Qitzur Shulchan Arukh 62:3

ג: הנושא ונותן באמונה, אינו חושש לאונאה. כיצד. חפץ זה בכך וכך לקחתיו, כך וכך אני רוצה להשתכר בו, אע”פ שהוא נתאנה בלקיחתו, וכל המתאנה אינו רשאי להונות אחרים בשביל זה, מכל מקום זה מתר, שהרי זה כמפרש לו, שלא יסמך על שוי המקח אלא על הדמים שנתן הוא בעדו

Someone who buys and sells with trustworthiness never has to worry about cheating [anyone]. How so? [Let him say,] “This property I bought for this and this [price], and I wish to sell it for that and that”. Even if he was cheated when he bought it, and one who was cheated doesn’t have permission to cheat others because of it, in any case it’s allowed. Because he explained to [the buyer] not to depend on the value of the item, but rather on what he paid for it.

In the previous installment, we noted that halachic business deal requires one charge what the item is worth. This includes a risk, since if the seller over-estimates the worth, he will accidentally violate the prohibition of ona’ah. Therefore the Qitzur recommends being up front about one’s own purchase price. By explicitly tying the deal to purchase price rather than a straight buying of an object of a particular value, the deal is valid regardless of the price.

תשעה באב

אמא! אמא!

Memories of a more recent churban… Last year, Nariman House was a way-station in Mumbai for lost Israelis searching India for spirituality, and a place where a Jew in a strange place on business could feel at home. A center for reconnecting with one’s heritage for people who were so far from Jewish centers. Last year, the building was buzzing with people coming to observe Tish’ah be’Av.

But for little Moishele Holzberg, it was simply home.

Tanakh and Allegory

Someone on scjm asked the following question:
Mainly for those who think some of the tanach is parable
Tanach parable or historical?
How much is parable & how much is historical?
all parable?
parable up to exodus?
parable to david & goliath?
up to Samson & Delilah?
Discovery of the lost scrolls?

A somewhat remedial question, but one I think worthy of having a thought-through canonical answer. Here is a polished version of my reply:

My own opinion, one Orthodox opinion among a wide variety:

All of it, from “In the beginning” is historical. Much of that history may also be parable; G-d orchestrating an event to teach a lesson.


The story of creation, as it actually occurred, is incomprehensible (to anyone less than G-d). The historical layer of the text is therefore inaccessible to us. I can therefore take whatever I do glean from it and treat it as though it were allegorical, because that’s all of it that I can understand.

To my mind this is entirely true for Genesis ch. 1, ch 2 (the Garden of Eden and the forbidden fruit) is somewhat more comprehensible but still too alien to our post-fruit experience to be entirely taken at face value.

And of course, the visions actually described by the prophets (including but not limited to the Throne vision in Exodus, and the Chariot visions of Ezekiel and Jeremiah) are historical descriptions of visions actually seen, but the visions themselves are allegorical constructions.

(Whether G-d constructs the allegory, or the person’s own intellect wraps the alien into the usual matter of sensory experience, I leave open.)

Last, there is an opinion in the talmud that Job was a parable written by Moses to teach about providence, justice and suffering.

I know many O Jews who would consider my view on Genesis 1 to be too liberal, whether Young Earther omphalists [the universe was created with the illusion of age] or believers in a history before this world [invoking Bereishis Rabba]. I also know a few on the left edge who would consider everything up to Abraham as allegory.

Technically, the only bit that definitionally being Orthodox requires you to believe is historical is the exodus; the events commemorated in the holidays and we are commanded to remember daily; or the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy — and I’m not even sure every detail of those. There are only 13 mandatory beliefs, and the historicity of Abraham isn’t actually one of them. But I never encountered an Orthodox-affiliated Jew whose beliefs are anywhere close to that level of minimalism, and most of us would consider him very misguided (or mistakenly brand him a heretic).

Then there are iffy bits, like Maimonides’ belief that the three angels visiting Abraham, Bilaam’s donkey, and any other story in which an angel is seen or heard, must be prophecy. (Angels aren’t physical, so how can they be seen or heard outside of prophecy?) Not that many O Jews know of his opinion, but those that do can’t consider its rejection “mandatory”.

One last omission from the discussion: Idiom isn’t metaphor. G-d’s “Hand” is an diomatic expression about His Might. The “anger of His ‘Nostrils'” is an idiom based on the human response of flaring nostrils when angry; not a parable.

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh 62:2

ב: כשם שיש אסור אונאה במשא ומתן, כך יש אסור אונאה בשכירות ובקבלנות ובחילוף מטבע

Just as there is a prohibition of cheating in buying and selling, so too there is a prohibition of cheating in hiring, contract work, or money exchange.

I think this required spelling out because of the definition of ona’ah. By default, the relevant value of a business deal is the value of the item. When we speak of unlawfully overcharging or underpaying, we mean by more than 1/6 of the item’s market value.

This applies to goods. Extending it to services, which are not objects holding inherent value, required an explicit statement.

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh 62:1

סִימָן סב – הִלְכוֹת מַשָּׂא וּמַתָּן

Chapter 62: Laws of Buying and Selling

א: צריך לזהר מאד שלא להונות את חברו. וכל המאנה את חברו, בין שהמוכר מאנה את הלוקח, בין שהלוקח מאנה את המוכר, עובר בלאו, שנאמר, וכי תמכרו ממכר לעמיתך או קנה מיד עמיתך אל-תונו איש את-אחיו. והיא השאלה הראשונה ששואלין את האדם בשעה שמכניסין אותו לדין, נשאת ונתת באמונה – חו”מ רכז, שבת לא. ועי’ באו”ח קנה, וביו”ד רמו

One must be very careful not to take advantage of his peer. And someone who does take advantage of his peer, whether the seller takes advantage of the buyer, or the buyer taking advantage of the seller, is defying a prohibition. As it says, “‘If you sell anything to your neighbor, or buy anything from your neighbor’s possession, do not cheat one another.” (Vayiqra 25:14)

This is the first question that they ask a person at the time they bring him to justice [after his passing], “Did you conduct your buying and selling with trustworthiness?

C.f.: Choshein Mishpat 227, Shabbos 31a, and also see Orakh Chaim 155, and Yoreh De’ah 246.

The Qitzur opens with a discussion of how evil ona’as mamon, cheating is.

How Should I Respond? — Part II: Email from Agudah

I received the following in my email box. I am heartened to see that we as a community are seeking constructive response.

I am writing to friends and supporters of Agudath Israel to call your attention to an important gathering for the men of our community tomorrow night, Tuesday, 7 Menachem Av/July 28, in the Ohr Hachayim Viznitz Hall, 1824 53rd Street, in Brooklyn.

The asifa, which is being sponsored by community askonim, will be focusing on the timeless (but also all too timely) theme of “Vi’asisa hayashar vi’hatov.” It will feature two distinguished rabbonim – Harav Avrohom Schorr, shlita, and Harav Dovid Ozieri, shlita; as well as two respected legal experts – Benjamin Brafman, Esq. and Jacob Laufer, Esq. I will be serving as the evening’s chairman. We will start with Mincha at 7:15 and then proceed with the program.

Introspection about how to better live our lives in consonance with Torah ideals is always timely. It is particularly timely during the days leading up to Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the fact that we remain in Golus, and the reasons why.

And in the wake of recent headlines and front-page photographs that made every feeling Jewish heart ache, it is even more timely for us to take a good, hard look at our obligations to our fellows, to our society, to our government.

I don’t think I can adequately convey how compelling this gathering should be to us all. But I am confident that you realize how vital it is that we hear words of mussar and chizuk, and that we learn to distinguish between conduct that conforms with dina d’malchusa and conduct that does not. I am also confident that you understand how important it is to demonstrate to the wider world how heartfelt and determined Jews respond to news like the tragic tidings of recent days. Tomorrow night’s symposium and our attendance are an important part of that response.

Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel
Executive Vice President
Agudath Israel of America

I am told one can “attend” by phone via Kol Hamevaser. Dial 212 444-1100, then pressing 8, then 1.

How Should I Respond?

When they gossip in Vilna, they desecrate Shabbos in Paris.

- Rav Yisrael Salanter

Some take Rav Yisrael Salanter’s causality to be metaphysical. I don’t think that fits R’ Yisrael’s general approach to life. Mussar is fully comprehensible without invoking metaphysical concepts. I would instead say it’s more likely to be very rationalistic psychology. In two ways:
1- It fosters a general culture of the rules and tradition not really counting. Each person contributes to eroding the culture, and thus the lives of everyone else in it.
2- It makes Orthodoxy look like a bunch of hypocrites and turns people off from looking at what we claim to preach.

All Jews are intermixed, one in the other.

- Ein Yaaqov, Sanhedrin (the version in the Vilna Shas 27b differs, to speak of “guarantors one for the other”)

We are all in one boat. You can’t drill a hole in the boat without sinking all of us. I know American values are based in personal autonomy, of protecting one’s rights and “live and let live”. But as we see from Sanhedrin, that notion is very un-Jewish. Conversion is summed up by Ruth’s “your nation is my nation and your G-d is my G-d”, and letting the rest of “O Israel” hear is the first two words of our doxology. We, the Jewish People, are a unit. When Madoff sins, people think less of me.

I think about these words reading recent events in the news. When petty customs evasion is the norm, we open our children to the threat of consorting with drug smugglers. And when the masses play games with their taxes, the hard-pressed charity goes one step beyond. And then another step, and then another.

Yirmiahu posted the following on his blog, Machzikei HaDas:

“The Holy Rav, our master Menachem Mendel (of Rimnov) commented about the curious sight that we often see children who in their youth go to school and continually learn Torah, and daven with kavanah, and answer “Amen, yehei Shmei rabba” and Amen, and are upright in their ways. Afterwards, when they grow up, their behaviour reverses, chas v’Shalom, with diminished middos, neglecting Torah, Prayer, and so forth…the Torah which they learned in their youth, breath in which there is no sin (Shabbos 119b), would be suitable to establish them, and add strength to their neshamas, since a mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.

Regarding this he said, “This is because of their fathers who feed them stolen money which they enriched themselves through unfaithful commerce, and fattened themselves in violation of halachah… and in this way they descend into desire and degraded middos.”
From his Holy words it is established, that also with food which is inherently kosher, except that it was acquired with money which isn’t acquired in an upright manner and lacking in emunah. The power of the act enters the product, and the food goes from the side of kedushah and descends and degrades himself into desires and poor midos, rachmana litzlan. “
- The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zy’a, Shefa Chaim, Chumash Rashi Shiur, parshas Nasso 5742, page 395.

Interestingly, we already saw this same idea from Rabbi Breuer, in his essay ‘Glatt Kosher — Glatt Yoshor’. And Rabbi Schwab warns us that the reason why, despite of our investment in education, we fail to produce the number of greats that we did in previous generations is that so much of that tuition is being paid with “tainted money”. Non-kosher food “closes up the heart”; food bought with non-kosher money, no less so. This too could be understood in metaphysical terms, but I believe one can keep things in totally rationalistic terms. We are teaching our children that halakhah is something you can get away with violating, and then are surprised when their commitment is not all it could be.

On the plus side, this gives us something to do. The unity of the Jewish People, that we’re all in one boat, means that any personal action I take can actually be a step to reversing the trend.

I often tell people that if I ever were to become capable of deciding halachic questions, my first ruling would be the following: If you buy an esrog, and the salesman declines a check telling you that he would prefer cash, or even that he could charge you less if you paid in cash, you must pay be check. He is prohibited from avoiding sales tax, and you are therefore prohibited from helping him do so, or even making it more tempting. Thus an esrog bought in a circumstance where you have real reason to believe that’s what you are doing would be useless, as trying to use it for the mitzvah would be a mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveirah (a mitzvah made possible through a sin) and void.

Here are some suggestions, and if someone wants to add their own ideas in the comments section, I would be grateful:

  • If one finds that they are much stronger at rituals that involve his relationship with G-d than in interpersonal integrity, how about the following exercise:  Every time you enter a room, kiss the mezuzah (if there is one) and remember that Hashem is in that room along with any people who may or may not be there, watching.
  • Another suggestion for the same person: When you greet a person, think “Behold, the ‘Image’ of G-d!”
  • Embrace a role model, so that when one is making a tough decision, his/her face will be before you to ask, “What would you do?” (Perhaps actually keeping a picture around near your bill desk would help remembering to do so.)
  • If the former advice could be mapped to the line in Pirke Avos “asei lekha rav — make a mentor for yourself”, then one must also consider the continuation: “qenei lekha chaveir — acquire for yourself a friend.” Picking peers with integrity helps keep “shenanigans” in the range of the unthinkable.
  • Think of the people for whom you are a role model. Keep a picture of your children on the desk, reminding you to refrain from making business decisions you would be ashamed to explain to them.
  • Learn the appropriate sections of Choshein Mishpat, the Qitzur Shulchan Aruch (simanim 62-67), or the Chafetz Chaim’s Ahavas Chessed — the halakhos of integrity. Daily, so that the topic is always close to consciousness.
  • Spend more time doing things that are truly important, and free. The less one is caught up in the pursuit of trying to buy happiness, the less tempting it is to try to aquire at the expense of the things that really matter. Related to this is the idea of planning one’s own eulogy, and making every decision in life with an eye toward whether it will help make that eulogy happen.  I thought I blogged this notion already, but I see it’s still on my to-do list. The things I want in my eulogy, a summary of my life’s accomplishments, should drive what I actually decide to do in life. No?

Again, I invite others to join with their suggestions. And to actually follow through on them. Today. While the outrage of today’s news provides the fire and motivation to act.

Parashas Matos and Kol Nidre

My neighbor, R’ Eli Radinsky, recently drew the following similarity to my attention.

There is an obligation to begin add time to Yom Kippur, an obligation true of Shabbos and every holiday, but happens to be derived from a verse about Yom Kippur. (“You shall afflict yourselves on the ninth of the month in the evening, from evening to evening, you shall rest on your day of rest” -Vayiqra 23:32, which implies that Yom Kippur is observed starting at a point in the evening when it’s still the ninth.)

What do we do with this extra time, how do begin Yom Kippur? Kol Nidre, a declaration anulling the oaths of the past year, and/or pre-empting those of the year to come. (There are textual variants in the past tense, the future tense, and one that has the chazan saying both.)

We generally think of Moshe’s repetition of the Torah, “Mishnah Torah” or in Latin, “Deuteronomy”, as being identical to the last book of the chumash, the one we call today by the second word in the book, Devarim.

However, Rashi cites a Chazal that says differently.

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֖ה אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כְּכֹ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה ה֖’ אֶת־מֹשֶֽׁה׃

And Moshe said to the children of Israel, like everything which Hashem commanded Moshe.

- Bamidbar 30:1

ויאמר משה אל בני ישראל: להפסיק הענין דברי רבי ישמעאל לפי שעד כאן דבריו של מקום ופרשת נדרים מתחלת בדבורו של משה הוצרך להפסיק תחלה ולומר שחזר משה ואמר פרשה זו לישראל שאם לא כן יש במשמע שלא אמר להם זו אלא בפרשת נדרים התחיל דבריו חסלת פרשת פינחס.

And Moshe said to the children of Israel: “To end the subject”, is the words of Rabbi Yishmael. Because until here were the words of the Omnipresent, and the section on oaths begins the speech of Moshe. [Therefore,] it has to stop first and say that Moshe reviewed and said this section to Israel. For if not so, it would sound like he didn’t tell them this [everything up to this verse] and only with the section on oaths did his words begin, at the end of parashas Pinchas [this verse].

- Rashi ad loc.

The tanna, Rabbi Yishmael, writes that Moshe’s repetition of the Torah begins with parashas Matos and the laws of oaths. He then uses this to explain the need for the last verse of Pinchas, that it is to let us know that everything G-d told him directly was also taught to the Jews.

Now he gathers the heads of the tribes, and begins the process of mishnah torah, of the repetition of Torah from mentor to follower down the ages.

How does Moshe begin? With a preface before the actual book, and starting with the laws of oaths. Did we consciously follow this model when establishing the custom of saying Kol Nidrei? And if so, what does that tell us?

Notably, Hashem describes Moshe’s teaching as “hadevarim“, the words. The significance being words makes the possibility of anulling an oath or vow, of undoing words, is even more startling. It is very much the theme of Yom Kippur, this entire concept of being able to repair the effects of the past.

With respect to the book of Devarim, this connection is harder to explain, and I’m not sure I am satisfied with any of the answers I thought about. Perhaps Moshe is opening the chain of tradition with an admonition to future teachers. Don’t be too proud to admit a faulty teaching and correct yourself.

As I said, while the connection between the opening of parashas Matos and Kol Nidrei seems compelling, I’m not clear what the connection is supposed to mean.

Feel free to suggest something in the comments section.

Finding Spirituality

R’ Rich Wolpoe shared with us on Avodah this challenge:

My friend’s thesis is that Judaism w/o Qabbalah or Hassidus is mechanical and lifeless.

And so he challenged me as follows: To List aspects of Jewish Spirituality that were devoid of Qaballah or Hassidus.

I came up with my own list.

Any other takers out there?

Caveat: Remember that a Sefer like Mesillas Yesharim was written by Ramchal – and so my friend woud claim that it ostensibly has Qabbalistic overtones

One interesting outcome was that it led R’ Simon Montagu to quote the following from he end of Alei Shur Vol 1
Ch. 3 (p.30), explaining why Mesilas Yesharim may not qualify.

Admor Ma’or `Eineinu Maran R. Yerucham zt”l used to say that MY [Mesilas Yesharim] is a summing-up [or "the essence"] of all RMHL’ z”l’s books on Kabbala, and I heard the same from Mori veRabbi Hagaon R. Yitzchak Hutner zt”l. That is to say, it is totally based on Hochmat Ha’Emet — and when we learned it we didn’t realize! This is indeed preparation for the internals[1] of the Tora: by learning this marvelous book early and often, without drudgery or routine, we will gradually become accustomed to finding the internal in his words — and in ourselves. Anyone who hasn’t accustomed himself to this kind of learning, and then comes to books of Kabbala in which the internal is not concealed from view, will turn the internal knowledge into external. The gateway to the truly internal [penimiut ha'emet] is MY.

[1] My apologies: “internals” is a terrible English translation of “penimiut”, maybe one that only a programmer who is used to hearing it as programming jargon would have come up with.

As I see it,  there are a number of definitions: What is spirituality, what does it mean to “find” it, and what is or isn’t included in qabbalah.

I’m not really going to touch on the last question, since it’s big enough for its own post or series of posts. However, I wish to note that if we take the Alei Shur’s point too far, nothing since the Ari, barring some Yemenite works, is entirely untouched by qabbalah. To my own mind the more interesting question is whether it’s based in qabbalah, or doesn’t involve thinking ever-more in those terms.


I was saying there are many sefarim that define and discuss spirituality, but few that tell you how to find it. I see the challenge as not just identifying any hashkafah book, or opening Mishlei or Tehillim, but locating one that actually tells you how to get from the real to the ideal.

Whether Chovos haLvavos has enough how-to orientation to qualify is a second discussion, and more one of personal taste in shiurim (how much help would qualify as “finding”) — so I don’t think it would be a very interesting discussion.


Here are some hand-selected formal definitions of the English that I wish to draw from:

Wikipdeia on “spirituality”:

Spirituality is matters of the spirit, a concept often but not necessarily tied to to a spirit world, a multidimensional reality and one or more deities. Spiritual matters regard humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose, not as material biological organisms, but as spirits or energy with an eternal relationship beyond the bodily senses, time and the material world.

American Heritage:
1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material. See synonyms at immaterial.
2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
3. Of, from, or relating to God; deific.

Merriam Webster:
3: sensitivity or attachment to religious values
4: the quality or state of being spiritual

I present those in order to justify my definition as not being far from the way the word “spirituality” is general used. Here’s what I think it means in a Jewish context:

An orientation where one is focused on man’s higher calling, the one Hashem made us for.

As I see it, this is the point of contemplating the day of death. Remembering what’s really important and focusing on it. In today’s milieu, where people can’t handle the stick, only the carrot, here’s a usable variant, suggested by Stephen Covey (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Ch. 2 “Keeping the End in Mind”):

Picture your own funeral. Who attends? Who is sitting with whom? Who cares enough to help out? What do members of the family say to each other? Your friends?

Picture four hespeidim. The first one: Who is giving it? What are they saying? What do you want them to be saying? My own addition to Covey’s basic notion: What do you think Hashem wants them to be saying? And now the 2nd, the third, and the fourth…

Take time to really visualize this. Take notes for later reference. Really picture out the entire scene so that it becomes emotionally etched into your heart.

Your results spell out your ultimate goal; to the best of your understanding, what Hashem yisbarach wants out of your life. Know it. Keep it in mind. It may be easy to subdivide into short-term goals, it may be difficult.  (Like in business management theory, where everything is supposed to be able to be tied back to the mission statement.) Particularly, when making a decision, keep those goals and the steps to get to them in mind. Even if it’s just deciding whether to have a salad or “comfort food” for lunch, see how the pros and cons tie back to that ultimate question.

That, to me, is spirituality. Particularly since it’s the neshamah which is aware of our higher calling, which provides the counterbalance to our taavos when making a decision.

I think that R’ Shimon Shkop would call it “qedushah”. To quote my translation of his haqdamah to Shaarei Yosher:
So too His Will is that we walk in His ways. As it says “and you shall walk in His Ways” — that we, the select of what He made — should constantly hold as our purpose to sanctify our physical and spiritual powers for the good of the many, according to our abilities.

And so, it appears to my limited thought that this mitzvah includes the entire foundation and root of the purpose of our lives. All of our work and effort should constantly be sanctified to doing good for the community. We should not use any act, movement, or get benefit or enjoyment that doesn’t have in it some element of helping another. And as understood, all holiness is being set apart for an honorable purpose — which is that a person straightens his path and strives constantly to make his lifestyle dedicated to the community. Then, anything he does even for himself, for the health of his body and soul he also associates to the mitzvah of being holy, for through this he can also do good for the masses. Through the good he does for himself he can do good for the many who rely on

him. But if he derives benefit from some kind of permissible thing that isn’t needed for the health of his body and soul, that benefit is in opposition to holiness. For in this he is benefiting himself (for that moment as it seems to him), but no one else.

In this way, the concept of separation is an aspect of the underlying basis of the mitzvah of holiness, which is recognizable in practice in the ways a person acts. But with insight and the calling of spirituality this mitzvah broadens to include everything a person causes or does even between him and the Omnipresent. In relation to this, this holiness is comparable to the Holiness of the Creator in whatever little similarity. Just as the Act of the Holy One in all of creation, and in each and every moment that He continues to cause the universe to exist, all His actions are sanctified to the good of others, so too it is His Will that our actions be constantly sanctified to the good of the community, and not personal benefit.

So, it seems to me that spirituality is qedushah, to stay separated for the purpose of the spiritual goal, the soul’s calling, the Image of G-d, what Hashem made us to be.

Notice there is nothing mystical in that. It could be mussar, it could be R’ Hirch’s Horeb. The Seifer haYetzirah, not so much — even if I had any hope of understanding what it’s getting at, it would tell me more about what the ideal is, but not how to find it.