Parashat Vayeishev 5768

November 28, 2007

Parshat Vayeishev 5768

Parshat Vayeishev – Do What Hashem Commands You

Question: What is the mitzvah of the lights of Chanukah – lighting them or placing them in the correct place?
Answer: It is well-known that this is a dispute in the Gemara (Shabbat 22-23) as to whether the mitzvah is the lighting of the Chanukah lights, or whether the mitzvah is that the lights be placed in the proper spot, i.e. lit for a certain period of time. What is the difference? One example is in a case where someone who is not obligated in the mitzvah, like a non-Jew, kindles the lights and then a Jew, who is obligated, picks them up and puts them down. If the mitzvah is the actual lighting, since the lights were kindled by someone who is not obligated the Jew cannot not fulfill his obligation with them. If, however, the mitzvah is placing the lights, even though the lights were kindled by someone who is not obligated, since they were put down by the Jew, he does fulfill his obligation. The halakha is that the actual lighting is the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 675:1). This is also verified by the blessing itself: “Who has made us holy with His mitzvot and commands us to light…” Based on this discussion, we can ask: What exactly was the miracle of Chanukah? Was the miracle the actual lighting of the Menorah in the Temple or was the miracle that they were lit for a certain period of time? The miracle seems to be that they were lit for a certain period of time, since there was no problem lighting the Menorah – there was enough oil for one day! If we say that the miracle was the actual lighting of the Menorah what was the miracle? Answer: The miracle was that it took great strength to be bold enough to even light the Menorah in the first place. They could have said: “Why should we light it? It needs to be lit for eight days before new oil will be ready. It isn’t worth it to light it for one day.” But they did not say this. They said: “Hashem commanded us to light. We will light. What will be tomorrow? We don’t know. Hashem will decide.” The same is true of the revolt. “You are going to rebel against the Greeks?! You think you can win?! Sure you can begin a battle, but how are you going to win? Why even start then?” “We were commanded by Hashem, so we will begin. After that Hashem will decide.” There was a great miracle, but they didn’t know that this was going to occur when they began. This is “Mesirat Nefesh” – true self-sacrifice. There are many example of great self-sacrifice in our tradition, but the miracle of Chanukah is unique. Up to this point, there were always prophets. Here, however, there were no prophets to give direction. They acted because they understood what Hashem commanded them to do.

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Text Message Responsa

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Here’s a sample:

  • Q: Is it permissible to wear a weekday skirt on Shabbat in order to be wearing blue and white for Bnei Akiva (Religious-Zionist youth movement)?
  • A: Yes, this is a type of honoring Shabbat.
  • Q: Is it permissible for me to market a product when I know that an equivalent product is less expensive and better quality?
  • A: No, on account of “do not place a stumbling block before the blind,” which also means that you should not offer bad advice.
  • Q: Is it obligatory to give an engagement ring?
  • A: There is no obligation. On the contrary, there is a concern that you may be betrothed.
  • Q: I spoke ill about someone (lashon ha-ra) and I want to be forgiven. What do I do?
  • A: If the person knows that you spoke ill about him, you must ask him for forgiveness. If he does not know, do not tell him because this will distress him, as Rabbi Yisrael Salanter ruled. You must talk to the people you told and remedy the situation.
  • Q: I downloaded a disk from the internet and now I regret it. What do I do?
    A: Don’t use it. Downloading disks is forbidden according to the law and is therefore forbidden according to halacha.
  • Q: Is it permissible to eat in a vegetarian restaurant without kosher supervision?
  • A: It is forbidden. Although there is no meat, there are other kashrut problems.
  • Q: What is the proper size of kippah?
  • A: Some say the size is majority of one’s head, but the custom is so that it can be seen from all sides.

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Stories of Rabbeinu – Our Rabbi: Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda HaKohen Kook

Jerusalem, mountains surround her

Our Rabbi was once in the hospital, and he laid there and did not respond. Students tried to engage him in conversation, but our Rabbi did not answer. An announcement arrived that the Prime Minister, Mr. Menachem Begin, needed to see him. The students were concerned about what would happen; perhaps our Rabbi would be embarrassed because of his condition. Then a nurse came to perform a treatment for him, and our Rabbi awoke and said: “Perhaps later,” because he did not want the Prime Minister to arrive in the middle of the treatment. He strengthened himself, sat on the bed and requested a towel. When the Prime Minister arrived, he became completely alert, which amazed everyone. Our Rabbi said: “Perhaps it is possible for just the two of us to be together?” Everyone left. At the end of the conversation, Mr. Begin said: “Jerusalem, mountains surround her, and Hashem surrounds his Nation” (Tehillim 125:2). This appears to have been the substance of their conversation.

May you depart towards peace, Angels of Peace

When our Rabbi said “May you depart toward peace” in the song “Shalom Aleichem” before Kiddush on Shabbat night, he would pick up a cup of wine and say as one who is justifying his actions: Now that we are able to eat what do the Angels have to do with us (This was to justify saying this stanza since the minhag in some places – like Volozhin – was not to recite it and request the angels to leave) (from Ha-Rav Avihu Schwartz – Iturei Kohanim #81)

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Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

Accidental Radio on on Shabbat

  • Q: The radio was accidentally connected to the Shabbat timer, and it turned on. What should one do in such a case?
  • A: There are three options: 1. Put a blanket over it. 2. Turn the dial on the timer to turn off in 5-10 minutes and the radio will turn off indirectly (Gemara). 3. If the volume is controlled by a knob (not an electric button), you can turn the volume down with a “shinui” (an unusual way, i.e. with your thumb, back-handed, etc.)

Ashkenazi in non-Ashkenaz minyan

  • Q: Should a Ashkenazi Jew davening with a Sefardic or Nusach Sefard minyan say Tachanun when they are saying the viduy or when they also put their heads down?
  • A: It does not matter. When he is the only one in the minyan who is Ashkenazi he should also say the viduy because of “Lo Titgodedu – do not make different groups,” but today most minyanim in Israel are mixed. It is explicitly written that when the community is saying Aleinu one should also at least bow when others do, since it is said at different times in the davening.

Direction of Davening at the Kotel

  • Q: Should one turn slightly to the left when davening at the Kotel to face the spot of the Temple?
  • A: There is no need since we do not know the exact spot of the Temple. We therefore face forward. I once asked Rav Simcha HaKohen Kook – who grew up in Jerusalem — when he was visiting the yeshiva, and he said that the custom is not to turn left (See Rav Aviner’s book “Le-Mikdashech Tuv” p. 241 for a short responsum on this question).

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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.

Blessing on Sufganiyot

  • Q: What is the blessing on sufganiyot (jelly donuts for Chanukah)?
  • A: The blessing before is “mezonot” and after is “Al HaMichya.” It is true that if you eat a food made with flour, which is not bread, the quantity of a meal, you have to wash, say “haMotzi” and “Birkat HaMazon,” but this does not apply to sufganiyot which are deep-fried in oil and not baked. If you ate a ton of sufganiyot, the blessings would be the same, but I recommend not to eat a ton because the oil is poison.

Oil for Pesach

  • Q: Which oil can I use to light the chanukiah?
  • A: Any kosher, normal oil is acceptable. One must be careful not to use oil from Arabs because they add all sorts of things to it.

A scoundrel within the permission of the Torah

  • Q: How is it that I see observant Jews who are not good and moral people?
  • A: It is not enough for a person to just learn Torah in order to be righteous. He must also work on perfecting his character traits. The Rambam explains in Shemoneh Perakim that if a person does not do an accounting of their soul, he can make mistakes, even serious mistakes. Our Sages say that if a person merits – the Torah will be a drug of life and if he does not merit – it will be the drug of death (Yoma 72b). The same Torah can be the elixir of life, goodness and blessing for one person and it can be lethal for another. The Torah can actual teach him tricks and deceptions. We therefore also need good character traits. This obviously does not refer to the entire Nation of Israel which is a good and righteous Nation, but to individual people who have free choice. When people act this way, this is what our Sages call “Desecration of Hashem’s Name” at the end of the Gemara of Yoma (86a). They say that if a person learns Torah, but he is not careful about how he speaks – he insults and speaks ill of others, he is not honest in his business practices – he deceives and lies, people will say: “Woe is the person who learns Torah. Woe is his father who taught him Torah. Woe is his Rabbi who taught him Torah. See how corrupt are the ways and how ugly are the acts of this person who has learned Torah.” As a result, Hashem’s Name is desecrated. If, however, a person learns Torah and he speaks pleasantly, and he is honest in his business practices – he pays his obligations and does so on time, people will say: “Praiseworthy is the person who learns Torah. Praiseworthy is his father who taught him Torah. Praiseworthy is his Rabbi who taught him Torah. See how pleasant are the ways and how sweet are the actions of this person who learns Torah.” As a result Hashem’s Name is sanctified as it says, “You Israel, I am praised through you” (Yeshayahu 49:3). A Jew once came to the Steipler Gaon and the Steipler said, “Give me a mazel tov. My granddaughter is getting engaged.” The Jew said, “Rav, how do you choose a groom?” The Steipler said, “It is simple: A lamdan (one who learns Torah seriously) with good character traits.” The visitor said, “If he is a lamdan, doesn’t he have good traits?” The Steipler said: “It is not necessarily true. A lamdan is a person who stood before a shtender (podium on which students learn). A shtender is a very comfortable product. You can move it anyway you want. You can move it forward or backward. You can say what to want to it: Go away, I am tired or I am going to the store. A spouse, however, is not a shtender. A person may have learned a lot of Torah, but he does not know how to relate to a spouse.” The visitor said: “But he learned Torah, doesn’t this have an effect on his personality?” “It absolutely had an effect. If he had not learned Torah, he would have been a monster. In merit of learning Torah, he is a person with bad traits.” Thus, every person who learns Torah, but is immoral, we must understand that without the Torah – oy va-voy – he would have been horrible. In the introduction to “Mesillat Yesharim,” the Ramchal writes that people learn all sorts of holy works, but people do not learn “tikun midot” – perfecting character traits. The book “Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh” says that in the time of the Tanach, they said something once and they would remember and do it. The later generations descended and there was a need to constantly repeat. We see this is the time of the Mishnah. It says over and over, “He would say…He would say…He would say.” And this is even more so for us. We need to hear something a thousand times, and have a spiritual accounting to see how we are doing. The Torah was not given immediately with the Creation of the world. Why? Isn’t the Torah the foundation of the world? Answer: This is to teach us that proper conduct precedes Torah. For two thousand years, they had to work on their character traits until our forefathers – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov – perfected their traits and this is the foundation on which the Torah was given.

One big shul or many little shuls

  • Q: Is it better to have one big shul or many little shuls?
  • A: We always say that “The glory of the King is in the multitude of the people” (Mishlei 14:28). A big shul with a lot of people is a great sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Sometimes, however, prayer in a big shul is problematic because people chatter, etc… In such a case it is better to be in a little shul where they do not talk. In general, it is better to have a big shul with everyone together, the entire Nation of Israel. If there are different traditions of davening and different custom – Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Yemenite, etc…, it is no big deal. They take turns leading the davening. This is preferable.

Time for Lecha Dodi

  • Q: Is it permissible to say Lecha Dodi after Shabbat has already begun?
  • A: It is appropriate to recite Lecha Dodi before Shabbat since it is to welcome the Shabbat bride. We see, however, that many shuls daven on Friday night at the last moment and they say it after Shabbat begins, excluding the summer when many daven early. This song is a very late addition to the prayers, written by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz and there is no obligation to say it, but it is a widespread custom. In any event, one should accept Shabbat a little before Shabbat begins in order to fulfill the mitzvah of “tosefet Shabbat – adding to Shabbat.”

Discussing a recipe on Shabbat

  • Q: Is it permissible to discuss a recipe on Shabbat?
  • A: While it is obviously forbidden to cook on Shabbat, it is permissible to discuss how something is made. If I want to make a cake after Shabbat, I cannot learn how to make it on Shabbat. This is preparing on Shabbat for a weekday which is forbidden. If I am simply interested, however, it is permissible for me to be interested on Shabbat. On Shabbat, it is permissible for me to be interested how a cell phone is made. I like hearing about different things. It is therefore permissible.

Answering the phone on Shabbat when one’s mother is sick

  • Q: My mother is 93 years old and has constant care. I told her that if she needs help, she should call me on Shabbat. She called last Shabbat, I answered and she was hospitalized for a week. Did I act properly answering the phone?
  • A: Absolutely. This was a potentially life-threatening situation. Furthermore, picking up the phone receiver is a rabbinic prohibition and would be permissible in even less severe situations.

Calling relative outside of Israel while it is still Shabbat there

  • Q: Is it permissible to call my sister, who does not keep Shabbat and who lives outside of Israel, while it is still Shabbat there, but after Shabbat in Israel?
  • A: It is certainly forbidden. The fact that she desecrates Shabbat is a sin, but we do not throw rocks at her. At the same time, however, we will not cause her to violate Shabbat. It is forbidden to place a stumbling block before the blind and it is forbidden to aid someone in performing a transgression, and here it is even more so: I entice her to perform a transgression.

Rabbi giving kosher certification to product he does not eat

  • Q: Can a Rabbi give kosher certification to a product which he does not eat?
  • A: Yes, he can verify that a particular product is kosher, but he is strict not to eat it.

Pareve cake in fleishchig oven

  • Q: If I baked a cake in a fleishchig oven, is it still pareve?
  • A: If you preheated the oven, which burns off any substance, even without waiting twenty-four hours, it is still pareve.

Lending pool pass to someone

  • Q: Can I lend my pool pass to someone else?
  • A: This is a monetary question which is dependent on the agreement. You need to ask the people who run the pool whether this pass is for a particular individual – only for you – or whether others can use it. Very simple.

Can a mourner have an aliyah during “shiva”

  • It is forbidden because it is forbidden for a mourner to learn Torah. During the week, Ashkenazim bring a Torah to the house and read without calling up the mourner, and Sefardim daven at the mourner’s house and then go to shul, except the mourner, to hear the Torah.

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Rav Aviner’s article from the parsha sheet “Be-Ahava U-Be-Emuna” of Machon Meir from Parshat Vayishlach 5768 (Translated by Rafael Blumberg)

Don’t Cut Up the Land of Israel!

Question: What is the Torah’s view about the new suggestion of bringing the destroyer right into Jerusalem, by transferring neighborhoods in which Jews do not live to either Jordan or the Palestinians, or other such ideas?
Answer: Obviously this strange and bizarre suggestion is pure nonsense. It is well-known that the mitzvah of the Land of Israel may be divided into three parts:

  1. Living in the Land. Every Jew must live in Israel and not in Babylonia, New York or anywhere else on earth.
  2. Settling the Land. The Land must be built, settled, filled with Jews, filled with factories, fields and vineyards. As Ramban wrote: “We must never abandon it to desolation” (Positive Commandment 4 of Ramban’s additions to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvot)
  3. Occupying the Land. The Torah commands, “You shall clear out the Land” (Bamidbar 33:53); and, “Inherit the Land” (Devarim 4:1). These commands refer to the people taking ownership of the Land. As Ramban said, “We mustn’t leave it in the hands of any other nation” (ibid.). This land must not be left in the hands of any other people, but only our people.

This mitzvah requires self-sacrifice. Without self-sacrifice it won’t work out. No nation on earth succeeds in holding on to its independence without self-sacrifice, all the more so the Jewish People. Everything we have today in our land has come by way of self-sacrifice: 1) Self-sacrifice to move to Israel, even in face of danger, even traveling through deserts or by ship; 2) Self-sacrifice, down through the generations, to establish settlements in the Land, to establish neighborhoods and to build. Such self-sacrifice was exhibited by all Jews, secular, religious and Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox); 3) The self-sacrifice exhibited by our army in occupying our land.

The rule is this: This entire land has to be under our sovereignty (Ramban, ibid.). There is a place for non-Jews living here, under certain conditions (Ramban, ibid.), just as such conditions exist in every country on earth. Whoever wishes to live in a particular country must certainly fulfill its laws and practices. He must certainly not be involved in the murder of its citizens. There is room for deliberating on which non-Jews should be allowed to live here, in accordance with their religion and nationality, wickedness or faithfulness – yet all this is referring to a private calculation. If an Arab has a house or field, accompanied by proof that it is indeed his, and not just stolen – we won’t take it away from him. (see Ma’amarei HaRe’iyah, page 252)

We are talking here about national ownership, in other words, by the State. How strange the argument that in the Jerusalem neighborhoods earmarked for transfer, “Arabs live there and not Jews anyway. What difference does it make if there is non-Jewish rule?” How senseless one must be to make such claims! After all, in every country in the world there are minorities. Obviously, we are not like every country in the world – we must live as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Yet we are not inferior to any other nation, as Maharal states at the beginning of his book Netzach Yisrael. Shall we fail to understand something that every nation on earth understands? For example, shall the French, because they have eight million Arabs or twelve million Arabs, suddenly establish a state for them there?! Every single country on earth has minorities. Obviously, we have to relate to them with human dignity, but that does not give them the right to national sovereignty.

Therefore, this entire idea is a one big deceit and a dangerous blunder. It is hard to understand how people can talk such nonsense, nonsense that no other nation on earth would spout. Find one people on earth ready to establish a state or to hand over to another people part of its territory since foreigners live there. This nonsense, according to the theory of our master Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, stems from the Holocaust (LeNetivot Yisrael 1:94): In the Holocaust, they not only murdered us but also drove us insane, until we lost our self-confidence to bang on the table and say: Eretz Yisrael is ours!

A friend who went on vacation in Alaska told me that he sat by the sea, fishing. During the trip in the light plane that brought them there, someone jokingly asked, “What happens if a bear approaches us?” Yet the group leader didn’t laugh. He answered, “Look it straight in the eye and say to it, ‘Hey bear! This is my place!’ Later on when my friend was fishing he heard a rustling behind him. He turned around and saw a terrifying sight – a bear was threatening him. He had the courage to look it in the eye without blinking and to say, “Hey bear! This is my place!” The bear made a noise, turned around and left.

We have to state clearly: This land is our place. It is all ours. The fact that we disappeared from the Land because we were cruelly exiled by our enemies, and foreigners came and built homes and stole our lands, does not suddenly make it theirs.

Also the claim that all of these non-Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods cost us money is nonsense. We did not establish our country as a business venture. Millions of Jews lost billions. Ask any Jew who dwells in Zion: For you, is the Jewish State just about economics and security? He will be insulted and will respond, “G-d forbid! It’s history! Thank G-d we’ve got an economy and security, but that’s not the only reason we returned to our land. We came back because it is our land. We didn’t wait two thousand years just to give part of it away to foreigners.”

Ben Gurion once asked Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the principle thinkers of the Kibbutz movement: “Is it possible to concede parts of Eretz Yisrael for peace?” and Tabenkin responded, “I have to get advice.” The next day he answered no. Ben Gurion asked him, “May I asked you from whom you got advice?” and Tabenkin responded, “I asked my grandfather who has died and my grandson who is not yet born.”

Let us be strong and courageous for our land.

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

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Winter Questions

A Sick Person Going to Shul

  • Question: If someone is sick with coughing and sneezing, and is spreading germs in shul, doesn’t he have an obligation to stay at home?
  • Answer: One who infects another person with this type of illness is exempt from any fine, since it is “gerama” – an indirect cause. The germs do not directly penetrate a person’s body, but they are spread throughout the room, and afterwards he breathes them in. This is not a definite injury since it is not certain that the other person will become sick: Perhaps he will not breathe them in or perhaps he is immune. One who infects another person is therefore exempt from paying a fine. It is clear, however, that it is forbidden for a person to injure another, even indirectly, even with germs, which are like arrows. In the book “Kehillot Yaakov,” the Steipler Gaon discusses similar cases, such as one who damages through witchcraft (Kehillot Yaakov, Baba Kamma #39, #44 in the new edition at the end of the chapter). Therefore, someone who is coughing and sneezing should not go to shul, but should daven on his own. For the same reason, one should not send children with infectious sicknesses to nursery school or school, unless a doctor decides that it is better for young children to be infected with this sickness rather than waiting until they are older.

Asking Someone to Remove a Used Tissue from the Table

  • Question: If a person wipes his nose and places the used tissue on a table on which food is going to be served, is it permissible to tell him or should one refrain out of a concern of embarrassing him?
  • Answer: It is certainly forbidden to put a used tissue on the table and, in general, it is forbidden to do such things since it disgusts other people as it is written: “For every deed, G-d will judge, on everything which is hidden” (Kohelet 12:13). The Talmud in Chagigah (5a) says, “This is someone who kills a louse in front of another person and he is disgusted by it…This is someone who spits in front of another person and he is disgusted by it.” “On everything” means even on a small thing. “”Which is hidden” means even if the person who is disgusted does not inform the other person what he caused, since he saw no problem in doing such a thing. One must therefore certainly tell him, but it must be done with gentleness and wisdom, as with every instance of giving rebuke. If, despite this, he is still insulted or hurt, this is not our responsibility, since we acted according to the law, and he placed himself in this position.

Pointing Out to Someone to Clean their Nose

  • Question: Is it permissible to tell someone that his nose is not clean or is there a concern for embarrassment?
  • Answer: This is similar to the previous question. Again, one should act with wisdom.

Kissing the Torah by Hand

  • Question: Isn’t it preferable to kiss the Torah with your hand, and not your mouth, during the winter since it is unclear whether the others kissing it are sick?
  • Answer: This seems to be remote concern. We therefore leave this to the discretion of each person.

Windows Open or Shut in Shul

  • Question: According to doctors, it is important to have windows open in order to ventilate rooms and halls. If one of the people davening says that he is cold, does he take precedence over the many when there is a danger of becoming sick because of a lack of ventilation?
  • Answer: We follow the accepted practice of people in all of these matters, and it is forbidden to act in a way which injures another person which is difficult for him to endure (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 155:39 in the Rama). It therefore seems that the general rule is: In the summer, if someone wants to open the window, it is opened, even if the majority wants it closed; and in the winter, if someone wants to close the window, it is closed, even if the majority wants it open. However, after doctors have established that there is a need for ventilation and that cold weather does not cause the common cold, but germs do, there is a need for ventilate in every place. This rule also applies in catering halls, yeshivot, school classrooms, buses and similar places.

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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.