"The Woman and Her Commandments" (Part 1)

Men and Women – Mutually Complementary

Essentially, men and women are created equal and both are graced by
the divine image through which every human being is created. Likewise,
the unalterable chosenness of the Jewish people and their innate
holiness embraces men and women alike. The Torah was given to the
entire nation of Israel regardless of sex. The Sages learn from the
verse, “These are the laws which you must place before them” (Exodus
21:1) that “Scripture made man and woman equal with regard to all of
the laws in the Torah” (Kidushin 35a).

However, one cannot disregard the specific differences between man and
woman. Physically and mentally, God made each unique, and their
obligations as far as religious observance is concerned are also
disparate (women, for example, are exempt from positive time-bound
commandments). These differences allow man and woman to compliment one
another.

In order to allow divinity to become manifest in the world, it is
necessary that there be two complementary channels at work. Each
individual creature is limited and therefore lacks the capacity to act
as a vessel for divine perfection. But through the body of the
congregation of Israel, divine perfection becomes disclosed in the
world. This is what makes the unity of Israel so important. Only the
nation of Israel with all of its component parts is capable of
receiving the Torah and using it to rectify the world.

Because of the difference between the souls of individuals different
meanings may be derived from the words of the Torah, as it is written,
“God spoke one, I heard it as two” (Psalms 62:12). It is also written,
“Like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces” (Jerimiah 23:29), and
on this verse the Sages explain that “just as [the rock] is split into
many splinters, so also may one biblical verse convey many
teachings” (Sanhedrin 34a). They also explain that “just as a hammer
is divided into many sparks, so every single word that went forth from
the Holy One, blessed be He, split up into seventy languages” (Shabbat
88b). And as they said with regard to the disputes between the schools
of Hillel and Shammai and all other disputes between the Sages, “Both
[opinions] are the words of the living God” (Eruvin 13b).

Existence’s most significant expression of reciprocation is that which
exists between male and female, by which man is able to reveal the
inner divine image and to achieve consummation. This is true not only
of humanity but of all realms of creation; from the most sublime and
lofty spheres down to our own worldly existence there is a division of
male and female and each sex is unable to exist independently without
being complemented by the other.

This fundamental principle is dealt with extensively in Kabbalistic
literature. This is what Rabbi Elazar meant when he said that “any man
who is without wife is not a man, as it is written ‘Male and female
created he them. He blessed them and named them Man’ (Genesis
5:2)” (Yevamot 63a). The Sages similarly teach us that “any man who is
without wife lives without joy, without blessing, without
goodness . . . without Torah . . . without a [protective]
wall” (Yevamot 63a).

Just as the differences between male and female are what allow them to
marry and reproduce, so do their spiritual and mental differences
allow them to unite, complement, and stimulate each other spiritually.
In light of all this, it is possible to understand somewhat the
fundamental reason for the differences between men and women with
regard to religious observance.

Exempt from Time-bound Positive Commandments

The plain and accepted explanation for the fact that women are exempt
from time-bound positive commandments is that this dispensation allows
them to fulfill their role – to build the family household. The woman
bears the great responsibility of building up and sustaining the
family, and it is the family upon which our individual and national
future rests. This responsibility stems from her inborn nature, the
woman’s capacity to give birth and breast-feed. Their feminine and
motherly nature also contains the special traits which make them
suited for building and nurturing the family.

Often, the responsibility of running the house and raising and
educating the children demands a devotion which continues all hours of
the day and the night. Were women given the responsibility of
fulfilling time-bound commandments, the fulfillment of which calls for
stopping one’s ordinary flow activities, they would not be capable of
duly caring for their families (Abudraham and Sefer Hasidim).

It is possible in this manner to explain also the reason that women
are exempt from the commandment to study Torah. Torah study demands
extreme self-sacrifice, both in the early years of life when one is
busy acquiring the fundamentals of study, and also later throughout
ones entire lifetime when one must set aside ample time each day for
studying Torah. Were women obligated to study Torah, they would not be
capable of dedicating themselves to the building of the family.

While clearly women must study so that they be able to live according
to the Torah, they are not obligated to learn Torah analytically and
scrutinizingly in order to achieve theoretical depth. Thus, women are
relieved of the ongoing pressure which accompanies the men who are
commanded to dedicate themselves to constant progress in the
understanding of Torah.

From here we can understand just how important the family is. Women
have been exempted of the obligation to study Torah and of all of the
positive time-bound commandments in order to nurture the family.

It should be added that the very ruling which declares women exempt
from the study of Torah and all of the positive time-bound
commandments implies that women are by their very nature less in need
of them, and that they are able to achieve spiritual consummation
without them (see Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 78). Accordingly, it is
possible to understand why even a woman who bears no domestic yoke is
released from these commandments

"Marriage, Plain and Simple"

When to Break the Glass

There is a Jewish custom to break a glass during the wedding ceremony.
This is done so that Jerusalem’s destruction not be forgotten in our
moment of joy. Regarding when exactly the glass should be broken there
are different customs. According to many opinions the time for
breaking the glass is at the conclusion of the seven marriage
blessings; i.e., at the end of the wedding ceremony.

Many later authorities, on the other hand, say that the glass should
be broken just after the actual consecration, before the reading of
the Ketuba (marriage contract).

The accepted custom, however, is to follow the majority opinion and to
break the glass after the blessings. There are some who express
surprise at this practice. They ask: How is it that we break the glass
at the conclusion of the wedding ceremony and then shout “Mazal Tov!”
How can we shout “Mazal Tov” just after recalling the Temple’s ruin?
My father and mentor once told me that this practice in fact makes
perfect sense. Only after we recall Jerusalem’s destruction are we
able to truly express our joy. If we forget Jerusalem our happiness is
not complete. Our joy is no more than wild behavior that divorces us
from the true meaning of life. With the Temple in ruins as it is and
so much suffering in the world, it would appear that there is no room
whatsoever for celebration. After all, God’s purpose in creating the
universe was to reveal Himself through creation. If God’s abode, the
Temple in Jerusalem, sits in ruins, then the purpose of creation
remains unfulfilled. In such a situation what can we possibly be happy
about?

