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We read in our parashah about birkat kohanim, the berachah with which the kohanim bless the nation. The Yerushalmi states that since the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, there is no day whose curse does not exceed that of the previous day. But what prevents calamity from occurring? Birkat kohanim! In a well-known passage, the Sefer Haredim writes that just as there is a misvah for the kohanim to bless, so is there a misvah on Benei Yisrael to receive this blessing. Our kind, loving Father wishes for us to receive His blessings so that He can bestow His goodness upon us.
When the kohanim conclude their blessing, they turn to the aron kodesh and say, "Master of the world, we have done that which You decreed upon us… " "That which You decreed upon us"?! Did they recited this berachah against their will? Did they not recite a berachah thanking Hashem for this misvah, "to bless His nation, Yisrael, with love" - do not "love" and "decree" represent contradictory components within this misvah?
A surprising answer was suggested by the Or Sameah zs"l. Indeed, the berachah was recited with love, but afterwards they declare an apology of sorts. For what? In order to bless the nation, the kohanim turned around such that their backs faced the aron kodesh. The kohanim thus "excuse themselves" by saying that they were compelled to do this by force of the divine decree, and therefore immediately upon completing their berachah they once again turn around to face the aron kodesh.
Indeed, the Shulhan Aruch (282:1) rules that one may not turn his back to the Sefer Torah. For further elaboration on this issue, see the comments by Rav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a in Yehaveh Da'at vol. 3, 19. Even when one leaves the Bet Kenesset he should not turn his back to the ark where the Sefer Torah is situated, as ruled by the Magen Avraham (end of 132).
Now, dear brothers, let us consider the critical message that emerges from this halachah. We walk through the gates of the Bet Kenesset for prayer and through the gates of the Bet Midrash for Torah study. But when we leave, we may not turn our backs. If we must, like the kohanim, then we must feel - as they do - a sense of uneasiness. We must excuse ourselves, as they do, and the moment the opportunity presents itself, as soon as we can, we must once again face the aron kodesh and refocus our attention on the sacred Torah!
"Hashem shall bless you and protect you"
The Midrash comments that "Hashem shall bless you" refers to the blessing of wealth, while "and protect you" means that the individual shall use his wealth for the performance of misvot. In Hebrew, coins are called "zuzim," a word which comes from the root, "zaz," or move. This term describes money because it is moved, or transferred, from one hand to the next; it is here today and gone tomorrow. Either the money leaves the person, or the person leaves his money… Only one type of wealth remains in a person's possession, with guaranteed protection: the money he invested in the performance of misvot, to give to the poor and with which to honor Shabbat. This is the sole protection of one's money and the ultimate blessing. (See Rashi, Kohelet 6:2.)
The Midrash also states: "Hashem shall bless you" refers to possessions, and "and protect you" refers to physical health, just as Yaakov Avinu requested that Hashem give him food to eat and clothing to wear. A popular saying goes: in one's youth one sacrifices his health to earn money, and later he spends money to restore his health. Thus, the complete berachah is that one should have many possessions without having to sacrifice his health.
"Hashem shall bless you and protect you"
The Midrash also interprets "Hashem shall bless you" as a reference to money and "and protect you" as speaking of protection against harmful spirits. A surprising explanation of this Midrash was suggested by Rav Yosef Hayyim zs"l, based on the story told in the Gemara of a person who rushed to catch a boat to do business in a distant land. As he ran, a nail pierced his foot. Unable to continue, he had to stay behind and treat his injured foot, while the ship set sail. The man was terribly disturbed over his foiled plans and the fortune he would never earn as a result of this mishap. He later heard that the boat drowned at sea, and he immediately offered praise and thanks to the Al-mighty for inflicting the wound that prevented him from boarding the doomed ship. We must therefore thank Hashem for the troubles we encounter which, in the end, turn out to have occurred for our benefit.
In birkat kohanim, however, we are blessed that Hashem will bless us while protecting us from harm, meaning, that the blessing will not come through pain and damage, but will rather be perfect in every way.
"Hashem shall bless you and protect you"
The Or Hahayyim Hakadosh zs"l commented that a poor man living in a run-down shack, without any furniture or possessions, will not protect his home; he probably would not even lock his door. There is a well-known story of a poor man who heard noises in the middle of the night, the sounds of a thief who had broken into his home. The man announced, "It is good that you came; let us search together, and perhaps between the two of us we might find something… " The more wealth one amasses, however, the more he must protect his belongings, starting from a simple door lock and down to a complex alarm system. This is the berachah of this pasuk - that Hashem should bless you to the point where you need protection!
The same can be said regarding spirituality. "Whoever is greater than his friend - his evil inclination is greater," there is greater danger threatening him, for the success of the evil inclination is much greater if he can overcome the righteous one. A story is told of a prominent physician who expressed to the Penei Menahem zs"l of Gur his wonder as to why the yeshivah students are so shaken by the forbidden things that go on in the hospital. He can personally attest that these forbidden sights have no effect on him whatsoever! The Penei Menahem replied with an analogy: "When a pebble gets into my shoe, I cannot walk; yet, the Bedouins walk barefoot on rough turf exposed to the scorching hot sun. They feel neither the sharp rocks nor the seething heat. Would you remove your shoes and prefer to walk like a Bedouin? Of course not! Similarly, you must understand that the more a person loses his spiritual sensitivity, he deserves more compassion… "
As we know, the Zohar on Parashat Naso is longer than the Zohar on any other parashah of the Torah. The Hiddushei Ha'rim zs"l explained that this is because we read this parashah on the first Shabbat after Shavuot, the festival of Matan Torah, and our understanding flows forth with extra vigor on this Shabbat. This is especially true this year, when Shabbat Parashat Naso occurs (in Israel) on the day following Shavuot.
In light of this, let us, too, search in this parashah for the message that the Creator conveys to us on the Shabbat immediately following the festival of Matan Torah, after fifty days of counting and three days of preparation, after the sublime experience of Matan Torah, after the commandment of, "return to your tents" - to return to our daily routine.
The message is embodied in the parashah of nezirut, which appears in this parashah. One who wishes to sanctify himself, to elevate himself, to remain on his high level, what does he do? We heard of "nazirites" in other cultures. They close themselves off in their temples and monasteries, they spend their time in solitude and abstinence, detachment from society and self-affliction. But this is not the way of truth; this is not how the Torah instructs us to live our lives. You want to become sanctified, to become a "nazir"? Do not drink wine, do not come in contact with dead bodies, and do not cut your hair. That's it. You need not separate yourself from family life, from your occupation or from society. You need not go into isolation or afflict yourself, but rather lift yourself up a bit from the ground.
This is an important message for every one of us, as well as a demand. We need not change our lifestyle in drastic fashion, but rather every time take upon ourselves just a few measures - another Torah class during the week, to recite birkat hamazon from a siddur…
The Rishon Le'ssiyon, the "Marpei" zs"l
Rabbi Refael Meir Panizil zs"l was born in Bulgaria in the year 5564, and at the age of three his family emigrated to Yerushalayim. His father passed away when he was but fifteen years of age, but his poverty and destitution did not take him away from the world of Torah study. Already within ten years he emerged as among the top students in the holy city and was selected to represent it and collect funds in the Diaspora. In Rome he was asked to settle a dispute that had erupted in the community as to whether they should preserve the accepted pronunciation of the text of the prayers even when it does not follow grammatical rules. He ruled that the traditional pronunciation should not be changed, even if it violated grammatical guidelines. His ruling was accepted and the Pope allowed him to see the archives in the Vatican as an statement of gratitude for the peace he brought to the divided community.
He arrived in Tunis during a particularly harsh drought. The local rabbis therefore requested that he pray for rain. Even before he completed hi prayers, the skies opened and heavy rain began pouring from the heavens. This caused a great kiddush Hashem, and the governor invited him and the community leader, the prominent Nissim Shemamah. As a sign of admiration the governor gave him a cloak woven as royal garb and permitted him to ride on a horse in the country's streets, something that was forbidden for Jews as part of the Pact of Omar, which was meant to denigrate the Jewish population. Additionally, the king ordered an armed escort to accompany the rabbi throughout his travels in the country to protect him from bandits and serve as a sign of honor and reverence.
When the Rishon Le'ssiyon and Hacham Bashi, Rabbi Avraham Ashkenazi zs"l, passed away on 9 Shevat 5608, the title was given to the "Marpei." He served in this capacity for thirteen years, until his death on 13 Tevet 5653, and he was succeeded by Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Elisher zs"l, whose son, the Rishon L'ssiyon Rabbi Haim Moshe Elisher zs"l, had married the only daughter of the Marpei. The Marpei left behind his work, "Lev Marpei" which consists of principles of halachah, responsa, and "derush."
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of Baking and Cooking on Shabbat
Activities Which Violate the Prohibition of Baking and Cooking on Shabbat
Baking or cooking constitutes one of the thirty-nine "melachot," or forbidden activities, of Shabbat. Any action that prepares raw food for consumption through the heat of fire or heat produced by fire violates this prohibition.
The melachot of cooking and baking stand independent of the melachah of lighting a fire. Therefore, even if a fire was lit before Shabbat, placing food on it during Shabbat to cook violates the Torah prohibition of cooking on Shabbat.
One violates this prohibition by baking bread, cooking food, boiling ingredients for dyes, roasting food, or frying food.
With respect to the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat, we must distinguish between different types of utensils:
. A "keli rishon" is a utensil in which food was cooked over a flame. Even after it has been removed from the fire, it is considered capable of cooking so long as it retains heat at the level of "yad soledet bo" (where one's hand would immediately recoil on contact).
. "Iruy," or pouring, from a keli rishon onto food is considered capable of cooking the food for purposes of this prohibition.
. A "keli sheni" is a utensil into which cooked food was poured from a keli rishon. Under certain circumstances, a keli sheni is capable of cooking, as well.
. "Iruy" from a keli sheni generally does not cook the food onto which the contents of the keli sheni are poured. In certain cases, however, such as when dealing with "kalei ha'bishul" - items considered particularly easy to cook - even pouring from a keli sheni can be capable of cooking.
"Cooking" Already Cooked Food ("Bishul Ahar Bishul")
For purposes of the laws of cooking on Shabbat we must also distinguish between raw food and food that had already undergone the process of cooking. With regard to this latter group, a distinction exists between dry food and liquids.
Edible Raw Food
One may not cook food even if it can be eaten raw. Therefore, one may not warm water or milk or other beverages on Shabbat, even though they can be drunk cold. Similarly, it is forbidden to cook fruits or vegetables on Shabbat, even those that can be eaten raw.
Heating Non-Food Items on Shabbat
One may not smelt metals on Shabbat, nor may one heat wax, fat or tar on Shabbat in order to melt them. One who does so has violated a Torah violation.
Miriam was Moshe's older sister. She was a prophetess, and even before Moshe's birth she predicted the birth of the savior of Israel. She was the one who brought Moshe's mother to nurse him after he was discovered by Pharaoh's daughter. She was a righteous woman, and in her merit a well produced water for Benei Yisrael for forty years. For whom, if not her, is it permissible to offer criticism of conduct she deemed inappropriate, to wonder as to why Moshe conducted himself with a level of abstinence that the sacred patriarchs, Avraham, Yis’hak and Yaakov, never practiced, thus casting aspersions on their level of prophecy? She spoke sincerely and innocently, seeking an explanation from her brother, asking that he clarify his conduct or change it. All this is explicated in the commentary of the Or Hahayyim Hakadosh. Yet, she was punished severely, stricken with "sara'at," a skin disease deemed comparable to death. Why? Hashem explained: "Why did you not fear speaking against My servant, Moshe?" Rashi comments, "He is My servant, and the king's servant is like the king. You should have said, 'The King does not love him for no reason'!" The Or Hahayyim adds: "They should have speculated that he stands in service of Hashem, and if he would do wrong Hashem would not accept him. It thus turns out that they spoke against Hashem, who agreed with his conduct."
We can only wonder: clearly, the King does not love him for no reason! He was, after all, the servant of Hashem, the loyal shepherd of his nation, sacred and pure, the one who brought us the Torah. This is why Hashem loved him. But nevertheless, perhaps there was some room for improvement, perhaps there was something lacking that could have been corrected?
The answer is clear: if Hashem loved him, then that alone testifies to his completeness, that itself is a sign of his total righteousness that has no blemish!
The Torah is eternal as are its messages, and they are relevant in every generation. "There is no generation where there is no one like Moshe" (Beresheet Rabbah 56:7). "The influence of Moshe spreads in every generation and in every sadik" (Tikkunei Zohar 114a). The leader of the generation is called, "Moshe" (Rashi, Sukkah 39a). The leader of the generation has divine assistance and possesses genuine Torah authority. The sages and leaders of every generation were determined already long ago (Sanhedrin 38b). When we see with our own eyes that the gadol ha'dor has earned such immense grace from the heavens, such that Hashem brings success to whatever he does, like Moshe, then we see that the gates of wisdom have been opened before him and Hashem is with him (Sanhedrin 93b). We are all astounded by the incredible memory of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, who has expertise in all areas of the Torah and forgets nothing. As we know from the Gemara (Megillah 6b), the retention of information is brought about through special divine assistance.
And the King does not love him for no reason!
"The true Torah was in his mouth, and nothing perverse was on his lips; he served Me with complete loyalty and brought many back from iniquity - for the lips of a kohen guard knowledge and men seek rulings from his mouth, for he is an angel of Hashem Seva-ot" (Malachi 2:5-6). This pasuk, which describes "the rabbi that resembles an angel" (Hagigah 15b), can easily be applied to our great rabbi, who has restored the glory of Sephardic Jewry and has returned many from sin, having led the great revolution bringing throngs of Jews back to their tradition. He founded the Torah educational network that operates throughout Israel, the "El Hama'yan" network of Torah classes, innumerable Torah youth groups, the "Benei Hayil" youth movement, the promotion of family purity through the "Margalit Em Be'Yisrael" organization, the "Ma'ayanei Hahityashvut" network of kollelim and so much more. There is no one more beloved before the Al-mighty than he who brings merit to the public. Who has brought more merit to the public than he? Who is more beloved before the Al-mighty than he?
He has done us a tremendous service by publishing his works on halachah - "Yabi'a Omer," "Yehaveh Da'at," "Ma'or Yisrael," "Hazon Ovadia," "Taharat Habayit" and so many others. May his fountains continue to gush forth, that he may provide water for those who thirst for his kindness, Torah and guidance. May Hashem lengthen his days and years that he may see the fruit of his efforts, with the return of the entire nation to its spiritual source, as Hashem restores the exile of His nation, speedily and in our days, Amen!
We are currently in the middle of the month of Sivan, whose "mazal" (constellation) is the "te'umim" - the twins. It is interesting to note that the astrological signs of the months all come in single units - the scorpion, the archer, the goat, the water carrier, the bull, the ram, the crab, and the lion - with the exception of three: the fish in Adar, the twins in Sivan, and the scales in Tishrei. In truth, however, even these constitute but single elements: the multiple fish correspond to the two months of Adar in a leap year, and the scales essentially comprise a single instrument, despite the plural form generally used to describe it; the two weights on either end are but components within a single entity. The same is true of the twins of Sivan, for twins constitute one integrated being: "These twins - when one's head aches, the other feels it" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:3).
What do these twins represent? The Zohar Hakadosh (vol. 2, 78b) writes that they symbolize the written and oral Torah. The two are integrally connected with one another; one cannot exist independent of the other. Furthermore, it was in this month when we became Hashem's nation, who testified that "I am with them in distress." When we experience hardship, the Al-mighty feels our pain, as it were (Shir Hashirim Rabbah, ibid.). When we earn His redemption, He will celebrate with us, as it were. David Hamelech alluded to this concept when he said, "My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation"; "We will exult in Your salvation" (Midrash Shohar Tov, 13). This is our distress over the exile of the Shechinah: like twins, every sin causes pain to our souls and to the Shechinah, whereas every misvah brings joy both here and there! What an immense burden of responsibility thus rests on our shoulders, how careful must we be to avoid bringing distress, as it were, to our Father and King, thereby repaying kindness with evil, Heaven forbid!
The Giant Toad
Until around sixty years ago, the giant toads lived peacefully in the warmer climates on the American continent, bothering no one. But then someone decided that it is possible and even worthwhile to use them in other locations. These toads were thus exported to Australia with the idea that the they would eat harmful pests and thereby assist in growing sugar canes. But, as we know, "There are many thoughts in the heart of man… " This was a particularly grave error; the local residents did not know what to do, how to return the toads to their land of origin. The giant toad reaches twenty centimeters in length and 1.5 kilograms in weight. According to the reports of local inhabitants, these toads produce sounds like those of a tractor. They are large, fruitful, and awfully disruptive. Even tourists could not enjoy the areas inhabited by the giant toads. Interestingly enough, the only ones who were not bothered by the introduction of the toads were those harmful pests whom the toads were supposed to destroy. It turned out that although the toads do eat harmful insects, they eat everything else, as well - small birds, leftover food, and much more than only insects.
It is easy to imagine the disappointment of the one who initiated the idea of importing giant toads, how foolish he must have felt when he realized he overlooked the simple consideration that giant toads feed off much more than the harmful insects on whose account they were brought to Australia. This has much to teach us as to the remarkable wisdom latent in creation. Everything is calculated and perfectly accommodates every creature in its natural habitat. The more scientists research the more they discover just how remarkably perfect creation is. If this is the case in the animal kingdom and the natural world, then how much more so does this apply in the human realm. Each and every human being lives in an environment in which he can come close to, and discover, the Al-mighty. We Jews live in a place where we can elevate ourselves and develop into G-d's special nation and come close to Him - namely, in the sacred land, the land about which it is stated, "The land that Hashem your G-d looks after; Hashem your G-d's eyes are constantly upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year" (Bemidbar Rabbah 3:5).
Accompanying Eliyahu (2)
Flashback: The sacred tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, accompanied Eliyahu Hanavi but was allowed to do so only on condition that he would not ask for any clarification. Though the things he saw astounded him, he controlled his curiosity and did not question Eliyahu.
Towards evening they arrived in an affluent neighborhood. They went to the magnificent Bet Kenesset, where the benches were made from silver and gold and every worshippers sat in his specifically designated seat according to his stature. Upon seeing the two guests enter, one of the men asked, "Who will invite these poor men for supper?"
His friend replied, "They certainly have some bread in their bags, and water flows freely from the well."
Everyone in attendance agreed. Nobody approached them to offer them seats, and so they sat in the very back of the sanctuary. After tefilah they headed towards the courtyard, where they ate their meager rations of bread and drank water from the well. They slept on the ground, and at daybreak the residents began assembling for tefilah. Eliyahu blessed them, "May G-d make all of you leaders."
Rabbi Yehoshua heard the prophet's words and his confusion once again intensified. For what did they merit such a blessing? But he again restrained himself, in deference to the strict terms to which he had agreed.
They continued along their way and came to a certain village towards evening. As soon as the worshippers in the Bet Kenesset saw them, they approached them and greeted them warmly and honorably. They inquired as to their well-being and quarreled with one another over the privilege of inviting the guests to their homes. The lucky winner prepared a robust meal and served them with royal honor. He offered them superior lodging conditions and in the morning escorted them to the Bet Kenesset.
Eliyahu Hanavi blessed the community: "May the Al-mighty give you but a single leader!"
Upon hearing this, Rabbi Yehoshua could no longer contain himself. He said, "Please, tell me the meaning behind what you do, even if I will then be compelled to leave you."
Eliyahu replied, "I will then tell you my reasoning and you will understand the meaning behind what I do. That good-natured, generous, elderly couple who welcomed us warmly and whose cow - their lone possession - I killed, you should know that on that day the man's wife was to die. I prayed to Hashem that the cow be taken in her stead, and that their distress over the death of the cow should replace the grief of the woman's death. The stingy, wealthy man who did not allow us to sleep in his home, I prayed that his wall be fortified because if it had fallen, the man would have cleared the area and found a huge treasure, which he certainly did not deserve.
"And the people whom I blessed that they should all become leaders, despite their inhospitable conduct, you should know that this will indeed be a terrible thing. A boat with too many captains will sink; conflict and discord will always plague such a community, where everyone sees himself as an authority figure. By contrast, I blessed the good people in the second community that they should have but a single leader. Everyone will accept his authority and community life will proceed peacefully and without strife."
After explaining all his actions, Eliyahu Hanavi added the following comment: "This journey and the explanation shall serve as a lesson for the future, that one cannot reach conclusions based on what he sees. If my actions, which seemed so unreasonable, turned out to be just and proper, then all the more so is this true concerning the actions of the Al-mighty. Therefore, if you see an evil man enjoying success, you should know that in the end his success will actually serve to his detriment, as it says, 'When the wicked blossom like grass… to destroy them for eternity.' If you see a righteous man suffer, you should know that even his suffering is to his benefit, for 'Hashem's judgments are true… ' Only when the entire curtain is opened and laid out before you can you fully understand and comprehend!" With this Eliyahu Hanavi left, and Rabbi Yehoshua returned home.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
A Shiur For Shavuot
Commenting on the pasuk, "If you walk in accordance with My statutes and observe My misvot and perform them" (Vayikra 26:3), Hazal (Sifra, Behukotai 1) explain that the opening clause, "If you walk in accordance with My statutes," cannot refer to misvah observance. After all, this is mentioned in the second half of the pasuk. Therefore, the first clause must refer to diligent Torah study - "shetihyu amelim be'Torah." The Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:12) writes: "The words of Torah are not contained in someone who is lazy with regard to them, and not in those who study amidst comfort and eating and drinking, but rather in one who kills himself over them… who does not allow his eyes to sleep… ."
Therefore, one who wishes to earn the "crown of Torah" must ensure not to waste even a single night eating, drinking, sleeping and the like, but rather use them for Torah study, as the Rambam writes (ibid., 13). If, as we see, people can involve themselves in all types of nonsense well into the late hours of the night, then why can't one use the same nighttime hours for intensive Torah learning? Rav Yossef Haim told a story in this context that the yesser hara once requested permission from the yesser hatov to invite a certain pious man to a café one evening. The yesser hatov agreed. The pious man entered the bar and saw people playing cards and enjoying themselves immensely, laughing and smiling and rejoicing to the point where they paid no attention to the drinks served to them. The man remained there until well after midnight observing the card game. He returned home and cried bitterly. When his wife asked him what had happened, he explained that he had always thought that he rejoiced in Torah learning and engaged in it diligently out of his immense love for it. But now he saw how people can experience such joy over nonsense - more joy than he experiences when learning. He committed himself to perform teshuvah and strengthen himself in Torah learning.
Hazal comment (Berachot 5a) that whoever involves himself in Torah is spared from punishment and suffering. This implies that those who do not occupy themselves in Torah study expose themselves to suffering. The reason is that as punishment for the comfort one sought, by going to sleep rather than studying Torah, he experiences discomfort. If one takes advantage of his evenings and uses them for Torah study, he can sleep quietly and comfortably in his bed, without fear of punishment.
The story is told of the Bet Halevi who, during his period of study in Volozhin, heard of the greatness of Rav Shelomoh Kluger. He therefore decided to travel to Brody to visit the great sage, but he could not afford the trip. Once, a group of tourists passed through Volozhin on their way to Brody, and the Bet Halevi offered the driver to help with the horses in exchange for permission to join the group on their trip. The driver ordered him to perform particularly painful tasks, but the Bet Halevi happily agreed, so long as he reached his long-awaited destination. By the time he came before Rav Shelomoh Kluger, his hands were black from tar, his clothing worn, soiled and tattered. The great rabbi did not believe that he was the grandson of Rav Haim of Volozhin. But after he began conversing with the rabbi in learning, he believed him, and asked him to speak in the main Bet Kenesset on Shabbat. The entire town came to hear the lecture, including the driver who had humiliated him. He felt terribly embarrassed, and after the shiur he approached the Bet Halevi and tearfully begged for forgiveness. Needless to say, he forgave. Thus the Bet Halevi fulfilled Hazal's dictum, "Go into exile to a place of Torah."
Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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