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Parashat Aharei Mot - Kedoshim
Parashat Kedoshim opens with a general imperative, "You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy." What exactly is this "kedushah" spoken of by the pasuk, and how is it expressed and manifest? The following pasuk provides the answer: "Each person shall fear his mother and father, and My Shabbatot you shall observe." Kedushah becomes entrenched within us through the performance of misvot, as we express in the berachah recited beforehand: ". asher kideshanu bemissvotav" - "who has sanctified us through His misvot." Each misvah adds a level of sanctity in the building of the individual. We should note, however, that the pasuk selected specifically one misvah that relates to proper manners - honoring and respecting parents, and another misvah involving one's relationship with his Creator - Shabbat observance. This teaches us that one cannot truly sanctify himself with only one of these two categories; he requires both. And, as we know, good manners and "derech eress" takes precedence, as Hazal teach us, "Derech eress precedes Torah."
Herein lies the primary advantage of Torah education. This educational system places emphasis on honor and fear of parents, proper manners and refined etiquette, clean speech and self restraint. Here there are no drugs or violence, no excessive permissiveness or brazenness, no loss of control. This system contains, first and foremost, education in the simplest meaning of the term. It teaches the children to speak nicely, conduct themselves thoughtfully, and show respect for authority figures. This lesson - of derech eress - serves as the introduction to Torah, to studies on a high level and an appropriately serious attitude, the acquisition of thorough knowledge in both religious and secular fields, the inculcation of faith, the transmission of the enlightening heritage, and familiarity with and pride in our ancestral tradition. For we have so much in which to be proud, so long as we familiarize ourselves with our heritage and connect ourselves as a link in the golden chain. Fortunate are those who send their children to Torah educational systems, who thereby shine light onto their homes!
This Thursday night, the skies over Eress Yisrael will turn red from the light of the innumerable bonfires lit in honor of Lag Ba'omer, torches in memory of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, author of the Zohar Hakadosh who enlightened us with the wisdom of Kabbalah and raised his generation to remarkable heights. "The generation in which Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai lived therein - they were all meritorious, they were all pious, they were all fearing of sin, and the Shechinah resided among them" (Zohar vol. 3, 79a).
What exactly is this hidden wisdom that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai revealed, and why is it referred to as such - "Torat Hanistar," the "hidden Torah"? The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l enlightened us in this regard in his explanation to a pasuk in our parashah. We are commanded not to adopt the practices of Egypt and Cana'an, as the pasuk admonishes, ". do not walk in their ways. You shall perform My laws and observe My statutes by following them; I am Hashem your G-d." After we are commanded not to adopt their abominable practices, we are warned not to entertain the thought of applying the modes of their pagan worship to our service of the Creator. We must serve Hashem only in accordance with the laws and statutes of the Torah. Why? Why shouldn't we adopt additional methods from other cultures? "Because the statutes of the gentiles have no secret or purpose; by contrast, from the misvot of Hashem angels are created for those who perform them, and they accompany them wherever they go"!
The Rambam zs"l presented a beautiful parable to underscore the difference between the misvot of the Torah and the laws of the other nations. A person strolls through a wax museum and sees figures of kings, generals and dignitaries, artistic creations that seem practically real-life. However impressed and amazed the tourist may be, there remains ever so vast a difference between those figures and live people. A wax statute constitutes but a misleading, external representation with no inner content. A human being, by contrast, has an inner being, limbs, bones and sinews, with blood circulating throughout his body and a vibrant, productive life. From the dawn of humanity until this very day, workers, researchers, physicians, scientists and scholars have attempted to understand its hidden secrets, but have yet to discover even the very beginning.
The misvot of the Torah work similarly, only all the more so. If all the oceans contained only ink, the entire heaven was made of parchment, all the world's trees were inkwells and all people on earth worked as scribes, they would not succeed in writing even a single item of the hidden wisdom relevant to even one misvah. There are so many intricate laws and details, so many meanings and lessons, explanations and allusions in each and every misvah!
