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When the Vilna Gaon conducted his personal exile, his journeys took him to the home of a certain rabbi. Upon recognizing the great stature of his guest, the rabbi told the Gaon, "I have here a Humash, which came to me as an inheritance from my scholarly grandfather. Alongside the pasuk, 'and [Hashem appointed] the minor luminary to rule by night,' my grandfather wrote the acronym, 'GVASAK"H.' I have shown this marking to many great scholars, but no one can decipher the code for me!"

The Gaon explained that the rabbi's grandfather, through this acronym, was addressing the question, why does the pasuk initially describe both the sun and the moon as "large," and then describe the moon as being "small"? The answer is that the moon does not contain any light of its own. It merely receives its light from the sun. That is why the moon was said to have been small, because we have a principle in halachah, "gadol v'samuch al shulhan aviv, katan hu," an adult who still depends upon his father's support is considered a minor. This, explained the Gaon, was the acronym inscribed by the rabbi's grandfather: "GVASAK"H."

Examining this principle a little deeper, a powerful lesson emerges. We have been granted such a rich heritage, such a splendid culture. We follow dozens of generations of great wisdom and insight, in all areas of thought.

What, then, is achieved by those who choose to be supported by the weak, flimsy backing of the shallow, empty Western culture? By doing so, they turn themselves into "minors," helpless and dependant upon others for their spiritual light.


A week has already passed since the end of the holiday season, from our celebration of Simhat Torah. A full week of regular, routine weekdays has already passed, and perhaps now is the time to take a look back, to review, to survey, to see how we have changed and how our lives have been impacted by this recent period of festivals. In what way were we influenced by the month of Elul, the Days of Awe, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simhat Torah?

If, indeed, we acknowledge that the season has passed with no impact upon us, then a frightening question arises: is this how low we really are?

Are we really so insensitive and out of touch with spirituality, that we can experience these holy days and emerge as the exact same people as we were beforehand? So as to prevent any such feelings of hopelessness and despair, we will tell a story told by the great ssadik, Rabbi Nahman of Breslav zs"l.

This story involves a certain ssadik who conducted an intense process of introspection, reviewing and taking inventory of his deeds, thoughts ands overall character traits. Needless to say, when a ssadik embarks on such an endeavor he finds faults of some sort in all his deeds and thoughts. As a result, this ssadik was overcome by depression, and, as we know, sadness is the father of all sin. No matter how hard he tried to resist his melancholy, he couldn't. How could he rejoice? For what - the missvah he performed? He can't - it was deficient. In the "tefilah" that he prayed?

It lacked the proper concentration. Finally, he concluded that, at very least, his missvot are incomplete, but still worthy to some degree. Okay, they weren't 100%, but they were 50%; and if not that, then at least they were one-third or one-quarter satisfactory. "Even if my missvot are not perfect," he said to himself, "I have still been privileged to serve my Creator, to approach Him, to do His will. The angels long for the opportunity to do even a fraction of a missvah and they can't.

Furthermore, there are so many people in the world who have no concept whatsoever of their destiny and purpose, and thus perform nothing!" At this point, he rejoiced in the very fact that he is a Jew, a descendant of Avraham, Yisshak and Yaakov, a child of the Almighty Himself. He strives to follow the path set before us by the patriarchs, to cling to his Creator. The more he considered his great fortune, that indeed, "How fortunate are we, how great is our portion, and how pleasant is our lot," the happier he was and the more intensely he was attached to Hashem. Ultimately, he reached the point of joy comparable to that of none other than Mosheh Rabbeinu as he ascended Har Sinai to receive the Torah. In his state of intense joy, he felt himself growing from one level to the next, floating up into the heavens, flying in the sky, soaring to the greatest heights like an angel. But even in this powerful state of mind, one thought concerned him and troubled him to no end. By its very nature, spiritual growth develops and intensifies to a climax, from where it then inevitably declines. This is the way of the world, and undoubtedly his continued progression upward would result in the same reversal. Here he was, surging higher and higher to previously unimaginable heights of spirituality - who knows what vast distances he covered, how far he had reached? So when he declines, who knows where he will land! For himself, he was confident in his Creator that He will protect him and never abandon him, no matter where he falls. But what will his family do when they see that he had disappeared? The entire city will have to get together and form a search party. They will look high and low and come up empty. This thought settled into his mind and detracted from his joy. As a result, he began gradually descending, and he was terrified.

Where will he find himself? How and where will he land? He had gone so far - Hashem only knows! Finally, he felt the solid ground under his feet.

He looked around and recognized his surroundings: the same city, same house, same room. He was almost in the precise location from where he ascended.

Rabbi Nahman writes, "He looked at himself and saw that he was exactly where he was to begin with; he had not moved at all. Perhaps he had moved a hair's breadth, incalculable and indiscernible by human beings, only by the Almighty Himself. The ssadik could not understand - he flew up to the heavens and came back down, but did not move at all. In this way he was shown that even the slightest movement and progression, even smaller than a hair's breadth, is so precious before Hashem that many thousands of worlds are not worth this slight movement forward!"

Obviously, this story is a parable, teaching us a critical lesson.

Throughout the month of Elul, Yamim Noraim and Sukkot we "floated." We experienced profound spiritual elevation and sensed a feeling of closeness to Hashem. We experienced genuine fear of judgement and equally sincere joy of the Torah. At the time, these feelings were genuine and true. Now we have "landed," and we find ourselves in the exact same spot as from where we "took off." How could this be? The answer is, no! We are not in the same spot. These sacred days of awe and joy have undoubtedly impacted us, if only a hair's breadth. And we cannot even imagine how precious and dear that hair's breadth is before the Almighty!

We now come upon Shabbat Bereishit, a sacred day of Shabbat from beginning to end. Let's try to use this Shabbat to grow, and who knows if next week we will be even a hair's breadth higher than this week!


"In the beginning, Hashem created"

The Ar"i HaKadosh zs"l explains that the Torah begins with the letter "bet" (the second letter) rather than "alef" (the first letter) because the roots of the Torah are grounded, in effect, in the upper, spiritual worlds, signified by the letter "alef." For example, the missvah of Shabbat was given to us because on this day the spiritual worlds undergo a process of elevation and receive spiritual bounty from the worlds above them. Thus, one who properly observes Shabbat receives a portion from that bounty, whereas one who desecrates the Shabbat has detracted from the bounty, Heaven forbid. Thus, the missvot are, in essence, the physical expression of the spiritual reality. In other words, the spiritual reality itself is the "alef," while the missvot constitute the "bet."

"In the beginning, Hashem created"

The Hid"a zs"l writes that he heard from a certain God-fearing, elderly man that in one version of numerical calculation (when including two "kolelim,' expansions of the letters), the words "Bereishit bara" ("In the beginning, He created") has the equivalent numerical value as the pasuk, "Shema Yisrael..." The Hid"a explains that the very beginning of the Torah alludes to Hashem's singularity and all the characteristics of the concealed wisdom underlying this principle. All this is hinted at right at the beginning of the Torah. He then suggests that the letters of 'Bereishit' stand for "bekol ram avarech Shem Hashem tamid" - "I will always bless the Name of God in a loud voice." This acronym alludes to the fact that one must recite a berachah loudly and clearly, to allow others to hear the berachah and recite amen.

"In the beginning, Hashem created"

Rabbi Mekikass Sheli zs"l cites in this context the comments of the Gemara (Sanhedrin 91) regarding the pasuk, "He calls to the heavens from above, and to the land to judge His people." The heavens refer to the soul, while land here alludes to the body. Both body and soul will stand trial and be held accountable for their deeds. Thus, in the beginning of the Torah there is an allusion to the fact that man was created from a blend and complex composition of heaven and earth, body and soul, which must participate together in the observance of the Torah and the performance of missvot.

Rabbi Mekikass adds that the Torah, too, is composed of both elements.

There is the body - the actual missvot and practical halachot, and then there is the soul - the underlying reasons and hidden concepts behind the actual laws. These two elements must blend together and complement one another, in order to form a complete, perfect unit of Torah.


Rabbi Yehudah Etyah zs"l

Rabbi Yehudah Etyah zs"l was of the great rabbis of greater Aram Ssoba, and was constantly involved in Torah learning. When his wife would give him some money to purchase groceries for Shabbat and festivals, he would give the money to Shalom Hakim, who owned the shop in the marketplace, and he would buy the items and bring them to Rabbi Yehudah's home.

One day his wife told him, "This is the last of our savings, so please shop carefully and buy only that which we really need." The rabbi left, and on his way to Shalom Hakim's booth he encountered another shopkeeper, Yeshayahu Revia, who was sitting and crying over money that he had just lost. Rabbi Yehudah thought to himself, these are my very last coins. What am I going to do after I spend them? I will have to trust in the Creator to provide.

If so, then why can't I trust in Him now, as well, even before I buy my food! And so, he gave Yeshayahu the money, and proceeded to the Bet Midrash. He came home, and his wife asked him, "What did you order in the market?"

"I ordered many great delicacies," he answered, "and when Shalom comes with the delivery you will see."

The next day, his wife turned to him and said, "Shalom hasn't brought anything yet!"

"It's still early," Rabbi Yehudah answered.

Before dusk they heard a knock at the door. The delivery-man stood at the door, dressed in his uniform, holding an official document. Rabbi Yehudah opened the envelope and found fifty lirot, an enormous sum of money, a gift from the Hadiah family in America.

He then told his wife, "Let me run over to the marketplace to see why Shalom never brought the groceries. One thing I can tell you, though - I ordered a large amount of goods, and my order was delivered in full."


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, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Chapter 10: The Laws of Tallit

Strictly speaking, there is no obligation to wear a four-cornered "tallit katan" throughout the day. The obligation is only to wear ssissit if one wishes to wear a four-cornered garment.

Nevertheless, it is most desirable for every individual to make the effort to fulfil this precious missvah throughout the day, as this missvah is equivalent to all missvot in the Torah (Menahot 43b). Furthermore, this missvah helps one remember the missvot at every moment, as the pasuk says (Bemidbar 15:39), "You will see it and you will remember all the missvot of Hashem and perform them."

Whereas the tallit gadol should be worn on top of all one's clothes, the tallit katan, according to the custom of the Sefaradim and all "Edot Hamizrah," should be worn specifically underneath one's clothing, and the strings should not be left outside one's clothes.

Every Jewish male should wear a tallit katan at all hours of the day. The especially meticulous make sure not to walk four cubits without wearing a tallit katan.

The Zohar writes (Parashat Shelah 175a) that even one wearing a tallit katan should make sure to wear a tallit gadol during the recitation of shema and tefilah.

The prevalent custom among the Jewish people is to wear a tallit gadol for Shaharit alone. Some Kabbalists, however, had the custom of wearing a tallit gadol (and placing tefillin) for the Minhah prayer, as well. The custom is to wrap oneself in the tallit after reciting birkot hashahar and birkot haTorah. It is preferable not to remove one's tallit until after the completion of the tefilah, after "aleinu." One who prays "Arvit" before sunset (after pelag haminhah) should preferably be wearing a tallit katan.

The custom in Yerushalayim is to wear tallit and tefillin in the Bet Kenesset for Shaharit on Tisha B'Av. Others, however, have the custom of wearing tallit and tefillin in the Bet Kenesset on Tisha B'Av during Minhah only, and they recite Shaharit without tallit and tefillin. Those who follow this practice have authorities on whom to rely. Preferably, however, those who follow this practice should try to put on tallit and tefillin in their homes before Shaharit and recite shema while wearing tallit and tefillin (after the recitation of birkot haTorah). After reciting the shema, the tallit and tefillin should be removed for Shaharit, and then worn again for the Minhah service.

A mourner during "shivah" wears a tallit gadol during Shaharit, even on the first day of mourning, when tefillin is not worn.

One who does not have a tallit and may miss public tefilah should he wait for a tallit should pray with the congregation without a tallit rather than wait for his tallit and thus sacrifice praying with a minyan. At very least, however, he should be wearing a tallit katan as he prays.

One should hold the ssissit with his left hand near his heart as he recites keriyat shema.

According to the Ar"i zs"l and the Kabbalists, one should hold all four strings in his hand. Others, however, maintain that only the two front strings should be held.


Tiny Beasts of Prey

Try to guess which animals of prey are the strongest and most vicious in relation to their size. The answer is not the tiger, leopard or lion, not even the wolf. The answer is rather tiny creatures - really small - creatures without vertebrae, such as crabs, spiders, small insects, and others. One of the most dangerous creatures of prey - the dragonfly - has the misleading appearance of a nice, gentle insect that flies over puddles and streams. It has a large head with two large eyes, each of which contains around a thousand small eyes. Its sharp vision and speed makes it qualify as a first-rate hunter. It can catch its prey both while on the hunt as well as while sitting and relaxing. Its two pairs of wings allow it to accelerate to a speed of thirty kph while searching for insects. Its ability to change colors, albeit somewhat restricted, also assists in its chase after prey. It can camouflage itself in one of its colors, concealed from the sight of the unsuspecting victim. As its defense mechanism is down, the prey stands no chance against the dragonfly's surprise attack.

Another small insect, a type of wasp, prepares in advance the food needed for all its young it will produce throughout its life. It accomplishes this by hunting spiders and other crawling insects. Through the poison it injects with its stinger, this creature paralyzes its victim. Its quickness and stinger allow it to hunt even dangerous, poisonous spiders. First it hovers above the spider, and then it thrusts its venom into the unsuspecting prey. It then carries its meal into its hive and lays its eggs, thus ensuring that the offspring will have its food ready for it right upon birth.

One who sees such a tiny creature will find it awfully surprising that they can be so vicious. Indeed, external appearance can easily mislead innocent, unknowing onlookers. Now this isn't such a big deal with regard to the characteristics of one creature or the next. Besides the scientific knowledge, this information won't make one bit of difference to the individual. But it's a different matter entirely when the external appearance of a person prevents him from striving towards the source of truth, lives of Torah and missvot. One who succeeds to overcome preconceived notions can expect a warm and pleasant surprise. He will enjoy the benefit of the great light provided by the Torah and the fulfilment of missvot, something which cannot be matched by anything else in the world.


The Deserted Woman of Jerusalem (The End)

A story taken from the book, "Hasaraf MiBrisk,"
the story of the life of Maharil Diskin zs"l

Flashback: Mereishah, who was abandoned by her unscrupulous husband, was instructed by the Seraf of Brisk, Mahari"l Diskin zs"l, to go to Paris to find her husband. The day she arrived, a wedding was taking place at the inn where she was lodging. She looked on and identified the groom as her husband, at which point she fainted. Upon regaining her consciousness, she told her story to the local rabbi who was about to conduct the wedding ceremony, and he told the bride's father what had happened. The father spoke to his daughter, and they both decided that they could not bear the embarrassment of cancelling the wedding. The father asked that the rabbi "finish the business" and start the huppah.

"In order to 'finish the business' as you asked," said the rabbi, "we must arrange for the giving of a 'get.'"

"Okay, we can do that in ten minutes," said the father, and he promised to pay the fee. The rabbi noticed out of the corner of his eye how the groom suddenly straightened up on his chair and the smile returned to his mouth.

He was about to earn the total elimination of his past, he wouldn't even need to keep his secret and fear the uncovering his past. After all, his bride and father-in-law know full well about his past; never again could they contend that they were tricked or misled. The rabbi sensed what was going through the groom's mind, and realized that a simple arrangement such as payment for the "get" is not enough. "Arranging the 'get' is not the problem," he explained. "The real issue here is that the deserted woman demands compensation for her suffering, an amount that will guarantee her future as well as that of her children. I believe that a Bet Din must be convened in order to determine an appropriate payment."

"We can have the entire issue settled in ten minutes," the father guaranteed. "I promised this person over here that I would give ten thousand franks as a dowry. Certainly he would agree to transfer that sum over to his former wife and children. I believe this would be enough for her."

Ten thousands franks - a fortune! The rabbi caught a glimpse of the groom's gritting teeth, as the glimmer of delight quickly disappeared from his face.

The father-in-law took the guarantee from his pocket and said, "All you have to do is change the name. The rabbi can already begin arranging the 'get.'

Let's finish this whole affair and get on with the wedding."

Mereishah returned to Yerushalayim as one of the wealthiest women in the city. She paid the "General Council" for the expenses of her trip and married off her children generously. Rabbi Naftali Ssevi Parush, the son of Rabbi Shelomoh Zalman who brought Mereishah to the Seraf of Brisk in the first place, recorded this incident in his work, "so as to point out the greatness and sanctity of our rabbi zs"l as the worker of wonders, who saved a Jewish woman in most wondrous fashion from her state of abandonment."

The End


We have no choice. No matter how well everyone knows the story, no matter how many times it has been repeated, perhaps even exhausted, we must tell it again. The criticisms and condemnations have themselves become repetitive, and yet we don't find people too tired to repeat them constantly, to find new versions of the slander and yield from them false accusations and inquiries.

King David says in Tehillim (119:176), "I have strayed like a lost sheep, seek Your servant." Rav Bunim of Peshischa zs"l once sat with his hasidim and asked, "Who among you can tell me the explanation of the pasuk, 'I have strayed like a lost sheep, seek Your servant'? How can a sheep get lost in straw?"

He meant that the word "bekash" - "seek" - may also be understood as the contraction, "be-kash," in straw. His disciples were baffled by the question, and no one dared point out that the pasuk is not referring to straw. They understood that something deeper must underly the rebbi's words.

The rebbi explained with a story of a plague that broke out in the forest, decimating the wildlife that inhabited the woods. The lion thought to himself, "There is no punishment without sin, and there is no death without some guilt; we must therefore examine our deeds to find out why this calamity has struck."

And so, the entire animal kingdom was assembled for an urgent meeting to conduct a process of introspection and repentance. The lion opened the session by confessing, "I recall my sin before the public audience - every day I consume two sheep and conclude my meal with several young lambs." All the animals responded in unison, "This involves no wrongdoing - a king can do as he pleases, and nobody can stop him!"

Then the wolf spoke up, confessing his sin, as well: "I also have attacked flocks, taking for myself sheep indiscriminately!"

The animals calmed him down, as well: "This is how it is by nature - wolves attack and plunder. This constitutes no sin!"

Then the bear stood up and confessed to having stolen an entire honeycomb.

He, too, was comforted by the others, who noted that this is the way of the world, that bears take honey for themselves.

But they all wondered, if so, if we cannot find any guilty party, on whose account was the forest devestated by plague?

A meek, frail sheep stood up and confessed humbly and regretfully, "Once I was overcome by hunger, beyond control. I saw a roof of a hut covered with straw, so I climbed up and chewed on some straw."

"Aha!" they all cried. "Because of you we have suffered this calamity!"

Immediately, the lion, bear and wolf pounced on the sheep and killed it for its crime, turning his flesh into their supper.

This is what David said in Tehillim: Master of the World, there is so much corruption in the world, in all walks of life. Look at those who condemn religion in the universities, the sinful behavior in theaters, discos, sports teams, and everywhere else. People spend so much money for vanity, in their gluttonous pursuit of nothingness. It was admitted that the Minister of Education in Israel could save four hundred million shekels without affecting anything, but doesn't, in order that he can maintain his honor and respectability. In kibbussim they teach just nine children in a classroom, under fantastic conditions. Nobody would dream of cutting back the budget - they continue to throw more and more funding into these programs. Alas, they found the cuplrit, they identified the soft-spoken sheep, the small classes in the Torah educational system. If they beat the sheep, then all the problems will suddenly be solved, and only then will the lion, bear and wolf live complete, fulfilled, and satiated lives.

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