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Parashat Bamidbar

"I am Hashem, Your G-d"

Recently, an attack directed against the secular Jews in Israel referred to them as, "Gentiles who speak Hebrew." The secularists responded with angry protests, and many religious Jews clarified the claim. No, the secularists are not gentiles who speak Hebrew. To the contrary, they are Jews who speak like gentiles.

Their culture, their literature, they television networks, their media, dress and behavior, their manner of speech, terminology and expression - are all foreign to the Jewish heritage, imported from other cultures. They, themselves, however, are precious as gold, fellow Jews, our beloved brothers. Many were brought up this way. And yet, eighty percent of them attend services on Yom Kippur, eighty percent of them observe the Pesah Seder properly, reading the entire Haggadah beginning to end. Fortunate are you, Israel, and who is like G-d's nation, Israel!

The nation - as a whole - has sunken into the depths of impurity, is chained by "cables," caught up in the television networks, and infused by the influence of the mass media. Our ancestors were in Egypt, so involved in Egyptian idolatry that the accusation was made, "How are these [Benei Yisrael] different from these [the Egyptians]?" Although they had sunken into the "forty-nine gates of impurity," Moshe was still harshly reprimanded for his mistrust of the people when he exclaimed, "They won’t believe me!" Hashem answered him, "Moshe, they are believers the children of believers." Indeed, the Torah later testifies, "The nation believed."

This remarkable nation, entrenched as it was in the lowest depths of spiritual contamination, elevated itself in an instant to such high levels of faith that they left Egypt and headed for the desert without arranging any provisions. "So says Hashem, 'I have remembered for you the kindness of your youth, your love of betrothal, when you went after Me in the desert, in an uncultivated land. "

This remarkable nation elevated and sanctified itself, underwent a process of purification and catharsis, and just seven days later experienced prophecy and recited the song of praise at the banks of the Yam Suf. Seven weeks later this nation was adorned with the crowns of "We will do and we will hear!" They merited seeing that which no eyes have ever seen, to hear that which no ears have ever heard.

This extraordinary nation, which, during the time of Eliyahu, consisted of only seven thousand people who did not worship the idol, Ba’al, fell on their faces upon witnessing the heavenly fire and exclaimed in unison, "Hashem is the true G-d!" When Eliyahu bemoaned, "They, Benei Yisrael, have left Your covenant," he was ordered to anoint Elisha as his replacement as prophet. Elisha would depart this world for speaking negatively about the Nation of Israel.

Our nation always remembers those Jews who were burnt at the stake during the time of the Inquisition. However, we should remember that the Inquisition did not kill all Jews. Those who insisted on maintaining their Jewish observance were expelled from the country, all their possessions confiscated. Only those who refused to part company with their wealth were killed. These same Jews were those who circumcised their sons at the risk of their lives, who continued to observe Shabbat and the festivals, and, when they were caught, tragically but heroically gave their lives "al kiddush Hashem."

This is the nation whose most ignorant people still believe in Hashem, and even the least committed and worst sinners give their lives for their religion and will suffer even the most unspeakable suffering rather than deny the oneness of the Al-mighty. As the "Tanya" writes (chapter 18), it seems beyond their capacity to deny the principle of "Hashem Echad."

This is the nation which, when it will, very soon, hear the shofar of the Mashiah, will follow him as one person and accept the yoke of Heaven lovingly.

This nation’s Creator proclaimed, "I am Hashem you G-d," and promised, "I will shepherd my sheep, and I will lie them down," says Hashem Elokim. "I will seek after those who are lost, I will restore the wayward sheep. I will tend to the injured and strengthen the ill" (Yehezkel 38:15).

"For He is our G-d and we are the nation which he shepherds, the sheep of his hand. Today, if only His voice you will heed!"

"They Shall Encamp Around the Mishkan"

Profound wisdom is contained within the system of Torah reading which Hazal have instituted for us. Each year, Parashat Bemidbar is read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Shavuot. Apparently, this parashah contains a message which appropriately introduces us to Matan Torah. Which aspect of this parashah prepares us for the momentous occasion of the receiving of the Torah?

The Torah commands us in this parashah, "Each person by his banner, according to the signs of his father’s household, shall Benei Yisrael encamp, across and around the 'Ohel Moed' they shall encamp." They all pointed to the same direction - around the Ohel Moed. They all encircled the mishkan, the place of Moshe and the Levi'im.

The same approach must be taken by each individual. Each person occupies himself with so many different concerns. He must worry about his family, his career. He must meet his familial as well as social obligations. Indeed, without question, everything has its proper place and time, and all these obligations must be met accordingly. However, we must always remember that all aspects of our life must revolve "around the Ohel Moed." We must ensure that all areas of our lives subscribe to the strictest standards of halachah, that our Torah lives remain at the center of our existence. Our daily tefilot are to be considered the focal point of our day, Shabbat must be looked at as the centerpiece of our week, and the yamim tovim must constitute the most significant points of the year. We must live our lives around the Ohel Moed, and our existence must revolve around Moshe and the Levi’im. We must look to our luminaries for guidance and direct our lives according to their teachings.

This is the message of the parashah. Not everybody belongs to the tribe of Levi, one who lives near the premises of the mishkan and devotes his life to its service. However, everybody can, and must, live around the mishkan, directing his life in that direction.

The Wonders of the Creator
Portuguese Battleships

No, there is no mistake in the title. A certain creature living in the sea carries the title, "Portuguese Battleship." It was entitled such because it was first seen near the Portuguese coast, and, when seen from afar, it looks like a sailboat. From up close, it looks like a blue balloon of about twenty centimeters. On the surface of the water, many thin “threads” extend from the bottom of its body into the sea. These threads, which resemble long worms, have the ability to extend and contract in accordance with the needs of the given situation. The edges of the threads contain cells of poison which look like tiny mouths. Scientists have discovered that these strings are used to catch fish. When a fish gets caught in the strings and comes into contact with them, it is poisoned immediately and dies soon thereafter. The threads then contract, serving as an elevator, bringing the victim to the upper part of the body, where the "ship's" digestive system is located. At this final stage of the nutrition process, the fish is digested into the body of the "ship." Interestingly, some fish miraculously lie together with this creature, and they are called, "fish of the Portuguese battleship." They feel very safe and well-protected in between the threads of the battleship and are fed from the leftovers . In turn, the battleship uses these fish as bait, luring larger fish into its trap. As Jews, we understand that whatever transpires in the natural world has a corresponding phenomenon in the spiritual world. The poison of the Portuguese battleship represents the yesser hara. It, too, tries to poison the spirit, attempts to cause the person enough damage until he forgets his spiritual consciousness altogether. The yesser hara has many ways to lure the person into its trap, just as the Portuguese battleship lures unsuspecting victims with its threads.

The Rabbi's Blessing
a continuing saga (part two)

Flashback: The Goite family, from Tripoli, migrated to Triast, Italy. They were so poor that they had to send their son, Yis’hak, to work in the home of a wealthy, local family. The boy worked diligently and honestly, and he earned the respect of all those around him.

Once, a delegate from Eres Yisrael, a "shadar" which stands for "Messenger of the Al-mighty" ("Sheluha DeRahamana") arrived in Triast. He was a messenger of the great sadikim in Yerushalayim, the great Kabbalists who spent their days and nights in the Bet Midrash. His title, messenger of the Al-mighty, pointed to the fact that the sacred residents of the sacred city, through their Torah and misvot, worked to raise the Shechinah from the dust, as it were, to arouse divine mercy on our people and bring the ultimate redemption. For this job, the most exalted sadikim from the community were chosen, and of such caliber was the delegate who arrived in Triast and lodged in the home of Yis'hak's boss. He showed great respect to honor to his distinguished guest and accompanied him from house to house to raise funds for the community in Eres Yisrael. Needless to say, his presence made quite an impact. The wealthy host himself gave a generous donation, and the delegate's visit to Triast proved to be successful beyond all expectations.

The delegate gathered his belongings and left his host amidst warm blessings for success, good health and happiness. All the family members, including Yis'hak, came to the rabbi for a blessing.

The master of the house looked at Yis'hak and chuckled. "You want a berachah? One who contributes to the charities of Eres Yisrael receives a berachah from its messengers. What have you given?"

"G-d forbid!" exclaimed the delegate. "There is one berachah, and let it fall upon the head of each Jew no matter who he is. Come here, boy, and I will give you a berachah."

The boy was insulted and ran out of the room without a berachah. The host was very ashamed at having embarrassed the kind, well-mannered boy. He decided to speak to him and ask forgiveness. "Where did he go?" he asked everyone. Everybody just shrugged their shoulders, nobody knew where he was. "Apparently he was so hurt that he ran away," they surmised.

There was a lot of confusion, and the man finally suggested that a search team be sent.

The Golden Column
Rabbi Moshe Haim zs"l

Tuesday, 8 Sivan, marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Moshe Haim zs"l of Baghdad, the grandfather of Rabbi Yosef Haim, the Ben Ish Hai zs"l, who told the following story about his grandfather.

A man once came before Rabbi Moshe Haim zs"l, claiming that another person owed him money. The other insisted that he owed no money and was prepared to swear to that effect. However, the rabbi sensed that the claimant was correct and the other was prepared to swear falsely. He said, "Do you think I will let you swear with a Sefer Torah? Not a chance. I will have you swear with the Two Tablets of the Covenant." He called the attendant of the Bet Din and said, "Go and dip ten times in the mikveh, and then bring me that Two Tablets of the Covenant - they are in my room in my house, on my table."

The litigant was terrified, knowing that the rabbi does not speak falsely. He must be referring to the Two Tablets which Moshe took from the Heavens and placed in the ark, which was subsequently brought to Babylonia and kept there. Now, he is forced to hold them and swear falsely. Surely, a fire from the heavens will come down and burn him alive! Terrified, he said, "Okay, I am willing to pay, and I will not swear." The rabbi responded, "No, you are already obligated to swear." The other finally admitted, "Rebbi, I lied." He then told the whole story, that he had borrowed money and denied it. As he was preparing to pay, he asked curiously, "The Tablets of the Covenant, where are they?"

"My attendant will come back soon, and you will see." Shortly thereafter, the attendant returned, his hair still wet from the mikveh, carrying the book, "Shenei Luhot Haberit" which was on the rabbi's table.

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"Elyasaf the son of Deu’el"

Later, in chapter 2, this "nasi" (tribal leader) is called, "Elyasaf ben Re’uel." The great Kabbalist Rabbi Yisrael Serug zs”l suggests that Elyasaf was a sadik who was constantly involved in meriting others and helping them perform teshuvah. He would chastise them, saying, "De’u el" - know G-d, know that there is a G-d among Israel. There is nothing more precious to him than bringing others to merit, and thus the Torah called him, "Re’u El," a friend and confident of Hashem.

"Who were chosen by their names"

Rabbi Meir Bikayim zs"l of Ismir, asked, since the Torah already introduced the nesi'im - "These are the chosen of the nation" - what does this pasuk add? He answered that this pasuk alludes to the comment of Rabbi Meir (Yoma 83b) who would learn the characteristics of people by studying their names. The pasuk thus veifies to us that the names of the nesi'im testify to their greatness.

"The children of Shimon...their numbers, according to the number of names"

Rabbi Azayah Menahem zs”l of Pano notes that the word, "pekudav" (their names) appears in this form only with regard to the counting of the tribe of Shimon. The reason is that this expression can also mean detraction, that which is lost. Thus, the pasuk alludes to the fact that in the future many members of the tribe of Shimon would fall in the calamity of Shittim, when twenty-four thousand people died after sinning with the daughters of Moav.

"The children of Naftali"

The Ar"i notes that in the counting of all the other tribes the Torah writes, "FOR the children of Shimon…FOR the children of Gad…" and so on. Regarding Naftali, the Torah simply writes, "The children of Naftali." He explains that first the entire nation was counted together. Only thereafter, they identified a given number from the overall sum to the respective tribes - "This is for Reuven, this is for Shimon, etc." Then, after the first eleven tribes, all who were left belonged to the tribe of Naftali.

"Everyone who comes to work in the service"

Rabbi Haim Vital zs”l notes that the service of Benei Yisrael was performed in two areas - in battle and in the service in the mishkan. The first group defends the nations physically, whereas the second group defend us with merits in Heaven. The first group is called, "Those who go out to the army," because they go out to battle, and the second group is called, "who come to serve," as they gather in the Batei Midrash and go to serve in the Bet Hamikdash.

"The banner of the camp of Yehudah"

Hazal say that when the angels descended from Heaven at Har Sinai, they came down in camps, each with their banners. Benei Yisrael also wanted banners, and their wish was granted. These banner serve as a show of respect for the King, demonstrating that He has many different groups under His sovereignty. Rabbi Yaakov Abuhassera zs”l notes that the first letters of the names of the four major camps - Efrayim, Dan, Yehudah, Reuven - spell "adir," majesty, as the camps serve as a reflection of the Al-mighty's majesty down on Earth.

When You, Our King, Revealed Yourself at Har Sinai...

..."When the Al-mighty revealed Himself to give the Torah to Yisrael, he shook the entire world and its inhabitants, as it says, 'Hashem's voice is on the water, the G-d of Glory shook’" (Sifrei, Parashat Berachah)

..."On the day which the Al-mighty descended upon Har Sinai to give the Torah to Yisrael, six hundred thousand angels descended with Him, each one holding a crown with which to adorn Yisrael" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah, 4)

..."And Har Sinai was entirely engulfed by a cloud, for Hashem descended upon it with fire, its smoke rose like that of a furnace, and the entire mountain trembled very much" (Shemot 19:18). "When Hashem began to lower His Shechinah, the mountain trembled and rose to greet Him like a servant running to greet his master" (Or Hahayim 19:20)

..."You approached and stood under the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire until the heart of the heavens, darkness, a cloud, and fog" (Devarim 4:11). "There were seven layers of fire, each sparking the other" (Yalkut Tehillim, 798)

..."Immediately, the Al-mighty opened the seven heavens and revealed to them eye to eye with His beauty and glory, and they beheld that which was not seen by Yehezkel and Yeshayahu" (Pesikta, Mechilta 83)

..."When the Al-mighty gave the Torah, not a bird chirped, not a bird flew, not an ox brayed, not an 'ofan' sailed, not a 'saraf' said, 'Kadosh,' the sea did not move, the creatures did not speak, but the world was silent and still, and the voice went out, 'I am Hashem your G-d'" (Shemot Rabbah 29)

..."The first sound ('I am Hashem your G-d') and the heavens and Earth trembled from it, the seas and rivers ran away, the valleys collapsed, and all the trees bowed" (Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 41)

..."Every utterance which left the mouth of the Al-mighty filled the entire world in the heavens…Yisrael's souls departed, so the Al-mighty brought down dew which would eventually revive all the dead and revived them…they retreated 12 'mil' out of fear from the voice, and the angels assisted them back" (Shabbat 88b)

..."G-d spoke all these words," in a single speech, what a human can never do. As the pasuk states, "G-d spoke all these words saying." If so, then what is meant by, "I am Hashem your G-d…You shall not have any other gods besides me"? It teaches us that the Al-mighty said all Ten Commandments in a single utterance, and then repeated them each separately, and Yisrael could hear only the first two commandments. They asked Moshe that he would teach them the others. (Mechilta, end of ch. 84, Re'em)

..."These Ten Commandments, despite their being the foundations of our religion, it is not for this reason that they were written on tablets. Rather, because they contain allusions to all misvot in the Torah. They contain 613 letters corresponding to all the misvot. Each letter represents one misvah" (Mabit, Sha'ar Hayesodot ch. 11)

..."'He taught them' (Devarim 32:10) - meaning, through the Ten Commandments. This teaches us that the speech left the mouth of the Al-mighty, and Yisrael looked at it and knew exactly how many Midrash relate to it, all the Talmudic extrapolations associated with it…" (Sifrei, Haazinu 8) ..."The voice of Hashem is with strength." It does not say, "His strength,' because it is in the strength of each individual - the elderly according to their strength, the youngsters according to their strength, the children according to their strength, the women according to their strength, and even Moshe according to His strength, so that nobody was hurt by the voice. (Shemot Rabbah 85)

Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Arranged by Rav Yis’hak Yossef shlit"a
Rosh Yeshivah, "Hazon Ovadyah"

The Laws of Shavuot

1) The festival of Shavuot takes place on the sixth of Sivan, after the period of Sefirat Haomer which extends over the seven week period after Pesah. That is why it is called, “Shavuot,” weeks. Why is the occurrence of Shavuot tied to the counting of the omer, as is not the case regarding other holidays? Hazal explain that when Benei Yisrael were told that they were to leave Egypt, they were also informed that they were going to receive the Torah fifty days later, as Hashem had told Moshe, “When you take the nation out of Egypt you will serve G-d on this mountain.” The word, “ta’avdun” (you will serve) is written with an extra letter “nun,” alluding to the fact that fifty days after the Exodus, Benei Yisrael would receive the Torah on that mountain. In loving anticipation of this momentous occasion, Benei Yisrael enthusiastically counted each day after their departure from Egypt. Therefore, we, too, observe this counting each year.

2) Optimally, one should not recite kiddush on Shavuot night until twenty minutes after sunset. However, when there is a need to do so, one may rely on those who are lenient in this regard and recite kiddush early, before sunset.

3) The custom has developed among all circles of Jews to stay up all night Shavuot learning Torah until daybreak, as the Zohar writes, "The early righteous people would not sleep during this night, and they would rather study Torah and say, 'Let us inherit this sacred heritage for us and our children, in both worlds.'" The Zohar further says, "Whoever observes this service on this night and rejoices in it, they will all be listed in the Book of Remembrance, and the Al-mighty blesses them with seventy blessings and crowns of the Upper World." The Aharonim explain the reason for this minhag, based upon the Midrash that the Al-mighty had to wake Benei Yisrael in the morning with thunder and lightening the morning of Matan Torah. We must therefore correct this mistake by involving ourselves in Torah throughout the night of Shavuot.

4) It is proper to observe the custom of the Kabbalists and study on Shavuot night the "Tikkun", which is published in the work, "Keri'ei Moed," and the study of the Tikkun takes precedence over the study of Shas and halachah. However, Yeshivah students who wish to learn Gemara may do so, as they have authorities on whom to rely. Nevertheless, if the majority of the community is studying the Tikkun, individuals should not leave the group to study Gemara or Halachah.

5) Those who stay awake all night must still recite all of the morning berachot, including birchot haTorah, after daybreak. They should wash their hands without the berachah (Sh"ut Yehaveh Daat 3:33).

6) One should try his utmost to learn Torah even on Shavuot day, as Hazal have taught us that half of the day should be devoted to our spiritual endeavors and the other half to our physical needs. One should read the book of Rut (without a berachah) with its commentaries.

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