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THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Mosheh Kalfon Hakohen zs"l
Already from youth, Rabbi Mosheh Kalfon Hakohen exhibited remarkable diligence, lightening-speed comprehension, and an encyclopedic memory.
Most importantly, however, he stood out with his purity of soul and fine character. He became the most prominent student of Rabbi Yossef Berebbi zs"l of Tunis, and had planned to earn a living by working as a "shohet." And so, at age eighteen he was appointed "shohet" in the city of Zarzis.
He worked under very difficult conditions, slaughtering in open field under the blazing son. He soon took seriously ill and was bedridden. The illness affected his eyes in particular, and the doctors ordered him not to read.
In spite of their warning, he continued learning diligently and recorded the "hiddushim" at which he arrived in the course of his intensive study. The doctors were taken aback by his continued involvement in learning, and so he explained: "For many years my parents were childless. Each week, my father would go around to all the oil merchants and request that they save all the leftover drops from the measuring cup into a special container. On Friday, my father would collect all the leftover oil that had been collected and distribute it to poor people so that they could light Shabbat candles. I was born in the merit of this great act of charity, when my father was age forty. If those few drops of oil could provide light to illuminate the Shabbat of these poor people, then certainly my poor eyesight could enlighten me with the radiance of the Torah! "
Sure enough, a miracle occurred and he was cured. He eventually emerged as the head of the rabbinical court of Jarba as well as its revered rabbi. His name is mentioned with awe to this very day, and dozens of his works enlighten the students of Torah in all areas thereof.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
If the strap of the tefillin was of the proper width but was subsequently rubbed off in the place where it is fastened onto the arm, such that it no longer contains the minimum required width, then the strap is invalid for use and must be replaced. If, however, it still contains the minimum required width, then it may be used even if it began to wear.
Covering the Tefillin
Strictly speaking, it is permitted to leave the tefillin shel yad uncovered, both while putting it on and while wearing it. The pasuk states (Shemot 13:9), "It shall be for you a sign upon your arm" and Hazal (Masechet Menahot 37b) derive from the word "lecha" (for you) that the tefillin should be "for you a sign, and not for others a sign." This does not refer to covering the tefillin shel yad. Rather, it relates to their location, that they must be placed on a spot on the arm that is generally concealed.
Nevertheless, it is preferable to cover the tefillin shel yad. According to the Kabbalists, one must cover the tefillin shel yad even while putting it on. They therefore write that one should cover the tefillin shel yad with his tallit while placing it on his arm. It is proper to abide by their ruling. However, one who is careful to cover the tefillin shel yad with his sleeve should ensure not to pull down his sleeve before placing the tefillin shel rosh, as doing so would constitute a "hefsek" (forbidden interruption) in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh.
Some have the practice of covering the box of the tefillin shel yad with a cardboard covering in order to protect the perfectly square shape of the box; those accustomed to this practice have authorities on whom to rely.
However, one should not cover the tefillin shel yad with the cardboard covering until after placing the tefillin shel rosh.
Several Rishonim maintain that the tefillin shel rosh must remain uncovered while worn. They base this ruling on the pasuk (Devarim 28:10), "All the nations of the world will see that the Name of Hashem is called upon you," which Hazal explain in reference to the tefillin shel rosh (Berachot 6a).
This view is adopted by the Shulhan Aruch. The Kabbalists, however, maintain that one should cover the tefillin shel rosh with the tallit. It would seem, however, that even those accustomed to covering the tefillin shel rosh with the tallit during tefilah should not cover the box entirely; it should rather be visible from the front.
According to the Shulhan Aruch, a student in the presence of his rabbi must cover the tefillin shel rosh out of "derech eress" (proper respect for his rabbi). The Rema, however, notes that nowadays, where we don tefillin only during the recitation of shema and tefilah, a student may keep his tefillin shel rosh uncovered even in the presence of his rabbi. Indeed, the prevalent custom is to be lenient in this regard.
Feeling the Tefillin and the Prohibition of Inattention to the Tefillin
A person must constantly feel his tefillin in order that his attention remain focused on them. Hazal (Menahot 36b) derive this halachah through a "kal vahomer" from the "tzitz," the head-plate worn by the kohen gadol in the Bet Hamikdash. The Torah requires that the kohen gadol's attention be focused on the "tzitz" (as derived from the pasuk in Shemot 28:38), even though Hashem's Name is written only once thereupon. Therefore, one must certainly retain his focus on the tefillin, in which Hashem's Name is written many times. Others derive this halachah from the pasuk's description of tefillin as "a reminder between your eyes" (Shemot 13:19), which implies that one must concentrate on his tefillin as he wears them. Some authorities maintain that the obligation of concentrating on tefillin is "mid'orayta," a Torah requirement, as indicated by the fact that it is derived through a "kal vahomer," which constitutes one of the thirteen methods by which halachot are derived from the Humash. Others, however, argue that this derivation is not an outright extrapolation from the Torah, and its origin is purely rabbinic in nature ("miderabanan").
The great Rabbi Yossef Yabess zs"l, who was among the exiles from Spain, makes an insightful observation regarding a familiar pasuk from our parashah: "Take care, lest your heart stray. and Hashem's anger will be aroused upon you, and He will hold back the sky and there will be no rain."
Rav Yossef notes that the pasuk implies that the skies want to produce rain and the ground wants to give forth its produce. Blessing and prosperity want very much to burst forth in abundance; it is man who stops them with his sins. A similar idea emerges from the Malbim's interpretation of the verse in Tehillim (75:9), "There is a cup in God's hand, with foaming wine fully mixed." Meaning, Hashem holds in His hand, as it were, a cup overflowing with blessing and prosperity, which contains inside the choicest, finest wine. The pasuk then continues, "from this He pours" - Hashem constantly showers blessing upon the world. But if this is true, then why do so many crises and terrible disasters occur? The continuation of the pasuk provides the answer: "draining it to the very dregs, all the wicked of the earth drink." As a result of our sins, people absorb from this fancy wine only the harmful sediment. If only we perform teshuvah and increase our observance of missvot, we can remove the blockade and earn the bounty of goodness of blessing, good fortune and happiness.
There are those who have turned "resolve" into a slogan, proclaiming their unwillingness to budge from there confident, resolute decisions. They are determined to charge towards their goal, no matter what it takes and how they get there. They are willing to sacrifice and retreat for their goal, so long as they reach it. However unpleasant to say so, this is why we learn history. As they say, history often repeats itself. The first one in history with such an approach, who was willing to realize his goal at any price, was Pharaoh. He did not turn back when the waters in his country turned to blood, and he was not moved to change by the plague of frogs.
The lice did not scare him, either, nor did the wild beasts. He survived the pestilence and got through the boils, ignored the hail and turned his back to the locust. Finally, he closed his eyes in face of the plague of darkness and got into bed peacefully on the night before the plague of the firstborn. Even upon witnessing the splitting of the Yam Suf, he did not turn around; he headed straight into the sea with his eyes wide open! A fine line separates strong, healthy resolve from irrational, foolish stubbornness. Our parashah instructs us to be resolute and confident: "Should you say in your heart, these nations are too numerous for me - how can I overpower them? Do not fear from them." On the other hand, Hashem sought to destroy Benei Yisrael after the sin of the golden calf because they were a stiff-necked people (in our parashah - 9:13). Only with great difficulty did Mosheh Rabbenu have the decree repealed, and we were then ordered, "Cut away the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more" (10:16). Where does one draw the line between foolish obstinacy and proud resoluteness? The answer is simple: if one is insistent for the sake of a missvah, for a goal regarding whose propriety there can be no doubt, then fortunate is the one who commits himself unequivocally towards this end. Indeed, it is this resolve that led our forefathers to give their lives for the sanctification of Hashem's Name: "Why are you being led to be stoned - because I circumcised my son; why are you being led to be burnt at the stake - because I observed Shabbat; why are you being led to the sword - because I ate massah!" (Vayikra Rabbah 32:1). By contrast, there is no greater wrongdoing than strong resolve for the construction of a golden calf. If a person draws a goal for himself and is determined to pursue it at any price in spite of strong opposition, and is prepared to stumble upon any trap towards this end, than this resolve is shameful and worthy of criticism.
We learn about positive, constructive resoluteness in the recently published work, "Yizal Mayim M'dalyav." Rabbi Yehudah Zev Leiboviss zs"l tells that when the Nazis took over Hungary, they decided to imprison the Jews in ghettos as the first step towards their deportation to Auschwitz to die. They thus decreed that within the next few hours all the Jews of the town of Satmar had to pack their bags and relocate into the cramped ghetto.
Needless to say, the decree struck the community like a crack of thunder on a clear day, and everyone began frantically packing as best they could.
At that time, Rav Yehudah Zev's father, the saintly Rabbi Yehiel Ssevi Hy"d, encountered an adult man sitting and crying bitterly. The man explained that his elderly father had just passed away and there was no one to arrange for him a death certificate or proper burial, since all the officials were busy packing their things. Rav Yehiel Ssevi took the man's arm and said, "Please, come with me." He took the man to Gestapo headquarters and asked permission to speak with the officer. The guards warned that he could end up paying with his life for the meeting, but the rabbi remained steadfast in his request. They were brought into the officer's room, where his personal rifle sat before him on the table. The man told him of his troubles and the officer responded with unabashed indifference. "And you, what do you want?" he asked, turning to Rabbi Yehiel Zev. He explained that he had come together with the man in order to help and support him. "Haven't you heard of the order regarding the establishment of the ghetto?" barked the official. Rav Yehiel Zev answered in the affirmative. "So instead of packing your things you are getting yourself involved in all kinds of nonsense!?" the official bellowed.
Rav Yehiel replied, "I don't understand - is the deceased man any less important than a dog? If I would have found a dead dog lying in street, I would certainly turn to the authorities and ask them to bury it."
The tormentor was surprised by the insightful response, and gave the order to allow for the burial. Rav Yehiel hurried together with the man and they earned the merit of providing a proper, Jewish burial for the man's father.
Upon Rav Yehiel's return home, his family rushed to greet him and told him how concerned they were. He related to them the story of how he entered the lion's den in order to ensure proper burial for a Jewish man that had passed away.
This represents positive resolve for a missvah, which guarantees the merit of divine assistance: "One who observes a missvah will know no evil."
WONDERS OF CREATION
Sports in the Animal World
By a rather wide margin, birds are crowned the speed champions among animals. In fact, the bird's body is essentially a remarkably sophisticated flying machine - lightweight and efficiently built. The bird's bones are lightweight, too, hollow and filled with nothing but air. What more, its wings are equipped with powerful muscles. The heart serves as the engine.
Though rarely larger than the size of a bean, it is nevertheless strong enough to drag with it the entire machine and last a very long time. The fastest among all the birds is the falcon, which can reach a speed of 250 kph. Upon seeing food, it will fly down from the sky or, more precisely, take a dive towards earth like a stone, and then walk on all fours like a rabbit. In these instances it can reach a speed of 200 kph. The slowest travelers in the animal kingdom are fish. Since the resistance of water is greater than that of air, it is difficult for any creature to travel at any great speed in the water. Nevertheless, there are some fish with nothing of which to be ashamed with regard to swimming speed. The sawfish, for example, swims at a speed of 80 kph. The flying fish can reach a speed of 50 kph. When it comes to running, the cheetah takes the crown, with a speed of 90 kph. In the area of jumping in proportion to size, the award goes to several reptiles and insects. The flea, for example, can span in a jump an area 200 times its body size. An average human being, by contrast, can jump a territory no larger than five times his body's length.
It's worth noting that these athletic achievements of various creatures are, in reality, no matter of sports whatsoever. For these creatures, speed and jumping are life itself. These capabilities constitute indispensable means by which a given creature seizes the food it needs to survive as well as escape danger by running, flying or jumping. In His infinite mercy, the Creator graced every creature with the talents and strengths necessary for its survival. All these talents have been granted in precise quantities corresponding to the specific needs of each creature and the circumstances under which it lives. Although the human being cannot be considered a "champion" among the animals in the sense of running or jumping, in a certain sense he stands on an infinitely higher plane. A Jew can perform even the slightest act of teshuvah and thereby jump a distance of eternal value. Indeed, our Sages have taught, "There are those who acquire their portion in the world [to come] in a single moment."
The Reward for a Missvah (7)
Flashback: A gentile bakery worker woke up several times in the middle of the night to remove the heavy bolt of the front door in order to allow Rav Ssemah Ssarfati zs"l to light his candle that was repeatedly extinguished by the stormy weather. The ssadik blessed him that he should own a weight of gold equal to that of the heavy beam that he lifted several times on behalf of the ssadik. Soon thereafter, the worker was hired to sort gold coins in a secret residence. When he completed his work and received his payment, he was ordered by his mysterious employer at gun-point to turn around, face the wall and raise his arms.
The worker's brain was almost paralyzed at that moment of terror. He could not even think about the self-contradictory conduct of his employer. If he truly planned on killing him, then why would he pay his salary first? In humble submission he turned to the wall and raised his arms, waiting for the sound of gunfire. Suddenly, he shuddered. The stranger was right behind him, and he placed a blindfold around his neck. The stranger then took hold of the worker's arm and ordered, "Come with me." Why didn't I think of this, the worker bitterly thought to himself. He would have to be a fool, he thought, to kill me here, in the cellar, and then bring my body outside somewhere for burial. He obviously dug a pit somewhere outside and now wants to bring me there. "No," he cried in terror, "I am not budging from here!!"
Out of the darkness rang the voice of the stranger: "What's wrong? You completed your work - let me bring you back to your home!"
The worker, however, was not yet convinced. "To my home?! If that's where you're taking me, then why do you have the pistol?"
The stranger replied, "Don't you realize? You saw with your very eyes all the money that is sitting here. Many people wouldn't resist the temptation. Perhaps you, too, considered the option of attacking me. After all, you are far stronger than I - you could easily paralyze me and take over the entire fortune in the cellar."
The worker was instantly insulted: "I am an honest, upright man. I never entertained such a notion!"
The stranger explained, "Of course, I have seen your integrity. You did not take for yourself even a single coin - you emptied your pockets right in front of my eyes. Nevertheless, I cannot afford to take any chances. You upheld your end of the deal, and I carried through mine. I paid your salary, but you may never know where you were or be able to identify this place. You were brought here at daybreak with blindfolded eyes, and this is how you will return to your neighborhood. Come, let us go upstairs to the apartment, and we will wait until midnight when there is no one out on the streets. Then I will bring you home. Forget everything you saw here, and remove it all from your mind."
The worker realized that it was best for him not to ask any further questions, such as, who owns the treasure, and what is the deep secret that he must keep concealed? Curiosity is unhealthy, and none of this was is business. He should just be happy that he left the place alive, peacefully, with a nice salary and generous bonus. The stranger interrupted his thoughts: "Okay, the time has come. Let us go." The door opened and they went into the clear outside air. The stranger locked the door and brought the worker to the gate and from there to the street. After several turns, the employer was confident that his employee had lost his sense of direction, and he removed the blindfold. They walked silently through the alleyways of Tunis until they reached the deserted city square. "From here you'll find your way home on your own," whispered the stranger, and disappeared into the darkness like a ghost.
To be continued.
A MISSVAH FROM THE PARASHAH
Our Torah is eternal, and its missvot constitute eternal lessons directed to everyone, in every generation and under all circumstances. A commandment appears in our parashah that many of the Sages who enumerated the 613 missvot included in their list, along with tefillin and massah. The Sefer Hahinuch (missvah 525) presents this missvah as follows: "We are commanded not to dread or fear the enemies during wartime, and not to flee from them.
Rather, we bear the obligation to strengthen ourselves in their presence, to gird ourselves with strength and oppose them. Regarding this it is written [in our parashah], 'Do not dread them.' The reason behind this missvah is that everyone from Yisrael must trust in Hashem and not fear when he can give honor to Hashem and His nation."
Many of us are familiar with the story of Elisha the prophet who warned the king of the Northern Kingdom ("Malchut Yisrael") several times of the trap set for him by the army of Aram. The king of Aram realized that the king of Yisrael discovered the plot and suspected treason and espionage. His men told him, "No - the prophet Elisha in Yisrael tells the king of Yisrael the things that you speak in your bedroom!" The king of Aram thus decided to capture the prophet, who was then in the town of Dotan. The pasuk relates, "He sent there horses, chariots and a huge army; they came in the night and surrounded the city. The servant of the man of God woke up, and left; behold, there was an army surrounding the city, horses and chariots. He said, 'Alas, my master, what will we do?' He said, 'Do not fear, for we have more than they.'" Indeed, there were saved in miraculous fashion.
(Melachim II, 6.)
This must be our outlook: we have more than they. Our strength is greater than theirs, for "These come with chariots, these with horses, but we mention the Name of Hashem our God." Therefore, "They collapse and lie fallen - and we rally and gather strength!" There is a story of a rabbi who came before the Hafess Hayyim zs"l and explained to the ssadik his dilemma. The majority in his community supported secular education and sought to establish a secular school.
Only a minority remained faithful to the Word of Hashem, observed Torah and missvot, and vehemently opposed the idea. The rabbi found himself caught in the middle. He tried to influence them all, to truly serve as everyone's rabbi. But on this issue he had to take a strong stand, and he feared that if he opposed the wealthy, prominent, influential members of the community he will be chased out of the town. "What's the question?" responded the ssadik. "Whenever faced with confrontation, one must always join the stronger side!"
The rabbi wasn't sure if he was hearing properly. Did the ssadik really instruct him not even to be neutral, but to support the position of those who sought to break the yoke of missvot off their shoulders?
The ssadik saw the rabbi's confusion and explained: "Certainly you realize which is the stronger side here. On the one side you have the wealthy and influential people in the community, and on the other you have the Almighty!"
No person lives without confronting challenges, be it the challenge of poverty or the challenge of wealth. The pasuk exhorts, "Trust Him at every moment" (Tehillim 62:9). The Sefat Emet (on our parashah) explains that in every challenge, every situation, every confrontation, one must choose the stronger side, the side of the Creator Himself. We must then feel confident that we have selected the more advantageous side, the side guaranteed victory, and thereby fulfill the missvah in our parashah. We will not react with fear to tests and trying difficulties, "for Hashem your God is in your midst, a great, awesome God" - for Hashem is with us!
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"Take care lest your forget Hashem your God"
Around eight hundred years ago there lived in Spain Rav Mosheh Ben Rav Yaakov of Kussi, known as Rav Mosheh HaDarshan zs"l. He was among the great Rishonim, and he would travel throughout the Jewish communities and admonish people to observe the Torah and increase their performance of missvot. He earned divine assistance such that before he would reach his destination the Jews and, "lehavdil," gentiles of that area would have dreams of terrible calamities, natural disasters would occur and astrologers would warn of devastating tragedies. The hearts were awakened, "the land trembled and was fraught with the fear of God, and they performed great teshuvah" (Semag, asin 3). His words were then absorbed with zeal and vigor, and masses would throng to hear his words of rebuke and would reaffirm their commitment to perform the missvot. He would then look to move on to the next community.
Before he left, however, the community presented him with a request. He lived before the invention of the printing press, and therefore books were rare and works of halachah were hardly in existence. Scarcely few individuals had the ability to dive into the complex sugyot in the Gemara and reach the final, practical halachah. They therefore asked the rav to leave them a book of practical halachah. He modestly refused: "I feared making a Sefer Torah for the masses, for I am ignorant among people, and I do not possess the wisdom of man." Eventually, he had a vision, in which he was instructed: "Go and make a Sefer Torah of two parts." He understood that he was to compose a work consisting of two parts, one discussing the positive commandments ("missvot aseih") and the other dealing with the prohibitions ("missvot lo ta'aseh"). He immediately embarked on the mission and composed the renown work, "Sefer Missvot Gadol," which became known by its acronym, the "Semag." In this work he listed the 365 prohibitions of the Torah in one section and the 248 positive commandments in the other.
He only briefly discussed those halachot not practically relevant in our days, such as the halachot of korbanot, while he elaborated with great detail when dealing with the relevant missvot. For example, when presenting the missvah of Shabbat observance, he enumerated all thirty-nine areas of prohibited activity with all their detailed halachot. His work was accepted as an authoritative source of halachah. Many later scholars, including Rabbenu Yisshak of Korvil - the "Sefer Missvot Katan" ("Semak"), Rabbenu Yaakov Ba'al Haturim and the Hagahot Maimoni zs"l cite regularly from the Semag.
Upon the completion of his work, he was shown another vision: "You forgot the main thing," he was told. "You did not include the main missvah in your work - 'Take care lest you forget Hashem your God.'" This pasuk appears in our parashah. The Semag obeyed the vision and included this missvah in his work as missvah 64. He writes:
"Take care lest you forget Hashem your God - this is a warning that Benei Yisrael should not pride themselves when the Almighty blesses them with goodness and say that with their wealth, the might of their hand and their own hard work they achieved and earned all this, instead of appreciating the goodness of the Almighty in their arrogance. The pasuk refers to this.
It also says in Parashat Ekev: '. and houses filled with all goodness that you did not fill - and you will eat and be satiated. Take care lest you forget Hashem your God who took you from the land of Egypt from bondage.' This explanation that I offered is explicitly outlined afterwards: 'Lest you eat and be satiated, and you will build and dwell in nice houses, and your cattle and sheep will increase, and you will have much silver and gold, and everything you have will increase - and your heart will turn haughty and you will forget Hashem your God. And you will say in your heart, my strength and the power of my hand made for me this wealth. You shall remember Hashem your God, for He is the one who gives you strength to acquire wealth.'
From here comes a warning that one may not pride himself in what the Creator grants him, be it money, good looks, or wisdom. Rather, one must be very humble and modest before Hashem his God and people, and thank his Creator who granted him this privilege."
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
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