A Month of Rejoicing?

The parsha tells us that he was a hero. He knew what to do when even Moshe Rabeinu had forgotten. He was heavily criticised by the court of public opinion. But Hashem praised him and gave him a very special reward. “Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon Hakohen removed my anger from the Jewish people and … behold I give him my blessing of peace.” (Bamidbar 25:11-1). Pinchas realized that what was happening was not only unacceptable but potentially disastrous. The precedent of Zimri, the Prince of Shimon marrying a Midianite princess could have led to a national spiritual and physical tragedy. Someone had to do something, fast. When he reminded Moshe Rabbeinu that “haboel aramis kanaim pogim bo” – the penalty for the sin of Zimri was instant death, Moshe Rabbeinu told him to carry out the punishment himself. Pinchos did so with zeal. He ignored the danger he was putting himself in and did what he had to do. What a hero! What a tzaddik! What a rôle model. So what’s the problem?

In last week’s parsha, Bilaam asked tamos nafshi mos yesharim – to die like the yesharim. (Bamidbar 23:10) Who are the yesharim and why did Bilaam want to die like them? The Netziv (ibid) explains that yashar refers to the characteristic of kindness bein odom l’chaveiro. Bilaam did not aspire to be a tsaddik or chassid, which he knew he could never achieve. But surely everyone can aspire to be kind to others. This is not a specifically Jewish concept. It is the basis of a functioning society. True, chessed in Jewish terms goes a lot deeper but Bilaam, as he contemplated his plan to uproot the Jewish people, had a pang of conscience and intimated that he would have preferred to die a yoshor, with acts of kindness to his name.

In his introduction to Sefer Bereishis, the Netziv says that Sefer Bereishis is also called Sefer Hayashar because in it we see how our Avos lived with a desire to do good to all people. Avraham Ovinu invited idol worshippers into his home. He davened, even argued with Hashem to save the people of Sodom despite the fact that they represented a way of life diametrically opposed to his.

In Parshas Haazinu (Devarim 32:4), Hashem is described as tsaddik veyoshor. The Netziv says that this is a prophetic acceptance and tzidduk hadin that Hashem will later destroy both Batei Hamikdash. Hashem was a Tzaddik when He destroyed the first Beis Hamikdash because the people were guilty of avoda zoro, shefichus domim and gilui aroyos (Yuma 9b). He was a Yashar when He destroyed the second Beis Hamikdash because the people were guilty of Sinas Chinam. (ibid) The Natziv says, “The people were tzadikim and chasidim but were not yeshorim. Because of the sinas chinam in their hearts, if anyone differed slightly from their way of yiras Hashem, they suspected that they were tzedukim and apirkorsim. This attitude eventually led to no less than shefichas yomim,. We describe Hashem as being yoshor because He cannot tolerate such tzaddikim. Even though what they do is leshem shomayim, their behavior destroys society.”

Sometimes we hear the claim that they are merely following the example of Pinchas, who fearlessly and unhesitatingly showed zero tolerance to Zimri. The difference is that what Zimri was doing was unquestionably a grave sin and Hashem had given specific instructions for dealing with it. This can in no way be compared to physically attacking somebody who adheres to a different path in avodas Hashem following his own Rebbe. The Netziv says that such behaviour destroys our society and makes us unworthy of a Beis Hamikdash.

It is well known that our great Gedolim differed in their approaches to the State of Israel. All were against the concept of a secular Jewish state. The Chazon Ish, the Steipler Rov, Rav Shach, Rav Eliyashiv and many Rebbes all decided to work within the system to fight for the rights of Torah and the Torah-observant citizens of Israel and encouraged people to vote in elections so that their representatives should be able to fight the Government at the highest level. Others led by the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Shmuel Wosner, Rav Moshe Sternbuch and many other tzaddikim consider this forbidden and they refused to be involved in national elections although the Satmar Rebbe was lenient in local elections. These are two ways both led by great rabbonim. Eilu v’eilu divrei Elokim chaim. It is not for us to say who is right and who is wrong. But based on the Netziv we have quoted, we can see how wrong and dangerous it is to attack those who follow a different but acceptable path in avodas Hashem. We have unfortunately seen how sharp words have led to violence and the consequences can be tragic. We all have much to do within our own path of avodas Hashem. With mutual respect, ahavas habrios, and excellence in midos bein odom l’chaveiro we can achieve so much more. We can even merit the transformation of Av to a month of rejoicing and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

My new sefer The Hidden Light is now on the shelves and selling “like hot cakes.”

Bilaam’s Tear

The best-known posuk of Parshas Balak is the praise and blessing Bilaam gave to the Jewish home. “How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisroel.” Chazal say that eventually all the curses Bilaam, the one-eyed soothsayer, gave to the Jews were fulfilled except for this pasuk which will always be a blessing. (Sanhedrin 105b). It seems that even Bilaam did not really mean to curse the Jewish home. He was genuinely impressed. But what was it about the Jewish home which impressed him so much? Was it their sanctity and purity? What would Bilaam, who was famously ‘married’ to his donkey, know about sanctity and purity? Rashi says that he noticed that the entrances of their tents were not opposite each other. But was this unique? Non-Jews also want privacy. “An Englishman’s home is his castle,” is an English proverb. What impressed Bilaam so much?

Some suggest that not having entrances opposite each other indicates a more significant aspect of Jewish life than a desire for privacy. We do not look at our neighbor to decide what we should be doing with our lives. We are part of a grand orchestra, each of us playing our own instrument to create beautiful harmony, as we read in the final chapter of Tehilim, “Some praise Him with the blast of the shofar, some with the lyre and harp. Some praise Him with a drum and dancing, some with the organ and flute. Some praise Him with clanging cymbals, some with resonant trumpets.” We are all in different situations; we all have different strengths. For each of us to succeed in our mission we need to focus on what we have to do, not what our neighbor has to do. Bilaam thought that everyone’s purpose is the same, that everyone is in the same rat race pursuing money, power and honour. There is only one winner. Maybe this is what impressed him about the Jewish home.

Another implication of the entrances of their tents not being opposite each other which might have impressed Bilaam was that the people did not check what possessions their neighbor had in order to be desirous of acquiring the same thing. The Jews are careful not to covet, in the words of the posuk, “the wife of his neighbor, his man-servant, his maid-servant, his ox or his donkey or anything which belongs to his neighbour.” Even Bilaam would have appreciated the damage that jealousy causes to a person. You are never happy with what you have. You buy what you cannot afford. Your nights are spent imagining how your life would be so much more enjoyable if you had what your neighbor had. Your days are spent working ‘like a dog’ to be able to buy a similar thing. When you finally acquire it you find out that another neighbor has a newer model and the cycle of jealousy begins again. “The Jews must enjoy life much more than me,” Bilaam would have mused.

