Parashat Tazria - Metzorah
THERE IS REASON TO BE HAPPY!
"Hashem spoke to Moshe and Aharon and said, 'When you come to the land of
Canaan which I give you as an inheritance, and I will place a plague of
leprosy in a house of the land of your inheritance..." What kind of news is
this? It is as if the Al-mighty were saying, "I am about to give you a
gift, which will result in more trouble and crisis!" The Or Hahayim zs"l
asks, "Is this a piece of information [that Hashem will afflict Benei
Yisrael's homes with leprosy]? The pasuk should have stated, 'If there will
there be an affliction in the walls of a house in your inheritance,' as the
Torah states regarding the other forms of leprosy!"
Hazal's comment on this pasuk is well-known. When the Canaanites learned
that Benei Yisrael were to inherit their land, they concealed their
treasures deep inside the walls of their homes throughout the forty years
that Benei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness. When Benei Yisrael came and
occupied the land, they settled in those homes, never even imagining that
valuable treasures are hidden within the walls. The Al-mighty afflicted the
walls with leprosy. So much anguish must have been felt, so many tears must
have been shed when the owner discovered the blemish, resulting in the house
having to be torn down. Only later were the treasures found, and only then
did the owner realize that even this, too, was all for the best.
This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of our state.
Hazal consider fifty years as comprising a "world," a lifetime. Like every
person, the state experienced illnesses of childhood, the rebel tendencies
of adolescence, and difficulties of adulthood. There is now a feeling that
the state begins to suffer from the fatigue of old age, in the spirit of the
pasuk, "At fifty years old he [the Levi] will return from his duty of labor
and will not work anymore" (Bamidbar 8:25). People claim that the joy and
celebration are artificial, and, in reality, sadness has replaced our
What happened? Why is it that fifty years ago the nation burst out into
the streets with song and dance, despite the fact that there was not all
that much to celebrate? Recall that seven powerful Arab nations stood
prepared to attack, the economy was in shambles, the Arab boycott strangled
our country, new immigrants lived lives of poverty as people worked
laboriously to scramble for a living. Yet, there was genuine joy. For
what, for the "national home" which was now secured and, once and for all,
built upon our homeland. Indeed, this was the cause of the joy then and,
truth be told, this is the reason for its demise now, fifty years later.
Scholars have uncovered many grave errors and miscalculations of the early
leaders of the state, mistakes which were paid for in blood and money.
Furthermore, they discovered that the attempt to "settle in the Canaanite
homes," to assimilate and become one with the other nations of the world, to
introduce Western culture into our land - these schemes were unsuccessful.
This generation has grown children bereft of values, detached from their
heritage, foreign to their own parents. A pleasure-seeking generation has
grown, whose heroes are the computer experts and whose idols are addicted to
drugs. These are not the children for which we hoped, this is not what we
had in mind.
The "kibbussim" have become real estate businesses, agriculture has become
just an ordinary field of study, the children raised in the kibbussim have
fallen far short of expectations. What is there to celebrate? How can we
rejoice when the dream for which so many gave their lives seems to be dwindling?
However, fifty years is a rather short period of time when dealing with an
eternal nation, and it represents just a brief moment even in the life of a
state. In the broader perspective, we stand at the forefront of a process,
we are watching it unfold. True, the mood is melancholic. True, the hopes
of many have backfired and have been frustrated, the cracks in the house
have split open. However, deep within those cracks, behind the destruction,
there lies a treasure. Just like the events 3300 years ago when Benei
Yisrael's homes were afflicted with "sara'at," we look beyond the
disappointment and the unfulfilled dreams. The nation conducts an intense
self-introspection and reveals a great treasure. It becomes clear that one
needs to trust only in Hashem Himself, only His shield of faith protects us.
We begin to recognize that a national home not built upon foundations of
religion relies upon flimsy planks. The nation reveals the treasure which
lies beyond the destruction and returns to its heritage. It returns to its
roots, to its basic essence, and it continues to fuel the flames of faith
with the Jewish spark which will never be extinguished.
And thus, fifty years later, there is good reason to rejoice.
One who looks around and sees the spiritual revival, the continued growth
of shi'urei Torah in the yeshivot, the waves of teshuvah and return to
tradition, realizes that we stand on the brink of a new age, an age of
spiritual independence. The next fifty years should be ones of blessing and
prosperity, years of massive return to our national heritage, and the
restoration of the glory of the Torah to its proper stature.Y
The wonders of the creator
A common Hebrew expression says, "The army marches on its stomach." In a
sense, it could be said, "The world marches on its stomach." Among the most
fascinating features about the human stomach is the liquid it produces.
This liquid breaks down the food. It turns even the hardest substances
into a smooth texture with no form. This liquid is so potent that a single
drop of it which comes into contact with the human skin will leave a wound,
the same effect as boiling water. And yet, surprisingly, the stomach
withstands the pressure of these juices. Obviously, all this has been
carefully designed by the Al-mighty. Despite the fact that we
have learned a lot about the human digestive system, the most critical piece
of information remains a mystery: how does the food we put into our mouths
become blood, flesh, bones, teeth, hair, and fingernails? As Jews, we
recognize that just as food strengthens the body, so do Torah and misvot
sustain the soul. Just as we cannot explain how food turns into blood,
flesh, etc., similarly, it is not easily understood how one's soul is
nourished by Torah and misvah observance. Just as an intelligent person
would not refuse to eat until he fully understands how the food is
transformed into blood and flesh, it is likewise absurd to claim that first
a person must understand how the soul is nourished before keeping the laws
of the Torah. Food of the spirit does, however, have one advantage over
food of the body: the more a person eats, the excess quantity of food does
not help him understand the secrets of digestion. Regarding Torah, however,
the more one observes the missvot and studies Torah, the more he will
understand that "they are our lives and the length of our days."
The Repaid Debt
a continuing saga (part fifteen)
Naftali insisted that his host calculate all the expenses incurred on his
behalf. "Even if you are not prepared to accept a reimbursement - and, to
be honest, I have not a penny to give - I want to know the precise sum.
This is not so that I know how much I owe you, because, honestly, this
cannot be calculated in terms of money!"
The man agreed and sat down to do the calculation. Needless to say, the
expenses amounted to a huge fortune. He presented the bill to Naftali,
emphasizing that he will in no way accept any payment for the tremendous
missvah which he merited to perform.
Naftali thanked him from the bottom of his heart, and left him with
emotional words of thanks. He thanked the man's wife, as well, blessing
them that the Almighty should soon find them a suitable match for their
daughter, that they marry her off in prosperity and joy. With tearing eyes
and blessings, the host and his wife went to escort this young man who had
illuminated their home over the last few years.
Naftali entered a yeshivah and his broad knowledge, sharp mind, and fine
character turned him into the top student in the yeshivah. His remarkable
diligence and intense tefilot, his impeccable fear of Heaven and superb
qualities earned him quite a reputation. Soon enough, he was married and
continued his Torah studies with sanctity and purity. His name became quite
famous, and he was invited to be the rabbi of Pozna and its environs. There
he established a yeshivah, to which students flocked from near and far.
The girl, the daughter of his former host, also found a match, a deserving
young man from a good family, and the father-in-law guaranteed the couple
three years of support. Those three years were very special, but, soon
enough, they came to a close....
to be continued
The Golden Column
Rabbi Yis'hak Alfasi zs"l
This Wednesday, 10 Iyar, marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi
Yis'hak Alfasi zs"l, more commonly known as "the Rif." He passed away in
Spain around nine hundred years ago, in the year 4863.
The Rif was born in Algeria and studied in Kiroan. He was a student of Rav
Nissim Gaon and Rabbenu Hananel. He settled in Fez, Morocco, and for this
reason he was known as "Al-fasi." At the age of seventy-five, he was forced
to flee to Spain to escape false accusations against him. He was installed
as the head of the yeshivah of Rabbi Yis'hak Ibn Giat in Alisanah.
The Rif was a contemporary of Rashi. While Rashi composed his enlightening
commentaries on Tanach and the Talmud, the Rif wrote "Sefer Hahalachot"
according to the order of the Talmud. He included in this work only the
conclusions of the sugyot in the Gemara which are relevant for practical
purposes. He omitted the Talmudic discourse, disputes, and proofs back and
forth. The Rambam zs"l, who was the student of the Rif's student, testified
about himself that he did not deviate from the rulings of the Rif more than
twelve times. The Raavad zs"l wrote, "I rely on the words of the rav [the
Rif] even when he says about the right that it is the left."
Much later, when the Bet Yosef composed his masterpiece, the Shulhan Aruch,
he based himself upon three pillars of halachah, on which all of Am Yisrael
relies, the first of which being the Rif. The other two were the Rosh and
the Rambam. Communities from Spain and North Africa sent their questions to
the Rif, and about five hundred responsa on all areas of halachah have been
preserved. Three hundred of them have been translated in Hebrew.
He passed away on 10 Iyar, 4863. It was engraved on his tombstone, "In
this grave is buried the source of wisdom, and the world has come into
He Shall Dwell in Solitude
This week's parashah is integrally connected to this time of year. The
parashah of sara'at deals with afflictions which result from speaking
improperly about others, and during the days of the omer we commemorate the
passing of the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva who perished
because they did not treat each other respectfully. As Hazal say, after
their death, "The world was desolate."
The Torah prescribes that the messora dwells in solitude, outside the camp.
He may be compared to a boy sitting at a meal to which his father's friends
The boy asks his father, "Father, when will they leave? I want to be here
The father responds, "If so, then get up and leave. It is better that you
go away and be alone rather than send all these people away."
Similarly, one who spoke wrongly about others, exposing their negative
qualities - why should he live among them? He should be sent outside the
Jewish camp, to live by himself.
We hear from our parents of the love and harmony which characterized their
homes and communities, how they all lived together peacefully, uncles, aunts
and cousins, families working together in beautiful unity. How is it today?
We hear from our parents of what community life was, how the Bet Kenesset
was like a big, happy family, how each member celebrated with the semahot of
others and shared in their pain during times of loss and crisis. What is
community life like today?
We have heard of the mutual respect and willingness to help which was felt
by one and all, the love which governed all activities. Where did it go?
How did alienation and suspicion replace the feelings of closeness and
affection? How did alarm systems and security bolts replace the open doors
of the communities of old?
There seems to be but one answer - our hearts have been corrupted, we have
become stingy, and we now suffer from the punishment of, "He shall live in
We do, however, have the ability to leave this state of solitude and break
the locks which isolate us from others
If we can only show a loving, affectionate face to others, if we could only
take an interest in the well-being of our fellow Jews and treat them
"He shall be brought to Aharon the priest"
Why is the messora brought before Aharon? Rabbi Hayyim Vital zs"l, in his
work, "Ess Hada'at Tov," explains based on Hazal's comment that the messora
contracts sora'at as a punishment for spreading lashon hara. Therefore, he
is bidden to come before Aharon, who was known as the lover of peace, a
person who constantly worked to increase love and harmony among Benei
Yisrael. Aharon would influence the messora and guide him away from his
improper traits, thereby raising the level of love and unity among the nation.
"On the eighth day he shall
Rabbenu Bahyah zs"l discusses the relationship between this misvah and the
parshah of the kosher and non-kosher animals which preceded this parashah.
A person digs, puts up walls, builds a roof, applies plaster and cement, and
finally moves in - only then is it demonstrated that this was the intent of
all the hard work. Similarly, when a person works a field, only when he
eats of his fruit has the intent of all the work been realized. In Parashat
Shemini the Torah discusses all the different animals of creation, and
Parashat Tazria opens with the discussion of the birth of the human being.
Only when the human being has come into existence has it been determined
that the ultimate purpose of all of creation is for the human being, so that
he can fulfill the misvot.
"And behold, the affliction has not changed color"
Rabbi Yosef Hayyim of Baghdad zs"l, the Ben Ish Hai, notes that the only
difference between the word, "nega" (affliction) and "oneg" (pleasure) is
that in the word "nega" the letter "ayin" is at the end whereas the word
"oneg" has ayin as its first letter. This is what is meant by the pasuk, "A
wise man has his eyes [his 'ayin'] in his front," meaning, he places the
"ayin" in front, thus changing "nega" into "oneg." Thus, when the kohen
sees that "the affliction has not changed its color," that the ayin has
stayed in its placed and the nega has not changed into oneg, then "he will
declare it impure." This is why the pasuk states, "Behold, Hashem's eye is
directed to those who fear Him, to those who anticipate His kindness." The
sadikim have the ability through their prayers to move the ayin and
transform the nega into oneg.
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a
For Aristocrats only (part II)
Aaron: And what of the other commandments of G-d?
Mr. Goodfriend: They are not designated as signs (ot), but they are indeed
dignities and privileges. Non-Jews are not culpable for performing these
acts, but they lack the privilege of being commanded. "Greater is he who is
commanded" (Kiddushin 31a)
Aaron: Is voluntary virtue not superior to comulsory virtue?
Mr. Goodfriend: To this, there are two answers. 1) It is more difficult to
do that which one is commanded, because the Evil Inclination and the human
obstinacy are aroused. It is when some act is forbidden, or some act is
obligatory, that a counter-urge arises. "Stolen waters are sweet" (Mishle
9:17) merely because they are forbidden. 2) In addition, the fulfillment of
G-d's commandments confers an especial aura which no voluntary act of
man-made origin can confer : "You will do all My commandments and you shall
become holy to your G-d" (Bamidbar 15:40)
The Laws of Sefirat Haomer
1) The Torah writes (Vayikra 21:15), "You shall count for yourselves from
the day following the 'Shabbat,' from the day you bring the 'omer' of
waving, seven complete weeks they shall be." Hazal (Menahot 65b) have
taught us the tradition that "the day following the Shabbat" refers to the
second day of Pesah, the day following the first day of Yom Tov. And thus,
there is a misvah to count the omer starting from the second night of Pesah
through the end of seven weeks. Nowadays, in the absence of the Bet
Hamikdash, when we do not have the cutting of the omer or the omer
sacrifice, the misvah of counting of the omer is of rabbinic origin, in
commemoration of the misvah which was observed during the time of the Bet
Hamikdash. This is the ruling of the majority of the authorities, including
the Shulhan Aruch. Therefore, one should omit from the introductory
paragraph ("leshem yihud...") the words, "misvat aseh," and one should
simply recite, "We are coming to fulfill the misvah of sefirat haomer..."
2) One who recites the berachah prior to the counting under the impression
that it was such-and-such day in the omer, and immediately after completing
the berachah he realizes that he was thinking the wrong day, he should just
recite the proper counting and does not need to say a new berachah. Since,
as we explained, the misvah nowadays is of rabbinic origin, we may be
lenient in this regard.
3) Before counting, one recites the berachah, "asher kideshanu bemisvotav
vesivanu al sefirat haomer." Even though the counting is of rabbinic origin
nowadays, we can still recite this text of the berachah (which implies that
Hashem, Himself, ordained this misvah) since the Torah writes elsewhere,
"You must be careful to perform all that they [the sages] teach you." This
pasuk is the Biblical source of our obligation to adhere to the dictates of
Hazal. Therefore, we recite in the berachah, "vessivanu" (and You commanded
us) even with regard to rabbinic misvot, such as sefirat haomer nowadays,
netilat yadayim, and the lighting of Hannukah candles.
4) One who is standing in a dirty place and therefore cannot recite the
berachah over sefirat haomer, should count without a berachah. Therefore,
one who is in prison should count without a berachah, rather than miss the
misvah altogether. Since we follow the principle that the berachah is not
indispensable for the fulfillment of misvot, one should count without a
berachah rather than not count at all.
5) Optimally, one should count in a language which he understands. Even
when counting in Hebrew, one should understand what he says, according to
some opinions. Others argue on this ruling.
6) Women are exempt from this misvah, as they are exempt from all time-bound
misvot. Nevertheless, women may count the omer without a berachah.
According to Kabbalistic sources, women should not count the omer, even
without a berachah.
7) There is a misvah to have children count the omer as part of their
education. They should be trained to count the omer with a berachah. If
they forgot to count a certain day, they should continue counting without a
berachah as part of their hinuch.
8) A boy who becomes a bar misvah during the omer period should count
without a berachah from that point on. Even if he had been counting all
along and did not miss a day, since there is a doubt regarding his
obligation in the misvah in this case, he should not recite the berachah.
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