subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)


Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Mikess


Amidst all the wondrous miracles that Hashem performed for us during the time of the Macabees occurred one tragedy, which has been etched in our national memory ever since. Like all the events of that time, this incident carries with it an important lesson, and it, too, has a lot to teach us.

Matityah the Hashmonai had five righteous sons, four of whom merited to celebrate the victory and serve as kohanim gedolim and priests. But one brother - Eliezer Hahorani - did not earn this privilege, as he fell heroically on the battlefield. In the heat of battle, he saw a decorated army-elephant and thought that the general sat on top. He thus assumed that should the elephant fall, the battle would be decided. He daringly proceeded towards the elephant, bent underneath the animal's belly, and thrust his sword into the elephant's flesh. The elephant collapsed and buried the hero underneath. Whether or not enemy combatants fell as a result is of little significance; the general was not sitting atop the elephant. The sacrifice of life was for naught.

This, too, comes to teach us a critical lesson. Many battles confront us and demand great sacrifices on our part. Not always do we succeed. But the pressing question is, who decides for which "elephants" is it worth devoting oneself, bringing the masses out to the streets, covering the walls with posters, delivering impassioned speeches and making headlines? As we know, not infrequently do these elephants bury the protesters. We can bring plenty of examples of cases where sacrifices were made and the target was never hit; the opposition simply got up onto the next elephant. Who chooses the target, who decides the fight?

Amazingly, this question is asked despite the fact that we have "da'at Torah," when we have whom to ask! This question comes up even though we have someone to guide and direct, when we have at our head the great Torah authority, to whom the eyes of all Yisrael look, the Rishon Lessiyon shlit"a, the glory of our generation. Whoever consults the elders succeeds, and everything he does Hashem will make successful!

So why be trampled by more elephants.


"And now, Pharaoh shall choose a wise, intelligent man"

Many of our rabbis have asked, why did Yosef offer unsolicited advice to Pharaoh? He was summoned to interpret dreams, not to offer counsel. Why did he offer that for which he was never asked? Many answers have been suggested:

The Or Hahayyim zs"l writes that Yosef saw the advice as part of the interpretation of the dream. The lean cows' devouring of the large cows symbolized that the years of famine will be sustained from the grain of the years of plenty. Thus, the dream itself indicated the storage of grain over the course of the seven years of plenty.

The "Binah L'itim" zs"l (Derush 18) writes that Yosef learned this piece of advice from the fact that in Pharaoh's dream the lean cows stood alongside the large cows before consuming them. This indicated that already during the years of plenty, the effects of the forthcoming years of famine would be felt, in the form of the storage of surplus grain.

Mahara"sh Primo zs"l answers that Pharaoh's two dreams in reality constituted a single dream. The pasuk, "Pharaoh awakened.and he fell asleep and dreamed again" means that after waking up he then fell back asleep and continued the dream. Therefore, only at the end of the "second dream" does the pasuk say, "Pharaoh awakened, and behold it was a dream." At that point Pharaoh realized that it was all a dream, including his having woken up in the middle. Therefore, since that, too, was part of the dream, Yosef interpreted the awakening, as well, as suggesting to Pharaoh to "wake up," to take action and appoint a wise man to arrange the storage of grain.

The Hid"a zs"l writes that were the dream to have indicated simply the forthcoming years of plenty and the subsequent years of famine, it would have featured merely seven healthy cows and seven emaciated cows. But Pharaoh also dreamt that the cows arose from the "ye'or," the river, which here is spelled in unusual manner, without the letter "vav." Yosef understood the "ye'or" as an allusion to the appointment of a wise man to oversee the storage process, as "ye'or" has the same letters as "yeire" - "shall appoint."

The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that Yosef's advice to Pharaoh explained an anomaly in the dream, that the seven healthy sheaves of wheat rose together, in one stalk, rather than the usual, individual growth of wheat.

This peculiarity alluded to the single individual who would bring together all the grain of the years of plenty and store them for the coming famine.

Rabbi Ezra Ityah zs"l, Rosh Yeshivat Porat Yosef, notes that the word "v'atah" ("and now") in this pasuk is stressed by the notes of the Humash.

He therefore explains that Yosef in fact had completed his interpretation, and then Pharaoh turned to him and asked, "V'atah?" What shall be done now? Yosef thus responded with his suggestion of hiring a coordinator for the years of plenty.


Rabbi Nissim Hadad

Rabbi Nissim Hadad zs"l, the rabbi of Garba, was extraordinarily wealthy.

He merited both tables, that of wealth and that of Torah, and Torah and greatness were combined in his lifetime. Given his wealth, he served as rabbi without taking salary, and to the contrary, he generously supported the poor members of his community. He would even buy products from them at inflated prices in order to help them out, and then he would distribute these items to other poor people. The people adored him and obeyed everything he said, and the Almighty granted them wondrous blessings. It is told that the grain grew in miraculous fashion, that its seeds were double normal size, similar to the blessing of grain during the time of Shimon haSsadik.

Once, as he was passing through the marketplace, Rabbi Nissim saw a young child carrying a basket of merchandise. "Tell me, dear child, what are you doing in the market at this hour?" he asked.

"My grandfather is old and has no strength left," answered the boy. "Since my father is busy with work, my grandfather sent me to buy food for him."

The rabbi looked over the items, took from him the basket and the money and said, "A boy such as yourself belongs in talmud Torah. One must take advantage of one's childhood years to learn Torah. Go learn, and I will speak with your grandfather!"

An hour later, Rabbi Nissim knocked on the grandfather's door. The door opened, and the grandfather was stunned to see the revered rabbi holding a basket full of groceries. "What is this!" he cried, "I must ask the rav's forgiveness!"

"Please tell me," asked the rabbi, "if your grandson would have the opportunity to build the Bet Hamikdash, would you ask him to leave his job and go shopping for you?"

"Of course not," shuddered the grandfather.

"Well, the halachah states unequivocally that children are not taken away from their Torah studies even for the building of the Bet Hamikdash. So why do you take him away from his studies to go shopping?"


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

The Proper Intention While Putting on Tefillin

When putting on tefillin, one should have in mind that the Almighty commanded us to wear the four parshiyot of the tefillin - "kadesh li," "vehayah ki yevi'acha," "shema yisrael" and "vehayah im shamoa" - which contain the unity of His Name and yessi'at Missrayim, on the arm near the heart and on the head near the brain. He commanded us this so that we remember the wonders and miracles that He performed for us, which demonstrate His oneness, and that He has the power and dominion in both the lower and upper worlds to do as He pleases. One should at this point subjugate to Hashem his soul, which lies in the brain, and the heart, the source of one's desires and thoughts, and in this way he will always remember his Creator and minimize his physical pleasures.

One should say all this verbally in the "leshem yihud" paragraph before the placing of the tefillin, in order to accustom himself to these intentions so that he does not forget them.

The reason for these intentions specifically in the context of this missvah is the pasuk (Shemot 13:9), "It should be for you as a sign on your arm and as a remembrance in between your eyes, in order that the Torah of Hashem be in your mouth; for with a mighty hand Hashem took you out from Egypt."

This pasuk indicates that the main fulfillment of this missvah lies in the individual's intention during its fulfillment.

Nevertheless, one who does not have all this in mind, and simply puts the tefillin on for the sake of fulfilling the missvah, still fulfills his requirement.

Reciting the Parshiyot of "Kadesh" and "Vehayah Ki Yevi'acha" With Tefillin Some have the practice after putting on their tefillin to read the parshiyot of "kadesh" and "vehayah ki yevi'acha," so as to have recited all four parshiyot of tefillin while actually wearing the tefillin. Since the other two parshiyot - "shema" and "vehayah im shamoa" - are recited as "keriyat shema," the remaining two parshiyot - "kadesh" and "vehayah ki yevi'acha" - are recited immediately after putting on tefillin.

These parshiyot should be recited before tefilah, since they appear in the Torah prior to the two parshiyot in shema. Nevertheless, if one did not recite them before tefilah, he should still recite them after tefilah.

Some, however, contend that one does not need to recite these parshiyot at all. In fact, the Sifrei writes (Parashat Va'ethanan, piska 34): "'Shema' and 'vehayah im shamoa' are to be verbalized, but 'kadesh' and 'vehayah ki yevi'acha' are not verbalized." Nonetheless, it is still a good custom to recite the parshiyot.

Tefillin Shel Yad Precedes Tefillin Shel Rosh

One first places the tefillin shel yad and thereafter the tefillin shel rosh, since the tefillin shel yad is mentioned in the pasuk first, before the tefillin shel rosh: "You shall tie them as a sign on your arm, and the y shall be 'totafot' in between your eyes" (Devarim 6:8). Furthermore, the phrase "they shall be 'totafot' in between your eyes" seems to suggest that whenever the tefillin is "between your eyes," i.e. whenever the tefillin shel rosh is worn, "they shall be" - there will be two tefillin on one's body, both the shel yad and the shel rosh. Therefore, the shel yad must be worn first, so that when the tefillin shel rosh is placed there will be two tefillin being worn.

The laws concerning the removal of tefillin - that the shel rosh is removed before the shel yad - will be discussed later, in chapter 28. And the laws concerning one who takes the tefillin shel rosh out of the bag first, mistakenly puts on the tefillin she rosh first, or for whatever reason can wear only the tefillin shel rosh, will all be discussed in forthcoming issues, BS"D.


Yosef's son Menasheh was the one described in the pasuk as "the man in charge of Yosef's house." He knew full well that the brothers were his uncles. What did he think when his father plotted against him? What went through his mind when his father accused them of spying and arrested Shimon?

What did he think when he was instructed to return their money, to confuse and befuddle them? What did he think when he was ordered to place the silver goblet in Binyamin's bag, understanding full well that the point was to frame the brothers and accuse them of robbery?

The pasuk answers, "He did, like Yosef's word that he spoke." Maharil Diskin zs"l, the "Saraf" of Brisk, explains that Menasheh thought just one thing: my father is greater than me, wiser than me, more righteous than me and more sacred than me. He knows what he's doing and I can only obey! This is the message for all of us, regarding everything. If there is instruction and guidance, if there is clear "da'at Torah," then we must obey unconditionally, as we are promised, "Whoever seeks the counsel of the elders does not fail."


Animals' Tails

Everything Hashem created in His world has a reason and purpose, a unique function and specific utility. This theory proves true regarding every last detail of nature. This principle expresses itself as well in the context of the tails of various creatures. The tail performs various, respectable functions among the different animals. The cow's tail swings incessantly back and forth, sending away the annoying flies in the area. The horse, too, uses his tail primarily for the purpose of driving away flies. Some animals use the tail as a means of defense. The lion, for example, has an exceptionally strong tail, and its whip is therefore quite painful. The tail is of special significance for monkeys, who use their tail literally like a fifth leg. The long tail wraps around a branch of a tree, thus leaving the hands free to grab fruit, clean its fur and the like. In this sense, the monkey resembles the opossum. A mother opossum hangs on a tree and then uses her hands to take care of her young. The kangaroo is capable of actually sitting on its tail so it can use both its front and hind legs for defense. When the kangaroo wants to rest, the tail functions as a comfort-seat. The beaver uses its tail to issue a warning signal. When the enemy approaches, the beaver quickly knocks its tail against the water, producing a warning siren for the rest of the family, who immediately go into hiding. The tail often saves the life of the lizard. When caught by its tail, the lizard simply leaves part of the tail with the aggressor and escapes. Gradually, a new tail grows.

In Hebrew, the words "rosh" and "zanav" (head and tail) also connote the concepts of leadership and following, respectively. Thus evolved the expression, "nihyeh lerosh velo lezanav" - we shall be heads, and not tails.

A person was created in order to be a "head," a leader and source of influence upon the world. And let's face it, who among us does not want to be at the head, in a position of leadership? However, there are instances where an individual's intelligence is expressed specifically when he finds people greater than himself to be his leaders. These are the ones designated by the Almighty to guide the Jew and lead him along the path towards the House of Hashem. To be led by these leaders is far preferable to being a leader to an empty, shallow following, as Hazal instruct us, "Be a tail of lions, rather than a head of foxes." "Lions" here refers to the gedolim of Torah, the true leaders of Am Yisrael.


The Faithful Student (8)

A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk,"
the Story of the Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l

Flashback: An assimilated lawyer, who supported the Polish underground and represented its fighters, was arrested by the Russians and sentenced to two years in prison. Throughout his term in jail, the ssadik Reb Nechumke of Horodna supported his family generously. When the lawyer was released, Reb Nechumke - unaware of his release - came to the home to give the family its money for the week and ask if any further information had arrived. After seeing the ssadik, the lawyer fainted and collapsed. The ssadik bent down and tried to awaken him.

The lawyer sat up, coughing from the liquor that was just thrust into his throat. He slowly hobbled to his feet and took hold of the ssadik's two hands. In between the outbursts of coughs and heavy sighs he managed to utter, "Forgive me, rebbe, please forgive me."

The confused ssadik answered, "I didn't know that you had returned. I am so happy - please, don't be upset. You have already suffered terribly, and now you are so weak that you fainted."

"It was not from fatigue that I fainted," insisted the attorney. "I fainted from embarrassment." He then turned to his wife and said, "Around - let's see - around two and a half years ago, this Jew was in our home, right here in the main room where he stands now. He told us that he was collecting money to support the poor. He told me that he had heard that Hashem blessed me with wealth, and it is therefore appropriate that I donate some of it for the poor. And, I'm embarrassed to say, I responded. I cannot repeat what I said; I uttered awfully harsh words, I threw him out of the house and warned him never to come back. But he returned." By now the respected attorney was wailing and crying like a small child. "He returned to my home in my absence in order to support my family. He came back to pay back goodness for my evil. When I saw him, I simply fainted from embarrassment."

"Okay, enough," muttered the ssadik. "I did not come of my own initiative, but rather as a messenger."

The lawyer immediately became suspicious. Many foes were out there, trying to do him in. "A messenger. of whom? Who sent you here?"

"No one other than the Almighty Himself! He commanded us to walk in His ways - He, too, is merciful and compassionate; He, too, repays us with kindness for our misdeeds. The fact is that He has been kind to you, despite the fact that there are greater ssadikim. Just see to it that when you get 'there' you don't faint again, from shame over all the kindness the Almighty has bestowed upon you."

"You are talking riddles, rebbe," replied the lawyer. "Please tell me how much I owe you for the entire period."

"The money was a gift, and it fulfilled its purpose. If you want, you can give the money to other poor people."

To be continued.


The thanksgiving prayer of "al hanissim" opens by noting the historical period of the miracle: "In the days of Matityah Ben Yohanan, the kohen gadol and Hashmonai, and his sons." Matityah was the elder of the village of Modi'in, who was given the "honor" by the Hellenist to slaughter the pig on the pagan altar. He was the one who heroically stepped up to the improvised altar, took the dagger from his pocket and killed the Hellenist, declaring, "Mi l'Hashem - elai!" - "Who is for Hashem - come to me!" This was Matityah whose five sons led the rebellion and saw great miracles. One of the sons, Elazar, fell in battle, while the others became kings and kohanim gedolim, each one in his turn, thus establishing the Hashmonite dynasty.

Matityah was, however, very old and died already in the beginning of the revolt. His son, Yehudah, led the rebellion under the slogan, "Mi Kamocha B'eilim, Hashem" - "Who is like You among the mighty, Hashem," the sentence that formed the acronym that became his title, Yehudah HaMakabi. The question thus arises, why are the miracles and the period in general associated with the elderly father, who never even saw the miracles? Why do Jews forever more speak of these events as having occurred "in the time of Matityah"?

It would seem that a profound lesson is conveyed through these introductory words of "al hanisim," an eternal lesson for all generations, ours in particular. We can understand the answer to our question through a story that was publicized only recently in a new publication. It occurred around ninety years ago, when a spirit of rebellion and recklessness overcame the youth, a wave of worship to false magicians and meaningless slogans. Some were caught up in communism, others in socialism, still others in nationalism and there were those who got involved in the enlightenment.

None of them dreamed of how these slogans would eventually disappoint their followers, how they would all collapse and disintegrate. In the meantime, these movements earned the enthusiastic involvement of the youth, and their involvement carried with it the scorn and resentment of all that was sacred and precious. They shook themselves from their heritage and severed themselves from the golden chain. The madness made its way even to Radin, the town of the Hafess Hayyim zs"l. Enthusiastic youth established a library stocked with books of heresy. Their minds were not put at ease until they built yet another structure, a social club where they would have presentations renouncing religion and its followers and turning them into a laughing stock.

At that time, the blacksmith's daughter fell critically ill. She suffered from a dangerously high fever and the doctors had given up. They told the concerned father that they saw little chance for her survival. The smith turned to the ssadik and begged tearfully, "Rebbe, please save my little girl!"

The Hafess Hayyim answered, "If you want your daughter to live, go destroy the heretical club, and I promise you a complete recovery."

The smith heard the ssadik's words and hurried home. He took two giant hammers, one in each hand, and went to the club's center. He waved them back and forth forcefully and smashed the walls into smithereens. The young dissidents quickly came and surrounded him, and he turned to them with the fury of wild bear and cried, "Whoever comes near me, I will throw this hammer at him!!" They quickly retreated, and continued his destructive activity unabated. He destroyed the walls, the ceiling, the roof, doors, windows, benches and tables, turning everything into a pile of twigs. The club was destroyed, never to be rebuilt.

Some of the yeshivah students saw what happened and decided to expand the efforts. In the middle of the night, they sneaked out to the library and burned it down, together with all the books espousing heresy and apostasy.

This time, however, the victims took action. They contacted the authorities who conducted an intense investigation. They embarked on a campaign against the forces of darkness who acted in the middle of the night against the champions of progress, and they collected funds from all over the region to rebuild the burnt library. In only a short time, they completed a magnificent building, more lavish than the first, furnished with more heretical works than before.

The Hafess Hayyim's students learned their lesson. Even actions of protest and zealousness require the approval of the gadol hador. Even Pinhas, who avenged the revenge of the Almighty, did not act before receiving the approval of Mosheh Rabbeinu (Sanhedrin 82). It appears that the activity of the religious community in Israel over the last few years proves this point - whoever first consulted with the sages, succeeded. But those who acted zealously but independently, led to an unnecessary struggle and were defeated.

This is the lesson taught us by the introduction - "in the times of Matityah Beh Yohanan, the kohen gadol." If he gave the signal, if he instructed conducting the rebellion, then success was guaranteed!

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael
Classes, send mail to

Jerusalem, Israel