Other aspects of a Jewish home would have impressed him. For instance, their observance of Shabbos, Hashem’s gift to the Jewish People. We may not appreciate Shabbos fully if we live in the Western world with its concept of a week-end. If they do not keep Saturday as special maybe they keep Sunday or even Friday. They do this because of Jewish influence. When the Torah was given, everybody worked non-stop. There was no concept of a Sabbath and no reason to mark the end of the week. A month or a year has some astronomical significance but not a week. This is still the case in some parts of the world. When Bilaam saw that the Jewish people worked for six days, even if that only involved going out to find the mon, but rested on the seventh day, this was an eye-opener. “What a good idea,” he must have thought. To work non-stop, day after day is soul-destroying. Without Shabbos, we become machines. Work becomes our master. Deadlines and customers rule us. When we say to an insistent customer on Friday afternoon, “We’ll see to it next week. Shabbos is coming in and there’s nothing to talk about,” we are in charge. We have regained our humanity. Bilaam could not have appreciated the spiritual aspects of Shabbos, reconnecting with Hashem, davening, learning. But he might have appreciated a chance to be a man rather than a machine. It is not for nothing that we say in Shabbos davening, “Those who experience Shabbos have merited life. Those who love her words have chosen greatness and honour. ”

On the subject of honour, Bilaam might have noticed how members of a Jewish family show each other honour. A Jewish husband is taught in the kesuva that he must honour his wife. He has to pay special attention to speak respectfully to her, (Yevomos 62b). He must not create an atmosphere of fear in the home. (Gittin 6b) Even on a busy Friday afternoon, when he wants to check whether his wife has tithed the vegetables or prepared the eiruv, he must speak softly to her. (ibid). At the same time a Jewish wife will show honour to her husband. Her husband sits at the top of the table. He is the head of the household – the captain of the ship. “What beautiful harmony there is in a Jewish home,” Bilaam may have thought. “She treats him like a king and he treats her like a queen.”

And then he may have noticed the children honouring their parents. They speak with love and respect. They don’t contradict, demand or argue. A mere hint from their parents and they run to bring them what they need. And they all sit round the table discussing insights on the weekly parsha and then sing together. The parents also show so much love for their children. Each child, no matter what number in the family, is a tachshit – a precious jewel. And isn’t that the elderly grandfather or grandmother? The family are looking after them with such devotion.

“This is incredible,” Bilaam must have thought.” Where I come from it’s every man for himself. Everyone is shouting, demanding, never satisfied. Our wives are our chattels. They’re not happy and we’re not happy. And the children? Don’t ask. As soon as they’re old enough, they’re away, only calling when they need more money. When we’re old, the ‘lucky’ ones get put in an old age home. The rest are left to cope by themselves, relying on the government to pay their winter heating bills. If you’re old and ill, the hospitals consider you worthless. A big sign “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” is hung on the end of your bed[1].

Bilaam might have noticed the quiet optimism which reigns in a Jewish home. They are full of faith and trust in Hashem. In the worst situations they say “All is for the best.” In the best situations they are full of praise to Hashem. They are happy people. They have beautiful families. Everything that Bilaam was lacking, they had. And so Bilaam, in the middle of cursing the Jews, in the height of his desperate quest to achieve the wealth and honour which he knew would bring him no happiness, bereft of all love except for his donkey, took a careful look at the Jewish homes and, in a rare moment of honesty, admitted, with perhaps a tear in his one eye, “ The Jewish home is indeed beautiful. Ma tovu oholecho Yaakov – How goodly are your tents, O Yaakov. And for once, he meant it.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Shas? (Brachos-Pesachim), Dancing in our Hearts, The Hidden Light and many Torah articles. If you want to buy any of his sefarim or want to join his mailing list, please write to rabbimfletcher@gmail.com

[1] Sometimes this is halachicly correct and appropriate. I am referring to times when it done out of lack of respect for the patient and without considering the sanctity of life.

Mad Dogs and Jews

Last week in Beit Shemesh, a wild dog somehow found its way into a block of flats near the edge of the town. The residents were petrified. No-one could get in or out. The dog wasn’t even barking but no-one was prepared to challenge it. Maybe it hadn’t eaten supper yet! Frantic calls were made to the municipal authorities to send the official dog-catcher. Yishai arrived eventually and calmly captured and removed the animal, to the cheers of the residents. Was this an incident best forgotten or can we learn something from it?

The later sections of Mesilas Yesharim discuss aspects of avodas Hashem which are way beyond the spiritual level of most of us, in the area of fear of Hashem and in particular fear of sin. This applies both to the past and to the future. We find that some of our greatest ancestors were never satisfied with their level of avodas Hashem, thinking that perhaps they had fallen short in some way. This section about fear of the past is probably not for us at all. We would be continuously worried and would not achieve simchas chaim which is so necessary for us and our children. However, we can aspire to the concept of fear of sin in the future, even if we don’t reach the highest levels.

Let’s talk about the ideal first and then discuss some practical ramifications for our lives. The concept of sinning against Hashem should be abhorrent to us. After all, He provides us with everything; how can we possibly think of going against Him? Our vulnerability is clear. He can turn off the supply of blessings in a moment and then where would we be? To challenge Him would be akin to an ant defying a human. We can blot out its life in a moment. It is laughable even to think of defying the Source of our life. The stupidity of challenging our Creator is multiplied much more if we think of the punishment we could incur. An ant might die instantly and that is the end of its existence. But Hashem can punish us in this world or the next while we continue to exist. We could be liable to severe punishments in untold ways. With this in mind, logic would tell us to run a mile from any risk of sin.

How can we bring this concept to life? We could imagine meeting a wild animal in the street. How terrified we would be. Running away is not an option but if there was a chance of taking refuge in a nearby building, what a sigh of relief we would give, especially if there was a door we could lock behind us.

To really feel such horror at the possibility of sinning may be a high madreiga. But we should at least feel the importance of avoiding coming close to sinning. If we know that a certain group of people are constant loshon hora speakers, we should look for another circle of friends. Another group discuss politics bein gavra l’gavra. We should move to another part of the shul or maybe a different shul altogether. It is natural to want to be one of the crowd. One who fears sin may have to consider changing his or her crowd.

Clear sources in the Torah warn us to stay far away from the possibility of sin. A nazir who is forbidden to drink wine may not even go near a vineyard. (Shabbos 13a). Tzitzis are supposed to remind us to keep all the other mitzvos of the Torah. (Bamidbar 15:39). The posuk says (Vayikra 18:6) “Do not come close to immorality.” Hilchos Yichud forbid a man to be alone with a woman who is not his wife. This is a vital fence against immorality. Although there are certain leniencies in halacha, they should only be used in emergencies and with the guidance of a rav. Parents should warn their daughters, who may not realise how vulnerable they are, never to be alone with a man other than a father or brother.

The residents of the block of flats in Beit Shemesh who felt up close the fear of a wild dog can use the experience to strive towards feeling the same fear when they are close to sinning. One must escape and lock the door securely, to make sure to keep far from sin even if others are unfortunately succumbing. And the rest of us, who just read about it, can also imagine the fear of being there, in order to strive towards this madreiga of yiras cheit. For Jews, no experience should be wasted – not even an encounter with a mad dog.

To Love And To Fear Your Name

The first section Parshas Chukas is the parsha of poro aduma. However, it would appear to be in the wrong place. Moshe Rabeinu learned the details of the poro aduma before Matan Torah and long before the episodes of the spies and Korach. Why is it not mentioned until now?

In Parshas Shelach, we read about the sins of the princes of the Shevatim, who said that Hashem could not overcome the Canaanites. On the other hand, Rochov in the Haftora had no doubts whatsoever: “I know that Hashem has given you this land. We are fearful of you and all the people of the land are broken in spirit before you.” How could a simple Canaanite woman like Rochov have a clearer understanding than the nesi’im, the cream of Klal Yisroel? Korach was also a baal ruach hakodesh. How could he have thought that his challenge to Moshe Rabbeinu would succeed?

