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Parashat Hukat

The Clouds of Glory

After the High Priest Aharon's death, the Clouds of Glory (Ananei Hakavod) dissipated. In the past, these clouds had surrounded Benei Yisrael, and protected them from external dangers. Amalek took advantage of this situation, and attacked the Jews, and was even able to take Jewish Prisoners of War. Benei Yisrael regrouped, promised to give a portion of the spoils to Hashem, and were able to conquer their enemy. This story has a message for us today as well. The merit of a Sadik protects the entire nation. Also, when Moshe sent the spies among the wicked Cana'anim he asked, "Do they have an Etss?" a protector among them who can save them. The same is true about Sedom. Had there been ten righteous people in the city, everyone would have been saved. We have a debt of gratitude towards our Sadikim, as well as to all those who learn the Torah, whose merit protects us!

However, there is another equally important idea here as well. The book of Kohelet compares man to a "Small City." The Medrash even call Man a "Small World." People have various qualities, and act differently, and at times do not act properly. If G-d punished us accordingly, how would we be able to survive?

The answer is, our "cities" as a whole must all be judged as being righteous. Through our learning the Torah and its laws, we can come closer to Hashem and His laws. Through having part of our time devoted to righteous acts, we can be considered as being a righteous "city." In this way, the "Clouds of Glory" are able to protect us, and even our families!

The Continuity of Generations

We all believe that G-d is all-powerful. He can perform miracles as easily as He controls nature. G-d uses Nature to run the world because He so determined that it is the best way to run the world. Therefore, we know that miracles are an uncommon occurrence. Our Rabbis have taught us (Germara Shabbat 53) that there once was a person whose wife died and left behind a young child. The husband did not have the money to pay for a nurse for the child, and was in great need, until a miracle occurred and the father himself was able to nurse the child. Rav Yosef proclaimed, "Come and see what a great person this was who G-d performed a miracle for him!" Rav Yosef's student, Abayai, said to him, "Just the opposite! This person is not righteous, he caused the course of nature to be altered!" We do not pray for miracles, Hashem has decreed that the world should be ruled through natural occurrences, and it is not our place to ask for anything otherwise. The Gemara tells us another story about Rabbi Yosef from Yukeret who hired workers to work in the desert for him. One day, Rabbi Yosef was late in bringing his workers their food. The workers were hungry and impatient. Rabbi Yosef's son found a date tree, which he asked, "Date tree, give forth your fruits so my father's workers may eat." Immediately, the tree produced fully ripened dates, which the workers ate. Eventually, Rabbi Yosef came with the food, and explained that he was late because he was tied up doing a Misvah. The workers exclaimed, "May you be blessed with food, just as we have been!" - and they explained to him the miracle that had occurred. Rabbi Yosef became very angry. "My son, you bothered your Creator to change nature, your nature will also be changed, and you will not live to your full life expectancy." We learn from here that even though Hashem is not truly "bothered" by performing miracles, it his not His Will to do so.

The miracles that happened to Benei Yisrael throughout our generations happened when it was the only way to save them. This explains the miracles at the Red Sea, the Mann in the desert, and even the miracles that were needed for national unity, like the sprouting forth of Aharon's staff in last week's Parashah.

However, we see in this week's Parashah a tremendous miracle, and we do not know why it was done. Moshe Rabbeinu climbed up the mountain Hor Hahar with Aharon, and Elazar his son, and entered a cave. Inside, Moshe took off the High Priest's garments from Aharon and dressed Elazar with them. Aharon was happy seeing the transition of the High Priest's position from him to his son. The Ramban quotes a Midrash, which explains that a great miracle took place at this time. Normally, people undress with the outermost layer first. Consequently, if one person waits for the clothes of another, he will have to wait for the first person to completely undress before putting on the new clothes. But here, a miracle took place. First, the Shehinah surrounded Aharon, acting as a layer of clothing. Then, his clothing was transferred to his son, with his undergarments first, and the outer garments last.

What was the purpose of this miracle? There was no threat to life, or even personal honor to Aharon, as the Shehinah was already clothing him. Why couldn't Aharon undress as normal people do?

It must be that this miracle was meant to teach us a basic lesson for all generations. There is never even a moment's gap between the continuity of the generations even the few seconds between the undressing and redressing of clothes! Kohelet teaches us, "The sun rises and sets." Before Hashem extinguishes the light of one Sadik, he "lights" the beginning of a new leader. Before Moshe passed away, Yehoshua led. Before Yehoshua died, there was Atniel the son of Kenaz. Before Eli expired, Shmuel's "light" began. And so forth throughout all the generations (Beresheet Rabbah 58b).

Similarly the Torah teaches us, "The Pillar of Cloud will not dissipate during the day, nor will the Pillar of Fire be extinguished at night." The Rabbis teach us that there was never a moment when one of the Pillars was not lit. The Pillar of Fire began at the very end of the day (when the Cloud was about to dissipate), and the Pillar of Cloud began immediately before the day (before the Fire was extinguished). The Gemara (Shabbat 23b) learns from here that it is imperative to light Shabbat candles (which are compared to the Pillar of Fire) from before sunset - just like the Pillar of Fire began a few minutes before the end of daylight. This is similar to the idea found here. Hashem ensures that the Pillars of Protection are always existent - there is never a moment between the Pillars of Fire and Cloud.

Just as our protection from Hashem is always uninterrupted, so must our service of Hashem. The changing of the Lehem Hapanim every week was done with one group of people removing the old bread, while at the same moment the next group of people brought in the new loaves (Gemara Menahot 99b). Let this be a lesson to us to never take a "vacation" from our service of Hashem. We must always make sure that there is never an interruption in our performance of Hashem's laws.


Based on the Rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

Cereal and Beer
Last week, we explained that on porridge that has a thin consistency, even though it is made from flour, one must recite the berachah of "shehakol." But, if the porridge is thick (similar to molasses), and cannot simply be drunk, (even though one does not need to chew it), it needs the berachah of "mezonot."

The Mishnah Berurah writes (208:23), that the above is only correct when dealing with porridge that is made from flour, as the wheat content is dissolved in water, and is therefore not recognizable. However, cereal that has whole wheat or barley particles, such as is the case with oatmeal, the correct berachah is "mezonot." Even though the oatmeal might be very thin, the correct berachah is still mezonot, as there are whole particles of grain within the mixture. The correct practice is in accordance with the Mishnah Berurah regarding this issue, and this is what Hacham Ovadia Yossef shlit"a's practice is.

The proper blessing on beer still requires explanation. Beer is made from soaking barley in water. One might therefore compare beer to the following halachah: The Mehaber writes (205) that the proper blessing on water which was cooked with vegetables has the same berachah as the vegetables, even though he is not eating the vegetables. Since the vegetables gave the water its taste, the water also has the same berachah as the vegetables. Thus, it would seem that according to the Mehaber, the proper berachah on beer as well would be "mezonot", as its taste is derived from barley.

However, the Taz differentiates between the cases. In the case of beer, the actual taste of barley is not present in the water. Since beer has a new taste, which is different than the original barley, beer has a different status from barley. Therefore, the proper berachah is "shehakol." But, in the case of the cooked vegetables, the original taste of the vegetables is present in the water. Therefore the water has the same berachah as the vegetables. The Taz's argument is even more relevant to us, as there are those who do not agree with the Mehaber even in the case of the cooked vegetables, unless there are vegetable particles within the water. According to this view, if one said the berachah of "ha'adamah" on the water cooked with vegetables, and there were no vegetable bits in the water, then he has made a berachah in vain. Although the Mehaber does not agree with this opinion, we have a rule that one follows the lenient view with berachot. (safek berachot lehakel) Consequently in the case of beer one should make the berachah of "shehakol."

In summary, thin cereal made from flour (porridge) that can be drunk has the berachah of "shehakol." Oatmeal, and all cereals that have whole wheat particles, have the berachah of "mezonot" even if they are not thick. Any thin porridge also has the berachah of "mezonot." One says the berachah of "shehakol" on beer, even if the beer is made from barley.


Rabbi Eliyahu Mani zs"l
On Sunday, the eighth day of Tamuz, we will commemorate the passing of Rabbi Eliyahu Mani zs"l. After his death, we found a manuscript of one of his books stating the following: "I have accepted upon myself not to question the writings of the Divrei Shalom, because of what happened to me." Until recently we did not understand why Rabbi Mani acted this way, especially as Torah is learned specifically from asking and answering the problems one encounters when learning!

The answer to this riddle is found within the book, "Yisachar U'zevulun," where the following story is mentioned:
Once Rabbi Eliyahu Mani sat and learned the text of the Divrei Shalom with his colleague Rabbi Nissim Ini zs"l. They discussed the interpretation of a difficult Kabalistic issue that his grandfather, the Rashash Zei'ah addressed. After reading the Divrei Shalom's understanding of the issue, Rabbi Mani proclaimed, "This was not the Rashash Zei'ah's meaning!" Rabbi Mani, with his great knowledge, was able to show the true meaning of the Rashah Zei'ah's work.

Immediately, after saying these words, Rabbi Mani became mute. He began to cry, and formed the words of the Vidui with his lips. Soon afterwards, he regained his power of speech. Rabbi Mani explained that while he was mute, he had a vision of Rabbi Rashash who said, "What right do you have to say that my grandson didn't understand me! You are the one who misunderstood the great words of my grandson." Only after Rabbi Mani further asked for forgiveness, did he become healed.

From here we learn how we must be careful about the honor of teachers and Rabbis.


"And they Fought in Israel, and they Took Captives"
Our teacher, the Ohr HaHayim zs"l, discussed the choice of language "And they fought 'in' Israel" (be'Israel) and not "with Israel" (Im Yisrael). He explained that Benei Yisrael themselves caused this war through their sin of fighting with Moshe and Aharon in Mei Merivah. This sin caused Moshe's death, the dissipating of the Ananei Hakavod (the Clouds of Glory), and the war with Amalek. Therefore, the Torah intentionally wrote, "be'Israel", as the war was caused by the Jews. Similarly, any time when there is Heaven Forbid, a time of need, we should introspect and try to find within ourselves the sins we commit, which in turn affect the entire community.

"Make for Yourself a Serpent, and Put in on a Stake"
Benei Yisrael sinned, "And the nation spoke against Elokim and Moshe", and Hashem sent among the nation the poisonous snakes, who "bit the Jews, and many from Israel died." Afterwards, Benei Yisrael thought about their sins and asked forgiveness from both Hashem and Moshe for complaining. Then, Hashem commanded that Moshe create a statue of a serpent and place it high on a stake so everyone could see it. Anyone who was bitten could then look at this statue and live. On this verse, the Ramban explains that normally if one is bitten by a snake, it only makes him feel worse if he looks at a picture of a snake. Hashem was trying to teach that Teshuvah is able to overcome anything, even poison.

"A Well Dug by Princes, Hollowed Out by Nobles"
The Hidah zs"l compared this verse to the Torah. The Torah has no limit. Even after the great Rabbis in generations past taught and wrote so much Torah, there is still room for scholars in this generation to add to our knowledge of the Torah. The "princes" in this verse are the Rabbis of past generations, and the "nobles" are today's scholars. Anyone, in any generation, who adds to knowledge of Torah becomes a partner to Moshe in "digging" the well of Torah.


The Vocal Chords
The power of speech is the only quality that is unique to man, making man superior from the other species of the world. How is sound generated in the throat? This is one of the wonders of nature found within us.

The vocal chords are located by the top part of our windpipes. Within the vocal chords are two delicate ligaments between which is the voice cavity.

These ligaments are always in flux. When we are silent they are furthest apart, and when we speak they move closer together. This action is aided by throat cartilage, which holds these ligaments in place. Sounds are made when these ligaments vibrate the air as it is released from our lungs. The palate, teeth, tongue, lips, and nose further modify the sounds into speech. The intensity of the sound is dependent on the air pressure that is being forced out of the lungs. The greater the air pressure, the louder the sound.

Sound gives man the ability to express ideas and persuade other people. It is important that we do not abuse this power of speech, and make sure we use it for doing Hashem's wishes. The Rabbis teach us that "v'dibarta bam" (and you should speak about the Torah) refers to the idea that most of our speech should be about issues related to the Torah.


The lesson of "Mei Merivah"
There are many different possibilities as to what was the exact sin of Moshe at Mei Merivah. Some have even suggested that there are so many different explanations about what occurred because the fight was about many different insignificant things. Only when one combines all the different issues into one large one, does one understand why Moshe was punished.

The Rambam raises the possibility that the Jews had been watching Moshe to learn from his every act. When they asked him for water to quench their thirst, Moshe became angry. There was no need for him to become angry, and because of this the Jews thought it was acceptable to become angered easily. As a result, Hashem became angry. If someone knows people are looking to him for direction, he must be extra careful not to do anything that people might learn improperly from.

The Torah teaches us how to act. Any father or mother is similar to Moshe in this regard. We are all role models to other people who learn from our actions. It is impossible to know what bad habits people might learn from our mistakes. We learn from the story of Mei Merivah the importance of being a proper role model.

Excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller

The Mind: Result of Torah Lishmah
But even those who pursue the Torah-study may overlook this important truth. This is due to the omission of two important factors. The first is the failure to approach the Torah-study with the attitude of Lishmah. "Whoever engages in the Torah-study for its own sake (Lishmah) becomes worthy of many things" (Avot 6:1). In addition to the intrinsic Perfection of the Torah which G-d then bestows upon him, this man also identifies himself with the Torah and becomes an enthusiastic advocate for its dissemination, and practice; and certainly he seeks to conduct his personal life according to the teachings of the Torah. But, one who studies Torah not for its sake, is exemplified by the Talmud student who was diligently reciting the law of double-payment (Kefel) by a thief, while studying from a volume of the Talmud which he had taken from a synagogue without permission. The attitude of Lishmah is exemplified by the Sage who admonished his comrades to hold on to their top-hats when the wind blew because of a law in Baba Kama. His scholarly comrades wondered: Where is such a law stated in Baba Kama? The Sage (Rabbi Yisrael Salanter) replied: "One's stone, one's knife, or one's pack which he placed on his roof, and it fell because of the wind and did damage, obligates him to pay" (Baba Kama 3b). Because he was interested enough in the Torah (Lishmah) to seek to apply it to himself, he perceived that the law of "the stone, the knife, or the pack" applied also to a top-hat.

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