web analytics
July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
Israel at War: Operation Protective Edge
 
 
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Kiddush Hashem’

Kaddish: Bridging Two Worlds

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The first time I recited Kaddish was when my father passed away.

Our shul did not have a daily minyan so I went to a different one where I knew some people. When I was the chazzan there, some said I was too slow and some said I was too fast. Not sure how I could be both too slow and too fast, I decided to relinquish my chazzan role and just recite Kaddish at the appropriate times.

To be honest, during those eleven months I didn’t think a lot about the words I was saying. I just hoped that my father could hear my voice trying to connect to his memory.

Now, more than 28 years later, I am trying to understand as much as I can about the meaning of those ancient words.

Perhaps no other time is as traumatic as when our parents or other loved ones leave this world. At times, death comes with gentleness and a kiss from heaven; at other times it comes with the harsh rod of illness, infirmity and pain.

As long as a loved one is still alive, we have some physical connection. We can touch a hand, kiss a forehead, sit quietly by a bedside. But when the final moment comes, the loved one is gone from our lives forever.

It is at these very difficult moments that we yearn for a bridge between this world and the next, one that can enable us to remain connected to the memories of those who were so close to us.

One such bridge is provided by the Kaddish prayer. While not actually mentioning anything about death, it emphasizes the idea of “Kiddush Hashem, the sanctifying of God’s name. And perhaps it also conveys the sanctifying of life itself. Our parents or loved ones may have left us physically, but they also left us the responsibility to carry on their legacy. Nothing could be more sacred.

By emphasizing God’s Name, we are also emphasizing our connection with our parents and loved ones. Just as God is always present but unseen, so, too, the presence of our loved ones can be felt even though we can no longer see them or be with them. And yet we are attempting to enter a mystical world we know nothing about and cannot fathom. Nonetheless, we know we must continue the chain, the link with our past and our memories.

In the Talmud (Berachot 3), there is a profound discussion about the meaning and significance of the Kaddish. R. Yose, the Talmudic sage and student of R’ Akiva, enters one of the destroyed buildings of Jerusalem in order to pray. At the entrance, the prophet Elijah waits for him to finish his prayers and then asks him what voice he heard in the building. R’ Yose replies that he heard a dove’s voice saying: “Woe to the children [of Israel] who have been exiled, and for whose sins I have destroyed the holy Temple.”

Elijah responds that there is another voice – the voice of the children of Israel who utter the words, in synagogues and houses of study, “May His great name be blessed forever and ever.” When God hears those words, He nods His head and says: “Happy is the King whose [children] praise Him in His house; woe to the Father who exiled His children, and woe to the children who have been exiled from the table of their father.”

The genius of the rabbis is revealed in this aggadic interlude that reveals so much about the background of the times and the message that Kaddish has for all generations.

In a historical context, the Kaddish was established after the destruction of the Temple. The destruction, or churban, signified an enormous crisis in the nation. The Romans not only defeated the Jews, they destroyed everything that was sacred to them. Thousands of Torah scholars were gone. Communication with God through sacrifices and festivals was gone. Was there any hope for a future? And if there was, how and what would help the distraught people? R’ Yose was mired in thoughts of the destruction that had occurred only a few generations before. He entered the destroyed city of Jerusalem feeling there was no hope for a revival of the holiness of the Jewish people.

But Elijah, representing the hope for redemption and the reaffirmation of faith, proclaimed that Jews still enter the houses of study and synagogues, and they still profess their belief in God, no matter how distant and remote He might seem. Elijah echoed the words of R’ Akiva himself, who declared in tractate Yoma (chapter 8, mishnah 9): “Happy are you Israel before whom you purify yourselves, and who purifies you, your father in heaven.”

Two thousand years later, we still find comfort in those words.

Similarly, when a loved one departs, we experience a personal crisis. We do not know how we will continue after his or her death. We still feel the loved one’s presence and long to hold on to our connection. And then comes the recitation and the words of the Kaddish, which serves as a bridge between this world and the next. By emphasizing God’s Name, we are also emphasizing our connection with our parents and loved ones. Just as God is always present but unseen, so, too, the presence of our loved ones can be felt even though we can no longer see them or be with them.

