Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Need Deep Torah about the Mitzvah of Making a Fence!

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Ki Tetze
Printable Version
Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I’m so excited!!! We have made Aliyah and have just completed building our true home in Ma’aleh Adumim. We are planning a huge Chanukat HaBayit (More than a house warming party), and I’m looking forward to making it very meaningful. We have waited, planned and prepared for this special milestone for years. Now it is finally happening! During the celebration with family and friends, I would like to share some deep Torah about the mitzvah of making a fence around our roof. Its simple understanding is quite obvious. We don't need Hashem to tell us to ensure that our roof is safe so no one falls down from it. There must be more to it. I can’t wait to hear your inner Torah about this important mitzvah!
Simcha Houseman (name changed)

Dear Simcha,
Mazal tov on your Aliyah and the completion of your permanent home in Eretz Yisrael! This is indeed a great achievement. We made Aliyah in 1980 but we didn’t build our permanent home until 18 years later. Actually, our Chanukat HaBayit was also during Parashat Ki Tetze, which happens to be my birthday parasha as well. Therefore, my husband let me say the special blessing, before hammering in the last nail of theמַעֲקֶה /ma’akeh – fence on our raised porch. This was a very meaningful moment for me. Needless to say, I was extremely moved when I recited the following beracha: Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu la’asot ma’akeh. (Blessed are You, Hashem our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to construct a fence). What makes it so special is that this is a mitzvah you usually get to do only once in a lifetime (if ever). I was fortunate to find a fascinating article by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, “The Electrifying Fence,” that explains multilayered, symbolic meanings of this mitzvah. I have woven some of his teachings into other commentaries on the topic.

The Parameters of the Mitzvah of Making a Fence
The mitzvah of constructing a fence around the roof follows the war and subsequent conquest of the Land of Israel, when the Israelites settle and deal with the mitzvot of building a house (Ibn Ezra).

ספר דברים פרק כב פסוק ח כִּי תִבְנֶה בַּיִת חָדָשׁ וְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ וְלֹא תָשִׂים דָּמִים בְּבֵיתֶךָ כִּי יִפֹּל הַנֹּפֵל מִמֶּנּוּ:
“When you build a new house, then you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you do not bring blood on your house, if anyone should fall from it” (Devarim 22:8).

Any flat roof, even one that people only occasionally walk on, requires aמַעֲקֶה /ma’akeh – fence, which is a three-foot wall to keep people from falling off (Shut Rivevot Ephraim 1:35). A roof that is never used does not need a fence (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 190:1). The fence on the roof must strong enough to prevent someone from falling (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 427:5). This mitzvah is part of the general directive to do what we can to prevent hazards particularly in our own homes. The image of the fence around the roof epitomizes the value of life.

The Connection between Sending Away the Mother-Bird and Constructing a Fence
The mitzvah to send away the mother-bird begins a new Torah section, which includes 35 subsections, the first of which is the mitzvah of constructing a fence on the roof. All of these mitzvot concern תקונו של עולם/repairing the world (Eliyahu Kitov). If you have fulfilled the commandment of שלוח הקן/Shiluach HaKen – (letting the mother-bird go when taking the eggs or baby-birds), then you will be privileged to build a new house and fulfill the commandment to “make a fence.” One good deed brings another good deed in its train. Then you will attain a vineyard (v.9), fields (v.10) and fine garments (vv. 10-11). For this reason, these sections are juxtaposed (Rashi, Devarim 22:8). The mitzvah of respecting the mother by sending away the mother-bird leads you to believe in the creation of the world and that G-d builds and renews. Therefore, measure for measure, you will also merit to build a new house. This is the foundation of emunah, as it states, “The righteous one lives by his faith” (Chabakuk 2:4); (Kli Yakar, Devarim 22:7). What a special privilege to emulate the Creator by creating your own home in the Holy Land. By adding the fence on your roof, you participate in repairing the world, and merit additional opportunities for world repair by attaining a vineyard and fields.

Mashiach & the Eternal Bird of the Soul
The bird and roof images are furthermore tied together in King David’s psalms, “I have been diligent, and I have become like a lone bird on the roof” (Tehillim 102:8). According to Rav Yitzchak Ginsburg, they both allude to Mashiach, who is compared to a bird sitting in a nest in the Garden of Eden, waiting to redeem the world. Similarly, Mashiach stands on the roof of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and turns to the Jewish People saying, “Humble ones, the time of your redemption has come” (Yalkut Shimoni, Yesha’yahu 60:499). The mitzvah to construct a fence on a roof only relates to people, as birds do not need it. The reason for making the fence is “so that you do not bring blood on your house.” Rav Ginsburgh explains that the Hebrew word for blood דָּם/dam contains the last letters of אָדָם/Adam – man. Only the dalet and mem need a fence to protect from falling off the roof. The alef, is never affected. It is the inner, eternal “bird of the soul.”

