Parsha Encounters



Parshas Vayikra - Zachor:

Exercising Extreme Caution

Rabbi Yehuda Krohn

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In the Haftorah for Parshas Zachor, we read how Shaul Hamelech, in response to the command of Hashem, waged war against Amalek.  Shaul killed out a majority of the Amalekim; yet he did not show absolute fidelity to the word of Hashem, and for this he lost his kingship.  It would seem a great irony that following his failure to wipe out the most irredeemable of Eisav's descendants (Amalek), Shaul would witness the emergence of a rival, who like Eisav, is initially described as Admoni, ruddy.  The rival was, of course, Dovid Hamelech.  What is the significance of Dovid's outer resemblance to Eisav?  Why did Dovid's ascent to power begin right after a war waged against Eisav's descendants?

An answer to these questions may be found by looking backward a few generations.  There is a basic difference between the roles of Rochel and Leah Imenu, the great grandmothers of Shaul and Dovid, respectively.  Whereas, Rochel was the natural and obvious choice, as spouse, for Ya'akov Avinu, Leah was initially considered for Ya'akov's twin brother, Eisav Harasha.  It was only after Ya'akov had acquired the portion designated for Eisav that Leah became an appropriate match for him.  Interestingly, just as the blessings that were intended for Eisav came to Ya'akov through the vehicle of deception, so too did Leah become Ya'akov's wife through deception.  Whereas Rochel embodies the primary traits of Ya'akov, Leah represents Ya'akov's secondary traits - that is the potentially positive elements of Eisav that were internalized by Ya'akov when he took possession of Eisav's birthright. 

There are, as well, significant role-differences between Yosef and Yehuda, the children of Rochel and Leah, respectively.  Both faced very serious allegations of impropriety, with, however, one key distinction.  The claims of Potiphar's wife against Yosef were false; the claims of Tamar against Yehuda were true.  The difference in the nature of the allegations they faced called for profoundly different responses. Whereas Yosef's response was to remain the Tzaddik he already was and to (ultimately) rely on Hashem to rescue him, Yehuda's response was to consider the evidence, reflect on his own misjudgments and acknowledge his personal contribution to Tamar's predicament. 

At this point, the faint outlines of an intergenerational connection can be discerned. Yosef's role of "staying the course" corresponds to his mother's alignment with "Ish tam yosheiv ohalim" - the straightforward tent dweller.  Yehuda's role of facing "internal upheaval" matches his mother's role of confronting the element within herself that complemented "Ish yodea tzayid, Ish sadeh" - the wily hunter of the field.

The differing roles of Yosef and Yehuda highlight the fact that war is rarely limited to a single battlefront.  The Sefer Chovos Halevovos relates how a band of soldiers, upon returning victorious from battle, met up with a wise man.  After listening to them recount their exploits, the wise man cautioned them: "You've until now fought only the small battle; the major battle is to be found at home against your internal enemy - the evil inclination."  Similarly, Midrash Rabbah informs us that the war against Amalek, whose attack represented a denial of Hashem's involvement in His Creation, is ultimately intended to guide us to an inner realization - that we too are tragically capable of denying Hashem and his Hashgachah.  Not coincidentally, the B'nei Yisroel had sunk to such a level immediately prior to Amalek's attack when, among other misdeeds, they asked: "Is Hashem in our midst or not?" 

As was noted earlier, Dovid is initially described in a similar manner as is Eisav - Admoni.  This, however, is only part of Shmuel Hanavi's description.  The fuller text reads "Admoni im yefeh enayim" -  ruddy; (yet) possessing beautiful eyes.  According to Midrash, this means that whereas Dovid was burdened with the destructive drives of Eisav, he was given the capability of channeling those drives toward healthy outcomes (i.e., He might kill others, but only following consultation with Sanhedrin).  It is by no means easy to confront or even divert the tendencies of Eisav.  Indeed, according to some commentators, the primary aveirah of Dovid - that with Uriah and Bat Sheva - constituted a failure in just this regard.

Based on the above, it is conceivable that with the passing of the kingship from Shaul to Dovid, the nature of the war against Eisav/Amalek underwent a fundamental shift.  The war, at least for now, would no longer be fought against the external Amalek but against the internal one.  To a large extent, the war was no longer directed outwards against the scoffing Amalekites, but inwards against the Jewish People's personal and national failure to trust in Hashem.  A war of such nature is not fought through conventional firepower or at the points of spears; it is fought through searing introspection and pointed self-critique.  According to the Maharsha, it was particularly Dovid's readiness to take ownership of his major sin, in contradistinction to Shaul, who initially denied wrongdoing, that allowed for Dovid's hold on kingship to remain eternal.  To be sure, Dovid had no shortage of (external) foes.  Still, a primary contribution of Dovid, as evidenced in both the Navi and Tehillim, was in dealing with the internal enemy.

Then again, was not Dovid Hamelech following in the footsteps of his great-grandmother Leah, whose role was to confront her internalized compatibility with Eisav?  Was he not following the path of his great-grandfather Yehuda, whose distinguishing mission was one of internal reckoning and acknowledgment of wrongdoing?  The common thread that runs through mother, son and great-grandchild's life-missions is the battle against the internal enemy - the Yetzer Hara.

Rarely is the adoption of one pole or extreme, to the exclusion of the other, considered healthy.  The earlier mentioned Midrash Rabbah suggests that an intensive, unrelenting focus on internal shortcomings, whether at the national or personal level, runs the risk of bringing about despair.  Perhaps for this reason, the migration from external to internal battlefronts is not linear.  Rather it is cyclical.  As is evidenced by the story of Purim, Amalek's descendants can, at times, re-emerge to provide us with a physical, concrete battlefront.  Not surprisingly, such battles are led by the descendants of Rochel, the great-nephew and great-niece of Yosef, and the tribe-mates of Shaul.  In this instance, Mordechai and Esther "stay the course", achieving both the moral and physical upper hand over Haman.

Purim is approaching.  As we recall the ancient battles against Amalek, and as we contemplate impending war against (conceivably) modern-day Amalekim, we must remember to cast our gaze inward as well.  Ultimately, this is the toughest of all battles. 

Rabbi Krohn is a Kollel Alumnus and learns daily in the Kollel.

Halacha Encounters

The Yarmulke

Rabbi Ari Friedman

When it comes to Jewish identity, few things are as symbolic as the yarmulke. Whether made of velvet, knit or suede, the kippa or yarmulke has become the number one way to display one's Yiddishkeit. This week we will explore the origins of this custom and the Halachos that relate to it.

The Source

The Gemara tells us of Rav Huna Ber D'Rav Yehoshua who would not walk four amos without his head covered saying, "The Shechina is above my head." In another Gemara he is quoted as deserving great reward for this practice (Kiddushin 31,Shabbos 118). Elsewhere, the Gemara tells us about the mother of Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchok who would instruct him to cover his head to instill in him Yir'as Shamayim (Shabbos 156). Interestingly, the word yarmulke is attributed to a combination of the words Yareh M'Elokah - fear of Hashem.

The Rishonim are at odds as to whether these references and others similar to it are the source for a definitive Halacha that one must cover his head or merely pointing out that this is a commendable behavior. (See Shut Maharshal 72 Tashbatz 549 Mahari Bruno 166) The Taz (O.C. 8-3) writes that regardless of the intent of the Gemara, nowadays there is certainly an obligation to wear a yarmulke. He explains that since it is the way of non-Jews to remove their hats, doing so would be included in the realm of Chukas HaGoyim - a prohibition of following in the ways of non-Jews. Seemingly, the Taz is referring to the custom of non-Jews to bare their heads for religious or cultural reasons, an issue that will be discussed later.

The Minhag Today

As mentioned earlier, it has been widely accepted among religious Jews to wear a yarmulke as a symbol of belonging to Klal Yisrael and keeping the Mitzvos. So much so, that the removal of one's yarmulke is usually an indication of abandoning the Torah lifestyle. The Poskim write that a yarmulke should be worn at all times and that it is commendable to wear it even when sleeping. One need not wear a yarmulke when bathing or swimming.

In the Workplace

Should one find himself in a situation where he feels he would need to remove his yarmulka in the workplace, a shailoh should be posed to a competent Rav.

Many people find themselves in situations where they fear that wearing a yarmulke may harm their parnasa. Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT"L ruled leniently in this matter, based on the following two points:

1-     The obligation to follow Minhag Yisrael by wearing a yarmulke can be no more binding than an actual Mitzvah. It is the rule regarding all Mitzvos that one is not obligated to forfeit his livelihood in order to perform a Mitzvah and this would apply here as well.

2-     Rav Moshe doubts whether the Taz's reasoning of Chukas HaGoyim would apply in our times where people go bareheaded more as a matter of practicality than a gesture of religious and cultural meaning.

Rav Moshe writes that this heter would only apply at the workplace itself and not in places or at times when a person feels uncomfortable wearing a yarmulke. Additionally, this heter would not allow one to make a brocha or daven without a yarmulke.

The Yarmulke

Putting aside societal preferences, any material may be used for a yarmulke. The Mishna Berurah, however, cites conflicting opinions as to whether one may rely on wearing a wig to fulfill this obligation (M.B. 212, see Sefer Chayei Moshe). One may even use his own hand to cover his head. However, when involved with Devarim ShebiKedusha, such as davening, making a brocha or even entering a Shul, in addition to walking outdoors, one's own hand would not suffice to be considered a Halachic covering. If necessary, one may use his shirtsleeve or even have someone else place his hand on one's head. (See O.C. 91-4, M.B. 2-11, 12)

The Size

Rav Moshe ZT"L (O.C.11) writes that a yarmulke must be large enough to be noticed from all sides of the head. Others require that the yarmulke cover most of the head.

Women and the Yarmulke

Based on the Maharal, (Drashos Al Hatorah) some suggest that the reason women are not obligated to wear a yarmulke is because they are inherently more spiritually aware and don't need this extra measure to instill Yir'as Shamayim.

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

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