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Listen to a story that took place just a few months ago, told to me by a Jewish book distributor. This man distributes books on his own in Jerusalem and Benei Berak, traveling in his car from store to store, dragging the cartons, collecting payments, earning his living by the sweat of his brow. In other parts of the country, he has a secondary distributor who travels everywhere and distributes for him. Before Pesah, he went to a store in Jerusalem to offer his books, and the owner responded: "Thank you, but I already have them." From where? "The secondary distributor brought his books, and offered these as well." The distributor heard this and fumed: "I specifically made a condition with the secondary distributor that I had exclusive rights in Jerusalem and Benei Berak, so that there should be no competition." He immediately called the secondary distributor and yelled at him. The other party apologized: "It was an exception, it was a chain of stores, and he thought…" What did he think, who thought, an agreement is an agreement! He apologized again, and not for nothing. He cleared away and the distributor sold approximately 15,000 shekels of books there, a nice sum. A month later, the chain of stores went bankrupt. "Thank you," said the secondary distributor, and he grew interested: "Do you know how much loss you saved me from ?!"… I learned a tremendous lesson from that story: You never know what awaits you as you continue down the road. You fight for something, and you are even correct, and you win, and there is no way for you to know if that victory will turn into a loss, halilah. The opposite was also true in this recent story. A large family lived in a crowded apartment. They were offered a spacious apartment at an amazing price. They signed the contract and put their apartment up for sale. Very few people were interested and they figured that the price was too high and they lowered it, as time was precious. Finally, a buyer came a week before the final deadline, and they had to cut the price again. They compromised on the price and worried how they would make up the difference. On Friday, two days later, the buyer called and told them that he had changed his mind. The couple decided that they wouldn't let this news interfere with their Shabbat. They distracted themselves and celebrated the Shabbat happily. On Mossaei Shabbat someone came, was impressed with their apartment and paid them in cash, the original, high price. The sale was cancelled for their benefit! Why have we told all this? Because of the beginning of this parashah: "And it will be if you observe all of these laws." The holy Or Hahayim zs"l explained: The "and it will be" is nothing but a language of joy (Vayikra Rabah 11: 7). "If," is the language of the end. It is impossible to be happy except at the end of a process. Partial successes at way stations on the road mean nothing. They may even turn out to be losses. No, we are not talking about the shortsightedness of our leaders. Shooting from the hip, happiness at partial victories that may be revealed as tragedies later on: Rabin fired the religious ministers from his government over the flights of the F-15 on Shabbat. "The brilliant exercise," they called it and it brought the Likud to power. The press applauded when Barak moved the turbine on Shabbat, and that was the first chink in his government, which eventually brought about its collapse. On the political front: from Oslo to the hudna. But we will not speak about this. The gemara says that the "machinations of the king" are worthless machinations (Shabbat 150a). We are not concerned with national politics, we have to think about the worth of our souls. We must learn a lesson for ourselves, to know how to differentiate between a short-term gain and a long-term, lasting gain.
I am tired at the end of the day, and want to rest, but there is a Torah shiur at that time. Rest is a short-term gain. A Torah shiur uplifts me, fills me with content, and builds me up spiritually. It uplifts the whole house, illuminating the whole family. This is in addition to the merits that I am adding up by its means. The matter is explained at the beginning of our parashah: "And it will be if you listen to these laws." When will there be happiness at the end? When you come out with a great property of Torah and good deeds. The opposite, the more that you are tired and exhausted, or busy and distracted, your reward is multiplied by the hundreds. "Better is one in pain, that one hundred not in pain!" When we look back, what will we bring with us to the upcoming days of selihot, if not the Torah shiurim, the good deeds, the blessings and the acts of kindness! Everything else is dust in the wind, but they stand forever!
Near the end of our parashah, we read the portion of "Vehayah im shamoa,' about accepting the yoke of the commandments. The section ends with three commandments: "And you shall tie them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be a mark between your eyes," the commandment of wearing tefilin, "And you shall teach them to your sons to speak about them," teaching one's children Torah, "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates," the commandment of mezuzah. The Belzer Rebbi zs"l said: The Torah placed the commandment of educating one's children to Torah between the commandments of tefilin and mezuzah. This is to tell us that the commandments were given as halachah to Moshe on Sinai, with all its details and minutiae. If there is even one letter missing, even the crown of a Yud, they are completely unfit, and they will not accomplish their goals for man and for the upper worlds. So too by education. It must be according to the tradition of our forefathers from generation to generation, with no change that would make it completely unfit!
What can we say and what can we do - the facts speak for themselves! For more than 2000 years, there has been a law of compulsory education in the nation of Israel. Throughout the depths of the exiles amongst all the nations, there could not be found in our nation a lad who did not know how to read and write, to pray and learn! But now new innovators have risen, specifically in the age when the nation has returned to its homeland, and a generation has grown up before our eyes who do not know a chapter of Tanach and have never opened a siddur to pray. On reading tests, for the first time for more than two thousand years, a majority failed in reading comprehension! Dear parents, be concerned for the souls of your children. Send them to the Torah schools that have proved themselves for generations. Don't gamble on the most precious thing you have!
The Gaon Rabbi Suleiman Mussafi zs"l
The holy Torah was the joy of the life of the Gaon Rabbi Suleiman Mussafi zs"l from his youth, and he toiled in it with tremendous constancy. After his wedding though, his father fell ill, and he was no longer able to support his family and the additional family of six souls that he had adopted. The two families fell to the level of just a portion of bread. "The time has come for G-d, they have nullified your Torah." Rabbi Suleiman, twenty years old, got up and went to the wealthiest man in Baghdad, Menahem Daniel. He offered himself to him as his assistant. He was hired and showed genius-like insight and astounding honesty. The blessing of G-d accompanied him in all his deals and he became the right hand of the wealthy man in all his dealings.
During the days of the counting of the Omer, he behaved according to the custom of the Ari, not to get a haircut until the holiday of Shavuot. His employer wanted to send him to an important business meeting with the mayor and demanded that he take a haircut for the meeting, since that was only an extra measure of righteousness. Rabbi Suleiman refused, and his employer conceded with one condition: If the mayor would be annoyed and insulted by his dishonorable appearance, he would be fired immediately! Rabbi Suleiman agreed to the condition. Lo and behold, the mayor was not only not angry, but he requested that the man would always send Rabbi Suleiman to him as his representative! He told his assistants that he was the most honest person that he had ever met!
Even during this period, when he was working as the assistant and right hand of the wealthy man, he constantly learned the holy Torah. For six hours a day he learned the hidden Torah with the Gaon Rabbi Yehudah Fetia zs"l, and for many hours during the day he learned the revealed Torah with the Gaon Rabbi Nisim Kaduri. The wealthy man respected the time of his assistant and bought him a service car, rare in those days, so that he could travel quickly from place to place and devote most of his time to learning Torah. Every time he would enter the expensive car, he would whisper to himself: "Sons of death, why are you lifting your eye? There is no advantage to man over beast" so that he would not become haughty…
From the Wellsprings of the Parashah
"Do not say in your heart: Because of my righteousness, G-d has brought me to inherit this land"
Our Rabbis, the rishonim, counted this verse as a negative commandment. This is the language of Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3: 29): "We are warned by this not to attribute our success to ourselves, to our righteousness and honesty, rather we should believe and know in our hearts that our success flows from Divine kindness and His tremendous goodness. This is what our forefather, Yaakov, said: "I am smaller than all the kindness and all the truth that you have done for your servant" (Beresheet 32: 10)." Also in the Semak section 14, and the Sefer Haredim 21: 25.
"Do not say in your heart: Because of my righteousness, G-d has brought me to inherit this land"
Rabbeinu Yis’hak Aramah explained (Akedat Yis’hak Gate 91), that if they believed that they had inherited the land because of their righteousness, they would rely on themselves. They would soon permit themselves to become steeped in the working of the land and mundane life, at the price of their learning Torah and fear of G-d. Who knows how low they might fall and to what they would come? Therefore, he warned them: In the desert, where you have not yet become involved in agriculture, and you were led by the pillars of fire and smoke, and G-d walked before you, and our teacher Moshe was with you, you have sinned so much! How much more so must you stand on guard in your land, and work on Torah and the commandments with greater strength and power!
"Do not say in your heart: Because of my righteousness, G-d has brought me to inherit this land"
The Gaon Rabbi Suleiman Menahem Mani zs"l, the Rabbi of Hebron told: There is a story of two youths who founded a business together. One worked in the store and the other managed the books, brought in customers and collected payments. One day his friend greeted him with good news: "I am engaged! You are invited to the festive meal tonight!"
He blessed him from the depths of his heart that he should establish a loyal house in Israel, but requested: Please, give me an hour of your time to review the books with me. He found time, but an hour before his engagement… "I need to buy presents for my bride and her parents," the groom apologized. "In a few minutes we will finish the matter."
They looked and reviewed the finances, and the groom realized that the business's outlook was not bright: the price of the raw materials had increased and the competing stores had reduced their prices, the balance of payments was low and the profits had narrowed. In the meantime, the two of them had taken out money for their subsistence and the account was almost empty. In short: the business was in trouble…
The groom complained: "You have found the time to lower my spirits, specifically on the day of my joy"…
The partner responded: "Specifically because of that! I know that you are about to buy presents, and organize the festivities. If you thought that the business was doing well, you would have spent a large amount and the business would have failed. Therefore, I opened your eyes, so that you would know the truth of the matter!"…
This is the warning of the Torah. If we were confident that we had inherited our land because of our righteousness, we might have thought that we had in our possession a large store of merits, and that we could permit ourselves to relax. The Torah warns us that our situation is not bright, and that we have only inherited the land because of the merits of our fathers. Therefore we have to seven times as careful about our deeds, so that we should not be pushed out, halilah!…
According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a
· It is permitted to hold a siddur in one's hands when praying the Amidah. After he has begun though, he should not start to look for a siddur unless he had previously placed it in a specific place. If he began to pray without a siddur, and in the middle of his prayer he remembered that it was Rosh Hodesh, he is permitted to search for a siddur, trying to reduce the pause as much as possible. If is unsure about a certain law concerning the prayer when he is in the middle of praying (for example, he forgot to mention something in the prayer and is unsure if he should go back or continue in his prayer), and he wants to go and check in a book, he may pause. No matter what, he should try to prevent a long pause in the middle of his prayer.
· One should not burp or yawn during prayer. If he must burp against his will, he should cover his mouth with his hand. He should do so, even if no one else is watching. If he must yawn against his will, he may yawn and need not cover his mouth with his hand. He should not place his hand under his chin while praying (and some say that he should not do so even while not praying). At any rate, if he is the hazan and wants to place his hand under his chin to improve his voice, he may do so at that time.
· It is forbidden to spit during prayer. If he has spittle in his mouth during prayer and must spit, he should spit into a handkerchief or into a garment so that it will not be visible. If he can not spit into a handkerchief or a garment, then he may spit behind him. But he is not permitted to spit to his right or left, and certainly not in front of himself. There are some who are lenient and permit one to spit to his left when he is unable to spit behind him. If this is impossible, he may spit to his right, and if this is impossible, he may spit in front of himself. This prohibition even applies when he is saying "Elokai Nessor" at the end of Amidah. After he spits, he should wait the amount of time it takes to walk four amot, and then continue in his prayer. Some hold that even not while praying, he is only permitted to spit to his left or behind him, but not in front of himself or to his right. We must comment on all the aforementioned, that nowadays everyone is careful not to spit on the floor or on a carpet. Therefore, it is forbidden to spit onto the floor of the synagogue [and all the more so in front of other people, who are disgusted by this]. Therefore, if one suspects that he might have to spit during prayer, he should prepare a handkerchief for this purpose.
One's Talit Falls during Praying
· If part of one's talit fell off one's body while praying, he may return it to its place, even if most of the talit fell off. But if the whole talit fell off, he may not put it on in the middle of prayer, unless he is so distracted that he will completely lose his concentration. He is permitted to continue from where he paused, and need not return to the beginning of the blessing. See the Halachah Berurah Part One (Chapter 5, Law 46) where it says that if his talit completely falls off, when he puts it on again, he does not make a new blessing.
The Cuckoo's Nest
Amongst the many types of birds that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created in his world are many extremely strange birds: the flamingo's neck, the pelican's beak, the peacock's tail, the hoopoe's crown and the parrot's colors. There is one that appears ordinary at first and doesn't arouse any undue attention. There is only one detail that makes it unusual. This bird does not build it's own nest. It steals the nest of another bird. Usually during the early morning, when the other birds are busy searching for food, it takes an egg or two from the nest, and perhaps even eats them. In its place, it lays its own eggs. Most of the time, it picks a smaller bird's nest. The mother returns and sits on the eggs without realizing that they have been switched. When the fledglings hatch, the cuckoos are bigger, stronger and louder and demand first priority in food and attention. More than once, the busy mother has abandoned her chicks, and they die of hunger…
We should not judge the cuckoo bird harshly, just as we should not judge harshly the fish that swallows its children. The Creator stamped these creatures' behavior in their nature, and they act according to that nature. But we must ask ourselves: Why did the Creator create something with this special gift? It must be a sign for us, to see and learn a lesson. What lesson can we learn from the cuckoo bird? We must contemplate, how do we feel about it? It is not guilty by its nature, but we can not overcome our disgust at its behavior. You have children - build a nest, sit on your eggs, raise them. Don't rely on others, on a strange nest, on someone else's feeding.
To our dismay, we know many human cuckoos. Parents who rely on the education in kindergarten, day-care and in school: There are teachers there who will care and educate and deal with problems. There are parents who do not communicate with teachers to discuss their child's progress, who don't come to parent-teacher meetings, who don't respond to notes and messages. Are they not like… the cuckoo??
"From Hashem are the Steps of Man" (12)
Summary: Rabbi Azriel, the constant learner who ceaselessly learned Torah in the Bet Midrash, turned into the agent of the duke. He acquired his trust, and the duke sent him to a far-away land to purchase a pearl for the earring of the duchess, in place of one that had been lost. Rabbi Azriel set sail on the boat, which dropped anchor at one of the islands. The passengers disembarked to stretch themselves. Rabbi Azriel looked at the plants and animals and did not cease wondering. His amazement was so great that he didn't hear the summons, calling him to return…
"How great are your creations, Hashem," whispered Rabbi Azriel, "the world is full of your acquisitions." He remembered the explanation of this Rebbi, the holy Maggid of Mezritch: The world is full of means of acquiring recognition of the Creator. Behold, the sky is so bright and the sun shines, the plants and the trees, the vines and the flowers, the monkeys and the birds, everything…
Suddenly, he heard the sound of the horn. He was sure that that was the first call, calling everyone to begin to return. He didn't know that it was the second call, which called on the passengers to quickly board the boat. He slowly started to make his way back, full of awe at every step from something new that he had not seen before. He came to the edge of the forest, and the golden beach and azure sky stood before him. The boat and the ramp. That's strange. The shore is empty. And then he heard the third call. The ramp was lifted and before his eyes, the chain and the anchor were lifted and the boat sailed from the beach.
"Wait, wait," yelled Rabbi Azriel as he burst onto the beach, his feet sunk in the deep sand. But nobody heard him. Nobody noticed. In one of his hands he clutched his talit and tefillin bag. With the other, he removed his sisit. He began to wave it energetically, but to no avail. The boat continued to pull away, until it was only a tiny speck on the horizon, which finally disappeared. Rabbi Azriel understood that he was alone and abandoned on a desolate island. His eyes darkened. His bag, his books, his shofar and his shehita knife, even his calendar were all on the boat. Even the pair of earrings, the one with the pearl and the one without, and the box of golden coins, which had been given to the captain for safekeeping. He was lucky that he had his talit and tefillin. He put his sisit on again and sat down as if struck by thunder. The sun beat down on his head and his thirst battered him to no end. In his city, everyone drank from the river. Here too, he walked to the seashore, made a blessing and scooped up some water. He drank a cheekful and threw up in disgust. How did he not remember that seawater is salty, how could he have made an unnecessary blessing! His thirst burned him like a flame, his eyes darkened and he thought he would faint…
To be continued, G-d willing, next week…
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Laws of the Avodah Zarah (Idolatry)
1. It is forbidden to make a protruding image of a man, and it is forbidden to leave it in one's house. This is only if it is a complete image, but a portrait up to the chest is not forbidden. It is permitted to make dolls for children that look like a full person, and certainly to buy and sell them.
It is permitted to take a photograph and to paint the picture of a person, which is not protruding at all. Some are stringent about this, but the custom is to be lenient.
It is forbidden to make the image of the four forms that were on the Heavenly chariot: the lion, eagle, ox and person. This is only when one makes all four together.
2. A protruding image of a person, in which one only sees one side (a profile) is permitted since this is not a complete image of a person.
3. The Shulhan Aruch writes that one can not make the image of the sun, moon and stars, whether protruding or flat. Rabbi Yosef Hayim explained that it is permitted if one does not make the full picture of the sun. However, a picture of the moon is forbidden even if a part is missing, since that it is how it is seen at times. The Maharam Mirotenberg permitted a picture, made only of colors that is not protruding at all. However, many do not agree with his opinion, and it is best not to rely on it.
4. It is forbidden to build a house in the image of the Bet Hamikdash, in its exact measurements, It is also forbidden to make a shulhan or menorah with seven branches, as existed in the Bet Hamkidash. If the menorah has seven branches but has electric lights on top, with no place for oil, it is permitted.
5. A small model of the Mishkan, for educational purposes, is permitted.
6. A cross, which Christians hang around their necks, does not have the status of Avodah Zarah, since Christians do not bow down to them, and the crosses are only a reminder of their avodah zarah. If a Jew finds one, he may sell it to a gentile. If a medal is given to a Jew by the government on which there cross, he may wear it. It is better that he not do so regularly, but only when he is visiting government officials or on official occasions.
In the Name of All Israel
Before we come to fulfill a commandment or pray, we say that we are ready to do so "in the name of all Israel." Before the three daily prayers, before sisit and tefillin, before the Shabbat meals, before the counting of the omer and the blessing on the moon, before the shofar blasts and the kaparot, the hoshanot and the hakafot. What is the meaning of this statement?
Its source is a verse in our parashah. In the verse it says: "With seventy souls, your forefathers went down to Egypt." The midrash says about this (Vayikra Rabah 4: 6): They were seventy and the text calls them one soul. This is why it says: "Israel is a lost sheep" (Yirmiyah 3: 17). Just as when a sheep is hit on its head or its limb, all its limbs feel the pain, so too Israel. One Jew sins, and they all feel it. "Shall one man sin and You shall be angry at the whole congregation?" (Bemidbar 16: 22). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai said: This is comparable to people who were sitting in a boat. One of them picked up an awl and began to bore a hole underneath himself. His friends said to him: What are you doing? He said: What do you care, I am making a hole under myself! They said to him: We certainly do care, for the water will rise and drown us all!…
So too by a sin, and so too by a good deed. "For the world is judged according to the majority and the individual is judged according to his majority. If he fulfilled one commandment, he is fortunate, for he has tipped himself and the whole world to the side of merit. If he committed one sin, woe is to him, for he has tipped himself and the whole world to the side of punishment (Kiddushin 40b). If so, we are all in one boat, full of holes, and the waters are rising, and beneath us there are the depths, full of sharks. Some continue to bore holes, raising the water level in the boat and some try to stop them up beneath themselves, and beneath others. In total, the boat is still afloat.
However, there is one point to which we must pay attention. Let us imagine that an absolutely wicked person goes up to the Heavens. In his whole life, he never fulfilled a commandment, and never left a sin undone. What is his verdict? The lowest level of Gehinnom, halilah. Afterwards comes an absolutely righteous person, and the wicked person hears his trial. He hears that he receives reward, not all for his Torah and prayer, his sisit and tefillin, but even for his food, since we are commanded: "The soul that I have given you, keep it alive!" Even for using the bathroom, for we are commanded: "Do not make your souls disgusting." The wicked man complains: One minute - I also ate. I also used the bathroom. What will they tell him? This is true and well-founded. The question is: What were you thinking about? About your needs, or about fulfilling the will of your Father in Heaven! Similarly, one who fulfills G-d's commandments, like that traveler who fills in the holes beneath him. What is he thinking about? That his feet will not get wet, or that the boat will not sink? The days of judgment are quickly approaching. We need so many merits to be written and sealed for good life, and Thank G-d, we fulfill many commandments. But if we think that we are doing them in the name of all Israel, to bring merit to the many, to add to the general account, then our reward will increase tremendously. We are fortunate, for we have tipped ourselves and the whole world to the side of merit!
First and foremost, we must seal up the holes that threaten to sink the ship of our families: We must seal up our home from the poisonous media, written and broadcast. We must clean the environment from gossip and slander. We must illuminate our homes with the light of Shabbat and purify our children with an exemplary Torah Education!
With the blessing of Shabbat Shalom,
Yishak Shaul Ben Leah Yishak Shaul Ben Leah
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