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Avuyah was a leading figure in Yerushalayim. On the day when his newborn son, Elisha, entered the covenant of Avraham Avinu through circumcision, he invited the great rabbis and prominent figures of Yerushalayim to celebrate. As they ate, drank, danced and clapped, Rabbi Elazar turned to Rabbi Yehoshua and said, “While they are involving themselves in their activities, let’s involve ourselves in ours. They sat and engaged in Torah study, when suddenly fire descended from the heavens and surrounded them.
Avuyah, who hosted the affair, asked the rabbis, “Have you come to burn my house?”
“Heaven forbid,” they replied. “But we have been engaged in Torah study, and it was as joyous for us as the day when the Torah was first given at Sinai - and at Sinai, wasn’t there fire?”
Avuyah responded, “If, then, this is the power of Torah, then if my son survives - I dedicate him to Torah study!” (Yerushalmi, Hagigah).
The Gemara (Sukkah 28a) says about Yonatan Ben Uziel, the greatest student of Hillel, that when he would study Torah, any bird that flew overhead would be burnt! Tosafot there explain that “the words were as joyful as when they were given at Sinai, and the Torah was given amidst fire.”
Fire thus serves as the symbol of Matan Torah. The Al-mighty therefore revealed Himself to Moshe Rabbenu for the first time in the vision of the burning bush, “alluding to Moshe that in the future He will give through him the Torah on that spot amidst fire” (Rabbenu Bahya).
Likewise, when we are commanded to remember and perpetuate the memory of this great moment, it is emphasized that “the mountain burned with fire to the heart of the heavens, darkness, clouds and fog. Hashem spoke to you from the midst of the fire” (Devarim 4:9). Furthermore, “Rabbi Yohanan said, whoever wishes to involve himself in Torah should see himself as standing in fire… “ (Tanhuma, Vezot Haberachah 5). In short, this is what we must remember from Ma’amad Har Sinai. “The entire world trembled in Your presence… and You made them hear the grandeur of Your voice and Your sacred commandments from the fiery flames. With sounds and lightening You revealed Yourself to them, and with the blast of the shofar You appeared to them” (mussaf, Rosh Hashanah).
Remarkably, however, on Shavuot, the festival commemorating Matan Torah, we have no symbol to bring to mind the great fire and the frightening sound of the shofar. To the contrary, the custom has evolved to spread flowers and branches in commemoration of the beautiful, decorative flowers with which Hashem adorned the mountain for Matan Torah (Maharil and Levush, 494). The aroma produced by the flowers commemorates the fact that during Matan Torah, “with each and every passage uttered by the Al-mighty the entire world was filled with the scent of fragrant spices” (Shabbat 88b).
This teaches us a beautiful and profound lesson. Hazal compared Ma’amad Har Sinai to a wedding ceremony, the marriage of the Creator and His nation (Ta’anit 26b). Let no one ever take marriage lightly! A wedding is the gateway to a new world and constant obligation on both sides. Hazal refer to the obligation of the husband as “a millstone on his shoulder” (Kiddushin 29b), requiring devotion and a burden of responsibility. The husband signs the ketubah document, confirming his responsibilities. The wife, without signing, takes upon the burden of running the household, cooking and baking, cleaning and laundry, a whole world of obligations. Not to mention the responsibility for raising the children and worrying about their education.
But lo and behold, on the day of accepting this burden and yoke of responsibility, there is such joy and celebration! And not only do the two celebrate together, but they invite the entire family and all their friends to join them in dancing and festivity!
Why? Because the burden and obligations are but the result of the main component of the relationship - the bond that is created, the eternal covenant that comes with the establishment of a new family. Therefore, “there is no more joyous day than the day of a wedding” (Tanhuma, Ki-Tosa 2). Thus, although there is “fire,” seriousness and commitment, there are far more flowers and spices - endless happiness and good fortune!
Every year, when we commemorate this wedding day, we do not mark the day on which we begin with the mortgage payments and the bearing of the burden, but rather the day on which the couple’s new life together began, when “I spread My wings over you… and I entered into a covenant with you by oath… thus you became Mine” (Yehezkel 16:8). We celebrate the happiest day of all, which brought in its wake a wondrous, joyous life.
This is our perspective on the festival of Shavuot, the day on which the Al-mighty chose us as His treasured nation, when He spread the mountain over us like a canopy and filled the entire world with the scent of spices when He declared, “I am Hashem your G-d,” the day of “I will be for you a G-d, and you shall be for Me a nation,” the day when we celebrate our anniversary!
a continuing saga - part one
Rabbenu Nissim Gaon z”l, in “Sefer Ma’asiyot,” writes the following story about Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi, who was among the latest of the Tanna’im, a student of Rabbenu Hakadosh (see Yoma 10). His comments are mentioned in the mishnah - see Ukassin 3:12 and Tosefot Yom Tov, and Avot 6:2. Rabbi Yehoshua fasted for many days and prayed to the Al-mighty that He show him Eliyahu Hanavi. His prayers were answered, and Eliyahu came to see him.
“Tell me what request you have, and I will fulfill it,” he said.
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi said, “I long to walk with you and see what you do in the world. Contemplating your deeds will give me great wisdom!”
But Eliyahu replied, “You will not be able to handle that which you will see, and you will put me through the trouble of explaining to you what I do and why.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi promised, “My master, I will ask and inquire about nothing; I will not trouble you with my words. I wish merely to see what you do, and no more.”
Eliyahu Hanavi made an explicit condition with him that should Rabbi Yehoshua ask him to explain his unusual and incomprehensible actions, or make any request, they will have to part ways. Rabbi Yehoshua agreed, and they went. Soon they came to a dilapidated shack, in the doorway to which sat an impoverished elderly couple, man and wife. The couple saw the two men coming, rose from their places and went to greet them. They warmly invited the passersby to come inside and join them as their guests.
“We have only a single cow,” they said, “but from it we can make cheese, butter and milk.” Eliyahu and, after him, Rabbi Yehoshua, agreed to stay and entered the hut. The couple set the table and brought them dairy foods. The two guests ate heartily, slept over in the hut, and, in the morning, they thanked their hosts and bid them farewell. As they left, Rabbi Yehoshua heard Eliyahu Hanavi praying to Hashem: “Master of the world, please kill this couple’s cow.” They hadn’t gone too far before they heard the wails of the old couple, lamenting the death of their cow - their lone possession!
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi’s eyes darkened from distress, and he thought to himself, did not Eliyahu Hanavi have any reward to grant this couple for their warmth and kindheartedness, for their gracious hospitality, rather than killing their cow - their only cow, other than which they have nothing? He could not control himself, and he turned to Eliyahu Hanavi and asked, “My master, why did you kill this couple’s cow after they greeted you so warmly and respectfully?”
Eliyahu replied, “Remember the condition to which we agreed: you may listen and see, but you must remain silent, unless you wish to be separated from me, at which point I will explain to you my reasoning.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi remained silent, and the two continued along their way.
That evening, they arrived at the home of a very wealthy man. He paid no attention to them, not to mention that he did not invite them into his home to eat or sleep over. He halfheartedly agreed to allow them to sleep in his yard, warning them not to sleep too close to the wall. It was not very sturdy and could potentially fall at any moment. They moved away from the wall and slept in the yard, and the next morning Rabbi Yehoshua heard Eliyahu praying for the wall to become fortified. Right there and then, the cracks were sealed and the wall became sturdy and solid. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi was now even more befuddled, but this time he contained his wonder and said nothing. The two continued along their way.
To be continued...
Rabbi Yihyeh Yis’hak Halevi zs”l
Seventy years have passed since the death of Rabbi Yihyeh Yis’hak Halevi zs”l, the rabbi of Yemenite Jewry, who devoted his life to the struggle against the efforts to convert Jewish orphans out of their faith. We tell here one of the cases in which he was involved.
In the village of Hafed a couple was killed by a plague, leaving behind two young orphan children. The governor of the village took them under his care and tried persuading them to convert to Islam. But the children adamantly refused. They were Jews, and they knew that their deceased parents wanted them to remain Jewish.
“If you do not convert,” the governor threatened, “you will not be able to eat in my home, and you will die of hunger.”
The children declared that they were prepared to die rather than convert to Islam.
The governor decided to send them to the king, to his palace in Sanaa. He was sure that they would not refuse the king, nor would they withstand the lure of the royal palace.
The rabbi heard of the plot and immediately came to the rescue. He secretly consulted with the king’s Jewish advisor, who informed him that the king planned on taking the children with him to the mosque for Friday prayers. Realizing that time was short, the rabbi arranged for the children’s abduction from the palace on Thursday afternoon!
The king was incensed. A hasty and cruel interrogation revealed that the kidnappers were sent by the rabbi. Soldiers surrounded the rabbi’s home and demanded that he give them the children. The rabbi went to the soldiers and told them that he wished to join them and speak to the king. In the meantime, he ordered his family to hide the children in the home of an adopting family. The rabbi appeared before the king, took responsibility for the kidnapping, and informed the king that the children had left his home. He asked for some time to find them. The king was impressed by the rabbi’s dignified presence and strength of spirit and gave him until Sunday to find the children. On Sunday, the rabbi came and apologized that over Shabbat he had not the time to look into the matter. He asked for a further extension. In the meantime, the king’s wrath subsided, new troubles led him to forget the entire issue, and the orphans were raised as Jews and built beautiful Jewish homes!
Something Interesting About the Parrot
The parrot is considered a particularly social and intelligent bird that lives in groups and has found its place as a particularly enjoyable pet. Parrots living in captivity and fed by human beings since childhood are generally friendly and good-natured. The parrot is not afraid of groups of people and enjoys playing. By contrast, a parrot that had flown freely through the jungles and suddenly finds itself confined to the home of a human being, an area that accommodates its new owner but not itself, will respond with hostility to the owner, and - let’s face it - justifiably so. As opposed to dogs and cats, who see their owners as leaders of the group, the parrot sees its owner as part of the group. It therefore does not treat its owner with reverence and flattery as do other animals. Parrot owners are often warned that parrots naturally live in groups with a social hierarchy of sorts; therefore, in the home, too, it will express this tendency. For example, in the natural life of parrots, the dominant bird sits perched on the highest branch. Therefore, someone who allows his parrot to spend too much time sitting on his shoulder must realize that the parrot will then see itself as ruler over the house, as his position is higher than the owner’s. It will be awfully difficult to convince the parrot later that that is not how things really are.
A parrot with whom the owner does not play and is not given attention is likely to degenerate and develop serious emotional disorders. This is the warning constantly issued by those who raise parrots. What can we say? Attention is not something relevant only in the realm of wildlife. Quite to the contrary, there is no one who does not need attention, some affection, personal regard devoted specifically to him. How unfortunate it is that at times, out of sheer laziness, a lack of consideration and lack of thoughtfulness, people are denied this basic need that costs nothing but gives an enormous amount. For us Jews, all this falls under the rule considered by Rabbi Akiva as the most fundamental principle - “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” - actually like yourself. That which you would want others to do to you, you should do for others. We all know how depressing it is to be left without any attention, and what a boost of morale is brought by a smile, or a kind word. Disregard can leave an emotional wound that could last for years to come, perhaps never to heal. As the proverb goes, “That which you despise - do not do to others.”
Anyone who learns Torah for its own sake, brings peace up above and here, down below, as it says, “Then he will strengthen through my strength, he will bring peace to me, peace he will bring to me.” (Yishayhu 27:5) Rav said: as if he built a palace up above and a palace down below, as it says, “I will place my words in your mouth… To plant the sky and solidify the land.” (Yishayhu 21:15) Rabbi Yohanan said: He even protects the whole world, as it says “And with the shadow of my hand, I will cover you.” Rabbi Levi said: He even brings the redemption close, as it says, “And to say to Tziyon, you are my nation.” (Sanhedrin 99b)
Anyone who learns Torah, it is as if he has brought an Olah sacrifice, as if he brought a Minha sacrifice, as if he brought a Hatat sacrifice, as if he brought an Asham sacrifice, and as if he brought a Shelamim sacrifice. (Menhot 110a) Anyone who learns Torah, it is as if he has sacrificed all the sacrifices in the world to Hashem, and many places of honor are set for him in the world to come. (Zohar 3:159a)
Rabbi Yehuda began: “The Torah of Hashem is perfect, it revived the soul.” (Tehilim 19:8) How much should people learn Torah! Anyone who learns Torah will have life in this world and in the world to come, and will merit two worlds. Even one who learns Torah and does not do so for its own sake as is proper, will merit a good reward in this world and will no be judged harshly in the world to come. When his soul departs to return to its source, its Torah will walk before that soul, and how many gates will be broken by it until it returns to its source! The light of Torah will surround it until it wakes up again in the time that the dead will reawaken, and will be for him a defender. (Zohar 1:184b)
How beloved is Torah before Hashem, that anyone who works hard learning Torah is beloved above and beloved down below! G-d will listen to his voice and will not abandon him in this world or in the world to come, and the Torah requests that he should work hard learning her, day and night. (Zohar 2:46a)
Yisrael is fortunate, for Hakadosh Baruch Hu chose them from amongst all the nations, and because of his love for them, gave them the true Torah in order to know the ways of the holy King. Anyone who clings to the Torah, clings to G-d, for the Torah is all names of G-d, and those who learn Torah, learn the secrets of His name. All those who distance themselves from Torah, are distanceing themselves from their Creator. (Zohar 3:89b)
Anyone who learns Torah, merits the opening of many gates for him in this world, and many lights. The hour that he departs from this world, his Torah precedes him and turns to all the gatekeepers crying out: “Let the gates open, and prepare a place of honor for this man! He has worshipped the holy King!” There is no joy for G-d other than one who learns Torah. How much more so, one who wakes up in the night to learn Torah, for all the righteous in Gan Eden listen to his voice and G-d is praised through him! (Zohar 3:213a)
“The beloved deer, bringing grace.” (Mishlei 5:19) Rabbi Shimon cried, saying: Torah, Torah, light of all the worlds! How many rivers and springs of water spread from you in all directions! From you is everything, upon you the upper and lower worlds are established, an elevated light comes from you! Torah, Torah, what can I say of you, “the beloved deer” you are, bringing grace above and below. Torah, Torah, a pleasure to your creator, who can count and reveal all your secrets and hidden stores! He placed his head between his knees and cried from his great love for the Torah. (Zohar 3:166b)
We will begin with a wonderful parable, with the words of the book “Maalot HaTorah”: Imagine, a great and mighty king sees a man lying in the garbage, beaten and suffering many afflictions and diseases, with many failings and problems. The man finds favor in the eyes of the king, and the king commands to wash him from his dirt, to heal him from his diseases until he is healthy and complete in all his limbs, to dress him in fine clothing, to crown him with jewels and pearls and to give him all his secrets. He commands that all matters of the kingdom should be by his hand, marries his daughter to him, and raises him above all the princes and servants of the king, telling all the great men of the kingdom to serve him in royal clothing, in whatever he desires.
Then, while he is still wearing the clothes of royalty and crowned in jewels and all of the great men of the kingdom walk before him and light his way with lamps, he sees children playing in the garbage, collecting rocks and laughing. He is jealous of them and leaves the royal procession and sits with them in garbage, joining in their games. Will there be any end to his punishment, he who has insulted the honor of the king and his servants, dirtied the fine clothing, degraded his status and kicked the gifts of the king through his preference for children’s games?!
Up until here is the parable, and what is the explanation?
We will first say: A great merit and a great responsibility came to our hands this year, with the juxtaposition of the holiday of Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah to the holy Shabbat. True, everyone is responsible to learn Torah every day, and to set aside times for learning Torah; However, many are busy with their livelihood and imagine that they have no choice.
Six long days we are busy with our work; on Shabbat we are tired from the week’s work. It is a bad excuse, but an excuse. Now though, we celebrate the holiday of the giving of the Torah on Friday. We thank G-d for this most wondrous of gifts, the most glorious of inheritances and now we will test if our hearts and our mouths really match up. Are we really happy with the Torah and thank G-d with a full heart for its giving? The next day is Shabbat, a Shabbat after a relaxing holiday. We are not tired on it, not worn out we will sanctify it with the Torah?! Or will we, G-d forbid, turn to children’s games, wasting time, reading newspapers….
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs Related to the Festivals, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef, Shlit”a, By Rav David Yossef Shilt”a
At daybreak on Shavuot morning, after an entire night of learning, one washes his hands three times in alternating fashion, as he washes every morning. (This is because some views maintain that one must wash in the morning due to the very passage of night; one must therefore wash regardless of whether or not he slept.) Nevertheless, one does not recite a berachah over hand-washing on Shavuot morning, because some views hold that the morning washing is required due to one’s having slept, as sleep brings about an “evil spirit” on one’s hands, or out of concern that one touched unclean parts of the body while he slept. According to these views, no washing is required when one did not sleep throughout the night; as we do not recite berachot when the requirement is uncertain, one who remained awake throughout the night does not recite a berachah on his hand-washing. If one must perform his bodily functions before washing his hands, he recites only “asher yassar.”
After one washes his hands, he recites birkot hashahar and birkot ha’Torah. This is the widespread custom among the Sefaradim and Eastern communities, that even those who remained awake throughout the night recite these berachot. (When a custom has been maintained, we do not employ the principle of “safek berachot le’hakel.”) The Ashkenazim, however, have the practice that those who did not sleep through the night hear the recitation of these berachot from someone who did sleep. They answer “amen” to his berachot and thereby fulfill their obligation.
One must ensure not to recite birkot hashahar or birkot ha’Torah before daybreak (unless he slept a “permanent” sleep on his bed, in which case he recites these berachot when he awakens, even should this occur before daybreak). Daybreak occurs 1 and one-fifth hour (as defined by halachah) before sunrise. After reciting these berachot, one wraps himself in his tallit with a berachah. One must ensure not to wrap in his tallit before six minutes have passed since daybreak.
One must gather his strength for the recitation of shaharit on Shavuot morning and ensure not to fall asleep during the service, for if he does, the reward for his having remained awake is negated by the loss of his prayer. Very often, if one falls asleep somewhat during tefilah, pesukei de’zimra or birkot keri’at shema, he cannot remember where he was up to when he fell asleep. One must make in effort in this regard also during the reading of the Torah, which includes the reading of the Ten Commandments. Hazal comment (Yalkut Shimoni Parashat Yitro), “The Al-mighty said to Yisrael, My children, read the parashah of the Ten Commandments every year (on Shavuot) and I will consider it as if you stood before Mount Sinai and accepted the Torah.”
The Ashkenazim have the custom of reading Megillat Rut on Shavuot from a proper Megillah, and some even recite a berachah on this recitation (“… asher kideshanu be’misvotav ve’ssivanu al mikra Megillah”). The Sefaradim, however, do not have this practice at all. A Sefaradi who reads Megillat Rut from a proper Megillah to fulfill the obligation on behalf of Ashkenazim may not recite this berachah over the reading.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered by Rav Ovadiah Yossef Shlit"a on Mossa’ei Shabbat
The custom is to read Megillat Rut on Shavuot, both at night and by day, without a berachah. The reason for this custom is that King David passed away on Shavuot, and his lineage is mentioned in this Megillah.
Hazal note that Megillat Rut presents no legal information relevant for decisions of halachah, but comes simply to show the great reward for performing kindness. When Boaz saw Rut, he told his workers harvesting the fields to pretend to drop sheaves of grain during the harvest so that she can collect them. He did so because Rut, a granddaughter of Eglon, the king of Moav, converted to become a Jew out of her love for the Torah. In reward for her kindness towards Naomi, her mother-in-law, refusing to leave her in her time of distress, Boaz acted kindly towards her. Upon seeing her piety, Boaz married her and she gave birth to Oved, David’s grandfather. In her lifetime Rut saw her grandchildren and great-grandchildren sitting on the throne (Baba Batra 91b).
Fortunate is the one who has the privilege of performing kindness for others and giving charity to the poor, for this merit works for him both in this world and the next. One must rejoice over the opportunity to give charity. In fact, Hazal (Rut Rabbah 5:9) say that the poor receiving charity do more for the rich giver than the latter does for him. One who gives of his own money for charity not only does not lose as a result, but Hashem gives him much, much more so that he can continue helping those in need. Conversely, if one keeps his money to himself and does not give to the poor, his money will ultimately work against him. Hazal tell of a poor man who was blessed by Eliyahu Hanavi and his sons found a treasure capable of supporting the family for seven years. The wife decided to use the money for charitable purposes throughout the seven years, and after that period Hashem blessed them with even more.
Another story is told in the work “Kav Hayashar” of a mohel who traveled a vast distance to perform a milah, and it turned out that he had entered the “kingdom of shedim [demons].” He was shown that the leader of the “shedim” had in his possession the key to all the wealth of those who refuse to share their money with others, and he prevents the owners from benefiting from this wealth. We must learn this critical lesson, that unless we share what we have with those in need, we ourselves will not fully benefit from our wealth!
Senyar Bat Mazal and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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