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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a on Rosh Hodesh Sivan
The Megilah of Hessed
The Midrash notes that Megilat Rut presents no halachot; it comes to teach us only the great power of those who perform acts of hessed (kindness). Kindness is the primary heritage of our patriarch, Avraham, the pillar of hessed. Rut devoted her life to remain with Na'omi and assist her and attached herself to Boaz, a man of hessed. Together, they founded the royal dynasty of David and his descendants. Her kindness becomes especially apparent off the background of the indifference displayed by Elimelech. A wealthy and prominent leader of his time, Elimelech feared that with the onset of famine masses would throng to him for sustenance. He therefore turned his back on his people, took his family and left to Moav. Upon the death of Elimelech and his two sons, Na'omi heard that the famine had ended and went to return home to Eress Yisrael. She told her widowed daughters-in-law to stay in Moav, as given their age, poverty and nationality it was unlikely that they would find husbands in Eress Yisrael. But Rut insisted on joining Na'omi, even though this entailed accepting upon herself all the laws of the Torah. Upon their return to Bet Lehem, their relative, Boaz, offered Na'omi and Rut great wealth. However, they refused to take anything beyond the gifts provided by the Torah itself, the few sheaves of grain that fall during the harvest. Rut's modest and selfless conduct caught Boaz' attention. Although others questioned whether Moavite women are allowed into Am Yisrael, Boaz knew that this was the halachah. He therefore treated Rut with exceptional kindness, for beyond the misvah of loving every Jew, the Torah requires that we love converts even more. We are commanded to encourage them and assist them to the best of our ability.
Boaz acknowledged Rut's kindness in joining her mother-in-law and told her, "Hashem shall pay you for your deed, and your payment shall be complete. " At first glance, this sentence sounds repetitive. It is explained, however, based on the comment of the Zohar that our performance of misvot produces for us a spiritual "garment" in the heavens. The souls that rise to the heavens are dressed in the garment they themselves had produced through their performance of misvot; souls with no misvot to their credit will have no spiritual clothing in the next world. But besides this clothing worn by the souls, each soul will also receive its full portion in the world to come. To this Boaz refers in his blessing to Rut. Hashem shall grant her the "spiritual garment" woven by her great kindness, and, in addition, he shall pay her for her actions with a "complete" portion in the world to come.
May Hashem make our portion together with that of the sadikim, in both this world and the next!
The trap of error is spread over all of humanity; by definition, the human being is prone to make mistakes. Hazal even said about Moshe, the greatest of the prophets, that at times he committed errors.
Our parashah records in detail an innocent mistake made by Miriam, who thought that her brother, Moshe Rabbenu, was at the same level as other prophets. She did not realize that he was exalted beyond the rest, at a qualitatively different level, which dictated his unique conduct and abstinence. For this she was not forgiven. The Creator revealed Himself immediately and punished the sacred prophetess Miriam, whom the Gemara describes as one of the great leaders of her generation. She was smitten with sara'at, a punishment considered equivalent to death. Why? She did not sin intentionally; she made an honest mistake of not realizing her brother's exalted status.
The answer is that although this was just a mistake, nevertheless, as Hashem tells Miriam and Aharon, "Why were you not afraid to speak about My servant, Moshe?" Even according to their mistaken notion, they had no right to second-guess Moshe. He was the servant of Hashem, the one who brought us the Torah. He certainly had his reasons for his conduct - woe unto the one who questions his actions!
The Torah is eternal, and there is a Moshe Rabbenu in every generation. Fortunate is the one who submits to his authority, and woe unto the one who arrogantly opposes him!
