Kesubos 21a: Advice on Where to Sign

Kesubos 21a. When a witness signed on a loan document needs to verify his signature, he can write it on a potsherd and give it to the Beis Din and they will compare it to the signature on the document. Only on a potsherd, but not on a parchment, lest a criminal find it and write a loan document above the signature, as it says in the Mishnah (Bava Basra 175b): If the lender produced a document signed by the borrower that he owes him, he may collect from the borrower’s property, provided that the property has not been sold to anyone else.

כתובות כא ע”א: ודוקא אחספא, אבל אמגלתא לא, דלמא משכח לה איניש דלא מעלי וכתב עילויה מאי דבעי, ותנן: הוציא עליו כתב ידו שהוא חייב לו, גובה מנכסים בני חורין.

In the autumn of 2001 after suffering a stroke, Rav Chaim Kanievsky was recuperating in the Mayenei Hayeshua Hospital in Bnei Brak. His therapist asked Rav Chaim to write something on a sheet of paper to accustom him to once again using his hands and fingers. Slowly and painstakingly, he wrote these words, “Yekum purkan min shemaya.” The therapist was taken aback. “I have been doing this work for years,” he said to the great sage. “Every single person – without fail – whom I ask to write something, always signs his name. Why did the Rov not do that?” Rav Chaim answered, “Chazal teach that a person should not write his name on a blank sheet of paper, lest a dishonest person find and write above the signature that the undersigned owes him money, and then he would be liable.”

According to another version, this story happened after Rav Chaim was awakened from anesthesia by his doctor. The doctor gave him a blank piece of paper and told him to sign his name, in order to see if he was fully alert. Rav Chaim wrote the letters ב”ב קעה ע”ב – the place where the Mishnah says that one’s signature may be used as a proof to collect money from him.

Source: FJJ 3/24/2022, p. 14 and p. 36.


Pesachim 23a: Doing Business With Treif

Pesachim 23a: Hunters or fishermen who accidentally caught non-kosher animals are allowed to sell them to gentiles. Rashi: This is only if they caught them accidentally, but deliberately doing business with non-kosher food is forbidden, as stated in the Mishnah (Sheviis 7:3). 

פסחים כג ע”א: ציידי חיה ועופות ודגים שנזדמנו להם מינין טמאין ־ מותרין למוכרן לנכריםִ.

רש”י: שנזדמנו ־ דווקא שנזדמנו דלא מצרכינן להו להפקירן, אבל לכתחלה אסור לחזר אחריהן, כדתנן התם במסכת שביעית (פרק שביעי משנה ג): אין עושין סחורה לא בנבילות וטריפות, ולא בשקצים ורמשים.

Rabbi Yehoshua Falk was asked a shailah by the Jewish owner of the kosher slaughterhouse in his town. Sometimes there was no shochet available, but the gentiles of the town wanted meat, and his gentile employees wanted work. Could he tell his employees to slaughter animals and sell them as treif?

Jewish slaughterhouses typically sell to gentiles whatever animals are declared treif, as well as the parts of the animal that Jews don’t eat. This is not considered doing business with treif, because it is an “accidental” by-product of kosher shechitah. But here he would be deliberately slaughtering non-kosher.  

The rav reasoned that although it is forbidden to do business with treif, in this case the Jew would be doing nothing, only telling his gentile employees to do the work. This would depend on the question of whether אמירה לעכו”ם (telling a gentile to do an act forbidden to the Jew) is prohibited only for Shabbos, or applies to all types of aveiros. This question is posed in Bava Metzia 90a (regarding telling a gentile to muzzle a cow while it treads out the grain). He reasoned that we can rely on the Rishonim who say that the question was unresolved, and therefore we are lenient because “telling a gentile” is a Rabbinic prohibition. However, he sent the question to his rebbe, the Chasam Sofer.

The Chasam Sofer replied that if “telling a gentile” had been relevant here, he would have agreed to permit it, both because of the opinion of the Raavad, quoted by the Rosh, that the question is unresolved and we are lenient, and also because many say that the entire prohibition of doing business with non-kosher food is Rabbinic. However, “telling a gentile” doesn’t help us here because in the end, the Jew is the business owner and he is the one making the money off the sale of the meat. The fact that he is not doing the physical work himself is immaterial.

Rather, the Chasam Sofer proposed a different solution: to sell all the animals to the gentiles and have them slaughter, sell and keep all profits for themselves.

Source: Chasam Sofer, Likutim 6:24


Beitzah 16a: Do We Get Reimbursed for Seudas Rosh Chodesh?

Beitzah 16a: All of a person’s food is allotted to him between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, except for Shabbos and Yom Tov expenses, and tuition for his children to learn Torah. In those matters, if he spends less, they will give him less, and if he spends more, they will give him more.  

ביצה טז ע”א: כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובים לו מראש השנה ועד יום הכפורים, חוץ מהוצאת שבתות והוצאת יום טוב, והוצאת בניו לתלמוד תורה. שאם פחת ־ פוחתין לו, ואם הוסיף ־ מוסיפין לו.

משנה ברורה תי”ט סק”א: וכתבו הפוסקים בשם מדרש פסיקתא כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובין לו מר״ה עד ר״ה חוץ ממה שמוציא בשבתות ויו״ט ור״ח וחוה״מ ומה שהתינוקות מוליכין לבית רבן אם מוסיף מוסיפין לו ואם פוחת פוחתין לו וכתב הב״י דמה שאמר מה שהתינוקות מוליכין וכו׳ קאי על שכר לימוד והב״ח פירש דקאי על ר״ח והכונה על מה שאנו נוהגין לשלוח ע״י התינוקות מעות של ר״ח לרבן ואין לבטל המנהג ע״כ:

שער הציון סק”ב: ובמ״א משמע שהיה לו הגירסא בטור מה שהתינוקות מוליכין לבית רבן בר״ח ובאמת לא מצאתי גירסא זו בשום מקום עיין מקור הדברים באו״ז וברוקח ובפסיקתא דרב כהנא בפרשה ולקחתם לכם ומצאתי במבאר לפסיקתא שתמה ג״כ עליו:

פסיקתא דרב כהנא כח,א: תני מראש השנה נקצצין מזונותיו של אדם חוץ ממה שהוא מוציא בימים טובים ובשבתות ובראשי חדשים ובחולו של מועד ומה שהתינוקות מוליכין לבית רבן, אם פחת פוחתין לו ואם הוסיף מוסיפין לו.

Someone once asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky if there is anything wrong with quoting Rabbi Shlomo Buber, since he was “a controversial figure.” Rav Chaim replied immediately that the Chofetz Chaim quotes Buber, so he is clearly acceptable. The questioner went and searched through all the writings of the Chofetz Chaim, but could not find it, so he gave up and came back to Rav Chaim, who replied on the spot, “It’s an explicit Shaar Hatziyun in 419:2.”

There the Mishnah Berurah brings down the Tur who says that not only does one get reimbursed for Shabbos and Yom Tov expenses, as our Gemara says, but also Rosh Chodesh as the Pesikta says:

“It is taught: From Rosh Hashanah a person’s food is allocated, except for what he spends on Yom Tov and Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed and what the children carry to their rebbe’s house. In these matters, if he spends less, they will give him less, and if he spends more, they will give him more.”  (Pesikta Derav Kahana 28:1)

The Magen Avraham, however, quotes the Tur as saying that the term “Rosh Chodesh” should be at the end of the sentence and refers to a tip or tuition payment that children used to bring to their rebbe every Rosh Chodesh. According to this, there remains no source to say that a person will be reimbursed for money spent on a Rosh Chodesh meal.

The Shaar Hatziyun says, however, that he didn’t find this text in the Tur and in fact, all earlier Rishonim who quote the Pesikta, as well as our Pesikta itself, have the words Rosh Chodesh earlier in the sentence. He also mentions that “the commentator on the Pesikta” (meaning Rabbi Shlomo Buber, who published the Pesikta in 1868 with explanatory footnotes) makes this point as well.

Source: FJJ, March 24, 2022 p. 12

[What is hard to understand here is why anyone would have thought that Rabbi Shlomo Buber was controversial. He was a religious Jew who dedicated himself to researching and publishing all the Midrashim, determining the meaning of obscure words, the correct version of the texts, as well as when and where they were compiled. Perhaps it was because he referred to himself as a maskil and had friends who were maskilim.]  


Shabbos 152a: Someone to Sit Shiva

Shabbos 152a: Rav Yehuda said: If someone dies and has no relatives to sit shiva, ten people should go to his place and sit shiva for him.

 שבת קנב ע”א: אמר רב יהודה מת שאין לו מנחמין הולכין י’ בני אדם ויושבין במקומו.

Rabbi Simcha Wasserman and his Rebbetzin were not blessed with children. The Rebbetzin at first used to say she hoped to predecease Reb Simcha so that she shouldn’t have to live without him. Then she changed her mind and said, let me outlive him so that I can sit shiva for him. In the end, she passed away exactly nine days after him.

Source: A Canopy of Stars

[We see here that aveilus is not just for the aveilim; it’s for the niftar. That is why the Gemara says that if there are no aveilim, ten people should go and sit shiva. And by the same token, the Rebbetzin wanted Reb Simcha to have someone to sit shiva for him. See my notes on the story “Learning Torah is Better than Kaddish” brought on Sanhedrin 104a, where it seems that this is a dispute between the Rambam and the Ramban.

In fact, in Yoreh Deah 376:3 the Mechaber quotes our Gemara (that ten people should sit shiva), and the Rema comments that he has not seen people do this; however, there is a minhag to hold daily minyanim in the niftar’s house for seven days. It could be that the Gemara and the Mechaber are going with the opinion that aveilus is for the niftar, while the Rema is going with the opinion that aveilus is for the aveilim.]


Sanhedrin 66a: Using the Goral HaGra

Sanhedrin 66a: “Do not attempt to discern the future from random events” means, for example, taking a weasel or birds or fish as a sign of good or bad fortune.

Chullin 95b: Any fortunetelling that is not similar to Eliezer, servant of Avraham, and Yonasan ben Shaul, is not fortunetelling.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:4: Making signs for oneself, saying if such and such happens to me then I will do such and such, and if not I will not, like Eliezer the servant of Avraham, it is forbidden, and whoever acts on this is punished with lashes. Raavad: This is permitted, and the Gemara calling it fortunetelling does not mean that it’s forbidden, but rather that it’s reliable.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:5:  One who asks a child which verse he is learning, and if he says a verse of blessing, he will be happy and take it as a good omen – this is permitted because he didn’t act or refrain from acting based on the omen. 

סנהדרין סו ע”א: תנו רבנן: (ויקרא י״ט) לא תנחשו ולא תעוננו ־ כגון אלו המנחשים בחולדה בעופות ובדגים.

חולין צה ע”ב: כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר עבד אברהם וכיונתן בן שאול אינו נחשִ.

רמב”ם הלכות עבודת כוכבים יא,ד: אין מנחשין כעכו״ם שנאמר לא תנחשו, כיצד הוא הנחש כגון אלו שאומרים הואיל ונפלה פתי מפי או נפל מקלי מידי איני הולך למקום פלוני היום שאם אלך אין חפציי נעשים, הואיל ועבר שועל מימיני איני יוצא מפתח ביתי היום שאם אצא יפגעני אדם רמאי, וכן אלו ששומעים צפצוף העוף ואומרים יהיה כך ולא יהיה כך, טוב לעשות דבר פלוני ורע לעשות דבר פלוני, וכן אלו שאומרים שחוט תרנגול זה שקרא ערבית, שחוט תרנגולת זו שקראה כמו תרנגול, וכן המשים סימנים לעצמו אם יארע לי כך וכך אעשה דבר פלוני ואם לא יארע לי לא אעשה, כאליעזר עבד אברהם, וכן כל כיוצא בדברים האלו הכל אסור וכל העושה מעשה מפני דבר מדברים אלו לוקה.

השגת הראב״ד וכן המשים לעצמו סימנים אם יארע לו כך וכך וכו׳. א״א זה שבוש גדול שהרי דבר זה מותר ומותר הוא ואולי הטעהו הלשון שראה כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר ויונתן אינו נחש והוא סבר שלענין איסור נאמר ולא היא אלא ה״ק אינו ראוי לסמוך ואיך חשב על צדיקים כמותם עבירה זו ואי הוו אינהו הוו מפקי פולסי דנורא לאפיה.

רמב”ם שם הלכה ה: מי שאמר דירה זו שבניתי סימן טוב היתה עלי, אשה זו שנשאתי ובהמה זו שקניתי מבורכת היתה מעת שקניתיה עשרתי, וכן השואל לתינוק אי זה פסוק אתה לומד אם אמר לו פסוק מן הברכות ישמח ויאמר זה סימן טוב כל אלו וכיוצא בהן מותר הואיל ולא כיון מעשיו ולא נמנע מלעשות אלא עשה זה סימן לעצמו לדבר שכבר היה הרי זה מותר.

ובשו”ע יו”ד קע”ט ס”ד: מותר לומר לתינוק פסוק לי פסוקיך (טור) י״א דאדם מותר לעשות לו סימן בדבר שיבא לעתיד כמו שעשה אליעזר עבד אברהם או יהונתן (טור והר״ד קמחי) ויש אוסרין (רמב״ם וסמ״ג) וההולך בתום ובוטח בה׳ חסד יסובבנו:

ולכאורה גורל הגר”א במקום שמכוין מעשיו על פיו יהיה תלוי במחלקת הרמב”ם והראב”ד.

Rav Elazar Shach heard the following story from Rav Reuven Feinstein, rav of Suvolk, R’ Moshe Feinstein’s brother, with whom he studied in Slutzk.  World War I began on Tisha B’av 5674. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, the advancing German army drew close to Radin and confusion reigned. No one wished to remain in a battle zone. The civilian population knew that their food and other vital supplies would be commandeered by one side or another. No one could know in whose favor the fighting would go, and being at the mercy of an enemy army was an unpleasant prospect. On the other hand, for hundreds of yeshivah students to suddenly take flight was itself fraught with danger. Transportation was in turmoil and military forces were everywhere. Nor could one know in which direction safety lay or where a Jewish community capable of harboring them might be found. Shortages of vital commodities existed everywhere, and no community would be able to accommodate a sudden mass influx of Torah students. The responsibility rested squarely on the shoulders of the roshei yeshiva. The fate of hundreds of students rested in their hands.

The critical time drew close yet no decision had been made. Finally a delegation of bochurim went to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levinson to ask what they should do, but he was at a loss as to how to answer them. He went to confer with his father-in-law the Chofetz Chaim, but he too said that he was not sure what the plan of action should be. 

The next morning Rav Tzvi Hirsch decided that the time had come to cast the Goral HaGra to determine the proper course of action. Normally, the commandment, “You shall be complete with Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 18:13) prohibits attempts to foretell the future. But in a situation where the correct course of action is totally unclear and so much is at stake, there was little other choice.

The lot was cast and it came out on the verse, “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps” (Bereishis 32:11). This seemed a clear indication that the yeshiva should split in two. Just then, the Chofetz Chaim entered Rav Tzvi Hirsch’s house and announced that he had come to a decision as to what should be done. He expressed his decision by quoting a verse from the Torah: “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps.” The bochurim were amazed at this coincidence. Rav Tzvi Hirsch informed the Chofetz Chaim that he had performed the Goral HaGra and that the result has been that very same verse from the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim was heartened when he heard about this and declared, “If so, then it is very good.” Nevertheless, since the stakes were so high and the situation so dangerous, Rav Tzvi Hirsch suggested that the Goral HaGra be performed again by the Chofetz Chaim himself. But the Chofetz Chaim demurred, telling them, “Ich vil nisht matriach zein der Eibershter tzvei mol – I don’t want to trouble the Almighty a second time.”

Source: The Rosh Yeshiva Remembers, p. 178

[There are many stories about the Goral HaGra, but I chose this one because it mentions the reason for the hesitation to use it: because of the verse תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך. Actually the Rambam’s reason to forbid it is לא תנחשו. And the problem is not attempting to tell the future; the problem is acting on a sign one has set up for himself. But perhaps those who cited the posuk תמים תהיה meant that the Rema recommends following the Rambam because of תמים תהיה.

The Chida in Shiurei Bracha (Yoreh Deah 179:6) quotes the Maharikash who says that all opinions – even the Rambam – would agree that it is allowed to open the Torah randomly and follow whatever posuk comes up. His proof is from the story of Yoshiahu Hamelech, who was shocked by the discovery of a Sefer Torah in the Beis Hamikdash, and tore his garments. Chazal say that he found the sefer open to the Tochacha, with the posuk, “Hashem will lead you and your king that you will appoint over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers ever knew…” at the top of the column.

One can argue, however, that although Yoshiahu certainly saw that verse as a prophecy, he did not make any decision based on it, other than to consult a navi and lead a mass teshuva movement – things that were correct to do in any case.

(It’s interesting that although this story – that the Sefer Hatorah was found open to the Tochacha – is quoted as a Chazal by many of the commentaries on Tanach, such as Radak, Metzudas Dovid and Malbim, it is not to be found in any extant Gemara or Midrash. The Gemara (Yuma 52b) merely says that because Yoshiahu saw the Torah’s prophecy “Hashem will lead you and your king…” he hid the Aron so that the conquering enemies shouldn’t get their hands on it. It does not say that the Torah was found open to those words.) 

The Chida goes on to bring a proof from the Yalkut on Mishlei 219: “If you want to take counsel from the Torah, take; and similarly it states of Dovid, I will speak about Your commandments.” He argues that one way of taking counsel from the Torah is to open the Torah and pick a posuk at random. However, the simple meaning is to use one’s knowledge of the Torah and apply it to life, as the Chofetz Chaim said, quoted by Reb Elchonon in Ikvesa D’meshicha: “The Torah contains advice for every situation; all is hinted in the Torah. One who has to make a difficult decision should consult the Torah, and what he finds there is Hashem’s own advice.”   

