Rosh Hashana: Not the Only Day of Judgment

Days of Judgment and Repentance

Q: Rabbi, can you please explain the concept of judgment on Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and the Ten Days of Repentance? Are we judged during the month of Elul as well?

A: Every year God creates new life for each and every one of His creations. So that his benevolence is not attained by the wicked, on Rosh Hashana God judges all his creations, granting abundance and blessing to the good and reducing it from the evil. This is the meaning of Rabbi Meir’s statement in the Talmud: “All are judged on Rosh Hashana and their fate is sealed on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).”

Granting good reward to the righteous and punishment for the wicked is not only just and appropriate, it is also necessary for tikun olam (rectifying the world), because if the wicked continually receive an abundance of life and blessing, they will be strengthened in their wickedness, causing evil and affliction to the entire world.

Thus, the days on which God grants new life to his creations are also days when he judges them, and are also the days when he is close to his creations and accepts their repentance. Therefore, although repentance is worthy every day of the year, during these days it is accepted more readily, as it is written: “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6), and for this reason, these days are called the Ten Days of Repentance (Rosh Hashana 18a; Rambam, Hilchot Teshuva 2:6).

The Significance of the Month of Elul

Although the judgment itself occurs on Rosh Hashana and the Ten Days of Repentance, it is preferable to awaken to repentance even before judgment starts, so that when the Ten Days of Repentance arrive, we can truly return to God. Furthermore, it is better to take preventative measures, for such are the conventionally accepted rules of law – before indicted for one’s sins, it is relatively simple to be remorseful and repent, and thus annul or reduce the charges. But once the proceedings have started, and the prosecutor is set to make his case, it is harder to annul the accusations. Therefore, Jewish custom is to awaken to repentance during the month of Elul.


With a sense of awe and joy, every year anew, we approach the Days of Repentance. Awe – not knowing how God will judge us and what our verdict will be; for many are those who were complacent in the beginning of the year, but are no longer alive, or were made to suffer great agony.


Together with awe, however, is also a sense of joy for having the opportunity to return to God in repentance, to cleanse ourselves from the bad that clung to us, to once again stand before him in prayer and supplication, and reflect on all the truly important things. And even if this involves suffering, after all, they are for our best, for through them, we merit a complete tikun and a good life.

Without this yearly reckoning, everyday life would cause us to forget all the grand ideals our souls long for. Lacking a vision, the evil inclinations prevail, and one becomes enslaved to his desires and immersed in his physical needs. On account of the High Holidays, each and every year we can recall all the good aspirations we had, all the Torah we had hoped to study, and all the good deeds we wanted to perform. As a result we loathe the sins that clung to us, confess and repent over them, and re-examine our priorities so that in the coming, good year, we can excel in Torah, mitzvoth and good deeds, and continue building our families, society, and nation. Thus, we are able to rise from one year to the next, and participate in improving and developing the world.

The Sequence of Judgment

Q: Rabbi, if in any event a person’s verdict is sealed on Yom Kippur, why should we pray for our troubles during the year?

A: Although one’s verdict is inscribed on Rosh Hashana and sealed on Yom Kippur, a person’s behavior has a significant effect during the year. This is because the abundance of life allotted on Rosh Hashana descends gradually to the world, by way of roshei chodashim (the beginning of each month) and Shabbatot, and in the sequence of events, it can be positively or negatively inclined. The general rule is that the holidays are intended to affect a plenitude of blessing for the world, each holiday according to its unique essence, and along with the blessing, judgment is introduced in order to monitor that the blessing arrives to those who deserve it.

And since the blessing descends via roshei chodashim, they too are days of judgment, and consequently, are worthy of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness. Those who enhance mitzvoth are accustomed to repent on the eve of Rosh Chodesh.

The Sabbath day is holy and blessed as well, and by means of it, blessing is drawn to the six working days of the week. So that the blessing can flow properly, on Shabbat one must return to God in repentance, out of love. The word ‘Shabbat’ in Hebrew stems from the word ‘teshuva’, meaning ‘repent’ or ‘return’.

The Effect of the Weekdays

The abundant blessings received through the roshei chodashim and Shabbatot descends to the world via the weekdays, because every individual day also has a unique holiness through which Heavenly inspiration is revealed, distinct from any other day. Consequently, a person is judged each day in regards to the unique blessing of that specific day, as Rabbi Yossi said in the Talmud: “A man is judged every day.” And even every moment has its own uniqueness, in which a particular attribute of holiness can be revealed, therefore, a certain aspect of judgment exists every moment, as Rabbi Natan said: “A man is judged every moment” (Rosh Hashana 16a). Parallel to the judgment and blessing of each day, we pray three times a day – Shacharit(morning prayer), Mincha (afternoon), and Ma’ariv (evening) to improve the unique blessing and judgment of each specific day.

The Verdict Sealed at the Beginning of the Year Does Not Change

The judgment made on roshei chodashimShabbatot, and every other day of the year does not change the judgment inscribed and sealed at the beginning of the year, because although the verdict was inscribed and sealed at the beginning of the year, its method of execution – which has significant impact for better or worse – is not determined. This is analogous to the State budget which is determined by law, and the government has no authority to alter it, but nevertheless, each individual minister has the ability to determine how the money is distributed; even the bureaucrats can sway matters for better or worse (see, Berachot 58a).

An Example

In the same way, our Sages said that actions taken during the year can sway the judgment for the good, or for the bad: “How sometimes for good? Suppose Israel were [in the class of] the thoroughly wicked at New Year, and scanty rains were decreed for them, and afterwards they repented. [For God] to increase the supply of rain is impossible, because the decree has been issued. The Holy One, blessed be He, therefore sends down the rain in the proper season on the land that requires it, all according to the district. How sometimes for evil? Suppose Israel were [in the class of] the thoroughly virtuous on New Year, and abundant rains were decreed for them, but afterwards they backslided. To diminish the rains is impossible, because the decree has been issued. The Holy One, blessed be He, therefore sends them down not in their proper season and on land that does not require them”, and thus, they fail to gain benefit from the rains (Rosh Hashana 17b).

Can the Outcome be Changed?

Sometimes it is impossible to sway the judgment favorably because the decree was decisive, such as a situation where the rains allotted were so few that even if they fell efficiently, the drought would still be harsh. Nevertheless, the tzibor (general public) has tremendous power, for if as a collective they repent completely and pray to God concerning their situation, they can even rescind their sentence. In this regards, Rabbi Yochanan said: “Great is the power of repentance that it rescinds a man’s final sentence” (Rosh Hashana 17b).

And although an individual cannot completely rescind his sentence, by repenting and crying to God from the depths of his heart, he can improve it – for example, even if there is the slightest reason to reduce his punishment, he will be dealt with leniently. If, for example, a person is destined to die, but the decree is still open to interpretation, by repenting completely and crying out to God, his death sentence can be converted into poverty, or galut (exile), or extreme humiliation, because all of these examples contain a certain aspect of death. Regarding this, Rabbi Yitzchak said: “Supplication is good for a man whether before the doom is pronounced or after it is pronounced” (Rosh Hashana 16a; 18a) – in other words, supplication is good and beneficial, but it does not rescind the decree (Maharal, ibid). This was the tradition of the house of King David: “Even if a sharp sword rests upon a man’s neck he should not desist from prayer” (Berachot 10a).

Individual and Collective Judgment

Furthermore, it is important to understand that although the judgment of Rosh Hashana is both for the nation as a whole and each and every individual personally, nevertheless, the main judgment in this world is determined apropos the overall situation of the nation – each nation according to its own merits. So we have learned in the Torah, in the portions dealing with the blessings and the curses, BeChuko-thai and Ki Thavo.

At times there is no contradiction between the judgment of the nation and that of the individual, because even when the nation as a whole merits abundant blessing, the blessing is not hindered by the fact that some individuals are punished for their sins. Also, when the nation as a whole is punished, the punishment is not affected by the reward of certain individuals. Occasionally though, the judgment of the nation as a whole and that of the individual do conflict, for example, in times of national, harsh decrees of destruction and exile, where inevitably, the righteous are also punished. Nevertheless the judgment remains unaffected, because in theolam ha’neshamot, in Gan Eden, the righteous will receive their full reward. Sometimes the judgment of the nation as a whole is good, making it impossible for the wicked to receive their full punishment, but nonetheless, the judgment will be completed in the olam ha’neshamot, in Gehinom. The full completion will be in the World to Come, at the time of techiyat ha’maytim(Resurrection of the Dead), when the souls return to reunite with their bodies.

Sin and its Rectification 

By the sin of Adam ha’Rishon (first man), a separation was created between the worlds, and between body and soul – this was man’s punishment of death, that his soul was separated from his body. As a result of this, a situation was created in which justified, full reward cannot be completely received in this physical world, but rather, a small portion of it exists in this world, while the larger portion comes to pass in the olam ha’neshamot – in Gan Eden and Gehinom. The main reward is at the time of techiyat ha’maytim, when the world will be rectified and reunited, and the soul and body will once again unite. Clal Yisrael (the entire physical and spiritual community of Israel, past, present, and future), even in this present world, represents this unity between the soul and the body, between vision and deed, so that even if Clal Yisrael is spiritually or physically damaged, its core remains unaffected, and therefore, even in this world, its life is one of truth.

Who are the Gedolei Ha’Torah?

Who are the Gedoei Ha’Torah?

Occasionally, people from the hareidi community question or attack my articles. Even though they are aware that I strive to follow in the path of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l, nevertheless they argue: “Why don’t you accept the authority of the gedolei ha’ Torah (eminent Torah scholars)?” The answer is: I don’t consider them gedolei ha’Torah. They most definitely are importanttalmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, who educate many disciples, and it is a mitzvah to respect them, but they are not gedolei ha’Torah.

Godlute b’Torah (Torah eminence) necessitates an all-embracing, entirely accountable handling of serious issues facing the generation, including: the attitude towards Am Yisrael in all its diversity and levels – both religious, and non-religious; the attitude towards mitzvoth yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) and the on-going war which has surrounded it for over a century; the attitude towards science and work, and the contemporary social and economic questions.

Technical versus Fundamental Questions

It is important to note that merely relating to these questions is not enough, because it would be easy to settle for trivial answers offering technical ways in which an individual Jew could survive the changes and revolutions facing the nation and world in modern times. Even accomplishing this necessitates expertise, and the more complicated the situation, the greater amount of competence is required. But this does not demand godlute b’Torah. The expertise leaders and public figures already have is adequate; if they are loyal to the path of Torah as taught by their rabbis, and understand the social realities before them,  then they can find creative solutions to difficulties faced by various sectarian groups (hareidi or dati, Ashkenazi or Sephardic). This is the type of expertise required of Knesset members, ministers, and middle-level intellectuals today. They obviously can consult with rabbis who are familiar in this field, but this does not entail significant Torah input.

