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Parashat Tazria - Metzorah


"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 enthusiasm.

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
The Stomach

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 blindness."

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 were invited.
The boy asks his father, "Father, when will they leave? I want to be here by myself."
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 solitude."

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 respectfully.

"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 be circumcised"

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.

excerpts from 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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