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THE HASHMONAIM AND US
However, this glorious dynasty met with a bitter and painful end. Its condition progressed gradually from bad to worse, until Herod, the Edomite slave, married Miriam, the last survivor of the Hashmonean family, effectively ending the chain of kohanim gedolim and kings of the Hashmonean line. The Ramban, in his comments to our parashah, asks, why was the kingdom eliminated in such an awful way, why did it meet such a bitter and tormenting fashion? He answers that by assuming for themselves the right to the monarchy, "they violated the commandment of the 'zaken' [=Yaakov Avinu], and were punished." Yaakov had declared, "The scepter shall never depart from Yehudah," that the right to royalty would never shift from to Yehudah to another tribe. Whereas the Hashmonaim did not descend from the tribe of Yehudah, their reign as Jewish kings violated this declaration.
The Saba of Kelm zs"l often noted that Yaakov's comment was not articulated as an imperative; rather, he said it in the form of a berachah to Yehudah.
Nevertheless, the Chashmonaim were punished on account of violating Yaakov's will. The merit of their self-sacrifice and the great, eternal kiddush Hashem did not help them. If so, we can only imagine what awaits one who violates the will of not a sacred ssadik like Yaakov, but of the Almighty Himself! And not just His will - but His explicit commandment, whether it be the desecration of Shabbat or the utterance of lashon hara; ensuring the kashrut of one's food or wasting time of Torah study. No matter what the violation, how great is the punishment for transgressing the explicit commandment of Hashem!
This is especially true when we consider that we do not have the same merits of self-sacrifice or kiddush Hashem as was the case with those involved in the Hannukah miracles. Is it conceivable that we will not quickly do teshuvah and resolve to observe the missvot meticulously?
The son of the "mashgiah" of Mir, Rav Yeruham HaLevi zs"l, studied in the yeshivah, and a letter he received from his saintly father has been preserved. Despite its brevity, the world and everything therein is contained in the letter: "I would like to bless you with a father's blessing. How can a father bless his son? I will bless you the same way as King David blessed his son Shelomoh [in this week's haftarah], with three words that incorporate everything - 'You shall be strong and be an 'ish' [a person]!'"
Looking around, we see a world full of humans, but with very few "anashim" (people). Some are like wolves of prey, others are brazen as dogs. Some are cowardly like rabbits, others are obedient like sheep. How many, though, can honestly be described as "anashim," as balanced people, with clear direction and purpose, whose intellect guides them and controls their natural tendencies?
King David, the loving father, did not ask any astronomical demands of his son. Yet, he revealed to Shelomoh the path that brings one to human perfection: "You shall observe the charge of Hashem your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, missvot, laws and admonitions, as written in the Torah of Mosheh, in order that you excel in all that you do."
THE TRUE BERACHAH
Parashat Vayehi is the parashah of blessings. The twelve sacred tribes are blessed with eternal blessings from their father: ".and this is what their father spoke to them and blessed them, each with his own blessing he blessed them." We cannot, however, but wonder about Reuven, Yaakov's firstborn, the first one to perform teshuvah - for an act not even considered a transgression (Shabbat 55b) - who was sharply criticized for his rashness and stripped of his birthright and the privilege of the priesthood and kingship. Furthermore, the tribe of Levi - the most sacred of the tribes - as well as the tribe of Shimon were castigated for their harsh anger and fiery wrath. Yaakov decreed eternal poverty upon them, so that they will be always wandering and dependent upon the kindness of others and thus learn to control their anger. Their spirits will be lowered and their patience and tolerance will necessarily improve. Is this what one would call a berachah?
Indeed, this question was raised by Rashi: "But weren't there some whom he didn't bless but castigated?" The Or Hahayyim HaKadosh zs"l explains that indeed, even these comments constituted blessings: "Although we find that he did not bless Reuven, Shimon or Levi, the pasuk tells us that even his harsh words to them were a blessing." These sacred words of the Or Hahayyim require further clarification, and they may be understood through the following story.
There was once a student of the yeshivah of Radin, the yeshivah of the Hafess Hayyim zs"l, who got married and his father-in-law agreed to support him for several years to allow him to grow in Torah study. The family grew and the years of his father-in-law's support came to an end. He thus had no choice but to cut down his hours of learning and start a business. The world of commerce was foreign to him, as were its rules and protocol. Due to his inexperience, he barely made ends meet. He was deeply saddened over his loss of Torah study and difficulties in making a living. Finally, an idea came to his head to solve both problems - he purchased a lottery ticket and traveled to Radin. He figured that, after all, his great rebbe - the Hafess Hayyim - was like a family member in the heavens. If he receives his blessing, certainly he would win the grand prize and be able to support his family comfortably and devote his time to Torah study.
Upon his arrival in Radin, he met a childhood friend and told him why he had come. The friend warned him, "Don't say anything about the lottery ticket to the rav. He is not comfortable with quick, easy ways to earn a livelihood."
The man heeded the advice and approached the Hafess Hayyim. His rav was overjoyed to see him, and the former student told him about the growth of his family and the difficulties he was experiencing in earning a living and having to reduce his Torah study. He then requested a berachah for abundant success.
The Hafess Hayyim warmly took hold of the man's hand and said, "Hashem should assist you that you make enough to support your family, and that you may merit to raise your children for Torah, marriage and good deeds."
"Amen," he answered, disappointed as he did not receive the berachah of wealth for which he came. He decided to sleep over that night in Radin and then come the next morning to receive a berachah for his departure. Maybe then the Hafess Hayyim will bless him with great fortune.
And so, the next day he came before the Hafess Hayyim, and the ssadik said, "May you go in life and peace, and Hashem should assist you that you make enough to support your family, and that you may merit to raise your children for Torah, marriage and good deeds."
He stood as if nailed to that spot; his feet refused to budge. This was not why he had come all the way to Radin!
The Hafess Hayyim bent his head forward and whispered, as if speaking to himself, "There are those that when asked how they are doing, they answer that they are doing well but a little better wouldn't hurt. How do they know that a little better wouldn't hurt? Maybe it actually would hurt them?
People sometimes come here to seek advice, but in actuality it's not my advice they seek, but rather my consent to their plan."
The young man shuddered, understanding what the ssadik meant. The Hafess Hayyim suddenly stood up, placed his hand on his student's shoulder and said, "A young man comes before me and seeks to win big. I bless him with good children, the greatest gift anyone can earn - and wealth could potentially harm the children's education along the path of Torah. Yet he does not understand, for he desires wealth, rather than rejoicing in the berachah he received, which is greater than any fortune!"
The man was astounded at the overt ru'ah hakodesh he had just encountered, and left his rebbe, happy with the blessing he received, which was ultimately fulfilled to completion.
Indeed, this is the answer to our opening question. For one person kingship is appropriate; for him it is a blessing. For another, however, royalty could prove harmful, and for him the greatest blessing is avoiding the monarchy - "each with his own blessing he blessed them." Each son was blessed with that which for him is truly a blessing.
THE WONDERS OF CREATION
Among the most spectacular wonders of the human body is the spine. The spine, which begins from under the skull, is composed of bones resembling drums, called vertebrae, behind each of which runs a pipe. Through this pipe runs the spinal chord, the major transport of nerves in the human body as well as the communication line between the brain and the rest of the body. The spine consists of thirty-three vertebrae - 7 cervical vertebrae in the neck; 12 thoracic, or dorsal, vertebrae in the region of the chest, or thorax, providing attachment for 12 pairs of ribs; 5 lumbar vertebrae in the small of the back; 5 fused sacral vertebrae forming a solid bone, the sacrum, which fits like a wedge between the bones of the hip; and around four vertebrae fused together to form the coccyx at the bottom of the sacrum. The upper vertebra differs in structure from the others. It is shaped like a ring and carries the skull on its top; for this reason, we sometimes refer to it as "hulyah hanosei" - the "carrying vertebra" (atlas in English). The vertebra underneath the atlas is called the axis, and it has a projection that fits like a pivot into a special depression in the atlas, allowing it to turn the head like a hinge. In between every two vertebrae there is a flexible material called cartilage, which protects the vertebrae from excessive pressure. When the person jumps or walks, the cartilage disrupts the shocks, thus preventing friction between the vertebrae. If one looks carefully, he will notice a curvature in several places along the spine. The body yields great benefit from these curves.
Were the spine to be perfectly straight, every slight shock would pass directly to the brain. But at the points of curvature the power of the shock diminishes. This is why a person generally bends a little bit while jumping. Also noteworthy is that the lower vertebrae are larger and wider than those near the head.
When speaking about the spine, one thing becomes clear - as we all know, one cannot live under any circumstances without the spine. Moreover, there exists an expression, "a person without a spine" in reference to a capricious, unstable person, someone who says one thing today and another tomorrow and cannot make a decision and remain steadfast to his decision - even regarding his return to his ancestral source. In contrast to him is the one who says and does. Such an individual attracts the respect of those around him, who consider him a person "with a strong spine." This person is not intimidated by those around him who wonder about his kippah and beard and ask, "Oh, what happened?" This is a chance to show those around him about resoluteness, self-confidence and the sanctification of God's Name, to show them that only the Torah is correct and one must live according to its rules. Am Yisrael is the nation of the spinal chord, that never bends towards any other view or fashion - only to the Creator of the world.
The Faithful Student (10)
A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk," the Story of the Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l
Flashback: Igor Borak, as assimilated, Jewish defense lawyer, spent two years in prison for supporting the Polish underground, while the ssadik Reb Nechumke of Horodna took care of the family's livelihood in his absence.
Upon his release from prison, the lawyer insisted on repaying the money in full, but the ssadik refused. Instead, he asked the attorney to agree to represent the Saraf of Brisk, Maharil Diskin zs"l, who was imprisoned on false charges. But the lawyer refused, explaining that the authorities are firm in their desire to accuse and prosecute against the revered rav at any price. As such, representing the rav would necessarily constitute a direct affront against the authorities. The ssadik respected the lawyer's refusal, and concluded, "I am glad that I don't have to live with your conscience."
The lawyer vehemently protested the ssadik's remark. "You realize that I just got out of prison - how will they feel now if I ruin their plot?
Perhaps they wouldn't mind if I defended a thief, a burglar or crook - but a revered rabbi, to whose downfall the authorities are committed! You cannot demand from me this sacrifice!"
"I understand just one thing," answered the ssadik, "that you are incapable of understanding what I understand."
"To the contrary - I am trying to understand," demanded the lawyer.
"Okay," responded the ssadik. "Tell me, if you had the choice to either go to prison or have your friend taken to prison, which would you choose?"
"This is no question, obviously," replied the attorney.
"Of course," acknowledged the ssadik. "Now let's say you were presented with the choice of spending an hour in jail or having your friend committed to a lifetime in prison - then what?"
The lawyer's forehead darkened, and he responded, "I imagine I would agree to go there for an hour."
"Wow - indeed, Jews are a sacred people!" exclaimed the ssadik, his eyes glittering. "Now, let's move on to the next question. There are those who conduct their lives routinely, eating and drinking, working and relaxing.
But then there are the select few whose lives are conducted on a different plane entirely. They spend every hour of their time involved in Torah and missvot, teiflah and attachment to Hashem. They are exalted, having been elevated to higher levels - they are like angels! Surely you understand that all our lives are worth less than one day in their lives, than one hour of their time! Their lives are on a completely different dimension! We crawl on Earth while they soar in the heavens. Such a person is the Saraf of Brisk. So when you said that you may be imprisoned if you work towards his freedom, you did not take this into consideration, correct?"
"I. I don't know. I have to think," muttered the attorney.
"Think about it, and give me an answer tomorrow." The ssadik wished him well and left.
To be continued.
FROM THE WELLSPRINGS OF THE PARASHAH
"May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh"
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l and Rabbenu Azaryah Pigo zs"l, in his work "Binah L'Itim," explain this pasuk along similar lines. Yosef's objection to his father's having placed his right hand on Efrayim - the younger son - and his left upon the older son - Menasheh - was in fact an allusion to the suffering he experienced on account of having been preferred by his father over the older brothers. Yaakov thus answered, "I know my son, I know."
Meaning, I know all that you experienced, and yet I am not concerned.
Menasheh, too, will emerge as a great tribe, only the younger son will be "greater from him" - meaning, he will be greater from himself, as a result of his completeness of character. As Hazal comment, Efrayim was the Rosh Yeshivah of Yaakov's yeshivah. He did not become great through the lowering of his brother, but rather by lifting himself. Even his brother will acknowledge his younger brother's greatness, and thus not experience any jealousy. Yaakov therefore said, "May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh"- mentioning Efrayim before Menasheh.
"May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh"
"Through you Yisrael will bless by saying, 'May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh' - and he mentioned Efrayim before Menasheh." The simple interpretation of the pasuk is that Yaakov mentioned Efrayim in his berachah before Menasheh. Rabbenu Behayei, however, offers a most surprising explanation. Even though Yaakov Avinu placed his right hand on Efrayim's head and mentioned him first in all his blessings, he nevertheless placed Efrayim first as a youngster standing before the older brother to receive his authority and obey his instructions. In other words, Yaakov warned him to listen to his older brother and afford him respect, to ensure that he does not become arrogant towards Menasheh on account of his stature and having received precedence in the berachot. Rather, he should honor him as one should respect his older brother.
"May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh"
Yaakov Avinu declares that Am Yisrael will forever bless their children with the blessing, "May Hashem make you like Efrayim and Menasheh." What lies within this blessing? Why not bless Jewish children that they should be like Reuven or Shimon, Levi or Yehudah? The Hid"a zs"l explains that Efrayim was the Rosh Yeshivah of Yaakov's yeshivah, while Menasheh was in charge of Yosef's home and remarkably powerful. Indeed, this is the complete berachah - Torah, strength and wealth - which every parent wishes for his children. Yet, one must remember to place "Efrayim" before "Menasheh," to wish him first and foremost greatness and success in Torah, with everything else subordinate thereto.
ASKING AND EXPOUNDING
A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at
The Berachah of Tefillin
If one mistakenly recites the berachah "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel yad and catches his mistake only after "kedei dibbur" (the time normally required to say "shalom aleichem rebbe"), then if he is generally accustomed not to recite any berachah on the tefillin shel rosh, he has fulfilled his requirement and does not recite any additional berachah.
However, if he is accustomed to always reciting the berachah on the tefillin shel rosh, and he catches his mistake before fastening the tefillin on his arm, he should recite the berachah of "lehani'ah tefillin," tie the tefillin on his arm, and then place the tefillin shel rosh without reciting any berachah. If, however, he catches his mistake only after he fastened the tefillin shel yad on his arm, then when he places the tefillin shel rosh he should recite the berachah of "lehani'ah tefillin."
If one mistakenly recites "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel yad and catches his mistaken within "kedei dibbur" (as explained above), and he immediately corrects himself and recites the appropriate berachah - "lehani'ah tefillin" - then he is considered as having recited only the correct berachah, "lehani'ah tefillin." Therefore, if his custom is not to recite a berachah on the tefillin shel rosh, then here, too, he should not recite any berachah on the tefillin shel rosh. If, however, he is accustomed to always recite a berachah over the tefillin shel rosh, then here, too, he recites the berachah of "al missvat tefillin" on the tefillin shel rosh.
If one removes his tefillin shel rosh out of his bag first, before the tefillin shel yad, he must pass them over and first place the tefillin shel yad; only then should he put on the tefillin shel rosh. Despite the principle, "ein ma'avirin al hamissvot" - one should not pass over a missvah - nevertheless, since the Torah mentioned tefillin shel yad before tefillin shel rosh, it is preferred to pass over the missvah of the shel rosh and place the tefillin shel yad, rather than alter the order of the pasuk.
If one placed the tefillin shel rosh before the tefillin shel yad, for example, if one only had tefillin shel rosh or if he made a mistake, he should place the tefillin shel yad after the tefillin shel rosh. He does not have to first remove the tefillin shel rosh before placing the tefillin shel yad.
In the berachah "l'hani'ah tefillin," the word "l'haniah" is to be pronounced with a "kamass" under the "hei" and without a "dagesh" in the "nun," as the word appears in the pasuk, "to place ['l'hani'ah'] blessing in your home." One should not pronounce the word with a "patah" under the "hei" and a "dagesh" in the "nun," as that form of the word means "to leave." One should pronounce the word "tefillin" with a "dagesh" in the "lamed."
When reciting the berachah over the tefillin shel rosh - "al missvat tefillin" (whether he has the custom of always reciting this berachah, or if he does not recite this berachah except when having spoken in between the tefillin shel yad and tefillin shel rosh, as discussed last week) - one must ensure to say, "missvat" - in the singular form - rather than "missvot" - in the plural form.
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