Parashat Bo 5768

January 9, 2008

Parashat Bo 5768

Parashat Bo- Why did Hashem save us?

Question: “What is the reason for the Pesach sacrifice? Because The Holy One, blessed be He, passed over our fathers’ houses in Egypt,” when He killed the firstborn of Egypt. Why would we even think that Hashem would kill the firstborn of Israel? Wasn’t the plague in order to save us?

Answer: The firstborn of Egypt were punished because of their corrupt nature, but the Nation of Israel was not righteous either. The angel of Egypt pointed this out during the splitting of the Red Sea: These and these are idol worshippers. Why are You saving these and killing those? We had also sunk to the forty-ninth level of impurity. We merited being saved not on account of our merit, but because of the treasure of our inner character. Our sins do not weaken the connection between us and the Master of the Universe. The sin is external. This is essential to understanding the relationship between Hashem and the Nation of Israel. From then until now, death passes over our houses. All of the nations disappear and we continue for eternity.

[From Rav Aviner’s commentary on the Haggadah]

Back to the top


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: What should I look for in choosing a yeshiva?
  • A: A yeshiva in which you can improve your good character traits, learn Torah and awe of Hashem.
  • Q: Can a baby’s high-chair be used for both milk and meat?
  • A: Yes, after being cleaned. It does not require scalding hot water.
  • Q: What is the minimum size of a kippah?
  • A: Some authorities say that it should cover the majority of one’s head, and some rule leniently on condition that it be well seen from all sides (Shut Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 1:1 and Shut Yechaveh Da’at 4:1).
  • Q: Is it permissible to date a young woman who has good character traits, but does not observe the mitzvot?
  • A: It is not permissible. You should attach yourself to righteous people as much as possible (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 6:1).
  • Q: Is there a problem buying modest clothing in a store which also sells immodest clothing?
  • A: It is not a problem. It is obviously preferable to go to a store which is completely modest.
  • Q: Is it permissible for a woman to say “Kiddush Levana” (the prayer for the new moon)?
  • A: No, women do not have the custom to do so.
  • Q: I do not feel strong enough from a religious perspective, can I lead the davening?
  • A: Yes, it is possible to lead if they ask you. Obviously – with humility.
  • Q: Is it permissible to learn Tanach, Mishnayot, etc… during the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei or while I am waiting for the repetition?
  • A: It is permissible while you are waiting, but not during the repetition itself.

Back to the top

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


A student asked our Rabbi how we know that this is the Redemption. He responded: Is there an ingathering of the exiles or not?!

There is a dispute in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (97b) between Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Yehoshua says that there can be Redemption without repentance, and Rabbi Eliezer says that repentance precedes the final Redemption. Rav Elyashiv writes in the book “Leshem Shevo Veachlama” that it is almost explicit that Rabbi Yehoshua is correct (since Rabbi Eliezer was silent – Sanhedrin 98a). Our Rabbi said: What is “almost explicit”?! It is explicit!

Atchalta De-Geulah (The Beginning of Redemption):

Our Rabbi would say: Alchalta De-Geulah is not now; it was a hundred years ago! Now we are in a more advanced stage of the Redemption. (Ha-Rav Eliezer Waldman).

Back to the top


Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

A talk given after lunch at the yeshiva –

To wake up or not to wake up – That is the question

  • Q: Should you wake up your friend for minyan?
  • A: Some mistakenly claim that davening with a minyan is overridden by the concern of neglecting Torah learning by going to bed early, since the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 90:9) says: “A person should endeavor to pray in the shul with the community.” “Endeavor” does not seem like a full obligation. The Shulchan Aruch, however, also says a few lines later that if one is traveling, he must travel four Persian miles in the direction he is going, i.e. 18 minutes, to daven with a minyan or one Persian mile in the opposite direction (ibid. #16). One must dedicate time to davening with a minyan. “Endeavor” means “to greatly exert yourself.” In the book “Shemirat Ha-lashon” (vol. 2, end of volume, chapter 1), the Chafetz Chaim brings twelve reasons why one should daven in a minyan. See there. One reason is that if a person davens on his own and he does not daven with proper intention it is not good, but if he is with a minyan – Hashem does not cast aside the prayers of the community. Some say in yeshivot that if one is sleeping, he is “Anus”(in a situation his beyond his control) and someone who is “Anus” is exempt. There is therefore no reason to wake him. What great Torah scholars! A person is always responsible for his actions, whether awake or asleep (Mishnah Baba Kamma 2:6). The Sefer Chasidim (#337 and brought in Be’er Heitev, Yoreh Deah 240:16) brings the Gemara in Kiddushin (31a): The Sages wanted to buy a jewel and it was under the head of Dama ben Netina’s father who was sleeping, and he did not want to wake him because of honoring his father. In the end, he merited having a “Parah Adumah” (Red Heifer) born into his flock. The Sefer Chasadim writes that if the son knows that his father would be upset if he was not woken up, he should certainly wake him, and the same applies to waking him to go to shul or to perform a mitzvah. Therefore, if you wake your father and there is a question of honoring him, you should certainly wake your friend for minyan. A person’s desire is to attend minyan, and if he does not go, he will say “Why did I miss, etc…” Therefore, wake him, yell at him, hit him, etc… Summary: It is a complete mitzvah to daven with a minyan and one must wake his friend for a minyan.

Back to the top


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.

Two cans from coke machine

  • Q: I paid for one can of coke from a coke machine, but two cans came out. What do I do?
  • A: You have no way to put it back into the machine, so let’s say that you try to find who the machine belongs to. You have to search and call and figure out, etc… The Halachah says that when I return a lost object I can ask for my expenses: My time and the telephone calls. In this case, since a can of coke only costs about five shekels, and you will ask for the expenses, let’s say – twenty shekels, it will not be worth it for them. Even though the can belongs to the owner of the machine, since the expenses are greater than the returned object you may keep the can of coke.

Medicinal swimming in a mixed pool

  • Q: I am required to swim for medicinal purposes and there is no other pool with separate swimming in his area. Is it permissible to swim in a mixed pool?
  • A: This is the responsum of Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Igrot Moshe, Even Ha-Ezer 1:56) which is based on the Gemara in Baba Batra (57b) which discusses a place where women do laundry. The women rolled up their shelves to their elbows and hiked up their skirts above their knees. It is therefore not modest. It is permissible to pass there? The Gemara says that if he could have chosen a different path, he is wicked. Why did you go there? But if there is no other path, he is “onus” (forced). He has no choice. Rav Feinstein rules that the same thing applies here: If there is a separate swimming pool and you went to a mixed pool, you are wicked. If there is no other choice, however, it is permissible. If there is a separate swimming pool in the vicinity, you should travel even if it takes a long time. Furthermore, even when you are permitted, you should go when not many people are there. I therefore recommend going early, early in the morning when no one or almost no one is there. If there are people there you must almost guard your eyes from looking at women.

Skipping mishnayot

  • Q: We are teaching children entire massechtot (tractates) of the Mishnah. Should we skip the parts which deal with purity and impurity of men and women?
  • A: In general, we do not skip. You can read it and you do not have to explain it to them in great detail. Speak in general terms: There is such a thing as pure and impurity. For example, there are all types of discussions in Massechet Berachot. We should not skip, and not go into detail. On the contrary, if we skip, it raises the students’ curiosity. We do not skip in the Torah or in the Mishnah. We read it all and explain to the students according to their level.

Late night Torah learning versus morning minyan

  • Q: Which is preferable – learning Torah until late at night or attending morning minyan?
  • A: A person certainly has to get up to attend minyan, but it is fine if he gets up later and attends a later minyan. There is no obligation to attend the early minyan, but he has to attend a minyan. First a person has to be a normal Jew – to daven with a minyan, and only afterwards an excellent Jew – to learn Torah late into the night.

Rebuke today

  • Q: Is there a mitzvah of rebuke today?
  • A: The Gemara in Arachin (16b) says that there is no one in our generation who knows how to rebuke. This statement of our Rabbis, however, does not come to uproot a Torah mitzvah, but to warn us that the mitzvah of rebuke is difficult and that we must uphold the parameters of the mitzvah. If one cannot uphold the parameters of the mitzvah, he is exempt from the mitzvah. If a person does not have tefillin or he has tefillin made of plastic, he is exempt. Similarly, if someone does not know how to rebuke, he is exempt. The Vilna Gaon says that someone who does not know how to rebuke has great contentment, since he is exempt. Before, you rebuke someone you have to think long and hard: How will he listen? Will it help? Etc…, etc…, etc…. But the mitzvah certainly exists.

“Shehechiyanu” on gloves

  • Q: Do you recite the blessing of “Shehechiyanu” on gloves?
  • A: Yes, one recites the blessing on everything new that one buys, and it is important enough to make the buyer happy. Perhaps a wealth person who buys a new pair of gloves everyday and throws them in the garbage at the end of the day does not recite it, but a regular person does. Gloves are important pieces of clothing. I am obviously not talking about a bag of plastic gloves which costs three shekels, but for regular gloves you certainly say the blessing.

Home with guests or shul

  • Q: Is it preferable for a woman to stay at home with guests who are not going to shul on Shabbat or to go to shul?\
  • A: As is known, women are not obligated to go to shul. A woman has to decide where she davens the best: At home or at shul. In the case of guests, again, she has to decide where the best place will be. It is her decision.

Someone who only knows “Borei Nefashot”

  • Q: If someone only knows the blessing of “Borei Nefashot” after eating and not “Birkat Ha-Mazon,” should he recite it?
  • A: If he ate bread, “Borei Nefashot” does not cover the bread even after the fact. It is possible that he ate other foods at the meal. On the bread, he does not recite a blessing after eating, but at least he will say a blessing on the other food. “Birkat Ha-Mazon” covers everything, but since he is not reciting it, he says “Borei Nefashot” on what he can.

Why don’t my kids visit?

  • Q: I am close with my children, but they do not visit like they use to. Why don’t they visit?
  • A: Did you ask them why they do not visit so often?
  • Q: Yes, they say that they are busy with work and their families, etc…
  • A: Do you think it is true or just an excuse?
  • Q: I know that it is true and that they love me, but why don’t they visit?
  • A: You are saying that your children are extremely busy and are not able to visit, and you are looking for a solution. Many times what people do is the exact opposite. The grandparents go and visit the kids. I personally do this. I cannot demand from my children who work hard and have families and babies and traveling is a burden, and some do not have cars, to come and visit me. My wife and I go and visit them. When people love each other and they need to do something, they calculate who has the lightest burden in doing so. Grandparents are therefore the ones who often visit. This does not mean that they never come to visit you, but I see that many people do this.

Feeling happy

  • Q: Thank G-d, I have many good things in life, but I do not feel joy over them. How can I feel joy in my heart?
  • A: Perhaps it is because you have gotten use to the goodness, and you think that that is the way it is. It says in the book “Mesilat Yesharim” in the chapter on alacrity in the service of Hashem that a person must think that the kindnesses he has are not necessarily the way it has to be. If he has money, it is not because that is the way it has to be, after all many people do not have money. If he has health, it is not because that is the way it has to be, after all many people who are sick. Our Sages explain that the reason that we dwell in the sukkah for seven days is that we were once in huts, and now we have house, but it does not necessarily have to be so. There are plenty of people without a house. People have to value the “riches” that they have. In your merit, I just remembered the following story: Once Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra was in England for some time. He was very sad because he was sick, had no money and was not with his family. His students who were there said, “Let’s at least solve one problem and give money to our Rabbi.” They knew that he would refuse, so they placed gold coins on the path between his house and the shul. Of course, it was according to the Halachah: It was abandoned and he did not have to return it, etc… They hid behind the trees and saw that he was walking in a weird way. He walked and stumbled, walked and fell into a tree, stumbling and bumbling all the way like a drunk, and he did not pick up the money. He finally made it to the shul and their blessed plan failed. They asked, “His honor did not see the money?” “No.” “Why did our Rabbi walk like this?” He answered: “I walked with my eyes closed the whole way.” They said: “Why?” “I do not have health or money or any family here. I thought to myself: What if I was blind and they told me that there is a therapy or surgery which cures it in England, but it takes a long time, you will have to separate from your family, it will eat up all of your money and it will cause you to be sick. Do you want to have it? Of course, I will do it in order to see. I therefore walked the whole way with my eyes closed, arrived at shul and opened my eyes and said with great intention: Blessed is the One who gives sight to the blind. It says in all of the “Sifrei Musar” (Books of Ethics) that one must dedicate thoughts to all of the kindnesses that Hashem gives you. The siddur is filled with recognition of the kindnesses that Hashem gives us, and that it does not necessarily have to be so. Nothing is for certain. A person must realize that the world is filled with kindnesses, and he must express gratitude to Hashem for what he has. Furthermore, there is “Simchah shel Mitzvah” – a person should happy for the mitzvot and kindnesses which he performs.

Back to the top


What would you say to the President of the US?

It once happened that two writers from outside of Israel, a Jew and a non-Jew, were preparing a book and a film about Zionism in Jerusalem. They met with one of the students of our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah Ha-Cohain Kook, for many hours and were deeply impressed by him. The student brought them to our Rabbi. After two minutes they were excited by him, and they understood that there was something unique here. One of the writers said: “We are going home, and we will return with all of the necessary equipment to film a movie about the ‘settlements.’” After three months they returned to Israel and came straight to our Rabbi. Searching for a way to open the book and the movie, they asked our Rabbi: “We have a question and the book will begin with it: If you were given ten minutes, not a minute more, in order to explain your position to the President of the United States, what would you say, honored Rabbi?” Our Rabbi gave a lengthy smile, and said: “This is nine minutes too long. I would say only two words: Chazarnu Ha-baita – We have returned home!”

Back to the top


Reciting a Blessing on Seeing the President of the United States

President George W. Bush arrived in Israel today (January 9, 2008) and Rav Aviner discussed this question today during lunch at the yeshiva.

Question: If someone sees President Bush should he recite the blessing of “Baruch…she-natan michvodo le-vasar ve-dam – Blessed are You…who has given of His glory to flesh and blood”? (In the Gemara in Berachot 58a, our Rabbis teach that one who sees a non-Jewish king recites the blessing. It is recorded in the Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 10:11 and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 224:8. The Magen Avraham (224:5) writes that one should recite this blessing upon seeing any ruler, who judges and metes out capital punishment lawfully, and whose edicts cannot be altered by the king. The Chatam Sofer, Orach Chaim #159, rules that even if one sees the king outside of his area of “rule,” one must still recite the appropriate blessing).

Answer: No, the President of the United States not a king. Halachic authorities mention four criteria in order to be considered a king for this purpose:

1. One must be the absolute ruler of his kingdom or country (Abudraham, Hilchot Berachit #49, Shut Ha-Radvaz vol. 1 #296). The President of the United States does not have absolute authority. He must bend to the will of the Congress whether he likes it or not.

2. The king must have the ability to administer capital punishment (Shut Chatam Sofer ibid.). The President does not possess this power. While he does have the power to grant life by issuing a pardon, he does not possess the power of death (Shut Be’er Moshe of Rav Moshe Stern vol. 2, # 9). If he issues a pardon to Jonathan Pollard, we can discuss this further.

3. The king must have royal clothing. The President of the United States wears a suit like everyone else (Shut Yehaveh Da’at, vol. 2, #28 and Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot vol. 2, #139).

4. The king must have an entourage (see Shut Teshuvot Ve-Hanhagot ibid. Rav Sternbuch writes there that he heard that Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, the great Rav of Yerushalayim before the establishment of the State, once had a private meeting in a tent with the King of Jordan and he recited this blessing). While the President is traveling with 400 guards, it is because he is scared.

People get very scared about what the President says, but there is no need. What he says does not mean that this is the way it is. This is for two reasons: 1. The United States does not help us simply to be kind, but because they profit from it. They need us militarily. We handle this part of the world. They need us technologically. They make planes in the US, and then bring them here and the “chevra” makes them into super-planes. The biggest plane manufacturer has a plant here. It is not to be kind, but to profit. They need us. 2. The President must bend to the will of Congress. The Congress was pro-Israel even before the establishment of the State. The reason is that 98% of Americans believe in the Tanach and it says something as the Land of Israel for the Nation of Israel. The Monroe Doctrine was stated by President James Monroe that Europe would no longer interfere with the affairs of the US: America for Americans. Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, applied this doctrine to us: We will not interfere with what America is doing and America should not interfere with what we are doing here.

The President of the most powerful country, with the biggest army, the largest economy, the super-power of the world is visiting the tiny State of Israel, and some people say that this is not “Atchalta De-Geulah – the beginning of the Redemption.” Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Shut Minchat Shlomo (the last responsum in vol. 1) writes that one is obligated to recite four blessings when the Messiah arrives: 1. “Baruch…Chacham Ha-Razim – Blessed are You…Knowers of secrets” which is recited when seeing 600,000 Jews together and certainly at least this many Jews will go out to greet the Messiah. 2. “Baruch…she-chalak mechomato lirei’av – Blessed are You…who has appointed of His knowledge to those who fear him” which is recited when seeing an outstanding Torah scholar and the Messiah will certainly fit this criteria. 3. “Baruch…she-chalak michvodo lirei’av- Blessed are You…who has appointed of His glory to those who fear him” which is recited when seeing a Jewish king. 4. “Shechechiyanu” – Blessing Hashem for having arrived at this moment. We still are waiting for this time to arrive, but we are continuing to advance. After all, the President of the United States is visiting the State of Israel. Instead of reciting a blessing over the President, I recommend reciting two prayers for the Nation of Israel which we recite every day before the Shema: Blessed are you, Hashem, who chooses His Nation of Israel with Love. Blessed are you, Hashem, who love His Nation of Israel.

Back to the top


Which Kosher Certification for Guests?

Question: I invited a guest for a Shabbat meal and he told me that he only eats from a particular kosher certification of meat. Do I need to buy that type of meat or can I buy meat with the kosher certification which I usually use?

Answer: There are two possibilities: A. Buy what he wants. There is a guest, go out to greet him. B. You can tell him, “No, I always buy this kosher certification.” Does a guest dictate what you do it your house? I once heard a story about a Rabbi in North Africa who had an event at his house, a bar mitzvah or something, and he honored one of his guests, who was also a Rabbi, to lead the “Birkat Hamazon” (blessing after eating). The guest replied, “Thank you, but I do not eat from this kosher certification.” When he heard this, the host took a key, locked the door, stood next to him with a chair and said: “You will eat this right now or I will break this chair over your head.” “Kol Ha-Kavod” – Way to go! What is this? You are invited by people, and you say that what they are eating is not kosher?! If this is how you feel then don’t come, or say that you have a stomach ache or I don’t like this food. You are not obligated to eat everything, but don’t come to someone’s house or event and say it is not kosher enough.

One Sukkot, students came to visit the sukkah of Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. He served them fruit. They took the fruit and separated “Terumot and Maasrot” (tithes) right under his nose. He took the so-called “Terumot and Maasrot” that they separated, ate them and said: “Bal Tashchit” (It is forbidden to wantonly waste things). What nerve! You are invited to a Rabbi’s house and you say “Terumot and Maasrot” have not been separated from his food?! My father-in-law z”l once told me that he visited Ha-Rav Eliyahu Dessler on Pesach. The Rav put out oranges and my father-in-law ate them. Rav Dessler said: “You are the first person who ever ate the oranges I put out (others fears that the ink of the seal was chametz – leaven).

One who wants to act strictly may do so. May a blessing come to anyone who is strict. The Talmud Yerushalami quoted by the Tosafot in Avodah Zarah (36a) says, however, that one of the conditions of one who is strict is that he does not shame other people. Being strict is praiseworthy, but shaming others is forbidden. There are many people who are strict in their home, but they eat what is served when they are guests; obviously, provided that the food is kosher. It says in the Book of Tehillim (101:2), “I walk with wholeness of heart within the confines of my house” – in the confines of my house I am strict, with other people I am not. In the book “Ve-Alehu Lo Yibol” (vol. 2, p. 66), which contains stories about Ha-Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Ha-Rav was asked by female seminary students about eating at certain families’ homes which 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.” Someone who is invited and feels in his soul that he must be strict should not go.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 112:13) says that some people who live outside of Israel eat commercially baked bread which is produced by non-Jews (called “Pat Palter”). There are others who are strict and only eat bread baked by Jews. If a host does not eat “Pat Palter” and his guest does, and the guest wants to eat “Pat Palter” because it tastes better, the Shulchan Aruch rules that the host should say the blessing on the “Pat Palter” and eat it in order to honor his guest. This means that the host should give up a stricture for the sake of the good feeling of the guest. And all the more so, a guest should not place his strictures upon his host.

This is from the side of the guest. From the side of the host, if you are willing, give the guest what he wants. He is ready to eat from your utensils, so he does not think that you eat non-kosher there.

[This answer was once given by Rav Aviner on one of his radio call-in shows]

Back to the top

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.