Positive Influences

Tachin lecha ha’derech (Devarim 19:3)

A man once traveled from Israel to Europe to collect money for the poverty-stricken yeshivos of Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, try as he might, his efforts at collecting were largely unsuccessful. Disappointing as it was, he was willing to accept Hashem’s decree. However, upon hearing that a non-religious agent collecting for Zionist causes had quickly reached his goal and was already on his return voyage, the man became distraught and frustrated. He approached the Chofetz Chaim for an explanation to help him understand Hashem’s perplexing ways.

The Chofetz Chaim responded by noting that the Gemara in Makkos (10b) rules that signs must be placed along the road indicating which path accidental murderers should take to arrive at the cities of refuge. He questioned why we don’t find a similar law requiring that signs be posted pointing the way to Yerushalayim for those on their way to fulfill the mitzvah of ascending to the Beis Hamikdash on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos?

The Chofetz Chaim answered that a person on his way to a city of refuge, even if he is not an intentional murderer, is still not a moral role model to whom we want people to be exposed. Hashem wouldn’t have caused this to happen to a completely righteous person. We therefore provide directions for him so that he won’t have to stop to obtain them by interacting with innocent people.

On the other hand, the Midrash relates (Yalkut Shimoni 1 1:77) that each year Elkanah would ascend to the Mishkan in Shiloh and share his plans with those he encountered, thus encouraging them to join him in the mitzvah. Each time he would take a different path so as to enable all Jews to participate in the mitzvah. There are no signs pointing the way to Yerushalayim, so that a person ascending there will be forced to ask the locals for directions, thereby enabling them to become exposed to the righteous and join them in the performance of mitzvos.

The Chofetz Chaim concluded his words of comfort by suggesting that the representative of the anti-religious causes would act as a negative influence on all those he encountered. Hashem therefore enabled him to quickly obtain the funds he sought so that he would immediately leave, thus sparing the upright Jews of Europe from encountering his misleading ideologies. The representative of the Israeli yeshivos, on the other hand, was a righteous person representing holy causes. Frustrating and time-consuming as it was, Hashem specifically wanted his collection efforts to be dragged out so as to allow as many people as possible to meet him and become inspired by his stories of the pious Jews studying Torah in Yerushalayim.

Parashah Q & A

Q: It is forbidden to plant a tree anywhere on the Temple Mount (Rashi 16:21). Is it permitted to plant a tree next to a shul?

Q: A king is not permitted to have more than 18 wives (Rashi 17:17). If a man was married to 19 women and subsequently appointed king, was he required to divorce one of them?

A:Harav Akiva Eiger rules that while the Biblical prohibition only applies to planting a tree on the Temple Mount, it is Rabbinically forbidden to plant a tree next to any synagogue. The Rav of a synagogue where trees were planted without his knowledge or consent asked the Maharam Schick for guidance on what to do. The Maharam Schick responded by quoting the opinion of Harav Akiva Eiger, and he added that the presence of the trees will encourage people to gather and idly waste time near the synagogue, and he therefore advised the Rav to attempt to have them uprooted. However, the Binyan Tzion argues and notes that no such prohibition is mentioned in legal sources. He adds that this apparent stringency can result in an unintended transgression, as fruit-bearing trees which are planted next to a synagogue could be destroyed, which is Biblically forbidden. Additionally, he maintains that even on the Temple Mount itself, any trees which may have been there prior to the building of the Beis Hamikdash or which subsequently grew on their own need not be removed.

The Netziv also writes that we cannot create prohibitions based on our own reasoning, although he respectfully notes the opinion of Harav Akiva Eiger and is therefore unsure about the matter. The Maharam also permits planting trees next to a synagogue, and he maintains that even according to the stringent opinion, trees which were already planted need not be removed. However, he adds that in a place where the practice of non-Jews is to plant trees next to their houses of worship, it would be forbidden to do so at a synagogue due to the separate prohibition against following in the customs of the non-Jews, unless they are planted in a manner different than the practice of the non-Jews.

A: The Gemara in Yevamos (61a) rules that if a kohen is married to a widow and is subsequently appointed Kohen Gadol, he isn’t required to divorce her. Even though a Kohen Gadol may not marry a widow, because he married her permissibly when he was still an ordinary kohen, he is permitted to remain married to her. However, after citing this ruling, Harav Chaim Kanievsky was unsure whether it also applies to the case of a commoner who married 19 women before being appointed king.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.