ARAM SOBA FOUNDATION NEWSLETTERBack to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
This week's parashah promises those who study Torah and observe its misvot that "five from you will chase after one hundred, and one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand." Rashi notes the discrepancy between the two proportions in the pasuk. If five people can chase one hundred, than a hundred can chase only two thousand, not ten thousand. He answers, "the few who observe the Torah are not the same as the many who observe the Torah." The strength of the many intensifies and increases several times over the merit yielded by the performance of a misvah. The greater the numbers, the more the merit multiplies. Thus, the individuals in that large group, each of whom constitutes a member of the large gathering, receives even greater reward by virtue of the public nature of the misvah. Herein lies the greatness of public Torah study. The presence of the Shechinah becomes stronger in proportion to the attendance at the public gathering (Berachot 49b), especially for the misvah of Torah study (Avot 3:6; Berachot 6b). The largest Torah class delivered in the world is the weekly shiur of our rabbi Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, to which thousands of Jews listen through satellite transmission as well as radio waves. Not only does the shiur bring merit to Am Yisrael through the thousands of hours of Torah study generated, but this merit is multiplied innumerable times as it involves "the many who perform a misvah." Each listener thus earns an abundance of merit for taking part in this public Torah study project!
Our parashah introduces the misvah of shemittah with the following words: "Hashem said to Moshe at Mount Sinai, saying." Rashi asks, wherein lies the connection between shemittah and Har Sinai? He answers, "Just as shemittah - its general principles and details were stated at Sinai, so with all the misvot - their general principles and details were stated at Sinai." The question, however, arises, if this is indeed the case regarding all misvot, then why did the Torah choose to emphasize this point specifically in the context of shemittah? Apparently, some inherent relationship exists between this misvah and Har Sinai.
All of existence is divided into three classifications: place, time, and man (as established in Sefer Hayessirah). Ma'amad Har Sinai and the shemittah year observed in Eress Yisrael are defined in terms of a place and time, respectively. However, the concepts of "Sinai" and "shemittah" apply to souls, as well. Certain unique people bear the quality of "Sinai" (as the Gemara refers to Rav Yosef, who acquired proficiency in the entire Torah as it was transmitted at Sinai - Berachot 60a, Eruvin 30a, Mo'ed Katan 12a; likewise, Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai dreamt that he and students stood at Har Sinai - Hagigah 14b), in the sense that "Torah is beloved by its students every day like the day it was given at Har Sinai" (Berachot 63b). It is therefore studied with awe, reverence, fear and dread, just as it was received (ibid., 22a). As we know, however, people of this stature are far and few between (see Sukkah 45b). Most Jews are busy making a living and earning their livelihood. What about Torah? Is it impossible for them to earn a portion in Torah, Heaven forbid? Wasn't the Torah given to all of Benei Yisrael? "The Al-mighty said to Yisrael, did I not write for you in My Torah, 'This Torah scroll shall not leave your mouth'?! Even if you engage in work all six days, Shabbat shall be devoted entirely to Torah. For the Al-mighty has no rest except with those who study Torah" (Tana Debei Eliyah Rabbah, 1).
The shemittah year in reference to the other years parallels the place of Shabbat among the other days of the week. "The Al-mighty created seven days, and chose Shabbat; He created years, and chose shemittah, as it says, 'The land shall observe a shabbat for Hashem.'" For an entire year, the farmer refrains from his work and dedicates his time to Torah study, just as Shabbat is designated for learning.
It appears, then, that the nation consists of two sectors: those who devote their entire lives to Torah study, and those who dedicate the day of rest and their vacation time to this pursuit. If you will, the nation is composed of the people of "Sinai" and those of "shemittah." The Torah comes along at the beginning of our parashah and tells us that this is not the case at all: Sinai and shemitta have everything to do with one another! When one ascend to the heavens, if he had dedicated his free time to Torah study, then he will receive reward as if he had devoted his entire life to learning. So writes the Hafess Haim zs"l ("Shem Olam," chap. 5), explaining that it can be assumed that were this person not to have been occupied with securing a livelihood, he would have devoted all his time to learning. (See Nimukei Yossef, beginning of Hilchot Sefer Torah.)
This explains for us the comments of the Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 2, 20b) regarding the pasuk, "My beloved is mine, and I am his, who browses among the lilies" (Shir Hashirim 2:16). The Zohar comments on the final clause of the pasuk, "who leads His world for six years, and the seventh is a shabbat for Hashem." At first glance, these comments appear incomprehensible. Furthermore, the Ar"i writes that the word "shoshanim" (lilies) in this pasuk alludes to "shesh shinim," the six instances of the letter "shin" at the beginning of the words in the pasuk in our parashah, "You shall count for yourself seven weeks of years, seven years seven times." These forty-nine years lead to the yovel year, which is also observed as a shemittah year. What does all this mean?
Rabbenu Shemuel Vital zs"l (in Sha'ar Hapesukim") explains that one who dedicates Shabbat to participation in Torah classes, and treats his vacation time like shemittah and yovel, will experience the fulfillment of the pasuk, "My beloved is mine, and I am His, who browses among the lilies." We are considered His, as if we had spent the entire week engaged in Torah study. Fortunate is the one who hears a Torah class on Shabbat, who is then considered to have learned throughout the entire workweek!
"If you walk in accordance with My laws"
The Gemara (Kiddushin 71a) makes reference to the divine Name of forty-two letters (which is alluded to in the first letters of the sentences in the hymn, "Ana Beko'ah"). The Zohar writes (vol. 3, 256b) that it is to this Name that the pasuk refers when it says, "This is the gate to Hashem, the righteous walk through it." The precise nature of this Name is known to those proficient in the mystical studies (and it is explained in Ess Hayyim, Sha'ar 9, 82:440). For good reason, the Or Hahayyim Hakadosh explained the pasuk "if you walk in accordance with My laws" in forty-two ways. We cite here only several of his beautiful commentaries:
"If you walk in accordance with My laws": Hazal explain this as a reference to exertion in Torah learning. Why does the Torah refer to learning as a "hok" ("Behukotai"), which generally denotes a misvah whose reason we cannot understand? Is not the reason for this misvah obvious-so that we know what is forbidden and what is permissible? The answer is that even one who knows a given chapter or masechet must constantly review it. This is the "hok," that the misvah requires learning even that which we already know, as it sanctifies and purifies the student.
"If you walk in accordance with My laws": This implies that even when one travels he must occupy himself in Torah, as the pasuk states, "You shall speak in them when you sit in your home and when you go along the way." "If you walk in accordance with My laws": This "walking" refers to an automatic process, which does not even require a thought process. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 35) says that David Hamelech's legs would take him to the Bet Midrash no matter where he had decided to go, as a result of his intense love of learning and having grown accustomed to always proceed to the Bet Midrash.
"If you walk in accordance with My laws": There are many paths within the spectrum of Torah. We have received permission to expound on the Torah and introduce new "hiddushim" as best one can. The one condition, however, is stipulated in the next clause of the pasuk: "and you observe My commandments," that one may not, Heaven forbid, expound the Torah in a manner contrary to halachah or deviate from accepted norms.
"If you walk in accordance with My laws, and you observe My commandments and perform them": This alludes to Hazal's comment that "an ignoramus is not pious" (Avot 2:5). One can easily observe clear-cut halachot by simply following his family tradition and rabbis' instructions. If, however, one wishes to become "pious" and conduct himself beyond the strict call of duty, he must have achieved expertise in Torah scholarship so that his added measures of piety do not result in improper leniencies, as has happened in the past.
"If you walk in accordance with My laws": "If you walk" alludes to the preference of going to a Torah class rather than studying in one's home, where he may easily be disturbed. Hazal admonished us to "exile oneself to a place of Torah." The story is told of a student who would travel for six months, spend a day in the yeshivah, then travel six more months to spend a day at home, and so on!
"If you walk in accordance with My laws - and you observe My commandments and perform them." This refers to learning in order to be able to properly observe and perform the misvot, rather than affording preference to knowledge over performance. One who studies more than he performs is like a tree with more branches than roots, which is easily destroyed by even a light breeze.