הקדוש בעל חפץ חיים זצ”ל היה רגיל לומר: יש בחיי אדם רגעים אשר הוא נאלץ להחליט בענין ידוע ואינו יודע מה להחליט, יש והענין נוגע לו עד נפש ומשאינו יודע מה לעשות, הוא בא לידי יאוש. והנה לוחש לו אחד על אזנו: הרי תוכל לשאול בעצתו של השי”ת בכבודו ובעצמו. איכה זה? ישתומם האדם. ובאמת, אמר החפץ חיים זצ”ל, נתנה אפשרות זו לכל אדם ואדם. יש לנו תורה, הכוללת תשובות על כל שאלות שבעולם. ליכא מידי דלא רמיזא באורייתא. הפתרון שמוצאים אותו בתורה, הוא עצת ה’. יש לדעת, כי מלבד המצוות והאסורים הכתובים בתורה, רשומות שם גם עצות, עצות מנוסות וכשם שהתורה נצחית היא, כך גם עצת התורה נצחית היא. לדוגמא: לעולם ישליש אדם מעותיו, שליש בקרקע, שליש בפרגמטיא ושליש בכספים (בבא מציעא מ”ב ע”א). כי במקרה שיפסיד עסק אחד והיה הנשאר לו לפליטה. זאת היא עצה מנוסה. מי שלא נהג לפי כלל זה לא בטל מצוה, אלא סרב לקבל עצה טובה. ועוד מרגלא בפומי’ של החפץ חיים: דרושות עינים מאירות לראות את הכתוב בתורה ואיפה שכתוב בה, כי הכל כתוב בה. (מאמר עיקבתא דמשיחא)

The Chida also quotes a manuscript of Rabbi Eliyahu Hakohein (d. 1729), author of Shevet Mussar, where he writes that he received a tradition from his teachers that whenever they were faced with a hard decision, they would open a Chumash or a Tanach, see what posuk comes out at the top of the page and follow what it said. Thus they took counsel with the Torah, in keeping with the Midrash in Mishlei.

In passing, we see from this that the basic concept of the “Goral HaGra” did not start with the Gra. In fact, we don’t really have any proof that the Gra taught this Goral (“Hagaon” by Dov Eliach, p. 1117).

Even though it does seem to be a machlokes in Shulchan Aruch, with the Rema recommending following the Rambam, the Biur HaGra brings a number of proofs to the Raavad and seems to rule that way. 

It seems that Reb Tzvi Hirsch Levinson and all those gedolim who used the Goral did not completely hold like the Raavad and the first opinion in Shulchan Aruch (which the Shevet Mussar evidently followed) that one may use the Goral in all situations. They reserved it for especially difficult circumstances.

It’s fascinating that in this very same story, the Chofetz Chaim followed his own method, as conveyed by Reb Elchonon, and “consulted with the Torah” not by a goral but by finding the correct advice in a posuk. In fact, according to the version of this story printed in the book “Hagaon” p. 1122, the Chofetz Chaim replied the first time too, when casting the Goral was suggested, that he did not want to trouble the Almighty.  

Nevertheless, the same book on pages 1110 and 1116 brings cases when the Chofetz Chaim did use the Goral.]


Nedarim 27a: Writing Styles in Shas

Nedarim 27a: Who is the Tanna of this baraisa that the Rabbis taught? “If one vowed not to benefit from five people, and he annulled the vow for one of them, all of them become annulled. But if he originally made the vow excluding one of them, he is permitted and the rest are forbidden.”

נדרים כז ע”א: מאן תנא להא דתנו רבנן: נדר מחמשה בני אדם כאחד ־ הותר לאחד מהם הותרו כולן, חוץ מאחד מהן ־ הוא מותר והן אסורין.

Two boys in the Mirrer Yeshiva were sitting in the Beis Medrash, Gemaras open on their shtenders, but they were schmoozing and wasting time. Suddenly, Reb Nochum walked by. The boys quickly pretended to be learning, chanting loudly, “Tanu Rabanan…” Reb Nochum said, “I know you’re not learning, because there is no Tanu Rabanan anywhere in Nedarim!”

When this story was told to Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, he commented, “It’s true that there is no Tanu Rabanan, but there is one D’tanu Rabanan.”   

Source: FJJ March 25, 2022 p. 44

[There are only two masechtas where “Tanu Rabanan” does not appear: Nedarim and Tamid. Otherwise, it appears 1,979 times, which is on average once every 1.3 blatt. There is clearly a significant difference here. As Tosafos says (Nedarim 7a), Nedarim is written in a different style (לשון נדרים משונה). The Tiferes Yisroel on Avos 2:4, Boaz, writes about the virtues of chazarah and explains the Mishnah אל תאמר לכשאפנה אשנה as referring to chazarah. And an author must certainly check over his sefer to eliminate errors. Even the great Rav Ashi with his yeshiva went through Shas twice in his life, each time for 30 years, in order to compile and perfect it. The masechtas Nedarim, Nazir, Erechin, Krisos, Temurah, Me’ilah and Tamid, he proposes, have a different style because Rav Ashi didn’t get to edit them a second time. We can theorize that maybe in his second edition he decided to distinguish a certain kind of Baraisa from others using the code words “Tanu Rabanan”. Nedarim, since it is from the first edition, does not contain these words.]


Sanhedrin 104a: Learning Torah is Better than Kaddish

Sanhedrin 104a: Why didn’t Amon lose his share in Olam Haba? Because of his son Yoshiyahu. If so, Menashe should also have a share due to his father Chizkiyahu! – A son can bring merit to his father, but a father cannot bring merit to his son.

סנהדרין קד ע”א. מפני מה לא מנו את אמון ־ מפני כבודו של יאשיהו. מנשה נמי לא נמני מפני כבודו של חזקיהוִ ־ ברא מזכי אבא. אבא לא מזכי ברא, דכתיב (דברים ל״ב) ואין מידי מציל, אין אברהם מציל את ישמעאל, אין יצחק מציל את עשו.

When Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman was 14 years old and learning in Slobodka, then exiled in Minsk, he displayed amazing hasmadah. When word reached the yeshiva a week after Sukkos that the young man’s father had died, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka, decided to withhold the information from him until Pesach. The Alter was afraid R’ Yaakov Yitzchok’s diligence might slack and he might not fulfil his Rosh Hashanah resolution to complete Shas that winter (according to other versions of the story, it was Seder Nezikin or Seder Kodshim).  The Alter ruled that the orphan’s study of Torah was a greater Kiddush Hashem than the reciting of Kaddish on which he was missing out.

The Alter used a similar approach with R’ Reuven Grozovsky, saying, “Why should we tell Reb Reuven that his father died? So that he should say Kaddish? He says Yisgadel V’yiskadesh Shmeih Raba 24 hours a day!”

When Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky told this story about Reb Reuven, he added, “I want this story to remain for generations.”

Source: Making of a Godol p. 165

[The Rema in Yoreh Deah 376 says that the source for saying Kaddish is a story in the Midrash about Rabbi Akiva. The Kol Bo and the Rivash quote it from the Tanchuma and Sifri, but I was unable to locate these sources. The Rabbeinu Bachya quotes it from Maseches Kallah Chapter 2.

רמ”א יו”ד שע”ו ס”ד: ונמצא במדרשות לומר קדיש על אב (כל בו וריב״ש בשם תנחומא וספרי ובחיי בשם מסכת כלה וב״י בשם הזוהר ובא״ז בשם תנא דבי אליהו רבא).

Maseches Kallah 2: Rabbi Akiva went out to a certain place and found a man carrying a load on his shoulder that he was unable to bear, and he was crying and groaning. He asked him, “What happened to you?” He said, “I committed every sin in the world while I was alive, and now there are guards over me and they do not allow me any rest.” Rabbi Akiva said, “Did you leave a son?” He said, “By your life, do not ask me, because I am afraid of the angels who are beating me with fiery lashes and saying, why can’t you get the work done faster?” He said, “I will tell them to leave you alone.” He said, “I left my wife pregnant.” Rabbi Akiva traveled to his city and said, “Where is the son of so-and-so?” They said, “May the memory of his ground bones be erased.” He said, “Why?” They said, “He was a robber who killed and harmed people, and he consorted with a betrothed girl on Yom Kippur.” He went to his house and found his wife pregnant. He waited until she gave birth, and made a bris for the child. When he was old enough, he brought him to shul to say blessings in public. Later Rabbi Akiva returned to that place and the man appeared to him and said, “May your mind find rest, for you have allowed me to rest.”  

ר׳ עקיבא נפק לההוא אתרא אשכחיה לההוא גברא דהוי דרי טונא אכתפיה ולא הוה מצי לסגויי ביה והוה צוח ומתאנח א״ל מאי עבידתיך א״ל לא שבקנא איסורא דלא עבידנא בההיא עלמא ועכשיו איכא נטורין עילוון ולא שבקין לי דינוח א״ל רבי עקיבא שבקת ברא א״ל בחייך לא תשלין דדחילנא ממלאכי דמחו לי בפולסי דנורא ואמרין לי אמאי לא תיתי בפריע א״ל אימא ליה דקא ניחותך א״ל שבקית אתתא מעברתא אזל ר׳ עקיבא עאל לההיא מדינתא אמר להו בריה דפלוני היכא אמרו ליה יעקר זכרו דההוא שחיק עצמות א״ל אמאי אמרו ליה ההוא לסטים אכל אינשי ומצער בריתא ולא עוד אלא שבא על נערה המאורסה ביום הכפורים אזל לביתיה אשכח אתתיה מעוברתא נטרה עד דילדה אזל מהליה לכי גדל אוקמי׳ בבי כנישתא לברוכי בקהלא לימים אזל ר׳ עקיבא לההוא אתרא איתחזי ליה א״ל תנוח דעתך שהנחת את דעתי.

The Beis Yosef quotes it from the Zohar:

כתב הכלבו על מה שנמצא בהגדה שפעם אחד פגע רבי פלוני באחד שהיה מקושש עצים וכו’ אמר ליה אין מי שיצילני אם לא שיאמר בני קדיש א’ או יפטיר בנביא על זה פשט המנהג לומר בנו של מת קדיש בתרא כל י”ב חדש וגם להפטיר בנביא ויש שמתפללין כל מוצאי שבת תפלת ערבית לפי שבאותה שעה חוזרין הרשעים לגיהנם ואיפשר שתגן עליהם אותה תפלה והמעשה הזה הוא בזוהר בסוף פרשה אחרי מות.

The Zohar is the Zohar Chadash at the end of Acharei Mos, 60b. There the end of the story is:

“The dead father of the child, who had been punished, came to the sage in a dream and said: Rabbi, may Hashem comfort you as much as you comforted me. When my son said the Haftarah in public, they released me from punishment. When he led the prayers and said Kaddish, they completely tore up my decree. When he became a scholar, they gave me a portion in Gan Eden, and they granted me entrance into the yeshiva of tzaddikim. And when he became an even bigger scholar and they called him Rabbi, they crowned me with the crown that tzaddikim wear, and they gave me from the pleasure of the shine of the Shechinah.”

This Zohar supports the Alter’s contention that learning Torah is more valuable than saying kaddish.

However, there is a second issue here: how could the Alter make Rav Ruderman miss out on sitting shiva in favor of learning? Clearly if Chazal say an aveil should not learn, they are teaching that aveilus is better for the neshamah than learning.

This would depend on whether aveilus is for the dead person, or for the live person. Perhaps it is for the live person’s comfort or emotional health. If so, in this case where the aveil doesn’t know he is an aveil, there would be no problem in missing it.

This question is discussed in Yoreh Deah 344:10. The Rema quotes Rabbeinu Yerucham who says that if a father instructed his children not to sit shiva for him, they must sit shiva anyway. Rabbeinu Yerucham must have understood shiva as being for the sake of the living people. But Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that in the following siman (345:1) the halacha is that we don’t sit shiva for someone who committed suicide. This halacha comes from Aveil Rabasi, where it says that for a suicide we don’t do anything that is for the honor of the dead, but we do things that are for the honor of the living. The Rambam classifies shiva as the honor of the dead, while the Ramban classifies it as the honor of the living. Since we pasken like the Rambam, the Rema should not have paskened like Rabbeinu Yerucham.

The Alter’s choice to deprive Rav Ruderman’s father of shiva would thus make sense only according to the Rema. However, it could be that he held that since other relatives were already sitting shiva, the honor of the dead was fulfilled, and there was no need for Rav Ruderman to sit shiva as well. Alternatively, perhaps he held that for the honor of the dead, it would be enough to sit for a short time several months later (שמועה רחוקה).

In the Gemara we began with, Chazal derive the idea that a righteous father cannot save a bad son from the posuk in Haazinu ואין מידי מציל – “No one can save from My hand.” Seemingly, this doesn’t prove anything because the posuk could just as well have been applied to a son saving a father. Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt”l, in Taama Dikra, gives a simple answer: the more of a tzaddik the father is, on the contrary, the more of the son should be blamed for leaving the path of Torah. But if a bad father has a son who becomes a tzaddik, that shows that the father must not have been so bad, since he tolerated or perhaps encouraged his son to do teshuva. Thus the son saving the father is logical and is not called הצלה, so it doesn’t contradict the posuk ואין מידי מציל. Only the father saving the son would be illogical and could only work through prayer and intervention. On this the Torah says: there is no intervention with My punishment.]  


Chagigah 11b: What is the moon made of?

Chagigah 11b: One may not explain Maasei Bereishis in front of two students, only one, but the Merkava one may not explain even to one, unless he is wise and understands on his own.

Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 3:9: All the stars and celestial spheres have a soul and mind and understanding, and they are alive and recognize the Creator. Each one according to its level praises and glorifies its Creator as the angels do. And just as they recognize the Holy One, blessed is He, they recognize themselves and the angels that are above them. The stars and spheres’ level of understanding is lower than the angels, but greater than humans.

Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 4:10: What I have said in these Chapters 3 and 4 is called Maasei Bereishis, and the early sages ordered that these matters not be taught in public, only to one person at a time.

חגיגה יא ע”ב:  אין דורשין בעריות בשלשה, ולא במעשה בראשית בשנים, ולא במרכבה ביחיד, אלא אם כן היה חכם ומבין מדעתו.

רמב”ם יסודי התורה פ”ג ה”ט: כל הכוכבים והגלגלים כולן בעלי נפש ודעה והשכל הם, והם חיים ועומדים ומכירין את מי שאמר והיה העולם, כל אחד ואחד לפי גדלו ולפי מעלתו משבחים ומפארים ליוצרם כמו המלאכים, וכשם שמכירין הקב״ה כך מכירין את עצמן ומכירין את המלאכים שלמעלה מהן, ודעת הכוכבים והגלגלים מעוטה מדעת המלאכים וגדולה מדעת בני אדם.

ושם פ”ד ה”י: וביאור כל אלו הדברים שבפרק שלישי ורביעי הוא הנקרא מעשה בראשית, וכך צוו החכמים הראשונים שאין דורשין בדברים האלו ברבים אלא לאדם אחד מודיעין דברים אלו ומלמדין אותן.

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky sought out someone with a television set on Sunday, July 20, 1969 in order to watch astronaut Neil Armstrong land on the moon. He later wrote about this in Emes Leyaakov (Bereishis 1:1) and explained why he held that this historic event proved the Ramban correct and the Rambam incorrect.

The Ramban on the first posuk in Bereishis says that at first, Hashem created from nothing a formless material called hiuli (tohu); then He formed everything from that material. Later, the Ramban clarifies that the heavens were made from one type of hiuli, and the earth was made from a second type. In his comment on posuk 8, the Ramban says, “The heavens mentioned in the first posuk are the upper heavens – not the celestial spheres, but rather above the Merkava. The Torah does not tell us anything about their creation, just as it does not mention the angels, the chayos of the Merkava, or anything that is not physical. It just mentions that the heavens were created from nothing.”

Reb Yaakov said we see from this Ramban that everything in this world – not just the planet earth but all the heavenly bodies too – are included in “haaretz” – since they are all physical. It is only spiritual beings that are the “shomayim” of the first posuk.

“It was these words of the Ramban that stood by me,” he continued, “when we watched people climbing out of the spacecraft down the ladder and onto the moon. And I thought in my heart, what will the Rambam answer now? The Rambam wrote that the moon has a spiritual form. And I thought: now Kabbalah has defeated philosophy. So I took comfort in these words of the Ramban.

“But I could not make peace with the idea that the Rambam erred. If the Rambam could be wrong in Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah, why can’t he be wrong in Hilchos Shabbos and the like?”

He goes on to ask how the Rambam could have written about “Maasei Merkava” in Chapters 1 and 2, and “Maasei Bereishis” in Chapters 3 and 4, if Chazal say (and the Rambam quotes it himself) that one may not teach these matters in public. His answer is that the source for the ideas in these four chapters is not the Torah, but the Rambam’s own philosophy. When he was shown later by Rabbi Yitzchak Perman that Rabbi David Arama writes similarly in his commentary on the Rambam, Reb Yaakov exclaimed שישו בני מעי (echoing R’ Elazar’s joy at finding out that his legal decisions were correct – Bava Metzia 83b).

Source: Emes Leyaakov p. 15; Making of a Godol p. 157

[There are a number of questions about this story:

  1. Reb Yaakov assumes that when the Rambam wrote that “all the stars and celestial spheres have a soul and mind,” he meant that the moon is not a physical ball of rock, and thus it would be impossible to walk on it. But what is the indication that the Rambam meant that? Maybe he meant the moon is physical but it has a soul and mind – just like a person is physical yet has a soul and mind.
  2. Even if the Rambam’s scientific statements were disproven, why would that mean that “kabbalah defeated philosophy” (where philosophy has the broad connotation it had in the ancient world, which included science)? It would only be the Rambam’s particular version of astronomy that was disproven.
  3. Reb Yaakov asks a very good question about how the Rambam wrote about matters that Chazal forbade to teach. How does Reb Yaakov’s answer – that the Rambam did not get his information from Chazal – resolve this question? If the Rambam indeed held that Merkava means philosophical analysis of G-d’s attributes, and Bereishis means astronomy, then he was teaching what is forbidden to teach.

On this last point, I think the answer lies in Yesodei Hatorah 2:2: “What is the way to reach love and fear of Hashem? When one meditates on His amazing and great actions and creations, and sees from them His boundless wisdom, immediately he loves and praises Hashem and has a great desire to know Him, as Dovid said, ‘My soul thirsts for G-d, for the living G-d.’ And when he thinks of these things, immediately he falls backward and feels fear, knowing that he is a but a small, insignificant creature, with tiny knowledge, standing before the Perfect Mind. As Dovid said, ‘When I see Your heavens… what is man that You are mindful of him?’ And based on these words, I will explain general principles about the work of the Master of the Universe, so that they might be a starting point for a wise person to love Hashem.

We see here that the Rambam does not start down this road with the goal of teaching Maasei Merkava and Maasei Bereishis. He is only outlining a few general points to inspire fear and love of Hashem. The prohibition is only violated when one teaches it in detail.

Similarly, in 2:11-12 he writes, “These things that we have stated in these two chapters are like a drop in the ocean of what should be explained in the subject. And the explanation of all the principles in these two chapters is what is called Maasei Merkava. The earlier Sages commanded not to expound these matters to more than one person, provided that he is wise and can understand on his own. Then one can tell him the beginnings of the subjects (ראשי הפרקים) and a bit (שמץ) of the matter, and he understands on his own and knows the end of the matter and its depth.

There is clearly a difference between “a drop in the ocean” – which is allowed to state publicly – and “a bit” – which is forbidden.

Similarly, in 4:10 he says, “All these things that we have spoken on this subject are like a drop in the bucket, and they are deep matters. And the explanation of all these matters of chapters 3 and 4 is what is called Maasei Bereishis.” 

A “drop in the bucket” is allowed to state publicly; “the explanation of all these matters” is not.

But if we say this, we no longer need Reb Yaakov’s answer, that the Rambam’s source was not the Torah or Chazal. Even if his source were the Torah, since he only gave us a drop in the ocean, it would be permitted. So what did Reb Yaakov’s answer accomplish as far that question?

It does, however, explain how the Rambam could have been wrong about the moon. I don’t have access to the commentary of Rabbi David Arama, but the anonymous commentary on the side of Yesodei Hatorah 2:1-2 writes, “These rules that the Gaon (the Rambam) states – some of them are apparent to the eye, and some of them can be proven using science and mathematics. Therefore we believe the words of the Gaon z”l, who knew these matters through proofs. And whoever wishes to know the proofs to his words should go and study the branches of wisdom, until he knows the creations of Hashem well.” This seems to support Reb Yaakov’s contention that the Rambam’s source was not Chazal.]

Bava Metzia

Bava Metzia 97a: Who Decides What Masechta to Learn

Bava Metzia 97a: Rava said: A melamed, a planter, a shochet, a doctor and a barber are all considered working for their customers, so that if the customer were to borrow an item from them while they worked for him, and it broke, he would be exempt under the rule of בעליו עמו. The students said to Rava: “You are then working for us!” Rava was upset and said to them, “Are you trying to make me lose money? On the contrary, you are working for me, because I could switch you from one masechta to another, but you cannot.”

בבא מציעא צז ע”א: אמר רבא: מקרי דרדקי, שתלא, טבחא, ואומנא, ספר מתא ־ כולהון בעידן עבידתייהו כשאילה בבעלים דמו. אמרו ליה רבנן לרבא: שאיל לן מרִ. אקפיד, אמר להו: לאפקועי ממונאי קא בעיתו? אדרבה, אתון שאילתון לי. דאילו אנא מצי אישתמוטי לכו ממסכתא למסכתא, אתון לא מציתו לאישתמוטי.

Because he had his own original approach to study, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman did not follow the standard practice of other yeshivos in choosing the tractates to be studied. He refused to confine himself to Nashim and Nezikin alone, and then, instead of only covering the first few chapters of the masechta, he would cover each masechta to the end. He regarded this approach as vital to the wellbeing of the students. He took into account that his yeshiva was a preparatory division for younger students, from which they would proceed to the senior yeshivos, where deep and intensive scholarship is devoted to the limited area of Nashim and Nezikin. Consequently he would say, “If not now, when? If you do not acquire a basic familiarity with at least a large portion of the Talmud, and if you will not cover each assigned tractate from beginning to end, then you are liable never to study these Gemaras at all.”

Accordingly, he instituted in the yeshivos where he taught that each semester a new masechta be started and covered to the end, the exception being Bava Basra, which was very large and thus required at least a full year – two semesters. Here, too, however, his approach was original. He would begin with the eighth chapter, Yesh Nochalin, rather than the first, Hashutfin. Only after he had reached the end of the tractate did he revert to the beginning and teach from Hashutfin until Yesh Nochalin. His assumption was that if he began with the first chapter, it was very doubtful whether his students would ever reach the end of the lengthy masechta. They would tire in the middle…

When he attempted to introduce this innovation into the Brisk Yeshiva, the talmidim protested that it was unheard of to reverse the order. They were unwilling to adopt a practice so different from that of all other yeshivos. Reb Elchonon immediately proposed that they and he submit their arguments to a Din Torah to be judged by Reb Chaim, the Rav of the town.

Reb Elchonon contended that a rosh yeshiva had the authority to select the masechta to be studied, as Rava states in Bava Metzia 97a. The talmidim argued that Tosafos on Bava Metzia 2a say, “Rebbi did not follow the order of the masechtas, but taught in accordance with the wishes of the talmidim” (and therefore, when a dispute appears in one masechta and then an anonymous mishnah taking one of the sides appears in a later masechta, this does not mean that Rebbi decided the dispute, because perhaps the later masechta was actually taught by Rebbi first).

“That is a good argument,” Reb Elchonon replied in the presence of Reb Chaim, “but in truth there is no contradiction. When are students subject to their teacher’s wishes? When it makes a difference to the teacher which masechta he teaches.” (Rashi explains that Rava’s motivation for changing masechtas was that he was worried about forgetting a particular masechta.) “To Rabbeinu Hakadosh, there was no difference. He knew everything and could always teach the masechta that appealed to his talmidim.

“To me, too, it makes no difference,” Reb Elchonon continued. “You, however, are not interested in any particular masechta, but merely in following a certain procedure – that we should start at the beginning. Your argument, then, has no basis. The chapters beginning with Yesh Nochalin deal with the laws of inheritance and are like a new masechta, having no connection with the beginning of Bava Basra, which is concerned with the laws of partners, neighbors and presumptions of ownership. All that is necessary is to enclose the word “Yesh” in a decorative box.”

Reb Chaim upheld Reb Elchonon’s view, and ruled accordingly. The talmidim had to accept the verdict and open their Gemaras to Yesh Nochalin.


Many years later, in 1937 in Baranovitch, a similar dispute arose: The yeshiva had just finished Beitzah and Reb Elchonon wanted to learn another Moed masechta, while the talmidim wanted to learn a yeshivishe masechta from Nashim or Nezikin. They cited the above Tosafos which says that Rebbi taught his talmidim whatever masechta they wanted to learn. Reb Elchonon replied, “Rebbi considered what was best for his students and acted as he did. We also know very well that it is better for you to learn Moed.”

The talmidim also argued that the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 19a) says, “A man can only learn Torah in the subject that his heart desires.” Reb Elchonon responded, “Chazal did not intend that this should apply to young students who have never studied the masechta I wish to teach them. Hence they cannot know properly what to want and what not to.”

The case was submitted to the mashgiach, Rabbi Yisroel Yaakov Lubchansky, who ruled in favor of the talmidim.

Source: Reb Elchonon (Artscroll), pp. 74-76


Berachos 61b: Fish Were Created for the Water

Berachos 61b: Once the evil government decreed that Jews were forbidden to study Torah. Papus ben Yehuda found Rabbi Akiva gathering groups in public and teaching Torah. He said to him, “Akiva, aren’t you afraid of the government?” He said to him, “I will give you a parable: A fox was walking on the bank of the river, and saw the fish gathering in one place and then another. ‘Why are you fleeing?’ he asked them. ‘From the nets cast by men,’ they said. He said to them, ‘Would you like to come up onto the dry land, and I will live with you just as my fathers lived with your fathers?’ They said to him: ‘Are you the one they call the wisest of the animals?’ You are not wise, but foolish. If in our element of life we are afraid, all the more so in our element of death!’ So too with us: if now, when we study Torah, our life and the length of our days (Devarim 30:20), we are killed, all the more so if we ignore Torah study!”

ברכות סא ע”ב: תנו רבנן: פעם אחת גזרה מלכות הרשעה שלא יעסקו ישראל בתורה, בא פפוס בן יהודה ומצאו לרבי עקיבא שהיה מקהיל קהלות ברבים ועוסק בתורה. אמר ליה: עקיבא, אי אתה מתירא מפני מלכות? אמר לו: אמשול לך משל, למה הדבר דומה ־ לשועל שהיה מהלך על גב הנהר, וראה דגים שהיו מתקבצים ממקום למקום, אמר להם: מפני מה אתם בורחים? אמרו לו: מפני רשתות שמביאין עלינו בני אדם. אמר להם: רצונכם שתעלו ליבשה, ונדור אני ואתם כשם שדרו אבותי עם אבותיכם? אמרו לו: אתה הוא שאומרים עליך פקח שבחיות? לא פקח אתה, אלא טפש אתהִ ומה במקום חיותנו אנו מתיראין, במקום מיתתנו על אחת כמה וכמהִ אף אנחנו, עכשיו שאנו יושבים ועוסקים בתורה, שכתוב בה (דברים ל׳) כי הוא חייך וארך ימיך ־ כך, אם אנו הולכים ומבטלים ממנה ־ על אחת כמה וכמה.

Before Theodor Herzl became a Zionist, he contemplated assimilation as a solution for anti-Semitism. He thought that Jews had devised the Jewish religion as a response to their rejection by the hostile outside world. Now, however, the outside world had since changed for the better, granting equality to the Jews, yet the Jews remained separate; this aroused anti-Semitism. The solution, therefore, was for Jews to assimilate.

In a conversation with his friend Ludwig Speidel, he compared Jews to seals which, according to the theory of evolution, were originally land animals that evolved to live in water. They could therefore evolve back into land animals again.

“However, anti-Semitism, which is a strong if unconscious force among the masses, will do the Jews no harm. I hold it to be a movement useful for the development of Jewish character. It is the education of a group by the surrounding populations and will perhaps in the end lead to its absorption. We are educated only through hard knocks. A sort of Darwinian mimicry will set in. The Jews will adapt themselves. They are like the seals, which a natural catastrophe cast into the ocean. There they took on the appearance and property of fish, which of course they are not. If they ever return to dry land and are allowed to remain there a few generations, they will do away with their finny feet.” (The Diaries of Theodor Herzl, p. 10)

Amazingly, Herzl’s argument is exactly that of the fox in Rabbi Akiva’s parable. The fox says, “Come and live on the land with me, just as my fathers lived with your fathers.” In other words, the fox is arguing that the fish were not really created for the water. They originally lived on land, and only adapted to live in water due to the circumstances.

The fish’s response, and our response to Herzl is no! The Jewish people were created to live by the Torah. The Torah is not just a temporary response to circumstances. Therefore, leaving the Torah is like a fish leaving the water. Without Torah, the Jewish people would be unable to breathe and would certainly die out. Herzl thought you can take away Judaism from the Jews, and they can continue to be Jews. With his subsequent idea of Zionism, he, and his successors, continued to think the same way, except that the abandonment of Torah would take place on a national scale. The response to him is that Torah is the defining feature of Jews, and without it, there will be no Jews.

But there is more. The fish made a “kal vachomer” – they told the fox that coming onto the land would solve nothing as far as the fishermen, and it would create the additional danger of lack of oxygen. Here too, time proved that Jews who assimilate – whether on a personal or a national level – are still attacked by anti-Semites, and even if they escape, die out spiritually. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, died personally at the hands of the Romans, but kept Klal Yisroel alive by passing down the Torah to the next generation.