Parashat Beshalach 5768

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16 Jan 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:

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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

Eating in a bathing suit

Drinking in the middle of the davening

Rebuke for someone with a physical decline following a spiritual deterioration


Contractual obligations

Aggrieving a non-Jew

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

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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.