Shabbat B' Shabbato

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Volume 1610: Mishpatim  27 Shevat 5776 06/02/2016

As Shabbat Approaches

"And they Ate and they Drank"/Esti Rosenberg,
Head of the Midrasha for Women, Migdal Oz

"And they saw the G-d of Yisrael, and under His feet was something like bricks of sapphire, and the essence of the purity of heaven... And they saw a vision of G-d, and they ate and they drank." [Shemot 24:10-11].

Many commentators were perplexed by this turn of events. The sages of Bnei Yisrael had the great privilege of seeing the face of the Shechina, the Divine holy presence – and their reaction was to eat and drink? We would have certainly expected the end of this verse to be something like, "and they bowed down and prayed!" What link is there between a vision of the face of G-d and "eating and drinking?"

The commentators in fact do not agree about the meaning of the phrase, "they ate and they drank." Rashi points out that there are two approaches. "They looked at Him with their hearts even while eating and drinking – but Onkeles did not translate it this way." And indeed, Onkeles has another explanation: "They were happy with their sacrifices as if they had eaten and drunk."

Rashi sees the ability of the sages to eat and drink immediately after they encountered the face of G-d as a reason for reproach. Instead of being inspired to soar above their worldly interests, the people remain "stuck" in their human need to eat and drink. Man is not able to free himself from the limitations of the physical world in spite of his exalted rise to greater and greater heights. But Rashi also hints at the possibility of a different interpretation – that of Onkeles. He feels that the wise men certainly did not eat or drink, but rather that they derived such pleasure from the fact that G-d accepted their sacrifices that it was as if they had eaten and drunk. Their experience remained exclusively on the spiritual level. There was no need to fulfill the promise through physical means. Since human beings are created in a physical way, the Torah describes their emotions in human terms.

These two approaches represent two different boundaries. On one hand, Rashi criticizes the fact that man is involved in physical phenomena even at the peak of spiritual action, while Onkeles hints that it is possible to leave behind the material aspects of the holy encounter and to rise up to a world where the material world is symbolic.

On the other hand, other commentators take the middle ground. The Ramban explains, "They were happy and declared a holiday, because we are obligated to celebrate when we receive the Torah... They ate and drank in front of G-d with great joy." The sages did indeed physically eat and drink, but the food and drink were part of the encounter with the Shechina, providing for a combination of physical eating and a spiritual way of life. Sforno writes explicitly about the tension between physical and spiritual realms: "'And they ate and drank' – Afterwards they made a festive meal. Their emotions did not change, and they made a meal out of happiness for what they had experienced."

The food and drink were an integral part of the revelation of the Shechina, and the elders of Yisrael celebrated their ability to combine the spiritual and physical aspects of their lives through eating and drinking. They were able to see the face of the Shechina, to look at the G-d of Yisrael, and at the same time to know how to eat and drink properly. They were able to strike a balance between their human desire to rise up and touch the face of eternity and the basic need of a person to eat and drink.

Achieving such a balance is the objective of our lives – to touch the holiness, to see G-d, while at the same time continuing to control the physical aspect of life and to sanctify it – they were able to continue eating and drinking even while facing the Shechina.

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Point Of View

A Culture of Dispute?/Zvulun Orlev

How should a Disagreement be Managed?

The following words of the Talmud are a foundation stone in the culture of a dispute: "For three years Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed, one saying the halacha follows our opinion and the other saying the halacha follows our opinion. Then a heavenly voice was heard, saying, both these and these are the words of the Living G-d, but the halacha is like Beit Hillel. But since both were the words of the Living G-d, why were Beit Hillel privileged to have the halacha accept their opinion? It is because they were pleasant and willing to accept insults, and they studied the words of Beit Shammai and in fact taught the words of Beit Shammai before their own." [Eiruvin 13b].

With sharp mutual barbs, sometimes accompanied by a ban, which take place during campaigns and when laws are proposed, and with vile and offensive declarations, our current world sees things that are very far from the disputes in the name of heaven between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. It would be good for us to learn from them how to manage a culture of harsh disputes, even though in their case the subject matter was halacha, which has a direct effect on the lives of individuals and the community. We should learn from Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel even in ideological disputes. It is difficult to see how we could have continued to exist as a unified nation if the people had acted differently in the past. The culture of disputation which they bequeathed to us maintained the unity of the nation and prevented splits such as what happened with the Karaites and the Shabtaites, and prevented civil wars which might have led to absolute disaster.

Everybody wants the Best for the Country

I have no doubt that all of the Zionists who are disputing in such loud tones have a strong desire for what is best in the end for the Jewish nation and for the state of Israel. They all desire, act for, and contribute to the strengthening of our security, our economic prowess, and maintaining our identity as a Jewish and democratic country. In spite of sharp ideological and political divisions – mainly about peace, land areas, waging war, and borders – all the sides serve side by side in the IDF, including the most demanding combat units, and together develop science, the economy, and high-tech, while we all work together and share the tax burden.

I will dare to say that even the most extreme elements on the right (such as the arsonists in Duma and those who perpetrate "price tag" operations) and on the left (such as Breaking the Silence and Betzelem), which all cause security dangers and serious harm to the position of our country around the world, feel that they are acting in the best interests of the country and the nation as they understand it. Except for solitary unstable visionaries in these groups, who must be punished to the full extent of the law in order to defend our land from the terrible damage that they do, the others in the groups should be treated as people from our nation who have lost their way. We must argue with them by a method of discussion and persuasion. Because the government is in the control of the rightist and the religious parties, we have a heavy responsibility to establish a culture of disputes which will not lead to a split within the nation and which will not force other groups to disassociate from the land and to stop contributing to it, or to be drawn into the arms of harmful elements.

Restraining the Inclination to Publish

People in the government have a weakness to use their power as a majority to establish a one-sided position and to force the other side to comply with their wishes. Experience teaches us that the exploitation of governmental powers can be beneficial, if at all, only for a short time, since in a system based on a coalition the situation will eventually be reversed and those who used excessive power will suffer from the new leaders, as if to say, "What they did to me I will do to them." There are many examples of laws that were passed by a powerful majority in line with the political narrative of a party which was needed by the coalition in order to maintain the government, which were overturned with a change in relative strength of the parties. (One example is the law of "equal sharing of the burden.") On the other hand, laws which were achieved as a result of understanding, discussion, and compromise, have been maintained even through sharp changes of the balance in the coalition. (One example is the peace treaty with Jordan.)

I am not being naive – clearly the desire for publicity, prominence, and the pursuit of additional support are the motive force behind all of these initiatives, which lead to examples of a culture of disputation that is spoiled and harmful. Government officials and heads of public institutions must act as representatives of the public and not look out for their own personal or sectorial interests. We must demand with determination that they refrain from hate-inciting provocations. The character of our country as both Jewish and democratic must operate in a way that is appropriate for a culture of a dispute in the name of heaven.

Look at how Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai acted towards each other. "Even though these prohibited and the others permitted, these declared something forbidden and the others saw it as kosher, each side did not refuse to marry somebody from the other side..." [Mishna Yevamot 1:4]. We are all citizens of the same country, children of one nation, brothers from a single large family. We are all in the same boat, in choppy and dangerous seas. Let us respect and guard over each other in the restrained and reserved way of Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, without letting anybody drill a hole in the boat. In this way we will be able to reach a safe haven, with G-d's help.

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Sweetness For The Soul

Self-Criticism that Helps Others /Rabbi Atiel Gilady,
Lecturer in the School for the Soul and Editor of the Writings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg

There are times when I have no patience for myself... I see in myself so many failures and problems that evidently my most difficult failing is that I am too critical of myself. After all, the truth is that in general I am pretty much okay, wouldn't it be better to look at the bright side instead of all my criticism? Anyway, if I am so damaged how can I expect to help others and to give them some of my own good?

Realistic Criticism

Self-criticism is the key to building up our character, personal advances, and certainly to a life of serving G-d. Anybody who has no faults and blemishes whatsoever is no longer a human being, for every single human being has some good traits and some failings. To be aware of this and to practice self-criticism is necessary in order to develop and to utilize the good points and in order to cope with the failings and mend them. However, even somebody who knows that he has some faults but is not able to look straight at them has a problem.

In addition to the "blockage" of the ability to mend my own problems and to achieve progress, the fear of what is lacking in me and the difficulty in analyzing myself precisely stem from a problem in my own personal image. Anybody who tries to wrap himself up in a personal image which is more generous than the truth (is there anybody who does not try this?) "loses patience with himself" when the exaggeration and the imagination in the self-image become apparent. As in a magic circle, my impatience with myself leads to a situation where I cannot look at myself honestly in order to make the necessary improvements without either diminishing my faults or exaggerating them. The solution for this, as a way of life, is to develop a realistic self-awareness which recognizes my personal faults, has patience with them but does not accept them, while maintaining a constant attempt to change and to grow.

First "Reprimand" Yourself

So far, we have very briefly discussed the matter of self-criticism needed for personal development. However, self-criticism is also a trait necessary for our ability to give spiritual support to others, in education and in treatment, and sometimes to be able to merely give friendly advice.

There is a well-known rule, "adorn yourself first and only afterwards should you try to adorn others." This is how our mentor the Baal Shem Tov explained the mitzva, "Hocheayach tochiach – Admonish your colleague" [Vayikra 19:17]: "First criticize yourself, and only then can you admonish your colleague with respect to the same subject."

Does this mean that I cannot make any comments to another person if I have not yet mended the same matter for myself (which evidently would mean that I can never make any comments to another person)? Anybody who takes pleasure in making such comments, in stabbing him from an exalted position, would probably do well to understand the matter in this way. However, we can look at it differently: Am I supposed to concentrate only on mending my own faults, such that I will not be able to help anybody else until I have completed my own process? This is absolute egotism, the very opposite of the Chassidic dictum to worry first about other people and not myself.

"Adorn yourself first" does not mean that I must complete my own mending before I will have the right to "comment" to another person. Rather, in order to truly be able to help another person I must be in a process of striving for my own mending and be able to engage in self-criticism. A person who can criticize himself with a realistic and patient acceptance of his own faults will also have the requisite patience when he looks at somebody else. He will not approach the matter with arrogance, rather he will propose to help from a feeling of empathy for the difficulties. He will give encouragement based on his own experience, and he will say that one can continue to live with the faults that everybody has, while coping with them and fixing them as time goes on.

In greater depth, realistic self-awareness can help a person recognize that good deeds and helping others are a gift from heaven. The more insignificant a person feels as compared to the Holy One, Blessed be He, the more he will be able, in spite of his personal failings, to be a channel for passing on the good. From this point of view, my own self-criticism should be focused on the degree of my insignificance with respect to G-d: How much of a "pure channel" am I for my children, my students, or my patients? When I take the credit for my insights and my successes, my own failings – and specifically, my pride – interfere with the Divine abundance. When I operate with modesty and remain aware that all the good belongs exclusively to G-d, my personal failings are shunted aside and allow the Divine good to pass through. Because of our arrogant tendencies, only constant self-criticism will allow us to maintain the purity of the "channel" which leads to a truly good influence on others.

(Based on the first condition of the "Rules for Education and Guidance" by the Rebbe Rayatz – the sixth Chabad Rebbe.)

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A Parsha Insight

A Doctorate in "Law"/Rabbi Assaf Harnoy,
Post-Graduate Beit Midrash for Torah and Leadership, Jerusalem

What would you Like to Do when you Grow Up?

One of the difficult sources of indecision for young people is what they should do "when they grow up." What profession should I learn, which I want to occupy my time as an adult? Perhaps it should be a carpenter or a physician, perhaps an agricultural worker, an engineer, or an educator. But one thing is absolutely necessary – a "doctorate in law."

It is not sufficient to have general knowledge of the legal profession, and just having detailed knowledge of another realm is not enough. Every single person must have a "doctorate" – he or she must be perfect experts in law. This is true because legal expertise touches on almost the entire range of the of life a person in Israel. To be a legal expert means to know how to act properly in many different situations which you might encounter.

What does everybody need in order to qualify for a "doctorate in law?"

An Investment is Necessary

In order to deserve such a title, as a legal expert, it is necessary to make a large investment. It requires an effort that is day-to-day, consistent, and with all the heart. It does not really matter how well you remember every detail of every law (even though this is very useful too), the main thing is to dedicate all your efforts for a long time to expand, to study, and to maintain the "law" within you, so that in the end you will be a "great expert on the law."

There is one thing it is important for you never to forget even if in your youth or afterwards you amassed great knowledge. The world of the law is constantly changing, matters are advancing all the time. It is important to expand our knowledge, to study, and to maintain your own personal firebrand of "law," in order to be an outstanding "law expert."

"These are the Laws"

These are the laws which were given to us at Mount Sinai, it is the written and the oral Torah, which provides us the source for our lives. Therefore, every single one of us, young or old, must know and understand the law pertaining to an ox which gores a cow, and how a cloak that is claimed by two people is divided between them.

This, then, is the beauty of the Divine Torah which was given to us, it characterizes the greatness of the King of all Kings – He descends and becomes involved in the smallest details of whatever is happening. The G-d of Yisrael is a G-d of life. Therefore, His guidance and His commands descend into matters that are miniscule and physical, no matter how trivial. Even in a case of a dispute between neighbors, we can expect to see Divine judgement as established by the the Master of the World.

The Laws are Introduced with the word "And"

And that is the link between the momentous events at Mount Sinai, about which we read in the last Torah portion, and the many detailed mitzvot which appear in this week's Torah portion. The laws of this week's portion, with all their variety and details, are not extraneous to the world, and are not "self-supporting." The great power and the very essence of these laws are derived from the word "and" with which this week's portion begins, linking it to the tremendous events that took place in the previous Torah portion.

The Divine Shechina, the heavenly reality that was revealed in the mists on the mountain, returns in this week's portion and begins to give the fine details of the huge number of specific laws. Like the heart, which pumps blood to each and every blood vessel, so too the events at Sinai and the revelation of the Shechina are active, give life, and provide Divine insight for every subject, no matter how miniscule and distant it may seem.

And all of this is the essence and the role of our Torah – not to remain at a distance, at the peak of the mountain, but to descend and enter into the tents of each and every one of us.

The only way for us to reach out to and touch the exalted Torah which was given at Mount Sinai is for each and every one of us to be experts in the law, not only when a specific event takes place. And we can never allow ourselves to let a mere "consultation" with an expert suffice.

In order to embrace the King of Kings and touch Him, and in order to have the merit of viewing the shine of the Shechina, we must remember the events that took place at Sinai, but we must also never forget the word "and" which links between these events and this week's Torah portion – "And these are the laws" [Shemot 21:1].

The most original and best repentance, which stems from the light of the Torah in the world, is the study of the monetary laws and all the rulings between one man and another. This lights up the path of practical living for us, with a clear light." [Rav Kook, Orot Hateshuva, 13:5].

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Notes From The Haftarah

A New Calf/Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem

The Haftarah of this week's Torah portion of Mishpatim is from the prophecy of Yirmiyahu (34:8-22, 33:25-26). It discusses the pact that Tzidkiyahu, the last King of Yehuda, made with the leaders of the nation during the last days before Jerusalem was conquered. In the pact, the entire nation agreed to free their Jewish slaves and maidservants. Evidently the purpose of this covenant was not merely to observe the mitzva of the Torah and set the slaves free after a maximum of six years but rather to completely abolish the institution of slavery of Jews. (We can assume that the laws of slavery were not observed properly at the time, based on the fact that there were not only male slaves but maidservants at the time. This is not reasonable in view of the requirement to free all the female slaves when they reached the age of twelve.) Thus, this pact was meant to be an enhancement of the laws of slavery among Jews, which allowed slavery for a limited time. Evidently by completely abolishing the institution of Jewish slavery, the leaders of the nation wanted to strengthen the covenant of their fathers who left Egypt by virtue of a "kal vachomer," a logical inference: If the covenant made at the time of the Exodus led to partial release of the slaves in Yisrael, the complete abolition of slavery can provide a stronger covenant that can save the Jews in the war against the Kasdim.

However, the people did not fulfill their promise, and they enslaved the slaves and maidservants who had been set free (34:11). With this failure in the background, the prophet reminds the people of the original Torah law limiting the duration of slavery to six years. (Here, as opposed to the original pact of Tzidkiyahu, only the male slaves are mentioned, since as noted above it would have been very rare for a maid to serve for as long as six years.) This is as if to say: If only you would observe the minimal requirements of Torah law. I did not ask you to observe special piety, which would have been defines as doing "what is proper in the eyes of G-d" [23:15]. But you did not even do this.

This failure so soon after the pact was signed can be compared to the sin of the Golden Calf which took place right after the covenant was made at Mount Sinai. Then the nation fell into the trap of idol worship because of their thirst for divine activity. And this may help explain the way the pact in the time of Tzidkiyahu is described by the prophet. It is written, "the calf which was divided into two, and then they passed between them" [34:18]. It is true that Rashi notes, "It is the custom of people making a pact to divide an animal into two parts and to pass in between them, as is written, 'those who pass between the halves of the calf' [Yirmiyahu 34:19]." However, it is doubtful that this ritual was performed for the pact of Tzidkiyahu, which took place in the Temple. It is more reasonable to assume that the verse in the case of Tzidkiyahu is a metaphor, comparing the actions of the heads of the nation in his time to those of the people who made the original Golden Calf.

Just as the Golden Calf did not abrogate the eternal covenant with Yisrael, in our case the inappropriate actions could not annul the eternity of Yisrael. And that is why the Haftarah goes back and ends with the two verses which precede the story of the broken pact, promising that G-d will never despise the offspring of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaacov, or the House of David (33:25-26).


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Melodies On A Violin

Measure for Measure /Moshe (Mussa) Berlin

"Rabbi Shefatia said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Whoever reads without a tune and learns without song ("zimra ") is described by the verse, 'And I also gave them decrees that are not good, and they will not have laws' [Yechezkel 20:25]" [Megilla 32a].

"You are ordered to appear in court this Tuesday."

The short notice which was posted on the milkman's door upset him very much. He was an honest man who always acted in a trustworthy and moral way. He never cheated, lied, or stole. He never became intoxicated in the morning, which was forbidden by the laws of the village. He didn't know why he was being called to court.

But the baker knew.

The baker regularly bought butter and cheese from the milkman, and he used them in his baking. One day he became suspicious that the butter the milkman was selling him weighed less than a kilogram, as it should have, even though the milkman guaranteed him that every block of butter weighed exactly a kilogram, not more and not less.

The baker decided to check for himself, and for a long time he weighed all of the butter that the milkman sold him. He indeed found that the packages of butter weighed less than a kilogram. Sometimes it was 900 or 950 grams, and once it was even as low as 800 grams.

The baker was incensed. "He is cheating me," he told his wife. "I will not tolerate it." He went to the local judge and complained about the milkman. He said to the judge, "He must be put on trial! We cannot allow him to cheat the people in our village. People count on his honesty."

That very day, a messenger put the command to appear in court on the milkman's door. The milkman arrived at the appointed time, trembling and afraid. He had never seen a courtroom, and he had never spoken to the judge, who was feared by all the people who lived there.

The judge turned to the milkman and asked, "Can I assume that you have an accurate scale in your place of work?"

The milkman replied, "No, your honor. I don't have a scale."

"Then how do you weigh the butter that you sell to the baker? Do you just take some butter and call it a kilogram?" The judge raised his voice in anger.

"Heaven forbid, your honor, I am an honest man," the milkman replied. "I would never do anything like that. It's really very simple. I built myself a balance, where you put a weight on one side and the butter to be weighed on the other side." The judge nodded, and the milkman continued. "Every day, when I want to weigh out the butter, on the other side of the balance I put a kilogram loaf of bread which I buy from the baker. And that is how I know how much butter to give him, weighing exactly one kilogram."

The judge slowly repeated the words of the milkman. "So you are saying to us that the butter you give to the baker weighs exactly the same as the bread that you buy from him, is that right?" And the milkman said, "Yes, your honor, exactly."

The baker was at a complete loss for words.

Hear Avraham Fried sing the song, "Aderaba – On the contrary!" - press here.

For reactions:

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Responsa from the halacha

Animal Suffering in the Production of Food /The Center for Teaching and Halacha, Directed by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

(Today's responsa was written by Rabbi Shai Weissbrot)

Question: The modern industry of creating food from animals often uses methods that harm the animals in order to increase production efficiency (an example is the increase in space density of chickens kept in chicken coops). Doesn't this violate the prohibition of causing "animal suffering?"


Animal Suffering

There is a Torah prohibition to cause an animal to suffer (RAMA, Choshen Mishpat 272:9). This is derived in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 32b) from the mitzva of unloading a heavy burden from an animal (Shemot 23:5), but it is possible that the same principle applies to other mitzvot. Examples might be: "Do not block an ox from eating while it plows" [Devarim 25:4]; the mitzva of slaughtering by cutting into the neck with a sharp knife (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva 451); "Do not slaughter it and its calf on the same day" [Vayikra 22:28]; the prohibition of eating a limb taken from a live animal; and the mitzva of sending away a mother bird before taking the chicks (see Moreh Nevuchim 3:48). Some say that the mitzva of letting the animals rest on Shabbat is also based on a desire to minimize their suffering (Bartenura, Shabbat 1:5; Responsa Maharshadam, Orach Chaim 2).

To Benefit a Person

However when it is necessary to make an animal suffer for the good of a human being, the action is permitted. Otherwise a man would not be allowed to ride animals or to put burdens on them, since in general this action causes them to suffer to some degree. In addition, the Holy One, Blessed be He, commanded mankind, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and conquer it. And rule the fish in the ocean and the birds in the sky, and all the animals which roam the earth" [Bereishit 1:28]. The Ramban explains: "He gave human beings the power to rule over the earth and to do as they desired with animals and vermin and all those that crawl on the dust, and to build, to uproot plants, to mine copper from the mountains, and similar things." Animals have been given to mankind to be put to use, but the Torah warns us not to cause them to suffer unnecessarily. However, if it is necessary to make an animal suffer in order to satisfy a human need, there is no prohibition involved. This was ruled by Terumat Hadeshen: "There is no prohibition of animal suffering if the man does so for his needs and use, since all the creatures were created only for the use of mankind." [Rulings and Writings, 105]. This is also the ruling of the RAMA: "Anything that is needed for medical reasons or anything else does not involve a prohibition of animal suffering" [Even Ha'ezer 5:14].

For the Benefit of the Public

We can also consider another significant reason to allow the practice in our case. Increasing the production yield from animals might have additional significance, beyond the economic benefit to the growers and the producers. If such efficiencies lead to lower prices, they can be beneficial to the general public. In addition, it may be that a result of lowering the prices of animal products (such as eggs, milk, and so on) will be that more homes will be able to use these products regularly, benefiting public health in general. (See also an article by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, "Animal Suffering during Distribution of Pesticides," Techumin, volume 6, pages 432-436).

Necessity, Proper Balance, and Extra Piety

In spite of the above, there are some limitations which should be taken into account. First of all, if it is clear that if it is possible to achieve the same level of personal and public benefit without causing the animals to suffer we should try to do so (Tzitz Eliezer 14:68). In addition, every case should be considered separately to balance the benefit achieved against the level of suffering, and to decide whether the profit is real and justifies the suffering of the animals (Igrot Moshe, Even Haezer 4:92; Yaviah Omer 9, Yoreh Dei'ah 3; Yechaveh Dei'ah 3:66).

In the Talmud we are told (Bava Metzia 85b; Responsa of the Geonim 375) that Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi suffered greatly because of behavior that was permitted in itself but which might have been interpreted as not having pity on animals from the point of view of a man like him, who was at such a high spiritual level. Rabbi Yehuda's suffering left him only when many years later he showed mercy for other animals beyond the strict requirement of the law. Thus, it is worthy of compassionate people from Yisrael (Yevamot 79b) – and especially anybody who feels compelled to act in this way – to try as much as possible to avoid actions which show a level of cruelty to animals (Terumat Hadeshen, ibid; Noda B'Yehuda Tanyana Yoreh Dei'ah 10; RAMA Even Haezer ibid; Igrot Moshe Choshen Mishpat 2:47).


Avoiding animal suffering is a prohibition and a general principle in the Torah. On the other hand, any action that provides a benefit for an individual and certainly for the public is not prohibited because of animal suffering. Even so, it is appropriate to use this permission in a measured and reasonable way, only when it is impossible to achieve the same benefit without causing the animal to suffer. We must adopt the behavior of the Holy One, Blessed be He, about whom we have been taught, "He shows pity for all of His creatures" [Tehillim 145:9].

With respect to the specific question asked above: On one hand, we should try to refrain from causing animal suffering even in a case where there is no formal prohibition. On the other hand, if being stringent and preventing the chickens from suffering will lead to a result that hundreds and possibly thousands of children will not be able to eat eggs because of their high price, we will have caused a more serious problem. The best policy, then, is to search for alternative methods to reduce the suffering of the chickens without raising the price of the eggs (for example, government subsidies).

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Nature and the Torah portion

Digging /Dr. Moshe Raanan, Herzog College and the Jerusalem College for Women

"If a man opens up a pit or if a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it..." [Shemot 21:33].

Digging is not just an activity of mankind, it is very widespread in the animal kingdom too. Animals may have many reasons to dig into the ground: Some birds dig out empty spaces as a place for their nests, such as the bee-eater and the kingfisher; some animals dig tunnels as living spaces; and some dig out food that grows under the ground. Animals differ from each other not only in the purposes of the digging but also in the methods by which they dig. Bee-eaters use their beaks to dig and they take away the soil with their feet, while worker ants dig their nests using their jaws. Mammals use their teeth, their snouts, and the soles of their feet.

Superb Digging Skills

In this article I will describe the lifestyle of an animal which is very well known because of its excellent digging skills, resulting in many mounds of soil in fields, gardens, and public lawns. These mounds of earth, which are lined up in straight lines at distances a few meters apart, are produced by the nose and the front feet of a rodent which is called "choled" in Hebrew (a mole-rat or Spalax). Moles are underground animals which do not come up to the surface. They move through tunnels which they dig underneath the ground. In addition to long horizontal tunnels, at regular intervals the moles also dig shafts that provide an opening to the top. The shafts allow the mole to forage for more food and serve as an air hole.

The mole lives on roots, tubers, and bulbs which it finds while digging. The main goal of the digging is to find food. Because of the way it gets its food, the mole has a reputation of being an agricultural pest. Its large and very strong teeth, which continue to grow for its whole life, give it the ability to gnaw away at relatively hard objects and to dig constantly.

A Common Error

Many people confuse the mole-rat with the "chafarperet" (from the genus Talpa). In fact, in normal spoken language, on the street or in newspapers, a choled is often called a chafarperet. The confusion stems from the similarity of their underground lifestyles. Both animals have great digging skills and live in narrow tunnels. Both have flexible cylindrical bodies that have no protrusions, which helps them to move around in tunnels. They have short feet and atrophied eyes. Their fur is dense and short.

However, aside from the similarity there is a structural difference which can be used to easily tell them apart. The Talpa has a long and thin nose, which shows that it has a very well-developed sense of smell which helps it find its prey. This structure of the nose is not efficient for digging, as compared to the flat snout of the choled, which is full of cartilage. Another difference is in the structure of the eyes. The choled has atrophied eyes which are covered with skin, while the Talpa has tiny eyes which are almost invisible because they are covered by fur.

Taxonomically, the choled and the chafarperet are very different. The mole is a rodent (from the genus Rodentia) which feeds on plant life. The Talpa is an insect-eater (Insectivora), and it mainly feeds on such animal life as snails, worms, beetle larvae, and more.

These two animals appear together only in a few geographical areas, such as Russia, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and some of the Balkan States, but not in Germany or France. Europeans, who were not familiar with the choled, called it a chafarperet. Early evidence for this swap can be found in a commentary by Rashi which identifies the "tinshemet" listed as one of the vermin (Vayikra 11:30) as "talapa," the Latin name for the "chafarperfet," instead of the word "choled." In the literature of the sages the name for the "choled" is "ishut." In Rashi's commentary on Tehillim (58:9), three names appear in parallel: "A stillborn of an ishet – This is translated as talpa, which has no eyes. And this is the tinshemet , which is translated as ashuta, according to our sages."

The choled is considered to be a very harmful agricultural pest, and as such capturing it on Chol Hamoed and Shemitta was permitted: "One is allowed to capture the 'ishut' and the mice in a field of trees and a field of grain in the normal way during Chol Hamoed and Shemitta. The Chachamim say, in a field of trees in the normal way, and in a field of grain by using an unusual method." [Mishna Moed Katan 1:4]. This quote is definite proof that, as opposed to the above passage in Rashi, the ishut is not a chafarperet, because this animal does not cause any damage to plants. It is even possible that the animal benefits the fields by catching insects. Another problem with identifying the ishut as a chafarperet is seen in the Talmud, where it is written that the chafarperet "is a creature which has no eyes," while in fact this creature does have eyes, although they are quite small. Tiferet Yisrael addresses this difficulty by writing, "It has 'no eyes' means that its eyes are not easily seen because they are very small" [Introduction to Taharot, Yevakesh Daat 13].

A Novel Method of Communication

The choled has been "privileged" to become an important subject of study because of the large number of interesting traits that it has. Its ability to live under the ground in very low concentrations of oxygen has made it a common subject for physiological studies. Geneticists are interested in the fact that in Eretz Yisrael this animal has several population types which differ in the number of chromosomes that they have, an indication that the choled in Israel is a species at the early stages of its separation into a number of species ("speciation"). Another very important property of the choled is the fact that even though it has vestiges of eyes it is completely blind. Thus it is one of a large list of blind creatures which live in the dark. A very interesting question for the researchers is how the choled finds a mate, since they live solitary lives and do not come up to the surface. It seems that the animals communicate by striking their heads on the walls of the tunnel. The tremors in the ground can be felt far enough away for this important contact to take place.

For more information in Hebrew and for pictures, and to regularly receive articles about plants and animals linked to the Daf Yomi, write e-mail to:

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Straight Talk

When you say "Torah" What do You Mean?/Yoni Lavie
Manager, "Chaverim Makshivim" Website

For the IDF Rabbinate, the decision could be described as no less than an earthquake. The prestigious realm of "Jewish Identity," which was long considered as one of the high marks of their activity, was to be taken away from their responsibility, by direct order of the Commander in Chief, and it was transferred to the direct responsibility of the head of the Manpower Directorate. In the end, all the effort, the explanations, the begging, and the pressure to block this move were in vain. And worse yet, the vast majority of the citizens of the land didn't understand what all the noise was about. They felt that "the matter is clear. The Rabbinate should be occupied with its main role – to supervise kashrut, and to organize the prayers and provide candles for the religious soldiers. All of this involvement in the fighting spirit, faith, the righteousness of the way of the IDF, the ethical approach of the army, have nothing to do with the Rabbinate, and should be under the control of the Educational Command. Why did the Rabbinate want to take control of matters that they are not related to at all?"

Torah and Life and the Relationship between Them

One of the most frustrating scenes in the world takes place when two people argue at the tops of their lungs and excitedly about some point or other, when in fact the dispute has no real hope of finding a solution, because it is taking place on the wrong playing field. The formal subject that is being debated is merely an offshoot or a private case of some subject that is much more basic, and that is where the real disagreement lies – but unfortunately nobody talks about this matter.

The description given above about the role of the Chief Rabbinate of the IDF is not the real dispute here. It is built up on the basis of a much more fundamental and critical point, which has largely been ignored in the debate as it has been taking place. The question is: " What is Torah, and what is its relevance to various realms of our lives?"

The Chareidi world has a clear answer to this question, and surprisingly the secular world also has no trouble with it at all. In spite of the mutual attacks and open disputes in front of the cameras, it has always been true that irreligious politicians (no matter from which faction they came) and Chareidim got along very well. Almost no party dressed in black hats and suits ever had a problem sitting in any coalition government, and it was always quite easy to find a formula to respond to their demands – some money for the yeshivot, a few scholarships for married students, and subsidies for large families, a Minister of Religions from the right party, and the coalition agreements were signed. The deal was really very simple. You allow us to continue to fill the benches of the yeshivot and expand the "Torah world," and we will not interfere with the way you run your country. It is of course very easy to complain bitterly about the Chareidim whenever the need arises, especially when your party is losing ground in the polls and there is a danger of losing votes, but at the end of the day the secular parties live very well with the Chareidi approach. "We give the Chareidim their pound of flesh, and they leave us alone and let us live our lives as we want."

