Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Acharei Mos - Is it Yes or No...or... Depends?                                     28 Nissan 5782

04/29/2022 11:42:24 AM


Several years ago, I was deposed in a lawsuit. Anyone who has never experienced this pleasure should know that  I would not wish this experience upon my worst enemy! A few days before the deposition my lawyer reviewed what going through a deposition is like. The attorneys actually attempt to prepare the client with the same or similar questions the opposing attorney will ask. The goal of the opposing lawyer is to get the person being deposed to incriminate himself, or at the least admit that something within the case will make it appear as if you are either guilty or that the information presented may be used against you if the case goes to trial. One primary tactic any lawyer - for the defense or the plaintiff - will phrase and rephrase a question to elicit a certain response. For me, the most frustrating part of being deposed was trying to answer a question by providing an explanation or background to situation or at least to clarify the question. As I began to answer with such an explanation, the attorney curtly interrupted with,, ”Sir, just a yes or no response please, just a yes or no.”

This was no doubt the most frustrating experience I have ever encountered. For me, it borders very closely to prevention of free speech. During a deposition you are NOT free to say what you feel is needed for clarification.  You  can only to respond precisely to what the attorney asks. To be fair, my counsel can also ask me questions, and those questions are crafted to evoke the opposite type of answer which does permit the ability to give a clear response to the question, or at least more than a simple yes or no..  In life, there are  simple, matter-of-fact yes and no responses, and there are also some questions which cannot simply be answered with a blanket yes or no response. In fact, when challenged by the attorney who said,  ”Sir, a simple yes or no will suffice,” I was tempted to say that in this line of questioning there is no “simple” yes or no. It is NOT simple to answer with an abrupt yes or a no. Of course, this line of questioning is all designed to work against the witness and totally for sake of building the attorney’s case.

In general, I have found that when it comes to a Jew answering a question, there is no such thing as a “simple yes or no”.  I’ll share a few examples, and I’m sure you, the reader, can think of many more based upon your experiences.   I asked someone if he would like something to eat. He replied, “Thanks, but I just had lunch.” I then responded, “I was just looking for a yes or no.” Obviously, a Jew who is gifted with a Talmudic mind can’t simply answer with a straight yes or no.  As a result, the usual answer is that he needs to be m’dayeik – to infer from the question that if he had just eaten lunch, then obviously he’s not hungry! But that isn’t necessarily the case. Despite the fact that he’d just eaten lunch, it is possible that he may still be hungry, or at least might enjoy a snack!  So…I usually feel the need for a follow-up question asking if he might still want something else to eat.  A second example occurred just the other day while scheduling a learning session with someone. Here is the exchange. I texted “available today?” Response: “ I have a mediation unfortunately.” I try again, “I’m flexible for after the mediation or some time tomorrow! Ten hours later (after no response) I ask, ”How are we looking for tomorrow?” Response is ”Settlement is almost done.” Finally, I use the nuclear weapon… “YES, or NO?” Twelve hours later I re-engage and ask, ”Any updates?” Then… finally something in the positive direction! He texted back, "Maybe noon.” And with that I proceeded to schedule the time and we managed to meet.

I know many of you reading this will say that answering a question can sometimes be a simple, clear yes or no, and at other times an explanation is needed because some answers just can’t be simple black and white, no-nonsense responses. I would like to suggest those situations which we call the gray areas are those which require explanation.  they are neither black or white;  those are the questions which require clarity. There may be an exception when looking at this particular case, or there is more to this than the overt story.  to For those  unfamiliar with the complex principles of Jewish law,  the Torah may seem very black and white with no gray. This is only due to the fact that some may not have learned how deeply the oral law  explains the written law, believing the Torah has no exceptions. This is, in fact, the furthest thing from the truth.

We find at least two examples of the depth of the oral law in this week’s Parshas Acharei Mos. The parsha begins with the Yom Kippur service performed by the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest. The materials of some of the Kohein Gadol’s clothing were a combination of wool and linen. The prohibition on mixing wool and linen, known as Shaatnez, is clearly forbidden in the minds of many and are unaware that his clothing is not included in this prohibition. The second is found in Vayikra 18:16 the Torah states "ערות אשת אחיך לא תגלה, ערות אחיך הוא"  “Do not commit incest with your brother’s wife, since this is a sexual offense against your brother”. This prohibition extends even after the brother’s death. It appears that this is a black and white, no- go law under any circumstances until one learns from the Torah She’Bal Peh, -the Oral Torah. The Mishna and Gemara discuss one situation that falls into that gray area. This singular exception is if the brother dies without children, as we read in Devarim 25:5, the mitzva of Yibum  is commanded. Meseches Yevamos teaches all of the intricacies of this mitzva.

The beauty of the Torah, through which Judaism and the Jewish people lead their lives, is the most practical for all human beings in this world. The Jewish people left Egypt and traveled to Har Sinai to receive the Torah. Three thousand three hundred and thirty four years later the Jewish people are still reenacting the receiving of the Torah which is celebrated during the Yom Tov of Shavuos – seven weeks following Passover. We should not only be counting and checking off the boxes until that day, we should be anticipating its arrival, undertaking to learn  more of the Torah, to understand its beauty, recognizing and appreciating that the Torah is the roadmap, the blueprint for every human being to live the life God expects of us.

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784