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Parashat Vayakhel - Pekudei


The sacred works explain how the beginning of our parashah features an allusion to the correction of the sin of the golden calf discussed in the previous parashah. During the incident of the "egel," the "erev rav" (group of people who joined Benei Yisrael when they left Egypt) forced their will on Aharon hakohen, thus bringing about severe damage to the entirety of Benei Yisrael.

The correction of this tragedy is effected by, "Moshe assembled the entire nation of Benei Yisrael": everyone gathers around the loyal shepherd, the prince of the Torah, they all subject themselves to his will and follow his example. This emerges from the pasuk in Yirmiyahu (15:19), "They will return to you, but you will not return to them." The leader of the generation has the capacity to elevate his constituency to his level, without affecting his own greatness.

However, not everyone who wishes to assume this title may do so. Immense greatness is required before one can take upon himself this challenge. A remarkable story, which appears in a recently published Haggaddah, "Ma'aseh Rav," a treasury of inspiring stories related to the Pesah Haggadah, is told of a student of Rav Haim of Volozhin zs"l who came to seek the advice of his rabbi. He was offered for marriage the daughter of a very wealthy man who was prepared to support him honorably, allowing him to continue his studies. However, this prospective father-in-law knew nothing about Torah, hardly the forms of the letters...

The rabbi asked, "Have you ever eaten radish confection?"

The student was taken aback by the question. He recognized the food as a popular delicacy made with honey. The rabbi continued, "Have you ever asked yourself how such a strange 'marriage' occurred - between a radish and honey?"

Indeed, quite a penetrating question! No, the student had never given any thought to this issue.

"If so," said the rabbi, "then listen to what I tell you. The radish felt uncomfortable, bearing such a bitter taste and suffering from such scorn as a result. It therefore decided to change people's attitude towards it and upgrade its status. It therefore sent a matchmaker to the honey with the following offer: if you become my groom, we can live together, such that I may take for myself some of your portion...

"Needless to say, the honey refused the offer. 'What got into its mind?' the honey shouted at the matchmaker. 'We are complete opposites! I am smooth, while the radish is hard and solid; I am as sweet as could be, while the radish is sharp and bitter. I am clear and beautiful, while the radish is an ugly black and red. What kind of idea was this match?'

"The matchmaker returned to the radish and reported the honey's response, adding his own, concurring sentiments.

'The radish replied, 'Of course this is correct - otherwise I wouldn't have chased after the honey! Go back and tell it that I am prepared to meet the honey in any manner that suits it. If it claims that I am hard, then it can grind me into small pieces. If I am dark and black, then my skin can be peeled to reveal my white interior. If the honey is soft and fluid, then I am prepared to be cooked with it until I, too, become dissolved!'

"The honey heard how badly the radish wanted to go through with the match and how much he offered to sacrifice towards that end, and did not have the strength to refuse the offer. It thus accepted.

"So, this is the story of the match," said the rabbi. "What do you think of the result?"

"Well," replied the student, "it's not apple or blackberry jam, but it isn't too bad."

"Indeed," agreed the rabbi, "but I forgot to tell you the main thing. The two got together, and at the wedding celebration the confection was served. The scholars began deliberating as to which berachah to recite. On the one hand, the honey softened and sweetened the taste of the radish. However, in the end they decided to recite a 'ha'adamah.' After all, when all is said and done, the radish retained its status as the primary component of the mixture.

"The exception, however, is the five types of grain. Even if they constitute the minority ingredient in a given food, everything becomes subordinate to them. Likewise, only those who have truly achieved greatness can properly lead their community and effectively raise their constituents to where they themselves stand. Whoever has not achieved such greatness, however, runs the risk of falling during this process."

Parashat Hahodesh

We read parashat "hahodesh" this Shabbat, which marks the halfway point between Purim and Pesah, the period "between redemption and redemption," as the Gemara (Megilah 6b) defines this time frame. This period thus belongs to both instances of redemption, as it were. Our sages say that parashat "hahodesh" alludes to renewal - "renew your behavior" (Vayikra Rabbah 29:6), breaking out from the previous routine of life and opening a new page, looking towards a new future. Such a renewal took place on Purim, with the renewed acceptance of the Torah: "The Jews fulfilled and accepted on themselves and on their progeny... " Pesah, too, saw such a renewal: "Withdraw your hands from idolatry and take for yourselves sheep for the misvah" (Mechilta, Bo 5). This involved the people's detachment from the forty-nine "gates of impurity" to the peak of Matan Torah. Similarly, a future renewal will occur with the unfolding of the redemption: "Yisrael are redeemed only through teshuvah" (Sanhedrin 97b).

Upon further reflection one sees that for good reason we read parashat "hahodesh" after Purim and before Pesah. On Purim, the growth and inspiration occurred specifically after the salvation, as a result of the love generated by the miracle (Rashi, Shabbat 88a). By contrast, the future redemption, which will resemble the redemption from Egypt (Michah 7:15), demands a renewal in anticipation thereof. Merits are required for redemption (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 4:25); in the merit of faith we were and will be redeemed (Tanhuma, Beshalah 10)!

This is the goal of our rabbi, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, to arouse the heart of the nation towards its Father in heaven, to implant within it faith and misvot, to increase our merits in order to usher in the future redemption. For this purpose he established the "El Hama'ayan" movement, the great movement in Israel for the dissemination of Torah. Whoever participates in a Torah class and one who sends his child to Torah education takes part in bringing the redemption closer!

The Banana

The banana is among the most important tropical fruits. This fleshy fruit is rich in starch and sugar and is considered one of the most nutritious and comfortably digested foods. The banana features a pseudo-stem: it is made entirely from a base of crowded leaves that appear to embrace one another. The leaves, colored light green, are impressively large, reaching nine meters in length and one and a half feet or more in width. The banana plant grows so quickly that one can actually see it with his eyes. If one would cut the stem, after several minutes he can see signs of the leave's edge emerging from the place of the cut in the stem. Just a few hours later, the leave rises to a height of over a foot and a haf; after a month, the plant is already large and bent as it had been originally. Three months later, it grows a proper cluster of fruit.

If we would say to someone, "Come, let us tell you about the banana," he would certainly giggle. Already from childhood his mother ran after him with a banana - who does not know about the banana? Yet, lending an attentive ear often reveals many interesting details about the fruit that one had thought he already knows full well. We Jews who believe in learning from everything that exists in the world recognize a parallel phenomenon in our social interaction. At times when dear, fellow Jews begin speaking about Judaism, Torah and misvot, one of them refuses to listen, thinking that he already knows all there is to know about Judaism, having attended a religious school and grown in a traditional home. He thus loses the opportunity to learn and properly familiarize himself with the Judaism for which our forefathers sacrificed their lives. The knowledge that one does not really know constitutes the first step towards revealing the truth - and who would not want to know the truth about life in the world?

The Golden Column
Rabbi Shelomo Sasson zs"l

Moshe Rabbenu assembled large audiences to study with them the halachot of Shabbat, teaching us to gather together on Shabbat for Torah classes and set aside time on this special day for learning. The halachah states that "Workers and laymen who are not involved in Torah throughout the week should involve themselves in Torah more on Shabbat than Torah scholars who occupy themselves in Torah throughout the week" (Shulhan Aruch Orah Haim 290; Bet Yossef 288, citing the Yerushalmi).

The work, "Avotenu Sipperu Lanu" presents the following, inspiring parable from the great Rav Shelomo Sasson zs"l. A man labored for a living from dawn to dusk, at which point he received his pay and made his way home. He observed an enthusiastic group of people gathered to purchase tickets for a presentation of a gifted lecturer, whose words flowed like honey. He thought to himself, all day I worked without stop; I deserve an hour of relaxation and enjoyment! He thus took out his money for which he worked all day and used it to purchase his ticket.

He walked into the hall, settled into his comfortable, upholstered chair, surveyed the room and was awed by the atmosphere. Then, the lecturer assumed his position on stage. The worker listened to the introduction, and gradually his eyelids slid down over his eyes, until he fell into a deep slumber.

Suddenly, he awakened in shock. His sleep was shaken by the roar of applause that erupted with the conclusion of the address. The person sitting next to him turned to him with beaming eyes and exclaimed, "That was spectacular, wasn't it!"

The man became tense and muttered, "Yes, indeed."

"How would you summarize this most inspiring hour?" his neighbor inquired. "Well, the chair was very comfortable, but the heat was a little too strong."

The neighbor peered at him in shock. "Did you come here for a comfortable chair and heating? This you could get at home!"

Similarly, someone who spends Shabbat sleeping and wasting time, by engaging in pointless conversation and reading newspapers - for this he could have taken a vacation day, when he perhaps could enjoy himself even more. Shabbat comes to us as a great gift from Hashem's treasury, a day of rest and sanctity, learning and spiritual growth!

One Who Separates Himself From the Community
a continuing saga - Part Four

Taken from the Haggaddah, "Avotenu Sipperu Lanu"

FLASHBACK: A Jewish heretic who had converted out of the faith and become a priest incited the Christians against the Jews of the city of Barcelona, Spain. The wealthy, influential Jew, Yaakov Philo, decided to flee from the city rather than intervening on behalf of the endangered community and attempt to cool the flames of hatred. He sold his possessions, buried the money near his grandfather's grave, and fled in the dark of night to Portugal. Meanwhile, a widow named Mrs. Banbanishti dreamt a nightmare, that her deceased grandfather ordered that her son, Yaakov, come to him. Her son assured her that all the grandfather wanted was for him to visit his grave. The mother felt relieved and reassured by her son's interpretation of the dream and gave him a candle to light over the tombstone. He went to the cemetery and found there the ledger that fell from the wealthy man's pocket when he had fled the city. He noticed the fresh earth, dug and found the hidden treasure.

Yaakov Banabnishti picked himself up from the ground and thought long and hard. This was not his money: it belonged to Yaakov Philo, the wealthy man that escaped. However, as the wealthiest man in the community he bore the responsibility of looking after his brethren's well-being and quieting the waves of hatred. He should have bribed whomever he needed and pour large sums of money in order to save the community. After all, specifically for this reason he had been blessed with wealth, in order to help his brothers, and his money could have calmed the storm. If Yaakov Philo reneged on his responsibility, then he, Yaakov Banbanishti, would take his place and carry out the mission in his stead.

He bent down, took 1,100 gold coins, and covered the rest with earth. He then turned to his grandfather's grave that lay nearby and lit the candle. He recited Tehillim, but rather than selecting chapters of prayer and supplication, he joyfully said chapters of praise and thanksgiving to the Al-mighty, who provided him with a means by which to save the entire community.

That night, Yaakov crept into the Christian graveyard, proceeded to the area of the ancient graves and hid 1,000 of the gold coins under an oak tree. The other ten coins he hid under a different tree.

He returned home in the dark of night, lit the lamp, and wrote a letter in the local tongue. He presented himself as a Christian from birth who attended Church regularly. However, from the day that the former Jew, Martin, assumed his post as head of the Church, he stopped coming. He explained that he remembers hearing from his parents that they had heard from one of the old-time priests that no Jew could reject his religion wholeheartedly. The Jews' faith was so firmly anchored in their hearts that they would convert only externally, either in fear of oppression or in order to receive some monetary benefit. His parents told him several incidents that occurred in their lifetime involving Jewish converts that were discovered having retained their affinity for Judaism. These stories inspired him to carefully monitor Martin the apostate.

to be continued


"Do not burn fire in all your residences on the day of Shabbat"

The Alshich Hakadosh writes: "Through the use of allusion, the Al-mighty hints to us how severe He considers a sin committed by an individual on Shabbat, more so that if it is committed on a weekday. This relates to that which we know that the sin itself that one commits constitutes the force of impurity that will, in the future, sentence him to Gehinnom. The evil that will befall a sinner thus doubles when a sin occurs on Shabbat, when the fire of Gehinnom cools - for this sinner lights it!

"Additionally, the punishment will also be severe for those who spend Shabbat reading books about the stories of kings and their wars, claiming that for them this constitutes "oneg Shabbat" (the enjoyment of Shabbat). Woe unto them! They are essentially devouring the sacred through their mundane conversation, and they anger the Sacred of Yisrael - enraging Him with their inanities! In this sense they are like animals, in that they cannot differentiate between sacred and mundane. In their eyes, observing Shabbat by refraining to desecrate it means like a worker takes off from work, as if Hashem wants Shabbat observance in order that the weary can rest from their hard work of the six workdays. They therefore say that there is nothing like reading the books history (or newspapers in our times), or eating, drinking and satiating themselves, or to indulge.

"They have in them neither wisdom nor intelligence! For this is not the rest and this is not the relaxation - for the flesh, sinews and bones. They are all vain; worms will ultimately spread beneath them, worms will cover them! There is no rest other than for the portion of Hashem, meaning, the soul of man, that it will return close on Shabbat day to the G-d who placed it and provided for it on Shabbat an extra soul. We will therefore rejoice and exult in Him, like the joy of the souls who rejoice with Him in the upper world, as they delight in Gan Eden in the words of His Torah and the joy of His love!

"This marks the opposite of those who leave the statutes of Hashem which are upright, rejoicing hearts, and follow instead the stories of the nonsense of the time which reflect darkness, rather than light. Their falsehoods lead them astray to think that thereby they fulfill the pasuk that writes, 'You shall observe Shabbat as a delight' (Yeshayahu 56:13). They do not know or understand that these are but the words of the evil inclination who rejoices in its lot, having successfully desecrated the sanctity of Shabbat and turned its back to the Torah!

"And even beyond these people, there are those who gather on Shabbat and festivals under every fresh tree, circled around in groups: a group of jokers, a group of talebearers, a group of those who speak vulgarity - they fill their mouths with laughter, in a loud voice that doesn't stop. Hashem sees and is angered, for 'I gave them Shabbat to sanctify it, and they have desecrated it by gathering to speak evil, lashon hara that is more severe than idolatry, adultery and murder (Arachin 15b) and contaminate their mouths!'

"Regarding all this the Torah commanded through the allusion that it hinted to when it says, 'Do not burn fire in all your residences' that you have in Gehinnom 'on the day of Shabbat.'"

The Hid"a zs"l (in his work, "Kisei David," 24) explains the reason why this parashah opens with the pasuk, "Moshe assembled the entire nation of Benei Yisrael." Rabbenu Efrayim zs"l writes in his commentary that "Vayakhel" ("assembled") has the same numerical value as "mikveh," indicating that words of Torah purify like a mikveh; they raise the individual from impurity to purity (see Berachot 15a).

Moshe Rabbenu, the loyal shepherd, thus teaches us that we must assemble on Shabbat for Torah classes rather than for idle talk or forbidden conversation. Rather than lighting, Heaven forbid, fire in Gehinnom with such speech, it is far preferable for us to dip in the waters of knowledge, in the sea of the Talmud and rivers of Midrash. We will be like a tree planted near these waters, which gives forth fruit at its time, its leaves never whither, and it succeeds in everything it does!

A Letter of Encouragement from Rav Aryeh Deri shlit"a

Dear Brothers -

Let's take a look at how much depth is contained in a single word and even a single letter in our sacred Torah, how much we can learn not only from the word unto itself, but also from what does not appear, from a missing letter. After listing all the donations for the mishkan, the pasuk states, "And the nesi'im brought lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and the breastplate." The tribal leaders contributed the most expensive items needed for the construction of the mishkan and its accessories - the precious stones. Curiously, the Torah writes here the word "nesi'im" without the letter "yud" that normally appears in this word. Rashi provides the reason: "The nesi'im said, the nation will donate whatever they donate, and we will complete that which is still missing. Once the nation completed everything, the nesi'im said, what remains for us to do? They brought the stones for setting. Therefore, they donated first for the inauguration of the altar, being the first ones to sacrifice. On account of their initial indolence, a letter was taken from their name, and it is written, 'and the nesi'im," without the letter 'yud.'"

How frightening! It appears that the nesi'im had a valid point. What more, they offered to sign an open check: they would provide whatever was needed! Imagine a community raising money to marry off an orphan girl who needs shoes, clothing, housing and furniture. The collectors come to the home of a certain wealthy man to ask him for a donation. He asks, "How much money is needed?" They answer, "Around $150,000, which includes the wedding." The man replied, "Fine - continue your campaign, raise as much as you can, and whatever is missing from the required sum I will provide! Twenty, thirty, fifty, a hundred, a hundred and thirty thousand - whatever it is I will give!"

What would we say about such an offer? We would react with awe and respect for such generosity, and he would earn wide acclaim for his benevolent offer of assistance. Yet this is exactly how the nesi'im responded to the fundraising campaign for the mishkan - they offered to complete whatever sum remained after the nation donated. Why, then, did the Torah drop a letter from their name? Furthermore, we find a precedent to this type of punishment regarding Efron, who "said a lot but did not even do a little," and for this the Torah dropped the letter "vav" from his name (Rashi, Bereishit 23:16). What an awful punishment - an eternal burn at the root of his soul. The opposite occurrence appears in the Mechilta (beginning of Parashat Yitro), which relates that Moshe's father-in-law's name had been "Yeter." After his performance of good deeds, however, he earned the addition of a letter to his name, which then became "Yitro." Here, however, the actual names of the nesi'im remained intact. What kind of punishment is this, a letter dropped from the generic word, "nesi'im"?

It would appear that the sacred Torah here alludes to a shortcoming in the leadership of the nesi'im manifest in this incident. A true leader, a loyal shepherd of his flock, affords his constituency full trust, rather than expressing doubts about their ability to reach their goals. A nasi that truly serves as a father to his tribe must have faith in the people's willingness to give, that they will come banging on the doors to earn the privilege of donating their money for the sacred purpose of the mishkan. The very statement, "the nation will donate whatever they donate, and we will complete that which is still missing" reflected a deficiency in their leadership - for this a letter was dropped from their title, "nesi'im." We have in our day a living example in our father and shepherd, our rabbi Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, who raises the pride of the glorious Sefaradi tradition and restores the glory of Torah to its rightful place and splendor. He exhibits ultimate faith in us, those who thirstily listen to his teachings. He descends from the mountain to the people and brings them back up with him to the highest peaks, through his ways of pleasantness and immense love. Accordingly, the nation's heart has become filled with love and admiration for its great rabbi who brings us to the world to come and yields for us merit by moving our hearts towards our Father in heaven and drawing the redemption closer. May his leadership enjoy many days with good health, that he may bring us to greet the Mashi'ah speedily and in our days, Amen!

Shabbat Shalom

Aryeh Deri

A Series of Halachot
According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a

The Halachot and Customs of the Month of Nissan (Cont.)

The custom is to omit "sidkatecha" at minhah on Shabbat throughout the month of Nissan.

We do not observe public fasts during the month of Nissan. The custom of the Sefaradim and Eastern communities, however, is to allow individual fasts during this month. The practice thus evolved to observe a fast on the anniversary of the passing of one's parent even during Nissan, despite this fast's not being required only by the authority of custom, rather than by the strict letter of the law. Nevertheless, one should not observe even an individual fast on Rosh Hodesh Nissan or during the entire festival of Pesah. One should be stringent in this regard even on Isru Hag (the day immediately following Pesah). The Ashkenazim are accustomed to forbid even individual fasts during the month of Nissan. Nevertheless, even according to this custom one may observe a fast as a result of a bad dream during Nissan.

Those who adopt the custom that a bride and groom fast on their wedding day should do so even during Nissan. The custom of the Ashkenazim has the couple fast even if the wedding takes place on Rosh Hodesh Nissan. However, the Sefaradim and Eastern communities in Eress Yisrael never have the bride and groom fast on their wedding day, whereas this day marks a Yom Tov for them.

The custom is not to deliver eulogies for the deceased, with the exception of eulogies for a Torah scholar at his funeral. One may, however, conduct a memorial service at the conclusion of the seven days of mourning, thirty days after the passing, or the anniversary of one's death. Speakers should, however, refrain from discussing the praises of the deceased. They should speak instead words of inspiration and teshuvah, in memory and for the merit of the deceased.

There is a praiseworthy custom to read each day starting from Rosh Hodesh Nissan the parashah of the inaugural sacrifices of the "nesi'im" (tribal leaders). Each day one reads the parashah of that day's "nasi." On the thirteenth of Nissan, one reads from the beginning of Parashat Beha'alotecha until the words, "ken asah et hamenorah." Some Ashkenazim have the practice of conducting this reading specifically from a proper Sefer Torah (without berachot). The Sefaradim and Eastern communities, by contrast, are accustomed to reading these parshiyot from a Humash.

Shlomo Ben Liza

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