Friday, October 18, 2013

SHABBAT and life threatening situations

As we have previously explained, a life threatening situation requires that the Laws of Shabbat be suspended, and therefore we are allowed (or obligated) to do anything we believe is necessary to try to save a life, even if that implies violating the sanctity of Shabbat (see here).

1. In a situation where one estimates that Shabbat should be violated in order to save a life, it is forbidden to ask for a rabbinic opinion, because the time spent in that consultation might be essential to save a life (Yalqut Yosef, 191). Therefore it is a Mitsva for every Jew to help and assist a person when we suspect that a life is in danger. 

2. In a case where a person has violated Shabbat trying to save a life and then, the patient died, or the patient suddenly recovered. Or if, for example, one brings his car to take a patient to the hospital and when he gets there he sees that someone else has already taken the patient to the hospital, in all these and similar cases, the person who violated Shabbat trying to save a life has done a Mitsva. Even thought he did not succeed in saving a life or even when he found out in hindsight that his assistance was unnecessary.  This person will be rewarded by God for his good intention and, needless to say, he does not need to do Teshuba for violating Shabbat (Yalqut Yosef, 199).  

3. In a case of a life threatening situation (hole sheyesh bo sakana) there is no need to perform the forbidden activities (melakhot) in an unusual way ('al yede shinuy) to attenuate the status of the violation. Because in life threatening situations the observance of Shabbat is suspended (hutra) and not just deferred (dehuya). 
Candle lighting in NYC:      5:52pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:          6:50pm

7 questions on Perashat vaYera

Each one of these seven questions is meant to be read before the Aliya reading begins.  The answer to each question should be found in the plain Biblical text. These simple questions should encourage us to follow the Tora reading, paying more attention to its content. 

BEFORE 1st Aliya
What food did Abraham promise to give to his guests and what did he actually give them? What does this act say about Abraham?

BEFORE 2nd Aliya
Which number is inconsistent with the other numbers in Abraham's bargain with HaShem? What do you think is the reason for this inconsistency?  

BEFORE 3rd Aliya
What did the angels do to the mob that tried to break into Lot's home? 

BEFORE 4th Aliya
Who destroyed the cities of Sedom and Amora, HaShem or the angels? Quote a verse to support your contention. 

BEFORE 5th Aliya
Why would the rabbis say that Sara's level of prophecy was higher than Abraham's? 

BEFORE 6th Aliya
What was Abimelekh response when Abraham informed him about the stolen wells? 

BEFORE 7th Aliya
Do you think that Yitshaq knew what were Abraham's intentions? On what words or pasuq are you basing your opinion?   

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A SEGULA to become rich

Wealth is not measured by what one has but by what one needs. Regardless of how much I have, if I need more than what I have, I'm a poor guy. The level of my poverty (or my wealth) is the difference between what I have and what I feel I need to have. Our rabbis explained that poverty is usually an unconscious state of mind ('aniyut mida'at). It consists in the belief that I don't have all what I need. While wealth is the state of realizing that I need just what I have, or even less. 

Let me explain it with numbers. In fractions you have the numerator and the denominator.  In "three over four" (3/4) "three" is the numerator and "four" the denominator.  In our case the numerator is "what I have" and the denominator is "what I need". 

Normally, people try to increase their numerator to reach the denominator. But when they finally reach the denominator, they find out that the denominator has changed. It went up!  In consequence, people are permanently "poor", lacking something they "need".  The denominator keeps changing because of numberless reasons. Cellphones area good example: The Motorola Razor is a great phone. But when you finally got it, the world around you makes you feel that what you really "need" is an iPhone (=a higher denominator). And when you finally got an iPhone you suddenly realize that what you really, really "need" is the iPhone 5s! You MUST have it. And you ask yourself: I wonder how was I able to survive without a fingerprint identity sensor?! 

To be rich we need to be in control of our denominator. We have to feel that right now we have everything that we really need. 

It really does not make any difference if you have ten million over ten million or five dollars over five dollars. When you realize that you need nothing more than what you now have, you reached plenitude. YOU ARE RICH!  The most important thing you need to keep in mind is that the value of the denominator is in your hands. YOU set it and no one else!  

To master this SEGULA repeat several times a day "The less I need, the richer I am."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

HILKHOT ABODA ZARA 2:1: Religious idolatry

Maimonides says in the second chapter of Hilkhot 'aboda zara: "The essence of the prohibition of idol worshipping is not to serve any creature or creation, neither an angel, not a constellation or a star, nor any material element, or any entity created from them.  And even if the person who is worshipping [anything or anyone but God] knows and admits that HASHEM is the only God, the act is still considered 'aboda zara." In other words, if a Jew, a religious and righteous Jew whose faith in God is unquestionable, prays to our "mother Rachel" (Rahel Imenu), even if his intentions are pure, and he or she firmly believes in one God, according to Maimonides, this person is performing an act of 'aboda zara.  

We are allowed to pray to HASHEM and ask Him that in the merit (=zekhut) of our matriarch Rahel (or Abraham, Ytshaq, Ya'aqob, etc) He will help us, redeem us, etc. We do that all the time. But our prayers have to be directed always and only to HASHEM, our God. 

