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
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
DRAWING THE LINE
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
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
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
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
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.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
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
"'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."
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"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
If only the entire nation would choose the berachah and reject the kelalah
FROM THE WONDERS OF CREATION
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
THE WELLSPRING OF EDUCATION
"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
SING YOU RIGHTEOUS
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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