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Parashat Ki Tesse


We find ourselves right in the middle of the month of Elul -the Days of Awe are just around the corner. Everything regarding the coming year will soon be determined. How have we been preparing ourselves for such an awesome and frightening experience?

Let us remind ourselves of the advice offered by Rabbi Yisrael of Salant zs"l to his students: the most critical preparations for the Days of Awe involve the small mistakes, those seemingly insignificant errors which we all make. It is regarding these "minor" transgressions for which we will be asked, "These were so easy to avoid - how did you still manage to make the mistake? How could you have gone wrong on such a simple matter?"

Let us therefore pay extra attention to these simple matters: reciting "birkat hamazon" (grace after meals) with more concentration, understanding the words we say during prayers, placing specific emphasis on the first verse of "shema" and the first paragraph of "Amidah." Let us make more of an effort to attend Torah classes and be more careful regarding the laws of "lashon hara" (inappropriate talk about others). Let us increase our performance of small acts of kindness and generosity, specifically regarding our family and friends. Let us make a special effort to pray with a minyan on a consistent basis.

The Ben Ish Hai, the anniversary of whose death occurs this week, applies this concept to a verse in Shir Hashirim, "Grab for us foxes, small foxes who destroy vineyards." Specifically the "small" transgressions which seem insignificant to us threaten to destroy, Heaven forbid, the entire vineyard. We know that the Temple was taken from us as a result of our inability to properly get along with one another, a sin which, tragically, we take so lightly. Therefore, in the coming weeks, let us be extra careful in the smaller matters, and thereby merit a good and blessed year, replete with the blessings of the Al-mighty.


The sun, moon, and stars were not created for their light alone. Eclipses - the absence of the light of these luminary bodies - serve an important function, as well. In fact, this function is listed in the passuk before their responsibility to provide light to the world: "And Hashem said, 'Let their be luminaries in the heavens...and they will serve as signs,'" which, as Rashi explains, refers to eclipses which are seen as a bad sign for the world, "...and they shall be luminaries in the heaven," understood by Rashi as referring to the light which they provide.

This Tuesday night there will be a full lunar eclipse in Israel. As mentioned, Rashi writes that such a phenomenon forebodes badly for the world, and Rabbi Meir (Masechet Sukkah 20) says that the eclipse is a specifically bad sign for the Jewish people, Heaven forbid. Why? Rabbi Meir explains that just as when a teacher walks into the classroom with his discipline-rod the student who is accustomed to being slapped begins to worry, so must we - who are accustomed to being punished - be the most concerned when the divine whip appears on the scene. The Maharsha adds that the student who is reprimanded the most is the indolent student, the one whose talents are great and, therefore, so are the expectations. Similarly, the Jewish people are granted the potential to achieve great spiritual heights. Therefore, when we fall short, the disappointment is greater, and, consequently, so is the punishment. The Gemara continues that the lunar eclipse, asopposed to the solar eclipse, represents an especially negative sign for the Jewish people, as our calendar is based upon the moon, not the sun.

Our rabbis have asked, how could the Gemara see an eclipse as a threatening and foreboding phenomenon? After all, natural causes produce the eclipse, and we can predict precisely when it will occur. The author of "Iyun Yaakov" zs"l answers that indeed, certain times of the year are cut out for blessing and goodness and other times are set aside for the opposite. The month of Adar is specifically identified as a month of joy and salvation; Nissan is seen as the special month of redemption; the month of Av is certainly not a month of joy. In fact, a Jew should not go to court against a gentile during the month of Av. The Ar"i revealed to us a whole series of dates on which one should not conduct business. It is not surprising, then, that the period of an eclipse is marked by Heavenly prosecution against us, Heaven forbid. Hazal did us a great favor by revealing this to us, allowing us to refrain from dangerous activities during this period, just as a physician advises his patient how to take care of himself during an illness.

Even if we behave properly and follow the correct road, we must make a special effort to avoid any form of inappropriate behavior. Rashi writes in the aforementioned passage, "When you perform the will of the Al-mighty, you need not worry from disaster [during the eclipses]." Hazal have taught us specifically regarding what we need to be careful: "Because of four things eclipses occur - false tale-bearers, false witnesses, those who raise small cattle [and allow the sheep to destroy other people's property], and those who cut down good trees [meaning, fruit-bearing trees, an act which demonstrates his lack of appreciation to Hashem]."

What is the common denominator of these four violations? Each of them, in its own way, constitutes an "eclipse" of its own, a transformation of light into darkness. There is no greater eclipse of light than by darkening one's reputation through false rumors, allegations, and testimonies. Similarly, sending one's sheep into the property of another, ruining his trees for some immediate need, chopping down a tree and showing disrespect for the great kindness of our Creator - all these activities serve to eclipse our value system. When an actual, astronomical eclipse occurs, there opens, as it were, room for the prosecutor to bring us to task for these moral eclipses.

We stand here and wonder to ourselves - how will we survive this scrutiny? Cutting down fruit-trees - rejecting the blessings of Hashem - is not one of the defining characteristics of an affluent society the disrespect shown toward food, an attitude shunned in previous generations. Those who raise small cattle - a lack of concern and respect for the property of others and not honoring his individual rights. Perhaps worst of all, the spreading of false rumors and allegations.

The continuing battles being fought through mass media, words transmitted verbally and electronically - who can possibly begin to imagine the amount of degradation, humiliation, scorn and contempt which is continually passed through these means of communication? False rumors, created from thin air, substantiated by false testimonies with no sense of common decency and concern for others - and all this captures the attention of a more-than-eager readership!

Perhaps the eclipse thus arrives at the perfect time, to turn our attention to the moral eclipses which occur in our lives on a daily basis. Indeed, this is the most appropriate time, the days of "selihot," a time which calls for intense introspection, specifically regarding these four points.

Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a

Bread Made from "Kitniyot" (Legumes)

When one eats bread baked from ground rice, he recites a mezonot before eating and borei nefashot afterward. However, the Rishonim (early Medieval commentaries) are in dispute regarding bread baked from other forms of kitniyot. The Rif and the Rambam draw a distinction between rice and other kitniyot, and the blessing for bread from kitniyot is shehakol, not mezonot. The reason given relates to Rabbenu Yonah's comments regarding bread made from beans, namely, that generally speaking legumes are eaten whole or cooked. Rarely are they ground into flour for baking purposes. Therefore, we may safely assume that the farmer who planted these kitniyot had intended for them to be eaten whole or cooked. Therefore, the blessing is shehakol, as the Shulhan Aruch rules that one recites a shehakol when eating a cooked fruit or vegetable if that item is generally eaten raw. Here, too, since the farmer presumably had intended for the kitniyot to be eaten whole or cooked, the proper blessing for the bread is shehakol. Regarding rice, on the other hand, there appears in the Gemara the opinion of Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri that rice is to be considered a species of grain. Although we do not follow this view, the existence of such an opinion demonstrates the unique stature of rice over other kitniyot, and therefore bread baked from rice - but not other kitniyot - requires a mezonot.

This is the opinion of the Rif and the Rambam.

The Rosh and Rabbenu Yonah, however, argue that no distinction should be made in this regard between rice and other kitniyot, and bread baked from all kitniyot requires a mezonot. They contend that kitniyot satiate the appetite just as rice does, and therefore bread made from kitniyot requires a mezonot. (Although the Bet Yosef raises a question whether the Rosh distinguishes between millet and other kitniyot, the "Bi'ur Halachah" cites the Tosafot Harosh which states explicitly that no distinction should be drawn. The Bet Yosef did not have access to the Tosafot Harosh, for it was printed only several generations later.)

The Shulhan Aruch (208:8) rules in accordance with the Rif and the Rambam, against the Rosh, and thus bread made from any form of kitniyot other than rice requires a shehakol, and not a mezonot.

In summary, when one eats bread made from rice, millet, or other kitniyot, he recites the blessing of "shehakol nihyah bidvaro," as the Shulhan Aruch rules. If the individual mistakenly recites a mezonot over such bread he has still fulfilled his obligation, for the halachah states that if one mistakenly recites a mezonot for any food other than water and salt he has fulfilled his obligation.

The "Ben Ish Hai" zs"l

This Monday, the 13th of Elul, marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Yosef Hayim zs"l, known as the "Ben Ish Hai." He was the greatest leader of his generation for whom it is better to praise with silence rather than do injustice to his greatness. He was an incredible genius with command over both the revealed and hidden areas of the Torah, Jewish law, Midrash, in both scope and depth, and offered many novel interpretations. It is no wonder, then, that he merited beholding exalted visions and was graced with a degree of "ru'ah hakodesh" (divine intuition).

Several months before his passing the leaders of Yerushalayim wrote him a letter inviting him to accept the position of Rishon Lessiyon in place of Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elishar zs"l. In his response, the great rabbi wrote to his student, Rabbi Ben Siyon Hazan zs"l of Yerushalayim, that he cannot accept the offer. He requested that his student present the letter to the rabbi who suggested the idea, and, if he was not available, the letter should be given to a different rabbi, who also came up with the idea.

Rabbi Ben Siyon took the letter and proceeded to the rabbi. He was told that the rabbi had left the city due to unforeseen circumstances and would not return for some time. Rabbi Ben Siyon therefore took the letter to the second rabbi. When Rabbi Ben Siyon discussed this matter with his peers, they concluded that this must be a revelation of "ru'ah hakodesh," that the Ben Ish Hai new in advance that the first rabbi would be out of town. Rabbi Ben Siyon wrote to the Ben Ish Hai about the conversation he had with his peers. With great humility, the rabbi outright denied the claim that he had merited ru'ah hakodesh and added, "Not only am I not capable of ru'ah hakodesh, but Hazal write that once the Bet Hamikdash was destroyed ru'ah hakodesh was annulled and given to the infants - and this level is beyond me, even in my old age!"

In conclusion, we cite a different piece from the same letter which relates to this time of year: "You should know that I am writing you this letter during the days of teshuvah, during which each minute is as important to me as an entire month!"


"When you build a new house"

The Hid"a zs"l explains this verse in a manner relevant tothis time of year, our repentance during the month of Elul. A person takes his religious inventory and realizes his mistakes, seeing all the houses of vanity which he has built over the year. He performs teshuvah, tearing down these houses and building a new, eternal house. If he sincerely wishes that his new house remain strong and erect, that he will never again return to his sinful ways, then " shall build a fence around the roof" - he should build for himself guidelines and precautionary measures to prevent him from sinning, and then he can feel confident that he will retain his teshuvah!

"For the one who falls will fall from it [the house]"

Rabbi Azaryah Pigo zs"l, in his work, "Binah L'itim," explains that the verse here responds to those who wish not to construct the fence around the roof, figuring that one who deserves to fall off should, in fact, fall. Such an individual may think, what difference does it make if I build a fence? If Hashem decreed that the person should fall he will fall even with the fence; and if the decree was for him not to fall than he is safe even without a fence! Thus, the Torah tells such a person that although this is true, he should not get himself involved in these calculations. Let the person fall "from it," meaning by himself, and you should not take part in his downfall.

"When you encamp against your enemies"

The Or Hahayim zs"l explains that there are some serious transgressions, less serious transgressions, and smaller violations for which one generally is not punished. However, the prosecutor in heaven is particularly adept during times of danger. Therefore, says the Torah, "When you encamp against your enemies" - during times of danger, "you shall be careful from all bad things" - which includes even the smallest violations and mistakes, for during these times we must take extra precautions. Thus, we who have found ourselves in danger for so many years, how careful we must be to avoid even the slightest misdemeanors!

Antelopes and Mountain Goats

The antelope family includes the mountain goats, those which can be found in the region of Judea, near the Dead Sea, and in the "Aravah," particularly near springs and rivers. These goats feature very long horns which can be a meter high.

Although they do not run very well, they are blessed with the ability to jump and skip far away. They can jump two meters high in the air and skip even farther. This allows them to climb rather easily through the mountain ranges, as the verse states, "High mountains for the mountain goats." The antelopes found in the Negev region (antelopes have smaller and simpler horns) are much quicker, running sometimes as fast as sixty kilometers per hour. A certain species of antelope found in Africa can run as fast as eighty kilometers per hour and can skip as much as nine meters in a single bound. This allows them to escape from their enemies, the animals of prey.

Although these animals feature the signs of kashrut - the have split hooves and they chew their cud - we do not eat them as we have no tradition of eating them from our predecessors.


"Do Not Take Interest!"

Heavy loans weighed down upon the residents of Jerusalem, debts which continued to pile up according to the high interest rates charged by the Arab money-lenders. The impoverished community found no way out, so they sent their two spiritual leaders, Rabbi Yom Tov Algazi and Rabbi Yaakov Hazan zs"l, on a trip outside Israel to collect money to cover the debt and assist in establishing the community and its Torah scholars. Wherever they went they were greeted with reverence, as their reputation of scholarship and piety preceded them. Such was the case when they arrived in Frankfurt, where the Hatam Sofer and Rabbi Dan Guggenheim paid personal attention to the success of their mission. As the two rabbis left the city, these two local leaders accompanied them. The Maharit Algazi took out from his pocket a sizeable sum of money. "This money was received from a man named Lilnatel, and it seems to me that it is 'improper' money. I do not want to defile Jerusalem with forbidden funds. The sanctity of the city will not be established through such monies, so please return the money to him."

Startled, Rabbi Dan Guggenheim took the money and returned it to the donor. Infuriated, Lilnatel exclaimed, "I'll show him -this money will be used to serve the rabbi in his own Bet Midrash!" As the rabbis were collecting funds in other communities, Lilnatel closed his business and made his way to Yerushalayim. He entered the yeshivah of "Bet El" at whose head sat the Maharit Algazi. He spoke to the caretakers about replacing the old furniture with new, expensive tables and chairs. Needless to say, the caretakers were overjoyed by the offer.

Soon afterward the Maharit Algazi returned from his travels and entered the Bet Midrash. As he began walking inside, he looked around at the new furniture, and said, "Remove this furniture from here! An aura of contamination has been emitted by this furniture, and I cannot possibly study Torah with purity amongst these tables and chairs!"

Why? Because Lilnatel amassed his great wealth by loaning money on interest.

There are various ways to avoid violating this prohibition, if we accustom ourselves to obeying the rulings of our authorities of halachah. Let us first and foremost make ourselves aware of these halachot and consult the authorities on a regular basis.

Sing You Righteous
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller

By-product of this study (part 1)

Those who engage in the study of the Creator's wisdom and kindliness (Gadlo Vetuvo) are indeed rewarded 1)by happiness of great achievement in this life and 2) the happiness of the True Knowledge in the Afterlife, where "the righteous sit with their crowns (of the True Knowledge which they gained in this life-RMBM) ontheir heads and they enjoy the splendor of the Shechinah" (Berachot 17a). There is, however, a by-product of this study, which affords abundant physical reward in this life: 3) the joy which comes from deep appreciation. "He who is of good heart (mind!) is at a perpetual banquet" (Mishleh 15:15). This verse is quoted by RMA at the end of the laws of Purim when we regretfully bid farewell to the happy day. RMA offers consolation to those who yearn for happiness, and he proposes the opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted Purim throughout the year. This is the feast of the Good Mind, the attitudes gained as the result of the study of the purposefulness and kindliness of the world's phenomena.

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