Torah Study or Profession

“A Spade With Which To Dig”
The Mishnah (Avot 4:6) begins by teaching us the desired intention
when studying Torah:
“If one learns [Torah] in order to teach, he is given the means to
learn and to teach; if one learns in order to do, he is given the
means to learn, to teach, to observe, and to do.”

The Mishnah continues:
“Rabbi Tzaddok says, ‘Do not make the teachings of the Torah into a
crown with which to adorn (i.e., be proud of) yourself, nor like a
spade with which to dig (i.e., earn a living).’ Hillel would say, ‘One
who makes use of his crown passes away.’ From here we see that whoever
derives benefits from his Torah knowledge removes himself from the
world.”

The Practice of the Talmudic Sages
This was indeed the practice of the great Torah scholars from the
Talmudic era. No less an authority than Hillel the Elder, before being
appointed to the position of president of the Great Sanhedrin, would
earn a meager salary as a woodcutter. When he took his position as
president, however, the community bestowed great wealth upon him. This
was the rule. Whoever was appointed to a position of authority, such
as president of the Sanhedrin or deputy to the president, would be
made wealthy by the community. The practice of enriching community
leaders was carried out because having rich and distinguished leaders
brought honor to the community, for wealth caused their leaders’ words
to carry more weight. It is told of R’ Abba of Acco that he was poor,
and R’ Abahu went out of his way to have him appointed to an important
position so that he should be granted wealth (Sotah 40a).

However, other Torah scholars who did not hold positions of authority
did not live at the expense of the community – even very great Torah
scholars. R’ Shimon HaPakuli used to make cotton; R’ Yochanan the
Cobbler used to earn his living repairing shoes; R’ Meir supported
himself by performing scribal work; R’ Pappa used to plant trees; etc.
In those days, people used to assist the rabbis in their work and
business. Rabbis were thus able to earn what they needed in a short
period of time, while dedicating most of their time to Torah study.

Rambam’s Position
In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam comes out strongly against
those who study Torah and demand that the community support them. He
brings numerous examples of leading Torah authorities from the period
of the Mishnah who would earn their own living and never even
considered having the community support them.

Accordingly, Rambam rules, “One who decides that instead of working he
will occupy himself with Torah study and live from charity, profanes
God’s name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of the law,
brings harm upon himself, and removes himself from the World to Come,
for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Torah in this world.
Hence, the sages teach: ‘Whoever derives benefit from his Torah
knowledge removes himself from the world’; they have also commanded
us, saying: ‘Do not make them (the teachings of the Torah) into a
crown with which to adorn yourself, nor like a spade with which to
dig’; they have also commanded us, saying: ‘Love labor and despise
status’; and, “Any Torah that is not accompanied by labor is destined
to be nullified and to lead to transgression, and such a person will
end up robbing other people.’”

The Tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar
On the other hand, it is well known that the tribe of Zevulun occupied
itself with commerce and supported the Torah scholars from the tribe
of Yissachar, and in this regard the sages taught,
“When Moses came to bless the tribes of Israel, he blessed Zevulun
before Yissachar, in accordance with the verse: ‘It is a Tree of Life
for those who cling to it, and those who support it are
content’” (Bereshit Rabba 72:5, 99:9).

Rambam Approves of Such an Approach
Rambam, of course, approves of the practice of Zevulun and Yissachar.
And while he holds that earning a living through the sweat of one’s
brow is praiseworthy and pious behavior as he writes in Hilkhot Tamud
Torah 3:11],
“One who earns a living through his own labors possesses a great
virtue, and such was the custom of the early pietists, and one who
behaves in this manner merits all honor and goodness in this world and
attains the World to Come, as the verse states, ‘When you eat the
labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with
you.’”),
a person is not obligated to adopt such a pious practice. In fact,
sometimes, in order to disseminate Torah amongst the Jewish people, it
is preferable to forgo such piety. Indeed, for years Rambam himself
studied Torah diligently while being supported by his brother David
who dealt in commerce. Only after his brother drowned at sea was
Rambam forced to go into medicine in order to support his family and
the family of his brother.

Do not make yourself dependent upon the community
We find, then, that the difference between the prohibition of
supporting oneself through the Torah on the one hand, and the practice
of Yissachar on the other, is in two areas: (a) the pure intention of
the student, and (b) that it be done respectfully, not disgracefully.
Members of the tribe of Yissachar did not study Torah in order to earn
a living. They no doubt had fields and were accustomed to working
them. Rather, members of the tribe of Zevulun, possessing as they did
great wealth, approached the tribe of Yissachar and encouraged them to
spend more time studying Torah. To this end the tribe of Zevulun would
be willing to support them financially. It never occurred, though, to
the tribe of Yissachar to approach the tribe of Zevulun in order to
ask for such support.

The Dissenters from Rambam’s Opinion
Many early Torah authorities disagree with Rambam on this issue. They
argue that if Torah scholars were to refrain from receiving money from
the community, the light of Torah would be extinguished from the midst
of Israel, and there would be no one to teach the people Torah.

Even those who disagree with Rambam admit that to eschew the financial
support of the community is a pious attribute and that, in the days of
the Talmud, Torah scholars indeed worked to support themselves while
at the same time establishing many students. However, say these
authorities, over the course of time there was a decline in Torah
greatness, and it is no longer possible to occupy oneself with earning
a living while studying and teaching Torah.

In the age of the Mishnah and the Talmud most emphasis was placed on
depth of understanding, for the quantity of Mishnayot and Baraithot
was not so great, and study was, for the most part, aimed at deepening
the Torah foundations. It would appear that their labor did not
prevent them from continuing to deepen their Torah contemplations as
they worked. However, with the passing of time, the number of opinions
and interpretations multiplied and the learning material grew
immensely, and students of Torah were forced to spend many more hours
studying in depth and memorizing the Talmud, the Geonim, and the works
of the early authorities.

Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach, in his work Hatashbetz (vol. 1, pp.
142-148), agrees with the above opinion and cites many supporting
sources. The great later authorities, most importantly R’ Yosef Karo
(Kesef Mishneh, Beit Yosef 246) and R’ Moshe Isserles (Yoreh Heah
246:21), ruled likewise.

Dispensation for Yeshivah Students Who Plan To Teach
In addition to everything we have said so far, because of the gradual
decline in Torah scholarship and the great increase in books, it goes
without saying that it is impossible to produce even moderate Torah
scholars unless they study Torah on a full time basis. And if the
community does not finance the study of these Yeshiva students, there
will not arise any Torah scholars who will be able to teach and guide
the next generation.
Hence, though according to the letter of the law it would be best if
those who learn Torah would earn their income through the labor of
their own hands, over the course of time it has become necessary to
change the original custom and to support Torah students in order that
the Torah continue to thrive in Israel’s midst.
This, moreover, is the desire of the community. The community wants to
foster Torah scholarship in order to assure that Torah scholars will
arise who will be able to teach Torah and render rulings on questions
of Jewish law. And since the only way to realize such a goal is by
allowing students to dedicate themselves to Torah study on a full time
basis, the community donates funds in order to support Talmudic
academies in which Torah students and educators learn. This position
is taken by Maharashal and Shakh (Yoreh Deah 246:20), as well as R’
Chaim ben Attar (Rishon LeTziyon 246:21).

