Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Shocking Revelation With Surprising Ramifications

Avromi was a young man who was pious and devout. What they call today Charedi or Ultra Orthodox [how come irreligious people are not called "Ultra Secular"?]. One Chol Hamoed Succos Avromi found out that his mother [the daughter of holocaust survivors] was not Jewish! Making Avromi a ..... Goy. With a capital G.

Uh oh.

So of course Avromi wanted to convert, but the question was, is there any reason for him to sit in a succah in the meantime.

Answer: YES! The Rambam [Melachim 10/10] says that a gentile who wants to keep a given commandment [besides shabbos] in order to receive reward should not be prevented from doing so. We learn from this Rambam that a goy may fulfill mitzvos and will be rewarded for his efforts.

So sit in the succah Avromi, sit. And if you wish you may also have a juicy cheeseburger. Wow! A mitva to sit in the succah while eating a cheeseburger ["simchas yom tov"]. Isn't Torah interesting?!

See Kovetz Shiurim Simman 54 and Chashukei Chemed page 212 for a discussion of how the Rambam's law squares with the talmudic principle that anyone who is exempt and nevertheless fulfills the mitzva is acting silly [kol hapatur min hamitzva viosehu nikra hedyot].

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Post Yom Kippur Blues

Everyone was in shul on Yom Kippur. Well almost everyone. I always expect that after Yom Kippur the world will look different. People will all be more friendly, kind and caring. All of the men will be wearing yarmulkes and tzitzis and all of the woman will be dressed modestly. The courts will receive many notices that couples who were getting divorced have forgiven each other and no longer need the courts services. Once again peace will reign in the home! Torah classes will be filled to capacity. Mincha and maariv services will be packed - even during the week! The Jewish world will undergo a veritable face-lift. It will be unrecognizable. The power of Yom Kippur.

But the reality is downright disappointing. Everything looks EXACTLY THE SAME! People who weren't friendly before Yom Kippur remain that way. A person who watched an inappropriate movie [i.e. a movie with foul language or featuring woman in immodest dress - in other words every movie] on the flight to Israel also watches one on the flight back. Mincha and maariv in many shuls are reserved for people saying kaddish. In a word - no change. The world does not look better today than it did 20 years ago even though we have gone through 20 Yom Kippurs since then. I am not going out on a limb if I say that it looks ...... a lot worse.

I am at a loss as to what to do.

Then the solution came to me! I have the power to change nobody - but myself.

You too! You can change yourself!! Then YOU will also notice that as you change the world will also look different.

Ya know - the change in perspective thing. It is all about perception. If you have a G-dly perspective with an ayin tova the world will look beautiful.

A Miracle! But Will It Help Me?

What is the law in a case where a tree miraculously grew in my backyard [unlikely not only because open miracles rarely occur but because I don't have a backyard]. May I cut down the tree and use it as schach? Does the torah require that I use naturally grown schach or does miracle schach work too?

The Kojiklover Rov [Eretz Tzvi Vol. 2 Page 151] asked a similar question. The gemara [Sanhedrin 59b] relates that a Rabbi miraculously created a calf using kabbalistic powers [saves on the meat bill...]. May the skin of this calf be used for the parchment of a sefer torah or tefillin? He cited the gemara in menachos [69b] that teaches that wheat which fell [miraculously] from the clouds may be used for menachos [flour offerings]. Maybe then the same would apply to miraculous skin. And maybe the same would apply to miraculous schach. They may all be used for mitzvos.

But, as they say in the yeshivos "It's not so pashut". The Shlah [cited by the Eretz Tzvi] writes that a kabalistically created animal is not considered an animal and thus doesn't require a kosher shchita. According to him the skin would also not be valid for parchment and a miraculous tree would not be considered a tree at all.

See Sefer Chashukei Chemed on Maseches Succah Page 85 for a discussion.

Conclusion: When it happens - ask a Rov!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The True You

In the janowska concentration camp there was a notorious kapo named Schneeweiss. He was considered by the Jews as cruel as the Nazis were. Before Yom Kippur a group of Jews came to Rabbi Israel Spira the Bluzhover Rebbe and asked him to approach Schneweiss and to request on their behalf a special work assignment for Yom Kippur. They didn’t want to perform any biblically forbidden labors and wanted permission to pray the special prayers of the day. The Rebbe was afraid to ask but didn’t want to disappoint his fellow Jews. The Rebbe approached the Kapo and begged him to assign this group of Jews to work that wouldn’t entail biblically forbidden labor. Something touched in the heart of this cold cruel man and he agreed to try and help.

Mr. Schneweiss arranged that on the morning of Yom Kippur the Rebbe and his followers were assigned to clean the barracks. He gave them rags and they didn’t use any cleaning agents so as not to violate the holiness of the day. During the day two nazis walked in with a cart laden with delicacies never before seen in the camp. There was steaming meat and white bread instead of the watery filth that was normally served as “soup”.

“Quick, get up and eat” one of the Nazis barked.

Nobody moved.

Schneeweiss stepped forward and said “Today is the holiest day of the year, we Jews fast on this day.”

The Nazi was shocked at his insolence “You are all working for the Whermacht. If you starve yourselves you are guilty of sabotaging our war effort, whomever does not eat is a traitor. Tell them to eat!!” He screamed.

Schneeweiss drew himself up a little straighter and said “We Jews do not eat on Yom Kippur.”

The Nazi took out his revolver and shot Schneeweiss at point blank range. He ordered the stunned Jews to clean up the blood of the holy martyr and left the room.

[“Hasidic Tales Of The Holocaust" by Yaffa Eliach]

This story expresses what Yom Kippur is all about. Let me explain: We all know the story of Yoseph and his brothers. Yoseph was sold by his brothers and as a result suffered terribly in an Egyptian dungeon for 12 years.

The Torah relates that after Yaacov their father died the brothers approached Yoseph and told him that Yaacov instructed them to tell Yoseph as follows “O please [“ana”] kindly forgive the spiteful deed of your brothers and their sin for they have done you evil.” [50/17]

The Medrash [Tanchuma Shmos 2] teaches that the reality is that Yaacov never told the brothers to ask Yoseph for forgiveness. [In fact there is no indication from the Torah that Yaacov ever found out what that the brothers had sold Yoseph.] The brothers made the whole thing up because they were afraid of Yoseph possibly taking revenge now that his father was dead. The Medrash adds that because the brothers asked Yoseph for forgiveness in the future the Kohen Gadol would be able to enter the Holy of Holies and beseech Hashem for forgiveness in the very same language “Ana Hashem”.

Excuse me for being rude but this seems flat out WEIRD. What is the connection between Yoseph’s brothers asking him forgiveness and the Kohen Gadol asking forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people on Yom Kippur? Moreover the whole story that the brothers told Yoseph was a complete fabrication!! Why should this be a source of merit??

My Holy teacher the Tolna Rebbe Shlita explained as follows: The first Lubavitcher Rebbe Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi explained that every Jew has ten layers in his heart, each layer deeper that the previous one. The deepest layer of one’s heart is the pure, unsullied level of being, the part of a Jew that does not want to sin and just wants to fulfill the will of G-d. On Yom Kippur we try to bring that part of ourselves to the fore. We come before Hashem and say “The true me is really a holy tzaddik. It is the external layers of my heart that caused me to sin.”

Now we can understand the Medrash. Chazal teach us that one is even allowed to bend the truth in order to create peace. So the brothers knew that the deepest desire of Yaacov would have been to tell Yoseph that he should forgive his brothers. Yaacov certainly wanted peace! So the brothers were in essence reading into Yaacov’s heart and deepest desire without his ever having said so.

This is exactly what the Kohen Gadol is doing on Yom Kippur. He is asking Hashem to look deep into the hearts of the Jews and see that they are really holy. It was just the external parts of themselves that caused them to sin. But their essence is pure.

That is also why we start the day with kol nidrei. Why do we begin Yom Kippur by releasing ourselves from our vows? What does that have to do with teshuva? The answer is that we are saying - "That person who vowed WASN'T THE TRUE ME and therefore I should be freed from the oath." Just like something external causes us to sin so too our oaths were only external. We didn't really mean it.

Every Jew is inherently holy - even a Kapo like Schneeweiss. On Yom Kippur the truth is revealed. “Mi kiamcha Yisrael goy echad b’aretz” - Who is like you O Israel, [you are] unique amongst the nations.

Gmar chasima tova to all of my beloved friends and may this year be the beginning of tremendous success in all of your endeavors, good health, happiness and the geulah hashleimah!

With heartfelt blessings,

Elchanan ben Henna Miriam

Your faithful servant from Jerusalem

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Take It Personally

"Eizehu gibor? Hakoveish es yitzro". Who is strong? One who conquers HIS [evil] inclination. The Koznitzer Maggid pointed out that it doesn't say "One who conquers THE inclination" but rather "HIS inclination". Everybody has his or her own personal battles. Mine are not yours and yours are not mine. What comes easily to you is virtually impossible for me and what I do effortlessly might require superhuman effort on your part.

Moral: Don't compare yourself to anyone. Each person has his own difficulties, obstacles, trials and tribulations. Don't be quick to criticize the failings of others and don't get down on yourself when others seem more successful.

Every man is a world unto himself.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Poor Choice - Part 2

The Chebiner Rav [Rav Dov Berish Weidenfeld one of the leading Rabbinic authorities in the 1900's] in his Dovev Meisharim [Vol. 2/18] rejected the aforementioned proof for 3 reasons.

1] The pasuk mentions the arm tefillin first NOT to teach that if you can only buy the arm tefillin or the head tefillin you should choose the arm tefillin but to teach that when you put on the head tefillin the arm tefillin should already be in place. So the pasuk is not in order of importance but in the order of placement.

2] The gemara in Menachos [34] says that the head tefillin is holier [mekudash]. Holier takes precedence over what is written first in the pasuk.

3] When the gemara says that that you make a bracha first on what is written first in the pasuk the gemara means that if you plan to eat both items you make a bracha on what is first in the pasuk. But in our tefillin case where it is either one or the other [arm or head] the gemara would not apply.

Conclusion: Go with the head tefillin.

Advice: Go to a gemach [free loan fund] and borrow a pair until the finances pick up.

P.S. Yesterdays post about O.J. inspired a shiur on the topic that can be found in the Chagim section entitled Yom Kippur: Plan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Thoughts On O.J.

News item: O.J. is in trouble again! If convicted he might spend at least the next thirty years in the slammer. He is 60 years old. That means [in all likelihood] the rest of his life behind bars. Isn't O.J. stupid?!

Of course he is! [But please don't stop drinking orange juice. It has great health benefits and tastes great. Always better for you than Coke or Pepsi.]

But wait! Don't we stand before Hashem every Yom Kippur promising to improve yet we stand before Hashem the following year knowing full well that we repeated the same sins of the previous years. Same lashon hara, same lack of concentration when we daven, same time wasting, same feelings of animosity towards others.

Solution: Have a plan! Don't just resolve to change but think of a concrete plan to implement your resolutions. For example, change some friends, get close to a tzaddik, go to a different shul, make a new daily chavrusa etc. etc. Figure out what caused you to sin in the first place and then you can attempt to prevent that "primal cause", thus averting sin.

Good luck. It ain't easy.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

If It Makes Sense For Shofar It Should Also Make Sense For Other Laws - Answer

The reason that we forbid one to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashana that falls out on shabbos is that we are concerned that he will carry the shofar in order to ask an expert how to blow. But no such concern exists with respect to reading the torah because the person reading for the congregation is already an expert so he won't have to ask. [Shofar is an obligation upon every individual.] In the same vein, one will not circumcise unless he is an expert so he will not have to ask someone else, hence no need to carry. [Tosphos Yom Tov]

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Averting The Evil Decree

Yom Kippur is coming up and there is no better way to ensure a positive judgement than by sharing Hashem's money with others [it is hard to part with your own money but to part with someone elses cash is no big deal]. So here are two very, very highly recommended causes. I urge everyone to give something.

1] Help the poor of the Old City [the first priority in tzedaka after family members] - medical bills, hachnosos kallah, food etc. etc. Many people [450-550 a week!] are in dire need!

Make out your tax deductable checks to the "In His Image Foundation" and mail to:
In His Image Foundation
c/o Realty Data Processing
303 Merrick Road
Suite 506
Lynbrook, NY 11563

In Israel you can send to:
Rav Tzvi Aryeh Ingber
Rechov Minzar Ha'ashurim 2
Old City Jerusalem

Please indicate on the memo line of your check whether your intention is for:

Family Fund [helps purchase clothing for families who cannot afford it. Essential before the holidays].
Food Project
Medical Fund
Hachnassas Kallah Fund

2] Go to Netiv Aryeh's website [www.yna.edu] and donate to the orphans of the late Rav Podolsky zt"l. Seven young, sweet children, no father. You know the story.

My plan is that next year I will not have to ask because either a] Moshiach will come and solve all of our problems or b] I will become so rich that I will singlehandedly be able to support these worthy causes.

The first possibility is far more likely to occur than the second .............

Love and blessings for a year of great prosperity for all!!!

[Any questions? You may call me at 646-461-1628 or 02-6289-148]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just For You

What is the judgement on Rosh Hashana? G-d looks at each and every individual and decides if it would have beeen worthwhile to create the ENTIRE UNIVERSE just for that person. Just as the entire world was created just for Adam, we too must prove ourselves worthy. [Heard from Rav Moshe Schapiro Shlita]

A sweet new year for my sweetest friends!!!

Love and blessings,

Elchanan ben Henna Miriam

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

If It Makes Sense For Shofar It Should Also Make Sense For Other Laws

Great Rosh Hashana idea. Put a half of a raisin on a piece of celery so that you should "have a raise in salary"!!!!!

Down to business. We know that if Rosh Hashana falls out on Shabbos we don't blow the shofar because the Rabbis were concerned that someone would carry the shofar 4 amos in the public domain [which is forbidden on Shabbos] in order to ask an expert how to blow. So they forbade the blowing of the shofar thus avoiding all potential problems.

Why don't we similarly forbid the reading of the torah on Shabbos for the same reason. Someone might be tempted to carry the torah and ask an expert how to read. Also we should forbid bris milah on shabbos because someone might carry the baby and the milah instruments in order to ask an expert what to do?

Monday, September 10, 2007

When A "Mitzva" Is Really A Sin

The Rambam was a prolific writer. He was also an unparalleled genuis which is evident not only in the content of his writings but also in his clarity of prose and his uncanny ability to organize topics.

My all-time favorite is the laws of teshuva [repentance]. It must be learned and relearned constantly. Teshuva is a mitzva that applies 24/7 - not only in Elul and Tishrei.

One of the striking passages in Hilchos Teshuva is where the Rambam teaches that having faulty character is not merely a vice but an actual SIN. We often consider someone religious if he keeps the laws and view good character as a plus. Not the Rambam! According to the Rambam having defective character is an actual sin which necessitates a process of teshuva like any other sin.

Moreover the Rambam gives two examples of sin which made me jump out of my socks [elastic on top of socks notwithstanding]. "Rediphas Hamamon Uridaphas Hama'achalos" - Running after money and running after food.

Excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!! Those are mitzvos! The more the better. How can the Rambam call the relentless pursuit of money and gastronomic pleasure sinful???

Answer: Because they are. Period. We are in this world for a higher spiritual purpose and if one is excessively involved and immersed in the purely physical he is living a sinful life, even if he learns Torah daily, never slanders his fellow, eats glatt kosher and [one of the greatest mitzvos] doesn't have a television at home. Still, a life of "rediphas hamamon v'hamaachalos" is sinful. Everything must be kept within proportion. Of course there is a mitzva to earn a living and to eat but those must never become the ultimate focus of our lives. There is a memorable passage in the Chovos Halevavos where Rabbeinu Bachaye laments the fact that people "deify their stomachs".

A different perspective.

Very Un-American.

A Poor Choice: Part One

If someone were given the choice to lose either his head or his arm it is safe [or not so safe..] to say that one would choose to lose his arm and keep his head.

But what about a person who is so poor that he can only afford to buy one tefillin box, either the arm tefiilin or the head tefillin, which one takes precedence?

The gemara in brachos teaches that if one is eating one of the seven species [shivas haminim - which can also be translated as "seven heretics"] he should first make a bracha on the food that is listed first in the pasuk. So maybe the same principle should apply to the tefillin. Since the arm tefillin is mentioned first in the pasuk [ukshartom li'os al yadecha vihayu litotafos bein ainecha] it would make sense that it takes precedence and one should choose to purchase it over the head tefillin.

But it is not so simple. To be continued......

Riddle-In : A Riddle Designed To Keep You "Focused" On Torah - A Shofarian Anomaly: Answer

Most authorities say that there is a standard size for a shofar - either one tefach [3-4 inches] or three tefachim. However the Ritva [quoted by Biur Halacha] says that the shofar must be visible when held by the person blowing. So if Reuvain has a small hand and the shofar remains visible when he holds it, it is kosher. But if Shimon [who is six foot eleven. He must have converted. Jews don't get so tall...] holds the very same shofar and it is not visible in his mammoth hands then it is not kosher and he must find a larger one.

The simman in which the laws of a kosher shofar are discussed is 586 - the gematria of "shofar".


[Heard from the Rebbe Shlita.]

Thoughts On Thinking

Today I saw a good quote "Readers are plentiful, thinkers are rare."

Gemara. Talmud. Shas. There are so many readers of that wonderful corpus of literature. The words of the Living G-d [Divrei Elokim Chaim]. Yet many make the mistake of reading and learning without taking the time out to reflect on what they are reading. Wrong! We are not human vacuum cleaners sucking up knowledge indiscriminately.

One must constantly challenge, probe, analyze and explore the text. There are so many gems but like any other treasure a great deal of effort is required until they are revealed.

In conclusion [that is how I was taught in elementary school to end an essay], one must learn in depth, never passively accept what the teacher is saying unless his words are fully understood and constantly try to attain higher and more profound levels of understanding. That is what makes the learning experience so special.

And of course never to forget to take the words of Torah from the mind and implant them upon the heart. Psach LEEBEE bisorasecha - open up my HEART to your Torah.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Anniversary Of Marriage

Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of man. Man was created in the image of G-d. It is our mandate to act on a G-dly way. What does that mean? Well among other things it means that we must become shadchanim!

Yes, you read correctly. On the very day of the creation of man, G-d found Adam a wife. So Rosh Hashana is also the anniversary of the first shidduch and wedding.

It is heartbreaking to think of all the wonderful men and women who are aching to get married. Many single people feel that other people don't care about them. In many cases they are right. Some people are just too "busy" to help.

There are many young widows and divorcees who are viewed as being of "inferior quality". The fact is that in many instances they are more special than previously unmarried people and are also in dire straits as they struggle to raise children alone.

So think of single people - all types of single people - that you know and start making phone calls. There is no greater chessed that you can do for them! This should be a source of great merit for you to be inscribed in the book of life.

Love and blessings!!!!!!

Elchanan ben Henna Miriam

Friday, September 07, 2007

Haters Anonymous

Do you feel enmity, animosity, hostility, antipathy, acrimony, contempt, ill-will, detestation or just plain old hatred for another individual? If you do then you are very likely transgressing the TORAH PROHIBITION [like eating pork or stealing] of "Don't hate your brother in your heart" ["lo tisna es achicha bilvavecha"]. This applies even if your brother is female.

But don't feel excessively guilty! Your are only human and sometimes humans feel this way towards others. But you must realize that hating someone else inflicts a lot more damage upon the hater than upon the hated. It is like punching yourself in the face because you can't stand someone else. So we must run away from such feelings.

Easier said than done! How can we accomplish this? Rav Aviner [Rosh Yeshivas Ateret Kohanim] suggests a three point plan:

1] Admit that you hate. Just as a alcoholic must get up at the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and say "I am Joe and I am an alcoholic," so too a person must recognize that he is afflicted with the spiritual malady called "hatred".

2] Admit that hatred is poisonous! There are ideologies that glorify hatred but not us - the grandchildren of Avraham Avinu.

3] You can overcome these feelings of hatred. It is a strong yetzer hara but it can be vanquished. You have a pure, powerful, holy G-dly soul!!!!!!!!!!

May I add that you should take a pro-active approach, perform for him acts of love and kindness. Or as King Solomon said "If your foe is hungry feed him bread and if he is thirsty give him water to drink." [Mishlei 25/21]

From hatred to love - in four [not so] easy steps!

Love and blessings to all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Elchanan ben Henna Miriam

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Riddle-In : A Riddle Designed To Keep You "Focused" On Torah - A Shofarian Anomaly

What would be a scenario where we would have a shofar that is kosher for all intents and purposes [nobody vowed not to derive benefit, wasn't ever used for Avodah Zara etc.] yet it would be kosher for Reuvain and unkosher for Shimon. [Riddle heard from the Tolna Rebbe Shlita.]

Hint: The answer could be found after a CAREFUL reading of the Biur Halacha in Simman 586.

Bonus: What Rosh Hashana word equals exactly 586?

Why So Many "Eyes"

I know that I sinned. Why do I have to verbalize it? Throughout the Ten Days Of Repentance [known amongst Chinese converts to Judaism as "aseres yemei teshuva"] I will be confessing over and over and over again. [Ahhhhhh ah eye yai yai yai ahhhhahha eye yai yai ahhhaha eye yai yai - Ashamnu .......] Let me just acknowledge my sins in my mind and heart!

Speech has a special power! Say something out loud and it will make a greater impression on you than merely thinking it. Try this: Look in a mirror and say something positive such as "I love you" or "You look great" or "It's great to be alive" or "You are somebody very special". How does that make you feel? I believe that it can have a powerful effect on you. Don't wait for someone else to compliment you - compliment yourself!

In the same way, when we express verbally that we have sinned it hits home a lot more than if we would just think it.

Let your speech change who you are. It is within your power.

A Fast Shabbos

Yom Kippur is coming up and frankly - I have a problem. I love Shabbos and particularly enjoy eating Shabbos meals. This Yom Kippur falls out on Shabbos and I will be skipping my Shabbos meals. So will you. No challah, no kugel, no cholent, no gefilte fish!

But wait! I heard an idea!!! To accept Shabbos early, make kiddush and eat my Shabbos meal before dark. Then Yom Kippur will begin at sundown and I will happily fast. This way I will "have my cake and NOT eat it too." But this isn't recommended by our Sages, so I will not do it. But why not? Sounds like a great idea [some people say "idier"].

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

When Redemption Costs - Answer

The Bi'ur Halacha [Simman 656] was bothered by this very question. He explained that the reason one is not allowed to spend more than a fifth is because we don't want people to be destitute. The gemara in kiddushin that teaches that a person must spend his last five selaim for the mitzva of pidyon haben is talking about a person who is gainfully employed. Such a person will be receiving a paycheck soon so there is no concern that he will become poor.

Frankly, that answer doesn't seem correct at all!!! I would never speak that way about the holy Chofetz Chaim [author of the Biúr Halacha] but I am merely quoting the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein. He didn't explain why this answer is problematic, but I suspect that Rav Moshe felt that the assumption is that everybody [or almost everybody] has a job and yet Chazal still said that one may not spend more than a fifth.

Rav Moshe own answer is quite convincing: There are some mitzvos where the expenditure is a MEANS by which we fulfill the mitzva. For example, the mitzva is to take the lulav and esrog in hand. The means by which we fulfill this mitzva is by buying the lulav and esrog. But the actual mitzva is the taking of the lulav and esrog. In such an instance Chazal said that one must not spend more than a fifth.

But there are other mitzvos where the expenditure IS the mitzva. An example of this is the five selaim we pay the kohen for pidyon haben. Another example is repaying a loan [which is a mitzva]. Where the expenditure is the mitzva and not just the means by which we fulfill the mitzva then one must spend whatever it costs. That explains why a person must spend his last penny in order to fulfill the mitzva of pidyon haben.

IF YOU DON'T ENJOY REALLY BAD PUNS PLEASE DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING [BUT I COULD NOT RESIST]: Where did the expectant parents keep the money they were saving up for the pidyon haben? In their Piddy Bank.

Ba dam chhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

An Interesting Question - Two Interesting Answers

The late great Rav Shlomo Kluger [one of the most prolific authors in Jewish history] offered a tremendously novel explanation with which one could definitely argue. He says that if one loans his fellow money with interest under the threat of personal extinction and this threat no longer exists when the time for payment comes around, it is still permitted to collect the interest! This is because the Torah only forbade one to collect interest when the prohibition applied from beginning to end. But in our case when the loan was originally given the stipulation that interest would be paid was halachically sanctioned due to the threat upon the lenders life.

So that is what the Shulchan Aruch meant by saying that Ribbis is permitted in a case of pikuach nefesh. Not only if the pikuach nefesh existed all the way through [for we would know on our own that in such a case one would be allowed to collect as one is allowed to do just about any sin to save his life] but even if at the time of payment there was no longer pikuach nefesh.

Rav Shammai Gross Shlita [the Dayan of the Belzer Chasidim] suggested a different answer. Chazal compare one who lends money with interest to one who denies the existence of G-d [!]. So one might have throught that this sin is an accessory ["avizraihu"] to the sin of idolatry and therefore a person is required to give up his life rather than transgress. That is why the Shulchan Aruch had to tell us that notwithstanding the seriousness of the transgression it is neverthless permitted in a case of pikuach nefesh.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Redemption Costs

We recently discussed the halacha that for a positive commandment one is only obligated to spend up to a fifth of his funds. We pointed out that the mitzva of having chidren is an exception to the rule and explained why.

There is another exception to this rule. The gemara in kiddushin [29] teaches that one must spend every last penny in order to give the kohen money [five selaim] for pidyon haben [redeeming the first born son]. Why? Shouldn't we be obligated to redeem our son only if it will cost us up to one fifth of our funds but no more. Why must we spend everything we have?

Pro-Creation: Answer

The Avnei Nezer suggests that in a case where the mitzva will be nullified for life then it is necessary to spend even more than a fifth on the mitzva. That is why one must divorce his wife if she is unable to conceive for ten years even though she is clearly worth more than a fifth of his money. So in a normal case of course one need not spend more than a fifth, but in our situation if the person doesn't divorce his wife he will never fulfill the mitzva of procreation. [Note: Today it is no longer customary to get divorced in such a case.]

Segulah [- spiritual good luck charm] to conceive: Move to Peru.

A Rebbe For Torah Only?

Dear Alleyways

I read your post about obesity and I was just curious - why did you feel it necessary to write a post about health when your main interest and focus is usually Torah?

Phil from Philly

Dearest Phil,

I never cease to be amused by the cool names that some of my readers have. Let's say that you lived in Montana, "Phil from Montana". Doesn't have the same ring to it as "Phil from Philly." But then again if you lived in Montana your parents would probably have named you "Monty". Then you could have been cousins with Mr. Python. Remember the great 49ers quarterback Joe Montana? I wonder where he was from. I don't know if I can ever forgive him for destroying my beloved Dolphins in the '84 Super Bowl. Well, Yom Kippur is coming up...

In any event to answer your question I will refer you to one of my favorite gemaras EVER. Rav Huna asked his son Rabbah why he is not attending the classes of Rav Chisda who was exceptionally sharp. Rabbah answered "Why should I attend his classes, he speaks about mundane matters such as health." Rav Huna answered his son in wonderment "He is talking about matters that pertain to the preservation of human life and you derogatorily call that "mundane matters". If that is what he talks about you should most certainly attend his classes!! [Shabbos 82a and see Rav Kook's Ain Ayah]

We see the importance of sharing health tips with others. It is part of our spiritual service.

Love and Blessings

Monday, September 03, 2007

An Interesting Question

Yesterday I met a good friend from the States in the Old City. He told me that he doesn't have to be back at work on Monday because he has off for Labor Day. Which got me thinking. Shouldn't people be WORKING on Labor Day. Or at least call it Non-Labor Day?! The Torah says to labor for six days and Saturday is the day on which all labor ceases. Shabbos is not called "Labor Day."

Anyway, that is not the main topic. What I wanted to discuss is the following question. The Shulchan Aruch [Yoreh Deah 160/22] teaches us something that seems so obvious that it is apparently a waste of good ink. If ones life is in danger [known in the vernacular as Pikuach Nefesh - no relation to Nefesh B'Nefesh] one is allowed to lend money with interest ["Ribbis" - sounds like a word that an Ashkenazi frog would say] in order to save himself. "Muttar l'halvos b'ribbis bimakom pikuch nefesh". But I would have known that on my own! Every mitzva is pushed aside in order to save a life [excluding the three cardinal sins]. Human life is of the highest value. So why did the Shulchan Aruch find it necessary to teach us this law specifically regarding interest when it equally applies to every other mitzva? There must be something that he is teaching us that we don't already know.

What is the chiddush? An interesting question.


I have so many weaknesses and faults that it is embarrassing. But there is one area where I consider myself completely free of any problems - obesity. Obesity and overeating afflict millions of Americans and it is not healthy to say the least! At about 5 foot ten and a half inches and 125 pounds I can honestly say that being overweight is not - nor has it ever been - an issue for me.

So here is my advice to take care of the body that G-d gave you to serve Him. If you are hungry eat a little bit and WAIT twenty minutes. This will teach you self control - a trait of great spiritual value. But it will also allow your stomach to send the message to your brain that you are not so hungry anymore. Eat a little bit more and wait again. This way you will not eat too much. Otherwise people eat much more than they need to because their brain hasn't yet received the message that the body doesn't need so much food.

Also, listening to a shiur from allleyways can help one lose weight - provided that one exercises while doing so. A multi-tasking endeavor which will yield great dividends - in this world and the next.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


When I was in high school I would take the school bus from my home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to the school which was located in Washington Heights [also known as "The Dominican Republic"]. We had to travel through Harlem. That was interesting. So many sights to see! Anyway, I remember a store that sold signs. The store had a big sign in the front "A business without a sign is a sign of no business."

Every store needs a sign so that people know what is for sale. When the Jewish people were about to cross over the Jordan and arrive in Israel they were to commanded that upon arrival they were to take a large rock and inscribe thereon the Torah.[Devarim 27/3].

Rav Yerucham Levovitz the Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva [d. 1936] explained that this rock is like a sign. When someone enters the Holy Land he must know that in this land there is only one thing for sale - the Torah. That is the "business" of Eretz Yisrael. If someone isn't interested in buying food then he shouldn't enter a store with a sign that says "Grocery Store." In the same way if one isn't interested in keeping the Torah then Eretz Yisrael is not the place for him.

Our sign is the Torah - written clearly and legibly and translated so that everyone can understand [as the commentaries explain].

Burning Question - Answer

Burning a mezuza is not only a lo ta'aseh of "lo ta'asun ken lashem Elokechem" but also a transgression of the additional aseh of "Es Hashem Elokecha tira" - One must fear Hashem [this is the source of the prohibition against uttering a G-d's name in vain]. So if we burn the mezuza to fulfill the mitzva of burning the Ir Nidachas we will have to transgress not only a negative commandment but a positive commandment as well. A positive commandment may override ONE negative prohibition but not a negative and a positive commandment. In the vernacular we would say "aseh doche lo ta'aseh vi'lo lo ta'aseh vi'aseh." That is why the gemara does not allow us to burn the mezuza. [Minchas Chinuch, Maharam Schick and Shu"t Toras Chesed]

However Rav Naftali Nussbaum Shlita [Rosh Yeshiva of Chaye Moshe in Yerushalayim] points out that if it is permitted to burn the mezuza because of the rule of aseh doche lo ta'aseh then there is no lack of fear of Hashem if one does so. So we cannot say that the mitzva is overriding a positive and a negative commandment. It overrides the negative commandment in which case the positive commandment to fear Hashem [prohibiting us from burning it] would not apply.

So we're back to the drawing board.....

[Last year an audio shiur was given on this topic that can be found in the halacha and gemara section entitledמזוזה ועיר הנדחת: תירוץ נפלא לקושייתו של רבי עקיבא איגר זצ"ל.]

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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