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Parashat Vayera


In this week's edition of "The Golden Column" appear several excerpts from the heart-wrenching letter of the bereaved father, Rabbi Don Hasdai Kreskas, the rabbi of Saragosa, regarding the riots in Spain in 5151, one hundred years before the Inquisition.

We ask our readers: how many of you had heard of these riots, during which hundreds of thousands of people from our nation were lost?

Who has heard of the riots of Adris in Morocco, when tens of thousands of Jews were murdered, three hundred years before the Crusades? Who has heard of the Jewish colony at the edge of the Sahara Desert, and its destruction at the hands of Moslems after the signing of a peace treaty? And what about the riots of the Almohads in Morocco, Algiers, Lov and Tunis, which occurred around the same time as the Crusades in Europe? And the murder of thousands of Jews in Fez, where only twenty were spared, the riots of Mulai Muhammad, the riots of Buchabir, Muhammad Hafid, Alizid, the "Moroccan Haman" - and all these amount to not even a drop in the ocean of the suffering of our forefathers in the western countries. We have not even mentioned the riots, decrees and destruction in the east, from Aram Tsoba to Kurdistan, and in the far south - who heard of the horrific exile from Yemen, and all the years of stormy crises they suffered?

This question is asked as well to the Ministry of Education and all those responsible for school curricula. Unquestionably, students must learn the history of our nation, from the Crusades through the Chmelnitzki riots to the awful, recent Holocaust. But why do all the studies seem to concentrate on just on continent?


When engaging in negotiations of any kind, one must know full well who sits at the other side of the table, whether or not he is reliable and willing to stand up for his end of the deal.

As we are currently involved in negotiations with the descendants of Yishmael, let us examine our parashah and uncover the essence of Yishmael.

As he wandered in the desert with mother, their water supply had been depleted, and he was on the verge of collapse. His mother placed him in the shade, under one of the shrubs in the desert, and moved back quite a distance, "a bow-shot away." Rashi, noting the plural form "kimtahavei," explains that the distance was in fact two bow-shots away. Why did she move so far back from her son? Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura zs"l explains that Yishmael was a skilled archer, and she was afraid to be within shooting distance of his bow!

This is our partner in the peace talks. In his hands we entrust the peace and security of Jewish settlements, him we trust to fulfill his end of the bargain. Could it be that those conducting the negotiations don't learn the commentary of the Bartneura on the parashah?


Two people approached the rabbi for a "din Torah," a court case to be decided according to Torah law. One bore an expression of confidence and assurance, while the other walked in gingerly, the look of confusion marked upon his face. The plaintiff presented his claim: "I have a gifted son, with all the qualities in the world, and I arranged his engagement to this one's daughter. At the time, we agreed how much each of us would give for the expenses and decided upon a date for the wedding. I prepared my share, but he wasn't ready. He requested a one-month delay, but that month turned into two months. The wedding date came and passed, and his obligation hasn't been fulfilled. So, either he pays up his side of the agreement, or the engagement will be declared null and void, and my son will be free to marry who he wishes!"

The rabbi turned to the other litigant, sitting uncomfortably, and asked, "So, what do you have to say?"

Embittered and in tears, he pleaded his case: "When I made the match for my daughter, I was a wealthy man, living in the lap of luxury. All the money was ready and available in my pocket. In the meantime, however, I have suffered a series of calamities one right after the other. A fire broke out in my store and destroyed all the merchandise, including my record book which included all the debts owed to me. I was left with nothing. The anguish brought my wife to illness and she died, leaving me alone. I worked hard to try to rejuvenate the business - I bought merchandise on credit and took out many loans. As if all this wasn't enough, my daughter's engagement is about to be called off. What am I to do?" His shoulders trembled as he tried to contain his crying.

An eerie silence overcame the room until it was finally broken by the rabbi's voice. "I see that the bride's father is making efforts to restore his financial stability, and will soon be able to pay his part of the agreement. I suggest that he sign here, in my presence, a series of documents promising to pay his obligation in installments. Let us agree on a new date for the wedding, and everything will be settled once and for all!"

The father's son consented, and the color was restored to the bride's father. They wrote up the agreements and signed. The rabbi exclaimed, "Mazal tov!" and asked that drinks be brought. He urged the proud parents to drink "lehayyim!" and the bride's father was overjoyed. He took hold of a large cup, filled up to the brim, recited the berachah and downed the entire cup in one shot. As his joy intensified, he went to fill up his cup once more.

Seeing where things were headed, the rabbi quickly intervened. "I always wondered," he said, "why drunkards are often referred to as, 'drunken like Lot.' After all, Lot wasn't the first one in history to become intoxicated and lose control. Long before him, Noah took off his clothing and rolled around in his tent. Why are we more forgiving towards him than to Lot?

"The answer," he continued, "has now become clear to me. Noah we can understand - an elderly man, who had already married off all his children, the entire world was now his, he felt happy and rejoiced. But you, Lot, lost all your property, your wife died, and your daughters are still unmarried. What are you getting drunk about?"

He stopped talking, and the bride's father stopped pouring.

Why do we bring this story here? Discussions are currently being held regarding the possibility of establishing a government-sanctioned casino in Israel. If the Americans have their Las Vegas, and the Europeans have theirs along the banks of the Riviera, then why should the Jewish State be any worse-off? Why should it be considered backward and undeveloped, and not import this drug, as well? But when we think about it, there is a vast difference. What is possible for wealthy Americans and the opulent residents of the Riviera isn't an option for a besieged nation, smitten with unemployment, dried up from recession, struggling with innumerable social and existential problems!

But even more than we direct ourselves to the public plane, we speak with regard to the personal introspection of each individual. The intoxication we spoke of is but an allegory - there is no difference how one wastes his time and uses it for inanity. A person comes home from a hard day at work and spends the entire night reading the newspaper, sitting in front of the screen, surfing the internet or hanging around outside of the home - it really doesn't matter. It's his own, personal time - let him spend it as he wishes. But when there are small children or adolescents in the home who look to their parents for direction, who need an emotional talk, when interest in their studies is necessary for their academic progress, an hour of learning together - then how great is the claim against those who waste their evenings away! Aren't the children worthy of our free time?


"And God tested Avraham"

Rabbi Mosheh Almoshenino zs"l, in the introduction to his work "Yedei Mosheh," inquires regarding the greatness of the "akeidah" - haven't millions of Jews given their lives for Name of God throughout the centuries?

He explains that the greatness of Avraham was manifest in the akeidah through the enthusiasm and sacred, intense joy with which he observed Hashem's command. Hazal teach us (Pesahim 117a) that prophecy requires a state of joy. Thus, if Avraham had not experienced joy at the moment of the akeidah, the angel would not have appeared to him to tell him to withdraw his knife.

A most powerful lesson emerges from this idea. If Avraham had been in low spirits, the revelation of the angel would not have come to stop the akeidah from actually occurring, and then Avraham would have had reason for distress. Since he rejoiced at the opportunity of fulfilling the will of his Creator, he received prophecy, and his joy was intensified!

"And God tested Avraham"

The Hid"a zs"l, too, addressed the question of the significance and greatness of the akeidah. Why is Avraham's sacrifice considered greater than that of generations of Jews who were slaughtered "al kiddush Hashem"?

Furthermore, hadn't Avraham already been tested when he was thrown into the furnace in Ur Kasdim? He answers that without question, the greatness of the sacrifice of all the generations cannot be underestimated, and no person or even angel can stand with them in their place in the Upper World. But, after all, they were taken to their death by force. Similarly, Avraham was forcefully cast in the fiery furnace. To the akeidah, however, he and Yisshak walked willingly with no one compelling them, other than the divine command. This is the greatest test of all.

"And God tested Avraham"

The Abarbanel zs"l translates the term "nisah" not as "tested," but rather as "raised," related to the word "ness," a banner or flag. Through the akeidah, Hashem raised Avraham to the highest levels. He explained further that Adam instilled the evil inclination and physical desires within him and his posterity when he partook of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. These desires continued to intensify until humanity was destroyed by the flood, leaving just Noah and his family. The turn-around was brought about by Avraham, who devoted his life to the dissemination of his faith and the service of Hashem. The Almighty rewarded him with the miraculous birth of Yisshak, born to him at an old age, and instructed him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Yisshak consented and submitted his very life for the Honor of his Creator, thereby reinforcing the power of his spirit and eliminating the force of the physical. In this way, he corrected a substantial portion of the sin of the forbidden tree. Thus, from this point on, it became easier for his offspring to detach themselves from their desires and submit themselves to their Creator, to be His nation and loyal flock. This is the eternal purpose of the akeidah.


Don Hasdai Kreskas zs"l

In the week in which we read of akeidat Yisshak, we recall the many "akeidot" and sacrifices made by our forefathers for the Name of Hashem, and the merit of these martyrs shall work on our behalf and bring an end to our troubles and yield our complete redemption. This is the testimony of Rabbi Don Hasdai Kreskas zs"l, regarding the riots in Spain in the year 5151:

In the year 5151 Hashem poured His anger against the exile of Yerushalayim in Spain. Fire went forth from Syvilia and consumed the stronghold of Israel in the land of Spain. Some of them were killed, most notably Rav Yisshak ben Sussin. Others killed themselves "al kiddush Hashem," among them the Hacham Rav Yehudah ben Asher, a descendant of the Rosh, he, his wife and mother-in-law, the wife of Rabbi Yaakov Ba'al Haturim. Hashem drew the bows of the enemy against the populous communities of Syvilia, where there lived six thousand families. They ignited fire in its gates and killed masses of people. The fire went forth and consumed all the cedars of Lebanon, the sacred community of Kortova.Hashem's anger was then kindled against the sacred city from where Torah and the Word of Hashem went forth - the community of Tolitula, and they killed in the sanctuary of Hashem priests and prophets. Hashem's Name was sanctified through many of its rabbis, including the pure, choice seed of Rabbi Asher zs"l, they, their children and students.Not to mention the other communities in the region, around seventy in number.Hashem devoured mercilessly in the communities of Wallensia, where there lived around one thousand families. Those who died for Hashem's Name numbered around two hundred and fifty, and the rest ran away to the mountains and escaped.From there the plague extended to the community Miorca, and around three hundred souls died for the sanctification of Hashem's Name. Eight hundred people ran away to the fortress. The next Shabbat, Hashem kindled His anger like fire against the communities of Barcelona which was destroyed on that day, and the number of victims reached around two hundred and fifty. Many sanctified Hashem's Name, including my only son, as a perfect sheep he was offered as a sacrifice. I accept upon myself the divine judgment, and I am consoled by his good portion and pleasant lot.In the end, there was not spared a single Jew in the kingdom of Wallensia, as was the case in the region of Catlonia."


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

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Chapter 25: The Halachot of Tefillin

The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (14b-15a) cites the comment of Rabbi Yohanan, "One who wants to completely accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven shall perform his bodily functions, wash his hands, place tefillin, read the shema and pray. And anyone who performs his bodily functions, washes his hands, places tefillin, recites shema and prays is considered as having built a mizbei'ah and offered a sacrifice upon it, as it says (Tehillim 26:6), 'I will wash my hands clean and surround Your altar, Hashem.'"

Rava is cited (Shimusha Rabba) as remarking, "Whoever places tefillin, wraps himself in a tallit, recites shema and prays is guaranteed a place in the World to Come." Abaye is then quoted as saying, "I guarantee him that the fire of gehinnom will have no control over him," and Rav Papa guarantees such a person that all his sins will be forgiven.

Hazal also commented (Zohar Hadash 77a, Tikkunei Zohar Hadash 101b), "Whoever places tefillin and wraps himself in a tallit is considered as having fulfilled all 613 missvot." The Geonim said that there is no missvah greater than wearing tefillin, as the entire Torah - both the written and oral Torah - has been compared to tefillin, as the Torah says (Shemot 13:9). "in order that the Torah of Hashem shall be in your mouth."

The Gemara in Menahot (43b) says, "Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said: whoever has tefillin on his head and on his arm, ssissit on his garment and a mezuzah on his door-post is guaranteed that he won't sin, as it says (Kohelet 4:12), 'and the triple thread will never be torn,' and it also says (Tehillim 34:8), 'The angel of God encamps around those who fear Him and saves them.'"

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (153a) says, "'At every moment your garments shall be white' - this refers to the missvah of ssissit; 'and oil shall never be lacking from your head' - this refers to the missvah of tefillin."

The Rosh (Hilchot Tefillin, 28) writes based on the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17a) that if one's actions were exactly balanced - half sins and half missvot - but included in his missvot is the missvah of tefillin, it weighs down the missvot in his favor. On the other hand, if Heaven forbid the missvah of tefillin is not included among his missvot, the scales are turned in the opposite direction.

The Rambam writes (Hilchot Tefillin 4:25), "The sanctity of tefillin is very great, for so long as tefillin are on a person's head and arm he is humble and God-fearing, and is not led after frivolity and vain talk, and does not think evil thoughts; rather he concentrates his mind on words of truth and justice."



Attached to the hips are the legs, which bear the burden of the entire body. For this reason they must be especially strong. The leg is built from three parts: the thigh, the lower leg and the foot. The thigh is the part of the leg connected to the waist. It consists of a single bone, which is the longest and strongest bone in the human body. The lower leg rests beneath the thigh and consists of two bones. The join between the thigh and lower leg is called the knee. In the front section is found a small, flat bone called the kneecap. It protects the knee when the individual falls and the thigh so that it doesn't bend inward. The leg has a total of 26 bones, 19 muscles, 33 joints and 107 sinews. The bones in the leg constitute a quarter of all the bones in the human body. When walking, a person steps on the ground with two parts of the foot - the heel and front portion. Through the arched area of the foot run nerves and arteries. Thanks to the arched shape of the foot, one does not apply pressure to these nerves and arteries as he walks. The arch also decreases the agitation potentially caused by walking. Some people have flat feet, and therefore experience pain when their foot hits the ground as they walk, the result of pressure on the nerves and arteries in the foot. The heel and front part of the foot bear most of the weight of the human body. Given the fact that the legs are the used so excessively by a person, it is no wonder that they are among the most frequently injured parts of the body.

To strengthen these critical limbs it is highly recommended to exercise, to walk barefoot on sand or soft earth, and pay attention to the quality of one's shoes. Hazal have taught us that one should sell everything he owns in order to purchase shoes for his feet. Once we're talking about Hazal, we must bring to mind their warning regarding missvot that are commonly trampled upon with "the heel." This refers to missvot to which people pay little attention and give little concentration. How can a person trample upon a missvah with his foot? Try to think of a missvah that seems particularly important and worth tremendous effort, and then consider a missvah that appears to be of lesser significance, and it wouldn't be so bad not to invest too much effort into its performance. Hazal teach us that one must invest the same amount into every missvah, since one never knows the reward or value for any given missvah. One must be meticulous with regard to "lighter" missvot just as he is regarding more severe missvot, and apply himself diligently to their fulfillment. In this way, a person can reach as close as possible to perfection in the fulfillment of Hashem's Will.


The Faithful Student (3)

A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk,"
the Story of the Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l

Flashback: A young Jew was caught stealing right in front of the imposing prison in Grodno, a penitentiary known for its harsh treatment of inmates. The thief was Hayyim Simhah Soloveitchik from Mogilov, who claimed that he had been arrested for stealing in his hometown and was banished from the city.

It was enough to glance for just a moment at the boy's face to see that he was not a standard burglar by any means. He came from the family of the rabbi of Volozhin, and was the younger brother of renowned scholar, the "Bet Halevi" zs"l of Brisk, the uncle of the great Rabbi Hayyim zs"l of Brisk.

He himself was a talented scholar, brilliant, sharp and thorough in his studies, his knowledge spanning the entire corpus of Torah knowledge. As he passed by the city of Lomza, he got to know its rabbi, the renowned Mahari"l Diskin zs"l, who came to be known as the "Saraf" of Brisk, and was awed by his greatness. Rather than continuing along his journey, he stayed to learn from the great rabbi and draw from his fountains of wisdom and scholarship.

The rabbi later moved to serve as rabbi in Kovna and Brisk and his student, Rabbi Hayyim Simhah, moved to Mogilov to study under the Malbi"m. One day as he walked through the streets engrossed in his studies, the Polish underground, which struggled to free Poland from the Russian occupation, executed a terror attack. The young scholar continued along, his mind singly focused upon his learning, and did not notice the attack. He didn't see that the street had become empty until he was stopped by the troops. One cannot blame them for not believing him when he claimed that he didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary. They arrested him and brought him in for investigation under torture and threats. Despite it all, they could not get out of him information that he did not possess. They eventually exiled him from the city. Upon his release he was informed that his revered rabbi, who was serving as the rabbi of Brisk, was arrested under false charges and imprisoned in the penitentiary in Grodno. The authorities were willing to accuse him at any price and thus embark upon a campaign of degradation against Torah scholars and leaders, working together with the heads of the enlightenment movement.

His faithful student was dismayed at the news, and headed towards Grodno.

He was resolute in his decision to go to the prison and stay with his rabbi during these difficult, trying times, and serve him as best he could. His plan was now about to be completed. The officer that caught him took him by the arm and placed him in the cell adjacent to the prison office.

To be continued.

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