Yismechu B’Malchusecho

What would you say is the theme of this week’s parsha of Emor? You would remember that the parsha discusses the laws of the kohanim that they may not approach a deceased person and the physical blemishes which render a Kohen unfit to participate in the service of the Beis Hamikdash. Other halochos of ritual impurity follow and after that, details of Shabbos and all the Yomim Tovim. You would probably say that there is no single theme, but a wide range of topics which happen to be in the same parsha. Perhaps, though, we are missing something … the theme which ties everything in the parsha together.

A number of mefarshim find it difficult to understand the rationale of tumas meis. A Kohen may not approach a corpse except that of a close relative. If he is in a house where somebody dies he becomes tomei. The ramifications of these halochos are quite significant. A Kohen may not participate in a funeral unless he stands under a different roof or outside, well away from the niftar. As a Kohen about whom the posuk says, “They will seek the Torah from his mouth,” (Malachi 2:7) he is just the person to direct the tzibbur how to give the correct kovod to the niftar by quoting the Chazal that “The loss of even one neshomo is like the burning of a Sefer Torah” (Moed Koton 25a) but he is excluded. As the head of the community, he should be giving the all-important hesped in honour of the deceased and the bereaved, but he is relegated to a side room, if he is there at all. Also, the concern that a person might suddenly be niftar prevents the kohen from visiting a patient who, in his last moments, may be in need of spiritual guidance and encouragement which the Kohen might be the most qualified to give. How can we understand this?

It is also difficult to understand the prohibition of the Kohen with a physical defect from participating in the service in the Beis Hamikdash. It seems unfair. He is already suffering from his defect and now he receives another blow, disqualification from performing the avoda. Despite his broken heart or perhaps because of it, he yearns for closeness to Hashem and longs to participate in the avoda in the Beis Hamikdash. There, in the holiest place on Earth, he would be able to plead with Hashem to heal him. His tearful tefilos would surely reach the kisei hakavod but his path is blocked. “Kohanim with blemishes must stop here.” He can only look from the distance. Where is Hashem’s mercy for this person in need?

“My income does not cover my expenses. I struggle to make a parnoso six days a week. What could be a better idea than taking advantage of a long Shabbos or Yom Tov afternoon to say Tehilim that my situation should improve? Or an obituary of a good friend is printed in the paper and Shabbos is the only time I have to read it. What could be wrong?” And yet the halocho does not allow it. Why?

In the Book of Ezra ( due to non-Jewish influence, it is found in Nechemia Chapter Two) we read, “It happened in the month of Nissan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes that wine was brought before him and I carried the wine and gave it to the king. I had never before appeared downcast in his presence. And the king said to me, why is your face downcast?” Why was Nechemia always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence until that day?

A king was visiting different provinces in his kingdom. In the first province the people took advantage of the king’s presence to cry out to him about their woes and plead for help. Although there was justice in their claims and the king truly wanted to help, he did not enjoy his visit. A second province heard that the king was coming. They decided to say nothing about their problems but rather prepared a banquet in the king’s honour. The food was excellent and a band played joyful music throughout. The king enjoyed his visit very much and when the people of this province later wrote to the king asking for his help in certain matters, he was only too pleased to respond generously.

Nechemia was always careful to appear happy in the king’s presence in honour of the king. A king wants his subjects to be happy. It is a sign of his success. There is a time and place for requesting his help but except for those occasions, it is kovod malchus to be joyful in the king’s presence.

Hashem gives us six days a week to attend to our needs and request His help but on Shabbos, when Hashem’s Shechina comes to our homes, the halocho requires us to radiate happiness. On Shabbos we must show kovod malchus by expressing our thanks to Him for all His help and by rejoicing in His presence with three sumptuous meals, singing and joy. We are not allowed to daven for our earthly needs or read something which might make us upset. The same applies on Yom Tov when we have a specific mitzva to be besimcha.

“Hashem is close to the broken-hearted” and hears their cries from wherever they come. No-one is more merciful than Hashem. But just as it is not appropriate to cry at someone’s simcha, it is not appropriate to cry in the Beis Hamikdash. There the Levi’im sang, accompanied by live music (Succah 50b). This created an atmosphere of simcha to enhance the kovod malchus . Were those with physical disabilities allowed to participate in the Avoda, they might well be tempted to cry out in prayer at a crucial point, disturbing the simcha and detracting from the kovod malchus.

Certainly a kohen’s presence would be helpful and educational at a funeral but more important for the tzibbur is to associate Hashem’s earthly representative only with simcha which creates kovod malchus. Unless it is a moed, a Kohen does not do the Avoda when he is an onen, on the day his close relative is niftar, because he is lacking in simcha. The Kohen Godol, who should be on the highest level of emuna, has the status of moed  the whole year and even if he is an onen he continues to do the avoda because he should always be besimcha. (Moed Koton 14b)

This, then, is the theme of the parsha; to be besimcha because it increases kovod Malchus. Now, unfortunately, we have no Beis Hamikdash. But we have our mikdash me’at, our shuls and our homes. There we can honour Hashem by being besimcha, enjoying our Shabbos seudos, speaking about our many blessings and singing songs of thanks and praise to Hashem. As we say in Shabbos Musaf, “Yismechu b’malchusecho shomrei Shabbos.

Home Sweet Home

In the parshios of Acharei Mos and Kedoshim we were warned several times not to follow the customs of the Canaanites. They were guilty of the worst immorality and it would seem unnecessary to warn us so many times not to follow their example. We, the descendants of Avrohom, Yitzchak and Yaakov, should stoop to such depths? Surely not. So why does the Torah keep repeating this warning?

In the parsha of Metzora we read that if certain white blemishes were found on the wall of our house we had to destroy the wall. And if the blemishes returned or spread further we might have to destroy our whole house. The meforshim say that these blemishes, and similar blemishes on our clothes or body were a punishment for speaking loshon hora and transgressing other mitzvos of the Torah. Rashi brings a very surprising medrash that when the Jews destroyed their houses following inspection by the kohanim, they would find treasures left behind by the Canaanites, when they fled from the invading Jewish army. Thus  Jews, who were guilty of serious aveiros, became enriched by their find. Does this seem fair or just? As the Gemara often says, “vechi hachotei nischar?” “Should a sinner be rewarded?”

One of the most mysterious epochs in Jewish history was in the days of Ezra shortly after the second Beis Hamikdash was established. The Babylonian Emperor Koresh and later the Persian Emperor Darius, son of Achashveirosh and Esther, gave permission for all the Jews in their empire to return to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash. These amazing proclamations by the most powerful rulers of their day should have been greeted with tremendous joy by the Jewish exiles. A mere seventy years after the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash and subsequent exile to Babylon, the Jews were given the opportunity of returning to their homeland, rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash and starting afresh. Both these kings gave the Jews all the money they needed to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash and even promised that those Jews who could not afford travelling expenses would be subsidized by the non-Jews from whichever town they lived in. Surely it was an opportunity to be seized with both hands. Yet the Book of Ezra tells us that a paltry forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty decided to go. Why so few? How can we understand this?

To add to the mystery, we have to know that two hundred years earlier, Yeshaya Hanovi had prophesied explicitly that a king by the name of Koresh would be aroused by Hashem to allow the Jews back from their golus in Babylon to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash (44:28). So it should not have been a surprise. Furthermore Yirmiya Hanavi (29:10) had also said explicitly that after seventy years in Bovel they would be allowed to return. He even told them that Hashem told him to buy a field but to be sure to keep the relevant documents because he would need them when everyone returns. Surely the Jews would have been counting their years in Bovel – sixty years to go, fifty years to go … just as we count the days of the Sefira as we look forward to the giving of the Torah. With five years to go, surely they would have already packed their suitcases ready for the big day. But apparently this didn’t happen. Ezra appealed for more to come but the people didn’t respond. He punished the Levi’im (Yevomos 86b) who wouldn’t come by denying them maaser rishon which the Torah says is to go only to them, with little effect. How can we understand this? Only seventy years before, the first exiles, with superhuman courage, refused to sing in front of Nebuchadnezzar and bit off their thumbs so that they could not play their harps, saying, “How can we sing in a strange land?” Now their children and grandchildren preferred to stay in Bovel! And let us remember that the time of Darius was after the Purim story when the Jews all accepted the Torah anew. Reish Lachish (Yuma 9b) said that if the Jews had responded and come with Ezra, we would never again have gone into galus, the second Beis Hamikdash would have been permanent and this would have been the final redemption. Why didn’t they go?

Melachim II (2:19-22) tells us that Elisha was once in Yericho. The residents told him, “This is a very good place to live, but the water is poisonous and it causes people to die. Elisha then put some salt in the water which miraculously purified it, (to the annoyance of local youth who were making money bringing clean water to the city!) Chazal ask “If the water was killing people, why was it such a good place to live?” They answer that people like the place where they live. (Sotah 47a). Rashi says that even a bad place seems good to those who live there.

Kesuvos (110a) says that there are three parts of Eretz Yisroel and a man cannot force his wife to move from one section to another even if the new place is very similar to the old place. People like the place they know. They are used to its customs. They are comfortable with the climate and the people. Why move to a new place which they don’t know? “Home Sweet Home” is not a new concept.

Rashi (Kiddushin 69b) says that the residents of Bovel were living in peace and they were reluctant to lose that security (this was just before Homon came on the scene!) to move to Eretz Yisroel with all the challenges such a move could bring. They were happy where they lived.

(This could be why the Anshei Knesset Hagedola who wrote down the text of the Shemone Esre shortly after this time, inserted many references to the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash to try to maintain our connection with Eretz Yisroel and to keep in our hearts the desire to return so that we won’t squander future opportunities.)

Before the Jews moved into the land of Canaan they had to be warned time and time again not to follow in the ways of the Canaanim even though most of them would not be there any more. It is easy to be influenced. Don’t English Jews like their cup of tea and their Marmite? Don’t French Jews wear berets and American Jews love their apple pie?

The one who had to destroy his home but found treasures left behind was not being given a reward but was being warned that if the Jews continue the customs of the Canaanites and don’t follow the Torah they too will exiled, leaving everything behind just like the Canaanites who fled, leaving their treasures behind.

Our homes should be sweet. With Torah they are even sweeter.

Yisgadal Veyiskadesh Shemei Rabboh

We come again to the parshos of Tazriah and Metzorah with their descriptions of white blemishes of various shapes and sizes on people, clothes and houses. We listen respectfully to the baal koreh who tries valiantly to remember whether the word is supposed to be hu or hi (easier for Chassidim) and return home to eat our cholent usually none the wiser. Is there no way we can be inspired by these parshos? Or is this our annual kaporoh for enjoying our Pesach matzos smothered with eingemachts too much?

In the Shacharis Kedusha of Shabbos and Yom Tov, we implore Hashem to rule over us. This is a very strange request. Haven’t we all already accepted Hashem as our King? When we say the Shema we affirm that Hashem is our King. He is, was and always will be our King, as we repeat many times especially on Rosh Hashono when we crown Him as we hear the resounding tekios? What do we mean when we say and often sing ‘Vesimloch oleinu ki mechakim anachnu loch – Rule over us because we are waiting for You’?

Three times a day we say the two paragraphs of Oleinu. The first paragraph emphasizes how much we must thank Hashem that He has chosen us to be His People, mentioning also that He rules over Heaven and Earth. We can never thank Hashem enough for our beautiful inheritance. But why do we say the second paragraph, that the all idol worshippers should acknowledge Him, so often? Of course we want Moshiach to come. But why do we repeat this request every time we say Oleinu?

The Rambam writes that it is a mitzvas asei to build a house for Hashem, ready for us to visit three times a year and bring korbonos in it. If possible it should be overlaid with gold. (Hilchos Beis Habechira 1:1 and 11) Later he writes that it is a mitzvas asei for the Beis Hamikdash to be guarded even though there is no fear of enemies. (ibid 8:1) The Rambam explains that guarding the Beis Hamikdash is a way of showing honour to Hashem: “One cannot compare a palace with guards to a palace without guards.”

All this is the minimum honour we can give to Hashem our King. Any powerful king has a resplendent palace which is a symbol of his power. His subjects will visit him regularly to pay homage to him and do there whatever he commands them to do. How much more so should we honour Hashem who is the King of Heaven and Earth.

This is indeed how things were in the time of the Beis Hamikdash, especially the first one. Shlomo Hamelech built a beautiful Beis Hamikdash in Hashem’s honour. Kohanim, Hashem’s hand-picked representatives, served there doing the prescribed Avoda. Three times a year all the People left their farms across Eretz Yisroel to come and pay homage to Hashem, bringing with them a sample of the blessings Hashem had granted them during the year.

During Pesach, my wife and I visited our family who live in various communities in England and we saw new shuls, new mikvaos and many Yidden davening, learning and living like loyal Jews. We were impressed. There are other beautiful communities in America, Australia, South Africa and many other places over the world. We are apt to be happy and proud of all these different communities in the “four corners of the world.”

However we may be forgetting our true lowly position or more accurately the terrible chillul Hashem in today’s situation. We have become used to Jews living mefuzar umeforad bein ho’amim – scattered among the nations. This is, for us, normal. But Hashem is King of the Heaven and Earth and His People should be living in honour in the special land which He gave us. Anything else is a chillul Hashem (Sotah 49a). Where is Hashem’s Beis Hamikdash, the symbol of His Kingship? In ruins. As the prophets bemoaned, “Where is His strength, where is His might?” Instead of doing His Avoda we have to suffice with learning what used to be done. As the malachim ask, “Where is the place of His glory?”

This is a shocking, intolerable chillul Hashem. We believe that Hashem is all-powerful but the facts on the ground seem to indicate otherwise. Modern idol-worshippers abound. Atheists invade our schools and tell us how to educate our children. We say that we are in golus but we forget about the golus of the Shechina. Our lives continue as though all is well. Where are the signs of our shock, our disgust and our misery at this spiritual catastrophe?

Fortunately, however, the siddur, reminds us not to be satisfied. We speak of Hashem’s glory and might in the first half of Oleinu. But then, in response to our realization that the world which we see hardly reflects Hashem’s glory, we immediately express our hope that this horrible contradiction will soon be rectified; that all these ancient and modern idol-worshippers, will soon “bend their knees to Hashem” in an acknowledgement of their error. In Kedusha after proclaiming Hashem’s great Holiness we immediately plead, Mimkomecho Malkeinu sofia, eineinu sir’eno malchusecho.” Of course we believe that You are the King of Heaven and Earth, but ’eineinu sireno malchusecho’ – we want to see Your Kingship and we want the whole world to see Your Glory. As we say in Yom Tov Musaf, “Galei kevod malchusecho – Reveal the honour of your Kingdom in the eyes of all humanity, bring in our scattered ones and enable us to perform Your service. This is not because we are tired of golus but because we want Your Name to be glorified and sanctified – Yisgadal veyiskadash Shemei Rabbo. Our Oleinu should not be said as we take off our talis or as we walk out of shul but in a way which shows our heartfelt desire to see imminently “the glory of Your strength.” Our mimkomecho should be said or sang with great passion as we implore Hashem to reveal His greatness and sanctity.

As we listen to the details of Tazriah and Metzora we should ponder how Hashem’s glory once revealed itself through special signs which reminded each individual that he has sinned, as an encouragement to better behavior, Sadly, as the Seforno (13:47) says, now we do not merit such an open display of Hashem’s love for us. Instead of wishing that the krias HaTorah would end already, we can silently yearn for a return to such wonderful times, when Hashem’s glory will be revealed to all and He will be publicly and universally acknowledged as the King of Heaven and Earth.

Vayidom Aharon

After the simcha of Pesach come the weeks of the Omer. We look forward joyfully to Shevuos but can’t ignore past tragedies – the deaths of Rebbe Akiva’s talmidim, the massacres perpetrated by the Crusaders and others in more recent history. The contrast between the rejoicing of Yom Tov and the mourning of the sefira makes parshas Shemini which is read this year on this first Shabbos after Pesach, particularly appropriate.

It was supposed to be a tremendous simcha. The Mishkan, which represented Hashem’s forgiveness of the Jewish People’s sin of the golden calf and His willingness to allow His Shechina to dwell amongst the Bnei Yisroel, was to be inaugurated. And that’s how the day began. Fire descended from the sky to the mizbe’ach and consumed the korban olah. The people saw, rejoiced and fell on their faces.

But then, tragedy.  Nodov and Avihu, two of Aharon’s sons, offered unauthorized incense and another fire blazed down from Hashem, killing both. “And Moshe said to Aharon. This is what Hashem said, that I shall be sanctified by those close to Me and honoured in front of the people and “Vayidom Aharon” Aharon was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3). No wailing or protesting such harsh judgement, just a silent acceptance of Hashem’s justice.

When the late Rav Betzalel Rakov was told that his beloved youngest son, Nosson Zvi, had drowned in a swimming accident one fateful erev Shabbos about thirty years ago, he immediately stood up and exclaimed Hashem hu Ho’elokim, Hashem hu Ho’elokim seven times before sitting down to find out more details. The deeply ingrained emuna and spontaneous acceptance of Hashem’s will shown by our great leaders is an inspiration for all of us even if, thankfully, we don’t suffer such tragedies ourselves.

But is there something besides acceptance of Hashem’s justice which can help a person at such a horrific moment? Is there an aspect of our emuna which can be an extra source of comfort not only for those who have suffered tragedy but can help to give all of us a new direction in the way we view life?  A new insight into familiar words of Hallel may provide us with just such help.

Dovid Hamelech said, “Lo amus ki echye va’asaper maaseh Koh. (Tehilim 118: ). “I shall not die but live and I shall speak of the deeds of Hashem….zeh hashaar L’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem, Tzadikim will come through it.” What did Dovid Hamelech mean that “he won’t die?” Everybody dies at some point. And which gate was Dovid referring to?

Tomid (32b) relates that Alexander the Great was once sitting by a river and smelt a wonderfully fragrant odour. He thought that it must be the smell of Gan Eden and walked towards its source. He finally reached a gate behind which seemed to be the source of the odour and concluded that this must be the door to Gan Eden itself. He asked to be allowed in. A voice from behind the door said, “Zeh hashaar l’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem. Only tzaddikim may enter.” Alexander was not a tzaddik and was denied entry. Without going into the deeper meaning of this Gemoro, we see that the gate mentioned in the posuk is understood by Chazal to be the gate to Gan Eden.

With this in mind perhaps we can understand the deeper meaning of Dovid Hamelech’s words. The previous pesukim portray Dovid’s full trust in Hashem. “The nations surround me; with the Name of Hashem I will destroy them.” They increase their attack. “They surround me more and more…like bees….they are so close that they try to push me but Hashem will still help me.” The danger intensifies but Dovid maintains his trust in Hashem. As Chazal say (Brachos 10a) “Even if the sword is on your neck, do not give up hope.”

But does trust in Hashem mean that one will definitely survive?  Sadly not. Many have died through illness and al Kiddush Hashem. Trust in Hashem means that we believe that everything is in Hashem’s hands, not that we will always get the outcome we want. (Chazon Ish: Emuna Vebitachon). What comfort can we cling to in the face of tragedy?  Dovid Hamelech tells us, “I will not die, for I shall live.” Leaving this world is not death. It is not the end. We live on in another, better world. “Zeh hashaar L’Hashem… If we have lived our lives as we should, we, unlike Alexander, will be allowed to enter the gates of Gan Eden. We will live on, enjoying a much greater closeness to Hashem than is possible in this world. And “I will speak of the great deeds of Hashem.” we will continue to praise Hashem as we say three times daily in Ashrei.  “I will bless You every day and praise Your Name for ever.”

Dovid Hamelech said, “Even if I walk in the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil because You are with me. Your rod and your staff will comfort me.” (Tehilim 23: 4) A staff supports but how can a rod, an instrument of punishment, be a source of comfort? Perhaps Dovid is hinting to this same principle. In the valley of the shadow of death – survival is not assured. Whether Hashem helps me and I survive or even if the Divine justice is that I do not survive, I will not fear because “You are with me,” whether in this world or the next.

The Seforno (Devarim 14:1) writes that Jews do not cut their skin or pull their hair out when their loved one dies because, although we miss them, “We are the children of Hashem, we are a holy nation” and those who have left this world will be enjoying rewards greater than any pleasure we could experience in this world.

Like the unborn baby who thinks that his mother’s womb is the whole world and knows nothing of the big wide world outside, some think that our world is the whole world and don’t realise that there is a great world beyond ours. In that world, those who suffered in this world will even praise Hashem for their difficulties because it will be as a result of their maintaining their emuna despite their suffering that they will merit supreme pleasure which will far outweigh the pain they experienced whilst they were alive. Even those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem will praise Hashem when they receive their tremendous reward in olam haba as is written in the Shemone Esre, “The kedoshim will praise You every day.”

Without a belief in the World to Come, this world can seem unjust; the righteous sometimes suffer, the wicked sometimes prosper. With a belief in the World to Come, our emuna is strong, our incentive to achieve spiritually is enhanced and our acceptance of Hashem’s justice will be complete.

Ho Lachmo Anya

One of the most famous questions on the Hagada is why we invite “all those who are hungry to come in and eat” after our seder has already begun. We also wonder why this invitation follows the statement, “Ha lachma anya, this is the bread of our affliction which our forefathers eat in the Land of Egypt.” Is there any connection between these two sentences that they are placed next to each other? Perhaps we can use a theme which we started a few weeks ago to answer these questions.

Dovid Hamelech has taught us the correct response when, with Hashem’s help, we are victorious against our enemies. “How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvations and call out in the name of Hashem. I will bring korbonos to Hashem in front of all the people.” (Tehilim 116). Calling out in the name of Hashem means announcing that Hashem has done this miracle which will bring glory to Hashem and sanctify His name. Bringing korbonos  is another way of publicising Hashem’s  role in the victory over  our enemies which will sanctify His name. Hashem doesn’t want us merely to say “Thank You” but actively bring honour to Him.

The Novi Micha, however, seems to say that the way to show hakoras hatov to Hashem is not the way Dovid Hamelech taught us. He implies that, on the contrary, bringing korbonos is a mistaken approach. “Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim, redeemed us from the House of bondage. He gave us Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. How shall we show thanks? Shall we approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves in their first year? Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? Hashem has told us what He wants from us; do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before Him.” (6:1-6). Do we see here a fundamentally different approach between Micha and Dovid? Micha says that practicing justice, love and humility is the way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses. Dovid favoured korbonos.

In Ahavas Chessed the Chofetz Chaim explains why practicing chessed is so vital. Firstly, he says, we all need it. We may be sick, a mourner, in need of a loan, a baal simcha or on a journey in need of hospitality. And even if we were in none of those situations, eventually we will all need chessed shel emes. Secondly, he says that in the World to Come our source of life and pleasure will be our proximity to Hashem. We cannot be close to Hashem unless we are in some small way like Him. Seeing that He is the ultimate Baal Chessed, if we did not practise chessed during our lifetime, we will have no similarity with Him at all and it will be impossible for us to be nehene miziv HaShechina.

The Siach Yitzchok points out another very important reason for us to do chessed. The first of the sheva berochos  is shehakol boro lichvodo – He created everything to honour Him. What has this to do with a chuppa? Rashi explains (Kesuvos 8a) that when all the guests assemble around a chuppa to be mesame’ach choson vekallo they are following the example of Hashem who was mesame’ach the first choson and kallo. By imitating the actions of Hashem we are giving Him honour as the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Hence the brocho, shehakol boro lichvodo.

Hashem is the ultimate Baal Chessed. Even as He is involved with waging war against His enemies, (Hashem Ish milchomo), He is still mercifully providing for the rest of the world, (Hashem Shemo). (Rashi, Shemos 15:3). When we follow in His ways, even at our low level, when, we practice mishpat and chessed, by imitating Hashem, we are giving Him honour. Micha was saying that when we are the recipients of Hashem’s miracles and kindness, we should not merely bring korbonos to publicise those miracles and bring honour that way. “Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil?” He wasn’t disagreeing with Dovid Hamelech that we need to “lift up the cup of salvations, call out in the name of Hashem and bring korbonos in His honour.” Micha was just saying that it is not enough. We must also bring honour to Hashem by imitating His ways, trying our best to “practise justice, kindness and walking with humility before Hashem.” In fact both Dovid and Micha are telling us that the correct way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses to Him is to honour Him. They just give two different ways of honouring Hashem and both are correct.

On Purim we remember the kindnesses of Hashem when He saved us from Homon, Amolek’s descendant. And we show our hakoras hatov both in the way taught to us by Dovid Hamelech –  reading  the megila and publicizing the miracle (kriosa zu halila) – and  in the way of Micha by practicing chessed when we do the mitzvos of mishloach monos and matonos l’ovyonim. In fact we place great emphasis on these two mitzvos on Purim. We try to fulfil the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megilla 2:17) “There is no greater and more honourable simcha than bringing simcha to the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. Because one who brings simcha to these less blessed members of our community is comparable to the Shechina about Whom it is said, “lehachayos ruach shefolim ulehachayos lev nidkaim.

Our Seuda too will ideally be an embodiment of the two ways of our showing hakoras hatov. We lift up our cup of salvation and drink wine in the honour of the miracle of Purim. And we invite to our tables family, friends and others, as the Rambam instructed us.

We will now extend this theme into Pesach to answer the questions we started with. We begin the story of our exodus from Egypt with Ha lachma Anya, by showing to those round the table a piece of matzo – an example of what our ancestors ate whilst they were slaves in Egypt. By this we are showing the contrast between the very basic, tasteless food which was our sole nourishment then and the delicacies we eat today. We are so thankful to Hashem for having improved our situation so radically. We do not suffice with a mere mention of our former nourishment but, for greater effect, we show the food itself to our families, friends and guests. By doing this we are following the example of Dovid Hamelech and publicizing Hashem’s miracles which He has done for us. We are also following the example of Yanai Hamelech (Kiddushin 66a) who, after conquering sixty towns in the South invited all the Chachomim to a festive meal to publicise the miracle of his victories and to give Him thanks. He served simple vegetables as the first course as an example of the type of simple food the Jews who had participated in building the second Beis Hamikdash were forced to eat because of their poverty. However the food was served on golden tables to show how much Hashem had blessed the people since that time. Yannai’s whole intention was to thank Hashem and sanctify His Name. (Rashi ibid).

In our Hagada we follow this by inviting any guests who might still be in need of a festive meal. This is not intended as a real invitation because we invited people before we said Kiddush which was the correct time to invite people. It was rather a statement showing how we want to honor Hashem by following the path of Micha by going in Hashem’s ways of showing kindness just like He shows us kindness all the time. We are thus continuing the theme of Purim by honoring Hashem both in the way of Dovid Hamelech and also in the way of the prophet Micha. And in this merit we hope that although this year we are still slaves, we hope that next year we will be free. And although this year we are here, we hope that next year we will be in the rebuilt city of Yerusholayim.

Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed?

Chapter One Introduction

1.      Q.  How many days of Chol Hamoed are there in a year?

A.      In Eretz Yisroel there are five days Chol Hamoed Pesach and six days Chol Hamoed Succos. In Chutz Lo’oretz because of the second day of Yom Tov there are four and five days respectively. When Shabbos is one of the days of Chol Hamoed, the halachos of Shabbos apply.

2.      Q. Is there a special greeting for Chol Hamoed?

A.      Yes; Moadim lesimcha or A Gutten Moed and we should use these greetings rather than our normal weekday greeting.[1]

3.      Q. Why did the Torah make these days to be Chol Hamoed?

A.      This is a very good question because if we understand the reason for the days of Chol Hamoed  we won’t waste them. The purpose of Pesach and Succos is to remember the miracles Hashem did for us when He brought us out of Egypt and during the forty years we were travelling through the wilderness. We should be thinking of these miracles and Hashem’s love for us, eating festive seudos, singing Hallel and other praises of Hashem for all the days of these two Yomim Tovim. On the other hand, it is difficult not to do melachos for a whole week. Therefore the Torah made just the first and last days into full Yomim Tovim with the days in between having the status of Chol Hamoed. During Chol Hamoed certain melachos are not allowed whilst others are allowed. Therefore we can continue with the Yom Tov atmosphere but are able to do certain necessary things which cannot wait until after Yom Tov.[2]

4.         Q. Are the prohibitions of Chol Hamoed from the Torah or rabbinic?

A.      Your question implies that if the prohibitions are rabbinic they are somehow less important. This is big mistake because we have to respect rabbinic laws as we respect Torah laws. In fact the Torah itself tells us to listen to rabbinic law. (Devarim 17:11). If you are a rav and want to know how to answer questions of doubt, I will tell you. There are different opinions in the Rishonim. Some say they are from the Torah.[3] Some say they are rabbinic.[4] Some say a melacha which is forbidden because it is not necessary, is forbidden from the Torah but melachos which are forbidden because they involve too much effort or special skills etc are only forbidden rabbinically. [5] The Biur Halacha (530) concludes that in questions of doubt one should not be lenient unless there is a great need.[6]

5.        Q.  All my life I have kept the first and last days of Yom Tov but I have always considered the days in between to be like a weekday with just a longer davening in the morning. Isn’t avoiding melachos on Chol Hamoed midas chasidus, something which extra pious people keep, not regular Jews like me?

A.      Unfortunately many people think the same way as you about chol hamoed. The reasons for this are possibly historical because a few decades ago avoiding work on Shabbos and Yom Tov was enough of a challenge. Therefore to work only on Chol Hamoed was regarded as a great achievement. Other reasons are possibly because often we may work if not working would cause us a loss (davar aved )and the loss of one’s job or losing customers in business is a davad aved. Therefore people began to treat the days of chol hamoed as regular days. However “where there is a will there is often a way” and as people have become more knowledgable and have realized that it is not correct to treat chol hamoed as a weekday, more and more people cut down or completely avoid working and what they thought at first couldn’t be avoided, can sometimes indeed be avoided, especially if they are self- employed. Sometimes, children inherited businesses from their father who felt that the business needed to stay open to remain solvent. But now the business is well established and won’t suffer from being closed for the whole week of Yom Tov. So now, perhaps, is the time to re-examine our chol hamoed with a view to improving our observance of it. Indeed, this is one of the purposes of this sefer. So read on and try to keep chol hamoed as the Torah intended. Remember, “According to the effort is the reward.” (Pirkei Avos).

6.      Q. I like Chol Hamoed because my Mum and Dad take us on outings. Are you saying that going on outings is not really keeping Chol Hamoed properly?

A.      Obviously children need a variety of activities to enable them to enjoy Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed. Going out as a family is a good way of strengthening the family relationships, which is very important. However parents should still consider how the atmosphere of the Yom Tov can be maintained. In Eretz Yisroel a family can visit the Kosel together, visit places where events of Tanach took place or just to see the beauty of Eretz Yisroel. In Chutz Lo’oretz a family can also go beautiful places where they can admire the beauties of Hashem’s creation. Sometimes communities or groups of schools come together for activities which are kosher and educational. Having said this, outings don’t have to take up the whole time. There can still be time for a Avos Ubanim (Banos?) session before going out or an enjoyable festive brunch. One day perhaps Dad and the boys can prepare a nice Chol Hamoed seuda giving Mum and the girls a well earned rest! Also an unrushed Chol Hamoed davening should be a vital part of each day, not to be squeezed out because we’re “too busy.” From what we have said, it is clear that visiting non-Jewish playgrounds with loud secular music and immodestly dressed boys and girls and adults is not an appropriate way of spending the very special days of Chol Hamoed and of fulfilling Simchas Yom Tov.

7.       Q. Could you give me a brief overview of which melachos are permitted on Chol Hamoed .

A.      There are four main categories of melachos which are permitted. A. Those which are necessary for preparation of food or other personal needs. B. Those which are necessary for something we need during the rest of Yom Tov. C. Those which, if we wouldn’t do them, we would suffer a loss. D. Those which a worker who is severely short of food may do. Each of these categories has sub-categories and details which we need to study together over the next few chapters in order to have everything clear.

8.      Q. Do you mean that anything that doesn’t fall into these categories is not allowed?

A.      There is a dispute amongst the Poskim whether a melacha which does not involve any effort like turning on an electric light if there is no need or carrying something unnecessary in one’s pocket in the street where there is no eiruv is allowed on Chol Hamoed. I would say that someone who has been treating Chol Hamoed as more or less a weekday up until now, should improve his observance to avoiding doing those melachos which are clearly not allowed, in the meantime.[7] However somebody who has been keeping the halachos carefully and wants to raise his standards should avoid anything which is not allowed on Shabbos unless there is a halachic reason to be lenient.[8] Certain rabbinic prohibitions certainly do not apply on Chol Hamoed  e.g. not going outside the techum,[9] muktza[10] and the halachos restricting us from speaking about business matters etc[11]

9.       Q. Are the halachos of not asking a non-Jew the same as for Shabbos?

A   In principle yes but there are occasional differences, sometimes more lenient,[12] sometimes stricter. [13] If it is for the purpose of a mitzvah to be done during Yom Tov we may ask a non-Jew.[14] If a non-Jew does a melacha for us we may benefit from it immediately.[15] Before Yom Tov we are allowed to give work to a non-Jew as long as we don’t ask him to work specifically on Chol Hamoed. This is permitted even if the work is eventually done over Chol Hamoed, as long as we are paying him for the complete job and not by the hour and as long as it is a movable item. For instance we can hand in clothes to a dry cleaner before Yom Tov without telling him to have it ready by a certain day.[16] If the clothes are needed for Yom Tov we may go to the dry cleaners on Chol Hamoed to pick them up.[17]

10.  Q. As far as I knew, we don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed so I was quite shocked when some visitors to our shul were wearing tefilin. Is there an argument about tefilin on Chol Hamoed?

A.      Indeed there is and no-one is right or wrong. It’s a machlokes rishonim hundreds of years old.

Ideally those who do wear tefilin should daven together and those who don’t should daven in a different place together. In practice[18] there are many places where some wear tefilin and some don’t and people understand that there are two customs and everyone should just keep his own custom.[19] Of those who put on tefilin, some do not say a bracha on the tefilin because of the doubt and some say before they put them on, “If I should be putting tefilin on, I am putting them on to do the mitzva, if not, I do not intend to do the mitzvah.[20]

11.  Q. I heard that in Eretz Yisroel they don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed. Is that so?

A.      Yes, that is the universal custom, so somebody who is just visting Eretz Yisroel who normally puts tefilin on on Chol Hamoed should not wear tefilin in shul but should put them on later in private.[21]

12.       Q. That’s great. The contract for our new house has come through and the date is in the middle of Chol Hamoed. Moving into a new big house will really give us simchas Yom Tov

A.      Not so quick. Generally speaking, we are not allowed to move home on Chol Hamoed. Chazal deemed such a major operation as incompatible with the purpose of these important days.[22]

13.       Q.  Are there no exceptions?

A.      If you are presently renting and now you are acquiring your own home could be one exception[23], moving to a different apartment within one building could be another, moving from a shared apartment to a private one another[24] and where not moving would cause a financial loss[25] yet another but as these situations are not as black and white as they used to be, a shaala should be asked.[26]

[1] Piskei Rav Eliashev 86

[2] Chazal say about Chol Hamoed, “They forbad melachos on Chol Hamoed in order that we should eat, drink, rejoice and learn Torah.” (Yerushami Moed Katan Chapter 2 Halacha 3). “The intention of Hashem when He gave us the Festivals was in order for us to cling to fearing Him, loving Him and learning His Torah.” (Mishna Berura 530:2 in the name of the Kolbo). “Those who keep the Festivals as required are is if they are partners with Hashem in the creation of the world.” (Pesikta Shemos 34:18). “Those who show disrespect the Festivals, it is as if they have served idols.” (Pesachim 118a)

[3] Rif, Rashi, Rashbam and others.

[4] Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1), Rosh, Mordechai and others.

[5] Ramban, Rashba, Ritva

[6] I know personally of a case of somebody who refused to work on Chol Hamoed and he lost his job. However shortly afterwards he was offered another job with much better pay and conditions.

[7] He has certain authorities to rely on such the Aruch Hashulchan 545:12 and others. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was also reported to be lenient.

[8] The Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that since people are generally too lenient about Hilchos Chol Hamoed , the Poskim should be strict on this point. Chut Shoni 530:1 is also strict and says that one should be careful not to telephone a friend on Chol Hamoed unless there is a Yom Tov need. Even according to this stricter opinion there is room to be more lenient in certain cases like eini miskavein, melacha she’eina tzricha legufa etc.

[9] Mishna Berura 543:4

[10] Darchei Moshe 544:2

[11] Mishna Berura 543:8***

[12] Rather than paying a Jew to do a permitted melacha, it is preferable to pay a non-Jew. (Mishna Berura 542:5)

[13][13] A non-Jew may do work for a Jew berkablonus (where he is paid for the job, not by hour) on Shabbos and Yom Tov outside the techum because he will not be seen by Jews who are not allowed to go outside the techum (unless they made an eiruv techumim). However on Chol Hamoed when we are allowed to go outside the techum people might suspect that he is being paid by the hour. Shulchan Aruch O.C 543:2.

[14] Mishna Berura  543:1

[15] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 68:38

[16] Shulchan Aruch 543:2

[17] Ibid 534:3

[18] Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:34.6) writes that in communities with a large number of shuls with different customs and people on a weekday or Chol Hamoed often just go the nearest minyan, it is accepted that all who come follow their own custom concerning Tefilin.

[19] See Daas Torah 31

[20] Not saying the bracha and making this statement, “If I…” is what Mishna Berura (31:8) says should be done.

[21] Piskei Rav Eliashev 87 Igros Moshe (ibid) adds that a person in this situation should say the shema wearing his tefilin.

[22] Shulchan Aruch O.C.535:1

[23]Ibid :2

[24] Shaar Hatziun 535:5

[25] Ibid

[26] Aruch Hashulchan 335:4.   Be’er Moshe 7:28 writes that unless not moving would cause a heavy financial loss, moving nowadays is such a major operation that it is unbefitting for Chol Hamoed.


In the middle of Pesach cleaning we sometimes pause for a quick lunch. That lunch might be ‘wraps’. What is ‘wraps and what brocho do we make on it?

Wraps is a type of sandwich but whereas the traditional sandwich has two layers of bread with a filling in between, wraps is one piece of dough which wraps round the filling. It also tends to be a very thin dough. Is wraps hamotzie or mezonos? Let’s look into it.

In Gemoro Brochos (42a) we read that Rav Huna ate three cakes and did not say Bircas Hamozon. Rav Nachman said to him that even though these cakes were pas habo bekisnin, since he was eating them as a meal, he should have said bircas hamozon.

We already see that even though the food is pas habo bekisnin, if it constitutes a meal, it requires hamotzi and birchas hamozon. If not, we say mezonos and al hamichyo.

What is the definition of pas habo bekisnin?

The Shulchan Aruch (168:7) brings three opinions.

  1. Bread which is baked with a filling of honey or sugar, nuts and spices.
  2. Bread which is made from a dough which contained enough honey, oil or spices to affect the taste.
  3. A dry, thin cracker.

The Ramo comments on the second opinion: “Some say that it is still considered bread unless there is so much of these extra ingredients that they are almost the main ingredient.” The Mishna Berura says that the Ramo’s comment applies to the first opinion as well and that for bread with a filling to be considered pas habo bekisnin there must be enough honey, sugar etc. to have a very strong effect on the taste. The Shaarei Tziun brings the Taz that even the Shulchan Aruch holds this first opinion. Since there are three opinions, what does one do in practice?

The Shulchan Aruch says as we are not sure, we are lenient and if we have eaten food of any of these three types we treat it as pas habo bekisnin and say al hamichyo.

Let us now consider the following question: We have learned about different examples of pas habo bekisnin,as brought down in the Shulchan Aruch. Does this mean that these are pas habo bekisnin and every other type of pas is hamotzi? Or are the types mentioned just examples, but any other type of pas which is also not normally used to base a meal on (either in Chazal’s generation or later) will also have the halocho of pas habo bekisnin?

 The sefer Mekor Habrocho of Dayan Krauszshlita brings two opinions.

  1. The Emek Habrocho who says that we only look at the examples of pas habo bekisnin which were given by Chazal. Any other type of bread, even though it might fulfil the same function as pas habo bekisnin did in the days of Chazal, requires hamotzi and bircas hamozon.
  2. The Nesivos Hamishpot who says that if the usual custom is not to base a meal on this type of pas it will have the halocho of pas habo bekisnin.

The Aruch haShulchan also seems to hold this opinion. In 168:24 he writes that eier kichlech which are made with eggs and water are clearly not normal pas. Later he writes: “Our Sages only said that we should say hamotzi and bircas hamozon on bread that most people base a meal on. They were referring to dough baked in the normal way. If there is any change which causes most people not to base a meal on it, there is no obligation to say hamotzi and bircas hamozon…”

Now this would help for items which are clearly meant as a snack like eier kichlech and for bridge rolls which are intended for a kabolas ponim rather than a meal.. Can it be applied to a wraps? Do people eat wraps as a meal or as a snack? .

There is another factor with wraps which we have not mentioned so far. The Shulchan Aruch mentions another type of dough, nalsilka which is baked in a pan with vegetable leaves and because it is watery and thin, one says mezonos rather than hamotzie. The Shulchan Aruch mentions yet another type of thin dough called trisa and on this dough the Shulchan Aruch holds that we say only mezonos even if one is kovea seuda on it. Can we compare wraps to these types of dough? Rav Eliashev was once shown some wraps and he said that it was like trisa which, as we just said, does not require hamotzie even if we base a meal on it.

According to this reported psak of Rav Eliashev, the brocho on wraps will be mezonos even if we base a meal on it. However it is difficult to be sure that all wraps are made with such thin dough.

In conclusion. If we are eating wraps as a snack, if it is made with enough fruit juice which gives a strong taste to the dough, (which I’m told is the case in Gateshead), we certainly say mezonos. If we are basing a meal on such a wraps meaning that we fill it with a generous amount of filling and this is our lunch or supper, many poskim hold that one should say hamotzie like other pas habo bekisnin. If it is not made with fruit juice, there are opinions which allow us to say mezonos. However it would appear to be the case that many poskim hold that it is usual to base a meal on wraps and therefore the brocho should be hamotzie especially if we are indeed basing a meal on it. However according to Rav Eliashev the brocho on thin wraps will always be mezonos. Because of the doubt, we should take some ordinary bread and make hamotzie on that, have in mind the wraps and then bench as usual. However this only works if we are happy to have the bread but if we really don’t want the bread and we are only trying to solve the question of the correct brocho on wraps, it is questionable if this is a solution. My personal solution is for the kashrus authorities to tell the bakers under their supervision to make their wraps with thicker dough and without fruit juice and then they will be hamotzie without a question.

If you find all this too complicated, you could stick to the traditional sandwich.  And after that, it’s back to pesach cleaning!

Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkeinu …..

Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha; the time of simcha has arrived and we are supposed to increase our simcha from the beginning of Adar. In case we are searching for help in this important mitzvah, the Beis Yosef (Siman 45) is a good place to start.

He is discussing the section in Birkas Hashachar which says, “A person should always fear Hashem both in private and in public.” What chiddush do these words contain? We know that the test of yiras shomayim is when a person is beyond the gaze of others. How does he conduct himself when he is alone? One explanation which the Beis Yosef gives is that this statement refers to a time when it was forbidden for the Jews to say the Shema. The only possible way to say the Shema was to find somewhere very private and secretly say this basic expression of our emuna. In other words, when we can say the Shema in public, we should do so, as normal, but in a time of a gezeira when it is forbidden to say the Shema we should at least try to say it in private. Simply contrasting such a situation when it was forbidden to say the Shema with our experience with shuls packed full of mispallelim calling out krias shema, davening Shemone Esrei, singing Kabolas Shabbos without any interference is a source of great simcha.

Gittin (16b) tells us about a discussion on an intricate halocho in hilchos Gittin at the home of Rabba bar bar Channa who was ill at the time. Suddenly one of the chaveirim (a group who forbade the use of fire on certain days of the year) entered Rabba bar bar Channa’s  home and took away his candle, leaving them in the dark. Rabba bar bar Channa was so disturbed by this that he called out to Hashem, “Either in your shade or the shade of the Romans.” The Gemara explains that even though Hashem had exiled the Jews to Persia because it was ‘impossible’ to survive under the Bnei Eisav  (Romans), this was before these chaveirim arrived in Persia. After they arrived, it would have been easier under the Bnei Eisav. Thinking about this, when we can learn in light and in comfort in our Botei Medrash  or in our homes is another thought which should give us much simcha.

And we all know about Elisha Ba’al Kenofayim (Shabbos 130a) who lived at a time of a gezeira that if anyone wore Tefilin on his head, his brain will be removed from his head. Not to be deterred, a Jew called Elisha wore his Tefilin as normal, When a Roman soldier saw him, Elisha ran away, with the soldier in hot pursuit. Elisha removed his Tefilin and held them in his hand. The soldier caught up with him and demanded to know what was in his hand. Elisha opened his hand to reveal a dove’s wings (kanfei yona) into which the Tefilin had miraculously been transformed. That is why he was henceforth called Elisha Baal Kenofayim. We should think of this as we put on our beautiful Tefilin, some of us Rebbeinu Tam Tefilin as well, without any fear of arrest. Another source of simcha if we would think about it. These are just a few examples.

This explanation of the Beis Yosef, that the paragraph “le’olom yehei odom” was written at a time when we were not allowed to do mitzvos might explain why the sentence continues with the mitzvos of modeh al ho’emes (acknowledging the truth) and dover emes bilvovo (speaking the truth in our heart). Both are mitzvos we can do in the recesses of our hearts undetected by those who made this cruel  gezeira.

The siddur goes on to contrast our insignificant physical and mental strength compared with the greatness of Hashem. Avol anachnu amcho bnei brisecho…our comfort is, however, that we are the people who have a covenant with Hashem and we are the descendants of our holy forefathers Avrohom,Yitzchok and Yaakov, whom Hashem loved and swore an eventual great future for their descendants. Most people are not their descendants and have not inherited the love and fear for Hashem which we have. Their lives consist, for the most part, of a nonstop chase after the pleasures of this world, wealth and power, which they can never achieve to their satisfaction. We know about Koheles’ warning that all is vanity and the pursuit of physical pleasures, divorced from Torah and Mitzvos, is an exercise in futility.

Lefichoch.. Therefore we have to thank You and praise You and bless You and to sanctify Your name. We should feel a surge of simcha at our good fortune to be heirs to such a spiritual treasure, to know what the purpose of life is, to appreciate what real values are and to have been given the keys to achieving inner happiness, to say nothing of the spiritual pleasures which await us in the next world.

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu… How happy we are that our neshomo is a chelek eloka mima’al, a part of the Ribono Shel Olom Himself, that Hashem has guided us to choose a spiritual life (uvocharto bechaim) (Eitz Yosef) and that He gave us the heilige Torah as our inheritance, (moreshet lekehilat Yaakov).  Ashreinu she’anachnu mashkimim umaarivim v’omrim pamayim be’ahavo. How happy we are that we are not living at a time of gezeira, that we are not restricted in the mitzvos we keep and nobody is stopping us from declaring in the morning and evening with pride, love and enthusiasm, Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod.

Gateway to Proper Behaviour

“These are the judgments which you shall put in front of them. When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall work for six years and in the seventh year he shall go out free.” Many commentators ask why the laws of a Hebrew slave should be the very first subject discussed in Parshas Mishpatim, the first parsha after the giving of the Torah in Parshas Yisro. Wouldn’t learning what happens if they become slaves again be the last thing the Jews would have been interested in immediately after being freed from slavery themselves? We can imagine the Jews saying, “Don’t talk to us about slavery, we’ve just come out” to Moshe Rabeinu. Clearly Hashem had a good reason to begin Parshas Mishpatim with this subject.

Iyov is known as a righteous man. Tanach describes him as wholesome and upright; he feared Hashem and shunned evil. In Chapter 29 he describes his own righteousness. “I would rescue a pauper from his wailing and an orphan who had no-one to help him … I would bring joyous song to a widow’s heart. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the destitute.” And in Chapter 31 he says, “If my steps ever veered from the proper way or if my heart ever went after my eyes or anything ever clung to my hand.” Iyov claimed that had he been guilty of sin, he would have accepted his tribulations. Apparently he never did anything wrong, so where is justice?

These words of praise are mind-boggling if we think of Gemara Sotah (11a). “Before Pharaoh began enslaving the Jews he consulted three of his advisors. Bilaam encouraged him, Iyov was silent and Yisro fled.” Bilaam harosho encouraged him because he hated the Jews and tried later, more than once, to destroy them. Yisro fled because he could not countenance even being part of such injustice. Iyov was silent, apparently not wanting to support Pharaoh but also not willing to speak out against Pharaoh’s cruel plan to enslave the Jews. If he had spoken against Pharaoh or fled like Yisro, Pharaoh would have been left with one supporter out of three. With Iyov sitting on silently, he could perhaps claim that a majority of his advisors did not oppose his plans. Pharaoh went on to afflict the Jews with back-breaking slavery and to throw the Jewish boys into the river. Is this Iyov, Pharaohs advisor, the same person who claimed to be “eyes to the blind, feet to the lame and father to the destitute?” If he was such a tzaddik why didn’t he oppose Pharaoh or run away like Yisro? The Gemara indeed concludes that “Bilaam who encouraged Pharaoh was killed, Iyov who was silent was punished with yesurin and Yisro who ran away, he was blessed that his grandchildren sat later in the Sanhedrin”. But what was Iyov thinking when he claimed to be righteous? And how could the posuk say he was wholesome, upright and feared Hashem.

Imagine you are walking behind another Jew and you see money fall from his pocket. A few moments later he puts his hand in his pocket, realizes that his money is missing and you hear him say, “Oy veh for the money I have lost!” You know exactly where that money is. Do you have to tell him where his money is or can you rejoice in your sudden windfall and keep the money yourself?

Your Jewish domestic help puts your best china dishes in the sink — (not everybody has a dishwasher!) — rather too enthusiastically and your best set of eight fleishige plates has just become a set of five. You estimate that it will cost you £100 to replace it. You know this girl is an orphan and has barely enough money to live. Will you charge her for the damage? At the end of the day she comes to you for her wages as normal. Will you pay her or explain politely that since she has caused such damage, much more than the amount she normally earns, you are under no obligation to pay her?

In last week’s parsha (18:20), Yisro told Moshe Rabeinu, “And you should tell them the statutes and laws and you shall tell them the way they should go in and the deeds that they shall do.” Bobo Metzia (30b) interprets the last words of the posuk, “the deeds that they shall do,” as referring to going lifnim mishras hadin, beyond the strict halocho. In the cases we mentioned, the strict halacho allows us to keep the money ourselves, charge the orphan the full damages and certainly withhold her wages. However, lifnim mishuras hadin, Bobo Metzia (83a) says that it is correct not to charge damages and even to pay the wages as usual, although this could depend on the circumstances of the case. Rebbe Yochanon said that Yerushola’im was destroyed because the people followed the strict halocho and didn’t go lifnim mishuras hadin.(Bobo Metziah 30b).

Iyov may have been someone who shunned evil and feared Hashem in the sense that he was careful to do what he was strictly required to do, but he did not go beyond the letter of the law. When Pharaoh asked his opinion, he may have seen that Pharaoh was determined to begin his plan of slavery and disagreeing with him wouldn’t have changed anything. According to the strict moral requirements of his situation, he could sit there in silence. He was an oness, unable to do what should normally have been done in those circumstances.

Yisro, however, went lifnim mishuras hadin, as he later taught Moshe Rabeinu. To sit there and not protest was not an option for him. To argue was useless. But, at least, he could run away. Let no-one even think that he agreed with Pharaoh.

The parsha begins with the laws of a Hebrew slave. We would have thought that if we have a slave, we can treat him like a slave but the Torah later (Vayikra 25:39) tells us that this is explicitly forbidden. The halocho forbids us to tell him to him to do unnecessary work as well as telling him to work until we come back without indicating when this will be which is psychologically difficult.  Further, Kiddushin 22a says that the slave should not have an inferior bed to his master nor be given inferior food. Even a Canaanite slave for whom these halochos are more lenient, should be treated well by his master. “Mimidas chasidus we should treat our (Canaanite) slaves with mercy, feed them generously, speak to them respectfully and listen to any complaint they may have.” (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 267:17).

What better way could there be to begin parshas Mishpatim? It is not just the laws of slaves. It is a gateway to proper behaviour; not always insisting on our rights; going beyond the strict halocho; showing mercy, generosity and respect to everyone. This is the way Yerushola’im will be rebuilt and this is how to receive Hashem’s blessings, for us and our families.

The Deal of all Time

President Trump has recently been talking about his “deal of the century,” in connection with Israel and the Arabs. Parshas Yisro contains the “deal of all time,” arranged by Hashem and affecting the Jews and the rest of mankind. The Heavens and Earth were waiting nervously. A deal means their continued existence. No deal meant a return to nothingness. The stakes could not have been higher.

Shemos 19:6 tells us: “And now, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you will be a treasured nation out of all the nations for the whole world is Mine.” In exchange for a commitment to keep the words of the Torah, the Jewish People would become Hashem’s treasured nation. But what were the ramifications of this new status and what would be their precise role in the new world order?

When Moshe Rabeinu ascended Har Sinai, Hashem’s first words to him were, “Don’t they say sholom where you come from?” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “Does a servant say sholom to his Master?” Hashem said, “You should have helped Me.” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “May the strength of Hashem be increased.”(Shabbos 89a).  This borders on the humorous. The exchange between the Creator of the world and mankind’s representative at the beginning of a unique event which was to map out the future of the universe centered on how we should greet one another. It is important but this is the world-shattering topic appropriate for the day the Heavens and Earth have been waiting for, for three thousand years? And what did Hashem mean that He needs our help?

Shabbos 119b tells us that when we say Vayechulu on Friday night we become partners with Hashem in the creation of the World. A partner with Hashem? He needs us to partner Him? What does this mean?

The Bnei Yisosschor’s posuk for Shevat is homer yemirenu vehoyo hu – If a man wants to exchange the sanctity of an animal for another animal, the sanctity of the first animal remains. Does the fact the parshas Yisro is always read in Shevat help explain why this posuk was chosen?

When Hashem first spoke to Moshe Rabeinu at the burning bush, he told him, “So shall you say to Pharaoh. This is what Hashem said, My son, My firstborn son Israel.” What did Hashem mean that Israel is Hashem’s son? If He meant that He created us physically, He created every person and indeed every animal, every plant and the whole of creation. In this sense we are all the children of Hashem. Why should just the Jews be called Hashem’s children?

 The sefer Derech Hashem tells us that after the aveira of Odom Horishon and his subsequent teshuva, Hashem hoped that mankind as a whole would honour Hashem in their actions and thus, Hashem’s purpose in creating the world would be fulfilled.  There was no plan to have a treasured nation. Hashem waited ten generations but the people were corrupt and wicked. He brought the flood but there was no significant improvement, the next ten generations were equally wicked, but this time there was one notable exception —  Avrohom, the son of Terach. He was not only righteous in himself but he had the ability to influence his descendants. Now Hashem decided that a new stage in world history should begin. Avrohom’s family and descendants would be the Hashem’s flagbearers in the world. Their mission was to influence the rest of humanity. (Ramban in Devarim 32:26 and Seforno in Shemos 19:6) From their devotion to Hashem, their publicising His miracles, and their example in leading lives of moral rectitude, the nations of the world would also learn to believe in Hashem, even if they only accepted seven basic mitzvos. In a sense this was Hashem’s back-up plan to bring the world to its fulfilment.

If we proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world by saying Vayachulu, we become partners with Hashem in bringing the world to its fulfilment. He asks us to help Him bring the world to its fulfilment by sanctifying His Name amongst the nations of the world. Only when the whole of mankind is ready to serve Him will we have done our job.

Being a partner with Hashem is an awesome responsibility but it also brings us tremendous blessings. Firstly, because of the vital role we play in bringing the world to its fulfilment, we will receive a huge reward in the world to come. Secondly, Hashem takes special care of us in this world. We are His partners and partners do everything to help each other. Even if we sometimes slip, according to the Ramban (ibid), He shows us great patience and mercy. He “has to.” We are already in plan B. There is no plan C; only a return to nothingness. We learn in Kiddushin (36a) that however much we fall from the required standards, we are still referred to as Hashem’s children. Not in the physical sense, as we explained earlier, but because we are building a world of honour for Hashem. We have a joint mission.

 We are indeed Hashem’s “firstborn son.” We are Hashem’s chariot. We are Hashem’s flagbearers. Out of all the nations, we devote ourselves to increasing Hashem’s honour in the world. He will not exchange us for another nation as the Bnei Yisosschor implied. Hashem was not just telling Moshe Rabbeinu merely to greet people when you meet them, important though that is. He was telling him the reason for the universe’s existence and our national mission. If the Jews don’t take on this mission, it will mean a return to nothingness. If we don’t ‘help’ Hashem, there is simply no point in the universe continuing to exist.

To be Hashem’s treasured nation does not just mean being chosen for Hashem’s special protection. It is a lifelong commitment to be loyal to Hashem’s Torah in all circumstances and to sanctify His Name amongst all the nations. Indeed, the deal of all time.