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August 31, 2014 / 5 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rambam’

Lech Lecha: The Most Important Lesson We Can Teach Our Kids (And Ourselves)

Friday, October 26th, 2012

The new Jewish year is still young. The new Parshas HaShavua cycle is but a few weeks old. It is indeed time for new beginnings.

This is part of the reason why we read about the birth of the Jewish nation and of the challenges and successes of the most important man, Avraham Avinu. Can you even begin to imagine the uphill battle he mounted – standing against the entire world and their pagan and polytheistic beliefs? One man against the world and Avraham succeeded beyond his wildest dreams – to this day most of mankind has monotheistic beliefs because of him!

The obvious connection of the haftorah to our parsha is the description of Avraham Avinu. Hashem calls him, “Avraham Ohavi, Avraham, The One Who Loved Me (Yeshaya 41:8).” Rav Yaakov Weinberg, ztl, my Rebbe and the rosh hayeshiva of Ner Yisrael in Baltimore, would often point to this pasuk as the most unique of phrases, a totally different way of portraying a tzaddik and leader of the Jewish people. No one else, not even Moshe Rabbeinu, merited being referred to in such a loving way by HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Why did Avraham do to merit this highest of compliments? It was all due to his tireless efforts to fight for the belief in Hashem, the One G-d, Creator of the world.

Listen to a Rambam; actually, listen to two Rambams:

“Once Avraham was weaned, he, as a child, began contemplating and thinking day and night, and wondered how the world could follow a fixed path without being directed. Surely it would be impossible for it to rotate on its own! Avraham did not have a mentor, but was immersed among the foolish idolaters of Ur Casdim, where everyone, including his mother and father, served idols, as did he originally. In his heart, however, he continued to contemplate, until he realized the way of truth and understood the ways of righteousness from nature, and knew that there is a G-d who created the world, and besides whom there is no other god.

“He also knew that the whole world was erring . . . Once he achieved this, he began to reason with the inhabitants of Ur Casdim and to argue with them, saying that by serving idols they were not following the way of truth. He broke their images, and began to proclaim that it is not fitting to serve anyone other than G-d . . . Avraham also proclaimed that it was fitting to break and destroy all the figures, so that nobody will err on account of them . . .He went and gathered people together from cities and kingdoms, until he reached the land of Canaan, where he continued his proclamations . . .Since people were coming to him with questions about this matter, he would answer the people so that they would return to the way of truth, until thousands and tens of thousands came to him. These were the people of the house of Avraham. He placed this important principle in their way of thinking, wrote books, and taught it to his son Yitzchak.” (Rambam, Avoda Zara, 1:3, paraphrased)

What an amazing life Avraham lived! We don’t begin to truly appreciate what he accomplished!!

And now listen to the second Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvos, Mitzvah 3, Loving Hashem, paraphrased):

“Our Sages also said that this mitzvah includes calling out to all mankind to serve G‑d and to believe in Him. This is because when you love a person, you praise him and call out to others to draw close to him. So too, if you truly love G‑d, you will certainly spread this true knowledge that you know to as many others as possible.

“We see that this mitzvah includes spreading love for G‑d to others from the Sifri: ‘You shall love G‑d, meaning to make Him beloved among the creatures as your father Avraham did.’

“Avraham, as a result of his deep understanding of G‑d, acquired love for G‑d, as the verse [Ed: in our haftorah] testifies, ‘Avraham, who loved Me.’ This powerful love therefore caused him to call out to all mankind to believe in G‑d. So too, you shall love Him to the extent that you draw others to Him.”

Speaking Only Hebrew?

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

A leisurely Shabbat stroll around town recently turned a calming experience into a rather upsetting one, as graffiti sprayed on quite a few buildings in my neighborhood defaced the beautiful Jerusalem stone with the words; “Dabru Ivrit/Speak Hebrew”!

While not naïve to believe that this is part of a constructed effort to enhance the speaking of Hebrew, its wording reminded me of the endless times that speaking to a family member or friend in the language of this article resulted in those passing by or eavesdropping saying the exact same retort as well.

