From Bitter to Sweet – The Virtue of Torah and Am Yisrael

The custom of eating dairy foods on Shavuot symbolizes the virtue of the Torah, to turn the negative sides of the world into good * This virtue also depends on the virtue of the nation of Israel who study Torah, especially in the Land of Israel * Those who disregard the value of nationalism and the Religious Zionists who embrace it, err in a fundamental and essential point in the Torah

There is a precious custom dating back to the era of the Rishonim (1100 -1500), to eat foods made out of milk and honey on Shavuot. The source of this custom stems from communities in Ashkenaz and France, and from, there spread to many Jewish communities throughout the world. Nevertheless, there are Jews who do not practice this custom, such as many immigrants from Yemen, Libya, Djerba, Bukhara, and Persia.

The foundation of the custom stems from Divrei Chachamim (words of the Sages) who said that the Torah is compared to milk and honey, as the verse in Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) says: “Milk and honey are under your tongue,” and our Sages said: “As the Jewish nation stood before Mount Sinai and said: ‘All that the Lord spoke, we will do and listen (‘na’aseh ve’nishma’), at that same time, God said to them: ‘Honey and milk are under your tongue.” In other words, in the merit of Israel’s agreement to accept the Torah without doubt, the words of Torah would be sweet like milk and honey in their mouths.

Rabbi Kook further explained that milk and honey are two foods both produced from impure sources. Honey is produced from bees which are impure insects, and milk is produced from blood which is forbidden to be eaten. Precisely because they are transformed from impure to pure, they possess a unique taste, alluding to ‘tikun olam’ (perfecting the world). This is the virtue of Torah, which perfects the negative sides of the world, and turns them into good, as our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the yetzer ha’ra (the evil inclination), but I also created the Torah as its antidote; if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand.” In other words, the Torah does not eliminate the yetzer ha’ra, rather, it adds flavor to it, until it is transformed into good.

The Land of Milk and Honey

The main virtue of milk and honey, of course, is related to the Land of Israel, which, fifteen times in the Torah, is called “the land of milk and honey,” because by means of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (the settlement of the Land) it sanctifies the secular and earthly, and in doing so, also turns the ‘bad’ into an especially sweet ‘good’, similar to milk and honey which are pure, but created from the impure.

Torah and Israel

This segulah (unique virtue) of Torah to turn bad into good depends, of course, on Am Yisrael (the Nation of Israel), who study Torah and perfect the world in its Light. Moreover, if Israel had not accepted the Torah, it would be empty of content to keep it in existence, and it would return to emptiness and formlessness, as our Sages said (Shabbat 88a): “The Holy One, blessed be He, stipulated with the Works of Creation and said to them: ‘If Israel accepts the Torah, you will exist; but if not, I will turn you back into emptiness and formlessness.” Similarly, our Sages said (Vayikra Rabbah 23:3): “God saw a single rose-colored flower, to wit, Israel. God took it and smelled it when God gave them the Ten Commandments, and God’s spirits were calmed when they said, na’aseh ve’ nishma, God said, “The orchard shall be saved on account of this flower. For the sake of the Torah and of Israel, the world shall be saved.”

The revelation of the Torah and Israel’s segulah depends on Am Yisrael inheriting and settling its Land, because all the mitzvot were given in order for us to fulfill them Eretz Yisrael in a national and governmental framework. And even though outside of Eretz Yisrael we must fulfill the individual mitzvot that are not dependent on the Land, all of their obligatory status abroad is so that we know how to fulfill them properly when we return (Jerusalem Talmud, Shevi’it 6:1; Kiddushin 1:8; Bavli  Kiddushin, 37a; Sifre 43-44).

Counting the Omer – Connecting Nationalism and the Torah

One of the manifestations of the connection between the Nation and the Land to Torah, is that Chag Shavuot –‘ Z’man Torateinu’, does not have its own date, rather, its date depends on Chag Pesach. On Chag Pesach, the purpose of the Nation and the Land were revealed, for God chose His nation, and took us out in order to give us the Land of Israel, as it is written (Exodus 3:7-8): “God said, ‘I have indeed seen the suffering of My people in Egypt… I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…”(also in Exodus 6:4-8; 13:3-5; 13:11). And this is the intention of Sefirat HaOmer (the Counting of the Omer), to connect between Chag Pesach and Chag Shavuot; to connect the value of the Nation and the Land, to the value of Torah, for there is no Israel without Torah, and no Torah without Israel.

And although these two values ​​are interrelated and interdependent, it is imperative that each of them be expressed in its own right, so that they do not blur each other. Therefore, we have two separate holidays, one for the idea of Am Yisrael, and the other, for the Torah.

And thus, we find in Tanna De’bei Eliyahu (Parsha 15): “I was once going from one place to another, when an elderly man came to me and asked about matters in the Torah. He said to me: Rabbi, I have two things in my heart, and I love them both dearly: the Torah and Israel. But I don’t know which one comes first. I said to him: People say that the Torah precedes everything, but I would say the holy of Israel come first…”

Those Who Ignore the Sanctity of the Value of Nationalism

At times, I am amazed to read Haredi journalists and rabbis who speak disdainfully about the value of nationalism, claiming that those in the National Religious public err, in that they give it too much importance. It is incredible how people accustomed to reading the Torah can be so ignorant that they do not understand the value of Israeli nationalism. Apparently, this is the deep meaning of the words of our Sages (Chagigah 5b): “There is no greater bitul Torah (abrogation of the Torah) than when the Jews were exiled from their place.” This does not imply that they didn’t diligently study Torah in exile, rather, the meaning is that, as a result of the galut (exile), they do not comprehend the Torah properly, and all the mitzvot, instructions and ideas mentioned about Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael are understood in katnut (smallness of mind), and consequently, they do not understand that it is the main point of the Torah – to instruct Am Yisrael how to reveal the word of God in the life of the Clal (all of Israel) and the prat (individual Jews), within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael. When it was very difficult to immigrate to Israel, Jews who lived abroad could have been given benefit of the doubt. Today, however, it is hard to judge favorably those who insist on continuing making the same mistake. And the more of a baki (skilled) and palpalan (hairsplitter) such a person is in Torah, his lack of understanding is worse.

While it is clear that the challenge of fulfilling Torah within a national framework in Eretz Yisrael is accompanied with great complications, as we have learned in the Torah regarding the Sin of the Golden Calf and the Sin of the Spies, and as we have learned in the Prophets about all the complications that accompanied the Kingdom of Israel, the Mishkan, and the Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple). Nevertheless, this is the manner in which the Torah determined we reveal the Word of God to the world.

May it be that out of the joy of Chag Pesach and Chag Ha’Atzmaut, we merit receiving the Torah on Chag Shavuot once again, and in doing so, its words will be pleasurable for us like milk and honey, and through its instructions, merit to sanctify the secular, and turn the bad into good.

Chag Shavuot This Year

This year, we are fortunate to have Chag Shavuot fall out on Friday, followed by Shabbat. This is a special occasion, for according to the accepted opinion, it was the same way in the year we left Egypt. The exodus from Egypt occurred on Thursday, and on Friday the 6th of Sivan, the 50th day arrived, the day intended for the Giving of Torah. However, Moshe Rabbeinu requested to add an additional day for preparing to receive the Torah, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu agreed with him, and postponed it to Shabbat, the fifty-first day of Sefirat HaOmer (Shabbat 86b- 87a).

Out of this amazing fact, we learned about the significance of Torah She-be’al Peh (the Oral Torah), that the Torah She-b’chtav (the Written Torah) cannot be revealed without it, and thus, even Matan Torah was postponed by a day in accordance with Torah She-be’al Peh, namely, according to Moshe Rabbeinu’s interpretation.

However, this would seem to present us with a difficulty. As Shulḥan Arukh (494:1) states, we refer to Shavuot as “Zeman matan Torateinu” (the season of the giving of our Torah). Why do we call it that if Shavuot is not actually the day the Torah was given? Shavuot takes place on the fiftieth day of the Omer, whereas we received the Torah on the fifty-first day! The answer is that in truth, from the heavenly point of view, right after the completion of Sefirat HaOmer the sacred day of the giving of the Torah arrived, and God blessed us with the Torah (in potential). It was only from the human point of view that we needed an additional day before we were capable of receiving it in actuality. Nevertheless, for future generations, the giving of the Torah is commemorated on the day that God had originally ordained and sanctified, when the Torah was given to us in potentiality (Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael ch. 27).

When Chag Shavuot falls on Friday, it turns out we celebrate two sacred days – first, Shavuot, which is the day when God had already given us the Torah in Heaven, and we continue celebrating on Shabbat, which is the day we actually received the Torah. It is especially important on this Shabbat to dedicate half of it to the Beit Midrash (a minimum of six hours of Torah study).

Eruv Tavshilin

When Yom Tov is followed by Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to set aside an eruv tavshilin before Yom Tov. Doing so makes it permissible to cook and bake on Yom Tov for Shabbat. The eruv consists of food that is prepared before Yom Tov for Shabbat. It is called an eruv (literally “merging”) because it merges or joins together the food of Yom Tov and the food of Shabbat. Once the eruv has been set aside, then just as it is permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Yom Tov purposes, it becomes permissible to bake and cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat purposes as well. True, on the Torah level it is permitted to cook on Yom Tov for Shabbat even without an eruv, but our Sages prohibited doing so, in order to preserve the honor and dignity of both Yom Tov and Shabbat (Beitza 15b).

The following is the procedure for setting aside an eruv tavshilin. Taking the cooked food and the bread, one recites the following berakha: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning the mitzvah of eruv” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al mitzvat eruv”). Afterward, he should recite: “With this eruv it shall be permitted to us to bake, cook, light a flame, and do everything necessary on Yom Tov for the sake of Shabbat.”

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

Yovel – Property Rights beside Equal Opportunity

Man is unique in his freedom of choice and responsibility that comes with it, therefore, it is appropriate he should have exclusive right to his own property * Beside this value, stands the importance of equality, reflected in the return of land in the Jubilee year, and the opportunity given to start afresh *Man’s sense of gratitude for the blessing in his work, should be expressed in charitable giving * The circles of support expand from the inner circle of those close, to the remote, but in today’s global world, human responsibility is also growing

God created man in His image. The main expression of this, is man’s ability to choose, think, plan, and initiate, and as a result, he has a responsibility for his actions – if he chooses good, he will benefit, and so will the world; if he chooses bad, it will damage him, and the world. Just as a person has responsibility for his actions, so too, he has the right to enjoy the work of his hands, talent, and the blessing of God in his actions. This right creates ownership, and therefore, what one creates by using his talent and labor – belongs to him, as well as what he buys with money that he earned honestly, or received honestly from his parents, belongs to him.

Equality in the Division of the Land of Israel

In addition to the importance of freedom of choice, responsibility and property rights, seeing as God created all human beings in His image, the importance of equality also emerges. And since all the world belongs to God, and God promised the Land of Israel to the People of Israel – he commanded to equally divide all inheritance of the Land to all of B’nei Yisrael who left Egypt. In the past, over ninety percent of people made a living from agriculture, in other words, land was the main means of production, and its equal distribution created an equal basis for all (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel 10:5).

This equality does not extend proportionately to all Jews, rather, the principle of equality in dividing the Land applies to the Israelites who suffered in Egypt, namely, that each one of them is entitled to an equal share in the Land. Overall mutual responsibility as well, such as enlisting in the army and paying taxes applies to the nation’s individuals, and not to people of other nations. And when it comes to an individual’s own inheritance, equality is implemented between his children, and not among other relatives.

Yovel (Jubilee Year)

After the Land was divided equally to all of Israel, those who chose well, worked diligently in their fields, raised several crops, and became wealthy. Those who chose badly were drawn after lust and laziness, neglected their fields, and suffered shortages. If they did not come to their senses and start working diligently, over time, they were forced to sell their fields and their homes, thus, decreeing a life of poverty upon their families as the fields were the main means of production. God had mercy on them, in particular their family members, and instituted the mitzvah of Yovel, occurring once every fifty years, in which we were commanded to return the fields to their owners. And if the seller of the field had already passed away, the mitzvah is to return the field to his heirs. By means of this, the decree of poverty did not chase Jewish families for generations, rather, every fifty years, each family was able to open up a new page, begin acting responsibly, and escape the cycle of poverty (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel 10:3).

Equality and Property Rights

We find then that the two values, both equality and property rights, are expressed and rely on the creation of man in the image of God. The fact that man has free choice and responsibility for his actions and the ability to maintain and improve the world, necessitates that what he creates or purchase belongs to him. The fact that every human being is created in the image of God, necessitates that all Jews have equal rights and obligations in the division of the Land, and equal rights and obligations in the court of law, as it is written: “There shall be one law for you, for both the proselyte and the native born, for I am God, Lord of you all” (Leviticus 24:22).

Inspiration for Today

Today, however, land is not the main means of production – only about two percent of the Gross National Product comes from agriculture, and therefore, dividing the Land equally would not grant an equal basis for all. Apparently, though, we can learn two fundamentals from the mitzvah of Yovel. First, just as the agricultural land was divided equally to all, likewise it would be proper for us to equally divide the other natural resources God created. This includes land for construction, water, oil, gas, the beaches, radio waves, air, and sun. Second, just as the Torah commanded to equally divide the means of production, we should endeavor to provide all young people an education that will give them, as best as possible, an equal opportunity to earn a living from their talent and diligence.

With effective planning, these two foundations can be mutually incorporated by directing the money received from natural resources to the best possible professional education for each individual. In doing so, we will fulfill the idea of ​​dividing the Land to all Jews, including the tikun (rectification) that will be made by the return of the land to its owners in Yovel. For providing quality education for all, also affords the children of poor parents to acquire a good profession, according to their talents and diligence.

It may also be suggested that just as in Yovel, where the fields are returned to their owners and slaves released to their homes, there is room for Israel’s Torah scholars to examine, in depth, the structure of modern economy, and consider whether in Yovel, a certain percentage of the accumulated wealth be returned, so as to be invested in educational and vocational training systems, and in this manner, once again, be equally divided for all (Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it ve’ Yovel: 11: 9).

The Fairness in Tzedaka (Charity)

Alongside the fact that the Torah reinforced property rights and did not stipulate that all human beings share the fruit of their labor equally, the Torah commanded to help the poor with tzedaka. And even this is justified, for even when a diligent person sees blessing in his labors, he must remember that the earth and rain comes from God, his health and talent is also from God, and the fact that disease did not attack his crops – is from the mercy of God; additionally, the legal system, transportation, and educational system that have an effect on his success, are by the mercy of God, and society. And therefore, it is only just and appropriate for him to give from the blessing he received from God, to those who were not so fortunate. To this end, many mitzvot were established. However, since the property a person earned by working belongs to him – he has the right to choose the poor and the institutions to which he contributes.

Public Responsibility for Tzedaka and Helping Others

As a matter of principle, the responsibility to help the poor rests with his relatives, friends and neighbors. However, in times of need, when the tzedaka that people give of themselves is not enough to satisfy the existential needs of the poor, according to halakha, public leaders must compel the general public to contribute for maintaining the poor. In the framework of a country, the duty is to impose a tax in order to ensure the poor does not lack basic needs. But extreme caution must be taken that the public and the country do not substitute for the responsibility of those close to him because only they are truly able to help him, and public intervention is intended to supplement what they are unable to fulfill.

The Circles of Responsibility

The principle of the obligation for giving tzedaka and helping others is that the rich in the world do not have a shared responsibility to help all the of poor the equally, rather, the responsibility extends in expanding circles: in the first circle is the family; after this, friends and neighbors; then, people of the city; after that, the people of the country; and then, all of humanity.

Thus, we have learned concerning tzedaka and loans, that it is the responsibility of every person to first help his relatives, then his friends and neighbors, then his fellow city dwellers, and then, all his countrymen (M.B. 71:1; S.A., Y.D. 251:3).

Circles of Equality

The value of equality also appears in circles: when we are commanded to divide the Land, the division is for Jews only, and not for all of humanity. For the duties and rights are interrelated; therefore, someone who takes responsibility for upholding his Israeli identity, and accordingly, for preserving the army and paying taxes, is entitled to share the Land equally.

This holds true in a family as well. Inheritance must be divided equally, without discrimination (Baba Batra 133b; S.A., C.M. 382). But a neighbor, or even a cousin, does not have the right to share with family members equally.

The Status of Gerim (Converts)

The status of gerim is special among Jews. On the one hand, we do not try to persuade Gentiles to convert, and on the other, those who want to convert honestly, are accepted, and we are commanded to love them exceedingly, and to be extra careful about their honor (Peninei Halakha: Ha’Am ve’ Ha’Aretz 10:1).

As for the inheritance of the Land, gerim who joined the Jewish nation after the Exodus from Egypt were not entitled to inherit the Land, since they did not suffer with all of Israel in the terrible bondage in Egypt. Responsibilities and rights are bound together.

In the future as well, those gerim who joined the Jewish people while Jews were suffering, and join in bearing the burden of Israel’s existence and security – will settle the Land together with the Jews equally, as it is written: “This is the territory you are to divide among the tribes of Israel. You are to divide it by lot as an inheritance both to you and to the foreigners (gerim) living among you who give birth to children living among you; for you they are to be no different from the native-born among the people of Israel — they are to have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel.  You are to give the foreigner an inheritance in the territory of the tribe with whom he is living,’ says Hashem Elokim” (Ezekiel 47: 21-23). And once again, for responsibilities and rights go hand-in-hand.

The Reward for Treating Gerim Favorably

When the Jewish people accept gerim with love and respect, they merit blessing. First of all, Moshe Rabbeinu, who married a convert, and after that, when her father, Jethro, sought to convert, the Israelites accepted him with respect, and by doing so, received his good advice written in the Torah portion ‘Yitro,’ named after him.

Boaz, as well, married Ruth the convert, and in the merit of this, a brave and righteous man, King David, was born to them, and he is the founder of the royal dynasty in Israel. In addition, Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Sage of Oral Torah, was a descendant of gerim.

The Expanding Circles of Responsibility

It is worth adding, that as ties between nations and peoples grow stronger, so does the responsibility for the benefit of all human beings. For the responsibility to help depends on the degree of connection between people. Therefore, a person’s commitment to his family is greater, because they are more connected to him. And the obligation towards friends and neighbors is greater than to unfamiliar people. And the obligation to the people of one’s own nation, is greater than the duty to another people. This is especially true among Am Yisrael, for the ties between all Jews are very deep, and have stood the test of our long exile to the four corners the world.

Today, consequently, when people and nations are becoming increasingly interdependent in information, commerce, science, culture, health, and environmental protection, the responsibility of each individual to humanity on the whole, is broader. Nevertheless, the broadening of the circles does not nullify the inner circles, because upon them, everything stands.

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

 

In Memory of Rabbi Eliezer Nachum Rabinovich ztz”l

Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovich, ztz”l was one of the greatest Gedolei HaDor in our generation, worthy of sitting on the Sanhedrin * His broad perspective included both the halakhic, spiritual, and scientific worlds as one, which afforded him a deep understanding of Torah * His great love for the Land of Israel prevented him from buying a home abroad until the age 55, when he immigrated to Israel to serve as head of the Ma’aleh Adumim Yeshiva * He devoted his last books to his wife, whom he loved and honored, and even was particular to take care of her himself during her illness

A True Gadol

Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich, ztz”l was one of the true Gedolei HaDor (eminent Rabbis) of the generation. Had we been worthy to have the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Rabinovich would certainly be one of the first to sit there, however, because unfortunately there are hardly any true Gedolei HaTorah in our generation, we have not merited the establishment of the Sanhedrin.

Most Talmedei Chachamim (Torah scholars) view the Torah as a collection of details. The best of them know how be accurate and precise in every detail, convey it correctly and remember it orally, but are not able to see the connection between the details, and therefore their svara’s (explanations) are narrow and limited. They perceive all of the Torah, the halakha and machshava (thought), in a detailed way – one line here, one precept there – and the entire Torah appears to them as mystical instructions, with no profound or illuminating meaning.

The more outstanding ones are able to see the broader picture, for example, the halakhot of Shabbat as a unified system, with basic principles underlying all the halakha’s and mitzvot, and consequently, their svara’s are better. However, since they view each area of Torah separately – Shabbat alone, kashrut alone, marriage alone – they are unable to understand the depth of the fundamentals, and as a result, their understanding is limited.

Then, there are more outstanding Torah scholars, who are able to see the entire world of halakha, in its various fields, as one system with common foundations and principles, and in doing so, understand all the svara’s in a more profound way, and are already considered Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars). This is reflected in their ability to interpret the foundations, or when they have to deal with a new question. These are the great poskim (Jewish law arbiters), authors of the important shootim (Q&A in halakha), and the Roshei Yeshivot (heads of yeshivas) known for their deep Torah lessons.

And then, there are Gedolim even greater than them, who, in addition to all this, delve deeper in the realms of machshava and musar (morality) in the Torah, and also have knowledge of the world of science in its various fields – the exact sciences, and social and human sciences – and in doing so, have a greater understanding of the world in which we live, to which God gave His Torah. Consequently, they are able to see the entire Torah as one, unified system comprised of principles, foundations, branches, details, and fine points, can better discriminate between fundamental and sub-principles, and understand in depth, clarity, and straightforwardly the principles of Torah, and their worldly perspective becomes lucid and bright. They merit understanding the Word of God in His Torah, the plan, and the path. They are the true Gedolei HaDor, who are worthy to sit in the Sanhedrin, and teach Torah to Clal Yisrael (all of Israel). There are very few of them. Rabbi Rabinovich, ztz”l was a special one among them.

Members of the Sanhedrin

Our Sages said: “None are to be appointed members of the Sanhedrin but men of wisdom, of good appearance, of fine stature, of mature age, men with a knowledge of sorcery and who know seventy languages” (Menachot 65a). Thus, the Gedolei HaDor, members of the Sanhedrin, must be proficient in the wisdom found in the world, and someone who is not, cannot be considered a true Gadol, and cannot sit in the Sanhedrin. For even if he is punctilious and immensely knowledgeable, it would be impossible to discuss with him in depth, thoroughly and calmly on any matter, for since he does not know how to distinguish between ikar (primary) and tafel (secondary) – he would divert the deliberation, and disrupt it vociferously and with side-claims, and reject fundamental considerations. A Gadol be’Torah who guides the generation, must understand the processes that drive peoples and society, the economy and science, the weight of international relations, and the system of cultural influences existing in the world. This is the profound meaning today of knowing seventy languages.

Certainly, in every area of ​​the Torah, there are different methods of learning and in-depth analysis, and every Talmid Chacham has his own shita (method), and each shita has its advantages and disadvantages, but the principle is that gadlut (greatness) is measured by the magnitude of perception. Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovich ztz”l, who chose to devote his life to Torah, both on the deep theoretical side, and also in the dissemination of Torah to the public and yeshiva students, and additionally, also specialized in mathematics, was one of the true Gedolei HaDor. We must make great efforts in extolling him, so that his Torah teachings continue to shine their light on us.

His Vast Perspective

The very choice Rabbi Rabinovich made to engage in Rambam (Maimonides), indicates a broad and comprehensive viewpoint, as the teachings of Rambam. In his immense enterprise, the commentary “Yad Peshutah” on Rambam’s Mishnah Torah, his broad and comprehensive perspective is prominent as well. In every issue, he begins by setting out the principles and defining them, and then clarifies the details. Also, in his halachic responses, his wide-ranging perspective from which they are derived, is extremely evident. On public issues, as well, his all-encompassing Torah thought from which he molded his straightforward and clear positions in the fields of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), security, education and society, the Rabbinate and conversion, Israel and the nations, was evident. Such a comprehensive perspective gives inner certainty, which bestowed him the ability to voice his positions confidently and calmly.

The Rabbinate and Devotion

Rabbi Rabinovich served for many years as a community rabbi abroad, and during that time, he co-edited the journal of U.S. rabbis “Hadarom,” and was in touch with all the eminent rabbis who published their articles and halakhic rulings in it. Even in his youth, while studying in Yeshiva ‘Ner Yisrael’ in Baltimore, he served as a rabbi of a synagogue. After marrying, he served in the rabbinate in Texas, then for twelve years in Charleston, South Carolina, and another eight years in Toronto, Canada. In the rabbinate, he devoted himself to strengthening the educational system and kashrut, and, when necessary, knew to be firm and stand up for the rabbinate; once, he ordered to dispose of a shipment of meat because of ‘basar she’nitalem min ha’ayin’ (meat that was not under constant watch).

Before agreeing to accept the rabbinate in Charleston, he set a condition – namely, to have at his disposal the means to properly kasher the mikvah, and establish a proper Jewish school. There were numerous difficulties in founding the school – he had to knock on the doors of parents’ homes to convince them send their children to the Jewish school. When no first-grade teacher was found, he had to teach the first and second-grade children himself. Thanks to this school, which exists to this day, many families were able to return to Torah and mitzvot.

At the age of forty-three he moved to London, serving as the head of the Rabbinical Seminary for nearly eleven years. Nonetheless, he always yearned to immigrate to Israel. When he was nearly fifty-five, he received a proposal to head the Ma’aleh Adumim yeshiva, and thus, we were privileged of his immigrating to Israel to educate students, and illuminate his Torah teachings from Zion.

Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim

It was a great privilege for the deans of Yeshiva Ma’aleh Adumim, Rabbi Yitzchak Shilat, and Rabbi Chaim Sabato, who, in their righteousness and humility, approached Rabbi Rabinovich and asked him to preside over the yeshiva they had founded. Thanks to this, the yeshiva merited becoming a beacon for Torah and ingenuity, and raised knowledgeable and upright students, among them Gedolei Torah, scientists, and men of action. Naturally, Talmedei Chachamim have different opinions, and the willingness of Rabbi Sabato and Rabbi Shilat to place above them a tremendous Talmid Chacham indicates their greatness in Torah and midot (attributes). Regarding them, the words of our Sages are fitting: “One who flees from greatness, greatness follows after him; one who does not aim above his means (and forfeits becoming dean over a yeshiva as Rav Yosef did with Rabbah) will succeed in due course.”

About His Manner of Study

His student and assistant in writing and editing his books, Rabbi Eli Reif shlita related: “He had tremendous power of concentration… It was totally impossible to divert him to other matters outside of the subject at hand… Once, when I studied with him in the morning, we started at 9:30, and after three hours, he suddenly remembered he had not offered me a drink, and realized that we had been sitting for three straight hours. He deeply apologized for not having acted with ‘chachnasat orchim’ (accommodating guests), and also, that it was not healthy to sit for such a long time. From then on when I arrived, he would first offer me a drink so he would not forget, and we would set a time for a break to stand up, and that was when we spoke about matters other than our learning. When I used to have lunch with him, he would set the table for both of us, and refused my help (this was after the Rebbetzin’s death, or illness), so that I would not “steal” the mitzvah of chachnasat orchim from him. After some time I found a ploy: I said to him, ‘HaRav, after all, you call me a ‘ben bayit’ – therefore I’m allowed to help.’ He then agreed.”

About the Rebbetzin

His granddaughter’s husband, Rabbi Shmuel Yismach related: “Safta (grandmother) accompanied Saba (grandfather) in his many wanderings, and was a faithful partner in his numerous endeavors. Despite being a woman of refined taste, she gave up on having her own house, and agreed to wander from one location to the next, to help establish Jewish communities in America. They had excellent opportunities to purchase a home of their own, but they refused to buy one abroad, in expectation of building their home in Israel.”

“Safta took good care of Saba, and ran his house gloriously, and in good taste. Visitors to their home enjoyed her wonderful pastries, and she pampered her grandchildren with gifts. The phone at home constantly rang, one question after the other – sometimes at convenient hours, other times not – and Safta would answer. The feeling was that the house belonged Am Yisrael.”

“Safta adored Saba, and Saba deeply loved her. When she was ill at the end of her life, Saba took care of her by himself, with great dedication and patience, even though he was close to eighty at the time. When Safta passed away about seven years ago, Saba was depressed for a long time, but even then, continued to act nobly towards all, was concerned about others, and continued to perform all his duties. In time, with the help of God, he came back to himself, and began to smile.”

Nahman Rosenberg recounted: “A few years ago while studying at his home, HaRav said to me on a personal note: ‘You should know, there is no joy without a wife.’ Then he told me, he tried not to be the master of ceremony at weddings because the emotional event of marriage service caused him to miss his wife, and come to be very sad.”

A Dedication to Her Memory

At the opening of the books he published after the death of the Rebbetzin, he dedicated a page to her memory, and wrote: “If your Torah had not been my delight, I would have perished in my distress. I will never forget your precepts, for with them you have made me alive. Some… years ago, my world was darkened by the taking away from me the beauty of my home, a wise-hearted woman, Rebbetzin Rachel Malka, may her soul be bound up in the bond of life. About her, can be said the words of Rabbi Akiva: “What is mine and what is yours – is hers.” I pray to you, Hashem, to bless all my household members, for good days in health and comfort, and may we merit to see all of them, the seed that Hashem has blessed, growing up on the love of Hashem and His Torah, and fear of Hashem be their treasure. And He will illuminate our eyes in His Torah. As for me, Elokim, let my prayer to you come at an acceptable time; in your great grace, Hashem, answer me with the truth of your salvation.”

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

The Obligation to Immigrate to Israel

The mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel requires Clal Yisrael to inherit Eretz Yisrael, apply sovereignty over it, and settle it efficiently * The general mitzvah requires every individual to take part in its existence, and in addition, it is a mitzvah for every Jew to reside in Eretz Yisrael * Rambam did not list the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael because it is an general mitzvah, upon which many mitzvot depend, and actually, all of the Torah * In times of exile, living in Israel involved existential and economic dangers, and therefore Jewish law arbiters did not obligate Jews to immigrate to Israel, but nowadays, the mitzvah obligates every Jew

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land of Israel

Q: Is every Jew in the world obligated to immigrate to Israel?

A: The mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (settling the Land of Israel) is a general mitzvah that obligates the entire nation of Israel to inherit the Land, namely, to apply sovereignty over it, and settle it best in all respects. As it is written (Numbers 33: 53-54): ” You shall dispossess the inhabitants of the Land and dwell in it, for I have given the Land to you to possess it…to inherit the Land…” or as Ramban defined the mitzvah: “We were commanded to take possession of the Land which the Almighty, Blessed Be He, gave to our forefathers, to Avraham, to Yitzhak, and to Yaacov; and to not abandon it to other nations, or to leave it desolate” (Addendum to Sefer Hamitzvot of the Rambam, Positive Commandment 4).

The Mitzvah of the Clal Depends on the Individual

From the mitzvah of Clal Yisrael to settle the Land, stems the mitzvah obligating every individual Jew to live in the country, since it is impossible for Clal Yisrael to fulfill the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz without each individual being fully compliant with the obligation of the mitzvah, till practically all Jews actually reside in the country. Also, we learned that from the Torah, the obligation to fulfill the mitzvot  dependent on the Land which concern the public, such as challah, terumot and ma’asrot, depends on the majority of Jews residing in the Land, as it is written (Numbers 15:18): “When you come to the land to which I am bringing you.” Our Sages taught (Ketubot 25a): “‘When you come’ – I have spoken of the coming of all, and not of the coming of a portion of you,” and thus when Israel went up to Eretz Yisrael in the days of Ezra – their obligation in mitzvot was not from the Torah, but only from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical), since only a few came to Eretz Yisrael (Rambam, Hilchot Terumot 1:1-3; 26; Bikurim 5:5; Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 12: 10-11). In the mitzvoth of Shevi’it and Yovel, it is not enough for the majority of Jews to reside in the Land, but they also need to reside in their inheritances according to their tribes, as it is written (Leviticus 25:10): “Declare emancipation of slaves for the land and all who live on it” – ‘and all who live on it’ – only at the time when its inhabitants are there as where they should be, but not when they are intermingled” (Arachin 32b). The same is said of yovel, and the law of shevi’it depends on the yovel (Gittin 36a; Peninei Halakha: Shevi’it 5:3; 11:5).

The Obligation of the Individual to Live in Israel

In addition to the general mitzvah that the Land be under Israeli sovereignty and that practically all Jews live here, there is a mitzvah for every individual Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, even when the entire Land is completely ruled and populated by millions of Jews, from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates, the mitzvah for every Jew to live in Israel still remains intact. Even in times when the non-Jews ruled the Land, and, seemingly, the addition of one extra Jew living there would not help the general cause, nevertheless, the individual mitzvah for every Jew to live in Israel remained in force. As our Sages of the Talmud said (Ketubot 110b): “At all times, a Jew should live in the Land of Israel, even in a city where the majority of its residents are idol worshipers, and not live outside of the Land, even in a city populated mainly by Jews, for anyone who lives in the Land of Israel is similar to one who possesses a God, while one who lives outside of the Land is similar to one who has no God.” And this was codified as halakha (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:12; Ishut 13:20).

Greater than Regular Mitzvot

Some claim that indeed, according to Ramban the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz is obligatory at all times, but according to Rambam, the mitzvah was obligatory only in the past, and for that reason, he did not count it as one of the 613 mitzvot. However, the truth is that Rambam did not count the mitvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz because it is more important than a regular mitvah, as he explained in the principles guiding his selection of the mitzvot in the Sefer HaMitzvot, namely, that it is not appropriate to enumerate mitzvot that encompass the entire Torah (as explained in “Eim Habanim Semeicha” Chap.3, Sect.7-10).

Indeed, the all-encompassing mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz underlies and is reflected in numerous mitzvot. The first is the mitzvah to appoint a king, which is fulfilled in the Land of Israel, and aims to establish a rule expressing the sovereignty of the people of Israel over their country, and to organize their lives in the best possible way (Deuteronomy 17: 14-20; the Natziv’s ‘Ha’emek Davar’ ibid.; Mishpat Kohen 144). As previously mentioned, the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz and the appointment of a king is contingent on the applicability of the public mitzvot dependent on the Land, such shevi’it and yovel, terumot and ma’asrot, challah, and others. The mitzvot of Yishuv Ha’Aretz and the appointment of a king, of course, depend on all the mitzvot associated with the building of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), and as our Sages said (Sanhedrin 20b):”Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land: 1) to appoint a king, 2) to cut off the seed of Amalek, and 3) to build themselves the Beit HaBechira (lit., the ‘Chosen House’, or the Holy Temple).” The entire system of mitzvot related to the role of the Kohanim and Levi’im, as well as the allocation of cities for them throughout the Land, is also dependent on the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz (Numbers 35). The entire system of mitzvot related to the arrangement of the judicial system – including the establishment of the Beit HaDin HaGadol located next to the Mikdash (Deuteronomy 17:10; Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 1:1), as well as appointing judges and police officers in all the cities of Israel (Deuteronomy 16:18; Rambam, Hilchot Sanhedrin 1: 1- 4), and the semicha of the Sages, that took place only in Israel, and which is the basis of authority of the judiciary system (Rambam, ibid. 4: 4). The observance of the order of months and holidays also depends on the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz – the Beit HaDin HaGadol sanctifies the months, and when the Beit HaDin is cancelled, the months are established by the Jews who live in Eretz Yisrael and maintain the Hebrew calendar previously sanctified by dayan’im (judges) who received semicha in Eretz Yisrael (Rambam, Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh 5:13; Sefer HaMitzvot 153).

Moreover, all of the Torah and mitzvot are meant to be fulfilled in the Land of Israel, because only through their fulfillment in the Land is the name of God revealed in the world. We learned this in the Torah and in our Sages’ statements in numerous places, to the point where they said that the observance of the mitzvot abroad was intended to remind us how to fulfill them when we return to the Land (Deuteronomy 11: 32; ibid., 12:1-2; Yerushalmi Shevi’it 6:1; Kiddushin 1: 8; Bavli Kiddushin 37a; Sifrei, Ekev 43-44).

The Claim of Igrot Moshe

However, in the Responsa Igrot Moshe (E. H. I:102), he wrote: “Concerning your question if there is a mitzvah nowadays to live in Eretz Yisrael … most poskim are of the opinion that it is a mitzvah. But plainly, at this time it is not a positive commandment on the body (that is, one who immigrates fulfills a mitzvah, but there is no personal obligation to immigrate). For if so (if it was compulsory to immigrate to Israel), consequently, we would find that it is forbidden to live abroad … and no mention was made of the prohibition; rather, that it is forbidden for someone who lives in Eretz Yisrael to leave in order to reside abroad (Rambam  Hilchot Melachim 5:9). And even if so, it certainly is not a Torah prohibition (rather, from Divrei Chachamim). And if it was also forbidden for people to live abroad, Rambam would simply have said – it is forbidden to live abroad, unless there is a severe famine in Eretz Yisrael; this means that only the residents of Eretz Yisrael have a prohibition, prohibited by the Sages, but as far as a positive commandment, it is not a mitzvah chiyuvit (obligatory), rather, one who lives there fulfills a mitzvah … and since it is not a mitzvah chiyuvit, one must take into consideration the concern of Rabbi Chaim in Tosafot (who believes that one should not immigrate to Israel without knowing) if he can be careful about the mitzvot that depend on the land.”

Why Poskim in the Past Did Not Obligate Immigrating to Israel

However, with all due respect to the great posek, possessor of compelling judgment, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein ztz”l, his remarks are unsubstantiated from everything I have conveyed about the basic importance of the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’Aretz for the observance of all the Torah and mitzvot. We can see this from what our Sages, Rishonim and Achronim, instructed about when one spouse wishes to immigrate to Israel – the other must comply, and if not, immigration to Israel justifies a divorce (Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 13:20; S. A., E.H. 75:4). However, during the years of exile, Jews living in Eretz Yisrael were usually in greater danger than in the Diaspora, for the Gentiles who ruled Eretz Yisrael tended to persecute the Jews in Israel more than in the Diaspora. Initially, in the times of Roman rule, the reason was because they saw the Jews as a threat to their rule, and later in the days of Byzantium and Islam, to prove that the Jews had no right to the Land of Israel. In addition, over time, the Land had become desolate, and the difficulties of economic existence greatly increased. And this, not to mention the difficulty for anyone to immigrate to a different environment where the laws, language, and ways of making a living are different, and in the past, it was very difficult to learn them from afar.

In other words, to the perception of a Jew living in the Diaspora, there was fear that if he immigrated to Israel, one or several members of his family would die in an obscure plague, or die of poor nutrition as a result of difficulties in earning a livelihood. This was the picture presented to the Jews of the Diaspora, and in such a situation, it was impossible to determine immigrating to Israel as an obligatory halakha, because when there is a real danger to the life of one’s family due to severe famine and a deep and ongoing economic crisis that prevents people from securing their livelihoods even at a minimal level, even the residents of Eretz Yisrael are permitted to leave the country (and even then, it is midat chassidut to remain – Rambam, Hilchot Melachim 5:9). It seems clear to me that our Sages could not imagine a day would come and Jews would be able to exist in the Land of Israel, and simultaneously, some would claim that this was not an obligatory mitzvah. Consequently, all their discussions centered on a situation in which it is extremely difficult to exist in Eretz Yisrael. But even in such a situation, Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari 2: 24) wrote that Jews should have made much more of an effort to immigrate to Israel, and not doing so, our prayers are as “the chattering of the starling and the nightingale.”

But today, when it is possible to live in the Land, it is an absolute obligation for every Jew to immigrate to Israel. The immigration should be well planned, and for that, it can be postponed for a few years, but beyond that, it is forbidden.

Would I Stand the Trial

I must add: this is the halakha, but regrettably, I cannot guarantee that if I faced the trial the Jews in the Diaspora face, I would be capable of fulfilling the halakha. This is because even when it is possible to live in Israel, it is extremely difficult to leave a familiar place of residence, where one knows how to speak and express himself fluently, how to educate his children, and how to make a living, and move to a place where he needs to learn the language, and all the different ways of life. The obligation of immigration to Israel demands from people who are considered very successful, to abandon their achievements, and start rebuilding themselves anew. That is why I so admire immigrants from the U.S. and other prosperous countries.

Rabbi Rabinovich ztz”l

After I finished writing this column, I heard the tragic news of the passing of one of the true Gedolei Ha’Dor, Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovich ztz”l, who chose to emigrate from a prosperous country, Canada, and become a partner in the building of Torah and the Nation, in Eretz Yisrael. May this column be dedicated to an aliyah for his neshama.

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

A Great Principle in the Torah

The mitzvot of “Love your fellow as yourself” and “Do not hate your brother” are the basis of human relations, as well as relations with God * Love and responsibility for others expands in cycles – first, the nuclear family, after that, friends and second-degree relatives, and so on * The mitzvah of love extends to all people, even from other nations, but among Jews, everyone should feel as though they are family * A person offended by his friend should admonish him, but respectfully and without creating greater contempt * A Coronavirus wedding: Should the skipped celebration be made up for after the quarantine?

Love your Fellow as Yourself

In this week’s second Torah portion, Kedoshim, we come across the mitzvah of which Rabbi Akiva said “zeh clal gadol baTorah” (it is a great principle in the Torah), namely, ve’ahavta le’reacha ke’mocha (love your fellow as yourself) (Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9: 4). In a similar fashion, we have learned from Hillel HaZaken (Hillel the Elder) that when a person came looking to convert to Judaism and asked him to teach him the entire Torah on one leg, he said: ‘What is hateful to you, don’t do to someone else – the rest of the Torah is all commentary on that idea. Now, go and study’ (Shabbat 31a).

The mitzvah “Love your fellow as yourself” appears along with another mitzvah lo ta’aseh (a negative commandment) which complements it, as the Torah says: “Do you hate your brother in your heart … and love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17-18).

Why It Is a Great Principle in the Torah

These mitzvot are general and fundamental because in practice, the majority of a person’s life occurs in his relationship with his family, friends and neighbors, and thus, a person’s basic attitude toward others is the central foundation on which most mitzvot one meets in his life, rests. If these are the guiding mitzvot in one’s life, it turns out he fulfills Torah and mitzvot the majority of the time.

Moreover, the mitzvot between man and God are also dependent on these commandments, because a person who doesn’t love his friends and is not careful about hurting their feelings – is someone who is occupied only with himself, and in a way, lives in a self-absorbed bubble. The breakthrough out of narrow egoism into the realms of emunah (faith) is accomplished by means of ahava (love), in which one identifies with another, and desires only good things for him, just as he wishes for himself. In so doing, his little egocentric bubble is breached, he begins to think about the world around him, and is able to connect to the vision of Tikun Ha’Olam (rectification of the world) according to the guidance of Torah and mitzvot.

Definition of the Mitzvah

In practice, it’s impossible for someone to know every other Jew and express love for him. Consequently, the love and responsibility for others expands in cycles: in the inner circle, husband and wife; in the surrounding circle, first-degree relatives; after that, friends and second-degree relatives, followed by neighbors, and so on. If this is the case, then what is the meaning of the mitzvah “love your fellow as yourself” towards all Jews? The answer is that one should desire the good of every Jew, just as he wishes for himself. For example, if he comes across a Jew in trouble and can help – he should do so, just as he would want others to help him if he was in trouble.

The meaning of the prohibition of “Do not hate your brother in your heart” is that a person should not wish something bad happens to someone else, even if he doesn’t say, or do it, in practice. And anyone, who, out of his great hatred for someone does not speak to him, or even say hello, transgresses the prohibition of sin’ah (hatred).

Between Israel and the Nations

The mitzvah of ahava extends to all human beings, despite the differences in opinions, religions, and nations (Midot HaRaya, Ahava 10). But amongst Jews, each one of us should feel as if the other Jew is his brother, and consequently, the love and responsibility for him is of a higher and more binding degree.

In addition, it is forbidden to hate a fellow Jew, even if he is a sinner; although he should be rebuked for sinning, and sometimes even punished, it is forbidden to utterly hate him, just as family members should feel a sense of brotherhood even towards a sinful brother. However, towards a non-Jew who chooses to be evil, one may treat him with hostility and hatred.

The Dignity of Man Created in the Image of God

In the opinion of Ben Azzai, there is an even greater principle than “love your fellow as yourself,” specifically, the dignity of man stemming from the great responsibility placed upon him having been created in the image of God, as it is written: “This is the book of the Chronicles of Adam: On the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1; Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 9:4). The meaning of an image and a likeness, is that man has free choice, and like God, has the ability to change his and the world’s situation for the better, or for the worse. In addition, this principle of human dignity applies equally to all people, of all nations.

The Gateway to God’s Revelation in the World

In spite of the importance of the principle dealing with man’s dignity and responsibility, the accepted position among Jews is that the principle “love your fellow as yourself” is more important. This is because in addition to being the foundation for the majority of mitzvot man encounters in his life, through it, man breaks the barrier of his selfishness, and merits revealing his inner image of God. When a person encounters his friend out of love, helps him in his hour of trouble, and rejoices with him in his times of joy, the image of God within his friend is reflected upon him, and as a result, his own soul begins to shine as well, and he is able to achieve emunah and connect with God. The mitzvot between man and his fellow, guide us to this.

In addition to this, along with the revelation of the unique independence of every human stemming from the dignity of man – division, competition, and war between individuals was created. The rectification for this is by means of the mitzvah ‘love your fellow as yourself’, and this is the great challenge facing people: to lovingly reveal the inner unity between them, whose foundation is based in the One God who created and gives life to everything, and to show how through emunah, ahava, and just collaboration, blessing is drawn to all from the Divine Source.

Someone Offended by His Friend Should Admonish Him

One of the mitzvot that complements the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow as yourself’ is the mitzvah of tochacha (admonishment). The idea of the mitzvah is that a person who is offended or hurt by his friend needs to admonish him, so that his friend understands his words or deeds have hurt him, and so they can put their good relationship in order, as the Torah says (Leviticus 19:17): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him…love your fellow as yourself. I am God” (Rambam, Hilkhot De’ot 6:6). But if he conceals his insult, there is concern he will not be able to stop himself from hating his hurtful friend.

Since the goal is to rectify, rather than denounce or condemn, the reproach should be said respectfully, with care not to cause his friend unnecessary insult or grief. Occasionally it turns out that the friend did not intend to hurt or offend, and after knowing his behavior was hurtful – asks for forgiveness and is careful not to do it anymore, and consequently, it was unnecessary to be angry with him, rather, only to reprove him gently and lovingly. And at times, it turns out that the insult was based on a mistake, and if someone needs to be offended – it is the friend, and accordingly, the person who comes to reprove should apologize for being mistaken, and needlessly suspecting his friend. Therefore, someone who admonishes has to say it with reservation, along with willingness to hear his friend’s reply.

Even when the person who is hurt is certain his reproof will not help, because this friend is always rude and hurts others, it is a mitzvah for him to respectably admonish him, because there is always a certain chance what he says will penetrate his friend’s heart. And even if he rejects the admonishment, it is likely to assume that if everyone he offends talks to him about it, over time, he will improve his ways.

Lo Tikum ve Lo Titur (Do not Take Revenge Nor Bear a Grudge)

The prohibitions of nikimah (revenge) and nitirah (bearing grudges) also complement the mitzvah of ‘love your fellow’, as it is written (Leviticus, 19:17-18): “Do not hate your brother in your heart. You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. Do not take revenge nor bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your fellow as you love yourself. I am God.”

Our Sages explained (in Sifra, ibid.): “How far does the “power” of revenge extend? If one said to another: ‘Lend me your sickle, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your spade, and he answered: No, just as you did not lend me your sickle.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not take revenge…How far does the “power” of grudge-bearing extend? If one said to another: Lend me your spade, and he did not lend him, and the next day the other said to him: Lend me your sickle, and he answered: Here it is; I am not like you, who did not lend me your spade.’ Therefore, it is written: Do not bear a grudge.”

Seemingly, this is difficult to understand, since a person is required to reprove a friend if he hurt him, so why in the prohibition of bearing a grudge is it forbidden to remind him that yesterday he refused to lend him something? However, if the goal is to improve their relationship, and out of love he says to his friend “I am happy to help you, and I would be happy if you could also lend me things when possible,” saying so is not prohibited at all — the exact opposite – it’s a mitzvah. The prohibition “do not bear a grudge” is to insult a friend, and by saying “take a look – I’m not like you,” he really means: “Take a look at how miserable a miser you are – after you refused to lend me your spade yesterday, you have the nerve to ask me today for a sickle? But I won’t sink to your level, I’ll let you use the sickle. Go take a look in a mirror, and see what a nasty person looks like…” Consequently, the prohibition of ‘do not bear a grudge’ is no less severe and insulting than the prohibition ‘do not take revenge.’

If this is the case, how should one react? The best thing to do is to reproach the friend with love and friendship in order to prevent resentment from developing between them. And it’s preferable to do so before his friend needs to ask him for a favor, because at such time, reproach is liable to hurt his feelings. And if despite the importance of the mitzvah to admonish, a person prefers to avoid it – either because he is embarrassed to do so, or because he fears his reproach will aggravate the situation – he must scratch the affront from his heart, because since he did not admonish his friend, he has no right to resent him. Nevertheless, he is permitted to decide in his heart that it’s better for him to somewhat distance himself from his friend so as not to get hurt, but it is forbidden for him to act in a hostile way, or to ignore him. If they meet by chance – he should say hello, and if he asks for a favor – he should help him amiably.

Compensating for an Omitted Celebration after the Quarantine

Q: Is it possible to compensate a groom and bride who had to get married in a limited framework due to the quarantine?

A: With God’s help, when the quarantine is over, as long as the couple is within the first year of their wedding, their family and friends may arrange a feast in their honor, and in the zimun before Birkat HaMazon, they should add “Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘in whose abode there is joy’) and if there are ten men, they should bless “Niverech Elokeinu Sheh Ha’Simcha Bi’m’ono” (‘Let us bless our God in whose abode there is joy’) [Ketubot 8a]. True, it is written in the Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’Ezer 62:13): “Nowadays all joy is granted and we do not say “in whose abode there is joy” except in the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh (seven days of the banquet).” However, when they could not rejoice properly during the sheva ya’mey ha’mishteh, the joy can be compensated for during the first year (see, Pitchei Teshuva 20). Kal ve’chomer (all the more so) in our days when joy has started to return through the building of the Land.

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

At the Core of Ritual Purity and Impurity

Understanding all the secrets of purity and impurity in this week’s Torah portion is beyond our reach, nevertheless, we can still find deep meanings in them * Most of the practical implications of purity and impurity do not apply without the Beit HaMikdash; only in Jewish homes, in the love between husband and wife, is the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash revealed to a certain extent * In the aftermath of the first man’s sin, the world fell from its high level; consequently, all joy is accompanied by pain and sorrow, and love is liable to fade * The days of abstention between husband and wife purify, strengthen, and enhance the love between them * When Tikun Olam is completed, there will be no need for crises as a lever to uplift us, and impurity will be done away with

Taharah (Ritual Purity) and Tumah (Ritual Impurity) in Married Life

With the kindness of God, during these days of isolation I began writing the laws of Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity), and since the end of this week’s Torah portion Metzora deals with the mitzvot of tumat and taharat nida (impurity and purification of a menstruating woman) and ziva (an unnatural emission from the genitals), and the beginning of the Torah portion Tazria deals with the tumat and taharat of a yoledet (a woman who gave birth), it is worth studying the meaning of these mitzvot.

