The Wings of Morning - A Torah Review

Yaacov Dovid Shulman

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Parshas Vayikra


* Rabbi Meir of Premishlan and the Agunah - from a Yiddish book
* The Character of Aaron and of a Torah Scholar - attributed to Eliyahu:a sage of the time of the Talmud or the prophet
* Reciting Hallel: The Original Custom - by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon

from a Yiddish book

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan always suffered a great deal whenever a woman's husband disappeared, leaving her an agunah unable to remarry.

And so whenever an agunah came to him, he would always make a great effort to free her. In consequence, many agunos came to Rabbi Meir.

Once, such an woman came to Rabbi Meir, and he had great empathy for her. But because he could not find her husband, he could do nothing for her.

One day, she wept bitterly before him. She said, "What will be with me? I am still a young woman, but my life is already over."

Rabbi Meir had great pity on her, and he told her, "Go home in peace, and Hashem yisborach will help you on the way."

The agunah left Premishlan. After travelling several verst, she came to an inn, where where she stopped to rest.

While she was there, a soldier rode up on his horse. He tethered the horse outside, came in, and sat down next to the agunah. When she moved away from him, he burst into laughter and said, "Why are you moving away from me? We happen to be close relatives."

And he told her a number of things that only her husband could have known.

She responded by describing things about her husband, and the other people there, hearing this, said that she was describing this soldier.

And finally, the soldier said that she was his wife.

While they were sitting there, another soldier rode up. He tethered his horse next to the other horse and came in.

While the two soldiers sat in the inn, their horses started fighting. Seeing this, the two soldiers began to argue. The argument grew into a fight, and so heated did this fight become that the second soldier killed the first one in the presence of many people.

After this, the agunah returned to Rabbi Meir.

Rabbi Meir said that in truth her husband had long been dead. But because there were no witnesses to his death, the agunah could not be freed. As a result, her husband had been broguht down from the Other World so that there might be witnesses to his death.

And Rabbi Meir gave the woman permission to remarry.

May his merit stand by us so that our beis hamikdash will be rebuilt, quickly and in our days, amen!
Emunas Yisrael, pp. 6-8

attributed to Eliyahu: a sage of the time of the Talmud or the prophet
Aaron knew that a great things could come to the nation of Israel because of him. And so he tied a bronze cable around his waist. [That is to say, Aaron knew that if he were to isolate himself in meditation, he would make infinite spiritual progress. Nevertheless, he "tied a bronze cable around his waist" to hobble himself so that he would be able to help other Jews--cf. Tosafos ben Yechiel.]

Then he visited the house of every Jew. If he found someone who did not know how to recite the Sh'ma or did not know how to pray, he would teach him to recite the Sh'ma and pray. If he found someone who did not know how to enter into the body of Torah, he would teach him.

This trait is not unique to Aaron. It applies to every Torah scholar. When such a person teaches Torah to the Jewish people idealistically--when he does not show favoritism to the rich or the poor, but teaches everyone Tanach and Mishnah, the Holy One, blessed be He, has compassion on him, and gives him wisdom, knowledge, understanding and intelligence. He gives this person a portion with the righteous ones: Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov.

The verse states of him, "After the toil of his spirit, he shall see and be sated. With his knowledge, this righteous one, My servant, shall justify the people...." (Is. 53:11).

As a result, it has been said that a person should always conduct himself with eighteen traits:
1. Be mild with your household [and, it goes without saying, with others--Yeshuos Yaacov].
2. Be pious in your Torah learning [do not rejoice if someone else makes an error in deducing the halachah--Yeshuos Yaacov].
3. Be shrewd in order to attain fear of heaven.
4. Be well-informed in your Torah knowledge.
5. Be intelligent in carrying out good deeds [be aware of the outcome of your well-intentioned actions--Yeshuos Yaacov].
6. Be pleasant and affable to others.
7. Acknowledge your mistakes [in Torah learning--Yeshuos Yaacov].
8. Be true to your intent [for instance, if you intended to pay a certain amount for an item, do not take advantage of the seller's misunderstanding to pay less--Yeshuos Yaacov].
9. Acknowledge your misdeeds and leave them behind.
10. Love G-d completely, whether He is good to you or not.
11. For your entire life, lament over the desecrated honor of the Holy One, blessed be He, [in exile--Yeshuos Yaacov], and over the honor of the people of Israel.
12. Desire, ache and long for the glory of Jerusalem, for the glory of the Temple, and that salvation may blossom soon, and for the in-gathering of the exiles. Then you will attain a holy spirit in your words. As the verse states, "Although the appointed time is still a vision, it will come true in the end and not be false. If it tarries, wait for it...." (Hab. 2:3). And as the verse states, "Return to your G-d. Keep kindness and justice, and constantly hope for your G-d" (Hos. 12:7).
13. Be pleasant when you come to learn in the study hall [speak beautifully, and match your actions to your words--Yeshuos Yaacov], so that you may be loved above and esteemed below, and accepted by others, in order that you may fill your days.
14. Increase your words of Torah, for there is no greater reward than they.
15. Ask questions when you learn Torah in the study hall, so that you may acquire wisdom.
16. Take care that you do not doze off. As the verse states, "The sleepy person wears torn clothing" (Mishlei 23:21) [one's learning becomes "torn" into little pieces, and one forgets it--Yeshuos Yaacov]. There is nothing worse than dozing off in the synagogue and in the study hall. Also be careful not to overeat and overdrink, because these make a person drowsy. As the verse states, "Lest you eat and become satiated..." (Dev. 8:12).
17. Ask a question on a verse or about a halachah even if everyone laughs at you. As the verse states, "If you have become despised, exalt yourself" (Mishlei 30:32). If you have become despised in Torah, you will exalt yourself through it.
18. Bring yourself into the body of Torah, even if you are not knowledgeable or at all familiar with halachah.

A person is told:

Before you seek compassion from heaven that the words of Torah should enter your being, seek compassion for the sins that you have committed, that you be forgiven. And then take care not to act inappropriately. As a result, you will learn Torah and remember it.
Tana Devei Eliyahu, from chapter 13


In the days of the early sages, the custom of reciting Hallel was as carried out as follows:

After the elder leading the Hallel recited the blessing, he began the first word, "Halleluy-ah." The entire congregation responded: "Halleluy-ah!"

He continued, "Praise, servants of Hashem." And the entire congregation again responded: "Halleluy-ah!"

He continued with the next verse: "May the name of Hashem be blessed from now and forever." And the entire congregation again called out: "Halleluy-ah!"

Thus did the recitation continue for every phrase. All in all, the people would exclaim "Halleluy-ah!" 123 times. As a memory device, they would link this to the years of Aaron's life.

In addition, when the reader began each new chapter of Tehillim [Hallel consists of six chapters of Tehillim: 113-118], the people would repeat that opening phrase.

For instance:

When the reader began Tehillim 114, "When Israel came forth from Egypt," all the people repeated, ""When Israel came forth from Egypt."

And when he continued the verse, "The house of Jacob from a foreign nation," all the people reverted to their response, "Halleluy-ah!"

Again, when he began Tehillim 116, "I have loved that Hashem listens to the voice of my pleading," all the people repeated, "I have loved that Hashem listens to the voice of my pleading." [The Rambam skipped the beginning of Tehillim 115--I don't know why.]

And when the reader began Tehillim 117, "Praise Hashem, all nations," all the people repeated, "Praise Hashem, all nations!"

In addition, toward the end of Hallel, when the reader recited, "Please, Hashem, save us!," the people repeated after him, "Please, Hashem, save us!"--even though this is not the beginning of a chapter.

Then he recited the next verse, "Please, Hashem, grant us success!," and the people again responded, "Please, Hashem, grant us success!"

He then began the next verse, "Blessed is he who comes," and all the people repeated after him, "Blessed is he who comes."

A different practice than this prevailed if the person leading the Hallel was a child, a slave or a woman.

In such a case, one would answer after that leader word for word, throughout the entire Hallel.

All this describes the original custom, which it is proper to maintain.

But in these times, whereever I have been, I have seen various, widely disparate customs regarding the reading of Hallel and the people's response.
Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Chanukah III:12-14

All translations and original material. Copyright 1998

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