Parashat Matot - Mas'ei
Which is Worse?!
For years now, many people in Israel have called for a withdrawal from
Lebanon. The demand has accelerated with time, and the Prime Minister
earned the adoration of many when he promised to withdraw within the year.
"We didn't raise children to die in Lebanon," say the concerned parents.
Understandably, parents are very worried about the children's safety.
Perhaps a similar movement will be established to lobby for the withdrawal
from public schools, which have become centers of rampant violence. True,
there is no bombing equipment in the schools, but there are plenty of
boxing-gloves and knives. There is brutality and mini-wars of sorts.
are plenty of casualties, both physical and spiritual, and even more
injuries. When will there come along a group of mothers and shout, "We
didn't raise children to die in the classroom!"?
Why do parents who opted against religious education for their dear
children have to worry about their offspring and pray that they come home
safely? True, violence has never earned a place in the religious school
systems and the education along the values and faith of our tradition
influences upon and inspires the students. Nevertheless, this does not
alleviate our obligation to concern ourselves with the safety of all
children, wherever they are, and our hearts must sympathize with their
worried parents. We must pray with compassion for those parents who send
their children to school and have no idea what transpires there, and how
children will return home...
"WHY SHOULD HASHEM BE ANGERED BY YOUR VOICE?"
Many people make all different types of vows. Some promise a donation
they receive an aliyah to the Torah; some pledge money to charity and the
support of Batei Kenesset and Torah educational institutions. Still
find themselves in some sort of crisis, Heaven forbid, and vow to take
themselves some obligation or make a donation when the trouble passes, but
forget about their promise as soon as life returns to normal. They simply
forget and don't bother to reflect upon the pledges they had made. These
people overlook the severity involved with vows. They don't realize that
Shelomoh HaMelech, the wisest of all men, warned us, "Don't let your mouth
lead your body to sin; why should Hashem be angered by your voice, and
bring harm to your endeavors?" Furthermore, Hazal tell us that "on
of the sin of vows, one's children die," Heaven forbid. One who made a
pledge must quickly fulfill his promise or go to a rabbi to conduct
nedarim" (the nullification of his vow).
The Maggid of Duvna zs"l explains the extreme severity of this sin through
a parable, as was his wont.
A person once arrived in a certain town without a penny to his name. He
decided to approach the police department and ask if they needed another
officer. They told him that they have no opening for a policeman but they
would definitely be interested in another prison guard. And so, he got to
learn a little about the dilapidated conditions in which the inmates spend
their time withering away. There was in the prison one wing that was more
spacious than the rest, and in it lived one inmate who was fortunate
to reside in the nicer cell. His hands and legs weren't in chains, and he
enjoyed a far more comfortable lifestyle than his comrades in the rest of
the prison. The new guard asked this individual why he was privileged to
the deluxe accommodations. The man explained that the other prisoners are
the pariahs of society, repeated criminals and threats to the general
welfare of the community. Therefore, they are retained in suitably
miserable cells, commensurate with the severity of their crimes. This
inmate, however, was a respectable merchant whose fortune suddenly turned
for the worse, and was thus unable to repay his loans. He was therefore
imprisoned for a few days until he could come before the judge and
file for bankruptcy.
"Bankruptcy?" wondered the guard. He had never heard of such a concept.
The merchant explained, "Someone who is unable to pay his debts declares
bankruptcy and then receives an exemption from his obligations. After
they can't just kill somebody for not being able to pay his loans!"
The principle made sense, and led the man to some thinking: what, then,
he doing in his dismal prison? Why was he working such monotonous shifts
this dungeon for minimum wage? He immediately quit the job and made his
to the finest hotel in the area, where he took the most luxurious suite
available. He ordered the most expensive delicacies for his room and
indulged in all the amenities the hotel had to offer. A few days later,
manager asked him about payment.
"To tell you the truth," said the man, "I have no money." The manager was
mortified. Quoting his friend from the prison, the guest continued, "What
will they do to me if I can't pay - kill me?"
The manager thus sued his guest, and they stood before the judge. The
pauper stood up and said calmly, "I wish to declare bankruptcy!" How
The judge was infuriated and bellowed, "Take this man and give him one
hundred lashes. Then send him to jail!"
The man jumped up in protest. "Where is the justice here? Just one week
ago I met a man who filed for bankruptcy. He spent a few days in a
comfortable cell and was then released, just like that, free of all his
The judge reprimanded him, "There is no comparison here, kind sir. He is
an upright merchant whose business fell through and lost a lot of money.
This is the way things work in this world, and it could happen to anybody.
He cannot be punished; he suffered enough by losing his business. But
who forced you to quit your job and take a room in a hotel, to take
advantage of its owner and indulge in the extravagances of the hotel? If
you knew you wouldn't be able to pay, you should have stayed out in the
streets and beg for money!"
Similarly, one who transgresses one of the missvot in the Torah can make
the excuse that the yesser hara led him astray. He is just a human being,
and therefore prone to making mistakes and slipping. This claim can
mercy from the Heavens and grant him compassion and forgiveness. But when
person initiates an obligation through a pledge, accepting upon himself a
responsibility that he knows he cannot carry out, he will be punished
harshly. Who compelled him to bring himself to this obligation?
Now let us take this concept one step further. If a person walks on his
way to work and confronts an inappropriate sight, the "perissut" so
prevalent on the streets - and bear in mind that every inappropriate sight
leaves its impression upon the viewer - he can say to the Almighty,
of the World, it is not my fault, I was on the way to make a living.
forgive me and save me from the influence of what I just saw." Hashem is
not out to punish His creatures, and will pardon and forgive. But if one
decides to go out on a leisurely trip, out of his own initiative, not
compelled by any external obligations or responsibilities, he simply walks
around in the streets, strolls in the parks and heads for the beach - how
can he justify the inevitable impression of what he will see, what can he
say to defend himself?
HE WILL SHOW US MIRACLES
Parashat Mas'ei opens with a list of the forty-two stops made by Benei
Yisrael as they traversed the wilderness, from the time they left Egypt
through their final stop before entering Eress Yisrael. Why do we need to
know all this? Why was this written in the eternal Torah, such that a
Torah missing even a single letter of this section is considered invalid?
Needless to say, this portion contains within it secrets of the Torah, and
the forty-two trips in the wilderness correspond to the Divine Name of
forty-two letters, alluded to in the prayer, "Ana B'ko'ah." As we do not
get involved in the hidden areas of the Torah, we will focus instead on
simple meaning of the text, as Hazal teach us, "ein mikra yossei midei
peshuto" - the straightforward meaning of the text always bears
significance, notwithstanding the many hidden interpretations contained
therein. The Rambam writes in "Moreh Nevuchim" that in many different
and places the Torah demonstrates its authenticity. Mosheh told the
in the Name of Hashem, "You know the truth of the Torah, for you
it all firsthand. But in generations to come, someone may get up and
question the truth of these words. Therefore, I am recounting the places
where we encamped, one by one, so that the archaeologists can come and
the relevant artifacts." These relics would show that six hundred
people, plus the same number of women, elderly and youth, plus the "erev
rav" (who joined Benei Yisrael upon their departure from Egypt) -
to some three million people - encamped far away from any settled area, in
undeveloped and infertile land, without water, and lived this way over the
course of forty years. How could this have happened? Only because bread
rained down for them each morning from the heavens, providing
daily sustenance - each day for about fourteen and a half thousand days.
Each Friday, twice as much came down, and on Shabbat no food came down at
all. Amazing! A well also accompanied them throughout their sojourn,
providing plenty of water for all three million people and their animals.
Ask the people working for the Israeli water company how much water is
needed for so many people - about half the population of the State of
Israel! And their destination was clear - to enter Eress Yisrael and
conquer the land. And who did they drive away? Skilled warriors,
thirty-one powerful kings. The inhabitants never even thought of going to
war against the intruders, because they already heard of what happened to
Pharaoh and his army, the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea.
They knew of the Clouds of Glory hovering over the people to protect them,
and they simply had no morale with which to fight. They stayed in their
cities behind the walls, which miraculously came crashing down.
The pasuk says, "I am Hashem; I have not changed." The Almighty never
changes, God forbid. He is all-powerful and answers those who call for
Nothing is beyond His capabilities, and for Him nature and miracles are
and the same. If we could internalize this notion, if we implant it
our hearts, we will then very soon merit salvation, and like the days of
Exodus from Egypt He will show us miracles!
The Deserted Woman of Jerusalem (3)
Taken From the Book, "HaSaraf MiBrisk" - The Life of Maharil Diskin zs"l
Flashback: The son of one of the members of the minyan of Maharil Diskin,
the "Saraf" of Brisk, who spent the end of his life in Yerushalayim,
his bar-missvah. When his father brought him to receive a berachah from
Saraf, the Saraf told him to take off his tefillin, because they were
The father was shocked. The tefillin are pasul? Impossible! They were
prepared by Rabbi Mosheh Shamat, one of the most prominent students of the
rabbi. It was safely assumed that the parshiyot were written at the
possible standard, and that no question regarding the kashrut could be
raised whatsoever! He undoubtedly checked them after he completed writing
them, and found them kasher at the highest level! The "batim" (boxes),
must certainly have been kasher, for the one who made them - Baruch
Mordechai - took a lot of money for his work.
As if in a dream, he took his son to the house of Rabbi Mosheh the Scribe,
carrying with him the new silk bag. Through the material he felt the fold
of the straps around the batim. They entered the house and found Rabbi
Mosheh in the middle of his sacred work of preparing tefillin. He saw
and right away motioned to them to sit down; he could not talk while
a Sefer Torah. With intense concentration he wrote one letter after
another, dipping the pen from time to time into the quell, gently
the pen with ink, glaring intently at the parashah opened before him and
reciting out loud each letter before writing it on the new parchment.
After a long hour, the writing was completed. Rabbi Mosheh cleaned off
pen and warmly turned to the bar-missvah boy: "You get a 'mazal-tov'!" He
then blessed the father, "May you have the privilege of raising him to
Torah, a wedding canopy, and good deeds. You should have a lot of
How can I help you?"
With obvious discomfort, the father presented the bag of tefillin. "The
rabbi said...that the tefillin...are not kasher..."
All color left the scribe's face. He quietly took the bag and took out
batim. He undid the wrapping of the straps and removed the covers. He
took a knife from his table and began opening the threads around the
After the box was opened, Rabbi Mosheh removed the parshiyot from their
tiny compartments in the bayit.
Only instead of parshiyot, there were scraps from stalks of corn...
The tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. Three white
faces stood gaping and stared blankly at the yellowish strips. Rabbi
put on his hat and said, "Come with me. We are going to Baruch Mordechai,
the one who sells the batim...
to be continued...
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"We will cross over as pioneers"
Rabbenu Behayei zs"l notes that the word used here for "we" is "nahnu," a
shortened version of the more common term, "anahnu." Why did they say
"nahnu" without the "alef" in the beginning of the word? He explains that
the people of Gad and Reuven were exceptional warriors, and they indicated
as such by telling Mosheh that they will fight as "pioneers," in the front
lines. Therefore, to guard themselves from arrogance, they humbled
themselves by dropping the "alef" and saying "nahnu," an expression that
connotes humility and modesty. This is the explanation along the
straightforward meaning of the text.
However, we also have a tradition that this pasuk had to begin with the
letter "nun," and that is why the "alef" was dropped. In this sense this
pasuk resembles the pasuk in Eichah 3, where Yirmiyahu states, "NAHNU
pashana umarinu..." There, the pasuk had to begin with the letter "nun"
because of the poetic, alphabetized scheme employed in that perek. (The
first three pesukim of that perek begin with "alef," the next three with
"bet," and so on.) Here, the pasuk must begin with a "nun" because this
one of the eleven pesukim in Tanach that begin and end with the letter
"nun." Therefore, the word "nahnu" is used instead of the more standard
The sacred "Shem Hameforash" may be derived from these eleven pesukim,
thirteen letters. One who recites these pesukim with the Name that is
derived therefrom will not fear at all, for Hashem prevents the need for
fear. These pesukim are printed in some siddurim in the service for
"We will cross over as pioneers"
The Alshich zs"l notes that the word "nahnu" (the term used here for "we")
appears four times in Tanach. Yosef's brothers told him (whom they
was the Egyptian viceroy), "We are all the sons of one man, we are";
humbly said to the people about himself and Aharon, "What are we?"; in our
pasuk, the people of Reuven and Gad promise, "We will cross over as
pioneers"; and Yirmiyahu writes in Eichah, "We have sinned and rebelled."
In all these instances, the word "nahnu' is used instead of the standard
The relationship between them might relate to the tendency some people
to think that they can commit aveirot and rely on the merit of the
forefathers. One may be tempted to think, "We are all the sons of one
- we had a great forefather who was righteous and pure. Therefore, even
though "what are we?" - meaning, even though I am nothing by myself and
no merits to my name, the merit of the patriarchs will help me. But this
wrong: "We have sinned and rebelled - you have not forgiven"! Therefore,
"We will cross over as pioneers" - we must head out for battle against our
yesser hara, and we will defeat it; we will increase our Torah study and
performance of missvot, and in this way merit eternal life out of our own
merits, without relying on those of our saintly patriarchs.
"We will cross over as pioneers"
The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l writes that he saw it written that the letter
"alef," the numerical value of which is one, alludes to the Creator, the
single God in the universe. Since the people of Gad and Reuven declared
that they will go out to war, without making mention of the divine
assistance required, the "alef" was dropped from the word "anahnu" ("we")
and the pasuk writes instead, "nahnu."
Elsewhere (in his "Remazim") he comments that earlier, the people of Gad
and Reuven had said, "We will go ready-armed," employing the word "hushim"
(armed), which has the same letters as "Moshiah." This alludes to the
that they will be exiled with the Ten Lost Tribes and will not return
the onset of the messianic era. Similarly, they said to Mosheh, "We will
not return to our homes," using the word "nashuv" ("we will return"),
has the same numerical value as the word "Moshiah." Unbeknownst to them,
they prophesied that they will return to Eress Yisrael only during the
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Yossef Ganasiah zs"l
Rabbi Yossef Ganasiah zs"l was the rabbi of the community of Constantine,
Algeria, where he also served as head of the rabbinical court as well as
Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Ess Hayyim. His influence spread throughout the
Jewish communities in Algeria and beyond as a result of his prolific
writing. When the French language and culture took hold of the region,
Rabbi Yossef, who was fluent in French and familiar with its culture from
the time he spent in the French army , dedicated himself to the
of the Jewish-Arabic language, which was the central ingredient of the
tradition of western Jewry. From that point on, he hardly stopped
and his literary produce was simply remarkable. He published around one
hundred and thirty works, virtually all of which were written in the
Jewish-Arabic tongue that he wished to preserve. He translated the entire
Mishnah , the Rambam's Yad HaHazakah and the writings of the Ri"f. He
translated the Aggadot Ein Yaakov and several works of mussar, such as
Rabbeinu Yonah's Iggeret HaTeshuvah and Mesilat Yesharim. His other
translation works include history books such as Josephus, works of
poetry and liturgy and works of Kabbalah. He made a point of always
the traditional rabbinical garb, claiming that one's external appearance
influences his internal being. He feared that French dress and language
would allow for the infusion of the foreign culture and the abandonment of
religion associated with it. Through his powerful oratory skills, he
blocked the infiltration of foreign culture and preserved the faith and
missvah observance. He would interpret the pasuk, "And I am ignorant, and
do not know, I was like animal with You," as meaning that if I don't know
Torah, then I am ignorant. But if I am ignorant "with You," meaning, if I
cast doubt upon the existence of the Creator, then I am considered an
At a very late age he fulfilled his dream of moving to Eress Yisrael
together with his wife. He was greeted with reverence by his community in
Dimona, where he lived until his death on 8 Tammuz, 5722, and where he is
buried. May his merit protect us, Amen.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at
Chapter 8: The Laws of Sisit
Proper Intention During the Missvah of Sisit
Strictly speaking, one is not obligated to check his sisit before each
he put it on, as one does not need to be concerned that the strings may
ripped. The reason is that we may rely on the "hazakah" that they have
ripped since the last time they were checked. However, checking them
the berachah constitutes an added measure of piety, so long as one has
to perform this check.
Therefore, if one fears that by checking his sisit he might miss the
prayer, or will have to skip a section in tefilah in order to pray
with the ssibur, he should not check the strings at all, even as a measure
Even regarding those opinions that require checking one's strings each
he puts on the tallit, some claim that this stringency applies only to a
garment that requires sisit on the level of a Torah obligation. Garments
requiring sisit only at the rabbinical level, such as garments made of
cotton, silk and the like, do not require that the sisit be checked prior
being worn, even according to the stringent view.
With regard to the stringent view to check the sisit, there is a dispute
to which part of the strings must be checked. Some maintain that one
the string from the hole on the corner of the garment until the knot.
Others, however, argue that one needs not check the part of the string
lies on the garment, since strings are generally not torn in that area.
Others hold that one checks also the area of the folds, as well as the
beyond the knot. The one who is stringent in this regard is deserving of
Some opinions maintain that the stringent view to check the sisit before
being worn applies as well to the tallit katan worn under one's clothing.
Even though a "berachah levatalah" (wasted berachah) will not have been
recited even should the strings tear and become "pasul" (since no berachah
is recited on the tallit katan, as explained in previous issues),
nevertheless if strings have been torn then the individual will now be
wearing a four-cornered garment without sisit. Others, however, argue that
only the tallit gadol, over which one recites a blessing, needs to be
checked, because the stringency of checking the sisit evolved out of the
specific concern of a berachah levatalah. Therefore, the tallit katan,
which no berachah is recited, does need to be checked. Once again, one
is stringent in this regard and checks the sisit of his tallit katan, as
well, is deserving of blessing.
If one who is stringent and checks his sisit is called to the Torah before
he had the opportunity to check his sisit, and he cannot take out the time
to finish checking because it would cause an inappropriate delay to the
service ("tirha dessibura"), he does need to check his sisit. He may
continue wearing his tallit even after the Torah reading, without checking
If one checks his sisit after removing his tallit before placing it in his
bag, there is no need whatsoever, even as a measure of piety, to check the
sisit again before the next time he wears his tallit.
One who is generally stringent about checking his sisit should do so even
on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Preferably, he should check them before Shabbat
Yom Tov and then place the tallit in its bag, so that he does not need to
check them on Shabbat or Yom Tov itself.
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
Have you ever heard of the iris? Even if you haven't heard of it, you
definitely have seen it. This flower includes eight species of which
in Israel in all their glory. If you're wondering about the strange name
this flower, it is derived from the Greek term for "rainbow." This name
given to the iris because of its large flowers that resemble the beautiful
variation of colors in a rainbow. Researchers have noticed a most
intriguing phenomenon with regard to this flower. Thousands of bees make
this iris their lodging for the night. Why are the bees attracted to this
flower? There are several reasons. Firstly, several species of the iris
produce a special aroma that attracts bees. Secondly, even more
fascinating, bees are cold-blooded creatures. At night, they fall into a
deep sleep that resembles the hibernation of some mammals. Their body
temperature drops to that of their surroundings. In order to fly again in
the morning, they must shake up their wings, a process that wastes a lot
energy. Apparently, the area inside the iris provides a warm environment
for the bees. Scientists believe that the iris absorbs the heat from the
sun over the course of the day, thus providing a warm "hotel room" for the
bees. The body temperature of the bees in the iris begins to rise earlier
in the morning, allowing them to get out earlier to search for nectar.
the earlier a bee gets to work, the more nectar it can collect. It seems
that the bees prefer the black flowers, whose color attracts heat. The
thus pollinate these flowers more than other irises.
This symbiotic relationship between the iris and the bees involves the
mutual benefit received. The flower is pollinated and the bees have a
place to sleep. Indeed, this symbiosis constitutes one of the most
remarkable features of creation. In the human world, this phenomenon is
called "hesed," kindness. For us Jews, hesed is an ingrained
dating back to Avraham Avinu, who was considered the pillar of hesed.
taught us a critical lesson about hesed: "More than what the giver does
the beggar, the beggar does for the giver." In other words, there exists
bilateral give-and-take between the beneficiary and the benefactor.
That is, the giver was given the opportunity to perform kindness as a
of the beggar. And, as a result of his charity, the giver merits the
fulfillment of a misvah, is elevated and purifies his personality. In
way, he comes closer to the Al-mighty.