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Parashat Behar


What Does Shemitah Have to Do with Har Sinai?

In introducing the missvah of shemitah, our parashah opens, "Hashem said to Mosheh at Har Sinai." Hazal ask in Torat Kohanim, "What does shemitah have to do with Har Sinai?" Meaning, why does the Torah emphasize that the missvah of shemitah was taught at Sinai? "After all, all the missvot were said at Sinai!" Hazal answer, "Just as regarding shemitah, its general principles as well as details and particulars were said at Sinai, so too were all the missvot - with their general principles as well as details and particulars - from Sinai."

The Ramban zs"l explains that there are many missvot whose general guidelines alone were written in the Torah. The details were given to us through the Oral Law. For example, the missvah to wear tefillin appears explicitly in the Torah. However, the required square shape of the boxes, the requirement that the straps be colored black, the details involving the stitching, the inscription of the letter "shin" upon the tefillin shel rosh and the "yud"-shaped knot on the tefillin shel yad, and the laws relating to the parchment and print - all this was transmitted through the Torah Sh'Be'al Peh, as "halachah l'Mosheh m'Sinai." In order to negate the possibility that the details of missvot were not, Heaven forbid, given to Mosheh at Har Sinai, the Torah wrote the general missvah of shemitah immediately following Ma'amad Har Sinai (Shemot 23:10), and then repeated the missvah with its relevant details in our parashah, emphasizing that this discussion, too, originated at Sinai. In this way, it teaches us that all the specific laws relating to the missvot were taught to Mosheh Rabbenu at Sinai.

The Or Hahayim zs"l offers a different explanation for the specific relevance of Har Sinai in the context of shemitah. Shemitah applies only in Eress Yisrael, and it teaches us that Hashem, Who owns the entire universe and everything therein, willingly gave the land to us. The pasuk emphasizes, however, that the land was given to us only "at Har Sinai," meaning, as a result of our acceptance of the Torah and on condition of our fulfillment thereof. The more we attach ourselves to the heritage of Har Sinai, the stronger our hold on Eress Yisrael becomes. Conversely, the more we detach ourselves from the heritage of Har Sinai, then the more our claim to the land will be challenged. There is no other way to acquire the land other than missvah observance!

The Hid"a zs"l explains the association between shemitah and Har Sinai differently. Although we accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, one might excuse himself from diligent Torah study with the claim that his involvement in earning a livelihood does not allow him time for Torah study. The parashah of shemitah commands that one refrain from tilling the land one out of every seven years in order that he devote himself that year to Torah study. The Torah promises that nevertheless the individual will not suffer any financial loss, as Hashem's blessing will come upon the produce that it yield a supply for three years. Similarly, Hashem will offer his blessing to the work of any individual who devotes some of his time to study Torah.


The sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai

Towards the end of his life, the "Saba Kadisha," Rabbenu Shelomoh Eliezer Alapandri zs"l, dwelled in Yerushalayim. He merited an extraordinary long life, living until around one hundred and twenty years old. His health remained strong all throughout, and he retained until the end of his life his massive accumulation of knowledge in both the revealed and hidden areas of Torah.

He was once asked about someone who came to Yerushalayim and presented himself as a Kabbalist, despite the fact that he knew nothing within the revealed Torah. He spent all his time engrossed in the hidden areas. How should people relate to him?

He answered, "Who was greater in the wisdom of the Kabbalah than Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai and his son, Rabbi Eliezer? They enclosed themselves for thirteen years in a cave, a carob tree and fountain of water were provided for them, and they devoted all their energies to Torah and avodat Hashem. Tradition tells us that it was then that they composed the Zohar HaKadosh, and it was there that the fountains of wisdom were opened to them.

"In order that their clothing not wear out, they would put them on only for tefilah. The rest of the time they would cover themselves to the neck with sand and study Torah. The Gemara adds that the sand eventually dug crevices in their skin. When they left the cave, they met Rav Pinhas Ben Yair, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai's son-in-law. Rav Pinhas saw the cuts in his father-in-law's flesh and began crying. 'Woe unto me that I have seen you this way!' he exclaimed. Rabbi Shimon replied, 'Fortunate are you that you have seen me this way - for if you had not seen me this way, you would not have found me this way [in such an exalted state.]' Indeed, for every question that Rav Pinhas Ben Yair asked Rabbi Shimon, the latter provided twenty-four answers!

'The question, however, arises, was this the result of the period of study in the cave? They had grown together in the study of the mystical areas of Torah and composed the sacred Zohar! The answer is, that whoever has not earned proficiency and expertise in the revealed Torah cannot understand anything in Kabbalah. Only the remarkable brilliance and genius of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai allowed him entry into the world of the wisdom of Kabbalah."


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," by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
based on the rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

Customs and Practices During the Sefirah Period

Pirkei Avot

It is the custom of all Jews to recite the mishnayot of "Pirkei Avot" during the period of Sefirat Ha'omer. The custom is to read them on Shabbat, from the Shabbat following Pesah through Shavuot. The most basic reasons given for this custom are as follows:

a) Before Matan Torah one must learn proper midot, conduct and the means by which to acquire Torah, the basic content of Pirkei Avot, in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah.

b) During the Sefirah period, Rabbi Akiva's students perished because they did not afford honor to one another. We therefore spend time during this period reading Pirkei Avot, which teach proper conduct and good midot. c) Mosheh Rabbenu died on Shabbat after minhah, and Pirkei Avot opens with, "Mosheh received the Torah at Sinai."

d) We read Pirkei Avot in order that the ignoramuses who come to Bet Kenesset for minhah on Shabbat learn the good midot articulated in Pirkei avot.

Pesah Sheni

During the time of the Bet Hamikdash, if one could not offer the korban Pesah in its proper time due to the fact that he was ritually impure or far away from Yerushalayim, he was required to bring the korban Pesah on the fourteenth of Iyyar. Therefore, even today we call this day "Pesah Sheni" - literally, "the second Pesah" - and we increase our joy as a result of the sanctity of the day. Some have the practice of eating massah on Pesah Sheni.

Some authorities maintain that one should not fast on Pesah Sheni, while others allow fasting. According to all opinions, one may conduct a "ta'anit halom" (fast on account of a bad dream) on Pesah Sheni. Likewise, one may fast the traditional fast on the anniversary of the passing of a parent should it occur on Pesah Sheni.

Tahanun and "nefilat apayim" is not said on Pesah Sheni at minhah.

Furthermore, the chapter of "ya'ancha Hashem beyom ssarah" and that of "Tefilah l'David hateh oznecha.." are not recited at shaharit.

Lag Ba'omer

The custom is to increase our joy on Lag Ba'omer, the day of joy of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Some say that this day is the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon's passing. Even though the day of the death of ssadikim is one of crisis and rebuke, and some people have the custom of fasting on days on which ssadikim died, the anniversary of the death of Rav Shimon Bar Yohai is an exception. The reason is that he was saved from the decree of the evil Caesar who planned to kill him, and he died instead a natural death after having merited to reveal the secrets of the Torah through the writing of the Zohar HaKadosh. Additionally, Rabbi Shimon himself wanted that this day be observed as a day of intense joy. Others, however, believe that Lag Ba'omer is not the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, and the joy observed is in commemoration of the fact that on this day Rabbi Akiva began teaching his final five students, including Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, who received semicha from Rabbi Akiva.

Others maintain that Lag Ba'omer celebrates the end of the plague that kille d Rabbi Akiva's earlier students. (According to the view of the Shulhan Aruch, however, Rabbi Akiva's students stopped dying one day later, on the thirty-fourth day of the omer.)

Some have the practice of conducting special learning sessions on the night of Lag Ba'omer, and they include the praises of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai found in several places throughout the Talmud, the Zohar and the work "Adra Zuta," and this custom is good and worthwhile.

Tahanun and "nefilat apayim" are not recited on Lag Ba'omer, neither at shaharit nor at minhah. They are not recited at minhah of the previous day, either.

One may not fast on Lag Ba'omer, even in commemoration of the anniversary of the passing of a parent. Only a "ta'anit halom" may be conducted on Lag Ba'omer.

Some have the practice of making a pilgrimage to the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai at Meron (in Northern Israel) on Lag Ba'omer. This was the practice of the Ar"i zs"l. One must ensure to maintain the proper level of awe and reverence at the sacred site, and not conduct oneself with frivolity. In other places, too, there is a custom to dance with musical instruments in honor of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Some are accustomed to lighting candles and bonfires on the night of Lag Ba'omer.

Some have the custom of not cutting their sons' hair until they are three years old, and in the third year they bring the child to the burial site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai at Meron. There they cut the boy's hair, leaving the "pe'ot," and this was the practice of the Ar"i zs"l.


On Monday night, the skies will turn red from the light of Lag Ba'omer bonfires that young Jews will light in honor of the sacred tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, may his merit protect us. This custom of lighting bonfires on Lag Ba'omer dates back to antiquity, particularly at the grave of the great tanna and his son. This practice is recorded in the ancient journal "Ahavat Ssiyon," and many reasons have been suggested for it. It seems that this custom contains within it a critical lesson. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai revealed the inner concepts of the Torah and, similarly, demanded the internal service of Hashem, that prayer emanate from one's heart and Torah be studied with the proper intention and motivation: "Torah without love and reverence does not soar upwards."

One of the gedolim compared this principle to a bonfire. If we kindle a purely flammable substance, then the entire flame rises leaving nothing behind. If, however, we burn wood, then the flame rises but leaves behind ashes and coals.

Similarly, when we perform missvot, only our pure, pristine intentions rise. The ashes, meaning, that which we perform without proper intention, still wait to rise, to be perfected. Therefore, what can we say about those who light bonfires only for the remaining embers for roasting potatoes?

We are only too familiar with this type of missvah performance.


The "Olelot Efrayim" zs"l was once asked to explain the missvah of Shemitah, which appears at the beginning of our parashah and will take effect next year in Israel. He began his explanation with a parable presented by Rav Yisshak Aramah zs"l, in his work "Akeidat Yisshak" (on Parashat Aharei Mot).

A king once built an exquisite palace. When the construction was completed, he called in an artisan to furnish it. The craftsman came to look at the palace and said, "How great it would be if only I could blend in natural silk furnishings, with silk curtains in matching colors!"

"Okay, so go right ahead!" replied the king.

"I would need so many rolls of silk, which is so expensive, as it originates in China."

"Don't worry about a thing," assured the king. "I will provide you with everything you need!"

He immediately called in one of his servants and said, "I heard that in China they afford great value to glass finely cut like diamonds. Take a box of glass and exchange for them rolls of fine silk."

The servant arrived in China and discovered that he carried with him an invaluable treasure. Merchants gathered round his door to offer enormous sums of money for the glass that he had brought. He took the money and invested in other merchandise, sell and bought some more, and he became wealthier and wealthier. In the meantime, the king's palace lay desolate, without any furniture or curtains.

Months passed by, and eventually he remembered his home country and missed his family and friends. He sold his assets and property, his massive holdings that he had acquired, and exchanged everything for the most precious commodity in China - fine-cut glass. He loaded a caravan of camels with the cartons of glass and headed back home. He was ever so excited - upon his return he will be the wealthiest man around! Unfortunately, however, as he reached his country's boundaries a sandstorm broke out and buried the entire caravan and their cargo. He was miraculously saved, but he returned home empty-handed.

He was rushed to the palace and appeared before the king. He broke out into tears and told the king of the devastating storm.

"Do not worry," guaranteed the king, "I will send my servants to dig beneath the sand. How many rolls of silk were in the buried caravan?"

"Rolls of silk?!" he exclaimed disdainfully. "I brought with me cartons filled to the rim with fine-cut glass!"

"Glass?!" bellowed the king. "Isn't that why I sent you all the way to China in the first place, to bring back for me rolls of silk!" The king ordered that the fool be sent to the dungeon, where he had plenty of time to think about his stupidity and shameful neglect of responsibility.

Similarly, the soul was sent to this world in order to accumulate Torah and missvot, with which it will furnish its palace in Gan Eden. To this end it was given a livelihood, money through which it can perform missvot - educate his children in Torah, perform acts of kindness, give charity, support Torah institutions, and spend every available moment studying Torah.

Unfortunately, however, many people forget the main thing and involve themselves instead in the inferior pursuits. They neglect Torah and missvot and devote their time and energy to the endless accumulation of wealth. Therefore, we were commanded to cease agricultural work every seven years. This reminds us that Hashem owns the universe and everything therein.

Likewise, every fifty years we must observe a jubilee year, so that we remember "that you are but foreigners and temporary dwellers with Me."

The land returns to its original owner, symbolizing the fact that we will eventually return to our "owner," we will stand trial for our conduct.

Then we will not show any "cartons of fine-cut glass": "A person is accompanied without silver, gold, fine stones or jewels; only with Torah and good deeds."


Every person experiences vexing moments in his life, times that he would like to eradicate from his memory, and, even more so, from the memories of those who saw or heard. Perhaps it was a sudden blurt of the mouth, a failure of some sort, an inappropriate comment that should never have been uttered. We want so much that these moments be forgotten and disappear from memory, and we hope that in fact they have.

Interestingly, though, when we see another person stumble, slip, or behave improperly, and we know how embarrassed and miserable he is as a result, how do we react? Do we try to look away, not to pay attention to him at his moment of failure? Do we do to him what we wish people did to us when we experience such shameful periods, remove the entire incident from our hearts and minds, do our best not to remember, and, of course, avoid telling others and expanding the circle of those who know and scorn?

Most importantly, are we careful never to mention the incident to his face, however indirectly? After all, this constitutes a Torah violation, as explicated in this week's parashah: "Do not abuse one another." The Sefer Hahinuch explains (missvah 338), "In other words, we shouldn't say to a Jew things that will upset and distress him." He adds that one must be careful that his speech to another does not even contain a hint of something that will be upsetting, "because the Torah was very adamant about verbal abuse, since it is very difficult for people's hearts and many people care more about that than money."

Let us think, how wonderful it would be if we would live in a forgiving society, that doesn't store in its memory moments of embarrassment and shame, and allows for the possibility of their erasure, the opening of a new page and starting anew. If everyone will accept upon himself not to relish the failures of others, their shortcomings and mistakes, we would be far better off. Why not each person begin maintaining this standard in his own life, until this becomes the general convention?

Furthermore, we all wish that in the Heavens our embarrassing moments, which we want to forget, will be overlooked. Whoever conducts himself this way towards others is guaranteed similar treatment in the Heavens - is there any greater benefit than that?


Matches and Fire

Impossible as it may seem, there were no matches until approximately two hundred years ago. So, what did people do when a great need arose for fire, either for heating, cooking or just a cup of tea? They had no choice but to rub together stone and steel. In fact, today, too, similar techniques are used for igniting fire. The first match appeared in England around 170 years ago, as a result of the invention of an English chemist. It was a wooden chip, whose head containeda chemical compound that ignited when rubbed against glass. But these matches were awfully dangerous, as they would light even without intentional rubbing. Wagons transporting these matches that jostled along the way even slightly would catch fire and burn down. Later, the match more familiar to us emerged. It is incapable of lighting unintentionally since the phosphorus, which causes the ignition, was removed from the chemical compound of the match's head and transferred to the wall of the matchbox. The result of the match, fire, constitutes one of the most wondrous features of creation. Fire is the creation of the glowing of burning gases through their contact with oxygen, until it receives an impressive, shiny color. Fire was created on Mossa'ei Shabbat:

"The Almighty gave wisdom to Adam. and he brought two stones and ground them together, and fire emerged from them" (Pesahim 54a). This is why we recite on Mossa'ei Shabbat the berachah, "borei me'orei ha'esh," since that is when fire came into existence. The early sages explain that fire comprises one of the four basic elements in the world: fire, wind, water and dirt (Hovot Halevavot, Sha'ar Hayihud 5). Fire is used for light, warmth and electricity.

Three conditions are necessary for the production of fire: a flammable substance, meaning, some substance capable of fusing with oxygen in a manner that allows for burning; the presence of oxygen, without which fire is impossible; and a temperature sufficient for the igniting of the burnt substance.

The term "fire" is often used to refer to intense excitement. This degree of enthusiasm is seen in many great people who reveal the immense good and singular truth latent in the Torah. When a Jew notices that several years have passed without experiencing the fire of Torah, the natural, healthy feeling within him is aroused that tells him not to lose anymore time and to make up for that which was lost, to grow and develop further from this point on. He then ignites and burns, he serves Hashem like a fiery flame. The important thing is to maintain the fire and ensure that it does not diminish, to add "lighter fluid," if you will - by setting times for the study of Torah.


The Espionage Case (13)

Flashback: During the stormy days of World War I, the architectural plans of the fortresses of Kovno were hidden by a Russian provocateur in the pocket of Efrayim Leboviss, a native German learning in the yeshivah in Radin. The boy was arrested on the charges of wartime espionage, and when the Russians retreated he was taken to the country's interior. Two years later, he was discovered in a prison in the city of Panzah, and he had but one request of a friend who secretly came to the prison to meet with him - that his trial be expedited so as to end the torture of uncertainty.

Following his rebbe's order, the Hafess Hayyim's student worked with all his might on behalf of Efrayim, and he met with success. On Shemini Asseret 5677, the mailman arrived with a registered telegram for Rabbi Kagan - the Hafess Hayyim, who lived with his yeshivah in the city of Shumiass.

Registered telegrams always aroused suspicion, as they generally did not report good tidings, especially not at the height of war when they lived as refugees in a foreign city. They told the gentile mailman that they cannot open the envelope until after the festival, so he angrily opened it and dictated the telegram: the army base in the regional capital of Vitebsk informs that Efrayim Leboviss will soon stand trial, and he must choose an attorney to defend him against charges of treason and infringement upon national security.

When the Hafess Hayyim was called for an aliyah to the Torah, before he recited the berachah he banged his hand on the bimah and broke out in bitter crying. He shouted, "Master of the World! You are, after all, the Master of Compassion - how do You allow your children to suffer so much? Tens of thousands of people are suffering on the battlefields, their lives endangered. Tens of thousands suffer from hunger, their livelihood having been cut off. Tens of thousands of women live alone, suffering from their uncertainty of their husbands' fate, and masses of Jewish children cannot learn. Merciful Father, here stands the Torah that Efrayim studied so diligently; it adequately testifies to his remarkable devotion. And now he suffers so, even though he did nothing wrong!"

Upon hearing the ssadik's heartfelt plea, everyone broke out in bitter crying. The crying had become so intense that the Hafess Hayyim turned to his son-in-law, the Rosh Yeshivah Rav Ssevi Levinson, and asked him to calm the people. After all, it was a Yom Tov, and it required that people experience sincere joy.

Immediately following the tefilah the Hafess Hayyim turned his attention to locating the finest lawyer. Everyone he asked unanimously recommended Oscar Grosenberg, who had earned a widespread reputation after his brilliant defense of Bailis against a blood libel.

To be continued.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

Produced by Cong. Bnai Yosef and the Aram Soba Foundation - translated from Ma'ayan Hashavua in Israel

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