Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 23   No. 43

This issue is sponsored by Family Osborne
In honour of the Bris of their grandson
Yehuda ben Avraham Yeshaya n"y
k'shem shenichnas labris ken yichnas l'torah l'chupa u'l'maasim tovim

Parshas Matos

The Three Monkeys

The three Haftarahs that we are currently reading begin with the words "The words of Yirmiyahu", "Listen to the word of Hashem" and "Vision of Yeshayahu", respectively, epitomizing the faculties of hearing, sight and speech.

Interestingly, these same three faculties are depicted in the three proverbial Chinese Monkeys, which portray the powerful lesson - not to speak evil, not to hear evil and not to see evil.

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The three week mourning period commemorates the breaching of the walls on the seventeenth of Tamuz and the destruction of the Beis-ha'Mikdash on Tish'ah-be'Av, as is hinted in the almond branch that was shown to Yirmiyah ha'Navi. (The almond tree, the fastest of all fruit-trees to grow from blossoms, takes three weeks to grow into fruit.) How befitting then, to read about the faculties that brought about the terrible calamity from which we suffer to this day. Moreover, based on Chazal who teach us that 'Every generation in which the Beis-ha'Mikdash is not rebuilt, is guilty as if it had been destroyed in its time', those same faculties are still with us today, and preventing the coming of Mashi'ach and the building of the Third Beis-ha'Mikdash.

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The fact that each of the above faculties is situated in the head highlights their significance, and should serve as a warning to mend our ways and to use these assets correctly. If we briefly examine each of the faculties independently, we will understand the vital role that they play in our lives for better, and often, unfortunately, for worse. And we will see the importance that the Torah attaches to each of them. The following are random excerpts from Pesukim and Ma'amarei Chazal in this connection:

Hearing: The first thing a Jewish child says - and the last - is "Sh'ma Yisrael", an indication that to listen is the greatest thing a Jew can do. The Mishnah in Bava Kama (85b) teaches us that although, regarding all other limbs, one must pay damages relative to the wound - "an eye for an eye", "a tooth for a tooth" - someone who deafens his fellow-Jew must pay his entire value.

Vision: In the Parshah of Tzitzis, the Torah warns us not to go astray after our hearts and after our eyes. The heart and the eyes, Chazal explain, are the two spies of the body; the eyes see, the heart desires and the body acts. Hence a good heart and a good eye are two of the most important assets towards which we must strive, and equivalently, two of the major evils from which one must distance oneself, as the Mishnah teaches in Pirkei Avos (2:13 & 14). They also explain 'after one's eyes' with reference to adultery; and this goes hand in hand with another saying of Chazal which declares, based on a Pasuk in Ki Seitzei (23:15), that immodest dress and lewdness causes the Shechinah to depart from us.

Speech: The wisest of all men, Sh'lomoh ha'Melech, made no bones about the power of speech, when he said in Mishlei (18:21) "Death and life lie in the hands of the tongue". Furthermore, the Mitzvah of Torah-study is the greatest Mitzvah (as we say every morning in Shachris), and correspondingly, the greatest sin is Lashon ha'Ra, in its various forms.

It is also no coincidence that the first sin was that of Lashon ha'Ra, and so too, were the vast majority of sins that our ancestors committed in the desert.

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The question arises how to avoid sinning. The Chinese have warned us to speak, hear and see no evil. But how? In today's world, where free speech is cheap and undesirable images readily available to one and all, what must we do to avoid being caught up in situations that were considered taboo just a generation ago?

The answer lies in the words of the Navi that we quoted earlier "The words of Yirmiyahu", Listen to the words of Hashem" and "The vision of Yeshayahu".

The message conveyed by the Nevi'im is that to avoid doing what is wrong one must do what is right. It is only as long as a person's mind is empty of positive thoughts that he will find time to fill it with sinful thoughts. A person who spends his time learning Torah, Davenning, saying Tehilim or offering kind words to those who need encouragement, will not have time, indeed will not have any interest, in talking negatively. Someone who listens to Divrei Torah and who attends Shi'urim will not have the time or patience to listen to harmful speech or to idle chatter. And as long as one spends one's time in the presence of Talmidei-Chachamim, watching them and learning from them, or as long as one spends one's time poring over one's Gemara, the chances of his seeing things that he should not see are virtually nil.

In a nutshell, the cup needs to be filled (a person's time must be occupied). The secret of keeping it free of poisonous products is by filling it with wine. If one constantly speaks good, hears good and sees good, one will automatically avoid speaking evil, hearing evil and seeing evil.

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Parshah Pearls

Some General Halachos of Neder

Unlike Hafaras Nedarim (the nullification of the nedarim of a wife or a daughter by her husband), Hataras Nedarim ( the nullification by a Beis-Din of Neder undertaken by any man or woman), is not written specifically in the Torah. The Chachamim derive it from the words in the current Parshah (30:3) "He shall not negate his words" - insinuating that others can.

The following basic Halachos are loosely translated from the Rambam in Hilchos Nedarim (13:23-25).

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If a person makes a neder in order to remedy his (distorted) ideology or to rectify his bad deeds, this is commendable. For example, a glutton who makes a vow not to eat meat for a year or two, or an alcoholic who vows not to drink wine for a long period of time or never to become drunk again. Similarly somebody who is addicted to amassing a fortune who vows not to accept gifts or any other benefit from others, or if a person who is vain with regard to his/her good looks and makes a Neder to become a Nazir (though this is problematic nowadays).

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Even though the above are acts of Avodas Hashem, one should not often make nedarim- it should not become a habit and rather abstain from the issues that one wants to avoid without a Neder (except when the neder will help him to abstain from it.)

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The Gemara in Chulin (2a) compares making a Neder to building a Bamah (an altar - nowadays, when altars are no longer permitted), and keeping the neder (as opposed to nullifying it) to sacrificing on it. In other words, having transgressed and made a neder that is not absolutely necessary, it is a Mitzvah to appear before a Beis-Din, or a Rav who is fully acquainted with the Dinim of Nedarim, to have it nullified , in order to remove the stumbling-block that a neder creates. If the Neder doesn't exist, one cannot transgress it!

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What we just said is confined to Nedarim of Isur; it does not extend to Nedarim of Hekdesh (incorporating Tzedakah and Nidrei Mitzvah - such as a a donation following after being called up to the Torah), which it is a Mitzvah to fulfill, and which one should not annul, except in cases of emergency - as we say in Hallel "I will pay my Nedarim to Hashem".

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It is also a Mitzvah to make a Neder in time of danger - such as an undertaking to give Tzedakah, to fast or to learn Torah. If necessary, even if one promises to do so after the danger has passed, it is considered as if he has already fulfilled his vow, and is likely to bring about his salvation.

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It goes without saying that, even when making one of the above Nedarim that are permitted, one should only do so if one is hundred per cent sure that he will in fact, fulfill his undertaking.

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