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Parashat Balak


This Shabbat marks the seventeenth of Tammuz, and the fast is observed the following day, on Sunday. Five tragedies occurred on this day: the breaking of the luhot, the cessation of the korbanot during the siege of Jerusalem, the breach of the city, the introduction of an idol into the Bet Hamikdash, and the burning of the Torah. After the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash, the fast was observed not on this day but on the ninth of Tammuz. It was on this day when Nevuchadnessar's army broke through the city. During the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, Titus' armies breached the city on the seventeenth, and the fast was thus transferred to this day as the second destruction is the more significant one for us today. (See Ta'anit 28b; Rosh Hashanah 18b.)

The question begs itself, why did the people fast on the seventh of Tammuz in the aftermath of the first Bet Hamikdash? The luhot were broken on the seventeenth. Was the breach of the city more significant than the breaking of the luhot?

The answer is clear, and very relevant to us today. Were the fasts to simply commemorate tragic events, then unquestionably, the episode of the golden calf and the breaking of the luhot are worse. But the main focus of the fast is teshuvah and self-retrospection, a concerted effort to correct our shortcomings. In this regard, we look first and foremost to returning from exile, to the gathering of the entire nation to our sacred land, dedicated to our faith and our Torah, sanctity and the missvot. We look primarily to the building of the Bet Hamikdash, speedily and in our days. For this reason we fast on the days marking the conquest and destruction, so that we focus on their cause, and, God willing, bring ever so quickly the ultimate redemption.


Our lives are so pressure-ridden, like a sharp piece of glass piercing a fresh wound. This is the curse of the modern age, the age of relentless progress. It is very unpleasant to read the forecasts of how the three most common causes of death will soon be heart-attacks, depression, and automobile accidents. Maybe our standard of living continues to rise, but this rise is both exhausting and debilitating. Its price is too high, and we pay for it with our health and our nerves. We Jews are fortunate in that we still have, at very least, Shabbat and hagim, days to relax and live in sanctity. We have days during which we can rest and spend valuable, quality time with our families. How miserable are those whose humdrum of daily life continues into these days of rest.

Indeed, our lives are pressured. Importing requires the payment of import tax, the home requires the payment of a mortgage, the telephone requires the payment of a bill, the car requires the payment of insurance and gasoline, and the credit cards often cost overdraft charges. One never reaches the point where he can say, "Enough!" The race simply never stops. We are caught in the current and cannot escape. Everybody owns a cellular phone, everyone is exchanging their car for a better one. There has emerged a subtle social pressure, expectations from the family, and so many homes have resorted to a dual income, by both spouses. They work beyond their capacity, put in extra hours, and submit themselves to the pressures of two jobs, in order to bring in the salary, to submerge their debt, cover their expenses, and continue the race further...

The pressures of the workplace continue without stop, the boss demands high standards, the consumers insist on only the best, the employees complain continuously, each one with his own perspective. The slightest setbacks bring about such distress and disappointment. Jealousy and competition intensify. It sometimes appears as though nobody smiles anymore, everybody is nervous and anxious. Eventually, the individual says to himself, maybe I can forget everything once in a while, maybe I can look forward to at least a few minutes of peace and quiet, when I come home in the evening I will be greeted with smiles, calm, and understanding. This will make up for all the hours of anxiety throughout the day. True, it's a much smaller period of time, but it is ever so critical. This anticipation gives one the strength and wherewithal to get through the rigors of the workday and, in effect, this hope gives one the wherewithal to get through life on a daily basis.

But he opens the door, and the dream quickly fades. The hope and anticipation disappears into thin air. No, not always, and certainly not always at the first moment. But let's face it - the pressure of modern life has found its way into the home, and tension has found its home in ours. Alienation, indifference, and fatigue, not to mention the occasional arguments and squabbles, anger and frustration.

Why? Weren't these homes built upon strong foundations of love, with such glamorous hopes, and the family sincerely longs to live in peace and harmony? What happened? How did the spirit of alienation and discontentment creep into such homes?

Rabbi Baruch Dov of Kaminess zs"l found the answer in our parashah. In fact, he found both the answer to this question and the solution to the problem. Bilam had the power of curse and hatred within him. He looked upon Benei Yisrael with his scornful eyes and tried to hurt them with the poison of his curse. He failed, he was unable to fulfill his mission. Why? "How great are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael!" As Hazal explain, he saw that the openings to their tents do not face each other, in keeping with appropriate standards of modesty. Others explain that he saw them gathering in the Batei Kenesset and Batei Midrash for tefilah and Torah study.

Said Rabbi Baruch Dov, a person possesses both a body and a soul. The soul is pure, but what about the body? If one's prays properly, if he attends Torah classes, and observes the proper standards of sseniut, then the body, too, becomes pure. Peace, tranquillity, and harmony then exist between body and soul, in fulfillment of the pasuk, "Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its roads are peace." Otherwise, Heaven forbid, the body resembles that of an animal, and tension emerges between it and the soul. As the pasuk states, "There is no peace in my bones because of my sins."

The Almighty punishes in a manner commensurate with the sin committed. If the individual disrupts the harmony between his body and soul, then this relationship will erupt in his home, as well. This is not the way. Let us strengthen our commitment to proper sseniut, especially with regard to how we dress. Let us not neglect our attendance to Torah classes, and we will then merit true, genuine peace, and we will eradicate tension and disunity from every Jewish home.

The Crying-Bird

The "crying-bird" is a most interesting and unique bird. The sound it makes is very sad and resembles the cry of a baby. The sound is full of agony, almost like the one producing it is carrying all the pain in the world on his shoulders. Scientists have nicknamed this bird as "the crybaby." It is an egg-laying bird, which resides in the warm, tropical regions of America, especially along the Florida coast. Like many other birds, this bird has been blessed with a long beak and long, thin legs, similar to those of a stork. This allows the bird to stand in shallow water and in swamps to search for food. This special bird's favorite food is snails, which it catches with its long beak. Sometimes it will stamp in the mud with its legs until it finds a snail to its liking. When the crybaby decides upon its chosen snail, it places it on a piece of wood, sticks the wooden slab into a narrow place, like in between two leaves or in a crack, and waits patiently. It has no choice but to wait, because so long as the snail remains inside it is safe from all harm. Only once the snail irresponsibly sticks its head out to see what's going on does the bird catch the snail's head with its beak and drags it out. Interestingly enough, it doesn't swallow its prey immediately. Rather, it keeps it in its beak for a minute or two as if it were engaged in deep thought and concentration.

As stated, this bird's sound resembles the cry of a baby, a cry which arouses compassion. However, babies who fall or need a parent are not the only ones who cry. Today, many Jews have fallen from their crib, so-to-speak, they have fallen from true Judaism, the path of Torah and missvot. They cry. Some cry loudly, aware of their having done wrong and interested in returning. They deserve our help. Others cry secretly, through an inner, inaudible weeping of the soul which is a part of our God above. This soul, which yearns so much for even a slight experience of Judaism, cries bitterly when there is no one to provide it with its spiritual necessities, an education of purity and sanctity. Indeed, many of these people who cry are adults biologically, though from a religious standpoint they are still children, as they have yet to learn the ways of Torah and missvot. They souls cry out of the emptiness in which they find themselves, and we may not shut our ears from hearing t his bitter wailing. We must make our top priority to help them, to direct them to the study of the Torah.


The Rabbi's Blessing (8)

Flashback: Young Yisshak Goite, a house attendant in a wealthy home in Triast, Italy, gave his life's savings to a ssadik who was visiting to collect funds for the Jewish community of Yerushalayim. The ssadik blessed the boy that by his next visit Yisshak will be among the wealthiest people in the city. Soon later, Yisshak came across a public auction of pirated goods, and leaned against some barrels with unknown contents which, little did he know, indicated his willingness to purchase them. The barrels were delivered to his master's home who was angry with the boy for having made the purchase. When the barrels were opened, the boy and his master were shocked to find that they were filled with gold coins.

The man's eyes glistened, and he reminded the boy of the rabbi's blessing, that by his next visit to Triast the youngster will be among the wealthiest people in the city. Suddenly, the man's face turned pale.

"What happened?" asked the boy in a panic.

"It occurred to me that this whole incident with barrels must never be known to the authorities, because through their thirst for money, they are likely to cause us trouble and spread false accusations against us," answered the wealthy merchant. He then decided to introduce his young attendant to the secrets of the trade. He took a handful of gold coins and secretly sent them to his contacts in the distant cities, who, in return, sent him merchandise. He kept a precise record of all the transactions, and, in this way, the boy learned about trading. In amazing fashion, the boy demonstrated great acumen and natural talent.

A year later, when the ssadik returned, the boy had already distinguished himself as a prominent and wealthy merchant, and his donation was equivalent to that of his master, just as the messenger from Yerushalayim had said in his berachah.

When the ssadik left, the boy said to his former master, "What will be with me? I am ignorant in Torah. Can I remain this way forever? So long as poverty forced me to work, I was absolved from devoting my time to study. But now, what is stopping me?"

His master agreed, so the boy kept his savings with the man. The merchant conducted business on behalf of himself and the boy with these funds, giving the boy a generous, monthly stipend, which allowed to boy to support his parents comfortably and honorably, support himself, and hire one of the local scholars to learn with him.

With diligence, patience, enthusiasm, and devotion, he applied himself to the study of Torah. Talents which had been hidden for so long were finally disclosed and flowed like a fountain of spring water. Soon he became a talmid hacham, a renown expert, and people began referring to him as, "Rabbi Yisshak Goite," both in his presence and not in his presence.

Rabbi Yisshak continued to grow in Torah and published his work, "Sedei Yisshak," which contained his "hiddushim" on Shas.

To be continued...


"How great are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel"

The Alshich zs"l explains that here Bilam prophesied about the Shechinah establishing its residence among Benei Yisrael. First, "the tent," referring to the mishkan in the desert. Then, after Benei Yisrael's entry into Eress Yisrael, the mishkan was established first in Gilgal, and subsequently in Shiloh, Nov, and Givon. All these locations are included in the expression, "...your tents, Yaakov." Afterward, the Shechinah resided in the two Batei Mikdash, which were permanent structures, and are therefore referred to as, "dwelling places," as the pasuk states (Tehillim 132:5), "Dwelling places ('mishkenot') for the Strong One of Israel."

"Water will flow from its buckets, and his seed will be in many waters"

The Alshich continues to explain that even during the destruction, the Shechinah continues to reside among Benei Yisrael, through the Torah, which is compared to water - "'Water' refers only to Torah" (Bava Kamma 82). This is what is meant by the expression, "Water will flow from its buckets," as Torah is transmitted from the scholars who received it from their teachers to their own students." "And his seed will be in many waters" - this refers to the people who study Torah, whose numbers will rise and in whose merit the redemption will come. This is why it is said that the Moshiah will be " a poor man riding on a donkey," meaning, that the nation will have few merits, and therefore he will resemble a poor man. But he will ride on the merits of those who study Torah, as the tribe of Yissachar is compared to a donkey who bends its back to bear the burden of Torah (Bereishit 49:14) - "and its kingship will be raised" - speedily, and in our days!

"How great are your tents, Israel, your dwelling places, Israel"

The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l explains that "tovu" is related to the expression, "hatavat hanerot," the lighting of the candles of the menorah. "Ohalecha" is related to the word, "orah," light. Meaning, "Yaakov," referring to each and every Jew, is like a vessel, prepared to receive the Shechinah - "your dwelling places, Israel," that the Shechinah will reside within each Jew, as the pasuk states, "I [Hashem] will reside among them." This will occur only if the individual applies himself to grow by abstaining from evil, symbolized by the lighting of the candles, and the performance of good, by increasing the light of Torah and missvot.

"How great are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yaakov"

The Hid"a zs"l explains that Yaakov, related to the word, "akev," ankle, refers to the lower aspects. "Yisrael," which is related to the word, "serarah," superiority, symbolizes the higher levels. In other words, "Yaakov" symbolizes the body, which originates from the ground, whereas "Yisrael" represents the soul which originates from the Heavens.

Furthermore, "tent" refers to that which is temporary and fleeting, while "dwelling places" implies permanence. And thus, our pasuk says, "How great" - how wonderful it is, when "your tents - Yaakov," when the person recognizes the fact that his body is only temporary and does not invest all his time and energies into his body. And "your dwelling place - Israel," he realizes that the soul is eternal as are its acquisitions, and he therefore works to build the soul rather than the body.


Rabbi Yehudah Sadkah zs"l

The problem of ignorance among the Jewish children in Israel was solved. The problem of their abandoning their tradition was already near its end, and the millions of Jewish children who did not know, "Shema Yisrael" did not both the Minister of Education. Nor did the problem of violence in the Israeli schools. The Minister of Education of the time was focused on just one goal, one top priority - allowing for meetings between Jewish and Arab children, to establish mutual understanding and mixed marriages. This was the most important goal.

"Bilam's plot!" cried Rabbi Yehudah Sadkah. Bilam was the first to initiate meetings between Benei Yisrael and the girls of Moav. As a result, twenty-four thousand people died in a plague. Rabbi Yehudah arranged a delegation of rabbis to meet with the Minister of Education to try to persuade him to give up this plan, which included summer camps for Jewish and Arab boys and girls.

The Minister of Education greeted them warmly. After all, he was a believing Jew, and he understood that the state survived through overt miracles. He spoke of this during his conversation with the rabbis.

"Do you want these miracles to continue?" asked Rabbi Yehudah Ssedakah.

"Of course," answered the minister.

"How will they continue," asked the rabbi, "if these meetings will cause the Shechinah to remove itself from our people? The Torah determined, 'I have separated you from the nations to be for Me,' which Rashi explains to mean, 'If you are separate from them, then you are for Me. If not, then you are for Nevuchadnessar and his cohorts!'"

And the Minister of Education did not know what to say...


Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav Mosheh Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Meor Yisrael

Does the Berachah For Wine Fulfill the Requirement For Other Beverages?

In the previous issue we explained that just as the berachah, "borei peri hagefen" recited over wine fulfills the obligation of berachah rishonah for other beverages, so does the berachah aharonah over wine - "al hagefen..." - fulfill the requirement of berachah aharonah for other drinks. The reason is that wine is considered the most prominent of all beverages. Since all other drinks are considered less significant, they are included in the berachah recited over wine, both before and after.

However, this applies only if the individual first drank from the wine and only then drank other drinks. In this case, the berachah for wine fulfills the requirement for the other beverages. However, if the person first drank the other drinks and only thereafter drank from the wine, it is not so simple that the berachah of "al hagefen" over the wine will fulfill the requirement of berachah aharonah for the other drinks. For the Shiltei Giborim writes that in such a case one must recite independent berachot for the wine and the other drink. And, many Aharonim follow this ruling, that if one drinks water and only thereafter drinks wine, he must recite a "borei nefashot" for the water and then the berachah al hagefen for the wine. (Even if he drank some more water after he drank some wine, still, the berachah aharonah for the wine does not fulfill his requirement for the water, and he must still recite a borei nefashot for the water.)

However, from the Kol Bo and Orhot Hayyim it seems that even if the requirement of borei nefashot for the water preceded the obligation of al hagafen for the wine, the berachah aharonah for the wine still fulfills the requirement for the water (against the position of the Shiltei Giborim). And several Aharonim rule accordingly, that the berachah aharonah over wine fulfills the requirement for the borei nefashot for the water, even if the water was drunk before the wine.

And so, we face in this regard a dispute between both Rishonim and Aharonim. As we have mentioned many times before in the name of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, whenever we face an argument with regard to the requirement to recite a berachah, we follow the principle of "safek berachot lehakel," and we do not recite the berachah when in doubt whether or not it is warranted. Therefore, one who drinks water and afterwards drinks wine, recites only the berachah aharonah for the wine and thereby fulfills his requirement for the water. (See Yabia Omer vol. 5, 17:6.) Optimally, however, one who drank water and now wants to drink wine, he should first recite borei nefashot for the water and only then recite borei peri hagefen and drink the wine. In this way, he avoids the question entirely. This is not considered an unnecessary berachah, for with regard to the laws of berachot, whenever we try to avoid any questionable circumstance we may do so even if it involves a berachah which otherwise would not have become necessary, and this does not constitute an unnecessary berachah. (See Kaf Hahayim 208:82.)

In summary, one who drinks wine and afterwards drinks water, he does not require any berachot for the water, neither before or after he drinks. However, if he first drinks water and only then decides to drink wine, optimally, he should first recite borei nefashot over the water and then drink wine with proper berachot before and after the wine. However, if he did drink the wine without having recited a borei nefashot for the water, rather than reciting a questionable berachah, he should simply recite the berachah aharonah over the wine and not recite the borei nefashot for the water.

"The Fifth Event"

"Listen, our brothers, Benei Yisrael. The fast of the fourth month will take place this Sunday, and may the Almighty transform it into a day of joy and celebration."

Five calamities occurred on this day, say Hazal. The luhot were broken in the aftermath of the sin of the golden calf, the daily sacrifice in the Bet Hamikdash was canceled during the siege of the city before the destruction of the first Bet Hamikdash (as there were no more sheep to be brought), the city of Yerushalayim was broken through by enemy troops prior to the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, the Roman general burned the Torah scroll, and an idol was brought into the Bet Hamikdash.

This list seems to suffer from a serious imbalance. Some items involve cataclysmic events which changed the course of history, tragedies for which we continue to mourn to this very day, and other events listed seem relatively minor in proportion. How do we include all these events together, in a single list?

"Had the luhot not been broken, Torah would never be forgotten from Israel, and no nation would be able to rule over them" (Eruvin 54a). Because of our limited intellect, we cannot grasp the full impact of our forgetting the Torah. But we can understand the significance of the ability of other nations to govern over us. Had the luhot not been broken, we would not have been subject to the rule of Sisra and Yavin, Ammon and the Pelishtim, Shishak and Pharaoh, Sanheriv and Nevuchadnessar, Antiochus or Titus. We would not have been exiled to seventy nations and spread out over the five continents. We would have been spared the flames of the Inquisition and the gas chambers, the concentration camps and the ghettos. Furthermore, "Had the luhot not been broken, the Angel of Death would have had no power over them" (Tanhuma, Shelah 13) and "...punishments would have no power over them, for they would be like angels" (Tanhuma, Ekev 8).

Imagine - a life without problems, without any pain or suffering. A life like that of an anglel, a life without measles, high blood pressure, cancer, or any form of illness, depression, or lethargy. A different world completely, one full of good health and exuberance. All this was lost because of the sin of the golden calf. All this was lost when the luhot were broken.

The truth is, that as much as we think we understand, that is how far we are from a total picture of the reward which could be ours, just as we cannot fully appreciate the tragedy of an idol being brought into the Bet Hamikdash, or the calamity of the cessation of the daily korbanot, in whose merit the entire nation and the whole world existed (Megillah 31b), and in whose absence the nation and the world descended to the lowest depths.

We can understand the magnitude of the tragedy which ensued when the enemies broke through the walls of the city which contained masses of people, leaving hundreds and thousands of starving people open for murder and captivity, God forbid, may the Almighty avenge their blood.

And together with these four events, the historic significance of which is clear, we mention a fifth, an event about which we know few details, only speculation - the burning of the Torah scroll. One of our enemies threw a Torah scroll onto the fire. True, this is terrible and frightening. But it seems strange that for this a fast day would be decreed upon the entire nation. Hundreds of millions of Jews over the last two millennia fasted on account of this single, isolated incident? Can this be equated with the sin of the golden calf, the breaking of the luhot, the placing of an idol in the Bet Hamikdash, the breaching through the walls of the crowded city?

This question could be asked only by one who does fully appreciate the value and sanctity of a Sefer Torah, and does not understand what the burning of a Torah scroll really means.

The Maharil Diskin zs"l said about himself that he is like vinegar compared to wine when he compares himself to his father, Rabbi Binyamin Diskin zs"l. And he told the story about a neighboring city which had suffered a fire, and many homes, as well as the Bet Kenesset, went up in flames.

The residents found among the ashes some remnants from the Sefer Torah and they turned to Rabbi Binyamin for guidance as to how to proceed. Outside his room, they found his son, the Maharil Diskin. He heard their question, looked into the matter, and muttered an answer. He then took them into his father's room, to see if he had guessed the correct answer. "So, what do you think, did he rule as I did?" asked the Maharil when he was telling this story.

"We don't know," said his audience. "Either do I. He fainted as soon as he saw the destroyed parchment of the Torah scroll."

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