A Spiritual Fence Surrounding our Higher Consciousness
The rooftop also symbolizes the highest wisdom – chachmah. When we are greatly involved in wisdom, we have to be careful not to allow our mind to stumble in faulty perception, as happened to Elisha ben Abuya, who fell to the other side. Therefore, we need to place a protecting fence, which is the fear of G-d that surrounds our wisdom, as it states, “the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d” (Tehillim 111:10); (Rabbeinu Bachaya, Devarim 22:8). Similarly, Rav Ginsburgh expounds, “When we ascend in our consciousness to the highest point, the ‘roof’ of an idea or experience, we have reached its climax or epitome. It is precisely here that danger lies.” It is the role of the feminine to infuse the masculine wisdom with fear of G-d. This is reflected in the Oral Torah (the feminine binah) which creates a fence around the Written Torah (the masculine chachmah) to protect it from spiritual danger. Thus, the first teaching of the first mishnah of the Oral Torah is to make a סְיָג/seyag – fence around the Torah.   

The Fence of Humility
We are fortunate to live in the pre-Messianic era, when new consciousness and new dimensions of the Torah are flowing through us. Therefore, more than ever, we need a spiritual fence to insure that when we reach those high points, we won’t fall. Humility is the character trait needed to create such a spiritual fence around the higher chachmah consciousness. This humility leads us to consult rabbis and ensure that our new spiritual consciousness remains within the boundaries of halacha. The new home that our verse instructs us to build also alludes to the new, third Temple. May the mitzvah of constructing a fence around the rooftop of your home be a merit for building the ultimate home – the final Temple that will repair the world!

How Can the Torah Issue the Death Penalty?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Shoftim
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I can’t believe the backward and barbaric punishments described in the Torah. I understand certain behaviors are prohibited, such as murder, theft, adultery and idol-worship. But, living in the modern civilized world, where corporal punishment is outlawed, I find capital punishment described in Parashat Shoftim abhorrent. How can it be humane to take the lives of other people? Doesn’t the Torah emphasize repentance? Why don’t these sinners get a chance to work on themselves and change? Why must they be publicly stoned in such a cruel and brutal way?
Malka Freeman (name changed)

Dear Malka,
I totally understand how you are feeling, I, too, have a hard time with some of the punishments described in the Torah. I agree that Free Will and Repentance are the main tenants of Judaism, and whenever possible, we should give the sinner a chance to mend his ways. So, how can we come to terms with capital punishment ordained by the Torah? How can we understand it in a way that is not cruel to the sinner and still leaves room for his repentance?

Capital Punishment in the Western World
You mention that capital punishment is outlawed in modern civilized countries. Actually, capital punishment is still a matter of active controversy in various countries and states. The United States is one of the Western nations in which it has not been completely outlawed. Only some states have bans on capital punishment, while others still use it today. Even for Western countries that have abolished the death sentence, this is still a recent phenomenon.. 
Abolition of the death penalty occurred in Canada in 1976 (except for some military offences, with complete abolition in 1998), in France in 1981, and in Australia in 1973 (although the state of Western Australia retained the penalty until 1984). The Nuremberg executions, which took place on October 16, 1946, are well known. Ten prominent members of the political and military leadership of Nazi Germany were executed by hanging. Most Western minded people do not feel that it was inhumane to execute these villains. This is because the moral depravity, wickedness and cruelty of the Nazi murderers is clear to all of us. Most of us do not doubt that murderers certainly forfeit their right to live. The remaining offences for which the death penalty is prescribed in the Torah may not be as clear to us today. However, if we believe that the Torah is Divine, then we must also believe that each requirement of the death penalty in the Torah applies only to people who have similarly forfeited their right to live. Since, we are influenced by  today’s tolerant Western society, it may be hard to connect with the seriousness of certain sins that warrant the death penalty and feel abhorence for Shabbat desecration and idolworship. The popular sentiment today is that as long as people aren’t hurting anyone else, it is no-one’s business to interfere with their prefered lifestyle and way of worship.

Differentiating between Divine and Human Law
Without the Torah directives, I would never agree to capital punishment. Who are we, simple humans, to issue a death sentence on a fellow human being? Who are we to decide which kind of sins are serious enough to deserve the death penalty? Who are we to ensure we didn’t make a mistake, which could have such irreversible consequenses?  It is only because I believe that the Torah is from G-d, that I can trust that whatever is written in it is Eternal, Divine truth, even though some parts are more difficult for me to accept, such as the death penalty described in Parashat Shoftim:

ספר דברים פרק יז (ב) כִּי יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי הָשֵׁם אֱלֹהֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתוֹ: (ג) וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לָהֶם וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אוֹ לַיָּרֵחַ אוֹ לְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי: (ד) וְהֻגַּד לְךָ וְשָׁמָעְתָּ וְדָרַשְׁתָּ הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה אֱמֶת נָכוֹן הַדָּבָר נֶעֶשְׂתָה הַתּוֹעֵבָה הַזֹּאת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל: (ה) וְהוֹצֵאתָ אֶת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ אֶת הַדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה אֶל שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֶת הָאִישׁ אוֹ אֶת הָאִשָּׁה וּסְקַלְתָּם בָּאֲבָנִים וָמֵתוּ: (ו) עַל פִּי שְׁנַיִם עֵדִים אוֹ שְׁלשָׁה עֵדִים יוּמַת הַמֵּת לֹא יוּמַת עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָד:
“If there will be found among you, in one of your cities that Hashem, your G-d is giving you, a man or woman who does evil in the eyes of Hashem, your God, to transgress His covenant –
Going to worship other gods and bowing down to them, or to the sun, the moon, or any of the host of the heavens, which I have not commanded. If you have been informed or have heard of it, then you shall make a thorough inquiry, if it is true, the fact is established; this abomination was perpetrated in Israel. Then you shall take that man or that woman who has committed this evil thing, out to your cities, and you shall stone them man or the woman, to death. A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness” (Devarim 17:2-6).

Talmudic Restrictions on Capital Punishment
The Talmud expands upon this Torah section restricting the death penalty greatly and makes it nearly impossible for any crime to meet the standards needed to impose the death penalty. It rules that  two witnesses are required to testify not only that they witnessed the act for which the criminal has been charged but that they also warned him beforehand that if he carried out the act, he would be executed. Then, he had to accept the warning, stating his willingness to commit the act despite his awareness of its consequences. The criminal’s own confession is not accepted as evidence. Circumstantial evidence is also not admitted. Moreover, the death penalty could only be inflicted, after a trial, by a Sanhedrin composed of twenty-three judges (Mishnah, Sanhedrin e punishment. In fact, “A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called murderous. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin, none would ever have been put to death... (Mishnah, Makkot 1:10). In any event, it is illegal for a secular Jewish court to impose the death penalty, even for murder, until the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin. Even when this happens (May it be soon!), can you imagine anyone who would commit a murder in the presence of two witnesses, after these had solemnly warned him that if he persists they will testify against him to have him executed for his crime?

Certain Sins for Which Only Death Atones
The Torah indicates that some crimes are worthy of death in order to emphasize their importance. Yet, “G-d loves even sinners, so much that He sees to it that this harsh judgment doesn’t get carried out” (Rabbi Benjamin Blech). Every Torah law, given by a good and loving G-d, is ultimately for the benefit of everyone involved; not only for the society, which needs protection, but even for the perpetrators themselves. In the extremely rare cases where capital punishment was carried out, it would be only with the best interest of the executed person in mind. The Torah always gives a chance for repentance whenever possible. However, there are certain sins for which only death atones. This includes desecration of G-d’s name, idol-worship, murder and adultery. Thus, the death penalty wasn’t intended to exact vengeance. Its function as a deterrent was also not its ultimate purpose. Rather, the person’s death brought atonement for the sin he committed, and – in conjunction with teshuvah (repentance) – guaranteed the soul’s rehabilitation.

Prisoners Request to Exchange Life sentence with Death Sentence
Long term imprisonment can be more cruel and devastating to criminals than the death penalty. It was reported in BBC news, 31 May 2007, that hundreds of prisoners serving life sentences in Italy requested to bring back the death penalty. Italy has almost 1,300 prisoners serving life terms, of whom 200 have served more than 20 years. Some of the country’s longest serving prisoners want the death penalty re-introduced. The letter they sent to President Giorgio Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years. It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers. Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day. We want to die just once, he said, and “we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence.” It was a candid letter written by a man who, from within his cell, has tried hard to change his life. He has passed his high school exams and now has a degree in law. But his sentence, he says, has transformed the light into shadows. He told the president his future was the same as his past, killing the present and removing every hope.

This explains why the Torah never imposed imprisonment as a punitive means. It seems that most inmates would prefer corporal and even capital punishment to a life time sentence. Considering the importance of Free Will in the Torah, one must ask, is depriving a person of his fundamental right to the most basic human need and aspiration – freedom – less cruel than capital punishment?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Can a Woman Wear Talit and Tefillin?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Re’eh
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I have a question. My daughter made her own tallit for her Bat Mitzvah, and we have my grandfather’s tefillin for her to wear as well. I believe it will be very meaningful for her. I wanted to say something about the meaning of a woman wearing a tallit, but haven’t really found anything. Can you give me some insight into this? 
Doris Tallisman (name changed)

Dear Doris,
First of all, mazal tov on your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. May she grow into a true Eishet Chail (Woman of Valor)! I understand that your daughter is excited about her tallit, that she made herself. Creativity by the Jewish woman is certainly emphasized in the Torah, especially the crafts of weaving and spinning. I’m sure you could find something nice to say about the importance of weaving for Jewish women and their role in weaving the Temple curtains. King Solomon praises the Woman of Valor for this skill as he writes: “She sets her hands to the distaff, and her palms hold the spindle” (Proverbs 31:19). Your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah Parasha is Parashat Re’eh which instructs women and girls to rejoice in the holidays: “You shall rejoice in your festival, you and your son, your daughter, your servant, your maidservant, the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that are within your gates” (Devarim 16:14). The Oral Torah explains that women rejoice by wearing new clothing and jewelry (Mishneh Torah, The Laws of Holidays 6:18), so the topic of women’s garments ties in nicely. The reason why you have not found any sources for a Jewish woman wearing a tallit is because there are no sources for this in our tradition.

Time-bound Mitzvot that Women Must Not Perform
Women are exempt from performing time-bound positive commandments (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 29). The Talmud derives this principle from the commandment of tefillin, which are considered ‘time-bound’ since they are not worn on Shabbat or holidays (Ibid. 33b). Nevertheless, women observe many time-bound mitzvot without being obligated, and they even get rewarded for such mitzvot as hearing the Shofar and sitting in the Sukkah. Although women and children are not obligated to sit in a Sukkah, it is still a mitzvah for each Jew to have his wife and children sit in the Sukkah as by sitting in a Sukkah they earn eternal heavenly reward (Shulchan Aruch 640:1; Ran, Rosh HaShana 33a). Women and children who sit in a Sukkah merit the cleansing of their souls and receiving heavenly goodwill (Kaf HaChaim  640:5). However, women do not have the custom of donning tallit and tefillin. Why should these mitzvot be different? The Talmud records that Michal, the daughter of King Saul, donned tefillin and the Rabbis did not object (Eruvin 96a). Also Rashi’s daughters are said to have put on tefillin. However, these are exceptions and there are various reasons why women must refrain from this practice. 

The Risk of Disgracing the Tefillin
There are generally no pitfalls when women take upon themselves various time-bound mitzvot. However, this is not the case with wearing tefillin. Donning tefillin requires a ‘clean body’ – that is – it is forbidden to pass gas while wearing tefillin. Naturally, this does not happen to women any more than to men, but since men are obligated in the mitzvah, they may be more easily excused, as opposed to women who are exempt. Since no-one today is on the level of Michal, Shaul’s daughter, who was in complete control over her body, only a man, who has no choice regarding the mitzvah of donning tefillin is permitted to take the risk of disgracing this mitzvah. This explains why most Torah authorities agree that women should not don tefillin, (Shulchan Aruch, OC 38:3; Aruch Hashulchan 38:6; Beit Yosef 38:3). Donning tefillin is a commandment, which women have not historically practiced, and if women want to take it upon themselves, we object (Rabbi Moshe Isserless, the Rem”a, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 38:3).

No Cross-Dressing for Men and Women
Neither men nor women are permitted to dress in a way that is customarily associated with the other gender. Since a tallit is typically a male garment, women may transgress a Torah prohibition by wearing it: “A man’s garment shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim 22:5). Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel’s translation of this Torah verse reads:

תרגום יונתן על דברים פרק כב פסוק ה לא יהיה גוליין דציצית ותפילין דהינון תקוני גבר על איתא
“A woman should not wear Tzitzit and Tefilin which are male garments…” (Targum Yonatan, Devarim 22:5).

The Strange Fire of Self-Centered Desire for Divine Service
I’m very proud of my alumna student, Ahuva Gamliel, who wrote a beautiful article on the topic: Why I Don’t Put On Tefillin. She describes how she felt a strong desire to don tefillin when learning about their wonderful mental, emotional, and physical health benefits. She was discouraged from this mitzvah by the various rabbis with whom she consulted, yet, was not satisfied with the reasons given for the prohibition of women donning tefillin. . Here is an excerpt from her very well written article: “The sons of Aaron, the High Priest, Nadav and Avihu, were great men driven by a deep desire for closeness to Gd. They were inspired to serve Gd and made an offering that was not asked for and died. They were consumed by a fire – their passion – because they did what they wanted instead of just doing what Gd asked. This taught me that my great spiritual desire to connect with Gd was in fact egotistical. It was about me, me, me. I wanted to put on tefillin as a way of reaching my potential. I wanted to be closer to Gd, and thought tefillin would take me there. But this is not what Gd asks of me. My spiritual desire was, in fact, self-centered and not Gd centered. I didn’t stop to think what would make Gd happy.” Ahuva’s frank self-awareness is in tune with the general halachic concern to refrain from a particular activity that is deemed ostentatious. This rule applies equally to men and women. It would be an act of religious arrogance (yuhara) for women to wear tallit and tefillin, from which she is exempt, since women do not regularly wear such garments (Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Rem”a, Shulchan Aruch, OC 17:2).

Male Oriented Antennas
On an inner level, the mitzvot of tallit and tefillin are male oriented and entirely unnecessary for a woman. The superior and inherent spiritual wisdom of women does not require time-bound religious imperatives (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch, Vayikra 23:43). Ahuva Gamliel expands on this concept in such a deep and personal way: “It is clear to see that tefillin are unnecessary for me.  It is as if I already have an instant satellite connection, with the best reception possible while thinking that putting an antenna on will help to beam me up. This thinking is clearly flawed. The antenna in this case is redundant and will not do anything for me. In fact, it may be detrimental, causing avoidable marital problems, G-d forbid.  This redundancy may be a chilul Hashem (G-d forbid) because it is doing an act in vain, even if the intentions are great, like Nadav and Avihu. While it must be greatly satisfying to earn a relationship and close bond through prayer, actions, and pure intentions, I can rejoice and celebrate that I don’t have to work as hard for that reality. I was born with a direct connection and the ability to be G-d like through the creation of children (G-d Willing soon). Just like G-d created a space for humanity to exist and to bestow His love upon them, I, too, have this ability through procreation. I have been gifted with the ability of co-creating with G-d, in a way that men do not experience: My microcosm reflecting His macrocosm.  I can emanate G-d’s ways in a deep way that men cannot- and that is priceless.” Baruch Hashem, in the merit of Ahuva’s humble, sincere quest for truth and embracing her femininity, she is engaged to a wonderful man of her dream. I bless Ahuva to raise a beautiful Jewish family upon the traditional Torah values that she imparts. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why are Single Women Undervalued in the Torah?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Ekev
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I would like to know your thoughts on the following:  We all know that the ideal of “Eishet Chayil” applies to the Jewish wife and mother.  But, what about the Jewish woman who became a ba’alat teshuvah (returnee to Judaism) later in life? What about the Jewish woman who is married, and who does not have children for one reason or another? What is her role in Jewish society, and in which way does she fulfill the role of “Eshet Chayil”?  Perhaps, she has devoted her life to serve in areas other than home and family? What if, for example, she has spent her entire life taking care of the sick, or in improving the lives of others in various ways, but has never been blessed with the joys of her own family life? I’m eager to hear what you have to say on this topic, as I fear it is generally neglected, leaving a whole sub-population of Jewish women who are left out of home-centered observance feeling undervalued and lonely.
Liebe Weizman (name changed)

Dear Liebe,
You are asking a difficult but very important question. The situation of single women in the Torah world is not simple. Unfortunately, in the modern Western world, the phenomenon of older single women is increasing. The Torah world is no different. As you wrote, women often return to the Torah later in life. When one realizes that her biological clock is ticking, she wishes she had been less preoccupied with her career and had put more energy into establishing a family. Many women dedicated to the Torah in the highest degree yearn to realize their potential as wives and mothers. Not only do they feel a natural desire to fulfill themselves in these ways,  the Torah also makes it clear that the greatest contribution and the highest ideal of a Jewish woman is to become an Eishet Chail – described in the Torah as a wife and mother. So, how can we comfort and encourage single women to contribute to Jewish society and find a meaningful way to fulfill their Jewish potential?

The Role of the Jewish Woman to Build a Torah Family
If I were a single woman, I would feel that the Jewish religious community rubs salt in my wound from yearning for marriage and motherhood, with all its ‘home-centered observance.’ Women are exempt from the positive-time-bound mitzvot, so that they can fulfill their destiny of building the family home. It is the role of the Jewish woman to create and sustain the family, upon which our personal and national future is founded. For this reason, women are also exempt from the mitzvah of Torah study. Although women must learn Torah in order to live by its guidance, they are not obligated to study Torah for the sake of theoretical profundity, and comprehensive knowledge. In order to foster the family, the Torah exempted women from the mitzvah of Torah study and the positive time-bound mitzvot. What about the older single woman, who may never be able to have children of her own? How does all this relate to her? The very law that women are exempt from the mitzvah of Torah study and time-bound positive mitzvot suggests that women, by nature, have less of a need for those mitzvot and that they can achieve personal completion without them. Based on this, we can learn that even a woman who does not bear the burden of family is exempt from these mitzvot (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed).

The Image of G-d Refers to the Union between Man and Woman
The Torah teaches that the human being is only a complete tzelem elokim (image of G-d) when the feminine and the masculine are united to become one complete being (Bereishit 1:27). This seems to imply that an unmarried person, be it man or woman, does not embody a complete image of G-d. In fact, any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 62b). The Torah refers to the human being as complete and blessed only after G-d made male and female and brought them together, as it states “Male and female He created them and He blessed them and He called their name Adam” (Bereishit 5:2). Only men have the mitzvah to be fruitful and multiply, because women naturally desire the bond of marriage and motherhood. Therefore, the single woman may suffer more and feel a greater lack than the single man, especially in the traditional Jewish world, where so much emphasis is on women to be homemakers. Before Hashem created woman, He put Adam to sleep. It seems like in our time, prior to the final redemption, in the merit of the women that Hashem is creating women anew, while often, men are spiritually dormant. Women are engaged in various self-development movements and aspiring to perfect their character, whereas, many men do not exactly measure up. It has become increasingly difficult to find suitable matches for the accomplished Jewish woman.  Many older single women complain that they are being matched up with weirdos. We must show great empathy and care to women who are in this situation. When I lecture about the Eshet Chail or related Women/Torah topics, I’m keenly aware that it is extremely important to show sensitivity to the older single women, some who may never experience the joy of motherhood.

