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Everyone wants berachah; no one wants the opposite. But how do we earn berachah, the blessing of the Al-mighty bringing us all forms of goodness? The pasuk hands us the golden key - and it is so easy and simple! "Look, I place before you today blessing and curse. Blessing - that you obey the misvot of Hashem your G-d." By contrast, "the curse - if you do not obey." Rabbi Yisrael of Salant noted the different syntax employed by the Torah in reference to the blessing and the curse, implying that the berachah we receive immediately, as advanced payment, once we make the decision to act properly and fulfill misvot. The curse comes only after one strays from the correct path, as a charge against one's account.
This constitutes an eternal promise, given to us by the eternal Torah: if, Heaven forbid, the situation is not good, if the blessing tarries, then all we can do is promise with a sincere heart that we will improve, that we will fulfill misvot and avoid sin. We will then soon see salvation and miracles - we will receive advanced payment in our accounts!
Rabbenu Ovadia Seforno zs"l has brought our attention to yet another important point concerning this pasuk: Benei Yisrael do not experience "neutral" situations as the other nations do. We find ourselves only at peaks or in depths, blessing or curse, pride or great shame, security or collapse. And the key is in our hands, we have the choice. Let us improve our ways and come closer to our Creator, and then ascend to the peaks of prosperity and success.
The sadik Rabbi Pinhas Medinoviss zs"l was once learning the statement of the Gemara (Baba Messi'a 31b) regarding the pasuk in our parashah, "Do not harden your heart and do not clasp your hand from your brother the pauper; you shall rather give him. " The Gemara derives from the double expression, "naton titen" ("you shall give") that even one who cannot afford to give a substantial gift to the poor must donate whatever he can to charity. The sadik wondered, do we need a special derivation from the pasuk to arrive at this conclusion? Why would we have even entertained the possibility of exempting one from the misvah of charity just because he cannot give a sizable sum?
He then recalled a penetrating thought he heard from his rabbi, the sadik of Sadilkov zs"l, the author of "Degel Mahaneh Yehudah." Hazal say that a community should appoint a leader only if "a tangle of reptiles hangs behind him" (meaning, he has an unsavory past), in order that he not become arrogant (Yoma 22b). The sadik explained by describing the situation of the wealthy community leader who comes home to a robust luncheon, replete with entrees, main dishes, side dishes, spices and desert. He finishes his meal and sits back to rest when suddenly he hears a knock at the door.
"Come in!" the wealthy man shouts.
The door opens and an emaciated pauper walks inside. "Please," he asks, "may I have something to eat?" If this wealthy man had himself grown up amidst great affluence, knowing nothing but luxury his entire life, he would apologetically respond, "You arrived just a little too late, my friend. If you had come only fifteen minutes earlier, I would have invited you to join me for a meal. But now, you should try your luck in a different home."
However, if this community leader had not been raised among affluence, but rather climbed the socioeconomic ladder from the depths of poverty, having himself once upon a time knocked on doors asking for donations, then he would understand that even the scraps of leftovers spread around the table, pieces of bread, slices of meat and the like, are enough to satiate the pauper. With this in mind, Rabbi Pinhas Medinoviss explained the comments of the Gemara. The wealthy sometimes think that only a large donation is considered sedakah. If what they have with them is but a single coin, they view it as worthless. They know full well the cost of a full meal at a fancy restaurant! They sometimes fail to realize that with this lone coin a poor person can purchase a roll and save himself from starvation.
What a beautiful idea, and, as the Zohar tells us, everything in Torah can be explained on both the straightforward level and on a deeper level of interpretation (Zohar 3, 71:2). The same can apply to our context. Just as there is an idea of sedakah in the monetary sense, so is there charity in the spiritual realm: "There is no poverty other than in the mind" (Nedarim 41a; Ketubot 68a); teacher and student are likened to the wealthy and poor (Temurah 16a). Clearly, there are different levels. There are the extraordinarily wealthy - the great Torah scholars, fortunate are they! Then there are those who have considerable, but not immense, wealth: they do not have knowledge of the Shulhan Aruch in their pockets and the Talmud is not fluent on their lips, but they attend Gemara classes, they know where to look up a halachah, they study "Hok Le'Yisrael," enjoy Midrashim and are excited by a nice idea on the parashah. After all, "Torah is light," and light comes in varying strengths, from the brilliance of the sun to the flame of a torch to the small, modest candle.
But there are also those who walk in darkness, who, from this perspective, are destitute mendicants, who, like the blind, have never seen the light of day. And it is not their fault. They are intelligent, wise people, believers and children of believers, but who have been detached and driven from their heritage and spiritual source. There are so many of our brethren who walk in darkness. We must turn to them, open their eyes and have them take part in the wondrous treasure that belongs to them, as well.
But here begins the excuses: what can we do? We have no time to deliver a shiur, to prepare adequately, to devote the necessary amount of hours. We fail to realize that when we cannot offer a large gift we must a least make a small donation, as every particle is life-giving dew. Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a has thus called on everyone to teach even one pasuk, chapter, mishnah, midrash or halachah. Every word fulfills a misvah and shines a ray of light through the darkness. Hazal have already commented that there is no one as beloved before the Al-mighty as those who bring merit to the public. Each act towards this end is enough to earn one a favorable judgment, for a good, happy year and good, long life!
"In order that you learn to fear Hashem your G-d"
The Gemara (Baba Batra 21a) teaches that originally, only one who had a father studied Torah; those without a father would not learn Torah. It was therefore instituted that schoolteachers would be appointed in Yerushalayim, as the pasuk states, "For from Siyon shall come forth Torah, and the word of Hashem from Yerushalayim." However, the problem remained that those without mothers would not come to Yerushalayim to learn. It was therefore instituted that schoolteachers would be appointed in every region. The question arises, why was it initially instituted that schoolteachers would be appointed only in Yerushalayim? Tosafot answered that in Yerushalayim the youngster would experience great sanctity, he would see the kohanim involved in their avodah, and he would therefore focus his mind more intently on yirat Shamayim and Torah study. The Sifri similarly comments on our pasuk, "In order that you learn to fear" - ma'aser sheni [the second tithe, which one brings and eats in Yerushalayim] is great in that it brings one to learn. One would remain in Yerushalayim until he ate his ma'aser sheni, and he would see everyone involved in the sacred work and avodah; he, too, would then concentrate on yirat Shamayim and occupy himself in Torah.
"In order that you learn to fear Hashem your G-d"
What does it mean that one will "learn to fear"? After all, learning occurs in the brain whereas fear is experienced in the heart and emotions. Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explained that habituation is also at times referred to by the Torah as "limud" (literally, study). For example, the expression, "eglah melumadah" - a trained calf (Hoshea 10) refers to an animal accustomed to plowing, and "pere lamud midbar" (Yirmiyahu 2) means, a wild donkey that is used in the desert. Here, too, the experience of ascending to the holy city of Yerushalayim and the Mikdash, the sight of the kohanim performing the avodah, the levi'im singing, the high courts, yeshivot, and sadikim, implants yirat Hashem within one's heart as an eternal acquisition. Rabbenu Bahya zs"l adds (in his comments to Devarim 25) that after this experience Torah and avodat Hashem becomes second-nature.
"In order that you learn to fear Hashem your G-d"
After separating one's ma'aser sheni ("second tithe"), he must bring it to Yerushalayim and eat it there so that he becomes inspired by the sacred avodah and moved to fear of Hashem upon seeing the miracles of the Mikdash. However, this momentary rush of inspiration does not suffice. The desired result is that one "learn to fear Hashem your G-d all the days," even upon his return home.
The Gemara (Yebamot 93a) says that "all the days" refers to Shabbatot and Yamim Tovim. Why are the weekdays not included under the generic term, "all the days"? Rabbenu Meir Simhah zs"l explained that one who ascends to Yerushalayim to partake of his ma'aser sheni and receive inspiration from the service of the Mikdash and Torah study in the city realizes full well that here is the spiritual light. He then desires to take part in the exalted, spiritual world and earn a portion in the eternal life. However, the visit soon ends and he returns home, to his occupation and work. He is busy earning a livelihood, facing the unending pressures of work. But "when Shabbat arrives, rest arrives." Only then can he turn the sacred day into a "worldly Yerushalayim," into a day of spiritual elevation and learning, Torah classes and experience of kedushah.
Rabbi Iloan Avidani of Kurdistan zs"l
In our parashah we are admonished to observe the laws of kashrut, as the pasuk states, "Do not eat any abomination." Meaning, these foods are not only forbidden, but they are abominable, in every sense of the word.
Hazal (Yebamot 114a) teach us that one who feeds others forbidden foods is punished with them, and punished severely. Rabbi Iloan Avidani zs"l related the following story that occurred during his lifetime: A butcher once fell fatally ill. He sent for the rabbi and cried bitterly before him, "All my life I have fed Jews non-kosher food!" The rabbi trembled and sought to recite "viduy" ("confession") together with the patient. Suddenly, however, the butcher lost his consciousness and died, before having a chance to recite "viduy."
The community conducted the funeral as normal. They dug a grave in order to bury the butcher, and they found the grave filled with mice!
They moved away and dug again, but this grave, too, was filled with mice!
They called for the rabbi, who instructed them to dig a third grave. When he saw that this grave, too, was filled with mice, he ordered the diggers to drive the mice away. The mice, however, didn't budge. He ordered the people to lower fiery torches into the pit. Once again, the mice refused to leave. Finally, the rabbi ordered that the deceased be buried there. On the third day they opened the grave and found it empty. The mice had gnawed at the body and left nothing.
We have a tradition from our rabbis that when we tell stories such as these, learn of the tragic end of these people and draw the appropriate lessons, then this works towards the individual's merit, lessens his punishment and brings atonement for his sin.
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
Those Obligated in the Misvah of Kiddush
Women are included in the obligation of kiddush, despite its being a time-bound misvah, from which they are normally exempt. Hazal derive this obligation from an association between "zachor," the obligation of kiddush, and "shamor," the prohibition against forbidden activity on Shabbat. Whoever is obligated in the latter is included as well in the former. Since women are included in all prohibitions in the Torah, including forbidden activity on Shabbat, they are included in the obligation of kiddush, as well. The same applies to the obligation of kiddush on Yom Tov, too, and both men and woman are included in this requirement. There is no difference between the nighttime and daytime kiddush in this regard.
Hazal instituted the obligation to train minors who have reached the age of education in the misvah of kiddush. After children have become bar- or bat-misvah and have physically matured they are obligated on the same level of obligation as adults, meaning, they are obligated by Torah law.
A minor who becomes a bar-misvah on Shabbat or Yom Tov evening should not recite kiddush that night until dark, in order that he is fully obligated by Torah law when reciting kiddush. If, however, he recited kiddush before nightfall, he does not repeat kiddush after dark, since this issue is the subject of dispute and we do not recite berachot whose obligation is in doubt. If possible, he should hear kiddush again from someone else reciting kiddush after dark. (Thereafter he should eat a "kezayit" of bread.) If he cannot hear kiddush from another, he should have in mind to fulfill his obligation while reciting shaharit on Shabbat morning.
A blind person is included in the Biblical obligation of kiddush.
Fulfilling the Obligation on Behalf of Others:
If one hears kiddush from another, and the one reciting kiddush had in mind to fulfill the obligation on the listener's behalf, and the listener, too, had in mind to fulfill his obligation through the other's recitation, he indeed fulfills his obligation. He must recite "amen" at the conclusion of the berachah. Nevertheless, he fulfills his obligation even if he does not recite "amen."
The Summertime Hibernation of Animals
Just as exceptionally cold weather endangers the lives of certain animals in some places in the world, so does exceptionally hot weather pose a threat to animals in other regions. Some animals received from the Creator means of defense against the heat, while others spend the summer months sleeping, just as certain animals hibernate throughout the winter. One such animal that hibernates in the summer is the jerboa, a rodent that lives in the Middle East and Africa. Inside the hole where it sleeps the temperature is much cooler than at the surface of the desert. During exceptionally hot and dry periods the jerboa sinks into a deep sleep until the fierce heat subsides. As we know, there isn't very much water in deserts. A species of fish called the African dipnoi generally live in the river and breathe through gills, as do other fish. When, however, their homes dries up in the heat of simmer, they dig into the ground of the river or lake and leave a small opening for air. They then breathe through air sacks rather than gills. The moist layer of skin that envelops their bodies protects them against dehydration. These fish can remain like this for several years, even without food or water!
The remarkable phenomenon of summertime hibernation allows animals to simultaneously exist and cease to exist. Although animals who hibernate in the summer do not actually die, one certainly cannot say about them that they are alive in the sense of going about their routine behavior. Such creatures can allow themselves to sleep and thus exist and not exist at the same time. For a Jew, however, the situation is much different. For good reason, the human being did not receive a mechanism allowing him in difficult times to just sleep and ignore reality. Indeed, the life and difficulties of the human being serve one clear purpose: that he constantly retain a state of awareness, to always progress spiritually, fulfill misvot and contribute to his surroundings. He cannot allow himself the luxury of ignoring the world around him, to sleep, if you will, and then wake up as if nothing happened in the interim. The period of sleep is a block of time that will never again return. It does not feature the possibility of performing misvot or studying Torah. The Jew must be aware at all times that he bears the responsibility of preparing himself in this world in order to earn entry into the world to come.
Reb Nahumke (12)
Flashback: If Nahumke thought that his troubles were over once the generous old man, Rabbi Karpel Atlas, adopted him as a son and asked his two learned sons to study with him, his father's illness suggested otherwise. He tended to his father's needs throughout his illness, he observed the period of mourning after his passing, and then his mother asked him to remain with her so that she does not remain alone.
It was hard for Nahumke to agree, but yet he could not refuse. In his anguish he went to the home of the master of the estate, the wealthy Yehudah Leib Ganker, who, several years earlier, had given Nahumke much attention and opened for him the illuminating paths of Torah scholarship, and asked if he could study with him for several hours a day so that he could live with his mother. The man agreed and fulfilled his promise.
Each day Nahumke would go to his home, and the wealthy man saw that the boy had progressed remarkably in his learning. He would ask him questions and receive proper, intelligent answers.
One day he turned to Nahumke and said, "Unfortunately, I must go away for several months on business. This time, however, I do not wish to leave you here. I feel that you have grown enough that you can now study in a real yeshivah. On my way I plan to stop off to visit my son in the town of Shauvel. I will take you with me, introduce you to him, and ask him to take care of you. You will live with him and study in the yeshivah of Rabbi Michael, the rabbi of the city.
After Nahumke expressed his consent, Mr. Ganker personally spoke with the boy's mother, the widow, and received her permission to allow the boy to go to the yeshivah. He took Nahumke to Shauvel and gave him into the custody of his son, Reb Mordechai. Nehumke began learning in the yeshivah and amazed everyone there with his remarkable talents, quick comprehension, penetrating insight, dazzling memory and outstanding personal qualities. One of the wealthy members of the community asked him to learn each evening with his son, in his home, for a respectable sum of money. Nahumke desperately needed the money for clothing and pocket money, and he gladly accepted the offer. Little did Nahumke know, however, that he had fallen into a trap, into yet another snare of the yesser hara. That boy was frivolous and wild. He would listen to Nahumke's words of Torah and then tell him about different games of cards he would play. Nahumke, who was still young, was curious about the games and followed carefully the boy's demonstration. He faithfully learned with the boy until midnight, and then out came the deck of cards. The boy told all his friends about how sharp his study-partner was and how adept he had become in the games they would play together. The word spread from mouth to ear, until eventually the Rosh Yeshivah heard about the games. He immediately called Nahumke and asked if the rumors were true. Nahumke, who never uttered falsehood, confirmed that he played cards with the boy. The Rosh Yeshivah replied, "There is no place in the yeshivah for one who plays with cards."
Once again Nahumke found himself outside the walls of the Bet Midrash, once again he found himself at a crossroads. The satan rubbed his hands gleefully; he succeeded in destroying a sacred and pure soul.
To be continued
Preparing an Answer for Mashi'ah
As we know, the redemption depends upon our merits - "Yisrael is redeemed only through teshuvah" (Sanhedrin 97b). But what kind of teshuvah is necessary? Is it enough to just feel remorse, to experience pangs of conscience, or is there a need for in-depth repentance, as occurred during the times of Mordechai and Esther, and Ezra and Nehemiah? It depends when. There are times particularly suitable for redemption, when it comes within our reach. During these times, even a sigh of remorse or some minor action suffices. There have been such times in the past, but we let them pass us by. Soon, however, we will have another opportunity. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (27a) describes what will happen during the shemittah (seven-year period) before the coming of Mashi'ah. In the sixth there will be "sounds" to the effect that the Mashi'ah is coming. The seventh will feature wars, and after the seventh, Mashi'ah will arrive. This year is a shemittah year, the seventh year, and the previous year, 5760, was, as we recall, a year of "sounds" concerning the arrival of Mashi'ah. It was quoted from the work, "Hessed Le'Avraham" and other books that that year was particularly suited for the coming of Mashi'ah. We longed for the redemption, but it did not arrive. On Erev Rosh Hashanah 5761 the Arab campaign against Am Yisrael began, and it has continued incessantly ever since. "In the seventh - wars, between the gentiles and Yisrael" (Rashi). Then, after the seventh, shemittah year, meaning, next year, Mashi'ah will come. We hope and pray that we will merit the onset of redemption.
But then, when we are privileged with the coming of Mashi'ah, and we come before him, he will turn to us and ask, "My child, what have you done to bring my arrival?" What answer will we have for him?
Fortunate is the one who can say, "I tried to arouse others to do teshuvah, to ignite within them the flame of faith!"
We still a month before us to prepare the answers we will need.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat
by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Torah (Devarim 22:8) requires one to build a protective fence around the roof of his home, lest one of the family members climb onto the roof for some purpose and fall, Heaven forbid. This obligation applies only to buildings used regularly for residence and the like. Structures used only on a temporary basis, such as storage houses, do not fall under this obligation of building a "ma'akeh" (fence).
When completing the fence and striking the final blow with the hammer, one recites the berachah, "asher kideshanu bemisvotav vesivanu la'asot ma'akeh." The "ma'akeh" must be ten "tefachim" - or eighty cm - high, though it is proper to follow the stringent view of some authorities requiring a height of a full meter. The fence must stand on all four sides of the roof.
If there is a pit in the ground of one's property, he must ensure not to leave it uncovered, which would pose danger to others. He must therefore cover it and strengthen the cover such that it does not slip, or simply construct a fence ten tefachim high around the pit. One does not recite a berachah on the construction of such a fence, since the Biblical command of building fences applies only to rooftops. The covering of a pit is derived from a different source, from the Torah's prohibition (in the same pasuk), "You shall not place blood in your home," which prohibits against allowing for the threat of danger in one's property. Since this is a prohibition ("lo ta'aseh") rather than a positive commandment ("misvat aseh"), one does not recite a berachah when building a fence around a pit as a precautionary measure. One must likewise build a fence or railing in the stairwell, so as to prevent the possibility of people falling from the staircase while ascending or descending.
One may not own a wild dog, as the fright it causes people can endanger them. Similarly, one may not have in his possession a shaky ladder upon which it is dangerous to climb.
Additionally, one must ensure to keep a distance on the roads from reckless drivers who endanger their lives as well as that of other drivers. A person should likewise not play with weapons, as unfortunately several accidents have occurred through unnecessary handling of guns.
A dispute exists as to whether the will and testament of Rabbi Yehudah Hahasid is binding upon every individual or was meant as merely measures of added piety for his offspring. Among the warnings included in his testament was to avoid cutting one's hair and shaving on Rosh Hodesh. Although one accustomed to this practice must continue doing so, one who has not adopted this practice may continue conducting himself leniently. Rabbi Yehudah Hahasid also wrote that one should not marry someone who parents shares his or her own name. Nevertheless, if someone found a prospective mate with good qualities and yirat Shamayim, he/she should not turn down the match for this reason. He should rather add a name onto his, and that name should be used when he is called to the Torah; it should be his usual name by which he is known for thirty days prior to the wedding.
Another guideline established by Rabbi Yehudah Hahasid forbade naming people "Yehudah" or "Shemuel." However, the custom has evolved to use these names. It stands to reason that this prohibition applies only to Rabbi Yehudah's offspring, since his own name was Yehudah and his father's was Shemuel.
Regarding smoking in contemporary times, many of the leading physicians have definitively determined that smoking poses a danger to one's health as well as to that of those around him as he smokes. Therefore, smokers must lessen the frequency of their smoking until they have stopped completely.
One should not sleep alone in a house. If one must do so, he should light a small lamp or candle near his bed. This does not apply to one sleeping in the Sukkah in observance of the misvah.
We find in several instances that Hazal concerned themselves with the "ayin hara," even that of friends and loved ones. Everyone should thus ensure to avoid having himself stand out among his peers, be it in appearance, wealth or wisdom. Hazal wrote that one going to a place where there is an "ayin hara" should place his right thumb in his left thumb and say, "I am from the offspring of Yosef, upon whom the ayin hara has no control." This applies even to those not biologically descendent from Yosef, for all of Am Yisrael is considered his offspring.
Another protective measure against the "ayin hara" is to place a silver strip in the shape of five fingers with the name of "Sha-d-ai" engraved upon it. Parents of a newborn who fear an "ayin hara" from other women should place this strip over the crib.
In any event, one should not be overly concerned about an "ayin hara," only regarding those activities that logically can bring it on. As discussed, this applies to making oneself stand out among others in looks, wisdom and the like.
Luna Bat Miriam and Eliyahu Ben Masuda
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