In Parshas Vayera, when Avrohom Ovinu was about to sacrifice Yitzchak, the malach told him, “Now I know that you fear Hashem.” (Bereishis 22:12). The Netziv asks why the malach described Avrohom Ovinu as fearing Hashem rather than loving Hashem, as the novi Yeshayahu described him? (41:8). He answers that although fearing Hashem is a lower level than loving Hashem, someone might lose his fear of Hashem on reaching the level of loving Him. Hashem had indicated before that He was open to hearing Avrohom Ovinu’s opinion about His plans and was even prepared to change His plans, if need be. (Bereishis 18:23). Avrohom Ovinu might have thought it reasonable to argue with and challenge Hashem. Such closeness could lead to cheshbonos coming into his mind not to do the rotzon Hashem. Ahava mekalkeles es hashura – love sometimes causes a straight line to be crooked – one might do illogical things. After Hashem told him to do the Akeida, Avrohom Ovinu might have put forward many reasons not to sacrifice Yitschak, his only heir, but he didn’t. He simply accepted the rotzon Hashem. This is why the malach called Avrohom Ovinu one who fears Hashem, recognising that, despite the fact that you love Hashem, you haven’t lost your fear of Him.

A moshol to illustrate this balanced relationship: a loyal servant feared the king and did everything the king asked without delay. He rose through the ranks until he became the king’s trusted private assistant. The king even invited him for working lunches and encouraged the servant to comment on his plans. One day the king told the servant that a neighbouring country was threatening to attack, with thousands of troops ready to invade. He told the servant to take one hundred of his own soldiers and confront the enemy. Despite the suicidal nature of the plan, the servant immediately stood up, asking when he should begin. As he reached the door the king called him back. “Well done! I was only testing you. Despite our closeness, you still fear me and are ready to follow my commands without question.”

This may be the meaning of our request in Ahava rabboh every morning, “l’ahava uleyira es shemecho” – to love and fear Your Name. Even if we have reached the level of loving You, we should still fear You.

Those who challenged Moshe and Aharon – the nesi’im, Korach and his cohorts were great people who had reached a high level of ahavas Hashem. Unfortunately they no longer had the same fear of Hashem that they used to have. Precisely because of their love and the closeness to Hashem which accompanied it, they made cheshbonos – perhaps Hashem would be pleased to hear their opinion, even if they argued with Him. “Love can make a straight line crooked.” This was their undoing.

Rochov only feared Hashem. She and all the other Canaanites had heard how Hashem had taken the Jews out of Mitzrayim and split the Yam Suf with amazing miracles. They trembled. As Rochov said, “We are broken in spirit before you.” With Rochov there was no love for Hashem, no cheshbonos, no possibility of arguing, just total submission.

Reishis chochma yiras Hashem. (Tehilim 111:10) Fear of Hashem is the foundation of a Jew. There are higher madreigos such of awe of Hashem and love of Hashem but fear of Hashem must always remain. This was Avrohom Ovinu’s achievement and this is what we ask for in Ahava rabba, ‘ to love and (still) fear Your Name.’

Perhaps this is why Chukas follows Shelach and Korach. After the nesi’im and Korach sinned, despite their high madreigos, the Torah is telling us to get back to basics: “Zos chukas Hatorah” as Rashi says. “This is a gezeira from Me and you have no permission to question it!”

Continuing the Momentum

A week is a long time in politics, as Theresa May will agree, downsizing from her dream of a super-majority to hoping that the Irish Unionists will keep her afloat. However, whether it will be a soft or hard Brexit, Mrs  May or someone else in No 10, the pound is up or down, there is one constant. And this is the subject of this article.

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:1) says, “Think of three things and you will not come to sin: where we came from – a  putrid drop, where we are going to – a place of worms, and in front of Whom we will have to give judgment – before the King of Kings.” All the mefarshim explain that the author of the Mishna, Akavya ben Mehalalel is advising that we need to heavy dose of humility to avoid sin. An arrogant person is very likely to sin because, in his eyes, he is far more important than anyone else, even Hashem. Merely thinking of our humble origins, our inauspicious subterranean future and what might be a very difficult encounter with our Maker is just the right medicine to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Interestingly, Rebbe Akiva, a few mishnas later (3:18) seems to have a different opinion. He encourages us to consider our very privileged situation, created in the image of Hashem, being called Hashem’s children and being the recipients of a very cherished utensil – the heilige Torah. Rather than making us more humble, it is likely to have the opposite effect – boosting our feeling of self-importance. Did Rebbe Akiva not agree with Reb Akavya’s prescription for spiritual health – humility? Did he also not accept Rebbe Levitas’s advice to be “very, very humble.” (Ibid 4:4)? Indeed the Abarbanel sees these different mishnas as offering different avenues to spiritual health. Of course Rebbe Akiva knew of the importance of humility. “Hashem said that He and an arrogant man cannot live in the same world,” (Sotah 5a). But often, reminding a person of his great importance that he is created in the image of Hashem and that he is one of Hashem’s children will have more effect in raising his spiritual behavior than reminding him of his humble origins. It is simply unthinkable for people of our pedigree to sin. As Yirmiyahu (2:1) reminded the people before rebuking them, “I remember your great kindness and love when you followed Me into the barren wilderness.” For people of our yichus, sin should be unthinkable – es passt nisht.

The story is told of a talmid of one of the biggest yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel who was feeling low. He couldn’t find a chavrusa and didn’t even have a fixed place to learn. One morning he sat down, opened his Gemoro and, with little enthusiasm, began studying. Soon someone came up to him and said that he was sitting in his seat and he should move. This was too much for the talmid who decided there and then to leave the yeshiva and join the army. He quickly put on his jacket and left the Beis Hamedrash, ready to jettison the religious life he had lived up until then. On the way out he was spotted by a son of Reb Mechel Yehuda Lefkovitz, who noticed that the talmid’s jacket wasn’t straight. He went up to him, oblivious of the spiritual volcano which had just erupted in the talmid’s mind and pointed out the bent collar. As he gently straightened out the collar, he said to the young man, “Es passt nisht for a talmid chochom like you to walk around with an untidy jacket.” The talmid who at that point was almost outside the Yeshiva stopped in his tracks. “A talmid chochom?  No-one has ever called me that before.” He felt very encouraged by this passing comment and decided that his decision to leave the Yeshiva had been rather hasty. With new determination he returned to the Beis Hamedrash and to his Jewish future.

We brought last week the view of the Abarbanel that whereas Akavya ben Mehalalel’s prescription to avoid sin was to remind us of our humble physical origins, Rebbe Akiva’s method was to remind us of our noble spiritual origins, that we are created in the image of Hashem and called Hashem’s children. By this method we feel that it is beneath us to sin.

It is, however, possible to say that there is no argument between the Tana’aim.  Akavya ben Mehalalel is addressing an arrogant person, who needs a lesson in humility to avoid sin. We say to the baal ga’ava. “Who do you think you are? You came from a putrid drop. Your future neighbours will be worms and maggots. And, unless you improve you’re going to have to endure a very difficult judgement with the King of Kings.” Rebbe Akiva, on the other hand, is talking to someone who is despondent, with little self-confidence. He sees himself as a failure. He needs a boost. “Remember that Hashem created you in His image. You are one of His children. And Hashem Himself gave us His heilige Torah to learn.” Perhaps this will inject into him some kosher pride which will help him succeed in the future. Or, as my son-law Itzik Fekete suggested, we all need both lessons, using the educational tool of smol doche, yemin mekarev. (the left hand pushes aside, the right hand draws near). We all need to be reminded of our lowly origins to gain the vital tool of humility in our avodas Hashem. But we also need to feel our special connection with Hashem to encourage us to steig, to live in an uplifted way, appropriate for a member of the spiritual aristocracy.

Or perhaps we could suggest yet another approach, different from the classic commentaries. It could be that Akavya ben Mehalalel, rather than promoting humility by reminding a person down of his lowly origins, is in fact doing exactly the opposite, building us up as Rebbe Akiva does. But he uses a slightly different method.

The Chovos Halevovos in Sha’ar Cheshbon Hanefesh teaches the concept of spiritual self-examination. He mentions thirty-two different areas which we have to consider constantly if we are to serve Hashem correctly. The first is whether we are sufficiently thankful to Hashem that He created us from nothing. This was a pure kindness of Hashem in order to provide us with happiness in this world and the next. Secondly we have to thank Hashem constantly for giving us a healthy body to house our neshomo. Thirdly we have to thank Hashem for giving us a brain with a high level of intelligence so that we can do what we need to do. Fourthly we have to thank Hashem that He gave us the heilige Torah which is the key to our success both in this world and the next. Fifthly we have to consider whether we are doing our utmost to learn the Torah etc.

Now, let’s return to Akavya ben Mehalalel. He says that if we want to avoid sin we must follow the advice of the Chovos Halevovos. We have to be supremely happy and grateful that Hashem has seen fit to transform us from a putrid drop to a living person. He has given us a physical body of amazing complexity to house our neshomo and He has endowed us further with a healthy mind without which we could not function at all. And He gave us the holy Torah to help us live in the correct way in this world to gain access to the World to Come. Consideration of Hashem’s great kindness will encourage us to do whatever we can to thank Him and to use what He has given us only for Avodas Hashem. For example, how could we use the amazing blessing of a healthy tongue to speak loshon hora?

At some point our physical ‘clothing’ will be discarded into the ground, a place of worms and maggots, but our neshomo will move on to a great new world, more beautiful than we can imagine. The pleasure of one hour in the World to Come is greater than all the pleasures of this world (Pirkei Ovos 4:22). The more we have achieved in this world, the greater our pleasure will be in the next world. We will be judged. Wonderful! This shows that we have a job to do and assuming we succeed, a beautiful future awaits us.  Animal and birds do not have to face judgement because they have no responsibilities and no future beyond their physical death. We, however, have an important task to do and a purpose to our existence. The fact that we will be judged testifies to our eternal destiny — this should be a source of great happiness. Consideration of these three things, says Akivya ben Mehalalel, will surely inspire us to strive to the highest madreigos. He and Rebbe Akiva are giving us the same message in different ways. We must know how special we are. We have been created as Jews which is the key to us earning all the rewards and pleasures of this world and the next. Shevuos may be over but consideration of our amazing destiny will surely enable us to continue our spiritual momentum into Tammuz and beyond.

The Summer: Make Hay While the Sun Shines

The question is sometimes asked why we say vehu rachum straight after neila at the end of Yom Kippur? One answer is that we might have said Boruch Hashem it’s all over. Our first mistake after Shevuos could also be to say “it’s all over.”  Not just Shevuos but the whole serious of Festivals, starting from Purim. In fact all these Festivals have been extremely useful in building up our thanks to Hashem for all the miracles both then and now bringing us last week to a sincere Kabolas Hatorah The question is what now? What are we supposed to be focusing on after Shevuos?

In the Parsha of Behaaloscho we read the two pesukim beginning ‘vayehi binsoa ho’oron… They are surrounded by inverted nuns. Why? The Gemoro Shabbos 116a explains that they are to separate one punishable offence from another. The sin immediately following these two pesukim is self understood. The People were complaining against Hashem. What was the sin mentioned just prior to this section? The People journeyed from the mountain of Hashem. Tosfos explains that they left too quickly. “Like a child runs away from school.” But we could still ask what they did wrong. Surely they were not rushing away from Har Sinai. They were rushing to do the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel. The answer is that nevertheless they should not have been rushing away. There was so much to think about, having just received the Torah. Don’t rush away, even to do another Mitzva. Why are there no Festivals in the month of Cheshvan? The answer could be the same. The previous month of Tishrei was full of Festivals each with its important lessons. There is so much to think about. Let’s have some time before we move on to the next thing.

So we have just got the Torah – let’s think about it.   Toras Hashem temima meshivas nefesh…. The Torah is perfect..it makes the fool wise….the Mitzvos of the Torah give so much Simcha… they give light to our eyes…they are more precious than gold…sweeter than honey. The Chofetz Chaim that explained the Torah is better than gold and silver because as it is says in Mishlei “one who loves money is never satisfied with his money” and we can’t always get more, sometimes we even lose what we have. It is better than honey because although honey is sweet, how much can you eat? After a certain amount of honey we feel sick. But Torah we love, we want more and we can obtain it. It is up to us, there is no shortage, there is enough to go round. And the more we have, the better we feel, the more spiritually enriched we become. So this is what we should be thinking of now – the wonderful Torah which we have received just now from Hashem.

Now I would like to look ahead somewhat – the rest of the Summer. What should we be trying to gain from Summer and how can we best utilize the time before the Yomim Noraim and Succos season is upon us.

When Summer is mentioned what do we think of? Long lazy days? Summer holidays? Sunshine? It usually has a positive connotation. English people particularly look forward to sunshine. We’ve all heard the phrase. “ Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” However in Tenach, Summer has a negative connotation. It is associated with intense heat, thirst. “ The sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night” In the Chumash, Hashem promised Noach after the flood that thereafter the seasons will never cease, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Obviously every season is necessary. So what is the particular purpose of Summer? Maybe Shlomo Hamelech has an idea. Mishlei (6/6-9) says “ Go to the ant, you lazy one. See her ways and become wise…. She prepares her food in the Summer and stores up her food in the harvest time. So…surprise, surprise. Hashem did not create Summers to be lazed away! It’s a time to be used well, to prepare for the future. Let’s hear the words of Reb Shimson Refoel Hirsh zts”l in Judaism Eternal as translated by the late Dayan Dr I. Grunfeld zts”l in his chapter on Ellul.

The Summer is drawing to a close. The earth receives the final glow of the sun and its fruits approach their full maturity. Everything that grows and lives seeks to extract the maximum of ripeness from the last rays of the year. The apple paints itself with its final shade of red, the wine receives its richest sparkle. The ground gives its last sap, the corn-stalks grow to their limit. The bee seeks its last drop of honey in the flower cup before it vanishes. The squirrel drags its last grain of corn to its winter store. The returning swallow carries the last straw to the nest. There is no time to be lost; the end is in sight. The Master will soon call. Everything seeks while there is still time to attain and to achieve the best that is in it. It does not wish to appear before its Master with fragmentary and half finished work, with its year’s performance still defective. The worm the grasshopper, the beast, the bird, the stalk, the herb, the seed, the fruit, everything seeks to fulfil the will of the Master, to perform the task he has laid upon it. Shall then negligence, remissness and perversity dwell in the haunts of man? Shall he harbour in his heart the spirit of thoughtlessness which lives in a dream world for the day only, without ever thinking that the end is close and that the Master is calling, without looking into and round himself, without looking before and after so as to sieze the speeding hour by its pinions and using the vanishing moment to prepare himself for eternity?

So how can we best use our Summer? We already spoke about maintaining the level we have reached after Purim, Pesach and Shevuos. Appreciating the Torah which we have been given. But what else? There’s so much we can appreciate in the Summer. Messeches Baiya (5b) brings a halocho that no one was allowed to redeem their maaser sheini fruit within a certain distance of Yerusholayim.The Gemoro explains that this was “ to adorn the streets of Yerushalayim with fruit”.

In the Summer our shops are adorned with beautiful fruit. Peaches, plums, avocados and grapes. Nectarines, pomegranates and dates. Apples- Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths and Mackintoshes. Why are there so many varieties with such delicious tastes? The answer is written in the Brocho we say in Nissan when we see the blossom on fruit trees “ Boruch…. Lehanos bohem bnei odom…. to give us pleasure.

Talking of peaches, perhaps I can share with you some of the amazing chochmo which is evident from the peach as is written in Rabbi Avrohom Katz’s book, Designer World. The first chapter is about peaches.

The annual conference of peach trees had one made item on the agenda – how to preserve the species. If their seeds would fall near the tree they wouldn’t survive because of the great competition for water. One highly respected old peach tree proposed a daring plan. They would utilise the human species. They would first protect their beloved offspring by placing them in an impenetrable casing. They would then tempt these unsuspecting humans by surrounding this casing with a delicious, soft and aromatic fruit.The humans would walk away with the fruit, enjoy it and eventually throw the casing with its invaluable merchandise on to the ground. Some of the younger peach trees laughed. “What does it help? Our fragile little seeds will be stuck inside the casing like in a prison until they die!” “Not to worry,” said the older peach tree. “True the protective casing will be designed with a seam running along its length which will be bounded with a powerful adhesive. Not even a metal hammer will be able to crack it. However when the case falls into soil special enzymes will amazingly emerge which will dissolve the glue and allow our beloved seed to escape to freedom and life.” The truth is, of course, that no wise old peach tree could have arranged all this. Not in a day, a year, a million years. Only the Designer in Chief has arranged it all for our pleasure as He has arranged everything else. In the Summer we should think more deeply about the words of the brocho, Boruch..borei peri ho’eitz. Let’s not miss the opportunity.

We mentioned the sun. It may be ninety three million miles away and it gives us life but we need Hashem to protect us from its rays. Hashem does this with the very handy ozone layer. So we get the benefit without paying the cost.

During the summer particularly when we go out in the sunshine, even if it’s not at noon, it might be hot but we survive Boruch Hashem. We should say the words of Tehilim 121, at least in our minds “Hashem protects you… the sun will not strike you by day, nor the moon by night”

If we could now take a step further and use the Summer season to help us think about the seasons of our lives. The period of our lives when we can achieve the most is often called our personal Summer season.Our Spring season is when we’re young, growing up, still immature. Autumn is when we’re declining. Winter is after 120 years. Our Summer is when we have grown up, we have the abilities to achieve. If we think back to the words of Mishlei – the ant uses Summer to prepare for Winter and Shlomo Hamelech said we have to learn from the ant.

If we don’t prepare our Neshomos in our Summer, what will we have in the Winter? As per the famous proverb – We have to make hay while the sun shines. Making hay might include learning Torah or helping others learn.

Careful observance of Mitzvos. Bain Odom LeMokom, Bain Odom Lechaveiro, Midos Tovos. It includes successfully facing the particular challenges which Hashem sends our way, financial, family, health issues.

Keeping our emuna in all circumstances, getting the halochos of Brochos clear and saying our Brochos with kavono. Using any special talents with which we have been blessed.

Sometimes being industrious in the Summer is hard work. It involves particular challenges, even an odd tear. As we say in Shir Hamaalos “ hazorim bedima, berina yiktzoru –they sow with tears, they reap in joy. To sow seeds is sometimes difficult. But those who sow with tears will reap in joy – those who don’t sow will have nothing to reap. Those who work hard on Erev Shabbos will enjoy a wonderful Shabbos. Those who don’t prepare on Erev Shabbos will have nothing to eat on Shabbos. This is the summer. Whilst others spend the time in spiritual hibernation, we can achieve, we can grow, we can invest in our neshomos.

Hashem promised Noach that there will always be summers because we need them. Not for sleeping through but to be used. To appreciate Hashem’s gifts, to be grateful for His protection, to value his Torah and to be better prepared for the next season – Rosh Hashono, Yom Kippur and Succos, Zman Simchosainu…haboim olainu letova, omain.

אנכי ה’ אלוקיך

After seven weeks of intense preparation, Bnei Yisroel were zoche to be given the Torah on Har Sinai. On the sixth of Sivan, (some say the seventh), amidst thunder and lightning, the people heard the voice of Hashem as He began the Aseres Hadibros. The very first words, as we know, were אנכי ה’ אלוקיך. “I am the L-rd, your G-d.” Many mefarshim note the use of the singular “אלוקיך” rather than the plural אלוקיכם”” even though Hashem was talking to the whole people. Why was the singular form used? If we can answer this question, perhaps we will have a new dimension of kabolas hatorah which will invigorate our celebration of Shevuos next week.

During these weeks of preparation we have been counting the Omer. From the sixteenth of Nissan when the korban omer was brought until erev Shevuos which is day forty- nine, we have had this mitzvah of counting every day. According to the Sefer Hachinuch the purpose of counting the Omer is to demonstrate our excitement and our anticipation of the great unique event – the Giving of the Torah by Hashem to the Jewish People. The question which is raised is what is the connection with the korban omer that we call the counting, sefiras ho’omer? The count could have been called Sefiras Hatorah. Why Sefiras Ho’Omer? We may also ask why does everyone have to count the Omer individually. Why is it not good enough for the Beis Din to count on everybody’s behalf, just like the years of the Yovel cycle? And we are not even allowed to listen to our friend counting and fulfil the mitzvah on the basis of shomea k’oneh (listening is like saying) which we may do in connection with certain other mitzvos.. Why this emphasis on each person counting for himself? Other questions we must answer are what lessons do we learn from the parshios of Behar, Bechukosai and Bamidbar which are always read before Shevuos and how do they prepare us to accept the Torah?

The central mitzvah of Parshas Behar is Shemitta which prohibits working the land of Eretz Yisroel every seventh year. This mitzvah was and is very difficult to fulfil. Shabbos, one day a week, is one thing but not to work for a whole year is almost economic suicide. If the Jews took turns, and everybody had a different “shmittah year,” we could help each other to cope, but if no-one can work the whole year, how can we possible survive? It is worth mentioning that when Stalin insisted, when he was in charge of the Soviet Union, that all the food grown in Ukraine should be given to the government in Moscow, millions of people died of starvation. Without food, people cannot live. Moshe Rabbeinu promised that Hashem would miraculously produce enough food in the sixth year for three years – this was their only hope. Put simply, everyone had to rely on Hashem. And Hashem promised to perform that miracle so that the people could live. This resulted in a strengthening of their emuna. Even if they hadn’t realised it before, bnei Yisroel all realised now that they are totally dependent on Hashem. Their ploughing, sowing, reaping etc was just the hishtadlus they had to do but they survived only through the kindness of Hashem. This is an important realization which we need to absorb before Hashem asks us if we will accept His commandments.

Parshas Bechukosai gives us further incentive to accept the Torah. Hashem promises us that if we learn His Torah and keep His commandments, we will benefit greatly – abundant crops, victory over our enemies and peace in the land etc. Even so, just in case our yetzer horah tries to lead us astray, the Torah warns us, “If we reject His Torah…..the consequences will be very bitter.”

Parshas Bamidbar which relates how the Bnei Yisroel entered a barren wilderness with no natural way to survive, only through Hashem, again reminds us that we are dependent on Hashem even if we live in urban centres. We may think we have ample funds in our bank account – suddenly the pound goes down, inflation grows, interest rates increase etc. We assume the police will ensure “law and order” until somebody enters a Jewish shop brandishing a knife in London or a suicide bomber kills himself and others in the middle of a concert in Manchester. We feel as healthy as can be until a neighbor who also thought that he was healthy suffers a sudden heart attack. We are forced to remember that we survive only because Hashem deems our lives worth sustaining. And for this we need merits. It’s obviously imperative for us accept the Torah wholeheartedly whenever we have the opportunity. .

The Be’er Yosef (Rav Yosef Salant) points out that while we are counting for seven weeks, we remember the korban omer and by association the mon which we received an omer measure of (Shemos 16:16) and which stopped falling on the sixteenth of Nissan, the day the korban omer was brought. (Yehoshua 5:12). Yuma (76a) says the purpose of the mon was to make us realise our total dependence on Hashem. That’s why the exact amount fell every day and why none could be stored. Every night when we retired, we had nothing for the next day. The more we ponder the miracle of the mon and our dependence on Hashem, the more we will be determined to be worthy of the Torah and to accept it. These seven weeks are called Sefiras Ho’omer because the lesson of the omer is the starting point.

Our relationship to Hashem, at this point, is based on realising that we can’t manage without Him and fear of what would happen if we did not accept the Torah. But there is no closeness between us and Hashem in such a relationship. And that is not a good enough basis for our forthcoming “marriage”, as Matan Torah is described in Ta’anis (26b). We have to develop a personal connection with Hashem. The Chovos Halevovos tells us that if we think of the many chassodim which Hashem has done for us personally we will develop a closer relationship. He constantly gives to every human being. He gives even more to the Jewish People. He performs certain personal miracles for some people whilst doing other miracles for other people. And some miracles He has done just for us. We should all think at this point about all these miracles – from the general to the unique – and build a personal connection to Hashem. In the weeks and days before Matan Torah we should be thinking more and more about our unique closeness to Hashem – during Shemoneh Esre, when we count the Omer and at every opportunity. No-one else can count for us because his or her connection to Hashem is not the same as ours. Although we are told to feel part of our community and our people, to daven for others, to help others etc, Chazal have also told us, in a certain context, to put others to the back of our minds. We must think, “The world was created for me.” (Sanhedrin 37a). There is only Hashem and me in a private loving relationship. “He invites me into His private chambers.” (Shir Hashirim 1:3) “His left hand is under my head, He hugs me with His right hand.” (ibid 2:6). As we approach Shevuos, our devotion to Hashem, our special connection to Him should be becoming more and more real. He loves me and I love Him. During the sheloshes yemei habolo this feeling should continue to intensify until the time of Matan Torah arrives and we can experience the exhilaration of Hashem speaking to us personally, “Onochi Hashem Elokecho” – in the singular because although He is addressing all of us, He is speaking to each one of us privately, seeking a loving relationship with each one of His precious children.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? Do You Know Hilchos Brachos, From Strength to Strength, Dancing in our Hearts and the soon to be published The Hidden Light in the Holocaust and in our Daily Lives.

The Chocolate Bar Question

  1. There seems to be a question about unwrapping certain bars of chocolate on Shabbos. Can you explain?
  2. All the Poskim say that we should open packets, cans, bottles etc before Shabbos to avoid numerous questions concerning the prohibition of tearing, building, erasing etc on Shabbos. Because of a little-known halocho in hilchos mochek people can unwittingly transgress a Torah prohibition of mochek (erasing) if we open certain types of chocolate bars on Shabbos. This article will explain the issue from the sources.

Gemoro Shabbos (75b) says: If a person wrote a letter on Shabbos so big that in the same space two letters could have been written, he is potur — he is not required to bring a sin offering. (One has to write a minimum of two letters to be obliged to bring a sin offering even though writing one letter is forbidden by the Torah.) If someone erased one large letter, leaving a space big enough to write two letters, he is chayav (he is obliged to bring a sin offering.) Rebbe Menachem b’Reb Yossi said, “This is an example of erasing (on Shabbos) being more serious than writing.” Rashi explains that the whole essence of the melacha of mochek (erasing) is the creating the possibility of writing. Since here as a result of the erasing one can write two letters in this space, one will be chayav.

The Rosh says that one does not have to erase letters to be chayav. Even if one erases a smudge, creating enough space to write two letters where the smudge was, one is also chayav. This is brought in the Tur (340). As a consequence of this halocho, the Chayei Odom (Siman 40:8) says that we have to be careful not to erase any discolourations from our hands, which are potential writing surfaces, when we dry our hands after netilas yodayim on Shabbos because of mochek. Although others say that the prohibition only applies on a surface which is normally used for writing, we should certainly make sure lechatchila that there are no stains on our hands or the hands of our children before Shabbos comes in, to avoid any question of mochek, besides the mitzvah of washing ourselves to be clean in honor of Shabbos. If childrens’ hands become dirty during Shabbos one may wash them, relying on the more lenient opinion.

The Shulchan Aruch follows on from the Tur (ibid) and says that if someone erases ink from parchment or wax from a writing surface on Shabbos, he is chayav, if there is now enough room to write two letters. Mishna Berura (10) brings from the Bach who bases himself on a Tosefta that he will also be chayav if the wax is currently on top of two letters and someone removes the wax, revealing the letters. And if the wax was over one letter it is forbidden rabbinically. As Rashi wrote earlier, the essence of the melacha of mochek is enabling the creation of letters. Since this act in effect produces two letters one has transgressed mochek. It cannot be the melacha of kosev (writing) since one didn’t write the letters but the re-instatement of the letters as a result of “erasing” the smudge is mochek.

The Be’er Hetev brings the Shevus Yaakov who disagrees sharply with the Bach. “If a person removes wax from two letters which can now be read, he cannot be chayav for mochek or anything else. He has merely revealed two letters which were there all the time. And the Shevus Yaakov gives a totally different explanation of the Tosefta which was the source of the Bach.

This argument between the Bach and the Shevus Yaakov can be very relevant when we have a book or a bencher which have two pages stuck together and we want to turn over the top page revealing the writing underneath. We therefore need to see what other acharonim hold to see what the accepted halocho is. We might find some guidance if we turn to a discussion in Hilchos Tefilin (Shulchan Aruch (32:17). “If a drop of ink falls on to a letter and now the letter is unrecognizable, one may not remove the ink so that the letter is again in its correct form, because it would chok tochos (the creation of a letter by the removal of other ink, rather than writing the letter itself) and not kosher. The Magen Avrohom (23) says that if some ink fell into a letter beis making it look like a peh one may not remove this ink to recreate a beis, but if wax fell on to the letter in a similar way, one may remove it.” Why is this not chok tochos? The explanation must be that the wax, although it made the letters underneath illegible, has not removed the letters. They are still there. Therefore the removal of the wax has not “created” new letters and it is not chok tochos. This seems to indicate that the Magen Avrohom holds like the Shevus Yaakov. Indeed the Machatzis Hashekel says that this Magen Avrohom is against the opinion of the Bach in siman 343. He also brings that the Me’il Tzedoko argues with the Bach. Rebbe Akiva Eiger also seems to agree with this Magen Avrohom. Does this indicate that most poskim would be lenient and not agree with the Bach’s chumra?

The Biur Halacho in siman 343 is unimpressed by this proof from Hilchos Tefilin. He says, “Even though in Hilchos Tefilin, wax stuck over letters has not destroyed the letters and the removal of the wax has not created new letters (which would be not kosher in Hilchos Tefilin,) in Hilchos Shabbos, since at first one could not read the letters and now one can, this repairing process which enables the letters to be read is included in the prohibition of erasing in order to write.” In fact one has to make a distinction between the case of Tefilin and the case of Shabbos because the Magen Avrohom himself (according to some texts) agrees with the Bach as pointed out by the Machatzis Hashekel. Further, the Biur Halocho brings from Rebbe Akiva Eiger that the argument is only about wax. If glue is stuck to the lower surface making the letters illegible, this is comparable to ink falling on the letters which “destroys” the letters and everyone, including the Shevus Yaakov, would agree that it is forbidden to remove that glue if it would reveal letters underneath. Often pages of benchers are just stuck lightly with by some food and this isn’t a problem. But if they are properly stuck together, indeed they should not be separated.

Now let’s return to our chocolate bar. With the bigger bars one can often open the packet without tearing or destroying the outer cardboard. The inside silver paper may be torn indiscriminately in order to reach the chocolate. But with the very small bars, one can only open them by pulling at the top level of paper which is stuck with glue to the bottom level of the paper. Sometimes this tears the bottom paper including some writing, which is not allowed. But even if one does it carefully, and the bottom piece of paper does not tear, the writing on the bottom piece can be read, possibly transgressing mochek min hatorah according to the Bach. And since it is stuck with glue and not just wax, even the Shevus Yaakov would forbid it according to the Biur Halacha we brought above. It might be more lenient if we have no interest in reading any text but that is another discussion. In view of all this, we do need to open these little bars before Shabbos. If we remember, we will be able to enjoy both Shemiras Shabbos and Oneg Shabbos. Enjoy!

Look out for Rabbi Fletcher’s new sefer, The Hidden Light, coming out soon.

Travelling from Israel on the Eighth day of Pesach

Q. Yaakov, an Israeli businessman has already booked to fly to an important business meeting in England on the day which for him is the day after Pesach but is the last day of Pesach in England. He is flying to Luton airport and from there by car to the meeting in Devon. He was told that it is a serious shaaleh. Is there any leniency?

A. I understand that it might be very costly for you to cancel this meeting so let us look into it from the sources.

The first source is Beitza 4b. “Now that we know when the month begins why do we keep two days Yom Tov? Because they sent from there, “Maintain the tradition of your fathers because there is a possibility that the government might decree a law and mistakes would be made,” Rashi explains that the government might forbid the study of the Torah and the knowledge of how the months are fixed would be forgotten and we would eat chametz on Pesach.” This is the main source that in Jewish communities outside Eretz Yisroel we have to keep two days’ Yom Tov at the beginning and end of Pesach and Succos and on Shevuos. Even in Eretz Yisroel two days of Rosh Hashono are kept, so obviously chutz lo’oretz does also. The Rishonim discuss why in chutz lo’oretz only one day of Yom Kippur is kept. This is the halachic source for keeping two days Yom Tov. Some suggest al pi drush that in chutz lo’oretz where Jews are surrounded by non-Jews and often have to work even on Erev Yom Tov, it takes two days to absorb the sanctity of the Yom Tov. In Eretz Yisroel where everybody is preparing for Yom Tov days and weeks before, one can absorb the sanctity in one day.

The second source is in Meseches Pesachim. The Mishna (50a) says, “Where the custom is to work on Erev Pesach before noon, one may work. Where the custom is not to work, one may not work. If one goes from a place where they work to a place that they don’t work or vice versa one has to keep the stricter law whether of the place one has gone to or the place one has come from and one shouldn’t do differently because this might cause an argument.” The Gemara explains that this last phrase is relevant only when going from a place which works to a place which doesn’t work. When one goes from a place where they don’t work to a place that they do, one still shouldn’t work as per the statement earlier that one has to keep the stricter law of one’s original place. This should not cause an argument because people will just think that he has no work. On 52b the Gemara brings that Rav Safra said to Rebbe Abba, “We keep one day Yom Tov (Tosfos explains that they lived in chutz lo’oretz but near enough for messengers to tell them when Yom Tov was observed in Eretz Yisroel) but when we travel further into chutz lo’oretz, when we are in the midbar (outside a Jewish town) we may work on the second day Yom Tov. If we are in the town, we should not work to avoid arguments. Rashi says that this only applies in public but in private there will be not be arguments and it is permitted. Tosfos says that it is forbidden even in private, because the fact that we are doing melachos will inevitably become known. This whole discussion is talking about somebody who intends to return home after Yom Tov. Somebody who is moving to live in chutz lo’oretz will definitely have to be strict even in private according to all opinions.

The third source is Chullin 110a. Rami Bar Dikuli was accused of eating the kechal (udder) in a place where the custom was not to eat it in case some milk might have remained, causing one to transgress the prohibitions of cooking and eating milk and meat together. He answered that he was outside the techum (the two thousand amos around a town where it is allowed to walk on Shabbos.) This clearly implies that it would have been forbidden inside the techum, even if in Rami bar Dikuli’s own town the custom was to eat the kechal. As the Gemoro explains, this is because of the halacha brought in Pesachim that even a visitor has to keep the stricter custom of the town he is in.

These sources lead to a paragraph in the Shulchan Aruch (496:3): “Those who live in Eretz Yisroel who have come to Chutz Lo’oretz are not allowed to do work in a Jewish town on the second day of Yom Tov, even if they intend to return to Eretz Yisroel. If they haven’t yet arrived in the town, they may work because they have not yet become like the local townspeople even if they intend to stay in Chutz Lo’oretz. If they have arrived in the town and they do not intend to return to Eretz Yisroel, they are now forbidden even if they go out of the town. (This implies that someone who does intend to return, even if he has been in the Jewish town, may do work as soon as he has left the town.) Outside the techum we do not apply the rule that one has to keep the strict custom of the local place, implying that within the techum one does have to be strict.

There is a huge amount of rabbinic discussion concerning people whose status is unclear. For instance an Israeli who has come for two or three years but intends to return or someone learning in a Yeshiva who wants to stay in chutz lo’oretz but who is financially dependent on his parents in Eretz Yisroel and many other cases. All these questions apply to someone from chutz lo’oretz who is temporarily in Eretz Yisroel. But our case is about an Israeli who is definitely coming to England only for a few days. Based on the information already given, I invite the reader to ‘pasken’ the shaaleh before we go on. Must Yaakov cancel his trip, no matter what the cost?

Two questions have to be considered. Is Luton considered a Jewish town? If so, is the airport within its techum? I am told that there are Jews living in Luton and there is a minyan on Shabbos morning (Thank you, the Chabad sheliach!). However, according to the map, it seems that the airport is well outside the techum.(The halachos of techumim are complicated – in order to be sure, expert study is needed.) Therefore it would appear that Yaakov can relax.

Two questions remain. Luton Airport is a busy airport near to where many thousands of Jews live. We must assume that there will always be quite a number of Jews at the airport, unfortunately even on Yom Tov. Does this change the situation? True, according to the Shulchan Aruch, a ben Eretz Yisroel does not have to avoid doing melachos outside the Jewish town. But what if he actually meets Jews there, even they shouldn’t be there? Even if technically Chazal made no decree there, it creates a great zilzul of Yom Tov Sheini if Jews see a religious Jew doing melachos. They may become baalei teshuva and be convinced that the second day Yom Tov is just a chumra – something which is not obligatory. Even if they don’t become baalei teshuva, they might normally keep the second day in some way – but no longer. A second question is that the route from Luton Airport to Devon will be by way of the M25. Although this needs a proper study, as mentioned above, it seems likely that this passes through areas which are within the techum of London.

Space does not allow a full study of these two questions. However the SeferYom Tov Sheini Kehilchoso (p.136) brings an opinion of Rav S.Z. Auerbach that in an airport everyone knows that there are travelers from all places. Even if there are Jews there, they will assume that those religious travelers have come from Eretz Yisroel, where they know that only one day Yom Tov is observed. Although others disagree, it is at least one opinion. Concerning the question about travelling within the techum of London, by that stage it is probably considered ‘in private’ which Rashi and later the Taz allowed. True, the Magen Avraham and Mishna Berura are strict but maybe in an emergency one may be lenient. There were also other details which give grounds to be lenient but space does not allow.

Therefore, I told Yaakov that he does not have to cancel his trip which might cause a significant loss, but he shouldn’t arrange such a trip in the future. Next year, after Pesach finishes in Eretz Yisroel, he should help his wife put away the Pesachdike dishes!

Tears of Joy

We’ve all spent the last month discussing the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim with our families. Until the early hours of the morning, Jewish homes all over the world were sitting round a table on two successive nights recalling the events of three thousand years ago. As instructed by the Hagada, we even imagined that we ourselves were participants in the wondrous events of that time. Recalling Hashem’s supernatural power always strengthens our emuna, that He is truly the Kol Yochol, the One who can do anything He wants.

There is less emphasis, possibly, on something else we are supposed to acquire by recalling yetzias Mitzrayim and that is yiras shomayim – fear of Heaven. The Mitzri’im, from Paro to his servants, to the ordinary Mitzri, to the captives in prison cells all sinned to various degrees and they were all punished. Basic yiras shomayim requires us to be afraid of being punished by Hashem if we sin. We must never think that other people’s misfortunes are a consequence and a punishment for their sins ( “ein matzdikim es hadin”) but when we suffer a misfortune we are supposed to be mefashpesh our deeds to investigate what we may have done to deserve this punishment. Yiras shomayim should be the basic characteristic of every Jew. With it, we can acquire wisdom as the pasuk says: ‘Reishis chochma yiras Hashem.’ (Tehilim 111:10). Without it, we are compared to a tree without roots, easily blown over by spiritual gusts of wind. (Pirkei Ovos 3:22)

We go up from there to Yiras Haromemus, fear or rather awe of Hashem. He is so powerful. His wisdom is so immense, his creation of the Universe so breathtaking, that we cannot even think of sinning. The Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) brings the words of Dovid Hamelech (Tehilim 8:4) “When I see Your Heavens, the work of Your fingers…what is man that You should remember him?” We are so humbled by our relative insignificance that even the idea of transgressing His will does not enter our mind.

A well-known Jewish axiom is that if we are not improving, we are deteriorating. Staying on one level is not possible. The days of Sefira, of course, lend themselves to shteiging – to going up the ladder of self- improvement so we must work towards the next level – the lofty madreiga of ahavas Hashem – loving Hashem. Our daily krias shema tells us explicitly that we are obliged to love Hashem. And not just a little, but loving Hashem with all our heart, soul and might. As Rashi comments, “Even if we have to sacrifice our life.” In case we think that we are at that level and would be prepared to give up our life and die al Kiddush Hashem if we faced with such a test (ח”ו), the Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Ahavas Hashem) gives another interpretation of the posuk. It arguably requires an even deeper level of loving Hashem than willingness to give up one’s life if called on to do so. He says that some people might love Hashem because of the many kindnesses He does. Some might love Hashem because He is so forgiving and does not punish us as our sins really deserve. Both these reasons for loving Hashem are substandard, says the Chovos Halevovos. True love of Hashem is even if we are not receiving anything from Him besides life itself. Loving Hashem when racked by pain, without any material possessions like Iyov, is the benchmark of true love. This is love which is not dependent on receiving anything from Hashem. The Chovos Halevovos understands that this is one interpretation of “loving Hashem with all our heart, soul and might” which means that even if we have no possessions, no comfort, nothing except life itself, we will still love Hashem sincerely. I am bringing this interpretation, not because I claim to be on that level, not because we should feel guilty if we are not at that level, but just so that we should hesitate before imagining that we have reached the highest level. Anyone who does so is not only probably fooling himself but might find that Hashem will give him a chance to prove that he is really on that level; and he might regret his over-confidence! Incidentally the Chovos Halevovos brings yet another interpretation of the pasuk which is arguably less demanding than Rashi’s explanation of the willingness to give up all our possessions and even our lives al Kiddush Hashem. According to this third interpretation, we have to love Hashem so much that everything we do should be leshem shomayim. We should use everything we have, whether it be our material possessions, our intellectual abilities, our talents, every moment of the day in the service of Hashem. This is also a high level but perhaps not quite as demanding as the other interpretations.

For most of us, even acquiring the substandard level of ahavas Hashem which the Chovos Halevovos previously mentioned, loving Hashem because of His many kindnesses to us, would be quite an achievement. And this is an opportune time of the year to work on achieving this level.

Spring is a wonderful season. Chazal tell us to say the brocho on fruit trees during the month of Nissan to thank Hashem for “creating beautiful trees for our pleasure.” If we visit the local park or, for those who are gebensched to live in Ramat Beit Shemesh, if we walk down the road, we will be greeted by a dazzling array of trees and bushes in various shades of green together with flowers and blossoms in ‘glorious technicolour’ displaying Hashem’s great wisdom and kindness. Remember we said before that He only created these delights to our eyes “to give us pleasure.” This alone should inspire us to thank and love Hashem for what he has seen fit to share with us.

Many sections of our tefilos trigger a surge of gratitude to Hashem for His kindnesses to us which can lead us to develop our love for Him. The daily Birchas Hashachar when we mention many of Hashem’s blessing to us is one example, Pesukei D’Zimra especially on Shabbos when we say Hodu L’Hashem ki tov, ki l’olom chasdo is another. Modim of Shemone Esre when we thank Hashem for His daily miracles is yet another.

An often lost opportunity to develop feelings of love for Hashem, for those who include it in the Shabbos tefila, is Anim Zemiros. The wording is poetic and the meaning is not always readily understood but it could be called a miniature Shir Hashirim because of the phrases indicating our devotion to and love for Hashem. “Anim zemiros b’shirim e’erog ki eilecha nafshi sa’arog. I will compose a pleasant song, I will weave beautiful poetry because my soul pines for you. Nafshi chomdo betzeil yodecho loda’as kol roz sodecho. My soul desires to be protected by the shade of your hand, to know Your innermost secrets. Midei dabri bichvodecho homeh libi el dodecho – As I speak of your glory, my heart yearns for Your love.” etc. What a shame to rush through it as we take off our tallis.

On the theme of Anim Zemiros, I read an amazing story recently. Parents in a secular kibbutz did not want their son, Ben, to have any religious ceremony on reaching his barmitzva but wanted to mark the occasion in some way. Since Ben had a melodious voice they had the idea that it would be cute if Ben sang Anim Zemiros in front of the guests at a party on the kibbutz. Someone suggested a certain rabbi who could teach Ben to sing Anim Zemiros. The rabbi hesitated but then agreed. At their first meeting he told Ben that his job was to teach him to sing Anim Zemiros, but he would sing it more impressively if he knew the meaning of the words. Ben and his parents agreed. The rabbi started the next lesson by showing him the garden full of trees and flowers outside the window of his house. “Do you know who made such a beautiful world?” the rabbi asked, “Never thought about it,” Ben shrugged. The rabbi told him about Hashem, the Creator of the whole world. Another time they looked up together at the myriad stars in the sky. Again the rabbi asked if Ben knew who had made all these stars. “Would it be this Hashem?” Ben asked. “Exactly,” said the rabbi. They then began to learn the meaning of Anim Zemiros, line by line. Ben’s enthusiasm grew and grew; he was looking forward to his barmitzvah when he would explain to all the guests the meaning of Anim Zemiros before singing it. And he would encourage everybody to respond every second line as is the custom. To cut a long story short, the barmitzvah was a great success. The guests enthused at the most original ‘entertainment’ and Ben’s parents were full of pride. They even cried with joy in front of all the guests. And Binyamin, as he now preferred to be called, his parents and even some of the guests became baalei teshuva. All in the merit of Anim Zemiros.


Look out for my soon to be published sefer The Hidden Light which contains ‘A New Look at the Holocaust’, essays on emuna and hashgacha pratis stories about me and my family.