Upholding the Single Woman
Just as the Torah teaches us the importance of protecting the orphan, convert and the widow, so is it a mitzvah to be kind to the single woman.

ספר דברים פרק י פסוק יח עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה:
“G-d upholds the cause of the orphan, the widow, and He loves the convert providing him with food and clothing” (Devarim 10:18).

The Hebrew term for widow is אַלְמָנָה/Almana,’ literally means, “without a portion.” This expression can be extended to include the older single woman, as she has no one to provide for her and protect her. In the past, a woman would remain in her father’s home until the day of her wedding, when her father would hand her over to the protecting hand of her husband. Today, things have changed. Torah observant women can make their own living, and rent an apartment on their own or share it with other women. This phenomenon has made the Jewish woman less desperate to get married. Perhaps in past times, a woman would settle for less, and marry someone – anyone – just to get out of her father’s house. I certainly do not want to blame single women claiming that they are too picky. I realize that there is a surplus of great beautiful religious Jewish women with excellent midot, for whom it’s really hard to find suitable husbands on their level.

The Highlights of Jewish Single Womanhood
We have to acknowledge that being a single Jewish woman is not the ideal. Yet, we need to have emunah that whatever situation we find ourselves in, has a purpose. Even if, objectively speaking, we are not in an ideal situation, such as being an orphan, not having financial means to support ourselves, not living in Eretz Yisrael, going through a difficult divorce, being unmarried etc., we need to believe that Hashem put us in this situation because this specific challenge helps us to rectify our soul. If you are a single Torah-observant woman, there are still many ways that you can fulfill your potential and find purpose in your life. Rather than focus on what you are missing, it is important to engage in lofty activities and look for the positive. Instead of sulking and overeating to dull your loneliness, seize the opportunity to find yourself instead. When you’re single, you can take stock, learn from your mistakes and work out what you want for the future. You are blessed with time at your disposal that marriage and motherhood preclude. This is your time to develop your skills, exercise your body, devote yourself to a meaningful job, engage in Torah study and most importantly engage in mitzvot that come your way. You don’t have to feel like a failure or a second class citizen. One of the female Torah scholars whom I greatly admire is an older single woman who never had any children. Nevertheless, she is highly respected in Jewish communities the world over. She was able to apply the energy that she didn’t need to expend in childrearing to deep Torah research. Through her books and Torah articles, she inspires both women and men, and helps many searching souls embrace the Torah lifestyle.

When is too Late to Find Your Soulmate?
There are various ways that a single Jewish woman can make the most out of her situation and provide valuable service to the community. There is a great need for Jewish female physicians, especially gynecologists, community leaders, therapists and more. While it is important to be happy with your portion, it is never too late to find your true soulmate. I personally know of more than one woman who married late and had her first baby after the age of 50. I also know of women who married later in life to men with children and who now enjoy raising grandchildren together. Before we were created, we were one big soul. Forty days before our conception, G‑d took our “big soul” in His hands and split it into two pieces (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 2a). The work of finding our soul mate and truly becoming one with him is finding our missing half. So, how do we find our other half? We have to begin by perfecting our half. We have to really know ourselves and be the best ‘half’ we can possibly be. Our soulmate is out there, that’s not the question. The question is, are we where we need to be to find him?  We need to realize that we attract what we send out (Bary Lyman, Meet to Marry). While being happily engaged in various meaningful activities, we must not forget to put enough effort into meeting suitable matches for marriage. For those of us who are married, let us work on treating older single women with the utmost respect. If you are still single, I bless you to find self-value in your life while never giving up on finding your true soulmate! Perhaps, he is waiting for you to complete just one more rectification in your soul’s journey to be your very best ‘half,’ ready to find your other half and embrace family life. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Does the Torah Allow Smoking?

Ask the Rebbetzin - Parasha Va’etchanan
Printable Version

Dear Rebbetzin Chana Bracha,
I have not corresponded with you for a very long time. I used to be a regular in your classes on Sunday Paltalk and The Virtual Yeshiva... way back. I hope you remember ‘dreidyl’ in your class. I am still on your mailing list and read your weekly writings. I also recently purchased your Women at the Crossroads: A Woman’s Perspective on the Weekly Torah Portion and enjoy it very much. I have a question about something you wrote in an article many weeks ago but I am still curious. You mentioned that you have a morning drink of lemon juice and cayenne pepper. May I ask the purpose of this particular combination? I am striving to keep a very healthy lifestyle. Would you mind explaining this to me, please?
I hope all is well at B’erot Bat Ayin. I plan to visit Israel someday and I still plan on attending your Midrasha. It is my fondest wish. All blessings to you, Rebbetzin – thank you for all of the wonderful work you do. You touch so many do not even realize. 
Hadassah Neal

Dear Hadassah,
I certainly do remember you from the Paltalk classes. You always had insightful comments.
It’s good to hear that you are striving to keep a very healthy lifestyle, as this is a mitzvah from the Torah, as it states in Parashat Va’etchanan: “You shall safeguard your souls [lives] very much…” (Devarim 4:15). Before I answer your particular question, I’d like to shed light on the general mitzvah of guarding our health, which our sages learned from the Torah verse mentioned above. Guarding our health is a mitzvah which we very much emphasize at Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, where we guide our students in cooking nutritional, wholesome meals and exercising their bodies. We also teach Rambam on nutrition and health. Rambam gives very detailed instructions on the mitzvah of keeping oneself healthy. Most are still very applicable today and concur with modern medical research. “Maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d – for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill. Therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger” (Rambam, Hilchot Deiot 4:1).

Physical Health: A Prerequisite for Spiritual Health 
A Jew’s mission in life is to come closer to Hashem through Torah and mitzvot. Our body is the instrument of our soul to attain this lofty purpose. Only through the body can we carry out the practical mitzvot, related to this world. G-d has commanded us to protect and guard our body to ensure that it is a fitting instrument for performing His mitzvot. Guarding our health is so important that our rabbis taught that it is part of the commandment to not forget the Giving of the Torah: “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much… lest you forget the day when you stood before Hashem Your G-d” (Devarim 4:9-10 Kli Yakar explains that “Guard yourself” means taking care of the body. As Rambam taught, physical health is vital for spiritual health. “It is a positive duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life, as it is written, ‘Take care of yourself, and guard your soul.’ The sages prohibited many things that involve a risk to life. Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying ‘I’m only putting myself at risk - what business is that of anybody else?’ or ‘I’m not particular about such things’ deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed” (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10). “Every person needs to learn from the healers which are the best foods for his particular constitution, place and time” (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 32:14;

Staying Away from Danger and Guarding our Health
When looking at the context of our Torah verse it is not clear how this verse refers to staying away from danger and keeping oneself healthy. According to the simple meaning, it warns us to be careful about idol worship. However, various Torah commentators explain it to refer to the mitzvah of taking good care of our souls and bodies. The word נֶפֶש/nefesh used in our pasuk is the lowest part of the soul or our ‘physical body,’ which refers to our ‘lives.’
ספר דברים פרק ד  פסוק טו
וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם כִּי לֹא רְאִיתֶם כָּל תְּמוּנָה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר הָשֵׁם אֲלֵיכֶם בְּחֹרֵב מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ:
“You shall watch yourselves (your nefesh) very well, for you did not see any image on the day that Hashem spoke to you at Chorev from the midst of the fire” (Devarim 4:15).

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, explains this Torah verse as follows: “This expression includes the mitzvah of guarding our bodies and souls. If our verse would only refer to guarding our souls it should have been written in the active form ושמרתם/u’shemartem – you shall guard. However, the passive form ונשמרתם/v’nishmartem – you shall be guarded – refers to guarding the body. (Emek D’var, Devarim 4:15). The passive form of the verb ‘to guard’ can only refer to the health of our body, since we make our active free choices with our souls, while our bodies must passively follow. The Netziv refers us to the following anecdote in the Talmud, about being careful not to engage in behavior that may endanger our lives: “Our Rabbis taught: It is related that once when a certain pious man was praying by the roadside, a soldier came by and greeted him. Yet, he did not return his greeting. So, the soldier waited for him until he had finished his prayer. Then he said to him: “Fool! Is it not written in your Law, ‘Take good care of yourself to keep your lives diligently?’ (Devarim 4:9). It is also written, ‘Take, therefore good heed of your souls (lives)?’ (Devarim 4:15). When I greeted you, why did you not return my greeting? If I had cut off your head with my sword, who would have demanded satisfaction for your blood from me?”  (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 32b). Likewise, Tosfot mentions our verse as a source for the prohibition to cause injury to the body (Tosfot, Babylonian Talmud, Shevuot 36a).

Is Cigarette Smoking Permitted According to the Torah?
In light of the mitzvah to take good care of our health, I would like to address the very important question of whether or not it is permitted to smoke, according to the Torah. We once had a potential tenant for our studio apartment.  As my husband sat down with her to sign the contract, he noticed cigarettes protruding from her bag. When he asked her whether she smoked, she confirmed that she did. I happened to be in the kitchen at that time, so my husband asked if I was ok with having a tenant that smoked. I answered, “Absolutely not!” The potential tenant was fuming in anger that we hadn’t mentioned the ‘non-smoker-condition’ for the rental beforehand. I felt that since we live in a health conscious community, it is the smoker’s responsibility to ask whether we would accept a tenant that smoked. After doing some research on the topic, I was very much strengthened in my view point. I have a hard time understanding why so many observant Jews (openly) smoke, when today we know with absolute certainty that smoking is harmful. Years ago it wasn’t so clear how harmful smoking was, so when we see ‘older people’ smoking, we can assume that when they started, they were unaware of the dangers. However, it is hard to find an excuse for the many young people, particularly yeshiva students, who openly smoke. How does smoking in our time mesh with the mitzvah of “V’Nishmartem”?

