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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Miketz

Shabbat Mevarchim Tevet

Modern Applications of Ancient Wisdom

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In the Torah portion of Miketz, we read that Yaakov hesitated to send Binyamin to Egypt with his brothers as he said, “An accident (may) befall him on the way.” The Midrash[1] explains that Yaakov was concerned since “the Satan (accusing angel) prosecutes in a time of danger.”
The Talmud says[2] that women are judged for their sins at the time of childbirth while men are judged when they do any dangerous activity (such as crossing a shaky bridge). To illustrate this, the Talmud says that Rabbi Yannai would always check a boat for leaks before entering it. He explained that he might not be worthy of a miracle to save him from the danger of a leaky boat and even if he were worthy of a miracle, that miracle might diminish his merits.
Rashi explains that when a person is healthy (and not doing anything dangerous), his merits may be enough to protect him in the face of the prosecuting angel’s charges (for the sins he may have done). But when a person is in a dangerous situation and needs a miracle to escape, G-d is more open to hearing the accusations of the prosecuting angel, and one’s merits may not be sufficient to warrant that a miracle be performed on his behalf.[3]
This concept does not contradict the idea that everything which happens was preordained by G-d. G-d decreed the laws of nature, after all, so one who exposes himself to a naturally dangerous situation is placing himself in harm’s way. As we have free choice whether or not to harm ourselves, G-d may not save us from the danger in which we place ourselves.
The Sefer HaChinuch explains this concept further:[4] “G-d created this world… based on the foundations of nature. He decreed that fire should burn but water should extinguish fire. Nature dictates that if a large stone falls on a person’s head, it will crush his skull. And that, if a person falls to the ground from a tall building, he will die. He… granted man a wise soul to guard his body from all harm. He (then) commanded us to guard ourselves from harm since nature can have its (harmful) effect on us if we are not careful.
“Indeed, there were some people whom the King wished to honor who, because of their piety and their souls’ cleaving to G-d’s ways… such as the great and holy patriarchs and some of their descendants like Daniel, Chanaya, Mishael and Azarya and similar people, G-d gave nature into their hands… So that Avraham, despite being thrown into the fiery furnace, was not injured,[5] and the four above-mentioned pious men were also thrown into the fire and even the hair on their heads was not singed.[6] But most people, as a result of their sins, do not merit this level. The Torah therefore commands us to guard our dwelling places and areas from anything that may cause death negligently. We may not endanger ourselves, saying that a miracle will occur. Our sages have said[7] that if someone relies on a miracle, a miracle will not happen for him… Thus, even when the Jews were fighting a ‘mitzvah war’ based on G-d’s command, they would arm themselves and prepare for battle and similar things as if they were relying on nature alone. This is proper based on what we mentioned.”
The rest of this article will discuss the views of contemporary Halachic authorities regarding placing oneself in dangerous situations.[8]
Modern Applications
  • Speeding
Rabbi Shmuel Wosner of Benei Berak writes, “It is quite obvious that included in these laws (of protecting oneself from danger) in our times are those who drive in cars at high speeds and try to overtake others. It is well known how many lives this has cut short because of our great sins. It is an absolute danger. It may be an act of murder or an act of suicide (or both).”[9] May G-d protect us.
  • Reporting Reckless Driving
Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss of Yerushalayim writes[10] that one who drives at high speeds, or who doesn’t stop at stop signs or red lights, or overtakes drivers in a dangerous way or drives without a license (i.e., he is not trained to drive properly) is considered to be a rodef (one who chases someone else with intent to harm them) who is endangering himself and others, even if his intention is not to cause harm. One should first warn such people (in a Beit Din) that they should stop this kind of behavior. If they do not obey, they may be reported to the authorities for the appropriate punishment to ensure that they desist from this behavior which endangers the public.
  • Lunar Travel
Rav Menashe Klein of Ungvar, Brooklyn and Yerushalayim wrote[11] that it is forbidden (for a Jew) to travel to the moon as this involves placing oneself in danger both from the journey and from the lack of oxygen on the moon. (Certainly, one would only travel with a spacesuit, but since it can malfunction, Rabbi Klein considered this a dangerous situation.)[12]
  • Smoking Marijuana
Rav Moshe Feinstein was asked about boys in Yeshivah who were smoking marijuana. He explained[13] that it is forbidden to smoke marijuana (or take any addictive, harmful drug) for many reasons:
1)      It ruins one’s health.
2)      Even if it does not ruin (an individual’s) health, it ruins his ability to think clearly. This will impede him from Torah study, prayer and observing mitzvot since one who performs a mitzvah without proper thought is like one who has not done it at all.
3)      It creates a huge desire which some people will be unable to overcome. We see from the mitzvah of the wayward son (Ben Sorer UMoreh)[14]  that it is forbidden to indulge in superfluous desires.[15] This is certainly true about a matter which is not beneficial for a person at all.
4)      It is possible that they will end up stealing in order to support their habit.
5)       They are causing great pain to their parents.
6)      This behavior is the opposite of holiness. The Torah commands us to be holy as it says, “You shall be holy.”[16]
In summary, he writes “It is obvious and clear that this is a severe prohibition. We must try with all of our efforts to remove this impurity from all of the Jewish people, especially from those studying in yeshivot.”
  • Dangerous Dogs
The halacha forbids a person to own a dangerous dog unless he keeps it chained up. Rav Menashe Klein writes[17] that it is forbidden even if one puts up a sign that warns about the dog as the dog may escape and hurt somebody elsewhere.
  • Dangerous Substances
Regarding poisonous items, Rav Klein writes[18] that it is customary to allow keeping them in one’s premises as long as the danger is clearly marked on the bottle. (It would seem obvious that there must also be a childproof cap on the item.)
  • Going to School with Chicken Pox
Rav Moshe Shtern of Debrcyn, Hungary and later of New York, writes[19] that if one knows that his child has chicken pox (or any other contagious disease), one may not send him to school as he may infect other children.
  • Passing Cigarettes to One’s Father
If a one’s father asks him to buy him cigarettes or just to pass the father’s own cigarettes to him, Rav Moshe Shtern rules[20] that in a case where we know that it is injurious to the father’s health, he may not do so. (The case Rabbi Shtern was discussing was one in which the father already had a disease that the doctor declared would be exacerbated by continued smoking.)
Rabbi Shtern says that, despite the above ruling, he does not believe that it would be proper for a son to steal (or hide) his father’s cigarettes in such a situation.
There are many more issues to discuss on this topic such as extreme sports, mountain climbing, elective surgeries and more. G-d willing we will address these at a later date.
May Hashem protect us from all harm!

