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Shots from Africa

Over the past fifteen months, at Rabbi Riskin's instigation, I have been receiving questions, mainly from Africa, from people who are travelling along the road to practicing orthodox Judaism. And they are all moving forward on their journey.

I do not believe that I am the appropriate person to be doing this, but have been pushed into the deep end of this task. As we are taught in Pirkei Avoth, "in a place where there isn't anyone, you attempt to be that person". I find the task daunting and pray that I have not lead anyone astray with my answers, as I pray haShem to grant me the wisdom to help my fellow man.

The questions I have received run the gamut of halakha, biblical commentary and general questions of all things Jewish. I am usually pleasantly surprised by the depth of the questions and the desire of the questioners to serve God in the correct manner. I have humbly tried to answer to the best of my abilities, and where I was not sure how to answer, I have sought advice from different quarters.

Question: I just had a new son 2 Shabbatot ago and the Brith Mila ceremony was this Shabbath. Since we don't have a Mohel yet, we hired a non-Jewish doctor who came to the Synagogue and he took care of the technical part of the Brith while we took care of the ritual part. The child was named Eliezer and everything went well.

I know that the first born male is to be redeemed on the 30th day. My son is the first boy I have, but I already had a daughter before him. Must he be redeemed or not ?

Answer: Wow!! -- great news -- a son! -- MAZAL TOV -- congratulations. Re the redemption, this only applies if the first born child of the mother is a son. Once a women has daughter(s) first, there is no requirement. In fact, if, and it shouldn't happen to anyone, a lady has a miscarriage, then that is also "considered" as if there was a prior birth. So a subsequent son also will not require redemption. This is because the Torah requires redemption only on the first child that emerge from the womb. Thus if the first child is born by C-section, there is also no obligation.

So enjoy your son and your daughter and have much pleasure from them, and as we say, may God give you and your wife much nachat from them and also, please God, your future children.

Question: Is it permitted to break bones when eating meat? Someone asked me that question during a study, I said I didn't have the answer. Anyway, until we know what the teachings say, we have the tradition [in Cameroon] not to break bones, with the fear that it could contain blood.

Answer: I'll answer your questions, but will also double check the answers with the rabbi when he returns back to Israel -- yes he travels a lot. You have to remember on some these questions I don't have practical experience as I am a vegan.

The only issue of which I am aware re breaking bones is with the Korban Pesah, the Pascal Lamb, eaten on Passover in the city surrounds of the Temple in Yerushalayim. In this case there is a specific Torah prohibition to not break the bones, but it does not appear in other places. The contents of the bone is marrow, not blood, and even though sometimes it has a reddish colour, it can be eaten.

Question: During the holiday of Sukkot, we are not able to have the four species for the Lulav. Is it worthy to shake the Lulav if it is not complete?

Answer: It is my understanding that you need all four species and that these cannot be separated as separate mitzvot, commandments. There is plenty of time until Sukkot so I hope we can arrange something for you. I assume you have date palm trees for lulav and willows. Note the lulav must come from a tree that bears edible fruit.

The problem then would be to get you the three leafed myrtle (most myrtle has pairs of leaves, not triads) and the etrog. Do you have restrictions on agricultural imports onto Cameroon?

Fast of the first born before Pesah

Question: I am also curious to fasting tomorrow (I am the first bone [sic])!! The background to this question is whether a ger can be considered a first born as he becomes like a new creation at his conversion, and such is unrelated to his biological family.

Answer: As the day before pesah is a fast for only some of our people, the custom has arisen that we can do something "happy" to override the fast. If there is a brith, for example, which requires a seudath mitsva, this meal "cancels" the fast. Also finishing a mesekheth -- tractate -- of the Talmud is "enough" of a joyous occasion to cancel the fast. If there is no such event, then the first born should fast from morning until the kidush of the seder.

Rabbi Riskin suggests that you learn the whole of Pirkei Avoth and finish it off tomorrow morning. When you finish it, you should do it with a minyan if possible and say kadish d'rabanan at the end. Then you can eat. I would suggest you involve whoever you can, and as many of the first born should be there for the last mishna. If it is too much for you to learn on your own, you can split it up and ask others to each learn part. All the learners do not have to be first born. But the first born have to be present at the siyum, the learning of the last mishna.

Question: As we don't have any Brit, the learning of Pirkei Abot overrides everything. Thanks for transforming this Min'hag towards our end.

Answer: I myself am a bechor too, and I too will be attending a siyum tomorrow morning. It's only worked out for me once that there was a brith on this day. So this is accepted practice by everyone.

Pirkei Avoth

Question: Why do we first say, "All Israel has a portion in the world to come  . . . .", before reading any chapter of Pirkei Abot each Shabbat between Pesach and Shavu'ot?

Answer: A reason we read the mishna, "All Israel has a portion in the world to come", which is from tractate Sanhedrin before pirkei avoth each week, is as a form of reassurance. Some of the things we will learn in pirkei avoth may seem a little hard to achieve, or even unattainable. The ethics discussed should cause one to introspect, and reconsider our attitudes and action. This could lead depression and a feeling of inadequacy.

Our Rabbi's did not want to discourage people from learning these important teachings, so no matter how one may feel after learning the various mishnayoth of pirkei avoth, this introduction comes to assure everyone that come what may all of Israel has a place in olam haba, the world to come. In other words, no-one will be excluded.

Also the ending each week, "God wanted to merit Israel, so He gave them much Torah and commandments", comes to reinforce this. If you think it's hard be a Jew, don't worry, haShem gave us the commandments in order to be able to greatly reward us in the world to come for our actions in this world.

Of course one must add that while everyone's place in the world to come is assured, not all portions there are identical. We each receive identical lots, but it is the task of each of us, through our actions in performing haShem's mitsvoth as well as our learning and our interaction with humanity, to build up our portion of the world to come that we were all automatically allotted. Heeding the advice of the ethics and making them part of our essence is a key to this development, of both ourselves and our allocation.

Question [Received the day after shabath hol hamo'ed Pesah]: It was nice reading the first chapter of Pir'kei Abot yesterday.

Answer: Sorry to say, but you jumped the gun!

Our usual custom is start Pirkei Avoth next week. Each shabat of s'firath ha'omer after Pesah. There are 7 shabatoth between Pesah and Shavu'oth but only 5 chapters of Mishnah Avoth. Two short! The 1st shabath is always either hag or hol ha'moed. Still one short. So the rabbis "added" a 6th chapter which isn't really from the mishna, but from the braitoth, teachings of the rabbis that were not included by Ribi Yehuda haNasi in the mishna'oth. If you look in the sidur at this 6th chapter of Avoth, you will see the clue to this in the first line.

So I guess to be in sync with the rest of the Jewish world, you can learn the 1st chapter again next week. I think it is an amazing introduction to all the mishna'oth, so it can only be beneficial.