While both seem to be an attempt to listen in and understand a conversation that, frankly, is none of their business, this two-word graffiti hit on a more essential issue that concerns almost any Oleh who devotedly went as Avraham  “from your land, from your birthplace, from the home of your ancestors, to the land…” (Beresheit 12:1) that is very different from whence they originated. Once the move is made, the challenge arises as to the extent of changing the habits and customs from the old country, amongst them the language in which one will speak at home (and in public) with those that comprehend your own mother tongue.

At the outset, I personally encourage and teach my rabbis and teachers in-training to learn the culture and language of the countries they will serve in the future. So too, I believe that when living in Israel, one should do all one can to learn the language of the land. In both cases, it would be almost impossible to feel the pulse of the people, and thus try to impact them, if one doesn’t speak the language of the locale.

All the more so when it comes to Hebrew. While modern Hebrew is not totally synonymous with the original “holy language,” many of the common words and terms we use are part of it. Thus, in the view of the Rambam when speaking Hebrew, one is fulfilling one of the “easy” mitzvot (Interpretation to Tractate Avot 2:1). Finally, there is no question that knowing modern Hebrew would make the study of Torah all the more easier and accessible.

Therefore, while born in the U.S., I am very happy that G-d has privileged me the ability to speak, write and teach equally in both.

Having said that, the majority of those who have made Aliyah (myself included) have decided to continue speaking in the language of their origin, be it at home or with friends.  It’s my humble opinion that, while learning the new language of the land should be encouraged, this decision is correct for a number of reasons.

First, I wouldn’t want to have an artificial conversation with a close family member or friend.   Forcing them to express themselves in Hebrew, rather than their mother tongue, in the most intimate conversations about the most private aspects of life, would be an experience that would be far from real and authentic. A home, or a profound conversation with a friend, should be a comfortable setting, where the conversation should flow naturally, something not always possible with a newly acquired language.

Second, knowing a foreign language is a useful and precious commodity to posses when living in a global village. New doors, otherwise closed, can open before an applicant for a job if one knows more than the formal language of the land. As one who is responsible for training and placing spiritual leaders around the world, I can personally attest that many families, equipped with a strong ideological motivation to “go on shlichut,” to serve their brothers and sisters abroad, is very limited to have not realized, as they don’t possess the language of the community they would like to serve.

But moreover, communities and schools around the world, together with many students visiting Israel for a short time, are sadly not the ultimate beneficiaries of quality bnei/bnot Torah families from Israel, interested in having the best of the Israeli educational system serve them for a few years, as the applicants, even when holding a foreign passport of that very country (i.e.- originating from there themselves or through their parents,) do not speak the language at a level in which a substantial impact can be placed.

Thirdly, I have argued before that the beauty of the Jewish People is its inner diversity within the boundaries of Halacha. I believe that the attempt for all to speak the same language joins other attempts since the founding of the state to have all residing in Israel be exactly the same. From the attempt to have just one state school system, to praying in one Nusach for davening in the IDF (known as Nusach Achid  or the “one” version), these attempts, amongst many, were thankfully not successful. Even Israel’s religious community today is a diverse one, and it’s my humble opinion that hearing different languages in the public thoroughfare adds to this beautiful tapestry.

Pru U’revu

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

In this week’s parshah the Torah commands us in the first mitzvah: pru u’revu – be fruitful and multiply. We rule in accordance with Beis Hillel that one fulfills this mitzvah when he has fathered one boy and one girl.

The Rambam (Hilchos Ishus 15:2) writes that women are exempt from this mitzvah while a man first becomes obligated in this mitzvah when he is 17 years old. Once he turns 20 and has not yet fulfilled the mitzvah, he has transgressed and is mevatel an assei. The Rambam adds, however, that if he is busy toiling in Torah and fears that if he marries the yoke of responsibilities will disturb his learning, he may prolong getting married. The reason he may prolong getting married is because the general rule is osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah – when one is performing one mitzvah he is exempt from performing another. The Rambam concludes that we can certainly apply this rule in this case since the mitzvah that we are discussing is learning Torah – the greatest mitzvah of all.

The Acharonim were bothered by the Rambam’s explanation of this halacha. The Gemara in Moed Kattan 9a says that for a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else, one must stop learning and we may not apply the concept of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah to the mitzvah of learning Torah. How then can the Rambam say that one may prolong getting married and be mevatel the mitzvah of pru u’revu because of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, when that does not apply to the mitzvah of learning Torah? To make the question even stronger the Rambam added that we could certainly apply this concept here since we are dealing with the greatest mitzvah, learning Torah. And yet the exact opposite is true: specifically by the mitzvah of learning Torah we cannot apply this concept.

The sefer, Ma’aseh Rokeach, says that when the Rambam said that one could prolong getting married, he meant that this is so until he is 20 years old. That way one is not mevatel the mitzvah. So in essence there is no bitul mitzvah occurring, and therefore one may apply osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah since one will not be mevatel the mitzvah in this case.

Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, Hy”d, in Kovetz Ha’arus Hosafos 1, suggests that since the Rambam is referring to delaying the time until one gets married and not that one will never marry, we may liken this to a scenario whereby there is a mitzvah that can be done by others (since he can perform the mitzvah later) and we may thus apply the rule of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah even to the mitzvah of learning Torah. Reb Elchanan continues by explaining that the Rambam said that we could certainly apply this concept here since we are dealing with the mitzvah of learning Torah.

The reason why, in this scenario, this concept is more applicable to the mitzvah of learning Torah, even though we generally do not apply it to the mitzvah of learning Torah at all, is as follows: the reason why one must stop learning in order to perform a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else is not because the mitzvah of learning Torah is inferior to all the other mitzvos, for it is indeed the greatest mitzvah of all. Rather, it is because when one must take care of his necessities (e.g., work for a living) there is no mitzvah of learning Torah. One is only obligated to learn Torah when he is free of his other obligations. When one is obligated to perform a mitzvah that cannot be performed by anyone else, the situation is no different and the obligation to learn is voided. However, if it is a mitzvah that can be performed by another person, or if he can perform this mitzvah at a later time, the obligation to learn Torah remains. Since he is obligated to learn we apply the concept of osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, and since the mitzvah of learning Torah is the greatest mitzvah of all we certainly apply the concept in this scenario.

In the following halacha the Rambam writes that one who never marries due to his sole desire to learn Torah, and always toils in it (like Ben Azai), has not transgressed. Reb Elchanan explains that even though in this scenario one is entirely mevatel the mitzvah, he has not transgressed because this is considered an oneis.

Palestinian Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease Receives Israeli Treatment

Monday, September 24th, 2012

A 51-year-old Palestinian man suffering from Parkinson’s disease received successful therapy treatment in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center this past summer.

Tarik Sadek Abu Baker, an accountant who lives in Judea and Samaria, was treated for debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s disease through a special treatment known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), used to treat a variety of neurological disorders.

While medication is normally used to treat the disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which include tremors, rigidity, slowed movement, and walking problems, within 12 years, Abu Baker had stopped responding to Parkinson medication.

Consequently, the Palestinian Authority directed Abu Baker to the Movement Disorders Center at Haifa’s Rambam hospital, lead by Senior Neurologist Dr. Ilana Schlesinger.

The French neurosurgeon Professor Alim-Louis Benabid developed DBS therapy in 1987. The treatment became available in Israel in 2003. Since 2008, the Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center has treated 25 patients with DBS therapy.

According to the Rambam Medical Center website, the hospital Movement Disorders Center has been building a quiet reputation for its medical advancements in the Middle East. Inquiries into treatment programs come as far as Iran.

The medical staff at Rambam described Abu Baker’s situation as especially difficult. “He could barely move or talk because of severe rigidity and tremors,” said nurse, Ilana Erikh, after Abu Baker’s hospitalization. “It hurt me to see so young a person entirely disabled and trembling, who couldn’t do anything without assistance. He obviously needed extraordinary measures.”

Deep brain stimulation is used for people whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with medications for Parkinson’s disease. The treatment delivers electrical stimulation to block abnormal nerve signals in targeted areas of the brain. Many people who undergo the therapy, experience significant improvement in their symptoms and can also reduce the amount of Parkinson medication.

While DBS therapy and medication cannot cure Parkinson’s disease, these treatments can ease the symptoms that impede quality of life and allow patients increased mobility.

At Rambam, Professor Menashe Zaaroor, Director of the Department of Neurosurgery, implanted leads and neurostimulators into Abu Baker. After three weeks, Abu Baker returned so that neurologist Dr. Maria Nassar and nurse Ilana Erikh could switch on the neurostimulators’ batteries and adjust the voltage.

Following the visit, within an hour, Abu Baker could walk and move freely and showed no visible signs of the disease.

Ginan Salim, Abu Baker’s wife, described the warm treatment at Ramban. “We were made very happy last week because my husband, who has needed me to help him with personal hygiene, eating and preparing for sleep, has improved and doesn’t need my assistance anymore. We didn’t expect such quick results,” she said on the medical center’s website.

This is not the first time that the Rambam Medical Center has been engaged with Israel’s Arab and Muslim sector. During Ramadan last year, the medical center engaged in research to help fasting Muslims suffering from diabetes to better deal with the monthly holiday fast. Rambam’s Professor Naim Shehadeh discovered that particular types of insulin help patients avoid suffering from side effects and health complications that develop during the fast.

Professor Shehadeh conducted research among 300 diabetic patients treated at clinics in northern and central Israel in 2011. “We proved that this special protocol significantly reduced patients’ chances of developing adverse events during the Ramadan fast,” said Professor Shehadeh.

Professor Shehadeh further added that these particular types of insulin have been made available by the Israel Ministry of Health and are included in the ministry’s list of subsidized medications which can be acquired in pharmacies across Israel.

Despite Border Tensions, Israel Hospitals Treating Gaza Children

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Despite continued tension on the southwestern border, four Gaza children are receiving medical treatment in northern Israel.  The children are all nephrology patients suffering from kidney insufficiency, and have been hospitalized for the last several months at the Children’s Hospital at Rambam Health Care Campus awaiting transplants.

Mohammed and Hadeel, both 12, have been in Israel for several months, with Hadeel’s brother Ahmad, 15, arriving recently in serious condition.  The three have received hemodialysis treatments and peritoneal dialysis.  The treatments have enabled the children to return to school for the first time in 3 years.  Their parents have been taught by Rambam’s Pediatric Nephrology department to perform peritoneal dialysis at home, something which Arab hospitals in Gaza and Judea and Samaria do not assist in.

The fourth child, six-month-old Lian, is still being treated with hemodialysis.

Over the past year, the Pediatric Nephrology Unit has treated tens of Palestinian children from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, who have arrived at Rambam Medical Center with various kidney diseases.

There’s Still Something Wrong with this Picture

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

There is a new Charedi girls’ high school that has made a bold move to advance the education of Charedi girls in Israel. According to an article in Ha’aretz (republished at Failed Messiah) Darkei Sarah requires their students to take the standardized matriculation exams that all Israeli secular and National Religious high school students take in order to graduate.

While this doesn’t sound like much to those of us in America where the majority of even Charedi high schools have a relatively decent general studies department – it is nonetheless a step forward for Charedi Israel. Most Charedi girls’ high schools do not have those standards. Although they do teach a variety of secular subjects they have purposely avoided teaching the girls ‘too much’ so as to avoid the the “Michshol” (stumbling block) of university. They consider much of the subject matter taught there at best inappropriate and the environment to be anti Torah.

But at least the girls get some secular education. Charedi high school boys have none! They spend every educational minute on Torah – mostly Gemarah. Secular studies have little value to them. It is considered Bitul Torah (a waste of the precious “Torah learning” time) to study secular subjects.

Charedim may not agree with the Torah U’Mada principle that secular studies have intrinsic value – but what about the men preparing for Parnassa – earning a living?

Not necessary, they say. Their wives will be doing that. That’s why the girls have any secular education at all. So that they can eventually support their husbands! But even for the girls, they must not be taught too much lest they end up in college.

I guess necessity is the mother of change. Charedi schools like Darkei Sarah now realize that the Charedi family can no longer survive on the kinds of menial jobs women can get without a decent education. Here is how Sima Valess, the principal of Darkei Sarah put it:

“These girls will one day support their families [while their husbands study Torah and Talmud]…”

But in the same breath she adds:

“…in a way that could not possibly suggest that they will follow independent careers.”

As the article points out she had to add that they have not departed from the Charedi Hashkafos of not making career women out of Kollel wives.

I guess she wants to have her cake – and eat it too. I’m not sure what she means by a career. But these new standards are definitely designed to give Charedi families a better means of support. And that usually means a career in one of the fields studied at a university level.

I don’t know whether this will catch on in other schools. My guess is that it won’t. But there does seem to be some basic common sense among a few Charedim who can see the handwriting on their wall of increasing poverty… at least enough to enroll their daughters in that school.

Is the view of educating women so they can support their “Torah learning” husbands the right one for Judaism? I don’t think so. One of the most basic ideas expressed in both the written and oral law is the idea of a man earning a living: B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem – By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread – God tells Adam.

This theme is repeated throughout Shas. Ein Kemeach Ein Torah; Yaffa Torah im Derech Eretz. The Mishna in Avos tells us that if there is no income the end result will be Bitul Torah anyway. It is also obvious from the Gemarah the sages worked and supported their families. This too is the case with the Rishonim. Two of the greatest – the Rambam and the Ramban – were both doctors. That is how they supported themselves. There is no evidence that either of their wives worked.

So how did we get to the current Charedi paradigm of men not working at all? The idea stems from another concept mentioned in Shas: Talmud Torah K’Neged Kulam . Torah study is the most important Mitzvah one can do. All energies should therefore be put towards that goal. If one can find a way to learn full time, he must do so.

What about people of the past like the Rambam? Why not follow his example? As I recall, Rav Moshe Feinstein mentioned the reason for that. He says something along the lines that we have so much Torah to learn today as a result of the volumes written on Torah subjects throughout history – that even if we devoted our entire lives to it – every waking moment – we would still not be able to fully cover all of it. In our day it would therefore be impossible to learn all of the Torah properly – certainly if we had to put in a full day’s work. Says Rav Moshe – the Rambam’s example can therefore no longer be followed.

I am not one to argue with Rav Moshe. But I still have to ask, how can we ignore our own history? How can we just reject the values the Torah itself posits? And the example the sages and the Rishonom set for us? On the other hand, how can we ignore the rationale Rav Moshe gave us for putting all else aside – including Parnassa –so that we can learn as much as possible?

For me the answer is quite simple. Not everyone is capable of being “Rav Moshe.” One needs not only the high intelligence he had, but his determination and diligence. There not too many people who can fill that bill. For those who can become great in Torah knowledge, yes they should spend their full time in learning Torah.

Whether they should learn Mada or not is a separate issue. But even for those who say it isn’t necessary, they should admit that not every person who sits in front of a Gemarah will end up being a Rav Moshe – or even anything close to that. They will never cover all the Torah that Rav Moshe said we need to know. At best they will only scratch the surface.

That does not free people from trying. But in my view the majority of people who are not cut out for it should follow the directives of the Torah SheB’Ksav and Torah SheBal Peh… and get a job! And then try and learn Torah by establishing fixed times for it. What about producing Torah scholars lie Rav Moshe? The cream will rise to the top. Those who have the potential for greatness in Torah will do so. And they should be supported. A lot better than they are supported now. The rest should “by the sweat of their brow – eat bread”!

But that is not the current Charedi paradigm in Israel. There is no concept of preparing for a job. No matter how ill suited an individual is for the task of dedicating their lives to full time Torah study.

That is in fact increasingly becoming the paradigm in America as well. All Charedi men are encouraged to learn full time here too. Secular studies are discouraged – and even disparaged – becoming increasingly marginalized even in those Yeshivos that have them.

The burden of supporting a family has shifted to women. B’Zeyas Apecha Tochel Lechem has been transferred to them!

I’m glad that at least in one Charedi school women are being better educated. Maybe this trend will catch on. Who knows…? But that does not change what I see is an Olam HaHafuch – a world turned upside down from what the Torah itself intended. A world that existed from the beginning of time until the post Holocaust 20th century.

Visit the Emes Ve-Emunah Blog.

T’shuva Brings Healing to the World

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Shut the latches of the spaceship. Fasten your seatbelts. Get ready for another magic mystery tour through the galaxies of t’shuva, as illuminated for us in the writings of Rabbi Kook.

If you were like me, you’d order the book, “The Art of T’shuva” (available online) already today, so you can hurry up and do as much t’shuva as you can before the Almighty searches you out in His Big Computer in the sky and views all the personal youtubes you’ve starred in during the year when you thought no one was watching. But you’re not like me, and so you probably won’t buy the book. That’s one of the reasons why I’m in Israel and you’re still in Flatbush or Boro Park.

As we learned, mankind is always involved in t’shuva. The fact that there are many non-religious people today should not be held as a contradiction. T’shuva must be looked at in an encompassing perspective that spans all generations.

A story about Rabbi Kook may help illustrate. One day, Rabbi Kook was walking by the Old City in Jerusalem with Rabbi Chaim Zonnenfeld, one of the leading rabbis of the Ultra-Orthodox community.

“Look how awful our situation is,” the Rabbi observed. “See how many secular Jews there our in the city. Just a few generations ago, their father’s fathers were all Orthodox Jews.”

“One must look at Am Yisrael in a wider perspective,” Rabbi Kook answered. “Do you see this valley over here, the Valley of Hinom? This was once a site for human sacrifice. Today, even the crassest secularist will not offer his child as a human sacrifice for any pagan ideal. When you look at today’s situation in the span of all history, things do not seem so bad. On the contrary, you can see that there has been great progress.”

The Rambam, at the end of the Laws of Kings, refers to this same development process of redemption which encompasses all things in life. He asks the question — if Christianity is a false religion, why did God grant it so much dominion? In the time of the Rambam, Christianity and Islam ruled over the world. The Jews suffered miserably under both.

The Rambam’s answer is based on a sweeping historical perspective which finds a certain value in Christianity, even though the Rambam himself classifies Christianity as idol worship (Laws of Idol Worship, 9:4, uncensored edition). On the one hand, he emphatically condemns Christianity, and on the other hand he maintains that Christianity has a positive role in the development of world history. How are we to reconcile this contradiction?

The Rambam writes that Christianity serves as a facilitator to elevate mankind from the darkness of paganism toward the recognition of monotheism. In effect, it is a stepping stone enabling mankind to make the leap from idol worship to the worship of God.

The belief in an invisible God does not come easily to the masses. Christianity, weaned mankind away from the belief in many gods to a belief in a “three-leaf clover” of a father, a son, and a holy ghost. Once the world is accustomed to this idea, though it is still idol worship, the concept of one supreme God is not so removed. Furthermore, the Rambam writes that Christianity’s focus on the messiah prepares the world for the day when the true Jewish messiah will come.

Today, because of Christianity’s influence, all the world, from the Eskimos to the Zulus, have heard about the messiah, so that when he arrives, he will have a lot less explaining to do. “Oh, it’s you,” mankind will say on the heralded day. Though they will be surprised to find out that it’s not Jezeus, they’ll say all the same, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Thus, when world history is looked at in an encompassing perspective, even Christianity, with all of its many negative factors, can be seen to play a positive role in mankind’s constant march toward t’shuva.

When we understand this historic, all-encompassing perspective, we can see that a world movement like Christianity, despite all of its evil, can influence the course of human history toward a higher ideal. But how does one man’s t’shuva bring redemption closer? How does a person’s remorse over having stolen some money bring healing to the cosmos as a whole?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/felafel-on-rye/tshuva-brings-healing-to-the-world/2012/08/30/

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