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Parashat Vaet'hanan


This Shabbat is the Shabbat of consolation, as our haftarah opens, "Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Yerushalayim and declare to her that her term of service is over, they her iniquity is expiated; for she has received at the hand of Hashem double for all her sins." We believe and hope that this accurately describes our situation, that we have reached this stage. Close to two thousand years of painful exile, persecutions, the horrors of the ghetto, the fires of the Inquisition and ovens of Maidenek - this is enough, and the time for compassion has arrived.

But if indeed the time has arrived, the sins have been forgiven, then why haven't we heard the shofar of Moshiah? Because there remains one more stage that must be completed, the following pasuk in the haftarah: "A voice rings out in the desert: clear a road for Hashem! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God!"

True, the many crises we have suffered have atoned for our sins and purified our hearts. Still, a road must be paved for the Almighty in our hearts, a highway must be constructed, as it were, to allow Hashem to enter our hearts and thus render us deserving of redemption. Indeed, the pasuk states in our parashah, "When you are in distress because all these things have befallen you, in the end of days, then you will return to Hashem your God." The heart is open to teshuvah, teshuvah that reaches the Divine Throne. Yet, this does not suffice: ". and obey Him." We must observe the missvot properly, in accordance with all their relevant details, and designate time for learning Torah. A beautiful parable to clarify this notion was presented by the one of the great figures of the "mussar" movement, Rav Avraham Yaphan zs"l, the son-in-law of the "Saba" of Nevarduk and the head of the network of its yeshivot. Two friends purchased a two-family house. After they moved into their respective residences, one of them ordered a phone line. The technician came to the home, drilled a tiny hole in the wall, pull through it the telephone wire, and attached it to the telephone. "That's all," the technician announced. "Everything is ready. You can now call everywhere in the world. Your account will be charged for the installation service."

The sound of the drill brought the neighbor from his home and aroused his curiosity. "How much does it cost to install a line?" he asked.

"Three hundred and ninety-nine shekels, not including the phone," answered the technician.

"May the phone be purchased separately?" the neighbor inquired. The technician answered in the affirmative, packed his tool kit, and left.

The neighbor thought to himself, what a silly neighbor I have - he spent so much money for such minor work! I saw what the technician did - he drilled a small hole through the wall and pulled the wire through the hole. I can do the same thing on my own! I have a drill, so all I need is the telephone itself. He went to the store, purchased a phone - which in any event wasn't included in the installation fee - and brought it home. He drilled a hole in his wall and pulled the wire through. He then lifted the receiver and listened to the silence. Apparently, he thought, the hole was too small.

He took a hammer and nail to expand the hole, but he still heard nothing on the phone. He figured that maybe he has to move the hole. He tried drilling in several different places, only with the same results. In the end, his wall resembled a sieve. He grew so frustrated that he banged the hammer against the wall, and all the holes suddenly combined into one giant opening in the wall. Still, the telephone was silent.

If he would not have gone into desperation, he would have continued until all the walls in his house were spotted with holes. We know, of course, that all his work is futile. True, the hole is important, but the main thing is that the wire connects to the telephone network.

Similarly, returning to Hashem is but a condition. "Open for Me a hole the size of a pinhole" - we must drill the hole in the heart, so-to-speak. We can assume that all the suffering of the exile, the financial difficulties, life's problems and pressures on both the individual and communal levels, indeed have gored this hole within our hearts of stone. However, this marks only the first step. Now we must accept upon ourselves the yoke of Torah and missvot and attach ourselves to the Creator. Now is the time to call out, "Clear a road for Hashem! Level in the wilderness a highway for our God!" Then the redemption will arrive, the period of light and salvation!


Summer vacation is upon us, and this week the yeshivot begin "bein hazemanim," the brief intermission between the summer and Elul terms.

Among those going on vacation are the students of "Benei Hayyil," the Torah youth organization led by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a. One of the great "mashgihim" from the last generation would say that Torah is life, and a student must not let vacation become death, Heaven forbid. This period serves to allow the student some time off in between one period of spiritual growth and the next, similar to the breaks in between the parshiyot that afford the opportunity to reflect in between each parashah. These breaks are also considered part of the Torah; without them, a Sefer Torah is considered invalid for use. Vacation must never become a period of spiritual collapse, Heaven forbid. There is still a latest time for the recitation of shema and tefilah, the obligation of "vedibarta bam" - to learn Torah - still remains in force, and needless to say, the prohibitions regarding upon what one may and may not look still apply. The intelligent student will ensure that "bein hazemanim" serves as a preparation for the month of Elul that will soon be upon us, for the intensive growth during the month of mercy and forgiveness and the yamim noraim that are soon in the coming.


"Listen, Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is one"

The halachah states that one who recites shema without properly concentrating on the first pasuk - "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem ehad" - has not fulfilled his obligation (Rambam Hilchot Keri'at Shema 2:1, Shulhan Aruch Orah Hayyim 60). The commentaries on the Shulhan Aruch explain that while reciting the first pasuk one must concentrate on the meaning of the words and understand what it is we declare with this pasuk.

The Shulhan Aruch writes further (61:1), "One should read keri'at shema with intention, fear, awe, reverence and dread." The Tur writes in the name of Rav Amram Gaon z"l that whenever one reads shema he should relate to it as if it were a new telegram sent by the king. He adds that the custom is Spain was to read the first pasuk loudly in order to trigger concentration, and some had the practice of placing their hand over their face for the first pasuk in order to avoid distractions. Rabbenu Behaye zs"l writes, "You should know that Gan Eden and all its qualities were created only for those who declare Hashem's unity with concentration," referring to the recitation of the pasuk, "Shema Yisrael."

The Gemara (Pesahim 56a) says that when Yaakov Avinu called his sons together he sought to reveal to them the time of the final redemption.

But the Shechinah departed from him so that he could not reveal the time to them, lest they despair from the length of the exile. Yaakov feared that the departure of the Shechinah resulted from a spiritual deficiency among his children. They then proclaimed in unison, "Listen, Yisrael our father, Hashem our God, Hashem is one." At that point Yaakov's worries were put to rest, and he declared, "Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto.", which we likewise add silently after the recitation of "Shema Yisrael."

The Ramban writes that Mosheh here meant that Hashem is our leader and guide. He urged Benei Yisrael to reflect upon the miracles and wonders the Creator performed for them, from the miracles in Egypt through the wonders in the desert - the clouds of glory, the well, the mann, and the quail.

Indeed, Yeshayahu says, "Who made His glorious arm march at the right hand of Mosheh, Who divided the waters before them to make Himself a name for all time. " (Yeshayahu 63:12). This is why after the pasuk "Shema Yisrael" we add "Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto." We ask that just as He showed us His majesty through the miracles of the Exodus and the wilderness, He will continue to guide us, albeit through less obvious miracles, through the natural order. [This is why Hashem commanded that a sample of the mann, an overt miracle, be preserved in a container, where it will remain concealed, symbolizing the hidden miracles that occur within nature.] We recite "Baruch Shem." silently, indicating that the Almighty continues to save us and lead us secretly, from behind the veil of nature. Along the same lines, the Yabess zs"l writes that the miracle of our nation's survival over the course of two thousand years of exile is greater than all the miracles of Yessi'at Missrayim!

". Hashem Elokeinu Hashem ehad." Rashi explains this to mean that Hashem, who is now only our God, and not recognized as the God of the gentiles, will in the future become "Hashem ehad," the single accepted God over the entire universe, as the pasuk states, "For then I will make the people pure of speech so that they all invoke God by name" (Ssefaniah 3:9), and it likewise says, "On that day Hashem will be one and His Name will be one" (Zechariah 14:9). May this happen speedily and in our days!!


Rav Yisshak Noah zs"l of Kurdistan

Rav Yisshak Noah zs"l served as rabbi of several sacred communities in Kurdistan before he immigrated to Eress Yisrael, to the settlement of Alkush in the eastern section of the western Galilee. While serving as rabbi of the community of Slamniyah, he concerned himself with all the spiritual needs of his constituency. He would deliver many sermons and Torah classes, he would decide rulings of halachah and adjudicate at hearings involving Jewish law. He also served as the hazan, mohel, and shohet. Indeed, the Gemara (Moed Katan 6a) states, "A talmid hacham who dwells in a city - all the needs of the city rest upon him."

One day, a young, twenty-year-old Jewish boy came to the rabbi's home. Needless to say, the rabbi greeted him warmly, served him food and offered him lodging. The boy not only accepted the hospitality, but established his permanent residence in the rabbi's home. The rabbi decided to let him stay without objection. The boy had apparently suffered a difficult experience and now needed time to recover. The rabbi treated him very kindly and he ultimately became a full member of the household. This continued for three months, at which point the rabbi decided the time had come to begin questioning the young man. The boy told the rabbi that a fight had broken out between him and his parents, leading him to leave his home and city.

After wandering around the roads, he eventually came to Slamniyah.

The rabbi said, "Honoring parents is a very important missvah, and for the fulfillment of a missvah one is expected to sacrifice; the reward will come in proportion to the effort required. Not to mention the fact that the Torah itself promises long life to one who fulfills the missvah of honoring parents. Yet, I understand your predicament - conflicts are not easily resolved. I would like to offer to get involved and try to settle the dispute, so that you and your parents can once again enjoy a peaceful relationship."

The youngster agreed, and the rabbi wrote a letter to the parents, effectively settling the dispute. He told the young man, "Look how much I have sacrificed for your missvot - when you return to your parents, I will lose the missvah of hosting you in my home!"


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 Laws of Tefillin (continued)

The Proper Location and Size of the Straps Coming from the Knot

One should ensure that the straps from the tefillin shel rosh come down his front, one to the right and the other to the left.

According to the Shulhan Aruch, the straps should be long enough that they reach the bellybutton or just above it. Others maintain that the right strap should reach the bellybutton and the left strap needs to extend only to the chest. This is the view of the Zohar and the Kabbalists. The straps may be longer than this minimum length, so long as they do not reach the ground. The Kabbalists write that one should place the straps inside his belt. This should not be done, however, until after one wraps the strap of the tefillin shel yad around his middle finger.

The Width of the Straps

The straps of both the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh must be a minimum width of a "se'orah," which is 1 centimeter (or .44 inches).

Straps Which are Not of the Minimum Width or Length

According to several Rishonim, one does not fulfill the missvah of tefillin if the straps are not of the minimum width or length discussed above. If, however, he does not have access to another pair of tefillin, and all he has is tefillin with straps without the minimum length or width, he should put them on until he finds others.

Regarding the recitation of a berachah over these tefillin, if the straps are not of the minimum width, but they are 9 millimeters (.9 centimeters,.36 inches) wide, then he should put them on with a berachah. If, however, the width was less than this amount, he should not recite a berachah when putting on these tefillin. However, this applies only when the straps of both the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh lack the required width.

But if only the strap of the tefillin shel yad lacks the minimum required width, and the strap of the tefillin shel rosh is of the proper width, then the berachah "al missvat tefillin" is recited on the tefillin shel rosh and the individual should have in mind that the berachah should apply to the tefillin shel yad, as well. Those among the Ashkenazim who are accustomed to reciting both berachot - "al missvat tefillin" and "lehani'ah tefillin" - on the tefillin shel rosh when one does not have a tefillin shel yad, should do so in our case, as well. If the width was smaller than 9 millimeters only on the strap of the tefillin shel rosh, then according to the Sefaradim, no berachah is recited on the tefillin shel rosh in any event, and according to the custom of some Ashkenazim to recite a berachah on the tefillin shel rosh, in this instance no berachah should be recited on the tefillin shel rosh.

If the length of the straps both of the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh was shorter than the minimum required length, no berachah should be recited. If only the strap of the tefillin shel yad lacked the minimum length, then one recites the berachah "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel rosh having in mind that the berachah should apply to the tefillin shel yad, as well. If the minimum length was lacking on the straps of the tefillin shel rosh, then no berachah should be recited on them, even according to the custom of some Ashkenazim to recite a berachah on the tefillin shel rosh.


The Laughing Hyena

Among the three types of hyenas, the largest and most powerful is the striped hyena, which has also become known as the "laughing hyena." It reaches a height of around a meter on its front legs, while its hind legs are somewhat smaller, which gives the impression of a hunchback. This hyena is over a meter and a half long and weighs eighty kilograms or more. The striped hyena has gray fur which is covered with brown or black spots.

Why is it sometimes referred to as the "laughing hyena"? The answer is that the hyena's sounds are particularly strange and often sound like wailing or crying. Especially frightening are the shrieks made by the hyena as it approaches a carcass. These shouts resemble the hysterical laughter of an insane person. Hence the name, "the laughing hyena." The hyena boasts a particularly sophisticated sense of smell; it can smell a corpse several kilometers away. It also has helpers to assist in locating carcasses: birds of prey such as the vulture, eagle, and others. Wherever these birds gather, there is guaranteed to be either a carcass or a sick or injured animal prone to attack by the birds of prey. The hyena sees the assembly and hurries towards the scene. The hyena also received from the Creator exceptionally sharp teeth that can crush the bones of a large animal.

These sharp teeth are indispensable for the hyena, since at times all it finds are leftover bones of a carcass, the remains of a meal consumed by other, quicker, carnivores. The very fact that the Creator provided creatures such as the hyena that feeds off carcasses and thereby cleans nature from disease and unpleasant odors, testifies to Hashem's will that the world be kept clean. This must serve as an example for the human being who bears the responsibility of ensuring the cleanliness of his body and environment at all times.

Needless to say, whereas the individual is composed of both body and soul, cleanliness and purity are required not only with regard to his physical being, but regarding his soul, as well. By this we mean purity of thought, purity of speech, and purity of conduct and interpersonal relationships.

For example, a Jew is bidden to be different from the hyena and stay away from "carcasses," not just in the literal sense but also from impure speech.

The Shulhan Aruch contains many halachot regarding the physical and spiritual cleanliness required of a Jew.


The Reward for a Missvah (6)

Flashback: An Arab bakery worker received a berachah from Rav Ssemah Ssarfati zs"l, the rabbi of Tunis, that he will become very wealthy. Soon thereafter he was asked to do a mysterious but profitable job. He was brought blindfolded to the cellar of an isolated house, where he was to count and sort gold coins in bags that filled the dark cellar. His diligent work gradually approached completion.

The key turned in the door, and the worker shuddered. All his fears came to the surface at this decisive moment: will he be allowed to leave the golden cellar peacefully? He knew something here wasn't right - the huge amount of gold, the secrecy and mystery surrounding the entire project.

Different ideas were thrown around in his head, one guess after another, and his imagination ran wild. Perhaps this is the storage house of bandits?

If so, then he would certainly be killed; human life has no value in their eyes, and they kill their victims without hesitation. Or, perhaps a high-ranking official betrayed his superiors and stole from the royal treasury? Maybe one of the powers supporting the underground and looking to overthrow the government collapsed. In any event, he sincerely hoped to leave from there peacefully, even if he is not paid a single penny.

He heard the footsteps coming up the stairs, and the stranger appeared in the dark cellar: "You've completed your work," he declared with satisfaction. He pulled out from his pocket a bag and said, "Here is your salary."

The worker sighed a sigh of relief; his fears have been allayed. He opened the bag, counted the gold coins, and found the promised sum with a generous bonus. He tied the bag and put it in his pocket. The stranger put his hand into his own pocket, and took out a pistol. The worker's heart jumped with fear.

"Stand near the wall," ordered the stranger. The stunned worker obeyed. "Empty your pockets," came the next order. With trembling hands the worker emptied his pockets; not a single coin fell. He was a trustworthy employee and took nothing. All he had in his pockets was the bag of coins given to him as his payment. "Good," responded the stranger. "Now turn around and face the wall."

To be continued


We hope and pray for the redemption, for the sound of the shofar of Moshiah. It seems, however, that the Satan does not sit idly with folded arms. He does whatever he can to reverse the trend, to move the redemption further and further away from us. Whereas the Torah tells us that the Almighty does not bring His Shechinah into a place where immodesty is found, and that Bilam's plot, which led to the tragic death of twenty-four thousand people from Benei Yisrael, was based on the notion that Hashem despises immodesty and immorality, today the walls of modesty are breached in every direction in a frightening trend. Unbridled permissiveness destroys everything good, already from the very youngest ages, in elementary schools.

The only place where a child can be educated innocently and purely, where he can be sent without fear to school, is the Torah educational systems.

Not to mention the high schools and what goes on there, and the dreadful state of the army. A recent delegation of rabbis who visited the army was appalled by the environment. The press, too, is filled with heresy, immodesty and abominations, and the media has moved beyond all boundaries.

Television destroys minds with its shows of violence and sadism, not to mention immodesty and animalistic conduct.

On the other hand, sanctity is on the rise, the yeshivot, kollelim, Torah study institutions and seminars are continuing to grow. The study halls are filled to capacity, and the teshuvah movement continues to intensify.

Fortunate are the eyes who see this! Meanwhile, however, a sea of spiritual filth is bringing to the surface all types of religious ills and impurity.

Among the most overt manifestations of these forces of darkness that threaten to break the walls of sanctity and delay the redemption is the immigration of hundreds of thousands of gentiles to Eress Yisrael. These include avowed Christians and unabashed anti-Semites. Some of them pretend to be Jews or go through a process of "conversion" that isn't worth the paper upon which it is written. Some do not even go this far. They come and blend into Israeli society, they marry Jews and bring them away from any spark of Judaism and our heritage. Their sole connection is to the religion of perversion. Jews coming from the former Soviet Union have taken it upon themselves to warn of the dangers of intermarriage specifically in the Jewish State, and they have called to stop the wave of assimilation. They have established an organization to maintain the Jewish character of the State, and request that anyone interested in more information should contact them in Israel: 050-776-743, P.O.B. 350, Tzefat, 13102.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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