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Parashat Matot-Mas'ei

The Passing of the Righteous Hurts like the Destruction of the Temple

These three weeks of mourning the loss of the Temple have recently brought an additional reason to mourn with the passing of the righteous sage, a pillar of Torah and fear of G-d, Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul of blessed memory. Our sages tell us (Sota 37) that four covenants were made regarding each missva -- the people were sworn to learn it, to teach it, to protect it, and to actually practice it. Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul fulfilled each of these mandates to its fullest extent.

We really have no concept how all-encompassing the notion of learning each missva is, how time has to be used productively, both quantitatively and qualitatively -- how every minute, each second, has to be used to the utmost. This, however, was the approach he inculcated in students. "Someone once showed me in a book that in the Yeshiva of Kelm they had a certain learning slot that lasted only five minutes! A complete study period -- of five minutes. I think that we should open a "five-minute Kollel"; if one would come five minutes late, he would miss the whole thing.

... How important is every minute that one comes early to learn. The mishna tells us about such devotion that "man will enjoy the 'dividends' of performing the missva in this world, while the 'principle' awaits for the World to Come." So too with regard to staying until the last minute of a study period. A certain person in the Yeshiva would always leave a few minutes early. I told him that the halacha states that a storekeeper has to add on a little more when he sells something by weight to ensure that the buyer is not being cheated -- and certainly here, one can afford to add a little bit onto the learning period ..." He used very minute, quantitatively and qualitatively, to penetrate the depths of a talmudic discussion, exploring both its theoretical and applied aspects. To learn -- and to teach. Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul taught with unusual devotion, delivering complex lectures which lasted four or five hours straight. When they concluded he lacked the strength to get up from his chair. He proposed novel explanations of classical commentators and original explanations of his own. Once he was able to explain a difficult passage in the writings of the Maharshal (Rabbi Shlomo Luria, a sixteenth-century commentary). He exclaimed, "This is a moment of special heavenly grace! Anyone who wants can make a request of G-d, and the Maharshal, pleased by the explanation we have proposed for his difficult words, will plead his case in Heaven."

His devotion to teaching included a special concern for the education of the thousands of children of Sephardic extraction who had been estranged from their heritage and religion. About fifteen years ago, a week before he was stricken with the dreadful illness at the funeral of Rabbi Ya'akov Musafi, he publicly decried the laxity with regard to the education of hundreds of thousands of these pure and innocent souls. "We must set up schools in every place," he declared, "and I accept upon myself to found the first ten schools!" A week later he became ill, a state which dragged on for months. Yet, despite his afflictions, he did not forget his vow, and worked with all his might, together with his childhood friend, the renowned Rabbi Ovadya Yossef, to establish the Torah educational network "Ma'ayan." He rejoiced over every school that opened, each Torah center that was added.

To guard -- and to practice. He was a pillar of halacha, not merely through the halachic decisions which he rendered, but also by way of his practices and the whole way in which he carried himself. How many other people can say about themselves that they never spoke a word of falsehood or slander? He was a perfectly righteous man, one who brought benefits to the entire community.

Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul assured any parents who provided their children with a Torah education that they would derive great joy and satisfaction from them.

During his lifetime, as a patron of the Torah educational network he always showered blessings of long life and happiness on the boys and girls in the network's kindergartens and schools and on their parents. Our sages teach us that the righteous are even more powerful in death than in life; we are thus sure that Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul will certainly act as a heavenly advocate for anyone who enrolls his or her children in a Torah institution.

Their Journeys According to their Goings Forth

In the beginning of Parashat Mas'ei the Torah tells us that "Moshe wrote down their [the Jewish people's] journeys according to their goings forth at G-d's command; these are their journeys according to their goings forth." What exactly does this phrase -- "their journeys according to their goings forth" -- mean? Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul used to explain it based on the following parable: An artist once drew a beautiful portrait which awed all who saw it. They asked him, "Whose portrait did you draw?" He responded that it was a portrait of a certain rabbi. The crowd immediately lost some of their former awe, since although the picture was indeed beautiful, it bore absolutely no resemblance at all to the rabbi whom the artist had mentioned.

Similarly, a traveler will often make stops along the way. Even if everything at his rest stop is pleasant, if he had not planned initially to stop there, all of the beauty and excitement at being at that place will melt away. The Torah tells us that the various stops of the Jewish people were fortunate enough to be "according to their goings forth." G-d had told them ahead of time when they left each place what their next stop would be, so that they did not merely "happen upon" any place where they stopped off. This is the intent of the Torah's added phrase.

the wonders of the creator

The diamond is considered the most valuable of all the precious stones. A polished diamond set in a ring or necklace, or at times in a royal crown, is considered a most valuable piece of jewelry. People recognize thousands of different varieties of diamonds. The diamond was among the twelve stones in the breastplate of the High Priest. In physics, the diamond is considered a mineral, the crystalline form of carbon, and the hardest of the minerals.

It is transparent and colorless -- or sometimes yellow, reddish, greenish, or black. It is found in rocks and tunnels near streams in South Africa, Brazil, India, and the like. Diamonds are measured in carats, which are each two milligrams. A diamond is the hardest ore in the world. This fact can be used for various purposes. Thus, for example, one can use a diamond to cut iron and steel, to saw rocks, and to smooth down many kinds of surfaces. This industrial diamond, although unusable for jewelry, is essential for modern industry, which cannot manage without it, just as it could not manage without electricity. The process of polishing a diamond is a lengthy one. A skilled artisan might take a complete year to complete the task. The work demands great patience, expertise, and nerves of steel.

First the quality of the stone is assessed, and only after making the initial markings is the job undertaken. A single improper blow, one should realize, can destroy a beautiful stone and shatter it into shapeless pieces. Today special surfaces are used to smooth down the diamond. These consist of delicate wheels, thin as paper, covered with diamond dust which has been moistened with olive oil. These wheels turn constantly at the speed of lightening and smooth down the diamonds.

Dear readers, the special qualities of a Jew shine like the diamond, but just as a diamond in the rough requires polishing and cleansing to bring out its full glory, so too the Jew often needs "polishing." Sometimes the beautiful Jewish qualities are covered with a layer of mud, of earth. What is needed then is a vigorous scrubbing, cleaning, and polishing, so that the inner shine can be revealed. This process, like that of polishing a diamond, requires much patience and love. A lot of ahavat yisrael -- love for fellow Jews -- is necessary in order to reveal the good hidden in every Jew. Here, too, we must discover the tiny inner strength within each person which can be used to produce sparks. And just as every diamond can only be polished with another diamond, so too only a Jew can inspire another. For every Jew is a diamond.

The Rabbi’s Blessing
a continuing saga (part ten)

A Lesson For US

Last week we concluded the series "The Rabbi’s Blessing" which focused on Rabbi Yishak Goite of blessed memory. The story can be found in Rabbi Kamus Agiv's book "Kamus Imadi."

The story tells of a young servant boy. He was a simple and honest person, but no one would have imagined that this boy had the potential to become one of the greatest rabbis, educators, and Jewish leaders of his generation -- a man distinguished in Torah, philanthropy, and deeds of loving kindness. When this boy grew up to greatness in Torah and wealth, he did not seclude himself in an ivory tower, but walked among the people and encouraged the youth. He headed the local school, and sponsored the learning of the poverty-stricken children.

We did not choose this story arbitrarily.

I once heard a rabbi make a startling observation. When Pharaoh's daughter went once to bathe by the river bank, the Torah tells us, she discovered a basket floating on the water, among the reeds. She stretched out her hand, opened it up -- and ended up raising Moshe, the redeemer of the Jewish people, giver of the Torah, a man of G-d.

How many such baskets, asked this rabbi, go unopened in our own time? How many pure souls are thrown into the river -- a life of empty secularism untouched by the light of tradition; corrupting faith and ethical behavior? They are pure souls, but their baskets have not been opened -- and will not be opened, to our profound misfortune.

We call upon every Jewish parent, every young father, every concerned mother: G-d has granted you a priceless treasure -- a pure, delicate, and noble soul. Realize that you have a responsibility to raise your children with a proper education. This is especially true in our degenerate generation, where the atmosphere of the street is so poisonous and seeps into the soul of an impressionable young child.

Public schools in our day are often places where violence reigns, accompanied by drugs and permissiveness. A Torah day school erects a wall between its students and this erosive societal ethic. It teaches its charges to show respect to their parents and elders, to speak properly and avoid cursing and profanity. It imparts the Torah's teaching that one who even raises a hand against another is called wicked, and that one who shames his fellow man loses his share in the World to Come. It teaches that the world is not a free-for-all and that not everything goes.

Dear parents, Rabbi Yishak Goite's parents sent him to work at a young age -- but in that generation, they were assured that he would still grow up to be a believing and practicing Jew and an ethical person, even if he was not learned. In our own time, however, the only hope for a child to grow up as a practicing Jew is through a Torah education. For you child's sake, send him or her to a Torah kindergarten, elementary school, and high school.

The Golden Column
Rabbi Haim Ya'akov Sofer of blessed memory

Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul used to speak about how he personally knew the sage Rabbi Haim Ya'akov Sofer, author of Kaf HaHaim [a seminal halachic commentary]. "His behavior was extraordinary. During the summer he would recite the evening prayers at about eight o'clock, while concentrating on all those thoughts prescribed by Kabbala. He would not go to sleep until about three hours after prayers had finished. Before retiring to bed he recited a special prayer in order to awake before midnight, and then would recite Shema with all the appropriate Kabbalistic intentions -- yielding only about half an hour to sleep. He would awaken around midnight, recite the special Tikkun Hassot prayers and mourn over the destruction of the Temple, and then go back to sleep until some time before dawn. He would recite the morning prayers with all the Kabbalistic thoughts, and then come home and eat something quickly, so as not to come late to the Yeshiva. He would then go to theYeshiva and study and write -- all of his time was spent in the holiest of ways.

"Then he would eat for about an hour and a half. This was not due to his eating much, but because he recited a special prayer on every aspect of the meal. Before he washed his hands he recited a LeShem Yihud, washed his hands with Kabbalistic intentions, made the blessing with Kabbalistic intentions, and even ate with Kabbalistic intentions, to the point where he did not think about the food at all. Then he would learn eighteen chapters of Mishna, recite "Pitum Haketoret," "Ezehu Mekoman," and the Birkat HaMazon -- all with the appropriate Kabbalistic thoughts. He was so absorbed in these thoughts that he would never receive anyone during the meal, even if someone wanted to donate money to the Yeshiva.

"The most extraordinary thing, however, is how Rabbi Sofer was able to compose such thorough works. His writings are not mere collections of other material, but original works which require diligent study on the part of the reader. He reflected the Sages' assessment of the pious men of old, that 'since they were so pious, their Torah learning made an indelible impression.'"

"Your Testimonies are Exceedingly Trustworthy"

The following citations are short excerpts from Rabbi Bensiyon Abba Shaul's book of discourses, Or L'Siyon, Hochma uMussar -- A Light to Zion. They provide a glimpse into the man and his ways, and we hope that they will inspire us to follow in his footsteps.

Using Time Productively

"I doubt whether we use half of our time, or even a quarter thereof, properly. Thank G-d, the day is long -- fourteen hours, besides that needed for sleeping, eating, and praying. Hence, one who learns a page of Talmud a day is actually doing very little. After all, one need learn only three lines per hour to cover a page over the course of fourteen hours -- very little indeed! When we were young we would get up early to pray, and then learn a daily page of Talmud plus a page of Tur-Beit Yosef [a classic halachic work] in the remaining time before we began our daily regimen of studies. When we would walk to yeshiva in Jerusalem's Old City, together with my friend, the renowned Rabbi Ovadya Yossef, we would orally review the entire lesson from the previous day during the twenty-five minute walk. When the Yeshiva was officially on vacation, I would go to the synagogue with something to eat and study continuously from the morning until evening. During long summer Fridays and fast days I had the pleasure of finishing an entire tractate."

Halachic Decisions

"It is well known that when a rabbi has to render a halachic ruling, he receives special heavenly assistance so that he not, G-d forbid, issue an incorrect ruling. In this vein, an amazing story once occurred involving one of Jerusalem's sages. One of his students once took a cloth with menstrual blood on it and bleached it. He then took it to the rabbi, who declared that it was not menstrual blood and thus "pure." The student proceeded to confess what he had done. The rabbi responded, 'If so, I have erred, but I am sure that had the question been a practical one, I would have rendered a correct decision. The story is told about Rabbi Yehezkel Landau, author of Noda BiYehuda, that he was once learning with his students when one of them misquoted a passage in the Rambam -- he added a word to the text. Based on the falsely added word, Rabbi Landau gave a detailed explanation of the passage and came to a final halachic decision. He saw subsequently that the word was not in the original text, rendering his entire explanation invalid. Rabbi Landau informed his students, concluding that when one discusses a topic theoretically he might err, but if he has to issue a practical halachic ruling, he merits a special form of divine assistance.'

"I myself experienced this special divine assistance; a great miracle once occured at a circumsion which I performed. I noticed that the infant had a slight eye infection. I discovered that the child's father had a student who was an optometrist and had determined that it was fine to circumcise the baby. Nonetheless, I did not want to perform the circumcision, because the Shulhan Aruch (Yore De'a 262:2) rules that even a minor eye infection is enough to postpone the circumsion until the baby heals. It was subsequently discovered that the baby's blood was entirely infected -- who knows what would have happened if we would have circumcised him? It turned out that he was only circumcised three months later. Had this law not been written in the Shulhan Aruch, I certainly would not have suspected that anything was wrong, but since I followed the strict instructions of the Shulhan Aruch against the doctor, I merited divine assistance in issuing a correct ruling and saving the child's life."

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Gems in the Street

Mr. Goodfriend: The greatest treasures are our fellowmen, for they afford the best opportunities and the most frequent opportunities. But even the empty streets are covered with jewels. Even that orange peel over there. “Lift up the stumbling-block from the way of my people”(Isaiah 57:14), for someone might step upon it and go for a ride to the hospital. By removing it, one succeeds in coming closer to G-d. But in addition, examine the orange peel: is it “accidental” that the outside is beautifully and brightly colored, whereas the underside of the peel is entirely colorless? This alone is sufficiant Plan-and-Purpose to confond all the academicians and to cause all their pompous verbosity to collapse into nothing. And look at that peach pit. This one object is sufficient to demonstrate the presence of the Creator.

Aaron: You are right, Sir. The eater of the peach would have devoured the seed, had it not been for the extremely hard seed-case which defies even the teeth and jaws of beasts. This demonstrates the marvelous plan of providing a future generation of peach trees. And this tough pit, when put into soil, opens of its own accord. This is indeed a precious gem, more valuable than a diamond of the same size!

ASKING AND Expounding
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Arranged by Rav Moshe Yossef shlit"a
Rosh Bet Midrash "Meor Yisrael"

The Laws Pertaining to the Nine Days from Rosh Hodesh Av until the Fast

  1. The Sages said, "When Av begins, we reduce the amount of our joy (Ta'anit 26b)." Since these days have historically been ones of disaster for the Jewish people, one who has a pending lawsuit with a non-Jew should defer it until after the tenth of Av.
  2. From Rosh Hodesh Av until the fast we reduce the number of festive purchases we make, such as buying items for a wedding or new furniture for a recently married couple. Similarly, we reduce the amount of gold and silver jewelry and the like which we buy.
  3. Jewelry merchants can continue to buy and sell jewelry even during this time. The only people who restrict their purchase of jewelry are those buying it for personal use.
  4. One should be strict regarding other purchases, even those which are not for a festive occasion, during this time. Nonetheless, the general practice is to be lenient in this regard. Therefore, anyone besides a newly married couple may purchase furniture for their home. Still, one should try to refrain from actually bringing the furniture home, since that makes the buyer happy.
  5. Similarly, we reduce the amount of building which we do which is purely for pleasure -- for example, expansive or decorative building. But one is allowed to build if one needs a house to live in, or if one's present house is too crowded. This is especially true in the land of Israel, where it is a tremendous mitzva to inhabit the land.
  6. One should not plaster or paint the house during this period, but he may stop up holes in the walls.
  7. The synagogue walls may be painted or plastered, since it affects the entire community.
  8. One who was hired to paint or plaster another's walls prior to Rosh Hodesh, but was unable to finish before Rosh Hodesh, should ask a rabbi whether he may finish the job.
  9. One can build a parapet around the roof even on Tisha B'Av itself, since it is a missva and designed to prevent a dangerous situation.
  10. One should not sew -- or give to a tailor -- new clothes, or crochet, or sew new shoes. So too one may not buy new clothes or shoes during this period.
  11. One may, however, fix a torn piece of clothing, or sew up worn or torn shoes.
  12. The custom is not to wear a new piece of clothing or shoes for the first time during these days, even if they were purchased before Rosh Hodesh.
  13. Those who own businesses which sew clothes or produce shoes, who would suffer a loss if they closed, may continue to work during this time. They should, however, attempt to do their work as privately as possible.
  14. The custom is not to eat any kind of meat, beef or poultry, during this time. Fish is permitted. A dish which was cooked with meat may not be eaten if it contains fat; the custom is to be stringent even if it does not contain fat. If, however, it was not cooked with meat, but only in a meat pot, then it is permitted.
  15. One may eat meat on Shabbat; one may even eat leftover meat during the Melave Malka meal after Shabbat has finished.
  16. Those who are even slightly ill or recovering from a sickness, and have been medically advised to eat meat as opposed to fish, may do so. It is preferable, however, that they have poultry. If the doctor recommends that they have beef, then they should do so.
  17. At a seudat mitzva meat may be served, unless the general practice in that locale is to only serve fish.
  18. A restaurant owner should refrain from serving meat, unless he suspects that by doing so he will encourage his customers to eat in a non-Kosher restaurant.

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