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Reb Nehumke (4)
Flashback: Nahumke reached his ninth birthday without ever having stepped foot in school. His father, Uziel, could not afford to pay tuition. He would take his son with him to the beer factory where he worked and teach him to read and write as well as Humash during his brief breaks from work. Eventually, his son's questions eluded him, since he did not know much Torah at all, so he taught him Tehillim. However, the boy took advantage of his father's busy schedule and would roam and play together with the gentile farmers' children.
The turnaround occurred when Nehumke reached ten years of age. Nobody noted the day or celebrated the birthday, but it seems that from the Heavens it was asked, what will be with this child, Nahumke, who roams aimlessly with non-Jewish children? The answer arrived on this day.
A stranger appeared in the beer factory. He waited until Uziel caught a free moment from his supervision of the steam pressure in the boilers and introduced himself as the business agent of Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ganker. Yehudah Leib Ganker was a prominent, wealthy and intelligent philanthropist. On his estate operated a beer factory, which stood near a mill and textile factory. He employed many workers and supported many poor families. His representative now came with an offer:
"The supervisor of our beer factory left his job. We have done a lot of research looking for a replacement, and we heard good things about you." When he said that he would offer a salary twice Uziel's current pay, as well as a large residence within the estate, Uziel immediately consented. Sure enough, prosperity finally fell upon the family, and just in time. Uziel's daughter's had grown, and he had to save money for their dowries. He was given food in plentiful amounts from the produce of the estate. The residence was big and spacious and his standard of living improved drastically. Only one shadow was cast on his good fortune. In his former job, he lived near a town with a Torah school, only he could not afford to pay tuition. Now, when has enough money to pay, he lived in an isolated area, in a large estate along the main highway, distant from the two towns of Shedovah and Beisgelah, nowhere near any religious schools.
But as for Nahumke, no one was happier. He just couldn't get enough of the wonders and luxuries of the estate, the herds of cattle, fields, millstones and weaving mill. His days were filled with new discoveries; wherever he went he would explore with interest and be delighted. He was lovingly greeted and welcomed by all, as he demonstrated remarkable charm, good manners and a sharp wit, earning the admiration of everyone he met.
The head of the estate, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ganker, was keenly aware of everything that went on within the boundaries of his estate. He would oversee his assets, make regular visits and check up on progress. Wherever he went, he saw the curious, intelligent boy. He immediately took a liking to the young Nahumke, and once shared with him a joke. When the boy responded with a brilliantly sharp wit, Rabbi Yehudah Leib was pleased and invited him to his residence for supper.
To be continued
The Mountain Goat
Africa is the homeland of the antelope. A certain creature in America, however, has earned the title, "the antelope goat." This strange name evolved from its resemblance, in certain ways to a goat and in others to an antelope; it is a sort of combination of the two. It received from its Creator white fur and thin horns that are slightly bent backwards; these characteristics render the animal similar to a goat. This antelope, the mountain goat, is an exceedingly daring animal ready to go out and fight even a wild bear. Small wonder, then, that only in the rarest instances will any animal try to start up with it among the rocky cliffs through which it skips with the grace of a professional dancer. In fact, the greatest enemy of this creature is not from among the frightening beasts of prey, but rather the mountain itself. In the beginning of summer, when the snows melt and massive waterfalls gush forth down the mountains, the mountain goat runs the risk of being swept away by the waters. When this happens, it generally does not survive. Like several other animals, the antelope feeds on vegetation and does not eat meat.
Although the antelope has split hooves and chews its cud, we nevertheless refrain from eating it due to the absence of a tradition permitting its consumption. Antelopes are quiet creatures that do not harm any others; they do not feature the thirst for blood that characterizes animals of prey. In effect, they are among the pursued creatures, rather than the pursuers. Ten species of animals and beasts are deemed permissible for Benei Yisrael to eat, and none of them are killers by nature. Although the laws of kosher and forbidden foods constitute strict, objective decrees of the Al-mighty whose reasons are not explicated by the Torah, Hazal nevertheless found reasons for, and subtle allusions latent within, several of the misvot. We may speculate that among the hidden reasons known only to the Al-mighty there is a place also for this reason, that everything an individual eats becomes part of who he is. One's food affects his temperament. Therefore, a Jew who observes the laws of the Torah and abstains from forbidden foods can never be a murderer, the diametric opposite of the traditional characteristics of Jews -- humble, compassionate, and performers of kindness.
On the day of the altar's dedication, the "hanukkat hamizbeyah," the tribal leaders brought offerings on behalf of their respective tribes, each on its own day. The content of their offering alludes to the merits of their patriarchs. The bull represents Avraham Avinu, the pillar of kindness, who fed his guests the meat of cattle. The ram symbolizes the ram offered in the place of Yis'hak, who offered himself as a sacrifice. The sheep corresponds to the flocks of Yaakov Avinu, who tended to Lavan's sheep with the utmost integrity. These animals were all offered as an "olah" (burnt offering). Then they made mention of the merit of the twelve tribes, the righteous sons of Yaakov Avinu, who formed the basis upon which Am Yisrael developed. They offered a goat as a sin-offering in order to atone for the sin of the sale of Yosef, during which they slaughtered a goat in whose blood they dipped Yosef's garment. Meaning, the tribal leader conducted a intensive process of introspection and identified an ancient root to the problem of disunity. They decided to mention this sin as if to say, "No more! The Bet Hamikdash and service of Hashem will unite us and prevent strife and dissension!" Similarly, the Al-mighty specifically ordered all the tribes to encamp around the mishkan, teaching us that it is the mishkan that unites all the tribes. Through it, the nation becomes a single, indivisible entity. The Hid"a zs"l traveled through the countries of Europe and was received everywhere with reverence, just as Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Shpitovkah zs"l in the next generation visited the North African countries where he earned great respect for his scholarship. The rebbe of Radzhin zs"l sent from Poland a request for an approbation for his work from Rabbi Abdallah Somech zs"l, and the great Kabbalist, the "Leshem Shevo Ve'ahlamah" zs"l of Lithuania sent a similar request to Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad zs"l. Indeed, this is what Rav Sa'adyah Gaon wrote: "Our nation is a nation only through its Torah." It is what unites us into a single nation.
How unfortunate it is that specifically in the last generation, which saw the establishment of the Jewish State, Jewish identity became perceived in the minds of many as unrelated to Torah and misvot. The connection between the various tribes of Yisrael has weakened. Hundreds of thousands of Jews have left Eress Yisrael and live in foreign countries detached from their Jewish brethren. The link that connects us all is broken: "they shall encamp around the mishkan."
It is worthwhile for us to consider another point, as well, a particularly significant one for each and every one of us. If we extract the pertinent lesson, we can undergo a meaningful, blessed transition in our lives. As we saw, the tribes saw it appropriate on this special day to confess the sin of the sale of Yosef and bring a sin-offering for atonement.
Interestingly, however, even the tribes of Menasheh and Efrayim brought this offering. They are the descendants of Yosef; for what must they atone? How beautiful are the lessons of the Torah, whose ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace!
"These are the laws of the nazir: on the day when his nazir-days are completed, he shall bring himself to the opening of the Ohel Moed." Rashi explains the expression, "yavi oto" (literally, "he should bring him") as meaning that the nazir must bring himself. This pasuk thus underscores the difference between the nazir, who elevated himself with a heightened level of kedushah, and the messora, who had engaged in rampant lashon hara and was punished by Hashem. While regarding the messora the Torah writes, "he is brought," implying that others must drag him, the nazir comes to the Ohel Moed of his own accord!
