Asking Forgiveness: How and for What?

In Parashas Vayechi we find that Yosef is asked by his brothers to forgive them for the offenses they committed against him.

The Torah writes (Bereishis 50:15-18): When Yosef’s brothers saw that their father had died, they said, “What if Yosef holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Yosef, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died… I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you badly.”

The Torah says that Yosef wept upon hearing the words, and then replied: “Do not be afraid – for am I in place of G-d? You intended to harm me, but G-d intended it for the good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

What remains unclear from the verses is the question of Yosef’s forgiveness: Did he actually forgive his brothers, or not?

Rabbeinu Bachya (50:17) gives the following answer: “Whoever has hurt another is not forgiven until the victim is appeased, even though he has repented. Now, even though the verses mention that Yosef comforted them and spoke to their hearts, which gives the appearance that Yosef forgave them, we nevertheless do not observe anywhere that in fact he did forgive them and put aside the wrong they had done to him. They thus died with their sin, without Yosef’s forgiveness. It is for this reason that their sin required some type of release, which occurred with the [death of the] Ten Martyrs.”

The passage teaches us the importance of procuring forgiveness from one’s fellow after harming him or causing him hurt, and in the present article we will focus of the halachic aspects pertaining to requesting forgiveness.

For which sins is there an obligation to ask forgiveness from one’s fellow? Is there a concurrent obligation to confess and to repent before Heaven? What is the nature of the request for forgiveness, and is there a need to detail the sins? These questions, among others, are discussed below

Shemos: His Name in Israel Shall be…

This week’s parashah, and with it the book of Shemos, begins with a listing of the names of the Children of Israel. Several sources indicate the importance of names in Jewish tradition, and this week’s article is dedicated to matters of naming children. Why should one avoid the names of wicked people? Is it proper to name a child by non-Jewish names? When, in naming a child after somebody, should one be wary of ‘evil omens’? When is it right to change a name? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Akin to Murder? – The Prohibition against Humiliating

In Parashas Vayeishev the Torah relates the events involving Yehuda and Tamar, which culminate in Tamar’s trial and later the birth of twins from Yehuda.

A well-known teaching is derived by the Sages from the verses narrating the trial (Bereishis 38:24-26), which tell that Yehuda was informed that his daughter-in-law had become pregnant from an illicit relationship. Yehuda pronounces judgment, and Tamar is taken out to be burned. At this point Tamar sends the signs of Yehuda’s identity (his seal, cord and staff) as proof that he is the father of Tamar’s unborn child. Yehuda justifies Tamar’s actions, and openly confesses the truth of her unspoken claim: “She is more just, than I.”

The actions of Tamar indicate how careful she was to avoid shaming Yehuda in public. The Gemara, in three instances (Berachos 43b; Bava Metzia 59a, Sotah 10b), takes note of the fact that Tamar only produced Yehuda’s possessions as a subtle indication of the identity of her child’s father, without explicitly identifying Yehuda. The Gemara understands that Tamar was prepared to be executed rather than humiliate Yehuda by explicitly identifying him as the father.

On this basis, the Gemara famously concludes: “A person should cast himself into a furnace of fire rather than publicly humiliate his fellow.”

In this week’s article we will dwell on the prohibition of humiliating one’s fellow. What is the nature and the definition of the prohibition? Is there an obligation to forfeit one’s life rather than humiliate somebody else? If not, why was Tamar prepared to give up her life for this matter?

Vayishlach – Rights and Wrongs of Flattery

This week’s parashah includes an interesting source concerning the prohibition of flattery: the words of conciliation spoken by Yaakov to his brother Eisav. We take the opportunity to expound on the prohibition of flattery. Concerning which people, and in which manner, is there a prohibition of flattery? Does the prohibition apply even in circumstances of potential danger or loss? Are there circumstances in which it might even be a mitzvah to flatter? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

The Rosh Hashanah Partnership

Towards Rosh Hashanah, this week we will discuss the question of the name “Rosh Hashanah.” Unlike other festivals, the title “Rosh Hashanah”, which appears in the Mishnah and writings of Chazal, is not derived from Torah verses–in which we find the names “Yom Teru’ah” and “Yom Hazikaron.” What caused Chazal to “change the name” of this day? And how does this name change reflect on our avodah of the day, on the prayer service, and on the blowing of the shofar? These questions, and more, are discussed in the article.

20/09/2014

Parshas Emor – The Meaning of Chinuch

As parents, the idea of chinuch is a concept that is always close to our hearts. We invest much thought, toil, and money in the chinuch or our children, realizing the crucial value of chinuch in molding the next generation. Of course, chinuch is not merely a technical, halachic matter. Chazal teach us that every child (and every person) is an entire world, and chinuch implies seeking to allow the world within our children to flourish and to blossom, giving him the tools to realize the tremendous potential with which each individual is endowed. However, there are also certain halachic definitions, in particular with regard to chinuch of mitzvos, which are important to know. This essay will address the basic concept of chinuch for mitzvos.

The Prohibition of Kitniyos on Pesach

The most prominent aspect of the upcoming Pesach festival is without a doubt the dietary restrictions. Throughout Pesach we replace bread with matzah and avoid all leavened products, turning our kitchen into quite something else. The lettuce leaves, horseradish, saltwater dips, and fascinating sandwiches of Seder Night also deserve a mention.

Another important culinary aspect of Pesach is the issue of kitniyos, legumes. Although there is no mention of the issue in the Torah, in the Mishnah or in the Gemara, the custom for Jews of Ashkenazi descent is to refrain from eating legumes of all kinds during Pesach. The question of what constitutes a legume for the purpose of this halachah, and how far the restriction goes, is therefore of great importance for Pesach cooking.

In the present article we will discuss the halachos pertaining to the issue of kitniyos, and seek to understand the reasons behind the custom, its halachic severity, and the extent of its application. Is quinoa included in the prohibition? Why is it permitted to eat potatoes on Pesach (Imagine life without them!)? Must separate dishes be used for those who must eat kitniyos on Pesach?

Purim: Days of Feasting and Joy

In this article we will discuss the mitzvah of the Purim feast, and the general joy of Purim: When during the day of Purim should the feast be held? Is there an obligation of eating meat during the meal, and should it begin with bread? How does the mitzvah of the feast integrate with the day’s general obligation of joy? These, and other topical questions, are discussed in the present article.

Drinking on Purim

As the days of Purim approach, we will this week discuss a mitzvah act that on the one hand gives Purim much of its unique festival character, and on the other is liable to cause us – both as performers of the mitzvah, and as parents of children who wish to perform it – no small headache.

The primary Talmudic source related to drinking on Purim is a Gemara in Megillah (7b): “Rava said: a person must get drunk on Purim until he cannot distinguish between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’.”

The basic idea of drinking on Purim emerges moreover from the Megillah itself, which states that the days of Purim were enacted for mishteh – a word that specifically implies (by contrast with a regular se’udah) a wine-feast (as the original misheh of Achashverosh with which the tale of Esther begins).

The mitzvah of drinking to the point of inebriation raises a number of questions. What is the level of drunkenness that must be reached? Is it really possible that a Jew will be unable to distinguish between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai? When is there an obligation to drink – should one be drinking during the entire day? Must one drink wine, or can one drink any alcoholic beverage?

These questions, and more, are discussed below

Fraudulent Conveyance

Rabbi Yehonoson Dovid Hool This article was written by a dayan at Beis Din Nesevos Chaim-the Beis Din of the Institute For Dayanim and was published in Kuntris Magazine   Often when… Read more »

03/03/2014

Lechem Mishneh: The Double Bread of Shabbos

This article discusses the issue of lechem mishneh, the double-portion of bread that opens our Shabbos meals (commemorating the manna of the wilderness). Is lechem mishneh a full obligation? Are women obligated? Are complete loaves of bread required? Is lechem mishneh required even for cakes and pastries? These questions, and others, are discussed below.

Mikeitz – The Torah Outlook on Jailing and Imprisonment

In this week’s parashah (together with last week’s) we find one of the only occasions where the Torah
mentions a prison sentence. We take the opportunity to investigate the Torah’s outlook on imprisonment.
Does the Torah see jailing and imprisonment as a legitimate form of punishment? Is it permitted to keep
somebody pending trial in jail? Is it permitted to jail somebody on Shabbos. These questions, and more, are
discussed in this week’s article.

Parshas Matos – Speaking (and Writing) of Charity

The issue of nedarim (vows) crops up unexpectedly at a number of junctures along our daily routine. One such juncture is the matter of donations to charity. In the weekly article we discuss questions involved in giving charity by means of checks. Can a person retract from his check donation? Can a person change his mind after writing a check to charity, but before the check was handed over? This week’s article answers these questions, as well as addressing a number of additional points.

Chukas – Kohanim At Kivrei Tzaddikim

The question of a Kohen’s visit to burial sites of our righteous ancestors is a matter that commentaries and halachic authorities have discussed for hundreds of years. Do the burial sites of the righteous impart ritual impurity (tumas mes), and is there a halachic permit for Kohanim to visit them? This week’s article discusses the issue, from its primary sources through to practical conclusions.

Making Up a Minyan with Non-Observant Jews

The ten meraglim (the spies), whose sorry tale is narrated at the opening of Parashas Shelach, are termed an eidah – an assembly or congregation.

Concerning the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 74b)derives from the Torah’s description of the spies that all ten people before whom the Kiddush Hashem is performed must be Jewish. Although the spies were wicked people, and according to the Sages they were even heretics (claiming that Hashem did not have the power to bring the nation into the Land of Israel), they still formed an assembly.

Based on this derivation, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe Vol. 1, no. 23) writes that the same halachah applies to saying Kedushah with a minyan: Under extenuating conditions, even non-observant Jews constitute a minyan for Kedushah.

Rav Moshe adds that the principle does not apply to completing a minyan for tefillah be-tzibbur, but states that under extenuating circumstances one should look for a minyan even of secular Jews, for this will at least be effective for purposes of Kedushah.

Although Rav Moshe Feinstein gave only a brief reply to the question, the matter of joining secular, non-observant Jews in a minyan has been discussed at length by a number of authorities. In the article below we will present a short discussion of the subject, explaining some of the angles from which the issue has been approached, and delineating some of the practical considerations involved.

30/05/2013