Inheriting the Land of Israel on the Temple Mount

Three reasons why it is correct to go up to the Temple Mount according to halakha * From the words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, it is implicit that he agreed to the prohibition of entering the Temple Mount only in the situation of unambiguous Israeli sovereignty on the Mount * The opposition of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook to Baron Rothschild’s ascending the Temple Mount did not address the reality of entering it in purity * Those who exaggerate halakhic concerns about entering the Temple Mount neglect the mitzvah of inheriting the Land at the location of the Temple, and repeat the mistake of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos * Imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, strict enforcement of the law, and the removal of the brazen Muslims inciters is the answer to the recent difficult security problems

The Reasons for the Mitzvah of Going Up to the Temple Mount

As I wrote last week, for three main reasons it is permitted and correct to go up to Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) in purity (after immersion in a mikveh): 1) the numerous testimonies that for over a thousand years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) used to pray on the Temple Mount. 2) For three hundred years, Jews were not allowed to enter the Temple Mount, which lead to doubts in regards to the exact location of the Temple (whose area is less than ten percent of the Temple Mount compound). However, following the liberation of the Temple Mount, it was possible to return and re-measure the area, and determine with certainty where the site of the Temple was, and as a result, know which areas are permitted to enter in purity. 3) The threat to Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

The Opinion of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook

In last week’s column I wrote: “In my humble opinion, it seems that had he known that the over-cautiousness of ascending Har Habayit would result in the loss of sovereignty and turning the Temple Mount into a focal point of hatred against Israel – he would have agreed with Rabbi Goren that it is permitted and a mitzvah to go up. In addition, in my humble opinion, he would have relied on Rabbi Goren’s halakhic inquiries with regards to areas permitted to enter.”

Some readers asked: On what basis can you say this? After all, it is well-known that Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah approved the warning of the Chief Rabbinate not to go up to the Temple Mount out of fear that people would enter the holy place without immersion in a mikveh.

Answer: What I wrote is based on study of his words. Here is what he wrote about the Temple Mount in a pronouncement from the 27th of Shvat 5737 (Feb.15, 1977):

“A clarification regarding Har Habayit – the enormous halakhic prohibition of entering [Har Habayit] because we are still, according to halakha, in a state of impurity, does not pertain, harm, or detract even in the slightest, the importance of our proprietary ownership over that area of the glorious, holy place. Our Chief of Staff, Mr. Mordechai Gur, together and in assistance with our honorable teacher and guide, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, foremost of Israel’s rabbis, merited liberating this holy place from non-Jewish authority, and it also, as all parts of our holy Land, is in our possession and ownership. Under our possession and ownership, they [the Muslims] organize for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays. Groups of our soldiers stationed there, guard and supervise them by order of our government. Even if we are careful not to enter there, according to the attributes of Jewish law, in spite of this, and for this reason, our ownership over the entire area remains unequivocally permanent and binding, and the existence of non-Jews there is only with our permission, and under no circumstances are they owners of this place.”(Le’Netivot Yisrael, chap.2, Beit El Edition, pg. 282).

From this we see that for him, sovereignty was the most important point, for indeed, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) requires that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations – how much more so is this true concerning the Temple Mount, which is the holiest place in all the Land of Israel. All the comments of Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah were said during a time when Israeli sovereignty was clear and regulated, as is evident from the extent he went to specify the symbols of sovereignty and rule.

Had he heard that in the wake of Arab rioting and various pressures – from home and abroad – that the Israeli flag no longer flew over the Temple Mount, and that the regular police station was removed, and there is no longer a permanent military presence on the Mount, and that police and soldiers are not allowed to enter the mosque, and the Arabs are no longer just “organizing for themselves prayer arrangements on Fridays”, but rather from that very place, incitement against Israel spreads to the entire world, that Arab youths have the audacity to mock and curse policemen and soldiers, that the Arabs hold parties and soccer games there and bury their dead in a show of contempt for the State of Israel, and that all the Jews who go up to Har Habayit must enter with the permission of the Waqf and with their close escort, while Arab gangs curse and swear at them. If Rabbi Kook had heard all this, he would have fainted from distress, and supported all legitimate means within the framework of Jewish law to strengthen the sovereignty over the Temple Mount.

It can be further observed from the wording of the pronouncement Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah’s attitude towards Rav Goren and his halakhic authority, and from this I was able to draw the conclusion that he would rely on his inquiries of Jewish law concerning the Temple Mount.

The Words of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

Some people base their argument against going up to Har Habayit on the words of Maran Rav Kook ztz”l, who, with regards to this issue, wrote: “One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities”.

To fully understand the story, it must first be said that it relates to a letter (#677) that Rav Kook wrote on the 26th of Adar 5674 (March 24, 1914) to Rabbi Jonathan Benjamin Halevi ish Horowitz, one of the organizers of the rabbis’ journey to the moshavot (colonies) in Eretz Yisrael, and afterwards, edited the booklet ‘Eleh Masa’ay‘ (“These are the Journeys”) to describe the journey of the rabbis. Rabbi Kook wrote the introduction to the booklet, accompanied by a letter requesting that if the author added certain details, that he not let his lament over the religious breaches of the early pioneers obscure the outstanding friendly atmosphere of the meeting with them, “because for sure, only in this way of holiness, in which the light of God’s kindness shines, is the path of truth, a Torah of life and the love of kindness, which God implanted within us.”

Rabbi Kook also expressed support for the proposal to add to the booklet the story of the journey of Baron Rothschild, “the famous philanthropist,” and his great support of the new settlements after his visit to the country in 1914, but expressed regret that the Baron had entered the place of the Temple. It should be noted that the Baron was a traditional Jew.

This is what Maran HaRav Kook wrote: “It is a very good idea to add anecdotes about the journey of the Baron. Although I am greatly disheartened because of the chilul Hashem (desecration of God) of his entering the place of the holy Temple, and moreover, that no one told him that it was forbidden. One nick in the sanctity of our Holy Temple costs us more than all the millions of practical communities.” In view of that, apparently one might have thought that the honor due the Baron would be null and void, and consequently, there was no point in telling the praises of his journey. However, Rabbi Kook wrote further: “And although after all of this, nevertheless, he has not lost his great importance as the founder of the settlements, for perhaps it happened accidently, or he’s someone for whom everything happens inadvertently – the good Lord will atone, and take the good.” According to this, it is understandable why he agreed that “it was very good to add anecdotes about the Baron’s journey.”

A Prohibition Cannot be Learned from his Words

However, the prohibition of going up to Har Habayit after immersion in a mikveh cannot be learned from his words, for the Baron ascended the Temple Mount to the site of the Temple itself, without immersing in a mikveh, while those who go up to Har Habayit in purity are careful to first immerse in a mikveh, and following this, only enter the machaneh leviah, and not the site of the Temple, which is forbidden to enter even after immersion. We find, therefore, that their ascending Har Habayit carries no fear of transgressing a prohibition, and they are not rendering themselves defective at all, rather, the opposite is true.

Moreover, it is important to know that in the Torah we have both positive and negative commandments. There are some people who are fearful (in Hebrew, haredim) to keep the Torah because of the issurim (prohibitions), but are not so fearful about being inactive in fulfilling the positive mitzvoth. Therefore, in their opinion, as long as there is a distant fear that a Jew might ascend Har Habayit in contradiction to halakha, it is forbidden for all religious Jews to go up there. And even though they are told that secular Jews enter the site of the Temple in impurity in any case, and precisely upon seeing religious people who are careful about these matters, some of them join-up and are also cautious – still, their hearts remain full of fears and anxiety. But the main problem is that they have no fear of cancelling the positive mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land), whose primary point is that Eretz Yisrael be in our possession, and not abandoned to other nations. And it all depends on the site of the Temple, from which the holiness and sovereignty spreads to all parts of the Land of Israel. Not unlike our Sages criticism of King David, who conquered Syria before he conquered the Temple Mount, and therefore its occupation is considered an individual occupation, and Syria was not sanctified with the holiness of the mitzvoth ha’teluyot b’aretz (the commandments dependent on the Land).

Concerning this type of position, our Sages said: “Through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas, our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves exiled from our land” (Gittin, 56a). Because he had numerous fears of prohibitions, but failed to fear about the destruction of the Temple.

And today, when we see how avoiding going up to Har Habayit seriously damages Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, anyone to whom the mitzvoth of the Torah are dear, must fight for the right of Jews to ascend Har Habayit.

The Rabbis who are Mistaken in the Issue of Kareth

And concerning the rabbis who condemn Jews that go up to the Temple Mount in purity of transgressing the prohibition of kareth (excision), there is one of two possibilities: either they forgot the halakha concerning Har Habayit and failed to see the difference between machaneh shechina and machaneh leviah, and also forgot that there are poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who permit entering the site of the Temple itself, so that even someone who enters it is a safek kareth (doubtful kareth).

Or, they ignore the mitzvoth of yishuv ha’aretz, which obliges all of Israel to fight for the country, so that it is under our sovereignty. And this mitzvah is obligatory in all generations, let alone our generation, who possesses the power to fulfill the mitzvah. And as the Ramban wrote concerning the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, whose primary point is that it “be in our possession and not abandoned to other nations for all generations…” He further added that it is “a positive commandment for generations that obligates each individual, and even during the exile.” Thus, it is incumbent upon us to work towards realizing our sovereignty over the Temple Mount, not to abandon it to any foreign nation, let alone our enemies and seekers of our doom.

The Solution to the Problem of Security and Sovereignty

This week, in which we accompanied with terrible pain the holy Jews who were murdered as they were praying, we must realize that there is one solution to the problem of security and sovereignty – the return of the rule of law to the Temple Mount. To do this, we must restore the police station on Har Habayit, increase the military presence there, and stand firmly on maintaining all applicable laws.

Each building that was built without a permit should be destroyed. Any activity that deviates from prayer, its’ members should be arrested. Anyone who curses, riots, or incites against the State of Israel, Jews, or members of other religions – should be removed permanently from the Temple Mount. And this includes, of course, the preachers who arouse the hatred of Israel in their sermons.

As in the past, hopes that concessions made to appease our enemies would bring us peace and quiet were proven wrong. On the contrary, every concession invites even more brutal and murderous violence. In contrast, the more resolutely we demonstrate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount by maintaining the law strictly and opening Har Habayit to Jews, thus we will warrant more respect, tranquility and peace.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

The Chief Rabbi’s War on Har Habayit

The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz’l, acted firmly and tirelessly to preserve Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount * In his book about the Temple Mount, he explained why it is imperative to move up from the Kotel, and pray on the Temple Mount * Rabbi Goren’s struggle against the decision of the Government and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan to relinquish the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf * The politicians used the rabbi’s prohibition of entering the Temple Mount as a pretext to hand it over to the enemy * Blessed are those who go up to the Temple Mount according to Jewish law, for they strengthen our sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the entire Land of Israel

 
 

Rabbi Goren’s Decision to Print his Book about the Temple Mount

Next week on the 24th day of the Jewish month Mar Cheshvan (Monday) will be twenty years since the death of the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ztz’l. In these days, when Har Habayit (the Temple Mount) is in the headlines, it is worth mentioning segments from his book “Har Habayit”, which he published a year before his death. In his book, he investigates in detail the site of the Mikdash (Holy Temple) and the azarot (Temple courtyards), areas that are forbidden to enter even after immersion in a mikveh (a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism),
and areas that are permitted to enter after immersion.

The time was the days of the second Rabin government, which conducted agreements with the PLO terrorist organization, and handed over parts of the Land of Israel to our enemies. In his introduction to the book he wrote: “Currently, when Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount is in danger, Mount Moriah is liable to become the subject of negotiation between us and the Arabs, and unfortunately, there are politicians who are willing to negotiate our sovereignty over the Temple Mount, relying on the alleged prohibition of the Chief Rabbinate to enter Har Habayit. This prohibition is liable to be used as an excuse to hand over the nation’s Kodesh ha’Kodashim (inner sanctum) to the Muslims. Therefore, I decided to publish the book now, from which it will be proven that there are large areas of the Temple Mount which all Jews are permitted to enter, according to all halakhic opinions, after immersion in a mikveh…”(p.15).

The Reasons for the ‘Heter

The Temple Mount is composed of two areas. The first, which is the smallest area, includes the site of the Holy Temple and the courtyards, and is called machaneh shechina (the inner azara), which nowadays is forbidden to enter because we cannot be cleansed from tumat met (defilement of the dead). The second area, which includes the majority of the Temple Mount, is called machaneh levia, and it is permitted to enter these areas today after immersion. Indeed, in the years preceding the establishment of the State of Israel the rabbis, including Rabbi Kook ztz’l, instructed not to enter the Temple Mount at all, for fear that people might go beyond the permitted areas and enter forbidden places.

