The Do’s and Don’ts of Derech Eretz
Tzvi Yaakov Zuckerman
[Don't forget to see the Halacha Encounters below!]
Derech Eretz is a most fascinating Torah concept. It is the Midda that obligates one to act in a manner which will cause both Hashem and people to "like me". Where does this midda of Derech Eretz fit into our decision making process?
We usually think of Derech Eretz as a "nice way to act, if I can work it out." When we decide how to act, we consider the Halachos (Torah Laws) which seem to apply to that situation. We make a determination as to what we think Hashem is telling us to do. If we can also manage to handle the situation with Derech Eretz, we make an effort to do so. If Derech Eretz would interfere with our handling the situation in a "religious manner," we often omit the Derech Eretz. Our paramount concern is to act in a "religious" manner. We do not consider Derech Eretz to be a factor that should affect our initial decision as to how we ought to act.
To even suggest that Derech Eretz is a Chiyuv D'Oraysah - a Torah obligation that must be considered in the halachic determination of how to act, sounds like a gross over-exaggeration of its place in Halacha. If someone were to suggest that Derech Eretz is a Mitzva D'Oraysah [a Torah obligation], which must be considered in "poskining" how to act, we would probably think him seriously mistaken.
A careful analysis of Yaakov Avinu's actions during his encounter with Esav suggests that Derech Eretz might be a much greater obligation than we think.
After Yaakov and Esav met, Esav asked Yaakov if they could travel together. Esav assured Yaakov that he would slow down his pace of travel to a speed at which Yaakov would find comfortable. Yaakov explained to Esav that if they were to travel together, there would be a problem. Yaakov was afraid that he [Yaakov] might push his children to travel more quickly so as not to delay Esav in his travels. Yaakov was concerned that his children were so weak that if he pushed them to travel too quickly, they might die. [Beraishis 33:13 "And Yaakov said to Esav, 'My master [Esav] knows that the children are weak...'"]
The Ralbag explains that Yaakov felt obligated to push his children to travel faster because of "mussar." Yaakov felt that Derech Eretz would obligate him to push his children to travel faster in order to accommodate Esav's desire to travel more quickly.
Yaakov's attitude is very difficult to understand. Why would Yaakov even consider pushing his weak children to travel too fast? Because of Derech Eretz? How could Yaakov even consider endangering the health of his children in order to act with Derech Eretz towards Esav?
Obviously, Yaakov would never knowingly push his weak children too hard... to travel too fast... Yaakov would never even negligently push his weak children too hard... to travel too fast... Yaakov was very sensitive to his responsibilities toward his children! So why was Yaakov concerned that his obligation to act with Derech Eretz might perhaps cause him to travel too quickly?
Yaakov must have been telling Esav that he was concerned that he/Yaakov might err in judging how hard he could safely push his children, and perhaps - in his effort to act with Derech Eretz towards Esav - he might push his children slightly too hard.
This approach, however, begs a question: Yaakov was known for his Midda of Emes/Truthfulness. Yaakov had a keen sensitivity for looking at a situation in a most honest manner. How could the great Tzaddik Yaakov, famous for his Midda of Emes/Truthfulness, end up erring in judging how hard to push his family? Why would Yaakov even take a chance with the lives of his children? Shouldn't Yaakov be "machmir" to protect his children's health?
From Yaakov's concern, we see that Derech Eretz towards Esav was such a strong moral imperative that it would require Yaakov to push his children as much as possible within the limits of "safe-travel". Yaakov was not allowed to be "machmir" to push his children gently in order to avoid the challenge of traveling as fast as possible without going too fast.
The Ralbag is telling us that Yaakov was obligated to consider Derech Eretz as an obligation which was so strong that Yaakov was not allowed to be extra careful - "machmir" - with his responsibility to care for his children at the expense of this Derech Eretz.
By studying this basic concept of Torah conduct, and implementing it in our dealings with others, we can achieve a true "mentchlichkeit", and transform our lives into a beautiful "Kiddush Hashem".
The ideas in this article were originally developed by Rabbi Henach Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Chofetz Chaim in New York.
Using Non-Kosher Oil for the Chanukah Menorah
With the Yom Tov of Chanukah approaching, many of us are beginning to prepare ourselves for the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. Some of us will certainly strive to perform this mitzvah as the Rema recommends, using olive oil, as was used in the Menorah in the Bais Hamikdash (O.C. 673).
Questions always come up regarding the kashrus of olive oil. May non-kosher olive oil be used? ("Non-kosher" in this regard would refer to oil which had significant amounts of a non-kosher substance mixed into the oil.) Should one suspect that not all oils are kosher or may we rely on the claim of 100% pure olive oil printed on the label?
The question as to whether or not non-kosher oil may be used is actually divided into two categories.
1) Oil that is non-kosher due to some non-kosher substance mixed in with the oil.
2) Oil which became assur B'hana'ah - forbidden to us to derive any benefit from.
As for oil which is simply not kosher, some poskim actually forbid its use for the Menorah. Their reasoning is based on the rule that for "Meleches Shamayim" - the service of Hashem - only kosher animals may be used. Examples of this rule are the materials used in the building of the Mishkan and the leather used to make Tefillin (see Shabbos 28a). These poskim view this rule as one which applies to all areas of mitzvah observance and thus rule that even for Ner Chanukah, which is a Mitzvah D'Rabanan, only kosher oil is permitted. (Rav Shlomo Kluger in Shnos Chaim). The majority of the poskim however, reject this view, maintaining that the necessity for kosher sources for Meleches Shamayim only applies to mitzvos which have an aspect of Kedushah, such as Tefillin. Other mitzvos such as menorah, which do not fall under this category, may be performed with non-kosher sources (Teshuvos Chasam Sofer O.C. 39, Noda B'Yehuda Tinyana 3, and others).
The second category of non-kosher oil, oil that became Assur B'hana'ah, presents other problems. The actual prohibition of deriving benefit from the oil does not apply to use of the oil for mitzvah observance, due to the concept of Mitzvos Lav Lehenos Nitnu - mitzvah observance is the service of Hashem and is not considered to be for personal benefit. However, there is a concept in the Gemora known as "Ketutei Michtat Shiura" - the view of Chazal that isurei hana'ah are worthless and almost non-existent, to the extent that the oil may not be considered to be containing a proper shiur (requisite amount for the performance of the mitzvah). Based on this concept one may argue that since Ner Chanukah requires a minimum shiur, such oil may not be used (Sha'arei Teshuva 676). Others argue that for the shiur of Ner Chanukah, all that is important is that the flame burns for the required amount of time. The fact that the oil may be considered insignificant is irrelevant (Teshuvos Maharam Shick O.C. 14; see also Sdei Chemed: Chanukah 14).
As for the practical halacha, isurei hana'ah may not be used, while regular non-kosher oil may be used (Iggeros Moshe 1:191; Minchas Yitzchok 7:47). It should be noted that the Maharsham (Teshuvos 9:39) felt that those who wish to fulfill the mitzvah with a hiddur (in the most enhanced fashion) should try to use kosher oil.
Regarding our oil today, it has been determined by Rabbi Fishbane of the CRC that one does not have to suspect that any isurei hana'ah were mixed into the olive oil.
Non-certified regular oil - Due to the possible presence of non-kosher substances, non-certified olive oils should be considered as "non-kosher" oil discussed above.
Non-certified virgin oil - Due to its purity, virgin olive oil does not present any problems at all and may be purchased and used for hadlokas Ner Chanukah without a hechsher (kosher certification).