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Parashat Yitro


There are some very common and familiar concepts that are correct, but require in-depth understanding to properly identify their precise definitions and boundaries. We must understand that they are not always black-on-white. Let us take one touchy issue as an example, that of racism. Racism is criminal and evil - there are not enough words to properly condemn such an attitude. Am Yisrael has suffered so bitterly on its account, millions of Jews have died or were chased after as a result of this ideology. We strongly denounce any manifestation of racism, and for good reason. But now let us consider, does this necessarily mean that there exists no mental difference between different nations? Not only does every nation and society have its own defining characteristics, its own particular qualities and traits - British composure, German precision, Japanese industriousness, and Russian broadmindedness -, but even each tribe among Benei Yisrael has its own character. Each received its own, special blessing from Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbenu in accordance with its own, particular nature and character (as explained by the "He'emek Davar"). They correspond to the twelve different powers of the soul mentioned in the Sefer Hayesirah. More precisely, there are seventy particular powers in the soul, and corresponding thereto seventy members of Yaakov's family descended to Egypt, parallel to the seventy nations of the world, each one rooted in one of the seventy powers of the soul that defines that nation (as explained in "Sidkat Hasadik," 47:161).

Rejecting racism does not mean considering everyone exactly equal and similar to one another. This is simply not the case. Rather, it means that although another person is different from me, I do not as a result hate him or try to bring harm upon him. To the contrary, the prophets feels the pain of other nations and lament their suffering: "My heart cries for Moav" (Yeshayahu 15); "My heart moans for Moav like flutes" (Yirmiyahu 48); "Sing lamentation for Sor" (Yehezkel 27); "All the prophets employed the attribute of mercy for both Yisrael and the gentiles" (Bemidbar Rabbah 20); "The good gentiles have a portion in the world to come" (Tosefta Sanhedrin 13). In fact, the gentile nations had prophets of their own, such as Noah and Iyov, as well as sadikim (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Zuta 20), and even those possessing ru'ah hakodesh (ibid., 9). Nevertheless, gentiles are gentiles and Jews are Jews; their characters are different by their very natures. Am Yisrael possesses good qualities from its very inception: "The signs of Yisrael, the sacred nation, are that they are modest, compassionate and performers of kindness. Whoever features brazenness or cruelty, or who despises people and does not perform kindness for them - must be suspect of being a gentile (Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 19:17). Converts to Judaism receive from the Al-mighty Jewish qualities, as explained in Yebamot (79). The Hid"a zs"l writes in the name of the Kabbalists that the source from where the souls of Yisrael are hewn is different from that of the souls of other peoples (see Tosafot, Avodah Zarah 5a).

Recognizing these differences does not at all involve any form of racism. We are not chasing after anyone; we respect every human being. "Beloved is the human being, who was created in the image," but we know that "Beloved are Yisrael, who are called sons of the Al-mighty." Fortunate are we, how great is our lot, "For His nation is Hashem's portion; Yaakov is His allotment." This is of what we were informed before Matan Torah: "You shall be a treasure for Me from all the nations." Our nation is chosen, by its essence and qualities, by its core and its tendencies (see Or Hahayyim on this pasuk). Therefore, when Ezra returned from the exile and found that the remnants of the Jews in Eres Yisrael had intermarried, he rented his clothing, pulled out his hair and was tormented. He fasted and did not put himself to rest until he managed to eliminate the phenomenon (Ezra 9). How awful it is that specifically in our days this plague has returned and become widespread, after two thousand years of wandering. Even in the Jewish State has the plague taken hold and have the differences between us and the other nations become blurred. We must preserve our uniqueness, and continue being Hashem's treasured nation!

It is no secret that our country is flooded with hundreds of thousands of gentiles, most of whom came from other nations and many carrying forged Jewish identification cards. They made for themselves some anonymous Jewish grandparent or went through some fictitious conversion process that carries no weight whatsoever as far as halachah is concerned. One who marries a non-Jewish woman is punishable by "karet" (the same punishment as desecrating Yom Kippur) and is called "one who desecrates the sacred of Hashem" and considered worse than one violating any other sexual prohibition (Rambam, Hilchot Issurei Bi'ah 12:7). The Rambam adds that "this causes one to become attached to the gentiles from whom the Al-mighty has separated us, to turn away from Hashem and rebel against Him."