Three factors prompted Rabbi Goren to permit going up to the majority of areas on the Temple Mount: 1) the precise mapping of the Temple Mount conducted by the I.D.F. Engineer Corps under his orders after the liberation of the Temple Mount; with these maps, it was possible to accurately determine which areas were permitted to enter according to all halakhic opinions. 2) The many testimonies that for more than a thousand years after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Gedolei Yisrael (eminent rabbis) used to pray on the Temple Mount in the permitted areas. 3) The threat to Jewish sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

There is room to add that one of the motivations for placing the warning signs not to enter the Temple Mount might have been so as not to provoke the Muslims and leaders who ruled Israel at the time, and in events of riots, did not properly protect the Jews.

Lowering Ourselves to the Kotel – The Result of the Sufferings of Exile

Rabbi Goren wrote about his feelings after the Six Day War: “I could not escape the feeling that from a historic perspective, assigning the Western Wall plaza for Jewish prayer was nothing but the result of the expulsion of the Jews from the Temple Mount by the Crusaders and Muslims together. Thus, an intolerable situation was created in which even after our liberation of the Temple Mount, the Muslims remained on top of Har Habayit, and we were down below; they were inside, and we were outside. The prayers at the Western Wall are a symbol of destruction and exile, and not of liberation and redemption, because Jewish prayers at the Western Wall began only in the sixteenth century – before that, Jews prayed for centuries on the Temple Mount … only about three hundred years ago, the Jews began praying at the Western Wall. And this the proof: in every reference in the Midrash where it is mentioned that the shechina (Divine Presence) has not moved from the Western Wall, and learns this from the verse in Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs): ‘Behold! There he stands behind our wall’ – this refers to the western wall of the azara, or the wall of the heichal, in other words, the wall of the Kodesh HaKodashim, and not the wall of the Har Habayit, which we call the Western Wall”(pg. 26).

The Necessity to Ascend from the Western Wall to Har Habayit

However, the intensity of the minhag (custom) based on over three centuries was considerable, and therefore after the Six Day War, the public at large thronged to the Western Wall to pray. Rabbi Goren himself wrote that one of the things that prevented him from acting quickly to regulate the ascent of Jews to the Temple Mount was his being “bound by the ‘chains of love’ for the remnant of our Holy Temple, the Western Wall, where I used to pray every Shabbat, holiday, and Rosh Chodesh evenings. Since my first visit to the Western Wall (as a child), my love and emotional affinity for the Wailing Wall has not faded… “,”but our shout …Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord”… aroused him to become stronger and clarify the heter to ascend Har Habayit (pg. 14). Consequently, he began organizing prayers on the Temple Mount (ibid, pg. 27).

The Canceled Prayer

Before the Shabbat following Tisha B’Av in 1967, Rabbi Goren publicly announced a mass, gala prayer to be held on the Temple Mount in the areas where entrance was permitted after immersion. However, by the orders of Prime Minister and Defense Minister the prayer was canceled. A few days later, the ministerial committee decided that the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff order the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., Rabbi Goren, not to arrange any more prayers on the Temple Mount (pg. 29-30).

The Shock

The order shocked Rabbi Goren, and he tried everything within his power to cancel it, including writing a long and detailed letter to the ministerial committee, in which he argued: How is it possible that precisely in the holiest place for Jews, it is forbidden for them to pray?! True, there are a limited amount of areas in which entrance is forbidden according to the Torah for Jews and Gentiles alike, but entrance to the majority of the Temple Mount is permitted. Towards the end of his letter, he called out: “Distinguished men! Save the Holy of Holies of the Jewish nation; do not hand over the Temple Mount to those who defile it …” (pp 30-33).

The Defense Minister

Unfortunately, Rabbi Goren’s call went unanswered. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan decided to transfer the responsibility for managing the Temple Mount arrangements to the Waqf, and ordered the Military Rabbinate to evacuate Har Habayit, and not to interfere in matters concerning the Temple Mount any more. Rabbi Goren responded with “rage and sorrow”, informing the Defense Minister that “this, God forbid, could lead to the destruction of the Third Temple, for the key to our sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza is the Temple Mount” (page 34).

 

Nevertheless, the Defense Minister implemented one of the most shameful acts in the history of Israel, and handed over the affairs of the Temple Mount to the Muslim Waqf. For many years it was known that Moshe Dayan had both a dark and a light side jumbled together. On the one hand, he was a Jewish military hero, but on the other hand, an adulterer and a thief. Apparently, his adultery and thievery tipped the scales against him. That is when he began to lose his public status. His name will be remembered in infamy.

Sovereignty

Still, when the Muslims closed the Mughrabi Gate to prevent Jews from entering the Temple Mount, at the request of Rabbi Goren, the I.D.F. broke through the gate to ensure free entry for Jews, thereby expressing sovereignty over the Temple Mount. However, this act did not change the order prohibiting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

Rabbi Goren goes on to relate: “Whenever I warned about handing over of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish nation to the Waqf, the response of consecutive Prime Ministers was: ‘Look, in any case the Chief Rabbinate forbids Jews from ascending the Temple Mount, and we are prohibited from praying there.” As a result, he decided to write the book and explain the ways, places, and conditions under which it is permitted to enter the Temple Mount (pg. 35). Consequently “we must utilize to the fullest all sides of the heter, so we can demonstrate continuous Jewish presence there, and maintain Jewish sovereignty over the Mount, like the apple of our eyes” (pg. 46).

The Chief Rabbinate’s Sign

It has been claimed that during his tenure as Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Goren agreed to the prohibition of entering the Temple Mount, but this is not true. In the introduction to his book, he wrote: “During my tenure as Chief Rabbi of Israel, I brought a proposal to the Council of the Chief Rabbinate to remove the signs banning entrance to the Temple Mount as determined by the previous Chief Rabbis. Because there were a few members on the Council who had signed on the ban at the time, they requested delaying the decision to remove the signs prohibiting going up to Har Habayit until after I published the book …” For various reasons, the books’ publication was delayed, and the signs remained in place, “which, in effect, led to the handing over of Har Habayit to the Muslim Waqf” (ibid pg. 35).

Desecration of the Holy

Moreover, he wrote: “This shameful situation, where under Israeli rule a Jew does not have the right to pray on the mountain of God, cannot be tolerated under any circumstances. The debate over where it is permitted according to Jewish law to go on the Temple Mount, or where it is forbidden, has nothing to do with the government … These sacred places are not the private property of the Muslim Waqf, whose members have always been a source of bitterness and poison for the Jews, with their incitement from within the mosques on the Temple Mount to slaughter the Jews… had they closed the Temple Mount to Jews and non-Jews alike, I would have kept quiet, but to allow the Arabs to do there as they please while Jews are forbidden to even open up a Book of Psalms and pour out their hearts before the Creator of the world – this is a religious, historical, and legal scandal – nothing short of blasphemy! “(pg. 41).

He further added (pg. 42) that by abstaining from going up to the Temple Mount, the Torah prohibition of ‘lo techonem‘ (‘nor be gracious to them’), which may also be rendered ‘do not allow them to settle on the soil’ (Avoda Zara 20a) is transgressed, seeing as the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) have already established that the loss of sovereignty is similar to destruction (B.Y. and M.A., O.C. 561:1). Thus, when the government forbids Jews to go up freely, it destroys the place of our Holy Temple yet again.

The Words of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook

Some people believe that our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook, agreed with the poskim who prohibited going up to Har Habayit. But in my humble opinion, it seems that had he saw that the over- cautiousness of going up to Har Habayit would result in the loss of sovereignty and turning the Temple Mount into a focal point of hatred against Israel – he would have agreed with Rabbi Goren that it is permitted and a mitzvah to go up. In addition, in my humble opinion, he would have trusted Rabbi Goren’s halakhic inquiries in regards to the areas permitted to enter.

Blessed are Those Who Ascend the Temple Mount

The continuation of the disgraceful situation on the Temple Mount brings our enemies hope, and motivates them to kill and riot throughout the country. In order to suppress the wave of terrorism and incitement from its roots, the government and the police must assert Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount in the most decisive manner.

Blessed are those who go up to Har Habayit according to halakha. Thanks to them, our sovereignty over the Temple Mount and all of the Land of Israel becomes clearer, and precisely as a result of this, we will merit security and peace.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

 Break Free from Materialism

The inhabitants of Sodom worshiped material wealth, and anyone who gave charity to the poor was considered a heretic * The pursuit of materialism is never satisfied * Today as well, some people value a person according to his wealth * The price paid by society for worshipping the rich * For those enslaved to materialism, their salaries will never be enough to cover their expenses * The solution is to break free from enslavement to materialism and live a more spiritual life; but to do so, a supportive environment is also needed  * A story of kindness, hospitality and the joy of Sukkot

The Sin of the People of Sodom – Materialism

The sin of Sodomites was that they believed materialism was man’s goal in life. They worshipped the material, offered sacrifices to it, and all their laws were designed for its sake. The life of the wealthy was considered valuable in their eyes, and therefore, it was only fitting for them to earn more and get richer. On the other hand, the life of the poor was considered valueless, and as a result, they made ​​sure the poor would die, or at the very least, disappear from their country. Consequently, anyone who gave charity to the poor was severely punished, and considered a heretic and a defiant against the gods of their money and gold.

In contrast to Avraham Avinu who would seek out guests, the people of Sodom said: “Who needs these strangers? They come only to take our money.” They decreed not to host any more guests, and if by chance a wealthy passerby was found within their midst, they would find a legal pretext to kill him and take his money, as they sought to do to the angels who came to visit Lot (see, Sanhedrin 109 a-b).

‘And Yet the Soul is not filled’

However, no matter how rich a person is – how much clothing, furniture, houses or cars he buys – his life will not be any better. His inner longing is for a life rich in spirituality and values. On the contrary, the pursuit after the incorrect challenge, which does not lead to true satisfaction, will only make his life hollower. The subsequent destruction of Sodom expressed the true reality of those whose entire lives revolve around materialism – they have no soul and perish; even the ground they leave behind remains desolate.

The Dross of Sodom in Our Days

In this day and age, after the values of the Bible have spread throughout the world, there are virtually no wicked people who would dare make vicious declarations like the people of Sodom, but a lot of residue from the Sodomites still remains. Many people believe that a person’s worth is measured according to his wealth, the house he lives in, the car he drives, and the brand-name clothing he wears. Flocks of sycophants and admirers surround the rich. The media covers their glittering events in detail – as  if that is the real life. Most of our elected officials worship them as well.

In the end, when the affluent damage natural resources and public interests, or oppress their employees – few dare to stand up against them. This is how they are able to purchase state-owned companies for a quarter of the price, create cartels, prevent fair competition, raise prices, and continue to get rich at the expense of the general public. That’s the price that the public pays for their stupidity of worshiping tycoons.

Living in Overdraft

A lot of people say: ‘We don’t revere wealthy people, and don’t judge a person by his income level’,  but nevertheless, they also are enslaved to the culture of materialism: the fact is, that at the end of the month, their bank accounts are overdrawn. They feel they need to constantly buy things, and no matter how much money they earn – they will always find reasons to spend all the money in their possession. When they made seven thousand shekels, they thought that if they could only make eight thousand, they would be satisfied. But lo and behold, when they make ten thousand shekels, they claim they need another two thousand a month; and even when their income rises to 15,000 shekels a month, it turns out they need more.

Life that revolves around materialism creates a sense of emptiness and a incompleteness. 

The Solution: Living a Life of Spirituality

The solution to this problem is understanding that man’s true purpose is spiritual. Money and possessions are important tools to assist a life of spirituality, but they are not the objective. When a person is constantly engaged with his money and possessions, he turns everything upside down. The tools become his goal, and as a result, his life does not have true meaning.

If he’s able to make an honest reckoning, he will realize that most of his money he spent on luxuries – and  neglected the important things. He didn’t invest enough in enlarging his family and providing a proper education for his children, and did not leave himself time to learn and do good deeds.

Society

The problem is that even someone who manages to fill his life with spiritual content, enjoys learning, is happy to help friends, contributes to society and participates in the settlement of the Land of Israel – against his will, he is influenced by the materialistic culture surrounding him that dictates a standard of living in which a person who is unable to attain it, feels poor.

Society imposes too high a level of housing, and even in the field of religious education – society dictates excessively high costs. Only a society which sets for itself value-based ideals can create a solution to this problem. One of the principles that should guide such a society is that someone who earns a minimum wage should be able to live reasonably, without requiring charity and goodwill.

It doesn’t make sense that in a generation such as ours, in which the standard of living has risen remarkably, and even people who earn the minimum wage can live as the rich did fifty years ago, there are so many people who feel they cannot buy a house, raise children, and provide them with a quality education.

In order to completely break free from the bondage of materialism, it is necessary to build a society which places its spiritual values ​​in the forefront; a society which understands the great importance of the material as a tool, but does not turn it into a value that shoves aside and stifles spiritual values. This is the mission that was placed on the Nation of Israel to be an Am Segula(Chosen People), to reveal the Divine Presence in the world, and to be a role model for all nations – ‘until the earth is filled with the knowledge of Hashem as the waters cover the sea.’

A Story

On the Shabbat in which we learn about themitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality), I thought to add a nice story about it.

