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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa’ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a
The Halachot of Torah Study
Women are exempt from the obligation of Torah study (Kiddushin 29b), but if they engage in learning they receive the reward as one who observes a misvah regarding which he is not commanded. (One receives more reward for observing a misvah in which he is obligated, since he experiences worry and concern lest he not perform it properly, or because the yesser hara works harder against him.) Women are required, however, to study the halachot relevant to them, as they are included in all prohibitions in the Torah, misvot not bound by a given time period, Shabbat, festivals and family purity. For this reason, the Shulhan Aruch rules (Orah Hayyim 47:18) that women recite “birkot ha’Torah,” as they are included in the misvah of Torah study in that they must learn the halachot applicable to them. Particularly nowadays, given the corrupt environment, parents must afford both their sons and daughters a strong Torah education. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 5:1) writes that one who engages in study privately “will not soon forget” the material. Meaning, one requires divine assistance not to forget that which he has learned. Since the Shechinah resides specifically among the humble and unassuming, those who do not flaunt their learning but approach it with genuine humility will earn Hashem’s help to remember the material.
The Rambam writes (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:12) that the words of Torah are retained only by those who “kill themselves over them,” not by those who study while indulging in physical delights. “Therefore, one who wishes to earn the crown of Torah must exercise care all his nights not to lose even a single one through sleeping, eating, drinking and conversing… “ Likewise, the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 246) writes that one who seeks the crown of Torah cannot allow his mind to get involved in other matters.
The Yerushalmi (Berachot 1:2) says that one who learns without intention of observing is worthy of having been killed at birth rather than entering the world alive. It has been explained based on the Gemara’s comment (Niddah 30b) that a fetus is taught the entire Torah by an angel before birth. He lacks no Torah knowledge, and he comes into the world for the sole purpose of performing that which he learned. If one only learns without observing, then he may as well have remained a fetus, since there, too, he studied without performing.
The Zohar (vol. 1, 88a) tells the story of a student who came to learn under Rabbi Abba with the expressed intention of earning wealth and fortune through the merits of his study. He indeed received a huge fortune through a great miracle, but upon witnessing the greatness of Torah study he returned to the money to Rabbi Abba. This student, Rabbi Yossi Ben Pazi, emerged as a great Torah giant. In any event, the Gemara bids us to learn out of sincere motives (see Nedarim 62a).
The Shulhan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 246:18) rules (based on Mo’ed Katan 9a) that one should not interrupt his Torah learning to perform a misvah unless the misvah cannot be fulfilled by others. Thus, though it is certainly a great misvah to rejoice with a groom, every ben Torah must carefully consider whether or not others can adequately perform this misvah. If so, he may not interrupt his learning, and even if he must attend the affair, he should not stay longer than he needs to. He must realize that every word of Torah study equals all the misvot together, and Torah illuminates the soul and brings immense reward. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 17a) tells of Eliezer Ben Dordaya who sinned his entire life but ultimately repented, crying bitterly until eventually his soul departed. At that moment a Heavenly voice declared that he earned a place in the world to come. When recalling this story, Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi cried. Why did he cry? He lamented the fact that although Eliezer earned a portion in the world to come, his soul remained “abstract” since he never studied Torah; he did not earn the special “cloak” for the soul that one merits through the light of the Torah.
Everyone must participate in Torah classes and perform misvot in order to purify his soul and weave for himself this cloak, to earn for himself goodness in the world to come!
From the day the world was created, there never was or will be a person who died a death similar to that of Korah and his followers. They did not die a normal death. Rather, Hashem had the earth open its mouth and devour them alive; it then closed its mouth and they were never heard of again. They continue to roam in the depths of the earth, boiling like meat in a pot, Heaven forbid. Rabbenu Bahya writes, “This great wonder was like the wonder of the creation of the world.”
The great “defender” of Am Yisrael, Rav Levi Yis’hak of Berditchev zs”l, offered the following explanation of this punishment, plunging straight down, alive, into “she’ol.” Missvah is life, and sin is death, as the pasuk says, “See that I have given you today life and goodness, and death and evil; you shall choose life in order that you and your offspring shall live.” Korah sought the kehunah (priesthood), which means additional misvot and an added dimension of life. However, he pursued his goal against the Creator’s wishes, by sinning, which equals death. He was therefore appropriately punished by going down into “she’ol” alive…
There may, however, be another, penetrating explanation of their death. The Gemara says (Shabbat 112b), “If the earlier generations were like angels, then we are like human beings. If the earlier generations are like human beings, then we are like donkeys.” Meaning, one who knows that his teachers are like angels is himself a human being; but if he looks upon sadikim as ordinary human beings, then he is like a foolish donkey, lacking all understanding!
Moshe Rabbenu was indeed like an angel, having ascended to the heavens and returned. Regarding Aharon Hakohen, too, the pasuk says, “For the lips of the kohen will observe knowledge - for he is an angel of Hashem Seva’ot”! If Korah would have acknowledged the exalted status of these two leaders, then he would have been an ordinary human being, worthy of living on earth. But when he arrogantly challenged their authority, denying their elevated status and viewing them as ordinary people, then he, too, must be lowered one level, for Moshe and Aharon will always remain a level higher than his. If he lowered them to the ground, as it were, then he must descend beneath the ground.
The Torah is eternal, as are its lessons. In every generation there are sadikim who behold the Shechinah (Sanhedrin 97b), there are sadikim like Avraham Avinu, like Yaakov, and even like Moshe Rabbenu (Bereishit Rabbah 56:7). However, Hazal say (Sanhedrin 52b), “What does a Torah scholar resemble in the eyes of an ignoramus? To a golden jug. When he converses with him, he resembles a silver jug. When he approaches closer, he resembles an earthenware jug, that once is broken can never be fixed.” Let us exercise care with regard to the “coals” of the sadikim, lest we are burned without any hope of recovery!
Korah was embittered and felt slighted. He had the privilege of belonging to a generation that saw with their own eyes the miracles of Egypt, experienced the splitting of the Yam Suf, stood at the foot of Har Sinai, and received the Torah directly from the Al-mighty. Yet, even all this was not enough for him. He collected mann each morning, bread from the heavens, he drank water from the miraculous well that traveled with the nation, and he walked by the light of the pillar of fire and surrounded by clouds of glory. This was not enough.
He had the privilege of belonging to the single tribe that did not participate in the sin of the golden calf and was thus selected for the avodah in the mishkan. He had the privilege of belonging to the family of Kehat, the elite of the tribe of Levi. He earned the privilege of being among those who carried the aron, along with the other select individuals from Kehat. But this was not enough. None of this was worth anything for him if he was not a kohen. And not just a kohen, but the kohen gadol. He sought to leap towards the heavens, but was instead swallowed by the ground. The camel went looking for horns, and he had his ears cut off… Moshe Rabbenu issues sharp rebuke: “Is it a small matter for you that the G-d of Yisrael separated you from the community of Yisrael to bring you close to Him -- that you see the kehunah, as well?!” Who utters these words? The man of G-d who ascended to the heavens and brought down the Torah, who served as king over Yisrael, built the mishkan and served during the inaugural week as a kohen gadol. What would we respond? “Easy for him to say!” Sure, he can speak of being a levi as a great privilege. It is like a wealthy billionaire consoling a mendicant by saying, “At least you have bread to eat.”
No, this is absolutely not the case! The Sefat Emet zs”l concludes from here that the greater a person becomes, the better he appreciates and cherishes each misvah, in the spirit of the dictum, “Run after a lenient misvah as if after a stringent one.” The fools, however, are satisfied only with the “stringent” misvot; they search only for rare misvot to perform.
