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We all know the extent to which the army ensures proper maintenance -- oiling the weapons, keeping them shiny clean, etc. It is told that adamant generals would stick their fingers through the barrels of the guns, and what trouble would they cause if they found a speck of dust inside! And for good reason: it has happened more than once that at the decisive moment the gun would get stuck; the weapon failed due to the neglect of its owner. Why was I reminded of this? Because of a pasuk in our parashah. “The entire nation saw that Aharon had died.” The Gemara in Ta’anit (9b) writes that we should read the word “vayir’u” - “they saw” - as if it was written as, “vayi’ir’u,” “they feared.” Once Aharon died, the miraculous clouds of glory, which offered them protection by separating between them and their enemies, dissipated. Amalek thus concluded that permission has been granted to attack Benei Yisrael. They came, launched an offensive, and took captives. However, the Gemara concludes, the clouds of glory returned in the merit of Moshe Rabbenu, the faithful shepherd, and they once again dissipated upon his passing.
The Torah is eternal, as are its lessons. The Gemara establishes that whoever undermines the importance of the sages and asks, “What do the scholars do for me?” is considered a heretic, since he has rejected an explicit pasuk: “If not for My covenant day and night [referring to the regular Torah study], I will not have placed the laws of the heaven and earth.” It likewise says, “I will forgive the entire place on their behalf” (Sanhedrin 99b). The Midrash writes that were the gentile nations to know the benefit their countries derive from the yeshivot situated in their lands, they would appoint two soldiers to protect each yeshivah student to encourage him to learn without interruption.
It is told that during the Yom Kippur War, the “Birkat Avraham” zs”l would frantically admonish his students, “Apply yourselves diligently to learning; each word of Torah saves the life of a soldier at the front and turns away the enemy’s weapons -- what an enormous responsibility rests on your shoulders!”
Just as the Torah of the “gadol hador” protects the generation, and the Torah of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a protects all of us, so does the Torah class in which the father of the house studies protect the entire household from poverty, illness, and hard times. What an enormous responsibility he bears to maintain a regular framework of Torah study, and how important it is for the other family members to assist and encourage him in this regard! Just as Hazal say that the Torah continues to exist in the merit of the schoolchildren, who study in Torah schools, so is the family a small world unto itself, and it exists in the merit of the learning of the young boys and girls enrolled in Torah education. Parents who seek an abundance of blessings from the heavens, prosperity and success, health, “nahat” and joy, should register their children in Torah education. Their family will then earn light, joy, happiness and honor.
“Rise, o well”
In what merit did Benei Yisrael earn the well in the wilderness? Hazal say in the Midrash (Beresheet Rabbah 48:10) that for offering water to the angels who visited him, Avraham Avinu earned a reward “in the wilderness, in the settled land, and in the world to come.” This is what is meant by the pasuk, “Then Yisrael sang this song: rise, o well - sing to it!” This well provided them water in the wilderness. Where was the reward “in the settled land”? The pasuk says about Eress Yisrael, “A land of streams of water, wells and fountains coming out from the valley and mountain.” And from where do we know of the reward in the world to come? “On that day, fresh water will come forth from Yerushalayim” (Zecharyah 14:9; see Malbim, Yechezkel 47:8).
What immense award awaits for every act of kindness - what abundance of blessing do we receive for each misvah!
“Rise, o well”
Eliyhua Hanavi wrote in Tanna Debei Eliyahu (12): Blessed is the Al-mighty, blessed is He, who pays good reward for those who fear Him in this world and the next. For this is how kindness works: the individual partakes of its fruits in this world, yet the principal reward remains for him in the world to come. In reward for the jug of water with which the ministering angels washed their feet, the Al-mighty gave Yisrael the well for forty years. How does this work? When Yisrael would fulfill the will of the Al-mighty, the well would hurry, come early, go and flow forth in its place, wherever Yisrael would encamp. But when they did not fulfill the will of the Al-mighty, the well would come around an hour, two, three, four or five hours late, until young men and Torah scholars would go out and say, “Rise, o well, in the merit of Avraham, Yisshak and Yaakov; rise up, o well, in the merit of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.” The well would then flow and come forth. At that moment there was great joy among Yisrael -- from the oldest to the youngest! Let us learn from our predecessors: what did Yisrael do when they needed water, when the well did not flow for them? They didn’t think of desalinization of ocean water or importing water from Turkey… They placed their trust in the prayers of children and Torah scholars, and they invoked the merits of the sadikim of the previous generations and the gedolim that lived in their midst.
“Rise up, well”
The Or Hahaim Hakadosh zs”l explained this song as referring to the Torah, which is called, “the well of fresh water.” “Rise, o well” thus means that this is a song about the exalted, sublime Torah. “The well - dignitaries dug it”: the sacred patriarchs were the ones who paved the way for us to merit the Torah, by implanting within our hearts faith and good qualities, the means by which one acquires Torah. But, continues the pasuk, “the nobles of the people started.” Practically, Moshe Rabbenu was the one who gave us the Torah. “After him came those who received it from him -- the elders, prophets and the Anshei Kenesset Hagedolah, and they expounded it and revealed its hidden wisdom. For the written Torah without the oral Torah -- nobody can drink from its waters.” The song then continues, “with maces, with their staffs.” This refers to the scholars of all generations who continue expounding the Torah and “dig” to greater depths. However, all this must only build on the words of their predecessors. “For every nuance in Torah must be explained on the foundation of the words of our sages; everything that is not founded on the words of the earlier scholars cannot be relied upon.”
“Rise, o well”
In truth, already the mishnah (Avot 6:2) and Gemara (Eruvin 54b) interpreted this song as referring to Torah. They said that the words, “From the desert, to Matanah [literally, ‘a gift’]” mean that if a person turns himself into a wilderness that everyone treads upon (meaning, that he has no arrogance), then his learning will remain with him and be given to him as a gift. Then, “From Matanah, to Nahaliel.” Once Torah is given to him as a gift, he inherits Hashem’s Torah. (“Nahaliel” may be read as, “nahal keil” - the inheritance of Hashem.) “And from Nahaliel - to Bamot.” Once he has inherited it, he rises to higher levels. (“Bamot” means high places.) But if he prides himself, Hashem brings him down, as it says, “From Bamot -- the valley.” If he repents, then Hashem once again raises him: “every valley shall be raised.”
Rabbi Moshe Haddad zs”l
The Haddad family was well known for the generations of sages it produced, in fulfillment of the dictum, “Whoever is a talmid hacham, and his son is a talmid hacham and his grandson is a talmid hacham, from there on Torah remains with its host.” Rabbi Moshe zs”l, who lived around two hundred years ago and served on the rabbinical court in Djerba, was the son of Rabbi Avraham zs”l. He likewise had served as a rabbinical magistrate in Djerba, and was the grandson of Rabbi Yis’hak zs”l, author of “Karnei Re’em,” “Todot Yis’hak” and “Zera Yis’hak.”
Stories of wonders are told about Rabbi Moshe and his wife a”h, who were well accustomed to the performance of miracles. Once, they purchased an ox and tied it in their courtyard. Their gentile neighbor wanted the animal for himself, so he came one night and moved the animal into his courtyard. The rabbi’s wife saw him in the morning and demanded that he return the ox. But the thief brazenly denied the accusation and claimed that this was his rightfully owned animal. He then threatened to kill them if they tried to take it from him. The rabbi’s wife waited until evening, and under the nighttime cover of darkness came to retrieve her animal. But the neighbor awoke and came outside, seeking to carry out his threat. She said to him, “Fall into the slumber of Haman!” Suddenly, a deep sleep overcame the thief, and in the morning it was discovered that this was a slumber from which he would never awaken!
On another occasion, she asked her husband to go purchase oil, as their stock, which was used for food and light, had run out. He told her that, please G-d, he would go buy oil the following day. At midnight, he arose, as was his want, to conduct “Tikkun Hassot” and learn Torah. He tried lighting the fire, but the wick would not kindle -- there was no more oil in the flask. He went to the kitchen, forgetting that they had run out of oil. He found a full jug, poured it into the lamp, and studied by the candlelight until morning. In the morning, his wife reminded him that he must purchase oil. He asked, “Don’t we have a full container in the kitchen?” The wife did not know what he was talking about, and showed him the empty jug they had just finished. He went into the kitchen and saw that he had used a jug of vinegar to light the lamp. He thus saw the fulfillment of Hazal’s comment, “The One who said that oil should light, can say that vinegar should light!” May Hashem similarly show us miracles in their merit!
We cannot possibly comprehend Moshe Rabbenu’s sin at Mei Merivah. It is clearly true what the Rashbam says that he sinned only inadvertently, mistakenly, and acted innocently. But if so, why did Hashem punish him so severely? He bore the burden of the nation for forty years, caring for them as a nursemaid tends to the baby under her charge. He led them to the brink of entry into the Promised Land -- why was he denied entry himself? The answer appears in the Gemara (Kiddushin 40a). Whatever it was that happened there, the pasuk points to a lack of “kiddush Shem Shamayim,” the sanctification of Hashem’s Name: “Because you did not believe in Me, to sanctify Me before Benei Yisrael…” Hazal teach us that no distinction is made between intentional and unintentional violations of “hillul Hashem,” the desecration of Hashem’s Name.
All of Moshe Rabbenu’s merits -- “Mosheh earned merit and brought merit upon the nation; the nation’s merit is thus attributed to him” (Avot 5:18) -- did not help him, for there is nothing greater than “kiddush Hashem” and nothing more severe than “hillul Hashem,” Heaven forbid (Yoma 86a). Indeed, this constitutes our primary obligation on earth, and for this we were created - “Blessed is our G-d who created us for His honor!” This is the most basic and fundamental tenet, and nothing can compare to the importance of “kiddush Hashem.” Everything Hashem created in the world was created for His honor (end of Avot). For good reason, the blessing, “Shehakol bara lichvodo” (“who has created everything for His honor”) precedes that of, “yotzer ha’adam” (“who created man”).
How critical it is for every observant Jew, specifically benei Torah, to ensure to sanctify Hashem’s Name through his daily conduct, that the Name of Hashem becomes loved through his behavior, in fulfillment of the pasuk, “Yisrael - through you I am glorified”!
A king once sought to help his country and raise their standard of living and education. He was a gentile king with ideas far different from ours. A king from malchut Yehudah would have instituted Torah classes, presentations and study days and build Torah libraries. Instead, he collected magnificent oil paintings from the greatest artists in the world and brought them into a museum, which he dedicated with a lavish ceremony. He invited the famous artists to show the country’s appreciation for their work.
Among the visitors at the museum’s inauguration ceremony was a simple farmer from the country. By day he worked in his fields and at night he would go to the local bar and drink to the point of intoxication. That day he had come to the big city to sell some produce, and he heard about the opening of the new museum. He quickly browsed over the paintings and reached the grandstand. He leaned over and shouted, “Your Majesty, with all due respect, I think you have been duped. It seems that you paid a hefty sum of money for lousy work and unprofessional results!”
His announcement triggered a storm, and the guards approached to grab him. The king, however, stopped them. “Let us hear what he has to say.” “You see there, the picture of the drunkard sitting on the stairs with his eyes covered, smiling like a drunkard? It is a nice picture, to be sure, but the man holds the cup straight and upright. Did the king ever see a drunk man hold a cup?”
The king turned to look at the painter sitting next to him, whose face had reddened with shame, and he said, “Thank you for pointing this out; it will be corrected.” He then said to his general, “Please pay him a gift of one thousand coins.”
The farmer was ecstatic. How many bundles of radishes would he have to sell to earn this amount! He then brazenly turned to the king and said, “Thank you, my dear king, but I have another comment, as well: in the picture of the farmer over there, the farmer is depicted harvesting the wheat. But what can I say? The wheat looks like an animal! I only wish my stalks were so full! But the sickle, my dear king, the sickle is so shiny - the painter clearly purchased a brand new tool and copied it faithfully. But where do you find a sickle used in the field without any rust?”
The face of yet another painter dropped in embarrassment, and the king smiled: “Give him another thousand coins.”
The farmer did not know what to do with himself. He never thought he would ever make so much money! In light of his success, he continued further, “Once we’ve gotten this far, will the king perhaps allow me to make another observation?”
The king looked at him kindly and granted him permission. The farmer said, “Over there is an artistic work of the figure of the late king, may his name be glorified. It is clear that the jeweler who set the diamonds in his crown does not know anything about his trade! Instead of setting the diamonds in a straight line and orderly fashion...”
“Enough!” shouted the king, cutting the farmer off in the middle of his sentence. He instructed his officer, “Take him out, and grace him with one hundred lashes!”
The farmer’s face turned dark with despair. Instead of another thousand coins, he will be given lashes until he bleeds. “Why,” he cried. “Why were my earlier criticisms accepted while this one aroused the king’s wrath?” “Don’t you understand,” replied the king, “that when you expressed your view regarding the first drawing, you were absolutely correct: no one knows drunkards better than you, and fortunate are the artists who have no contact with them. Likewise, your second criticism was fully justified. After all, you are a farmer who works regularly with the sickle. But when you expressed your discontent over the third painting, you overstepped your bounds. Who are you to criticize the most professional among the kingdom’s jewelers? That was pure gall and disrespect, deserving of harsh punishment!”
Why do we bring this story here? In our parashah we read of the incident of Mei Merivah, on account of which Moshe and Aharon lost the privilege of entering the holy land. What was their sin? Our sages offer various approaches, each one with a different suggestion. The “maggid,” the angel that appeared to the Bet Yossef zs”l, said that the many different explanations point to the fact that the sin was so minor that one can hardly identify it. Like the professional jewelers who reserve the right to carefully assess the royal artisan’s handiwork, our sages dealt with the issue. But we are like the drunken peasant; how can we thrust ourselves into the thicket? “In a place with fiery sparks and bonfires, who dares enter?!” (Bava Messi’a 85b). “If the earlier ones were like angels” - can we possibly comprehend the sin of an angel?! - “who cast his hand against the Mashi’ah of Hashem and was forgiven?”
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa’ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a
The Halachot of Torah Study (continued)
The Gemara in Hagigah establishes that one may study Torah only from a rabbi with superior qualities, one who “resembles the angel of Hashem.” Rabbi Meir, however, studied under Elisha Ben Avuyah even after he became a heretic, because, the Gemara explains, only a “minor” must avoid learning from sages who act improperly. “Adults,” meaning, those who know how to exercise care and not learn from the teacher’s wrongdoing, may study even under teachers who do not act appropriately. The Rambam and Shulhan Aruch rule categorically that one may not learn under a rabbi who does not walk along the proper path, without drawing the aforementioned distinction. The Lehem Mishneh and Shach explain that the other tanna’im disputed Rabbi Meir’s view, and forbade studying under such a teacher under all circumstances, regardless of the student’s age or status. This is also the view of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz. However, a different Gemara, in Hagigah 15b, reports that Hashem Himself accepted Rabbi Meir’s position and approved of his having studied under Elisha Ben Avuyah (see below). In fact, Tosafot there in Hagigah and Ta’anit (7b), as well as the Meiri in Hagigah, accept the Gemara’s distinction as authoritative. The Or Hahaim (Devarim 12:28) adopts this view, as well, but explains the Rambam as maintaining that nowadays no one can consider himself strong enough to learn from a wicked teacher without being impacted. Other Aharonim ruled accordingly. If this were true when they published their works, then certainly today one may not learn or have his children learn under teachers who are not observant. Therefore, parents may not send their children to non-religious schools even if they teach there some Judaic studies, since the teachers are themselves non-observant.
The aforementioned Gemara in Masechet Hagigah 15b relates that Hashem at first did not want to say words of Torah in Rabbi Meir’s name since he studied under a sinner. Only after Rabbah Bar Sheila defended Rabbi Meir did the Al-mighty agree to quote his teachings. We may explain this based on the Gemara in Bava Kama 60b, which says that one does not say over words of Torah heard from someone who endangered his life for them. Similarly, one who studies under a “rasha” endangers his life from a spiritual point of view; others may therefore not cite his Torah. Hashem thus did not say Torah from Rabbi Meir until Rabbah Bar Sheila argued that Rabbi Meir was strong enough to learn the material without being influenced by his teacher’s heresy. (See Yabi’a Omer vol. 8, Yoreh Dei’ah 19.)
As for the origins of Elisha Ben Avuyah’s turn to heresy, the Yerushalmi explains that once, when his mother carried him in her womb, she passed by gentile homes and smelled their food. We see that even the smell of non-kosher food yields such a profound effect on the individual, that even all of Elisha’s Torah could not protect him from the bad influence. Certainly, then, one must ensure not to eat any non-kosher foods. Everyone should therefore purchase only items with strict and reliable kashrut supervision.
The Secret of the Singing Sands
In the sandy deserts of Asia, Africa and America we find among the most wondrous natural phenomena. Visitors report that the sands sing and whistle, and the resulting music instills fear within the innocent wayfarers who believe in superstition. The obvious question is, why do the sands sing? In truth, the sands do not sing according to any musical notes, but rather as a result of the rubbing of the delicate grains of sand, just as the strings of a violin sound music by rubbing against each other. The more delicate the sand, the more delicate and musical the rustle. The notes change over the course of the day. The higher shrieks are heard in the middle of the day, when the delicate grains of sand are particularly dry. In the evening hours, after the sun has disappeared from the western sky, the grains are somewhat calmer. At night or after rain the sounds disappear entirely. One researcher who studied the secrets of the singing sand in the Hawaiian islands found that the grains of sand are hollow and filled with air. When they rub together, the air is extracted, thus producing the melody. When rain falls, water fills the hollow grains of sand, effectively silencing their music. Two other researchers collected over three hundred types of sand in various parts of the world and determined that among these types only 130 possess “musical talent”; the other 170 have no musical sense whatsoever.
How fascinating it is to hear of unusual and even amazing phenomena that exist in creation, and how wondrous it is to learn the explanation behind the musical sands. The solution to a mystery undoubtedly gives one a terrific feeling familiar to anyone who successfully resolved a difficulty. But let’s face it, it generally does not happen that an ordinary person in his daily life encounters wondrous phenomena and manages to solve the mystery hiding behind them. How often does one have the opportunity to enjoy the resolution to a difficulty? For us Jews, answering difficult questions is a daily activity. Every student in a Torah school and every yeshivah student resolves difficulties every day, each on his own level. He receives spiritual enjoyment that has no equal, earning a deepened understanding of the sacred Torah.
Reb Nahumke (6)
Flashback: As a young boy, Nahumke never stepped foot in a Torah school, since his father could not afford tuition. He would rather take his three-year old boy with him to the beer factory where he worked and in his brief recesses taught him to read and write, tefilah and Tehillim. Afterwards, the boy would wander about in the woods with the gentile children in the area. Later, his father accepted a position as supervisor in the factory of the wealthy Yehudah Leib Ganker. His financial status rose remarkably, but the isolated estate where the family lived offered no opportunities for a Torah education for his son. To his good fortune, the wealthy Yehudah Leib took note of the boy’s remarkable talents, adopted him as a son and devoted several hours a day to studying with him.
The gates of light opened before Nahumke. The sea of the Talmud spread before his eyes, with all its glory and vastness. He dived through the intellectual waters with intense joy and drew pearls of wisdom from their depths. However, this glorious period did not last long. Besides his holdings, estates and factories, Yehudah Leib Ganker also worked in business and had become among the most prominent merchants of flax and canvas. His business compelled him to travel to the markets in other cities. His absence hit Nahumke both spiritually and physically: not only was he unable to study with Yehudah Leib, but he could not even stay in his home, as the prohibition of ‘yihud’ forbade him to remain alone with Yehudah Leib’s wife. He therefore bid his parents farewell, received their blessing, and headed to the nearest town, Beisgelah, which lay about eight or so miles from the Ganker estate.
Nahumke made his way towards the Bet Midrash. Like all Batei Midrash throughout the world, this room bustled with Torah day and night. Youngsters who finished their studies in the “talmud Torah” would continue their studies in the Bet Midrash, and the married students who were supported by their fathers-in-law likewise spent their days there. Working men who were occupied with earning a living would set aside time for study in the Bet Midrash - some in the morning, others after tefilah, and some between Minhah and Arbit or in the evening. There were classes in Mishnah, Gemara, Midrash and halachah. Suddenly, all those studying lifted their heads. A beautiful, pleasant voice filled the room. The beauty of Nahumke’s learning stopped people’s hearts. The beautiful, inspirational tunes he learned from his father when teaching him Tehillim, which the boy practiced when reciting tefilot, now poured out into his learning. He studied with a fervent heart and emotion, with excitement and incessant energy. The fire of his study was contagious and inspired the lax youngsters around him as well as the fatigued workers who had come to learn. In just a short hour, the entire Bet Midrash became filled with the fire and passion of Torah, as if it has suddenly come to life. The people were awed tenfold when the time came for tefilah. They observed the boy’s impassioned prayer accompanied by a silent melody. He continued his emotional prayers long after everyone else finished. He was fervently attached to his Creator and did not notice the group that had assembled around him, waiting anxiously for him to finish.
To be continued
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
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