Pure Gold and Copper

Question #1: Nickel and Platinum

As far as the laws of tumah and taharah are concerned, what is the halachic status of metals that have been discovered and isolated since the times of Chazal, which include zinc, chromium, manganese, nickel, magnesium, platinum, aluminum, titanium and many others?

Question #2: Pure Gold Bells

In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes the bells that are attached to the robe (me’il) worn by the kohein gadol. These bells were made so that their sound should be heard when the kohein gadol enters the Sanctuary (Shemos 25:35). A bell made of 100% gold will not ring because the metal is too soft. For a gold bell to ring, it must be an alloy including a small percentage of a different metal. So, how can the Torah say in Parshas Pikudei that the bells were made from “zahav tahor,” pure gold?

Question #3:

At the time of the Korach rebellion, when 250 individuals offered incense, the Torah (Bamidbar 16:17-18) does not describe what metal they used for their censers, their coal pans. However, later (Bamidbar 17:4) the Torah tells us that they were made of nechoshes, which usually means “copper,” although I have seen translations that render it “bronze.” Does it make a halachic difference whether they were made from copper or from bronze?

What is the difference between bronze, brass and copper?

Copper is an element, with an atomic number of 29, meaning that every copper atom has 29 protons. Various other metals, such as tin, zinc or nickel, can be added to copper to create alloys with somewhat different properties than pure copper. In our world, one of the primary uses of copper is for electric wiring, since it is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and, for this use, pure copper filament is used. However, when using copper in most other applications, other metals are added to the copper, which gives it qualities useful for the desired application.

Both bronze, an alloy of predominantly copper with some tin, and brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, are treated halachically as copper, since the Mishnah implies that an alloy would be treated as its majority constituent (Keilim 11:4). Those who translate the word nechoshes in the context of the coal pans as “bronze” assume that the copper would have been alloyed to increase its strength and heat resistance and to decrease its malleability. Tin, the usual other major component of bronze, is also an element, with the atomic number of 50. Tin has been known since antiquity, and has been used both in relatively pure form and in alloys of bronze for thousands of years. Brass is a naturally occurring alloy of copper and zinc, and has been used for over two thousand years. Only about three hundred years ago was zinc isolated and recognized as a separate metal with an atomic number of 30. Different types of brass vary in the ratio of copper to zinc, and may have other elements, such as arsenic or antimony, added. It is also possible, but rare, that the brass contains more zinc than copper.

Since bronze is predominantly copper and had already been developed and commonly used by the era of Yetzias Mitzrayim, there seems to be nothing wrong with assuming that nechoshes in connection with the mishkan and other references in the Torah means bronze, rather than pure copper. Nevertheless, since we usually translate nechoshes as copper, that is the way I am going to translate it.

At the time of the giving of the Torah, six metals were in common usage: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead (see Bamidbar 31:22). There, the context is kashering used equipment made from these metals before they may be treated as kosher, and Chazal also derive the requirement to immerse food equipment made from these metals that was previously owned by non-Jews (Avodah Zarah 75b).

As we know from the Mishnah and the Gemara (fourth chapter of Bava Metzia), gold, silver and copper have been used as currencies for millennia. Copper, the least valuable of the three, was used for smaller valued coins (think of pennies) whereas silver was used for higher valued coins (think of dimes, quarters and dollars). (I will allow you to imagine which metal is the major component of a nickel.) In the days before paper money and electronic transfers, large transactions required gold coins. This is very different from the contemporary gold coins, which are used as investment and collectors’ items, not as currency. Today, even the coins that were traditionally minted from silver and copper are predominantly composed of base metals of lesser value, so that the coin does not contain the metallic equivalent of its face value. (During the development of modern Europe, governments regularly debased their currencies of gold, silver and copper as an early means of “minting more currency,” with which to meet their military budgets.)

Metals in the Mishkan

The Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash predominantly required use of the more valuable metals, gold and silver, but copper did have its place. It was used mainly for the kiyor, the laver or sink used by the kohanim to wash their hands and feet prior to performing the avodah, for the base of the wooden walls of the Mishkan, for the sides and utensils of the mizbeiach, the stand of the kiyor, and as hooks, overlay, and trim on various vessels.

Categories of vessels

Prior to addressing our opening questions, I need to explain some principles of tumah and taharah. Whether utensils are susceptible to tumah depends on the material from which they are made; some materials can become tamei and others cannot. Most items made of wood, cloth, earthenware, metal, leather or bone can contract tumah; items made of unfired earth or stone usually cannot.

Recycling

One of the qualities of metals is that they are fully recyclable. Metal can be melted down to create new items, and there is usually no quality lost by reusing metal rather than using freshly mined material. In this aspect, metal had a unique quality over most materials that were available in the ancient world, such as leather, stone, brick, wood or earthenware, none of which are recyclable in the same way.

There is even a halachic advantage to reprocessing metal. Should a metal utensil become tamei, melting it down or breaking it until it can no longer be used makes the metal tahor, min haTorah, since only utensils are capable of being tamei.

At one point, this led to a concern: There are two ways to remove tumah from a tamei utensil. One is by immersing it in a mikveh or spring, after which we need to wait until nightfall for the utensil to become tahor. (If a utensil became tamei meis by contact with a corpse, a week’s time must transpire within which the utensil must be sprinkled on two different days with spring water containing ashes of the parah adumah, before immersion in a mikveh or spring can render it tahor.)

The second method of making a tamei utensil tahor is by breaking or melting it so that it is no longer serviceable as a utensil, then having a smith repair or manufacture it into a new utensil. Min haTorah, this latter method immediately makes the utensil tahor (i.e., one does not have to wait until nightfall). However, this led to a problem (Shabbos 16b): According to Abayei, the concern was that people may not break the utensil sufficiently. According to Rava, the concern was that people may confuse the laws of tevillah with the laws of breakage and forget that one needs to wait until nightfall after tevillah to use them. Both amora’im agree that there is a concern that people will treat the utensil as tahor when it is still tamei.

To avoid this problem, Chazal established a rule that a metal utensil that was tamei, was broken to make it tahor, and was then manufactured into a new utensil becomes tamei again. This takanah is called tumah yeshanah, which I will translate as tumah revisited.

Glass

The first fully recyclable, non-metallic material discovered by mankind was glass. Broken glass can be melted down, shaped and cooled into new appliances in a process somewhat similar to metals. Since glass and metal share this quality, Chazal included glass in the category of items that can become tamei (Shabbos 16a). We will soon see that later authorities disputed whether other materials that can be recycled this way, such as some plastics, are miderabbanan also treated like metal items, or whether this ruling is unique to glass.

Tevillas Keilim

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) quotes Rav Ashi that, in addition to the requirement to toveil metal items that are intended for food use and that came from a non-Jew, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, for the same reason mentioned above — glass is recyclable by melting and reconstructing.

New metals

At this point, let us address our opening question: What is the halachic status, germane to the laws of tumah and taharah, of metals that have been discovered and isolated since the times of Chazal, which include zinc, chromium, manganese, nickel, magnesium, platinum, aluminum, titanium and many others?

There are differing approaches among later authorities regarding how halacha views these “new” metals, which results in different opinions regarding the laws of tumah and the laws of immersing utensils:

1. All metals have the same halachic status min haTorah as the six metals mentioned in Chumash (Yevakeish Daas of the Tiferes Yisrael, #44).

2. Any item that is recyclable is mekabeil tumah and requires tevillas keilim miderabbanan (Shu’t Ohel Avraham #24).

3. Only the six types of metal that the Torah mentions become tamei, and not any of the newly discovered ones. This position is suggested by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:164) and by Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky (Sefer Tevillas Keilim,page 243). Shu’t Melamed Leho’il specifically concludes that, among recyclable materials, only glass is required to be treated like metal, because this is the only instance in which Chazal created this ruling. In other words, the fact that another material now exists that is also recyclable, like the six metals of the Torah and glassware, does not mean that this material is susceptible to tumah or requires tevillas keilim.

Because of the dispute between the Ohel Avraham,mentioned above, and the Melamed Leho’il, some authorities rule that utensils used for food and made from a recyclable material other than the six stated in the Torah and glass should be immersed, but without a brocha (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:76, 77, 78; 4:114:4).

Majority of alloy

As we noted above, the Mishnah proves that an alloy’s halacha follows a majority of its composition, so this dispute between the Ohel Avraham and the Melamed Leho’il will not affect the halachic status of bronze, pewter or steel. Steel is predominantly iron, and pewter is predominantly tin; therefore, items manufactured from these alloys are mekabeil tumah and require tevillas keilim min haTorah. It would affect the unusual variety of brass in which the copper component is less in volume than the zinc and other components. (Copper is slightly lighter than zinc, so a brass item made of 50-50 copper and zinc by weight, actually contains more copper than zinc by volume.)

Tumah of metals

According to many authorities, metals have a special status relative to the laws of tumah, which requires an introduction. In general, the highest level of tumah anything can ever become is called av hatumah, which should be translated as main category (or level) of tumah. There is one level of tumah, that of a meis, which makes other items into an av hatumah. For this reason, Rashi (Pesachim 14b and 17a; Bava Kama 2a) refers to a meis as avi avos hatumah, or super-category of tumah.

Swords

The Gemara (Pesachim 14b; Nazir 53b) teaches a principle call cherev harei hu ke’chalal,which means that, although usually only a meis can have the halachic category of being an avi avos hatumah, a vessel that touched a meis may also have this level of tumah. There are three major opinions among rishonim as to which types of utensils can have this law.

1. Those who rule that the principle of cherev harei hu ke’chalal applies only to metal utensils (Rashi, Shabbos 101b; Pesachim 14b and 97a; Rabbeinu Chananel, Pesachim 14b; Tosafos, Nazir 53b and 54b; Rabbeinu Tam, quoted by Tosafos, Bava Kama 2b). We should note that which metals are now included in this ruling will depend on the dispute among acharonim I quoted above as to whether newly discovered metals are mekabel tumah min haTorah, miderabbanan or not at all.

2. Those who rule that the principle of cherev harei hu ke’chalal applies to all utensils that can become tamei and subsequently made tahor through immersion in a mikveh or spring (Rambam, Hilchos Tumas Meis 5:3; Rabbi Yitzchak ben Malki Tzedek, cited in Rash, Ohalos 1:2; Bartenura and Eliyahu Rabbah, Ohalos 1:2).

3. Those who understand the Mishnah and Gemara of cherev harei hu ke’chalal in a different way, concluding that utensils can never become avi avos hatumah (Raavad, Hilchos Tumas Meis 5:3).

Pure gold

So far, we have been discussing, predominantly, copper, other less precious metals, and their alloys. At this point, I want to discuss the second of our opening questions, concerning gold alloys: A bell made of 100% gold will not ring because the metal is too soft. For a gold bell to ring, it must be an alloy including a small percentage of a different metal. So, how can the Torah say that the bells were manufactured from “pure gold.”

The questioner here, a frum and Torah-knowledgeable metallurgist, assumed that a statement that something is made of zahav tahor, “pure gold,” means that there is no alloy of other metals. He understood that the gold used for the bells must have been an alloy containing a small percentage of another metal, which would have the desired properties of both strength and resonance. This would allow the bells to produce a ringing sound when the kohein gadol walked, fulfilling their purpose as bells.

Let me explain his question a bit more:

Most gold vessels and garments of the Mishkan required that they be made of zahav tahor (see Shemos 25:11, 17, 24, 29, 31, 38; 28:14, 22, 36; 30:3). However, the two rings of the choshen are described only as zahav, omitting the word tahor (Shemos 28:23); similarly, the gold thread is not described as tahor (28:15), nor are the two rings manufactured along the sides of the mizbeiach hazahav (30:4), nor the gold overlay of the poles that carry the mizbeiach (30:5). These references might indicate that when the Torah requires “gold,” but does not specify “zahav tahor,” that it is not 100% gold, but a gold alloy that is more suitable for use as a thread, or carrying ring or pole.

Golden bells

When Betzalel and his assistants manufactured the bells attached to the hem of the kohein gadol’s garment, the Torah says that he made them from “pure gold” (Shemos 39:25). However, in parshas Tetzaveh (Shemos 28, 33), where we are commanded about the manufacture of these bells, the Torah states simply that they are made of gold, omitting the word tahor. Thus, we have a conundrum: the Torah does not require that the bells be manufactured of zahav tahor, yet Betzalel made them that way. Regarding all the other items manufactured for the Mishkan, when the mitzvah stated to make them from zahav and not necessarily zahav tahor, no mention is made that Betzalel and his assistants manufactured them from zahav tahor!

The answer is that the term “pure/tahor” gold may mean that it is 100% gold, or it might mean that the gold is tahor, meaning that it is not tamei. Bells made for jewelry or as a tassel hanging from the hem of a garment are not considered utensils, and therefore cannot become tamei. Thus, there would be no need to manufacture them from tahor gold. Only when they are manufactured to ring and, therefore, they contain a clapper, are they susceptible to tumah, in which case it is important to note that they are tahor and not tamei. When we are commanded to make them, the Torah emphasized that these bells can ring – which means that they are potentially susceptible to tumah. It is thus understood that they must have been made tahor. At the time of their manufacture, we need to be reminded that they must be made tahor, since they are susceptible to tumah (Meshech Chachmah, Shemos 39:25). Thus, the reference to their being “pure” does not mean that they were 100% gold. They needed to be an alloy that has some added other metal so that they will ring.

Conclusion

Among the various mitzvos dealt with in this article is the mitzvah requiring that we immerse our food utensils prior to use. This tevillah elevates their sanctity, so that they can now be used for a Jew’s table. Thus, not only food that a Jew eats requires special care, but also the equipment with which he prepares that food.




Jewish Judges and Police

Question #1: Beis din

What is the role of beis din in Jewish life?

Question #2: Police protection

In a community that is run completely according to halacha, who is in charge of appointing and overseeing the police force?

Introduction:

Parshas Mishpatim is the primary parsha regarding halachic civil law, and Parshas Shoftim begins with a mitzvah to appoint shoftim, judges, or as we usually call them dayanim (singular dayan), and shoterim (singular shoteir), enforcement officers, bailiffs or police. The Torah states that you must appoint judges and police in all your “gates,” meaning in all your cities.

Rashi quotes the passage of Gemara (Sanhedrin 16b) that there is a requirement min haTorah to appoint judges in every city and for every tribe. We need to clarify a point: If a beis din is appointed for every city, what is added by appointing a beis din for every sheivet?

The rishonim already address this issue. According to Tosafos (Sanhedrin 16b s.v. Shoftim), the Gemara is teaching that if the border separating two shevatim divides a city between them, the two sections should each have its own beis din. The Ramban (beginning of parshas Shoftim) mentions this approach, and then suggests a different way to understand the Gemara: Each sheivet has a beis din with jurisdiction over the entire sheivet, greater responsibility and authority than has a city’s beis din, whose authority is limited to the city’s borders. Thus, although a city’s beis din can force anyone who lives in its city to follow their directives or to appear before them for litigation, they cannot obligate someone who lives outside their city to appear before them or to follow their orders. A sheivet’s beis din has the ability to force any member of that sheivet to appear before them for litigation. It also has the ability to create a gezeirah that is binding on the entire sheivet.

23 Judges!

The Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:1, 3) rules that each city and region in Eretz Yisroel has its own beis din of 23 judges, and that smaller towns and villages have a beis din of three dayanim (Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:4). The Lechem Mishneh (1:1) explains that the Rambam uses the word “region” to mean the same thing that we have been calling sheivet, and also explains why the Rambam changes the term.

The Rambam elaborates on all the different batei din that must be created. There was a chamber in the Beis Hamikdash called the lishkas hagazis, which was the meeting place of the main beis din of Klal Yisroel, the Sanhedrin, also called the Beis Din Hagadol, which consisted of 71 judges. There was a second, smaller beis din of 23 dayanim that was located near the entrance to the Beis Hamikdash, and a third beis din, also of 23 dayanim, that was located near the entrance to the Har Habayis.

The authority of the Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin has much authority and many roles to play. It is the final court of halachic appeals, and the final decider of halacha. Its interpretation of Torah sheba’al peh is authoritative. Any halachic issue that is uncertain or disputed by a lower beis din could eventually be referred to the Beis Din HaGadol for a binding decision.

When the Sanhedrin exists, the Jewish calendar is determined by a small beis din appointed especially for this purpose by the nasi, the head of the Sanhedrin.

All the other batei din mentioned above — the smaller ones on the Har Habayis and at the entrance to the Beis Hamikdash, and the batei din of the shevatim and the cities – are appointed by the Sanhedrin.

The Sanhedrin also fulfills several political and administrative roles. It appoints the king of the Jewish people. Many other halachos require the participation or agreement of the Sanhedrin, including a decision whether to wage war and to expand the halachic boundaries of the Beis Hamikdash or of Yerushalayim (Mishnah Shevuos 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 5:1). Thus, the Sanhedrin is not only the supreme halachic authority, but it is also quite literally the “power behind the throne,” “the power behind the courts,” and, at the same time, the court of final appeal. It has the final say in all matters, both temporal and spiritual.

Who can be a judge?

There are many technical requirements that all members must meet, among them that they must all be superior talmidei chachomim and yirei shamayim (G-d fearing individuals), wise, perceptive, analytic, humble, truth-loving, personable, of good reputation and possess a basic knowledge of many secular areas, such as medicine and astronomy (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:1, 7). The Rambam (Hilchos Sanhedrin 2:8) describes how the Sanhedrin would send representatives to locate qualified dayanim and appoint them to their local beis din. As places on the higher batei din opened, they would promote local dayanim up the chain to the next tier, and so on. The Rambam also emphasizes the importance of appointing appropriately qualified people to be dayanim, and the catastrophe that results from appointing those who are unqualified or inappropriate (Hilchos Sanhedrin 3:8).

Semicha

All members of the Sanhedrin and, indeed, of all the lower courts must also receive the special semicha that Moshe bestowed upon Yehoshua authorizing him to rule on all areas of Jewish law. This special semicha, which existed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu until sometime during the era of the Gemara, authorized the recipient to rule on capital and corporal cases (chayavei misas beis din and malkus) and to judge cases involving kenasos, penalties that the Torah invoked. Only a beis din consisting exclusively of dayanim ordained with this semicha may judge these areas of halacha (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:1).

In today’s world, there are several levels of semicha, all of them of a lower level than that granted by Moshe Rabbeinu. The most basic semicha, yoreh yoreh, authorizes the recipient to rule on matters of kashrus and similar areas. A more advanced level of semicha called yodin yodin authorizes its recipient to rule as a dayan on financial matters. A higher level, no longer obtainable today, is called yatir bechoros and authorizes its recipient to rule on whether a first-born animal is blemished and no longer acceptable as a korban, which permits the animal to be shechted for its meat (see Sanhedrin 5a).

The role of a local beis din

The local beis din’s responsibility in a community is also quite multi-faceted. They are not only the judicial branch of the government, charged with ruling on local dinei Torah and interpreting the halachos for local practice, but they are also the executive, or administrative, branch of government, responsible to supervise that the community and its individuals observe halacha fully and correctly. In this capacity, they are responsible to make sure that the weights and measures in the marketplace are honest (Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 1:1) and that the prices charged by stores do not exceed what halacha permits. The local beis din is responsible to make sure that no one overcharges for staple products (ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 231:20).

Overseeing that the community observes halacha correctly is also a responsibility of the beis din. For example, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch rule that beis din supervises that yomim tovim do not become the cause for inappropriate social activities. This includes assigning police to patrol parks and other relaxing areas to maintain proper standards of public conduct (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:21, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 529:4). Beis din is responsible to make sure that duchening was performed only by kosher kohanim (Kesubos 25a). It is their job to make sure that no one works on chol hamoed in violation of the halacha (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 7:4), that people keep their pledges to tzedakah (Rosh Hashanah 6a), that graves and other tamei meis areas are properly marked, and that people do not plantor maintain kelayim (Rambam, Hilchos Yom Tov 7:11).

The beis din assumes responsibility to protect individuals who cannot oversee their businesses or properties, such as, someone who fled to avoid danger, was kidnapped or captured. Beis din will appoint someone to manage the individual’s properties and businesses (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 285:2). They are also responsible to see that the properties of orphaned minors are properly managed (for example, see Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer, 112:11).

Included in this responsibility is that, if a father cannot or does not give his son a bris milah, the beis din makes sure that the mitzvah is performed (Kiddushin 29a; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 261:1).

Smaller batei din

In addition to the officially appointed batei din, in earlier generations there were local batei din, appointed by a community to oversee its own matters. For example, the kohanim had their own batei din, who were authorized to make rules and new takanos that applied only to the kohanim (see Pesachim 90b; Kesubos 12a).

Chutz la’aretz

The Ramban (beginning of Parshas Shoftim) notes that the posuk implies that there is no requirement min haTorah to establish a beis din outside of Eretz Yisroel. This is because the Torah requires appointing judges and bailiffs in your gates, which means the gates of Jewish cities in Eretz Yisroel. However, the Ramban notes that the Gemara (Makkos 7a) rules that once Klal Yisroel arrives in and settles Eretz Yisroel, there is an obligation min haTorah to have a beis din in chutz la’aretz also, although not in every city, but only in “districts.”

Min haTorah or not?

The Ramban concludes that establishing batei din outside Eretz Yisroel isrequired min haTorah only when there are dayanim who have achieved the highest level of semicha, that which is a continuation of what Moshe Rabbeinu conferred on Yehoshua. As I mentioned above, this semicha was discontinued during the era of the Gemara. There have been several attempts to reestablish this semicha, the most famous of which was when the Mahari Beirav was the rav of Tzfas, and Rav Yosef Karo was a member of his beis din. However, none of these attempts succeeded. The Ramban concludes that, although we no longer have a Torah obligation to establish batei din in chutz la’aretz, there is a rabbinic requirement to do so.

How do we litigate?

Over the years, I have been asked many questions about the way batei din operate. Most of these questions stem from a misunderstanding of legal procedures in general, or from a lack of knowledge about how a beis din functions.

Here is a typical example, lifted from my records. The din Torah was the result of a business partnership that had soured. I received the following e-mail communication: “I have asked Mr. F. to tell me what he is claiming. He has not responded, but has clammed up about his claim. He knows what I am claiming and he said that I have to sign an arbitration agreement in beis din and only then will he present what he is claiming from me. I am asking if this is just — he knows what I am claiming but what he is claiming will be a surprise.”

I answered: “Mr. F. is under no obligation to reveal to you what he feels you owe him, without an agreement that the two of you will go to binding arbitration in beis din. Telling him the basis of your claims does not require him to reveal any information. If you feel that you can disprove his claims, you should tell that to the beis din, and you have a right to postpone the proceedings to allow you the time to present your proofs.

In the interim, you can agree to go to beis din, or you can suggest that the two of you discuss the matter in the presence of a disinterested party in the hope of negotiating some type of settlement. However, he is under no obligation to agree to this. If you receive a summons to beis din, you are required to respond.”

By the way, when choosing to go to a beis din, the almost-universal tendency is to find a beis din where I will “win” my case. However, the mitzvah specifies that you should go to the beis din that is most expert (Sanhedrin 32a). The Gemara implies that this is a mitzvah min haTorah, derived from the words in Parshas Shoftim, tzedek tzedek tirdof, which the Gemara explains to mean haleich achar beis din yafeh, “find the most expert beis din” to litigate your case, so that it is resolved correctly.

Turf wars

What do you do if the other party insists that you go to their choice of beis din?

I mentioned earlier that the Ramban explains that the dayanim of a sheivet have greater jurisdiction than do those of a city, who cannot force someone from outside their city to come before them for litigation. A sheivet’s beis din has the ability to force anyone in their sheivet to come to them for litigation. The same authority applies to a city’s beis din relative to a city’s inhabitants. Therefore, if our beis din system were able to work the way the Torah designed it, the official dayanim of a city would be able to require litigants to appear before them.

Because the countries in which we live will not compel halachic observance, we cannot legally coerce someone to appear before an official city beis din. But an observant Jew knows that he must appear before beis din when summoned.

The person being sued (the defendant) is usually assumed to have the right to choose which beis din will hear the case, as long as it is in his city of residence. However, this is not ironclad. If the defendant chooses a beis din that will be more expensive for the claimant, or he is trying simply to inconvenience the claimant, there is no right to choose this option over a more-convenient, less-expensive choice. If the defendant visits or does business in the city where the claimant lives, and the claimant rarely travels to the defendant’s city, the beis din in the claimant’s city can demand to judge the case (Shu”t Maharshdam #103; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 1:5; Shu”t Yabia Omer 7:Choshen Mishpat:4). Under these circumstances, a proper beis din will ignore the defendant’s request for choice of venue, and should he not respond to his summons, rule him a lo tzayis dina, someone who does not obey the laws of the Torah, which has many ramifications (Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 26:2, 5; Shu”t Imrei Yosher #38).

Conclusion

A Torah Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that every aspect of his life is governed by Torah law. A Jew hopes to manage his business relationships without ever resorting to litigation. If there is an unfortunate “misunderstanding,” the two parties should discuss the matter and, if the matter remains unresolved, they should try discussing it with the guidance of a third party, possibly a rav. However, should all these approaches not succeed, the avenue of halachic litigation exists.




Only New Chometz Apply

Since parshas Bo includes the prohibitions about chometz on Pesach

Question #1: First Fruits

Which korbanos are offered only from “first fruits”?

Question #2: New Grains

Which korbanos are offered only from the new grain?

Question #3: Wheat from Heaven!

May korbanos be offered from heavenly-dropped wheat?

Foreword

Virtually all grain korbanos, called menachos (singular: mincha), are wheat, mankind’s most common basic sustenance. However, on the second day of Pesach, the korban omer is offered in the Beis Hamikdash from the new crop of barley. Indeed, it is the only barley-flour korban offered by the tzibur, the community. In general, barley is viewed as animal feed, rather than “people food” (see Pesachim 3b). (The only other korban from barley was the minchas sotah, a privately offered korban for which there is an obvious reason why it is from a feed grain, as Rashi [Bamidbar 5:15] and the midrashim [Midrash Agadah and Yalkut Shimoni ad loc.] elaborate.) Presumably, the reason that the korban omer was from barley is because barley ripens earlier than wheat and the korban omer permits the consumption of the new grain crop; the Torah did not delay until the wheat is ready for harvest.

In honor of Shavuos

Seven weeks later, on Shavuos, special korbanos, called the shetei halechem, are offered from the new wheat crop. Although this korban is kosher if made from the previous year’s wheat crop, there is a mitzvah min haTorah to bring it from the new crop. The offering of the shetei halechem permits the new crop to be used for menachos.

Introduction

Immediately after describing the korban omer, the Torah teaches: “And you shall each count seven complete weeks, from the morrow after that day of rest [the first day of Pesach], beginning on the day of your bringing the omer, which is waved. You shall count fifty days, until the morrow after the seventh week, at which time you shall offer a new grain offering to Hashem. From your dwelling places (Hebrew: ‘mimoshevoseichem’) you shall bring two loaves of bread. They (the two loaves together) shall comprise two tenths of an omer of fine flour. They shall be baked leavened (Hebrew: ‘chometz’) and be the first fruits unto Hashem (Hebrew: ‘bikkurim’). Together with the bread, you shall bring a group of seven yearling sheep and, also, one young bull and two rams. These (ten animals) will be olah offerings for Hashem, offered together with their appropriate grain offerings and libations. This is a fire offering, to show Hashem the fragrance of compliance” (Vayikra 23, 15-18; the translation of the word ניחוח follows that of Rav Hirsch). The Torah then completes the description, including that three more korbanos accompanied the shetei halechem, a male goat as a chatas and two yearling sheep as publically-owned korbanos shelamim, for a total of thirteen animal korbanos.

The Torah passage that I just quoted includes several interesting observations:

Receiving the Torah?

(1) Although calculation demonstrates that the holiday of Shavuos coincides with the giving of the Torah, neither here nor any other place does the Torah make any association between the two. This article will not discuss this famous question, to which there are many answers.

Imported grain

(2) We are told that the shetei halechem must be brought “from your dwelling places.” But grain is never grown in dwellings, but open fields!

The Gemara (Menachos 83b) explains that “dwelling place” here means Eretz Yisrael, and that, whereas other mincha offerings may use grain imported from outside Eretz Yisrael, shetei halechem may use only grain that grew in Eretz Yisrael (Mishnah Menachos 83b; Keilim 1:6; Parah 2:1).

Alef emphasis

(3) The word immediately after mimoshevoseichem in the Torah is תביאו, “you shall bring,” but the letter alef in that word contains a dagesh. However, an alef never otherwise has a dagesh. Why this anomaly? Rav Hirsch suggests that this is to emphasize the uniqueness of the shetei halechem as the only mincha in which the animal offerings are brought only as an accompaniment to the grain offering.

Chometz

(4) The Torah reports that the shetei halechem “shall be baked leavened.” This is very unusual. All grain offerings in the Beis Hamikdash must be unleavened – they all halachically qualify as matzah. Even the “leftovers” from all mincha offerings may not be allowed to become chometz (Vayikra 6:9-10)! A kohein who violates this last instruction intentionally could receive malkus, lashes, and would no longer be accepted as a witness!

There are only two exceptions – two instances of a grain offering in the Beis Hamikdash which is made from chometz: one of the four types of “bread” that accompanied the korban todah was chometz (Vayikra 7:13) and the shetei halechem of Shavuos (Mishnah, Menachos 52b). In both of these instances, the Torah states that they must be chometz.

The shetei halechem are the only public korbanos that are chometz, since the korban todah is an individual’s thanksgiving offering for surviving travail (Tehillim 100, 107 and Berachos 54b). Since the Torah states that no mincha “offered to Hashem” may be chometz (Vayikra 2:11), the chometz parts of these menachos are never placed on the mizbeiach, but are eaten in Yerushalayim while completely tahor, either by the kohanim and their families or by the owners of the korban.

Who is first?

(5) Furthermore, the Torah states that the shetei halechem must be bikkurim. Yet bikkurim usually means the fruits that a farmer grows in his field and brings to the Beis Hamikdash as his own thanks offering (see Devarim 26:1-11 and Mishnah, Mesechta Bikkurim). The Gemara explains that the word bikkurim, here, means that this year’s grain crops cannot be used for menachos before the shetei halechem has been offered. In addition, the Mishnah teaches that, what we usually call the bikkurim, the special, first-ripening fruits for which Eretz Yisrael is renowned, are not brought to the Beis Hamikdash until the shetei halechem korban is offered (Menachos 68b; see also Bikkurim 1:10).

Meat with bread

(6) The Torah states: “Together with the bread, you shall bring a group of seven yearling sheep and, also, one young bull and two rams.” These are not the korbanos musaf offered on Shavuos, which are mentioned in parshas Pinchas and are offered on Shavuos, even if no shetei halechem mincha is brought.

Virtually all grain offerings in the Beis Hamikdash are brought either without any animal korbanos, or to accompany the animal offerings. It is unusual that the main korban is one made from flour, and the animal offerings accompany the grain offerings; but that is the law regarding the shetei halechem. This is truly unique in the instance of the shetei halechem, since it is the only mincha that causes thirteen animal korbanos to be brought as a result. If the shetei halechem is not offered, these korbanos cannot be brought, but if these korbanos are not brought, the shetei halechem is kosher by itself.

The only other mincha that is the cause of the bringing of a korban is the korban omer, but in that case, only one korban is offered, a sheep. Shetei halechem are completely unique in that it is the only instance in which a grain offering causes the offering of a large group of korbanos.

Details, details:

In addition to these observations that lie directly in the pesukim themselves, there are a host of other unusual features that apply to the shetei halechem, such as:

1. The Mishnah (Menachos 59a) notes that the mincha of the shetei halechem is not accompanied by either oil or frankincense, unlike most mincha offerings. Why not?

To answer this question, I refer you to read, in detail, the commentary of Rav Hirsch (Vayikra 23:17).

2. The shetei halechem must be brought from grain that had not yet taken root prior to this year’s crop season (Mishnah, Menachos 83b; Parah 2:1; we should note the Rambam does not rule according to this Mishnah, a position that engenders much discussion). The shetei halechem permitted use of new grain in the Beis Hamikdash (Mishnah Menachos 68b). Menachos offered from the new grain before the korban omer was offered were invalid, whereas those offered before the shetei halechem were brought were kosher, although a Torah violation was involved in bringing them (Menachos 68b). I will return to this halacha shortly.

3. Although you may bake bread, challah, cake or cookies on Yom Tov to serve on that day, and the korbanos to be brought on that day (such as korbanos musaf and korban pesach) are shechted, butchered and burnt on the mizbeiach on Shabbos and certainly on Yom Tov, the shetei halechem could not be baked on Shavuos (Menachos 95b and 100b). The reason they could not be baked on Yom Tov is because baking and cooking on Yom Tov are permitted only to benefit Jews who will be celebrating Yom Tov, but it is prohibited to bake a korban on Yom Tov. Although korbanos are brought on Yom Tov, this applies only to the processing of the korban necessary to be performed that day. The baking of the menachos, similar to the baking of the twelve loaves of the lechem hapanim (the showbread) for Shabbos, could be performed before Shabbos or Yom Tov, and therefore the two loaves of the shetei halechem must be baked before Yom Tov.

Many halachic authorities raise the following question: Why can’t you bake your own private bread on Yom Tov for Yom Tov use, and, while doing do, bake the shetei halechem? There is much discussion among acharonim regarding this question, without any specifically accepted answer.

4. The shetei halechem and the two shelamim sheep offered with it were held up by the kohein and waved in six directions – upwards and downwards and in four directions of the globe, similar to the way the lulav and esrog are waved on Sukkos (Mishnah Menachos 61a).

5. The Mishnah teaches that ten miracles occurred in the Beis Hamikdash, one of which was that the korban omer and the shetei halechem were never invalidated by a pesul in which something unplanned went wrong (Pirkei Avos 5:5).

Heavenly wheat!

In this context, we have the following unusual passage of Gemara: “What is the halacha regarding wheat that fell from the clouds? Can it be used for the shetei halechem offering?”

Rashi and his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, disagreed regarding what case is being described here. Rabbeinu Tam understands that the Gemara is discussing wheat that miraculously fell from heaven, similar to the way the mann in the desert arrived every morning. As traditionally explained, the berocha recited before eating the mann was “Hamamtir lechem min hashamayim,” “Blessed are You, Hashem… Who rains bread from the sky” (quoted by Shu’t Torah Lishmah #63, in the name of the Rama MiFano).

The Radbaz (Hilchos Temidim Umusafim, 8:3) is dissatisfied with Rabbeinu Tam’s approach, noting that Hashem brings miracles only when a major reason exists for them.

Stormy wheat

For these and other reasons, most late authorities prefer Rashi’s approach that the Gemara is discussing wheat that was blown by gale-force winds off a ship in the Mediterranean, or perhaps were on an island in the Mediterranean Sea, and then landed in Eretz Yisrael. We do not necessarily know the origin of the wheat; just that it landed in Eretz Yisrael.

Following either Rashi’s approach or that of his grandson, the Torah states that the shetei halechem must be offered from grain that grew mimoshevoseichem, from your dwelling places, and we learned above that this requires that shetei halechem must use wheat that grew in Eretz Yisrael. The question is whether this wheat, either the miraculous variety of Rabbeinu Tam’s version, or the windswept variety of Rashi’s, qualifies as wheat that grew mimoshevoseichem. (Our intrepid readers are referred to the commentary of the Mahari Kurkus on the Rambam, Hilchos Temidim Umusafim, 8:3, who analyses this issue.)

Brought too early

Regarding the shetei halechem offering, the Gemara presents the following intriguing anecdote. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah states that both the korban omer and the shetei halechem must be offered from the new crop (the korban omer from the new barley crop, and shetei halechem from the new wheat crop). The Mishnah also states that it was forbidden to eat from the new grain crop before the korban omer was offered, which is the prohibition of chodosh, and it is forbidden to offer a grain korban from the new crop until after the shetei halechem are offered. But, regarding a mincha from the new grain crop that is brought before the shetei halechem, the Mishnah makes the following distinction: If the new grain mincha was brought before the korban omer was offered on the second day of Pesach, the mincha is invalid, whereas if such a korban was brought after the korban omer was offered but before the shetei halechem, the mincha is kosher, notwithstanding that it is prohibited min haTorah to offer such a korban mincha.

Rabbi Tarfon, an older contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, queried why the offering of the korban omer, whose purpose was to permit the new grain to be eaten, should affect whether a mincha offered in the Beis Hamikdash is kosher or not?

A budding young scholar named Yehudah bar Nechemiah (besides this passage of Gemara, his name appears in several midrashim, mostly Midrash Rabbah and Midrash Tanchuma) answered Rabbi Tarfon with a brilliant insight: Prior to the bringing of the korban omer, the new grain qualifies as ma’achalos asuros, foods that a Jew is prohibited from eating – and there is a halacha that one cannot offer korbanos from products that a Jew may not consume. On the other hand, once the korban omer is offered, it is permitted to eat the new grain. It cannot be used for menachos because of a different law — the Torah refers to the shetei halechem as mincha chadasha, meaning that they should be the first korbanos offered from the new wheat crop. Should a different mincha be brought first from the new wheat crop, the shetei halechem are no longer mincha chadasha.

Yehudah bar Nechemiah argued that prior to the offering of the korban omer, the new grain has the status of ma’achalos asuros, which are never acceptable as korbanos, even after the fact (be’dei’evid). However, once the korban omer is offered, although it is still prohibited to use the new grain for menachos, we find many instances in which it is not proper to offer a korban a certain way, but be’dei’evid, after the fact, the korban is still kosher. Rabbi Tarfon was silent, implying that he accepted Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s response.

Rabbi Akiva, who, among other great luminaries of the era, was in attendance during this discussion, noted that Yehudah bar Nechemiah was smiling – demonstrating that he was personally satisfied to have bested a gadol beYisrael in a Torah discussion. Rabbi Akiva realized that Yehudah bar Nechemiah was afflicted with a very bad shortcoming – misplaced personal pride. Rabbi Akiva then forecast, within Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s earshot.

“Yehudah, I will be surprised if you’ll live a long time!” This was not intended as a curse, but a prediction.

The Gemara then quotes from the famous tanna, Rabbi Yehudah (the son of Rav Ila’ii), who was also present during this exchange. Rabbi Yehudah shared that the discussion between Rabbi Tarfon and Yehudah bar Nechemiah took place two weeks before Pesach, and that when he, Rabbi Yehudah (who lived in the southern part of Eretz Yisrael) returned for Shavuos to the beis hamedrash of the Sanhedrin, he did not find Yehudah bar Nechemiah. When Rabbi Yehudah inquired about Yehudah bar Nechemiah’s wellbeing, he was told that Yehudah bar Nechemiah had passed away suddenly in the interim.

This very tragic turn of events brings to mind both the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 disciples (which occurred shortly after the sudden passing of Yehudah bar Nechemiah) and the much earlier tragedy of the sudden deaths of Nadav and Avihu, the two oldest sons of Aharon. In all of these instances, young, brilliant Torah scholars were suddenly taken because of personal character flaws. As implied by the midrash, had these young, great scholars become the leaders of the Jewish people, this would have caused irreparable damage to our mesorah. Klal Yisrael survives only when those who carry on the mesorah do so solely because of their obligation to Hashem, not because of personal interest.

Conclusion

Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Studying the halachos of the korbanos should help us develop our sensitivity and desire to see the Beis Hamikdash again in all its glory. May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash in purity and sanctity and Klal Yisrael in our rightful place in Eretz Yisrael, as a light unto the nations!




A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

Question #1: Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?

Question #2: Late Asher Yatzar

How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

Question #3: Davening Outdoors

Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?

Question #4: A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

What do any of these questions have to do with parshas Shemos?

Foreword:

Rishon Letziyon is an old traditional title for the Sefardi rav of Yerushalayim. How did someone named Rapaport, which is a classic Ashkenazi family name, become Rishon Letziyon?

Introduction:

Parshas Shemos teaches that, for disobeying Pharaoh’s murderous commands, the Jewish midwives merited the “building of houses.” This is explained by the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, to mean that they were granted batei kehunah and batei malchus. Miriam was rewarded with batei malchus, that the royal house of Dovid Hamelech descended from her, and Yocheved merited batei kehunah — all kohanim are descended from her. The words batei kehunah mean “houses of kehunah,” which is a bit strange: why don’t Chazal simply call it beis kehunah, “the house of kehunah?” Although we will not answer this question, it became the source of the title of an important halachic work.

Batei Kehunah

A gadol beYisroel who lived three hundred years ago was descended from kohanim on both his father’s and his mother’s sides. Based on his lineage, he named his Torah works Batei Kehunah. This gadol, who is hardly known in the Ashkenazi world, carried the name Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Rapaport. He was the chacham bashi — a title for chief rabbi of a large city — in the Ottoman Empire, first of Izmir, Turkey, and subsequently became both the chacham bashi and the Rishon Letziyon of Yerushalayim. In numerous places, the Chida refers to the Batei Kehunah as the mofeis hador, or as mofeis doroseinu, “the wonder of our generation.” Considering that this was the same era in which lived such luminaries as the Gra, the Pnei Yehoshua, the Sha’agas Aryeh, the Noda Biyehudah, the Maharit Algazi and the Chida himself, this is a rather impressive accolade.

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport was born in Jerusalem in 5445 (1685) to Rabbi Yehudah Rapaport. Rav Yitzchak’s father was born in Lublin, Poland, made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and there married the daughter of a family of major Torah scholars, who were kohanim and Sefardim. Thus, although Rav Yitzchak’s father had been born in Poland, hence the family name Rapaport, he was raised in a completely Sefardi environment. There was no Ashkenazi community in Eretz Yisrael at the time, and therefore Rav Yitzchak treated himself completely as a Sefardi. This explains how a Rishon Letzion could have such an Ashkenazi last name.

In his youth, Rav Yitzchak studied in the yeshiva of the Pri Chodosh, Rav Chizkiyah Di Silva. In his introduction to Batei Kehunah, Rav Yitzchak explains that he never left the beis medrash for fear that he would miss some of his rebbe’s Torah or that of the other great men who studied there. After the Pri Chodosh’s premature passing (according to various versions, he was somewhere between the ages of 39 and 46 when he passed away), Rav Yitzchak studied under the new rosh yeshiva, Rav Avraham Yitzchak, the author of the work Zera Avraham, another work well known in Sefardi circles, but that receives reactions of “what is that” among Ashkenazim.

Although Rav Yitzchak Rapaport always viewed himself as a resident of Yerushalayim, he served as the rav of Izmer for forty years, after which he returned to Yerushalayim, and was then appointed chacham bashi of the Holy City and Rishon Letzion. Among the Batei Kehunah’s many brilliant students, both from his period in Turkey and in Yerushalayim, we find an entire generation of gedolei Yisroel: the Maharit Algazi, the Chida, the Shaar Hamelech, the Ma’aseh Rokeach and Rav Mordechai Rebbiyo, the rav and rosh yeshivah of Hevron, author of the teshuvos Shemen Hamor.

Since this is a halachic column, I will discuss some of the interesting halachic positions of the Batei Kehunah, most of which we know because they are quoted by the Chida, who perused the private library of the Batei Kehunah after the latter’s passing in 5515 (1755). The library included notes written in the margins of his seforim, unpublished teshuvos and other private writings and manuscripts that the Chida quoted, predominantly in his Birkei Yosef commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, most of which would otherwise have become lost to future generations.

Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

Our opening question was: “May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?” Let me explain the background to this question. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 29:28) writes that when Yom Tov falls out midweek, at its end we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances and on a lamp, unlike what we do every motza’ei Shabbos. The Rambam explains that we recite the beracha on fragrances on motza’ei Shabbos because our souls ache when Shabbos ends, and we provide them with some consolation with the pleasant fragrance. The Magid Mishnah raises the following questions about the Rambam’s statement:

(1) Indeed, why is the custom that we not smell fragrances when Yom Tov ends, just as we do when Shabbos ends?

(2) Why does the Rambam write that “we are not required to recite the beracha on fragrances?” Shouldn’t he write that we do not recite the  beracha on fragrances?

The Magid Mishnah answers that the soul aches only when Shabbos ends, because the sanctity of Shabbos is greater, as evidenced by the fact that we are not permitted to perform any melacha. Since cooking food and similar melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends.

If this is so, the Magid Mishnah asks, why do we not recite the beracha on fragrances as part of the kiddush/havdalah combination when Yom Tov is on motza’ei Shabbos, since the soul aches that Shabbos has ended? The Magid Mishnah answers that the festive celebration of Yom Tov consoles the aching soul the same way that fragrances would, thus rendering the use of besamim unnecessary. The Magid Mishnah then notes that the Rambam writes, “we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances” when Yom Tov ends, because one can always take fragrances and recite a beracha before smelling them.

The Yad Aharon questions the wording of the Magid Mishnah that the custom is to not recite the beracha over fragrances as part of havdalah on Yom Tov. Would this not be an interruption in the havdalah, since it is not required?

The Chida (Birkei Yosef 491:3) quotes his rebbe, the Batei Kehunah, who wrote in the margin of his own personal copy of the Rambam that the Magid Mishneh wrote his comments very precisely. There would be no problem were someone to include besamim in his havdalah after Yom Tov. And the reason why the minhag is to forgo the besamim is because the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends to the same extent that it does when Shabbos ends.

Late Asher Yatzar

At this point, let us analyze the second of our opening questions: How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

The Levush discusses whether someone who does not have a need to relieve himself upon awaking recites Asher Yatzar anyway. He rules that he recites Asher Yatzar, because he undoubtedly relieved himself during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – thus, he has an outstanding requirement to recite Asher Yatzar. The Adei Zahav, an early commentary on the Levush by Rav Menachem de Lunzanu, disagrees with the Levush, contending that, even if the Levush’s technical assumptions are correct – that we should assume that most people relieved themselves during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – a person should still not recite Asher Yatzar upon awaking, because the time within which Asher Yatzar must be recited has expired by morning. The Adei Zahav rules that Asher Yatzar must be recited no more than six hours after relieving himself, and during the long winter nights, someone presumably has slept longer than that since he last relieved himself.

What is the source for the Adei Zahav’s ruling that Asher Yatzar must be recited within six hours? The Mishnah (Berachos 51b) states that you can recite an after blessing until the food that was eaten has been digested. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) discusses how long a time this is, Rabbi Yochanan ruling that it is until you are hungry again, whereas Reish Lakish seems to hold that it is the time it takes to walk four mil, which most authorities understand to be 72 minutes. (Some hold that it is a bit longer.) The Adei Zahav assumes that, according to Rabbi Yochanan, it takes six hours for someone to be hungry again after eating a full meal. The Adei Zahav explains that the time for Asher Yatzar, which is a rabbinic requirement, cannot be longer than it is for bensching, which is required min haTorah. Therefore, he concludes that the longest time within which someone can recite Asher Yatzar is six hours after relieving himself.

Never too late

The Yad Aharon disagrees with the Adei Zahav, contending that although an after beracha is associated with the food or beverage that was consumed and, therefore, can be recited only as long as one is still satiated from what he ate, Asher Yatzar is a general beracha of thanks to Hashem and never becomes too late to recite. This approach would explain the position of the Levush that someone can recite Asher Yatzar in the morning, notwithstanding that it might be far more than six hours since he relieved himself.

The Chida, after quoting the above literature, states, “The mofeis of our generation, our master and rebbe, wrote in the margin of his personal copy that the Yad Aharon’s understanding is inaccurate. The rishonim explain that berachos after eating are appreciation… Asher Yatzar is a beracha for the salvation and also for the relief of the discomfort” (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 6:3). Later in his comments, the Chida explains that the Batei Kehunah held that Asher Yatzar has an expiration time, although he never shared with us how long he holds that would be.

There are other reasons to support the Levush’s position that someone should recite Asher Yatzar upon waking in the morning, even if he has no need to relieve himself. The Bach explains that Asher Yatzar should be treated like any other of the morning daily berachos, birkos hashachar, which most authorities assume are recited even if someone did not have a specific reason to recite them – such as, he is not wearing shoes or he is unable to rise from bed. Thus, even if someone had no need to use the facilities upon arising, he still should recite Asher Yatzar in the morning. This position is held by many other poskim, particularly the Rema (Orach Chayim 4:1), although he does not explain why he holds this way (see Magen Avraham 4:2; Elyah Rabbah 4:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 6:1; Mishnah Berurah 4:3). However, the Levush appears to disagree with this opinion of his rebbe, the Rema, and the Bach, implying that only someone who relieves himself recites the beracha Asher Yatzar, a position held by many other authorities (Arizal; Adei Zahav; Birkei Yosef).

The Levush himself (Orach Chayim 7:3) notes that the laws of Asher Yatzar should not be compared to the laws of berachos on food, since reciting Asher Yatzar is part of nature (we refer in English to a “call of nature”), whereas when and what we eat is an individual’s choice. The Levush and the Elyah Zuta (4: 1) both contend that this last distinction means that there is no time limit for reciting Asher Yatzar; however, the Chida questions whether this distinction makes any difference. In yet a third place (Orach Chayim 47:6 in his sidenote), the Levush again alludes to this topic, contending that, like the berachos prior to studying Torah, Asher Yatzar is not dependent on the time it takes to digest food.

Other acharonim add another idea. The beracha of Asher Yatzar includes an acknowledgement that there are apertures in the body that must remain open. Since this is something that we must acknowledge always, it is always appropriate to recite this beracha. Furthermore, the beracha of Asher Yatzar includes acknowledgement of the removal of ruach ra, which happens when we wash our hands upon awakening and when washing our hands after using the facilities. As such, Asher Yatzar is always appropriate upon awaking in the morning (Bach; Elyah Rabbah).

