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

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?

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

“Every Mother and Daughter” – Should Daughters Light Shabbos Candles?

The Yalkut on Parashas Behaalosecha (719) mentions a connection between lighting Shabbos candles and the light of the Menorah: “The glory of Shabbos – its candles are its glory. If you light the candles of Shabbos, I shall show you candles of Zion, as it says: It shall be at that time I shall search for Jerusalem with candles.”

By being meticulous in lighting Shabbos candles, we merit to see the future candles of Zion.

In the present article we will address the common question of whether unmarried girls should light candles alongside their mother, or whether it is preferable that they should not light. Also, what is the halachah of married daughters who spend Shabbos with parents? How should a number of families who are sharing the same house light candles?

These questions, among others, are addressed below.

Parshas Vayeitzei 5772

  We find that when Yaakov sleeps at Har Hamoriah 28:20 (וַיִּדַּר יַעֲקֹב, נֶדֶר לֵאמֹר: אִם-יִהְיֶה אֱלֹקים עִמָּדִי, וּשְׁמָרַנִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ, וְנָתַן-לִי לֶחֶם לֶאֱכֹל, וּבֶגֶד לִלְבֹּשׁ). That… Read more »

Dear Reader

This week’s article discusses the production techniques of a Shofar, and addresses the halachic issues that arise from the method. In particular, the article assesses the question of changing the form of the Shofar (done by immersing the Shofar in hot water), and the question of stopping up holes in the Shofar. What are the ramifications of these processes for the kashrus of the Shofar, and why indeed is kashrus certification important for those wishing to purchase a Shofar?

This week’s Q & A addresses the question of eating spicy foods on Rosh Hashanah.

07/09/2012

Moadim Musings- PURIM

SAVE YOUR PRIDE, NOT YOUR HIDE! ויאמר מרדכי להשיב אל אסתר. אל תדמי בנפשך להמלט בית המלך מכל היהודים, כי אם החרש תחרישי בעת הזאת רוח והצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום… Read more »

08/03/2012