All for One!

Our hearts tremble over the fate of the three dear teenagers who were kidnapped.  The heart of the Nation is trembling.  You learn from here that we are one Nation.  In the Exile we were a scattered and dispersed Nation among the other nations - scattered not only geographically but also spiritually, from one another.  We have now returned to being one Nation.  "And who is like Your Nation Israel one Nation on Earth" (Shmuel 2 7:23).  We no longer say that each of us is on our own.  We all feel the distress of our kidnapped brothers.

We feel and we pray for them.  Some learn Torah to bring about their release, and others light candles, and some do uncomparably more.  These are the soldiers who enter deep into the cities and fields, and who risk their lives.  This is the greatest gift, since there is nothing more precious to a person than his life.

This is our motto: All for one and one for all!  Although this is not a Jewish saying (its source in Latin), we have adopted it for ourselves.  Truthfully, though, it has been our motto from the moment we crossed the Jordan River and swore that every Jew is responsible for one another.  During the Second Temple Period this unraveled, and we reached a point where each person was out for himself.  To our great distress, this was the only way for us to survive.  But towards the end of the Exile Jewish solidarity returned, "All Israel becoming comrades" (Birkat Ha-Chodesh).  Every Jew concerned about every other Jew, everyone working for the sake of one person.  This solidarity was preparation for returning to a state of Klal Yisrael.  We returned to being one Nation.  Three teenagers are kidnapped, and it is not "their" issue in which we help out, rather it is all of our issue, a national issue, a Klal Yisrael issue.

Some pray, some light candles, some learn Torah, some cry.  And above all of them, is one who takes his weapon and his life in his hand for a fellow Jew.  When one Jew is in danger, a million rise up to save him. 

"And who is like Your Nation Israel one Nation on Earth".

The Kidnapped Teens - Who is Guilty?

In the wake of our great pain over the kidnapping of the three innocent teens, a desire has arisen within the Nation to understand why this had happened.  The desire to understand is good and upright, but - at the same time - we need the humility and intellect to realize that we do not know everything.

Some claim that this has happened because the government wants to draft Yeshiva students. Others claim that it is on account of anti-religious legislation.  But what we should say is: We do not know.

We must be very careful, since it is quite possible that in assigning guilt one violates the prohibition of "Ona'at Devarim" (distressing others). As the Gemara in Baba Metzia (58b) says, one may not speak to one who is suffering affliction or illness, or whose children have died, the way Iyov's friends spoke to him: "Surely your fear was your foolishness, your hope and the sincerity of your ways" (Iyov 4:6).  And we can add that the Rishonim on this Gemara write that the problem is not only causing distress to another person but also arrogance in thinking that we can know the ways of Hashem.

It is correct that we must repent over any distress which befalls us, as the Rambam writes at the beginning of Hilchot Ta'anit.  But what does this mean? That each person should be awakened to repent for his sins, and each community should be awakened to repent for its sins - not that one person should search for the transgressions of another and blame him.  As is known, the wording of the Vidui is: We have sinned, we have betrayed, we have stolen, and not: you have sinned, you have betrayed, you have stolen or: he has sinned, he has betrayed, he has stolen.   

When we are in distress, Hashem is speaking to us, but in order to understand what He is saying we need prophecy or, at the very least, Ruach Ha-Kodesh (as in the case of the Arizal). 

This reminds me of the reciprocal blame that occurred following the horrors of the Holocaust: Some said it happened on account of Zionism, others said it was because there was not Zionism. And still others blamed it on the Enlightenment.  Each group's explanation came from its own biased outlook, with no regard for the idea: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways" (Yeshayahu 55:8).