We find this expression of the Kaddish as a bridge between two worlds in the following excerpts from Rabbi Stephen Savitsky’s moving and inspiring “A Private Conversation with My Kaddish”:

You were my link to the past,
My liaison to my loved one.
You allowed me to say thank you
For the thousands of times I never did.
In you I found comfort;
With eyes closed, uttering striking words
I relived moments of my life
That are now history….

I am convinced that you provided
Joy and satisfaction to my dear father
Every day he awaited my prayer
Affirming all that he lived for and believed in.
Together, the three of us transcended two worlds….

In recently joining with my wife saying Kaddish for her mother, I have found more and more layers of meaning in the ancient words composed by our rabbis. May all those who are saying Kaddish for their loved ones be comforted.

Does Elu V’Elu Mean Tolerating the Intolerable?

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

These men, too, are my brothers.  Although it is getting more difficult than ever to think of them that way. Most people know the issues I have with Satmar. There are many. But for purposes of this essay I will focus on their strident opposition to the existence of the State of Israel.

As I have said many times, they have every right to believe as they do, and state their case loudly and clearly. It is a view based on the now deceased Satmar Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum. The  3 oaths mentioned in the Gemarah (Kesuvos 111a) prevent the Jewish people from any right to rule in the land of Israel. So under any condition, even if the state was ruled entirely by a Charedi government, they would still be opposed to it. As much as I vehemently disagree with them, I respect their right to hold these views. Elu V’Elu.

What I do not respect is the stridency by which they express those views… and the extent to which they go to make their point.

It started with the Satmar Rebbe himself, who referred to Rav Kook as an Ish Tzar V’Oyev because of his pro State views. This attitude has spread far beyond Satmar and is used to justify one Chilul HaShem after another by the Satmar Rebbe’s admirers in Meah Shearim and elsewhere. The very same attitude is responsible for the fringe Neturei Kartaniks who embrace people like Iran’s Ahmadinejad. Who espouses wiping Israel off the map… something I’m sure would get the approval of Satmar and all their sympathizers if done in a peaceful way. They have clearly stated that this is their goal.

Yesterday they did it again. They called for a rally in Manhattan. This was a rare moment of unity between the feuding brothers Teitelbaum – each claiming to be the heir to the Satmar throne. They called out their ‘troops’ in this cause. The result was a massive rally as can be seen in the photos at VIN. I’m sure they would call this a tremendous success and Kiddush HaShem.

Their stated purpose for this protest was their opposition to the Israeli draft of Charedim. In this they have the support of many Charedi rabbinic leaders. But their underlying antipathy for the State should not be over-looked. I believe this was true motivation for this rally. Here was yet another opportunity to bash Israel.  I’m sure they relished the moment.

The Centrist RCA condemned the rally. No surprise there. But many Charedi rabbinic leaders opposed that rally too, starting with R’ Aharon Leib Steinman. R’ Chaim Kanievsky added his name to R’ Steinman’s. And in America so too did Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky.

Back to Satmar. I do not see how a protest like this benefits Klal Yisroel in any way no matter how one feels about drafting Charedim. How is a public demonstration in Manhattan going to impact in any way on the government in Israel’s decision to equalize the draft? Especially if the protest was made by people who believe in dismantling the State?

Do they think Netanyahu will say, ‘Oh, Satmar is opposed to the draft… What was I thinking?!’ Or do they just think a rally like this will catch on with the greater Charedi public because of their leaders’ own strident opposition to the draft? Or perhaps they believe that a massive demonstration by a monolithic group of Chasidim that have separated themselves from the rest of the civilized world will somehow strike a chord with the American people?

Why did they do it? The answer to this is – I believe – of an entirely different nature. This was simply an opportunity to capitalize on something they thought would have universal appeal in the Charedi world. It is a sort of ‘I told you so’ moment… saying, ‘See how evil the Israeli government is?’ ‘You thought co-operating with them and getting funded was worth it?!’ ‘Well… what do you say now?!’ ‘Come join us in our goal to dismantle the Jewish State.’

