Vayechi – The Yissachar – Zevulun Arrangement: Charity or Contract?

This week’s parashah quotes the blessings that Yaakov gave to his sons. Rashi, commenting on
the blessing to Zevulun, mentions the unique relationship between Yissachar and Zevulun. We take
the opportunity to discuss the Yissachar-Zevulun partnership. What is the nature of this partnership,
whereby Yissachar takes a portion of Zevulun’s income, and Zevulun takes a portion of Yissachar’s
Torah? How, indeed, is this portion taken? Does the agreement cause Yissachar to lose some of
his eternal reward? Which of the two partners is considered the “greater” of the two? These
questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

Vayeishev – A Halachic Perspective on Modern-Day Ransoms: Too High a Price?

One of the most tragic and delicate halahcic questions of the modern day, which must be addressed both by halachic decisors and by political leaders of the State of Israel, is the question of redeeming soldiers or civilians that are taken hostage by terrorist groups. Invariably, the demands of terrorists include the release of imprisoned terrorists, who generally await their return to their former profession. What does halachah have to say on this matter? Can the monetary ransom demanded by conventional captors be compared with the modern-day requests for release of terrorists? Indeed, how would the demand for monetary payment be seen in today’s halachic eye. Inspired by this week’s parashah, which chronicles the most famous case of ‘kidnapping’ in the history of the world–the sale of Yosef to Egypt–we seek to address these issues in this week’s article.

The Maariv Prayer: Obligation or Optional

In Parashas Vayeitzei we find Yaakov Avinu making his way to Charan, to the house of Lavan, where he was destined to dwell for many years and to establish the future Jewish nation.

En route from Be’er Sheva to Charan, Yaakov stops at Beit-El, as the Torah states (Bereishis 28:11): “he came upon [va-yifga] a certain place.” A well-known Gemara (Berachos 26a) comments that the word “va-yifga” refers to prayer, and thus, this verse informs us that Yaakov Avinu enacted the evening prayer service, Arvis or Maariv.

In spite of this enactment, the Maariv prayer has a special status among the three daily prayers. In contrast with the Shachris (morning) and Mincha (afternoon) prayers, Chazal debate whether the night prayer is obligatory or optional, and (as will be seen later) this debate leads to a number of halachic ramifications.

What is the obligation (or otherwise) of the Arvis prayer? Why is there no Chazaras Ha-Shatz in the Maariv prayer? What is the difference between the Shacharis and Maariv prayers concerning the halachah of juxtaposing redemption and prayer? These questions, and others, are discussed below.

parshas Vayeira – “Give Me a Break!” – Parameters of Midas Sedom

This week’s Parashah includes the terrible description of how Sodom was destroyed. The verses do not tell us much
about the deeds of Sodom’s inhabitants, yet Chazal reveal their underlying attitude: “What is mine, is mine, and what is
yours, is yours.” We dedicate this week’s article to the discussion of midas sedom, the character trait of Sodom, in both
a moral and halachic sense. What is midas sedom, and why does it constitute such a grave character flaw? What
halachic ramifications does this trait have? Does beis din enforce ethical behavior, or not? And how does this impact
our everyday lives?

Suicide and Euthanasia in Torah Law

This week’s parashah, Parashas Noach, includes the following verse (Bereishis 9:5): “And surely the blood of your lives will I demand an account; at the hand of every beast will I demand it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.”

Commenting on the verse, Rashi explains (based on the first words of the verse: “And surely the blood of your lives will I demand an account”): “Although I have permitted you to kill an animal, I will require your blood, from one who spills his own blood.”

According to Rashi, the verse thus includes a prohibition of suicide.

The Rambam (Rotze’ach 2:2-3) likewise mentions the scriptural derivation for the prohibition against suicide: “But a person who hires a murderer to kill a colleague … and a person who commits suicide are all considered to be shedders of blood; the sin of bloodshed is upon their hands …. Which source indicates that this is the law? … The verse continues: `Of the blood of your own lives I will demand an account.’ This refers to a person who commits suicide.”

This week’s article is thus dedicated to the halachic treatment of suicide. What are the parameters of the prohibition against taking one’s own life? What are the halachos concerning mourning over a suicide? What is the significance of the motivation behind the suicide? We will address these questions in the present article

The Mitzvah of Destiny

The first instruction recorded in the Torah is peru urevu, which (according to the Gemara in Gittin and Kiddushin) remains the source, even after Matan Torah, for the mitzvah of procreation. Yet, unlike other mitzvos, peru urevu appears to command something that is not entirely in our hands to fulfill–we can only try to beget children, but their actual birth is not in our hands. The essay will discuss a deeper layer of the mitzvah, and seek to explain the Divine element uniquely present in the instruction to beget children.

The First Mitzvah: Peru Urvu

This week we begin a new cycle of Torah reading, starting with Hashem’s creation of the world, and the creation of humankind.
Part of the Torah narrative of the creation is the Divine instruction to Adam to ensure that the world be populated (Bereishis 1:28): “G-d blessed them and said to them: Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
In this article we will focus on the mitzvah of having children – the Torah instruction of peru urvu – seeking to define its parameters and understand its details. Is the mitzvah of peru urvu fulfilled only by actual childbirth, or already by beginning the process? How many children is a person obligated to have? What is the obligation of women in the mitzvah?
These, and further questions, are addressed below.


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.

Deception – “Theft of the Heart”

This week’s article deals with the prohibition of geneivas daas, deception or creating false impressions. Although many maintain that this is a full Torah prohibition, there remains little awareness of it, and it is all too easy to transgress it without even noticing. What is the definition of the prohibition? Is it related to theft, or to morality? Is there a difference between financial matters and other matters? These questions, and others, are discussed in this week’s article.

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.

Vayigash – Respect Your Grandparents – To Which Extent

In this week’s parashah we find Yaakov Avinu offering sacrifices to the G-d of his father, Yitzcak. The mention of Yitzchak, rather than Avraham, leads Rashi to comment (based on the Midrash) that a person is obligated in the honor of his father to a greater degree than that of his grandfather. We take the opportunity to discuss the concept of honoring one’s grandparents. Is there an obligation to honor one’s grandparents, and what is the extent of the obligation? Does the obligation apply even after a parent’s death? Does it apply equally to paternal and maternal grandparents? These questions, and more, are discussed in this week’s article.

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 »

Taking Revenge and Bearing a Grudge: A Halachic Appraisal

This week’s article discusses a number of basic questions concerning the prohibitions against taking revenge and bearing a grudge. When are the prohibitions of taking revenge and bearing a grudge transgressed? Are they contingent on a person’s inner thoughts, or do they require a concrete action? Are there instances in which it is permitted to take revenge and to bear a grudge? We will seek to clarify these issues in this week’s article.

Parshas Toldos 5769

    25:28  וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת-עֵשָׂו, כִּי-צַיִד בְּפִיו.  Rashi on the Posuk explains a Medrash (בפיו: כתרגומו בפיו של יצחק. ומדרשו בפיו של עשו שהיה צד אותו ומרמהו בדבריו) that… Read more »

Parshas Toldos 5771

  25:19 (וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק, בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם:  אַבְרָהָם, הוֹלִיד אֶת-יִצְחָק) The Tosafos Bracha says a P’shat on the first Rashi in the Parsha (ואלה תּוֹלְדֹת יצחק: יעקב ועשיו האמורים בפרשה). Why… Read more »

Toldos – Truth and Falsehood: A Halachic Perspective

This week’s parashah includes the difficult episode of how Yaakov takes Yitzchak’s blessings, ostensibly by means of deception. This episode, and a number of additional episodes in the life of Yaakov, raise a patent difficulty: How could Yaakov, whose fundamental attribute is Truth, seem to be involved in apparent trickery and falsehood? Discussion of this question leads us to the halachos of truth and falsehood. What, if any, is the prohibition invovled with speaking falsehoods? To what does the Torah instruction of distancing oneself from falsehood apply? When, and under which circumstances, is it permitted (or obligatory) to deviate from the truth? May one do so on a regular basis? These questions, and more, will be discussed in this week’s article.