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THE CENTRAL AND THE PERIPHERAL
"Do not turn to idols or make molten gods for yourselves." Rashi explains the word "elil" (idol) in this pasuk as associated with the word "al," an expression of negation. Meaning, an idol is to be considered insignificant and meaningless. The pasuk therefore concludes, "or make molten gods for yourselves," teaching us that if one turns to these images, they will ultimately be turned into gods.
Although the drive towards idolatry no longer exists nowadays, the Torah and its lessons are eternal and forever relevant. There are many things whose meaninglessness and utter insignificance are apparent and self evident. Yet, either out of necessity or after resigning oneself, one must turn to these matters. When a yeshivah student marries and has a family, he goes to find work. He knows that Torah is the main thing and that his livelihood lies at the periphery, subordinate to the central element - Torah study. But he has no choice; he has to make a living. When he goes to purchase a suit or hat, he knows the current fashion, which arbitrarily determines the proper color, material, width of the lapels, number of buttons, width of the hat brim, and tie color. How great is the danger that this shallow, superficial triviality will become something of paramount importance, the focus and attention upon these areas will turn into his primary concern, while Torah study will be relegated to the periphery, attendance at classes will drop to a lower priority. How great is the danger that fashion will assume center stage, and the individual's entire scale of priorities will be reversed. If one turns to these "images," they will ultimately be turned into gods. Let us maintain our scale of priorities and be sure to distinguish between the central and the peripheral, between the sacred and the mundane.
YISRAEL ARE SACRED!!
Rav Yehezkel Sheraga of Sinawa zs"l - the oldest son of Rav Hayyim of Sanz zs"l - was renowned for his absolute devotion to the attribute of truth. When one his hasidim brought him as a gift silver-laden, brass lamps, he refused to use them, fearing that the silver coating involved both dishonesty and arrogance. When he heard that the disciple might be embarrassed by the rav's refusal, he agreed to use them one Shabbat on condition that a note be left on the lamp to the effect that the silver is but the outer coating.
One day, his son, Rabbi Avraham Shalom of Stropkov zs"l, came into his room and found his father sitting with a piece of paper in front of him and pen in hand, thinking intensely and indecisively. When the son asked what was wrong, the father replied, "A Jew came before me and asked that I write for him a recommendation to a certain rabbi that he should be helped with a certain problem. Now everyone who writes to this rabbi addresses him as 'harav hakadosh' - the sacred rabbi. If I omit this title, it will be understood as an insult and could potentially harm the interests of the one seeking the rabbi's assistance, as the hasidim will stand up for their rabbi's honor. On the other hand, I am very careful about ensuring that nothing dishonest ever leaves either my mouth or pen. How can I refer to someone as 'sacred'? The Shunamite woman addresses the prophet Elisha as 'sacred,' and the Gemara inquired as to how she knew that he was sacred!"
The son saw his father's dilemma and said, "Father, I have some advice for you from the Gemara!" The father leaned forward with interest and the son continued, "The Gemara in Hullin 91a says that although the fat of the 'gid hansheh' [the thigh muscle that may not be eaten] is permitted to be eaten, Benei Yisrael are sacred and treat the fat as forbidden. Undoubtedly, this rabbi does not eat the fat of the 'gid hansheh,' so he, too, may be considered under the Gemara's classification of 'sacred'!" The father's face lit up, and he proceeded to comfortably write the letter...
For himself, however, the rebbe of Sinawa did not limit himself to this level of sanctity. Rav Aharon Weiss, the head of the rabbinical court of Munkass, underwent an in-depth study of all details relating to the laws of netilat yadayim, and when he visited Sinawa he found that the rebbe conducted himself with regard to netilat yadayim in accordance with all the stringent views. He ensured to wash his hands in a manner that satisfied all opinions. The rebbe noticed his visitor's interest in his stringency in this regard and explained, "I receive many letters, and the writers refer to me as 'the sacred rabbi.' I thought to myself, I am causing them to lie!
I therefore decided to be extra meticulous in my observance of the laws involving washing my hands, since Hazal say that the phrase 'V'hitkadishtem' [you shall become holy] refers to netilat yadayim (Berachot 53b).
Therefore, the title they afford me will not be without any basis."
These stories are remarkable, but the truth is that there are countless levels of sanctity. It begins with the general demands upon every Jew, the basic, modest conduct regarding which the Gemara (Nidah 17a) says, "Yisrael are sacred," to the highest level of kedushah at the top of the "ladder" described by Rav Pinhas Ben Yair (Avodah Zarah 20b), as elaborated upon in Mesilat Yesharim. Rabbi Yehudah Ssedakah zs"l used to point out the expression at the opening of our parashah: "Hashem said to Mosheh, speak to the entire congregation of Benei Yisrael and say to them, you shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy." The pasuk emphasizes that this injunction was directed to "the congregation of Benei Yisrael," to the nation in its entirety, in order to teach us that the demand of "you shall be holy" does not apply only to the most exalted members of the Jewish people, to the great ssadikim and Torah sages. The entire Jewish population is under this obligation. Each one must develop his level sanctity according to his individual potential, and to always strive to reach the next stage of spirituality.
The Hafess Hayyim zs"l would comment that the pasuk warns, "You shall not go astray after your heart" - referring to heresy - "or after your eyes" - referring to promiscuity - "after which you stray." In other words, the pasuk here addresses itself to one who has deteriorated to the point where he needs to be warned not to entertain thoughts of heresy or immorality. The pasuk continues, "and you shall be holy to your God." Even such an individual must be holy! There are endless levels of sanctity, and each person is required to climb up the ladder, raising himself one rung at a time.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"You shall not desecrate My sacred Name, and I will be sanctified among Benei Yisrael"
"If one has the sin of desecrating God's Name in his hands, for him repentance does not have the power to suspend [punishment], nor does Yom Kippur have the power to atone, or suffering the power to mitigate.
Rather, they all suspend, and death mitigates [the sin], as the pasuk states (Yeshayahu 22:14), 'Then Hashem Seeva'ot revealed Himself to my ears: This iniquity shall never be forgiven you until you die' (Yoma 86a). "There is no down payment with the desecration of God's Name" - meaning, one does not receive any time before the punishment; he is punished immediately. "And if the scale was exactly equal, and one of the sins was the desecration of God's Name, it weighs down the scales to a guilty verdict" (Kiddushin 40a).
We find only one correction for the sin of desecrating God's Name: "When a person tries to uphold truth, assists it and applies himself on its behalf, and its light appears to the eyes of the people in his generation, and he supports the people of truth and their fame increases, and he lowers the forces of dishonesty until they reach the dust - these are the ways of kiddush Hashem, glory and majesty to His faith and service in the world, and power and grandeur to the sanctity of His Torah. Therefore, through his increased activity to sanctify the Name and promote truth, to establish and uphold it, he will be forgiven for the sin of the desecration, together with repentance, as he places peace as opposed to the guilt of the desecration, the attribute of his repentance as opposed to the attribute of his iniquity" (Sha'arei Teshuvah by Rabbenu Yonah Girondi zs"l, 1:46). "If Hashem helps him to sanctify His Torah in the presence of people, and inform people of the powers of Hashem and the honor of the majesty of His Kingdom, then his sin will be eliminated through the great righteousness of the act, that is the contrary of the act that he stumbled upon and committed. This is as the physicians say about physical ailments, that it is cured through its antibody, and will be healed by its opposition. And our sages z"l say (Bava Batra 4a) regarding Herod who killed the sages that he sought counsel from Bava Ben Buta if he may be cured, and he said to him, you extinguished the light of the world - go and involve yourself in the light of the world, and exert yourself in the building of the Bet Hamikdash" (ibid., 4:5).
Not only does kiddush Hashem work against hillul Hashem, but the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 6:7) tells us, "Rabbi Abba Bar Zemuna said in the name of Rabbi Hoshaya, kiddush Hashem is greater than hillul Hashem."
What remains is for us to establish what precisely constitutes "kiddush" and "hillul" Hashem. "'You should love Hashem your God' - meaning, that the Name of Hashem should become beloved through you; if one studies, learns and serves Torah scholars, and he speaks pleasantly with people, and his transactions in the marketplace are conducted pleasantly, and he deals honestly in business, what do people say of him? Fortunate is so-and-so who studied Torah, fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his rabbi who taught him Torah, woe unto those who did not study Torah.
Have you seen so-and-so who studied Torah - how nice is his conduct, how proper are his actions! Regarding him the pasuk states, 'He said to me, you are my servant, Yisrael through you I am glorified.' But when a person learns, studies and serves Torah scholars and he does not speak pleasantly with people, and his transactions in the marketplace are not conducted pleasantly, and he does not deal honestly in business, then what do people say about him? Woe unto so-and-so who studied Torah! Look how despicable his actions are, how corrupt his behavior is! Regarding him the pasuk states, 'They desecrated My sacred Name'" (Yoma 86a).
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Eliyahu David Mazoz zs"l
When it was first established, the city of Sfax, Tunisia had no Jewish residents. The mayor of the city requested that a certain Jewish tailor, a renowned expert in the field who resided in Jarbah, come be his personal tailor and live in his city. But the tailor refused to be the only Jew in the city, without a minyan, rabbi or shohet accessible. The mayor heard his concerns and brought to the city ten families from Jarbah, and they were supported by the mayor. Thus, the Jewish community in Sfax was founded and it followed the customs of Jarbah. At this time, the great Rabbi Eliyahu David Mazoz, one of the great rabbinic prodigies of Jarbah, was brought to Sfax to serve as the community rabbi. Over the course of time, the community grew and Jews from various cities poured into Sfax. One day, a certain question arose regarding a piece of beef. While the custom in Jarbah was to consider meat of this type non-kosher, the prevailing practice in other communities was to render this meat permissible. The rabbi ruled that the meat was not kosher, as was the practice in the city since the community's establishment, but defiant members of the population protested the rabbi's decision. They argued that the city had since changed, and they therefore were not longer bound by the original stringent rulings that were in force when the community was founded. They even reported accusations to the authorities that the rabbi was forcing upon them stringent customs, and he was deposed from his post until such time as he would "repent" from his "wrongdoing." The rabbi was not phased, and he and his family - which included seven children - suffered seven long years of humiliating hunger.
In the meantime, he had salted the questionable piece of meat in order that it be preserved, and he proceeded to the Tunisian capital, to the chief rabbi of Tunisia. He told him the entire incident and asked for his ruling as to what the community should do. The chief rabbi ruled that the community must continue paying his salary, despite his having been driven from his post. But the members of the community who recognized the righteousness and power of the rabbi were not satisfied. They insisted that he return to his position and lead them. The rabbi refused, and said that he would reassume his post only when the community agrees that all communal issues be governed by the customs that had been in force in years past.
The community agreed, and the rabbi led them once again, and he later moved to Eress Yisrael leading his community. He served as the rabbi of the Naveh Sha'anan and Ramot Remez neighborhoods in Haifa until his death on 2 Nissan 5743. May his merit protect us, amen.
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Taken from the work "Osserot Yossef" by Rav David Yossef shlit"a,
Those Who Are Obligated in Sefirat Ha'omer
A convert who converted during the omer period may not count the omer with a berachah that year, even if his conversion occurred already on the second day of the omer and even if he counted beforehand. If he converted on the sixteenth of Nissan, which is the first day of the omer, then he should count that day without a berachah, just as one would do if he neglected to count at night. Then, from the night of the seventeenth and on, he may continue counting the omer with a berachah.
A mourner is obligated in the missvah of counting the omer. However, an "onen," that is, one who lost an immediate relative (for whom he must mourn) whom has yet to be buried, may not count the omer. Therefore, if he was an "onen" at nighttime, he counts the following day after the burial without a berachah (just as anyone who failed to count at nighttime counts the following day without a berachah). That night he then continues counting with a berachah. Nowadays, however, when the deceased is generally handed over to the care of the "hevra kadisha" that arranges the burial, the "onen" should count at night without a berachah, even before the burial. Not to mention the fact that he should do so if he knows that the burial will be delayed until the following evening. Then, on the night following the burial, he continues counting the omer with a berachah.
The time for counting the omer is every night beginning from the night of the sixteenth of Nissan (i.e. the night following the first day of Pesah, to which the Torah refers when it says "from the day following the Shabbat") for seven full weeks thereafter, until the night of the fifth of Sivan (Erev Shavuot), that night included.
Optimally, the missvah of counting the omer should be performed immediately at "sset hakochavim" (nightfall), meaning, thirteen and a half minutes (as defined by halachah) after sunset. (The time of "sset hakochavim" is the amount of time after sunset that an ordinary person requires to walk three-quarters of a "mil." Since, as explained in the Shulhan Aruch and poskim, the time needed to walk a "mil" is eighteen minutes, nightfall thus occurs thirteen and a half minutes after sunset.) Even those generally accustomed to waiting on Mossa'ei Shabbat seventy-two minutes past sunset, in accordance with the view of Rabbenu Tam, do not need to wait the added amount of time for the counting of the omer. If one did not count at nightfall, he may count the entire night until daybreak.
If one did not count the omer until after daybreak, he may not count with a berachah that day, since once daybreak has passed, it is considered daytime.
He therefore counts without a berachah, and on the following night he continues to count the omer with a berachah. "Daybreak" is seventy-two minutes (as defined by halachah) before sunrise. (The time of "daybreak" is the time before sunrise that is required for an average person to walk four "mil." Since, as explained, an average person walks one "mil" in eighteen minutes, daybreak is seventy-two minutes before sunrise. All these times are determined based on the halachah's definition of "hours" and "minutes."
An hour is considered one-twelfth of the day [i.e. of the time of daylight throughout the given day]. For example, if a given day has only ten hours of daylight, then an hour for purposes of halachah will be fifty minutes. If the day has fourteen hours of daylight, then an hour would consist of seventy minutes.)
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
The Gulf Stream
Many people think that the ocean is a large, stationary cistern of water, and that only on the water's surface do we sense the movement of either slow or stormy waves. Remarkably, however, even the ocean contains rivers and streams of water. The largest and most significant of these streams is the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is especially large, measuring seventy-five kilometers in width, and it flows from the Mexican Gulf to the Arctic Ocean, which surrounds the North Pole. The waters in the stream are as deep as 650 km. The Gulf Stream flows very rapidly, and from the main stream flows forth an entire network of undercurrents throughout the Atlantic Ocean.
The exact speed of the stream is variable. When it reaches the Canadian shore, for example, the stream flows relatively slowly, fifteen kilometers a day.
The flow of warm water progresses from there eastward, crossing the Atlantic Ocean and dividing into four segments. What role does the Gulf Stream play in the natural world? The Gulf Stream brings with it warm air, thus actually warming the countries near which it flows. Scandinavian countries, for example, would be covered with ice like Greenland were it not for the Gulf Stream. The stream prevents the freezing over of large portions of the northern waters, thus allowing passage of ships through the waters even at the peak of winter. The speed of the stream helps ships traveling from America to Europe. The stream is a thick blue, and it brings with it tiny animals that serve as food for the fish in the Atlantic. Scientists have at least a partial explanation for the Gulf Stream, based on phenomenon of air currents. Air near the equator warms, rises, and moves northward, where it then cools. It consequently descends to lower altitudes and flows southward, filling the place of the warm air that had moved north, and so on. This cycle creates air currents that move from place to place in a set pattern of movement. These air currents then impact water currents down below.
Contemplating the wonder of the Gulf Stream brings to mind our immense debt of gratitude towards the Almighty for His great kindness in providing for mankind a type of "air conditioning" system, allowing man to live everywhere. All this works through an endless chain of natural laws, which are at once both simple and complex. The wondrous Gulf Stream brings to life the words of praise for Hashem uttered by Yeshayahu: "Who makes in the sea a path, and in the mighty waters a trail."
The Espionage Case (11)
Flashback: The German yeshivah student Efrayim Leboviss, who was arrested on false charges of espionage and disappeared during the retreat of the Russian forces during World War I, was identified in a prison in the city of Panza, when he requested from a Jewish renovations contractor who worked in the prison to tell his rebbe, the Hafess Hayyim, that he was imprisoned in that jail. The Hafess Hayyim immediately sent one of his students to look into the boy's situation and how he could be helped.
The first thing the messenger sought was to meet with the prisoner, his friend Efrayim. But how would he get into the prison? If he would come straight out and ask to meet with him, then he would undoubtedly be accused of espionage himself. Who else would ask for a private meeting with a dangerous spy, in whose pockets were found the architectural plans of the fortresses of Kovno just before its defeat by the enemy? They would allow him to reunite with his friend Efrayim, only to remain there with him for many years to come... What, then, should he do? He met with the contractor who had first brought the news of Efrayim's location in Panza and asked to come along with him under the guise of his assistant. He wore builders' clothing, took a bucket of cement and a trowel, and went together with the contractor. As they passed the hallway near one of the cells, the contractor gestured to his "assistant" and continued. The messenger put down the heavy bucket to rest a bit, and whispered, "Efrayim?"
"That's you, Mosheh Yehudah?!" Two withered hands, the joints pale, grabbed the bars in the window of the cell. Two fiery eyes shone behind them.
"The rav sent me. I don't have much time; they might catch us. How can we help?"
From behind he heard footsteps; someone was coming. Mosheh Yehudah leaned down to pick up the bucket, and Efrayim frantically said, "Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, the light of eyes will rejoice a heart!"
"I will try," Mosheh Yehudah whispered. "Be strong!" He continued down the hallway, the eyes of the prison guard transfixed on his back.
Opposite him appeared the contractor, who shouted, "Where are you? What, did you stop to rest?!" He then turned to the guard and said, "These workers! A bucket of cement they have trouble carrying - imagine them working in the mines!" The jailer smiled; he had suspected as such. "Come," the contractor ordered the worker. When they had moved away from the guard, he quietly asked, "Well, were you successful?"
Mosheh Yehudah nodded. "What did he tell you?"
"Your righteousness is like the mountains of God, the light of eyes will rejoice a heart."
"What is that?"
"A pasuk from Tanach."
"I don't understand," muttered the contractor.
"But I understand," the worker said with a smile...
to be continued...
THE MISTAKEN TRANSACTION
Once in his speech, Rav Aharon of Kelivnah zs"l told the following story that happened to him. In his youth he had studied in the yeshivah of Prague, and one of the wealthy people of the region, who owned an enormous estate, selected him as the groom for his only daughter. He promised to support the couple generously so that the young student can grow in Torah unencumbered and emerge as a leading Torah scholar.
Indeed, the man followed through on his guarantee. He designated a wing in his estate for the couple, furnished it lavishly and purchased many books, all this just so that his son-in-law could study diligently with comfort and peace of mind.
However, the son-in-law did not spend the entire day in his library. He went to the Bet Kenesset to pray, and he met there some young men around his age, who were not benei Torah or yeshivah alumni. He conversed with them, became friendly with their social circle, spent time with them on trips, and the intensity of his Torah study diminished.
His father-in-law saw what was going on and was very distressed. Once, a "darshan," who would travel throughout the Jewish towns and villages and deliver pleasant words of rebuke to steer people in the proper direction, came to the neighborhood and lodged in the wealthy man's home. The host told the darshan of his distress over his son-in-law's conduct, and the darshan assured the man that he would speak about the matter with the son-in-law. The young student heard the darshan's rebuke, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I don't know what he wants from me! Even with my loss of intensity, I'm still the biggest 'lamdan' in the entire area. I am willing to be taken to the test against anyone else in the neighborhood.
Tell him that he can be very proud of me. Even if I waste time from learning for twenty years, I would still be the best learner around!" "Indeed, this is so," conceded the darshan. "I also think that your father-in-law is making a mistake." The son-in-law was shocked by the absolute agreement to what he had said, and the darshan continued: "But what I can do? Your father-in-law feels that he made a mistaken transaction.
I know that he is making a mistake; you are certainly the top 'lamdan' in the area. But what can you do - he is the one supporting you. What will you do if he drives you from his home and refuses to support you further? You will then go right back to the place from where you came. You will return to the yeshivah, where you will find your friends who, while you were out on trips and wasting time, were studying diligently and growing from one level to the next in Torah study. Whereas you were once the crown jewel and pride of the yeshivah, you will then be outdone by your peers and subject to unbearable humiliation. How would you be able to face them? How would you be able to return to the yeshivah?"
The darshan's words hit the young man like a hammer on a nail, and right there and then he decided that he made a grave error. It was not enough for him to be the greatest learner in the far-away village where he lived. He must be considered a "lamdan" even should he return to the yeshivah, where one is truly tested to determine his level of learning!
He then said to the darshan, "It just came to my mind that this is the meaning of the pasuk, 'You shall be holy, for I, Hashem your God, am holy.'
If it had only said, 'You shall be holy,' then we would have made the same mistake I made. We would have thought that it suffices for us to be holy in relation to the corrupt gentiles around us. The pasuk therefore tells us that this is wrong. Our souls were hewn from the upper source, the source of all sanctity, and we will one day return there. We must therefore be as pure as the Almighty!"
He promised the darshan that he will go back to his diligent study. And so he did, and he emerged as one of the great sages and ssadikim of his generation.
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
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