Halichot v'Halachot: A book that arrived at just the right time

The newest book by Rabbi Enkin, filled with interesting halachic insights and responsa, is a highly recommended read during the High Holydays period.

Rochel Sylvetsky

Judaism Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky
]Yonatan Zindel Flash 90

How many of you attended a religious Jewish school of some kind, yeshiva, day school or whatever, and had classes in halakha, Jewish law, that taught you the proper performance of mitzvot - those having to do with getting up in the morning, what is considered gossip, what happens when a piece of meat falls into a pot of milk cooking on the stove, the best way to take care of the poor and much, much more.

How many of you enjoyed that halakha class? I didn't and am willing to bet that very few did. I honored and respected and made sure to learn the subject matter, tried to observe mitzvahs better using the knowledge I gained there, but frankly, the class itself was a bore. I wished they had just handed out notes and scheduled exams instead of having us listen for an hour.

The Torah commands us to keep 613 mitzvahs and halakha tells us the practical details of observing them, as most are oriented towards specific actions. But the Torah also has general instructions, general guidelines. For example, Rabbi Akiva said that not doing to others what you would not like to be done to you  is the basis of Torah observance. The Ramban explains that the commandment to "be holy" means not being a despicable or degenerate person who remains within the letter instead of the spirit of the law. 

And this past Shabbat Torah reading, Ki. Tavo, which we invariably read close to the High Holydays and which includes the blessings and curses  heard by the Israelites just before entering the Promised Land, contains another basic guideline, learned from its negation: The Torah says that the curses that will rain down on the Jewish people if they transgress– and all of those threats, each and every one, have come to pass tragically at some point in our history --- are  " because you did not serve the Lord your G-d with joyfulness and gladness of heart…: (Deut. 27: 47)."

And that is what halakha study is supposed to be. Serving Hashem with joyfulness, as the parsha mandates, may have less to do with the joy of learning and analyzing Torah (which is certainly a great source of joy), less to do with singing niggunim and dancing (certainly a wonderful way to enhance spirituality) than with finding joy in serving, in the observance of halakha and the delving into the depths of how the Torah expects the actions we take in our everyday lives to be.  

The pasuk, verse, in Ki Tavo seems to be expecting joy in asking halakhic questions, studying halakha, understanding the logic behind the answers and behind the fact that there are sometimes different answers – it seems to be saying that this forms the basis of creating the society of a sacred, chosen people and avoiding the punishments described in such harrowing detail.

In fact, care in keeping the details of halakha is the essence of being a frum Jew. The masses of halakhic responsa written through the centuries prove that. And that makes a recent study showing that religious Zionist Israeli youth are less careful about actual halakha than their predecessors shocking indeed.

That is why I felt really privileged that the book Halichot v'Halachot: Halachic Insights and Responsa by Rabbi Ari N. Enkin (Feldheim Publishers 2016) was sent to me at this time of year. It is a happy book, a readable and interesting one, overflowing with information about all kinds of topics  that characterize an observant Jews' life and are fascinating and exciting to the author. This excitement is contagious and suddenly, the reader sees aspects (unless, I suppose, one is a person who studies halakha consistently anyway) of observance that now become conscious rather than automatic. He reads interesting questions and answers pertaining  to them that  make their observance excitingly new.

So let's see about you: Do you realize the inconsistency in the Al Hamichya prayer said after baked goods, the seven species and wine? Do you know why that inconsistency is there?  Did you ever wonder why Yemenites from certain areas in Yemen do not light candles for holidays, just for Shabbat?  What should one do for a yahrzeit – fast or give a feast?  And why do we try to have a chuppah under the stars?  

These, and about one hundred more fully referenced topics are clearly explained  in this insightful book, written in an articulate, engaging style that will have you continuing on from topic to topic.

During the Rosh Hashanah period, one can choose topics that are timely and enhance one's celebration of the holidays, and I used that fact to enhance my Shabbat women's shiur this past week.

Now if only my halakha teacher had been able to put his hands on this book and used it to show how halacha can challenge our minds and fascinate us with its holistic lessons on life – how we would have enjoyed his classes! Well, at least I can hope my grandchildren's teachers read it...