Rabbi's Message

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat – the fifteenth of the month of Shevat – is called the New Year of the Trees because most of the vegetation in the land of Israel begins to bud at this time of year. There are many laws regarding agriculture that are affected by this date. Regarding the young trees, the Torah forbids consumption of the fruit for the first three years, and permits full use of the produce anywhere from the fourth year on. The date that determines the “age” of any tree in Israel is Tu B’Shevat. Additionally, Jews are required to separate Terumot and Maasrot, portions of the produce of the fields, on annual basis. The cutoff date for the
“fiscal” agricultural year is Tu B’Shevat. In order to commemorate the day and to highlight our thanks to G-d for giving us the Land of Milk and Honey, we indulge in consumption of many different
types of fruits.

There are several lessons one should keep in mind on this day. Firstly, the Torah says, “For the man is the tree of the fields”. The sages teach as a tree must be protected from harsh weather and from harmful insects, so too, a person must protect himself from the negative influences of society – that bombard a person on a daily basis.

Secondly, one should assess the manner in which one recites berachot – blessings. One is required to say a blessing before partaking of the pleasures of this world. How often do we mumble the words, not concentrating on the meaning and rushing through the “formula” required permitting the pleasure to the in-
dividual. As we consider the beautiful fruits and say the appropriate blessings, one should evaluate one’s blessings and resolve to improve their effectiveness.

Thirdly, one should remember that if a tree has strong roots then it could support many wide branches. However, if a tree has many branches and weak roots then even a light wind can blow the tree over. A person’s roots are one’s dedication to the study of Torah. We must dedicate a set time to the daily study of Torah to shore up the knowledge of all aspects of our Torah. By strengthening our roots each of us will enable our people to survive the hurricane winds of exile and merit the coming of the Mashiach speedily and in our days.

Rabbi's Message

What is Chanukah?

What is Chanukah? The sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev the days of Chanukah are eight …(Talmud Shabbat)
Men of Understanding…Days of Eight… (Lyrics to Maoz Tzur)

The Sfas Emes points out that saying “the days of Chanukah are eight “instead of “eight days” means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. One tells us of the number, the mere quantity of the days while the other tells us about the quality of  these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are “days of eight”. What does that mean and what does that mean to us?

The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to substitute and supplant Jewish life. They offered intellectual rigor, spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish Nation was allured to this system which was at first friendly and only later proved to be a deadly affair. While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe, their vision of reality was by definition limited to the lens of the human eye.

That the world was a seven-day production and that we operate within that framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life was by definition within the reach of “seven”.

The word for eight in Hebrew – “Shemonah” – when shuffled as an anagram spells out the word “Neshamah” – the Soul – and also “Mishnah” – the building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left with the “Shemen” – Oil, the center of the Chanukah miracle and the reason of the celebration. The Hebrew word for nature is “Teva”. “Teva” has two connotations that may help us gain an insight into the nature of nature. “Teva” implies drowning or sinking, because we are sunken into and swallowed up by this physical world. “Teva” also is related to the word “matbeah” – coin – referring to a coin that has an image impressed upon it. Similarly the natural world impresses; so much so that our senses are so stimulated that any inkling of anything beyond is naturally overwhelmed.

The Hebrew word for “The Natural World”, HaTeva, has the same numerical value for the Holy Name – Elokim. Meaning that our definition of nature is actually repeated miracles. If something happens predictably we call it natural. When it happens  once, we call it a miracle. We are alerted, jolted to a super state of awareness, a higher consciousness of reality.

Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses the sphere of seven enriching days and extending it. When penetrated it anoints even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.

During the Eight days of Chanukah we should know that each day represents something much bigger than just another day of the holiday. It represents the supernatural quality of each and every day and our ability to transcend nature to the supernatural.

Happy Chanukah!!!

Ethics Forum

Customer Incentives

An employer hired a sales representative on a salary basis. His job is to travel throughout the country purchasing wholesale merchandise, and selling the product retail. The employee salesman initially pays all travel expenses, but he is later reimbursed by his employer at the end of the month. This reimbursement is included in his paycheck.  The salesman purchases his gas and air fare on his mileage credit card, to accrue free miles for his own use.

The salesman would like to know whether he may keep the mileage. Do we say that since he is paying for the flight he deserves the air miles, or do we say that since the company is reimbursing him, the miles rightfully belongs to the company/employer?

Would the law be different if he would use company money to pay for the travel expenses initially, rather than being reimbursed later?

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) Choshen Mishpat 183:6, states that if someone sends a messenger to purchase something for him, and gives him the money to do so, and the messenger generates a profit in some manner, either by receiving a discount or a gift, if this is an item that has a set price on the market, the sender and messenger should equally divide the profit. Most early commentaries explain that this law is based on a rabbinic injunction. On the one hand, if not for the efforts and ties of the messenger the sender would receive no profit, but on the other hand if not for the fact that the sender gave the messenger the funds with which to purchase the item, there would also be no profit. Therefore, our Rabbis have established that both sender and messenger should be considered partners in generating this profit, and it should be divided equally.

It seems clear from the above that this Rabbinic injunction only applies if the money used in the purchase had been provided by the sender. Only then can he be considered an “equal partner” in the profit generated. Similarly, this only applies if the profit would not have been generated by anyone other than this messenger, because of his business ties, power of persuasion, etc. The seller is awarding the profit to the purchaser of the merchandise, and in this case both the provider of the money and the person making the effort to receive the discount must be considered purchasers.

However, if the messenger would lay out the money for the purchase, even if he just put it on his credit card and the sender was going to make out a check directly to the credit card company, only the messenger is to be considered the purchaser, and the seller awards the profit to him. The seller really does not care that the messenger will be reimbursed for the purchase, he has received his money and there is no longer any risk involved in this transaction for him. As far as he is concerned, the purchase is complete, and any reimbursement given to the messenger by the sender is a separate transaction that he has nothing to do with.

Additionally, if anyone purchasing these items could receive this gift or discount, the messenger really did not contribute at all to generating this profit, and it would belong to the sender. This is only true if the messenger is paid to run such errands for the sender, as in the case discussed in our question. If the messenger could really have fulfilled his obligation to his employer just as well by purchasing the same item in a store in his community, but put in the effort and exertion to travel to a distant place to receive the discount or gift, although he deserves to be compensated for his efforts and expense on behalf of the employer, he is still not considered a partner in this profit. The profit is only being awarded by the seller because of the money which was provided for by the employer, and not because of the extra effort or ties with the employee.

  1. In our case, where the salesman is using his own money to pay for the travel expenses, any gifts, or other incentives (free fill ups, air travel mileage, etc.) belong to him.
  2. If an employer asks a worker to purchase something for him, and gives him the money to do so, and the employee received a special discount on the merchandise purchased, or received a free gift for purchasing these items, the law is as follows:
    1. If the discount or gift is available to anyone who purchases these things in this store, the money saved, and the gift belong to the employer.
    2. If the employee made a special effort to travel to this store where the discount was being offered, but he could have just as well purchased the item in a closer store that did not have the discount available, he has a right to expect some payment for his efforts to save the employer money, but the discount and gift still belong to the employer.
    3. If the seller gave the employee the discount only because of his personal relationship with him, but it is not available to the public, the employer and employee should equally divide the money saved or the gift.

Adapted from Mishpitei Hatorah

Elul Rabbi's Message

Elul 5767

Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vavlamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people. In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spirituallyinspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.

The most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.

On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.

Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon – an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.