Carrying on Shabbos

Question #1: A Private Area Owned Publicly?

Can a “private area” be under public ownership?

Question #2: Owning a Public Area

Is it possible to own a public area?

Foreword

The 39th of the melachos of Shabbos is usually called “carrying,” although the Hebrew term hamotzi (Shabbos 73a) translates as “removing,” moving something from an enclosed to a public area. In parshas Beshalach, the Torah states: Hashem gave you the Shabbos. For this reason, He provides you with two days’ supply of bread on the sixth day. Each person should remain where he is and not leave his place on the seventh day” (Shemos 16:29).

The sentence each person should remain where he is and not leave his place means not to leave home while carrying the tools needed to gather the mann (Tosafos, Eiruvin 17b). Thus, the Torah prohibits carrying from one’s house, or any other enclosed area (halachically called a reshus hayachid), to a reshus harabim, an area established for public use. Chazal further explain that moving an item from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim violates Torah law even if someone did not carry it but remained in the reshus hayachid and threw it or handed it to someone else, as long as the item was transferred from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim (Shabbos 2a, 96a-b).

Reshus harabim to reshus hayachid

We derive from other sources that it is prohibited min haTorah to transport an item in the other direction — from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid — and also to carry or transport it four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. Pashat). Since the melacha includes more than “carrying” or “removing,” a more accurate English term for this melacha is probably “transporting” or “conveying.”

The purpose of this article is to provide introductory information identifying what qualifies as a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim min haTorah, and the names and definitions of two other jurisdictions. There are far too many details in this melacha to cover in one article, and, therefore, providing practical halacha le’maaseh will need to wait for further articles on the subject.

Introduction

Germane to the min haTorah laws of carrying on Shabbos, every place in the universe falls under one of three Torah categories: reshus hayachid, an enclosed area; reshus harabim, an area meant for public thoroughfare or for public use; and makom petur, an area that does not meet the definitions of either a reshus hayachid or a reshus harabim. There is also a fourth area created by rabbinic injunction, called a carmelis, which we will discuss.

Reshus hayachid – these words literally mean a private domain. The term means an enclosed area and has nothing to do with who owns it. Min haTorah, a reshus hayachid does not need to be fully enclosed; it is sufficient if it is enclosed most of its way around by walls, or their equivalent, that are at least ten tefachim tall (approximately three feet). (There are disputes about details that we will leave for the time being.)

A reshus hayachid must be at least four tefachim (approximately fourteen inches) long by four tefachim wide. If the area is narrower than four tefachim, it is not a reshus hayachid, but a makom petur, which we will define shortly.

From the depths

The walls of a reshus hayachid need not necessarily go up – they can go down from ground level. In other words, a pit, a manhole, a sewer or a mine that is at least ten tefachim deep and four tefachim long and wide also qualifies as a reshus hayachid. Carrying from this “hole in the ground” into a reshus harabim, or from a reshus harabim into it, are violations of Torah law.

Sloping reshus hayachid

Some or all of the “walls” of a reshus hayachid can be created by the slope of a mound whose top is at least ten tefachim higher than the area around it, and the mound rises to this height within a walking distance of four amos or less, thus creating a significant angle of slope (Shabbos 100a; see Mishnah Berurah 345:5).

Above

Once an area is categorized as a reshus hayachid, the space above it also qualifies as a reshus hayachid, regardless of the height. This is referred to by Chazal as reshus hayachid olah ad larakia (Shabbos 7a, b; Eiruvin 32b, 34b), literally, “a private domain rises to the sky.” Thus, since throwing something from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid is a melacha de’oraysa, tossing an item on Shabbos from a reshus harabim that lands on top of a pole in a reshus hayachid violates a Torah prohibition of carrying. This is true even if the item lands at a point hundreds of feet above the ground.

The walls enclosing a reshus hayachid are part of the reshus hayachid. Therefore, atop the walls is also part of the reshus hayachid, as well as any drawers, shelves, cracks or crevices along its inside walls, regardless as to their dimensions or height (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:4). The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the entire crevice, even when it penetrates the entire wall to a reshus harabim area on the opposite side, is part of the reshus hayachid. However, in one instance some later authorities disagree with the conclusion of the Shulchan Aruch. When the crevice is in the lowest ten tefachim of the reshus hayachid and it passes through the wall to the reshus harabim on the other side, the Elya Rabbah and the Gra conclude that the crevice has the halachic status of a reshus harabim, not a reshus hayachid.

Movable reshus hayachid

A reshus hayachid can be portable and can even be a storage item or vessel sitting in a reshus harabim. Thus, the standard American mailbox sitting on the street corner, which is larger than four tefachim by four tefachim and more than ten tefachim tall, is a reshus hayachid, notwithstanding its location in a public area. Garbage cans whose sides are at least ten tefachim tall and contain an area at least four tefachim by four tefachim qualify as a reshus hayachid, both inside and above it. If the garbage can is round, it must be large enough to contain a square area four tefachim on each side (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:6).

Thus, moving something lying on the street onto or into a mailbox, garbage can or dumpster may violate carrying on Shabbos min haTorah.

Similarly, the hood, trunk or roof of an automobile are reshuyos hayachid, since they are ten or more tefachim tall and at least four tefachim wide and long. Therefore, carrying an item from a reshus harabim and placing it atop a car or truck, or removing something from atop a car or truck and placing it in reshus harabim are violations of carrying min haTorah.

A publicly owned, private area?

At this point, we can address our opening question: Can a “private area” be under public ownership?

The answer is that it can. Germane to the rules of Shabbos, a “private area,” reshus hayachid, refers to it being enclosed, not to who owns it.

Reshus harabim

Reshus harabim, which literally means “a public domain,” refers to an area intended for public use. There are several requirements for an area to qualify as a reshus harabim, the most basic being that it must be at least sixteen amos (about twenty-eight feet) wide (Shabbos 99a), that it must be unroofed (Shabbos 5a) and that it is meant to be a public thoroughfare or for other public use, such as a marketplace (Shabbos 6a). It is not required that it be sixteen amos wide for its entire length — if there are places in which it narrows to a width of only 13 1/3 amos, it still qualifies as a reshus harabim (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:9).

A side street or alleyway that is less than 16 amos wide qualifies as a reshus harabim if it connects two reshus harabim areas (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:8). Similarly, an intra-city road leading from one city to another is a reshus harabim, even if it is less than 16 amos wide, when the cities it connects qualify as a reshuyos harabim.

Some authorities contend that a reshus harabim cannot be inside an enclosed area. However, the Be’er Heiteiv (345:7), quotingthe Rashba, andthe Baal Hama’or (Eiruvin 22a),quoting Rabbeinu Efrayim, disagree with this last opinion, contending that an area sixteen amos wide meant for public thoroughfare is a reshus harabim, even if it is enclosed by walls.

Below three tefachim

As opposed to a reshus hayachid, which includes all the area above it, a reshus harabim includes only the area near the ground. In other words, if the ground is not perfectly smooth, the three lowest tefachim of the small hills and indentations, both below and above street height, are part of the reshus harabim. An area that rises more than three tefachim above or is more than three tefachim below street height is no longer part of the reshus harabim. At times, as we will soon see, the area more than three tefachim above the reshus harabim is a makom petur.

600,000

The rishonim dispute whether an area that meets all the other requirements of a reshus harabim, but does not service 600,000 people on a regular basis, qualifies as a reshus harabim (Rashi, Eiruvin 6a and 59a; Tosafos, Eiruvin 6a s.v. Keitzad). For a reason I will explain shortly, those who require 600,000 people for the area to be a reshus harabim permit an eiruv in an area that does not have this many people even when it meets the other requirements of a reshus harabim. The established practice among Ashkenazim is to rely on this approach (Taz and Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 345), although not all authorities accept it (Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov #120 s.v. Hinei harishon and Biur Halacha 345:7 s.v. She’ein).

Whether Sefardim rely on this approach is disputed by later authorities (commentaries on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:7 and 303:18). The exact definition of what is meant that “600,000 use the area” is the subject of much literature and dispute. (Among numerous other authorities, see commentaries on the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim passages above; Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim #25, 26; Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:139:5; Shu”t Mishnas Aharon, Orach Chayim #6.)

Within a reshus harabim

Carrying more than four amos in a reshus harabim is forbidden and usually violates a melacha min haTorah. Carrying an item from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim or from a reshus harabim to a reshus hayachid also usually violates a melacha min haTorah.

Usually an area enclosed by walls does not qualify as a reshus harabim (Eiruvin 22a). What is the halacha if an area is enclosed for most of its length, but there are large gaps in the enclosure? For example, walls or buildings enclose most of an area – however, in the middle of the area there are streets that cross through city blocks. Is this area that is mostly surrounded by buildings and other structures considered a reshus harabim because of its use, or has it lost this status because it is “enclosed”?

The Beis Efrayim and the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 107:5) contend that this is considered an enclosed area min haTorah, notwithstanding the large breaches in its enclosure, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov and Rav Aharon Kotler consider it to be a reshus harabim min haTorah. The lengthy correspondence on this question between the Beis Efrayim and the Mishkenos Yaakov also covers a host of other related issues (Shu”t Beis Efrayim, Orach Chayim # 25, 26; Shu”t Mishkenos Yaakov, Orach Chayim, #120-122).

Owning a Public Area

At this point, we can address the second of our opening questions: Is it possible to own a public area? If the question is whether privately owned property can qualify as reshus harabim (i.e., it has the physical properties that define a reshus harabim for hilchos Shabbos), the answer is “yes.”

Makom petur

This is an area into, within and from which there is no prohibition of carrying on Shabbos at all. In other words, it is 100% permitted to transport an item from a reshus harabim to or from a makom petur on Shabbos, or to or from a reshus hayachid from a makom petur. But before getting excited that we can now circumvent the violation of carrying on Shabbos, we must note that it is forbidden to use a makom petur as a transit point to move something from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim, or vice versa. In other words, if an item started Shabbos in a reshus hayachid and was moved to a makom petur, it cannot then be moved to a reshus harabim. Similarly, an item that started Shabbos in a reshus harabim and moved to a makom petur cannot be moved afterward to a reshus hayachid.

A makom petur is an area less than four tefachim wide that is at least three tefachim high or is enclosed within “walls” that are this high. A telephone pole or a street sign qualify as a makom petur since they are more than three tefachim tall and less than four tefachim wide, as does a British or Israeli mailbox, which are significantly smaller than American mailboxes.

An area enclosed between parallel walls that are within four tefachim of one another is a makom petur, regardless of the length of the area. Similarly, a ditch or furrow narrower than four tefachim whose sides are three tefachim deep is a makom petur, even though it may be many miles long (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:19).

I noted above that it is permitted to transport an item on Shabbos from either a reshus harabim or a reshus hayachid to or from a makom petur. However, before attempting to do this, be aware that within a reshus hayachid, there is never a halacha of makom petur. Once an area qualifies as a reshus hayachid, everything inside and above it is also a reshus hayachid. More importantly, the rishonim dispute whether a makom petur exists within the area called a carmelis (which I will explain in the next paragraph). Those who hold that an area that would otherwise be a makom petur, but is inside a carmelis, has the status of a carmelis, will not permit moving an item from a reshus harabim or a reshus hayachid to or from it (Rema, Orach Chayim 345:19). Both the Rema and most acharonim rule according to the more stringent opinion, which severely limits the heter of a makom petur (Mishnah Berurah 345:87; however, see Biur Halacha 345:19 s.v. Veyeish).

Carmelis

Now that we have clarified the three areas that exist under Torah law, I need to explain a fourth area called a carmelis. A carmelis is a domain created by Chazal that has the stringencies of both a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim. Thus, it is prohibited to carry to or from a carmelis to a reshus harabim (because a carmelis has the stringency of a reshus hayachid), to or from a carmelis to a reshus hayachid, or for a distance of four amos or more within a carmelis (because it has the stringency of a reshus harabim).

What areas qualify as a carmelis? Any surface area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, and yet is not enclosed, qualifies as a carmelis. This includes fields, forests and other uninhabited areas, bodies of water, beaches, hills, etc. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:14). Another example: I mentioned above that any covered area is not a reshus harabim. Thus, the lower level of a bridge, such as the George Washington Bridge, and all tunnels are not reshuyos harabim, notwithstanding that they may be sixteen amos wide, made for public thoroughfare and have 600,000 people travel on them daily (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 345:7 and 14). Each of these areas qualifies as a carmelis, and carrying to, from and in them is prohibited, but only because of a rabbinic injunction. Most of these areas are a makom petur min haTorah, although some are a reshus hayachid min haTorah.

There are numerous practical halachic differences that result from the fact that the prohibition to carry in these areas is only miderabbanan. Because of space considerations, we will leave most of this discussion for future articles.

Eiruvability

Perhaps the most significant difference between a reshus harabim and a carmelis is that, in accepted practice, an eiruv permits carrying only in an area in which there is no violation to carry min haTorah (Eiruvin 6a-b). For this reason, before attempting to build an eiruv, a decision must be reached whether the area is halachically a carmelis, in which case it is possible to construct an eiruv, or a reshus harabim min haTorah, in which case it cannot.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos so that it should be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah did not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies purpose and accomplishment. Thus, even transporting items accomplishes something, notwithstanding that the object moved is not physically changed in the process. The goal of Shabbos is to allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation by withdrawing from our own creative acts (Shemos 20:11). By refraining from melacha for one day a week, we demonstrate Who created the world and authorized us to control it.

image_print

Chumash and the Fall of the Ghetto

The yahrzeit of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch,  a man to whom each of us owes a personal debt of gratitude, is on the 27th of Teiveis.

From the time of the French Revolution and continuing into the nineteenth century, the ghetto walls that had kept the Jews isolated from the world around them gradually fell all over central Europe. A result of this was that, no longer required to be part of their insular and observant Jewish communities, many Jews began to assimilate into the world environment now open to them and to throw away their Judaism.

In Eastern Europe, although the Jews were still kept isolated from full advancement into secular society, different forces, most notably the haskalah, accomplished similar purposes of distancing many Jews from the observance of the Torah. Among the challenges posed by some of the more intellectual who had abandoned Judaism, was their misunderstanding that the Torah as presented by Chazal bore differences from that of the written Torah.

At this time, several new and highly original commentaries on Chumash appear. Among these are Hakesav Vehakabalah, by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, the commentaries[i] of the Malbim to Tanach, the commentary of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Ha’ameik Davar, the commentary of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, known by his acronym as the Netziv. All four of these commentaries show the impact of the tumultuous times in which they were written, although there are major differences between their treatments of Chumash.

Hakesav Vehakabalah

Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, born in 1785, a disciple of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, became the rav of the city of Koenigsberg, then in Prussia, in 1831 and remained in that position until his passing 34 years later. Koenigsberg was within Germany but far to the east, and therefore Rav Mecklenburg saw both the problems of assimilation and reform that were happening in Germany and those of the haskalah and other non-religious movements of Eastern Europe. Hakesav Vehakabalah was intended as a response to attacks on Chazal’s understanding of Torah. In his introduction, he discusses the issues concerning the writing down of Torah shebe’al peh, quoting both the midrashim and the explanations of the commentaries on this question.

The explanations of Hakesav Vehakabalah are based on careful analysis of the root meanings and grammar of the words of the Chumash, using them to provide a clear interpretation of the pesukim, at times providing a Yiddish translation for a term. Although frequently he is highly original in his approach, he also often mentions the different approaches of the earlier commentaries and chooses the one that he demonstrates is the most accurate.

The first edition of Hakesav Vehakabalah was published in 1839. In his lifetime, three more editions were published, each including additional commentary or translation. He continued to add more to the work, and a further edition, including the author’s additional notations, was published posthumously in 1880.

The Malbim

Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel, who became known by his acronym, Malbim, served as the rav of many different communities in Eastern Europe. A brilliant talmid chacham, a warrior against the haskalah, and a prolific author, he is remembered to posterity primarily because of his commentaries on Tanach and the essays that accompany those commentaries.[ii] His commentary on Yeshayah, which is the first volume that he produced, includes an introduction in which he elucidates the principles that form the basis for his commentary on most of Tanach. These include that there are never two terms in Tanach Hebrew that mean the exact same thing, and that there are no repeated phrases or clauses. Each word in Tanach was chosen meticulously to provide a very specific nuance of meaning and that one must delve into the depth of this meaning. His works on Vayikra and Devorim are original commentaries to the midrash halacha on these seforim,in which he demonstrates how Chazal proved the correct halachic interpretation of each verse.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, born in 1808 in Hamburg, Germany, held rabbinic positions in Oldenberg and Emden, Germany, prior to becoming the Chief Rabbi of Moravia. Thereafter, he returned to Germany and established a Torah-committed community in Frankfurt. Towards the end of his life, after he had built a strong Torah community, he produced his commentaries to the Chumash, Tehillim and the Siddur. As he writes in his introduction, his commentary on Chumash was based on lectures that he had given on the subject, and he used the notes of attendees to those shiurim as the basis for his written commentary.

The Netziv

Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin was born in the village of Mir, then in czarist Russia, in 1817. At the age of 16 he married the daughter of Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin, the son and successor of the founder and Rosh Yeshivah of the famed yeshivah in that city, Rav Chayim of Volozhin, the esteemed disciple of the Vilna Gaon. From that time until his very last months, the Netziv was associated with the yeshivah of Volozhin, where he eventually became Rosh Yeshivah, a position he held for almost forty years until the yeshivah was closed in 1892, because of the insistence of the czarist government that it secularize its curriculum. The Netziv authored many works, including a commentary on the She’iltos of Rav Achai Gaon, commentaries to all the halachic midrashim, a commentary on Shir Hashirim, responsa, and his commentary to the Chumash, called Ha’ameik Davar.

Of the four authors we are discussing, the Netziv is unique in that his primary role was that of a rosh yeshivah, whereas the other three were communal rabbonim. All four of these gedolim were renowned poskim. But the Netziv was unusual as a rosh yeshivah in that he not only taught a daily Gemara shiur in which he went through the entire Shas (not only the so-called “yeshivish mesechtos”), but he also taught a daily class in the week’s parshah. His discussion and his commentary were based on his personal analysis of the pesukim or from ideas that he heard orally from talmidei chachamim such as his father-in-law, Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin.

The differences among these commentaries

Notwithstanding the similarities of purpose among these commentaries, each reflects its author’s unique contributions to Torah; thus, there are major differences among them. For example, the Malbim’s commentaries to the book of Vayikra and to most of Devorim are not devoted to explaining the pesukim, but to demonstrating how the halachic droshah of the Torah shebe’al peh is based on a particular way of understanding the Torah shebiksav. He developed an extensive system that provides the underpinning of all of the halachic derivations. In his introduction to Vayikra, he writes that he had initially intended to write his commentary explaining this derivative approach to every droshah of Chazal. However, he discovered very early in the writing of his commentary that the length of such a work would become unrealistic. Instead, he wrote a separate essay that explains the principles with which Chazal operated, and in his commentary he referred to the appropriate part of this essay when necessary.

Rav Hirsch also maintained that proper study of Torah shebiksav will leave you with the conclusions of Torah shebe’al peh. He noted that the Torah shebe’al peh was actually taught to the Jews first.[iii] Moshe received all the laws of Torah shebe’al peh at Har Sinai and taught them to the Jewish people gradually. The completed Torah shebiksav was not received by the Jews until the very end of Moshe’s life, immediately prior to the Jews entering Eretz Yisroel, or forty years after they had received the Torah shebe’al peh. This explains numerous passages in the Torah, including the commandment to slaughter animals ka’asher tzivisicha “as you were instructed,” meaning the sets of regulations that had been transmitted to Moshe at Har Sinai and previously taught to the Bnei Yisroel.

Comparing Torah shebiksav to Torah shebe’al peh

Both Hakesav Vehakabalah and Malbim mention that a major purpose of their commentaries is to demonstrate that Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh are one. In the introduction to the first volume of commentary he wrote on Chumash, Vayikra, the Malbim mentions specifically the tragedy of the reform convention that took place in 1844 in Braunschweig (called Brunswick in English), a city in Germany about 40 miles southeast of Hanover. The Malbim writes that when he heard of what had happened at the reform convention, he decided that klal Yisroel required a new commentary on Tanach written according to the mesorah. He notes that among the points he will be demonstrating is that Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh are one.

Although Rav Hirsch’s very brief introduction to his commentary does not emphasize this relationship between Torah shebiksav and Torah shebe’al peh, this foundation shows up literally hundreds of times in his commentary.[iv]

Uniqueness of Ha’ameik Davar

Of the four authors we are discussing, the Netziv’s commentary is actually quite original in a surprising way, which requires that we explain a bit of history concerning traditional Torah commentaries. Among the early classic commentaries on Chumash, the Ramban, Rashi and many others assume that any explanation of the written Torah must fit the conclusions of our Chazal and the Oral Torah. This approach accords well with the approaches of Hakesav Vehakabalah, Rav Hirsch and the Malbim.

However, among the rishonim this approach was not universally held. The Ibn Ezra, for example, often explains pesukim unlike the halachic conclusion. He certainly felt that the concept ein mikra yotzei midei peshuto,[v] no verse is interpreted without its most literal explanation,means that the Torah can be understood on many levels, and that the most basic understanding, pshat, does not necessarily require that it be consistent with the other levels. Many later authorities and commentaries criticize the Ibn Ezra for his approach.[vi] Yet, the Netziv also utilizes the same method, at times explaining a pasuk in a way that does not appear consistent with the halachic conclusions that we find in Chazal.[vii] Such an approach was anathema to Hakesav Vehakabalah, Rav Hirsch and the Malbim.

Uniqueness of Rav Hirsch’s commentary

The most obvious difference between Rav Hirsch’s commentary and those of the others is, of course, the language. Whereas the other commentaries are written in traditional rabbinic Hebrew, Rav Hirsch published his commentary on Chumash, and, indeed, all of his other works, in German. Using the vernacular to present the Torah was not an original approach of Rav Hirsch. Rav Sa’adiya Geon’s commentaries to Chumash, as well as all his other writings, were written in Arabic, as were the Chovos Halevovos, the Kuzari, and many other writings of the early Sefardic rishonim. Similarly, the Rambam wrote all of his works, with the exception of the Mishneh Torah, in Arabic. However, using the vernacular as a vehicle for presenting Torah had fallen by the wayside in the hundreds of years since the era of the rishonim With very few exceptions, Torah works were all published in Hebrew. As a young rabbi in Oldenberg, Rav Hirsch recognized the need to present the Torah in German. He certainly understood that he had a personal mission of providing Torah education to his generation, and to demonstrate that a proper understanding of Torah demonstrates its primacy over all of man’s endeavors.

In Rav Hirsch’s commentary there are instances when he wrote a comment in Hebrew. Invariably, these are the comments of a Torah scholar on a Talmudic discussion point that was not appropriate to the general audience for whom his work was intended. Yet, he was concerned that posterity should not lose the important halachic point he had realized. To accommodate this, he chose to write these points in scholarly, rabbinic Hebrew.

Aside from his use of German, there are many other ways in which Rav Hirsch’s approach is different from the other commentaries that we are discussing. Rav Hirsch’s commentary is not simply an interpretation of Chumash. He uses his commentary to demonstrate how the Torah should be used as the primary educational tool for man to grow as a human being. There is virtually not a comment of his on the Torah that is not explained as a moral lesson, what we call in our day a musar haskeil. It appears that Rav Hirsch deliberately restricted his commentary to topics that provide us with a musar haskeil. There are many occasions where he did not comment upon questions about pshat in a verse where it would appear appropriate for him to have done so. Apparently, he refrained from providing commentary where the conclusion would not provide any lesson one can utilize for personal growth.

Thus, Rav Hirsch viewed his commentary as a means of showing how to use Chumash as a lesson guide in what we usually call musar and hashkafah. In this, his commentary is very different from the other three works we are discussing, all of which are devoted to providing a commentary on Chumash and not focused specifically on being works of ethical and moral development.

From a mussar perspective, Rav Hirsch’s Torah commentary can provide a complete life-instruction manual on its own. We understand well why Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz told his students at Yeshiva Torah Vadaas that it would be worth their investment of time to learn to read German just for the sake of being able to read the writings of Rav Hirsch. (At the time that Rav Shraga Feivel advised his students to do this, no translation existed of Rav Hirsch’s Chumash commentary in any language, nor were most of his other writings available in Hebrew or English.)

Rav Hirsch called his Torah hashkafah by the term Torah im Derech Eretz, the details of which he developed at different places in his commentary.[viii]Although the expression is often misunderstood and misinterpreted, Rav Hirsch used this term to mean that Torah and its observance is always the primary focus of a Jew’s life, and that this can and must be done in all places, times and situations. Everything else that this world has to offer, including livelihood, education, culture, and social mores, must be subsumed within a Torah framework.

Reasons for mitzvos

One of Rav Hirsch’s most innovative approaches is his explanations of the ta’amei hamitzvah. Of course, we all realize that a human being could never claim to understand why Hashem commanded that we perform a certain activity or prohibit a different one. Nevertheless, while performing the mitzvah, there are lessons that we can derive that may help us appreciate to a greater extent our role in fulfilling Hashem’s mission for us on earth. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the term ta’amei hamitzvah should be translated not as reason for a mitzvah, but as taste of a mitzvah. While observing or studying the laws of the mitzvos, an educational reason that we can utilize should assist the experience of the mitzvah.

The concept of deriving educational reasons for mitzvos certainly did not originate with by Rav Hirsch. In one place in his commentary,[ix] Rav Hirsch quotes dozens of sources where Chazal discuss what lesson one can derive from the observance of the mitzvos, and we have several rishonim, most notably the Rambam in his Moreh Nevuchim and the Sefer Hachinuch, who devote much time to this study. However, Rav Hirsch added several dimensions to the concept of ta’amei hamitzvah. One dimension is that Rav Hirsch’s explanation of a mitzvah must always fit every detail of the halachos, the laws of the mitzvah. In this detail, his approaches vary from those suggested by the Rambam and the Sefer Hachinuch, whose reasons often do not fit all the details of the mitzvah.

Based on this approach, Rav Hirsch first develops and explains all the details of a mitzvah according to the halachic conclusion, and then weaves an explanation for the mitzvah that fits all those halachic details. At times, he must first take controversial positions regarding details of the laws of the mitzvah, something he is not afraid to do.

Frequently, Rav Hirsch presents approaches to ta’amei hamitzvos that none of the major mitzvah commentators suggest. For example, Rav Hirsch presents brilliant approaches to explain mitzvos such as arayos, keifel, arachin, and tumah and taharah, and why we disqualify blemished animals and blemished kohanim from the service of korbanos. In the case of tumah, he notes that the foundation of most religions is the fear of death, and this is when the priest assumes his greatest role. Quite the contrary, the kohen, the Torah’s priest, is banned from involvement with the dead. This is to demonstrate that the Torah’s goal is that we grow and develop throughout life – when we are in the heights of our best health. To emphasize this, we need to distance the kohen, whose role is to educate how to live as a Jew, from death.

Rav Hirsch uses the same concept to explain a different, seemingly baffling area of mitzvos. Why is a kohen who has a physical blemish or injury forbidden to serve in the Mishkan or the Beis Hamikdash? Similarly, why is an animal with a similar impairment prohibited as a korban? This emphasis on physical beauty or selectiveness seems to run counter to the Torah’s idea of equality. Everyone is equally responsible to develop a relationship with Hashem through His Torah.

Rav Hirsch explains that religions in general become the home of those who are challenged by society and cannot find their place. The Torah needs to emphasize that everyone’s goal is to grow and develop in his relationship with Hashem. The only way to convey this message fully is to demonstrate that the physically impaired cannot perform service in the holiest of places.

Rav Hirsch develops an extensive analysis of the reasons for korbanos in general, and the different korbanos in particular. Based on the nature of its species, its age and gender, each variety of animal is used to explain the message and concept of each type of korban.

Rav Hirsch explains beautifully why someone who is caught stealing is required to pay back double, keifel, whereas a robber is not. One who steals when no one is looking undermines a basic understanding that a society needs in order to function – that I can rely on a degree of trust among my neighbors. Thus, his sin undermined not only the trust of the individual whose property was stolen but also that of society as a whole, thus requiring a double act of compensation.

Ta’amei hamikra

Rav Hirsch emphasized that his commentary is based on a careful understanding of the Chumash text. Read the verse very carefully and see what it teaches. Include in the study the ta’amei hamikra, what is colloquially called the trop, according to which we read the text and which includes rules how to break a pasuk into smaller units to understand it correctly. To Rav Hirsch, any interpretation of the verse must include a proper understanding of the ta’amei hamikra.

Grammar — Dikduk and shoresh

There are several other ways in which Rav Hirsch’s commentary is different from other approaches to study Chumash. People often note his original use of dikduk, particularly his development of understanding Torah ideas based on the principle of shorashim that are phonetic cognates. This idea, used by Chazal and by rishonim,[x] is that different consonants that are articulated by using the same part of the mouth are related to one another.[xi] Thus, there is a relationship among the guttural consonants (ע ה א ח) that can be used to explain the meaning of related roots that use these or the labials (ב ו מ פ).[xii] Based on similar roots, Rav Hirsch develops a philosophic underpinning of the comparative roots, and then creates an associative meaning for each root. Often included within this system is a relationship pattern between similar consonants. For example, the tzadi often reflects a more intense version of other similar sounds, such as the sin. Thus, there is a conceptual relationship between יצר, which means to limit something for a specific purpose, and יסר, which educates, shapes and disciplines the spirit. In literally hundreds of applications of these ideas, Rav Hirsch demonstrates an entire world of educational themes, each of which teaches a Torah perspective on the world.

The shoresh of a word can often explain to us not only why a specific term is used, but may sometimes provide educational and religious lessons. For example, when mentioning that Avraham Avinu moved his followers from Shechem to the mountain, the Torah uses an unusual word ויעתק vayateik, which Rav Hirsch translates as He gave orders to move on.[xiii] Rav Hirsch there notes that this root is used in various places in Tanach for apparently different ideas, but whose common thread is that someone or something is moved unexpectedly or forcibly to a setting where it did not belong originally. Rav Hirsch thereby explains that Avraham realized that his followers needed to be isolated from the society around them for him to succeed in educating them, but he needed to overcome their resistance in doing so. Thus, from the proper study of the root of the word used, we gain an insight into Avraham’s pedagogic approach.

Rav Hirsch later notes that Avraham Avinu indeed took his followers with him to rescue Lot. This is seemingly an abrogation of his previous decision to have his followers live apart from society. The answer is that this was an emergency, and one cannot maintain separation under those circumstances. Again, we are provided with an education on how to run one’s life according to Torah standards.

Germane to this discussion, I would like to take issue with a comment made by the late Dayan Dr. Isaac Grunfeld in his beautiful essay written as an introduction to the first English translation of Rav Hirsch’s commentary to Chumash, by Dr. Isaac Levy. Dayan Grunfeld’s writes that the Hirsch Commentary is devoted to presenting “the unity of the Written and Oral Law as one of the fundamentals of authentic Judaism.” In this introduction, Dayan Grunfeld makes the following statement, “When Samson Raphael Hirsch began his commentary in 1867, he had the works of Mecklenburg and Hatorah Vehamitzvah of Malbim in front of him.” I presume that Dayan Grunfeld has some mesorah that this is true. However, from my work on Rav Hirsch’s commentary, and my comparison to the other two works, I personally am not convinced that this statement is accurate. My reasons are as follows:

When Rav Hirsch felt indebted to an earlier commentator, he always quoted his source. In the course of his commentary of Chumash, he quotes a wide variety of sources, including his rabbe’im, Chacham Bernays and Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (the Aruch Laneir), the highly controversial Naftali Wessely, and such late works as Harechasim Levik’ah. Yet, there is not a single reference anywhere in his commentary on Chumash to either Hakesav Vehakabalah or Hatorah Vehamitzvah.

The answer is simple: Rav Hirsch’s thrust in his commentary was different from theirs. His goal was not to demonstrate that Chazal’s understanding of Torah was the most accurate. His goal was to show that the Torah can be used as a basis for all of man’s growth in Torah, his proper personality development, and his hashkafah or world outlook.

There are places that Rav Hirsch leaves us with no explanation, whereas Hakesav Vehakabalah presents approaches that lend themselves perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s style of commentary. I will give one example: Rav Hirsch has almost no commentary to the lengthy list of travels that the Benei Yisroel made through the desert. Yet, Hakesav Vehakabalah has a beautiful explanation of the names and travels, which lends itself perfectly to Rav Hirsch’s use of Chumash to teach musar haskeil. Rav Hirsch himself uses other similar passages to teach musar haskeil, most noticeably the list of names of the decendants of Sheis. If he was in the habit of reading Hakesav Vehakabalah as part of his weekly reading, as Dayan Grunfeld implies, I cannot fathom why he did not use the opportunity to include these lessons in his Torah commentary and attribute them to Hakesav Vehakabalah, as he so often attributes explanations to earlier commentators.

Conclusion

Most of the innovations that have kept Torah alive in the last century are directly attributable to Rav Hirsch. Although Sarah Shenirer is the founder and basis of the Beis Yaakov movement, the originator of organized chinuch for women was Rav Hirsch, and his influence on everything related to the beginnings of the Beis Yaakov movement is axiomatic.

In most countries of the world, the majority of our Torah elementary schools and high schools include secular studies in their curriculum. This approach to Torah education is completely based on the framework of Rav Hirsch’s education system.

The extensive use of the vernacular for teaching Torah is another gift to us from Rav Hirsch. Certainly, the success of the numerous publishing houses that print and distribute Torah literature written in English, French, Spanish, Russian and other languages is completely based on Rav Hirsch’s producing his material in German.

The existence in the modern marketplace of highly trained professionals, as uncompromising in their professional standards as they are in their Torah observance, is directly attributable to the teachings of Rav Hirsch.

Rav Hirsch was the quintessential borei’ach min hakavod. Clearly, he saw his mission in life as educating the Jewish world with the beauty of Torah and its mitzvos. Leaving Moravia for what appeared to be a moribund Frankfurt may have been a disastrous move professionally, but for Klal Yisroel it has been the savior, not merely of the central European Torah world, but of virtually the entire contemporary Torah world. Yehi zichro boruch.


[i] I refer to the commentaries of the Malbim because, although he wrote on the entire Tanach, a rare accomplishment, his treatment of the different parts of Tanach is so varied as to make it difficult to refer to it as one commentary.

[ii] On Chumash, the Malbim follows two different styles. As I mention in the article, his work to Vayikra and parts of Devorim is an explanation of the midrashei halachah, the Sifra and the Sifrei, in which he delves into Chazal’s method of understanding Torah Shebiskav. On the other hand, his commentaries to other parts of Chumash bear close similarity to the commentary of the Abrabanel – he presents many questions on the topic at hand, and then weaves an explanation to answer them. Yet another style is presented in his commentaries to Esther and Shir Hashirim, in which he presents his own midrashic-style approach to these works.

[iii] Commentary to Bereishis 1:19

[iv] This point is the main thrust of Dayan Isaac Grunfeld’s introduction to Rav Hirsch’s commentary, which I will quote later in the article.

[v] See Yevamos 28a

[vi] See, for example, the second introduction of Yam shel Shelomoh of the Maharshal to Tractate Chullin.

[vii] For examples of this, see his explanation of the law of shifchah charufah, Vayikra 19:20 and of the pasuk velo setamei es admasecha, Devorim 21:23. See there how the other three commentaries we discuss deal with this topic.

[viii] See, for example, his commentary to Vayikra 18:4.

[ix] Devorim 24:18

[x] For example, see Rashi, Vayikra 19:16, where he explains that the word רכיל stems from the word רגל.

[xi] A language specialist calls these words homorganic consonants.

[xii] Those interested in seeing a systematic dictionary of Rav Hirsch’s work in this area are referred to Matityahu Clark’s Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, Feldheim Publishers, which Rabbi Clark writes is “based on the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

[xiii] Bereishis 12:8. Translation is from the Haberman edition.

image_print

Only New Chometz Apply

Since parshas Bo includes the prohibitions about chometz on Pesach

Question #1: First Fruits

Which korbanos are offered only from “first fruits”?

Question #2: New Grains

Which korbanos are offered only from the new grain?

Question #3: Wheat from Heaven!

May korbanos be offered from heavenly-dropped wheat?

Foreword

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

In honor of Shavuos

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

Introduction

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

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

Receiving the Torah?

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

Imported grain

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

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

Alef emphasis

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

Chometz

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

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

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

Who is first?

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

Meat with bread

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

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

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

Details, details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavenly wheat!

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

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

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

Stormy wheat

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

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

Brought too early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

image_print

A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

Question #1: Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

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

Question #2: Late Asher Yatzar

How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

Question #3: Davening Outdoors

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

Question #4: A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

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

Foreword:

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

Introduction:

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

Batei Kehunah

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

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport

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

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

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

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

Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late Asher Yatzar

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

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

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

Never too late

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davening Outdoors

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

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

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

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

Tosafos provides two answers to his question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

image_print

This Land Is My Land!

Yaakov plans to return to Eretz Yisrael…

Question #1: This Land is My Land!

How do we take possession of Eretz Yisrael?

Question #2: This Land is Your Land

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

Question #3: From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This land is my land!

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

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

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

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

This land is your land

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

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

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

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

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

From California

How far west does Eretz Yisrael extend?

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

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

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

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

From the redwood forest

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

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

To the Gulf Stream waters

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

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

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

This land was made for you and me!

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

I roamed and rambled

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

I’ve followed my footsteps

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

The sparkling sands

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

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

That golden valley

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

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

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

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

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

Her diamond deserts

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

The wheat fields waving

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

A voice was sounding

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

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

image_print

When Do We Not Make a Beracha on a Fragrance?

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

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

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

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

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

Answer:

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

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

I. Forbidden fragrances

II. Fragrances whose purpose is not for pleasurable smelling.

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

I. FORBIDDEN FRAGRANCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. Deodorizing fragrances

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

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

D. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

IIA. DEODORIZING FRAGRANCES

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

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

USING OILS AS A DEODORIZER

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

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

WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A FRAGRANCE IS BESAMIM OR A DEODORIZER?

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

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

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

IIB. INCIDENTAL TO PURPOSE

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

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

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

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

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

THE SPICE MERCHANT HIMSELF

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

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

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

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

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

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

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

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

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

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

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

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

THE GARDEN

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

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

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

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

THE FRUIT MARKET AND THE CONFECTIONER

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

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

THE PHARMACY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IID. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

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

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

TURPENTINE

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

Dear reader, how would you please answer this shaylah?

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

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

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

(Biur Halacha 217:3).

SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES

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

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

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

Those that we are not permitted to smell.

Deodorizers.

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

Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

Where one does not smell the source of the fragrance.

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

EXPRESSIVE FRAGRANCE

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

image_print

More about Birkas Hagomeil

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

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

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

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

Answer:

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

Someone else reciting

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

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

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

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

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

Deriving Halacha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uniqueness of birkas hagomeil

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

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

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

What about mentioning malchus?

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

The text

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

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

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

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

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

What about a child?

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

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

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

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

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

How much traveling?

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

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

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

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birkas hagomeil?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

image_print

The Place Where Yaakov Davened

Question #1: Ascending Har Habayis Today

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

Question #2: Non-Jews in the Beis Hamikdash

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

Question #3: Is Yaakov second rate?

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

(1) Land of Israel

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

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

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

Eastern side of the Jordan

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

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

(2) Walled Israeli cities

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

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

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

Capital punishment

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

Purim

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

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

(3) Yerushalayim

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

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

(4) Har Habayis

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

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

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

Ascending Har Habayis today

At this point, let us address our opening question:

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

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

(5) Cheil

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

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

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

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

(6) Ezras Nashim

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

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

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

(7) Ezras Yisrael

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

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

(8) Ezras Kohanim

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

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

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

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

(9) Between the mizbei’ach and the Kodesh

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

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

(10) The Kodesh

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

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

(11) The Kodesh Hakodoshim

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

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

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

Conclusion: Was Yaakov third rate?

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

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

image_print

Is a Position Inherited?

Question #1: The inherited shofar

“Our shul’s longstanding shofar blower passed on. Are we required to appoint his son, when we would prefer to appoint a different master blaster?”

Question #2: I’d like a change!

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas, in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

Question #3: Long live the Rabbi!

“When a rav passes on, does his son have a claim to the position?”

Answer:

In several places, Chazal derive that a son qualified for a communal appointment held by his father inherits the position (Horiyos 11b; Kesubos 103b; Sifrei, Devorim 17:20). To quote the Rambam’s halachic ruling on the topic: When the king, the kohen gadol, or a different appointee dies, we appoint, in his stead, his son or someone else who would inherit from him. Whoever would be first to inherit from him comes first for the position of the deceased, provided he is a valid substitute… the same is true for any appointment in the Jewish people — one who receives it does so for himself and his descendants (Hilchos Klei Hamikdash 4:20).

The Rambam mentions this law a second time,in which he explains in more detail what is meant by saying that the son is a “valid substitute”: whoever has a prior right germane to receive inheritance has a prior right for inheriting the monarchy… not only the kingship, but any other position of authority and any other appointment in Israel is an inheritance for his son and his son’s son, forever, provided that the son fills the place of his father in wisdom and fear of G-d. If he meets the standard in fear of G-d, but not in wisdom, we appoint him and then teach him. However, anyone lacking in fear of G-d, even if he is very wise, is not appointed to any position in Israel (Hilchos Melachim 1:7).

Retiring chazzan

One of the earliest surviving responsa related to this question was penned hundreds of years ago, when the Rashba was asked about the following case (Shu”t HaRashba 1:300). A chazzan/baal keriyah had been serving a community faithfully for 38 years, a position that he inherited from his father, who had inherited the position from his father. The current chazzan’s vision is now somewhat impaired, making it difficult for him to be the baal keriyah, and he has been having his son function as baal keriyah and also as community secretary and scribe, which apparently were other responsibilities included in the position. Some members of the community are dissatisfied with the new arrangements — they feel that the son does not have as nice a voice as his father. They are requesting that either the chazzan fulfill all the requirements of his position, or that he retire and allow the community to hire a new chazzan, who can perform to their specifications. When the community hired this chazzan over a generation before, he was able to perform all his tasks admirably. They are still satisfied with his skills as a chazzan, and they would not request that he step down, as long as he can fulfill his job. However, they feel that they did not hire his replacement, and they are dissatisfied with the son’s voice, which is not as melodious as that of his father.

For his part, the chazzan notes that he has a life contract with the community, which states that no one can take his place at any of his tasks without his permission. Furthermore, he claims that most of the 150 members of the community are willing to have his son help him in the areas that are now difficult for him, whereas only about ten members voice disapproval of the new arrangement. Each of the two sides in the dispute presented its position to the Rashba to rule on the case via correspondence. We are highly grateful that they chose this specific method of dealing with their litigation, because it provides a written record of the case and the Rashba’s detailed decision. Based on what we have seen so far, how would you rule?

The ruling

The Rashba sided with the chazzan for three different reasons:

First, when you hire someone for a position as chazzan, it is self understood that he will occasionally need someone to substitute for him, either because he is ill or needs to be out of town. The Rashba rules that it is within the authority of the chazzan to choose who should serve as his substitute, assuming that he chooses someone who can do an adequate job. (A later authority, the Keneses Hagedolah, notes that there is another requirement – the substitute is G-d-fearing enough to fill the position [quoted by the Mishnah Berurah 53:84].)

Second reason of Rashba

A second reason why the Rashba rules in favor of the chazzan is that the contract states that the community cannot have someone else take his place without his agreement. This implies that the chazzan has the authority, at his option, to choose someone to assist him in carrying out his responsibilities.

The Rashba does not make any distinction between having someone substitute for the chazzan on an occasional basis and having someone assume some of his responsibilities permanently. In both instances, he considers it the right of the chazzan to assign part of this job to someone else, provided the assignee can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the substitute or replacement perform the job at the same level as the chazzan himself.

The son’s right

The third reason the Rashba cites is that, should the chazzan no longer be able to fulfill his responsibilities, his son has the right to the position as long as he can perform the job adequately. It is not necessary that the son have a voice as melodious as that of his father, as long as he is G-d fearing enough to fulfill the position. It is, therefore, certainly true that the son has the right to assist the current chazzan ahead of anyone else. Some later authorities rule that the son does not have a right to the position if his voice sounds strange (Magen Avraham 53:32).

To simplify: The Rashba’s first two reasons explain why the chazzan has a right to choose his own replacement, and the third reason explains why the son has the right to assume the chazzan’s responsibilities, ahead of any other candidate.

Choosing someone else

What would the Rashba hold if the different reasons are in conflict – meaning that the son would like to be his father’s replacement, but the father does not want him? The Rashba implies that, should the chazzan want to appoint someone other than his son to help him with his responsibilities, he may do so.

How do we rule?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 53:25) quotes this Rashba, but implies that he limits the right of the chazzan to appointing his son, and does not accept that the chazzan has the right to appoint someone else. The Mishnah Berurah explains as follows: There are indeed two different concepts that explain why the Rashba ruled according to the chazzan. One is that the chazzan has a right to appoint a substitute to assist him on an occasional basis, or to take over for him while he is away or ill. However, it may be that this right is his only when the substitute is temporarily fulfilling one of the chazzan’s responsibilities. It may not follow that the chazzan can appoint someone to replace him permanently in one of his roles. In this instance, that job would pass to the chazzan’s son. In the opinion of the Rema, when a permanent appointment is being made, the son has the right to the position, whereas the Rashba, himself, held that the chazzan has the right to appoint even someone other than his son on a permanent basis to assist him in his responsibilities. We will soon see a possible source for the Rema’s opinion.

Inherited his voice?

Why does the son of a chazzan have the right to inherit his father’s position? After all, when the chazzan died, he made his son into an orphan, not into a chazzan!

However, as we saw above, this halachah is in fact the case for any position in klal Yisroel: A son has the right to his father’s position, as long as he meets the basic requirements for the position.

Can the son sell the position?

To what extent does the son have the right to the position? Can he offer the position to someone else, and if so, can he do so even for payment?

An early authority, the Mordechai (Bava Kama 8:108), quoting a responsum from his rebbe, the Maharam Rottenberg, discusses this exact question. He rules that although a position of authority among the Jewish people is bequeathed to a son, the son does not have any right to give the position to someone else. He compares this to the rights of a kohen or a levi, which also are bequeathed to sons, but cannot be sold or transferred.

This is explained nicely by the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #12), who notes that a position, even of king of the Jewish people, is not inherited in the same way that one inherits property. According to the Torah, when a man dies, his sons automatically become the owners of his property. They do not require an authorization of a beis din, a court order, or a formal transfer of title – the property automatically becomes theirs. This is not the case regarding the inheriting of a position. The son does not automatically become king or kohen gadol – he must be appointed to the position. (Those interested in knowing how the kohen gadol is appointed should check the following sources: Tosafos, Zevachim 18a s.v. Hagah; Tosafos, Yoma 12b s.v. Kohein; Tosafos, Megillah 9b s.v. Velo; Aruch Hashulchan Ha’asid,Chapter 23.)

Source for the Rema

This Mordechai might be the source for the above-quoted Rema, who ruled that the chazzan may transfer some of his responsibilities to his son, but cannot appoint someone else instead of his son. The Rema accepted that it is understood that a position of chazzan will require that he occasionally needs someone to substitute, and that the choice of substitute may be left to the chazzan. But the chazzan does not own the position to the extent that he can transfer it to someone else permanently, either completely or partially.

Other reasons

Let us return to the original responsum of the Rashba, in which he ruled that the chazzan has the right to appoint his own substitute. The Rashba contends that, even without a contract, the community cannot replace the chazzan. In a different responsum (Shu”t Harashba 5:283), heprovides several reasons why a chazzan or anyone else in a community position has a right to keep his post. One reason is that halachah recognizes that, once someone has been fulfilling a communal role, he acquires a chazakah, the right of status quo, to keep the position, as long as there is no reason to disqualify him.

The Rashba presents a second reason why an appointee has the right to keep his position: because of darchei shalom. It reduces machlokes when people have an assumption that replacements are not made arbitrarily. Anyone who has lived in a community where this is not common practice can certainly attest to the strife created when a public servant’s contract is not renewed. (However, see Shu”t Maharalnach, quoted by Magen Avraham 53:32.)

A third reason why the person has the right to keep his position is because, if he is replaced, people may think that this was because of malfeasance. Maintaining him in the position protects his personal reputation.

Exceptions

Even the Rashba felt that there can be exceptions to his ruling – in other words, there are some instances in which one may be able to terminate a person’s tenure from a community position without that person having committed a malfeasance. The Rashba notes that there are places in which the recognized custom is that all positions are regularly rotated. In these communities, all appointments, whether salaried or voluntary, are temporary. He explains that since this is an accepted practice in these congregations, the reasons mentioned above why one may not remove someone from a position do not apply. Since everyone knows that his appointment is only temporary, no machlokes should result when a replacement is made. Similarly, no one will assume that an appointee was replaced because of malfeasance.

The later authorities note that this is true only when it is already an established custom in these places that appointments are always temporary and replacements are made at a specified time. However, when it is usual practice that people remain in their positions, one may not remove someone from his position, unless there was malfeasance (Shu”t Chemdas Shelomoh #7and Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #206, both quoted by Mishnah Berurah 53:86). The Chasam Sofer allows another exception — when it was stipulated at the time of the original appointment that a new negotiation and appointment is necessary to renew the person’s appointment after his term is complete.

I’d like a change!

At this point, we can discuss one of our original questions:

“Is there a halachic reason why, in some communities, people hold their appointments on shul and school boards forever, whereas in other communities, these positions are constantly rotated?”

We now see that there is halachic basis both for the practice that in some communities that people remain in the position of shul or school president for long periods of time, whereas in other communities these positions are rotated on a regular basis.

A major exception?

Although we have noted that a son has a right to inherit his father’s position, several authorities contend that there is a major exception to this rule: a Torah position is not automatically inherited. One of the major advocates of this approach, the Chasam Sofer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #12 and glosses to Orach Chayim end of 53), asked the following question: The Gemara (Yoma 72b) states that the position of kohen meshuach milchamah, the kohen anointed to provide encouragement and announce the halachos to the soldiers of the Jewish army, is not a hereditary position. Why is this position different from all the other appointments that we say are hereditary? The Chasam Sofer answers that there is a difference between positions of authority and religious positions. Positions of authority, such as king, do belong to the son, if he is qualified. However, there is no inheritance of religious positions, unless that is the accepted custom. (A similar view is stated by the Shu”t Maharashdam, Yoreh Deah #85.) The one exception to this rule is the position of kohen gadol, which the Torah says does go to the son, notwithstanding the fact that it is a religious position. Thus, the Rashba’s case in which the son inherits his father’s position as chazzan (a religious position) is only because that was the accepted custom.

The Chasam Sofer rallies support for his approach based on the fact that the positions of nasi and head of the Sanhedrin did not usually pass from father to son, but instead passed to the most qualified scholar. Only the nesi’im from Hillel and onward passed the position from father to son. The Chasam Sofer explains that from the time of Hillel until the Sanhedrin disbanded, the nasi of the Sanhedrin was also viewed as the “king” of the Jewish people, thus making it a position of authority and not merely religious. During this era, the position was bequeathed to the oldest son of the previous nasi, if he was G-d-fearing and enough of a scholar to fulfill his duties. However, prior to this era, the position was viewed only as a religious role and, therefore, it was assigned to the greatest scholar in the Jewish people.

Based on his analysis, the Chasam Sofer concludes that the son of a deceased rav does not automatically have the right to the position. If most of the tzibur does not want him, they have a right to pick any other qualified G-d-fearing Torah scholar who is qualified enough to rule on the community’s needs. They are not required to choose the most qualified talmid chacham for the position. For example, they may choose a person who is a stronger leader over a bigger talmid chacham who does not have the same leadership abilities.

The Chasam Sofer closes his responsum with the following proof to his position: The Midrash, quoted by Rashi, states that when Moshe Rabbeinu asked Hashem to appoint a leader to head the Bnei Yisroel, he wanted his sons to be his replacement. Obviously, his sons had all the qualities that Moshe felt were necessary for the position – otherwise, why would he have thought that they should qualify? Yet, Hashem chose Yehoshua for other reasons. Thus, we see that the position of Torah leader over the Jewish people is not an inherited one.

Conclusion

When the Mishnah Berurah (53:83) discusses this matter, he cites the opinions we have mentioned without ruling on the matter. Thus, an individual congregation will need to ask a shaylah whether a son has the right to father’s position, where there is no established minhag and the community would like to appoint someone else.

image_print

Avraham’s Prophecy

Question #1: Vayeira

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

Question #2: Kesuvim

What is the difference between Nevi’im and Kesuvim?

Question #3: Tehillim

Is Tehillim prophetic?

Parshas Vayeira

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

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

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

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

Levels of prophecy

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

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

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

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

Ruach hakodesh

(1) Divine assistance

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

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

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

(2) Higher Ruach hakodesh

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

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

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

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

Kesuvim

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

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

(3-11) The words of the prophets

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

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

Two prophets

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

Profitable prophet

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

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

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

The intent of the prophecy is clear

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

Parshas Vayeira

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

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

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

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

Sefer Hazikaron

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

Tehillim

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

Conclusion

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

image_print