Enjoy your hag!!!

Question: On every evening/seder there a custom of uttering "L'shanah Habaa B'Yirushalaim."
1. Why do we say so?

2. Supposing you are living in Israel and in Jerusalem, are you obliged to say it?

Answer: In brief as it is less than an hour before the onset of yom tov, yes we do say shana haba here also. I will write to you after the hag about why I think we do say it here, but it is an old diaspora custom to end both pesah and yom kipur with the wish that mashiah will come and we can all go home to Israel. Pesah especially so because Pesah is the holiday of the redemption.

Second Answer: I owe you an answer on why we also say l'shana haba'a birushalayim here in Israel. As I said to you previously, the custom in the diaspora, the galuth, was to say this after the seder on pesah and after yom kipur. At these two very significant times, we attest before haShem that we know our "real" home is in Yerushalayim, in our homeland, and even though it was due to our sins that we were exiled, thrown out of there, we still continue to yearn to return; we have not forgotten our homeland and our holy city, and haShem should help us return there, speedily in our time.

So why do we say this here, after we have returned home? My rabbi and teacher, who lived in Efrat, Rabbi Yisrael Shurin of blessed memory, once told me of a big rabbi -- I'm sorry I don't recall his name -- who came from Lithuania to live in Israel in the middle of the 18th century. At his first seder in Yerushalayim, he ended with the words l'shana haba'a birushalayim, causing his son to ask your question, "Aba we are here, in Yerushalayim. Why are you saying that today?". After thinking for a few moments the father answered, "because I pray that we will be here next year too!" That was a reasonable answer perhaps for their time. Life was extremely difficult under Turkish rule. There were few opportunities for work, many lived on charity and people had little to eat as agriculture was very undeveloped.

But I think though that the above question was better than the answer. And I think in truth, especially today, perhaps there is not a place to say it in Israel today. One of the things that strengthens my belief that this is the case, is that [nearly] everyone here says l'shana haba'a birushalayim habenuya, next year in a [re]built Yerushalayim. However as you will see when you will be here, Yerushalayim is a built up, expanding and bustling city. Of course the claim may validly be made that Yerushalayim can not be considered fully rebuilt until the Temple will again stand in the midst of the city. I believe that if the reference is to the Temple, then we should be saying l'shana haba'a b'beit hamikdash, Next year in the Beit haMikdash, the Temple, or perhaps more appropriately, Next year may we eat from the pascal lamb, which of course can only be sacrificed in the Temple and eaten within the environs of the city of Yerushalayim. And we do make reference to this in the hagada also.

Question: Finally, why don't we say Shanah Tobah, as Pesah also marks a new year?

Answer: The 1st misha in mesekheth Rosh haShana tells us there are four Rosh haShanas, four New Year days, in each year.

The mishna reads:

"There are four new years:
On the first of Nisan, the new year for kings and for festivals.
On the first of Elul, the new year for the tithing of animals; Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shimon say that is is in fact on the first of Tishrei.
On the first of Tishrei, the new year for years, for the Sabbatical years and for the Jubilee years and for the planting and for the vegetables.
On the first of Shevat, the new year for the fruit trees, according to the rabbis of the yeshiva of Shamai; the rabbis of the yeshiva of Hillel say on the fifteenth day."

Each of these needs to be explained and I will do it for you in a further email. However your question should now be perhaps, "why we don't we say shana tova on all four of these occasions?"

In essence the shana tova greeting really an abbreviation of "l'shana tova tikateivu v'teikhatemu", "May you be written and sealed for a good year" and of course this only applies to the days we actually call Rosh haShana, namely 1st Tishrei.

Question: A comment made in an e-mail: "I am happy we are approaching having the 4th day of the Omer soon to go. Its a pleasure saying it if you are a large group."

But by my count it was only the 3rd day, though he may have been anticipating.

Answer: So I wrote, trying to be as explicit as possible:

I'm not sure I'm understanding you fully, or there is a problem with the days.

We started counting s'firath ha'omer last Tuesday evening, the second night of Pesah. So tonight, Monday night, we counted the 7th day marking the end of the 1st week -- meaning the 7th day is from Monday evening until Tuesday afternoon. Then in the evening (Tuesday), we will count the 8th day (one week and one day of the Omer).

We will count to 49. The 49th evening will also be a Monday night, the end of the 7th full week, and on the 50th night, Tuesday night, we will celebrate Shavu'oth. But we do not count the 50th.

Question: Shalom Menachem,
I am hoping you are doing well. I know for the two frequent visits you've made to come in Uganda you can help to tell which time is best for Maariv, especially saying the second ShemA.

Answer: Please explain what you mean by "the second shema"?

Question: Thanks for your response. One is supposed to recite Shema twice; i.e. in the evening and in the morning. When is the best time for evening ShemA like for those living in Uganda? I hope you understand me now.

Answer: This is a good website which gives you all the halakhic times.

I have put in Mbale's latitude and longitude. As you are high up at about 1,650 metres above sea level and can see further over the horizon, there is a variation of a couple of minutes (earlier in the morning, later in the evening). You can sign up as a member to the site for free to allow the use of elevation data. We use the "Latest shema Gra & Baal Hatanya" time as the latest time for sh'ma. Best to wait to for "Nightfall - 3 stars emerge" for the evening sh'ma. We also recite sh'ma again before going to sleep at night, but the first paragraph is sufficient.

I hope that helps. Don't hesitate to ask further.

Question: The numerical value of the Hebrew word "Tzitzit" is 613, and every male who puts on every day is like he has fulfilled the 613 commandments. How do women fulfill the 613 commandments yet they are not supposed to ware Tzitzit?

Answer: I think that it is a reminder that there are 613 mitsvoth, It's not the equivalent of keeping the mitsvoth. In fact no person can keep all 613. Some are for men only, some are for women, some are cohanim, some for levi'im, and some for yisraelim. As a nation, together we keep all 613 (but again only when the Beit haMikdash -- the Temple in Yerushalayim -- is standing and also the majority of Jews lives in Israel.)

Also the numerical value of the word is really 600. How do we get the extra 13? There are 8 strings -- everyone agrees to this -- and there are 5 knots = 13. Why are these added? Because it says in the [3rd paragraph of the] sh'ma that when you look at them you are reminded of all the mitsvoth.

Not everyone agrees on the number of knots. In fact one is deemed sufficient. There are many traditions on how to tie. Many of these do have 5 knots, but not all.

Question: I know Tzad = 90 Yud 10 Tzad 90 Yud 10 and Tav =400 which equals 600. Then we take eight strings and five knots which is 13. All would be 613. All male that put on the Tzitzit are reminded of the 613 Mitzivot, how do women remember the 613?

Answer: Women are not obliged in positive Torah commandments which are time limited. Tzitzit (the G'mara questions this in Tractate Eiruvin) fits into this category. One reason that men need these time-related commandments and women don't, may be related to the fact that Gd created women's bodies with a built-in clock something which men lack. For example, women have to regularly go to the mikve, whereas men do not.

As a general comment, I think that people see their friends' tzitzit more than they see their own, as except when we put them on the morning and when we hold them saying sh'ma, they are actually out of your sight. In this case, perhaps women are receiving the same visual message without the necessity of wearing them. We see something similar with a blind man, who is obligated in tsitsith as other people see them, even though he is unable to.

I wanted to ask you what is happening with the mikve. I can't emphasise how important family purity and the mikve are to Jewish family life. We are trying to help Moshe [from another village that does not have a mikve] learn more about this and to clean up the existing mikve in [the next town] Nabugoye so it can be used again.

My wife, Jill, is open to approaches by women who want to know more about the laws and customs of Jewish family purity. She can refer to women to an excellent website and is available to speak and write to any women who approach her. Her email is She is also contactable via Facebook.

Question: Does the Halakhic law of Orlah apply to countries outside Israel?

Answer: Yes, orla does apply everywhere in the world -- but for three years not like in Israel which has neta reva'i (the 4th year's produce which must be taken to Yerushalayim to be eaten, much like ma'aser sheni, the 2nd tithe) -- unlike trumoth and ma'aseroth which only apply in Israel. But I understand that coffee trees do not yield fruit until after 3 years, so there would not be a problem.

Question: How strict is the Halakhic Law of Kilayim (the prohibited mixing of seeds or plants of different species)? You find that in Uganda, we have very small parcels of land where we grow all types of crops. Please guide us on how we can go by that.

Answer: Kilayim also applies everywhere in the world, but not to all plants. I don't believe coffee is one of these.

Question: 1. Some rabbis, quoting Guemara Sanhédrin 58b "idolater who rests (chéchavath -- Rashi: 'who refrains from working for an entire day') is worthy of death". For this reason, they conclude that someone who is not yet formally converted is not allowed to completely observe Shabbath and should intentionally violate at least one law of Shabbath until he is formally converted. We haven't followed this opinion. Are we wrong? Is this opinion accepted by everyone?

2. Is it permissible to use a computer that hasn't been turned off for reading during Shabbath, just as we can read from a book for example?

Answer: I passed your questions on to Rabbi Riskin, who is also travelling, and these are his answers:

1) According to Maimonides, I believe it is chapter 8, Laws of Kings, as long as one keeps the seven Noahide Laws he ought keep the Sabbath completely; only if a gentile has not yet kept the seven Noahide Laws is he prohibited from keeping the entire Sabbath.

2) I do not believe one can use a computer on Shabbat. That is classed as a "work a day activity" which is biblically prohibited both according to Nachmonides and Maimonides ("Shabbaton" and "Lemaan Yenuah").

I'll just add that even if you were just looking at the screen, the temptation to touch the keyboard and scroll down to keep reading is probably too great to withstand.

Question: In the morning prayer, we normally say, "Blessed are You HASHEM.........who has not made me a woman." What's the meaning of this B'racha??

Answer: If you look at the order of the brackhot, they move from people who are obligated in fewer mitswoth to those that are obligated in more. First we thank God for not making us a gentile, who is obligated in only commandments 7. Then for not making us a slave who is only obligated in the negative commandments and those positive ones not limited to a specific time, like suka, tsitsith. Then a women who is obligated in everything the slave is obligated plus mitsvoth relating to women. So we are building up the number of mitsvoth that God is expecting us to fulfil. Of course no-one can keep all of them -- there are many different segments in our people, and only as a whole can we fulfil everything. The brakhoth stop at this point but we could envisage a brackha that the cohanim may say, "for not making me a Yisrael", as the cohen as addition mitsvoth. But the rabbis of the Talmud did not teach this to us. We are not to add any new brakhoth to those that we have in Talmud.

But we see another dimension if we look at what the woman says instead of "who has not made me a woman". She says, "sh'asani kirtsono", which is generally, I believe mistranslated as "who has made according to His Will", viz what He wanted. The correct translation in my opinion, which I heard from Rav Ya'akov Fogelman, is "who has created me WITH His Will", viz the woman has a will just like haShem's. This may explain why a woman needs less mitsvoth than does a man to achieve the same closeness to haShem. Though the reason usually given is that with the household and children etc, it is harder for a woman to control exact hours in the day. I note however that a woman needs to pray at least once a day, at any time she finds free.

Question: Why does the Torah say; VaYoMeR HASHEM el Moshe (And HASHEM said to Moshe) yet we thought its Moshe who wrote it? Does it mean there was a third party who recorded what was being taught to Moses?

Answer: While it was Moshe who wrote the whole Torah according to the word of God, dictated by God. He wrote [was dictated] it in the 3rd person. It is only in the book of Devarim, Deuteronomy, that Moshe wrote in the first person, because there is a stylistic change here in that this is Moshe summarising to the Children of Israel before his death the occurrences of the previous 40 years.

There is an dispute on how Moshe wrote the last 8 verses of the Torah which ostensibly took place after his demise.

Question: Is the uncircumcised allowed to enter the "Synagogue?"

Answer: There are cases in halakha where a person cannot be circumcised. The most mentioned case in the g'mara is someone whose 2 older brothers died as a result of their circumcision. This is usually taken taken to mean due to haemophilia, which is usually hereditary, and he is likely to also bleed profusely. This person can do every mitswa except for eating the korban pesah.

Question: It is a mitzvah and proper for to one treat with loving kindness, gratitude and respect the father and mother who brought him into the world, but just in case both ask for a glass of water, whom am i obligated to serve first?

Answer: The Rambam in Hilchot Mamrim, 6:14 refers specifically to this case, i.e. both asking at the same time for the son/daughter to pour them some water. The Rambam says that the father is given first because "both the son and his mother are obligated to honour the father/husband".

Question: Concerning lighting one candle on shabath: two women with only two candles [This question came up based on something that occurred while we were in China.]

Answer: Concerning shabath candles, at the time I was very surprised when you said you would light one candle. I have looked into it, and also asked about it. I still believe that while it may be acceptable to light only one candle, with a brakha, it is not the custom (minhag).

Most people in the time of the Mishna would have lit one candle in their house each weekday evening, unless they couldn't even afford that. The point of lighting on shabath was to increase shalom bayith by having [more] light in the house. Thus the tradition of two. I think zakhor and shamor, remember and observe, and other reasons may have come later, perhaps when most people did have multiple lights in their houses. It could be argued that today there is no need to light candles at all; we all have light in the evenings in our houses and shabath is no different from any other night in that respect.

But we have a concept in halakha of a g'zeira, namely once our Rabbis make a decree, even if the reason for the decree [completely] disappears, we are unable to cancel that decree without a Beth Din that is bigger and more numerous than the original -- which unfortunately we do not have. So what are we to do? While there have been proposals to bless electric lights, these have largely not been accepted. We continue to light wax candles, or even take Ribi Taphon literally and light using olive oil.

The shulhan arukh says explicitly that one must light 2 candles. The Rama immediately adds we prefer 3 or 4. The mishna b'rura mentions customs of 7 and 10. And there are many other customs around the Jewish world. My grandmother, may haShem avenge her murder, lit 23 each shabath! one extra each time one of her 10 children were sick. I assume it was a custom in her part of the world.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that ner is a collective noun and doesn't translate as "candle" but as "light". For our word candle, the poskim use petila usually translated as wick. You can see this later on in the Arukh haShulhan where he talks about multiple people lighting in one house, and in other citations. Also he, and just about everyone else, talks about ner hanuka when it is obvious that the reference is to many candles which has been the accepted custom for 2,000 years. I believe the reference to 'ner' in the mishna in the second chapter, viz. "hadliku eth haner" -- literally "light the candle", is the source for the Rabbis' use of this collective noun. Further the Rambam, quoted here by the Arukh haShulhan, refers to lighting in all rooms of the house. I have met people where the mother lights many candles and members of the household distribute them to all the rooms. The reference is obviously to many.

I think you may be misreading the Arukh haShulhan's quote of the Rambam in not having to "chase" after the candles, because he clearly ends stating that it is a hovah, an obligation. Rav Kapach explains that the Rambam says there are 3 categories: optional, mitswa and obligation, in order of precedence. And he says that shabath candles are an obligation!

The mishna b'rura does make one point that supports the lighting of one candle, in that he agrees that if you only have one yafe, a nice, clean flame, or two smokey wicks, then go for the one "nice" one. But this is an extreme case to explain the G'mara's use of the word yafe. He also comments on the brakha being singular, because the main obligation is one candle. I would venture to add that this may refer to the 2nd candle which is the shabath addition.

So in summary, while it may acceptable to light one candle, it is far from the accepted custom. And as far as 2 candles being a recent cutom, I found it in the Turim, who also refers to zakhor and shamor; this is at least 700 years old, and the Talmud refers to the practice of multiple candles.

The question we are discussing above however, is "Is it acceptable for a women to light 1 candle instead of 2?" But in our situation I think the question should be, "Two women sharing a room for a shabath with 2 candles between them. Should they light one each or one lights on behalf of the two?" I asked Rabbi Riskin this question this morning and he said he believed that one woman should light on behalf of the other. I asked him, "What about the issue of ner yafe, a nicer/cleaner light?" and he replied that was not the issue here.

Question: We really need your help, especially on how to lead the services. When I was in the USA I noticed the congregants did not go through all the hymns and all the prayers. There were some things they would mumble and some sections they said out loud. I will be very grateful if you help me out on this one.

Answer: Yes, I also find the mumbling a big problem. When I was about 10 years old, one Friday night in the synagogue, my father expressed surprised that I had finished one of the psalms so quickly. I said I had scanned all the words with my eyes. He wasn't happy, explaining that prayer had to be said with the mouth, word by word. There are no shortcuts. It was a lesson I still carry with me and I too cannot help getting annoyed at the numbing and scanning.

A mishna in Avoth teaches that we should not make our prayer "fixed" or "routine". In this instant gratification generation, people have lost the ability to pray properly. It's become a matter of getting it out of the way for the "social" aspects of Judaism. The Yemenite Jews, and some of the S'faradi Jews, still pray out aloud together, but Jews of European descent seems to have given it up long ago.

I would prefer saying less prayers, but saying them out in full. Of course some things are more important than others, and we need to be selective on what we cut if we were to do so. Or people can start the first parts on their own and join together in a later section. This way each can pray the introductory psalms at his own pace. This was the custom in Lithuania, but seems to have been almost lost today.

Question: Quitting. Disappointing hotel spanvisor to stop you working because you are Shmor Shabbat and you keep kosher and sparing only about 30 minutes for Minchah -- hotel managment think you are dodging work. I hope one time my prayers will be hearkened and I become an Israel citizen so that my children will not go into experiences. Sorry I can't continue any more with his hotel. Looking for any tourism company to volunteer as I train.

Answer: I think you are being a little difficult on yourself on these issues. Many of us worked for goyim outside of Israel and we often had to be a little creative on how to manage.

I'm surprised that it takes you 30 minutes to pray minha. Even with a minyan, which you don't have, it takes us 15 minutes here without rushing. I would have thought that 7 or 8 minutes would be more than enough time for you on your own. Also there are halakhot for workers in certain circumstances, which include saying a special shorter version of the shmona esrei. This can be found many sidurim. I myself never used this, but on many occasions prayed in a phone booth or some similar place to get some privacy for a few short minutes for minha.

I think also with regards to shabat, you can't be confrontational on the issue. The concept of not working on shabat is not known in your area. However, since they are all Christians and Moslems, the concept of shabat itself is known. But you have to offer them something return, such as being prepared to work all Saturday night and/or Sunday to make up for it. I have found it is quite rare that someone would not prefer to swap with you to work on Shabat rather Sunday. And tell them that it is because your religious beliefs, you do not accept overtime pay if such a thing applies.

In general you have to put yourself in the shoes of the bosses who are not used to the concept of the Jewish shabat. If you succeed in showing them that you are flexible on work [additional] times but not on the shabat, you will be doing a big kidush haShem and preparing the way for others who come after you.

Question: On Average 35 people attend both the Friday evening service and the Saturday morning service. Only two people including me can read Hebrew all though not very well. The others are learning. For Saturday morning I have a siddur which I compiled from a website called and I translated it to Shona, the language that we use in Zimbabwe. It's in Hebrew, then transliteration, then English and Shona. For Friday nights we use a handbook for Friday night services, its in Hebrew, Transliteration and English.

We have some of Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach's tunes and we also use some from Rabbi Mark Zimmerman's Audio Siddur. Wanted to know which sections in the Amidah are more important, not to be skipped, so that we avoid skipping parts we should not be skipping?

Answer: I'm glad you are getting nice numbers for the prayer services. I pray that your numbers continue to grow upwards.

I had a look at the two websites you mentioned and I think they should be most useful to you.

The amidah prayers of shabat, both in the evening and in the morning, are much shorter than that of the weekdays. During the week there is an accepted way of shortening where necessary. This dates back to the time of the mishna.

I would try and build up to the whole amida, but as a very minimum, start with the first 3 brachoth, and on shabat morning include the kedusha, which is said or sung together.

It may even be good to add some of the prayers in English or Shona until people become more proficient in Hebrew. I believe it is important to learn Hebrew as this is the real connection between Jewish congregations around the world.

Question: Bothering me sometimes; we all know if one took a hold of a glass of beer or water and started saying "Baruch Hashem e'lokenu Melech Ha'Olam intending to say "Shakal Nihieyeh Bedibar" and acturally said "Baruch Pri Hagafen" by mistake, he is not required to reword the Blessing correctly since when he/she mentioned the Divine Name and the fact that He is King, which is the main part of the Blessing, he/she soley had in the mind the approprite Blessing for the kind of adrink in aquestion.


Answer: I will check this in the books and get back to you, but from memory a couple of points:

1) There are a number of different types of brakhoth: on a specific mitswa, praise, personal benefit. I'm not sure you can say the latter for another person as it involves something individual, personal. Wine and bread on shabath contain both mitswa and personal benefit, so here there is no problem saying it on behalf of someone else.

2) It depends which brakha, whether you have fulfilled your obligation if you say the wrong one. If you say 'adama' on fruit that's OK because trees are all rooted in the ground. If you say 'sh'hakol' or mezonoth on fruit or vegetables, that's also OK because these b'rakhoth are generalisations. However if you say 'ets' on a potato, you have to say the brakha again. If you remember you said the wrong one within a second or 2 of completion, you can correct it by just saying the last few words that you said incorrectly. If a little time has elapsed, you say 'barukh shem kavod malkhustho l'olam wa'ed' and repeat the correct brakha. If a lot of time has elapsed, just say whole brakha again.

3) If it is something that you can say on behalf of another person, like kidush on shabat evening, then the person who hears, answers amen, and both of you have the intention of fulfilling his obligation, then he/she and you are equal. If you fulfil, then so does he or she.

More later.

I have checked in some books, principally the Rambam and Mishna B'rura and spoken to a couple of people.

a) What I said about saying a brakha for personal benefit. Unlike other types of brakhot, where you can say it on behalf of someone else even if you have already fulfilled your obligation, e.g. saying kidush again and again after you have already fulfilled your own obligation, with food, if you and the other person(s) are eating together, and both should have to say a brakha, you can fulfil their obligation with your brakha. If only she/he is eating, then she has to say it herself. You can't do it on her behalf like kidush.

b) As I said before, if you say "shehakol" on any food, it is OK -- i.e. you don't need to say the brakha again. This is even true on bread and wine as well as fruit and vegetables. With "borei minei mezonoth" I am stilling looking for the source I remember that you can also say this on anything. Some to whom I spoke agree that this is the case, though some said they think this only applies to food that is filling, so not a slice of an apple, buton a cabbage stew. I still have to get back to you on this for further clarification.

If you are eating, and you are not sure whether you said a brakha or not before you started, then you do not say a brakha. The general rule is, wherever there is a doubt in br'akhoth, do not say it. If however you started to eat and remember that you definitely did not say a brakha, then, if the food is solid in you mouth and you could take it out in one piece, then do so and say the brakha. If, as is more likely, the food is mushed up in your mouth, then push it to one side of your mouth with your tongue and say the brakha, and then continue eating.

Thanks to my friend, Rav Reuven Rosendstark, I have found the source for my original statement in the biur halakha, which states that "anyone who says 'borei minei mezonoth' on anything other than water and salt has fulfilled his obligation. (Chapter 167)

Question: Shalom! Tomorrow is Erev Rosh Hodesh Elul. Why is the shofar not blown tomorrow evening, but in the mornings instead?

The shofar is always blown during the daytime. The mitswa on both Rosh haShana and Yom Kipur of the Yovel, Jubilee 50th year, is to blow it during the day. I have to check to remind myself why. On both these dates -- the Yovel is only kept when a majority of Jews live in the Land -- we blow the shofar during Musaf.

The shofar in Elul is not a mitswa from the Torah, but our custom to prepare ourselves for the coronation of the king, symbolised by the horn blowing on Rosh haShana. On Rosh haShana we reaffirm haShem as the King of the world and specifically of the Land.

I just looked up in Sefer haToda'ah, the Book of Our Heritage, by Rav Eliyahu Kitov, who usually gives reasons for various laws and customs. He merely says that shofar is blown in the daytime, starting from sunrise, and not at night. I need to some some more research.

The mishna b'rura, chapter 588, says the reason for blowing on Rosh haShana in the daytime is that the Torah says yom t'ruah yihye lakhem, "it should be a day of blowing for you".

Question: As Rosh Chodesh Elul approaches. Its the time to let the shofer unite us all. After shabbat I checked and I realized our shofar has a big crack. Is that really kosher? And whoever has one that he or she does not use, we make better use of it. Boker tov!

Answer: It depends on how much shofar there is before the crack. What is the length from the mouthpiece to where the crack starts?

Also how deep is the crack? Does it go all the way through? If you cover the crack with you hand and then blow, how different is the sound as compared to the hole being uncovered?

[In the event my correspondent did not reply as he was able to locate another one in time for the 2nd day of rosh hodesh.]

Question: This yom kippur is falling on shabbat; do we fast? And we know yom kippur is higher than shabbat and shabbat is higher than other festivals.

Answer: The short answer is that, yes, we do fast this Yom Kipur, which falls on shabat.

This occurs every three to four years on average, so it not uncommon. The only difference we make for the fact that it is also shabat, is in some [very few] of prayers, mainly adding reference to shabat and not say "avinu malkeinu" except at neilah, the concluding prayers.

As all the laws of shabat apply to Yom Kipur too, unlike to the other festivals where for example we can cook and carry, nothing really changes in our obligations. We "add" the five Yom Kipur prohibitions to those of shabat.

Note also that Yom Kipur is not at all a sad day like the other fasts. It is a day of serious introspection. We are elated that God has given us a day when we can make atonement for ourselves and come to peace with Gd. The misha tells us that there were no more happy days in Israel than Yom Kipur and 15th Av.

In general you are correct about fasts, which fall on shabat, being postponed, e.g. Tisha b'Av and 17th Tamuz. We have a rule that we postpone "bad" events and not bring them forward. The exception to this is the Fast of Esther which we do in fact bring forward (to Thursday and not Friday to distance it from shabat) as postponing it would mean it is on Purim!

Also interestingly, the rabbis tell us that the fast of 10th Teveth would be kept on shabat if the date turned out to be so, and it would not be postponed. The reason is the prophet uses the expression "on this very day" -- whichever day of the week it is. It turns out that with our fixed calendar, not one that is based on lunar observation, it can never occur. However it sometimes does fall on a Friday, as it will this year, which means we enter shabat fasting.

People often say that Yom Kipur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, and without dispute it is a very holy and significant day. However it depends on how you make your measurement, and most agree that shabat, which occurs weekly, is even more holier. The punishment for transgressing the commandments of shabat are stoning and for that of Yom Kipur, kareth, being cut off from the Jewish people and from God. The first, carried out by a beth din, is considered more a serious punishment than that which is carried out by Heaven.

Question: There are several issues concerning hearing aids on Shabbat from a halachic perspective. I want to know whether its use is permitted.