Two weeks ago, on Shabbat Parashat Bemidbar, we read the arrangement of Benei Yisrael's encampment around the mishkan and of their travel: "Just as they would encamp, so would they travel, each in position by their banners" (2:17). That parashah would appear to be the logical place for the Humash to record Moshe's declaration when the aron began traveling forward -- "Rise, Hashem, and Your enemies shall scatter, and Your foes shall flee from before You" -- and when it came to rest - "Return, Hashem, to the tens and thousands of Yisrael." However, these two pesukim were removed from their natural location and transferred to our parashah. They are surrounded by two unusual symbols, of an upside-down letter "nun," which teach us that these pesukim are situated out of place, so-to-speak. They appear here in order to separate between calamities. If they had not been transferred to this location, then the eternal Torah would have recorded two sins one right after the other, thereby arousing heavenly prosecution against Benei Yisrael with unpredictable, potentially catastrophic results, Heaven forbid. In His kindness, Hashem moved these pesukim to this location so as to separate between the sins. In light of these comments of Hazal, let us look inside the Humash and examine the sins of which the Midrash speaks. The second sin appears explicitly in the Humash, immediately after the two "transplanted" pesukim: the parashah of the "mitonenim," of Benei Yisrael's inappropriate complaints. Before the two pesukim, however, we do not find mention of any sin. The Torah rather states, "They traveled from the mountain of Hashem a three-day trip." That is all. Tosafot (Shabbat 116a) and Ramban (here) explain, based on the Midrash, that they left Har Sinai enthusiastically, as a small child runs from school, afraid of receiving more misvot. To this the pasuk refers when it says, "They traveled from the mountain of Hashem." The Ramban adds that the Midrash refers to their sin as a "calamity" because if not for this sin of theirs, Hashem would have brought them into the land immediately. Were this to have happened, Moshe Rabbenu would have led them, he would have been the redeemer, and he would have built for us the Bet Hamikdash. Since the work of Moshe Rabbenu could never be undone, the Bet Hamikdash would never have been destroyed. We would have been in the period of redemption already for three thousand years and have spared ourselves from all the decrees and exiles, tens of thousands of sacrifices of blood, troubles, crises and oceans of tears!
How are we to understand this, that we brought all this upon ourselves just by leaving Har Sinai quickly?
The answer lies in the very same symbols that surround the brief parashah of "Vayehi Binso'a" - the upside-down letter "nun." Why did the Torah choose specifically this letter, and why does it appear upside-down? The Keli Yakar zs"l views these symbols as a beautiful allusion to a concept that emerges from the Gemara towards the end of Masechet Berachot. Rabbi Akiva continued teaching Torah in public even in the face of decrees forbidding Torah study. When asked as to why he risked his life, he compared Benei Yisrael to a fish that will never go onto dry land, even when fishermen try to trap it in the sea. If they must fear for their lives where they normally live, would they relocate to a place where they will surely die?! Similarly, the study of the Torah is the place where we live: "for they are our lives and the length of our days." How much devastation will we suffer if we "leave the water" and stop learning Torah!
If Am Yisrael genuinely sensed this quality of Torah, they would not have detached themselves so quickly from Har Sinai, from the place where they received the Torah and its misvot. If they left quickly and easily, then they demonstrated that they are an "upside-down 'nun.'" "Nun" in Aramaic means fish. An "upside-down fish" is one that prefers living on dry land rather than in water. They thus showed that they were not worthy of redemption, of lives of pure spirituality and the pleasantness of Hashem, the light of the Torah and the fulfillment of misvot! How critical is this message for us and our generation. We stand on the brink of redemption, and we long for it with each passing day. But let us take an honest look into ourselves. Are we deserving of lives of spirituality? Are we ready for it? How will we know? By looking and seeing: do we run from the Bet Kenesset after tefilah? Do we look at the clock in anticipation of the end of Shabbat?.
Reb Nehumke (5)
Flashback: Already at ten years of age, Nehumke had never gone to a Torah school, since his impoverished father could not afford to pay tuition. Finally, he was offered a job supervising the beer production in the factory in the estate of the renowned Yehudah Leib Ganker. Although the poverty finally ended with the new, profitable job, the isolated estate provided no opportunities for Torah education. The boy instead spent his days running around throughout the estate, and one day the wealthy owner met him and invited him to his home for dinner.
This was the first time Nahumke encountered the home of a wealthy man. His eyes couldn't get enough. He curiously surveyed everything, from the carpet by his feet to the elaborate chandelier above his head. He studied the colorful wallpaper, glass-covered bookcases, lavish tablecloth spread over the table, and the chairs sparkling from their beautiful upholstery. The wealthy man sat, dressed in a flowery, silk cloak, and spoke kindly with the young boy. "Have you recited arbit?" he asked. The boy responded in the negative, and Rabbi Yehudah Leib continued, "Go pray towards this direction, there in the corner, and afterwards we will sit down to eat."
Nahumke stood to pray as he learned from his father in the old beer factory, during those brief breaks during work. He had a sensitive soul and a pure, pristine heart. If during the day he wasted time running around wildly, he released his powerful emotions during tefilah. He would pour out his heart with the beautiful tunes in which he learned from his father to sing Tehillim. The child would select, based on his feelings, some tunes for the tefilot, as well. He stood in the corner, lowered his head, clasped his hands and closed his hands. He did not realize that the entire palace became filled with the echoes of his beautiful voice singing his compositions. The wealthy man jumped from his chair, his wife ran in from her room, the cook stood by the doorway to the kitchen, and the maid came in from the entranceway. They all listened attentively until the boy completed the Amidah, and then he proceeded to sing "alenu leshabe'ah." The wealthy man thought to himself, "If only I would say 'alenu' during 'malchuyot' in the Rosh Hashanah service as this boy says it on a regular weekday in a stranger's house!" Inspired, he stood from his chair, placed his hand on the boy's shoulder, and said, "Come, let us wash our hands."
They washed their hands for the meal and were joined by the man's wife. A pleasant conversation ensued and the boy was distracted from the delicacies on the table. The host turned out to be a sharp, brilliant talker. He presented complex riddles that the child solved instantly, much to the joy of the man and the wonder of his wife. Little did the boy know that he sat at a test and was passing with flying colors. In the middle of the meal, however, everything reversed. The wealthy host stopped asking sharp riddles and began testing the boy's knowledge. The child had to admit that he knew no Gemara, nor did he even study mishnah. As the process continued, he realized that his answers caused distress and disappointment. Eventually, the questioning stopped, and the rest of the meal proceeded in total silence.
To be continued
The sacred sage, the "Peri Ha'aress" zs"l, would always write after his signature, "the truly lowly one." Once his student asked him, "Rebbi, this is Torah, and I must learn it. When can a person testify about himself that he is 'truly lowly'?"
He said, "If a person - no matter who he is -- comes and calls for him without telling him for what, and he follows him throughout the city without asking anything, he may sign his name with this title."
This reminds us of a pasuk in our parashah: "The man, Moshe was more humble than any man on the face of the earth." We are likewise reminded of the story recorded in the Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati 32) about Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi who stood with Eliyahu Hanavi on Mount Carmel. He asked Eliyahu Hanavi to show him the special stones that will be revealed to us in the future. At that time, a boat sailed in the Mediterranean Sea and was tossed by a violent storm. Eliyahu Hanavi appeared to a young, Jewish passenger and informed him that if he would accept a certain mission, Eliyahu would save the boat in his merit. The boy agreed. The prophet gave him the special stones and instructed him to show them to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi. He told him that the sage could be found sitting in the great yeshivah in Lod. Finally, Eliyahu told the youngster not to show the rabbi the stones there, in the yeshivah, but rather in the cave of Lod.
The boy went and asked Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi to follow him. They arrived at the cave, and the child showed the rabbi the magnificent stones. The entire city of Lod glistened from their shine. As soon as Rabbi Yehoshua saw them, he became frightened and threw them onto the ground, where they were then buried.
Once again, we find a remarkable example of humility. The great sage of the generation sits and teaches, when some unknown youngster comes by and asks him to follow him. He doesn't ask any questions, but follows the boy outside the city and into a cave. Such a person is worthy of beholding the sacred stones!
"When the ark traveled, Moshe would say"
Immediately after these two pesukim ("Vayehi binso'a ha'aron"; "Uv'nuho yomar"), the Torah tells of the people's complaints and Hashem's ensuing punishment. The Torah does not, however, inform us as to about what specifically the people complained. The Abarbanel zs"l explains that their sin relates to the immediately preceding parashah, of "Vayehi binso'a ha'aron." When the Creator wished that the nation continue its journey after a period of rest, He waited for Moshe Rabbenu's declaration. Understanding that this was the will of Hashem, Moshe announced, "Kumah Hashem!" ("Rise, Hashem"). The cloud would then rise from the mishkan and all of Benei Yisrael would embark on their journey. In this way, the Shechinah afforded honor to Moshe Rabbenu. But the cynics would say, "This is but a prayer for naught! When Moshe would see the cloud beginning to rise, he would quickly make his proclamation. In truth, he does not cause the cloud to rise or descend." The pasuk here tells us that Hashem was angered by their comments and punished them accordingly.
From then and through today, we see that "the sadik decrees, and the Al-mighty obeys." We have seen the power of the blessings and promises of the gedolei Torah and sadikim. Although we will always find skeptics, who would claim that the patient would have recovered in any event or the business would have succeeded without the berachah, they should know that such talk is evil in Hashem's eyes. They are likely to cause anger on the part of the Al-mighty!
"When the ark traveled, Moshe would say"
What did Moshe mean when he declared, "Rise, Hashem, and Your enemies shall scatter"? Nowhere do we find that the aron scattered the enemies. Pinhas had to wage war against Midyan, and Moshe Rabbenu fought against Sihon and Og; these enemies didn't just flee!
Rabbenu Ovadia Seforno zs"l explains that had Benei Yisrael not sent scouts to the land to plan natural means of conquest, it would have occurred miraculously. The nations of Canaan would have fled like the Horesh and Amir who left Eress Yisrael in fear of Benei Yisrael (Yeshayahu 17:9). However, once Benei Yisrael sent the scouts, then Hashem dealt with them accordingly, and the conquest lasted seven years.
"When the ark traveled, Moshe would say"
Rabbi Eliyahu Yaloz zs"l, rabbi of Tiberias, in his work, "Patah Eliyahu," notes that this pasuk contains twelve words corresponding to the twelve tribes of Yisrael. This teaches us that when the entire nation, including all its tribes, factions and groups, unite together as one person with one heart, the Shechinah rests upon them and the enemies flee from before them. When, however, the nation is plagued by divisiveness, then victory becomes distant, Heaven forbid.
"When the ark traveled, Mosheh would say"
The Alshich zs"l offers a beautiful interpretation to this pasuk. When Benei Yisrael would encamp, erect the mishkan, perform the sacred avodah therein, study Torah from Moshe and perform misvot, it was a time of favor in the heavens. But when they took apart the mishkan and embarked on their journey, there was an element of exile for the Shechinah and it was a time of anger. This is why the pasuk writes, "VAYEHI binso'a ha'aron," since "vayehi" always implies some crisis. Moshe would then declare, "Rise, Hashem, and Your enemies shall scatter," meaning, he implores the Al-mighty to cast the attribute of justice upon Yisrael's enemies, to pour His anger over them and destroy them. But when the aron came to rest, and the time of mercy and compassion returned, Moshe would announce, "Return, Hashem, to the tens of thousands of Yisrael." He prays that the goodness of the attribute of mercy shall be directed towards Am Yisrael.
"Hashem said suddenly"
In our parashah we read of how Moshe's sister, Miriam the prophetess, expressed wonder over Moshe's conduct in the presence of her other brother, Aharon. Hashem immediately revealed Himself to them, reprimanded her and punished her. He did not administer a punishment that she could hide; she was rather quarantined for a full week with the entire nation well aware of her condition.
Why? This matter becomes clear in light of the story recorded in the Gemara (Ta'anit 25b) about a public fast day declared as a result of a severe drought. Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol led the prayer service and recited twenty-four berachot, but his prayers went unanswered. His student, Rabbi Akiva, went to the lead the service and said, "Our Father, our King, we have no King other than You. Our Father, our King, for Your sake, have compassion on us." After his prayer, rain began falling. The scholars began discussing why Hashem ignored the tefilot of Rabbi Eliezer and accepted those of his student. A heavenly voice then declared, "This was not because this one is greater than that one, but rather because this one acts with forbearance, and this one does act with forbearance." Meaning, Rabbi Eliezer was a student of Bet Shammai who upheld the strict letter of the law. His prayers were therefore responded to with the strict attribute of justice. In any event, one thing we see from this story: when rumors begin spreading, when the concern for an infraction on the respect of Torah arises, when people start questioning the spiritual leader of the generation, Hashem acts quickly and immediately issues a heavenly voice. Indeed, the Gemara writes (Berachot 19a) that Hashem Himself avenges the honor of Torah scholars.
On this basis we can better understand the story in the Midrash (cited by Rashi, Sanhedrin 44b) about a wicked person who died on the same day as did a prominent scholar in the same community. The entire city came to participate in the funeral of the latter, while the family of the wicked person took their relative's coffin for burial. Suddenly, enemies attacked and everyone left the coffins and ran, with the exception of a student of the deceased sage who remained with his mentor's coffin. Some time later, the townspeople came to bury the rabbi, but they switched the two coffins. The student's cries met with deaf ears, and the townspeople buried the wicked man while the wicked man's relatives buried the sadik. The student was terribly distressed and wondered what sin could have brought this disgrace upon his revered rabbi and what merit the wicked man had earned to receive this honor. His rabbi came to him in a dream and comforted him, showing him his glory in Gan Eden and the rasha's punishment in Gehinnom. However, he explained, he once heard an insult against a certain scholar and did not protest; for this he was punished. Additionally, the wicked man once prepared a meal for a local dignitary who in the end didn't show up, and so he distributed the food to the poor. For this he was rewarded. When the rabbi was buried disrespectfully and the student began wondering about his rabbi's sins, his rabbi was immediately sent from the heavens to clarify the issue, because questioning one's rabbi effectively destroys the Torah, Heaven forbid.
Let us learn the lesson, and the fear of our rabbi should be upon us like the fear of Heaven.
Responsa and 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
A. If one did not become obligated in one of the birchot hashahar (morning blessings), such as if he did not hear the rooster in the morning or did not put on his clothing or belt, must he recite the respective berachah - "hanoten lasechvi binah" (for hearing the rooster), "malbish arumim" (for putting on clothing), and "ozer Yisrael bigvurah" (for wearing a belt)?
B. Does a blind person recite each morning the berachah, "poke'ah ivrim" (who opens the eyes of the blind)?
C. Does a deaf person recite each morning the berachah "henoten lasechvi vinah" (recited over hearing the rooster)?
A. One recites all birchot hashahar even if he did not experience the given phenomenon referred to by one of the berachot. Thus, even one who did not hear the rooster's crow or put on his clothing or belt recites the respective berachot (Yabi'a Omer vol. 5, Orah Hayyim 10:3; see also Yabi'a Omer vol. 2, Orah Hayyim 25:13; Yehaveh Da'at vol. 4, 21 in footnote on p. 121).
B. A blind person who wishes to recite the berachah of "poke'ah ivrim" should not be discouraged from doing so, as he has authorities on whom to rely. Nevertheless, should he present the question as to whether or not he should recite the berachah, he should be instructed not to, since we never recite berachot whose requirement are in doubt. According to all views, a blind person does recite the berachah of, "hanoten lasechvi bina." (Yabi'a Omer vol. 5, Orah Hayyim 10:3.)
C. A deaf person may recite the berachah of "hanoten lasechvi. "
Should one recite the berachah of, "she'asah li kol sorki," which relates to the placing of shoes, on Yom Kippur and Tisha Be'Av, when we do not wear shoes?
The Kabbalists are of the opinion that one should not recite this berachah with "Shem" and "Malchut" (meaning, "Hashem Elokenu Melech Ha'olam") on Yom Kippur and Tisha Be'Av, on which wearing shoes is forbidden. Nevertheless, those who are accustomed to reciting this berachah on these days have authorities on whom to rely. It is proper for them to put on shoes after the fast (and this indeed is the practice of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a). (Yabi'a Omer vol. 2, Orah Hayyim 25:15.)
From here we also learn that a mourner during shivah, who may not wear shoes, nevertheless recites this berachah, with "Shem" and "Malchut."
Should women recite birkot hashahar each morning?
Women recite birkot hashahar each day but omit the berachah of "shelo asani ishah." They instead recite "she'asani kirsono" but without "Shem" and "Malchut." It is a sacred obligation for teachers to instruct their female students to say this berachah without "Shem" and "Malchut" (Yehaveh Da'at 4:4).
Women should recite the feminine form when reciting birkot hashahar - "shelo asani goyah"; "shelo asani shifhah." They should recite these berachot with "Shem" and "Malchut."
Among the immense family of snails, around five hundred species are poisonous. The poisonous snail digs for itself a hiding place in the sand and when a fish approaches, it shoots a thin thread from its mouth. The passing fish tries innocently to bite it, at which point a sharp stinger bursts from within the tube and penetrates into one of the fish's inner membranes. It then releases a deadly poison that paralyzes the victim. The snail pulls the fish toward it and swallows it. Around an hour and a half later, it expels the bones, fins and scales from its mouth, thus bringing its meal to an end. In this manner the snail manages to catch different types of fish, including those of its own size. The poison contains different components that together cause the fish's paralysis. In fact, one of the poisons emitted by snails very much resembles that produced by the cobra. How does the poison work? It becomes attached to a certain part of the body, at a point where the nerve and muscle meet. Now the function of the nerve is to transmit sensory information, which it accomplishes through the muscle. The poison simply halts the operation of the nerve, such that it cannot activate the muscle. The fish thus becomes paralyzed. Six years of scientific research showed that virtually every type of snail has its own, unique poison, and its special composition allows it to prevent pain, rendering it useful in treating human patients.
Although the snail's poison cannot cure, but merely soothe pain, it nevertheless provides relief to patients. It allows for treatment of patients without pain to the point of full recovery. All this is fine and good when dealing with physical health. When dealing with spiritual health, however, a brief, temporary solution can be harmful and even border on calamitous. A person who feels spiritual emptiness and looks for temporary relief by engaging in something that numbs the natural thirst for Torah and misvot will likely lose the opportunity to live a full life of Torah and earn eternal life. We Jews know that when a person experiences a yearning for something hidden, a longing for spirituality, he must find a suitable rabbi to teach him the way to grow in avodat Hashem. He will then experience the genuinely soothing feeling of, "that I dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of Hashem."
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
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