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Parashat Bemidbar


Occasionally, parents who are asked to register their children in Torah educational systems respond, "It's okay, we run a traditional household.

The children will develop an attachment to their heritage from the home, and they will receive a general education." Let's see - is the environment of the house really sufficient? The answer is found in a pasuk in our parashah: "These are the descendants of Aharon and Mosheh." Despite this introduction, the pasuk proceeds to record only the progeny of Aharon, not of Mosheh. Rashi explains that the pasuk introduces Aharon's sons as the descendants of Mosheh, as well, "because Mosheh taught them Torah." Rashi continues, "This teaches that whoever teaches Torah to the child of another is considered as if he gave birth to him."

The question begs itself, could we really claim that Mosheh personally formed the personalities of Aharon's children to an extent that we can actually consider them his own children? True, he taught them Torah. But they grew in a home where their father was the chosen kohen gadol and a prophet. Their grandfather was Amram, the leader of his generation, and their mother was Elisheva, the sister of Nahshon Ben Aminadav, the tribal leader of Yehudah who jumped first into the Yam Suf before it split. Could their have possibly been anything lacking in such a house that required someone else to nurture and guide the children to become kohanim and faithful servants of the Almighty?

Apparently so. Even such a home is not enough. The characters of Aharon's sons were developed by the yeshivah of Mosheh Rabbenu, through their learning Torah under an angelic personage. How much more so does this apply in our generation, when the streets differ somewhat from the camp of Benei Yisrael in the desert, during the "generation of wisdom," and our homes fall far short of the standards of Aharon HaKohen. We owe our children the heritage they will receive through Torah education, the eternal values they absorb there, the devotion to respect for parents, good qualities and pleasantness.


Parashat Bemidbar is always read on the Shabbat preceding Shavuot.

Apparently, this parashah contains lessons and guidelines relevant as we anticipate and prepare for Matan Torah. The great defender of Yisrael, Rav Levi Yisshak of Berditchev zs"l, writes the following (in "Kedushat Levi" on Parashat Yitro): "If a person merits, he hears on every Shavuot a voice declaring, 'I am Hashem your God.' It is self-evident that one must prepare himself with much preparation in order to earn this sacred declaration of the Almighty. Tens of thousands of angels and sacred seraphim are seized with terror, trembling, reverence and awe from fear of Him, and all the more so us, Benei Yisrael. Three days are not enough, and even if one prepares himself throughout the entire year it is insufficient!" We have heard of great, sacred gedolim who testified to having merited such - fortunate are they, and fortunate is the nation that merits such an opportunity! In any event, for good reason the reading of Parashat Bemidbar was instituted just prior to the commemoration of Matan Torah. As it appears, it offers us guidance regarding our necessary preparations for Matan Torah.

Furthermore, we read last week the alarming "tochehah," the curses that will befall the nation, Heaven forbid, should we neglect the missvot.

This reading, too, is directly relevant to this time of year, in the hope that Matan Torah will begin a new page for us, in the spirit of "May the year end together with its curses" (Megilah 31b). Indeed, every Jew who accepts upon himself the yoke of the Torah leaves from darkness and enters the light, he ascends from the status of "curse" to one of blessing. However, this transition from the curses of the "tochehah" to the blessing of the Torah passes through Parashat Bemidbar, which stands in between the two.

Apparently, latent within this parashah lies the secret of the transformation of the curse into blessing. Let us study the parashah and find this secret.

Our parashah tells us that each tribe had its own banner, and each banner featured its special color and emblem: "The color of one was different from the color of the other" (Rashi). This represented the fact that each tribe contained its own, unique qualities and characteristics, its special nature and talents. For this reason, each tribe was blessed independently, receiving a blessing that best suited its unique character and qualities.

The tribe of Asher tilled the land, Zevulun engaged in overseas commerce, Shimon excelled in education, Yisachar produced authorities on halachah, Gad was characterized by their military might and Yehudah by their leadership skills. The nation consists of various sectors, each capitalizing on its own potential and capabilities. Each group made the most of the gifts it received from the Creator, and excelled in its given realm. But if this is so, then what united all the different tribes, what did they share in common?

The pasuk provides the answer. Although each tribe encamped independently, in its specifically allocated area, "each with its standard, under the banners of its ancestral house," at the same time, the pasuk continues, "they shall camp around the Ohel Moed ." They all faced the same central location - the Ohel Moed, the site of avodat Hashem, they all revolved around the aron, which contained the Torah and "luhot." Indeed, this was the central beam that bound the nation together, this served as the unifying force, the hinge around which the entire nation revolved. Without the Torah, the people would become fragmented, torn into disjointed segments.

All this accurately captures the condition of each individual, as well. A person contains twelve major limbs (Maharal, Nessah Yisrael 37) and, correspondingly, twelve general character traits (Kedushat Levi on Shabbat Nahamu, Noam Elimelech on Parashat Korah). Each limb is assigned its unique function, just as each ingrained human characteristic is charged with a specific duty. Each has its place and purpose. When all is said and done, "The Torah was not given to the heavenly angels" (Berachot 25b and elsewhere). We are human beings, and, as such, we are required to eat, drink, sleep, and work for a living. We are commanded to do so, and we will even receive reward for it, but only on one condition: that each action and aspect of our lives has its designated area, similar to the arranged formation of the tribes' encampment. Indeed, Kohelet tells us, "Everything has a time, and a period for every object under the heavens."

Additionally, "they shall camp around the Ohel Moed." We must recall that everything revolves around a single axis, everything must face one central location: the service of Hashem and the fulfillment of His Will!

Similarly, the scholar told the Khazar king in Sefer HaKuzari (3:5), "For the servant of Hashem, the moment of prayer is like the centerpiece and fruit of time, and all other hours are for him are like paths leading up to this moment, the arrival for which he anticipates. Just as the three periods of prayer constitute the 'fruit of his day,' so is Shabbat day for him the 'fruit of his week,' whereas this day is designated for attachment to the Creator." He continues by elaborating upon the notion that prayer and Torah study are for the soul what food is for the body, the source of strength and life that satiates it until the next "meal." Indeed, this is what a Torah class does for the entire day, and this is how Shabbat illuminates the entire week and the festivals illuminate the rest of the year. It is with this mindset that we must accept the Torah, viewing it as the centerpiece of our lives, the hinge around which everything else revolves. Let us recognize that everything is but the shell around the fruit - proper tefilah, the light of Torah, and the warmth and serenity of Shabbat.


"Each person to his work and to his responsibility"

A wealthy man lived in Brisk, but his hand was stingy and his heart pitiless towards the plight of the city's poor. The fund-raisers constantly met him with deaf ears, until eventually they turned to the city's rabbi, the Bet Halevi zs"l, to chastise the miser. There were many poor people in the city who so desperately needed his assistance, and they hoped that the rabbi's words would have an impact. However, the rav knew that "just as it is a missvah to speak that which will be heard, so too is it a missvah not to say that which will not be heard." He therefore waited for the right time to speak to the stubborn miser.

He kept his silence on the matter until the night of Yom Kippur. After the tefilah, the majority of the people went home, with only a few staying behind preparing for a night of learning until daybreak. They were well accustomed to sleepless nights engrossed in learning, and their intensity during tefilah the next day would not be diminished one iota. Among them sat the wealthy man, who prepared for a night of reciting Tehillim in order to ensure a favorable judgment on Yom Kippur. The rabbi approached him and engaged him in conversation: "Do you usually stay up so late?" The wealthy man answered in the negative. "But what can I do?" he continued. "The fear of judgment is upon me, and recitation of Tehillim avoids calamity!"

"Tell me," replied the rabbi, "you are, after all, well versed in the ways of the world. What would you say about a soldier who flees to the enemy camp during wartime?"

"He is placed before the firing range," the man quickly responded.

"Indeed, it is only fitting," said the rabbi. "And what if he defects and goes home?"

"There is no difference," answered the man, "fleeing can never be forgiven!"

"Is that so? And if he remains with the army but decides on his own to switch from one battalion to the next?"

"This is also defecting," declared the wealthy man. "During wartime, these crimes are punishable by death at the hands of the firing squad. No soldier can decide for himself where he should be stationed!"

"Interesting," remarked the rabbi. "Do you know why I asked you all this? Tomorrow is the Day of Judgment, and we all stand trial. We all hope for a favorable sentence, for the annulment of the harsh decrees. In truth, Hashem has given us the tools. He granted Torah scholars unlimited scholastic talent, the power of concentration and sharp reasoning. They remain awake all night long studying, and yet they can still pray the next day with intensity and concentration. You were given wealth in order to benefit the poor and underprivileged, to perform acts of kindness and donate to charitable causes. Tomorrow your books will be opened and your deeds reviewed. What will be found? That you picked up and left one battalion to go to the next. Instead of giving charity and supporting Torah, you remained awake through the night engrossed in Torah. Listen, if you want a favorable judgment, take it upon yourself to open your heart and donate to charitable causes, and go to sleep."

In truth, this concept appears in our parashah. The Sefer Hahinuch writes (Missvah 389): "The levi'im are not to engage in the work of the kohanim, nor the kohanim in the work of the levi'im. Rather, each one shall perform the work designated for him, as it is written, 'Each person to his work and to his responsibility'. We find that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah wanted to assist Rabbi Yohanan Ben Gugadah with closing the doors [of the Bet Hamikdash]. He said to him, 'Go back, for you already endangering your life; I am among the gate attendants and you are among the singers.' It is thus clear that any levi who performs in the Mikdash work other than the work designated for him is liable for 'mitah b'ydei Shamayim [death from the Heavens]."


Rabbi Rafael Baruch Tolidano zs"l

"When Rabbi Eliezer took ill, his students came in to visit him," tells the Gemara. His students were sacred tana'im. What did they want? "They said to him, 'Our rabbi, teach us the ways of life so that through them we merit the life in the World to Come.'" Astonishing! Was there a single missvah that they did not fulfill, were they sinners, Heaven forbid? Yet, they sought to grow even more, to rise to even greater heights. He answered them, "When you pray, bear in mind before Whom you stand, and for this you will merit life in the World to Come."

There is nothing like the closeness to Hashem attained through tefilah, there is nothing like attachment to the Creator potentially achieved during prayer, that can assure one a portion in the World to Come. Anyone who saw Rav Rafael Baruch Tolidano, the rav of Meknes, during his prayer, saw before him a son pleading before his father, one saw what attachment to Hashem really is, what prayer really is! One day, as he uttered with fiery passion, "Hashem is king, Hashem reigned, Hashem will reign forever!" - he fainted.

When they awakened him, he said, "I thought to myself, why did David HaMelech write this pasuk by opening with present, then the past, and then the future? Why did he not write it in chronological order - from past to present to future? The answer is that this construction teaches us that the foundation of faith lies in the recognition that Hashem is, presently, king.

It is easy for one to declare belief in the miracles of the past and those that will occur in the future. But do we believe and fully sense the fact that Creator rules right here and now, that everything occurs by His word alone and as a result of His will, and there is none beside Him? When I thought of this and contemplated the depth of this concept, I simply fainted!"

Similarly, Benei Yisrael's soul departed upon hearing Hashem's declaration, "I am Hashem your God." When they comprehended "I am Hashem your God," they also properly understood the next phrase - "Who took you from the land of Egypt"!


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

Taken from the work, "Osserot Yossef," Masechet Avot by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
based on the rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

The Customs of the Festival of Shavuot

The view of the Kabbalists is that only men, not women, have the custom of staying awake learning throughout the night of Shavuot.

It is proper on Shavuot night to learn the specially compiled "Tikkun Leil Shavuot," based on the comments of the Zohar HaKadosh (introduction, 8a) that in ancient times the pious ones would occupy themselves on Shavuot night with the study of Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim, Midrashim and "hidden" areas of the Torah. This "Tikkun Leil Shavuot" was instituted by the Ar"i z"l, and is preferable over other areas of study. Nevertheless, scholars and yeshivah students who long to diligently study Talmud on this night may do so, and they have authorities on whom to rely in this regard. Some have the practice of learning Rambam's Sefer Hamissvot on this night. However, in a place where the majority of the community is studying the "Tikkun Leil Shavuot," individuals may not separate from the rest of the community and engage in other areas of study.

According to the view of the Kabbalists, it is improper to study Mishnayot on Shavuot night.

One should recite "keri'at shema" before midnight (as determined by halachah), especially those who recited arvit before dark.

One must be careful not to engage in idle talk or mundane conversation on Shavuot night. One should not sit idle, since this is tantamount to sleeping. If there is a well-versed Torah scholar present, it is preferable that he explain to the people the words of the Gemara and Midrash found in the Tikkun Leil Shavuot, and elaborate upon them accordingly.

Additionally, he should explain to them some of the 613 missvot, particularly those that are applicable, thus ensuring that those assembled do not fall asleep.

The merit of the masses will thus be dependent upon him.

Every person should try to involve himself in Torah study during Shavuot day, as well. It is also proper to recite Sefer Tehillim on Shavuot, whereas Hazal teach us that David HaMelech, the author of Tehillim, passed away on Shavuot. The custom is to read Sefer Rut on Shavuot, and it is proper for one to read this sefer with its commentaries, both by the Rishonim as well as Aharonim.

One must insert "ya'aleh veyavo" in birkat hamazon throughout Shavuot. If he forgot to recite "ya'aleh veyavo" and remembers after saying "Baruch Atah" but before "boneh Yerushalayim," then he should immediately say "lamdeni hukecha" and then recite "ya'aleh veyavo." If he does not remember until after he said "boneh Yerushalayim," then he should say (with Hashem's Name), "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech ha'olam asher natan yamim tovim l'Yisrael l'sasson ul'simhah et yom hag hashavuot hazah v'et yom tov mikra kodesh hazeh. Baruch Atah Hashem mekadesh Yisrael v'hazemanim." If he does not remember until he began the fourth berachah and already said, "Baruch Atah Hashem Elokenu Melech ha'olam," but before he said, "la'ad ha'Kel Avinu," then he should continue with "asher natan yamim tovim." If, however, he already begun "la'ad ha'Kel Avinu Malkenu," or even if he just said the word "la'ad," then he does not go back, but rather continues birkat hamazon.


We find something remarkable in the commentary on Masechet Avot by Rabbenu Yossef Yabess zs"l, who was among the Spanish exiles. His comments are worth studying, since, after all, closing our eyes to reality does very little for us. We must be aware of the dangers so that we know to guard ourselves adequately.

The Mishnah tells us that "whoever desecrates the Name of Hashem in private is punished in public. There is no distinction between intentional and non-intentional violation when it comes to the desecration of Hashem's Name" (Avot 4:5). "Hillul Hashem" - desecrating Hashem's Name - constitutes the most severe sin in the world. Even the most severe sins can be atoned through repentance, Yom Kippur and punishment. Yet, when it comes to the sin of hillul Hashem even all this does not suffice. One does not achieve atonement except through the suffering of death, Heaven forbid, or by increased effort on behalf of "kiddush Hashem" - sanctification of the Name of Hashem.

Now we know what public hillul Hashem is - denigrating Judaism through improper behavior, conduct that is inappropriate for a Torah observer.

But what does it mean to desecrate the Name of Hashem in private? Rav Yossef Yabess provides us with the answer: one who speaks negatively about another - this is hillul Hashem in private! Why? Because if the one spoken of suddenly walks in, the talebearer will immediately close his mouth. Why?

Quite simply, he will be embarrassed by the other person. Meaning, from this fellow he is ashamed, but from the Almighty he feels no shame. "He views the Divine Eye as if it does not exist," he conducts himself as if the Almighty does not oversee everything. Can there be any greater hillul Hashem than this? If someone stands before the king, in his presence, and openly ignores the royal edicts, can there be any greater insult to the king? For good reason, then, the Gemara likens lashon hara to idolatry.

Indeed, just as idolaters deny Hashem's Providence, so does the speaker of lashon hara fear only the subject of his gossip, but not the Creator Who hears everything he says. He thus desecrates the Name of Hashem in the hidden chambers of his heart, and is thus liable for punishment out in the open, Heaven forbid, if he does not repent from his sinful ways.

We do not intend to bring to mind sins or offer rebuke. We simply hope to learn this lesson and improve our ways, to reinforce the notion that Hashem sees and hears - "His Glory fills the Earth!"


The Scorpion

Every scorpion has an elongated stomach that ends in the shape of a tail or with a sharp edge. This tail is capable of moving freely in all directions and contains poison - the deadly weapon of the scorpion. A scorpion sting can easily kill or paralyze small animals. Upon locating potential food, it chases after its prey and grabs it with its large cheeks. It then raises over the back its stomach that is narrow like a bow, thrusts the stinger into the enemy's flesh, and the latter is immediately poisoned. It then calmly devours the victim's insides. Although the scorpion's poison general does not endanger the lives of larger animals or certainly those of humans, it can nevertheless be awfully painful. Besides the scorpion's lack of antennas, with which many other similar insects are equipped, another difference sets it apart from other harmful creatures. Namely, it gives birth directly to newborns, rather than laying eggs. Immediately after birth, small scorpions climb onto their mother's back and "ride" until they become big enough to walk independently. This is actually quite impressive, considering that each birth produces as many as fifty youngsters, and they all climb and ride on the mother, who protects them with the help of her stinger. At what point are they considered independent and come down from the mother's back? This generally occurs around two weeks after birth, when their outermost layer of skin peels and the new skin, that grew in place of the shed skin, develops into an armor-like covering. Interestingly enough, throughout the time they ride of their mother's back, the young scorpions do not eat anything.

Just as no intelligent person would ever start up with a snake or scorpion, would never even approach or incite this dangerous creature in order to avoid physical harm, so must every Jew ensure to distance himself from spiritual danger. The main spiritual dangers come in the form of dangerous, poisonous thoughts, thoughts implanted by the yesser hara, that manage to penetrate one's mind and lead him to stumble in day-to-day life. The best way to avoid this danger is simply to make sure not to start up with, or even approach, any potential spiritual danger, and to fill one's mind with thoughts related to Torah, which affords life to its students. For one who endangers his spiritual life requires extra merit to escape unscathed, just as is the case regarding physical danger. We can only but follow the path established by David HaMelech: "Fortunate is the man who did not follow the advice of the wicked, did not stand in the path of sinners, and did not sit among an assembly of fools. But rather his drive is for the Torah of Hashem, and in His Torah he engages day and night."


The Espionage Case (15)

Flashback: The renowned defense attorney Oscar Grosenberg refused to take on the defense of Efrayim Leboviss, the young German student of the yeshivah of Radin, in whose pocket were hidden the architectural plans of the fortresses of Kovno just prior to the German invasion during World War I. The Hafess Hayyim zs"l decided to go himself to the capital city of St. Petersburg to try to persuade the attorney to defend the student, who was expected to be sentenced to death on false charges of espionage and treason.

So as to emphasize the resoluteness of his decision, the lawyer did not even welcome the Hafess Hayyim zs"l into his office. The meeting took place instead in his luxurious home. The Hafess Hayyim arrived with his two escorts, Rav Hillel Ginzburg - among the heads of his yeshivah, and Rav Yehezkel Sarna - who later became the rosh yeshivah of the Hevron yeshivah.

The lawyer welcomed them warmly and afforded them great respect. Yet, he remained steadfast in his refusal to take on the case. He feared that he would be suspected of sympathizing with a traitor and cast doubts regarding his loyalty to the authorities, especially in light of the general attitude of suspicion towards Jews. The trial, he claimed, was a lost cause from the outset.

"If I felt that the trial was a lost cause, I would not have gone through the trouble of coming here to speak to you about taking on the case," replied the Hafess Hayyim. "Also, do you really think that your arguments are good enough reasons to refuse to represent an innocent boy, not to try to save him from death?"

The lawyer responded with a question of his own: "Is the rabbi so convinced that the boy is innocent?"

"Absolutely!" answered the Hafess Hayyim emphatically. "That should be self-evident from the fact that an old, frail person like myself took the trouble to travel such a far distance during a time of war of dangerous roads on the suspect's behalf!"

"All this proves is that you are the young one, you are younger in spirit than we are," said the attorney. He then turned to his wife, who stood by the doorway, and said, "Do you know of any gentile clergyman who would take on such a grueling, dangerous journey in order to try and save a lone, strange boy?" Disgusted, the attorney stood up and left the room.

Now alone with his escorts, the Hafess Hayyim turned to them and said, "He is a good man; let us not pass judgment on him merely on account of his refusal. We mustn't judge another until we are in his place. If he would have received a Torah education, he would act differently. He is not to blame; only his education."

The lawyer returned to the room and said, "I am sorry I cannot agree to the rabbi's request. However, I just contacted my friend, a gentile attorney named Kapitan Zbiask, who agreed to take on the defense." Before the Hafess Hayyim took leave, he requested that the ssadik give his son a blessing.

The Hafess Hayyim agreed, and said to the father, "Every father wishes that his son's success surpasses his own. May it be His will that your son will devote himself to save Jews more than his father".

to be continued.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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