However, true gedolei ha’Torah are required to deal with fundamental questions, so they can provide significant and important answers to the perplexities of the generation. They need not offer detailed plans for implementation, but they must fix a vision, thoroughly analyze the events and phenomena confronting them, distinguish between their positive and negative points, and offer direction wherein the positive can prevail over the negative, and even rectify it.

What is Godlute b’Torah?

How godlute b’Torah is determined is indeed a weighty and important question. Obviously, the mere fact that a person decides to tackle the essential questions does not entitle him to the designation of gadol ba’Torah, as long as he lacks the competence. Likewise, it is clear thatgodlute is not determined by the degree of proficiency. Throughout all the generations there were talmidei chachamim famous for their great erudition, but nevertheless, their knowledge did not place them in the top row of gedolei ha’Torah, because godlute is determined by the degree of comprehension and penetration into the roots of the matter.

In very general terms, there are three levels of godlute b’Torah:

The first level are those who merit understanding the root of the s’vara (rational inference) of every individual halakha or agadah – these are the regular talmidei chachamim.

The second level are those who merit delving deeper, understanding the inner s’vara which clarifies several halakhot collectively, and thus know how to resolve various questions. For example, rabbis who present the important lectures in yeshivot, who were able to explain numerous sugiyot (issues) in accordance with one foundation, and are great in lamdanut(erudition). Or, important poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who, out of their profound comprehension, understand numerous halakhot, and know how to contend with new questions, and usually are gedolim in a some fields of halakha. A number of those on this level merit comprehending the inner s’vara which clarifies various matters of aggadah, and they aregedolim in machshava (Jewish thought) and emunah (faith).

The third level are those who delve deeper into the inner roots of the s’varot, both in halakha,aggadah, and pnimiyut ha’Torah (the deeper side of Torah). Consequently, they understand the general rules of the Torah more profoundly, and as a result, the details of halakhot andmidrashim are clearer to them, and they know how to give comprehensive instruction and guidance in matters connecting the affairs of the clal (general public) and the prat (individual), the spiritual, and the practical. These are the true gedolei ha’Torah. And among them, naturally, are numerous intermediate levels – according to the extent of profound thought and inner orientation in the various areas of Torah.

Maran HaRav Kook zt”l – The Gadol of Recent Generations

Maran HaRav Kook zt”l was one of Israel’s unique gedolei ha’Torah. He was gifted with tremendous natural talent and through extreme diligence and dedication to righteousness and virtue, merited delving into all areas of Torah to an extent beyond description, particularly in general matters comprising both halakha and aggadah together, clal and prat, sacred and secular.

God performed an enormous act of kindness with His nation Israel, and with the entire world, by sending us such a great and holy soul to illuminate our path in these extraordinary generations. Generations of heights and lows, tremendous scientific achievements and terrible moral confusion, the discovery of individual talents and the decay of national, societal, and family values.

In generations where all orders of life are changing, it is essential to delve deeply into the Torah so as to instruct, correct, and redeem all the continuously discovered talents. In order to contend with such types of challenges, regular godlute b’Torah is not sufficient – not evengodlute of third level. The type of greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu, Ezra HaSofer and the like, is required.

Torah Scholars Who Do Not Understand the Teachings of Rav Kook

Needless to say, someone who does not understand the teachings of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l cannot be considered one of the gedolei ha’Torah of the generation. He can be an expert and well versed in numerous details from the technical side of halakha and aggadah. But he cannot truly be gadol b’Torah.

And even among those who understood Rav Kook’s teachings, there are two main distinctions. There are those who accept his general instructions regarding the importance of Eretz Yisraelin our times, the generation of kibbutz galyiot (Ingathering of the Exiles) and atchalta d’geulah(beginning of the Redemption). Similarly, they agree with his teachings in relation to science and work, and the fundamental attitude towards Jews who abandoned Torah but identify with the values of the nation and the Land, or universal values. Such talmidei chachamim merit emotional connection to the third level owing to their identification with his teachings and luminous character.

And then there are a select few who delve deeper in understanding the ideas, which genuinely illuminate life, paving a path to redemption via the light of Torah guidance.

It should be noted that among the elder rabbis of the previous generation who the hareidi community consider also as gedolei ha’Torah, many were  influenced significantly by Maran HaRav Kook zt”l. And although they did not continue his path of public leadership, they accepted some of his ideas, and remained admirers and honored of his image all their lives. Among them: Rabbi Frank zt”l, Rabbi Aeurbach zt”l, Rabbi Eliyashiv zt”l, Rabbi Wallenberg zt”l, and Rabi Ovadia Yosef, shlita, may he live a long life.

The Words of Rabbi Charlop

Similarly, Rabbi Kook’s great disciple, Rabbi Yaacov Moshe Charlop zt”l, wrote in his book “Mayanei Hayishua” (Chap. 9), that at this time in history, gedolei ha’Torah must engage in the general rules of the Torah.

In that chapter he explains that the prophets dealt with general rules, because when the general rules are put right, all the details follow in order. However, as a result of transgressions, the general rules deteriorated and the Holy Temple was destroyed; consequently, our main task in galut (Diaspora) was rectifying the details themselves. But when the beginning of salvation occurs, and as the world gradually recovers, the longing for

the general rules increases (and when the general rules from the source of the Torah are not provided, consequently, they are sought after in foreign places, and chutzpah (audacity) and lawlessness intensify). “Israel’s gedolim must be deeply aware of this yearning, and pay heed to speak inspiringly, at length and in brief, about rectifying the general rules. In such a way that not only will speaking about the general rules not obscure the details, but rather, will add force and strength, yearning and enthusiasm for the details and their rectification…”

“When the time arrives, if narrow-minded people appear, assuming to hasten the final redemption by speaking only about rectifying the details alone, failing to speak highly about correcting the general rules, they are considered ‘a student who has not reached the level of teaching, but nevertheless teaches’, disarranging all the spiritual conduits, because the hidden light is best revealed through illuminating the general rules, and uplifting the worlds. It is appropriate to make vigorous efforts against such thoughts. The true gedolim wrap themselves with might and strength to stand at the head of the nation, guide them in the correct path, and know that truth and God are with them.”

The Chief Rabbinate

As an extension to the vision of revealing Torah in its greatness, Rabbi Kook viewed the establishment of the Chief Rabbinate as a nucleus from which a significant and united Torah leadership could develop. However, after Rav Kook zt”l passed away, the independent status of the Chief Rabbinate steadily deteriorated. From a rabbinate which presented a vision emanating from a totally autonomous position, devoid of any subordination to public institutions or to any public circles, the rabbinate grew to be one of the most subordinate public institutions, subject to the current legal establishment.

No longer are we talking about offering a comprehensive vision, but rather finding halakhic solutions for the present situation, shaped by the public and political leadership. Even the attempt of Rabbi Herzog zt”l to suggest an alternative constitution for the State of Israel was not an effort to propose an all-inclusive constitution, rather, to find ways to ‘kasher’ the norms of the country’s leaders within the framework of halakha.

In spite of everything, the Chief Rabbis and the members of the Rabbinical Council were the gedolei talmidei chachamim of the generation. Over time, this status also gradually eroded, with the rabbinate becoming a supervisory department for a handful of religious matters, such as marriage, conversions, and kashrut.

In such a situation, although the rabbinate plays a very important role in managing these affairs, we are no longer talking about a supreme, moral, and spiritual Torah authority of mara d’atra (lit. “master of the house” or the local authority in Jewish law. Rather, the role of the Chief Rabbi is at best similar to that of a director of religious affairs, and at worst – the spokesperson for religious affairs.

This example underscores just how much we must continue studying, delving, and identifying with the great vision of Maran HaRav Kook zt”l, in order to increase and glorify the Torah and elevate the status of its bearers, so the light of the redeeming Torah can illuminate the entire world.

Wealth through Tithing

“Aser T’aser”  – Give a Tithe to Grow Rich

In this week’s Torah portion Re’eh, we learn about the mitzvah ma’aser k’safim (giving 10% of one’s income to charity), as the verse says: “Take a [second] tithe”, or in Hebrew, “aser t’aser”(Deuteronomy 14:22). Our Sages interpreted this verse as follows: “Take a [second] tithe – so you may grow rich” (a play on the words aser, to give tithes, and t’aser, to grow rich (Ta’anit 9a). Seemingly, one could ask: A person should perform mitzvoth l’shem shamayim(for the sake of Heaven), and not in order to receive a reward! How could our Sages have said “Take a tithe, so you may grow rich”?

Rather, the wealth gained by one who gives ma’aser from all his income, is itself a mitzvah. This manifests itself in various ways: First of all, from any profits one obtains – he continues to givingma’aser. Second, by giving the ma’aser to Torah students and tzedaka (charity) one merits using his remaining money properly – for strengthening his family and marital relationship, educating his children, creating suitable conditions for Torah study and observance of mitzvoth, and improvement of society. Third, it is a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God) when a Torah observant Jew merits perceptible blessing.

Testing God

Our Sages also said one is allowed to test God in this matter – a person can give ma’aser, and see for himself how he grows rich (Ta’anit 9a). And although it is written: “Do not test God your Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:16), this is the only mitzvah one is permitted to test God, as the verse says: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and put me to the test with that, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you immeasurable blessing” (Malachi 3:10) (see, P’ninei Halacha, Likutim 2, halacha 6:8).

Blessing by way of Natural Means

This blessing, however, comes by way of natural means, because freedom of choice is the foundation of human life in this world, and if observant Jews merited revealed miracles, freedom of choice would be eliminated. Therefore, Divine blessing is revealed in the world by natural means – a person devotes all his talents and energy into his work and God blesses his achievements, as it is written: “God your Lord will then bless you in everything that you do” (Deuteronomy 14:29).

On the other hand, someone who is negligent in his work, even though he gives ma’aser k’safim, will not get any richer. Furthermore, the blessing is in accordance with the effort one makes at work: Someone who works on par with most people – not lazily, but not diligently, will merit a mediocre blessing for his mediocre work. But a person who works diligently, investing considerable thought on how to advance his business – by giving ma’aser k’safim, he will merit great financial blessing.

Always Spend Less than You Earn

Some people interfere with the blessing they receive by wasting their money on luxuries, and neglecting to leave a significant percentage of their money and income for savings.