God created the world so that He would be able to bestow some of His
goodness upon us. With so much suffering in the world, so much
falsehood, deception, exploitation and violence; in a world where the
evil succeed in getting the upper hand and the righteous are made to
suffer, what reason could we possibly have to be happy?

By recalling Jerusalem we attach our joy to the divine truth. Marriage
is not detached from the need to strive for perfection. To the
contrary, marriage itself contributes to the process of rectification
and perfection of the world. It constitutes a partial reconstruction
of Jerusalem. This being the case, it is most fitting that such joy be
expressed on behalf of the bride and groom. In addition, it makes
sense for us to wait until after the glass has been broken to shout
“Mazal Tov!”

“If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem..”

There is a very beautiful custom wherein all those gathered around the
wedding canopy sing, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand
forget its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to
the roof of my mouth; if I do not place Jerusalem above my highest
joy” (Psalms 137:5,6). Incidentally, until recently there was a
certain tune to which everybody was accustomed to singing these
lyrics. Lately, though, the younger generation prefers a new tune
which was written by the acclaimed master of Jewish song, the late R’
Shlomo Carlebach.

Personally, I prefer the older tune. True, R’ Carlebach’s tune is
mellow and pleasant, and it expresses feelings of yearning and
longing, but it does not contain the dramatic emphasis of the old
tune. The dramatic emphasis of the older tune gives fitting expression
to the awesome splendor of the oath, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its cunning.. If I do not remember thee, let
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” It is like a kind of anthem
to which the entire congregation stands and repeats the oath.

I do not know what the feeling is like in the audience. I am usually
under the wedding canopy with the families. From what I have been able
to see, whenever the old tune is sung the eyes of those who stand
around the bride and groom well up with tears. People stand
attentively and seriously and recall Jerusalem. They recall the
destruction of the Temple, the hardships encountered on the path to
its reconstruction, the holy individuals who have been killed in wars
and terrorist attacks, the orphans and widows. Against the backdrop of
the wedding’s splendor, tears well up over every conceivable hardship;
prayers go up on behalf of Jerusalem’s speedy restoration and for the
rectification of God’s creation.

When the newer tune is sung, though, one does not encounter tears.
Neither the parents nor those gathered around the couple nor the
newlyweds shed any tears.
True, there is nothing that says that one must shed tears. The main
thing is not to appear outdated, conventional. The youngsters might
the impression that we are not “with it.” That, after all, is the main
thing, that people not suspect us of being old-fashioned.

Maybe in a few years even the new tune will take on an “old”
character, stirring up moving memories of weddings gone by; maybe it
too will bring tears to eye. Perhaps young brides and grooms will
again opt for a newer tune. At any rate, I am in favor of the old
tune, especially when it is sung at the wedding ceremony.

“Ayin HaRa’” – “The Evil Eye”

Some brides and grooms today wish to add a unique touch to their
wedding. For example, some grooms wish to sing a special song to their
bride. They may choose to do this when the crowd is on the dance
floor. I even heard of one groom who sang under the canopy during the
marriage ceremony.

When people ask my feelings about this, I advise the bride and groom
to avoid standing out and not to deviate from tradition. All eyes are
at any rate upon them. They at any rate occupy the center stage. Why
should they try and go out of their way to draw attention? The couple
should do their best to celebrate along with the guests and to receive
their abundant blessings and with love and humility. The more that one
is careful to uphold the traditions of the forefathers, the more one
merits becoming a significant link in the chain of generations.

Conspicuousness leads to what is known in Judaism as “Ayin HaRa’,” the
“Evil Eye.” When one person sees another standing out, he begins to
ask himself, “Is he really as fortunate as he makes himself appear?
Does he really deserve to be so happy?” After all, there are all sorts
of less fortunate individuals in the crowd looking on. There are
single men and woman who long to find a mate; there are widows and
divorced people. One ought to consider their feelings.

The danger of “Ayin HaRa’” is particularly great when the groom goes
out of his way to publicly demonstrate his undying love for the bride.
People begin to ask themselves, “Will his love continue to endure when
he begins to face the difficulties of marriage?”

As unpleasant as it is to admit, if one begins to do a little
investigating one finds that the very couples who were so eager to
demonstrate their love in public later encountered domestic problems.
Sometimes, when I see that the couple’s demonstration of love is
exceptionally conspicuous, I know that within a number of months they
will come to me with serious relationship difficulties. In short, it
is best for a couple not to make too prominent a show of their love
for one another. Love one another modestly and may God bless you with
many pleasant years together.

My father had the following to say about this issue of “Ayin HaRa’”:
It is not necessary to assert that the conspicuous behavior of the
groom at the wedding was what caused (“siba”) the problems which arose
later. It is enough to say that his behavior was an indication
(“siman”). I.e., the fact that he acted in an strange, eye-catching
manner indicated that he was likely to have problems later on.

Who Decides Where the Wedding Will Be Held?

Question: When there is a difference of opinion between the couple and
their parents over the location of the wedding, who has the final
word?
Answer: Obviously, the ideal situation is one in which everybody
agrees on one location. But, in cases where there is a difference of
opinion between the couple and their parents, the rule would appear to
be as follows: If the parents are the ones paying for the wedding (as
is the accepted practice when it comes to young couples), then the
parents must have the last word. They, in essence, are the hosts of
the meal. They invite the guest, they are the ones who sign the
invitations. Therefore, they are the ones to decide. They clearly want
nothing more than to arrange the wedding in a manner that befits the
honor of the bride and groom.

A bit of useful advice for young couples: Let the parents arrange the
wedding. Sometimes the bride and groom think that because they are the
ones getting married, they should be the ones to decide all of the
wedding arrangements. This is not true. It is true that it is the
bride and groom that are getting married; in this regard they cannot
be replaced by the parents. But if the parents are paying for the
meal, then they are the hosts of the banquet and the celebration.
Generally, most of the guest are friends of the parents, and it is
only fitting that they be allowed to feel at home with their
acquaintances. By following this advice the couple will merit starting
off their life together by fulfilling the commandment to honor their
parents. This will also allow them to arrive at the wedding calm and
happy. They are not responsible for everything. The weight of the
responsibility is not on them. Finally, following this path will bring
the parents more satisfaction.

Yet, if the bride and groom are financing the wedding themselves (a
scenario more common with older couples) they have the right to decide
where the wedding will be held, for they are the hosts. Of course, if
the parents voice a particular opinion and the couple accepts it, they
have fulfilled the commandment of honoring parents. All the same, they
are not obligated to follow their parents’ advice, for it is their
wedding and they are the ones paying for it (see Peninei Halakha vol.
4, pp. 154-156).

The Appearance of a Meticulously Observant Jew

Visible Tzitzis (Tassels)

Some time ago, I wrote about complaints voiced by IDF soldiers against
their officers who ordered them to tuck their tzitzis (fringes) into
their pants. Such an order runs counter to the Torah which rules that
the tzitzis should be ever viewable because they remind us at all
times of our Torah obligations. It is thus written , “That you may
look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do
them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes,
which incline you to go astray” (Numbers 15:39).

True, Kabbalistic works state, in the name of the Holy Ari, that the
tallit (small four-cornered garment) should be worn as an
undergarment, but the Magen Avraham (8:13) explains that this ruling
applies specifically to the garment; the tassels, however, must be
visible. And he adds that it is very unlikely that one who keeps his
tzitzis covered has actually fulfilled the commandment.

The soldiers continue, thank God, to fulfill this Torah commandment,
and their tzitzis hang freely from their uniform for all to see,
despite various threats.

The Sephardic Custom

Yet, I was asked: It is well known that the Sephardic custom is to
wear the tzitzis under one’s clothing (as R’ Ovadia Yosef rules in
Yachveh Daat 2:1). Why, then, did I not state that my ruling applies
to Ashkenazi Jews alone?

Answer: First of all, it should be pointed out that this is the ruling
of R’ Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 8:11): “Basically, the
mitzvah of wearing a small tallit involves wearing it over one’s
garments, so that one will see it continually and remember the mitzvot
(commandments). ”Furthermore, our mentor, R’ Tzvi Yehudah HaCohen
Kook, head of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshivah, would encourage his students
to wear their tzitzis outside of their clothing, and he made no
distinction between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.

However, I was told by R’ David Chai HaCohen, one of R’ Tzvi Yehudah’s
leading students, that he once asked R’ Tzvi Yehudah if his ruling to
wear tzitzis outside of one’s garments applied to him as well, for his
family’s custom (R’ David Chai HaCohen’s uncle was an important Torah
scholar and a faithful follower of the Ben Ish Chai) was to wear
tzitzis under their garments. R’ HaCohen told me that it was clear to
him that he would abide by whatever ruling R’ Tzvi Yehudah gave. R’
Tzvi Yehudah told him that he did not have to wear his tzitzis outside
of his clothing. Based upon this ruling, R’ David Chai HaCohen
instructs his Sephardic students to wear their tzitzis under their
clothing.

However, in my own humble opinion, it appears to be proper, today,
even according to Sephardic custom, to wear one’s tzitzis outside of
one’s clothing. This is because, in previous generations, North
African and Eastern Jewry were accustomed to wearing a kind of large
shawl which did not allow them to cover their tallit and at the same
time display their tzitzis. They had to choose between wearing their
entire tallit on top of their clothing, revealing everything (in
accordance with Shulchan Aruch) or to conceal everything (in
accordance with the Holy Ari), and they adopted the latter path.

Today, though, we all wear shirts and pants, and there is no problem
concealing the tallit while at the same time revealing the tzitzis,
fulfilling the commandment according to all opinions. And this would
actually appear to be the opinion of the Holy Ari, for he writes that
a person must look at his tzitzis frequently during the course of the
day (Shaar HaKavanot 7:3). My own humble opinion is that because over
the generations people became accustomed to concealing both tallit and
tzitzis, many continue this practice even today. However, in truth, it
is proper to wear the tzitzis outside of one’s clothing.

Furthermore, practically speaking, there is great value in wearing the
tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, for by doing this a person
expresses his allegiance to the Torah and its commandments, and he is
reminded to perform the commandments. This is in keeping with the
plain meaning of the verse, “That you may look upon it, and remember
all the commandments of the Lord, and do them.”

In a secular environment, at work or in the army, it is very important
for an observant Jew to wear something which shows that he is
meticulous about fulfilling the commandments and that he is not
ashamed to perform them in the presence of people who are liable to
make fun of him. By doing this, it becomes easier for him to endure
trials.

A person who dresses in a Haredi (ultra-orthodox) fashion, with a
black hat and suit, is less in need of this distinction, for all can
see by his clothing that he is Haredi. In the army, however, this
changes; the tzitzis become important because everybody wears the same
uniform. In the workplace, as well, it is very important for a Jew to
make himself distinct through his tzitzis, the unique garment which
the Torah commands us to wear.

Conclusion

Even if a person generally upholds the Sephardic custom (which goes
back to the time when Sephardic Jews would dress in long shawls) of
wearing his tzitzis under his clothing, when serving in the army it is
best to wear one’s tzitzis outside of one’s clothing, in a manner that
they be clearly visible. The only time one must tuck them in is during
camouflaged training, and, of course, while carrying out operations in
enemy territory.

"The Laws of Brit Mila"

The First Commandment

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

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

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

Through Brit Mila we declare to the entire world that we, the Jewish
people, continue to be firm in our faith and ready to sacrifice
ourselves until we have reached the materialization of all of our
upright and just aspirations.

The Most Important Commandment

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s Offspring

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

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

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

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

Removal of the Foreskin

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

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

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

On the Eighth Day, Even on Sabbath

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

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

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

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

"Honoring Adoptive and Divorced Parents"

The Commandment to Honor Parents

Question: Does the Biblical commandment to honor parents obligate an
adopted child to honor his adoptive parents?
Answer: The Biblical obligation to honor one’s parents applies only to
biological parents, not to adoptive parents (Sota 49a). All the same,
there is a moral obligation for him to relate to such parents as
biological parents because they treated him like their child. Indeed,
the sages teach that “Whoever raises an orphaned boy or girl in his
home is viewed by the Torah as if he himself had brought the child
into the world (Megila 13a).” In a sense, the moral obligation of the
adopted child is even greater than that of a biological child, for
there is nothing unusual in the fact that parents care for and raise
their own children, but when couples take in and care for orphaned or
abandoned children they perform a greater sort of kindness; it
therefore follows that the obligation to acknowledge such kindness is
much greater. In addition, the Midrash teaches that God possesses
treasuries from which he rewards the righteous, and amongst these
treasuries there is a special treasury reserved for those who take in
and raise orphaned children (Shemot Rabbah 456).

In light of the above it is clear that an adopted child is obligated
from a moral perspective to honor his parents in the same manner that
a biological child would have to honor his parents. Honoring them any
less than this would be very disrespectful.

The Question of Medical Treatment

However, because the adopted child’s obligation to honor his adoptive
parents is a moral one, he is only bound with regard to moral-based
matters. For example, a biological son is forbidden to perform any
sort of medical care upon his parents which might call for drawing
their blood. And though the son may have pure intentions and may boast
a reputation as an expert doctor, such a procedure is nonetheless
forbidden. This is because of the severity of the prohibition, for the
Torah explicitly states, “If one injures his father or mother [in a
way that causes bleeding] he must be put to death” (Exodus 21:15).
Even if the parents request the son to perform such an operation, he
must demure. The only exception would be where a parent’s life is at
stake, or nearly at stake (cf. Shulchan Arukh and Rema, Yoreh Deah
241:3).

An adopted child, however, is not prohibited in this regard, and if
his adoptive parents request of him to perform medical treatment up
them, and he is capable of carrying out such treatment successfully,
he is obligated to do so.

Marriage and Inheritance

According to Jewish law, adoption does not create family relations.
Hence, it is permissible for an adopted son to marry his sister, the
daughter of his adoptive parents. In contrast, it is forbidden for the
adopted son to marry his true sister, the daughter of his biological
parents, despite the fact that he may have never even met her
previously.

According to Jewish law, when adoptive parents die their adopted child
does not become an inheritor to them. The exception would be where
such a desire was expressed in the parents’ will.

Reciting Kaddish for Adoptive Parents

Question: Should an adopted child recite Kaddish over his adoptive
parents?
Answer: By pronouncing Kaddish for them he is fulfilling a
commandment. This is true especially where they have no biological
children to recite Kaddish for them. For Ashkenazi Jews, however,
there was a time when the custom was for only one person to recite
Kaddish at a time, and each mourner would have to wait his turn for
Kaddish. Under such circumstances, Jewish law authorities debated as
to whether or not an adopted son was alloted a turn among the other
orphaned mourners. According to Rema (Responsum 118), the adopted
child is given a turn among the other mourners; according to Chatam
Sofer (Orach Chaim 164), he is not.

Today, though, because the accepted custom is for mourners to recite
Kaddish in unison, there is no conflict, and even according to Chatam
Sofer the adoptive child says Kaddish with the rest of the bereaved.

Honoring Divorced Parents

Question: I am the son of divorced parents. I was three years old when
this separation took place. I grew up with my mother, and only on very
rare occasions did I spend time with my father. Regarding my mother I
have no qualms. She raised me selflessly and lovingly. All the same,
it appears to me that she instilled in me a bit of animosity toward my
father and tried to distance me from him. She would often complain
that he was late in sending her payments for me and that he did not
really care about me. However, from what I could tell on those few
occasions that I was together with him, my father was quite ordinary,
not so bad, and he worked and supported his family.

Today I am in my thirties. I have not been in contact with my father
for a long time. Even when he did call me, our conversations were very
short, so I do not even know if he is interested in maintaining
relations with me. For myself, I am uncertain. Is it advisable to
initiate contact with him? Should I visit him or arrange to meet with
him? I should note that if my mother were to discover that I took such
a step she would be greatly hurt.

Honoring Parents Calls for Maintaining Relations

You are obligated to maintain relations with your father. The Torah
commandment to honor parents calls for treating your father in an
honorable manner. Cutting off relations amounts to a complete lack of
honor.

True, in special cases, where interaction between father and son
always leads to fulminations and intense arguments, maintaining a
certain distance is advisable in order to avoid becoming guilty of
showing blatant disrespect toward the parents. Yet, even in such a
case, complete separation is not permitted.

At any rate, in your case there is absolutely no reason to assume that
visits with your father will lead to any sort of serious
confrontation. Perhaps your father actually desires your friendship
very much. It may be that his reason for not perusing more serious
relations with you is that you and your mother distanced yourselves
from him; he therefore feels unwanted and fears a negative reaction
from you. Perhaps he does not know how to build a relationship. At any
rate, by estranging yourself to your father you violate one of the Ten
Commandments: the commandment to honor you parents.

Even if your mother explicitly requests that you not make contact with
him, it is forbidden for you to heed her request; for, we have been
informed by the Sages that one is obligated to heed to his parents’
request on the condition that it does not involve violating one of the
Torah’s commandments. If, however, parents ask their son to violate
one of the commandments, it is forbidden to fulfill their request.

At the same time, you should do your best to alleviate your mother’s
worries, informing her that you very much appreciate her great self-
sacrifice on your behalf. Explain to her that you are well aware that
she raised you and gave her entire life for your sake. Tell her that
you lack words to express your feelings toward her, and that you will
forever be thankful to her. Explain to her that your desire to
establish relations with your father should not be construed as a
desire to distance yourself from her. In short, you should go out of
your way to appease her.

If you believe that you will not succeed in convincing her, it is
permissible for you to conceal your relations with your father. At any
rate, even if she is aware of these relations and refuses to come to
terms with the fact, you are obliged to build relations with your
father and honor him, in accordance with the verse, “Honor your father
and mother.”

Logic and Jewish Law

Logic too calls for this, for what could be more natural than a
healthy relationship between son and father. The relationship of an
offspring to his parents is essentially an expression of his
relationship with himself, for a person’s parents are his own roots
and if he cuts himself off from them he has, to a great extent, cut
himself off from himself.

How fortunate we are that God has given us the Torah. It paves a path
of truth and kindness even in complex situations and allows us to
attain fulfillment in both this world and the World to Come.

"Concerning Yom Kippur"

The Reason for the Commandment to Eat on Yom Kippur Eve

It is a mitzvah to eat on Yom Kippur eve and to increase one’s amount
of consumption (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 604:1). On the face of
things, it would appear to be more appropriate to fill oneself with
fear and trembling. What reason could there be for joyful eating and
drinking at such a time?
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero explains that we rejoice in anticipation of
fulfilling the commandment of repentance on Yom Kippur. For, it is
fitting that we rejoice greatly in our fulfillment of each and every
Torah commandment. All the more so when it comes to such an important
commandment as repentance. But because repentance, by its nature,
involves grief, regret, confession, and a firm resolution to improve,
it is impossible, while involved in the act of repentance, to rejoice
openly. Therefore, the Torah commands us to rejoice through food and
drink before Yom Kippur, and, in this spirit, to enter this sacred day
– a day wherein God has paved the way for us to return to him in
repentance.

The Certainty that God Will Judge us Favorably

In preparation for Rosh Hashanah we shave, dress in holiday clothes,
eat, and drink. On Yom Kippur, too, we dress in white attire, and we
finish off the day joyfully, confident that the Almighty will judge us
favorably. Indeed, the Sages teach: “Is there any nation as wonderful
as this one, who knows the ways of its God? It is customary that a
person who stands to be put on trial, out of excessive anxiety lest he
be sentenced to death, dresses in black clothing, grows his beard, and
does not cut his fingernails. But Israel is different; they dress in
white, shave, and cut their fingernails, and eat and drink, for they
know that God will perform a miracle for them and acquit them of their
sentence. (See Tur, Orach Chaim 581)
Yet, do we not see with our own eyes how every year so many Jewish
souls are lost, some of them even after great suffering? Why, then,
should we be so joyous at Yom Kippur’s close? Answer: The true
judgment on the Day of Atonement is regarding the real life – the life
which depends upon our relation with the Almighty. And one who does
not repent during the Days of Awe after having been sentenced to death
is doomed to a death of ruin: completely suffering and deep sorrow.
Yet, one who completed the Days of Awe as he should have can be
certain that he merited coming closer to the Almighty, and even if,
Heaven forbid, he was judged unfavorably above, this too is for the
best, for it serves to rectify him and prepare him for life in the
world to come. Therefore, it is only fitting that we be happy on this
occasion (based on the Shlah, Rosh HaShannah, Torah Or, 17).

Some Laws of Yom Kippur

The Yom Kippur fast is Biblical in origin (Levitucus 23:27), and
therefore its laws are more severe than those of other fasts. For
example, on Tisha B’Av, the sick are exempt from fasting, while on the
Day of Atonement they are not. A person who might possibly die as a
result of the fast is exempt from fasting, for the preservation of
life overrides the commandment to fast.
All the same, if it is possible to avoid the danger by drinking and
eating small amounts, at intervals, one must do this. In this manner
he will not be considered to have broken the fast completely. As far
as drinking is concerned, this means consuming less than a “melo-
logmav” every nine minutes. “Melo-logmav” is the amount of liquid
which fills the mouth when one check is inflated – each according to
the size of his mouth (the average amount for an adult is
approximately 45 millimeters). Concerning eating, one should eat less
than a “cotevet” – the volume of a large date – every nine minutes. A
“cotevet” is equal to the volume of two-thirds of an ordinary sized
egg. If one figures this according to the weight of water, it comes
out about thirty grams. But it should be measured according to volume.
If one needs to eat or drink more than this, he should shorten the
intervals to every seven or eight minutes, and if even this is not
sufficient, the intervals should be cut down to four minutes, for
there are opinions that the necessary minimum interval for food
consumption is only four minutes. As far as drinking is concerned, if
an interval of four minutes is still not enough, one should drink less
than a “melo logmav” every minute. This is due to the fact that there
are opinions that laws applying to drinking differ from those which
apply to eating.

Ask an Observant Doctor

A person who is sick, yet is uncertain as to whether or not his
sickness falls into the category of life-threatening, must ask a
religious doctor before Yom Kippur what his status is. But a doctor
who is not an observant Jew cannot grasp the importance of the fast
and tends to tell all of his patients that they are in a life-
threatening situation. Therefore, one cannot rely purely upon such a
doctor’s opinion, but must find a religious doctor and get his
opinion. Only in a situation where there in no choice – e.g., the fast
arrived before one had a chance to consult with an observant doctor –
and one received advice from another doctor to the effect that it is
permissible to eat and drink, may one eat and drink (according to the
above-mentioned instructions, for this is a case of possible life-
endangerment.

"Setting Out On a New Path" Part 2

Learning to Condemn Evil

In order to accomplish this, we will have to review in depth the laws
of slander and gossip. We will have to learn that we are obligated to
relate the disrepute of evil people or people with evil opinions who
bring evil upon the public.

Our precious, honest community is not accustomed to behaving in such a
manner. Many of us saw corrupt ministers, or senior officers acting
with extreme crudeness, or wealthy individuals cheating the poor. Due
to naivety, we tried to interpret these sins in a positive manner.

We must now learn to take a more honest look at reality. It is
entirely possible that on a personal level, in many cases, an
individual may be judged favorably. However, when the corruption takes
its toll upon the “vineyard of Israel,” we must condemn it. (I will
expand elsewhere upon the halakhic and ethical foundations of the
obligation to rebuke, as practiced by the Prophets of Israel upon the
kings and ministers).

Preparing an Alternative

Employing criticism will allow us to think creatively and come up with
fresh ideas for building an original Jewish society according to the
illumination of the Torah. The Almighty gave us His Torah, and it
contains advice and instruction for ideal life. However, it is
necessary to delve into its teachings in order to illuminate and
rectify creation.

For two thousand years, the Torah accompanied us in our exile, and due
to its power we succeeded in surviving the most difficult situations.
However, we did not accustom ourselves to deriving from the Torah
instructions for all aspects of life. This is our task today, to pave
a path for national life based upon the Torah.

Our sages teach us to “embrace the wisdom of the nations,” and a Jew
who sees a wise man from one of the nations must bless: “Blessed are
You, O Lord . . . Who has imparted His wisdom to His creatures.”
Therefore, we must occupy ourselves with secular wisdom, for it too is
“His wisdom.” However, only the Torah can provide us with life’s moral
content.

Despite all of the technological advancement in recent generations,
man’s distress has remained as it always was. Only the Torah can give
true meaning to life. We must learn one discipline after another, the
humanities and the natural sciences alike. We must unravel the
difficulties and problems in each field and search the Torah for
advice and direction in order to arrive at solutions.

Foreign Relations

For example, let us look at the field of foreign relations. We, the
nation of Israel, live amongst the nations of the world, and our task
is to be like a heart for the organs. The question is, how should we
be managing our relations with the countries of the world today? In
what manner should we be establishing relations with friendly nations?
How should we respond to the animosity of our Arab neighbors? How
shall we sanctify God’s name amongst the nations?

To answer these questions, we must examine the foundations of Jewish
faith and the role of the nation of Israel in the world. We must learn
history and political science, familiarize ourselves with the various
nations of the world, and think about how we can earnestly bestow upon
them the sort of goodness that contains both spiritual truth and
practical benefit.

Economics and Education

In the field of economics, too, we face weighty questions. How is it
possible to create an economic system which provides maximum autonomy
for free enterprise on the one hand while preventing the rich from
taking advantage of the poor on the other? How can we transform
commercial transactions into something with moral value? How can we
build a social system which, while aiding the weak, does not
legitimize joblessness at public expense?

The Torah points us in certain directions, however, in order to
realize the vision, we must delve into both the Torah and economic and
social sciences. We need both of these ingredients if we wish to apply
Torah values to modern conditions.

But dealing with theoretical economic questions is not enough; we must
also cope with practical questions. How do we go about preparing a
national program to reduce traffic accidents? How do we build safer
roads? How do we create a system of punishment which will be less
burdensome and more effective?

How do we improve the educational system and also reduce the
burdensome expenses which fall upon the parents? And how do we at the
same time protect the conditions of the teachers? These problems
appear difficult, but I am certain that if we wrestle with all of the
questions, without accepting the present norms as sacrosanct, we will
succeed in greatly improving the educational system. These two courses
together – “abandon evil” and “adopt good,” i.e., criticism of evil on
the one hand and the proposal of a worthy alternative on the other –
will gradually allow us to replace the controlling elites “for the
good of our nation and the cities of our God” (see 2 Samuel 10:12).

Inward Strengthening

The principal that underlies all of this depends upon an
intensification of the inner strength of those who are loyal to the
Torah, the nation, and the land. We must solidify the spiritual stance
of a sector which has had a tendency to be dragged to the right or the
left, forward or backward. It is not because we admire the generals or
because we wish to please the secular public that we enlist for army
service. We enlist because it is a Torah obligation. Therefore, we
shall not be deterred from criticizing security policies, because
voicing criticism in order to improve things is also a Torah
obligation.

We do not uphold the laws of the state in order to prove to somebody
that we are loyal to the state; rather, we uphold them because Jewish
law demands this of us. However, we shall not uphold laws which run
counter to the words of the Torah. We shall continuously remember that
we must strive to “restore our judges as in earliest times” (Amida
prayer), and that in order to achieve this we must critique the courts
which are estranged from the Torah, the nation, and the land.

Freedom

This inner strengthening is connected to the attribute of freedom,
which is the only vehicle for critiquing and creating. By freeing
ourselves from alien influences, we will be able to strengthen family
life and educate our children as admirably as possible. By freeing
ourselves from luxuries, we will be able to economize and establish
ourselves financially. This will allow us to reach that ideal state
wherein money is a vehicle for performing good deeds and realizing
ideals – not an end in itself, an end which is never satisfactorily
achieved.

When we finally merit living according to the Torah, living with a
mission of mending the world, living with a proper balance of ideals
and actions, a family life rich in love and faith and mutual
fertilization, financial stamina, and joy of life – when this is
achieved, all will know that those who follow the path of the Torah
merit life. Then, all of Israel will chose life, return to God, and
inherit the goodly land, and God shall act benevolently towards us in
accordance with that which he swore to our forefathers.

"Setting Out on a New Path" Part 1

The Need for Self-Criticism

With the arrival of the new year, we must stop to reflect upon our
deeds in order to pave the way for self-improvement. After the blow we
suffered at the hands of our deceitful brothers, we cannot allow
things to continue in the manner they have until now. This crisis
indicates that there is a serious problem. If we do not draw the
necessary conclusions, we will be forced to face additional, more
difficult crises, until eventually we will be forced to abandon evil
and choose good. However, if we draw the necessary conclusions now, we
can emerge from these difficulties into the light of solace and
salvation.

We may establish our approach upon three fundamental principles:
a) inward strengthening
b) open criticism of all authoritative systems and elitist networks
c) preparation of alternative programs for all government and social
systems in Israel

The underlying foundation for all of this is a consciousness of our
“freedom.”

Learning to Criticize and Reproach

Over the years, we have been negligent about criticizing government
systems. It is true that the underlying motivation for this approach
was a positive one. We preferred to seek out the light and the good,
not to focus on shortcomings and evil. Criticizing inevitably offends
people. A person who criticizes is liable to oversee all of the good
which God has bestowed upon us through the ingathering of the exiles
and the establishment of the state of Israel.

However, this approach was at the same time plagued by weakness and
flattery. It is easier to esteem the rulers, to feel partnership with
those in power and to receive a small piece of the “cake” of their
power. Yet, without taking note of the weaknesses and corruption which
exist in all of the state’s governing establishments, it is impossible
to correct them.

The Failure of Working from Within
For years, we strove to fix things from within, to assimilate into all
of the systems and to improve them gradually. We believed that if we
would adopt an approach of love, we would receive love in return. We
thought that if we would acknowledge the worth of the nationalist and
humanist values espoused by forerunners of Israel’s secular public,
they too would acknowledge the importance of Torah values. The schisms
would be mended, the polarities would dissolve, a process of mutual
fertilization would evolve. This situation, we believed, would lead to
the building of a value-grounded Jewish society that would advance,
stage by stage, until reaching a level of complete faith in God, His
Torah, and all lofty human ideals.

The destruction of the settlements, the cruel expulsion of the
settlers, the suppression of those who demonstrated against the state
and the government – these matters taught us that the working-from-
within approach is destined to fail. The establishment behaved toward
the religious-Zionist community in a manner reflecting what our sages
say regarding the “reshut” (authority): “Be careful with [those in]
authority, for they do not draw a person near except for their own
needs. They appear as friends when it is to their advantage, but they
do not stand up for a person in his hour of distress” (Avot 2:3).

When it was necessary for us to request help from the courts, the
media, the IDF, and the police, everybody closed their ears and hearts
and sided with those bent on destroying us. All of their talk of
democracy, justice, and morality turned out to be worthless. We can
see that their befriending us until now was for their own good, in
order to strengthen their control.

The Elite and the General Public

This accusation is directed toward the establishment, at Israel’s
elitist networks. It appears that, on an individual level, many people
who hold establishment positions embrace Jewish values. Perhaps when
they retire from their posts they will regret what they did. However,
as long as they are part of the establishment, they are ready to
accept crooked and malicious opinions.

However, the wider Israeli public, both traditional and secular, is
actually interested in strengthening the state’s Jewish and Zionist
values. We must therefore show them love and trust, and strive towards
mutual fertilization with them.

The problem is the elite circles. They exploit the general public so
that they are unable to realize their true ambitions. The media
maligns those who are faithful to Zionism and Judaism and causes the
general public to repudiate those who would be capable of giving
expression to these Jewish values. The courts and the academic
establishment, each in its own way, manage to block any Zionist and
Jewish initiative. Thus, the elites distance and disengage themselves
from the values of the Jewish people and pull the wider public along
behind them.

Systematic Criticism

We must make a shift, moving away from the approach which calls for
criticizing particular aspects of the system in order to mend things
from within. It is time to critique the very foundations of the
establishment in order to change things from the bottom up:

We must criticize the media. It acts as a mouthpiece for anti-Jewish
and anti-Zionist propaganda, and to this end distorts reality to the
point where it ought to be called “falsehood” (“tishkoret”) instead of
media (“tikshoret”).

We must uncover the true face of those leaders whose true motivation
is personal good. In order to deceive innocent citizens, they portray
themselves as individuals who spend their days and nights laboring for
the good of the nation and the homeland. Furthermore, we must expose
the lifestyles of the state’s wealthy who are disengaged from values
and from Judaism.

We must voice criticism of the High Court. Even if its members are not
personally corrupt, their arrogance knows no bounds. They ridicule
Jewish values, and, without having been chosen for such, determine the
domestic and foreign policy of the state of Israel. Without thinking,
they make decisions which endanger the existence of the Jewish people
in the land of Israel.

Only constructive criticism which is penetrating and continuous has
the power to possibly bring about a change for the better. It is
likely that, initially, only a handful of those targeted will actually
respond to the criticism. The great majority will resent it and prefer
to stick its head into the sand. They will prefer to believe that
everything is proceeding as usual, but if we are persistent we will
make process.

At the outset, progress will be difficult and slow, and we will have
to fight for every additional percent of support. However, when we
reach the fifteen percent point, the effect of the criticism will
grow. The process of eroding the elite’s public standing will be
accelerated, and in a relatively short amount of time we will be able
to begin changing the establishment for the better.

Only he who is capable of standing courageously and rebuking leaders
is worthy of leadership. In the words of Rabbi Yonatan (Sanhedrin
101b): “Why did Jeroboam merit the crown? Because he rebuked Solomon.”
However, it is important to take note of the continuation of this
source: “And why was he (Jeroboam) punished? Because he rebuked him in
public,” and Rashi comments that he rebuked him in public in order to
embarrass him.

In other words, rebuke must be aimed at improvement alone, not at
insulting and humiliating. Therefore, we must make sure that our
criticism is founded upon truth, and that it is voiced with the sole
intention of bringing about improvement. This, after all, is the
definition of the Torah commandment to admonish, as it is written, “Do
not hate your brother in your heart; you must admonish your neighbor,
and not bear sin because of him,” and in the next verse, “You must
love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am God” (Leviticus
19:17-18).

Voicing criticism will allow us to create alternative programs for all
of the difficult problems which accumulate before us. It will create
an open space which we can fill with new content. We shall start with
the necessary criticism of all governing systems. One might think it
necessary to begin by preparing alternative programs, and then,
naturally, there will be no need for criticism, because everybody will
acknowledge the excellence and desirability of these alternatives.
However, in reality, this is not the case. There is evil in the world,
some stems from direct intention and some from laziness. Without
criticism, there will be no room for change.

"Counting Blessings…and Calories" Part 2

Blessings are the Key to Joy

By reciting blessings over those things which bring pleasure a person
learns to be happy with his lot. The Sages teach that “jealousy,
greed, and honor remove a person from the world” (Avot 4:21). Here is
not the place to give a detailed explanation of this teaching,
however, in general, we can say that these negative traits stem from
the fact that a person is not satisfied with his own life, believing
instead that his happiness depends upon exterior factors.

Even if a jealous person attains riches and honor, he is unable to be
happy with his portion, for, in his eyes, so long as his fellow has
more than he, all of his attainments are worthless. A greedy person
always wants that which he has not, and therefore he is not happy with
what he has. And a person who seeks honor always wants to hear praises
and compliments from others, and he is unable to be satisfied with his
own portion, with the good deeds he performs.

Now it is easier to understand why “jealousy, greed, and honor remove
a person from the world.” People who have these traits are unable to
live their true lives, and so they forfeit their lives in both this
world and the World to Come. Such people are advised to bless with
intention. By doing this they will learn to see the good which God has
given them and to be happy with it, and as a result they will begin to
live their lives for real.

A Good Recipe for Dieting

Blessing with added intention is also good advice for one who wishes
to lose weight. The blessing makes a person aware of the inner value
of the food. It reminds us that God created it and gave it its own
unique taste and its nutritional characteristics. By recognizing the
value of the food it is possible to be satiated with less. However, if
a person is not aware of the inner value of the food, he needs to eat
much more in order to satisfy his appetite and tame his hunger, and
only when he has filled his stomach completely is he able to stop
eating.

It would appear that reciting Grace After Meals with proper intention
can even benefit a person who has eaten too much, for it is bound to
cause him to be satisfied in the future with no more than what he
needs in order to remain healthy and happy (this idea is hinted at by
Rabbi A.I. Kook in “Middot HaRa’aya,” Ha’alat HaNitzotzot 6).

The Responsibility

By acknowledging all the kindness which God has showered upon
creation, one becomes capable of understanding how great is our
responsibility not to destroy it. Just look at Adam. He was given the
Garden of Eden, yet he brought hardship upon himself and upon all of
creation; he was rendered mortal and sentenced to hard labor, and
because of him the earth’s soil began to produce thorns and thistles.

Great kindness was also bestowed upon Cain – he received half of the
earth. Yet, he was not satisfied; he rose up and struck down his
bother, and in so doing brought destruction upon both of them.

And just consider how fortunate the generation of the Flood was, yet
they too sinned and brought destruction upon themselves and all of
creation.

Furthermore, consider the good fortune revealed through the
settlements of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron. The Jewish people
merited reclaiming and repopulating these areas after a two-thousand
year absence, and the land began yielding its fruit bountifully for
its children who returned from afar. In an act which demonstrated
total lack of appreciation for this great blessing, wicked people rose
up and destroyed these settlements causing misfortune to the entire
Jewish people. The result will no doubt be a rise in terrorism, and
those responsible for this tragedy will bear the guilt.

If they had recognized the enormity of the blessing of each new house,
each new seedling, and each new-born child in Gush Katif and Northern
Shomron, leaders would have understood that their responsibility was
to strengthen and encourage these settlers. However, they did not
recognize this goodness and instead “they despised the pleasant
land” (Psalms 106:24). They attempted to achieve what at present is
impossible to achieve, and in doing so brought about a situation
wherein even that which we once possessed is no longer ours.

Some of the translated biblical or talmudic sources in the above
article may have been taken from, or based upon, Davka’s Soncino
Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

Counting Blessings… and Calories! Part 1

The Importance of Thanking God

When a person thanks God, he gives actual expression to his faith.
Many people are aware of the fact that there is a Creator; however, as
long as a person does not thank God for all of His goodness, he
remains unconnected to faith itself. If one fails to express
appreciation, the knowledge that God created the world lacks content
and bears no constructive significance.

One who does thank God, however, becomes filled with faith, and it
follows that he is able to cling to the ways of God and rectify the
world. It is thus written in the story of creation (Genesis 1:31):
“And God saw all that He had created, and behold it was very good.”
This verse teaches us how we ought to relate to creation.

There are those who see the worst in everything, and sometimes they
think that such an approach indicates depth of perception. However,
this actually evidences ungratefulness, an inability to see all of the
good which God has created in the world. Therefore, the Torah teaches
us at its very outset that the world which God created is good.

Therefore it is very important for a person to thank God and recite
blessings over all of those things from which he derives pleasure.
This principal is so obvious, say the Sages, that the Torah did not
need to command us regarding it (Berakhot 35a). That a person must
thank God for such things can be easily arrived at through simple
reasoning: whoever has faith gives thanks. This apparently is the
reason that the first tractate in the Talmud in
“Berakhot” (blessings): blessing and praising God for all of the good
which He has given us is the foundation of everything.

Adam’s Sin Began with Ungratefulness

This was Adam’s sin: he failed to thank God for all of the good in the
world. As a result, he directed his thoughts toward figuring out how
he could use creation for his own advantage rather than concentrating
on elevating the world and being elevated with it. Were he to thank
God as he should have, he would have rejoiced at all of the fruit on
the trees of the Garden of Eden, and he would not have set his eyes on
the Tree of Knowledge.

Yet, at this point, Adam still had the opportunity to admit his sin
and repent for what he had done. If he had followed such a path he
would have been able to remain in the Garden of Eden. Yet, he chose to
deny God’s goodness, saying (Genesis 3:12), “The woman which You gave
me, she is the one who gave me of the tree to eat.” Instead of
thanking God for the woman he had been given, the most wonderful gift
he could possibly have received, Adam denied this goodness and refused
to give thanks.

As said, had Adam expressed regret at this point, he apparently would
have been forgiven and would have been permitted to remain in the
Garden of Eden. However, as is to be expected of the ungrateful,
instead of admitting his guilt and taking upon himself to repent, he
accused God and the woman for his own sin, and was therefore exiled
from the Garden of Eden. And so, everything began with the fact that
he did not know how to thank God for all the good which He had given
him.

A number of years later, when Adam finally wished to repent and return
to the Garden of Eden he was not able to do so, for his repentance at
this time resulted from the hardships which befell him after he was
expelled.

Meticulous About Blessings

In light of this we can understand why the Sages were so exacting when
it came to the laws of blessings. They instituted special blessings
for each type of pleasure and delineated precise amounts of food which
would call for blessings. They did this so that thanks be given to God
for every kind of pleasure in the most praiseworthy and becoming
manner. And when a person recites blessings with proper intention he
rectifies, in a way, the sin of Adam.

The Sages also teach that it is forbidden to derive pleasure from this
world without reciting a blessing, and whoever derives pleasure from
this world without reciting a blessing is seen as having made unlawful
use of consecrated property.

Furthermore, blessings must be recited in a respectable manner, and it
is forbidden to perform labor while reciting them (Shulchan Aruch
191:3). (To be continued)

by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed