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Parashat Matot-Masei

Essay of the Week
Know Yourself

There are many reasons to declare war, usually weighty ones. War is a serious thing, tied up with threats to life and many expenses. Some want to conquer territory, others want to control natural resources. Some want power and honor, others want revenge and retribution. In short, war involves those very traits which remove a person from this world: jealousy, lust, and honor. It seems that the war in our parashah is different, unique in the history of the world. A nation declared war for one reason only: because the enemy had tried to make them sin! Only Yisrael could go to war for this reason. They went out based on the word of God, and they trusted Him. They drafted a small army, only 1000 untrained soldiers from each tribe. 12,000 men conquered and destroyed a whole nation, took tens of thousands of captives, while none of them fell. Everyone returned home safely. That's what happens when God helps.

When they returned, they sent their officers with all the jewelry of the Midianite women: bracelets and necklaces, rings and earrings. They wanted to give everything to the treasury of the house of God. "Mosheh said to Israel: Maybe you have returned to your original faults." He looked askance at their gift, thinking that they wanted to atone for sin. Perhaps they had been free with themselves during the war, breaking the bounds of modesty. God forbid, they replied. "They said to him: no one is missing." Nobody deviated from the straight path. "He said to them: if so, for what do you need atonement? They said: if we did not sin, we did think about sin. Immediately, they brought a sacrifice to Hashem." (Shabbat 64a).

People take thinking of sin lightly, not to mention things that lead to sin, like sight and sound. The Creator made man and understands the forces at work in his soul, and He does not agree that sights and sounds are light matters. He prohibited this as a negative commandment. "You shall not stray after your hearts and after your eyes." According to the halachah one who looks in order to become excited by a sight violates a Torah law. Why is this taken so seriously? We will quote something that the Hafess Hayyim zss"l said in only a few short words: "Who is man?" Let's stop here for a moment. How would we answer this question? Who is man really? What is he, and how would we define him, define ourselves? Let us remember, we have only a few words. How would I define myself, my fellow, humanity as a whole, in only a few short words? The Hafess Hayyim's answer is: "Man is what he sees, what he hears." That is what builds him; that is what establishes his foundations; that is what fills him with content. This is the meaning of the verse, "Drink water from your cistern, and liquid from within your spring" (Mishlei 5:15). At first man is like a cistern, which is filled from the outside. Afterwards he begins to flow, like a spring. The question is: What did he absorb, what influenced him, and what kind of influence was it? Therefore, they attributed all the greatness of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananyah, one of the greatest students of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai, to his mother, who brought his crib to the beit midrash "so that his ears would become attached to words of Torah" (Yerushalmi Yevamot 1:6). That is why the Hazon Ish indicated that one of the most important things in a kindergarten - and a home, of course - is that the walls should be decorated with pictures of rabbis, geonim, and ssadikim. This has an effect. Not only does it have an effect, but it builds, pours foundations. There is a story of a Jew who was critically wounded, and remained in the hospital for a long time in the rehabilitation ward. One evening the Avi Ezri zss"l came to visit, and inquired which room he was in. He asked that they remove the existing pictures, and replace them with pictures of rabbis. The rehabilitation of the body should not come at the expense of that of the soul.

Now, your desire is to know yourself. The mirror is before you: do a survey. What do you see, and what do you hear? Then you will know who you are. Do you see a minyan for prayer and a Torah class? Do you see modesty? Do you hear prayers and words of Torah? That is your world; that is you. Do you see breaches in the fence of modesty, whether in the streets or in the media? Do you hear gross and foul language? It is sad to say, but if so, this is the very stuff of your life; this is you. What a shame. Those who dwell in the world of Torah should be particularly careful during the summer vacation, so that they do not return as different people!...

Words from the Editor

We have no way to evaluate that knowledgeable generation. After forty years in the presence of the father of all prophets, they stood before him with fear and trembling. The tribes of Gad and Reuven stood before him and asked: we have many cattle, and Gilead is a land for grazing. "We will build fences for our herds here, and cities for our children." Then they will cross over with the whole nation and help conquer the land. Mosheh agreed with them and said, "Build cities for your children and fences for your herds, and do whatever has come from your mouths." He switched the order. They put the herds before the children. "They were more concerned about their money than their children, because they put the cattle before their children. Mosheh said to them, "Not so. Keep track of what is important and what is secondary. First build cities for your children, and then fences for your sheep." (Rashi).

We stand, look, and wonder: could it be? Could it be that a person would put his money before his children? There is nothing more precious than them. All of his effort and property are to make them happy and comfortable. The answer is, yes, it certainly could be. But let us examine ourselves. How much of our time, of our schedule, do we dedicate to our money, and how much to our children? To our spouse? To our family? Are our priorities in the right place? This is a hurtful idea during the week, but at least on the holy Shabbat, when we have no financial concerns, we should dedicate all our attention to our families. During vacation, at least, our families can become strengthened through being given complete attention.

The Golden Column
Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar zss"l

Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar, zss"l, one of the medieval rabbis, was born in France in approximately 4930 (1170). He learned Torah from the Rissba, Rabbeinu Yisshak berabbi Avraham z"l, one of the Tosafists of Dampier, who had filled the place of Rabbeinu Yisshak Hazaken as the head of the academy in the city. After a time Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar immigrated to Barcelona, where he became Rosh Yeshivah and taught Torah to many students, including the Ramban, who cites him in his novelae (Pesahim 14: "I received from my rabbi, Rabbi Yehudah ben Yakar, who received from Rabbi Yisshak ben Avraham the Frenchman." Ketuvot 74, and elsewhere).

He wrote a commentary on prayer called Ma'ayan Ganim, which we do not have a copy of, but which is quoted in the works of other rabbis (Teshuvot HaRashba 49 and 89, Magen Avot by the Meiri, Orhot Hayyim on laws of prayer, and elsewhere). There were other commentaries on the prayers written at the time, like the book of Rabbeinu David Avudraham zss"l in Spain, Sefer Hamanhig by the Ramban zss"l, and others.

Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Yakar wrote a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, but this book is also no longer available, though it is mentioned in the Responsa of the Rashba (523). "You mentioned that you had trouble explaining the Yerushalmi. I am surprised because you have the commentary of the great rabbi, Rabbi Yehudah ben Yakar."

He also wrote commentaries on the Bible and on aggadah. The work Keter Shem Tov (a supercommentary on Ramban on the Torah, in parshat Yitro) says," My teacher Rabbi Yisshak ben Todros told me in the name of Rabbi Yehudah ben Yakar." Nefesh Hahochmah by the kabbalist Rabbi Mosheh de Leon (69) cites his commentary on the three times the word kadosh is used, and the book Tamim Deim cites him about why the angels do not understand Aramaic. He was one of the great medieval rabbis, and it is such a shame that we received only a spark of his wide Torah.

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

The Mishnah (Shekalim 3:2) says that the money from the half shekel which each Jew would donate for public sacrifices, would be stored in a special office. When the financial manager would go in to take the money, he would not go in with wide sleeves, with shoes, and certainly not with pockets in his clothes. If he would become poor, people will not say this was punishment for embezzlement. If he would become rich, people will not say this is from stolen money. "A person should be acceptable to the creatures just as he is acceptable to God, as it says, "And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel."

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

We learned (Yoma 38a) that the Garmo family was in charge of the showbread in the Temple, and they were mentioned honorable because of it. One could never find bread made of fine flour in their house, so people would not suspect them of taking flour from the Temple, in order to fulfill the verse, "And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel". The Avtinas family was in charge of grinding the spices for the Temple, and they were also mentioned honorably because of it. Nobody ever left their house perfumed, and when a member of the family would be married to someone from far away, they would make a condition that she should not wear perfume, so that people will not say that they used the Temple's spices for themselves, in order to fulfill the verse, "And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel".

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

How great is this obligation? So great that Mosheh Rabbeinu, - the father of prophets, who was very wealthy (Shabbat 92a), in a generation that did not need anything - served in the Mishkan for the eight days of inauguration when he was wearing a plain shirt without a fringe, so that people would not say that he was hiding the fact that he really wanted a fringed garment.

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

So great that the Jerusalem Talmud says that when the one in charge would go in to take the donations, they would speak to him the whole time so that nobody would say that he was hiding a coin in his mouth. If he had a bushy beard, he would not be sent, so people would not say that he hid something in his beard. Similarly, they made rules about charity collectors (Bava Batra 8b). They would walk in pairs, and if they found a coin in the street they would not put it in their pockets so that people would not suspect that they had taken a coin from charity. If they wanted to make change, they would ask others to do so, so that people would not suspect them of shortchanging charity.

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

So great that the Jerusalem Talmud says that when the one in charge would go in to take the donations, they would speak to him the whole time so that nobody would say that he was hiding a coin in his mouth. If he had a bushy beard, he would not be sent, so people would not say that he hid something in his beard. Similarly, they made rules about charity collectors (Bava Batra 8b). They would walk in pairs, and if they found a coin in the street they would not put it in their pockets so that people would not suspect that they had taken a coin from charity. If they wanted to make change, they would ask others to do so, so that people would not suspect them of shortchanging charity.

"And you will be clean from Hashem and from Israel"

Our teacher, the holy Or Hahayyim zss"l said (in the beginning of his commentary on the Torah) that practice should follow the order of the verse. First a person should be sure that that he has done what God wants, to be clean from Hashem. Only after should one become clean from Israel. The desire to find favor in the eyes of the creatures does not push off any Torah prohibition. That is why the Torah begins with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." This teaches us priorities. First become perfect in spiritual matters related to the heavens, and only then worry about worldly matters, and not the opposite.

According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a

• After the first three blessings, which are praise to God, the Anshei Keneset Hagedolah established blessings which are all requests for man's needs. The blessing "Atah Honen" through "Shema Koleinu" are all requests for man's needs. "Atah Honen" was established as the first of these blessings because the difference between man and animal is found in the intellect, and without understanding there can be no prayer.

• The Hachamim established that we say Havdalah in this blessing after Shabbat and holidays, because distinctions are made with the intellect, and therefore havdalah was inserted into the blessing of the intellect. The word "binah" wisdom stands for spices (besamim), wine (yayin), candle (ner), and havdalah. In this blessing, some say, "Grant us from You wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and intellect", while others say "Grant us from You wisdom, understanding, and knowledge." The practice of the Sephardim and the Eastern Jews is the latter. They also say, "And grant us." Some say without the "and".

• In the blessing "See our poverty," some add the word "please" and others do not. The Sephardim and most Eastern Jews, as well as most Ashkenazi communities, do say "please."

• In the blessing, "Heal us" one should say "Heal us Lord, our God, and we will be healed," because that is the language of the verse (Yirmiyahu 17:14), "Heal me, and I will be healed." We say this blessing in plural, even though the verse is in singular. Hazal (Tosefta Megillah 3:21) say that "Anything written in plural should not be turned into singular", but when you recite a verse when you are not reading it, but as part of a prayer, then it is possible to change it from singular to plural or vice versa, as needed. Some say that only when you recite an entire chapter you may not change from the plural or vice versa. It is better to be stringent according to both opinions, and therefore not change from singular to plural or vice versa unless he says only one verse and it is also part of a prayer. When he says a whole chapter, he should not change, even if it is part of a prayer. From this we learn that we should try to stop people who recite Tehillim as prayer and request, and want to change from singular to plural or vice versa, or want to change from masculine to feminine (like when saying "Hashem answers you at a time of trouble" for a birthing woman).

A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shelit"a

Laws of the Weeks in Between the Fast Days

1) The three weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are days of mourning which are called "bein hamessarim." We mourn the stages in the destruction of the Temple. Hazal tell many stories about the tragedies which occurred at those times. We should pay particular attention to the lesson of the importance of Torah for the Jewish people. This is why Hashem prepared a remedy for our suffering, and he exiled the leading sages to Yavneh prior to the destruction, so that Torah would be able to stay with the Jewish people even during the long exile.

2) Once the second Temple was destroyed, there were many ascetics who did not eat meat and did not drink wine. Rabbi Yehoshua corrected them and explained that we must mourn, but we cannot mourn in such a way that the community cannot tolerate. Therefore, it was determined that one can make a fancy meal, but leave something out. One can build a whole house, and leave one section unplastered. A woman can be dressed in the finest jewels, but should leave one out. Based on this, there are various practices of mourning during this period. We do not eat meat from the first of Av until the tenth (though on rosh hodesh itself it is permitted). Fowl is in the same category as beef as far as this law is concerned. On Shabbat, even if Shabbat is itself the ninth of Av, you should eat meat and have the fanciest kinds of meals.

The Wonders of Creation
The Heron

The heron can stand like a rock for hours in water that reaches its knees, as if it were a statue. Its neck is angled, its sharp long beak is pointed downward, and its eyes examine the water. It waits patiently and suddenly, in a moment, its neck goes down, its beak opens, and it comes up dripping with a fluttering fish…

The black heron, which lives in Madagascar in Africa, has another method. When it spies a school of fish, it opens up its wings to some two meters wide. Startled by the sudden darkness, the fish are paralyzed for a moment, and the heron attacks…

There are over sixty species of heron, from the giant heron of Africa, which reaches a meter and a half tall, to those that are the size of a dove. They have many colors. There are some as black as night, and some are white as snow. There is the blue heron and the grey heron. Some have a blue-green head with a brown-red neck, and are as big as a crow. This one gains its food using trickery. It finds a worm in the reeds, and picks it up gently with its beak. It dips it in the water and then waits, like a fisherman who uses bait. The fish comes to taste the bait and becomes trapped in the heron's beak. The heron lifts it beak to the sky, and with a practiced move, overturns the fish into its long throat.

Of all ways to hunt food, this is the rarest. There are few animals which use an object or a tool to get what they want. We have already said that these exceptions are a sign for us, a way to teach us a lesson. Is that not how the evil inclination treats us? It waits with eternal patience, shows us some tempting bait, and when we try to hunt the bait, we find ourselves hunted instead.

The Wheel of Life Keeps Turning (12)
From the book, "Great are the Deeds of G-d"

Summary: The son of a merchant from Kushta traveled to Alexandria to meet his father's friend. He was received warmly, and the host introduced him to a guide who would lead him about the big city, speak with him, and learn with him. When he planned to return, he was asked what gift he would like to take. The guest asked to be allowed to take this companion. The host said, I will tell you the boy's story. He explained how he had become impoverished, and had taken his last belongings to buy supplies for Pesah. But, he was offered a captive for sale, and he redeemed him with his remaining money. He returned home empty-handed, but with the boy.

He was walking broken hearted, trying to figure out how to explain to his wife that instead of flour for massah he is bringing another mouth to feed. Suddenly a man turned to him with a request. He was poor and he did not have enough to buy supplies for the holiday. He decided to sell his wife's jewelry. But, if he would go himself to sell them, people will realize that he is desperate, and will take advantage of him by giving him only half the value of his merchandise. Since he knows that this man was once a successful businessman, who knows all about jewelry and its value, perhaps he can do him a favor and sell the jewelry for him, and gain ten percent of the sale as a fee. He agreed, and took the jewels. The man went, while the merchant held on to the boy and kept walking. Another man stopped him with a request. This sequence of requests was shocking. What now? The man said, "Help me. My life has turned into a hell. My wife is complaining that she has no jewelry to show her friends during the holiday. Pesah is coming, and I will have no rest unless I satisfy her request. I know that if I approach the merchants, they will take advantage of my ignorance, and charge me twice the real value. Since you are an honest man who knows the value of jewelry, please get me nice jewelry at a fair price, and I will give you ten percent as the middle man, not to mention the missvah of bringing peace to my family and arranging for a happy holiday in our house." The merchant told him, "God has come to your aid. I have these jewels to sell. They are very nice, and at a good price."

He looked at them and liked them. He gave him the money plus ten percent, as well as many thanks. The merchant quickly went to the home of the owner of the jewelry, and gave him the nice sum. The man was very happy and gave him his tenth happily, while thanking him profusely. He held the boy's hand, and turned to go home. His wife, who was sure that he would return with a sack of flour and jug of wine, saw him with the strange boy. She spread out her hands complaining, "We have nothing to feed those in our house, and you are bringing boarders." He told her, "We have plenty of money! In reward for redeeming a captive, Hashem helped us, and immediately upon redeeming him Hashem arranged some good deals that required little effort. I earned in one hour what I have not earned in a very long time." His story satisfied her, and he left the house to buy supplies and food to feed his family.

To be continued, G-d willing, next week…

Sha'agat Aryeh
God Willing

Dear Brothers,

In our parshah the tribes of Gad and Menasheh request to settle Trans-Jordan because they contain land which is good for their cattle. They promise, "We will go armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. We will not return to our houses until every man among the children of Israel has inherited his inheritance." This is a promise, which Mosheh agreed to and repeated with his holy tongue. "And Mosheh said to them, if you do this thing, if you go armed before Hashem to the war, and will go all of you armed over Jordan before God, until He has driven out His enemies from before Him, and then you will return… and you will be clean before Hashem and Israel, and this land will be for you as a possession before God."

We need to understand, why did he repeat each and every detail? Wouldn't it have been enough to say, "If you do this thing, then this land will be for you as a possession"? Nothing more. Why did he repeat what they said, and why did our holy Torah which measures each an every letter repeat his words in their entirety?

If you look carefully you will see that this is not repetition, but an addition which adds to the essence. Mosheh Rabbeinu constantly inserted the name of God, the help from Heaven. They said, "We will go armed before the children of Israel." We. While he said "If you will go all of you armed… before God," etc. God will drive out His enemies. He will send wasps, large stones from heaven. Really, there is no reason for you to come, except that we don't want people to say that you stayed behind because you were afraid of the war, and in order that you will be clean before Hashem and Israel. They said, "Until we bring them to their place", emphasizing the "we". And Moshe Rabbeinu said, "The land will be conquered before God." He emphasized God, rather than man. They said, "We will not return to our houses until every man among the children of Israel has inherited his inheritance." Mosheh Rabbeinu corrected them. "This land will be a possession before God."

Let it be emphasized, we are dealing with a knowledgeable generation, a generation that woke each day and found a portion of manna from the heavens. Toward evening, like clockwork, the clouds of quail fluttered around the camp, so that they would be gathered. A pillar of cloud followed them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. All the mountains shrank before them as they traveled, and the valleys rose. Sihon, Og, and Midian fell before their swords like ripe fruit, with no casualties. "I destroyed the Emorites from before them, who are as tall as the cedar and as strong as the oak, and I will destroy its fruit from above and its roots from below" (Amos 2:9). They were prophets, with the father of all prophets as their leader. They lived day and night with God, attached to him and in awe of his miracles. Despite that, this should have come to bear on how they spoke. They should have emphasized that all is in the hands of Heaven, and all our actions are before God.

This is doubly true of us. We, who can easily fall into the trap of thinking that "My strength and the might of my hand did this mighty thing," must recall God's name with every action. We must know that everything is done before God. Everything is done "God willing" and "with God's help." He does everything, because only He did, does, and will do for all creatures. Then, "I believe when I speak." This kind of speech will entrench faith in us, and bring us to serve God.

With the blessings of Shabbat Shalom,

Aryeh Deri

Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom

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