Coping with Terrorism through Faith

The goal of terrorism is to sow panic and cause the public to give up on its assets and interests * The difference between Leftists who respond to terrorism by capitulating, and Rightists who mobilize to defeat it * Today, the majority of Israeli’s have sobered from the delusions of peace; consequently, terrorism will not achieve its goal * Fear of death leads to helplessness which only increases the danger * The religious public fails to convince despite its accurate claims because they are perceived as operating out of irrational considerations * In addition to presenting the overall vision of the Torah a rational, gradual, and realistic means of achieving it must be proposed

The War on Arab Terror

Many people are extremely worried about the Arab terror raging in the streets. This is the goal of terrorism – attacking a few people and sowing panic among the public at large, causing them to surrender their assets and interests in hopes of gaining peace and quiet. Even in recent weeks in which terror has raised its evil head, more people were killed in traffic accidents, many of which could have been avoided. Despite this, the fear of terror is far greater than that of road accidents, because the terrible evilness of acts of murder ensnares the mind and arouses fear and horror.

The Effect of Terrorism on the Left and Right

The goal of terrorism is to weaken our hold on the country, in practice however, its influence branches in different directions, according to the state of mind and moral fiber of those attacked.

There are some people who weren’t interested in living in Israel in the first place, and fled here only because of the Holocaust and other troubles in the Diaspora. For them, terror petrifies and paralyzes. They would be willing to accept any withdrawal or humiliation, as long as the fear of terrorism is withdrawn from them. Some go a step further – their hearts are drawn in a sick way to the figure of the killer, striving to understand and justify the motives for his wickedness, hoping that perhaps in this way they will find a solution to the situation. For the sake of this they are forced to modify their moral outlooks, as one can hear from various Leftists.

And then there are people with a healthy moral consciousness for whom justice is important, and are not willing or able to surrender to terrorism. Just the opposite – it spawns within them an opposite reaction, and a strong will to fight back.

The Division between Right and Left

In order to analyze things properly, it is important to first define the basic essentials. In practice, the dividing line between those for whom terrorism overcomes and impels to concessions on land and rights, and those who terrorism triggers a desire to fight back – is based on one’s attitude towards the Land of Israel.

Those Tending to the Left

Jews who tend to the Left never really wanted to immigrate to Israel in the first place, and only when the troubles of the Diaspora were about to drown them, did they decide to go. Some chose to immigrate to Israel and not move abroad to America or other foreign countries, and some had no choice but to immigrate to Israel because no other country agreed to accept them. Consequently, the Holocaust for them is the supreme justification for the existence of the State of Israel. Their descendants live in Israel because they got used to the country, and their friends and family also live here. Most of them also have a certain connection to the Bible, the People and the Land, but they wouldn’t shed a tear if fate somehow transported them to the West. For them, annual visits to Israel would suffice.

These are the people willing fall for any “peace” proposal. Even for the slightest chance of quiet they are willing to give up parts of the homeland. In exchange for a temporary lull in the international arena, they are willing to give up the basic fundamentals of sovereignty and Jewish identity.

Those Tending to the Right

Those tending to the right view immigration to Israel and the blossoming of its wilderness as a process of redemption for the People and Land of Israel, based on the mitzvoth of the Torah and Prophetic visions, or at very least, based on a national and historic mandate. True, most of them unfortunately immigrated to Israel only after the troubles in the Diaspora increased dramatically. But after being forced to flee, they saw in the settling of the Land a phase of redemption. The supreme justification of Israel’s existence for them are the mitzvoth of the Torah, or at very least, a national historic right.

These people are willing to sacrifice and pay the price in order to secure Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria. Only in a situation of absolute coercion would they be prepared to retreat; short of such circumstances, they would prefer suffering international condemnation and terrorism, and not retreat. Arab terror spurs them to fight back, and expand Jewish settlement.

Those in the Middle

The majority of the public is somewhere in the middle; they understand both the Right and the Left. Ideally, they would prefer the approach of the Right, but for more security, would be ready to tilt to the Left. When successfully deceived that withdrawals will bring peace, they are enticed to support the retreat. When failed to be deceived, they will oppose withdrawals and violation of sovereignty.

A Cautious Assessment: Terrorism Will Fail

At present, it appears that most of Israeli public leans to the Right – unfortunately, not thanks to a deepening of Jewish identity, but mainly because reality refused to conform to the delusions of peace. Consequently, chances are the current wave of terror will not achieve its goal – on the contrary, it will strengthen Jewish identity and harm the Arabs rising up against us.

The Security Question and Its Roots

It’s interesting that when the two side’s debate, they often gear themselves with security, economic, social and moral arguments, without being aware of the roots of their arguments. In practice, those who are more firmly connected to the Torah, People, and Land of Israel find realistic arguments for settling the Land, while those who are distant find realistic claims for withdrawal.

The Path to Security

From time immemorial, those who worried only about not dying were harmed more than those who tried to live. For example, Jews in Europe were extremely worried for their lives. They felt the growing anti-Semitism, and tried to do anything to survive. However, since their main concern was how not to die, they were afraid to make aliyah to Israel, because a person whose main wish is not to die, is afraid to face reality and have the courage to do what it takes to increase his chances of survival. Therefore, when the Jews in Europe heard about Arab terrorism taking place in Israel, they were afraid and remained in the Diaspora, and ultimately were harmed sevenfold.

In contrast, a person who wants to live, and has meaning to his life, dares to act even under risk and self-sacrifice, to fulfill his life’s purpose. And if his actions are carried out within the framework of rational considerations, he merits surviving longer.

The same is true concerning illnesses: someone who is always worried about getting sick is usually more ill. In contrast, a person whose life is full of content is usually healthier.

When the primary hope of the Left is that the State of Israel not be harmed, it brings upon the country far more security, economic and social troubles than the Right, who are not willing to give up on our national identity.

The Problem of the Faith-based Right

Recent years have proven that the Right was correct. Withdrawals did not increase security, rather, the exact opposite. The Arab world did not mollify their views towards us, but instead became more radical. The Western world also stepped-up its delusional demands of us, despite all the concessions we already made.

Representatives of the faith-based Right foresaw all of this. So why is it that the public at large does not accept the positions of the faith-based Right? Why is the public still willing to listen to the nonsense of all the commentators and experts from academia and graduates of the intelligence community, chattering incessantly in the media? After all, it has been proven time and again how they embroiled governments in complicated and dangerous concessions, and have never been able to predict the future.

It appears the reason is because often, the faith-based Right proposes implausible suggestions based on wishful thinking and beliefs, rather than on reality. The public fears that these irrational positions are liable to endanger their existence. For all one knows, faith-based leaders might suddenly decide to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and provoke a world war. Or maybe they’ll apply sovereignty over territories in Judea and Samaria while giving full citizenship to the Arabs living there. Or alternatively, maybe they will emerge with a program of instant deportation of the majority of Arabs, while bringing the entire world against the State of Israel.

In contrast, the various commentators indeed are always wrong, because they fail to understand the meaning of national identity and faith, and therefore do not understand the motives of the enemy, and the source of strength of the People of Israel. However, the information they provide is factual and solid, and their arguments are drawn from the realistic domain, without relying on miracles. Consequently, the public is willing to listen to them, even though they do not trust their suggestions.

In such a situation, the public prefers the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Although he deals mainly with survival, and only occasionally merits us with little flickers of faith, national achievements, and settling the land, nevertheless, his considerations are rational and based on solid reality, lacking the grave errors of the failed commentators.

A Proposal for a Gradual, Faith-Based Approach

We can fix this situation when we present a comprehensive and idealistic vision as written in the Torah and the Prophets, while at the same time offer a gradual way to achieve it, taking into maximal account reality, including Israeli public opinion and that of the international community, and the powers they represent.

For example, concerning the Temple Mount I suggest that from now on, every preacher who incites and speaks out against Israel or Jews, and any Muslim who disturbs those ascending the Temple Mount by screaming or other actions will not be allowed to go up the Temple Mount. This is a proportionate measure, whose reasoning can be understood by any normal person in the world.

Similarly, in regards to the continuation of settlement in Judea and Samaria: It is possible to expand the settlements on State-owned land without depriving any Arab who has property rights. In this way, friction will be reduced in all respects. Settlement will be regulated by law without any complaints of discrimination and dispossession, and all the positive energy of the settlers will be directed to perfectly legal areas of the State of Israel, without an attempt to grab land that is not regulated or privately owned.

It is also possible to gradually apply Israeli sovereignty over Jewish settlements and empty areas in Judea and Samaria, while proposing regional autonomy to the local Arab leadership, and likewise with respect to the demand for loyalty from Israeli Arab citizens.

This gradual process does not demand concession of any rights of the Jewish people, but only exercises our rights incrementally, in the sense of: “I will drive them out from before you gradually, until you have grown in number and can take possession of the land” (Exodus 23:30).

Learning Logic from Within the Torah

To be able to put through such leadership and approach, Torah must be studied in a more complete and truthful way, so that its’ practical logic will shine forth as the sun in the afternoon. Today, many people fulfill the mitzvoth for mystical reasons, while at the same time declaring that practical considerations indeed indicate the opposite, but nevertheless, faith trumps logic and nature. Many even take pride in this, because in their view, the absolute believer must ignore practical considerations. But they are gravely mistaken, uprooting the Torah and the meaning of its study; for indeed, the roots of Torah and Jewish faith are in the Heavens, but the entire revelation of the Torah is logical and practical, as is the way of halakha (Jewish law).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed and his highly acclaimed series of Jewish law and thought “Peninei Halakha” can be found at:

The Death of the Righteous

The recently murdered Jews in Arab terrorist attacks clung to the frontline of settling Eretz Yisrael despite the danger, fulfilling the words of our Sages “with all your soul – even if He takes your soul” * The settlers of Judea and Samaria are the floodgate preventing disastrous withdrawals, therefore the answer to the wave of terrorism is to strengthen settlement which thwarts the establishment of a terrorist state in the heart of our country * Torah study on Shabbat as the key to Redemption and true integration between sacred and secular * Oneg Shabbat, whose virtue our Sages spoke highly of, is not only enjoying sumptuous meals, but a combination of physical and spiritual pleasure * The importance of Torah study on Shabbat specifically in the Land of Israel

Terrible sorrow filled our hearts following the ruthless murder of the beloved and holy Jews, ‘the precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold‘ – Rabbi Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, Rabbi Nehemiah Lavi, and Aaron Bennett, may God avenge their blood. They died ‘al Kiddush Hashem‘ (in sanctification of God’s name) in the struggle for the return of Am Yisrael to its Land – in the heart of Jerusalem, and in the heart of Samaria.

When waves of terrorist murders escalate, it is essential to remember that the settlers living on the frontlines of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria are the floodgates preventing catastrophic withdrawals. The weakness in the heart of many of our fellow Jews leads them to believe time and again in a delusional peace. Only the continued presence of communities in Judea and Samaria, in particular in Gav Ha’Har (the area of Schem), prevents the establishment of an Arab terror state in the heart of our country, whose goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. Therefore, in addition to usual security measures, the proper answer to the wave of terror is the expansion of settlement in Judea and Samaria which impedes the existential danger of an additional front opening along the entire length of the State of Israel, as is already the case with Gaza and Lebanon. And, as we have learned from the Torah and Prophets, Kibbutz Ha’galuyot (the Ingathering of the Exiles) and settling the Land of Israel is the key to security, prosperity, and ultimately, the final Redemption.

These righteous and holy individuals who in their lifetimes clung to the frontline of Jewish settlement despite understanding a certain amount of danger was involved, thus fulfilling the words of Rabbi Akiva, “with all your soul – even if He takes your soul”, will be melitzei yosher (advocates) for all of us, that we merit continuing to settle the Land, and in the building of Jerusalem and the entire country, we will be comforted.

The Foundation of Torah Study on Shabbat

Today, we realize that in the long run, the building of the Land is also dependent on a connection to the Torah, and the leaders in building the country in our times are those who cling more firmly to the Torah.

The important question confronting us is how we, the religiously observant, can elevate our lives and serve as an example to all Jews, to the point where all those who see us will want to adhere to Torah and mitzvoth, and thus, the entire People of Israel can serve as an example to all nations, to perfect the world in the Kingdom of God, corresponding to the role assigned to us by the Lord our God.

Apparently, Torah study on Shabbat is the key to everything, and this is what our Sages meant when they said: “If Israel were to keep two Sabbaths according to the laws thereof, they would be redeemed immediately” (Shabbat 118b).

Torah in the Lives of Working People

Without Torah study on Shabbat, the verdict of every Jew would have been to choose between the sacred and secular: or to learn Torah all his life in kollel, as many members of the ultra-Orthodox community do, or go to work in a number of jobs, even academics – but one’s connection to spiritual life would be weak. Indeed, there are righteous individuals who are able to create different types of combinations, and are able to connect spiritual life with the secular. But as a rule, the rift is clear and painful, and many are forced to choose between the two options, neither of which suit them perfectly, and none of which bear tidings of tikun olam (perfection of the world).

Torah study on Shabbat is designed to solve this difficult dilemma.

The Role of the Torah in the Life of a Jew

Without constant Torah learning, a proper Jewish life cannot be maintained, as our Sages have already taught us that Torah study is equivalent to all the mitzvoth. There are two reasons for this: first, the mitzvah of Torah study is performed by the use of one’s intellect, this being man’s loftiest talent. Second, because Torah study leads one to the most complete fulfillment of the mitzvoth, as our Sages said: “Torah study is greater, for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b).

Therefore, one must set aside time for Torah study every day, as it is written: “This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8). Therefore, each individual should study a chapter in the morning and in the evening (Menachot 99b). However, such studying is only beneficial in maintaining one’s continual connection to the Torah, but it cannot elevate a Jew to the appropriate level of Torah knowledge in order to illuminate life and perfect the world.

Regular Torah study on Shabbat is intended to solve the problem.

How to Achieve ‘Oneg Shabbat

Our Sages said: “He who delights in the Sabbath is saved from the servitude of the Diaspora” (Shabbat 118b). They also said: “He who delights in the Sabbath is granted his heart’s desires”, and “He who delights in the Sabbath is given an unbounded heritage.” Additionally, they said a person who delights in the Sabbath merits wealth (ibid, 119a).

From our Sages statements, we can understand that delighting in the Sabbath is not an easy matter, and consequently, someone who is fortunate and succeeds in doing so, merits all of these enormous blessings. But seemingly, what’s so hard about doing it? All it takes is to prepare some tasty dishes, and eat them at three meals?!

In truth, though, ‘oneg Shabbat‘ (delighting in the Sabbath) is an extremely refined and deep mitzvah, requiring a combination of both soul and body together. As our Sages said, one should divide the Sabbath “half of it to eating and drinking, and half of it to theBeth Hamidrash (study hall)” (Pesachim 68b). These two halves are meant to be complementary – the meals should be coupled with learning, and the learning should be coupled with the meals –and everything with pleasure.

‘Mayain Olam Ha’Ba’

The uniqueness of Shabbat is that it is ‘mayain olam ha’ba‘ (a resemblance of the pleasure in the World to Come), sort of like a funnel of holiness, light, and blessing stretching from the World to Come into this world. The more illumination of the Shabbat we are able to receive, the greater our ability is to draw the Great Light of the World to Come into our world.

And what is the World to Come? Not ‘Olam HaNeshamot‘ (the World of Souls) – Gan Eden (Paradise) for the righteous, and Gehenom (Hell) for the wicked – this is where the soul goes after the death of the person; rather, the following stage, after the completion of tikun olam (perfection of the world) with Techiyat HaMeytim(Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls of the righteous return to reunite with their bodies, and as one, experience eternal ascent.

Resembling this, Shabbat connects the soul and body in an enhanced manner. However, if a person eats, drinks, and rests without devoting half of Shabbat to Torah study, the soul is absent, and he is unable to truly delight in the Sabbath.

When we achieve observing the Sabbath properly, delighting both soul and body, we will discover for ourselves and for the entire world, the ultimate way of life. After that, we will be able to declare to one and all: “Taste, and see that God is good. How blessed are those who take refuge in him!” (Psalms 34:9).

The Purpose of the Sabbath: Torah Study

Our Sages said in Tana d’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah, Chapter One: “The nature of man being what it is, the Holy One said to Israel: My children! Have I not written for you in My Torah, ‘This book of Torah shall not depart from your mouth (Joshua 1:8)? Although you must labor all six days of the week, the Sabbath is to be given over completely to Torah. Accordingly, it is said that a man should rise early on the Sabbath to reciteMishana, and then go to the synagogue and academy where he is to read in the Five Books and recite a portion in the Prophets. Afterwards, he is to go home and eat and drink, thereby fulfilling the verse ‘Eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart’ (Ecclesiastes 9:7)…”

The Stipulation to the Virtue of the Land of Israel

It is particularly important to be meticulous about Torah study on Shabbat in the Land of Israel, as our Sages said: “The Torah said before God: ‘Master of the World! When Israel enters the Land, this one will run to his vineyard, and this one will run to his field. What will be with me’? God said to the Torah: ‘I have a partner for you, whose name is Shabbat, and on that day they will be free from their work and will thus be able to engage in the study of you.”  (Tur, Orach Chaim 290). Several ‘poskim‘ (Jewish legal authorities) cite this Midrash in their halachic decisions, coming to teach us that indeed, one must devote the Shabbat to Torah study (M.B. 290:5).

Truthfully speaking, this poses a difficult question: Why did the Jewish nation have to enter the Land of Israel? God could have kept them in the desert, in order to learn in the ‘kollel‘ of Moshe Rabbeinu and the Seventy Elders. No economic crisis would affect their government benefits – in the morning, they would eat ‘manna‘, and at night, quail; their clothes and shoes never wore-out and they were able to engage in the study of the holy Torah day and night. However, the Torah is revealed in its completeness only when it sanctifies all spheres of life, both the spiritual and the physical.

Nonetheless, the penetrating question still remains: What will become of the Torah?! Torah study must be done seriously, and how can this possibly be done concurrently with working to develop the world? God’s answer was to study Torah on Shabbat, and thereby people’s practical lives will be illuminated and guided by the Torah, and thus, we will be able to understand the Torah in its completeness.

Six Hours

True, our Sages did not fix a specific amount of time one should learn on Shabbat, but certainly, they intended we invest a significant amount of time. They would not have said “the entire Shabbat day should be devoted to Torah” in regards to four or five hours of study. And seeing as our Sages said that at least half of the Shabbat should be devoted to Torah study (Pesachim 68b) clearly, it is impossible to say that four or five hours is considered half a day. Several of the ‘poskim‘ have written this as halakha,such as ‘Ohr Zarua’ , Smag, Rabbeinu Yerucham, Maharshal, (see, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 5:1 and harchavot).

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



The Meaning of Shemini Atzeret

Our Sages said: The seventy bulls the Jewish nation sacrificed in the Holy Temple during the holiday of Sukkot corresponds to the seventy nations, and the singular bull sacrificed on Shemini Atzeret corresponds to the one, unique nation – the People of Israel.

This may be compared to a mortal king who said to his servants, ‘Prepare for me a great banquet’; but on the last day he said to his beloved friend, ‘Prepare for me a simple meal that I may derive benefit from you.’

The Midrash also explains:

‘This may be compared to the case of a king who made a banquet for seven days and invited all the people in the province during the seven days of the feast. When the seven days of the feast were over he said to his friend: ‘We have already done our duty to all the people of the province, let us now rejoice together, you and I, with whatever you can find – a pound of meat, fish, or vegetables.’ In a similar manner the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; let’s rejoice together with whatever you can find; with one bullock, one ram’(Bamidbar Rabbah 21:24).

Likewise, in the Zohar, it is also written that this day, Shemini Atzeret, is a day for the King himself – his day of joy together with Israel.

“This is analogous to a king who invited guests. The household people entertained them. At the end, the king said to his household, ‘Until now, I and you all entertained the guests. You offered sacrifices for the other nations every day, that is, the seventy bullocks. From now on, for one day, let me and you rejoice. This is the meaning of the verse ‘On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly’; “you” means offering sacrifices for yourselves” (Zohar 3, Emor 104:2).

“And when Israel heard this, they began to exalt God, saying: ‘This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (Psalms 118:24). Rabbi Avin said: ‘We do not know in which to rejoice: in the day, or in God? King Solomon came and interpreted: ‘We will exult and rejoice in you’ (Song of Songs 1:4) – ‘in you’, in your Torah, ‘in you’, in your salvation … “(Yalkut Shimoni Pinchas 782).

This is the special and unique meaning of Shemini Atzeret, which contains no distinctive mitzvoth, other than the mitzvah of rejoicing in God, His Torah, and His salvation.

Taken from Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s book, “Peninei Halkha: Sukkot” and translated from Hebrew. All of Rabbi Melamed’s books can be found at:

Together in the Sukkah

The mitzvoth of joy on Chag Sukkot includes not only family members, but also the poor and lonely * According to the Zohar, one who hosts the poor and lonely merits spiritual elevation and gets to host in his sukkah, as it were, the seven Ushpizin * Can a pergola be used as schach? * Travelers are also obligated in the mitzvah of sukkah * The importance of Torah study on Chol Hamoed * Can one wash a stain on Chol Hamoed?


The Mitzvah to Be Happy, and Make Others Happy


The primary mitzvah of ‘simcha‘ (joy) on the holiday of Sukkot is to be happy and make others happy, for true joy is achieved only when one strives to share the joy with others, as the Torah says: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).   

Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two components: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata‘ (you) in the above mentioned verse includes both husband and wife jointly – one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Also, we find indeed that a man’s primary ‘simcha’ is the festive meal which his wife customarily prepares, while a woman’s primary ‘simcha’ is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. The responsibility of imparting their joy with members of the family is equally shared, for the ‘simcha’ of Chag is incomplete without the participation of the entire family. The time-honored custom of all Jews is sharing the joy of the holiday with the family.


The second component of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and friends, the poor and the lonely. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor having lost their main source of sustenance, and the mitzvah to gladden them is by giving them tzedakah (charity). The ger (convert), having left his homeland and family is liable to suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.


It should further be noted that the Torah commanded including the Kohanim and Levi’im (Priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct B’nei Yisrael, both young and old. From this we can learn that nowadays, Torah scholars, i.e., the rabbis and teachers, should be made happy on the Chag, comparable to the Priests and Levites (Binyan Shleima, 1:33).


The Custom of ‘Ushpizin‘ from the Zohar HaKadosh

The poor, orphans, and widows are the special guests of the festival of Sukkot, who are called in Aramaic ‘ushpizin‘, and the more guests one brings joy to in his sukkah, the more praiseworthy he is.

In a similar manner, our Sages said in the Zohar that one should also invite to the sukkahushpizin ila’in‘ (supreme and holy guests), i.e., the souls of the seven tzadikim (righteous men), Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, whose spiritual light shines on Chag Sukkot. In other words, having merited the mitzvah of sukkah and bringing joy to guests, particularly the poor and lonely, one is able to ascend spiritually and also invite supreme and holy guests to the sukkah, i.e., enlightenment from the souls of the righteous. Each day, the spiritual light of one the tzadikim shines bright, and he enters the sukkah first, followed by the other six tzadikim.

The Zohar also relates the custom of Rabbi Hamnuna Sabba, who, upon entering the sukkah, was extremely joyful and would stand in the inner threshold of the sukkah and bless, saying: ‘Sit down, supreme and holy guests, sit down. Sit down, guests of Faith, sit down.’ He joyfully raised his hands and said: ‘Happy is our lot, happy is the lot of Israel who sit in the sukkah. For whoever has a share in the nation and the Holy Land, dwells in the shadow of Faith to receive the light of the seven tzadikim hosted in the sukkah, to rejoice in this world and in the World to Come!’ (Emor, Chap.3, 103, 2-104:1).

The Zohar Concerning Those Who Are Not Hospitable

In continuation, the Zohar writes (translation and interpretation): ‘And although he merits receiving the souls of the righteous, he must be careful to gladden the poor, for the portion of the guests he invited to his meal, belongs to the poor. He sits in the shadow of Faith and invites these lofty guests, the guests of Faith, yet does not give them, namely the poor, their share of the meal. All the guests stand back from him and say: “Do not eat the bread of him who has an evil eye…” (Mishle 23:6). Thus the table he set for a festive meal is a table made in honor of himself, and not in honor God, and of him it is written, “And spread on your faces, even the dung of your feasts” (Malachi 2:3). Woe to that man when the guests of Faith stand back from his table. Abraham , throughout his life used to stand at the crossroads to invite guests and set the table for them, and now, on Sukkot, if one invites him and all the other righteous, but does not give the poor their share, Abraham stands up from the table and cries: “Depart, I pray you, from the tents of these wicked men” (Numbers 16:26), and everyone walks away after him. Isaac says: “The belly of the wicked should feel want” (Proverbs 13:25), and Jacob says: “The morsel which you have eaten you shall vomit up” (Proverbs 23:8). The rest of the righteous say, “Their tables are covered with vomit and filth, so that there is no place clean” (Isaiah 28:8).

Best to Make the Poor and Lonely Happy First

The Zohar goes on to say: ‘One must not say, ‘First I will eat and drink, and whatever is leftover I will give to the poor’, rather, the first part belongs to the poor. He who gladdens the poor and gives them to drink, The Holy One blessed be He, is happy with him, and Abraham says about him: “Then the Lord will be your delight, and I will see to it that you ride high” (Isaiah 58:14). The Zohar continues at length telling how all the tzadikim recite over him verses of blessings, each tzadik a special verse connected to the root of his soul. Happy is the person who merits all this.

It should be added that one who gives charity to the poor before the holiday, according to his ability, also fulfills the mitzvah, because he takes care to include the poor in the joy of the holiday. Nevertheless, it is a greater mitzvah to host them in the sukkah. Today, the mitzvah of hosting guests in the sukkah calls for even further strengthening. Nowadays, there are fewer people who are starving from a lack of food, but on the other hand, the number of sad and lonely people has increased, and it is a great mitzvah to make an effort to invite them to participate in the ‘simcha‘.


Q: A pergola is a fixed wooden structure built in yards and gardens to create a shady place to sit under. Can the wood of a permanent pergola be considered kosher schach?

A: Some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) permit this, opining that since the pergola is not intended for dwelling, and is also not suitable for dwelling seeing as rain can penetrate it, therefore the wood of a pergola is kosher for schach. Nevertheless, for the honor of the Chag, it would be appropriate to add on a little more schach so that the pergola is not considered a ‘sukkah yishina‘ (an old sukkah). If more sun light penetrates the pergola than shade, one should add more schach, until its shade is greater than its sunlight.

In contrast, some poskim are machmirim (stringent), believing that since the pergola is a strong and permanent structure, the ruling for the wood of a pergola is similar to that of permanent wood in the roof of a house, namely, they are pasul (disqualified) from the Torah, for indeed the main factor of schach of the sukkah is that it must be temporary, and a pergola is a permanent structure.

It appears that, according to ‘sevara‘ (logic), one should follow the machmir opinion. In addition, since it is a ‘safek‘ (a doubt) having to do with Torah law, one should be ‘machmir‘.

Thus, if the majority of the pergola roof area is covered with fixed boards, one should remove some of the boards, until most of the roof area is open and there is more sunlight than shade, and place on all the roof area kosher schach, so that even without the attached pergola boards, the shade of the kosher schach will be greater than its sunlight, and thus, the sukkah is kosher (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 2:17).

Travelers are Obligated in the Mitzvah of Sukkah

A person who wishes to take a trip with his family must plan the trip in such a way that they can eat their meal in the sukkah. If they decided to go to a place where there is no sukkah, they must make sure not to eat a ‘seudat keva‘ while on the trip, but rather settle for fruits and vegetables and a little ‘mezanot‘ (foods made from the five grains).

Indeed, there are authorities who are of the opinion that a person who goes on a trip is permitted to eat a meal outside of the sukkah, because just as one who goes on a trip during the rest of the year is not meticulous to eat indoors, the same holds true on Sukkot – someone who decides to go on a trip does not need to be particular to eat in a sukkah. However, it appears that in practice, one should not be lenient in this matter, because only those required to travel are exempt from the sukkah. On the other hand, someone who decided to go for a pleasure trip thereby decides to annul himself from the mitzvah unnecessarily. Consequently, only if one is meticulous to eat a meal in the sukkah, may he go on a trip (Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 3:14).

Torah Study and Outings on Chol Hamoed

In general, one should be careful not to squander the sacred days of Chol HaMoed (intermediate days of Sukkot) on outings, because the holidays were given to Israel in order for them to joyfully engage in Torah study. During the year a person is preoccupied with work, and finds it difficult to concentrate on studying Torah. And thus we find in the Jerusalem Talmud: “Rabbi Abba bar Memal said: If there was someone else who would be counted [agree] with me, I would permit Israel to work on Chol HaMoed! Work is only forbidden on Chol HaMoed so that they, Israel, can eat, drink, be joyful, and labor in Torah, but now, they eat, drink, and are frivolous” (Moed Katan, chap.2, halacha 3).

When a person devotes the holidays for his personal enjoyment, God says of him: “These are not My appointed feasts, but rather your appointed feasts, concerning which it is said: “Your new moons and appointed feasts my soul hates; they are a trouble to me; I am weary of enduring them” (Isaiah 1:14). However, those who devote the holidays to Torah, prayer, and ‘seudot mitzvah‘ (festive meals) are loved and cherished by God, Blessed be He (Shla Hakadosh, Talmud Sukkah, Ner Mitzvah 31).

There are some outings which are a mitzvah, such as traveling to greet one’s rabbi who he does not normally meet once a month. Also, a person who travels to Jerusalem to spend time in the courtyards of the Holy City, to come close to the Temple Mount, and pray by the Western Wall – this is akin to the mitzvah of ‘aliyah l’regel‘ (pilgrimage). People who take such trips in which a mitzvah is involved, if it is difficult for them to find a sukkah to eat in may eat ‘achilat keva‘ outside the sukkah.

Cleaning a Stain is Permitted on Chol Hamoed

It is permissible to remove a stain with water and detergents during Chol Hamoed, because cleaning a stain is not is not included in the general gezera (decree) of not washing clothes on Chol Hamoed. All the same, as long as one has another article of clean clothing, it is preferable to wear it rather than clean the stain, but if there is an additional benefit in the stained garment, one may clean it in order to continue wearing it on Chol Hamoed (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 11:11).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other translated articles by Rabbi Melamed, and all his books in Hebrew, can be found at:

Yom Kippur – A Day of Liberty

Afflicting the body and soul on Yom Kippur releases one from the shackles of the body and the material, and allows one to connect to the root of his soul * The relation between Yovel and the sounding of the Shofar at the end of Yom Kippur * We should accept upon ourselves on Yom Kippur to continue deepening our study of Torah in the New Year * Yom Kippur is an appropriate time to think and pray about matchmaking * Eating and drinking in ‘shiurim’ is only permitted for a person in mortal danger

Teshuva Liberates One from the Shackles of the Yetzer

Through the process of teshuva (repentance) a person is liberated from the shackles entangling him, and his soul is able to reveal itself freely, for teshuva is the desire for Divine freedom, devoid of the least bit of enslavement (Orot HaTeshuva 5:5; 7:4).

Customarily, a person is drawn after his ‘yetzer’av ha’ra’im’ (evil inclinations), such as greed and pride, anger, envy, laziness and conceit – because they offer him quick gratification; once drawn to them, however, one becomes enslaved. And although a person’s inner self still longs for truth and goodness, he finds it exceedingly difficult to realize his good intentions because he has become addicted to having his urges satisfied, and his soul remains confined and tormented in its shackles.

By means of teshuva, man is liberated, and is able to reveal his true will. His soul is released from the bonds of his ‘yetzer‘, begins to illuminate his path, and empowers the life-force within him. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “For man is never more free than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2), because the Torah instructs a person in the path of truth and goodness, through which one can fulfill all of his good aspirations.

Yom Kippur is a Day of Liberty

Thus, Yom Kippur is also a day of liberty. However, in order meriting freedom, one needs to fight; therefore, we are commanded to fast. By means of afflicting the body, the soul is released from the bondage of the body and the physical to a certain extent, and its’ good and true aspirations are revealed. As a result of this higher attachment to the root of one’s soul, sins are detached and cast to Azazel for complete removal, allowing us to choose good (Derech Hashem, Part 4, 8:5).

Yovel and Yom Kippur

We can learn a similar lesson from the mitzvah of Yovel (Jubilee). Customarily, as a result of laziness, greed or other troubles, from time to time people were forced to sell their fields, and sometimes, even had to sell themselves into slavery. In His great mercy for them – and in particular, their families – God determined the mitzvah of Yovel, that on the Yom Kippur of the fiftieth year, all slaves are freed and all fields return to their original owners, as it is written, “Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom-Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land; and you are to consecrate the fiftieth year, proclaiming freedom throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It will be a yovel for you; you will return everyone to the land he owns, and everyone is to return to his family” (Leviticus, 25:9-10).

The Order of Liberation in the Yovel Year

The day set by the Torah in which slaves are freed and fields return to their original owners is Yom Kippur. As the Rambam wrote: “From Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur, servants would not be released to their homes, nor would they be subjugated to their masters, nor would the fields return to their original owners. Instead, the servants would eat, drink, and rejoice, with crowns on their heads. When Yom Kippur arrives and the shofar is sounded in the court, the servants are released to their homes and the fields are returned to their owners” (Laws of Shmitta and Yovel 10:14).

Blowing the Shofar at the Close of Yom Kippur to Remind Us of Yovel

Rav Hai Gaon wrote that the custom of blowing the shofar at the conclusion of Yom Kippur comes to remind us of the blowing of the shofar for Yovel. And though the basis of this shofar blowing is merely a minhag (custom), it symbolizes the culmination of Yom Kippur, for on Yom Kippur the Jewish nation merits release from enslavement to freedom, resembling the Yovel.

Freedom from enslavement to evil inclinations is analogous to the emancipation of slaves to freedom, and the return of the body to the soul parallels the field returning to its owner. For when a person is drawn after his physical inclinations, his body disconnects from his soul and becomes enslaved to foreign desires, thus handing over his powers sinfully to foreign forces. But by means of teshuva on Yom Kippur, the body returns to the soul, rejoicing together with it in the joy of a mitzvah, and reveals God’s intention in the world. In this manner, a person merits a good life, filled with blessing.

The Main Service is in the Holy of Holies

The basis of teshuva is rooted in the most exalted reality, and consequently, the main service of Yom Kippur is performed in the Kodesh HaKodeshim (Holy of Holies). The Holy Temple is the place where all Divine values ​​are revealed, and from it, they flow to the entire world. In the ‘heichal‘ (sanctuary) termed ‘Kodesh‘, rests the ‘menorah‘ symbolizing all categories of wisdom; the ‘shulchan‘ (the Golden Table) signifies parnasah (livelihood); and the Mizbayach Haketoret (incense altar) denoting prayer and the longing for closeness to God. On a higher level in the Kodesh HaKodeshim, the foundations of Israel’s beliefs and teachings were revealed. Therefore, in the Kodesh HaKodeshim rested the Ark containing the Tablets and the Torah, and above it, two Cherubim which symbolized the bond of ‘brit‘ (covenant) and love between God and Israel. Out from the Kodesh HaKodeshim flowed life to the entire world, hence its’ supreme importance, to the point where anyone who entered it is deserving of death by Heaven, and only the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) entered it on Yom Kippur on behalf of all Israel, so as to connect the entire world to its source, and draw atonement, forgiveness, and life to the whole world.

Since the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile, the sanctity of the Kodesh HaKodeshim is revealed in the world through the Jewish nation’s desires and yearnings that “God’s name be sanctified on His people Israel, and on Jerusalem His city, and on Mt. Zion the abode of His majesty, and on the kingdom of David His chosen one, on His site and sanctuary, and that God reigns alone over all His works.” This is the essence of our prayers on Yom Kippur.

Awakening to the Study of Torah

As a continuation of the service in the Kodesh HaKodeshim on Yom Kippur, it would be appropriate for every man and woman, elderly and young, to accept upon themselves on Yom Kippur in preparation for the New Year, to increase and deepen their study of Torah. This is especially worthy for people engaged in yishuv’o shel olam (settlement of the world), and the fitting time for additional study is on Shabbat. Thereby, we will merit drawing insight from the Kodesh HaKodeshim into our daily lives. And this should not be taken this lightly, for the perfection of the world (tikun olam) and its redemption depends on it.

Establishing Blessed Jewish Families

When the Beit HaMikdash existed, at the conclusion of the service of the Kohen HaGadol in the Temple, the daughters of Jerusalem would dance in the orchards, in this way, find their future husbands. Seemingly, one could ask: how, on the sacred and awesome Day of Atonement, could they engage in matters of finding their spouse? However, the creation of Jewish families is connected to the Holy of Holies, as our Sages said about a husband and wife who are worthy of being faithful to one another, that the Divine Presence abides among them (Sotah 17a). And by means of such a relationship, divine unity is revealed in the world; consequently God commanded his name be erased in order that peace is made between husband and wife (Nedarim 66b). Similarly, the Ari HaKadosh said that the mitzvah to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), concerning which Rabbi Akiva said “it is a great rule in the Torah” (Safra, ibid.), is fulfilled in its entirety between spouses.

Moreover, the connection and union between a couple is symbolic to the higher bond between God and Israel, as it is written, “and God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom with his bride” (Isaiah 62:5). Therefore, ‘Shir HaShirim‘ (the Song of Songs) is considered kodesh kodeshim (holy of holies) (Tanhuma Tetzaveh 5). We also find that the form of the Cherubs placed on the Ark in the Holy of Holies was in the shape of a man and woman fulfilling the mitzvah of conjugal relations. This teaches us that holiness does not diminish life, but rather, empowers it. And when Israel ceased to do the will of God, the Cherubs separated from each other, turning their faces outwards (Bava Batra 99 a).

Think and Pray about Matchmaking

Today, indeed, we do not engage in matchmaking on Yom Kippur. Perhaps the reason is that currently we are not worthy of doing so when the Temple is destroyed. In any case, seeing as the sanctity of Yom Kippur is connected to that of the Jewish family, it is appropriate for all single men and women to think and pray about finding their partner. Often, the negative character traits of pride and greed prevent a person from finding a suitable match. On Yom Kippur when one’s pure soul is revealed, one can consider more accurately the aspirations in his life and about a truly suitable match, someone with whom he can fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth, and together, increase joy and life.

Teshuva and Prayers of Married Couples

Married couples should also do teshuva on Yom Kippur over not having properly loved and made each other happy, and pray they merit reuniting with love and joy, that the shechina (holy Presence) dwell among them, and that they merit raising sons and daughters engaged in Torah and mitzvoth.

Eating and Drinking in ‘Shiurim‘ is Prohibited from the Torah

A common mistake among doctors and ill people is their belief that the idea of drinking in ‘shiurim‘ (measures) is a sort of middle-ground suitable for sick people for whom fasting is not likely to endanger their lives. However, the truth is that drinking even a tiny bit is prohibited from the Torah, and it is forbidden for someone whose life is not in danger to drink in ‘shiurim‘.

However, the problem is that in the opinion of Ramban, when a person is dangerously ill it is preferable for him to eat and drink on Yom Kippur in ‘shiurim‘, to slightly reduce the severity of the prohibition (because someone who eats or drinks less than a ‘shiurb’mayzid ‘(deliberately), although he has transgressed a Torah prohibition, he is not obligated to bring a sin offering, and is not liable of the death penalty from Heaven). And although the vast majority of Rishonim did not mention this instruction, because in their opinion a gravely ill patient is l’chatchila (from the outset) permitted to eat and drink without any restrictions, as was written l’ma’aseh (in practice) by some of the eminent Achronim (Netziv, Ohr Sameach, and others), nevertheless the Shulchan Aruch wrote that l’chatchila, when not difficult, it is preferable for a gravely ill person to drink and eat in ‘shiurim‘ (618:7-8).

Pregnant and Nursing Women are Obligated to Fast

Pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur (Pesachim 54b; S.A. 617:1). Even on Tisha B’Av pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast, kal v’chomer (let alone) on Yom Kippur, whose obligation is from the Torah. However, when there is a perceived danger to a woman’s life, or the life of the fetus, she should drink and eat.

Swallowing Medications on Yom Kippur

A sick person experiencing discomfort due to his illness is permitted to swallow pills for remedial purposes on Yom Kippur provided the pills do not taste good, and one makes sure to swallow them without water. A person who cannot swallow pills without water can mix a bit of soap into the water, thereby greatly spoiling its taste, and with this water, swallow the pill.

A person for whom fasting causes great pain is permitted to swallow pills to relieve his discomfort. Someone who suffers from severe headaches due to the lack of coffee is permitted to take pills that contain caffeine, or pills to relieve headaches.

A person who knows that fasting is liable to cause an outbreak of pain, such as a migraine sufferer, is permitted to take pills in advance to prevent the onset of pain.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:


We are proud to invite you to a shiur from
HaRav Eliezer Melamed shlit “a
Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Har Bracha and author
of the acclaimed Peninei Halakha series.

On the topic: “Study Torah on Shabbat”
followed by a discussion of breaking Shabbat
Yom Kippur and to save a life.
The shiur will be in Hebrew.

Rav Melamed’s shiur will include a special introduction to the English series of Peninei Halakha. There will be volumes for sale in Hebrew and English.

The Shiur will take place in Modi’in.


Revealing the Kingdom of God

Strengthening the fulfillment of mitzvoth demonstrating our commitment to Torah on Rosh Hashanah * The immense significance of seemingly superficial mitzvoth * The importance of wearing tzitzit outwardly, especially for those working in non-religious surroundings * Modest dress for women is not intended only to save men from inappropriate thoughts * Answering ‘amen’ with kavanah, out loud, and in a pleasant tone * Bringing children to synagogue – from what age? * Women who take care of young children should pray at home, and not bring them to the synagogue *Stonewalling the Haredi attempt to disqualify judges because of their halachic opinions


Rosh Hashanah – Acceptance of God’s Kingdom

The central theme of Rosh Hashanah is the acceptance of God’s kingdom, and consequently we pray to merit being partners in improving the world by revealing His kingship. Accordingly, in all prayers we are required to say “Ha’Melech Ha’Kadosh” (‘the King, the Holy One’) instead of “Ha-El Ha’Kadosh” (the Almighty, the Holy One), and one who mistakenly forgot to say “Ha’Melech“, must return to the beginning of the prayers.

Therefore, during these days it is fitting to strengthen our performance of mitzvoth which give expression to the acceptance of God’s kingship and our commitment to the fulfillment of Torah and its commandments: arriving on-time to prayers, answering ‘amen‘ out loud, and dressing in a proper Jewish manner – ‘tzitzit‘ (tassels) and a nice ‘kippa‘ (head-covering) for men, and halachically modest clothing for women.

Revealing the ‘Brit’ through Declarative Mitzvoth

Some people tend to underestimate these mitzvoth because outwardly, they seem superficial. In truth, however, they express the deepest foundation – the acceptance of God’s kingship. Thus, we find that one of Israel’s greatest accolades was saying at Mount Sinai ‘na’aseh v’nishma‘ – first “we will do”, and afterwards “we will listen.” By doing so, the People of Israel showed that its relationship with God is absolute, beyond comprehension and emotions – a bond based on a ‘brit‘ (covenant). As a result, it is Israel who is destined to repair the world by revealing the Heavenly ideals according to the instructions of the Torah. 

Reward in This World Precisely by Means of These Mitzvoth

Characteristically, reward for spiritual mitzvoth is received in the ‘Olam HaNeshamot‘ (‘World of Souls’), while for tangible mitzvoth involving ‘kiddush Hashem‘ (sanctification of God) reward is given in this world. The reward for all mitzvoth combined is in ‘Olam Ha’Ba‘ (the World to Come), wherein the soul returns to the body in ‘Techiyat HaMaytim‘ (Resurrection of the Dead).

This is because the primary reward for mitzvoth expressed through the mind and heart is a spiritual one in the Upper Worlds, in Gan Eden. On the other hand, here in the present world, the main reward is for the practical mitzvoth – observable commandments that perfect our deeds in this world, by which we declare to the world our faithfulness to the covenant which God made with Israel. In this fashion, Heavenly ideals descend from above and are revealed in the world, infusing godliness into worldly matters – via the blessing of children, health, and good living.

Wearing Tzitzit Outwardly

The mitzvah of tzitzit (tassels) was given to us by the God in order to express our loyalty to the Torah and its commandments, as it is written: “These shall be your tassels, and when you see them, you shall remember all of God’s commandments so as to keep them” (Numbers 15:39). The primary intention of the mitzvah of tzitzit is that they be visible, as written in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 8:11). This is also implicit from the words of the Ari HaKadosh, that one should look at the tzitzit ‘every hour, and every minute’ (Sha’ar Hakavanot 7:3).

This mitzvah is especially important for those working with non-observant Jews, because by exposing one’s tzitzit, he declares to himself and those nearby that he is committed to Torah and mitzvoth and not embarrassed by it at all, and as a result, receives strength to withstand all trials.


Although the halachic basis for wearing a kippa (skullcap) is a minhag (custom) from the Amoraic period, after being accepted as obligatory amongst Jews, wearing a kippa involves a public declaration of loyalty to God and his teachings. Therefore, it is fitting to be meticulous in fulfillment of this mitzvah and wear a kippa that covers the majority of one’s head or at the very least, a nice kippa that is visible from all angles.

Modest Clothing for Women

The public statement of loyalty to Torah and mitzvoth for women is dressing modestly – and the test is difficult. On the one hand, the desire to beautify oneself is healthy and positive, but on the other hand, the ‘yetzer ha’ra‘ (evil inclination) persuades women’s hearts to embrace non-Jewish fashions. In wake of Rosh Hashanah, one should strengthen herself in accepting God’s kingship, and decide that above all, the most important thing is that her clothes are ‘kosher l’mehadrin‘ (strictly “kosher”) in accordance with halakhah.

Some women think the main problem is that immodest clothes are liable to trigger forbidden thoughts in the minds of men, and if so, they claim: ‘Why should we have to be strict with ourselves? Let the men overcome their inclinations!” However, it should be pointed out that the problem of men’s thoughts is of less importance.

The first reason is that modesty expresses the sacredness of Judaism, teaching us to look towards the inner side of things, and expresses our loyalty to the Divine purpose and faithfulness to one’s spouse.

The second reason is not to follow in the ways of the Gentiles, for anyone drawn after Gentile clothing fashions is also liable to be influenced by their world views.

Since there is nothing more visible than one’s clothes, any compromise on this issue reflects a lack of allegiance to Torah and mitzvoth, and consequently, is a ‘chilul Hashem‘ (desecration of God). Conversely, a woman who strictly adheres to halakha, while at the same time paying attention to her pleasant appearance as well, publicly sanctifies God’s name.

Honor for the Synagogue

Guarding the honor of the ‘Beit Knesset‘ (synagogue), including being careful not to chat during prayers, is also one of the mitzvoth which reveal God’s reign in the world, because every in ‘Beit Knesset‘ there is a certain revelation of the Holy Temple, as our Sages said the synagogue is similar to “a small sanctuary” (Megillah 29a). By way of praying in the ‘Beit Knesset‘, one’s prayers are accepted, because by honoring the Divine Presence in the world, one’s requests are accepted as well (Berachot 6a).

Someone who regularly attends ‘Beit Knesset‘, arrives before prayers begin, and leaves after they have finished, merits longevity (Berachot 8a).

Answering ‘Amen‘ Out Loud and in a Pleasant Tone

Our Sages said: “He who responds ‘amen‘ with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written (Isaiah 26:2): “Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faithfulness [in Hebrew, ‘shomer emunim‘] may enter“. Read not ‘shomer emunim‘, rather ‘she’omrim amen‘ [who answer ‘amen‘] (Shabbat 119b). By responding ‘amen‘, we express our faith in God, that He is ‘El Melech Ne’eman‘ (‘God, a faithful King’, which is a Hebrew acronym for the word ‘amen‘). A person who despite the darkness and obscurity of this world is faithful to God and responds ‘amen‘ with all his might, truly cleaves to Him, and the gates of Paradise are opened on his behalf.

What is the meaning of responding ‘amen‘ “with all his might”? Rashi and Tosephot explain: “B’kol ko’ach kavanato” (with all his concentrative intent), and seeing as this refers to the intention of one’s heart, the reward is in Heaven.

Nevertheless, there is also virtue in saying ‘amen‘ out loud and in a pleasant tone, for by doing so, God’s name is sanctified in the world. This is the meaning of our Sages statement that blessing is drawn to a person in this world according to the manner in which he answers ‘amen‘, for “one who draws out the ‘amen‘, his days and years will be prolonged” (Berachot 47a).

When the congregation responds ‘amen‘ together and in a loud voice, it is a great ‘kiddush Hashem‘, as Tosephot wrote according to the Midrash: “When the Jewish nation enters synagogues and says ‘Ye’hey shmay rabba mevorach‘ out loud, harsh decrees are cancelled” (Shabbat 119b).

‘And We Will Hear’

Accepting God’s kingship is the foundation and vessel for receiving blessings, but this is not enough. Following ‘na’aseh‘ (we will do), one needs to continue rising to the level of ‘nishma‘ (we will hear) in order to imbue his deeds with substance and guide them to perfection, and this we must continue pursuing during the Ten Days of Repentance.

Bringing Children to Synagogue

There is a mitzvah to bring children who have reached the age of education, i.e., children who have already started praying, to synagogue in order to hear the shofar, and answer ‘amen‘ to ‘Kaddish‘ and blessings. The average age of education begins at five or six years old.

However, even before reaching this age, there is a certain value in bringing the child to synagogue for a short period of time, provided his father makes sure he sits quietly and does not disturb other worshipers. Still, one should reprove those accustomed to bringing young children to synagogue and in order not to disturb others give them bags of various snacks, thus debasing the sanctity of the synagogue, and interfering with the prayers. By doing so, parents are not educating their children, but on the contrary – accustom them to disrespect the synagogue and prayer. In addition, they cause a ‘siman ra‘ (bad sign) for themselves for the entire year, because just as they did not take into consideration respect for the synagogue, prayers, and their peers, they will also be treated in Heaven likewise.

Women’s Prayer

Women are obligated to pray. Some halachic authorities say the intention is they are required to pray the Amidah (Eighteen Benedictions) once a day – Shacharit (Morning Prayer), or Mincha (Afternoon Prayer). Others say they are required to pray twice a day – both Shacharit and Mincha, and according to all opinions, they are obligated to recite Birkot HaShachar (Morning Blessings). And although throughout the year, a woman who wants to be lenient and pray one Amidah a day may do so, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is proper for every woman to pray the Amidah of Shacharit, Mussaf, and Mincha.

A woman who is scrupulous in the performance of mitzvoth and wishes to pray all of the High Holiday services in the synagogue – ‘tavo aleyha bracha(this is pious conduct for which one is blessed for being strict). And although women are exempt from praying in a minyan and in synagogue, this is considered a ‘hidur‘ (beautification) and ‘zechut‘ (merit).

Prayer for Women Taking Care of Children

However, as long as a woman has young children to care of, it is preferable for her to remain at home, because in any event, the rabbis did not obligate women to pray with a minyan. If taking care of her children makes it difficult for her to concentrate on her Amidah prayers, she should suffice by reciting the Birkot HaShachar. How fortunate she is – taking care of her children is her prayers, and there is no better ‘siman tov‘ (good sign) for the entire year than to take care of a small child patiently and happily. Just as God gives life to all living things on Rosh Hashanah, she also takes care of her child and gives him life.

Nevertheless, if she wishes, she can coordinate with a neighbor that at certain times she will watch both of their children so that her neighbor can go to synagogue, and at other times, her neighbor watches the children so she can go to synagogue.

Do Not Bring Toddlers to Synagogue

However, a mother should not come to synagogue with a baby or a small child. And women who do bring their small children, thinking they can rely on the fact that only a few mothers will bring their children to synagogue, must ask forgiveness from all the men and women for whom bringing children makes it difficult for them to concentrate on their prayers. Such women must also ask forgiveness from all the other women who stayed at home in order not to disturb the prayers, and must ask forgiveness of all those women who went out of their way to find someone who could take care of their children so they could come to synagogue. In short, it’s a pity to start the year with the ‘siman ra‘ (bad sign) of a lack of consideration for the honor of the public, synagogue, and prayer.

Choosing Judges

After the representatives of the Haredi community decided to reject the candidacy of Rabbi Uriel Lavi to the Supreme Rabbinical Court, and Rabbi Benayah Brunner to the Rabbinical District Court, it is our duty to stand firmly against them, and stand on the principle that they specifically, be appointed.

Rabbis and judges are afraid to express their Torah opinions because of the harassment of the Haredi leadership, thus transgressing the Torah command “lo toguru mipnei ish” (“fear no one”). If, God forbid, the Haredi representatives are successful, the number of judges fearing to speak their mind will increase for fear they will also be harassed, and as a result, the Torah will be uprooted.

Naturally, sometimes there are disagreements on matters of halakha, and if there is a rabbi or judge who thinks differently than Rabbi Lavi or Rabbi Brunner and brings arguments to support his opinion – this is fine. But anyone who claims that their opinions are invalid uproots the foundations of the Torah. And if among the new candidates there is someone who invalidates others with different opinions, then he disqualifies himself from serving as a judge, and public representatives must act so that he is not appointed to serve as a judge.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

Understanding Selichot

The Custom of Reciting Selichot for the Salvation of the Clal    

 Since the times of the Geonim (589-1038), Jews have had the custom of rising in the early hours of the morning (‘ashmoret ha’boker‘) during the Ten Days of Repentance (‘Aserit Yamei Teshuva‘) to recite Selichot (penitential poems and prayers). Contrary to the popular misconception that the objective of Selichot is to pray for one’s individual life, the primary intention is to pray for Clal Yisrael, all of the Jews – to awaken to teshuva (repentance), to beg God to forgive us for our sins and have mercy on His People in their exile and tribulations.

We ask that He not focus on our transgressions and sins, rather, remember the covenant He made with our forefathers, and with us; remember the binding of Isaac, and the sacrifice of all the holy Jews who gave their lives to sanctify His name; and pray for the Ingathering of the Exiles, the building of the Land of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple, and the return of the Shechina (Divine Presence) to Zion.

This is always the most favorable approach for an individual – to participate in the prayers of the tzibor (general public), and intensify one’s prayers over Clal Yisrael, the dwelling of the Shechina, and the sanctification of God’s name in the world. In this way specifically, one’s personal prayers will also be accepted.

Prophetic Origins   

In times of trouble, the Prophets awakened Israel to gather in fasting and prayer, begging God to spare His people and land, as it is written:

“Blow the shofar in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those who suckle: let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her pavilion. Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare your people, O Lord, and give not your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them: Why should it be said among the peoples, Where is their God? Then the Lord was zealous for his land, and pitied his people” (Joel 2:15-18).

When are Selichot Recited?

In the times of the Geonim the custom was to recite Selichot during the Ten Days of Repentance; this was the minhag(custom) of the two great yeshivas in Babylon, and was also the prevalent custom during the period of the rabbis called Rishonim (1000-1450) (Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 3:4). In a few places, the custom was to recite Selichot all of the month of Elul.

Sephardic Custom

Towards the end of the period of the Rishonim, Sephardic communities accepted the custom of reciting Selichot all of the month of Elul and the Ten Days of Repentance (S.A. 581:1). This is because all of these days are worthy of repentance, as we have seen that on Rosh Chodesh Elul, Moshe Rabbeinu ascended Mount Sinai to ask forgiveness for Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, and on Yom Kippur, God answered: “I grant forgiveness as you have requested.”

Ashkenazi Custom

In Ashkenaz, the accepted custom was to begin reciting Selichot on the Moetzei Shabbat before Rosh Hashana, provided there were four days on which to recite them before Rosh Hashana.

Various explanations were cited for this (M.B. 581:6). However, I will mention the reason cited in the book ‘Leket Yosher‘ (authored by Trumat Hadeshen), that Motzei Shabbat is a suitable time for Selichot because on Shabbat “everyone is accustomed to study Torah…” seeing as Shabbat and the Torah are as spouses, “and on Shabbat, Israel is free from work and study Torah. Therefore, it is good to start on Yom Rishon (Motzei Shabbat), because people are happy for having learned Torah on Shabbat, and also because of oneg Shabbat, and as was said in the Talmud: “The Divine Presence rests upon man neither through gloom, nor through laziness, save through a matter of joy in connection with a mitzvah…”(Shabbat 30b).

According to this, although the best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, on the first day there is an advantage to reciting them on Moetzei Shabbat after chatzot (halakhic mid-night), while still dressed in Shabbat clothes.

At What Time of Day are Selichot Recited?

The best time to recite Selichot is in the early hours of the morning, i.e., towards the end of the night, because this is a time of compassion and grace, a time of anticipation just before the appearance of daylight and the revelation of the word of God in the world. At that very moment in time everyone is asleep, the world is quiet and unpolluted from thoughts and evil deeds, and prayer radiates from the depths of the heart, penetrates all barriers, and is accepted. In any event, the fitting time to recite Selichot begins after chatzot, because that’s when anticipation of daylight starts, and it is a time of favor and compassion.

In recent generations, people have become used to going to sleep late at night, and the regular time for rising is between 6:00 and 7:00 A.M. – approximately two hours after ashmoret ha’boker. If people were to get up at ashmoret, they would be tired all day long, and their work and studies would likely be affected. Consequently, today many people tend to get up for Selichot about an hour, or half an hour, before the time they usually pray Shacharit. And although dawn has already risen, bediavad (post factum) the time is still fitting for reciting Selichot. If they are able to reciteSelichot after chatzot at night, it is preferable.

Although the Rishonim did not fix the reciting of Selichot as mandatory, this is the minhag of Israel. However, someone who finds it difficult to wake up for Selichot is not obligated to do so during the month of Elul. During the Ten Days of Repentance, one should be more meticulous in reciting Selichot, because these days are more amenable for repentance and atonement (see, Rosh Hashana 18a; Rambam, Teshuva 2:6).

Selichot Juxtaposed with Fatigue at Work and Study 

Someone who cannot go to sleep early, and waking up for Selichot will result in fatigue and an inability to fulfill his duties at work – it is preferable for him not to wake up for Selichot even during the Tens Days of Repentance. Instead, he should try to increase his reciting of Tehillim (Psalms), and if he wants, during the day he can recite the sections ofSelichot that an individual is permitted to say.

The accepted practice is that it even for a Torah scholar accustomed to studying diligently, it is proper for him to devote the required amount of time to recite Selichot (Rokach 209; Birkei Yosef and Shaarei Teshuva 581:1).  It is the custom in all yeshivas to recite Selichot, even though it comes at the expense of learning. However, if rising early causes one to lose more learning time than the time dedicated in reciting Selichot, because afterwards, the change in schedule will cause a lack of concentration in his studies, it is preferable not to rise for Selichot.

The Wording of Selichot

Since our Sages did not explicitly institute the reciting of Selichot, hence, Selichot lack a standard nusach (wording), and every community added its own pleas and poems. Nevertheless, there is a general framework used in all the communities, as appears in the siddur (prayer book) of Rabbi Amram Gaon, with the reciting of the Yud Gimmel Midot(Thirteen Attributes of Mercy) being the focal point of the prayer.

Although the recitation of piyutim (poems) should not be cancelled on a regular basis, nevertheless, when the worshippers are short on time, they can skip some of them and say the main Selichot, making an effort to recite thoseSelichot which arouse one to greater teshuva.

Similarly, when teachers see that students find it hard to concentrate on all the Selichot, they may rearrange the order so the students can have better kavana (concentration). And when it is necessary for members of different communities to pray together, and they wish to recite Selichot jointly, they can arrange a combined version, as Rabbi Avraham Gisser shlita and Rabbi Shmuel Shapira shlita have done.

Selichot Nowadays Should Be Similar to the Prayers of Ezra

After having been privileged to witness the developing process of the In-gathering of the Exiles and the establishment of the State of Israel, we should be motivated to recite Selichot with even greater intensity, requesting that God continue having mercy on us, return us to Him in complete repentance, and redeem us completely.

Resembling our present situation, the olei Bavel (immigrants from Babylon) in the times of the first return to Zion, also faced serious spiritual difficulties, and by repenting, merited to build the Second Temple. As in the words of Ezra who, upon immigrating to Israel from Babylon, found that many Jewish inhabitants had taken non-Jewish women for themselves, and the ministers and their deputies were dishonest. When he heard this, he rent his garments, plucked his hair, knelt down on his knees, spread out his hands, and prayed:

And when I heard of this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down appalled. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of them of the captivity; and I sat appalled until the evening offering.

“And at the evening offering I arose up from my fasting, even with my garment and my mantle rent; and I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God; and I said: ‘O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to you, my God; for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our guiltiness is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers we have been exceeding guilty unto this day; and for our iniquities have we, our kings, and our priests, been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, and to spoiling, and to confusion of face, as it is this day.

“And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments, which you have commanded by your servants the prophets, saying: The land, unto which you go to possess it, is an unclean land through the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, through their abominations, wherewith they have filled it from one end to another with their filthiness.

“Now therefore give not your daughters unto their sons, neither take their daughters unto your sons, nor seek their peace or their prosperity for ever; that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever. And after all that is come upon us for our evil deeds, and for our great guilt, seeing that you our God has punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and has left us such a remnant, shall we again break your commandments, and make marriages with the peoples that do these abominations? Would you not be angry with us till you had consumed us, so that there should be no remnant, nor any to escape?

“O Lord, the God of Israel, you are righteous; for we are left a remnant that is escaped, as it is this day; behold, we are before you in our guiltiness; for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:3-15).

Ezra’s sorrow, fasting and prayers aroused the nation to repent, and thanks to this, the Second Temple was built and stood for hundreds of years. However, failing to repent completely – seeing as many Jews remained in Babylonian exile and failed to immigrate to Israel – the Shechina did not dwell in the Second Temple as it had in the First Temple, and ultimately, it too was destroyed due to our sins.

Is the Wording of Selichot Suitable for Our Times?

Indeed, in the wording of Selichot there are sentences fitting for times of galut (exile), and certain people find it difficult to identify with the content. Some even claim there is a bit of falsehood in reciting them today.

But when we view the Jews as one people having lived in all generations, with each one of us truly linked to all the Jews who lived in all the generations and in all the various countries, consequently, each and every one of us was actually together with all the Jews in every exile and all the terrible tribulations. Together with them we suffered terrible degradation, until we almost lost hope.

We were together with the holy Jews and martyrs in all the forced conversions; in the Crusades and the Inquisition; in the Muslim killings, and the Chmielnicki pogroms of 1648-1650; and the last and most horrendous of all – the dreadful Holocaust, which ended barely seventy years ago, with hundreds of thousands of survivors who underwent the death camps and ghettos still living among us.

How can we be calm, saying that the Selichot supplications are not suitable for us, when the world is still full of wicked people who openly declare their desire to continue the work of the Nazis? In view of this, the wording of Selichot can be recited out of a deep sense of identification.

Hold that Loan! – Shmittat Kesafim and Pruzbul

The mitzvah to lend money to a Jew in distress, without interest * The Biblical mitzvah refers to a small, short-term loan enabling one to buy food *The mitzvah of cancelling debts at the end of the Shmitta year *It is a mitzvah for a debtor who can, to return his loan – despite Shmitta * The prohibition of avoiding loans before the Shmitta year *Debts of high-risk loans can be secured through collateral * Why is the Biblical mitzvah of ‘shmittat kesafim’ valid only when the Yoval applies * The enactment of the ‘pruzbul’ by Hillel the Elder came in the wake of increasing numbers of poor people, and the fear that the rich would not be able to lend

The Shmitta year is coming to a close, and the period of ‘shmittat kesafim‘ is about to begin, so now is the time to clarify the mitzvoth and ideals associated with it, and thus, understand the logic behind the enactment of the ‘pruzbul‘.

The Mitzvah to Loan

It is a mitzvah from the Torah to lend someone money without interest in his time of need. This mitzvah is a branch of the mitzvah of tzedakah (charity), however, our Sages said that the mitzvah of loaning money is greater than tzedakah, because accepting charity degrades one’s dignity, whereas in a loan, the borrower’s honor is maintained, thus making it easier to re-establish himself (Shabbat 63a). Another advantage of the mitzvah is that loans are given to the poor and the rich, while tzedakah is given only to the poor (Sukkah 49b).

Which Type of Loans did the Torah Command

The type of loans the Torah spoke about were mainly short-term, small loans, which people needed in order to buy food. As our Sages said: “If one lends money to his friend without specifying a time for repaying, he may not demand repayment for at least thirty days” (Makkot 3b). For indeed, up until modern times when people living in advanced countries learned to produce food, clothing, and other household needs in large quantities and cheaply, poverty abounded and people labored strenuously to obtain food and clothing for their families. And although people worked hard for a living – often, they were left without money – either because they had not finished their work, had not yet been paid, or because they could not find a buyer for their goods – and in order to buy food, they were forced to ask for a loan. Such people weren’t poor and couldn’t work, about whom the Torah commanded us to give tzedakah, rather, they needed a temporary loan that would enable them to survive until they were paid. On occasion, even a person who was considered wealthy, owning a nice house, fancy clothes, and expensive furniture was left without cash to buy food for his family, and the Torah even commanded us to lend him money in his time of need. However, if a rich and a poor person came to ask for a loan, the poor person takes precedence, because his situation is more needy, whereas the rich person, if necessary, could sell some of his possessions cheaply in order to survive (Bava Metzia 71a; S.A., C.M. 97:1).

Loans Today

It is important to note that as a result of the rise in living conditions, many of the loans people take today are large loans mainly for investment purposes. For example, a loan to buy an apartment so as not to pay monthly rent, or to start a business that will generate profits, or to pay for professional studies enabling one to earn a respectable living. Since this is an investment and not a loan, the lender is entitled to receive a percentage of the profits for his investment. Ideally, it would be appropriate for the lender and the borrower to calculate the profits created thanks to the investment and split the profits as agreed between them from the start. However, seeing as such a calculation is very difficult and complex, we rely on the ‘heter iska‘ [a halachically approved way of restructuring a loan or debt so that it becomes an investment instead of a loan] (“Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it” 6:3).

The Mitzvah of Shmittat Kesafim

Let’s return to the mitzvah of loans, which the mitzvah of shmittat kesafim is an offshoot.

The Torah commands that in the end of the Shmitta year, all of Israel cancels debts that their fellow Jews owe them, and not require further payment. One who transgresses this, requiring repayment after Shmitta, annuls a positive mitzvah, and transgresses a negative one (Deuteronomy 15:1-3).

The goal of the mitzvah is to help the poor who were unable to pay their debts, so that once in seven years, they could untangle themselves from the burden of debts they had incurred. The Torah set the expiration date for debts at the end of the seventh year, so they could start over the seven-year cycle free from the yoke of monetary obligations.

Seeing as the goal of the mitzvah is to help the poor, a borrower who is able to repay his debts after the Shmitta year, despite being exempt according to the letter of the law – it is a mitzvah for him to repay the loan to the lender as a gift. If he exploited the cancelling of debts and did not pay, ‘ain ruach Chachamim nocha heh’menu‘ (the Rabbis disapproved), and such a person was considered ‘naval b’reshut ha’Torah‘ (despicable even within the parameters of halakha), and other people are even allowed to pressure him to pay his debt to the lender as a gift (Mishna Shevi’it 10:9; Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 6:2).

The Warning Not to Avoid Loaning Before Shmitta Year

The Torah exceedingly warned not to avoid loaning money to needy people before the Shmitta year, as it is written: “Be very careful that you not have an irresponsible idea and say to yourself, ‘The seventh year is approaching, and it will be the Shmitta year.’ You may then look unkindly at your impoverished brother, and not give him anything. If he then complains to God about you, you will have a sin. Therefore, make every effort to give him, and do not feel bad about giving it, since God your Lord will then bless you in all your endeavors, no matter what you do” (Deuteronomy 15:9-10).

The Mitzvah to Lend Only to Trustworthy People

However, the mitzvah to loan money specifically refers to a trustworthy person, but when the person asking for loan is known to be unreliable, there is no mitzvah to lend him money at any time (S.A., C.M. 97:4), because the mitzvah of loaning money is intended to help people, and not to cause disputes over repayment of the loan.

By even greater force of logic, there is no mitzvah to lend money to a person who is unreliable before Shmitta, because the mitzvah is to lend, and not to give as a gift. An unreliable person who asks for a loan preceding the Shmitta year is essentially asking for a gift, because not being able to pay on time – when the Shmitta year ends, the loan becomes a gift.

Thus, the mitzvah is to lend to people who are trustworthy, who will most probably repay their debt. Even so, every loan carries a certain amount of risk – the borrower might encounter unexpected difficulties and not be able to repay his debt; this is the risk we are commanded to take in order to fulfill the mitzvah of loaning. And even preceding the Shmitta year, the Torah sternly warns us that we are commanded not avoid granting loans to trustworthy people, even though if they are unable to repay their debts by the end of the Shmitta year, we will have forgo them.

The Solution for High-Risk Loans

When trustworthy people were forced to ask for a large loan, and the risk they would be unable to repay it was substantial, the lender would require a pledge (‘mashkon‘) equivalent to the sum of the loan, or require land be mortgaged (“apotiki“) to guarantee the loan. In this manner, the lender assured repayment of his loan; even at the end of the Shmitta year, such a loan does not expire, since the debt is already considered having been paid by the means of the pledge or the land.

When it was not possible to mortgage land or give a pledge for the repayment of the debt, but nevertheless, the borrower was trustworthy in the eyes of the lender, the lender would give the bill of debt to Beit Din, and n this manner as well, the debt does not expire at the end of Shmitta.

It is a Mitzvah from the Torah only When Yovel Applies

The mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah applies only when the entire Jewish nation lives in the Land of Israel as required – that is to say, every tribe in its inheritance, and every family on its land. Even if all of the Jewish nation lived in Israel but were mixed among themselves – i.e., some of the tribe of Binyamin resided in the inheritance of Yehudah, or vice versa, they are not considered as residing in the land as required, and the obligation of Shmitta from the Torah is annulled (Archin 32b).

The Logic in the Mitzvah

The logic of this mitzvah is clear. When the Yovel (Jubilee year) applied, every family in Israel owned a plot of land from which they could make a living, and consequently, poor people were few, and the risk of not repaying loans was slight. In this type of a situation, the Torah commanded every Jew who had money to spare, to give small loans for food to trustworthy people who encountered financial difficulties, and cancel the few debts of those who were unable to repay their loans by the end of the Shmitta year.

Similarly, the mitzvah to refrain from working the land in the Shmitta year from the Torah applies only when Yovel is observed, because only when all of Israel has land in the country and they all keep the Sabbatical year, are they able to manage the great challenge of Shmitta. But when only a portion own land, they are unable to bear the burden of Shmitta single-handedly. In addition, when all of Israel does not reside in the land, chances are the vacant areas will be filled with non-Jews who work their fields for seven years, creating competition that is difficult for those who do fulfill Shmitta to withstand.

The Enactment of Our Sages

After the tribe of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh were exiled from their land, about a hundred and fifty years before the destruction of the First Temple, the mitzvah of Shmitta from the Torah was annulled (Archin 32b). Nevertheless, our Sages determined to continue fulfilling the mitzvah. Our Sages also determined keeping Shmitta during the period of the Second Temple, in spite of the fact that Israel did not merit residing in the land as required, every tribe in its inheritance. And although under such circumstances fulfilling Shmitta was more difficult, our Sages determined we should make a greater effort and keep Shmitta, in order to safeguard the ideals of the mitzvoth of Shmitta, and thus, merit redemption and future fulfillment of the mitzvah from the Torah in its completeness.

The Enactment of Hillel the Elder

Towards the end of the Second Temple, the number of poor people requiring loans and failed to repay increased, to the point where the extent of the loss was too great for lenders to bear – above and beyond what the Torah and our Sages had intended through their enactment. A situation was created where, had the rich loaned their money to all needy people as the Torah commanded, then, at the end of each Shmitta year when required to cancel all debts, the lenders would have gone bankrupt. This was not the Torah’s intention for the mitzvah of giving loans; for that purpose, the mitzvah of tzedakah, which has a ceiling, is intended. As our Sages said, a person should not give more than a fifth of his assets and wages to tzedakah, so that his financial stability would not be affected (Ketubot 50 a).

Therefore, so the rich could continue lending to the poor without fear of going bankrupt at the end of Shmitta year, Hillel the Elder enacted the ‘pruzbul‘, thereby expropriating unpaid loans from the law of Shmitta, enabling the rich to continue fulfilling the mitzvoth of giving loans from the Torah, and allowing the poor to make use of loans prior to the Shmitta year, as well.

God willing, next week I will clarify the mitzvah of ‘shmittat kesafim’ and the ‘pruzbul‘ in practice.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Additional articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:

Rabbi Kook: Halacha and the Rabbinate

The unique greatness and comprehensiveness of Rabbi Kook’s teachings, both in his personality and service of God * His approach in determining Jewish law: Taking into consideration divergent views wherever possible, and only in times of duress to rely on lenient opinions *Rabbi Kook’s regret over the ‘heter mechira’, and his deliberate avoidance of strengthening it *His ambivalent attitude towards his tenure in the Rabbinate * How Rabbi Kook administered the Rabbinate and the ‘heter mechira’, as compared to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef *The rare cases when Rabbi Kook fiercely opposed his dissenters *Rabbi Kook’s “shortcoming” was providing an opportunity for those who opposed him to reinforce their errors

Our Master, Rabbi Kook

In honor of the 80th  anniversary of the yahrzeit of Israel’s holy and illuminating Light, Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook ztz’l, it is fitting to clarify his approach to the rabbinate and p’seekat halacha (determining Jewish law). On the one hand, we find in his halachic responses an inclination towards chumra (a prohibition or obligation in Jewish practice that exceeds the bare requirements of halacha), and personally, he was even more machmir (strict). On the other hand, in certain issues he was considered to be maykel (lenient). On the one hand, his followers view him as the highest standard of a rabbi, and in fact, he took pains to establish the Chief Rabbinate. On the other hand, we find that he himself deeply regretted having been forced to serve in the rabbinate.

The Complete Torah

There have been scores of Torah giants in recent generations, but the stature of none compares to that of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, ztz”l (1865 -1935). His genius was astounding – there was no field of Torah study that he had not mastered:Talmud and Halacha, the Bible and Midrash, Kabbalah and Hassidut, reason and belief. Usually, the experts in all aspects of rabbinic literature are not the deep-thinkers, and the deep-thinkers are not experts; those who focus on details do not have a broad and comprehensive perspective, and those with a broad perspective do not penetrate deeply into the details. Rabbi Kook, however, was an expert and sharp, a deep-thinker and had a comprehensive outlook. The words of Torah were alive and radiated within him in such a wondrous way, till his entire being was resplendent with Torah, and his complete focus from early childhood until his last day was devoted to clarifying the Torah in its completeness.

His teachings enlighten, guide, and revitalize the entire world: the sacred and secular, humanities and the sciences, the individual, society, nations and humankind, the diverse natural talents, and how all of this progresses towards rectification and redemption by means of the Jewish nation. His mind was full of ideas and innovations from all facets of the Torah which stood before his very eyes.

The foundation for all this was his unparalleled righteousness and piety; his entire life was devoted to serving God. The giants of Torah and Hasidism testified themselves that his regular weekday prayers were on the same level as their prayers on Yom Kippur.

His Tendency towards Hasidism and Enhancing Mitzvoth

Rabbi Kook saw the aspect of truth and light in every opinion, and therefore he tended to enhance and beautify mitzvoth, and thus, to act stringently according to all the various halachic opinions. This was not difficult for him at all, for he was happy with each hiddur (enhancement) that had a basis in halacha, provided that the stringency was not at the expense of others.

Sometimes he even tended to be strict in what seemed to be contradictory stringencies, because, in his breadth of knowledge, he saw how the two conflicting opinions actually complemented each other, and therefore, did not consider them to contradict. This can be seen, for example, in regards to his opinion on conversion (Daat Kohen 153-154).

Although, in times of duress (sha’at dachak), he decided in accordance with the rules of halacha to be lenient, similar to the rulings of all poskim (Jewish law arbiters) for generations – to rely on the lenient opinion of individual poskim. However, even situations of sha’at dachak differ, so at times he would be more lenient, and other times less – according to the extent of necessity, and no more. For example, in regards toshmitta (the Sabbatical year): on the one hand, he instituted the ‘heter mechira’ (ahalachic mechanism whereby agricultural lands in Israel are sold to non-Jews, allowing the lands to be cultivated and vegetables grown during the Sabbatical year), but on the other hand, whenever possible, he tended to follow the stringent opinion, trying as best as he could to maintain the mitzvoth of shmitta, and place Jewish residents of the country on the ideals of the Torah. Therefore, even after the mechira, he forbade Jews to perform the types of agricultural work specifically written in the Torah, even though according to the strict letter of the law, there is no difference between the various types of work, for today, shmitta is of rabbinic ordinance. Not only that, he even agreed to try and integrate ‘otzer Beit Din’ with the ‘heter mechira’, despite the apparent paradox between them (Igrot Ha’Ra’ayah 313-314, Mishpat Kohen 76).

The Ridbaz’s Testimony of Rabbi Kook’s Crying

As well-known, the Ridbaz (Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky) conducted an ardent struggle against the ‘heter mechira’. Concerning the conflict over the shmitta year of 5670 (1909), Ridbaz hurled serious allegations against Rav Kook, and slandered him numerous times. In contrast, Rabbi Kook replied to him with respect and love.

In the introduction to his book “Beit Ridbaz”, he wrote several things that were not accurate, seeing as he was negligent in checking rumors he had heard. For example, as he wrote about Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan from Kovno, that he had allegedly retracted his support for the ‘heter mechira’. He also wrote inaccurate things about Rav Kook that he heard from Rabbi Yehuda Leib Zeltzer, who later had to write a letter of apology to Rabbi Kook, denying what had been said in his name (see the article by Rabbi Eitam Henkin in ‘Alonei Mamre” 121).

Nevertheless, we can apparently trust his own personal testimony, as he wrote: “I bear witness to the heavens and earth that the rabbi of Jaffa (Rabbi Kook) cried before me – he did not cry normally, but exceedingly warm tears”. However, the reason for Rav Kook’s crying was not due to a change of heart regarding the ‘heter mechira’ as Ridbaz implied, but simply because of the heavy pressure he was under to maintain the ‘heter’; for indeed, Rabbi Kook fully understood just how strong the halachic basis for the ‘heter mechira’ was – above and beyond all other ‘heter mechirot’ customary in Jewish law, as he clarified in his book and respones. Rather, he cried because of the machloket(dispute), and the stressful situation that forced the yishuv to forgo observing shmittaideally. Rabbi Kook’s crying was akin to the altar shedding tears for a married couple who gets divorced (Gittin 90b), even though in certain circumstances it is a mitzvah from the Torah to divorce.

His Rabbinate

It should be added that, in truth, from the beginning Rav Kook did not want to serve in the rabbinate. Until the end of his life, although aware of the considerable importance of the rabbinate in Israel, he suffered from it, for it shortened his days and embittered his life. The need to decide between different views, each containing a certain amount of truth, weighed on him, for he saw the truth and good in all opinions. He longed for an ideal world, and the need to instruct a ‘heter’ for Clal Yisrael because of the emergency situation hurt him. Therefore, even upon deciding in favor of the ‘heter’, to a certain extent he was pleased that others went out of their way to cite the stringent opinion.

As part of his responsibilities, a rabbi is also required to arouse and protest with regards to religious affairs, and Rabbi Kook fulfilled his duty in this aspect with great devotion. But in order to do so, he had to deal with the practical details of Kashrut, divorce, disputes and fights, while at the same time, his soul longed to study Torah in its entirety, to reveal the secrets of the Torah so as to bring redemption to the world. He most definitely appreciated the tremendous value of revealing the Torah in general with all its minute details, and the connection of the study of Talmud with the study of practical Jewish law. He explained how such study draws the redemption nearer, and on his own initiative, devoted a lot of time writing the book ‘Halacha Berura’ towards this purpose. However, the practical and instructional woes did not leave him enough spare time to deal with the lofty ideals his soul desired— ‘ma’aseh Breshit, veh’ma’aseh merkava’ (esoteric speculation about Creation and the Workings of the Chariot, based on Ezekiel I) [Sukkah 28a].

How He Assumed the Rabbinate

From the beginning, Rav Kook was reluctant to serve in the rabbinate. As was customary in those days, before marrying, his father-in-law, the ‘Aderet’ (Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz-Teomim), who was one of the greatest Torah scholars of the generation and the Rabbi of Ponevezh, undertook to support him in his own house for several years so that he could study Torah. But the ‘Aderet’, a righteous and pious man, was required to collect money for the poor people of his congregation, and especially the hundreds of families whose homes were burned, and for that purpose, he even mortgaged his own property. This created a situation in which he had to give his daughter and son-in-law his own bed, while he himself slept on chairs in the study room. When the ‘Chofetz Chaim’, a good friend of his, heard about this, he asked Rabbi Kook to agree to accept the first rabbinate offered him. Thus, Rav Kook was forced to begin serving in the rabbinate at the age of twenty-three, contrary to his first plan.

Rabbi Kook’s financial situation never improved seeing as he donated all his money to poor people seeking help, and thus, was constantly compelled to serve in the rabbinate. And since he was a genius, righteous and beloved, and led the rabbinate as one of the most eminent rabbis in the country, he was constantly requested to serve as a rabbi in different communities.

The Regular Rabbinical Leader

In retrospect, however, it is apparent that Rabbi Kook was not a regular rabbinical leader. A regular rabbinical leader normally formulates a position and strengthens it, without providing any significant room for dissenting opinions. The less important leaders among them even override opinions of all those who disagree with them. However, our teacher and guide, Rabbi Kook, understood the point of truth in all the various approaches, from the right and the left, Haredim and heretics, and even those who opposed him viciously.

A regular posek, after determining halacha, does not allow any room for those who disagree, rather, patterns a clear guideline and strengthens it. An example of this can be learned from the Rishon LeZion, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef ztz” l, who, after clarifying and strengthening the ‘heter mechira’ as  Rav Kook had done, no longer took into account the disagreeing opinion; he expressed no sorrow or pain over the need to rely on the ‘heter’, and came out in force against all the detractors of his halachic decision. This, despite the fact that he did not include the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) in his halachic considerations, but agreed to the ‘heter’ based solely on the financial strain of the farmers and consumers (Yebiyah Omer, Sect.10, Y.D. 37-44). A regular posek that would have also included the halachic consideration of yishuv ha’aretz, a commandment which is equivalent to all 613 mitzvoth, would have gone a step further and determined that in our present situation, it is a mitzvah and an absolute obligation to abide by the ‘heter mechira’, since thanks to it, the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz is strengthened.

Rabbi Kook’s Heavy Sigh About Granting the “Heter’

However, Maran HaRav Kook sighed and was pained over the need for a ‘heter’. And although at present the mitzvah of shmitta is of rabbinic ordinance, while some authorities are of the opinion that it should be observed only due to ‘midat chassidut’ (a pious and meritorious act), and furthermore, there is profound controversy about whenshmitta year actually occurs (currently, either 5772 (2011), 5774 (2013), or 5775 (2014)), and by selling the land, we can definitely rely on the lenient opinion, as he himself wrote in his letters (Igeret 311). Nevertheless, seeing as he envisaged the great light hidden in the mitzvoth of shmitta, even when today, in practice, its obligation is limited and uncertain – the need to expropriate the obligation of observing shmitta by means of the ‘heter mechira’ truly hurt him. This is one of the reasons he relented on his dignity to such an extent and understood those who disagreed with him, even though from a halachic perspective, their claims were tenuous (see, Orot HaTechiya 5).

Therefore, he wrote: “… I intentionally did not order everything concerning this matter (the ‘heter’) with complete comprehension, satisfactorily arranged and full of meaning, and several aspects and clear reasons I left out altogether, all in order that the matter of the ‘heter’ not be become too accustomed …” (Igeret 311). And at a later date, he added that even if those who oppose intensify their disagreement to the ‘heter’, forcing him to better explain just how firmly the ‘heter’ is based in halacha, nevertheless, “even then, with the help of the Almighty, I will not stop to always point out that it is a ‘heter’ of times of duress, and a matter of ‘hora’at sha’ah’ (a temporary order), however,l’chatchila (in the first place) better for me not to have to do so (to further clarify the foundations of the ‘heter’), and leave the issue in the relaxed manner I gave it in the introduction (to ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz’).”

Rabbi Kook’s Method of Study

Each section and sevara (deriving new results from logic) of the Torah were greatly cherished by Rav Kook, therefore, he loved to debate at length and discuss the less significant assertions as well, to the point where his listeners and students did not understand his teachings accurately. Thus, sometimes those who disputed him ignored his main claims, and questioned the ‘heter’ by attacking side issues which he wrote only as conjecture for discussion.

For example, in regards to the ‘heter’ itself, which according to the strict letter of the law contains no concern of “lo techanem” (‘do not give them any consideration’, which may be rendered ‘do not give them a resting place in the land’) since it is for a limited time and for the benefit of Clal Yisrael, as explained in the Rishonim (see, “Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it v’Yovel 7:6). However, in order to add ‘dikduk’ (preciseness) and ‘hidur’ (enhancement), he continued to discuss the matter and wrote that it is preferable to sell the land to an Ishmaelite who already owned land, and based this on the rendering of the ‘Bach’ – which later turned out to be erroneous. On this, the disputers had a field day, when in fact, all of the discussion there is a complete side issue (see the introduction to ‘Shabbat Ha’aretz’, chap. 12; Mishpat Kohen 63).

When Did Rabbi Kook Come Out Publically Against Those Who Opposed Him

Only when they damaged the livelihood and dignity of the farmers, or the general matter of yishuv ha’aretz by means of immigration and settlement, did Rav Kook come out strongly against the wicked actions of those who pretended to be righteous, and in fact, violated the principles of the Torah.

Thus, upon hearing that the opponents of the ‘heter’ in Jerusalem not only boycotted the fruits of the ‘heter mechira’, but went further and gave permission to market the fruits of the Gentiles in their place, he wrote: “My pen shakes in my hand at the despicable deed presently carried out against our brothers, residents of the moshavot. Because, after being strongly held until now, not to grant a hechsher (kashrut approval) to the Gentiles so as not to oust the oppressed and poverty-stricken Jewish farmers, whose eyes and livelihood are dependent on the proceeds from the grapes, and now, after the conflict over the question of shmitta has been settled, whose main goal is to help our fellow brothers the residents of the moshavot, seditious elements have been revealed, who secretly advised to buy specifically from the Gentiles, and lift the horn of our enemies who are laughing at our not working the fields! How we ourselves chase our brothers, our fellow Jews. Heavens above! One cannot imagine the enormity of shame, Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), and wickedness this contains. The blood of my heart boils, and my pain reaches to the heavens from this terrible situation, from the fall of Torah and true fear of Heaven in this matter …”

And when the chumra was weak and contrary to the rules of halacha, especially when it hurt people, he was emphatic about instructing the ‘heter’, to avoid the uprooting of the Torah, God forbid. For the Torah commands to make a fence around the Torah, and from this our Sages learned that it is forbidden to make a fence around a fence, and he wrote about his ‘heter’ of sesame oil on Passover. Although in that case he also acted with great honor for the elderly rabbis who were machmir, despite that in his opinion, they were completely wrong in halacha (Orach Mishpat, 112).

Rabbi Kook’s Exalted Approach Gave Room to Various Methods

With his great righteousness, piety and incredible talents, Rav Kook ztz”l devoted himself to the entire Torah, from the heights of its superior knowledge stemming from God’s supreme unity, to the entire scope of its revelations in all branches of methods and paths, thus making him a channel for the light of Torah for all generations. Out of all this he was able to see and understand the Divine historical process, and the progressing spirit of the Jewish nation and humanity towards tikun olam and redemption.

Notwithstanding, in all of his greatness and light, Rav Kook had a “shortcoming”: he could not restrict himself to the midat ha’din (attribute of Strict Justice) required for the leadership of a single method in all public affairs. Thus, he gave room to those who disagreed with him to reinforce their mistakes.

But apparently there was no choice. This was the path of revealing the light of Torah in its completeness, and the Divine guidance for these miraculous generations, where darkness and light serve in confusion. And it is our responsibility to continue in the path of his exalted teachings, to build frameworks and pave the way for public and practical revelation of the entire Torah, by all Am Yisrael, in all areas of the Land of Israel.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: