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Parashat Ha'azinu


The mishnah in Avot teaches us, "The Almighty wishes to bring merit to Yisrael. He therefore gave them a lot of Torah and missvot." How much more intense is that love immediately following Yom Kippur, and, in turn, He gave us an abundance of missvot during this period, the four species and the sukkah, missvot which involve both money and physical effort. In this way, we merit great reward and boundless treasures. The Midrash comments that, "From the reward of one purchase, one learns of the reward of another purchase." Consider the fact that in Egypt they were commanded, "You shall take a hyssop branch." Compare the price of a small branch of hyssop with the expense involved in the purchase of the four species. And what did Benei Yisrael earn on account of that small branch? The booty which washed ashore at the banks of the Red Sea, the booty won at the battle against Sihon and Og, and the riches of the thirty-one kingdoms of Canaan (houses filled which riches, plus fields and vineyards). Imagine how much reward awaits us for the missvah of lulav and etrog!

Therefore, a person should not look to save money when purchasing his four species. He should realize that in exchange for the expenses incurred for this missvah he will receive a reward beyond his imagination, and will, God willing, be deserving of a happy and healthy new year.


The saintly author of "Birkat Avraham" zs"l lived in Teveryah, in a neighborhood of saintly, God-fearing Jews. He tells the story of how once his parents sent him to the grocery store. Now the store was very narrow, and there was just a single path leading to the check-out counter. The path was surrounded on either side by huge bags: a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, a bag of seeds, etc. Not too many people still remember how things worked in the supermarkets of old. The child would wait on line and needed a lot of patience. Everything needed to be weighed carefully, weights were placed on the second scale, the calculation was made, and the debt was recorded by hand in the grocer's credit log.

And so, the young boy waited in line, his shoulder barely reaching the edge of the bags. Suddenly, he noticed a small pebble in the bag of nuts. He did a service to the store-owner, and removed the small stone from the sack.

Suddenly, he heard the teasing voice of the store-owner. "Child! Why did you do that? I'm losing money because of you!"

"Losing money?" asked the youngster, holding up the rock to show what he took out of the sack.

The storekeeper smiled and proceeded to explain. "You don't understand. I buy this bag from the Arab workers as is, with some dirt, pebbles, and straw mixed in. This is perfectly legal and permissible, as everyone knows to remove all the dirt before they serve the contents of the bag. Now that you took out a stone, you have taken away some of the weight of the sack, and I have lost money because of you!"

Such a speech, spoken pleasantly and calmly, with such clarity of explanation despite of the pressures of the workday - this could have taken place only in the Teveryah of old.

The child realized that he had made a mistake and hurried to correct his wrongdoing. He lifted his hand, prepared to return the pebble to its proper location. His movement was jarred by the storekeeper's cry: "NO!!"

The boy was startled, as the grocer's voice shrieked as if he had just witnessed a capital crime. The boy's hand froze, suspended in the air, as the grocer calmed himself down and explained. "You see, if the stone had been there originally, then it would have been permissible for me to sell it together with the merchandise. But to go ahead and place rocks and sand into the sack of nuts - this is strictly forbidden, it is theft!"

The saintly ssadik told this story some eighty years after the actual incident and added, "The cry of the grocer still echoes in my mind: 'No!! No!!'"

The festival of Sukkot, the festival of joy, is just around the corner. We will rejoice before the Almighty with the four species which symbolize the different elements of the nation. The etrog represents the ssadikim, who are blessed with both Torah and missvot. The lulav symbolizes those with Torah, the haddas symbolizes those with many good deeds to their credit, and the aravah, which has neither taste nor smell, represents those with neither Torah nor missvot. "And what does the Almighty do for them (for those Jews who are distant from Torah and missvot, like the aravah)? To destroy them would be impossible! Rather, the Almighty says, 'Bind them in a single bind, and they will all atone one for the next!'" (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12).

At first glance, it seems as though we are going ahead and placing stones and dirt into the sack of nuts! Why are we suggesting to include the aravah in a bind together with the other species?

Obviously, the aravah is qualitatively different from a stone. It is far from being just a stone in a sack. Every Jew is dear and precious. Even if, standing alone, he resembles an aravah, when he joins together with his brethren he becomes a precious jewel, a stone worthy of the royal crown, he becomes an inseparable part of the whole, without whom a berachah cannot be recited, even with the etrog, lulav, and haddas all together. Obviously, the aravah is invalid should it dry out or if the top of its leaves are severed. But once these conditions are met, it has not dried up, and its leaves are in tact, it can then join the nation, he can contribute to the community and its functions. This is the ultimate festival of joy, when all Jews from al backgrounds form a single, unified bond!


"My teachings shall pour like rain, my words shall flow like dew"

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explains that in this pasuk Mosheh prayed that his words should not go to waste. Rather, they should be as productive as dew and rain which fertilize the soil, allowing for the growth of vegetation and the ripening of the land's fruits. Similarly, he asked that his teachings penetrate the hearts of his audience and yield their produce, by stirring the people to study Torah and perform missvot.

"My teachings shall pour like rain, my words shall flow like dew"

As opposed to rain, which often pours down forcefully and in large quantities, dew descends slowly and peacefully, just a little bit at a time. Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno zs"l notes that the same applies to Torah study. Those who devote their lives to Torah scholarship are like the seemingly endless waters of a storm, and through the abundance of wisdom which they generate the masses receive gentle droplets, in the form of rulings of halachah, the simple understanding of the pesukim, a page of Gemara or an idea in aggadah. As one Torah great put it, "The Torah is not too big for even the smallest in Yisrael, and it's not too small for the greatest among Yisrael."

"My teachings shall pour like rain, my words shall flow like dew"

Each individual is required to act according to his own level; he is to behave at the level at which he is capable. The Or Hahayim zs"l cites the Midrash which says in the name of Rabbi Yishmael, "When an individual stands trial, if he studied only Scripture he will be asked why he didn't study mishnah; if he studied mishnah, he will be asked why he didn't study Talmud." What emerges is a line of questioning which corresponds to the person's level. He will be brought to task for not taking the next step, for not making just a little more effort. This is the meaning of the continuation of our pasuk, " stormy rains over vegetation, like streams of dew over grass." Just as each type of vegetation receives the appropriate degree of rainwater based on its needs, so, too, is a person expected to perform that which he is capable of doing, and not beyond his level.

"My teachings shall pour like rain, my words shall flow like dew"

Rabbenu Bahaye zs"l cites the Midrash on this pasuk: "Just as rain is life for the entire world, so are words of Torah. Just as everyone benefits from dew, so do they all benefit from words of Torah."


Rabbi Yisshak Abuhassera zs"l

Rabbi Yisshak Abuhassera zs"l, son of Rabbenu Abir Yaakov zs"l, was a close confident of the Baba Sali zs"l. He passed away at the young age of thirty-six, but through his great sanctity and righteousness his reputation for wonders gained widespread recognition, and his burial site in Tulal has become a monument to this very day.

Once, the residents of the city of Kesavi rebelled against the governor of the district, forcing him back to his capital city. The king heard of the incident and, in his fury, decided to sent a battalion of soldiers to destroy the city. At that time, Rabbi Yisshak came to the city to raise money for his yeshivah. The Jews of the community were hesitant to donate money at that time. "This is not a good time for fund-raising," they claimed. "Tomorrow the general is coming with his army, there could be terrible riots, who knows if our money will still be ours, who knows if we will even survive!"

The rabbi responded, "To the contrary, this is the perfect time for charity, as a means to avoid the evil decree." He asked that a shofar be brought. He concentrated intensely, blew the shofar, and exclaimed, "If the general comes tomorrow, then my name is not Rabbi Yisshak!"

The next day, the residents of the city left to greet the angry army, in an attempt to plead for their lives. They saw a cloud of dust and were petrified. Two horseman came to them and announced, "Sidna Kayad Umar was on his way here with his armies, but the king brought him back in order to fight with a hostile tribe by the border."

Everybody recognized the power of the Torah and prayers of Rabbi Yisshak, and they made significant contributions on behalf of the yeshivah.


Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav Mosheh Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Beit Midrash Meor Yisrael

The Laws of Sitting in the Sukkah

There is a positive commandment in the Torah to eat a "kezayit" of bread in the sukkah on the first night of Sukkot. Before eating one should have in mind that he is about to fulfill his obligation of sitting in the sukkah, in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Optimally, one should also bear in mind that the sukkah commemorates the clouds of glory which encircled Benei Yisrael to protect them from the sun as they traveled in the wilderness.

On the first night of Sukkot, after the recitation of "borei peri hagefen" and "asher bahar banu..." in kiddush, one recites the berachah "leishev basukkah," sits, and then recites "shehehiyanu." At that point, he should drink a "revi'it" of wine. If he cannot drink this amount, he should at least drink a cheekful, which constitutes, in most cases, just more than half a revi'it. (It is preferable that women do not recite "amen" to the berachah of "leishev basukkah.") He should not recite "leishev basukkah" again after the recitation of "hamossi."

The proper quantity to be eaten on the first night of sukkot is about thirty grams in volume of bread. Preferably, one should eat thirty grams in weight in order to satisfy all views and thereby avoid the doubt. This quantity should be eaten without interruption or pause in the middle. This quantity of bread should be completed within seven-and-a-half minutes. Preferably, it should be eaten within four minutes. Strictly speaking, it can be eaten together with salads, fish, or dipped in soup, but ideally one should be stringent in this regard and eat this quantity of bread by itself.

If one forgets to recite "yaaleh veyavo" in birkat hamazon on the first night of Sukkot, if he remembers after reciting "Baruch atah Hashem" but before "boneh Yerushalayim," he should say, "lamdeni hukecha" and then go back and recite yaaleh veyavo. If, however, he had already completed the berachah of boneh Yerushalayim before he caught his error, he should recite the following berachah: "Baruch Atah Hashem...shenatan yamim tovim le'amo Yisrael lesasson ul'simchah et yom hag hasukkot hazeh, et yom tov mikra kodesh hazeh, Baruch Atah Hashem mekadesh Yisrael vehazemanim." If he had already begun the fourth berachah, and said, "Baruch Atah Hashem elokenu melech ha'olam," he should then just continue the aforementioned berachah from "shanatan yamim tovim..." But if he had already continued into the fourth berachah past this point, even if he recited only the next word ("la'ad"), he must go back to the beginning of birkat hamazon. (This halachah applies only on the first night, when eating bread is obligatory.)

Women are exempt from the missvah of sukkah, but they are deserving of blessing if they are stringent in this regard and do eat in a sukkah. Nevertheless, they may not recite the berachah, even if they eat the proper quantity of bread. There is a missvah to educate the children to eat in the sukkah and to recite the berachah of leishev basukkah.

Those who go on trips during hol hamoed are not exempt from the missvah of sukkah, and they therefore may not eat a meal outside the sukkah. It is recommended that one devote his time over hol hamoed to Torah study.


Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the blood absorb the calcium and phosphorus in the body and enhances the growth of bones. It helps the bones stay hard and strong and ensures proper balance between calcium and phosphorus, thereby maintaining the general well-being of the individual. The main source of Vitamin D is the sun. The ultra-violet rays of the sun turn the oily substance on the surface of the skin to Vitamin D, which is then passed through the skin to the blood stream. It is no wonder, then, that people who are exposed to the sun regularly look healthier than those who are not. The Almighty gave this vitamin the capability to protect a person from muscle pains and keep the bones strong by assisting in the body's assimilation of calcium.

Furthermore, it facilitates proper functioning of the heart. What are the signs of Vitamin D deficiency? They include insomnia, tooth decay, inflammations, nervousness and anxiety, as well as other symptoms. Which foods contain Vitamin D? In truth, very few foods provide this vitamin. The list includes egg yolks, fish, and certain oils. In the case of Vitamin D deficiency, experts recommend supplementing by eating more of these foods. The need for this vitamin grows with age, and, due to the importance of this vitamin in the preservation of bones, it is as likely that the fragility of bones experienced by many elderly people is due to a deficiency of this vitamin as it is that they lack calcium. It should be noted that Vitamin D is the only vitamin besides Vitamin A which can be deadly if taken too often. Therefore, one should be careful to take only what he needs.

Similarly, we may add, in life in general, one must always find the proper balance. Just as with Vitamin D one must receive his share but must be careful not to receive too much Vitamin D, the same can be said about spiritual matters. For example, one who finds that he is miserly should, say Hazal, veer to the opposite extreme temporarily and give lots of charity. Gradually, he will find the proper balance between keeping what is rightfully his but, at the same time, giving as much charity as he is capable. Indeed, with all character traits one should find the proper balance, with the exception of arrogance, which belongs to the Almighty alone. In this regard we are to go to the extreme, and conduct our lives with humility. Working on our characters is no easy task, but through hard work and effort we can succeed.


Measure for Measure (10)

Flashback: A wealthy man established a Bet Midrash near his home and invited the local scholars to come and learn there. A poor scholar who had nothing to eat arrived in the Bet Midrash, and the wealthy man invited him to his home to converse in involved matters of halachah as he, the host, ate to his heart's content, neglecting to offer the poor, humble scholar anything to eat. After this happened twice, the poor talmid hacham made his way to the city, hoping to find something to eat, but he died of hunger on the way. Meanwhile, the wealthy man went to the Bet Midrash in the middle of the night when he suddenly heard footsteps.

The man was petrified. There was nobody there to help him, as the guard had left to get a new lamp. The wealthy man stood alone in the pitch black, and wanted to run away, knowing full well what Hazal say about one who breaks into one's residence in the middle of the night, that he is most likely prepared to kill if anyone stands in his way. Suddenly, he heard a voice. "Stand up!"

He stood like a brick, facing the garden, anxiously awaiting the return of the guard.

"Turn around!" ordered the voice.

The man felt his hairs standing upright on his head. The voice sounded familiar and yet, at the same time, it sounded strange and foreign. This was the voice of the talmid hacham, only that he had spoken softly and humbly, as opposed to the voice he heard now, which was strong and assertive. Cold and in terror, the man turned around, and his mouth bellowed a shriek. In the darkness of the Bet Midrash shone a white figure. The poor man has returned, but whereas just hours ago he wore torn, tattered clothing, he was now dressed in pure white shrouds. He no longer looked fragile or meek - he looked like a healthy, strapping young man. The wealthy man's knees locked, and could not budge.

"Who...who are you?" he muttered.

"You don't recognize me," scorned the figure. "I was invited into your home twice. Your memory seems very short, so I will remind you how I rejected the answer which you suggested for your kushya, the same kushya which brought you here to this Bet Midrash right now, to search for an answer which you will not find, because your answer is wrong. In fact, your entire existence is wrong."

"What...what are you talking about?" stuttered the wealthy man. "Twice you invited me to your table, twice you conversed with me in learning, and yet it never occurred to you to offer me something to eat. It never occurred to you that somebody else also experiences hunger, that other people are human beings, as well, they also have feelings and emotions. You think only about yourself, your world is closed with regard to others!"

to be continued...

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