This type of tumah has two aspects: one – the prohibition of marital relations and intimacy, the other – about the laws of the Mikdash and its sanctity, namely, that it is forbidden for someone who is tameh to enter Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount) and eat the meat of the korbanot (animal sacrifices). In addition, throughout the country the Kohanim (priests) had to eat the terumot (tithes) and challah (a portion of bread) given to them by their fellow Israelites in purity, and those who separated the tithes, had to make sure not to defile them. Since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the possibility of being purified of tumat met (impurity due to “contact” with the dead) by means of efer parah adumah (ashes of the Red Heifer) was annulled, as well as Kohanim eating terumot and challah in purity. Only within Jewish homes, in the love between husband and wife, is the sanctity of the Beit HaMikdash revealed to a certain extent in the laws of tumah and taharah pertaining to the laws of marital relations and intimacy – in order to direct, uplift, and sanctify the couple’s love.

Understanding Taharah and Tumah

The root of the mitzvah of taharah and tumah lies in the heights of the secret place of the Most High, in the Divine idea beyond our attainment, and therefore we will never be able to fully understand the significance of these mitzvot. Nevertheless, out of our emunah (faith) of knowing that God has given us all the mitzvot to sanctify us, and to grant us favor and blessing, as the Torah says, “God commanded us to keep all these rules, so that we would remain in awe of God for all time, so that we would survive, even as we are today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). And although we cannot explain the reason why God gave us these mitzvot, we can grasp from them deep meanings.

In general, taharah is associated with life, and tumah with death. The more highly developed a life form is, the greater the level of death is in its loss, and consequently, the greater the tumah as well. Therefore, man, who reveals the highest level of developed life, the tumah of his death is the most severe. A less severe degree of tumah is tumat nevelah (the uncleanness of an animal that died as a result of any process other than valid ritual slaughter) or sheretz (vermin). Plant life is less developed, thus, there is no tumah in its end, however, if man made from the plant life utensils or clothing, or grew from the plant fruits or vegetables – they can receive tumah.

The Womb – The Source of Life

The womb is the source of life and taharah of all human beings, and thus in contrast, it is also a source of tumah. Tumat nidah is when the egg that could have developed in the uterus into an embryo was not fertilized, lost and died, and came out in the menstrual bleeding along with the mucosa that was intended to help create life. The tumah of shichvat zera (spilling of seed) is also an expression of this – this sperm could have given birth to life, but was lost and died; albeit, its tumah is of a lower degree of impurity (Kuzari 2: 60-62). Incidentally, the womb is occasionally called by our Sages kever (a grave), for example, in the case where a fetus died, and an abortion was performed (Nida 21a).

Since the Sin of Adam Rishon

In the aftermath of the sin of Adam Rishon (the first man), the entire world fell from its high level, and death and tumah appeared in the world. Man was punished in that his livelihood entails sadness and sorrow, till the day he dies and returns to the earth. Even family life, marital relations, and births entail sadness and sorrow, as it is written: “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy. It will be with anguish that you will give birth to children. Your passion will be to your husband, and he will dominate you’ (Genesis 3:16). Our Sages interpreted: “‘I will greatly increase your anguish and your pregnancy’ – this refers to the two drops of blood, one being that of menstruation and the other that of virginity, to the pain of bringing up children, and the pain of conception” (Eruvin 100b). In other words, tumat nidah and ziva perpetuated from the sin of a Chava (Eve)… because before the sin, all women were deserving not to see veset nidah (menstruation) and ziva, rather, were taharot without blood” (Tzror Hamor, Torat Chatat 69).

The Tikun in the Mitzvot of Tumah and Taharah

In the aftermath of the sin, the world was shattered and filled with flaws and shortcomings. As a result, along with the joy of all the good in the world, everything is accompanied with sorrow and sadness. No man can fill his mouth with laughter in this world, and there is no joy without crises and pain. If a person tries to ignore the pain and shortcomings, he will fall, and crash with greater pain. Thus, human awareness of the punishment Adam and Chava received for their sin, and the pain and sorrow that accompany life, are the key to driving the process whereby they are able to gradually repair the fracture, until they finally reach a higher level than at first. This is because the virtue of baalei teshuva (those who repent) is greater than that of tzadikim gemorim (the completely righteous), because out of knowledge of the world’s peaks and abysses, they choose the good. The mitzvot of tumah and taharah give expression to the shortcomings, and pave the way for their repair.

The Renewal of Love, and the Internalization of Marital Values

The decline that occurred in the world in the aftermath of the sin also impaired a couple’s ability to express their love limitlessly, and maintain its vitality from fading and dying. That is why so many couples get divorced, or are left without love. The physical manifestation of the crisis and sadness accompanying life and love is the blood of nidah and birth, and ultimately death. By fulfilling the halakhot of tumah and taharah, we give the sadness that accompanies our lives an appropriate place and learn to deal with it, and thereby give room for love to grow and develop gradually, until the completion of the tikun in Olam HaBa (the World to Come). As such, Rabbi Meir explained: “Why did the Torah ordain that the uncleanness of menstruation should continue for seven days? Because being in constant contact with his wife, a husband might develop a loathing towards her. The Torah, therefore, ordained: Let her be unclean for seven days in order that she will be beloved by her husband as at the time of her first entry into the bridal chamber” (Nidah 31b).

The Mitzvah’s Ability

Any wise and honest person will agree that a fixed period of abstention is the most successful way to keep the fire of love between a couple burning. But without the mitzvot of the Torah, a man is powerless to meet this difficult task. We are unable to claim that this is the explanation for the mitzvah because the full meaning of the Divine mitzvot are beyond our comprehension; but since we know that all the mitzvot are for our benefit in this world, and the World to Come – it is incumbent upon us to reflect on the good we receive by way of the mitzvot. As well as the longing that renews love, during the days of abstention and longing, a husband and wife can also discard with the bad character trait of lack of appreciation – taking the good things in their lives for granted – and out of recognizing the good, they learn to be truly generous towards one another.

Permissible Days

Thus, from month to month, the days of abstention purify, strengthen, and enhance the love between a couple, until they reach middle age – then menstruation ceases, and their love becomes deeper and more binding, and they no longer have need for tumat ha’nidah to enhance their relationship. In the future, with the completion of the tikun, as we learn to ascend from one level to the next, and reveal in the Torah and the neshama (soul) endless new meanings, youth will be renewed, and life enhanced. Then crises will no longer be needed as a lever for uplifting, and the curse of death and its tumah will be eradicated. To a certain extent, this is what happens during the days of pregnancy and nursing, which, thanks to the upsurge of life created by them, their love also receives profound vitality that intensifies free of abstention.

Impurity of Childbirth and Its Purification

At the beginning of the Torah portion Tzaria, we learn that at the time of the birth, a woman becomes unclean. If she gave birth to a male child, she is unclean for seven days, and at the end, even if she continues seeing blood, she immerses herself in a mikveh, and is purified. Thus she remains ritually clean to her husband despite continuing to see blood until the end of forty days from birth, for all the blood that flows from her body until the end of the fortieth day is blood of purity. And after the fortieth day, she returns to her usual state, namely, if she sees blood, she is unclean. And if she gave birth to a female, her impurity and purification are double – her impurity lasts for two weeks, and after that, she is ritually pure until the end of the eightieth day from birth. During all these days, it was forbidden for a woman who gave birth to enter the Beit HaMikdash, and upon her completion, she would bring a korban olah (burnt offering) to give thanks for the birth, and a korban chatat (sin offering) for the shortcomings embraced in her birth. In this manner she may enter the Mikdash.

The Meaning of Impurity of Childbirth

In every lofty idea that descends to this world, there is a certain aspect of falling and death. The same holds true for every birth – the hopes leading up to the birth are endless. One’s heart is inclined to believe that after the miracle of birth, the entire world will change for the better – the new child will be perfect, wonderful and happy, wise and healthy, and in his day, the Redeemer will come. In reality, after birth we fall into the routine of life – the pain, and the exhaustion. The baby will also have to face challenges and crisis like all humans. The mother’s body feels it as well, and this is the depression that sometimes accompanies maternity in the postpartum period. The tumah related to birth expresses the sorrow for the hopes and dreams that will not come to fruition, but the blood of the birth itself is not impure, since it is blood that emerges with the birth of a new life. In the first stage, the tumah is more severe. It expresses the mother’s emptying of her dreams, and the fall of the fetus from the wonderful world in its mother’s womb, into this world, with all its sorrow and tears. In the second stage of blood of purity, the tumah is less severe, and it expresses the middle stage, in which life intensifies along with the recognition that they are accompanied by difficulties and crises, which only through coping with them, can progress be made towards the fulfillment of all dreams. Therefore at this stage, from the din (law) of Torah, a woman is not forbidden to her husband, but she is forbidden to touch sacrificial flesh or enter the Mikdash. And according to Jewish custom, since marital relations are also sacred, all prohibitions are practiced in this stage as well.

The Difference between the Birth of a Male and a Female

It can be said that the difference between giving birth to a male and a female, is that the tumah and tikun of the male is more evident – the tumah is expressed in the orlah (foreskin), and the tikun in Brit Milah (circumcision), and the whole process is shorter. In contrast, in the birth of a female, the tumah and taharah are hidden and deeper, and consequently, last twice as long. And just as the tumah expresses a more difficult fall, correspondingly, the tikun is also greater.

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

An Opportunity to Free Ourselves from Bondage

In these days of isolation, we have an opportunity to break free from the enslavement restricting us * It seemed that modernity had rid us of epidemics, but now it turns out that precisely advancement, globalization, and economies are under threat * Chametz alludes to man’s ability to develop the world and all year round it is desirable; but on Pesach, we must return to the foundations of faith * Isolation gives us an opportunity to make the most of the mitzvah “teach your children” * It is also an opportunity to re-design our lives, to recognize our own enslavement to a certain standard of living or a specific area of ​​residence, and leave them for spiritual, family, and economic freedom

Pesach in Times of Crisis

Humanity is presently dealing with a new/old enemy – a virus threatening the lives of numerous people, along with worldviews that have guided them. It seemed that modernity had already rid us of such epidemics, but as it turns out, the ones under threat are precisely the developed countries that promised their citizens prosperity, and built elaborate economic systems. The overcrowded cities and globalization are what accelerated the spread of the epidemic.

Every crisis dismantles, and gives rise. Institutions, factories, and businesses that were not succeeding in any event – will fold, and new ones will emerge. However, not everything that grows out of a crisis is good. It depends on choice, and choice depends on inner will. When the inner will is good, things built are good in any case. And this is exactly the idea of Pesach – to re-establish the foundations of emunah (faith) in our consciousness, and by doing so, emancipate ourselves from all unnecessary dependences, so we can grow from the strength of redemption from Egypt, to the future Redemption.

The Meaning of the Prohibition of Chametz

Chametz (any one of the five species of cereal grains that came into contact with water and fermented) alludes to man’s ability to take raw material, enhance, and develop it. Throughout the year this attribute, by means of which man, created in the image of God, participates in the development and improvement of the world, is very positive. However, God gave us the holiday of Pesach so we can return to the foundations of emunah, and to do so, we must be extremely cautious about any trace of chametz.

The foundation of emunah is that God created the world and determined its purpose, and that the roots of all things depend on Him alone. Although God gave man the ability to improve and develop the world, this is limited to manipulating and developing the outgrowths of the root elements of creation; man has no power over the root elements, which are divine creations. God created the world and mankind, chose the people of Israel to be His Am Segula, His treasured nation, and it is He who gave humanity the quest to be moral, and to Israel, His Torah. Anyone who mixes petty human thoughts into the foundations of emunah, harms them greatly.

This is hinted at in the prohibition of chametz. By means of biur chametz (disposing of chametz), we are able to reach the holiday of Pesach and Seder night, designed to instill in us the foundations of emunah, namely, that the world has a Creator, that He watches over His creatures, and that He chose the people of Israel to reveal His name in the world. Whenever a Divine foundation is revealed in the world, it appears in a completely miraculous fashion, to indicate that it is not a human endeavor. Thus, the Exodus was accompanied by signs and wonders, to publicize that the choosing of Israel was a Divine matter. Similarly, the Torah was given with evident miracles, to a generation that lived miraculously for forty years in the desert, so as to make known that this was an absolute Divine matter. In other words, we internalize the fundamental principles of emunah – we do not invent them. Whoever mixes some human aspect into these basic principles of emunah is guilty of idolatry. This is alluded to in the Zohar’s statement that chametz on Pesach is idolatry (Vol.2:182:1).

May it be that out of assimilating the foundations of emunah, all our endeavors emerging out of the crisis will be constructive.

The Significance of Eating Matzah

Matzah is the opposite of chametz; it symbolizes our humility toward Heaven, and therefore, it must remain simple and thin throughout its baking process, without rising. By fulfilling the mitzvah of eating matzah, we internalize the emunah first revealed at the Exodus from Egypt. Matzah comes to remind us of faith, and is therefore called meikhla de-mehemnuta, the “bread of emunah” by the Zohar (Vol.2:183:2). By eating matzah on the Seder night with the proper intent, one achieves emunah, and by eating matzah all seven days of Pesach, that emunah is firmly implanted in one’s heart (Pri Tzadik, Ma’amerei Pesach 9). Since matzah signifies faith, it is understandable that its entire manufacturing process must be performed with extreme care.

“Teach Your Children” In Times of Isolation

The central mitzvah on the Seder night is to convey to our children the foundations of the faith of Israel: they must know how the nation of Israel was formed, that God chose Israel to be His special nation, and that He gave them a special duty to receive the Torah, and rectify the world. Parents, of course, do not live forever. The next generation will have to bear the torch of tradition, the great and awesome task that God intended for Israel, until the world has been fully repaired. This is the lesson of the Seder night. Since children’s characters differ from one child to another, the Torah clarifies the way in which parents should convey the Seder’s legacy to children in four forms – to four different types of sons. The Seder night should act as a model for the entire year, namely, that education should be tailored to a child’s unique character.

Due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, parents often find it difficult to spend a significant amount of time to talk to their children, to identify each child’s uniqueness, and nurture and direct them in their own special way. These days of isolation afford us an opportunity to broaden the enlightenment and inspiration of Seder night over entire weeks, from which we will emerge better.

The Goal: A Life of Faith and Blessing in the Land of Israel

In order to fully understand the mission of the Jewish people, which we want to convey during Pesach and Seder night, we must consider the question of the wise child, and the answer he receives according to the Torah (Deuteronomy 6: 20-25).

The wise child poses a detailed question, as it is stated: “When in the future your child asks you, ‘What are these testimonies, laws, and principles that the Lord our God commanded you?’” The answer initially addresses the Exodus from Egypt, but then broadens to include the overall purpose of the Jewish people: to come to Eretz Yisrael, to adhere to God, to fulfill all of His mitzvot, and to earn His benevolence:

“Say to your child, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. God brought great and terrible miracles and demonstrations upon Egypt, Pharaoh, and his entire household before our very eyes. He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustain us as we are today. And it shall be considered our virtue to observe and perform all these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us.’”

We see, then, that the aim of Seder night is to impart to our children, by telling the story of the Exodus, the desire to belong to the people of Israel, to inherit the Promised Land, to adhere to God, and to fulfill all of His mitzvot.

Freedom from Bondage

During these days of isolation, in which our movement is restricted, we have the opportunity to free ourselves from distractions, to contemplate about our lives, re-program them, and free ourselves from all the dependences restricting us. Some people are dependent on a standard of living, to the point where it seems to them that if they earn a little less, their world will collapse. In truth, however, if they spent thirty percent less than they usually do, they would simply return to the way they lived twenty years prior. For the race to buy a more expensive apartment, car, clothing and entertainment, it is worth giving up so many principles – on dreams of dedicating more time to Torah study, giving ma’aser kesafim, helping others, and the like? There are people who live in a location unsuitable for them, but because they are enslaved to their habits, they pay huge sums of money for their apartment which eats up a significant percentage of their income – not realizing that the location is unbefitting for their family and spiritual aspirations, and for their children’s education. Perhaps as a result of the isolation they will be able to free themselves, to choose to move to one of the high-quality communities in Judea and Samaria, and thus, all at once, improve their spiritual, family, and economic standard of living, and become partners in the grand mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel).

Torah for Its Own Sake Bestows Freedom

The Torah gives a person the ability to be free, and consequently, the continuation of the Exodus from Egypt is Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah). As our Sages said: “For man is never freer than when he occupies himself with the study of Torah” (Avot 6:2). This is because only by the absolute and eternal word of God can man be freed from the bondage to his inclinations and public opinion.

But the truth must be told: only a straightforward study of Torah can make a person free, whereas a twisted type of study can make a person more enslaved to warped conceptions and false notions. As our Sages said: “What is the meaning of the Scriptural verse: ‘And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel’? — If he merits, it becomes for him a medicine of life, if not, a deadly poison” (Yoma 72b). They also said, ” Whoever occupies himself with the Torah le’shma (for its own sake), his learning becomes an elixir of life for him, for it is said, ‘It (the Torah) is a tree of life to those who grasp it’; and it is further said, ‘It shall be as health…’; and it is also said, ‘For whoever finds me, finds life. But, whoever occupies himself with the Torah not for its own sake, it becomes a deadly poison for him” (Taanit 7a).

What is Torah Study for Its Own Sake?

The meaning of Torah study le’shma, is to fulfill the aim of the Torah – to add goodness and blessing in the world, and as we were instructed to teach the wise Son on Seder night: ” He brought us out of there in order to bring us to, and give us, the land He promised to our forebears. God commanded us to keep all of these laws, to fear the Lord our God, for the sake of our everlasting benefit, so that He might sustains us as we are today” (Deuteronomy, ibid.). Some people are enslaved to a distorted Torah belief, according to which a person who wants to be a tzadik (righteous) must alienate himself from science and work, and live in poverty. Such an attitude is sometimes necessary in galut (exile), but to continue it in Eretz Yisrael? God forbid!

On this Chag Ha’Herut (Festival of Freedom) – it should be for the good – we have the opportunity to free ourselves from bondage to this limited concept.

The Land of Israel

When Torah study is done out of alienation to the nation and the land, regrettably, it becomes lo le’shma (not for the sake), and becomes a deadly poison. After all, the entire purpose of Yitziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt) was to enter Eretz Yisrael, as written: “I have come down to rescue them from Egypt’s power. I will bring them out of that land, to a good, spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3: 7). In Eretz Yisrael, one must work and fulfill the Torah and mitzvot, and by doing so, merit blessing and prosperity, and be an example to all peoples of the world who will say about the nation of Israel, that it is wise and understanding in all the sciences, walks in the ways of God, and God helps them to rectify the world in the kingdom of the Lord.

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

This is How We Prepare the Kitchen Ourselves

Since this year it is impossible to make use of a central, public kashering of utensils or have our kitchen kashered by others, we must do it ourselves * In order to do so, one must learn what is halachically necessary, without chumrot and hidurim difficult to perform in the house * Guidelines for kashering the oven, pots, cutlery, and other kitchenware according to halakha, by household means

The General Rule of Kashering: Ke-Bole’o Kakh Polto

This year we will not be able to make use of a central kashering to perform libun of stovetop grates, and hagala of pots. There are also people who usually have others help them kasher their kitchen for Pesach, and this year they will have kasher it themselves. Therefore, it is necessary to study the halakhot of kashering the kitchen and utensils for Pesach as required by halakha, without chumrot and hidurim that are difficult to do at home. The references to “Peninei Halakha – Pesach” are for the new edition of 5780 [2020] (found on the website of ‘Yeshiva Har Bracha’, and can be downloaded in the app). Let us begin clarifying the general rules.

The basic rule in the laws of kashering utensils is “ke-bole’o kakh polto” (a forbidden taste is released from the utensil in the same manner that it was absorbed). That is, the utensil should be kashered in the way it was used b’issur (in a forbidden manner) or with chametz. There are three forms of use: 1) with fire, whose kashering is done by heavy libun (heating the vessel by fire until it gives off sparks or becomes red hot). 2) With hot liquids – whose kashering is done by hagala in boiling water. This, too, has different levels: the use of a kli rishon (the vessel in which the food is cooked) on a flame, a kli rishon removed from the flame, liquid poured (irui) from a kli rishon, kli sheni (hot food that was first cooked in a vessel over fire and then transferred to a different one), and ke-bole’o kakh polto. 3) With liquids that are not hot, in which case it is enough to clean them in cold water to kasher them.

A Utensil Used on Two Levels

A spoon that sometimes absorbed chametz in a kli rishon on a flame and sometimes in a kli sheni is kashered according to its most intense absorption, namely, in boiling water on a flame. However, when this is difficult or can cause damage, we go according to its usual use. For example, a fork that is usually used in a kli rishon or sheni whose kashering is done in boiling water, but sometimes the fork is stuck in a baked good while in the oven where its absorption is with fire – since libun is liable to damage the fork, we go according to ikar ha’din (strict law), and the fork is kashered according to it predominant use, in boiling water (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 10:7).

Cleaning the Kitchen and the House

There is a huge difference between cleaning the house for Pesach and cleaning the kitchen. In cleaning the house, the goal is not to leave a crumb of chametz the size of a ke’zayit (olive), in order not to transgress the prohibition bal yera’eh (“no chametz of yours shall be seen”) and bal yimatzei (“no se’or of yours shall be seen within all your borders”) [Shemot 13:7], whereas in the cleaning of the kitchen and its utensils, the goal is not to leave even kol she’hu (the slightest amount) of chametz, lest it get mixed into Pesach foods. And as known, chametz on Pesach is forbidden even kol she’hu. And when it comes to utensils used to cook with, one must make sure there are no remains of the taste of chametz absorbed in utensils, or any residual chametz stuck to them.

Countertop and Sink

Thoroughly clean the marble countertop and the sink, and then pour boiling water on them. It is convenient to do this with a kumkum (kettle). Before pouring boiling water on a sink or countertop, it must be dried well, so that the boiling water touches it directly and is not cooled by any cold water on its surface. For this reason, one must first pour the boiling water on the sink and then on the countertop, starting with the areas closest to the sink and moving further away, so that the water will flow to the sink rather than the places that have not yet been kashered. Instead of pouring boiling water on them, the marble countertop can be covered with linoleum or aluminum foil and a plastic basin placed in the sink, or covered with thick aluminum foil. Those who are stringent do both – they pour boiling water on the countertop and sink, and then cover them with linoleum or thick aluminum foil (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 1).

Fragile marble countertops, on which boiling pots are never placed, le’chatchila (from the outset) can be kashered by merely cleaning and pouring boiling water on them, and even the mehadrim (those who go a step further) need not cover it with linoleum or aluminum foil.

Kashering Grates, Burners, and Stovetops

Throughout the year, people usually use the same stovetop grates for both meat and milk, because even if some meat or dairy food spills onto them, the flame incinerates and befouls whatever has spilled. However, people customarily perform light libun on such grates for Pesach, because of the severity of the chametz prohibition. In ordinary years, many people are mehadrim, and do this by means of burners supplied at public kashering stations, but this year the kashering may be done by cleaning the grate, returning it to its place, and turning on all the flames for about fifteen minutes. Those who wish to go a step further, wrap aluminum foil around the bars on which pots sit. Be’di’avad (a level of performance that ex post facto satisfies an obligation in a less-than-ideal manner), if the grates did not undergo libun, the foods cooked on them on Pesach are kosher (as is customary all year round for meat and milk). The areas of the grates that do not come into contact with the pots, the enamel cook top beneath the grates, and the burners must be cleaned well of all residual food (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 2).

Electric Ranges and Ceramic Burners

Electric ranges and ceramic burners should be thoroughly cleaned, and run on the highest setting for about fifteen minutes.

Kashering a Baking Oven

To kasher an oven, clean it thoroughly and run it at its highest setting for half an hour.

Le’chatchila, we go according to the machmirim (stringent poskim) and do not kasher baking trays, because in their opinion, libun must be done at a temperature of about 400 degrees Celsius, and in such heat, the trays are liable to warp and have their appearance damaged. Therefore, those who do not have special Pesach trays may use disposable oven trays, and kasher the racks along with the oven, in order to place upon them the disposable oven trays (ibid. 11:3).

In extenuating circumstances the oven trays can be kashered for Pesach by heating the oven for half an hour, relying on those poskim who are of the opinion that utensils do not need to undergo libun at 400 degrees Celsius, rather, it is enough to do libun with the heat they have been used with (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11:5).

Self-Cleaning Ovens

Ovens that self-clean at a temperature of 500ºC need not be cleaned before kashering because such intense heat is considered heavy libun and is sufficient to kasher the oven for Pesach.

Barbeque

The body of the barbecue and its rack should be kashered as it is used, which is a level of heavy libun. If it is a gas barbeque – do so on the highest level of heat, or if used with coals – the largest amount of coals normally used.

Microwave

There are three steps to kasher a microwave oven: 1) cleaning it thoroughly of any residual food resulting from spillage or vaporization; 2) in order to kasher it from vapors and moisture of chametz in a manner of ke-bole’o kakh polto – heat a container of water in the microwave for approximately ten minutes (since microwave ovens absorb chametz via vapor that rises from food as it is heated); 3) Since chametz may have spilled onto the plate of the microwave, the plate should be cleaned and immersed in boiling water, or by placing something as a separation between the plate and the food that will be heated in the microwave on Pesach. (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 5).

Dishwasher

The filter, where residual food often gets stuck, must be cleaned thoroughly. Then the dishwasher should be run at its hottest setting, so that any absorbed chametz is released, ke-bole’o kakh polto, and in this way, it is kashered (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 11: 5).

The Dining Table

Our tables are sensitive and people usually don’t place hot pastries or boiling pots on them, therefore kashering is done by thoroughly cleaning them with a damp cloth, according to it predominant use. Since occasionally a hot chametz sauce splashes on a table, and sometimes a hot pastry is placed on it, it is correct to be careful not to eat it on a table without a tablecloth that will separate between the table and the food.

There are mehadrim who tape a nylon or paper covering on the table, fearing that the tablecloth placed on the table will slip off, and by taping them create a permanent buffer upon which the tablecloth is spread. If this is a table on which dough is occasionally kneaded, a permanent separation must be taped or placed on it.

A table on which no hot chametz foods were placed throughout the year and dough was not kneaded upon it, it is enough to clean it well, and there is no need to cover it (ibid. 11:6).

Refrigerator

Since refrigerators are used with cold food, the only concern is that some chametz crumbs might remain there. Therefore, their kashering is done by cleaning. In hard to reach places where chametz crumbs may have gotten stuck, one must pour soapy water or some other substance that will befoul the crumbs and render them unfit for animal consumption.

Kitchen Cabinets

When kitchen cupboards were made of natural wood, they often had cracks and crevices that were difficult to clean completely of chametz that got stuck there, thus, the custom was to line them with paper. However, in smooth shelves like those used today, there is no concern that chametz remains. Therefore, once they have been cleaned properly, they need not be covered.

Kashering Cutlery

In these days when pots and cutlery cannot be kashered in public hagalat kelim, which are needed to kasher chametz utensils for Pesach that have been used with a kli rishon on the fire, the kashering must be done at home.

To do this, take a large clean pot, whether it be a chametz pot, or a Pesach pot. Boil water in it, place in the water a bit of liquid soap to damage its taste, and any utensil one wishes to kasher – is placed in the boiling water for about three seconds.

Le’chatchila, the custom is to rinse the utensils in cold water immediately after hagala, but if for some reason it is difficult to rinse a utensil with cold water, one need not make an effort to do so.

If a utensil cannot be immersed in its entirety into the water, it can be immersed one half at a time (ibid. 10: 11).

Kashering Pots

The hagala of a pot should be done in a large vessel in which all of the pot can be inserted. It is not enough to boil water in the pot, because most likely during the year food over-flowed or splashed on the rim of the pot, and consequently, the taste of chametz is absorbed and stuck to the upper lip of the pot, and the pot rim is not kashered by the boiling water inside the pot.

When the handles of the pots can be disassembled, there are mehadrim who take them apart and clean them. Instead of this, one can clean around them with a lot of soap, until it is clear the taste that may be in the grooves is nifgam (fouled), and then, immerse the pot. Pots with metal folding edges do not need special care.

If one cannot find a vat large enough to immerse the pot, boil water in a small vessel, and when the water in the large vessel begins to boil, insert the small vessel into the center of the larger vessel. This will cause the water in the larger vessel to overflow and kasher its rim and outer walls. It is also possible to boil water in a kumkum at the same time, and when the water inside the pot starts to boil, pour the boiling water from the kumkum into the pot, so that the boiling water in the pot will spill over and kasher its rim. The lid of the pot should be rotated in the boiling water, forward and back, until each portion of it is in the boiling water. In addition, the pot handles should be cleaned thoroughly with soap, and boiling water poured on them (ibid. 11: 12; 10: 9).

Frying Pan

Clean well and kasher it with light libun, by heating it on the gas fire in the same heat as it is used when frying (ibid. 10: 4-5).

Glassware

Many Sephardim follow the lenient opinion that glass utensils may be kashered simply by rinsing them thoroughly, whereas many Ashkenazic Jews do not kasher glass utensils for Pesach. In practice, however, the ikar seems to be the middle opinion, which maintains that glass utensils have the same status as metal utensils, whose kashering is done by immersing them in boiling water. Those whose families’ minhag is to be lenient, are permitted to continue in their minhag. And those whose families’ minhag is to be stringent, it is appropriate for them to continue in their minhag (ibid. 11:12).

Various Utensils

Warming Tray (Shabbat Plata): Clean thoroughly, heat on highest setting for one hour, and those who act stringently, also cover it with aluminum foil to separate between it and Pesach pots (ibid. 11: 4).

Electric Water Heaters for Shabbat and Kumkum: The custom is to do hagala because chametz crumbs may have fallen into them. Hagala in this case means filling the device to the top with water, boiling it, and then pouring it out through the faucet or opening used to dispense the water. Before hagala, it is good to clean out the stone deposits that accumulated inside. If one puts challah loaves on the lid of the urn to warm them before the Shabbat meal, the lid should be immersed in boiling water.

Coffee Machine: Clean and heat the machine as usual with hot water on the highest heat.

Silver Goblets: It is customary to perform hagala on silver goblets used for kiddush wine and other hard drinks, because crumbs sometimes fall into the goblet along with these strong drinks, which, according to some poskim, causes their taste to be absorbed into the goblet. Since this is a remote concern, when necessary, it is enough to wash them according their predominant use.

Plastic Baby Bottle and Pacifier: It is better to replace them, but when necessary, they may be kashered by cleaning and pouring boiling water on them.

False Teeth: These should be cleaned thoroughly before the onset of the chametz prohibition. They need not undergo hagala, because people do not normally put boiling foods or liquids in their mouths; just as they are used for both meat and dairy when cleaned in between, they may also be used on Pesach.

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

Opportunities in Days of Seclusion

These days when lifestyles are changing against our will, it is an opportunity to examine our habits and arrange life properly according to Torah principles * On these Sabbaths, when we are not praying in public, and are at home for long periods of time, it is proper to be more careful than usual to dedicate time to Torah study * For those who are unemployed these days, it is appropriate to study Torah even during weekdays, thus, utilize their time and even strengthen their spirit * There is no justification for canceling women going to the mikveh these days, as long as preparations are done at home – but cancelling minyans is justified and even preferable

The days of seclusion forced upon us are an opportunity for each one of us to clarify for ourselves, the truths we have become accustomed to by rote. Now that lifestyle is changing, habits are inadequate; we must return to the foundations of Torah and mitzvot, and organize and arrange life in accordance with them. At the same time, we can dispense of unnecessary and bad habits, and adopt better ones. For example, evaluating the state of our children and their studies, seeing they are praying and studying properly, supplementing school work, and finding new learning challenges that will inspire them. As a result, when the days of seclusion are over, we will be able to continue growing wonderfully. Shabbat is one of the important foundations we have an opportunity to strengthen.

Preparations for Shabbat

It is a mitzvah to prepare on Friday for Shabbat, so that we can properly honor and take delight in it (oneg Shabbat), as it is written: “But on the sixth day, they prepare what they have brought in” [Shemot 16:5] (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 2:2).

It is a mitzvah to honor Shabbat, as it is written: “Call Shabbat ‘delight,’ the Lord’s holy [day] ‘honored’” (Yeshayahu 58:13). Part of honoring Shabbat is making sure that one does not dress on Shabbat as he would during the week (Shabbat 113a). Some authorities write in the name of Arizal that it is best not to wear anything on Shabbat that one has worn during the week. One who is spending Shabbat alone, and all the more so when in the intimacy of family, should still dress up, no less than any other Shabbat, because the clothes are not meant to honor the people who see them, but to honor Shabbat (Peninei Halakha, ibid., 2:4).

One should try to eat lunch on Friday before midday, and when necessary, up until three hours before Shabbat, in order to arrive at the Shabbat evening meal with an appetite. At the same time, we can also discard the habit of eating cakes or other tasty foods before Shabbat enters, thus causing harm to the honor of Shabbat, and the oneg of the meals. Even if it is helps children to concentrate on prayer and does not impair the Shabbat meal, for adults it is a negative and harmful practice.

Festive Meals and Prayers on these Shabbatot

On these Shabbatot more than others, it is appropriate to delight in Shabbat with delicious meals, however, without over-eating. It is also fitting to embellish Shabbat by singing zemirot (Shabbat songs), to complement tunes we have missed from tefilah b’tzibbur (public prayers).

This Shabbat, it would be good for all members of the household who are able to pray together, and in the Shacharit prayer, to read the Parshat HaShavua (weekly Torah portion) together from a Chumash (Pentateuch).

Torah Study on Shabbat

It is a mitzvah to study a great deal of Torah on Shabbat. Our Sages stated: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (Yerushalmi Shabbat 15c). In practice, our Sages said that half of our waking hours on Shabbat should be devoted to Torah and prayer. Practically speaking, half of our waking hours comes to approximately nine hours, and precisely on this Shabbat when we are confined to our homes, we should be more meticulous about this, for the virtue of Torah from which life and blessing stems, exceeds all the mitzvoth and is the deepest cure for all ills. May it be God’s will that out of the strengthening of Torah study this Shabbat, individually and in the intimacy of family, we will be able afterwards to increase Torah study on all coming Shabbatot, for good and long years.

Torah Study for the Unemployed during the Seclusion

For all the unemployed, it is great and important mitzvah to set a meaningful amount of time to Torah study during the days of seclusion. Our Sages said that the mitzvah of Talmud Torah is the equivalent of all the commandments (Pe’ah 1:1), and it is a mitzvah for all Jews to learn Torah day and night, as it is written: “Keep this book of Torah always on your lips; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1: 8). Also, anyone able to engage in the study of the Torah but fails to do so, has despised the word of God (Sanhedrin 99a). However, during the weekdays, when busy making a livelihood, it is impossible to learn a great deal, nevertheless, one is obligated to set times for Torah day and night (Rambam, ibid. 1: 8; 3: 13). However, on days when one is free from work, such as Shabbatot and holidays, or when one is on pension leave, the mitzvah of Talmud Torah returns in full force. This is especially important for the unemployed, whose mental state is liable to deteriorate, and if they utilize these days to grow in the ‘Torah of Life’ instead of being depressed, their lives will be enhanced, and in the process, they will gain strength in their jobs, for the glory of the Nation and the Land. Even teenagers need to take advantage of the considerable amount of time now available for significant learning.

On the Yeshiva Har Bracha website, there is a study program in ‘Peninei Halakha’ with exams, which can help students.

Incidentally, I was asked by men who are first-born, and concerned they will not be able to participate in a siyyum of a tractate on Erev Pesach, and are unable to finish one on their own. They asked if it was possible to finish a book of ‘Peninei Halakha’ and make a siyyum on it, and I replied that they may do so, since this involves the joy of finishing Torah study (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 13: 5).

Mikveh for Women Should not be Canceled

Q: Is there room in this time of concern about the Corona epidemic to postpone the mikveh of a woman for her purification, because of the fear she will contract the virus while tovelling (immersing) in the mikveh?
A: As a general rule, it is a mitzvah to tovell as soon as possible and not to postpone the tevila, even for a day, because by means of tevila, the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’ (the joy of marital sexual relations) is fulfilled, which is a great mitzvah from the Torah, and is the concise expression of the mitzvah ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, (love your neighbor as yourself), of which Rabbi Akiva said, it is a great general rule of the Torah (Peninei Halakha: Simchat Ha’Bayit 1:1).

Women should not be concerned of danger as long as those responsible for public health at the Ministry of Health have not prohibited it. And although it seems there is a certain risk of Corona infection in tovelling in a mikveh, we are not talking about a danger in which such a great mitzvah should be cancelled. Specifically, we encounter dangers throughout our lives, but as long as the chances of them occurring are very low, they are not to be taken into consideration. For instance, we travel by car for outings and visiting friends, although there is a concern that an accident may occur. And we do not obligate each and every person going down stairs to firmly hold on to the railing lest he fall and get injured. And we do not prohibit close relatives from visiting patients in a hospital for fear the visitor will contract one of the diseases.

We do not know enough about the danger of the Corona virus, so when it comes to acts of ‘reshut‘ and ‘chol‘ (permitted and non-binding acts) one may be machmir (act stringently), but when it comes to such a great mitzvah, those responsible for public health, who, according to their current instructions, operate the mikveh’s for women’s tovelling – however, instructing women to complete all preparations at home, and simply tovel in the mikveh – should be relied upon. According to their rules, in this manner, there is no danger for women to tovel in a mikveh.

My wife inquired and checked, and it turned out that in these days in our community of Har Bracha, the number of women who tovelled did not decrease at all. This fact is very gratifying, for it is evidence of the dwelling of the Shechina in the homes of our wonderful, holy families, whose lives are full of love, joy, and peace.

Cancellation of Prayers in a Minyan

Some people asked: If mitzvot should not be cancelled when those responsible for public health do not prohibit it, why on Motzei Shabbat Parshat ‘Ki Tisa’ did I write that the mehadrin (those who embellish the mitzvah) should pray b’yachid (individually) and not in a minyan, and just two days later, I wrote that it is correct for all to do so – even though public health officials did not prohibit it?

There are two main reasons for this: First, the mitzvah of minyan is from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance), and in times of need, or when it is difficult – one is exempt from praying in a minyan. This is not the case with tevilat nashim (women’s immersion in a mikveh) which is associated with the mitzvah of ‘simchat ona’, a great mitzvah from the Torah, by means of which, couples fulfill the mitzvah of ‘ve’ahavta l’reicha c’mocha’, and is equivalent to all the mitzvot.

Secondly, although the instructions of the public health authorities were that minyans could be held with some caution, nevertheless, in my estimation, since most minyans normally consist of various people, there was room to gauge these rules would be difficult to abide, and therefore I thought it was preferable to cancel minyans.

Thirdly, I feared Chilul Hashem (desecration of God), as I had previously written: “If today, God forbid, because of religious practices the virus is more widespread, it will be a Chilul Hashem, and we will have to undergo a serious reckoning – because God gave us the Torah so its light and guidance would add life and blessing to us, and not the other way around.”

Nevertheless, I did not write that it was forbidden to pray in a minyan, seeing as the value of liberty is important, and as long as it is not prohibited by the instructions of those responsible – it should not be prohibited. However, the gaba’im (sextons) can decide to close the synagogue, not as a halachic obligation, rather, as public representatives.

Men’s Mikvehs

Q: Why do men’s mikvehs have to be closed, whereas women’s mikvehs are open?

A: There is no comparison between them, for two reasons. 1) Tevilat nashim is a great mitzvah from the Torah, whereas the minhag of tevila for men is not even a mitzvah of Divrei Chachamim, but a Minhag Hassidut which the majority of observant Jews do not practice. 2) Women’s mikvehs are much cleaner than men’s mikvehs, both because women need to prepare for going to the mikveh beforehand, and also because in communities where men tovel, the number of men doing so, is one hundred times the number of women, consequently it is obvious that the difficulty in maintaining the rules of hygiene in the men’s mikveh is one hundred times that of the women’s mikveh.

An Additional Question

Q: Our Sages said (Ta’anit 11a): “A man may not have marital relations during years of famine.” This is also codified in the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 240:12). Perhaps these tense times can also be considered ‘years of famine’?

A: The meaning of ‘years of famine’ is a time when people die of starvation, and even those left alive suffer from hunger, and for that reason, one must not separate himself from the public and rejoice. At this time, however, we are only wary of an epidemic that may spread, but Baruch Hashem, the number of dead has not exceed the usual in the past (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:14). Moreover, maintaining one’s health also depends on the joy of life, and therefore, as long as it is not a truly difficult time, it is a mitzvah to fulfill all the mitzvot of joy b’hidur. Let alone someone not working, for whom the joy of the mitzvah these days is greater (see, Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit 2:7).

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

Thoughts in the Shadow of Corona

The stringencies of the rules of hygiene is an opportunity to strengthen etiquette and cleanliness on ordinary days as well * The problem of eating and drinking from one person’s mouth to another, and using a central serving dish with one’s own cutlery * The similarities between rules of hygiene and  the laws of ritual purity * It is important to strictly observe the rules in synagogues, and one who prays by himself, will be blessed * For weddings planned to take place during this time – it is a mitzvah to hold them in a home-setting, and not to postpone * Weddings at these times are an opportunity to focus the joy on its fundamental nature. Perhaps when we return to normal life, we will be able to find the golden path to joyous weddings, without excessive spending

Etiquette and Hygiene

Lifestyles are changing, and along with the stricter precautions concerning health cleanliness, we are given the opportunity to re-examine various habits, some of which are not the most praiseworthy, such as “wiping-up” humus with a half-eaten pita from a plate designed for a number of people, or taking side dishes from a central serving plate with one’s own cutlery. There are two reasons this should be avoided: one, it nauseates some people, and second, for fear of transmitting diseases. The correct practice is that there should be a serving spoon for each shared side dish with which each person takes the food to his plate, and does not put his own cutlery in the central serving central dish.

Eating and Drinking from One Person’s Mouth to Another

Similarly, we also find that our Sages instructed in the tractate ‘Derech Eretz,’ and codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “One should not bite off a piece of food and place it on the table or on a serving plate in front of others, or do something else others consider disgusting… and for health reasons, one should not drink from the same cup that another person drank from” (O.C. 170: 15-16).

Rabbi Joel ben Samuel Sirkis-Jaffe (1561-1640), also known as ‘Bach’ – an abbreviation of his magnum opus, ‘Bayit Chadash’) and Rabbi Solomon Luria (1510-1573), also known as ‘Rashal’ – an abbreviation of his name in Hebrew, explained that it is forbidden for someone to give another person food he had bitten, or to drink from a glass he had used. This is because the other person may not want to eat or drink because it disgusts him, or because he is afraid of contracting a disease and endangering his health, but ashamed not to eat or drink lest he be thought of as being overly sensitive and spoiled – he would eat or drink, and imperil himself as a result of disgust or infection. However, if on his own initiative one wants to eat or drink from his someone else’s leftovers, it is permissible.

Rabbi David ha-Levi Segal (1586–1667), also known as the Turei Zahav, abbreviated ‘Taz’ (170:8), quoted their remarks, adding that some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) say one should not drink or eat from one person’s mouth to another, for he wrote: “In the book of the will of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol (one of the Gedolei Ashkenaz in the generation before Rashi) who warns about drinking from somebody else’s cup, lest the other person is sick and transmits his illness. And it seems that about this, he said it is also a sakanat nefashot (endangering one’s health).” Both Rabbi Yechiel Michel ha-Levi Epstein (1829 – 1908), also known as Arukh HaShulchan [170:16], and Rabbi Yosef Hayim (1835 – 1909), also known as Ben Ish Hai [Parshat ‘Behar’] wrote both explanations, and also took into consideration the will of Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol. And in Ben Ish Hai, he concluded: “And the widespread minhag of family members drinking from the kiddush cup of the baal ha’bayit who made kiddush, is because they know that the baal ha’bayit is not sick with an illness that can harm them.”

Placing a Bitten Piece of Food on the Table

Our Sages said in the Tractate ‘Derech Eretz Zuta’ Chapter 6: “One should not take a bite of food and place it on the table.” And this was codified in the Shulchan Aruch: “One should not bite off a piece of food and place it on the table.” (O.C. 170:10). This is because placing a bitten piece of food on the table, with its teeth marks and residual moisture from one’s mouth, is liable to cause a feeling of disgust with others at the table (M. A. 15, M. B. 26). In Tractate Brachot 8b, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631), also known as ‘Maharsha’, a Hebrew acronym for “Our Teacher, the Rabbi Shmuel Eidels”, wrote a minhag of derech eretz (good manners) according to Midrash Yalkut – “one should not bite a piece of food, rather, cut off a piece and eat it.” In other words, so as not to leave a piece of bitten bread in one’s hand, a small piece should be cut off, and then eaten. And this was the minhag of Moreinu ve’Rabbeinu, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook (this is also what Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer (1870–1939), the ‘Kaf HaChaim’, wrote (170:38).

Some poskim explained that someone who took a bite out of a piece of bread [or other food items], should not put it back in middle of the table, as it is unappetizing to other people, and they will not eat from it after it was bitten from (Prisha 170:12; E.R. 18; M.B. 36).

And Bach (170:12) wrote that one should be careful not to cut off a piece of food he is eating over the central serving plate, lest crumbs fall from it into the central serving plate, as it is unappetizing to others.

Handshakes, Hugs and Kisses

A handshake expressing peace and friendship has become a routine gesture for us, and there is hardly anyone who feels uncomfortable about it. As a result, shaking hands doesn’t express any type of special connection. Many people even hug and kiss their friends, and for those who do, hugs and kisses have become a trite gesture that does not express a special connection.

When the precautionary health measures are over, we will be able to re-give handshakes a profound expression of heartfelt camaraderie between friends, all the more so, for hugs and kisses.

Restrictions in the Synagogue

When restrictions on gatherings were published at the end of last week, followed by more severe restrictions, I feared in my heart that we would not, God forbid, reach a situation where precisely in synagogues – places where holiness and life are revealed – people would infect their friends with the virus. For people are used to kissing the sifrei Torah, and those called up to the Torah, touch the etzei ha’chaim (Torah scroll handles) to which the Torah scroll is attached. Therefore, I requested that the etzei ha’chaim be cleaned with alcohol gel, or with soap. I found a source for this in the chumra of our Sages regarding machalei kodesh (sacred foods) over and above all other foods, for in all foods there is only “sheni le’tumah“, in terumah shilishi le’tumah”, and in kodesh, “revi’i le’tumah” as well.

And yet, I was still not satisfied, fearing that people might infect one another in synagogue, seeing as in every minyan, different people sit on the same chairs, and through physical contact with the chairs, tables, shtenders, and door handles, illnesses were liable to be transmitted. So when the gabbaim (sextons) announced the adding of additional minyans and their dispersion in the various synagogues in the community so as to reduce the number of worshipers in each minyan, I asked to add a preliminary statement: “In these times, someone who prays with kavana (intention) be’yachid (individually) – tavo alav bracha” (will be blessed) [as of Motzei Shabbat, and perhaps today, this should be said more emphatically].

It is common to say that thanks to the mitzvah of tevilat nashim (women’s ritual immersion) and netilat yadayim (ritual washing of the hands upon rising in the morning, before eating bread, etc.), throughout the ages, epidemics that spread among the Gentiles, affected the Jews less. If today, God forbid, because of religious practices the virus is more widespread, it will be a chilul Hashem (desecration of God), and we will have to undergo a serious reckoning – because God gave us the Torah so that its light and guidance will add life and blessing to us, and not the opposite.

Laws of Taharah and Hygiene

As a result of the carefulness of becoming infected with the virus, the common sides between the halakha’s of taharah (ritual purity) and hygiene can be discussed. Every tumah (impurity) expresses death and loss of life, both in the real sense, and in the sense of mental and spiritual weakness manifested by depression, and lack of faith. This is the type of tumah which, in order to purify oneself from it, an act of cleansing and purification must be performed.

Avi avot ha’tumah (the “father” of all tumah) is a corpse. In terms of the health danger, it is self-evident that in a dead body, infections and viruses proliferate; all the more so, when the deceased died of illness. Mentally as well, touching a dead body shocks the soul, and can cause physical and spiritual weakness. Therefore, in Biblical times, those who came into contact with the dead were isolated from the rest of the people who kept taharah, and had to wait seven days and follow through a process of purification – by being sprinkled with mei chatat (purification water) on the third and seventh day, and immersion in a mikveh at the end of the seven days (Kuzari 2: 60-62).

Even an animal’s dead body possesses a spiritual impurity, and at the same time, the danger of decay, and spreading of disease. There is a similar problem with shratzim (vermin). The tumah of a metzora (leper) is also associated with spiritual and physical death.

Tumat nida also expresses death, for there was the possibility of a pregnancy and a life, that was lost and died. Tumat shichvat zera l’vatala (the waste of seed) is also an expression of this, for that seed could have given birth to life, but it was lost and died. We also learned that giving birth makes a woman ritually impure. The notion is that every lofty idea that comes down to this world possesses a certain sense of death, because the vision is always greater than its fulfillment. The hopes leading up to birth are wonderful, the heart is inclined to believe that after birth the whole world will change for the better, and the new child will be perfect. In reality, after birth, we fall once again into the routine of life, to the pains and fatigue. Despite the miracle of birth, even the new baby eventually will have to face all the challenges that accompany a person’s life. Even the body feels it, and this is the depression that often accompanies maternity in the postpartum period.

The Joy of Weddings at this Time

Weddings are currently being held in a limited setting, and even such weddings are thought-provoking. At the wedding I officiated this week in the community, I said: “Presently, we find ourselves in special times, in which, to prevent the spread of the virus, care must be taken to ensure proper health, and this limits the joy of the wedding. But on the other hand, it puts more focus on the joy itself. Usually, we want the wedding to be as happy as possible, with as many people as possible, and as much fraternity and friendship as possible, in order to show that the joy is not a personal joy of the bride and groom alone, but the joy of all of Israel, and of all generations. Whereas now, we cannot have the usual joy. But like I said, on the other hand, it will be more profound, because you will rejoice in the actual joy itself – in the unity and connection revealed between the chatan and kallah. And God willing, you will have many happy days, births, brits, bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, and weddings.”

My feeling was that the joy of the chatan and kallah was no less than usual. It was focused on the joy itself, and it was immense. Maybe from this wedding, when we return to ordinary life, we will find the golden path worthy of joyous weddings, without excessive spending.

Not to Postpone Weddings

Couples that have arranged a wedding – it is a mitzvah to have it in a home setting, and not to postpone it until they can hold it at a wedding hall as customary. The gravity of postponing of a marriage can be learned from hilchot aveilut (laws of mourning), that a wedding is not postponed due to aveilut. Similarly, we have learned that one of the reasons for the prohibition to marry on Chol Ha’Moed, is that if it was permitted to marry on Chol Ha’Moed, there is concern that couples who could get married in the months beforehand, will postpone their wedding until the Moed, so that more people will participate in their joy – and by this postponement, will annul the mitzvah of chatuna and puru u’revuru (procreation).

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