Parsha Encounters



Parshas Chukas-Balak:

It's All in Your Mind

RRabbi Ephraim Weissabbi Nosson Lederer

[Don't forget to see the Halacha Encounters below!]

It is quite ironic that one of the few times the Torah gives us a description of Acharis Hayomim via prophecy, it is done so through Bil'am HaRasha. Nonetheless, his visions in Parshas Balak, while somewhat cryptic, provide us with both the events and the lessons that will help us approach Acharis Hayomim, the end of time. In one such pasuk it says "Hen Am Levadad Yishkon Uvagoyim Lo Yischashuv" -"Behold it is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations."  (23, 9)

The Netziv explains this pasuk as follows. As long as Klal Yisroel lives in seclusion from the other nations, it will survive, but if it attempts to dwell amongst the nations it will not survive. This lesson, explains the Netziv, has been shown numerous times throughout history. As soon as the Jewish nation began finding too much comfort among the other nations, it came under persecution.

We see a similar theme in Megillas Esther. When Haman approached the king with his plan to wipe out the Jews, he said"Yeshno Am Echad Mefuzar Umeforad Bein HaAmim ." - "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples." (3, 8) The pasuk once again seems to imply that the fact that they were spread out among the nations had something to do with their deserving annihilation. In fact, the story of Purim begins with Jews partaking of the feast of King Achashverosh, which is another example of this theme of becoming too comfortable among the nations leading to our downfall.  To explain this phenomenon, the Beis Halevi says that the purpose of Divine affliction ism in fact, in order to separate us from the other nations.  If we were to separate ourselves on our own, there would be no need for affliction from Hashem.

The Torah seems to be telling us something that completely contradicts logic. Logic dictates that the way to survive in Golus is to blend into the crowd and not try to act too differently from the other nations, lest we prompt hatred. But the Torah is telling us the exact opposite! The only way to survive is to keep our differences and separate ourselves from their ways.

Perhaps we can illustrate just how different we are supposed to be from the goyim by analyzing the Havdalah we say every week. "Hamavdil.Bein Ohr Lechoshech Bein Yisroel LaAmim" "He Who separates. between light and darkness, between Yisroel and the other nations." This seems to imply that the relationship between Ohr and Choshech is the same as the relationship between Yisroel LaAmim. To the extent that Ohr is different from Choshech so too is Yisroel different from the Amim. In other words, the difference between us and the other nations is night and day.

All this is sensible on a theoretical level but in practice it seems impossible to separate ourselves from American culture. The Yidishe Shtetl remained in Europe and we are forced to live in communities amongst non-Jews. Secondly, in order for us to financially support ourselves we are going need to go to work with the rest of American society, which encompasses most of our day, so practically it seems very difficult to maintain this level of separation.

In these circumstances we need to keep at least something completely holy. In seforim we find two entities that are referred to as being a microcosm of the Beis HaMikdash: our homes and our minds (see Nefesh Hachaim Shaar Alef). These two entities should be unaffected by the impure society in which we live. It should come as no surprise that the non-Jewish home is centered around entertainment. The non-Jew has no obligation to make the most of his time in this world, so his major interest is being entertained. He also has no problem with being mafkir his senses to Hollywood, allowing them to impose any images or ideas they please.

But a Jewish home is the complete opposite. This is where we make the most of every second of our lives. It is where we become partners with Hashem Yisbarach in creating and raising the next generation. A Jewish home is permeated with Torah and Mitzvos. It is a microcosm of the Beis HaMikdash, which is where the Shechina would reside. It is obvious that a Jewish home should have nothing at all in common with a non-Jewish home.

We also have to safeguard our minds for they too represent the Beis HaMikdash. We specifically have to make sure that our values are those set out by the Torah, not by American culture. Before one decides to allow anything into his home or his mind he should ask himself if he would be willing to bring it into the Beis HaMikdash, as it says in Nefesh Hachaim that if someone brings an immoral thought into his mind it is as if he brought a harlot in to the Kodesh HaKodoshim. May this be the first step in our permanent redemption and the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.


Rabbi Weiss is a full time member of the Kollel.

Halacha Encounters

Q When one sets the table on Shabbos, are there any issues of "Borer?"

One who has transgressed the laws of Shabbos has committed a very grave sin. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that the only way to prevent this from happening is by constantly reviewing the laws of Shabbos. These laws are complicated and numerous, and if one does not study them it is impossible to adhere to them. The melacha of "Borer," selecting, is frequently transgressed because of its many intricacies. Let us discuss a few situations where one may encounter this melacha.

The melacha of borer is the act of perfecting a desirable matter through the selection and removal of the unwanted matter with which it was mixed. It is permitted to select an item from a mixture only if all of the following three conditions are met:

1 - One must select the desirable matter from the unwanted matter, and not vice-versa.

2 - The selection must be done only by hand,[1] not with an instrument.

3 - The selection must be done immediately prior to the use of the desired matter.

If one has a mixture of multiple items but all of them are desirable, the Pri Megadim[2] is uncertain whether one can sort them out for later use, in other words must we follow the rules of borer when both items are desirable. (ex:) If one has a bowl that consists of a mixture of peanuts and raisins. Can he separate the peanuts and raisins into two piles for later use. (For immediate use is certainly permitted). The Pri Megadim is inclined to be lenient. However, the psak of the Mishna Berura2 and other Poskim - based on the Rambam - is that sorting them is not permitted except for immediate use. The Halacha follows this view.

Let us return to our original question regarding setting the table. If one's cutlery is all mixed up together and one would like to set the table, the halacha would be the same as applies to the peanuts and raisins we discussed above. Therefore, one may only set the table right before the meal. However, there are heterim mentioned by the Poskim for one who needs to set the table in advance (i.e. Friday night or Shabbos morning for Shabbos lunch).

Heter #1

Hagaon R"Moshe Feinstein[3] ZT"L permits one to eliminate the mixture by spreading out all the cutlery at once so that each piece stands separately. Once the mixture is eliminated one can then proceed to set the table. The explanation of this heter is that the melacha of borer is the selecting or sorting of a mixture. Once the cutlery is spread out, no sorting of a mixture was done. Not all Poskim agree with this solution.[4] They hold that the elimination of the mixture is part of the borer process.


Another solution mentioned by the Poskim[5] is if the mixture of cutlery is wet, it would be permissible to remove one or two pieces to dry, and then to put them into their proper places at the table. The explanation behind this solution is that at the time when one removed the one or two pieces of cutlery from the mixture it was for immediate use - to dry. Once they are removed from the mixture in a permitted way one may place them at the proper place at the table. Some Poskim, amongst them HaGaon R' Yoseph Shalom Elyashiv, Shlita,[6] question this heter since the true intent when one removes the cutlery from the mixture is to sort it.[7]

Other Common Scenarios Involving Sorting

1 - When cleaning up from a kiddush sometimes all the cakes are mixed up. To sort out each type of cake separately would be a violation of Melachas Borer.

2 - If dishes of different sizes have been stacked together, it is forbidden to sort them and place them in their proper positions in the dishwasher.[8]

3 - A board game that has pieces of different colors (i.e. Checkers, Chess, Connect Four, Risk) mixed together at the end of the game may not be sorted out before putting the pieces away. (One can sort them out before the game since that is sorting for immediate use). If one has a marble chess game and he leaves it out on display, one may reset the pieces at the end of the game. Since he leaves it out on display,  it is considered sorting for immediate use.[9]

Rabbi Langer learns full time in the Kollel and is a frequesnt contributor to Halacha Encounters.

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