"The Laws of Brit Mila"

The First Commandment

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

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

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

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

The Most Important Commandment

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

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

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

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

Abraham’s Offspring

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

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

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

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

Removal of the Foreskin

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

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

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

On the Eighth Day, Even on Sabbath

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

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

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

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

"Honoring Adoptive and Divorced Parents"

The Commandment to Honor Parents

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

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

The Question of Medical Treatment

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

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

Marriage and Inheritance

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

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

Reciting Kaddish for Adoptive Parents

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

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

Honoring Divorced Parents

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

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

Honoring Parents Calls for Maintaining Relations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logic and Jewish Law

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

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

"Concerning Yom Kippur"

The Reason for the Commandment to Eat on Yom Kippur Eve

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

The Certainty that God Will Judge us Favorably

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

Some Laws of Yom Kippur

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

Ask an Observant Doctor

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

"Setting Out On a New Path" Part 2

Learning to Condemn Evil

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

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

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

Preparing an Alternative

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

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

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

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

Foreign Relations

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

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

Economics and Education

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

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

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

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

Inward Strengthening

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

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


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

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

"Setting Out on a New Path" Part 1

The Need for Self-Criticism

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

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

The underlying foundation for all of this is a consciousness of our

Learning to Criticize and Reproach

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

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

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

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

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

The Elite and the General Public

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

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

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

Systematic Criticism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Counting Blessings…and Calories" Part 2

Blessings are the Key to Joy

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

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

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

A Good Recipe for Dieting

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

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

The Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting Blessings… and Calories! Part 1

The Importance of Thanking God

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

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

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

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

Adam’s Sin Began with Ungratefulness

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

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

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

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

Meticulous About Blessings

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

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

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

"The Role of Parents in Marriage"

1. The Parents’ Obligation to Marry Off Their Children
2. Money Matters
3. Parental Involvement in Choosing a Mate

The Parents’ Obligation to Marry Off Their Children

The Sages teach (Talmud Kiddushin 30b) that Jewish parents are
commanded to marry off their children, i.e., to provide assistance in
the marriage of their immediate offspring, as it is written (Jeremiah
29:6): “Take wives and bear sons and daughters, and take for your sons
wives, and give your daughters to men so that they bear sons and
In other words, the Torah precept to reproduce does not come to an end
with the bearing of children rather; it continues to be in effect even
later, when it comes to the turn of the next generation. At that point
the parents must help the children to marry, and, by so doing, become
active participants in the continuation of the generations. And just
how do the parents help? To begin with, they aid by providing
encouragement and advice. But that is not all. They must also help
financially by paying the expenses of the wedding. This is what is
written in the Talmud – the father should give his daughter money and
possessions in order to increase the number of potential grooms; by so
doing, he fulfills the commandment to marry off his children.

In our generation, when the majority of young men and women choose
their partner independently according to personality and overall
character, and the question of “how much will the parents give” is not
so central, parents can fulfill the commandment of marrying off their
children by providing them with a good education at prestigious
schools, supporting them so that they be able to learn a profession,
and clothing them in attractive attire. This will make it easier for
them to find a partner. In addition to all this, once the son or
daughter has decided to get married, the parents are obligated to help
with the expenses of the wedding.
And the obvious question that arises is: Just how much are the parents
expected to help?
Regarding the aid which must be provided for a daughter, the Talmud
states that the parents are obligated by the Torah to clothe her in
attractive attire according to their social status, and it is also
appropriate for the parents take part in the purchase of a home and
furniture for the couple (Talmud Ketubot 52). For this, parents ought
to be willing to pay up to a tenth of their assets.
It indeed appears that in the past this had been the accepted custom
in Jewish communities.

In practice, though, it is clear that things have changed. Today,
property does not always reflect the financial capacity of the
parents. In addition, there is another central factor to consider –
monthly income. At any rate, the Talmud provides us with a general
direction: If the parents are capable, they must provide as much aid
as possible toward the weddings of their children.

