Priorities in Paying Wages

6 06 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Beinish Ginsburg

The Chafetz Chaim writes that if you hire two workers and you only have enough money to pay one, you must pay the more impoverished worker first. This is hinted at in the Torah, which mentions the word ani (a poor person) in connection with the commandment of paying a worker on time.

If both workers are equally poor and one of them is a relative, the relative does not take precedence. If you don’t have enough money to pay both of them, you must split the money you do have between them. Then when you have the rest of the money, you can make it up to them.

If you hired a worker the day before and could not pay him on time and then you hired a second worker the next day and you now have a chance to pay him on time, which worker takes precedence? Jewish law dictates that one should pay the second one first to in order to avoid violating bal talin again.

You shouldn’t hire a worker if you know you won’t be able to pay him, unless the worker agrees to wait. If the minhag hamakom (custom) is that a worker gets paid on the pay day determined by the employer, then you can hire a worker and not pay him right away because it’s assumed that the worker has agreed to be paid later.

If you hire a worker and you know you will not be present on pay day, you should set aside money to pay him so the money’s there when the work is completed.

One who holds back the wages of a worker is considered as if he has killed him. The Alshich says that one must be very careful in this matter. If a worker who hasn’t been paid returns home to his hungry family and they cry out to Hashem, He will listen to them because He hears the prayers of those who suffer. Not only has the employer then violated bal talin and gezel (stealing) but also lifnei ivir (not placing a stumbling block), because he has caused Jews to pray to Hashem to hurt another Jew

The Arizal says that whoever fulfills the mitzvah of paying a worker on time receives great reward in this world too. This is in addition to the reward awaiting him in the world to come. This is hinted to in the verse, “B’yomo titen secharo.” On that day you shall pay his wages. The first letters are bet, taf, shin, which spell Shabbat. When a Jew keeps Shabbat he receives a neshama yeteira (an extra soul). This also occurs when a person pays his workers on time.

One should set the price before the work begins to avoid questions of gezel. It’s very common for a worker to argue over compensation. Even if he forgives you to avoid further argument, deep down he may not forgive you completely and there may be a question of dishonesty.

In the event a set price wasn’t established, the wage is calculated according to the norm. It is very hard to calculate exactly what that is, and if you pay your worker less it could be gezeila. If you want to avoid this, you’ll have to end up giving more. Therefore, one should always set the price first. A Torah scholarshould be extra careful to do this in order to avoid a chilul Hashem (profaning Hashem’s name).


Receptacle of Blessing

5 06 2012

Based on a shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Parshat Naso discusses the sotah (the woman suspected of being unfaithful to her husband). The Torah tells us that if she was found guilty she died a horrific death. If she emerged innocent, she was blessed. This seems perplexing. Why was she rewarded for not being guilty?

The sages teach us that in the times of the beit hamikdash if a man refused to give his wife a divorce, the religious court was authorized to beat him until he capitulated. If the husband just said, “I will give a divorce,” or, “All right I’ll sign,” it wasn’t enough. He had to say, “I want to give her a divorce.” The Rambam and other commentators ask, what validity does this coerced contract carry? The Rambam explains that the husband really wants to do right but he is trapped by his evil inclination. After the beating his true will is revealed.

Similarly in the case of the sotah, she was seized by her yetzer hara. If she could step back and review the situatino, she would certainly not compromise herself again. When she was proven innocent, it was a revelation of her true will. That moment of clarity, when she saw her real essence, was enough to make her into a receptacle of blessing.

May we discover our true will and accept the Torah fully and with love.

Sefirat Haomer Part I: The Special Event of Kabbalat Hatorah

20 04 2012
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Eliezer Miller

The days of sefirat haomer are days of spiritual preparation for the holiday of Shavuot.

The Netivot Shalom notes that the order of the moadim: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot, are a way for a person to come closer to Hashem. It starts with Pesach and peaks at Shemini Atzeret. Pesach and the period of sefirah represent the engagement of a couple. In Mitzrayim, Hashem chose klal Yisrael as a nation. Shavuot corresponds to the wedding. The Torah represents the ring and through that gift we became mekudeshet (sanctified) to Hashem.

Shir Hashirim says, “Heviani hamelech chadarav.” (The king has brought me to his chamber). On Sukkot, Hashem brings us into his home, the sukkah. Sukkah is the numerical value of ninety one, which equals the two names of Hashemyud keh and adnut. On Shemini Atzeret there’s a yichud ila’a, a higher union between Hashem and klal Yisrael.

The Rashash writes, “The days of sefirat haomer are the root of the whole year.” The way a person prepares himself for the spiritual marriage with Hashem that is the way his connection with Hashem will be during the year. This is why it’s so important to prepare ourselves properly. Depending on how much a person solidifies his connection with Hashem and desires to be close to Him, that is how much light he will be able to receive on Shavuot.

Although the holidays repeat themselves, a new aspect of Hashem is revealed every year. There’s something unique in each yom tov that will never be again. This should give us strength to start anew.

When dough starts rising and one isn’t ready to bake it, one gives it a smack and knocks it down. Every year the yetzer hara rises higher and when Pesach comes Hashem knocks it down and gives us protection. On Pesach we turn ourselves away from the domination of the yetzer hara and start setting our minds towards Hashem. The work of sefirat haomer is to begin connecting to Hashem, to sanctify ourselves, to correct our souls, and to refine our spiritual nature.

The Chiddushe Harim notes that the days of sefirah are an auspicious time for spiritual growth because during this period our ancestors were redeemed and we were elevated from lowly slaves to the level of receiving the Torah.

The Sefer Torat Chaim comments on the word of the verse, “Usefartem lachem.Lachem is rashei tevot, Kdai l’tahreinu miklipasenu.” The essence of sefirah is to purify ourselves. The Ohr Hachaim says that Usefartem comes from the same root as sapir v’yahalom, a sapphire stone. Through the counting, one polishes oneself like a sapphire stone. Every year klal Yisrael go through the forty nine days when Hashem weakens the power of the evil inclination so we become worthy to receive the Torah.

The Shem Mishmuel says that even if a person doesn’t feel any purpose in counting at all he has to believe that his soul is being purified. This gives a person strength to start anew.

Sefirah is a time to work on kedusha (sanctity) and tahara (purity). Every person has their portion in Torah and if a person doesn’t purify himself he cannot receive his portion.

Rav Pinchos Koritzer notes that the or haganuz , the hidden light that Hashem created at the beginning of time, is hidden in the thirty six tractates of Shas. Baal Haturim says et ha’or has the numerical value of 613. Every mitzvah a person does reveals another aspect of this hidden divine light.

May the Torah and mitzvot engendered through our inner work during sefirah bring us to new levels of sanctity in serving Hashem. May we merit to receive our full portion in Torah.

Hilchot Shabbat: Havdala

13 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

There is a disagreement among the Rishonim whether havdalah is d’orayta or d’rabbanan. The majority of Rishonim rule that it is d’orayta. Are woman obligated in havdalah? Is havdalah a mitzvah of Shabbat or of motzai Shabbat?

Since women are obligated in the negative commandments of shamor, they are also obligated in the positive commandments of zachor. According to the Rambam, havdalah is part of the mitzvah of Kiddush and women are obligated. According to the Orchot Chaim, women are only obligated in kiddush. Havdalah is a time bound mitzvah of motzai Shabbat from which woman are exempt. Based on this, the Rama rules that women should not make Havdalah for themselves.

Some Rishonim argue that although havdalah is d’rabbanan, women are still obligated because it was meant by the sages to be a part of the mitzvah of kiddush. The Mishna Berura cites the Bach who asks, if the Orchot Chaim is correct and woman aren’t obligated why can’t they make Havdalah anyway? In fact the Magen Avraham and the Bach rule that women can make havdalah. How then do we understand the Rama?

With havdalah there’s no maaseh (action). The blessing itself is the mitzvah. Therefore the Rama rules that women shouldn’t say it. Preferably, a man should intend to recite it for a woman when he says havdala for himself. The man should not say havdalah earlier because if in fact a woman isn’t obligated, he may be reciting it in vain. In principle, a woman is obligated and therefore if there’s no man the woman should say it herself.

The Biur Halacha questions whether a woman should say the blessing of Bori meorei haish since it is essentially a mitzvah of motzai Shabbat which women aren’t obligated in. Therefore, it may be an interruption between Borei Pri Hagefen and Havdalah. The common practice is that women do say Borei meorei haish.

There’s a Kabbalisticsource that mentions that women shouldn’t drink the wine of havdalah. Rav Meltzer explains that Borei meorei ha’aish may qualify as an interruption before Borei pri hagefen. Therefore, a woman shouldn’t drink the wine. However, the custom is that if she makes Havdalah for herself, she does drink from it.

Parshat Shemot: Fundamentals of Hashem’s Chesed

12 01 2012

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman 

The midrash says that at the time of the exodus, the Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. They didn’t deserve to be redeemed. Yet Hashem appeared to Moshe and said He would take them out of the land. Rabbe Yochanan maintains that the angel Michael was the angel who delivered G-d’s message because he represents chesed (kindness). Rabbe Chanina disagrees and says it was the angel Gavriel who signifies din (judgment).

The Shem Mishmuel explains that the Jewish people were in fact redeemed with both chesed and din. They didn’t deserve to be saved. Hashem acted beyond logic with beneficence, much like a father’s instinctual love for his son. Although the angels didn’t protest during theexodus, they did put up an argument at the Red Sea. At that time, chesed transformed into din. The angels objected, “Both the Jews and the Eyptians worship idols, why are you preferring the Jews?” The Jews needed to be worthy of the miracles, and indeed Hashem waited until they jumped into the sea before he split the waters. Once they deserved the miracles, the attribute of din was activated in their favor.

Even chesed has to have some reasonable basis. Otherwise it’s misplaced. The Jewish people were at the 49th level of impurity. Yet at their deepest core, they were still holy. Hashem understood that this inner spark would emerge after the redemption. In exile, they were spiritually and physically enslaved. All they could think about was surviving. Therefore, Hashem sent the angel Gavriel who symbolized strict justice to punish the Egyptians. When the Jews could finally breathe freely, their latent holiness rose to the surface.

Hashem created the world with a combination of din and chesed. At first there was din. Hashem put limits upon himself (tzimzum) to make space for the world to come into existence. Then he poured forth his chesed. Similarly, the exodus was a kind of creation ex-nihilo. A holy nation arose from a band of shattered slaves. Chesed, Hashem’s generosity, took us out of the 49th level and brought us to Sinai.

The Shem Mishumel notes that the exodus will be a model for the future redemption. It too will be a melding of chesed and din. Hashem waits for us to be worthy. When we repent, we will be redeemed immediately.

When Moshe asked Paro to release the Jews, he increased their suffering. Moshe complained to Hashem, “Why did you send me?” Hashem responded enigmatically, “Now you will see that Paro will send them out and I will redeem them.” Why did He send Moshe on a failed mission?

When Moshe first came, the Jews’ hopes were raised. They began to think that perhaps they would be redeemed. But when Paro rejected Moshe’s request, they reverted back to their old ways. There was a seeming accusation in heaven. Perhaps the Jews weren’t worthy to be redeemed. When Moshe said, “You are preventing the nation from serving Hashem,” Paro countered, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to him?” Then the mission changed from redeeming the Jews to defending the honor of Hashem’s name. This was the basis of Hashem’s chesed.

This will also be the foundation of the future redemption. It may very well be that the Jews won’t deserve to be redeemed, but Hashem will perform miracles for the sake of His name. At the end of Avinu Malkeinu, we say “Asei imanu tzedaka va’chesed.” Please perform for us justice and kindness.

