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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Halachot of Birkot ha'Torah
One who is unsure as to whether or not he has already recited birkot ha'Torah may not recite the berachah out of doubt, since according to many authorities this obligation is of rabbinic origin, and in cases of doubt regarding rabbinic requirements we are lenient. This appears to be the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch (see Orah Hayyim, end of 209). Nevertheless, one who faces such a doubt should have in mind during the recitation of "ahavat olam" (the berachah recited just prior to keri'at shema) to fulfill his obligation of birkot ha'Torah in case he has actually not recited the berachot. Preferably, he should hear the recitation of birkot ha'Torah from someone who had not recited them previously.
Women are included in the obligation of birkot ha'Torah, since they, too, are required to study the laws that pertain to them - such as Shabbat, tefilah, berachot, niddah, kashrut, etc. The Maharil adds that woman must recite birkot ha'Torah because they are included in the obligation to recite the korbanot section of tefilah as well as pesukei de'zimrah. The Bet Yossef (end of Orah Hayyim 47), however, indicates that women are exempt from the requirement of pesukei de'zimra, and according to the final halachah they are exempt from the recitation of korbanot, as well. Incidentally, we see from here the importance of the obligation for men, at least, to recite the korbanot section. Indeed, the Bet Yossef (Orah Hayyim 49) cites from the Rishonim that this constitutes an outright obligation. One must make every effort to recite the korbanot before the shaharit service. According to the Kabbalists, one may not recite the korbanot after shaharit. One who comes late to the service, and the congregation has already reached the middle of tefilah, such that he would miss tefilah with the congregation should he recite korbanot, should nevertheless try to recite at least part of korbanot. He should recite from "Lefichach anahnu hayyavim…" until "Shema Yisrael" and "Baruch Shem… " He should then recite the section of the tamid, the ketoret, and the section of "pitum haketoret" until - but not including - Rabban Shimon ben Gamilel. He should then recite "Ana be'choah" until - but not including - "eizehu mekoman." He should then proceed to "Hodu la’Hashem kir'u bishmo" until "u'binvi'ai al tare'u." At that point he should skip until "Kel nekamot Hashem" until the pasuk of "Hashem hoshi'ah… " He should then recite "Hashem melech… ," "lamenasse'ah bineginot," "baruch she'amar," and so on. After the tefilah, he should make up what he skipped.
"God shall grant you from the dew of the heavens and from the fat of the earth"
Rabbenu Hayyim Vital zs"l writes in his "likkutim," that Yaakov Avinu, by seizing his father's berachot, rectified the sin of Adam Harishon. Adam was commanded by Hashem to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but the snake came along and promised him that eating of the fruit in violation of Hashem's command will grant him great and profound spiritual understandings. Adam yielded to the snake, he listened to his wife, and ate of the fruit. Consequently, thirty-nine curses descended upon the world: ten upon Adam, ten upon Havah, ten upon the snake, and nine upon the earth.
Yaakov Avinu was presented with the opportunity to earn these great blessings, whose primary power involved the perpetuation of the heritage of his father and grandfather. He strongly refused to trick his father until his mother, the prophetess, informed that she was instructed as such through prophecy. He then approached his father with fear and trepidation; in fact, according to the Midrash, angels had to hold him up. But he negated his own mind and will to Hashem's will, as expressed through prophecy. He thereby corrected the sin of Adam Harishon, who violated his prophecy for the sake of his own will and mind. Adam was banished from Gan Eden as a result of his misdeed, whereas when Yaakov approached his father the scent of Gan Eden accompanied him, as the Midrash writes. Yis’hak therefore begins the berachah by blessing him with the "tal" (dew) of the heavens, as "tal" has the numerical value of thirty-nine, corresponding to the thirty-nine curses that resulted from Adam's sin.
"G-d shall grant you from the dew of the heavens and from the fat of the earth"
Rabbenu Yossef Hayyim zs"l offers an explanation as to why this berachah begins, "VE'yiten lecha" - "AND He shall grant you." The Midrash comments on this berachah, "He shall grant you, and then grant you again; He shall grant you a berachah, and grant you 'kivusheihon.'" What does "kivusheihon" mean? He cites from the work, "Arvei Nahal" that the letters of the berachah serve as the pipelines of the bounty it produces. If we take into account as well the words that make up the letters of each word then the blessing multiplies exponentially. This is the meaning of the pasuk with which we begin our Amidah, "Hashem sefatai tiftah" ("Hashem, open my lips"). The letters of the word "berachah" are "bet," "resh," "kaf" and "heh." The final letters of all these words spell the word "sefatai." Thus by "opening" the berachah we receive greater abundance of blessing.
The Midrash alludes to this idea. How will Hashem give and then give again? By "giving you berachah" - blessing from the letters "berachah" itself. He will then give "kevushehon," which comes from the word, "kavush," or concealed, meaning, that He will give all the blessing latent within the letters of the word.
"G-d shall grant you from the dew of the heavens and from the fat of the earth"
Rabbi Avraham Patel zs"l, the father-in-law of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, brings in his work, "Vayomer Avraham," that Yaakov Avinu was blessed through ru'ah hakodesh first with dew and then the fat of the earth. In the berachah to Esav, by contrast, Yis’hak reverses the order: "… your dwelling shall be from among the fat of the earth and from the dew of the heavens above." Wherein lies the meaning behind this reversal?
He explains based on Hazal's comment on the pasuk, "On what account has the land been destroyed… because they abandoned the Torah" (Yirmiyahu 9:12). Hazal explain this to mean that the land was destroyed because "they [Benei Yisrael] did not first recite the berachah over Torah learning" (Nedarim 81a). The "Olelot Efrayim" zs"l explains that one who appreciates the value of Torah gives its berachah precedence over all other berachot, as we bless a newborn child that he should be raised "to Torah, to marriage, and to good deeds" (mentioning Torah first) and we bless our friends that they should merit "Torah and greatness all together" ("Torah u'gedulah b'makom ehad"). We always mention Torah first and only thereafter extend our wish for other blessings. But when our sense of priorities is distorted, a process of deterioration begins which culminates with the destruction of the land. Therefore, Yaakov Avinu is blessed first with the "dew of heavens," referring to a heavenly blessing of spiritual bounty, and only thereafter with "the fat of the earth" - referring to material prosperity. Esav, however, valued "the fat of the earth" over heavenly blessings - and look what happened to him in the end…
The Father-In-Law of the King - Rav Avraham M. Patel zs"l
Rav Avraham Patel zs"l, the father-in-law of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, was among the great leaders of Aram Soba. His mother a"h passed away when he was but twelve years of age. His father was left with his son and his two small sisters, carrying the burden of heavy debts he incurred as a result of the mother's prolonged illness. With great pain and distress, he called over his son and told him that as much as he recognized the boy's intense love for Torah, which was the joy of his life, the family situation did not allow for the possibility of paying tuition for his studies. What more, he asked his son to lower his shoulder and bear the burden of supporting the family and helping repay the loans. If he has extra time and energy, he would be able to allocate time for Torah learning.
Understanding the gravity of the situation, the child agreed to go out and work. But before he could even find a job, he was stricken by a severe illness and his condition steadily deteriorated. A physician was summoned and he told the family that the illness was fatal; there was nothing he could do to help. The boy was not the only patient stricken with this particular illness. The son of one of the wealthy, prominent men in town had contracted the same disease. His father summoned a doctor from Europe who came, examined the boy, and arrived at the same conclusion: there was no remedy for this illness.
Rabbi Moshe Patel fell into deep anguish and despair. He went to the rabbis of the city and pleaded with them to appeal for compassion for his son. "Why shall both mother and child be taken from me?" he wailed. In utter despair he turned to the physician and asked if indeed there was no hope left. "There is no cure," the doctor replied, "but sometimes the patient regains his strength and is cured. It does not appear that this will be the case with your son." The father trembled.
"Why do you say this?" he inquired.
"Because his eyes are weary; he has lost the desire to live."
The father rushed home and looked into his bedridden son's eyes; indeed, the doctor was correct. "I have taken an oath," he said to his son, "that if you recover from this illness, you will continue to learn Torah as you wish."
Suddenly, light once again shone from the boy's eyes, and a smile appeared on his face. Within just a few days he recovered, not long before the funeral of the son of the wealthy man. He returned to his studies and became a Torah giant, who drew waters of wisdom and poured them for others, bringing merit upon vast numbers of people.
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael,
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
A Sun-Heated Boiler
One may use on Shabbat water that was heated by a sun-heated boiler to wash dishes or wash one's hands and face, etc. Even though turning on the faucet causes cold water to enter the boiler and thus be heated, nevertheless, since the water is not heated by fire, but rather by solar heat, we may be lenient. If the water is heated by both a sun-heated boiler and electricity, then one may not use the hot water on Shabbat if there is a chance that the water in the boiler is heated electrically. All this applies to using the water for washing dishes or one's hands and face; one may not, however, wash his entire body with water heated by the sun-heated boiler, as Hazal forbade bathing in hot water on Shabbat.
One may not use on Shabbat hot water that had been heated by an electric boiler. One may not even turn on the hot-water faucet, since when one turns on the hot-water faucet in his home, cold water immediately flows into the boiler and is heated. Cooking with electricity is considered cooking with a derivative of fire, which is prohibited by Torah law. Even if the electric boiler is not in operation on Shabbat, but was turned off before Shabbat, so long as there remains some hot water in the boiler, one may not turn on the hot-water faucet on Shabbat, as this causes the cold water that enters the boiler to be warmed. If one mistakenly did turn on the hot water on Shabbat, he should not turn it off, as this hastens the cooking of the cold water that flowed into the boiler.
Similarly, one may not use the hot water heated by a central heating system that operates with gas or other sort of fuel. One may not turn on the hot water at all, as doing so causes cold water to immediately flow into the heating system to be heated. So long as there remains hot water in the system, one may not turn on the faucet on Shabbat.
One may not turn the knob to open the radiators that work as part of a central heating system to allow for hot water to enter them to heat the house, as this causes the cold water in the radiators to be heated. One may likewise not close the radiators in order to prevent the entrance of hot water into them, since this hastens the warming of the water in the boiler. (One may be lenient and open the radiators if the system is not activated by a pump, but most heating systems today do operate with a pump.)
The Eider's Down
The eider is a duck that walks with great difficulty while waddling from side to side. It often stumbles and falls as it walks. When it flies, it does so with impressive speed, but it excels specifically at the sport of swimming and is even not too bad a diver. One who saw an eider undoubtedly noticed that every now and then it brings its beak to the edge of its tail, appearing to squeeze something from there, and then runs its beak over its feathers. Why does it do this? The answer is very simple. Above its tail, the eider has a gland from which it extracts oil to rub on its feathers. This is how the Al-mighty enabled the duck to ensure that it will not get wet in the water. The soft, thick down covers its body and maintains the body heat so that the duck's body temperature will not drop, especially when it comes in contact with the water, which is far colder than the body. The eider's down has found favor not only in the eyes of the duck itself, but also in the eyes of man: this down is the most expensive down in the world. It is soft and gentle, and people use it to fill pillows and cushions, as well as in the manufacture of blankets. The price of this down is very high, and it serves as an important source of livelihood for those living in northern countries. In some places many people hunt these ducks out of their craving for the special fur. People in northern areas weave very warm clothing from this fur, but for the most part they sell it to various commercial companies. Those who have traveled in the North Pole have found that a leather jacket lined with the eider's down is light, warm and more comfortable than fur.
The eider's down has thus become the source of its troubles, as many people pursue it to the point at which it needs special legislation to protect it. At the same time, if the eider could open its mouth, it would certainly express its gratitude to the Creator for this special fur that provides warmth better than any other material, and which is light and perfectly suited for the duck's lifestyle. This concept is quite familiar to us, "lehavdil," when a Jew stands in wonderment asking why he must suffer because he is a Jew - all the persecutions that took places and cruel decrees that were issued just because we are Jews. However, if we ask any Jewish child studying in a Torah school, he can explain how special Am Yisrael is and how happy he is to have been born a Jew. He is a son of the Al-mighty and rejoices in the fulfillment of His misvot; he would never exchange, Heaven forbid, his religion for another. This is why every Jew knows how to joyfully recite the berachah every morning, "Baruch Atah Hashem shelo asani goy."
The Dowry (4)
Flashback: A poor scholar had a daughter who reached marriageable age, but had no money for her dowry. He consulted with his rabbi, the Hozeh of Lublin zs"l, who ordered him to go to Cracow. He checked into a Jewish inn and spent his time engrossed in his studies. He innocently told the innkeeper his story, and then heard about the innkeeper's life. He had been a wealthy merchant, but an enormous sum of money he earned at a fair was stolen, leaving him with huge debts. He had to bring all his business activity to a halt and invest all his energies into managing the motel.
The man heard the sad story and offered the innkeeper a sincere blessing: "May the Al-mighty refill that which was lost."
"Amen," the innkeeper pleaded. "I have no complaints; may Hashem continue to help me."
The innkeeper left and the man returned to his learning, forgetting the world and everything around him. But not for too long. A new guest visited his table - the chef and the kashrut supervisor.
"I heard your story from the innkeeper," he told the man. "He came into the kitchen to tell his wife, and I overheard."
"It is no secret," said the man, shrugging his shoulder. "You heard; so what?"
"Well I know why your rabbi sent you here… "
The man grew curious. Now, finally, the mystery will be solved.
"Come, let me show you," the chef said.
The man closed his book and left with the chef. As they walked, the chef began talking. "You heard that the innkeeper used to be a successful businessman?"
"Yes, I did; until the robbery," the man replied.
"Well, I am the thief."
A sudden bolt of lightening and clap of thunder could not have stunned the man more than he was at that point.
"Yes," the chef repeated. "I have worked here loyally for many years, and during that time I have earned a good reputation and acquired a good deal of trust. Suddenly, a momentary, crazed spirit overcame me, and I lost myself. I went up the stairs and saw the door open. The drawer was open, too, and I saw the rubles. I shoved them into my apron - twenty thousand in all. In just a single moment I had become as fabulously wealthy as could be. In just a single moment I became a miserable thief," he said in a broken voice.
"I went back to the kitchen with thoughts shouting at me from my mind. My conscience hollered, 'Thief! Thief!' I regretted what I had done. I decided to go back, return the stolen money and erase the shame. But just then the door opened and the innkeeper came back inside. He brought with him some things for the motel. I quickly took off my apron and hung it on the hook, and I went to help him bring the things inside. My opportunity was lost. If I had returned the stolen money, I would have been fired on the spot, and justifiably so. Please, tell me, what could I have done?"
The man stood there silently, stunned and bewildered. He kept in mind the famous adage of Hazal, "Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place."
To be continued
These are hard times, in every respect. The country bleeds, victims are buried, so many are wounded, hurt, crippled, they experience unimaginable pain and suffering. May Hashem send them all a complete recovery; as for their family members, may Hashem reward them for all their assistance and support, with an ocean of blessing and kindness. Economically, we are in dire straits. In truth, no one is guilty. Not the government, not the financial establishment. All this was decreed from the heavens. Who has control over the collapse of high-tech, the influx of foreign workers from the east, the necessary security expenses? We must open our eyes and ask, what is demanded of us? Where is all this leading us? Where will the current security, diplomatic and economic situation bring us? The medical insurance companies that are falling apart, the cuts in government spending, the ongoing unemployment - what is all this about?
The answer, like all answers, is written in the Torah. Our parashah begins with the prayers of Yis’hak and Rivkah who lived many years without having children. The Gemara says, "Why were our forefathers barren? Because the Almighty longs for the prayers of the righteous" (Yevamot 64a). If we would ask, why did Sarah not bear a child until the age of ninety; why was Yis’hak denied a child for twenty years; why was Rachel barren; what did Hashem want from them, the holiest of people, the most perfect among human beings? What Hashem wanted was prayer, prayer from the depths of the heart, prayer with more heartfelt emotion. It is this kind of prayer, the prayer of a broken heart, that brings a person closer to his Creator, that attaches him to the Al-mighty. All the suffering is worthwhile insofar as it strengthens and reinforces this connection.
But if the suffering does not bring one to tefilah, to heartfelt prayer and salvation - then it has all been for naught…
Let us learn the lesson. Let us lift our eyes to the heavens; let us pray, and let us thereby earn G-d's salvation.
"Mistakes are always repeated." Every year, we repeat the same mistake. Every year, when we read Parashat Toledot, we wonder once again how Yis’hak Avinu could love Esav, his son who tricked him, and how he could decide to give him the berachot. The answer is stated in the pasuk: "Yis’hak loved Esav, because he had game in his mouth." The Targum explains that he would bring his father meat from animals he hunted; the Midrash interprets this to mean that Esav "hunted," or fooled, Yis’hak by disguising himself as a G-d-fearing man. But we must avoid simple, superficial perspectives on this issue. True, this is how the kindergarten teacher tells the story to her children, for this is their level of understanding. But as we grow older, our horizons must broaden and level of understanding rise. We must reassess our childish conception of things and understand them differently, in accordance with our mature level of comprehension.
Could someone really fool Yis’hak Avinu, the prophet, the pillar of fear? There is a well known story (in the Zohar Hakadosh, vol. 3, 186a) of Rabbi Yis’hak and Rabbi Yehudah, who spent the entire day involved in "hachnasat kallah." The halachah states that when someone is involved in one mis’vah, he is exempt from others. When they came to Rav Hamnuna's home in Kefar Sachnin, his son could detect in the smell of their garments that they did not recite shema that day! Is it possible that Yis’hak's "sense of smell" was less, G-d forbid, than that of this small child?
I am reminded of the story of someone who asked one of the sadikim of the generation, "Tell me, if the Ar"i Hakadosh would have written in his Sefer Hagilgulim that Esav was a sadik and the root of his soul was of the very highest spiritual quality - would you believe it?" "Of course," the sadik replied. "All hidden information was revealed to him." He then added, "Was the perception of Yis’hak Avinu any less than that of the Ar"i Hakadosh?" G-d forbid! Therefore, this was no mistake. We are the ones who are mistaken. Let us therefore raise our level of understanding of this topic.
Yis’hak Avinu knew that he was a link in the chain from which the chosen nation, Hashem's portion in His world, would be formed. He also knew that only one of his two sons would continue his heritage. Avraham Avinu was informed, "for it is through Yis’hak that offspring will be called for you" - "be'Yis’hak" (through Yis’hak) implies that only part of Yis’hak will be called Avraham's offspring (Nedarim 31a). Furthermore, in those days, the eldest son was chosen as the one who would serve Hashem (Rashi, 25:31). Esav, however, was not worthy.
Yis’hak knew all about it. There was nothing hidden from him. But the halachah clearly states: "You may not divert an inheritance, not even from a wicked son to a good son, for you do not know who your offspring will be" (Baba Batra 133b). This halachah applies even to us, who cannot foresee the future. But Yis’hak surely knew. Moshe Rabbenu did not smite the Egyptian until he saw that no sadik will ever come from him in any future generation (Shemot Rabbah 1:29). Elisha, too, saw this in the young men who cursed him (Sotah 46b). Yaakov Avinu saw that Yerov'am and Ahav would descend from Efrayim, and Yehu and his sons from Menasheh (Rashi, 48:8), and that Gidon will come from Menasheh, and Yehoshua from Efrayim (Rashi, 48:19), Zimri from Shimon and Korah from Levi (Rashi, 49:6). Did Yis’hak not know who would emerge from the line of Esav? Undoubtedly, he knew.
What did he see? "There was game in his mouth" - "the kingdom of the mouth - we call it the Torah she'be'al peh [the Oral Law]" (Petah Eliyahu, Tikkunei Zohar 11:1). He saw the great, holy souls that would emerge from Esav and become the central pillars of the oral tradition. This is how the Ar"i Hakadosh zs"l explained (Peri Ess Hayyim, sha'ar 208, 3): Shemayah and Avtalyon, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir, descended from converts; they were among the offspring of Esav. And the pasuk need not be taken out of its context and straightforward meaning. Even with all his evil, Esav had one fine quality - he respected his father, he would bring him food. He disguised himself as a pious man in order that he not cause his father distress; he wanted to Yis’hak to have the satisfaction of knowing that his son followed his path. Esav did not succeed in fooling Yis’hak, but the disguise itself shows that not everything was entirely dark; there was indeed a ray of light in his character. Thus, when, over the course of the generations, Esav's essence would spread throughout innumerable descendants, some of them will inherit this ray of light. Yis’hak felt that they would perpetuate his heritage, from them would emerge the nation of Hashem.
This was Yis’hak's sacred intention. In the heavens, however, a different decision was reached. Why should Esav be chosen for his single ray of light, when Yis’hak can choose Yaakov, who consisted entirely of light? That ray of light in Esav will come and convert - and join the great light of Yaakov!
"Esav went to Yishmael, and he took Mahalat, the daughter of Yishmael, the son of Avraham, the sister of Nevayot, as a wife in addition to his wives." This is how our parashah concludes. Interestingly, later (36:3), the Torah refers to Mahalat by a different name - "Basmat the daughter of Yishmael." Rashi there notes the discrepancy and brings from the Midrash that her name was indeed "Basmat," but she was called "Mahalat" (which comes from the word, "mehilah," forgiveness) because three people have all their sins forgiven: the convert when he converts, one who rises to a position of leadership, and one who marries a woman. The Maharal of Prague zs"l explains why: all three situations involve people who upgrade their status. The convert was a gentile who became a Jew, and "a convert who converts is considered like a baby who has just been born" (Yebamot 22a). One who rises to a position of power transforms from an individual into a public figure, as he takes upon himself responsibility on behalf of the community at large. At marriage a person changes from "half a body" into a complete person, from a single person into a family man. "All of these become new creatures" (Maharal, "Gur Aryeh").
What beautiful comments, true words of Torah. But we find in the commentary of Rabbenu Yaakov Ba'al Haturim (Shemot 21:19) that the three people whose sins are forgiven are a groom, a king, and a patient who has been cured. It would seem that according to this version, the concept here has nothing to do with becoming a "new creature," but rather the opening of a new chapter. A person who changes his situation, from ill to healthy, from single to married, from a private person to someone with governmental duties, undoubtedly conducts a degree of introspection. He undoubtedly expresses gratitude for his welcome change in condition, undoubtedly regrets the mistakes of his past, and he promises to improve. He is granted a chance to prove himself from the heavens. A line is drawn over what he has done in the past and he is told, "Let us see what will change, how you will change." We find a similar idea with regard to the festival of Sukkot, which follows the Yamim Nora'im, the festival which Hazal describe as "the first to the account of sins." A person is told: "What is done is done; now we begin a new accounting" (Vayikra Rabbah 30:7).
If this is indeed the case, then everyone, in every situation and in every day, can lift his eyes to the heavens and ask, "Master of the world, I have decided to change, to improve my ways. I want to begin a new page. What was is now in the past, and now we begin a new accounting." Sure enough, he gets his wish, this is how it works, only with one difference. For the sick patient who has recovered, the bride and groom, and the one who assumes a leadership position, an entirely new account is open. But for any man at any time, he is granted half his wish. He is told that he will be treated as if he is perfectly balanced and even: "A person should always see himself as if he is half guilty and half meritorious. If he does one mis’vah, then fortunate is he, for he has tilted the scales in his favor; if he commits one transgression, woe unto him, for he has tilted the scales against himself" (Kiddushin 40b).
Fortunate is the person who can place himself at any moment in a "balanced" position, but he is all the more fortunate if he can eradicate his sins entirely. But how can we do this? Nobody want to take ill, even if he will recover afterwards. Not everyone is afforded the opportunity to rise to prominence, and to become a bride and groom - no thank you; just once a lifetime, for many good, happy years.
But in light of what we have seen, this is indeed possible. The bride and groom have their sins forgiven because of the responsibility they accept upon themselves. Parents who decide to assume an even greater responsibility, to show greater interest in their children's education - from that moment they are more of a parent, and their household is more of a household. This itself constitutes a "rise to power," and it is sufficient to atone for all sins. Which parent, which father or mother, will not rejoice over such an achievement, will not respond to the challenge?
In truth, this is applicable not only to parents, but even to new grandfathers and grandmothers…
Senyar Bat Mazal and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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