However, if we follow the Rambam's parable one step further, we will also realize our inability to properly comprehend the complexity of the human being, his physical qualities, emotions and behavioral characteristics. And yet, even all this is dwarfed by the pure soul, which originates from Hashem above, rooted in the upper, hidden worlds. Only the very tip of the soul is actually found in a person and hovers over him. Each action yields immediate ramifications for the soul, its roots, branches and all the many worlds dependent thereon. Each misvah shines light, every word of Torah, every bit of concentration during tefilah, every act of charity and kindness, rise at once up the ladder standing on the ground and ascending to the heavens, to illuminate and bring about an abundance of sanctity, goodness and blessing, divine compassion and love. By contrast, every transgression darkens those same worlds, Heaven forbid, resulting in a barrier and detachment between us and the Creator, and halting the bounty of blessing.
All this was revealed to us by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai: the extent to which each misvah has an effect, its power, the force it generates and far-reaching ramifications it yields. This must excite our hearts for misvot, inspire us to increase our concentration during tefilah and reinforce our commitment to Torah study. We cannot deal with the hidden secrets of the Torah, but it does not mean we are lacking. If someone would inform us of a secret code, through which each keypunch on the computer would add one thousand dollars to our bank accounts, we would not leave the computer for a moment and our fingers would grow blisters! Thus, if the scholars of the hidden wisdom taught us that through every misvah, every berachah, and every word of Torah study we acquire an additional portion in Gan Eden, which exceeds the value of all of this world, and they shine light onto the upper worlds and sacred dimension of our souls - how can we not run to grab more and more misvot!
The Odorous Deterrent
Many animals defend themselves through a foul odor. For example, small beetles, with red bodies and blue wings, are situated underneath stones or the bark of trees. If someone would dare hurt one of them, it immediately secretes from the back edge of its stomach an malodorous liquid that spreads like smoke. When this happens, the beetle's body sounds a noise like an explosion, in honor of which it received its name: the bombardier beetle. One species of toad located in Western Europe can run on all fours like a mouse. When attacked, the toad tries with all its strength to escape. When it cannot, it secretes a special fluid that covers its entire body like white foam and emits a terrible odor, thus chasing away the enemy. The American skunk does not run away from its foes; it does not even hide. To the contrary, it stands where it is and employs its natural form of defense: it lifts its hairy tail like a flag and waits. If the enemy dares come forward, a shower of putrid fluid will descend upon it. The llama has a very special means of defense. A hailstorm of heavy expectoration comes crashing down on a creature that dares approach it. Within just seconds, the enemy is practically covered by a green mixture of saliva. The llama continues to spit until the attacker is pressed against the ground, completely submerged in the dirty, sticky substance. The llama continues to spit until an additional wave shuts the enemy's eyes. Unable to see, the creature rolls helplessly on the ground and eventually decides to run for its life. This weapon of the llamas has proven invaluable as protection against the sharp and dangerous claws and teeth of several animals of prey. Who said that only strength can successfully fight against strength, or only a painful bite can protect against teeth? Or, in human terms - that only a sharp, witty comment can defend against an insult? We Jews know that when the need arises, "a soft word can break a bone." Whereas in the animal kingdom the idea is to chase away others, regarding the crown jewel of creation the main thing is specifically bringing others close. Softness, politeness, and loving responses can often not only prevent fighting, improve relationships, and restore peace, but even turn the enemy into a friend.
"You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy"
Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explained this pasuk in light of the immediately preceding parashah, which commanded us to distance ourselves from the abominable immorality of the Cana'anim. There we read, "For all these abominations the people before you in the land did, and the land thus became defiled. The land shall not expel you when you defile it as it expelled the nation that was there before you." One may have been led to believe that to inherit the sacred land it suffices to abstain from that corrupt conduct. The pasuk therefore continues by telling us that it is not enough to refrain from corrupt behavior. Rather, "You shall be holy. You shall observe My Shabbatot. " As we know, "Yerushalayim was destroyed because they desecrated there the Shabbat." Likewise, "You shall be holy. each person shall fear his mother and father. " As we know, "Yerushalayim was destroyed because they equated there young and old" (Shabbat 119b). If we truly desire peace and security in our sacred land, we must sanctify ourselves through the performance of misvot, both those between man and Hashem and those between man and his fellow.
"You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy"
Parashat Kedoshim presents dozens of misvot, all of which are preceded by the general commandment, "You shall be holy." Hazal, in Torat Kohanim, explained this commandment as referring to separation and abstinence. What precisely does this involve? The Ramban zs"l explained that not everything can be explicitly mentioned and commanded. For example, the Torah forbade prohibited relations and issued the laws of family purity. However, an individual can marry a suitable woman who is permitted to him during her days of purity. As everyone understands, there are basic standards of propriety by which they must abide, for example, how they conduct themselves in public. A specific list of guidelines cannot be formulated; everyone must understand what constitutes proper conduct and what does not.
Similarly, the Torah prohibited certain foods and required that we check for insects and give terumot and ma'asrot. It likewise ordered that we recite berachot before and after eating. This does not, however, imply the Torah's approval of gluttonous, unrestrained consumption of kosher foods and drinks. The same principle applies when it comes to speech. The Torah prohibited gossip, lashon hara, lying and cursing. The requirement of clean, proper language falls under the category of kedushah and "separation" spoken of by Hazal. In short, as the Ramban puts it, one may not be "disgraceful within the boundaries of that permitted by the Torah." Rather, one must sanctify the Name of Hashem in everything he does!
"You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy"
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that many people think that not everyone can become sacred and pure. They mistakenly assume that sanctity is reserved for great rabbis and sadikim or their children, that one needs a unique spirit, superior character traits and merits from one's parents. This level, they believe, does not belong to laymen.
The Al-mighty, however, outright rejects this notion: "Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, speak to the entire congregation of Benei Yisrael and say to them - you shall be holy." Meaning, Moshe was to gather them all, from Aharon, his sons and the elders down to the last commoner, and command each and every one of them: "You shall be holy!"
Should they then ask, "What does this holiness have to do with us?" Moshe was to tell them that indeed this level is well within their reach. Why? As the pasuk continues, "For I, Hashem your G-d, am holy." Each Jew is a precious son of the Al-mighty, his soul having been hewn, as it were, from His Throne of Glory, a part of Hashem Himself from up above. Therefore, one who brings himself closer to his origins, who attaches himself to his Creator and fulfills His misvot, ascends one rung of the ladder of sanctity!
The Sacred Tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai
The wicked Roman government once issued a decree against the Jews prohibiting them from observing Shabbat, family purity and circumcision. The Sages wondered who could go represent the community and appeal for the decree's retraction. They selected for this task Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, who had experience performing miracles. When he was compelled to hide in a cave from the Caesar, who tried to kill him, a fountain burst forth for him, a carob tree grew for his use and Eliyahu Hanavi appeared to him. The Sages then designated Rabbi Eliezer Ben Yossi Ben Halafta to join Rabbi Shimon. But his father, Rabbi Yossi, told the Sages, "I am afraid to give my son over to Rabbi Shimon -- more than I am afraid to give him over to the Romans, lest he stumble - if only inadvertently - by not affording proper respect to Rabbi Shimon. He will then be burnt by Rabbi Shimon's coal!" Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai therefore took upon himself not to punish Rabbi Eliezer and to return him peacefully to his father.
As they traveled, a demon named Temalion appeared to them. "Would you like me to come with you?" he asked. Rabbi Shimon answered, "I would have preferred that the salvation come through the work of an angel, but let the miracle come in any way it can." He sent the demon, who entered the Caesar's daughter. Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Eliezer arrived in Rome and found the city in turmoil. Some peculiar illness took hold of the Caesar's daughter, and the doctors could not find a cure. The Caesar promised a huge fortune to anyone who could cure her. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai had it announced in the royal palace that two Sages came from Eress Yisrael and were prepared to try to cure the emperor's daughter. The Caesar said, "If you succeed, I will bring you into my treasury and allow you to take whatever you like." He brought them into his daughter's room, and Rabbi Shimon said but two words: "Tamlion - leave!" The incantation was effective, and the Caesar's daughter was instantly cured. Everyone in the palace was overjoyed, and the emperor kept his promise. He brought the rabbis to the royal treasury, and from all the precious items they found there they chose the record of the edict and ripped it to shreds. So may the merit of the sacred tanna annul all the evil decrees against us and all Am Yisrael, and the tanna who performed miracles should intercede on our behalf, that miracles will be performed for us to bring our redemption.
The Hunter's Snare - the end
Flashback: An unscrupulous trickster invited a wealthy, single businessman to his home and offered him partnership in an attractive business venture. He left for a few moments to get the official documents to sign, and as he left he asked his wife to enter the guest's room while he was away and frantically ask, "Where is my son?" When the trickster returned, the businessman told him that his mother was concerned about him. He sighed and explained that ever since his father's death, his mother is constantly worried about him, her only son. The businessman wondered why she never remarried; after all, she looked so young and vibrant! He even subtly indicated that he would be prepared to marry her. He then promised the crook one thousand gold coins as a matchmaking fee and offered three thousand coins as a dowry. The prankster later informed him that his mother agreed, and they signed the marriage contract in the local magistrate's office, as gentiles conduct civil marriages. The trickster then promised the unsuspecting groom that the bride will arrive at his home that night. Indeed, that night a chariot pulled up at the businessman's home, and out came the trickster's ninety-year-old mother.
The new husband's face darkened at the sight of his bride. He could not understand how he was so blind, how he didn't realize that if his friend was already middle aged, his mother must have already reached old age. He ordered his servants to walk her - one on each side - to her carriage for her return home.
Her son then immediately went and filed a complaint in the magistrate's office against the cruel husband who drove his wife from his home on their wedding night!
In short, the businessman was forced to pay her twice the amount written in the contract, a total of six thousand gold coins, in order for her to agree to the divorce. He thus ended up paying ten thousand gold coins for naught: three thousand for the dowry, six thousand for the divorce, and one thousand for the matchmaking fee.
This is what occurred between two gentiles in the city of Baghdad. Rabbenu Yossef Hayyim zs"l, the Ben Ish Hai, learned from here an important lesson and transmitted it to his students. He explained that this is precisely how the yesser hara works, by tricking his victims. Even when one matures and reaches his middle aged years, the yesser hara leads him to pretend that he is still young, thereby convincing him to devote his time and energies to making money and endlessly tending to his financial affairs. Suddenly, the individual opens his eyes and finds himself aged with no more strength or time to rejoice in that which he earned through his hard work all his life. He has thus lost on both fronts: he cannot enjoy his wealth, and he had not learned Torah in which he could have found solace and comfort and which would have increased his share in the world to come. He then resembles the man who thought he had married a young woman, only to discover that she is, in fact, old and withered. He then sighs in anguish and wonders, what a fool I was; I was so blind! How did I not notice my graying hairs and declining strength! If I would only have paid attention, I would have reduced my work and accumulation of money, which I cannot enjoy now anyway, and instead have devoted more time for Torah and misvot, "For Torah stands for a person during his youth and provides him with an end and hope for his older years" (Berayta, end of Masechet Kiddushin). Additionally, Torah is one's eternal acquisition for the world to come.
One who devotes time for Torah study will find it invaluable when he retires. He will spend his days engaged in it, participating in illuminating Torah classes, seeing the fulfillment of the pasuk, "They will still blossom in old age, they will be vigorous and fresh."
Once, forensic experts and social scientists had ready-made explanations for all social ills: low socioeconomic status, insufficient education, etc. They arrogantly posited theories couched in large words. Certainly, there is no denying that difficult economic and social crises lead to moral decline. The pasuk says, "They will not scorn the thief when he steals to satisfy his soul because he is hungry." Nevertheless, this does not exempt him from punishment: "If he is caught - he must pay seven-fold; all the wealth of his house he must give" (Mishlei 6:30). But what explanation do they have for the well-to-do children who torment other children for no reason, who join "satanic" groups (as they are called) who rob for the pure sake of robbing, and even murder, Heaven forbid. These children received an education and their parents are wealthy. What explanation is there? Eliyahu Hanavi provided for us the answer in the following story (Tana DeBei Eliyahu Rabbah 14). Once he was traveling and came upon a certain individual who knew Tanach, but not mishnah. He said to Eliyahu, "Rabbi, I want to ask you something, but I'm afraid that you will be angry with me." Eliyahu replied, "If you ask me a question regarding matters of Torah, why should I be angry with you?"