Upon further reflection, this distinction becomes all more the sharp and fundamental. Those who become addicted to lashon hara and frivolity are like the dust blown by the wind; others bring them. They are swept away by the current fashions, rings in the nose and tongue, hair colored in all different shades, and any bizarre clothing that becomes popular. The nazir, by contrast, carries himself; he controls his actions and decisions, he is master over his time and desires.
This control becomes second nature as a result of misvah observance. One must check every product to ensure its kashrut, and allocate time for tefilah with a minyan and Torah classes. The person learns to ignore the looks and jeers of others around him. He is strong and firm, building his character "like a tree planted near springs of water, whose fruit it yields in its proper time and its leaves do not wither, and all he does is successful."
The Rav of Brisk zs"l would go to great lengths in order to hear birkat kohanim. Even as he aged, he would exert himself and invest as much of his precious time as was necessary. He would say, "Look at how much people invest and the trouble they go through the receive the blessing of a sadik! Look at how much hope they have in the blessing and how much joy they experience upon receiving it! Why? Because the Al-mighty carries out the wishes of those who fear Him, so a sadik's blessing will certainly be fulfilled. How much greater, then, is the blessing of the Creator Himself, the source of all berachot, who promised the kohanim, "They shall place My Name on Benei Yisrael -- and I will bless them." As Rashi explains, Hashem will agree to the kohanim's blessing. How desperately we need berachot today, particularly the final of the blessings of the kohanim, "He shall provide for you peace," which the Ibn Ezra understands to mean that "no evil shall befall you, not from a stone, a wild animal or enemy."
The Keli Yakar zs"l discovered a progression in the berachot, based on the Midrash (cited by the Ramban in Beresheet 24:1). Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai asked Rabbi Elazar Ben Rabbi Yossi, "Have you ever heard from your father what is meant by, 'in the crown with which his mother crowned him.'?" Rabbi Elazar quoted his father as explaining that first the Al-mighty expressed His love towards Yisrael by referring to them as His "daughter." Then, He called them "My sister," and finally "My mother." Upon hearing this explanation, Rabbi Shimon stood and kissed Rabbi Elazar on his head and said, "If I had only come to hear this one thought from your mouth, it would have been worth it!"
The Keli Yakar asks, does not one harbor stronger feelings of love towards his daughter than to his sister? Why, then, did Hashem first refer to Benei Yisrael as His "daughter" and only then as His "sister"? He explains that the progression of which Rabbi Yossi spoke involves levels of control and authority. First, we are likened to the Al-mighty's "daughter," entirely subject to His authority like a child must obey his parents. Afterwards, Hashem calls us, "My sister, My beloved." Just as one relates to his sister and wife as his equal, do does the Al-mighty take into account, as it were, our views and wishes. Finally, His love towards us reaches the point of "a sadik decrees and the Al-mighty obeys," as a mother instructs her children. This progression expresses itself in the three blessings of birkat kohanim. First, "Hashem shall bless and protect you," just as a parent watches over his or her children. In the next stage, "Hashem shall shine His face upon you," referring to an equal, face-to-face relationship, one of love and mutual respect as one deals with his sibling and spouse. Finally, as it were, "Hashem shall lift his face towards you," as if looking upwards to Benei Yisrael, just as a child looks up to his mother.
What a beautiful concept! But how do we earn such respect from the Master of the world, the Creator of everything? The answer is that He relates to us as we relate to Him. If all our desire is for Him to hear our voices and fulfill our wishes, then He likewise merely expects us to obey all His commands. If we add a dimension of love towards Him, then He, too, will "shine His face" upon us. However, if all our desire is to fulfill the will of Hashem, even with regard to matters not specifically commanded, then He, too, will "nullify His will" to do ours.
Perhaps we can now understand why the Torah places the parashah discussing birkat kohanim immediately following the parashah of the nazir, who takes upon himself a level of sanctity beyond that which is explicitly commanded. In reward, he receives unlimited blessing and favor from the Al-mighty. If one submits himself to Hashem, then Hashem will, as it were, submit Himself to the individual and provide him with an abundance of blessing. How fortunate is such an individual!
"So shall you bless Benei Yisrael"
The Zohar teaches us that the word "koh" ("so," as in "so shall you bless. ") alludes to the Shechinah - and we cannot engage in the hidden areas of the Torah. When the sacred Kabbalist Rabbenu Shalom Sharabi zs"l moved to Eress Yisrael, he passed through the city of Baghdad and studied with the Kabbalists there. When he reached the pasuk, "So shall you bless Benei Yisrael," he cried with sacred, fiery excitement, "This 'koh' burns within me!!"
"Say to them"
At first glance, these words seem superfluous. Why couldn't the pasuk simply write, "So shall you bless Benei Yisrael: 'Hashem shall bless. '"? Rabbenu Hamalach Refael Birdogo zs"l, of Makeness, Morocco, explains in his work, "Mei Menuhot" that these words bid the kohanim to urge Benei Yisrael to prepare themselves for the berachah. The recipient of the berachah must turn himself into a receptacle to contain the berachah, by concentrating on the berachah with pure faith and thoughts of teshuvah.
The "Degel Mahaneh Efrayim" zs"l explained the word "amor" (generally translated as, "say") as associated with the term "amir ha'ilan," the peak or height of a tree. Meaning, the kohanim elevate Benei Yisrael through their blessing, as the berachah demonstrates how important they are in the eyes of the Creator.
"Hashem shall bless you"
Rashi interprets this clause as referring to financial prosperity. Rabbenu Ovadia Seforno zs"l asks, is this appropriate, that Hashem's blessing should begin with a prayer for material success? He explains that this berachah introduces the blessings of spirituality that follow: "Hashem shall shine His face upon you" with the light of the Torah; "Hashem shall lift his face towards you" by granting us the world to come, where we enjoy the glory of the Shechinah, and continue our growth in Torah and misvot. Since "if there is no flour, there is no Torah," Hashem first promises to remove all worries of livelihood and grant wealth and honor to those who long for religious growth. Then comes the spiritual wealth, after the material needs have been secured.
"Hashem shall bless you and protect you"
The Or Hahaim zs"l writes that generally speaking, "One who increases his possessions, increases his worries," and wealthy people's minds are very unsettled as they must supervise all their assets. Their time is always short and their nerves under strain. However, "the berachah of Hashem -- it will enrich, and one will not add sadness with it." Hashem's blessing is complete. Thus, after He blesses us with wealth, He then "protects" us from all the worries and problems associated with prosperity, as the pasuk says, "You shall be only on top, and you will not be on the bottom."
"Hashem shall bless" - "Hashem shall shine" - "Hashem shall lift"
Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Harosh zs"l, among the great scholars of Morocco, writes in his work, "Birkat Eliyahu" that the three berachot in birkat kohanim include all the goodness in the world, represented by the three categories of life, children and livelihood.
The first berachah refers to livelihood: "Hashem shall bless you" with money "and protect you" from financial loss. Second, we are promised happy lives: "Hashem shall shine His face upon you," as the pasuk elsewhere says, "In the light of the face of the King there is life." This "life" refers not to lives wrought with troubles, Heaven forbid, but rather "and He shall show you grace," lives full of kindness and goodness. Finally comes the blessing of offspring: "Hashem shall lift His face towards you," as the pasuk says, "I will turn towards you - and I will make you fruitful, and I will make you multiply." The blessings end with the all-encompassing berachah: "and He will grant you peace."
"Hashem shall lift His face towards you"
Rabbi Avraham Patel zs"l, the father-in-law of Rabbenu Ovadia Yosef shlit"a, in his work, "Vayomer Avraham," addresses Hazal's statement that the Al-mighty "lifts His face" towards Benei Yisrael (meaning, He grants them favor) because they make a point of reciting birkat hamazon even after eating only a kezayit (while according to Torah law one must recite birkat hamazon only after eating an amount of food that satiates). Just as we recite a berachah over a small quantity, in appreciating the food we receive from the Al-mighty's hands as a small gift received from a king, so does He appreciate even our "tiny" misvot and offers us immense reward on account thereof.
Rabbi Yossef Plagi zs"l
A work was recently published entitled "Hut Hameshulash," which contains three important books by Rav Yosef Hakohen shlit"a of Ashdod. In one of the sections, "Kibbud Horim," he collected one hundred and one stories and inspiring ideas about the important misvah of honoring parents. In the one hundred and first piece he cites the testimony of Rabbi Yosef Plagi zs"l in his eulogy for his father, Rabbi Haim Plagi zs"l: "My pain is great and my heart burns with fire! For over thirty years I stood and served him, and he taught me Torah in between the people [called up for aliyot] during keri'at haTorah. Serving Torah is greater than learning it. Like a slave before his master all day and night until midnight, weekdays and Shabbat, my hand never moved from his. I would eat with him and drink with him, and for a period of time I even slept with him. I was with him inside the house and outside. We went from strength to strength -- to the Batei Kenesset on weekdays, Shabbatot, and Yamim Noraim, and I would go with him to the immersion house in the summer and winter. I am deserving for having given him pleasure through my service that I would perform at his will. And now this misvah has, in my sins, left me."
What can we say -- when will our actions reach those of our sages?
In two additional compendiums, "Bet Meir" and "Hen Yosef," Rav Yosef Hakohen collects and writes beautiful "hiddushim" and stories related to the Humash. In our parashah, he records how meticulous his grandfather, Rav Matok Atugi Hakohen zs"l (author of "Yekar Ha'erech" and "Ish Ha'erech") was in observing the misvah of birkat kohanim. For nearly fifty-five years, he would ascend the "duchan" for birkat kohanim each and every day. Once, a furious rainstorm flooded all the streets and the water rose several feet above the ground. The sage was not deterred, and he made his way through the water to the Bet Kenesset in order to administer his loving blessing to the people!
Questions & Answers and Rulings of Halachah According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
Some communities have the practice that each person recites out loud in the Bet Hakenesset birkot haTorah and the morning berachot (birkot hashahar) and the other worshippers answer amen to each berachah. After the first person finishes, a second then recites the berachot out loud, and so forth. Is this proper according to halachah, or has everyone fulfilled their obligation by reciting amen to the berachot recited by the first one, and they may therefore no longer recite the berachot?
This practice is acceptable according to halachah, and one need not be concerned that everyone has fulfilled their obligation by answering amen to the berachot of the first one who recited them out loud. They had no intention of fulfilling their obligation through his recitation, and one cannot fulfill a requirement against his will. (Yabi'a Omer vol. 5, Orah Hayyim 17:4, based on Shulhan Aruch 6:4. See also Yabi'a Omer vol. 3 ,Orah Hayyim 32:2, and Shut Hazon Ovadia vol. 1:1, p.247 and on, and 1:2, chap. 27, footnote, p.545 and on. See also Hazon Ovadia, 2, pp.139-140.)
Must one stand when reciting birkot hashahar and birkot haTorah?
One need not stand for these berachot, even "lechatehilah" (optimally). (Yehaveh Da'at 5:4)
Should one recite the berachah of "hanoten laya'ef ko'ah" with Hashem's Name, despite its not being mentioned in the Gemara?
One should recite the full text of this berachah, including "Hashem Elokenu Melech ha'olam." This is the custom that has been accepted in all communities throughout Am Yisrael, and one need not be concerned about reciting a berachah levatalah. (Yabi'a Omer vol. 1, Orah Hayyim 28:5; vol. 2, Orah Hayyim 25:12-13; vol. 5, Orah Hayyim 22:6; vol. 6, Orah Hayyim 2:3 and 29:1.)
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Differences Between Yom Tov and Shabbat
The mishnah (Bessah 36b; Megilah 7b) establishes that "there is no difference between Shabbat and Yom Tov except for the preparation of food." Therefore, all other principles regarding the prohibitions of Shabbat, except for issues of food preparation, apply equally on Yom Tov. One example is the concept of "melechet mahashevet," that to qualify for a Shabbat violation an action requires intent. An activity that may result in a forbidden action is permitted on Shabbat and Yom Tov. One may, for example, walk on grass on Shabbat and Yom Tov even though the possibility exists that he will tear grass as he walks. Since he does not intend to do so, and it is not certain that the forbidden action will occur, it is permitted. However, in such a case where the forbidden action will definitely occur, one may not perform the given activity. For example, if one did not turn off the refrigerator light before Shabbat, and thus the light will automatically go on should he open the refrigerator door, then he may not open the door (even if he does not need the light).
In some instances, however, one may perform an activity even if the forbidden action will definitely occur. We refer to cases where the forbidden action that will occur constitutes a rabbinic prohibition ("issur mederabanan") and that the individual derives no benefit therefrom. For example, one may walk with a baby carriage (assuming there is an "eruv") on Shabbat even if a ditch will be formed in the surface of the ground as a result. (Digging ditches in the ground is a Shabbat violation.) Since the prohibition is rabbinic and the individual derives no benefit from the ditch, this is permissible. The same applies to one walking with shoes that have the emblem or name of the manufacturer protruding from the bottom. Even though the protrusion will dig in the dirt underneath, it is permissible. Additionally, one may wear clothing made from synthetic fabrics that often produce sparks while putting it on or taking it off. Shabbat and Yom Tov also share the same halachot concerning the honor and enjoyment of the day. Just as kiddush on Shabbat constitutes a Biblical obligation, so does kiddush on Yom Tov (although some opinions disagree). Women are included in the obligation of kiddush on Shabbat and Yom Tov. However, Yom Tov is more stringent than Shabbat insofar as it features an obligation of "simhah," rejoicing, which does not apply on Shabbat. Yom Tov thus ends the shivah mourning period. Furthermore, Hazal instituted more stringent guidelines concerning "muksseh" on Yom Tov than on Shabbat. For example, on Shabbat one may handle shells and bones that are edible by animals, while on Yom Tov he may not. They are considered like shells inedible by animals, and may not even be collected into an empty plate, as this renders the plate prohibited to handle on Yom Tov. He must therefore first put a fruit or some other edible food onto the plate; thereafter, he may place the shells onto the plate.
Blessed is the Man Who Trusts in Hashem
Parashat Behar discusses the prohibition against agricultural activity during the shemitah year. Hashem promises to bless us with a surplus of grain on the year before shemitah to provide enough food for the coming years. This promise proves the authenticity of the Torah, as no human being can make such a promise. However, the Torah presents this promise only in response to our concerns about having grain during and after the shemitah year. Why does Hashem issue this promise only after we ask, "What will we eat?" Aren't we always entirely dependent upon the Al-mighty's blessing? The answer is that if we would not have expressed any concern, then Hashem would not have blessed us with an especially bountiful crop, which requires the burdensome labor of harvesting and collecting the extra grain. He would have rather blessed us miraculously, with the supernatural growth of the grain in the storehouses. However, since we expressed a degree of skepticism, He blesses us in a manner that requires extra effort on our part. This is what is meant by the pasuk, "Blessed is the man who trusts in Hashem, and Hashem will be his trust." Meaning, Hashem provides for a person in proportion to his level of trust. If one trusts Hashem only within the natural order, then the blessing comes within the rules of nature. However, one who places all his confidence in the Al-mighty, then Hashem provides miracles on his behalf.
Luna Bat Miriam and Yosef Ben Geraz
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