Monday, May 25, 2015

Blended and Synthetic Tzitzis


By Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff
 
Question #1: Silk Talis

“I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made from silk?”
 
Question #2: Prefers Rayon

“What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”
 
Question #3: Blended Tzitzis

“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”
 
Answer

In parshas Ki Seitzei, the Torah teaches the mitzvah obligating Jewish men to tie tzitzis to the four corners of their garments. The topic for today’s discussion is: What type of material are we obligated to use in the mitzvah of tzitzis? Do the corners of all garments require one to place tzitzis? As we will see, the question involves both an issue of Torah law and of rabbinic law.
 
Only wool or linen?

The Gemara (Menachos 39b) records an early dispute whether the Torah’s mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to garments made of sheep’s wool or linen. According to Rav Nachman, a four-cornered garment made of silk, cotton, or any material other than sheep’s wool or linen is not included, min hatorah, in the mitzvah of tzitzis. (For the balance of this article, “wool”, without an adjective, will be used to mean specifically wool of sheep. The word tzemer in the Torah means only the wool of sheep, and, therefore, a blend of linen and wool processed from camels, llamas, rabbits, goats [such as cashmere or mohair] or other animals is not shatnez min hatorah [Kelayim 9:1]. A garment made of such a blend that contains no sheep’s wool is shatnez because of a rabbinic injunction.) According to Rav Nachman, in order to guarantee that people are careful to wear tzitzis there is a requirement to attach them to four-cornered garments made from other cloth, but it is only miderabbanan (Rambam, Hilchos Tzitzis 3:2).
 
All fibers are min hatorah

Rav Yehudah and Rava disagree with Rav Nachman, contending that, min hatorah, silk and all other fibers are obligated in mitzvas tzitzis (Menachos 39b). The Gemara notes that this dispute originates among the tanna’im, and that the dispute also affects whether other materials, such as silk, cashmere and mohair, are subject to the tumah of nega’im. According to Rav Nachman and the tanna with whom he sides, the telltale red or green blemishes of tzaraas make garments tamei only when they are made of either wool or linen. Should a garment made of silk, cotton, cashmere, mohair, or other cloth display red or green blemishes reminiscent of tzaraas, the garment remains tahor, since these materials are not susceptible to nega’im. However, according to Rav Yehudah and Rava, silk, cotton and other cloth are susceptible to the laws of tzaraas.
 
What is the halachah?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tzitzis 3:1,2) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 9:1) rule that only linen and wool require tzitzis min hatorah, and the Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Tzaraas 13:1,3) rules that only cloth made of linen and wool is affected by the laws of tzaraas. On the other hand, other authorities rule that all materials require tzitzis min hatorah, and this is the way the Rema rules (Orach Chayim 9:1). (These authorities would also hold that all garments are susceptible to tumas nega’im, but they do not discuss the laws of tumah and taharah because, unfortunately, they are not germane in our day.)
 
Is there any difference in halachah? After all, both approaches rule that one is required to put tzitzis on four-cornered garments made of cotton, silk or cashmere. What difference does it make whether the garment is obligated in the mitzvah min hatorah or miderabbanan? There can be several practical differences that result. The most obvious answer is that since it is exemplary for someone to fulfill a mitzvah min hatorah when he can, is it preferable to wear a garment made of wool over one made of cotton. For this reason, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one should wear a talis koton made of wool, even though it is more comfortable to wear a cotton talis koton in the summer, since one who wears a woolen talis koton thereby fulfills a mitzvah min hatorah, according to all opinions (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:1). On the other hand, other prominent authorities followed the approach of the Rema, contending that an Ashkenazi who is uncomfortable wearing woolen tzitzis in the summer may wear a talis koton made of cotton.
 
Silk talis

At this point, we can address the first question asked above: “I grew up in a conservative home, and, prior to my bar mitzvah, I was given a ‘bar mitzvah set’ which included tefillin and a silk talis. I have since discovered that the tefillin were completely non-kosher. Must I assume that there is a problem with the talis also, since it is made of silk?”

The answer is that the fact that the garment or its tzitzis are made from silk does not present any halachic problem. There is another potential concern which we have, as yet, not discussed.
 
Special strings

The tzitzis threads must be spun with the intent that they will be used to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis. After completing the spinning, one takes several of these specially-spun threads and twists them together into a thicker string. This twisting is also performed lishmah. The authorities dispute whether attaching the tzitzis strings to the garment and tying them must also be performed lishmah. In practice, we are stringent (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 14:2 and commentaries).
 
Many authorities contend that when manufacturing an item lishmah, one must articulate this intent (Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah, Chapter 3). This means that the person spinning or twisting the tzitzis must say that he/she is doing so, in order to make tzitzis for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 11:1 and Mishnah Berurah, ad locum).
The question about the silk talis is that we need to determine that the tzitzis tied to them were, indeed, made properly lishmah.
 
Polyester, rayon or nylon?

At this point, we can discuss whether the mitzvah of tzitzis applies to synthetic materials. In the last ninety years, mankind has successfully developed several fabrics that are lighter than cotton, and which some people find more comfortable to wear. The question is whether a four-cornered garment made from these materials is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. Obviously, according to those who hold that only wool and linen are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah, these garments are not obligated min hatorah, and the question is whether there is an obligation miderabbanan. According to the Rema, who rules that all materials are obligated in tzitzis, the question might even be whether rayon, nylon or other polyester materials are obligated in tzitzis min hatorah.
 
Why should they not be? Answering this question requires its own introduction.
 
Tzitzis on leather ponchos?

Notwithstanding the conclusion that silk and other materials require tzitzis, a different passage of Gemara (Menachos 40b) assumes that leather garments are exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Gemara cites a dispute among amora’im regarding whether a garment made of material obligated in tzitzis, but whose corners are made of leather, is obligated in tzitzis. It also cites a dispute whether a garment made of leather whose corners are made of cloth is obligated in tzitzis. Rav and Rav Zeira contend that, in both instances, the main part of the garment is the determinant, meaning that a cloth garment with leather corners is obligated to have tzitzis tied to its corners, whereas a leather garment with cloth corners is absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Rav Acha’i disputes with Rav and Rav Zeira, contending that the material comprising the corner determines whether the garment requires tzitzis. Clearly, all the amora’im are in agreement that a garment made completely from leather is exempt from tzitzis.
 
Why is hide outside?

Why is leather different from all the other materials mentioned that are obligated in tzitzis? We will need to answer this question and then see whether synthetic materials are treated like leather and absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, or whether they are like silk and the other materials that are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis.
 
I found two basic approaches to explain why leather is treated differently from other materials. One approach is that leather is not woven, but is cut to size, and that the mitzvah of tzitzis applies only to woven material. This approach is implied by several acharonim (Levush, Orach Chayim 10:4; Graz 10:7).
 
Nylon and tzitzis

I found several responsa which discuss whether synthetic materials are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. In each case, the questioner “preferred” that the synthetic garment be obligated in the mitzvah. In other words, since one is rewarded for wearing tzitzis daily, the questioner was interested in fulfilling the mitzvah by wearing tzitzis that are on a four-cornered garment made of polyester, nylon or rayon, desiring to wear a cooler material than wool or cotton.
 
One responsum on the subject is authored by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim 1:9). He understands that leather is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis because it is not woven, and that any four-cornered garment that is not woven is exempt from tzitzis, whereas a woven four-cornered garment is obligated in tzitzis. He then notes that there are two types of nylon garments, one made from woven nylon thread, which he rules would be required to have tzitzis, and one made from sheets of nylon, which are not woven and therefore absolved from the mitzvah of tzitzis, just as leather is.
 
Disputing approaches

Other authorities reach a different conclusion, for the following reason. In a different context, several earlier authorities explain the distinction between leather and other materials in a different way. While discussing the minimum size that different types of garments need to be in order to contract tumah, the Mishnah (Keilim 27:1) rules that a leather item is not susceptible to becoming tamei unless it is a larger size than the halachic category called arig, which means woven material. In their commentaries on that Mishnah, the Rash and the Bartenura both explain that, were one to slice leather into very thin slices and weave them into a garment, the garment thereby produced still has the halachah of leather and not that of a woven garment. It appears that these authorities understand that the qualitative distinction between leather and woven materials is not the process of weaving, but something more basic.
 
Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that woven cloth means a material that is, in its natural state, fiber that would need to be spun into thread and then woven into cloth. Neither leather nor synthetics meet this definition. Rav Moshe contends that only that which is a fiber that can be woven into material is included under the category of arig for tumah purposes and in the obligation of tzitzis. As a result, Rav Moshe concludes that a four-cornered garment made from a synthetic material is, by definition, exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. Wearing tzitzis tied onto such a garment does not accomplish any mitzvah, and reciting a brocha prior to donning this garment is a brocha levatalah, one recited in vain. Furthermore, according to Rav Moshe, wearing such a garment on Shabbos might violate carrying, since the tzitzis are not part of the garment. (The details of this topic are beyond the scope of this article, but see the correspondence of the Shu’t Meishiv Davar 1:2 disputing with what is written in the Mishnah Berurah.)
 
The Rambam’s Commentary
 
In his commentary on the Mishnah in Keilim, the Rambam seems to explain the Mishnah in a way different from that of the Rash and the Bartenura. Nevertheless, Rav Moshe understands the Rambam to be presenting the same understanding of the topic as the Rash and the Bartenura, but that the Rambam was emphasizing a different point. This means that the principle established by Rav Moshe is, in his opinion, held by all early authorities, and therefore has the weight of the final halachah.
 
The Tzitz Eliezer and tzitzis

Rav Moshe’s approach is disputed by Rav Eliezer Yehudah Valdenberg (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 12:3), who disagrees with Rav Moshe’s understanding of the Rambam. Whereas Rav Moshe understands that the Rambam is explaining the difference between leather and woven materials the same way that the Rash and the Bartenura do, the Tzitz Eliezer explains the Rambam to be drawing the same distinction as do the Levush, the Graz and the Har Tzvi – that leather is not considered arig because it is not woven. As we mentioned above, in the opinion of these latter authorities, anything woven is obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis. The Tzitz Eliezer understands that the Rambam is making the same distinction germane to what is considered arig concerning the laws of tumah. Since the later authorities accept this distinction, Rav Valdenberg concludes that four-cornered synthetic garments are obligated in tzitzis, and that those who are uncomfortable wearing other cloth may fulfill the mitzvah by wearing rayon or polyester tzitzis. Because there are early authorities who dispute this conclusion, namely the Rash and the Bartenura, Rav Valdenberg rules that those who wear these tzitzis should not recite a brocha when donning them.
 
Prefers rayon

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “What is the basis of the halachic controversy whether one may have a talis koton made of rayon?”
The answer is that it depends on why leather is exempt from tzitzis. If it is exempt because only woven fabrics are obligated in the mitzvah of tzitzis, then a rayon four-cornered garment is obligated in the mitzvah, and one fulfills the mitzvah by wearing it. On the other hand, if leather is exempt because only naturally fibrous materials are obligated in tzitzis, then rayon is exempt from tzitzis, and nothing is accomplished by tying tzitzis to a four-cornered rayon garment.
 
Metal clothing

This author would like to note another situation, although today uncommon, which should result from the dispute between Rav Pesach Frank and Rav Moshe. According to both approaches, if someone were to make a four-cornered garment from metal plating, the garment is exempt from the mitzvah of tzitzis. According to Rav Moshe, it would be exempt because it is not made from material that is naturally fibrous, whereas according to Rav Frank, it is exempt because it was not woven. However, as we see from chumash, metals can be made into filaments which are then woven into clothing. Is a four-cornered garment woven from metal filament obligated in tzitzis? According to Rav Frank, this garment should be obligated in tzitzis since it is woven, whereas, according to Rav Moshe, it should not, since this material is not naturally fibrous.
 
Blends

At this point, let us examine the last of our opening questions:
 
“I have a talis koton that says that it is made of a cotton-polyester blend. Do I recite a brocha when I put it on?”
 
When a thread is spun from a blend of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what composes most of the thread's fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah Kelayim 9:1). The minority of fiber is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mixture that is mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and may be woven in a woolen garment without creating a prohibition of shatnez. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair, including some sheep's wool fiber, that are woven or sewn with linen threads, is not shatnez and may be worn.

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Israel Is Nice But Woodmere Is Home

Daf Yomi has reached the end of Ksubos! Mazel Tov to all the finishers.

Tough gemaros:

"One who lives in chutz la-aretz is as if he has no G-d."

"Living in chutz la-aretz is like idol worship."

Better live in Eretz Yisrael in a non-frum place than in chutz la-aretz in a frum place. [Better live in Tel Aviv than in Boro Park! Rebbe Shlita's bomb kashya - How does this halacha which is paskened by the Rambam square with the Rambam in Deyos 6/1 that one may not live in a spiritually harmful environment?? וצריך עיון גדול מאד]

The King of Kuzar asked the Chochom in the Sefer HaKuzari: If Eretz Yisrael is so magnificently important - then why don't Jews come?

His answer: You beat me. I have no answer. This is our weakness.

I also have no answer.

Mitzvos Aseh temidis that is sooooooo doable, and yet.....

[See Avnei Nezer Even Ha-ezer 454 and many many other sources].

I saw an interesting haskama in a sefer about the mitzva of living in Israel [called כי עת לחננה]. The haskama was written by an American Rav who is outspoken in his love for Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael - known today as a "religious zionist". That is why I was shocked to see him write that ALL MITZVOS are equally important but every generation has their special mitzvos but IN THIS GENERATION the mitzva of living in Israel has taken on a special importance.

I ask [with the knowledge that the writer is much much greater than I am in every way possible] how to understand what Chazal say about living in Israel, that it is שקולה כנגד כל המצות - equal to all of the other mitzvos in the Torah? We find this statement made about very few mitzvos. [Rav Volbe wrote a book called  מצוות השקולות explaining why this and a few other chosen mitzvos are so valued]. AND the other maamarei chazal at the end of Kesubos in addition to countless superlatives about this mitzva in Chazal, rishonim and achonim. AND the fact that the ENTIRE TANACH revolves around our relationship to Eretz Yisrael, from Bereishis Bara [as per Rashi] until the very end. דוק ותשכח.

Rebbi Yehuda Halevi said it best [if you don't understand the poetry - I am DEEPLY sorry... Maybe ask someone who understands to translate. It is הפלא ופלא a true wonder of beautiful heart stirring poetry]:

צִיּוֹן, הֲלֹא תִשְׁאֲלִי לִשְׁלוֹם אֲסִירַיִךְ,דּוֹרְשֵׁי שְׁלוֹמֵךְ וְהֵם יֶתֶר עֲדָרָיִךְ?
מִיָּם וּמִזְרָח וּמִצָּפוֹן וְתֵימָן שְׁלוֹם
רָחוֹק וְקָרוֹב שְׂאִי מִכֹּל עֲבָרָיִךְ,
וּשְׁלוֹם אֲסִיר תַּאֲוָה, נוֹתֵן דְּמָעָיו כְּטַל–
חֶרְמוֹן וְנִכְסַף לְרִדְתָּם עַל הֲרָרָיִךְ!
לִבְכּוֹת עֱנוּתֵךְ אֲנִי תַנִּים, וְעֵת אֶחֱלֹם
שִׁיבַת שְׁבוּתֵך – אֲנִי כִנּוֹר לְשִׁירָיִךְ.
לִבִּי לְבֵית-אֵל וְלִפְנִיאֵל מְאֹד יֶהֱמֶה
וּלְמַחֲנַיִם וְכֹל פִּגְעֵי טְהוֹרָיִךְ,
שָׁם הַשְּׁכִינָה שְׁכֵנָה לָךְ, וְהַיּוֹצְרֵךְ
פָּתַח לְמוּל שַׁעֲרֵי שַׁחַק שְׁעָרָיִךְ,
וּכְבוֹד אֲדֹנָי לְבַד הָיָה מְאוֹרֵךְ, וְאֵין
שֶׁמֶשׁ וְסַהַר וְכוֹכָבִים מְאִירָיִךְ.
אֶבְחַר לְנַפְשִׁי לְהִשְׁתַּפֵּךְ בְּמָקוֹם אֲשֶר
רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים שְׁפוּכָה עַל בְּחִירָיִךְ.
אַתְּ בֵּית מְלוּכָה וְאַתְּ כִּסֵּא אֲדֹנָי, וְאֵיךְ
יָשְׁבוּ עֲבָדִים עֲלֵי כִסְאוֹת גְּבִירָיִךְ?
מִי יִתְּנֵנִי מְשׁוֹטֵט בַּמְּקוֹמוֹת אֲשֶׁר
נִגְלוּ אֱלֹהִים לְחוֹזַיִךְ וְצִירָיִךְ!
מִי יַעֲשֶׂה לִי כְנָפַיִם וְאַרְחִיק נְדוֹד,
אָנִיד לְבִתְרֵי לְבָבִי בֵּין בְּתָרָיִךְ!
אֶפֹּל לְאַפַּי עֲלֵי אַרְצֵךְ וְאֶרְצֶה אֲבָ-
נַיִךְ מְאֹד וַאֲחֹנֵן אֶת-עֲפָרָיִךְ,
אַף כִּי בְעָמְדִי עֲלֵי קִבְרוֹת אֲבֹתַי וְאֶשְׁ-
תּוֹמֵם בְּחֶבְרוֹן עֲלֵי מִבְחַר קְבָרָיִךְ!
אֶעְבֹר בְּיַעְרֵךְ וְכַרְמִלֵּךְ וְאֶעְמֹד בְּגִלְ-
עָדֵךְ וְאֶשְׁתּוֹמֲמָה אֶל הַר עֲבָרָיִךְ,
הַר הָעֲבָרִים וְהֹר הָהָר, אֲשֶׁר שָׁם שְׁנֵי
אוֹרִים גְּדוֹלִים מְאִירַיִךְ וּמוֹרָיִךְ.
חַיֵּי נְשָׁמוֹת – אֲוִיר אַרְצֵךְ, וּמִמָּר דְרוֹר
אַבְקַת עֲפָרֵךְ, וְנֹפֶת צוּף – נְהָרָיִךְ!
יִנְעַם לְנַפְשִׁי הֲלֹךְ עָרֹם וְיָחֵף עֲלֵי
חָרְבוֹת שְׁמָמָה אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ דְבִירָיִךְ,
בִּמְקוֹם אֲרוֹנֵךְ אֲשֶׁר נִגְנַז, וּבִמְקוֹם כְּרוּ-
בַיִךְ אֲשֶׁר שָׁכְנוּ חַדְרֵי חֲדָרָיִךְ!
אָגֹז וְאַשְׁלִיךְ פְּאֵר נִזְרִי וְאֶקֹּב זְמָן,
חִלֵּל בְּאֶרֶץ טְמֵאָה אֶת-נְזִירָיִךְ–
אֵיךְ יֶעֱרַב לִי אֲכֹל וּשְׁתוֹת בְּעֵת אֶחֱזֶה,
כִּי יִּסְחֲבוּ הַכְּלָבִים אֶת-כְּפִירָיִךְ?
אוֹ אֵיךְ מְאוֹר יוֹם יְהִי מָתוֹק לְעֵינַי בְּעוֹד
אֶרְאֶה בְּפִי עֹרְבִים פִּגְרֵי נְשָׁרָיִךְ?
כּוֹס הַיְגוֹנִים, לְאַט! הַרְפִּי מְעַט, כִּי כְבָר
מָלְאוּ כְסָלַי וְנַפְשִׁי מַמְּרוֹרָיִךְ.
עֵת אֶזְכְּרָה אָהֳלָה – אֶשְׁתֶּה חֲמָתֵךְ, וְאֶזְ-
כֹּר אָהֳלִיבָה – וְאֶמְצֶה אֶת-שְׁמָרָיִךְ!
צִיּוֹן כְּלִילַת יֳפִי, אַהְבָה וְחֵן תִּקְשְׁרִי
מֵאָז, וּבָךְ נִקְשְׁרוּ נַפְשׁוֹת חֲבֵרָיִךְ–
הֵם הַשְּׂמֵחִים לְשַׁלְוָתֵךְ וְהַכּוֹאֲבִים
עַל שׁוֹמֲמוּתֵךְ וּבוֹכִים עַל שְׁבָרָיִךְ.
מִבּוֹר שְׁבִי שׁוֹאֲפִים נֶגְדֵּךְ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוִים
אִישׁ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ אֱלֵי נֹכַח שְׁעָרָיִךְ,
עֶדְרֵי הֲמוֹנֵךְ, אֲשֶׁר גָּלוּ וְהִתְפַּזְּרוּ
מֵהַר לְגִבְעָה וְלֹא שָׁכְחוּ גְדֵרָיִךְ,
הַמַּחֲזִיקִים בְּשׁוּלַיִךְ וּמִתְאַמְּצִים
לַעְלוֹת וְלֶאְחֹז בְּסַנְסִנֵּי תְּמָרָיִךְ.
שִׁנְעָר וּפַתְרוֹס הֲיַעַרְכוּךְ בְּגָדְלָם, וְאִם
הֶבְלָם יְדַמּוּ לְתֻמַּיִךְ וְאוּרָיִךְ?
אֶל מִי יְדַמּוּ מְשִׁיחַיִךְ וְאֶל מִי נְבִי-
אַיִךְ וְאֶל מִי לְוִיַּיִךְ וְשָׁרָיִךְ?
יִשְׁנֶה וְיַחְלֹף כְּלִיל כָּל-מַמְלְכוֹת הָאֱלִיל.
חָסְנֵךְ לְעוֹלָם, לְדוֹר וָדוֹר נְזָרָיִךְ.
אִוָּךְ לְמוֹשָׁב אֱלֹהַיִךְ, וְאַשְׁרֵי אֱנוֹשׁ
יִבְחַר יְקָרֵב וְיִשְׁכֹּן בַּחֲצֵרָיִךְ!
אַשְׁרֵי מְחַכֶּה וְיַגִּיעַ וְיִרְאֶה עֲלוֹת
אוֹרֵךְ וְיִבָּקְעוּ עָלָיו שְׁחָרָיִךְ,
לִרְאוֹת בְּטוֹבַת בְּחִירַיִךְ וְלַעְלֹז בְּשִׂמְ-
חָתֵךְ בְּשׁוּבֵךְ אֱלֵי קַדְמַת נְעוּרָיִךְ
!

May I Ask You A Few Personal Questions?

Shavuos is unfortunately over. Chagim are a huuuge deal. We must squeeze out of them every drop of ruchniyos that we can.

A few personal questions:

1] How are you different now than you were before the chag?

2] What kabbalos did you take upon yourself?

3] What percentage of the chag was gashmiyus and what percentage ruchniyos?

4] Did you really learn all night? How much did you sleep during the day? How was your davening? What did this teach you about next Shavuos?

It is not too late. Every day we say נותן התורה - the Giver [present tense] of the Torah. EVERY DAY is a new kabbolos hatorah.   

Different Haskafos

I have seen that some people are hurt/ angry/ offended that the Charedi world didn't properly recognize the passing of one of the gedolei ha-dor, HaRav Lichtenstein Shlita. Not only that, but in one article in the Charedi press, the moniker "ztz"l" wasn't added to his name.

CHUTZPAH!! How can they tacitly imply that Rav Lichtenstein ztz"l wasn't a tzadik?

Hold on - this is huge.

In their eyes he wasn't a gadol [if they had heard of him even though most of them haven't]. If they would have spoken to him in learning then they would admit that he knew a lot and was a brilliant man. But broad Torah knowledge does not a gadol make. According to the present day Charedi hashkafa - he was making big mistakes and misleading the masses. I am not judging either way but that is their perspective - legitimate in my opinion. Just as he felt that Rav Shach ztz"l was misleading his followers by telling them to stay and learn endlessly in kollel and not to get a general education. Who was right? I will let Hashem decide:-). He certainly had good intentions - as did Rav Shach - but one of them was wrong. No?

He felt that serving in the army was an ideal for all. The Charedi world since before the birth of the State has been opposed and maintains that it is dangerous and harmful for Bnei Torah to be part of the secular Israeli army and they should instead devote all of their energies to the study of Torah and when necessary - to work and earn a living, but not tzahal. That was the opinion of the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach [who Rav Lichtenstein went to for pask], Rav Eliyashiv and just about every major posek, Rosh Yeshiva and tzaddik.

Maybe Rav Lichtenstein was right and they were wrong - again, that is for Hashem to decide not us. But that world feels that he was in error based on the way they were raised. Legitimate.

Ditto with his positive attitude towards university study, women's studying gemara and a number of other issues which are beyond the scope of this post.

I don't see anything wrong with people following their gedolim and not following someone who is [in their opinion] incorrect in his perspective on such basic questions of hashkafa.

THAT BEING SAID - I will share my own very humble opinion.

He was a tzaddik, a prince of a human being, a quintessential mentsch, a tremendous masmid, ohev Torah, marbitz torah to thousands, mechbed av va-aim par excellence, an anav beyond belief, a moser nefesh for Torah, Eretz Yisrael [had he stayed in America he would have been THE modern orthodox gadol - it was actually a "bad career move" to go to Israel where he had a much smaller constituency but he believed in the ideal of living in Israel and not the ideal of self aggrandizement] and Bnei Yisrael, a devoted eved Hashem who knew that at times he had to close his gemara for the sake of the klal and prat [painful as that was for him], and of course a massive talmid chochom who had complete mastery over shas and rishonim to the point that you could talk with him at any time on any sugya anywhere - and he knew it with complete clarity.

That is just מקצת שבחו - partial praise. There is so much more.

But that doesn't mean that everything he said and taught should be followed. I was taught by my teachers to follow the consensus of gedolei yisrael and particularly the followers of the Baal Shem Tov and the niftar ztz"l was very far from that world.

But, generally speaking, his derech chaim should be emulated by all. My reverence for him is not erased because I follow tzadikim with a different mehalech in certain areas of avodas Hashem.

Ha-levai that every Dati Leumi and modern orthodox [and Charedi!] child should have his yiras shomayim, middos and dedication to Torah study. I am not aware of any "successor" who can fill his big shoes and for that my heart pains. All we can do is try to fill in just a little bit by becoming better people. By giving more tzedaka [the amount that he gave was legendary - and it didn't matter whether the beggar was wearing a kippah seruga or a black hat], by davening with more kavana, by striving to finish shas again and again [regardless of how you earn a living], by resolving to fill our lives with meaning and to denounce all of the hedonism that surrounds us [he didn't eat soup during the week so that he would enjoy it only li-kavod shabbos and because .... it is a waste of time to eat soup!] etc. etc.

יהי זכרו ברוך!


 

Educating Your Children

by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

It should be a truism that raising children is one of the most important things in a person’s life.  Unfortunately, this is not obvious to everyone.  There are people, even great people, who assign a higher priority to other matters.

There is, of course, a mitzva of chinukh, educating one’s children.  Yet, the term chinukh can be understood in two very distinct ways.  In the narrower sense, the term chinukh refers to chinukh for mitzvot, preparing a child for a lifetime of religious observance.  The Gemara (Sukka 42a) explains that when a child knows how to shake a lulav, his father should buy him one; when he knows how to properly care for his tefillin, the father buys him tefillin; when he knows how to speak, his father should teach him Torah and Shema. (Although the Gemara later limits “Torah” to teaching the young child “Torah tziva lanu Moshe” and keriat Shema to the first verse only, the Rambam naturally expands the thrust of the Gemara to correspond to the growth of the child: “Afterwards he should teach [the child] little by little … all according to his development” (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:6).)) For each respective mitzva, when the child reaches the appropriate age, you are obligated to train him to perform that mitzva.

The Rishonim and Acharonim discuss several aspects of this mitzva.  First, upon whom does this duty devolve?  Is it an obligation upon the parent, or part of the child’s own obligation in mitzvot?  Second, is it a parallel obligation of the given mitzva, imposed rabbinically upon a Biblically exempt individual, or is chinukh entirely preparatory for the obligations that will be triggered when he is an adult?

In a broader sense, though, chinukh has to do with the molding of the identity and personality of the child.  That itself breaks into two aspects.  One aspect is the development of certain spiritual strengths, certain powers, skills, abilities, inclinations, and sensitivities.  In trying to make a respectable person out of the boy or girl, the parents ask themselves: To what extent can and should we mold the child, and in which direction?  Once the parents understand what the aims are, they can try to answer these questions.

There is a second, more relational aspect of the broad sense of chinukh.  This entails developing what the Greeks called paideia, eliciting from the personality of the child that which is already there; moreover, this means developing not powers, but rather attitudes, relationships, commitments, involvement, and engagement.  For example, part of chinukh is teaching the child the ability to relate to others.  If you look around you, you see that some people have the skill of relating to others, while others cannot relate to a colleague, a child, or a spouse.  Teaching a child to “relate” does not just mean giving him or her a certain skill set in the realm of personal relationships; it also means teaching one how to relate to God, to one’s immediate environs, to one’s collective and national identity, to the past and future, and to the world at large.  All this is part of chinukh.
Some of the aspects of chinukh that I have mentioned have a clear normative thrust; come Sukkot time, you buy the child a lulav.  Others are harder to pin down, almost by definition.  You can discuss what kind of powers to develop in the child, how to develop them, at what level, etc.  There is room for a great range of opinion, both in the degree of priority you assign to the whole enterprise, and also to each component within it.  Does this obligation, which is less easily definable, have a halakhic address?  Here an inevitable split will emerge: with regard to certain aspects – certainly yes; with others, possibly no.

One possible address is Rambam’s Hilkhot Talmud Torah.  He opens the topic in a strange way.  He does not begin with the obligation to study Torah; that arises only in halakha 8.  Rather, the first halakhot deal with a person’s obligation to teach – namely, to teach his children.  The Torah uses the expression, “And you shall teach [the words of Torah] to your children” (Devarim 6:7). Chazal explain that at one level, this refers to students, but on another level, “your children” means just what it says, your sons and daughters.  This involves inculcating certain values, developing certain attitudes, seeing to it that the world of serving God is their world.
Clearly, this does not have as sharply defined lines or contours as does the world of chinukh le-mitzvot; it is a much broader enterprise, which has to do with what kind of commitments, what kind of values, you want the child to have.  Now, part of this aspect of education is vague because the exact values are not so clear.  As opposed to the aforementioned concrete mitzvot, where a lulav is a lulav is a lulav, sensitivity (to name one value) can be variable: sensitivity to what, to whom, what you tolerate, what you refuse to tolerate, etc.  When dealing with defined halakhic duties, people who are halakhically committed will roll up their sleeves and get to work.  However, when we speak to them in general terms of raising a child, giving the child values and commitments, a plethora of possibilities emerge: they can take a low-key approach, they can act intensely and intensively, they can give it a high level of priority or a low level of priority.  Unfortunately, where the matters clash with other priorities, the desire to downplay chinukh may overwhelm some.

The historical evidence in this regard is mixed.  I come, indirectly, from Brisk and from Volozhin.  In Brisk, a very high value was attached to raising children, and particularly to raising them with the paramount values that epitomize this community, specifically, the analytic approach to study.  In Brisk, Reb Chaim did not have a yeshiva.  He started learning with his children, and people heard about it, so other people joined the group.  Today, Yeshivas Brisk in Yerushalayim is an empire!  Rav Avraham Yehoshua Soloveitchik has 800 students in his yeshiva, and hundreds others waiting, knocking at the door.  Contrast that with his father’s whole yeshiva, which fit into a living room, fifty or so seats, while his grandfather, Reb Velvel, had to do without getting a minyanin his home.  He learned with his children.  Rav Moshe Soloveitchik built the Rav into who he was, and not just a little bit here and there.  During the most formative years of the Rav’s life, his father Rav Moshe learned with him for ten to twelve hours a day.  When I say learned, I mean learned!  If the Rav hesitated, or Rav Moshe thought he was goofing off a little bit, he let him have it.

Not everybody did that.  Many of the Torah giants in Eastern Europe, and not one or two, devoted themselves to their own studies, to writing their chiddushim, and let their children grow up as they might within their society.  Some even grew up to be irreligious Jews; and I am not referring here to some local, isolated, unknown rav.

This is not a simple matter.  Chazal say this about Moshe Rabbeinu himself.  In Parashat Chukkatwe read that Aharon’s sons succeed him in the priesthood, and in Parashat Pinchas, the daughters of Tzelofchad successfully inherited their father.  Moshe, upon seeing all this, assumed that his sons would inherit his position of leadership.  Therefore, he came to plead with God regarding his own successor: “May God, Lord of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the community” (Bamidbar 27:16).  But this was not to be.  In a somewhat audacious midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 21:14), God responds harshly: No; your sons sat idly and did not occupy themselves with Torah.  Yehoshua devoted himself to you and honored you; he would come early to the study hall and leave late; he arranged the benches and spread a canopy for shade.  Since he served you with all his strength, he is worthy of serving the people of Israel.  Your sons did not take care of the business of the Jewish people, and they will not succeed you.

The Gemara (Bava Batra 109b) goes even further: it states that Moshe Rabbeinu’s grandson and the latter’s children were idolatrous priests.  Moshe Rabbeinu’s grandson!  Far be it from me, God forbid, to judge Moshe Rabbeinu’s priorities; he clearly felt the whole weight of the Jewish people, the future of Jewish history, on his shoulders; but was it at the expense of Gershom and Eliezer?
I feel very strongly about the need for personal attention in child-raising, and have tried to put it into practice.  I, too, was raised that way.  A number of my rebbe’im also used to speak of the value of learning with one’s children.  The Rav once said that when one gets to Olam Ha-ba, he is going to be asked, “Based on what do you deserve entry to Olam Ha-ba?”  Personally, he mentioned three things, one of which was that he learned with his children.

I remember a derasha that Rav Yitzchak Hutner z”l gave around Shavuot one year when I attended Yeshivat Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin.  He discussed the gemara in Bava Batra (21a) that “Yehoshua ben Gamla is to be remembered for the good,” because he founded a network of Jewish education.  Before his time, everybody had studied with his own child or hired a private tutor, but he founded schools.  The rosh yeshiva said that historians, secular historians in particular, think of this as a great event, resolving the chaos of home education with something systematic: schools, buildings, educational infrastructure.  To the contrary, Rav Hutner said, it was a sad day; the ideal is to follow the literal meaning of the verse, “You shall teach them to your children” (Devarim 11:19).  The rosh yeshiva would frequently discuss with us the need to study with one’s son or one’s daughter, just as verse states.

According to the Rav, talmud Torah is an important aspect of the interpersonal, emotional, and existential bond between a parent and a child.  When the love for Torah embraces an intergenerational link, that enhances the learning.  When our first son was born in the early 1960’s, I was strongly involved with Yavneh (the national campus organization of American and Canadian religious university students) as a member of its National Advisory Board.  The Rav thought that my considerable involvement might divert my energies from other, more important things.  At the bris we spoke, and he quoted the verse, “For Yitzchak shall be your true offspring” (Bereishit 21:12).  God tells Avraham: Do not worry too much about Yishmael, for Yitzchak will be your successor.  What the Rav was telling me was: Remember, raising your son is the priority.

One pays a price for this attitude to child-raising.  I am not telling you that were it not for my children I would be a “gaon olam,” but you pay a price.  However, that is a price that you should be very well ready and willing to pay, and thank God every morning for the ability to pay it.  It is a source of joy beyond words.

Let me digress momentarily for a personal anecdote.  My eldest child is Rav Mosheh.  We made aliyah when he was ten, and when he attended high school at Netiv Meir, I spent a lot of time learning with him and with our second son, Rav Yitzchak.  When Rav Mosheh finished high school, we sent him to the States to study with the Rav.  I drove him to the airport, and when he was about to leave – I was going one way, he was going the other – we embraced and did not exchange one word.  My wife was then visiting her father in the States, and I wrote to her, “It was worth spending seventeen years of learning, of chinukh in Torah and mitzvot, for a one-minute embrace.”  And my son came away with the same feeling.

Raising children is a lot of work, and it is one of the greatest joys in the world – one of the greatest responsibilities and greatest privileges.  There are very few people about whom it can be genuinely be said that there is something objectively more important in their life than raising children.  Every child is a world unto himself, and should be treated with sensitivity, understanding, warmth, and love.
These things are not in textbooks; you will not find instructions about what kind of mixture to have between the assertion of authority, on the one hand, and warmth and love, on the other.  People often presume that Halakha has the answer to everything.  Press the right key, push the right button, open up to the right page, look it up, and it is there.  And if it is not there, it is only because we have not gotten around to it yet; you have the misfortune of being born twenty years before somebody will write the answer to your question.  But if you wait twenty years, the answer will be there.  This attitude is absolutely incorrect!

We do not do any favors to God, or to the world of Halakha, by pretending that it has what it does not have, and what – from my point of view – it does not need to have and does not want to have.  Though the world of Torah is rich and demanding, though it encompasses so many areas of human life, it does not have the precise answer to everything – and this is true in some of the most significant areas of human life.  For example, I wrote an article in Tradition about an area which I am not going to discuss now, marital relationships.  There are certain elements of marriage which are halakhot, and so many elements that are not Halakha.  What kind of relationship do you have with your spouse?  How intense, how superficial, how cordial?  Halakha does not tell you.

To return to the issue at hand, what kind of parent are you?  Do you intend the relationship to be formal or chummy?  The Gemara (Kiddushin 32a) teaches that a father who foregoes the honor due him may do so; does it say anywhere whether a parent should do so?  There are differences between cultures and families.  When we are at home, my children can poke fun at my wife and at me.  It is part of the scene, and we take it in stride and with joy.  One would never have spoken in that way in my parents’ home, and it would never even have occurred to anyone to speak that way in the Rav’s family.  It is not that the degree or quality of the love is different, but the manifestation is different.
To be sure, a parent must have the ability to be assertive and to radiate and communicate authority.  A parent is not just a playmate, an older sibling.  The parent represents values, represents the world of Judaism; a parent is to the young child, and subsequently to the adolescent child, God’s plenipotentiary.  He represents the Ribbono shel Olam in his home!  Parents represent moral, spiritual, and religious values.  As such, to some extent, one must speak with a voice of authority.  Still, Teddy Roosevelt’s aphorism, “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” requires modification: I would say that a parent must learn to speak softly without carrying a stick, and yet with a clear voice of authority.  A parent should not just be a schoolteacher; it is a relationship of Ve-nafesho keshura be-nafesho, “And his soul is bound up with his soul” (Bereishit 44:30).\

In this vein, there are certain issues that need to be dealt with, to which I do not think one can give a single answer; every person must provide his own answer.  I mentioned that I come from the Brisker tradition.  Brisk was very, very authoritarian, and this in two respects.  First, although in learning one could challenge a parent’s authority, one could not challenge it in practice.  Second, they set a very high standard.  It was very demanding, and the result was like “swinging for the fences” in baseball: more home runs and more strikeouts.  In almost every generation there were people who paid a price, a price in simple mental health, because they cracked and could not advance.  But, at the same time, this environment produced Torah giants.

Parents must ask themselves to what extent they want to “swing for the fences.”  The night before one of my children married, he raised this issue with me.  I described to him how I saw other contexts where a steep price had been paid for swinging for the fences, and I said that a double is also enough.  But it is a personalized, individual decision.

One of the most fascinating autobiographies of the nineteenth century was written by John Stuart Mill.  His father did not just swing for the fences, he wanted to hit it out of the ballpark.  In his autobiography, Mill describes the education he received.  When he was a toddler, the father would let him “play” with Aristotle.  If he went for a walk with his father, he was to discuss Aristotle and logic, or Plato and metaphysics.  There were no playmates: he never even realized that there were playmates in the world; he simply was raised in a separate environment, and he was a marvel.  But at the age of twenty he had a nervous breakdown.  What pulled him out of the nervous breakdown was not Plato, not Aristotle, not Aquinas; it was Wordsworth’s poetry.

That is an extreme example.  I am not suggesting that everybody who is strict with his children or demanding is running the risk of inducing a nervous breakdown.  But at some point, and this is true of the mitzva of chinukh generally as well, you have to decide upon the proper mix – particularly in the home, where it is so critical, even more than in the classroom.  In a classroom, too, you have to decide: you can be strict and get results, but at what cost?  The result may be that the student knows the material very well, but will develop no love for it – and also no love for you, and no love for God, whom you are representing.  Alternatively, you can be gentle and pleasant: he may love you, but he may not know much.

This is a tug which I have always felt as an educator, and I never know whether or not I provide the proper mix.  Every so often I read about people who are not as concerned as I am with values, but are concerned with getting results.  When I was running the RIETS Kollel in the States in the 1960s, Vince Lombardi coached the Green Bay Packers.  Lombardi’s results from his players were unparalleled, astounding!  But they hated him.  Perhaps if you are a football coach and you are hated, it is one thing.  However, if you are a parent and you are hated, it is something else.  And if you are an educator who is hated, it is something else entirely.

In particular, if you are concerned with raising children religiously in today’s environment, there are risks that one could have taken at one time, but are now much more problematic.  I sense this regarding chinukh in general, and regarding the primary educator – the parent – as well.  At one time, if you were very hard on students, and they didn’t like you, they left your school, and went from one educational framework to another.  Today, a child drops out of school, he drops out of Shabbat, he drops out of God.  Teachers, and even more so parents, must find the proper combination of communicating values and making demands but radiating love; this is the mix that defines raising children.

A comparison with the appropriate role of grandparents will help sharpen the complexity of the parental relationship.  Chazal expound the verse, “So shall you say (tomar) to the house of Yaakov and tell (tagged) to the children of Israel” (Shemot 19:3): “tagged” means those things that are harsh, and those should be told to the men, who are more assertive, more authoritarian; “tomar” indicates softer language, which is directed at the “house of Yaakov,” that is, the women.  There is an analogous verse, “Ask your father and he will tell you (ve-yaggedekha); your elders and they shall say (ve-yomeru) to you” (Devarim 32:7): the father is authoritarian, assertive; the grandparent is softer.  I have occasionally quoted C.S.  Lewis’s statement that many people “want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in Heaven.”  I think that grandfathers represent and inculcate values, but the nature of the relationship is such that they cannot be as stern.
This approach should occasionally influence the parents as well.  In translating the verse, “We have an elderly father, and a small youngest child” (Bereishit 44:20), Onkelos translates the phrase “elderly father” as “Abba sabba,” literally, a father who is a grandfather.  Sometimes the father has to learn to be a grandfather, too.

Recently, a student quoted me as saying that a father should be ready both to learn with his children and play ball with them.  He said I then added that if you want the child to want to learn with you, you have to play ball with him.  I am not sure you have to; but despite not remembering making this particular statement, it is the sort of thing I would have said.  Still, there is one clarification I want to make.  I did not play ball with my children as a trick, as a tactic.  I did not think, “Today I’ll play basketball with him, and in a year we will learn Minchat Chinukh.”  I don’t think one should approach it that way.  There is joy, there is wonder, in the ability to play with one’s children; it is not simply a tool, not just instrumental.  It is a joy in its own right, and one of the joys which I think God fully permits us and wants us to participate in.  I don’t harbor any guilt about playing ball with my children, nor do I regard it as a wasted day.  It is part of what being a family is all about.
Raising children is part of an educational endeavor, both in terms of Torah learning and in terms of ethical, religious, and spiritual growth.  What kind of person is this child going to be?  That is very often a direct educational endeavor.  But no less important is the indirect educational endeavor.  How you behave towards the child, what climate you create in the home, impacts him definitively.  Children are very smart.  If you bluff, they will see straight through you.  You cannot expect a child to study Torah if you do not learn yourself.  But I don’t want to focus too sharply, too exclusively, on the cognitive development: communicating knowledge, love of Torah, love of knowledge.  Developing character is more important than knowledge.  That is true in a yeshiva, and it is true in a home.  This is what we mean by “yirato kodemet le-chokhmato,” one’s fear of Heaven must precede his wisdom.

A home is a total environment that encompasses many dimensions – not only the cognitive and the moral, but the joys, the labors, and the tensions; all of these arise, and you have to know how to handle them.  There are indeed tensions; to see that, you need merely open Sefer Bereishit.  You have to be ready to meet the challenges.  Some issues are very deeply ingrained and cannot be altogether eliminated.  But you can channel, you can soften; you can try to have quiet conversations.
The Gemara in Shabbat (10b) says that a person should not discriminate between his children, to privilege one over the others, and the proof is from the book of Bereishit: Yaakov did it, and look what happened to Yosef!  Rambam goes even further than Chazal, adding a small phrase: “One should not discriminate between his children even in the slightest way” (Hilkhot Nachalot 6:13).  I am not sure that one can live up to such a high standard.  Usually, however, even if in certain areas you favor one child over another, you can compensate: one goes to camp, the other takes piano lessons.  As I said at the beginning, it is an awesome responsibility; but it is a marvelous joy.

Unfortunately, not everyone experiences this joy and privilege.  Nechama Leibowitz, one of the most prolific and influential educators of her generation, once said she would give up everything – all her studies, all her books, all her teaching – to have had a child.  The tragedy of childlessness is one which is mentioned in TanakhChazal are sensitive to it, and one should be cognizant of it.

Many years ago, on Rosh Ha-shana night, I spoke, inter alia, about the question of childlessness, with reference the Torah reading and the haftara for the first day of Rosh Ha-shana (regarding Sara and Chana, respectively).  Afterwards I felt badly, because I saw among those assembled one of our alumni who had been married for five or seven years and still did not have a child.  When he later stood in line to wish me a good year, and to be wished a good year, I asked him if I had gone too deep.  He said that he had no words to thank me for my understanding of his plight.

Chazal ask why the matriarchs Sara, Rivka, and Rachel were childless, and conversely, why Leah did not experience this problem.  Regarding Leah, the Torah answers: “God saw that Leah was hated, and He opened her womb” (Bereishit 29:31).  She was rewarded, compensated for being hated.  Regarding the others, one remarkable opinion in the midrash states that their childlessness stemmed from God’s desire for the prayers of the righteous.  Whatever this difficult passage means, God yearns, thirsts, longs for the prayers of the righteous.  And what can be a better impetus to prayer than childlessness?

So, those of us who are fortunate to have children have been blessed, and should be appreciative.  As such, we should construct our lives in accordance with the aforementioned principles.

As I mentioned, when my sons were in high school, I used to devote several nights a week to learning with them.  Once I met one of the ramim at their high school, and he remarked, “What a wonderful thing!  As busy as you are, you find time to come learn with your sons.”  I looked at him, and could not understand:  “If I can’t find time to learn with my sons, for what will I find time?  What is my time for?”  But he did not seem to understand a word of what I had told him, so I let it be.
There is a selfish aspect to this as well.  We look at our children as a continuation of ourselves, and rightly so.  Yet one has to be very careful not to overdo the selfish element.  There are parents who destroy their children because they want their children to do what they themselves could not do.  I know a woman who wanted to go Barnard College but was not accepted; she made her daughter go there, even though the daughter really wanted to go to Stern College.  You have to be able to see things from the perspective of the child, without losing your own perspective.  It is not simple.  Again, it comes back to the question of authority and the love: to see things from the vantage point of the child while maintaining your vantage point, representing values and representing a certain world order.

Overall, parenting is a tall order, but it generates some of the most beautiful days in your life.  In a sense, it is the small things, the really small things, that can matter most.  When my youngest son, Shai, was ten, we had occasion to visit my sister in Kiryat Shmuel, which is on the northern outskirts of Haifa.  One summer day, the rest of the family went away, and he and I were left home alone.  Since Kiryat Shmuel is about ten kilometers from Akko, I suggested bicycling to Akko.  We rode up to Akko and came back by train.  One may ask: what is the value of riding a bicycle or taking the train?  Yet it was, for him and for me – without exchanging words at the time – a formative, bonding experience, trivial as it may seem.  Sometimes, within the context of a relationship, it is the trivial things that are most profoundly meaningful.  Without being bombastic about it, without blowing anything out of proportion, that is where bonds are forged and relationships are developed.  And you have to start when they are young.

In the family of Rav Ahron Soloveichik z”l, the first three children were boys, born relatively close together.  At the bar mitzva of one of his sons, Rav Ahron quoted his mother – an idea he later found in Chizkuni – about the reason for Levi’s name: “This time my husband will accompany me” (Bereishit 29:34).  Why did Leah think that specifically “this time” her husband would accompany her?  He quoted the midrash that the children were born to Leah in very short order, after seven-month pregnancies.  When the first child was born, Leah figured she would take care of him; Yaakov was busy with other things.  When the second child was born, she could still carry them both on her own, one child in each arm.  But then, soon after, Levi arrived, and she said, “This time my husband will accompany me”: now Yaakov has no choice, for she only has two arms.  Rav Ahron mentioned this because he had very much liked the midrash on the verse, “For from the top of rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him” (Bamidbar 23:9): “‘Rosh tzurim’ – these are the fathers; ‘gevaot’ – these are the mothers” (Bamidbar Rabba 20:19), which expresses the concept of differing roles in parenting for the mother and the father (an idea less popular nowadays).  When his children were born, he figured his wife would take care of them as infants, and when they were ready to learn Gemara, he would enter the picture.  But he soon came to see how wrong he was.  When I was in his shiur in Yeshivat Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, his first child was born, and he used to come to yeshiva with diaper pins still in his shirt pocket.  You cannot start being an involved parent too early.
But you do not play the professional parent; you play the human parent, who works at parenting out of the depth of his love and commitment: the love of the child, the love of the family, and the love of God.

Let me close with a brief anecdote.  On Yom Ha-atzmaut 1973, just prior to Yom Kippur War, there was a big military parade up Keren Ha-yesod Street in Jerusalem.  We were new olim, having just come in 1971, and we took our children to see the parade.  We went to the home of someone who lived on Keren Ha-yesod, up to their porch, and watched the parade with a number of other people.  On this porch we met a Mr. Cohen from Cardiff, Wales.  Cardiff is not Bnei Brak, yet all of Mr. Cohen’s children were religious and all of his grandchildren were religious. He himself was not a rav but a simple layman; many Torah giants did not merit what Mr. Cohen did.  My wife and I asked him, “Mr.  Cohen, how did you raise such a family?”  He responded in Yiddish, “To raise children properly, you need two things: good judgment, seikhel, and divine assistance, siyata di-shemaya; and to have seikhel, you also need siyata di-shemaya.”

However, even if you have seikhel and siyata di-shemaya, your heart has to be in the right place.  You have to be willing to give, and willing to receive.  Family life is all about giving and receiving reciprocally, to children, to parents, to a spouse, in all areas of life.  Superficially regarded, raising children is massive giving.  But I tell you that it is massive receiving, but massive!  The joy and nachas are beyond words.

This sicha was delivered to second-year overseas students at Yeshivat Har Etzion on July 1, 2007.  It was adapted by Reuven Ziegler and Naftali Balanson from a transcript by Marc Herman and Dov Karoll. The essay originally appeared on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Mitzvos Transform Us

Rabbi Zweig from Torah.org

"Hashem came forth from Sinai, shone forth to them from Seir, having appeared to them from Mount Paran" (Devarim 33:2)               

The Midrash records that prior to Hashem offering the Torah to Bnei Yisroel, He made it available to the nations of the world. He offered it to the children of Esau (who lived in the land of Seir). When they discovered that it contained the prohibition of murder, they rejected the Torah on the grounds that, by nature, they were a violent people. A similar result occurred when Hashem offered the Torah to the children of Yishmael (living in Paran). They rejected it, for it contained the prohibition of stealing. 1 The following difficulties have to be dealt with: Firstly, the two precepts that were rejected, namely "Do not murder" and "Do not steal", are already included in the Seven Noachide Laws. 2 Therefore, they are already bound to uphold these precepts. Secondly, the precepts as they appear in the Noachide Laws are more severe than they are in the Torah. The punishment for theft in the Torah is a payment of twice the principle. 3 The Noachide Laws are capital offenses. To be found guilty by a Jewish court, two witnesses must be present at the scene of the crime, and a warning to the perpetrator had to have been issued. This is not required to convict according to the Noachide Laws. Why were they rejecting the Torah based upon precepts that would have been less restrictive than those that they were already obligated to keep?  The Rambam in his introduction to Pirkei Avos poses the following question: Which is a higher service of Hashem, one who by nature does not have the desire to violate the precepts, or one who struggles with the desire, finally conquering his evil inclination, and does the will of Hashem? 4 The Rambam comes to the following conclusion: In the Torah we find two categories of Mitzvos (precepts). There are those that, by nature, we sense the obligation to uphold. We understand that violating them would be doing something intrinsically wrong (i.e. murder, stealing, adultery). The second category of precepts is those that we would have no inkling of them being prohibited, were it not for Hashem restricting us from doing them (i.e. cooking milk together with meat, shaatnez, etc.). Concerning those that we identify as being wrong, the Torah obligates us not to desire to do them. The soul that adheres to these precepts, but desires to do them is defective. Concerning those with which we do not associate an intrinsic wrong, the higher level of adherence is desiring to do them, but restraining only because Hashem commands us to do so.  The difference between the Seven Noachide Laws and the 613 Torah laws is not only quantitative, but qualitative as well. The Noachide Laws are essentially a directive to insure that society does not self-destruct. Noachide man is only commanded to act, or desist from acting in a certain manner. There is no obligation to inculcate the precept into his very being, no obligation regarding his thoughts or sensitivities. Torah law requires more than providing a functioning society; it requires that man be a reflection of his Maker. This is attained by incorporating the precepts into our very being. "Do not steal" is not merely do not commit the crime; rather our very being is required to be reviled by the act of stealing.  Those precepts which the nations of the world rejected are from the category that one is able to sense are wrong (just as are all seven of the Noachide Laws). However, those who are bound by the Noachide Laws are not commanded against desiring to do them. What Hashem offered them was an entirely new level of observance, a qualitative change of themselves as human beings. It is this which they rejected. It is a quantum leap from being commanded not to do something, to being commanded to revile the very act itself.  1.13:3 2.Gur Arye 13:26 3.158:1

Hashem Wants To Be Our King

The Ibn Ezra recounts a question that he was asked by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi 1 : Why does Hashem define Himself as the G-d who took us out of Egypt ? 2 A seemingly more appropriate title would be G-d, Creator of the Universe. To define Hashem as Creator refers to Him as the One responsible for all existence, whereas, the One who took us out of Egypt refers to Him only as responsible for one historical incident. Rashi, on the same verse, comments on the words "from the house of slavery": We were slaves to Pharoah, not to his subjects. Presumably, Rashi is explaining that this is meant to be a form of solace to Bnei Yisroel. It is difficult to understand how this is so. We experienced tremendous atrocities at the hands of Pharaoh. The Midrash relates that he alone was responsible for the slaughter of 75,000 Jewish children for their blood. 3 (Bathing in blood was considered a remedy for leprosy, an ailment from which Pharaoh suffered.) It is difficult to imagine how our plight would have been worse being slaves to his subjects.  The Rambam teaches us that a king has the authority to enlist any of his subjects for his personal service. However, the king has an obligation to compensate that individual. 4 What Rashi is telling us is that we became Pharaoh's slaves, and therefore, we had a right to demand compensation (which we took when we left Egypt). This would explain a fascinating story related in the Talmud. When Alexander Macedonia conquered the Middle East, he formed a tribunal that adjudicated claims brought by the different nations for injustices perpetrated against them by other nations. One such claim was made by Egypt against Bnei Yisroel. They demanded that the money and valuables Bnei Yisroel left Egypt with be returned to them. A Rabbi by the name of Gaviha ben Pessisa spearheaded the defense for Bnei Yisroel. He counterclaimed, mathematically computing the work hours that the Jews had toiled when they were in Egypt showing that the Egyptians still owed us money; the Egyptian claim was dropped. 5 It is difficult to understand Gaviha ben Pessisa's position. Since when does a slave have a right to demand compensation from a master? The answer must be as explained by the Rambam. If a king enlists his subjects to serve him, the subjects have a right to demand compensation.  Perhaps we can now answer Rabbi Yehuda Halevi's question. Rashi explains that we are obligated to serve Hashem since He took us out of slavery. 6 This implies that our relationship with Hashem substituted for the one we had with Pharaoh. The significance of this is as follows: If we relate to Hashem as the Creator of the Universe, since He created us, He owns us and we have no rights. A master does not owe his slave anything. If one owns a car, he does not owe it to the car to keep it in good condition; doing so is in the owner's best interest. The car, however, has no right to claim rewards for service. So too, a slave cannot demand reward for service to his master. However, although a king has the right to enslave his subjects, the subjects still have rights and may demand compensation. What Rashi is explaining is that the relationship that Hashem wants to create with Bnei Yisroel is predicated on- reward and punishment. We have a right to expect reward. This is why the Torah defines our relationship to Hashem as the One 'who took us out of slavery'; we became His subjects and He, our King. If the definition would have been 'Creator of the Universe', then He would have been our master and we, His slaves, and as such we would have no right to expect reward. Although Hashem is also our Creator , He wants to relate to us as King, so we will have a sense of "earning our keep ". 1. R. Yehuda Halevi is the author of the Kuzari. 2. Ibn Ezra 20:2. 3. Mechilta 2:23. 4. Melachim 4:2,3. 5. Sanhedrin 91a. 6. Rashi ibid.

חיה מלכה בת בת שבע לרפואה שלימה בתוך שח"י

18 year old in a coma.