Rabbi Asher Weiss shlita, a leading authority on halachah, was hosted by the West Hempstead Jewish community this past Sunday in a crowded event that ushered in the Yamim Nora’im with his inspiring words that gave more meaning to the month of Elul, followed by brief examples on how he paskens sh’eilos.
The event was hosted by the Young Israel of West Hempstead and co-sponsored by the Chabad of West Hempstead, Anshei Shalom, Bais Torah U’Tefillah, and Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park. To everyone in these shuls, Rav Weiss is a familiar name, whose halachic opinions are often quoted and discussed in detail in learning groups. Rabbi Joshua Goller of the Young Israel introduced the speaker by describing what made him a gadol. He quoted an idea of Rabbi Yissocher Frand.
“Vayigdal Moshe. What does it mean? He went out to look at the situation of his brothers. He saw their burdens, their challenges. A gadol sees the burdens of the Jewish nation. He is a poseik like none other,” Rabbi Goller said. “He speaks with elegance and sensitivity.”
Rising from his seat with a crutch, Rav Weiss offered humor about his situation, noting that one cannot dance with a crutch while holding a sefer Torah in a sling. “By Simchas Torah, I won’t need those crutches.”
Concerning the date of the event, September 11 and the ongoing war in Ukraine, Rav Weiss spoke of sensitivity to all people as people of Torah, while noting the special mission of the Jews. “Every human being was created b’tzelem Elokim; we need to be sensitive to the loss of human life and suffering.”
Concerning the month of Elul, he spoke of it as a mystery that does not appear in the Mishnah and Gemara, but is mentioned in “all the s’farim.” Then there is the most well-known remez, or allegorical meaning, of this month: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, from the Shir HaShirim. “The message is truly meaningful and profound.”
Rav Weiss quoted the Rambam’s tenth perek of Hilchos T’shuvah, which speaks of Hashem as a passionate fire that a person cannot overcome. “Why wait for the Y’mei HaDin? Take advantage of Elul. Don’t wait for the Days of Judgment. Come closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”
His discourse was followed by five selected questions from the community, read by Rabbi Goller. Concerning the factors involved in a poseik’s leniency, he spoke of a case concerning a baal t’shuvah’s widow who remarried after answering that they had children together. But these children were adopted. Must she separate from her new husband and perform chalitzah with her brother-in-law? “We are dealing with a tragedy. To separate this woman would be a tragedy,” he said.
As the poseik for the Shaarei Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Rav Weiss’ opinions are on the forefront of halachah and medicine. One such example was a woman born without a uterus who married and wished to bear children. If a uterus is available for transplant on Shabbos, can she take the call? “This has the status of sakanah,” he said, referring to a life-and-death situation. “I am aware that this is a chidush,” meaning an opinion that is new, lacking historical precedent.
Concerning aliyah, the Brooklyn-born speaker said that the priority is chinuch, and not everyone can find the right chinuch in the Land of Israel. “Yishuv Eretz Yisrael is an effort. It’s a great thing if you can do it. Not everybody is m’chuyav.”
On terminal illnesses, Rav Weiss said that it is up to the patient to decide whether to have a tumor removed in a risky procedure, or to live with it as it grows. “Immediate demise or a cure? The patient has autonomy.”
Concerning the end of life, Rav Weiss spoke of one case where family members had the wrong priorities. “When a person is terminally ill, there’s no reason to intubate.” But then there was a family that requested that their 90-year-old terminally ill relative have his life prolonged. “We have a vacation in the Bahamas,” he quoted them. “They planned the vacation six months in advance,” and did not want it interrupted by a death in the family.
He ended his lecture with a call for unity, noting the ideal characteristics among Ashkenazim, Sefardim, chasidim, and other groups.
By Sergey Kadinsky