This important instruction is also learned from this week’s Torah portion, as it is written: “When God expands your borders as He promised you, and your natural desire to eat meat asserts itself, so that you say, “I wish to eat meat”…you need only slaughter your herd [m’bikarkha] and flock [m’tzonekha]” (Deuteronomy 12:20-21). Our Sages learned from this as follows: ‘m’bikarkha” — “of your herd, and not your entire herd; ‘m’tzonekha’, of your flock, and not your entire flock” (Chullin 84a). If we transfer this instruction to contemporary times, the Torah teaches us to use a part of one’s salary, while making sure to leave part of it for savings that yield interest.

Presumably, people who waste all their profits on luxuries and current needs, even if they givema’aser k’safim, will not merit the blessing of wealth. Subsequently, they cannot then come and complain to God, the same as someone who throws his money into the ocean, cannot complain afterwards that he is broke. Still, no harm will result from their giving ma’aser, as stated in theShulchan Aruch “No one ever became poor from giving tzedakah, nor did anything bad or any harm come from it” (Y.D. 247:2).

Those Who Give Improperly

In practice, according to my knowledge, the vast majority of people who give ma’aser k’safimhave told me that they merited financial blessing, as the Torah says. However, I have encountered cases of people who tried to give ma’aser, worked diligently, but nevertheless, did not merit financial blessing. They could not make ends meet, and came to me for advice about what to do.

In all these cases, I discovered they had not given ma’aser according to halakha, but rather, gave it for purposes that are not considered tzedakah, such as giving it to relatives who in actuality were not so needy, or to questionable organizations, or to yeshivot which educate their students improperly (in keeping with their worldview). When a person gives tzedakah for improper purposes, no reward is received for it, and sometimes it is even a transgression, helping sinners continue to deceive the public (see, Baba Kama 16b).

Additionally, the same people who failed to give ma’aser for appropriate purposes usually wasted their money in a shamefully, careless way. Apparently, these matters go hand-in-hand: Since they gave tzedakah improperly, they also did not merit spending their money correctly, and as a result, lose out both ways.

Ma’aser  Cannot be Used for Talmud Torah

Here, I come to a painful problem: Many people mistakenly think they can pay for their children’s Talmud Torah(Torah study) with their ma’aser k’safim. This is wrong. It is forbidden to use one’s ma’aser k’safim for his mitzvoth. For example, it is forbidden to buy tefilintzitzitarba minim (four species) for Sukkot,and the like, with ma’aser money. Similarly, it is forbidden to pay for Talmud Torah with ma’asermoney, because it is a Torah commandment for parents to ensure their children learn Torah, and are taught to observe mitzvoth, and have good midot. And as long as parents have not accomplished this, they have not fulfilled the mitzvah. Nowadays, education is more complex than in the past, and in order to place children on the proper Torah path, parents need to care for their studies and education until the age of eighteen, and for boys, up to the age of about twenty.

Therefore, the expenses that parents pay for their children all those years cannot be considered ma’aser k’safim. True, Shulchan HaRav (Laws of Talmud Torah 1:7) wrote that if parents send their children to another city to study Torah, the expenses for study cannot be paid with ma’aser k’safim, but are permitted to pay for their child’s food withma’aser k’safim. However, he was referring to youth who were already used to helping their parents carry the burden of making a living; therefore, caring for them beyond the usual could have been considered as ma’aser k’safim. But nowadays, when the norm is to take care of children until the age of eighteen, and this is even required by law, it cannot be considered ma’aser k’safim.

However, regarding the period after eighteen years of age, in time of need, the expenses for boarding fees can be considered ma’aser k’safim. This must also be dealt with from several aspects (for example, given the state pays some of the costs, it works out the parents are only paying for tuition).

Using Ma’aser K’safim for Enhanced Education

Q: Rabbi, I easily could have sent my child to an regional school and paid markedly less. Why can’t the amount I add for Talmud Torah be considered as ma’aser k’safim?

A: Just as a person who can purchase regular kosher tefillin for 1,000 shekels but chooses to buy tefillin mehudarot (enhanced tefillin) for 2,000 shekels cannot pay the difference withma’aser k’safim, the same is true for all the mitzvoth, including Talmud Torah that it is forbidden to use one’s ma’aser k’safim for an additional enhancement (hee’dor) of mitzvoth. This is because ma’aser k’safim is intended for charitable needs and the Torah study oftalmidei chachamim who learn in order to teach, similar to the past when the Kohanim andLevi’im, who taught the nation Torah, were supported by money from ma’asrot.

Put Me to the Test

After all this, there are rabbis who instruct it is permissible to pay for Talmud Torah with ma’aser k’safim. But it is clearly evident that the blessing of ma’aser fails to be realized by those who pay for their children with ma’aser k’safim. After all, regarding ma’aser it is written “Put Me to the test”, and if the test results show there is no blessing, then this is not the proper intention for ma’aser k’safim.

True, a poor person is exempt from ma’aser, but someone who earns a reasonable salary, or even a little less than average, cannot claim that he is poor; he is obligated to give ma’aser, and may not pay for his children’s education with ma’aser k’safim.

And who knows? Perhaps if they carefully observed the mitzvah of ma’aser
and not used it for educational purposes, the government would focus on  improving the quality of schools for the public at large, whose tuition costs are markedly lower. This would serve a double purpose, for l’chatchila (from the outset) it is better for all children living in one zone who want a religious education to learn together, for as the saying goes, there is no comparison between “the many who learn Torah, as opposed to, the few who learn Torah” (Sifra, Bechukotai 1:2).

However, when elevating the regional school to a required level is unachievable, and it is impossible to provide an appropriate Torah education within its framework, then, out of lack of choice and for the sake of their future, children should be sent to Talmud Torah. If the parents do not have the ability to pay for Talmud Torah and give ma’aser k’safim, then they are considered poor, and exempt from ma’aser.  However, since in practice they do not givema’aser, nor will they merit the blessing of wealth. Therefore, if possible, it would be preferable for them to relocate to a place with a regional school that can provide good education, and thus, be able to fulfill the mitzvah of ma’aser.

Reduce the Cost of Education

Here, I must express an urgent call for the reduction of education costs. Rather than accepting the given situation and considering where to cut back, the discussion should be started by stating in principle that the parents expenses for boys in yeshiva high school should not exceed 4,000 shekels a year, and for girls in ulpana, not more than 2,000 shekels a year. Later on, the administrative staff can discuss how to handle the given budget. This is the only way we can fulfill our obligation to all of Israel, and not just the rich and those who understand the necessity of religious education.

There is no room left to explain how this is possible. I will just mention that in another two years in Har Bracha, with God’s help, an ulpana for girls will be established, and the designated director, Rabbi Shlomi Badash, shlita, who has extensive experience in managing a school has already announced that the parent’s expenses will not exceed 2,000 shekels a year, and this, without harming the religious and educational level.

It's All Happening at the Zoo

Blessings for Visiting the Zoo

After last week’s article concerning the blessing “ma’aseh bereshit” recited by those traveling throughout the country upon seeing the ocean, a unique mountain or hill, I will now deal with the blessings recited by visitors to the zoo: the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” (who has such [beautiful things] in His universe) over beautiful animals, and the blessing “Meshaneh Ha’Briyot” (who makes strange creatures) over a monkey or elephant.

“ShCacha Lo BeOlamo”

Occasionally we encounter special, exciting and fascinating sights. In order to give expression to their spiritual significance, our Sages determined to recite a blessing upon seeing them, thereby connecting them to their divine roots. Included in this, our Sages determined that one who sees particularly nice-looking or strong animals, or especially beautiful or superior trees, or an exceptionally good-looking, or tall, strong person – whether they be Jewish or Gentile – recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” (Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the Universe, who has such [beautiful things] in His universe) (Brachot 58b).

By reciting this blessing, a great tikkun (rectification) is made, for quite often people marvel at exceptionally beautiful, or strong and large creatures – some people even hold beauty or physical strength contests between certain creatures (both humans and animals). It is extremely important to connect these feelings to their roots, and give praise to the Creator, who has such beautiful things in His universe.

Blessings are recited over two types of exceptionally beautiful creatures:

1) An animal unique in relation to others of the same species.

An expert on horses who sees a particularly handsome, strong, or fast horse recites the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo”. Likewise, if an expert on dogs or cats sees a beautiful or particularly large one, he recites the blessing.

Regarding a person who is not knowledgeable about horses or dogs – even if the animals are unique and have won awards – if one is not impressed by seeing them, he does not recite the blessing. If he is impressed, he does recite the blessing.

Similarly, a person who sees an award-winning cow for producing the most amount of milk – if he is impressed by seeing it, the blessing is recited. If not, the blessing is not recited.

2) Unique species such as parrots and stunning peacocks

The second type of animals, those found in zoos, are species considered particularly beautiful due to their appearance and special colors, such as a large and spectacularly colored parrot, or a peacock with a beautiful tail. Since they are considered beautiful compared to other birds, and people travel distances to take pleasure in their beauty, the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” is recited upon seeing them. Similarly, one who travels to see exotic fish, such as those in the Gulf of Eilat, given that they are considered particularly beautiful in comparison to other fish, recites the blessing.

The Proper Way to Bless in the Zoo

A visitor to the zoo should recite the blessing “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” over the first beautiful species he sees, and have kavana (intention) to exempt all the other beautiful species with his blessing. This pertains to most people, who are not particularly impressed by all the gorgeous species. But someone greatly moved by seeing them, recites a blessing on each one individually.

A person taking children to the zoo, who sees they are particularly impressed by a certain animal, should instruct them to recite an additional blessing. It is best for an adult taking a group of children to visit the zoo to first recite the blessing for himself out loud, and for everyone to answer ‘amen’. Afterwards, each time they encounter a particularly beautiful species, a different child should be honored with reciting a blessing, thereby educating them to bless and admire God’s creatures. Together with this, they will also learn that the accepted practice is for each individual to recite one blessing over all the beautiful animals.

The Blessing “Mishaneh Ha’Briyot” for a Monkey or Elephant

Our Sages determined that a person who sees a monkey or an elephant recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam mishaneh ha’briyot” (Berachot 58b; S.A. 225:8). Indeed, there is an opinion that a blessing should be recited upon seeing any unique-looking animal (Rashz”a in Hilchot Shlomo 23:35). In practice, however, according to the opinion of most poskim (Jewish law arbiters), our Sages determined to recite a blessing specifically on monkeys and elephants, because more than any other creatures, their appearance arouses particular astonishment, for although they are animals, they possess a certain resemblance to humans. A monkey is similar to man in the shape of its body and the use of its hands. An elephant is unique among animals in that its skin is smooth and hairless, and uses its trunk like a hand (Meiri, Berachot 58b).

A person who sees a monkey and an elephant together, recites one blessing over both. However, when they are in different locations, as is common in zoos, a separate blessing is recited over each one.

