Where the Deer and the Antelope Play

Question #1: Home, home

“Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Question #2: On the range

“Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

Question #3: Where the deer

“May I eat the fat of a reindeer? What about the impala, the dik-dik and the kudu?”

Question #4: And the antelope play

“Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?”

Foreword

In two places, first in parshas Shemini, and then again in parshas Re’eih, the Torah explains which species of animals, fish and birds are kosher. Since all of our opening questions are about the status of various kosher mammals, this article will limit itself to defining which of them is kosher and various other halachos that result.

Presumably, you noted that I used the word “mammal” rather than “animal” or “beast.” To the best of my knowledge, there is no word in Tanach or Mishnaic Hebrew for “mammal.” The Modern Hebrew word used is yoneik, which simply means “that which nurses,” certainly an accurate definition of what separates mammals from other members of the animal kingdom. I am using the word “mammal” as an easy and accurate way to distinguish what the Torah calls “animalsthat are upon the ground” from the birds, fish, sea animals, creeping creatures, locusts, insects, invertebrates and reptiles whose halachic status is discussed in the Torah.

Introduction

The Torah writes, “Hashemspoke to Moshe and to Aharon, saying to them: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel, saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and is ma’aleh geirah [usually translated as “ruminating” or “chewing its cud”] among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). The Torah then lists three animals, the camel, the shafan and the arneves [intentionally not yet translated] as being non-kosher because they do not have fully split hooves, although they are ma’aleh geirah. Finally, the Torah mentions that a pig is not kosher, even though its hooves are completely split, because it is not ma’aleh geirah.

Thus, the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs are possessed by sheep, goats, giraffe, deer, antelope, cattle, buffalo, bison, yak and okapi. The okapi lives in deep forests in the Congo, has a skull almost identical to that of a small giraffe, and, indeed, possesses split hooves and is a ruminant.

Does it ruminate too much?

“Ruminating” means that an animal has many stomachs (sometimes described as a stomach with several chambers) and chews its food in two stages. First, it harvests grass, leaves and/or other vegetation which it deposits into the first chamber of its stomach, the rumen, where it is fermented and begins to decompose. The partially digested food, now called “cud,” is regurgitated back to the mouth, where it is chewed again to further break down its cellulose content, which is difficult to digest. The chewed cud then goes directly to the second chamber of the stomach, the reticulum and, eventually, to the last two chambers, the omasum and abomasum, where further digestion is assisted by various microorganisms that reside in the ruminant’s stomach. This is Hashem’s way of having grass, leaves, bark and tree roots (which the human stomach cannot digest), converted into products that can now benefit mankind in the forms of milk, cheese, meat, wool and leather.

The term ma’aleh geirah might include other processes that are not the same as chewing cud. Ultimately, the question is how we translate the non-kosher species that the Torah teaches are ma’aleh geirah but do not have fully split hooves. The Torah mentions three: the camel, the shafan and the arneves.

The camel chews its cud. Although its stomach has only three chambers, it still digests its food in a way similar to the four-chambered ruminants.

Hyrax?

The other two animals that the Torah describes as ma’aleh geirah are shafan and arneves. We are uncertain as to the identification of these two animals. In Modern Hebrew, the word shafan sela is used to mean hyrax, sometimes called the rock hyrax, a rodent-like mammal commonly found in wooded areas in Eretz Yisroel. I often see them in the wild, a ten-minute walk from my house. It is called the rock hyrax because they often stand on rocky areas in forests, and hide in holes between the rocks. The posuk in Tehillim (104:18), sela’im machseh la’shefanim, rocks are a refuge for the shefanim, indeed implies that shafan is indeed a rock hyrax. However, the difficulty with defining the shafan as a hyrax is because the hyrax is not a ruminant.

Hare or rabbit

Arneves is usually identified as a rabbit, a hare, or both. Hares and rabbits are similar to, but are not, rodents, and in modern science are categorized as lagomorphs. The main difference between hares and rabbits is the stage of development at which their young are born. Newborn hares are able to function on their own within hours, whereas newborn rabbits are blind and completely helpless. In any case, neither the rabbit nor the hare are considered ruminants.

Will the real shafan please stand up?

In a teshuvah on the subject, the Seridei Eish (Shu’t Seridei Eish 2:64) mentions several attempts to identify shafan and arneves. One approach insists that shafan and arneves cannot be hyraxes and hares, since neither of these species ruminates, but that shafan and arneves must be species that indeed ruminate and yet are not kosher. These would be species that, like camels, have partially, but not fully split hooves and are therefore called cameloids. However, the only species currently known to man, other than the camel, that fit this description are native South Americans of the llama family: the domesticated llama and alpaca, the vicuna, and the guanaco, which are collectively called lamoids. Since shafan is mentioned in Tanach several times as a commonly known animal, it is highly unlikely that it refers to a South American native that was unknown in the Fertile Crescent until well after the Europeans invaded South America in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

There are also descriptions of arneves in the Gemara (Megillah 9b) that indicate that, in that era, they were very certain how to identify an arneves, again making lamoids a very unlikely choice.

Another option is that shafan and arneves refer to Bactrian (two-humped) camels, native to China and other parts of Asia. However, this is also a difficult approach to accept, since the differences between the one-humped dromedary (also called Arabian camel) and the two-humped Bactrian are not distinctive enough to imagine that they would not both be called gamal by the Torah. I would like to note that the Gemara was well aware of the existence of dromedary and Bactrian camels, calling them Arabian camels and Persian camels, and insisting that they qualify as one species for halachic purposes (Bava Kama 55a). (Scientifically, they are treated as two separate species, Camelus dromedarius and Camelus bactrianus. By the way, Bactria was a country in today’s Afghanistan, bordering on Persia, so both the contemporary conversational term and the scientific terms for the two varieties of camel are identical to the way Chazal referred to them.)

Are you sure that you don’t ruminate?

The Seridei Eish also mentions a completely different approach, suggested by Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, that although shafan and arneves are not cud chewers, they appear to do something similar to ruminating. A hyrax has a three-chambered stomach containing special bacteria allowing it to digest leaves and grasses, similar to ruminants that can digest leaves and grass. It is also interesting to note that hyrax babies are born without the bacteria they need for digestion. For nutrition, they consume the waste matter of adult hyraxes until they are able to eat. Apparently, the adult’s waste contains enough live bacteria such that the baby hyrax stomach is eventually able to digest the cellulose itself, without relying on reprocessed food. Mah rabu ma’asecha, Hashem!

It is possible that either the digestive system of the hyrax or its method of feeding its offspring may be what the Torah means, when it calls them maalei geirah.

Arneves

Rabbits and hares are not classic ruminants and do not possess the proper physiology for rumination, but instead digest through a process called hindgut fermentation. These animals and some rodents digest in a unique way, by the formation of cecotropes. Their first swallowing does not complete the digestion process, and they produce two different kinds of droppings: little black round ones and softer black ones known as cecotropes, or night feces, which they then eat and re-digest. The cecotropes contain lots of essential vitamins and protein. It is very possible that this process is what the Torah refers to as ma’aleh geirah, although it is not what is usually referred to as “chewing the cud.”

On the range

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “Is there a variety of wild pig that chews its cud and is kosher?”

To the best of my knowledge, all members of the pig/hog family, including the boar, the South American peccary, the Indonesian babirusa, and various wild species that include the name “hog” or “pig” in their common name, such as the warthog, the bushpig, and the almost extinct pygmy hog, have split hooves, and are, to some extent, omnivorous. (Please note that hedgehogs and porcupines, despite the references to “hog” and “pork” in their names, are called this because they have long snouts reminiscent of pigs, not because they have split hooves.) Although South African rangers have told me that warthogs are exclusively herbivorous, research shows that they do scavenge dead animals and also consume worms and insects while foraging.

Several varieties of wild hog, among them the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog, native to Africa, have more complicated stomach structures than does the common domesticated pig. Over the years, I have seen various news articles claiming that some of these animals are kosher, based on the assumption that they have both split hooves and ruminate. However, none of these species does, indeed, chew its cud; so, although they all have split hooves, as do all hogs, they are not kosher.

Although the posuk mentions only chewing the cud and split hooves as criteria for kosher animals, there may be additional reasons why wild hog species are not kosher. Based on a passage of Gemara, some authorities contend that any species of animal without any type of horn is not kosher (Shu’t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1), and the peccary, the babirusa, and the warthog have no horns. Although both the warthog and the peccary have tusks that look like horns, these are really oversized teeth and grow out of the mouth, not on the top of the head. By the way, many authorities disagree with the Beis Yaakov, contending that absence of horns does not define an animal as non-kosher (Pischei Teshuvah ad loc.).

Where the deer

The third of our opening questions began “Is the fat of a reindeer permitted?” Let me explain what is presumably being asked.

The Torah divides mammals into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Beheimah is usually translated as animal or domesticated animal, whereas chayah is often rendered as beast or wild animal. However, these translations of the terms beheimah and chayah are not entirely accurate. Although most domesticated species, such as cattle, sheep and goats, qualify as beheimos, there are species of beheimah, such as the African or cape buffalo, the Philipine tamarau and the anoa, a native of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, that cannot be domesticated. (See the dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, Yoreh Deah 28:4, which relates to the Asian water buffalo, domesticated already in antiquity.) On the other hand, some species of chayah, such as reindeer, are domesticated and raised as livestock in the northern regions of Europe, particularly by the Lapps (the Sami), as are other varieties of deer in central Asia.

So, what is the difference between a beheimah and a chayah? The Gemara (Chullin 59b) explains that it depends on the type of horn it has. If it is branched, as are all deer antlers, it is a chayah. The major noticeable difference between antlers and horns is that antlers shed annually (are deciduous) and are extensively branched, whereas horns are permanent and unbranched. Moose and elk have massive, branched, deciduous antlers, and are varieties of deer. All antelope (a general category that includes dozens of species) have unbranched horns, and therefore one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah, as I will explain shortly. Kudu, eland, gnu, impala and dik-dik all have unbranched horns and are varieties of antelope. The same is true of the dorcas gazelle which is a common species in Eretz Yisrael, and the largest permanent resident of the wooded area near my house where I often go for relaxing walks.

There are some other differences between antelope and deer; for example, antelope have gall bladders and deer do not. So, you can rest assured that your pet moose cannot develop gallstones.

What type of horn?

But what type of horn am I looking for?

If an animal possesses an unbranched horn, the answer as to whether it is a beheimah or a chayah becomes more complicated: If the horn has all three features that the Gemara calls keruchos, haduros and charukos, it is a chayah; if not, it is a beheimah. There are different opinions among rishonim how to explain and define these three words, which is why I have not translated them, and depending on this answer is whether different varieties of antelope may qualify as beheimah or as chayah.

What difference does it make?

There are a few mitzvos of the Torah that apply to a beheimah and not a chayah, and vice versa. Among these mitzvos is the prohibition against eating cheilev, the forbidden fat that protects the posterior-lying organs such as the stomachs and the kidneys, which applies only to a beheimah, but this fat is permitted on a chayah (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Another mitzvah is that of giving the zero’a, lechaya’im and keivah to a kohein, whichapplies only to a beheimah but not to a chayah (Yoreh Deah 61:17). A third mitzvah is kisuy hadam,requiring covering the blood of shechitah, which applies to a chayah (and to poultry) but not to a beheimah (Mishnah Chullin 83b).

Whether the fat is permitted depends on whether a reindeer is a beheimah or a chayah. If it is a chayah, the cheilev is permitted. All deer are known to be chayah because of their antlers, and therefore “reindeer fat” is kosher, if the reindeer is properly shechted.

On the other hand, when we have no mesorah whether a species of animal is a chayah or a beheimah, we treat it stringently both ways (Shach and Pri Megadim, Yoreh Deah 80:1). Therefore, unless we have a mesorah as to whether a specific species of antelope is a chayah or a beheimah, we would prohibit its cheilev and perform kisuy hadam, without a brocha.

And the antelope play

At this point, we can discuss the fourth of our opening questions: “Is the American pronghorn a kosher species?” I suspect that most of our readers have no idea what a pronghorn is, let alone whether it is a kosher species.

Most species of antelope in the world are in Africa. There are some in Eurasia; none are native to Australia or the Americas. However, the various fauna native to North America include a species called a pronghorn, which possesses characteristics similar to that of a deer or antelope but also is different from both deer and antelope. It is a ruminant that has split hooves. Thus, it meets the Torah’s definition of a kosher species, although I admit that I have never tasted pronghorn chops.

The horn of a pronghorn is unusual in that it branches into sharp front and rear sections that are reminiscent of prongs, hence its name. As I mentioned above, deer have multi-branched antlers, which are deciduous. Antelopes have unbranched horns that are permanent. The horn of a pronghorn falls off annually, which is like a deer and unlike any antelope species. On the other hand, the pronghorn has a gallbladder, which antelope have, but not deer. For these and other reasons, the scientific community considers a pronghorn to be neither a deer nor an antelope. Nevertheless, the Europeans who came to America called it an antelope, and Brewster M. Higley, who, in 1872, wrote thelyrics to the poem now called and sung as “Home on the Range,” certainly meant the pronghorn when he referred to the playing of the “antelope.”

Home, home

At this point, let us examine our opening question: “Are there any ‘take-home lessons’ I can learn from split hooves?”

Although we can never explain why Hashem commanded us His mitzvos, we are permitted to explore what lessons we can derive from them, provided we realize that these are merely lessons and not a reason allowing us to decide when and whether we observe the mitzvah. It appears clear that the birds that the Torah ruled to be non-kosher are, for the most part, predators, whereas the kosher birds tend to be the pursued.

Can we possibly present a logical reason why the Torah restricted our mammal consumption to ruminants with split hooves?

The following lesson might be why the Torah permitted only ruminants with split hooves. In general, animals that have split hooves flee from opposition. For example, Africa has dozens of species of antelope; when confronted by a lion, they run. On the other hand, a zebra attacked by a lion will fight, as will a honey badger. Perhaps this is a lesson to learn from a ruminant, to run as far and as fast as we can from any machlokes.

Ma’aleh geirah animals spend a lot of time consuming their food. It takes a long time for their food to complete being digested. They learn patience. Thus, perhaps the lesson here is to be patient when we fulfill our basic needs (Shu’t Beis Yitzchak, Even Ha’ezer, Tzela’os Habayis 5:8).

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The Fourth Brocha of Birkas Hamazon

Parshas Va’eira opens with Moshe Rabbeinu receiving admonition from Hashem for not being appreciative of His Ways. Thus, this is certainly an excellent time to study the brocha of bensching called Hatov Vehameitiv, “He Who is good and does good.”

Question #1: Why Beitar?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate the events that transpired in Beitar?

Question #2: Why in Birkas Hamazon?

Why was that brocha added to Birkas Hamazon?

Question #3: What a strange brocha!

Why does the brocha Hatov Vehameitiv have such an unusual structure?

Introduction:

The fourth brocha of bensching, which is called Hatov Vehameitiv, has little to do with the rest of the bensching. Whereas the first three brochos are to thank Hashem for our sustenance, the fourth brocha was created by Chazal for a completely unrelated reason. This brocha is called Hatov Vehameitiv because of the words it contains, “hamelech Hatov Vehameitiv lakol.” This article will discuss some of the halachos andconcepts of this unusual brocha.

Although in two different places (Brochos 46a; 49a) the Gemara quotes opinions that this fourth brocha is min haTorah, the consensus is that it is only rabbinic in origin. (We should note that the Midrash Shmuel [13:9] attributes the opinion that Hatov Vehameitiv is min haTorah to a very early authority, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael.) To quote the Gemara:

Hatov Vehameitiv was established by the Sanhedrin when it was located in Yavneh, because of those who were killed in Beitar, as noted by Rav Masneh, “On the very day that those killed in Beitar were allowed to be buried, they established, in Yavneh, Hatov Vehameitiv. Hatov’ is to acknowledge that their bodies did not decompose; ‘Vehameitiv’ is to acknowledge that permission was granted to bury them” (Brochos 48b; Taanis 31a; Bava Basra 121b; see also Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

Hatov Vehameitiv

To avoid confusion, we must realize that there are two completely different brochos that Chazal call Hatov Vehameitiv. The other brocha, which is only eight words long, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam Hatov Vehameitiv, is recited upon hearing certain special, wonderful events or when breaking out a new bottle of wine. The laws germane to the shorter brocha will be left for a future article.

What happened in Beitar?

The Mishnah in Taanis (26b) records the calamities that occurred on Shiva Asar beTamuz and on Tisha Be’Av. Regarding Tisha Be’Av, it states, “On the ninth of Av, it was decreed upon our forefathers that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel, both the first and the second Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the city of Beitar was conquered, and the city of Yerushalayim was plowed under.” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5), quoting the tanna, Rabbi Yosi, dates the destruction of Beitar as being 52 years after the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash, or, almost exactly 1900 years ago.

To understand the extent of the tragedy that happened in Beitar, let us quote some of the sources of Chazal.

A large city called Beitar, whose population was many tens of thousands of Jews, was ruled by a great Jewish king. All the Jews, including the greatest of the chachamim, thought that this king was the Moshiach, until he fell in battle to the non-Jews and the entire city was slaughtered (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:3).

The Roman emperor Hadrian owned a massive vineyard, twelve mil long and twelve mil wide (about fifty square miles). The Romans used the bodies of those who were killed when Beitar was destroyed as a wall, the height of a man, around the vineyard. Hadrian refused to allow the casualties of Beitar to be buried. Only with the succession of a new emperor was their burial permitted (Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

The city of Beitar had 400 shuls, each of which had 400 cheder rabbei’im teaching in them, and each rebbe taught 400 children. When the Romans conquered the city, they wrapped all the students and all the teachers in their seforim (which, in their day, were rolled like scrolls) and set them ablaze (Gittin 58a).

Enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found from those who died in Beitar to fill a mikveh. According to a second opinion, enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found to fill three mikvaos (Gittin 57b).

For seven years, the non-Jews fertilized their vineyards, exclusively, with the Jewish blood of those who were martyred in Beitar (Gittin 57a).

Fifteenth of Av

We should also note the following passage of Gemara: “No festivals of the Jews were celebrated to a greater extent than were the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. We understand why Yom Kippur has this unique quality – it is the day that forgiveness is granted – but why the fifteenth of Av?” Among the many answers the Gemara provides is “Rav Masneh explained, because that was the date when permission was granted to bury those killed in Beitar” (Taanis 30b-31a).

An unusual brocha

Now that we know a bit about the history behind this brocha, let us discuss the brocha itself, particularly, its structure. Of the many questions that we can ask, let us focus on the following three, which were our opening questions:

1. Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

2. Why was that brocha made part of Birkas Hamazon?

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

1. Why a brocha?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

Unfortunately, there have been many catastrophes in Jewish history, which we have, thank G-d, survived, but we do not have extra brochos to commemorate them (Kenesses Hagedolah, Tur Orach Chayim 189). Most tragedies are commemorated with fast days and the recital of selichos, and most miraculous events are celebrated on their anniversary, but not with a brocha that we recite daily.

These questions are already asked by very early authorities, who suggest the following answers:

The tragedy of the destruction of Beitar was great and unique in the bizayon haTorah that resulted, when thousands and thousands of observant Jews lay unburied. When Hadrian died, and his successor permitted their burial, Chazal felt the need to demonstrate, significantly, that this chillul Hashem had ended and was, on the contrary, accompanied by a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that the bodies of the fallen had not deteriorated, notwithstanding that they had been exposed to the elements for many years.

In addition, the events of Beitar teach that, even when Hashem is angry at us, He still performs miracles. This is to teach us that Hashem never abandons us, even at times when we sin and deserve punishment (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:2)

2. Why in bensching?

Why did Chazal place this brocha in bensching (Rosh, quoted by Tur, Orach Chayim 189)? The rest of Birkas Hamazon is acknowledgement to Hashem for providing for us and for the wonderful land of Eretz Yisroel that He gave us. Why commemorate the tragedy of Beitar during Birkas Hamazon?

This brocha was instituted in Birkas Hamazon as a constant reminder (Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351; Shu”t Mishpetei Shmuel #11). In addition, it was placed in Birkas Hamazon, which is, in its entirety, thanks to Hashem (Rosh, Brochos 7:22). Furthermore, the Rosh notes that the Yerushalmi (see our version, Sukkah 5:1 at end) states that the loss that the Jews suffered at Beitar will not be restored until the Moshiach comes. It is unclear to which specific loss this Gemara is referring, but regardless, this is another reason why the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv was placed immediately following the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim.

Several prominent gedolim provide an additional reason why this brocha was added specifically to bensching. After celebrating a joyous meal, people might lose sight of life’s priorities. To prevent this from happening, Chazal instituted a brocha reminding people of the tragedy of Beitar (Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach #60; Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351). This is similar to the idea of breaking a glass at a wedding and mentioning the churban then, so as to keep our celebrations in a balanced perspective. We celebrate, but still need to remember that we are missing important aspects of life that we require as Jews.

Why not in Shemoneh Esrei?

The Binyamin Ze’ev, who lived in Greece and in Venice, Italy, during the first half of the sixteenth century, asks that, if Chazal wanted the association of this new brocha to be with the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, why was the brocha placed in Birkas Hamazon and not in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei, after Boneh Yerushalayim?

The answer is that inserting this brocha in the midst of the Shemoneh Esrei would be an interruption, whereas at the time that Chazal incorporated this fourth brocha into Birkas Hamazon, bensching included only the Torah required portions, which end with the words Boneh Yerushalayim (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:1). (The other requests that begin with the word Harachaman,the pesukim that we traditionally recite at the end of the bensching, and the blessing we recite for the household where we ate were all added to Birkas Hamazon after this time in history.)

Text of brocha

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

Let me explain. The numerous brochos that we recite daily follow three specific structural patterns:

A. Either they are very short brochos, such as those that we recite prior to eating, performing mitzvos, seeing unusual sites, or enjoying other pleasures, which begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then close with the appropriate ending. These are called brochos ketzaros, short brochos.

B. A second structure of a brocha is the most common for a longer brocha. This type of brocha begins with the same words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and ends the brocha by repeating the words Boruch Attah Hashem and closing with the theme of the brocha. These brochos are called brochos aruchos, long brochos.

Part of a series

C. The third type of brocha is one that follows another brocha in a series. Such a brocha does not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but ends with Boruch Attah Hashem and closes with the theme of the brocha. This type is categorized as a brocha hasemucha lachaverta, literally, a brocha that follows another brocha; in other words, a brocha that is part of a series. For this reason, the brochos of Shemoneh Esrei, the brochos that surround the Kerias Shma, and the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam (except for the first brocha in the series). All begin by explaining the theme of the brocha and end with Boruch Attah Hashem and an appropriate conclusion.

The brochos of bensching

Now that we realize that all brochos fit into one of three categories, let us examine the four brochos of Birkas Hamazon and see under which category each brocha belongs.

The first brocha, Ha’zon es ha’olam, begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and closes with Boruch Attah Hashem hazan es hakol, “He who sustains all.” This structure fits our rules nicely, as category B: It is a classic “long brocha.”

The second and third brochos are part of a series and, therefore, do not begin with a brocha, but end either with the words Boruch Attah Hashem al ha’aretz ve’al hamazon, or with Boruch Attah Hashem boneh (berachamav) Yerushalayim. This follows the rule of brocha hasemucha lachaverta, a brocha that follows another brocha, which we called category C.

The unusual fourth

However, the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon does not seem to fit any of the above three categories. It begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, which means it is not considered part of a series. Although it is always recited as the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon, immediately after the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim, and you would think that it should be considered part of a series (Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov), our introduction can help explain why it is not. Since this brocha was not originally part of Birkas Hamazon, but was added for a completely unrelated reason, it is considered a beginning brocha and not a brocha hasemucha lachaverta.

Which remaining category?

The list above contains two categories of brocha that begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam: category A, the short brochos, and category B, the long brochos. However, Hatov Vehameitiv does not seem to fit either category. It is too long to be considered a short brocha, nor does it follow the structure of a long brocha, since it does not end with Boruch Attah, Hashem and a closing.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. The rishonim do, and provide three answers to resolve this conundrum. But first, we need to provide another introduction.

Chazal instituted that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv should include three references to Hashem being King, a concept that Chazal call malchus (Brochos 47a). This we do, when we recite the following: (1) the word melech in the very beginning of the brocha, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, (2) the next words of the brocha are ha’keil avinu malkeinu, (3) ro’einu ro’eih Yisroel hamelech hatov (Divrei Chamudos, Brochos 7:69).

Why three times? The Gemara (Brochos 49a) explains that since the third brocha of Birkas Hamazon (that ends with the words, Boneh Yerushalayim) mentions the kingdom and royal family of David, there should be mention of Hashem’s monarchy in all four brochos of Birkas Hamazon. However, the mention of Hashem’s malchus that should be in the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon are delayed until the fourth. (The first brocha of Birkas Hamazon, begins with Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and therefore contains a reference to Hashem’s monarchy.) Thus, in addition to the basic theme of acknowledgement and thanks to Hashem for His performing a miracle, Chazal added a theme to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv, making sure that Hashem’s malchus is mentioned three times.

Three hatavos

The rishonim quote a midrash that states that Chazal required adding to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv three hatavos: We are to say three times that Hashem is beneficial to us. Although I was unable to locate this midrash, it definitely existed at the time of the rishonim but has been lost since their era.

Among the rishonim, I found several different texts for this concept. The standard nusach Ashkenaz says hu heitiv, hu meitiv, hu yeitiv lanu,“He has done good, He does good, and He will do good to us”. The Rosh discusses the correct text, and concludes that the correct text should be hu heitiv lanu, hu meitiv lanu, hu yeitiv lanu, with the word lanu repeated each time (“He has done good to us, He does good to us, and He will do good to us.”). The Shulchan Aruch rules that this is the correct practice, and this is the standard, accepted nusach used by eidot hamizrah and Sefardim. This is a very interesting point, because the Rosh is usually the source for minhagei Ashkenaz that differ from Sefardic practice, and here, he is the source for the Sefardic custom, and most Ashkenazim do not follow his approach.

Hu Gemalanu

In addition, the rishonim mention that we should also mention three times that Hashem grants us good, which we add with the words, hu gemalanu, hu gomleinu, hu yigmeleinu la’ad –“He granted us, He grants us and He will grant us forever…”

Why no ending?

Thus, we see that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv is a long brocha, and yet it does not end with the words Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, as a long brocha normally does.

Why not?

Again, the rishonim raise this question and provide several differing approaches to answer it. Rabbeinu Yonah (Brochos 36a) quotes two reasons:

I. Notwithstanding that the brocha is somewhat lengthy, it is still considered a short brocha, because all the ideas included are simply different aspects of the same theme – that Hashem is Hatov Vehameitiv.

II. When the original brocha was created, Hatov Vehameitiv was a short brocha that did not warrant an ending. Although other parts were gradually added, the original structure of the brocha was not changed (see also Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov).

III. The Rashba (Brochos 46a s.v. Teida) provides a third answer. Although this brocha should have been a long brocha, Chazal did not treat it as such, because they did not want this brocha, which is miderabbanan, to be more prominent than the two brochos that proceed it, which are min haTorah and which each have the words Boruch Attah Hashem only one time. Therefore, they decided to omit an ending to this brocha, making it an exception to the rule.

Conclusion

The most important message of Birkas Hamazon is our expressing thanks to Hashem for everything He provides for us. We see how Chazal also wanted us to remember to thank Hashem for kindnesses that He did for our people, thousands of years ago. It certainly behooves us to recite the Birkas Hamazon carefully and with kavanah, and to demonstrate at least a small expression to praise Hashem.

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The Four “Exiles”

In several places in Tanach and midrashim, there is reference to the Jewish people being subjected to four exiles. Most midrashim and commentaries understand that the four empires (or exiles) that ruled over the Jewish people described by Zecharyah (Chapter 6) and Daniel (Chapters 2 and 7) refer to Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome (see, for example, Ramban, Bereishis 36:23 and Bamidbar 24:20). However, the ibn Ezra (Daniel 2:40) and others disagree, noting that the Roman Empire has long disintegrated, and a new “empire,” that of the Moslem Arabs, swept across a huge tract of the world. The ibn Ezra concludes that since Greek and Roman culture were very similar, the third golus is Greece and Rome together, and the Arabs are the fourth.

Golus Bavel

We are, unfortunately, very familiar with the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash by Nevuchadnetzar the King of Bavel, much of which is described in various places in Tanach. The city and country of Bavel was in Mesopotamia, literally, the area “between the rivers” – the Tigris and the Euphrates – which form the center of the contemporary country of Iraq. To this day, descendants of the Jewish communities who lived in Iraq, where Jews lived for 2,500 years, are referred to as Jews of Bavel.

Persia

Not many years after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, the powerful empire of Bavel was overrun by the Persian Empire. The Jews were now under the authority of a new nation. Many Jews spread across all 127 provinces (which probably means 127 major cities and their environs) of the new empire, and they were certainly known in the capital city of Shushan, located in modern Iran. Although Persia and Greece are known as malchuyos, their relationship to the Jews does not fit the classic definition of an exile or a diaspora, since the Jews were not driven from the country where they lived. Persia overtook Bavel, and thereby changed the culture and indeed geography of where Jews lived, but it is not accurate to say that we were “exiled” to new places. It is, however, accurate to say that, under the new management, Jews now spread out from Bavel to the entire ancient world.

By the way, this period of time coincides with the end of the period of the Tanach. The books of this era include Esther, Chaggai, Zecharya, Malachi, Daniel, Ezra and Nechemiah. Under Persian rule, Jews were permitted to return to Eretz Yisroel and build the second Beis Hamikdash. From a Torah perspective, the leadership of the Jewish people is the group called the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, the Men of the Great Assembly. Among the many things they developed was our structure of tefillah and brochos, as well as many takanos. One of these takanos created the current structure of our kerias haTorah in which we call up at least three people and read at least ten pesukim.

Greece, or more accurately, Hellenism

According to all opinions (I will explain shortly what I mean), the next “exile” was Greece, or, probably more accurately, the Greek culture and philosophy that spread across the entire Middle East and included sections of Europe and Africa and what is usually called “south Asia.”

Alexander the Great, referred to by Chazal as Alexander Mokdon, Alexander of Macedonia, swept away all before him. His father, Philip of Macedonia, expanded from his small country in north-western Greece (or south-western Balkans, depending on which term is considered politically correct this week) and eventually conquered all of Greece — no small accomplishment, when you realize that the Greeks were frequently at war with one another, and each city was in its own country. Building on his father’s conquests, Alexander established the largest empire the western world had known to his day — from the Balkans to India, and even extending southwestwardly to include Egypt.

From a Jewish perspective, Alexander’s era coincides with the end of the period of the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah, and the beginning of the era of the Mishnah. We have all heard the story of how Alexander dismounted and prostrated himself to Shimon Hatzadik, who was the kohein gadol, and was the last of the Anshei Keneses Hagedolah. In acknowledgment of Alexander’s sparing the citadel that is the Beis Hamikdash and the city of Yerushalayim, at this time a fully functional and Jewish city again, the Jews of the era accepted upon themselves to name their sons after Alexander, thus forever making his name, and its Jewish shortening, Sender,into Jewish names.

As a conqueror, Alexander made his worst mistake when, at the age of 33, he got sick and died. Although he left an heir, the baby was not given any opportunity to create a dynasty. Alexander’s empire was divided among his generals, several of whom did succeed in creating dynasties. From a Jewish perspective, the two generals that were most important were Ptolemy, who ruled from Alexandria, Egypt, which soon became the location of the largest Jewish community in the world, and Seleucis, who set up his capital in Antioch, then considered part of Syria. Although the geographic and familial origins of the empire were no longer Greek, the culture spread by all the Hellenistic empires was completely Greek and a very powerful cultural influence.

One of the Seleucid emperors, Antiochus Epiphanes, went on a rampage to destroy Judaism, including the mitzvos of bris milah, Shabbos, the study of the Torah, and various other takkanos as we know from the Chanukah story. Golus Yovon was a spiritual golus, not a geographic one. It was a war between religion and assimilation. This was probably the first instance of Jewish history in which the main fighters against the Torah were Jews – self-hating Jews, whom we call the Misyavnim, who were intent on assimilating completely into Greek culture, or redefining their Judaism so that it has nothing to do with anything Jewish or G-dly. (Does this not sound very familiar?)

Rome

According to most opinions, the fourth golus is that of Rome, which, after establishing control of the ancient world from Britain to India, eventually obliterate the Beis Hamikdash and the city of Yerushalayim, murdered thousands, and possibly millions of Jews, driving the Jews from our homeland and ruthlessly annihilated the post-churban state of Bar Kochba with incredible cruelty and bloodshed. At the time of the Mishnah and Gemara, Jews had already dispersed as far west as Spain, and another aftermath of the Roman conquests was that Jews spread first to Rome, northward to northern Italy and eventually to Germany and France, thereby creating Ashkenazic Jewry. In the course of many centuries, descendants of these Jews moved eastward, forming the vast Jewish communities in Poland, Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe.

As we mentioned previously, the ibn Ezra contends that the Arab Empire was the fourth malchus. How does  the existence of the Arab empire fit into the picture according to others? Many In answer to the ibn Ezra’s observation that there was subsequently an Arab empire, many understand that the Christian world, and then its sequel, the modern golus, are all continuations of Rome. Others contend that the Arabic culture, which in the time of Middle Ages was heavily immersed in Greek thought, science and medicine, can also be considered a continuation of the previous goluyos. Some commentaries explain that the statue representing the “fourth empire” in Daniel is made of clay mixed with iron – an allusion of the travails of Rome combined with the Arabic caliphates and conquests.

The Arabs

As I mentioned above, according to the ibn Ezra, the fourth malchus is that of the Arabs. This malchus is a bit different from the others, in the sense that it was never ruled by one individual king or one dynasty. Mohammed, himself, succeeded only in conquering a few cities in the middle of the Arabian Desert. But his spiritual descendants eventually conquered from the Pyrenees Mountains that border between France and Spain, through the northern third of Africa, including also all the countries immediately south of the Sahara Desert — Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Sudan, Nigeria — the entire Middle East, almost all of western Asia and south Asia, as far east as the Spice Islands, now called Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. This “empire” ruled a wide band from the Atlantic Ocean through the Indian Ocean, until it reached the Pacific.

A lesson!

The actual two destructions of Judea are technically not miraculous. Both catastrophes took place according to the normal course of events. How could tiny Judea, located at a very strategic crossroads of three continents, have avoided falling prey to the rising Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman and Arab powers?! Indeed, the location of Judea was the most unfortunate one possible for a small state that wished to protect its independence.

It was not Judea’s downfall that was miraculous. The miracle was the existence of Judea, an existence for which every natural prerequisite was absent. It could exist only because of Divine intervention, and this is true to this day – when we look to Hashem for His Leadership, we are safe (see Collected Writings of Rav Hirsch, Volume I, pg 299).

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E-shaylos and Observations on Corona

The following is an e-mail correspondence:

e-shaylah #1:

The Rav wrote (in the previous article written about coronavirus): And yet, few people seem to be attempting to learn any lessons from this. Now and again, I read or hear of an individual Rav expressing his personal takeaways from the crisis, but I have seen and heard no response from a world leader regarding any type of ethical or moral response. Quite the contrary: Politicians have been acting as politicians, rather than as the statesmen whose true leadership we would like to see. I have seen no one act as the King of Nineveh did upon hearing Yonah’s castigation – or, more accurately, Yonah’s threat. The world is filled with more anti-Semitism than since WWII. Israeli politicians are filled with more abhorrent anti-religious anti-Semitism than ever.

I indeed had this question for the Rav since March:

Without a Navi, how are the nations of the world supposed to do the process described above? Eighteen years of searching (since I became frum) concerning the events that caused me and others to do teshuva is a rather vague process; one that I really have only started to maturely focus on over the last year or so. Therefore, if, as a frum Jew, I see events in my life and in the world in general as, at most, a vague impetus to teshuva, how can we expect the nations to start seeking G-dliness as a means out of their predicaments (even of international impact such as coronavirus)?

Answer from YK:

Please read Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Whether or not you think his exact interpretation is correct, he certainly saw the US civil war as admonition from Hashem about society’s evils, and he had no compunctions in sharing this with the entire US population, as president. Clearly, he understood that his job as president included leading people to do teshuvah.

This is clearly what Hashem is telling Macron, Trump, Putin, Trudeau, Boris Johnson, Modi, MBS, Erdogan, Xi, Merkel, AMLO, Kurtz, and all the rest, whether they want to hear it or not.

e-shaylah #2:

Recent statistics say that dangerous cases of coronavirus now make up 0.6% of the cases. I know that there are halachic authorities who rule that vaccines should be used when the danger rate is 0.1%, as does the Mishnah Berurah when talking about sakana. Are their numbers exact, or were they rounding off?

Meaning, can one say to himself now, the chances of getting into a case of sakana are so low, I have no obligation to worry, since there is a large chance, that I will not catch it altogether, and even if I catch it, the rate of serious illness is very low?

Obviously, this has nothing to do with needing to listen to the government (or how poorly the government might be managing this), nor the cheshbon of getting others sick, and I am not taking into account age differences or previous conditions, since the stats I’m quoting do not. I presume someone my age (45) would have less need to be careful.

Answer from YK:

I believe that you are correct, that for someone in your age range, there is no halachic requirement to be concerned.

e-shaylah #3:

The rav said that it is permitted to endanger oneself for parnasah. Does parnasah permit me to endanger others?

Answer from YK:

To the extent that Corona endangers others, yes. A caravan driver or boatman is not obligated to ask his passengers why they are traveling, even though they are endangering themselves. In other words, they may have no heter to travel, and he is permitted to take them because this is his parnasah. Similarly, I know of no source in halacha that gives anyone permission to insist that a business close, or to otherwise deprive someone of a legitimate parnasah. Any such government action is overreach, even should the danger to most customers be significant. Consequently, any fines are halachically theft.

e-shaylah #4:

Lichvod Rav Kaganoff, shlita

Our eight-year-old son has been complaining about kids bothering him in cheder. He is very makpid about wearing a mask, even when he eats. One of his complaints is that kids pull off his mask.

When we asked his rebbe how he’s doing socially, he answered that he had not noticed any problems, but he did suggest that maybe our son sometimes take off his mask.

Should we tell our son to be somewhat less makpid, such as when they play outside in the yard, or when eating, to see if it will mitigate his difficulties?

Answer from YK:

You should definitely tell your son to take off his mask.

But I suggest that the rebbe switch professions. We need more policemen like him, and rabayim who are more supportive of their students.

e-shaylah #5: This shaylah came from Latin America.

Dina demalchusa dina: ¿Do we have to follow every law regarding Covid? For example, in my country, now, the malls are open, but not the shuls! ¿Do we have to follow this? ¿Are we required to cancel minyanim´s, even if there is only a tiny possibility of getting sick?  Is it permitted to arrange a minyan with 20 to 30-year-olds¿

Answer from YK:

You are permitted to have minyanim with young people. I am not addressing the questions about fines and potential chillul Hashem, since I do not know the atmosphere and attitudes in your community and country. I am simply answering the question as to whether dina demalchusa dina, or the rules of sakanah apply here. They do not.

e-shaylah #6:

Subject: Schooling Question

Dear Rav Kaganoff,

Both the cheder to which I send my younger boys and the seminar (high school) where my older daughter is a student are being lax about upholding the health department Corona rules (the schools do not require that students wear masks). We do not want to send our children to class under these circumstances, especially since I have a medical condition that puts me at a higher risk.  At this moment, all three of these children have their education nearly at a standstill.  I should note that the daughter has been going to the school daily to remind her teachers to call her and include her in the class, but to very little avail.

What does the Rav think?

Answer from YK:

The concerns you raise are valid. A lot of practical errors are being made — I myself am staying in the house for the most part, something that caused me to lose one of my part time jobs.

On the other hand, we need to balance this against children’s social needs to learn proper and appropriate interaction. Difficult to judge.

(Follow up question)

What does the Rav think of the possibility of moving my family to a place where the situation is taken with the appropriate seriousness?  And what does the Rav think of the possibility of my daughter pursuing her limudei chol with an online institution?

(Answer)

I don’t think moving is a good idea; I don’t believe that when you get there you will find that people are taking the situation any more seriously.
I don’t know your daughter, and therefore I cannot make a judgment on this.

e-shaylah #7:

Dear Rav:

Why has there been no decree of taanis or Tehillim?

Answer from YK:

Halachically, it has not reached the levels of mageifah. We see from the Gemara that there are requirements for such things. However, the malfeasance, overreach and poor planning of most governments have resulted in major loss of parnasah for most people in the world, and very possibly could lead to a world recession. These are major halachic concerns, for which there are the requirements of communal tefillos.

e-shaylah #8: What do you think of these observations by Bill Gates?

(note: > introduces my observations on what Gates said.)

“Subject: What is the Corona/Covid-19 Virus Really Teaching Us?

I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad.”

> A strong start. But unfortunately, I don’t think he truly understands what “spiritual” means, as we will see later. I also deleted a lot of the items he mentioned in this piece as his political opinions and not spiritual observations.

“As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the Corona/Covid-19 virus is really doing to us:

1) It is reminding us that we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or how famous we are. This disease treats us all equally.

2) It is reminding us that we are all connected, and something that affects one person, has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value, as this virus does not need a passport.”

> I am not sure what he intends to accomplish with this last statement.

“3) It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression…

“4) It is reminding us of the shortness of life and of what is most important for us to do, which is to help each other, especially those who are old or sick…

“5) It is reminding us of how materialistic our society has become and how, when in times of difficulty, we remember that it’s the essentials that we need (food, water, medicine) as opposed to the luxuries that we sometimes, unnecessarily, give value to.

“6) It is reminding us of how important our family and home life is, and how much we have neglected this. It is forcing us back into our houses, so we can rebuild them into our home and strengthen our family unit.

“7) It is reminding us that our true work is not our job; that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another.

“8) It is reminding us to keep our egos in check. It is reminding us that no matter how great we think we are or how great others think we are, a virus can bring our world to a standstill.

“9) It is reminding us that the power of freewill is in our hands. We can choose to cooperate and help each other, to share, to give, to help and to support each other or we can choose to be selfish, to hoard, to look after only our self (sic.). Indeed… difficulties bring out our true colors.

“10) It is reminding us that we can be patient, or we can panic. We can either understand that this type of situation has happened many times before in history and will pass, or we can panic and see it as the end of the world and, consequently, cause ourselves more harm than good.”

>After several excellent points, here Bill missed Hashem’s point completely. Neither patience nor panic is the correct response. “Panic” occurs when we feel that no One is in charge. “Patience” implies that Hashem is not teaching us. The lesson here is not from a general observation of mankind and history. It is that Hashem cares — To quote the pasuk in Yirmiyohu (2:30): “For naught have I struck My children, they learned no lesson.” I note that this posuk is in Bill Gates’ Bible, and the lesson is taught in all western religions. But Bill didn’t learn it, either from the Bible or from Honest Abe. Now, back to Bill Gates.

“11) It is reminding us that this can either be an end or a new beginning. This can be a time of reflection and understanding, where we learn from our mistakes, or it can be the start of a cycle which will continue, until we finally learn the lesson we are meant to.”

>This is excellently worded. World, is anyone listening?

“12) It is reminding us that after every difficulty, there is always ease. Life is cyclical, and this is just a phase in this great cycle. We do not need to panic; this, too, shall pass.

> Sorry, Bill. This is exactly the wrong message of Covid-19. Hashem is talking to us, all of mankind. We are not listening.

“13) Whereas many see the Corona/Covid-19 virus as a great disaster, I prefer to see it as a great corrector. It is sent to remind us of the important lessons that we seem to have forgotten, and it is up to us if we will learn them, or not.”

> Here, Bill got it right.

Not since Migdal Bavel has there been such an opportunity for the world to truly unite. But, unfortunately, it is politics as usual — both within countries, and between countries. Let us note that makas dam could easily have been all that was necessary to get the Jews out of Egypt – but this was not Hashem’s only goal. His goal was for all mankind to recognize that Hashem is one G-d, and Yetzias Mitzrayim accomplished that, to a great extent. Is coronavirus His follow-up message, or just a reminder?

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A Sweet Change of Pace

The Torah teaches that the second time the brothers came down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov told them to bring treats from Eretz Yisroel with which to woo Pharoah. Of course, they had no chocolate to bring, but we can discuss a different royal treat that the Aztecs considered a royal beverage.

What beracha does one recite over chocolate-covered raisins?

Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct beracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its beracha be borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim, indeed, contend that the correct beracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, accepted custom notwithstanding. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the beracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.

Furthermore, to resolve our question, we must analyze which beracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, applesauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. We will discover that, aside from this being interesting, all this information impacts on halacha.

Chocolate history

Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztecs, cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm, unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he might have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate, since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!

The Spaniards transported cocoa trees to the Old World. Later, industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.

The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its beracha was certainly shehakol, since we recite shehakol on all beverages (except, of course, grape juice and wine), even if, such as beer and whiskey, they are made from the five grains (Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).

Chocolate in the 19th century

Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid, eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate had never been eaten.

The second development occurred in 1876, when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)

How does cocoa grow?

The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds, that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.

How is chocolate made?

The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground, because it contains over 50% fat.

The chocolate liquor I am describing contains no alcohol – that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.

The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components: the fat, or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter that is made from milk), and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients: notably sugar, and usually, milk. This product is ground fine in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly, and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.

Thus, before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated again, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and, sometimes, milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate, and that is how it maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are, in reality, made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.

So, what beracha do we make on chocolate?

To this day, there is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the correct beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute, we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency. Is the correct beracha on these items borei pri ha’eitz (or borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some), or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?

The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the beracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is shehakol.

What do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the beracha on date butter is ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite shehakol, because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam containing recognizable fruit pieces or “chunky” applesauce, but recite shehakol before eating a completely smooth applesauce, or a smooth jam, where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).

However, since the reason we recite shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of applesauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the shehakol on the applesauce rather than on the beverage. If he recites the shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the applesauce, he now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the obligation to make a beracha on the applesauce. This is because, according to the opinions that the beracha should be ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the beracha by reciting shehakol on something else.

Similarly, someone eating a fruit and applesauce at the same time who recited ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite shehakol (and certainly not ha’eitz) on the applesauce. This is because, according to the poskim who contend that applesauce is ha’eitz, he has already fulfilled his duty to recite a beracha by reciting ha’eitz on the other fruit. In this situation, he should first recite shehakol on the applesauce and then ha’eitz on the fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).

Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably borei pri ha’eitz, such as applesauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill the need for reciting a beracha on both items without creating an unnecessary beracha. If you recite the beracha on the fruit first, then you have a safek as to whether you can recite a beracha on the safek item. On the other hand, if you recite the shehakol on the safek item first, then, according to the opinions that the beracha is ha’eitz, you have now recited an unnecessary beracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).

How does this discussion affect chocolate?

The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans, since they have been ground, liquefied, and reconstituted into a solid in the process. Can he still recite ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product, or does it become shehakol?

Many assume that the beracha on chocolate products is shehakol, based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other authorities quoted by the Shaarei Teshuvah (Orach Chayim 202:19). However, since all these authorities lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what beracha to recite before eating chocolate, since we recite shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.

Among the more recent authorities who discuss which beracha one should recite before eating chocolate, two of the most respected authorities are Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shelomoh, Rav Shelomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite ha’eitz before eating chocolate (Volume 1:91:2). He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The beracha recited on them is whatever would have been the appropriate beracha on the particular spice before grinding (usually ha’adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar, and even if it is mostly sugar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.

What beracha does one make on cinnamon sugar?

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its beracha is borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite borei pri ha’eitz, since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar, in which the cinnamon cannot always be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.

Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables, over which Ashkenazim recite shehakol?

Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices, they do not lose their beracha, even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).

What beracha do we recite on sugar?

As I discussed in a different article (See Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts), there is a thousand-year-old dispute concerning whether the correct beracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is borei pri ha’eitz, borei pri ha’adamah or shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:15) concludes that we recite shehakol on sugar; however, someone who recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new beracha, since the correct beracha is disputed.

Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today, a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet, and a much smaller amount is produced from corn (maize). However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the products that became unavailable was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.

Although Napoleon was not worried about it, some Rabbonim were concerned whether the beracha over the new type of sugar was also shehakol, just as the beracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited borei pri ha’adamah, he should not make another beracha.

Thus, we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose beracha remains ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose beracha is shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.

Beating a beet

After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and sliced into thin chips. The beet chips are then soaked in hot water for about an hour, which extracts the sugar from them and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution, which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump together, so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually, the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals, which are then removed from the solution.

An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that, in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.

Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their beracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar, which, we rule, loses its beracha and becomes shehakol?

Rav Shelomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original beracha, although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer, Mekor Haberacha.) Apparently Rav Shelomoh Zalman felt that chocolate, which is refined from the cocoa bean, should not be compared to sugar, which is extracted from the cane or beet.

(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the beracha on white chocolate is shehakol, since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit, whose beracha is always shehakol.)

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, 3:31) clearly disagrees, contending that the beracha on all chocolate products is definitely shehakol. In a teshuvah discussing which beracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its beracha might be a safek.

In Rav Moshe’s responsum, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different berachos, we must determine which food is the more important, the ikar, and this determines the beracha of the entire food. (I have written an extensive article on the topic of ikar and tafeil in berachos.) Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important, in order to determine if the beracha on chocolate-covered raisins is ha’eitz, like the raisin,or shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore, chocolate-covered raisins require two berachos, ha’eitz on the raisins and shehakol on the chocolate.

Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two berachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the beracha of ha’eitz before reciting shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the beracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he rules that one should recite shehakol on the chocolate and then ha’eitz on the raisin. This would require biting off a bit of the chocolate first until he can reach the raisin.)

Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely shehakol and not even questionably ha’eitz. I conjecture that he held so because chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product a fruit at all. Alternatively, he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos berachos, and thus the correct beracha is shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal custom is to recite shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be shehakol, see Shaarei Haberacha pg. 693 and Makor Haberacha pgs. 52-61.)

Notwithstanding that many authorities agree with Rav Moshe that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol, they disagree with his ruling that chocolate-covered raisins and nuts require two different berachos, contending that one should recite only one beracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the beracha is always shehakol, since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar, and those who feel the beracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431; Vezos Haberacha pg. 97). I refer you to your own posek to decide which beracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining which beracha the mamleches cohanim vegoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests, recites on this food.

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Did the Brothers have a Right to Sell Yosef?

Question #1:

How could the righteous brothers of Yosef want to murder him in cold blood?

Question #2:

If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Question #3:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

By properly understanding the story of Yosef’s sale, we will be able to answer these three seemingly unrelated questions.

Who are these brothers?

When studying the events leading to the kidnap and sale of Yosef, we must remember that all twelve of Yaakov’s sons were pure, tzadikim gemurim.[1] In light of their tremendous stature, this already incomprehensible story is that much more difficult to understand.

Had this story taken place in the most dysfunctional family imaginable, we would still be shocked by the unfolding of its events. After all, even if brothers feel that their indulged, nasty kid brother is challenging their father’s love for them, would they consider committing fratricide, or any other murder for that matter?

This would apply even to members of a poorly functioning family. How much more so when we are discussing great talmidei chachamim, who constantly evaluate the halachic ramifications of every action that they perform! How can we possibly understand what transpired? In other words, the Ten Brothers were far greater tzadikim than the Chafetz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, greater talmidei chachamim than the Chazon Ish or Rav Moshe Feinstein (this comparison does not diminish the stature of any of these tzadikim; on the contrary, mentioning them in this context shows how much we venerate them). We cannot imagine any of these people hurting someone’s feelings intentionally, much less causing anyone even the slightest bodily harm. It is difficult to imagine any of these tzadikim swatting a fly! Thus, how can we imagine them swatting their brother, much less, doing anything that might cause long-term damage?

Since we cannot interpret this as an extreme case of sibling rivalry, we are left completely baffled by the actions of the ten saintly and scholarly brothers. How could these ten great tzadikim consider killing their brother? And, then, decide that selling him into slavery was more appropriate? As we see clearly, for the next twenty-two years, they assumed that their decision had been justified, although they acknowledged that they should possibly have given Yosef a “second chance.”

Yosef reports

Yosef was in the habit of reporting to his father dibasam ra’ah (usually interpreted as slander) – actions that he interpreted as infractions. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Yosef informed his father of whatever bad actions he observed in Leah’s six sons. Specifically, Yosef reported:

(1) They were consuming meat without killing the animal properly, a sin forbidden to all descendants of Noach.

(2) They were belittling their brothers Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher, by calling them slaves.

(3) He suspected them of violating the heinous sin of giluy arayos.

Others explain that Yosef accused the brothers of not caring properly for their father’s flock.[2] Although Rashi makes no mention of this accusation, it is clear from his comments that, in his opinion, had Yosef suspected them of this, he would certainly have noted it to his father.

Is dibasam ra’ah equivalent to slander?

We must be careful not to define dibasam ra’ah as slander, which usually intimates malice and falsehood, and would imply that Yosef’s intentions were to harm his brothers. Without a doubt, the righteous Yosef had no such intent. It is more accurate to translate dibasam ra’ah as evil report. Yosef did share his interpretations of his brothers’ actions with his father, but they were not fabrications, and defaming them was not his goal.

Why is Yosef tattling?

Without question, Yosef’s goal was the betterment of his brothers. He acted completely lishmah, with no evil intent, just as later, in Parshas Vayigash, he holds no grudge against his brothers, despite the indescribable suffering they caused him.

Indeed, Yosef’s motivation was his sincere concern for his brothers. He knew well the halachah that if you see someone sin, you must bring it to the offender’s attention, explaining to him that he will achieve a large share in Olam Haba by doing teshuvah.[3] A person giving tochacha must always have the interests of the sinner completely at heart, and consider how to educate the malefactor in a way that his words will be accepted.

Yosef knew, also, that whoever has the ability to protest sinful activity and fails to do so is liable for his lack of action. However, the Seforno comments that, due to Yosef’s youth, he did not realize what might result from hisreporting to his father about his brothers.

At this point, we can already answer one of the questions I raised above: If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Answer: I am obligated to bring to the person’s attention that it is in his or her best interest to do teshuvah and correct whatever he or she has done wrong. The admonition should be done in a gentle way, expressing concern, so that it can be received positively and thereby accomplish its purpose.

Why through Yaakov?

Without question, Yosef’s goal in sharing his concerns with his father was that his brothers correct their actions. If so, why didn’t Yosef admonish them directly?

Yosef wanted his father to take appropriate action to correct the brothers’ deeds and, thereby, bring them to do teshuvah. The halachic authorities disagree whether Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora by using this approach in this instance. The Chafetz Chayim contends that Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora, because he should have shared his concerns directly with his brothers, rather than first discussing them with his father.[4]

Maybe his brothers are right?

Yosef should have considered that his attempts at tochacha might be successful. The Chafetz Chayim also sees Yosef as having neglected the mitzvah of being dan lekaf zechus, judging people favorably. Since the brothers were great tzadikim, Yosef should have realized that they had a halachic consideration to permit their actions. Had he judged them favorably, he would have considered one of three possibilities:

(1) That his brothers had done nothing wrong – but he (Yosef) had misinterpreted what he had seen them do.

(2) Alternatively, his brothers might have justified their actions, explaining them in a way that he (Yosef) might have accepted what they did as correct or, at least, permitted.

(3) That although his brothers were not right, they had based themselves on some mistaken rationale. If their rationale was mistaken, Yosef should have entertained the possibility that he might successfully have convinced them that their approach was flawed. He should have discussed the matter with them directly, and either convinced them of their folly or gained an understanding of why they considered their actions as justified.

In any case, Yosef should not have assumed that the brothers sinned intentionally.

The Malbim’s approach

The Malbim disagrees with the Chafetz Chayim’s approach, contending that Yosef felt that his rebuking his brothers would be unheeded under any circumstances and possibly even counterproductive, and only his father’s reprimand would be successful. If you are certain that the sinner will not listen to you, but may listen to someone else, you may share the information with the person you feel will be more successful at giving rebuke. Yosef felt that, although his brothers would not listen to him, their father could successfully convince them of their errors; therefore, he reported the matters to his father.

In the same vein, a student who sees classmates act inappropriately and feels that they will not listen to his/her rebuke may share the information with someone who he/she feels will be more effective in accomplishing the Torah’s goal.

We are now in a position to answer the third question I raised at the beginning:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

If a parent is able to do something to improve a child’s behavior, one may notify the parent of the child’s conduct. Not only is it not loshon hora¸ it is the correct approach to use. However, if the circumstances are such that the parent will be unable to do anything to improve the child’s behavior, or if one can bring about change in the child’s behavior by contacting him directly, one may not inform the parents of the child’s misbehavior. 

Yaakov’s reaction

Yaakov, or more accurately Yisrael, reacted passively to Yosef’s tale bearing on his brothers. He did not rebuke the brothers for their misbehavior, which we will soon discuss; but, he also did not reprimand Yosef for speaking loshon hora, or for neglecting to be dan lekaf zechus. Indeed, he demonstrated his greater love for Yosef than for the others by producing with his own hands a special garment for Yosef. Yaakov, an affluent sheep raiser who preferred to spend his time studying Torah, took time from his own learning to hand-weave Yosef a beautiful coat. Indeed, Yaakov felt a special kinship to Yosef for several reasons, including Yosef’s astute Torah learning. All of this makes us wonder: why did Yaakov not rebuke Yosef for reporting his brothers?

Was Yosef wrong?

Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s assessment that his reporting was not loshon hora, although this does not necessarily mean that he felt the brothers were guilty. I will shortly rally evidence that implies that Yaakov was convinced the brothers were innocent. Nevertheless, Yaakov concurred that Yosef behaved correctly in bringing the matters to his (Yaakov’s) attention, rather than dealing with the brothers himself.

Yaakov agreed that the brothers would not accept Yosef’s admonition, because they did not understand his (Yosef’s) greatness. At the same time, Yaakov realized that Yosef had leadership and scholarship skills superior to those of his brothers. Yaakov therefore gave Yosef the kesones passim, to demonstrate his appointment as leader of the household.[5]

Why did Yaakov not admonish the brothers?

This, of course, leads to a new question. If Yaakov did not rebuke Yosef because he felt that his approach was correct, why do we find nowhere that he rebuked the brothers for their behavior? It appears that Yaakov realized that the brothers had not sinned, and that there was no reason to rebuke them. Shemiras Halashon rallies proof of this assertion, because the Torah teaches that Yaakov had a special love for Yosef only because of Yosef’s scholarship and not because of any concerns about the brothers’ behavior. (See the Sifsei Chachamim and other commentaries on Rashi, who explain why the brothers had done nothing wrong, and what Yosef misinterpreted.) Yaakov understood that the brothers had not sinned, and that Yosef had misinterpreted their actions. Apparently, Yosef was indeed guilty of not having judged them favorably (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch).

In fact, because of his mistaken accusation of the brothers, Yosef himself was later severely punished: he was sold into slavery, and for wrongly suspecting his brothers of violating arayos, he was suspected by all Egypt of a similar transgression, as a result of Mrs. Potifar’s fraudulent allegation (Shemiras Halashon). Thus, the problem of an innocent man being tried and convicted in the media is not a modern phenomenon – Yosef was punished for a crime he had not done.

Was Yaakov correct?

Was the kesones passim an appropriate gift for Yosef? Was Yaakov wrong in giving Yosef the kesones passim?

Even asking this question places us in an uncomfortable position: it implies that we might lay blame on the educational practices of one of our Avos. Notwithstanding our awesome appreciation of the greatness of Yaakov Avinu, the Gemara criticizes Yaakov’s deed: “A person should never treat one son differently from the others, for, because of two sela’im worth of fancy wool that Yaakov gave Yosef, favoring him over his brothers, the brothers were jealous of him, and the end result was that our forefathers descended to Egypt.”[6]

Yaakov did not act without calculation. Presumably, seeing Yosef’s high standard of learning, his refined personal attributes, and his concern for others’ behavior, Yaakov felt it important to demonstrate that Yosef was the most skilled of a very impressive group of sons. Yet Chazal tell us that this is an error.  One should never demonstrate favoritism among one’s sons, even when there appears to be appropriate reason for doing so.

Were the brothers justified?

At this point, we have presented Yaakov and Yosef’s positions on what happened, but we still do not know why the brothers wanted to kill Yosef.

Remember that the brothers were both righteous and talented talmidei chachamim. Clearly, they must have held that Yosef was a rodef, someone pursuing and attempting to bring bodily harm to another. No other halachic justification would permit their subsequent actions.

Seforno and others note that the brothers interpreted Yosef’s actions as a plot against them, to deprive them of being Yaakov’s descendants. Rav Hirsch demonstrates that the pasuk, vayisnaklu oso lehamiso, means they imagined him as one plotting against them so that he was deserving of death. The brothers assumed that Yosef’s goal was to vilify them in their father’s eyes, so that Yaakov would reject them – just as Yitzchak had rejected Eisav and Avraham had rejected Yishmael and the sons of Keturah (Malbim). After all, Yosef was falsely accusing them of highly serious misbehavior. The brothers interpreted Yaakov’s gift of the kesones passim to Yosef as proof that Yaakov had accepted Yosef’s loshon hora against them (Shemiras Halashon). The brothers needed to act quickly before he destroyed them; they were concerned that Yaakov would accept Yosef’s plot to discredit them and to rule over them. Therefore, they seized and imprisoned Yosef, and then sat down to eat a meal, while they were deciding what to do with him.

Not a free lunch

The brothers are strongly criticized for sitting down to eat a meal. Assuming that they were justified in killing Yosef, they should have spent an entire night debating their judgment. After all, when a beis din decides on capital matters, they postpone their decision until the next day, and spend the entire night debating the halachah in small groups, eating only a little while deliberating the serious matter.[7] Certainly, the brothers’ sitting down to eat immediately after incarcerating Yosef was wrong, and for this sin they were subsequently punished (Shemiras Halashon).

The brothers then realized that selling Yosef as a slave would accomplish what they needed, without bloodshed.

Later, in Egypt, they recognized that they should not have been so hard-hearted as to sell him – perhaps, his experience in the pit had taught him a sufficient lesson, and he was no longer a danger. Not until Yosef presented himself to them in Mitzrayim did they realize that Yosef was correct all along — he would indeed rule over them, and he had not intended to harm them.

Halachic conclusions

1. When you see someone doing something that appears wrong, figure out a positive way to tell the person what he or she can accomplish by doing teshuvah properly.

2. If you are convinced that you are unable to influence the wrongdoer, while someone else may be more successful, you may share the information with the person who might be able to deliver discreet and gentle admonishment.

3. The information should be shared with no one else, unless, otherwise, someone could get hurt.

4. Always figure out how to judge the person favorably. The entire sale of Yosef occurred because neither side judged the other favorably. Also, bear in mind that we are often highly biased in our evaluation, making it difficult for us to judge.

5. Do not demonstrate favoritism among children, even when there appear to be excellent reasons for doing so.

Concluding the story

To quote the Midrash: Prior to Yosef’s revealing himself in Mitzrayim, he asked them, “The brother whom you claim is dead is very much alive; I will call him.” Yosef then called out, “Yosef ben Yaakov, come here. Yosef ben Yaakov, come here.” The brothers searched under the furniture and checked all the corners of the room to see where Yosef was hiding.[8]

By this time, Yosef had already revealed that he knew the intimate details of their household. They knew that Yosef had been taken to Mitzrayim. They now have someone telling them that he knows that Yosef is in the same room, and there is no one in the room save themselves and Yosef. Nonetheless, they cannot accept that the man that they are facing is Yosef!

Contemplate how these giants of spirit were blinded by their own interests! Is it not sobering how convinced a person can be, despite facts to the contrary, that he is entirely right? We can stare truth in the face, and still not realize that it is Yosef standing before us.


[1] Ramban, Iggeres HaKodesh, Chapter 5

[2] Seforno

[3] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’yos 6:7

[4] Shemiras HaLashon Volume 2, Chapter 11 [Parshas Vayeisheiv]

[5] Seforno

[6] Shabbos 10b

[7] Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 12:3

[8] Bereishis Rabbah; Yalkut Shimoni

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Do Clothes Make the Man?

Question #1: Robes?

“May I daven wearing a robe?”

Question #2: Tied Up

“Must I wear a necktie when I daven?”

“Is there a halachic basis for wearing a gartel?”

Question #3: Belted?

Answer:

Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses how Yitzchak and Rivkah davened for children, it provides an opportunity to discuss the laws of proper attire for prayer.

The Rambam lists five essential requirements for prayer and eight non-essential ones. An essential requirement is one that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may not daven, even if this means that one will miss davening as a result. A non-essential requirement is that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may and should daven anyway.

One of the non-essential requirements is to be attired properly when davening (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:5). A passage of Gemara (Shabbos 10a) that teaches this lesson quotes the verse, Hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, Prepare to meet your G-d, Yisroel” (Amos 4:12), as a source for this law. As an example, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, would put on fine boots before he prayed (Rashi). The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) notes that this implies that Rabbah usually wore simpler footgear. Rabbah knew that were he to meet dignitaries, he would not wear his usual, simpler footwear, and, therefore, wearing it in the presence of the King when he is davening would also be inappropriate. In a similar vein, a different passage of Gemara (Brochos 30b) records that Rav Yehudah would put on nice clothes before he davened. Since the Gemara cites the pasuk in Amos as a source for the requirement of dressing appropriately when one davens, this concept is sometimes referred to with the word of this pasuk, hikon.

Like a servant

The Gemara in Shabbos cited above also mentions another factor to determine how one dresses when davening — one should not overdress for tefillah. For example, Rav would remove his outer garment and fold his hands over his chest before he davened, explaining that one should daven as a servant appears before his master. (Apparently, the overgarment was not a dress jacket as we are familiar with, but something very fancy, perhaps similar to the gold-embroidered glima that the Rishon Letzion wears.)

Other amora’im decided what was considered overdressed, in accordance with the situation of the world at large. Rav Ashi reported that Rav Kahana prepared himself for prayer depending on whether matters in the world were “at peace” or not: “When there were difficulties in the world, he would throw off his outer garment and clasp his hands over his heart as a servant stands to beg from his master. When there was peace in the world, he would dress in fine clothes and pray.”

The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) explains that, although we see that some of the amora’im did not wear their fanciest garments when they davened, they certainly dressed with appropriate clothing.

Weekdays versus Shabbos

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:2) notes that, in his day, there were those who did not wear the fancy outer garment for davening on weekdays, since the world was in a time of difficulty, but that they did wear it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. On these holy days, one should not even allude to difficulties, since doing so spoils the atmosphere and sanctity of the day.

Special clothes

At this point, we could ask a question: Since we realize that one should dress for davening as if he is standing before the King, should one not purchase special garments to be worn only when he davens? Someone honored with an audience before a human king would certainly acquire special garments for the occasion!

The point is well taken, and, indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 98:4) mentions a practice of special garments that are worn only for tefillah. It is worthwhile to quote him verbatim: “It is appropriate to have nice-looking garments designated for prayer, similar to the kohanim’s special garments. However, not every man can afford this expense.” Thus, his conclusion is that it is a nice idea to have special garments for davening, but it is not always possible for everyone.

All prayers?

Do the rules of hikon apply to all of our prayers?

One would think that, since in all our prayers and blessings we are talking directly to Hashem, we should fulfill the mitzvah of hikon whenever we recite any prayers, blessings or, perhaps, even while reciting Tehillim. However, the authorities prove from the Gemara that this is not halachically required.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) states that if someone began eating a meal without having yet davened mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal to daven (assuming that there will be sufficient time to daven afterwards). The Gemara asks, “At what point is it considered that he began his meal such that he is not required to interrupt it?” The Gemara answers that, once he unfastened his belt in order to be able to eat comfortably, it is considered that he began the meal, and he may delay davening until he completes eating. In this discussion, the Gemara mentions that hikon requires that one daven with a fastened belt. Yet, since he opens his belt in order to eat comfortably, we see that the brochos before eating were recited with an open belt, notwithstanding that this is considered inappropriate attire for davening. Thus, a distinction is made between davening, which requires a higher level of attire, and brochos, which do not (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 91). When davening shemoneh esrei one must stand as if one is in the presence of the King (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:1; Mishnah Berurah 74:24). Although we are always in His presence, we are not required to dress in such a proper way when reciting other prayers and blessings.

Belts

Based on this discussion, the early authorities discuss whether one is required to wear a belt and a hat while davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:1) explains that one should wear a nicer belt, which he calls an eizor, when davening. This is the source for those who put on a gartel, a special belt, prior to davening. The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, contending that one who does not usually wear a belt is not required to put one on in order to daven. Someone who usually wears a belt as part of his clothing is required to have his belt on and closed when he davens. The Mishnah Berurah (91:4) cites the approach of the Magen Avraham as the normative halacha, but he adds that it is, nevertheless, considered exemplary conduct to put on a belt when davening, even if someone does not usually wear one.

Head covering

Is one required to wear a hat when davening?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:5), mention that Torah scholars and their disciples should have a full head covering when they daven. To quote the Rambam: “All chachamim and their disciples are careful not to pray without their head atufim,” a word meaning that their heads are covered in a respectful way. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:6) writes that, in his country, one may not daven without a hat, since no one walked in the street without one. It would seem that he would agree that in a place where it is common for people to walk in the street without a hat that one may daven wearing only a yarmulke or similar head covering.

Review

Thus, we have a general direction for appropriate davening attire. One should dress as one would be attired when meeting someone prominent. If times are peaceful, one should even consider “dressing up” for the davening; but when times aredifficult, one should dress appropriately, but not fancily. At this point, let us examine some specific halachic questions about proper attire.

Barefoot

Based on halachic sources, the rishonim discuss whether one may daven barefoot. Their conclusion is that one may not pray barefoot, except on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur (Tosafos, Shabbos op. cit.). The Bach adds that people should not daven wearing footwear that leaves their ankles exposed. One could argue that this depends on what is considered appropriate footwear in the place where you are living. This is based on a statement of the Aruch Hashulchan that if people do not wear respectable footgear, or walk barefoot in the place where you are, you are not required to don nice footgear in order to daven, but one should still not daven barefoot, even when that is common in your location (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:5).

Work Clothes

May one daven midday and midweek in the rough clothes required for the work that one does to earn a living?

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach discusses a person who works wearing shorts or other garments that one would not wear when visiting a respected individual. He rules that one should not daven this way (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

One can actually find a Talmudic source for this ruling. In a different context, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that one should not serve one’s master his meal while wearing the same clothes used while cooking his meals. The clothes used to cook are presumably food-stained and sweaty; a respected master expects to be served by a waiter or servant wearing clean and smart-looking clothes.

Pajamas and robes

May one daven wearing pajamas, bathrobes or similar attire?

Since it is inappropriate to appear in front of respected people wearing pajamas, one should not daven that way either. I note that in one contemporary source, I saw that he ruled that someone who is ill may daven wearing pajamas (Tefillah Kehilchasah Chapter 7, footnote 78). Personally, I would suggest putting on nicer clothing on top of the pajamas in order to daven, if not too ill or weak to do so.

As far as davening while wearing a robe, it would appear that this depends on the type of robe in question. If it is a bathrobe that you would only wear in the house, you should not daven attired this way (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:6). However, I see no problem davening while wearing a smoking jacket or a fancy robe.

Short sleeves

Is a man permitted to daven wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket over it?

I was once asked this question, when I was on a visit to the Miami area. I answered that this depends on whether an attorney would enter a courtroom dressed this way. At the time, I was told that in Dade County (where Miami is located), it is acceptable for an attorney to represent a client in court without wearing a jacket.

Subsequently, I found that this question is disputed by some late authorities. Rav Ovadyah Hadaya, in his Shu”t Yaskil Avdi, ruled that one may not daven wearing short sleeves, since this is not considered a respectable way to dress when meeting dignitaries. However, Rav Ovadya Yosef disagreed, ruling that one may daven this way (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 4:8).

Winter clothes

May one daven wearing winter clothes, which you would not usually wear in the presence of a respected person?

One may wear these garments when it is cold, since one would greet a respected person outdoors dressed this way (see Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18).

Gloves

May one daven wearing gloves?

The Bach writes that one should not daven while wearing gloves.  However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach explained that the Bach was referring to work gloves, since one would not greet a respected person without taking them off. If it is cold where you are, you may daven wearing winter gloves, since you would also greet a respected person this way (see Mishnah Berurah 91:12 and Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18, ftn 29).

Neckties

Is a man required to wear a necktie when he davens?

According to what we have seen, the rule is that the attire for davening should be the way people dress in your location when visiting a respected individual. If, in your place, this would not be done without wearing a necktie, one should wear one when davening. If this is not expected where you are, it is not required.

Dirty clothes

There are also early sources that imply that one’s clothes must be reasonably clean when one davens (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10; Rema, Orach Chayim 53:25). This is certainly a problem if the clothes have an objectionable odor.

One of the examples mentioned by the early halachic authorities is an interesting situation. In a certain town, the chazzan, who apparently led services during the week as well as on Shabbos, also worked as the town shocheit, a very common practice in earlier times. (There is even a term used for this position, a shovshatz, which stands for shocheit ubodeik, sheliach tzibur, referring to all the roles in which this individual served the community.)

In this particular town, the shocheit apparently had the habit of showing up to mincha and maariv wearing the same clothes he had worn to shecht earlier that day. The people complained both about the physical appearance of his clothing and the odor that emanated from them. The Kolbo, a rishon, ruled that the shovshatz should be advised to change his clothes to cleaner ones before he arrives in shul to lead the services. If, after being warned to do so, he ignores the admonition, this provides grounds for dismissal (quoted in Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10).

Wearing clothes respectfully

Not only should one wear respectable clothes when davening, but one should be careful to wear them in the proper way. For example, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that someone should not daven with a jacket draped over his shoulders, since one does not speak to prominent people attired in that fashion (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Hands over heart

Proper davening requires more than just proper clothing. When the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) discusses these laws, he adds the following: “He should place his hands folded right over left on top of his heart and stand like a servant in front of his master in awe, fear and trepidation. He certainly should not place his hands on his hips because this appears haughty.” While davening, one should cast his eyes downward and think of the Might of Hashem and the lowliness of man. One should think: “How can I, poor and despised, come to approach the King of Kings?” (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 95:5).

Right over left

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam’s statement that the right hand should be bent over the left hand and both on his heart. Although the Rambam mentions placing one’s right hand over one’s left, there does not appear to be a Talmudic source for this. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 95) explains that there is a kabbalistic reason for this practice, in that it alludes to the midas harachamim, symbolized by the right hand, being stronger than the midas hadin, symbolized by the left. Some authorities add that one should have one’s right thumb inside his left hand or a similar position whereby the fingers are coiled inside one another. Later authorities note that this particular position should be assumed only when it is a time of difficulty (Graz, Orach Chayim 91:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:7).

The Magen Avraham (95:2) comments that the hands over the heart and related positioning depend on how servants stand to supplicate in a particular place. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should stand in the position that, in your location, a servant would assume when beseeching his master.

Versus tefillah betzibur

What is the halacha if changing into appropriate clothes for tefillah will cause him to miss davening together with the tzibur? Which takes priority, the mitzvah of hikon or tefillah betzibur?

If he can find a later minyan with which to daven, he should wait until he has a chance to change. However, if he will not be able to daven with a later minyan, the mitzvah of hikon does not override the mitzvah of davening with a minyan (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

The Kuzari notes that every day should have three, very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. When we recognize that tefillah is so valuable, we must certainly realize that it must be treated as a special time, and our attire when we daven should reflect this. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisroel!

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Heter Shopping

Reuven, who studies assiduously in a kollel, asked me the following shaylah:

“I recently inherited some money with which I repaid a private loan used to buy our home. Although I always give maaser (ten percent) of my earnings to tzedakah, I forgot this time, and subsequently asked Rav A what I should do, since I no longer have money for the maaser. He told me that I am obligated to pay this money to maaser and should consider it a debt that I must pay back gradually, even though this will take years. I then asked him whether I need to perform hataras nedarim (the procedure whereby one renounces vows) for my practice of giving maaser money, since in the interim I will be significantly behind on my usual maaser giving. He told me that he was uncertain about this latter question and that I should ask someone else.

“Subsequently, I approached the son of a prominent posek requesting that he ask his father whether I should perform hataras nedarim, telling him the whole story. He returned with the reply, ‘My father said that, in your circumstances, you are not obligated to give maaser kesafim from the inherited money.’

“Now, I am a bit confused and I have a new shaylah. I know that one may not ask the same shaylah from a second rav after receiving a ruling. However, I did not ask the prominent posek to rule on whether I must give maaser. May I rely on the answer I received from the second posek absolving me from paying maaser, since the second rav is a greater authority than the first? Does it matter that I was not asking the second rav the same shaylah I asked the first?”

REQUESTING A SECOND OPINION

Before proceeding with surgery or some other major medical procedure, people usually seek additional information and opinions. Similarly, why not ask a different rav his opinion? Possibly, the second rav may even influence the first rav to change his opinion!

In order to explain this matter, we must first examine why one may not re-ask a shaylah. This topic is often simply referred to as chacham she’horah, lit.,a wise man (or Torah scholar) who ruled.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 7a) states, “One who asked a shaylah from a Torah scholar and he prohibited, the questioner may not ask a different scholar hoping that he will permit.” This ban forbids not only asking the shaylah a second time, but also prohibits a different scholar from answering the shaylah, as the Gemara states elsewhere (Niddah 20b): “If a Torah scholar forbade something, a different one may not permit it.” Thus, we see that not only is it forbidden to go “heter shopping” after receiving a psak, but also that a rav may not assist someone to “heter shop.”

The Rishonim deliberate why, indeed, one may not re-ask a shaylah. Here are three approaches:

Approach #1: RESPECT FOR A TALMID CHACHAM

Some explain that seeking a second opinion implies that the first rav is incompetent; re-asking the shaylah is an affront to his honor (cited by Ran to Avodah Zarah).

Approach #2: THE RAV DETERMINES

The Rosh (ad loc.) explains that when a rav is asked a shaylah, his ruling makes the item either permitted or forbidden. According to this approach, the rav’s ruling determines the halachic status of the item in question, and there is no purpose in asking the shaylah again.

Approach #3: ACCEPTING THE PROHIBITION

A third approach explains that, when submitting a question to a rav, the questioner accepts the rav’s decision and considers the item either permitted or prohibited, according to the ruling. Therefore, if the rav rules the item forbidden, the questioner has accepted this decision as binding. Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a s.v. hanishal) views this as an example of “shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – considering something as prohibited,”even when everyone else knows that it is not. I will clarify this principle with a different case.

A man believes that he is a kohen, although there is insufficient evidence for his assumption. Since most Jews are yisroelim and not kohanim, his basic status is a yisroel, and he has none of the rights of a kohen. Therefore, he may not duchen, redeem a bechor or receive the first aliyah to the Torah. However, since he considers himself a kohen, he must assume the stringencies of a kohen, such as not attending funerals or becoming tamei to a corpse in any other way, or marrying a woman prohibited to a kohen. Since he himself believes that he is a kohen, he is shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura – he must consider himself prohibited as if he is a kohen.

According to this approach, when I ask a shaylah, I am accepting the rav’s opinion as binding halacha. I cannot change this psak by asking a different rav, even if the second rav is more competent.

HOW DO THESE APPROACHES DIFFER?

According to the first approach quoted, one may not seek a second opinion, because attempting to circumvent the rav’s decision slights his honor. However, if one happens to become aware of a differing opinion without attempting to go “over the first rav’s head,” one might be permitted to follow the second opinion. This is because, even though asking a shaylah a second time shows lack of respect to the first rav,once one becomes aware that the matter is disputed, the status of the case changes to the general shaylah of what to do when there is a dispute among poskim. This general shaylah is beyond the scope of this article.

Thus, according to the first approach, Reuven might be free to ignore the halachic decision of the first rav. Unfortunately for Reuven, most Rishonim do not follow this approach.

Is there any halachic divergence, however, between the Rosh’s position that the rav’s decision determines the halacha (Approach #2), and that of Tosafos, that the questioner accepts the rav’s decision (Approach #3)? The usual way to understand their argument is that according to the Rosh, the decision creates the law, whereas according to Tosafos, it is a stringency that the questioner must observe but it does not become the law. Is there any practical difference between the two positions?

LENIENT RULING

Indeed, there is! According to Tosafos’ approach, the first rav’s ruling is binding only if he was stringent, but not if he ruled leniently. If the first rav ruled leniently, not only may one ask a second opinion, but also, if the second rav ruled stringently, one is bound to follow the strict opinion. According to the Rosh, the first rav’s ruling is binding in either case, since his decision creates the law, and one would not be obligated to follow the second rav’s opinion.

HOW DO WE RULE?

The poskim dispute whether we follow the opinion of Tosafos or that of the Rosh. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) and the Taz rule like the Rosh, whereas the Shach (ibid. 59) and the Gra rule like Tosafos.

WHAT IF THE RAV ERRED?

Although the Gemara states that someone who asked a shaylah may not ask a different scholar, hoping that he will be lenient, Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 7a) rules that if one feels that the first rav erred, he may ask a second rav. If the first rav’s ruling was clearly an error, his decision is overruled. This is because such a basic error is not considered a halachic ruling at all.

What type of error is overruled?

There are three possible reasons why two poskim might disagree:

A. Machlokes beshikul hadaas – a difference of opinion.

The most common case is where two poskim understand the subject differently, resulting in different rulings. This is not an error but a difference in outlook, and the first rav’s verdict cannot be overturned.

B. Ta’us beshikul hadaas – an error in judgment

Sometimes the original decision was because the first rav ruled like one side of an earlier dispute; however, accepted practice follows the conflicting view of that dispute. This is considered an error of judgment, ta’us beshikul hadaas, since it was based on judging which opinion to follow. The poskim dispute whether such an error can be overturned (see Rama, Yoreh Deah 242:31; Shach, ad loc., and Choshen Mishpat 25:14:17).

C. Ta’us bidvar mishna – an error in facts

There are instances where the ruling is clearly erroneous. This is when the rav was unaware of information that overturns his ruling, such as where the ruling conflicts with an undisputed statement in earlier poskim or is based on inaccurate factual information (see Mishnah, Bechoros 28b). It also includes cases where the rav subsequently discovered that contemporary halachic authorities rule differently from the way he did, and he would have accepted their position, had he known (see Sanhedrin 33a).

If, indeed, the first rav erred, his ruling is invalid. Because this is so, one may ask a second rav to investigate whether the first rav’s ruling is erroneous (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 7a).

The Rama (Shu”t #28) discusses such a case. While salting a large pile of meat on Pesach, someone discovered a wheat kernel lying on one piece of meat. The question was whether all the pieces of meat are now chometzdik and must be thrown out, or whether only the piece that actually touched the kernel is prohibited. The rav who answered the shaylah ruled leniently, but a different rav disagreed vociferously. The question was submitted to the Rama for arbitration. What is the status of the meat?

In a lengthy discussion, the Rama demonstrates that one cannot prove that the first rav erred. Therefore, the Rama rules that the meat is permitted, since he contends, like the Rosh, that once the first rav ruled leniently, that is the halacha – unless the ruling was an error. According to the opinion of the Shach, who rules like Tosafos, if the second rav’s opinion is more likely accurate, all the meat is prohibited. This is because the first rav was lenient; if he had ruled stringently, both the Rosh and Tosafos would agree that the first ruling is binding.

(By the way, the second rav who contended that all the meat was forbidden may not eat it, because of shavya anafshei chaticha de’issura. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss whether he may eat food cooked in the pots used to cook this meat.)

Thus, we can now answer Reuven’s original shaylah. Although he would like to follow the more lenient opinion of the second posek, once he asked the first rav, he is bound by this decision and must give maaser.

MAY THE RAV CHANGE HIS MIND?

We now understand that unless the original rav erred, one cannot follow the opinion of a different rav who disagrees. However, what happens if the rav who originally prohibited the item changes his mind and now feels differently about the issues? Can the rav change his mind from what he originally ruled and change his psak halacha in that case?

Although one might think that this is certainly permitted, if one considers the reasons mentioned above, it is by no means obvious. Once the rav declared the item prohibited, who says that even he can change his ruling? Indeed, many poskim contend that he cannot, unless his first ruling was an error (Shach, Yoreh Deah 242:58), although others rule that he may change his ruling (Ran, Avodah Zarah 7a, Rama, Yoreh Deah ad loc. and Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 242:58-60). An authoritative responsum on this subject appears in Shu”t Panim Meiros (#2).

A RECURRING SHAYLAH

What happens if the shaylah recurs? If someone asked a shaylah from a rav and the rav ruled stringently, and now the questioner has the same shaylah again, is the questioner bound to follow the psak he received previously?

The Rama (Yoreh Deah 242:31) rules that the binding decision of a rav applies only to the shaylah just asked. However, if the same shaylah recurs, one may ask the shaylah to a different rav. Also, if the first rav changed his mind and someone subsequently asks him a similar shaylah, he may and should rule differently, reflecting his current opinion.

THE SAUSAGE FACTORY

I found a very interesting halachic discussion about this very point. In the United States of the 1930s and ’40s, kashrus supervision was very chaotic. It was not uncommon for a businessman to own both kosher and non-kosher food operations, and, unfortunately, this led to many scandals when unscrupulous individuals sold non-kosher food as kosher. The Agudas Harabbanim, then the pre-eminent rabbinic organization in North America, issued a ban on the practice of providing a hechsher to a business owned by someone who also owned a non-kosher business.

A new shaylah arose when large conglomerate corporations that owned non-kosher businesses purchased kosher abattoirs or sausage companies. Was the rav who had previously provided the hechsher to the kosher business now required to remove his hechsher, simply because the parent corporation also owned non-kosher businesses, or did the prohibition to give a hechsher apply only to a business whose management or active ownership included non-kosher operations?

The Agudas Harabbanim assembled a beis din to adjudicate the matter. While this beis din was deliberating, someone questioned whether this beis din could debate the subject, contending that the Agudas Harabbanim had previously prohibited this practice in an earlier ruling. Thus, claimed the naysayer, it was a case of chacham she’horah – the issue was already a closed matter and there was no room to reopen the case!

In a teshuvah penned on Tu Bishvat 5694, Rav Yosef Konwitz, who had previously been the rav of Tzfas and at the time wasa rav in New York, argued that this is a different shaylah, and that the earlier ruling had covered only the case at hand then (Shu”t Divrei Yosef #10). Although the reasons behind the previous ruling may indeed be brought to bear on this case, the newly created beis din has every right to rule on the new cases and to rule differently from the earlier case, if the dayanim disagree with the earlier psak.

We have now established the basic rules whether the psak one receives can be overturned. The basic rules are:

I. If the original psak was an error, as defined above, then the psak is not valid.

II. If it was not an error, then, according to most poskim, the original psak is valid and the rav himself cannot change his ruling on that case. Some poskim contend that the original rav may change his opinion on the original case.

III. The original psak does not affect subsequent cases, even if they affect the same person and he asks the same rav.

Most importantly, we learn from our discussion that once one receives a psak prohibiting something, one may not shop for a heter to permit it.

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When does Mincha Start?

Question #1: Why Mincha?

If the word mincha means a “gift” or sometimes, more particularly, “an offering made from flour,” why does this word refer exclusively to our afternoon prayer, rather than to any of our other prayers?”

Question #2: When Mincha?

“When is the optimal time to daven mincha?”

Question #3: What Mincha?

“What do the words mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah mean?”

Introduction

The Gemara in Brachos that I will cite shortly quotes a posuk from this week’s parsha as the source for our daily mincha prayer, providing an opportunity to discuss some of the laws concerning when one may begin davening mincha.

Why mincha?

But first, why do we call the prayer mincha? As our questioner noted, the word mincha means a gift, and the Torah uses the term mincha to refer to a grain offering, which could be offered at any time of the day. Some mincha offerings were voluntary, whereas others were required. Some were private offerings, such as the forty loaves that accompanied the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering. Others were korbanos tzibur, public offerings, such as the lechem hapanim that graced the shulchan in the Beis Hamikdash, the korban omer offered on the second day of Pesach,and the special shtei halechem that were offered on Shavuos.

Assuming that our daily afternoon prayer corresponds to the afternoon korban offered in the Beis Hamikdash (as we will soon discuss), that offering is called tamid shel bein ha’arbayim, the offering brought every afternoon. The term bein ha’arbayim means the afternoon, since it is after the sun begins its daily descent and beforesundown. The korban tamid was offered twice a day, in the morning, shacharis, and in the afternoon, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, since our morning prayer is called shacharis, shouldn’t we call the afternoon one bein ha’arbayim? And, even assuming that the prayer is called mincha because the tamid shel bein ha’arbayim was accompanied by a mincha offering, the morning tamid, also, was accompanied by a mincha offering, yet its corresponding prayer is called shacharis.

As you would imagine, I am not the first one to pose this question; about 800 years ago, it was raised by Tosafos (Pesachim 107a, s.v. Samuch), who provides two answers. Tosafos suggests that since korbanos mincha accompanied the two daily korbanos tamid, and the morning one is called shacharis, the afternoon korban was called mincha. Perhaps calling the afternoon prayer bein ha’arbayim was considered too unwieldy.

Tosafos presents a second approach, which is based on a Talmudic passage that refers to the prayer of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel as mincha. To quote the Gemara, “A person should always be careful concerning the mincha prayer, since Eliyahu was answered only with the mincha prayer” (Brachos 6b). Tosafos notes that Eliyahu prayed while the afternoon korban mincha was offered (see Melachim I 18:36), and therefore, the association of a successful prayer with the korban mincha was established– and the name stuck! Brachos

A different rishon, the Avudraham, suggests a third approach, which is based on the fact that Adam Harishon sinned in the afternoon – the same time of the day when we would be praying the mincha service. The Torah describes that Adam sinned leruach hayom, which Targum Onkelos calls manach yoma, the same word as mincha!

Thus, whereas according to both of Tosafos’ approaches the term mincha used for the afternoon prayer is borrowed from a different context, in Avudraham’s understanding, the word mincha does mean the afternoon.

Having answered the first of our opening questions, let us now begin an introduction that is needed to explain and answer the second question. “When is the optimal time to daven Mincha?”

Prayer origin

The Gemara (Brachos 26b) reports a dispute between amora’im regarding the origin of our three daily tefillos. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that tefillos were established to commemorate the daily korbanos offered in the Beis Hamikdash, whereas Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina contended that they were established by the Avos. Specifically, Avraham Avinu established shacharis, Yitzchok Avinu created mincha, and Yaakov Avinu instituted maariv, each of which the Gemara derives from pesukim.

The Gemara then demonstrates that both Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s approach and that of Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina date back to the time of the tanna’im, and it concludes that both opinions are correct – the tefillos were established by our forefathers and, at the same time, our observance also includes a commemoration of the daily korbanos. This is evidenced by the halachic requirement to recite these tefillos at the times appropriate for offering their corresponding korbanos. In other words, the times governing when each tefillah should be recited match the time that the corresponding korbanos were offered in the Beis Hamikdash, and, before it was built, in the Mishkan.

Prayer deadline

The Mishnah (Brachos 26a) discusses the latest time that one may daven the various prayers, citing a dispute regarding the latest time for shacharis, the tanna kamma holding at midday and Rabbi Yehudah holding at one third of the day, two hours before midday. (This is the conclusion of the Gemara on 27a; the Gemara also concludes there that we paskin like Rabbi Yehudah.) Similarly, the Mishnah (Brachos 26a) cites a dispute as to the latest time that one can daven mincha.

However, the Mishnah does not mention when one may begin davening mincha. Instead, a beraisa quoted by the Gemara (26b) shares the following, seemingly incomplete, information: “When is mincha gedolah? After six and a half hours. And when is mincha ketanah? After nine and a half hours.” The Gemara does not explain what halachic significance these two terms, mincha gedolah and mincha ketanah, have. From the context, it appears that each of these two terms refers to a time in the day, but from what point are we measuring 6½ hours and 9½ hours, and how long is the hour we are using in our measure? And, what halachic ramifications do these two times have?

Different hours!

Whereas our contemporary clock uses hours that are all exactly sixty minutes long, and each minute is also of the same, exact duration, this method of calculating time, although extremely accurate from one perspective, does not take into consideration the major event that defines our day – the path of the sun around the earth, or the earth around the sun.

As we all well know, the length of time of daylight varies greatly throughout the year, and sunrise and sunset always vary slightly from one day to the next. Chazal use a calculation of time that involves dividing the daylight hours into 12 equal units. These hours, which vary in length from day to day, are called sha’os zemaniyos (singular, sha’ah zemanis). As we will soon mention, there are different opinions whether we calculate this from halachic dawn, called alos hashachar, until nightfall (tzeis hakochavim, when the stars are visible) or from sunrise to sunset. For our purposes, let us assume that we consider sunrise to be the beginning, or “zero-hour” of our day, and sunset as the end of the twelfth hour. We now divide our day into twelve equal hours, but the length of each hour will vary throughout the year.

When is noon?

Calculating this way, the end of the sixth hour is always exactly midday, the point in the day when the sun is at its highest point and closest to being directly overhead. (In reality, the sun is never directly overhead, unless one is located somewhere near the equator, between the two tropics. North of the tropics, the sun is always in the southern half of the sky, rather than directly overhead.) This time of the day is sometimes called “high noon,” which is the time of the day when the sun creates no shadow, and halacha calls it chatzos.

We should be careful not to confuse this with 12:00 noon on our clock. Twelve o’clock is rarely the actual time of chatzos; this is primarily because the creation of time zones caused the time on our clocks to diverge from the sun’s time. Standardized time zones were not formulated until the invention and common use of the railroad. Until that time, each city created its own time, based on sunrise and sunset in that city, and noon and high noon were identical. However, this system proved difficult to use when trains arrived on a schedule from a different city, where sunrise was earlier or later on a given day. In order that people could anticipate when the trains would arrive in their town, they created a system whereby people in different places would keep the same clock.

Mincha gedolah

Returning to the passage of Gemara in Brachos, the question is why the beraisa is telling us about two points of the day, called mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah.

The Rambam appears to have understood the beraisa to be explaining when is the earliest time to daven mincha, but provides two times. One, mincha gedolah, is the earliest possible time, whereas the other is the preferred time. In other words, the earliest time to daven mincha is at 6½ hours, although it is preferred for someone to wait until 9½ hours to daven mincha. This is because it is ideal to daven mincha later in the day and closer to sunset.

Other rishonim appear to have understood this passage somewhat differently from the Rambam (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 233, citing Rosh and Tur), although there is not a significant difference in halacha between the two approaches. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that, even according to the Rambam, waiting until mincha ketanah to daven is not required, but only preferred. If there is a reason to daven at mincha gedolah, such as if one would like to begin a seudah, one may. Certainly, the exigencies of travel or employment allow one to daven at mincha gedolah, even according to the Rambam.

Clocking minutes?

When, on my clock, have we reached mincha gedolah? Assuming that I know when chatzos is, do I add thirty minutes to determine when is mincha gedolah? Or must I know exactly how long each sha’ah zemanis is today and add half of that to chatzos, which will make mincha gedolah either somewhat earlier or somewhat later than it is according to the 30-minute method, depending on the part of the year?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 233:1) rules that we use the calculation of sha’os zemaniyos. Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah (233:4) accepts this conclusion, in his own notes on his rulings (Shaar Hatziyun), he queries that perhaps this should be determined by thirty clock minutes. Why?

As we mentioned above, the time for each prayer is based on a corresponding korban in the Beis Hamikdash. In the case of tefillas mincha, the corresponding korban could have been offered immediately after chatzos (see Mishnah Pesachim 61a). We wait an additional half hour to make sure that no one errs and offers it too early. Since the extra half hour is to make sure that a person does not miscalculate, perhaps its time should be thirty minutes, not dependent on whether the day is longer or shorter (see Rashi, Pesachim 93b). Should the hedge factor to avoid error vary according to season?

Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah implies he is uncertain whether this half hour should be zemanis or not. Because of this, the minhag in Yerushalayim, for example, is to bestringent in both directions. In winter months, when a sha’ah zemanis is less than an hour, the practice is not to daven mincha until thirty minutes after chatzos. In the summer months, when a sha’ah zemanis is greater than an hour, mincha gedolah is calculated on the basis of 6½ sha’os zemaniyos.

Davened earlier

What is the halacha if someone davened mincha between halachic midday and mincha gedolah, which is too early to daven? Must he daven again?

Based on the words of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, the Magen Avraham concludes that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah and is required to daven again.

Rashi implies that he agrees with this position, when, in his comments explaining this beraisa in Brachos 26b, he writes: “If one would like to offer the afternoon tamid earlier than mincha gedolah, he may not, since the Torah says bein ha’arbayim, which means when there begin to be evening shadows, because the sun is now inclining to the western part of the sky. This is after 6½, since between 5½ and 6½, the sun is directly overhead.”

This leads to the following question: The Mishnah (Pesachim 61a) states that the korban Pesach cannot be offered before noon, but implies that, if offered immediately after halachic noon, it is kosher. Yet, the time for both the daily afternoon tamid and the korban Pesach is expressed in the Torah by the same term, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, if the korban Pesach is kosher when offered at halachic midday, a korban tamid offered at midday should also be kosher. Therefore, the daily mincha prayer, which corresponds to the afternoon tamid, should be “kosher” when prayed at midday – in other words, it should fulfill the mitzvah, at least bedei’evid (Pri Megadim).

Although there are approaches to resolve this question, the Pri Chodosh and other acharonim dispute the conclusion of the Magen Avraham, concluding that someone who davened mincha after chatzos but before mincha gedolah fulfilled the requirement and does not daven mincha again (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 232:1 and 233; Aruch Hachulchan; Mishnah Berurah 233:2, quoting Beis Yaakov and Magen Giborim).

Tashlumim

There is a halachic rule that someone who missed one of the daily prayers should make it up during the next tefillah slot by reciting a second shemoneh esrei, immediately after davening the correct, appropriate prayer. For example, if someone missed mincha, then, immediately after reciting shemoneh esrei of maariv, he should recite a second shemoneh esrei, to make up the missed mincha. This replacement prayer is called tefillas tashlumim.

The following question is germane to someone who davened mincha too early; that is, he davened after chatzos and before mincha gedolah, in which case, according to the Magen Avraham, he is required to daven mincha again. What if the person did not daven the mincha again that day, does the Magen Avraham require him to daven a tefillas tashlumim for the missed mincha? Some contend that, in this situation, the Magen Avraham does not require a tefillas tashlumim. Their reason is that tefillas tashlumim does not replace the lost mitzvah of tefillah bizmanah, the prayer recited in its correct time, since that cannot be replaced – rather, a tefillas tashlumim replaces only a missing tefillah. But, in our situation, this individual davened – although he recited his prayer before mincha gedolah. Although he may have missed mincha bizmanah, nothing is gained from having him daven a make-up because he has already davened (Tenuvas Sadeh).

Mincha ketanah

I mentioned earlier the Rambam’s opinion that the optimal time to daven mincha is after mincha ketanah, which the beraisa teaches is 9½ hours of the day. How do we calculate “9½ hours of the day”?

As discussed earlier, there are various opinions how to calculate this, some measuring the day from alos hashachar until tzeis hakochavim and others from sunrise to sunset. The most accepted approach is to calculate the 9½ hours as measured from sunrise to sunset. In fractions, this is 19/24 into the sunshine part of the day.

Conclusion

Often, we are in a rush – there is so much to do, I need to get to work – and we know, all too well, the yetzeir hora’s methods of encouraging us to rushthrough davening. We all realize that davening properly requires reading slowly and carefully, and that 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! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points – the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos, together with those of Klal Yisrael!

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Rav Lazer Shach – the Transmitter of Mesorah

In honor and memory of Rav Shach, whose yahrzeit is on the 16th of MarCheshvan, I am sending this article.

The yahrzeit of Rav Elazer Menachem Man Shach falls on the 16th of MarCheshvan. Rav Shach was the last surviving member of his generation of gedolei Yisrael, and as such was the link to gedolei Yisrael of over 100 years ago, whom he knew well and whose approach to Yiddishkeit he taught.

Rav Shach’s birth date is usually reported as Erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 5655/1895, although the exact year of his birth is uncertain. He was born in the village of Vaboilnick, Lithuania, at a time when all of Lithuania and Eastern Poland were under the rule of the Russian Czar. His family was wealthy in yiras shamayim, but destitute in worldly possessions.

Rav Shach would often point out that the gedolim of his generation developed because of the tremendous sacrifice they had for Torah and their lack of material wealth. Indeed, his early years are reflective of the tremendous difference between his generation and ours.

HIS FIRST YESHIVAH PONEVITZ

Rav Shach developed a deep attachment to Torah at a very young age. When he was eleven years old, Rav Shach left his home and his hometown to go to the Yeshivah Ketanah in Ponevitz. At this period in history, it was very common for eleven-year olds to be apprenticed for work. Poverty among Jews in Czarist Russia was rampant; government anti-Semitism made it almost impossible for Jews to earn a living. They were banned from most professions and trades, and generally tried to eke out a living from manual labor, small trade or farming, although a fortunate few had small businesses.

Out of necessity, children as young as eleven and twelve were commonly apprenticed to skilled and semi-skilled craftsmen. There was often not enough food at home to feed them, and if they were apprenticed, at least they were fed and clothed, albeit poorly. A lucky, young apprentice might even earn enough money to buy a pair of shoes to help him through the harsh Russian winter.

Some dedicated youngsters ignored the relative security of apprenticeship and left for yeshivah at a very young age. This usually meant going to the nearest large town or city, where a prominent talmid chacham headed a yeshivah that was conducted in a local, unheated shul building.

The conditions that Rav Shach and the other young talmidim endured in no way approximated current yeshivah conditions. These yeshivos had no kitchens, dining rooms, or dormitories. The student body was comprised of bochurim learning in a shul or beis medrash, guided and taught by a local rav when he was not occupied with his communal responsibilities.

Many yeshivah bochurim came from very poor families that could not afford to send them any money. With no funds, they slept in the beis medrash where they learned day and night, or found work as night watchmen in unheated factories or warehouses. This at least provided a roof over their heads during the bitterly cold Russian or Polish winters and a little money to buy food.

Bochurim with no money to buy food usually ate “teg.” Every day (tog) of the week, they were assigned to eat with a family, who often did not have sufficient food for themselves. As a result, many bachurim went days on end without a proper meal. Rav Shach used to describe the embarrassment and deprivation he suffered during his yeshivah days.

STORIES FROM PONEVITZ

Rav Shach often told stories from his years in Ponevitz, thus preserving for our generation the mesorah of Ponevitz Yeshivah and the gedolim who lived and visited there. (The Ponevitz Yeshivah in Bnei Braq was founded by Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who was the last rav of Ponevitz before it was destroyed by the Nazis.)

When Rav Shach arrived in Ponevitz Yeshivah Ketanah as an eleven-year old, Rav Itzele Rabinovitch, who was known as Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, was the rosh yeshivah and the rav of the town. Rav Itzele was famous as the genius of his generation, a rather impressive title, considering that it included such Torah luminaries as Rav Chayim Brisker, Rav Dovid Karliner, the Ohr Somayach, the Divrei Malkiel, the Rogatchover Gaon, the Avnei Neizer, Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chofetz Chayim, and the Aruch Hashulchan.

Rav Itzele’s hasmadah (diligence in Torah study) was legendary. He would learn until his last ounce of energy was exhausted and, invariably, fell asleep with his boots on, even when they were covered with mud. (The streets of Ponevitz were as yet unpaved.) As Rav Shach expressed it, if Rav Itzele had enough energy to take off his boots before falling asleep, he would not have used the strength to remove his boots, but to learn more Torah!!

Rav Shach illustrated Rav Itzele’s tremendous fear of sin with the following story. When a Jew opened his business on Shabbos in Ponevitz, Rav Itzele resigned from his position as rav, explaining that he was petrified to go to the Beis Din shel Maalah (the heavenly tribunal) as the rav of a community where Shabbos was publicly desecrated. Eventually, the chevrah kadisha forced the storeowner to close on Shabbos, by refusing to bury his father until he agreed to close the store on Shabbos!

Rav Shach quoted this story to point out the awe of Hashem of earlier generations. How many modern day rabbonim would resign their position because someone in their city desecrates Shabbos?

Another aspect of Rav Itzele’s righteousness that affected Rav Shach was his tefilah. Rav Itzele would daven with a burning passion. This made a tremendous impression on the young, budding scholar.

Rav Shach pointed out that Rav Itzele’s innovative style of learning was praised by some and criticized by others. He quoted Rav Chayim Brisker criticizing Rav Itzele as being expert in three Talmuds, the Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Talmud Rav Itzele. In other words, Rav Chayim considered Rav Itzele’s approach to learning as more conjectural than analytic. Others disagreed with Rav Chayim, contending that Rav Itzele’s shiurim were total brilliance.

Unfortunately, very few of Rav Itzele’s brilliant chiddushei Torah were saved for posterity, other than a small sefer titled Zecher Yitzchok. Rav Itzele’s talmidim included Rav Naftoli Trop, who later became the rosh yeshivah of the Chofetz Chayim’s yeshivah in Raden, and Rav Boruch Horowitz, who later became a magid shiur (Talmud Lecturer) in Slabodka.

SLABODKA

After several years, Rav Shach left the Ponevitz Yeshivah Ketanah for the Yeshivah Knesses Yisrael in Slabodka, which was the “mother of yeshivos” in those days. Most of the gedolei Yisrael of Rav Shach’s generation were educated in Slabodka.

Slabodka was a suburb of Kovno and stood on the opposite bank of the Vilaya River from Kovno. Although Kovno was politically and economically far more important (between the two world wars, it was the capital and largest city of Lithuania), Slabodka was clearly the Torah capital of Eastern Europe. It was the home of not one, but two major yeshivos, at a time when there were very few large yeshivos. Surprisingly, both these yeshivos were created by the same gadol, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, always referred to as the “Alter from Slabodka.”

The older of the two yeshivos, Yeshivas Knesses Beis Yitzchok, (named after Rav Yitzchok Elchanan Spektor, the rav of Kovno and the posek hador when Rav Shach was born) was a non-mussar yeshivah. The yeshivah schedule was devoted exclusively to learning, and no official time was set aside for mussar and personality development. The yeshivah’s hashkafah (philosophy) was that a student immersed in Torah did not require structured mussar, and that, on the contrary, it might even stunt his growth in Torah learning.

When Rav Shach arrived in Slabodka, the rosh yeshivah of Knesses Beis Yitzchok was Rav Boruch Ber Levovitz. In addition to being a tremendous gaon in learning, Rav Boruch Ber was also a tzaddik who never looked up when walking in the street and was completely unconcerned with the mundane world.

The other yeshivah in Slabodka was the mussar yeshivah, Knesses Yisrael, which was named after Rav Yisrael Salanter. Its rosh yeshivah was Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. (It is interesting to note that both Rav Boruch Ber and Rav Moshe Mordechai had studied under Rav Chayim Brisker, when he was a magid shiur [a lecturer] in the yeshivah of Volozhin. Thus, Rav Shach absorbed Rav Chayim’s methodology through them.)

The two yeshivos of Slabodka were in excellent rapport with one another, as one would expect when the yeshivos are run by great tzaddikim. Students of one yeshivah attended shiurim at the other and sought out its magidei shiur and roshei yeshivah to “talk in learning.” Thus, although Rav Aharon Kotler officially studied in Knesses Yisrael, he and others regularly attended Rav Boruch Ber’s shiur at Knesses Beis Yitzchok. The attitude of the great luminaries running these yeshivos was that the more Torah institutions there were, the more Torah would be learned. This attitude influenced many of Rav Shach’s later decisions about opening new yeshivos.

Rav Shach attended Knesses Yisrael, the mussar yeshivah, whose guiding spirit was its mashgiach, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the famed “Alter of Slabodka.” (His title, the “alter” [the older mashgiach], distinguished him from the other mashgiach, Rav Ber Hirsch Heller, who was his junior by a few years. Rav Heller later became the father-in-law of Rav Yaakov Kaminetski, one of the yeshivah’s many talented students. Many decades later, Rav Yaakov and Rav Shach, who knew one another from their Slabodka days, renewed their acquaintance as gedolei and manhigei klal Yisrael, when they met in Yerushalayim to discuss community concerns.)

The Alter held that a rosh yeshivah or mashgiach must devote all his energy to his talmidim. A wealthy man once brought his only son to study in Slabodka. As he presented his son to the Alter, he begged him, “Please take good care of this boy. He is my ‘ben yochid’ (only son).” The Alter replied, “Every talmid of the yeshivah is my ben yochid.” This was not mere rhetoric, but the Alter’s way of life. For example, Rav Shach related that the Alter fasted when a bochur failed to learn or grow in his Yiddishkeit. This approach to chinuch influenced Rav Shach’s leadership not only of his talmidim, but also his relationship to people who came to seek his advice.

To appreciate what Rav Shach absorbed in Slabodka, we need to understand the Alter, who was an indirect disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar Movement. The Alter developed the teachings of Rav Yisrael and his early disciples to meet the challenges of his time. Furthermore, he was brilliant at understanding talmidim and nurturing them to their greatest potential.

The Alter’s original contribution to the Mussar Movement was his emphasis on “Gadlus Ha’Adam” – that a person should develop with his own unique abilities in order to serve Hashem to the maximum.

The Alter nurtured an impressive list of gedolei Torah including Rav Shach, Rav Aharon Kotler of Lakewood, Rav Yaakov Kaminetski of Torah Voda’as, Rav Reuvain Grozovski of Beis Medrash Elyon, Rav Yaakov Ruderman of Ner Yisrael, Rav Yizchok Hutner of Chayim Berlin, Rav Moshe Chevroni of Yeshivas Chevron. As Rav Shach used to say, an entire generation of gedolei Yisrael, both in America and in Eretz Yisrael, was trained by one man: the Alter from Slabodka.

Each of these gedolim was a tremendous talmid chacham and a gadol in learning, leadership, and mussar. The Alter developed each one of them in his own unique way. Thus, Rav Hutner was a brilliant leader of men, and his talmidim also excel in hashkafah, Torah machshavah (Jewish thought), and the writings of the Maharal. Rav Yaakov Kaminetski’s greatness as a gadol manifested itself in his unusual expertise and perception in giving advice. Furthermore, he was especially gifted in poskim, Tanach, and dikduk. Rav Ruderman was a person who could quote verbatim virtually every early sefer ever published – and at the same time train a young talmid to think for himself. In addition to his lightning-fast mind and brilliance in learning, Rav Aharon Kotler became the community leader who motivated people to work for the kahal (community) in areas where no one else was successful. He has been described as “fire on earth.”

A common thread of the talmidim of Slabodka was that, although they were totally committed to learning, when the need arose, they involved themselves in community responsibilities. Rav Shach, too, would happily have spent all his time learning and teaching Torah, but he unhesitatingly assumed community responsibility when it became necessary.

Following the Alter’s teachings, Rav Shach developed into the proactive leader of klal Yisrael, both collectively and individually. When the time came, he was totally willing to render decisions on any issue – political, religious, educational, kashrus, organizational. Although he always emphasized and demonstrated that nothing is more valuable than learning Torah intensely to the best of one’s abilities, he assumed the mantle of communal leadership and made crucial decisions when it was necessary.

Slabodka had a tremendous effect on Rav Shach, although he was able to remain there for only two years, until the outbreak of World War I. The eastern front of the war, between Russia and Germany, raged through the areas of heavy Jewish settlement in western Russia. All the yeshivos fled, most of them deeper inside Russia.

RAV ISSER ZALMAN AND RAV AHARON

Details of Rav Shach’s travels during the war are unclear, but we know that he found his way to Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer’s yeshivah in Slutzk. Rav Issar Zalman had also studied under Rav Chayim Brisker in the yeshivah of Volozhin, and he then proceeded to develop his own style of learning. Rav Shach used to quote Rav Chayim as saying, “Had Rav Isser Zalman followed completely in my footsteps, he would have become the master of my style of learning. Instead, he became the master of his own style of learning.” Rav Shach approved highly of this approach and never insisted that talmidim should absorb his style of understanding Gemara. It was far more important to him that they develop their own derech in learning.

In Slutzk, Rav Shach became the chavrusah of Rav Aharon Kotler, who had married Rav Isser Zalman’s daughter, Perel. Eventually, Rav Aharon became a magid shiur in the yeshivah and later the rosh yeshivah.

In 5684/1923, Rav Shach married Gittel Gilmovski, Rav Isser Zalman’s niece. For the next five years, he continued toiling in Torah day and night. In the meantime, the Communists seized power in Russia and Rav Aharon moved the yeshivah to Kletzk, Poland, which was free of Communist rule.

In 5689/1929, Rav Shach became a magid shiur in Kletzk and began his lifelong career as a Torah teacher. Until the Second World War broke out ten years later, he was a magid shiur or rosh yeshivah of several yeshivos, , first in Kletzk, next in Novardek and afterward, for four years as rosh yeshivah of the chassidishe Yeshivas Karlin in Lunenitz. Subsequently, he returned to Kletzk.

Rav Shach related that, shortly after the Second World War broke out, the invading Soviet army was approaching Kletzk from the east. It was obvious that the yeshivah needed to relocate quickly, and Rav Shach went looking for potential sites. In one town, he met an old Jew who was a grandson of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Shach asked him whether the town had an appropriate beis medrash or shul large enough for the yeshivah, whether the local people would help support the yeshivah, and whether they could provide lodging for the talmidim.

Turning to Rav Shach, the old man retorted, “Why are you delaying? First, bring the talmidim here, and set up the yeshivah. Do you think that the people will allow the talmidim to sleep in the street? You don’t need extensive planning, but you do need quick action!”

“From that yid,” said Rav Shach, “I learned a tremendous lesson. In times of emergency, don’t raise questions. Act!”

It was characteristic of a baal mussar like Rav Shach to tell a story in which he himself was the target of the message.

THE CHOFETZ CHAYIM

After Rav Isser Zalman moved to Eretz Yisrael in 5685/1925, he often sent inquiries to Rav Shach to bring to the Chofetz Chayim. Rav Shach used these opportunities to become well acquainted with the Chofetz Chayim’s way of observing and understanding the world.

Years later, when important communal matters came up, Rav Shach often said, “I don’t know anything about this subject, but I understand from the Chofetz Chayim that this is what should be done,” or “I have not heard anything about this matter, but I have no doubt that the Chofetz Chayim would decide such-and-such. Since the Chofetz Chayim is no longer alive, I must make that decision for our generation.” Thus, by sending Rav Shach to the Chofetz Chayim with his questions, Rav Isser Zalman was grooming a future gadol hador.

ERETZ YISRAEL

In 5701/1941, Rav Shach escaped the inferno of Europe for Eretz Yisrael. Before he found his position as rosh yeshivah in the Ponevitz Yeshivah, he was a magid shiur in several yeshivos in different cities, including Petach Tikvah, Rechovot, and Yerushalayim. During this time, he lived in Yerushalayim and developed a relationship with the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Ze’ev Soloveichik (the son of Rav Chayim Brisker), who transferred the mesorah of Brisk to Yerushalayim. (The current rosh yeshivah of the Brisk Yeshivah in Yerushalayim, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveichik, is the Brisker Rav’s grandson, while Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveichik, rosh yeshivah of another very prominent Brisk yeshivah, is a son of the Brisker Rav. The “Brisk”-type yeshivos are headed by descendants of Rav Chayim Brisker or by their talmidim.)

The Brisker Rav was known for his meticulous observance of mitzvos. Rav Shach noted that while many people purchase new suits in honor of Pesach, the Brisker Rav would buy a new jacket to use at the table, in order to be absolutely certain that his clothes were chometz-free!

In 5711/1951, Rav Shach was invited by the Ponevitzer Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, to become rosh yeshivah of Ponevitz Yeshivah in Bnei Braq, and he held this position until his passing, fifty years later. During this time, he gradually became acknowledged as the gadol hador. Thousands of people sought his guidance, dozens of yeshivos asked him for direction, and he was the active leader of the chareidi world, making decisions on the many challenges that affect Torah life in a modern world. He charted the Torah path in dealing with a secular, modern state. Never hesitant to issue decisions and opinions on public matters, whether popular or not, Rav Shach ruled according to the mesorah he had received from gedolei Yisrael. Torah was not to be a public relations tool, but the seal of truth.

AVI EZRI

In 5708/1948, Rav Shach published the first volume of his sefer, Avi Ezri. This sefer is organized according to the order of the Rambam, although in many places it contains his chiddushei Torah (original ideas) on Gemara. His approach is to answer difficult questions on the rishonim in a clear, deceptively simple way. Although the sefer is relatively easy to read, it should be used only by someone who has studied the subject matter in depth. Otherwise, he will fail to see the sefer’s greatness.

Unlike many other authors, Rav Shach did not collect numerous haskamos (approbations) for his sefarim. His first volume carried only one haskamah — from his wife’s uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. His second volume, published in 5716/1956, also has only one haskamah — from the Brisker Rav (Rav Isser Zalman had passed away by then).

The sefer is built on intellectual honesty. Sometimes, in a later volume, Rav Shach will contend that what he wrote in an earlier volume isincorrect. In his hakdamah (introduction) to thefirst volume, he describes the extreme honesty that one must apply to learning — a manifestation of the training he received in Slabodka and from Rav Itzele.

In the hakdamah, Rav Shach questions whether one has the right to publish sefarim if he is not convinced that he has researched the subject thoroughly. How can one claim that he has studied the subject to its greatest depth? Furthermore, if one republishes a sefer (the first volume of Avi Ezri was published four times in Rav Shach’s lifetime), one should ostensibly relearn each sugya, to see if one still agrees with what one wrote before  – just as a rav may not pasken a shaylah that he has ruled on previously, without reviewing the question once again.

Rav Shach closes his hakdamah with a realistic conclusion. If we published only those sefarim written totally lishmah, exclusively for the sake of Torah, we would never produce any sefarim at all, and Torah learning would be severely hampered. We are permitted to produce sefarim that increase Torah learning, which is our goal. Hesitating to publish a sefer would minimize Torah learning and leave more opportunity for the intrusion of non-Torah hashkafos.

A FEW VIGNETTES

Everyone finds much to identify with in Rav Shach’s stories and mussar. I will share with you some of the stories that I find particularly touching.

A well-known talmid chacham was offered the position of magid shiur in a yeshivah where the previous holder of the position had been unsuccessful. Before taking the position, he came to ask Rav Shach for advice and a beracha. Much to his surprise, Rav Shach recommended that he turn down the position. Rav Shach explained that, although it is permitted to accept the position, it is inadvisable to accept a position that will cause a talmid chacham to feel bad because someone else replaced him.

Rav Shach was annoyed at the common practice of yeshivah students setting aside time for a daily nap. “When you get tired,” he said, “put your head down for a few minutes. But there is no reason to devote a specific time in the day for this purpose.”

He was once asked to be the sandek for one baby of a set of twins, while the grandfather was to be sandek for the other twin. Rav Shach insisted that he either be sandek for both twins or for neither. He pointed out that later in their lives, the two twins might compare themselves, and one would point out that Rav Shach had been his sandek and not his brother’s. He did not want to be party to something that could lead to ill feeling between two brothers.

Often, Rav Shach pointed out that the pace of learning in the European yeshivos that produced gedolim was much quicker than is common today. He noted that in Slabodka, they regularly studied ten blatt of Gemara a week. Rav Shach remarked, “Even if we did not understand the sugya properly at first, we would understand it better the next time around.”

Through Rav Shach, a generation of yeshivah students was connected to the mesorah of the Chofetz Chayim, the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Chayim Brisker, Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, Rav Yisrael Salanter and the Mussar Movement. Ye’hi Zichro Baruch.

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