I don’t think it worked. As I said, mainstream Orthodoxy condemned it, and Charedi rabbinic leaders were opposed to it. I hope they were as appalled at this demonstration as I was. But even if they were as appalled as I was and expressed it publicly, I doubt that that would sway Satmar in any way.
The only question is – how is this going to affect the relationship between mainstream Charedim and Satmar in the future? Will there ever again be a call from a Lakewood Rosh Yeshiva (or Mashgiach) to invite Satmar to one of its own rallies? … as was the case with the internet Asifa last year? Will they still chase down Satmar and capitulate to all their demands on how to conduct an Asifa, just to get them to attend?

Isn’t it about time to realize that Satmar is so far away from mainstream Orthodoxy – and even mainstream Charedim – that they should never again want to participate with them on any matters? Isn’t standing on the same stage with them in some way legitimizing them? I have heard that said in other contexts!

Like I said, this is not about Elu V’Elu anymore. This is about tolerating antics that are anathema to the Torah world in the name of their Shitos. In my view it should not be any more acceptable to stand with Satmar than it is to stand with Neturei Karta who have made clear their love affair with the President of Iran.  They may not go that far themselves. But the hatred of the Jewish state is the same.

Update
Apparently the speaker in the photo above is Rav Eli Ber Wachtfogel. He is a Litvishe Charedi Rosh HaYeshiva. I’m told that there were also many other non Chasidic Litvishe type Charedi rabbinic leaders there too – like Chaim Berlin’s Rosh HaYeshiva, R’ Aharon Schecther.

Rav Schechter has walked in lockstep with Litvishe Charedi rabbinic leaders in Israel with respect to their bans. I recall his strident attack against Rabbi Natan Slifkin at an event held at a Modern Orthodox Shul in Teaneck a few years ago.  Rabbi Slifkin was viciously attacked for having the Chutzpah to challenge Israeli Gedolim with respect to the ban on his books. And yet yesterday he decided to ignore the call by some of these very same Gedolim to not participate in this demonstration. I find this very hard to reconcile.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

100 Jewish Teens Kicked off a Plane: a Teaching Moment

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

I will never forget watching my elementary school principal pick food out of the trash and thinking I hope he doesn’t find my lunch. I was a picky eater (I still am) and the principal was a Holocaust survivor.

He was a principal that did not use classroom management techniques to get our attention because he did not need to.  He had a short, white beard, a limp from an injury he sustained shortly before liberation, a steely stare and a commanding voice with a strong accent. If he so much as looked at you, you immediately became quiet. When he walked into the room, you did not have to be told to stand up out of respect.

And, as a man who nearly starved to death at Auschwitz, he did not tolerate wasting food.

He would walk up to the microphone with a half-eaten sandwich in hand and demand, “Whose is this”? The guilty party would walk to the front of the room on shaky legs and retrieve their sandwich along with a strict admonishment not to waste food. And after being called out like that, you learned your lesson: you did not waste food.

Kids aren’t like that anymore. Neither are principals.

In the eight years between the time I graduated elementary school to the time I entered the classroom as a teacher, it seemed things had changed. Teachers were no longer “always right”. And kids were no longer afraid of teachers, principals or parents.

Perhaps it was the advancement of technology–cell phones barely existed when I was in 8th grade; when I walked into my first 8th grade classroom as a teacher, nearly every student had one.  When I was in school, if you dared use chutzpa in front of a a teacher, you sweated all day, knowing the teacher would call your parents and that you would be in hot water when you got home. Now, when every kid has a cell phone in school, they can often call their parents to complain about the “unfair teacher” so that by the time the teacher can get near a phone at the end of the school day to discuss the child’s inappropriate behavior, the parent has already called the principal to complain about the teacher. Accountability is no longer a word that is stressed in homes and schools, and it seems that the plague of self-entitlement has resulted in its stead. And this is not the fault of our children and students, but rather the fault lies with us- the parents and educators.

One of the lead stories this morning is “100 Jewish Teens Kicked Off Plane” and the article goes on to explain how 100 (or 101) Jewish students from the Orthodox Yeshiva of Flatbush (a great school and my mother’s alma mater) were kicked off a flight on their way to a school trip, due to “rowdy behavior.” When you look at other articles, it appears there are different accounts of what actually happened on that flight and whether or not the decision of the airline was warranted. Whatever actually took place, it is clear that some of those students were not acting appropriately on the flight. By all accounts, some did not put their phones away on when they were asked to and had to be told to sit down. I would argue that this behavior is typical of a group of teens flying on a school trip. I don’t think it has anything to do with the fact that they are Jewish.

However, anyone who read this news story probably had the same thought I had: what a chillul Hashem-  a desecration of God’s name. And for me, it brought to mind a memory of Rabbi Friedman.

Before every school trip, from first grade to when I was in sixth grade when he retired, Rabbi Friedman got onto the school bus before we departed and gave us the same speech. “You are Jewish boys and girls. Everywhere you go, people will know that you are Jews. They will be watching you to see how you behave. You have the choice to make a Kiddush Hashem or to make a Chillul Hashem” and then giving us no choice but to obey, he fixed us with his steely glance and said, “Make sure you make a Kiddush Hashem.”

Are the Ultra Orthodox Incapable of Seeing God Fearing in National Religious Jews?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Last Friday, Cross Currents published an essay by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein that I consider to be of seminal importance. It is illustrative of one of the biggest problems impeding the future of Judaism. It involves the way the Charedi world is educated and the reaction of at least one of their rabbinic leaders to it. It is almost as if he had an epiphany.

The article itself involves a Kiddush HaShem that was done by Akiva Finkelstein, an 18-year old Dati Leumi honors student in Israel, and in and of itself is not anything we haven’t seen before. From Cross Currents:

An honor student in a dati Leumi school, he trained for eight years, and became Israel’s welterweight champion, and representative at an international competition in Armenia. Scheduled to fight motza’ei Shabbos, a change in the rules demanded that he be weighed in on Shabbos itself. His father flew in to help argue the case for him, and convinced the powers that be that Akiva could not get on the scale, but it would be OK if the officials lifted him on to the scale. At the appointed hour, the overall boss balked at this in a monumental act of small-mindedness, and told Akiva that he would either step on the scale himself or be disqualified. The secular Israeli coach urged him to do it. Akiva refused; in a single instant, he sacrificed eight years of training.

It was indeed a tremendous sacrifice and a true Kiddush HaShem. Unfortunately, the story does not end there. Rabbi Adlerstein goes on to tell how an unnamed Torah personality contacted him about the reaction by some members of his own Charedi community. He was extremely upset by it. What upset him? Again – from Cross Currents:

These comments gave Akiva no credit for the decision, but denigrated the eight years of training. Think of all the Torah he could have learned in the time he spent outside the Bais Medrash! Akiva was a loser, and so were his parents.

If I were to say that this reaction sickened me and ask what is becoming of the Yeshiva world – I would be called a Charedi basher. That is in fact how I have reacted many times to this kind of thinking.

But it was not me reacting to it this time. That was precisely the reaction this Torah personality had. In fact if one goes on to read the rest of Rabbi Adlerstein’s description of that personality’s reaction it could have easily have been me saying it. Bottom line is that he asked Rabbi Adlerstein to write about it.

That is the silver lining of hope for change in Charedi education.

It was very revealing that what many if us have known for years about the attitude of some on the right, is apparently proven to be a fact. It is also gratifying to know that a Torah personality is now aware of it and is pained by it.

I have written extensively in the past about correcting this erroneous Hashkafa that Charedi students have somehow incorporated into their thinking. At least there are now Charedi leaders that see this too. And saying so. At least anonymously. But the fact that this leader refuses to both be identified or personally address the problem in his own words and instead asks that a surrogate do it for him is part of the problem too.

I can attempt a guess at who it might have been. I know two members of the Agudah Moetzes personally and one by reputation and all three could have had this reaction. But it could have been anyone – including those who are not on the Agudah Moetzes.

I’m glad that there are Charedi leaders on the same page with me on this. But the fact that they refuse to make their views public and put the power and prestige of their own names behind it is one reason the problem will no doubt be perpetuated. This silver lining therefore contains a cloud.

What will it take to make this Charedi Rabbinic leader come out of the closet on this? I would be willing to bet that he is not the only one among his peers that feels that way. Being pained is not enough. Even making it known in an anonymous way is not enough. If the pendulum is to swing back sooner rather than later on this it’s going to take a lot more than expressing pain anonymously.

I don’t know why he refused to be identified. My hope is that he reads my comments or others like it and reconsiders. It is only then that a community that views the concept of Daas Torah as embodied by their Gedolim as defacto infallible that things have any chance of changing.

A word about criticizing Charedi rabbinic leaders.

There are some people that will see this post as a jumping off point for bashing members of the Agudah Moetzes and other Charedi rabbinic leaders. That would be terribly wrong in my view. I know there is a lot of anger out there about the reactions of the right about issues affecting the Jewish people. Good and well-intentioned people are perplexed by it.

But just as there are reasons that good and sincere people are upset, does not make those they are upset at bad people, God forbid. Charedi rabbinic leaders like those on the Agudah Moetzes are sincere too. They too have integrity. I firmly believe that they are as truthful and devout as their reputations indicate. They firmly believe that everything they do and say in the public arena is in the best interest of the Jewish people. And they have a lot more Torah knowledge that most of us.

That they can and sometimes do make mistakes is because they are human. It is also true that differing Hashkafos will sometimes lead to different interpretations of what is seen as a mistake. It is therefore entirely wrong to denigrate them in any way. What we may do is respectfully disagree with them. Which is a standard I try and maintain when I do it. I ask that if people comment on this – that they do the same.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

A Nation Of Ballerinas

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Readers are always asking me how I have the strength to open my heart, to tell my personal story, my struggles, my pain. My saintly father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, taught us that whenever we have difficult challenges we should share them with others, so that they will be strengthened in dealing with their own tests. My father learned this from our Torah, which relates to us all the painful struggles of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. “Ma’aseh avos siman la’banim – that which befell our forefathers is a sign for the children” – so that we too might be fortified.

Ours is a generation that has been overwhelmed by “tzarus” – real problems. And yet ours is the “me” generation. We are absorbed with ourselves. We see only our own needs. Very often it happens that when we hear about the tzarus of another, we shrug our shoulders and dismiss our neighbor’s pain.

Here is another lesson we learned from our forefathers: No matter how terrible their pain, no matter how much suffering they endured, they felt the hearts of others, prayed for them and shed tears for them. That too is part of ma’aseh avos siman la’banim. Their responses are our guiding light, teaching us that when we feel despair we are to focus on the needs of others, and this will help us to resolve and deal with our own crises.

Many of you will recall that back in April I wrote an article from my hospital bed in San Diego titled “I Will Keep Dancing.” In it, I described how the nurses had dubbed me a “prima ballerina” as they observed me take my first painful steps.

I asked myself, “Are they mocking me?” But no, they couldn’t be, they were so kind and respectful. They were non-Jews who reverently called me Rebbetzin, and made every effort to pronounce that foreign word properly.

I thought about it and it occurred to me that Hashem was sending me a message. “Esther bas Miriam – don’t you know you are a ballerina? Yes, you may be in a valley but you must skip your way to the mountaintop. Hold on, don’t lose control. Swallow your tears and keep going.”

My daughter reminded me, “Ima, you rose from the ashes of Hitler’s inferno, and so of course you are a ballerina. You will rise again, keep on dancing.”

And so I did. We Jews are all ballerinas. We may fall, but we rise with glorious strength.

I share with you now my new dance. I was on a European speaking tour. My first stop was Paris. Thousands came to listen. We had an awesome Kiddush Hashem. Jews young and old, male and female, secular and observant, all gathered under one roof. The audience was standing room only. Hearts were reawakened to a greater commitment to Torah and mitzvos.

And then there was also the pain, the terrible test that faces Jews of every generation. Our brethren in France are in need of a lot of chizuk – strength. The hatred of Jews is constantly escalating. Tragically, I found the same conditions in communities throughout Europe. Europe has become “Eurabia.”

My last stop before returning to New York was Budapest, where I had the zechus – the merit – to conduct a Shabbaton. Incredibly, three hundred seventy-five people showed up – a spectacular achievement in Hungary. After Shabbos, I was on my way to the gravesites of my holy ancestors, going back many generations, when suddenly my dance was put on hold. I became ill and ended up in a hospital in Budapest. Need I tell you, a hospital in Budapest wouldn’t have been my exact choice as far as hospitals go. But then I remembered yet another teaching from the Patriarchs.

Our father Jacob was finally on his way back to Eretz Yisrael after twenty-two years in exile. He suffered, struggling and going through all manner of trials and tribulations. And yet he never gave up his faith. He was the ultimate “ballerina.” Finally, he came home to Eretz Yisrael. He hoped, he prayed, that now in his old age he would have peace, tranquility and serenity.

But no sooner did he arrive than the most awful calamity occurred – his sons sold their brother Joseph into bondage and told their elderly father that he had been killed by a wild beast.

Who Is Sandy?!

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

“Sandy gives New York a real thrashing!” screamed the headlines. “Hmmm, who exactly is Sandy and why is she thrashing New York,” I wonder. How about this one: (an exact quote) “For all those left homeless, for all those left scared and frightened, there is an enormous lesson from this hurricane – mother nature will do what she wants, when she wants, and our modern world can only bow before it.” Now I am really confused – who is this mother and why is she acting so mean – aren’t mothers supposed to be nice? And more so – what exactly is this “enormous” lesson? Why should I bow to her?

Baruch Hashem, we Torah abiding Jews know the truth. Even though the meteorologists have explained what brought about Hurricane Sandy and the post-tropical superstorm that resulted, we know the cause of all those factors. Hashem, the “Cause of all Causes,” orchestrated this great showing of His Power, and there was a reason for it. We do not have prophets who can tell us which one of the many sins of our world was the basis for the great punishment Hashem inflicted – nor is it our job to point fingers. We must share in the pain and suffering of those who experienced bodily harm or damage to their property, and offer whatever help possible. The outpouring of chesed seen in our communities created a great Kiddush Hashem and is definitely a great zechus for Klal Yisroel. On the other hand, the Gemara in Yevomos (63a) tells us that when punishment comes to the world it is to teach us a lesson. Let us suggest one possible lesson that Hashem was teaching us when He sent Sandy to the East Coast.

The Downside Of Modern Technology

Rav Aryeh Leib Kahn (Rosh Kollel Yad Halevi Kiryat Sefer) once pointed out that with the rapid advancement of modern technology we are in danger of becoming distanced from Hashem. For example, before the advent of cell phones, if you traveled out of town, and suddenly started to worry that perhaps you forgot to turn off the fire under a pot, there was nothing to do other than daven to Hashem that everything will be okay. But now, all you need to do is whip out your cell, call the neighbor and ask them to make sure the fire is out!

The more technology we have, the more we can chas v’sholom, forget Hashem. With our heated and (supposedly) waterproof homes, fitted with gas, electricity, and running water, we feel prepared. This mindset is the antithesis to the reason for our existence, as Hashem created us to become close to Him. The more trust we put in our own actions, the further we become from Hashem. To save us from this serious error and its dreadful results, once in a while Hashem sends us a reminder that He is the one in charge. Sometimes the wakeup call is on a small scale, to an individual in his own private life – and sometimes, like now, it is an extremely painful one to a larger community.

What Can We Put Our Trust In?

In the “olden days,” when night fell, the day ended. But in the modern day, that has changed. Everywhere we go, bright lights make it seem like daytime – we feel that we have conquered the darkness. When we are suddenly thrown into pitch-blackness, we realize that Hashem is the one who is lighting up our nights. When we cannot use all our electric powered appliances and devices, we realize how vulnerable we really are. When a tree comes crashing down on two pedestrians the day after the storm, we remember that we only make it home safely because Hashem is protecting us. And when ferocious winds, which sound like a freight train rattling through the empty streets, hurl objects through the air, we realize what it would be like if Hashem were not usually holding back those winds. When the temperatures begin to drop and the heat does not work, we see that we have no control over the cold. And taking cold showers certainly is not pleasant.

