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Two Lessons from the Waters of Contention (Mei Merivah)
Much ink has been spilled in attempts to explain the sin of Mosheh Rabbeinu during the incident of "The waters of contention." Why was he convicted? After all, "If the ancients are like angels, then we are like humans" (Shabbat 112b), and how do we have the audacity to explain an angel, and judge his sins! Many explanations have been offered, and the angel already told our teacher, the Beit Yosef z"l, that the range of explanations teaches us how small the sin was, to the point that we must search, test, doubt, and question. The Rabbi "Be'ikvot Mosheh" zss"l says: not only don't we understand the claim against Mosheh, but Mosheh himself did not understand it, for had Mosheh thought that he should not have acted thus, he certainly would not have done so! He found nothing wrong with what he did, until God Himself criticized him.
Therefore, what can we hope to understand? Why should we focus on the tiny sin of the father of all prophets? Still, it is Torah, and we must learn it. If, due to our small understanding, it were not within our abilities to understand and to learn a lesson, the incident would not have been recorded! Torah was given to us as a book of instructions and lessons. It is our obligation to study, understand, and learn the message for us.
Our teacher, the Ran, Rabbi Nissim Gerondi zss"l, explained in his derashot that the sin was in his words, "Listen you rebels", stubborn people, and fools. They were deserving of these names due to their behavior. Our Rabbis said that they fought and quarreled with Mosheh, complaining and grumbling. But, even though each one was deserving of these names, it was forbidden to speak this way of the whole community. The community has a perfection that is lacking in each and every individual. The honor of the community should be protected!
The Gemara says, "You should always stay aware of the honor of the community" (Sotah 40a). God Himself sacrificed his honor and told the Kohanim to stand with their backs to the Aron Kodesh and the Torah scrolls, so that they can face the community.
Our teacher, the Ran, taught something new. When the Gemara says (Kiddushin 40a) that Israel are called sons, whether or not they do the will of God - as it says "They are uncircumcised sons," "They are unreliable sons," - that is in reference to the community. A sinner as an individual loses his status as a beloved son. But klal Yisrael are always called "my firstborn son, Israel," even whey they are steeped in forty-nine gates of impurity.
We can learn two lessons from this. First, it is terrible to speak badly of any community, collective, or group. Not only is there a prohibition of lashon hara and tale bearing when speaking against the community (Hafess Hayyim 10:12), the prohibition is multiplied when it is counted as if he spoke against each and every individual. A person can acquire tens of thousands of sins in one moment, and each of these sins includes many prohibitions (as is explained in the introduction to the Hafess Hayyim), each of which has the weight of the three cardinal sins (Erachin 15b). As soon as he spoke of the whole community, he spoke against the sons of Hashem, and their father will make a claim against their embarrassment. Look at how the father of all prophets was punished immediately when he doubted their faithfulness (Rashi Shemot 4:6, 4:8), even as they wallowed in the forty-nine gates of impurity. How bad the situation has gotten recently in this regard! What hatred do groups spit at one another? Not only is there a prohibition against argument and baseless hatred, there are serious problems of lashon hara, God forbid. We do not need Hashem to say to us, "Will you speak that way against my dear son? We will check you, to see if you are perfect".
There is another less here, no less important. If a person is not perfect, and who in our generation is perfect, he should consider himself as part of the community and benefit from its defense and its affection. The spice Helbonah, which smells bad, was included in the incense and was brought lovingly as part of a korban with the other spices (Keritut 6b). The willow, which has neither smell nor taste, is included with the etrog, lullav, and hadas. The manna descended even for Datan and Aviram together with the rest of Israel. Therefore we are warned, "Do not separate from the community (Avot 2:5), in particular someone who has few good deeds. This is why Israel was commanded to bring the korban Pesah as families, so that each one would benefit from the credits of his friends (Alsheich, Shemot 10). There is a parable for this. If someone walks in the desert and loses his strength, he will certainly fall and die. But if he travels in a caravan, even if he faints they will carry him with them. Therefore, everyone should be sheltered in the shade of the community, to be challenged by Torah classes, and to become part of the collective and not separate from the community!
To Jail the Snake
The people traveled in the desert for forty years. They became impatient, and spoke against God and Mosheh, so Hashem sent the burning snakes against them, which bit and killed many. They asked for forgiveness, begging that Mosheh would pray for them so that the snakes will be removed. He prayed, and God told him to make a brass snake and place it on a pole, and those who had been bitten would look at it and live.
Our teacher, the Hafess Hayyim, asked: when the Egyptians sinned, and the frogs came to their rooms, beds, ovens, and even into their dough, and Pharaoh asked that he should remove them, Mosheh prayed and the frogs all died. When they were struck by the plague of wild animals, and all the animals came out of the forests, Mosheh prayed and they returned from where they came. Are the Children of Israel worse than the Egyptians, God forbid? Why didn't the snakes die? Why did they continue to bite, and all that was left to do was minimize the damage?
His answer is that this is a symbolic punishment for their sins. Their sin involved speech! When a man speaks against his friend, he frees a poisonous snake! This snake cannot be killed, or be made to retreat. It moves around, crawls, strikes, and bites. The only thing left to do is to minimize the damage… This is a tremendous lesson. We must be very careful to guard out tongues, to jail the snake rather than to fee it!
Rabbeinu Yonah, zss"l
"Rabbeinu Yonah" is a known name to any yeshivah boy. The great, honorable Rabbeinu Yonah, the author of Sha'arei Teshuvah, "The Letter on Fear", the famous commentary on Mishlei and Avot, and others. Rabbeinu Yonah lived some 750 years ago, at the end of the fifth millennia and beginning of the sixth. He learned with the Tosafists in Ivra, the brothers Rabbeinu Mosheh, Rabbeinu Yisshak, and Rabbeinu Shmuel sons of Shneur, and with the Rashba zss"l in Montpellier. He was the cousin of the Rambam. His mehutan was the Ramban zss"l, as his son married his daughter.
He established a yeshiva in the city of Barcelona, where he was able to teach many students and Torah greats, including the Rashba zss"l. Among his works: novelae on Shas, which are called "The Ascents of Rabbeinu Yonah," since each topic begins "It has ascended into our hands…" We have "Ascents" on Sanhedrin, Makkot, and novelae on Bava Batra which are usually published in the Shitah Mikubesset. One of his students wrote the "Novelae of Rabbeinu Yonah", which are printed together with the Rif on Berachot. Rabbeinu Bahya praised Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Mishlei. This commentary, based on the manuscript, was published in Berlin in 4680, and was later published with many additions by the great Rabbi Y. Gloskinus shlit"a, with many indices. We also know of Rabbeinu Yonah's commentary on Avot, and his famous book, Sha'arei Teshuvah, on all issues related to repentance. The great Rabbi Akiva Eiger zss"l said that of all the mussar books he is most afraid of the Sha'arei Teshuvah, for it is a halachah book. It is also known that the Hafess Hayyim zss"l relied on it in his own halachik books.
When Rambam published his book, Moreh Nevuchim, Rabbeinu Yonah opposed it vociferously because he had tried to give philosophical explanations for the divine commandments. With time he regretted this action, and even came to Eress Yisrael to asks for forgiveness at his grave. In the month of Heshvan of the year 5024 (1264) he died, but his lips speak through the study of his Torah in the holy yeshivot.
"Therefore the makers of parables say, come to Heshbon"
The Gemara (Bava Batra 78b) explained this verse. The makers of parables (moshlim) are the those who control (moshlim) their desires. (The Ba'al Haturim says that in Gematria that these are the same). "Have come to Heshbon" means "Let us come come and make the calculation (heshbon) of the world: the loss of a missvah compared to its value, and the value of a sin compared to its loss. Rashi comments that this is not the simple reading of the verse. Still, this seems to be an extra passage, and therefore it was only written in the Torah so that we would learn the lesson and calculate the loss of a missvah. This means that we should calculate the value of what we give to charity, compared to its value in the future, as well as the value that we intend to earn through the sin of not giving charity. We will lose seven times more in the future, because a person does not profit from sin, but gains future punishment for it.
Sefer Haredim (35:30) quotes the Zohar (3:178) to explain this verse as referring to a man who calculates his life at the end of the day before he goes to sleep. He should review his day. If he sinned, he should admit his sin and repent. He should think about how he can improve in the future, and how he can avoid stumbling blocks in the future.
The holy Alsheich zss"l draws an educational lesson from the Midrash that says that this verse refers to those who control their desires. They seem to have a clear path; there is no struggle. They avoid all sin, and keep every missvah. But when they come to teach others they need to know that others are not at their level. They can't simply say, "It is forbidden!" and be done with it, "You must!" and that is all. They must convince: sin does not pay, and missvah does pay! We gain no profit from sin, and we do not lose from a missvah, neither in this world nor in the next world. This is the proper educational path.
In the book Reishit Hochmah, in the introduction to the chapter on missvot, he explains this midrash in a different way. A person should never say, "I am a sinner, and have transgressed many times. What effect will it have if I perform this missvah, and what damage will occur if I transgress again?…" A person should never think that way. Rather, as the Midrash says, if he has done a pile of sins, he should perform a pile of missvot. If he spoke lashon hara, he should involve himself in Torah and prayer. If he did evil actions, he should do good actions instead of them. This is the "loss of a missvah" - if he missed many missvot in his life - "compared to its reward" - he should now do many missvot and gain the reward. "The reward of sin" - if he did many sins and his reward is hiding for him in hell - "compared to their loss" - he should not do them again he will gain merit. All this is in addition to the fact that his sin will be erased with his perfect repentance.
Our teacher, the Ramhal zss"l (Messilat Yesharim Chap. 3) taught a different lesson. "Therefore the makers of parables" refers to those who control their desires. The explanation is that we must listen to the directions of experienced people, who have already successfully overcome the problems and have emerged victorious from the war. They are the ones who should show us the path and teach us from their experience. Their main direction is to "come to heshbon," that is accounting for the past and a planning for the future, in order to know the right path to take, in the light of the great ones and the ssadikim of the generation.
According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a
Someone who forgets and does not mention rain in the winter
According to the practice of the Sephardim and the Eastern Jews, and even according to some Ashkenazim, who say "morid hatal" during the winter, if he accidentally said "morid hatal" during the winter instead of "mashiv haruah", he does not repeat. Still, if he remembers before he says "baruch atah Hashem", he should say "mashiv haruah" and then "vene'eman atah" and end with the berachah. If he remembers after he said "baruch atah Hashem" he should continue "mehayeh hametim, atah kadosh," etc, and should not say "lamdeini hukechah" and go back.
If he did not say "mashiv haruah" during the winter, and did not say "morid hatal", if he remembers before he ends the berachah, he should say "mashiv haruah" and then continue from where he ended.
But, if he remembered after he said "vene'eman atah" that he didn't say "mashiv haruah" then he should go back and say "vene'eman atah", and end with the berachah.
But if he remembered that he did not say "mashiv haruah" when he got to the end of the berachah (and he didn't say "morid hatal"), and he said "baruch atah Hashem", but didn't finish "mehayeh hametim", he should say "lamdeini hukecha" and then go back and say "mashiv haruah" and continue "vene'eman" and end with the berachah.
If he remembered that he did not say "mashiv haruah" after he finished the berachah and said "mehayeh hametim" (and he did not say "morid hatal") and he did not yet begin "atah kadosh", he should say "mashiv haruah" between berachot, and continue "atah kadosh."
If he remembers that he didn't say "mashiv haruah" after he already began "atah kadosh" (and didn't say "morid hatal") he returns to the beginning of the prayer. The fact that he would say "mashiv haruah" during "shema koleinu" would not matter. He is also not allowed to rely on the fact that he requests rain in the Blessing of the Years.
Even if after he said "mehayeh hametim" he only said the word "atah", he goes back to the beginning. Similarly, if a shaliah ssibbur or an individual who is praying along with the shaliah ssibbur, who forgot to say "mashiv haruah" (and didn't say morid hatal), and after he completed the berachah by saying "mehayeh hametim" he said the word "nakdishcha", he needs to go back to the beginning of the prayer.
The Seal and the Jewish Perspective
The eye sees only white and more white, from the icy surfaces until the far end of the horizon. The polar bear, searching for his prey, strains his eyes. He knows that the Creator granted the Arctic creatures with white camouflage fur, which blends in to the white snow. Like him, for example. Therefore, he looks for movement, a white fox or a white rabbit. But he sees nothing, and continues on his way, hungry.
If he would come closer, he would see a layer of hundreds upon hundreds of young seals, recently born. They have no hope, they don't know how to swim or to search for food. They lie like babies in their cribs, waiting for their mothers to come to them at night to nurse them. They are open to all and they are easy prey for bears and predatory birds. What did the Creator do? He granted them a later of soft warm fur, with which they blend into the clear snow, and their lack of movement becomes an advantage and a gain, for the predators can not discern them at all.
Thus they are protected and spend the first month of their lives nursing from their mothers' milk, which has ten times the fat of cow's milk. They grow quickly until they weigh, within a month, around sixty kilograms. Then they rise and join their mothers in their swimming and search for food. But here, their white fur coat could become a liability, for it could attract the quick ocean predators. What did the Creator do? He changes their coat into gray, which blends into the color of the depths of the sea: "Everything He has done well, in its time"!
And for the Jewish perspective: It is known that a leather vessel (such as a water sack made from the skin of a sheep) can become impure (Bamidbar 31:20), but the skin of a fish (such as sharkskin) can not become impure. About this the mishnah says: "Everything in the sea is pure, except for the seal, for it escapes to the land" at times of distress. Similarly by every Jew, at the times of distress when he escapes to repentance and prayer and charity, he is pure!
From the book, "Great are the Deeds of G-d"
Summary: The son of a wealthy learned man heard from his father about his close friend who lives in Alexandria. He expresses a desire to meet him and to prove the strength of true friendship. He is accepted with the honor of kings in the merit of his father. A fabulous party is organized in his honor, and his father's friend, a rich banker, puts a companion and guide at his service: a learned, intelligent young man, a scholar with broad knowledge.
The two youths decided to learn Torah together, and a new world was revealed to the son of the wealthy man. He knew that his father was a Torah scholar, and that he enjoyed learning Torah very much. But he never understood what was so enjoyable about it. He had never tasted its pleasant taste. He would say the verses from Tehillim in his prayer, that discuss the Torah: "They are more precious than gold and great wealth, and sweeter than honey and dripping of honeycombs," but his heart was very far from those matters. He learned in the study hall, and his thoughts strayed outside of it. This is how his bad friends had pushed him aside; this is how they seduced him to their parties and vanities. He knew that he had caused distress to his father, but he had never been able to force himself to learn Torah diligently. Now, when he learned with his companion, he first tasted the taste of Torah. His attention was turned to the questions that he should be asking, to the matters he should be surprised about. The topic that had seemed so simple became filled with wonders, obstacles at every step and path. One must think hard, to test the foundations, to change one's approach, and all of the difficulties would be resolved, all of the questions would be answered. It would all be clear and illuminating, and the joy was so great, "there is no joy like the resolution of doubts!"
Day followed day and thirty days of his stay passed. He remembered that Yaakov Avinu resided by Lavan for thirty days, and then went out to work with his sheep. He would no longer continue to eat the bread of kindness, even though he was his beloved… In his home, his elderly parents were waiting for him, awaiting his peaceful return. He turned to his host, the faithful friend of his father, with whom he would dine every night, taking interest in how he had spent the day, and asking if he needed anything, was he satisfied. He turned and said: "I wish to return home."
The host was crushed: "Are you lacking anything that you wish to leave?"
"My father awaits my return," he explained and his father's friend agreed with all of his heart. "Happy is the father who has a son like you! Tell me, would you like something from my property, as a souvenir? Tell me what you want, and you will receive it, with joy!"
There were artistic treasures and beautiful objects of incalculable worth. But the guest chose something that surprised and shocked his host.
To be continued, G-d willing, next week…
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shelit"a
1) It is prohibited to think about Torah in filthy places, even if he is a Torah scholar who is deeply involved in Torah study. He should work hard to distract himself from Torah until he leaves the filthy place.
2) Therefore, if a bad smell enters the synagogue, i.e. if a sewer pipe opens nearby, the congregation must stop their prayers until the smell passes. If it will help, they may burn a garment, so that they smell of the burning garment will overcome the smell of sewage. Or, they may bring in flowers.
3) A person who is found in a filthy prison may not say a blessing, read Shema, or pray. If he wants to perform a missvah, like blowing of shofar, he must do so without a berachah.
4) It is forbidden to think about Torah in the bathroom, and certainly forbidden to say those holy prayers that require a minyan. This is prohibited even in the outer area of the bathhouse, where people generally appear naked, even if there are no people there. In the room of the mikvah itself, if the water is always clear, it is permitted to make a berachah as long as there are no naked people there. If there are naked people, he should turn away and make a berachah.
5) A woman who needs to go to the mikvah in order to become pure to her husband after seven clean days, when she undresses, while she still has on some kind of garment, should make the berachah "al hatevilah", and then finish getting undressed, because one makes all berachot prior to performing the missvah. If she did not bless before entering the mikvah, she should do so when she is in the water up to her neck, and then immerse immediately. If the water is clear, she must be in the water at least above her legs, in order to separate between the heart and her privates. Nowadays, when the mikvah is heated, and the water is full of filth, it has the same rules as a bathhouse.
6) It is prohibited to read Shema, make a berachah, or learn Torah in the presence of feces. If it smells like feces, even if they are physically in another room or building, it is still prohibited. Before blessing, one must be at least four amot away from the smell.
7) A person may not make any kind of berachah while naked. But thinking about Torah is permitted while naked. Only speaking is prohibited. Therefore, a person may think about Torah while showering.
8) A handbreadth of a woman's body which is normally covered, creates a prohibition of reading Shema or making a berachah, even if the woman is his wife. This is prohibited even in a place where woman have the custom of dressing inappropriately (sleeveless). You may, however, close your eyes and make the berachah, or turn away.
9) Woman who are in a period of niddah are obligated to say all berachot and to pray at least once a day. They may learn and be involved in Torah study, and may even say God's name, because words of Torah do not become impure.
Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom
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