Rabbinic Rulings Regarding Smoking in Modern Times
Rabbis from previous centuries have permitted smoking cigarettes on Yom Tov, with the argument that smoking is ‘davar sheshaveh lachol nefesh’ – ‘something that is equally enjoyed by all.’ Medical research beginning in1964, clearly proved that smoking is a health hazard. Therefore, the real question is no longer whether or not smoking is permitted on Yom Tov; but, rather, whether or not smoking is permitted at all! There have been thousands of scientific studies detailing the hazards of smoking. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one out of every five deaths in America is caused by smoking. Other reports estimate that 15% of smokers eventually die of lung cancer. Studies indicate that smokers face a much higher mortality rate, an almost 67% chance of dying due to an illness directly attributed to their smoking! (Medical Daily, Oct 11, 2013: Cigarettes Even More Dangerous Than Once Thought: 67% Of Smoking Deaths Linked Directly To Habit)

As the knowledge of the health risks associated with smoking became more widespread and universally acknowledged, many Halachic authorities changed their ruling to reflect the emerging reality, using extremely harsh terms against smoking, with many authorities outright forbidding it. These contemporary authorities include Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, the Tzitz Eliezer zt”l, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l, and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l, who, contrary to their earlier p’sakim, in their later rulings, came out strongly against smoking. Other poskim, including Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, the Debreciner Rav zt”l, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner shlit”a, Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlit”a, Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit”a, the Rivevos Efraim zt”l, and Rav Asher Weiss shlit”a, wrote unequivocally about the dangers of smoking and how it is not permitted, with some even referring to smoking as ‘suicidal.’ In fact, many well-known Rabbis, including Rav Elyashiv zt”l, Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Steinman shlit”a, Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l, Rav Nissim Karelitz shlit”a, and Rav Shmuel Auerbach shlit”a, signed a Kol Koreh in Av 2004 against smoking, even imploring those who do smoke to do everything in their power to stop. It is recorded that Dayan Yisrael Yaakov Fischer zt”l, who permitted smoking (including Yom Tov), at the end of his life, when he was dying of lung cancer, gathered ten men together to publicize in his name that smoking is truly and unequivocally prohibited in order to be ‘mezakeh the rabbim’ (strengthen the public) with this ruling.

Why Lemon & Cayenne in the Morning?
I have learned from my nutrition teacher, Shoshanna Harrari, the habit of drinking water first thing in the morning, followed by a drink with lemon juice and cayenne pepper to promote general cleansing and detoxification. It also aids digestion and suppresses cravings. This way I start my morning in a good way, without overeating.

Cayenne pepper contains vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, manganese, and flavonoids. Cayenne pepper is also used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines to help treat circulatory problems. There are several studies regarding cayenne pepper’s ability to stimulate the circulation and the health of the heart, aid digestion, and help regulate blood sugar. Furthermore, it increases the temperature of your body and kick-starts our metabolism. Cayenne also strengthens the immune-system, preventing colds and sore throat. Be sure to always buy non-irradiated cayenne pepper (and all spices) since irradiation negates the health benefits of spices.

Lemon water is a blood purifier and an antiseptic that prevents disease, gets rid of impurities and helps the body eliminate waste more efficiently. It also stimulates the liver’s natural enzymes by helping to oxygenate the body and dissolve uric acid. Lemons are packed with antioxidants and electrolytes like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The vitamin C in lemon transforms toxins into digestible material. Lemon stimulates the secretion of gastric juices, which aids the digestion of our breakfast that will follow. Since proper digestion, as the Rambam teaches, is critical to a healthy body, this drink is a great way to set the stage for a day of healthy digestion.

I use the juice of about half a lemon together with a few pinches of cayenne. You have to work yourself gradually up to the spiciness of cayenne. Use only enough to feel the heat but not so spicy that it’s hard to get down. I sip the drink with a straw in order to protect the enamel of my teeth from the acidic lemon. I’m planning on getting a glass drinking straw, which unlike plastic straws, will not leech any harmful chemicals.

General Guidelines for Maintaining Optimal Health
We need to put effort into keeping ourselves healthy in order to have a clear mind that can understand Hashem and a strong body that can do mitzvot. Therefore, we must accustom ourselves to develop healthful habits as Rambam teaches. Whereas there are general guidelines of how to maintain good health such as exercising, getting adequate sleep and staying away from artificial additives and refined foods, like white flour and sugar; there are many different opinions on cultivating healthful habits, which differ from person to person. I, personally, try to sleep seven hours, exercise daily, eat nice quantities of dark green leaves, while abstaining from flour and sugar, except for fruits, and unrefined honey. We all need to learn to listen to our body so we can develop the life habits that works best for each of our individual needs.