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The Key Question
There are questions and there are questions. There are questions that are not really questions, and there are questions that are asked to receive an answer. And there are questions that make you jump out of your seat. That make you wonder: How could I not have thought of that? How did I understand until now? Questions that point one towards a new thought, that shed precious light on the matter. That is the type of question that we are about to pose. In parashat Behukotai, we find the wonderful blessings for those who fulfill the commandments and the horrible result for those who do not, halilah, as they descend into the pit. What is the process of this descent? Rashi lists: "And if you do not listen to Me," to toil in Torah. "And if you do not do all of these commandments," if you do not learn, you will not do - two sins. Then: "If you are disgusted with My statutes," being disgusted with others who do. "And if your soul is repulsed by these laws," hating the sages. "To not do," and to prevent others from doing. "All of My commandments," denying that I commanded to do them. "To deny my covenant," denying the essential principles. These are seven sins, the first bringing on the second, and so on, until the seventh. Terrible words! Terrible - and they explain so much. We are surprised about the hatred and the animosity towards those who are faithful to our religion. And specifically from enlightened people, who place tolerance and pluralism on their banner. They advocate painful concessions, but not to Haredim, halilah, only to Palestinians, murderers of children. They develop meetings between Jewish and Arab teens. They invite speakers who justify terror to "understand the other side." But they are not prepared to invite Rav Amnon Yisshak, for example. Not because they are afraid, but because they hate. And they hate because of their gut feelings, because of their aggrieved conscience. One who does not fulfill the commandments, despises others who do fulfill them, and hates the sages, and prevents others from fulfilling them, the whole list. Why should we be surprised about the ascent of the party of hatred - it is an explicit Rashi!
So what is the question that you promised, you wonder. The question is about the foundation, the first stage. "If you do not listen to Me," to toil in Torah. What is the connection of this toiling to our topic? One who does not learn, does not know what to protect himself from, and he is not able to fulfill the commandments properly. Certainly. Therefore it says: "An ignoramus can not fear sin, and a simpleton can not be pious" (Avot 3:5). Therefore, it had to say then that "if you do not listen to Me," if you do not learn, therefore you will not do. Why is there an emphasis on toiling in Torah? Because this is the pathway of cautiousness, halilah, and this is the pathway of the commandments. At the beginning of the parashah: "If you will walk in the way of my statutes," that you shall toil in Torah. Is it possible to fulfill the commandments, to know them, without toiling and effort in Torah?
This is the question, and it is a key question. For the answer to this is important and fundamental. Certainly, a person can know without toiling, and even without learning, if one grew up in a Torah observant house, and his life continues to flow in that path, as expected. But despite that, if he will not toil in Torah, he is promised failure in his observance of the commandments! And why? Because there are two great and powerful forces that work upon him to make him stray from that path: the evil inclination and the influence from society. "The yeast in the dough and the oppression of the kingdoms" (Berachot 17a). The evil inclination itself divides up into two: the physical evil inclination, the bad qualities and the corrupt inclinations that dwell within us, about which Iyov lamented (Bava Batra 16a). And the spiritual evil inclination, "the evil inclination is the Satan is the Angel of Death." Up against such strong forces, greater and more powerful than us, how can we ever be saved, to protect ourselves, and to win? There is only one way, which our Creator paved for us: "I have created the evil inclination, and I have created Torah as a balm for it." The holy Kabbalist, Rabbeinu, the Ramhal zs"l wrote: "And it is obvious, that if the Creator created just this medicine for this wound, then it is absolutely impossible for a person to be healed from this wound without this medicine. One who thinks that he will be saved without it, is only fooling himself, and he will see his mistake when he dies from his sin!" (Mesilat Yesharim, chapter 5). If he wrote this in his generation, when there were none in Israel who were breaching the fences and denying the essential principles, there was no lewdness or permissiveness, no corrupt media and cable channels and disgusting internet, which influences everyone, either directly or indirectly. There is no hope against them at all, except for toil in Torah!
The participation in a Torah shiur today, is not only to merit the World to Come, but primarily, to be saved from the judgement of Gehinnom. It determines whether we merit the blessings - or, halilah, the opposite. One who wants these blessings is obligated to learn Torah, to set times in his schedule for Torah!
We are not dealing with politics, this is a purely Torah periodical. But in light of the words of Maran, Rabbeinu, the Rishon Lessiyon shelita, we can not ignore what is going on around us. When all is said and done, if the captain is leading the ship towards a sandbar, the passengers must warn him. They can not say: It is not our business!
To what do we refer? The State of Israel was established to provide security for the Jews. Where are we and where is the security? The Prime Minister promised peace and security. Now we hear new melodies: For a real peace he is prepared to make painful concessions. Suddenly, everyone is united: left and right and center. With the knowledge that the concessions will be painful and the peace will not be true. That there are so many dangers, and that it all rests on chicken's legs. And they are prepared to try.
Then let us say our part: If you are prepared, for a possible real peace, for painful concessions, then we have a suggestion. Try one "painful concession," to try to fulfill the commandments! Try what is promised in the parashah: "And you shall do my statutes, and guard my laws, and you shall do them, and you shall live on the land safely. And the land shall give forth its fruit, and you shall eat to your satisfaction, and you shall live safely upon it!"
Rabbeinu, the Rambam zs"l
First and foremost, Rabbeinu, the Rambam zs"l is known for his great work, the "Mishneh Torah." In it he included Halachic decisions about all of the laws of the Torah, amazingly organized in fourteen parts. This is the origin of its name: The "Yad (which is fourteen in gematria) Hahazakah." Rabbeinu labored on this work for ten years straight, in absolute seclusion, from the age of forty-five, to the age of fifty-five. When he finished, his father came to him in a dream and presented Mosheh Rabbeinu to him, who blessed him with the blessing of "yishar kohacha."
In this work, Rabbeinu included all of the laws that are written in the two talmuds and in all of the midrashim of the tannaim, after making decisions by means of his wisdom and according to the decisions of his Rabbis. After a while though, he expressed his sorrow that he had not noted the source for his decisions. He said that he was once asked about the source of one of his decisions and he did not know. Only after the questioner left did he remember that his source was in the words of the Tosefta in one place. Because of this, what would confused students do? Thus, thousands of sefarim have been written about the decisions of the Rambam, to find their sources and to clarify his opinion on the topics in the Talmud on the basis of which he made his decisions.
Rabbeinu, the Rosh zs"l, testified in the name of one of the Torah leaders of Italy, that he was an expert in three of the sections of the Talmud - Moed, Nashim and Nezikin. He can testify, that regarding the sections in which he was an expert, he clearly understands the decisions of the Rambam. Regarding the sections in which he was not an expert, Zeraim, Kodashim and Taharot, he did not understand them! How great are these words - that Rabbeinu, the Rosh had to bring a proof from a sage in Italy, and he was not able to bring a proof from himself. For he was an expert in the entire Torah, in all of the six sections, and he understood all of the decisions of the Rambam!
Rabbeinu, the Raavad zs"l, who commented at length on the decisions of the Rambam, stood amazed at this great creation and wrote (in Hilchot Kilayim 6:2) "By the life of my head… for he has done great work in collecting the words of the gemara and the yerushalmi and the tosefta!"
"And I shall give your rains in their time"
Rabbeinu, the Ramban zs"l, wrote: G-d began with the blessing for rain, for when it comes in its time, when it is appropriate, the air is clear and good, and the springs and rivers are good, and this will be a cause for physical health. The fruits will all multiply and will be blessed by them, as it says: "And the land shall give its produce, and the tree of the field shall give its fruit." Then people will not get ill, and they will not miscarry or be barren, nor will their animals, and their days will be full. Therefore, this is the greatest of the blessings.
The holy Or Hahayim zs"l pointed out that the blessings begin with the letter "vav," "And I shall give your rains in their time," as if they are a continuation to blessings that are not written in the verse. This is true, that the main reward for the commandments is in the world to come, a great and awesome reward that can not even be written, for "Better is one hour of satisfaction in the world to come, than all of life in this world." In addition to that amazing reward, there is also "And I shall give your rains in their time" and everything that is detailed in the blessings in the verses.
Rabbeinu Hayim Vital zs"l wrote that the roots of all of these blessings are: "Children, life and sustenance." These three are in the merit of observance of the commandments. Sustenance: "And I shall give your rains in their time, and the land shall give its produce and the tree of the field shall give its fruit. And your threshing shall reach your vintage, and the vintage shall reach to the sowing time, and you shall eat your bread to the full." Life: "And I will remove evil beasts from the land, and the swords shall not pass through your land, and you shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword." Children: "And I shall turn towards you and make you fruitful and multiply you." But these are not the goal in and of themselves, but a means, by which we can sanctify ourselves to consistently rise in spirituality. "And I shall place My Mishkan in your midst… and I shall be your G-d, and you shall be My nation." Rabbeinu, the Rambam zs"l, wrote this (in Pirkei Hasslachah), that the blessings will bring about another goal, so that we will sanctify ourselves for the service of G-d. As it is written: "The humble shall eat and be satisfied, those who search for G-d will praise him, may your hearts live forever!"
Rabbeinu Yisshak Aramah zs"l used a common trick to explain an important principle. They would hang a harp on the wall, place another harp opposite it, and the hanging harp would play on its own. This was a trick involving resonance, but it explains the interdependence of our observance of the commandments and of the influence provided from Heaven. The Creator made a rule, that they are dependent on each other. This is: "If you shall walk in the ways of My statutes," that you use this principle, that when "you observe My commandments and do them - and I shall give your rains in their time."
What is the meaning of "your rains?" Rabbeinu Yosef Yaavess zs"l (Avot, beginning of chapter 6) explained it with a parable: A wealthy man hired a contractor to build him a palace. He would invest a tremendous amount of money in the palace, but he demanded a guarantee from the contractor that he would not renege on the contract, and that he would not delay in its execution. If he would fulfill the conditions, he would be made very wealthy. This is what the Creator demands from us - to increase our Torah and commandments, and he shall grant us our reward in the wondrous Gan Eden. In the meantime, though, he has taken collateral, and that is our rain. If we delay the work, halilah, it will be a whip in his hands to force us to do our work…
Rabbeinu, the Hida zs"l explained the idea of "your rains" with the words of the gemara. The rains are apportioned on the holiday of Sukkot. But if we are worthy, then G-d will send them down in the best time and place, and they will be a blessing. If not, halilah, then he will send them down in the sea or in a desert.
According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a
Bowing Down During the Shemoneh Esrei
• One should not bow down excessively, until one's mouth is near his belt, for one who bows down excessively appears to be arrogant. If he is sick or old and is not able to bow down as described above, then it is enough for him to bow his head, since it is obvious that he would like to bow but is unable.
• When he bows down, he should do so quickly, in one move. When he straightens up, he should calmly straighten his head first and then his body, so that the bowing does not seem to be a burden to him. According to the opinion of the Ari z"l and our Rabbis, the Kabbalists, he should bow his body first, and then his head.
• When he says the word "baruch" he should bow down, and when he says the name of G-d, he should be straight, as it says (Tehilim 146:8) "G-d straightens the bent." Thus, he should straighten out before he says the name of G-d, and when he says G-d's name, he should already be straight.
There are some who hold that when he says the word "baruch," he should bend his knees, and when he says the word "atah," he should bow down until his vertebrae protrude. But many Sefardim have the custom of not bending their knees at all. Rather, when they say "baruch," they bend their whole body until their vertebrae protrude. When they reach "modim," they bow down when saying the word "modim," and when they reach the name of G-d, they stand up.
• Even though it is permissible to bow down in the middle of a blessing in the shemoneh esrei, when one says the name of G-d it is proper to be stringent and to straighten up when he says the name of G-d. (For example, when saying "yehemu na rahameha Hashem Elokeinu" in the blessing of "al hassadikim," when saying "ki be'or panecha natata lanu Hashem Elokeinu" in the blessing of "sim shalom," and in the prayers of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Hakipurim, in which there are many verses in which there is the name of G-d.)
Not to bow down during prayer towards idolatry
• If a gentile holding idolatry, such as a cross, passes before one when praying, and if one has reached one of the points at which he is supposed to bow down, he should not bow down, lest it appear that he is bowing down to idolatry. This is even if he is alone, and no one sees him, for everything that is forbidden because of "marit ayin" is forbidden even when done in private.
However, if he is facing the opposite direction of the idolatry, he is permitted to bow down. But if the idolatry is in front of him, and there is a glass wall dividing between him and the idolatry, one should be stringent. All this is if he began to pray and the gentile walked in front of him with the idolatry. But if one sees idolatry in front of him before he has begun to pray, then he is not permitted to begin to pray there, even if he does not bow down.
It is proper to be stringent and not to bow down in front of idolatry when one is praying even if the gentile who is passing by is the king of an important minister.
The Mustang and Us
When we think about wild horses, immediately the American mustang jumps to mind. This is a common mistake. One species of wild horses was found in the plains of Asia, the Przewalski, named after the scientist who discovered them. It lives in Western Mongolia, and its height is and meter and ten centimeters. Its mane is short and sharp and its head is large compared to its body. For thousands of years, horses have been trained and used for riding (Bereishit 49:17), pulling chariots (Shemot 14: 9) and especially as chariots of war (Shoftim 5:22). As it says: "The horse is ready for the day of war, and to G-d is the salvation" (Mishlei 21:31).
Until the Europeans came to America, the residents of that continent had never seen a horse. Thus, when the Spaniards gathered against them on their war-horses, there was shock amongst the soldiers of the Incas, from the monsters with two heads, one an animal's head, and behind it, half the body of a man. They fled in fright, and the Spaniards conquered the continent…
Quickly, the Indians learned the secret and began to steal the white man's horses. Sometimes, horses were lost in the middle of a great battle. They wandered in the deserts and grazed on the plains and became herds of wild horses. But really, these were domesticated horses, which had returned to their roots and became integrated into nature. The settlers and the Indians both tried to trap them and train them and they both encountered great difficulties. A sharp truth became clear: it is very easy to throw away the yoke, and it very difficult afterwards to return to the pathway…
It says about man: "A wild donkey, man is born" (Iyov 11:12). The inclination of the heart of man is evil from his youth, like the wild donkey, but from this must come a man. We must domesticate the wild horse, but even more so, we must be take care that he not escape from our hands, that he should not return to his wildness. For then we will be forced to start again from the beginning, to try to take control and work to domesticate…
From the book, "Great are the Deeds of G-d"
Summary: The young son of a scholarly and wealthy merchant learned that true friends are few. He met the "half friend" of his father, and traveled to Alexandria, Egypt to meet his whole friend.
The lad arrived in Egypt. He roamed around Alexandria, asking for the nobleman's home. Sir Shelomoh, his father's friend. They directed him towards a stunning building, the private bank of the nobleman. The gatekeeper bowed before him, and the splendor and wealth amazed him. Merchants, stylishly dressed, sat and took advice from the clerks, completing deals and signing checks. They entered the office of the banker who oversaw everything from a balcony, enclosed by glass. They took advice from him and returned to the giant hall, to continue their dealings. The flow of clients continued without a break, some going up, some waiting, some talking, and some coming down. The young man felt lost. He stood in the center of all the action, looking right and left, surveying the expensive furnishings and heavy drapes, the crystal chandeliers and the artistic paintings. He looked again and again towards the glass balcony, towards the nobleman sitting, surrounded by servants, advising and directing and composing instructions without a break. This, then, is the friend of his father, his good friend, the perfect friend!
The pressure of the clients died down and the nobleman remained by himself for a moment, with his servants. He turned around and whispered something in the ear of one of his servants. The servant turned and camedown into the hall, where he walked up to the young man, already standing there for some time. He asked with exaggerated politeness: "Who is his honor?" His face had aroused the master of the place's interest.
"I am from Costa," answered the young man. "I arrived today, and I have a letter for the master."
The servant bowed down and returned to his master. He gave over the words of the young man.
"Ask him for the letter, and bring it to me," commanded the master.
Again, the servant was standing by his side, asking for the letter. He received it and returned to his master.
The young man stood in the busy hall, looking towards the glass balcony. He saw how the servant held out the letter, how he opened it and how he read it. How he pondered it emotionally, and how he stood up from his place. How he pushed his way through his servants and clerks and came down, no, he is not coming down, he is running to greet him! The murmuring in the hall stopped, and they all watched him. The clerks, the merchants, the wealthy and the indigent. The master reached him at a run, gave him a powerful embrace, kissed him on both of his cheeks, and wrapped his arm around his shoulder. He brought him up to his office, and placed a chair near his chair. He seated him by his side and turned to him, forgetting the world: "Tell me how your father is. Tell me every detail and leave nothing out!…"
To be continued, G-d willing, next week…
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shelit"a
For the Day of Lag Baomer
Tonight is Lag Baomer, and will give over some of the praises of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai on this holy night. Some explain that this is the day of Rabbi Shimon's passing, and some hold that this is the day on which he was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. If he passed away on this day, we have to wonder. When else do we make a festival on the day that a ssadik passes away? Some answer that the Romans gave out a death sentence to Rabbi Shimon. The fact that he was saved and died a natural death is a cause for happiness. It happened when Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yose and Rabbi Shimon sat together. Rabbi Yehudah praised the Romans, Rabbi Yose was silent and Rabbi Shimon said that everything good that they had done, they only did for themselves. When the Romans heard about this, they decreed that Rabbi Shimon should be killed.
Rabbi Shimon and his son first hid in the Bet Midrash and were brought food daily by Rabbi Shimon's wife. But when the decree became more stringent, they were afraid that they would torture her and left.
They hid in a cave, fed miraculously by a carob tree and a spring. All day they would learn Torah covered in sand, and at the time of prayer, they would get dressed and pray. They sat there for twelve years, until Eliyahu came to the opening of the cave and said: "Who will tell Bar Yohai that the Caesar has died and that the decree is nullified?"
When they came out, their gaze was so pure that it would burn anyone doing mundane work and not learning Torah. A voice from heaven called out: Have you come out to destroy my world? Go back into the cave.
They went back for twelve months, until the voice told them that they could leave. Then only his son, Rabbi Elazar's gaze would burn, but Rabbi Shimon's would heal them. He said: My son, you and I are enough for this world.
Before Shabbat, they saw an old man running with two sprigs of hadasim. They asked why one was not enough. He answer: "One for zachor and one for shamor." Rabbi Shimon said to his son: Look how beloved the commandments are to Israel, and they were pacified.
When Rabbi Shimon's son-in-law, Rabbi Pinhas ben Yair heard that he had left the cave, he went to greet him. He brought him o the baths of Tiberius to bathe his cracked skin. Rabbi Pinhas's tears would burn Rabbi Shimon's skin, and Rabbi Pinhas cried: "Woe is to me who has seen you thus." Rabbi Shimon answered: "Fortunate are you for seeing me thus. For if not for the twelve years that I spent in the cave, I would not have learned so much Torah."
Therefore we consider the day that Rabbi Shimon died to be a happy day, for he died of natural causes. Also, because he revealed the secrets of the Torah before he died, something that had been forbidden until then.
Once, the Romans made a decree that the Jews should not keep Shabbat, should not circumcise their sons, and must have relations with their wives while they were menstruant. Rabbi Reuven ben Istrobli got a gentile haircut and approached the gentiles. He convinced them that if the Jews work on Shabbat, they would get wealthier from their additional work. Thus, that decree was rescinded. He convinced them that circumcision makes their babies sicker. Thus, that decree was rescinded. He convinced them that forcing the men to be with their wives would cause the Jews to multiply. Thus, that decree was also rescinded. Then they realized that he was a Jew, and they reinstated all of the decrees.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai then went to attempt to rescind the decrees. An angel went before him and drove the daughter of the Caesar insane. She yelled, "Bring Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai! Bring Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai!" He came and sent the angel away. The Caesar then offered to fulfill his any request, and let him enter his treasury. Rabbi Shimon found that decree in the treasury, and tore it up.
A Little Good Will
Last week's parashah began with the prohibition against defiling a kohen. A Torah prohibition. There is a law in the State of Israel, a blessed law, that in every public institution, there must be access for the handicapped. They should not be punished for their handicaps. Despite the fact that the matter demands an additional budget, and the resources are few, the Torah commands us to worry about her sons. For some reason, there is no similar law for kohanim. They are prevented from going into a place where this is a corpse or parts of a body, unless a Halachic arrangement were made, which does not cost that much money. Double doors for the pathology unit. A little attention to the disposal of organs after an operation. Current information on the doorway of the hospital when an object of impurity is being transported. It is sad to note that in most places this is not done. Because of thoughtlessness, because of insensitivity, because of ignorance. This is the height of anti-religious oppression. The sick are kept from operations because of their conscience, and something no less stringent: If they are hospitalized for chest pains, since saving a life overrides everything, their relatives are prevented from visiting and encouraging them, from offering the assistance that they need. Why? Why are they plaguing us? No, I am not suggesting a parallel law for an obvious reason: If there is consciousness, and there is good will, the law is unnecessary. Negligible sums are necessary to fix the situation. There are places where a tree is covering two places, and the cutting down of a few branches would solve the problem. There are places in which a set of double doors is necessary. There are Rabbis who are experts in the subject, ready to offer any advice. There are places where solutions have been applied, in the Laniado Hospital, and in the Mayanei Hayeshuah Clinic, and we can learn from their experience. If there is good will, there is no problem. If there is no good will, no law will help.
There is one surprising thing. This matter is not in the hands of the businessmen and the clerks, not in the hands of the politicians. It is completely in the hands of the administrators of intellectual institutions, and doctors of all levels. They are experts in the rights of the minority and public welfare, individual freedoms and all those beautiful words. To where has all of this gone, when we are talking about the religious public, in all of its variety and all of its types of kippot. To where did all of those beautiful words vanish, where did they disappear and evaporate? I have an answer, but I refuse to believe that it is correct. That the hatred and estrangement have reached such a level, have poisoned to such an extent, have brought about such thoughtlessness in the general public. No, it is not possible. But with no other answer, this is the default answer. But what a default! A mark of shame on all of those institutions!
With the blessings of Shabbat Shalom,
Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom
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