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Daily Halacha #15

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 11, 2014

The Talmud relates a story of a sage whose mother was concerned that he would end up as a criminal. She was told that he should wear a covering on his head at all times to remind him that G-d is watching him.

We see two things from this story. 1) The purpose of a head-covering is to remind us of G-d. 2) In the times if the Talmud this was not accepted practice for everyone to wear a head-covering.

Nonetheless, this custom took off and became universally accepted as the regular attire of a Jewish male. The author states that it is forbidden to walk 4 amos (approx. 8 feet) without a head covering*. It is also forbidden to say any prayers or study Torah while one’s head is uncovered.

*The Mishna Berurah argues that one cannot even stay stationary without a head covering.

*Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that one does not have to incur any financial loss due to one’s head covering. This is due to the fact that it is a custom and not a law. Therefore if one is in a work setting where this is the case one may uncover their head at work.

(KSA 3: 6)

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Daily Halacha #14

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 9, 2014

Throughout the Torah we find that the right hand is perceived to be the more significant one. Therefore one should always dress the right side first (right sleeve, right shoe, etc.). When it comes to taking things off we do the opposite and take the left off first (this is again an honor to the right side). The one exception is with tying. Since we find tying of the left in the Torah regarding Tefillin, we therefore tie the left side first.*

*At first glance this seems almost bizarre. My rebbi, Rabbi M. Blachman explained it in the following way. The principle over here is not that we would like to honor the right side. To do so would make no sense. Rather, the idea is that we would like to demonstrate how the Torah and its value system permeates every part of our life even the most insignificant things like tying our shoes and getting dressed. We therefore take Torah principles and apply them to every aspect of our life. This helps reinforce the opening statement of this work – Shvisi Hashem l’negdi tamid, I place G-d before me at all times. By applying Torah principles to every aspect of our life we cause ourselves to be more G-d-conscious.

 

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Daily Halacha #13

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 8, 2014

Chapter 3, the next section in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, deals with clothing and getting dressed. The Torah writes that one should “walk modestly with G-d.” The author explains that modesty is not limited to public appearances but a person should be as modest as possible even in private. (*The actual applications are very case-specific and it the consensus of the Halachic authorities is that in this regard specifically, ie modesty in private, subjectivity is a major factor.)

It is an absolute value in Judaism to dress in a respectable fashion. So much so that the Talmud states that one should sell their home to ensure that they have shoes to wear. One should therefore strive to always be put together – not too showy and at the same time not looking unkempt. The same is true for the way we walk – we shouldn’t walk in an arrogant fashion nor should we walk with our head bowed over.

(KSA 3:1,3,7)

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Reconnecting to Israel – Parshas Emor

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 5, 2014

If I’d have a dollar every time a rabbi mentioned the recent Pew study from his pulpit I’d be a rich man. The Pew study, the most comprehensive national survey of the Jewish population in more than a decade, has been analyzed, dissected, questioned, and reviewed in an almost unprecedented fashion since it was published a few months ago. And for good reason! Never before have we had such a wealth of information about ourselves and it would be ridiculous not to take advantage of the research and its conclusions.

With Yom Ha’atzmaut right around the corner, I think it’s a great time to discuss our relationship with Israel which thanks to the Pew study, we are much more aware of what that relationship actually looks like. So let me begin by sharing with you a few statistics. According to the Pew study, the older a person is the greater connection they have with Israel. 38% of those 65 and older feel a strong connection, 35% of those 50 and older feel a strong connection, and 25% of those between the ages of 18 and 49 feel very connected. The bottom line is that the younger generation is not as connected as we’d like them to be.

There’s another statistic which I’d like to share with you and I’ll do so shortly but it is the following statistic that I’d really like to focus on. There was one question posed that I think stands at the core of this study and that was: what does it mean to be Jewish? Only 43% of those interviewed answered that caring about Israel was part of their Jewish identity. 43%! Just to give you some context. 42% felt that being Jewish meant having a good sense of humor. That’s a 1% difference between the people feeling that Jacky Mason and Jerry Seinfeld are what most matter most and those who believe that Israel matters.

But the truth is that we don’t need the Pew study to teach us this. Go to any college campus and you will find groups of people who vilify Israel, people who rather embrace Hamas than the Israeli government. That in it of itself is distressing. But what is truly distressing is that so many of those people are actually Jewish.

Just last week there was an Haaretz editorial titled “Why young Jews are drifting away from Israel” in which the author suggested that “The problem is that when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jews on campus are looking to Israel’s leaders for vision and inspiration.” And he is 100% right, Jews on campus are looking for vision and inspiration. But then he goes on to suggest that if the Israeli government shows a greater commitment to peace the campuses will transform into being reconnected to Israel and its greatest advocates. And in this regard, I believe he is totally off the mark. Don’t get me wrong, he is entitled to his opinion about the politics of the peace process, but in my opinion politics have nothing to do with the lack of connection between young Jews and the Land of Israel.

You see, the young Jews that he is discussing are Jews who were not born before or immediately after the Holocaust. The next generation of Jews were not born while Israel was a little weakling hanging on for its existence. The next generation of Jews don’t even remember what Soviet Jewry was and what Israel did by taking them in. So before we discuss what political stance the current government in Israel should adopt, we have to explain to this next generation why Israel, despite being so far away, despite having a very imperfect government, and despite all its other shortcoming is actually very important. What these young Jews of the next generation are missing is a single compelling reason as to why Israel should matter to them. That is what they’re lacking.

What I really wish is that we could invite the students from the college campuses to a panel discussion – the What does Israel Represent Panel Discussion. To make it really meaningful we’d have to bring a few people back from the dead. We would have Theodore Herzl, David Ben Gurion, and maybe we’ll throw in Menachem Begin for good measure, and I of course would be the moderator. So help me out here. Lend me your imagination for a moment and let’s see how this discussion would go. (All I need to do is place three chairs behind me and Clint Eastwood would be proud.)

Mr. Herzl would speak eloquently in German about the need for a state that protects the Jewish People from anti-Semitism. He would argue that not only would the land of Israel be a safe haven from those who want to harm us but by demonstrating that we could be a nation like any other we would prevent further anti-Semitic views from being spread.

Ben Gurion would argue passionately. “Tislach li! Excuse me! But what are you talking about?” he would roar. “I grew up in Plonsk. There was no anti-Semitism there. On the contrary, when a gang Jews would encounter a group of young Poles, it was the Poles who were scared of the Jews, not vise versa! Israel? You want to know what Israel is?” he would ask. “Tishma, tishma, listen! Listen to this incredible quote from Jospeh Trumpledor, a person whose writings greatly inspired me:

“What is a pioneer? Is he a worker only? No! The definition includes much more. The pioneers should be workers but that is not all. We shall need people who will be “everything” – everything that the land of Israel needs. A worker has his labor interests, a soldier his esprit de corps, a doctor and an engineer, their special inclinations. A generation of iron-men; iron from which you can forge everything the national machinery needs. You need a wheel? Here I am. A nail, a screw, a block? – here take me. You need a man to till the soil? – I’m ready. A soldier? I am here. Policeman, doctor, lawyer, artist, teacher, water carrier? Here I am. I have no form. I have no psychology. I have no personal feeling, no name. I am a servant of Zion. Ready to do everything, not bound to do anything. I have only one aim – creation.”

“Aren’t his words magical?” Ben Gurion would conclude. “Israel is where the Jewish People have a chance to create a new identity. This is where we erase all those caricatures of hook-nosed cheats and depressing pictures of Jews being led to the slaughter. Israel is the creation of a new Jew; competent and capable, no worse than any other.”

Mr. Begin would slowly and deliberately unfold his Kippah from his pocket and put it on his head. “Israel,” he would say represents Jewish history. The land, and by the land I mean the entire land, is ours and we must do everything we can to hold on to it and protect from any enemies.”

And here’s where I would break the rules of being a moderator. I wouldn’t ask them an open ended question. I would tell them something. “With all due respect, Mr. Herzl, Mr. Ben Gurion, and Mr. Begin.” And by the way, I would mean it. I can’t tell you how much respect I have for each of them. “On the one hand I identify with everything you said. My grandparents came to Israel to heal from the wounds of the Holocaust. Yes, Israel is a safe haven from anti-Semitism. And yes, Israel did allow us to create a new vision of who we are. I personally burst with pride every time I see a picture of my father, uncle, cousins, or friends wearing their IDF uniforms. We are not a nation of push-overs. And I too have a strong sense of history and appreciate who walked the land of Israel and I also would like to make sure that its inhabitants are safe. That being said, Herr Herzl, I grew up in America and although I experienced isolated acts of anti-Semitism, I’m not scared of the world around us. Mr. Ben Gurion, I don’t feel a need to demonstrate the powers of the Jewish People, I am a product of the 21st century, diversity and multiculturalism is in. And Mr. Begin, though I agree that security is important, there are many people arguing that your vision of security is a little bit over the top. They actually think you’re fanatic. So why should I care about Israel?”

My friends, the disenchantment of our youth towards Israel is not politics. It’s a total lack of inspiration. It’s a total lack of understanding of what Israel really represents.

Now if I were asked the same question, not that I would ever be asked to sit on such a panel, I wouldn’t give any eloquent speeches. I would turn around and take out a Torah scroll and I would start reading. I would read, much to the delight of Mr. Begin, about the rich history that the Jewish People have shared with the land of Israel. But it’s more than that. Because I would read on, not only about the past, but I would read promises about the future, promises that have been fulfilled in our life, of the barren desert blooming. And I would read further about an End of Days during which the Temple will be rebuilt on that same soil. Israel represents the Jewish People’s past, present, and future.

I would read section after section that discuss laws that are uniquely limited to the land of Israel indicating that there is holiness, kedusha in the air of the land. And although I can’t define holiness for you, although it’s not something we can touch and feel, it’s real, it’s as real as the air we breathe.

I would read next week’s Parsha which teaches us that the Land of Israel is our home. And not just a home for the Jewish People but a home for us and G-d to live together. When we behave, we can stay, when we don’t we’re asked to leave.

So what does Israel represent? It represents everything. It is the place where all significant Jewish events of the past took place and all significant Jewish events of the future will take place. It is a place saturated with kedusha, with holiness. And it’s the place, the only place on this world, where man and G-d share a common ground. And through the generations it has reminded us of how close or how far we are from our Father in Heaven.

Everything else, the politics, land for peace, the Chareidi draft, EVERYTHING else is just the details. I am connected to the Land of Israel because I am connected to the Torah. Torah-based Zionism is the only version of Zionism that hasn’t gone out of style and cannot go out of style.

And now allow me to share with you one more statistic from the Pew study. According to their research the denomination that feels closest to Israel is the Modern Orthodox community. 77% of those who identify as Modern Orthodox feel a strong attachment to the land of Israel. The next closest group is the Ultra Orthodox at 55% followed by the Conservative at 47%.

That’s something we should celebrate but it’s also a responsibility. We, as a Modern Orthodox community, are good at identifying ourselves with the land. We’re good at supporting movements like AIPAC who ensure a strong bond between the two countries. And we’re good at sending letter to our alma maters if they allow anti-Semitic, or should I say “Anti-Israel” propaganda to be spewed on their campuses – which I really hope you do. But the only way to connect the next generation is by teaching them why we feel connected to the Land of Israel. And if we remind ourselves why, and remind our children why, and perhaps our children will teach their friends why, then perhaps we can train a new generation to be inspired and to see a vision of their Jewish lives that has Israel at its center.

This Tuesday, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, let’s not just wave that beautiful flag. Let’s take a moment to not only think about but to speak about what the flag represents. Let’s remind ourselves of our role as Jews; of our past and of our hopeful future, and the fact that we are in control of Israel means that as Jews we are living in historic times. Let’s remind ourselves that we believe in sanctity, in Kedusha, and now that we are blessed to walk its soil, we are able to become more sanctified. And let’s remind ourselves that our mere presence in the Land of Israel is indicative of a relationship between us and G-d that is stronger than it has been for the past two thousand years.

If you can’t join me in shul to do so publicly then do so privately – take a moment on Tuesday to thank G-d for blessing us with Israel. And hopefully, with our community at the helm we will merit not only a rebuilding of Jerusalem but a rebuilding of national character and pride, we will merit a reconnection of the children of Israel with the Land of Israel speedily in our days.

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Daily Halacha #12

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 7, 2014

After doing any one of the following one must wash their hands (not necessarily in the manner described above, a simple rinse suffices):

Waking up, upon exiting from a washroom, cutting one’s nails, a haircut/ shave, touching one’s shoes, intercourse, touching lice, scratching one’s head in an area that is normally covered, touching one’s body in an area that is normally covered, upon exiting from a cemetery,being within 8 feet of a corpse, being in the same building as a corpse, and giving blood.

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Daily Halacha #11

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 6, 2014

One who wakes up in middle of the night should wash their hands ‘Netials Yadayim’ and say the appropriate blessing.

If one subsequently stayed up the rest of the night until dawn, or in a situation where one is awake the entire night, one should wash their hands (at dawn/ upon awakening) but without a blessing.*

If one sleeps for over a half hour during the day one should wash their hands ‘Al Netilas Yadayim’ but without a blessing.

*The Mishna Berura argues that it would be best in these situations to use the washroom before praying Shacharis then wash one’s hands and say a blessing.

KSA 2:8

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Daily Halacha #7

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 1, 2014

As mentioned yesterday, one of the reasons to wash our hands is due to the spirit of impurity that rests upon them until washing. For this reason, one should strive to wash their hands as soon as possible after awakening. The Halacha is that a person should not even travel a distance of four amos (roughly eight feet) before washing one’s hands*. For the same reason, one should not touch any orifices on their body, nor should one touch food. However, a man should put on their tallis katan/ Tzitzis even before washing their hands.

*The Mishna Berura states that although it is ideal not to, one can consider their entire home as a distance of four amos.

KSA 2:1,2,5

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Daily Halacha #10

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 30, 2014

One is not allowed to say G-d’s Name if they need to relieve themselves. Therefore the proper procedure in the morning is to wash one’s hands to fulfill the Mitzvah of Netilas Yadayim, use the bathroom, and only then say the blessing of Baruch Ata… al Netilas Yadayim.*

*The Mishna Berurah suggests that if one knows they will use the restroom again before Shacharis then it is best to delay the blessing of Al Netilas Yaadyim until then. (In other words, one should wash one’s hands as it is described in DH #8, use the restroom, and then when using the restroom before Shacharis one would wash again in the manner described in DH # 8 after relieving themselves and then say the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim.)

KSA 2: 7

 

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Daily Halacha #9

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 1, 2014

In a scenario where one does not have a cup or water one could still wash their hands by turning on a faucet and putting one’s hands under it and/or by using any liquid. Dipping one’s hands in snow or a river is acceptable and even better than using a faucet. One may make the regular blessing in the aforementioned scenarios.

If even that is not available, one should run their hands against a rough surface to clean their hands and make a blessing of Baruch Ata…. al nekiyas yadayim (Who commanded us to clean our hands.). Later, when water is available they should wash without a blessing.

KSA 2:5,6

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Daily Halacha #8

By: Rabbi Motzen | May 1, 2014

The proper procedure for washing is as follows: One picks up the cup with their right hand (using the right hand is considered more respectful) and fills it up. One then passes the cup to their left hand and pours on to their right hand. One then passes the cup to their right hand and washes their left hand. One does this three times (*There are those who do so four times).

One should wash their face and mouth (not only for hygiene but) out of respect for G-d with Whom they will be communicating.

(KSA 2:3)

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