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D'var Torah - Perashiyot Tazria-Metzora

04/19/2018 05:05:00 PM


Rabbi Hayyim Kassorla


Many people think that Jewish Law does not change. That is not true. As situations change, Jewish Law changes. I am going to prove this to you by looking at two legal decisions. One comes from the second century; the other comes from our own time.

The first passage comes from the Talmud, from Masechet Shabbat. The Sages are discussing the question of what are you allowed to carry on Shabbat, and what are you not allowed to carry on Shabbat.

In the old days, before the Eruv became as common as it is today, people had to struggle with the question of what can you carry on Shabbat and what can you 

cannot carry.

That is the issue that the Sages are debating on page 63 of Masechet Shabbat: what constitutes a garment and therefore can be carried, and what constitutes a burden and therefore cannot be carried on Shabbat?

The Mishnah says: "A person should not go out on Shabbat wearing a sword, or a bow, or a shield or a mace, or a spear." The reason is that these are not ornaments; they are weapons. And you should not wear a weapon on Shabbat.

Rabbi Eliezer challenges this decision. He says: "Why can't I wear a jeweled scabbard on Shabbat?" Rabbi Eliezer says that a jeweled scabbard ought to be considered an ornament. If you have ever been to a museum of antiquity, you understand why he says that. If not, if you have ever been to Buckingham Palace, you understand what he is saying. Do you remember what those guards who stand on duty there wear? They wear red uniforms. They wear fancy hats. And they wear a scabbard, and a sword. And these scabbards and swords are really works of art. They are part of the best-dressed soldier's uniform. They are meant, not for fighting, but for marching on parade, or for standing guard in front of a royal palace.

Then they say: what kind of an ornament is this? "G'NAI HU LO!" It is a disgrace that we live in a world in which a person has to go about carrying a weapon. In the ideal world, which will someday come, they say: "they will beat their swords into plowshares". When the Messiah comes, the world will disarm, and there will be no weapons. If we have weapons today, they say, it is only because they are necessary. We wear them to protect ourselves in case someone attacks us on the road. But it is no glory to live in a world in which you have to walk around carrying a weapon. It is a disgrace that we live in such a world. Therefore, the Sages say, it does not matter how many jewels there are on your scabbard. It does not matter if the handle of your sword is made of sterling silver. It is not an adornment, and therefore it should not be worn on Shabbat.

Now let me show you an opposite ruling that comes from our own time.

In Israel today, they have a ceremony. When a soldier finishes basic training, he is sworn in, either at the top of Masada, or else at the Kotel in Jerusalem. It is a beautiful ceremony. Parents and grandparents come, and they bring sandwiches and treats for their children, the soldiers. And, at the climax of the ceremony, after they have recited the oath of allegiance, or if they are uncomfortable swearing, after they have affirmed their allegiance, the master of ceremonies , who is the highest ranking officer present, calls the soldiers up, one at a time, by name, and he gives each one two gifts. He gives them a gun and he gives them an inscribed copy of the Tanach, the Bible. The gun is so that they may know HOW to defend the country. The Bible is so that they may know WHY they are defending the country.

One of the soldiers who was sworn in at these ceremonies wrote to his rabbi, who was Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, who is the head of the yeshiva Ateret Kohanim in Jerusalem. . He asked his rabbi: Should I recite the Shehechiyanu when I get my gun or not?

It is an interesting question, is it not? You are supposed to recite the Shechiyanu over every new treat and every new experience. Should you recite the Shehechiyanu when you receive your first gun? If you were Rabbi Aviner, and you were asked this question, what would you say?

Rabbi Aviner surprises us. First he provides a long, technical halachic explanation for why he feels that a Shechiyanu is warranted when you get your first gun. And now, listen to his closing argument, where he moves from analyzing the sources to expressing his own position. This is what he says:

"That we have guns and that we have an army should not elicit sadness. On the contrary, it should elicit joy that we have merited to be am chofshi b'artseynu'-a free nation in our homeland, that we have a Jewish government, and that we have a Jewish army, that we are no longer the punching bag of the nations, but instead that we have the ability to defend ourselves. Would it even occur to you when the War of Independence began, and we had weapons in our hands with which to defend ourselves after two thousand years of Jewish blood being spilled freely, that one should not recite the Shehechiyanu with joy and gladness? That joy continues to carry us and protect us from that day until now. And for that reason, a Shehechiyanu should certainly be recited when an Israeli soldier puts on his or her IDF uniform for the first time."

Have you ever been in a Religious Kibbutz on Shabbat? It is a wonderful experience. If you have never been to one, I recommend that the next time you go to Israel you plan to spend a Shabbat at a Religious Kibbutz. The whole place switches gears an hour before Shabbat, and becomes an island of tranquility. The people dress up in their best. And they sit at the tables in the dining room and sing to their heart's content.

But there is one thing they do that takes some getting used to for a visitor from America. People come to synagogue, and before they take their seats, they go the boxes at the side of the room that have their names on them, they take out their tallitot, their siddurim and their humashim, and they put their guns inside. And when the service is over, they put their tallitot and their books back inside these cubbyholes, and they take their guns back out, and they carry them back with them as they leave the room.

It may seem strange to us, but to Rav Aviner, carrying a gun to services on Shabbat is permitted. More than permitted-it is a mitzvah. And they would say that it is something to rejoice in and to be proud of that we live at a time when the Jewish people have an army, and have weapons, and can defend themselves.

I rejoice in Rabbi Aviner's decision, because this is the week when we celebrate Israel's Independence Day. On this day I rejoice, and I ask you to join me in rejoicing, that in our time, for the first time in two thousand years, the Jewish people has its own army, and its own weapons, and has the ability to defend itself. That is worthy of a beracha. That is worth saying Hallel for. That is worth celebrating. Today, let us thank God that Israel lives and that Israel is strong. And let us say: ze hayom asah Adoshem, nagila vinismicha bo. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us be glad and let us rejoice in it.

Today, let us wish each other Chag Sameach and today, let us pledge to stand with Israel in every way we can. Happy Yom Haatsmaout Israel!

Sat, March 23 2019 16 Adar II 5779