God’s Crowning – The Empowerment of Man and the Nation

Crowning Hashem as king, which stands at the center of Rosh Hashanah and its prayers, can be perceived as weakness of man * When Hashem’s kingdom is perceived as such in a lower type of faith, people seek to distance it from the army, government offices, and the family unit, so as not to dwarf them * However, the exact opposite is true: Lack of faith imposes weakness and feebleness on all aspects of life, and the crowing of Hashem gives power to the individual and national entities  * If we do not want to remain in a situation where it is difficult to pass the nation-state law, a situation in which the connection to Judaism and nationalism is weakening, we must raise faith and strengthen the crowning of Hashem upon ourselves

A Day of Remembrance, Judgment, and Trumpeting

On Rosh Hashanah, the life allowance that God gave to his world in the previous year ends, and He remembers his creations, and creates new life for them for the coming year, for God’s memory is a taking into account, and the giving of life. And so His kindness not be turned into evil by the wicked to be used for iniquity, God determined that on this day He would judge His world. Thus, Rosh Hashanah is a day of remembrance and judgment, in which the righteous and evil deeds that were performed during the year are remembered, and the Almighty sits on the throne of judgment and calculates his worldly account, and judges every nation and people in general, and each and every person as an individual.

The essence of the judgement of the entire world depends on the People of Israel and the Land of Israel, for Israel is the heart of the world, the nation of Hashem, and ‘tikkun olam’ (the correction of the world) depends on them. Therefore, Israel’s reward and punishment are greater than the reward and punishment of other nations. That is why God first judges Israel, and as a result of the judgement of the People of Israel, judgement spreads over all mankind and the world (Rosh Hashanah 8a, b; Ta’anit 10a).)

This is why Rosh Hashanah is called ‘Yom Teru’ah’ (day of blowing) for the teru’ah alludes to tribulation, weeping, anxiety and the breakdown of order. Tribulation and weeping – over what is finished, but incomplete; anxiety – towards the next stage, which has not yet been determined who will live and who will die, who will be at ease, and who will suffer. Therefore, even though the duration of the teru’ot is relatively short, the entire day is called the “Day of Teru’ah” – the day of tribulation and weeping. However, God commanded us to blow a simple ‘tekiah’ which expresses joy and stability before and after each ‘teru’ah’, for the whole purpose of the teru’ah is to correct and improve. Therefore, the day of the ‘teru’ah’ is also a festival day in which we are commanded to hold feasts, for the purpose of all of this is correction and joy.

Our Will – Revelation of Hashem’s Kingdom  

As a result of our great worries about the future of our lives in the coming year, we could presumably dedicate the entire Day of Judgment to private prayers about livelihood, health, and all the other things a man occupies himself throughout the year. However, this is the special virtue of Israel, whose deepest desire is for Hashem’s kingdom to be revealed and the entire world inevitably be repaired and redeemed – even if Israel has to endure suffering for this purpose.

The People of Israel chose this great and awesome path, starting from the forefathers of the world who accepted upon themselves to believe in God in the face of all the pagans around them, and concluding with the long exile in which the People of Israel, despite all the hardships, chose not to assimilate with the nations and continue bearing the banner of faith and Torah, in order to repair the world in the kingdom of God.

When Israel sets aside its own grief and occupies itself with His honor and the revelation of His kingdom, God says to the angels: “See my sons, my beloved ones, who set aside their sorrow and occupy themselves with my honor.” Thus, the claims of Satan who wishes to annul Israel from the world are blocked, and Israel is given a new year in which to progress another step towards ‘tikkun’ and redemption. And the more we merit accepting upon ourselves on Rosh Hashanah Hashem’s kingdom, with humility and awe, the greater our ability will be to merit a better and more blessed year.

The Kingdom of Hashem at the Center of Prayer

Therefore, the heart of the Rosh Hashanah prayer deals with the crowning of Hashem as king over us, and therefore in the signing of the third blessing of the Amidah, instead of saying “Ha K’el ha’kadosh” we say “ha’melech ha’kadosh”, and continue saying so for all Ten Days of Repentance. This matter is so important that those who err and forget to say “ha’melech ha’kadosh” have not fulfilled their obligation, and must pray again (S. A., O. C. 582:1).

Even the signing of the blessing of the holiday in all the Rosh Hashanah prayers is: “King over all the world, who blesses Israel and the Day of Remembrance.” And in the Musaf prayer, which is the main prayer of Rosh Hashanah in which the shofar is blown, our Sages determined three blessings: Malchuyot, Zichron’ot, and Shofar’ot, with the first and most important one being Malchuyot. To a great extent, even the blessings of Zichron’ot and Shofar’ot deal with Hashem’s kingdom.

Does God’s Kingdom Lower Man?

In a lower perception of faith, the more one believes in God and accepts His kingship over himself, the more he reduces himself. He is filled with anxiety, afraid to act in the world and correct it, pleading with God as a poor son and as a humble slave for Him to do everything for us, because we have no deeds. Faith makes him cowardly and soft-hearted. This type of belief, too, is needed, because fear of heaven serves as a barrier to man’s desires, which may erupt with murderous cruelty and with disgust and humiliation. When people succeeded in freeing themselves of faith (in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany), they murdered many more people than at times when faith was present.

However, man basically wishes to reveal his powers and therefore desires to be released from a lower type of faith that diminishes the image of God in himself, and to ascend to a higher faith that strengthens his soul and his powers. At such a level, the crowning of Hashem as king does not weaken man, but rather gives inspiration and meaning to his life, and elevates him to a level of courage and creativity that cannot be attained without faith (see ‘Midot HaRayah’, Emunah 29).

The Kingdom of Hashem Strengthens Nationalism

When most of the religious and ultra-Orthodox public live most of the time in a lower level of faith, many people do not desire such faith. And even those who give faith a place in their lives are interested in lowering its volume, and to occupy themselves with small personal matters, and not get involved in public life – not in science and industry, out of fear that it will delay any development and weaken any initiative; not in the army – for fear that it will bring us back to the days of exile, or for fear that since God ordered the conquest of the land, we must ignore all rational considerations, for what does man know? The main goal is to do the will of God, even if it poses a huge risk to the existence of the state. Thus we find many people who fear the influence of faith in matters of public life.

However, when there is no recognition of the kingdom of God, the soul is silent, and all human systems are emptied of meaning and remain hollow. Thus, even the gnawed ‘Chok Ha’Leum’ (nation-state law) people find difficult to pass and implement, and resultantly, weakness is found in the building and settlement of the Land, and a lacking of power to call aloud to all Jews in the Diaspora to immigrate to Israel. And in light of this weakness, the Arab representatives who should thank the Jewish people from morning till night for all the good Israel has brought them, spit into the well from which they drink, and proceed to spread slander of our good and moral state throughout the world.

The Kingdom of Hashem and the Nation-State Law

While in one of the army camps, I saw a giant banner on which the vision and values ​​to which the army educates were written in enormous letters. The list of values ​​was: “Love of man, professionalism, personal example, friendship, modesty, creativity and innovation, love of the Land.”

These values ​​are wonderful, but the Jewish people is not mentioned. The Zionist vision is erased. True, love of the Land was mentioned, but only because it could include the Druze and the Circassians – and the Arabs, if they were willing to enlist. It should be noted that the training commander who led the parade spoke balanced and correct. He mentioned the Bible and the suffering that our people have experienced throughout our long history, and the IDF’s mission to make sure events as difficult as those of our people in the past are no longer repeated, while maintaining the law and proper treatment for all. His words were both measured and moving.

But the shameful situation is that the IDF is no longer officially capable of writing that it is committed to the Zionist vision and the Jewish people, which proves how necessary it was to legislate the nation-state law, and how important it is to strive to integrate its values ​​in all spheres of society. For this we must return to faith in God’s kingdom, which is the foundation of our national existence.

In the opening speech of the First Zionist Congress, Herzl also said that first of all we must return to our Judaism, and from this, to our country.

Faith Gives Meaning to the Family

The crowning of Hashem as king in the lower level of faith maintains the family, so that a couple will remain faithful to each other and not betray one another. But since there is no vision and spirit in this type of relationship, many people prefer to look for different types of family that give them more freedom and personal expression. But without faith, these families fall apart.

The crowning of Hashem as king on the level of supreme faith gives the family the meaning of sanctity, of the revelation of the divine unity, in miniature, in the love between the couple. And as the joy between them grows, so the name of God is grows greater between them, Divine unity is revealed, and a great blessing and abundance spread throughout the worlds (see Zohar, sect.2, Pikudei 259:1; sect.3, Shlach 167:2).

When people realize that this is the proper family, many are eager to have similar families.

Reign Over the Entire World

The more a person merits faith in its higher level, the greater his powers become in freedom of choice, and feels a greater mission to reveal them in order to add blessing to the world.

In a similar vein, the honor of Jerusalem does not damage the honor of the other cities in Eretz Yisrael, but on the contrary, it exalts them, for how great and important they are that Jerusalem is the crown on their heads. And all the other countries do not suffer from the honor of the Land of Israel, for how great are the countries that dwell together in the same world that has a holy and wonderful land like the Land of Israel.

Similarly, a person’s dignity is not impaired by the fact that his friend ascends to higher levels, but on the contrary, having such a friend, he himself ascends. Similarly, the dignity of the nations is not diminished by the uniqueness of Jewish people, but on the contrary, all the nations are elevated by the fact that the People of Israel exist in their hearts.

This is the meaning of the Rosh Hashanah prayer: “Our God and God of our ancestors, may your sovereignty be acknowledged throughout the world. May your splendor and majestic glory be reflected in the lives of all who dwell on earth. May all that you have made be aware that you are their Maker, and may all that you have created acknowledge that you are their Creator; and may all that breathe the breath of life proclaim: The Eternal, God of Israel, reigns and his sovereignty embraces everything in the universe.”

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

No Return to the Diaspora, Remain in the IDF

Criticism against the problems of modesty in the IDF does not detract from the absolute obligation to enlist * The Haredi public is preoccupied with spiritual survival as in exile, but the Torah guides us to live in the Land of Israel and cope with its challenges * Revelation of holiness must be through the realms of reality – science, economy, and the arts * Our Torah portion teaches that through the life of Torah in the Land of Israel, it is possible to bring blessing to ourselves and to the entire world * The blessing can be realized in a realistic way: if we live properly, we will develop productivity and the economy, together with empowering family and birth, until we lead the world in terms of values ​​and economics

A Sharp Response to the Previous Column

Q: From the article on the problems of modesty in the army, it seems you understand that the Haredi public is right not to enlist – why do you not teach this to your students? Not only did you not reach the obvious conclusion, you raised the fear that if the problems were not solved, then there would be religious people who would move over to the ultra-Orthodox public. Is this a problem? Is it not better that they do so?

Torat Chutz L’Aretz – The Torah of Survival

A: As was the case of the Jewish nation in the Diaspora, and as the guidance of the Torah of chutz l’aretz (Diaspora), the ultra-Orthodox public deals in survival. However, the proper way is to immigrate to Israel and live there within a national framework, according to the Torah in its entirety, which guides the people of Israel to conquer and settle the Land. To this end, we must establish a state and an army and act in all spheres of life – including all fields of science and labor – in the light of our holy Torah. This is the way of the Torah of the Land of Israel, which is the essence of the Torah. Therefore, returning to the ways of the ultra-Orthodox constitutes a return to exile, and the lowering of the Torah to the realm of survival, rather than raising it to the great vision of the revelation of the Divine blessing over the ‘Land of Life’. One can understand the ultra-Orthodox public and its rabbis, fearing that the difficult and complex struggle with all the challenges that earthly life poses they prefer to ‘fence themselves in’, and excel in the ‘daled amot’ (four handbreadths) of the familiar Torah of chutz l’aretz. However, we believe that with all the necessary caution, we must study the Torah in its entirety, and strive to fulfill all its commandments.

Therefore, despite all the justified criticisms of the army, as long as it is not a matter of coercion to do things in complete contradiction to halakha, the mitzvah of army service overrides, and conversely, the denial of the IDF constitutes a serious offense. This is what we learned in the Torah about all aspects of life, that one is not told to refrain from going to work and raising a family and children because of the various trials and difficulties involved; rather, a person is guided to cope with the difficulties, and taught what to do in ideal situations, and how to react in problematic circumstances.

The Essence of Torah Observance is in Israel

As it is explained in the Torah, it is only in the Land of Israel that the people of Israel must observe the Torah, as it is stated: ” [You must do this] because you are crossing the Jordan to come to the land which God your Lord is giving you and occupy it. When you have occupied it and you live there you must carefully keep all the rules and laws that I am prescribing to you today. These are the rules and laws that you must carefully keep in the land that God, Lord of your fathers, is giving you so that you will be able to occupy it as long as you live on earth: (Deuteronomy 11:31-32; 12:1). On the other hand, however, it is written “Be careful that your heart not be tempted to go astray and worship other gods, bowing down to them. God’s anger will then be directed against you .And you shall soon be destroyed from the good land which God gives you… and you will rapidly vanish from the good land that God is giving you. (Nevertheless, even when you are in exile): Place these words of mine on your heart and soul. Bind them as a sign on your arm, and let them be an insignia in the center of your head” (Deuteronomy 11:16-18). Thus, we see that even in exile it is a mitzvah to observe the commandments. Our Sages explained that the mitzvot dependent on the Land are commanded to be performed in Israel alone, but that the mitzvot that are not dependent on the Land must be kept in exile as well, so that we will remember them and know how to fulfill them when we return to Israel. Moreover, through their fulfillment we will wake up to repentance, and merit bringing our redemption closer (Yerushalmi Shevi’it 6: 1; Kiddushin 1: 8; Bavli, Kiddushin 37a; Sifrei, Ekev 33-44).)

As our Sages said (Sifrei, Ekev 37):”Even after you have been exiled, make yourselves distinctive with My commandments so they will not be new to you when you return. This is similar to a king who was angry at his wife, and she returned to her father’s house. The king said to her: Continue wearing your jewelry, so that when you return, they won’t be new to you. Thus the Holy One blessed be He said to Israel: My sons, make yourselves distinctive with the commandments, so that when you return, they will not be new to you. This is what Yirmiyahu said: “Set up markers for yourself” (Jeremiah 31:20) (as in Rashi, Deuteronomy 11:18).

From this we see that the essence of the observance of Torah and mitzvot is in the Land of Israel, as explained by Ramban (Leviticus 18:25).

Realization of Faith in Monotheism – in Israel

Moreover, our Sages said: “Whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who worships idols” (Ketubot 110b). Our Sages also said: “Settling the Land of Israel is equivalent to all the mitzvot in the Torah” (Tosefta, Avodah Zara 4:3; Sifrei, Re’eh 53).

This is because the essence of Israel’s faith is the belief in monotheism: “Hear, O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One,” that Hashem is God in heaven above and on the earth below – there is no other. In other words, Godliness is revealed in all aspects of spiritual and physical life. As our Sages said: What short text is there upon which all the essential principles of the Torah depend? “In all your ways acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3: 6) [Berakhot 63a]. Everything has value, in every area one must reveal the sanctity and the blessing. For this purpose, the Holy Land was created, in which we can reveal the values ​​of holiness in earthly life. And the revelation of the sacred will be in all spheres of life without exception: in science and all its fields, in the development of industry and economy in all areas that are advantageous and beneficial to life, in the arts and all of its manifestations – and all this out of faith, and in order to add Divine blessing from the holy source.

Holiness Revealed in Nature

Maran HaRav Kook ztz”l wrote: “The holiness in nature is the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, and the Divine Presence which descended to Exile along with Israel, is the ability to place holiness in contrast to nature. But the holiness which fights against nature is not a complete holiness” (Orot HaTechiya 28). In other words, there is a great deal of value to the sanctity that is revealed in the Diaspora, which the Haredi public deals with, because out of this sanctity rises criticism about all the shortcomings to be found in nature and reality. But criticism is not sufficient to correct reality and reveal the word of God. Therefore, it must join the supreme holiness, “which is the holiness of nature itself … and the holiness in the Diaspora will be connected to the Holy Land, and in the future, the synagogues and learning halls in Bavel will be established in the Land of Israel” (this matter is explained in detail in the new book published by my good friend Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovitch on ‘Orot HaTechiya’).

The Natural Blessing in the Life of Torah

The Torah teaches us that if we follow in the ways of Hashem we will merit abundant good and blessing, which will reach us naturally. Part of our work in the study of Torah is to explain logically how the observance of the Torah and mitzvot gives value and meaning to every area of life, and thus, receives blessing. Even if it is a gain expressed by every individual by just a few percentage points, when talking about an entire public living according to the light of the Torah, each person has an effect on his fellow neighbor to multiply blessings and good, until a model society is established, finding itself a few levels above any other society.

In other words, if we understand the Torah correctly, we will have a greater understanding of the value of learning in general, and the development of science in particular (as explained by Maimonides, the Vilna Ga’on, and many more), and our children will, on average, achieve better scholastic achievements beyond the norm in developed countries. Thanks to the recognition of the value of work and the contribution to tikkun olam, we will be slightly more focused on the acquisition of a quality and beneficial profession, and on average, will reach a slightly better level than the norm in the developed countries. Thanks to setting times for Torah study each week, and especially on Shabbat, we will merit receiving slightly more inspiration in development and creativity. Thanks to modesty and frugality, each individual, relative to what the amount of money he has, will have the ability to spend more years studying a profession or science, so that more managers will become engineers, and more engineers will become researchers, and the quality of their work will be improved. Thanks to family values, more families will live with love and joy, and will be able to raise more children to Torah and mitzvot, and all other good deeds. And thanks to the greater willingness to contribute to the nation in the army and in settlement, the security situation of the state will improve, and even this improvement will, of course, affect all other areas.

The Vision of the State of Israel

However, because of the erroneous position of the Haredim, which rejects the mitzvah to enlist in the defense of the nation and the building of the land, and which denies, to a greater or lesser extent – science,  work, freedom and creativity – much of this blessing is lost.

The religious public loyal to the Torah, to the nation, and to the country is today the qualitative nucleus that expresses the totality of Torah values, which is the Torah of life, and therefore it is possible to find within it buds of the fulfillment of the blessing written in the Torah. Indeed, the road is still full of obstacles and trials, but the general direction is correct, and overall, the result is positive – time will tell.

If we merit continuing to rise and advance in the path of the Torah of the Land of Israel, and serve as an example of moral, social and economic success – naturally, the masses of the House of Israel will come closer to the path of Torah and mitzvot in its entirety, and we will merit establishing a model society, where Torah and morality direct its life, and then, all the blessings written in the Torah will be fulfilled in us.

Thanks to diligence and creativity at work, our annual GNP will be higher than that of other Western countries – assuming only 5 percent on average, and demographic growth will continue as it is in religious society – and then, within a few generations, the Jewish nation residing in its Land will number tens of millions, and lead the world in terms of values, science, and economics.

The Jews of the Diaspora will be eager to immigrate and join the success, and even those “lost in the land of Assyria, and those in the land of Egypt” will seek to clarify their roots and return to their people and their land. And a great and immense nation will herald faith and justice in the world, pave the way for moral education and intellectual development for the benefit of humanity, and innovate methods and technologies for longevity and quality of life. Thus we will naturally see the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets: “In the last days the mountain of the Hashem’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Hashem, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. ”The Torah will go out from Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

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

Why Modesty in the IDF is Critical

In contrast to the insulting claims against religious soldiers that they are afraid to be in the company of women, the Torah teaches a much broader goal meant to protect family and society * As long as the cases of adultery and betrayal are more prevalent among the secular public, the secular have no right to complain about the religious * According to testimonies of men and women soldiers, the religious in the army maintain a gentler and more respectful behavior toward women, thanks to their norms of modesty * If the army does not wake up, and religious leaders as well, there is fear that many in the religious public will not find their place in the IDF – and the rift will harm the entire society

The Issue of Modesty in the Army

The issue of modesty is one of the troubling issues in the army. So it is today, and so it was in the past. As the Torah states in this week’s parsha: “When you go out as a camp against your enemies, you must avoid everything evil… This is because God your Lord makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:10-15).

In general, the meaning of the Torah’s instruction to the camp to guard against “everything evil” refers to all the transgressions of the Torah, but a special emphasis is placed on prudence in matters of modesty, as it is written: “Let Him not see anything lascivious among you” (see, Avodah Zarah 20b).

Claims of the Secular

Occasionally we hear tough and insulting claims from secular people: Why are the religious so afraid of women? Is it impossible for them to be in the company of women without sinning?! Are they unable to hear them sing without thinking about transgressions?

Just recently, a parachutist female soldier was sent to demonstrate the process of parachuting to paratroopers, and the religious soldiers claimed that the incident was immodest. She could not understand what was immodest about it, and was insulted. Her mother, a senior left-wing media personality, publicized her daughter’s being insulted, and the secular media began attacking religious soldiers. It is worth noting that her father, Aharon Haliva, as a colonel and commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, once said of the Hesder yeshiva soldiers that served under him: “I hate and cannot suffer the Hesder program. I think it carries no value”. He did not apologize. Due to the helplessness of representatives of the religious public, both the ultra-Orthodox and the national religious – in the Knesset, and in the government – he is now a general.

Incidentally, a reservist army rabbi who had undergone a parachute training course told me that indeed, training a parachutist by a woman instructor is very immodest, and the fact that the army assigns a female guide to religious soldiers is a gross lack of consideration.

The Goal of Modesty

The goal of modesty is to safeguard family and social life, to protect the covenant between husband and wife, and to protect society from the multiplicity of adultery, betrayal, and feelings of profound disloyalty, which are among the worst problems that can overwhelm a person. Preventing these terrible troubles is not the only reason, but also to create a more pure social atmosphere that allows for a pleasant and polite relationship between people. For this purpose, the Torah ordered the restriction of relations between the sexes and the maintenance of modest attire, clean speech, and modest social behavior, with respect, politeness, and a certain distance between men and women.

In practice, the boundaries of modesty are rooted in the Torah and the words of the Sages, and their offshoots are found in the customs of the Jewish communities. Sometimes certain customs change and other practices arise, and when the Sages see that no breach is caused, they become accepted in Judaism. The general trend is one: to protect the values ​​of family and society.

In other words, the fear is not that any breach of the norm of modesty will immediately lead to an offense, but rather, the preservation of norms builds the proper framework for a suitable family and social life.

It is worth noting that the sense of modesty is an acquired one. A person who is accustomed to certain norms of modesty feels a jarring shudder in his heart when they are violated, and anyone who is not used to them will feel nothing. The halakha’s goal is for Jews to acquire this trait, and when the sense of modesty is improved, they will feel a shudder when it is violated, and return to proper behavior.

The Secular Have No Right to Preach

If the secular society in civilian life and in the army proved that it is possible to safeguard the family and society even when one does not observe all the norms of modesty accepted in Jewish tradition, their claims would have to be considered, for some of the norms of modesty depend on a custom that is contingent on a specific time and place, and when reality changes, indicating there is no need to observe a certain custom and its continued reality damages other values, with the consent of the Sages it is gradually abolished. However, in practice, when the reality is that the cases of infidelity, adultery and sexual harassment of all kinds are way more prevalent in the secular society than in the religious society, and consequently family values ​​are harmed – by the multiplicity of divorces and children growing up where one of the parents is not significantly present in their lives – the secular public is not morally entitled to demand a change in religious society. On the contrary, the secular public should return to its roots and learn from the Torah and the Sages of Israel how to safeguard the values ​​of the family.

True, even after placing the barriers of modesty, not all members of the religious public are able to maintain family values ​​and proper behavior at all times. On the opposite hand, even without the rules of modesty, not all members of the secular public breach them. But the rules of modesty are those that allow the religious public, in general, to be found in a much better place.

A Personal Story of a Soldier

In this context, a man wrote to me about his experiences in his regular army service: “In our armored company, about a third of the soldiers were religious, mostly yeshiva students. From time to time a female soldier or several female soldiers would come to ask for help or to be accompanied on a certain mission. They almost always asked religious soldiers to come with them.

Later, when we were talking to the platoon commander, one of the yeshiva students asked why the female soldiers were always asking for help from the religious… When the platoon commander began to answer “They prefer the ‘doss’im’ (religious) because…” one of the religious soldiers shouted, ‘Why? I’ll tell you why. They just want to cause us to sin! It’s just not right!’ The officer looked at him in amazement and said: ‘To cause you to sin? They say explicitly that they cannot stand the attitude of the regular soldiers, and they always claim that only the religious soldiers respect them, or at least are ashamed to be so rude to them.”