Maimonides says that a person who worships anything or anyone but God, and yet believes in God, is repeating the mistake of Enosh.  "this person will be serving a created being in the manner that Enosh and his generation worshipped at the beginning...." . The generation of Enosh believed in God, but they prayed to the sun and the moon as intermediaries between them and God. They believed that since the sun and the moon are "closer" to God, it would be appropriate to pray to them, and somehow the sun and the moon will deliver his message to God. In a similar way that when I express my request to my employer's secretary, I'm sure she will relay the message to my boss. A good Jew might think: "I will pray to Moshe Rabbenu, Eiyahu haNabi, Rabbi Meir, Rahel imenu, etc. and they will surely deliver my message to God. 

Maimonides asserts that this thought is wrong. And he warns against this practice:  "...the thoughts of your heart should not lead you astray to worship these [entities] and make them an intermediary (sarsur) between you and the Creator." Praying to an intermediary is considered an act of idolatry, regardless of my right beliefs and my good intentions. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Was the Shulhan arukh ever summarized?

Yesterday I got many phone calls and emails from friends and readers who reacted to my proposal of rewriting the original Shulhan 'arukh. Most of them were telling me that they already have the Shulhan 'arukh. This is a real quote: "I was always fascinated by the Shulchan Aruch and have learned very much from the English translation."   I told my friends that as far as I know the shulhan 'arukh was never translated into English or to any other language. So, they must have been reading a different book.... 

I know where this confusion comes from. If you go to Amazon and you write "shulchan aruch" you will find the following book as the first option: " KITZUR SHULCHAN ARUCH - CODE OF JEWISH LAW. COMPLETE 5 VOLUME".   We need to clarify a few things.  First, that the "Kitzur Shulchan aruch" is a very good and popular book written by rabbi Shlomo Shlomo Ganzfried (1804-1886).  Rabbi Ganzfried lived in Ungvar (then Hungary, today Ukraine) and he wrote his book based on the traditions and customs of Hungarian Jews. Rabbi Ganzfried followed in his rulings the three Halakhic authorities of his time and place: Rabbi Yaakob Loberbaum, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi, the first Chabad rabbi (who, by the way, wrote a book which he also called "Shulhan 'arukh" containing his own rulings and traditions. See this) and Rabbi Abraham Danzing.  
What the reader needs to know then is that the Kitzur Shulchan aruch is a distinct book,  definitely NOT a summary of rabbi Yosef Caro's Shulhan 'arukh (and it probably never claimed to be so!).  What confuses us is the name "Kitzur shulchan aruch" which seems to indicate that it is a "summary" of the Shulhan arukh ("Kitzur" means "summary"). But the truth is that the Kitzur is a book entirely different from the shulhan 'arukh. Different in its rulings, its order, its size, its purpose, etc.   
Amazon (or better said: the publishers ) also have their share in the misrepresentation of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.  Because presenting the Kitzur as the "Code of Jewish law" gives the impression that they are describing "The" Code of Jewish Law, which is Yosef Caro's Shulhan 'arukh. 
I explained to my friends that a summary of the Shulhan 'arukh was never necessary. Among other things, because the shulhan 'arukh was explicitly conceived as the summary of the Bet Yosef- a practical summary to be reread every thirty days- written by the same author of the Bet Yosef,  rabbi Yosef Caro.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Shulhan 'arukh Venezia

Previously, I explained why rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575) wrote the shulhan 'arukh and how did it happen that the shulhan 'arukh became the most accepted Code of Jewish Law. We also saw that the shulhan 'arukh was not meant to be an independent code of law but a compendium of the Halakhic conclusion of the Bet Yosef. 

 The shulhan 'arukh was written as a short book to be studied monthly, in its entirety, as a way to constantly review all aspects of Jewish law. However, the shulhan 'arukh was never used as a monthly compendium of Jewish Law. Why? One of the reasons is that except for the 1565 Venezia edition (published while Maran Rabbi Yosef Caro was alive!) the shulhan 'arukh was systematical printed with a great number of glosses, amendments, critical commentaries and supercommentaries (= commentaries on previous commentaries) etc. So, when one approaches the study of the shulhan 'arukh, it feels that one has to read all of its commentaries to comprehend the shulhan 'arukh. The truth is that according to rabbi Yosef Caro, to understand the shulhan 'arukh all a student needs is to know the Bet Yosef! The commentaries amend, oppose or confirm the rulings of the shulhan 'arukh, but they should be studied as a supplementary reading. The ironic destiny of the shulhan 'arukh "as a text" was perhaps the fault of those publishers, who instead of integrating the commentaries on the text of the shulhan 'arukh, should have printed those commentaries as independent books, for advanced students, and leave the shulhan 'arukh in its original form. 

 The fact is that since 1565 (to the best of my knowledge) the plain shulhan 'arukh as it was originally conceived by Rabbi Yosef Caro was never (re)published. Today, since we have the text of the shulhan 'arukh (with commentaries, etc.) online, it is relatively easy to re-produce the original shulhan 'arukh. A few days ago I started to do just that. It is relatively simply and easy. And there are no costs involved. 

I think it will be appropriate to recreate the 1565 Venezia Edition of the shulhan 'arukh, a digital edition to begin with. So far I have composed 15 chapters which I'm using to teach in my mornings shiur. Although this is a relatively easy job to do, more help is needed. So, if any of the readers would like to volunteer, all help will be welcomed. If you would like to help please email me to (a minimal proficiency of rabbinical Hebrew is required) .

Shulhan 'arukh Venezia 1565  
Click  here to see the  first 15 chapters of the shulhan 'arukh Venezia.