[1] Bereishit Rabbah, 91:9
[2] Shabbat, 32a
[3] D.H. Abav Chutra
[4] Mitzvah 546 – the mitzvah of building a guard rail
[5] See Bereishit Rabbah, 38:13
[6] See Daniel, chapter 3
[7] Torat Kohanim, Emor, Parsha 8
[8] I located the following discussions with the help of Rabbi Faitel Levin’s HaMaftei’ach HaGadol (Benei Berak 1996), an index of the responsa of modern poskim on contemporary subjects.
[9] Shevet HaLevi, vol. 6, 112, section 1, paragraph 4
[10] Minchat Yitzchak, 8:148
[11] Mishnah Halachot, 6:259
[12] Rabbi Klein also mentions in this responsa that if one is on the moon, he may recite Kiddush Levana (the blessing on the new moon). I am not sure how this is possible since it is impossible to see the light of the moon when one is standing in it.
[13] Igrot Moshe, Y.D. 3:35
[14] Deut. 21:10
[15] In addition to the fact that indulging in superfluous desires is not holy, this can also lead one to indulge in forbidden desires.
[16] Levit. 19:2
[17] Mishnah Halachot, 5:297
[18] Ibid
[19] Be’er Moshe, vol. 8:59
[20] Ibid, 1:60, paragraph 10
Wishing you a Happy Chanukah, a Shabbat Shalom, and a Chodesh Tov!


Aryeh Citron

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