At the same time, we must not be naïve and think that the Arabs have reached the level of being filled with the knowledge of Hashem.  Among them are many murderers, dregs of humanity.  We must not forget that there are 350 million Arab enemies surrounding us, who are supported by a billion Muslims, another billion Christians, and another a few   million Arabs in our Land.  In such a situation, it is impossible - to our great distress – to be 100% protected. But we must remember that according to a report of the WHO, World Health Organization, 8 out of 100,000 Israeli citizens are murdered each year. That's compared with 15 out of 100,000 citizens of France, and 25 out of 100,000 Americans. We must thank Hashem, and his loyal agents - Tzahal, the police, the Mossad, the Shabak and the rest of the security establishment - day and night for the peace and quiet we merit in our Land.  Kol Ha-Kavod to Tzahal! 

And from here to another spiritual question: Can individuals with Ruach Ha-Kodesh reveal where the kidnapped teens are being held?  If so, they have not revealed it to us thus far. Although one Rabbi used the "Goral Ha-Gra" (the "lottery of the Vilna Gaon", which involves using a particular format of the Chumash and flipping the pages back and forth until eventually a particular verse is chosen, which provides answers to questions), it is known that the Goral Ha-Gra is not magic.  The book "Ha-Gaon Ha-Chasid Mi-Vilna" of Rav Bezalel Landua and also "Ha-Gaon" Rav Dov Eliach stated that not every Rabbi can receive an answer by using the Goral Ha-Gra.  Also in our time, when a Jew approached Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski and suggested that he use the Goral Ha-Gra, Ha-Rav Kanievski said: In order to do so one needs Ruach Ha-Kodesh, go the Rosh Yeshiva".  And when he turned to Ha-Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Steinman, he responded: Do I possess Ruach Ha-Kodesh?!  And he added: "And if so why are there Agunot? We could use the Goral Ha-Gra to find the missing husbands…".

In sum: We need to increase prayer, we need to increase repentance i.e. each for his own transgressions and not attacking others, we need to increase Tzedakah and chesed, and we need to increase strength and courage, especially in Tzahal and the police, as Hashem said three times to Yehoshua Bin Nun: Be strong and courageous, be strong and courageous, be strong and courageous (Yeshoshua, Chapter 1).

Short & Sweet - Text Message Q&A #258


Naming a Daughter after a Male Relative

Q: I saw that Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach said that there is absolutely no reason to name a daughter after a male relative (Ve-Alehu Lo Yibul Volume 2, p. 142).  And it is written in Shut Tzitz Eliezer (7:49 #13) that a strict person will refrain from doing so.  What is Ha-Rav's opinion?  Is it permissible to name a daughter after a male relative if he had a name used for both males and females, such as Simchah orYonah, or a name that can be feminized, such as Nachum-Nechama, Yosef-Yosefa or Tzion-Tziona?

A: It is a stricture not to do so, but according to the basic Halachah, it is permissible.


Downloading Songs

Q: Is it permissible to burn disks from songs I download from the internet?

A: It is certainly forbidden.  Copyright.  The creator invested time and money (Shut Igrot Mosh, Orach Chaim vol. 4 40:19.  Shut She'eilat Shlomo 2:374)!


Looking at Non-Kosher Animals

Q: Is it forbidden to look at non-Kosher animals?

A: There is no prohibition against having a picture of a non-Kosher animal or a toy in the form of a non-Kosher animal.  Although the book "Kav Ha-Yashar" says that one should limit one’s looking, this is a stringency not widely accepted.  By the way, many Ashkenazi shuls have lions on the Torah ark curtain.  Be courageous like a lion (Igrot Ha-Re'eiyah vol. 1, Igeret #10.  And in Shut Aseh Lecha Rav 8:60, Ha-Rav Chaim David Ha-Levy points out that there were non-Kosher animals pictured on the flags of the Tribes which they carried in the desert.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, was strict about this practice.  And this is the custom of Chabad Chasidim.  Likutei Sichot vol. 25, pp. 309-311).


Cohain who Embarrassed Another in Public

Q: One who embarrasses another person in public is considered as if he murdered him.  If so, if a Cohain embarrasses someone in public can he recite the Birkat Cohanim, or is it forbidden since a Cohain who murders cannot recite Birkat Cohanim?

A: In this case, it is permissible for him to recite it.  Piskei Teshuvot 128 note #332.


Animal Names

Q: Is it permissible to name a child Aryeh (meaning lion) after a grandfather, or is it problematic since it is the name of a non-Kosher animal?

A: There is absolutely no problem.  Non-Kosher animals also have positive traits.  The Tribes were blessed to be like lions, wolves and donkeys.  The prophet Ezekiel saw the chariot with the image of a lion and eagle.  And throughout the generations, people were named with the names of animals, such as Devorah (bee) and Dov (bear).


Contradictory Rulings

Q: Ha-Rav is sometimes asked a question and gives a different ruling than appears in his books.  It is rare, but it happens.  How do we relate to this?

A: There are times when a question can be answered in various ways and a person is obligated to rule according to his intellectual inclination at that moment.  Sefer Ha-Chaim of Rebbe Chaim ben Bezalel, brother of Ha-Maharal (A halachic question once came to Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein and he gave a ruling which was unlike a ruling published in his Shut Igrot Moshe.  His family members asked in surprised: If Ha-Rav changed his mind then why do we republish Igrot Moshe each year without changing it?  Reb Moshe answered that there are two opinions, and both are the words of the Living G-d.  Meged Givot Olam, p. 56).


Taking Counsel with a Rabbi to Choose a Name

Q: Should we take counsel with a Rabbi in choosing our baby's name?

A: No.  This was never done in the past.  In fact, the Arizal says that when parents name their child, a spark of Ruach Ha-Kodesh shines within them…

U.F.O.’s, Aliens and...Technology

Question: Does intelligent life exist on other planets?

Answer: In his letter to the Sages of Montpelier, Rambam writes that there are three available resources for examining any topic: prophecy, rational proofs and empirical evidence. In our case, the Torah and the prophets wrote nothing definitive in either direction. This is not surprising, for the Torah is not a science text but a book guiding us in what is good and what is bad. In order to become aware of reality, we possess scientific intellect, and that too is a divine gift. There is even a blessing for when one sees a scientist. We have nothing against the possibility of additional worlds, as Rabbi Chasdai Karshaks mentions at the end of his book “Ohr Hashem,” yet we possess no decisive source in this regard. Neither do the theoretical research sciences offer any definitive proofs. So that leaves empirical evidence.

How remarkable it is, then, that for more than fifty years people have been talking about U.F.O.’s and aliens, and hundreds of thousands of people have testified that they saw them. Even so, their declarations have no scientific worth. Why? For in no museum on earth is there is any U.F.O. or any part of one that would enable a scientist to examine it. This is one of the elements characterizing the scientific approach, that one scientist cannot rely on the declaration of another. Rather, every experiment must be examinable. That is, it must be possible for any scientist on earth to repeat the experiment, and each is entitled to either accept the first scientist’s assumptions or to prove their inaccuracy. Numerous commissions have been established to examine the various testimonies of people, and the phenomena have been explained in various ways, such as saying that the "U.F.O.s" were actually airplanes, missiles, meteorological balloons, kites, jets, helicopters, the moon viewed through fog, secret military devices, astronomical phenomena, comets, the Northern Lights, low flying clouds, automobiles on distant, cloud covered peaks, and so forth.

Science is critical. It does not accept anything without proof, neither does it reject anything out of hand. The matter has been investigated for fifty years, and we have nothing to show for it. All the same, people continue to express interest in this topic, and there continue to be hundreds and thousands of sightings. Likewise, this literary genre remains current and continues to fascinate people.

It is true that there are bizarre phenomena that science has not succeeded in explaining, and that some of the phenomena become explainable by means of the U.F.O.s. All the same, this is not an acceptable approach. There will always be unexplicable phenomena, but here those who believe in U.F.O.s grab a foothold where Science has no answers. They dig into the crack in scientific explanations, expand it into wide depths and introduce all sorts of conjecture into the hole. Yet that conjecture is just as far from being provable as the original phenomenon.

I am therefore puzzled by this stubbornness regarding faith in U.F.O.s. What is at work, however, is a modern myth with a psychological dimension of profound anxiety. I shall explain:

Why, in the imaginings of witnesses and writers, do the aliens come here? With their advanced technologies, what do they have to look for here? The closest star outside of our solar system is 40,000 years' travel in the fastest spaceship. Why should they go to all of this trouble? It must be -- some will explain -- that they are looking for women here in order to renew their species which has reached stagnation. Moreover, the alien is a very intelligent and hedonistic creature, but he lacks emotions. He neither cries nor gets angry. Worse, he has no morality and suffers from no dilemmas or inner turmoil. He is inhuman. Therefore, the alien is sort of a kidnapper, seeking to give new life to his species...

What does all of this nonsense have to do with us?

What we really fear is ourselves, the man of tomorrow, lest he be alien to us, steeped in technology but lacking a human approach to social relations. People are in fear of science and technology. It is true that science and technology, per se, are good things, but they are liable to cause dehumanization and the end of mankind. It will not be man’s fault but such dehumanization will be caused by the deterioration of morality. You cannot talk to a computer.

Sometimes a computer eats an important file and the user pleads: “Please computer! Return the file to me!” But there is no one to talk to. The computer prints “error” and you really feel “Arur,” cursed -- “cursed in your comings and cursed in your goings” (Devarim 28:19). People fear that man will turn himself into a computer, a sort of techno­barbarian, more dangerous than the most primitive, barbaric man, since he will have in his hands powerful means of control which will serve his cruelty. Having no conscience, He is liable to send an atomic bomb by the push of a button. And all of this threatens society, namely, technology taking control of life. Hundreds and maybe thousands of books have been written about this in America, and all in vain. It is impossible to put a bridal on the insane gallop of the technological monster. People are afraid of a new mutation of the human race -- “computer-man,” lacking a conscience and armed with powerful means -- the beast within man attached to high technology.  That is the alien we fear.

Efficiency, talent and excellence are taking control of man instead of morality and gentleness. A sort of totalitarian technology is appearing, at the center of which is a machine lacking human emotion.

Indeed, there is what to fear. Yet let us not stop technology. Let us rather increase morality, justice, the Torah and its light.

Rabbi Aviner: Institute death penalty to dissuade terror

Short & Sweet - Text Message Q&A #257

Bentchers at a Wedding

Q: I saw that the non-Jewish worker who was cleaning up after a wedding, threw away the Bentchers which were left as a memento (not in order to denigrate them but as part of the clean up).  Perhaps it is preferable to cease this Minhag?

A: This is indeed a new innovation.  And everyone has tens of Bentchers at home and doesn't need a memento.  We should therefore cease this practice unless someone is designated to collect all of the Bentchers which remain at the end of the wedding (See Rosh Ha-Shanah 18 that the Sages established a holiday on the day in which they succeeded in annulling the mentioning of Hashem's Name in official documents, which would be disgraced by being thrown out).  


Earrings for Girls

Q: Why is it permissible for girls to have their ears pierced – aren't they deforming their bodies?

A: It is negligible (Ha-Rav Aharon Lichtenstein – Rosh Yeshiva of Har Etzion, related that his daughter wanted to have her ears pierced, but he had doubts as to whether it is permissible.  They agreed to go together to ask Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and follow his ruling.  Ha-Rav Auerbach did not understand what Ha-Rav Lichtenstein wanted from him, and he said: "What is even your question?  By us, boys have a Brit Milah and girls have their ears pierced!"  Ve-Alehu Lo Yibol vol. 2, p. 172).


Stuttering Shliach Tzibur

Q: Can a person who stutters serve as Shliach Tzibur?

A: If the community agrees.

Q: And what about the honor of Hashem?

A: Fearing-G-d is more important than this deficiency.  The Gemara relates about a Shliach Tzibur who could not properly say the letters (Megilah 24b.  See Shai Cohain of Ha-Rav Shear Yashuv Cohain vol. 1 #1).


Drying One's Hands on His Tzitzit

Q: Is it permissible to dry my hands on my Tzitzit?

A: No, since one may not use a piece of clothing through which you perform a Mitzvah for a disgraceful purpose.  Mishnah Berurah 21:12.  Piskei Teshuvah 21 note #8.  But if one is drying his hands to perform a Mitzvah, i.e. Davening or Birkat Cohanim, it is permissible.  It is also permissible to dry one's glasses on his Tzitzit since it is not disgraceful (unlike the ruling in Halichot Shlomo 1:3 #19).  But for removing sweat is forbidden (Makor Chaim by the author of Chavot Yair #2).  It is always forbidden, however, to use one's Talit for any unholy purpose even if it is not disgraceful.  Mishnah Berurah ibid.  


"Harm will Not Befall One on the Way to Perform a Mitzvah" 

Q: How we explain the verse: "Harm will not befall one on the way to perform a Mitzvah", when Tzahal soldiers are killed in wars, and they are clearly performing the Mitzvah of protecting the Nation of Israel?

A: This is not a verse but a Gemara.  Pesachim 8b.  And it says there that this concept is in regard to an infrequent danger.  In general, it is not good to be sustained by quotes taken out of context.  It leads one astray.



Q: I have many difficulties and people tell me that it is because of my name, Rachel, since Rachel Imenu had many difficulties.  Should I change it?

A: This is a wonderful name.  Don't change it (and when Ha-Rav Chaim Kanievski was asked this question, he answered: Nonsense.  Derech Sichah Vol. 1 p. 34.  And so too Ha-Rav Ovadiah Yosef.  Shut Ma'ayan Omer 12:9).

Charedim and Self-Sacrifice

Q: Why don't Charedim display self-sacrifice like Religious-Zionists?

A: Throughout the generations, Jews have displayed self-sacrifice for the Land of Israel, whether by making Aliyah, establishing settlements, or serving in the army.  This has included Religious-Zionists, secular Jews and the Charedim (Ultra-Orthodox).  Charedim – whether the students of the Vilna Gaon or the students of the Baal Shem Tov - made Aliyah and established settlements with great self-sacrifice.  For example, Charedim established Me'ah She'arim within an Arab settlement with self-sacrifice, the city of Petach Tikvah despite the malaria for which many paid with their lives, and the neighborhood of Nachalat Shiva in Jerusalem, which was an extremely dangerous place.  Even Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld ztz"l, one of the harshest opponents of Zionism, said that we cannot abandon even one place in the Land of Israel – even if there is danger involved.  The story is told in the book "Ha-Ish Al Ha-Chomah" (vol. 2, pp. 175-180) that during the Arab Pogrom of 5689 a multitude of Arabs descended on Me'ah Shearim.  Their leader had his sword drawn and they screamed, "Slaughter the Jews!"  When they passed the flour mill, two Charedi Jews came out.  One wielded a pistol and shot and killed the leader of the gang.  The second threw a hand grenade.  The entire gang fled with the two of them in pursuit – one with a pistol and the other with a hand grenade.  The Arabs killed many of their own trampling one another in their panicked flight.  The next day, Ha-Rav Zonnenfeld, who lived within the walls of the Old City, had to go to Me'ah Shearim for a brit milah.  He left through "Sha'ar Shechem" (the Damascus Gate), and in front of his eyes lay the dead Arabs.  His students said to him: "Rav, what about safeguarding one's life?"  He answered them: "If we surrender walking through 'Sha'ar Shechem,' there will be no Jews."  And by the way, the Charedi Jew who fired the pistol was Ha-Rav Aharon Fischer, the father of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer, who was the Av Beit Din of the Ultra-Orthodox community until a few years ago.  We therefore see that the Charedim did not fear anything - not diseases and not Arabs, and they even used a weapon when necessary.