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Shabbat Shuvah


Another year has passed, and a new year has begun. Many of us are still at the same level, entrenched in the same mire of mediocrity. There is a long-standing tradition among the saintly Jews to accept upon themselves to perform or refrain from a specific act, without any vow, for the coming year, just to demonstrate their resolve to improve and work on themselves.

Everyone should look into themselves and come up with that one acceptance, regardless of how big or small. So long as we carry out that one item consistently and with absolute resolve, we can succeed. We will offer one suggestion, one which involves a story. At the dedication ceremony of Yeshivat Hachmei Lublin, the Jewish newspaper reporters surrounded the rosh yeshivah, the renown Rav Meir Shapiro zs"l. At one point during the interview he turned to them and jokingly asked, "Do you know where news reporters are alluded to in the Torah?" They had no idea. The rosh yeshivah responded, "In the scapegoat, the goat which sent to 'azazel,' carrying the sins of Benei Yisrael into the wilderness. The goat was sent, as the Torah writes, with a person called 'ish iti.' 'Iti' means a reporter. [Related to the Hebrew word, 'itonai,' reporter.] Do you know why reporters are represented specifically in this fashion? Because wherever there is a heap of sins, misdeeds, and controversy, that is where you will find the reporters serving as escorts."

Everyone should, to whatever extent possible, try to minimize the degree of his exposure to the media. So much of it is characterized by a contempt for all that is sacred and the breach of all walls of shame. Every stride towards the dissociation with it can yield only blessing!


"I am both black and beautiful, the daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the tapestries of Shelomoh" (Shir Hashirim, 1:5). So does the nation of Israel proudly proclaim before the other nations of the world, before those who wish evil upon us, those who see only the external qualities, failing to recognize that our appearance conceals our true, pure and pristine identity. Even if, externally, we appear black as the tents of Kedar, unattractive and unbecoming curtains, we are, in truth, like the magnificent, splendid tapestries of Shelomoh.

What happens when the gold and silver pillars collapse, taking down with them the delicate curtains, leaving them in the ground, trampled on by throngs of people, until, eventually, these curtains resemble the grimy curtains of Kedar? Undoubtedly, a person unaware of their true value would be prepared to dispose of them. But those who see things on a more profound level know to pick them up gently and have them laundered. The dirt will be removed, the thick layer of grime will be washed away, the stains will disappear, and these curtains will be restored to their original splendor and glory.

This metaphor is not our own; it is found in the Midrash: "Just as the curtains of Shelomoh get soiled and are then laundered, they get soiled again later and are laundered yet again, the same is true of Benei Yisrael. Even though they are soiled from sin throughout the year, Yom Kippur comes and atones for them, as it is writen, 'For on this day He will atone for you from all your sins, before Hashem you will be purified.' And it is written, 'If your sins will be like crimson, they will become white like snow, if they are as red like the blood of a worm, they will be like wool'" (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:37). The overwhelming majority of this sacred nation attends Bet Kenesset on Yom Kippur. The overwhelming majority of the nation fasts to atone for their sins. How fortunate you are, Israel! To one extent or another, everyone discloses the brilliant tapestry which lies concealed under the soot of the tents of Kedar. Everyone reveals the glorious curtains of Shelomoh, demonstrating to one and all that the sins are merely an external covering. In a moment of sincere regret and remorse, the dirt is washed off the magnificent, internal being.

Consider a parable of a zoo whose lion and lioness both died. Could a zoo possibly continue to function without the king of the animal world? Until replacements could be found, they had to settle on substitutes. And so, they hired two unemployed men to fill the role. They would hide in the zoo, sleep, and wake up every so often and roar like lions. The two men carried out their task skillfully, and the administration of the zoo was pleased. That is, until one day when a visitor stormed into the office, shouting. "This is all a fake. There are no lions here; they are just two people pretending to be lions!"

The zoo-keeper tried to calm down his customer. "If you talk a little more quietly, you will be able to hear their roars." Sure enough, in just a few minutes the alleged roars reached the office and were heard clearly and distinctly.

"Nonesense!" cried the man. "When we arrived at the lion's den, we heard the 'lion' ask the 'lioness' how much time was left until the zoo closed. The lioness answered, 'Quiet, we have visitors!' What do you say to that, huh?"

"What can I say?" responded the keeper. "All I can say is that I hear them roaring from dawn to dusk!"

The man became infuriated. "Are you calling me a liar?" he shouted.

"God forbid!" exclaimed the keeper. "But if they roar from morning until night, what's the big deal if they say a sentence or two in human language?"