Answer: The short answer is yes. The more detailed questions may involve if there is a problem in a place without an eiruv, if you can switch it on and off or even adjust the volume.

I want to add that as far as walking outside with the hearing aid, I don't believe it is any different from spectacles, which everyone agrees can be worn outside. For some reason people differentiate between the two.

Question: I have classes with some youth who stay with me in my house and we were learning about things that not permited on shabbat and of course electironic objects are not permitted and our argument was on the hearing aid because it needs to be fixed.

Answer: The thing about being fixed in the g'mara refers to specific items like musical instruments. I don't believe that applies to "things" that did not exist in Talmudic times. This was a "g'zera", something decreed by the rabbis, and we cannot make g'zerot since the closing of the g'mara.

In any case, I don't think that a hearing aid is something that person can fix himself. It would require a specialist technician.

If you are referring to things like adjusting volume, I think one must be careful not to do that. Also it must stay on the whole shabat.

Further, the mishna lists many items with which one can go out on shabat (without an eiruv) and it is not considered carrying. These are usually items that are essential to one's apparel. For example, one can go out "wearing" a ceremonial sword. While glasses today are often thought of as a fashion accessory, their main function is still aiding one's eyesight. While we have not yet created hearing aids into a fashion item, I think that someone who needs one in order to hear can go out with it. There is even danger involved. Just as one uses one's eyesight to see oncoming danger, e.g. crossing the road, I think that hearing oncoming traffic is also essential to one's safety.

Question: Some assistance, how do you shorten prayers when you are praying without a miniyan? I am having lessons with fellow youth here.

Answer: In general you don't. There are some things you can't say without a minyan, but the rest you should do. You can't say kadish, k'dusha, bar'khu, repetition of the amida and 13 midoth in tahanun. If I remember more I'll let you know, but that's all I can think of now.

It is also preferable, if possible, to pray at the same time as a minyan somewhere nearby. But this is not a necessity if it doesn't work out well.

You can pray on your own and if you come into a minyan later, you can say k'dusha, kadish, modim d'rabanan and the other things.

Oh just remembered, without a minyan the cohanim don't go up, but I suppose that is not a problem in Putti -- unless Rabbi Riskin and Eden come to visit again -- which I hope they will soon.

Question: May I know the right thing to do? I moved to another house but it is both sides a metal door frame. Where do I put now the mezuzah? I have tried to put on the right hand side but when visitors come they are unable to see it. The door opens both sides out side so they block the mezuzah one is not able see. Thanks for buying me a mezuzah while we are in Israel.

Answer: It should always be on the right going into the house or room, even if it is not always on view.

Good luck in the new house.

Question: Today's parasha we saw the 12 tribes from different women with one man, Jacob. Why do we have different sects in Israel?

Answer: 12 is a very important number is Judaism, as well as 3 and 7. Arithmetically 12 is also a unique in that it can be divided by 2, 3, 4 and 6. Each such break down also has it own special features.

The 12 individual units represent 12 different aspects, 12 different personalities, all of which act together to produce a healthier whole than if every part were identical. Each tribe had its own task: Juda the kings, Levi the priests, Yissakhar the scholars, Zevulun the sailor/traders, Ephrayim the secular leadership, etc.

It is also quite possible that Zilpa and Bilha were 1/2 African as their father was Lavan (his name indicates his skin colour) and their mothers were slaves, which sadly, quite likely meant African, already in those days. This also added a racial and DNA mix to the new forming nation of Israel which was atypical, very unique, in comparison to any other nations at the time and for many centuries after that, perhaps even until today.

Question: Do orthodox girls celebrate their Bat Mitzivahs at the age of twelve?

Answer: Boys become liable to fulfil the mitsvoth at the age of 13 and girls at the age of 12. To indicate the "new" status, the boy typically will be called to the Torah and lead a prayer minyan. It is very common to have a celebration, with family and friends, at which time the boy will usually give a sermon/speech on some religious or Torah topic.

As there is nothing that a girl does on reaching majority at 12 that is obviously different to what she was doing beforehand, like leading a minyan or reading from the Torah, we generally do the second part of the celebration, namely a celebration with family and friends, where the girl gives a sermon or speech on some religious or Torah topic. So we do not have a formal ceremony, but a celebration of having reached the age that requires the fulfillment the mitsvoth as a Torah commandment/obligation rather that which was beforehand, where as children, boys and girls, keep the mitsvoth as an act of education.

Question: Why did Jacob bless Ephraim before Manasseh, Joseph's children?

Answer: Ya'akov basically gives the reason himself when he says that Ephrayim['s offspring] will be more numerous than that of his brother. The Netziv says that this statement is not a blessing, but rather a prophesy. Interestingly Ibn Ezra says that many nations will descend from Ephrayim. I find this interesting because it would seemingly refer to the galut, AFTER the expulsion of the 10 tribes by Assyria. But what is clear is that following the split leading to a separate southern kingdom of Juda and a northern one of Yisrael, that Ephrayim was the dominant tribe in that northern kingdom.

An interesting point that some of the midrashim allude to is the fact that Yosef thinks that Ya'akov was making the same mistake over again, that is preferring one son over the other. This favouritism was ostensibly the cause of Yosef being sold by his brothers. The repetition of the words 'yadati', I know, come to show us that Ya'acov was fully aware of the situation in both cases.

Question: Where and how did the death of ESAU occur?

Answer: Rivka expressed a concern on the day she overheard Esav say he was going to kill his brother for having just "stolen" his father's blessings, that both her sons would die on the same day.

As Rivka was prophetess, her words would come true in some form.

According to a Midrash, when Ya'akov's sons, accompanied by a large contingent of Egyptians, arrived at the Ma'arath haMahkpela to bury Ya'akov, Esav was there waiting. He correctly claimed that after the two of them buried Yitshak, only 2 graves remained in the cave. As Ya'akov had already buried his wife Leah there, Esav claimed the last grave belonged to him. The sons said that they possessed the deed to the cave in Ya'akov's name, but they left it back Egypt. They send Naphtali, who was a sprinter, to run to Egypt to bring back the deed as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, Dan's only son, Hushim, was becaming very agitated that his grandfather was not being buried. He was a deaf mute, so he didn't understand what was happening and could not ask, only gesture. He was also extremely strong. He just understood that this old hairy man with faded red hair, was preventing the burial.

So he went up to Esav and gave him a karate-type chop to the neck. This strike killed him, causing his head to fall off and roll into the cave. Ya'akov's burial could then take place.

So that's how they both came to be 'buried' on the same day. There is a place in the cave building -- I think I must have pointed it out to you -- commemorating the place of the head.

Question: So the head rolled inside the cave of Hamkpela. What happened to the body? Is there a way you can get me this "Midrash says"; midrash seems to be interesting.

Answer: I found a quote of the narrative about Esav's head in Torah Sheleima, referring me to Talmud Bavli Sota 13a.

I also found an interesting midrash, which appears in a number of places, but I couldn't find it again today Torah Sheleima to give you the sources. It answers the question as to how Ya'akov came to own Eisav's share of the Makhpela. It relates that Ya'akov sold all the assets he had made in the house of Lavan for gold. He said to Eisav, who was leaving Israel to live in Edom, "Sell me all your rights in the Land of Israel for this pile of gold". Eisav, the ultimate capitalist, gladly agreed and took the gold. Of course the plot in the Makhpela was included in this trade.

Question: Ok, about Esav, I am sure the Torah discusses a lot more about Esav, so the deep insights of motivations to christianity and western world, but I would love to know what would be some the insights for you as a person who lives in Israel and who has also lived in the diaspora?

Answer: This isn't a simple question, and it probably needs to be discussed in a whole essay or even a book on the topic. But I'll write something to you now as Esav is disappearing from the parshat hashavua stage for another year; even now he only appears in the midrashim as we have discussed earlier.

The Rabbis says, halakha sh'eisav sone eth Ya'akov; it is a halakha, which in this case I read to mean "an immutable fact of life", that Esav hates Ya'akov. In other words the descendants of Esav hate those of Ya'akov, the Jewish people. And we see this throughout history, from the earliest, even later Biblical times, and into the 20th century -- and I believe even today in various forms of anti-Semitism in the world including the more fashionable anti-Zionism.

Our Rabbis tie the Roman Empire to Edom, who is Esav. Daniel prophesies four regimes/kingdoms, malkhuyoth, who will rule the world until the coming of the Mashiah. All commentators, other than Ibn Ezra, say that the 4th is Rome. Ibn Ezra says that Rome is part of Greece, the 3rd kingdom, as it just spread Greek ideas throughout the parts of the world to which Greece did not reach -- viz Europe and North Africa -- and the fourth is Islam!

Either way, the Roman ideals, which are the opposite of ours in nearly every way, have taken dominance in our world. So how did a nation, Edom (Esav's other name in the Torah) located in what is today southern Jordan and northern Saudi Arabia, come to dominate Rome which in turn dominated the world? I think the answer lies in Rome's desire for a bigger army to conquer and control increasing larger territories; they took on Edomite soldiers as mercenaries. As time proceeded, these mercenaries came to dominate Rome and become its elite. You can still see in this in today's Italy which is divided north and south. The people in the south have darker skin and hair, while the people of the north are fairer, European. There is also a wealth and cultural split between the two today.

I further believe that with the collapse of Rome, or more realistically its dilution, the Catholic church which grew out of the empire, took over its aims, namely dominating and subjugating the world to its ideology. Catholic by the way means universal or worldwide, so they do not hide their philosophical ambitions. And this is why they sent missionaries to all of the so-called New World -- "new" to the Europeans that is -- including Africa, Asia and the Americas.

I think once we see that the battle in the world today is still a fight between our belief in the one God whom we are to serve, and the European/Edomite ideology of the body and self importance, without a concern for the future, all covered by a thin veneer of belief in a god, or a 3-part deity, we can start to understand the politics in the world today.

I hope this gives you a little introduction, at least to my thinking. I will try and write more soon.

Question: There is one question we wondered in todays Parashas Vayechi about Jacob when it came for him to Bless his 12 children. Why do you think he blessed all his children with [individual] blessings instead of blessing them all with the same blessing.

Answer: Moshe, at the end of the Torah, in V'zoth haBrakha, also provides unique blessings for each of the tribes, the descendants of the twelve sons.

I think this is one of the unique features of Am Yisrael, that although we are one nation, whose task is to serve God and to bring God to peoples of the entire world, we are at the same made of up of different components that must work together, much like the body needs the heart, the brain, the liver and all the other wonderful God-given organs we possess.

You can see from the individual blessings that each son, and their tribes [not just in Moshe's blessings, but in Ya'akov's too, that the blessings largely refer to their progeny], each receives blessings that are different. For example Yehuda is blessed with royalty, Zevulun to be a successful sailor/trader. One may wonder whether Shimon and Levi received a blessing or reprimand -- perhaps both are important, especially as this is the last opportunity Ya'akov has to say anything to his children before his passing from this world. I think Shimon and Levi are being told that they must learn to channel their anger into positive roles. We see that Levi did do this at the time of the Golden Calf in response to the travesty committed by the other tribes. Likewise Shimon, as a way to dilute their innate anger, was spread out amongst the nation as suggested by Ya'akov, as teachers of Torah.

Each of the individual traits of the 12 sons are necessary to produce a people that will serve the world as "a nation of priests" to eventually, as the Rambam says, bring the world back to "the true belief", the understanding that there is one God who created the universe and everything in it.

Question: In this week's parasha we see Zipporah cirmucising her own son. Is it allowed now for a woman among orthodox sect to perform circumcision in present of a minyan?

Answer: I remember learning this issue, but do not remember the final decision. There are opinions that it is permitted and others that it not permitted. The reason for not permitting it is that women are obviously not part of the mitswa of circumcision. We see something similar, though the conclusion is the opposite, in some time dependent actions, like reading the megilla or lighting hanuka candles, but we say women are obligated because they too were included in the miracles.

I asked Rav Shimon Golan, who told that a woman may circumcise only in the event that there is not a man available to do it -- which seems to be the case in the story of Tsipora.

Though the Rav did not say this, I understand that if today were the 8th day since a baby's birth, or even after that with a baby who cannot be circumcised on the 8th day for health reasons (e.g. his liver is not yet fully functional -- a quite common problem in some regions) on the first day on which a doctor says the baby is healthy enough to be circumcised, and even if I know with certainty that tomorrow there will be a man here who can do it, the lady should perform the circumcision today so the baby will spend another day unnecessarily uncircumcised.

As the obligation begins on the 8th day, each day that passes after this that a Jewish male is not circumcised, he transgresses the positive commandment of being circumcised.

Circumcision does not have to be carried out in a minyan if there isn't one available. I'm not sure if the brakha after the brith, the one on the wine, can be said without a minyan. I will check and get back to you.

Question: Is it permissible by the Torah for people to use the different ways of family planning?

Answer: I asked Rabbi Riskin re your question on birth control.

He says that only women may use birth control, whether pill, IUD, diaphragm etc, but definitely not the man -- which means not condoms.

I asked him if this is even before a couple even has a child. He said that the reason for getting married is to have children together, though he could see the possibility to use birth control/family planning even then.

Question: I learned from the Laws of Shema Israel that it is permitted to say it while walking or climbing, etc. Elsewhere, it is said that one should wear a Talith and Tefilin when saying the Shema. What is the case for a student who has to say it while walking to school. Does he have to wear a Talith and Tefilin as well ?

Answer: The obligation is to say sh'ma twice a day, morning and evening. The morning sh'ma may be said from about 40 minutes before sunrise until a 1/4 of the day has elapsed, or if necessary, until 1/2, namely midday. The evening sh'ma may be said from when there are stars in the sky until sunrise the next morning, though if possible, it is best said before midnight. In addition to the obligation to say sh'ma in the evening, preferably as part of the evening prayers, we also say sh'ma immediately before going to bed. In the last case it is enough to say just the first paragraph. The g'mara says this bedtime sh'ma serves a sword of protection while one is asleep.

I think that the translation you are reading may be a little misleading. The reference is not actually while climbing a tree, but rather sitting in a tree. This refers primarily to someone who is working for someone else and sees that the time for sh'ma is about to pass. If he were to climb out of the tree to say sh'ma and then have to return to work, he would wasting his boss's time, and we want to minimise this. Your worship of God should not be at someone else's expense. So the employee may say sh'ma sitting in the tree. The same is true for grace after meals, Birkhath haMazon.

But this is not the regular case. The ideal way to say sh'ma is as part of the morning or evening prayer service, along with the other prayers.

The time for tefilin is also from some 40 minutes before sunrise until sunset. In old times, people actually wore their tefilin all day long. Today we generally wear them only during the morning prayers. But the two things, sh'ma and tefilin are not directly connected. You can say sh'ma without wearing them. However we generally say sh'ma when are wearing tefilin because the 4 bibilical passages which teach us the mitsva of tefilin are written inside the tefilin, and include the first 2 paragraphs of the sh'ma we say. I would advise saying sh'ma a second time if you said them without tefilin, when you have tefilin later.

Continuation of Question: Sometimes students may not have time in the morning to pray while wearing talith and tefiline because they have to carry water from public well and do some work before leaving home. Then, I taught, according to teachings I read, that it was possible to separate different sections of the morning prayer:
1. Birkhot Hashachar, etc.
2. Keriate Shema and
3. Amida and Tachanunim

Then a students who has homework to do before going to school can recite his Shema while going to carry water, he just needs to stop while saying "Shma Israel" and "Baroukh shem". And right before going to school he can then say only the Amida etc. If he thinks he can wear tefilines at that moment then, he should, if not, he can wear them even when he comes back to school, since that mitwvah is valid for the entire day. (Anyone should just manage the way he can to do each prayer and each mitsvah within its proper time). But then, I was worrying about if it was wrong saying the Shema without wearing a Talith or Tefilines.

Answer: There is no problem saying sh'ma without tefilin. Yes, what you suggest all sounds like a good idea. When there is time in the afternoon, he should put on tefilin then. He preferably should also say sh'ma again, and since it is afternoon he can say amida again, as it is now minha time

Question: On the passing parashat vaera, the second parasha in Exodus. Our parasha is not easy. We see the ten harsh plagues which are brought down on Egypt, begining with turning Nile River turning to blood and ending with deaths of the first borns in Egypt. Now for what purpose? Are Egyptians not being purnished? And are their crimes really consistent with the purnishments? And didn't Hashem himself tell Moshe that he shall harden the heart of Pharaoh, that he won't free the people of Israel until all will see Hashems's wonders. Of course Pharaoh's crimes are terrible, but it seem it's not the only purpose of ten plagues. I need to share your thought with my class members at my home.

Answer: These are not easy questions. I see a number of parts to an answer.

First, haShem told Avraham at the brith bein hab'tarim, the covenant of the parts where he was told to cut some animals in half, and then entered a deep sleep or transcendent state, that his descendants would be enslaved by another nation in another land and only later return "here". "And also that nation, whom they shall serve, I will judge; and afterward they shall come out with great wealth" (Bereshith 15:14) So we know from here that that as yet unspecified nation will judged for what they did to the Israelite nation in enslaving them. It was not haShem who enslaved them, as it says (Shmoth 1:11), "Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh store-cities, Pithom and Raamses".

Even if you say that it was preordained that the Egyptians have to enslave them, their cruelty and brutality was beyond all expected levels of a master-slave relationship, as described at the end of parshath Shmoth and of course in many midrashim.

In hilkhoth t'sheva (cf Rambam Mishne Torah) we learn that not everyone can do t'sheva. Some sins are so bad that there is no way to fix them, not at least in this world. Punishment is left to the Divine, to haShem. So while, for example, ten were hung in Shushan in the Purim story, and also at the Nuremberg trials after World War II, this was the maximum punishment that was attainable by fellow humans. No-one treated this as an atonement for the terrible crimes committed. The same was true of Pharaoh. He had travelled far beyond rehabilitation. So "hardening his heart" was only designed to increase the stature of haShem in this world and not to force Pharaoh to do what he would not otherwise have done.

It is clear, that even without the heart hardening, without the ten plagues, the exodus could not and would not occur by "normal" natural means. HaShem is the God of History. His miracles are hidden. He acts through events that can be perceived as normal and natural. That's why the Egyptian magicians were originally able replicate the first pkagues, and to dismiss them as a normal acts of nature, which in fact they were, except they occurred in a very specific time and place to provide maximum historic benefit, as the hidden will of God. The Egyptians had to reach a stage where they would say, "This is the finger of God" and latter at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15) "the Egyptians said: 'Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the LORD is fighting for them against the Egyptians'". This is the realisation haShem desired to achieve in the world, the recognition that He is the King and Israel is his nation.

But don't think that haShem was "happy" (if you can say such a thing about God) with all these people dying. While we say Halel on the first day of Pesach, we do not say it on the subsequent days. HaShem says, according to the g'mara, "How can you sing My praise when My creatures are drowning in the Red Sea". Similarly, we pour out a little of wine, a symbol of happiness, during the seder table to indicate that our freedom too had a price in human terms, but it seems haShem deemed this to be price.

The ways of haShem are hidden to us, but the above is my understanding of the issue.

Question: What happens if Purim occurs on Thursday whereby it's a second day Parasha/Torah reading in the week? Does the Megillah reading supersede Torah reading or you have to read both (weekly Parashat and the Megillah)?

Answer: We don't read the regular weekly parsha whenever there is something else happening, e.g. rosh hodesh, hanuka, purim, yom tov . . . .

In the case of Purim, in addition to the megila, we read a parsha for Purim instead. This parsha describes the war with Amalek. It's from the end of parshath beshalah (Ex. 17, 8-16).

Interestingly, although we have a rule that you have to read at least 3 verses for each person called to the Torah, and at least 10 in any one reading session, here the Ashkenazim as happy to read just 9 verses as this is the self-contained Amalek narrative. Many S'faradim however prefer to read the last verse twice to achieve the ten verse minimum.

Note also that we read this parsha from Sh'moth, and put away the the Torah, before we read the m'gila

Menachem Kuchar. Last update: 31st March, 2016    

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