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Parashat Devarim

Every Day I will Await his Coming

Our pain over the destruction of the Temple is intertwined with a deep desire that it be speedily rebuilt, and our mourning over our exile is tied to a hope for redemption, one that has only grown stronger over the years. G-d has commanded us that "the longer the redemption tarries, the more one should be hopeful that it shall soon come, as the prophet Habakuk (2:3) tells us, ‘If He tarries, wait for Him, because He will certainly come.’" (Rambam in his letter to Yemen). This can be compared to a man who is waiting for a bus. Not only does he anticipate that it will come any minute, but he realizes that the longer he waits, the better a chance there is for the bus to come right away.

In this connection let us mention a story. Over two hundred years ago, the saintly Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam emigrated from Europe to Jerusalem. One of the greatest students of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement, he was known as a sage and a saint of unparalleled humility. All of the Jerusalem trembled with excitement at the thought of his arrival. Yet the elderly Rabbi Naftali went himself to the Rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Shemuel Salant, and made a request. He was old, he explained, and yet did not feel that he had perfected himself. Indeed, since his teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, had passed away, he was lacking a spiritual guide, and a man cannot be without a rabbi and spiritual mentor. Perhaps Rabbi Salant could help him find someone ...

Rabbi Salant had to keep from smiling. Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam was worthy himslef of being the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem! But one must honor his wishes. "Rabbi Yosef Haim Sonnenfeld delivers a Misha class for laymen in the Batei Mahse Synagogue. His honor can join them, until you hear something new from him. At that point he will become your rabbi, and you will no longer need to attend the class."

Rabbi Salant’s steward, Rabbi Eliahu Mordechai Eisenstein, who was present at the time, could not help but mumble to himself, "The day that Rabbi Naftali will hear something new will be the day on which the Messiah comes ..." But Rabbi Naftali did not hear him. He quickly made his way to Rabbi Yosef Haim’s cramped apartment. The latter was quick to greet his honored guest, who was much older than him. "How could I help his honor the Torah scholar?" he asked with tremendous respect.

"I am neither ‘his honor’ nor a ‘Torah scholar,’" Rabbi Naftali answered broken-heartedly. "I come at the command of Rabbi Salant, to request that his honor accept me as his pupil..."

Rabbi Yosef Haim could not disobey the rabbi’s wishes, so his students were astonished to see the venerable Rabbi Naftali come to the Mishna class, and sit down in an alert yet submissive fashion. He caught every sound the teacher uttered; with his great mind his was able to grasp the profundities in Rabbi Yosef Haim’s presentation which he had simplified for the benefit of his relatively unlearned audience. He realized that Rabbi Yosef Haim resolved tremendous problems without anyone present -- besides Rabbi Naftali -- being aware of it. But, at the same time, he did not hear anything new which he had not previously known; in order to declare Rabbi Yosef Haim his rabbi, as explained in Avot (6:3), he would have to hear some novel interpretation.

One evening the class reached the end of Sanhedrin, and Rabbi Yosef Haim taught them the Rambam’s introduction to the last chapter, where he outlines the thirteen principles of Judaism. The twelfth principle concerns Judaism’s belief in the coming of the Messiah, that "even if he tarry, every day I await his coming." In the course of his remarks he mentioned the statement of the Sages that the Messiah can only come when no one expects him. At this point Rabbi Naftali could no longer contain himself. The question on this statement had always bothered him and now -- he had a rabbi of whom to ask it! "Permit me to question," he said. "How can it be that the Messiah will come only when we do not expect him, if we cannot stop thinking about him for even an instant?"

A question worthy of such a saint!

Rabbi Yosef Haim answered him: "True, we await the Messiah’s coming every day, indeed, every moment. But let us imagine that the door would open right now, and someone would say, ‘Gentlemen -- the Messiah has come!’ Would we not all think for a moment, ‘Really?’ Let me ask his honor: Isn’t this ‘not expecting’ the Messiah? After all, when we await the arrival of a guest and we are told that he has come, we are not even slightly surprised. We get up to greet him!"

"True, how true!" cried Rabbi Naftali with great emotion. "I have found a rabbi! I have learned a new thing!" And from that day on he realized how to await the coming of the Messiah...

For Your Servants Have Longed for its Stones

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) tells us that "even if the only merit the Jewish people has is that of yearning for redemption, that merit is enough to redeem them."

Based on this, the Hida explained the daily prayer -- "Cause the shoot of King David to speedily flourish,and raise his power through Your salvation." Should one ask, reading this prayer -- How can we hope for salvation? Where is our Torah, our missvot? The prayer itself provides the answer -- "For we have yearned for Your salvation the entire day." This merit of yearning for redemption will lead to our salvation!

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, in his Kuzari (5:27), quotes King David’s words in Tehillim (102): "You shall arise and redeem Zion, for it is time to pity her; the time has come." When is this time of redemption? It is the time hinted at in the continuation of the verse: "For Your servants have longed for its [Zion’s] stones, and desired its earth." When the desire for redemption has grown strong, then the Jewish people will return en masse to the Holy Land.

The wellsprings of Education

In this week’s parasha we read how the Jewish people traveled around Mount Seir for a long time. We know who lived near Mount Seir -- the Edomites, children of Esav, about whom the Sages tell us, "One can assume that Esav always despises Ya’akov." The Torah, indeed, describes how the Jewish people sent a delegation to Esav, asking to pass peacefully through their land, but the Edomites refused. With a heavy heart and great fear the Jews had to go around Mount Seir. Then the command came from above: "You have spent enough time wandering around this mountain. Turn north ["safona"]!" The Midrash explains: "If you see that Esav is acting aggressively toward you, do not fight him. Instead, hide yourselves ["tasspinu," a play on the word "safona"] from him." The destruction of the Temple occured due to the Jewish people’s ignoring this eternal command; they stood up to the Roman empire. The Midrash continues: "The Jews asked G-d, ‘Master of the universe! Esav’s father blessed him that he would live by the sword -- and You sanction that blessing by telling us we should hide? To where should we flee?’ G-d responded: ‘If you see that he wants to make war against you, turn to Torah, because the word "safona" -- hidden -- also refers to the hidden secrets of Torah.’"

Thus the Jews’ request for a yeshiva in Yavneh as the Romans were about to destroy the Temple was not merely a temporary and makeshift attempt to save Judaism after the destruction, but rather represents our eternal victory over Rome/Esav and all it represents. The Philistines and Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans are all gone -- while the sanctuaries of Torah flourish within our eternal people.

Just as this is true on the national level, so too it rings true on the individual level. "Esav" lurks near each of us -- with his culture, speech, and valuelessness. We have only one recourse -- Torah. We should resolve to increase our time spent learning Torah, and only then will we be able to vanquish the Esav within.

The Golden Column
Chief Rabbi Yom Tov Danun of blessed memory

The holy sage Rabbi Yom Tov Danun waited expectantly for the Messiah and the final redemption all his life. He will always conclude his numerous responsa with the heartfelt words -- "These are the words of the small one who awaits Yinon (a reference to the Messiah -- see Sanhedrin 98), Yom Tov Danun."

Rabbi Danun lived about two hundred years ago and led the people in the Land of Israel justly and peacefully. Once he had a disagreement with Rabbi Eliezer Hazan, the son of his predecessor as Sephardic Chief Rabbi. He suggested, as is the wont of peace-loving scholars, to take the matter to a rabbinical court. Rabbi Eliezer agreed, but not a single rabbi in Jerusalem felt himself worthy to adjudicate an argument between two such rabbinical titans!

Rabbi Danun turned to Rabbi Eliezer. "What can we do?" he asked. "If there is no one willing to judge us in this world, at least there is a Judge in heaven. Let us turn our judgment over to Him." Rabbi Eliezer agreed. That Tisha B’Av eve, the members of the Hevra Kadisha [burial society] were called to Rabbi Eliezer’s bedside. The rabbi had suddenly taken sick and his condition grew worse by the minute. Suddenly, Rabbi Eliezer opened his eyes and asked, "Has anyone heard any news from Rabbi Yom Tov Danun?" The bystanders trembled. At that very minute a messenger burst in and informed everyone that Rabbi Yom Tov Danun had just passed away. Upon hearing the news, Rabbi Eliezer covered his eyes and recited the Shema. He then turned onto his right side, closed his eyes -- and his soul left him, in order to stand with Rabbi Yom Tov Danun before the heavenly Judge ...

Measure for Measure
a continuing saga (part one)

Many years ago a man lived in a great city, where he was renowned for his sterling qualities. He was a great Torah scholar, well-versed in all areas of Torah and a clear thinker. It was truly a pleasure to hear him expound upon a topic. In addition, he was financially well-off, and his philanthropic efforts were known far and wide. Everyone sang his praises, and every Jewish mother nurtured the hope that her son, as well, would grow up to be such a person, beloved in the eyes of both G-d and man. However, things began to change. When the man reached the pinnacle of success, he began to encounter financial troubles. Quickly his wealth vanished, and he was left with nothing. Since he was a gentle man, he could not endure the looks of pity he encountered or well-meaning consolations. He felt the pitying glances of his neighbors cut him like swords, and he certainly could not bring himself to accept charity. But he had no choice; after all, the proverb goes, "It is not hunger that kills, but embarrassment." He decided, therefore, that he would have to rely on donations. He would certainly not do this in his own city, where everyone knew him. In the dark of night he stole away and stood as a crossroads. At dawn he prayed on the open road and gradually went from city to city, from district to district. He did not follow the methods of the other wandering poor, who would go door to door asking for charity. Instead, he would go to the Beit Midrash, find a book, and sit down to study assiduously in a pleasant, but sad, voice. His appearance gave away the fact that he was impoverished, and there were always those who, with typical Jewish compassion and love for Torah scholars, would invite him to their homes for meals and give him a generous donation. Their gifts were enough to sustain him on his way for a few days. He himself, however, would never approach anyone to ask for money or anything, for that matter. Thus the days and years passed, during which he wandered from city to city, county to county, and district to district, until he had traveled some distance from his city.

To be continued...

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"These are the words which Moshe spoke to the Jewish people in the desert, in the plain, near the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel, and in Lavan, Hatzerot, and Di-Zahav." (Devarim 1:1)

"In the Desert"

Avot d’Rabbi Natan explains Moshe’s reference to "the desert" as "the desert, where the Jewish people built the Golden Calf." We know, however, that the Jews sinned many times in the desert, as enumerated in Bemidbar 14:22; why, them, do the words "in the desert" refer specifically to the sin of the Golden Calf? The Hida explains that one who rebukes his fellow must never ignore the causes and the background which brought about the sin, and indicate as such in the course of his rebuke. Thus Moshe’s reference to the "desert" was not merely an indication of the place of the sin, but a way of saying: "I realize that when you built the Golden Calf you found yourselves in the desert without a leader, and you gave up hope and thus sinned. Nonetheless, you must realize that you have sinned ..."

"In the Plain"

Rabbi Makiktz Sali, in his Bayit VeShem, explains this verse in a beautiful homiletic fashion: There are some people who speak ("medaber," like the word "midbar" -- desert) in a beautiful way ("arev," like "arava" -- plain). But upon investigation ("mol suf," which can also mean "near the Red Sea) one discerns that their speech is laced with gossip (like the spies who badmouthed the Land of Israel while encamped at Paran) and silly comments ("tafel," like Tofel). One should instead speak "Lavan" (literally "white" -- one’s speech should be pure) and "Hatzerot" -- concerning matters of Torah, which have eternal benefit. ("Hatzerot" means "in the courtyards," a phrase which the Bible often employs to refer to the courtyards of the sanctuary, a holy place of Torah.)

"Near the Red Sea"

Rabbi Abuhatzira, author of Avir Ya’akov, took the verse as a general admonition to man. Whether in speech ("medaber" = "midbar," desert) or in worldly pleasures ("arev" = "arava," plain), one should consider whether in the end ("mol suf" = near the Red Sea) they will turn out to be profitable or whether, more likely, he will come to regret words spoken in haste or forbidden pleasures. One should weigh the fleeting benefit of a sin against the eternal loss it brings; once doing so, he will certainly desist from sin.

"And in Lavan, Hatzerot and Di-Zahav"

The Ohr Hahaim, Rabbi Haim ibn Attar, explains that these three words hint at three prescriptions for man’s success -- purity of thought ("Lavan" means "white" -- pure), public prayer and Torah classes ("Hatzerot" -- courtyards -- refers to the various holy courtyards, those of the synagogue and Beit Midrash), and a sense of satisfaction with what one has ("Di Zahav" literally means "enough gold").

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Robbing sleep

Mr. Goodfriend: Not so loud, young man. You are stealing that which you cannot return.

Aaron:What do you mean, Sir?

Mr. Goodfriend: It is still early, and you are robbing the neighbors of their sleep. Sleep is more precious than money, and in addition you cannot make restitution (R. Israel Salanter). Even when engaged in this noble study, one must be mindful of his fellowman’s sleep, just as one is not justified in breaking his neighbor’s fences to make a shorter way to the House of Study. “He who wishes to be a Hasid, let him fulfill the matters of Nezikin (injury to others)” (Bava Kama 30a}. But you are right when you are enthusiastic for this subject. Diamonds such as this are everywhere. Seethe sidewalks strewn with winged maple seeds! (He bent down and lifted several maple seed-carriers and cast them into the air. They whirled around and around like helicopters and glided to the earth, some distance from where they had been thrown upward.) We walk on gems of True Knowledge. And look at the hedges which line the sidewalks, and see the buds opening on all sides. These complicated mechanisms are produced by the tip of the twig; when you make an incision in the twig just below the bud, you find only plant juices. How did the tiny twig-end obtain the infinitely intricate apparatus which is capable of turning out a marvel of such planned complexity as a bud? On all sides, there is endless plan-and-purpose to be seen.

ASKING AND Expounding

Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Arranged by Rav Moshe Yossef shlit"a
Rosh Bet Midrash "Meor Yisrael"

The Laws of Tisha B’Av

  1. Children under Bar or Bat Missva age are exempt from fasting. So is a sick person, even if his illness is not a dangerous one. A woman who has given birth within the past thirty days or one who has recently recovered from an illness and is worried that fasting might revive the sickness are also exempt. This year, when Tisha B’Av falls on Shabbat and is deferred to Sunday, pregnant and nursing women are also exempt. Preferably, however, they should fast until noon and abstain from delicacies thereafter.
  2. An elderly person who is weak due to the fast is considered like a sick person, even if he is well, and must eat on Tisha B’Av.
  3. On Tisha B’Av one must refrain from eating and drinking, washing, rubbing oil on oneself, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. These prohibitions set it at sunset on the eve of the fast and last until three stars appear in the sky the following night.
  4. Everyone must fast on Tisha B’Av (except for the exceptions mentioned above).
  5. It is preferable to abstain from smoking on Tisha B’Av, especially during the reading of Echa and Kinot. Truthfully, one should always abstain from smoking, as the Halacha mandates preserving one’s health!
  6. One cannot wash on Tisha B’Av; even sticking one’s finger in water is prohibited. One may wash, however, to remove any dirt.
  7. When one arises in the morning he should wash each hand three times -- but only his fingers. He should not wash his face. Instead, he should dry his hands and rub his eyes while his hands are still moist.
  8. Similarly, one who uses the facilities should only wash his fingers.
  9. Kohanim who recite Birkat Kohanim wash their hands to the wrist, as they would normally. Similarly, one who washes his hands to eat on Tisha B’Av (if he cannot fast) washes up to the wrist as he normally would.
  10. One who is preparing foods on Tisha B’Av afternoon for the meal that evening can wash off the food, even though his hands become wet also, since his intent is not to wash his hands for pleasure.
  11. It is prohibited to wear leather shoes on Tisha B’Av, even if they are merely covered with leather. One may wear cloth or synthetic shoes.
  12. Learning Torah is prohibited on Tisha B’Av, since it gladdens the heart.
  13. One may learn the Midrash Echa, however, if he skips the sections of consolation. One may also study the Talmud Gittin 55-58, which deals with the destruction of the Temple. Other permissible topics include Iyov, the prophecies of destruction in Yirmiya, Echa, books of Mussar, the laws of mourning, and the third chapter of Mo’ed Kattan.
  14. One should realize that the obligation of learning Torah does not disappear on Tisha B’Av; one should learn those things which are permitted.
  15. One can recite the entire daily prayer service, even those parts which include Torah, such as Korbanot. One should not, however, study Hok L’Yisrael or Ma’amadot, since these are primarily meant for Torah study.
  16. One should not greet another on Tisha B’Av. If another mistakenly greeted him, he should respond softly.

Letters to the Editor

Dear Sirs:
I would like to share with you a story which I heard not long ago. A fine young man who was very successful approached a friend of mine and asked him to teach him to make Kiddush on Friday night. When my friend asked him to explain his interest, he replied that his father had died not long ago. His father had ensured that he and his brothers were provided for financially, and secularly well-educated, but he had never given a thought to their Jewish heritage. When their father had passed away, his sons stood by his open grave breaking their teeth in a pitiful way on the words of the Kaddish. Had the ground opened up, he concluded, I would have hidden my face, so ashamed was I that my father had taught us nothing of our heritage. That is indeed very sad, my friend said. But what does that have to do with learning Kiddush? Kiddush, after all, is not the same as Kaddish! Wait, the young man said. The story isn’t over. My mother, my brothers, and I were instructed to "sit shiva." Who, then, would run the house? My widowed mother-in-law, a simple woman from the "older generation," came and helped out in the most amazing way. She cooked everything, served, and cleaned up; I couldn’t put a price on what she did. Friday night came, and she set the table for Shabbat. She lit candles, brought out a bottle of wine -- and we began to eat. "Kiddush!" my mother-in-law exclaimed. We looked at one another and at her; we had no idea what she wanted. We picked up a prayer book and flipped through it but couldn’t find Kiddush. Commotion reigned in the house. Then -- imagine this -- my mother-in-law poured a cup of wine and began to recite Kiddush by heart! It was a slap in the face for all of us! Imagine -- she couldn’t read, but she knew Kiddush by heart, while we, the "educated younger generation," stood dumbly and could only say "Amen." I decided that this would never happen again. This Shabbat -- I will make Kiddush!

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