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Parashat Shelah


Already during his youth, the "Yismah Moshe" zs"l applied himself with remarkable diligence to Torah study with purity and sanctity. His intensity increased after his marriage, as from day to day he ascended greater levels of depth of understanding and profundity of thought. Only one thing cast a shadow on his exalted spiritual fortune - the ancient question of, "A millstone rests upon his shoulders - and he will occupy himself with Torah?!" Kollelim for married students did not exist in those days, and Hazal already tell us that "the Torah was given only to those who ate the mann," to those for whom the mann descended every morning. It was hard for the diligent student to make a living, and very often he would depend upon short-term loans. He borrowed from one to repay the other, and the financial burden interfered with his study and disrupted his concentration.

One evening, after a day filled with Torah and avodat Hashem, swathed with the frustration of scrambling for a livelihood, he sat and conducted an intense "heshbon nefesh" (introspection). In truth, he reasoned, his debts were minor - twenty gold coins he owed to this one, thirty to that one.

He could live on very little, eating moderately and dressing simply. He calculated that five hundred gold coins would suffice to support himself for the year and repay his debts, with money to spare. Now the Al-mighty certainly wants his Torah and prayer, his missvot and sacred avodah.

There can be no question in this regard. The entire universe is His, he owns all the gold and silver on earth, and five hundred gold coins is nothing from Hashem's perspective. Why would He not provide this small amount to enable the young, promising scholar to learn unencumbered? When there is flour, there is Torah!

He prayed from the depths of his heart, "Master of the World, give me five hundred gold coins!" How would this happen? The Al-mighty has many ways; He will choose one. He prayed with intense concentration and emotion, and eventually he fell asleep. He dreamt that the Ar"i Hakadosh came into the room, and the entire room sparkled from his glory. The rabbi thought to himself, certainly the Ar"i has come to bring me the money. The Ar"i approached him and said, "Young man, when you have five hundred gold coins, you will no longer need the Creator's assistance?" Then the rav awoke.

At that moment, he awoke not only from his sleep, but also from the entire thought process that had brought him to this point. He understood then more than ever that we are dependent upon Divine mercy at every step and every breath.

He supplies life, He regulates our health, He protects us from disaster.

Without Him, G-d forbid, nothing at all could possibly succeed: one could sit by his plate unable to eat; he could put food into his mouth unable to swallow; he could swallow but not digest, and so on, Heaven forbid. In any event, no matter what goodness is bestowed upon us, we must rely on His kindness. "He Who created day created its livelihood," and He will provide our sustenance when it's required.

Precisely herein lies the fatal mistake of the scouts. They knew full well that in the wilderness they lived in the world of the supernatural. The mann descended every morning and the quail came in the evening. They were surrounded by the clouds of glory, led at night by Hashem's pillar of fire, they drank water from the rock, and the aron ahead of them smoothed the path before them for easy travel. Wherever they looked, there were miracles!

They also realized, however, that immediately upon entry into Eress Yisrael, this world of miracles will give way to a new reality. As soon as they would cross the river, the mann would stop coming down. They would have to till the land and produce bread by hand. Miriam's well will be cast into the Kinneret, the clouds of glory will no longer protect them, and they would have to fight their wars through natural means. This is why they sent ahead scouts, in order to prepare for the real-life warfare that awaited them. The spies came to the Promised Land and were seized with terror.

They found mighty fortresses, huge walls ascending to the heavens, and frightening giants against whom they would have to wage combat. They felt discouraged, and they brought their discouragement to the rest of the nation: "We cannot go up against the nation, for they are stronger than us."

The implication being that were the fortresses not to have been so formidable, then the conquest would have been well within their reach, without dependency on the Al-mighty.

And if the inhabitants were not giants - they would not have required Hashem's help? If the cities did not have walls - they would have fared well with their own might? Can a person succeed independently, on his own, without Hashem's assistance at even a single point in his life? And if one relies on Hashem's help, is there anything stopping Him from saving?

A well-known saying declares, "Without the Creator's help, one cannot pass through the doorway of the house; and with Hashem's help, one can split the sea." Indeed, this parashah serves a guide through every road we take in life. We must rely on His help in every regard, and then we will merit His salvation.


A beautiful idea is found in the work "Or Penei Yehoshua" by the great Gaon of Gelantah Hy"d. The lesson is a powerful one, and particularly relevant in our times. Moshe sent the scouts to see, among other things, if the inhabitants of Canaan lived in open cities or walled fortresses. The scouts went and saw that indeed, the cities in Canaan were surrounded by enormous walls with solid gates and locks. They were dismayed. If the Canaanites had lived in open cities, it would have been so much easier to defeat them.

But now, what are Benei Yisrael going to do?

"Kalev quieted the nation towards Moshe and said, 'Let us go and inherit it, for we can surely take it!'" Kalev told the spies, "You misunderstood Moshe's request! If the cities were open, then we would have reason to fear. Open cities indicate peaceful relations between the various cities and regions, that the population does not fear the intrusion of neighboring peoples. The absence of walls reflects a sense of security and stability, unity amongst the people and confidence in their well-arranged and organized army. But if every city encloses itself with walls, then evidently the country is torn into quarreling factions, the society is fragmented and people suspect one another. We have no reason to fear such a country.

Its army will not come together to defend against the enemy, and its forces will easily fall prey to attack."

Indeed, this principle is so relevant to contemporary times, and we are called upon the learn the critical lesson - to avoid fragmentation among the nation and increase brotherhood and feelings of unity, for, when all is said and done, we are all one.


The Tongue
Even for animals with no language whatsoever, the tongue plays a vital role, as manifest in several different ways. Snakes, as we know, have long tongues used both as sensors and to catch food. As a snake crawls along the ground in search of food, it keeps its long tongue out and extended. The tongue is split at the end like a fork, and through the tongue the snake senses smells permeating through the air. The snake pulls the tongue back into the mouth, at which point the tongue "reports" about its findings.

The snake can then identify the source of the aroma and proceed thereto. Once the snake locates its food and finishes swallowing, the tongue's job has been completed. Interestingly, the snake has no teeth with which to chew; it must therefore swallow its food whole. There is also one species of scorpion that feeds off various insects. For this reason, the Al-mighty equipped it with a long, sticky tongue. This tongue enables the scorpion to catch its food even while the insects are flying. It also uses its tongue as a handkerchief, to wipe its eyes. When its clear eyelids - through which it sees - become covered with dust, the scorpion takes out its tongue and uses it to wipe the dust off the eyelids, enabling it to see clearly once again. In most animals, including - "lehavdil" - humans, the tongue is attached to the back edge of the mouth. In frogs, however, the situation is much different. Their tongue is attached to the front part of the mouth, thus allowing them to "shoot" their tongue out of their mouths with immense force, catching unsuspecting insects. The victim is caught onto the sticky tongue, like a modern-day glue trap.

For many animals, the tongue serves critical functions necessary for the creature's physical well-being. For humans, for example, the tongue assists in all stages of the eating process - chewing, swallowing, and pushing the food further into the body. The tongue's most important function for humans, however, involves its role in facilitating speech. Hazal teach us that the tongue generates the speech, and the mouth merely completes the process (Berachot 61a). In other words, the tongue produces the sounds that leave the mouth, and the mouth completes the final formulation of the words.

The tongue thus symbolizes the primary advantage of the human being over other creatures, and a Jew must be extremely careful not to abuse or destroy this great gift. One must ensure to use his power of speech only to do good, to build, and to enhance the spiritual quality of his life, as it is written, "Death and life are in the hands of the tongue" (Mishlei 18:21).

The Golden Column

Rav Shalom Agiv zs"l of Tripoli
The saintly Rav Shalom Agiv zs"l was a blind man. Each day, at the crack of dawn, his attendant would take him to the Bet Kenesset and read the Zohar to him. As he sat and listened, Rav Shalom would contemplate the sacred words with his profound understanding. Once, a police officer came to the attendant and asked for a huge loan. The attendant hesitated, and the policeman said, "If you lend me the money, I will tell you a secret whose knowledge is worthy a fortune!" The officer told the attendant that the government is about to change the currency, and the present money will lose all its value. The attendant heard the news and took full advantage of his advanced knowledge. He went to the market and spent all his money on oil and sugar. As a result, the local supply was depleted, and the authorities ordered the attendant's arrest on charges of profiteering, a crime punishable by death. When questioned about his purchases, the attendant did not tell of his conversation with the police officer, so as not to get the latter into trouble. He decided to accept his death sentence, instead.

The community leaders quickly acted to soften the governor's heart, drafting even the defendant's aging mother. But it was all to no avail; the governor was intent upon fighting the black market and eliminating it completely.

The attendant's mother and wife came before the ssadik to beg for salvation. "Go home and prepare for Shabbat," he instructed them. "Already tonight, Leil Shabbat, he will come home and recite kiddush."

The governor went to sleep that night, and suddenly he felt as if someone was beating him brutally. "Who are you? What do you want?" he asked in a panic. The voice answered, "I am Shimon Bar Yohai, and Rav Shalom studies my works. You now seek to kill his attendant who reads my book to him, and thereby take this joy away from me!" The governor jumped out of bed in terror, called his guards, and went with them to the jailhouse. He himself set the prisoner free from his cell and escorted him to the ssadik's home.

The ssadik greeted him respectfully and immediately sent his attendant to his house, where his wife and mother waited for him to recite kiddush, as the rabbi had promised them.

The Espionage Case

a continuing saga

The End

Flashback: The Hafess Hayyim's students came to tell their rebbe the verdict of the case against his student Efrayim Lebovitz, who was found guilty of wartime espionage on the basis of the architectural plans that were maliciously hidden in his pocket. Concerned for the ssadik's frailty and old age, the students decided not to tell him of the ten-year prison sentence. They instead told him that the boy had been sentenced for only two years. But the ssadik did not accept their report, realizing that if the boy was found guilty, a much harsher sentence would have been issued. He demanded that they tell him the truth.

The students broke out in uncontrollable weeping and told the ssadik of the sentence - ten years in a labor camp. All his younger years will spent in mines. Much to their amazement, the Hafess Hayyim gratefully praised the Creator for saving the boy from death.

"But Rebbe, ten years of prison, until the age of thirty-four - will he survive all this time?" they asked tearfully. The Hafess Hayyim, however, took no part in their anguish and distress. "They sentenced him for ten years? How foolish! Do they even know whether or not their government will last for even ten months? For that matter, do they even know what will happen in the next ten weeks? Of course not - look how absurd these authorities are!"

The Hafess Hayyim's words were a mystery to all who heard them. They passed from mouth to mouth, until eventually they reached the ears of Rav Hayyim of Brisk zs"l, as his student, Rav Baruch Ber of Kaminetzs zs"l, stood before him. "This is what the Hafess Hayyim said? You should know that with these words he drove Czar Nicholas from his throne. Hashem help us - who knows if his successor will be even worse!"

Two months later, on 22 Adar 5677, a revolt broke out and the Czar was ousted. All the state prisoners were freed, including, with the help of the attorney Grosenberg, Efrayim Lebovitz. The boy returned to the yeshivah.

In this way, the ssadik's words overthrew the Czar!

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"And you shall see the land, how it is" Rabbenu Don Yisshak Abarbanel zs"l notes that Moshe asked the scouts to report on six issues - two about the people themselves, two about the cities, and two about the agriculture. Regarding the population of Canaan, the spies were to find out whether or not they were strong and whether or not they were populous. Then, as far as the cities were concerned, the spies were asked regarding the climate - "And how is the land - is it good or bad?" - as well the demographic patterns: "and how are the cities in which it dwells, in open cities or fortresses?" In other words, is the population a group of tent-dwellers, or are they concentrated into large metropolises? Finally, Moshe instructed the scouts to report back on the agriculture. Whereas they were sent in the summertime, when the fields are dry and only trees remain, Moshe asked, "How is the land - is it plentiful or lacking" - meaning, is the soil fertile, and - "are there trees there or not?" Trees were especially important, as they provided both fruits as well as wood for fire and building.

The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes that Moshe wished to show them that the fear of Benei Yisrael's conquest gripped the inhabitants of Canaan.

Indeed, when Yehoshua sent scouts to Yericho, Rahav told them, "You fear has descended upon us, all the dwellers of the land have melted before you.

Our hearts have sunk, and no more spirit has arisen in anyone from you." The fortresses indicated that the population lived in fear, and that despite their formidable strength, they nevertheless felt the need to protect themselves by surrounding their cities with walls. The Midrash states that when Benei Yisrael left Egypt, the residents of Canaan uprooted all the fruit trees in the land in order that Benei Yisrael not benefit from any of the fruits. This is one of the reasons why Hashem delayed Am Yisrael in the desert - when the Canaanites saw that Benei Yisrael were delayed in the wilderness, they replanted the trees. Moshe therefore told the scouts, "How is the land - is it plentiful." - but, even so, pay attention to the question of., "are there trees there, or not?" Notice that the trees are young, reflecting the fear that has been instilled within the inhabitants of the land. Thus, victory is guaranteed!

In this context, the "Yesod Ha'avodah" zs"l told the following story that occurred during the Napoleon conquest. The Russian general in charge of the battle sat in his headquarters, when suddenly the messengers came frantically running to bring the bad news. One battalion collapsed, another unit was defeated and the soldiers were forced to flee, another stronghold was broken, and an offensive was brought to a halt. Everything seemed to fall apart. His aid walked into the room and found the general with a look of distress all over his face. "What happened?" he asked. The general gave him a brief update on the sorrowful situation and summarized the list of defeats. "That's it?" asked the aid in surprise. "Didn't you hear the latest news, the most terrible of all?" The general looked at him with worn eyes - could there by anything worse? "The latest reports," said the aid, "is that the general has lost his winning spirit!"

The general heard and committed himself to turning around his mood. He stood up and took action. He gave orders in all directions, stabilized the forces, rearranged the units, went to the front line and turned everything around. This presents us with a critical lesson: never despair, nothing is a lost cause. We simply need to maintain our momentum and energy, and then we can turn bad to good and overcome any obstacle in our way. But if we become discouraged and give up, then the operation is, from the very outset, a lost cause!


Several weeks ago, we published an eye-opening story of Rav Yehezkel Abramsky, the author of "Hazon Yehezkel," who demonstrated to an assimilated, wealthy Jew that he considered the Torah education of Jewish refugees in London a matter of life and death. Whereas the only religious organization to help the Jewish refugees in London had run out of money and was about to close down, Rav Yehezkel called the wealthy man on Shabbat evening, showing him just how seriously he takes the issue of Torah education. The man understood the message and provided the necessary funds for the organization. This story was told to us by the grandson of Rav Moshe Sbivak zs"l, who was in the Bet Din of Rav Yehezkel, as he heard the incident from his grandfather. After the story was published, he again confirmed the authenticity of the story, as heard from his grandfather.

However, Rav Yehezkel's son, Rav Menahem Ezra ybl"h, does not recall this incident, though he does remember the great efforts his father made on behalf of the young refugees and the hard work he invested to raise funds for the cause. In terms of a telephone call on Shabbat eve - this he remembers happening only once, in the following incident:

In 1938, the wicked Nazis gathered together all the German Jews of Polish origin and sent them on a train to the town of Zebunshin, on the Polish border. There they left the Jews to fend for themselves, without any food or shelter. Among those to be rounded up was Rav Moshe Schneider, but they could not find him. To his ironic good fortune, he was in the hospital at the time, and his wife was at his side assisting him. It was clear, however, that immediately upon his release from the hospital he would join the others in the empty wasteland. Considering his ailing health, this would be the equivalent to a death sentence, Heaven forbid.

The rav's wife phoned Rav Yehezkel Abramsky to see if an exit visa to England could be arranged. One of the requirements for an exit visa was notification from a wealthy person who would take upon himself the responsibility of supporting the newcomer, so that he wouldn't drain public funds. Rav Schneider had a wealthy relative in England, and Rav Abramsky called him and asked to meet with him to settle the arrangements. The meeting was scheduled, but the relative never came. The next day was Thursday, and again Rav Abramsky phoned the man. This time, too, the relative promised to come but never showed. The rabbi phoned once again on Friday, and for the third time the relative came up with an excuse and never made it.

On Friday night, Rav Abramsky went to the telephone and called up the relative. The latter was Shabbat observant, and the gentile maid in his home lifted the receiver. When the man heard Rav Abramsky's voice on the line, he thought for sure that someone was playing a joke. The rav said to the maid, "Tell him that on such-a-such day we stayed together in the same hotel - he was in room 213 and I was in room 215!"

The man heard and came to the phone. The rabbi said, "When I will stand before the Heavenly Tribunal and they will ask me why I desecrated the Shabbat, I will have an answer ready - Rav Schneider's life was in danger, and his cousin was refusing to sign the necessary documents.

The conversation ended there, and the rabbi placed the receiver on the table; he did not hang it up, because it was Shabbat.


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, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"

The Required Length of the Strap of the Tefillin Shel Yad

The strap of the tefillin shel yad must be long enough that it could go around the arm be tied there, and then extend to, and be tied three times upon, the middle finger.

The Procedure for Placing the Tefillin

After placing the tefillin on the upper arm - on the spot where the arm swells, on the lower half of the upper arm - but before tying the knot around the arm, one recites the berachah "lehani'ah tefillin." He should then tie the knot around his arm. Some have the practice of wrapping the tefillin at this point also around the "titura," the wide area underneath the tefillin box, in order that the tefillin be fastened on the arm from both sides. Those who follow this practice have authorities on whom to rely. The Kabbalists are of the view that one should wrap the strap around the "ma'abarta" so as to fasten the "yud'"-shaped knot on the tefillin to the box. Others, however, do not follow this practice, but rather move the strap underneath the elbow, to the forearm, immediately after fastening the knot on the upper arm. This is the practice of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a.

Some have the custom of wrapping the tefillin strap three times around the upper arm underneath the box of the tefillin to form the letter "shin" on their upper arm. However, the dominant view of the poskim and Kabbalists is that this practice is incorrect. It is therefore preferable not to do so.

The prevalent custom is to wrap the tefillin strap seven times on the forearm before placing the tefillin shel rosh. This is the proper practice according to the view of the Kabbalists.

The custom among the Sefaradim and Eastern communities is to wrap the tefillin strap from the arm outward, while most Ashkenazi communities are accustomed the wrapping the strap inward, towards the body.

Some authorities rule that whereas the first wrap around the arm is only partial, it does not count as one of the seven. Therefore, the strap should be wrapped seven times after the first wrapping. Indeed, this is the practice among the Sefaradim and Eastern communities.

After one completed wrapping the strap around his arm, he places the tefillin shel rosh on his head. Afterwards, he wraps the strap of the tefillin shel yad around his middle finger. One should first wrap the strap above the middle knuckle, and then wrap it twice underneath the middle knuckle, towards the hand.

Although the custom among the Sefaradim and Eastern communities is to sit while putting on tefillin, one should stand while wrapping the strap around the finger. Some have the practice while wrapping the strap around the finger to recite the three pesukim, "V'eirastich li l'olam"; "V'eirastich li b'ssedek uv'mishpat uv'hesed uv'rahamim"; "V'eirastich li l'olam, v'yada'at et Hashem."

Some have the practice after wrapping the strap around the finger to insert the edges of the straps from the tefillin shel rosh into their belt.

One whose middle finger has been amputated or who has a wound on that finger that does not allow him to wrap the strap around it, then he should wrap the strap instead around the finger closest to the thumb (the pointer). If his middle finger is covered by a bandage or cast, then he should wrap the strap over the bandage or cast. Similarly, one may wrap the seven wrappings around the forearm even when it is covered by a bandage or cast.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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