Among the many opinions explaining the Levush, many differences in halacha result. If the time for reciting Asher Yatzar never expires, someone who forgot to recite Asher Yatzar after relieving himself, when he remembers he should recite Asher Yatzar, regardless of how much time has transpired. According to the Adei Zahav, he should recite Asher Yatzar only within six hours of relieving himself.

Davening Outdoors

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?”

Based on a verse in Daniel (6:11), the Gemara (Berachos 34b) rules that a person should daven in a building that has windows. Rashi explains that looking at the sky humbles a person, causing him to daven with greater kavanah. The Gemara then quotes Rav Kahana that davening in an open field is considered an act of chutzpah. Rashi explains that davening in a place that is relatively notexposed, rather than an open field, creates greater fear of the King, and the individual’s stubborn heart is broken.

The poskim explain that this refers to a situation where the person has an alternative. However, someone traveling, and the best place to daven is an open field, may daven there, and it is not a chutzpah (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah).

Tosafos asks: According to the Gemara, when Yitzchak went lasuach basadeh (Bereishis 24:63), he went to pray (Berachos 26b), so how could Rav Kahana call this an act of chutzpah?

Tosafos provides two answers to his question.

(1) Yitzchak went to Har Hamoriyah to daven, which is where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, implying that this is certainly a place that will create greater fear of Heaven and more humility.

(2) Rav Kahana is discouraging davening in an open place, where his prayer may be disturbed by passersby, whereas Yitzchak was in an area where there was no one to disturb him.

According to the second answer of Tosafos, there is nothing wrong with davening in a place that is completely exposed, as long as he is comfortable that no one will disturb his prayers. According to his first answer, this is not true. We should note that Rashi’s reason disagrees with Tosafos’s second answer, and Rashi may accept Tosafos’s first reason (see next paragraph).

The Beis Yosef questions Tosafos’s second answer: why did Rav Kahana say that davening outdoors is a chutzpah? The concern is not of chutzpah, but because he will get distracted. For this reason, he follows the first reason of Tosafos in his Shulchan Aruch, and quotes Rashi’s reasoning: “A person should not pray in an open area, such as a field, because someone in a non-exposed place has greater fear of the King and his heart is broken” (Orach Chayim 90:5). We should note that several prominent poskim provide various explanations why Tosafos was not bothered by the Beis Yosef’s question (see Perisha, Bach, Taz, Magein Giborim, all in Orach Chayim 90).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) adds to this discussion by quoting the Zohar that implies that a person should daven inside a building. The Chida reports to us that the Batei Kehunah wrote a great deal about this topic. He concluded that it is sufficient if the area is enclosed, but it is not necessary for it to be roofed. The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 90:2) notes that great rabbis often pray in the unroofed courtyards of shullen.

The Mishnah Berurah concludes this topic with the following ruling: Notwithstanding that the Shulchan Aruch rejected Tosafos’s approach, many acharonim justify this answer that it is acceptable to daven outdoors in a place where someone will not be disturbed. A traveler may daven outdoors, but should preferably daven under trees, if practical. However, someone who is home should not rely on this, and should daven indoors (Mishnah Berurah 90:11). Thus, it would seem that, according to the Mishnah Berurah, it is incorrect to daven outdoors in the courtyard of a shul when he has the option of davening in the shul itself. On the other hand, Sefardim, who tend to follow the conclusions of the Chida, probably have a strong halachic basis to daven inside gates, even if there is no roof above them, relying on the Chida who followed the ruling of his rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Rapaport, the author of the Batei Kehunah.

Conclusion:

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of all Klal Yisrael!




This Land Is My Land!

Yaakov plans to return to Eretz Yisrael…

Question #1: This Land is My Land!

How do we take possession of Eretz Yisrael?

Question #2: This Land is Your Land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

Question #3: From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Introduction

In honor of a parsha in which Yaakov must leave Eretz Yisrael, with assurances that future generations will return, it behooves us to emphasize some of the special qualities for which Eretz Yisrael is so famous. Let us begin by mentioning some of the many pronouncements of Chazal regarding the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael:

Eretz Yisrael was created first, before any other part of the world” (Ta’anis 10b). “Hashem Himself waters Eretz Yisrael directly” (Ta’anis 10b). The Gemara teaches that there was no mabul in Eretz Yisrael (Zevachim 113a). It also states that Eretz Yisrael lacks nothing (Berachos 36b; Yoma 81b; Sukkah 35a).

The centrality of Eretz Yisrael to all our prayers is expressed in the halacha, based on Shelomoh Hamelech’s tefillah when he dedicated the Beis Hamikdash (Melachim 1:8:48; Divrei Hayamim 2:6:38), that we face Eretz Yisrael when we pray (Berachos 30a).

Then there are the many halachic unique qualities to Eretz Yisrael. As we know, most agricultural mitzvos, including bikkurim, terumos, ma’asros, leket, shikcha, peah, peret, oleilus and shevi’is apply only in Eretz Yisrael, and most of the laws of kelayim, orlah, and revai’i apply min haTorah only in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara (Sotah 14a) asks: Why did Moshe desire so much to enter Eretz Yisrael? Was it because he wanted to enjoy its fruits? The Gemara answers that he wanted to fulfill the mitzvos that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael!

There are mitzvos that are not agricultural that can be observed only in Eretz Yisrael. For example, the mitzvah of challah applies min haTorah only to dough kneaded in Eretz Yisrael.

A much more basic mitzvah is the requirement every month to establish and declare which day is rosh chodeshkiddush hachodesh — and to determine each year whether it should be a leap year containing thirteen months — ibur shanah — or a common year containing only twelve months, which requires the decision of a special beis din that meets in Eretz Yisrael (Berachos 63a). Thus, the creation of all our Yomim Tovim is dependent on the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael. (Hillel Hanasi introduced the use of our current calendar, which is based completely on calculation and not on observation. He realized that there would no longer be a beis din in Eretz Yisrael able to fulfill this mitzvah, and, therefore, it was required and necessary to implement a backup calendar with all the decisions predetermined and automatic.)

This land is my land!

An even greater emphasis on the primacy of Eretz Yisrael in keeping all the mitzvos can be noted in the following comments of the Sifrei, Rashi and the Ramban. To quote the Sifrei (Parshas Eikev #43), “Although I am exiling you, you will still be noticeably different because you perform mitzvos. This way, when you return to Eretz Yisrael, keeping mitzvos will not be a novel experience for you. We can compare this to a king who became angry at his wife and sent her back to her father’s house. Yet, at the same time, he instructed her, ‘Remember to wear your royal jewelry, so that upon your return, you will not find it foreign to dress like a queen.’ So, too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Yisrael: ‘My sons, always be distinguished by doing mitzvos so that, when you return, they will not be unfamiliar to you.’” Even non-agricultural mitzvos, such as mezuzah and tefillin, apply in chutz la’aretz in order to keep us in the habit of observing mitzvos (Rashi, Devarim 11:18). From this Sifrei, we see that the primary place for observing all mitzvos, even the non-agricultural ones, is in Eretz Yisrael (Ramban, Vayikra 18:25; see also Ramban, Devarim 11:18).

One of the blessings of Eretz Yisrael is that its air makes one  wise (Bava Basra 158b). The Gemara states that ten units of wisdom arrived in the world and Eretz Yisrael took nine of them (Kiddushin 49b).

Eretz Yisrael is compared to a deer or an antelope. Aside from their natural grace and beauty, these gorgeous creations of Hashem possess a hide that stretches to cover all their innards. When the animal is skinned, its hide shrinks, such that it is hard to imagine how it possibly was sufficient to enclose the animal. Similarly, Eretz Yisrael, which is called eretz tzvi, “the beautiful land,” appears too small to provide residence and sustenance for all its inhabitants, yet it “stretches” to make available everything that all its residents need (Kesubos 112a; Gittin 57a).

How can we demonstrate our love for Eretz Yisrael? The Gemara reports that Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina kissed the gate of Akko, which was the halachic border of Eretz Yisrael in his day (Yerushalmi, Shevi’is 4:7).

This land is your land

How do you make Eretz Yisrael into “your” land?

The Gemara (Berachos 5a) teaches that “three wonderful gifts, olam haba, Eretz Yisrael and Torah, were granted to the Jewish people, but each can be acquired only through difficulties (yissurin).” As anyone who moves to Eretz Yisrael will attest, aliyah never happens without serious hitches. Growth in Torah learning requires much sacrifice, as does achieving the rewards awaiting us in olam haba. All these require major personal investment. But, to the extent that one endures difficulty, he internalizes “possession” of them. Thus, it is impossible to take possession of olam haba, Eretz Yisrael or Torah without encountering and surmounting obstacles on the way.

Taking these ideas further is a statement (Pesachim 113a) that someone who dwells in Eretz Yisrael inherits olam haba. Even more is conveyed by a different passage of Gemara (Kesubos 111a), that someone who walks just four amos in Eretz Yisrael is guaranteed olam haba!

The midrash teaches that five things are more cherished by Hashem than the worlds of heaven and earth that He created. One of these five things is Jews settling in Eretz Yisrael.

The Gemara also states that the shuls andthe batei midrash of chutz la’aretz will be transported to Eretz Yisrael (Megillah 29a).

From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Eretz Yisrael does not stretch as far west as California. Let us briefly discuss the westernmost parts of Eretz Yisrael, as described by various pesukim in Tanach. Every mention of the borders of Eretz Yisrael defines its western border simply as the “Yam Hagadol,” the “Great Sea.” (Although there are seas larger than the Mediterranean, it is called the “Great Sea” because of its relationship to Eretz Yisrael. In other words, it is considered “great” not because of its own qualities — it is “great” because anything associated with Eretz Yisrael is great!)

What about islands in the Mediterranean? Are they part of Eretz Yisrael?

This question is the subject of a dispute among tanna’im. According to Rabbi Yehudah, bodies of land due west of Eretz Yisrael are part of Eretz Yisrael. However, accepted halacha follows the opinion of the chachamim who draw an imaginary line from the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael to its southwestern border, Nachal Mitzrayim and include in Eretz Yisrael only islands in that easternmost part of the Mediterranean (Gittin 8a).

Where will I find the northwestern corner of Eretz Yisrael on my map of the Middle East?

From the redwood forest

North of the land that most people identify with Eretz Yisrael are the famous cedars of Lebanon. However, most opinions consider the Promised Land to include current day Lebanon, or at least significant areas of it, as part of Eretz Yisrael. In the various Biblical descriptions of the borders of the Holy Land, we can observe that one location in the north, Har Hahor, figures prominently. First, I must note that the mountain called Har Hahor where Aharon was buried is a different place from the northern boundary marker of Eretz Yisrael. The reason why two different mountains would both be called Har Hahor is because the term means simply “the mountain of the mountain,” what Rashi describes as “an apple situated on top of another apple” — a mountain with a higher vertical rising peak on top. Thus, Har Hahor is as much a description as a name, and refers both to Aharon’s burial place, a mountain outside the southern or southeastern boundary of Eretz Yisrael, and to any one of the many choices suggested for Israel’s northwestern border, where the northern border reaches the sea.

I am aware of at least six different mountains identified as the Har Hahor of the northwestern-most point of Eretz Yisrael. All are mountains located on the eastern Mediterranean coast, all are north of what is today’s modern State of Israel, and each has this feature of a mountain with a mountainous peak rising on top. In other words, all opinions agree that true Eretz Yisrael spreads north of the borders of the current state. Opinions as to how far north will indeed be ultimately “ours” range from Lebanon, all the way up to Turkey. In other words, the consensus is that there are coastal areas north of Rosh Hanikra that are properly part of Eretz Yisrael, yet it is uncertain how far north.

To the Gulf Stream waters

Thus far we have discussed the western and northern borders of Eretz Yisrael; now we will discuss the southern border. In Parshas Mas’ei (Bamidbar 34), the Torah defines the easternmost point of the southern border of Eretz Yisrael to be the Dead Sea (Bamidbar 34:3), and its westernmost point to be Nachal Mitzrayim, the Stream of Egypt. We should first note that Avraham Avinu was promised from “Nahar Mitzrayim, the River of Egypt, whereas in Parshas Mas’ei, we are promised from the Stream of Egypt. Are these the same body of water? Indeed, Targum Yerushalmi explains both terms as referring to the Nile. Others do not. If so, what was Avraham promised, and why did we not receive it?

The Malbim (commentary to Bamidbar 34:2) explains that the borders promised at the end of Parshas Eikev (Devarim 11:24) reflect a promise for the future, when the Jewish people will acquire much more territory than what was possessed in the days of Yehoshua.

According to this approach, no part of Egypt is yet part of Eretz Yisrael. Similarly, others contend that the Stream of Egypt is the Wadi El Arish in the northeastern part of the Sinai Desert, whereas the River of Egypt is the Nile. According to this approach, Avraham Avinu was promised that, one day, his descendants would have much more extensive holdings to the south and southwest than they have ever controlled in history, even after Ariel Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and captured the Egyptian Third Army to end the Yom Kippur War. (The Gulf of Suez and the Suez Canal both lie east of the Nile and the area in between is the breadbasket and cotton growing area of Egypt.) Avraham Avinu was promised the land of ten nations, including Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, which Rashi (Bereishis 15:19) equates with Edom, Moav and Amon, but these are not the borders of Benei Yisrael’s territory when we entered the land in the days of Yehoshua. Until the era of moshiach, Klal Yisrael received the land of only seven of those ten nations, the rest going to other family members of Avraham Avinu, including the descendants of Amon and Moav, Avraham’s grandnieces, and of Eisav.

This land was made for you and me!

The Ramban (Devarim 11:24) explains the verses at the end of Parshas Eikev differently, understanding that those borders describe the area that we are commanded to conquer. This is consistent with his opinion that one of the taryag mitzvos requires that we conquer Eretz Yisrael, a topic in which both Rashi and the Rambam appear to disagree with him, and which we will leave for a different time.

I roamed and rambled

On the other hand, some major commentaries interpret the Stream of Egypt of Parshas Mas’ei to be the Nile, not the Wadi el Arish, making the Eretz Yisrael promised to Yehoshua far more expansive in the south and southwest. Since much of Cairo is on the eastern bank of the Nile, this approach considers that part of Cairo to be located in Eretz Yisrael!

I’ve followed my footsteps

Thus far, we have noted that the western border of Eretz Yisrael is the Mediterranean Sea. The middle of Eretz Yisrael originally had a very narrow “waist,” bound on its east by the Jordan River. The lands to the east of the Jordan were chutz la’aretz.

The sparkling sands

How did Transjordan, the land to the eastern part of the Jordan River, become part of Eretz Yisrael?

The answer is that the Benei Yisrael did not have a mitzvah to conquer Transjordan. Klal Yisrael requested permission to travel through the lands of Sichon in order to enter the Holy Land from the east. Sichon came to attack the Benei Yisrael, and, in this battle, Sichon, Og and their entire armies were eliminated. As spoils of war, everything they owned, including their extensive holdings east of the Jordan River, became the property of Benei Yisrael and, henceforth, all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply. But only because Sichon and Og attacked the Jewish people and not because of any divine promise.

That golden valley

This background introduces a new question: When Dovid Hamelech conquered what the Gemara calls “Suria,” a huge tract of land east and north of the Jordan, the Mishnah and Gemara rule that it did not have the status of Eretz Yisrael because of a principle the Gemara calls: kibush yachid lav shemei kibush, literally, “the conquest of an individual is not considered a conquest.” But why not? What is the difference between Moshe Rabbeinu’s capture of Transjordan from Sichon and Og, which is now part of Eretz Yisrael, and Dovid Hamelech’s capture of Suria, which remains outside Eretz Yisrael? Was Dovid Hamelech’s conquest inferior to that of Moshe Rabbeinu?

Responding to this question created much literature among the rishonim. Among the approaches we find:

1. Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria to be a personal possession and did not involve the entire nation of Yisrael in its conquest (Rashi, Gittin 8b s. v. kivush).

2. The Rambam seems to hold a very similar approach, that conquered land becoming part of Eretz Yisrael is dependent on the involvement of most of the Jewish people, or acting as agency for the Jewish people (Hilchos Terumos 1:2).

3. At the time that Dovid Hamelech conquered Suria, the Benei Yisrael had as yet not taken possession of all of the land that they were supposed to acquire. Once the lands that the Jews were commanded in Parshas Mas’ei have been conquered, any land additionally conquered will have the halacha of Eretz Yisrael, but not land conquered earlier (Tosafos, Gittin 8a s. v. kivush).

Her diamond deserts

Although we have just demonstrated that the lands of Transjordan became endowed with the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, and that, therefore, virtually all the laws of Eretz Yisrael apply to them, they still are not fully considered the Holy Land. For example, the midrash criticizes the tribes of Gad and Reuvein for prioritizing wrongly when they asked to receive their inherited lands in Transjordan. To quote the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, Parshas Matos 22, 7), which compares them to Korach and Haman (!?), “Similarly, we find that the Benei Gad and the Benei Reuven, who were wealthy and owned large herds, cherished their wealth and therefore elected to dwell outside Eretz Yisrael. As a result, they were the first of all the tribes to be exiled, as we are taught (Divrei Hayamim I, Chapter 5).

The wheat fields waving

Of course, we all know that Eretz Yisrael is famous for its seven special fruits — wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates — and the unique mitzvah, bikkurim, which is performed only with these seven fruits. I know that someone is going to criticize my calling wheat and barley “fruits,” since you will not find them in the produce department of your local supermarket. However, wheat and barley kernels are indeed “fruits,” and this is why the Mishnah frequently refers to them as peiros. We all commemorate this mitzvah annually at the Pesach Seder, when we read the story beginning with the words “Arami oveid avi,” which is part of the recital made by the pilgrim bringing his bikkurim to the Beis Hamikdash.

A voice was sounding

We are meant to be “a light onto the nations,” which charges us with the responsibility to act in a manner that we create a kiddush Hashem. This means we are to live as a nation in Eretz Yisrael following the mitzvos of the Torah that Hashem commanded us individually and nationally, and that only Hashem could have commanded!

The Beis Hamikdash represents our relationship to Eretz Yisrael as being completely dependent on the Torah; this is why the bikkurim must be brought to the Beis Hamikdash and placed alongside the mizbei’ach. Our acquisition of Eretz Yisrael is only for the purpose of observing the Torah.




When Do We Not Make a Beracha on a Fragrance?

The Torah mentions that the caravan on which Yosef was “shipped” to Mitzrayim was laden with pleasant-smelling fragrances…

Question #1: My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her and walk through the garden, and, if so, which beracha?

Question #2: On my way to work I pass a spice factory that has a wonderful aroma. Do I recite a beracha every day as I drive by?

Question #3: Someone told me not to recite a beracha on perfume today because the fragrances are synthetic. Is this true?

Question #4: I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?

Answer:

In general one should not benefit from a pleasant aroma without first reciting a beracha. Nevertheless, not all fragrances require a beracha before we smell them. Furthermore, when a beracha is not required, it is forbidden to recite one.

Fragrances upon which one may not recite a beracha fall under three general categories:

I. Forbidden fragrances

II. Fragrances whose purpose is not for pleasurable smelling.

III. Fragrances whose source no longer exists. This would include a case where you put the fragrance into a closed bag, but can still smell the residual aroma in the air outside the bag (Biur Halacha 217:3), or when you enjoy the smell of an empty besamim box.

I. FORBIDDEN FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha on a fragrance that it is forbidden to smell, such as a scent used in idol worship, sorcery or the perfume of an ervah (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 9:7, based on Berachos 53a). Smelling something used for idol worship is prohibited because one may not have any benefit from idols. Since we are not permitted to smell these fragrances, it is understood why Chazal ruled that one should not make a beracha on them.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling these prohibited fragrances even if a small amount is mixed into a potpourri of other fragrances (Biur Halacha 217:8; cf. Gra ad loc. who implies that if most of the fragrance is from a different source, one should recite a beracha before smelling it. However this is very strange, because the Torah forbids smelling the entire fragrance whenever the prohibited source is discernible.)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I PASS AN IDOL AND SMELL INCENSE?

Although this is unusual in America, there are many places in the world where this is a common shaylah. May I walk down this street if I might smell a forbidden fragrance?

According to halacha, I am permitted to walk down the street provided I try not to appreciate the fragrance. The Gemara discusses a category called Hana’ah haba’ah lo le’adam bal karcho, “benefit that a person receives against his will.” Although a person has control over what he eats, he has more limited control over what he smells or hears. If someone is exposed to a pleasurable fragrance that is forbidden according to halacha, there is no violation involved, provided he does not try to enjoy the aroma (Pesachim 25b).

II. FRAGRANCES WHOSE PURPOSE IS NOT TO PROVIDE THE PLEASURE OF SMELLING

“One does not make a beracha on a fragrance unless it was made for the pleasure of smelling” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). One recites a beracha on a fragrance only when it is avida le’reicha, literally, “made for fragrance.”In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything that it not specifically meant to smell is not considered a fragrance.” Thus, the definition of the word besamim is something made to provide pleasurable scent and does not include aromas not meant for smelling.

There are several headings of aromatic fragrances that are not for the pleasure of smelling. They include:

A. Deodorizing fragrances

B. Fragrances whose current purpose is not for their aroma.

C. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

D. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

IIA. DEODORIZING FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose purpose is to neutralize a bad odor, such as a room deodorizer, deodorant, or oil rubbed on the skin to dispel malodor (Berachos 53a). Even though these items may be highly aromatic, since their purpose is not for enjoyment but to neutralize an unpleasant odor, we do not recite a beracha.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a room deodorizer, even if he enjoys the aroma and even if he sprayed it in a room without a bad odor or brings it to his nose for a pleasant whiff. Since the deodorizer was made expressly to dispel malodor and not for enjoyment, it is not considered besamim even if the individual enjoys smelling it (Shaar Hatziyun 217:16, based on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 297:2).

USING OILS AS A DEODORIZER

Some people use pleasant-smelling essential oils to combat malodors. Does one make a beracha before smelling these fragrances?

It depends on why one smells them. If they are functioning as deodorants, then one does not recite a beracha, whereas someone who uses the oil with the intent of enjoying its aroma does recite the appropriate beracha before smelling it (Berachos 53a with Rashi). (See my other articles on this subject on the website RabbiKaganoff.com to know which beracha one recites.)

WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A FRAGRANCE IS BESAMIM OR A DEODORIZER?

Some items are obviously deodorants or deodorizers and are not besamim. However, the essential oils we mentioned and other fragrances may sometimes be used to deodorize and sometimes for pleasure. What determines whether this particular fragrance is besamim over which we recite a beracha?

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:2) explains that the determining factor is why you brought the fragrance to this location. If you brought it for pleasure, it is besamim and you recite a beracha. If you brought the fragrance to neutralize an odor, you do not recite a beracha, even if you are smelling it because you enjoy it.

However, if you removed some of the fragrance permanently to enjoy its aroma, this part becomes besamim and warrants a beracha. The Chazon Ish uses the example of someone who applies fragrant oil to his or her skin. Even if the person originally used the oil to deodorize, if he subsequently sprinkled some onto a handkerchief to enjoy the aroma, he recites a beracha on the sprinkled oil.

IIB. INCIDENTAL TO PURPOSE

We learned above that one does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose current purpose is not for its aroma. What does this mean?

Imagine yourself outside the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances. The aroma outside this plant is indescribable — I can tell you because I have been there. Yet the halacha is that one does not recite a beracha on this fragrance. Why not?

The halacha is that someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a beracha because the owner wants potential customers to smell his wares so that they will make a purchase (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a beracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why do you recite a beracha on the spices in his store but not those in his warehouse? Because the fragrances in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed; the ones in the warehouse are not. Thus, the fragrances in the warehouse are not avida le’reicha and are not besamim.

Thus, smelling the most fantastic aroma in the world, from the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of pleasant flavors and fragrances, does not warrant a beracha. These fragrances do not qualify as besamim since they are not there for people to enjoy their aroma.

THE SPICE MERCHANT HIMSELF

Does the spice seller himself recite a beracha upon entering his own shop? He does not enter intending to smell fragrant spices in order to decide what to buy. He enters because it is his livelihood. Can a fragrance be avida le’reicha for one person but not for another?

Poskim dispute this question, many ruling that the merchant should recite a beracha since the fragrance has the status of avida le’reicha. Others contend that, for the merchant, the fragrances are merchandise and not avida le’reicha,and therefore he should not recite a beracha (Mishnah Berurah 217:4; Shaar Hatziyun 217:7).

Other poskim present a different reason why the merchant should not recite a beracha on the fragrance. The Taz (217:1) contends that someone recites a beracha over a fragrance only when they demonstrate a desire to smell it, such as by picking up the fragrance and raising it to their nose. The customer who enters the shop recites a beracha because he walked into the shop intending to smell and purchase fragrances — thus, his entry is itself demonstration that he wants to smell the spices; therefore, he recites a beracha. However, the owner’s entry does not demonstrate intent to smell the product. According to this opinion, someone who makes a delivery to a perfumery does not recite a beracha.

On the other hand, most poskim contend that a fragrance that qualifies as avida le’reicha requires a beracha even when not trying to smell it (Pri Megadim MZ 217:1; Shaar Hatziyun 217:4). Later in the article, I will suggest an approach whereby a safek beracha can be avoided.

The same dispute also applies to the neighbors of the perfumery, its workers, and those making deliveries to the shop. According to the Taz’s opinion, only the customers recite a beracha on the magnificent fragrance of the shop, since they come to smell and purchase. Also, if you entered the store specifically to enjoy the fragrance, you recite a beracha according to all opinions.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in the flavor factory and you know that you do not make a beracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff or you lift some of the fragrance in order to smell it? Do you recite a beracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as you move towards the fragrance, you lift it up or you place some into your hand, you should recite a beracha. Any act makes the fragrance avida le’reicha.

However the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that, if you will return the fragrance, it is not avida le’reicha and you do not make a beracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available because he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a beracha on these samples.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two gedolim regarding spices in the kitchen. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container to smell it, you recite a beracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it. However according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a beracha on this fragrance unless you do not intend to cook with it later. (See Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 262). Someone who wants to avoid the dispute would sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a beracha on that. Since you are not going to use this spice for cooking, it is besamim according to all opinions and one recites a beracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras ShabbosKehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262). This is because, according to the Chazon Ish, one does not recite a beracha on a kitchen spice if one intends to cook with it. Only if one removed some of the spice from kitchen use and set it aside for besamim does that spice warrant a beracha.

THE GARDEN

At the beginning of the article I asked, “My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her, and, if so, which beracha?” We are now prepared to answer this question.

The fragrant garden itself is avida le’reicha since the owner or gardener presumably planted it in order to benefit from the beautiful aroma. Do we therefore recite a beracha upon entering the garden? According to most poskim, since it is avida le’reicha, one would recite the beracha upon entering the garden, even if he is not entering to enjoy the aroma at all. The beracha will depend on what is growing in the garden, but assuming that there are items growing with different brachos, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim.

However according to the Taz, one recites a beracha only if he wants to smell the fragrance. In order to avoid this shaylah, he should have in mind before entering the garden that he is entering the garden to enjoy the fragrance and recite a beracha immediately before entering the garden, just as one recites a beracha immediately before eating a delicious fruit.

Similarly, someone whose house is permeated with aromatic flowers should recite a beracha before entering the house, since the flowers were acquired with the intention of making the house pleasantly fragrant. However, if the flowers are there only for beauty and their owner was not concerned with their fragrance, then one does not recite a beracha before entering the house. According to the Mishnah Berurah we quoted above, one should recite the appropriate beracha (either Borei Atzei Besamim or Borei Isvei Besamim) before smelling an individual flower. According to the Chazon Ish, it would seem that one should not recite a beracha unless he removed a leaf or trimming from the flowers that he wants to smell.

THE FRUIT MARKET AND THE CONFECTIONER

Does one recite a beracha when entering a fragrant fruit market, since smelling the delicious fruit may entice one to make a purchase? The same question applies to a confectionary store: Does one recite a beracha before entering this store since the delicious smell of all the sweets may entice the customer to purchase?

If indeed the owner feels that the fragrance of his wares encourages people to buy them, then one should recite a beracha before entering. This case is similar to an interesting dispute that we find in earlier poskim.

THE PHARMACY

In earlier days, a pharmacy was a store in which the apothecary sold raw herbs for their medicinal value. The poskim ask whether one recites a beracha before entering the apothecary shop, just as the Gemara says that one recites a beracha before entering the besamim seller’s store.

Some poskim rule that one should recite a beracha before entering a pharmacy because the permeating fragrance encourages people to purchase herbs. Other poskim disagree for an interesting reason — people do not purchase medicinal herbs because of fragrance, but for medical need (see Biur Halacha 217:1). Thus, since healthy people do not make purchases even if the herbs smell pleasant, and sick people will buy even if the herbs are not fragrant, no one is deciding to buy because of the fragrance. Therefore, these herbs are not avida le’reicha.

The Biur Halacha (217:1) compromises between the two positions quoted above. In his opinion, if people use the fragrance to find the location of the store, that is reason enough to make a beracha. However, he points out two other reasons why one should be careful before reciting a beracha.

1. According to the Taz (mentioned above) one does not recite a beracha unless one intends to smell the fragrance.

2. One should recite a beracha only if the fragrances are open. However, if the herbs are all in closed bags, but the air is fragrant from when the bags had been open previously, this is considered a rei’ach she’ein lo ikar, upon which one does not recite a beracha.

Thus upon entering a fragrant fruit store, one should recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros and then intend to enjoy the fragrance, since the fruits are always out in the open to encourage people to buy them.

It is uncertain whether the same halacha applies to a florist’s shop. Flowers today are not cultivated for fragrance, and most people purchase flowers because of beauty, not fragrance. However, if there is a florist who feels that customers purchase because of fragrance, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim and enjoy the fragrance.

IIC. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

In the time of Chazal, it was common to burn incense in order to give clothing or dishes a pleasant fragrance. The Gemara (Berachos 53a) mentions that one does not recite a beracha when smelling this beautiful aroma because its purpose is not for the fragrance itself.

When showing a house for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people either to smell or to purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a beracha.

IID. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

There are items that some people enjoy smelling, but most people do not consider fragrant. One should not recite a beracha before smelling such an item.

Examples: The poskim dispute whether one recites a beracha on freshly baked bread. Those who contend that a beracha is ont recited opine that this is not a fragrance significant enough to warrant a beracha (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 216; Rema). Thus, some people enjoy smelling certain plants or herbs whereas other people do not. If most people do not consider a particular smell to be a fragrance, you should not recite a beracha even if you enjoy it.

TURPENTINE

Question #4 above, was: “I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?”

Dear reader, how would you please answer this shaylah?

Perfumeries do not sell turpentine as a fragrance. Hardware stores sell it as a solvent and paint thinner. Many people consider the odor of turpentine pungent and not fragrant. Since most people do not consider turpentine to be a fragrance, one should not recite a beracha before smelling it.

III. Ein lo ikar – A fragrance whose source no longer exists.

In the case mentioned above where one burns incense to impart aroma onto clothing ordishes, one does not recite a beracha on the clothing afterwards, because the fragrance has no ikar (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 9:8). For this reason, one does not recite a beracha on a bag that has a pleasant smell because it once held fragrance, or when you can still smell the residual aroma that is in the air after a spice has been put into a closed bag

(Biur Halacha 217:3).

SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES

Some poskim contend that one does not make a beracha on a synthetic fragrance (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 263 note 32). Apparently, they hold that one can recite a beracha only on a fragrance whose source was originally besamim. However most poskim dispute this ruling, contending that a fragrance should not be different from a “synthetic food” — a food made from a non-food substance, such as alcohol or vinegar whose source is petrochemical — which is very common today.

This situation is very common today, since most inexpensive fragrances and perfumes are synthetic. Because of the above dispute, if I have a reason to smell a synthetic fragrance I try to recite a beracha on a different fragrance whose beracha is Borei Minei Besamim, such as cloves or cinnamon, and thereby be motzi the synthetic fragrance. (Neither of these options will work for Sefardim, since they usually recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros oncloves and Borei Atzei Besamim on cinnamon.)

As a quick review, we do not recite a beracha on the following categories of fragrances:

Those that we are not permitted to smell.

Deodorizers.

If the fragrance is incidental to the item’s main purpose or if it provides aroma to something else.

Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

Where one does not smell the source of the fragrance.

Some poskim hold that we should not recite a beracha on a synthetic fragrance.

EXPRESSIVE FRAGRANCE

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Breishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach, usually translated as “a pleasant fragrance,” should more accurately be rendered “an expression of compliance.” He demonstrates that the word nicho’ach means “giving satisfaction,” and the concept of rei’ach is used because fragrance implies receiving a very slight impression of something that is distant. Thus, when a korban is offered as a rei’ach nicho’ach, it means that it shows a small expression of our fulfilling Hashem’s will. Similarly, our attempt to observe correctly the halachos of brachos on fragrances demonstrates a small expression on our part to praise Hashem for even His small kindnesses to us.




More about Birkas Hagomeil

Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

Question #1: “Upon reciting birkas hagomeil, an individual erred and recited the following: ‘Hagomeil tovim, shegemalani kol tuv’ (without the word “lechayavim”). Must he now repeat the beracha because he omitted a word?”

Question #2: “Thank G-d, my nine-year-old daughter is now recuperating successfully from surgery. Does she recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #3: “Did the Chashmonayim recite birkas hagomeil upon winning their war?”

