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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a on Mossa'ei Shabbat
Smoking on Yom Tov
The Gemara in Masechet Ketubot forbids one to make "mugmar" on Yom Tov. This entailed the placing of frankincense on coals to emit a pleasant aroma, used to enhance the smell of clothing, utensils and the like. Although physically beneficial activities involving cooking are permissible on Yom Tov, the Gemara restricts this permission to activities that are "shaveh l'chol nefesh" - beneficial to everyone. Since only the wealthy would make "mugmar," one may not do so on Yom Tov.
The Magen Avraham (514:4) learns from here that one may not smoke on Yom Tov, whereas it is not a universal form of bodily enjoyment. The Penei Yehoshua (Masechet Shabbat 39b), however, writes that although at first he also thought to prohibit smoking, he concluded otherwise in light of Tosafot's ruling allowing on Yom Tov activities performed for health reasons. In those days, people thought that smoking accelerates digestion and increases one's appetite.
Practically speaking, however, physicians have issued ample warning about the damage smoking causes to one's health, that it leads to severe illness that has killed millions, Heaven forbid. Although it may still prove beneficial to the digestive system and appetite, the danger of smoking far exceeds its benefit and borders on outright "sakanot nefashot," a situation of danger to one's life. One who accustoms himself to smoking thus violates the dictum of "venishmartem me'od lenafshotechem" ("you must exercise great caution concerning your lives"), as ruled by the Mishnah Berurah (Yalkutei Amarim 13). Those who have become addicted should wean themselves off smoking, and upon successfully doing so they should conduct a feast to celebrate their having detached themselves from the prohibition and added health and life for themselves. (See Yehaveh Da'at 2:39.)
Hazal (Arachin 16a) list seven sins on account of which one contracts sara'at, the most prominent of which being lashon hara, improper speech about others. A person should not think that since he has spoken lashon hara and no punishment has befallen him Hashem is not angry. For if he does not become distanced from Hashem in this world, he will become distanced in the next world, as Hazal teach us that those who speak lashon hara do not behold the Shechinah in the world to come. Furthermore, as the Hovot Halevavot mentions (Sha'ar Hakeni'ah 7), one who speaks about the ills of another forfeits his own merits, and they instead go towards the benefit of the subject of his gossip. Likewise, the subject's sins go onto the head of the speaker of the lashon hara. How foolish it is for someone to forfeit all the merits he earned through such hard work and effort and hand them over to one about whom he speaks lashon hara! And, in turn, he also receives the sins of the other, which accumulate onto his own!
Masechet Avot (3:11) teaches us that one who embarrasses another in public has no portion in the world to come, even if he has studied Torah and performed good deeds. How frightening - every Jew has a portion in the world to come (Sanhedrin 7a), even those on the lowest level. Yet, even one with Torah and misvot to his credit loses it all.
Today there are those who print signs about others and secretly paste them in public places, in violation of the curse administered by the entire nation, "Cursed is the one who smites his friend secretly." The proper path has been established for us by Rav Levi Yis'hak of Berditchev zs"l, the great defender of Benei Yisrael, who said that a person has two eyes, one with which to see the good qualities of others, and a second to see his own faults. By contrast, the wicked always consider themselves praiseworthy and criticize everyone else around them. The end awaiting such an individual is written in Parashat Tazria: "The 'saru'a' stricken with the infliction - his garments shall be torn, his head left overgrown, he shall cover over his lower mouth, and should call out, 'Impure! Impure!'" He tried to promote his own social status at the other's expense; now he lives in solitude outside the camp.
Even more frequent than lashon hara is "avak lashon hara," a term referring to more subtle derisive comments about others. The Gemara (Arachin 15b) gives the example of saying about someone that the oven in his house is always on, alluding to his constant indulgence in food. This, too, constitutes a severe violation.
The general, operative principle is: "death and life are in the hands of the tongue" (Mishlei 18:21). The Midrash (Kohellet Rabbah 6:6) writes, "All the misvot and good deeds that a person achieves is not enough for the nonsense that comes from inside his mouth." So what should one do if he has spoken lashon hara? The Gemara in Arachin tells us that he should occupy himself in Torah, as it is written, "The tree of life" - a reference to the Torah - "cures the tongue," meaning, it heals the adverse effects of inappropriate speech." May we look only at the good qualities of others and not their faults, and that Torah should be our occupation to grant us goodness and blessing in both this world and the next.
Our parashah lists the festivals of the Jewish calendar. The Torah introduces the misvah of sefirat ha'omer with the following clause: "Hashem said to Moshe saying, speak to Benei Yisrael and say to them" the misvot of sefirat ha'omer and Shavuot. We find a similar introduction before the Torah's discussion of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as that regarding Sukkot. The Ramban zs"l explains why each unit requires its own introduction. Sukkot stands independently, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur form a self-contained unit of Yemei Hadin (Days of Judgment), and sefirat ha'omer and Shavuot combine together to comprise their own, independent group. Just as Yom Kippur marks the apex of the asseret yemei teshuva (ten days of repentance), so does the commemoration of Matan Torah constitute the peak of the days of sefirah.
The mystical scholars have taught us that a person contains within him seven qualities, each of which itself divides into seven parts: "hesed shebehesed," "gevurah shebehesed," "tiferet shebehesed," etc. Each of the seven weeks of sefirah is dedicated to the correction of one of the seven qualities, and each day of a given week is meant for introspection regarding one particular aspect of that week's quality. At the end, the individual becomes purified in all forty-nine aspects of his persona. Only then is he ready to receive the Torah. Rabbi Akiva's students perished specifically during this period because of their failure to afford proper respect to one another (Yevamot 62b), as these weeks require extra care regarding proper conduct, in the spirit of "derech eress precedes Torah."
This yields a new understanding of the custom to study during this period Masechet Avot, the masechet of "middot" and derech eress. The masechet begins, "Moshe received the Torah from Sinai," suggesting that proper middot are the necessary prerequisite for receiving the Torah, and perfection in this regard constitutes the misvah of this particular period of time.
All of Yisrael are sacred, some more and some less. But we, of course, are perfect; the proof: we are relaxed and not worried about ourselves. The sacred Gaon of Ostrovssah zs"l fasted consecutively for forty years, eating only a little bit at nighttime. He, evidently, didn't consider himself perfect. His followers tried convincing him to eat, but to no avail. They asked him to participate in a pidyon haben celebration, which, the Ar"i Hakadosh wrote, is considered equivalent to 84 fasts. He will thus gain on both ends - he will eat and also be considered as having fasted; and not just one fast, but eighty-four of them!!
He answered, "You should know that there are actual sins, like idolatry and murder, and then there are sins that are 'as if': 'whoever becomes angry is as if he had served idolatry'; 'whoever withholds the payment of a worker is as if he had spilled blood.' For an 'as if' sin it suffices for me to eat at a celebration of a misvah which is 'as if' I fasted. But one who committed an actual sin must actually fast. "
Just as there are sins of 'as if,' so are there misvot of 'as if.' Tefilah takes the place of korbanot (Berachot 26b), studying the laws of korbanot is considered like having offered them upon the altar (end of Menahot), one who accepts punishment lovingly is like one who offered korbanot (Eruvin 19a), Torah study exceeds the bringing of korbanot (Eruvin 63b), one who rejoices with a groom is like having offered a thanksgiving offering (Berachot 7b), and one who benefits a Torah scholar from his belongings is considered as having offered the daily "tamid" sacrifices (Berachot 10b). Yet, at the end of every tefilah we ask for the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash; we are not content with tefilah which merely takes the place of korbanot.
Indeed, there is no substitute, neither for the service in the Bet Hamikdash, nor for the korbanot and the work of the kohanim. We have no concept of the secrets looming behind this service; for us it suffices to read the comment of the Zohar (vol. 3, 145b) regarding the pasuk, "For the lips of a kohen will contain knowledge and Torah they seek from his mouth, for he is an angel of Hashem Seva-ot." The Zohar writes that the kohen performing the service in the Bet Hamikdash corresponds to Michael, the great angel up above, the angel of kindness. The kohen is Hashem's angel down below, just as Michael is the angel in the upper world!
The kohen functions as Hashem's emissary (Kiddushin 23b); the kohanim bring peace between Yisrael and their Father in heaven (Tana Debei Eliyahu Rabbah 31). This only occurs, however, on condition that he is humble. Otherwise, the Al-mighty is not pleased by their service (Sotah 5a). Accordingly, a kohen once became arrogant and was driven from the priesthood (Tosafot, Yoma 12b, based on the Tosefta and Yerushalmi).
In light of this, a question arises concerning the list in our parashah enumerating the physical defects that render a kohen unsuitable for service. These include a slight limp, a discoloration in the eye, or even a wound in the ear. The Rambam lists one hundred and forty such defects (Hilchot Bi'at Mikdash 7:8). Hazal added other disqualifying defects out of concern that they mislead people to allow other, forbidden blemishes. These include one whose teeth or eyelashes had fallen out. We can only wonder: two kohanim come before us, and the first is a Torah giant, a sadik and Kabbalist, but with a small, physical defect. We can reasonably assume that this blemish engendered a greater sense of humility. The second is completely ignorant and arrogant, but has no deformations. The Torah requires that we choose the second, while the first may not work in or even enter the Mikdash. If he does, he receives "malkut" (lashes) and any service he performed is disqualified! Why?
The Sefer Hahinuch (275) provides the answer, one so relevant for us. A person looks with his eyes, and his view is thus superficial. Therefore, looking upon a kohen with an external, physical blemish will result in a loss of respect for the sacred service of the Mikdash, thus causing a "hillul Hashem," Heaven forbid. We should therefore forego on the exalted intentions of the sacred, righteous kohen, however spiritual and sacred he may be, so as to avoid even the slightest "hillul Hashem."
The Torah is eternal, and its lessons remain relevant for every individual in every generation. Imagine a person hurrying to a shiur, to study or even to teach. The bus is running late and a long line of prospective passengers grows. Time passes by, and finally the bus arrives, full and crowded. The driver will soon close the door due to lack of space, and if this individual does not run ahead to cut the line, the bus will leave without him, and he will miss his shiur, his students will go back home. A loss of public Torah study!! On the other hand, if he does cut the line, what will they say - and rightfully so! How great the responsibility not to cause a "hillul Hashem," a consideration that takes precedence over all others!
"You shall count for yourselves from the day following the Shabbat"
The Sefer Hahinuch zs"l writes the following: "Among the roots of this misvah. The central, main thing of Benei Yisrael is Torah, and because of Torah heaven and earth were created, as it says, 'If not for My covenant, day and night, heaven and earth I would not have placed.' This is the main reason why Benei Yisrael were redeemed and left Egypt: so that they receive the Torah at Sinai and observe it. Indeed, Hashem told Moshe [before He sent him to take the nation from Egypt], 'This is for you the sign that I have sent you, when you take the nation from Egypt you will serve Elokim on this mountain.' This pasuk means that his taking the people from Egypt serves as a sign that they will serve Hashem on the mountain, meaning, they will receive the Torah, the main thing for which they are redeemed and their ultimate source of goodness. This concept is greater for them then the emergence from slavery to freedom. For this reason Hashem made their departure from slavery to freedom a sign for Moshe signaling their acceptance of the Torah, for the secondary is always a sign for the primary. "Since it is the main thing for Yisrael, for which they were redeemed and raised to the greatness to which they ascended, we were commanded to count from the day following the first Yom Tov of Pesah until the day of the giving of the Torah, in order to show within ourselves the great longing for the day for which our hearts yearn, like a slave who always longs and yearns for the time to come when he will go into freedom. For counting reflects that the individual's entire hope and desire is to reach that time."
"You shall count for yourselves from the day following the Shabbat"
The Rambam zs"l (Moreh Nevuchim 3:43) writes that Pesah and Sukkot extend for seven days since a longer period of time is necessary to properly inculcate the meaning and message of the festival. For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, however, a single day suffices, since the sounding of the shofar and fasting effectively inspires people. Shavuot, by contrast, features no special misvah. On the other hand, the Torah did not wish to extend it beyond a single day, since Ma'amad Har Sinai occurred, of course, on only one day. In order to intensify the impact of this great day, the day of Matan Torah, Hashem instructed us to count the days as we approach this festival. The Rambam compares this counting to one who anxiously waits for the arrival of his dearest friend, counting the days and even the hours.
"You shall count for yourselves from the day following the Shabbat"
The sacred Kabbalist Rav Moshe Cordovero zs"l, in Pardes Rimonim, notes that at first glance, it would seem more appropriate to begin counting the omer already at the night of the seder, the time when we left Egypt. After all, our departure from Egypt was meant only for us to arrive at Matan Torah. However, the Torah specifically required that we begin counting the night following the first day of Pesah, because at the night of the seder we had yet to leave Egypt, and the Midrash comments that many among Benei Yisrael had not circumcised themselves until that night. It is therefore inappropriate to commemorate the process of purification through counting on that night; we must rather wait until after the point of their departure from the forty-nine "gates of impurity."
"You shall count for yourselves from the day following the Shabbat"
"For yourselves," explains the Or Hahayyim Hakadosh zs"l, means "for your own benefit." The counting elevates and cleanses the individual, and one who sanctifies himself to a small degree is then sanctified to a greater extent, and so forth. We continue growing and elevating ourselves until the day of Matan Torah.
This is what is meant by the Hebrew word used for counting in this context, "Us'fartem." This word relates to the word "sappir," sapphire, a precious stone that glows and shines. The souls of Yisrael are pure and shiny, only their sins dim the souls' light. We are therefore commanded, "Us'fartem," to restore to our souls their nature shine!
Rav Shushan Hakohen zs"l
Towards the end of our parashah, we read of the son of an Egyptian father whose mother was from Benei Yisrael, a member of the tribe of Dan. As Hazal explain, this son wished to pitch his tent in the portion of Dan, but the tribesmen refused. He took them to a hearing before Moshe Rabbenu, who ruled in favor of the tribe of Dan on the basis of the pasuk, ". according to their families, to the houses of their fathers." The man then stood up and blasphemed the Torah and the One who gave the Torah, effectively sentencing himself to death and his memory to eternal shame. All this was caused by his having questioned the just laws of the Torah and the ruling of the Bet Din.
Rabbi Shushan Hakohen zs"l would often speak about this topic, warning his audiences not to question the rulings of the judges of the Batei Din. In one of his sermons, he told a story of a certain scholar who came to visit his childhood friend who was a righteous Kabbalist. He said to his friend, "All the paths of the Kabbalah are visible to you; please show me Gehinnom and its punishments, in order that I can implant within my heart genuine fear of sin!"
His friend answered, "Okay, but you may only look upon the destruction of the wicked with your eyes; the moment you open your mouth, the vision will disappear."
The scholar agreed.
The Kabbalist placed his cloth over his eyes, and he saw a giant gate upon which was written, "This is the gate of Gehinnom for the wicked." He saw the punishments administered to the wicked, suffering that causes one's hair to stand straight. He then saw a different gate, upon which was written, "This is the gate of Gehinnom for the sadikim." He watched as the judges issued harsh judgment against a certain individual for showing compassion for a poor widow. Unable to contain himself, he cried, "What happened? Where is the justice?" Immediately, the vision disappeared, as he had been warned. Astounded, he asked his friend the Kabbalist for an explanation. He said, "Let me explain to you how it is possible to have a Gehinnom for sadikim and a punishment for compassion for a widow. That widow stopped paying her rent, and the landlord summoned her to a Bet Din. As difficult as it was for them, they ruled that she had to pay the rent money. This person felt sorry for the widow, but rather than paying her debt for her, he opened his mouth against the judges. "
Rabbi Nahumke (1)
Those who have read the inspiring work, "HaSaraf M'Brisk," the story of the sacred sage, Maharil Diskin zs"l, encountered the remarkable sadik, Rabbi Nahumke of Hordona, who exerted himself tirelessly on behalf of the freedom of the "Saraf" of Brisk from prison. The life story of this incredible figure is inspiring and heartening, and calls upon us to raise our own standards.
Beisgelah was an area of settlement that never made it onto the map. It consisted of a group of huts appearing ready to collapse lining both sides of a dusty path, and comprised one of the poor villages in the area of Lithuania. Coming from the regional capital of Kovna, one would have great difficulty finding Beisgelah in the area. Nevertheless, this forgotten village was not the most distant, off-the-beaten-track place. Although it did consist of only flimsy huts, it stood adjacent to a small beer factory, near which its workers resided. One of the employees was an upright, good Jew named Uziel. Although the factory brought its owners a considerable profit, it provided little wealth to the workers. They received puny salaries that could hardly support them. Uziel and his family - his wife and daughters - could not afford enough food, but they nevertheless felt content with what they had and never complained about their straits. The only request the couple had was to be blessed with a male child.
Hashem heeds our prayers and fulfills the wishes of those who fear Him. In the year 5572, Uziel's wife gave birth to a son, amidst much joy and celebration, and they named him Menahem Nahum, hoping that he would bring consolation ("nehama," from which "Menahem" and "Nahum" are derived) from their troubles. Sure enough, the young child brightened their lives. He was a beautiful child and very good-natured. When he reached his third birthday, at which point Jewish fathers in that region would dress their child in a tallit katan and bring him to the schoolteacher to lick the honey from the board of Hebrew letters, Uziel took his son. He did not wrap him in a tallit or carry him to a teacher, for no other Jews lived in his remote area. He did not take him to the nearby village because he could not afford to pay tuition. He therefore took the boy with him to the factory, drew him a board with Hebrew letters, and while he did his work he would turn around from time to time and teach his son a new letter. The boy would place his finger on the letter and repeat its name. Over the course of time, the child became acquainted with the alef bet. His comprehension was quick and his memory astounding; in just a few days he was reading fluently. His father then began teaching him the tefilot, and the boy's pleasant voice filled the open area of the factory, blending with the sound of bubbling beer and the engine's whistling, stirring the hearts of those present. Thereafter, Uziel taught his son, during those brief breaks from work, Humash with Rashi's commentary, and this was, more or less, all he knew.
To be continued
One who takes a close look at fire sees before him one of the most remarkable wonders of nature. Fire results from the incandescence of burning gases combining with oxygen, to the point where they assume an impressive, shining color. Fire serves as a source of light, heat and electricity. The creation of fire requires three conditions. First, it requires combustible material, that is, a substance - such as fuel - capable of combining with oxygen in a manner that burns. Second, of course, is a substantial quantity of oxygen, without which burning is impossible. Finally, fire requires a temperature hot enough to ignite the fuel, the substance that will burn. Fuel comes in solid, liquid and gas form. Wax and coal are solid forms of fuel, gasoline, various oils and alcohol represent liquid fuel, while natural gases and hydrogen are types of gas fuel. Most materials used for fuel contain, in addition to the burnt substance, also other materials that are non-flammable at normal temperatures. The non-flammable substance that remains after the fire extinguishes is called ashes. In the Bet Hamikdash, an "eternal flame" would burn on the mizbe'ah, as required by the pasuk in Parashat Ssav (6:6). This fire burned on a special spot upon the altar, and the kohanim oversaw it to ensure that it never extinguished.
The term "fire" has come to express, among other things, intense excitement. This fervor can be seen among those who feal the greatness and ultimate truth at the heart of the sacred Torah. When a Jew who has gone through many years without recognizing the fire of the Torah finally experiences the healthy, natural instinct not to lose anymore time and to make up that which he lost, to grow and raise himself, he becomes inflamed, and serves Hashem like fire. One must make an effort to preserve that fire and ensure that it never extinguishes. The fire of teshuvah rises and burns during these days. There are many sparks that are in the process of developing into a full-fledged flame, and each Jew has a misvah to invest his energies into the strengthening of this fire. Those who are talented writers, should write; those who can speak, should speak. In this manner, everyone together will come closer to the Al-mighty and bring about the arrival of Mashi'ah.
Rabbenu Ovadyah Seforno zs"l was among the great giants of Torah, wisdom, halachah and "mussar" in his generation. Beyond his ability to heal others' souls, he also practiced as a physician to cure their bodies, meriting divine assistance that granted him success in all his endeavors. He once came upon a certain, wealthy man who greeted him with fervent words of praise: "Fortunate are you, our rabbi, whom the Al-mighty blessed with the wisdom to save lives!"
"Saving lives involves no wisdom," answered the rabbi. "You, too, can save lives."
"How?" wondered the wealthy man. "I don't understand what you are saying, my rabbi."
The rabbi replied, "Come with me, and I will show you how."
He took the man to the poverty-stricken alleyways along the outskirts of the city and led him into a large yard into which fourteen residences opened. All the doors were shut and locked, and total silence gripped the area. The man felt sickened at the sight. "This is the area of demons," he muttered with trembling lips.
The rabbi proceeded to the doors and knocked on one after the other. They opened, and from the darkness of the houses peered hungry eyes, weary and wrinkled from suffering. They were so poor that they were embarrassed to be seen with the rags they wore as clothing. Only in the dark of night would they scatter about to collect leftovers from garbage cans.
The rabbi returned to the wealthy man and asked, "In your assessment, how many people live here?"
The man answered, "I see a person in every home, and the silence leaves the impression that they all live alone."
The rabbi continued, "Do you have any coins in your pocket?" The man responded in the affirmative, and the rabbi then asked, "Hide them in your hand and shake them, so that they clink together loudly."
The man did as he was told, and just as he sounded the jingle, swarms of people poured from the houses and surrounded him. His compassion aroused, the man distributed all the coins and ordered the purchase of nice clothing for them, and the yard became full of life and vibrant activity.
This is a true story, but for our purposes we will use it as just a parable. Every yeshivah student has coins in his pocket, an immense collection of gold: he knows a chapter of mishnah and a page of Gemara, he knows halachot and ideas relating to "mussar." All around they are so many who are hungry, who lack all of this and whose lives are dry. They live in their homes, silent and still, to the point where we know nothing about them! However, if we rattle our coins, if we try to set up Torah classes, to deliver lectures, we will see how they will enthusiastically gather round, how they will ask to hear more and more. Torah is life-giving dew, nourishment for the soul. As the tanna admonishes us, "If you learned a lot of Torah - do not keep the good for yourself!"
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, based on the rulings of Rav Ovadyah Yossef shlit"a
The Customs of Shavuot
Shavuot is observed on the sixth day of Sivan, upon the conclusion of the forty-nine days - or seven weeks - of the sefirat ha'omer period. We therefore refer to this festival as "Shavuot," which means weeks, just as the Torah did in Parashat Re'eh: "You shall count for yourself seven weeks. You shall make the festival of Shavuot to Hashem your G-d. " (Devarim 16:9-10). Hazal raised the question as to why the Torah never established a calendar date for Shavuot, but instead made it dependent upon the conclusion of the sefirah period. They explain that when Benei Yisrael were informed that they were leaving Egypt, they also learned that fifty days after their departure they would receive the Torah, as Hashem had told Moshe, ". when you take the nation from Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain" (Shemot 3:12). The Torah adds the letter "nun" onto the word "ta'avdu" - "you will serve" - in this pasuk, writing it as "ta'avdun." This letter, which has a numerical value of fifty, alluded to the fact that they would receive the Torah on Har Sinai fifty days after their departure. When Benei Yisrael left Egypt, out of their intense love for the Torah they counted each passing day. The seven-week period seemed to them as an endlessly long waiting period, due to their immense love and desire to receive the Torah. In commemoration of their longing and anticipation, the period of "sefirah," when we count these forty-nine days, was instituted for all generations.
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
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