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Parashat Shemini


"This is the thing that Hashem commanded that you do, and the Glory of Hashem will appear to you"

The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l derived from this pasuk a beautiful lesson regarding faith and trust in the Creator. He introduced this teaching with a story that occurred during the time of King David, when the Pelishtim waged war against Benei Yisrael and encamped in Emek Refa'im. David sought the guidance of the Urim V'tumim regarding whether or not he should go to fight, and the response was that he should attack from behind rather than engage in head-on combat. He was to wait until he heard footsteps coming from treetops, a signal that the Almighty sent His angels to assist him.

Only then was he to attack the Pelishtim. And so, David arranged his army and ordered them to refrain from attacking. In the meantime, however, the enemy troops discovered the ambush and turned around. With the loss of the element of surprise, David's soldiers were frightened and prepared for an attack. David however urged them to refrain. The enemy approached, but David's men stood still; the enemy soldiers drew their swords, but David's troops stood still. Then the sounds of footsteps were heard, and David gave the order to launch the offensive. "He defeated the Pelishtim from Geva until arriving at Gezer" (Shemuel II 5:25). Why did Hashem have David conduct the battle in such a manner? Why did He insist that they stay put until the very last moment? He did so in order to test the steadfastness of their faith and the strength of their trust in their Creator, just as the Yam Suf did not split until Nahshon went into the water and was covered until his nose.

Similarly, when Eliyahu HaNavi stood at Mount Carmel he did not ask for the descent of the divine fire until after he built the altar, slaughtered the bull, arranged the firewood and poured the water that filled the ditch surrounding the altar. Only then did he pray for the fire, and indeed it descended. He was confident that it would come; he entertained no doubts whatsoever.

In this light we can better understand the pesukim in our parashah: "The entire congregation approached and stood before Hashem." They were confident that now that the Mishkan stood and the altar was prepared with firewood, the Heavenly fire would descend to demonstrate the arrival of the Shechinah. Then they would offer the sacrifices upon the altar and the sacrificial meat would be consumed by the Heavenly fire. Mosheh, however, instructed them differently: "This is the thing that Hashem commanded that you do." First offer the sacrifices, sprinkle the blood and place the fats onto the altar. Only then "the Glory of Hashem will appear to you," and the fire will descend from the heavens. The pasuk thus comes to teach us that one who seeks Heavenly assistance must first do his part, as did Nahshon at the shores of the Yam Suf, David at battle and Eliyahu at Mount Carmel, and then he will merit miraculous, divine assistance!


The Ar"i HaKadosh and the Bet Yossef zs"l

Once the Bet Yossef zs"l came to pray in the Bet Kenesset of the Ar"i HaKadosh zs"l. The Ar"i greeted the guest with utmost respect, seating him along the eastern wall near the Aron HaKodesh and instructing the hazzan to wait for him before beginning the repetition of the tefilah. When the time came for the silent recitation of the amidah, the Bet Yossef stood and turned around to face the wall. In front of him was a window, in accordance with the ruling the Shulhan Aruch, "Openings or windows must be opened facing Yerushalayim, so that one prays facing them." The Bet Yossef directed his eyes downward and heart upwards and prayed with intense concentration, as was his wont.

The worshippers completed their prayer, and the Ar"i, too, finished his tefilah with all his profound intentions and thoughts. The Bet Yossef, however, remained standing in his place, engrossed in his sacred thoughts. They waited and waited, but the Bet Yossef did not move.

Eventually, the Ar"i HaKadosh turned to one of his students and whispered something in his ear. The student immediately approached the Bet Yossef and whispered into his ear that which he was commanded. When he heard what the student told him, the Bet Yossef immediately took his steps back and the hazzan began his repetition, the entire minyan baffled by what just transpired.

Nobody dared to ask the Ar"i for an explanation, but the Bet Yossef revealed it. He explained that he had in fact completed his tefilah much earlier and was about to take his steps back when he opened his eyes. He saw through the window a caravan of donkeys carrying sacks of wheat and making their way to the matzah factory. The sun beat down upon the caravan and the donkeys were sweating from the intense heat and heavy load. The Bet Yossef, as authority of halachah for the community, began thinking whether or not the donkeys' sweat could render the wheat hamess by coming into contact with it, thus disqualifying the wheat for use on Pesah. The Ar"i HaKadosh therefore sent his student to tell the Bet Yossef that the correct ruling is in fact that donkey's perspiration does not cause fermentation of wheat and does not render the wheat hamess (Orah Hayyim 453:7). As soon as the Bet Yossef heard the ruling, he stepped back from his tefilah.


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

Laws of "Hassissah" - Items in Between Tefillin & One's Body

Nothing may be placed in between the individual's body and the tefillin, regarding both tefillin shel yad and shel rosh. One should optimally ensure that not even the slightest amount should separate his body and tefillin, even a little dirt or dust. Similarly, one should not put any powder on his body or hair before placing tefillin.

Some have the practice of washing the place where tefillin is placed. Those who follow this practice must ensure to dry the areas thoroughly so that no water separates in between the body and the tefillin.

Some have written that one must shave the hair on his neck so as to ensure that no hair stands in between the individual's skin and the straps of tefillin from the tefillin shel rosh. The prevalent custom, however, is to be lenient in this regard.

Some authorities maintain that the tefillin strap (of the shel yad) mustn't pass underneath the box of the tefillin shel yad proper, since the strap, too, constitutes a "hassissah" (disqualifying disruption between the flesh and the tefillin).

If one grows the hair on his head long for purposes of appearance, then the hair does not constitute a "hassissah" in between his head and tefillin.

Nevertheless, one who is God-fearing, and particularly a "ben Torah," should not let his hair grow long ,out of concern for those authorities who are stringent in this regard. One who recently had a haircut and as a result has many small pieces of hair throughout the remaining hair on his head should preferably wash his hair thoroughly with water before placing tefillin, so as to remove the small pieces of hair. Similarly, one who is balding and thus many detached hair remain entangled within his hair, or one who suffers from flaky hair or dandruff, should preferably comb his hair before placing tefillin, in order to remove the fallen hairs, pieces of scalp or flakes. However, if this is impossible, then one may rely on the lenient authorities and wear tefillin without washing or combing.

If part of the tefillin shel rosh is not over his head but rather suspended in air, this poses no problem with regard to the fulfillment of the missvah, so long as the entire box of tefillin is opposite the appropriate location for the tefillin shel rosh.

The poskim argue as to whether or not the requirement for direct contact with the body applies only to the boxes of the tefillin or even to the straps. Even the more stringent views, however, concede that no such requirement exists regarding the straps of the tefillin shel yad lower than the knot which ties the box to the upper arm, not to mention after the seven wrappings around the forearm.

Therefore, strictly speaking there is no need for one to remove his hand-watch before placing tefillin. Yet, one who is stringent in this regard is deserving of blessing. (It would seem, however, that if one did not remove the watch before placing the tefillin shel yad and wishes to be stringent and remove it, he should not do so until after placing the tefillin shel rosh, as this would constitute an inappropriate interruption in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh.)


In Parashat Shemini, the Torah commands us regarding the laws of "kashrut," the foods that are forbidden and permissible for us to eat. Besides the gravity of the sin itself, consumption of forbidden foods contaminates the heart and detaches one from sanctity. In "Sefer haTanya" it is explained that forbidden foods are laden with three layers of impurity that evolve from the Satan and serve as the chariot for the forces of impurity, Heaven forbid. Indeed, awareness of "kashrut" is prevalent and widespread throughout large segments of the Jewish people. In fact, many Jews who do not observe other areas of halachah ensure the maintenance of a kosher kitchen in accordance with their heritage and tradition.

Unfortunately, however, many relate to "kashrut" with a surprisingly easygoing attitude. A sign that reads "kosher" is enough for them to enter a restaurant, without checking the authority that sanctioned this declaration or who supervises all the various stages of preparation and ensures compliance with all regulations. Many people rely upon certifications whose reliability is questionable. Nobody would purchase a house from an agent they did not trust or a car from an unscrupulous dealer.

But kashrut certification they accept from everybody and anybody. When we get to heaven and they will ask us, we will send them to the rabbi whose name is signed on the certificate.

This reminds us of the parable of the Hafess Hayyim zs"l, found in a newly published Haggadah featuring five hundred pages of beautiful and soul-stirring parables and stories written in clear and rich language.

This story deals with a well-known, reputable and well-respected individual who one day walked out into the street wearing only his bathing suit. The neighbors knew not what to make of this most unusual dress. They looked at him in surprise and giggled silently. One of his friends saw him and was shocked. "Mosheh," he whispered in terror, "where are your clothes?" "What can I do?" answered Mosheh. "They were stolen."

This is certainly a correct and irrefutable answer, but it's not enough to dress him. If he had with what to dress himself, great, but it is impossible, and people will continue laughing at him.

Regarding our issue, however, the situation is even worse, as we have many other changes of clothing, if you will. Baruch Hashem, all products may be purchased with proper certification, supervised by those who strictly ensure compliance with all details of halachah. There are many restaurants with reliable certification that are filled with tasty delicacies. There are, therefore, no more excuses.

There is a well-known story of a community that sent a series of questions to the Rambam involving issues of faith. The Rambam decided not to answer the questions and instructed his student, Rabbi Yehudah Ibn Tibbon zs"l, to answer them as follows: "You should know that Yisrael are believers; faith is implanted within us as the heritage of our sacred forefathers and from Ma'amad Har Sinai. But, you violate the laws of forbidden foods which contaminate your hearts and darken the light of faith entrenched within you.

So long as you do not separate from forbidden foods, no answer in the world will help you, since your eyes are blinded from seeing things properly."

Similarly, in more recent times, a young man sought to draw closer to Judaism, recognizing in his mind that it was true. His heart, however, did not allow him, Heaven forbid. The Satan held onto him too tightly. The rabbi suggested that for the next week he eat only kosher food. After the week, his heart was opened and the light of faith shined upon him!


We are now at the end of the month of Adar, approaching Shabbat Mevarchin Hodesh Nissan. The month of Adar is the month of the miracle of Purim, the miracle that was "concealed" behind the mask of chance and circumstance, natural occurrence and human endeavor. As Hazal comment, the allusion to Ester in the Torah is in the verse, "I will conceal ['astir'] My face."

Indeed, Hashem's Name appears nowhere throughout the Megilah, except in the form of subtle allusions. The month of Adar is adjacent to the month of Nissan, "in order to juxtapose one redemption with the next." How vast a difference there is, however, between these two instances of redemption! The first is concealed beneath the yoke of exile, hidden within the government's refusal to sanction the building of the Bet Hamikdash. Even when it was erected, they had to include within it the "Shushan gate" to demonstrate their subjugation to the Persian government. But light shines within the darkness, and immediately after Adar comes Nissan - the overt, obvious miracle. Although Benei Yisrael were officially set free at midnight, they waited until morning in order to leave Egypt proudly and openly, with Hashem leading the way with pillars of cloud and fire. Like on the wings of eagles they were taken atop the Clouds of Glory! We have been promised, "Like in the days when you left Egypt I will show you wonders." Our existence today reflects a "nes nistar" - a hidden, inconspicuous miracle. But one redemption will be juxtaposed with the next:

"In Nissan they were redeemed, and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future." The overt miracles will soon unfold in the imminent redemption, when we will directly behold Hashem's restoration of His nation's exile, the entire nation will rejoice as our eyes gaze upon Hashem's merciful return to Zion!


Animals as Parents

We find among animals an acute awareness regarding care for the young. Almost all birds and mammals, many fish, several reptiles and even some more primitive creatures involve themselves in some form of protection for and raising of their children, fulfilling their role as parents. One of the first responsibilities assumed by a new parent is to clean the newborn.

It is particularly common among mammals for the mother to lick the entire body of the newborn immediately following birth. The mother then checks the body carefully and ensures that the infant is perfectly clean. This cleaning process is critical in that it dries the newborn's fur and thus helps assure that the youngster won't catch a cold through contact with the cold air.

This cleansing also helps the mother remember the youngster for future identification. Monkeys spend a considerable amount of time every day combing the fur of its young and removing particles of dirt and flakes of skin. These moments help strengthen the bond between parent and child.

Devoted parents among birds face a particular problem of supplying food for their young. Some birds must embark on over one hundred trips in a single day back and forth from the nest for this specific purpose. Some species of birds in warmer climates carry water in their mouths and pour it over their helpless young to cool them off. Other birds can be seen spreading their wings over their young in order to provide shade and protect the chicks from the blazing sun. When an enemy threatens the young, the parents try to divert the foe's attention from their hiding place. One tactic used to protect the young is to relocate them to a more secure area. For example, scorpions and some species of spiders carry their young on the mother's back, and many types of fish carry the youngsters in their mouth for protection. At the slightest indication of danger, the parent's cheek opens and the baby fish seeks shelter in the parent's mouth.

One question that comes to mind when considering the great care and devotion animals show towards their children is, in what way is the human being singular in his protection and care for his children? As Jews, we know that concern for the children's physical needs constitutes but the means by which to achieve the ultimate purpose - the protection of their spirituality, their education in Torah, missvot and good deeds. At times the Jew is asked to sacrifice one thing or another and devote himself selflessly for the sake of this sublime purpose. The importance of this goal cannot even be compared with that of other matters. Indeed, this is what has ensured the continuity of the Jewish nation with its uniquely Jewish character since antiquity.


The Espionage Case (6)

Flashback: The Russian authorities found in the pocket Efrayim Leboviss, a German student in the yeshivah in Radin, detailed architectural plans of the fortress of Kovna, which were secretly placed there by a secret Russian agent who sought to falsely accuse the boy of espionage. This occurred during the stormy days of World War I, when German natives in Russia were suspected of sympathizing with the German enemy. Efrayim was arrested together with the man who housed him, the brother-in-law of the Hafess Hayyim zs"l. A wartime trial was scheduled, and it was expected that they would be convicted and face execution by the firing range. Urgent intervention on the part of the Jewish community led to the delaying of the trial and their interrogation in the inspectors' dungeon in Vilna.

The investigators held nothing back during the course of their inquiry, and resorted to unspeakable torture of both body and soul. They did not allow the suspects to sleep, and kept them standing on their feet for innumerable hours until their senses could hardly function. Any suspect would have by that point divulged all their secrets. But Efrayim and his host truly had nothing to say; they never saw the fortress of Kovna and had no contact whatsoever with the enemy. The investigators found themselves running into a brick wall. They were dealing either with a rare breed of spies solid as stone, stubborn and resolute, or with two innocent suspects. But if they were indeed clean of any crime, how did these plans reach the boy's pocket?

And so they arranged a review meeting with their superior. They confessed to their befuddlement, unable to break through the wall of denial of these two suspects.

"In other words," said the general, "you are telling me that you find no basis to suspect the host. The boy, however, is a native of the enemy country and did not show up to the police station for deportation as all German natives were ordered. This violation of the law in itself is grounds for suspicion. In addition, the incriminating evidence was found in his possession. You therefore recommend continuing investigating him with all the means at your disposal and setting the older prisoner free." The investigators nodded.

"I also agree to this conclusion, only for the opposite reason. My gut tells me more and more that the boy is clean of any suspicion. Of course I cannot free him based on intuition alone, but I believe that someone else used him for his crime. I am sure that there operates there an entire nest of spies based in that home. Let us therefore free the adult and set an ambush around the yeshivah and his home, until we can catch the spies with our own hands!!"

to be continued.


This Shabbat is "Shabbat Hahodesh," and we read the special maftir-reading, "Parashat Hahodesh." The "month of spring" is about to begin, the festival of Pesah is approaching. The massah factories are under full operation, and one of the halachot relating to the manufacture of massot for Pesah requires that they be kneaded with water that was left out throughout the previous night, called "mayim shelanu" (literally, "water that slept," not to be confused with the other possible meaning, "our water"). If not, we are concerned that it might be warm enough to cause the dough to ferment and become hamess (Masechet Pesahim 42a). The Gemara tells that Rav Matna arrived at a place called Paponia and lectured in the laws of Pesah, including this halachah regarding the water used for kneading. The audience was taken aback by this halachah, of which they had never heard before.

Rav Matna returned to his lodging and the next day there was a knock at the door. He opened the door and was surprised to see the entire community standing outside. They stood silently and reverently in Rav Matna's presence. "What is it?" asked Rav Matna. The person closest to the door handed Rav Matna a pitcher, and Rav Matna then noticed that everyone around him held earthenware pitchers. "What is this? Why are you holding pitchers?" he asked. "We want to bake massot," the man answered. "The rabbi said yesterday that we can knead only with his water. Therefore, we came to fill pitchers with his water so that we can bake massot". They heard the term "mayim shelanu" - "water that slept" - and mistakenly understood it as its alternate meaning - "our water." They therefore assumed that they had to use Rav Matna's water for baking massot! Rav Matna explained to them their mistake and told them that he meant only that the water had to have been left out the previous night.

Why is this story related in the Gemara? The Gemara was written to teach, guide and instruct. What do we learn from the folly of these villagers? Why should we laugh at their ignorance?

When we look a little deeper, however, we will unearth therefrom a critical lesson. Rather than mocking the village, we should stand in awe and respect of them. True, they did not know the halachah; it was something totally new for them and they misunderstood the rabbi. But according to their mistake, within their misunderstanding that the rabbi was teaching them a peculiar halachah, that only his water may be used in the manufacture of massot - they reacted with nothing other than obedience. They did not complain, "What kind of rule is this? Why is the rabbi's water so special? Why is it any better than the water in our wells?" They offered no protest to the odd decree. They did not even ask. Rather, they gathered in unison to collect water; they abided by the ruling, as they understood it.

Of course, they misunderstood. But they taught us an eternal lesson - how to obey Torah authority, what it means to listen to the poskim. They listened without second-guessing or protest; they submissively obeyed. In this way, the residents of Paponia are in fact teachers for future generations!

This lesson is very much connected to our parashah. On the momentous day of the inauguration of the Mishkan, on Rosh Hodesh Nissan, the day that "assumed ten crowns," when it was affirmed that Benei Yisrael were forgiven for the golden calf and that Hashem's Shechinah will reside among them, a deadly blow was dealt to the nation with the death of Nadav and Avihu, who were of the same stature as Mosheh and Aharon! Why? "Aharon's sons died only for having issued a ruling of halachah in the presence of their mentor, Mosheh." We see that there is no atonement for such a sin, the judgment is not even delayed, not even for the greatest of people!

Why? Because the Torah has its boundary: "Tradition is the boundary of Torah" (Avot 3:17). Meaning, "All missvot that were given to Mosheh at Sinai were given with their explanation." The Torah is called "masoret" ("tradition," derived from the Hebrew root "m.s.r" - "transmit") because Mosheh Rabbenu transmitted this knowledge to the sages, and they transmitted it further, from one generation to the next. The basic condition is, therefore, that the student stands in submission before his mentor and his teachings, that he receive the halachah from his mouth and transmit it to the next generation just as he received it. This constitutes a necessary prerequisite whose violation cannot be tolerated, whereas it undermines the very basis of the Torah and its study.

The Gemara (Eruvin 63a) relates that a student of Rabbi Eliezer once issued a ruling of halachah in his presence. Rabbi Eliezer said to his wife, "I wonder if this one will survive the year." Indeed, he died within the year.

His wife asked him, "Are you a prophet?" He answered, "I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. But I have received a tradition that whoever teaches halachah in his rabbi's presence is deserving of death." Although a rabbi may forego on his honor, this involves not the honor of the rabbi himself but the honor of Torah, the process of transmission from one generation to the next.

Let us internalize this message and submit ourselves to the authority of the Torah leaders.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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