Friday, November 5, 2010

Using a timer

28th of Cheshvan, 5771

Although it is forbidden to activate an electrical appliance on Shabbat it is permitted to use or have a benefit from an electrical appliance that has been activated before Shabbat or that has been programmed before Shabbat to be activated on Shabbat.

This ruling is learned from the Mishna (2nd century, CE) where the Rabbis discussed a similar principle. They discussed, for example, if one can water his by activating the irrigation system before Shabbat and letting the water irrigate the fields during Shabbat. They also discussed if on Friday, one is allowed to set traps to hunt animals or nets on the water to catch fish during Shabbat.

The question is: are these 'personal' prohibitions, a person is not allowed to activate a device during Shabbat, or is it a 'device' prohibition (shebitat kelim), an object cannot be 'active' on Shabbat, even if it was activated or programmed from before Shabbat?

The conclusion of the Talmud is that the prohibition is for a person to activate his appliances or devices on Shabbat, but if these objects are activated or programmed from before Shabbat then, it is permitted to benefit from them.

In modern days, this principle is probably more relevant than ever, because many of our appliances could be activated automatically from before Shabbat.

The simplest example is a light timer. It is completely permitted to activate a light timer from Friday to turn on and off the lights on Shabbat.

For other appliances, there might be other things to consider, like noise, etc.

So, B'H next week we will learn about automatic appliances and their use during Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Candle lighting for NY: 5:29

Shabbat ends in NY: 6:36

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Turning the other cheek to Amaleq- POSITIVE RESENTMENT

27th of Cheshvan, 5771

Last week we explained the prohibition of hatred, and the ways to free our hearts from resentment by communicating our feelings to our offender and finally, forgive him.

There is one instance, however, in which we are not allowed to forgive/forget.

Let me explain:

The Torah explicitly indicates to not forgive/forget Amaleq (LO TISHKACH...)

The Torah mentions many enemies of the Jewish people. For example, the old Egyptians, who enslaved us for centuries! In an incredibly display of emotional magnanimity, the Tora instructs us to harbor no resentments toward them: "Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country".

But Amaleq was a different kind of enemy altogether. Amaleq were nomads. There was no land the Jewish people could take from them. Amaleq had no reason to feel threatened by the Hebrews. Israel never sought to attack Amaleq. Amaleq was not defending itself, as Moab was. Amaleq attacked the Jewish people for 'no reason'.

Amaleq is not the conventional enemy who is after your land or your possessions. Amaleq goes after your life, just because he can't tolerate your existence. He uses the excuse of the 'land', but he aims to destroy you.

Amaleq represents a very special kind of enemy, which, as far as I know, it is the Jewish people exclusive 'fate' to have: an existential or national enemy.

In this case the Tora says: do not forgive, do not forget.

Obviously,it is a practical reason of self-preservation what triggers this rule.

But there is more.

B'H next Thursday I will explain the moral reason behind LO TISHKACH.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is smoking Kosher?

In previous weeks we mentioned the rabbinical prohibition of eating fish and meat together. We explained that this wasn't a ritual prohibition (isur) but a rabbinical proscription, based on health considerations (sakana).

The Jewish people are commanded in the Torah to take care of their physical well being. The Torah (Debarim 4:9,15) states explicitly that one must keep a close watch over his health. Maimonides (Hilchot Rotseach 11:5 - 6) writes that one who engages in unhealthy activities and declares that he has the right to do as he wishes to his own body deserves a punishment. The Talmud (Hullin 9a) states explicitly that one must treat dangerous activities with greater stringency than one would treat Halakhically prohibited activities.

In modern days, most (if not all) Orthodox rabbis consider smoking cigarettes as a Halakhically forbidden activity.

Cigarette smoking causes a variety of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease. An estimated 400,000 deaths each year in the U.S. are caused directly by cigarette smoking. Smoking is responsible for changes in all parts of the body, including the digestive system. This fact can have serious consequences because it is the digestive system that converts foods into the nutrients the body needs to live.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef points out that just as we rely on the wisdom of doctors to permit doing otherwise forbidden activities on Shabbat or eating on Yom Kippur, so too we are required to listen to them and distance ourselves from those activities they deem dangerous, like smoking.

For a full Halakhic discussion and a modern Rabbinic ruling on smoking, click here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The 5th berakha: Accept our repentance

25th of Cheshvan, 5771

In this berakha we ask God for His assistance in our teshuba, repentance.

Literally, 'teshuba' menas 'coming back' , in the sense of 'coming back to the right path'.

This berakha says:

Bring us back our Father to Your Tora

'Sinning' is above all, a consequence of loosing temporarily our mind and reason. en adam ba lide chet... 'a person would not sin, unless he is possessed by a temporary spirit of foolishness'. When we recover our intelligence, as we requested in the previous blessing, the first thing we realize is that abandoning the right path was not a good idea...

And Bring us closer, our King, to Your service.

Tora is the 'Instructions Manual for life' and 'service' is God's worship, the application of what we study in Your Tora.

And make us return to You completely.

When we say: bring us , make us... we don't mean literally 'that'. Our moral actions are up to our freedom of choice. All what we are asking God is for 'help', assistance and 'inspiration' to do the right thing.

Baruch Ata.. harotse bistshuba.

Blessed are you, God, who desires/love 'repentance'. A very important Jewish principle is that God love us like a father loves his children. God does not take any enjoyment in punishing a bad son. As a loving Father, all God wants from His children is for come back to the right path. This is harotse bitshuba: God desires our teshuba, because He wants our good.

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024

Monday, November 1, 2010

How NOT to honor our parents

24th of Cheshvan, 5771

Actions and attitudes

Keeping our parent's dignity while performing the Mitzvah of Honoring our parents, is learned from a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud, which states that it is possible to feed one's parents succulent hens and still be considered a wicked son, while it is also possible to force one's parent work on a grindstone and be considered a righteous son.

The Talmud illustrates these two cases with two real stories:

First case, a son gave his father succulent luxurious food, but when the father asked where the food came from, the son answered "Quiet, old man. A dog eats quietly, so you should eat quietly." This son, the Talmud says 'inherits hell'.
The second case involved a son who worked at the grindstone for his father. One day, the King summoned grindstone workers to the palace to endure back-breaking work. The King expected one worker per family. The son decided to tell his fatherto take his place at the family's grindstone and to work, so that the father would not suffer or be treated in an undignified manner before the king. The son goes to do back-breaking work for the King instead of his father. This son, the Talmud says, 'inherits paradise'.

Many times honoring our parents depends mainly on our attitude.

When we take care of our parents, we should do our best so they should never feel they are a burden for us. They should never feel humiliated while we attend their needs.

Adapted from The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues (Rabbi Amsel)

Rabbi Yosef Bitton. YMJC 130 Steamboat Rd. Great Neck NY 11024