The approach of the religious Zionists, on the other hand, is much more ambitious. It involves not only patently "religious" matters, it broadens out to encompass the entire range of life, and it wants to touch on and to influence realms that seem to be most relevant for the secular world. It is true that for the two thousand years of exile, the range of the Torah was limited to matters of halacha, but in its original form it includes the entire gamut of life, for both individuals and the community as a whole. Judaism has a message for every Jew personally all the time, and not only when he or she is in a synagogue. It is very relevant even when he is at work and managing his own affairs, and also in the way that he provides an education for his children or goes out on a recreational activity. It goes without saying that this approach is also significant for the Jewish nation, the beginning of the sprouting of our redemption. We can legitimately ask such questions as: What should Jewish economics look like? What are the proper priorities for social welfare? What kind of cultural activities should be supported by the government? What are the main values that will be taught using a book on citizenship, in getting ready for the nationwide matriculation ("bagrut") exams? It should be obvious that in the realm of the military, the role of the Rabbinate is not merely to be the "provider of religious services" for the soldiers but rather that it should serve as the catalyst behind the tanks which move out towards enemy positions, where the soldiers must be motivated by a sense of the righteousness of their path and by their belief in the privilege and the obligation to fight.

What does the Rabbi Do, and Why Should there be a Torah Insight at the Meals?

The basic question, what is the span of the influence of the Torah and in what realms is it relevant, can be expressed in a wide variety of specific questions. For example:

  • What is the role of a community rabbi? – Is it to provide some variety in the long Shabbat morning prayers by giving a Torah sermon and to be an address for specific questions about a dairy fork that was put into a meat dish; OR – To be a leader and have an influence, to serve as a spiritual and ethical backbone for the community, and to provide added strength for the members of the community of all ages at important stations of their lives.
  • What is the point of prayer? – Is it a technical burden, something that every man must perform three times every day, in such a way that he must interrupt his important tasks and lose precious time for a recitation of the ancient text that appears in the siddur (perhaps with deep intentions); OR – It is an experience consisting of an encounter with the Master of the World, as is described by Yehuda Halevi, "the seed of time and its fruits, such that the rest of the time serves to lead up to this point, which he anticipates," and when a man returns to his office after praying Mincha he has experienced a profound change...
  • What is the purpose of a Torah insight at a meal? Is it a decoration of a form of Torah which comes up a minute before the Grace after Meals, after the political discussions have reached the saturation point, along with the neighborhood gossip and sports updates, and somebody wakes up to declare: "Hold on, what about a bit of Torah? Moshe, say something..."; OR – There is no real need to make a special pause in order to quote a question and answer by Rashi, because the entire time of the meal was one long Torah insight, even though the subjects of politics and special experiences from the past week came up, it was all from the point of view of faithful people who feel that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is present in their lives, and then as a matter of course everything is discussed from a higher-level point of view...

Many of the religions in the world view life as one thing and religion as a separate element, either marginal or central to life. G-d must be given the "tax" that He demands, time must be set aside for Him on a daily or weekly basis, but in principle our life belongs to us and is not connected to Him at all. The Torah of Yisrael brought a different message to the world. It is a remarkable insight! The connection to the Creator of the World, He who gives us life – completely encompasses our lives. The Torah which He gave us is not simply another one of a long list of items we load into our shopping cart in a supermarket, rather it is the wagon itself, containing everything else and providing the framework for all our ethical values and other needs. Full fulfillment of this vision is still very far away from us, but we must ask ourselves: Do we at least know that this is the place where we should be striving to go?

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Exhibition Abstracts

A Family Story /Heichal Shlomo Museum,
The Center for Jewish Tradition

At the approach of "Family Day," which is celebrated on the thirtieth of Shevat in Israel, you are invited to get acquainted with Sarah and David, a brother and sister from the Hilman family.

Sarah and David were the children of the Dayan, Shmuel Hilman, who was the head of the London Beit Din. During the First World War, Sarah married Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog, who served as the Chief Rabbi of Ireland. In later years, after they moved to Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Herzog was appointed Chief Rabbi of the land. He fulfilled the vision of Rav Kook, and with the support of Sir Wolfson built Haichal Shlomo – a spiritual center, the seat of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

The synagogue that was built in Heichal Shlomo has twelve spectacular stained-glass windows which show the Jewish holidays, the Menorah in the Temple, and verses from Jewish tradition. The windows were designed and made by David Hilman, Rabbi Herzog's brother-in-law.

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Riddle of the Week

Mishpatim /Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

It appears in this week's portion

As a sign that life has returned to normal.

In the early prophets, it is part of the attempt to resuscitate a person.

In a vision of the future, it is a hint of a vibrant life.

Answers for last week, Yitro - The riddle was: Start with two words in the Torah portion, part of a reprimand.Interchange the middle letters of the two words. What you get is an expression in the Megillah which implies a future downfall.

- The phrase is "navol tibol" – you will become very weary. This is part of Yitro's criticism of Moshe. He says, "You will be worn out, you and this nation which is with you, for it is too difficult for you to do" [Shemot 18:18].

- Replace the middle letter in each word, "bet," by a "peh." The result is the warning that Zeresh gave to her husband Haman, " nafol tipol" – you will surely fall. "And Haman told his wife Zeresh and all who loved him all that had happened. And all of his wise men and his wife Zeresh said to him, if Mordechai before whom you have begun to fall is a descendant of the Jews, you will surely fall before him." [Esther 6:13].

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