Hazal said about Moshe Rabbenu, who filled his life with Torah and misvot and worked endlessly on behalf of others, “One who loves misvot will not be satiated with misvot.” He thus refused to forego on even a “half misvah” that came his way (Makkot 10a). We have no concept of the reward of a misvah, even the easiest and simplest one!
Recently, a story was told about the mashgi’ah (kashrut supervisor) at the guest house in Moshav Shoresh (outside Yerushalayim). Once he tried arranging a minyan for minhah but could find only nine men. He went outside and found an elderly man without a kippah. He asked the passerby if he would mind joining them as the tenth man to complete the minyan. The man replied that he does not know how to pray.
The mashgi’ah said, “Just stand at the side for ten minutes to allow us to recite kaddish and kedushah.” The man agreed and followed the mashgi’ah. Suddenly, an eleventh man, who had yet to recite minhah, appeared. The mashgi’ah thanked the man he had brought there and let him go. Some time thereafter, the stranger passed away. Several days later he appeared to the mashgi’ah in a dream and said, “Do you remember when you asked that I join you to complete a minyan, I agreed, and in the end I wasn’t needed?”
“Yes, I remember,” replied the mashgi’ah.
The man continued, “You cannot imagine the reward that I receive in the upper world for that preparedness to allow for the recitation of kaddish and kedushah.” He then requested that the mashgi’ah find his sons and ask them to recite kaddish on his behalf.
Let us think about this: if he received such immense reward for merely agreeing to join, how much would he have received for actually completing the minyan -- for just sitting off to the side, without even praying! And how much reward awaits one who takes part in a minyan, in forming the minyan, being among the first ten to show! And all this is for but one prayer service throughout one’s life! How much reward can one expect for praying with a minyan three tefilot each day, and not just one day, but for seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for several dozen years of one’s life! Can we possibly imagine the great fortune awaiting us? “Fortunate are we, how great is our portion, how pleasant is our lot, and how beautiful is our inheritance!”
The “Lev Eliyahu” zs”l would say in the name of his rabbi, the Saba of Kelm zs”l, that it was worth it for the Al-mighty to create the entire universe, everything on earth, so that at some point in the several millennia of its existence a single Jew will live and recite once in his life, “Baruch Hu u’baruch Shemo”! And one thousand such recitations do not equal the reward for a single “amen”! And one thousand recitations of “amen” do not equal the reward for a single “amen, yehei Shemeih rabbah… “!
And one thousand of these cannot compare to a single world of Torah study! What immense reward! Remarkable! Who will thus not pay attention to the Torah reading?!
“You shall have no share in their land”v The Rambam writes (Hilchot Shemita Veyovel 13): “The entire tribe of Levi is commanded not to have a share in Eress Canaan. They are similarly commanded not to take a portion of the spoils of war when [Benei Yisrael] capture the cities, as it says, ‘You shall have no share in their land, and you shall have no portion in their midst - [referring to] the spoils of war. A levi or kohen who took a portion in the spoils is lashed; if he took a share in the land, it is seized from him.’
“Why did Levi not earn a share in Eress Yisrael and its spoils together with his brethren? Because he was designated to serve Hashem, administer to Him, and teach His just ways and righteous laws to the public, as it says, ‘They shall teach Your laws to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael.’ They were therefore separated from the ways of the world: they do not conduct war like the rest of Yisrael, they do not share the land, and they do not earn for themselves by their own efforts. They are rather the army of Hashem… and Hashem provides them all their needs, as it says, ‘I am your portion and share.’
“This does not apply only to the tribe of Levi. Rather, any person from the world whose spirit moves him and his intelligence leads him to understand to stand before Hashem, to administer to Him and serve Him, to know Hashem, and he walks in an upright manner as Hashem made him, and he removes from his shoulders the burden of the many calculations that human beings choose for themselves -- then he is sanctified as most holy. Hashem shall be his share and portion forever and ever and will provide him all his needs in this world as He provided for the kohanim and levi’im. Indeed, David Hamelech says, ‘Hashem is my allotted share and portion; You control my fate.’”
“You shall have no share in their land”
The Sefer Hahinuch (missvah 505) provides a beautiful reason why Hashem instructed that the tribe of Levi, who serve Him in the mishkan, do not receive a portion in the land or the spoils of war. “For they are the servants of Hashem. It is thus inappropriate for them to use instruments stolen from human beings. Only that which comes through peace, uprightness and faith shall enter the house of Hashem, not that over which the hearts of men and women distressed.”
It is appropriate in this context to tell a story that occurred in the later years of Rav Yossef Haim Sonenfeld zs”l, the rabbi of Yerushalayim. His son once and for all mustered the confidence to ask his father about an incident that happened during his youth, when he found his father sitting privately in his room deeply engrossed in quiet prayer. He heard his father saying, “Master of the world, You know my poverty and distress! I neither can nor want to ask you to present me with money, as I will not accept the gift of humans. Perhaps I can ask that I find lost money? I do not want this, either, as this would require You to cause distress to another of Your creatures who would lose the money. This I do not want! I am not prepared to allow even an Arab to suffer distress on my account! But this I will ask of You: just as my strength in You is strong, so shall You implant the quality of trust in the heart of my wife… If You fulfill this wish, then I will benefit without the world losing anything.” The son quickly sneaked out of the room upon hearing this tefilah.
The father’s face shone and he said, “Indeed, my son, my tefilah was accepted, and your mother never complained about our difficulties making a living.”
“You shall have no share in their land”
Rabbenu Yis’hak Aramah zs”l notes in his work, “Akedat Yis’hak” (77,78) that the pasuk here emphasizes, “I am your portion and share among Benei Yisrael.” Meaning, the kohanim’s abstention from agricultural work in order to devote their time to studying Torah was meant to guide Benei Yisrael that they do not become swept away by their work. They should rather set aside some time for the study of Torah. Just as the kohanim did not receive a portion in the land, so is agricultural work forbidden for Benei Yisrael on Shabbat and Yom Tov and during the shemita and yovel years. Whoever adds onto the time spent studying Torah receives more, such that we all experience the fulfillment of the pasuk, “and you shall be for Me a kingdom of kohanim and a sacred nation.” It likewise says, “You will be called the kohanim of Hashem; it will be said of you - ‘the servants of our G-d’!”
Rav Yis’hak Valid zs”l of Tituan
Rav Yis’hak Ben Valid zs”l, author of “Vayomer Yis’hak,” was a revered scholar whose authority on issues of halachah spread as far as Tiberias to the east and greater London to the west, not to mention his influence in his own country. He was consulted every day to rule on important matters of halachah. He never published any works during his lifetime since he had very little money and refused to accept donations for the publication of his writings. He feared that if a donor at some point would act improperly, he would be unable to rebuke him because he had benefited from his gift.
However, difficult times set in, as the heavy burden of taxes became unbearable, stealing a sizable portion of the people’s meager incomes. The wealthy lost their fortunes, and the poor could not afford food to eat. Their cries came to the rabbi, but he could not help them; his family was hungry, too.
The sage convened with the wealthy leaders of the community. When they came before him he said, “I very much wanted to greet you all with delicacies and pastries, as is the custom, but, believe me, in my home we do not even have bread to eat.”
The leaders were dumbfounded. Woe unto them, that they did not know of the suffering of the Torah scholars!
The rabbi continued, “I will ask you to issue a modest tax in the name of the community on all meat sold in the butcher shops. Generally, the wealthy purchase more meat and can afford to pay a little extra; the poor buy less meat and this new tax will therefore affect them much less. That tax shall go towards supporting me and my family.”
The leaders eagerly and immediately agreed.
As soon as they expressed their consent, he said, “I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Now that you agreed to my idea, I hereby set aside all the money collected from this meat tax for the hungry poor of the community!”
And so did the sage save the poor townspeople of Tituan from hunger!
Fish That are Fishermen
Some fish can themselves catch other fish just like fishermen. They, too, use a rod and bait and always succeed in catching their favorite fish. These fish live along the seabed and have a strange body that very much resembles a rock. They lie motionless with their “hooks,” growths that protrude from the edge of their noses, turned upwards. At the edge of the rod sits a tiny growth made from muscle that the fish waves, giving it an appearance of a worm floating in the water. This “bait” catches the attention of other fish. When one of them approaches the fisherman fish to partake of the “worm,” the latter opens its wide mouth and swallows its victim instantly. While doing so, the attacker can open its mouth as wide as twelve times its own usual size. It closes its mouth on its prey in a reflex motion that takes just .006 of a second from beginning to end. This marks the quickest act of swallowing within the world of fish; it is so fast that nearby fish will not even notice that one of their friends has disappeared. Imagine we could ask a fish that barely escaped this trap, “Why weren’t you careful?” It would likely respond that it had no idea that the fisherman fish was there until the last moment, when it suddenly appeared. Its camouflage is so good that other fish could swear that they saw no trouble. Not only that, they could swear that they saw a worm floating in the water and inviting them for a meal. How surprised would these survivors be to hear that their attacker had been there all along and, in truth, there was no worm at all! What does this teach us? In our day-to-day lives, at times we are prepared to promise that we heard, saw or witnessed something that in truth never occurred. We must therefore take advantage of the great gift of intellect that the Al-mighty granted us to carefully weigh every word that leaves our mouths and filter out any mistaken notions, lest they leave their mark upon our hearts. Additionally, we must constantly reinforce within ourselves Hazal’s instruction, “Judge every man favorably.”
by Rav David Yossef shlit”a
If someone forgot to recite birkot ha’Torah before tefilah and remembers during pesukei de’zimra, should he interrupt pesukei de’zimra to recite the berachot then?
One who forgot to recite birkot ha’Torah before beginning the tefilah and remembered during pesukei de’zimra should stop where he is and recite one of the birkot ha’Torah, that of “asher bahar banu.” He should then continue pesukei de’zimra. After “yishtabah” and before “yosser or,” he should recite the other two birkot ha’Torah - “al divrei Torah” and “ve’ha’arev na” until “hamelamed Torah le’amo Yisrael.” He should then recite the pesukim of birkat kohanim and thereafter continue with “yosser or” as usual. (Yabi’a Omer vol. 4, Orah Hayyim 7:5.)
When a boy becomes a bar misvah, must he recite birkot ha’Torah on the night when he reaches his thirteenth year, or may he rely on the berachah he recited that morning, before he became obligated in misvot?
According to many Rishonim and Aharonim, there is room to say that a boy may not study Torah the night he becomes a bar misvah until he recited birkot ha’Torah. However, since this issue is subject to dispute, he should have in mind to fulfill his obligation of birkot ha’Torah while reciting “ahavat olam” before keri’at shema during Arbit. He should then learn a little bit immediately after Arbit, as the Yerushalmi (cited by Tosafot, Berachot 11b) posits that one fulfills the requirement of birkot ha’Torah through the recitation of “ahavat olam” only if learns some immediately thereafter. (Yabi’a Omer vol. 3, Orah Hayyim 27:10, and “milu’im.”)
A. May one issue a ruling of halachah before reciting birkot ha’Torah if he does not present the basis and reasoning for the halachah?
A. One should preferably be stringent in this regard and refrain from issuing a ruling of halachah, even without providing the basis and explanation, before reciting birkot ha’Torah. Therefore, if asked a question of halachah, one should first recite birkot ha’Torah, say the pesukim of “birkat kohanim,” and then answer the question. (Yabi’a Omer vol. 4, Orah Hayyim 8:22.)
B. One who wishes to hear words of Torah from another or a Torah class from a talmid hacham should first recite birkot ha’Torah and the pesukim of “birkat kohanim.” He may then hear words of Torah according to all views. (Yabi’a Omer, ibid., 18-20.)
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
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