My wife, Rabbanit Inbal, initiated a nice custom in the community of Har Bracha. On Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the women gather for a holiday party, and anyone who has a nice, enriching story about something that happened during the chag(holiday) or throughout the year, shares it with her friends. Not by chance the holiday of Sukkot was chosen for this party, because Sukkot is the festival of harvesting, where we gather all the good things that happened to us during the year, and therefore, it is a particularly joyous holiday.

The women relate exceptionally beautiful stories, and within a few days, the men in the community also hear about the interesting stories, and pass them on.

This year, a woman in her thirties related the following story: “My father passed away 15 years ago, about a month after the holiday of Sukkot, which he loved dearly. Since then, my siblings and I have tried to fill our mother’s void. My older married sisters always invited my mother to stay with them, but she preferred to stay at home. Being the youngest daughter in the family, I was left with my mother to celebrate the holiday at home. In order to fulfill the mitzvah of eating in the sukkah, we would go to the nearby synagogue sukkah on the holiday and Shabbat. After I got married, just like my sisters, I would continue the customary routine of inviting my mother to stay with us for chag, but as usual, she refused. So it was the case this year, as well.

As the youngest daughter, I did not feel it was my responsibility to try and change her minhag, but after lighting the holiday candles, my heart was flooded with feelings of grief. On the one hand, it is a mitzvah to be happy on the chag, but on the other hand, my thoughts drifted to my mother who was home all alone. Before my husband returned from prayers, I sat down and read the article by Rabbi Melamed in his column ‘Revivim’, which, among other things, dealt with our enormous mitzvah to cheer orphans and widows, and that hosting them in the sukkah is the true fulfillment of the mitzvah of ushpizin (a custom of “inviting” one of seven “exalted guests” into the sukkah).

I discussed this with my husband and we decidedwe would make every effort to invite my mother for Shabbat Chol HaMoed, so she could celebrate with us in our sukkah. We realized that what may have prevented her from coming were the difficulties of traveling, and also the problem of leaving her two best friends. These are two neighbors and good friends whom I’ve known since childhood, and are also widows. One is over the age of 80, and the other is in her 60’s, and was recently widowed. The three of them support each other, and eat most of the Shabbat meals together.

Immediately after Motzei Chag  (the conclusion of the first holiday), I called my mother and invited her and her friends for Shabbat, and I told her that in order to prevent the trouble of travelling for them, I would come pick them up by car, and take them back on Saturday night. My mother tried to dissuade me from my decision because of the difficulty of the trip and the hassle of preparing for Shabbat in one day (the Chag was on Thursday) – in addition to taking care of my young children. However, I remained steadfast in my decision. She admired this very much, and after realizing I was serious about inviting her two neighbors she was pleased, and agreed to pass on the invitation to both of them. Her friends were also very happy, and before long, she announced that they would be coming. My husband and I immediately began organizing the house and the cooking, so that the Shabbat would be full of joy and delicacies, with all the customary salads and dishes of immigrants from Morocco. On Friday morning we continued with the numerous preparations, and in the afternoon, I left my husband and kids, and went to pick them up.

Even as I arrived at my mother’s house, the women’s excitement and great joy was evident. The closer we got to Har Bracha, the joy and happiness grew, as they gazed at the landscape of Samaria and could not stop admiring the mountains and the Jewish settlements appearing along the way, happily looking forward to sharing Shabbat with us.

We got home, and rushed to finish the preparations for Shabbat. Candle lighting arrived, Shabbat entered, and with it, serenity, warmth and love that that enveloped us all together.

Throughout Shabbat, they were amazed by everything – by the scenery, by the fresh mountain air, by our children who were also excited to have them as guests, by the smell of the cooking, and by the amity between neighbors. In the morning I lingered in bed for a while, and all of a sudden, I heard the guests talking to each other in the living room, amazed at the peace and quiet, and that they were able to get a full night’s sleep. One of them said: ‘In my house, I always wake up at four in the morning, and here, in the quiet of the community, I slept till seven.’

To honor them, my husband took them to the Moroccan minyan in the  Yeshiva (instead of his usual Yerushalmi minyan), and they were so overwhelmed by the exact style of the prayers, and by the nice young boy who sang along with Cantor; they said that for decades, they had not heard such beautiful prayers – exactly like they had heard in their childhood – and this, despite the fact that they pray in a Moroccan synagogue every Shabbat.

When Shabbat was over, they could not stop praising the excellent atmosphere. Thus, they drove back with my husband, who they could not stop blessing all the way home, as well. They of course did not forget to tell everyone, their children and family members, about the joyous Shabbat they had.

After Shabbat departed, we were overjoyed by the great privilege we were so fortunate to have had. And without a doubt – more than we benefited from pleasing them – they pleased us.”

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

 

The Laws of ‘Brit Mila’

The First Commandment 

It is no coincidence that the very first commandment that the first  Jew in history was commanded to fulfill was the commandment of  religious circumcision, or in Hebrew, “brit milah.” This fact tells us something  about the value of this particular precept. And though the commandment  to procreate is mentioned in the Torah before the commandment of  circumcision, it is not directed specifically at the People of Israel;  rather, the injunction to procreate includes all of the living  creatures in the world – man, animals, and fish. The commandment  of circumcision, though, is the first commandment directed  specifically toward the Jewish people. And just as the first  commandment which our patriarch Abraham fulfilled was that of  circumcision, so too, the first commandment that each and every Jewish male  who reaches the tender age of eight days old fulfills is that of  circumcision. Indeed, this obligation symbolizes, more than any other  religious duty, the eternal bond between the Jewish People and their  God, a bond which is sealed upon a Jew’s very flesh. 

Through the commandment of circumcision we proclaim that it is not easy to  be Jewish. One must pay with his very blood for being Jewish, as the  verse which we recite in the course of the circumcision ceremony  states: “Through your blood shall you live” (Ezekiel 16:6). The mighty  task which Israel took upon itself is to reveal to a world full of darkness  and heresy, that there is a Creator and Overseer; to inform the  cruel and destructive nations that the true purpose of life is  to pursue kindness and show benevolence, and to lead a life of purity  and morality in a world of lies and hypocrisy. Accomplishing all of  this is no easy task. It is a job which will not be concluded until the  world is completely rectified – and the road is full of hardships and sacrifice. The act of removing the foreskin, which symbolizes the moral defect that attached itself to the world,  involves blood and pain – but there is no other path. For the only  other alternative would be to compromise and to become demoralized in  the impurity of the cruel and destructive nations, hence losing  our special value and national identity. 

From every page in the history of the Jewish people, from the  destruction of the Temple until the Holocaust, we learn that our  mission is a difficult one involving genuine self-sacrifice. This is  our destiny and responsibility. 

By way of ‘brit mila’ we declare to the entire world that we, the Jewish  people, continue to be firm in our faith and ready to sacrifice  ourselves until we have reached the fulfillment of all of our  upright and just aspirations. 

The Most Important Commandment 

The classic code of Jewish Law, the “Shulchan Arukh,” dedicates an  entire chapter to clarifying and emphasizing the fact that the  commandment of ‘brit milah’ is the most important of all practical,  positive commandments. Generally, each chapter of the “Shulchan Arukh”  is made up of a number of subdivisions, but chapter 260 of Yoreh Deah  contains only one law, which is entirely dedicated to emphasizing the  importance of ‘brit milah.’ And this is what is written there: “It is  a positive commandment for the father to circumcise his son, and this  commandment is of greater importance than all other positive  commandments.” 

It is no coincidence that this particular commandment is embellished  with great adornment by all Jews, regardless of affiliation to  movement or organization. Even if the Jew’s natural bond to some of  the commandments has been weakened, when it comes to ‘brit milah’ there is  a general consensus. This agreement is equivalent to the testimony of  a hundred witnesses regarding the true feeling of each Jew regarding  Jewish faith and the Torah. Incidentally, there are a number of other  central commandments regarding which there is wide general acceptance  among Jews. For example: love for one’s fellow, honoring parents,  honesty, the saving of life, and settlement of the Land of Israel. In  fact, if one takes into consideration the entire Torah and its 613  commandments, one finds that there is no clear line dividing  “religious” and “secular” Jews. In practice, there are many non-  observant Jews who fulfill abundant Torah commandments with great  adoration, while there are those who are termed “religious,” who,  in fact, fail to perform many of the commandments. However, the  precept of ‘brit milah’ is undoubtedly the most widely embraced of the  commandments, for more than any other ritual, it gives expression  to a sense of belonging to the Jewish people – the nation which has  been chosen for the task of revealing Divine ideals in the world. 

Yet, despite the great importance of this commandment, one must be  aware of the fact that a Jew is one whose mother is Jewish; and even  if he is not circumcised and he does not appear to be Jewish, if his  mother is Jewish, he too is Jewish. It is important for us to remember  this fact, for, lately, many uncircumcised Jews have been immigrating  to Israel, and there are some who mistakenly claim that any Jew who  has not been circumcised is like a non-Jew, and must convert in order  to join the Jewish people. The fact of the matter is that whoever was  born to a Jewish mother, or converted to Judaism according to Jewish  law, is Jewish. Judaism begins from the soul, from the fact that the  Almighty chose us from among all the nations and infused us with a  soul capable of giving expression to the Divine values of the Torah in  the world. The commandments are the instruments and the means through  which Judaism appears in the world, and the first of these  commandments is that of ‘brit milah.’ One who does not fulfill Torah  commandments fails to reveal and express the hallowed  Jewish soul within him. 

All of this is true regarding one who was born to a Jewish mother. A  non-Jew, though, who desires to join the Jewish people through  conversion, and thus establish a new Halakhic fact – i.e., that from  this time onward his offspring will be members of the Jewish people –  must accept upon himself the responsibility of fulfilling all of the  commandments. Our Sages teach that the ultimate source of the soul a  non-Jew who takes upon himself to convert to Judaism, is in fact  Jewish; yet, in order to get to this source, the convert must accept  upon himself to fulfill all of the commandments. In other words, one  who was born Jewish possesses a Jewish soul, and even if he does not  observe the commandments, his spiritual nature does not change; but,  regarding a convert, only the foundation of his soul is Jewish, and,  therefore, only by formally accepting upon himself the commandments  can a Jewish soul reside within him. True, these matters cannot be  proven scientifically, but I believe that a broad and all-encompassing  examination of the history of the Jewish people and of those converts  who did not earnestly accept upon themselves the Torah commandments  can help us understand these profound ideas. 

Abraham’s Offspring

 

Regarding the question of the circumcision of Abraham’s other children  besides Isaac, we find an interesting discrepancy among the early  authorities of Jewish law. When it comes to the rest of the nations of  the world there is agreement among rabbinic arbiters that they should  not be circumcised, for circumcision is a commandment incumbent upon the  children of Abraham alone. The source of this obligation lies in the  verse, “And you must keep my covenant (“brit”); you and your seed  after you for all generations” (Genesis 17:9). And our Sages of the  Talmud explain that the intention here is to Abraham’s seed alone –  “you and your seed” but not other people. Ishmael is not considered  the seed of Abraham, for it is written elsewhere (Genesis 21:12): “It  is through Isaac that you will gain posterity.” Esau, the son of  Isaac, is also not considered the seed of Abraham, for it is written,  “It is through Isaac that you will gain posterity” – of Isaac, but not  all of Isaac’s seed. In other words, only a portion of Isaac’s seed is  called the “seed of Abraham,” and that is the portion which was born  of the offspring of Jacob, and they are the ones commanded to fulfill  the commandment of ‘brit milah.’ 

Yet, because Abraham had other children besides Isaac and Ishmael – as  it is written, after the death of our Matriarch Sarah (Genesis 25:1):  “And Abraham married another woman whose name was Keturah,” and she  bore him six children – it is necessary to clarify the law regarding  them. According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 59b), even though all of Abraham’s  sons were commanded to perform circumcision, their sons – that is, the  offspring of Abraham’s additional children – are not bound by this  commandment, and it belongs solely to the Jews. 

According to the Rambam, though, Ishmael’s offspring was freed from  this commandment because the verse “It is through Isaac that you will  gain posterity” removes the seed of Ishmael from the category of  Abraham’s seed. The offspring of Keturah, though, had not yet been  born at the time when that verse was stated to Abraham. Concerning  them, then, there is no indication in the scriptures that they are to  be separated from Abraham’s seed. Therefore, even though they are  not Jews – for they are not progeny of the Patriarchs Isaac and Jacob  – they are none the less obligated to perform circumcision as the seed  of Abraham. Rambam also rules that, because the offspring of Keturah  have in the meantime become intermixed with the offspring of Ishmael,  and Keturah constitutes the majority, all of them are bound by this  commandment (Hilkhot Melakhim 10:8). 