In other words, despite the fact that there are religious soldiers who behave improperly, and secular soldiers who behave properly, the norms of modesty shape men who act more politely and respectfully.

Why the Challenge is Specifically in the Army

The challenge of modesty in the army is particularly difficult, and therefore the Torah commands Israel to preserve the holiness of the camp with greater rigor, as it is stated: “Your camp must therefore be holy”. Apparently the soldiers, who are under the stress of hard training and danger, seek to release themselves from the pressure, and the easiest way is by light headedness, profanity and lewdness. In addition, the need to fight while risking lives breaches normal frameworks – suddenly a terrible thing such as killing people becomes permissible. All of a sudden, the soldier finds within himself emotional and potent powers that he did not recognize, and if he does not take care to fence himself in, these life forces can deviate in negative directions. Therefore the Torah comes to warn the soldiers to guard themselves from everything evil.

Apart from that, when a person is with his family, he safeguards himself from matters of incest and licentiousness, but when he goes into the army all the usual arrangements are infringed, and the fear of breaching frameworks grows. In addition, there is a fear that soldiers, who are mostly engaged in military matters, training, guard duty, and actions for the people and the country, will come to disregard personal mitzvot, such as guarding their tongues, and thoughts of transgression. Therefore the Torah comes to tell us that the camp of Israel must be holy, and precisely because of its holiness, we will be successful in battle. After war as well, soldiers must build their families, and if they violate their modesty and sanctity, they will inflict psychological harm on themselves and will not be able to fully love their partner, for which modesty and holiness are the basis for building love in the family.

The problems of modesty in the army are not bothersome only for religious soldiers and the wives of army officers. There are quite a few secular soldiers who suffer from the crude talk and the reality of the promiscuous relations between male and female soldiers. At times they also are involved in this, but they admit that it is inappropriate behavior.

Responsibility of the Leaders

In light of all this, it would be appropriate and desirable for society as a whole not to have compulsory recruitment for women, and even if there are women who want to join the army, there should not be mixed field units of male and female soldiers. And if the secular public insists on conscription for women and to create mixed combat units, at the very least, the leaders of the defense establishment must be asked to grant members of the religious public an equal right to serve with all due respect according to their values ​​and beliefs.

In the current situation, the religious public does not receive this, and the responsibility rests with the leaders of the religious and ultra-Orthodox public and their rabbis. And even if the heads of the defense establishment are not convinced of the justness of halakhic values of modesty, their fulfillment must be demanded at least within the framework in which religious soldiers serve.

The Social Danger

I recently participated in the inauguration ceremony of my son who enlisted in the Hesder yeshiva program. It is important to note that the secular male and female commanders did not intend to do anything wrong; on the contrary, their intentions are good and they try very hard to respect, consider, and take into account the religious soldiers. The event as a whole was also exciting – to see the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’, and the Israel Defense Forces prepare cycle after cycle of soldiers to protect the people and the Land. But I also saw how much the army is involving the mixture of men and women, thus creating frustration among members of the religious-Torah public, for whom halakha is a formative value, and that the mixed framework is not suitable for their way of life.

On the bench behind me sat the father of one of the yeshiva students, and as the female soldiers and officers entered the grounds, he whispered in my ear: “Rabbi Melamed, we lost the battle, the situation in the army is lost.” I knew that if that’s what he had to say, and his heart felt that way, with all the enormity of the mitzvah to serve in the army, if the situation does not change for the better, not only will the ultra-Orthodox public not enlist in meaningful service, but members of the Chardal public will move over to the ultra-Orthodox public, and there will be members of the Torani public who will stop sending their sons for meaningful service in the army.

In other words, this is not only a violation of the honor and faith of members of the Torah public, but a national-social danger, as this situation is liable to cause a wide public to move, out of disappointment and despair, from devoted and idealistic cooperation with members of the secular public, toward the ultra-Orthodox public – including refraining from military service – not to mention sabotaging the recruitment process of Haredi members into the army.

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

Rabbi Kook: Authoritative, Posek, Visionary

83 years after his death, it can be clearly seen that Rav Kook was not disconnected from reality, rather the exact opposite – he warned against dangers and crises * The Rav saw that distance from the holy source could damage Zionism, and that progress could lead to a deterioration in humanity – but he believed in our ability to save the situation, and paved the way for Tikkun in the light of the Torah * Rav Kook was very strict towards himself, and tended to be strict in his leadership of the public, but was against baseless ‘chumrot’ which could alienate the public from the Torah * His vision of the redemption of the Torah included initiatives to study the general rules of the Torah, in order to understand its methods and order

Realism and Faith

Some argue that Rabbi Kook was an incorrigible optimist who did not pay attention to reality. But the truth is the exact opposite: His letters show that he was very realistic, and recognized the dangers facing the Jewish people. He also wrote about the danger to humanity in the development of science and society while distancing itself from faith, as it resulted from the catastrophes inflicted on humanity by the communist and Nazi movements. Similarly, with his support for those involved in settling the Land and the Ingathering of the Exiles, he estimated that without connecting to the holy source, secular Zionism would not be able to cope with the difficulties and obstacles that would stand in its way. He was right: without the First World War, and even more so without the Second World War and the terrible Holocaust that had taken place in it, the Zionist movement would not have come to the establishment of the state. Rabbi Kook did not rely on the Holocaust – he spoke about the responsibility of the generation to advance the Jewish people to the establishment of the state without a terrible disaster. Therefore, he warned everyone who listened that the national movement had to be connected to the holy Jewish sources and to work energetically for the survival of Israel. The statement was both for secular Zionism and for the ultra-Orthodox public, which stood by and did not enlist in aliyah and settlement of the Land.

But Rav Kook was also very optimistic. He believed with complete faith in God who had chosen His people and promised to redeem them. Moreover, he also had a vision of how to advance the people of Israel in the process of its redemption, how to deepen the Torah and illuminate its light until all of Israel repented. In other words, the source of his optimism lay in the path in which he paved the way for progress, with the sharp knowledge that if we did not merit it, we could expect, heaven forbid, severe suffering, both spiritual and physical.

In this he was different from most of his fellow rabbis, who on the one hand were less concerned about the spiritual and national dangers facing the Jewish people, and on the other hand were less optimistic about the ability to act to change reality for the better.

It is not a coincidence that his books are called “Orot”, or ‘lights’, because they express the faith and the way of seeing the whole picture of the world in all its parts, and it is the light that illuminates the advantages and disadvantages in practice, and the way to enhance the advantages, and overcome the shortcomings and rectify them.

The Difficulty in Understanding Rabbi Kook’s Teachings

So great, wide and deep was the teachings of Rav Kook that even his greatest students found it difficult to understand it as one whole system. As Rav, the Nazir, Rabbi David Cohen, stated in the introduction to the “Orot HaKodesh” (p. 18). About seven years after he met Maran HaRav, when he was about thirty-five years old, knowledgeable in Torah, thought, Kabbalah, and general philosophy, he addressed the rabbi with a question: “Rabbi, there is holiness present here, within your spirit, and special influence. Rabbi, do you have an overall discipline? A specific teaching content? A philosophy? And the answer is: Yes, of course … Since then I have decided to clarify the Rav’s teachings as a complete Divine system, its foundations, and the fundamentals of the elements, and according to them, to choose his writings and arrange them in articles. He went on to say: “Rav Kook has handed over to me his holy writings, and encouraged me in his words, because he trusts me in my arrangements.”

His Halakhic Doctrine – For Himself, and For the Public

In the Talmudic and Halachic spheres it is difficult to understand his teachings, to the point where it seems there are three Rav Kook’s: one – a holy and strict Hasid, the other a conservative who tended to chumra (strict) and, when necessary, was maykel (lenient), and the third, one who innovated ideas about the redemption of the Torah and its teaching. However, when one understands his full personality, one realizes that we are talking about one extraordinarily eminent person, who encompassed complete and different worlds, which united into one world in his personality.

In his inner world, Rav Kook was a Hasid, a Parush (separated) and Kedosh (holy) who, having seen the point of truth and light in every opinion and custom, tended to go out of his way and be stringent according to all the different opinions. And he had no difficulty in that, because he was happy in any hidur that had a basis in halakha, provided that the chumra was not at the expense of others. For example, he would immerse himself in a mikveh every morning; he did not look at the figure of a woman, although he used to receive questions from women, and treated them with respect and politeness; even on vacations, which was customary among the rabbis, he was diligent in his studies, to the point where older rabbis told him that if he did so, he would not be able to rest properly on his vacation; and when he got out of the ocean, he was careful to abandon ownership of the towel that he used to dry himself off with, so that he would not enter into a distant halachic doubt, lest the towel required tzitzit. This was a chumra none of the great rabbis who were with him ever thought of. Similarly, he was meticulous about the details of minhagim (customs): before Tisha B’Av, he first removed his left shoe, because it is a halitzah of mourning, and before Yom Kippur, he first removed his right shoe, for it is the halitzah of a joyous mitzvah of Yom Kippur. Thus, in all his ways he was particular and meticulous.

However, he was forced to serve in the rabbinate, because of his poverty and public necessity, and under his rabbinic leadership he tended somewhat to chumra and orthodoxy, even though his rabbis (Rabbi Don Yechia Melocin, Rabbi Reuven Medinburg and the Netziv of Volozhin) did not. It was only in times of duress that he decided according to halachic rules to be lenient, as did all halakhic authorities for generations. In this, too, he ruled leniently only to the extent necessary, and beyond that, was machmir. It seems that there were two reasons for his tendency to be machmir: one, because of his being a Hasid and devoted to the sanctity of the commandment, he sought to preserve it as much as possible; and the second reason, so as not to increase the distance between the circles of the ultra-Orthodox and the religious and the traditional, and thus maintain the unity of Israel which is so necessary (unfortunately, this attempt was not so successful).

Heter Hamechira

For example, with respect to the heter ha’mechira (a halakhic means of allowing agriculture to continue during the Shmita year): On the one hand, Rabbi Kook established the heter mechirah, and on the other hand, when at all possible, he tended to follow the opinions of those who were machmir, and even after the mechira, he forbade Jews to perform the tasks written in the Torah, even though according to the letter of the halachic law, there is no difference between the melachot (types of agricultural work), for Shmita in our times is of rabbinical ordinance. He was even very upset in regards to what he was lenient about. But when rumors went out questioning the mechira, he wrote again and again that it was very well established, and indeed, it was possible to permit in times of distress – even without the mechira. Regarding those who slandered the mechira, he protested gently and lovingly in line with the custom of his Hasidut, while firmly protecting the farmers, so that their status would not be harmed, or the great mitzvah that they fulfilled, the mitzvah to settle the Land (see Igrot HaRaya 192, 241, 253, 310, 312).

I will not refrain from expressing my position here, that after the issue of Shemita has been in dispute for more than a century, it can be concluded that it is preferable to rely more on the heter mechirah, both because the mechira is highly based on halakha, and because the tendency to chumra and trying to organize an Otzer Beit Din has not prevented the dispute with the Haredi public, and did not bring the farmers of Israel closer to keeping Shmita, whose main purpose is to refrain from work. At the same time, progress must be made gradually towards fulfilling the Shmita, by encouraging farmers who are capable of refraining from work completely (as is the practice of the Ministry of Agriculture).

Rav Kook Was Opposed to Far-reaching Chumrot on the Public

Although when it came to customs that do not have a strong foundation, Rabbi Kook was meticulous not to weigh down with chumrot, and on that he had to argue with the rabbis as well, because due to the fear of secularization and reform, they tended to be overly stringent, as he wrote concerning sesame seed oil (Orach Mishpat 108-114), and went as far as to explain that one who adds on a gezeira (decree) to another gezeira transgresses a prohibition (Rashi, Beitzah 2b).

In his words there, against the stringent claim that if we do not become stringent the “fence will be breached”, his position appears for generations that the opposite is to be feared – if we become more stringent in what is not needed, the fence will be breached even more so: “I know clearly the characteristic of our generation, precisely by seeing that everything permitted we [the rabbis] do according to the depth of the law, they will understand that what we are not permitting is because of the truth of the law of Torah, and that many will be found who adhere to the Torah, who will listen to the voice of the teachers with the help of God. This is not true when it is revealed that there are such things, that according to the letter of halakha they deserve leniency, and rabbis did not feel the pain and sorrow of Israel, and left matters in their prohibitions, the result is, God forbid, a great desecration of God, until many people will be furious and say concerning certain major bodies of the Torah, that if the Rabbis want – they could be lenient, and this will result in perverted judgement” (ibid., page 126).

Teaches the General Rules of the Torah

Apart from his preoccupations and worries with the work of the rabbinate, Rabbi Kook was a great visionary who deeply understood the spiritual crisis in which the Jewish people were situated, and formulated ideas for the redemption of the Torah and its teachings, parallel to the redemption of the Jewish people upon its return to its Land. He spoke of the need to learn the halachic and intellectual rules of the Torah, so that the Torah can appear in its full and complete light, as one logical system, which draws blessing from heaven on the soul of Israel, and continues the blessing to the core of the Land – in the building of the nation in all orders of society and economy, and the life of every family and individual.

To this end he conceived the idea ‘Halakha Berura’ and ‘Biur Halakha’, to connect the Talmud and its commentaries with the learning of halachic works such as the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. Thus, a straight and logical line would continue from the foundation of the explanations in the Talmud to the details of the halakhot. To this end he also formulated the idea of ​​the Talmudic Encyclopedia, in order to place all the issues as one system, from which the sub-rules diverge from the general rules. He also had ideas for writing general introductions to all the important tractates and books (these ideas are explained in “Orot HaTorah” and in many other letters).

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

Facing the LGBT Community – Education and Love

Since the Akeida, the binding of Isaac, the Jewish nation has dealt with trials in performing the Divine command – fulfilling the word of God also with sorrow and pain – believing that this is the moral way * Both contemporary and rabbinical evidence indicate that in a culture in which the family framework is strong, same gender inclination is less widespread * This implies that educating towards family values ​​can reduce the desire for same gender inclination * Concerning those with such inclinations – we must understand their sorrow and pain, and it is forbidden to exclude them from the community * Even those who fail and sin, as long as they do not defy the Torah, have a portion within in the religious framework, and even a portion in the World to Come

Questions from Religious LGBT’s

Q: I am a religious person, I grew up in religious institutions and was educated in yeshivas – but what can I do – God created me with an inclination for my same gender. I tried to struggle with it. For long nights I cried and suffered, but finally I accepted my inclination. I live with my partner, who also comes from a religious background. What is the position of halakha: Should I deny my feelings? Do we have to hide our relationship? Why can’t a way be found to allow us to get married and arrange our marital status like any man or woman? Is it possible that the Torah instructs a person to deny his natural feelings?

The Divine Source of the Torah

A: The uniqueness of the Torah as opposed to the other wisdoms is that its source is Divine. God gave it directly and openly to His people Israel at Mount Sinai. Therefore, even when we do not understand the reason for a particular commandment, we understand that the Creator’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and therefore we accept it even when it is difficult to fulfill. The most extreme case of a Divine command that is difficult to accept and understand is the commandment of Abraham to raise his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. Because Abraham was a great believer, despite his terrible sorrow, he fulfilled the commandment of the Creator.

This emunah (faith) does not deny the moral purpose. On the contrary, this is the essence of the aspiration of faith, to correct the world with justice and judgment, with grace and mercy, in order to benefit all creatures, as it is stated: ” God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that [we] would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as [we are] today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Therefore, Abraham obeyed the Divine command and bound his beloved son on the altar, because he knew that God, his Creator and Source of his life and happiness, wanted their best, and although he did not understand how and why – this commandment was also intended for their own benefit.

Acceptance of the Mitzvah affects the Inclination

Therefore, even when it is extremely difficult, we must accept the commandments of the Torah, including the great commandment for every man and woman to marry according to the Law of Moses and Israel, to have a relationship with love and joy, and to multiply and be fruitful. And we must accept the severe prohibition of mishkav zakhur (sodomy).

Education is very useful, as it turns out that desire for the same gender can develop in many people at different levels, and the more we educate towards the acceptance of the yoke of Torah and mitzvot – and to identify with the values ​​and ideas inherent in them – thus, more people manage to overcome the desire for their same gender, manage to divert all their desire with joy and love for the woman who suits them, and build their family in holiness according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

Education is the reason for the significant differences in the percentage of men who feel a desire for their same gender within different circles. Although we do not have exact numbers, it is clear to every honest observer that the differences between the religious and secular public are enormous. If among the religious public, the percentage is low, among the secular-traditional population the percentages are higher, and among the secular-liberal population, the percentages are much higher, perhaps more than ten percent.

In other words, the appearance of the same gender inclination is influenced by various factors, such as genetic inheritance, environmental impact, and cultural and educational influence. The weaker the genetic and environmental orientation, the stronger the effect of education and culture.

Cultural Impact – Proven

Culture, that is, education and the environment, weighs heavily. It is a fact that there were cultures in the past, such as Egypt and ancient Greece, that this phenomenon was very common among them. On the other hand, among Jews, when environmental conditions encouraged proper marital relations between men and women and negated relations between men, this tendency was almost never expressed. So much so that even though the Sages set many restrictions on incest, the Sages did not forbid two men to sleep together without clothes under one blanket, for they were not suspected of reaching forbidden relations (Kiddushin 82a). Since there is no chance that this phenomenon existed without the Sages knowledge, one must conclude that in the times of Chazal, our Sags of blessed memory, the phenomenon of men’s desire for fellow men was not widespread.

True, in more recent times, Rabbi Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Even HaEzer 24:1) tended to be strict for two men not to be secluded because violators abounded, and his words corresponded to the prevailing situation in the Islamic countries where this phenomenon existed in low percentages. However, during the same time in Ashkenaz, Rabbi’s wrote that we find that Jews were not suspected of this, and there is no need to be more stringent in the prohibition of yichud (prohibition of seclusion) between men (Bach). Not only that, but some say that it is forbidden to be stringent in this matter, because of yohara (haughtiness) [Yam Shel Shlomo].

Since it is difficult to assume that the basic nature of people has changed, one must conclude that even those who were born with a tendency towards homosexuality, in a social framework of the kind that had been prevalent in Israel for many generations, such tendencies almost never came to expression.

Even today, the environment has an impact. I read that it was found in a study that from relatives of AIDS patients, the percentage of men who attested to being attracted to men was lower than that of the general population. On the face of it, the situation should have been the exact opposite, since according to the theory that homosexuality has genetic roots, the percentage of those who have this tendency among their family members should have been higher. But fear of the disease, which in those days was incurable, caused some people to change their attitude toward the tendency that was suppressed in them (Tim Harford, ‘The Logic of Life’, p. 20).

It seems that the desire of those who have a same gender inclination to have children is stronger among Jews than in other Western nations because Jewish culture encourages marriage and children, and in connection with the Jewish tradition and the culture surrounding them, they seek to establish a family and have children in their own way.

To Educate towards the Mitzvah and its Light

Therefore, precisely in our time, when secular culture around us permits and encourages homosexuality, it is incumbent upon parents, educators and rabbis to strengthen the deepening of the education towards marriage in the framework of halakha, and explain at length all the good and light in the love between man and woman, and the tremendous value of establishing a family and raising children and their education. When we arrive at the order of prohibitions of incest in the Torah, including the prohibition of mishkav zakhur, we must clarify them clearly while maintaining the proper modesty.

The Positive Attitude towards Those Suffering from Such Inclinations

Along with the study of both the positive and negative mitzvot related to the family, one must be careful not to insult and hurt those who suffer from homosexual inclinations. Sometimes the pain of the sufferers is unbearable, to the point where some young people choose to end their lives due to their suffering. Therefore, men and women who feel so inclined should be instructed to discuss this with their parents and with a rabbi or counselor in order to relieve themselves of the suffering that accompanies them, and to find the best way to deal with it.

It is also important to emphasize that we should not act more stringently towards those who sin in the prohibition of mishkav zachur than with other serious sinners, such as desecrators of Shabbat. And just as we call to the Torah those who profane Shabbat as long as they do not do so l’hachis (to infuriate), so too, sinners of this prohibition should be called up to the Torah as long as they do not do so l’hachis. And even more so when it comes to people who try to keep Torah and mitzvot, who ostensibly are careful not to transgress the grave sin of mishkav zachur.

Moreover, many of those who fail in this sin do not do so for reasons of convenience, like those who profane Shabbat, but out of sorrow that their inclination compels them.  And although according to halakha they must overcome their inclinations, those who do not have to deal with this urge must not judge those who failed, for who knows if he himself would have succeeded in passing the test. Only the Lord of the heavens and the earth, the Creator of the souls, knower of thoughts and examiner of hearts, knows each person’s yetzer (inclination), and can truly judge him with mercy, according to the extent of his trials and pains.

Not to Distance from the Religious Community

It is important to emphasize that even one who fail to overcome his desires and sins in mishkav zachor – is obligated in all the other commandments of the Torah, and must strengthen himself as much as possible in whatever way he can. And even with regard to this sin, every single day and every time that he succeeds in overcoming his desire and avoids sin, he has a great reward.

Therefore, whenever possible, we must try and dissuade the sinners from transgressing in this matter. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvah he fulfills. Therefore, we should be careful not to distance them from the synagogues, so they can strengthen themselves in Torah and mitzvoth as best as they can. And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Likewise, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value of mitzvoth is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in these transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvoth and good deeds.

Honor for the Framework of Halakha

Since the environmental and cultural influence is strong, even those who feel that they cannot overcome their yetzer, must strive to respect the halakhic framework. Even if one has a permanent partner, he should define him as a close friend and roommate, and in this way religious society will be able to accept him, without having to confront him.

The Attitude towards the Protesters on Tisha B’Av

Q: How should we relate to the big demonstration held on the fast of Tisha B’Av against the surrogacy law?

A: This was a severe defiance of all that is sacred to Israel – starting from damage to the national religious mourning, and ending with the violation of the commandments of the Torah and the contempt for the various opinions in a disgraceful manner. It is true that in the past the public attitude towards such inclinations was humiliating and violent, but today, the public has already condemned the violence against them, while they themselves have become verbally violent towards holders of different views.

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

The Believer in Israel Will Deal with its Challenges

From the Sin of the Spies until today: The real arguments depend on faith and worldview * Those who do not love the Land and do not believe in its significance will in any case estimate that defending it is impossible, while those who believe in the mitzvah of settling the Land will find the practical solutions to maintain our hold on it * Even the factual arguments surrounding the demographic situation, not to mention the moral disputes, all depend on the question of love and faith in the Land * This is not meant to turn a blind eye to reality, rather, out of  faith we find the realistic ways to deal with the situation * In this way will redemption come through reality – little by little

The Sin of the Spies – The Root of the Destruction

As is known, the Sin of the Spies is the root of the destruction of the Land and the Temple. On the ninth of Av, the generation of the desert chose to believe the Spies, who claimed that Israel would not be able to conquer the land: “The entire community raised a hubbub and began to shout. That night, the people wept. All the Israelites complained to Moses and Aaron. The entire community was saying, ‘We wish we had died in Egypt! We should have died in this desert! Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? Our wives and children will be captives! It would be best to go back to Egypt!’ The people started saying to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a [new] leader and go back to Egypt” (Bamidbar 14: 1). In the wake of their terrible sin, it was decreed that all men of military age would die in the desert and would not be able to see the good Land. Only after their bodies would fall in the wilderness would their sons be able to enter the Land, with Yehoshua Bin Nun and Calev ben Yefunah who did not participate in the sin.

At the same time, the Holy One, Blessed be He, said: ” You have wept without cause: therefore will I appoint a weeping to you for future generations” (Sanhedrin 104b), and it was decreed that the Temple would be destroyed, and Israel to be exiled from their land (Ta’anit 26b; Tanchuma Shelach).

What Sin did the Spies Commit?

Seemingly, the incident of the Sin of the Spies poses a difficulty: what sin did they actually commit? After all, the spies were sent to explore the land, to see whether the people living there were strong or weak, whether the inhabitants of the country were few or many. And behold, according to their best judgment, they concluded that the Canaanites living in the land were aggressive, the land’s cities were large and well-fortified, and if the Israelites were to try and conquer the land, the men would fall by the sword, and the women and children would be sold as slaves. This was their assessment, so what choice did they have – to sit silently and watch while the people of Israel strode to their destruction? They were morally obligated to warn against the danger! And even if the Spies and the people erred in judgment, should the punishment have been so severe – to the point where all of them would die in the desert, the Jewish nation’s entry into the Land be delayed for forty years, and if their sin was not rectified – on that same day, the two Temples would eventually be destroyed?

When there is No Faith, Excuses Abound

The Spies were punished not for the mistake of judgment, but for the fact that they did not understand the value of the Land and did not love it, as it is written: “Moreover, they despised the pleasant Land, they did not believe His word” (Psalms 24:24). Consequently, they misjudged and exaggerated the power of the Canaanites facing Israel. For that reason, when Yehoshua and Calev tried to save them, they declared at the outset: “The Land is very, very good.” Only afterwards, out of a recognition of the value of the Land, did they call upon the people to strengthen their faith in their ability to defeat the Canaanites (Numbers 14: 9).

A person who does not love the Land abhors the need to fight for it, and subsequently convinces himself that it is impossible to conquer and settle it, and finds a thousand reasons why. However, the main reason is – he simply does not care about the Land of Israel, and all his reasons are merely excuses. No one is willing to invest time and effort in something he does not value. For example, a person who does not value the importance of university studies will be incapable of finding the inner strength to pursue their completion. Someone who does not appreciate the significance of combat service will not be able to find the inner strength to withstand arduous training, preparing him to be a fighter. One who does not appreciate the value of family life will not be able to find the strength to seal a marriage covenant, and establish a family. Each one will find a thousand realistic reasons why the time is not right to study, to enlist in the army, or to get married, but the real reason is – they simply do not want to.

The Position behind the Security Policy

Even today, it is a fact that the main characteristic of most of the leftists who support the withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is that the love of the people and the Land is not central to their lives, and their belief in God is also weak. Like the Spies of old, today they also candidly claim that in order to save the State of Israel, we must withdraw from Judea and Samaria and establish a Palestinian state. They also claim that if we continue to settle in Judea and Samaria, we will endanger the State of Israel because it will lose its Jewish identity, or it will become an undemocratic country that the whole world will distance itself from as a leper, until it can no longer exist. On the other hand, those who believe in God, the Giver of the Torah, and the love of the People and the Land is central to their lives, tend to believe that settlement in Judea and Samaria will strengthen the State of Israel, and any withdrawal will weaken it, and endanger its existence.

Underlying the Debate over Morality

Not only that, but belief and values ​​also influence moral attitudes. The leftists are convinced that expelling Jews from the settlements is moral, but it is immoral to expel Arabs even in return for appropriate compensation. The extremists in the left think the settlement is a crime. On the other hand, the rightists are convinced that the Jewish people have exclusive right over Judea and Samaria, and under certain conditions it is possible to expel Arabs.

In times of war, the leftists tend to oppose serious harm to the Arabs on the assumption that the Arabs’ position is right. On the other hand, right-wingers support severe attacks on them, on the assumption that they are the evil side of the conflict and that they should be punished properly. Moreover, the moral-faith assessment influences the assessment of reality: in the opinion of the leftists, if we deal with the Arab enemy with a hard hand, the security situation will worsen, and in the opinion of rightists, the situation will improve.

The Debate over Numbers

Even concerning the demographic numbers, which seemingly depend on reality, belief and values have an influence. The extreme left (including officers from the Civil Administration) estimates that about five million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip; the moderate leftists believe that they number slightly more than four million (Prof. Della Pergola); right-wingers believe that their number is slightly more than three million (Yoram Ettinger), and extreme right-wingers believe they number about two million. If this is the debate over the numbers of those living today, all the more so the belief-based position affects future assessments. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, left-wing demographic experts have estimated that within twenty years the Arabs will become a majority, and right-wing experts believe that the Jewish majority will grow.

Humorously, the settlers say that it is not worth prolonging arguments with left-wingers, because every half hour the debate grows, the number of Arabs rises by half a million. With the mercy of Heaven, after the debate is over, reality returns to itself and the exaggerated numbers dissipate into thin air…

Redemption in Reality

In reality, it is also possible to make mistakes on the other side – to ignore the difficult problems in reality, and to think that the main thing is to believe that if we really want to settle the country urgently, it will be possible to skip over all the problems and everything will work out miraculously. But this, too, is a grave sin (as the Ma’apilim did after the Sin of the Spies). This is because both reality and nature are Divine creations, and ignoring the problems of reality and natural difficulties is heresy. In other words, those faithful to the People and the Land must recognize reality as it is, not change the numbers and not bias the assessments to suit their faith, aspirations, and hopes. The main purpose of the mitzvah of settling the Land is to reveal the faith within the earthly life, within a rational framework. This is also the goal of the entire Torah, to be fulfilled in the Land, within the framework of the natural laws, without relying on miracles, and thus it will be revealed how walking in the ways of God adds blessing and life. The mitzvot related to the family bring blessings to the family, the mitzvoth related to livelihood and morality lead to economic success, the mitzvoth associated with the nation advance the nation, and so forth in all the areas of life that mitzvot deal with.

Returning to the settlement of the land: Inspired by faith and its guidance, we must seek the real and moral ways to settle the Land even within our complicated reality. Since reality is complex and given to change, in joint efforts we can find the rational ways to settle the Land, and after our plans are completely realistic – we can hope for God’s help.

Redemption Little by Little

Since redemption must come through natural reality, rationally, it develops and progresses gradually, without any skipping over. As the Sages said: “Such will be Israel’s redemption: at first it will be little by little, but the longer it continues it will grow and grow”(Talmud Yerushalmi Berachot 1: 1). In other words, even though everything begins with God, “the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it…”, the goal is that everything be revealed through us, as the verse continues: “…who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it” (Isaiah 42: 5). If the goal was to reveal the faith in God by skipping over all the laws of intelligence and nature, redemption would have to come at once, while scrapping reality. However, the complete faith is revealed in the heavens and in the earth, and in the complete redemption, both the earth and nature are redeemed, the intellect and emotions, and all human qualities are redeemed. To this end, the process of tikkun (correction) is gradually being accomplished through human actions.

This is what was said in the Zohar: “When the Holy One, blessed be He, will raise them up and bring them out of the Exile, then He will open for them a slight, very thin opening of light, and then open a slightly larger opening, until the Holy One, blessed be He opens the Upper Gates to the four directions of the world” (Va’yishlach 170:1 Tirgum). In this way, Israel will be able to absorb the value of Torah and the mitzvah of settling the Land, and to participate fully in its fulfillment, until the entire world is redeemed.

The Tikkun – the Refining of Faith

The Spies denied the process of redemption of the Land; they did not believe that it was possible to act according to the Torah to change the reality for the better. They thought one of two things: Either God will perform a miracle for us and redeem us, or there is no way to overcome the difficulties of reality. The correction of the Sin of the Spies and the redemption of Israel and the world depends on the refining of faith. On the one hand, recognizing the greatness of God in the destiny of the people of Israel and in the significance of the Land. And on the other hand, in the recognition that the word of God must be revealed through rational, natural reality without any skipping over. This is the essence of the commandment to settle the Land, and therefore it is equivalent to all the commandments.

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

When Tisha B’Av Falls Out on Shabbat

Pregnant and nursing mothers who find it difficult to fast can be lenient when the fast is postponed * It is a mitzvah to wash oneself before Shabbat; Sephardim can do so in hot water * It is forbidden to mourn on Shabbat, therefore we eat and are happy as usual, including the pre-fast meal * The time from sunset on Shabbat until the end of Shabbat is an intermediate period of time when it is forbidden to eat, but on the other hand, noticeable signs of mourning are also prohibited * After Shabbat is over Havdalah is recited verbally, but not over wine * An ill person who eats on the fast day must make Havdalah, ideally over a drink other than wine * One should not eat before Havdalah after the fast * When the fast is postponed, there is no mourning the following day

Pregnant and Nursing Women

In general, pregnant and nursing women are obligated to fast on Tisha B’Av but are exempt from the minor fasts, such as the 17th of Tammuz and the Tenth of Tevet. But when Tisha B’Av is postponed, as it is this year, the obligation of the Tisha B’Av fast is more similar to that of the minor fasts. Indeed, due to the severity of the of the fast’s importance, ideally, when it is not difficult, pregnant and nursing mothers should also fast; but if there is any difficulty whatsoever, they are exempt, even though they are not considered ill. In practice, it turns out that about 90% of pregnant and partially nursing women do not need to fast.

Women who nurse full-time, or nearly full-time, do not need to fast, so as not to diminish their milk supply.

Washing before Shabbat Chazon

It is a mitzvah to wash oneself before Shabbat, including before Shabbat Chazon, and even before Shabbat Chazon that falls on Tisha B’Av, because mourning on Shabbat is prohibited. The minhag (custom) for Ashkenazim is to wash with warm water whose temperature is not pleasurable but also does not cause any grief. The minhag for Sephardim is to bathe in hot water as usual (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 8:21).

The ‘Seudah Mafseket’ Meal on Shabbat

When the eve of Tisha B’Av falls on a weekday, customs of ‘aveilut‘ (mourning) already begin at the ‘seudah mafseket’ (the pre-fast meal): in this meal we do not eat two cooked dishes together, we sit on the floor and do not sit together, like a mourner whose close relative had just died and sits on his own (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 9:1-3).

But when the eve of Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, it is forbidden to show any sign of mourning, for the general rule is there is no mourning on Shabbat. Therefore, if Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat, the fast is postponed to Sunday, and on that Shabbat, we eat meat, drink wine, and even serve a meal fit for a king. We also sing Shabbat songs as usual, for there is no mourning on Shabbat.

The Intermediate Period of Time between Shabbat and the Fast

There is an intermediate period of time between Shabbat and the fast, during which Shabbat has not yet ended, but the prohibitions of the fast have already begun. This happens because we are unsure when one day ends and the next day begins – at sunset, or when the stars emerge. Therefore, the period between sunset and the emergence of the stars is ambiguous, being possibly day, and possibly night. It is called “bein hashmashot” (twilight). And since there is a mitzvah to add time onto Shabbat, the holy day continues until a few minutes after the stars emerge. Consequently, the time between sunset and shortly after the emergence of the stars is both Shabbat and the fast. During that time, it is forbidden to do anything that would appear like a custom of mourning, because we do not mourn on Shabbat. On the other hand, after sunset, we avoid doing anything that is not necessary for the sake of Shabbat, like eating, drinking, washing, and anointing.

‘Seudah Shlishit’

Therefore, we eat seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) like we do on any other Shabbat, including the singing of Shabbat songs. However, we stop eating and drinking before sunset (in Jerusalem at 19:48, Tel Aviv 19:46, and Haifa 19:49, and Be’er Sheva 19:46), and this is not considered harming the honor of Shabbat because there is no obligation – from a Shabbat perspective – to continue eating seudah shlishit after sunset. It is also fitting to refrain from singing joyous songs after sunset, and doing so does not constitute an expression of mourning, for people do not generally sing happy songs all the time on Shabbat.

Other Laws of the Intermediate Period of Time

We also refrain from washing and anointing ourselves after sunset, and this is not considered harming the honor of Shabbat because, after all, one does not continuously bathe on Shabbat in any case. However, one who relieves himself during ‘bein hashmashot’ should wash his hands normally, for if he washes as required on the fast, he is, in effect, mourning on Shabbat.

We remain in our Sabbath clothing, keep our shoes on, and continue to sit on chairs and greet each other until a few minutes after three, mid-sized stars appear in the sky. Then, we say ‘Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh le’chol’ (‘Blessed is He Who separates between the holy and the mundane’), by which we take leave of Shabbat. Afterward, we remove our shoes, take off our Shabbat garments, and change into weekday clothes.

Some people have the custom of removing their shoes already at ‘bein hashmashot’, because wearing comfortable shoes is one of the prohibitions of Tisha B’Av, and since in any case, one is not obligated to wear shoes at all times on Shabbat, removing them at sunset does not involve harming the honor of Shabbat. However, it is clear that if a person takes off his shoes and other people in his company realize he is doing it for the sake of mourning, it would be forbidden. Therefore, the accepted practice is to remove shoes after Shabbat is over.

When changing clothes from Shabbat to weekday garments, one should wear clothing that was already worn the previous week because one may not wear freshly laundered clothing on Tish’a B’Av.

Evening Prayer

Many communities have the custom to delay Ma’ariv (the Evening Prayer) until around fifteen minutes after Shabbat ends, in order to give everyone time to take leave of the Shabbat at home, remove their shoes, change their clothes, and come to the synagogue for Ma’ariv and the reading of Eichah in weekday clothes.

Havdalah on Tish’a B’Av When it falls Out on Saturday Night

The fast begins immediately after Shabbat, making it is impossible to say havdalah over a cup of wine. Therefore, we postpone saying this form of havdalah until after the fast. Nevertheless, we say havdalah – “Ata Chonantanu” – in the Ma’ariv prayers or “Baruch ha’mavdil bein kodesh l’chol“, after which we are permitted to do work.

Blessing over the Havdalah Candle

We recite the blessing over fire on Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), because this blessing is not dependent on the cup of wine. Rather, it is an expression of thanks to God for creating fire, which was revealed to Adam on the first Motzei Shabbat. The custom is to recite the blessing after Ma’ariv before the reading of Eichah, because people light candles at that time.

Women also recite the blessing over fire. If they are in the synagogue, they hear the chazan’s blessing and gain pleasure from the light of the candle lit close to them; if they are at home, they light a candle and recite the blessing (see, Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 8:1, footnote 1).

Havdalah Over a Cup of Wine after the Fast

At the end of the fast, before eating or drinking, one must say havdalah over a cup of wine, which includes two blessings: ‘Al ha’gefen’ (‘on the wine’) and Ha’Mavdil (‘He Who separates’). No blessing is made on spices or fire.

Havdalah for an Ill Person Who Ate on Tisha B’Av

A sick person who needs to eat on Tish’a B’Av, must say havdalah over a cup of wine before eating. In such a case, it is proper to use ‘chamar medinah’ [a distinguished beverage other than wine] (preferably something intoxicating, but any ubiquitous drink, like coffee, will do (see, Peninei Halakha, Shabbat, vol. 1, 8:4). If one has no such beverage, he should say havdalah over grape juice, and if even that is unavailable, he should say havdalahbe’di’avad – on wine, and drink a cheek-full (around 40 ml.). If a minor who has reached the age at which we teach him to recite blessings is present, it is best to let him drink the wine instead of the sick person. A minor who eats on Tish’a B’Av need not say havdalah before eating.

‘Kiddush Levana’

The custom is to postpone ‘Birkat HaLevanah’ (the Blessing of the Moon) until after the fast, because the blessing must be recited joyously, and we decrease our joy during the Nine Days. Many people are accustomed to saying it immediately after the Ma’ariv prayer at the conclusion of the fast, but it is improper to do so, le’chatchilah. After all, it is difficult to be happy at that moment, when we have yet to drink, eat, wash our faces and hands, or put on regular shoes. Therefore, each community should set a time – an hour or two after the fast – for the recitation of Birkat HaLevanah, and in the meantime, everyone will have a chance to eat something, and wash up. This way, they will be able to say the blessing joyously. Where there is concern that pushing off Birkat HaLevanah may cause some people to forget to say it, the congregation may say it immediately after the fast.

Mourning Customs on the Day after Tisha B’Av

The Babylonians conquered the Beit HaMikdash on the seventh of Av, setting it ablaze on the ninth of the month, late in the day, and it continued burning throughout the tenth of Av. Since the majority of the Temple actually burned on the tenth of Av, the people of Israel have a custom not to eat meat or drink wine on that date. According to Sephardi custom, the prohibition lasts the entire day, while Ashkenazim observe this custom only until midday. Many have the custom not to take a haircut, bathe in hot water, do laundry, or wear laundered clothes on the tenth of Av.

But this year, when the fast is postponed until the tenth of Av, mourning customs do not continue after the fast has concluded, and one is permitted immediately after the fast to wash in hot water, to do laundry, and wear freshly laundered clothes. Although, in the opinion of many authorities, one should refrain from eating meat and drinking wine after the fast, because, having fasted on that day, it is not proper to immediately enjoy eating meat and wine. There are other authorities, though, who are lenient in regards to eating meat and drinking wine after a postponed fast (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 10:20).


As is true regarding all other mitzvot, we are commanded to educate our children to keep the mitzvot relating to Tish’a B’Av and mourning over the churban (destruction of the Holy Temple). Since children are weak, however, it is impossible to teach them to fast when they are young. Therefore, we train them to fast a few hours, depending on their strength, only starting from age nine. They should not fast the entire day (Rama of Panow 111). When feeding children on Tish’a B’Av, one should give them only simple foods, in order to teach them to join with the community in mourning. Many people are careful to teach their children who have reached the age of chinuch (education) – from around six years old – not to eat or drink on the night of the fast.

At the age of chinuch, we teach them not to wear leather sandals or shoes, and not to apply ointments or bathe for the sake of pleasure (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 10:21).

May it be God’s will that out of our mourning for the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, we will soon merit its’ building, in joy.

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

Gid Hanasheh and World Challenges

Gid Hanasheh, which according to the deeper teachings of the Torah is connected to Tisha B’Av, represents the weak point of the Jewish people * Out of all the tendons in the body, the angel representing Eisav succeeded in injuring the tendon that connects the upper part of the body to the legs, in other words ideas and the heart, to reality * When a breach exists between spiritual and practical people, the spirituals lose their grip on reality and their influence wanes, and the people of action are dragged after this world and its desires * At the root of the problems of our generation, upon which we are mourning during these days, is the disconnect between the spiritual and practical people, and we must act to reconnect them

Gid Hanasheh and Tisha B’Av

During these days when we mourn the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to learn a little about the prohibition against eating the gid hanasheh, which, according to the Kabbalists, is related to Tisha B’Av. For the 365 tendons in the body are compared to the 365 days of the year, and the prohibition of the gid hanasheh is related to the day of Tisha B’Av, which is hinted at in the verse: “The Israelites therefore do not eat the displaced nerve (gid hanansheh) on the hip joint to this very day” (Genesis 32:33) – not to eat on Tisha B’Av. (Zohar and Midrash Ha’Ne’Elam). Before we expand upon the reasons of the commandment, we will explain its laws.

Hilchot Gid Hanasheh

Although the beginning of the gid hanasheh is in the spinal cord and ends at the end of the leg, only the part that passes next to the hip on the thigh is forbidden from the Torah, because it is on the “hip socket of the thigh”. In a large bull it is about eight centimeters long, and in a large sheep about four centimeters (Rama, Yoreh Deah 100: 1; Taz, ibid 3). Our Sages also prohibited the beginning of this tendon from the spine and its continuation until the end of the thigh. They also prohibited the tendrils of the gid hanasheh, i.e. the branches that spread into the flesh on the thigh, and also forbade the outer tendon that is secondary to the gid hanasheh. The holy Jewish people are customary to also prohibit the fat around tendon and tendrils. The removal of all the parts that are forbidden from the words of the Sages and due to Jewish custom is a complex task that requires learning.

Although the taste of the gid hanasheh is very faint and almost imperceptible, nevertheless, since the Torah forbids it, those who eat it with the thigh, even though they do not enjoy its taste, transgress the Torah prohibition, which is punishable by lashes. The tendrils and fat around the tendon forbidden by the Sages and custom are tasty, and therefore if cooked in a dish, as long as the taste is noticeable in the dish – the dish is forbidden to be eaten. Gid hanasheh is forbidden to eat, but one is permitted to gain pleasure from it (S.A., Y. D. 65: 9-10).

The Dispute with Esau’s Ministering Angel

It is told in the Torah (Genesis 32) that when our father Yaakov returned to the Land of Israel and passed his family over the Jordan, a man fought him at night. When he saw that he could not defeat Yaakov, he struck his thigh, and from then, Yaakov’s leg was lame and he limped on his thigh. But Yaakov Avinu did not surrender and struggled with the man until dawn, and then it turned out that the man was an angel, and only after he blessed Yaakov did Yaakov agree to send him on his way. Our Sages said the same angel was Eisav’s ministering angel, and their struggle had risen up to the Throne of Glory because it touched the very foundations of faith. Eisav’s minister asks that this world behave in its own, natural way, i.e., according to its physical interests; whereas Yaakov Avinu seeks to correct this world by faith, values, and Torah. When Eisav’s angel saw he could not overcome him, because of the strength of his faith, he struck his weak spot – the gid hanasheh.

Connecting the Upper Part of the Body to the Legs

Through the gid hanasheh, the nervous system moves from the spine to the legs. Spiritually, it connects the upper parts of man, his head and heart, which express man’s thoughts and feelings, to the legs which express action. The injury to the gid hanasheh conveyed Eisav’s claim: While your talk about faith is lofty and beautiful, and the values are ideal, nevertheless, in practice, it is doomed to failure. It is impossible to lead the world according to the values of holiness, because sins triumph over. Not only that, but even the righteous themselves fall into sin, as indicated by the gid hanasheh being located next to one’s intimate area of the body. The word “nasheh” in Hebrew stems from the words ‘chul’shah‘ (weakness), “shichachah” (forgetfulness), and “shinui” (change), in other words, in the transition to the legs and the world of action – the good ideas are weakened and neglected.

The Disconnect between the Practical and the Spiritual

This is what our Sages said in the Zohar, that by way of this injury, the angel of Eisav harmed the connection between practical people and those who are spiritual, and by doing so, the people of deed are weakened, forget their partnership in the observance of the Torah, and do not maintain talmidei hakhamim (Torah scholars). As such, the spiritual people have no feet to stand on, they fall, and the Shekhina (Divine Presence) departs from the world, since they deny the value of the resting of the Shekhina; the Temple is destroyed, and Israel is exiled from their Land.

Our Sages also said in the chapter Gid Hanasheh (Chulin 92a) that they sent from the Land of Israel to Babylon to ask for mercy, and the fruit (i.e. the Torah scholars) should pray for the leaves (i.e., the ‘amei ha’aretz‘ [lit., the people of the land], because if it were not for the leaves, the fruit would not exist. In other words, without the support of the practical people, the spiritual people would not exist (as R. Zadok of Lublin explained in Kometz HaMincha 2: 80).

This is also the foundation of the mitzvot of terumot and maaserot, by which Israel is connected to the Kohanim and Levites, who guard the sanctity of the kodesh, and teach Torah to Israel. As a continuation of this, our Sages also determined that other forms of livelihood would also provide for the maintenance of Torah scholars and its teachers, so that practical people would be connected to the values of holiness, and Torah scholars would teach Torah to Israel.

Tzadikim without Grounding in Reality

Our Sages (Bereishit Rabbah 77: 3) also said that the damage to the gid hanasheh harmed “the righteous men and women, the men and women prophets who were to stem from him.” And in the Zohar it is explained that the ministering angel of Eisav harmed all the prophets except Moses; in the wake of the injury to the gid hanasheh, the prophets are unable to accept their prophecy while standing, but only after having fallen. The inability to stand indicates weakness in the complete, precise and practical expression of prophecy; without practical people who are connected to the righteous and the prophets, the righteous are unable to fulfill their ideas in reality, and the prophets are unable to express the ideas of their prophecy in a stable and precise manner. In other words, the men of action support the men of spirit in all respects – both in that they maintain them with donations and tithes and money, and devote themselves to the realization of spiritual ideas in the world of action, and only by doing so can the righteous men and women, the male and female prophets, direct and refine their words. Otherwise their ideas will also fall.

Faith until ‘Alot HaShachar’

Following the injury to the gid hanasheh which continued the distancing between the men of spirit and the men of action, sins increased, causing the death of the righteous with the rest of the people during the days of destruction and terror, when darkness covered the Land. Nevertheless, our father Yaakov stood bravely against Eisav’s angel until alot ha’shachar (dawn), and when the light began to shine, the angel realized that Yaakov could overcome the obstacles and cross the Yabuk River passage, build the house of Israel in the Land, and reveal the Divine Presence in the world. Consequently, he had to agree, and bless him.

The act of the fathers is a sign for the sons – namely, that Israel will stand with courage and devotion against all those who rise up against them to destroy them, until the light of their redemption shines, and all those who defy them will bless them against their will (Sefer HaChinuch 3). Then the ‘gid she’nasheh’, i.e., the tendon that was displaced, will return to its place, and the connection between the thoughts in the mind and the good desires of the heart will be completed into the actions of the legs.

We find, therefore, that the caution in prohibiting the eating of the gid hanasheh hints at the preservation of the connection between the world of the spirit and the world of action. Anyone who eats this tendon, it is as if he accepts the awesome lacking caused by its being displaced, and causing a certain separation between the spiritual world and the world of action.

The War on the Sinners of Israel

At the Yabuk crossing, where the ideas from the spiritual world pass into the world of action, occasionally change for the worse, as our Sages (Chulin, 91a) have said that Yaakov returned in the dark of night to the other side of the river to bring small jugs forgotten there. These small jugs hint to the weak, and to the sinners of Israel, which Yaakov, as well, did not give up upon, because without them, Knesset Yisrael is incomplete and cannot repair the world. The weakness of these people is not because of their wickedness, but because their role is to reveal holiness within the earthly reality, and sometimes this role is very difficult, because until all material inclinations are corrected, the world’s lusts are liable to overcome and cause people to sin. The place indicating these souls in Jacob’s body, the father of Israel, was the gid hanasheh, near the place of lust. Therefore, this was the place of the weakness of Yaakov, where Eisav’s angel could cause damage.

Though the gid hanasheh has great importance, through which the nerves pass to the legs, it has no taste. This is also the way people who deal with the world of action and lusts feel at times – they do not feel the goodness while performing the commandments. Similar to the aravah (the willow), which has no taste and no smell, but it must be in the four species, and the entire tikkun depends on it (Peninei Halakha Sukkot 4: 2-3). Since at times the practical people do not enjoy the mitzvah, many of them tend to sin. In the end, however, the sun rose for Yaakov, and he overcame the angel, just as the wicked of Israel will eventually be corrected. Perhaps this is why the holy Jewish nation have been so strict in the fulfillment of the prohibition against the gid hanasheh, to the point that after our Sages forbade its tendrils, Jews would also prohibit its fat, which has taste, and perhaps further attracts the sinners of Israel to sin.

The Tikkun for Our Times: Connecting Spirit and Practice

In our times as well, the lacking is mainly in the sin of the gid hanasheh, namely, the connection between the great idea of the State of Israel and yishuv ha’aretz, to a practical life that fails to connect properly to the idea. From this, all of our problems arise: concerning Hok Ha’Leum (the Nationality Law), concerning the settlement of the Land, concerning the encouragement of aliyah as the vision of the Torah and the prophets. Concerning Torah scholars who are not connected to the world of action, and men of action who disparage the people of the Torah. Our Sages said: “Each generation in which it [the Temple] is not built in its days, they are deemed as having destroyed it” (Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1). For this we must mourn, so that we will act with all our strength and ability to connect heaven and earth in the building of the Land and the Temple.

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

Torah Study on Summer Vacation

The obligation to study the Torah applies throughout the year, and summer vacation is an excellent opportunity to fulfill it * When talking with children in advance about learning during the summer vacation, and planning with them how to use the time, they agree * If parents make use of Shabbat to learn Torah, children learn to use their time during summer vacation * Summer vacation is an excellent opportunity for parents to educate their children themselves, and to share with them their world of values ​​* The cause of many of the disruptions and spiritual downfalls that can occur – going to bed late, and waking-up late * A moving halachic question: Should a family’s immigration to the Land of Israel be celebrated during the Nine Days?

The Challenges of Summer Vacation

Each year, summer vacation arrives accompanied by concerns and stress. Aside from it being way too long and deserving to be shortened, parents ought to prepare beforehand, so the vacation passes smoothly, and does not turn into a time of chaos and spiritual decline.

To this end, parents should speak with their children before the vacation begins, and together, summarize their schedules and various plans for vacation time, and later on, make sure they adhere to them. In principle, most children agree that it is important to set specific times for Torah study during the vacation, to utilize the free time by reading insightful books, helping their parents, and other useful activities. And when matters are agreed upon from the start, it is easier to put them into practice.

Why it is Essential to Get Up on Time

First of all, it is important to be strict about time schedules. Waking-up in the morning should be at a reasonable hour – at the latest, 8:00 A.M., and bed-time should be the same as throughout the school year, or at most, an hour later. The root of all problems begins with the disruption of sleep. When youth go to bed at 2:00 A.M., and wake-up at 10:00 in the morning, essentially, they live without parental supervision and guidance. They come home when their parents are sleeping, and wake up after they’ve left the house. Parents have no opportunity to hear about their children’s activities, or monitor them.

Thank God, we have the mitzvah to read ‘kriyat Sh’ma‘ and pray within a precise time, and thus, even a person who by nature is a late riser, given that he aims to fulfill the mitzvah, merits waking up on time, and organizes his life properly, praying in the 8:00 A.M. minyan at the latest.

All the problems start when children go to bed too late. During that time, when their parents are sleeping and there are almost no adults on the streets, they begin to do stupid things. That’s when they start experimenting with drugs. After all, a youth who gets up to pray, eats breakfast, and sets specific times for Torah study, does not suddenly start taking drugs between morning prayers and breakfast, or between his regular Torah study and his other hobbies!

The decline into loathsome behavior, negative friendships, and doing drugs, begins in the wee hours of the night, when bored youth who got up late in the morning, can’t fall asleep at night, and hang out with friends with nothing else to do but drink, eat, laugh at nonsense, and seek out thrills.

This is what is explained in Pirkei Avot (3:4): “Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai says: He who keeps awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and makes room in his heart for idleness, sins against himself.” The commentators explained that nighttime is intended for sleep, or diligent Torah study; someone who remains awake at night idly, is asking for trouble.

Serve as an Example – on Shabbat

Obviously, simply refraining from negative influences is not enough. Summer break should be filled with positive content, and most importantly, by setting specific times for Torah study, which is ‘our life and length of our days’, and every Jew, whether old or young, while in school or during vacation break, is obligated to learn Torah every day. Parents should summarize with their children which books they will study, and what their goals should be.

Summer vacation is an especially good time to learn topics that are easy and close to one’s heart. It also can serve as an opportunity to review familiar topics. In any case, learning should be done with straightforward and comprehensible books, so that the children or youth – each according to their level – can feel confident and pleased in their studies.

It is advisable for children to learn partly on their own, and partly with a chevrutra (study partner) of similar age, and parents should help them arrange this. Boys and girls should learn separately. Younger children should be motivated to learn by giving them small prizes, while older children should be inspired with rewards appropriate for their age.

If the family has children of different ages, parents can ask the older kids to learn with the younger ones, and in this manner, increase their study time.

Learning with Children

The best advice for educating children is for parents themselves to learn Torah together with their children. Frequently, parents complain about how worn-out they are from summer vacation. Their children drain them emotionally, nudging them to find something for them to do, and constantly complaining that they’re bored. No matter how hard parents try to keep them occupied, the kids continue nagging.

Instead, it is better to arrange a meaningful study session together, and at times when they are bored – offer to continue learning. Learning together will turn vacation time into a productive and pleasant period, and the parent’s relationship with their children will be built on a positive and uplifting basis. As a result, the moral requests parents make of their children, will be more understandable and acceptable.

Build the World of Values

Although most of learning is conducted by teachers on behalf of the parents, the parents still have the most central part of the mitzvah to teach them Torah: understanding the overall vision of the Torah. This is done in open conversations with the children about life and its meaning, by sharing, according to their understanding and age, the moral goals that the parents set for themselves – Torah study, observance of mitzvot, work, and responsibility for Klal Yisrael. Vacation is a good and appropriate time for such conversations as well.

Making Aliyah during the Nine Days

Question: Rabbi, Shalom! First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for your series of “Peninei Halakha” books, which conveys both halakha and knowledge about who we are, and where we came from, and how we have come to this point. With God’s help, all your actions should be blessed, and you should enjoy happiness and pleasure, and good health all of your life!

Precisely because of my appreciation for you, Rabbi, as an honest posek (Jewish law arbiter), and also as a Zionist in the deepest sense of the word, I turn to you with a somewhat delicate question regarding the limitations of the Nine Days before Tisha B’Av. Here are the facts: My brother, his wife and their two small daughters will come to Israel from Canada on Wednesday (they arrive in Israel on the 4th of the month of Av). They are not religious, but quite traditional. I am a chozer b’teshuva, but we come from a very proud Jewish and Zionistic family.  My brother and his family’s Aliyah are a significant and exciting event for all of us. My wife and I immigrated to Israel alone 24 years ago, and I have only one brother. Our parents are still in Canada, and my sister-in-law is an Israeli who left the country many years ago to be with him.

My question borders between halakha, feelings, and a Klal Yisrael attitude: How much is it permissible for us on the day and week they immigrate to celebrate their aliyah? Is it permissible to sing, to play musical instruments, to wave balloons and colorful and happy signs at the airport? Is it permitted to do so in the apartment they will arrive at on that day? And is it permissible to celebrate a family meal with friends in a restaurant? At home? Is a meat meal permissible, and can wine be consumed at such an event?

Rabbi, if you can give me general or specific guidance on the matter, I would be very happy, and it will make it easier for us to experience this great and awesome event, as appropriate for an Israeli and a Torah observant Jew, and also as a loving brother who tries to be compassionate.

Answer: Rejoice in the Mitzvah

This is indeed a joyous occasion for the observance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), which our Sages said is equal to all the mitzvot. Just as when a tractate of Talmud is completed, it is permissible to perform a seudat mitzvah (a joyous mitzvah meal), all the more so for such a great mitzvah as this, for in addition to its mere greatness, it is to be hoped that it will advance and elevate the future of your brother’s family for the better.

Therefore, you are allowed to celebrate at the airport, and you should wave a sign with the words “Ve’shavu banim le’g’vulam” (“And the sons have returned to their border”), or something similar.

In addition, it is permitted to hold meals in honor of their aliyah with drinking wine and eating meat, provided that the meal takes place on the day of aliyah or the following day, for indeed the kabbalists (Rabbi Avraham Azulai in his book “Chesed L’Avraham”) said that on the first night a person enters the Land of Israel, he receives a new soul, whether he is aware of it or not, and therefore the following day deserves to be celebrated.

If you have dinner at a restaurant, you should find a way to make it clear to those around you that you are celebrating Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and thus, it is not a violation of the mourning for the destruction of the Temple – the exact opposite – a seudat mitzvah that rectifies the mourning.

Incidentally, I must point out that your question moved me to tears. May you merit all the blessings and goodness of the Land of Israel.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/

17th of Tammuz: Who Fasts and who is Exempt

When our Sages determined the “minor” fasts, they did not oblige pregnant and nursing women, and the sick * A woman who stopped nursing – according to the majority poskim must fast, and some say that she is exempt for up to two years from birth * Weakness and a headache do not exempt one from fasting, rather, only an illness unrelated to the fast * Someone who knows the fast will make him sick – is considered ill, and is exempt * How to take medicines on minor fasts, and how to deal with the shortage of caffeine * Someone who broke the fast by accident must continue to fast * The obligation to educate children to fast applies to Yom Kippur, and there is no need to accustom them on other fasts

The Current Status of the Minor Fasts

When the prophets instituted the four fasts after the destruction of the First Temple, they modeled them after the fast of Yom Kippur, which is how the Rabbis usually enact decrees, modeling them after the Torah’s commandments.  Since Yom Kippur lasts an entire day, the prophets instituted the four fasts as full-day fasts, and since there are five prohibitions on Yom Kippur – eating and drinking, bathing, anointing, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations – they prohibited the same things on the fasts commemorating the churban (destruction of the Temple). This is how the Jews observed these fasts throughout the seventy-year Babylonian exile.

When the exiles returned from Babylonia to build the Second Temple, these fasts were canceled and transformed into joyous days, as it says, Thus says the Lord of Hosts, “The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), the fast of the fifth (the ninth of Av), the fast of the seventh (the third of Tishrei), and the fast of the tenth (the tenth of Tevet) will be to the House of Judah for joy and for gladness, and for festive days; love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19).

And when the Second Temple was destroyed, the Jews went back to observing the very same fasts, keeping them throughout the difficult years following the second churban, during which Bar Kochva’s rebellion and the destruction of Beitar and Judea took place.  Thus, the status of these fasts depends on our national situation: at a time of evil decrees and persecution, we are obligated to fast, but when the Temple is standing these fasts become days of joy and gladness.

In the intermediate situation – when the Temple is destroyed, but we are not plagued with harsh decrees, as was the case during Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi’s lifetime – the status of these fasts depends on the will of the Jewish people: “If they want to fast, they do so; if they do not want to fast, they do not fast.”  This is the law regarding the tenth of Tevet, the seventeenth of Tammuz, and the Fast of Gedaliah.  Regarding Tish’a B’Av, however, the matter does not depend on the nation’s will, and everyone is obligated to fast, even in the intermediate situation, because both Temples were destroyed on that day (Rosh HaShanah 18b).

In practice, the Jewish people are accustomed to observing all the fasts, even in the intermediate situation.  Therefore all Jews are obligated to fast on these days.  This is the halakha until the Beit HaMikdash is rebuilt, speedily in our days, when the fast days will become joyous festivals.

Nursing and Pregnant Women are Exempt from Fasting

Nursing and pregnant women are exempt from the minor fast days (those which last for daytime alone), for the following reason.  According to the letter of the law, the Prophets ordained that we observe these fasts when Israel is faced with harsh decrees, but when no such decrees exist, it is up to the Jews to decide whether they want to fast or not.  And indeed, the Jews have accepted upon themselves to fast on these days until the Temple is rebuilt, speedily in our days.  However, from the very beginning, the custom has been that pregnant and nursing women do not fast on these days, because it is harder for them to fast.

In Germany (Ashkenaz), many pregnant and nursing women had a custom to act strictly and fast on the minor fast days.  Perhaps they did so because of the harsh decrees that the Jews suffered there.  In any event, the prevalent custom today, even among Ashkenazi Jews, is that pregnant and nursing women do not observe the minor fast days.

Two Years after Birth

A nursing woman is exempt from the minor fasts as long as she nurses her child.  Even if the child receives additional nourishment, the mother need not fast as long as she has yet to stop nursing her baby.  Some poskim exempt all women from fasting for 24 months after giving birth, because in their opinion the exemption does not depend on nursing but on the hardships of childbirth, from which it takes 24 months to recover.  In practice, most poskim rule strictly and require every woman who has stopped nursing her child to fast even on the minor fast days.  This is the prevalent custom, but one who wants to adopt the more lenient opinion has upon whom to rely. And a woman who feels weak, although she is not considered to be seriously ill, may act leniently (Peninei Halakha 7, 8, 11).

The Ill are Exempt

When the Prophets and Sages instituted these fasts, they did so for healthy people, not for the sick.  This is the difference between Yom Kippur and all other fasts.  On Yom Kippur, even the infirm are obligated to fast, because it is a Biblical command.  Only people whose lives may be in danger if they fast are exempt, for the preservation of human life overrides the Torah’s commandments.  Even then, if possible, one should make do with eating only a little, and eating in shiurim. But in the rest of the fasts that our Sages instituted, including Tisha B’Av, the ill are exempt, and do not have to eat or drink in shiurim, rather, they should eat and drink as usual, but not delight themselves with sumptuousness foods (ibid 7: 7).

Who is Considered Ill?

In general, people whose pain or weakness precludes them from continuing their regular routine of life, forcing them to lie down, are considered sick.  For example, those who have the flu, angina, or a high fever need not fast.

Almost everyone develops a headache and feels weak on a fast day, and most people find it easier spending the day in bed than continuing to function normally.  Sometimes, a person who is fasting even feels worse than a flu sufferer.  Nonetheless, such feelings are not considered a sickness, rather the natural effects of fasting, which will pass within a few hours after the fast is over.  Therefore, only one who needs to lie down because of an illness is exempt from fasting.  One who suffers from the fast itself, however, must continue to fast even if his weakness causes him to prefer to lie down in bed.  Only one who becomes so weak from the fast that he leaves the category of a suffering faster and enters that of the infirm may break his fast.

In addition, anyone who knows that fasting can cause him to fall ill need not fast.  For example, someone who suffers from an active ulcer or severe migraines is exempt from fasting, because it is liable to precipitate his illness.  Similarly, a weak person who knows that there is a good chance that he will become ill if he does not eat is exempt from fasting.  Diabetes sufferers who need to take insulin need not fast, and some of them are even exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur.  Those who have kidney stones are exempt from fasting, because they have to drink a lot of water.  A person with high blood pressure is not considered sick and should fast, unless his doctor instructs him otherwise.  Whenever in doubt, consult a God-fearing doctor (ibid 7:7).

Swallowing Medications

It is also important to note that sick people who need to take medicine regularly, like a person who has started a regimen of antibiotics or one who suffers from a chronic disease, must continue taking their medicine even on a fast day.  If possible, one should swallow it without water.  Realize that almost no medicine, including antibiotics, does any harm to those who take it without water.  One who cannot swallow pills without water should add something bitter to the water, until it becomes undrinkable, and use it to swallow the pill.

Caffeine for a Headache

Many are accustomed to drinking a few cups of coffee a day, and when fasting, suffer from severe headaches. In order to prevent this, it is advisable to take pills containing caffeine (Acamol and Dexamol and the like have tablets with caffeine) and swallow them on the fast without water. In this way they will be able to observe the fast without excessive pain. And if they do not have similar pills, they can swallow instant coffee grains without water, which, since it is bitter and tastes bad – no prohibition applies to eating it in order to prevent pain.

Eating before Dawn

Even though the fast starts at alot hashachar (this year at 03:50), the prohibition to eat sometimes begins the night before.  If one has in mind not to eat anymore until the beginning of the fast, it is considered as if he accepted the fast upon himself, and he may not eat.  Therefore, one who goes to sleep the night before a fast and wakes up before daybreak may not eat, for he has already taken his mind off of eating.  However, if he stipulates mentally before going to sleep that he will eat something if he wakes up before alot hashachar, he may eat, because he has not yet accepted the fast upon himself.

All this is true with regard to eating, but the poskim debate the issue of drinking.  According to the Rama, one may drink even if he did not make an explicit stipulation before going to sleep, because many people take a drink of water when they wake up, and it is therefore as if he had intention to drink if he wakes up before daybreak.  The Shulchan Aruch (564:1), however, holds that there is no difference between eating and drinking, and only one who stipulates, before going to sleep, that he will drink some water when he rises before daybreak may drink.  In practice, one who wants to drink before the fast begins should make a mental stipulation to this effect, but be’di’avad, one who wakes up before alot hashachar and is thirsty may drink, even if he failed to stipulate (see MB 564:6, KHC 10).

Rinsing One’s Mouth with Water

Ideally (le-chatchila), one should not wash one’s mouth on the minor fasts, because there is concern that one might swallow drops of water.  However, one who detects that his breath smells bad may wash out his mouth, because he has no intention to drink, only to clean his mouth.  Still, he should be very careful not to swallow any water.  One may use toothpaste in order to clean out his mouth thoroughly and remove a bad smell, if not doing so causes him distress.

Tish’a B’Av is a stricter fast, which entails a prohibition against washing oneself.  Therefore, one should act more stringently and, unless it is very necessary, not rinse his mouth.  Only someone who would be greatly distressed may wash out his mouth and brush his teeth, without toothpaste, even on Tish’a B’Av.  On Yom Kippur, however, when one must fast according to Torah law, one should not be lenient.

One who Drinks by Accident on the Fast

One who accidentally eats or drinks on a fast day must continue fasting, because these days were instituted as fast days due to the troubles that occurred on them.  Even if one eats or drinks enough to be considered as one who broke his fast, thus forfeiting the ability to say Aneinu in Shemoneh Esrei, he is still forbidden to eat or drink.  After all, one who committed one sin is not allowed to commit a second (SA 568:1).  In such a scenario, the person does not have to fast a different day to make up for the fast he broke, because we are obligated to fast specifically on the days that our Sages established for fasting.  Indeed, some people have a custom to accept upon themselves another fast to atone for the one that they broke, but one is not obligated to do so (MB 568:8).  It is better to atone for this by giving more charity and learning more Torah.

The poskim debate the halakha of one who forgets that it is a fast day, makes a blessing over a cup of water, and then remembers the fast.  Some say that the prohibition of making a blessing in vain is of Biblical origin, while drinking on a fast day is only a Rabbinic injunction.  Therefore, it is preferable to take a small drink in order to save oneself from saying a blessing in vain.  Others maintain that since most Rishonim hold that a blessing in vain is a Rabbinic prohibition, it is better not to drink at all.  In addition, it is improper to fix one sin by committing another one.  It seems to me that this is the course of action one should take.

Children under the Age of Mitzvot

Children who have yet to reach the age at which they are obligated in the mitzvot are exempt from the fasts that the Rabbis instituted.  And our Sages did not require us to train our children to fast for a few hours; they did so only in regard to Yom Kippur, which is Torah-based…  Nonetheless, many have a custom to train their children to fast a few hours, each one according to his or her strength.  But children should not fast all day long (Rama of Panow 111; see KHC 554:23).  When feeding children on a fast day, one should give them only simple foods, in order to teach them to mourn with the congregation (MB 550:5).

Soldiers, Brides and Grooms

Soldiers who are engaged in a defensive operation that is liable to be compromised if they fast should eat and drink as usual so that they can carry out their mission properly.  However, soldiers who are merely training must fast.

Brides and grooms are obligated to fast on the minor fast days.  Even though they have a mitzvah to rejoice for seven days after their wedding, and they are therefore forbidden to accept upon themselves a private fast, nonetheless, they must observe public fasts, because public mourning overrides private joy.  Although when the fast is postponed from Shabbat to Sunday, like this year, the bride and groom are allowed to break the fast after Mincha Gedolah in the afternoon (Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 7:9, footnote 12).

The Aneinu Prayer

The Rabbis prescribed that we add a special blessing for the fast, called Aneinu, in our prayers.  The cantor inserts it in between the blessings of Go’el Yisrael and Refa’einu when he repeats the Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharit and Minchah.  He says it only if there are at least six people in the congregation fasting, and he has to be one of them (SA 566:5).

Individuals, however, do not say Aneinu as a separate blessing in their silent prayers.  Rather, they insert it in the middle of the blessing of Shomei’a Tefillah (Ta’anit 13b).  There are various customs as to when we say Aneinu.  Some say that one should recite Aneinu in all three prayers of the day.  And even though we do not fast at night, one should say it in Ma’ariv because the day as a whole is called a fast day.  Yemenite Jews and some Sefardic Jews follow this custom.  Most Sefardim say Aneinu only when the fast is in effect.  Therefore, on the minor fasts they say it in Shacharit and Minchah, and on Tish’a B’Av, they say it also in Ma’ariv (based on Razah, KHC 565:17).  Ashkenazi Jews are accustomed to saying Aneinu in Minchah alone, because they are concerned that perhaps someone will say it in Shacharit, become weak during the day, and break his fast.  Then, his statement “on this day of our fast” will turn out to be a lie.  Therefore, they say Aneinu only in Minchah, because one who has fasted this long will probably complete the fast (based on the Geonim and Rashi; Rama 565:3).  Everyone should continue his family custom.

One who eats less than an olive-sized portion of food or drinks less than a cheek full of liquid is considered to still be fasting and should say Aneinu.  But if one eats or drinks more than that, he has broken his fast and may not recite Aneinu.

Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessings) During Mincha

Throughout the year, the kohanim (“priests”) do not lift their hands to bless the people during Mincha services, because people usually eat a meal before Mincha and we are concerned that the kohanim might bless the people when they are drunk, which is forbidden.  On fast days that have a Ne’ilah service, like Yom Kippur and the fasts that the Rabbis instituted for droughts, the kohanim bless the people during Ne’ilah, because there is no reason to fear that they will be drunk, seeing that it is a fast day.  During Mincha of those days, however, the kohanim do not bless the people for fear that they may mistakenly think that they are supposed to do so on regular days, as well.  Regarding ordinary fast days, on which we do not pray Ne’ilah, the law depends on when the congregants pray Mincha.  If they pray at the same time that Ne’ilah is usually said [i.e., shortly before sunset], the kohanim bless the people.  But if the congregation prays Mincha earlier, Birkat Kohanim is omitted, since it is not the time designated for Ne’ilah.  In such a case, the cantor, as well, omits “Elokeinu v’Elokai Avoteinu,” which is customarily said when no kohanim are present.

Therefore, it is fitting to call Mincha on fast days for a time that enables people to merit participating in the mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim.  Ideally, one should pray Mincha within half an hour of sunset, which is the best time to pray Ne’ilah.  Nevertheless, as long as the congregation prays after plag mincha, the kohanim may lift their hands and bless the people.  If they pray earlier than that, however, Birkat Kohanim is omitted.

kohen who is not fasting should not ascend the platform to bless the people.  And if there are no other kohanim, some authorities say that he still may not go up, while others maintain that he should.  The latter opinion goes as far as to say that he should go up even if there is one other kohen (Lu’ach Eretz YisraelHalichot ShlomoTefilla 10:13).  If there are less than six people fasting, no kohen should go up to bless the congregation during Mincha, even if he is fasting (see Piskei Teshuvot129:2).

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