.


Talit which Falls Off

Q: Does one have to recite another blessing if his Talit falls off?

A: No.  Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata 1:69.  Not like the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah 8:15.



Q: Is there value in Segulot?

A: It depends on which.  But the best Segulot are learning Torah and performing Mitzvot (When Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv had a great-great grandson – he merited having a great-great-great grandson in his life, which is extremely rare! – people told him that one who is the Sandek for a great-great grandson will not see Gehinom [see Leket Yosher Yoreh Deah 52].  Ha-Rav Elyashiv replied: "I worked my entire life to enter Gan Eden through the main entrance, not the side door!"  Gedola Shimusha of Ha-Rav Tzvi Weisfish, p. 230).


Woman's Beauty

Q: I am a totally unattractive young woman, I am even ugly, and I am not okay with it.  What can I do?

A: The essential beauty of a person is his inner, ethical and spiritual beauty.  External beauty is relative.  In the eyes of your husband, you will be the most beautiful in the world.  The philosopher Voltaire said: What is beauty?  If you ask a black man, he will respond: 'A black woman'.  If you ask a Japanese man, he will reply: 'A Japanese woman'.  If you ask a bull, it will reply: 'A cow'.  If you ask a toad, it will reply: 'A female toad'.  And if you ask a philosopher, he will answer with Incomprehensible gobbledygook…”  We learn in the Talmud (Ketubot 16b-17a): “What should one sing as he dances before a bride at her wedding? Beit Hillel said: 'What a lovely, righteous bride!' Bet Shammai asked them: And if she is lame or blind, should you say, 'What a lovely, righteous bride?' The Torah says, ‘Distance yourself from a lie' (Shemot 23:7). Beit Hillel replied, 'According to what you say, if someone made a bad purchase in the marketplace, should his acquaintances praise or disparage it when speaking to him? I would say that they should praise it.' Based on this our Sages said, 'One should always attune himself to his fellow's concerns.'" The Maharal in Netivot Olam, Netiv Ha-Emet comments that beauty and truth are subjective. The groom doesn't love his wife because she is beautiful. She is beautiful because he loves her.

Q: Is it permissible for me to have plastic surgery to remove an unattractive feature?

A: Certainly.  May Hashem bless you (Tosafot 50b.  Shut Igrot Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:66.  Shut Tzitz Eliezer 11:41.  Shut Yabia Omer 8:12).

Parashat Balak: The First Thing We Say in Davening Each Morning


[Tal Chermon]


Our first meeting with the Creator in the morning is the verse "How goodly are your tents, Yaakov.”  This is how we begin our daily davening – with a verse that points to Jewish modesty. How so? Because the entrances of Yaakov’s “goodly” tents did not face one another, and thus prevented intrusions upon the privacy of other families (Rashi on Bemidbar 24:5).


And yet the verse comes from the mouth of an evil person who was completely corrupt: Bilaam. This is a person who had relations with his donkey (Sanhedrin 105b), who was punished in Gehinom for his sexually activity (Gitin 56b) and who caused the Jewish People to sin with the daughters of Moav (Bemidbar 24:14 with Rashi) though he clearly knew that their G-d hated harlotry (Sanhedrin 106a).  But when Bilaam experienced a spiritual elevation, through the hand of Hashem which rested upon him, he clearly recognized the modesty which is deeply ingrained within the Jewish nature.  He was so amazed by it that he began his third prophecy – the most elevated of all – with this praising of their modesty. Recognizing and acknowledging our essential modesty is how we meet our Creator each and every morning.

Shut SMS #212

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

Sherayim of the Rebbe

Q: What is the source for eating Sherayim (leftover food) of a Rebbe?  Is there something to it?