It is worth mentioning here that there is a unique bond between the  statute of ‘brit milah’ and the Land of Israel, to the point where it  is an historical fact that nations which are not circumcised are not  capable of settling the Land of Israel. Our Sages even teach (Zohar  vol. 2, 23:1) that whoever is circumcised can inherit the land.  Indeed, in the days of Joshua, before the Children of Israel began  their conquest of Israel, all of the men who had not yet performed  ‘brit milah’ were called upon to do so. Only after this were the Israelites able to conquer the land. In addition, our Sages foresaw long ago that the Ishmaelites would gain control of the  Holy Land for an extended period of time, while the land was barren  and desolate. The reason for this is that the Ishmaelites practice  circumcision, and our Sages said they will therefore succeed in  delaying the return of Israel to its land. But because their ‘milah’  is itself “desolate”, i.e., worthless and defective (they do not  circumcise on the eighth day, and they also do not remove the thin  layer of skin, and whoever circumcises without removing the membrane  of the corona, it is as if he did not circumcise whatsoever. Therefore the Land  of Israel will remain barren and desolate while in their possession,  and in the end, the Land of Israel will become the possession of the  People of Israel. 

Removal of the Foreskin

 

When it comes to the commandment of ‘brit milah’ there arises a  justified question: Who are we to make adjustments which run counter  to nature? If man is born naturally with a foreskin, is it not best to  simply leave things as they are? And if the foreskin is so abhorrent  that God himself desires that we remove it, why did He create it to  begin with?  The truth of the matter is that this question was already asked ages  ago by the Rabbis of the Midrash (see Midrash Tanchuma, Tazriah 5):  Turnus Rufus, the wicked Roman general once challenged Rabbi Akiva,  asking him: “If the Almighty God so desires circumcision, why does the  newborn not enter the world already circumcised?” The Talmud also  tells us that on another occasion Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva a  similar question (Bava Batra 10a): “If the Almighty loves the poor –  for we see that he has commanded to give them charity – why does He  not provide for them Himself?” To this Rabbi Akiva responded that the  Almighty does not provide for them, in order that we ourselves are  allowed to merit fulfilling the commandment. In other words, certainly  God can provide for the poor, but He created the world with deficiency  so that man is granted the privilege of taking part in the perfection  of creation. The same is true regarding the foreskin. Certainly God  could have created man circumcised, without foreskin, and without any  evil inclinations, but this was not God’s desire in creating man in  His image. The desire was for man to be God’s partner in the creation  of the world. 

This is why the Creator left part of the creation incomplete – in  order that we complete the work. And in order to complete it, one must also  perform kind deeds like giving charity, and driving away the negative  tendencies in man’s nature. 

The foreskin represents the undesirable aspects of man’s nature. The  foreskin, which is skin that the body has no need for, represents  indulgence rather than necessity, the fleeting appetite which leaves  only a bad taste in its wake. It is the opposite of true love, which  constitutes the foundation of life. Removing the foreskin initiates a  process of individual refinement, and with the beginning of this  process a covenant is forged between the newborn child and the eternal  nation. The Jewish nation is forever being refined and made pure, and  together with it, the entire universe. 

On the Eighth Day – Even on Sabbath 

It is written in the Torah (Leviticus 12:3): “On the eighth day, the  child’s foreskin shall be circumcised.” The Torah says that the  commandment to circumcise the child must be carried out on the eighth  day, no sooner, and no later. And it is so important that the brit take  place on the eighth day that even if the eighth day falls on the  Sabbath, the brit supersedes the day of rest, and the circumcision is  performed. This is how it is done: Whatever is needed for the brit  milah must be prepared before the Sabbath, while the milah itself is  carried out on the Sabbath, for the Torah commands us to circumcise on  the eighth day even if it falls on the Sabbath. And clearly the brit  should not be delayed for other reasons, for example, in order to  allow relatives to arrive. Indeed, even if the father himself is  abroad, the brit must go ahead without him. 

Regarding the eighth day, Rabbi Yehudah Loew, the Maharal of Prague,  explains that the nature of the physical world is such that it lacks  perfection. It is limited and deficient. In order to attain the  spiritual level which suits the nature of our soul, we must perfect  it. This is the role of the brit mila. And it must necessarily be  performed on the eighth day, because, seeing as the world was created in  seven days, the natural world is characterized by the number seven.  After this, on the eighth day, we ascend to a level beyond nature. 

There is one reason alone for which we postpone the brit: illness of  the baby. In this regard we are very cautious. And if there is even  the slightest suspicion of endangerment to the baby’s life, the brit  must be postponed until the complete recovery of the baby. Under no  circumstances is it permitted to attempt to be stringent in this  matter. According to the Shulchan Arukh, one must be very cautious in  these matters, for it is forbidden to circumcise a baby who is  suspected of being ill, because protecting life takes precedence over  all. It is possible to circumcise the baby at some later date, but it  is impossible to ever replace even a single Jewish soul (Shulchan  Arukh, Yoreh Deah 263:1). 

In the event of a delayed Brit Mila due to danger, one waits until the  baby has healed completely. If the illness has taken hold of the  baby’s entire body, one must wait seven days after recovery before  performing the circumcision and then go ahead with the brit  immediately (Shulchan Arukh, Yoreh Deah 262:2). In the case of a  postponed brit which falls on the Sabbath, it is delayed until Sunday,  for only a brit which is performed in its proper time – i.e., on the  eighth day – takes precedence over the Sabbath. A brit which has at  any rate been postponed does not override the Sabbath (Shulchan Arukh,  Yoreh Deah 266:2). 

This article was taken from Rabbi Melamed’s series of Jewish law books “Peninei Halakha”, and translated from Hebrew.  

Abortion of Fetuses with Severe Abnormalities in Jewish Law

A fetus is considered a living entity in regards to certain laws, but there is no penalty of death for taking its life * Is the prohibition of aborting a fetus derived from the severe prohibition of murder, or the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body? * The dispute among contemporary poskim (Jewish law arbiters) about whether it is permitted to abort a fetus suffering from serious illnesses * The opinion of those poskim who hold that abortion is permitted only when the mother’s life is in danger * The opinion of poskim who hold that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body, and consequently, if the fetus has a severe defect, abortion is permitted * The instruction of the former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira to publicize the opinion of the lenient poskim * In practice, it is proper to be lenient * An account of how our teacher and guide, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz”l, instructed to be lenient

Is it Permissible to Abort a Fetus Suffering from Severe Defects?

One of the difficult questions in Jewish law is when, during pregnancy, it becomes evident that a fetus suffers from severe defects: Is it permitted to terminate the pregnancy? In the past, such a question did not exist, because there was no way of checking the condition of the fetus. Yet, infants who suffered from significant defects usually died in infancy or childhood, since infant and child mortality was extremely high, and even among healthy children, over fifty percent of them did not reach their teens.

The Fetuses’ In-between Status

On the one hand, clearly it is forbidden to kill a fetus or cause it to die. Moreover, we are even commanded to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save a fetus – even if it has not yet reached the age of forty days. This is because the fetus will eventually become a living person, and as our Sages said (Yoma 85b), “Profane for his sake one Sabbath, so that he may keep many Sabbaths” (Bahag, Ramban, Peninei Halakha:Shabbat 27:3).

On the other hand, as long as the fetus is still in its mother’s womb, it does not have the din (legal status) of a living person, and therefore, although someone who kills a human being is deserving of death, one who kills a fetus is not. And since the fetus is not considered to be a living person, it does not have the right of inheritance as does a child already born, it is not defiled by the dead, and only from the moment of birth is it considered to be a human being (Nida 44a,b).

The Source for the Prohibition of Abortion

We learned in this week’s Torah portion: “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man (in Hebrew, ‘ha’adam b’adam‘, literally, ‘the person within a person’), for God made man with His own image” (Genesis 9:6). From this verse, Rabbi Ishmael interpreted in a homiletic manner: Who is the person within a person? – This refers to a fetus, and one who kills it also deserves death (Sanhedrin 57b; Rambam Laws of Kings 9:4. It is important to note that the penalty of death referred to is only for B’nei Noah, in similar respect to a Ben Noah who steals a pruta (penny) is deserving of the death penalty; rather, this is the maximum punishment intended for deterrence, and is subject to the decision of the legal system of any given nation).

Nevertheless, the question is: What is the foundation of the prohibition of abortion? Is it because of murder, or the prohibition of chabalah (causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body)? Seemingly, the fact that the prohibition was mentioned in conjunction with the prohibition of murder means it is a derivative of murder. On the other hand, since the killing of a fetus had to be learned from a homiletic interpretation seemingly means that without this interpretation, we would not know that it is forbidden to kill a fetus, and hence, the prohibition of abortion is derived solely from the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body. Additionally, we have learned in the Torah (Exodus 21:22) that a person who arms a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry is obligated to pay damages, implying that abortion is not considered murder.

The Stringent Opinion

In the opinion of Rabbi Unterman and Rabbi Feinstein abortion is forbidden indeed because of murder, and consequently, under no circumstances can a fetus be aborted, even if it is suffering from the most severe illnesses. Only in a situation when the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother is an abortion permitted, because her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus.

Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) instructed to forbid abortions because of the seriousness of the matter and the value of human life, but did not regard abortion as actual murder. This was the instruction of Rabbi Auerbach and Rabbi Elyashiv (Nishmat Avraham, Choshen Mishpat 425, 1:1).

In a similar manner, in the responsa ‘Shevet Halevi’ (7,208; 9, 266), Rabbi Wosner rejected the words of those who believe that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of murder, but nevertheless, permitted abortion only in a situation of safek nefashot (possible danger to life).

Some poskim were machmir (stringent) because they took something else into consideration – the difficulty of trusting doctors, who often assert that the fetus is deformed, but in the end, a healthy baby is born. This was the inclination of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Yebiah Omer, section 4, E.H. 1), since it is a safek issur d’oreita (a possible Torah
prohibition), and it is difficult to trust doctors.

The Lenient Opinion

Many poskim believe that abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing unnecessary physical harm to the human body and hashchata (wanton destruction). So is it written the responsa ‘Maharit’ (1, 97) and responsa’ Chavot Yair’. Accordingly, in severe cases and to avoid great sorrow – there is room to consider permitting an abortion.

In the responsa ‘Rav Pealim’, the Ben Ish Chai was asked about a case of an ubar mamzer (a fetus conceived from a forbidden relation) in its fifth month – can it be aborted? He did not want to reply with an unequivocal ruling, but rather summarized for the rabbi who asked, that in the opinion of Chavot Yair, when there is no great need it is forbidden l’chatchila (from the outset). And in the opinion of Maharit (1, 97), abortion is prohibited because of chabalah, and is permitted when necessary. Apparently from his words, he was inclined to be lenient. And in the responsa ‘She’elat Yavetz’ (1, 43), Rabbi Emden permitted the abortion an ubar mamzer.

The responsa ‘Chesed Me’Lublin’ (E.H.) concluded that there is a difference of opinion among the Rishonim whether the prohibition of abortion is from the Torah or of rabbinic stature, and if in the opinion of those who believe it is from the Torah, it is permitted to abort in a case of a mother’s great need, even if there is no mortal danger.

In the responsa ‘Mishpatei Uziel’ (section 4, Choshen Mishpat 44), the question was asked about a woman who, in the opinion of the doctors, if allowed to continue her pregnancy would become deaf, and Rabbi Uziel answered that since deafness is a considerable impairment, she is allowed to abort.

And in the responsa ‘Seridei Aish’ (Choshen Mishpat 162), Rabbi Weinberg inclined to be lenient according to the opinion of the majority of Rishonim, that abortion is not considered murder, because the fetus is not yet considered a person.

Our teacher and mentor, Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli (Amud HaYemini 32), also wrote in a similar manner. And this was also the instruction of Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg in his responsa ‘Tzitz Eliezer’ (chapter 9, 51, 3:3, and many other places), while basing his remarks on a broad and thorough discussion of all aspects of the matter.

The Reason for Past Conclusions

Some twenty-five years ago my sister, who worked as a nurse at Shaare Zedek Hospital, told me that majority of Jewish babies who were born with Down’s syndrome and other far more severe defects came from religiously observant families. This was because the public is unaware that there are poskim who are lenient regarding having an abortion in cases of illness, and consequently, many women do not perform tests while pregnant. And even for a woman who is tested and it turns out that her fetus suffers from severe defects, it is inconceivable to her that there might be room to ask a rabbi a halakhic question.

I was shocked to hear this sad fact, and just to be sure I checked with various doctors, and indeed, it turned out to be true. I thought there was immense value in publicizing the lenient opinion of the poskim in my daily halakha spot on Arutz Sheva, which I broadcasted at the time.

Yet, I knew that some people would argue that I shouldn’t publicize the lenient opinion, lest “the fences are breached” and some women determine the halakha leniently for themselves, to have an abortion for economic or social reasons, or because of minor defects, which are forbidden in the opinion of all poskim.

I went to my mentor and guide, Rabbi Avraham Shapira shlita, Rosh Yeshiva of Mercaz Harav and Chief Rabbi of Israel, to ask his opinion. He was also sad to hear the data, and told me it was very important to publicize the opinion of the lenient poskim because their opinions could be relied on. And when I asked if I could quote his name and opinion, he did not want to determine in favor of one of the views, but instructed me to say that every family may decide whether to ask a rabbi who is inclined l’chumra (to be strict) or l’kula (to be lenient). (Later, I heard that after Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Waldenberg died and he could no longer send questioners to them, he himself instructed to be lenient).

Indeed, for the benefit of the public at large, I taught this halakha in the framework of ‘Pinat Ha’Halacha‘ (‘the Halakha Spot’) on Arutz Sheva. Later on, I summarized these laws in detail in my book ‘Peninei Halakha‘ (Likutim Bet), and in my newspaper column ‘Revivim‘.

The Primary Opinion is that of Leniency

Over the last year I have re-examined this profound issue, and out of my studies, my belief that the lenient opinion is the primary one has strengthened. This is because from the issue in the Gemara, the words of the Rishonim and Achronim, it arises that the prohibition of abortion is because of hashchata, and not murder. Indeed, many poskim of the last generation inclined to be stringent; the minority of them because they believed that abortion is forbidden as murder, and the majority because of the great value of life inherent in the fetus. Some poskim instructed in this manner because they did not rely on the opinion of doctors.

And even though the issue is very severe, it seemingly, it would be appropriate to take into consideration the opinion of the stringent poskim, nevertheless, in this case it is proper to be lenient, because being stringent in such issues can cause terrible suffering to the parents and those born, and sometimes the suffering leads to the break-up of the family. Therefore, in an extremely pressing situation, such as when the fetus suffers from Tay-Sachs or other severe defects, or the fetus is known to a mamzer, or continuing the pregnancy could cause blindness or deafness to the mother – one can rely on the lenient opinion of the poskim, for their opinion is more well-founded. This was the inclination of my rabbis, Roshei Yeshivot (heads) of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva.

However, in any such serious questions, one must get the opinion of an honest doctor who relates reverently to the life of the fetus, and then ask a rabbi who is familiar with the field.

Ma’aseh Rav

I heard from my father and teacher, Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed shlita, that when he was a young teacher in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva about forty-five years ago, he was approached by a married couple with a question: While pregnant, the woman became ill with German measles and according to the doctors, there is a twenty-five percent chance that the fetus will be deformed. At first, my father went to Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli, one of the heads of the Yeshiva. However, despite the fact that in his book ‘Amud HaYemini’ he wrote abortion was permitted, he did not want to decide this question, and referred my father to his colleague, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who inclined to be strict in this matter. And indeed, Rabbi Elyashiv said there was no possibility of being lenient without the fear of pikuach nefesh (life endangering situation), but if there is a concern that the woman will become mentally unstable, it is possible to be lenient. My father asked him: And how can we know if there is such concern? He replied: Let the pregnant woman decide.

The woman was not able to decide, and the couple remained in tremendous sorrow. This being the case, my father went to his teacher and mentor, the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l – who was nearly twenty years older than Rabbi Yisraeli and Rabbi Elyashiv, but was not accustomed to determine halakhic questions – and asked him what to do, given that Rabbi Yisraeli refrained from permitting, and Rabbi Elyashiv was stringent. Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah said to rely on the written answer of Rabbi Yisraeli, and permit the abortion. End of story.

Apparently, Rabbi Yisraeli avoided permitting the abortion because he wrote his response that only when the majority of the chances are that the fetus is ill, is an abortion permitted, and since in the question at hand the risk was twenty-five percent, he abstained from permitting. What Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah instructed was in accordance with the principle written in Rabbi Yisraeli’s response, whereby abortion is forbidden because of the prohibition of causing chabalah,
and not because of murder, and in a situation of significant danger, and when the couple is also in a state of great sorrow, it is possible to rely on the foundations clarified in his written response.

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Judgment on the High Holidays

In the opinion of many Jewish law authorities, the principal judgment on the High Holidays concerns the World to Come * Life in the World to Come is divided into two stages: the World of Souls, and the Resurrection of the Dead * “The reward of a mitzvah, is a mitzvah” – one who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will  have events occur during the year that help him continue ascending spiritually * In general, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished, but the factors of  judgment are profound and complex * Why do the righteous sometimes suffer, and the wicked live the good life in this world * Reward and punishment is according to the intensity and effort of the test * The effect of the judgment of ‘Clal Yisrael’ on the individual

What is Man judged for during the High Holidays?

Prior to the ‘Yamim Nora’im’ (Days of Awe), I will dedicate this column to a deepening of the understanding of din (judgment). And although the topic is complex, studying it carries great benefit, because it involves attempting to arrange complex issues (a reader who wishes to understand these topics more thoroughly, can refer to ‘Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im’, Chapter 1). Our Sages said that on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the righteous are judged for life, and the wicked for death. And as we will learn further on, the meaning is life in this world and the World to Come, as well.

The Two Phases of the World to Come

Life in Olam Ha’Ba (the World to Come) is comprised of two phases. The first stage begins after one’s death, when his soul rises to the Olam HaNeshamot (World of Souls), which consists of Gan Eden for the righteous, and Gehinom for the wicked. The second phase will arrive after tikkun olam (perfection of the world) is completed with Techiyat HaMeytim (Resurrection of the Dead), when souls are reunited with the bodies, and together, ascend endlessly (Ramban, Sha’ar Ha’Gamul; Ramchal, Derech Hashem, Part 1, section III). The World to Come, in both its phases, is also called Olam HaEmet (the World of Truth), because in comparison to this world where falsehood prevails, and the external appearance hides the inner essence – in the World to Come the real status of a person and the true value of his actions becomes clear. And since the World to Come is immeasurably more important than this world, as our Sages said “This world is like a lobby before the World to Come” (Avot, 4:16), in the opinion of many Torah authorities, one’s principle judgment on Rosh Hashanah concerns the World to Come.

Two Components of the Judgment Concerning the World to Come

The first component of judgment is that every year, all of one’s actions during the year are taken into account. For the good actions one has performed reward is reserved for the World to Come, and for his bad actions, punishment. However, the judgment determined on Rosh Hashanah is not final, because if during the coming years one repents, he saves himself from the judgment of Gehinom, and increases his reward in the World to Come. And if, God forbid, a person has misgivings about his previous ways, and regrets having done good deeds, he will inherit Gehinom and lose the reward that had been reserved for him in the World to Come.

The Opportunity to Get Closer to God

The second part of judgment is the opportunity to come closer to God in the coming year. A person who is judged for life on Rosh Hashanah will be given opportunities during the year that will help him continue ascending in Torah and mitzvoth, meriting him life in the World to Come. While learning Torah – he merits added enlightenment and understanding; and when performing mitzvoth and good deeds – he merits added joy and blessing, a sort of taste of the World to Come. If, God forbid, one is judged for death, he is given tests and events in the coming year that are liable to turn him away from God, and forfeit the World to Come. And even if he studies Torah – he has difficulty absorbing its Divine enlightenment, and when performing mitzvoth – he will not be able to feel the holiness and pleasure of the commandments properly. This is the meaning of our Sages statement (Avot 4:2): “One mitzvah will lead to another mitzvah, and one sin to another sin. Because the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the wages of a sin, is sin (Nefesh Ha’Chaim 1:12).

Reward is Called ‘Life’ and Penalty ‘Death’

In general, reward is called ‘life’, and penalty is referred to as ‘death’. The definition of life is a closeness and connection with God, the Source of Life, and thereby man merits all the good that God abundantly provides in this world, in the World of Souls, and in the World to Come. And seeing as the source of all good and pleasure in this world stems from the life that God showers the world – the reward in the World to Come is immeasurably greater than all the pleasures of this world, which are but a pale reflection of the Source of Pleasure. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “One hour of spiritual bliss in the World to Come is worth more than the whole life of this world” (Avot 4:17). This is because in the World to Come a person can merit enjoying the splendor of the Divine Presence of God, his life force increasing and growing infinitely stronger, whereas in this world, the Divine aura reaches us through partitions and a great constriction (tzim’tzum). Nevertheless, by adhering to God through the study of Torah and performance of the mitzvoth, a person can merit sort of taste of the World to Come in this world as well, and enjoy devotion to God. In contrast to reward which is referred to as life, the general designation of punishment is death, which is defined as being distanced from the Source of Life, which causes an increase in troubles, until the eventual death of the body in this world, and the torments of the soul in Gehinom.

The Profundity and Complexity of Judgment

Although the rules of judgment are simple – for one who walks in the paths of God receives the blessing in this world and the next, and an evil person is punished in this world and the next – the details of judgment are profound and infinitely complex. Consequently, there are cases in which a righteous person suffers poverty, illness, and dies an early death, and in contrast, a wicked person who continues his evil ways, and is rich and healthy. The primary point is that everything is intended for tikkun olam. And I will now clarify a bit.

Free Choice

For the purpose of tikkun olam, it is essential for man to have bechira chofshit (freedom of choice). Therefore, so long as the world has not reached its perfection, it is impossible for all the righteous to enjoy the good and all the wicked to suffer, because then the choice would be predictable and dictated by the expectation of guaranteed, tangible reward, and fear of definite, tangible punishment, and not out of a free and true choice of good. Therefore, the implementation of judgment is extremely complex and its factors are numerous, so that there will always be righteous people who have to deal with suffering, and wicked people who seem to enjoy worldly pleasures. And thus, free will is not affected, and one who chooses well, merits correcting himself, and the entire world. In any event, when looking at the long-term, for example, family matters and true happiness in life, we usually find that in this world the righteous merit blessing, and the wicked are punished. And this is the key part of the test, for the yetzer hara (evil inclination) inclines one to observe the world superficially and in short-term, while the yetzer ha’tov (good inclination) arouses an individual to perceive the deeper side and the long-term. Therefore, despite the fact that even in this world and in the long-term righteous people generally merit good and the evil often suffer, free choice still remains, because in the short-term this is not evident.

When the Fate of a Person’s Destiny is Sealed

I will now begin to explain the details of judgment. There are people whose destiny is to be rich and to cope with the accompanying inclinations involved with wealth, and even if such a person sins a lot, he will remain wealthy. All the judgment of Rosh Hashanah in this issue concerns his life circumstances as a rich person – will he be happy in his wealth, or suffer worrying over it. This is also the case concerning his life in the World to Come – the judgment is whether his wealth will result in him being able to endure extremely hard or simple tests, or perhaps even help him in his service of God. On the other hand, there are those whose destiny is to cope with poverty, and even if such a person has numerous good deeds he will remain poor, and his verdict concerns whether his poverty will be dreadful, or bearable. And in regards to the World to Come, whether his circumstances of being poor will help him serve God, or interfere. And then occasionally, as a result of special good deeds or grave sins, a person can change the fate of his destiny.

 When the Fate of One’s Destiny is not Sealed

At times, a person’s determined fate is not completely sealed, but only sets the direction and still allows for certain changes, and in such a case the judgment on Rosh Hashanah can also affect a person whose destiny it is to be rich – will he be only comfortable, wealthy, or very rich; and the same goes for the poor – will one be tight for money, poor, or destitute.

Is Wealth a Reward?

And sometimes, a person has no particular destiny to be either poor or rich, and consequently, his fate is not determined. Since he chose to do good deeds in matters relating to money and charity, according to Divine judgment he deserves to be wealthy, and continues to prosper so he can grow further in his acts of righteousness and piety. Sometimes, it is apparent to the One who knows all mysteries, that if a person merits wealth, his evil inclinations will overcome him and there is fear of his sinning in pride, lust and stinginess, and losing his level of righteousness. And in such a case, since deveykut (clinging to God) is the most important feature, upon which his life in this world depends, Heaven has pity on him, and he is judged with hardships of making a living, in order to escape from the difficult test and merit life in the World to Come. And if one is not so deserving, he might merit wealth in this world, but will have to face difficult tests which are liable to lower him to the abyss.

According to the Enormity of the Test

There is another type of accounting: the intensity of coping and overcoming required of a person in order to choose good, and avoid evil. Some people’s destiny is that they were created with a very powerful evil inclination, or grew up in a difficult and bad environment, and even if they are able to learn only a little bit of Torah and do a few good deeds – this has significant value, and they will merit great reward. As said our Sages said “l’foom tzara agra” (the reward is according to the suffering) (Avot 5:23). On the other hand, some people have a strong good inclination and grew up in a good environment, and if they sin – they will be severely punished.

The Reward of the Wicked, and the Punishment of the Righteous, in This World

There is another type of accounting: sometimes, an evil person who did a few mitzvoth is judged to receive all the reward for his mitzvoth in this world, so he will be doomed to Gehinom. And sometimes a righteous person who had a few sins is judged to receive all his punishment in this world, so that he will ascend to Gan Eden clean and pure. And although reward and punishment in this world is incomparable to reward in the World to Come, such an accounting is proper and correct, because the evil person did the mitzvoth for external reasons – to be proud and boast, and therefore, it is also fitting that he be rewarded in this fleeting world, and not receive reward for it in the Olam Ha’Emet (World of Truth). This is also the case for a righteous person; since his main desire was to cling to God, if he accidentally sinned – just as his sin was exterior, so too it is fitting for his punishment to be exterior in this world, and thus, be purified until no blemish remains from the sin in the World to Come (Kiddushin 39b; Derech Hashem, Section 2, 2:6).