It is also advisable for the parents to try to marry their daughter to
a Torah scholar. The Sages of the Talmud teach (Pesachim 49a): “A man
must be prepared to sell all of his possessions in order to marry the
daughter of a Torah scholar, and to marry off his daughter to a Torah
scholar.” The commentators explain that this is not to be understood
literally, in the sense that one must actually sell all of his
belongings, for one must hold on to his possessions in order to
sustain himself and earn a living. Rather, the intention is that a
father must make a great effort to marry off his daughter to a Torah
scholar. And there are those who write that one must be prepared to
invest up to a fifth of his assets to this end (Hitorerut Teshuvah
vol. 3, ch. 13 and 5 according to Rema; Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim

Money Matters

The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) teaches: Rabba bar Rav Adda said: “Whoever
marries a woman for her money will end up with contemptible children.”
The reason for this is that marriage must be founded upon the mutual
affection of the partners and not upon any other external factor.
Therefore, a marriage which came about as the result of a desire for
wealth will not flourish, and, naturally, the children which are born
of such a union will be contemptible.

Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (“Rema”) writes that the groom must
not quarrel with the family of the bride over money, and one who does
quarrel with the family of the bride because of money, will lack
success, and his marriage will not thrive (Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer
2:1). The reason for this is that if the groom chooses to behave in
such a manner, the money which he receives with his wife is not honest
money, and one who does this is referred to as “Noseh Isha Leshem
Mamon” (“one who marries for money”).
Rather, the son-in-law should receive gratefully whatever his in-laws
are willing to give, and by following such a path he will surely

Question: Is it permissible to force the parents to assist in
financing the wedding of the children?
Answer: Though we have said that there is a Torah commandment which
obligates the parents to marry off their children (and this obligation
of course includes financial involvement), still, the obligation
remains the parents’ alone – they are responsible, and neither the
bride nor the groom are permitted to force them in this matter. Even a
religious court cannot obligate the parents to assist in the wedding
of their son, no matter how wealthy they might be. But when it comes
to the daughter, the court can force the parents to assist (if the
parents are capable) in providing a minimal sum for a modest wedding.
Hence, regarding assistance in marrying off the daughter, Rema writes
(Shulchan Arukh, Even HaEzer 70:1): “Even though one is commanded to
give his daughter a proper wedding gift, we do not force him in this
matter; rather, whatever he wants to give, he gives.”

In other words, the court does not get involved in family disputes
between the parents and the daughter. Therefore, even though the
parents are commanded to assist their children according to their
financial standing, the court does not force them. When, though, it
comes to the wedding of the daughter, the court pressures parents to
give at least a minimal amount in order that she will be able to marry
(Chelkat Mechokek 162, Shulchan Arukh, Even Haezer 58).
So, in summary, it is proper that the parents contribute toward the
wedding of their children, and if they do not offer of their own
accord it is permissible for the children to speak to them and request
their help. But they must not enter into an argument on this issue.
And even if the parents do not provide financial assistance, the groom
should go ahead and marry his bride and rest assured that God will
assist the two of them in their endeavors.

It is also worth pointing out that, according to one important
authority, the parents need not go into debt in order to marry off
their children (Az Nidbaru vol. 9, 51).
In addition, it is perhaps worth mentioning that though the son or
daughter is about to marry, they are still obligated to honor their
parents, and, of course, they are obligated to make things as easy as
possible for the parents. If, as a result of the wedding, the parents’
standard of living will suffer, it is certainly the responsibility of
the children to make sure that the parents not end up investing too
much money in the wedding. It is all the more so forbidden for the
children to pressure the parents to resort to taking out loans which
will cause them hardship.

Parental Involvement in Choosing a Mate

The role of the parents is not always an easy one. On the one hand,
the mother and father have to concern themselves and assist in the
marrying off of their children; on the other hand, the actual choice
of partner is not up to them.
Indeed, it often happens that serious disagreements arise over the
son’s choice of bride. The son chooses his partner and believes that
her character suits his character and his aspirations, and the bride
feels the same – yet the parents disagree. They believe that the
choice is not a fitting one. Sometimes the parents are adamant in
their position and even threaten to cut off ties with the son or
The question arises: What should the son or daughter do in such a
situation? Should they follow the advice of their parents and forfeit
their heart’s desire? Or need they not listen to their parents
regarding this matter?