A: It has no clear source in the Gemara nor the Poskim.  Some learn it from the Gemara Chagiga (13b) that it is forbidden to eat a loaf of bread from which a mouse nibbled since the impurity has spread throughout, and this is all the more so when a righteous person eats from it that the purity spreads throughout (Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira explained it in this manner.  When this explanation was related to Ha-Rav Moshe Halberstam, member of the Badatz of the Eidah Ha-Charedit, he said: "I am familiar with all the statements regarding Sherayim except this one."  Rosh Devarcha, p. 108).  Or the Yerushalami Moed Katan (2:3) which says that after the meal celebrating the New Month, Rebbe Yohanan would collect the crumbs and eat them, saying: "May I spend my life in the next world together with those who ate here last evening" (Brought in Shaarim Metzuyanim Be-Halachah 42:2.  Derech Sichah vol. 1, p. 220 in the name of Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski.  And Chasidim ask: If one is strict not to sell actual Chametz for Pesach, is it permissible for him to sell a piece of Sherayim from his Rebbe?  The Poskim answer: yes.  Shut Nachalat Pinchas 1:1 #65.  Brought in Ki Ba Moed – Pesach vol. 1, p. 8.  And Ha-Rav Aviner told me: "This is a big Chidush, since he is interested in saving it and perhaps there is no Bitul".  And the Gerrer Rebbe once said to Maran Ha-Rav Kook: "Chasidim eat Sherayim of their Rebbe, i.e. they nullify themselves to their Rebbe.  To whom do you nullify yourselves?"  Maran Ha-Rav Kook answered him: "We eat the Sherayim of Klal Yisrael."  And Maran Ha-Rav Kook already wrote that the greatest Tzadik does not reach the ankles of Klal Yisrael.  See Orot 76, 176).


Relation to Arabs

Q: I am volunteering at a center for mentally-challenged children, and there are also Arab children there.  How should I relate to them?  In a pleasant manner like to the other children?

A: Certainly.  One has to be a human being.  It is not a battle field there.  See the introduction of the Netziv to Sefer Bereshit.


Suffering of Am Yisrael

Q: What kind of Chosen People are we when we suffer and are killed all the time?  This is how Hashem loves us?

A: This is complex for a text message.  Ask a Rabbi face-to-face.  Asking a question like this in a text message is a horrible belittling of the suffering of Am Yisrael and a belittling of Hashem.

Q: Thank you, it is truly a belittling.

A: May Hashem bless you. 


Aliyah to Torah for Cohain who Married Divorcee

Q: Can a Cohain who married a divorcee receive an Aliyah to the Torah?

A: Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein permits him to receive an Aliyah of a Yisrael, since he nullified his holiness.  Shut Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:33).  And Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef permits him to receive an Aliyah only after the first 7 obligatory Aliyot.  Shut Yechaveh Daat (2:16).


Eating while Standing Up

Q: I saw that the Rambam writes that one should eat while sitting.  Hilchot Deot 4:3.  Is this the Halachah? 

A: He writes this from a medical perspective, and now there is no such concern.  But it is proper from the perspective of etiquette.  Piskei Teshuvot 170:22.


Film about Expulsion from Gush Katif on Tisha Be-Av

Q: Is it permissible to see a film about the expulsion from Gush Katif on Tisha Be-Av?

A: It is forbidden to read books that arouse all sorts of inclinations.  Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:16.  And this is all the more so for movies.  Therefore, these films which usually arouse hatred towards the army, government, etc., are forbidden all year round, and all the more so on Tisha Be-Av. 

Chukat: The Sin of Mei Merivah

Our Parashah begins with the Mitzvah of the Parah Adumah, one of the Torah's "Chukim" - enigmatic Mitzvot.  It continues with an account of Moshe Rabbenu striking the rock at Mei Merivah to bring forth water for the thirsty congregation. This "sin", like the Mitzvah of the Parah Adumah, is also shrouded in mystery.

"Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the Nation of Israel - therefore you [Moshe and Aharon] shall not lead this congregation into the Land which I have given to them" (Bemidbar 20:12). Hashem's command is crystal clear: it first describes what Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon did and said, and then maps out their punishment. But there is one thing that's far from explicit: the sin! What exactly is the sin for which they were punished so severely? To this question there are almost as many answers as there are commentaries on the Torah.

Rashi's commentary follows the opinion found in the Zohar (Bereshit 20) and the Midrash (Yalkut Reuveni 70).  He explained that "Hashem did not command them to strike the rock, but rather to speak to it.  Had they spoken to the rock and produced water it would have been a tremendous sanctification of the Divine Name.  If a deaf and dumb rock, which is not dependent upon G-d's mercy,  does G-d's bidding when spoken to, how much more so must human beings fulfill the Divine commands" (Bemidbar 20:8-12 with Rashi).  The Ramban disagreed with this explanation, noting that Moshe Rabbenu was commanded to take his staff (ibid. v. 8), which implies that he was supposed to use it.  Furthermore, he asks why it is any less miraculous to draw water from a rock by knocking it with a staff than by speaking to it?  Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook sharpened the question by noting that hitting an inanimate object seems more "natural" and appropriate than talking to it.  As the Nation of Israel came closer and closer to Eretz Israel, they gradually assumed a more natural, less overtly miraculous way of life.  The clouds disappeared upon Aharon's death, the well no longer followed them when Miriam died.  Later, when they actually entered Eretz Israel, the Manna no longer fell.  It would therefore seem more appropriate for Moshe Rabbenu to strike the rock at this point (see Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, Chukat 1).  But why, in any case, do the commentators put such an emphasis on the difference between speaking to a rock and striking it?

Man is defined as a "speaking animal."  His ability to perceive abstract ideas and moral imperatives and to express them in words is what sets him above the rest of the animal world.  On the verse, "And man became a living soul" (Bereshit 2:7), the Targum Onkelos translates "a speaking soul," and Rashi explained that it means the ability to think and to speak.  Through Man's verbal ability, he communicates with and influences society and is able to translate thought into action.  This requires proper use of the power of speech.  There are times to be silent and times to speak. Our Sages ask, "What is man's special skill in this world?"  They answer, "To act as if he were mute" (Chulin 89a).

Does this mean he shouldn't discuss Torah and Mitzvot either?  No, the Torah teaches: “You shall speak righteously" (ibid.).  It takes great skill to differentiate between speech that is beneficial and a Mitzvah, and that which is damaging and prohibited.  Since speech expresses man's very being, it is essential that the Nation be led by persuasion and not by coercion.  The Aramaic word for "leader" is "Dabar" - speaker.

When Hashem wished to appoint Moshe Rabbenu to lead the Nation of Israel out of Egypt, Moshe Rabbenu protested: "I am heavy of mouth and of tongue" (Shemot 4:6).  He felt himself unable to communicate with the people.  Hashem then pronounced "Aharon, your brother, shall speak" in your place (ibid. v. 14-16).  Eventually, though, Moshe Rabbenu acquired the power of leadership through speech.  The phrase "And Moshe spoke" appears innumerable times in the Torah, and the whole book of Devarim is one long speech given by Moshe Rabbenu before his death (see beginning of Midrash Devarim Rabbah).  Important as speech may be in leading the Nation, however, there is obviously a need for coercion as well.  We don't depend on the power to persuasion to convince a thief to compensate for his theft: we grab him by the neck and bring him to judgment.  There is a need for courts and police.  But these coercive tools are secondary forces. The primary force must be verbal.  

Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, explained that Moshe Rabbenu had such a great personality that even when he tried to act silently – striking the rock without speaking – the intensity of his presence was overpowering. But the Nation of Israel at this point, preparing to settle Eretz Israel, was in need of a leader who would not overpower them.  Thus, his punishment was appropriate: "Moshe would die and Yehoshua would bring them into Eretz Israel" (Sanhedrin 17a).  Moshe is compared to the sun (Baba Batra 75a).  Sunshine may sometimes be overpowering.  Its light is so strong that the stars cannot be discerned during the day, even though they are always present.  The light of the sun, of Moshe Rabbenu, overpowered and concealed other lights.  Yehoshua however "is like the light of the moon" (Baba Batra ibid.).  The light of the moon allows other lights to be seen too.  When we entered Eretz Israel, there was no room for coercion.  The Nation must be led by words and not by force.  Moshe Rabbenu was therefore punished by not being allowed to continue to lead the people by force into the Promised Land.  He would die, and a different type of leadership would take over. The Rambam's commentary is in a similar vein.  He explained Moshe Rabbenu's sin as one of anger (Shemoneh Perakim, chapters 4 and 7) because he called the Nation "rebellious," even though their demand for water was not considered a sin.  Although the Torah does not state that they were punished for speaking angrily, the Maharal explained that angry speech is a sign of a lack of faith.  Anger is an expression of attempting to force things to be what you want, while soft speech implies the belief that others can be influenced by reason.  The power of speech is man's greatest strength, and we must believe in its power to change not only people's hearts, but even inanimate objects (see Sefer Ha-Ikarim 4:22).  As Yeshayahu said, [Hashem] fulfills His servant's word" (44:26). Yehoshua prayed, "Sun - stand still in Giveon and moon in the valley of Ayalon" (Yehoshua 10:12), Moshe Rabbenu commanded the earth to swallow up Korach (Bemidbar 16:30) and Eliyahu Ha-Navi imposed a drought upon all of Eretz Israel (Melachim 1 17:1).  The sin of Mei Merivah and Moshe Rabbenu's punishment teach us, once and for all, that force is not the way to educate.

