SO THAT YOU KNOW!
A student of the Hafess Hayim zs"l once passed by his rabbi's house on
Friday afternoon and was startled by the sound of intense laughter coming
from inside. He was amazed - the voice was that of his rabbi, whom had
never heard laugh in this manner. He approached the window to see what had
happened. What he saw struck him with shock. The Hafess Hayim sat at the
table studying the weekly parashah and encountered the account of the plague
of boils. He read the pasuk, "The magicians could not stand before Mosheh
because of the boils, for the boils affected the magicians and all of
Egypt." The ssadik envisioned his mind the scenario: the magicians imitated
the plague of blood, they managed to produce several frogs and were then
baffled by the plague of lice. Now they stood before Mosheh and Aharon
scratching, rubbing themselves, wounded all over, wondering how to hide
their shame, ultimately running from the palace in sheer humiliation.
Mosheh and Aharon stood, meanwhile, beaming with pride over having carried
out their divine mission. The Hafess Hayim thus broke out in laughter over
the magicians' shameful flight from the palace.
Indeed, this how we must study these parshiyot, and in this way we must
derive the pertinent lessons and allow the Torah to have this effect upon
us: "So that you know that I am Hashem, in the midst of the land!"
THE PILL AND THE CAPSULE
We will open this piece with a question. As you will see, it is not much
of a question, as it relates to an impossibility, but it certainly does
provide ample food for thought and serious consideration. Imagine a person
who, let's say, has not been blessed with children, would turn to the Baba
Sali, or, better yet, the Ar"i, or even to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, to have
his prayers answered, and the ssadik would tell him, "Recite Tehillim,
chapter 107 each day for the next year and you will be answered." Could it
be that the individual would recite the chapter each day for a year and not
be given a child? Certainly this would seem most unlikely for, as we know,
when a ssadik decrees, as it were, the Almighty fulfills his wish!
And if Mosheh were to decree such, all the more so we would expect that his
word would be fulfilled.
And if the Almighty, Himself, "All of Whose words are true and just" -
"Would He say and not do, would He have spoken and not fulfilled?" - "So is
it with My word which leaves My mouth, it will not return to Me empty,
before it carries out what I want, and succeeds in that for which I sent it"
- certainly, without any shadow of a doubt, it would be fulfilled!
This was all but the introduction. Now we will pose the question, which,
as stated, is really not a question as much as food for thought. We are
commanded to recite Shema twice daily, morning and evening, and to include
therein the mention of the Exodus from Egypt. The Talmud Yerushalmi adds
that one must also make reference to the plague of the first-born, the
splitting of the Red Sea and the song sung by Benei Yisrael thereupon, as we
do in the sections of our tefilah following the Shema. The "Saba" of Kelm
used to say that missvot constitute the spiritual nourishment of the Jew.
Some foods can supply with but a small quantity a large amount of vital
vitamins and minerals which the body requires in some dosage. Similarly,
Hashem commanded us some missvot which are sufficiently performed once a
year, like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some missvot must be observed for
an entire week annually, such as Pesah and Sukkot. Some, like Shabbat, must
be "ingested" every week. Others, however, are like breakfast and supper,
as one's spiritual build needs them constantly. Obviously, the recitation
of shema and the mentioning of the Exodus belong to this final category, as
the soul requires these missvot each morning and evening.
However, the question must be asked: after every Yom Tov - be it Rosh
Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesah or Sukkot - and even after every Shabbat, a
person feels that he has been elevated somewhat. The "fall" which occurs
thereafter is marked by the havdalah. Now, let us ask ourselves honestly:
after mentioning the Exodus each morning and evening - does any of us sense
a feeling of spiritual elevation?
Earlier, we compared this missvah to breakfast and supper. But they are,
in fact, so different! After every meal we feel satiated, content,
invigorated. But after mentioning "yessi'at missrayim" - do we feel any
differently? How could it be that this special power granted to missvot by
the Creator has no effect upon us? Why are we resistant to the influence of
missvot? Impossible! But let's not kid ourselves - it is true! Could it be?
As stated, this is really no question, as explained through the following
parable. Consider a man who comes before the doctor who asks him, "What's
wrong?" but receives no response. The patient's lips move but produce no
sound. His throat has lost its capacity to speak, it is infected like a
fiery flame. The doctor doesn't panic, he has the appropriate medications
available. He writes a prescription for a certain medication, and reassures
his patient, "They even taste good. Take one pill every hour. Tomorrow you
will feel some relief, and in two days you will see drastic improvement.
Come back on the third day and I'll check you out then." And so, the
patient returns three days later, moving his lips like a fish, making
chirping noises like a bird and arousing the mercy of everyone around him.
He has come to ask to renew his prescription.
The doctor is amazed. "Nothing happened? There was no improvement? Are
you sure you took all the pills?"
He barely hears the answer: "I missed not one. It was so hard for me to
swallow them, but I did it anyway."
"Swallow?!" bellows the doctor. "Why did you swallow them? Throat
lozenges are supposed to be sucked, not swallowed!"
Indeed, this is our answer. We "swallow" the mentioning of yessi'at
missrayim, and that's why it produces no effect upon us. We say it with but
half a heart, quickly, with indifferent and mechanical muttering - how can
it yield any effect? The mentioning of yessi'at missrayim does not operate
like some magical incantation. It can mean for us every blessing in the
world - lessons of faith, Divine Providence, the Hand of God, reward and
punishment, redemption and prophecy, a cross-section of all the fundamentals
upon which our religion is based - only if we are aware of its paramount
importance and significance, if we relate to it and "suck" on it, like the
pills prescribed by the physician. But one who swallows these lofty
principles - how can he be affected or influenced by them? Certainly one
who mumbles the words with no concentration whatsoever - it is as if he
swallows them in capsule.
"We mention yessi'at missrayim," says the Mishnah. The expression used is
"mazkirin," related to the term "zechirah," implying thought and
contemplation, for only in this way will the words have a profound impact
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"
The Ramban zs"l writes that the magicians employed magical oaths to force
the demons ("shedim") to their service, to hide the staffs and replace them
with serpents which quickly came from the river. They followed this
practice to imitate the plagues of blood and frogs. The word used in the
pasuk for "their magic" is "lahateihem," for which the Ramban offers two
explanations. Either this word relates to the term "lahat," fire, and thus
refers to the demons which are, in actuality, angels of fire, or,
alternatively, the word derives from "lat," secrecy, as the demons operate
quietly and secretly.
"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"
The Alshich zs"l writes that it appears, on the surface, that these
magicians also possessed the power to turn water into blood like Mosheh and
Aharon. However, there exist three critical differences between the work of
the Egyptian sorcerers and that of the leaders of Benei Yisrael. Firstly,
the sorcery could not change the essence of the water into blood; it was
capable merely of transforming the color to that of blood, and therefore it
could still be drunk. During Hashem's plague, however, the water actually
turned to blood.
Secondly, the Egyptian magic could affect the water before them, but could
not continue to work on the water that flowed subsequently from the source.
Therefore, the plague would have ended once new water flowed from upstream.
However, since this was the work of the Almighty and not magicians, the
plague continued unabated for seven days.
Finally, once an Egyptian magician transformed the color of some water into
that of blood, it would remain that way. However, during the plague, even
after Hashem turned water to blood, it would become water once again when
held by a Jew, thus demonstrating that this plague was, indeed, the work of
the Almighty Himself.
"The Egyptian magicians did so, too, with their magic"
The Hid"a zs"l asks, if the magicians were, indeed, capable of performing
these miracles, then why did they change staffs to snakes, turn water into
blood and produce more frogs? They should have simply eliminated Aharon's
staff, reverse the plague of blood brought about by Mosheh and kill all the
frogs which devastated the country. This would have proven most clearly
that they possess true, magical powers. The answer is that "They are wise
to perform evil, but to do good they do not know." They could add one
plague after another, bring even more snakes, produce more blood and
generate more destructive frogs. All this wisdom of the gentiles works for
the sake of evil, to add more weapons of destruction and to instill fear.
Ultimately, however, "Aharon's staff devoured their staffs" - the powers of
sanctity wins, and the work of evil is quickly overturned.
THE GOLDEN COLUMN
The Rambam zs"l
The Torah constitutes the "map of the world," as everything finds some
allusion therein. Certainly, every individual Jew is alluded to in the
Torah. In fact, Rabbi Aharon Kotler zs"l has said that each person writes,
in effect, himself into the Torah; his allusion is determined by his actions
and spiritual stature. He writes, "Each person can have his allusion in the
seventy people of Yaakov's children who descended to Egypt or in the
generals of Esav..." For example, a certain person named Avner veered off
the proper path, and the Ramban zs"l informed him that he is alluded to in
the Torah by the third letter in each word of the pasuk, "I will destroy
them, I will eliminate their memory from humanity," Heaven forbid. But
Avner ben Ner, for example, or even that same Avner were he to have followed
the proper path, would have a far more positive allusion in the Torah.
It is said about the Rambam that his allusion is found in the pasuk "In
order to increase My wonders in the Land of Egypt." The first letters of
the last four words of this pasuk - "Revot Moftai B'eress Missrayim" - spell
"Rambam." Indeed, the Rambam increased the wonders of Hashem in Egypt,
through all his monumental work which he performed and all that he
contributed to the Jewish people. He composed the major work "Mishneh
Torah" which includes all the laws of both the written and oral Torah.
Nothing was omitted, as if he paved roadways in the midst of the ocean. A
student once asked the Hazon Ish why the Rambam omitted a certain halachah
from this work. The Hazon Ish responded, "How do you know that he left it
out? Perhaps it is mentioned somewhere in the work. You should know that
in our generation nobody has the capacity to know the entire Rambam. I am
convinced that he did not write it with human power alone, but rather with
divine assistance, for only in this way can one successfully include the
entire Torah in a single work."
Rabbi Zusha of Anapoli zs"l once asked to experience the fear which the
angels experience. He was warned that he would not be able to withstand
such a sensation. He received the same response upon his requests to feel
the fear of a prophet, a tanna and an amora. Finally, he asked to
experience the fear sensed by the Rambam, and his request was granted. He
was overcome with such a fierce, trembling sensation that he collapsed
motionless onto the ground, and only with great difficulty was he able to
utter his request that this level of fear be taken from him. Indeed, though
the Rambam's wisdom was simply amazing, his fear was even greater!
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
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, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at
These halachot, together with their sources and in-depth explanations, will
appear, God willing, in a major work soon to be published.
Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing One's Hands in the Morning
continued from last week
The Water and Utensil Used for Washing
One should preferably be concerned about all issues when washing his hands
in the morning as he would when washing before eating. For example, he
should use a utensil with no holes, ensure that the water is the quantity of
a revi'it, clean that its color has not been changed, no other work has been
done with it, and the water should be poured through human effort, etc. One
should be stringent in this regard, especially since the view of the Zohar
as well as several rishonim is that these requirements are necessary for the
washing to qualify as suitable.
Nevertheless, if one cannot meet all these requirements, such as if he
simply does not have enough water, a proper utensil, or he has no water
which had not been used earlier, or other similar situations, he should wash
his hands with what he has and may then recite Shaharit after such a
washing, relying on the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch and many rishonim and
aharonim that such a washing constitutes a valid morning washing. In this
situation, one should not recite the berachah of "al netilat yadayim," nor
should he say "al nekiyut yadayim." Rather, he should wash without a
blessing, as we never recite a berachah whose obligation is in question.
If, afterwards, he finds the proper water/utensils suitable for
hand-washing before eating, he should wash his hands again in order to
satisfy the view of the Zohar and the Kabbalists that all these requirements
are necessary for the successful elimination of the "evil spirit" on one's
hands. However, he should not recite a berachah on this second washing,
either, since, as stated, many authorities rule that he has fulfilled his
obligation through his first washing, and thus the obligation of this second
washing is a questionable one.
Water which was in a utensil and then brought to the bathroom, even if the
utensil was covered, it is proper to be stringent and not wash from this
water, be it before eating, in the morning, or after having performed his
bodily functions. (One should preferably not drink form this water,
either.) When the need arises, however, such as when there is no other
water, one may wash from this water and even recite the proper berachah of
"al netilat...' This leniency applies even more so in contemporary,
sanitary bathrooms. (Similarly, one who is thirsty and has no other water
to drink may drink this water.)
Water which had been under one's bed or which had spent the night on the
bed should preferably not be used for washing, be it in the morning, before
eating, or after performing one's bodily functions. (It is also preferable
not to drink from this water.) However, when there is no other water, one
may wash from this water with the appropriate blessing.
If one places his hands into water before washing in the morning, this
water has been invalidated for washing, and one may no longer use this water
FROM THE WONDERS OF CREATION
The swallow is the most widespread bird in Israel. It is capable of
penetrating into any hole in order to set up its home there. The labor of
building its nest takes over ten days. In the beginning, the birds bring
with their beaks pieces of straw, whereas at the end they cover the nest
with soft materials. The nest itself is built skillfully, shaped like a
circle. The female swallow lays six or seven eggs, a process which occurs
over the course of a week, as the bird lays one egg a day. Their color is
white with gray and brown spots. Any damage to the nest causes the mother
to leave her nest for good, even if it means leaving her chicks to die.
This is important for those who wish to fulfill the missvah of sending away
the mother bird, that before one returns the young chicks he should be
careful not to touch the nest, for this will cause the chicks to die. As
the mother bird sits on her eggs, the male bird remains outside chirping
playfully the entire day. Should he sense the intrusion of a foreigner, his
chirping becomes angry, sending a loud warning siren to his spouse inside
the nest who faithfully tends to the needs of the eggs.
In Hebrew, the swallow is called, "ssipor deror," literally translated as
"the bird of freedom." The bird is given this name because it remains free
from human dominion and lives in constant freedom. When dealing with the
animal world, freedom implies the ability to behave without limitation and
with no direction given from external forces. There is an expression, "Free
like a swallow," which is suitable for a small bird who has nothing in its
life but some food and a place to sleep. The human being, by contrast, the
crown jewel of creation, was blessed with a soul. A person who wishes to
live a life of pure physicality mistakenly understands "freedom" as "doing
whatever I want," "nobody can tell me what to do." Such a person does not
realize that not only is he not free, but he has become a slave to his
desires. When that which he wants involves only the physical drives, this
situation becomes an insult to the human being, the most beloved of all
creations. The Jew connected to the Creator and free from other worries,
understands that everything comes from Hashem alone, and He Who created him
will worry about his sustenance and security. Observance of missvot is the
best guarantee, allowing one to claim, "I have done my share, and Hashem, in
His mercy, will do His." Nothing is sweeter than this feeling of spiritual
tranquillity, which constitutes, without the question, the ultimate freedom.
Measure for Measure (24)
Flashback: A wealthy miser failed to provide the needs of a poor scholar
and thereby caused his death. To achieve atonement, he was ordered to dress
up as a pauper for an entire year and request food only from his own family.
When he approached his home, his family jeered and taunted the pauper and
followed his own example of refusing to help the poor. They eventually
concluded that he was insane as he constantly returned for food although he
suffered their beatings and humiliation. This awful year of suffering and
embarrassment eventually came to an end, and he was allowed to return home
with his true identity. He changed back into his luxurious clothing and
returned to a home which was decorated in celebration of his return.
The wealthy man opened his bags and presented each of his children with
gifts which he purchased with the leftovers of his money. He looked at his
documents and saw that his business survived his year-long absence.
Although the enterprises did not grow or expand during this period, the
workers did what they had to in order that no substantial loss was incurred.
He offered them uncharacteristically generous bonuses, and told them that
due to his journey which included many awful, unspeakable experiences, and
because his family had forgotten about him and concluded he had died, he had
decided to make a large, public party to thank the Almighty for his return.
This announcement generated a good deal of perplexity among the community.
This simply was not customary for the wealthy man, to include others in his
celebration and to feed them with his own money. Nevertheless, he began the
preparations and held nothing back in ensuring the glory of the event. He
ordered the highest standards of luxury and invited his entire family from
near and far, rich and poor, and he added to his guest list all the leaders
and respected members of the community. Everyone came to participate in the
huge celebration in his home, they indulged in the delicacies and heartily
drank the fancy wines which was offered to them. They warmly blessed the
wealthy man and asked him to describe his experiences throughout his journey.
The host stood to respond to his guests, and a tense silence overtook the
"The truth is," he said, "I am quite amazed. I was sure that after a year
of my mysterious absence I would find you all embittered and downtrodden,
your eyes weighing heavily in their sockets and red from tears. For an
entire year, you knew nothing of my whereabouts. I thought that your lives
were nothing without me. But, I see that, thank God, your faces are full,
your eyes still glimmer with joy, it seems as though you were not worried
about me at all!"
His audience was taken by surprise. "First of all, father, you informed us
a full month ago that you are coming home, and from that point our
depression was replaced by joy and excitement. And besides, father, we were
all distressed and distraught, mother cried incessantly. But then the
Almighty had mercy on us and sent us an insane person who allowed us to
forget our misery and rejoice...
to be continued...
IT IS THE FINGER OF G-D
The Maggid of Dubno zs"l told a parable of a simpleton who made his way to
the home of a wealthy man in the community. He had never met the man, but
had heard of his reputation for immense wealth and lavish possessions. The
visitor was awe-struck by the magnificent home, the enormous gate which
surrounded the estate, the beautiful garden and flower-beds. A large path
led to the stairs to the palace laden with marble, which themselves led to
the giant reception hall. His hand trembling, he knocked on the immense,
wooden door. The door opened into an enormous room, illuminated with
stunning chandeliers, with rare pieces of artwork adorning the walls and a
brilliant carpet covering the floor. An aura of luxury and glory resonated
throughout the house.
"I...I was wondering if perhaps I could speak with the master of the
house," he politely asked.
"I am the master of the house," quickly answered the man before him. "What
can I do for you?" Suddenly, an arm swung around and grabbed the neck of
the man standing in the hallway. Angrily, he asked, "Are you the master of
His eyes rolling in his head and squinting from pain, the man answered, "I
am sorry, Sir, I was just joking." The owner of the arm slowly emerged from
the shadows and said, "Pay no attention to him, he is just one of the
servants. Come with me to my chamber, and we can talk there."
Pharaoh, king of Egypt, may be likened to that irreverent servant. He
thought himself to be divine, he would boast, "The river is mine, I made
it!" He therefore refused to obey the orders of Hashem, until, suddenly, a
mighty hand took hold of his neck, and the Almighty, the Master of the
World, devastated Pharaoh with one plague after another. Ultimately, he
realized that he could not withstand the finger of Hashem, the Hand of God,
and he confessed, "Hashem is the righteous, and I and my nation are the wicked."