A Blessing Every Thirty Days

Those who have already visited the zoo within the last month do not recite the blessing over animals because if thirty days have not passed, one’s amazement at seeing them is diminished. But if thirty days have passed, even if one sees the same animals again, a blessing is recited. And although in the opinion of Ra’avad, the blessing over beautiful animals is recited once in a lifetime, and his opinion was codified by the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 225:9), this specifically relates to an animal whose second sighting does not evoke a special sense of amazement. But when visiting a zoo, there definitely is a sense of amazement – the fact that people go there specifically to see the animals demonstrates their wonder at seeing them (P’ninei Halacha, Brachot 15:15).

However, regarding a person who visits a different zoo, if he marvels at seeing the animals there anew, he recites a blessing over them, even though thirty days have not passed since his previous sighting.

A Suggestion for Zoo Managers

It would be appropriate for zoo managers to hang attractive signs near the animals which require a blessing upon seeing them – “ShCacha Lo BeOlamo” next to the beautiful parrots and peacocks, and “Meshaneh ba’Briyot” near the elephants and monkeys, and to indicate that one who has already visited the zoo within thirty days should not recite the blessing once again.

A Story of a Widow and a Group of Single Women

Q: Rabbi, we have a talented and pretty daughter, highly successful in her profession, and loved by her friends. But despite all her merits and efforts, she has passed the age of thirty, and is still single. Apparently all the matchmakers, both men and women, who tried to help (some for a hefty fee), have yet to find a compatible man, worthy of her level. How can we find matchmakers who can identify with her, so they can find her the right man?

A: Since I am not familiar with your beloved daughter, I cannot answer your question, but I will tell you a story I heard recently.

In a certain workplace, a group of over ten single women happened to work in the same office. All of them wanted to get married, but could not find their partner. In order to help each other out, they shared all the information they had garnered about potential men. Each woman typically had two or three close friends with whom they confided about their dates, so as to help them analyze the character of the men, and receive criticism and advice. Together they hoped, and together, cried over the letdowns. Nevertheless, in spite of everything, they encouraged themselves not to get disheartened. The years passed on. Some of them were already over thirty, others were not far away – and they remained single.

And then, a disaster occurred: a co-workers of theirs, a mother of four children, her husband passed away. They were shocked. They cried, attended the funeral, and helped her with her children. From time to time they secretly comforted themselves, thinking that maybe their situation wasn’t so bad after all. Perhaps it was better to be single, than a widow with four children.

About a year later, the widow married a widower with seven children of his own. The women were shocked and speechless. What? So fast? How could she agree to accept his seven children in addition to her own four? Hasn’t she suffered enough, without having to take on his seven children? After all she went through, doesn’t she deserve to find a single man, or a widower with only one or two kids at the most, who could support and pamper her?

Nevertheless, they pulled themselves together, honored her decision, and of course – shared in her joy at the wedding. After all, she was their friend, wasn’t she?! At the wedding, they wiped tears from their eyes, were emotional, and felt a little sorry.

And wonder of wonders, in less than two years, the vast majority of them got married – some to divorced men, others to widowers. They say they are happy.

Concerning the Foreign Ministry Strike

In recent months, members of the diplomatic corps have been striking, demanding more pay and better working conditions. It seems that in the current situation, where the State of Israel has failed to explain its position to the world, there is no room for a pay hike, just as a factory suffering from severe losses does not increase its employees wages.

Israeli diplomats neglect our two main arguments. The first is our religious right to the land, particularly the holy places – Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. Perhaps the diplomats fear that raising the confrontation to the level of a religious conflict will only aggravate the situation. However, ignoring and turning a blind eye will not help – in reality, it is a religious conflict. By not mentioning our Biblical right to the land, they abandon the main argument for our right to the land.

The second argument is a moral one. They should have exposed the terrible lies of Arab propaganda. For example, using the incident involving the child Muhammad al-Dura, it could have been exposed how the Arabs spread lies and blood libels, but the Foreign Ministry and diplomats hindered this (as reported in an article by Shimon Cohen on Arutz 7, July 21, 2013).

The Foreign Ministry should have publicized the fact that the vast majority of Arabs living in the Land of Israel are descendants of migrant workers who came here within the last 120 years to benefit from the prosperity that Jews brought to the land.

They should have described the ruthless violence and corruption which prevails in Arab society – how they oppress the poor, the weak, and the Christians. They should have described the enviable conditions and extensive rights the Arabs have living under Israeli rule – a hundred times better than their Arab brethren in all neighboring countries – thereby exposing the ingratitude and lies with which they constantly vilify us. Our friends among the nations of the world complain bitterly about the Israeli diplomats, who are alienated from religion and morality.

As long as this situation continues, it is not right to raise their salaries.

A Travelers Guide to Blessings

Blessings over Unusual Sights: A Traveler’s Guide

This is the time of year when many people take trips throughout the country. In order to elevate these outings by observing the greatness of the Creator, it is worthwhile mentioning the blessings our Sages enacted to recite upon seeing an unusual sight.

Blessing over Impressive Landscapes

On five impressive landscapes our Sages determined one recites the blessing: “Baruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh bereshit” (Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the Universe, Who reenacts the work of creation). The five are: seas, rivers, mountains, hills, and deserts (Berachot 54a). As a result of seeing such special landscapes, a person is open to reflect on creation, and recite a blessing of praise. A person not moved by seeing such landscapes is nevertheless required to recite the blessing, provided the majority of people do consider it an impressive sight.

Thirty Day Calculation

However, a person who already saw the unique landscape within thirty days does not recite the blessing, because for him, it is not a novel sight. But if thirty days have passed from previously seeing it, one is obligated to recite the blessing. And although some people are so receptive they are stirred after not having seen the unique landscape even after a week, and on the other hand, others are so indifferent they are not enthused even after a year – our Sages determined to bless in accordance with the excepted practice among most people, that after thirty days have passed, they are stirred once again.

In order to make calculating the days easier, the 31st day, the time one can recite the blessing once more, will always fall out after four weeks and two days have passed. For example, if a person viewed the sight on a Sunday, the 31st day will take place after four weeks, on Tuesday. If he saw it on a Monday, the 31st day will be after four weeks, on Wednesday (similar to the halakha of calculating when a pidyon ha’ben occurs).

Over which Sea do we bless?

Viewing a sea is always striking, consequently a person should recite a blessing over every sea or lake, provided it contains a lot of water all year round and is not man-made. Therefore, a blessing is recited over four seas in the Land of Israel: the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and the Dead Sea.

However, if the lake was created by a man-made dam, even if it is extremely large such as the Aswan Dam, a blessing is not recited, because the blessing was enacted as praise over the work of the Creator, and not over the work of man.

Blessing over Oceans

The blessing recited over oceans surrounding continents is: “Boruch Atah A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam, sh’asah et hayam hagadol” (Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the Universe, Who created the great Sea). Some authorities, however, are of the opinion that the great sea is the Mediterranean (S.A., O.C, 228:1). Nevertheless, in the opinion of manyposkim, the blessing “sh’asah et hayam hagadol” should be recited only over oceans, while the blessing for the Mediterranean is “oseh ma’aseh bereshit”, and this is the minhag (Rosh, Ra’av, M.A., M.B. 228:2, see Biur Halakha, ibid).

Over which Rivers is a Blessing Recited?

In regards to rivers, two conditions were mentioned: A) that it flows naturally, without humans having altered its course. B) That they are at least as large as the Prat (Euphrates), which is described by the Torah as being a large river. All the more so is one required to recite a blessing over larger rivers, such as the Nile, Volga, Rhine, Amazon, and Mississippi. But over ordinary rivers, such as the Yarkon, Jordan, and the like, a blessing is not recited, because they are not so impressive (M.B. 228:2).

Mountains and Hills

The condition for reciting a blessing over mountains is that they be particularly high in relation to their surroundings. For hills, the condition is their shape is particularly striking, for example they have steep and sharp cliffs, such as the striking cliffs in the Judean Desert. But over the ordinary mountains in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, a blessing is not recited. However, upon seeing Gamla, Arbel, Masada, and Sartaba, a blessing is recited because of their unique appearance. A blessing is also recited over seeing Mount Tabor, for its height is striking, and its appearance is unique.

Mountains and Hills in Israel

To illustrate this halakha, I will point out the well-known mountains in the Land of Israel that travelers tend to visit. In the Golan – Mt. Hermon and Gamla. In the Galilee – Arbel, Mt. Hazon, Mt. Atzmon, Mt. Meron (especially from the north), and the Rosh Hanikra ridge (mainly the western part). In Samaria and Judea – Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Eval, Mt. Kabir, Mt. Tamon, Sartaba, Baal Hazor, Kochav Hashachar, Masada, and along the entire length of the Judean Desert cliffs, overlooking the Valley of the Dead Sea. In the Jezreel Valley – Mt. Tabor, and the Gilboa (particularly Mt. Saul); Mt. Carmel, in locations where it descends steeply into the Jezreel Valley or the ocean. In the Negev and Eilat – the Makhteshim (craters), looking into them, Mt. Ardon (Ramon Crater), Mt. Shlomo and Mt. Tzfachot (I received this list from a relative of mine, Dr. Yossi Spanier).


The desert is a barren and desolate place, where little rain falls. A blessing is recited also over the Judean Desert, provided its appearance elicits an extraordinary reaction, such as hiking in it and all the surrounding areas are deserted, or going to a lookout point to observe the arid expanses. But one who sees the desert while routinely driving through does not recite a blessing.

Seeing Several Sights in One Day

Seeing one large mountain does not hinder reciting a blessing upon seeing another mountain, for if one sees Mt. Hermon, and afterwards travels to the Galilee to see Mt. Meron – he should bless once again “oseh ma’aseh bereshit.” Only when one sees the same mountain within thirty days is a blessing not recited. Consequently, a person could be required to recite the blessing “oseh ma’aseh bereshit” a number of times in one day. For if on the same day a person sees the Mediterranean, and then Mt. Carmel, and afterwards Mt. Tabor, and later on, the Kinneret, and finally Mt. Hermon – on each one of them he recites the blessing “oseh ma’aseh bereshit”.

Similarly, a person who flies from Israel to America, upon seeing the Mediterranean blesses “osheh ma’aseh bereshit”, and after passing over Europe sees the Atlantic Ocean, blesses “sh’asah et hayam hagadol”. And if from the plane one is able to see particularly large mountains – he recites the blessing “oseh ma’aseh bereshit” over them as well.

One who sees a number of impressive sights requiring a blessing at the same time recites one blessing over all of them. For example, if a person is in a location where he can clearly see the Kinneret and Mt. Arbel, recites one blessing over both.

Several Striking Mountains in One Area

A person hiking in an area with a number of unique, similarly shaped hills, given that they are all in the same surrounding area and have similar forms, even if he sees them one at a time, with one blessing he covers them all.

Likewise concerning large mountains – if they are located in the same surrounding area, one blessing is recited for all of them. For example, the entire Carmel Mountain range is considered one area. On the other hand, Judea, Samaria, and the Galilee which are larger areas, are divided into several regions according to the terrain. Therefore, one recites separate blessings on the mountains and the hills, unless he sees them together.

Regarding a hiker in the Judean Desert – upon entering, the blessing over the desert is recited, and afterwards, if a particularly large mountain is seen – a blessing is recited over it, as well. Upon reaching the area of unique cliffs and hills, even if one sees them individually, one blessing is recited over all of them, since they are all in the same area, and have similar shapes.

One who Lives near Striking Landscapes

A person who lives near the ocean, or travels by it frequently does not recite a blessing because seeing the ocean is not a novelty for him. However, upon seeing a different ocean, a blessing is recited. Therefore, people who live close to the Mediterranean coast, or frequently travel on the coastal highway, do not recite the blessing on seeing the Mediterranean, even if they see it from a different beach. Even if a person living close to the ocean does not see it for thirty days, he does not recite a blessing – given that he could have seen it easily, there is no novelty in his viewing it. However, if he leaves for thirty days and after returning wishes to gaze at the ocean – this is considered seeing it anew, and recites the blessing. The halakha is similar for a person who lives near a high mountain, or a uniquely shaped hill.

Blessings over Striking Landscapes in Our Times

Nowadays, people are accustomed to traveling long distances by car to get to work, or for social or family gatherings, and while traveling, often see mountains, hills, and oceans. The question arises: Should a blessing be recited over such an incidental and routine sighting? The basic doubt is that in the past, when people travelled by foot or donkey, they rarely saw unique landscapes. Upon seeing the ocean, they were moved; and when they traveled near the coast, and suddenly saw the towering Carmel meeting the shore, it was a thrilling vision. But today, people are accustomed to travel back and forth on a regular basis, and the sights have become routine.

In practice, only one who sees – in other words, one who takes notice of the unique landscapes, is required to recite a blessing; someone who pays no attention, does not bless. Therefore, a distinction must be made between two types of seeing: while touring, or while on a routine trip.

One who Sees Impressive Sights during a Trip

On an outing, when the aim is observing the beauty of creation, a person is clearly required to recite blessings over all the special landscapes – including the ocean and sea, Mt. Tabor and Mt. Carmel – provided he has not seen them for thirty days, and is not accustomed to travelling in their proximity. And even someone who is not personally moved, given that he came to see the scenery, he thus demonstrates his interest in them, and is required to recite the blessings. If one is in doubt whether a certain mountain, hill, or desert is impressive enough, it is proper to recite the blessing without shem u’malchut (omitting the words “A-d-o-n-o-I, E-l-o-h-e-i-n-u Melech ha’olam”). If these are mountains or hills that travelers tend to visit (such as the places previously mentioned), it is a sign they are impressive, and undoubtedly a blessing should be recited over them.

During a Routine Trip

When traveling on a routine trip, the halakha depends on the degree of excitement. If the sight arouses one’s attention – a blessing should be recited. If it does not grab one’s attention, even though he sees it – he should not recite a blessing. For example, if a person travels from Jerusalem to Haifa via the coastal highway – if he notices the ocean, and is somewhat moved – he should recite a blessing; if not, a blessing is not recited. If one notices the Carmel Mountains and observes their unique appearance – a blessing should be recited. If he does not observe them – a blessing should not be recited. The same is true for Mt. Tabor, the Kinneret, and the towering mountains in Judea and Samaria.

May it be His will that through the blessings we recite, everything we see is elevated in faith, and by way of reflecting on creation, we merit walking in the paths of Hashem.

Advice for Tisha B'Av

Coffee on the Fast

Q: Rabbi, I am used to drinking a couple of cups of coffee everyday, and as a result when I fast, I get terrible headaches. Is there anything I can do? Maybe I fall under the category of a choleh(an ill person), and exempt from fasting?

A: Since you need coffee to avoid headaches, you are permitted to take a teaspoon of instant or granulated coffee and swallow it without water. This is because in such a manner the coffee is not edible, seeing as it has a very bad, and even repulsive taste. True, on fast days it is forbidden to eat even inedible things, because by deciding to eat it, a person demonstrates he considers it as food (Rosh). But in this case, when the goal is to relieve a headache, someone who swallows coffee does not consider it as food, but rather as a medicine. A number of teaspoons of coffee can be taken in this manner throughout the day, as needed.

Afterwards, it would be advisable to brush one’s teeth thoroughly to prevent bad breath.

If one has Acomol (paracetamol) pills with caffeine, specifically designed for the purpose of relieving such pain, he can swallow them without water on the fast, and thus prevent headaches.

Rinsing One’s Mouth in the Morning

Q: Is one allowed to brush his teeth in the morning on Tisha B’Av?

A: In the past, people brushed their teeth less, and therefore the general instruction was to forbid rinsing out one’s mouth on fast days (S.A.567:3). Nevertheless, if by not washing his mouth a person was distressed, he was permitted to do so, as long as he made sure not to swallow any drops of water (M.B. 11). True, on Tisha B’Av, in addition to the prohibition of drinking there is also a prohibition of washing, but if the dirt or sweat causes distress, one is permitted to wash that area of his body. Therefore, a person distressed by not brushing his teeth in the morning with water and toothpaste may do so on Tisha B’Av (on Yom Kippur, where the prohibition of drinking is from the Torah, one must be stringent and brush without water or toothpaste).

Custom of Sleeping on the Ground

Q: Is one obligated to sleep on the ground on Tisha B’Av?

A:  According to halakha, one is not obligated to sleep on the floor. Nevertheless, Jews traditionally expressed mourning on Tisha B’Av by doing so, and there are a number of different customs: Some sleep on the floor, others sleep on their bed without a pillow, while still others place a stone under their pillow (S.A. 555:2). One who finds it hard to sleep this way, may sleep as usual (M.B. 555:6). The accepted custom is to express mourning by placing one’s mattress on the floor, and subsequently, there is no need to remove the pillow. In this way, one fulfills the custom of mourning without difficulty sleeping. Some people embellish the custom by also placing a stone underneath the mattress.

Custom of Sitting on the Ground

It is customary to sit on the ground, similar to the minhag of mourners. Since this is not obligated by halakha, we are not stringent about doing so until the conclusion of Tisha B’Av (Bach, 559:1). Jews of Ashkenazi origin are customary to be stringent in this minhag untilchatzot ha’yom (midday), and Jews of Sephardic origin, until tefillat Mincha [afternoon prayer] (S.A. and Rema 559:3). Those who sleep in the afternoon do not need to place their mattress on the floor.

According to Kabbala,  some refrain from sitting on the ground without a chatitzah (separation) of fabric or wood between themselves and the ground (Birkei Yosef 555:8), but many poskimhold that if one sits on a tiled floor, even according to Kabbala, he does not have to be meticulous about this. Some people, nevertheless, are meticulous to place a chatitzah even on tiled floors.

Since halakha does not obligate sitting on the ground on Tisha B’Av, one is permitted to sit on a small pillow or on a low bench, but preferably, it should not be higher than a tefach (8 cm.) from the ground. If it is difficult to sit so low, one can be lenient and sit on a low chair which is not higher than three tefakhim (24 cm.). Someone who finds this difficult is permitted to sit on a chair a little higher than three tefakhim.

Sitting on steps is considered as sitting on the ground, seeing as people tread on them (Makor Chaim L’Chavat Ya’ir).

Pregnant women, elderly, sick, and people suffering from back pain who find it difficult to sit on a low chair, are permitted to sit on regular chairs (Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh De’ah 387:3).

Remembering the Holocaust

The ‘Three Weeks’, and especially the ‘Nine Days’, are appropriate times for remembering the Holocaust and its lessons. This is the reason I wrote about it in last week’s article.

The awesome question which constantly arises is: Why did this terrible disaster happen to us? Once, during a class I gave in my early years as a rabbi, I mentioned something I had heard from my rabbis – that as a result of the Holocaust, the State of Israel was established. Among those present was the grandfather of one of the residents. At the end of the lecture, he gently said to me with tears in his eyes: “Is the State of Israel worth all those sacrifices?” Then, trying to speak about the Jews he had known from his town who had been murdered, he truly cried.

I was silent and ashamed, and tears filled my eyes as well. Indeed, the question is far greater than all the answers. Nevertheless, an historical fact cannot be ignored: In all of Israel’s history, there was never a period where so many Jews abandoned the path of Torah and mitzvoth, with many of them actually assimilating. Within the span of fifty years, the majority of the Jewish population in Europe stopped observing Torah and mitzvoth. If not in regards to a situation like this, why were the curses written in the Torah?! This is also connected to an additional fact: There was never a generation in which the gates of immigration to the Land of Israel were so widely open, but nevertheless, European Jews refrained from making aliyah. This was the subject of the book “Eim Habanim Semakhah”, and this is also why the curses are written in the Torah.

And yet, the question is still agonizing, because the trials European Jewry faced were horrifying. Jewish life became unbearable. Many felt they had come to a dead end; only poverty and overcrowding. The future held nothing but persecution and oppression, to the point where many felt they had no choice but to assimilate, or at the very least, abandon religious observance. The idea of Eretz Yisrael, after 2,000 years of exile, also seemed distant and unrealistic. But nevertheless, Maran HaRav Kook ZT’L, Israel’s illuminating and holy light, foresaw this, and from the depths of Torah, charted a course. However, many did not listen to him; perhaps they were unable. And furiously, God uprooted us from the exile, and cast us into the Land of Israel.

Today as well, we are also helpless in many areas of life, and have no alternative but to delve deeper into the Torah, and pray we are able to direct our ways properly.

Redemption through Torah Study

It is written in Tanna D’bei Eliyahu (Eliyahu Zuta 14): “Israel wil not redeemed out of sorrow, or out of slavery, or out of wandering, or out of madness, or out of duress, or out of a lack of food; but on account of ten people sitting together, each one reading and learning with his partner, their voices heard, as it is written: “But upon Mount Zion there will be refuge, and there will be holiness” (Ovadiah 1:17).

One could have thought that after being punished and suffering for our sins, and after being enslaved to the Gentiles and wandering in all our exiles, the object of scorn and oppression – we finished paying our debt, and deserved to return to our Land and be redeemed. Therefore, our Sages came to teach us that trials and tribulations alone cannot bring the Redemption. TheGeula (Redemption) will come as a result of drawing the right conclusions from the sufferings, and these conclusions can only be clarified through Torah study.

Our Sages hinted at two types of study.

Working People who Study Torah

The first type of study is the usual learning by Jews who work for a living, yet, despite all the inconveniences, set aside fixed times everyday for Torah study, and the serious, character-building learning, they fulfill on Shabbat.

The Study of Eminent Torah Scholars

The second type of learning is the profound study of gedolei Torah (eminent Torah scholars), who, from out of the depth of the sufferings, understand the magnitude of Israel’s role in every generation. If the sufferings are not understood, additional trials and tribulations are brought about, each one designed to teach a particular point. The reason why can only be understood through deep Torah study, leading to a knowledge of Israel’s path to redemption through the building of the nation in its Land, according to Torah. It is not enough for each gadol b’Torah to learn individually, for such study lacks the required depth. Rather, groups of talmidei chachamim, inspiring each other in their studies, must learn together. And it is not enough for each one to learn in a closed room, but must make their voices heard – in other words, their studies must illuminate life with proper, enlightening, and uplifting guidance. Then, we will fulfill the verse: “But upon Mount Zion there will be refuge, and there will be holiness.

Both Types are Mutually Dependent

Both types of studies are interdependent, because as a result of Torah study by Jews who work in the fields of industry, the sciences, and business, the real questions arise; and only by means of them, can talmidei chachamim clarify the Torah accurately. Therefore, a connection between anshei kodesh and anshei chol is necessary, for only thus, will we reach the truth.

Settling the Land of Israel

The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel also brings the Redemption closer. It also is connected to the mitzvah of Torah study, because by means of questions related to settling the Land with all its difficulties, the essentials of Torah are clarified. Otherwise, one could escape into engaging in pilpulim (wordplay) and zutote (trivialities) concerning personal and individual questions, without realizing the Torah was given to clal Yisrael for the redemption of the entire world, and only in this way do all the details receive their full importance. By engaging in the mitzvah of settling the Land, both the rules and principles of the Torah are learned.

In order to settle the Land, we must also strengthen ourselves in the mitzvah of puru u’rivuru(be fruitful and multiply), as our Sages said: “Just as Israel was redeemed from Egypt in the merit of proliferating, likewise, they will be redeemed in the future. On what is this based? Know it well. Israel will be redeemed only if they proliferate and fill the entire the world, as it is said:“For you shall break forth on the right hand and on the left; and your seed shall possess nations, and make desolate cities to be inhabited” (Eliyahu Zuta 14).

Note that the proliferation mentioned in the verse is in order to settle the Land of Israel, as the verse says “and make desolate cities to be inhabited.” These are the holy mountains and desolate cities of Judea and Samaria, where our forefathers lived, in the paths our prophets walked, and from where our Torah will illuminate and bring our redemption.

The Disgrace of the Great Democracies

The Holocaust and its Causes

Among devout followers of the liberal left-wing, it is widely accepted that the Holocaust occurred due to the absence of the foundations of equality and democracy in Germany, its allies, or in the countries it occupied. Such an approach views the Holocaust of the Jewish nation as an example of a terrible disaster caused by the lack of these values. Consequently, the main challenge presently facing humanity is to impose the values of democracy and equality on all of the countries in the world.

However, if we honestly wish to examine whether this approach indeed ensures desirable behavior, we need to analyze the positions of the two meticulously democratic countries – the United States and Britain. Their response to the Holocaust is immensely important in examining the significance of democracy in protecting the values of life and human dignity, inasmuch as even during wartime, concurrent to emergency regulations, all democratic institutions such as the parliament and government operated in an orderly fashion. In America, elections were held for the President, Senate, and Congress as scheduled, despite the country being involved in World War II from the beginning of 1941.

Values worth Fighting For, and the Jewish Holocaust

The British and Americans repeatedly proclaimed, with all the tools at their disposal that they were fighting on behalf of ideals, for the sake of humanity, and against the inhumane Satan. Such declarations are extremely important, but they are also morally binding.

Indisputably, the most horrific barbarity perpetrated was against the Jews. The Nazis gathered them into ghettos, depriving them of their freedom, dignity, and property. The Nazis confined the Jews in dreadful conditions, causing many of them to die of hunger, thirst, cold, and disease. In the end, they transported them in cattle cars, under appalling conditions, to be mass-murdered in the death camps. Nothing can be more diabolical than this.

Perhaps the difficulty in requesting a country – even one that declares all its war efforts are on behalf of rescuing human morality – to open an additional front and sacrifice thousands of soldiers for the sole purpose of saving millions of foreigners, can be understood. However, at the very least, it could have been expected that they would have carried out two minimal actions to save the Jews: issuing temporary visas, and bombing the death camps. But the two glorious democracies refused to do even this.

Entry Visas

One of the most effective methods of saving Jews was by issuing temporary resident visas to one of the countries not controlled by Germany. Tens of thousands of Jews were saved by means of such visas, which righteous diplomats– such as the Swedish Raoul Wallenberg in Hungary, and the Japanese Sugihara in Kovno (Kaunas) – agreed to issue. However, what a handful of diplomats were willing to do under personal risk, seeing as they acted in contradiction to their government’s positions, liberal countries refused to do, legally.

Bombing the Death Camps

There was another means of saving Jews: disrupting the method of extermination, namely, bombing the death camps, and railways leading to them. In the final two years of the war, delaying trains for two or three days meant postponing the murder of tens of thousands of people. Bombardment of the camps could have hindered the mass-murder for an even longer period of time. Had they bombed repeatedly, they could have disrupted the majority of the murderous operations in the camps. It can be assumed that in this way, over a million Jews could have been saved.

However, representatives of the democratic countries claimed that bombing the camps would have entailed diverting aircraft from attacking military targets to other aims. In reality though, a very large number of bombs were earmarked for civilian and industrial targets, but their damage to Germany’s industry was minimal since the majority of factories were underground. The Americans and the British realized this immediately, but nevertheless, refused to divert their planes to the death camps. For countless nights, thousands of planes departed to bomb all through Germany and Poland, but not one of them was sent to bomb the death camps and the railways.

Why didn’t they Bomb?

For years, American representatives claimed they did not have accurate information about the location of the death camps. When survivors of the death camps testified that they saw American and British planes pass overhead flying to other destinations, they claimed the survivors had mistakenly identified the planes, and that in truth, only German aircraft flew overhead. This was a lie. After the archives were opened, it was discovered that British and American planes departing from British territory, bombed industrial targets eight kilometers from Auschwitz. They flew over Auschwitz, photographed the camps, saw the smoke billowing from the furnaces – but did not have even one bomb to save the Jews.

Jewish Attempts

During the war years, Jews living in the United States and Britain, and representatives of the Zionist movement, tried to persuade their leaders to act on behalf of the Jews, but they were given the runaround. The “Bergson Group”, led by Hillel Kook, deviated from the accepted policy of the Jewish leadership. They appealed directly to public opinion – bypassing the administration and the Jewish establishment – utilizing the mass-media, such as movies, plays, and rallies in which they described the terrible suffering of the Jews. As a result, the governments could no longer remain silent, and announced the convening of a conference in Bermuda on the topic of “political refugees.”

As later became clear, the purpose of the conference on the island of Bermuda, was to diffuse public pressure. In the conference’s deliberations, Britain and the U.S. claimed they could not issue numerous visas to Jews because, at the very most, they were able to absorb no more than a thousand people a month! In all of the British Empire, which included India and several countries in Asia and Africa, they couldn’t find a place to rescue more than a thousand people! Britain refused to grant entry visas even into the Land of Israel – the location agreed upon by the League of Nations to serve as a national home for the Jewish people. The yishuv ha’Yehudi (the Jewish community living in the Land of Israel at the time) was willing to accept any number required, but the British refused to alter in any way whatsoever, the severe restrictions on the entry of Jews to Israel. Britain and Churchill did not want to save Jews! The Americans, as well, refused to issue entry visas to countries under their control – eventemporary visas until the war was over.

A deal to exchange trucks for Jews was proposed, but since it was decided against negotiating with the Nazis at all, the proposal was shelved. In the meantime, representatives of the extolled democracies raised concerns that if the Nazis agreed to release millions of undesirable people, the democratic countries were liable to find themselves in an extremely difficult situation, inasmuch as they would be required to find them a place to live, and maybe even feed them. So, it was better they die…

It is important to note that the ‘Bermuda Conference’ was convened in the spring of 1943, when it was already presumable that the Germans would lose the war. It took place after their defeat in Stalingrad, and just before their defeat in Kursk. Subsequently, the Germans were in retreat. Nevertheless, in these two years, over three million Jews were murdered.

Henry Morgenthau

During the war years, Henry Morgenthau, the Jewish U.S. Treasury Secretary, also tried to rescue his brothers in Europe. Morgenthau was the one who saved America from the Great Depression since Roosevelt had no knowledge of economics. The only privilege granted Morgenthau was managing economic policy. All his pleas on behalf of the Jews fell on deaf ears. Roosevelt did not want to save Jews!

Only towards the end of the war as a result of public pressure, was it agreed to allocate a significant amount of money for Morgenthau to rescue Jews. He worked alone, without cooperation from the Department of Defense or the C.I.A. Roosevelt apparently gave instructions not to cooperate with him; only middle-level agents agreed to assist. Despite this, the money reached its destination via secret agents, and was used to bribe local German officials and organize escape routes from areas were Jews still remained (mainly from Hungary). According to estimates, approximately 200,000 Jews may have been saved through these rescue operations.

The Cause of Indifference: Antisemitism

Devout followers of the democratic religion are unwilling to accept this, but the Holocaust was the result of only one thing: generations of antisemitism, lead with monstrous brutality by the Nazis – but with far too many partners, even among democratic countries. True, the local residents of the occupied countries also had a stake in stealing property. But among the Allied governments, senior officials, and army commanders, it was a deep-rooted, pathological, and irrational antisemitism that caused numerous people in the U.S. and Britain to refrain from taking any action that might rescue Jews.

How great it would be if democracy and liberalism could rectify the world. However, the problems are much deeper. Just as democracy failed to help the U.S. and Britain to save Jews, so too, democracy will not be useful in solving any substantial conflict, anywhere in the world.

The Only Solution: Absolute Divine Morality

While it is true that antisemitism is the gravest moral disease, yet it shows us that moral problems have deeper roots. Superficial equality is not the answer. The solution must be based on a foundation of morals and values, stemming from a passionate and absolute belief in the values of truth and goodness, including a profound appreciation for man created in the image of God, together with great respect for differences between individuals, nations, and cultures.

Just as the Communist formula of economic equality failed to cure the world, so too, democratic equal rights will fail. Only education towards values and morality will cure the world.

Equality and democracy are meaningful only to the extent they are based on a true, moral foundation.

The Case for Democracy

Indeed, there is an important advantage to democracy. Thanks to freedom of speech, the “Bergson Group” was able to influence American public opinion until eventually, towards the end of the war, succeeded in leading a significant rescue operation. Today as well, thanks to American public opinion, the U.S. administration is forced to adopt a pro-Israel policy.

This demonstrates that it is forbidden to lose hope in people, especially those who share in principle these values, like so many people in the United States. Antisemitism, nonetheless, is still alive and kicking in Europe and around the world. If, God forbid, we were faced with a similar situation today, seemingly the government policies in democratic countries would not be any better towards us. However, on the other hand, public opinion could be influenced.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government fails to act in this field at all. Instead, they are busy equating spraying graffiti on walls to murderous terrorist attacks. In such a situation, even without any adversaries, we will lose the war of public opinion.

This article was written based on a class given in Yeshiva Har Bracha by my good friend, Rabbi Ze’ev Sultanovich.

Remedying Lust in the Generation of Mashiach

Pinchas – Rectifying ‘Pagam HaBrit’

In this article I will deal with two interrelated problems. First, coping with a permissive society and all its temptations – especially in the area of sexual immorality and modesty. Second, educating youth – particularly, in face of the summer vacation and its challenges.

The Generation of the Flood

The Kabbalists said (Zohar, Parshat Pinchas 216:2) that the people who lived at the time of the Flood were worthy of receiving the Torah, for their neshamot (souls) were lofty and filled with great vitality, and even the neshama of Moshe, the transmitter of Torah, was present at the time. However, the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) overcame them, and instead of directing their enormous vitality towards tikkun olam, they turned them towards lust for materialism, until all flesh had perverted its way on the earth, more than any previous generation. All that Torah vitality – likened to water because by means of the Torah the world receives its’ life and perfection – instead, came as a rushing flood, drowning and obliterating them from the face of the earth. Even that same person who had the neshama of Moshe, and had the potential of receiving the Torah, drowned along with them, as is hinted at in the verse: “B’shagam hu basar” (Genesis 6:3), whose gematria is equal to that of Moshe (Chullin 139b).

Generation of the Desert

Those elevated souls returned to the world once again during the generation of the Exodus from Egypt. And once more, the sitra achra (the side of impurity) aimed to overpower them, particularly Moshe, provoking the decree: “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile” against them. But in the merit of the righteous women who did not lose faith and continued giving birth – they were redeemed. Yet again, the sitra achra sought to doom them by drowning them in Yam Suf, but Hashem split the sea, bringing them through to the other side. The Egyptians, who inherited their lustful behavior from the Generation of the Flood, drowned. The Israelites, on the other hand, arrived at Mount Sinai, proclaiming: “We will do and obey all that God has declared” (Exodus 24:7), and received the Torah.

Why not the Final Redemption?

However, in order to overcome the yetzer ha’ra and the lust that caused the Generation of the Flood to be obliterated from the world, the generation of the desert had to abstain from worldly matters and deeds. Moshe Rabbeinu was even required to separate from his wife. Thus, all the time in the desert, they did not have to work for a living, plow or harvest; their food descended from the sky, and their clothes and shoes did not wear out. They were all similar to yeshiva and kollel students, sitting in the Beit Midrash everyday, learning Torah from the greatest rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of all times – Moshe Rabbeinu, A”H.

They Despised Worldliness

This all would have been fine had their studies been aimed at entering the Land. The problem was that when the time came to do so, they despised the cherished Land, claiming it was possible to fulfill “the Torah and mitzvothspiritually, devoid of physical activity”. “But in truth they were mistaken, because the main point is to fulfill themprecisely in the Land” (‘Likutei Torah’ from the Alter Rebbe, Parshat Shlach 38:2). In any event, because they failed to realize the value of the Land in its entirety, they dreaded the difficult war involved in conquering it from the Canaanites, were terrified of the war against the yetzer involved in revealing the holiness of the Land, transgressed in the ‘Sin of the Spies’, and they all were sentenced to die in the desert.

And yet, Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to let him cross the Jordan, and allow him to continue guiding the people in their worldly lives, with the Torah guiding and perfecting all the desires and passions, thereby bringing the Final Redemption to the world (see, Sotah 9a; 14a). However, Moshe’s special generation, those individuals with the lofty souls, had already died. And the next generation was not on an appropriate level to reveal the Torah in its entirety and bring redemption to the world, consequently, even he died in their sin, and the redemption was postponed to the distant future (see, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:13).

The Oral Torah and Procreation

Delving further, we see that the lack of Torah She’be’al Peh (Oral Torah), which had not yet been revealed in its entirety, caused them to despise the Land of Israel, because the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the land) is akin to the study of Torah She’be’al Peh, given that the objective of both is revealing the Divine light in our material world.

This was also reflected in their negligence of fulfilling the mitzvah: “Be fruitful and multiply”. A surprising fact is that for two hundred and ten years of exile in Egypt, the Jewish nation multiplied three fold in each generation, while for forty years in the desert, which is approximately two generations, the Jewish nation did not increase at all. In effect, their spiritual life in the desert to a great extent suppressed the relationship between husband and wife.

The Legacy of the Generation of the Desert

The sorrow over the ‘Sin of the Spies’ and the missed opportunity was so great that Rabbi Akiva, the ultimate scholar of Oral Torah, said of the generation of the desert that they have no share in the World to Come (perhaps he meant that only in the olam ha’nishamot (World of Souls) they have a share, but in the World to Come, where the soul returns to the body, they have no share). However, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a descendant of Moshe Rabbeinu, and in many ways continued his path (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:7), stated that they do have a share in the World to Come, and on the contrary – they are referred to as Hassidim, since on account of their great devotion for Torah, they abandoned worldly affairs.

And this is also the conclusion of the gemara (Sanhedrin 110b), which state at the end of the topic the words of Rabbi Yochanan who decided in favor of Rabbi Eliezer that the generation of the desert do have a share in the World to Come – for after all, the verse says in regards to them: “Thus says the LordI remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, that you followed Me into the wilderness, to a land where nothing grows” (Yirimiyahu 2:2). Thus, in their merit all of Israel has a share in the World to Come – all the more so, do they.

To their credit, it can be said that there was a need for a spiritual period of time detached from worldly life to a certain extent, in order to set and straighten the status of Torah study. For if not, there was concern that before the Torah had been properly internalized, the materialistic desires would prevail and drown the spiritual aspirations, as occurred in the Generation of the Flood. In a similar fashion, this custom has been followed by Jews throughout generations – to delay getting married until Torah study shapes a persons’ character, and only afterwards, get married and earn a living.

Generation of Mashiach

The final Redemption will come through the revelation of Torah specifically in the Land of Israel. As Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin said, that in the generation of the Mashiach, those elevated souls will appear once again for the third time, as hinted at in the verse “And renew your youth like an eagle” (Psalms 103:5). At that time, the completetikkun will take place, because both the enormous materialistic passions of the Generation of the Flood will be revealed, in the sense of ‘sins of youth’, and in addition, enormous devotion in receiving Torah, in the sense of ‘kindness of youth’ will also be revealed, and consequently, good will prevail over evil, and evil itself will become good (Tzidkat Ha’Tzadik 95).

The Torah as a ‘Seasoning’ (Antidote) to the Yetzer

“God said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the yetzer ha’ra, but I also created the Torah, as itstavlin (literally ‘seasoning’; figuratively, an antidote); if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand” (Kiddushin 30b). Hence, the Torah was not intended to eliminate the yetzer ha’ra – materialistic desires – but rather to ‘season’ them, and thereby, make them better.

This is the essence of the generation of Mashiach, where all the forces will be revealed with enormous intensity. Permissiveness breaches all fences, and the various passions and inclinations erupt boundlessly. The yetzer can no longer be shoved aside, in an attempt to subdue its powers. Rather, we are required to utilize the higher, Divine advice – to engage in study of the holy Torah straightforwardly and in depth, in order to enlighten and guide life, and by doing so, be able to direct all the worldly and materialistic inclinations for good and holiness.

Guiding Youth

When dealing with educational problems among youth, all types of recommendations crop up. Some suggest paying more attention to the youth,  others recommend setting limitations. Some propose organizing fun activities and encouraging happiness by singing, playing tunes, dancing, etc. – and following every crisis – to recite the ‘Tikkun HaClali’. Others suggest arousing the idealistic side of the youth through volunteering to help settle the Land, and giving needy people a hand.

There is a certain amount of truth in all of these suggestions and other similar ones, but none of them can present a real solution. Some of them are beneficial as first-aid, others as a supplement to the real thing – which is serious Torah study. This is the most important challenge for teenagers: to elevate their own aspirations, and to present them with personal, moral challenges and the great vision of tikkun olam.

How to Learn

And if we find that the learning does not help, apparently, it is not being studied with a sufficient amount of seriousness. An hour of study here, and an hour there, is not enough. Rather, one must learn a lot – encompassing entire topics, so that the Torah indeed illuminates and guides one’s life. This is the meaning of the verse describing the Torah: “It is not an empty teaching for you. It is your life, and with it you will long endure on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to occupy” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Or as our Sages said: “If it is empty (you do not see a blessing in learning) – ‘me’kem hu’ (it is your fault)! Why? Because you do not weary yourselves in [studying] Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah, Chapt. 1, Halakha 1).

Occasionally, the learning is not oriented properly. For example, it is too difficult, to the point where the students get discouraged, or there is too much pilpul (long-winded argumentation) or insignificant dikdukim (fine details), at the expense of simple and insightful learning which illuminates and guides one’s life.

The learning should be tailored to the level of the youth, and the topics studied should be connected more to everyday life, such as halakhamussar (ethics), and emunah (faith). As the author of Ha’Meir L’Olam wrote: “The main reason the Torah commanded us to study is only in order to fulfill the mitzvoth, for without studying, one does not know how to do so. It is also written: ‘Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them’, clarifying that this is the main reason for the commandment of Torah study. This is explicitly written in the first chapter of the Book of Joshua: ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth… that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein” (see, ‘P’ninei Halacha: Likutim A, Chap.1, Halacha 4, footnote 2).

Towards this goal, it is essential for parents and rabbis to diligently plan an uplifting and beneficial program of study throughout the entire year, and especially during summer vacation.

Dismissing the Claim "We are Still in Exile

I received a number of replies to previous articles, some of which I will now address.

Q: Everything you say about the importance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel) and criticizing the hareidim for not taking part in it, is based on the assumption we are in Eretz Yisrael, but the Gedolei Ha’Torah (eminent Torah scholars) say we are still in galut(exile), therefore what you say is null and void.

A: This claim is so absurd I don’t even know how to relate to it. What do you say to a person who lives in Israel, but thinks he’s in galut? This is similar to a person who gets up in the middle of the night and claims the sun is shinning…but it’s even worse, because it demonstrates an appalling thanklessness towards God, who mercifully returned us to our Land. In Sefer Tehillim, it is written: “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise” (Psalms 106:47), and now when God has begun to gather us – we shouldn’t thank Him? A person who claims we are in galut is similar to someone who gets married, has children, but cries about still being single!

True, our present situation is far from perfect. The Holy Temple is destroyed; Torah students are estranged and in conflict, lacking the Sanhedrin and prophecy. The majority of the nation in Israel and in the Diaspora is not religiously observant, and correspondingly, the state of affairs in the Knesset, the government, and the courts reflects this. However, this situation cannot be corrected by hurling insults towards Heaven, such as “we are in galut”.

As Long as the Secular Govern – We are in Galut

Q: What people who claim “we are still in galut” mean, is that as long as the government is not run according to halakha, living in Israel is valueless, and there is no difference between living here or in galut.

A: This claim is also groundless. Concerning Israel, the land we live in, the Torah says: “It is therefore a land constantly under God your Lord’s scrutiny; the eyes of God your Lord are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Could it possibly be that when Jews lived in the land under the rule of the wicked King Ahab, or under the rule of the evil King Herod, they were not considered as having fulfilled the mitzvah ofyishuv ha’aretz?! Didn’t the Prophets and Sages warn them at the time that if they continued sinning, they would be punished by being exiled?!

It is a mitzvah to live in this Land even when it is governed by Gentile idol worshippers, as our Sages said: “One should always live in the Land of Israel, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are idolaters, but let no one live outside the Land, even in a town most of whose inhabitants are Israelites; for whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a God, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no God” (Ketuboth 110b). This was said by the Sages in Tosefta as well (Avoda Zarah 5b), and Rambamdetermined this as law (Laws of Kings 5:12). How much more so is this true today in the State of Israel, which is not governed by idol worshippers, and does not chase after Torah scholars to kill them!

Criticism of Hareidi Journalists and Politicians

Therefore, all the journalists in the hareidi media who, in contrast to the Torah, equate living inchutz la’aretz to living in Israel, deserve to be harshly criticized. They glorify the communities in the Diaspora, as if there is no difference between living in Israel, New York, or Belgium. And those who portray the harsh European Diaspora in rosy colors – as “the kingdom of Torah and Hasidism” which existed in eastern European towns – totally forgetting the terrible humiliation and harsh religious crises that transpired – also deserve to be criticized. Such erroneous portrayals demonstrate ingratitude towards Heaven, as if to say God didn’t do us any favor by gathering us to the Land of Israel, and freeing us from the yoke of the wicked nations! The rabbis who are supposed to monitor these same newspapers are also guilty, allowing such false and heretical views to be printed without responding.

And when they fail to condemn, it is no wonder a foolish and ungrateful attitude such as “we are still in galut” can find room in the hearts of the na?ve.

It should be emphasized that the majority of the hareidi community acknowledge the importance of Eretz Yisarel – and undoubtedly, the genuine rabbis. This is also what a number of readers from the hareidi sector wrote me, informing me about important classes given in women’s seminaries on the praises of Eretz Yisrael, and on the process of kibbutz galiyot (Ingathering of the Exiles).

The question is, why the “rabbis” who monitor the newspapers fail to weed-out the heresy from the hareidi press?

My Attitude towards the Positions of Hareidi Rabbis

Many people asked, or attacked, in various ways, why I do not accept the authority of hareidi rabbis.

A: In previous articles I wrote about the definition of gadlute (greatness) in Torah, and with God’s help, I will continue to write about it in the future. At any rate, I obviously believe that the greatness and authority of Maran HaRav Kook and his disciples is more binding than all others. Nevertheless, it is clearly a mitzvah to honor talmidei chachamim gedolim (eminent Torah scholars), whose fear of sin precedes their wisdom, who educate students, and who write important books.

Is Leadership Based on Excellence in Torah?

It is difficult not to mention that in actuality, the hareidi community is not led by its gedolei Torah. Leadership is not determined according to gadlute b’Torah, but rather according to the extent of suitability for leadership in the opinion of the askanim(functionaries). For example, figures such as Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky ZT”L, (author of ‘Chazon Yehezkel’), and Rabbi Yisrael Ze’ev Gustman ZT”L, (author of ‘Kuntresei Shiurim’), whose greatness in Torah was no less than any other Lithuanian leader, but theaskanim ignored their views. Today as well, important rabbis are pushed aside, because their views are incompatible with either the positions of the askanim who make the decisions, or with the fanatical rabbis who are small in Torah, but big in intimidation. And in the Hassidic communities, leadership is transferred through inheritance, which ensures the stability of the community; however leadership is not determined according to greatness in Torah.

Many times, someone acknowledged as being a great leader, is a talmid chacham who tends to draw away from dealing with public issues in depth. This type of leader is suitable for the askanim, because he examines the narrow, halakhic side of issues, but in other areas, tends to accept the position of the askanim as if they were experts on public matters, despite the fact that may of these questions are of the highest, ethical importance.

For example: Rabbi Yehoshua Yogel ZT”L, the former head of ‘Midreshet Noam’, told me that the nasi of the Council of Torah Sages, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ponivitch, HaRav Shach ZT”L, told him that if it was within his power, he would establish a vocational yeshiva for youth who are not apt to becoming Torah scholars. This was the position of other rabbis, as well. The question is: What prevented them from initiating the establishment of such institutions? If they are the leaders, why weren’t such institutions founded?

Recently it was published in the media that, on the orders of Rabbi Nissim Karelitz shlita, a kollel designed for hareidi people who work, was closed. I must first say that I am obligated not to believe this loshon ha’ra. Rabbi Karelitz is known to be a talmid chacham muvhak (Torah scholar par excellence), a dayan (judge), who is familiar with the ways of the world and the needs of the community, and the author of important books (‘Khute Shani’). It is unlikely he would thwart the existence of such a kollel. But the question remains: Who is the leader of the community that caused the closing of this kollel?Could it be Gedolei Torah?

A Government without Hareidim

Q: Rabbi, are you pleased that the hareidi parties were left out of the government?

A: No. I find it very distressing.

Q: Rabbi, do you think this will cause the hareidim to be alienated towards the settlements in Judea and Samaria?

A: I am very worried about this. True, the present government coalition can solve certain problems, but if, God forbid, it initiates a withdrawal from parts of Eretz Yisrael, then any possible successes will be dwarfed compared to the disaster. Here, it should also be noted that among the members of the hareidi parties, there were those who significantly helped the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, for example MK Meir Porush, and MK Eli Yishai. Accordingly, in the discussions leading to the formation of the government, settler representatives consistently worked towards including the hareidi parties, and it may yet succeed in the future. Although, to be precise, this was not the primary goal among the settlers, just as helping the settlers was not the primary objective of the hareidi parties. In actual fact, because the hareidi parties were ready to join the government without the ‘Bayit Hayehudi’ (Jewish Home) party, it was impossible to demand from them one-sided loyalty to the hareidi parties at the price of political suicide.

Attempts should continue to be made to find ways to include the hareidi parties in the government, while at the same time, searching for agreed solutions to problems on the agenda. There is no doubt that in this manner the problems will be solved in the best way possible.

The Current Debate with the Hareidim

Many people asked: Why do I confront and criticize the positions of hareidi society specifically now, when they are already feeling attacked and persecuted?

A: Recently, a number of fundamental issues came to public attention, such as points of view towards Torah, work, army, and secular studies, and seeing as various opinions were expressed in the name of the Torah, I found it necessary to clarify the matters correctly, as the readers expect from me.

I will tell reveal another reason. Lately, individuals who feel it would be advantageous for me to acquaint myself with the mood among hareidi society began bringing me hareidi newspapers. I flip through them, reading a variety of reports and articles, and I am infuriated by the various distortions of divrei Torah, and incensedat the slander and ridicule written about the National-Religious public, its rabbis, and representatives.

It is well-known that public controversies provoke intense debate, and members of the religious community have also harshly criticized the hareidim. However, it appears that in this case, we are speaking of hostility and a dismissive attitude, way beyond the usual. This attitude existed before the current arguments. It’s as if there are some people whose faith depends on defaming the religious community.

And yet, I still cannot decide: Perhaps it’s better to stop looking at the hareidi newspapers, to ignore the “holy” and “hareidi” contempt of genuine talmidei chachamim, and avoid intensifying the arguments. But then, once more, I feel obligated to respond, because in the eyes of many hareidim, what is said in these newspapers is considered pure, Torah truth – given that rabbis monitor whatever is written in them.

And therefore, the individuals who bring me these newspapers in order for me to respond are correct. As our Sages said: “Whoever can protest but does not, is seized for the same sin” (Shabbat 54b). Likewise, they said: “’Many strong men have been slain by her’ — this refers to a disciple who has attained the qualification to decide questions of law and does not decide them” (Sota 22a).

With God’s help, through these clarifications of Torah, true peace will come upon Israel.

Saving Another's Life

“Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger”

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” (Deuteronomy 22:2), all the more so is it a mitzvah to save another persons life. The Talmud in Sanhedrin (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 “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” (Leviticus 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) “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger”. 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 Am Yisrael 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 the commandment “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” is: To what extent does one need to carry out this obligation in order to fulfill the mitzvah? In other words, what is the halakha (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 “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” 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, not 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-or-death 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. All the 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 Pitchei Tshuva (Chosen Mishpat 426; Mishna Brura 329:19) that one who is overly cautious will eventually find himself in a similar dangerous and life-threatening situation (mida k’neged 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 Am Yisrael 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 (Rabbeinu Yonah, Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 329:8).

The second approach to this question regarding the commandment “Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger” 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 event, 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 halakha 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 ‘midat chassidut’ (a pious act, but not required), one should be willing to risk his life to rescue another Jew beyond this point, so long as it is clear the rescue operation has a good chance of succeeding.

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 Am Yisrael is obligated to risk his or her life in order to save Eretz Yisrael from its enemies. (See B’tzava K’halkha chapter 15; Tzitz Eliezer 13:100).

Let us conclude by thanking Hashem for witnessing the revealed End of Days in which Eretz Yisrael brings forth its holy fruits, the process of the In-gathering of the Exiles is being realized, and the Land is being settled. All the trials and tribulations that Am Yisrael is facing are just the pain that accompanies the process of acquiring Eretz Yisrael. 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 Eretz Yisrael, and the different roles these matters play in the world. Am Yisrael needs to use all its capabilities to fulfill the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel, as well as to continue to pray to Hashem for a hastening of the Redemption. The words of the Prophets 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 you from afar and your 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, Am Yisrael’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).