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"Before Them - and Not Before Gentile Courts"
Our sacred Sages drew our attention to the fact that the Torah situated the description of Matan Torah in between two sections dealing with the judicial system. In the first section, immediately preceding Matan Torah, Moshe Rabbenu appointed judges over the people. Then, after Matan Torah, we come to our parashah: “And these are the statutes that you shall place before them.” Hashem commands us to bring every legal issue before judges who rule in accordance with Torah law, rather than courts that adjudicate based on secular law. The Shulhan Aruch prohibits bringing a case before a secular court even if both parties agree. “Whoever comes to be judged before them is considered a ‘rasha,’ as if he blasphemed the Creator who gave us the Torah, and rose up against the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu; he is worthy of excommunication” (Hoshen Mishpat, 26).
The Midrash explains this concept with an analogy to a queen riding through the center of town with the guards of honor riding before and after her. Similarly, the Torah is the queen, while the authorities who rule according to Torah law and the litigants who come to here the halachah are the “guards of honor” for the Torah!
Our rabbi, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a, urges everyone to turn in all cases to a religious Bet Din for a hearing of Torah law. This constitutes a sanctification of Hashem’s Name and a display of honor to the Torah. May Hashem grant his words of guidance widespread affect, for the honor of the Torah and the Giver of the Torah, as the prophet admonishes, “Is it that there is no G-d in Yisrael, that you go consult the gentiles’ laws?”
This Shabbat, “Shabbat Parashat Shekalim,” we will read in the Torah about the obligation upon everyone from Yisrael to donate the “half-shekel.” During the building of the mishkan, these coins were used for the casting of the silver sockets that formed the base of the mishkan. Into these sockets were placed the “kerashim,” the enormous beams from which the sacred structure was built. Then, each year Benei Yisrael would give this amount that went towards the purchase of the communal sacrifices offered in the Bet Hamikdash - the daily sacrifices and the “mussaf” offerings on Shabbat and festivals. Next Shabbat, we will hear the special reading of “Parashat Zachor,” whose reading constitutes a Biblical obligation, the requirement to eradicate the memory of Amalek, the wicked nation descending from Esav. Benei Yisrael, commanded explicitly not to initiate hostilities against Amalek, posed no threat whatsoever to this nation. Yet, Amalek enthusiastically traveled the distance from the Negev until the edge of the Sinai desert to wage war against Hashem’s nation, who were surrounded by miracles and enveloped by wonders and supernatural protection. This war was waged entirely against the pure, exalted spirituality, it represented the abyss of evil and wickedness. Although Sanheriv rearranged the nations of his time such that we can no longer identify the descendants of Amalek, the Creator has promised us that “I will surely eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens” (Shemot 17:18). If we do our part, remembering the obligation to wage war against evil and its proponents, then the Creator will Himself wage war against it and destroy it. All evil will go up in smoke, and Hashem’s Glory will fill the earth, speedily and in our times, Amen.
For good reason Hazal instituted that we read “Parashat Shekalim” before “Parashat Zachor,” which itself is read on the Shabbat immediately preceding Purim, when we commemorate the victory over Haman. Haman had plotted to destroy and annihilate the Jewish people and offered in exchange ten thousand “kikar” of silver. Tosafot (Megilah 16a) write, “I have heard that ten thousand ‘kikar’ of silver amounts to a half-shekel for each member of Yisrael, who numbered 600,000 when they left Egypt. Haman told Ahashverosh that he will pay their entire ransom.” (These comments are explained by the Hizkuni to Shemot 30:14 and the Bah there on the Gemara. An additional explanation appears in the “Hiddushei Yabess” based on Rabbenu Behayei to Shemot 38:25). Our half-shekels overcame the ten thousand “kikar” of Haman; his scheme was foiled and his intentions became null and void - so may all the enemies of Hashem and His nation be destroyed!
We must, however, understand, what is the meaning behind this half-shekel required of every Jew, rich and poor alike? How does it undermine the efforts of Haman and his wicked plot? How do these coins protect us? And in our day, when the service of the Bet Hamikdash has yet to be restored, our commemorative reading of the parashah is considered like the donation of the shekels and protects us from the evil of Amalek and the plots of our enemies in every generation!
In order to understand how this works, let us first consider the misvah of destroying Amalek “from man until woman, from weaned children to nursing babies” (Shemuel I 15:3). The Alshich Hakadosh zs” l has taught us that just as the sadikim serve as the “chariot of the Shechinah,” so does the Satan select its representatives to serve as the “chariot” of impurity, evil, sin and the desire to uproot all that is sacred. The Creator, who created man and knows the hearts and feelings of every human being, has informed us that there exists a nation that has turned itself in its entirety, its very core and essence, into a “chariot” for the Satan - every man, woman and child. Just as one must sever a diseased limb in order to save the rest of the patient’s body, so must we destroy the memory of Amalek in order for evil to disappear and sanctity to abound. Tragically, Sanheriv rearranged the nations, resulting in Amalek’s assimilation into the entire world. Is there any wonder that the nations have resorted to moral corruption, the blindness of heresy and hatred of Jews - be it concealed or overt?
In corresponding opposition thereto, there is one nation that belongs entirely to Hashem, serving as the “chariot” of the Shechinah - all men, women and children. Every Jew is sacred from the womb, a treasured nation from all others, each soul is hewn from the heavens above, a part of the Al-mighty Himself, believers, children of believers, humble, compassionate and performers of kindness. This is the basis and foundation of every Jew, upon which he builds the mishkan for Hashem. Herein lies the underlying meaning of the donation of the shekels for the sockets of the mishkan (Shemot 38:27) and the communal sacrifices purchased by the funds of the entire nation - rich and poor alike. Each Jew bears the torch of faith, the coal of the heritage that needs just to be ignited until it becomes a large, shining flame, upon which he builds his mishkan and brings his sacrifices of devotion to his Creator.
This is the sacred work of our great rabbi Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit”a, who descends from the mountain to the nation to bring them back up with him, to ignite the fire of religion and build Hashem’s Mikdash on the foundations of faith. Y
Our parashah opens with the words, “And these are the statutes that you shall place before them.”
“Before them” - before whom? Hazal explain this as a reference to the judges, whom the Torah mentions later in the parashah (21:6; 22:7, as Tosafot explain in Gittin 88b). The Or Hahayyim Hakadosh, however, suggests a most original interpretation: “that you shall place before them” - before everyone among Yisrael, before each individual. The question, though, arises, what purpose does this introduction serve? After all, every misvah was taught to all of Benei Yisrael. Yet, we never find such an introduction to the misvah of Shabbat, for example, or the prohibition of taking interest. Obviously - all commandments in the Torah were said to all Yisrael!
We must conclude that the opening section in the parashah, the law of the indentured servant, for some reason requires such an introduction. The Or Hahayyim Hakadosh explains that in their times servants were sold into their master’s service for a lifetime of hard, backbreaking labor. (Let us remember that until just two hundred years ago slavery was legal in the United States and North Africa, and even today it continues in some parts of the world, legally or otherwise.) Therefore, when the Creator came and restricted the years of servitude to six, with incredible social conditions - “Purchasing an indentured servant is like purchasing a master for oneself” - including a prohibition against forcing difficult labor upon him, many would likely complain about the new limitations regarding the servant purchased with their own hard-earned money, restrictions never before known to the world of slavery. In fact, not too long ago they themselves worked as slaves in Egypt, suffering from oppressive treatment and forced to perform arduous labor. There they would have remained if not for Hashem’s supernatural intervention with miraculous plagues. The Creator therefore introduced this commandment with the instruction, “And these are the statutes that you shall place - before them” Meaning, tell them that no one is certain of his future, no one knows what will befall him the next day. Life turns like a wheel, money is transferred from hand to hand and fortunes change owners in an instant. A wealthy, arrogant master may suddenly find himself with nothing but heavy debts, at which point he will plead for someone to buy him as a servant to allow him to support his family. Only then will he thank the Al-mighty for limiting the term of service and requiring masters to treat their servants with dignity and respect.
“These are the statutes that you shall place - before them.” They themselves, each and every individual, may in the future stand to gain from the Torah’s favorable treatment of the indentured servant...
If only certain leaders had this perspective in mind, history would look far different. If only the departing Prime Minister would not have reacted with such arrogant scorn to the request that he preserve the honor of Shabbat and have the utility trucks ride on a day other than Shabbat, he would have avoided the first crack in his government. If he would not have challenged the sacred movement and the glorious Torah education network, he could have stood today as head of a strong, stable government. If he would not have so pompously ignored the clear signals of the new Prime Minister to join the government, he would have now stood as head of the strongest government in the history of the State. If only, if only. But he never considered the possibility of such a sudden turn of events, he never realized that the situation is so delicate, fragile, temporary and unstable.
But why should we confess the sins of others? What about us - have we internalized this awareness that life can change in an instant, that a day will come - perhaps in the distant future - when we will receive our reward for every misvah, as Gehinnom burns in preparation for the sinners - and the power of teshuvah is so great?
Despite the size of the hedgehog, which reaches all of about thirty centimeters, and its being a tiny mammal that feeds off insects, nevertheless, when it rolls itself into a thorny ball when confronted by danger, it can scare away even giant, powerful animals such as the leopard. When a hedgehog senses fear, it quickly rolls up, the skin of its neck covering its small head, and the entire hedgehog continues rolling such that all its vulnerable body parts are well protected - even when turned on its back. The hedgehog folds up in proportion to its level of fear. Meaning, when it senses a small risk, it conceals only part of its head with its thorn covering. When it is terrified, it can remain completely closed for several hours. The hedgehog’s thorns are basically hollow, pipe-like tubes with reinforcements along the inner walls, such that they have a strong but light structure. They become very sharp and narrow at the end, and the round base of each thorn is concealed within the hedgehog’s skin, which allows the thorn to turn around a hinge. It stiffens, or becomes firmly attached to the skin, through the operation of a pair of opposing muscles. The thorns stiffen, as stated, when danger confronts the hedgehog. When this happens, a thick strip of muscles that runs along the length of the tiny creature’s body contracts and turns it into a tightly wrapped ball, which even the strongest animals would have difficulty cracking. Another amazing thing about the hedgehog is its capability of eating poisonous creatures without harm. It can eat toads, scorpions and even small snakes. Researchers have found a most unusual phenomenon while observing hedgehogs: after finishing its consumption of any poisonous animal, it expels from its mouth a foamy saliva containing the venom and smears it onto its thorns. After eating a non-poisonous creature, it does not smear the expelled substance onto its thorns.
A hedgehog wrapped in venom-covered thorns can feel safe even in the presence of dangerous animals of prey. One might have thought, then, that a hedgehog has no reason to fear for its life. The fact is, though, that its unique defense mechanism notwithstanding, the hedgehog must still exercise caution and keep its thorns upright to intimidate potential foes. How remarkable it is that even in Jewish life we find a similar phenomenon. Although Am Yisrael is a sacred nation well grounded in merits from our patriarchs, bound through a covenant to the Al-mighty, who, in His infinite mercy, protects us from our enemies, nevertheless, “Fortunate is the one who fears at all times.” A Jew must feel concerned about his qualities, the quality of his prayers, and his meticulous observance of the misvot, and never rely on the merits of his forefathers.
The Scorpion's Bite (8)
Flashback: The heretic who sinned and led others to sin through his venomous publications ultimately repented and felt remorseful for what he had done. He confessed before his death in the presence of his daughter and son-in-law. He told that his father was involved in a bitter dispute that was conducted for the sincere sake of Heaven between two leading Torah giants in the city of Altuna. He had written a scathing publication denouncing one of the rabbis, and the book was released on the same day of the berit of his son, who now tells the story. Those involved in the controversy saw this coincidence as a positive omen, and his rabbi joined in their blessing that when the baby grows up he will follow in his father's ways. He added that the merit of the new publication will stand behind the child and illuminate his ways throughout his life. When the second rabbi - against whom the work was written - heard about all this, he replied that he, too, joins the blessing.
And so the baby grew and upon reaching early adulthood, a wave of cynicism overtook him and he scorned all that is sacred. It was this tendency that led him to commit terrible crimes as a schoolteacher. After being caught and exposed, he left misvah observance entirely, finding refuge with the missionaries and converting out of the faith. With the fire of resentment burning inside him, he wrote the venomous work of incitement, which was filled with lies and words of total ignorance. He delighted over the poison dripping from his pen and rejoiced over the storm resulting from his publication. In his heart-of-hearts he knew the source of his rebellious emotions - the cynicism and love of destruction, controversy and discord. These were the fruits of his father’s bitter campaign against a sadik who was accused for no reason, the war that was plagued by impropriety and joy over controversy. This was the result of the blessing he received on the day of the publication of the book, “The Scorpion’s Bite,” the blessing of the zealous rabbi who was the only one whose intentions were pure, even though he had been mistaken. The berachah was therefore fulfilled, the berachah to which the accused rabbi joined, that the book’s merit will stand behind the child throughout his life...
Now, at the end of his life, the penitent man whispered, “I know, my children, that there is no justification for what I did. Every person is granted the choice between right and wrong, and I should have fought with all my might against this poison that had been injected in me, rather than becoming addicted! However, this background could perhaps serve as a basis for merit and to soften my punishment. I am now about to depart from you and rise to the heavens to stand trial. I fear the judgment that I will face, the possible sentence of Gehinnom. Therefore, my daughter, please go to one of the righteous men of the generation and tell him all this so that he may pray on behalf of my sinful soul - that it be cleansed mercifully and become perfected.” He finished speaking, and his soul departed.
The woman - the heretic’s daughter - finished her story, and silence overcame the room. The rabbi finally said, “The sin is to heavy to bear. There is no greater sin than desecrating the Name of Hashem and leading masses of people to sin”...
“But,” added the rabbi, “Rabbenu Yonah writes in Sha’arei Teshuvah that even such a sin can be corrected through the reverse - the sanctification of Hashem’s Name and bringing merits upon masses of people. Therefore, if this story becomes publicized and people will realize how terrible controversy and discord are, how critical it is to flee from them - like from fire - especially when this involves the defamation of Torah scholars, and that if one brings his head in between two giant mountains, even should his intentions be for the sake of Heaven, but he is plagued by bad qualities and love for argumentation - he will be punished severely for generations - if people will learn this lesson from this story, then his sin can be corrected.
It would appear that this story has never been publicized so widely as it has here. One who learns the lesson and distances himself from the filth of controversy will do himself an enormous service, and will also assist that tormented soul achieve eternal correction.
"And these are the statutes that you shall place before them"
Hazal understood “before them” to mean that we my not bring our legal cases to secular courts (Gittin 88). Rashi there explains that “before them” refers to the seventy scholars of the Sanhedrin who stood on Har Sinai near Moshe and Aharon before Matan Torah (Shemot 24:1).
Rabbenu Bahya zs”l explains “that whoever leaves the laws of Yisrael and consults secular courts who rule not in accordance with Torah law - this is a sin that is more severe than many sins, for from its root branches of major sins will multiply and reproduce. Also, on its account we find inestimable damage and innumerable stumbling blocks.”
He writes that the severity of murder is well known to all, that whoever destroys a single life is considered as having destroyed an entire world. Yet, as terrible a sin this is, the murderer has the opportunity for repentance. Theft, by contrast, cannot be atoned for through repentance alone; he must return the stolen goods. And a litigant who wins a case adjudicated in a secular court has stolen money in his possession. This money will prosecute against him and seal his harsh decree!
Furthermore, desecrating Hashem’s Name is the most severe of all sins, as it cannot be atoned for except through death (Yoma 86). One who abandons Torah law and goes to stand trial in a secular court “certainly desecrates Hashem’s Name and bestows honor upon others; he shows respect for the secular legal system, affording it preference. This is what David Hamelech said (Tehillim 16:4), “Those who espouse another [god] may have many sorrows!” referring to those who leave behind the word of the Creator and give tribute to another legal system!’ Everyone must take his litigant first to a Bet Din, and if he refuses, the judges of the Bet Din will grant a referral to the secular courts.
“And these are the statutes that you shall place before them”
The Or Hahayyim Hakadosh zs”l explains “before them” to mean before each and every member of Am Yisrael. This introduction was necessary specifically for the laws of servants, damages and watchmen appearing in the parashah. The reason is that while many misvot require familiarity by everyone - such as Shabbat & Yom Tov, tefilah, and kashrut, others will not result in widespread violations should certain segments of the population be ignorant in their regard. Examples of this second category are the procedure for establishing the new month and the service in the Bet Hamikdash. The Torah therefore emphasizes that the laws of indentured servants - when they apply - and the responsibility to pay for damages and of appointed watchmen are directly relevant to all people. Many transgressions will result if people do not become familiar with these laws.
The story is told of a young man with exemplary yirat Shamayim who came before Rabbi Yisrael of Salant zs”l, founder of the “mussar” movement. He told him that he is involved in the “shehitah” industry and now wishes to leave his trade out of his fear of sin, the heavy burden of responsibility resting on his shoulders. He fears that he may not have the proper concentration while checking the knife and will overlook a nick. As a result of his error, he feared, many people will be eating non-kosher meat. Or perhaps he will mistakenly consider valid a lung with an abrasion that should render the animal a “terefah.”
The rabbi heard his comments and said, “Okay, but you have a family - how will you support them?”
The man replied, “I am prepared to work in business, so long as I can save myself from the possibility of committing sins!”
Rabbi Yisrael answered, “You should hear what you are saying! You are running away from the responsibility of ‘shehitah,’ which has the potential for one sin, and you escape to business, where you run the risk of violating ‘lo tignov’ and ‘lo tigzol’ [two violations of theft], as well as the prohibitions of coveting, withholding payment, charging unfairly, lying, the positive and negative commandments involving accurate weights and measures, as well as many others. You are running out of the frying pan into the fire!”
Certainly, then, if one does not even know all the relevant prohibitions, rules and guidelines, how likely it is that he will transgress these prohibitions!
Rav Hayyim Di La Rosa zs"l
“Supremely sacred, among the chosen of Providence, who merited in his lifetime divine, awesome and exalted qualities.” There are the words used to describe the sacred sage, Rav Haim Di La Rosa [how amazing it is, that Hashem’s Name of H-V-Y-H is woven into the sadik’s name!], among the frequenters of the sacred Rashash zs”l and a friend of the Hid”a zs”l in the sacred city of the Mikdash, may it be rebuilt speedily and in our days.
During that time, the Kabbalist Rabbi Shelomoh Molcho zs”l earned both “tables,” of Torah and wealth. He became the patron and supporter of the scholars of Yerushalayim and the yeshivah of the Kabbalists, led by Rav Shalom Sharabi zs”l. Among the highest ranking students in the yeshivah was Rabbi Haim Di La Rosa. He turned to Rav Haim and asked how he could help him, as doing so would be considered a great privilege.
In his letter written in response, Rav Haim mentioned his severe poverty, that he studied along “the path of Torah,” eating bread with salt and rationed water. He suffered terribly from physical pain and illness, yet he never complained except over the disruption these pains cause of his joy of Shabbat. He was content over his lot and never complained about his misfortunes, knowing that “the reward is in proportion to the pain,” and a single misvah performed with difficulty is greater than one hundred done easily.
So what did he request from the respected philanthropist, who loved Torah and sought to further its cause? He had one request: that he agree to send him a watch. Not a fancy, expensive or sophisticated watch, but rather a cheap, simple watch - for even that he could not afford.
And why did he need a watch? In order to know the precise time for the recitation of “Tikkun Hassot,” when Hashem readily accepts prayers over the exile of the Shechinah, for its rise from the dust and the redemption.
A Series of Halachot
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The Prohibition of Hanging Tefillin and Other Sacred Articles
One may not hang tefillin on a hook, whether he hangs the box on the hook with the straps hanging down or if he hangs the straps on the hook with the boxes hanging down, whereas this is considered disrespectful to the tefillin. One may, however, place his tefillin in their bag and hang the bag on a hook.
This prohibition against hanging tefillin applies even when he holds the tefillin in his hand without hanging them on a hook, whether he holds the straps in his hand such that the boxes hang down, or if he holds the boxes such that the straps hang down.
If it is only for a moment, then one may hold the tefillin box in his hand even though the straps hang down. However, holding the straps such that the box hangs down is prohibited even for a moment.
Some authorities maintain that while putting on the tefillin shel rosh one may hold the straps in his hand in order to place the tefillin box on his head, even if this involves having the box hang down. Others, however, are stringent even when putting on the tefillin shel rosh, that even then one may not hold the straps such that the box is suspended. One should rather hold the box in his hand. One who finds it difficult to put on the tefillin shel rosh without holding the straps in his hand may rely on the lenient position.
It is forbidden to hang a Sefer Torah on a hook, even if the Sefer is in a covering or encasement.
One may, however, be lenient if he places the Sefer Torah in the aron kodesh even if the aron kodesh does not rest on the ground but is rather suspended from hooks on the wall, so long as the aron is firmly attached to the hooks such that it does not sway back and forth.
One should be stringent regarding siddurim with a binding and a silver chain emerging from them not to hang them on a hook by the chain. Although they are covered by a binding, nevertheless since the binding is attached to the siddur we consider it for this purpose as part of the siddur.
One may print or photocopy pesukim onto a piece of paper or parchment and hang them on a wall in the Bet Kenesset. One should not, however, write pesukim by hand in “ketav Ashurit” - the writing used for Sefer Torah, tefillin and mezuzot. If, however, one did so, he may hang his writing on the wall in the Bet Kenesset.
Eating and Drinking While Wearing Tefillin
One may eat a snack while wearing tefillin. A “snack” here refers to a quantity up until a “kebesah” (around 54 grams) of bread, cake or dish made from the five grains.
The consumption of other foods, such as fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other dishes not made from the five grains, is considered a “snack” for the purposes of this halachah, even if more than a “kebesah” is eaten. One may also drink tea, coffee or other light drinks while wearing tefillin.
In any event, however, given the prohibition of distracting one’s attention from the tefillin while wearing them, one who finishes his tefilah and does not plan on sitting to study Torah at that point should preferably remove his tefillin before eating even a snack.
One may not eat a meal while wearing tefillin as we are concerned lest he drink and become intoxicated during the meal, resulting in a disgrace for the tefillin. A “meal” in this context refers to consumption of more than a “kebesah” (around 54 grams) of bread, cake or dish made from the five grains.
When one sits down for a meal he should remove his tefillin and place them on the table in order that they be readily available for him as soon as he completes his meal.
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
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