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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Halachot of Selihot
The custom is to arise early for the recitation of Selihot beginning from Rosh Hodesh Elul, the day when, as tradition tells us, Moshe Rabbenu ascended Har Sinai to receive the second luhot. These forty days leading up to Yom Kippur were characterized by mercy and compassion towards Am Yisrael, culminating with the ultimate forgiveness on Yom Kippur. For this reason, Yom Kippur is designated for all times as the day of forgiveness. Hashem has done us a great favor by informing us, as it were, of the day of judgment - Rosh Hashanah - to allow us thirty full days of Elul to adequately prepare, through increased Torah and misvot and teshuvah.
The Gemara in Masechet Rosh Hashanah writes that the ministering angels asked Hashem why Benei Yisrael do not recite "shirah" - songs of praise, i.e. hallel - on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The Al-mighty responded that Yisrael cannot possibly recite hallel when the "books of life and death" are open before Hashem. We can understand the angels' question based on the Gemara's comment in Masechet Hullin (91b) that the ministering angels cannot recite their songs of praise in the heavens until Benei Yisrael recite theirs here on earth. The angels therefore asked the Al-mighty why Benei Yisrael do not recite their songs, thereby preventing them from reciting theirs. In any event, we see from here the seriousness of this day of judgment. Although the Al-mighty wishes very much for Benei Yisrael to earn a favorable judgment, He does not easily forego on wrongdoing. Hashem rather prolongs His wrath before executing punishment in the hope that the individual will repent.
Let us think to ourselves how many people are killed annually in car accidents; hardly a day goes by without a fatal accident, and all those deaths were decreed and finalized on the previous Yom Kippur. We can only imagine how the victims and their loved ones would have been inspired to repent if they had known about the decree issued against them. Fortunate is the one who thinks of this ahead of time, on Yom Kippur. One must consider the possibility that he, too, is, Heaven forbid, included among those destined to depart the world over the course of the following year. Once the decree is issued, it will be carried out no matter what precautions the individual takes; his legs will bring him, as it were, to the place where he will meet his end, Heaven forbid.
Hazal say (Ketubot 30a) that although after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash the court has no power to administer capital punishment, Hashem punishes the sinners instead. For example, one who deserves stoning instead falls from a roof or is trampled by a beast; one who deserves to be burnt is either killed by fire or bitten by a poisonous snake, and so on. The story is told of a young man from Netanya who spent Shabbat in Yerushalayim, in Yeshivat Or Hahayyim, and was inspired to become observant. He remained in the yeshivah and grew in Torah. A year later he remembered his friends in Netanya and wished to inspire them to do teshuvah. He invited them for a Shabbat in the yeshivah, but every week they had another excuse. Finally, one week they told him to come to one of their home's on Sunday morning and then they will go with him to Yerushalayim. When he arrived there, he was shocked to discover that there were not there; instead, their parents sat on the floor crying. He learned that on the way home from a party the night before, they were a bit tipsy, and the car swerved and ran into an electric pole, killing all the passengers. The friend wailed, "If only they had come with me to Yerushalayim their lives would have been spared." Indeed, Torah gives light to those who observe it both in this world and the next. Hazal say in Masechet Shabbat 153a that one should repent one day before his death. Rabbi Eliezer's students asked him, "How does one know on which day he will die?" He responded, "All the more so, one should repent today, lest he die tomorrow, such that all his days will be lived in repentance."
"Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them"
The Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel explains that each of the twelve tribes would proclaim the blessings and curses. Those proclaiming the blessings would turn with each proclamation towards Har Gerizim and declare, "Blessed is the one who fulfills the laws of this Torah to perform them." Those proclaiming the curse would then turn towards Har review and declare, "Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them." Then everyone would respond in unison, "Amen!"
"Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them"
The Ramban zs"l explains: "In my view, this acceptance means that one affirms the misvot in his heart, that they should be true in his eyes, and he should believe that one who performs them will receive great reward and goodness while one who violates them will be punished. And if one denies even one of them, or if he views one as eventually becoming null and void, then he is cursed. This is thus the curse against those who rebel and deny."
Rabbenu Ovadyah Seforno zs"l explains similarly: "Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them - that he does not uphold and affirm the notion that it is proper to do all of them, but he rather thinks that some misvah from among them will become null and void."
In this context, a certain journalist once asked the Hafess Hayyim zs"l the well-known question, "Who is a Jew?" The sadik replied, "A Jew is someone who affirms that a Jew must observe all the misvot. Then, even if he stumbles once in a while by committing a sin, he is still a Jew!"
"Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them"
The Ramban zs"l cites the frightening comments of the Yerushalmi regarding this pasuk: "Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah - is there a Torah that falls? Rabbi Shimon Ben Halafta says, this refers to the court in this world." The Ramban explains, "Meaning, whoever has the ability to impact upon those who have left Torah to observe it, but fails to do that in his power in this regard, is included in this curse!"
We can now appreciate in a new light the immense efforts of our rabbi Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, who descends from the mountain to the people to strengthen them and restore the Torah's glory to its rightful place. Blessed is he from the Torah, with the blessing of "Blessed is he who raises the words of this Torah"! May Hashem lengthen his days with goodness that he may return the nation's heart to its origin and bring the merit of the ultimate redemption.
"Cursed is the one who does not raise the words of this Torah to perform them"
The Yerushalmi (Sotah 7:4) also cites the comment of Rav Assi in the name of Rabbi Tanhum Bar Hiyya: "If one learned, taught, observed and performed, and he had the capability of supporting [Torah] but did not support - he is included in this curse!"
Rabbi Hayyim Brim shlit"a said that he heard the following comment from Rav Yehezkel Abramsky zs"l, who served as the chief rabbi of London: "Since I entered adulthood I never ceased from Torah study. While I eat I think about learning; when I walk I think about learning; when I talk with people I think about learning! When I was freed from the camp in Siberia, I was appointed head of the rabbinical court in London. On the way from my home to the court, I would pass by a bridge stretched over the river. You cannot imagine how many tears of mine that bridge absorbed day in and day out, as I cried before the Creator that I may earn a share not only in the study of Torah, but in the supporting of Torah!"
His mind was not put to rest until he found a Torah scholar who had to study in poverty, and the rabbi took it upon himself to support him!
Rabbi Yosef Kubo zs"l
Rabbi Yosef Kubo zs"l was the rabbi of Boloniki around three hundred years ago. He was revered by everyone in his generation, including the sages and scholars of the time, who would bring him their questions with outright deference to his decision, as reflected in his work of responsa, "Givot Olam" His sanctity and piety had earned him great acclaim, and the Hid"a zs"l refers to him as, "the great rabbi, sacred is said about him, proficient in the performance of miracles."
During his time, the community faced very difficult conditions due to the heavy taxes forced upon it. The community leaders felt they had no solution other than including the Torah scholars in the responsibility of taxpaying, whereas until that point they enjoyed an exemption, as mandated by halachah (see Shulhan Aruch Y.D. 243:2). This burden of taxation forced the scholars to take away time from their learning and engage in commerce in order to earn enough to pay the taxes. Rabbi Yosef waged a valiant battle and had the decree annulled, thereby allowing the scholars to devote all their time to learning.
The Hid"a zs"l (in his work, "Simhat Haregel," 3) tells that during Rabbi Yosef's lifetime, a man appeared who presented himself as a fortuneteller and soothsayer. It was said about him that he had an angel come from the heavens and reveal secrets to him. Many leaders of Yisrael went to him and were astonished by the secrets he possessed, especially given the fact that beforehand he struck everyone as such a simpleminded person, very far from Torah knowledge. They figured, however, that this is no wonder given that he learns everything from an angel.
When news of this individual reached Rabbi Yosef, he said, "Go and see how he conducts himself when he eats. You will see that he eats gluttonously, consuming large quantities of food. There is thus no more need to check on him: his eating habits testify to the fact that he has no connection to sanctity!"
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
Those Capable of Fulfilling the Obligation of Kiddush on Behalf of Others
One who recited arbit on Shabbat eve may recite kiddush on behalf of his family who have not recited arbit, even though some authorities maintain that one fulfills his Biblical requirement of kiddush through the recitation of arbit on Shabbat eve. He may nevertheless fulfill the obligation on his family's behalf, because "kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh" - All Jews are responsible for the misvah performance of one another. He may fulfill the obligation even on behalf of women, despite their not being included in the formal halachah of "kol Yisrael. " Nevertheless, women should preferably recite arbit on Shabbat eve in order to ensure that their requirement is on the same level as their husbands, and a wife may thus fulfill her obligation through her husband's recitation of kiddush according all views.
Strictly speaking, a woman may fulfill the obligation of kiddush on her husband's behalf, as both men and women are equally included in the obligation. This applies on Yom Tov, as well, since then, too, men and women share equal status with respect to kiddush. Even if the wife recited arbit (in which case she has fulfilled the Torah obligation according to some views) and the husband has not, she may fulfill his obligation on his behalf. Nevertheless, out of concern for modesty women should not fulfill the obligation on behalf of men who are not part of their household.
A blind person may fulfill for others their obligation of kiddush. However, if a seeing adult is present who knows how to recite kiddush, he should preferably do so. If the blind man is the head of the household, no one else should be permitted to recite kiddush unless it is absolutely clear that the blind man will not be hurt by having another recite kiddush.
A minor cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of an adult; this applies to kiddush by night as well as by day. Even if the child has yet to recite arbit on Shabbat eve and the adult has done so with the explicit intention to fulfill the Torah requirement of kiddush (resulting in the equal status of rabbinic obligation - the child because of education; and the adult, because he had already recited arbit), the child may nevertheless not recite kiddush on the adult's behalf. It does not matter whether the adult is male or female. (The reason is that besides the fact the some authorities maintain that one cannot fulfill his Torah requirement of kiddush through tefilah, most authorities hold that a minor has no personal obligation at all in misvot, even on the level of rabbinic obligation. The misvah of education rests upon the parents; the child may therefore not fulfill the obligation of behalf of an adult, even if the adult has only a rabbinic requirement.) If the child is the only one present capable of reciting kiddush, then he should recite it in a loud voice and the adults in the audience should say it along with him word by word. (In this situation, they should not recite "amen" after the child completes his berachah.)
After witnesses were interrogated concerning their testimony of a certain transgression, they were asked, "Savri maranan?" Meaning, "How do you hold? Should we sentence the defendant to death of life?" The witnesses would then respond, "Lehayyim" - to life. If, however, the defendant was sentenced to death by stoning, the court would give him strong wine to drink so that he become intoxicated and not experience pain from the stoning. Therefore, the one reciting kiddush declares, "Savri maranan," and the listeners announce, "lehayyim," meaning, that the cup they drink should be for life, as opposed to, Heaven forbid, the cup drunk by the criminal sentenced to death.
Heads and Tails
On Rosh Hashanah we have the custom of eating meat from head of a sheep and saying, "May it be the will before You that we be the head and not the tail, and that You remember for us the binding and ram of Yis'hak Avinu, the son of Avraham Avinu." This statement, that we should "be a head and not a tail," originates in this week's parashah, in the list of berachot presented therein: "Hashem shall make you the head and not the tail." Our sages, including the Ramban zs"l and others, discussed the apparent redundancy in this phrase: if we are "the head," we are quite clearly not the tail!
A beautiful explanation appears in the work "Binah Le'itim" (second essay for the first day of Sukkot). It is not enough to strive to be the head, for the question will arise - the head of what? One will become the leader of "heads," or the leader of "tails"? We therefore ask that we should be the head, or leader, of "heads," rather than the leader of "tails."
When an entire nation celebrates the victory of a basketball team (composed mainly of gentiles), and an entire nation holds its breath during a music contest to see which place we reached, and it ties crowns, as it were, around a certain film in the hope that it will be considered for an Oscar - all this arouses pity. It's good for Jews to be happy; they certainly deserve it. Even if they rejoice in nonsense - so long as they smile. Nevertheless, this is very sad. This is the "people of the book," the nation that produced prophets, Tanna'im and Amora'im, Torah sages and spiritual giants. This is the people that holds in its treasury invaluable spiritual resources - Torah, mussar, middot and Jewish thought. It has served as a light unto the nations with its spiritual might. And now - it yearns for a medal?! And so what if it reaches first place, defeating the world champion by one-thousandth of a second? Then what - it will be the "head of tails."
Just as this is true regarding the nation at large, so does it equally apply at the individual level. Let us look into ourselves. We all want to excel and earn honor and respect. The question, in what field? To excel at work - or in one's Torah class; to be the perfect professional, or the perfect husband and father? How much depth lies at the heart of this request, that we should be "the head," and not "the tail"!
Insects Without Heads
Once a cockroach sat on a wall when suddenly a knife was flung towards it, slicing off its head. It was assumed that once its head is severed, its body will fall off, as well. After all, without a head the body has no spark of life. Much to people's surprise, however, the body remained firmly in its place as if nothing had happened; it did not even budge. Yet, a soft touch on its back edge prompted the body to move in the opposite direction. How strange - it did not react when it lost its head, but it moved a full stride in response to the slightest touch!
Have you ever heard of the flesh fly? Yes, that's the large, hairy and gray insect. This fly has the ability to "live" without a head for thirty hours. In this situation, it stands at total rest and even focuses its "attention" on cleaning its body. It rubs its front or hind legs with each other and, less frequently, rubs its middle legs, as well. It also cleans its wings. It acts as if this was all that disturbed it - the bit of dust that made its way onto the fly's legs or wings. Any contact whatsoever with the fly's foot causes it to tremble and move away.
These insects' lives do not end when their heads are removed. Without a head, the bodies continue to show normal reflex activity for several hours or even days. This characteristic emerges from the special structure of the nervous system in these insects. Besides the main center of nervous cells in the head, the system is composed as well of other, secondary concentrations of cells situated in other parts of the body, in several joints of the chest and stomach. They are in charge primarily over reflexive responses for purposes of self defense, egg laying, the removal of foreign bodies, etc. These nerve cells allow the insects to continue living and acting even after their heads' removal, as they coordinate the various limbs of the remaining body.
What do you think - can there be a situation of a person, "lehavdil," who can live without a head? Certainly not, and we refer here not to the physical head, but to the faculty of thought and planning. It seems that unfortunately, there are many people who live without using their heads - as if they do not even have one, Heaven forbid. They wake up in the morning, eat, drink, sleep, and then do it again. Once in a while they attend a show or go on a trip, but what about the true meaning of life? Even an insect cannot live without a head for too long! We Jews know that the main purpose of the head is to think and reach the necessary conclusion that "Moshe is true and his Torah is true," including all that emerges from this axiom.
In this week's haftarah we read of the future redemption, which is closer now than ever before. The Ba'al Shem Tov zs"l said about the pasuk, "Come near to my soul, redeem it" (Tehillim 69:19) that just as there is a nationwide exile, so does the soul go into exile and seek redemption similar to the nationwide redemption. Every statement of redemption can thus be explained in reference to the individual redemption of the soul, as well.
We find in our haftarah the pasuk, "The sun will no longer serve for you as the light of day; Hashem will rather be for you eternal light, and your G-d and your glory!" How may we understand this pasuk with respect to the individual redemption?
On a moon-less night, when sheer darkness prevails, only the fools will wander about. The wise, by contrast, wait patiently for the moonlight or first rays of sun, at which point they may find their way. The sun has, for good reason, become the symbol of clarity and certainty, as in the statement, "clear as the sun" (Sanhedrin 72a). Thus, no fundamental distinction exists between the sun and a guidebook or reliance on information, knowledge and experience.
With the onset of the light of redemption, we will no longer need the sun or other celestial beings, as our senses may deceive us and distort the absolute truth. Instead, our source of knowledge will be far more solid and trustworthy: "there is nothing that has no allusion in the Torah." Within the Torah is concealed the hidden light that illuminates the way for those privileged to know everything with clarity and certainty: "The sun will no longer serve for you as the light of day; Hashem will rather be for you eternal light."
As stated, those who intensely engage in Torah and are sanctified by it are privileged to this light. We then walk to the light that they shine upon us, they guide us for our benefit, for all times.
As we know, we no longer have prophecy nowadays; we longingly await its return with the arrival of the redemption, as the Rambam writes in Iggeret Teiman: "We have with us a great, wondrous tradition, I received it from my father who received it from his father and his father's father, and he received this matter from his fathers, and so on, until the initial exile from Yerushalayim," that prophecy will return to Am Yisrael as a stage before redemption - may it be His will that we earn this soon!
"Ru'ah hakodesh," however, has not left us, and it stands at the top of the ladder of spiritual growth presented by Rabbi Pinhas Ben Yair (Avodah Zarah 20b). Fortunate are those who earn this distinguished level, who see that which is hidden and foretell the future. I believe that I know one such individual. Last year, I received a yearly calendar and I flipped through it as I usually do. It began in the final week of Elul, which ended with the hope of, "May the year begin with its blessings." With all my heart I joined this longing for blessing! I continued flipping until I reached the final page. At that point, my eyes darkened: on the box of Erev Rosh Hashanah appeared the blessing, "May the year end with its curses." I was furious. Why did the publisher of this calendar determine from the outset that the coming year will not be a blessed one? After all, we eat apples with honey, asking for a good, sweet year, and we ask, "In the book of life, blessing, peace, good sustenance, salvation, consolation, and good decrees may we be remembered and inscribed before you, we and all Your nation, Yisrael, for good life and peace." We sincerely yearn for our prayers to be accepted and have an effect in the heavens. Yet, with every week that passed, I realized that the publisher was correct. The explosion in the bus, the beautiful children who were injured; the family that was destroyed, Heaven forbid; the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo that has become a town on the border under constant attack, the cars that have become ducks in a shooting gallery; the mortar shells that fell in Sderot; the bomb attack in the Dolphinarium and Pardesiya. Everything mixes together into one giant blend of blood and suffering, orphans and bereaved parents. This does not even include the road carnage that has taken a very heavy cost of blood, the growing unemployment rate that has reached devastating proportions, the ongoing recession, the untold numbers of ill patients, and the ocean of suffering. It is amazing how this publisher knew all this from the outset! Certainly he is blessed with "ru'ah hakodesh"!
No, obviously not. One need not possess great spiritual insight if he is knowledgeable. For everything is written in the Torah; everything has already been stated there. Indeed, the Gemara writes that Ezra instituted that the list of curses in Sefer Devarim will be read each year before Rosh Hashanah as an statement of hope that the year should end with its curses (Megilah 31b).
The question arises, why did Ezra establish such a system 2,500 years ago? After all, there have been many good years of life, prosperity and peace! The answer is that no year will be complete with comprehensive goodness before the coming of the redemption. Each year we yearn for the end of our curses and the beginning of our blessings. But even when our requests are graciously granted and all that we ask for comes true, even when our situation improves manifold in all areas, our understanding broadens and we realize how far we are from complete goodness. Even then we will continue to plea, "May the year end with its curses, may the year begin with its blessings." Anyone who has one hundred wishes for two hundred, and whoever has two hundred wants four hundred.
This was the situation even during the times of Ezra, the builder of the second Bet Hamikdash, the period which saw years of blessing such as those of Shimon Hasadik (Yoma 39b) and Shimon Ben Shetah (Ta'anit 23a). This applies all the more so after the destruction when Hashem turned away His face, as it were, from which point each day's curse is worse than that of the previous day (Sotah 49a). The darkness continues to intensify, grow and thicken. And certainly this is the case nowadays, in the period before the redemption, when we experience the "pangs of Mashi'ah" resembling the pain of childbirth.
Therefore, certainly each person asks, first and foremost, for relative prosperity and success within this ocean of crisis. But it is only natural for the ill patient to seek the alleviation of his pain. The destitute pauper seeks food for his family, in the spirit of, "A place was set aside for them in Gehinnom where they sat and sang" (Sanhedrin 110a). However, our main appeal must be for the arrival of the redemption, when all the suffering will automatically end, the crises will pass, the darkness will fade and light will shine through. Of this we read in the haftarah: "Arise, shine, for your light has dawned; the Presence of G-d has shone upon you. Violence shall be no longer heard in your land, nor wreck or ruin within your borders; you will rather call your walls 'salvation,' and your gates, 'renown'. I, Hashem, will speed it in due time." May this occur speedily and in our days, Amen!
Yosef Ben Geraz and Nizha Bat Oro
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