Parsha Encounters



Parshas Vayera:        [MS Word Format available here]
Don't Focus on your Own Feelings
Rabbi Doctor Chaim Dov Ehrman

It is well known that the Haftoroh was established during the years when the ruling government prohibited reading the Torah in public. Our Chachomim were concerned that the requirement to read the Torah on Shabbos may have been forgotten in the wake of this edict. Therefore, the Haftorohs were instituted in which the reading from the Navi corresponded to the Torah portion that would have been read that week. This would serve as a reminder to the community as to which Torah portion was appropriate for that Shabbos. Therefore, the Haftorah of Parshas Noach has the words, "These are to me like the waters of Noach," where the allusion to Parshas Noach is clear. In Parshas Vayetzeh, the Haftorah begins,"Yaakov fled to the fields of Aram," which is an allusion to the above parsha.

One may ask, "What connection is there between Parshas Vayera and its Haftorah, which deals with the Isha Shunamis?"  I heard from Rav Schwab, Zt"l, the following explanation. In Parshas Vayera and in the Haftorah, we find a common theme. The mother of a child finds her child in a life-threatening situation, and there seems to be no viable solution to her terrible problem.  Hagar finds Yishmael dying from thirst and there is no water in sight. The Shunamis finds her son Chavakuk screaming that his head is hurting tremendously. (There was no Tylenol or Ibuprofen available to alleviate his pain).

The association between the Haftorah and the Parsha is clear; both deal with a mother and her sick child. 

Hagar put her child behind one of the bushes and sat out of earshot from Yishmael. She could not bear to hear the screams of her son. The Shunamis put her child on her lap and tried to comfort him as best as she could until he died. Here we see a key difference between Klal Yisroel and Umos Haolam. Hagar tried to help her child as much as possible. When it became clear that she could not help him any longer, she became worried about her own pain and saw how painful it was to hear the screams of Yishmael. So, she distanced herself from Yishmael. The Shunamis forgot about her own pain. She decided to do whatever she could to minimize the discomfort of her child. She could not cure her child or alleviate his pain. Regardless, she placed her screaming child on her lap and became oblivious to her own pain. The child's needs took precedence over her needs.

May Hakadosh Baruch Huh give us the zechus to do chesed and kindness under all types of circumstances. There are times, such as when being mesameach Chasan V'Kallah, when doing the chesed is enjoyable. Visiting the sick in hospitals and nursing homes, or attending a funeral are not pleasurable tasks, but we need to do those chasadim as well. The Shunamis teaches us that we are to do chesed even when the circumstances are very painful. May Hashem help us to fulfill the pasuk "Ivdu Es Hashem B'Simcha Bo'u Lifanav Birnana."

Rabbi Ehrman is the Moreh D'asra of Kehillas Beis Yitzchok and learns daily with the Kollel Boker.

Halacha Encounters

Kohein's Kedima - Allowing the Kohein to Go First

Rabbi Yisroel Langer

In Parshas Emor (Bamidbar (21:8) the Torah tells us in regards to a Kohein "You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d; he shall remain holy to you etc." The Gemorah (Gittin 59b) derives from this posuk that there is a mitzvah to honor a Kohein by allowing him precedence in all matters of kedusha (sanctity). This includes allowing the Kohein 1) to open an assemblage with the first address, 2) to recite the beracha first at a meal and 3)be given his portion first. In the opinion of most Rishonim this is a mitzvah D'Orysah.[1]

When a group of people sits down together to eat a meal the "greatest" one present recites the beracha for everyone there. Likewise, when it comes to bentching, the "greatest" one leads the others in bentching.[2] When it comes to determining who is the "greatest" one present, the rules are as follows. If there is a talmid chacham (a Torah scholar) and a Kohein who is not well versed in Torah, the talmid chacham comes first. In fact, in this case, it is forbidden for the talmid chacham to allow the Kohein the honor of leading the others, as this would be degrading to the Torah.[3] If the Kohein is well versed in Torah, but a Yisroel present is an even greater talmid chacham, it is meritorious for the Yisroel to give over the honors to the Kohein, though he is not obligated to do so. If the Yisroel and the Kohein are are equal in their Torah knowledge, the honors go to the Kohein. All this is true when there is no host. However, when there is a host present he should make the Hamotzi for everybody, and he may lead everybody in bentching.[4] If the host does not desire to take the honors then it goes to the greatest one present (as above).[5] If the Kohein wants to be mochel (forgive) his rights to lead in Birchas Hamozon he may do so.[6] Therefore, if a host would like to give the honors of bentching to a Yisroel, he should ask the kohanim at the table to be mochel.

When the food is being served at the table, the Kohein should be served first. That means the host should instruct those serving (e.g. his wife) to serve the Kohein first (even before himself). If the host did not instruct his wife to serve the Kohein first, then his wife must serve her husband first (her obligation to her husband comes before the Kohein). If a guest who is a Yisroel was served before a guest who is a Kohein, the Yisroel does not give his portion over to the Kohein. Honor can only be afforded by the host and not by another guest.[7]

If there is a line of people waiting at the cashier in a store or waiting to wash "Netilas Yadayim," there is a mitzvah D'Orysah to allow the Kohein to go to the head of the line. However the psak of Harav Yoseph Shalom Eliyashiv, shlita[8] is that if one were to suffer a loss (of time or money) then one is not obligated to afford honor to the Kohein. Therefore, although there is certainly a mitzvah to let the Kohein go first, one is not obligated to do so. That being the case one would not be allowed to let a Kohein go in front of him without the consent of the people behind him in the line.

After reading all these halachos on how to honor a Kohein, many of us may be bothered as to why we do not see this being practiced in many circles. For example, at a wedding or a bris the Kohein is not always given the honor of bentching and is not asked to be mochel. (Saying "Birishus Kohanim.", without asking them permission is not sufficient). The Magen Avraham[9] and other Achronim[10] were bothered by this as well. The Magen Avraham wants to suggest in defense of people who are not careful with this mitzvah, that it is because we are uncertain of the lineage of kohanim today.[11] Others[12] want to suggest that the mitzvah is only applicable during the times when kohanim served in the Beis Hamikdosh, as the posuk says "You shall sanctify him, for he offers the food of your G-d." Some want to say that it is understood that kohanim are mochel on their honors. Despite these reasons, the poskim[13] say that lechatchilah one should be careful and be scrupulous with these halachos. Im Yirtzeh Hashem next week we will continue to discuss the laws regarding proper conduct with regard to kohanim.

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

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[1] See Magen Avraham 201:4 and M.B. s.k. 13

[2] O. C. 167: 14 and 201: 1

[3] M.B. 167 s.k. 70. It is only forbidden if the reason the Talmid Chacham is giving over the honors is because he is a Kohein.

[4] The reason that he should make the Hamotzi is because he will give out the portions in a more generous fashion (M.B. 167 s.k. 73). Regarding the host leading bentching see Biur Halacha Siman 201.

[5] Biur Halacha (ibid)

[6] M.B. 201: s.k. 13 (At a very large meal see Birchas Naphtali siman 4)

[7] This paragraph is from the psak of hagaon Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyshiv, shlita quoted in Sefer Birchas Naftali (Ch. 3).  The Gemarah in Gittin says that a Kohein takes precedence in all matters of kedusha. One of the examples the Gemara gives is to be served first at a meal. The Pardes Yoseiph in Parsh Emor questions how being served first at a meal is considered a "matter of kedusha". He answers that the Gemara is talking about a "seudas mitzvah". However the poskim do not differentiate between a seudas mitzvah and an ordinary meal. Therefore some attempt to explain the Gemorah in Gittin that the Kohein goes first in all matters that bring him honor, and by doing that we are acting towards him with kedusha. (Birchas Naphtali Siman 5)

[8] Quoted in Birchas Naphtali (end of siman 5)

[9] Siman 201

[10] see Mkor Chaim (Chavas Yair) 168: 14 (Kitzur Halachos)

[11] see Rivash siman 94, The Aruch Hashulchan  (O.C. end of siman 128) speaks out strongly against those who want to suggest that we are uncertain of their lineage.

[12] see Mkor Chaim (ibid)

[13] M.B. 201 s.k. 13




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