Torah Riddles #226

Question: According to Rashi (Brachos 48b) why should a man with only a rabbinic obligation to say Birkas hamazon because he only ate a kazayis of bread, is allowed to lead a zimun but a child who also has a rabbinic obligation to say Birkas hamazon (even if he eats to satiation) cannot lead a zimun?


A. The Torah obligation for Birkas hamazon is eating to the point of satiation as the Torah in Devarim 8:10 says, “And you shall eat and you shall be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem.”

B. The father has an obligation of chinuch to teach his children how to do mitzvos like bentching after eating bread.

 Answer: The rabbinic mitzvah for a child to say Birkas hamazon is an obligation through the father, not his own mitzvah, therefore he cannot really lead a zimun. But the rabbinic mitzvah of one who ate a kazayis of bread is his own mitzvah therefore he is able to lead others who even have a Torah level obligation of Birkas hamazon, in a zimun.

Teruma – Patience with the Process

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This week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Teruma discusses the building of the first Beis HaMikdash just as the Torah portion discusses the building of the Mishkan . It begins, “And Hashem gave Shlomo wisdom, as He had promised him, and there was peace between Hiram and Shlomo, and they both made a peace treaty together” (Melachim Alef 5:26). The Ralbag points out that the Navi is telling us that the abundance of wisdom Shlomo possessed was the reason why there was peace between Shlomo and Hiram, for because of his wisdom Hiram loved him. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

This was a wisdom which was a gift from Hashem, which Hashem granted Shlomo in a prophetic dream – to be the wisest person in the world, after Hashem granted Shlomo  one thing, whatever he wanted. Yet with all this wisdom and, as the haftorah goes on to record, using this wisdom for the good, the betterment of mankind and to bring close the relationship between Hashem and His children through the building of the Beis HaMikdash, the palace for the Shechina, The Holy Presence of Hashem – still in all towards the end of the haftorah it writes, “And the word of Hashem came to Shlomo saying” (Melachim Alef 6:11). The Ralbag goes out of his way to emphasize at this juncture that since the Navi states after this “And Hashem appeared to Shlomo a second time as he did in Givon” we learn from there that this prophecy here did not come to Shlomo himself, but rather it came to him through some other prophet while he was building the Holy Temple. The Radak says that prophet was Achiha HaShiloni. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)
Though Shlomo was very young, taking the reigns at the ripe age of 12, he was very mature. So with all his wisdom and righteousness, why couldn’t Shlomo have a consistent line of prophesy with Hashem, especially during this important time of building the Beis HaMikdash, similar to Moshe Rabbeinu?

However, one has to realize the greatness of a prophet and what it takes to reach and stay on such a high spiritual level. It is a process of perfection which isn’t so easy to meet. This process is based on perfecting the levels set down in a gemara in Avoda Zara 20b by Rav Pinchas ben Yair. There are 11 levels before prophesy and to even start, Rebbe Pinchas ben Yair says that it begins with learning Torah. Only after perfecting those levels, the last one being the ability to resurrect the dead, is one able to reach the level of prophesy, but even the Amoraim, the rabbi in the times of the gemara, where there are stories of them resurrecting the dead, were not able to reach the level of prophesy. It is known that if one perfects his character based on the teaching of the Mesilas Yesharim, The Path of the Just, by Rav Moshe Chain Luzzato then one would reach the level of Kedusha, holiness, which is 3 levels off from prophesy. Yet Rav Yechazkel Sarna zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chevron, explains that the Ramban wrote a letter to his son, the famous Iggeres HaRamban, whose main topic is humility because he had reached the perfection of the level of humility, which is 2 levels below Kedusha. This was in the 1200s. The venerable Vilna Gaon attested about himself in 1700s that he had perfected the level of Prishus, separation, which is 3 levels lower than the level of humility. Nowadays they say that even the greatest of the generation at best can perfect the first two levels, of Zehirus, watchfulness, and Zrizus, alacrity. The reason for such a downslide throughout history is because of the concept of hiskatnus hadoros, the diminishing of the generations. In Judaism, we believe that the pinnacle of mankind was created by Hashem in the beginning with Adam. He was as close as can be to Hashem; physically, spiritually, and mentally, before the sin. The farther away from the source, the weaker we become in every way. Therefore, King Shlomo as wise as he was, a special gift given to him from Hashem, he still didn’t have the consistent level of prophesy as Moshe Rabbeinu had. That is why the Ralbag points out at this juncture that someone else came to him with a message from Hashem and he didn’t receive it himself through his own prophecy.

