Slaves of __________? Part One

For the last month, we have been reading the parshiyos of the story of yetzias Mitzrayim, and hopefully absorbing its lessons, and even more hopefully saving them somewhere in our hearts, minds, and souls, to last us until Pesach.

Meanwhile, though, there is a mitzvah to at least mention yetzias Mitzrayim every day: twice a day, morning and night; this is in contrast to the once-a-year mitzvah on the seder night, which is to elaborate and tell the full story, makos, melodrama, theatrics, tension and all.

The conceptual difference between the two seems to be as follows: On Pesach night, we are thanking Hashem, praising Hashem, expressing our hakaras hatov to Hashem, talking about the nissim and wonders which took place. This is once a year. The everyday mentioning of yetzias Mitzrayim is of a completely different nature — it is just a mention, it takes place within the mitzvah of Krias Shema — that is, every time we say Krias Shema, we say the last possuk in the third parsha as our fulfillment of this mitzvah of mentioning yetzias Mitzrayim. And I would therefore suggest that the placement is much more than coincidental; our acknowledgement of Hashem’s taking us out of Mitzrayim is an acknowledgement of our kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim, acceptance of the yoke of the Kingship of Hashem. Thus, it belongs perfectly in Krias Shema, the home page of kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim. Indeed, the first of the Ten Commandments, which talks about our basic faith and emunah, talks about Hashem as He Who took us out of Mitzrayim.

But this raises the very question: Why and in what way is Hashem’s taking us out of Mitzrayim connected to our accepting His Kingship? Why indeed do we mention yetzias Mitzrayim specifically within the context of Krias Shema?

In Parshas Mishpatim, we have the laws of a Jewish slave. One of these laws involves the case where the slave expresses a desire to remain a slave past the six-year term that the Torah stated should be the length of his service. Whereupon the Torah states, “Take him to the Judges, who will bring him to the door or doorpost, bore through his ear with an awl, and he shall remain a slave forever (until yovel).” Rashi explains, citing a Gemara in Kiddushin, that the reason we perform this ceremony by the door or doorpost is because Hashem is essentially saying, “The door and doorpost, who were witnesses in Mitzrayim when I skipped over the lintel and doorposts that the Jews daubed with the blood of the korban Pesach, when I said, ‘For Bnei Yisroel are My slaves whom I took out of Mitzrayim,’ implying that they are MY slaves, and not slaves to slaves (other people), and despite this, this person wants to extend his servitude to a human master, it is thus fitting that his ear be bored before them.”

And the question now must be asked: This cited possuk, for Bnei Yisroel are My slaves, is a possuk in Vayikra (25:55). How did the door or doorpost hear this stated on the night of the daubing of the blood of the korban Pesach, the night of the Exodus?

Let us imagine you have finally completed a years-long, decades-long, jail sentence, and you emerge into the daylight, free, but pretty ignorant about all things Jewish. Those who worked tirelessly for your freedom are Jewish Orthodox organizations, who are interested in turning you into a nice, frum, religious Jew. Okay, how should they go about it? I daresay that the kiruv organizations, most adept at this sort of thing, would immediately advise them to not say a word about religiosity just yet, no frumkeit, no rules, no laws, no saying what you can and cannot eat, no on-Shabbos-you-can’t-turn-on-lights-or-carry-outside, no you-must-do-this-before-you-eat, you-must-do-that-before-you-sleep, no teaching what to spend money on and what you can’t, where you can go and where you cannot — NOT A WORD! No, no, don’t be foolish, you’ll lose him, he’ll bolt, you’ll never see him again. Go slow, take him to a five-star hotel, with a spa and full-size golf and tennis courts, entertainment, gourmet meals, around-the-clock tea-room (with an awful lot more than tea there!). Let the fellow stay there a few weeks; once in a while you’ll mention that he’s Jewish and that that means something. S-l-o-w-l-y, easy does it, first a few bein adam lachaveiros, let him see we are not cannibals or monsters. After a few months, introduce him to a bearded fellow… you get the idea.