Judgment of the Clal and the Individual

It is also important to understand that although the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is for the nation as a whole and for each individual on his own, nevertheless, the judgment of an individual in this world is heavily influenced by the general condition of the nation – each nation according to its concerns. True, sometimes there is no contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for even when the nation as a whole merits receiving an abundance of blessing, the blessing is not affected by there being some individuals who are punished for their sins. Also, when the nation as a whole is punished, the punishment is not affected because some individuals merit reward. But sometimes a contradiction does exist between the judgment of the nation and that of an individual, for example, when the nation is sentenced a difficult verdict such as destruction and exile, and then, inevitably, the righteous are also punished. In any event, the judgment remains unchanged, for in the Olam Ha’Neshamot, in Gan Eden, the righteous will receive their full reward, and the full completion will be in the World to Come, at the time of Techiyat HaMeytim, when the souls return to be reunited with their bodies.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

Praying with Rabbi Aryeh Levin

‘Peninei Halakha’ for the High Holidays * Memories from High Holiday prayers in Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav, imbued by the spirit of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and his son, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda * The style and melodies of prayers that Rabbi Aryeh Levin brought from the Volozhin Yeshiva * The spirit of Merkaz HaRav – sincerity, honest fear of Heaven, enormous love of Israel, and idealism * Why do the High Holiday prayers deal primarily with Clal Yisrael, and not the individual * Accentuating the clal strengthens the individual * How to write halakha in a way that the differences between the customs of various ethnic groups be perceived as differing tones of a harmonious orchestra

A New Book for the High Holidays

With the help of God, a new book on the High Holidays has been published in the series of books ‘Peninei Halakha’, and thus, I merited finishing the laws of Shabbat and the Festivals (seven volumes). In the introduction to the book I wrote a few memories and thoughts that accompanied me in my study and writings.

Memories

“I remember the days when my father and teacher escorted me from the neighborhood of Givat Mordechai in Jerusalem to Yeshiva Merkaz HaRav in Kiryat Moshe for the High Holiday prayers. Although I was a little boy, the great and awesome prayers left a deep impression in my heart. For as long as I could, I would pray there. Every year it becomes clearer to me how much the lofty spirit that pervaded the Yeshiva deepens its impact on me. The walls of the beit midrash (study hall) were permeated with the eminent soul of the founder of the Yeshiva, the great light of recent generations, Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l, and the spirit of his son and heir, the Rosh Yeshiva at the time, our teacher and guide, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook ztz”l . Although, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda would pray in the old building of the Yeshiva, because, how could he not pray in the place where his father prayed? Nevertheless, his impact on those praying in the new building in Kiryat Moshe was huge. Vaguely, I remember the prayers of the righteous Rabbi Aryeh Levin ztz”l, who would lead the Mussaf prayers on the first day of Rosh Hashana, and in addition, the evening, Mussaf, and Ne’ilah prayers on Yom Kippur. The Mussaf prayers on the second day of Rosh Hashana were led by Rabbi Mordechai Frum ztz”l, a teacher in the Yeshiva and the son-in-law of Rabbi Kook’s son-in-law.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin testified that Rabbi Frum’s prayers were similar to those he had heard in the Volozhin Yeshiva, a nusach (version) that was passed down from the Maharil. After he passed away, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook asked my father to be the shaliach tzibbur in his place. I heard from Rabbi Mordechai Sternberg shlita, that indeed, my father’s prayers were very similar to those of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, both in tone and nusach, to the point where when he closed his eyes, it seemed to him that Rabbi Aryeh Levin was standing in prayer at the moment. His prayers were uttered with supplication and humility, like a son reconciling his father.

In the mizrach (the wall of the synagogue that faces east, where seats are reserved for the rabbis and other dignitaries) on the right side of the chazzan (cantor), sat Rabbi Shapira, Rabbi Israeli, Rabbi Frum, and behind them, my father. Opposite, prayed the grandson Rav Kook, Rabbi Shlomo Raanan hy’d. I’ll never forget how he hastened me to emphatically say together with him: “Achat, achat v’achat, etc.” In my childhood years, I wondered about the meaning of this counting which apparently, according to the nusach of the prayer, carries great importance. As a result of this, while growing, up I continued thinking about the meaning. The explanation for this counting (Chapter 10:11) is dedicated to his memory.

I also remember Rabbi Shabbtai Shmueli z”l, the secretary of the Yeshiva and one of its first students, exclaim in a trembling voice from his seat “Ha Melech” (the King), and approach the pulpit to lead the morning prayers. Afterwards, he would blow the shofar. Later, when he got older, my uncle, Rabbi Eitan Eisman shlita, who also accompanied us from Givat Mordechai, replaced him, and became the permanent shofar blower. He also taught me to blow the shofar, thereby fulfilling the words of our Sages: “Children need not be stopped from blowing; on the contrary, they may be helped until they learn how to blow” (Rosh Hashana 33a; R’ma 596:1). I remember the Kiddush the rabbis made in the classrooms with Rabbi Mordechai Frum before Mussaf, and his state of tension prior to the holy service. On our way back, we would go through the Hebrew University, and in its pond, we would do tashlich.

After the passing of Rabbi Aryeh Levin, our teacher and guide, Rabbi Avraham Shapira ztz”l became the shaliach tzibbur for Ne’ilah, and later, after Rabbi Mordechai Frum passed away, also for one mussaf prayer of Rosh Hashana. And when my father moved to Beit El, Rabbi Shapira served as chazzan for both Mussaf prayers, and his voice, which would emanate from the core of his soul, filled with great emotion, would tremble and stir the hearts.

Kol Nidrei, and usually Ne’ilah, we prayed in Givat Mordechai, and there I got to pray with baalei batim, some of whom were Holocaust survivors, and hear Rabbi Yehuda Amital ztz”l serve as chazzan. His tunes, which were also steeped in warmth and yearning, had an influence on me. Later, after he began to pray in his yeshiva in Har Etzion, my father replaced him in the Ne’ilah prayer. This also happened when the Yom Kippur War broke out, when synagogue worshipers were recruited to the front.

When I try to decipher the unique atmosphere in Yeshiva Mercaz Harav, it seems to me that in addition to the excitement that accompanies all yeshivas, a unique spirit of sincerity, honest fear of Heaven, tremendous love for Israel, and idealism permeated the Yeshiva. There were Torah scholars and yeshiva students who were connected with all their hearts to the soldiers in the army, to the settlers making our land bloom, to all inhabitants of the land, and the Jews of the Diaspora. And above all, they yearned for the revelation Torat Eretz Yisrael, to bring Ge’ulah (redemption) to the world, as our teacher and guide, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda would always teach his classes, which I was privileged to hear later on in my studies at the Yeshiva.

In the book “Peninei Halakha: Yamim Nora’im“, I tried to impart some of the inspiration I merited receiving from the High Holiday prayers within the Yeshiva of Maran Harav Kook.

Clal Yisrael

The idea of ‘clal Yisrael‘ is very prominent in the halakhot of the High Holidays, and based on God’s choosing us from all of the nations to be His chosen people in order to reveal His Divine Presence in the world and achieve tikkun olam. This is the foundation for teshuva (repentance) and kapara (atonement). Despite this, many people engaged in Torah tend to emphasize the individual side stemming from man, and as a result remain in their small-mindedness, in spite of all their theoretical and emotional efforts.

And there are some who even dare to argue against Maran Harav Kook as if he supposedly over-stressed the yisod ha’clali (the general, overall foundation of Israel). Yet the truth is that the idea of the ‘clal‘ is the main uniqueness and sanctity of Israel, and one who pays attention to what he says in prayers and Selichot will immediately notice this. Rav Kook “returned the crown to its former glory”, explaining in depth the meaning of kedushat clal Yisrael (the sanctity of all of Israel).

Apparently, the impurity of galut (exile) caused many Jews to forget the general foundation, and consequently, we are required to learn Torah straightforwardly and understand that the foundation of emunah (faith), teshuva (repentance), and ge’ulah (redemption) lies in kedushat Yisrael. This is the most important aspect of the prayers of the High Holy Days, whose roots stem from the service of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) who atoned for all of Israel.

Accentuating the Clal Strengthens the Individual

An individual should not worry about rising to the level of the clal, because only in a superficial understanding does the concept of ​​the clal harm the individual’s status; but in truth, the concept of the clal empowers and uplifts the individual, giving sacred and eternal meaning to all of one’s inclinations. As our Sages said “one hundred is included in two hundred” – dealing with the clal also embraces within it dealing with all the details, because the clal is made up of all the details. However, dealing with the details does not encompass the clal.

The time for the individual to do teshuva is throughout the entire year, and the teshuva of the Days of Awe is meant for the clal because during these days the entire year is renewed, and consequently, it is the time for all of Israel to return and remember its faith, and awaken to adherence to Torah and mitzvoth. And since it is a repentance of the clal, these days also include great joy, and this is reflected in the mitzvah to hold a festive meal on Rosh Hashanah and before Yom Kippur, and wear festive clothes.

Emphasis on Common Rules

There are books on halakha which place heavy emphasis on the differences between the ethnic customs, and this creates great distress and difficulty in remembering the learning. For example, children are taught that Ashkenazi Jews blow the shofar during Elul and the Sephardic Jews do not. However, the correct way is to learn the fundamental rules common to all, and thus the halakha is explained well, and the differences in customs seem as differing tones in a harmonious orchestra.

Blowing the Shofar during the Month of Elul

This is what I wrote on the matter of blowing the shofar (Chapter 2:1):

“Our Sages said: “On Rosh Chodesh Elul, God said to Moshe, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain’ (Deuteronomy 10:1, to atone for the sin of the Golden Calf), and pass the shofar throughout the camp, for Moshe was about to ascend the mountain so they would not error once again in idol worship. And God was lifted up on that day by means of that shofar, as it is written: ‘Elohim is ascended with a shout of joy, Hashem with the sound of a shofar’ (Tehillim 47:6). Thus, our Sages decreed the shofar be blown every year on Rosh Chodesh Elul (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 46). And they chose to arouse the nation by the sound of the shofar because of its ability to warn the people from sinning, and stir the masses to repent (Tur and B.Y., O.C. 581:1).

And it is the Jewish custom to blow the shofar during the month of Elul. The custom of Ashkenazi Jews is to blow the shofar at the end of morning prayers. And custom of Sephardic Jews is to recite Selichot during Elul and blow the shofar when saying the Kaddish at the end of the Selichot, and many also blow the shofar while reciting the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. The custom of blowing the shofar is not compulsory, but nevertheless, it is worthy of the public to try fulfill the custom, but one who did not hear the shofar does not need to seek out someone to blow it for him”.

The Custom of Selichot

This is also the appropriate way to explain the basis of the custom of Selichot, which was initiated during the period of the Gaonim, and whose goal is to request the redemption of Israel, as appears from the text of the Selichot (ibid, 2:2-4), and only afterwards to continue to the differences of customs. And so I wrote:

“During the times of the Gaonim, the custom was to say Selichot during the Ten Days of Repentance, and this was the custom in the large yeshivas in Babylon, and there were a few places where they used to say Selichot also during the entire month of Elul.

At the end of the period of the Rishonim, the custom of reciting Selichot during all of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance was accepted (S.A. 581:1). And the closer Rosh Hashana gets, the more people are careful to awaken for Selichot, and in particular, during the Ten Days of Repentance. And Ashkenazi custom is to begin reciting Selichot on Motzei Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, provided they are able to say Selichot four days before Rosh Hashana. In addition, the Ashkenazi custom is to add the psalm from Tehillim, “Mizmor l’David, Hashem is my light and salvation” for the month of Elul, as well as adding Torah study and teshuva, which have the same goal.”

This article appears in the ‘Basheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.


 

The Virtue of Adoptive Parents

Are childless couples obligated to undergo medical treatments to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation? * The virtue of childless couples who adopt neglected children, who are considered as if they had given birth to them * The duty of an adopted son to honor his adoptive parents * Naomi was considered the mother of Oved because she helped take care and raise him * One who teaches and educates a friend’s child is considered as if he gave birth to him * The importance of joining the organization ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’, which finds optimum ways to keep Shmitta and maintain Jewish agricultural in Israel

An Agonizing Question

“Rabbi, as couple yearning for a second child, your recent articles were very important for us. Especially what you wrote about the value of love and joy among childless couples and the considerable test it entails – not to sink into sorrow, but to always increase kindness and joy. May we merit that always.

Nonetheless, we are still faced with the question of how much effort we should invest in medical treatments to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation. Thank God, we already have one child, and our question is whether we should make an effort to carry out in vitro fertilization in order to fulfill the mitzvah of procreation of having a son and daughter? Essentially, this is a general question: does the mitzvah of procreation require unnatural efforts?

Answer

It is a mitzvah for all couples struggling to fulfill the mitzvoth of procreation to act in all conventional medical methods to fulfill the mitzvah of having a son and a daughter, including performing in vitro fertilization.

True, in past times the poskim (Jewish law arbiters) instructed that a person was not obligated to perform unnatural procedures in order to fulfill the mitzvah. But this was during a time when reliable ways to solve the problem had not yet been discovered, and even the doctors themselves were divided in their opinions. Consequently, the majority of the public was unaccustomed to using methods that some doctors had developed, and thus, making an effort by means of them was considered unnatural (see, Divrei Malkiel 4:107; Minchat Shlomo, III, 98:8).

Today however, after medical techniques have successfully been developed, to the point where the vast majority of infertility problems can be solved by them, any procedure that is customary to perform within the medical framework is considered part of one’s obligation to fulfill the mitzvah. Obviously, this includes all treatments that HMO’s must provide their policyholders. And seemingly, even treatments that are not included in regular health insurance – if the majority of people wishing to have children perform them regularly, then one is required to do so, even if they are expensive – in order to fulfill the Torah obligation of procreation. This is what Rabbi Dichovsky has written (Techumin 22).

Even for those who have already fulfilled the Torah obligation of procreation, it is a mitzvah to have more children using the tools that medicine offers. However, when doing so requires great effort, it is not obligatory, but only a hidur (enhancement).

The Puah Institute

This is the opportunity to mention my distinguished friend, since the days we studied together in the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Rabbi Menachem Burstein, shlita, who founded the Puah Institute – Fertility and Medicine According to Halakha – to assist all those requesting help in fulfilling this great mitzvah. The enormous merit of those working in this holy endeavor, assisting parents to have children, is unimaginable.

Adoption of Children

A righteous man wrote me about his and his wife’s difficult infertility problems, and about the great hardships they endured in prayers and large financial expenditures. His wife underwent unbearable treatments, including hundreds, and perhaps thousands of shots, in vitro fertilization, and abortions. In spite of all their efforts they remained childless, but found an important solution – adoption. He implored me to write about the virtue of adoption, through which children at risk are rescued, and the pain of childless couples can lead to salvation.

I am honored to fill his request, and thus glorify these righteous people, fathers and mothers who merit raising orphaned and abandoned children.

Those Who Raise Orphans are deemed as if they Gave Birth to Them

Our Sages said (Ketubot 50a) that concerning a person who merits raising a girl or boy orphan in their home and marries them off, the verse says he is “practicing righteousness at all times” (Tehillim, 106:3). They also said in the Midrash (Shmot Rabba, 45:6) that God has treasures from which to reward the righteous, including a special treasure to reward those who raise orphans in their homes.

Our Sages said: “Anyone who brings up an orphan boy or girl in his house, Scripture accounts it as if he had begotten him” (Megillah 13a). This does not necessarily refer to an orphan whose parents have both died, but also to a child who has parents, but cannot provide for all his physical and emotional needs. This is because the source for our Sages statement comes from Moshe Rabbeinu, who is called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Batya. And although his mother was Yocheved, and she even nursed him, because Batya raised him, Moshe Rabbeinu was considered her son.

Some poskim are even of the opinion that a couple who raise an orphan in their home actually fulfill the mitzvah of procreation, because when our Sages said “Scripture accounts it as if he had begotten him”, they meant it literally – the couple is considered as if they had actually given birth to the child (see, Chochmat Shlomo, E.H., 1:1). In any case, even according to all the other poskim who hold that it is not actually like giving birth, from a certain aspect, there is an additional mitzvah in adopting a child, for the parents do so voluntarily.

The Mitzvah to Honor One’s Adopted Parents

Adopted children are obligated to honor their adopted parents no less than ordinary children. Although from a detailed aspect of the mitzvah, adopted children are not obligated precisely like biological children, and therefore they are permitted to perform medical procedures on their adopted parents entailing the drawing of blood (Peninei Halakha: Likutim 3, 1:25). Nevertheless, according to Torah ethics, they are obligated to honor their parents just as ordinary children are, and in a certain respect, even more, seeing as their adoptive parents did so voluntarily.

It is also a mitzvah for adopted children to mourn and say Kaddish for their adopted parents after their deaths.

Helping Raise Needy Children

Someone who finds it difficult to raise an orphan can contribute money to help take care of abandoned children in order to meet their needs and stand them on their feet, and by doing so is also considered a partner in raising them, and to a certain extent, as if he had given birth to them. The more substantial the aid, the more important ones part is.

Even a person who helps biological parents take care of their child and educate him is considered, to a certain extent, as if he had given birth to him. As our Sages said (Sanhedrin 19b) that Oved, the son of Ruth and Boaz, is also called the son of Naomi, because she was a partner in his care and education, as it is written: “And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi’. They named him Oved. He was the father of Yishai, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17).

Students Comparable with Sons

Our Sages said: “He who teaches the son of his neighbor the Torah, Scripture ascribes it to him as if he had begotten him”, and the proof is that the sons of Aaron are called the sons of Moshe Rabbeinu – “thus teaching you that Aaron begot, and Moshe taught them; hence, they are called by his name” (Sanhedrin 19b).

Likewise, it is written in portion of the Sh’ma prayer: “And you shall teach them sharply to your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7), and our Sages interpreted (Sifri): “To your children – these are your students, as you find in all places that students are called sons, as it is written: ‘And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha'; were they really sons of prophets? In fact, they were students! Rather, from here we learn that students are called sons … and just as students are called sons, a Rabbi is called a father, as it is written: “And Elisha saw it and he cried, ‘My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ And he saw him no more” (ibid, 2:12).

This even carries halakhic significance, for someone who finds a lost article of his father and a lost article of his rabbi, if he is unable to return both of them, he should return the lost article of his rabbi, “because his father brought him into this world, but his rabbi who taught him Torah wisdom, brings him to the World to Come.” This refers to a rabbi who taught the student the majority of his wisdom. And if his father was a Torah scholar as well, his father’s lost article takes precedence (Baba Metzia 33a). And even if his father was not a Torah scholar, if the father financed his son’s learning – the father precedes the rabbi, even if the rabbi is one’s primary teacher.

Teachers of Life

In light of this, it is important to emphasize that every teacher who teaches his student Torah, wisdom and morality, and fosters and encourages his student to grow to the best of his ability, is considered, to a large extent, a father, and a female teacher is considered a mother. But teachers who only fulfill their duties and “pass on the material” to their students, do not merit this great virtue.

Childless Rabbis

Our Sages said that with regards to rabbis who raised students but were not fortunate enough to have children, the Prophet said: “The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed” (Isaiah 56:4-5). It is also told of Rabbi Yochanan who was extremely saddened over his sons having all died in childhood, and therefore, was unable to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘multiply and be fruitful’, until a elderly, wise man comforted him saying that his students were considered his sons, and thanks to them, he would merit the World to Come and an enduring name (Zohar I, 187:2; Zohar Chadash, Rut 108:2).

It is written in Sefer Hasidim (367) that occasionally Heaven does not wish to deduct from one’s merits, and as a result, that person does not merit “two tables” (i.e. distinction in Torah and material wealth), and seeing as he merited the table of Torah, he is not merited with the table of family and children. Had he merited having children, he would not have merited an enduring name through his Torah teachings.

It is worth adding that even those who financially support Torah students are considered as if they had taught them, for without their contributions, the students would not be able to learn.

‘Otzar Ha’aretz’

On the eve of shmitta (Sabbatical year), it is fitting to strengthen the organization ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’, founded by Machon Ha’Torah v’Ha’aretz. This organization, guided by important rabbis, and led in practice by Rabbi Yehuda Amichai, shlita, deals in a balanced approach with a range of halakhic questions, and finds the most mehudar ways of keeping shmitta and maintaining Jewish agriculture in Israel. Anyone who commits to buy through their organization merits becoming a partner in the strengthening of Jewish agriculture, and in paving the way for Jewish agriculture according to the Torah in the future. Owing to pre-commitments, ‘Otzar Ha’aretz’ can make agreements with additional farmers concerning the arrangements of ‘otzar Beit Din’, crops in the southern Negev, and special shmitta greenhouses. Nonetheless, care must be taken within the hierarchy that the status ‘heter mechira’ fruits take precedence over crops of non-Jews.

Deputy Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan

At this time it is appropriate to support the Deputy Minister of Religious Affairs, Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan. Without making reference to the details of the proposed rules and regulations, I express my confidence in his sincere efforts, piety, judgment and knowledge in the areas of halakha and religious administration.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

An Everlasting Name, Better than Sons and Daughters

How to relate to an unmarried daughter who refuses to accept dating offers * Dealing with the reality of infertility, both emotionally and spiritually * Sins that cause infertility *The story of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, descendants of King Hezekiah, who served as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon * Were they sterile, or did their children die? The differing opinions of our Sages * Their self-sacrifice saved Israel from physical and spiritual extinction * Sometimes eunuchs, free of marital relationships, can rise above momentary life, to the level of unconditional and pure faith

 A Painful Question

I received many responses, some very painful, following the previous columns. I cannot relate to all of them, but I will address the question of one mother:

“Shalom, Rabbi Melamed. I am a regular reader of your column in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper. The column is interesting and thought-provoking, offering a unique and Torah-based approach. Thank you!

Rabbi, I wanted to consult you about my daughter, who is approaching the age of forty. She has yet to get married. My other children, thank God, are happily married. The problem is that she is not willing to accept offers for dates. She rejects everyone who wants to set her up. I think it stems from the despair and frustration of the numerous offers she received which were badly chosen, to say the least. I am unable to talk to her. When I tried recently, she was so insulted, she almost severed our relationship, and of course, that is not what I want. Above and beyond this, she is a wonderful girl, really great. I would really love to hear advice from you, Rabbi, or your wife, to help me help her. I can occasionally assist other people, but I am unable to help my own daughter. Rabbi, what do you suggest I do?

Answer

I do not know how I can help. You surely know better than I, seeing as she is your daughter. Nevertheless, there is one essential piece of advice I can give you: Despite the tremendous importance of creating a family, you should realize that your daughter, herself, possess tremendous, infinite value – as a person and as a daughter of Israel – and you should love her unconditionally. In addition, you should appreciate her immeasurably for each of her virtues and every good deed she does. And God-willing, you will enjoy endless nachas from her, and she too will receive pleasure and strength from your love.

I hope you find some benefit in my short answer.

The Value of Prayer

Question: Rabbi, if a person’s destiny is the determining factor, as you wrote last week, that having children depends on mazal, then what is the point of prayer? After all, if according to mazal a couple should have children – they will, and if not – all the prayers won’t help?

Answer

: First, as I mentioned in my previous column, many times mazal is not sealed, and consequently, a person’s free will, actions and prayer have great influence. Second, even if a person, according to his mazal, is meant to have children or wealth, if he does not make an effort he will not obtain them. And often, if one does not pray, he will not receive the blessing reserved for him. This is analogous to someone who was sent a gift in the mail. If he does not come to the post office to pick it up – he won’t receive the gift.

Questions from Infertile People

Q: A number of people, who, in the wake of various illnesses became infertile, asked with great sorrow: What is our life worth?

A: Indeed, a person who was not privileged to have children can sink into sorrow and despair over not leaving someone behind to continue their memory in the world. But if one succeeds in connecting his life to eternal holiness, he thereby merits an eternal name, which is better than sons and daughters. Or as the Prophet Isaiah said: “And don’t let the eunuch say, “I’m just a dry tree.”  The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, choose what I desire, and remain loyal to my covenant. In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed” (Isaiah 56:3-5).

As long as there are sins in the world, there will also be death and various illnesses; but when the world is remedied from all its sins, all ailments will also be healed.

Insulting the Honor of Israel

Certain sins in particular cause sterility, and one of them is insulting Israel and the Temple. As we have learned, following the great miracle that happened to King Hezekiah, messengers of the king of Babylon came to him and instead of bringing them closer to devoutness, he transgressed in the sins of pride and flattery, showing them all his treasures, and the treasures of the Temple. The Prophet said to him: “They will take away your sons who will issue from you, whom you shall father, and they will be eunuchs in the king of Babylon’s palace” (Isaiah 39:7).

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were Infertile

Our Sages said that this harsh prophecy came to pass in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were the descendants of King Hezekiah. As young children, they were separated from their families and people, and taken to the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar to be his servants and consultants, and thus, also underwent castration, although in the Talmud (Sanhedrin93b), there is a dispute between the Amoraim whether they were actually eunuchs or not. In any event, the Talmud later explains that even according to the opinion that they weren’t eunuchs, nevertheless, the children born to them died in their lifetime, and therefore, their consolation was they would have an enduring name, better than sons and daughters.

In Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (chap.51), it is explained that in truth, they were eunuchs, which in simple terms means that the king ordered them castrated so they would be loyal to him. In the book Otzar HaMidrashim it is told: “And Esther called to Hatach (in Hebrew, to cut off). Hatach is Daniel, and why is he called Hatach? Because he cut off his male organ during the times of the evil Nebuchadnezzar – he, and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. When the haters of Israel informed on them, saying to Nebuchadnezzar, these Jews that you brought are sleeping with the king’s maidservants and wives of the ministers. Immediately, Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah heard the libel, and cut off their male organs, as it is written, “The Lord says: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths”, etc. Immediately (after hearing the libel) Nebuchadnezzar was filled with anger with them, and sent for them to be killed. They said to him: Our noble king, God forbid we should have done something like that, for adultery and prostitution is forbidden by law in Israel, as it is written, ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’, and they showed him they were castrated. Immediately, Nebuchadnezzar was filled with great happiness and joy …” (Eisenstein, Esther, pg. 60). At the end of his life Daniel, or Hatach, helped Esther and Mordechai in the days of Ahasuerus to save Israel. And like Daniel, Esther was also not privileged to establish a family in Israel; rather, she gave her life to save the Jewish nation.

Their Life Stories

By observing their personalities and actions, one can learn about the mission of those fated to be sterile.

After King Nebuchadnezzar brought the four children to his city, he ordered they be fed meat from his table, and taught the Chaldean language and culture in order for them to assimilate. But with self-sacrifice, they struggled to keep their faith, and seeing as the meat was not kosher, they avoided eating it for years, and instead, lived on beans. Had the king learned that they violated his order, he would have commanded to have them killed, but Daniel and his friends agreed to sacrifice their lives for it.

During their years of exile in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar, his soldiers destroyed the Temple, and exiled Israel to Babylon. But Daniel and his friends, who in the meantime were appointed senior ministers, did not lose their faith. After the kingdom of Babylon fell, and Darius, king of Media, decreed they were only allowed to pray to him, Daniel continued to pray to God three times a day, in the direction of Jerusalem. When he was caught, he was thrown into the lion’s den, and God miraculously saved him (Daniel 6).

And although ​​Daniel was made into a eunuch, he did not seclude himself in sadness, rather, our Sages said: “We find that Daniel, a greatly beloved man, would engage in acts of kindness… and would prepare and gladden brides, accompany the dead, give charity to the poor, and pray three times a day, and his prayers were graciously accepted” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 4).

 Devotion

Let’s go back to the rule of Babylon. At the time, the Jewish nation experienced a severe crisis. A kingdom of evil ruled the world, the Temple was destroyed, the people were exiled from their land, and it seemed there was no longer hope for the faith of Israel. As a result, many of the exiles left the path of Torah and mitzvoth, thinking that in any case, within one or two generations, they would assimilate among the nations.

And then, Nebuchadnezzar decided to build a gigantic golden idol, expressing the authority of his supremacy and rule, and set a date for the preparation of an impressive ceremony, where everyone would worship his idol. Apparently, among those bowing down to the idol were numerous Jews. Even Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, who were officials in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar, could have found an excuse to bow down, arguing that that it wasn’t total avodah zara (according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.) But since the idol looked like avodah zara, all three agreed to fall into the fiery furnace, rather than bowing down to it and profaning God’s name in public. A great miracle was performed for them and they were not burned, and God’s name was sanctified in eyes of all of Israel and the Gentiles.

Our Sages said that Daniel was not there at the time (Sanhedrin 93a), but he also sacrificed his life by praying towards Jerusalem.

 In Their Devotion They Saved All of Israel

Concerning those dark times when Israel forgot their faith and homeland, and bowed down to the idol, our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, wished to turn the whole world into night…into blood…but as soon as he looked upon Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah his anger was appeased”
(Sanhedrin 93a). Thanks to them, the Jewish people remembered their covenant with the Lord their God, returned to their land, and built the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem.

 Rectifying Infertility

Rather than giving up on life, these great men of Israel chose to identify with the will of God and his decrees, and thus, were able to perform great acts in the world. Similar to our Sages statement: “Do the will of God as if were your own will, so that He will do your will as if it were His will. Nullify your will for the sake of His will, so that He will nullify the will of others for your sake” (Avot, 2:4). Instead the brit milah (the covenant of circumcision), which is fulfilled with the organ taken from them, they ascended to the Heavenly covenant with all of Israel, in Torah and in the Land, and thus revealed the value of life itself, linked to its divine origin, to the point where it is said of them: “They remain loyal to My covenant” – because, thanks to them, the covenant ensued.

Connection to Life Itself

From the lives and actions of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah we can learn that sometimes it is precisely infertile people who can connect with their faith to the very life essence of life – beyond momentary life that is inherently bound-up in concern for family and children – to pure faith that is not dependent on any specific factor. And thus, they are able to sacrifice their lives in revealing the covenant between God and Israel, and in consequence, the entire world exists, and Israel returns to their Land and builds Jerusalem and the Temple. “In my temple and courts, I will give them a monument and a name better than sons and daughters. I will give to them an enduring name that won’t be removed”.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.


 

The Test of Fertility-Challenged Couples

The tremendous grief of the childless * Is impotence a punishment for sin, or is it fate? * The dispute among the Sages about to what extent can good deeds change a Jew’s fate * The conditions of one’s life is determined by destiny, and some people are intended to deal with agony * Sometimes excessive pleas in prayer is incorrect * Prayers and good deeds do not return empty-handed * The special importance of love between husband and wife, specifically if they are childless

The Agony of Infertility

The agony of the childless is difficult. Our Sages said: “A man who is childless is accounted as dead” (Nedarim 64b), as it is written: “Rachel realized that she was not bearing any children to Jacob. She was jealous of her sister and said to Jacob, “Give me children! If not, let me die!” (Genesis 30:1). Our Sages taught us this so that people know just how great the grief of the childless is, and seek mercy for them to conceive (Tosafot, ibid). Couples who already have children but hopelessly wish for more are also likely to be extremely sad, especially if they live in an environment where having large families is the norm.

Attempting to Understand the Meaning of Suffering

The question is: What is the significance of this suffering? Is it a punishment for one’s sins, and in order to have children one must awaken and do teshuva (repent)? Or perhaps one’s fate was determined even before being born, and he cannot be blamed for his torment?

The answer is very complex. Sometimes trials and tribulations stem from sins, other times from fate, and occasionally, a combination of both. Sometimes repentance and prayer are helpful, and other times not; the matter depends on countless factors. I will begin to explain.

The Significance of ‘Mazal’ and Fate – Raba and Rav Chisda

Our Sages said: ” Raba said: Life, children and sustenance depend not on merit but [rather on] mazal (Mo’ed Katan 28a). “Life” is the number of years a person lives, “children” – the number of children he will have, “sustenance” – his livelihood. All of these are determined by the mazal of a person at the time of his birth, and not according to his merits. The proof of this is that Raba and Rav Chisda were both righteous individuals, and in times of severe drought, both of their prayers were answered. Nevertheless, their fate was totally different. Rav Chisda lived ninety-two years, while Raba lived just forty years. In Rav Chisda’s house there were sixty weddings, and in the home of Raba there were sixty cases of bereavement. Rav Chisda’s house abounded with wealth, and even the dogs were fed well, while in Raba’s house they were poor, and could not even afford to buy cheap barley bread for all the members of the family. Similarly, our Sages said: “There is no reward for a mitzvah in this world,” i.e., the reward for mitzvoth and punishment for sins is not paid in this passing world, but in the eternal world of truth (Kiddushin 39b).

In our terms, mazal is called fate. Just as we know today that at the time of conception a person’s genetic map is formed, determining if he will be tall or short, intelligent or slow, healthy or sick, ugly or beautiful, similarly, our Sages said that at the time of a person’s birth, his mazal is determined with regard to “life, children, and sustenance.”

Can Jews Change their Mazal?

Nevertheless, there is apparently a dispute between our Sages on this issue (Shabbat 156a); according to Rabbi Hanina, Israel does have mazal, namely, Jews are also under the rule of mazal, and within this framework, which is not subject to change, they must choose to do good, thus correcting themselves and the world. According to Rabbi Yochanan, there is no mazal for Israel, in other words, Israel has the power in their prayers and actions to change their mazal.

However, the commentators have already clarified that everyone is in agreement that mazal does have influence, and all agree that more than any other nation, the nation of Israel at times has more power to change their mazal through prayer and good deeds. The dispute is whether it is a common feature that a Jew can change his mazal, or only in exceptional cases (see Tosafot, Shabbat, ibid, and Ritva and Ran, ibid).

A Few Words about the Significance of Suffering

Everyone has a certain destiny, according to which a person’s mazal is determined. Sometimes, in order to realize one’s destiny, it is good for him to be poor and suffer pain, and other times it is advantageous for him to be rich and healthy. Sometimes a person’s fate is sealed, and nothing he does will help him to escape it, except in very rare cases. Sometimes a person’s fate is not absolute and by sinning, tilts his fate to the negative and must suffer; if he does good deeds, he will merit greater blessing, even in this temporary world. At times, the agony one suffers purifies and saves him from a greater evil, and in such a case if he is righteous, he will merit having trials and tribulations. In any event, as long as the world is not morally remedied, there will be people who suffer in agony, and by dealing with the anguish, the world is gradually purified from a moral perspective.

Making an Effort

Regarding the effort childless couples are required to make, both medically and spiritually, I hope to write about at another time. At present, I will attempt to further clarify the purpose of trials and tribulations.

Unanswered Prayers

Sometimes, all the prayers, repentance and strengthening in Torah and acts of kindness do not resolve the problem. Months and years pass, and a husband and wife are not able to have children. Maybe their fate is sealed and cannot be changed because the souls that they could have given birth to belong to another world, whose time has not yet arrived. It could be that if they were able to change their fate, the child born to them would be tremendously evil, seeing as he is unsuitable for his time, and therefore, God mercifully prevents them from having a child who would ‘bring down their old age to the grave in misery’. In a similar manner, our Sages said (Berachot 10 a) that after the destruction and exile, the ministers of the nations mocked the nation of Israel for being barren and not receiving the blessing of having children in the in the Land. Israel answered them: ‘When evil dominates the Land, it is better to be barren and not give birth to wicked children who will go to hell, just as you will’. This is the meaning of the verse: “Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman says God” (Isaiah 54:1).

It is also written in several Jewish sources that the childless need to be careful not to plead too much in prayer, rather, to always ask God that if it is not good in His eyes for them to have a child, then they forgo on their request. Because sometimes Heaven knows that if children are born to them, they will be wicked or suffer in terrible agony, and in order to alleviate the parent’s distress, they are not granted children (Shevet Mussar 23:19).

Nevertheless, such couples should know that all the prayers, good deeds, and Torah they perform are not lost in vain, because even if such actions are not useful for themselves, they help other childless couples to conceive. And at any rate, they are beneficial for bringing tikkun olam closer, to the day when the souls of their children can be born.

The Importance of Love and Joy

And now we come to the essential tenets: The childless couple is faced with a tremendous, immense and awesome test: Will they sink into their sorrow and lose their faith and joy, or overcome their grief and increase their love, fulfill the mitzvah of onah (conjugal relations) joyfully, and always think of ways to add good and happiness for their family and friends. For in truth, although they are childless, their relationship has great self-worth.

Love without Children

We have also learned that our Sages asked (Breishit Rabba 45:4), why our foremothers were barren. One of the Sages explained: “So that they might lean on their husbands despite their beauty”. Another explained: “So that their husbands might derive pleasure from them, for when a woman is with child she is disfigured and lacks grace. Thus, the whole ninety years that Sarah did not bear, she was like a bride in her canopy”. And so, from a certain aspect, couples who do not have children can increase and enhance the love, passion and joy between them.

Spiritual Children

This is the meaning of what the Sages of the Kabbala clarified, that every conjugal relation performed out of love and passion, adds an abundance of life and blessing in the world. And the Shlah (Shnei Luchot HaBrit) wrote: “From every conjugal relation performed in holiness, something good comes out of it. And even if one’s wife does not become pregnant … a holy soul comes into being… because from every conjugal relation a soul is produced, and from these souls, others are born”. Therefore, “Abraham had conjugal relations with Sarah even though she was barren, and God forbid that it was in vain.” The Zohar explained that by means of the complete conjugal connection with devotion and passion of the two righteous individuals, Abraham and Sarah, souls were created in the upper worlds that later descended and were born as children to different families. And when these same children grew up they were drawn to Abraham and Sarah and converted by them, and in regards to them the verse says, “and the soul that they had made ​​in Haran” (Genesis 12:5). Thus, when a childless couple overcomes the sadness and unites with devotion and passion, they become partners in lowering souls to the world, giving them sparks of soul from their union.

Pairing for the World’s Sustenance

Moreover, when a childless couple succeeds in strengthening their faith despite the sufferings and sorrows, deepening their love and pleasing one another in the mitzvah of onah – they merit adding life and blessing to the world. Because their love has a special purity, for it is unconditional and not based on children born to them, rather, it is completely based on the very love between them, which contains an expression of the unity of God revealed in the world.

True, they did not have children, but they merited revealing the value of life itself, and therefore, add life and sustenance to all the worlds. Or as the Ari HaKadosh explained, that there are two kinds of couplings – one for the purpose of giving birth to souls, and the other for the purpose of life and sustaining the world’s (Sha’ar HaMitzvoth, Breishit, pg.7). Indeed, spouses who do have children also merit fulfilling the second type of coupling for the purpose of life and sustaining the worlds when one’s wife is already pregnant, when she breastfeeds, or when she is older. But since among childless couples this is their only type of pairing, it carries greater influence. However, this is provided that through the love and joy between them, they are indeed able to break through the sadness, to see a better world, rejoice in their family and friends’ happy occasions, be productive, and do kind deeds for others, according to their ability.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed