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Parashat Shemini


Why did Hashem unleash His wrath against Nadav and Avihu, two righteous, sacred men? Why were they consumed by fire on this otherwise festive day? Hazal offer various interpretations, and the angel told the Bet Yossef zs"l that this difference of opinion itself testifies to their sin's having been an ever so slight misdeed; we cannot properly understand the charge against them. This is undoubtedly so, for we are, after all, dealing with men whom Moshe claimed to be greater than himself and Aharon! They clearly did not sin in the simple sense of the term, but rather committed a miscalculation of sorts.

Nevertheless, they could have avoided their error, remained alive, and grown and developed until they became the leaders of the next generation. If they would have consulted with the current leader of the generation, the faithful shepherd, Moshe Rabbenu, he would have set them upon the proper path and led them accordingly.

The sacred Torah recorded their mistake for all eternity to teach future generations how critical it is to obey Torah authority, how such obedience can save one from error and help avoid mistakes. As great as an individual may be in his own eyes, he must realize that the leader of the generation must be consulted for all matters. One does not sacrifice anything through his obedience, but rather benefits in every way: "Whoever consults with the sages - succeeds"!


Towards the end of our parashah, we are commanded to abstain from forbidden foods, to maintain proper standards of kashrut in the Jewish kitchen. "You shall not make yourselves unclean - the pasuk comes to teach that one who eats insects, his soul himself becomes an insect" (Or Hahaim). The Creator of the world and man informed us that within certain foods are embedded spiritual forces that defile the soul and contaminate the heart. "And you shall not be defiled through them - even through mere distraction, for in this regard inadvertent violation is equivalent to willful violation, because the filth will yield its effect even without concentration" (ibid.), just as one who thrusts his hand into fire will be burned even if he did so unknowingly. "And you shall not defile yourselves through them - and you will be contaminated by them: if you defile yourselves through them in this world, then I, too, will contaminate you in the next world and in the yeshivah of the heavens!" (Rashi). How frightening! After all the adventures and suffering in this world, the "valley of tears," the soul ascends to the heavens. If it is not clean and pure, if it had become dirtied by sins, it is sent to be cleansed in Gehinnom. Its hope lay in the fact that after it receives its due punishment, when the purification process is completed, it will rise to its place in Gan Eden to enjoy the glory of the Shechinah in the yeshivah of the upper world. Now that the hopes have been fulfilled, after the soul has been cleansed by the awesome fire, it ascends to its place. But if this soul had not properly observed the laws of kashrut, it is defiled in the upper world, Heaven forbid, rejected from its place there! What humiliation and misery!

Hashem's kindness is infinitely greater than His punishment: "For I am Hashem, your G-d; you shall sanctify yourselves - and you will be sacred, for I am sacred: sanctify yourselves down below, in order that I sanctify you up above and in the world to come" (Rashi). The soul ascends to the heavens after having exercised proper care in the area of kashrut during its lifetime, and it receives an additional measure of light and sanctity from the source of sanctity - "for I am sacred."

If we want to see with our own eyes the gradual deterioration of the generations, we can look at how hard our predecessors worked in order to ensure the highest standards of kashrut. They took a chicken to the slaughterer, they checked the internal organs, they then proceeded to the rabbi with questions regarding the bird's suitability, and they themselves salted the meat and roasted the liver. And this is before we talk about checking for abrasions in animals' lungs and other requirements. They ensured to drink only Jewish milk and avoided non-Jewish bread and cooked goods. They exerted the effort to check vegetables for insects, regarding which the Or Hahaim zs"l writes: "One must exercise particularly diligent care in everything through which he enters a doubt regarding this specific impurity, especially in our age when the air and ground have become filthy, and there are no vegetables without insects." The ingestion of each insect violates four prohibitions, Heaven forbid!

The Creator has had compassion for our generation, a feeble generation, impatient and longing for comforts, and has therefore made the work so much easier for us. "Blessed is the Al-mighty who has given His world over to guardians" and staffs of devoted kashrut supervisors, led by the experienced authorities of halachah who consult with experts and factories, to provide proper supervision for food products. Through close contact with the "Bet Yossef" kashrut organization, led by Rav Moshe Yossef shlit"a and under the authority of the Rishon Lessiyon shlit"a, we are awestruck by the remarkable devotion exhibited by those involved in the operation. There is no food product that cannot be obtained with proper supervision. Indeed, the demands of the kashrut supervision prevents the intrusion of all types of questionable ingredients, and it is well known that many gentiles in the United States manufacture kosher food for this reason. Even the need to check vegetables has been avoided through the production of vegetables in carefully checked greenhouses. Let us express our gratitude to the organizations that provide high standard kashrut supervision and thus help us avoid so many prohibitions and relieve us of the burden and effort. Now there is no excuse. It is so easy to observe the highest standards of kashrut, in whose merit we will be sanctified in this world and again in the world to come!


"These are the animals that you shall eat"

Why did the Creator command us to abstain from certain types of foods? Our sages offer different reasons, which are not in disagreement with one another, but rather complement one another. The Al-mighty "looked at the Torah and created the world," and the world was created such that certain animals harm the human being in all aspects -spiritually and physically. First and foremost, the Ar"i Hakadosh zs"l informs us that there are three levels within creation. There are some things that are sacred and exalted by their very essence, such as Shabbat meals, which afford sanctity to the soul, and an illuminating garment with tzitzit. Other things, the majority of items in creation, have no predefined essence, but are rather left to man to determine their nature. Take, for example, fruits and vegetables. If one takes ma'asrot from them as required, and then recites the proper berachah and eats them to receive strength to serve his Creator, then they become a vehicle for sanctity. They are elevated and elevate the individual. If, however, one partakes of fruits before separating the ma'asrot and without the recitation of a berachah, and they have thus facilitated the defiance of Hashem's command, they become the vehicle of the Satan, Heaven forbid. Other things, however, are under the absolute control of impurity. These items include the forbidden animals, animals that were not slaughtered according to halachah ("nevelah") or have a terminal illness ("terefah"), and animals born of a crossbreed. These animals have no potential for purification. They are impure and contaminate the soul, submitting it to the control of the forces of impurity, as the pasuk says, "You shall not defile yourselves through them, and you will become contaminated by them," Heaven forbid.

"These are the animals that you shall eat"

The Rambam z"l (Moreh Nevuchim 3:48) writes that the forbidden foods are harmful to one's body. The Rashbam z"l cites a proof for this position from the Gemara's comment (Shabbat 86b) that the gentiles, who eat forbidden foods, have a different physical makeup from that of Jews. In fact, the Hatam Sofer zs"l, in light of this Gemara, posited that medical conclusions reached as a result of treatment of non-Jews do not necessarily apply to Jews.

Similarly, the Sefer Hahinuch refers his readers to his comments regarding the prohibition against eating "terefot" (misvah 73), where he writes, "For the body is a receptacle for the soul, and there its work is performed. Without it, its work will never be complete. It thus turns out that the body is in its hand like the tongs in the hands of the smith. If the tongs are strong and capable of having utensils held through it, then the artisan will fashion nice utensils. If the tongs are not good and suitable, then he cannot manufacture good, nice utensils. Similarly, should the body have some deficiency, it will be expressed in the soul's ability to work through it. The forbidden foods were therefore forbidden for us. Even if medicine does not recognize any harm latent within them, do not wonder about them, for the 'Faithful Physician' who warned us in this regard is far wiser than you and they [the doctors]. How foolish and senseless is the one who thinks that there is no harm or purpose in anything other than that which he understands!"

"These are the animals that you shall eat"

Rabbenu Yis'hak Aramah zs"l challenges this view, asking that if these foods are forbidden purely for health concerns, then why did the Torah not mention the poisonous plants as forbidden to us? However, as we mentioned, the main reason is purely spiritual in nature, but the contamination of these foods is reflected in the physical world, as well.

In any event, in his view, these foods are forbidden because their essential quality corrupts one's character traits, as through them emerges impure blood, which corrupts the soul. The basis of his comments is the Midrash cited by the Ramban, which explains that the forbidden birds are specifically the birds of prey. Similarly, all animals of prey are forbidden, as they implant within the soul cruelty and corrupt qualities. Conversely, the kosher animals are clearly different in terms of their inner qualities. In fact, the milk of kosher animals can congeal to form cheese, while the milk of non-kosher animals cannot. The Sefer Ha'akedah (60) writes that specifically this phenomenon David Hamelech praises in Tehillim 103:1: "My soul, bless Hashem, and all my being, His holy Name." Meticulous observance of the misvah of kashrut thus helps both body and soul!


Rabbenu Shelomoh, the son of the Rashbas zs"l

An Arab once came to disturb Rav Shelomoh, the son of the Rashbas (which stands for, "Rabbenu Shimon Ben Semah"), Duran zs"l. He said to him, "Is it true that you believe that all purity is in water?"

Rabbenu Shelomoh answered in the affirmative.

The gentile then continued, "And for this reason you wash your hands before praying and eating?"

Once again, Rav Shelomoh confirmed the statement. He added that Hazal understood the two clauses in the pasuk, "You shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy" as referring to hand washing before and after eating, respectively. As we see, the point of these washings is for sanctity and purity.

"If so," mocked the Moslem, "how do you so arrogantly claim that you are pure and we are impure? Our purity is, in fact, greater than yours: we wash our heads, hands and feet before each prayer service, while you just pour a small amount of water over your hands!"

The rabbi answered, "I have an answer for you, but I am afraid that you will use it to spread false rumors about us, as is your want."

The Moslem swore to the rabbi not to use his answer as the basis for a false accusation.

Rav Shelomoh then said, "You should know that purification through water works only for one who is pure at his core. Chickens spend their lives pecking at trash, and yet everyone eats their meat; at the same time, frogs spend their lives on water and virtually no one eats them."

The Arab's face darkened like the bottom of a pot, and he never again tried to annoy the rabbi with his questions...

The rabbi turned to his students and said, "This is true not only regarding water, but also regarding Torah, which is likened to water, as it says, 'Alas, all who are thirsty shall go towards the water.' It likewise says, 'My teaching shall pour down like rain.' Hazal say, 'Just as water raises a person from impurity to purity, so do the words of Torah.' But this applies only to Jews, who are sacred and pure, believers and children of believers. Gentiles, however, may not study Torah, because it will not help them at all!"

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
The Halachot of Sefirat Ha'omer

There is a misvah upon each individual to personally count sefirat ha'omer, as implied by the plural form employed by the Torah in this context ("U'sfartem lachem... "). Nevertheless, if one heard the counting from the "sheli'ah sibur," and both he and the hazzan had in mind that the listener would fulfill his requirement through the hazzan's counting, then the individual has, in fact, fulfilled his obligation. Not to mention the fact that if one hears only the berachah from the "sheli'ah sibur" (with both having the proper intent, as stated) and then counts on his own, he has certainly fulfilled his requirement.

One must count sefirat ha'omer verbally. One who counts in his mind alone, without articulating the words, does not fulfill his obligation. He must therefore count once again with a berachah. Likewise, one who writes a letter to his friend and includes the day of the omer in the date in the heading, has not fulfilled his obligation in this manner. He thus counts again with a berachah. Nevertheless, one should preferably refrain from writing the number day of the omer before reciting it properly with a berachah.

One must be particularly meticulous regarding the misvah of counting the omer. Hazal say (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 28:6) that in the merit of this misvah, Avraham merited the inheritance of Eress Yisrael for himself and his offspring. One who does not fulfill the misvah of sefirat ha'omer has neglected a rabbinically ordained misvah. The Zohar Hakadosh (Emor, 97b) writes about such an individual that he is not considered pure and is rendered unworthy of a portion in Torah. One should therefore make an extra effort during sefirah period to recite arbit with a minyan in order that he not forgot to count sefirat ha'omer.

Those Who are Obligated in The Misvah of Sefirat Ha'omer

Women are exempt from the misvah of sefirat ha'omer since it applies only in a given time-period, and women are exempt from all time-bound misvot aseh ("positive" commandments). If they wish to accept the stringency of counting sefirat ha'omer, they may do so but without reciting a berachah. (Even according to the custom of the Ashkenazim, which allows women to recite berachot before the performance of time-bound misvot from which they are exempt, women should not, according to many authorities, recite the berachah over sefirat ha'omer. The reason is either because this misvah involves only speech, and women may recite a berachah only on a misvah involving a concrete action, or because they may forget one night, and their berachot will then become "berachot levatalah" - wasted berachot.) According to the Kabbalists, women should not recite sefirat ha'omer at all, even without a berachah.

Neither a Snake Nor a Fish

One day around 250 years ago, a rumor spread in northwestern Yugoslavia that a fisherman found in his net an awful monster. All the villagers ran to the river, frantically pushing and shoving, each one trying to be the first to see the remarkable creature with his own eyes. The fisherman pulled his net that contained the dying fish, among whom they found - no, not a monster, but a fascinating creature called the triton. Those assembled saw they have before them not a monster, but a creature that is certainly extraordinary, one which is neither a snake nor a fish.

The triton lives in dark caves and never sees the light of the world. It resembles a snake and has four short legs. The head is extended and sharp with a small mouth. Its nostrils resemble long cracks parallel to the edge of the upper cheek. There are no scales on the body nor does the head show any signs of eyes. The tail is short and surrounded by a fin. The entire length of this frightening creature's body does not exceed 12 inches. Why is its skin colorless and it has no eyes? Quite simply, because this creature has no need for eyes in the darkness of caves. Three outer gills branch out from the neck, and the Creator of the world also provided it with lungs. Meaning, it can breathe air and also live underwater. The triton features many interesting, fascinating qualities, including its ability to assume and divest itself of different characteristics according to the given conditions in which it lives. In cool waters it delivers live offspring, while in warm waters it lays eggs. In the dark it is whitish, while in the light it becomes black.

The fact that the triton can accommodate itself to its environment is important for its survival. In truth, this is not at all dependent on itself; this is how it was created. A human being, by contrast, who alters his character and nature to accommodate his surroundings will not be accepted with the same admiration or understanding as will the triton. The human being, the crown jewel of creation, is expected to conduct himself with consistency and resolve while doing the right thing. True, his environment affects him. For this reason, every Jew with reverence for Hashem's Word and cares for his soul will ensure to place himself in an area free from foreign influences. If, however, he is compelled to live in a place of which the scholars would not approve, for reasons beyond his control, he must remember to be a Jew under all circumstances, in all ways - his general conduct and meticulous observance of halachah.

The Hunter's Snare (2)

Flashback: A deceitful crook sought to ruin a certain successful businessman. He invited him to his home and offered him partnership in a profitable enterprise. He went to bring the forms for the establishment of the partnership and asked his wife to approach the guest while he was gone and ask in horror, "Where is my son!" When he returned, the merchant told the crook that his mother was worried about him. The host explained that she has always been worried about him, ever since his father's passing. He continued that she hasn't remarried, despite her youth, because she is looking for an intelligent, good-natured and wealthy man who will bring her a substantial dowry, as she had grown accustomed to a high standard of living.

The businessman said, "As for wisdom and intelligence, I cannot testify. Regarding my good nature, too, only others can testify. But when it comes to wealth - I can testify that I am quite wealthy and can promise a large dowry."

The trickster then asked, "How much, for example, would you be able to write in the marriage contract?"

"Three thousand gold coins," answered the merchant.

The crook replied, "Look, if you give me one thousand gold coins as payment for matchmaking, I will convince my mother to marry you."

The businessman agreed. He sat to write the check for this amount and told the host that when he succeeds in his mission, he will receive the check. The scoundrel then said, "This is what I will do. I will speak to my mother tonight, and tomorrow morning come here to get her response. If she consents, we will go to the judge to confirm the engagement and sign on the guarantee of the dowry. Then, tomorrow night, I will bring her to your home."

And so, the next morning the businessman showed up at the home of the trickster, who proudly informed him, "I got her consent! Now give me the one thousand gold coins that I deserve, and we will continue with the procedures." However, the businessman was not foolish enough to believe anything he heard. Only when he saw the signature assigning power of attorney did he agree to hand over the matchmaking fee. The two proceeded to the judge's office and the groom signed on the dowry agreement, promising three thousand gold coins. The judge added his own signature and stamped the document with the official stamp of state marriages. The groom returned home and decorated it lavishly. He prepared all types of delicacies and waited impatiently for the arrival of his bride.

This trickster had a ninety-year old mother.

He went to his mother and said, "I did something in your name; please do not ruin my plan."

She frightfully asked, "What is it that you did?"

He answered, "I betrothed you to a young, wealthy groom!"

to be continued


Dear Brothers,

At the end of the parashah discussing the forbidden foods, the Torah says, "You shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be sacred, for I am sacred. You shall not contaminate your souls with all the insects that crawl on the ground. For I am Hashem who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be for you a G-d; and you shall be sacred, for I am sacred." These pesukim led Rav Hanina, from Sura along the Euphrates River, to ask Ravina, "Why does the Torah mention yesi'at Misrayim in the context of the forbidden insects?" Ravina replied that this reference teaches one not to think, who will know whether or not the vegetable is properly checked for insects, or, what difference does it make whether or not I use a kosher ingredient? The Torah therefore draws our attention to yesi'at Misrayim. Externally, there appeared to be no distinction between the firstborn of the Egyptians and those of Benei Yisrael. But the Al-mighty knows everything - nothing can be concealed from Him!v Rav Hanina clarified that he had questioned not the reference to yesi'at Misrayim itself, but only the peculiar terminology employed by the Torah: "who brought you up from the land Egypt," as opposed to the more common expression, "who took you... "

He explained that this term - "hama'aleh" (who brought you up) - refers to elevation and purification. The Al-mighty said, "If I brought Yisrael from Egypt only for this matter, that they do not become defiled through forbidden foods, that would have been enough!" This is how important kashrut observance is! (Baba Messi'a 61b)

The obvious question arises, for this we had to leave Egypt? Why could we not have received these commandments while still in Egypt? Apparently, as we suffered the bitter bondage, submerged in the forty-nine "gates of impurity" and entrenched in the abominations of Egyptian culture, abstention from forbidden foods would not have sanctified us; kashrut observance would not have elevated us. Similarly, a gentile will not become sanctified by wearing tefillin, while a Jew recites on them the berachah, "... who has sanctified us with His misvot."

This is all true on the simple level of understanding, but the sacred Maggid of Kosniss zs"l inspires us with an allusion latent within this misvah. It is a grave violation to eat forbidden foods (one should therefore try to buy insect-free vegetables). The word used by the Torah in reference to forbidden insects is "sheress." This word is associated with the term, "sherass," "that runs." These insects always run and scatter about. However, Targum Onkelos translates the word as "rohesh," referring to a creature that is "short with short legs that seems to only stir and wander" (Rashi 11:44). Meaning, these creatures hardly move. In truth, there is no contradiction: they scurry about frantically, but move very slowly. Consider an example of a mother who walks slowly as her young son must run after her to keep up. Because of his small size and the size of his legs, he must run in order to move on however slowly. If he would move his legs slowly, he wouldn't budge.

The message emerges from this symbolism. We had to be "brought up" from Egypt, in order that we are elevated, rather than just stirring about spiritually. We had to raise our perspective and understanding, because what the "short" individual accomplishes through hard work and exertion, the "big" person can achieve in an instant!

The Maggid of Kosniss writes: "I myself once saw the Ba'al Shem Tov z"l in a dream. I asked him, 'Why is it that when I began my service, when I would go to sadikim to learn from their ways and accustomed myself to serve Hashem, I sensed within me a change for the better day-by-day in my Torah study, concentration in tefilah and other pursuits, while now I do not feel the change at all? It seems to me that today is just like yesterday, and tomorrow will be just the same!' He answered me through a parable. When a young child learns the 'alef-bet,' siddur or Humash, his development can be seen day-by-day, as he learns each day more than he know the previous day. For example, last week he learned one parashah of Humash, and now he learns two parshiyot, etc. By contrast, when one grows and learns by himself Gemara and poskim, the change cannot be detected day-by-day. In truth, however, a person's growth in adulthood from one day to the next is thousands of times greater than all the steps taken by a young child throughout the year-because they are but children's steps!"

How beautiful these words are, and what a challenge they pose for each of us! The goal is spiritual growth; we must ensure not to stir about on the ground, not to crawl like a worm. We must rather raise our perspective and elevate our way of thinking.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Aryeh Deri

Shlomo Ben Liza

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