Answer:

In a different article, we learned that birkas hagomeil is to be recited by someone who has been saved from a dangerous situation. Specifically, Sefer Tehillim (107) and the Gemara mention four different types of individuals in treacherous predicaments — one who traverses a wilderness, a captive who was freed, an ill person, and a seafarer — whose safe return, release or recovery warrants reciting this beracha. The halacha is that one recites birkas hagomeil after surviving any life-threatening situation. This article will discuss some aspects of this beracha that were not yet covered.

Someone else reciting

May someone else recite some form of birkas hagomeil on behalf of the person who actually was in the difficult circumstance? In this context, we find the following Gemara passage (Berachos 54b):

“Rav Yehudah had been ill and recovered. When Rav Chona of Baghdad and other scholars came to visit him, they said to Rav Yehudah, ‘Blessed is the merciful One (in Aramaic, rachmana), Who returned you to us and not to the earth.’ Rav Yehudah responded, ‘You have exempted me from reciting birkas hagomeil!’”

Thus, we see that Rav Yehudah ruled that the praise recited by his visitors exempted him from reciting birkas hagomeil, notwithstanding the fact that Rav Chona and the others had not been ill and had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

The Gemara proceeds to ask several questions about this conversation: “But do we not require a minyan for birkas hagomeil?” to which the Gemara replies that there indeed were ten people present when Rav Chona visited Rav Yehudah.

The Gemara then questions how Rav Yehudah could have fulfilled birkas hagomeil if he himself had not recited the beracha, to which it replies that he answered “Amen” to the blessing of Rav Chona of Baghdad.

Deriving Halacha

In addition to what we noted above, the above Gemara discussion teaches several additional halachos about birkas hagomeil:

1. Although the authorities quote a standardized wording for birkas hagomeil, we see that one fulfills his requirement even if one recited a version that varies considerably from the usual text, as long as it is a beracha that thanks Hashem for the salvation.

2. The person who was saved can fulfill his obligation by answering amen when he hears someone else thank Hashem, even though the person reciting the beracha has no requirement to bensch gomeil. This is a unique halachah, because usually one may fulfill a beracha or mitzvah by hearing it from someone else only when the person reciting the beracha is equally required to observe the mitzvah. Despite this rule, Rav Yehudah discharged his responsibility through Rav Chona’s beracha,even though Rav Chona personally had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

3. We can also derive from this anecdote that someone may fulfill the requirement of birkas hagomeil through someone else’s beracha, even though the person who recited the beracha did not intend to recite it on behalf of the person who is obligated. This is also an unusual facet of birkas hagomeil, since in all other instances, the person fulfilling the mitzvah does so only if the person doing it intends to be motzi him.

4. Some authorities ask: Since Rav Chona was unaware that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah, why was he not concerned that he would be reciting a beracha levatalah, a blessing recited in vain?

The answer is that Rav Chona of Baghdad’s recital was certainly praise to Hashem and thanks for His kindness, and therefore this blessing would certainly not be a beracha levatalah, even if no one fulfilled any requirement through it (Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

Uniqueness of birkas hagomeil

From these last rulings, we see that the concept of birkas hagomeil is unlike other berachos, and therefore, its rules are different. As long as the person obligated to thank Hashem is involved in an acknowledgement that Hashem saved him, he has fulfilled his obligation.

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

One should not infer from the above story that one can fulfill reciting birkas hagomeil without mentioning Hashem’s name. This is because the word rachmana, which translates literally into English as “the merciful One,” also serves as the Aramaic word for G-d. Thus, Rav Chona of Baghdad did mention Hashem’s name in his blessing.

What about mentioning malchus?

The Rishonim note that from the way the Gemara quotes Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is the merciful One Who returned you to us and not to the earth,” one might conclude that it is sufficient to recite Baruch Ata Hashem for birkas hagomeil, and that one does not need to say also Elokeinu Melech haolam, the standard text prefacing all berachos. This would be very novel, since all berachos require an introduction that includes not only mention of Hashem, but also requires proclaiming that Hashem is King. However, the Tur and the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) reject this conclusion, contending that one does not fulfill birkas hagomeil unless one does mention sheim and malchus. We must therefore assume that the Gemara abbreviated the beracha recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad and that he had indeed mentioned Hashem’s monarchy in his blessing.

The text

What is the optimal nusach, the exact text, of this beracha?

Although our Gemara (Berachos 54b) quotes a wording for birkas hagomeil, it is apparent that different rishonim had variant readings of the text of the beracha. The most common version recorded is: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam, hagomeil lachayovim tovos, shegemalani kol tov. “Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” The assembled then respond with “Amen,” and then add, Mi shegemalcha kol tov hu yigmalecha kol tov sela, “May He Who has granted you much good continue to grant you much good forever.” The established Sefardi custom is to recite two pesukim prior to reciting the beracha, which calls people to attention so that they can focus on the beracha and respond appropriately (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 219:14).

The wording of the beracha sounds unusual, for it implies that the person who recited this beracha is assuming that he was deserving of Divine punishment, yet was saved because of Hashem’s kindness. Why should the saved person make this assumption?

The Maharam Mintz (Shu”t #14), an early Ashkenazi authority, explains that someone who became ill or was imprisoned should be introspective, seeking to learn a lesson by discovering why this happened to him. In so doing, he should realize that he is indeed guilty of things for which he needs to do teshuvah. In this context, the Avnei Nezer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #39) asks the following: while the Maharam Mintz’s reason explains why a person who was captured or imprisoned should consider himself guilty, it is not clear how it applies to someone who survived a journey on the high seas or through the desert, since he himself chose to undertake the trip. To this, the Avnei Nezer answers that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the beracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily. In either instance, we can now appreciate why the person reciting the beracha refers to himself as being “guilty.”

What about a child?

If a child survived a situation that would require an adult to recite birkas hagomeil, does he do so?

Early halachic authorities rule that a child under the age of bar or bas mitzvah does not recite birkas hagomeil. The Maharam Mintz explains that it is inappropriate for a child to recite the wording hagomeil lachayovim tovos, “Who grants good to those who are guilty.” Harm that befalls a child is not a result of his own evildoing, but of his father’s; thus, a child reciting this text implies that his father is guilty, which is certainly improper for a child. Furthermore, to modify the beracha is unseemly, since one should not change the text of the beracha handed down to us by Chazal (quoted by Elyah Rabbah 291:3).

Some authorities are dissatisfied with this last answer, since we see that Rav Yehudah felt that he had fulfilled his requirement to recite birkas hagomeil when Rav Chona said, “Blessed is Hashem that returned you to us and not to the earth,” which is quite different from the text, “Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” It would seem that any beracha text that includes a praise acknowledging thanks for Hashem’s rescue fulfills the requirement (see Shaar Hatizyun 219:5). Thus, it should be relatively easy to structure a birkas hagomeil text for children.

The above-quoted Avnei Nezer similarly disapproves of the rationale presented by the Maharam Mintz, although he agrees with the ruling that a child should not recite birkas hagomeil – but for a different reason. The Avnei Nezer explains that although any text thanking Hashem fulfills the mitzvah of reciting birkas hagomeil, the preferred way is for the person to say “I, who am guilty,” something that a child cannot say. Although one could modify the text so that a child would be able to recite birkas hagomeil and omit this concept, having a child recite a different beracha would no longer accomplish the mitzvah of chinuch, which requires a child to fulfill the mitzvah the way he would as an adult.

On the other hand, the Chida (Birkei Yosef 219:1) quotes authorities who disagreed with the Maraham Mintz, and ruled that a child should recite birkas hagomeil, although the Chida does not cite the rationale for this ruling. Presumably, these authorities contend that having a child recite this beracha is no different than any other mitzvah in which we are required to educate our children. Most authorities agree with the rulings of the Maharam Mintz and the Avnei Nezer and, as a result, in most communities, both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, children do not recite birkas hagomeil (Kaf Hachayim 219:2).

How much traveling?

One of the four instances for which the Gemara requires birkas hagomeil is surviving a trip through a desert. However, when the Rambam quotes this Gemara, he states, instead of those who traveled through the desert, “those who traveled on intercity roads recite birkas hagomeil when they arrive at a settled place.” The authorities dispute what the Rambam means, the Tur assuming him to mean that one recites birkas hagomeil after any trip. This position is certainly held by the Ramban, who writes (Toras Ha’adam, page 49) that the Gemara mentioned those who traveled through the desert only because that is the text of the verse in Tehillim, but the halacha is that any traveler recites birkas hagomeil upon arrival at his destination. For this reason, the Ramban and the Avudraham record that many Sefardim recite birkas hagomeil for any out-of-town trip, for, to quote the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 4:4), kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah, all highways should be assumed to be dangerous.

The Rosh (Berachos 9:3), however, disagrees with the Ramban, contending that there is a difference between tefillas haderech, which one recites for any trip, and birkas hagomeil, which one recites only when one would be required to offer a korban todah. The verses in Chapter 107 imply that one is required to offer a korban todah only when one survives a major calamity. Thus, in the Rosh’s opinion, the statement kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah means that one should recite tefillas haderech any time one travels intercity, but not that one should recite birkas hagomeil. Reflecting this approach, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah mention that in France and Germany the practice was to refrain from reciting birkas hagomeil when traveling from one city to the next.

The Bach also follows this approach and takes issue with the Tur’s interpretation of the Rambam, contending that even the Rambam is referring only to someone traveling through a completely barren area similar to a desert, but that the Rambam agrees that someone traveling through an area where food and water can be readily obtained does not recite birkas hagomeil afterwards. The Bach suggests that the Tur was not quoting the Rambam in support of this position, but the Ramban, and that scribes erred while redacting.

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birkas hagomeil?

In researching the different teshuvos written on this subject, I found a wide range of halachic opinion. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that anyone traveling by airplane must recite birkas hagomeil, regardless as to whether he was traveling over sea or over land exclusively. He contends that even those authorities who rule that one should recite birkas hagomeil only for the four types of calamities mentioned in Tehillim and the Gemara require birkas hagomeil for flying, since flying by air is identical to traveling by ship, as the entire time that one is above ground, one’s long-term life plans are all completely dependent on one’s safe return to land (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:59). I found another authority who agreed with Rav Moshe’s conclusion, but for a different reason. One should recite birkas hagomeil, not because air travel should be compared to seafaring, but because we rule that one recites birkas hagomeil for any type of danger to which one was exposed (Shu”t Betzel Hachachmah 1:20). Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim should recite birkas hagomeil after any air trip that takes longer than 72 minutes, just as they recite birkas hagomeil after any trip on land that takes this long (Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:Orach Chayim #14).

On the other hand, many contend that since this is a different method of travel from what was included in the original takanas Chazal, and, in addition, air travel today is not highly dangerous, one should not recite birkas hagomeil, at least not with the names of Hashem, which they are concerned might result in a beracha levatalah (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:9; Rav Zion Levy, in his question to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, published in Shu”t Yabia Omer, Orach Chayim II #14).

According to what we have thus far written, there should be no distinction drawn on the length of the flight or whether it traverses land or sea. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach, one should always recite birkas hagomeil for air flight, and according to those who dispute, one should not. Notwithstanding the strong logic, there is a prevalent custom that people bensch gomeil when flying overseas, but not when flying domestically. The Be’er Moshe (2:68) notes this practice, which he feels has very weak halachic foundation. Nevertheless, since this is the prevalent custom, he attempts to justify it and says that people should follow the custom.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening question:  Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

We can ask further: Did Yitzchak Avinu recite birkas hagomeil after the akeidah? Did Chananyah, Mesha’el, and Azaryah recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the furnace, or Daniel after waving good-bye to the lions? Did the kohen gadol recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur? Did Rabbi Akiva recite birkas hagomeil over the fact that he was the only one who had studied the deepest secrets of the Torah (called “pardes”) and remained physically and spiritually intact?

The Chida, in his Machazik Beracha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correspondence on this question that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim, since his entering was to fulfill a mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, that a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Eliezar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by the angels and by the great tzadikim mentioned above upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.




The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

“Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

“If Yaakov created the maariv prayer, why is his prayer treated as inferior to those created by Avraham and Yitzchak? After all, the Gemara’s conclusion is that tefillas arvis reshus, the evening prayer is optional (Brachos 27b).”

Introduction:

Our parsha opens: “Then Yaakov left Be’er Sheva, heading towards Haran. And he stopped at the place and spent the night there because the sun had already set.” Rashi raises the question that the posuk should say that he stopped at “a” place, not “the” place; it is clearly referring to a place with which we are already familiar. Rashi explains that this refers to Har Hamoriah, where Akeidas Yitzchok took place. We are more familiar with referring to this mountain as Har Habayis, literally, “the mountain of The House,” upon which the Beis Hamikdash was later built.

Chazal derive from here that Yaakov arrived at this holy place and instituted the prayer of maariv. Shelomoh Hamelech prayed that the Beis Hamikdash should be a place for both Jews and non-Jews to worship Hashem (see Melachim I 8:41), and this spirit is again emphasized in a later prophecy, ki beisi beis tefillah yikarei lechol ha’amim (Yeshayahu 56:8) “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

This provides an opportunity to discuss the laws mentioned in the Mishnah describing the different levels of sanctity that apply to the Land of Israel and the Beis Hamikdash area, all laws that we need to know today and will need to know even more thoroughly when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheirah be’yameinu.

The first chapter of Mesechta Keilim, which is an introduction to the entire seder and the concepts of Taharos, closes with the following: “There are ten levels of sanctity” germane to different places in Eretz Yisrael, and then the Mishnah enumerates the different levels. This article will list and explain these different levels, which should help us understand some of the laws that apply.

(1) Land of Israel

The lowest of these levels of sanctity is “the land of Israel itself, which is holier than all other lands” in that three offerings brought to the Beis Hamikdashkorban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves offered on Shavuos — can be brought only from produce of Eretz Yisrael.

There are many other halachos germane exclusively to Eretz Yisrael, such as that most agricultural mitzvos of the Torah apply only in Eretz Yisrael, at least min haTorah.

The special semicha given by Moshe Rabbeinu that is required for many halachic areas can be issued only in Eretz Yisrael (Sanhedrin 14a; Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 4:6). Another halacha that can be fulfilled only in Eretz Yisrael is the appointment of a king over the Jewish people (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 4:6).

Eastern side of the Jordan

The eastern side of the Jordan became part of the Land of Israel in the days of Moshe, when the kings Sichon and Og attacked the Benei Yisrael, and they and their armies were annihilated. However, these lands were not originally part of the Land of Israel that was promised to the Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt. Can the korban omer, bikkurim and the two loaves of Shavuos be offered from produce of the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was not part of the originally promised Eretz Yisrael?

This is the subject of a dispute among the rishonim, in which Rashi (Sanhedrin 11b s.v. al shetayim and Menachos 83b s.v. kol ha’aratzos) rules that these korbanos can be brought from the eastern side of the Jordan, whereas the Ran (Nedorim 22a s.v. hahi) rules that they cannot.

(2) Walled Israeli cities

The next level of sanctity is that the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael, according to the Mishnah, are holier than other places in Eretz Yisrael in the following two ways:

(1) A metzora may not remain in these cities.

(2) Once a meis has been removed from these cities, it may not be returned. (And certainly if the person died outside a walled city, his remains may not be brought into the city). The Rambam and the Raavad disagree whether this ruling includes an absolute prohibition to bury someone in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:13) or whether someone who died within the walled city may be buried in the city (Rambam ad loc.). All agree that once the meis was removed from the walled city, it may not be returned to the city, and certainly may not be buried there.

Capital punishment

According to many early authorities, another law about the walled cities of Eretz Yisrael is that when a Beis Din carried out capital punishment, this was required to be performed outside a walled city in Eretz Yisrael (Rash and Rosh, Keilim 1:7, based on Mishnah Sanhedrin 42b; see also Tosafos ad loc. s.v. beis).

Purim

An obvious question is — why did I not mention that there is a difference in that the walled cities celebrate Purim on the fifteenth of Adar, sometimes called Shushan Purim, whereas unwalled cities celebrate Purim on the fourteenth of Adar.

The answer is that this has nothing to do with walled cities in Eretz Yisrael; even walled cities outside Eretz Yisrael that date back to the time of Yehoshua entering Eretz Yisrael would celebrate Purim on the 15th (see Ran, Megillah 2a s.v. kerachin, in the name of Tosafos).

(3) Yerushalayim

The third level is the walled city of Yerushalayim, in which it is permitted to eat maaser sheini, the meat of kodshim kalim (Keilim 1:8)such as korban pesach and shelamim, and bikkurim (see Bikkurim 2:2).

By the way, the current “Old City” walls of Yerushalayim, constructed by the Ottoman Turks almost 1500 years after the churban, are not the borders that define the halachic sanctity of the city. Without question, there are areas outside the current walls that did have the sanctity of Yerushalayim, and the walls probably encompass areas that were not part of the city at the times of Tanach and Chazal, and, therefore, do not have the sanctity of Yerushalayim. When Moshiach comes, it will be necessary to determine exactly where the borders of the halachic “old city” of Yerushalayim are.

(4) Har Habayis

The fourth level is Har Habayis, beyond which many tamei people may not enter, including zavim, zavos, niddos and women after childbirth, until they have been able to complete the first stage of their taharah process. Because of space considerations, we cannot explain the details of these types of tumah, but our readers should be aware that, because of these laws, many people who ascend the Har Habayis today violate a Torah prohibition equivalent to eating treif food.

For clarification purposes: In addition to walls surrounding the city of Yerushalayim, there were also walls surrounding the entire Har Habayis. The Kosel HaMaaravi, where we daven, is part of the western wall of the Har Habayis. These are not the walls of the Beis Hamikdash. The Beis Hamikdash occupied only a small area of the Har Habayis. Although the Har Habayis has much more kedusha than that of Yerushalayim, the Beis Hamikdash has much greater kedusha than that of the Har Habayis. Today when we are all temei’im, someone entering the area where the Beis Hamikdash once stood is chayov kareis, an extremely severe punishment (Kaftor Vaferech, Chapter 6; Kesef Mishneh, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 6:14; cf. Ra’avad ad loc., who disagrees).

As we said, the Har Habayis has far less sanctity than the Beis Hamikdash. Nevertheless, most contemporary poskim prohibit ascending the Har Habayis. A minority of poskim permit entering areas of the Har Habayis that are not part of the Beis Hamikdash, in order to daven or perform a mitzvah, but only after performing certain taharah procedures, including washing oneself thoroughly, making certain that there are no chatzitzos (intervening substances on one’s body), and immersing in a mikveh. All agree that it is prohibited to enter any part of the Har Habayis if one is tamei with what halacha calls tumah hayotzei migufo, which includes people who are baalei keri, zav, zavah, niddah and yoledes.

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

“I have been told that it can be halachically permitted to ascend Har Habayis, and I have also heard that it is forbidden and could violate some very severe Torah laws. Which is true?”

The answer is that most people who ascend the Har Habayis are, unfortunately, violating major halachos, and, for this reason, the vast majority of contemporary halachic authorities rule that no one, except for security personnel when necessary, should ever ascend Har Habayis. Unfortunately, since it has now become “stylish” in many circles to ascend the Har Habayis, many people are violating halachos, somethingthat they would never have done on their own without encouragement.

(5) Cheil

The fifth level is the “cheil,” beyond which non-Jews may not proceed, nor Jews who are tamei meis. The word “cheil” means a wall or fortification (see Tehillim 48:14, Yeshayahu 26:1). Most authorities assume that the sanctity of the cheil over the Har Habayis is only a rabbinic injunction, and that min haTorah it is permitted to enter the cheil with this level of tumah, but prohibited from entering the Beis Hamikdash proper (Raavad, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 7:16; Rash, Rosh and Gra, Keilim 1:8).

This is the first time the Mishnah has mentioned the category called tamei meis, tumah contracted through contact with a corpse. (Someone who was ever in the same room or under the same roof as a corpse also becomes tamei meis.) This status creates a major halachic concern, because it is a severe Torah prohibition to enter the Beis Hamikdash grounds while tamei, and virtually everyone today has become tamei meis. Although other forms of tumah can be removed by immersion in a mikveh at the appropriate time, tumas meis can be removed only by sprinkling on the person who is tamei from the water in which was mixed ashes of the parah adumah (the red cow or heifer whose processing is described by the Torah in parshas Chukas and in mesechta Parah). Since we do not know where the remaining ashes of the previously prepared paros adumos are, we cannot purify ourselves from tumas meis.

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: “Where in the Beis Hamikdash may a non-Jew pray?”

The answer is that he may pray anywhere on the Har Habayis that he would like, as long as it outside the cheil area. Technically speaking, this means that he is praying near the Beis Hamikdash, but not inside it.

(6) Ezras Nashim

The sixth level is the Ezras Nashim. The term “ezras nashim” is used today to mean the area of a shul which is designated for the women to daven. The original term refers to an area of the Beis Hamikdash, or, more technically, the entrance area of the Beis Hamikdash. Beyond this area, only someone completely tahor may enter. It is called the Ezras Nashim because women usually did not enter past this point, although they could, if there was a halachic reason for them to do so.

We should note that the Beis Hamikdash is oriented westward. In other words, from the Ezras Nashim until the Kodesh Hakodoshim, which is the highest level of sanctity, we are entering on the east, and moving toward the west, with the Kodesh Hakodoshim being the western most area of the Beis Hamikdash.

The Beis Hamikdash was not centered in the middle of the Har Habayis, but on its west-northwest side (Rambam, Hilchos Beis Habechirah 5:6). The Ezras Nashim is the beginning of the Beis Hamikdash itself.

(7) Ezras Yisrael

The seventh level is the Ezras Yisrael, beyond which anyone tamei is prohibited from entering min haTorah. Even someone with a very mild amount of residual tumah, called mechusar kippurim, may not enter this area.

The term Ezras Yisrael does not mean “He who helps Israel,” or “the help of Israel” (as it does when used in davening) but comes from the word azarah, as it is used many times in Yechezkel and Divrei Hayamim, where it refers to the “courtyard,” the enclosed areas of the Beis Hamikdash that are outside the Kodesh or Heichal. The term Ezras Nashim that we mentioned previously also uses the word azarah in the same sense.

(8) Ezras Kohanim

The eighth level is the area called the Ezras Kohanim. Normally, only kohanim are allowed to enter past this point, although there are circumstances in which a Yisrael is permitted to enter past this area to carry out some halachic responsibility.

The Ezras Kohanim was a strip of area alongside the eastern side of the mizbei’ach.

At this point, it is appropriate to quote the words of the Rambam: “The location of the mizbeiach is extremely exact, and it may never be moved from its location… We have an established tradition that the place where David and Shelomoh built the mizbeiach is the same place where Avraham built the mizbeiach and bound Yitzchak. This is the same place where Noach built a mizbeiach when he left the Ark and where Kayin and Hevel built their mizbeiach. It is the same place where Adam offered the first korban, and it is the place where he (Adam) was created….

“The dimensions and shape of the mizbeiach are very exact. The mizbeiach constructed when the Jews returned from the first exile was built according to the dimensions of the mizbeiach that will be built in the future. One may not add or detract from its size” (Hilchos Beis Habechirah 2:1-3). Prior to building the second Beis Hamikdash, the prophets Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi testified regarding three halachos about the mizbeiach that were necessary to reinstitute the korbanos, one of which was the exact location of the mizbeiach (Zevachim 62a).

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

The ninth level is the area past the mizbei’ach, to which a kohein with a blemish or one who has not had his hair cut properly may not enter.

As the Mishnah teaches, a kohein with either of these disqualifications may not perform the service in the Beis Hamikdash, and if he did, the korban that he worked with became invalid (Mishnah Zevachim 15b).

(10) The Kodesh

The tenth level is the Kodesh. In the Beis Hamikdash, there actually was an area in front of the Kodesh called the Ulam, which has the same level of kedusha as the Kodesh. The the ulam area did not exist in the Mishkan.

Inside the Kodesh area was where the menorah, the shulchan and the golden mizbei’ach stood. The golden mizbei’ach was used daily only for the burning of the ketores, although on Yom Kippur it was also used for some of the holiest of the korbanos, those that were brought into the Kodesh Hakodoshim.

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

The highest level of sanctity is that of the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This was entered only by the Kohein Gadol and only on Yom Kippur. In actuality, the Kohein Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim four times on Yom Kippur: The first time was with the Yom Kippur ketores, the second time to begin the kaparah of his special Yom Kippur bull offering, the third time to attend to the kaparah of the goat offering, and the fourth time, later in the day, to pick up the censer and the ladle with which he had offered the ketores when he first entered.

But one second; you told me that the Mishnah says that there are ten levels of sanctity, and then you listed eleven. This is inconsistent!

You are indeed correct. At the end of their commentaries to this chapter, the Rash and the Bartenura raise this question, to which there are many answers. The Rambam seems to understand that the first level that I counted, Eretz Yisrael, should not be included: The Mishnah is listing ten levels of sanctity above Eretz Yisrael.

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

At this point, let us return to the third of our opening questions: If each of our three daily prayers was established by one of our forefathers, why is it that two of these prayers are obligatory, and yet the Gemara concludes that maariv is optional? Even if we understand the Gemara to mean, as some rishonim explain, that it is only relatively optional – meaning that davening maariv is mandatory, but that it is more easily deferred – we want to know why Yaakov seems to get a second-rate standing. After all, he is considered the most chosen of the forefathers, bechir shebe’avos, so why should his prayer be considered of lesser importance?

The Penei Yehoshua (Berachos 26b s.v. mihu) explains that Yaakov never intended to create a new prayer at night, but intended to daven mincha! Suddenly, Hashem made the sun set, and it got dark early, in order to force Yaakov to stop at that place. Thus, Yaakov’s prayer was because he had missed mincha, but not because he was trying to institute a prayer in the evening. Since his creation of maariv was unintentional, it shows no lack of respect for Yaakov to suggest that it may have more lenient rules than the prayers created by Avraham and Yitzchak, shacharis and mincha.




Avraham’s Prophecy

Question #1: Vayeira

How could Avraham Avinu attend to his guests if he was in the midst of a prophetic trance?

Question #2: Kesuvim

What is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim?

Question #3: Tehillim

Is Tehillim prophetic?

Parshas Vayeira

Parshas Vayeira begins with Hashem appearing to Avraham. When a navi, Avraham included, receives a prophecy, he is in a prophetic trance or a dreamlike state, as we will see later in the words of the Rambam regarding prophecy. Yet, the very next posuk has Avraham seeing travelers, racing out to invite them into his tent, cooking and serving them a meal, and carrying on conversation with them. How could he do this if he was in the middle of having a prophetic vision?

The answer to this question involves a dispute among rishonim. According to Rashi, the Ramban, the Ritva and the vast majority of rishonim, it seems that receiving a prophecy did not preclude Avraham Avinu from requesting permission of Hashem to leave his prophetic state in order to attend to the visitors. This is explained by Chazal as: Gedolah hachnasas orchim mei’hakbolas penei ShechinaBringing in guests is greater than receiving the Divine presence (Shabbos 127a; Shavuos 35b). This is based on the observation of what Avraham did. This should seem similar to someone who is on the telephone with “The Rosh Yeshivah (or “The Boss”) and says to Him, “Can G-d please hold the telephone line for a moment; I have guests to entertain!” This may sound strange to us – is it not greater to receive Hashem’s presence than to receive common people?

The answer is that it is more important that we emulate what Hashem does — in this case, make sure that wanderers have a place to rest, wash and eat (and, if necessary, sleep), all of which reflects what Hashem does for the entire world daily — than it is to receive communication from Hashem on the level that a prophet does.

On the other hand, the Rambam has a very different way of understanding what happened, which I will explain after the following introduction:

Levels of prophecy

According to the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 2:44), there are twelve different levels of prophecy:

Levels 1 and 2 are different levels of ruach hakodesh, which the Rambam considers on a lower level than prophecy, and which I will soon explain in more detail.

Levels 3-11 are various degrees of prophecy. It is unnecessary for us to explore every category in this gamut of qualities of prophecy to explain our topic. We simply need to understand that these are different types of Divine experience that the Rambam includes under the general heading of prophecy.

Level 12 is the highest level of prophecy, which was achieved only by Moshe Rabbeinu, and is based on the Torah’s description (Bamidbar 12:6-8) that Hashem communicates with other prophets in visions and riddles, whereas Hashem speaks to Moshe in regular conversation. As the Rambam explains, Moshe is the father of all prophets, both of those who preceded him and those who succeeded him. Other prophets receive their prophecy when they are asleep or in a trance, when their physical senses are inactive;  Moshe could receive a prophecy while awake. Other prophets see symbolic images or allegories; Moshe needed no metaphors. Moshe was able to receive words of prophecy and remain fully composed. Other prophets can only wait and hope to receive a vision; only Moshe could initiate a dialogue with Hashem (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:6; Commentary to Mishnah, Sanhedrin, Chapter 10).

Ruach hakodesh

(1) Divine assistance

At this point, I am going to explain the first level, as I promised above. According to the Rambam, most of the passages in Tanach in which it says “and the Ruach of Hashem came upon” or enveloped someone mean that the individual received Divine assistance to achieve something that he would, otherwise, probably have been unable to accomplish on his own. The Rambam implies that the individual may not even realize that he has been the beneficiary of special Divine involvement. Among the many personalities in Tanach who achieved ruach hakodesh are Yosef, Shimshon, Shaul and the many shoftim. The Rambam explains that this was the level that Moshe Rabbeinu had achieved before his first prophecy at the Burning Bush.

This level is not true prophecy, which is receiving a communication from Hashem; nor does it necessarily effect a permanent change in the individual receiving this Divine blessing, again unlike true prophecy in which the prophet now feels a qualitative difference in his own spirituality that remains with him for the rest of his life.

Many authorities accept fully this approach of the Rambam, including theRadak (in the introduction to his commentary on Tehillim) and the Abarbanel (in his commentaries to Tanach and Moreh Nevuchim).

(2) Higher Ruach hakodesh

There is a higher level of ruach hakodesh, in which the individual is aware that he has received a Divine gift that allows him to accomplish more than he would otherwise have been able to. This higher level of ruach hakodesh enabled Dovid Hamelech to compose Tehillim, Shelomoh Hamelech to write Mishlei, Koheles and Shir Hashirim, and Daniel, Mordechai, Esther and others to write all the works that we call Kesuvim. This was also the level achieved by Eldad and Meidad, when they foretold the future (Bamidbar 11:26-27), and by the kohanim gedolim, when they requested advice or direction from the Urim Vetumim. It is noteworthy that the Rambam places Eldad and Meidad in this category, notwithstanding that the posuk says that they prophesied (misnabe’im).

While receiving this Divine gift, Dovid, Shelomoh, Daniel and the others retained full possession of their senses, which is why the Rambam explains that this is not true nevuah, in which a prophet reaches a state of trance. With this approach, the Rambam explains the passage of the Gemara wherein it states that Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi were prophets, although Daniel, who was not a prophet, perceived more than they did (Megillah 3a; Sanhedrin 94a). Daniel did not achieve the level of true prophecy, but his accomplishments in ruach hakodesh enabled him to foresee more than Chaggai, Zecharyah and Malachi did with their prophecy.

The Rambam does not consider Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel to be true prophets, but to have received a high level of ruach hakodesh. This does not in any way demean these great Torah leaders of their spiritual genius and accomplishments. It is simply a definition of forms and levels of prophecy that different great Torah leaders achieved.

Other rishonim, such as Rashi (Megillah 14a), disagree with the Rambam and consider Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel to be true prophets, and, presumably, also place Eldad and Meidad in the same category.

Kesuvim

At this point, we can answer the second of our opening questions: “What is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim?” In other words, why did Chazal divide the non-Torah parts of Tanach into two sections, one called “Nevi’im” and the other called “Kesuvim?” According to the Rambam, the words of Nevi’im were received as prophecy (levels 3-11), whereas the words of the Kesuvim were received in ruach hakodesh. In the instances where the same person wrote seforim both in Nevi’im and Kesuvim, such as Yirmiyohu, who wrote the book of Nevi’im that bears his name, the book of Melachim, which is also in Nevi’im, and also Megillas Eicha, which is part of Kesuvim (Bava Basra 15a; Mo’ed Katan 26a), the book that is in Kesuvim was written with ruach hakodesh, whereas the books in Nevi’im were written with prophecy (Commentary of Abarbanel to Moreh Nevuchim).

Since Rashi understands that Dovid, Shelomoh and Daniel were prophets, and presumably is of the opinion that the books of Kesuvim are also written with prophecy, he cannot accept the Rambam’s approach to explain the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim. There are many other answers to explain what is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim. In the work, Ohel Rivkah, by Rabbi Yitzchak Sender, several approaches to this question are quoted (pages 133-139).

(3-11) The words of the prophets

Levels numbered three through eleven of the Rambam are different intensities of prophecy (Moreh Nevuchim 2:44). Prophecy can be received either in a vision or in a dream. The prophet may perceive that Hashem is speaking to him, or that he is receiving communication via an angel, whom he might see and/or hear. He might hear and see a human or an unusual being talking to him, or he may hear only a voice or a series of different voices. It might even be a voice of someone who is familiar to him, such as when Shemuel heard what he thought was the voice of Eili (Shemuel I, Chapter 3). A prophet might receive a message that is meant only for his own erudition and growth, but not to be communicated to others, or he might receive a message that is meant to be told to others, as we see numerous times in Chumash and Navi (Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:7). A prophet may receive a vision that is anywhere among these levels. The fact that he once received a more intense level of prophecy does not mean that his future prophecies will be as intense.

In the Rambam’s opinion, when the Torah describes, in parshas Shoftim: “A prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me (Moshe), will Hashem, your G-d, establish for you. You shall listen to him…. Then, Hashem said to me… ‘I will establish for you a prophet from among your brothers, like you, and I will put My words in his mouth – everything that I will command him’” (Devorim 18: 15-18), it is not referring to someone who received ruach hakodesh, but to someone who received true prophecy. Therefore, although the Torah prescribes a stern sentence for someone who pays no attention to the admonition of a prophet, that punishment does not apply to someone who ignored a message received through ruach hakodesh.

Two prophets

The Midrash teaches that ein shenei nevi’im misnabe’im besignon echod, two prophets will never prophesy using the exact same words (Pesikta and Midrash Seichel Tov, parshas Va’eira 9:14). This is because a prophet saw a vision, which he later describes. Each prophet still maintains his own personality and upbringing that is reflected when he describes what he saw. Since no two people have the same personality, no two people — not even prophets who see the same Divine vision — will describe what they saw using the exact same words.

Profitable prophet

The Rambam explains: “Prophecy is bestowed only to a very wise talmid chacham who is in total control of his personality traits. Prophecy can be achieved only by someone whose yetzeir hora never controls him – rather, he is in control of his yetzeir hora always.

Once he is filled with all these qualities, particularly tremendous and correct understanding, and he is physically complete and healthy, he may begin studying the deeper aspects of Torah. When he is drawn by these deep subjects, his great understanding must be channeled to becoming sanctified and to continue to grow spiritually. At this point, he separates himself from the ways of common people who follow the darkness of the time, and, instead, this individual constantly grows and spurs himself onward. He teaches himself to control his thoughts so as not to think of things that have no value. Rather, his thoughts should always be engaged with the Throne of Hashem, in his attempts to understand holy and pure ideas.… When the spirit of Hashem rests upon him, his soul becomes mixed with that of the angels… and he becomes a new person who understands that he is no longer the same as he was before, but that he has become elevated beyond the level of other talmidei chachomim”(Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah 7:1).

In the Rambam’s opinion, while achieving true prophecy, every prophet, with the exception of Moshe Rabbeinu, goes into a trance. The nine different levels of prophecy that the Rambam describes in Moreh Nevuchim represent lesser or greater, clearer or more opaque communication from Hashem, but they are all in visions, allegories or dreams.

The intent of the prophecy is clear

It is clear to the prophet what message is intended, and he will be able afterward to explain, in his own words, what he envisioned and what was the message. Even after the prophetic experience has dissipated, the prophet has become a changed person who will live with this experience the rest of his life. This was the level of prophecy of the avos, Yehoshua, anyone whom the posuk calls a navi, and all authors of the books of Nevi’im.

Parshas Vayeira

Now that we understand a bit about how the Rambam categorizes the various levels of prophecy, we are faced with a conundrum regarding the first two pesukim of parshas Vayeira. In the first posuk, Hashem appears to Avraham, while he is sitting at the opening of his tent. In the second posuk, Avraham sees three travelers outside, in the midday heat of the desert, and he runs to greet them; and then, the posuk describes how Avraham invited them to rest and refresh themselves. The problem facing us is that, if all prophecy, except that granted to Moshe, required that the prophet be in a state of trance, how could Avraham have even noticed the three visitors or been able to run to greet them, invite them into his house and provide them with gracious hospitality?

The Rambam’s approach is that the appearance of three men in the desert near the entrance to Avraham Avinu’s tent was the beginning of the prophecy that Avraham Avinu received. All the chesed that Avraham performed, the ensuing conversation between Avraham and Sarah, the angels visiting Lot, the riot of the men of Sodom concerning Lot’s hachnasas orchim, and Avraham’s prayers and “negotiating” with Hashem to save Sodom were all part of the prophecy. Thus, all the events of the first chapters of the parsha are included in the prophecy received by Avraham, and these are introduced with the first words, “And Hashem appeared to him.”

The Ramban, in his commentary to the beginning of parshas Vayeira, takes great issue with the Rambam’s approach. To quote the Ramban: “How can the Torah say that Hashem appeared to Avraham, when [in the details of the prophecy that follows] all he saw was [not Hashem but] three men eating meat! He has no vision or thought of Hashem! This is unlike any other prophecy. Furthermore, according to the Rambam, Sarah never kneaded dough, Avraham never prepared meat and Sarah never laughed, but it was all a vision… what could possibly be the purpose in all this as a vision? In addition, according to the Rambam, no angels ever arrived at Lot’s house; he never baked matzos for them nor did they eat in his house, for it was all a vision! If Lot had achieved prophecy to see the angels, who told the people of Sodom of the arrival of these men in his house? Did they also achieve the level of prophets? And, if indeed, this was also part of the prophecy, when did the angels urge Lot to take his wife and daughters and escape from Sodom? And how did Lot negotiate with the angels to save one city?”

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam that seeing an angel is a form of prophecy. After all, notes the Ramban, Hagar was not a prophetess, notwithstanding that she had a conversation with an angel, or perhaps four different angels (according to Rashi). (By the way, the Rambam explains that Hagar’s conversation was with a prophet, and not with an angel [Moreh Nevuchim 2:42]. He explains that in some places in Tanach the word malach should be translated as prophet and not as angel.)

Sefer Hazikaron

We should be aware that the Ritva, known predominantly for his commentaries to Shas, authored a work called Sefer Hazikaron,whose entire purpose was to answer questions raised by the Ramban, in his commentary on Chumash, against positions taught by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The Ritva was a disciple of Rabbeinu Aharon Halevi (usually abbreviated to “ReAH”), who himself was a disciple  of the Ramban. The Ritva elucidates the Rambam’s opinions and answers the questions of the Ramban, but, invariably, concludes that the Ramban’s approach should be followed. In his understanding of parshas Vayeira, the Ramban’s approach is accepted by the vast majority of rishonim, including Rashi and the Ibn Ezra. I specifically mention the Ibn Ezra because, in many places where the Rambam’s philosophic approach influences how he understands Tanach, statements of Chazal, or halacha, the Ibn Ezra is often one of his major co-travelers. However, in his interpretation of this parsha, Ibn Ezra appears to follow the main highway of exposition – that Avraham interrupted his prophetic experience with Hashem to take care of his guests, and that his conversation with Hashem resumes later in the parsha.

Tehillim

At this point, let us examine the next of our opening questions: “Is Tehillim prophetic?” Assuming that we define prophetic as that which tells about future events, it is, since Dovid sings of events that had not yet occurred in his time, such as the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, which took place 417 years after his passing, and the tragedies that happened to the Jews in its aftermath (Tehillim 74, 79). Dovid Hamelech describes the emotional reaction to the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and to finally reaching the rivers in Bavel (Tehillim 137), although these events transpired hundreds of years after his passing.

Conclusion

In Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah #424 is entitled, “Not to test a true prophet too much.” The Sefer Hachinuch explains that if a navi is subjected to excessive evaluation to prove his veracity, those jealous or otherwise pained by his success may use inadequate testing as an excuse to disobey his commandments. They might deny the prophet’s authenticity by claiming, unjustifiably, that he did not undergo enough investigation. Thus, we see that even something so obvious as the ability of a great tzadik to foretell the future can be denied by people when they don’t want to accept the truth!




Maaser Kesafim

Since the first source of the obligation of maaser kesafim is in this week’s parsha…

Question #1: Paying for Your Kids in Kollel

“I agreed to support my married children for five years. May I use maaser money for this?”

Question #2: Chomesh

What is chomesh?

Question #3: Tuition

May I pay tuition out of maaser kesafim funds?

Question #4: Testing Hashem!

May I ask Hashem to pay me back for the tzedakah money that I give?

Which maaser?

We should first note that the term maaser, without specifying which one, is used sometimes in the Mishnah and Gemara to refer to maaser rishon, and sometimes to refer to maaser sheini, and, in later halachic works, sometimes also to maaser kesafim. These three types of maaser have vastly different laws from one another. Usually, one can understand from context which maaser is intended. If the context alludes to maaser owned by a Levi, or to the first maaser being separated, maaser rishon is intended. If it refers to something that has sanctity, usually maaser sheini is intended. If it refers to a percentage of one’s income that is donated to tzedakah, it refers to maaser kesafim.

The above questions all relate to shaylos about how much someone should donate to tzedakah and how he should prioritize his giving. It is well known that Rav Moshe Feinstein used to complain that these are areas of halacha about which he was asked too infrequently.

Maaser kesafim: giving ten percent of one’s moneys to tzedakah. The poskim dispute whether one subtracts household expenses from one’s income, before calculating maaser.

The concept of maaser is primarily in the case of ayn ani bifanav, when I fulfill the mitzvah by putting aside money for tzedakah. In a case of ani bifanav I do not fulfill my mitzvah by giving him only ten percent.

A person who distributes maaser kesafim to the poor is blessed with a special guarantee of wealth (Taanis 9a). This beracha happens only when someone is meticulous to calculate exactly a tenth of one’s income for tzedakah (Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3). Furthermore, this beracha is fulfilled only if one gives this maaser money to the poor, but if one gives part of it to other causes, there is no guarantee that wealth will follow (see Shu’t Radbaz 3:441). Therefore, although one may use maaser kesafim to buy an aliyah, pay for a “mi’shebeirach,” purchase sefarim that will be used by the tzibur (Taz, Yoreh Deah 249:1) or similar communal needs, it is preferred to earmark maaser kesafim for the needs of the poor (Rema, Yoreh Deah 249:1). Donations to Torah institutions are considered distributions to the poor (Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2), as are hachnasas kallah expenses (to pay wedding and related expenses for a poor groom or bride).

Chomesh: giving twenty percent of one’s moneys to tzedakah. This is the optimal level of fulfilling mitzvas tzedakah, whereas setting aside ten percent is considered only “midah beinonis,” an average person’s conduct. Someone who gives a chomesh to tzedakah should first calculate and set aside one tenth, and then a second tenth.

Before starting to give regular amounts of tzedakah on an ongoing basis, one should declare that he is following this procedure bli neder, without accepting it as a vow.

Paying for Your Kids in Kollel from Maaser Money

“I agreed to support my married children for five years. May I use maaser money for this?”

The Chasam Sofer authored a responsum (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #231) on this subject, which is fascinating for the many different halachic issues that he clarifies. Someone had arranged the marriage of his scholarly son to the daughter of a talmid chacham,with the following understanding: The father of the son accepted that he would pay every week a certain amount to his mechutan, the bride’s father, who would sustain the young growing family in his home, thus enabling the son-in-law to continue his studies under his father-in-law’s direction. The father of the chosson realized that it will be difficult for him to meet this commitment, and wants to know if he can use the maaser money from his business endeavors to provide the support for which he is responsible.

The Chasam Sofer opens his discussion by quoting two opinions that seem to dispute whether it is acceptable to use maaser money for such an expenditure. The Rema, quoting the Maharil, contends that it is not permitted to use maaser money to pay for a mitzvah, such as donating lamps and candles to the shul, whereas the Shach states, in the name of the Maharam, that it is permitted to use maaser money for mitzvos. Thus, whether one may pay for mitzvos, other than supporting the poor, from maaser money appears to be a dispute among early authorities.

The Chasam Sofer then quotes the Be’er Hagolah, who explains that the two above-quoted opinions are not in dispute. All authorities prohibit using maaser money to fulfill a mitzvah that someone is already obligated to observe. The Maharam, who permitted using maaser money for these purposes, was discussing a case in which the donor intended to use maaser money for this mitzvah from the outset, whereas the Maharil is discussing a situation in which he has been using his maaser money to support the poor, in which case he cannot now divert it for other mitzvos that do not qualify as tzedakah for the poor. Thus, according to the Be’er Hagolah, whether the father can begin meeting his obligations to his son and mechutan with his maaser money will depend on whether he has already accepted the obligation on himself to pay this from other funds, in which case he cannotuse maaser money for it, or if it is an obligation that he is now accepting upon himself, in which case he can specify that he wants to use maaser money to fulfill it.

The Chasam Sofer does not consider the approach of the Be’er Hagolah to be fully correct. He (the Chasam Sofer) notes that the Maharil wrote that maaser moneys are meant to support the poor and not for the acquisition of mitzvos. Therefore, use of maaser money for any type of personal mitzvah is inappropriate, whether he is already obligated to fulfill the mitzvah or not.

The Chasam Sofer concludes that when someone begins donating maaser money, he may stipulate that, sometimes, the money will be used for a mitzvah donation, such as the lighting in shul. However, once he has begun donating his maaser money regularly to the poor, he must continue using it for tzedakah.

Family first

Having determined that there are definitely situations in which maaser money must be given to the poor, the Chasam Sofer then discusses when and whether money designated for the poor can be used to support an individual’s extended family. There is a general rule that one is obligated to the poor to whom one is closest – close family first, more distant family next, neighbors third, members of one’s city next and the out-of-town poor next.

Greater needs

Notwithstanding that family should be supported first, the Chasam Sofer quotes from his rebbi, the author of the Haflaah, that the rules of “closest first” or “family first” are only when the funds are necessary for the same level of need, for example, all have enough to eat, but not enough for clothing. However, if some are short of food, and others have enough to eat but are short on clothing or other needs, the responsibility to make sure that someone has enough to eat comes first, even for someone out of town, regardless of whether there are neighbors or locals who are needy, as long as they have sufficient food.

Yet, concludes the Chasam Sofer, this prioritization is not absolute. All needs of someone’s family are considered his responsibility before the basic needs of others. In other words, the priorities should be as follows:

(1) Family needs.

(2) Most basic needs – food – regardless of location of needy.

(3) People of one’s city.

(4) The out-of-town poor.

Chasam Sofer’s conclusion

If the father had stipulated, at the time of obligating himself to support his son, that he would use maaser money for this obligation, he would be able to use it. Even then, the Chasam Sofer recommends that he use only up to half of his available maaser money to support his son. His reasoning is based on a Mishnah (Peah 8:6) which says that someone is permitted to save his maaser ani (the tithe one gives to the poor in the third and sixth year of the shemittah cycle) to support those that he chooses to, but he should not set aside more than half of his maaser ani for this purpose; the rest should be given to the local poor.

However, this is only when he had originally planned to use maaser money for this purpose. Otherwise, once he created an obligation upon himself to support his son, it is similar to any other obligation that he has, and he may not use his maaser money for this purpose.

Tuition

Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one should not pay tuition for sons and daughters in elementary school and high school from maaser funds, because this level of education is obligatory. However, someone eligible for a tuition reduction who elects to pay full tuition may pay the extra from maaser (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:113; also see Ahavas Chesed 2:19:2). If paying the expected amount of tuition without resorting to maaser funds creates hardship, one should ask a shaylah.

Yeshiva gedolah tuition and expenses may be paid from maaser, because a parent is not obligated to support a child at this age.

Testing Hashem!

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: “May I ask Hashem to pay me back for the tzedakah money that I give?”

It is generally prohibited to “test” Hashem, as the Torah states, “Lo senasu es Hashem,” “Do not test Hashem” (Devarim 6:16). One may not say, “I am performing this mitzvah so that Hashem will reward me by providing me with such-and-such (Sefer Yerei’im #361; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 395, 424; Shu’t Radbaz #882).

However, there is one exception to this rule – one may give maaser kesafim, expecting to be blessed with wealth as a reward (Taanis 9a, as explained by Shu’t Avkas Rocheil #3; Sefer Hassidim #144; Rema, Yoreh Deah 247:4; Ahavas Chesed 2:18. Cf. Shel”a and She’ei’las Ya’avetz #3, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah 247:2).

The Gemara (Taanis 9a) relates that, after Reish Lakeish’s passing, Rabbi Yochanan encountered his nephew (who was Reish Lakeish’s son). Rabbi Yochanan asked his nephew what he had learned in cheder that day. The nephew replied, “Te’aser kedei shetis’asher,” “Give maaser so that you get rich.”

“How do you know?” asked Rabbi Yochanan.

“Go test it,” answered the nephew, who then asked, “But is one permitted to test Hashem?”

Rabbi Yochanan replied, “I heard from my rebbe, Rabbi Hoshiyah, that this is an exception –because of the pasuk in Malachi (3:10), where Hashem begs us to test Him when giving maaser and see for yourself that He opens the windows of Heaven and grants blessings until our lips weary of saying ‘Enough!’”

We see from this that it is permitted to declare that I am giving the correct amount of tzedakah and expect that Hashem will reward me with wealth. I know several people who personally attest that this beracha was fulfilled!