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Parashat Vaet'hanan

The Retreat Can be Stopped

The current political give and take certainly has seen its ups and downs. It follows a winding path, and at every turn of the road an additional "bite" is taken out of it. Where are the days when logic dictated that it made no sense to surrender strategic positions to those who were still committed to our destruction and continued to champion it?

True, the foremost halachic concern here is that of pikuah nefesh, saving lives. The security of four million Jews surrounded by one hundred million threatening Arabs; a country in the path of Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian missiles, whose countries have biological and chemical weapons no less dangerous than atomic ones; the Palestinian fuse which could ignite the Middle East powder keg -- all these must be considered. One cannot envy the position of those who bear the responsibility of representing Israel in the peace talks. They may have to make the painful decision to relinquish some of the land. Even if they have to do so, the decision will be -- and should be -- painful. One who is afflicted by gangrene in the leg will see that amputation is the easiest solution -- yet it is also the hardest solution. Amputation is a last resort, used only when the entire body is in danger, and even then only with the gravest of hearts. So too with returning territory in the land of Israel. When all is said and done we are talking about the land of our forefathers, the Holy Land, about which G-d commanded us never to relinquish it to gentile hands. No country in the world has relinquished its territory. In fact, the opposite is true -- see how China put so much effort recently to retrieve its sovereignty over tiny Hong Kong! There is no doubt: a return of territories is a painful amputation. The whole question at stake is whether the amputation is truly necessary. Even if he is sedated, no one wants to wake up to find his leg removed, if an alternative exists. This, then, is the question: Is it possible to stop our retreat from our land without causing the entire world to unite against us, without igniting a fire in the territories, with arousing the entire Arab world, and without watching some Jews throwing themselves into the fray? The answer is that it is indeed possible! We must realize, however, that the deliberations did not begin at Oslo, are not being decided upon in Washington, and are not carried out in Gaza. They are decided in Heaven. What we are watching in front of us is neither a surrender or a retreat -- it is an expulsion, caused by our misdeeds.

If we look at events from a broader perspective we will realize that fifty years ago a window of opportunity and divine grace was opened up for us. The previously forsaken land of Israel suddenly was flooded by tens of thousands of its children, settlements were established and orchards planted, highways were paved and sources of livelihood were established. Nothing happened by chance. We were given an opportunity. And that was not all! Some thirty years ago the divine grace expanded even more, as a miraculous lightening-like war doubled our inheritance. We returned to the Western Wall, the Tomb of Rachel, and the Patriarchs' Cave in Hevron. We came back to Judah and Samaria. Thousands of Jews returned to their ancestral homeland.

And suddenly -- and this is what really happened -- a total turnaround occured. This gift was taken from us in sections. "Oslo" is merely a cover-up for the true, painful, meaning behind the retreats: We didn't measure up to expectations, so we are being expelled from the land of our fathers.

The question is why. If we can figure out the answer, we will know how to stop this retreat. For if we continue on this path -- nothing will stop the downhill slide, G-d forbid. It will not be stopped by demonstrations or signs or even bringing down the government. The key is to be found in another place -- in our hands. Our parasha tells us the key. "And you will guard G-d's commandments which I [Moshe] command you today, so that it will be good for you and your children after you, and so that you make live many days on the land which Hashem your G-d is giving to you." And if, G-d forbid, we do not correct our ways, our parasha also contains the parasha read on Tisha B'Av about those who sin: "You will certainly be quickly destroyed from the land," G-d forbid. Therefore, without a doubt, the process is reversible. The retreat can be stopped, if we turn back to G-d and to His ways.

Shema Yisrael

I heard this story from the person involved. A young man who had become a Ba'al Teshuva explained to me what had "ignited" him to change his life around. He had once gone to a movie which was set during World War I. One scene depicted a Russian soldier fighting with a German soldier. In the scene, the Russian managed to get the German up against a tree and was ready to shoot at him. The German, facing death, cried out, "Shema Yisrael"; he was a Jew, and wanted to end his life with the eternal Jewish cry upon his lips. The Russian lowered his rifle and responded, "Hashem Elokenu Hashem ehad"; he too was a Jew. Those words were the only Hebrew ones in the entire movie.

"I sat there in shock," the young man recalled. "I had never heard this cry of faith, the eternal slogan of our people. I thought to myself: Here is a 'password' of identification which our nation has passed down from generation to generation and can even save one from death -- Why was I not taught it? Why was I severed from my roots, together with my class, my school, and my entire generation? Then I went to find those roots ..." How fortunate this young man is! Yet, how many more people like him are there out there? What about the millions of Jewish children who do not know how to recite "Shema Yisrael?" We are witnessing a generation severed from its roots, blown like chaff in the wind to India and Nepal, driftless and lacking purpose.

The only solution is to ensure that our children receive a proper Torah education which unites them with our people and heritage.

The Wonders of the Creator
The "Doctor" Fish

Ocean divers often encounter an unusual sight. A group of fish, some of them relatively big, will wait patiently in a row -- or, more accurately, "in line" -- for smaller fish to arrive on the scene. No, they are not waiting to swallow them, as is usually the case, but to be healed by them! They are waiting to be accepted as patients. Sound like a joke? It's the absolute truth! Why do fish need a "doctor?" Many fish are plagued by tiny parasites which could be fatal if they are not removed. Like sick people, they go to the doctor. When their turn in line comes, the "doctor" fish heals them by eating the parasites. While the doctor fish does his work, the fish being treated stays in place like a tolerant patient and stretches its fins so as to expose every area which is affected by parasites. When one side of the fish is finished, the fish turns over, and the "doctor" fish, like a devoted physician, begins the other side. When the cleaning process is entirely done, the line moves up, and the healed fish goes out to fulfill his divine mission.

Dear readers, our Sages have taught us that "the way of fish is that bigger ones consumes their smaller counterparts." Indeed, this is the normal way of the world. Yet, the example of the "doctor" fish is extremely interesting, as it provides the exception to this rule. Indeed, dear readers, how would we react if a "patient" fish, after having been treated, turned around and swallowed the "doctor" fish? We were certainly characterize such behavior as beyond the pale; the fish we would label as an ingrate. Yet, do we not know people who act this way? As Jews, we realize the importance of recognizing and reciprocating the good done to us by others, especially that bestowed upon us by the Creator. We thank G-d even for those things which seem to be routine. Those things -- the proper functioning of our body organs -- suddenly seem less routine when we need a doctor, G-d forbid. The realization of how wondrous Creation is leads us to praise the One who made it.

The Golden Column
Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi of Ragoza of blessed memory<
p> This Tuesday, the nineteenth of Av -- forty days before Rosh Hashana -- marks the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. One of the pioneers in resettling the Holy Land, he served as Chief Rabbi of Jaffa some one hundred and fifty years ago.

He was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia -- the place which today is in the news -- but he left to the land of Israel from Ragoza and was thus known as "Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi of Ragoza." He came to Israel at the age of eighteen, studied in the Jerusalem yeshivot, and was sent by the Sephardic community to Koshta. When he returned he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the small Jewish community in Jaffa. He operated an inn, sponsored by the Sephardic Kollel in Jerusalem, which served the new immigrants and tourists who arrived at the Jaffa port, and established a synagogue there. When he arrived in Jaffa, he found a city which consisted of only twenty-six families who nonetheless supported a Talmud Torah of three teachers and forty-five students. The families themselves, burdened as they were with making a living, still did not neglect Torah study. The fathers of the families would come together three times a week to study Mishna, Mussar, and Zohar; on Shabbat they would attend classes straight through the day!

Naturally, the classes were delivered personally by Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi. He also ensured that kashrut standards were upheld and supervised the local educational system. During his tenure the Jewish community grew to about six hundred people, including about twenty Ashkenazi families who joined the Sephardic settlement and prayed in their synagogue.

The rabbi also established the first Jewishly-owned orchard, in which over five thousand trees -- etrogim, oranges, lemons, olives, and pomegranates -- were grown. His efforts set the stage for what would become the large Jewish population in Jaffa.

Measure for Measure
a continuing saga (part two)

[Summary of Part I: A great scholar once lived in a town. He was wealthy and gentle, generous and kind. Life, however, became difficult for him and he lost all of his wealth. He was too embarrassed to ask for help in his own town, so he wandered from one Jewish community to another. Every time he would arrive in a city, he would go to the Beit Midrash and wait until someone invited him for a meal.]

Once, he got lost on the way. He walked for a day or two, the sun beating on his head; his food had run out. He was so extremely tired and hungry that he felt that his end was near. He asked G-d to at least enable him to reach a Jewish settlement and die there, so that he could be buried in a Jewish cemetery. As his legs ached from his journey, his eyes suddenly lit up as he realized that he stood in front of a blossoming garden with the finest fruits. Through the trees he see a beautiful house with large windows. As he stood in shock and disbelief, a sweet voice suddenly burst forth from the house. It was the sound of someone studying the holy Torah, and it filled his soul with hidden yearnings. At once he entered through the gate and peered into the house. Inside, he saw a Beit Midrash filled with books and scholars engaging in the "battles of Torah."

He turned to a man who was sitting near the door. "Dear sir, what is this place, and who are these people?"

The man explained that this place was at the outskirts of a large city wherein lived a scholar who was also very wealthy. So that his business affairs would not disturb his learning, he had built this Beit Midrash, complete with its beautiful and soul-restoring gardens, outside the city. He himself moved there and requested that the inhabitants of the city study in the Beit Midrash, so that no one would disturb them.

The weary traveler raised his eyes heavenward and thanked G-d for bringing him to a settled area and a sanctuary of Torah. He placed his meager package in the corner of the garden and entered the Beit Midrash. As usual, he did not request any food, drink, or money. He picked up a book and was soon absorbed in his learning. He was convinced that, especially in a place of Torah, Jewish people would display their characteristic mercy and kindness. Especially, he thought, if a wealthy scholar lives nearby, he would certainly be greeted with open hands ...

Unfortunately, however, things would not turn out exactly as he thought they would ...

(To be continued)

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"You Shall Love Hashem Your G-d"

The Rambam writes (Yesode Hatora Chapter 2) that "it is a mitzva to love and be in awe of the Al-mighty, as the Torah states 'You shall love Hashem your G-d' and 'Fear Hashem your G-d.' (Both verses are found in this week's parasha.) How does one come to love and fear Him? When one contemplates G-d's magnificent handiwork and creations and realizes the infinite Divine wisdom inherent in them, one cannot help but be immediately moved to love G-d, praise Him, and yearn tremendously to know Him, just as David sang: 'My soul thirsts for the living G-d.' As one thinks these thoughts, he immediately is startled and filled with awe and fear. He realizes that he is only a tiny creature with a puny mind; yet he stands before the most perfect of all intellects. This is what David meant when he said: 'When I look at Your skies and the work of Your hands -- the moon and stars which You have shaped -- what indeed is man, that You give thought to him?'"

The author of the Sefer Hahinuch (Mitzva 418) explains that "through contemplating the wisdom of Torah, love of the Creator by necessity must be implanted in one's heart. Indeed, our Sages have explained that the love which we are commanded to have includes inspiring others to love and worship G-d, as we find with regard to Avraham (who was called 'Avraham who loves me' because he taught his generation the love of G-d). The basis for this missva is obvious, since one cannot properly fulfill the missvot of G-d without proper love for Him. The laws of the missva obligate one to place all of his thoughts and goals toward loving G-d. He should constantly remind himself that everything in the material world -- riches, children, and glory -- is nothing compared to the love of G-d. He should constantly toil to understand the wisdom of Torah so as to cleave to Him. To sum up: One should try his hardest to focus his thoughts on loving and fearing G-d, so that eventually not a waking moment will go by without his unqualified love for his Master."

The Sefer Haredim (Chapter 9) writes that "even though these two missvot (loving and fearing G-d) are constant and devolve upon a person every second of his life, they nonetheless apply even more strongly when one performs missvot or refrains from sin. Indeed, Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai said, 'Any missva done without love and fear was not done properly.'"

In the Footsteps of Our Father Avraham

This week's parasha contains a positive commandment -- "You shall love Hashem your G-d." Our Sages explains that the way to love G-d is "to cause the Name of Heaven to be loved (Yoma 86a)." This means that one's actions as a Torah Jew must be extraordinary, an object of imitation, and a public sanctification of the Name of G-d. This idea places an obligation upon us. It means we must speak in an appropriate manner, stand patiently on line, and maintain proper standards of cleanliness in dress, home, and community. One cannot put a price tag on the sanctification of G-d's Name, just as one cannot imagine anything worse than desecrating it. The Sifre, however, contains an additional explanation of this verse. "You shall love Hashem your G-d -- Make him loved by all, as did Avraham ... Avraham used to convert many people in his hometown of Haran and usher them under the wings of the Shechina."

Our father Avraham converted pagans. We, however, are not expected to bring heathens into the fold of Judaism. It is our own brothers, uprooted from their source by the mighty winds of the changing time and the forces of assimilation, whom were are bidden to return to their heritage. When the winds have passed, the hidden spark within each Jew -- his yearning for faith and connection to tradition -- reignites. "Many waters cannot extinguish love, and the rivers cannot overcome it." Many waters and rivers, indeed -- those of the media around us, which often espouses ideas and attitudes against those of the Torah -- still cannot extinguish this burning ember of Jewish yearning, which awaits someone to come along and fan it into a flame.

Fanning the embers into flames has historically been the mission of "El HaMa'ayan." It is the mission of our Torah education system -- and, fundamentally is really the mission of each and every Jew. Bringing others closer to Judaism is a msszva from which no one can claim either physical or financial exemption.

The final redemption is very close; the Messiah waits at the door. When he comes he will ask each one of us, "What did you do to being the redemption and my coming closer? Did you inspire my children by spreading Torah and faith in G-d?" At this critical time, it is imperative upon everyone to play a role in this great revolution, that of bringing back those who yearn for their Father in Heaven. One who can do so should give classes in Torah; one who cannot should encourage those who are doing so. Sponsor a weekly Torah class in your neighborhood, and share in the Torah revolution! This is what the Torah has in mind when it says "You shall love Hashem ... with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." Our Sages explain that "your might" refers to "your money." No one can ignore our generation's primary mission, that of spreading the light of Torah and faith in G-d.

ASKING AND Expounding
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Arranged by Rav Moshe Yossef shlit"a
Rosh Bet Midrash "Meor Yisrael"

One Who Recites Birkat HaMazon on Foods Beside Bread

The Talmud (Berachot 12) states that if one mistakenly recited "Hamotzi" over dates, and then realized that they were dates, not bread -- he need not make another beracha, but should recite an "Al Haetz" when he is finished. Similarly, if he recited Birkat HaMazon before realizing that he had eaten dates, he need not make an "Al Haetz"; the Birkat HaMazon suffices. The Talmud explains that since dates are satisfying and sustaining, just like bread, the blessings of Birkat HaMazon can apply to them as well.

Rabbenu Yona quotes from the rabbis of France that this same logic should apply to wine, since it sustains and gladdens man. Hence, if one mistakenly recited Birkat HaMazon over wine, he would not have to make another beracha. However, since other fruits and cake do not share this property, reciting Birkat HaMazon after eating them would not fulfill any obligation, and one would have to repeat the appropriate final berachot for these foods. The Peri Hadash and Eliya Raba -- classic halachic authorities -- point out that Rashi and the Rashba seem to disagree with this position of Rabbenu Yona. They distinguish between fruits, for which a Birkat HaMazon would not suffice, and cake, for which it would. It is obvious, they claim, that cake is at least as filling as dates or wine; how, the, can one employ Birkat HaMazon for dates and wine but not for cake? (In fact, the halacha states that if one ate a meal's worth a cake, he would be required to recite Birkat HaMazon as his preferred option.) Therefore, they rule, if one mistakenly recited Birkat HaMazon over cake, he would not need to make another beracha.

Rabbi Yosef Karo in his Beit Yosef cites Rabbenu Yona, but not Rashi and the Rashba. In fact, in the Shulhan Aruch he rules like Rabbenu Yona and distinguishes between wine and dates on the one hand and cake and fruit on the other. The commentary Magen Avraham, explaining this position, writes that although cake is at least as satisfying as wine and dates, since it has not reached its "full potential" as food -- the primary and most basic grain product is bread -- it cannot be covered by Birkat HaMazon even if recited mistakenly. However, the Hida in his Mahazik Beracha (208:3) rules like Rashi and the Rashba, since their position is a logical one. Hence, if one mistakenly recited Birkat HaMazon over cake, he fulfilled his obligation and need not make another beracha. Many later authorities follow his opinion.

Since the Talmud tells us that we should refrain from making berachot if a question exists whether or not we have to, we follow this more lenient opinion even against that of the Shulhan Aruch.

We should point out that this entire discussion only concerns one eating these foods outside the context of a meal. If one eats fruit or cake during a meal which contains bread, the Birkat HaMazon recited at the end of the meal certainly covers all the foods eaten during the meal, as the Shulhan Aruch rules (177:1).

To sum up: One who eats fruit or other foods during a bread meal and prior to Birkat HaMazon does not need to recite a special final beracha on them. as they are covered by Birkat HaMazon. However, if he ate them outside of a meal, and mistakenly recited Birkat HaMazon on them instead of their special final beracha -- the law depends on what he was eating. If he ate fruits, then he must still recite the "Al Haetz" or "Bore Nefashot." If he had wine or dates, then he need not and should not recite any other beracha. And if he ate cake or other grain products, the halachic consensus is that, here too, he need not and should not recite another beracha.

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Youth I

Aaron: We are now fulfilling the verse: "To relate in the morning Your kindliness" (Tehillim 92:3).

Mr. Goodfriend: The actual meaning of the verse is: "To relate in the morning Your kindliness and steadfastness, and also to relate in the nights Your kindliness and steadfastness." But the proximity of "morning" to the word "kindliness" is intentional. The morning is the most joyous time of day, when one's vigor and hope are strongest; therefore this is the best opportunity to achieve the True Knowledge, one name of which is Fear of G-d. The morning hours are the gold of G-d's beneficence and ought therefore not be squandered. "Sleep of the morning takes one out of the world" (Avot 3:10). The parallel to the morning is youth, when the joy of life is augmented by youthful vigor and hope; this is therefore the best season and ought not be slept away. "Rejoice O youth in your young-manhood" (Kohelet 11:9). True, "He who is of good heart is at an everlasting feast" (Mishlei 15:15) and "shall still bear fruit in old age" (Tehillim 92:15); yet the choicest time of accomplishment is in the morning of life. Youth is wealth.

The Creator intended that it be expended solely on Torah-study and pursuit of the True Knowledge. "Wherefore is money (of Life, and especially the wealth of youth) in the hand of a fool, to purchase Wisdome, if he has no heart (mind)?" (Mishlei 17:16). "Remember your Creator in the days of your young-manhood" (Kohelet 12:1), for the impressions created at that time are clearest and long-lasting; because "He who learns when young is like one who writes on new paper"(Avot 4:20).

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