Torah Musings Wed, 04 Mar 2015 02:30:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Preparation and Spontaneity Wed, 04 Mar 2015 02:30:52 +0000 spontaneityBased on a sicha by Harav Yehuda Amital
Adapted by Rav Ronnie Ziegler
Translated by David Silverberg

Regarding the first verse of Parashat Vayikra, “And He called to Moshe,” Rashi writes,

“‘Calling’ preceded every utterance, every speech, and every commandment. It is an expression of love, the expression used by the heavenly angels. To the gentile prophets, by contrast, He reveals Himself in expressions of transience and impurity, as it says, ‘God chanced upon Bilam.'”

God reveals Himself to Jewish prophets only after having first called them, whereas to the gentile prophets He appears suddenly, by chance, without their having been previously informed. Unlike their gentile counterparts, Jewish prophets have the opportunity to prepare themselves for prophecy. This indicates the importance of preparation, especially in matters of sanctity.

The Kotzker Rebbe makes a similar comment on the following midrash (Tanchuma, beginning of Parashat Tzav):

“This is what is meant by the verse (Tehillim 89:7), ‘For who in the heavens can equal God, can compare with God among the divine beings?’ Said the Almighty, ‘If I wanted a sacrifice, wouldn’t I simply ask Michael, who is right here next to Me, to offer to Me a sacrifice? From whom do I want a sacrifice? From Israel!'”

According to the Kotzker, this midrash teaches us that the Almighty desires not the sacrifice itself, but the investment of the person bringing the offering. If God had really wanted the sacrifices themselves, He would have requested so from the angels in heaven.

This, too, tells us something about the value of preparation. Preparation for the performance of a mitzva bears profound significance, just as preparation for prophecy is of utmost importance. A mitzva loses much of its value when performed straightaway, with no prior emotional preparation. By preparing for a mitzva beforehand, one identifies with it more profoundly and infuses it with greater value. Indeed, this rule applies even beyond the realm of specific mitzvot: every spiritually meaningful experience requires prior preparation. The more the individual has thought about the approaching event and worked towards it, the more he will derive from that event.

For example, the festival of Pesach receives added significance from the intensive preparations in the preceding weeks. The halakhic problem of chametz could be resolved without the lengthy and involved cleaning process. Why do we need to turn the house upside down and clean every square inch? Let us not be so quick, however, to dismiss this time-honored custom. The cleaning process forces us to engage in preparation for the festival, which contributes significantly to the emotional impact of the holiday itself. Expending all that effort cleaning results in a totally different Pesach experience!

Regarding Shabbat, as well, there is a mitzva to prepare in advance: “They shall prepare that which they bring.” The Gemara (Beitza 2b) posits that an egg laid on a Yom Tov that occurs on a Sunday may not be eaten, since we view it as having been prepared on Shabbat, and “Shabbat does not prepare for Yom Tov.” But if so, why do we not forbid any egg laid on a Sunday (even if it is not Yom Tov), since it too has been prepared on Shabbat? Rashi (ibid., s.v. Ve-ein) answers that Yom Tov meals require special preparation, which cannot be performed on Shabbat; weekday meals, however, do not require any special preparation. This added importance of Shabbat and Yom Tov meals derives from the concern that we adequately prepare ourselves for these days in advance. In other words, spiritually meaningful phenomena require preparation.

Herein lies the meaning behind the concept of “erusin” – engagement – in Judaism. The relationship between husband and wife becomes warmer and stronger as a result of a prolonged process of preparation. The inherent problem with the institution of the “pilegesh” (concubine) is the fact that a man lives with a pilegesh without the process of chuppa and kiddushin, and the two thus undergo no preparation for their lives together.

This also explains the common custom to recite “Hineni mukhan u-mezuman” (“Behold, I am prepared and ready”) before the performance of mitzvot. One cannot jump right into a mitzva without prior preparation. In fact, the Gemara (Berakhot 30b) tells us that the “pious ones of old” would wait an entire hour before beginning to pray, so as to properly focus their minds in anticipation of their encounter with the Almighty.

There is, however, one important exception to this general rule: acts of kindness and charity are meant to be spontaneous, stemming from one’s deep love for his fellow man. Hence, the Maharal explains that we do not pronounce a blessing before fulfilling a “mitzva bein adam le-chavero” (interpersonal mitzva) because this would defeat the purpose of the mitzva. Imagine if before giving charity, the donor insisted on dipping himself in the mikveh, putting on his “gartel” and saying both “Hineni muchan u-mezuman” and a berakha; in the meantime, the pauper might drop dead! Furthermore, this would be treating the pauper as an object through which we fulfill a mitzva, not as a brother whom we instinctively care for.

Undoubtedly, spontaneity has its place in Judaism, but in general, the rule is always to ensure careful preparation. This message is especially relevant to Purim. Amalek represents the secular view that all history is mere chance and essentially meaningless. In contrast to that world-view, we maintain that God acts within history, and we must behave accordingly. We must act only after careful thought; only then will we truly succeed in maximizing our spiritual potential.

The Gemara (Megilla 7b) asserts that “one is obligated to get intoxicated on Purim until he cannot differentiate between ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman.'” Does Judaism really encourage this state of uncertainty, the inability to distinguish between good and evil? The answer is that the Gemara here teaches one to strive occasionally for a level of such straightforward thought and reasoning that he need not engage in complex questioning, nor experience doubts, nor undergo excessive pondering. This is the condition of the simple, spontaneous Jew, who worships God out of a genuine sense of joy and contentment, like a drunkard.

Thus, Judaism does leave room for spontaneity, but specifically on Purim, AFTER an entire year of preparation for this moment. If one properly prepares himself for Purim, then he can go into Purim with simple and spontaneous joy. Otherwise, without proper preparation, one cannot allow the spontaneity to burst forth, as one has no idea where such spontaneity will lead.

Thus, even on Purim, the secret of spontaneity lies in prior preparation, in the refining of the personality throughout the year which ensures that the spontaneous outburst of Purim will reveal a pure interior.

[POSTSCRIPT: At the conclusion of this sicha, following a long winter of preparation and personal growth, the entire student body SPONTANEOUSLY burst forth in song and rose to dance with Harav Amital.]

This essay is based on summaries by Matan Glidai and Jeremy Winson. It was delivered at Se’uda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Vayikra-Zakhor, 5755 [1995]. It originally appeared on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash and is republished here with permission.

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Audio Roundup Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:30:20 +0000 by Joel Rich

Is there a philosophical or practical halachic difference between the concepts of yuhara (halachic presumptuousness?) and mechzei k’yuhara (looks like halachic presumptuousness)? Consider the following case – an individual has rabbinic ordination but has moved to a community where no one is aware of it and he does not tell anyone. On Simchat Torah the gabbai asks all Rabbis to come up for an aliyah and he comes up. Is it yuhara? mechzei kyuhara? [Is yuhara a din in the observer or observee?]
~ ~ ~
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Chorus: Enjoli!

Kach Mkublani mbeit avi abba (v’ima) ZLL”HH – No, you can’t have it all. What HKB”H expects of you is to struggle throughout your life with the dynamic allocation of limited resources to unlimited demands. Doing that b’emunah is the ultimate that hkb”h will judge us on.

Please direct any informal comments to

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Daily Reyd Tue, 03 Mar 2015 13:53:23 +0000
Reform and Conservative Judaism Have Failed in Israel. And It’s Their Own Fault
Avi Schick: De Blasio’s wise circumcision reform
R Brody: The Origins of Your Favorite Purim Customs
Must Hebrew Shed Its Sanctity to Become a Modern Language?
▪ I didn’t expect the details to be so depressing: Study: Jewish population of St. Louis rose by 14 percent in last 20 years
▪ The origin of Jewish Flatbush: The Secrets of Jewish Brownsville
▪ A Jewish girl in Iran, before and after the revolution: How Queen Esther’s Bravery Helped an Iranian Teenager Escape the Ayatollah
▪ On Richard John Neuhaus: ‘An Incorrigibly and Confusedly Religious Nation’
▪ Two Purim points for the rabbi for including this question in his Ask the Rabbi column: R Y Schochet: Ask the Rabbi: ‘How many Jews does it take to change a light-bulb?’
▪ Can you Skype the Megillah?: Skype and Jewish Law
‘The Jewish Journey’ Eyes 350 Years of Migrations to America

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Books Received Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:33:58 +0000

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Homosexuality: The Malady of Our Generation Tue, 03 Mar 2015 02:30:38 +0000 reality checkby R. Eliezer Melamed

The Need to Address the Issue of Homosexuality

Recently, we have witnessed serious accusations, public and blatant, from members of the LGBT community against the religious community and the Torah. Their position is adamant and defiant: they are not willing to accept the validity of a position opposing sexual relations with a member of the same sex. Their position is based on the liberal way of thinking currently dominating the global media.

Outside of the religious sector, few dare to oppose them. Even senior politicians have filed ranks with their position, and refrained from attending the “Jerusalem Conference” organized by the Besheva newspaper, which dared to schedule a discussion group on the possibility of helping people free themselves of this forbidden desire, so they can fulfill the mitzvah of marriage according to the Law of Moses and Israel.

It seems that many people are afraid to express the position of the Torah on this issue, and therefore, the wall of fear must be broken. Just as we knew how to face the pagans of old who denied the Torah, and thus advance the world morally, today as well, we must also oppose a type of liberal paganism which denies Torah from Heaven, and prevents the possibility of tikun (correction) that can benefit the many. In addition to this, in the media’s onslaught, libelous accusations against our holy Torah and its followers have been spread, and because we are silent, the slander is believed.

The Custom of Modesty versus the Need for Public Clarity

In past generations the custom was to deal with the issue of homosexuality in a very quiet way. Apparently, the Christian environment also had an influence on this. However, it seems that when the need arises, a thorough clarification of the Torah’s position should not be excluded. Some may argue that these issues should not be discussed in a newspaper, for perhaps adolescents may read them. But as I have heard from teachers, the youth want to know what the Torah has to say in these areas, and the only concerned parties about this are the adults.

As for children, they do not read this column in any case, and even if they do – they will not be harmed, just as they are not harmed by studying Torah verses dealing with the issue. Nevertheless, I am still hesitant whether the need to clarify this issue in public outweighs the custom of dealing with it modestly, and this largely depends on the public’s feelings, so I would be delighted to receive responses from the public, especially educators.

I will therefore attempt to clarify some of the main issues in this matter.

The Prohibition of Homosexual Intercourse

The Torah determined that it is forbidden for a man to have sexual relations with another man, as it is written: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). This prohibition is so severe that the Torah set the punishment of death by stoning for one who transgresses it, as it is written: “If a man goes to bed with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they must be put to death; their blood is on them” (Leviticus 20:13).

However, the punishment of stoning is only when they did it b’mayzid (deliberate violation of Jewish law), and before two witnesses who warned them not to do it, and that if they do, they will be punished by stoning, and nevertheless, they transgressed and sinned before them visibly. In practice, one would have to be completely insane to do so, because no one would dare commit a sin deserving of death before witnesses who warn him that if he continues to sin he will be punished by death. And if he dared, perhaps he really is insane and not responsible for his actions, and exempt from punishment.

Therefore, even though there are dozens of sins for which the penalty of death was determined by the Torah, in actuality, capital punishment by Beit Din (religious court) was very rare, to the point where our Sages said a Sanhedrin that effects a capital punishment once in seven years is branded a destructive tribunal, in other words, it tends to be stringent and decree the death penalty on people more often than it should.

Others say that a Sanhedrin which effects capital punishment for one person in seventy years is called a destructive tribunal (Mishna, Makkot 1:10). And even in those rare cases where capital punishment was performed, apparently, they were not due to sins of fornication. Accordingly, the punishment set by the Torah is meant to teach the gravity of the sin, and is mainly intended to discourage people from transgressing it deliberately and brazenly in front of witnesses.

Factors Causing the Revelation of this Inclination

Amongst the secular public, many believe that homosexuals were born with this feature, and it cannot be changed. In their opinion, therefore, one whose tendency leans to homosexuality should follow his heart, and most definitely not be criticized for it. However, according to the Torah, even when a person has a strong tendency towards homosexuality, the prohibition remains in full effect, and he is obligated to overcome his yetzer (inclination), just as a man who desires to commit adultery with a married woman must overcome his yetzer.

True, in issues of dinei shamayim (heavenly courts) the difficulty a person faces in overcoming his yetzer is taken into consideration, and the stronger one’s yetzer is, the lighter his sentence will be.

Genetic Predisposition and the Social and Moral Environment

Even if we accept this phenomenon as an innate tendency, it is clear that the social and moral environment has no less of an influence. The fact is that this phenomenon was very common in past cultures, to the point where the majority of men had transgressed this sin.

Amongst the Jewish nation, where environmental conditions encouraged normal sexual relations between husband and wife and condemned a relationship between men, this tendency was rarely manifested. As a result, our Sages did not prohibit two single men from sleeping together under one blanket, because Jews were not suspected of homosexual intercourse (Kiddushin 82a).

And there is no possibility that this phenomenon existed in their times without our Sages knowing about it, because there are always chozrim b’teshuva (people who return to the fold) who repent and consult with rabbis. In addition, since it is a sin that occurs between two people, there are cases where one party has been hurt, and complains against the offender. Therefore, we must conclude that during the times of Chazal(our Sages), the phenomenon of homosexuality was not common.

True, in more recent times the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law) tended to be stringent, determining that two men should not be secluded together, given that the number of transgressors had increased (E.H. 24:1). In fact, his words were relevant to what was common in Islamic countries. But the eminent rabbis of Ashkenaz wrote that in their countries, Jews were not suspected of homosexuality, and there was no need to be stringent in the prohibition of yichud (seclusion) of two men (Bach). Not only that, but some authorities say that it is forbidden to be stringent in this matter, because it would then appear to be yuhara (arrogance) (Yam Shel Shlomo).

Since it is difficult to assume that the essential nature of people has changed since then, we must conclude that even a person who was born with a tendency towards homosexuality, in a social framework like that which was prevalent in Israel for many generations, these tendencies were not manifest.

Today’s Situation

We do not know what has changed in the last generation, to the point where some people are convinced that by their very nature, their passions are directed solely to their own species and have no other choice in the matter. Is it liberty, which has become a major factor in our lives, together with all its virtues, which also gave freedom to all the tendencies that were hidden in the depths of the soul to emerge, and once revealed, are harder to overcome? Or perhaps the feminist movement, which created tension and war between the sexes, caused an identity crisis among some men and a fear of connecting with women?

There are dozens of other hypotheses and explanations for the increase of this phenomenon.

It is reasonable to believe that this difficult period of time will pass, and we will find the way to deepen the sacred bond of marriage, love and joy as the Torah commands, and as a result, the desire for this sin will be greatly diminished.

The Positive Attitude towards Sufferers

At any rate, this phenomenon in our generation has become more common, and it requires us to deal with it. First of all, it is important to be careful not to offend and hurt those who suffer from such tendencies. Sometimes, the grief, frustration, and shame that accompany such tendencies are so difficult, that some young people choose to commit suicide due to the great pain involved. Therefore, men and women who feel this tendency should be instructed to speak about it with their parents and a rabbi or counselor – both to relieve some of the suffering that accompanies them, and also to find the best way to deal with their tendencies. This truly is a matter of pikuach nefesh (saving of life).

The Attitude towards Sinners of Homosexual Intercourse

The Torah defined the sin of homosexual intercourse as “to’evah” (an abomination), and also defines the sin of eating forbidden foods in the same manner (Deuteronomy 13:3), and our Sages taught: “Toe’eh ata bah” [you error in respect of her, i.e., by forsaking the permitted and indulging in the forbidden] (Nedarim 51a). In other words, the purpose of this desire is for man to connect with his wife in holiness and joy, and by means of this connection, children are born and the world continues to exist.

However, those who sin in homosexuality divert their desire towards their own sex, harming the sanctity of marriage and the existence of the world (and the same holds true for eating – its purpose is to add life and holiness, and one who eats prohibited foods is “toe’eh bah”).

In any case, our attitude towards those who transgress this sin should not be more stringent than people who transgress other serious sins, such as Sabbath violators. Just as Sabbath violators are called-up to the Torah, provided they do not do it out of spite, so too, sinners who transgress this sin should be called-up to the Torah as long as they do not do it out of spite. Kal v’chomer (all the more so), they should be called-up to the Torah when there is a possibility they are careful not to transgress the grave sin of homosexual intercourse

Moreover, many of those who stumble in this transgression do not sin in defiance as do Sabbath violators, but out of regret that their yetzer compels them. And who knows:  were we to face such trials, would we overcome them? Only Hashem, the God of Heaven and Earth, the Creator of souls, who knows thoughts and examines hearts, who recognizes the yetzer of each individual, can judge truly and compassionately according to the magnitude of one’s trials and pain.

Not to Distance Homosexuals from the Religious Community

It must be emphasized: Even one who fails to overcome his yetzer and transgresses the sin of homosexual intercourse, is obligated in all the other commandments of the Torah, and should try his best to strengthen himself in whatever way he can. And even concerning this sin – everyday, and every time he manages to overcome his desires and avoids sinning, his reward is great.

We must accept the commandments of the Torah, which determined that homosexual intercourse is strictly forbidden, and when we can, we must try to dissuade those who transgress this sin. Nonetheless, we must love even someone who fails to overcome his yetzer, and realize there is great value in every mitzvah he fulfills. And as long as he does not flaunt his homosexual inclination and is not defiant, we must bring him closer to the religious community, so he can become stronger in Torah and mitzvot in whatever way he can.

And, as is well-known, the value of Evil is limited, whereas the value of Good is endless. Correspondingly, the severity of sins is limited, whereas the value of mitzvot is endless. Therefore, even one who falters in transgressions, merits life in the World to Come thanks to his mitzvot and good deeds.

This article appeared in the ‘Besheva’ Hebrew weekly newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.

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Daily Reyd Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:20:55 +0000
Prof. Joshua Berman: Was There an Exodus?
▪ Online database of Talmud manuscripts: The Friedberg Jewish Manuscript Society
▪ Fasting is good for you: The diet that could actually prolong your life
▪ For creative types who enjoy it, this is a good, kosher outlet. People who aren’t into it should get some self-esteem and not give in to peer pressure: Jewish Mothers Go Over the Top for Purim, in the Mishloach Manot Wars
▪ The biggest challenge is getting people to use it: New prenup aims to nip Jewish divorce refusal
▪ I’m not quite sure what these societies accomplish but it’s interesting history: The Bible Cause’s Ironic Move to Philadelphia
▪ Dairy beer, not for a barbecue (or afterwards): R Hoffman: Stout Beer and Six Hours
▪ This is common in my neighborhood, where many shuls are too small for a simcha. We have two local halls people rent and some big shuls rent their own halls to people to run their own bar mitzvah minyan: Rent a rabbi, borrow a Torah for DIY bar mitzvah
Over 200 Gather for Landmark Conference to Discuss Risk, Trauma and Abuse in Jewish Community
▪ Wishing R Slifkin much success: Hippos in Israel? New museum re-animates forgotten biblical wildlife

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One Mitzvah Above Them All Mon, 02 Mar 2015 02:30:55 +0000 Gemara-Learningby Aron White

The Problem of Torah Study

The mitzvah to learn Torah confuses many people. On the one hand, the Sages make it crystal clear in numerous places that the Torah study is the primary value of Judaism – most famously “VeTalmud Torah KeNegged Kulam,” “Torah study is equal to all other commandments.” However, in the current environment, many people find this mitzvah somewhat hard to connect to. Firstly, much of the discourse around Talmud Torah at the moment is very mystical and Kabbalistic, and therefore quite unappealing to many Modern Orthodox people who follow a less mystical tradition. The book that can be considered the manifesto of the modern Yeshiva movement, Rav Chaim Volozhin’s Nefesh HaChaim, is an overtly Kabbalistic book that places Talmud Torah at the centre of its world view based on the impact Talmud Torah has in higher, spiritual spheres and worlds.

In contemporary Jewish affairs, the Charedi community’s insistence that Talmud Torah is in fact the most important defence for Israel is something that is more likely to turn many modern people away from Torah, rather than move towards it. And within our own communities, those who have had the most immersive experiences of Talmud Torah sometimes baffle us: Yeshiva students sometimes return from their years of Talmud Torah with a more closed-minded worldview or a strict legalism that seems to have robbed them of their personality. In short, while Talmud Torah is something that many may say is the most important mitzvah, it is somewhat hard to connect to in practise.

I wish to try to represent Talmud Torah in different terms and show how Jewish thought, and even Jewish prayer, recognises three levels of Torah study. I hope that this analysis will help those with modern sensitivities connect to this most central mitzvah.

The Message of the Blessings

Let us take a look at the Talmudic and Halachic discussion about Birkot HaTorah, the blessings we make each morning on Torah study.

Talmudic and later sources offer three potential sources and reasons why we recite a blessing on Torah study. Firstly, there is a generally accepted rule, found in the Sifri in Devarim, that we make a blessing before performing a mitzvah. We are all familiar with the blessing when we blow shofar, shake the lulav and eat matzah. Hence, we can easily claim that we should make a blessing on studying Torah in the same way we make a blessing on a whole host of other mitzvot.

However, halachic sources contain two additional, local explanations for the blessings on Torah study, beyond the regular mitzvah blessings. Firstly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 7:1) says that we derive the obligation to recite a blessing on the Torah, which provides us with spiritual life and vitality, from the requirement to make a blessing on food. “If we make a blessing on something that gives physical life, how much more so should we make a blessing on something that gives us spiritual life!” Thus, in this text, the blessing on the Torah is predicated on the spiritual sustenance that Torah study provides the learner.

A second, novel suggestion offered by Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik (quoted in Chiddushei HaGriz, Hilchos Brachos 11:16, page 10) is that when we recite a blessing on the Torah, we are doing something other, and more, than making a blessing on a commandment – we are making a blessing on the Torah itself. He does not fully develop what this means, but I would suggest that it is based on the clear theological significance of the Torah. The Torah is not just a lulav we shake, a shofar we blow, or a matzah we eat. The Torah is the word of God to His people, the guide for our lives, the messages and laws that define and constitute the Jewish nation. Beyond the mitzvah of studying the Torah, the Torah itself, as the defining feature of the Jewish people and their relationship with Hashem, is worthy of a blessing.

Three Types of Torah Study

These three sources for the blessings on the Torah constitute three approaches to Talmud Torah. Torah study is firstly a mitzvah like all others; it is secondly a source of spiritual vitality; and finally, it is the study of the text that contains the word of God, the very constitution of the Jewish people and a Jew’s life, a divinely revealed document whose importance transcends time, place and person.

These three aspects are encapsulated in the text of the blessings on the Torah. Interestingly, we make three blessings over the Torah. The first blessing, Laasok BeDivrei Torah, begins “Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvotav Vetzivanu…” It follows the same formula as the blessings on all other mitzvot, like lulav, shofar and matzah. We recite this blessing because Talmud Torah is ,in one sense, a mitzvah like all others. The second blessing we make, VeHaarev Na, is a request from God that we connect with the Torah as a source of spiritual vitality – “May you make the Torah sweet to us… and may we all be those who know your name” (this last phrase seemingly is a request for a spiritual connection with God that comes through Torah study). Finally, the blessing of Asher Bachar Banu is really not on the study of Torah at all – “Blessed are you… Who has chosen us from all the nations, and given us His Torah.” This final blessing is on the Torah itself, as a symbol of God’s eternal relationship with the Jewish people. We make a blessing over the Torah as the symbol of Jewish chosenness and as the central ideas and laws that define the essence of Judaism; the blessing is not merely on the requirement to study Torah.

How do these three aspects play out in our lives and how can we potentially build a program of study that incorporates all three? I suggest that one taps into different each of these three levels, depending on the circumstances. The first level, of Talmud Torah as the straightforward observance of a commandment, is relatively easy to achieve.  Any time one opens a Torah book, listens to a rabbi’s sermon or reads a Dvar Torah on the internet, one has fulfilled a Torah commandment. One can fulfil this commandment almost as simply as one gives charity, or washes one’s hands before a meal.

Reaching the Highest Level

However, one requires more specific circumstances to begin deriving spiritual vitality and sustenance from the Torah. Something extra is required. If one studies a topic that is of particular interest to them, if one studies Torah in a crowded Beit Midrash, if one suddenly uncovers a new area of Judaism that they had not previously known – these are all examples of more specific circumstances in which Torah study rises from a mere commandment to something more experiential and personal. Additionally, learning Torah at particular times of one’s life, such as saying Torah insights at the Pesach Seder, listening to the sermon before Neila on Yom Kippur, or hearing a lecture about the significance of the State of Israel before Yom Haatzmaut can touch one spiritually and emotionally. Talmud Torah is not merely the mechanical performance of a command, but something that becomes a personal experience.

I contend that the third level of Torah study – where one connects to the Torah as the transcendent word of God, the guidance that echoes throughout the generations, the constitution of a Jew’s very essence – is primarily accessed through immersive experiences. Studying in yeshiva or seminary for a year, sticking to a Daf Yomi schedule for over seven years, does not merely mean one fulfils a mitzva, or finds spiritual vitality. Somewhere in the course of these experiences, one has received exposure to Torah as something grand,  majestic and transcendent. Yeshivot instill within their students greater care about Halacha without the students even having to open a Halacha text – students simply begin to see Torah as more than a book, as the very basis of their identity, their guide to life, the word of God that will define their paths. It is in the thrall of a light night study session, the long slog of a morning session, and the determined effort to not miss the daily Daf, that one shifts from viewing the Torah as merely part of one’s life to its centre. As one throws themself into the world of Rabi Akiva, Ravina and the Ramban, one suddenly learns Torah as an expression of the overwhelming significance and primal importance of the word of God in one’s life. The unique power of immersive, long term Torah experiences lie in their ability to expose people to Torah experientially as the word of God, as the most fundamental thing in life.

Because of the final two levels of Talmud Torah (providing spiritual vitality and viewing Torah as the fundamental word of God), it is the most important mitzvah. Study can give life to a dry mitzvah, make a boring prayer sing and reinvigorate an old idea. But most importantly, when done immersively, Talmud Torah can transform the contours of one’s life. Through a consistent commitment to Talmud Torah, one comes to view and map their life as structured around, and geared towards, the transcendent, eternal, word of God.

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Standing for Parents in our Times Fri, 27 Feb 2015 02:30:49 +0000 standupby R. Daniel Mann

Question: Most people do not stand up when their parents enter the room. Is this due to the opinion that it is enough to stand for them once in the morning and at night?


Answer: We believe in the great significance of upstanding Jews’ common practices and in looking for halachic justification for them. However, there has to be a good fit between sources/logic and the practices.

The gemara (Kiddushin 31b) gives examples of kibbud (honoring) for parents and of mora (awe). While standing is not on either list, it is evident from gemarot that it is expected (see Beit Yosef, Yoreh Deah 240). This is logical considering the mitzva from the Torah (Yayikra 19:32) to stand before old people and scholars (Kiddushin 32b).

Yannai (ibid. 33b) says that a talmid chacham is not permitted to stand for his rebbe more than once in the morning and in the evening to avoid giving to him more honor than to Hashem. The Rif does not cite this ruling, and the Rosh (Kiddushin 1:56) explains (and agrees) that the gemara’s subsequent discussion indicates that his idea is rejected. The Rambam (Talmud Torah 6:8) does accept R. Yannai. The Shulchan Aruch (and, therefore, Sephardim- see Yalkut Yosef, Kibbud Av 4:8) rules like the Rif/Rosh.

The Rama (YD 242:16) accepts R. Yannai, but not according to its simple reading; one is not obligated more than twice a day, but he may do more (see Darchei Moshe YD 242:11; Semag, Aseh 13). Most Acharonim (see Chayei Adam 67:7; Shevet Halevi II:111; Yalkut Yosef ibid.) assume that the exemption applies to parents also. The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 240:24) suggests that the obligation to stand for one’s parent may exceed that toward his rebbe. (I believe, but cannot develop here, that according to the Rambam’s presentation of the case in which it is not permitted to stand more than twice a day, it does not apply to parents. Also note that the Rama rules that when one is among people who did not see him stand previously, he must stand again.)

It is difficult to demonstrate how the Rama’s opinion would justify the common practice of laxity about standing up for parents. After all, do people think about whether they already stood for their parent that day? The Rama can still help, depending on the following chakira about his opinion. Must one stand at the first opportunity of the day, after which there is an exemption, or should there just be a mode of behavior in which he is expected to stand roughly once in the morning and once at night? This might depend on if standing is part of the positive kibbud, making the exact timing less crucial, or the more negative mora, in which case without an exemption, remaining seated is an aveira (Yalkut Yosef ibid. is unsure to which category it applies). This, of course, helps only if the child stands with some regularity, which is not always be the case.

Another minimizing opinion found in the Aruch Hashulchan (ibid.) is that standing only applies when a parent comes in from outside the house, not when he moves from place to place in the home.

The most plausible explanation for the practice of laxity is the idea that a parent can be mochel (waive rights to) kibbud (Kiddushin 32a). (Regarding being mochel requirements of mora, see Living the Halachic Process III, G-4.) In our times, parents do not usually expect their children to stand up in their honor and often do not find it to even be positive. If that is the case in a specific household, then the child is indeed not required to stand.

Let us clarify a few things. Even after their mechila, it is a mitzva to stand for parents (Pitchei Teshuva, YD 240:16). Some say that one has to make some gesture of respectful acknowledgement (see Kiddushin 32b). If the reason parents are mochel starts from the children (i.e., the parents are so used to their not standing that they no longer demand or expect), this is not a good thing. Therefore, it is, in most cases, better for children (of all ages) who try to do things properly to stand for their parents more than is presently common.

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Torah Study by Children on Tisha B’Av Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:30:40 +0000 Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Although it is past Tisha B’av, and hopefully there be no need for another day of mourning, there are specific themes of Tisha B’av that relate to all times.

The Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim [554:1] rules that one may not engage in Torah Study, including “tinokot shel beit rabban”, [young school children]. The reason given by the Mechaber is that Torah study “ Mesam’chei Lev” [Tehilim 19:9], it gladdens the heart. The Taz is quick to comment that even though children are not joyful studying Torah in the classroom, nevertheless, the prohibition stands because it brings joy to the rebbe, the teacher of the children.

Rav Soloveitchik, in the name of his grandfather, Rav Chaim Brisk, offered another explanation as to why we do not study Torah with children on Tisha B’av. Tisha B’av commemorates more than just the destruction of our Beit HaMikdash. It is also a day to mourn the diminution of Torah, as we state in the Kinot, “Torah Torah chigri sak”. [Torah, Torah, wrap yourself in sackcloth]. We also mourn the loss of Torah leaders and Torah scholarship. We mourn the “asara harugei malchut’ [the ten martyrs who were murdered al Kiddush HaShem]. We mourn the destruction of Torah centers, as well as the burning of the Talmud and the loss of Torah learning that this caused.

The Gemara in Mo’ed Katan [22b] states, that when a talmid Chacham dies, his beit Midrash is closed, and when a Nasi [Torah leader] dies, all batei Midrash are closed. Just as we are required to close a beit Midrash to conduct a communal mourning for the loss of Torah, so too on Tisha B’av ALL batei Midrash are closed AS AN EXRESSION OF NATIONAL MOURNING.

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