Halachic Opportunism

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


Halachic opportunism is a phrase that contains within it an internal contradiction.

What, after all, is “opportunism”? It means checking out what works, what is pleasing and popular. Halachah, by contrast, is divine, eternal, absolute, firmly entrenched.

Every individual has goals and ideals. Yet what can he do when they are smashed up on the boulder of reality? Opportunism suggests: Very simple, make maximum use of opportunities, while foregoing or changing your initial goals in favor of what is easily attainable. Change your loyalties in accordance with the shifting likelihood of success.

According to this, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, halachic opportunism will say: Reality wins. Halachah has to be adapted to it.

There are therefore sophisticated methods for officially continuing to tow the line. In fact, the heretics in the universities claim that that’s what the Sages of the Mishnah did. For example, those heretics claim, the sages of the Mishnah considered the law of the rebellious son (in which the son must be killed in anticipation of the hideousness of his future acts, Devarim 21:18) to be inhumane, old fashioned, and in need of change, so they invented new conditions: in order for this law to be applicable, for example, the parents of the child must be identical in appearance and height – something which is obviously impossible. By such means, they elegantly neutralized that law. Those same heretics hold that the Sages of the Talmud did the same thing to the laws of the Mishnah, and so forth – G-d have mercy on them.

In just that way, halachic opportunism changes one’s loyalty to the laws of the Torah according to their shifting chances of success. In other words, according to the level of popular support. That’s how it works: changing one’s positions in accordance with one’s relative strength and in accordance with public opinion polls.

This is somewhat reminiscent of the incident involving Rachamim Kalanter (Kalanterism), a member of the religious “Mizrachi Workers’ Party" which, in 5713, sought to depose Jerusalem’s mayor because of his support of establishing a Reform synagogue. Kalanter changed his allegiance and supported the mayor in exchange for an appointment as Vice Mayor in charge of religious affairs. In order to prevent such Kalanterism, a law was passed that a Knesset member must leave the Knesset before being chosen to a new party.

Here is an example of religious opportunism: Many dwellers of Zion do not love conversions that demand undertaking Mitzvah observance. They want to change the definition of conversion to mean, “belonging to the Jewish People”. For them, “Your people are my people” (Ruth 1,16) suffices, without “your G-d is my G-d” (ibid.). This constitutes not just a change in the definition of conversion, but in the definition of the Jewish People.

Another example: It is a fact that many girls enlist in the army against the rulings of the Chief Rabbinate. The simple solution? A new ruling that says that this is all right.

A third example: There is a lot of filth in modern culture, but the public loves it with all its warts. Hence we must rule that all is permissible, perhaps with a few minor changes as a sort of fig leaf. Any interesting film or book is permissible, because, when all is said and done, it’s just “culture”. Even if it’s got a bit of heresy, a bit of forbidden gossip, a bit of pornography…all in all, those things are lost in the permissible majority. No big deal.

As for us, however, the disciples of Moshe, when there is a contradiction between Halachah and reality, we say: “Let G-d decide!” And why is that? Because G-d also determines the divine nature of the soul.

And what exists in Halachah in black letters exists deep within us, in the letters of our soul. Israel and the Torah are one. Indeed, that is a spiritual concept. Whoever does not delve deeply into issues of faith, risks falling prey to halachic opportunism. I am not writing this for the halachic opportunist. He will not understand. He will think he is sanctifying the name of G-d. I am writing this for us, so that we do not get confused.

Maran Ha-Rav Kook quotes the words of the Zohar: “The Devil begins by bringing people together, but ultimately creates divisiveness. Holiness begins divisively but ultimately brings people together” (Orot Ha-Kodesh 2:440-441, and 1:15). Opposites cannot be attached together.

We do not go “whichever way the wind [Ruach] blows”. Rather, we set sail in the direction of “My spirit [Ruach] which shall be set upon you and My words which I have put in your mouth” (Yeshayahu 59:20).


Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner's Eulogy for Ha-Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth ztz"l: The Gaon "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata"

On the 3rd of Tammuz, at the age of 86, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth ztz"l ascended on high, after many years of learning and teaching Torah.  The book "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata" requires no advertising.  It is found in virtually every home of G-d-fearing Jews, and is used by Torah scholars and the masses alike.