Obviously, such a response is nonsense. A lion cannot speak, period. If a creature speaks even one sentence in human language, he has proven himself human, and that all the other sounds were merely an act. The roaring was just an imitation.

So can be said about the nation of Israel as a whole, as well as each individual, on Yom Kippur. If, on this sacred and exalted day, we turn to our Creator, bang our chests with sincere pangs of remorse as we recite, "al heit," we fast and stand in prayer - all this proves that this is our true essence, and the rest of our year, all our inadequacies and shortcomings, they were all just an act, a misrepresentation of our true selves. We are, therefore, worthy of a "gemar hatimah tovah"!


"For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins"

Rabbi Hayyim Vital zs"l, the greatest of the students of the Ar"i zs"l, suggests that this pasuk relates to the pasuk which follows. "For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins, before Hashem you will be purified" - but only on the condition that you observe the laws relating to the day, as the Torah continues, "It shall be a 'Shabbat Shabaton' for you, and you shall afflict your souls, an eternal statute." In other words, if you refrain from forbidden work on this day, and you observe the fast from the beginning of the day through the end, only then will the day be one of atonement and forgiveness for your sins.

"For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins"

Rabbenu Azaryah Pigo zs"l, in his work, "Binah L'itim," suggests a parallel between the purification process of Yom Kippur and that of a mikveh. Like the mikveh, the day of Yom Kippur has the capacity to atone, but only if the individual makes the effort to go in. Just as a person must be submerged in the mikveh in order for the purification waters to be effective, so too, on Yom Kippur, he must come through the gates of the Bet Kenesset and stand before his Creator with submission and genuine remorse. This is the meaning of the pasuk, "For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins," on the condition that, "...before Hashem you will purified." Meaning, before Hashem atones for you, you must come prepared to be purified.

"For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins"

Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno zs"l explains that the very day of Yom Kippur yields atonement, which involves the diminshing and wearing off of the sin. (See Rashi and Ramban, Bereishit 32:21, that atonement resembles the pre-wash, before the actual laundering.) But then prayer and confession are required for the ultimate elimination of the effects of the sin. This is the meaning of the pasuk: "For on this day He will atone for you [in order] to purify you from all your sins [and this will occur when] before Hashem you will be purified [referring to sincere prayer and repentance]."

"For on this day He will atone for you to purify you from all your sins"

Rabbi Rahamim Yosef Maman zs"l explains that Yom Kippur atones only for those who believe in the day's capacity to atone. This is the meaning of the pasuk: "For [in this context, meaning 'if,' if you believe that] on this day He will atone for you [only then] before Hashem you will be purified."


Rabbi Kelipa Malkah zs"l

Rabbi Kelipa Malkah zs"l lived in Tatuan, Morocco, and earned in his lifetime an abundance of both spiritual and material wealth. Greatness in Torah and in finance merged in his home. He wrote many books, including "Kaf Naki" and "Kol Zimrah," and he composed many liturgical poems. He was also extraordinarily wealthy, and his work in commerce seemed to cover the entire globe. He had an enormous fleet of ships which brought him merchandise from all over the world, and his business continued to grow steadily.

On Yom Kippur Rabbi Kelipa prayed with his father-in-law, Rabbi Shelomoh Pinto zs"l in Agadir. He spent the entire day steeped in prayer, dressed in white, resembling and angel of God.

In the middle of the day someone reported to him that a fleet has just returned to Morocco, loaded with expensive merchandise. In the place of a response, he lifted his hand, indicating that he was not to be disturbed during his prayer. But the rumor circulated quickly, and Arab merchants flocked to the Bet Kennset and stood by the door, each one hoping to be the first to offer their bid and gain access to the riches. The overseer of the fort also came, in order to arrange entry for the boats and collect the appropriate import taxes. No one dared disturb the rabbi during the service, and instead they stood outside, silently, waiting for the day to end.

Rabbi Shelomoh feared that the commotion might cause him to shorten the ne'ilah service and rush through arbit. He therefore prayed that the ships would sink together with their merchandise, and, indeed, all the wealth sunk in the waters near the port. To this very day, one can see the sails of the ships floating in the waters near the fort.


Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav Mosheh Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Meor Yisrael

Laws Regarding the Walls of the Sukkah

The question we will deal with relates to the validity of walls made of sheets and curtains with regard to the missvah of sukkah.

As is well known, the sukkah requires three walls and "sechach." The walls need to able to withstand a common wind, as Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a writes in Yehaveh Da'at vol. 3, ch. 46: "One should not make walls for his sukkah from sheets and curtains which sway in a common wind, because a wall which come and goes in a common wind is not considered a wall. Even one out of the three walls which is made from sheets and curtains invalidates the sukkah. People should instruct others not to make any walls from sheets or curtains without wrapping them with sticks, in order that people not do so, and people should be instructed that in such a sukkah the missvah of sukkah is not fulfilled and a berachah recited on such a sukkah is a wasted berachah ('berachah levatalah')."

In light of this, we have met with the company, Jerusalem Sukkot, and they have produced a sukkah according to our precise guidelines and which meets all the detailed requirements of halachah according to the Bet Yossef, and through consultation with Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a. Special arrangments were made to ensure that there will not be swaying walls for ten "tefahim," according to the measurements of the Hazon Ish.

Similarly, we have arranged for the production of "sechach" through Jerusalem Sukkot which is a mat of thin or thick poles, attached with cotton threads, made especially according to our guidelines. Everything was produced according to the highest standards of halachah.

All this was done in accordance with the rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, who gave his stamp of approval to the official statement of validity given to Jerusalem Sukkot. After observing the manner in which this sukkah is produced, he wrote, "My hand shall support them, and they deserve credit for having merited the community at large."

In summary, one should not make walls for his sukkah from sheets and curtains which sway in a common wind, for such walls are not considered walls. Even one of the three walls of the sukkah which sways in a common wind invalidates the entire sukkah. People should be instructed not to make any such walls in order that people know not to make them, and people should also be told that sitting in such sukkah constitutes a violation of the missvah to eat in a sukkah, and a berachah recited in such a sukkah is to be considered a wasteful berachah. Those who prevent these sukkot shall be deserving of berachah. (Yehaveh Da'at vol. 3, ch. 46)

Therefore, people should disregard signs advertising other sukkot which claim that Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a sanctioned them. His personal "hechsher" was given only to those sukkot manufactured by Jerusalem Sukkot which contain our certificate verifying their validity.


Last week, Jaffa Street in Jerusalem was closed to traffic. The main road, where the city's Central Bus Station is located, was turned into a huge traffic jam, a line of stopped cars which grew each minute. Pedestrians were banned from the area of the Central Bus Station: there was a suspicious article.

One could see the article from afar - a huge, green travel bag with black shoulder straps. The police officers carried out their duties efficiently, keeping the crowd away, bringing in the special squads, making use of a megaphone, ensuring the safety of all citizens in the area. Trees blocked part of the view, and from the audience which featured the classic "Jerusalem mix" - secular, traditional, and religious Jews, as well as tourists - came the sounds of frustration, expressions of impatience, polite criticism of the terrorists who continually disrupt day-to-day living. But, here and there, from a group of religious Jews in the area, were heard inspiring words, worthy of our consideration and very much in the spririt of the season.

One person said, "In the end it will turn out that this was all nothing. Someone forgot his luggage."

"Correct," answered another. "Could you imagine that all this was caused because of a single moment of forgetfullness, from just a slight oversight?

'For the sin we have sinned before You without knowing...'"

"I once heard," added a third bystander, "that if a person commits a sin, resulting in a Heavenly prosecutor and a decree of Hashem's turning away, and, as a result, an accident occured with injuries, all that is the responsibility of that single individual." The relevance was clear - a person forgot his bag and thereby inconvenienced hundreds and hundreds of people.

This simple talk of Torah scholars eased the frustration of the moment. As the delay continued, someone said, "I think there's another lesson here. Look how they don't take any chances. Let's face it - in all likelihood, it's just some bag forgotten by its owner. But, the possibility still exists that it's a bomb. Because of this far-fetched suspicion, the bomb squad was called, traffic is stopped, and the entire area is closed. If only we would approach sins with such care and concern! Imagine, a person opens the radio exposes himself to a 'suspicious article' of sorts. Maybe it's perfectly innocent, but maybe it contains heresy or inappropriate material. Why do we not exercise the same level of safety in this regard? Why do people take a chance with something so dangerous?"

The question remained, as it continues to remain, and it must arouse our thoughts.

In the meantime, the mob's attention was directed towards the police "robot," which took hold of the bag, lifted it, turned it over, shook it forcefully, and, behold, from the bag flew socks, a shirt, bath accessories, and papers. A sigh of relief overcame the crowd. False alarm.

And then a voice was heard from near where I was standing: "That poor person who owns the bag. Everybody is looking at his personal items - not very pleasant."

Someone then responded, "So what? The "bag" of each of us is shaken this way on Yom Kippur. Everything is taken out, spread out for all to see, and nothing remains concealed."

No, this is not pleasant.

The whistle was sounded, the barrier was removed, and everyone continued along his way. Hopefully they all went to conduct their own introspection, to think about teshuvah. If they did, then when their bags are opened a treasure will emerge, rendering them deserving a happy and healthy year.


Self-Mutilation in Animals

Whoever has, God forbid, lost a finger in an accident knows what a bitter reality it is, that the human body is incapable of growing new limbs in place of those that have been lost. In this sense, the human being is inferior to the animal world. At best, the human can produce new skin over the scab in the place where the limb had been severed, but not a new limb. Mammals as well as birds share this limitation with humans. Insects, however, and lizards in particular, possess this wonderous capability of producing brand new limbs. Lizards will frequently lose a tail in order to save a head. When does this happen? When the lizard is not quick enough to escape from a hungry predator, its tail is usually the part which is lost either by the enemy's fingernails or mouth. At the very instant that the tail is severed, the lizard has the opportunity to quickly run and hide in a safe place while the enemy, somewhat caught by surprise by the sudden lunging of the lizard, focuses all his energy on the tail which remains. The tail wiggles and shakes while in the predator's mouth, keeping him busy enough to divert his attention from the rest of lizard's body, which has successfully escaped. The muscular and nervous systems of the severed tail can continue to produce these awkward movements over the course of several minutes after the attack.

After a certain period of time the tail grows back. The wonder of this phenomenon, of the self-mutilation of certain animals, becomes even greater when we consider the fact that humans are incapable of going through this process. It seems inconceivable, then, that people do mutilate themselves, in the form of spiritual harm. The Almighty chose our nation as his special people, who uniqueness is manifest through their observance of missvot, as through them the nation perfects itself and serves as an example to the other nations. There is no doubt, then, that one who is negligent in the performance of missvot and lives a purely physical existence, thereby resembling the animals, rather than taking advantage of his opportunity to rise to the level of the angels and even higher, such a person is, in effect, bringing harm upon himself, as he lowers himself from perfection. Nevertheless, one can never despair. Even a Jew who had distanced himself from Am Yisrael has the opportunity to mend the tear, to grow back once again, to once again attach himself to his people and fulfill the missvot, thereby rejoining the special nation about whom Hashem testified, "Yisrael is My first-born."


Measure for Measure (9)

Flashback: A wealthy philanthropist who loved Torah established a Bet Midrash next to his home and invited the local scholars to study there. A very poor but scholarly talmid hacham joined the Bet Midrash, hungry for some food. The wealthy man invited the indigent scholar to his home to converse with him in complex matters of Torah while he, the host, ate to his heart's content, not thinking to invite his guest to eat with him. He did this twice, for two meals, and the poor scholar made his way to the city hoping to find food. Upon his arrival, the poor scholar died of hunger. Meanwhile, the wealthy man left his home in the dark of night to to the Bet Midrash when he suddenly heard footsteps.

The wealthy man, who stood in the dark Bet Midrash, held in his hand the lamp which he had taken from in front of the aron kodesh and brought to the bookcase. The footsteps startled him, and the lamp fell to the ground and was extinguished. A thick darkness enveloped the room, and the wealthy man was seized with fright. He gingerly felt his way to the doorway, bumping into benches and tables as he walked. He finally reached the doorway and frantically called for the guard.

The guard's figure appeared in between the shadows. "You called for me?" he asked.

"Yes," answered the man, his terror now easing somewhat, replaced by anger. "Someone is in the Bet Midrash!"

The guard, changing the subject, responded, "The lamp in the Bet Midrash extinguished, Sir."

"Yes," answered the man, "it fell from my hands and went out."

"I'll go bring you another candle and a new lamp."

"No! Don't leave me here alone," cried the wealthy man. "I told you, somebody is walking around the Bet Midrash!"

The guard kneeled respectfully. "When I locked the Bet Midrash there was nobody there - I am sure of that. Maybe you heard a mouse or something." He did not want to insinuate that it was the man's imagination, but a sense of mistrust was obvious in his words. The wealthy man, himself, began wondering, maybe it was just his imagination playing tricks on him. He began yelling at himself for allowing his nerves to distract him. "Fine," he said, "Go bring a lamp. But hurry - my time is precious!"

The guard kneeled, turned around, and disappeared into the night. The wealthy man remained there, alone, standing at the doorway of the Bet Midrash, waiting for the guard to return. Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him...

to be continued...

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