But the lessons don’t stop there. Hashem wanted to show us that He is always “ahead of the game.” Many people weren’t scared of power outages because they had generators to produce their own electricity. But even that doesn’t always help. In some places, the generator was flooded and stopped working. In others, due to the gasoline shortage, there isn’t fuel to power the generator! Many felt secure with their cell phones – they would be affecting by down phone lines – and then the cell phone services were disrupted because cell towers were down.

Are There Times One May Kill Himself?

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

Toward the end of this week’s parshah Rashi quotes a Medrash that relates the familiar episode of when Avraham Avinu was thrown into a furnace. Rashi recounts that Avraham’s father, Terach, had reported to Nimrod that his son had broken all of his idols. Avraham was then thrown into a fire and was saved. The wording of the Medrash, however, is that Avraham had gone into the fire by himself (kesheyarad Avraham letoch kivshan ha’eish – when Avraham went into the fire, and in another place it says that Nimrod decreed that he should leireid lekivshan ha’eish – go down into the fire).

Several Acharonim were bothered by this event. First, they ask how Avraham could have thrown himself into a fire. Although avodah zarah is one of the three aveiros for which one must sacrifice his or her life instead of transgressing – in addition, when one is forced to perform any aveirah in public before 10 or more people, the person’s life must be given up instead of committing a transgression – there is nevertheless a dispute among the Rishonim as to whether one may actively kill himself or only allow himself to be killed. Second, the Acharonim ask that since bnei Noach are not commanded in Kiddush Hashem, if a ben Noach is forced to transgress he should do so and not give up his life.

Earlier in the parshah the Torah commanded Noach that although animals may now be killed humans may not be killed. The pasuk says: “v’ach es dimchem lenafshoseichem edrosh – but the blood of your souls I will seek.” Rashi brings the drasha that this is the source in the Torah that one may not kill oneself. The Das Zekeinim Miba’alei Tosafos quote an ambiguous Medrash and offer two interpretations of that Medrash that differ on this point. The Medrash makes a drasha that teaches us whether we should or should not be like Chananya Mishael and Azarya, and whether Shaul Hamelech – who killed himself before he would have been captured – acted correctly, for as the pasuk here says: ach, to exclude. One opinion says that the Medrash teaches us that one may kill oneself or others to prevent avodah zarah. The other opinion says that one may only allow himself to be killed; one may never kill to prevent avodah zarah.

Tosafos continues by saying that in his time there was a decree against the Jews (one of the crusades), and that one rabbi was slaughtering little children in an effort to prevent them from growing up in the church. Another rabbi, angered with this practice, called the first rabbi a murderer and said that if he is correct, the first rabbi will die a strange death. Indeed, the first rabbi was captured and given a strange death. In short order, the decree was abolished.

The Gemara in Avodah Zarah 18a says that when Rabbi Chanina ben Tiradyon was being killed, his students asked him to open his mouth so he would die faster. He responded that he could not do this since that would be considered as if he was killing himself. The Ritvah, on that Gemara and quoting the same Medrash, says that Rabbeinu Tam ruled that one is permitted to take his own life under such circumstances.

Returning to the original question, it is possible that Avraham did not go into the fire himself but rather allowed himself to be thrown into the fire – as seems to be the case from Rashi’s wording. Thus, in that event, the first question is not applicable. But if we understand the events as the Medrash implies, we must then explain the opinion that one may never kill oneself (in this case, that Avraham went into the fire on his own). Additionally, even if we understand that he was thrown into the fire we must still explain that if he had the status of a ben Noach, he should have transgressed and not allowed himself to be killed.

The Maharimt suggests that since Avraham Avinu, as a ben Noach, should have transgressed and not be killed, he acted incorrectly by allowing himself to be killed. He says that it is for this reason that the Medrash says that Avraham was saved in the zechus of Yaakov Avinu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/are-there-times-one-may-kill-himself/2012/10/17/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: