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Parashat Balak


We find a beautiful analysis in the work of Rav Itzeleh of Volozhin zs"l, "Mili D'Avot" on Masechet Avot (chapter 6), relating to the haftarah to our parashah. The pasuk in the haftarah states, "My nation, remember please what Balak the king of Moav suggested and what Bilam the son of B'or answered him, from Shittim to Gilgal, in order to know the righteousness of Hashem" (Michah 4:5). Hazal understand the final clause in the pasuk, "in order to know the righteousness of Hashem," as referring to Bilam's ability to identify the moment when the Al-mighty is angry. Through the prophet, Hashem reminds Benei Yisrael that throughout the period of the incident of Bilam, Hashem did not become angry. Were the divine wrath to have been aroused during that time, not a single member of Benei Yisrael would have survived. This is what Bilam meant when he said to Balak, "How can I invoke anger, when Hashem is not angry?!" This comment shows that throughout this entire incident, the Al-mighty was not angry (Berachot 7a). But what about the previous clause - "from Shittim to Gilgal"? Of what relevance is this phrase to the rest of the pasuk?

The answer becomes clear from the following parable:

In a far-away village lived a Jew who owned fields, wheat storage houses, stables and pens of goats. During the day, his workers would take the cows and goats out to the pasture, while at night a huge, intimidating watchdog guarded the animals, successfully warding off potential thieves and wolves. During the daytime, the villager tied the dog with an iron chain to ensure that it did not hurt anyone. As time went on, the villager's children grew up. He wanted to provide them with a rich Torah education so that they would know to recite tefilah properly and learn Mishnayot and Gemara. He traveled to the city and headed to a yeshivah. He asked someone in the Bet Midrash if he would mind coming to the village to teach his children. The rancher was prepared to pay a nice salary and set aside a collection of books to allow the yeshivah student to continue growing in Torah study. He would just have to study with the villager's children for several hours a day, as long as they could handle.

The man accepted the offer and joined the man at the village. Just as he turned to the man's house, he was struck with horror. A huge, ominous animal stood up to greet him, bound tightly by a heavy, iron chain, its fangs in full view revealing their sharp edges, the dog's throat roaring ferociously. The young teacher spent his entire life in the city, walking along the alleyway from his home to the Bet Midrash and back, and never before saw a threatening dog. He now stood before the spectacle and his heart shuddered: the poor dog! He is tied to a chain, unable to move. The iron is tightly fastened around its throat - no wonder it roars so miserably! He felt around in his pocket and pulled out a sugar cube. He threw it towards the dog who devoured it and sighed with contentment. The man then entered the house and quickly proceeded to fulfill the missvah of reproving those who have done wrong: "That poor dog outside! Why do you tie it in chains?" The villager replied, "He is a dangerous, harmful creature!"

The innocent teacher responded, "He is bitter over his sorrowful state of imprisonment. We are commanded to deal with all creatures mercifully, as the pasuk states, '. and His mercy is upon all His creatures'!" The villager laughed at the young man's innocence and didn't bother saying anything more. He tended to his affairs, and then towards evening he returned home. He found the teacher still working with the children. He quietly told his family not to go outside in the next hour, released the watchdog from his leash, and told the teacher that he may go to his residence. The teacher said good-bye and took leave, and within just a few second shrieks were heard. The villager rushed outside and found the teacher lying helplessly on the ground, his clothing torn and his body dripping with blood, the dog hovered over him with his salivating fangs. "Help! Save me!" cried the teacher. "How do you allow such a creature to run around freely?!"

Similarly, Benei Yisrael knew that Balak brought Bilam to curse them, but all he did was bless them to the point where Balak became incensed and sent him back home. It would seem that no one loves them more than Bilam! The pasuk therefore informs us that he was, in actuality, an archenemy of Benei Yisrael, and it was the Al-mighty who prevented him from uttering a curse against them. But our hearts went out to him - the poor fellow! Hashem therefore untied the leash for just a moment; he allowed Bilam to advise Balak regarding the incident of Ba'al Pe'or, which occurred in Shittim and led to the death of twenty-four thousand people from Benei Yisrael, "from Shittim until Gilgal." They then understood how dangerous Bilam really is! If we look a bit deeper, we will see that many events occur in such a manner. When Hashem wants to let us know that our health lies in His hands alone, he brings a minor illness or even some mild pain so that we appreciate his general goodness towards us. He may bring upon us a small but painful financial loss, reminding us that our livelihood depends entirely upon His will. We may suffer a mild setback or failure, such that we reinforce our conviction that He ultimately takes the credit for our success: "in order to know the righteousness of Hashem." Y


The Amalekites heard that Aharon Hakohen passed away and the protective clouds of glory, which stood in between Benei Yisrael and their enemies, dissipated. They decided to take advantage of the new situation, and they attacked the unsuspecting nation. Knowing, however, the incredible power of Benei Yisrael's prayer, they adopted the following tactic: they spoke like Canaanites. They figured that when Benei Yisrael see that Canaanites have attacked them, they will pray to Hashem to save them from the Canaanites. The prayer will thus not help them against the Amalekites. However, when Benei Yisrael saw the enemy dressed as Amalekites but speaking like Canaanites, they offered a generic prayer, beseeching the Al-mighty to help them defeat "this nation," and their tefilah was effective (Rashi). The Hiddushei HaRim zs"l asks, why did the Amalekites not change their dress, as well? If they wanted to fool Benei Yisrael, they should have altered their appearance, too! He offers a most powerful explanation: if they would have dressed as well as spoken like Canaanites, then they would not be resembling Canaanites - they would have actually been Canaanites! Indeed, his answer provides us with much food for thought. A Jew who observes Torah and missvot speaks pleasantly, avoids speaking gossip and lashon hara, guards his tongue from insults against others, and, it goes without saying, ensures to maintain cleanliness of speech. He is also recognizable by his clothing, as he wears only modest, not flashy garb. However, living among others, one cannot help but hear all types of inappropriate speech and look upon immodesty. A ben Torah must realize that should he allow these forces into his surroundings, his singularity and special quality are threatened. Let us therefore maintain our pleasantness of speech and modest dress, and thereby maintain our very identity, as well. Y

The wonders of the creator

- The Tallest of Them All

The most remarkable and perhaps inspiring feature of the giraffe is its being the skyscraper of the natural world - it is the tallest of all creatures. Its unusual height results from a pair of especially long legs, under which a human being can easily walk without bending at all, as well as a neck that exceeds one's imagination. A male adult giraffe can reach a height of over six meters, around three times the average height of humans.

As opposed to its very developed senses of sight and hearing, it practically makes no sound. Its long, rough tongue, which extends 45 centimeters long, is used to grab leaves from cedar trees and bring them into the giraffe's mouth. The lion, the king of the animal world, is the archenemy of the giraffe. It is noteworthy, however, that the lion will attack the giraffe only under very specific circumstances. First, the lion must be very, very hungry. Secondly, it will never attack a giraffe alone; two or three lions together attack giraffes and usually kill it, even a strong male giraffe. Lions who attack giraffes do so usually while the giraffe is drinking.

The reason is that in order to bend down and drink, the giraffe has to split its legs, making itself vulnerable. For this reason, the merciful Creator granted the giraffe the ability to go for weeks without water. When it needs to drink, it can extract the necessary liquids from leaves on trees. In the animal world, height is generally a blessed advantage, as it assists the creature to find food and confront its foe more strategically. Amongst human beings, however, the situation is exactly reverse. When someone seeks to figure out and understand anything, be it a difficult "sugya" in Gemara, or even any simple matter regarding Hashem's governing of the world or the various events that occur therein, he must work hard and study Judaism thoroughly. Only by getting down to the depths, to the very root of every matter, can one reach the highest levels of comprehension, to the desired peak of understanding from where one sees all of life with the right perspective. Only then can one hope to appreciate the great kindness the Al-mighty performs for us on an ongoing basis, how much we rely on him, and how true it is that if we follow the correct path He will be kind to us always. Y

The Reward for a Missvah

a continuing saga
- Part two

Flashback: Rav Semah Ssarfati zs"l, the rabbi of Tunis, woke up at midnight on one cold, stormy night to recite Tikkun Hassot, but could not find the lighter to light his candle. He went outside into the storm to the bakery next door. He woke up the sleeping Arab worker and asked if he could light his candle from the fire in the oven. The worker obliged, and the rabbi thanked him warmly and left. He kept his hand near the flame on the way home to protect it from the wind, but the moment he took his hand away to open the door to his home, a gusty wind came and blew out the candle. The rabbi thus turned around and again knocked on the bakery's door. The worker heard the knocking, arose from his bed, and lifted the heavy bolt off the door. He then took the candle from the rabbi, lit it, and gave it to him. The rabbi again thanked him for the favor, and the Arab worker locked the door. The rabbi carefully carried the candle, but again a wind came and extinguished the flame.

The rain fell in torrents, and the rabbi shuddered from cold. Although at first unsure what to do, he figured that it is preferable to suffer the embarrassment and wake up the worker for a third time rather than miss his nightly learning session. He once again knocked on the bakery door.

"Who's there?" asked the worker.

"It is me, Semah," answered the rabbi

. "I am sorry," replied the Arab, "but you see, El Paki Semah, I have a long, difficult day of work tomorrow. I have no more strength to lift the heavy bolt again - this is the third time!"

The rabbi pleaded, "I must pray and study, and I have no light."

The Arab thought about the Jewish rabbi who made his way back and forth in the bitter cold and pouring rain. He got up from his cot and again removed the heavy bolt from the door. He took the candle from the shivering rabbi, lit it, and gave it to him without a word.

The rabbi thanked him emphatically, apologizing for the inconvenience. The Arab closed the door and returned the bolt. He wearily made his way back to his cot and fell down upon it to catch his final few remaining hours of sleep. Just as he closed his eyes, the knocks were heard once again:

"Please, it's me, Semah - the candle blew out again."

By now the Arab's anger had reached its peak. He determinedly stood up and rushed towards the door. He quickly lifted the beam and opened the door. A furious wind blew inside and torrents of rain showered upon him. The rabbi stood outside, his outstretched arm offering the candle to the worker, his lips muttering words of apology.

"Please, El Paki," said the worker politely, "please come in."

The rabbi stepped inside the bakery, and the Arab worker leaned to the side and lifted the heavy iron beam.

The Golden Column

Rav Shemuel Ben Vaish zs"l

Rav Yossef Ben Vaish zs"l related to Rav Yossef Messas zs"l the following story that occurred in Makens during the time of his grandfather, Rav Shemuel Ben Vaish zs"l. One of their relatives had a luxurious home, which aroused the jealousy of a certain individual who longed to own the house. He recommended to the relative to make a certain investment that he knew was doomed to failure. He promised that the price would rise faster than anyone could imagine. When the relative told him that he did not have the funds to make the purchase, the unscrupulous individual offered him a loan. As the swindler expected, the investment sank and the man could not afford to repay the loan. The lender took the debtor to a gentile court and seized the man's house. He moved in with great pride over the successful execution of his wicked plot. The homeowner, meanwhile, came sadly and humbly before the great rabbi to tell him of the recent crisis. The rabbi urged him to cheer up, ensuring him that his house will soon be returned to him.

The man did not understand the rabbi's promise. He left the city destitute and proceeded to the city of Marrakesh, where one of his acquaintances gave him some valuable merchandise on loan. He took the goods to the city of Rabat and sold them at a huge profit. Only a year later, he returned to Makens a wealthy man.

In the meantime, the swindler took ill and lost his money. For five months he was bedridden, his store closed to customers. Slowly but surely, his assets were being consumed. When he finally recovered, his lenders descended upon him and pressured him to repay his debts. The pressure became so immense that he was forced to sell the house that he deceitfully acquired. As it turned out, he sold it to its original owner for just half its price. He left the house with his hands over his head in shame and disbelief, while the original owner returned to the house jubilantly. Y

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

"Therefore it is written in the Book of Hashem's Wars,

Rashi explains this pasuk as a reference to the elimination of the Emorite ambush who sought to destroy Benei Yisrael as they traveled through the valley of Arnon. The Emorites hid in the crevices in the mountains on either side of the valley, but as soon as the aron kodesh passed through the valley, the mountains trembled and merged, crushing the enemy. After the mountains returned to their usual form, the well that accompanied Benei Yisrael brought up the limbs of those killed and spread them across the ground, thus demonstrating the great miracle. Benei Yisrael recognized the miraculous salvation and sang a song of praise to the Al-mighty.

The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that this miracle teaches us that it is not military strength that grants Benei Yisrael victory over their enemies. Rather, victory results from their Torah study. It was the aron, which contained the two tablets and the Sefer Torah, that killed the enemy ambush. Specifically the well was used to publicize the miracle because the flow of fresh water symbolizes the oral Torah - the constant flow of water represents the ongoing process of "hiddush" in extrapolating the Torah Sheb'al Peh. These new ideas reveal the underlying concepts of the written Torah. Thus, the well, symbolizing the oral Torah, revealed the work of the aron, which contained the written Torah.

This is the meaning of our pasuk: "Therefore it is written, in the book - Hashem's wars." Through the study of the book - the Torah, Hashem fights our wars for us. This is on condition that students and scholars gather in the yeshivot and batei midrash to argue and deliberate with each other in areas of halachah, in order to reach a final conclusion according to halachah. This is what is meant by the term, "Hashem's wars" - the argumentation process in the study of Torah. "Vahev" comes from the word "yahav" - to give, and "besufah" refers to "the end." Meaning, the Torah was given to us in order that we reach the proper conclusions through intensive analysis and deliberation. The next pasuk states, "And the valleys, Arnon." Meaning, just as the well informed the people of the miracle of the aron that occurred in the valley of Arnon, so does the oral Torah reveal the ideas latent within the written Torah.

Therefore, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the schoolchildren, yeshivah students and kollel members, who, through their diligent Torah study and arrival at "hiddushei Torah," add to the power of Torah that protects and saves us (Sotah 21). Indeed, Hazal comment, "Our legs made it through war in the merit of the gates of Yerushalayim, which were involved in Torah study." This notion appears in the Midrash, as cited by the Siftei Kohen: "The Al-mighty said, if you are involved in the Sefer Torah, I fight on your behalf." Likewise, the Gemara states that Sanheriv and his troops, who besieged Jerusalem, perished in a single night in the merit of Hizkiyahu's encouraging Torah study by providing enough oil to light the study halls at nighttime.

It has been said that if only the authorities realized how much Torah study protects, they would appoint guards to stand around the Torah study centers and encourage the students to further intensify their study. Y


Two generations ago, before the discoveries of antibiotics and penicillin, illness and disease would kill thousands of people. The Hafess Hayyim zs"l initiated the idea of establishing a Jewish hospital, and to this end called for a meeting of the community leaders. He spoke to them emotionally and emphatically of the pain and suffering of the patients and the spiritual hardships encountered in the gentile hospitals. Nuns would serve as nurses, and kosher food was not served. The ssadik's pleas made a profound impression upon the wealthy attendees, and they responded generously to his appeal. One donor pledged one bed, another donated two beds, yet a third person gave ten, and a fourth provided twelve.

Word of the ssadik's visit to the town spread quickly through the local yeshivah, and the students came and stood at the door of the conference room. They peered through the door, focusing their attention on the figure of the sacred ssadik. As soon as the Hafess Hayyim saw the young students, his face lit up with joy. He warmly invited them in and greeted each student individually. The wealthy men at the meeting, however, were troubled by the distraction of the ssadik's attention from the meeting onto the young boys. One of them dared to ask the ssadik, "Rebbe, how many beds have these yeshivah students donated for the hospital?"

Much to the attendees' astonishment, the Hafess Hayyim replied, "Fifty!"

Fifty beds!? Not one of the philanthropists at the meeting came anywhere close to such a generous donation. How would these poor yeshivah students come up with the funds for fifty beds?

The ssadik saw the astonishment in his audience's faces and repeated his words: "Indeed, each student donated fifty beds - if not more! The beds that you donated will be occupied by ill patients suffering terribly from pain and disease. Who knows how many of them will recover? But these yeshivah students spend their days and nights learning Torah, which protects and saves. In the merit of their learning, fewer people will take ill, and thus many hospital beds will be saved."

We are now rapidly approaching the yeshivot's summer vacation, a period that could potentially see a laxity from Torah study, Heaven forbid. The recently published book "Orech Yamim" features a collection of advice, missvot and good deeds that help prolong life with happiness and pleasantness. The book cites the following passage from the Hafess Hayyim's "Torat Habayit": "Look, please, my brothers - every hour that you could have spent involved in Torah study but failed to do so, is considered as if the opportunity presented itself to save lives, and you didn't! And even if we, with our blinded eyes, do not realize it, Hazal revealed to us this secret when they said, 'Torah study is greater than saving lives' (Megilah 16b)." How critical it is to gird oneself with strength to learn Torah intensely and avoid the pitfalls of laxity and wasting time. Y

Halacha Berurah

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, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"

The Proper Location of the Tefillin Shel Rosh

The knot of the tefillin shel rosh must be placed behind the head, at the top of the back of the neck, the area where the skull ends opposite the face, rather than down on the neck itself. Most of the knot should preferably lie above the groove behind the head. In any event, one should ensure that no part of the knot is situated on a spot without hair on most people. Therefore, when tying the knot on the strap of the tefillin shel rosh one must ensure that the strap is short enough that it fastens tightly around the head; the strap should not be too big for his head such that neither the box nor the knot moves from its proper location. Accordingly, if one borrows tefillin from someone else he must make sure that the size of the strap is appropriate for his head, that it remains fastened on his head, with the box and knot in their proper places.

Even one with hair on the back of neck may not place the knot of the tefillin shel rosh on the back of his neck. Rather, he must place it such that the majority of the knot is situated above the groove behind the head. The box of the tefillin shel rosh must be placed on the head parallel to the area between the eyes. The knot, too, must be placed right in the middle in the back of the neck, not to the sides. One may look into a mirror to ensure that his tefillin shel rosh is placed in the proper location. The place on the knot that appears like the letter "dalet" must be facing outward. Likewise, the knot on the tefillin shel yad must not turn inside out. The knots on the tefillin shel yad and shel rosh need not be undone and retied every day. The black side of the straps of both the shel yad and shel rosh must face outward; they should not be allowed to twist, such that the black side faces inward.

The Gemara (Masechet Moed Katan 25) relates that Rav Huna's tefillin strap twisted, and he observed forty fast days as atonement. Strictly speaking, however, one need not fast if his tefillin strap became twisted accidentally. It is only an added measure of piety to fast for a day. If one finds it difficult to fast, then he should "redeem" his fast day through a charitable donation. If the fast may disrupt one's Torah study, then it is preferable not to fast and donate money to charity instead. If one straightened the straps after they twisted, while the tefillin is still being worn, then there is no obligation whatsoever to fast. Similarly, if the straps were situated properly when the individual placed the tefillin and twisted only thereafter, then there is no obligation to fast, not even as a measure of added piety.

Strictly speaking, one needs to ensure that the straps do not twist only regarding the straps that fasten the tefillin shel rosh to the head and the part of the strap on the tefillin shel yad that holds the tefillin to the arm. However, with regard to the straps descending from the knot of the tefillin shel rosh and the straps of the tefillin shel yad wrapped around the arm, there is no prohibition to allow them to twist. Nevertheless, out of concern for beautifying the missvah it is proper to ensure that the straps are all turned such that the black part faces outward. Y


Recently, in anticipation of the period of the "three weeks" during which we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and long for its rebuilding, a new edition of Kinot was published. It is called "Kol Hatehinah Hahadash - Menahem Ssiyon," and it was first published last year with the approbation of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a. One can easily see the immense effort that was invested in the work by the editor, who is among the most promising young Torah scholars in Yerushalayim. The Kinot themselves are reprinted with large letters and according to the precise text of the Kinot. Furthermore, the authentic text has been maintained based on a Mahzor that was printed by the Spanish exiles around five hundred years ago as well as ancient editions of Kinot. Hundreds of mistakes were identified, and in some cases complete lines were missing. Each Kinah appears on its own page, arranged according to its stanzas and poetic meter, greatly assisting the reader to recite and properly chant the Kinah. The work includes a beautiful introduction as well as a section of detailed halachot according to the rulings of Rav Yossef Karo.

In the introduction, the editor cites the critical words of the Mabit zs"l regarding the importance of praying for the redemption. The following segment of the Mabit's words comes from "Bet Elokim - Sha'ar Tefilah, 17": "It is easier for the later generations, who are closer to the time of the redemption, to have their prayers accepted, more so than the earlier generations, for two reasons. Firstly, those who are far from the time of redemption need to plead and beg more, in order that their prayers will be accepted for something that lies a thousand years from the time, more than those who are five hundred years away. Likewise, for those who are only one hundred years away from the time of redemption it is easier for their prayers to be accepted, so long as their prayers are otherwise equivalent. Those who are closer, their prayers are closer to being accepted. This may be compared to one standing far from the country, for whom the trip will not be completed with the same ease as one standing right near the country. "The second reason is that given the immense value of the redemption, there requires an immense amount of prayers, generation after generation, in order for the prayer for redemption to be accepted. Once the necessary tefilot are completed, based on divine knowledge, then in that generation their prayers will be accepted, even though in earlier generations their prayers were not accepted. When the amount of required prayers has been completed, the prayer will be accepted - not on account of this generation's prayers alone, but together with the earlier prayers.

"Therefore, it is more worthwhile and obligatory for the later generations to perform complete teshuvah before Him with prayer and charity in order that they merit the redemption that is so close to them. When they are lax in this regard, G-d forbid, they are punished. The prophet thus declares, 'Seek Hashem when He is found, call Him when He is close.' This alludes to both these reasons that I discussed regarding the later generations. 'When He is found' refers to the second reason, that through the mass collection of prayers from earlier years on, it is within our reach. 'Call Him when He is close' follows the first reason, that the prayers of the later generations are closer to being accepted than those of the earlier generations."

We salute the editor for his having merited the entire community. One can order the book in Israel by calling 052-869-011 or 02-581-1681. Y

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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