Parshas Behar – Choose the Best

לעילוי נשמת מנחם בן משה הלוי

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם Do not oppress your fellow Jew, and fear your G-d because I am Hashem, your G-d. Rashi explains: כָּאן הִזְהִיר עַל אוֹנָאַת דְּבָרִים Here is a warning against onaas devarim. While there is, Baruch Hashem, a great emphasis on being careful not to speak Lashon Hora, there is, it seems, less of a broad emphasis on being careful about not speaking onaas devarim– words that oppress.

The mishna in Baba Metzia (58b) says: כשם שאונאה במקח וממכר כך אונאה בדברים לא יאמר לו בכמה חפץ זה והוא אינו רוצה ליקח אם היה בעל תשובה לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים אם הוא בן גרים לא יאמר לו זכור מעשה אבותיך Just as their is onaah (oppression) in buying and selling, there is onaah through words (for example) You should not ask someone how much something costs if you have no intention of buying it, if someone has done teshuva, do not remind him of his previous wrongful deeds, if someone is a son of converts, do not say to him, remember what your ancestors did. Onaas devarim is quite expansive and the gemara here provides several other examples ranging from the way we speak to those who have suffered a loss to how we address those seeking to purchase a certain item. The gemara points out that onaas devarim is even more severe than onaas mamon (onaah caused through commerce), in three ways:

1. The pasuk that prohibits onaas devarim concludes with the extra caution to fear G-d;
2. Onaas devarim affects one’s body while onaas mamon affects one’s money;
3. You can make restitution for onaas mamon, but you cannot make restitution for onaas devarim

Additionally, the gemara in Baba Metzia (59a) says: אמר רב חסדא כל השערים ננעלים חוץ משערי אונאה Rav Chisda said that all of the gates (of heaven) are closed except for the gate of onaah. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is so that those who are oppressed by words will have a means of being repaired. This gemara also explains that oppressing someone with words is one of the three sins that go up directly to Hashem.

The midrash Vayikra Rabbah on the pesukim of onaah brings this story: אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן גַּמְלִיאֵל לְטָבִי עַבְדֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ טָבָא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן, אָמַר לֵיהּ פּוּק זְבֵין לִי צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא מִן שׁוּקָא, נָפַק זָבַן לֵיהּ לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מַהוּ דֵּין דְּכַד אֲנָא אָמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ טָבָא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן, וְכַד אֲנָא אֲמַר לָךְ צֵדוּ בִּישָׁא אַתְּ זָבַן לִי לִשָּׁן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ מִינָּהּ טָבְתָּא וּמִינָהּ בִּישְׁתָּא, כַּד הֲוָה טַב לֵית טָבָה מִנֵּיהּ, וְכַד

בִּישׁ לֵית בִּישׁ מִנֵּיהּ. רַבִּי עָשָׂה סְעוּדָה לְתַלְמִידָיו, הֵבִיא לִפְנֵיהֶם לְשׁוֹנוֹת רַכִּים וּלְשׁוֹנוֹת קָשִׁים, הִתְחִילוּ
בּוֹרְרִין בָּרַכִּים וּמַנִּיחִין הַקָּשִׁים, אָמַר לָהֶם דְּעוּ מָה אַתֶּם עוֹשִׂין כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאַתֶּם בּוֹרְרִין אֶת הָרַכִּין וּמַנִּיחִין אֶת הַקָּשִׁים כָּךְ יִהְיֶה לְשׁוֹנְכֶם רַךְ אֵלּוּ לָאֵלּוּ Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said to Tavi his servant: go buy for me the best food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: go buy for me the worst food from the marketplace. He went and bought him a tongue. He said to him: What’s this? When I say to you “the best food”, you buy me a tongue, and when I say to you “the worst food”, you buy me tongue. He said to him, this is the best and this is the worst. When it is good, there is nothing better than it, and when it is bad, there is nothing worse than it. Rabi made a meal for his students, and brought before them soft tongues and hard tongues. They immediately chose the soft tongues and left the tough tongues alone. He said to them, Understand what you are doing. Just as you are choosing the soft [tongues] and leaving aside the tough ones, so shall your own tongues be with one another. Our “tongues” have a dual potential, they can be the best things or the worst things. Choose to be the best.

We are familiar that the isur of Lashon Hora is not limited to the spoken word. It also includes facial expressions, winking, frowning, etc. The Sefer Yere’im similarly extends onaas devarim to facial expressions. The Alter of Slabodka was known to say that a person’s face is a reshus harabbim, an area open to the public. If someone walks around with a sullen face, he can be considered a mazik, a damager, because he oppresses others and causes them
to be sad. On the other hand, if someone follows the advice of Pirkei Avos and greets everyone with a kind face, both he and they will be happier and he will avoid any potential damage to them. Choose to be the best. Greet everyone with a kind countenance.

THE TAKEAWAY: Onaas Devarim– speaking words that oppress others, even when they might not be Lashon Hora or Rechilus, is an aveira that is more severe than onaas mamon, oppressing someone in the course of commerce. Our speech has the greatest potential, for both the bad and the good and we need to choose the good. The Sefer Yereim extends onaas devarim to facial expressions.

THIS WEEK: Even when you aren’t feeling one hundred percent, do your best to greet others with a smile and a cheerful countenance. This doesn’t mean that you cannot unburden yourself to others in halachically permissible ways. It means that when you are not discussing the things that have gotten you down, there’s no reason to cause others pain or discontent. Choose to be the best, one smile at a time.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com

Parshas Metzora – Fly Little Birdie

Shmira BaShuvua – Shmiras HaLashon Lessons from the Weekly Parsha

Someone who spoke lashon hara and was afflicted with tzaras was exiled from the three camps of the Bnei Yisrael. Once the metzora’s skin appears to have healed, a kohein would come to investigate. If he determined that the skin had indeed healed, the kohein would command the metzora to prepare a very unique korban וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְלָקַ֧ח לַמִּטַּהֵ֛ר שְׁתֵּֽי־צִפֳּרִ֥ים חַיּ֖וֹת טְהֹר֑וֹת וְעֵ֣ץ אֶ֔רֶז וּשְׁנִ֥י תוֹלַ֖עַת וְאֵז:–Then the kohen shall command that the one who wishes to be purified take two live clean birds, a cedar twig, a strip of crimson, and hyssop. Many meforshim discuss each of the individual elements of this korban, but we will focus on the two birds.

Rashi on this pusek references the gemara in Arachin (16b) אמר רבי יהודה בן לוי מה נשתנה מצורע שאמרה תורה יביא {ויקרא י״ד:ד׳ } שתי ציפרים לטהרתו אמר הקב”ה הוא עושה מעשה פטיט לפיכך אמרה תורה יביא קרבן פטיט -Rabbi Yehuda ben Levi says: What is different about a metzora that the Torah tell us that two birds are needed for his purification? Hakodesh Baruch Hu says: he performed an action of chattering, therefore the Torah tells him to bring a chattering korban (birds). This gemara seems to provide an explanation in line with the explanation of the other elements of the korban (according to Rashi) with each item being included for a symbolic reason–either to emphasize the sin of haughtiness or to teach the lesson of humility. But there’s another curious thing about the bird offering, the Torah tells us: וְצִוָּה֙ הַכֹּהֵ֔ן וְשָׁחַ֖ט אֶת־הַצִּפּ֣וֹר הָאֶחָ֑ת -And the kohen commands that one of the birds be slaughtered… וְשִׁלַּ֛ח אֶת־הַצִּפֹּ֥ר הַֽחַיָּ֖ה עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַשָּׂדֶֽה… -and they send away the live bird on to the land. One of the birds was slaughtered and the other had to be left alive and set free.

HaRav Shlomo Ganzfried, the mechaber of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, in his Sefer Apiryon explains why one bird is slaughtered and the other is set free. There are two sides to speech. There is the type of speech that damages, destroys, brings impurity, blocks our tefillah and Torah learning, and literally kills. Then there is the type of speech that is literally life altering and life giving: words of torah and tefillah, the kind word to someone who is struggling, the ways we honor our parents, teachers and fellow Jews with speech. HaRav Ganzfried is teaching us an important lesson: the solution to avoiding lashon hara is not to stop talking, it’s to learn how to use your speech in the proper way. Hashem gave us the power of speech to connect to him and our fellow man and to literally build worlds. He doesn’t want us to leave that most precious tool in the garage, he wants us to use it and use it properly.

On the occasion of the shloshim of the Chofetz Chaim someone close to the family wrote a eulogy using the pseudonym Machar HaLevi. The Chofetz Chaim’s son, Rav Aryeh Leib haKohen vouched for its veracity and included it in his biography of his father, Sefer Toldos Chofetz Chaim. Machar HaLevi says that when he was in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin, he used to ask himself what it was about the Chofetz Chaim that made him so choshuv. After all, his son-in-law, Rav Hirsh, seemed to be a greater tzadik than the Chofetz Chaim (if you could imagine). Indeed, Rav Hirsh was considered to be even more strict with his speech than the Chofetz Chaim, he barely spoke at all while the Chofetz Chaim spoke very often. Machar HaLevi explains that he only later realized why the Chofetz Chaim was much greater– kosher speech without a tinge of sin is more difficult and more valuable than remaining silent at all times. He adds that mute-like behavior isolates one from those around him and makes the person depressed. It is also considered a form of miserliness because it withholds so much good from others.

Speech, he continued, is a gift that Hashem gave us to distinguish us from the animals, and a person is not permitted to make himself like an animal or to spurn a gift from Hashem. Proper speech, of course, has its place in torah and tefillah but also in mundane things like business and learning new, proper ideas. The goal is to guard your tongue when speaking and not to refrain from speaking completely.

THE TAKEAWAY: There are two types of speech, the forbidden type of speech that destroys and the type of speech that builds relationships with Hashem, our fellow Jews, and the world around us. Simply refraining from talking at all times is not a solution to the challenges we may be facing in our shmiras halashon.

THIS WEEK: Focus on “lashon tov”, greet others with a kind word, provide verbal chizuk to someone who is struggling, use your speech to honor others, and before you speak think about how your speech can have an impact for good, or chas veshalom, the opposite.

Shmira Bashavua will be published as a sefer containing several lessons from each parsha. For sefer sponsorship opportunities or to sponsor the weekly parsha sheet, please contact David Linn at connectwithwords365@gmail.com.

Purim Katan and Daf Yomi B’Halacha

Tuesday, Feb 15 is Purim Katan. The last section of the Shulchan Aruch (697) is about Purim Katan.

The Shulchan Aruch says:
On the 14th and 15th of the first Adar one should not say Tachanun and should not say the Psalm, La-Menatzeyach Ya’ancha Hashem Be-Yom Tzarah. One these days we don’t say hespeds or fast. However, other Purim matters are not practiced on them. There are authorities who say than even hespeds and fasts are permitted on them. The Rema says: The practice accords with the first reasoning (i.e. no hespeds or fasts)

The Rema adds: There are authorities who say that one is obligated to increase ones feasting and rejoicing on the 14th of the first Adar. This is not the practice. Nevertheless, one should have a somewhat larger meal then in order to satsify the view of the authorities who are stringent in this matter and someone with a contented heart is always festive.

The Mishnah Berurah says: The Tashbeytz stated that one should have a larger meal on Purim Katan and Rabbeinu Yechi’eyl of Paris was accustomed to have a larger meal and invite people. This is what the Rema means when he concludes by saying “and someone with a contented heart is always festive” i.e. that it is desirable for one to have a larger meal to honor the miracle which was performed at these times.

As it happens, this week concludes the 7 year cycle of the Daf Yomi B’Halacha cycle which goes through the entire Shuchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah with a 5 day a week learning schedule. The new cycle begins on Sunday, February 20.

You can download the luach to start the cycle.

Sefaria has begun an English translation of the Mishnah Berurah.

YU Torah has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

The OU has has shiurim on the Mishnah Berurah cycle.

This is probably the most important Yomi cycle since we need to know halacha to serve Hashem properly. This is a great opportunity to going through the Mishnah Berurah. Please join the cycle this upcoming Sunday.

Guide to Buying Tzitzit

In Parsha Bamidbar, the Torah instructs us to wear tzitzit “in order to remember and fulfill all of [the] mitzvahs” (Bamidbar 15:40). To explain the mitzvah, the Midrash brings an analogy of a ship passenger who fell into the water. The captain throws him a line, shouting, “Hold onto the rope and don’t let go, otherwise your life is finished!”

The following tzitzit primer was sent to us courtesy of Ben Slobodkin, owner of Ben’s Tallit Shop.

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Tzitzit is considered a special, cherished mitzvah, because it helps us cleave to all of the other mitzvahs. Since we are enjoined to perform mitzvahs in an aesthetically pleasing manner – zeh Keli ve’anveiHu – wearing a nice tallit katan is commendable.

Wool or Cotton

According to the Shulchan Aruch, fabrics besides wool require tzitzits only according to Rabbinical Law, but the Rema rules that cotton and other fabrics must have tzitzits min haTorah (O.C. 9,1). Therefore Sephardim are usually stringent while Ashkenazim are often lenient. The Mishna Berura and the Pele Yoetz both state that even for Ashkenazim wool is preferable, whereas the Vilna Gaon and the Chazon Ish zt”l were known to wear cotton and Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l held that during the hot summer months, even according to Ashkenazim one can wear a tallit katan made of cotton if he finds wool uncomfortable.