Jewish Calendar II #16-Mehadrin Min Hamehadrin

19 12 2011
Based on a shiur by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Chanukah is a unique holiday in that the Gemara delineates two extra levels of hiddur mitzvah (enhancing the mitzva) when lighting the candles. The basic mitzva is for the head of the household to light one candle each night for the whole family. However, there is a level of mehadrin where each family member lights a light every night. In mehadrin min hamehadrin each family member lights the corresponding number of candles for that night.

The Beit Yosef discusses a question whether a person who made a blessing on the wrong number of candles must make another blessing when he remembers to light the additional candle(s). He answers that if there was a significant break (approx. 1-2 hours) after the first lighting, one would make another blessing. This is surprising, because in normative Jewish law one doesn’t repeat a blessing on a hiddur mitzva. From this we learn that the mehadrin factor inherent in neirot Chanukah is unique in that it is related to maaseh hamitzva (performance of the mitzva). While there is great importance attached to beautifying a mitzva, such as making a blessing on a fine etrog or tallit, it is only related to mitzva objects with which the person fulfills the fundamental mitzva regardless if the item is beautiful. Therefore, no further blessing is recited. However, when one adds more Chanukah candles, the performance of the mitzva is radically enhanced, it’s intrinsic to the mitzva. It’s not just lighting the candles, but also pirsumei nisa – publicizing the miracle. Therefore, another blessing is recited.

Similarly, the poskim explain that although the basic mitzva of ner ish u’baito, (the father lighting for the household) has already been fulfilled, other family members can still make their own blessing because they are adding to the fundamental mitzva, which is pirsumei nisa.

Can a child who has reached the age of chinuch and is obligated in Rabbinic mitzvot, be motzi (intend to include) an adult with a mitzva d’rabanan such as megilah or neirot Chanukah? The Shulchan Aruch rules that a child cannot be motzi megilah but he could be motzi neirot Chanukah. Rav Soloveitchik explains that megilah is a chiyuv gavra – an adult obligation. Neirot Chanukah is a chiyuv bayit – an obligation on the household. It’s not a transfer from one person to the next. Since a child has an obligation he can automatically be motzi the household.

There’s an old custom to sing Haneirot Halalu as the Chanukah lights are lit. This seems like a hefsek (interruption in the performance of the mitzva). The reason it is not is because it is part of publicizing the miracle.

Ask the Rebbetzin: Is This The World Hashem Envisioned?

16 10 2011

Rebbetzins Perspective: Class#4

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Rebbetzin's Perspective #4


I feel empty and alone and very far from Hashem whenever I am in a crowd or in traffic or waiting on line. I can’t comprehend how this unpleasant, noisy, world, with all of these people, could possibly be the world Hashem envisioned.  The last time this was bothering me, I looked up and the bumper sticker on the car in front of me said “One human family.”  Is this my answer?  Should I look at everyone like he or she is part of me?  Should I look at them like they belong here as much as I sometimes think that I do too?



Every person is as important, real, and purposeful, as you are. The Gemara tells us, “Great is the king who mints many coins, each unique in its own way.” There is no such thing as optional people. Every single person is absolutely special. When people mention faceless hordes, it is usually in a racist context. The more you adapt yourself to seeing people as individuals, the easier it will be for you to bear crowds.

Did you ever wonder why Hashem chose Yerushalayim, a city teeming with people, as the holiest spot on earth? I would have chosen a majestic mountain or a breathtaking valley, because I sometimes tend to think like you. Although we view nature as beautiful and people as passé, Hashem sees people as His most magnificent creations. The profound depth of the human mind, the capacity to feel, the desire to create and build, the ability to make moral choices, are expressions of the soul and a reflection of the Divine Image.

Every person you see is an entire universe with enormous context and beauty of purpose. I would suggest you get past your difficulties of viewing people by finding ways to reach out to strangers. It can be through visiting the sick, helping needy people, or joining Partners in Torah. In this way you’ll learn to switch your mode of thinking from seeing people as a threatening anonymous mass to viewing them as unique individuals, each with a special story of their own.