An Additional Dispensation for Our Generation
An additional problem has arisen in our own generation, namely, that
many youths are slow to reach a level of knowledge that allows them to
live in accordance with the Torah. Therefore, because there is a
commandment to educate children so that they know the Torah and are
able to live according to its laws, parents must continue to finance
their children’s studies for another few years in the Yeshiva in order
that they succeed in acquiring a firm Torah foundation. And because
there are parents who are not able to pay for their children’s
education (and there are even some parents who do not want to pay),
the community as a whole must take this responsibility. Therefore, it
is necessary to gather donations in order to support Yeshivas.

Students Who Are Not Suited To Teach
However, after a student has studied for a number of years in a
Yeshiva and has received a firm Torah foundation, it is best to direct
him according to his talent and ambition – whether in the field of
Torah, viz., education or Rabbinate, or towards some practical
occupation which suits his character, such as, for example, business
management.

As far as our present inquiry is concerned, if a person finds that he
is not suited to be a teacher or to serve in the Rabbinate, he is no
longer permitted to study Torah on a full time basis and to be
supported by the community or from charity.

This is the path which we follow at Yeshiva Har Bracha. Upon
completion of the standard course of study, which lasts five years
(and includes military service), each student chooses the path in life
that he feels truly suits him – whether in religious or secular
vocations. The Yeshiva, for its part, encourages each student to be
true to his unique character. In this manner, many of our students go
on to learn a profession, and they do this on the most prestigious
level that they possibly can according to their ability. At the same
time, they continue to set fixed times for Torah study each day,
internalizing values of self-sacrifice and love for the Torah and its
study and for the scrupulous performance of the commandments. They
also strive to practice much charity and kindness, to aid in the
development of the Land of Israel, and to sanctify God’s sacred name.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed is the Dean of Yeshiva Har Bracha and a prolific
author on Jewish Law. Rabbi Melamed is one of the most active leaders
amongst the religious-Zionist public. Parts of this article were
translated either from his highly acclaimed series on Jewish law
“Pininei
Halacha” or from his popular weekly column “Revivim” which appears in
the Basheva newspaper. Rabbi Melamed’s books “The Laws of Prayer” “The
Laws of Passover” and “Nation, Land, Army” are presently being
translated into English, and are due to be printed, please God, in the
near future. Other interesting and informative articles by Rabbi
Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1 This article also appears
at: www.Yeshiva.org.il

Torah Study or Profession?
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

“A Spade With Which To Dig”
The Mishnah (Avot 4:6) begins by teaching us the desired intention
when studying Torah:
“If one learns [Torah] in order to teach, he is given the means to
learn and to teach; if one learns in order to do, he is given the
means to learn, to teach, to observe, and to do.”

The Mishnah continues:
“Rabbi Tzaddok says, ‘Do not make the teachings of the Torah into a
crown with which to adorn (i.e., be proud of) yourself, nor like a
spade with which to dig (i.e., earn a living).’ Hillel would say, ‘One
who makes use of his crown passes away.’ From here we see that whoever
derives benefits from his Torah knowledge removes himself from the
world.”

The Practice of the Talmudic Sages
This was indeed the practice of the great Torah scholars from the
Talmudic era. No less an authority than Hillel the Elder, before being
appointed to the position of president of the Great Sanhedrin, would
earn a meager salary as a woodcutter. When he took his position as
president, however, the community bestowed great wealth upon him. This
was the rule. Whoever was appointed to a position of authority, such
as president of the Sanhedrin or deputy to the president, would be
made wealthy by the community. The practice of enriching community
leaders was carried out because having rich and distinguished leaders
brought honor to the community, for wealth caused their leaders’ words
to carry more weight. It is told of R’ Abba of Acco that he was poor,
and R’ Abahu went out of his way to have him appointed to an important
position so that he should be granted wealth (Sotah 40a).

However, other Torah scholars who did not hold positions of authority
did not live at the expense of the community – even very great Torah
scholars. R’ Shimon HaPakuli used to make cotton; R’ Yochanan the
Cobbler used to earn his living repairing shoes; R’ Meir supported
himself by performing scribal work; R’ Pappa used to plant trees; etc.
In those days, people used to assist the rabbis in their work and
business. Rabbis were thus able to earn what they needed in a short
period of time, while dedicating most of their time to Torah study.

Rambam’s Position
In his commentary to the Mishna, Rambam comes out strongly against
those who study Torah and demand that the community support them. He
brings numerous examples of leading Torah authorities from the period
of the Mishnah who would earn their own living and never even
considered having the community support them.

Accordingly, Rambam rules, “One who decides that instead of working he
will occupy himself with Torah study and live from charity, profanes
God’s name, disgraces the Torah, extinguishes the light of the law,
brings harm upon himself, and removes himself from the World to Come,
for it is forbidden to derive benefit from the Torah in this world.
Hence, the sages teach: ‘Whoever derives benefit from his Torah
knowledge removes himself from the world’; they have also commanded
us, saying: ‘Do not make them (the teachings of the Torah) into a
crown with which to adorn yourself, nor like a spade with which to
dig’; they have also commanded us, saying: ‘Love labor and despise
status’; and, “Any Torah that is not accompanied by labor is destined
to be nullified and to lead to transgression, and such a person will
end up robbing other people.’”

The Tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar
On the other hand, it is well known that the tribe of Zevulun occupied
itself with commerce and supported the Torah scholars from the tribe
of Yissachar, and in this regard the sages taught,
“When Moses came to bless the tribes of Israel, he blessed Zevulun
before Yissachar, in accordance with the verse: ‘It is a Tree of Life
for those who cling to it, and those who support it are
content’” (Bereshit Rabba 72:5, 99:9).

Rambam Approves of Such an Approach
Rambam, of course, approves of the practice of Zevulun and Yissachar.
And while he holds that earning a living through the sweat of one’s
brow is praiseworthy and pious behavior as he writes in Hilkhot Tamud
Torah 3:11],
“One who earns a living through his own labors possesses a great
virtue, and such was the custom of the early pietists, and one who
behaves in this manner merits all honor and goodness in this world and
attains the World to Come, as the verse states, ‘When you eat the
labor of your hands, you shall be happy and it shall be well with
you.’”),
a person is not obligated to adopt such a pious practice. In fact,
sometimes, in order to disseminate Torah amongst the Jewish people, it
is preferable to forgo such piety. Indeed, for years Rambam himself
studied Torah diligently while being supported by his brother David
who dealt in commerce. Only after his brother drowned at sea was
Rambam forced to go into medicine in order to support his family and
the family of his brother.

Do not make yourself dependent upon the community
We find, then, that the difference between the prohibition of
supporting oneself through the Torah on the one hand, and the practice
of Yissachar on the other, is in two areas: (a) the pure intention of
the student, and (b) that it be done respectfully, not disgracefully.
Members of the tribe of Yissachar did not study Torah in order to earn
a living. They no doubt had fields and were accustomed to working
them. Rather, members of the tribe of Zevulun, possessing as they did
great wealth, approached the tribe of Yissachar and encouraged them to
spend more time studying Torah. To this end the tribe of Zevulun would
be willing to support them financially. It never occurred, though, to
the tribe of Yissachar to approach the tribe of Zevulun in order to
ask for such support.

The Dissenters from Rambam’s Opinion
Many early Torah authorities disagree with Rambam on this issue. They
argue that if Torah scholars were to refrain from receiving money from
the community, the light of Torah would be extinguished from the midst
of Israel, and there would be no one to teach the people Torah.

Even those who disagree with Rambam admit that to eschew the financial
support of the community is a pious attribute and that, in the days of
the Talmud, Torah scholars indeed worked to support themselves while
at the same time establishing many students. However, say these
authorities, over the course of time there was a decline in Torah
greatness, and it is no longer possible to occupy oneself with earning
a living while studying and teaching Torah.

In the age of the Mishnah and the Talmud most emphasis was placed on
depth of understanding, for the quantity of Mishnayot and Baraithot
was not so great, and study was, for the most part, aimed at deepening
the Torah foundations. It would appear that their labor did not
prevent them from continuing to deepen their Torah contemplations as
they worked. However, with the passing of time, the number of opinions
and interpretations multiplied and the learning material grew
immensely, and students of Torah were forced to spend many more hours
studying in depth and memorizing the Talmud, the Geonim, and the works
of the early authorities.

Rabbi Shimon ben Tzemach, in his work Hatashbetz (vol. 1, pp.
142-148), agrees with the above opinion and cites many supporting
sources. The great later authorities, most importantly R’ Yosef Karo
(Kesef Mishneh, Beit Yosef 246) and R’ Moshe Isserles (Yoreh Heah
246:21), ruled likewise.

Dispensation for Yeshivah Students Who Plan To Teach
In addition to everything we have said so far, because of the gradual
decline in Torah scholarship and the great increase in books, it goes
without saying that it is impossible to produce even moderate Torah
scholars unless they study Torah on a full time basis. And if the
community does not finance the study of these Yeshiva students, there
will not arise any Torah scholars who will be able to teach and guide
the next generation.
Hence, though according to the letter of the law it would be best if
those who learn Torah would earn their income through the labor of
their own hands, over the course of time it has become necessary to
change the original custom and to support Torah students in order that
the Torah continue to thrive in Israel’s midst.
This, moreover, is the desire of the community. The community wants to
foster Torah scholarship in order to assure that Torah scholars will
arise who will be able to teach Torah and render rulings on questions
of Jewish law. And since the only way to realize such a goal is by
allowing students to dedicate themselves to Torah study on a full time
basis, the community donates funds in order to support Talmudic
academies in which Torah students and educators learn. This position
is taken by Maharashal and Shakh (Yoreh Deah 246:20), as well as R’
Chaim ben Attar (Rishon LeTziyon 246:21).

An Additional Dispensation for Our Generation
An additional problem has arisen in our own generation, namely, that
many youths are slow to reach a level of knowledge that allows them to
live in accordance with the Torah. Therefore, because there is a
commandment to educate children so that they know the Torah and are
able to live according to its laws, parents must continue to finance
their children’s studies for another few years in the Yeshiva in order
that they succeed in acquiring a firm Torah foundation. And because
there are parents who are not able to pay for their children’s
education (and there are even some parents who do not want to pay),
the community as a whole must take this responsibility. Therefore, it
is necessary to gather donations in order to support Yeshivas.

Students Who Are Not Suited To Teach
However, after a student has studied for a number of years in a
Yeshiva and has received a firm Torah foundation, it is best to direct
him according to his talent and ambition – whether in the field of
Torah, viz., education or Rabbinate, or towards some practical
occupation which suits his character, such as, for example, business
management.

As far as our present inquiry is concerned, if a person finds that he
is not suited to be a teacher or to serve in the Rabbinate, he is no
longer permitted to study Torah on a full time basis and to be
supported by the community or from charity.

This is the path which we follow at Yeshiva Har Bracha. Upon
completion of the standard course of study, which lasts five years
(and includes military service), each student chooses the path in life
that he feels truly suits him – whether in religious or secular
vocations. The Yeshiva, for its part, encourages each student to be
true to his unique character. In this manner, many of our students go
on to learn a profession, and they do this on the most prestigious
level that they possibly can according to their ability. At the same
time, they continue to set fixed times for Torah study each day,
internalizing values of self-sacrifice and love for the Torah and its
study and for the scrupulous performance of the commandments. They
also strive to practice much charity and kindness, to aid in the
development of the Land of Israel, and to sanctify God’s sacred name.

Material Reward, Spiritual Beauty

Reward for Mitzvoth

Why does the Torah mention only the material reward which is given to
one who upholds the commandments; why is the spiritual reward – a
reward which awaits the deserving in the World to Come – only hinted
at? Many answers have been given to this famous question, and all of
them are good and correct. Yet, the simplest and most basic answer of
all is the one given by Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra in his classic Torah
commentary (see Deuteronomy 32:39). If the Torah had revealed the
spiritual reward that awaits a person in the World to Come, explains
Ibn Ezra, only a select few would be able to grasp its significance.
As a result, few would exert themselves to fulfill the Mitzvoth. The
value of earthly reward, though, can be appreciated by all.

Another explanation is that man’s eventual spiritual reward is so
obvious that it need not be mentioned outright by the Torah. It is
obvious that the soul is refined through the fulfillment of
commandments. The real novelty is that the perfection which comes
through the fulfillment of the Mitzvoth is not limited to the World to
Come – it is of an all-encompassing nature, finding expression even in
the physical bounty and joy of this world (see Ramban on Exodus 6:2;
Leviticus 26:11).

Having touched upon the relation between the physical and spiritual,
let us go a step further and view this relationship in light of a
moving question that was put to me.

The Question of Beauty
Question: I am a twenty-seven year old single woman, and I have many
single girl friends like myself. We are all victims of the same
painful phenomenon. Nearly all young men place great importance on
physical beauty. Yet, one does not marry a photograph; one marries a
human being with thoughts and feelings. So why then is beauty so
important? One of my friends who has some experience in match-making
tells me that if a man is not told in advance that his intended match
is pretty, or that she at least has “a lot of charm,” he will usually
not agree to meet with her. Why should man’s nature be such? We women
are not getting any younger or any more attractive.

Answer: If a man’s only incentive in marrying was to fulfill a Torah
commandment, it is possible that only one in a thousand would actually
wed. The rest would find excuses in order to exempt them from this
obligation. Similarly, if the food that God created for us was
gray-colored and repulsive, even if it contained all the essential
vitamins, many people would become sick and even die of malnutrition.

Outer appearance and initial attraction constitute the gate through
which couples enter into everlasting union. If, after this initial
stage, a couple continues to build its relationship according to the
guidance of the Torah, observing the laws of modesty and showing
increased love for one another, its relationship will flourish. The
more their wisdom and sensitivity grow, the more the bond between them
is strengthened. If this route is taken, the pair’s love will grow
endlessly stronger, despite aging and all that comes with it.

When we one day merit the complete Redemption and the Resurrection of
the Dead, the physical body will accurately reflect the state of the
soul; the more that the soul is refined, the more beautiful the body
will become. When this happens the elderly will be more beautiful than
the young. The Sages teach that the Matriarchs possessed this sort of
beauty, as did Moses who’s “cheeks never sank.”

Beauty which Reflects Essence
Question: Should not young men be taught that outer beauty is not all
that counts?
Answer: Yes, young men should be taught this lesson. All the same, it
is not possible to do away with man’s appreciation for beauty, for
this is part of his nature. Furthermore, such appreciation is good,
for it allows marriage to be accompanied by a feeling of joy.

The Talmud relates a story about a certain individual whose family
pressured him to marry one of his own relatives. Yet, because she was
unattractive he jumped up and vowed that he would never marry her. She
approached Rabbi Ishmael, who took her in and saw to it that she be
adorned and beautified. After she had been fittingly made up, Rabbi
Ishmael asked the young man if this was the woman that he had sworn
not to marry. He answered, “No, for now I find her very attractive.”
At that moment Rabbi Ishmael lifted up his voice and cried, “Indeed,
all Daughters of Israel are beautiful, only that poverty renders them
unattractive.” The Rabbi performed the same favor for a number of
other young women. When he passed away, the women lamented, saying,
“Daughters of Israel, cry over the loss of Rabbi Ishmael!” (Tractate
Nedarim, 61).

Now, it would have been possible to nullify the young man’s vow by
other means, for example, by convincing him that beauty is not the
most important factor when choosing a bride. Were the Rabbi able to
convince him of this, it would not have been difficult to find a
loophole for nullifying the young man’s vow. Rabbi Ishmael, though,
knew better than to take this path. He understood that it was
preferable for the young woman to beautify herself in the eyes of her
prospective groom so that he marries her joyfully.

The Torah is realistic. Rather than go against man’s nature, it
chooses to guide and direct it. True, it must be stressed that
admirable character traits are more important than beauty; on the
other hand, it is impossible to force a man to marry a woman that he
does not find attractive.
We are not interested in going against nature, for the Almighty has
filled creation with many layers of significance. Beauty merely
reflects inner vitality, or character, which resides beneath the
surface of physical appearances. Shallow people run after outer
appearance and ignore other, more important characteristics; those who
possess greater insight delve deeper, in order to uncover those
underlying characteristics which represent, for them, perfect beauty.

Beauty is Subjective
Every person possesses his or her own unique beauty, as Rabbi Ishmael
teaches us: “Indeed, all Daughters of Israel are beautiful.” When,
though, the age of marriage is put off, it becomes difficult to
perceive this unique beauty. The optimum vitality so characteristic of
youth decreases.

In truth, younger men are more open and more flexible and therefore
think that most of the girls they go out with are attractive. Often,
on the first date a young woman does not appear pretty in the eyes of
the young man, yet, as they get to know one another the man discovers
her true beauty, to the point where he does not even understand how he
could ever have thought that she was not beautiful.

More matured men, though, (from about the age of twenty-five) consider
only about half of the women they date attractive; the “elderly” (from
about twenty-eight) generally consider only a minority of the women
they meet with beautiful. It is difficult for them to discern the
subjective beauty that exists in every woman. It is possible to give
lectures on “grace is deceitful, and beauty is vain” (Proverbs 31:30).
This approach is somewhat effective. Yet, reality as a whole does not
change. This is the reason that it is difficult for older people to
marry. Even when they do marry, they often feel that they had no
choice but to compromise for somebody who was not exactly to their
liking.

Because of its great importance – according to our Sages God Himself
is busy arranging matches – I hope to return to this issue again in
the future.

The State of Israel

On the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, 5708 according to our
counting from the Creation of the World (May 14, 1948) when the
establishment of the State of Israel was declared, the Jewish nation,
after two thousand years of exile, merited to once again fulfill the
mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel. As a result of the declaration
and the implementation of sovereignty over parts of the land, we began
to fulfill the mitzvah of Eretz Yisrael being in our control and not
in the control of other nations. True, before the establishment of the
State, every single Jew who lived in the Land of Israel fulfilled the
individual mitzvah of settling the land. Nevertheless, the essential
aspect of the mitzvah, namely, its general facet, that the land be
ruled by the Jewish nation and not by foreigners, remained
unfulfilled. Even during times when many Jews lived in Eretz Yisrael,
as long as the land was under foreign rule, we did not merit the
fulfillment of the general mitzvah.
Likewise, the Sages decreed that one who sees the cities of Judea in
ruins says: “Your holy cities have become barren,” and tears his
garment. The general rule is that as long as sovereignty of the land,
or parts of it, is in the hands of non-Jews they are considered to be
in ruins, and one tears his garment upon seeing them. If, however,
these areas were under Jewish rule, even if the majority of its
inhabitants were non-Jews, they are not considered to be in ruins, and
one does not tear his garment upon seeing them (Beit Yosef, Bach,
Orach Chaim, 561:2).

Thus, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook ztz’l would emphasize, that on
Independence Day, we merited to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the
land. Once, at the Independence Day festivities at Yeshiva Merkaz
HaRav, a prominent rabbi spoke about the great value in the
establishment of the State, for since then, many yeshivot were started
and it became easier for religious Jews to keep Torah and mitzvoth.
Therefore, he concluded, we must be happy and thank G-d for the
establishment of the State. Our Rabbi and mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah
HaKohen Kook, took pains to add and emphasize that the very essence of
the establishment of the State was itself a tremendous event, it being
one of the greatest mitzvoth in the Torah. Subsequently, without
doubt, other mitzvoth would be fulfilled, for the fulfillment of a
mitzvah begets another mitzvah. In summary, the establishment of the
State itself is of great consequence, and not just as a means to
perform other mitzvoth. Additionally, the establishment of the State
and the blossoming of its desolate areas is an important stage in the
Redemption of Israel.

For many generations, we were forced into a situation where we could
not fulfill this mitzvah, for we lacked an army and weapons that would
facilitate the conquering of our land and establishing sovereignty
over it. It follows that the creation of Israel’s military power
before the establishment of the State, and its strengthening and
consolidation in the creation of the I.D.F., allow us to fulfill the
mitzvah. Thus, the mere existence of the army is a necessary means of
fulfilling the mitzvah to settle the land, in addition to the mitzvah
of saving Jews from their enemies. And so it will be until better days
arrive, when the prophetic vision of Isaiah is fulfilled (2:2-4): “And
it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the
Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and
shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto
it. And many people shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the
mountain of the Lord, to the house of the G-d of Jacob; and he will
teach us of his ways, ad we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion
shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he
shall judge among the nations, and shall decide among many people: and
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into
pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither
shall they learn war any more.”

Pondering Passover

Pondering Passover
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

SIGNIFICANCE OF THE TWO NAMES

Two terms are mentioned with regards to this holiday in the Torah:
Chag Hamatzot (“The Festival of Unleavened Bread”) and Chag HaPesach
(“The Holiday of the Pesach Sacrifice”) These names are parallel to
two aspects of the festival – one is the crystallization of the Nation
of Israel’s Emunah, or belief, in God – symbolized by the name “Chag
Hamatzot” – and Israel’s treasured status – symbolized by the name,
“Chag HaPesach.” In the course of the Exodus from Egypt, God’s
Providence over the world revealed itself in the most obvious,
concrete manner. Consequently, Jewish belief in Hashem is rooted in
the Exodus. This is what the Matzah, consumed on the Seder night,
symbolizes. In the words of the Passover Haggadah: “This matzah that
we eat, what is its significance? We eat it since our forefather’s
dough did not leaven prior to the moment when the King of Kings, the
Holy One Blessed Be He, appeared to them and redeemed them.”

The Nation of Israel’s unique, treasured status also manifested itself
during the Exodus. During the ten plagues, the distinction drawn by
God between Israel and Egypt became abundantly clear as the Egyptians
were consistently smitten while the Jews were consistently spared.
This sharp delineation was most stark during the smiting of the first
born, when God smote the Egyptian homes but “jumped over” Jewish ones.
The term “Pesach” is a reference to the “skipping over” of the
Israelite homes.

These two foundational ideas, belief in God and the uniqueness of the
Children of Israel, are also intertwined. We were formed into a new,
treasured nation during the Exodus so that we would ultimately receive
God’s Torah; Israel’s fate is dependent on its ongoing link to the
Divine: When the Jews perform the will of the Creator and sanctify His
name in the world, they are beneficiaries of all of the Torah’s
blessings. When, on the other hand, they transgress His will, all of
the misfortunes cited in the Torah befall them.

The sanctification of God’s name in the world is dependent upon
Israel, as the prophet Isaiah states: “I created this nation for me,
so that they would speak of My praises.” This is why God’s very
contemplation of the creation of Israel preceded the actual creation
of the world. The world was only created so that Israel would
introduce knowledge and understanding of God to the world. This is
also the meaning of the Talmudic passage that asserts that God made
His creation of the world contingent upon Israel’s receipt of the
Torah. If the Jews would have failed to accept and fulfill the Torah,
creation would have been without purpose, and the universe would have
justifiably been thrown back into chaos and disarray.

The treasured status of Israel was more sharply illustrated by the
fact that God chose us to be His nation, despite the fact that, at the
time, we were lowly slaves, immersed, as the Kabbalah tells us, in the
49th level of ritual impurity. In light of the above, the two names of
this holiday represent two themes that are really two sides of the
same coin. The reality of God was to be finally revealed to the world,
and the Jewish people were to be the vehicle for that revelation.

WHY THE EXTENDED SERVITUDE?

Question: Why was it necessary for the Jewish people, before they
became consolidated into a full-fledged nation, to be enslaved in
Egypt for such a long time and under such harsh conditions? Answer:
The destiny of the Nation of Israel is to morally improve the world.
In order for the nation to take on this challenge, it had to
experience, in a very concrete manner, the extent of suffering and
pain that one man could potentially cause to another.

On several occasions, when the Torah commands us in matters between
man and his fellow man, it reminds us of our national experience in
Egypt. “Do not oppress the stranger, since you know the soul of the
stranger, because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt. (Shmot 23,
9) Elsewhere, in Vayikra 19, 33-34, we are told: “When a stranger
lives with you in your land, do not oppress him. He should be treated
as a regular citizen…and you shall love him as yourself, because you
were strangers in the Land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” The
sages note that before God began to smite the Egyptians, He told Moshe
to command Israel regarding the Mitzvah of releasing servants. Why?
Before they left Egypt, they had to agree that in the future, when
they are free men and become masters of their own servants, they will
not take unfair advantage of those servants. Thus, after six years, a
Jewish slave-owner must release his servant – and even provide him
with generous “parting gifts”!(Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah, 3, 5)

Something truly wondrous happened during the exodus from Egypt: all
other nations, when they succeed in overcoming their oppressors,
become haughty, and themselves become the “taskmasters” of their
former masters. Yet Israel, even after the Egyptians were totally
beaten, did not attempt to overpower and dominate them. All the
Children of Israel cared about was their own freedom!

This was the first time that the ethical concept of the inherent
freedom of man was revealed to the world. It is against this backdrop
the festival of Pesach is referred to as the “Festival of Freedom.”
Our sages codified this in the text of the silent prayer for the
holiday, calling Pesach “the time of our redemption…” Not
coincidentally is this the first of the festivals, the holiday in
which the foundation of man’s freedom was laid; a free man has moral
responsibility for everything he does as an individual and as a member
of society. Perhaps this is also why they used to determine the years
of a king’s reign from the month of Nissan, so that the Jewish
monarchy would be firmly grounded in the concept of freedom.

THESIS AND ANTI-THESIS

Israel and Egypt are polar opposites: Egypt was a highly materialistic
society; Egyptians were believers in idolatry. But the Jewish nation
held an abstract, spiritual conception of the world, and therefore
only Israel could accept the abstract belief in the One God, who
possesses neither physical form or any other material quality.
Therefore, Israel’s relationship to the physical world is also pure
and perfect, This is why the people of Israel are, by their very
nature, modest and distant from sexual immorality. The Egyptians, on
the other hand, because of their focus on materialism, were very drawn
to sexual licentiousness. Thus, the Torah commands, in Vayikra 18:3,
“The deeds of Egypt, the land in which you dwelt, do not perform.” And
our sages say in the halachic midrash on Vayikra, Torat Cohanim:
“There was no nation as abominable in its actions as was Egypt.” The
Maharal of Prague, in his epic work, Gvurot Hashem, notes that this
was particularly true of the generations of Egyptians that enslaved
Israel.

No doubt that during this era, Egyptian society achieved great things
in terms of land development and usage, forging a stable system of
government, a sophisticated irrigation system, and an advanced
economic system – with the help of our forefather, Yosef. However,
these accomplishments were divorced from any spiritual context. The
Egyptians did not believe in the existence of an independent,
spiritual soul, but rather thought that the soul was dependent, even
subservient to its physical casing. This is why the Egyptians exerted
such great effort to embalm dead bodies, since they thought that man’s
whole reality was intertwined with their physical existence; a
person’s death was, for them, not the end of his physical existence,
it just meant that he could not speak or move. But in all other
senses, he is completely alive.

"The Golden Calf Replayed" (Part 1)

Gilad Shalit

Once again, the left-wing with assistance from the media is organizing
dances around their golden calf. This time it’s the demand to do
everything possible to return Gilad Shalit home. They compose songs,
light candles, etc, all to intensify the dancing around the new golden
calf. Professional demagogues compete with each other spreading
seemingly moral claims. One declares that the State of Israel made a
covenant with every soldier to return him home [if he is captured],
and it is forbidden to breach this covenant. The choir, in its
foolishness, follows along by saying that everything must be done to
return Gilad home.
The level of stupidity they have reached is unbelievable. The State of
Israel sends soldiers to be killed for the sake of the security of
Israel. She also sends soldiers to endanger their lives to capture
terrorists. All of a sudden, when a soldier falls captive, we have to
do ‘everything’ to return him?! Some even have the chutzpa to claim
that they are speaking in the name of the soldiers! It’s the soldiers
themselves who will be the first to pay the price if, G-d forbid,
‘everything’ is given to return the captive home.

The Hidden Motive

All of this has a motive. The left-wingers are interested in releasing
terrorists even without Gilad Shalit. The fact is that before every
Muslim holiday some type of ceremony is held freeing terrorists. In
deed, they are usually small fish, but never the less they are
released before their scheduled time. In the opinion of these left-
wingers, the war against terrorists is meaningless, for only Israel’s
surrender to their demands, including awarding the Arabs sovereignty
over Judea and Samaria and the right to settle anywhere in the land,
will lead to peace and quiet. Joining the left-wingers are myriads of
foolish, short-sighted people, whose intentions, to help the captive,
are good, but their vision is short-sighted.
If those left-wingers were asked to give up 2,000 shekels from their
salaries for a number of years for the sake of Gilad Shalit, suddenly
it would become clear that not ‘everything’ must be done for him. The
meaning of ‘everything’ is surrendering on the integrity of the State
of Israel and on the security of its citizens.

Idol Worship

This is the way of idol worship – to elevate one specific value,
thereby cancelling other values. It sounds good, and the idea is short
and catchy. “Peace Now” and all the problems will be solved. Or in the
new style: “Two states for two nations” and all the problems will be
solved. This is what’s presently happening with Gilad Shalit.
Even before we discuss the sin of idol worship and stupidity, we are
talking about people whose value system is sparse. These are people
who do not understand the purpose of the Jewish nation and the value
of the land of Israel. Therefore they are willing to surrender in the
name of the promised quiet. This is similar to when the people wanted
the Golden Calf, and didn’t have the patience to wait for Moshe
Rabbeinu for even a couple of days. Seemingly, they really didn’t want
him to return, therefore they were willing to accept the substitute of
the Golden Calf, whose religious demands were more moderate, and whose
preparation was quick and simple.

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel (Part 1)
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

The commandment, or mitzvah, to settle the Land of Israel is
obligatory upon both the individual Jew and the Jewish nation as a
whole. The mitzvah requires that the nation conquer and settle all of
the Land of Israel and that each individual Jew dwell in the Land.
Regarding the nation’s responsibility to take control of Israel and
settle it, Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, the Ramban, writes (in his
commentary on Maimonides’ Sefer HaMitzvoth): “We are commanded to
inherit the land that the almighty God gave to our forefathers
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and not to leave it in the hands of other
nations or in desolation, as it says, ‘Inherit the land and live in
it, since it is to you that I am giving the land to
occupy…'” (Numbers 33:53).

If we examine the Ramban’s words carefully we will discover that there
are two parts to the mitzvah of settling the Land. The first part
involves the Jewish people ruling exclusively over the Land of Israel,
or Eretz Yisrael, thus leaving no room for foreign governing in the
Land. Even when this is accomplished, however, the mitzvah is still
not considered complete. The second part of the mitzvah requires the
settling of every part of the Land, including the most desolate areas.
The mitzvah obligates us not only to dwell in developed cities or
towns, but to make the wasteland bloom as well. Only when the Land is
under Jewish rule and every part of it is settled, cultivated and
flourishing, will the commandment have been completely fulfilled.

The Ramban emphasizes that this commandment is applicable not only to
the period of time during which the Jews made their exodus from Egypt
and subsequently conquered Israel, but for all generations. In all
generations we are obligated to rule over the Land and to settle it.
Unfortunately, for much of our long history we have been incapable of
fulfilling this commandment, for we, the Jewish People, have been
confined to exile in both body and soul. Yet in recent times, through
the goodness of God, the end of the exile has begun to reveal itself –
our situation has changed and we are now once again able to fulfill
this mitzvah.

The Individual’s Part in the Complete Mitzvah

There are many levels involved in the individual’s part of the mitzvah
of settling the Land of Israel. Those who dwell in Israel are partners
in this mitzvah, for their presence strengthens the Jewish control of
the Land. Those who live in areas that are more desolate, such as the
desert, or in Judea and Samaria, fulfill the mitzvah on an even higher
level. Their presence in these parts of the Land contributes doubly to
the mitzvah, for they are not only strengthening the rule over the
areas in which other nations are attempting to wrest away from the
Jews, but they are also helping to ensure that all of the Land is
cultivated and settled. Those who live in other places in Israel that
are more isolated from Jewish presence and are surrounded by enemies,
are fulfilling the mitzvah to an even greater extent. The wise Sages
have said that the Land of Israel is only acquired through pain and
suffering; the greater the suffering, the greater the reward.

The commandment to settle the Land of Israel is unique in that, unlike
most other mitzvot, its fulfillment doesn’t involve the performance of
any specific act, such as laying tefillin, giving tzeddakah or
praying. Each Jew who lives in Israel is performing the mitzvah of
settling the Land just by his dwelling in it. It follows, that for
those who merit residing in the towns of Judea and Samaria, mundane
daily acts, such as breathing, eating and sleeping, become mitzvot in
themselves.

For those who live outside of Israel but financially support its
settlement, their partnership is limited as they are not fulfilling
the commandment with their physical presence. And those who do live in
Israel and also help to support its settlement towns are partners in
the settling of the Land’s holy places, which of course, raises the
level of greatness for this mitzvah.

Blessings Over Joy

Blessings Over Joy
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Thanking God for Both the Good and the Bad

The objective of pronouncing blessings is to cause us to always
remember the Creator, Who watches over all of His creatures at every
moment. By blessing we are repeatedly reminded that God does not
reside in some detached and lofty abode, but rather that every thing
which exists in our world does so by virtue of a divine inner spark.
Every single event which takes place in the world has spiritual
significance and a divine objective which beckons to be understood.
Hence, when a person experiences a certain joyous incident, he must
praise and thank the Creator, and pronounce the blessing
“Shehecheyanu.” On the other hand, if, Heaven forbid, one experiences
a tragedy, one must realize that this too is the result of God’s
providence, and though we do not always understand what sort of logic
lies behind such an event, we must all the same have faith and know
that God is a fair judge and that all of his decisions are just. In
such circumstances one therefore blesses, “Barukh Dayan
HaEment” (Blessed is the fair judge).
The knowledge that God runs the world, and that whatever occurs
happens as a result of His providence, gives meaning to every event in
life. When a person merits a joyous occasion, his joy is deepened by
his awareness of the fact that this was not the result of coincidence,
but of the hidden hand of God. And even if, Heaven forbid, a person
experiences a tragedy, he is better equipped to accept it when he
knows that it has meaning. The conviction that God watches over
creation adds light to the world even during difficult hours, for the
believer knows that even if at present he is not aware of what good
can possibly come out of this tragedy, he at any rate knows that
whatever God does in the world is, when all is said and done, for the
best. One, though, who does not possess faith, is faced with nothing
more that hardships, and the pain penetrates his heart, providing no
remedy or meaning.

“Shehecheyanu” and “HaTov VeHaMetiv”

The Sages introduced two blessings for the purchase of new and
gladdening items: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
Universe, who has granted us life and sustenance and permitted us to
reach this festive occasion,” and “Blessed are You…the beneficent
One, Who bestows good.” The difference between them is that so long as
the joy belongs exclusively to one individual, he must bless
“Sheyecheyanu.” Yet, when the joy is shared by two or more
individuals, it is collective, and they therefore bless, “the
beneficent One, Who bestows good.” Hence, if a couple buys, for
example, a heating furnace, cooking stove, table, chairs, beds, or
anything else connected to the needs of the home, because the joy is
shared by the two of them, they must bless, “the beneficent One, Who
bestows good.” But a single individual who buys the same items for
himself will bless, “Shehecheyanu.” The same goes for a new garment: a
dress, pants, skirt, or any other item which makes a person happy.
Over such things, one blesses “Shehecheyanu.” And even if the husband
is happy because his wife has a new garment, all the same, the real
and actual joy belongs to the woman, and therefore she alone
pronounces the blessing.

Winning the Lottery and Receiving an Inheritance

A person who wins the lottery must, of course, thank God and pronounce
a blessing. This is true not only for large amounts, but for small
amounts as well. Even a person who wins a few hundred shekels, and is
happy about this, must pronounce a blessing. The question is, though,
should he bless “Shehecheyanu or “the beneficent One…” If the winner
is single, or married yet each of the spouses has his or her own bank
account, since the money is really the winner’s alone, he or she must
pronounce the blessing. If, though, the money enters their joint
account, because it brings happiness to both of them, “the beneficent
One” must be pronounced.
The same is true regarding one who inherits money or property – he
must pronounce a blessing. And even though he would prefer to forgo
the inheritance and have his relative remain alive, all the same, the
blessing is pronounced for the benefit derived from the inheritance
which, nevertheless, causes happiness in its own right. Therefore,
when a close relative dies, one blesses: “Blessed be the True Judge”.
Afterwards, when the bereaved inheritor receives his inheritance, he
must thank God and pronounce the “Shehecheyanu” blessing. Here, too,
if he is a sole inheritor, he blesses, “Shehecheyanu,” but if a number
of individuals divide the inheritance between them, they must bless
“the beneficent One…” And if there is one inheritor, yet he is
married and a father of children, it would appear that if the money
enters into his and his wife’s joint account, they must bless “the
beneficient One…” for she too shares in the joy. If, though, the
inheritance goes into the benefactor’s own personal account, and is
not divided with the spouse, even though she will no doubt derive
indirect benefit from the inheritance, all the same, he pronounces the
“Shehecheyanu” blessing. This is because in principal the money
belongs to him, and theoretically she may end up deriving absolutely
no benefit from it whatsoever (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 223:2;
Mishnah Berurah 9; Biyur Halakhah, Dibbur Hamatchil: “Ein”).

A Gift

We have already mentioned the difference between the “Shehecheyanu”
and “the beneficent One…” blessings. i.e., so long as the joy is
shared by two or more individuals “the beneficent One” is pronounced;
when the joy is the sole possession of a single individual
“Shehecheyanu” is pronounced. For example, if a woman buys a new dress
for herself, she blesses “Shehecheyanu.” And despite the fact that it
also makes her husband happy, the actual tangible enjoyment is the
woman’s. Interestingly, though, when a husband buys his wife a dress
as a gift, even though the woman is the one who wears the dress, the
Shulchan Arukh says (Orach Chaim 223:5) that she blesses “the
beneficent One…” The reason for this is that by giving the gift to
his wife the husband became an active participant in the joy. The same
is true regarding any gift that a person gives to his fellow. The one
who receives the gift must bless “the beneficient One…”
There are, though, authorities who disagree and hold that because the
one who gives the gift receives no actual tangible pleasure, he is not
to a true partner in the pleasure, and therefore the one who receives
must pronounce the “Shehecheyanu” blessing (Mishnah Beruruah 223, 21).
In such a situation, then, the one who receives the gift may chose how
to bless, for either of the two blessings is acceptable.

"The Month of Adar"

The Month of Adar

The Sages of the Talmud teach that when the month of Av begins, we
lessen our joy; when, though, the month of Adar begins we increase our
joy. They, in fact, are subtly telling us that there is no coincidence
in the world, and that each season has a unique character and nature
of its own. The fact that the destruction of the First and Second
Temples occurred on the ninth of Av is an indication that the
beginning of the month of Av, by its very nature, is a time of
retribution; the fact that the Purim festival took place in the middle
of the month of Adar is a sign that the month of Adar possesses a
unique capacity to transform the bad into good.

Rav Papa adds that if a Jew has a court case or business transaction
with a stranger in the month of Av he should do his best to avoid it,
for this month is a time of misfortune for him. He should try to
arrange such undertakings in the month of Adar. In Adar, a Jew enjoys
good fortune. Now, if this is true concerning an individual Jew, how
much more so regarding the People of Israel as a whole. It follows
that there is no better time of year for dialogue between Israel and
the nations than the month of Adar. As in the days of Purim when evil
decrees were transformed to good, so too in our days all the evil
thoughts of the nations will be transformed to blessings and success.

The Four Parshiot

In addition to the fixed arrangement of weekly Torah-readings, the
sages instituted the reading of four special Torah portions, or
Parshiot, in the month of Adar.
The first is Parshat-Shekalim (Numbers 28:9-15). This reading was
instituted in order to remind the entire People of Israel to donate
the yearly half-shekel contribution – a contribution used to purchase
the communal sacrifices which were to be offered up in the Holy
Temple. Concerning this sum there was no difference between rich and
poor; each was commanded to give a half-shekel, no less and no more.
This contribution can be seen as an indication that concerning the
most fundamental act carried out in the Temple – the offering of
sacrifices – every Jew is equal. Even if money was left over from the
previous year, the sacrifices for the coming year would not be bought
with it; the Torah demands that each year’s sacrifices be purchased
from the donations of the new year. The year, as far as sacrifices are
concerned, begins on the first of the month of Nisan. Therefore, each
year on the first of Adar (the month preceding Nisan), the courts
would make an announcement reminding people of the half-shekel
offering so that during the month of Adar everybody would bring their
contribution. With the beginning of Nisan, the communal sacrifices
would be bought from the new contributions. In order to strengthen the
court announcement, it was instituted that Parshat-Shekalim be read on
the Sabbath before the first of Adar. And if the first of Adar falls
on Sabbath, Parashat Shekalim is read therein. With the destruction of
the Temple, the sages enacted the continued reading Parshat-Shekalim,
in remembrance of the Temple and the mitzvah of the half-shekel.

Following Parshat-Shekalim is Parshat-Zachor (Deut. 25:17-19). In
reading this portion of the Torah we fulfill the Mitzvah to remember
what the nation of Amalek did to us. The sages instituted its reading
just before Purim in order to link this mitzvah to the Purim holiday
on which we celebrate the blotting out of Haman who was of Amalekite
genealogy.
The third Parasha is Parshat-Parah (Numbers 19:1-22). In this portion
we learn about the practice of ritual purification in order that we
are able to go to the Holy Temple and offer up sacrifices. The Sages
instituted its reading just before the month of Nisan in order that we
prepare and purify ourselves for the offering of the Passover
sacrifice.
The fourth and final Parasha is Parshat-HaChodesh (Exodus 12:1-20),
and it was instituted to be read on the Sabbath before the first of
Nisan. If the first of Nisan happens to fall on the Sabbath, Parshat-
HaChodesh is read therein. Its reading was instituted in order to
remind us that the month (Chodesh) of Nisan is the first month of the
Jewish calendar. In addition, Parshat-HaChodesh makes mention of
Passover preparations.

"Saving Another's Life"

“Thou shall not stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor”

The Torah commands one to save someone who is in danger. As the Torah
also obligates one to return lost items to a neighbor “and you shall
return it to him” (Dvarim 22:2), even more so is it a mitzvah to save
another persons life. The Talmud in Sanhedrim (73a) asks a question
“From where do we know that if your neighbor is drowning, or some wild
beast is about to devour him, or he is about to be murdered by bandits
that one is obligated to save him? The Torah says “Neither shall you
stand aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:16).

The mitzvah of “Loving your neighbor as you love yourself” was
considered by Rabbi Akiva to be a fundamental principle in the Torah
because it is the basis for good relations between one another and
promotes a healthy society. In addition to this mitzvah the Torah
delineates two other mitzvoth pertaining to human relations: 1)”and
you shall return it to him” and 2)”Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor.” It is not enough for one to smile at
his neighbor and declare one’s good feelings toward him, the Torah
demands that one take this relationship a step further and assume a
concrete responsibility for his neighbor’s welfare.

Therefore, if a Jew is in mortal danger it is forbidden to stand aside
and be apathetic, rather one needs to take every possible action
necessary in order to save his life. If each Jew would act in this way
and all of the Jewish nation would feel a mutual dependence on and
responsibility for one another, the nation would subsequently be
better able to deal with the dangers it encounters from its enemies.
The goal of a united Jewish state would then be more easily
established which would provide the basis for a more perfect world, as
the prophets envisioned, and for the ultimate redemption.

Does The Rescuer Need To Endanger His Life?

An important question concerning “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is: To what extent does one need to
carry out this obligation in order to fulfill the mitzvah? In other
words, what is the halacha (Jewish law) in regards to putting oneself
in danger in order to save the life of another person? Does the
mitzvah only apply when there is no danger to one’s own life? If, for
example, a person should see his friend drowning in the river and it
is clear to him that by trying to save his friend he will probably
drown himself, is he obligated to try to save him anyway?

There are two approaches to this question. The first approach includes
those who feel that the mitzvah “Thou shall not stand aside when
mischief befalls your neighbor” is the same as all the rest of the
mitzvoth in the Torah in that a Jew is meant to live by the Torah and
its mitzvoth and not to die by them. It, therefore, follows that just
as one need not endanger himself in order to fulfill other mitzvoth,
one is also not obligated to risk his life in order to save another
person’s life. However, it is clear that one should not be overly
cautious with this mitzvah at a time when someone else is in a life
threatening situation. Just as one is often willing to take calculated
risks for the sake of one’s profession or in order to make a living,
one should take some risk to save a fellow Jew. Some jobs require one
to climb to great heights, while others need to sail to the far seas
or handle dangerous substances. Still others will take small risks to
save their possessions from a fire. Even more so is it required to
take such risks with one’s life when attempting to save another from a
life threatening situation. The tractate in Sanhedrin (73a) confirms
that one should be willing to endanger himself to some extent in order
to save another’s life, by doing such acts as jumping in a river to
save someone who is drowning, or warding off wild predators or
bandits, even though all of these acts involve some form of danger.
The idea of not being too cautious with this mitzvah is carried even
further as it is stated in the Petchei Tshuva (Chosen Mishpat 426,
Mishne Brura 329:19) that one who is overly cautious will eventually
find himself in a similar dangerous and life threatening situation
(‘mida kneged mida’) with nobody willing to take even a small risk to
save him. A person is not obligated, however, to save his fellow Jew
if it puts him in great and possibly even mortal danger, for the
mitzvoth of the Torah are for the Jewish nation to “live by them.” A
great danger is defined as a situation where a normal person would not
be willing to risk his life, even to save all his possessions (Rabbinu
Yonah, Schulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 329:8).

The second approach to this question regarding “Thou shall not stand
aside when mischief befalls your neighbor” regards this mitzvah to be
different from the rest of the mitzvoth because it involves saving a
human life. It therefore obligates taking great risks and entering
into great danger in order to rescue another person from sure death.
This obligation would apply regardless of whether or not a normal
person would take great risks upon himself or enter into great danger
in order to save all of his possessions. For, in any case, if it is
necessary to put one’s life in danger to save a fellow Jew, one must
do so. However, the conditions for endangering one’s life for the sake
of saving another depends on if the chances are good that the rescue
will be successful and both will live. If, however, there is only a
fifty percent chance that both will live then one is not obligated to
save a fellow Jew’s life (Beit Yosef Choshen Mishpat 426).
According to the halacha that was determined for this mitzvah, one is
only required to risk his life in as much as any normal person would
do so in order to rescue his possessions. However, according to the
attributes in the performance of acts of kindness one should risk his
life to rescue another Jew if there is more than a fifty percent
chance he will succeed.

These opinions and laws relate to saving an individual’s life.
However, if the community is in great peril, one should not make these
considerations. In order to be victorious over the enemy one may need
to sacrifice one’s life regardless of the chance of success or failure
that is involved. At times, the individual is required to put his life
in great danger for the sake of the greater public’s well being. This
mitzvah is performed in times of war when each individual of the
Jewish nation is obligated to risk his or her life in order to save
the land of Israel from its enemies. (see “Btzava Kihalcha”, chap. 15,
Tzizt Eliezer 13:100).

Let us conclude by thanking God that we are witnessing the revealed
end of days in which the land of Israel brings forth its holy fruits,
the process of the ingathering of the exiles is being realized and the
land is being settled. All the trials and tribulations that the Jewish
nation is facing are just the pain that accompanies the process of
acquiring the land of Israel. Such troubles and pains help purify the
nation in reaching its ultimate goal of establishing a complete Jewish
existence in the holy land. Therefore, we need to learn and delve into
matters concerning the land of Israel and the different roles these
matters play in the world. The Jewish nation needs to use all its
capabilities to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel as
well as to continue to pray to God for a hastening of the redemption.
The prophecy will then be fulfilled: “For, lo, days are coming, says
the Lord, when I will bring back the captivity of my people Yisrael
and Yehuda, says the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the Land
that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it” (Jeremiah
30:3). “Therefore fear thou not, Oh my servant Yaakov says the Lord;
neither be dismayed , Oh Yisrael: for lo I will save thee from afar
and thy seed from the land of their captivity and Yaakov shall return,
and shall be quiet and be at ease, and none shall make him afraid
(Jeremiah 30,10). Thus, the Jewish nation’s true hidden nature will be
revealed, as it says: “Thy people shall be all righteous: they shall
inherit the land for ever.” (Isaiah 60:21).

"Planting Trees in Israel"

The Commandment to Settle the Land of Israel

Settling the Land: Planting Trees and Economic Development

We have learned that the commandment of settling the land of Israel
does not involve only conquering it, but also requires the settling
and developing of every part of it. The Ramban stresses this point
saying “We should not leave the land under foreign rule or desolate,
as it says: You should inherit the land and settle it.”
Planting fruit trees in the land of Israel fulfills one’s aspect of
this mitzvah, which obligates the Jewish nation to cultivate every
part of the land and not to leave it desolate. There is no commandment
to plant fruit trees outside of Israel, and usually one only does so
for the purpose of providing a livelihood. Those living in the land of
Israel, however, have the commandment of planting fruit trees
regardless of their profession.

The wise Sages expanded on this concept in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba
25:3): “It is said that one should go after God. Is it possible for
flesh and blood to go after God? It is also said that one should
cleave to God. Is it possible for flesh and blood to cleave to God?
Rather one should go in His ways, and cleave to His character traits.
And just as God, at the beginning of creation, first planted and
tended to the Garden of Eden, so too should the Jewish nation upon
entering the land, as it is written: ‘You should come to the land and
plant.'” We learn from this that one who plants a tree in the land of
Israel is cleaving to God’s character trait.
There are two advantages to planting trees, one being a future
investment. Sometimes people invest their efforts in transient
matters, but the Torah guides us to invest our efforts in planting
trees in order to root ourselves in the land through permanent means.
The second advantage is that with the abundance of trees the land
bears fruit that has intrinsic holiness, and when the Jewish nation
eats these fruits many other commandments are performed, such as
‘trumah’, ‘maasorot’ and ‘orlah’.

The Chatam Sofer writes (in his commentary on Tractate Sukkah 36) that
working the land of Israel in order to harvest its holy fruit fulfills
the commandment of settling the land and the mitzvah commanding the
Jewish nation to harvest the grains of the land. Boaz, who was
considered a great man of his generation, did not deem it a ‘bitul
Torah’ (a waste of time) to spend the night working and harvesting the
land. Just as one who is busy learning Torah still needs to stop in
order to perform the mitzvah of laying tefillin, one should stop his
Torah learning for the sake of harvesting the crops. The Chatam Sofer
adds another important comment on this subject: It is possible that
all the work and skills that enable us to settle the land are in
themselves mitzvot. According to this idea, one who assists in the
economic development of Israel may be considered a partner in the
mitzvah of settling the land. The land of Israel is holy in both its
physical and spiritual attributes and those who assist in its
development are partners in its holy building.

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed