Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Copper Mirrors and the Copper Kiyyor

In this week's parsha, Vayakhel, we see that (Shemos 38:8) "He made the Kiyyor of copper and its pedestal of copper with the mirrors of the women who congregated at the entrance of the tent of the meeting." The question here is, why was the kiyyor made with the mirrors? The parsha tells us there was a surplus of materials, yet the kiyyor was made from the women's mirror's? First of all, Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the kiyyor is very important because most other vessels were purified through the kiyyor. Also, how can you use a vessel, like a mirror, that is used for such a physical thing, like making yourself look good, for the holy temple?

Rashi comes to tell us that Moshe, at first, did not accept the women's donation of the mirrors because he thought they were an inappropriate contribution for the previously stated reason. However, G-D commanded Moshe to accept them. Why? Because it was through these mirrors that the Jewish people were able to be fruitful and multiplied. As the famous Midrash tells us, the women would make themselves look enticing for their husbands after their hard day working as slaves for the Egyptians. This caused the exhausted men to lust after their wives, even though they were exhausted, and more babies were born because of this. Thus, we see that even things that seem unholy can be used and treated as holy objects if the intent behind the use of those objects is holy.

There is at least one other time when an object that is, seemingly, unholy but it is given a holy status. This is the sword of Goliath that David won after killing him. In the book of Samuel 1 (21) when David goes to the city of Nob, where the Mishkan was located, he requests a weapon. The priest tells him "The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, is here; it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod." Why was it located in such a holy place? Behind the Ephod is surly no place for a weapon, especially one that has been used to kill. This teaches the same lesson as the copper mirrors. Obviously, David only used the sword to kill and protect people for the sake of G-D and the Jewish people. He did not kill because he enjoyed killing, or for his own glory. David was completely devoted to G-D and tried his best to follow in the ways of G-D. Therefore, his sword was considered holy because he killed Goliath for G-D and Israel's sake. As the verse tells us (Samuel I 17:26), "And David spoke to the men that stood by him, saying: 'What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the taunt from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should have taunted the armies of the living God?" David wanted someone to stand up for G-D and the Jewish people.

Both Goliath's sword being behind the Ephod and the copper mirrors being used for the kiyyor teach us a very valuable lesson. Anyone can make anything into something holy all that really matters is the intentions a person has when performing that action. Killing and sexual relations are usually considered to be the most base and non-spiritualistic actions a person can do, but even these actions can be elevated to something holy depending on the intentions behind them. If a person is fighting to defend the Jewish people there is nothing more holy than that. If someone has the intention to go out of their way in order to perpetuate the Jewish nation, that is a great act. Almost anything can be turned into something great based on the intentions behind the actions. The right intentions can bring along with them true holiness.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rambam Yisodei Hatorah Perek 6 Halacha 2: Which Names of G-D are Forbidden to Erase

ושבעה שמות הם. השם הנכתב יו"ד ה"א וא"ו ה"א והוא השם המפורש. או הנכתב אדני. ואל. אלוה. ואלהים. ואהיה. ושדי. וצבאות. כל המוחק אפילו אות אחת משבעה אלו לוקה:

There are seven names [that are forbidden to be erased]. The name written with a yud-hey-vav-hey, this is the explicit name (Shem Hamefurash) or if it is written as Alef-dalet-nun-yud, EL, Eloha, Elohim, Eheyeh (In Rambam Frankel), Shadai, and Tzivaos. Anyone who erases even one letter from these seven [names is punished with] lashes.

The Rambam here is quoting the Gemara in Shevuous 35a where it basically says what the Rambam says, verbatim. However, the Rambam (The Guide for the Perplexed Part 1 Chapter 61) discusses the names of G-D a little more in depth. I think it is appropriate to bring down his words here:

IT is well known that all the names of God occurring in Scripture are derived from His actions, except one, namely, the Tetragrammaton, which consists of the letters yod, hé, vau and hé. This name is applied exclusively to God, and is on that account called Shem ha-meforash, "The nomen proprium." It is the distinct and exclusive designation of the Divine Being; whilst His other names are common nouns, and are derived from actions, to which some of our own are similar, as we have already explained. Even the name Adonay, "Lord," which has been substituted for the Tetragrammaton, is derived from the appellative "lord"; comp. "The man who is the lord (adone) of the land spake roughly to us" (Gen. xliii. 30). The difference between Adoni, "my lord," (with ḥirek under the nun), or Adonay (with kameẓ), is similar to the difference between Sari, "my prince," and Saraï, Abraham's wife (ib. xvi. 1), the latter form denoting majesty and distinction. An angel is also addressed as "Adonay"; e.g., "Adonay (My lord), pass not away, I pray thee" (ib. xviii. 3). I have restricted my explanation to the term Adonay, the substitute for the Tetragrammaton, because it is more commonly applied to God than any of the other names which are in frequent use, like dayyan, "judge," shadday, "almighty," ẓaddik, "righteous," ḥannun, "gracious," raḥum, "merciful," and elohim "chief" all these terms are unquestionably appellations and derivatives. The derivation of the name, consisting of yod, hé, vau, and hé, is not positively known, the word having no additional signification. This sacred name, which, as you know, was not pronounced except in the sanctuary by the appointed priests, when they gave the sacerdotal blessing, and by the high priest on the Day of Atonement, undoubtedly denotes something which is peculiar to God, and is not found in any other being. It is possible that in the Hebrew language, of which we have now but a slight knowledge, the Tetragrammaton, in the way it was pronounced, conveyed the meaning of "absolute existence." In short, the majesty of the name and the great dread of uttering it, are connected with the fact that it denotes God Himself, without including in its meaning any names of the things created by Him. Thus our Sages say: "'My name' (Num. vi. 27) means the name which is peculiar to Me." All other names of God have reference to qualities, and do not signify a simple substance, but a substance with attributes, they being derivatives. On that account it is believed that they imply the presence of a plurality in God, I mean to say, the presence of attributes, that is, of some extraneous element superadded to His essence. Such is the meaning of all derivative names: they imply the presence of some attribute and its substratum, though this be not distinctly named. As, however, it has been proved, that God is not a substratum capable of attributes, we are convinced that those appellatives when employed as names of God, only indicate the relation of certain actions to Him, or they convey to us some notion of His perfection.

So we see that the name yud-hey-vav-hey is the true name of G-D that has no KNOWN meaning. However, all other names come to describe some action that G-D performs. With this in mind I will try to explain why these names are specified and not any others.

As Rambam points out, the yud-hey-vav-hey name of G-D is THE true name of G-D with no ulterior meaning, therefore, it is clear why erasing this name should be included in the prohibition of erasing G-D's name.

The truth is, there is one principle guiding this law that is pointed out time and again by the commentators and the Gemara itself. When a person writes the name of G-D it is forbidden to erase it. Why then does it specify these 7 names? Because, these seven names are used, almost exclusively, to refer to G-D. It is true that once and awhile someone might write these names referring to things other than G-D, but since the common usage of these words is to refer to G-D it is forbidden to erase them. I guess the idea of going after the majority (Rov) is the effective rule when dealing with erasing letters of G-D's name.

As will be pointed out in Halacha five of this chapter, other names of G-D are allowed to be erased. Why? Because they are less often used to refer to G-D and are more often used to refer to other things.

The reason for this law, it seems, is because we can not be cavalier with G-D. We need to always have a sense of awe whenever we deal with G-D. Therefore, even when we are writing G-D's name, we must be conscious of what we are doing. Matters dealing with the divine are no light matter. We need to show G-D respect in every aspect possible.

I think that the reason this law is included in the section of the Rambam which deals with the foundation of Judaism is because it teaches us that we need to realize G-D encompasses every aspect of our lives. No matter how minute the situation, we can never forget about G-D.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Why Talk About Counting The People NOW?

This week's parsha, Ki Sisa, starts off with a, seemingly, off topic discussion. The past two Parshios of Terumah and Tetzaveh were talking about all the different vessels of the Mishkan and the services. Why does the Torah feel that it is NOW the appropriate time to talk about taking a census?

Actually, this is the PERFECT time to talk about taking a census. If we recall what the Torah says in the beginning of Parshas Terumah (Shemos 25:2-8), I think we will be able to answer why this commandment (how to take a census) is brought up now. I actually discussed the relevant topic in Parshas Terumah two weeks ago, found here. For the sake of being complete, I will briefly mention what was discussed over there. Simply put, at the beginning of Parshas Terumah the Torah tells us that "whoever's heart make him willing" is commanded to give Terumah (tithes) over there. Apparently, only some Jews were commanded to give tithes for the erection of the Tabernacle (Mishkan), but not everyone.

Like most things in the world, one would think that only those involved in building the Mishkan or those who donated money to the building of the Mishkan would feel connected to the Mishkan. Also, people who donate more money would feel they have a greater connection than those who donated less money. This is simple human nature. People who did not donate, or donated less, would not just feel disconnected from the Mishkan, but they would feel like it has little to do with them. Therefore, it is essential that once the description of the Mishkan and its services is completed that the Torah discuss how people who did not donate, or donated less, to the building of the Mishkan still have a strong connection to the Mishkan. This is why the Torah immediately discusses the commandment of how to take a census.

How does the commandment of taking a census make everyone feel connected to the Mishkan? It is found in the simple reading of the Torah (Shemos 30:12-16):

יב  כִּי תִשָּׂא אֶת-רֹאשׁ בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם, וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם.12 'When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
יג  זֶה יִתְּנוּ, כָּל-הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, בְּשֶׁקֶל הַקֹּדֶשׁ:  עֶשְׂרִים גֵּרָה, הַשֶּׁקֶל--מַחֲצִית הַשֶּׁקֶל, תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה.13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary--the shekel is twenty gerahs--half a shekel for an offering to the LORD.
יד  כֹּל, הָעֹבֵר עַל-הַפְּקֻדִים, מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וָמָעְלָה--יִתֵּן, תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה.14 Every one that passeth among them that are numbered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the offering of the LORD.
טו  הֶעָשִׁיר לֹא-יַרְבֶּה, וְהַדַּל לֹא יַמְעִיט, מִמַּחֲצִית, הַשָּׁקֶל--לָתֵת אֶת-תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם.15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when they give the offering of the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.
טז  וְלָקַחְתָּ אֶת-כֶּסֶף הַכִּפֻּרִים, מֵאֵת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְנָתַתָּ אֹתוֹ, עַל-עֲבֹדַת אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וְהָיָה לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְזִכָּרוֹן לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לְכַפֵּר עַל-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם.  {פ}16 And thou shalt take the atonement money from the children of Israel, and shalt appoint it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for your souls.'{P}

Whether a Jew is rich or poor, he or she has the same share in the atonement offering that is offered for the sake of the entire community. This tells us that whether a person contributed a massive amount to the building of the Mishkan or absolutely nothing, they still have the same claim to the Mishkan and its purpose (connecting to G-D). A poor person may feel that they have no share in the Mishkan because they do not have the ability to donate money. However, G-D immediately dispels that feeling by telling us, immediately, that whether or not you had the money to donate, you are still included, with an equal portion, in the communal sacrifices. Whether a Jew is rich or poor, whether they were involved with the building of the Mishkan or not, they still have a right and an obligation to participate in the future.

This idea is not just towards the Mishkan, but every aspect of Jewish life. A person might miss out on an opportunity to be part of anything in Judaism, whether it be Shachris (morning prayer) or Neila of Yom Kippur (the final prayer before the "gates close). However, the message of the Torah is clear, you have not missed your chance. You are part of the Jewish people and, therefore, it is your right and obligation to be part of the community even if you have not contributed until this point.

There is one catch. The poor person or rich person who has not yet contributed can only be part of the community once THEY START TO CONTRIBUTE. A person can not just feed off of the community without any contributions and take part in the community. That is the second lesson that this commandment of taking the census teaches us. Yes, you can become a part of the community at any time. However, you can only be a part of the community once you start to contribute to the cause of the community. This is why even a poor person that can not afford anything else is only included in the census if he or she donates the half-a-shekel (Machtzis Hashekel).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How Does G-D Work In This World?

Ever since I can remember I had a simple question, "How does G-D interact with the world?" However, if you think about it, this is probably the most complicated question one can ask about G-D. People always say that "G-D helps" and "G-D caused it to happen," but HOW did He help and HOW did He cause it to happen? There is a scientist/theologian quoted in "Discover" magazine in an article titled "Physics of the divine" in the March 2011 issue that has put forth a new theory about how, MAYBE, G-D interacts with the world. I find his theory very interesting, to say the least. I will try to hit the main points.

(The scientist/theologian is an Anglican priest named John Polkinghorne)

"I started with the statement that I believe G-D acts in the world, but He is not a show-off conjurer who violates the same laws of nature that He made." he says. "My questions was, Is there a way of describing G-D's actions that is consistent with science?"

.....Reviewing the evidence... Russell concluded that the best place to seek scientific support for G-D is in quantum mechanics, the physical laws describing the subatomic realm..... For people seeking a place for G-D in the physical world, the most important of those [peculiar] properties [in the quantum theory] is the uncertainty principle which states that you can never predict the outcome of a quantum experiment with certainty; you can only calculate the probability of getting a particular result.

As a result of the uncertainty principle, quantum events are starkly different from those in the familiar, large-scale world. [For example,] when you toss a coin, you could, in theory, make a foolproof prediction (heads or tales) if you knew every piece of information about the flip-- the speed and height of the toss, the movement of all the air currents in the room and so on. At the quantum scale, in contrast, equivalent events are intrinsically indeterministic: the universe simply does not contain enough information for you to predict a result. This fundamental indeterminism has been repeatedly confirmed in the lab. For instance, physicists have shown that two identical radioactive atoms will decay at different times. There is no way to explain why they behave differently or to predict the precise time of decay.
(There are more complications that are explained, but this is the theory of Polkinghorne of how G-D could intervene in the world. He also goes on to add chaos theory for different reasons.)

This theory is interesting, but there is also another convincing idea put forth by quantum physicist Antoine Suarez of the Center for Quantum Philosophy in Zurich in the same article. 

.... G-D seekers are better off pursuing another quantum effect, entanglement. In entanglement, two particles become twinned in such a way that the measurement of one always determines the properties  of the other, no matter how far apart they may be. Imagine setting up a pair of entangled "coins" (such as photons with a specific orientation), then giving one to Alice in Oxford and another to Bob in Zurich. When you ask Alice and Bob to flip their coins, they will both get heads or both get tails, even though the results of the tosses should be random and independent..... Suarez claims entanglement tests conducted with real photons in the lab suggest that quantum effects must be caused by "influences that originate from outside of space-time."

[After conducting an experiment that took time out of the equation Suarez discovered that he was wrong when he thought that] "by messing up the time-ordering in this way, it would be impossible for the photons to coordinate their paths." He was proven wrong. On every run, the photons still met the same fate. Whatever causes the twin photons to behave the same way, it must work independently of time.

These two ideas in no way prove G-D. However, it is very difficult to understand how G-D could interact with the world. Before I read about this theory I was always troubled by how G-D intervenes in the world. Everything seemed like it could be explained away through nature or choices of human beings. Rainbows are not the hand of G-D, but a beautiful occurrence that is seen in nature. Tides are natural occurrences. True, we can claim that nature was created by G-D, but at that point we never observe nature changing in a miraculous way, rather we see nature's laws holding tight, unchanging. How does G-D get involved?

I don't understand how people believe G-D just intervenes. In what way does he intervene? G-D influencing quantum events makes a lot of sense to me, especially according to the Rambam and Ralbag. Rambam tells us that G-D relates to the world through His angels (see here). How? Well, the Rambam tells us that when G-D wants to cause something to happen on earth He influences the Chayos (top level angels) and that starts a chain reaction that eventually leads to an action in the physical realm. Sounds like how quantum mechanics works. A teeny tiny event that, through Chaos theory, can affect the physical realm.

This idea allows us to understand the Ralbag and Rambam, I think, in a much clearer way. They say that G-D allows nature to take its course, unless the person is very righteous. So, G-D does not intervene in the world except for the very righteous. If that is true, how does He intervene for the righteous? This theory could, theoretically, allow us to understand how G-D intervenes, but allows the world to work through nature without a constant need for His intervention.

For a related idea see this post

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why Only Those Whose "Heart Maketh Him Willing" Are Commanded to Give Terumah (Tithes)?

This week's Parsha, Terumah, opens up with G-D commanding Moshe to (Shemos 25:2-8):
ב  דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה:  מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי.2 'Speak unto the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering.
ג  וְזֹאת, הַתְּרוּמָה, אֲשֶׁר תִּקְחוּ, מֵאִתָּם:  זָהָב וָכֶסֶף, וּנְחֹשֶׁת.3 And this is the offering which ye shall take of them: gold, and silver, and brass;
ד  וּתְכֵלֶת וְאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי, וְשֵׁשׁ וְעִזִּים.4 and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair;
ה  וְעֹרֹת אֵילִם מְאָדָּמִים וְעֹרֹת תְּחָשִׁים, וַעֲצֵי שִׁטִּים.5 and rams' skins dyed red, and sealskins, and acacia-wood;
ו  שֶׁמֶן, לַמָּאֹר; בְּשָׂמִים לְשֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה, וְלִקְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים.6 oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense;
ז  אַבְנֵי-שֹׁהַם, וְאַבְנֵי מִלֻּאִים, לָאֵפֹד, וְלַחֹשֶׁן.7 onyx stones, and stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate.
ח  וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם.8 And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

However, there is something unusual about this command that G-D is giving over. If all of these materials are going to be used for the Mishkan (Temporary Temple) why doesn't G-D command everyone to give Terumah (tithes)? One might claim that G-D is commanding everyone to give tithes, but this is simply not the case. The second verse of the Parsha clearly states that only "every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering." How can a commandment only apply to those that WANT to do the commandment? 

I could give my own idea, but first let us see what Rav Moshe Feinstein has to say. In Darash Moshe (Terumah on this verse) Rav Feinstein asks the same question. He says,

It is a wonderment (speaking about the part of the verse of "take for Me an offering of every man whose heart maketh him willing"), and should Terumah (tithes) not be taken from those who are not willing? It is a stretch to answer that [the Torah] is coming to teach us that we do not take Terumah with Judges (by force), just like by the commandment of Tzedakah (charity) where we also do not take charity through judges (by force) and we do not compel anyone to give (see Tosfos in Kesubos 49b Divrei hamaskil Akfiya). Nevertheless, we won't answer [this question] in this manner.   

It appears that [the Torah] is teaching us that only those that are willing [to give] are commanded in the Mitzva (commandment) of Terumah and the people whose hearts do not desire to give, G-D does not want to command them [to give]. If these people, who do not want to give, give Terumah to fulfill the commandment they still receive reward, but it is the reward of someone who is not commanded and fulfills the Mitazva (a lower level of reward).

I think [this idea] applies by Munachos (99b) where it says on this verse:

For R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan, This verse is neither duty nor command but a blessing. For when the Holy One, blessed be He, saw that the words of the Torah were most precious to Joshua, as it is written, His minister Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tent, He said to him, ‘Joshua, since the words of the Torah are so precious to thee, [I assure thee,] ‘this book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth’!

Apparently, this idea in the Gemara is a wonderment. Is the idea that one should not forget Torah (that is learned) really a blessing? On the contrary, we find in Sanhedrin (106b) that Doeg is punished by forgetting the Torah (that he learned). So, this person that is not punished [Joshua] is receiving a blessing?

Therefore, we need to say that since the words of the Torah were so precious to Joshua (Yehoshua) therefore G-D commanded him to never allow the words of Torah to depart from his mouth.
(This is like the view that R. Shmuel ben Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan was arguing on which says: Ben Damah the son of R. Ishmael's sister once asked R. Ishmael, May one such as I who have studied the whole of the Torah learn Greek wisdom? He thereupon read to him the following verse, This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.(Joshua 1:8) Go then and find a time that is neither day nor night and learn then Greek wisdom.)

This explanation (that G-D commanded Joshua not to let the words of Torah ever to leave his mouth.) is even according to R. Shmuel ben Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan.  [However, where R. Shmuel ben Nahmani argues is] by people who the Torah is not dear to them. It is not fit for G-D to command them to learn all the time. (However, Ben Damah would hold that even they are commanded to learn all the time.) Therefore, according to R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan,  if they learn without desire and without a great love they will be considered like someone who is performing a Mitzva (commandment) even though they were not commanded (which carries with it a lower level of reward). Therefore, everyone should strive to learn with a great desire and love for Torah and G-D. This also applies to every Mitzva that does not have a specified amount (like Torah learning) because only those that love the Mitzva are commanded to perform it as much as possible.

Rav Moshe's idea makes a lot of sense to me. Let me explain what I think he is saying in a more practical sense. There are certain commandments that G-D gave us that have specific rules. For example, one must sit in a Sukkah on Succos, one must keep kosher, one must put on tefillin, etc.... These rules all have specific guidelines. Everyone is commanded to keep them on the same level because they set up the bear minimum guideline for following Judaism (Orthodox Judaism). However, there are certain commandments that were given without guidelines like learning Torah and giving charity. Rav Moshe is telling us that these Mitzvos show us how G-D only wants us to want to serve Him. If G-D forces us to love Him or our fellow Jew then that "love" is, essentially, worthless. Therefore, we must realize our love for G-D on our own and that will bring us to want to follow His commandments. That is why Terumah (tithes) was only commanded to those "whose heart compels him" because it is this true love that G-D desires us to acquire. G-D does not want us to artificially go through the motions and be robots of obedience. He wants us to reach a level in our hearts and minds that we are able to realize how much we truly love Him and His Torah. If we can't reach this level then G-D is not going to force us into servitude, it MUST be OUR choice!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Rav Gedalia Shwartz On Different Movements In Judaism

The Rabbi of my parents shul in Skokie, Rabbi Zvi Engel, sent out a great e-mail to the entire congregation consisting of parts of a speech made by Rav Gedalia Shwartz:

23 Shevat 5771

January 28, 2011

Dear Congregants,

Greetings from Yerushalayim! As I wrote to you last week, I am presently participating in the annual Jewish United Fund Rabbinic Mission. Spending this week among the rabbis and Jewish leaders on this community-wide mission reminds me of how privileged we are as a community to have Harav Gedalia Dov Schwartz and his wife on the trip.

As the Av Beit Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, Rav Schwartz continues to guide our community, not only in his formal role adjudicating matters of halakha—whether in the realm of choshen mishpat specifically, or in other areas of Jewish life generally—but also by his living example as a gadol ba-Torah who makes a powerful statement by participating annually in the broader Jewish community mission.

This morning, the group heard from Israeli representatives of the various movements who addressed our group to discuss problems facing their respective communities here. The Orthodox representative, Rav Yosef Carmel, the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Eretz Hemdah which trains dayanim in Israel, was delayed by the snow in New York. (Please recall that we welcomed Rav Carmel at Or Torah as a guest speaker for Shabbat a few weeks ago.) As part of the session, Rav Schwartz spoke from the audience about his thoughts on issues concerning the various movements in Judaism today:

…Baruch hashem, I have semikha from Yeshiva University. My klaf [rabbinic ordination degree] is signed by the Lomzer Rav (Rav Shatzkes), Rav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik, and the late Rav Dr. Belkin, rabbinic masters who gave authority to decide matters of Jewish Law…Growing up there was no such thing as Haredi or Modern. It was just Orthodox.

…This is not a question of hatred or non-hatred. It was never a matter of identifying an enemy. The Marine commander in World War Two tells his soldiers before they go off to Japan: “they are good, but we need to be better.” It is all about less mitzvos more mitzvos, that’s how you have to see other Jews… Personally, I try to keep a balance.

In the Telzer Yeshiva in Europe, one of its thinkers, the Maharyi”l Bloch, in his work called the Shiurei Da’as, used interesting terminology. He used the term for greater or lesser degrees of observance as ma'aglei tzedek—circles of righteousness—because we are all going around in circles of observance with tzedek in the middle, meaning that Hakadosh Baruch Hu is in the center and we are all looking in the same direction, toward that center.

…Rav Kook, in his Igros Re’eeyah, made a powerful statement: we cannot allow Tzionut to be without Yahadut…

One of the panelists, after expressing how impressed he was with Rav Schwartz's eloquence, then said to him, “Why don’t you make aliya?” Rav Schwartz replied with a smile: “Well, I am still working that out…I don’t know if I could get a job here!” The audience laughed.

May Hashem grant him and his wife long life and continued strength, and may we continue to benefit from his sage teaching for many years to come as part of our community. Looking forward to sharing my reflections on this trip upon my return,

Bvirkat Erev Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zvi Engel

(Rav Schwartz did not review the partial transcription of his cited words above; any errors or inaccuracies are mine.)