Well, what did Moshe Rabbeinu do? “You’re leaving Mitzrayim, you’re free! Free at last, thank Hashem Alm-ghty, free at last! First things first, I want you to buy a lamb, and tie it to your bedpost, yes, yes, I know the Egyptians worship sheep, that’s the point, don’t you get it, for four days I want you to check it for blemishes, I want you to slaughter it on the fourteenth. Of course, to do a proper job, and to form the requisite chaburahs (groups) in which to eat it, you will have to learn through (the equivalent of) Massechess Psachim, perakim five, six, seven, eight, and maybe nine. With Tosafos, rishonim, and the shvera Rambams. There are many, many rules, you know, not easy to do this properly.

“Now, when you sit down to eat it, you can’t stick your head out the window nor walk outside for a stroll. That is the nature of your freedom banquet, I’m afraid… Oh, and you have to be all dressed and bundled and ready to leave at a moment’s notice (ever try to enjoy a meal when the taxi’s coming any minute and will be honking?!), and you cannot invite that friend, he wasn’t circumcised, and this person didn’t pre-register so he can’t eat… “

So you’re now undoubtedly asking yourself — is this the way to induce Bnei Yisroel to accept avodas Hashem? “In seven weeks, people, I’m giving you a list of rules THIS long, governing every facet of your life. Now, aren’t you glad to be leaving Mitzrayim?”

To be continued

Shabbos Bulletin – Parshas Beshalach

Beshalach Bulletin in PDF format

Who composed aleinu?

Yehoshua, upon entering Eretz Yisrael.

Aleinu should be said by an individual in a shul whenever the tzibur  is saying it (if it is muttar for him to be mafsik). A person learning Torah in the Shul should stop and say aleinu with the tzibbur.

HaShem will do battle for you, and you keep quiet (Shemos 14:14).

And some people just kept talking,oblivious to everyone’s stares……….

Asara B’Teves — Do We Get It? Part 2

 

If you have an unusually good memory, you will have the distinct impression that the title to this article seems eerily familiar, yet you also have this weird feeling that there are some words that seem to be missing. Harking back to three weeks ago, on the Friday which was Asara B’Teves, an article appeared in this space, bearing the name Asara B’Teves-Do We Get It? I apologize for the subsequent interruption; this is the second half of that article, and it is two weeks late. The lesson-laden event that occurred immediately after the first article appeared, spoken about these last two weeks, was too important and time-sensitive to push off or to ignore. Hence this belated ending. And while Asara B’Teves is long gone, the fast day receding in memory (hopefully forever), an important lesson that it teaches us remains fresh and eternal.

Recap: Chasam Sofer explains the reason we would fast even if Asara B’Teves were to fall on Shabbos, and also explains the very fasting of Asara B’Teves itself. He posits that that was the day (the day that the siege of Yerushalayim started during the first Beis Hamikdash) that the Bais Din Shel Ma’alah ruled that there would be a churban three years hence. But the possibility of teshuvah lay open — would the decree move forward or not? And when the future remains uncertain, and one fasts to ward off a negative tomorrow, one may fast on Shabbos as well, as is done on Yom Kippur. And the very fast day of Asara B’Teves is a remembrance of the intense import of this day, going way beyond the down-here-on-earth siege.

Let’s look into this a bit deeper.

A look at the daily news quickly shows that the suffering and pain of daily life seems to be a constant. Even taking into account the fact that thanks to the ever-present pervasive media we know more about goings-on than ever before, nevertheless, that in itself gives us a feeling of being besieged by never-ending troubles, distresses, and tribulations.

A truism of belief in our hashkafas hachaim is the statement of the Rambam concerning the tzibbur fasting and praying and blowing shofar when confronted with such difficulties. Rambam writes that such sufferings are a result of wrongful deeds, and thus we are to be spurred to teshuvah (an oversimplification, but that is the nub of the idea). What is interesting is the continuation of the Rambam: that if we ignore those signals, and ascribe the events to “normal” occurrences, just pieces of “news” which then causes business-as-usual, this will cause perpetuation of those misfortunes and struggles. The Rambam is saying an amazing thing: that the persistence and seemingly never-ending travails are directly due to ignoring them as a red flag. The ignoring of the misfortune as a message leads to consequences commensurate with those which occurred due to the original misdeed!

Problem is, in the real world we occupy, a world without prophecy and without overt Divine Inspiration, even once we are able to lift ourselves to the point where we can consider that someone is trying to tell us something, we have absolutely no idea what that something is, nor do we have a method of determining it. And to make matters even worse, we are subject to a plethora of suggestions and of assurances that certainly things will be better if we just (pick one of the many assertions and declarations that are made almost daily); and so we are back to where we started — bewilderment and confusion.

This is not as strange or as unfair as it seems. Ohr Hachaim states in Vayikra, Parshas Bechukosai, that at first Hashem punishes using the system of midah k’neged midah, measure for measure, where one is indeed privy to divining the particular malady which brought on the particular repercussion. When that fails, when there is no such response, the possuk describes the situation: “If you will behave with casualness towards Me, then I, too, will behave towards you with a fury of casualness…” The Ohr Hachaim interprets that to mean that Hashem will send His fury forth in a way that we indeed will not be able to figure it out. And that is part of the punishment — the inability to “get it.”

On Asara B’Teves Hashem declared destruction, but concurrently gave three years to change. That is the challenge of Asara B’Teves: what is our reaction?

We read the news today (oh, boy!). So how did YOU react? So you don’t know precisely why or what or how come… but did you talk about geopolitics, local politics, local weather conditions, economic realities, arson, an imperfect world? Or, did you daven differently? Are you now davening differently, or is your davening the same as it was four weeks ago, before fires and drought and killings? If we don’t get the unique cause, does that exempt us from the general hashkafa? Did we add to our learning schedule, do we talk less lashon hora, do we argue less, are we less prone to anger, jealousy, and judging favorably? Do we sit and bemoan all that is going on while refusing to lema’aseh change in any sort of fundamental way? One iota? Or do we assign the message to “them,” not chalilah to “us”?

Chazal say that Hashem said, “The destruction is slated, scheduled. But I am giving you three years to see how you react to the nearing tragedy.” Bnei Yisroel were warriors, gibborim, they could have prevailed. Hashem was waiting, watching, hoping, so to speak. What can we say? Are we different than a month ago?

Yosef’s brothers cried, and were astonished, shocked, and astounded when Yosef revealed himself. Yet Chazal tell us that Yosef’s declaration of “ani Yosef!’ was tochacha, rebuke and admonishment. Up till then, they had still not “gotten it.” Yes, they were sorry they had not taken pity upon Yosef, that they did not hearken or heed his pleas. But apparently they were still convinced of the basic correctness of their actions. And only when Yosef said, “I am Yosef” did they realize that they had made a mistake of monumental proportions. And that was the rebuke — that with all that had occurred and was occurring, they held on to their perspective and beliefs until confronted with the truth staring at them, in their faces. That’s sad, that’s tragic, when we don’t “get it” till late in the game.

And no one is asking us to overcome what we will call the “Ohr Hachaim Handicap.” But having said that, how are our lives different from two months ago? That is the challenge of Asara B’Teves specifically, and the ultimate test of our lives.

Shabbos Bulletin Parshas Bo

Parshas Bo Bulletin in PDF format

‘Amen’ should be said immediately after the Chazzan has concluded the last word of the berachah. This is to ensure that full concentration is paid to the berachah to which one is saying amen, i.e., that the amen not be a rote, automatic, answering. 

One must make sure not to answer amen too hastily,before the Chazzan has completed the final syllable. This is ossur, forbidden.

We read in this week’s sedra about the mitzvah of Tefillin. Tefillin is one of the holiest objects that a Jew is likely to own. It is forbidden to act casually while wearing them, which includes sichah betayla, idle talk.

Think–you are in a Shul, you are wearing Tefillin–are you really feeling so disconnected that you can just stand there and shmooze?

Ma’aseh Shehaya — Once Upon A Time (Part 2)

Continuation of a Cautionary Kashrus Chronicle (with full permission of all parties)

…And so, we have a take-out food seller who produced the food offsite, with a hechsher whose modus operendi allowed for arranging the hashgacha to “follow the food” to its destination, where it was sold.

Then, one day, Mr. Takeout makes a business decision. He’ll produce the food offsite less expensively, and instead of continuing with this particular hashgacha, he would continue using only ingredients approved by that very agency, and sell the food at the selling site (let’s assume he was trying it out to see what would happen). He conscientiously took down the te’udot of the agency he had been using, and started selling.

People came in and bought food as they had been accustomed to during the previous weeks, many of them their complete Shabbos meal. After a while, someone caught on that the teudot were missing and asked the merchant. He said, as many a food seller says (and he pointed to a [smallish] sign in Hebrew which also said), “Don’t worry, kol hamotzrim Eidah, all the ingredients are under the Eidah hechsher.” One hears that sentence often, with many food purveyors going so far as to say, “Yes, I have such and such a hechsher,” when really only the ingredients are Badatz — and you only know this based on his say-so. I know of cases where a person hires a caterer for an affair, with the caterer stating yes, he is “Badatz,” and the customer finds out too late “what he meant.” So what do you then tell your guests? Talk about nisyonos!

In our particular story, the teudot were absent, and the customers, discovering that the food that week was not under any hashgacha, slowed to a trickle; soon the trickle flowed in the opposite direction — people were bringing their food back for a refund. (To the vendor’s credit, he returned their money. In my opinion, choshen mishpat did not obligate him to, as there were indeed no teudot on the walls, there was even a sign, and he answered all questions honestly and openly. But return it he did — very wisely.)

The story thus far is not unusual. There are many food vendors, many of them small-home-grown businesses, who sport no teudah and claim kol hamotzrim Badatz. Whoever trusts them should realize that they are trusting them, that there is no hashgacha (so what do you do if you have guests?). There are also chain stores for which the main store carries the hechsher, but a branch does not. Sometimes there is a letter stating that the food, where it is made, has a valid hechsher; one must realize that there is not a word there about the place where it is being sold.

Back to our story. The fact that he barely had any customers, and those he did almost to a man (well, a woman) returned the food, is a testament that consumers in RBS-A have learned their lesson well! Yeyasher kochachem!

The poor vendor “did not know what hit him” but knew that he must get a hechsher (to be fair, perhaps he was always planning to get one). He received one from a badatz in the area where the food was now being produced. And he thought the matter had rested.

But no, it did not. An alert reader will notice the missing (kosher) ingredient! The hechsher was for the food prepared “there,” but what about here, where it was to be sold? How do we know that A (the food there) equals B (the food here)? A person may decide to trust the seller (he is a frum person), but again, there is no hashgacha!

At first the vendor was adamant that this should be sufficient. Whereupon he was told, okay, but it’s your business’s funeral. The olam in RBS-A has proven itself to be kashrus-educated, and if another week goes by without a proper hechsher governing where it is sold… there will not be a third week for you!

The local badatz there, who were resisting a hashgacha-system governing delivery from point A to point B and having their teudah reflect that, were told in no uncertain terms that they are performing a disservice to their “customer” — that what was being planned was the equivalent of having no hechsher. They were convinced, and a member of that local badatz “rode shotgun” with the food, from point A, and was actually physically present at the site, point B, to answer questions.

All’s well that ends well, no?

No. In point of fact I am not perfectly happy. Depending on when you read this, the situation either did or didn’t change for the better, for what existed last Friday is not ideal. The official teudah on the wall is flawed, as it attests only to the food at point A. A live mashgiach on the premesis a) would not be known to all, and the public is thus being educated to “not care” about a 100 percent teudah; b) I doubt that presence of a live mashgiach can be maintained week after week after week; and c) at some point, people will stop looking for “that guy with the long beard” and will rely on the habit of buying there.

We’re trying to change this; the teudah should always reflect the hechsher reality. This is a far-ranging principle, which has ramifications for fruits and vegetables (where the teudah often states that the hechsher does not cover bug-infestation, only terumos and ma’asros), for chalavi and besari eateries (everything in the store, even pareve stuff, is b’chezkas…); and for food establishments where the teudah is only partial (this teudah only covers the dried fruit, not the candies being sold here, or this teudah does not cover the packaged food in the store).

Time will tell; the consumer must always be vigilant. Here was a perfect set-up: a trusted, Chareidi-looking man, selling Shabbos food from a hall in a shul, week after week. And yet come one Friday, there’s no hechsher! And the next Friday would not have been all that much better, without our insistence. And as of the writing of these words, the situation is, in my opinion, flawed.

May Hashem guard us in our attempts to keep kosher, and may we all continue to be diligent over the foods we eat.

To be continued…


Please join us at BTYA for our continuing Kashrus Shovavim Shiurim, every Monday night for the duration of Shovavim, at 8:15 PM. A list of the topics are available at www.btya.org, click the kashrus link, or send an e-mail to kashrut@btya.org.