Saturday, March 17, 2007

umbrellas, kiddush, snow and elevators

i have saved up my hilchot shabbat questions, only to unleash them all at one go:

1. umbrellas -- chabad doesn't carry them even if there's an eruv. the chap told me you can't carry one "because of ochel." i don't know anything about ochel, but um, really??
2. on shabbat day, my brother (who was not keeping shabbat and was already in the middle of his meal) saw that i was getting ready to do kiddush for myself and offered to do it for me. i didn't know if his kiddush would really be valid (for the reasons listed in parentheses) and didn't know what to do. what should i have done?
3. shovelling snow/ice off the walkway - yes or no? does it matter if it's being done to promote safety or not?
4. elevators -- our doormen have been instructed to call the elevator for us and press the button for our floor. (on the way down, we take the stairs.) is this ok, or do i need to start hauling up nine stories?

thanks, in advance, for your answers.

Thank you for your excellent questions. Here are some answers.
1. umbrellas are not allowed. This is because the Nodeh b'Yehuda didn't allow them. He felt opening an umbrella was like building a tent (ohel). It is difficult to understand his reasoning, since it should be more similar to a folding chair (which is permitted) than a tent (which is forbidden). Even though we don't really understand why the Halacha should be like this, it has been accepted by all of klal yisrael around the world, and therefore his p'sak is now binding. Even on yom tov it is not permitted, and even if you opened the umbrella before Shabbat started and left it open you are still not allowed to use it.
2. Whether or not your brother could say kiddush for you is an interesting and complicated question. However, women have exactly the same obligation as men in kiddush, and therefore in this case it is more appropriate for you to say it than him. Why not take the equal opportunity bit when it presents itself.
3. If there is no eruv shoveling snow may involve issues of carrying. In addition it may be considered building or destroying (depending on whether you make the ground smooth underneath - less of a problem if the snow is on asphalt or concrete). There may also be muktze issues involved. Also, it is tircha (exertion) which is not ideal on Shabbat. Therefore if it is not essential it would be better not to shovel snow, unless it is a real hazard. Putting down grit or salt would be a better solution (though it may also involve muktze issues unless you set it aside before Shabbat). Walking on it and kicking it to the side is fine. If it is very dangerous it seems to me that it should be permitted to shovel if there is no alternative (but isn't that part of the job description of the doorman mentioned in the next question?).
4. The Aruch says that asking a non-Jew to do things on Shabbat is permitted for the sake of a Mitzah. Provided you are going to do the mitzvah of eating a Shabbat meal, of having a Shabbat rest or something like that perhaps there is room to be lenient (since we don't normally rely on this Aruch). There is also the health issue that 9 flights of stairs may be good for your lungs, but it may also be bad for you heart until you get used to it (and it certainly isn't good for your oneg Shabbat). There are certainly opinions that you can rely on.

Thank you for your questions. Looking forward to some more.
Rabbi Sedley

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In the desert (Parshat Vayeshev)

The brothers throw Yosef into the pit before deciding to sell him. The Torah tells us that this pit was 'bamidbar' (in the desert). I thought that the brothers were in Shechem, which is nowhere near the desert. Furthermore, if the brothers were shepherding, why would they be in a desert rather than in pasture land?

Than you for this excellent question. There are many different answers to this question, on different levels of complexity.
Firstly a clarification. The word 'bamidbar' does not mean 'desert' but rather 'wilderness'. There are many proofs of this, which I will not go into now, but we have to understand than when the Israelites spent 40 years in the Sinai, they were actually in a wilderness, not in the desert.
Secondly, even though the brothers went to graze the sheep in Shechem, by the time Yosef came to them they had moved on to Dotan. Rashi explains that they went to Dotan with the intention of killing Yosef, so they no longer needed to remain in pasture land - in fact wilderness was much more appropriate for their intentions.
Now to answer your question. The Ramban (on the pasuk) explains that the brothers threw Yosef into a pit in the wilderness so that he would not be able to cry for help or be found and saved by passers-by. The brothers were convinced that Yosef deserved to be killed, but were reluctant to kill him themselves. Therefore they put him in a situation that would lead to his death. (Look at the Ohr Hachaim and the Parshat Derachim for deeper insights into why they did not want to kill him themselves).
However, the problem with this explanation is that the Torah explicitly tells us that Reuven suggested that the brothers throw Yosef into the pit, rather than kill him directly, in order that he (Reuven) could come back and save him later. The Midrash (Rabba 84; 15) tells us Reuven was rewarded for this. He was the first one to save Yosef, therefore his tribe was the first one mentioned in the list of 'Cities of Refuge' (Devarim 4; 41). Just as he saved his brother, so his descendents would be provide salvation for those who needed refuge. The Torah in Devarim lists the city of refuge from Reuven as 'Betzer which is in the midbar'. Perhaps we can suggest that 'midbar' was part of Reuven's plan to save his brother. By putting him in an 'out of the way' place, Reuven would be able to come back and save him without the other brothers interefering. Whereas the Ramban suggests that he wilderness was a better way to kill Yosef, according to this answer perhaps we can suggest that the wilderness is a better way to save him.
On a deeper level, Yosef was the antidote to Esav. Only after Yosef was born was Ya'akov able to return to confront his brother Esav, and one of the historical roles of Yosef was to fight against Esav (from Yosef's grandson Yehoshua leading the battle against Esav's grandson Amalek, to the Mashiach ben Yosef who will wage was against the kingdom of Esav/ Edom at the end of days). However the antidote often looks the same as the poison. The reason that the brothers wanted to kill Yosef is because they feared that he was going to become another Esav, and try to destroy them.
The Yom Kippur Temple service (as listed in parshat Acharei Mot) kabbalistically represents the distinction between Yisrael and Esav. The two identical goats represent twin brothers who chose opposite paths in life. If we look at what happened to Yosef we find many parallels to what happened to the 'seir l'azazel', the scape goat. The most clear connection is that the brothers dipped Yosef's coat in the blood of a goat after killing him, before showing their father that he had been eaten by a wild animal. Therefore they had to throw him into a pit in the 'midbar', because the whole function of the scape goat was to be sent into the 'midbar' to die.
I hope this answers your question, and gives you some food for thought.
Chanukah Sameach
Rabbi Sedley

Thursday, December 14, 2006

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Have a great Chanukah

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Going to the Kotel


I am an Oleh Hadash and am going to visit Jerusalem and the Kotel on
I have a standard Sephardic prayerbook and a Tehillim book - what are the
prayers that should be said at the Kotel? Are there particular Tehillim
which should be prayed?

thank you.
J Ts.


Firstly, Mazel Tov on your Aliya. I wish you every success in everything you
do. Visiting the kotel can be a tremendously uplifting spiritual experience,
and may be exciting and wonderful, but at the same time we must remember
that we are still in mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and the
Talmud in Yoma says that every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt
is as if it was destroyed in that generation. Therefore, most of the prayers
and customs for seeing the Kotel for the first time (or if one has not seen
it for more than 30 days) come from the funeral service and demonstrate our
mourning for the destruction.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orech Chaim 561) says that someone who sees the place of
the Beit Hamikdash when it is destroyed (i.e. the kotel nowadays) should
tear their clothes and say "Beit Kodsheinu v'Tifarteinu ahsere hillelucha bo
avoteinu haya l'sreiphat eish, v'chol machmadeinu haya lchorva." There is
some dispute amongst contemporary poskim as to whether one should actually
tear their clothes, or wear clothes borrowed from someone else (which may
not be torn, since they do not belong to the wearer). Most Ashkenazi poskim
seem to hold that one should actually tear their garments (one tefach -
approx 3 inches) from the collar down towards the heart. The tear should be
made while standing, and preferably with one's hands (though sometimes
scissors are necessary to start the tearing). I do not know what Sefardim
poskim say on the issue.
The Mishna Brura says that one should cry and mourn on the destruction of
the Temple and say 'Mizmor l'Asaf' (psalm 50). When someone tears their
clothes they should say 'baruch dayan ha'emet' (without G-d's name) 'ki kol
mishpatav tzedek v'emet, hatzur tamim p'alo ki kol d'rachav mishpat, e-l
emuna v'ain avel tzadik v'yashar hu. V'atah tzadik al kol habah aleinu, ki
emet asita v'anachnu hirshanu (Nechemiah 9:33)' . (all of this is from the
funeral service). (Blessed are You, the True Judge; for all Your judgements
are just and true. The Rock - perfect is His work, for all His paths are
justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He; But You
are righteous in all that has come upon us, for You have acted truthfully
while we have caused wickedness.)
I would just add that we may (must) pray wherever we are in the world, and
at whatever stage of our life. However, any prayers that are said from the
heart, at the kotel, which is the last remnant of our Holy Temple, and said
by someone who has just come to live in Israel, and thereby come closer to
the Source of all blessings, are going to be heard and answered by G-d.
Anything you can pray for, in whatever language, will bring down blessings
(and peace) all of klal yisrael. Take the opportunity to speak to G-d
directly, with whatever words you have, exposing all your most inner
thoughts to Him, and allow Him to do the rest.
I hope this answer helps. May we soon merit to see the rebuilt Temple, and
may all the sadness be replaced with gladness and joy.
Wishing you every success with your life in Israel
Rabbi David Sedley

Monday, October 23, 2006

G-d's name

why do we say Adonoi instead of pronouncing Yud- Hey-Vav-Hey . Is it
written anywhere that we should not say G d's actual name

Thank you for a great question. You raise a very interesting and important point.
The Talmud learns the verse (Exodus 3; 15)"This is my name forever" (Hebrew word for 'forever' is 'l'olam') as if it were written "This is my name to be hidden" ('l'helem'). From here they derive the principle that we should not pronounce G-d's name as it is written. The actual correct pronounciation of the name was only ever known by a few people in a generation, and only used in the Temple during services.
Nowadays we don't even know the correct pronounciation, and those who try to read it are making a mistake. They don't realise that the printers just put the vowels for 'Adonai' under the letters Yud-Heh to show how to read it (because ocasionally it is supposed to be read as 'Elohim' - in which case those vowels are used).
There is a deeper idea behind G-d's name being hidden. The act of creating the world was an act of G-d hiding Himself. It is only because He is hidden within creation that we can exist and function - if we would actually see G-d directly not only would we have no free choice, but we would not even exist. However, if He had hidden Himself too much it would have been impossible for us to 'find' Him or relate to Him. Therefore He can be found within the hidden. This is represented by the one Name which represents 'the essence of G-d' (as much as we can understand such a concept). All the other names of G-d are descriptions of His attributes, and all have meanings. The four letter name somehow represents what G-d is in his relationship with the world.
If you are interested you could have a look at a d'var Torah I wrote for last week's Torah portion (Bereishit) which touches on this idea of G-d being hidden.
I hope this answer helps
Rabbi Sedley

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ask the Rabbi

I'm going to try and run this blog as an 'Ask the Rabbi' site - where you can ask me questions, and hopefully I'll be able to answer them for you. Any questions which are private will be kept as such, but if your question is not of a private nature, and I think that others will be interested in reading the q&a I will blog them here. Please use the form above to ask questions, or just e-mail me:

Looking forward to hearing from you

Rabbi Sedley