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Parashat Ki Tesse
THE MESSAGE OF A MITZVAH
In our parashah we are commanded with regard to the missvah of "shilu'ah haken": "Should you chance upon a birds' nest, and the mother lies on the chicks or on the eggs. you shall send away the mother, and the young take for yourself." The "Vaya'al Mosheh" zs"l asks, why is it prohibited to take the young without sending away the mother? After all, were the mother bird to stand there by itself, it would be permissible to take it - certainly we are allowed to take and slaughter kosher birds! He explains that whereas birds have wings in order to fly and quickly escape, the mother bird should certainly have flown away immediately upon seeing the individual approaching the nest. Why didn't it fly away? Because its love and compassion for its young supersedes its concern for itself. The Torah therefore orders us not to use the mother's compassion as a trap; let the bird escape.
A profound lesson emerges from this analysis, one which, unfortunately, has suffered from cruel neglect. They realize how precious Torah is our eyes, that Torah education is so critical to us, that Torah institutions are our very breath of life - and they rejoice with such enthusiasm to take advantage of our relationship with Torah and use it as a trap. They drain the soul, confident that the concern for the young, for the dear children and students of Torah, will expose the nest to harm. How foreign is such an attitude to the Torah's outlook, to its exalted tradition and the message it teaches!
THE THREE THIEVES
It appears that in ancient times people knew the secret of psychological warfare just as they were versed in the strategies of military warfare. The Torah therefore warns, "Listen, Yisrael, you are going to war against your enemies. Let not your courage falter" - from the galloping of the horses or the shiny swords - "do not fear" - from the din caused by the banging together of shields - "do not panic" - from the sound of the trumpets - "do not dread them" - from the sound of their shouts (Sotah 42a). Let us not forget that warfare in those days was conducted by massive armies, and critical importance was afforded to the numbers of fighters. The army of Zerah Hakushi numbered one million soliders (Divrei Hayamim 2, 14) and Sanheriv drafted over two-and-a-half million soldiers when he besieged the city of Jerusalem (Sanhedrin 95b). Perhaps we can imagine the fierceness of battle, the commotion and intense wrestling, the deafening noise and vicious, hands-on combat. The soldiers set free the human instinct of destruction and conquest, all restraint was eliminated, and we were taught the parashah of "eshet yefat to'ar" (the allowance to take a fugitive woman). The Torah allowed for such a practice, but issued several limitations and even a strict warning: even if you observe all the detailed laws relevant to this practice and you abide by all the restrictions, you will still fall under the category of "naval birshut haTorah" - behaving immorally within the boundaries of the Torah (Ramban, Vayikra 19:2). You will not even enjoy the results. If you thought that this would bring you love, you are in error - in the end you will despise her. And if she bears you a child, he will become a "ben sorer u'moreh" - a wayward son. If you tolerate his behavior, in the end you will bring death upon yourself, Heaven forbid. One shortcoming will yield another, one sin will cause the next, and the process will continue to deteriorate in frightening fashion. In the work "Or Halevanah" we find a powerful parable relevant to this topic. A man once rode a horse towards a village in order to buy a milk-producing goat for his yard. He purchased the goat and tied a bell around its neck. He then tied a rope to the horse's tail and the end of the bell, and made his way home content with his successful acquisition. Three hoodlums saw him from the distance, and one said to the others, "I have an idea how to steal the goat."
"And I," said the second, "can even steal the horse upon which he rides." The third jeered his comrades and boasted, "That's nothing - I can steal even the clothing he wears!"
And so the first thief proceeded quietly and undid the bell from the goat's neck. He then hung it from the horse's tail, undid the end of the rope, and pulled the goat with him. The ranger, who heard the bell ringing all along, suspected nothing. He assumed that the goat followed him without any interference.
The second hoodlum, meanwhile, stood at a distance and waited for the man to approach. "Tell me, kind Sir," he asked politely, "is this some kind of new fashion, to hang bells on horses' tails?" The man turned around and looked in shock and disbelief.
"Oh, my goat has been stolen!" He clasped his hands together in anguish. The hoodlum offered some advice: "The thief could not have gone too far away. I will watch your horse for you while you go chase after the rascal!"
The man ran as fast as he could, but found no thief and no goat. With a heavy heart he turned back, only to find that his horse was missing. He didn't see the watchman anywhere. He continued walking along by foot, the sun beating down from above and the intensifying heat becoming unbearable. He arrived at a well and found a man standing at the edge, staring down into the well and pouring tears therein.
"Why do you cry?" asked the rancher. The man told him that he bent down to take a drink from the well's waters, but his money pouch slipped from his pocket and fell into the well.
"Today seems to be a day of bad luck," the man replied. "Today I lost a goat and a horse."
"That's nothing!" retorted the stranger. "What are they worth? If you get me my wallet I will pay you the price of both the goat and the horse!" Hope returned to the man's heart, as he saw the long-awaited return of good fortune. He quickly removed his clothing and dove into the well. His search came up empty-handed, and he ran out of breath. When he reached the top, he didn't see a soul and couldn't find his clothes.
Indeed, were he to have been less self-assured from the outset, were he to have shot a glance or two every so often behind him to check on the goat, he would have already returned home safely. But since he relied on the bell, never considering the possibility of theft, his misfortune progressed from bad to worse, and he would be lucky to reach home without anyone seeing him in the dark of night.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"If a man has a disloyal and defiant son"
In order for the halachah of a "ben sorer u'moreh" (rebellious son) to take effect, many very specific conditions must be met, which significantly limit its practical application. For example, both parents of the youngster in question must have similar voices and appearances and be of the same height.
Indeed, the Gemara comments that there was never nor will there ever be an instance of "ben sorer u'moreh." If so, asks the Gemara, then why was it written in the Torah at all? The Gemara answers, "Derosh vakabel sechar" - we learn the halachot of a "ben sorer u'moreh" and thereby earn reward for Torah study. Rabbi Yonatan, however, says that he saw a "ben sorer u'moreh" and sat upon his grave. Similarly, Hazal say that there was never nor ever will be a case of an "ir nidahat," a city who entire population worships idols, since many specific conditions must be met for the conferral of this formal status upon a given city. Again, Rabbi Yonatan argues and claims to have seen an "ir nidahat" and actually sat on the spot where it stood.
The Maharal of Prague zs"l (in his "Hiddushei Aggadot") asks, how could it be that only Rabbi Yonatan saw these two cases, and why is it significant that he stood on the grave of the rebellious son and the spot where the "ir nidahat" stood? Furthermore, if even one Sage testifies to having observed a case of "ben sorer u'moreh" and "ir nidahat," how could the Gemara claim that these occurrences never happened? He explains that indeed a very profound concept is expressed in this Gemara. Strictly speaking, the Torah legislated certain conditions that prevent the actual occurrence of these cases. These laws were nevertheless written in the Torah in order to awaken us to the severity of these sins. The Torah wants us to see what happens to a young man who indulges in the satisfaction of his desires, to understand to where such a process can lead. We are to open our eyes to the possible effects of unrestrained idolatrous influences upon a city, which distances itself from its Creator. Rabbi Yonatan then says that he has seen a "ben sorer u'moreh" and an "ir nidahat." The Maharal explains that Rabbi Yonatan saw Yerushalayim after its destruction, when it stood as a giant graveyard, and observed that the city had gone through the process of a "ben sorer u'moreh." A wanton society was drawn after its desires until it brought destruction upon itself. It attained the status of an "ir nidahat," as its entire population turned its back to its Creator. A decree of destruction was thus issued, as the Torah rules concerning an "ir nidahat." Rabbi Yonatan "sat on the grave" and on the site of the city, meaning, he contemplated this concept thoroughly, in order to arrive at the proper conclusions and learn the relevant lessons. But what are the relevant lessons? The first lesson is derived by Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l from the behavior of the wayward son: "a glutton and drunkard." A "ben sorer u'moreh" indulges in the consumption of meat and drinking of wine. The Ibn Ezra writes, "He is like a heretic, as he wishes to live only to indulge in all types of food and drink." In other words, a wanton society that waves the flag of "I deserve it!" and fights for the right of engaging in animalistic behavior and unrestrained freedom of one's drives will deteriorate to the point of utter decadence.
Nevertheless, the Torah does not refer to the wayward son as "zolel v'sovei" (glutton and drunkard) but rather as a "ben sorer u'moreh" - a defiant and disloyal son, who "does not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother; even after they chastise him, he does not obey them." Following one's inner drives is natural; the human being possesses these natural instincts and evil inclinations from birth. For this reason, therefore, Torah education exists. It comes to teach restraint and self-control, to halt and properly steer one's behavior. But when the restraint is lost, when there are no chains of discipline or is there a sense of obedience to parental authority, then there is no hope. The path leads down into the bottomless pit, the point of no return. "I saw him, and I sat on his grave." We today see with our own eyes the results of such education, where everything is allowed, permissiveness is rampant, and violence reigns. We see what happens when children come to school with knives and boxing gloves and teachers basically have no power to interfere. We know of education the news of which makes our ears ring. Worst of all, this lack of education has received a stamp of approval from the head of the ministry: "School is meant to transmit knowledge, not to educate," he claims.
One must flee as far away as possible from this education and proceed directly to Torah education, where there is no violence or animalistic behavior, where children are taught to obey the authority of parents and teachers and to restrain their drives and desires. This is why this parashah is included in the Torah - that we study it, extract the appropriate lessons therefrom, and then receive our reward.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rav Shalom Kaskiz zs"l
"They called him great and awesome, a man of God who is sacred." This is what appears on the monument over the grave of the saintly Rav Shalom Kaski zs"l, the rabbi of Aram Ssoba. He was an exalted and righteous man, and many stories are told of the wonders he performed. We will tell here one story that demonstrates the remarkable respect he earned within his family and community, a degree of reverence that has much to teach us about firm faith in the sages.
Once, on Shabbat eve, Rav Shalom recited kiddush and "hamossi," and then requested from his wife that she not bring to the table the foods she had prepared. She did not respond or ask questions; she did as her husband wished and they ate olives and vegetables with the bread.
The next day, the rav ordered that it be announced in his name that no one should eat meat dishes on that Shabbat. Despite their wonder and curiosity, no one questioned the rabbi's ruling. They put away their meat dishes and ate a dairy meal.
On Mossa'ei Shabbat, the rabbi called together the slaughterers and butchers and conducted a thorough investigation. It was discovered that a "kosher" stamp had been stolen. Gentiles managed to get their hands on it and stamped non-kosher meat with the "kosher" symbol. They then proceeded to sell the meat as kosher.
The community was awestruck by their rabbi's "ru'ah hakodesh," but he denied the praise: "This had nothing to do with 'ru'ah hakodesh.' Rather, as I recited kiddush on Shabbat eve, I saw in front of me the image of the confession, 'They ate forbidden foods.' I understood that this was shown to me for the benefit of the public merit, in order to protect them from sin."
TORAT HAMO'ADIMA Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a The Laws and Customs of the Month of Elul and Selihot
The Customs of the Month of Elul
In fact, this great missvah could assist the bride and groom in tipping the scales in their favor in judgment. If the groom is twenty years of age or older, then he should not be stringent and delay the wedding; he should rather conduct the wedding during the ten days of repentance.
The Customs Regarding Selihot
The custom among the Sefaradim and eastern communities is to wake up early in the morning to recite Selihot and supplications starting from Rosh Hodesh Elul until Yom Kippur. This custom is based on our tradition that Mosheh Rabbenu ascended Har Sinai to bring the second tablets on Rosh Hodesh Elul and came down forty years later, on Yom Kippur. The interim days were a period of Selihot and prayers on behalf of Am Yisrael. On Yom Kippur, Hashem happily forgave Benei Yisrael and said to Mosheh, "I have forgiven as you said." Yom Kippur was thus established as the day of forgiveness and atonement. On Rosh Hodesh Elul itself, however, Selihot should not be recited. The custom among the Ashkenazim is to begin reciting Selihot on the Sunday morning prior to Rosh Hashanah. If, however, the first day of Rosh Hashanah occurs on Monday or Tuesday, then the Ashkenazim begin reciting Selihot on the Sunday of the previous week before Rosh Hashanah. The most appropriate time for Selihot is in the early morning hours, for this is the time when the Almighty's compassion is aroused in the world, as it says, "At day Hashem orders His kindness." The period from the middle of the night on is considered a time of mercy when the recitation of Selihot is appropriate. From nightfall until midnight, however, it is forbidden to recite Selihot and the thirteen attributes of mercy (except on the night of Yom Kippur, when it is permissible to recite Selihot and supplications even before the middle of the night). For these purposes we consider "hassot" ("midnight") to occur at precisely twelve hours after the halfway mark in between sunrise and sunset. For example, if the sun rises at 5:00 AM and set at 6:00 PM, then the halfway mark in between them is 11:30 AM. Twelve hours later is 11:30 PM, and this is "midnight" for purposes of halachah. In every geographic location this time should be calculated according to sunrise and sunset of that particular region. Someone who is in a Bet Kenesset accustomed to reciting Selihot before "hassot" should make an effort to have the community abandon this practice. It goes without saying that he is not allowed to join them and recite the thirteen attributes of mercy. A congregation that cannot recite Selihot just after "hassot" or in the early morning hours may recite them later in the morning or in the afternoon before the minhah service. (A congregation reciting Selihot in the afternoon may do so prior to minhah.)
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
Among the large family of beetles are several remarkable species. One such beetle is called the "gravedigger" in honor of its profession. These beetles work as gravediggers without receiving any pay-back - no salary and no professional benefits. When any creature, such as a mouse, dies, then these special beetles come out from all directions. Those beetles living near the carcass go by foot, while those traveling over larger distances fly to the scene. The descend upon the carcass and then fold their wings. At that point, they get to work by first measuring the body lengthwise and widthwise as if to determine from where it is best to start. If the ground under the carcass is soft, then they start digging right there. If, however, the carcass lies on hard ground, they drag it to a location where burial would be easier. Of course, this is only if the carcass isn't too large for transport. Otherwise, they leave the carcass for larger, stronger "gravediggers," such as large birds of prey including the vulture, eagle and others that feed off animal remains. The grave-digging beetles work in pairs, with several pairs joining together in a given work unit. They dig in the ground underneath the carcass and remove the hard pieces of dirt, and slowly but surely the carcass sinks into the ground,until eventually it reaches the appropriate depth where it can be covered. The beetles then lay their eggs inside the cadaver so that the newborns will find their food right at birth without having to travel anywhere. Interestingly, these beetles work at remarkable speeds. Already two or three hours after the "burial ceremony" there is nothing left of the corpse; only the signs of freshly dug earth remain in view. How about a tombstone? No, the beetles do not place tombstones over the graves they dig.
It appears that the beetles work for their own benefit. How strange it is, therefore, that specifically among humans, who excel in their intellectual capabilities, we find those who believe that it suffices to act with good intentions and a good, sensitive heart, without guidance and direction. We Jews are fortunate to have received the sacred Torah and its missvot - the guidelines issued by the Creator Himself, Who knows the results of every action even before it takes place. Whoever follows this path fulfills that which Hazal teach us, "The end of every action - begins first with thought."
The Reward for a Missvah (6)
Flashback: A bakery worker received a berachah from Rav Ssemah Ssarfati zs"l that he will become extraordinarily wealthy. Soon thereafter, he received a two-month job sorting gold coins in a huge, secret treasury in a secret residence. Soon after his work was completed, he heard that this very residence was up for sale. The judge presiding over the sale, however, refused to allow anyone to see the inside of the home; he expected everyone to trust his guarantee that the furniture was all in excellent condition. One of the agents at the bid offered five hundred "bloiz" for the property, which was the price of a run-down, empty piece of land. The bakery worker then quickly offered one hundred "bloiz" for the contents of the apartment; everyone looked at him in astonishment.
"One hundred 'bloiz' for furniture you never saw in your life?!" asked the judge. If this was a trap, then it was certainly strengthening itself around him.
"I believe wholeheartedly your honor's word that the furniture is in excellent condition," responded the worker. "And peach is my favorite color."
A look of great satisfaction overtook the judge's face; the flattery worked its magic. He had been gravely insulted by the measly offer of the agent, who bid an amount that could purchase an empty, desolate lot. "Do you have the money?" questioned the judge. "One hundred 'bloiz' is a lot of money."
Indeed, this was a considerable amount for furniture, especially for a poor bakery worker.
"I can pay thirty 'bloiz' now" - that was all his savings - "and the rest I will have for you within a week." By then he will either be the wealthiest man in the area or imprisoned for being unable to pay his debt. "I have but one request," the worker added. "Please give me one week to take out everything from the house."
The judge banged his gavel on his desk and announced, "It is thus agreed that the contents of the residence are sold to you, while the property itself will be sold to the first bidder. Here is the key to the apartment. In one week you are to come before me, pay the outstanding amount of seventy 'bloiz' and return the key."
As everyone in the room muttered to one another in amazement, the worker took the key. The onlookers were convinced that he had lost his mind. What would a bakery worker do with used furniture and worn-out carpets - no matter how beautiful they are? He ignored their response and left. He forced himself to walk slowly, and every so often he glanced behind him.
So far, no one was following him. When he reached the alleyway, he understood why: the policeman stood there on guard, waiting for him at the apartment. He turned to the policeman and with a quivering voice said, "I purchased the contents of the apartment, and the judge gave me the key." He pulled out the key and showed it to the officer.
"Go and take your merchandise," said the policeman, stepping aside to allow the worker to go through. He walked through the paved hallway, hearing the echoes of the footsteps of the officer who followed behind. The trap is complete, he thought to himself. His heart racing, he thrust the key into the door, turned it and opened the door. Indeed, this was the apartment where he worked. "Go inside," said the policeman.
To be continued.
THE "WATERS OF NOAH" AND OUR GENERATION
Yet another week has passed in the series of "seven weeks of comforting" ("sheva d'nehemta"), during which we read the seven special haftorot of consolation, hope, and anticipation of redemption. In our haftarah this Shabbat we read: "For a little while I forsook you, but with vast love I will bring you back" (Yeshayahu 54:7). How powerful is the consolation embedded in these few words! If two thousand years of tormenting, oppressive exile, from the destruction of Roman period, when they would "heat iron slabs in fire and place them under their arms in order to expunge their souls from them" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 2:20), to the fires of the Inquisition to the crematoria of Auschwitz - if all this makes up only "a little while" in relation to the "vast love" of redemption, then it appears that we are guaranteed an eternal fortune of goodness, blessing and joy: ".
but with kindness everlasting I will take you back in love." The next pasuk reads, "For this to Me is like the waters of Noah: as I swore that the waters of Noah nevermore will flood the earth, so I swear that I will not be angry with you or rebuke you." In other words, the Creator promises us that the redemption will be eternal, and he will never again be angry with us - just as He promised never again to flood the world as He did in the time of Noah.
The Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 1, 67:2) addresses the pasuk's reference to the floodwaters as "the waters of Noah." Noah was righteous and was therefore saved from the flood together with his family. If the entire generation would have followed his example, there would never have been a flood at all!
Why, then, does the pasuk call the floodwaters "the waters of Noah"? Perhaps the flood should have been called "the water of the thieves," since the generation deserved destruction because of their rampant theft. Or, maybe the pasuk should have called the waters "the waters of the corrupt," in light of the corruption of that generation.
The Zohar presents a piercing answer: "When He told Noah that he and his family will be saved, he did not pray for compassion on behalf of his generation, and they were destroyed. Therefore, the flood is named after him." Imagine - Noah spent one hundred and twenty years cutting wood and building his ark - which was three hundred cubits long - in order that the people of his time would inquire about his strange activity and he would then warn them: "The Master of the World said that He is bringing a flood to the world." They scornfully called him "herald of the disaster" and "lowly elder" (Bereishit Rabbah 30:7). Even after all this, he is considered responsible for the flood?! What more, the Zohar elsewhere (vol. 3, 15:1) comments that the Torah refers to Noah as "a man of the earth" since it was on his account that the people of his generation were destroyed and returned to the earth!
The answer is that true, Noah was prepared to suffer humiliation in order that the people of his time repent. He wanted them to perform teshuvah. However, he felt that if they did not repent, then it's not so bad; after all, the world could be repopulated through Noah and his family. When the Almighty suggested such an idea to Mosheh Rabbenu - "Let My wrath be kindled against them and I will destroy them, and I will make you into a great nation" (Shemot 32:10) - the loyal shepherd was stricken with terror to the point where he fell ill (Berachot 32:1). He replied, "Erase me from Your book that You have written" - as if to say, I don't want to be saved by myself! Noah, by contrast, did not view the destruction of his generation as such a terrible tragedy, he was not prepared for such devotion. He did not see himself as part of the same entity as his generation, and was therefore held responsible for their annihilation.
In this context we must carefully consider one most critical point. The Torah does not condemn Noah. To the contrary, it stresses that he was a righteous, pious individual. Where is the criticism for his indifference towards the fate of his generation expressed? In a prophecy of consolation, a prophecy that speaks of the final redemption, that addresses, in effect, our generation, that stands on the brink of redemption.
Why? Because the Almighty, Who sees ahead to the end of time, knew that on the brink of redemption we will face a similar situation. There will one portion of the nation like Noah, righteous and observant - fortunate are they! This group will consist of Torah observers, who involve themselves actively in Torah study and fill the study halls, who build "arks" of protection from the contaminating forces, who establish religious communities and fortresses of Torah and fear of God. But the generation at large, millions of brothers and sisters - are they sentenced to spiritual destruction, to be swept away by the floodwaters of heresy and abominable behavior? Should we react calmly, content with our own peace of mind and the knowledge that we and our families are safe? Should we say that the rest of the nation simply does not concern us? Mosheh Rabbenu did not react that way. Similarly, the leader of our generation, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, does not feel that way. With a keen sense of responsibility towards every Jew, no matter who he is or what his situation, he established a sacred movement to save them from the intensifying flood, to lend a hand to every brother, to assist every Jew regardless of who he is. The mission of our generation is to come together with a mutual sense of obligation - let us not make the same mistake as Noah!
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
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