The man then presented his question: "Why does it say about Hashem that He 'gives bread to all flesh' and 'gives an animal its bread,' while a human being must exert effort for his food? Why does the Al-mighty not present it to him all prepared, as He does for the animals?"
Eliyahu answered, "Go look at the insane individual. Once his sanity has been lost, can he support himself for even a single moment? Similarly, once human beings lose their minds, they become like animals, and Hashem provides them with their nourishment."
Let us try to understand what is stated here. The Creator feeds all creatures, and even the insane person does not die in hunger. But now the question becomes even stronger: should I lose just because I have intelligence? The answer is that since a person has wisdom and intelligence, he must be occupied, either by working for a livelihood or by learning Torah. There is no greater danger than that posed by idleness, which breeds boredom. This marks the beginning of the process of deterioration to corruption, drugs and crime. The greatest danger that looms today over the western world is presented by leisure time. There is no hollow, empty space in creation; everything must be filled either constructively or destructively; either with Torah classes or wasteful entertainment, surfing the internet, questionable activities and drugs. Every parent must consider and think: if his or her child does not attend Torah education, and the window to the world of Torah does not open before him, then how will he fill his free time when he grows older?
A Series of Halachot
According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The Laws of Sefirat Ha'omer
The counting of the Omer must be performed standing, though ex-post facto if one had counted while sitting he has fulfilled the misvah. Therefore, an elderly or sick person for whom standing is exceedingly difficult may count while seated, as is the case regarding other misvot which are preferably to be done standing, such as hallel, berit milah, etc.
The misvah is for each Jew to count by himself, as alluded to in the verse which employs the plural form, "lachem" with reference to sefirat haomer. Nevertheless, if one had in mind to fulfill his obligation through the counting of another, who himself had intentions to fulfill the listener's obligation through his counting, then the listener has fulfilled his requirement through the counting of the other.
Sefirat Haomer is to be done at night, preferably after the stars come out, around eighteen minutes after sunset. However, if a minyan concluded the Arbit prayer immediately after sunset, during twilight, about which we are in doubt whether it is considered day or night, the congregation may recite sefirat haomer with a berachah, if they are afraid that by not reciting it members of the congregation will forget to count altogether. However, before sunset one cannot fulfill the misvah under any circumstances, even on Friday evening when many people make Shabbat early, before sunset.
One who forgot to count at night and remembered during the following day should count without a berachah, and he may then resume counting the Omer that night with a berachah. If, however, he neglected to count the next day, as well, he may no longer count with a berachah, as the counting of the Omer must be "complete," as the pasuk indicates. Therefore, from that day on he counts without a berachah. Similarly, one who counted the wrong day and did not correct himself at some point throughout the day may no longer count with a berachah.
If one is in doubt whether or not he counted the correct day the previous night and did not count at all during the day, he may count that night with a berachah, since there exists in this situation a double doubt as to whether or not he is obligated to count. We may therefore rely on the possibility that he is in fact obligated and he thus may recite a blessing. One who realizes during twilight, about which we are in doubt whether it is considered day or night, that he definitely did not count the previous night and that entire day, should immediately count the previous night's Omer-count without a berachah, and then after nightfall he may count the new day with a berachah.
One who correctly counts the day of the Omer but miscounted the week may continue counting with a berachah.
One who does not know which day to count and has no way of finding out should not count at all, for a doubtful counting does not constitute an actual count as far as the halachah is concerned. However, if such an individual counted without a berachah and then discovered that his counting was indeed correct, he may resume counting with a berachah.
Luna Bat Miriam and Gamliel ben Nizha
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