"If with My laws - you walk": The Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 3, 91b) writes that a one-day old ox is called a "shor" (the common Hebrew word for ox). Meaning, even right at birth it possesses the same title it has in adulthood. This is true because an animal does not change its nature or essence over the course of its life, from birth until death. The human being, by contrast, rises from one level to the next, and his soul becomes purified and elevated (see Zohar vol. 2, 94b). Thus, through Torah study one "walks," meaning, he progresses from one level to the next.
"If with My laws - you walk": The Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 1, 175b) writes that when a person passes away his soul must make a path for itself among the battalions of destructive angels and pathways of darkness and gloom. If he had studied Torah, however, then the Torah serves as light for his journey, paving his way to Gan Eden!
A Series of 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
The Customs of Shavuot (continued)
The custom is to decorate the homes and Batei Kenesset with fragrant plants, roses and flowers in honor of the festival of Shavuot. A similar custom developed to adorn the Torah scrolls with crowns of flowers and roses. The basis for the custom is the statement in Masechet Shabbat 88a: "With every word that came from the Al-mighty's mouth, the entire world was filled with the scent of spices." We are also accustomed to spread branches of trees in homes and Batei Kenesset in commemoration of Hazal's comment (Rosh Hashanah 16a) that on Shavuot we are judged regarding the fruits of trees. Although some authorities questioned the validity of this practice as it may violate the prohibition of imitating the gentiles, the halachah is that regarding such activities this prohibition does not apply. It is proper to follow this practice, and the customs of Yisrael are like Torah.
Some authorities maintain that on Shavuot night one must refrain from reciting kiddush until after nightfall, the point at which it is definitely considered "nighttime" according to halachah. The reason is that if one recites kiddush before this point, he has, in effect, not completed the entire sefirah period, and the Torah requires "seven complete weeks" (Vayikra 23:15). Others, however, argue that one need not wait until this point, and he may recite kiddush even before sunset. Where it is possible to follow the stringent view, one should do so. However, in places where the sun sets very late in the summertime and the members of the household will experience great discomfort by having to sit and wait until nighttime, and doing so will also interfere with the learning program Shavuot night, as is the custom to conduct based on the Zohar Hakadosh and writings of the Arizal, there is room to be lenient and recite kiddush and have the meal earlier. If possible, it is preferable to wait until the beginning of sunset, when the sun is already concealed from our view, and only then recite kiddush and conduct the meal. One should preferably ensure to eat a "kezayit" after nightfall.
Even in places where the custom is to wait until after nightfall before reciting kiddush on Shavuot night, one may recite arbit before sunset, after "pelag haminhah." One need not wait until nightfall before reciting arbit. Kiddush on Shavuot night consists of three berachot: "borei peri hagefen"; "asher bahar banu mikol am"; "sheheheyanu." If Shavuot falls on Mossa'ei Shabbat, then kiddush follows the procedure represented by the acronym "yaknehaz" - "yayin" (wine), "kiddush," "ner" (the berachah over the candle), "havdalah" and "zeman" ("sheheheyanu"). Meaning, we recite the following sequence of berachot: "hagefen," "asher bahar banu," "borei me'orei ha'esh," "hamavdil bein kodesh l'kodesh," and "sheheheyanu."
Rabbi Shemuel Haduni zs"l
Hazal interpret the opening pasuk of Parashat Behukotai ("If you walk in accordance with My laws") as referring to diligence in Torah study. There was once a man named Shemuel Haduni who lived in the city of Barzan, Persia. He was honest and upright, G-d-fearing and careful not to do wrong. However, he did not know any Torah, not even how to read the siddur. All he knew was the Hebrew alphabet, so when the time for tefilah came he would whisper the sacred letters until completion. He would then say, "Master of the world, after all, You know people's minds and hearts, and You know that I very much want to pray before You but do not know how. Take these letters and combine them into a prayer!"
Once he felt thirsty and went to the basin near the well. He then remembered that he had forgotten his pitcher and thus had no way to get water. He remembered his having heard from a rabbi that one can pray for anything, but in his ignorance he mistakenly assumed that there exists a fixed text for this, as well. Not knowing this text, he recited his usual "prayer." He lifted his eyes heavenward and reviewed the letters of the alphabet, hoping that the Al-mighty will combine them into a proper prayer. The letters still coming from his mouth, a magnificent looking man with a belt round his waist suddenly appeared. The man presented him with a golden pitcher and said, "Hashem has heard your tefilah. Recite a berachah and drink as much as you need."
"I do not know how to recite a berachah," Shemuel said, "as I am ignorant." The man said to him, "If so, then say the letters, as is your want." He did as he was told and drank. The man then continued, "I am Eliyahu Hanavi. Tell me what it is that you want - wisdom or wealth; longevity or honor."
Shemuel said, "I have but one request - that Hashem enlighten my eyes with the light of His Torah!"
Eliyahu replied, "This is not given from heaven; a person must work for this by himself. If you would like, however, I will teach you."
Shemuel agreed enthusiastically and studied Torah from Eliyahu Hanavi. Not too much time passed before he emerged as a remarkable scholar. He was appointed rabbi of the city of Mussol and established eleven generations of prominent Torah giants.
Though the tiger is somewhat smaller than the lion, some complement it as being better looking, more active, and even quicker than the lion. During the day, the tiger sleeps in a concealed, shady area in a thick forest, or in a thicket of bushes where its stripes are well camouflaged. Thus it can see what goes on around it without being seen. At night, the tiger goes out to hunt. It generally lies down quietly near a fountain or brook, waiting in ambush for other animals coming along innocently to drink. The tiger runs at amazing speed and jumps impressive distances of up to fifteen feet. It is also capable of killing animals as big as a cow. How does the tiger hunt in the dark? No need to worry; the Creator gave the tiger special senses for specifically this purpose. It has the ability to see in the dark thanks to its large eyes and to its pupils' capacity to widen in darkness. A special membrane lies deep inside the eye which can detect even the weakest rays of light. This explains the interesting phenomenon of the shiny appearance of cats' eyes in the dark. The tiger's sense of hearing is also particularly strong. Its long mustache serves as an antenna that picks up light airwaves, assisting the tiger to sense and identify the movements of other animals. When the tiger opens it threatening jaw, it can pick up the smells throughout its territory. This gesticulation is meant to expand the approach to the organ along the ceiling of the mouth which is rich in sensory cells. The tiger will conduct this demonstration generally in areas which other tigers had already marked as theirs by emitting their smells. Among the main characteristics of the tiger is its daring and brazen nature. Brazenness is generally viewed as a negative trait, and it has been said about brazen people that they end up in Gehinnom. However, like every other characteristic implanted within the human being, it can be channeled for positive use. Rabbi Yehudah Ben Teima tells us to be "daring like a leopard, quick as an eagle, running like a deer and strong like a lion to do the will of your Father in heaven." Meaning, one must take advantage of his innate brazenness for sacred pursuits. The tanna urges the Jew to display courage and steadfastness when confronting those who seek to prevent his performance of misvot. As David Hamelech said, "I will speak in Your testimonies opposite kings and not be ashamed."
Reb Nehumke (2)
Flashback: A simple, upright man named Uziel worked in the beer factory near the faraway town of Beisgela. He barely made a living, but despite his troubles he requested only the blessing of a son. Hashem heard his prayers and granted him a beautiful baby boy. When the child reached the age of three, the father could not afford a teacher to teach his son Torah, so instead he took the boy with him to work and would teach him the alphabet and tefilot during his short breaks in the factory.
The young Nehumke would sit in the factory's hallway and review the pesukim of Humash, the only book his father owned. Every so often he would come across a difficult pasuk and would wait for his father to catch a brief break, at which point he would ask his father the meaning. Even if the father had the time and presence of mind to look into these issues thoroughly, it is questionable whether or not he could arrive at the true meaning. Certainly he encountered difficulty during his pressured workday, responsible for overseeing the pots and ensuring proper steam pressure for the manufacturing of the beer. He would listen to the question very hastily and would answer without giving it much thought. The boy, however, listened and absorbed, including every mistaken interpretation and meaningless commentary. He reviewed it all and rejoiced in it as if over a newfound fortune. However, mistaken explanations are generally inherently faulty and self-contradictory, raising other difficulties in the continuation of the text. Nehumke was blessed with a sharp intellect and quick absorption skills, as well as incredible retention. He innocently assaulted his father with lists of questions and difficulties regarding his superficial interpretations. The father would stand helpless, without enough time for his son and without the knowledge to respond to his questions. Neither did he have the money to pay for a teacher.
The father thought to himself, he knows the entire Sefer Tehillim by heart and can sing them pleasantly. He decided he could thus teach Nehumke to pour out his heart with the songs of David, whose words one need not (so he thought) understand.
And so he taught his son one chapter of Tehillim each day. Blessed with a pleasant voice and the ability to compose, he would come up with an appropriate, stirring melody for every chapter based on what he knew, even if he could not understand every word. The son quickly learned the words and melodies, and the combined voices of father and son blended loudly and beautifully, accompanied by the whistles of the steam and the bubbling of the beer.
The boy soon learned the entire Sefer Tehillim and would pour out his soul with the beautiful words. He would ask his father's permission and go out to the fields and forests around the factory filling his mouth with song: "Praise Hashem - fruit trees and all the cedars, the beasts and all animals, crawling creatures and winged birds." This continued for several years until he was seven years old, still having never seen a mishnah or page of Gemara.
To be continued
Yes, It is Simple!
"It is not simple," says our Prime Minister. The situation is complex and there are all types of pressures. There are plans, and we must gird ourselves with patience. Interestingly enough, as head of the opposition it seemed so simple to bring peace and security; just allow the Israeli army to win, and that's it. Apparently, things seen from here are not seen from there. And it is good that way, that the sense of responsibility increases and restrains, and we do not envy the hesitation and ambivalence. Indeed, this is no simple task, to grab onto the steering wheel of a ship tossed at sea, when five million people are on board.
It is not simple when one must navigate through a storm. However, if one could halt the fierce winds, quiet the stormy waves and calm the tempest, then there would be no problem! And this is so simple: "If you walk in accordance with My laws and you observe My commandments and perform them. you will dwell securely in your land. I will bring peace to the land, you will lie down without fear, and swords will not pass through your land. You will pursue your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword. Five of you will chase one hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; and your enemies will fall before you by the sword. I will pay attention to you, I will make you fruitful, I will multiply you, and I will fulfill My covenant with you. and I have made you walk erect."
We must realize that this is not "black or white"; there are many shades in between. Each Jew who participates in a Torah class, who fulfills a misvah, and who sends his children to Torah schools, adds a dimension of peace and security, prevents attacks and saves lives. He calms, if only to a small degree, the fierceness of the storm, as we have been promised (Avot 2:7), "One who increases Torah - increases life!"
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a on Mossa'ei Shabbat
Fire, Washing, and "Mukssah" on Yom Tov
The mishna (Beissah 36a) prohibits starting a fire from stones or wood on Yom Tov. As the Rambam (Hilchot Yom Tov 4:1) explains, on Yom Tov one may merely transfer fire from one source to another; starting a fire, however, is forbidden. Although on Yom Tov one may perform "melachah" for the sake of preparing food, lighting fires falls under the category of "machshirei ochel nefesh," activities not directly involved in the preparation of food, but required before the preparation can take place. These activities are permissible on Yom Tov only if they could not be performed before the onset of the festival. Since one could light the fire before Yom Tov and transfer it to his stovetop or the like on Yom Tov, he may not light a fire on the festival itself.
Therefore, one may not strike a match on Yom Tov. Although the "Kerem Hemed" (2:96) ruled leniently in this regard, arguing that the fire is to be considered ready and prepared inside the match, this is not the case. The mishnah clearly prohibited starting a fire from stones, referring to special stones from which one could very easily start a fire. In the year 5624 a certain scholar issued a lenient ruling allowing striking matches on Yom Tov, and the Rishon Lessiyon, Rav David Hazan, ordered that it be announced in all Batei Midrash that this is prohibited. Many other authorities rule stringently, as well.
Turning on electricity is likewise forbidden on Yom Tov. Although several poskim permitted the use of electricity on Yom Tov, their ruling resulted from misinformation they received from those in their time with whom they consulted and who did not properly understand how electricity works. They understood that the fire already exists in the chords and the switch merely prevents it from being revealed. They thus thought that pressing the button merely releases the block from allowing the electricity to pass. In truth, there is no fire in the chords, and pressing the button closes the circuit and produces the fire. Indeed, many poskim ruled that electricity is forbidden on Yom Tov. (See Yabi'a Omer vol. 2, Orah Hayyim 26.) However, given the fact that using electricity constitutes a rabbinic prohibition, in situations of urgent need or for the purposes of "simhat Yom Tov" one may ask a gentile to turn on a light or electric appliance on Yom Tov. One should not, however, ask a gentile to extinguish a fire (see Yabi'a Omer ibid., 26:3).
Hazal prohibited washing one's entire body in hot water on Shabbat, even with water warmed before Shabbat. This decree does not apply to Yom Tov. Therefore, one may wash his body in hot water on Yom Tov provided that the water was heated before Yom Tov and that he washes in his home, not in a public bathhouse. One may not, however, wash his entire body with water heated on Yom Tov itself, including instances when one's hot water in the boiler ran out and more water was heated. This water may be used only to wash parts of one's body. One should follow these guidelines regarding washing children, as well.
It is important to note that although "melachah" is permitted on Yom Tov for purposes of cooking and the like, the prohibitions that do apply must be strictly observed. So as to prevent people from downplaying the importance of the prohibition of forbidden activity on Yom Tov, Hazal instituted more stringent guidelines regarding "mukssah" on Yom Tov than on Shabbat. For example, on Shabbat one may handle shells and bones that are edible by animals, while on Yom Tov he may not. They are considered like shells inedible by animals, and may not even be collected into an empty plate, as this renders the plate prohibited to handle on Yom Tov. He must therefore first put a fruit or some other edible food onto the plate; thereafter, he may place the shells onto the plate.
The Punishment For a Sinner and the Reward For One Who Acts Properly
At the end of Parashat Aharei-Mot, the Torah warns Benei Yisrael against engaging in prohibited marital relations, noting that the gentiles living in Eress Yisrael committed these abominations and were thus to be banished from the land. The Torah then warns that whoever commits these sins is deserving of "karet." This final warning requires explanation: the following parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, enumerates the punishments for the various sexual offenses. Why does the Torah now mention the people's punishment for these sins?
This reminder comes to differentiate between the punishment of the other nations - mentioned in the previous pasuk - and that of Benei Yisrael, Heaven forbid, should they engage in these same forbidden activities. If a man adopts a child the same age as his son, both of whom ultimately participate in criminal activities, he will likely send away the adopted boy and harshly punish his own son. Similarly, when the gentiles living in Canaan sinned, the land expelled them. Hashem here warns Benei Yisrael that should they sin upon their entry into the land, mere exile will not suffice. They will be punished for their behavior, just as a child must be punished by his parents in order that he learn to act properly. An adopted son can simply be thrown out of the house; Benei Yisrael, Hashem's own children, must be punished for their sins in order that they learn to improve their conduct.
Additionally, the Torah here emphasizes the punishment of the individual. Even if a single person sins, not just the nation as a whole, he will punished, and even if he commits the misdeed in solitude. Hashem sees all that we do, and one who thinks that the Almighty does not see him is deserving of particularly severe punishment (Bava Kama 79b). While in earlier times people strongly believed that Hashem watches everything, today we do not live up to that same standard. We have therefore been granted audio and video tapes to give us a sense of this concept: when a person reaches the heavens, he will be shown everything he ever said and did, as if he listens to or views a recording. Everybody will be brought to trial; fortunate is the one who earns a favorable judgment.
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
Produced by Cong. Bnai Yosef and the Aram Soba Foundation - translated from Ma'ayan Hashavua in Israel
Tuesday night in Bnai Yosef - 8:30pm. Saturday night in Bnai Yosef 10:00pm
Bnei Aram Soba 1616 Ocean Parkway Brooklyn, NY 11223.
Make sure to include the address and name you wish it to be mailed to. Make checks payable to Bnei Aram Soba. For information contact 718-998-4557 between 9:30am-4:00am daily.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.
For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org