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Parashat Tazria - Messora
Our parashah describes the laws of the skin infections that surface on account of the sin of lashon hara (Arachin 16a). In fact, the Zohar writes (vol. 3, 53a) that the word "messora" (referring to one stricken with sara'at) actually means "mossi shem ra" (slanderer), all of whose limbs become contaminated, and upon whom the spirit of impurity rests. His prayers do not rise before the Al-mighty. Even in the future, all gates are locked before one who speaks negatively about others, and they do not behold the Shechinah (Sotah 42a). The Gemara (Arachin 15b) writes, "How does one who speaks lashon hara correct his wrongdoing? He should occupy himself in Torah, as it says, 'The cure for a tongue is the tree of life' (Mishlei 15:4). And 'tree of life' refers to Torah, as it says, 'It is a tree of life for those who grab onto it' (Mishlei 3:18)."
As we know, "all of Yisrael are responsible for one another." One who commits an averah potentially tilts the scales against himself and the entire world, Heaven forbid (Kiddushin 40b). In the whirlwind of media that sweeps our generation, the press pursues sensationalism, resorting to intrusive and hostile tactics. We are drowning in a sea of gossip, lashon hara, slander and insults. So many demerits are piling up against us, Heaven forbid, and the generation is enveloped by the spirit of impurity. What can purify this environment and eliminate the contamination? Only increasing participation in Torah classes. This is the responsibility of every Jew who feels concerned with the situation of this generation, and this is the job of the "El Hama'ayan" movement: to increase Torah, to raise it and glorify it, so that the light will outshine the darkness - "The cure for a tongue is the tree of life."
Towards the end of our parashah we are issued the following command: "You shall separate Benei Yisrael from their impurity." This pasuk admonishes the Bet Din to keep Benei Yisrael away from impurity. In light of this obligation, the Batei Din would send staff teams to oversee the demarcation of grave sites. As we know, in earlier generations the deceased were buried in underground caves, which often stretched over a large area, sometimes the size of an entire neighborhood (see Baba Batra 102, Nazir 65). In order to help ensure that the kohanim would not mistakenly step over one of these caves, these workers would mark the boundaries with plaster on the ground. These marks would, however, fade over the course of the winter due to the rains. Therefore, towards the end of the winter the courts would send teams of workers to retrace the boundaries of the graves. All this appears in the Gemara in Masechet Mo'ed Katan.
Understandably, responsibilities such as these fall on the shoulders of the rabbis and religious officials. Yet, on the same page, the Gemara mentions that on the day on which these teams were sent, the Batei Din would also dispatch workers to fix the roads and oversee other public, municipal needs. "A court that was lax in this regard [and, as a result, accidents occurred], is considered by the pasuk as having spilled blood" (Rambam, Hilchot Rosse'ah 8:6). This already begs for an explanation. Rabbis have special seats of honor in the Bet Kenesset. Everyone looks to them to issue rulings of halachah. Rabbis are summoned to officiate at wedding ceremonies, they undertake the responsibility of overseeing the production of kosher food at the highest standards of supervision, and we could only hope that all monetary disputes would come only to rabbinical courts, so that we could see the end of the desecration of Hashem's Name caused by the consultation of secular courts. All this is understood. But fixing the roads and sidewalks? Is this not the responsibility of the local municipalities and public works departments? Why should the rabbinical courts concern themselves with these tasks?
One who asks such a question testifies to his detachment from the nature of the true life of Am Yisrael throughout its history, and from the understanding of Torah's place in his life as a living Torah, encompassing all aspects of individual and communal affairs. We must remember the Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (114a): "Who is a Torah scholar who is to be appointed as leader over the community? One from whom we can ask issues of halachah from any area and he answers." Meaning, there is no question regarding either an individual or community which has no clear answer in the Torah. The communal leader, who must resolve delicate issues related to a wide array of areas, must have mastery over all fields of Torah study or, alternatively, consult with, and submit to, Torah authority. Then the leader will succeed in all his endeavors, as the Creator promised, "Obey Me, for no one listens to Me and loses." Whoever consults with the elders succeeds!
And really, have there been nicer days for Yisrael than the period of the generation of the wilderness, when we followed Hashem under the leadership of Moshe Rabbenu, and lacked nothing? Or than the period of David Hamelech, the sacred poet, and his son, Shelomoh, the wisest of all men who built the Bet Hamikdash, in whose day silver was thrown around like stone - "Silver was not considered like anything during Shelomoh's time" (Melachim 1, 10)? Or than the period of Hizkiyahu, the righteous king, who "in every action that he begun in the service of the House of G-d, and in Torah and in misvot, to seek his G-d with all his heart - he did and succeeded" (Divrei Hayamim 2, 31). In every period when our nation was led by sadikim and Torah sages, we enjoyed a golden age of physical and spiritual abundance. Every question was decided according to Torah authority and received the proper answer and divine assistance in its implementation. Everyone knew that all the answers to all the questions were found in the Torah and therefore turned to the Torah scholars and leaders of the generation to receive them. Indeed, Masechet Avot promises that "One who learns Torah for its own sake - enjoys from it counsel and wisdom!"
Not only were we aware of this, but the leaders of the other nations also revered the Torah sages and consulted with them on all matters. The prophet Daniel served as the advisor of Nevuchadnessar, the Rambam worked as an advisor to the king of Egypt, Don Yis'hak Abarbanel was an advisor for the king of Spain and Rabbi Yis'hak Nunis advised the Turkish Sultan. If we were meritorious, the current Jewish State would be run according to Torah authority, and our situation would then be drastically different. In the meantime, each one should individually chart his path according to Torah authority, run his household and conduct his affairs by receiving advice, guidance, instruction and blessing from Torah authorities and from the light of halachah, and he will then succeed in all his endeavors!
WHY THE REDEMPTION TARRIES
We read in our parashah about the affliction of sara'at. Rabbenu Ovadia Seforno (Vayikra 3:47) writes that these afflictions were purely miraculous and supernatural by nature; as such, they do not affect gentiles, just as they ceased from among Benei Yisrael once we descended from our high level. This sorrowful phenomenon may be compared to a person whose blood became poisoned. As the poison is drained through an open wound, however much pain is experienced, the individual finds himself on the road to recovery. But so long as the illness remains concealed and exists only internally, the patient's situation is far more severe and threatening. The same applies to sins committed through speech, for which one contracts sara'at. When the spiritual ill expresses itself externally, triggering a process of retrospection and repentance, the process of physical and spiritual healing, then the situation is wonderful. But how awful it is when the disease remains within the individual, the forces of impurity descend upon the person and flutter about in his soul, as the Zohar Hakadosh writes - how dreadful is his plight! In the past, when the yesser hara led an individual to sin through speaking improperly against another, the lashon hara killed, as Hazal say, three people: the speaker, the listener, and the subject of the gossip (Arachin 15b). But today, in the age of written and electronic media, people kill, deride and insult others with their mouths before tens of thousands of people. How many sins does this add - how many prosecutors against us, Heaven forbid! We stand and wonder, why has the redemption yet to arrive? The Midrash provides the answer: "Moshe was thinking in his heart and saying, 'How did Yisrael sin that they were subjugated more than all other nations?' Once he heard the Hebrew man say, 'Do you wish to kill me, just as you killed the Egyptian?' he said, 'There is lashon hara among them - how can they be worthy of redemption?' He therefore said, 'Indeed, the matter is known.' Meaning, now I know for what sin they are subjugated" (Shemot Rabbah 1:30).
The question begs itself: does not Torah protect and save - "Our feet stood in battle in the merit of the gates of Yerushalayim which were occupied in Torah" (Makot 10a)? There is so much Torah studied - the halls of the yeshivot are filled to capacity, students pack into the Batei Midrash to learn, there are so many kollelim and Torah classes. So how did the situation deteriorate so drastically? How have we lost our security and has the current sense of defeatism taken hold?
Once again, the Midrash provides the answer: "We find that children during the times of David before they tasted the taste of sin would sit and learn the Torah with forty-nine sides to issue a ruling of impure and forty-nine sides to issue a ruling of pure. Yet, even with this to their credit, they would go out to war and fall! Rather, because there were among them gossips who indulged in lashon hara, they fell" (Vayikra Rabbah 26:2).
How frightening! Imagine the power of the sin of lashon hara - and it is so rampant in our generation, to the point where it is practically viewed as permissible! What hope do we have?
We know what the Midrash Hane'elam (Parashat Noah) writes, that in the merit of the nation's unity the exiles will gather together, and the Al-mighty sits and waits for that unity. Fortunate are those who abstain from the flood of gossip that has overtaken the airwaves. They save themselves from so many sins, they live in a pure environment, and, most importantly, in their merit redemption will come!
"And on the eighth day, he shall be circumcised"
Rabbenu Bahya zs"l writes: one who digs foundations, erects walls, covers them with a roof, lays cement, covers the ground with a floor, plasters the tiles and then moves in to live - we know that all these activities were undertaken for a specific purpose: to build a residence. Likewise, if one plants a tree, digs a bed around it and waters the area, we realize that he intends to eat the fruits later produced by the tree.
Here, too, the previous parashah surveyed the animals that we may and may not eat, including the birds and fish. Our parashah, by contrast, begins with the laws of the newborn, teaching us that the human being is the central component and purpose of creation. But for what purpose was he created? The Torah reveals the answer by instructing us to circumcise a newborn shortly after birth, showing that the point of man's creation is for him to fulfill the misvot!
"And on the eighth day, he shall be circumcised"
The Midrash Tanhuma in our parashah records that the wicked Turnusropus asked Rabbi Akiva, "Whose actions are greater - those of the Al-mighty or those of the human being?"
"Those of the human being are greater," Rabbi Akiva answered.
Turnusropus replied, "What about heaven and earth - can a human make something similar to them?!"
The sage responded, "Do not ask me from something withheld from people and over which we have no control. Bring proof instead from things found among human beings."
"Why do you circumcise yourselves?" asked Turnusropus.
Rabbi Akiva answered, "I knew that this is where you were headed, and I therefore told you right from the beginning that the actions of humans are greater. " Rabbi Akiva brought him sheaves of wheat and cakes, and said, "These are the creations of the Al-mighty, and these are the creations of the human being!" Turnusropus said, "If the Al-mighty wanted people to be circumcised, then why are they not born that way?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "The Al-mighty gave misvot to Yisrael for the sole purpose of purifying them through the commandments."
"And on the eighth day, he shall be circumcised"
This misvah had already been given to Avraham Avinu: "And an eight-day old shall be circumcised for you, every male, for all your generations." Our pasuk thus comes to teach us that we conduct a berit milah on the eighth day, even should it fall on Shabbat (Masechet Shabbat 132). The Midrash offers a parable of two officers coming before the king. At that point, we cannot tell which of the two is of higher ranking. Only after the king affords precedence to one over the other can we determine the higher ranking officer. Similarly, Shabbat is equal to the entire Torah, and berit milah has the distinction of thirteen covenants entered into through this misvah. We do not know which of the two is greater until we learn that Shabbat is overridden by berit milah; berit milah is the more important of the two.
The question, of course, remains: why is this so?
The Tosefet Berachah zs"l offers the following answer (in Hiddushei Ha'Ritva to Sukkah, 43). Milah is the Jew's "signature," and Shabbat constitutes a sign between the Creator and Benei Yisrael. For this reason, "a gentile who observes Shabbat is deserving of death" (Sanhedrin 58). Logically, then, the individual's receiving of the "signature" of Judaism takes precedence over the sign between the Jew and the Creator achieved through the observance of Shabbat. Moreover, while Shabbat serves as our testimony that the Al-mighty created heaven and earth, the milah functions as the sign that our bodies are subjugated to His will. We must realize that mere knowledge of the Al-mighty's having created the world does not suffice; we are to be His servants who observe His misvot. This is our primary and central goal - the very purpose of our having come into the world!
Rav Avraham Hacham zs"l
Rabbi Avraham Hacham zs"l was the rabbi of Carmen, Persia. Upon arriving in the city to assume the rabbinate, he found there an intelligent physician of Jewish origins who had converted to Islam with his entire family - a rare and tragic occurrence. The rabbi asked him, "What prompted you to rebel against your ancestral faith and remove yourself from the nation?"
He explained that he acknowledged the vanity of the faith of Islam. But he had once heard a rabbi deliver a speech in which he told that when the prophet Yonah was cast into the sea and devoured by a whale, the leviatan wished to swallow the whale with Yonah inside. Yonah told the leviatan that he was circumcised, and the leviatan immediately fled; Yonah and the whale were saved.
The doctor thought to himself upon hearing this story, "What is this - do fish talk? Would a sea monster be scared away by a berit milah?" He therefore decided to give it all up, and once he took this step, he might as well convert to Islam and live a life of honor and comfort.
The rabbi was shaken up by the story and said, "Because of your foolishness, you forfeited both worlds. You thought you were so intelligent but failed to realize that your intelligence is not even a tiny drop of that of our sages. If you did not understand their words, then you should have assumed that they spoke in allegorical terms. Although you are not worthy, I will tell you the meaning of these words. All of creation came into existence during the six days; on the seventh, Hashem rested. The seven days thus symbolize the natural world, the greatest creature within which is the leviatan. In comparison therewith, the human being is but a mustard seed. From a purely natural perspective, the leviatan 'devours' the human being. But not just the leviatan: the lion is stronger than the person, the deer is quicker, and the ant is more astute. So wherein lies the uniqueness of man? Why is he the crown jewel of creation? Why does the leviatan run away from him, and not vice-versa? Because all animals act on natural instinct and cannot overcome these impulses. The human being is the only one who can control himself and restrain his yesser hara against his natural inclination. The proof of this is the misvah of milah, which a person places upon his body against his natural instinct. This misvah is therefore performed on the eighth day - signifying that which lies beyond the natural order. In this manner, man overpowers all other creatures and demonstrates his superiority!"
The physician was inspired by the rabbi's words and regretted his hasty decision.
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
Those Included in the Obligation of Sefirat Ha'omer
A minor who has yet to reach the age of misvot is to be educated in the misvah of counting the omer with a berachah each night. If the child forgot to count one night and remembered only the following night, he nevertheless continues counting with a berachah for educational purposes. A minor may not recite the berachah or count on behalf of an adult.
A minor who became a bar misvah during the period of sefirat ha'omer, even should his birthday occur on the seventeenth of Nissan (the second day of the omer), may not continue counting sefirat ha'omer with a berachah from that day on. The reason is that since prior to his birthday he was not obligated in the misvah, and, as such, his counting during those days was not considered a valid "counting" as far as the halachah is concerned, his counting after his bar misvah cannot be considered "complete" (as the pasuk requires, "temimot"). Therefore, from his thirteenth birthday on he counts the omer without a berachah, and in the following year he counts the omer with a berachah. As we know, we never recite a berachah when its obligation is in doubt. The boy should preferably listen to the berachah from the sheli'ah sibur, answer amen, and then count the omer by himself.
A convert who converted during the omer period may not count the omer with a berachah that year, even if his conversion occurred already on the second day of the omer and even if he counted beforehand. If he converted on the sixteenth of Nissan, which is the first day of the omer, then he should count that day without a berachah, just as one would do if he neglected to count at night. Then, from the night of the seventeenth and on, he may continue counting the omer with a berachah.
A mourner is obligated in the misvah of counting the omer. However, an "onen," that is, one who lost an immediate relative (for whom he must mourn) whom has yet to be buried, may not count the omer. Therefore, if he was an "onen" at nighttime, he counts the following day after the burial without a berachah (just as anyone who failed to count at nighttime counts the following day without a berachah). That night he then continues counting with a berachah. Nowadays, however, when the deceased is generally handed over to the care of the "hevra kadisha" that arranges the burial, the "onen" should count at night without a berachah, even before the burial. Not to mention the fact that he should do so if he knows that the burial will be delayed until the following evening. Then, on the night following the burial, he continues counting the omer with a berachah.
The Fastest Bird in the Kingdom of Winged Creatures
The falcon family is a large and distinguished one, featuring seventy different species of falcons. Among them is a specific species called the peregrine falcon. Scientific researchers found that this bird can fly faster than any other, which is one of the reasons why it was popular among hunters in the Middle Ages. It was trained and used as a hunter of other birds.
Scientists who studied the peregrine falcon found that it can dive onto its selected victim at a speed of 270 kph and trample it with a single blow, without crashing on the ground as a result of its dizzying speed. How is this possible? The falcon has the ability to halt its dive at the precise moment necessary, that is, after it thrusts its claws into its surprised victim's back. The way it stops its speed resembles a paratrooper's opening of his parachute, only the falcon uses its wide wings and tail. When it spreads its wings, it reaches impressive dimensions over a meter in width.
How important is it for the falcon diving towards its prey to stop itself at the right moment? Well, just think what would happen if the falcon would delay for even one moment! What would happen if the falcon would think in flight that there is no hurry, that "in the meantime, things are good"? Unquestionably, braking at just the right moment is what allows the bird to not only catch its food, but also continue its life without crashing. Dear Jews, stopping at the right time is of critical importance in human society, too. When a Jew understands that he walks an incorrect path but feels too lazy to change because "in the meantime, things are good" or "perhaps some other time," he resembles the falcon that lost its brakes, if you will, that lacks the ability to bring itself to a halt. Taking the required measures as early as possible is what allows a Jew to land peacefully despite the erroneous path he had been walking, even should he have done so throughout his entire life. One must remember that since time does not lie within our jurisdiction, it is worthwhile not to delay. We should rather move quickly to come nearer to the Al-mighty.
The Hunter's Snare (3)
Flashback: A certain prankster invited a single, successful businessman to his home to offer him partnership in a tempting business venture, and then went to the government offices to get the necessary documents. In the meantime, he asked his wife to enter the room and frightfully ask, "Where is my son?" Upon the prankster's return, the businessman told him that his mother was worried about him, and the prankster then lamented his mother's constant concern for his welfare ever since his father's passing. The guest then inquired as to why the mother, who looked so young, never remarried. The trickster then described his mother's superior qualities, and the businessman expressed interest in marrying her, promising an exorbitant dowry as well as a handsome matchmaking fee. They signed the documents in the judge's office and the prankster promised that he will bring the bride to the man's home that night.
This trickster actually had a ninety-year old mother. He said to her, "I did something in your name; please do not interfere with my plan." His mother responded in her aged, shaking voice, "What is it that you did, my son?" He answered, "I married you off to a young, talented, wealthy groom!" She said, "You're making fun of me! I am at the brink of my grave, and I am about to celebrate a wedding?!" The son explained, "This will not last for more than one night, and I will make several thousand gold coins. Please, do what I ask - what won't a mother do for her son's request!" At evening time a magnificently adorned chariot arrived at the friend's gate. He quickly called to his servants, "Hurry - greet my bride, bring her to the living room, and I will come after she sits and rests a bit from the trip."
Several minutes later, the elated groom walked into the living room and saw an old woman sitting in front of him, her head hunched over between her knees. Taken aback, he cried, "Who are you?!"
Her voice creaked her response: "I am your wife, the mother of your friend, whom you married this morning according to state law. I am your wife. "
The friend protested: "No, I saw his mother just yesterday, and she was young and beautiful. How could she have turned in just twenty-four hours into an old woman on the edge of her grave?!"
"You fool," she replied. "That woman you saw yesterday was not his mother, but his wife! Are you blind? How could you have thought that she was his mother? His hair has already begun turning white, and that woman is far younger than he! Now please quickly bring me a cup of coffee, because my head feels so heavy from the exhausting carriage ride."
The man's heart sank, realizing that he had fallen right into a trap. The contract had written in it the name of the man's mother, and this was her, the old woman sitting in front of him. This was his wife! He smacked his hands over his eyes in disgust. How did he not realize, how was he so blind and foolish! He had his servants bring to the table all the delicacies he prepared. She ate nothing because of her old age, and he ate nothing because of his frustration.
To be continued
Luna Bat Miriam and Gamliel ben Nizha
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