 It’s a process to reach such great heights, and one must realize it’s not an easy process. Chaza”l teach us “that a person was born to toil” and “according to his efforts is his reward.” There are even times when there are spurts of perfection, which go above and beyond the rule of hiskatnus hadoros, achieved through great diligence and intense discipline. Like by Matan Torah, where Chaza”l say the Jewish people reached the level of Adam before he sinned when they received the Torah.

In a similar vein, the Haftorah also writes, “And it was in the four hundred and eightieth year after the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, in the fourth year, in the month Ziv, which (is) the second month of Solomon’s reign over Israel, that he did [begin to] build the house of Hashem” (Melachim Alef 6:1). This means it took 480 years for the Jewish people to be able to deserve starting to build the Beis HaMikdash! Can one fathom how long that is, almost five lifetimes of centennials!! A people who were at such great heights, living on miracles when they inherited The Land with Yehoshua; yet being ready to build Hashem’s Palace was a process that takes time.

Matters that are important don’t just happen overnight; the Jewish People received the Torah 2,448 years after the creation of the world. That is longer than our current exile! Chaza”l says that this current exile will end with the Final Redemption with the coming of Moshiach. May we merit to have a spurt of spiritual energy to reach this level of perfection speedily in our days. However, it is up to us to speed up the process, to pour all our energy into serving Hashem properly and deserving this illustrious time in world history, through learning Torah in-depth and mussar, books of character development, like Mesilas Yesharim, and at least trying to apply to the best of our abilities lessons from these sefarim, may we merit to have a spurt of perfection and end this long process towards the Final Redemption speedily in our days.

Torah Riddles Test #95

  1. Question: Why can a drunk or blind man take challah from dough but cannot take Teruma from fruit?


A. One is not allowed to take teruma from bad quality fruit for good quality fruit.

B. One takes challah from a whole bowl of dough made from five pounds of flour.

Answer: There is no such thing as taking from the bad for the good by challah it is all the same dough so you can be drunk or blind when performing that mitzvah but by teruma you have to be cognizant enough to differentiate so they can’t do it. See Shach Yoreh Deah 328:2:4.

Torah Riddles Test #86

1.     Question: Why does the Shev Shmaysa 1:1 rely on majority to resolve a doubt whether fruit are orlah outside of Israel but the Gemara at the end of The first chapter of Kiddushin says we always poskin leniently by orlah outside of Israel even if there is a majority poskening stringently which means we don’t go by the majority?


A. Orlah is the mitzvah not being allowed to eat the fruits from a tree the first 3 years after it was planted.

B. The Shev Shmaysa poskins that if one is in doubt whether fruit are orlah from a tree planted outside of Israel then he can be lenient and eat it unless there is a majority, let say the majority of fruit in the pile this fruit was found in is for sure orlah then the fruit in doubt is prohibited because it’s not considered a doubt anymore.

C. The Gemara at the end of the first chapter of Kiddushin says that whichever rabbi is lenient by orlah outside of Israel, the halacha is like him even if there are a majority of rabbis that argue on him.

D. The Shaarei Yosher (gate 3) says: Ruling according to the majority is a rule in the Torah, not that it is clarifying something. But the majority is being used as a clarifier when there is a doubt whether a certain specific fruit is orlah or not, outside of Israel.

Answer: Even though there is a rule in the Torah that we poskin like the majority but since there is also a rule that we permit orlah in doubt outside of Israel then it is not possible to poskin like the majority since there is still the reality that there is a doubt here. But when figuring out whether this fruit is orlah or not then majority can clarify that in fact it is orlah and we can’t be lenient since majority rules there is no doubt here.

Torah Riddles Test #80

  1. Question: Why can a Jewish tax collector hire a non-Jew to do his job on Shabbos but a Jew who owns a laundromat cannot hire a non-Jew to do his job on Shabbos?


A. The Rema (244:6) says that if a Jew bought the right to be the government’s tax collector he can give that right to the non-Jew on Shabbos under the condition the non-Jew gets a cut of the amount he earned for the Jew on that day because he’s working for himself and there would be a big loss, sacrificing the whole job if he took off a day. He can rent the honor of collecting taxes to a non-Jew on Shabboses for the same reason, that the non-Jew is really just doing it for his own gain.

B. If a Jew owns a laundromat it must be closed on Shabbos and he can’t even rent the rights of owning it to a non-Jew on Shabbos with the non-Jew getting full profit of what was earned on Shabbos because it looks like the Jew’s store is open on Shabbos and he’s doing business.

C. Why isn’t the loss of money by the laundromat considered a significant loss?

Answer: See Dirshu (243:1:2,4) that the laundromat is only not making a profit for that day even if it is the busiest day of the week but the tax collecting job is a big loss because he will lose his job altogether.

Lech Licha – Blind Faith: A History of the Arab World

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Towards the end of this week’s Torah Portion of Lech Licha Hashem gives a blessing to Yishmael because Avraham, his father, prayed to Hashem that he should receive a blessing; not because he was part of the covenant with Yitzchok, as the Rabbeinu Bachye (17:20) points out based on the pesukim in the Torah: “And regarding Ishmael, I have heard you; behold I have blessed him, and I will make him fruitful, and I will multiply him exceedingly; he will beget twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Yitzchok, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Breishis 17:20, 21).

The Rabbeinu Bachye goes on to explain in more detail the blessing given to Yishmael, and how it came into fruition. “Yishmael had 12 sons who were enumerated by name at the end of the Torah portion of Chaye Sarah. It was written there: ‘The first born of Yshmael was Nevayot, [then came] Kedar, Adabel, Mivasem, Mashma, Domeh, Masa, Chadad, Teimah, Yitur, Nafish, and Kedmah, which equal out to 12.’ The fact that it says he begot 12 princes and not 12 nations is to show us their leadership and the profound greatness which was placed upon them because of the blessing, more so than on other nations, just as Hashem the Blessed One promised:  ‘Behold I will bless him and cause him to multiply very, very much.’ There is another implication to the word ‘princes,’ ‘נשיאים’ in that they disappear from the world after their profound greatness. For it comes from the pasuk, ‘נְשִׂיאִ֣ים וְ֖רוּחַ, Clouds and wind’(Mishlei 25:14), and it is coming to hint that they will be destroyed and lost from the world, like the language of ‘Just as a cloud is consumed and goes away’ (Iyov 7:9). This is also why the word for princes in this pasuk is spelled ‘נְשִׂיאִם֙’ without a yud towards the end of the word. The pasuk is coming to teach you about the kingdom of Yishmael that in the beginning they will be strong and in the end they will be weak. So to the angel said to Hagar ‘And he will be a pere adam’ (Breishis 16:12), meaning he will act amongst people like a barbarian who defeats everyone, and afterwards the hand of everyone will be upon him.”

Yishmael and his descendants were blessed by Hashem, due to Avraham’s merit and prayers, to be great and mighty rulers of enormous multitudes, for a long period of time; but only temporarily. Yet their time seemed not to have come too quickly, as Rabbeinu Bachye writes in the name of Rabbeinu Chananel: “We have seen that this promise was delayed for them by 2,333 years and this delay was not because of their sins, and they were yearning for its fulfillment all these years, and in the end it was fulfilled, and afterwards their empire was strengthened. As for us, whose kingdom was taken away because of our sins, and a time of 1,335 years was set, all the more so we should be yearning for His promise and never give up!”  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

We must put into perspective what Rabbeinu Chananel means, and the lesson he is trying to drive home. It so happens that his calculations are exact, for Avraham and Yishmael had a bris in the year 2047 (on the Jewish calendar) and Yishmael’s reign started in 4374 (622 C.E.) which is the year Mohamad fled Mecca, which started the Arab conquest, ten years before they spread throughout the world (4374-2047=2,337 years which is just 4 years off of Rabbeinu Chananel’s calculation of 2,333).

The 1,335 referenced for the Jewish people is referring to the second to last pasuk of Daniel, where it is discussing the Final Redemption and coming of Moshiach. It writes there: “Fortunate is he who waits and reaches days of one thousand, three hundred, and thirty-five” (Daniel 12:12). What this number means is completely obscured; it definitely does not mean, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, that Moshiach was supposed to come 1,335 years after the time of Daniel, for Daniel lived between 3304-3399 / 457-362 BCE which means, at latest, from Daniel’s death, 362 BCE. 1,335 years later would put it at the year 973 CE, and Rabbeinu Chananel lived from 965 CE until 1055 CE, which would have made him 8 years old at the time. It is evident that he wrote this many years later, and yet still said with confidence that ‘all the more so we Jews should have full trust in Hashem for our reckoning since there is some timetable even though that timetable is totally incomprehensible, and was purposefully written in that fashion.’ In fact, the Metzudas Dovid, many centuries later, said on that pasuk in Daniel: “It says happy is the one who waits for it and will then reach that moment and it then explains what we are hoping for which reaches a certain number but we don’t know what this is referring to (anything of its kind).”

Rabbeinu Chananel is trying to teach us a lesson from Yishmael’s descendants. Just as they knew without a doubt, and had blind faith that Hashem’s blessing and promise to them would one day come to fruition, as it did, all the more so we have to have unyielding trust in Hashem that He will bring the ultimate salvation to his Chosen People. Why should it be so obvious for us? Rabbeinu Chananel says our kingdom was only taken away from us because of our sins so it is up to us to repent and rectify the matter but it is also because we were given a number to look forward to, a sign, and though it is obscure and unknown, it is something to “hang our hats on,” as an impetus to strengthen our trust that His word will come true.

The History of the world is quite vast! It took 1,656 years before Hashem decided to send the flood. Yishmael and his descendants, the Arab world, were steadfast for 2,333 years in their blind faith and trust in Hashem, without any indications of when His promise to them would be fulfilled, and look where they are today!

We not only have that clarity of belief in Hashem, just as they do, but Hashem, out of his love and mercy for us, gave us some hint, albeit a very subtle one, in order to strengthen our yearning, drive for the End of Days and our Salvation.

Appreciating True Value

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The philosophical debate over how Hashem is the Almighty and All Knowing yet we have free choice in this word has been debated for thousands of years. There is a Yalkut Shimone in this week’s Haftorah for the Torah portion of Behar which brings to focus the obvious but awesome reality that Hashem is in charge, knows and created everything.

The Yalkut Shimone is based on a few pesukim from the Haftorah in Yirmiyahu, perek 32: “Ho! O Lord God, behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You, Who exercises loving- kindness to thousands and requites the iniquity of the fathers in the bosom of the children who follow them, O Great and Mighty God, the Lord of Hosts is His Name. Who is great in counsel and mighty in carrying it out, for Your eyes are open to all the ways of mankind, to give everyone in accordance with his ways and in accordance with the fruit of his deeds” (Yirmiyahu 32:17-19).
The Yalkut Shimone, quoting a Medrish Rabba (Breishis 9:3) in the beginning of Breishis says, “‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth by Your great power and Your outstretched arm, and nothing is hidden from You.’ Reish Lakish said in the name of Rebbe Elazar ben Azariah, ‘‘Behold, You have made the heaven and the earth,’ from that time nothing is hidden from You.’ [The Zayis Ra’anan explains that at the time of the creation of heaven and earth, Hashem created all that in the future will be, during the six days of creation.] Rebbe Chagi in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok quoted a pasuk in Divrei Hayamim, “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father and worship Him with a whole heart and with an eager soul, for the Lord seeks all hearts, and He understands the thoughts of every creation; if you seek Him, He will be found to you, and if you forsake Him, He will abandon you forever” (Divrei Hayamim alef 28:9). Before a person finishes his thought in his heart Hashem already knows it. Rebbe Yudan in the name of Rebbe Yitzchok said that before Hashem even created his creation he knew their thoughts (see Maharz”u on this step of the medrish.) Rebbe Yudan himself quoted a pasuk in Tehillim, ‘For there is no word on my tongue; behold, O Lord, You know it all’ (Tehillim 139:4). Before one speaks Hashem knows what he is going to say. ‘O Great and Mighty God’ (Yirmiyahu 32:18).” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The medrish is addressing fundamentals in our belief system. The famous pasuk in Mishlei says “There is nothing new under the sun.” The latest technology, computers, cars, airplanes etc. were all created during the six days of creation. Hashem might not have sent his messengers to reveal it to us until today, when it is the proper time for them to be introduced into the world, but everything that was “invented” or “discovered” has always been around in its potential for 5779 years and a tiny bit, ever since Hashem created the heaven and earth. Not only that, but Hashem knows every word that will come out of your mouth before you say it, every thought you think before you finish thinking it, and in fact he knows every thought and the nature of every human being even before he or she is born. That is how great and awesome and powerful and all-knowing Hashem truly is. If that is the case then the famous question arises of where is our free will?
The fact is the Rambam on a mishna in Pirkei Avos addresses this issue. The Mishna says in the name of Rebbe Akiva, “Everything is foreseen, yet the freedom of choice is given. The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds” (Pirkei Avos 3:15). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Rambam explains that every action a person does or will do is all known to Hashem. But don’t say that since Hashem knows what a person will do then his actions are forced to be righteous or evil based on his preordained destiny because freedom of choice is given into one’s hands to choose between good and evil and nothing forces anyone to do anything at all. And since this is true, the world is therefore judged with goodness, to punish the wicked and to give good reward to the righteous, for the sinner willingly sins and is befitting to be punished and the righteous is willingly righteous and is befitting to accept reward.

It is self-evident that we have free will. We make choices every day, for good or for bad. How then can we understand that Hashem, the Almighty, already created everything from the beginning of time and knows what we are going to say and even think before it actually happens? How are we not preprogramed robots with no sense of worth or growth in our lives? Furthermore, what is the lesson that we can learn from this dichotomy?

Briefly, without much detail, the way I very humbly understand with my significantly finite mind this seemingly contradiction is, granted the song is absolutely true: “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere”, but in a whole different dimension out of our time and space which He himself created for us. Meaning Hashem is above and beyond our time and space and therefore he is able to see and know past present and future. He created it and constantly runs it consistently. Hashem specifically created the world and the entire universe, programming it to give humans free choice, a will to do good or bad within their time space so that within “Human time” we are able to make decisions that can affect all of existence. We can discover and invent things which were unknown in “Human time,” accomplishments for the betterment or the deterioration of humanity and the world around us. Yet, Hashem in His dimension, is all knowing, all powerful, above, beyond, and “one step” (really a lot more) ahead of us. He has everything figured out because He created it. Kaviyachol, sort of like a video game which has multiple possibilities and many ways to succeed or get out but the maker knows what’s going to happen at the end of the game because he created it.

Hashem did all this because He is a “Meitiv,” always positive and giving. In His infinite wisdom Hashem understands He can’t just make a world which is robotic and preprogrammed to do whatever it is supposed to do because there is no value to it and it would not be good. Rather Hashem created a system where people are able to earn their way through life or G-D forbid ruin it, in this fashion one can show his or her true value and it can be appreciated which is exactly what the Rambam explains the mishna in Pirkei Avos to be saying: “The world is judged with goodness, and everything depends on the abundance of good deeds.” The Rambam in fact concludes that Hashem hints to us  ways to accrue a lot more reward, “through the more one repeatedly and consistently does acts of good, thus his reward is multiplied, for there is a big difference between handing out a gold coin one hundred times for tzedaka than giving one hundred gold coins all at once for tzedaka.”

Being that we have a mitzvah to emulate Hashem’s ways, there is an important lesson among many that we can learn from this which is that we should appreciate the value and accomplishment of our fellow human beings just as Hashem does of us all, for Hashem went out of His way to create a system in its own dimension of time and space, programming it with the ability to have free choice and creativity in order so that we can choose between good and bad and automatically be recognized for the actions, speech and thoughts we accomplish, though of course Hashem in his dimension knows all that was, is and will be, and even created it, but this appreciation of value and worth must be good. So to, we, ourselves should go out of our way to seek out, appreciate and acknowledge the good of everyone around us and throughout the entire world.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder