Parashat Shemot 5768

December 25, 2007

Parashat Shemot 5768

Parashat Shemot – Anonymity

Question: In this week’s parashah, Parashat Shemot, is there any meaning to the fact that the names of many great people are not mentioned, such as Yocheved, Amram, Miriam, etc.?

Answer: The Torah is not a historic encyclopedia. What interests us in the Book of Shemot is the birth of the Nation of Israel. As a result, only items directly connected to this idea are mentioned. There are many interesting and important items which not mentioned in the Torah because they are not essential for the main subject. We focus on the essence. Eliyahu Ha-Navi – Who is his father? Who is his mother? Where was he born? Where did he grow up? What school did he attend? It doesn’t matter. If it is not important for our subject, it is therefore not mentioned.

Back to the top

Letter Sent to President Bush on behalf of Jonathan Pollard
In anticipation of President Bush’s upcoming trip to Israel

To the honorable Mr. George Bush, President of the United States of America,

May peace and blessing be upon the President.

I turn to the President on behalf of the multitude of the Jewish People who dwell in the Land of Israel and throughout the world to grant pardon to our brother, Jonathan Pollard. Mr. Pollard has already sat imprisoned for twenty-two years. His release, as the President surely knows, was promised at the Wye River Accord ten years ago, but was rescinded at the last moment. With each passing day, Mr. Pollard’s physical health continues to decline.

Granting pardon to Jonathan Pollard would bestow additional honor upon America, the renowned Land of freedom and human rights, would bring her blessings, and would strengthen the bond between her and the State of Israel: a gesture of goodwill during our State’s sixtieth anniversary.

With honor and respect,

Shlomo Aviner

Chief Rabbi of Beit El

Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim in the Old City of Jerusalem

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: I put some money aside for tzedakah and it got lost. What should I do?
  • A: You can give different money in its place, but you are not obligated to do so.
  • Q: Is it okay to meet someone for the purpose of marriage through the internet?
  • A: Yes, but do not reveal any personal details until you have references about the person.
  • Q: Is it permissible to pray in the Shemoneh Esrei for a soccer team to win?
  • A: Certainly not. We do not pray for vanity and a gathering of scoffers (Avodah Zarah 18b).
  • Q: I am a cohen. Can I volunteer for Magen David Adom when there may be situations of death?
  • A: Yes. If there is a death, allow someone else do what is required.
  • Q: Is it permissible for a 19 year old religious woman to be a waitress in a kosher restaurant with a “kosher” atmosphere?
  • A: It is permissible, with modesty, of course.
  • Q: My friends in yeshiva ask me, why can’t we listen to love songs?
  • A: See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:16, because they entice.
  • Q: Is it permissible to pick fruit from trees in a public garden? Is there a difference between a Shemitta year and a regular year?
  • A: You may only do so with permission. These fruits have not been abandoned and they are without the holiness of the seventh year. Furthermore, some authorities say that items are only abandoned if the owner indicates so.
  • Q: Is it permissible to buy flowers during Shemitta?
  • A: In a store with proper certification.
  • Q: What are the differences in Havadalah if a woman recites it?
  • A: There is a dispute whether she recites “Borei me’orei ha-aish.”

Back to the top


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

Vilna Gaon

Every time that our Rabbi mentioned the Vilna Gaon, he shuddered as if he stood before a divine angel, and he would refer to him with only one word: “Ha-Gaon” (the Genius). (Ha-Rav Eliyahu Mali)

It once happened that our Rabbi was called up to recite one of the blessings at a wedding and they referred to him as “Ha-Rav Ha-Gaon.” He did not move. When he was told that he had been called up, he explained that he is not a “Gaon” and that it is only proper to use this description for the Vilna Gaon. (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald)

Reb Leib, the son of the Chafetz Chaim

Reb Leib was a great Torah scholar and wrote part of the Mishnah Berurah with his father. When our Rabbi visited him, he gave him “Orot,” “Eder Ha-Yekar” and other books of his father, our master, Rav Kook to read. Reb Leib flipped through them. At the end, our Rabbi gave him “Rosh Milin.” Reb Leib began to read the first page, but he did not continue. He closed the book and said: “The Rav who wrote this is great in understanding. I do not understand.” (Ha-Rav Yechezkel Greenwald)

Ha-Rav Yitzchak Hutner

Our Rabbi said about Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yitzchak Hutner, who was a relative and was raised by our master, Rav Kook: “It seems that he hates Zionists.” Rav Hutner died during the period of our Rabbi’s illness. The students feared for our Rabbis’ health and they therefore did not tell him. The custom was to bring our Rabbi newly published books, and when the book “Igrot ve-Ketavim” of Rav Hutner was published, it was also placed on the table of new books. Our Rabbi opened the book and read the epitaph “May the righteous be remembered as a blessing” on the title page and was shaken. He said: “What is written here? I do not understand?! How is this possible?” The students who were concerned for his health took the opportunity to hide the book. (Ha-Rav Achyah Amitai)

Ha-Rav Elchanan Wasserman

Regarding the holy one, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Elchanan Wasserman, may Hashem avenge his blood, our Rabbi sternly said that when he met him he did not inquire about our master, Rav Kook, at all, and he had been Rav Kook’s student. Incidentally, Rav Wasserman’s father was the “shamash” (attendant of the shul) in Boisk (where Rav Kook had served as Rav). To a student who said that Rav Elchanan was a student of the Chafetz Chaim, our Rabbi said: “But far from him.” (Ha-Rav Achyah Amitai)

Back to the top

Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

A talk given after lunch at the yeshiva –

“Sponga” during Shemitta

  • Q: Is it permissible to do “sponga” (cleaning the floor by pouring a bucket of water on the floor, swishing it around with a cloth on a squeegee and pushing the water into holes in the floor or outside. It is a popular way to clean one’s home in Israel because most houses have stone floors) and push the water onto the ground outside during the Shemitta year?
  • A: It is permissible for various reasons:

1. The prohibition of watering the ground during the Shemitta year is a rabbinic prohibition. This is unlike watering the ground on Shabbat and Yom Tov which is a Torah prohibition (a sub-labor [toladah] of “Zore’a – seeding”). It is therefore forbidden on Shabbat and Yom Tov to wash one’s hands over the ground. One must be especially careful on Sukkot. During the Shemittah year, however, watering is only a rabbinic prohibition.

2. According to the majority of Rishonim (early authorities), observing Shemittah nowadays is a rabbinic mitzvah.

3. Watering the ground by pushing the water from “sponga” is an “unintended act which is not beneficial to him,” since one does not want to water the ground or violate Shemittah, but needs some place to put the water.

4. Some people have pipes on their porch which brings the water to the ground. If the water travels through the pipe onto the ground it is called a “grama” – an indirect act.

Since the act is far from a Torah prohibition and there are extenuating circumstances, it is permissible.

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.

Pictures of Rabbis in the Garbage

  • Q: Is it permissible to throw pictures of Rabbis in the garbage?
  • A: It is permissible according to the basic law, but one no would be brazen enough to do so.

Which commentator is correct?

  • Q: There are so many commentaries on the Torah. Doesn’t that mean that some of them err in their understanding?
  • A: The Torah does not enter into details. The Gemara uses the term, “Hava Amina – I would have thought.” It is a suggested answer which is ultimately rejected. It is a possible understanding. Hashem does not definitively say everything. They are seventy “faces” – interpretations – of the Torah. The Maharal says that every interpretation has a spark of truth. The Gemara in Gittin (6b) discusses the story known as “Pilegesh Ba-Giva” (The Concubine in Giva – Shoftim 19-21). It begins that a husband left his concubine. Why was he upset? Rabbi Evyasar said that he found a fly in his food. Rabbi Yonatan said it was a hair. Only one of them can be right. Which erred in his understanding? Sometime later, Rabbi Evyasar met the prophet Eliyahu and asked him what Hashem was doing. Eliyahu said that He was giving a class about the story of the concubine in Givah. According to which version does He learn it? Hashem says: This is what My son Evyasar says…This is what My son Yonatan says. Rabbi Evyasar said: Hashem cannot have a doubt! Eliyahu responded: Both opinions come from the Living G-d. Each opinion has a spark of truth.

Girls singing for elderly men

  • Q: Is it permissible for girls to go and sing for elderly men who live at a nursing home?
  • A: It is forbidden for men to hear females sing, and nowhere does it say that the elderly are exempt.
  • Q: Doesn’t Halachah say that “Terai kali lo mishtamai – two voices cannot be heard”?
  • A: Ha-Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg says in Shut Seridei Eish (2:8) that men and women can sing zemirot (Shabbat songs) together based on this principle. Many other authorities disagree. Reality is also not so – when men and women sing together, you can hear the women. What does “two voice cannot be heard” mean? When all of the men say kiddush in one sukkah at the same time but at the same pace, you cannot hear each one. If they recite it together, you can hear. And even according to the Seridei Aish this would not apply to a group of girls. How then do you make the elderly happy? Have some other program with the girls or bring in boys to sing.

What’s in a name?

  • Q: Does a man and woman’s name have an effect on whether they are a good match?
  • A: We do not know by people’s names if they will be a good match. A good match requires two things: Valuing and love. If they value and love each other, they are a good match. If they do not, they are not.

Kohne and his wife who he divorced

  • Q: Can a Kohen Gadol marry his wife who he divorced?
  • A: Even a regular kohen may not marry a divorcee. Our Sages decreed that if a kohen wants to divorce his wife there is a special “Get” (divorce contract) called a “Get Mekushar.” It takes a long time to write this “Get.” A line is written, then folded, written and then folded, etc… The reason is that kohanim are easily angered. They say they want a divorce in a moment of anger, and if they later regret it it is too late because they cannot marry a divorcee. I am also a kohen, so don’t be mad at me. An interesting question is whether a kohen can marry his own widow. If he dies and is resurrected, can he marry his wife?

Dispute over amount of money repaid

  • Q: I lent someone 400 shekels, and he brought me the money. I counted the money later and only counted 300 shekels. He insists that he gave me 400 shekels. What do I do?
  • A: We have a principle “One who wants to extract money from his fellow is obligated to bring proof.” The person who wants the money must prove that the other person owes him. If not, he losses. You need to create a way to count the money so that it is clear how much there is. Our Rabbis say that when you lend money, you should write a document to specific the details of repayment. It does not need to be a million page document. It is bad enough that you lost money, it is not fair now to tell you that you transgressed the words of our Sages.

Friends speaking “lashon hara” (evil speech)

  • Q: I have friends who speak “lashon hara” all of the time. I have tried to stop them and it has gotten to the point that I don’t want to be around them. What should I do?
  • A: There are two things you can do: 1. When they speak “lashon hara,” you don’t have to rebuke them and tell them, “This is ‘lashon hara.’ This is ‘lashon hara.'” You need to act with wisdom. You can gently say, “Let’s leave this. It doesn’t matter, etc…” 2. When they begin to speak “lashon hara” steer the conversation in another direction, change the subject. You do it in a subtle manner. Talk between friends is free, and you can change subject by association.

Publicizing non-kosher restaurants on the internet

  • Q: Is it permissible for me to work at a job where I publicize on the internet non-kosher restaurants which are outside of Israel when Jews could see it?
  • A: To publicize to non-Jews is okay, because it is permissible for them to eat non-kosher food. Selling non-kosher food to non-Jews is not a simple matter because there are things from which we cannot have benefit and items which we are forbidden to do business, but publicizing to non-Jews is acceptable. Publicizing to Jews is obviously a problem, and if the publicity was only in Israel where the majority is Jews, it would be a problem. But here – publicizing to the world – we can be lenient because the majority is non-Jews. It is therefore permissible, but it is certainly better to find another job if you can. We are willing to rely on leniencies in order for a person to make a living, but Jews could still stumble because of this.

Spouses during the Resurrection of the Dead

  • Q: If someone was married to two different people during his or her lifetime who will they be with after the Resurrection of the Dead?
  • A: There is a responsum of a certain Rav in which there was a young woman who married a wonderful man who died relatively young. The young women did not want to marry again. She said, “Why should I get married to someone else? During the Resurrection of the Dead I will be married to my second husband, and my first husband is more dear to me than anything. I prefer to remain a widow all of my life and then be married to my true soul-mate.” They asked the Rabbi: Who will be the true spouse – the first or the second? At first the Rabbi did not want to answer. He said that it is forbidden to answer a halachic question before someone who is greater than him in wisdom. Since this is a question of the Resurrection of the Dead, at that time there will be greater Rabbis than there are now, it is therefore forbidden for me to answer. If there are questions that arise now – what can we do? We have to answer them. Questions that have to do with the future, however, we leave for the greater Rabbis. Other Sages said that this is true, but this is all before the “Zohar” was revealed. After the “Zohar” was revealed, it contains the answer to our question. Regarding a Jewish servant, the verse says, “If he arrives by himself, he leaves by himself; if he is the husband of a woman, his wife leaves with him” (Shemot 21:3). This means that he enters the Resurrection of the Dead with his wife – his true wife. It can be the first spouse or the second spouse. It is the true spouse – the most successful marriage.

A Sephardic Jew with an Ashkenazic Rabbi and an Ashkenazic Jew with a Sephardic Rabbi

  • Q: Can a Sephardic Jew have an Ashkenazic Rabbi or an Ashkenazic Jew a Sephardic Rabbi?
  • A: It does not matter. The person certainly has to tell the Rabbi that he is Ashkenazic if the Rabbi is Sephardic, and the Rabbi will answer him according to what an Ashkenazic Jew is should do. A Rabbi knows the halacha for everyone, and if he does not he will ask, except in the case of “pikuach nefesh” – a life threatening situation, since “pikuach nefesh” is the same for a Sephardic and an Ashkenazic Jew.

Lending money to a fellow Jew

  • Q: If someone asks me to lend them money, is it a mitzvah to lend him the money?
  • A: It is certainly a mitzvah, but it is not an obligation. An obligation means that if you do not perform the act, you have committed a transgression. Lending is a kindness, and we perform a kindness based on the need and one’s ability. We ask: Does a person need a loan to buy a car or because he does not have anything to eat or because he needs a serious surgery? It is not the same need. Also, are you wealthy or are you also in a financially difficult state? It is not the same ability. There is something else which must be considered. Will he repay the loan or not? If he will not, it is not a loan, but a gift. You are also give a gift – it is called tzedakah. Again, it is based on the need and one’s ability.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

  • Q: I am just now returning to Judaism, and wanted to know if learning the teachings of Rebbe Nachman in Likkutei Moharan is considered learning Torah?
  • A: It certainly is learning Torah, but one must know that the Sages of Israel were not thrilled with Likkutei Moharan, and the writing of Rebbe Nachman in general. We are not discussing “Mitnagdim” who opposed all Chasidic teaching, but even “Chasidim” they were not thrilled with this. There are those who are in favor of Rebbe Nachman, there are those who are against it, but I, the lowly one, follow the path of our master, Rav Kook. When our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah was young, Chasidei Breslov brought him some of Rebbe Nachman’s writings. He asked his father, Rav Kook, and Rav Kook said that Rebbe Nachman was a great and holy man, but his books should not be read at the beginning of the journey, but only later. After a person has learned and grown in Torah should he learn Rebbe Nachman’s writings. I do not hold like the extreme side which says throw everything in the garbage, and not like the “Chasidim” of Rebbe Nachman, rather I say that Rebbe Nachman is a part of Judaism, not all of Judaism, and also it is not the first part of learning. It is for later.

Kohen entering a hospital

  • Q: Can a kohen enter a hospital to visit a loved one?
  • A: Yes, it is permissible. There are two problems with a kohen entering a hospital: A rabbinic prohibition and a Torah prohibition. It is obviously forbidden for a kohen to be in the same room as a dead body, but there is also a rabbinic prohibition for a kohen to go through a door which the deceased may pass through. It is possible that a door that the kohen enters may have a dead body be brought through it. Since there is a doubt in this rabbinic prohibition, because it may or may be happen, it is permissible for him to walk through the door to fulfill the visit of visiting the sick. The second issue is that attached to many hospitals is a medical school with a pathology department which has actual dead bodies or body parts for examination, research or learning purposes. If the doors are all open, the impurity will spread through the entire building. This is a clear Torah prohibition. In the past, they wanted to make revolving doors in the hospital and then the doors would always be closed, but they did not do this or they broke, etc… If that were the case, there would be no problem, but even without this solution it is permissible to enter because you are not entering the pathology department and there are many doors – some open and some closed. It is highly unlikely that at the precise moment all of the doors will be open. It is therefore permissible to enter for the sake of a mitzvah.

Amount to pay matchmaker

  • Q: Is there an accepted amount to pay a matchmaker?
  • A: There is no accepted amount. There are a few possibilities: 1. To agree beforehand. 2. Not to set an amount and have the family decide what they think is fair. Someone told me that in Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) yeshivot, the accepted amount is that each side – the bride’s and groom’s – pays $1000. If that is the accepted amount that is what should be given. This is inexpensive, since in my estimation a good wife is worth billions of dollars.

Back to the top


It is a Great Mitzvah to Donate Organ

Every Jew knows that saving a life is a great mitzvah which overrides nearly all of the Torah’s prohibitions – “Do not stand over your fellow’s blood!” (Vayikra 19:16). The donation of organs therefore overrides the prohibitions of desecrating the dead, benefitting from the dead and leaving the dead unburied.

There are over one thousand people in Israel waiting for organ donations. If they do not receive them, they have a death sentence, G-d forbid. In the meantime, they live lives of horrible physical suffering. I know of cases where one person saved seven people from death.

This obviously must be performed according to Halachah. We do not take organs from people until after they have died, which means brain stem death. We must distinguish:

  • A. Coma: The person is considered alive for every purpose, but does not wake up.
  • B. Cessation of cardiac activity: This situation is reversible, with the help of Hashem.
  • C.Vegetative State: The brain is irreversibly damaged, but the brain stem is normal. This person is considered alive according to Halachah.
  • D. “Brain death”: Irreversible cessation of respiratory activity. This is caused by complete and irrevocable damage to the entire brain. According to Halachah, a person in this state is considered dead even though the body of this deceased person has the ability to function with artificial respiration, and to maintain other bodily functions dependent on breathing. This, however, is like breathing into the body: The person will not be revived through this action.

The Gemara in fact states that respiratory cessation is death (Yoma 85a). The Chatam Sofer also rules this way (Shut Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah #238). This means that independent breathing, without artificial aid, is dependent on the brain stem. Based on this, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that irreversible damage to the brain stem is the definition of death (Shut Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah vol. 3 #132). The Chief Rabbinate of Israel also ruled this way under the leadership of Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Avraham Shapira and the Rishon Le-Tzion, Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Mordechai Eliyahu in the year 5747.

It is therefore a great mitzvah to donate organs for transplantation from a person who is definitely deceased. It is also a mitzvah for the family to agree to donate the organs from a loved one who passed away – especially if he expressed his desire to do so while he was still living. At such a moment, the family should turn to a halachic expert in the field of donating organs. If the family wants, they are permitted to oppose this decision and cancel the agreement of the deceased, but we are confident that the family will respect his wishes.

Perhaps you will claim: The doctor may murder one person in order to save another person. This is a wicked lie! We have never heard of a doctor descending to such depths in our country! Incidentally, death is established according to the precise parameters of the law and with the aid of doctors unrelated to transplants. Even if a doctor committed such a transgression, the sin is his, but the mitzvah is the donor’s. As we said, however, such a thing has never happened. It is a blood libel.

And if you ask: What will happen during the Resurrection of the Dead? Will he be lacking limbs? Nonsense! He will not be lacking anything. Someone who was sick or a wounded soldier will arise whole. Regardless, everything decays in the ground after a short time. On the contrary, a limb which was used for a great mitzvah will appear illuminated with a double light (see Shut Tzitz Eliezer 13:91 who is one of the main proponents who holds otherwise).

And if you ask further: Perhaps there is an “evil eye” in committing to donate organs which will cause one to die soon? This is also nonsense without a source. There is no “evil eye” in this matter, just as there is no such thing in obtaining life insurance. On the contrary, this is a “segulah” (an action which will bring about a particular consequence) for a long life like every mitzvah.

Do not stand over your brother’s blood! Have mercy on your brother!

  • Question: Is it permissible to accept organ donations from China?
  • Answer: It is absolutely forbidden. They murder people in order to take their organs for donation. They anesthetize people, harvest their organs so they are fresh and then they murder them. They do this to criminals as well as to innocent people. I have read much material on this subject. There are pictures, testimony, etc… It is pure evil.
  • Question: Rabbi Shmuel Jablon asked, is it permissible to donate organs outside of Israel when they may be given to non-Jews?
  • Answer: It is also mitzvah to donate organs outside of Israel. While the donation may be given to a non-Jew, non-Jews donate organs and they are given to Jews. If we do not donate to everyone, they will not donate to us. By donating to non-Jews, you are helping Jews as well, because then they will donate to us. I am therefore connected to the Halachic Organ Donation Society ( and I have a donor card.

[Rav Aviner’s hand-written response can be viewed at]

Back to the top


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

How much to yield

  • Question: How much do I have to yield to my spouse and how much should I stand my ground?
  • Answer: There is not an amount which can be measured. Through joint discussions you will joyously and lovingly arrive at equitable compromises. There are times when your spouse does not know the extent to which a particular issue is important and a matter of principle to you. In a situation as this, you should not be embarrassed to express your feelings, nor should you wait until he/she guesses. You must reveal your heart: “I feel strongly about this particular issue, please come to me.” There are times, however, that after many years of tension, you arrive at an insufferable situation in which one feels trapped by his or her spouse. The solution is to make a “list of expectations.” Each one should make a list: “If you give me these things, I will be so grateful that I will meet you in everything you want.” If any of the issues on your lists are contradictory, then find a logical compromise. This is the best way to bring contentment, by opening the gate to building love and understanding.

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

Back to the top

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.