The bottom line, from a Halakhic perspective, is that the children do
not have to heed to their parents’ desire on this question. And
despite the fact that the parents may have the very best intentions,
every individual has the freedom to make choices regarding his own
future. The obligation to honor parents includes all that is connected
to relations between parents and children; it does not mean that the
children must give up on their own path in life. True, such questions
often result in family tragedies, but one must understand that
children are not the private property of their parents; they are
independent individuals who possess the right to make decisions
regarding their future. Certainly they must listen to, and seek the
advice of, their parents, and they must understand that their parents
mean well, but, in the end, the decision belongs to the couple (Rema,
Yoreh Deah 240:25).

"The Laws of Elul and Selichot"

1. The Month of Elul
2. At what point do we begin saying “Selichot”?
3. The Time for “Selichot”

The Month of Elul

Elul is the month of repentance. With the end of the year fast
approaching, the time to make a personal accounting has arrived. It is
time to cast off all those bad habits we have become accustomed to
over the course of the year and to make a new start. On Rosh Hashana
God sits on His Throne of Justice and considers all of the actions,
words, and thoughts of the entire year. According to this He dispenses
life to the entire human race, and determines what sort of year it
will be – a year of blessing, or, heaven forbid, the opposite. All of
the prayers and acts of repentance performed in month of Elul are
intended to serve as a sort of preventative measure – a “medicine
before the illness.” For, so long as a Divine judgment has not yet
been decreed, one still has the ability to nullify it very easily;
yet, after the decree has been established, it is much more difficult
to annul. Therefore, the entire month of Elul, because it precedes the
judgment of Rosh HaShana, is set aside for the purpose of improvement
in Torah and faith, prayer and charity. Such preparation allows us to
come before God for judgment in a state of purity and cleanliness.
This results in His blessing us and the entire world with a good New

That these days are capable of bringing Divine forgiveness and pardon
is also evidenced by the atonement granted the Jewish people after the
Sin of the Golden Calf. For forty days after this transgression Moses
and the Jews were rejected by God and their prayers went unanswered,
yet, when the first of Elul arrived, God’s compassion poured forth and
forty days of pardon began. This lasted until Yom Kippur, when God
said to Moses: “I forgive according to your request.”

Therefore, the Shulchan Arukh writes that from the first of Elul until
Yom Kippur it is customary to recite Selichot (penitential prayers)
and Tachanunim (supplications), and this, in fact, is the practice of
Sephardic Jewry. According to Ashkenazi tradition, though, the custom
is to recite Selichot from about the week before Rosh HaShannah. The
Shofar, because it stirs people to repentance, is blown already from
the beginning of Elul after each Morning Prayer service. After the
blowing of the Shofar, Psalm 27 is read by the congregation. Sephardic
Jews are not accustomed to blowing the Shofar after Morning Prayers;
rather, they blow it during the Selichot. In this manner, all
traditions blow the Shofar during the month of Elul.

At what point do we begin reciting Selichot?

There are two customs when it comes to reciting Selichot. According to
Rabbi Yosef Karo, Jews begin reciting Selichot from the second day of
Elul. Sephardic Jewry follows this custom. Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the
“Rema,” writes that the custom of the Ashkenazi Jews is to begin
reciting them from the Sunday before Rosh HaShannah, on the condition
that there remain at least four days of Selichot before Rosh Hashana.
In any case, we begin reciting the Selichot on Sunday, or, more
correctly, on Saturday night: If there remain more than four days
between Saturday night and Rosh HaShana – for example, where Rosh
HaShana falls on a Thursday or Sabbath – we begin reciting Selichot on
the Saturday night closest to Rosh HaShana; but, if there are fewer
than four days separating Saturday night and Rosh HaShana – for
example, where Rosh HaShana falls on a Monday or Tuesday – then we
begin reciting Selichot on the preceding Saturday night.

The reason that Ashkenazi Jews recite Selichot for at least four days
before Rosh HaShana is that there is a custom to observe ten days of
fasting before Yom Kippur for the purpose of repentance. And since
during the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur
there are four days on which it is impossible to fast – i.e., the two
days of Rosh HaShana, one Sabbath, and Yom Kippur eve on which one is
obliged to eat – four days are set aside before Rosh HaShana for
fasting. This being the case, Selichot are recited on these days. And
even though today most people do not actually fast on these ten days,
it none the less remains customary to get up early for Selichot for at
least ten days – i.e., the four days before Rosh HaShana, and six days
during the Ten Days of Repentance. An additional reason for this
practice is that on Rosh HaShana a person must “sacrifice himself”
before God, and since we find that sacrifices had to be prepared and
checked for blemishes four days before being offered up, it was
decided that Selichot be recited four days before Rosh HaShana. In
order that people not become confused, it was established that the
first reading of Selichot take place on Saturday night. Furthermore,
it is only fitting that an individual begin to request God’s mercy
from the first day of the week.

The Time for Selichot

The best time for reciting Selichot is at “Ashmoret HaBoker” – i.e.,
the very end of the nighttime. At this time people are still asleep,
and the world is peaceful and uncontaminated by evil thoughts and
deeds. At this hour prayer issues from the depths of the heart,
shatters all barriers, and is received in Heaven.

Most people, though, find it difficult to get up at such an early
hour. The normal time today for waking up in the morning is six
o’clock, and “Ashmoret HaBoker” is about two hours before this. Rising
two hours earlier than normal results in drowsiness and can effect a
person’s entire day. Therefore, the accepted practice has become to
rise for Selichot about an hour or a half-hour before morning prayers.
Though it is no longer dark outside it is still permissible to recite
Selichot. Hence, if a person feels that by rising early his work will
suffer, it is preferable that he rise for Selichot a half-hour before
the normal time.

According to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, in a situation where one has no
alternative, it is even possible to recite Selichot before midnight.
If a community is unable to manage getting up early in the morning for
Selichot, its members are permitted, as an emergence measure, to
gather for Selichot at ten o’clock in the evening. By arranging
Selichot at such an hour, everybody is able to come, and their sleep
hours remain unaffected. Yet, according to many Kabbalists and
authorities in Jewish law, such practice is completely unacceptable.
According to them, the time for reciting Selichot is only after
midnight, for this is the time of Divine mercy. Before midnight the
world is still infested by evil thoughts and actions, and God’s
attribute of judgment remains present. Therefore, this is not a
fitting time for Selichot.

"Our Own Flesh and Blood" Part 2 of 2

Not “Why?” but “For what purpose?”
The main lesson to be learned from the above words of Rabbi Tzvi
Yehudah is that the Holocaust was not a chance event; God presides
over the world, and we, for our part, fall short of understanding
everything that transpires therein. Simply put, we have not yet
reached a level which makes it possible to grasp the Holocaust, to
study the Holocaust and to understand it, to ask the so-pressing
question, “Why?” This is generally the initial response of one who
experiences some tragedy – to ask, “Why did this happen to me?” But,
in truth, it impossible to deal with experiences of this sort in such
a manner. The question “Why?” is not relevant, at least not initially.
And even if there is an answer – and there is one – it is impossible
to understand it in the midst of the storm of emotions that continues
to rage. It is deeper than man’s intellect. To such a person we say,
“Do not ask ‘Why?’ but, ‘For what purpose did this tragedy occur?'”
When something devastating happens we are called upon to learn a
lesson from it about ourselves. This, then, is the real question: What
can be gathered from the tragic event? And when an individual
discovers how to learn from what happens to him – to improve, to
ascend – he arrives at a level which allows him to understand “why” it
happened. The reason for this is that now, as a result of the energy
he has invested because of the push that the tragedy gave him, his
point of view is altogether different. Now he understands that these
deaths were not “deaths” as such, but life: death, through which we
received life.

“A generation comes, and a generation goes…” Every generation, after
it has provided its share, must make room for that which follows, for,
were this not the case, life would be stagnant; history would come to
a halt. Therefore, we bear the duty to continue and to advance, to
ascend one more level in relation to the preceding generations. And
even if our progress be tiny compared to what the previous generation
achieved, our donation is nonetheless important. If we were worthy we
would be able to see the complete and all-encompassing picture, but,
because this is not the case, we must gather together all of the
individual pieces generation after generation; therefore, the next
generation is also necessary. This is the sort of explanation which
can be given when one looks at things from a distance, with an all-
encompassing view of history.

Regarding advice for an individual who is suffering from either
personal or national trauma, it must be remembered that tragedy is not
punishment. In essence it is not punishment. People generally fear
Divine punishment for their actions. This is what is known as
“reverence of God’s punishment.” While this is a correct notion, it is
not the most desirable approach. The healthiest approach is that which
calls for “reverence of God’s majesty,” and this should be seen as the
fundamental approach. Things happen in order that we are able to learn
from them. Sometimes the learning process is of a speedy nature, via
the intellect, the consciousness. Sometimes a person merits
internalizing the lesson, and understanding with the help of his
intellect why all of this has happened, and how, in a very real sense,
through these painful deaths, additional life was created. Yet, even
if it takes some time to understand such things, one necessarily
matures as a result of the tragedy he has been exposed to – even if he
is not aware of it. It takes root in his heart and will be handed down
to future generations. They will inherit the recognition that this
world harbors difficult and painful events. In this manner their world-
view will be richer, and their lives will receive a more responsible
and serious dimension. When all is said and done, then, these
tragedies can be said to have had a positive effect, even though they
were not fully understood.

“When a person experiences hardships, he should examine his
actions” (Tractate Berakhoth 5a). The true goal of self-examination is
not to answer the question, “Why?” – i.e., to discover the cause of
the punishment, but, “For what purpose?” – to discover what sort of
rectification this punishment was intended to prompt. Such a person
may perhaps not have previously been on the sort of spiritual level
which would have made his actions deserving of such serious scrutiny.
Having ascended to a higher spiritual level, hardships have come upon
him. This has happened in order that, as a result, he is caused to
reflect upon his behavior and hence continue to grow. This, then, is
the true meaning of examining one’s actions. It is not the sort of
analysis which is aimed at uncovering the underlying cause of the
tragedy, leading one to moan about not having been awakened to it in
time so as to be spared of the wrath of God. Examining one’s deeds
should be done in a constructive manner, with an eye to the future in
an attempt to decide in which manner to advance. By adopting such a
philosophy one changes his way of viewing hardships; his approach to
them and to God becomes completely different – mature, more positive
and joyful. The more a person manages to advance as a result of what
happens to him in life, the more his hardships become hardships with a
lesson, and hardships of love, the kind that involve no interruption
of Torah study or prayer.

This approach is, on the whole, applicable to any sort of tragedy. It
is true regarding the Holocaust: The most important question is not
“Why?” it happened but “What” can we gain from its having happened?
What lesson can we learn from it insofar as our own lives are
concerned? To what sort of new plane are we being called upon to lift
ourselves as a result of it? We are familiar with the common claim
that it is difficult to imagine the State of Israel having come into
existence without the Holocaust. I once mentioned this in a talk I
gave on the Holocaust. Afterward, an old man who had lost his entire
family in the Holocaust approached me and asked, “Is the state really
worth all of those who died? After all, our state lacks the sort of
Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.” He continued to ask me,
weeping, “Do you even know what sorts of Jews were killed in the
Holocaust? So pious, so holy – impossible to describe!” True,
comparing the punishment of the Holocaust with what came in its wake –
the State of Israel – does not always appear “fair,” and the old man
was to a large degree justified in his claims. In some of the towns
where Jews resided there were literally roads upon roads of pious and
holy Jews, genuine Torah scholars. In Poland, in Galicia. In the city
of Warsaw alone there were a million Jews! This is even more than the
amount of Jews who live in Jerusalem today. In smaller towns, like
Bialystok, there were 150,000 Jews. In Boisk there were 50,000 Jews.
And there were plenty more like towns which were not considered
particularly large. Is it possible to even think about forfeiting all
this for the State of Israel with all of its problems?

Indeed, when one looks at the “Why” – the reason – it is difficult to
accept that these millions of Jews had to die for the sake of the
birth of the State of Israel. But when one considers to what end,
toward what goal the Holocaust was meant to propel us, it is possible
to accept such a viewpoint. Everybody acknowledges that the Holocaust
shook the Jewish world to its very foundations. The question of Jewish
identity changed completely after the Holocaust. Every Jew, no matter
how religious, became a living sanctification of God in the world as a
result of his very existence. The intention had been to wipe out the
entire nation, every one of us, regardless of religiosity. If prior to
the Holocaust it had been widely accepted that only observant Jews
were capable of sanctifying God, today it is clear that the very
survival of the Jew as a Jew is regarded as an act of sanctification.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, has written words to this
effect as has Rabbi Chaim Druckman: “Every Jew is an expression of the
immutability of Israel.” This is without a doubt a completely new
level of understanding with regard to Jewish identity.

In a more general sense, a revolution in Jewish consciousness was
affected, and every Jew, no matter where he was, began to clarify who
we are as a people and what is our purpose. We must continue this
process. We are still in the midst of this first stage — still in the
midst of the trauma. The more relevant question continues to be “For
what purpose?” and not “Why?”

The Holocaust is not a personal, individual issue. It is very
difficult for a lone individual to arrive at any kind of estimate of
what the Holocaust means to him personally, no matter how much time he
invests considering it. It is a large, all-embracing, national issue
which has left its mark on a deep inner layer of each one of us, such
that even we are not always aware of it. Accordingly, it finds
expression in a more general, national level, and relates to the
public as a whole. Hence, one hears important voices in the non-Jewish
world making statements to the effect that the behavior of the Jewish
people must be understood in light of the fact that they have a
“Holocaust complex.” It is easier for one who looks upon the Jews from
the outside to sense that something in us changed as a result of the
Holocaust. Yet, it is possible to discern clearly enough by examining
the attitude of the public that the concept of the Holocaust, like the
Exodus, has been permanently etched upon the Jewish soul. If we
understand the term “redemption” to mean a spiritual world revolution
of the sort which results in life being seen in an entirely different
light, it is possible that the Holocaust has in fact laid the
foundation for such a thing. Such an approach can be discerned in the
words of the verse, “As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a
mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with anger poured out,
will I be king over you” (Ezekiel 20:33). It clears the path for a
period of searching for something else. And though it begins in a
rather harsh manner, it must nonetheless be considered a new and
higher level. It is impossible at present to look for the cause of the
Holocaust. Such a search yields no practical fruits and is not the
correct approach to dealing with tragedy at this early stage. We are
still in a state of mourning – an all-encompassing understanding is
still far from us.

And while it is true that in the Talmud we find Sages searching for
the cause of Israelite bondage in Egypt, and concluding that it was
the result of Abraham’s having made use of Torah scholars in his war
with the four kings (cf. Deuteronomy 32a), even so, neither the Torah
nor the Sages present us with plain historical facts. The reason for
this is that they were aiming more in the direction of answering the
question: “For what purpose?” – i.e., what needed to be rectified as a
result of this tragedy? Tosefoth Yom Tov’s claim that the Chmelnitzki
pogroms erupted because Jews made a practice of prattling about
mundane affairs in the Synagogue must be understood in a similar
light. What this eminent rabbi desired was for people to abandon this
practice; that this be the lesson that they gather from the tragedy –
or one of the lessons at any rate.

It is possible to understand this idea on an even deeper level if we
take a look at the course of Jewish history: One thousand years ago,
in the time of Rashi, Sephardic Jewry was ten times the size of
Ashkenazi Jewry. Then, Ashkenazi Jewry was almost completely destroyed
as a result of the Crusades; of the one- or two-hundred thousand
Ashkenazi Jews, fifty thousand were ruthlessly killed. What was the
result? The result was a very strong awareness of the importance of
sanctifying God’s name through self-sacrifice. Within five or six
hundred years the Sephardic population was only three times as large
as the Ashkenazi. At the outbreak of the Chmelnitzki pogroms the
number of Ashkenazi Jews had reached almost a million. Once again this
Jewish community was struck by a devastating slaughter. Entire
communities of pure and holy Jews were wiped out with great cruelty.
And once again, in the wake of this disaster, it became clear to just
what extent the Jewish faith is a question of life or death, and to
just what extent the Jews as a people were willing to sacrifice their
lives for their religious convictions. This left a great imprint on
the generations that followed, and within a span of no more than three
hundred years, reaching up to the period just prior to the Holocaust,
the Jews as a whole had swollen in number to between 15-16 million. In
retrospect, it is possible to see quite clearly how the act of
sanctification of God’s name through death provided a great impetus to
the generations that followed, pushing them a number of levels higher.
Who amongst us is really capable of coming to accurate conclusions
regarding long-term effects based upon the present? We might interpret
the words of the Tosafoth Yom Tov “that they not chatter in the
Synagogue” to mean that they should appreciate the sanctity of the
synagogue, the “miniature Holy Temple” that it is, and recognize the
value of prayer. In addition to the above we can say that the shock of
these tragic events caused a sense of added responsibility regarding
the study of Torah. Because so many Jews were willing to literally
give their lives for the Torah, the generations that followed felt a
great desire to attain new heights of strengthened Jewish identity.
Now the value of Torah study was understood, now it was clear why they
hate us. The same is true of the Holocaust; only that this time we are
talking about the entire Jewish people as opposed to a particular
community. The Holocaust is also meant to provide added consciousness
of just how much our lives as Jews must be full of meaning. We must be
made aware of just how much responsibility rests on our shoulders – we
who survived and carry on after the destruction of that generation.

There are numerous tales about the first waves of settlers to arrive
in the Land of Israel and the sort of self-sacrifice that they
demonstrated in order to reach and settle Israel. We ought to emulate
these builders and carry on their work.

The first wave of immigrants, what was called the “Aliya HaRishona” in
Hebrew, for example, was composed for the most part of pious Jews
whose coming to Israel was the outgrowth of what they had absorbed in
the Yeshiva study halls. The founders of Zikhron Yaakov made their way
to Israel after having already purchased a portion of land, but the
Turkish administration did not allow these new arrivals to disembark
at any port in the area from Alexandria to Beirut. Finally, after
great effort, they managed to land at Haifa, and from there they made
their way in carriages pulled by oxen until eventually arriving at
their destination. So difficult was the way that the travelers were
forced to send the oxen on ahead of themselves in order to render the
path travelable. Their allotted plot of land was full of snakes and
scorpions and far from any other Jewish settlement (two days journey
from Yaffo, and a day and half from Haifa). From where would they
receive their necessities? To where would they deliver their products?
When the officials of Baron Rothschild arrived they demanded to know
who was responsible for the injustice that had been done to these
settlers by having them sent to such a horrid location. Yet, despite
all this, when the officials offered to have them relocated in a more
central site, the settlers’ response was notably straightforward: We
are not budging from this place, even if it means eating the stones

Large waves of Jewish immigration to Israel did not necessarily begin
as a result of the First Zionist Congresses in Basel (in the manner
that secular Zionism has attempted to portray). Long before this, in
5637 (1878), Jews of the Old Settlement began to set out beyond the
walls of Jerusalem. One such pioneer was Yoel Moshe Solomon. He
belonged to the third generation of a family of pioneers. His
grandfather, Rabbi Zalman Tzoref, was murdered in a skirmish with
Arabs while trying to reestablish the Churvah Synagogue in Jerusalem’s
Old City. In his remembrance the family name was changed to Solomon.
His son was the “first Jewish ‘Fellah’ (field laborer) since the days
of the second Temple,” or at least so he was called. It was in such a
home that Rabbi Yoel Moshe grew up. He presented Moses Montefiore with
a detailed plan for creating a Jewish agricultural settlement. He was
also a serious Torah scholar, the editor of a newspaper, a journalist,
and completely steeped in Torah. He left his newspaper work in order
to establish Petach Tikvah. This young settlement too had its share of
difficulties; there was a period in which it was completely destroyed
due to the great hardships that came upon it. The settlers left and
went to Yahudiyeh, and only later did there arrive a group of Jews
from Bialystok (the hometown of Rabbi Mohilever, the leader of the
Zionist organization “Chovevei Tzion”) and reestablish the settlement.

In the city of Hadera there was a very green area, and the local Arabs
warned the Jewish settlers that the place was infested with malaria.
During the course of the first seven years, 230 of Hadera’s  512
settlers died of this disease. It is told that on Yom Kippur, there
were just enough settlers present for the prayer services to take
place in the room adjacent to the hospital room. During the course of
the day one of the members fell ill and expired leaving the settlers
short of their quorum. They were uncertain as to whether or not they
should continue, yet, in the end they decided that God Himself would
be counted in order to complete their quorum. When the fast was over
it was announced that before eating it was necessary to bury the
deceased. In order to overcome the near-unbearable sadness which
accompanied the loss, one of those present, himself a Torah scholar,
advised the people to rejoice in the burial. And they did just that –
they danced by the grave of the deceased. At a later date, the very
same individual, who had always said that joy is the cure for
everything, also died of malaria. Today, when traveling along Israel’s
coastal road, which runs between Haifa and Tel Aviv, we must remember
the great self-sacrifice of the early settlers which gave birth to
such settlement, all by virtue of a love for the land which they
passed down to the generations to come. Such self-sacrifice shakes all
existence and sets the machine in motion. They initiated it all.

This, then, is an example of a “for what purpose” lesson which we must
carry with us. There is a principle here which must be remembered: The
world is a unified whole, and the actions of one individual make waves
which shake the entire community. Torah is the heart of the world and
fills existence with vibrancy and meaning. When an individual attaches
himself to the Torah, studies with all of his might, and applies his
studies in all spheres of his life, his behavior has a great and
powerful impact. This, then, is the chief lesson one should gather
from the Holocaust: to be a thousand times more serious; to know how
to appreciate eternal values, such as Torah and settlement, and to be
ready to sacrifice oneself for such things. This is what the previous
generations handed down to us through their demonstration of courage.

Could the Holocaust ever be Forgotten?

No. This could never happen. No doubt there is a need to educate
toward awareness, to study the facts and to retell what happened. But
such steps are carried out on an individual basis, in relation to
specific individuals or groups. As far as the collective memory of the
nation of Israel is concerned, there is no chance of forgetting. As we
have noted, the Holocaust is deeply etched into our memory and
influences our national behavior in ways that we are not always aware
of. Once again, the emphasis is not to be placed on understanding
things – we are still at too early a stage. The true goal is
recognizing those values which are important to us as a nation, and
reinforcing them. The Holocaust was an attack upon Israel’s eternal
nature; its victory will find expression in a strengthening of our
eternal Israeli values.

The Exodus from Egypt

An example of a difficult event that has been completely internalized
and is today understood by us is the Exodus from Egypt. Here too we
find horrific acts: enslavement, slave labor with bricks and cement,
the male newborns being cast into the Nile or plastered into the walls
of buildings. Appalling; yet, enough time has passed in order to
understand why all of this happened, and today the enslavement is not
so painful. We are now able to look back at it and to recount the
various events therein and to confidently state why this had to be the
foundation upon which the Jewish people would be built. We have
managed to digest this.

The Midrash teaches us that when the Egyptians threw the Jewish babies
into the Nile, God commanded the ministering angels to look after
them. “The children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are being thrown into
the Nile and all you do is stand by and watch?” God accused the
angels. They immediately came to their senses and went down upon their
knees on the banks of the Nile to receive the babies. They placed them
on the stones, which turned into kinds of breasts from which the
babies then nurtured” (Shir HaShirim Rabbah).

It appears to me that the message of this Midrash is that the babies
were received by the angels on these rocks, not in this world, but in
the World to Come. They were received. They did not die in vain. They
entered into the eternal consciousness of the Jewish people and pushed
it a number of levels forward. Without a doubt, all of the innocent
babies who were killed in the Holocaust were also received by angels
who made sure that they be nurtured upon honey from the rock – not in
this world, but in the eternal world. We, the Jewish people, are like
this. We are an eternal people. In the true and absolute world
everything works out and everything is clear. In this temporal world
of ours there are complications and troubles. Regarding the Exodus
from Egypt we were first of all called upon to understand for what
purpose – i.e., what is demanded of us as a people who suffered such a
brutal enslavement and was redeemed through miracles and wonders.
Later we also merited understanding the why which accompanies all of
this. Our goal is to attain a similar level of understanding with
regard to the Holocaust, to the point where it provides us with
stories similar in nature to those of the Exodus from Egypt. We must
strive to understand such stories in the most profound manner
possible, the way we do at Passover when the bitter herbs, or ‘maror’
in Hebrew, which serves to remind us of Egyptian enslavement, is eaten
together with the Matzah, which represents freedom.