Special Video Dvar Torah - Parsha Ha’Azinu – Unconditional Love

The Minhag of Kapparot: With a Chicken or With Money?

Question: Regarding the custom of Kapparot (swinging a chicken around one's head before Yom Kippur, symbolically transferring one's sins to the chicken; the chicken is then slaughtered and given to the poor): large quantities of chickens are often held for hours, or even days, in tightly packed cages, where they wait without water or food. They are then removed from the cages and slaughtered.  In light of this fact, and the obvious suffering caused to the chickens, is it not preferable to perform Kapparot with money?

Answer: The custom of Kapparot has been rooted among the Nation of Israel for a long time, and no one has the power to prohibit it.  It is, however, written in the Shulchan Aruch: "The custom that people have of Kapparah on Erev Yom Kippur, of slaughtering a rooster for each male and saying verses over it, we should stop this custom" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 605:1 in the name of the Ramban and Rashba), and the Mishnah Berurah explains (ibid. #1): "because it resembles the ways of the Emorites" (Darkei Ha-Emori – black magic).  But the Rama writes: "But some of the Geonim mentioned this custom, many later authorities mentioned it, and people have this custom in all of these countries, and one may not change it, since it is an ancient custom" (ibid.).  The Rama testifies that people acted this way in all of the Ashkenazic countries, and the Sefardic Jews did as well.  Furthermore, there is no problem of "Darkei Ha-Emori" in this custom, as the Mishnah Berurah explains: "And he thinks that whatever they do to this chicken should have been done to him, but it is acted out on this chicken, and the early authorities (Rishonim) explained that it is similar to a sacrifice brought for an inadvertent sin" (Mishnah Berurah ibid.).  The Chayei Adam, however, already wrote: "And even though some of the Geonim mentioned this custom, what is ingrained in the heart of the masses is that all of the atonement of Yom Kippur depends on it, and it is almost as if Kapparot and eating Matzah are considered of equal weight by them.  They think that they will not attain atonement on Yom Kippur without a rooster, but by acting in this way, they encounter the prohibition of eating a Neveilah (an animal which died without proper slaughtering),   G-d forbid, since the chickens push each other in large groups and the slaughterers are awake all night with grimaced faces and are so tired they do not even feel the knife (to make certain it is sharp).  If people would listen to me…it is better for them to swing money around their heads.  This in fact was the custom of the earlier ones who would swing seeds (as the Magen Avraham 81:2 writes in the name of Rashi).  They consider the seeds to be Tzedakah, and did not stumble in the prohibition of eating Neveilah, G-d forbid” (Chayei Adam klal 144 #4 and brought in the Mishnah Berurah 605:2 and Kaf Ha-Chaim #11).

 The Chayei Adam thus teaches us that it is preferable to perform Kapparot with money when the chickens are in cramped conditions, and there is a question about the Kashrut of the slaughtering.  It is also possible to add the concern of "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chaim" (causing distress to animals), since the distress that the chickens experience during their upbringing is compounded by their great distress before Kapparot.  This is based on the insight of Ha-Gaon Rav Chaim David Ha-Levy: "And why particularly on the eve of the holy day do we need to be cruel to animals, without any need, and slaughter them without any mercy, at the time when we stand to request life for ourselves from the Living G-d" (Shut Aseh Lecha Rav vol 3, p. 67).  In truth, however, there is no prohibition of "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chaim" when a person uses an animal for a vital need, and a fixed custom of Israel is considered a vital need.  Nevertheless, since there is the possibility for us to use money instead, and such a substitute is, as the Chayei Adam wrote preferable when there is a huge quantity of chickens to slaughter, it can be argued that performing Kapparot with a chicken is not a vital necessity and there is an actual a problem of "Tza'ar Ba'alei Chaim."

To summarize: It is better to fulfill the custom of Kapparot with money.

Short and Sweet - Text Message Q&A #302

Eretz Yisrael is Acquired Through Suffering
Q: I know that Eretz Yisrael is acquired through suffering, but why does Hashem allow so many difficult things occur in Eretz Yisrael in our time?
A: The answer is within the question, and our time isn't considered "difficult".  A difficult period, for example, is when I was born and my parents had to hide me so I wouldn't be send to a concentration camp.

Water Fight
Q: In our Yeshiva high school it is forbidden to have and water fight.  If someone does have a water fight, he is fined 50 Shekels.  Is a Yeshiva permitted to punish someone in this way?
A: 1. You should ask your Rosh Yeshiva directly.  2. No one is obligated to learn there, but if you choose to do so, you are obligated to accept their rules.

Ants in the House
Q: We have a lot of ants in our house.  Is it a sign from Hashem or a natural phenomenon?
A: Natural.

Fifth Section of the Shulchan Aruch
Q: What is the "fifth section" of the Shulchan Aruch?
A: It is a saying that a Posek one must understand how to deal with human beings.  In truth, however, it is included in the Shulchan Aruch.  And there is also a "sixth section" of the Shulchan Aruch: How to deal with people who do not act like human beings… (It is related that the Chatam Sofer once tested his student on the 4 parts of the Shulchan Aruch.  The student knew them perfectly and the Chatam Sofer gave him Semichah.  The Chatam Sofer then warned him: You should know that there is a fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch on how to deal and cope with people.  The student became the Rabbi of an important community but didn't last long and was fired.  The student returned to the Chatam Sofer to complain about his terrible situation.  After hearing his words, the Chatam Sofer said: I warned you that there is a fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch how to deal with human beings.  Why didn't you follow my words?  The student replied: My teacher and Rebbe, I learned the fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch, but I didn't learn the sixth section of the Shulchan Aruch: how to deal with those who don't act like human beings… Meged Givot Olam Volume 2 p. 16.
However, when Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was asked regarding one of his rulings if it was based on the "Fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch", he responded: "No, rather based on the first [or beginning – 'Rishon'] section of the Shulchan Aruch," and he explained: "The Beginning ['Reshit'] of Wisdom is the Fear of Hashem" [Mishlei 1:7].  Chico Mamtakim Volume 1 p. 153. 
And once when Ha-Rav Elazar Menachem Shach was asked about the saying the "Fifth section of the Shulchan Aruch", he said that one should not use this term, since people may think that it is permissible to add to the Shulchan Aruch, and it is as if his opinions are equal to those of the Shulchan Aruch.  Kovetz Kol Ha-Torah, Choveret #52.  Kuntres Halachah Ke-Rebbe Elazar by Ha-Rav Shmuel Baruch Genut p. 37). 

Q: Is acupuncture true?
A: There have been many scientific trials over the years, and they have not succeeded in proving most of the claims of this method (See Ner Be-Ishon Laila pp. 63-64).

Text Message Q&A without Knowing Questioner
Q: Isn't there a problem answering a text message question when the Rabbi does not personally know the questioner?
A: There are questions which do not require one to know the questioner, whether one asks orally or in writing, and there are other questions which do require one to know the questioner, whether one asks orally or in writing (See Introduction to Ha-Rav's book "Piskei Shlomo"). 

Yielding to One's Wife
Q:  Do we learn that a husband should always yield to his wife, since Hashem said to Avraham Avinu: "Anything which Sarah says to you, listen to her voice" (Bereshit 21:12)?

A: If she is correct.  See Rashi there.  But in general, a couple should yield to each other.

Near-Death Experiences

Question: Many people who were diagnosed as having died clinically but who then returned to life, report a remarkable experience that proves that the soul remains alive after death. The person feels himself being detached from his body, hovers over it, gazes at it from above, and sees everything that happens to him. He enters a gigantic tunnel whose end is awash in brilliant, powerful, sweet light. He encounters an entity full of boundless love that affords him a feeling of marvelous contentment. He meets various figures, some known to him and some not, angels and saints. He watches a reenactment of his entire life, as in a sort of movie.  In the end he returns to his body due to a decision from Above or due to his own entreaties. All of this is in line with our sources about the World to Come being full of the light of the Divine Presence, and about encounters with previous generations. The remarkable thing is the enormous uniformity of all the descriptions. The experience is almost identical, which proves that it is true.
Answer: Indeed, everyone has an almost identical experience, but not entirely. Sometimes the experience is marvelous, and sometimes it is awful, with frightening nightmares about being tortured by demons, etc. (about 15% of the cases).  Should one conclude that that is proof of Hell?  Yet only 20% of those who have clinically “died” report any type near-death experiences, and 15% of these have only partial memories.  Thus, most do not experience anything, which would then prove that there is nothing after death.
Indeed, extensive research on clinical death before resuscitation and NDE - “Near Death Experience” was conducted in 5735 by Dr. Raymond Moody.  While Dr. Moody did do quality work, he only considered those subjects who supported his theory, and ignored those who contradicted it.
Research projects are not always reliable. Even the great researcher Dr. Kubler-Ross, who very much supported Moody's theory, was, in her great enthusiasm, misled by a scoundrel who, so to speak, spuriously "made contact with the dead", to confirm her theory. Moreover, Christians meet Jesus and the heads of the Church, Muslims meet Muhammad and all sorts of Imams and we, the disciples of Moshe, meet Avraham and all the other lofty saints.   All this demonstrates that each person "sees" there what he believed in before, and all the other wonders he sees there are dictated by his own beliefs and opinions. That is why children, who do not yet have a rich perception of the world, report much less about near death experiences than do adults.
Psychiatrists do not believe that these phenomena constitute any proof of life after death. Rather, they consider them simply delusions resulting from a fogging of the senses that leads to various experiences that a person later interprets as life after death.
Many people in fact report experiences following other occurrences that "fog" the senses: 1. The taking of Ketamine, a hallucinatory drug that serves as a quick-acting anesthesia. The drug causes a feeling of being cut off and distanced from the body – which thus enables operating to take place.  2. The taking of various drugs such as Hashish, LSD or DMT.  3. Psychosis.  4. Epileptic fits.  5. Receiving an electric shock to the temple lobe during an operation for epilepsy.  6. Oxygen deprivation or diminished blood flow, for example following the loss of much blood, or even in pilot training for fast acceleration.  7. High carbon dioxide levels.  8. Childbirth.  9. Meditation.  10. A very strong migraine.  11. Being in a critical situation, such as hearing the doctor say that you’re dead, or moments before your car is about to crash.  12. When one is in on the verge of sleep.
It goes without saying that people with well developed emotions or imaginations report more about the experience of near death.
As far as the feeling of being detached from the body and floating above it, known as OBE – an Out of Body Experience – this is a well-known experience owing to a break-down in the temple lobe and the vestibular and proprioceptive system. These mechanisms allow a person to keep track of his body and to know his body’s movements even with his eyes closed. When they are damaged, one’s senses operate in a distorted manner.
And regarding people’s awareness of conversations going on around them when they were declared dead, it turns out that they weren’t entirely dead, despite the reports from the equipment. Or, a person may have unconsciously pieced together everything he was later told and retroactively processed it in his memory.
It is true that it is impossible to explain each and every phenomenon, but such is the lot of all the sciences, and we don’t reject them because of it.
Yet let us make no mistake.  Certainly there is a World to Come. Certainly the soul lives on after death, even without scientific proof, which we don’t need in any case.  Quite the contrary, science needs faith to enlighten its path, faith does not need science to prove it.
Maran Ha-Rav Kook wrote: “Regarding conjecture on metaphysical matters that remain outside the bounds of practical and moral life, even if we cannot deny them, we still should not let them dictate our way of life.  Our holy Torah distances us from preoccupation with unclear visions, forbidding all sorts of witchcraft and séances. It forbids Cohanim from becoming impure through contact with the dead, and it links all the Mitzvot to life.” (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah, Letter #79).
Moreover, let us not forget that we do not live in Heaven but on earth, and the Torah is a living Torah, which the Living G-d, who desires life, gave us. See Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 1, which deals with Torah and Mitzvot in this world.  G-d doesn’t like it when we are preoccupied with death. The dead render us impure. A grave renders us impure. If someone touches the dead, he is impure for seven days. All of these mental excursions to the grave and back are not healthy.  Choose life!