יום ראשון ט"ז באדר תשפ"א 28/02/2021
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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In Weekly Parsha

The Causality Principle

The butterfly effect and how it affects every Jew

24/05/2009 08:00
The Parasha of the Nazir is an absorbing one. It is a parasha that contains several insights that teach us much about the spiritual life of the human being. Nazirus, which is not an obligatory mitzvah, springs from the desire of a Jew who especially wishes to transcend the materialistic life and to shatter his lust beyond his basic obligations to do so. When a person takes upon himself the obligations of nazirus, he is required to fulfill certain mitzvos until the period of his nazirus ends. For the nazir, for instance, it is a mitzvah to avoid drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage, he is forbidden to shave his hair and he must shun contact with (i.e., a certain proximity to) corpses in order to avoid acquiring the spiritual impurity associated with the physical remains of a soul that has departed for loftier regions. 

Because this Jew has voluntarily assumed an extra level of abstinence, a level that is not obligatory, he has a duty to make sure that he does not stray from the special boundaries that he has set for himself.

One of the insights regarding nazirus is found in the Gemorah (Sota B):

"Rebbe says, 'why does the topic of nazirus appear near the topic of the Sota [in the Chumash]? Nazirus appears adjacent to the issue of the sota in order to teach us that a person who sees a sota in her moments of disgrace should refrain from wine.'"

The simple meaning is that one who observes, at close range, the deterioration of the sota on her path of destruction ought to draw conclusions, to "learn a lesson", so to speak, from the sight; he should surround himself with another "fence" in addition to the "fences" a Jew normally has to protect himself from unsuitable actions. That extra fence around his behavior should be abstinence from wine, as frequent and generous consumption of wine leads to sin, such as the sin that brought the sota's downfall.

This quote from Chazal can be interpreted another way. Human ethical norms develop and change as a result of the structures of relationships between people. Reciprocal contacts between individuals and between nations determine the nature of ethical relations between them, even as they change from generation to generation, for the better or for the opposite.

One who fears God and who witnessed the disgrace of a sota needs to consider whether it is possible, even in a convoluted way, that his lukewarm behavior [n the realm of Jewish ethical values], perhaps contributed, in a negative sense, to the general ethical atmosphere, thus becoming a factor in the dishonorable behavior and ultimate humiliation of the sota.

This interpretation leads to the recommendation made by Chazal that one who witnesses the degradation of the sota should refrain from ingesting wine. He will thus have a positive influence even on people who are at quite a distance from him, and he will have an effect on their ethical behavior.

This concept appears among peoples throughout the world as well. It's called the principle of causality. According to this principle, unimportant events can bring far-reaching effects in their wake. The popular term for this idea is called "the butterfly effect." According to the butterfly effect principle, the movement of a butterfly's wings can lead to vibrations that lead to other types of oscillation that eventually cause great changes in the atmosphere which conclude in the production of an unexpected tornado, or the non-production of an expected twister.

Another well-used expression is, "all for want of a nail." This expression describes a warhorse galloping at the head of the cavalry. Suddenly, a nail pops out of one his horseshoes. The horse's hoof slips, the horse starts limping, his rider tumbles to the ground, the opponents' aggressive tactics work so well against the leaderless cavalry that they win the battle and the entire army falls into the hands of the enemy.

If daily events are thus affected by insignificant occurrences, how much the more so is the moral life, the ethical life, affected by seemingly minor incidents. The ethics and morals in our lives are not built entirely from the give-and-take of interpersonal relationships.

We can see, actually, that the nazir's amazing act of abstaining has an influence on his surroundings and even on distant people. The nazir's abstinence causes even individuals far away from him to improve their ways and to regulate their ethical behavior in a positive manner at least a bit.

A Chassidic story expresses this idea. In the town of Belz in Galicia there were chassidim who avoided worldly pursuits, attractions and concerns. In fact, they withdrew from all matters connected to this world, except for essential activities, such as eating occasionally. These chassidim were to be found in the beis medrash, the holy house of study, where they were busy with two occupations only: Torah and tefilla. The residents of the area called them "sitters." 

During those days (about 200 years ago), people generally tied their clothing shut by means of laces. When the new fashion called "buttons" made its way to Eastern Europe, the first Jews to adopt the style were the maskilim, who favored a modern approach to just about everything, especially Judaism.

In answer to the maskilim's symbolic embracing of the new mode, chassidim in general, and men of great deeds specifically, including the "sitters" of Belz, refrained from sewing buttons on their garments and continued to use laces to anchor their clothing. At the same time, a Chassidic saying became popular: when one who sits in Belz exchanges his laces for buttons, he a posteriori (b'deived) causes a Jewish student in Paris to convert.