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.

What I Learnt From the Florist

Back in Ramat Beit Shemesh after an enjoyable Pesach in England, I went into our local florist to buy flowers l’kovod Shabbos kodesh. I asked him how Pesach was. “Baruch Hashem, he said, I’m already preparing for Shevuot.” I thanked him for his inadvertent mussar. We cannot relax. We have to begin preparing for Shevuos and kabolas HaTorah.

As we have discussed in a previous Pesach article, we must remember the day we came out of Egypt all the days of our life. We have to remember that Hashem redeemed us from bitter slavery on the condition that we accept His service. It was still a great deal because His service is a pleasant service. We gave our joyous and beautiful Shabbos as one example of the pleasant service we are now committed to.

But as the florist said, even though we have just finished Pesach, we have to start preparing for Shevuos and kabolas hatorah. What area of our service to Hashem should we be focusing on now?

Perhaps a hint can be found in the words of the Gemoro (Rosh Hashono 11a). “Someone who goes out in the month of Nissan and sees fruit trees beginning to blossom should say the following brocho. “Boruchshelo chiser me’olomo dovor…lehonos bohem bnei odom.” “Blessed……who did not leave the world lacking and created …beautiful trees to give pleasure to people.” In this brocho we emphasise Hashem’s great kindness. Why did He create peach, plum, cherry and other trees each with beautiful blossom and later with delicious fruit? Only to give us pleasure. When we think about Hashem’s kindness to us, we are inspired to follow in His ways and show kindness to others. This was Avrohom Ovinu’s leitmotif. He saw Hashem’s great kindness in the creation and followed His example by doing chessed to others.

We all know that during the days of Sefiras Ho’omer the pupils of Rebbe Akiva were punished because they did not show each other enough honour. In Chutz Lo’oretz this week the parshos of Tazria and Metzora will be read which according to Chazal illustrate the severe punishment given to those who speak loshon hora. A thought occurred to me that Tazria and Metzora and all other double parshos hint at the concept of ‘loving our neighbour” because in halocho the two parshos are supposed to ‘share’ the seven obligatory aliyos, three and a half for each parsha. On top of all this the forty-nine sefiros which some people mention immediately after they have counted sefiras ho’omer begin with chesed. The first night is chesed shebechesed. From all this it would appear that our focus in these post-Pesach days should be mitzvos bein odom l’chaveiro, showing kindness to each other, giving honour to each other, showing sensitivity to somebody else’s feelings etc.

The Mesilas Yeshorim, (Chapter 19), discussing Chassidus, explains that a vital element in chassidus is the efforts which we have to make on behalf of other people. He says “This is subdivided into three sections; physical, financial and emotional. In terms of physical help a person should try to lighten another person’s load in whatever way he can. If another person is at risk of being damaged and he can prevent that damage or remove it, he should exert himself to do so. In terms of financial help, chassidus requires one to help someone as much as he can and also he must try his best to prevent someone else from suffering financially. As it says in Pirkei Ovos, (2:12) “Let your fellow’s possessions be as dear to you as your own.” Concerning emotional help, we should do everything we can to boost our fellow man whether in terms of honour or any other matter which affects his emotional well-being. If there is anything he could do for his fellow, which would bring that person a sense of satisfaction, it is the imperative of chassidus to do so. Certainly he should not cause his fellow any form of anguish whatsoever through any possible means.”

We have opportunities to put these concepts into practice in our lives on a daily basis. Take the example of walking down the road when someone is coming the other way. I’m not talking about a main road where hundreds of people are walking in all directions. It is a side street and you are approaching this other person. A pleasant “Good Morning” or “Good Afternoon” can be a major boost to the other person’s morale and to yours as well when the other person responds, as they nearly always do. How can a Jew pass a fellow Jew in the same way he walks past a lamp-post? Greeting a non-Jew is also an easy way to promote good relations with our fellow citizens. During my recent visit to London I greeted Jews and non-Jews frequently and invariably received a pleasant response.

One morning I was walking to shul when a middle-aged non-Jewish lady came out of her gate, leading a little dog which was wearing a coat. On the coat was written “Blind.” You may have seen this lady and her dog yourself. I said “Good Morning” to her and she responded with a “Good Morning” to me. I asked if the dog is really blind. She told me that the dog is indeed blind. She explained that as the weather is getting warmer, the dog won’t be wearing the coat for much longer. Then she looked at me and said the following words. “Thank you for greeting me. No Jew has ever greeted me before.” I said that I was sorry to hear that and continued on my way to shul. Her words are still reverberating round my mind. Here is a lady who lives in the heart of a Jewish neighbourhood, in fact very near a big shul, and no-one has ever said hello to her? I understand that some men may consider it inappropriate and children should not speak to strangers but none of our ladies has ever greeted this poor woman who I surmise is a widow and all she has to do is dote on her dog? Of course everyone is very busy thinking of innumerable things they have to do but if we could make just the small effort of smiling and greeting someone else we could be giving much pleasure to others and ourselves and making a kiddush Hashem at the same time.

I once learnt something important from the late Reb Moishe Schwab zt”l. I was a bachur in Gateshead Yeshiva and after Shacharis went into the small hanhala room at the side of the Beis Hamedrash. Men of my age who learnt in Gateshead yeshiva will remember it. He was talking to a baalabos from the Gateshead kehila and when Reb Moishe zt”l saw me he said to me that he wants to introduce me to one of Gateshead’s choshuva baalabatim- Mr … I could see how this man’s face lit up at being described so generously by Reb Moishe zt”l. even in front of a young bachur like myself. I learnt from this that when we introduce two people to each other, it is a wonderful opportunity to honour them in the other’s eyes and their own. One quickly thinks of a good characteristic or achievement of the people concerned and mentions it even with a touch of exaggeration. These people may never meet again but their self-respect has shot up. They may try to play down what was said but, believe me, they enjoy the kovod they were given and live on it in the future. This is a beautiful example of the Mesilas Yeshorim’s words about giving people koras ruach — self-satisfaction and honour as a form of bein odom l’chaveiro. I have done this many times and it has always been a very effective way of giving simcha to another person.

There is an enormous amount of chessed done in our communities by men and women.

Nevertheless I wanted to share a couple of areas which we can maybe focus on during these weeks which, as I said above, have the theme of mitzvos bein odom lechaveiro. Isn’t that what the florist said — to start preparing for Shevuos? Have a healthy Summer.

Rabbi Fletcher is the mechaber of Do You Know Hilchos Brachos? Do You Know Hilchos Shabbos? From Strength to Strength and Dancing in our Hearts. His next sefer The Hidden Light will be published אי”ה in a few weeks. It contains a new essay Where was G-d in the Holocaust? and other essays and stories on the themes of emuna and hashgacha.


Yes, of course, Tatty

Seven short weeks after Yetzias Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel were standing at Har Sinai, being offered the Torah. “You saw what I did to Mitzrayim, that I carried you out on the wings of eagles and brought you to me. And now if you listen to my voice and keep my covenant, you will be a treasure to me from all the peoples, for the Earth is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” And they accepted the offer — “Everything that Hashem has said we will do.” (Shemos 19:4-8)

Bnei Yisroel’s answer is perplexing. We are known as a stiff-necked, intelligent, perceptive and inquisitive people. Why did they not say, “Wait a minute, the offer looks good but it’s vague. What is in this covenant? What does it require us to do?” Since when has a Jew signed a contract without reading the small print? And in this case, there wasn’t even any small print. They were being asked to agree to a life-long commitment to keep a covenant without any idea of what was involved. As the Tzeduki said to Rava (Shabbos 89.)”You are an impulsive people for agreeing to accept the Torah without knowing what was in it.”

In fact, the nations of the world were apparently better negotiators. When Hashem offered them the Torah, they asked what was in it. Hearing that it contained commands which they were not prepared to keep, they duly turned down the offer. But the Bnei Yisroel just accepted the deal blindly, lock, stock and barrel! Why?

In Parshas Beshalach (13:21) we read, “Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light so they could travel by day and by night.” The Shem Mishmuel asks, ‘Why did the Bnei Yisroel have to travel by night?’ Who was in charge of their travel arrangements? Hashem. Couldn’t he arrange for travelling by day and resting by night? And if you will say that that they were in a hurry and couldn’t delay, that is no answer because Hashem had already done a kefitzas haderech to bring the Bnei Yisroel from all over Mitzrayim in one night so that they should all leave together. If there was any special hurry, He could have done another kefitzas haderech and Bnei Yisroel could have arrived at any destination Hashem wanted in plenty of time without travelling by night. So why was there a need for the pillar of fire to make night travel possible?

One possible answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question is based on an important passage in Parshas Behaalosecho (Bemidbar 9:15-23). “On the day that the Mishkan was set up, the cloud covered the Mishkan and in the evening a fiery appearance would cover it…When the cloud lifts the Bnei Yisroel will journey and when the cloud stops the Bnei Yisroel will encamp. According to the word of Hashem the Bnei Yisroel will journey and according to the word of Hashem will the Bnei Yisroel encamp…If the cloud stays on the Mishkan for a long time, the Bnei Yisroel will not travel. If the cloud is only on the Mishkan for a few days, by the word of Hashem they will travel and by the word of Hashem they will travel. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for one night or a day and a night and then the cloud will move on. Sometimes the cloud will be over the Mishkan for two days or a month or a year and the Bnei Yisroel will remain encamped and when the cloud goes up they will travel. According to the word of Hashem they will be encamped, according to the word of Hashem they will travel; they will follow the instructions of Hashem according to the word of Hashem through Moshe.”

Reb Moshe Schwab zt”l once spoke about the message of the pesukim which seem to be rather wordy. He said that we can learn from here how to conduct our lives, always according to the will of Hashem. We may have made plans but if Hashem has other plans, we have to change course. Surely the Bnei Yisroel would have liked at the very least an idea of how long they would be staying in one place. They didn’t know whether it would be one day or twenty years. How can you live your life like that? But Bnei Yisroel were absorbing the message. We have to be prepared to follow Hashem’s will in any situation, whatever that entails. Following on this idea of Reb Moshe, and based on the well-known posuk Lehagid baboker chasdecho ve’emunosecho baleilos,” (Tehilim 92:3), perhaps we can answer the Shem Mishmuel’s question of why Hashem sometimes required the Bnei Yisroel to travel by night by saying that this was necessary to show that sometimes the way Hashem wants us to go is easy and pleasant, symbolised by day. And sometimes Hashem chooses a path which at least for now is not so pleasant for us. We may be tested and challenged; this is symbolized by night but we still have to maintain our emuna and bitachon, following this path with Hashem.

Another answer to the Shem Mishmuel’s question could also answer our original question about Bnei Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah without knowing what was in it. Let us picture a family scene: little Shimmy is playing with his toys when his father tells him that they need to go out. Will Shimmy ask where they need to go and why? Will he suggest that maybe it would be a better use of his time to stay at home with his toys? Of course not. He knows his father loves him, does everything for him and knows what’s best for him. If his father says they need to go, he relies totally on his father and off they go.

Hashem had shown His love for Bnei Yisroel in Mitzrayim. He had kept His promise to Avrohom Ovinu of bringing them out of exile after even less than four hundred years. They had gone out with great riches as promised. He had punished their enemies. He had protected them from all the makkos. He had enabled them to cross the Yam Suf and defeated Amolek. They received food from shomayim and water from a rock.

Of course Bnei Yisroel would be prepared to accept the Torah without investigating the contents. They knew that He was their Tatter in Himmel. They had seen that whatever Hashem wants them to do is for their good and they are capable of doing it. However this could be guaranteed only if Bnei Yisroel remembered clearly everything Hashem has done for them. Often we are excited and inspired by something but by the time we have ‘slept on it’, our inspiration has weakened.

After leaving Mitzrayim, Bnei Yisroel had to face a succession of new challenges. If they had had time to sleep, the impact of what they had seen, even weeks earlier, might have worn off. A lessening of these monumental impressions might have jeopardised their kabolas HaTorah at Sinai. Hashem gave them extra strength to travel without pause by day and by night, so that they could preserve the clarity of their memory and the freshness of their enthusiasm. When the great day of maamad har Sinai arrived, there would be no doubts.

Hashem who showed His love for us throughout the miracles of yetzias Mitzrayim would surely only give us what was for our good. Bnei Yisroel’s response to the offer of the Torah was clear and positive.

“Yes, of course, Tatty. Whatever You say we will do.”

With Adar fast approaching, it is the ideal time to buy Rabbi Fletcher’s new sefer, Dancing in our Hearts. Available at all sefarim shops. Enjoy.