But his genius is virtually unknown.  People do not know that he wrote other books: Kitzur Dinei Shemitah Karkaot (Concise Laws of Shemitah), Ohel Sarah – On the Laws of Family Purity, Chinuch Ha-Banim Le-Mitzvot (Educating Children for Mitzvot), an halachic guide for nurses in hospitals and tens of articles and hundreds of halachic ruling quoted in other books.

And his traits were those of a great Torah scholar – humble, inconspicuous and not out for publicity.  He did not speak about himself but devoted all of his strength for the good of Hashem, His Torah and His Nation.

It is possible to see one thing clearly in his book "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata": he is the faithful student of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.  He learned from him since his youth in Yeshivat Kol Torah, and he established the rulings in his book based on his words.  In fact, the foundation of a Torah scholar (Talmid Chacham) is being the literal meaning of that title: the student of a Sage, a faithful student, a devoted student, a student who sits in the dust of his Rabbi's feet.

His students obviously know him well, students of Yeshivat Kol Torah and also the students of the Yeshivot he established: Pnei Shmuel Le-Tze'erim, Chochmat Shlomo, Netivot Chochmah, and he was also known in the Sha'arei Tzedek Hospital, where he was the Posek.

But, in truth, this is improper from our perspective.  Before recognizing a Torah scholar's wisdom, one needs to recognize his fear of Heaven.  If there is no fear, there is no wisdom.

We have now merited the third edition of the book "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata", 45 years after the first edition, in which the author relates his life story under the title: "It is good to show gratitude to Hashem".  Obviously, it is without a trance of self-promotion, rather in order to relate the incredible kindnesses of Hashem for his family and for himself, and for the great miracles Hashem performed for him.

Ha-Rav, the son of Ha-Rav Aharon Neuwirth, grew up on Berlin, Germany, when Hitler – may his name be blotted out – rose to power.  He and his brother were sent on a "Kindertransport", children's transfer, to good-hearted Jewish families in Belgium.  Much later, his parents also left Germany, on account of a special permit of the Queen of Holland for 42 Rabbis.  The children were then reunited with their parents in Holland.  But Holland itself was conquered by the Nazis – may their names be blotted out, and they were also unable to obtain food since there did not have food-ration cards.  The underground supplied them with forged food-ration cards and this is how they survived for years.  Their little money ran out.  The Jews of the underground then requested from the leaders of the underground to appoint a Rabbi for them, just like – Lehavdil - the non-Jews have a priest.  Their request was answered, and his father, Ha-Rav Aharon, was appointed the Rabbi of the underground, and this brought with it a salary – which in and of itself was a great wonder.

But there is no end to the miracles which occurred for them.  We will only mention a few.  The Nazis once burst into their apartment searching for Jews and discovered the Aron Kodesh and they inquired about it.  Ha-Rav Aharon, who was filled with Emunah and feared nothing, opened the Aron Kodesh and showed them the Sefer Torah.  "What is written in it", they asked.  He replied in German: "It says: Do not murder."  "What else," they asked.  He said: "Love your fellow as yourself."  [And this next sentence does not appear in the book, but I heard it]: He added: "I am obligated to cling to Torah.  You do what you are obligated to do, and I will do what I am obligated to do".  A great miracle occurred and the Germans accepted his words and did not touch him.  They wished him good night and left. 

Later on, all the Jews were arrested and brought to a huge prison hall.  When Rosh Hashanah arrived, Ha-Rav Aharon pulled out a Shofar, which was hidden under his jacket.  They covered themselves with jackets, and he blew the Shofar three times, and miraculously, they were not discovered.  In the end, they were released for a reason unclear to this day.  

Ha-Rav Aharon sent his daughter to work as a house-keeper for a non-Jewish Dutch family, since she did not have a Jewish-looking face, and he hoped to save her in this way.  But they required her to work harder on Shabbat than any other day in preparation for Sunday, which is a holiday for the Christians.  After a few Shabbatot, Ha-Rav Aharon decided to bring her back, even though she was safe there and well fed.  But on account of the Shabbat desecration, it was impossible to continue.  She returned home on a Friday, and on Sunday they heard that that family had been killed on Shabbat by an aerial bomb.  Indeed "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata" – observing Shabbat according to the Halachah – saved them.

