|Rabbi Eliezer Irons
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Parsha Encounters – Vayakhel
Rabbi Eliezer Irons
T his week’s parsha opens with Moshe’s commandment to the Jews regarding the observance of Shabbos and is followed by instructions relating to the contributions to, and the construction of, the mishkan.
In last week’s parsha, Hashem commanded Moshe to speak to the Jews first about the mishkan, and then about Shabbos.
Why did Moshe reverse the order and relate the commandment about Shabbos first?
The answer to this question requires some introduction.
The Gemorah in Succah (52a) informs us that in the future, Hashem will slaughter the Yetzer Horah in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the wicked, the Yetzer Horah will appear as a strand of hair and the wicked will weep at not having been able to overcome a force as weak as that symbolized by a mere strand of hair. R’ Yaakov Emden explains the reason for the depiction of the Yetzer Horah as a strand of hair with a Gemorah in Yoma. The Gemorah in Yoma (69b) relates that the Men of the Great Assembly prayed that the Yetzer Horah of avodah zarah be given over to them; Hashem answered their prayer. A fiery lion emerged from the Holy of Holies and as the men of the Great Assembly seized the lion, a single strand of hair slipped from its mane; it is this meager remnant of the Yetzer Horah that is shown to the wicked in the future.
Since all wicked individuals of all generations are shown this hair, the implication of the Gemorah in Succah, according to R’ Yaakov Emden, is that all wicked people of all generations are guilty of violating the commandment against idolatry. This is hard to understand, as not every wicked person serves idols. We can explain the Gemorah with an idea from Rabbeinu Yona (Shaar 2,18). R’ Yona defines a wicked person as one who takes all his fulfillment and delight in physical matters. Even though he may fulfill the duties of prayer and performance of mitzvos, he nevertheless experiences neither joy nor pleasure, but merely fulfills his duty as though compelled by an external force. Deriving joy in life only through physical matters is tantamount to idolatry; giving physical matters a life of their own is “foreign to the service of Hashem.”
Perhaps we can now understand why Moshe reversed Hashem’s instructions and commanded the Jews first regarding Shabbos and then about the mishkan.
Between Hashem’s command to Moshe and Moshe’s command to the Jewish people, the unfortunate incident of the golden calf (avodah zarah) took place. The Gemorah in Shabbos (118) states that whoever observes Shabbos is forgiven for his transgressions, even if they include avodah zarah. When a Jew observes Shabbos properly, he affirms two basic beliefs: (1) Hashem is the creator of this world (2) Hashem redeemed us from Egypt, showing His involvement in all aspects of our daily lives. This achieves atonement even for the sin of avodah zarah. (Adjusting our perspective from seeing the world as having a life of its own to realizing the world is just a means to serving Hashem is the atonement of our day to day avodah zarah.)
Moshe relayed the commandment of Shabbos after the sin of avodah zarah to notify the Jews that they ought to adjust their focus away from pleasure-oriented, base, materialistic self- indulgence to that of service of Hashem. This is done through Shabbos, a time of adjusting our perspective on the world.
Only once they acquired this proper perspective towards materialism, did the Bnei Yisroel merit the mitzvah of donating of their wealth to the sanctuary. The giving of their hard-earned possessions for spirituality was to be with the proper focus.
Let us now venture to explain a special mention of the prohibition of igniting a fire on Shabbos. The seforim comment that fire may refer to anger- one should not get angry on Shabbos.
Why the stress on anger?
The Zohar equates one who gets angry to one who serves avodah zarah. The Baal HaTanya explains that anger is aroused by dissatisfaction with circumstances or events. Since all events are under the control of Hashem, anger is tantamount to denial that Hashem is in control of all, for if Hashem were in control what right would one have to get angry?
Shabbos is the day on which we most forcefully acknowledge Hashem’s presence and involvement with our lives. No emotion could be more antithetical to the spirit and concept of Shabbos than anger. May we experience joy and pleasure in everything for the sake of serving Hashem.
Rabbi Irons learns full-time in the kollel.
Parsha Encounters is coordinated by Rabbi Yisroel Langer. For questions, comments or to subscribe, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yisroel Langer
What is Yichud?
It is forbidden for a man and woman who are not married to each other to be together in a secluded area. This is known as the prohibition of “yichud.” According to most Rishonim if one is in seclusion with a woman that the Torah prohibits him from marrying (ex: a married woman, or one’s mother-in-law), or a woman who is a niddah (other than his wife), there would be an issur d’orysa of yichud. Otherwise, it would be prohibited m’drabanan. The reason that the Torah prohibited yichud is to prevent one from engaging in immoral conduct. Therefore, in the case of one’s own child or grandchild, since there is no fear of any immoral conduct, yichud would be permitted. Regarding a sister with a brother, yichud is permitted on a temporary basis. 1All other relatives are forbidden to be in a “yichud situation” with each other. Even for an old man to be in a state of yichud with a young girl or vice-versa is strictly forbidden. If one were in a state of yichud and no immoral conduct took place, one has still violated the prohibition of yichud. In this week’s Halacha Encounters we will discuss a few common yichud situations and how one should deal with them. Like many areas in halacha, the laws of yichud have many details and are too complex to discuss in a short article. Therefore if one has a situation at home or at work that may be in violation of yichud, a sheilah should be asked.
Yichud in a Car
Hagaon R’ Moshe Feinstein ZT”L 2 discusses whether there is a problem of yichud while driving in a car. Rav Moshe rules that although people can see into the car, since the driver can easily drive off the road into a secluded area it is a problem of yichud. However, if it is a pressing circumstance, R’ Moshe rules that one may be lenient. 3 Most poskim do not agree with R’ Moshe in this matter and permit a woman to be alone in a car with a man. These poskim hold that we are not concerned that the driver will drive into a secluded area. Therefore as long as people can see into the car (if the windows are tinted it is sufficient that people can see through the windshield) and one is not on a deserted road there is no problem of yichud inside a car. (Some poskim define a deserted road as a road in which a car will not pass you within a time span of 10-15 minutes.)
The poskim 4 say that if a man and woman go into a locked room together even for one moment they have violated the prhibition of yichud. However, if there is a realistic possibility that forces beyond their control could open the door within a short time span 5 from the beginning of the yichud, then it is not prohibited. (Ex: a man is in a private meeting with a woman at work. If it is possible for another person to open the door and enter during the meeting then it is not yichud.) Based on the above rules it would usually be permitted for a man and a woman to be in an elevator together. Even if the elevator ride will last a few minutes, since the elevator car can be opened by waiting passengers on any of the floors, it is permitted. Some poskim question whether a man and a woman can be alone in an elevator together if the elevator has a stop switch since the man can stop the elevators in between floors. HaGaon R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach permits this as long as the man does not pull the switch. 6 Some poskim say lechatchilah a man and a woman should never be alone in an elevator even one without a stop switch. 7
Plumbers and Electricians
A very common yichudsheilah is when a woman is home alone and is having a workman (plumber or electrician) doing work inside the house. There are a number of different heterim that the poskim advise people to use. If there are at least two men (at least one of them cannot be classified as a “parutz” 8 – immoral person) then yichud is permitted. Two women, however, would not permit yichud with a male worker, while three women is questionable. Many poskim are lenient in extenuating circumstances and permit three women to be with a man (during “awake hours”).
If a woman is married and her husband is in the same city as she is, most Rishonim hold that the wife can be in a situation of yichud with another man. This is known as the heter of ba’alah b’ir. (Rashi is of the opinion that ba’alah b’ir is not a permitted method of yichud and some poskim hold that lechatchilah one should be machmir like this opinion). The poskim disagree as to the rationale of this heter. The Chazon Ish understands that the heter of ba’alah b’ir is based on a woman’s instinctive sense of fear of being unfaithful to her husband when he is in the same city as she is. Accordingly, even if a woman is certain that her husband will not be home for a while (ex: she just got off the phone with him and he is still at the office), it is still permitted for her to be in a yichud situation with another man. However, most poskim understand the rationale of the heter of ba’alah b’ir based on the wife’s fear of being caught or discovered by her husband as being unfaithful. Accordingly this heter of ba’alah b’ir can only be implemented if it is possible 9for a husband to walk into his house within a short time span 10 of his wife’s yichud with the workman. The Chachmos Adam holds that if a husband gives permission for his wife to be with another man (which is the case regarding a workman in the house), there is no heter of ba’alah b’ir. The poskim argue whether one needs to be machmir like this opinion. 11 If one is very friendly with the worker (ex: he is a cousin) according to all opinions the heter of ba’alah b’ir doesn’t exist.
In summary, the heter of ba’alah b’ir is not always applicable, and even when it is, some poskim hold that it is not a heterlechatchila. The poskim offer another solution to allow yichud with a worker known as “pesach posuach” – leaving the door open to a public thoroughfare. There is a machlokes amongst the poskim whether it is sufficient to leave the door to one’s house unlocked or if one must actually leave the door opened. In today’s times, where in many circles it is highly unlikely for people to enter into another person’s house without having the door opened for them, even according to the lenient opinion, one should have the door slightly ajar in order to permit yichud 12. The heter of “pesach posuach” is not applicable late at night when people are not in the streets.
Another heter is for a woman to have a child who is at least five 13 years old with her. A child would not do an immoral act and therefore the woman would be embarrassed to do anything in front of the child. If the child present is a girl (even her own daughter) it is permitted to have yichud until the girl is twelve. 14 Once the girl is twelve then it is a situation of two women and one man together in the house, which is not permitted. (Note: It is permitted for a man to have yichud with a woman (twelve years old) and a girl (5-12), but for a man to be alone with just a girl who is at least three years old is prohibited.) If the above heter is not available the woman can give a key to a neighbor and instruct the neighbor to “pop in” during the time when there will be yichud. (Note: The neighbor has to be a legitimate “threat” to coming in. If he has been given the key in the past and never shows up, one cannot rely on him for this heter.) As mentioned earlier, the laws of yichud are complex, and each situation is different from another. Therefore, if one has a sheilah, he should not rely on something written in Halacha Encounters, but should ask a Rav what to do. In the zechus of guarding the law of yichud may we merit to add more kedushah into our lives.
1 HaGaon R’ Moshe Feinstein ZT”L explains this to mean the amount of time that a guest would typically stay over at one’s house (a few days). Igros Moshe E.H. Volume 4 Siman 65:11.
2 Igros Moshe ibid
3 R’ Moshe’s example of a pressing circumstance is if a woman would be insulted if one did not drive her.
4 See HaGaon R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s haskama to the sefer Dvar Halacha.
5 The poskim argue as to the exact length of the time span. The Dvar Halacha quotes an opinion that holds 35 seconds. The Minchas Yitzchak is lenient up until 5 minutes. Most poskim hold that it is about 2-3 minutes.
6 See Divrei Sofrim 22:1 in Birur Halacha “shedavar zeh…”
7 Minchas Yitzchok volume 4 responsa 94.
8 The poskim disagree how to classify somebody as a parutz. Many of the gedolei poskim (including R’ Dovid Zucker shlita) define a parutz as anyone who exposes himself to immodesty on television, movies, internet or publications.
9 HaGaon R’ Moshe Feinstein zt”l (ibid) differentiates between an employee who most likely will not come home during his working hours, in which case there is no heter of ba’alah b’ir during those hours, and a self-employed person.
10 see footnote 5
11 The Chofetz Chaim in his sefer Nidchei Yisroel quotes the Chachmos Adam as halacha. HaGaon R’ Moshe Feinstein zt”l (ibid) says that lechatchilah one should be machmir like this opinion. However, others are lenient. See Dvar Halacha 7:3, and Toras Yichud 7:3:5 who quotes HaGaon R’ Yoseph Shalom Eliyashiv as being lenient.
12 See Toras Yichud 8:5:6, this is the psak of R’ Dovid Zucker.
13 This is the opinion of R’ Dovid Zucker and other Gedolei poskim. Hagaon R’ Moshe Feinsten (quoted in Children in Halacha) holds the child must be seven.
14 Some poskim say only until 9.
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