Birth Builds the Country

The sanctity of Independence Day – by virtue of observing the mitzvah of settling the land, sanctifying God’s name, and salvation from our enemies • Anyone who does not admit that the State of Israel saved the Jewish people from secularization and assimilation – is ungrateful towards God and Zionism • It is fitting to visit the new settlements on Independence Day, and even more appropriate to dedicate the day to studying about the People, the Land, and Redemption • Inheritance of the Land is contingent on the fulfillment of the mitzvah of procreation • In the days of Yehoshua, the Nation of Israel found it difficult to inherit the land because of a lack of people • Today as well, if we strengthen the birthrate, the State of Israel’s situation will improve immeasurably

The Three Sanctities of Israel Independence Day

Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israel Independence Day) is crowned with three sanctities:

1) The mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel). At the time of the proclamation of the establishment of the State, the Jewish people returned to observe the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, whose main point is for the Land of Israel to be under Jewish sovereignty (Ramban, Beit Yosef, Bach, O. C. 561; M.A. 1, M.B. 2).

2) The sanctification of the Name of God in the eyes of the nations – through the fulfillment of the words of the Prophets who prophesied about Israel’s ingathering to their Land, as it is written: “For I will take you from among the nations, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24), and in numerous other verses. Our Sages said: “The Ingathering of the Exiles is as great as the day upon which the heaven and earth were created” (Pesachim 88a). And as Rabbi Abba said: “There is no clearer sign of the End of Days than this verse: ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, will give forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are soon to come” (Ezekiel 36:8) (Sanhedrin 98a).

 

3) The sanctity of the saving of Israel from their adversaries, for on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the People of Israel were rescued from slavery to liberty, from enslavement to foreign rulers with all that entails, to political independence. As a result, the Jewish people were also saved from actual death to life, for until then we were unable to defend ourselves against our enemies who persecuted us, but since then, with the grace of God, we defend ourselves and are victorious.

Spiritual Salvation

Some people find it difficult to rejoice on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut because they accept the falsehood that the Zionist movement caused the abandonment of Torah and mitzvot. However, the truth is the exact opposite. Although many disbelievers operated within the framework of the Zionist movement and one of their goals was to secularize the nation, in practice, thanks to the Zionist movement and its activities on behalf of the ingathering of the exiles, the Jewish people were saved physically and spiritually.

Secularism was caused due to many reasons – mainly because of the difficulty in dealing with enlightenment and modern society. Aliyah (immigration) to Israel was not the source of the problem, but rather, the solution. Consequently, in all Diaspora communities the percentage of assimilation and secularism is immeasurably greater than in Israel. Anyone who refuses to see this, and slanders the State of Israel, is an ingrate – unthankful for the goodness God has bestowed upon us, and unappreciative towards the activists of the Zionist movement over the generations.

Therefore, despite weaknesses and occasional wrongdoings by Ministers and Prime Ministers, all the same, our joy and thanksgiving for Yom Ha’atzma’ut remains firm and valid, for all three sanctities of the day have not changed.

The Mitzvah to Set a Yom Tov over Salvation

It is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov (holiday), to rejoice and praise God, on a day Jews were delivered from distress. This is what prompted the Rabbis to establish Purim and Hanukkah as eternal holidays. Even though it is forbidden to add mitzvot onto those already written in the Torah, nevertheless, on a day in which Jews were delivered from distress, it is a mitzvah to fix a day of joy and thanksgiving. The Rabbis derived this from a kal va’chomer (a logical inference): When we left Egypt and were delivered from slavery to freedom, God commanded us to celebrate Pesach and sing praise to Him every year; all the more so must we celebrate Purim, when we were saved from death to life (according to Megillah 14a, and also explained by Ritva, ibid).

The Chatam Sofer explains that since this mitzvah is derived from a kal va’chomer, it is considered a Biblical commandment. However, the Torah does not give detailed instructions exactly how to observe the holiday. Therefore, one who does anything whatsoever to commemorate the salvation fulfills his Biblical obligation; it was the Rabbis who determined we read the Megillah, prepare a festive meal, send portions of food to others, and give charity to the poor on Purim, and light the candles on Hanukkah (Y.D. end of 233, O.C. 208).

Establishing a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzma’ut

Thus, the Council of the Chief Rabbinate headed by the foremost Rabbis of Eretz Yisrael at the time – lead by two of Israel’s illustrious Torah scholars – Rabbi Herzog and Rabbi Uziel, established Yom Ha’atzma’ut as a Yom Tov. This was also the opinion of the majority of Rabbis in Israel.

Similarly, the illustrious Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote in his responsa ‘Kol Mevaser’, that it is a mitzvah to establish a Yom Tov on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, explaining this obligation based on RambanRitva, and other Rishonim and Acharonim. He clarifies that this is not in violation of bal toseef (“You shall not add”), for the prohibition against inventing a holiday refers only to holidays that do not commemorate a salvation. Based on the kal va’chomer, however, we are obligated to institute holidays that commemorate salvations.

Israel’s Custom for Generations

This is not a new minhag (custom) introduced for Yom Ha’atzma’ut, rather, this was the practice of numerous Jewish communities who instituted days of joy in commemoration of miracles that happened to them. Many of them used the name Purim in reference to these days, such as ‘Frankfort Purim’, or ‘Tiberias Purim’. Some communities had a custom to partake in festive meals, to send portions of food to one another, and to give charity to the poor (see Maharam Alshakar 49, M.Aand E.R. 686; Chayei Adam 155:41; Yaskil Avdi, vol. 7, O.C. 44:12).

Reciting Hallel

Since one is obligated to thank and praise God for the miracles He performed on our behalf, consequently, it is a mitzvah to recite Hallel on Yom Ha’atzma’ut, the day we were delivered from the greatest trouble of all – that of exile and subjugation to foreigners, which caused all of the terrible decrees and massacres we suffered for nearly two thousand years.

Similarly, the Talmud states that after the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea, “the prophets among them enacted that the Jews should recite Hallel for each and every time, and each and every trouble – may it not come upon them! – and when they are redeemed, they should recite it in thankfulness for their redemption” (Pesachim 117a). Rashi explains that according to this, the Sages of the Second Temple era enacted the recitation of Hallel on Hanukkah (this is also explained in Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:6, Shemot Rabbah 23:12, and Megillah 14a).

The Gaon, Rabbi Meshulam Roth, wrote that it is a mitzvah to recite Hallel with a blessing, and this is our custom. Nevertheless, there are Gedolim (eminent Torah scholars) who, owing to various concerns, instructed to recite Hallel without a blessing, and those wishing to do so have a valid source to rely upon. However, those who believe that one should not thank God for the establishment of the State of Israel and all the positive things which occurred as a result of it have no halakhic basis to rely on, deny the goodness of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and distance the Redemption (Sanhedrin 94a).

Torah Study on Yom Ha’atzma’ut

As in all of Israel’s Yamim Tovim (holidays), it is a mitzvah to set a time for Torah study on Yom Ha’atzma’ut. There are two main reasons for this. First, in days in which holiness is revealed, this sanctity must be expressed by the study of Torah, which is the highest and most exalted mitzvah. This is the meaning of our Sages statement: “Shabbat and Yom Tov were given solely to study Torah on them” (y. Shabbat 15c). Second, each day has its own character, and it is a mitzvah to study Torah concerning affairs of the day. As our Sages said, “Moses laid down a rule for the Israelites that they should enquire and give expositions concerning the subject of the day — the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Atzeret (Shavuot) on Atzeret, the laws of Chag (Sukkot) on Chag” (Megillah 32a).

Four Levels in Celebrating Yom Ha’atzma’ut

In addition to the thanksgiving prayers and festive meal, there are four various levels of celebrators on Yom Ha’atzmaut.

The lowest level is going out to a park and having a barbeque. Although such actions are devoid of spiritual content, nevertheless, if the participants are happy about God’s salvation of His People – their festive meal can be considered a se’udat mitzvah.

On the second level are those who tour sites where the rebuilding of the State of Israel’s can be observed, such as national industries, museums about the history of the settlement of Israel, and military bases.

The third level are people who take trips to visit the communities in Judea and Samaria, to observe the continuation of the settling of the Land, and recite the blessing “matziv gevul almana” (“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sets a limit for a widow”). Concerning a settlement that one has visited previously, although thirty days have passed since one’s last visit, the custom is not to recite another blessing. However, if in the meantime, more houses were built in the community, a blessing should be recited.

The fourth and highest level are those who study Torah on Yom Ha’atzmaut, dealing with subjects related to the mitzvah of settling the Land, the mitzvah to serve in the army in order to protect the nation and the country, and matters connected to Clal Yisrael and the Redemption. Together with this, they enjoy a festive meal, accompanied by thanksgiving and happiness for the salvation we merited in the establishment of the State of Israel, and the Ingathering of the Exiles.

Yishuv Ha’aretz and the Mitzvah of Puru u’Revuru

One of the important subjects that should be dealt with on Yom Ha’atzma’ut is the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation), by means of which Israel inherits the Holy Land, as it was said to our forefather Yaacov: “I will give to you and your descendants the land upon which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread out to the west, to the east, to the north, and to the south. All the families on earth will be blessed through you and your descendants” (Genesis 28:13-14).

When Israel was about to enter the Land, the Divine instruction was to inherit only the western side of the Jordan, despite the fact that the eastern side of the Jordan River is part of Eretz Yisrael and had already been conquered,  as explained in the Torah portion ‘Massey’. This was because the ‘Dor HaMidbar’ (the Generation of the Desert) despised the Land of Israel and was negligent in the mitzvah of puru u’revuru, and consequently, during the forty years of wandering in the desert, they did not continue to multiply and increase as they did in Egypt. This created a situation in which there were not enough people to properly inherit the eastern side of the Jordan as well (see, Ramban, Numbers 21:21).

The price paid for not having enough Jews to settle all of the Land of Israel was that our enemies remained, and the Torah’s warning, “If you do not drive out the land’s inhabitants before you, those who remain shall be barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides, causing you troubles in the land that you settle” (Numbers 33:55), came to fruition.

The State of the Country Depends on Birth

About 120 years ago, at the time of the establishment of the Zionist movement, all the Jews of the world numbered approximately 12 million. The number of Arabs living in all the regions surrounding Eretz Yisrael, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, was similar. The Arabs in Eretz Yisrael on both sides of the Jordan numbered only a few hundred thousand. Had the Jewish nation merited immigrating in millions to Eretz Yisrael, our situation today would have been immeasurably better. However, we failed to do so, and in the meantime we were thrashed through the Nazi holocaust, Communist annihilation and assimilation, and today the number of known Jews worldwide is approaching 14 million, while the Arabs surrounding us number more than 200 million.

 

And yet, the future is in our hands. If we strengthen ourselves in this mitzvah and give our children a good education, within a few generations we will be able to make up for what we have lost. God-willing, I hope to expand on this in my next column. (If one of the readers is a historiographer who can help by providing accurate data on the number of Jews and Arabs in the past and present, I would greatly appreciate it).

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

From Out of the Ashes: Increase and Multiply

The memory of the Holocaust must be leveraged for rehabilitation and progress, especially as long as the public commemorates Holocaust Day in the month of Nisan, which is not a time for grief, but of building * The Jewish people have not yet reached its numerical dimensions before the Holocaust – instead of 18 million Jews, today only a little over 14 million are known as being Jews * Therefore, as many Holocaust survivors say, in response to our murderers we must encourage birth * The education system should inform students about the physical and emotional benefits of raising a family, and teach how to establish large families despite all the challenges

 

The Appropriate Dates for Holocaust Remembrance

The date chosen for Yom Ha’Shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the 27th of Nisan, was in opposition to the opinion of the rabbis. Nisan, the month the Jewish nation left Egypt, is a month of happiness. Therefore, the halakha was determined that for the entire month of Nisan, prayers of supplication are not recited and public fasts are not declared (S.A., O.C. 429:2). At funerals which occur during the month of Nisan eulogies are not said. Many people are custom not to visit gravesites during this month, and one who has a yahrtzeit in Nisan visits the gravesite before Rosh Chodesh. True, after Pesach some mourning customs of the Counting of the Omer are practiced, in memory of Rabbi Akiva’s students, but these days are not particularly days of sorrow or grief.

Therefore, it was apparently inappropriate to fix the painful Holocaust Remembrance Day in the month of Nisan, and as long an alternative day is not chosen, the proper time to remember the Holocaust are the days declared as fast days over the destruction of the Temple, primarily Tisha b’Av (the 9th of Av), because all of the tragedies which befell the Jewish nation since then are rooted in the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel from its Land. The Chief Rabbinate chose the fast day of the 10th of Tevet as the time to say Kaddish (mourner’s prayer) for those whose dates of death are unknown.

Not to withdraw from the Public who perform a Mitzvah

At the same time, it is correct not to withdraw from the general public, which on this day fulfills a great mitzvah to remember the six million Jews, elderly men and women, fathers and sons, boys and girls. This mitzvah is based on many mitzvot, including the mitzvah ‘ve’ahavta l’reacha kamocha‘ (‘you must love your neighbor as you love yourself’), which obligates every Jew to feel a sense of brotherhood towards every other Jew, and to honor those who died with a eulogy. All the more so, it is a holy mitzvah for each of us to honor and eternally commemorate our six million fellow Jews who were murdered al Kiddush Hashem (for the sanctification of God) just because they were Jews. In commemorating the six million, we also strengthen ourselves in the observance of mitzvot dealing with war, to protect Israel from its foes, for by remembering the Holocaust we will be vigilant against our enemies, just as the mitzvah of remembering Amalek is meant to encourage Israel to stand guard against its enemies.

A Day to Encourage the Expansion of the Jewish People

In any event, inspired by the days of Nisan, during which we were redeemed from Egypt, it would be appropriate to leverage Yom Ha’Shoah in the month of Nisan in the direction of rehabilitation and momentum, with emphasis on life that the kedoshim (holy Jews) commanded us, in the sense of “And when I passed by you, and saw you weltering in your blood, I said to you, ‘In your blood shall you live! Yes, I said to you, in your blood shall you live!” (Ezekiel 16:6). A day in which the mitzvah of puru u’revuru (procreation) is raised on high.

This, most likely, was the last request of the six million who were brutally tortured and murdered – that any Jew who remained alive, would do everything possible to marry, have children, and carry on the heritage, to fulfill the verse: “But the more they were oppressed, the more they proliferated and spread.” This is what the survivors living amongst us tell us, that with every grandson and granddaughter born to them, they defeat the cursed Nazis.

Yom Ha’Shoah for Generations

The issue of how to commemorate Yom Ha’Shoah has yet to be decided by the Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Rabbis) – whether to explicitly broaden the meaning of the existing fasts, so as to give more expression to the period of the Holocaust, or to set an additional and specific day of fasting to commemorate it. However, it seems that if the national emphasis on Holocaust Remembrance Day were to be on the growth of the Jewish nation and family values and the commending of families blessed with several children, even according to the spirit of halakha, it would be possible to hold this day in the month of Nisan.

The Sorrowful Numbers

We have not yet recovered. Before the Holocaust, the Jewish nation numbered eighteen million – six million of whom were murdered during the Holocaust. Today, close to 80 years after the Holocaust, we number only a little more than 14 million. During these years the world developed and flourished – many nations doubled and even tripled their numbers. But we, the Jewish people, remain wounded – both physically and spiritually.

Due to the low birth rate and severe assimilation, the number of Jews in all the Jewish communities abroad is shrinking. Only here, in the Land of Israel, are we increasing. Compared to Western countries, our growth is phenomenal. In all economically and scientifically developed countries, the number of children is low, and the number of people is decreasing; only we merit demographic growth, thanks to the deep connection to Jewish heritage and family values ​​rooted in Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, this is not enough to compensate for the terrible loss we suffered in the Holocaust. In order to strengthen the blessed process already existing in Israel, we must delve deeper into the importance of family values and the mitzvot of puru u’revuru.

The Conflict: Freedom versus Family

There are two conflicting movements in Israeli society: family values found in Jewish heritage, versus the secular outlook of the West. The widespread attitude today in academia and secular culture is that freedom, intended to allow an individual to express his unique personality, is the most important value. Family, on the other hand, is a binding, restrictive and suffocating framework. Indeed, a natural desire to establish a family still exists, but in practice, it stands in conflict with the secular cultural point of view. The values ​​of personal freedom also clash with national values, since identification with the nation, with its heritage and its challenges, is restrictive and oppressive for someone whose personal freedom to express his uniqueness is at the center of his world.

Consequently, the Israeli educational system, which is greatly influenced by secular values of freedom ​​promoted by academia, deals extensively with individual rights, tolerance, and democracy. These are important values, but as they are presented from the secular point of view, they clash with the values ​​of family and the nation. Thus, family values ​​are rarely dealt with thoroughly and systematically.

Therefore, it is important to learn and empower family values, which express the importance of love and giving as the center of one’s life. In contrast to the secular outlook which has less faith in true love involving boundless commitment, we must educate and explain that the whole person is one who breaks through his individual boundaries, loves and gives, is committed to his family, his nation, and tikkun olam (repairing the entire world). Freedom and comfort are not the purpose of life. They are important because they give a person an opportunity to choose his unique and appropriate path, but the choice must be in good values ​​expressed in establishing a family with love and loyalty, adding life and blessing to the world.

Discuss Family Issues in Educational Institutions

In the vast majority of schools, including religious institutions, unfortunately, the value of family, love, loyalty, and the mitzvah of puru u’vuru are not dealt with adequately. The challenge of raising a large family and ways of overcoming difficulties involved, are not advanced.

The secular cultural environment creates an atmosphere in which it is unpleasant to talk about such things. In this way, however, educators do an injustice to the students, depriving them of values ​​and information that are so vital to their lives.

In addition to the sacred value of establishing a family, reality also proves that the physical and mental state of married people is generally better, and they suffer less from depression and illnesses. This information should be included in material studied in high schools. Young people should be told that almost all adults who did not merit establishing a large family, in moments of sincerity, regret that they did not try harder to have another child or two. Because when a person views life in a broad, intelligent, and comprehensive way, he realizes that by and large, family is the most important objective in life.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, it would be appropriate to invite grandparents who have been privileged to establish large families to speak in schools about the difficulties and the tremendous satisfaction of having done so, and thus, commemorate the souls of the martyrs who were murdered in the Holocaust.

The Mitzvah of Puru u’Revuru

It is a Biblical obligation to procreate, and every child that parents give birth to, they fulfill a great mitzvah and merit participating with God in the birth of human being, and maintaining the entire world  (Nida 31a; Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). This is the initial purpose of Creation, for God desired the world be populated, as our Sages said: “And was not the world created for the sake of reproduction” (Mishna Gittin 4:2), as it is written “He made the world to be lived in, not to be a place of empty chaos” (Isaiah 45:18).

Although, without a binding definition, this great mitzvah is liable to be extremely general, to the point where in many cases it would not be implemented properly. This is because marriage is a sensitive and complex matter which depends on the understanding, feelings, hopes and consent of man and woman, and also to a certain extent, parents’ support and economic conditions.

Even after marriage, the general mitzvah leaves many doubts. On the one hand, since the birth of every child is a great mitzvah, some could argue that one child is enough – seeing as he alone is like an entire world – and postpone his birth until the parents are established and experienced. On the other hand, since the mitzvah is so immense and important, perhaps an effort should be made to have as many children as possible.

Consequently, in addition to the general idea of the mitzvah, the Torah set a basic and binding definition, and our Sages added and set more fences to give the general idea a clear and binding character.

The Extent of the Mitzvah

Our Sages determined that the mitzvah to marry is up to the age of 20, and at the latest until the age of 24, and today, l’chatchila (ideally) this is the general instruction (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit u’Birchato 5: 7-12).

There are three levels in the fulfillment of the mitzvah: 1) The Torah obligation to have a son and a daughter. Even when conditions are difficult, it is necessary to make a great effort to fulfill the obligation, including using accepted medical means, such as in vitro fertilization.

2) It is an obligatory mitzvah from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) to strive to have four or five children. In other words, ordinary parents who are not particularly ill, physically or mentally, are obligated to fulfill the rabbinical mitzvah to have four or five children.

3) It is a hidur mitzvah (an enhancement of the mitzvah) to have more children, according to the parents ability. In other words, for parents who know they can raise more children and instruct them in the ways of Torah, mitzvoth, and Derech Eretz, it is a mitzvah for them to continue having children according to their ability. However, if they know that with more children their burden will be too heavy, and their lives will be filled with anger and nervousness, it is preferable for them not to fulfill the hidur mitzvah, because even though with each additional child they fulfill a mitzvah, conversely, in their bad mental state they will transgress other prohibitions, and this is liable to have an adverse effect on the education of the children.

Not only that, but those who wish to turn their energies to other valuable channels, in a way that will not leave them strength to raise more children, are also entitled to do so (Peninei Halakha: Simchat HaBayit u’Birchato 5: 4-6).

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

Freedom from Fashion and Materialism

The Egyptian nation represented materialism and enslavement to the body, and consequently invested resources in the pyramids and mummification of the dead, and exploited slaves for pleasure and gratification * To this day courageousness is required to free oneself from enslavement to materialism and not to submit to the dictates of society * On the holidays, including Chol Ha-Moed, one should dedicate half the day to Torah study, an attribute also required for freedom * Some Pesach laws: which medicines require kashrut certification * One should not eat or possess a food looking similar to chametz, if there is no distinguishing mark that it is kosher for Pesach * Thanking God for the most blessed winter since 1992

The Prohibition of Eating Tiny Insects and the Exodus from Egypt

All forbidden foods are called tameh’im (unclean), and eating them defiles the soul and seals it from absorbing holiness, as our Sages said, the word tumah (ritual impurity) comes from the language of timtum (dulling of the heart) (Yoma 39a). The tumah in the prohibition against eating shratzim (tiny insects) is especially grave, as it is said: ” Do not make yourselves disgusting [by eating] any small creature that breeds. Do not defile yourselves with them, because it will make you spiritually insensitive. For I am God your Lord, and since I am holy, you must [also] make yourselves holy and remain sanctified. Therefore, do not defile your souls [by eating] any small animal that lives on the land. I am God, and I brought you out of Egypt to be your God. Therefore, since I am holy, you must [also] remain holy” (Leviticus 11:43 – 45). Our Sages said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, declared, ‘Had I brought up Israel from Egypt for no other purpose but this, that they should not defile themselves with shratzim, it would be sufficient for me” (Bava Metzia 61b).

The Egyptian Nation and Materialism

In order to understand the connection between the prohibition of eating shratzim and the Exodus from Egypt, it should be noted that the distinct characteristic of Egypt was materialism. Their pagan outlook was one of extreme materialism. They did not believe in the existence of an independent spiritual soul, but rather, thought the soul was dependent on the existence of the physical body, and enslaved to it. They went out of their way to embalm the body of the dead, because they believed the whole existence of man depended solely on his physical existence; even when he died, and could not move or speak, in all other respects he still existed. That is why they made tremendous efforts in building pyramids, which are in effect glorious cemeteries for the body. From their extreme desire for materialism, the Egyptians achieved remarkable material and organizational achievements – some accomplished with the help of Yosef Ha’Tzadik – in creating stable governmental systems, a well-developed irrigation system, and a sophisticated economic structure.

Their desire for materialism led them to impurity, namely, the separation of spiritual and moral values, to the point where that in order to accumulate money and pleasures, they turned free people into slaves, and in order to satisfy their physical lusts, violated the covenant of loyalty between man and wife in all forms of adultery. This is what the Torah meant when it commanded “Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived” (Leviticus 18: 3). Our Sages said that there was no other nation in the world whose actions were more abhorrent than the Egyptians, in prostitution and incest, to the point where “the ways of Egypt” are described as: “Men marrying other men, women marrying other women, and one woman married to two men” (Maharal, Gevorot Hashem, Chapter four).

The Nature of Shratzim

In light of this, it can be explained that shratzim represent materialism, seeing as they do not exhibit any special character traits, rather, all their vitality and diligence is focused on the most material objective: attainment of food and reproducing, which is the meaning of the word “shratzim” – namely, to eat and multiply. To this end, they pollute themselves by means of all disgusting things in the world, and wherever rotting and death exists they infest, and even eat the body of man. True, such vitality has a basic existential need which also has an important place in the world, and this was Egypt’s virtue – and on account of this virtue, it is said about the Israelites in Egypt: “The Israelites paru (were fertile) and va’yishratzu (prolific), and their population increased. They became so numerous that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).

Israel however, being a holy nation, are obligated to transcend and elevate reality from the impurity of Egypt, and commanded not to eat shratzim that express repulsive materialism, so they can reveal Divine value in every detail.

Inspired by the theory of evolution, about which Rabbi Kook said it contains aspects corresponding to the “secrets of the world of Kabbalah”, one can imagine that in the process of Creation, the shratzim preferred to relinquish numerous qualities – provided they could continue reproducing. At first, they were created large, but when asked what they would prefer – to preserve their uniqueness, or to shrink and receive more food, they chose to become smaller. And thus, each time asked, they preferred to lose their identity and be reduced, so they could adapt their bodies to obtain as much food as possible, until in the end, they became despicable vermin. And although this existential will has its place, God commanded Israel to transcend the impurity of Egypt – the impurity of servitude to materialism, in order to bring redemption to the world (Orot HaKodesh II, ‘Hit’alut Ha’Olam, paragraph 19).

Freedom

The first prerequisite for redemption is the courage to be freed from servitude. Therefore, at the beginning of the process of the redemption of Israel from Egypt, we were commanded to take a lamb which was considered an idol in the eyes of the Egyptians, and to sacrifice it, and spread its blood on the doorposts. This was done as a sacrifice to God, for true redemption can only be achieved by faith in God. In essence, every human point of view stems from servitude to certain individuals or to a particular lust, and only by attachment to Hashem our God, who is above and beyond any definition, can we escape all types of servitude.

Today’s Korban Pesach: The Way One Dresses

For example: a person dresses in clothes in which he believes he will look good. However, if we delve deeper, we find that the concept of looking good is dictated by those who are considered successful. Consequently, sometimes it is difficult for a man to wear a kippa, because the most successful people in the world do not wear a kippah. And at times it is difficult for a woman to cover her head, and wear halachically modest clothing because those considered successful do not dress that way.

The willingness to sacrifice the gods of fashion, and to adhere to ways of beauty revealed in Israel’s age-old traditions, which employs all the beautiful trends of the world, but does not compromise to them, is today’s continuation of the bravery of the korban Pesach, and is the prerequisite for redemption and freedom – to choose to continue the word of God in the world.

Torah Study on the Holiday

However, faith and courage without Torah cannot bring redemption, and this is what our Sages said: “There is no free man except one that involves himself in Torah learning” (Avot 6: 2). This is the main goal of the holidays and Chol HaMoed, on which work is prohibited, so that Jews may engage in Torah in the light of kedushat ha’Chag (holiness of the holiday). And the mitzvah is to divide the times of Shabbat and holidays, half for Hashem, and half for you, “half for eating and drinking, and half for Torah study in the Beit Midrash” (Pesachim 68b). If this is the case on Yom Tov, when it is a mitzvah to arrange large meals lasting a significant amount of time, all the more so on Chol HaMoed, one should  devote at least half a day to Torah study (Peninei Halakha: Moadim 1: 5-6).

From the mitzvah to divide the day into two parts, half to Hashem and half to ourselves, we learn something important – that the two parts complement one another. The part of Torah study should also be done with joy, learning interesting matters that add blessing and vitality, with family members or friends, and also the part where we engage in eating, drinking, and taking trips should be filled with content of value.

Kashrut for Medicines on Pesach

Flavored medicines, like syrup, lozenges, or chewables require kashrut for Pesach. And as long as they are not known to be kosher, they should not be eaten. Only someone who is dangerously ill, and his medicine does not have a good substitute, is permitted to eat it, because pikuach nefesh (saving life) overrules the prohibition of eating chametz.

However, if the medicine is bitter or tasteless it does require a hechsher (kashrut certification), because even if it was originally mixed with chametz that was fit to be eaten, since now it is not fit as food even in a shaat dachak (time of stress), because it is even rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption, it is no longer considered chametz.

Nevertheless, some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain chametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. However, halakha goes according to the opinion of the majority of poskim, who permit a person to swallow a medicine that is not fit for eating without checking it first (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8: 7).

It should be added that the chances of medicine containing chametz are very low, even more so today, since many people are sensitive to gluten, and pharmaceutical companies do not mix grain ingredients in medicines without reason, rather, they prefer substitutes without gluten.

Do Not Possess Chametz-like Products

Some manufactures produce Pesach products that look similar to chametz products, such as wafers, cookies and rolls. However, while they do not contain chametz, as long as they appear similar to chametz products, one should be careful not to eat them on Pesach, or even keep them together with Pesach food products, lest they come to err and eat similar chametz foods, as has already happened with these products in past years. Only if a significant change has been made in the shape of the wafers or cookies can they be eaten.

A similar source for this can be found in the decree of our Sages not to bake chalavi (dairy) or basari (meat) bread in an amount eaten for more than one meal, lest one forgets the bread is chalavi, and comes to eat it with meat. If one erred and did so, our Sages decreed the bread is forbidden to be eaten (Pesachim 30a, b). If the shape of the bread is changed in such a way that members of the household will understand its’ halakha is different, and ask whether it is chalavi or basari, it is permitted. However, such a sign does not permit the baking of chalavi or basari bread to be sold, lest there be people who will not notice the sign. Only when a clear sign is made where everyone understands that this bread is either chalavi or basari, is it permitted, such as a pita with yellow cheese or a strip of meat on it (Pesachim 36a; S. A., Y. D. 97:1).

Appreciation for the Rains

With the grace of God, this year we merited receiving 942 mm of rain, with the yearly average being 620 mm – in other words, 152% of the yearly average. Since the year 5752 (1992), there has never been such a blessed winter. The rains that descend on Gav Ha’Har in the Shomron area are especially blessed, since they are all absorbed in the Mountain Aquifer, the largest and most qualitative water reservoir in Israel.

In the entire country, from Hebron and northwards, rainfall exceeded the yearly average, whereas in the north and center of the country, the average was 120 to 140 percent, and in some places, 160 percent.

The rains were divided this year in a fabulous way throughout the season, so that they quenched the earth and were beautifully absorbed into the surface and underground water reservoirs.

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

The Selling of Chametz

The sale of chametz began due to the distress of whiskey merchants in Europe * After the rabbis established the sale of chametz for merchants, the custom expanded to the general public * Today, the sale of chametz is essential for the marketplace, and for the food industry * Despite the claims that this is a fiction, the vast majority of poskim rule that the sale is valid * In principle, every individual may sell all chametz, but ideally, it is recommended to use the sale only for doubtful products, or to prevent a significant financial loss * Since it is possible to sell chametz in situations of uncertainty, many halakhic questions can be avoided * According to halakha, chametz that was sold is permitted to be eaten after Pesach

The Roots of the Sale of Chametz

By midday of the fourteenth of Nisan, every Jew must have disposed of the chametz in his possession. In the past, Jews would plan their food purchases and their meals so that by Pesach they would have finished consuming any chametz foods and thus not have to dispose of large quantities. They would leave only a small amount of chametz with which to fulfill the mitzva of bi’ur chametz in the best possible manner: by burning it.

However, occasionally one’s plan would backfire and he would find himself possessing a large quantity of chametz when Pesach arrived. In such a case, if he did not mind losing the chametz, he could burn it or give it as a gift to a decent and deserving gentile. If he did not want to lose the value of his chametz, he could sell it to a gentile before Pesach, since, as long as the prohibition has not gone into effect, it is permissible to sell the chametz and receive its full value. The prohibition against deriving benefit from chametz goes into effect on the sixth hour on the day of the fourteenth of Nisan, and until that time it is permissible to sell the chametz.

This was especially important for food merchants who would remain with large stocks of chametz before Pesach and had no choice but to sell to a gentile, in order to avoid great financial loss. Even if a gentile could not be found who was sincerely interested in buying all of the chametz, our Sages teach that it is permissible for a Jew to say to a gentile, “Even though you do not need so much chametz, buy all of my chametz for the full price, and if you want, I will buy it back from you after Pesach” (based on Tosefta Pesachim 2:7).

The Problem of Whiskey Merchants

About 400 years ago, many Jews living in Europe began to support themselves through the production and sale of whiskey. This was because the barons, the landowners, would often contract Jews to manage their affairs, and it was common for them to lease their distilleries and inns to Jews in exchange for a fixed price and/or a percentage of sales. This whiskey, which was made from barley and wheat, is considered chametz gamur (absolute chametz, in which the leavening process has been completed). To prevent the great financial loss that would come each year with its disposal before Pesach, it became necessary to sell it to a gentile before Pesach and buy it back again immediately thereafter, in order to continue selling the whiskey as usual.

How the Practice of Selling Chametz Spread

Over time, rabbinic leaders noticed that the sale was sometimes carried out improperly, leading to serious problems. If the sale is improper, the chametz remains in the possession of the Jew, and with every hour that passes he violates bal yera’eh (the prohibition against chametz being seen in one’s possession on Pesach) and bal yimatzei (the prohibition against chametz being found in one’s possession on Pesach). Additionally, it is forbidden to derive benefit from such chametz after Pesach, and it must all be completely destroyed. Therefore, rabbinic authorities began to oversee the sale of chametz, in order to ensure its proper sale. Seeing that the sale was being carried out in an orderly manner, other Jews began to participate in the transaction, in order to save their own chametz from being lost. This is how mekhirat chametz began to spread and become increasingly common.

The Sale is Essential for Manufacturers and Dealers

In recent generations, new storage methods have been introduced that allow us to preserve food products for long periods of time. As a result, food manufacturers and dealers are in constant possession of large inventories of food, and they need to sell their chametz before Pesach in order not to lose the value of their stock. Moreover, if food manufacturers were to make a point of exhausting their entire inventory before Pesach, it would take days and even weeks to restock and market their products, and in the meantime, they would lose business. Even if no competitors were to seize the opportunity, it would cause a great inconvenience to buyers, who would be unable to purchase chametz foods during the weeks after Pesach. Therefore, factory owners, food chains, and stores sell all of their chametz to a gentile before Pesach, and as soon as Pesach passes, they buy it back again and remarket it.

Claims against the Sale

However, about four hundred years ago, some of the Gedolei Yisrael, foremost the author of ‘Tavu’ot Shor‘, who himself was a whiskey maker, claimed that mekhirat chametz was not a real sale, but merely a fiction. In the first place, it is clear that after Pesach the chametz will return to the Jew. Moreover, no sales tax is paid to the government on this sale. Thirdly, in a normal sale the buyer pays for all of the chametz and physically takes it into his possession, but here the gentile neither pays the full price, nor takes the chametz with him. In addition to the principle claim that this is not a sale but a fiction, they also argued about the manner in which the sale was actually performed, such as the acquisition was not performed according to halakha, or that it was done with a gentile who did not understand its legal ramifications.

In practice, some poskim wrote that only in extreme situations, in order to prevent a significant loss, it is permissible to rely on the sale. Some even instructed not to rely on it at all (Gaon from Vilna).

The Rabbis’ Consent to Rely on the Sale

Nevertheless, the opinion of the vast majority of poskim is that mekhirat chametz may be relied upon and is as valid as any sale. By law, the gentile can refuse to sell the chametz back to the Jew after Pesach, consequently, it is a bona fide sale, not a fiction.  Nevertheless, in order to avoid even the appearance of a fiction, the rabbis made a practice of being very meticulous about all details of the sale. Since there are different halakhic opinions regarding the proper mode of purchase when a gentile buys from a Jew, the rabbis are careful to execute the sale using all forms of acquisition, so that it is clear that the sale is effective according to all opinions. In addition, they make sure that the sale is effective according to state laws as well (see MB 448:17, 19, and BHL ad loc.).

Every Jew, before selling chametz, should read the authorization contract he will be signing, so that he understands that he is empowering the rabbi to sell his chametz, and that the sale is absolute. Nonetheless, if instead of reading the contract one simply relied on the rabbi, the sale is valid, for, if the gentile comes during Pesach to take the chametz, and the rabbi tells the Jew that the chametz indeed belongs to the gentile and that he must give it to him, the Jew will do so.

A Proposal to Strengthen the Matter

It would be fitting for the Chief Rabbinate, together with the television networks, to randomly select ten people each year who sold their chametz to a gentile, and film the gentile knocking on the door of the Jew’s house when coming to pick up the chametz he had bought, and the response of the members of the household. If there was an argument, the rabbi who mediated the sale would be brought in. They would then estimate the extremely low price the gentile must pay as determined in the sale, seeing as the sale is done at floor prices – as normal for products already found in one’s home – and conclude the story with the gentile eating some of the food and taking the rest home. Thus, on each day of Chol Ha’Moed, two visits would be arranged. By doing so, the understanding that the sale is indeed valid would be strengthened.

Is the Sale Intended for an Individual?

In principle, anyone may sell his chametz to a gentile via the mekhirat chametz organized by his local rabbis. He may do so even if he only wishes to sell a small amount of chametz – for example, a package of pasta – because once it has been sold, the Jew no longer violates the prohibitions relating to chametz.

Some are stringent and prefer not to rely on mekhirat chametz since it appears fictitious: the chametz remains in the Jew’s house, the gentile will almost certainly not come to take it, and the Jew resumes eating the very same chametz as soon as Pesach is over. According to these poskim, it is only possible to sell chametz in order to prevent a great loss; concerning a small loss, one should not sell his chametz, in order to avoid possible transgression.

A Recommendation for All – Sell Uncertain Products

Nowadays, all are advised to participate in mekhirat chametz, because some food products and flavored medicines may contain small amounts of chametz, and they should not be destroyed just because of this possibility. On the other hand, these must not be kept because they may actually contain chametz. Therefore, to avoid all doubt, the best thing to do is to sell them. Similarly, there are those who maintain that one who has money invested directly or indirectly in stock of companies that produce chametz must sell these shares before Pesach. Consequently, all chametz sale documents include clauses regarding stocks and shares in these types of companies.

Concerning chametz gamur, people are advised not to sell insignificant amounts of chametz, so as not to use the mekhirat chametz for small needs. However, when a significant loss is involved, it is permitted, even le-khatchila, to sell the chametz.

Not to be Meticulous about Questions Concerning Uncertain Chametz

There are people who, because of their concern about the opinion of the stringent poskim who claim the sale is a fiction, wish to avoid it as much as possible. As a result, they often bother rabbis with various questions: first, about all the products in their home that do not have kashrut for Pesach – are they considered actual chametz or uncertain chametz, and whether they should be sold or not. Second, after they realize they contain uncertain chametz, whether their value justifies relying on the sale.

However, there is no point in bothering rabbis with such questions, for today, the sale is designed to resolve them. In other words, any uncertain product should be included in the sale.

When is it Permissible to Use Chametz after Pesach?

After Pesach, it is best not to use the chametz that was sold until one can assume that the Chief Rabbinate has bought it all back for all. When necessary, though, one may take out some chametz immediately after Pesach with a willingness to pay the gentile for it, were he to request this. It is best that the beit din make an explicit condition with the gentile that the Jew will be obligated to pay for any sold chametz he takes, if the gentile so desires. Thus, there will be no question about the Jew taking chametz immediately after Pesach.

Chametz That Was Sold – The Stringent Poskim, and the Halakha

Some people are strict and do not eat chametz that was sold because, according to stringent poskim, such a sale is not legitimate and this chametz has the status of chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach (chametz that belonged to a Jew during the holiday), which one may neither eat nor derive benefit from.

In practice, however, one need not be concerned about complying with this stringency, because the prohibition of chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach is rabbinic, and whenever there is uncertainty about a rabbinic law, halakha follows the lenient opinion. This is all the more true where only a small number of poskim are strict, while the overwhelming majority permit. Indeed, there were eminent rabbis who, after Pesach, would make a point of eating chametz that had been sold through mekhirat chametz, in order to demonstrate that the sale was done in keeping with halakha.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. For a further study of the laws of Pesach and its meanings, Rabbi Melamed’s “Peninei Halakha: Laws of Pesach” can be found at: https://ph.yhb.org.il/en/category/pesah/

The Practical Halakha of Tiny Insects

Summary of the controversy over tiny insects: According to the rules of halakha one should act leniently, but because of modern technology heightening our awareness of tiny insects, and providing options for identifying and exterminating them, there is room for the stringent opinion as well * The middle approach:  Do the normal actions required to remove insects, but not in a manner that causes considerable inconvenience or expense * In large factories and kitchens sometimes stringent procedures should be set in order to maintain basic kashrut * The practical halakha – what to do according to each opinion in regards to leafy vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli, corn, strawberries, green onions and leeks

The Controversy over Tiny Insects

In the previous column, I briefly summarized the dispute over whether to check for tiny shratzim (insects) that an ordinary person is unable to see while looking at the vegetable or fruit. I wrote that the halakha goes according to the lenient opinion since this is a dispute regarding a rabbinical prohibition, for from the Torah, these insects are batel b’shishim (less than 1/60th of the total volume of the food), and even from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic status), some poskim are of the opinion that they are batel in close to a thousand. There is also a safek (doubt) whether even according to Divrei Chachamim, it is necessary to check for them according to the rules of “miut ha’matzuy” (a substantial minority). In addition, there can be no Torah prohibition regarding a tiny thing whose taste and ingestion goes undiscerned, especially if it undesirable, and thus considered d’var sh’aino mitkaven (something unintentional) and there is no prohibition.

The Stringent Opinion is based on Modern Developments

It should be added, however, that the opinion of the machmirim (stringent poskim) has room today as well, as it is based on modern methods of research and measurement, which have heightened our awareness of the presence of tiny vermin in vegetables and foods. It can be implemented thanks to the advances in science and technology that have provided tools for dealing with tiny vermin, such as the development of detergents from which types of soaps have been produced, whose widespread use began about a hundred years ago, and can now be used to clean vegetables from tiny shratzim. Also, the development of refrigerators in which vegetables and food can be stored without the growth of tiny shratzim. In addition, methods have been developed where most vegetables and fruits can be grown under conditions that do not breed tiny insects. As a result, many rabbis in recent generations have instructed le’hadare (to enhance the mitzvah) according to the method of the machmirim poskim.

Three Practical Methods

In general, it can be said that there are three practical methods: 1) kosher according to the main principle of halakha; 2) The method of the machmirim, suitable for those who want to enhance the mitzvah; 3) the middle approach, according to which l’chatchila (ideally) the stringent opinion should be taken into consideration – therefore, regular actions that people perform to clean vegetables and fruits, such as soaking and rinsing, should be done to remove the tiny insects – however, when it involves a great deal of trouble or a significant monetary expenditure, we must return to the rules of halakha, according to the opinion of the matirim (lenient poskim).

Sometimes Large Kitchens Must be Stringent

It is worth noting that in large factories and kitchens, it is sometimes necessary to be more stringent than in a private home, because a breach in a large kitchen is liable to cause hundreds and thousands of people to err. In addition, the temptation to transgress halakha is greater, both on the part of the business owner who can profit well by doing so, and on the part of the employees, who are often overwhelmed by the burden of performing the required checking and cleaning. In addition, sometimes the storage conditions in kitchens and factories are less favorable, causing the development of more insects. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to set stringent restrictions in order to reach the basic kashrut required by halakha, and thus earn the kashrut level of Mehadrin.

Leafy Vegetables: The Stringent Opinion

With regard to leafy vegetables, I will first explain the opinion of the machmirim: The problem with vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, parsley, dill, coriander, artichoke, asparagus, spinach and mint, is that while growing, tiny insects such as thrips and aphids are attracted to them. Though ordinary insects occasionally infest them as well, they are visible and removed by ordinary rinsing. On the other hand, the tiny insects, whose color resembles the color of the leaf, is very difficult to see, and even soaking it with vinegar in water or soap and rinsing which removes many insects does not remove them all, as has been found in laboratory tests. Therefore, according to the machmirim, it is forbidden to eat these vegetables without the checking of a God-fearing person who is very familiar with these types of insects, has good eyesight, and carefully observes every leaf against the sun or with the aid of an illuminated table, and removes all the tiny insects. Since such a test is difficult to perform, according to the method of the machmirim, in practice, there are two ways to obtain vegetables that are presumed to be insect-free, which I will now explain.

Gush Katif and Growing in Cold Climates

The first method was invented in Gush Katif under the guidance of Rabbis of the “Torah and Land Institute”. According to this method, vegetables are grown in isolated, insect-free greenhouses. To do this, they disinfect the soil from shratzim and their eggs, and seal the greenhouse by means of mesh sheeting, which allows air and sun rays to enter, but blocks shratzim. In addition, the vegetables are sprayed from time to time with insecticides, while reliable companies such as “Chasalat” founded in Gush Katif, make sure not to spray above the permitted amount according to health regulations. In spite of all the precautions and great monetary expenditures, and to some extent, due to spraying restrictions, occasionally shratzim succeed in penetrating the greenhouse and multiply to the point of ‘miut ha’matzuy’ (significant minority), and the entire crop loses the presumption of being free of tiny shratzim according to the method of the machmirim. Consequently, the price of these vegetables is much higher than that of regular vegetables.

The second method is to grow the vegetables in cold places, so that at all times heat does not exceed 14 degrees. In such a climate, the shratzim do not multiply, and the vegetables are presumed to be insect-free. This method is convenient for use in cold places outside of Israel. In Israel, however, such cold places do not exist, but in the winter with controlled spraying, farmers manage to grow vegetables in open areas with very few tiny shratzim, and by way of washing the vegetables, are able to reach a level where the chances shratzim are found in the vegetables is low. In this situation, even according to the method of the majority of machmirim, the vegetables are presumed to be insect-fee.

Halakha and the Middle Approach in Leafy Vegetables

According to halakha, it is sufficient to wash all leafy vegetables with water, to check them with a regular look over, and if a sheretz is seen, remove it. However, it is correct to act according to the middle approach, and clean the vegetables of shratzim by soaking them for about four minutes in water with a liquid detergent, and rinse with running water. One can soak the leaves in water with salt or vinegar, as was the custom in the past. Nevertheless, from the aspect of removing shratzim, it is preferable to soak them in water with soap (detergent), which is more effective than vinegar or salt, however some people fear that soap is unhealthy. The best method is to use natural substances such as ‘Sterily’, which are found to be as effective as soap, but without health concerns. Often, this action removes all tiny insects, or brings it to a rate lower than miut ha’matzuy, and then, even according to the method of the machmirim, it is effective.

It should be noted that when soaking and washing the leaves, the water should reach all the folds and cracks in the leaves. Therefore, in vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage and artichoke, the leaves should be separated so that water can enter between them.

Sometimes leafy vegetables are of poor quality, and thus, full of small and large insects that are clearly visible. In order to clean them, they must be rinsed repeatedly, until they are free of shratzim.

Cauliflower and Broccoli

There are vegetables in which tiny insects are commonly found, and it is impossible to remove all of them by washing or checking. This is the case with cauliflower and broccoli, a significant part of which is an inflorescence, in which tiny insects are hidden. These shratzim cannot be seen without completely separating the flower and checking all its small parts for a long period of time. Also, the process of soaking them in soapy water and rinsing is not sufficient, since the strong water current does not reach the places where the shratzim are hidden, and consequently, cannot remove them all. According to the opinion of the machmirim, the only way to eat them fresh is to throw out the inflorescence, which is about 40 percent of the vegetable, and eat the remaining stems after a good rinse, or alternatively, consume cauliflower and broccoli which are grown under special conditions where no insects develop.

However, as we have learned, according to halachic rules it is not necessary to check for tiny shratzim, and as long as one cannot see them, cauliflower and broccoli may be eaten. It is more appropriate to soak them in water with a liquid detergent for about four minutes, and rinse thoroughly with running water.

However, unlike lettuce and other leafy vegetables where after soaking and rinsing often no tiny insects remain (or do not reach the rate of miut ha’matzuy), in cauliflower and broccoli, soaking and rinsing do not produce such good results. Nevertheless, since cauliflower and broccoli are cooked, and occasionally the shratzim are mashed in the cooking, thus lowering them from the level of beriah (a whole organism), according to halakha, this can be considered as the middle approach.

Corn on the Cob

In the opinion of the machmirim, it is forbidden to eat the corn kernels while they are still on the cob, since sometimes tiny shratzim (thrips) are hidden between them, and the only way to eat them fresh is to cut the corn seeds from the cob, and wash them to ensure there are no tiny insects between them.

However, according to the rules of halakha, and also the middle approach, since an ordinary person does not see these shratzim and it is doubtful whether they exist, and additionally they undergo cooking, it is enough to wash the cob.

Strawberries

Occasionally there are tiny mites (Acari), about one-third of a millimeter in diameter, hidden in the tiny crevices next to the seeds on their skin. According to the machmirim, fresh strawberries should not be eaten, unless their outer skin is peeled off, or soaked in water with a liquid detergent and washed with a thorough brushing of their skin.

According to the rules of halakha, since an ordinary person does not see these tiny mites, there is no need to look for them. According to the middle approach, one should cut the top green area of the strawberry, soak the strawberries in water with a liquid detergent, and wash them well. This should also be done with raspberries and mulberries.

Green Onions and Leeks

According to the opinion of the machmirim, each leaf should be cut into two, soaked in a liquid detergent, and washed while scrubbing its entire length, because sometimes tiny shratzim are found there.

According to the rules of halakha, one does not have to concern himself about tiny shratzim that an ordinary person cannot see. According to the middle approach, cut and discard the root together with about three centimeters, because that is where insects are likely to be found. The rest of the leaves should be separated, soaked in water with a liquid detergent and rinsed, without cutting each leaf in half.

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

The Controversy over Tiny Insects

The prevailing definition that it is permissible to eat an insect that cannot be seen by the human eye is not sufficient to determine halakha, since eyesight depends on many factors * The halachic authorities throughout the generations did not require certain fruits and vegetables, in which a fear of small insects exists, to be examined in special ways and conditions, as required by today’s stringent halachic authorities * Halachic authorities throughout the generations dealt with issues involving larger insects * In terms of preserving tradition, it is preferable not to require more rigorous examinations than in the past, however, from the perspective of emerging reality, there is room to say that due to technology, today we are more aware of tiny insects

The Question of Tiny Insects

In my previous column, I summed up the halakha regarding the obligation to examine flour and sift it, in the past and today. In order to understand the entire scope of the prohibition of shratzim (worms and insects) and the extent to which one must make an effort to check food for them, it is necessary to explain the basic dispute regarding tiny insects.

Ordinary Torah students think that the law of tiny shratzim is simple: what a person can see is forbidden, and what he cannot see with his naked eyes, but only with the help of a magnifying glass or a microscope, is permitted. This is indeed what several Achronin wrote (Binat Adam 34:49; Aruch HaShulchan 84:36; Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 2:146; Yibeah Omer 4, Y.D., 21). According to this, presumably, one needs to know how small an object a person can see, and in view of that, determine the halakha. However, this definition is not sufficient, because eyesight varies from person to person, and also depends on the color of the insect and the background on which it is situated. A person with good eyesight can see on a white background, large black bacteria the size of five hundred millimeters, however, when the color of the insect is similar to the background on which it is situated, even if it is ten times larger, one will not be able to see it, and only laboratory workers will possibly be able to see it. People with good eyesight cannot always detect even a two-millimeter insect, however, when pointed at, they are able to see it. In other words, seeing the tiny insect depends on several factors: a) its size, b) the quality of one’s eyesight, c) the color of the sheretz (insect) and its background, d) recognition of shratzim,  and e) how it is situated, for if it is crawling, it is easier to be seen.

The Strict Opinion

Some poskim (halachic authorities) are of the opinion that when it comes to a vegetable or fruit that is known to have shratzim, one is obligated to check after every sheretz that can be seen under optimal conditions. When it is difficult to check under normal conditions, the advice of an expert should be sought, or an illuminated table should be used, etc., and only after it is clear there is absolutely no sheretz, is it permitted to be eaten, but if it cannot be checked properly, it is forbidden to be eaten it. Consequently, the machmirim (strict poskim) instructed not to eat corn-on-the-cob, cauliflower, broccoli, and strawberries, which cannot be checked for tiny insects. They also wrote books to define the condition of each species of food, the shratzim they contain, and how they must be checked (the series of Rav Vayah’s books, “Bedikat Ha’mazone K’Halakha,” and Rabbi Revach’s series of books “To’lat Shani”).

A possible source of the machmirim’s opinion is that of the Laniado rabbis from Aleppo, who forbade eating grape leaves because of the tiny worms found in them, and other poskim who warned against small shratzim (Maharam ben Haviv in Responsa Kol Gadol 5, concerning worms in vinegar; Pri Chadash, 84, who instructed to check infested leaves against the sun; Chida, Y.D. 84:24; Shlah, Shaar Ha’Oti’ot, Kedushat Ha’Achila 18, that those who check should have good eyesight; Ben Ish Chai, Parshat Tzav, 27, who warned not to eat lettuce leaves because they contain numerous shratzim).

Disputing the Sources of the Strict Poskim

Although it is clear that some of the Achronim were machmir regarding tiny shratzim, it seems they were not as stringent as today’s poskim, since their warnings apparently referred to larger insects, and vegetables that had much more shratzim.

An example of this can be found in the way they learned from words of the Chatam Sofer and Mishna Berura (473: 42), who wrote: ” During the days of Pesach, there are a lot of very small worms that are not visible to those with weak eyesight, therefore, whoever does not have God-fearing people with good eyesight who can check properly, it is preferable to use tamcha (chrain).” The machmirim learned from this an absolute prohibition. However, the Chatam Sofer and the Mishna Berura were precise in their words, calling for God-fearing people who do not have weak eyesight to check the lettuce, but they did not decide that without this, there is an absolute prohibition.

In addition, apparently those God-fearing people with good eyesight did not find all the shratzim that the machmirim find today. This is proven in regards to flour, which today’s machmirim require be sifted in a sieve of 70 Mesh (70 hole per inch), whereas until about fifty years ago, observant Jews did not own such sieves, and all the God-fearing men and women would sift flour in regular sieves (about 30 Mesh), thus in practice, they were unable to sift these tiny shratzim from flour. Not only that, but until recent generations, they used whole wheat flour, whose particles are known to be larger, and do not pass in a 70 Mesh sieve.

The Lenient Opinion

In the opinion of the matir’im ( lenient poskim), halakha is determined according to people’s actual eyesight, and there is no prohibition against eating fruit or vegetables that contain tiny insects that people with good eyesight do not see in ordinary vision. This is because the Torah was not given to ministering angels, but to human beings, and human beings cannot discern tiny vermin, and as we find throughout the Torah that in all cases we go according to what people actually observe. This was the custom of the majority of Jews and the Gedolei Yisrael, who were not meticulous to check food as today’s machmirim instruct.

Although they did not write this explicitly, it is proven from the Talmud, Rishonim, Rambam, and the Shulchan Arukh, who did not elaborate on the laws of checking shratzim for every vegetable or fruit in a detailed manner, as it should have been if it is indeed an obligation intended to prevent a Torah or rabbinic prohibition. They also did not prescribe necessary instructions for checking shratzim, such as adults over the age of fifty should not be relied on to check since they are unable to see the tiny bugs, and to be meticulous to check the vermin against a contrasting background color. And all the poskim should have written in their books that the examination should be done in the sun, and not in houses which were poorly lit for the windows were small. They also did not demand that experts deal with checking the bugs, but rather relied on anyone’s checking, whether it be a man or a woman, young or old. Only someone who found a chomet (a small lizard according to Rav Saadia Gaon, or a snail according to Rashi) in food he checked loses its chazaka (presumption of not being infested), because it is clearly seen with one’s naked eye (S. A., 84:11).

Indirect Evidence

The poskim did not have to write this explicitly, because this was known through tradition. Therefore, evidence can be presented only from their overall words, such as the fact that most of the halakhic discussions regard large shratzim, as opposed to the tiny vermin that the machmirim are meticulous about. It is also proven from the words of the machmirim who complained about the people who do not check suitably, and about the rabbis who do not adequately teach to check properly.

Among those inclined to be lenient: Rabbi Feinstein in ‘Igrot Moshe’ Yoreh Deah 4: 2; Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in ‘Minchat Shlomo’ 2:61; Rav Kasar in “HaChaim v’ HaShalom” Yoreh Deah 16; Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch in ‘Siach Nachum’ 45; Rav Amar in ‘Shema Shlomo’ Volume 7, Yoreh Deah 4.

The Logic of the Machmirim

It seems that if the machmirim claim that they are observant of the masoret (tradition), and out of absolute loyalty to the words of the poskim they rule as they do, their opinion must be rejected. On the contrary, it is precisely for this reason that it is incorrect to be machmir, so as not call into question the minhag (custom) of earlier generations.

However there is another strong claim in their words, namely, that as a result of modernity, our awareness has also changed. In other words, the development of modern research methods and measurement tools have increased our awareness of the presence of tiny vermin in vegetables and foods and have created a change in the law, that today we should also be concerned about tiny vermin, more than in the past. In addition, science and technology development has provided us with additional tools to clean food from tiny insects, and to grow vegetables clean of tiny shratzim, and when possible, one is obligated to use them.

The Halachic Decision Goes According to the Lenient Poskim

After we have learned that in practice, the poskim have two different methods, it is necessary to decide which one to follow. According to the rules of halakha, the decision should follow the lenient opinion, i.e., it is not necessary to check for tiny shratzim that human beings do not see with the naked eye. There are five core foundations for this, and on the basis of each one of them, it is possible to decide according to the opinion of the lenient poskim, all the more so when all of the foundations apply. Every foundation is an issue in itself, and at the present, I am only able to headline each one of them:

1) The discussion is of a prohibition from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinic status), since from the Torah, as long as one does not taste the shratzim they are batel (nullified) in the food in which they are found. Only our Sages were machmir and decided that a beriah (whole organism) aina batel b’elef (is not nullified by a one to a thousand ratio), and therefore when there is disagreement over whether to check for tiny shratzim, halakha should be determined according to the lenient opinion.

2) Even if we go according to the opinion of the machmirim that one must check for tiny shratzim, in the opinion of some of the leading Rishonim (Rashba, Rosh, and Or Zarua), they are nullified by one in a thousand, for what our Sages were machmir about, is that a beriah should not be batel b’shishim (nullified in a one to sixty ratio), but in close to a thousand, it is batel. And some of the greatest Achronim wrote that when necessary, one can rely on them. All the more so when we are dealing with tiny and disgusting shratzim that have no importance.

3) Since there is disagreement over the status of tiny shratzim, in terms of the definition of “miut ha’matzuy” (a substantial minority), halakha should be instructed according to the lenient opinions, and in any case, usually there are no shratzim at the measurement of ‘miut ha’matzuy‘, and it is not necessary to check for them, because we go according to the rov (majority).

4) It is reasonable to assume that a Torah prohibition of eating cannot apply to a food that when eaten alone, its taste, or its ingestion, cannot be discerned. In practice, it is impossible to discern the taste and ingestion of most of the tiny shratzim, such as thrips and aphids. However, it seems that a person who sees them, but nevertheless eats them, transgresses a rabbinical prohibition. But as long as one did not see them, he has not transgressed a prohibition.

5) Even if the sheretz is a little bit larger, such that if one eats it alone, and concentrates on what he is eating, is able to discern its taste and ingestion and consequently transgresses a Torah prohibition, when eating some other type of food, and unknowingly it might possibly contain a sheretz whose taste cannot be discerned, in the opinion of numerous poskim, he has not transgressed a prohibition, for in every bite he eats, he does not know if he has also eaten a sheretz, and consequently, this is similar to a d’var she’aino mitkaven (something unintentional).

Although all of these foundations indicate that in practice, the halakha should be decided according to the lenient opinion, nevertheless, the opinion of the machmirim is not nullified. Consequently, this issue has three different approaches: lenient, strict, and in the middle, as I will explain, God-willing, next week.

Does Flour Need to be Sifted?

The question of whether flour which might contain insects needs to be sifted is subject to dispute – in practice, the poskim instructed flour should be sifted * If flour that was not checked for worms was baked, after-the-fact, the food may be eaten * Even according to the strict method, if one does not find insects in the flour once every ten times, there is no obligation to check * White flour produced and marketed by a responsible and well-organized company – is presumed to be uninfested * In places where flour is purchased wholesale, or the storage conditions are inappropriate, it should be checked * In whole wheat flour the concern of insects is greater, but in some companies it is also presumed to uninfested

 

Q: For many years, whenever sifting flour with a sieve, I have never found insects. When I spoke about this with a Haredi friend, she told me she finds insects in her flour. How can this be? Because she finds insects, does that mean I have to continue checking, although I’ve never found any?

A: The issue of worms and insects, which in the Torah is called “shratzim“, comprises numerous matters. I will attempt to breakdown the halachic issues, describe reality, and summarize the halakha.

Prohibited and Permitted Insects in Fruits

The Torah forbade shratzim that breed on land, as it is written: “Every small animal that breeds on land shall be avoided by you and shall not be eaten” (Leviticus 11: 41). However, regarding shratzim that grow in detached fruits, as long as they crawl inside the fruit and have not left it – there is no prohibition (Chulin 67b; S. A., Y. D. 84:2). And if the shratzim grew in the fruit while they were attached to the tree, in the opinion of most poskim they are forbidden from the Torah (S. A., ibid 6).

Permitted and Forbidden Worms in Flour

Just as there is no prohibition of insects that grew in detached fruit that did not leave it, so too, there is no prohibition of worms that grew in flour and did not leave. Therefore, some poskim say that even if one sees there are worms in flour, as long as we did not see they left it and returned, there is no prohibition to eat the flour (Rokeach 461; Sha’arei Dura 54: Agudah). In the opinion of most poskim, when there is concern that the shratzim left and returned, they are forbidden (Rosh, Maharach, Or Zaruah, Shulchan Aruch 84: 5, Shach, Taz, Plati, and Aruch HaShulchan).

However, in the opinion of some poskim (Pri Toar and Chochmat Adam) even if the worms crawled in the flour – it is forbidden, for each particle of flour is considered a “fruit” in its own right, and when crawling from particle to particle, they leave the place where they grew. Nevertheless, their opinion was rejected by all Rishonim and the vast majority of Achronim. Consequently, as long as the worms did not leave the flour, they are still not prohibited (Aruch HaShulchan 84: 45-46).

The Controversy of Whether to Check Flour

The poskim disagree whether it is necessary to sift flour that doubtfully contains worms. In the opinion of many, there is no need to because of safek sfeka (compounded doubt): one safek (doubt) – there may be no worms in it, and a second safek – there may be worms in it, but they did not leave, and consequently they are not prohibited (Taz 84:12; Knesset Hagedolah; Shulchan Gevoha 2; Simchat Cohen, Yoreh Deah, 149).

There are some poskim who say that the flour should be checked, because in some laws we find that when there is concern and it is possible to check, we do not posek leniently not to check on the basis of the argument of safek sfeka (Pelati 47: 7; Minchat Yaacov 80:4 footnote 14).

In practice, in recent generations the rabbis instructed to sift flour, since worms were often found in it. Nevertheless, all agree that if one baked or cooked unchecked flour, the pastry or dish is kosher.

When is One Obligated to Check Food for Worms?

This law is divided into three situations: 1) foods that usually have no shratzim – may be eaten without being checked. 2) A dish that in most cases has no shratzim, but in its miut ha’matzuy (substantial minority) there are shratzim – from the Torah, it does not need to be checked, since the rule is we follow the rov (majority). However, from Divrei Chachamim (rabbinical ordinance) l’chatchila (ideally), one must check it, but be’di’avad (after-the-fact), when there is no possibility of doing so, it is permissible to follow the rov, and eat it. 3) Foods that commonly have shratzim – must be checked, and as long as they have not been checked or cleaned of the shratzim, they are forbidden to be eaten.

How is Miut Ha’Matzuy Measured?

There some poskim who say that the measurement of “miut ha’matzuy” which requires being checked from Divrei Chachamim, is more than 25 percent (Rivash), while others say it is more than 10 percent (Mishkanot Yaacov). The question is: what is the size of the unit by which the percentages are determined. In practice, there are four options, and each one is correct from a different perspective.

1) A meal: From the perspective of the person preparing the meal, it does not matter much if he sifts flour for two people who will eat, or ten, for each time he sifts the flour, he focuses on the sifted flour as a single unit. 2) A serving: From the perspective of the person eating, the dish is the only thing he focuses on. 3) The fruit: If we consider the food, then the unit is measured as the fruit or vegetable appears before us, whether large or small. And as far as packaged foods go, such as flour or beans, – they are viewed as they appear before us in their package, whether it be a kilo, a pound, etc. 4) One bite: If we focus our thoughts on the halakhic perspective, we will have to relate to each bite as a unit in itself, because this is the manner of eating, and consequently, the units must be determined accordingly.

Nevertheless, even if we are machmir (stringent) and determine that the miut ha’matzuy is already measured from 10 percent, and that the unit of measurement is the quantity prepared at one time, then if a worm is not found at least once in ten times flour is sifted, then the flour does not contain worms in the amount of miut ha’matzuy, and it is b’chezkat naki (presumed to be uninfested), and does not require checking.

The Status of Flour in the Past and Today

In the past, flour was worm-infested for two reasons. One reason is that the grinding process was not complete, and therefore, eggs from which worms were hatched remained in the flour. The second reason is that flying and crawling insects came in contact with the flour and laid eggs in it, from which worms hatched. Today, however, as a result of the technological improvements and the demand of the public for high-quality goods free of bugs, the state of flour marketed for domestic consumption in developed countries has improved greatly. For this purpose, reliable companies ensure that flour is well grounded so that most of the eggs are destroyed in the grinding process, and in order to destroy the remaining eggs, nitrogen gas is used, or the flour is heated. Immediately afterwards, the flour is packed in closed bags to protect it. Nevertheless, when the packs of flour are left in dirty places or on the ground, or for a long time on a shelf or in a storage room, there is a good chance that insects will puncture the packages, and hatch eggs in the flour.

The Practical Halakha

Consequently, white flour marketed in sealed packages by reliable companies and by way of responsible chains and stores, and stored in one’s house in a clean place for no more than a few weeks, is b’chezkat naki (presumed not infested), and does not need to be sifted, since the rare cases where worms are found do not amount to the measurement of miut ha’matzuy. Nevertheless, while pouring the flour, it is desirable to examine it with a normal look-over, in order to see that it is indeed clean as usual.

However, white flour purchased wholesale or in the marketplace needs to be sifted. One must also sift flour from reliable companies bought in stores where the merchandise is left on a shelf or in a storeroom for a long period of time, or stored in a dirty place, because in such places there are insects that penetrate the bags and lay eggs. Apparently, because in some stores in Haredi populated areas outdated merchandise is occasionally sold at lower prices, members of Haredi society find more worms in flour and legumes.

In any case, one who buys flour from a doubtful source should check it, and if it turns out not a single insect is found for every ten times sifted, it is b’chezkat naki, and does not need to be checked. And as long as the flour continues looking as good as it did before, one does not have to check it.

A company or store whose flour was considered uninfested, but a few times insects were found in it, to the point where it seems that its miut ha’matzuy contains shratzim – its presumption of being uninfested ceases, and from that point on, one should be careful to sift the flour bought from that company or store. But if this happened because, as an exception, they had stored the flour in a place prone to trouble, or for too long a period, it has not lost its presumption of being uninfested.

Additional Cases that Require Checking

Restaurants and businesses must also sift flour, since they often buy it wholesale and low-priced, and usually do not have proper conditions to store it.

Even flour that is known to be uninfested or already sifted, if placed in the open air or in an open container for 24 hours – and on a hot day, even for a few hours – it is liable to become infested, and therefore it should be sifted. Someone who wants to ensure that flour does not get infested after opening the package or after sifting, should store it in the refrigerator.

Whole Wheat Flour

In whole wheat flour, since it is coarsely ground, sometimes eggs remain, and therefore it should be sifted. Some companies that market whole wheat flour, destroy the eggs by using nitrogen, and pack it in vacuum-sealed packages, and their flour is b’chezkat naki and does not need to be checked. In addition, there are companies that market flour that from the time of grinding is kept refrigerated, and as long as they are careful that it does not go for 24 hours without refrigeration, it does not require checking, because the eggs do not hatch in cold conditions. If a buyer does not know the quality of the whole wheat flour from the company he bought, he should check it, and if he does not find one bug in every ten checking, it is b’chezkat naki, and does not need to be checked.

The Stricter Opinions

All this is according to halakha. However, there are machmirim (poskim who are stringent), who claim the reason shratzim are not found after sifting is because their color and size are the same as a grain of flour, and without special conditions, cannot be distinguished. We are talking about a tiny insect of the mite family, called kardit ha’kemach (Acarus siro), or the flour mite, whose color and size resemble a grain of flour, and measures between 0.3 and 0.6 millimeters, such that a normal person cannot see it. According to the machmirim they are forbidden, and in order to remove them, the flour must be sifted in a sieve whose netting is 70 Mesh (70 holes per inch), or be’di’avd (after-the-fact), 60 Mesh. After the sifting, the sieve must be cleaned thoroughly, because perhaps some of the flour-dust in it may be tiny vermin that are liable to multiply. The reason why a 70 Mesh sieve is useful for sifting them, despite their being the same size of a grain of flour, is probably because their tiny legs slightly enlarge their volume.

However, the chumra (a voluntarily assumed restriction more stringent than what is required by Jewish law) of the machmirim is contrary to tradition and halakha. It is contrary to tradition, because until about fifty years ago, God-fearing people did not have sieves in their houses. And it is contrary halachically, because one does not have to concern himself with such miniscule shratzim, for the Torah was not given to ministering angels but to human beings, and therefore it is sufficient to sift flour that is not b’chezkat naki in a sieve of 30 Mesh. Perhaps I will discuss this issue in my next column.

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

Make Others Happy – Even with Fewer Mishloach Manot

The tendency to send as many Mishloach Manot as possible and participate with as many friends as possible in the Purim seudah, stems from a positive desire to create and strengthen relationships * However, friendship does not end on Purim: Even those who send less Mishloach Manot and invite less relatives or friends to eat, if he has a meaningful Purim – he will give a lot more to others throughout the year * Amalek was a tribe based on murder and looting, and the only way to deal with them was to treat them as they did to others * However, an Amalekite who chooses morality and keeps the Noahide commandments is not considered Amalek – and this is the difference between racial doctrines, and our holy Torah

The Dilemmas of the Mitzvot of Purim

Often, the joy of Purim is accompanied by a sense of missed opportunity. Finally, the day arrives when we have a wonderful chance to make our relatives and friends happy with Mishloach Manot (gifts of food or drink sent to family, friends and others on Purim day), and immediately, the question arises: Who to send to? After all, we cannot send portions to all of our relatives, friends and several neighbors, and therefore, together with the decision of whom to send, we must decide who we cannot send to. On the one hand, this is an opportunity to send Mishloach Manot to neighbors with whom relations are strained or to friends we don’t see that often due to everyday life, and by doing so express our heartfelt attitude towards them, and reestablish good relations. On the other hand, how can we neglect our good friends and relatives who stay in touch with us all year long and are always there when needed – and now on Purim, we forget them, and don’t send them portions? If we decide to send to a lot of people, reluctantly, we will have to invest less time and effort with each misholach; if we decide to invest more in each mishloach, against our will, we will have to send to fewer friends.

The same is true of the seudah (festive meal). It is a wonderful opportunity for the joy of a mitzvah, in which one can relax, open up, say all that is on one’s heart, to show enthusiasm about God’s love and His Torah, and rejoice in the opportunity to fulfill His commandments – but to do so, one needs the right place, choice foods and good drinks, and most important – suitable partners. Then, the question arises: With whom should we have the seudah? With friends who are more open and joyful, or those who are more insightful and loyal? With those it would be more interesting, but with the others, more convenient; but if we go to them, friends or other relatives will be offended, and if we go to those who might be offended – we might end up fighting, because occasionally that’s what happens when we’re together – especially in joyful times. If that’s the case, maybe it would be better to leave the community and go to relatives who live far away, and are having a dairy meal, and drinking grape juice instead of wine, which, in their opinion, is much tastier…

Purim Illuminates for the Entire Year

The holiday of Purim is not disconnected from all other days of the year, rather, it is intended to give inspiration to the entire year. True, on Purim we will only be able to send portions to some of our friends, but through Purim we can open up and understand the beauty of Mishloach Manot, so that even during the week following Purim we will send nice homemade dishes to friends and acquaintances as well, and continue sending throughout the year. For example, when baking challot or cooking something nice for Shabbat, one can increase the quantity and send a pastry or serving to friends who had a busy week, or someone who has a birthday, or someone who got a new job. Thus, we will be able to continue the camaraderie revealed in the joy of Purim for the entire year.

The same holds true for the seudah. In practice, we can only dine with some of our friends and relatives, but as a result, we will strengthen our desire to participate in celebrations such as weddings, Brit Milah’s, Siyyum’s, and other get-togethers of relatives and friends throughout the year. As a result, we will also learn to connect material joy to spiritual values, and the Divine mitzvot with friendship and love between man and his fellow companion.

This is also the case regarding the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim (giving gifts to the poor), which will strengthen our will throughout the year to give maaser kesafim, and chomesh for those granted an additional blessing by Hashem.

From the mitzvah to read the Megillah properly, we will be strengthened throughout the year in our orderly Torah study, without skipping any matters. From the mitzvah to hear the Megillah reading, we will strengthen ourselves in understanding Hashem’s guidance of the world, and learn to examine every issue from its historical and religious roots, until its halakhic appearance in practical life.

Why Obliterate Amalek

In order to better understand the reason for the commandment to obliterate Amalek, one must know that Amalek was a tribe that did not engage in agriculture or industry, but rather, trained its’ youth to conduct surprise attacks against villages and convoys and kill those they encountered, plunder their belongings, and sell the remaining men, women and children as slaves. It was difficult to wage war against them because they did not have a permanent base, and would suddenly and unexpectedly appear at enormously distant locations, with large attacking forces. In order to protect themselves from Amalek, others would need to station large guarding forces in all towns close to the outlying areas. This being impossible, the Amalekites were able to kill and loot in their attacks, to the point where most of the people living in outlying places were forced to gather into crowded areas, and vast expanses of land that could have provided food for sizable amounts of people remained desolate due to fear of the Amalekites.

Thus, immediately after Am Yisrael left the slavery of Egypt, still tired and weary from the arduous journey, Amalek came and attacked them. Instead of realizing the greatness of the miracle, or having mercy on the newly-released slaves, the Amalekites saw before them easy prey, and taking advantage of Israel’s weakness, began attacking the stragglers in the rear of the camp, in order to make a living by selling them as slaves, and plundering their possessions.

Even after Yehoshua, on behalf of Moshe Rabbeinu, fought and drove them away, it was clear this would not be the last battle; rather, every time Amalek would perceive signs of weakness, they would attack, kill, loot, and sit in wait for the next assault.

The Three Commandments related to the Obliteration of Amalekite

Consequently, we were commanded three mitzvot: 1) a positive commandment, to remember what Amalek did to us when we were leaving Egypt. 2) A negative commandment, not to forget what Amalek did to us. 3) A positive commandment to obliterate Amalek’s offspring from the world (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).

In order to annihilate Amalek, a large army was needed to encircle all the widespread areas from which they operated, locate them, block their escape routes, encounter them face-to-face, and destroy them. To do this, the Jewish nation would first have to establish themselves in the land, and be able to allocate large forces for long periods of time to fight Amalek, while assigning additional forces to protect the home front during the long and protracted military operation. Regarding this, our Sages said: “Three commandments were given to Israel when they entered the land: to appoint a king, to obliterate the seed of Amalek, and only after this, would we be able to fulfill the third commandment – to build the Holy Temple” (Sanhedrin 20b).

The History of Obliterating Amalekite

After the establishment of the reign of King Saul, Israel’s first king, the time had come to obliterate Amalek and their animals. The possible explanation why Israel was commanded to obliterate the animals was so they would not benefit from gezel (stolen goods), for all of Amalek’s property was stolen. And perhaps if Israel were allowed to enjoy the spoils, they would prefer to make an alliance with Amalek, allowing them to continue looting the cities of neighboring peoples in return for part of the spoils, and the guarding of the borders.

The apprehension was confirmed. King Saul did not fulfill the commandment appropriately, had mercy on Agag king of Amalek and the choice sheep and cattle, and ended the battle while many Amalekites were still alive. Apparently, instead of ending the war, he preferred to capture Agag so he would continue reigning over the remaining Amalekites under the subordination of Israel, in order to guard the edge of the desert for Israel.

As a result of the breach of the commandment, God transferred the kingdom from Saul and gave it to David, however the terrible damage had already been done. The Amalekites continued attacking Israel. A few years later, while David and his men were at war against the Philistines, the Amalekite battalion raided the city of Zeklag, burnt the city down, and took all their wives and children captive. By the grace of God, David and his men rescued the captives, and struck the battalion (see Peninei Halakha: Z’manim 5: 5).

Our Sages further related that from the time Saul delayed the killing Agag, he fathered a son or a daughter, and from them, his seed continued until the evil Haman (Megillah 13a).

The Moral Logic of the Commandment

The moral logic of the commandment is clear – just as Amalek did to all the cities they looted, so should be done to them. Actually, Amalek generally did not kill all the inhabitants of the cities they conquered, however, that was only because they hoped to profit from selling them as slaves, but when they found no buyers – they killed them.

This measure of retribution is also necessary in order to create deterrence, for whoever concedes to his enemies and fails to avenge them appropriately, encourages them to continue fighting. The great empires severely punished their foes, thus creating a deterrent that maintained their rule for centuries.

Amalekites May Repent

Although the Torah commanded to obliterate the offspring of Amalek, if an Amalekite decides to observe the Seven Noahide commandments, he is no longer judged as an Amalekite. Not only that, the Torah commanded that before we wage war against Amalek we offer them peace, in other words, to accept the Seven Noahide commandments, subjugation to Israel, and to pay tribute. If they accept, we do not wage war against them. If they refuse – we must go to war against them, until their complete destruction (Rambam, Laws of Kings, 6:1-4, Kesef Mishneh there).

Thus, unlike the Nazi policy in which a person with even the slightest trace of Jewish origin was murdered, according to Jewish law Amalekites can save themselves by way of dismissing their heritage, and accepting the moral principles of the Seven Noahide commandments. This right is reserved for all individuals, all families, and even the entire nation.

Accordingly, the ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah of obliterating Amalek is for them to repent. If they do not, there is an alternative way which is also l’chatchila (ideal) – to annihilate them in war.

In practice, the mitzvah has been fulfilled be’di’avad (in a less-than-ideal manner): over the years, the descendants of Amalek were scattered and assimilated among the nations, their trace of origin was lost, and the judgement of Amalek was annulled without their having repented.

Moreover, according to Rambam, Amalekites can convert to Judaism (Hilkhot Issurei Bi’ah 12:17); thus, some of Haman’s descendants converted and taught Torah in Bnei Brak. There are some poskim, however, who are of the opinion that an Amalekite cannot convert; nevertheless, even according to their opinion, many of them say that be’di’avad, if they converted, their conversion is kosher (Yeshuot Malcho).

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

Should We Worry About Demons and Evil Spirits?

The spiritual world is devised from various dimensions – including those of mysticism and imagination, and in contrast, intellectual dimensions * In mystical dimensions, forces of good and evil appear as angels opposite demons, and in intellectual dimensions, they appear as positive and negative ideas * Rabbinic ordinances regarding demons and evil spirits were said when people lived in a more mystical consciousness, but as the Sages themselves said: Someone who does not possess such an awareness, evil spirits have almost no influence on him * Today, when most people possess an intellectual consciousness, one who wishes to observe the custom of his forefathers is entitled, but the public should not be warned against dangers that supersede logic, unless they have moral reasons

Q: Is it necessary to be careful and beware of the warnings of our Sages against the harm of ruach ra (harmful spirits) and shaydim (demons), such as the warning not to eat peeled garlic, onion, or eggs that were kept overnight?

A: Today, there is no need to beware of the dangers of harmful spirits and demons, just as we learned about the warning of pairs.

One who is Particular, They are Particular about Him

In the days of the Talmud, many people were careful not to drink cups in an even number, such as two or four cups, and not to eat food in an even number, but were careful to eat and drink in an odd number, so as not to be harmed by demons (Pesachim 110a). Some halachic authorities explained that these demons received their power from the Mazdayasna (Zarathustra) religion, who believed that there are two forces in the world, good and evil, and those who ate or drank in pairs were harmed by demons and harmful spirits of this idolatry (Maharsha).

However, our Sages added a basic rule: “When one is particular, they [the demons] are particular about him, while when one is not particular, they are not particular about him. Nevertheless, one should take heed” (Pesachim 110b). In other words, if a person is usually accustomed to be careful about such dangers, but is not, he is harmed; but someone who does not take care and drinks in pairs, these harmful spirits and demons do not harm him; nevertheless, ideally, one should not expose himself to their danger, and refrain from drinking in pairs, because occasionally, they also harm those who are not careful about them.

Worlds and Dimensions of Consciousness

The explanation is that spiritual worlds are composed of various spheres, which can also be termed as different dimensions. Every world has good and useful forces, and bad and harmful forces. In the worlds inclined to imagination and mysticism, these forces appear as angels, spirits, and demons whose presence has either positive or negative influence, each world according to the type of consciousness of its imaginations. In worlds that tend to the intellect, they appear as positive and negative ideas that spread forth and affect man and humanity, each world according to the perceptions at its core.

Every person has a world of consciousness of his own and lives in the world where his awareness exists, and the forces acting in that world have influence on him for good and for evil. This is what our Sages said: ‘When one is particular, they are particular about him, while when one is not particular, they are not particular about him’. In other words, someone who in his consciousness lives in a world of certain spirits and demons, such as those that harm people who drink in pairs, is influenced by their actions. But someone whose consciousness is not in that world, those same demons will not influence him. Nevertheless, our Sages said it is wise to be careful of things known to be dangerous, because although one’s consciousness is removed from such demons and spirits, since he lives in an era where their perception is widespread, and he himself occasionally worries about demons and spirits of various kinds, against his will, the demons and spirits that harm people who drink in pairs can also have a certain influence on him, and therefore, one should be careful of things that expose himself to their danger.

Relating to Harmful Spirits in Our Times

Today, however, when almost all of us live in the consciousness of intellectual spiritual worlds that have no room for demons and spirits, and even the secrets of Torah and the worlds of rich imagination are explained logically, it is wrong to encourage concern for the danger of harmful spirits. And although in other worlds these harmful spirits most likely still exist, since in our world there is hardly anyone who thinks about them, they have no effect on us. Regarding such things, it is said: “Hashem protects the thoughtless.” In other words, when many people are unaware of a certain thing, Hashem safeguards them, for they are not concerned with the dangers in other worlds. Moreover, since it is preferable for a person to live in an intellectual world, in which the influence of one’s choice is clearer, it is appropriate not to concern oneself with these dangers. Only those who still give them a place in their worldview, either because of their inclination or education, should take heed of them. But someone who comes to ask if it is proper to be careful of such dangers, should be instructed not to take them into account.

The Opinion of Rambam and Other Gedolei Yisrael

There were Gedolei Yisrael (eminent Rabbis), chief among them Rambam, who, even in the past, fought against the opinion of those poskim who took into consideration sorcerers, evil spirits, and demons, and in their opinion, all of their harm stems only from the fear they caused people, but in truth, there is no need to fear them (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 11:16; Commentary on Mishnayot Avodah Zarah 4:7; Moreh Nevuchim 3:37; ibid 46). According to what I have explained, Rambam’s world and those poskim who agree with him, which is a philosophical intellectual world, stood in complete contrast to the imaginary mystical worlds, and consequently, negated their existence.

However, the majority of our Sages disagreed with them, because people’s consciousness also creates reality, especially when it comes to intelligent people. Therefore, when human consciousness interpreted certain spiritual forces as demons and spirits, they appeared in the world as such (Ramban, in his commentary to Shemot 20: 3; Leviticus 17: 7, Deuteronomy 18: 9; Rashba, Teshuvot 1:413; Rivash 92, and the end of 93; Radbaz, 848,4 and many more).

However, they too would agree that when the public at large does not live in an awareness of such dangers, since in practice they pose no danger, this should not be provoked.

Warnings Possessing Ethical Explanations

Nevertheless, it is indeed appropriate to take into consideration warnings that also have ethical reasons, for indeed, sometimes dangers that supersede logic correspond to the depth of the ethical reason. For example, our Sages said that it is correct to be careful not to throw breadcrumbs on the floor, for one who does so, causes himself poverty, seeing as the angel responsible for sustenance and livelihood is named ‘nakid‘, or cleanliness, and the angel responsible for poverty is named ‘naval‘, or filth. Therefore, in a place where there are crumbs of food on the floor, the angel of poverty dwells, while the angel of wealth dwells in a clean place (Pesachim 111b, Chulin 105b, and S. A., O. C. 180:4). This warning should be observed because this supernatural instruction is in accordance with ethical guidance, for someone who throws crumbs on the floor gives the impression that he despises Hashem’s blessings, and therefore, he does not deserve to be blessed with wealth. Moreover, neglecting cleanliness of one’s house leads to neglect in other areas, including managing money, which consequently, causes poverty (Peninei Halakha: Berachot 13:4).

Peeled Garlic, Onion and Eggs

Based on the fundamentals we have learned, I will explain the approach towards various cautionary minhagim (customs). It is mentioned in the Talmud in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, that someone who eats peeled garlic, onions, and eggs kept overnight, “forfeits his life, and his blood is upon his own head” (Nidah 17a). The Gemara explains that even if they are placed in a bag or a vessel, ruach ra (evil spirit) rests upon them, but if a bit of the peel or root remained, there is no reason for concern.

However, the majority of Jews are not accustomed to concern themselves with this warning, because it is not halachically ruled by Rambam, in most of the books of the Rishonim, and in the Shulchan Aruch. Apparently, in their opinion, halakha is not like the opinion that takes ruach ra into consideration. And even if in the times of the Tannaim ruach ra could have been harmful, in the times of the Rishonim, the concern about it had already ceased. Some poskim wrote similarly regarding all harmful spirits, namely, that they lost their influential power (Tosafot Chulin 107b; Maharam of Rothenburg, Yam Shel Shlomo, Chulin 8:12, and others).

This is also the halakha that it is improper to introduce prohibitions that have no basis in halakha, and whose reason is based on a danger that is not evident and clarified in our times. This was the instruction of Rabbi Ovadia Hadaya ztz”l (1890-1969), who was one of the leading poskim and head of the kabbalists two generations ago. He explained that all the poskim who did not mention this prohibition were of the opinion that in their times there was no concern, and since people are unaware of this concern, clearly, even according to the approach of the machmirim (strict) they are not harmed, and as he wrote, “we have never seen or heard of anyone in our location that was harmed by them” (Yaskil Avdi, O.C. 7/44. And thus wrote Tzitz Eliezer 18:46; Aderet; Yad Meir 19; Beit Shlomo, Y.D.189; Shem Aryeh 27, and others).

The Minhag of Those Concerned

There are those who are of the opinion that l’chatchila (ideally), one should make sure that no peeled garlic, onion, or egg be kept overnight, and if they were, those who wish to act leniently and eat them, are permitted (see, Yabia Omer, 2/ Y. D. 7-8). And then there are those whose custom is even bediavad (after the fact) they should not be eaten (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas 14, and others). It seems that anyone who follows the custom of his family and refrains from eating them even bediavad, does not have to worry about transgressing the prohibition of Bal Tashchit (do not destroy or waste), since he destroys the leftover food in order to fulfill the minhag, and not in vain. However, even people who do take this warning into consideration, if they mix in with the garlic, onion, or egg some type of food, even salt or oil, there is no concern if they are kept overnight (S’mak, Tzitz Eliezer 18,46,4; Yabia Omer 10/Y.D. 9).

Nevertheless, as I explained above, if someone comes to ask if it is correct to be concerned about such warnings, it is proper to instruct him that it is preferable not to be concerned.

Foods and Drinks Under One’s Bed

It is said in the Babylonian Talmud: “It was taught: If food and drink are kept under the bed, even if they are covered in iron vessels, an evil spirit rests upon them” (Pesachim 112a). However, in the Jerusalem Talmud, even though it is said that one should not keep food and drinks under the bed, it is not clear that the reason is because of ruach ra (Terumot 8: 3). Accordingly, Rambam wrote: “A person should not place a cooked dish under the couch on which he is reclining, even though he is in the middle of his meal, lest something that could harm him fall into the food without his noticing” (Hilchot Rotzeach 12: 5).

Therefore, the proper minhag is not to place food and drinks under the bed, because according to Rambam there is a logical reason for this. And there is also an ethical reason, for sleep is considered as one-sixtieth of death, and it is not honorable for foods meant to give vitality to be placed under a bed upon which one lies still, similar to a dead person.

Although, bediavad, if food was placed under the bed, they are permitted to be eaten. And even though there are poskim who are machmir (Gra, Birkei Yosef 116:10; Ben Ish Chai, Shana 2, Pinchas 14), according to what we have learned it is appropriate to be lenient, and this is the customary way of instruction (Shvut Yaakov 2:105; Pitchei Teshuva 116:4; Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Yad Ephraim ibid, and others).

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

Why is it Difficult for Some to Pray?

It is difficult to know whether the current state of prayer is on the rise or decline, but one change has definitely occurred – today we are more open to speaking candidly about prayer * After years of dealing with the halachot of prayer, the time has come to deal more with its value and significance * Difficulty in concentrating on fixed prayers is nothing new, but today there are two additional factors making it even more difficult: intellectual progress making it difficult to read a fixed text, and electronic media that habituates us to distractions * Our Sages objected to the lengthening of prayers due to concern of wasting people’s time, therefore, a solution must be found for people who find prayers too long

The State of Prayer

In my previous column, I began dealing with the state of prayer. Apparently, the sources I brought indicate that in the days of Chazal the state of prayer was no better, but in regards to the question I asked the readers: “Has the state of prayer declined in the last generation”, I remain in doubt. I received responses from communities that have respectable prayer services with numerous congregants, and communities that barely manage to have prayer services on weekdays, and on Shabbat, the prayers are not sufficiently respectable. It is not clear whether there is a process of decline or, conversely, an increase in the status of prayer. Generally speaking, the status of prayer corresponds to the overall religious level: the higher it is, the more prayers are generally respected.

What has changed is that today people speak more about the difficulty of fulfilling the obligation to pray. In the past, a lot of people who found it difficult to pray remained at home and did not talk about it. Today, however, thanks to the openness of dealing with sensitive topics, people speak more candidly about prayer.

I also do not know whether there has been a decline in the situation in educational institutions, but I learned from the reactions of the great value of education. Educators spoke about the process of teaching their students about prayer in depth until reaching the point where prayers are held with dignity and have become a significant part of the students’ day. Accordingly, I will begin by clarifying the significance of prayer.

The Value of Prayer

Ostensibly, prayer itself is questionable – after all, the Creator of the world is infinite, above and beyond all else – why should He listen to our prayers? How can a man formed from dirt and dust turn to the Infinite and expect Him to listen to his trivial words? Nevertheless, God, in His great kindness, bestowed upon man the gift of prayer, through which he can turn to Him, and God hears His prayer. As we say in the blessing “Shomeyah Tefillah” – “Blessed are You, Hashem, who hears prayer.” It is also written: “Hashem is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them” (Psalms 145:18-19). We have also learned in Tanakh (the Bible) that the patriarchs and the prophets turned to God in prayer.

Still, the question must be asked: How is it possible for prayer to help? Seemingly, if a person deserves to receive a certain thing, he will get it even without prayer; and if he is not worthy, even with prayers and supplications he won’t. However, Hashem established a law in Creation, that when we awaken in the world below to approach the Almighty and request a blessing from Him, He, in turn, is aroused from above to bring upon us an abundance of good, according to our needs and the requirements of the world. In other words, even when people are worthy that Hashem shower them with goodness, sometimes the giving is delayed until they pray for it, because in this way, the good we receive from Him will be more meaningful to us, for God’s will is revealed in man in this manner, and consequently, our connection to Him, the Source of our lives, is strengthened through prayer.

The Effect of Prayer

Every prayer has an influential effect, as Rabbi Chanina says, “Whoever lengthens his prayer, his prayers do not return unanswered” (Berachot 32b). Sometimes the effect is immediate, and other times in the distant future; sometimes the prayer is answered completely, other times partially. As Chazal say (Devarim Rabbah 8:1), “Great is prayer before HaKadosh Baruch Hu. Rabbi Elazar says: If you want to know the power of prayer – if it does not accomplish everything, it achieves half.” HaKadosh Baruch Hu is the One Who knows how to help and support a person. Sometimes, for various reasons, a person’s misfortune is for his own good, and therefore Hashem does not accept his prayer. Nevertheless, his prayer benefits him, and its blessing will be revealed in one way or another.

Even the most righteous people, whose prayers were generally accepted, sometimes went unanswered. For instance, even though Hashem accepted Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayers to forgive the Nation and annul His decree of destruction when Israel sinned by creating the Golden Calf and sending out spies who returned with a negative report about the Land of Israel, (Exodus 32 and Numbers 14) when Moshe came to beg on behalf of himself to merit entering the Land, HaKadosh Baruch Hu said to him, “Enough! Do not talk to me further about this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26).

Therefore, a person must exert himself greatly in prayer, and not assume that since he is praying, HaKadosh Baruch Hu must fulfill his request. Rather, he should continue praying, knowing that HaKadosh Baruch Hu hears his prayers and that his prayers are most certainly doing some good, although how much, and in what way, are unknown.

Fixed Prayers

Members of the Great Assembly, at the beginning of the Second Temple period, amended the wording of the blessings and prayers and enacted the order of the three prayers: Shacharit, Mincha, and Aravit. On the one hand, this represented a decline compared to the accepted custom during the First Temple period, for when a Jew prayed, he prayed in his own personal wording which most likely expressed his feelings more accurately. On the other hand, however, by way of the enactment of fixed prayers and their wording, all of Israel became connected to prayer on a regular basis, in an ideal nusach (wording) that included all the values that Jews are meant to pray for.

 Intent versus Routine

There is, however, a danger that a fixed wording of prayer could become routine, without the intent of the heart. This is probably the reason why in all the days of the First Temple, the prophets did not enact a fixed and binding order and nusach for prayer. However, after the destruction of the First Temple, our Sages realized that it was necessary to establish an actual framework for spiritual matters to endure. In his essay “Chacham Adif Me’Navi” (a Torah scholar is greater than a prophet) in the book “Orot”, Maran HaRav Kook explains the merit of our Sages, who, through their detailed enactments, paved permanent paths to emunah (faith), Torah, and mitzvot. What prophecy failed to eradicate from the Jewish nation – the grave sins of idolatry, incest, and bloodshed, which prevailed during the First Temple period and caused its destruction – our Sages successfully achieved through their enactments, and the increase of Torah study in all its details and laws. And thus, thanks to the fixed prayers, even in the long days of exile, the Jewish nation preserved their identity, faith, Torah, and the hopes of their redemption.

However, Rav Kook continues to explain that over time, the preoccupation with details became so intense that the overall values of the Torah were no longer reflected in them, and many people began to despise details. Ever since, it became necessary to engage in the light of prophecy revealed in the general values, and in the study of emunah. But precisely as a result of this, we will have a better understanding of the great value of wisdom and the details of halakha, for prophecy “will recognize the magnitude of the act of wisdom, and in righteous modesty will proclaim: ‘a Torah scholar is greater than a prophet.

As a continuation of Maran HaRav’s essay, it can be said that the difficulties of prayer in our times stem from a great deal of preoccupation with the details of prayer, at the expense of understanding its overall meaning. We must now increase our concern with the significance of prayer, and thus strengthen ourselves in the details of its laws.

Tikkun Olam and Closeness to God

It is explained in the Talmud (Berachot 26b) that our Sages enacted the three fixed prayers to correspond to the three patriarchs and the korban ha’tamid (the daily offering) which we were commanded to sacrifice every day. Consequently, there are two main goals to prayer: one – to connect us on a regular basis to the heritage of our forefathers, which adds a blessing to the world and repairs it by revealing the light of God and His blessing. Therefore, the order of the blessings in the Amidah prayer is aimed at tikkun olam (improving the world). The second goal corresponds to the korban ha’tamid, the essence of which is closeness to God, the gathering together of all forces by which we act, and connecting them to their source, to the infinite spring of emunah.

The Difficulty in Concentrating on Prayer Nowadays

Today, two factors have been added to the difficulty of concentration in prayer. One is that many people have become more educated, and as a result, they are used to understanding, observing and thinking about their actions, and it’s hard for them to read a fixed nusach that does not inspire them to think. The second factor is that in consequence of electronic media, people are used to thinking quickly about various matters, while constantly being distracted by the great amount of information flowing to them from their surroundings.

It seems, however, that these difficulties precisely seem to emphasize the importance of prayer today, because due to the abundance of information, and the numerous details people receive from their surroundings every day and every hour, we are liable to forget our soul and the greater vision. That is why it is so important three times a day to converge within ourselves and approach Hashem in prayer, and thus receive inspiration and constant renewal in order to add goodness and blessing in the world.

The Length of Prayer – Tircha D’tzibbur

All the same, there are quite a few complaints about the length of prayers, also coming from those who fear God and are meticulous in mitzvot. Indeed, there apparently is a big question: It is explained in the Talmud (Berachot 12b) that our Sages sought to add the parasha (portion) of Balak to Kriat Shema, “and why did they not do so? Because of tircha d’tzibbur” (wasting people’s time). According to our Sages, despite the importance of the parasha of Balak, which deals with the uniqueness of Israel and is not unlike the importance of Kriat Shema, its blessings, and the Amida, our Sages did not fix it in the nusach of Kriat Shema because of tircha d’tzibbur. How then did they enact the reciting of the lengthy Pesukei d’Zimrah, Tachanun, Ashrei, Lamnatzeach, U’va l’Tzion, Shir shel Yom, Ketorit, and Aleinu l’Shabayach? In truth, however, our Sages did not enact all these additions as obligatory precisely because of tircha d’tzibbur; rather, throughout the generations, righteous people, followed by entire congregations, recited them regularly, until in time, they became obligatory, and thus entered the fixed nusach.

In practice, minhagei Yisrael (accepted Jewish customs) are binding, but in shaat ha’dachak (times of stress), reciting the main nusach is sufficient, as halachically ruled for latecomers – they should skip all of Pesukei d’Zimrah in order to recite the Amidah prayer with the minyan (S. A. and Rama 52:1). Some poskim say that they should skip only most of Pesukei d’Zimrah for this purpose (Mishkenot Ya’akov, see Peninei Halakha: Tefillah 14: 5). The same applies for the rest of the additional verses, i.e. in a shaat dachak one may skip them as well.

Indeed, from this issue, it can be concluded that people in charge of congregations must ensure that public prayer is not too long. If there is a minyan of Chassidim (righteous people) who want to pray at length – tavo alayhem ha’bracha (they will be blessed), but those in charge must ensure that the public at large is able to pray in a minyan without tircha d’tzibbur.

There are other issues that, God willing, I will deal with in the future. But one conclusion is clear: there is a need for deeper study of the significance of prayer, and rabbis, teachers, and worshipers in general together, must discuss how to conduct prayers in the most respectful manner while providing solutions for those who find lengthy prayers difficult.

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