Baruch Hashem, the war ended. Our Rav, Ha-Rav Yehoshua Yeshaya Neuwirth ztz"l, went to the port in Marseilles, France in order to travel to Eretz Yisrael, but they told him to board on the ship on Shabbat.  This greatly bothered him: "During all of the difficult years of the war, I succeeded in observing Shabbat and how is it possible that now with the liberation, I will desecrate it."  But his situation was desperate and it appeared to be life-threatening to remain in a strange place, with no money, no food and no place to go.  He was forced to board the ship but he regretted it for many years, especially since it became clear much later that it was a deception of Shabbat-Desecrators who wanted the religious to violate Shabbat.  He then took it upon himself that if Hashem merits him, he would do something for Shabbat, and later the idea came to write the book "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata".

When he arrived in Israel, he was captured by the British, released and then people advised him to work for his sustenance and to help his parents come to Israel.  But his deepest aspiration was to completely devote himself to Torah learning.  He asked his father what to do, and he responded in a letter: The One who has helped up to now will continue to help!  We went through five years of the Holocaust in for our son to learn Torah!  You will learn only Torah.  And our Rav wrote: "After years of physical salvation during the war, I was saved again, but this time it was spiritual salvation."

May we merit learning the book "Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilchata" in breadth and in depth, and may we merit following in the path of Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon ztz"l, his modest, his humility and his great devotion to Hashem.

May his soul be bound up with the bonds of the living with all of the Tzadikim.


Shut SMS #211

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

Rabbi who Provides Kosher Supervision and is Strict

Q: Is it permissible for a Rabbi to provide Kosher supervision on a product but to be strict not to eat it himself?

A: Certainly.  After all, he makes certain the food is Kosher, but has decided for himself to be strict (Although the Belzer Rebbe – Mahari"d – said that a Rabbi who provides supervision on a product and does not eat it at least once will not have much assistance from Heaven.  And Ha-Rav Eliezer David Greenwald, author of Keren Le-David and Rav and Rosh Yeshivah in Satmar, who did not carry within the Eruv on Shabbat did so once to show that it was completely Kosher.  Similarly, Ha-Rav Mendel of Vitebsk did not carry within the Eruv on Shabbat in Tzefat, but did so once on Shabbat Shuva to show that it was Kosher.  And Ha-Rav Moshe Halberstam of the Eidah Ha-Charedit in Yerushalayim related that the Admor of Pupa was in Yerushalayim and carried out a book on Shabbat in order to show that the Eruv of the Eidah Ha-Charedit was Kosher.  Commentary on Pirkei Avot 'Az Yomru' of Ha-Rav Yitzchak Aharon Goldberger, Dayan and Rosh Yeshiva for Pupa Chasidim, pp. 73, 77).


"Being Killed and Not Violating" and Drafting Yeshiva Students

Q: If there is a forced draft into Tzahal and I want to learn Torah, is there the law of "Being Killed and Not Violating"?

A: There are two problems: 1. If you are killed, G-d forbid, you will not be able to learn Torah.  2. No one wants to kill you.  As to how to act, ask your Rosh Yeshiva.


Shiduch with a Student from Yeshivat Har Etzion

Q: Someone suggested as a Shiduch a student from Yeshivat Har Etzion.  Should I refuse it?

A: G-d forbid.  1. You are not going to marry the whole Yeshiva (which is also forbidden) but only one young man.  2. All Yeshivot are good.


Standing before a Groom

Q: I saw a custom that people sit before the Chupah, stand up when the groom and bride enter, and then they sit down again.  What is the source?

A: This is a non-Jewish custom.  We do not stand for a groom.  But we stand when Torah scholars enter.  And during the blessings (And this is the ruling of Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski.  Mevakshei Torah, Kovetz 51.  And Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein also held that one does not stand for a groom, but explains that those who do stand perhaps do so since the groom is going to do a Mitzvah – just as people stand for a baby being brought in for a Brit Milah.  Ha-Rav Yaakov Kamensky and Ha-Rav Yitzchak Hutner also did not stand for a groom.  Shut Divrei Chachamim, p. 241.  Ha-Rav Avigdor Nevenzal, however, wrote to me that one should stand for a groom).


Blessing for a Torah Scholar

Q: Does one recite the blessing of "Baruch…She-Chalak Mechomato Lirei'av - Blessed are You…who, using His knowledge, has appointed those who fear him" for Torah scholars in our day?

A: Certainly.  For the great Torah scholars of our generation.  Chayei Adam (63:9) also writes that one recites this blessing.  Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonenfeld explained that the Chayei Adam obviously ruled this way since he met the Vilna Gaon… (Shut Shalmat Chayim #207.  And it is related in the book Tal Ha-Re'eiyah p. 87 that Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah  said, in the name of his father Maran Ha-Rav Kook, that when the Aderet met with the Netziv in Warsaw the Netziv recited this blessing.  And see Piskei Teshuvot 224 note #17 that many great Torah scholars recited this blessing on other great scholars including Chafetz Chaim, Or Sameach, Maharil Diskin, the Rogachover, Chazon Ish, Ha-Griz Mi-Brisk, Ha-Rav Elezar Man Shach and Ha-Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.  And Ha-Rav once told me that he heard this blessing recited on Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira and Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef when he visited Moshav Keshet in the Golan, where Ha-Rav served as Rabbi.  And see Shut She'eilat Shlomo 1:117 regarding Ha-Rav Ovadiah's visit to Moshav Keshet.  And see Ha-Rav's commentary to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:9 at length).


Immodest Wedding

Q: Should we go to the immodest wedding of my brother?

A: Yes.  Either sit on the side in a modest place or go only to the modest part.

Shelach: An Argument for the Sake of Heaven?

A commentary on the Rambam, called “Yad Ketanah”, brings a novel thought: arguments for the sake of heaven are forbidden! (Hilchot De'ot 10).  This is puzzling. After all, Pirkei Avot refers to the controversy between Hillel and Shammai as a controversy for the sake of heaven, singling it out for praise, and contrasting it with the controversy of Korach and his assembly, which was not for the sake of heaven!  The Yad Ketanah explains: everyone claims that their controversy is for the sake of heaven!  Have you ever seen a disputant say: “I've got to admit: this controversy is not for the sake of heaven”?  People always deceive themselves, and not just others, claiming that their controversy is for the sake of heaven.  They are not conscious of the self-interest that motivates them.

After all, we have to wonder how Korach, who was exceedingly wise, saintly and blessed with Divine intuition, immersed himself in such an ugly controversy with two holy individuals, Moshe and Aharon. Surely he was not the sort of person who pursues honor for himself.

The Yad HaKetanah explains that Korach deceived himself, speaking about the glory of G-d and the glory of Israel, and claiming: “All the people in the community are holy, and G-d is with them. Why are you setting yourselves above G-d's congregation?” (Bemidbar 16:3). A minute element of passion was present in Korach.  It was so small and so concealed that he was not even conscious of it, but it nevertheless led him to become confused and to call evil good.

Moshe knew full-well what the problem was, and he answered Korach: “Listen to what I have to say: You sons of Levi, isn't it enough that the G-d of Israel has separated you from the community of Israel?  He has brought you close to Him… Although He gave this privilege to you and all your fellow Levites, you are now also demanding the priesthood?!” (ibid. v 8-10).

Why would Moshe use this argument to answer Korach's claim about the Divine holiness that envelops the entire Nation of Israel?  What he was saying is this: If you are truly concerned about the specialness of Israel in the aggregate, and the idea that one should not set himself above them, then why didn't you say so when you were chosen with your tribe?  You must understand that you have personal motives veiled in a lofty ideology.”

Yet by then Korach's conscience had already been dulled, and he didn't listen. That is how he sank into perdition. We thus learn that when someone gets enthusiastically involved in a controversy, “for the sake of heaven” so to speak, he must examine himself many times over, wondering whether or not extraneous considerations are involved.

As a humorous aside, there was once a Knesset member who would stop at nothing to hold on to his seat, yet he claimed that he was acting for the sake of heaven.  People answered him, “Of course you are!  Surely Yeshayahu said (66:1): 'Heaven is My seat.'”

But if this is all so, the question still remains: How did our Sages say that Hillel and Shammai’s controversy was for the sake of heaven?  The Yad Ketanah answers very simply: They were intimate friends. We can therefore be certain that neither was interested in claiming victory over the other: they only wished to clarify the truth.  Similarly, Rabbi Yonatan Eibschutz in his book “Ye'arot Devash” explained that the gauge of a controversy being for the sake of heaven is whether or not the parties are friends.

In summary, differences of opinion are permissible, but divided hearts are forbidden. Every one of us must flee a thousand miles from what seems like controversy, and must run like a gazelle towards friendship and camaraderie.