Moreover, these marriages are destined to failure from the outset. "The One who separated between sacred and profane, between light and dark - He is the One who separates between Yisrael and the other nations!" Just as no combination between sanctity and profanity or light and dark is possible, so can there be no true, deep partnership between a Jew and gentile woman. Their natures are different, their qualities oppose one another, and their differences are essential ones, as the ancient saying goes, "Every bird dwells with its own species - and a person with someone similar to him" (Baba Kama 92a). One who concerns himself with the future and cares about his progeny will ascertain the Jewish identity of the other side, and, if need be, seek a true conversion.


In our parashah we receive the sacred Torah "with dread and fear, with trembling and sweat," as Hazal describe. For some reason, though, the Torah saw fit to first tell of Yitro's visit and establishment of a judicial network (despite the fact that Yitro came to the wilderness only after Matan Torah - see Zevahim 116, and Ibn Ezra and Ramban in the beginning of the parashah). This teaches us that there is a precondition to the receiving of the Torah, and that is proper respect and reverence to the revered leader and giant of the generation, the loyal shepherd who bears the nation's burden. The nation must do what it can to alleviate the leader's burden and take part in the responsibilities, to help preserve his strength that is so critical for the nation's well-being. The nation must realize that the leader is prepared to devote all his time and energy, as Moshe Rabbenu says, "When they have an issue they come to me, and I adjudicate between a man and his comrade, and I teach them the laws of G-d and His Torah." An example of this dedication is the leader of the generation Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, who answers to every inquirer and rules on every issue of halachah. He gets involved where he is needed and guides with his advice anyone who comes to him, be it an individual or community. We must make an effort to alleviate his burden, to preserve his precious time and energy, to work on his behalf to increase Torah study and restore the glory to its proper place. Any difficult issue is brought to him, for his ruling and guidance. Fortunate are the ones who serve as is emissaries!

Extraordinary Rains

When Jews pray for rain and long for a rainy season, they generally do not imagine that there are strange, far from ordinary types of rain. There is rain of fish and frogs, rain of oranges and other fruits, rains of coins and other rains. The inevitable question arises, what causes these irregular rains? The cause of these rains is an unsympathetic wind, which in America is called a tornado. The tornado is an unwanted occurrence in several regions throughout America. It is essentially a whirlpool of winds inside other winds. Its outer layer progresses straight ahead at a speed of 100-200 kph, sweeping up and destroying anything in its path. Inside the outer layer of the tornado, a spiral force turns at very high speed, drawing all the matter swept up by the outer layer. The whirlpool of air inside the tornado turns at a speed of 50-70 meters a second, and any creature caught inside - a rabbit, frog, house or car - turns and spins at dizzying speed. The tornado effectively raises any creature that happens to stand in its way, including frogs, fish, coins and fruit, to the height of the clouds, and then they all descend down to the ground together with the raindrops. In fact, one tornado managed to expose a treasury of coins that had been buried not too deep in the ground. The whirlpool drew the coins and raised them to the clouds, which carried the coins with them until they deposited them into a Russian village.

Ancient people who encountered this frightening phenomenon for the first time reacted with shrieks of terror. The reason for this has to do with the simple fact that they had no explanation for this force of nature, at least no rationale with which they felt comfortable. As it turned out, their ignorance regarding the nature of rain became the cause of their fear and trepidation. When it comes to Judaism, too, many people experience fear as a result of their ignorance. However, one can overcome this fear far more easily than he can understand how fish or coins descend like rain. For this one does not need special research or prominent scientists to explain what Judaism or teshuvah is. One can receive answers to all these types of questions from great rabbis, and then he will merit the peace of mind reserved for those who trust in Hashem: "One who trusts in Hashem - kindness will surround him."

Rambam Alfasi zs”l

As we know, the title "Alfasi" is the name by which we refer to Rabbenu Yis’hak of the city of Fez, among the great Rishonim who lived around one thousand years ago and arranged the final rulings in the Talmud in sequence of the "sugyot" in the Gemara. The Rambam, Rabbenu Moshe Ben Maimon zs"l, Rabbenu Yis’hak's student's student, was born in Cordova, Spain and his light shone in Egypt and continued radiating for generations to come.

Hundreds of years later shone the light of the great sage Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, head of the rabbinical court in Fez, Morocco, who earned the title "Rambam Alfasi." He fathered the distinguished Ibn Danan family, which earned widespread repute for its generations of scholars and sacred sadikim.

It is told that the office of the rabbinical court in the city was situated adjacent to the offices of the "Kadi" - the Moslem magistrate. One day a Moslem came and posed the following question: as he bowed down during prayers, his hand accidentally touched a Jew. The Kadi shuddered and ordered the man to wash his hands seven times and repeat his prayers. Another Arab then came and told the Kadi that as he was praying he saw a Jew. The judge ruled that the prayer was to be considered null and void, and the man must therefore pray once again. The head of the rabbinical court was angered by what he heard, so he asked two members from the Jewish community to come before him with questions. The first man came and asked, a mouse fell and drowned in a barrel of wine. What is the halachah? The rabbi answered, "Just remove the mouse, and the wine may be drunk." Then the second Jew approached and asked, an Arab touched the wine - what is the halachah? The rabbi responded that the wine is forbidden.

The Kadi heard and was incensed. He accused the rabbi of ridiculing the Islam religion and sentenced him to burning at the stake. But when the fire was lit, it burst forth and consumed those who lit it; the rabbi was saved. That night, the Kadi died, and the rabbi fled the country and escaped to Egypt.

The Scorpion’s Bite - a continuing saga - Part Seven
taken from the work, “Hasaraf Mi’Brisk”

FLASHBACK: The man who rebelled against his nation and religion, composing a book of heresy and incitement funded by the missionaries, eventually performed teshuvah and spent his final days tormented by feelings of remorse and heartbreak. He flickered like a candle, and just before his death he asked his daughter, in whose home he lived, to listen to his confession. He related that his family hails from the city of Altuna, Germany, where the prominent sage Rav Yehonatan Eibshiss served as rabbi. In the city also lived Rav Yaakov Emden zs"l, who zealously pursued the remnants of the Sabbatean movement, a campaign that led him to suspect even those innocent of any involvement in this sect. As a result, a bitter conflict erupted between him and the local rabbi. As far as Rav Yaakov Emden was concerned, this battle was entirely for the sake of Hashem, conducted with sincere intentions and purity of heart. The former heretic's daughter now related this entire incident to Rav Binyamin Diskin.

Among his supporters and admirers, the woman continued, there were those who loved the stormy conflict, the sense of contention, the spirit of argumentation and the fire of controversy. They felt not the fiery zealousness for Hashem's honor, but rather the affection for discord and hostile controversy. My father's father was among Rav Yaakov's staunch supporters and, graced with a sharp, witty writing style, he devoted his pen to the service of the conflict.

It was at this time when my father was born, and when he turned eight days old a new pamphlet was published castigating the local rabbi, written by my grandfather. The book was entitled, "The Scorpion's Bite." As the guests arrived in the author's house to celebrate the berit milah of his newborn son, they rejoiced not only over the great simhah of the berit, but also over the publication of the booklet, which added fuel to the flames of enmity towards the city' rabbi. They noted that the publication's coinciding with the joyous occasion of the berit signaled that the newborn will grow in his father's path. The guests celebrated joyously and called their rabbi, Rav Yaakov Emden zs"l, to recite the berachot.

He said, "Undoubtedly, the merit of the booklet and its effect will serve to illuminate the path of the newborn boy throughout his life!"

When these words came before the embattled rabbi, Rav Yehonatan Eibshiss zs"l, he said, "Indeed, I join the berachah."

My father, the newborn baby at the time, knew nothing of all this until he became a bar misvah. At that point his father related to him the entire incident and said, "I see, my son, that you, too, possess a great talent for writing. Make sure to take advantage of this skill properly." At this point in the story, continued the woman, my father began trembling like a leaf in the wind, and his voice became steadily weaker. We all stood enraptured by the tension of the story, and we had to lean over him in order to hear the rest.



"Do not covet"

Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l writes: "Many people have wondered about this misvah, how can it be that a person will not covet something nice in his heart, whatever appears pleasing in his eyes? I will therefore now give you the following parable. Clearly, a villager with wisdom and intelligence who sees the beautiful princess will not desire her in his heart to marry her, for he knows that it is inconceivable, just as one does not desire wings to fly in the sky.

Similarly, any intelligent person must realize that a person does not find a match or money through his wisdom or talent, but rather as the Creator allotted for him. As Kohellet said (2:21), 'For there is a person who exerted himself in wisdom, knowledge and talent - but his portion will be given to the one who did not exert himself in this regard.' Hazal likewise say (Moed Katan 28a), 'Life, children and livelihood are dependent upon fortune,' referring to a gift from the Heavens. Therefore, the intelligent man will neither covet nor desire, but rather feel content over his lot. He will not allow his heart to covet or desire that which is not his, for once the Creator decided not to give it to him, he cannot take it with his strength, thoughts or tactics. He should therefore trust in his Creator that He will sustain him, and he should do that which is good in His eyes."

The sadik Rav Meir Hadash zs"l, the "mashgi'ah" of Yeshivat Hevron, would say: "The Ibn Ezra answered that a person is like a villager, who would never think of desiring the princess. But we explain to the contrary: a person is a prince - how would he long for the village girl, the vanities and nonsense of this world?"

"Do not covet"

The "Bet Halevi" zs"l cites the aforementioned comments of the Ibn Ezra zs"l, and adds a different answer to the question of how Hashem can prohibit desiring the property of others in one's heart. Imagine, he writes, a person whose sole desire is to acquire a spectacular horse of unmatched strength and power, in which he can pride himself before everyone around him. One day he walked outside the city along the banks of the frozen river, when suddenly he saw the horse of his dreams on the opposite side of the river, near the forest. He ran to catch the horse and fulfill his dream, but he slipped on the coating of snow and ice on the river and fell on his face. At that moment, he was gripped by such fear and terror that he immediately forgot about the horse; in an instant, his dream vanished. Similarly, writes the "Bet Halevi" zs"l, once the Torah warned against coveting the property of others, and one who violates the Torah ends up in Gehinnom, how can a person possibly think of something he desires - as he slips and falls into the awful fires!

Indeed, it once happened that the rav of Brisk zs"l told over this idea from his grandfather before one of the great scholars of "mussar," who was inspired by the powerful insight. The rav of Brisk told him, "My grandfather did not say this as a beautiful idea - he actually felt and sensed it!"

"Do not covet"

Rabbenu Behayei zs"l cites in this context the following passage in the Midrash: "Whoever covets that which does not belong to him - what he desires is not given to him and what he currently owns is taken from him." He adds, however, that one form of coveting is, in fact, permissible, and that is the desire for Torah and misvot, as Hazal write, "Jealousy among scholars increases wisdom." This form of coveting and desire is permissible, and, moreover, a person earns reward on account thereof!

A Letter of Encouragement from Rav Aryeh Deri shlit”a

Dear Brothers -

When our great leader Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a established the sacred movement dedicated to restoring the glory of Torah to its proper place, there were those who opposed the idea, arguing that it would cause further fragmentation and divisiveness. They were appalled by the idea of bolstering the heritage of eastern Jewry and its religious spirit. They had no claims against its liturgy, customs or different halachot. The anger was aroused by the breaking down of the great dream of the melting pot, by which everyone would wear the same seal, the seal of enlightened Western culture. Everybody would express themselves as diplomats from birth and conduct themselves with refined, Western protocol. And behold, half the nation arises and seeks the right to express themselves in a more popular manner, to act with warmth that bursts forth from the heart. They do not speak with terms used in pharmacies nor react to things with the silence of paralysis. In truth, we plead guilty! True, our culture is different and perhaps even opposing, but let us look and see: who carries the ancestral heritage, who represents the rooted Judaism from generations past? And how will we know, after two thousand years of exile? From this week's parashah. Am Yisrael stands at the foot of Har Sinai, which had been marked off-limits. If this were a Western nation, with disciplined manners and proper etiquette, would there be any need to warn the people against storming towards the mountain, or against even touching it, threatening them with a death sentence and then repeating, "... lest they break forth to Hashem to see, and many people from them will fall" - teaching us that people must be warned before and during the relevant time (Rashi)? In the end, the Keli Yakar (Devarim 1:22) teaches us, the nation was criticized for having maintained relative discipline and order!

More generally, no other incident like Ma'amad Har Sinai can teach us that the Al-mighty does not want cold, restrained service. This event included sounds and lightening, a thick cloud, smoke as if rising from a furnace, a loud blast of the shofar and an awesome, intensifying sense of fear and dread - to the point where Benei Yisrael's souls left them! We are commanded to always remember these sounds and this fire: "... the day that you stood before Hashem your G-d at Horev... and the mountain burned with fire until the heart of the heavens - darkness, clouds and fog" (Devarim 4:11). Is this not an event featuring nothing but heart and emotion, warmth and excitement? Is this not our approach since time immemorial - and from now and forever!

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 of Tefillin Relevant to a Mourner (cont.)

On the second day of mourning the mourner must wear tefillin even if new people come to comfort him, meaning, people who had not come earlier. He may put on the tefillin even in their presence, not to mention that he need not remove his tefillin should he be wearing them when they come.

The Halachot of Tefillin Relevant to Those Experiencing Discomfort, Those Who Cannot Concentrate, and Those Involved in Torah Study

One who experiences discomfort or cannot properly concentrate is exempt from the misvah of tefillin, because it is forbidden to divert one's attention while wearing tefillin. Even one experiencing discomfort from the cold is exempt from the misvah of tefillin. According to the Shulhan Aruch, this applies even if the individual can direct his thoughts and wear tefillin without diverting his attention therefrom. Some Aharonim, however, hold that one who can direct his thoughts properly must wear tefillin. Those stringent in this regard are deserving of blessing.

In any event, if one experiencing discomfort wishes to conduct himself stringently and wear tefillin, he may do so.

One who is involved in Torah study is exempt from the misvah of tefillin throughout the day, except for the time when he recites shema and tefilah. One whose sole occupation in Torah learning who wishes to study Torah while wearing tefillin all day may do so, so long as he does not divert his attention to other matters while wearing tefillin.

The Prohibition Against Removing Tefillin in One's Rabbi's Presence

A student may not remove his tefillin in the presence of his rabbi from whom he learned the majority of his Torah. He must rather turn to another side and remove his tefillin not his rabbi's presence. Even if his rabbi removed his tefillin first, the student may not remove his tefillin in his presence.

If the student leans a little bit to another side, such that he is not exposed to his rabbi, he may be lenient. However, if he removes his tefillin close to sunset, then in any situation the student should not remove his tefillin before his rabbi does.

The Halachot of Tefillin Relevant to a Groom

The widespread custom among Am Yisrael is that the groom and all his friends rejoicing with him at his wedding wear tefillin and recite shema and tefilah, even on the wedding day itself. They must exercise extreme care to ensure not to engage in frivolity or levity while wearing tefillin.

The Halachot of Tefillin Relevant to Those Writing Sifrei Torah or Involved in the Sacred Work

Those who write Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot, as well as their salesmen and all those involved in the sacred work, are exempt from the misvah of tefillin throughout the day whereas someone involved in a misvah is exempt from other misvot. They must, however, wear tefillin during the time of shema of tefilah, in order that they properly accept upon themselves the yoke of Heaven. (Nowadays in any event we do not wear tefillin all day long, only during the recitation of shema and tefilah.)

According to the custom of the Ashkenazim, this exemption applies only to situations where the scribe began writing before the time of shema and tefilah had arrived. Once the time set in, however, one may not begin writing. Merchants who sell Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot, who, as stated, are also exempt from the misvah of tefillin, are exempt only when they work in this field for the sincere sake of Heaven, for the misvah involved of providing these items to others. If, however, they work in this field primarily to earn a livelihood, they must wear tefillin.

One in Excommunication, A Leper, and One Who Experienced an Emission With Regard to Tefillin

Lepers and those in excommunication must wear tefillin during shema and tefilah, but they should not recite the berachah.

One who experienced a nocturnal emission may and in fact must wear tefillin. The same applies to all forms of tum'ah (ritual impurity). However, one who experienced an emission must clean himself therefrom before putting on tefillin.

Eliyahu Ben Masudah & Yaakov ben Senyar

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