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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

How far would you go to get a Yom Kippur aliyah?


Daf Yomi Yevamos 3

Moishe and Shloime have been at one another’s throats for years.  The issue?  Each one believes that he is the most choshuver yid (important individual) in the shul and should get shlishi (the prime call-up) on Yom Kippur.  They run around the synagogue lobbying for their Divine right.  They make snide remarks to one another.   They disparage one another’s families.  They each spend the entire year undermining any shul project the other takes on. 

What’s driving their animosity?

If a man dies childless, the law of the levirate marriage (yibum) obligates his brother to marry the widow and bear children perpetuating the deceased’s name.  If they refuse to proceed with the yibum, they perform an annulment service called chalitzah.  If, however, the widow was somehow otherwise related to the surviving brother, she is exempt from yibum and chalitzah.  Our Mishnah teaches that not only is a related woman exempt, but even if her polygamous co-wife is related to him, she is exempt.

The Mishnah states: Fifteen women exempt their co-wives and their co-wives’ co-wives from chalitzah and yibum.  The Gemara inquires: Shouldn’t the Mishnah have mentioned yibum before chalitzah?  Alternatively, simply mention chalitzah, and I would have understood that the law certainly applies to yibum!  The Gemara answers: Our Mishnah accords with Aba Shaul who taught that the mitzvah of chalitzah supersedes the mitzvah of yibum.

Rashi explains: Aba Shaul is concerned about a person who performs yibum because he finds his brother’s wife beautiful, or some other reason he’d like to be married to her.  In such a case, it is as if he is engaging in a forbidden relationship and he would consider the offspring almost illegitimate!  It is better to annual the relationship (chalitzah) than to perform the levirate marriage for improper reasons.

Every night we ask G-d to “remove Satan from before us and from after us.”  Sometimes it’s very clear who Satan is when he comes to entice you.  You know that he’s asking you to do something wrong and you must do battle with the forces of evil and be victorious.  A ham sandwich is a ham sandwich.  That’s what we mean when we ask G-d to remove the Satan “from before us.”

But often, Satan creeps up on you from behind.  He knows he won’t be able to get you to do something absolutely wrong, and so he gets you to do a mitzvah but for perverted reasons.   In this case, says Aba Shaul, forget it – it’s no longer a mitzvah.  It becomes a sin.  If your intentions in marrying your brother’s widow are not purely for the sake of perpetuating his name as the Torah calls you to do, then your behaviour is incestuous and you must avoid it.

Synagogue honours are meant to honour the Almighty.   If it is about you, then that is Satan creeping up on you from behind.   If you’re fighting with someone for shlishi or to lead services, that’s not honouring G-d.  It’s disgracing His honour!   Whenever Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt is asked to officiate at a wedding, his first question is, ‘Is there any other rabbi who might be offended that he was not asked?’  If the answer is yes, he unselfishly steps aside.   

This is not about your honour; it’s about G-d’s honour.  And that’s the question you always need to ask yourself.  Is my behaviour honouring G-d or is this Satan talking behind my back?  I know a shul that has two mourners who vie to lead services during the week in memory of their loved ones.  And so whenever there are twenty men in the room, they split up and each takes ten.  That’s not what G-d wants!  “In the multitude of the people is the glory of the King,” writes King Solomon.  The Almighty wants us to pray together!

For many, the prize aliyah (call-up) of the year is Maftir Yonah – the reading of the Book of Jonah on Yom Kippur afternoon.  They say that reading Maftir Yonah is a segulah (good omen) to achieving great wealth.  The only problem is that in most shuls you already need to be wealthy to get the aliyah!   I remember one shul growing up where Maftir Yonah went to bid and ended up fetching $84,000! 

Well, I once knew a well-to-do fellow, who would anonymously purchase Maftir Yonah and then each year he would ask the rabbi to offer it to someone in the shul who really needed the segulah.  Now that is truly achieving the honour for G-d. 


We are here to serve the Almighty.  Sometimes you perform His will for the right reasons.  That’s ideal.  Sometimes you perform His will for the wrong reasons. That’s not terrible; at least you’re doing what He wants and hopefully eventually you’ll act completely selflessly.  But when you do mitzvos for perverse reasons, G-d says, ‘Yuck!’  That’s Satan’s machinations.  Don’t fall for it.  You can’t honour the Almighty by bringing Him dishonour.   You’re better off just stepping away and find some other way to honour Him.