Friday, March 30, 2012

An Erev Pesach thought

This is an article I wrote for this week's Toronto Torah. I think I overwrote it a bit, but I still like it...

Our ancestor Yitzchak sought to pass the blessing of his father, Avraham, to his elder son, Esav. He summoned Esav and said, in the words of a midrash (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer 31), "My son! Tonight the upper realms sing, tonight the stores of dew are opened, today is the blessing of the dew. Prepare tasty food for me, and I will bless you while I yet live." This midrash then continues to tell us that the date when Esav was to be blessed, but instead Yaakov inherited his father's mantle, was the fourteenth of Nisan, commonly known as Erev Pesach.

Why should we associate the communication of this ancestral blessing with Pesach? This midrash explains that Yitzchak's menu betrays the secret; why else would this elderly patriarch have been interested in a meal of two goats? This must have been a desire to anticipate the future Pesach celebration by partaking in a korban chagigah and a korban pesach.

We might amplify the midrashic connection by noting that Yitzchak's blessing was drawn to the fourteenth of Nisan by intent, not coincidence. The midrash itself states that Yitzchak chose this date for its special portent; building on that text, we might suggest that the fourteenth, when the stores of dew are opened, is a day of fateful transition, completion of ancient journeys and incipience of new ones.

That original fourteenth of Nisan certainly fits this description. Conferral of Avraham's heritage upon Yaakov marked the completion of Avraham and Sarah's journey, the selection of a third fibre for the triple-threaded cord (Kohelet 4:12) which would anchor the continuity of the Jewish people. At the same time, though, a new journey began, for on this day Yaakov was compelled to flee into exile, embarking upon the creation of the nucleus of the Jewish people, the seventy souls who would ultimately descend to Egypt.

In the days of the original Pesach, too, the fourteenth represented a critical historical juncture. A nation of slaves sacrificed the Pesach lamb and thereby completed the sentence decreed centuries earlier, ending its sojourn in a land not its own. At the same instant, a nation of free women and men took their first tentative steps in the service of G-d, trailing pillars of fire and cloud into the wilderness.

Forever forward in Jewish history, as we note in Nirtzah, the fourteenth would be a moment of transition, the hours of entrée into "chatzi halaylah" beginning a new day.

This completion-and-beginning character of the fourteenth of Nisan is seen in the Talmud Yerushalmi, too, in two different explanations for the prohibition against labour on that date. The sages offered two different explanations for this prohibition:

"It would be illogical for you to be immersed in your work, while your korban was brought." (Talmud Yerushalmi Pesachim 4:1)

"Exodus 12:11 identifies this day as 'It is a Pesach for G-d'." (Talmud Yerushalmi Pesachim 4:6)

The first explanation sees the fourteenth as Erev Pesach, when we sacrifice a korban which will only be eaten that night; we do not perform work because we must occupy ourselves with preparation for that night. The fourteenth is a bridesmaid, her honour acquired by association with a journey which will begin only after her time is past. The second explanation, though, sees the fourteenth as Pesach, a holiday in its own right, "Pesach for G-d." This date is a milestone, completing the historic path.

Certainly, we are more familiar with the fourteenth of Nisan as "Erev Pesach," but our sages did refer to this day as "Pesach", a Yom Tov in its right. As noted by Professor Yitzchak Gilat (, the Mishnah (Pesachim 1:7) identified the fourteenth by the name "Pesach". Philo, living two thousand years ago, called it "Pesach", as did Josephus in his Wars of the Jews.

This dual message is ours to claim on the fourteenth of Nisan, every year. The Jew does not equate "history" with "past"; we see historic milestones in every birth, bat mitzvah, wedding and death, and we view our personal and communal drives toward spiritual achievement through lenses of portent and meaning. The fourteenth of Nisan, then, is an ideal time to take stock of where we have been, to see the journey of the past year as complete, and to celebrate a Pesach. At the same time, it is the establishment of new goals, the start of a new journey, an Erev Pesach. May this year's fourteenth serve as both for all of us, ushering in greater redemption for us all.Link

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Not the mother-in-law you want, I think...

Thanks to ProfK, I became aware of this Jewish Press article yesterday. [If your sensitivities are like mine, do not click on that link within an hour after eating.] Mrs. Yitta Halberstam, the author of the article, contends that girls should be encouraged to examine their looks and undertake cosmetic transformation, including surgery, to improve their chances of finding a shidduch [or, as we see in the article, finding mothers-in-law who will approve of them as a shidduch for their sons].

The concept of pursuing beauty for the sake of a shidduch is old; I've given shiurim on the conflicting views presented by Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg on the topic of cosmetic surgery for a shidduch, and the positions of various poskim. And you can see my thoughts on the importance of beauty in an old post ("You're so vain") here. I get it. But the message in this woman's article, and the way she puts it, is stomach-turning for me.

Here's an excerpt, describing a gathering the author attended. Believe it or not, the gathering was for mothers of eligible bachelors to meet eligible young women who might date their sons - that's right, the mother-in-law is now the chair of the Search Committee:

Let me tell you about this particular population of girls: They were between the ages of 21 and 24, and mostly seeking “learning boys.” (The organizers’ plan for the future is to hold additional events for other age groups and different categories of boys: learners/earners, professionals, working boys only, etc.) They were eidel, frum, sincere, intelligent, and committed to the learning ideal. But even the most temimasdika ben Torah is looking for a wife whom he finds attractive. Yes, spiritual beauty makes a woman’s eyes glow and casts a luminous sheen over her face; there is no beauty like a pure soul. Make-up, however, goes a long way in both correcting facial flaws and accentuating one’s assets, and if my cursory inspection was indeed accurate (and I apologize if the girls used such natural make-up that I simply couldn’t tell), barely any of these girls seemed to have made a huge effort to deck themselves out.

Since most of the young women at chasunas seem quite presentable, I couldn’t shake off my sense of disbelief as I looked around now. What were they thinking? How had their mothers allowed them to leave their homes with limp hair and unadorned faces? With just a little blush, eyeliner and lip-gloss, they could have gone from average to pretty. There are very few women who can’t use a little extra help. Even the most celebrated magazine models can look downright plain when stripped of all cosmetics, al achas kamah v’kamah girls who are not born with perfect features. So what was going on? Were they in denial about the qualities young men are seeking in future wives? Yes, it is somewhat disillusioning that men dedicated to full-time Torah learning possess what these girls might perceive are superficial values, but brass tacks: they want a spouse to whom they are attracted. The young men themselves might be too shy or ashamed to admit it, but their mothers won’t hesitate to ask what for some is the deal maker/deal breaker question, namely: “Is she pretty?”

Thankfully, every one’s conception of attractiveness is different; beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and a woman’s intellect, personality and soul can have a tremendous bearing on the way in which her beauty is perceived. Still, there is trying, and then there is not trying. The mystery perplexed me: Why hadn’t some of the girls gone overboard in presenting themselves in the best possible light? I felt like shaking them in despair. As I further scanned the room (I had started assuming the role of disembodied observer once I realized that I was at the wrong event; my son is learning full time now, but plans to pursue a Ph.D so he wasn’t appropriate for this particular group), I could not help but notice the number of girls who could have vastly improved their appearances–gone from plain Jane to truly beautiful–if they simply made some effort.

This strikes me as so wrong, on so many levels. I'll pick just two:

1. Legitimization of the Beauty Pageant - Yes, boys are attracted by attractive women. And yes, the mishnah at the end of Taanis describes women from the time of the second Beis haMikdash luring men by saying תנו עיניכם ביופי, "Look who beautiful we are." But (1) That was a different psychological world in many ways, and it should not necessarily be re-created, and (2) They also said "Look how wealthy we are," and I don't see Mrs. Halberstam suggesting women should go out and get advanced job training to make a lot of money in order to attract a gold-digging shidduch and/or mother-in-law.

2. The role of the mother-in-law - I would hate to be such a woman's daughter-in-law.

Can you imagine what will happen every time this eventual mother-in-law wishes to visit? Is the daughter-in-law going to need to pretty herself in the maternity ward after giving birth, apply lipstick while cleaning up after a two-year-old, or work on her mascara while juggling multiple children and job, in order to convince her mother-in-law that she is doing everything possible to appease her husband's need for aesthetic satisfaction?

And beyond the immediate "No woman [who won't prettify herself] is good enough for my son" arena, what will this do to the family dynamic, in general? Now that we're appointing the mother-in-law as Chair of the Search Committee, is she ever going to abandon that position?

I would go on, but - what's the use.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Building trust with our children

[This month's Kosher Cooking Carnival is now available here]

Rabbi Shmuel Gluck's Areivim program ( is geared toward helping build healthy Jewish families. To cite the Areivim website, "Areivim offers teenagers, their parents and their siblings, coping skills, educational resources and mentoring services, in order to help the teenagers succeed within the family and educational systems."

This is incredibly important work. I became aware of Areivim a few years ago, and for some time I have been receiving and reading Rabbi Gluck's weekly emails on Parenting. I have found his advice valuable, for myself as well as for use in helping others.

This week Rabbi Gluck began a new series on transmitting Judaism to our children, and he began by discussing the importance of trust in parent/child relationships. With his permission, I am posting part of his comments here; to sign up, please email Rabbi Gluck at

The excerpt begins here:

There are 4 components necessary to nurture trust in any relationship. In a healthy parent/child or teacher/student relationship the four traits are often natural. However, in many homes and schools some, or all, of these four traits are missing, and the parents and teachers must increase their skills in these four areas. Without them, they won't be able to transmit the Mesorah.

Many parents find that their children are unresponsive, unaware, and unwilling to admit that it's their parents' lack of these skills, that cause their negative responses.

The four traits are:

1) Credibility: This is the ability for parents to present themselves as successful people. Children want to "look up" to their parents, but they'll only do it when they believe that they deserve it. Young children naturally place their parents on a pedestal. As they become older, they realize that their parents aren't perfect. Most of them will adjust to this reality; however, if the contrast between their initial views and their present impressions are very large, they'll stop trusting their parents.

Sometimes children will stop trusting their parents for reasons which aren't the fault of the parents. Peer pressure, unrealistic expectations, and frustrations when they repeatedly don't get what they want, are some common reasons. However, in most cases it's the result of the parents' actions that cause their children to change their opinions.

2) Reliability: This is the ability to follow through on their required responsibilities. It includes the ability to keep their commitments on time, the willingness to fulfill their responsibilities, and fulfilling the favors that their children have come to expect. What many parents misunderstand, is that offering excuses, rationalizing their actions, or going on the offense when they fail those responsibilities, will not create or sustain credibility, and leads to a belief of unreliability. Responding in such negative manners to their own failures is a form of bullying, and won't help the children believe in them.

3) Connecting with others: Many parents have been taught, by their parents, that "parents aren't supposed to be their children's friends". Although, in some ways this may be true, nevertheless, appearing robotic or tough, will not endear them to their children. Instead it'll create a "disconnect" between them and their children. Trust requires a relationship, not necessarily of equals, but of people who share more than sleeping and kitchen areas. They must also share with each other, their hopes, fears, and beliefs. (It should be understood that children should share with their parents significantly more than parents should share with their children.)

4) Self-orientation: Many parents have a difficult time thinking of others before they think of themselves. They're always protecting their image, territory,and possessions. They do this even when it unfairly costs their children, their image, territory, and possessions.

Some parents don't place a lot of thought into this. Other parents say that their children are supposed to respect, and sacrifice for, them. Although this may be true to a certain degree, it's not to the extent that some parents apply it. Whenever parents request that their children do something for them, it conveys spoken, and unspoken, thoughts. The request represents the spoken thought. The unspoken thought is the attitude, which ranges from, "I appreciate this and I'll do what I can for you" to, "as my child you must do what I request."

To be continued – Email Rabbi Gluck to sign up for future emails.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Miriam's Influence

I was asked the following question the other day: In three separate places in Chumash, Chur is mentioned and Rashi takes pains, each time, to inform us that he was the son of Miriam.

First: Shemot 17:10, when Chur and Aharon support Moshe in his defense of the Jews during their war with Amalek.

Second: Shemot 24:14, when Moshe appoints Aharon and Chur to be the counselors of the Jews while he is away on Har Sinai.

Third: Shemot 35:30, when Chur's grandson Betzalel is appointed to lead the creation of the Mishkan.

Why does Rashi go out of his way to mention Chur's mother each time?

My first thought was that there were midrashim on each pasuk identifying Chur's lineage, and Rashi was only citing those midrashim, but I could not find any such midrash, on any of the pesukim.

So I have an idea which I would not deem "peshat", but which I like in any case: Each of these cases involves Chur in a different role, and in each case he channels the influence of his mother, Miriam.

In defending the Jews against Amalek, Chur channels his mother Miriam's defense of the Jews as a midwife (Shemot 1:17), and her defense of Moshe as he floated in the river (Shemot 2:4-9).

In counseling the Jews, Chur channels his mother Miriam's counsel to Amram and Yocheved to have more children (Sotah 12a), and her counsel regarding Moshe and Tziporah's relationship (Bamidbar 12:1, Rashi there).

In creating the Mishkan, Chur's grandson channels Miriam's act of connecting the Jews to Gd in the dance after they crossed through the Sea (Shemot 15:20-21).

And Rashi highlights this by commenting, each time, "Chur is the son of Miriam."

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Three Sifrei Torah!

[All I have to say to this post at Life in Israel is AMEN!]

[I wrote the following for this week's Toronto Torah, which is downloadable from here. It was inspired by a friend of mine in Allentown, who loves the Shabbatot on which we bring out three Torah scrolls.]

Time is valuable, but it is only a currency to be traded and spent rather than hoarded. A moment of time has no independent worth; the value of time is realized when it is invested in a relationship, in spiritual growth, in education, or in community.

Unfortunately, we easily mistake our valuable currencies for commodities; as a natural outgrowth of our need to acquire currency, we come to view it as an end unto itself. This is how we become obsessed with amassing money, and it is also how we become obsessed with protecting our time. Much as people spend what they must for perceived necessities and stint on spending for other items, so people spend time on perceived necessities, and stint on the time they spend for other pursuits, including davening, Shabbat meals and learning.

This point is particularly relevant today, when we invest our time in reading from three sifrei torah. What a beautiful moment - the confluence of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and the onset of Nisan, the month which leads all others in the Torah's calendar! We withdraw three scrolls of our sacred heritage from the Aron Kodesh and parade them through the synagogue, the silver polished and shining, the gathered children awed by this unusual display of religious grandeur, hands reaching out to press once, twice and three times the velvet cases enwrapping sanctified parchment. We celebrate the riches of our synagogue, and express a great communal appreciation of the blessing revealed to us at Sinai.

But in the midst of this pomp, some of us might turn to our neighbours and sigh, "Three Torahs – we won't be out of here until 12:30!" This reaction stems from a view that time is a commodity to be hoarded. Better to recognize that those minutes of Shabbat morning could not be used in a more worthwhile way, that the time during which we honour our tripled Torah, listen to its tripled words and comprehend its triple message, will be time well-spent, and will bring us and our children great returns. Knowing how to spend our time positively, rather than hoard it, will help us live more fruitful and inspired lives.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Judaism: Spiritual or Practical?

Of course, Judaism is both Spiritual and Practical; we are taught to develop our personal spiritual character, and also to carry out practical mitzvot. But which is more important?

The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 20b) describes a hierarchy of traits for development, suggesting that a person can grow from basic observance of Torah and concern for avoiding sin to purification and holiness to Divine inspiration. After presenting the list, the Talmud mentions a debate between two authorities; Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair says the highest trait is chassidut, and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says the highest trait is humility.

As it used in mishnah and gemara, chassidut usually refers to exceeding one's practical mitzvah obligations. Humility, on the other hand, is an internal, spiritual trait. Which leads me to wonder: Is this really a debate about whether it is better to work on one's spirituality or to work on one's deeds?

It's a good question. Of course, one could and should point out that spiritual character affects one's deeds, and one's deeds (per Sefer haChinuch) influence one's spiritual character. And, yes, humility leads to knowing how much one needs to learn in other areas. But that is not my point at the moment.

I want to know: Given the chance to learn mussar or Shulchan Aruch, which should one choose?

Or, perhaps better: Given the chance to learn mussar or work in a soup kitchen, which should one choose?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Medical Halachah: Minyan vs Medicine

Gd-willing, I'll present a shiur on Monday night regarding the conflicts a doctor faces between taking care of patients and managing his other mitzvah responsibilities. Obviously, doctors who are taking care of patients are engaged in great service of Gd as well as Man, but how should a doctor find balance between medical mitzvot and other mitzvot?

Here are the specific questions I hope to address; feedback would be most welcome-

1. How do I choose between religious observance and non-critical patient care? Is it better to keep patients in a waiting room while praying minchah, or am I exempt from prayer? May I recite abbreviated prayers, or pray while driving? Do we differentiate for women and men?

2. How do I manage a Passover Seder while on call? What sections should be prioritized?

3. I know that I will need to see patients in the hospital on Shabbat, Yom Tov or Yom Kippur in the coming weeks. I will do my best to do so according to Jewish law regardless of which day I am in the hospital, but how do I prioritize between these special days?

UPDATE: Here is the source sheet I intend to use-
A core principle: One who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from further mitzvot
1.   Talmud, Succah 25a-b
משנה שלוחי מצוה פטורין מן הסוכה...
גמרא מנא הני מילי דתנו רבנן "'בשבתך בביתך' פרט לעוסק במצוה"...
והעוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה מהכא נפקא? מהתם נפקא דתניא "'ויהי אנשים אשר היו טמאים לנפש אדם וכו'' אותם אנשים מי היו? נושאי ארונו של יוסף היו, דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי. רבי עקיבא אומר מישאל ואלצפן היו שהיו עוסקין בנדב ואביהוא. רבי יצחק אומר אם נושאי ארונו של יוסף היו כבר היו יכולין ליטהר, אם מישאל ואלצפן היו יכולין היו ליטהר! אלא עוסקין במת מצוה היו..."! צריכא, דאי אשמעינן התם משום דלא מטא זמן חיובא דפסח, אבל הכא דמטא זמן קריאת שמע אימא לא, צריכא. ואי אשמעינן הכא משום דליכא כרת, אבל התם דאיכא כרת אימא לא, צריכא...
תניא "אמר רבי חנניא בן עקביא כותבי ספרים תפילין ומזוזות הן ותגריהן ותגרי תגריהן וכל העוסקין במלאכת שמים לאתויי מוכרי תכלת פטורין מקריאת שמע ומן התפילה ומן התפילין ומכל מצות האמורות בתורה, לקיים דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי שהיה רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה."
תנו רבנן "הולכי דרכים ביום פטורין מן הסוכה ביום וחייבין בלילה. הולכי דרכים בלילה פטורין מן הסוכה בלילה וחייבין ביום. הולכי דרכים ביום ובלילה פטורין מן הסוכה בין ביום ובין בלילה. הולכין לדבר מצוה פטורין בין ביום ובין בלילה."
Mishnah: Those who are on a mitzvah mission are exempt from Succah.
Gemara: How do we know this? The sages taught, "'When you lie down in your house' excludes one who is involved in a mitzvah"…
But do we learn [this lesson] from this source? It is deduced from that: "'And there were men who were impure from contact with the dead' – Who were those men? The bearers of Joseph's casket, per R' Yosi haGlili. R' Akiva said they were Mishael and Eltzafan, who were involved with Nadav and Avihu. R' Yitzchak said the bearers of Joseph's casket could have purified themselves, and Mishael and Eltzafan could have purified themselves; rather, these were people involved in a body which had no one else…"!
We need both cases. From the Pesach case I would have said the exemption is limited, because they became impure before the time for Pesach, but where the time for Shema has arrived one would not be exempt [if he began a different mitzvah]. And from the Shema case, I would have said one is exempt only because there is no harsh penalty involved, like kareit, but in a case [like Pesach] involving kareit this would not be so. Both are necessary…
We have learned, "R' Chanania ben Akavyah said: Those who write Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, and their merchants, and their merchants' merchants, and all who do Heavenly work – which includes techelet merchants – are exempt from Shema, the amidah and tefillin and all biblical mitzvot, as R' Yosi haGlili said, 'One who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from another mitzvah.'"
We have learned, "Those who travel by day are exempt from Succah by day, and are obligated at night. Those who travel at night are exempt from Succah at night, and are obligated by day. Those who travel at both day and night are exempt from Succah day and night. Those who travel for a mitzvah are exempt during day and night."

What if he can fulfill both mitzvot?
2.   Ran Succah 11a ואיכא
העלו בתוספות דלא פטירי אלא היכא שאם יקיימו מצות סוכה יבטלו ממצותיהן ואמרינן בגמרא [דף כו א] דרב חסדא ורבה בר רב הונא כי הוו עיילי לשבתא דריגלא לבי ריש גלותא הוו גנו ארקתא דסורא ואמרי אנן שלוחי מצוה אנן ופטרינן בכה"ג נמי הוא דאי מטרדו בקיום מצות סוכה הוו מפגרי ממצותן. ולא נ"ל כן דפשטא דמילתא לא משמע כן
Tosafot suggested that one is exempt only if fulfilling Succah would cause him to be unable to fulfill his other mitzvah. The gemara mentions that Rav Chisda and Rabbah bar Rav Huna travelled to the Exilarch's house for the Shabbat of the holiday and slept along the shore in Sura, saying they were en route to a mitzvah and therefore exempt; Tosafot says that this is only where involvement in Succah would have caused them to be delinquent from their mitzvah. This does not appear correct to me, though; the language does not indicate that.

3.   Talmud, Berachot 30a
והיכי מצלי לה? רב חסדא אמר מעומד, רב ששת אמר אפילו מהלך. רב חסדא ורב ששת הוו קאזלי באורחא, קם רב חסדא וקא מצלי. אמר ליה רב ששת לשמעיה, מאי קא עביד רב חסדא? אמר ליה קאי ומצלי. אמר ליה אוקמן נמי לדידי ואצלי, מהיות טוב אל תקרא רע.
How does one recite [the wayfarer's prayer]? Rav Chisda said: While standing. Rav Sheshet said: Even while travelling.
Rav Chisda and Rav Sheshet were travelling, and Rav Chisda halted to pray. Rav Sheshet said to his servant, "What is Rav Sheshet doing?" He said, "He has halted, and he is praying." Rav Sheshet said, "Halt me, too, and I will pray; given the chance to be good, do not be called bad."

4.   Talmud Yerushalmi, Berachot 1:2
כותבי ספרים תפילין ומזוזות מפסיקין לק"ש ואין מפסיקין לתפילה ר' חנינ' בן עקביה או' כשם שמפסיקין לק"ש כך מפסיקין לתפילה ולתפילין ולשאר כל מצותיה של תורה
Those who write Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot stop for Shema and not for the amidah. R' Chanina ben Akaviah said: Just as they stop for Shema, they stop for the amidah, tefillin, and all other biblical mitzvot.

5.   Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:8
כותבי תפילין ומזוזות הם ותגריהם ותגרי תגריהם וכל העוסקים במלאכת שמים, פטורים מהנחת תפילין כל היום, זולת בשעת ק"ש ותפלה. הגה: ואם היו צריכים לעשות מלאכתן בשעת ק"ש ותפלה, אז פטורין מק"ש ותפלה ותפילין. דכל העוסק במצוה פטור ממצוה אחרת אם צריך לטרוח אחר האחרת, אבל אם יכול לעשות שתיהן כאחת בלא טורח, יעשה שתיהן.
R' Yosef Karo: Those who write Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, and their merchants, and their merchants' merchants, and all who do Heavenly work are exempt from tefillin all day, other than during Shema and the amidah.
R' Moshe Isserles: If they need to do their work during Shema and the amidah, they are exempt from Shema, the amidah and tefillin, for one who is involved in a mitzvah is exempt from other mitzvot if he would need to strain to fulfill the other mitzvah. If he can fulfill both without strain, though, then he should fulfill both.

Two possible limitations
6.   Rabbeinu Nisim (14th century Spain), Succah 11a ואיכא
ודאי בשעה שהאבדה משומרת בתיבתו לא מפטר
Certainly, when the lost object is guarded in his safe then he is not exempt.

7.   R' Yaakov of Lissa (18th century Poland), Netivot haMishpat, Choshen Mishpat 72 Biurim 19
החיוב מוטל על כל אדם ליתן צדקה, אבל אין חיוב ומצות עשה מוטל על שום אדם להיות גבאי צדקה, דאם היה מצות עשה להיות גבאי היו כל ישראל מחוייבים להיות גבאים
All are obligated to give tzedakah, but there is neither obligation nor mitzvah for any particular person to be a tzedakah collector. Were there such a mitzvah, all Israel would be obligated to become collectors.

8.   Rashi to Succah 26a
תגריהן - הלוקחין מהן כדי למכור ולהמציאן לצריך להם
"Their merchants" – Who purchase from the scribes, to sell them and make them available to those who need them.

9.   R' Avraham Gombiner (17th century Poland), Magen Avraham 38:8
משמע דאם עושה כדי להשתכר בו לא מקרי עוסק במצוה וצ"ע בנדרים דף ל"ג משמע דמחזיר אבידה הוו עוסק במצוה אע"פ שנוטל עליו שכר וי"ל דהתם אינו נוטל אלא שכר בטלתו א"נ התם עיקר כוונתו להשיב אבדה אבל הכא עיקר כוונתו להשתכר
It sounds as though one who sells them for profit is not called "involved in a mitzvah". This requires examination, for Nedarim 33 sounds like one who returns a lost object is called"involved in a mitzvah" even if he is paid! Perhaps that is different because he is only paid for time lost from work. Alternatively, his main intent is to return the lost object; merchants intend to profit, primarily.

10.      R' Dr. Avraham Sofer Avraham (21st century Israel), Nishmat Avraham Orach Chaim 38:6
כותב הגר״י זילברשטיין שליט״א: רופא או אחות אעפ״י שכל עבודתו הוא רק עבור שכר, גם רופא כזה הוא משיב אבידה - ואין לך משיב אבידה גדולה מזו – ולכן מכיון שבשעת עבודתו הוא אינו מתכוין לשכר כלל אלא עוסק בסתם לשם ריפוי החולה, וטיפולו (וה״ה אחות) הוא עצם המצוה, יש לו דין כעוסק במצוה.
R' Yitzchak Zylbershtein wrote: Even though doctors and nurses are paid for their work, still, they are like people returning lost objects – and there is no greater restorer of a lost object! Therefore, since he does not think about profit at all while working, but is only involved in healing the patient, and his care, or that of a nurse, is the mitzvah itself, he has the status of one who is involved in a mitzvah.

11.      R' Yisrael Meir Kagan (20th century Poland), Biur Halachah Orach Chaim 38 הם
המסחור בעניני תפילין לא נזכר בשום מקום למצוה ואפילו אם נאמר דמה שהוא מוכר לאיזה אדם הצריך תפילין הוא בכלל עוסק במצוה עכ"פ בשעה שהוא קונה התפילין מהסופר כדי לסחור בהם אין שם לע"ע עצם פעולת המצוה כלל בהמעשה גופא
Commerce in tefillin is never considered a mitzvah. Even if selling it to someone who needed tefillin would be considered 'involvement in a mitzvah', still, when the merchant buys them in order to sell them he is not actively involved in a mitzvah with that action.

12.      R' Avraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham 93:5
וא"צ להתפלל מנחה שתים כיון דבשעת חובתו היה פטור מן הדין
He need not recite minchah twice; during the obligation, he was legally exempt.

13.      R' Dr. Avraham Sofer Avraham, Nishmat Avraham Orach Chaim 93:2
רופא שהתחיל לנתח או לראות חולים במרפאתו אחרי זמן מנחה ולא גמר עד שעבר זמן התפלה חייב להתפלל ערבית שתים
If a doctor begins to operate or to see patients in his clinic after the (earliest) time for minchah, and he does not finish until the time for prayer has passed, then he must pray maariv twice.

14.      Talmud, Berachot 20b
וחייבין בתפלה דרחמי נינהו
Women are obligated in prayer, for it is [a request for] mercy.

15.      R' Dr. Avraham Sofer Avraham, Nishmat Avraham Orach Chaim 93:1
שמעתי ממו״ר הגרי״י נויבירט שליט״א שרופא פטור מתפלה, לא רק בזמן שהוא בודק ומטפל בחולה (אפילו שאין בו סכנה) אלא גם בזמן שהוא עסוק בכתיבה בתיק החולה ואפילו בזמן שהוא כותב מכתבי שחרור, כי כל זה מוגדר כעוסק במצוה
I have heard from my master R' Yehoshua Neuwirth that a doctor is exempt from prayer not only when he is examining or treating a patient – even without danger to life – but even when he is writing in the patient's record, and even when he is writing release documents. All of this is "involvement in the mitzvah."

16.      R' Yisrael Meir Kagan, Biur Halachah Orach Chaim 38 אם
וכן החופר קבר למת פטור מכולם אע"פ שנח מעט שגם בשעת נוחו נקרא עדיין עוסק במצוה שעי"ז יתחזק כוחו לחזור ולחפור
So, too, one who digs graves is exempt from all of these even when he rests for a bit; during his rest he is called 'involved in a mitzvah', for through this he regains strength and returns to dig.

17.      R' Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishneh Berurah 640:11
ואם הוא חולה שיש בו סכנה נראה דיש להקל גם בשעה שא"צ לו
In caring for a dangerously ill patient, it appears that one should be lenient even when the patient does not need him.

18.      R' Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishneh Berurah 640:10
ואם יש שני משמשים וא"צ לשניהם בבת אחת צריך לאכול אחד בסוכה בעת שימושו של השני
If there are two caretakers and they are not needed simultaneously, one must eat in the succah while the other works.

19.      R' Yisrael Meir Kagan, Mishneh Berurah 70:18
ואם יכול להפסיק לק"ש ואח"כ לחזור ולגמור צרכי צבור בלא טורח יפסיק.
If one can stop for Shema and then return and complete communal needs without strain, he should stop.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Talmudic medicine

In preparing a shiur on Alternative Medicine, I had the opportunity to review the Rambam's position on medicines and therapies recorded in the gemara, as well as the responses from sages across the generations. Here are a few sources, as food for thought; feel free to suggest corrections for my translations, which I did a little hastily:

Rambam, Moreh haNevuchim 3:37
ואמרו בפירוש כל שיש בו משום רפואה אין בו משום דרכי האמורי, רוצים בזה שכל מה שיגזרהו העיון הטבעי הוא מותר וזולתו אסור... ואל יקשה עליך מה שהתירו מהם במסמר הצלוב ושן השועל, כי הדברים ההם בזמן ההוא היו חושבים בהן שהוציא אותם הנסיון והיו משום רפואה
They said explicitly that medicinal treatments are not subject to "Emorite ways", meaning that anything mandated by natural studies is permitted, and anything else is prohibited… Do not be troubled by the Sages' permission of a tzaluv's nail or a fox's tooth, for in their day they thought these were medical products of testing...

Meiri Shabbat 67a
וזה שכתבו רבותינו ע"ה הרבה מהם בסוגיא זו ובמקומות אחרים הם נעזרו בדבר זה בצירוף בשני דברים הא' שלא היה שם דבר כדאי להטעות אלא הבלים המוניים וכזבי הנשים כמו שתראה ברובם שהיו מיחסים אותם על שם הנשים המיניקות והמגדלות את הילדים ומגדלות אותם בלימוד הבליהם והוא אמרם אמרה לי אם וכו':
והשני שמצד שהיו ההמון באותו זמן בטוח באותם הענינים היה טבעם מתחזק ונמצא מצד ההרגל עזר טבעי בהם
The fact that our Sages of blessed memory recorded many of these practices in this passage and other passages was a result of two factors:
First: These practices did not include anything which could mis-lead someone [into idolatry – MT]; these were only the empty practices of the masses and the follies of women, as you can see that the majority of them were ascribed to nursemaids and nannies of children, who raised them and inculcated in them these empty practices. Thus the sages said, "My mother [or nursemaid – MT] told me."
Second: Because the masses believed in these practices in those days, they were strengthened, and as a result of habituation they found natural help in them.

Vilna Gaon to Yoreh Deah 179:13
כל הבאים אחריו חלקו עליו שהרי הרבה לחשים נאמרו בגמרא והוא נמשך אחר הפלוסופיא ולכן כ' שכשפים ושמות ולחשים ושדים וקמיעות הכל הוא שקר אבל כבר הכו אותן על קדקדו שהרי מצינו הרבה מעשיות בגמ' ע"פ שמות וכשפים אמרה איהי מלתא ואסרתה לארבא אמרו כו' (שבת פ"א ב' חולין ק"ה ב') ובספ"ד מיתות ובירושלמי שם עובדא דר"א ור"י ובן בתירה וכן ר"ח ור"א דאיברו עיגלא תילתא ור' יהושע דאמר שם ואוקמיה בין שמיא לארעא (בכורות ח' ב') וכן אבישי בן צרויה (סנהדרין צ"ה א') והרבה כיוצא ואמרו (בספ"ד מיתות חולין ז' ב') למה נקרא שמן כשפים כו' והתורה העידה ויהיו תנינים וע' זוהר שם וכן קמיעין בהרבה מקומות ולחשים רבו מלספר. והפלסופיא הטתו ברוב לקחה לפרש הגמרא הכל בדרך הלציי ולעקור אותם מפשטן וח"ו איני מאמין בהם ולא מהם ולא מהמונם אלא כל הדברים הם כפשטן אלא שיש בהם פנימיות לא פנימיות של בעלי הפלוסופיא שהם חצוניות אלא של בעלי האמת:
All who came after him [Rambam - MT] disagreed with him, for many incantations were mentioned in the gemara. He was drawn after philosophy, and so he wrote that sorcery, Names, incantations, demons and amulets are lies, but they have already struck him upon his skull for we have found many anecdotes in the Talmud with Names and sorcery. Examples are in Shabbat 81b, Chullin 105b, the end of the seventh chapter in Sanhedrin…
Philosophy, with its many lessons, tricked him into explaining all of these talmudic passages in the manner of mockery, uprooting them from their simple explanation… All of these are in accord with their simple meanings, but they have inner meanings. Not the inner meanings of the philosophers, which are actually external, but of the people of truth.

R' Neriah Gutel, Hishtanut haTevaim baHalachah, pg. 179 citing R' Avraham ben haRambam (and see his footnote 427 there)
לא נתחייב מפני גודל מעלת חכמי התלמוד ותבונתם לשלימות תכונתם בפירוש התורה ובדקדוקיה ויושר אמריה בביאור כלליה ופרטיה שנטען להם ונעמיד דעתם בכל אמריהם ברפואות ובחכמת הטבע והתכונה ולהאמין אותם כאשר נאמין אותם בפירוש התורה שתכלית חכמתה בידם ולהם נמסרה להורותם לבני אדם
We are not obligated, due to the great stature of the Sages of the Talmud, and their understanding and complete comprehension of the explanation of Torah and its fine points and its righteous sayings in explaining its principles and specifics, to therefore argue on their behalf and support their views in all of their statements about medicines and the study of nature and mathematics, and to believe them in this as we believe them in explaining the Torah, in which the entirety of its wisdom is in their hands, and was given to them to teach to humanity.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quinoa for Pesach: Update from the CRC

First: This past week we held a Motzaei Shabbos panel discussion on "Igniting Spiritual Passion" in ourselves and in our children. Panelists were [in order of presentation] Rav Herschel Schachter, Rabbi Kenneth Brander, Dr. Rona Novick, YU President Richard Joel, and me. [Yes, I know that group is out of my league. I was just glad to have a good seat from which to listen.] You can find the audio here; the video should be on-line at Koshertube soon. Enjoy!
Next: Since we have discussed the status of quinoa on Pesach here before, here's an important update from the CRC, working in tandem with the OU and the Star-K:

February 28, 2012

In 2007 HaRav Gedalia Dov Schwartz, Shlit”a, the Av Beis Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, issued a p’sak that quinoa is not considered kitniyos and therefore may be used on Pesach. Most of the quinoa comes from Peru and Bolivia and has been grown in areas where other (problematic for Pesach) grains were generally not grown. However, as the popularity of quinoa has risen, this is no longer the absolute case. This was confirmed this year by a Star-K mashgiach who visited Bolivia and found that barley does indeed grow in those areas. It was also recently discovered that some farmers cover their quinoa with barley and/or oats to keep the birds from eating the quinoa while it dries. Finally, there is a concern that the sacks used to transfer the quinoa may have been previously used to hold barley or oats.

We have, therefore, determined that the only way to allow quinoa for use on Pesach is to track the quinoa from certain farms that are free from the above concerns. The Star-K spearheaded this endeavor and sent a mashgiach to find such a farm. While they were successful in their search, it proved to be challenging from a practical point of view, as the company visited generally sells their products in large quantities. The Star-K has now worked with other companies to pack the usable quinoa into smaller packages, and the following three options have been approved for Pesach quinoa consumption:

Andean Naturals with a lot code beginning SCI-JI sold only in 1,000 lb increments. The contact information is:

Sergio Nuñez de Arco; Andean Naturals; Organic Quinoa and Quinoa-based Ingredients
Brought to you by Specialty Commodities, Inc.
Toll Free (888) 547-9777 x 711

Andean Naturals with a lot code beginning SCI-JI sold in wholesale 25 lb bags. The contact information is:

Tania Petricevic;
194 Orange St. Oakland, CA 94610
Sales Support: (914)220-2974; Customer Service: (954)336-1743
Hours of Operation M-F (PST) 10:00am-4:00pm

Quinoa Corp, Ancient Harvest brand, lot code 3.01.14 k, sold in small retail 12 oz boxes. When ordering directly from them, mention that you want the Passover run.; (310) 217-8125

It is important to note that even the quinoa from the above approved sources should be carefully checked before Pesach for any foreign matter before use. This can be done by spreading the quinoa out on a plate and carefully checking there are no other grains or foreign matter mixed in.

The cRc would like to thank Rabbi Zvi Goldberg of the Star-K and Rabbi Reuven Nathanson of the OU for their help on researching this issue.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Shul Rabbi is the communal authority

One of the key rules we set up for our Beit Midrash when we started almost three years ago was that no member of the Beit Midrash is allowed to pasken. All questions are referred to the shul rabbi. I always reiterate this in halachah shiurim, as well.

From time to time, people challenge me on this; after all, popular custom is for everyone from gemara rebbeim to roshei yeshiva to non-practicing musmachim to opine freely on halachic matters. Why won't I?

I have several reasons, including:
1. The shul rabbi knows the community, and knows the impact of an answer given to a particular party;
2. The shul rabbi is responsible for setting a communal standard, which could be easily wrecked by amateurs;
3. The shul rabbi is the one who will need to pick up the pieces if there is fallout from the ruling;
4. The original system of semichah was designed this way, to have just one ruling authority in any given location.

The other day I came across reinforcement in the Chasam Sofer. Addressing a question put to him, he wrote (Chasam Sofer 1:123):

לא ידעתי אם יש רב יושב על כסא הוראה דקהלתכם כי אז אליו תשמעון ודברי כלא היו
I don't know if there is a Rabbi sitting on your community's seat of halachic authority. If there is, you should listen to him, and my words are as nothing.

I think he was pretty clear on the subject.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Purim Drinking

[Interesting Purim costume shown at Life in Israel. Funny? Sad? Offensive?]

I know I have readers who dislike the annual post on the theme of Drinking on Purim. Sorry.


On Purim we celebrate the ultimate joy of a sudden national rescue, and our sages have taught that we should imbibe alcohol at the Purim Seudah as part of this celebration. Just as we abstain from various foods and from drink at certain times of the year to induce sadness, so we indulge in various foods and in drink at other times of the year, to induce joy. The gemara’s standard for imbibing is to drink until we cannot tell the difference between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai” (Megilah 7b).

Authorities differ on how much to drink, but the following is clear: An adult who is medically, psychologically and emotionally able to drink, and who has a designated driver, should drink some amount of alcohol - preferably enough that he will feel lightheaded (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2). One should enjoy his Purim meal relatively early in the afternoon, drink a little, and then sleep off the effects of the alcohol.

Many people, and I include myself in this number, have embraced the practice of drinking minimally at the Purim Seudah and then fulfilling the state of intoxication by taking a nap after the meal. This approach is sanctioned by the Rama (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2). One might consider doing the eating/drinking/nap before participating in a communal seudah.

I know the following is obvious, and I apologize for taking your time with it, but if my blog has any reach at all then I feel an obligation to state this obvious point. Please:

1) There is no reason to give alcohol to minors who are pre-bar mitzvah to drink on Purim. It is not necessary for their fulfillment of any mitzvah. The practice might be secularly legal as sacramental wine - consult an attorney - but it is a foolish and dangerous ritual and therefore prohibited as endangering our children as well as violating our obligation of chinuch for our children.

I do believe there is a difference between giving children under the age of obligation in mitzvot a taste of wine from the formal Shabbat Kiddush (not the one in shul; I mean the one at dinner/lunch!) and engaging them in Purim drinking. The former is a formal setting, and no one (I hope) is drinking to get a buzz. On Purim, though, because the general drinking is more loose and more geared toward celebration, I believe that the rule should be that children drink no alcohol at all.

2) If your own child is a minor, but older than bar mitzvah, and able to handle a small amount of wine, then it makes sense to help your child fulfill the mitzvah with a small amount, in a supervised setting, assuming this is legal in your jurisdiction.

3) I beleve adults should not drink on Purim in the presence of young children, beyond what would normally be consumed at a meal on Shabbat. Immature children cannot tell when we are in control and when we are not, cannot comprehend the dangers associated with alcohol, cannot accept the idea that adults can do what children are not permitted to do, and cannot understand the difference between Purim and the rest of the year.

The finest joy is a celebration which centers around a Mitzvah, and this is the essence of Purim – the four mitzvot (Megilah, Sending Gifts of Food, Giving to the Poor and having a Feast) which are about experiencing joy and spreading joy and thanking HaShem for saving us from destruction.

I apologize for wasting anyone’s time by stating the obvious, but as I said above, I feel the responsibility of stating this in any forum I have available.

And not to be a party-pooper at all, but those who want to know more about this theme should see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rav Chaim Margaliyot (printed with a standard Mishneh Berurah), in his final comment on Orach Chaim:

ויותר יש לזרז עצמו בד"ת במקום שיש שם איזה שמחה אף אם היא שמחה של מצוה ועיין בסוף סוכה בענין שמחת בית השואבה וכן מבואר לעיל סימן תקכ"ט אדם אוכל ושותה ושמח ברגל ולא ימשוך בבשר ויין ובשחוק וקלות ראש לפי שאין השחוק וקלות ראש שמחה אלא הוללות וסכלות ולא נצטוינו על הוללות וסכלות אלא על שמחה שיש בה עבודת היוצר עכ"ל והוא לשון רבינו הרמב"ם ז"ל והמפרשים ז"ל פירשו לשחוק אמרתי מהולל ר"ל שיהיה באיזה ענין שיהיה השחוק הוא הוללות עבט"ז לעיל
אך לשמחה מה זו עושה ר"ל שלענין שמחה אין להחליט שאינה יפה שבאמ' יש שמחה של מצוה ולכן יש ליתן לב לדעת מה זו עושה ר"ל מה טובה אם הוא שמחה של מצוה או לא אך הואיל ואפשר כי מתוך אכילה ושתיה והוללת יתמשך לשחוק וקלות ראש לכן יקח תבלין לבסם השמחה בד"ת וחדוות ה' יהיה מעוזו ויטב לבו בד"ת וז"ש וטוב לב משתה תמיד
It is even more necessary to energize one’s self with words of Torah in a place where there is joy, even if it is joy associated with a mitzvah. See the end of Succah regarding simchas beis hashoevah. And so is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 529, “One should eat, drink and be happy on the holiday, but not draw himself after meat and wine and laughter and lightheadedness, for laughter and lightheadedness are not joy, but empty celebration and foolishness. We are not instructed in empty celebration and foolishness, but in joy which includes service of the Creator.” This is a citation from the Rambam.
The sages explained the verse (Kohelet 2:2), “I have called laughter ‘empty celebration’” to mean that in any form, laughter is empty celebration. See the Taz earlier. [I don’t know which comment from the Taz he means.]
But “What does joy accomplish (Kohelet 2:2)” means that regarding joy, one should not conclude that it is not good. In truth, there is joy associated with mitzvot! Therefore, one should set his heart to know what joy can accomplish, meaning, what is its nature – is it joy associated with a mitzvah, or not. But since it is possible that one will be drawn to laughter and lightheadedness as a result of eating, drinking and empty celebration, therefor, one should take spices to sweeten the joy with words of Torah, and his strength will be in the joy of Gd, and his heart will be good with words of Torah. This is the meaning of ‘One of good heart is always at a feast.’

May we have wonderful and safe Purim - ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר!