Parashat Beshalach 5768

January 16, 2008

Parashat Beshalach 5768

Parashat Beshalach – What do you see when you see a tree in Israel?

When you are walking along and you see a tree, what are you actually seeing? While it is certainly correct to say that you are seeing a tree, you are actually seeing much more than that, much more.

One hundred and seventy years ago, the French writer Alfonse De Lamartine wrote: “(Outside the walls of Jerusalem) we saw nothing living. We heard no sound of life. We found that same emptiness, that same silence that we would have expected to find before the buried gates of Pompei or Herculanum…total silence reigns over the city, along the highways, the villages… the whole country is like a graveyard.”

One hundred and thirty years ago, the American author Mark Twain visited the Land of Israel and he wrote: “There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent — not for thirty miles in either direction. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings. We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds — a silent, mournful expanse. Desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We safely reached Tabor…We never saw a human being on the whole route. There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land? Palestine is no more of this work-day world.”

Did you hear that? There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere, not even an olive tree!

Therefore, when I see a tree, I see the Jewish People rising to rebirth in our Land. For almost two thousand years, this Land was angry at us and would not smile at us. Obviously, and by no coincidence, “because of our sins we were banished from our country and distanced from our Land.”

As we know, our Sages objected to making Messianic calculations. They even said, “Let the bones be blasted of those who calculate the end of days!” (Sanhedrin 97b). If so, how can we know that the end is near? They answered, “We have no better sign of the end of days than that of Yechezkel (36:8): ‘But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel; for they are at hand to come’” (Sanhedrin 98a). Rashi comments, “If you see the Land of Israel yielding its fruits plentifully, be aware that the end of the exile has arrived.”

Indeed, one hundred and twenty years ago, the Land began to blossom, and since then this sign has not proven to be a disappointment. Our country is being built up, and despite all the harsh shortcomings visible in our public lives, we have to admit that we are rising up to rebirth, and we have to be happy, hold on and look forward.

[Parashah sheet “Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah” of Machon Meir – Beshalach 5767]

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Text Message Responsa

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets “Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’ah” and “Olam Ha-Katan.” Here’s a sample:

  • Q: I was a witness when one car backed up into another one that was parked. The driver who backed into the other car did not leave a note. What should I do?
  • A: Ask the driver to inform the other person. If he does not, then you should inform that person.
  • Q: Is it permissible to raise small animals in the Land of Israel today? [This is based on the Mishnah in Bava Kamma (79b) that one may not raise small animals, i.e. goats and sheep, in the Land of Israel, to prevent the destruction of crops due to the animals’ grazing (Rashi)].
  • A: On condition that the animals are well guarded, so there is no damage to your neighbors.
  • Q: Is it permissible for a teacher to snoop around and look at a student’s cell phone?
  • A: Only in an exceptional situation in which there is potential physical or spiritual damage to the student would we override the decree of Rabbenu Gershom (which forbids reading other people’s correspondence).
  • Q: It is permissible to read the New Testament in order to know it, but not to believe it?
  • A: It is definitely forbidden. Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 2:2.
  • Q: Is it permissible to sort and organize pictures in an album on Shabbat?
  • A: No, it is selecting.
  • Q: What should one do if the radio accidentally turns on on Shabbat, and the neighbors can hear it?
  • A: Do not turn it off. Turn the dial of the volume down in an unusual way.

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Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi: Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook

Feeling the pain of the community

When our Rabbi heard the news that a minister of the Government of Israel committed suicide, even though he himself was hospitalized, he suddenly cried out: A horrible thing has occurred!

Our Rabbi was very distressed when the Israeli athletes traveled to the Olympics in Germany. He said: Why are they traveling to an impure land? When he heard what happened and that some of them were murdered, however, he was so alarmed that the doctors were frightened and some of them fled from his room.

When the doctors examined our Rabbi, they saw that he experienced terrible pain, but they could not find a cause. The students explained that our Rabbi is pained over the Nation of Israel. He experienced actual pain based on what was happening to the community. (From Ha-Rav Yosi Bedichi)

Reciting the Shema

During the recitation of the Shema, Our Rabbi would raise his voice when he said: “And you shall perform ALL of the mitzvot.” (From Ha-Rav Yehudah ben Yishai)

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Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

The Custom of Eating Fruit on Tu Bishvat

[Shut She’eilat Shlomo vol. 1 #212]

Q: There are those who say that we are obligated to eat fifteen different fruits on Tu Bishvat, since Tu Bishvat is on the fifteenth day of the month of Shevat. Is this a custom or a law?

A: There is no mention in the Mishnah or Talmud that Tu Bishvat is a day of joy, rather it is the new year for trees. This means that it is the date that differentiates between the fruit of the past year and the coming year in terms of the obligation to tithe the produce (Rosh Hashanah 15). Among the Rishonim (Earlier Authorities), Tu Bishvat is mentioned as a day on which Tachanun is not recited (Minhagei Maharil), and this is the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 131:6). The Magen Avraham mentions the Ashkenazic custom to enjoy many fruits (brought in the Mishnah Berurah ibid. #31), and this is also the Sephardic custom (Pri Eitz Hadar – seder limud le-leil Tu Bishvat). The quantity of fifteen fruits, however, is not mentioned. Our master, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha-Cohain Kook, writes, “As is customary, there is on it [Tu Bishvat] an impression of a festive day, the first indication of the revival of the settlement in our Holy Land (Igrot Ha-Re’eiyah vol. 2, p. 61). It says in the Jerusalem Talmud (end of Kiddushin), “Rav Bon said: In the future a person will have to give an accounting for all that his eyes beheld, but he did not eat.” Rav Bon’s intention was not that a person should be a glutton and eat everything in his sight; rather he should endeavor to taste everything (obviously everything that is permissible) at least once. And it also relates that Rabbi Eleazar was concerned about this idea, and he would save his money in order to eat each of the year’s new produce. Similarly, the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chaim 225:19) writes, “It is meritorious to eat a little from each year’s new produce. The reason is in order to demonstrate the preciousness of Hashem’s creation.” He does not mention, however, that one must eat fifteen types of fruit.

Summary: It is an ancient custom to enjoy many fruits on Tu Bishvat. And it is praiseworthy to eat fruits which one does not normally eat during the year.

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On Air

Every Tuesday and Thursday night Rav Aviner answers questions of Jewish Law and faith on the radio in Israel. On the Air presents a sample of these answers each week.

Midrashim of our Rabbis

Q: How should we relate to midrashim of our Sages when certain things seems exaggerated?

A: Quite simply, if there is no pressing need, we understand the midrashim according to their simple meaning. If there is something which seems strange, we can read the midrash as a parable. For example, the Gemara in Eruvin (63a) says that it is forbidden for a student to give a halachic ruling in the presence of one’s teacher, and one who does so is liable for death. The Gemara then relates a story in which a student gives a ruling in the presence of his teacher and died, and it provides details of the city where he was located and the city where his teacher was located, etc… The Gemara asks: Why are you providing so many details? It answers that it is in order so that you do not say that the story is a parable. Why would I say that it is a parable? Because it is strange, and difficult to believe. You die because you give a ruling in your teacher’s presence?! Perhaps this is a parable. Perhaps “liable for death” is some kind of punishment, but not actual death. Our Sages, therefore, say that it follows its literal meaning and they provide details in order that you do not say that it is a parable. The Maharal wrote a book called “Be’er Ha-Golah” which is a defense of the midrashim of our Sages. Some people said that the midrashim are strange, and not correct, and not scientific, etc…, and the Maharal wrote this book to defend them. He says that from this Gemara in Eruvim we learn the general principle that if there are midrashim which are strange, we can explain them as parables. There are actually times that the commentators disagree whether a midrash is according to its simple meaning or a parable.

Eating in the dark

  • Q: Is there a halachic problem or an act of piety to refrain from eating in the dark?
  • A: One can eat in complete darkness. One should obviously take great care not to choke on the bones if one is eating fish. If there is no potential danger, there is no problem.
  • Q: Perhaps a fly or something else will fall into the food?
  • A: I have never found a fly in my food. If you are in a place which has a lot of flies, however, you should certainly be careful. It is completely dependent on reality, but there is no halachic issue.

Eating in a bathing suit

  • Q: Is it permissible to eat in a bathing suit if one is at the pool or the beach?
  • A: A person may eat in his bathing suit, and it is also permissible to recite a blessing before eating in a bathing suit. It is written in the codes that a person must wear respectable clothing and sit down for “Birkat Ha-Mazon” and “Al Ha-Mechiya” (blessings after eating), but eating in a bathing suit is acceptable.
  • Q: One must therefore get dressed in order to recite the blessing after eating?
  • A: It is possible that the requirement to wear respectable clothing for the blessing is respectable clothing in that place and at that time. It is clear that respectable clothing two hundred years ago is not the same as today. It is written that one needs a hat for “Birkat Ha-Mazon.” I do not wear a hat for “Birkat Ha-mazon,” since I do not wear a hat all day long. If I did wear a hat all day long, however, I would have to wear one for “Birkat Ha-mazon.” It is possible that the usual clothing at the beach is a bathing suit, and it is therefore not a lack of respect for a person to recite “Birkat Ha-mazon” in a bathing suit there. I have not seen people, even G-d-fearing and righteous people, who ate bread there and then get dressed in all of his clothing. This seems to be the explanation.
  • Q: Can one also eat with his head uncovered, besides the blessing?
  • A: I have never seen someone who wears a kippah eat with his head uncovered. One obviously cannot swim with his head covered. When he is in the water, he is not wearing a kippah, but the obligation returns when he sits to eat. Even if he is not eating, only sitting or talking, the obligation also returns, since it is for the awe of Hashem, and all the more so when he is eating.

Drinking in the middle of the davening

  • Q: A “Sheli’ach Tzibur” (one who leads davening) says that his throat gets dry in the middle of davening, and there is no problem to drink between the blessings of the Shema, and it is not considered an interruption. Is there a problem?
  • A: It is certainly forbidden to drink and eat in the middle of davening. It is also forbidden to eat and drink before davening, but if he needs this in order to daven or his throat will prevent him, it is not considered that he is drinking and eating for his own benefit. The source is the Gemara in Berachot (10b) that based on the verse, “Do not eat over the blood (dam)” (Vayikra 19:26), we learn that we should not eat (in the morning) before praying for your “dam,” i.e. your life. It is considered haughty. You have not prayed for your blood and you eat?! Here, however, he is drinking and eating in order to be the “Sheli’ach Tzibur.” If he drinks in the middle of davening, it is not called an interruption, since it is for the purpose of davening. This is similar to one who does not have a siddur in the middle of the “Shemoneh Esrei” and needs one. He can go get a siddur, because it is the same matter. Or someone is making noise and one says “shhhhh,” it is not an interruption since it is the same matter. The codes discuss that someone who does not immediately say the blessing over lighting cannot recite it later, he is therefore allowed to recite it between the blessings. The Mishnah in Berachot (2:1) says that you can greet someone you fear or must honor between the blessings. Reciting a blessing to Hashem is not less than fear or honor of a person. I have to say, however, that I am only answering this because you asked me. In my eyes, it is very strange. I have never seen such a thing.

Rebuke for someone with a physical decline following a spiritual deterioration

  • Q: Should I rebuke my relative who is declining physically following a spiritual deterioration?
  • A: We can divide this subject into two parts: First of all, we have no proof that one’s physical state which is declining is on account of his spiritual state. After all, we see that this is not the case around the world. There are people who are ethically and spiritually deficient and they are healthy. And conversely, there are righteous people who are extremely sick and even die. The assumption that anyone who is sinning is immediately punished is incorrect, and anyone who has intellect will not swallow it. Our Sages already said that there are righteous people who suffer and evil people who experience goodness (Berachot 7a). Secondly, one should certainly rebuke, but one needs to know how to rebuke, as is the case with all of the mitzvot. If I want to put on Tefillin, I need to know how to do so, not just take any boxes. Regarding the mitzvah of rebuke, our Sages say in the Gemara in Arachin (16b): Is there anyone in our generation who knows how to rebuke? Then they ask: Is there anyone in our generation who can receive rebuke, since when someone says “Remove the woodchip from between your eyes,” the person responds, “Remove the beam from between yours!” This means that if I am rebuking someone maybe I have greater transgressions than he does. One must therefore seriously consider whether the person will accept rebuke. In order to rebuke someone, you have to be his good friend and you need to love him. When a person loves me, I listen to him. A person who does not love me and has never helped me and then comes to rebuke me, I do not listen. I respond: Where were you all of these years? Why didn’t you help me? My heart is not open to him. Furthermore, it is not a simple matter to rebuke a person who is not observant. There is no standard formula to speak to a person who is far from Torah. Moshe Rabbenu and all of the prophets did not know of a simple formula to help people repent. Avraham Avinu did not even know how to help Yishmael repent. Yitzchak Avinu did not know how to help Esav repent, even though the Torah explicitedly says that he loved Esav. And there are others: Eli Ha-Kohain did not know how to help his sons repent, nor did Shmuel Ha-Navi, nor King David, even though they all surely loved their children. This does not mean that it is impossible to help someone repent, but it is not a one-time conversation. You need many, many, many conversations. In order to start a conversation with him, you have to know how to begin. In America, when good-mannered people want to talk about a sensitive matter, they say: Do you want to talk about it? If the answer is no, then the answer is no. If he responds positively, then a gate is open. If you want to dedicate time to this endeavor, ask him: “Do you want to talk about it?” and see what he says.


  • Q: I have familial and financial problems. What should I do?
  • A: A person sometimes has distresses in life. Aside from your own efforts, i.e. if you are sick go to a doctor, if you have financial problems talk to a financial advisor, etc…, you need to repent, pray and to give tzedakah. This is obviously not a simple formula. After all, six million Jews died in the Holocaust and they certainly repented, prayed and gave tzedakah, but they were not successful. There is no trick to bend reality to our will, but we must do what we can.

Contractual obligations

  • Q: If I made an agreement with a contractor to do certain work, and it turned out that a part of the work did not have to be done, do I have to pay for all of it?
  • A: No, because you agreed to pay for certain work. If the work was not required, you do not need to pay for it. We saved money for the Nation of Israel!

Aggrieving a non-Jew

  • Q: Is it permissible to aggrieve an Arab?
  • A: As it known, it is a desecration of Hashem’s Name.

Daf Yomi (learning a page of Gemara each day) in a class or learning alone

  • Q: Which is preferable – learning Daf Yomi in a class and understanding less or learning alone and understanding more?
  • A: Learning together.

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One Nation – One Kashrut

In Exile we were a Nation scattered and separated among the nations. Now, we have returned to “one Nation in our Land.” “Who is like Your Nation Israel, one Nation in the Land” (Shemoneh Esrei for Minchah on Shabbat).

It must be said to one Nation: One kashrut! It is incumbent upon us to wage war against the myriad of kosher certifications which erect divisions among the Nation, between one person and his friend. This is a terrible occurrence, since many times one person will not eat with another, and even with a relative. Our Rabbis prohibited food cooked by a non-Jew in order not to bring us close which can lead to intermarriage, since a meal brings people together. And now we have turned against each other as with do with the non-Jews, G-d forbid.

There are great Rabbis who rise above these divisions. Three stories about Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach attest to this fact. He was asked by female seminary students about eating at certain families’ homes who were not as strict as they were. He said: “I do not understand what you are asking. Will they serve you non-kosher food there?” “No.” He responded: “Then eat.” They asked him: “Ha-Rav also acts this way?” He said: “Yes. When I am invited to a wedding, I eat what is there. What I do not eat in my home, I eat when I am invited.”

He was also asked by a couple about their practice to eat food at their parent’s house which is under kosher certification which they do not eat in their own house. He responded: Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld ztz”l, when he was at a brit milah of a Sefardic family, ate the meat which was prepared under the Sefardic slaughtering practices. When you eat at your family’s house or with other G-d-fearing people, you must eat from everything they give you. They are not feeding you non-kosher and treif food! The basic halachah is that all of the kosher certifications from local Rabbinates are good, and while certain kosher certifications are strict on different issues, this does not affect the basic halachah.

Rav Auerbach also said to the Rabbi of a kibbutz: Something which has a standard production process, such as kosher certified tea for Pesach, one can rely on the kosher certification which a known Torah scholar gives to the factory, and there is no need to go to the factory and see the production process. Anything which affects the public, you may only rule according to the basic halachah and not according to strictures. You may only be strict in regard to yourself or for individuals who wish to be strict (“Va-Alehu Lo Yibol” vol. 2, pp. 66-67).

If only we would follow his light.

We will not even mention the shaming of Torah scholars when we relate to them as if they feed people treif and non-kosher food. And we will not discuss the fact that the apparatuses of the different kosher certifications are huge commerce which sweep away millions of dollars and increase the prices of the product – and on the back of the impoverished segment of the population. In fact, economists claim that a united kashrut would significantly lower the prices.

We are therefore obligated to unify the kashrut through a supreme, joint structure which would meet the needs of everyone. We call: One Nation, one kashrut! We must stubbornly march towards this vision. The main hall is one kashrut, the corridor is respect for all kosher certifications.

[From the parashah sheet “Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’a” #292 – Parashat Tzav/Shabbat Ha-Gadol]

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Rav Aviner’s article from this week’s parashah sheet “Be-Ahava U-Be-Emuna” of Machon Meir

(Translated by Rafael Blumberg)

We have strange fruits in this country…

“Happy Tu Bishvat, Sabba Eliezer!” the children said bursting into the house. “Happy birthday Grandpa!” The old kibbutznik seated his guests with a glowing smile, and with his rough hands the old farmer offered them the fruits of the Land. “Yes, indeed! How hard we worked and slaved until the Land brought forth its fruits! All my youth, all my life I devoted to this, but… — and here he raised his eyes – I am not sorry. I am proud…”

“Why are you proud, Sabba?” asked Yochanan the economist. “Fruit can be imported from abroad….”

“Nonsense, Yochi! Our fruit is sweet! The sweet product of our own labors! I built this land and I was built through it, and I am still building and being built. The connection with my land is like a man’s connection to his wife.” Grandma smiled and said, “It’s nice to know that you’ve got another wife.”

“That’s not what I meant, Mirele! I am married only to you, forever! Yet the Jewish People and their land are like a man and his wife. It’s a duty and a pleasure.”

“I agree with you, Sabba,” said Yossi, whose lieutenant-colonel bars adorned his shoulder. “I, too, devote my life to the Land and I am happy.”

“What are you so happy about?” asked Yochanan. “I sit in an air-conditioned office from 9:00 to 5:00 and have frequent vacations. You run around after terrorists, crawl through thorns, go to sleep at midnight, get up at 3:00 A.M. and in the middle you get woken three times. Sabbaths and holidays are nonexistent for you…”

“Cut it out. I’m happy, because I know that I am defending the people and the Land, as well as the glory of Israel, what the religious call… what they call…”

“Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of G-d’s name,” said Rav Aharon.

“Yeah, that’s it. Kiddush Hashem. Look, I’m very happy. Thanks to me and to my soldiers you’re able to sit here quietly in your air-conditioned office, talking all you want about money, money, money…”

“Now just wait a second! I’m just money, money, money?” Didn’t I just complete a month of reserve duty as a volunteer? Didn’t I help out Sabba for two weeks with his harvest? I just know one thing: Without money we don’t have a thing – not an army nor education nor a kibbutz nor Rav Aharon’s yeshiva! How fortunate we are that we have a well-to-do country, but money doesn’t grow on trees. It requires planning. It requires calculations…”

“And where does the money go?” Nadav interjected. “There are so many poor people who have nothing. This country is very beautiful, but for me it’s just a means, so that we can build a just society here, a society of integrity, of brotherhood.”

“And do you think there’s no justice in our country as it is?” asked Sabba Eliezer.

“Not enough. It needs a lot of improvements. That’s what it say in your Torah, Rav Aharon, that Avraham was chosen in order that his seed should perform deeds of charity and justice.”

“My Torah? It’s EVERYONE’s Torah,” pointed out Rav Aharon.

“Is that all you have to say?” asked Yossi. “You’re sitting there quietly the whole time, the family pietist.”

“I’m here because it’s a mitzvah, even a great mitzvah,” answered Rav Aharon.

“And in your view, the rest of us are NOT doing a mitzvah?”

“Hmmm… You are doing one, you’re just not aware of it….”

“We’re not aware? I lie in wait to conduct a military ambush and I don’t know it’s a mitzvah?” wondered Yossi.

“Enough! Enough! Please don’t fight!” said Sabba Eliezer. “You’re all sweet, just like these fruits are sweet. Just like this land is sweet… We are one family and a lot of brothers. Each one has his talents, each one has his special mission, each one fulfilling through his life a particular trait of the entire Jewish People.”

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Family Matters – Ha-Rav writes weekly for the parashah sheet “Rosh Yehudi” on family relationships

A wife who makes your life bitter

You have a wife who makes your life bitter? It is possible, but have you asked yourself whether you make her life bitter. Have you done a spiritual accounting regarding what she gives to you and what you give to her? Perhaps you think that you do not have to give her anything and that she is your possession? Perhaps you think like some Chinese people that a woman does not possess a soul, and you act accordingly? Perhaps you shame her? Perhaps you do not know that the Sages of Kabbalah (mysticism) teach that understanding, courage, and kingship are connected to the feminine side? Perhaps you do not know that the Sages of the Talmud explain that a woman gives her husband six things: Joy, blessing, goodness, wisdom (Torah), protection, and peace (Yevamot 63)? If you think that you are permitted to use her without worrying about her, do not be surprised that she has turned bitter. This is therefore the solution: Love her, and see that she returns to you. Try! And please tell me.

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Special thank you to Fred Casden for editing the Ateret Yerushalayim Parshah Sheet

Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner is Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim. All material translated by Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig. For more Torah:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.