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Kedoshim
When are we obligated to speak negatively about somebody? Print E-mail
Friday, 20 April 2018

In Parshat Kedoshim there are many important commandments about how one must treat their fellow person. One mitzvah that especially stands out is not being a talebearer (gossip).

Are there times when the rules about not speaking badly about others are suspended?

 Is it ever obligatory to speak negatively about somebody?

According to the Chafetz Chayim, if a man sees that his fellow is guilty of misconduct, given to pride or anger or is neglectful of Torah study, he should apprise his son or disciples and warn them not to associate with him, so as not to be influenced by his ways. For the real concern of the Torah is forbidding evil talk, even when true, was the evil intent involved in wishing to disgrace our fellow and enjoy his discomfort. But where the intention is to save our fellow beings from bad influences, it is plain that it is permissible and even obligatory. But in these circumstances, it would seem that it is necessary for the speaker to explain the reasons for speaking ill of his fellow, so that the listener should not be misled into going too far or into being astonished at his apparently inconsistent behavior, sometimes asserting that it is even forbidden to tell the truth about someone else’s conduct… whereas now he himself is guilty of talking about someone else…

A few examples of where the Chafetz Chayim specifies that one must say negative things about another person: If he wishes to hire an employee or take a partner in his business, or propose a match or take a teacher for his son. In all of these cases one is obligated to tell the whole truth about the person investigated so long as the interrogator reveals the purpose of his inquiries and that he is not just interested in gossip for its own sake, but wishes to take care and save himself from trouble, and some positive purpose is involved.

The Chafetz Chayim writes: How misled are people who, though accustomed to talking about other people’s faults and keen on hearing some gossip or slander, immediately shut their mouths like a vice and pretend ignorance the moment some purposeful information is required in connection with a match (shidduch), Torah study or business partnership. Why this sudden reticence? Only because of the responsibility involved... But when their information serves no beneficial end they are free with their talk.

We can learn from here that if we are asked to give a work recommendation, we must be honest about the capabilities of the potential employee so that the person hiring can make an educated decision as to whether they are the right candidate for the job. When it comes to hiring a teacher it is important that issues are not swept under the rug especially those related to abuse. As far as a shidduch, it is best to have all of the facts on the table before the marriage to minimize issues that could have potentially been avoided before the wedding.

The general rule is that one should not look to gossip but if important information needs to be shared then we are obligated to truthfully answer questions when asked.

 
Reverence vs. Honor Print E-mail
Monday, 08 May 2017

Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:3 states: “Every person should revere their mother and their father and keep My Shabbatot, I am the Lord your God.”

In Parshat Yitro, Shmot 20:12 (the Ten Commandments) we read: “Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be long upon the Land which the Lord your God gives you.”

What is the difference between reverence and honor?

The Talmud, Kiddushin 31b teaches:

Reverence means that one may not stand or sit in their parents’ place, may not contradict their parents’ words and may not offer an opinion (in a debate to which their parents are a party).

Honor means that one must give their parents food and drink, dress them and cover them, bring them in and take them out.

According to Aruch HaShulchan, the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents demands that one act in a positive manner to show respect, while the mitzvah of revering them demands that one not act in a way that detracts from their status.

The Rambam, Hichot Mamrim 6:2 states that a person must honor and revere both parents equally.

In Kiddushin 30b we see various analogies between one’s obligations to one’s parents and one’s obligations to God:

The Rabbis taught: It says in Shmot: “Honor your father and your mother” and it says in Mishlei 3:9, “Honor God with your property”. By using the same word, “honor”, scripture puts the honor due one’s father and mother on the same level as the honor due to God.

The same analogy applies to the mitzvah of revering one’s parents: It says in Vayikra, “Every person should revere their mother and their father” and it says in Dvarim 6:13, “You shall revere the Lord, your God and you shall serve Him.” By using the same word “revere” in both instances, scripture puts the reverence of one’s father and mother on the same level as reverence of God.

We learn from here just how serious the mitzvot of honoring and revering our parents are, as they are compared to honoring and revering God.

 
Shabbat Vehadarta, The Shabbat of Honor Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 May 2016

In the Spring of 2013, Uri Orbach z”l named Shabbat Parshat Kedoshim Shabbat Vehadarta, The Shabbat of Honor.

The title of the Shabbat comes from Vayikra 19:32 “Before the grey haired you shall rise and honor the face of the elder and fear your God. I am the Lord.”

Uri Orbach was a national religious journalist, author and member of Knesset who as Minister of Pensioner Affairs spoke out on behalf of the elderly. He felt that Shabbat Kedoshim should be dedicated to appreciating the elderly and that during Torah reading an elderly person should be honored with the third aliya (which mentions honoring the elderly). He also suggested that synagogues and youth groups throughout Israel conduct lectures dedicated to the topic of respecting the elderly.

Unfortunately, Uri Orbach’s life was cut short when he passed away from a chronic hematologic disease at age 54.

Some of Uri Orbach’s contributions while in the Knesset included making all movies 10 shekels for senior citizens on Tuesdays, pairing up high school students with senior citizens to teach them how to use the computer and inviting senior citizens to take classes at a Jerusalem’s Himmelfarb high school. At the kickoff event of the program, Uri Orbach came to the school and paired up the teenagers with the senior citizens for a chavruta Torah learning program.

Those outside of Israel can commemorate Shabbat Vehadarta next Shabbat when Parshat Kedoshim is read in chutz laaretz (the Diaspora).

In the poetry books that he wrote for children, Uri Orbach used humor to teach the children good values.

One poem that stands out in my mind is a poem about a boy who says that he doesn’t only study mishna in order to earn candy, he doesn’t only make room for an elderly man with a cane because the rabbi is watching…There are things that he does on his own because he is a nice boy. The poem is accompanied by a picture of a boy helping an elderly man carry his bags.

We must do what we can to continue Uri Orbach’s legacy of treating the elderly with respect, not just this Shabbat but every day.

 If you would like to sponsor a class for the elderly in Jerusalem in honor of Shabbat Vehadarta follow the link: http://toratreva.org/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=7&Itemid=7

 
Honoring People with Special Needs Print E-mail
Friday, 01 May 2015

In Parshat Kedoshim (Vaykra 19:14) we read: “You shall not curse a deaf person and before a blind person you shall not place a stumbling block; you shall fear your God, I am God.”

 

It is clear this pasuk that people with special needs should not be taken advantage of or mistreated. We can learn from here that all people should be treated properly and respected whether or not they have special needs.

 

It has taken society in general and society in Israel in particular a long time to reach the point where we can say that those with special needs are truly being treated as equal members of society and not looked down upon.

 

This past Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), recognition has been given to citizens of Israel who have done exemplary work for the State of Israel, some of whom have special needs.

 

Toby Klein Greenwald points out that Rami Levy, founder of the third largest supermarket chain in Israel who was invited to light one of the torches on Erev Yom Haatzmaut at Har Herzl acknowledged in his speech how thankful he is to have been able to come this far in the business world despite having dyslexia.

 

Pvt. Dan Korkowsky lit the torch on behalf of the IDF’s special needs soldiers. Pvt.  Korkowsky was diagnosed as being on the spectrum for autism and he is part of the IDF’s special intelligence unit 9900.

 

On Yom HaAtzmaut, the Israel Prize for Literature was awarded to Erez Biton who has been blind since his childhood yet being blind did not stop him from writing five books of poetry.

 

Chaim Topol, most famous for his role as Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Israel Prize Ceremony for his work with children with special needs. Topol is a founder of “Variety” and chairman of the Jordan River Village for children with life threatening illnesses.

 

It is about time that Israel recognizes the achievements of people with special needs and those who work on behalf of those with special needs in the workplace, in our cultural institutions and in the army.

 

It is not enough to “not curse a deaf person” and “not put a stumbling block before a blind person”, we must give honor to those who deserve it no matter what physical or emotional challenges they may face.

 
Should Jewish People Be Celebrating Halloween? Print E-mail
Friday, 19 April 2013

You may be wondering why, in the month of April, I am asking a question about if Jews should be celebrating Halloween.

According to Alfred J. Kolatch in The Second Jewish Book of Why, Halloween originated as a Celtic holiday and was celebrated by Druids (priests of a religious order in ancient Gaul and Britain). The celebration marked the end of summer and pumpkins, cornstalks, and products of the earth were used in the feasting and merrymaking.

In the eighth century, when the Church saw that it would not succeed in weaning people away from celebrating the pagan holiday, it incorporated Halloween into the Christian calendar. The holiday would be celebrated on November the first as a day honoring all saints (hence the name All Saints' Day). The night before, October 31, was called "holy [hallowed] evening," and many of the old pagan Druid practices were retained in its celebration, including the dressing up as ghosts, goblins, witches, fairies, and elves.

Halacha prohibits Jewish celebration of Halloween. The reason comes from a pasuk in Parshat Kedoshim that we will read this Shabbat (hence I am writing about this in April instead of in October), Vayikra 18:3: “Do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Cnaan to which I bring you and do not follow their traditions”.

There is no shortage of Jewish holidays to celebrate. Halloween is usually only a few weeks after a month of holidays including Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, the holiday which celebrates the fact that we should appreciate that everything that we harvest comes from God and Simchat Torah, a festival where children amass a tremendous amount of candy while celebrating the Torah.

Those who want to celebrate the products of the earth do so on Sukkot. Those who like to collect candy do so on Simchat Torah. Those who want to get dressed up in costumes will have to wait a few months, but they can do so on Purim.

The beauty of living in Israel is that we don’t even realize when it is Halloween since the country follows the Jewish calendar.

 

 
Aliya for Sincere Converts Print E-mail
Friday, 04 May 2012

In Parshat Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:33-34) we read: “When a convert dwells among you in your Land, do not taunt him. The convert who dwells with you shall be like a native among you and you shall love him like yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt- I am Hashem your God.”

 

Why does this pasuk specifically talk about a convert living in the Land of Israel?

 

The Gemara in Yevamot 47a answers: We learn from this pasuk that we can accept converts even in the Land of Israel. We may have thought that they are trying to move to Israel because it is a great and prosperous Land but even in the times that the Land isn’t prosperous, there are still laws that ensure that all of the poor have food to eat (leket, shichecha and peah). The Torah still states that we do accept converts in the Land of Israel.

 

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Interior and the Rabbinate in Israel suspect each convert that comes to Israel, assuming that they are only moving here to receive Sal Klita (money given by the government to new olim) and they therefore give each convert, even those approved by the strictest of courts a hard time before they (hopefully) finally let them make aliya.

 

This is a very sad situation which must be rectified as it says in the psukim above: “do not taunt him”, “you shall love him like yourself”.

 

Let’s hope and pray that the process of aliya becomes easier for sincere converts.

 

 
A Different Kind of Fast Day Print E-mail
Friday, 29 April 2011

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In Jerusalem, there are many billboards with advertisements for upcoming cultural events and classes. A few months ago, there was a sign that caught my eye. It was for a fast day. This was not an ordinary fast day where we refrain from eating and drinking. Rather, it was a “Lashon HaRa Fast Day”, literally a day of avoiding the “Evil Tongue”, a day where we are conscious not to gossip.

 

I asked my students if they were up for it and they all agreed. From when we woke up in the morning, we were all extremely careful not to say anything about anybody else. One of the laws of “Avak Lashon HaRa”, literally traces of evil tongue, teaches us that we shouldn’t even say something good about another person since someone else may disagree which would end up turning the positive statement into a negative one.

 

My students studied the laws of Lashon HaRa in depth including the pasuk from Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:17 “Do not be a tale-bearer among your people” and they didn’t speak very much. In the evening we had a “break the fast”. They asked if this meant that they could now say everything that they were holding back all day but instead I brought them each a lollypop, a gift for their tongues for trying so hard all day.

 

After this exercise we saw that it is possible to refrain from speaking Lashon HaRa altogether especially if one is with other people who are conscious of being careful with their speech as well.

 

The Gemara in Arachin 15b states: What will be a person’s remedy so that they may not come to say Lashon HaRa? If they are scholar, let them engage in Torah…

 

Are you up for the challenge?

 
 
Bite Your Tongue? Print E-mail
Friday, 01 May 2009

There are many important laws which are taught in Parshat Kedoshim including honoring your parents, observing Shabbat, paying workers wages on time and not cursing a deaf person. However, the mitzvah that most stands out in my mind is (Vayikra 19:16): “Do not be a talebearer (lo telech racheel) among your people, you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed- I am your God”.

 

The Rambam (Maimonides) Hilchot Deot 7:2 asks: “Who is racheel (a talebearer)? One who carries gossip, going about from person to person and saying: ‘So and so said this; this is what I heard about so and so.’ Even though they tell the truth they are ruining the world. There is a still worse sin that comes with this prohibition namely Lashon HaRa, someone who is saying bad things about their fellow even if they tell the truth. But someone who lies is called a slanderer. A master of Lashon HaRa says: ‘this is what so and so did, such were his fathers, this is what I have heard about them…”

 

William Blake (1757-1827) once said: “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent”.

 

Rashi comments on the words “lo telech racheel”: It is my opinion that this law is due to all of the inciters of quarrels, and those that relate Lashon HaRa, who go into the houses of their friends to spy out what they can see of evil, or what they can hear of evil in order to tell it in the market place. Consequently they are called holchei rachil (those who go out spying). The term “rochel” denotes one who goes around and searches for every kind of ware (a peddler). We never find tale bearing written in the Torah without the word “going” as well. However, considering other types of Lashon HaRa going is not written.

 

Rabbi Avraham Zevi Hirsch Eisenstadt (1813-1868) author of the Pitchei Tshuva explains that sometimes it is necessary to speak up on behalf of the needy to save the exploited from the exploiter. For example, if one saw a person cunningly ambushing their fellow on the road in the desert with the intention of killing them, or saw a thief in the night in their house or in their shop, is it possible that they would refrain from informing their friend to beware of the exploiter because of the prohibition of Lashon haRa? Is not a greater sin to break the command “…you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed- I am your God”?

 

We learn from here that the laws of rechilut and Lashon HaRa are not always clear cut and we have to use our judgment before we speak. As it says in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:7 “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak”.

 
 
The Forbidden Fruits Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 April 2008

In some ways it is easier to keep kosher in Israel. In other ways it is much easier to keep kosher outside of Israel.

With kosher restaurants in abundance in cities like Jerusalem, you almost don’t have to think twice about the laws of Kashrut. However, when shopping for fruits and vegetables there are many factors relating to Mitzvot Hatluyot Ba’Aretz, Mitzvot that only apply in the Land of Israel that must be considered such as: Was it grown during a Shmitta (Sabbatical) year? Is it Orlah (fruit of the trees first three years)? Were Terumot and Maasrot (tithes) taken?

As one student from the United States told me when she came to Israel during the Shmitta (Sabbatical) year “at least outside of Israel you can count on the fruits and vegetables always being kosher”.

In Israel you actually need kosher certification for your produce!

“When you enter the Land and you will plant any food-bearing tree, you shall regard its fruit as closed off (v’araltem arlato). For three years it will be closed off to you (arelim) it shall not be eaten. On the fourth year, all of its fruit shall be holy upon which to say praises to God. On the fifth year, you may eat its fruit, so that it will increase its produce for you. I am HaShem your God”.  –Vayikra, Kedoshim 19:23-25

Ramban explains that the fruit of the first three years (Orlah) is not fit to be brought up to God since it is small and doesn’t have much flavor and therefore we wait until the fourth year. He adds that it may actually be harmful to the body as well.

If the fruits of the first three years are not fit to be eaten anyway, why is the Torah worried about people wanting to eat them?

According to the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, magicians and sorcerers tried to practice witchcraft at the time of the planting of the trees thinking that by doing so they would accelerate the coming out of the fruits before their natural time and when the fruits appeared, they would offer them to the idol. Therefore, the Torah commanded that the fruits which come out before three years should be forbidden in order that people should not come to practice these evil deeds.

Enjoy all that Israel has to offer, just stay away from the forbidden fruits!

 
Respecting The Challenged Print E-mail
Thursday, 26 April 2007

Respecting the Challenged: Dignity and Godliness in every Jew

In Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:14, we find the words “You shall not curse the deaf and you shall not place a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God- I am HaShem”. We learn from these words that God commands respect and dignity for those who are physically or developmentally challenged.

It seems that modern society is just awakening to the fact that people with disabilities should be treated with the same dignity as those who are not disabled. Judaism has known this fact all along.

Proof of the fact that all humans are equal in the eyes of God is found immediately after the account of the creation of Adam, the first human being. The Torah states in Breisheet 1:27, “God created human beings ‘Betzalmo’, In God’s image”. Each person regardless of their strengths and weaknesses is created in the image of God. The same amount of “Tzelem Elokim”, Godliness is present in all humans. The concept of Kevod HaBriyot, treating every human being with respect stems from this idea.

Many of the personalities in the Torah were faced with disabilities and challenges. In fact, even our matriarchs and patriarchs were challenged in some way. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah and Chanah were all barren. Jacob had difficulty walking after his conflict with the angel. Miriam suffered from tzaraat (leprosy). Yitzchak suffered from blindness. Each made the best out of the circumstances and overcame the specific challenge to the best of their abilities.

When God chose Moshe to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, Moshe responded (Shmot 4:10): “I am not a man of words…for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of speech.” God did not accept Moshe’s excuse and answered “Who makes a mouth for man or who makes one mute or deaf or sighted or blind? Is it not I, HaShem? Now go!” It is clear that Moshe’s disability would not be an impediment to his success and God proved this to him.

One of the most famous commandments concerning ethics and morality is found in Parshat Kedoshim, Vayikra 19:18 and was made popular by Rabbi Akiva, “V’Ahavta L’Reacha Kamocha”, you shall love your fellow as yourself. Chizkuni states that although it may be impossible to love another person as one loves himself, others must be treated the way that one would wish that he himself would be treated.

A new law was passed in Israel that every new building must be wheelchair accessible.  The only problem is that there are still many existing buildings whose only entrances have stairs and therefore exclude the wheelchair bound community from entering. In front of every shopping center there are spots reserved for the physically challenged. How unfortunate it is to see people who don’t have permission to use these spots taking up these spaces. I recently saw a photo in the newspaper of Israeli police car parked in a spot that is reserved for the wheelchair bound. These police officers are unfortunately not setting a good example of how to observe the mitzvah of v’ahavta lereacha kamocha.

Let’s do what we can to ensure that those who are challenged don’t have to overcome even more obstacles in Israel and throughout the world.

 

 
Respecting the Elderly Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 May 2006

In Parshat Kedoshim, we are presented with many mitzvot. One mitzvah that especially stands out is Vayikra 19:32: "In the presence of the elderly (seiva) you shall rise and you shall respect the elder (zaken); you shall have fear of your God, I am your God".

In this pasuk, God is clearly putting respecting the elderly in the same category as fearing God. Why is this necessary?

We learn from the Gemara in Kiddushin 33a: It may have been thought that one may close one's eyes and therefore exempt himself from the obligation of rising before the elderly. Therefore the Torah teaches: "Fear your God". You may try to fool yourself, but you can't fool God.

The buses in Israel actually have signs that say "mipnei seiva takum", "in the presence of the elderly you shall rise" in order to remind people that out of respect for the elderly person as well as for God we must give our seats up for an elderly person who doesn't have a place to sit.

Why is respecting the elderly such an important mitzvah? In the Gemara in Kiddushin 33a, Isi Ben Yehudah teaches that we must rise (give respect) to all elderly people. Rabbi Yochanan explains that it is because "they have experienced so much".

Midrash Tanchuma, Behaalotcha 11 teaches that "the way to give the elderly honor would be not to stand in their place, not to hide their things, not to interrupt their words".

In Jerusalem, there are many senior residences and nursing homes as well as day centers which provide programs for senior citizens and care for the elderly with respect and dignity. However, due to their limited budgets, these facilities are not able to provide continuous programming throughout the day and many do not provide the seniors with opportunities to study Torah. Thanks to your support of Torat Reva Yerushalayim I have been able to bring Torah study classes to these facilities on a weekly basis at no charge.

After spending time studying Torah with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, I now understand Yosi Bar Yehudah Kfar HaBavli's comments in Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Fathers) 4:26: "One who learns Torah from the young is likened to one who eats unique grapes or drinks unfermented wine. But one who learns Torah from the elderly is likened to one who eats ripe grapes or drinks aged wine".