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Parashat Shemot


The well-known expression says that because of all the trees one loses sight of the forest. Too many details often obscure the general picture; a vast amount of small particles can outcast the entire whole. Society is flooded with news; we're drowning in the ocean of events, both big and small, significant and ancillary. News is being broadcast every hour. On the half-hour, we hear a brief summary of the news. Not to mention all the daily newspapers and television broadcasts, the endless pages of news and commentary. Once in a while, however, one has to take a breath of fresh air and recover a little bit. We need to take a step back and make some sense out of it all. Our Sages have taught us that two general forces oppose each other in the world, fighting and struggling endlessly one with the other - good and evil. Yaakov stands in direct opposition to the angel of Esav, the forces of sanctity confront the "sitra ahara." Once we have this key to understanding, everything becomes clear, one camp emerges in opposition to the other. By whose strength did the gates of the Soviet Union open to freedom, allowing hundreds of thousands of Jews to leave the mass prison and migrate to Israel and learn about their heritage? Good. And by whose strength is the State of Israel being flooded by hundreds of thousands of gentiles, who prostrate themselves before idols and partake of all types of forbidden foods? Good. And by whose strength do we experience an immense wave of teshuvah, a mass return to the national roots, the likes of which have not occurred in generations? Good. And who controls the media in Israel, denigrating and inciting, insulting and attempting to distant people from their heritage? You found the answer? What force stands behind the hundreds of Torah schools and their tens of thousands of students, the hundreds of Torah youth groups under the auspices of "El Hamaayan," Torah classes for adults, religious organizations and family purity projects? Correct! And under whose authority is their an ongoing attempt to curtail these efforts, to cut back on budgeting, close schools and fire teachers?

Right again. And in this struggle, it is forbidden to stand at the side.

In this struggle, we must ask each individual, "Are you with us, or our enemies?" In this struggle everyone is demanded to join one of the two camps. For us, our decision is clear-cut: we follow the banner of Hashem our God, and He provides salvation!


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

When to Recite the Berachah on Tefillin

There is a fundamental principle in halachah that all berachot over missvot are recited prior to the performance of the missvah, not after.

Furthermore, the berachah must be recited immediately before the actual performance, not before.

Therefore, one recites the berachah over the tefillin shel yad after having brought his arm through the strap, once the tefillin itself is place on the proper place on the arm but before tightening the strap.

Bedi'avad, however, if one recited the berachah as he was about the bring his hand through the strap, he need not recite a new berachah. Similarly, if one did not recite the berachah before the tightening the strap around his arm, he recites the berachah afterward. Even if he remembered only after placing the tefillin shel rosh, he still recites the berachah so long as he is still wearing the tefillin. In such a situation, he should first touch the tefillin before reciting the berachah.

When reciting the berachah of "al missvat tefillin" for the tefillin shel rosh (either every day, for those accustomed to do so, or after having interrupted with speech in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh - see last week's issue), one recites the berachah with the tefillin on his head, before fastening them. One should ensure that his head is covered while reciting the berachah.

According to all customs, if one interrupted with speech in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, he must recite the berachah of "al missvat tefillin" before placing the tefillin shel rosh.

According to the custom of some Ashkenazim to always recite this berachah over the tefillin shel rosh, if one interrupted with speech in between the placing of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh he must recite both berachot - "l'hani'ah tefillin" and "al missvat tefillin" - before placing the tefillin shel rosh. Before reciting the berachot he should feel the tefillin shel yad with his hand and move them slightly. Then he should once again fasten the tefillin on his arm and only then recite the berachah.

If he recited the berachah before feeling the tefillin, he should feel the tefillin after the berachah.

One should be careful to put on the tefillin shel rosh and tefillin shel yad in the same room and not interrupt even by simply walking from one room to another. Bedi'avad, however, one does not need to recite a new berachah even if he walked to another house in between, so long as his mind was never diverted from the tefillin.

Optimally, one should not interrupt in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh even with a silent interruption, not to mention with any form of activity, even simply giving someone a coin - even for charity.

The reason is that according to many poskim an action is considered as significant an interruption as speech in this regard. However, bedi'avad if one did interrupt with some action in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh he does not need to recite a new berachah, so long as he did not speak.


The Rishon Lessiyon, Yis"a Berachah zs"l

Rabbi Yaakov Shaul Alisher zs"l, known as "Yis"a Berachah" ("Yis"a" is the acronym for "Yaakov Shaul Alisher"), was born in Ssefat around one hundred and eighty years ago. His father died before his seventh birthday, and after several orphan years of poverty his mother married the "Benei Binyamin" zs"l, who raised Yaakov as a son. The Benei Binyamin ultimately became Rabbi Yaakov's closest rebbe. He even married him off and supported him for twenty-four years, until Rabbi Yaakov emerged as one of the gedolim of Jerusalem.

During that time, the Jews of Alexandria decided to no longer host fund-raisers from Jerusalem and its yeshivot. The rabbinic leaders of Jerusalem looked to Rabbi Yaakov Shaul to go to Alexandria and have the new edict annulled. He accepted the task, and his personality and inspiring words had such a strong impact that the decision was immediately overturned.

They also decided to appoint Rabbi Yaakov Shaul as their rabbi. They promised him a respectable salary and alongside it constant and generous support for the Torah institutions in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yaakov Shaul asked for a little bit of time to consider their proposal.

Then, the wife of one of the respected members of the community passed away, and the widower asked Rabbi Yaakov Shaul to stay in his home and learn on behalf of the deceased's soul. Upon the rabbi's consent the man was overjoyed and prepared an elaborate meal in his honor. During the meal, he stood up and praised his wife for her diligence in the observance of all missvot and particularly her strict adherence to the laws of forbidden foods. Rabbi Yaakov Shaul was very puzzled by the strange praise, and when he was served the first course - fried meat with a peculiar aroma - he refused to eat. He suspected that the meat had been fried in butter, Heaven forbid. Right there and then, he decided that he could not stay in a community whose leaders viewed observance of "kashrut" as simply a measure of extreme piety, rather than a basic requirement, and who almost made the rabbi stumble with regard to the prohibition of meat and milk. He informed them of his refusal and returned to Jerusalem where he was elected as head of the Bet Din. Twenty-four years later he was appointed Rishon Lessiyon and served his role with dignity until his passing on the 28th of Tammuz, 5666. After his death, the "Givan Shaul" neighborhood in Jerusalem was established in his name.


The bush burned but was not consumed. This vision to Mosheh Rabbenu was clearly a symbol, a means to express a profound idea. The Midrash says that the bush represents Yisrael while the fire symbolized the Egyptians. The Egyptians could not consume the Jewish people. The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l asked, why were Benei Yisrael likened to a "seneh," a small thorn bush?

After all, specifically the gentile nations are compared to "thorns cut down that are burned by fire" (Yeshayahu 33:12).

He answers that during their exile in Egypt Am Yisrael had deteriorated to the forty-ninth level of impurity, thus resembling the other nations.

This process reached the point where the angels actually asked the Almighty, "How are these [Benei Yisrael] different from these [the Egyptians]?" So, what was the difference? The gentiles resemble "thorns that are cut down," without roots. Therefore, they are easily consumed by fire. Am Yisrael, however, even when we resemble thorns, we are still a "bush" - thorns with roots. Our root has been planted by the sacred patriarchs, and this root ensures that we can never be destroyed by fire, through this very day. Even in our current situation today, even with all the thorns, our meager height and dryness like a thorn bush, we are forever attached to our roots, the glory of our past. This is what gives us the strength to restore the glory to its rightful place, and the ability to successfully withstand our enemies.


Interesting Trees

One of the most remarkable trees in the world is the "milk tree." You're probably thinking, a "milk tree"?! Isn't milk extracted from cows and goats - certainly not from plants! Well, as we promised, we're dealing with among the most fascinating trees in the world. In the forests of Central and Southern Africa lives a tree in whose bark flows a liquid similar to milk.

Within the stem of the tree run many channels, through which the milk flows.

Should one cut into the bark, a white stream immediately emerges from the tree, at the rate of about a liter per hour. The milk is collected in a container placed right beneath the place where the tree was cut. The natives often drink the milk straight or add coffee or chocolate. The milk is especially nutritious and, what more, it does not go bad even long after its extraction from the tree. For good reason, the natives of the region refer to this tree as the "cow tree," whereas they "milk" the tree whenever they feel thirsty.

Another wondrous tree in the Almighty's world is the "bread tree," a large tree that grows in the islands of the Pacific. Tourists of the Pacific islands often encounter these beautiful trees rising to a height of thirteen meters. The tree is decorated by an adornment of long leaves, each of which extends about a half a meter long. The fruits resemble loaves of bread, and beyond their delicious taste, they also serve as a terrific source of nutrition. These fruits constitute a staple in the diet of the residents of the islands, each fruit weighing around two kilograms. The "bread tree" produces its fruits several times a year.

Another tree worthy of mention is the banyan tree, one of the oldest and strangest trees in the world. It grows mainly in India and covers an enormous territory. Very simply, it has a lot of trunks. In fact, it resembles more an entire forest than a single tree. The secret of its many trunks lies in the fact that its branches have the peculiar capability of growing aerial roots, which drop downwards like ropes until they reach the ground, where they create new trunks.

Let's face it - when once in a while we encounter something new in nature and witness a facet of the unlimited divine wisdom that cannot possibly be assessed by the human intellect, we stand in awe. At that moment, everything else in our lives gets placed in its proper proportion. The wonder at the greatness and wisdom of the Creator brings an individual to the inevitable conclusion - "Our King is true, there is none like Him."


The Faithful Student (12)

A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk,"
the Story of the Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l

Flashback: Reb Nechumke, the ssadik of Hordona, requested from Igor Burak, an assimilated attorney, to represent the Saraf of Brisk in his trial for false charges for which he was accused. The lawyer feared the confrontation with the authorities who were determined to destroy the revered rabbi, and refused. The ssadik, however, insisted that it is worth endangering oneself for an angelic figure like the Saraf of Brisk. The lawyer asked for some time to think things over.

The next day, the lawyer asked to meet with the ssadik. His eyes were dreary and clearly sleep-deprived. "Rebbe," he said, "I am a professional defense lawyer. Your claims made a deep impression upon me, but as a lawyer I am not influenced by speeches. I demand a proof!"

Reb Nechumke gazed at him in amazement. "What kind of proof?"

"A proof to confirm your claim that it is worth it for me, a person who enjoys his freedom, family and comfort, to risk everything for someone else's life. If you can provide a proof, I will give in. If not, then don't torment my conscience any further!"

"A proof"?! The ssadik's forehead turned dark as he thought intensely.

Finally, he responded, "Okay, here's your proof. One of the students of the Saraf of Brisk staged a robbery in order to have the privilege of sitting in jail together with his rebbe and serve him. But maybe they would cast him into another cell, and the sacrifice would have been for naught? Maybe he would be with him in his cell but not be able to help him at all? Maybe the rabbi would be set free and the student would remain in prison for many long years thereafter? Yet, he decided that it was all worth it. It is worth it for one to suffer in order to serve an angel!"

The lawyer swallowed his smile. "And who's to say that he staged a robbery? Maybe he was caught with outright robbery?"

"You are right," confessed the ssadik. "Therefore, let me make an offer.

I will hire your services to represent the young student; this entails no danger whatsoever. You will receive full payment for your work. Then, if over the course of the trial it turns out that it was all staged, that the student in fact endangered himself to spend time with the Saraf, will you agree to take upon yourself the defense of the Saraf?"

"Fair enough," agreed the lawyer. "I give you my hand!"

to be continued.


"Let us please go for a three-day journey"

The Rishonim and Aharonim zs"l addressed the obvious question, why did Hashem instruct Mosheh to request of Pharaoh only a three-day journey? He could have demanded of Pharaoh to set the people free altogether, and Pharaoh would have no choice but to let them go after the ten plagues!

Various answers have been proposed. The Abarbanel and the Alshich Hakadosh zs"l answer that the Almighty never tests an individual if the person is unable to withstand the test. The demand that Pharaoh free his nation of slaves altogether would have constituted too difficult a test, and his refusal would therefore not have justified such devastating plagues. But when he refused even the small request of the three-day journey, Hashem justifiably brought about the ten plagues.

The Ran zs"l writes in his derashot that this demand allowed for the downfall of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. Once the Egyptian king saw that the people weren't returning after three days, he thought that they violated Hashem's will and thus figured that now he can overcome them. As a result, he and his army drowned at sea.

Rabbenu Behayei zs"l writes that Hashem from the outset wished to free Am Yisrael in stages, that they would first leave for three days, accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven and receive several missvot, as occurred in Marah, where they were commanded the missvot of Shabbat, honoring parents and parah adumah. They would then return to Egypt and be given a lighter workload. In this manner, the process of redemption would unfold gradually.

However, when Pharaoh refused, Hashem smote him with the plagues and Benei Yisrael were freed totally at once.

The "Emet L'Yaakov" zs"l offers a beautiful answer. The Kabbalists teach us that were Benei Yisrael to have completed the decreed four hundred years of slavery, they would never have been exiled again and the redemption from Egypt would have served as an eternal redemption. But since they deteriorated to the forty-ninth level of impurity and were on the verge of complete assimilation, their exile could not have been delayed any longer, and they had to be redeemed before the prescribed time. All subsequent exiles serve to complete the years of exile dropped from the Egyptian bondage. Therefore, the Almighty wanted a means through which the spiritual deterioration would come to halt and the prescribed years of exile could continue. The plan was for them to go out for an occasional three-day period of spiritual elevation in the wilderness. However, since Pharaoh refused this request, the process of deterioration continued and Hashem therefore had to redeem them at once.


The Hafess Hayyim zs"l told the story of the Maggid of Duvna zs"l, who was walking in the street and saw a blind, poor man, dressed in rags, with a young boy holding his hand and leading the way. Another person passed them by and indifferently ignored them. If he had been blessed with a sensitive heart, he would have at least expressed some sigh of grief over the plight of the underprivileged in the world. If he had a grateful heart, he would have expressed his thanks to the Almighty for the sense of vision with which He has graced us, as we say each morning, "Blessed are You Hashem. Who opens the eyes of the blind." The Maggid of Duvna had both a sensitive and grateful heart. Perhaps above all, he had a compassionate heart. He stopped, turned to the two passersby and said hello. "My brothers, where are you from?" he asked.

The blind man was embittered, and he grumbled and didn't answer. The young boy looked up at the Maggid with eyes that spoke of distress and pain. He told the Maggid that this was his father and his mother had passed away.

He told of how cold it was in their humble shack, as they had no more wood for a fire.

"Who are you talking to?" interrupted the man. "Let's go on!"

"In just one moment, my good fellow," answered the Maggid. "Please tell me, have you eaten?"

"No," answered the boy. "I am taking my father to the public food distributor for the poor people of the city so we can eat. Then I will take him back home."

There was no reason to even ask the boy if he learned. In his situation, he was undoubtedly exempt from the missvah of learning Torah. "Come with me," said the Maggid. "I will give you a hearty meal, much better than what you would be fed at the public food distribution." A spark of gratitude shone in the boy's eyes, which had now come back to life. The intelligence manifest in his face was clearly diluted by a deep sense of sorrow. The Maggid immediately canceled his plans, turned around and walked together with the boy. He took the two into his heated home and set the table. He did whatever he could to make their stay pleasant and ensure that they were well fed. Even the blind father warmed his demeanor a bit, and his irritability began to shake off. "Very good," he complimented, "it is very nice here."

"Would you agree to live here?" asked the Maggid. "I will set aside a warm room for you and you will receive a meal like this three times each day - for free." He thought to himself that the boy would be able to attend the local Talmud Torah, all at his own expense.

The blind father was reluctant to accept the offer, while the child's eyes glittered with hope. The father eventually consented. He settled into the Maggid's home, and subjugated the entire household to his personal wills and grouchiness. The Maggid tolerated it all, whereas welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechinah. This was especially true when he saw how the child began to blossom. He received food and clothing, went to school and fit in nicely with the other children. Some time later, the father died, and the boy continued his studies in yeshivah. It turned it that he had a remarkable memory and never forgot anything he learned. His comprehension was quick as lightening, his reasoning razor-sharp, his character pure as oil, his soul pristine as crystal, and his diligence unmatched. He quickly established a widespread reputation for himself and eventually emerged as the rabbi of Brody. He was none other than the renowned and revered Rav Shelomoh Kluger zs"l.

We can only imagine what would have happened if the Maggid would have just sighed and continued along, and the boy would have continued leading his father to the local soup-kitchen. How much would Am Yisrael have lost!

How much would the boy have lost! How much would the Maggid himself have lost! Batyah, Pharaoh's daughter, took in the baby she found in the river. Did she have any idea whom she was saving? Did she even consider the possibility that this was the savior of Yisrael, the father of all prophets, the deliverer of the Torah, through whom she would be eternally remembered for this act of kindness?

In essence, every Jewish child is like Mosheh in his basket. We have no idea how brilliant a future awaits him - who knows, maybe this one will become a gadol hador if given the opportunity. For his sake, and for the sake of each and every child, the Torah education network was established. Schools have opened for them, and now they struggle for their very existence.

Will we feel content by just sighing and shrugging our shoulders? Let us stretch out our hand, like Batyah. Let us open our hand, like the Maggid of Duvna. And all the fruits of our efforts, for generations to come, will stand for our merit.

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