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by Joel Rich

From Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein on Cross Currents – Subjective Morality and Its Discontents:

Rav Kook deals with the direction and path that each person’s sense of yir’as Shomayim leads him or her beyond the dictates of halacha. There is a huge world of reshus in which a person can and must make all kinds of decisions. When those decisions are too liberal, he becomes the naval b’reshus ha-Torah that Ramban speaks about at the beginning of Kedoshim. When those decisions are too restrictive, he can lose elements of compassion, generosity, humor and refinement that he would have had without that extra dose of his personal brand of yir’as Shomayim. Rav Kook deals with the direction and path that each person’s sense of yir’as Shomayim leads him or her beyond the dictates of halacha. There is a huge world of reshus in which a person can and must make all kinds of decisions.

Since it is possible to be doing the wrong thing by being on either extreme of this continuum, how are we/Chazal/HKB”H to view somebody on the extreme left against somebody on the extreme right? Does the fact that one who is on the extreme left is called a naval as opposed to one who is on the extreme right (who does not have any special name) tell us something? Is the distribution on the continuum symmetric, if it isn’t, why is it that way?  Most importantly, isn't there a philosophical debate as to how we should view our own personal decisions that do not impact others and do not have an clear Torah prescriptive? Are actions such as these which are sometimes called dvar reshut, such that HKB”H is really indifferent between the option we choose, or is there really one, and only one, choice that maximizes HKB”H 's "happiness" with us?


From Yeshiva World News:

While many essential services were halted during the record-breaking snowstorm that hit Israel, the voice of limud Torah and tefilos at Kever Rochel were uninterrupted as a result of the mesirus nefesh of the officials of the Rochel Imeinu Heritage Foundation and Rosh Kollel Rav Moshe Menachem Kluger Shlita. The rabbonim and avreichim of the kollel was unwilling to cancel their daily schedules because of snow and they found ways to get in after Shabbos despite the additional significant snow accumulations on Shabbos. IDF arrived with armored personnel carriers and equipment to clear paths for them later on. The rabbonim explained to IDF commander that they must reach the tziyun “because one does not abandon one’s mother during a storm." The response from border police was a positive one.

Me – So exactly which group was moser nefesh? The kollel? The IDF? The border police? The nation that allocates resources?



  1. Rabbi Yosie Levine – Mysteries of Elijah, The Sadye, and Henry Bayer Tanach Class – The Softening of a Zealot: Elijah's Transformation in the Eyes of Chazal

    If you look at Eliyahu Hanavi’s personality in Tanach, he seems an austere embodiment of the characteristic of din (truth), so why in Chazal does he always show up as a warm savior? Malachi tells us Eliyahu will return to reunite the hearts of fathers and sons. Perhaps the toughest dude can be the best peacemaker and this will round out his prophetic legacy. (As in he was good at delivering HKB”H’s message to the people, how can he work the other side of the street?)

  2. Rabbi Nosson Rich – Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 321:9

    More on forbidden mixing on Shabbat, including medicines. Concludes with a good general summary (including the classic tuna and mayo preparation on Shabbat).

  3. Rav Asher Weiss – Transgressing Aveiros to Avoid More Severe Transgressions

    Examples of where halachic tradeoffs need to be thought through and the approach is not so black and white.

  4. Jonathan Ziring – Halachic Decision Making in Extenuating Circumstances

    When can “outside” forces (e.g. shaat hadechak [extenuating circumstances]) be taken into account in halacha? Why? What’s the relationship between multiple truth theory and “outside” forces? Can meta values have a role in the halachic process? [me – yes if you’re striving to understand the ratzon hashem, not your ratzon. Of course, I get flack for being non self-aware when I state that]

  5. Jonathan Ziring – Halacha and Kabbala_-_Generally and in the Psak of_Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef

    When does kabbalah play a role in halacha? Gamut of approaches from never (very Litvish) to always (very Sphardic) to “sometimes”. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was less in favor of deference to kabbalah due to his devotion to the Shulchan Aruch.

  6. Rabbi Dovid Cohen (CRC) – Coffee and Tea: Keurig, Teavana, and Other Kashrut Concerns

    Plain coffee in a plain coffee machine is usually not a problem. We’re not discussing lattes and cappuchinos, nor coffee bars or stores. Flavoring can be an issue, not so much for “treifing up” the Keurig or similar machine, but for drinking that cup of coffee. Vending machines are very individual and must be evaluated individually. Detailed discussion of the actual preparation of the teas and coffees and the machines. Includes discussion of toveiling electronics.

  7. Ari Lamm – Damnable Defiance – Archaeology, Theology, and the Siege of Masada

    Josephus is the only contemporary account of Masada, much is backed up by archeological finds. The tale of the sicarii is one of internal infighting and demonization. The final message was that it was a mistake not to listen to HKB”H (through his local representative). The lesson for us is not to demonize those we don’t agree with.

  8. Rabbi Shay Schachter – Bal Tashchis & An Adopted Child Tearing Kriyah

    Parameters of Bal Tashchit (not wasting) including exceptions. Applying these rules to voluntary tearing (kriah) for the departed.

  9. Rabbi Nosson Rich – Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 321:10

    Spreading food (e.g. peanut butter) on Shabbat is not a violation of memareiach (smearing). Peeling a fruit for immediate use is okay.

  10. Rabbi Chayim Soloveichik – Our Attitude Towards Non-Observent Jews – Inclusionary or Exclusionary?

    We need to use careful judgment when excluding or including other Jews in our camp. Sometimes you have to embrace gradualism and the lesser of two evils. When you must exclude someone, it should be with a tear in your eye.

  11. Rabbi Reuven Brand – The NSA and Google: Jewish Perspectives on Privacy

    Review of microhalachic (e.g. hezek riyah [visual damage], Cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom [not reading someone’s mail]) and macro hashkafic (e.g. tzniut, imitato dei) issues regarding privacy.

  12. הלכות צבא #11, מלאכות בשינוי במקום פיקוח נפש, מאת הרב אביהוד שוורץ

    More on hutrah (fully permitted) vs. dchuya (pushed off) on pikuach nefesh on Shabbat. New issues include does minimizing the prohibitions violated only apply if we think the basis is hutrah? Do we focus on results or process?

  13. Rabbi Nosson Rich – Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 322:1

    Introduction to nolad on Shabbat (the whole egg thing). There is no maakeh b’patish (final preparation) if you’re dealing with edibles.

  14. Rabbi Nosson Rich-Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 322:2

    Bsamim are not muktzeh when used for food but there is a problem of nolad if you are fragrancing clothes. Cutting on a specific line on Shabbat (e.g. pills) may not be a problem when you don’t really care if it’s exact – there’s a difference of opinion between Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and Rabbi Sholom Yosef Elyashiv if this is a problem.

  15. Rabbi Yonason Sacks – Mitoch Shlo Lishma Ba Lishma

    Paroh and freewill is the starting point. This leads into a discussion of how our intent (l’shma) is a factor in our religious lives. Sometimes it’s the deviations from the norm that can help define us and our actions. Example – yibum vs. chalitza, if we could be sure the intent was totally pure, we’d prefer yibbum.
    mitoch shlo l’shma ba l’shma ([somebody that does] something without proper intent “eventually” comes to do it with proper intent) can be measured by:
    *eventually for the doer
    *eventually for his descendants
    *is only of value if the doer “eventually” comes to do it l'shma
    Beautiful insight from the Haflah – Tosfot was bothered by the fact that the “10-year childless couple should divorce rule” wasn’t applied in Europe. He posited it wasn’t applied because it’s only applicable in Israel due to the higher holiness there. But, if ones rachmana patrei (one who is forced to do less than perfect actions by conditions beyond their control is considered blameless) why shouldn’t those in diaspora (Europe), who couldn’t go to Israel due to travel dangers, not be “credited” as if in Israel. Answer – Because that wasn’t the reason they weren’t going!

  16. Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank – Free Will and Defining Our Inner Self

    Conclusion of Paroh and free will, then on to why prophecy and/or HKB”H’s gzeirot don’t contradict free will (bottom line – no one has any excuses!).

  17. Rabbi Michael Taubes – Parshas Shemos – Praying for the Welfare of the Government

    History of praying for the welfare of the government.

  18. Rabbi Hershel Schachter – The Laws of Geirut

    Review of general rules of geirut as well as specific issues.
    A few interesting points (to me):
    *Perhaps geirut is a way of accepting those non-Jews who would have accepted Torah originally (at Sinai)
    *Is joining the Jewish people a separate issue from accepting mitzvot (and is this a prerequisite)?
    *If most people don’t know that someone’s conversion is problematic, is it best for the one person who knows that it’s problematic not to publicize it?
    *The concept that a Jew who converts is still a Jew – is that on a Torah or Rabbinic level?

  19. Rabbi Mordechai Burg – Celebrity vs. Leadership  Part 1

    Celebrity culture is bad, a consumption driven society is bad, and social media is bad. It sounded like entertainment of just about any kind is generally not valued.

  20. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski – The Modern Jewish Family Part 1

    Abuse and other bad stuff is being caused by changes in the general community; we don’t value the wisdom of the elders.

  21. Rabbi Nosson Rich – Mishna Berura Yomi: Hilchos Shabbos Siman 322:3 and 323:1

    Can you distribute food portions on Shabbat by lottery (either inside or outside your family)? Is there an issue of gambling?
    Can you lend food in a utensil or is there a measuring issue?

  22. Rabbi Yosef Adler – The Role of Hiddur Mitzvah on Chanukah

    Are the different levels of hiddur mitzvah on Shabbat simply an add on to the core mitzvah or are they inherently a change in the mitzvah? Rabbi Adler provides examples where this issue will have a halachic impact.

  23. Rabbi Yehuda Turetsky – Yahrzeits: Fast, Feast, or Farbrengen

    The Talmud seems to indicate that it is appropriate to fast on a yahrtzeit, reflecting the hard nature of the day. So why are there many people who don’t do so?
    Perhaps we’re weaker today and it will negatively impact our learning or maybe it reflects a basic change in the nature of our avodat Hashem. Some people “make a lchayim” as either a vestige of the days when people would make a siyum for the yahrtzeit or it is a type of nichum (comfort).

  24. Rav Asher Weiss – Kiddush Hashem

    Jumps from the plague tzfardeia (frogs) jumping into the ovens in Egypt to the difference of opinion between Rambam and Rabbeinu Tam as to whether one can voluntarily give up their life if it’s not halachically required that he do so.
    Interesting discussion includes:
    *Can an ill person refuse Shabbat violating treatment even if the lack of treatment will bring about his death?
    *If you can escape from a life threatening situation, must you?
    *Must one try to escape from beit din if he is found guilty of a capital crime (and he knows he is innocent)?

  25. Rabbi Simon Basalely – Introduction to the Days of Shovavim

    Introduction to the Shovavim (Shemot, Vaera…), the time period and its kabbalistic representations. Includes “practical magic”, instructions on areas to work on, and how to do so.

  26. Rabbi Josh Blass – Israel: The Obligation to Settle the Land and the Contemporary Debate about Religious Zionism

    Review of the halachic and hashkafic continuum from Satmar to Rav Kook.

  27. Rabbi Chaim Brovender – Bitachon

    Understanding the nature of HKB”H’s promises to the avot and Klal Yisrael. Bottom line – HKB”H is in charge and both he and Knesset Yisrael are in it for the long run.

  28. Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz – The Difference Between Your High School Girlfriend and Your Future Wife

    Those from Modern Orthodox backgrounds face a specific challenge in moving from high school relationships to more mature ones. One needs to shift from focus on one’s self to focus on the other. Rabbi Lebowitz feels it is better to have no background in these areas than a bad one (quotes a study). [me -I’m unsure that one is worse than the other.]

  29. Rabbi Nosson Rich – Mishna Berura Yomi Hilchos: Shabbos Siman 323:2

    More on lending foodstuffs by the measure on Shabbat. As long as you are not measuring exactly it can generally be done. You are allowed to mention an exact measuring that will be done on the next day.

Please direct any informal comments to [email protected].

About Joel Rich

Joel Rich is a frequent wannabee cyberspace lecturer on various Torah topics. A Yerushalmi formerly temporarily living in West Orange, NJ, his former employer and the Social Security administration support his Torah listening habits. He is a recovering consulting actuary.

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