Wool is more expensive than cotton, but it is also more durable and offers a number of other advantages. From my experience, wool tallit katan garments are generally of high quality, whereas cotton can be quite flimsy. If you go with cotton, make sure the eyelets are reinforced, otherwise the fabric will tear easily if the tzitzits get tugged for whatever reason. Tallit katan garments are sometimes made from a thicker, sturdy cotton fabric and feature high quality stitching, but this type is hard to find.

Strings and Knots

If you buy a tallit katan with the tzitzits already tied, look them over if possible. The quality of the knots can vary tremendously. I’ve seen factory tied tzitzits that were not even fully tied.

Tzitzits strings must be made leshem tzitzits (i.e. with intention to fulfill the mitzvah). The question is from what point in the production process this is required. The prevalent opinion is from the spinning stage. Whether machine-spun tzitzits can be made leshem tzitzits is questionable, therefore I strongly recommend buying hand-spun tzitzits, particularly since the difference in cost is relatively small (about $5). Sometimes you will come across tzitzits strings that are reinforced at the tips, which can preclude the need for dabbing glue or making little knots on the ends.

If you want the best tzitzits money can buy, look for niputz lishmah, which are made leshem mitzvah starting from the carding stage. According to the Rema, the custom is to be lenient, whereas the Mishna Berara notes that the Maharal of Prague and the Prisha held it’s best to be stringent in this regard. Expect to pay three times the cost of regular hand-spun tzitzit strings.

Here in Israel the Eida Chareidit of Jerusalem recently started insisting that tzitzits strings made under their supervision be made leshem mitzvah starting from the “lashonot” stage, which comes just before spinning. These tzitzits are known as “lashonot hatzemer” and are only slightly more expensive than other hand-spun tzitzits.

If you can’t afford to spend any money on tzitzits, there are still hiddurim available to you. First of all, you can make a point of tying the tzitzits yourself, since Chazal tell us doing a mitzvah yourself is better than having someone do it for you. There are also side benefits to be gained from DIY tzitzits tying: you will become more familiar with the mechanics behind the mitzvah and won’t be hapless if you ever face broken tzitzits strings.

Size Requirement

Another hiddur is to make a point of wearing a size and design that meets the minimum size requirements according to all opinions. How big does a tallit katan have to be? Both the height and the width must be 50 cm according to Rav Chaim Na’eh, 55 cm according to Rav Moshe Feinstein and 60 cm according to the Chazon Ish. Whether you measure from the bottom of the slit in front or from the neckline is subject to some debate, but the widespread custom is to be lenient. If you prefer to be stringent, try to find a tallit katan with a round neck or sew it closed before you tie on the tzitzits.

Ben Slobodkin grew up in Los Angeles, has a bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz and is an alumnus of Yeshivat Dvar Yerushalayim. He owns and operates Ben’s Tallit Shop, an Israel-based tallit and tzitzit webstore.

Originally posted in June 2011.

The Halachos of Snow

As we shovel and plow and navigate our way to work, it’s a great time to listen to some Torah to Go. A number of years ago Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel about Inyanei D’Yoma (relevant topic of the day), namely the Halachos of Snow. It was an amazing shiur, which you can download here, highlighting that in addition to the snow on the ground, the abstraction of snow is also a beautiful sight.

The Ramchal in the Book of Logic teaches us that the labor of the intellect is to see things as they really are, but we often make mistakes and come to false conclusions. The two most basic functions of the mind in the quest for knowledge are the activities of comparison and differentiation. Mistakes can occur in either one of these two activities, when we compare things that are not similar or differentiate things which are not really different.

This is where snow as an abstraction is so fascinating as Rabbi Schachter gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the issues involved when we compare and differentiate the realities of snow in various circumstances. The kids love good packing snow and one of the questions we can ask is whether our construction of a snow man on Shabbos would be considered building or not?

Another question is in what ways is snow similar to water. We know that a collection of water in a Mikveh has certain spirtual properties in that it can remove spiritual impurity. What happens if you had a Mikveh filled with snow and you immersed yourself in it. Is it considered a body of water at rest on the ground like a mikveh filled with water or perhaps the nature of snow prevent it from acting as a collected body of water at rest?

As we walked through the streets in the aftermath of the storm the snow is packed solid and piled high. Is that packed snow considered an extension of the ground or not? To build an eruv, the marker has to be at 40 inches above the ground. When packed snow covers the ground do we measure from the top of the snow or do we measure from the ground?

Rabbi Schacter dealt with many more issues regarding the abstractions of snow and I highly recommend listening to the audio. The physical reality of snow presents one set of issues, but the abstraction of snow sheds an entirely different spotlight on this wondrous creation in Hashem’s world.

The 17th of Tammuz and Mishnah Berurah Hilchos Shabbos

The Gemora in Berachos (8a) states “miyom shecharav beis hamikdash ein lo l’Hakadosh Baruch Hue la daled amos shel halacha” meaning “from the day the Temple was destroyed the only place where Hashem can be found is in the four amos of halacha”. Rabbi Hershel Schachter explains that when the Temple stood, one would visit there and be in the presence of Hashem – the Beis Hamikdash was the “house of Hashem”. After the Temple was destroyed, one can best enter into a state of Lifnei Hashem by learning Torah.

Tuesday is the 17th of Tammuz the beginning of the three weeks in which we remember and mourn the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. As it turns out, this year Dirshu’s Daf HaYomi B’Halacha will begin Chelek Gimmel of Mishnah Berurah, the learning of hilchos Shabbos. Over the course of about a year and a half, the entire Chelek Gimmel of Mishnah Berurah will be completed.

What an amazing opportunity! We can learn Hilchos Shabbos, one of the most important and pertinent halachic topics, which always needs strengthening. We can be in the presence of Hashem through that learning. And by starting on the 17th of Tammuz we can show Hashem that we are making tangible efforts to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash.

There are online shiurim available at TorahAnytime.com and the OU.

Here’s a link to the calendar through September 2017

The Essence of Our Existence and the Six Constant Mitzvos

In the first chapter of the Mesillas Yesharim, the Ramchal writes:

“We thus derive that the essence of a man’s existence in this world is solely the fulfilling of mitzvos, the serving of God and the withstanding of trials, and that the world’s pleasures should serve only the purpose of aiding and assisting him, by way of providing him with the contentment and peace of mind requisite for the freeing of his heart for the service which devolves upon him.”

The Chofetz Chaim in the beginning of his Biyur Halacha commentary on the first Halacha in the Shulchan Aruch writes:

“I Place Hashem Before Me Always – Is A Crucial Principle Of The Torah.” The person who wants to fulfill “I place Hashem…” properly, must make himself zealous to fulfill what is written in the name of Sefer HaChinuch. And because this is so greatly precious, many Torah authorities copied this in their books. The Chinuch mentioned this in the introduction and in several sections. This refers to six mitzvos that are obligatory continuously. These will never stop or part from a person, even for a single moment, all of his days. At every time and moment that a person thinks into these, he fulfills active commandments, and there is no limit to the amount of reward given for the mitzvos. ”

The Chofetz Chaim gives a short commentary on these six mitzvos and here is an excerpt specifying the mitzvos and the Pasukim from which they are derived:

1. To believe that there is one G-d in existence Who made to exist everything which exists…And this is an active commandment, as the Torah says, “I am the L-rd your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”
2. We are to never believe in any other god beside Him, as the Torah says, “You will not have any other gods besides Me.”
3. To attribute oneness to Him, as the Torah says, “Hear, Israel, the L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is one.”
4. To love the Omnipresent, may He be blessed, as the Torah writes, “And you will love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart…”.
5. To have fear of Hashem, may He be blessed, before oneself in order to remain free of sin. On this the Torah says, “Fear the L-rd your G-d.”
6. Not to stray after the impulses of the heart. The substantiation for this is the Torah verse, “And do not go straying after your hearts and after your eyes.”

(For a full translation of the Chofetz Chaim’s commentary on the six constant mitzvos, please see Rabbi Jeff Forsythe’s translation here.)

Hashem in his kindness gave us Six Constant Mitzvos, six constant opportunities to connect to Him and take a step towards fulfilling our purpose in life. It just takes a quick thought when we’re sitting, standing, walking, driving or about to perform a mitzvah. As the Chofetz Chaim says “there is no limit to the amount of reward”.

Internalizing Torah Lends Confidence … NOT Smugness

Why is the Torah’s system called Halachah?
How does Halachah tread the fine line between confidence and conceit?

If you will “walk/go in” My statutes and are careful to fulfill my commandments…

— Vayikra 26:3

 What nation is so great, that they have Elokim so close to it, as HaShem our Elokim is at whatever time we call Him?

— Devarim 4:7

Rabi Tanhuma taught: Once there was a ship that set sail on the Great Sea.  All of the passengers were idolaters except for one Jewish youth. A furious storm ensued and the ship was tempest-tossed and in severe danger of sinking. Each and every one of the travelers grasped his icons or idols in hand and began reciting his prayers, but to no avail.  So they said to the Jewish youth “cry to the L-rd your G-d, for we have heard that when you [people] cry to Him; that He responds and that He is mighty. The youth immediately cried out [to HaShem] with all his heart, HaShem accepted his prayer and the storm calmed.  When the ship docked at a port on a unfamiliar island the other passenger told the Jewish youth “Here; take some of our money, go into the island and secure some provisions for us.” He said to them: “Aren’t I lodger and a stranger in these parts [the same as everyone else, how will I find my way around?] They responded “is there such a thing as a Jewish ‘stranger’ ? No!  Wherever you wander … your G-d is with you! behold; ‘that they have Elokim so close to it!‘ ”

— Talmud Yerushalmi Berachos 9:1, Midrash Devarim Rabbah 2:16

 “And he [Yaakov] come into contact with the Place” (Bereshis 28:11) Rav Huna said in the name of RavAmmi “Why do we euphemistically refer to HaShem as ‘The Place’? because HaShem is the Place of His Cosmos … His Cosmos is not His place.” As another pasuk indicates (Shemos 32:21): ‘Behold there is a place with Me i.e all space is under My domain’. And so we see that  HaShem is the Place of His Cosmos … His Cosmos is not His place.”

— Bereshis Rabbah 68:9

The all-encompassing system of Torah observance is known as Halachah; a conjugation of the Hebrew verb translated as “walking” or “going”. Arguably, this term derives from the opening pasuk of our Sidrah. “If you will walk/ go” in My statutes etc.”  The system of Torah statutes empowers those who study and observe it to move about and not static. Absent Torah knowledge one is left essentially paralyzed.  It’s often said that knowledge is power. In particular, Torah knowledge proffers the power to move.

The Ramchal offers this famous metaphor for the strategy and tactics of the yetzer hara-the inclination to evil:

For the yetzer hara literally blinds his eyes and he becomes as one who walks in the darkness, where there are stumbling blocks before him which he fails to see. As our Sages of blessed memory said (Bava Metzia 83b), “You laid down darkness and it was night” (Psalms 104:20). This refers to this world [manipulated by the yetzer hara ]which is similar to the night.” … the darkness of night can cause two types of visual errors: it may conceal things completely such that one does not see what is before him at all, or it may deceive him so that a pillar appears to him as a man, or a man as a pillar. … The second error … is even worse than the first … inasmuch as it causes people to see evil as though it were goodness itself, and good as if it were evil, and, because of this, [the wicked] strengthen themselves in clinging to their evil ways. For it is not enough that they lack the ability to see the truth, the evil staring them in the face, but they also see fit to find … empirical evidence supporting their evil theories and false ideas.” (Mesilas Yesharim 3)  If a wanderer finds himself lost in a forest that is either pitch black or, at twilight time, where beasts appear to be men and vice-versa then, in this type of dangerous situation, the wisest strategy is to hunker down and not move.

Shifting from the realm of the metaphoric to the sphere of the practical, this means that the greater ones Torah expertise is — the more luminous his “lighting” — the greater his agility and maneuverability in living his life becomes.  Many of us have desisted from making certain moves for fear that we might be breaking some Torah law unknown to us. So — on a very pragmatic level Torah knowledge and observance confers the power and the confidence to move about in ways that would have been avoided while shrouded in the shadows of Torah-ignorance. Thus Torah transforms “standers” into “walkers” and “goers”.

The Izhbitzer teaches that the meaning of the opening pasuk is Im b’Chukosai– if My statutes become chiseled into you; — part and parcel of you — then and only then … Teileichu-will you go; i.e. will you be empowered to move. Only when the Torah becomes engraved upon a person’s heart, if it becomes an intrinsic part of him can he then “go” and move. Otherwise shev v’ahl ta’aseh ahdiph-it’s better to sit and do nothing.

Internalizing the Torah essentially means inculcating the Divine Giver of the Torah as well. As our sages taught: Oraysa V’kudshah Brich Hu kulo Chad-the Torah and the Holy Blessed One are all One (Zohar I, 24A; II, 60A). With HaShem directing traffic kivyachol-as it were; he who has chiseled the Torahs statutes into himself possesses an internal moral compass and an ethical GPS kivyachol. As the Midrash indicates the nearly-shipwrecked philo-Semitic gentiles traveling with the Jewish youth expected him to be incapable of losing his way or making a misstep even in a literal, geographical sense.

The Izhbitzer reveals an even profounder level of the mobility of those who “walk in/with the Torahs statutes/ decrees.”

The possibility of one losing one’s way or entering terrain or seaways fraught with danger is predicated on the notion that there are, in fact, diverse locations with dissimilar characteristics; some that are out of harm’s way while others are perilous. But if this were all a mirage, if a man thought that he had journeyed a thousand miles but had in truth never left the room; then whatever dangers or missteps that he confronted along the way were, in truth, illusory. One who walks with HaShem is in THE Place.  HaShem is sometimes referred to as “the Place” because, as our sages taught, He transcends space.  He is not situated within a particular space, on the contrary all individual spaces and locations are situated within HaShem.

Mindful of this inner truth, the Talmud resolves a very thorny question:  We derive all 39 melachos-categories of the creative activities; prohibited on Shabbos, as well as the precise specifications of each prohibited category, from the Mishkan-the portable Tabernacle that was home to the Divine Indwelling during the forty-year sojourn in the Wilderness. The category known as stirah-deconstruction/ demolition; is derived from the breaking-down of the Mishkan’s structure into its component parts whenever the Bnei Yisrael-the Jewish Nation; would break camp. Yet among the precise specifications for the prohibited category of stirah is that the one demolishing intends to build new construction on the site that he is now clearing:  “Rabbah asked Ulla, ‘Consider; all forms of melachah are derived from the Mishkan, yet there[in the case of the Mishkan]  it was deconstructing in order to rebuild elsewhere?’ Ulla answered ‘It was different there for since it is written: “By the Word of HaShem they camped and By the Word of HaShem they journeyed “(Bemidbar 9:23) it was like demolishing in order to rebuild on the same site.’ ”(Shabbos 31B). When one “travels” with HaShem no real change of location has occurred! In Halachah one can be a “traveler/ walker” with complete confidence. Still, the Izhbitzer cautions us not to allow confidence to outgrow healthy proportions and metastasize into arrogant smugness. In the pasukIf you will ‘go in’ my decrees etc.” the emphasis is on the word “if”.  Presuming that G-d walks with you, that G-d is on your side or, even, that you are on His; is always an uncertain, iffy proposition.  For even one who toes the halachic line may be contravening the depths of the Divine Will.

E.g. Debts are to be absolved during shmittah-the sabbatical year, and the Torah harshly criticizes potential lenders who withhold loans for fear of having to clear these loans. (cp Devarim 15:9) Yet the Mishnah still teaches (Shvi’is 10:8) that “If the borrower seeks to repay his debt during shmittah the lender should tell him ‘I absolve it’ but if the borrower persists and says ‘even so [I want to repay my debt]’ then the lender should accept payment from him. As the pasuk says ‘and this is the matter/ word of absolution.’ (Devarim15:2)” The very next Mishnah exclaims “the spirit of the sages is with all those borrowers who repay their loans on the seventh year.” (ibid:9).

On the surface, these Mishnayos seem counterintuitive and contra-halachic.  If the Torah refers to the sabbatical year as the shmittah-the absolution/ forgiving-of-debts year then it would seem that the releasing of loans is the very definition of such years. Then why should borrowers earn the sages favor by repaying their loans? We are compelled to dig beneath the surface and understand that the Torah contains depths of meaning beyond what is “written”, even within the oral tradition. Sometimes the halcahah, is like a baggy, loose-fitting cloak that conceals the true shape of what lies within [i.e. the Divine Will], rather than being a revealing, form-fitting, second-skin, leotard that conforms to the precise contours of that which/He Who is being clothed.

Regarding the mitzvah of shmittas kesafim-absolving loans during shvi’is; HaShem enlightened the sages to the Depths of His Will — that verbal forgiveness of the debt suffices and that actual absolution of the debt is not required.

But this is but a single example among the myriads of Mitzvos and Chukim of the Torah.  HaShem, kivyachol, is hedging His bets on us, His People.  He is, kivyachol, praying that we succeed in hewing to and completely fulfilling His Will. “If you will ‘go in’ my decrees etc.” because even if one observes every jot and tittle of the Shulchan Aruch-Code of Torah Law there is still no guarantee that he has conformed to the Will of HaShem on the profoundest levels, for what human being can plumb the Deepest Depths of the Divine Mind and Will?

~adapted from Mei HaShiloach I Bechukosai D”H Im
(the second of three)

Mei HaShiloach I Bechukosai D”H Im (the second)

So Bad That it MUST be Good

A SPECIAL REQUEST: Please do not begin reading this devar Torah unless you intend to learn it thoroughly and reach the disclaimer at the very end. To do otherwise could prove hazardous to your spiritual development and health.

How can it be that a small spreading of the white negatzara’as rash causes ritual impurity but that if the rash spreads over the entire body it then becomes a sign of ritual purity?

Why is it that on a Sanhedrin tribunal judging capital offenses a mere majority of two voting for guilt is sufficient to execute capital punishment but that if the Sanhedrin votes for guilt unanimously that the accused is declared innocent and “walks”?

But if the white mark increases in size on the skin after it was shown to the Kohen, who purified it, the person must again show it to the Kohen.  If the Kohen observes that the rash on the skin has increased in size he shall declare the person impure, it is the leprous curse.

—Vayikra 13:7,8

[This is the law] if the leprous area flourishes over the skin so that it covers all the skin of the afflicted person from head to foot wherever the Kohen can see: When the Kohen sees that a leprous discoloration has covered all the [person’s] skin he must declare the afflicted person pure. It has turned completely white [and so] he is pure.

—Vayikra 13:12,13

Rabi Kahana said: If the Sanhedrin unanimously found [the accused] guilty, he is acquitted. Why? —Because we have learned that final sentencing must be postponed till the next day [after the completion of the trial] in the hope of finding new points in favor of the defense. But these [judges who voted unanimously] will no longer [be capable of] see[ing anything exonerating or meritorious] for him

 —Sanhedrin 17A

Rabi Yochanan said, “Yehudah wanted to pass by [Tamar], but God sent the angel who is appointed over lust. The angel said to him, ‘Yehudah!  Where are you going? Where will kings come from? Where will great men come from? Where will redeemers come from?’”… “And he veered towards her on the road” (Bereshis38:16)—Coerced against his will [not in his best interests

                                                                                                                                      —Bereshis Rabbah 85:8

Belief in human Free-Will is a fundamental of our faith. In Hilchos Teshuvah (chapters 5,6) the Rambam argues spiritedly and convincingly for the veracity and reality the human Free-Will refuting the arguments and beliefs of the determinists and incompatibilists, even the ones who attempt to support their contentions by quoting pesukim from the TeNaC”h.  Later commentaries point out that the eleventh Maimonidean article of faith is Divine Reward and Punishment and that such a belief is untenable unless human Free-Will is real and not a myth.

That said it is equally important to remember that our Free-Will is limited and not absolute or all-encompassing.  In his treatise on Free-Will, Rav Elya Lazer Dessler uses the following allegory to illustrate this point: When two neighboring countries are war with one another in theory the potential exists for the absolute victory of one country or another.  In this scenario country “A” would conquer and annex every last acre of enemy country “B”s land, raising their national colors and imposing their laws and governmental system over every inch of what was formerly enemy territory.  But in practice, on any given day during any given battle of the war only a small portion or, in a multiple front war, several small portions of territory are actually being contested.  Armies advance and retreat and what was firmly under the control of one country or another last week, last month or last year may be in enemy hands today.  Nevertheless, in a long wars ebb and flow the actual current battlefronts comprise a relatively small to tiny portion of the combatant countries total land mass. Read more So Bad That it MUST be Good

The Difficulty of Paskening for BTs

I talked to Rabbi Welcher about the difficulty of paskening for BTs.

In a nutshell, at the beginning, the basic psak strategy for a BT just starting out is to be lenient. But as the BT grows in their knowledge and observance, they move towards the normative halacha, and then as they continue to grow, they might well be machmir in situations that a yeshiva student, Kollel member or Rabbi/Rebbi would be machmir.

But the issue is dependent on the exact halachic area. If there is no difficulty in the BT following the normative halacha, it might be appropriate to follow normative halacha, and not be lenient, even in the beginning.

A second difficulty is how to assess exactly when and if the BT crosses various thresholds and grows in their Torah observance.

A third difficulty is that because of non religious family situations, BTs have a lot of complex shailos with many factors to consider.

Rabbi Welcher related that he once said to Rabbi Moshe Halberstam z”tl (niftar in 2006) that his only complaint as a posek was that he would like to trade the difficult questions that Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski z”tl (niftar in 1940 and one of the major poskim of the last 100 years) answered with the Baalei Teshuva shailos that have to be dealt with today. (The number of Baalei Teshuva grew massively after 1967). Rabbi Halberstam smiled knowingly.

So Baalei Teshuva can take solace in the fact that our shailos are among the most difficult. The flipside is that BT Rebbeim really need to know their halachic stuff.

Why BTs Should Not be Part of the “Chumra of the Month” Crowd

By David Feinder

There is currently a phenomenon in the frum world to follow adopt Chumrot in a manner that almost resembles the “Keeping up with the Jonses” from the 1950s. While it is true that Pirkei Avot may say that a Torah Scholar should sleep on the floor, eat bread and salt, etc., that is something to strive for. It does not mean that you should do so, nor must it be taken literally. BTs are often under pressure to do as much as possible and be as strict as possible as quickly as possible. However, there are plenty of reasons to not belong to this crowd and here are a few of them.

It is always easier to simply forbid something than to permit it. To permit something requires more study of Torah as you must understand the reasons why something is permitted and under which circumstances. Simply saying “You can’t do xyz” is lazy. BTs who have worked to reach the level that they are at quite simply are above taking the easy route and should try to understand when something is forbidden, when something is allowed and when to consult with a Rav.

Many Chumrot originated as personal Minhagim that a given Rav or Rosh Yeshiva had for a specific reason and their students or community took on that Chumra without understanding the reason. My younger brother nearly did this while in Yeshiva when he asked his Rav if he should fast on Erev Shabbat. His Rav gave him a resounding no and proceeded to tell my brother that fasting on Erev Shabbat is his personal Chumra and if my brother wished to do, he needed to understand the reasons first. My brother does not fast on Erev Shabbat and now understands that one man’s Chumra often should remain that person’s Chumra.

If you accept a Chumra upon yourself, you may need to say Hatarat Nedarim just as you would if you switched between different sets of Minhagim, i.e., from wearing Tefillin on Chol Hamoed to not wearing Tefillin and then back again (a subject for a different post). Just the thought of convening a Beit Din should make a BT – and FFB – think twice about Chumrot.

There is also the fact that many of our leaders have been on record criticizing Chumrot. For example, the Mishna Berura says in regards to fasting on Yom Kippur that those who stretch fast days out beyond Tzeit HaKochavim are foolish. It should also be noted that the Nazir brings a Korban at the end of his Nazir period for having committed a sin by being excessively strict during that period of time. If the Nazir is penalized, certainly unnecessary Chrumot tacked on to Halacha – which can be said to be quite strict at times – should be second-guessed as well.

Finally and most importantly for a BT, if you accept a certain Chumra upon yourself and then find yourself unable to keep adhering by it, you will feel like a failure on some level. In addition, in a world where we all unfortunately judge each other when we see the slightest deviation from what we’re used to seeing, this could affect you socially as people will want to know why you stopped doing whatever Chumra you were doing. BTs should take their time and only accept Chumrot when they feel ready and not when some outsider says they should.

The Halachos of New Year

Over at Hirhurim, (R’ Gil Student’s blog), Rabbi Michael Broyde has a good analysis of the halachic issues regarding “celebrating” secular holidays.

Here’s an excerpt:

It is quite clear that on a historical level that Catholic Europe celebrated New Years day religiously for centuries. Indeed, consider the simple remarks of the Rama writing in the Darchei Moshe YD 148 quoting the Terumat Hadeshen. He states:

It is written in the Terumat Hadeshen 195 that even nowadays one who wants to send [gifts] on the eighth day after Christmas which is called New Years should send such [gifts] during the day before [December 31st] and not on the day of the holiday, itself. And if the day before the holiday falls out on Shabbat, one may send on the day of the holiday, itself as there is a matter of hatred [eiva] if one sends later than that or more before then.

While the Rama in the Shulchan Aruch (YD 148:12) does not quote this formulation exactly, it is clear to me that this is function of censorship within the Rama and not because the matter is in dispute. According to Rama, New Year’s day is a Christian Holiday (indeed the formulation in the Terumat Hadeshen makes it clear that we are discussing the eighth day of Christmas as much as New Year’s day) whose celebration must be avoided and can only be marked when long term life threatening hatred to our community will result if gifts are not given.

On the other hand, the reality seems to have completely changed. New Year’s Day – like Valentine’s Day and unlike Christmas – seems to have completely lost its Christian overtones.[4] Even in the deep Christian South where I live there are no indicia that connect New Years Day to Christianity. The “first generation” Hindu and Muslim communities in Atlanta – who would never celebrate Christmas – have New Year’s Eve parties. It is obvious that the status of New Year’s Day has changed in the last three hundred years.

Indeed, in contemporary America there is little religious content or expression to New Year’s Day. Few would classify it as a religious holiday, as there is a clear secular method and reason to celebrate New Year’s day, and thus it has lost its status as a Christian Holiday. Rabbi Feinstein notes this directly himself in Iggerot Moshe (Even Haezer 2:13). He writes with regard to New Year’s:

The first day of the year for them [January 1] . . . is not prohibited according to law, but pious people [baalei nefesh] should be strict.

This insight, written in 1963, is even more true nowadays. The Christian origins of New Year’s is even more cloaked now than a half century ago.

Read the whole post here.

The Spiritual Magnificence of Snow

New Yorkers were treated to their first snow storm of the season last Sunday. After the storm, it was a beautiful sight and it was good packing snow for snow balls and snow men, but it presented a very real set of challenges. My wife and I had two weddings (among the five that were schedule in Kew Gardens Hills alone), one in Brooklyn and one in the Bronx, and it was quite an adventure. The plowing of the streets was the worse we’ve seen in decades, possibly due to a work slow down by the NYC Sanitation Department in protest of budget cuts.

By Thursday the street were navigable and Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel about Inyanei D’Yoma (relevant topic of the day), namely the Halachos of Snow. It was an amazing shiur, which you can download here, highlighting that in addition to the snow on the ground, the abstraction of snow is also a beautiful sight.

The Ramchal in the Book of Logic teaches us that the labor of the intellect is to see things as they really are, but we often make mistakes and come to false conclusions. The two most basic functions of the mind in the quest for knowledge are the activities of comparison and differentiation. Mistakes can occur in either one of these two activities, when we compare things that are not similar or differentiate things which are not really different.

This is where snow as an abstraction is so fascinating as Rabbi Schachter gave us a whirlwind tour of some of the issues involved when we compare and differentiate the realities of snow in various circumstances. I mentioned the snow was great for packing, so one of the questions we can ask is whether our construction of a snow man on Shabbos would be considered building or not?

Another question is in what ways is snow similar to water. We know that a collection of water in a Mikveh has certain spirtual properties in that it can remove spiritual impurity. What happens if you had a Mikveh filled with snow and you immersed yourself in it. Is it considered a body of water at rest on the ground like a mikveh filled with water or perhaps the nature of snow prevent it from acting as a collected body of water at rest?

As we walked through the streets in the aftermath of the storm the snow was packed solid and piled high. Is that packed snow considered an extension of the ground or not? To build an eruv, the marker has to be at 40 inches above the ground. When packed snow covers the ground do we measure from the top of the snow or do we measure from the ground?

Rabbi Schacter dealt with many more issues regarding the abstractions of snow and I highly recommend listening to the audio. The physical reality of snow presents one set of issues, but the abstraction of snow sheds an entirely different spotlight on this wondrous creation in Hashem’s world.

Chumras in Perspective

A couple of weeks ago in my Gemorah shiur we got into an aside about Chumras. The Rabbe mentioned that he had once been approached by a gentleman who was asking for Tzedeka to help him buy a set of Tefillin for his grandson. As the discussion unfolded it turned out that this grandfather was seeking assistance in buying a $1500 set of Tefillin! The Rebbe, originally inclined to assist, declined to contribute. He said that it’s one thing to help with a mitzvah, but this gentleman should not be asking others to support his chumra.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine shared a D’var Torah with me at a Shalom Zachor. It was around Parshat Vayakel. He started by posing the question, “What was the difference between the Keilim (vessels) that were in the Beit Hamikdash vs those in the Mishkan”? The answer is that in the Mishkan there was only one of each vessel and they were smaller than the ones in the Beit Hamikdash. This was so in spite of the fact that the B’nei Yisrael offered Moshe enough to have larger and multiple vessels in the Mishkan. In fact the B’nai Yisrael were offering so much of their possessions that Moshe had to tell them to stop. Why did he stop them? Surely, he knew that their destiny was to build a Temple large enough to accommodate whatever they wanted give. The answer given was that since the Mishkan was portable and carried by men, Moshe did not want the B’nai Yisrael to think that they could satisfy their desire to do extra (be Machmir) on their brothers’ backs.

The message seems clear. As much as we may desire to go above and beyond in our service to Hashem we must always balance this desire against its affect on those around us. Even when dealing in areas of normative halacha there is room to be lenient when it comes to issues of Shalom Bayis and Darche Shalom. How much more so must we be careful when dealing with that which is not required of us. Whether BT or FFB (and sometimes this can even be harder for FFBs) we can be faced with people, situations and environments that are not always, shall we say, receptive of our latest “development”.

Though so much in our observance seems black and white, this is one area where we can really modulate our observance to fit the environment. A kashrut Chumra, for example, which might work well in our kitchen, may prove to be onerous in our parents’ kitchen. One that works well in the New York Metro area might be really hard for the kids to keep while on vacation in Orlando. Something that makes sense in our community might be ridiculously out of place in our grandparents’ condo.

I guess another way to look at this is to weigh our desire to do a chumra against the chumra of being extra sensitive to those around us; whether they are spouses, children, parents, friends, or colleagues.

About a year ago I posted a piece about my teenage daughter’s decision to adopt a couple of chumras of her own when she was 14. One of them was to stop going to the movies. At the time, I wrote back to her that I was proud of her growth and a hope that she would, “… also know that Frumkeit is not just on the outside, but also the type of person you are and how you represent Yiddishkeit to other Jews and even non-Jews.”

A few years later, after we had moved to Israel, my daughter went back to the states for a visit. There, she spent a few days with my father. There’s not all that much for a not-so-mobile 70 something man and teenage girl to do down on the Jersey shore. My father suggested they go to a movie and my daughter, understanding the nuances of the situation, agreed. She did not “fall off the wagon” nor was she giving into some deep seated urge to see a flick. She maturely assessed that her chumra need not be carried on my father’s back.

My daughter’s ability to put her chumra in perspective showed me that, not only had she become “frum” on the outside, but that she had integrated her Frumkeit in a way that made her both a better Jew and a better person. That, I believe, is the essence of what our Rebbe was saying to us and what Moshe Rabeinu was saying to B’nei Yisroel.

Halachos for Shabbos Erev Pesach 5768

By Rabbi Herschel Welcher

When Erev Pesach occurs on Shabbos, it is necessary to observe a number of the Mitzvos in an unconventional manner. This letter as a guide to practical observance, based on zmanim for Queens, NY.

1. Bedikas Chometz should be conducted on Thursday evening, April 17.

2. The first Bittul Chometz should be done immediately after the Bedika.

3. Biur Chometz should be done on Friday morning, April 18 before 11:48 A.M. If the Biur was not done before this time, it may be done at any time before Shabbos. The second Bittul Chometz is not done on Friday.

4. Preferably, we should finish eating Chometz before 10:16 A.M. on Shabbos morning, April 19. We must finish eating Chometz before 10:40 A.M.

5. The second Bittul Chometz must be done on Shabbos after we have finished eating Chometz. Preferably, it should be done before 11:36 A.M. It must be done before 11:48 A.M.

6. There are two basic approaches to fulfilling the mitzvah of Seudas Shabbos. Some make Hamotzi on Challah and eat the Challah in an area of the house that is not adjacent to the table where the actual meal will be conducted. After each person eats the equivalent of a large slice of Challah, the crumbs should be cleaned away, the clothes should be shaken clean, and the tablecloth should be removed. Then the hands should be washed and the mouth should be rinsed. Then the actual meal should be eaten; it should consist of Pesach foods, served on Pesach dishes.

Some use egg matzos, instead of Challah. If egg matzoh is used it may be eaten at the same table where the meal will be conducted. Even though we don’t eat egg matzoh on Pesach, it isn’t considered Chometz. It is permissible to keep egg matzoh in our home on Pesach. If egg matzoh is used, the Hamotzi is recited on two egg matzos. Preferably, each person should eat two egg matzos at each meal. The minimum amount of egg matzoh is one egg matzoh per meal.

7. The most significant difficulty with the Shabbos meals concerns the Seuda Shlishis. It is appropriate to recite the Hamotzi for this meal. However, on this Shabbos afternoon it is not permissible to use bread or matzoh.

Preferably, one should divide the morning meal into two parts. One should make the Hamotzi and eat the first course of the meal. Then the Birchas Hamazon should be recited. After the Birchas Hamazon, it is preferable to take a fifteen minute break which should be used for learning, strolling or any other activity. Then, one should wash again and recite the Hamotzi. After finishing the Challah (by 10:16 A.M. or 10:40 A.M.–see # 4), the main Shabbos meal should be eaten.

If egg matzoh is used it may be eaten until Chatzos (12:54 P.M.).

During the afternoon, it is preferable to eat a piece of meat or fish (or at least a fruit) to fulfill the view that this Seuda cannot take place before Chatzos.

Those who wear braces on their teeth should only use egg matzoh, on this Shabbos. (Such a person should not eat solid Chometz or liquid Chometz which is hot or sticky after 10:40 A.M. on Friday morning.)

The Niddah Difference

By Jewish Deaf Motorcycling Dad

Since most of you probably aren’t familiar with Deaf culture, let me begin by explaining that the Deaf community is a very touchy (physically) community. I’ve heard various reasons for this. Part of it seems to be the loss of one sense, sound; so we make it up by using more of another sense, in this case touch. There are lots of hugs, pats, nudges, etc. Another reason for this is that we, of course, can’t hear. Say you need to get by John Doe, but he’s in your way. A simple “excuse me” won’t do much good, it’s noisy and his hearing aids are overwhelmed (or he can’t hear anything at all). How do you get by? Sometimes it only takes a light tap on the shoulder, sometimes it’s a little bit more of a moving of the other person’s body (giving a slight push to the side, or putting hands on the shoulder and moving them over a little). Now, all this isn’t to say that the Deaf are a community of people constantly groping at each other, not by a long shot. But I’ve seen that people who aren’t comfortable with touching are often unnerved when around a lot of Deaf people. For Deaf folks though, this is the norm.

Now let’s add in the Jewish concept of Niddah. Ah, now things become more complex! I see this often with one rabbi I know. He’s a Baal Teshuva, a hearing, religious son of deaf, non-religious parents. But he’s very active in the deaf community. I sometimes see that he makes a slight move, as if he is about to hug someone, then suddenly remembers and stops himself.

That’s the general picture. Now it’s on to my own experiences. Before we were married, my wife (modern orthodox her whole life, also deaf) and I really didn’t get into a deep discussion on Niddah issues; and after the wedding, sort of fumbled a bit to figure it all out. During the times of Niddah, we still touched to alert each other to things, plus a quick hug hello and good bye, and after a, shall we say, heated discussion, to signal that we are okay again.

But as I began to become more religious myself, we started re-evaluating things, and decided to try and completely keep from touching during this time period. There were some small challenges. For example, I could no longer just tap on her shoulder if I wanted her attention and she didn’t have her hearing aids on. Instead, I would now stomp on the floor (for the vibrations), or reach around and wave to her if I was close enough. Those were easily overcome.

No, the place where I noticed it took the most analyzing and adjusting, for me, was the “after heated discussion hug.” I came to realize that I was using this as a crutch to calm my wife (and myself) down. Maybe even unfairly. It seemed that if I hugged her tight enough, or long enough, the tears would soon dry up and she’d be feeling better. But now there were times I couldn’t give the hug. Now what to do??

I soon learned that when the occasional flare ups would occur (nothing MAJOR, just the usual issues here and there that all married couples with active kids face) that I would need to talk and discuss the issue completely in full length and depth until it was truly resolved for both of us, and we were both feeling better. While this approach takes much longer than the “hug-the-problem-away,” I think the solution we come up with is better and longer lasting, not another temporary patch. Now even when it’s not a period of Niddah, we do spend more time talking about the issues in detail until they really are resolved, and only then do we close things up with a hug. (After all, they are still nice!)

Blood of Milah: Why are You Waiting?

By David Geltzer

I am forty-one but I am like a fifteen year-old. I had my tipas dom bris (the blood drop of a bris) after becoming frum and learning in yeshiva for five years. No one told me to do it but when I read that a bris milah impinges on one’s ability to learn Torah I made my decision. I got my milah Erev Shavuos by a respected mohel and that year I was admitted to a Yeshiva Gedolah that same year. My parents had a reconstructionist (I didn’t know they existed in the sixties) perform my bris.

For several years when I brought up this topic it was always dismissed. I eventually took Hillel’s words to heart, “If your not for yourself who will be for you and if not now when” This is one of the two positive commandments that when unfulfilled gets kores (spiritual excommunication), so why risk transgressing this commandment – it is not expensive, it doesn’t hurt and they don’t do metzitza b’peh! I don’t recommend doing it yourself, as I was originally told to do, as there are halachos how to do it. As one could imagine, I was discouraged from sharing what I did with others but I remember now Hillel’s other statement, “If I am only for myself who am I.”

Note: Our Rabbinic advisors advise that people should consult an Orthodox Rabbi to determine what, if any, action to take in this regard.