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Parashat Re'eh / "Shabbat Mevarchim" of the Month of Elul

The month of Elul is just about here, and we stand right in front of the gate to the High Holidays and the decrees which are written during this period. We have in our hands the golden key to a good life, one of health and fulfillment, the blessings which will hopefully greet us in the coming year.

We are reminded of an event which occurred not too long ago, in the previous generation. Whole communities were besieged and the ghetto walls were erected. Each day, the enemy demanded a certain number of people to be placed into the wagons of death and travel along the road of no return. As they all did not know when their turn will come, everybody tried to find some way out, some way to survive. The rumor began spreading that those employed in the factories are entitled to government protection, as their labor was necessary for the functioning of the government. Masses of people stormed to the workhouses, desperate for work.

Our world may be compared to a giant ghetto, and, tragically, thousands are taken from us each year. We all know people who, sadly, did not survive this year. How can we secure protection papers to save us from the harsh decree?

If there was such a method of escape, who would not make every attempt to seize the opportunity to save his life?

Hazal promised us, "One who increases his Torah - increases his life." Anyone who joins a Torah class, be it on Shabbat or during the week, is included in the illustrious category of "one who increases Torah" and is promised to have increased life, as well. One who sends his children to Torah institutions and programs offers them the merit of life, as well. All these people will be included in the promise which Hashem Himself guarantees, and now, Elul, is the time to secure the fulfillment of this promise.


The saintly Rabbi Rahamim Hai Havitah Hakohen zs"l teaches us a profound insight in his work, "Minhat Kohen" (26). His comments shed brilliant light on the opening passuk of this week's parashah.

He begins with a story of a child who suffered from a painful infection on his hand. He would scratch the irritation furiously which added cuts and bruises to his hand. The father brought his child to the doctor who warned the patient not to scratch the infection, as doing so would prolong and intensify the problem. The child protested. "But it itches, it bothers me so! I cannot help it!" The doctor shrugged his shoulders and said, "Very well then, do as you wish. Just realize that if you scratch the bruise it will not heal." Then, the doctor applied some cream to the bruise and instructed the boy to continue to put the cream on his hand for the next week so as to prevent further infection. "Ouch!" cried the boy. "The cream burns!" Again, the doctor shrugged his shoulders and saw them out, wishing them well. He did all that he could, and now the rest lies in the hands of his patient.

But the father did not relax as the doctor did. He recognized full well the danger to his son's health should the boy refuse to comply with the doctor's orders. He turned to his son and said, "Let's make a deal. If you refrain from scratching your hand for the entire day, you will receive a pair of roller skates. If you stop scratching for two days, you will get a new bicycle. When three days pass, you will get even a better prize. If you apply the cream consistently, we will take you on a great trip." Ultimately, figured the father, the boy would view following the doctor's instructions as doing a favor for his father.

The boy refused vehemently. He still insisted that he would still scratch and not apply the ointment. The father had no choice but to resort to threats and punishments. "If I catch you scratching your bruise you will get a slap! If you don't let me put the cream on your hand you will go to sleep without dinner!" The father turned, as it were, into a cruel tyrant. Did he have a choice? His son's well-being is at stake, and the father must do all he can to ensure his son's health.

What exactly is the difference between the father and the doctor? Why did the doctor behave in such a relaxed and easy-going manner while the father never let up and tried everything in his power, through incentives and threats? The answer is simple: the doctor is, for all intents and purposes, a stranger, while the father is the boy's flesh and blood! He is a loving, caring, and compassionate father, who looks out for the well-being of his dear son.

This parable helps us better understand the opening verse of our parashah: "Behold, I place before you today a blessing and a curse. The blessing, should you heed the commandments of Hashem, your G-d." Moshe is telling the people, should you wonder why Hashem punishes you for violating the misvot, should you ask, what's it to Him if we decide to hurt ourselves by living as we please, the answer is, "Behold, I place..." - understand that I, your loving father, who longs for your happiness and good fortune, cannot stand by idly and watch you hurt yourselves!

When we probe this idea further, we will understand the concept with more clarity and depth. Where does the father draw the line? How far will his rewards and punishments to his son extend? Presumably, there would have to be a limit, based upon the father's financial resources. But even were we to be dealing with a wealthy and successful father, he would still limit the reward to what is needed to serve the purpose, and the same could be said regarding the severity of the punishments which he would administer. Certainly the father would never resort to violence or other severe behavior if his son continued to scratch his wound.

If so, then we can now better understand the series of blessings and curses set forth by the Torah at the end of Sefer Vayikra and again in Parashat Ki Tavo.

As severe as these curses are, those calamities which Benei Yisrael will suffer, Heaven forbid, should they fail to observe the misvot, as terrible as these ninety-eight curses are - they still pale in comparison to the curse of spiritual contamination caused by these disasters.

And on the other side of the coin, all the wonderful blessings which we are promised - "You will be blessed in the city, you will be blessed in the field. The fruit of your womb, the fruit of your field, and the fruit of your animals will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come, you will be blessed when you leave."

"Hashem will make the enemies which rise up against you fall defeated before you..." - may all these blessings apply to each and every one of us!! - as great as these blessings are, they can still not compare to the great fortune and blessing of misvah observance, a blessing which exceeds all description. The blessings enumerated in the Torah are but a means of persuasion, an incentive. But true greatness lies in the fulfillment of misvot and the refraining from committing averot.

If we can internalize this message, we will merit the double blessing, that of the actual fulfillment of the misvot and the blessings resulting from their fulfillment.

Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a

The Berachah For Roasted Rice

Which berachah should be recited over rice made from rice which had been roasted instead of cooked?

As we have already explained, there is a dispute regarding rice which was cooked whole. The Rosh rules that one recites "ha'adamah" over such rice, and mezonot is recited only if the rice was crushed. By contrast, the Rif and the Rambam maintain that one recites mezonot even if the rice was whole. The Shulhan Aruch (208:7) rules that the proper blessing is mezonot without any distinction in this regard between crushed and whole rice. But the Rem"a on the spot rules like the Rosh, that only for crushed rice one recites mezonot; but for whole rice the proper blessing is ha'adamah.

The Hid"a, in "Birkei Yosef" (208:3), rules in accordance with the Shulhan Aruch, and tells that many great authorities practiced this way, as well, and indeed this view should be followed.

However, there is an opinion which restricts the Shulhan Aruch's ruling to a situation in which the rice was crushed like cereal, that only then should one recite mezonot. Despite the fact that common practice is to recite mezonot even on whole rice, there remains a huge argument on the subject, and we therefore can follow only that which the Shulhan Aruch discussed explicitly. Therefore, since he wrote specifically about cooked rice, if the rice was roasted and not cooked one should recite ha'adamah. This is the ruling of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a.

Nevertheless, if one did recite mezonot on such rice, he has fulfilled his obligation. (See the work "Be'er Avraham" by Rav Avraham Kimhi shlit"a chapter 1.) This is because Rabbi Yosef Hayim, in his work, "Ben Ish Hai" (Balak 13) writes that one has fulfilled his obligation if he recited mezonot on any type of food or drink except for water and salt.

In summary, if one eats rice which was roasted he recites a mezonot, since it was not cooked.

Rabbi Yosef Ohayon zs"l

This Monday, Erev Rosh Hodesh Elul, marks the yahrseit of Rabbi Yosef Ohayon zs"l, author of the sacred work, "Avkat Rochel." Rabbi Yosef was one of the great, sacred leaders of Morocco around a hundred years ago, and was known everywhere as a saintly and righteous man. He was graced by the Al-mighty with wealth and was able to dedicate his time towards Torah studies. He acquired a command of all areas of the Torah, both the hidden and revealed. His accomplishments granted him a level of "ruah hakodesh" (divine spirit). Throngs of people would run to his door for his blessings.

His son, Rabbi Siyon Ohayon shlit"a said, "When I was younger, I made a living in the carpet industry. I purchased carpets from all types of merchants and I sold them in my store. One day people stormed into my store and stole several expensive carpets. I went into a panic, as I had bought this merchandise on credit and still had not paid the merchants. The word of the robbery spread quickly and the merchants came to demand their money. They threatened to take me to court and have me sent to jail if I didn't pay my loan or return the carpets.

"I hurried to my saintly father and told him of my trouble. I asked that he pray on my behalf. Looking at me with his divine inspiration, he said, 'The stolen carpets are in this-and-this house. Go ahead and retrieve your property!'

"'How can I just show up at a stranger's house?' I asked. 'Surely they will throw me out.'

"My father wrote an amulet for me and guaranteed that I would be protected as long as the amulet is with me. I proceeded to the address which he gave me and I saw the carpets decorating the walls and floor. I rolled them up and brought them to the store safely."


"Behold, I place before you today"

The Or Hahayim zs"l writes that when a Jew is asked to perform introspection in anticipation of the High Holidays, his natural reaction is to feel insulted and hurt. After all, he observes Shabbat, kashrut, and family purity. Why should he be suspected of Torah violations? For this reason, Moshe reminds him that although he may be better than the sinners of his time, "Behold, I" - compare yourself to the sadikim of the generation, not to the its sinners. Then you will realize that you still have quite a long way to go until you have reached religious perfection.

"I place before you today a blessing and a curse"

Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno zs"l explains that the majority of people belong to the middle group, whose sins are not severe but whose misvah observance is not quite perfect. Their prayers are not recited with complete concentration, their learning is not done with enough consistency, and their mouths are not totally clean of improper speech. They console themselves by saying that there's no need to push to the front line in Gan Eden.

But Moshe is not content with this type of approach. He challenges the people, why should you feel satisfied with this level of observance? You have before you the opportunity for great blessing, joy, and good fortune!

"Behold, I place before you today a blessing"

Why does Moshe open his remarks with the word, "Behold" ("Re'eh")? Furthermore, why does he begin in the singular form ("Re'eh") and then switch to the plural form ("lifneichem")? Rabbi Yaakov Ba'al Hatuirm zs"l explains that normally, when people draw lots, and each person is asked to take his slip of paper, the information on the paper is concealed, so as to ensure that the lots are drawn by random. But Moshe emphasizes to the people, "Behold!" - look with your own eyes, everything is open and revealed. Choose the berachah, the blessing which results from misvah observance. And keep away from the curse, which will result from a lack of Torah observance.

If only the entire nation would choose the berachah and reject the kelalah (curse)!



Every so often, volcanoes erupt and spew forth rocks which have been melted by intense heat, leaving a path of destruction behind them. When these rocks are thrown from the volcano in liquid form, they form a substance called lava. The temperature of the lava can reach 1200 degrees centigrade. Deep inside the ground, the temperature is exceedingly hot. This heat generates underground pressure which eventually forces its way out. When the pressures find a relatively weak spot in the outer layer of the surface of the Earth, they burst from that spot. These bursts cause earthquakes and volcanoes. One famous volcano in Italy erupted several times, and once it erupted continuously for eight day, covering hundreds of kilometers with lava. The city of Pompei was covered by a layer of ashes several meters high. It is written in Midrash Tehillim that when Benei Yisrael follow the will of Hashem they are blessed with the fulfillment of the verse, "The land on which the eyes of Hashem are placed," but when they fail to follow the path of Hashem, we may, Heaven forbid, witness another verse: "He [Hashem] looks at the land and it trembles, He touches the mountain and it fills with ash."


"Nahum Ish Gam Zu"

Many of us are familiar with the tale of Nahum Ish Gam Zu, the teacher of Rabbi Akiva. He was a saintly man who suffered from many ailments - his was missing both his hands, he was lame in two feet, he was blind, and his skin was covered with painful boils. Why did all this pain come about? Because he decreed it upon himself. Once he was walking along the road with a donkey which was carrying food. As he traveled, a poor person came and began taking some of the food from the donkey and eating it. Nahum told him, "Just wait until I unload the donkey." As he was unloading, the beggar died from hunger. Nahum fell and cried, "My hands which did not have compassion for your hands - should be cut off! My legs which did not have compassion for your legs - should be lame! My eyes which did not have compassion for your eyes - should be blinded!" He was not comforted until he decreed upon himself that his body become afflicted with boils.

What a frightening episode, especially when seen from a spiritual perspective. There are so many of our brothers who are putting their hands out to us, begging for spiritual sustenance, a Torah class, to become closer. Some of us tell them, "Wait until I unload my packages, until I complete myself, until I finish my own learning." In the meantime, the opportunity may quickly pass, and the seekers can be very easily swept away and lost forever. How can one who learns Torah remain calm and passive, how can he excuse himself, and what will he tell his Creator when he is accused, "The voice of the blood of your brother cries out from the land!" - his blood and that of his offspring! Three months ago the Rishon Lesiyon shlit"a requested, during a convention in preparation for Shavuot and Kabbalat HaTorah, that each individual take it upon himself to bring one person closer to observance. One person should help another, but not a perfunctory, temporary exposure to observance, but a consistent process of guidance and direction, that each of us should listen to and understand the heart of the other.

This process involves lending an ear to listen to his problems, to direct him along the path of halachah, step by step, over a whole year. Every son of Hashem should bring one person closer and return him to his father. This one project can achieve incredible results. So many merits can be brought about for both people, and so much blessing will descend. What have we done in this regard? Have we listened to the sadik's request, have we begun fulfilling his instruction? If not, it is worth our while to get going, so that we have something to bring with us to our Father in Heaven this Rosh Hashanah!

from Rabbi Avigdor Miller


An appropriate opportunity for this study is the Shabbat-repast. "One who makes the Shabbat pleasurable, is given an estate which has no bounds" (Shabbat 118a), for this is an achievement which has no bounds. Not only is the Oneg induced by food and drink; but also by the contemplation of the food and drink., which greatly enhances the delights of the Shabbat. But the paramount achievement of Oneg Shabbat is the sensory awareness of the Goodness of Creation. Thus we sit at the Shabbat-table and look at the Shabbat lamps. What a miraculous phenomenon! Slow oxidation produces no visible light, but the rapid oxidation of the wick and the paraffin or oil produces the spectacular phenomenon of light. How light can result from chemical metamorphosis is an unsolved mystery; but even if we understood, it would still constitute a glorious form of kindliness which the Creator bestows on Mankind. It is for this reproduction of daylight that we give thanks to the creator on every Saturday night when we light the Havdalah flame.

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