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A MIDRASH AND ITS MEANING
This Shabbat we read a haftarah from the comforting prophecy of Yeshayahu: "Unhappy, storm-tossed one, uncomforted! I will lay carbuncles as your building stones and make your foundations as sapphires. I will make your battlements of rubies ('kadkod')." The Gemara (Bava Batra 75a) actually cites two views as to whether these "kadkod" stones with which Yerushalayim will be paved are rubies or some other precious stones. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Yeshayahu 54), however, implies that this stone shines and radiates in a manner never before seen by the human eye! The Midrash relates that Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi met with Eliyahu Hanavi and asked to see this special stone. At that time a boat set sail into the Mediterranean Sea, carrying gentiles and one Jewish child. A terrible storm hit, and the ship was in grave danger. Eliyahu appeared to the boy and said, "Go on my behalf to Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi and show him the 'kadkod' stones. I will then save the entire ship in your merit."
The child replied, "But Rabbi Yehoshua is a gadol hador - why would he believe me?"
Eliyahu answered, "He is very humble, and will believe you. When you meet him, do not speak to him in anyone else's presence. Take him to the cave three 'mil' away from Lod, and show the stones to him there."
The child agreed, and immediately a miracle occurred and he left the boat safely. He reached the shore and headed towards Lod. He found Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi teaching in the great yeshivah in Lod. He went over to him and said, "Rebbe, I need to speak to you." Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi stood up and followed the youngster. Imagine the humility of this great scholar - he obediently followed the boy for three "mil" without even asking what this was about! When they reached the cave, the boy said to Rabbi Yehoshua, "Rebbe, these are the 'kadkod' stones." When he looked upon them, the entire city of Lod shone from their light. He cast them to the ground and hid them.
This is the end of the Midrash. May it be Hashem's will that these stones be soon revealed with the redemption!
This Midrash requires explanation. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi met regularly with Eliyahu Hanavi (Sanhedrin 98a) and studied Torah together with him (Bereishit Rabbah 35:2, Midrash Tehillim 36). Once, Eliyahu was angry with him and did not come for three days (Makkot 11a). The implication is, therefore, that Eliyahu would generally meet with him every day. If so, then once Eliyahu agreed to show Rabbi Yehoshua the "kadkod" stones, why did he not just show them to him right there and then? Why did he show him the stones in such a roundabout manner, through an anonymous Jewish child to whom Eliyahu would appear in the middle of the stormy seas and order to disturb the great sage from his learning? Why were these stones shown to the Torah leader of his time only together with a simple Jewish child? I don't know how this Midrash was understood in previous generations, but in our time this Midrash has become reality. These precious stones are reserved for the period of redemption, and the privilege of beholding them is reserved for those who work towards bringing the redemption closer. How do we bring the redemption closer? Eliyahu Hanavi provides us with the answer. The Midrash speaks of a Jewish child in a ship filled with gentiles in the stormy seas. Does this not accurately describe the plight of hundreds of thousands of sacred and pure Jewish children who are taught to worship foreign culture, engulfed by the stormy seas of secularism, threatened to be drowned thereby? The boy then proceeds to Lod, a city of Torah sages where the leader of the generation teaches Torah to the masses. If the revered sage leaves his study to follow the young child in his infinite modesty - then the light of redemption will shine through. He and the boy will together earn the privilege of seeing the radiant light, and all of Lod will shine in their merit.
Is this not occurring right under our eyes? The great sage of our generation, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, has placed education at the very top of his list of priorities. He goes everywhere throughout the land to increase the level of Torah study, to further intensify religious education. Let us remember that in the merit of the boy the entire ship was saved, and in his merit the light of the redemption sparkled.
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
Walking on the Surface of the Water
There are some special types of bugs, called water boatmen, who live amidst the vegetation in the water and on the surface of the water in lakes and streams. Their bodies are dark brown, long and thin, as are their heads. The wings are small while the sensors and legs are very long and thin. These bugs go out from time to time into the vegetation and take large steps on the surface of the water in search of food. They feed mainly off live or dead water insects. When a water boatman finds such an insect, it thrusts its beak into the victim and sucks as if from a straw. Water bugs are distinguishable from their counterparts on dry land by the rather boring color of their beaks and their special swimming legs. They live in the water, and to breathe they every so often rise just above the water's surface and gather air through the hair that covers their bodies. From there the air penetrates into the rest of their bodies. Among the more common families of water bugs is the family of backswimmers, so named because they swim on their backs. They are about one centimeter long and generally of a black or bluish color. Their bodies are wide around the belly, but they become narrower towards the tail, much like the bottom of a pot. The back legs are long and spread out like oars.
If we were to tell someone that there is a creature on earth who is capable of walking on the surface of the water, he would almost certainly refuse to believe it. He fact is, however, that water boatmen possess this unique ability. We see ever so clearly that nothing is impossible in Hashem's world. Every creature receives whatever it needs to survive, even if it means the ability to walk along the water's surface. For us Jews this should be no great surprise. Jews who observe Torah and missvot and walk in the ways of Hashem know that when it was necessary, the Creator split the sea in order for us to pass through on dry land, not to mention all the other miracles that occurred around that time. However, an important distinction must be made. The water boatman's strides along the surface of the water is simply its way of life; it knows nothing else. The Jewish people, by contrast, can choose to conduct themselves in a manner that will bring about supernatural providence. The condition, of course, is that we fulfill the will of Hashem.
Then we can rest assured that when the need arises, even things that people generally assume can never happen will in fact occur should the need arise; Hashem will overturn nature on our behalf when it becomes necessary. And let's face it, who today requires Heavenly assistance and compassion more than Am Yisrael? We achieve this assistance by following His commandments and obeying His word.
The Reward for a Missvah (8)
A bakery worker received a blessing from Rav Ssemah Ssarfati zs"l that he will own an amount of gold equivalent in weight to that of the heavy iron bar to the bakery that he lifted several times in order to let the ssadik inside and light his candle. Soon thereafter, he was hired for a secret job, to sort gold coins in a mysterious cellar. He received his salary when he completed the work, at which point his mysterious employer blindfolded him and led him back home. He then removed the blindfold and disappeared.
Several days later the worker stood in the bakery doing his work - kneading, baking, removing the goods from the oven, and serving customers. Two formally dressed, distinguished looking executives walked into the bakery and made a large purchase. As they waited for their order to be filled, they conducted between themselves an emoted discussion: "He won't find a single buyer for the property; this is not how sales are done. Nobody will agree to buy a pig in a poke!"
His companion could not agree more: "There's no doubt about it. He must learn the rules of commerce. Nobody will make a bid for the house, and a new assessment will have to be made before a new judge."
The worker counted their change and politely expressed interest in what they were discussing: "What happened?"
They graciously told him the entire incident. They work as real-estate agents, and several days earlier a childless man was found dead. He left behind neither relatives nor a legal will, so his estate was inherited by the government who authorized a judge to sell the property to the highest bidder.
"This was a golden opportunity for us," they explained. "We long for opportunities like this! We could buy the entire property at a bargain price and make a huge profit. The only problem is that the authorization was given to a new judge who decided to enact his own rules and stipulations. No one is allowed to visit the apartment, lest something be stolen or damaged. We can look over the home from the outside only. All the merchants complained, but the judge has remained firm in his stance. As we see it, no one will want to buy the home, and the judge will learn his lesson. Since time immemorial, there are rules of how to conduct a bid; there is no reason to start introducing arbitrary changes!"
The worker's curiosity increased. A silent voice whispered in his ear, perhaps it is the same apartment? "Where's the house?" he asked. "In a central area on a quiet street," came the reply. They gave him the address and left. The worker was overcome by excitement, and he asked his boss if he could leave for a short while.
"Take the bread out of the oven and go," his boss instructed. The worker did as he was told and left. The apartment was closer than he had estimated the apartment where he worked to be. Then again, the stranger may have took him around in circles in order that he lose his sense of direction. He reached the alleyway and saw a policeman standing in one of the yards preventing people from entering. The worker examined the house from the outside, and silently thought to himself, "If this was the apartment, then here was the living room, and perhaps these are the shutters on the windows. I definitely was standing next to that window and peered through the cracks. The branches that I saw were definitely those branches over there, and the edge of the house that I saw - he then turned around and looked behind him - yes! This is the edge of the house that he saw! It was to here that he was taken! This is the apartment - and now it's up for sale!
To be continued
THE KING'S LEGION
We currently find ourselves in the final week of "bein hazemanim" vacation. The summer is still upon us in full force. People are taking trips and going to the beach. Of course, it is important to relax and regain strength and energy. But we must also remember a pasuk from our parasha: "You are children of Hashem your God." The pasuk then continues with the prohibition of "lo titgodedu," which outlaws the practice prevalent among some pagan cults to cut oneself or one's hair in response to tragedy. Rashi explains, "For you are children of the Almighty, and worthy of being distinguished looking, rather than cut and bald." These words become ever so important during the vacation weeks while going out on trips: "You are children of Hashem your God." A prince must maintain a respectable appearance, befitting his unique stature. Otherwise, the king's honor will be slighted. The summer weather tempts one to wear more comfortable and less clothing, and the vacation atmosphere lures one to lower his standards. But what can we do - we are the children of the King! People look upon benei Torah, correctly so, as the king's legion, and they therefore expect that we dress accordingly - neat and orderly. We must ensure that our appearance meets this standard and that our conduct and speech remain restrained and appropriate. Then we will sanctify the Name of Hashem in everything we do, and there is no limit to our reward.
THE RETURN OF SLAVERY
A Jew once came before the saintly maggid of Tolna zs"l, and explained that he is now expanding his business and requires a large loan. He submitted a request to the lending agency that is known for offering large loans under good conditions, so long as the success of the venture can be ascertained. The agency is therefore conducting a thorough check of his business to determine its stability and potential. He therefore came to the rebbe for a berachah that the inspectors will be impressed and the loan will be approved.
He finished speaking, and the room filled with silence.
After the silence had continued for some time the man leaned over to the ssadik and repeated his request: "Will the rebbe give me a berachah that the loan will be approved?"
The ssadik saw that the man didn't get the hint, and said, "I was always careful not to give a Jew a curse. I am willing to give only berachot." "Of course rebbe!" cried the merchant. "I ask for a berachah." "No, you asked for a curse!" shouted the rebbe. "I refuse to give a curse that is explicit in the tochehah: '. he will lend you, and you will not lend him' (Devarim 28:64). If you are interested in a berachah, then it is stated in the Torah (in our parashah, 15:6): "For Hashem your God has blessed you as He has said to you; and you will lend to many nations, and you will not borrow'!"
The man stood perplexed, not knowing what to do or say. The ssadik turned to him with a pleasant, soothing voice and said, "If you want a berachah, then ask that your business shall be blessed, that you will succeed in expanding your business - only without loans. Loans are considered a curse and are found in the tochehah. Taking a loan is subjugating the future on behalf of the present: 'A borrower is a slave to the one who lends'."
In the published letters of the Hazon Ish zs" (vol. 1, 20) there appears a list of six suggestions that the he wrote to a certain ben yeshivah. These six guidelines include several critical keys for growth and success. One of them reads, "Be very careful not to borrow money from anyone."
Who would have thought that in our era slavery would return, and a few domineering, ruthless masters would relentlessly order around their masses of slaves! The most frightening thing about it is that the masses throng to bring their necks willfully under the yoke of servitude, they offer their legs to the chains. People volunteer to become slaves to credit companies and are subjugated by their debts. Even worse, these people could easily shake themselves free, with just a little bit of effort, with one decision: to pay the earlier debts and begin saving for the next purchases. Instead of paying interest to the bank and becoming all flustered and worried, let us walk about like princes, and purchase things with cash! It sounds almost like a fantasy. But why not? Why must we always pay backwards, if we can save for the future? We are like the innocent man whose employer tied a string to a post and ordered the worker to place his hand in the other end of the rope, saying, "That's it - you're tied to the post; do not move." If we take a closer look, we will see that this willful subjugation has become an entire world outlook and way of life. This outlook is about taking loans without calculating, spending indiscriminately in the present by subjugating the future. This is true in all areas of life. We draw water from the reservoirs and cause the water to become spoiled. The rivers are polluted with contaminating sewage. In the political sense - people are prepared to surrender critical property in order to achieve a temporary lapse of quiet or some prestige. This also has affected education. Parents are often blinded by a large, impressive building or by a short distance between a school and their home. They are willing to then send their most precious possession, their children, to that school without considering the long term damage that will result from the violence, rampant permissiveness, lack of discipline, disdainful attitude towards parents, and all the other ills of the educational system that has detached itself from our tradition and heritage.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"You shall set aside one-tenth from all the produce of your grain"
The Gemara (Ta'anit 9a) tells that Rabbi Yohanan once met his nephew, the young son of Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish, and asked him, "What did you learn today?" The child responded that he learned the pasuk, "Aser t'aser" - "you shall set aside one-tenth."
The boy then asked his uncle, "Why does the pasuk write a double expression - 'aser t'aser'?"
Rabbi Yohanan answered that the double expression alludes to the statement, "Aser bishvil shetitaser" - give the tithes so that you will become rich.
"How do you know to learn the pasuk that way?" asked the nephew. "Try it, and you will see" answered Rabbi Yohanan.
The child asked further, "Is it permitted to test the Almighty? Doesn't the pasuk say, 'Do not test Hashem your God'?"
Rabbi Yohanan answered that although one may generally not test Hashem, with regard to ma'aser (tithes) it is permitted, as it says, "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse and let there be food in My house, and thus put Me to the test - said Hashem Sseva-ot. I will surely open the floodgates of the sky for you and pour down blessings on you" (Malachi 3). The nephew said, "If I had already learned this pasuk, I would never had asked the question; I would have known the answer on my own."
Rav Yossef Yabess zs"l, who was among the exiles of Spain, writes that when Hashem showers blessings upon an individual beyond what he needs, the individual is informed that he has been chosen to serve as a pipeline transporting goods to the poor and those who need his assistance - such as the tithe of "ma'aser ani" to the poor - as well as Torah scholars and institutions - such as teruma and ma'aser rishon, which were given to the kohanim and levi'im, the religious leaders. This process works like a funnel. If the bounty flows straight through the funnel and it remains clean and capable of receiving more, then more blessing is poured in. This is what it means. "give the tithes so that you will become rich." If, however, the funnel gets clogged with a buildup of produce that has not continued through, then Hashem stops filling it, and it becomes empty and dried out.
The Maggid of Duvna zs"l said that this principle holds true with regard to every missvah. A person will never become poor, Heaven forbid, from fulfilling missvot. To the contrary, he thereby earns Hashem's blessing in all his affairs. But why did Hashem reveal this message to us specifically in the context of the missvah of ssedakah? The Maggid answered with a parable, as was his wont. In the middle of the market-place a wagon pulled up carrying rolls of expensive weaves in a wide variety of colors.
Merchants flocked to the wagon and started feeling the material. They concluded that this fabric was of the very highest quality, and they therefore expected an enormous price tag. Much to their surprise, the merchant announced that he was selling a roll for five hundred coins, and each roll consisted of more than sixty cubits of fabric. What a bargain! Their only concern was that perhaps the rolls in fact had only thirty cubits. They expressed their reservations to the merchant, who suggested that they take the roll that seemed the shortest and measure it. They did as he told them, and the roll that appeared shortest measured at sixty-two cubits! He sold all his merchandise right there and then, much to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Similarly, Hashem guaranteed us that no one who abides by the missvot will lose. In response to our hesitation, Hashem suggested that we take the missvah that most appears to cause its observers to lose, and try it. He tells us to try the missvot of ssedakah and ma'aser, which entails taking from one's money and property and giving it away, and we will see that even this missvah yields blessing and opens the gates of prosperity. Then we will realize that same can be said of other missvot: one cannot lose by praying with a minyan, by attending Torah classes, by doing any missvah.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
Rabbi Sasi Hakohen zs"l of Jarba
Rabbi Sasi Hakohen zs"l, who authored the work "Birkat Hashem" on the Talmud, was the rabbi of Jarba and was constantly concerned with the troubles of his flock. The community at the time suffered under the oppressive rule of the wicked government, specifically the governor who levied taxes as heavily as he could and appointed a greedy, heartless Jew as "president" of the Jewish community. In order to help determine the wealthy Jews, the president came up with a most original idea: he conducted periodic checks of neck sizes among the Jews. He figured that those with wider necks must enjoy an abundance of food, signifying wealth, and must therefore pay higher taxes.
All of Rav Sasi's attempts to soften the presidents heart fell onto deaf ears. He then proceeded to the governor himself, who greeted the rabbi by throwing a chair at him and driving him out of his residence. Rabbi Sasi therefore took leave of his community and traveled to the capital, Tunis, to present a complaint before the king. Unfortunately, there was no way to reach the king; it appeared that his mission was doomed to failure. He proceeded to the Torah class of Rav Avraham Hagag zs"l, the chief rabbi, and began deliberating with him on matters of halachah. The chief rabbi was dazzled by Rav Sasi's greatness in Torah, and inquired as to why he had come. He then used his influence in the royal court, and, sure enough, the king responded. He wrote a bitter letter to the cruel governor, and the chief rabbi demanded in the name of the highest Jewish authority of Tunisian Jews that the tyrant who called himself the "president of the Jews" be brought before him in chains to stand trial for his wicked deeds. And the Jews of Jarba were saved.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
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
When to Feel One's Tefillin
Some authorities maintain that one is obligated to feel his tefillin while wearing them anytime he remembers. Others, however, hold that one must feel his tefillin often enough to ensure that his mind is not diverted from his tefillin for even a moment, and it is proper to follow this view.
Some have the practice while wearing tefillin to place a page in front of them with the words, "Kavanat hatefillin" ("the intention of tefillin") in order that their minds not be diverted from their tefillin.
Others, however, maintain that when one is involved in tefilah or while he is in the Bet Kenesset there is no obligation to feel the tefillin.
What Constitutes Disruption of Concentration From Tefillin
According to some Rishonim, the prohibition of "heseh hada'at," of disrupting concentration from tefillin, prohibits only lightheadedness and silly behavior. Going about one's business, however, and not to mention tefilah and Torah study, is not considered "heseh hada'at." Others, however, prohibit any disruption of concentration from the tefillin, even through matters that do not involve frivolity. It is proper to be stringent in this regard, and one should in any event avoid mundane talk while wearing tefillin.
While involved in any point of the prayer service - shemoneh esreih, korbanot, pesukei d'zimra, keri'at shema, etc. - or in Torah study, then even though one must concentrate fully on what he is reciting or studying and thus will not concentrate on his tefillin, this does not constitute a violation of this prohibition. However, if one's mind wanders to other matters during tefilah, then these thoughts will be considered "heseh hada'at."
Although a mourner during the seven days of mourning is obligated to wear tefillin (except for the first day), he should nevertheless not wear tefillin during the eulogy and crying, whereas his concentration on tefillin is necessarily disrupted.
One who wears tefillin when there is no obligation to do so - such as on Shabbat, Yom Tov and Hol Hamoed - need not feel them to remember them.
How to Feel One's Tefillin
One should first feel the tefillin shel yad and thereafter the tefillin shel rosh. Whereas the halachah states that "ein ma'avirin al hamissvot" - one may not pass by an opportunity to do a missvah, one may not ignore the missvah of feeling the tefillin shel yad - which is closer to the other hand - by first feeling the tefillin shel rosh - which is further away. If, however, one's hand happens to be near his head at the time when he is to feel his tefillin, then he should first feel his tefillin shel rosh. When one reaches the pasuk about the missvah of tefillin in keri'at shema, then he should feel his tefillin shel yad while reciting the words about the tefillin shel yad, and then touch his tefillin shel rosh when reciting the words regarding the tefillin shel rosh (". ukshartem l'ot al yadecha vehayu l'totafot bein einecha"). This applies to the pesukim dealing with tefillin in both the first and second parshiyot of shema.
Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar
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