Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Devarim


"We passed from our brethren, the children of Esav, who live in Se'ir."

Benei Yisrael were instructed not to start up with the descendants of Esav.

Thus, when they were denied entry through their land - the land of Edom - Benei Yisrael had no choice but to turn away and circumvent the country of Edom. "And in Se'ir used to live the Horim, and the children of Esav conquered them and destroyed them, and settled in their stead, just as Yisrael did to its land of inheritance, that G-d gave them." The Humash here equates Esav's settlement in the land of Se'ir with Benei Yisrael's occupation of the Holy Land. The message is, just as we are instructed to honor the settlement of Esav, so will the Al-mighty then honor our settlement and not allow any other nation to occupy our land. "Like it says: Woe unto all the evil neighbors who infringe upon the plot that I [G-d] apportioned to My nation" (Ramban, Devarim 2:12).

For two thousand years, our land lay in fulfillment of the verse, "I will make the land desolate, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled by it" (Vayikra 26:32). Those who wished to settle there and establish a kingdom and autonomy therein were driven away, except for anyone willing to live there as individuals or in tiny groups. We therefore have no reason to fear the attempts to establish an independent country of a foreign and hostile nation in the middle of our country. The eternal promise will be fulfilled until the end has come to every wicked neighbor who undermines our settlement. We are confident in this promise just as we are sure of the eternal promise of our redemption.


In the work "Mora'im Gedolim" (p. 79), it is told of how the Western Wall, the remnant of our Temple, was disclosed in the year 5300, four hundred and sixty years ago. When the Sultan captured Jerusalem, he chose for himself the chamber now used by the Arab judges, called in Arabic the "Mahkamah."

One day he looked out the window and saw an elderly woman carrying a huge sack of garbage, climbing up a heap of garbage next to the building and dragging her collection in front of the heap. The despot was furious at the woman who dared deal with such filth right under the window of his private offices. He ordered his men to bring her to him at once. "What is this that you are doing?" he shouted.

The woman tried to justify herself before the Sultan. "I am a Christian woman and I live far from Jerusalem, a two-day journey. We have a time-honored tradition, dating back to the time of the Romans, that everyone living in Jerusalem brings his garbage to this place every day, those who live in the surrounding areas bring their garbage twice a week, and those living a three-day distance from the city bring their garbage once a month."

The Sultan was awfully curious about this peculiar practice. "Why, what for?" he asked.

She answered, "On this spot stood the house of the G-d of Israel, and the Romans burnt it and destroyed it. Only one wall survived, which the Roman armies were unable to take down. They therefore decreed that it should be covered with mud and garbage, so that an artificial mound be formed to conceal it. In this way, the Temple will be eradicated from memory."

The Sultan was stunned and ordered that the old woman be imprisoned until her story was verified. He instructed his men to surround the area and stop every person bringing garbage to that spot. The guards stopped one person after another and brought each one before the Sultan. Indeed, every person said that this was a ancient custom, though not all of them knew the reason and source.

The Sultan thus ordered the woman's release from prison. He then announced throughout the kingdom that anyone who wants to find favor in the eyes of the Sultan should come to that area of trash near the Mahkamah and follow his lead. An enormous gathering assembled, consisting of men, women, adolescents and children. The Sultan took a bucket and scoop and climbed on top of the mound of garbage. He scooped some trash and poured it into the bucket. Before he came down, he took a couple of handfuls of gold and silver coins from his pocket and threw them onto the mound. Immediately, the onlookers jumped onto the heap in a wild frenzy trying to retrieve the coins. Meanwhile, the Sultan's servants scooped the heap into buckets and carried them outside the southern gate of the city, called "Dung Gate."

They worked this way for a full month until they had finally cleared away the entire heap and reached the ground. Once the pile has been cleared, the Western Wall was revealed in all its glory. The Sultan appointed guardsmen to ensure that anyone who attempts to bring garbage to that spot would be incarcerated. He then called for the rabbi of the Jewish community and warmly asked him to rebuild the Temple, in all its majesty and grandeur, with funding provided by the royal treasury. The rabbi responded, "We thank Your Majesty for his great kindness, but we wait for the Messianic King who will soon be revealed, and he will build the Temple." He did, however, request that the Western Wall be recognized as a place designated for Jewish prayer, a spot where Jews can beg for the rebuilding of the Temple.

We recall this story in honor of "Shabbat Hazon" and the week of Tisha B'Av. Additionally, this truly remarkable story contains within it a powerful lesson, one which we see unfolding right before our eyes, more and more each day.

Just as there is a Beit Hamikdash in the world, so does there exist a "Beit Hamikdash" within a person, in his heart: "They shall make for Me a sanctuary, and I will reside among them"; "They are the Temple of G-d."

Just as the Temple was destroyed on account of our sins, so is the private Beit Hamikdash destroyed as a result of the person's sins. Every sinful thought is like an idol brought into the sanctuary of the Mikdash, and every actual committal of a sin constitutes a unraveling and taking apart of the structure, one brick at a time. However, just as the enemy was unable to tear down the surrounding walls entirely, and the Western Wall withstood all attempts of destruction, so will all the sins never be able to extinguish the Jewish spark, to untie the thread connecting any Jew - no matter who he is - to his Creator. No matter what, there will always be a remnant: "...and on the Mountain of Zion there will be a remnant, and it will be sacred."

Unfortunately, though, at times that remnant is covered with trash, with garbage bags filled to capacity with sins, misdeeds, desires and abominable behavior, all kinds of nonsense and filth. We must take the initiative to clean ourselves from the dirt, and then the Western Wall will once again emerge in all its glory and splendor, and it will serve as place where one prays for the imminent redemption.


" the desert, in the Aravah"

The Or Hahayyim zs"l explains that the desert symbolizes extreme humility, as it remains open to everyone, with no owner to claim possession.

However, one who exhibits such a degree of modesty may refrain from correcting the mistakes of another as a result of his low self-esteem, and will then bear a portion of the sin, for all Jews are responsible for one another.

Therefore, the Torah writes: "These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel, in the desert" - referring to his harsh rebuke. Despite his having been the most humble of all people, characterizing the quality of the desert, nevertheless, "ba'aravah" - related to the word "areivut," mutual responsibility for one another. He was infused with this strong sense of responsibility for his fellow Jews, and therefore overcame his humility and chastised them.

" the desert, in the Aravah"

Rabbenu Mordechai Hakohen zs"l, in his work "Siftei Kohen," writes that one administering rebuke must speak to each individual in a manner appropriate for him. One cannot offer one piece of reproof that will encompass and relate to everyone. Therefore, when Moshe began his words of rebuke to Benei Yisrael, he turned first to one segment of the populace - the "eirev rav" who joined Benei Yisrael in Egypt and were particularly stiff-necked - "bamidbar," which may be read as a combination of two words, "bedibbur mar," in a sharp, critical tone. To the rest of the people, however, he spoke "ba'aravah," which may be related to the word "areiv," pleasant. Moshe rebuked the rest of the nation in a gentle and pleasant manner so that it may enter their hearts and bring about the desired commitment and devotion.

" the desert, in the Aravah"

Rashi explains that "desert" refers to Moshe's rebuke over their sins in the desert, when they asked, "If only we had died in the desert..."

"Aravah" refers to his censure of the incident of Ba'al Pe'or, which took place in Arvot Moav. ("Aravah" alludes to the location of Arvot Moav.)

In this way, Moshe administered reproof through allusions, rather than embarrassing them by explicitly enumerating their misdeeds. The Alshich zs"l questions this approach of Rashi based on Devarim 9:22, where Moshe holds nothing back and rebukes them directly and openly: "And in Taveirah, and in Masah and in Kivrot HaTa'avah, you angered Hashem." He answers that one offering rebuke must calculate his words meticulously, for "just as it is a misvah to say that which will be heard, so is it a misvah not to say that which will not be heard." If they object to his words of reproof, their guilt will intensify even more, and his rebuke will then have resulted in curse rather than blessing. Moshe therefore opened his critique with subtle allusions to see their reaction. If it turned out that they welcomed his reproof, he would continue to rebuke; otherwise, he would stop.

Rabbeinu Ovadia of Bartenura zs"l offers a slightly different approach.

Moshe did not want to open a sefer with direct and overt rebuke, just as Rashi (Bemidbar 9:1) teaches us that Sefer Bemidbar did not begin with the parashah of Pesah Sheni, although such an opening would have been chronologically warranted, since this section involves shame on behalf of Benei Yisrael, who observed only one Pesah in the wilderness.

This approach, too, teaches us that one must not begin his words with sharp words of criticism. Rather, the critique should surface only gradually, over the course of conversation.


The Ar"I zs"l

This Sunday, the first day of the week of Tisha B'Av, the day of destruction caused by our internal conflicts and senseless hatred, marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbenu Yisshak Ashkenazi zs"l. He was known as the Ar"I, an acronym for "Adonenu Rabbi Yisshak." He, too, died on account of the bickering and fighting among people. The Ar"I closed himself off in his courtyard with his students and their families. Each family had a room to itself, and the group of scholars would sit before the rabbi as he revealed profound secrets that were not revealed even to the Tannaim, Amoraim or prophets. The Satan was incapable of entering that courtyard because of the pillar of fire that extended until the heavens. Indeed, this Torah session resembled the initial receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai.

After four months, an argument broke out among the women, who then brought the matter to their husbands. Eventually, the students themselves began fighting with one another. The rabbi tried restoring peace by telling them, "You should know, as long as there is love and fraternity among you, no Satan or heavenly prosecutor can cause us any harm, as Hashem Himself and the Heavenly Hosts protect us. But if you continue to fight, be warned that it will result in calamity." But unknowingly, the women brought their husbands into the dispute and on Friday a fight broke out among the students. The argument reached such a degree that their voices could be heard from afar. At late afternoon, the rabbi went with his students out into the fields to greet the Shabbat, as was there custom. When they returned, he sat to pray arvit with great pain and anguish, as opposed to joy and exuberance that normally characterized the Friday night service.

After the tefilah the students came before the rabbi and asked, "Why was the master praying with such a troubled look on his face?" Sadly, he responded, "Because during kabbalat Shabbat I saw the Satan, and he was reciting the verse, "...both you and your king will be finished" (Shemuel I 12). It seems that he was given permission to take hold of me, and this can be only because of the fighting that occurred today. So long as there was peace among you, no prosecutor or harmful spirit could have affected us." Sure enough, just a few days later the Ar"I took ill and was called to the yeshivah up in the heavens. May his merit protect us, Amen.


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 8: The Laws of Sisit

Reciting the Blessing Over the Tallit After Putting it On

If one's hands were unclean when he wishes to put on his tallit and was therefore unable to recite the berachah, or if one finds himself in an unclean place where reciting a berachah is forbidden, he should put on his tallit without a berachah. When he is later able to recite the berachah, he should feel some strings from the tallit and recite the berachah. If he is planning on putting on another tallit at some later point that day, then he should recite the berachah over the second tallit and have in mind that this berachah should apply as well to the first tallit he had worn earlier. In such a situation, he does not need to feel the strings of the first tallit before reciting the berachah. These halachot apply as well to someone who puts on his tallit before daybreak. [Regarding one who puts on his tallit katan in the morning before washing his hands, we have already mentioned in previous issues that the common practice is not to recite a berachah on the tallit katan at all. Rather, one fulfills the requirement of the berachah for the tallit katan through his berachah over the tallit gadol. However, one who puts on a tallit katan after tefilah, and is not planning on wearing a tallit gadol for the rest of the day, does recite a berachah over the tallit katan, provided it is of a large enough measurement to require sisit according to Torah law. If, in such a situation, one cannot recite the berachah because of his dirty hands or because he finds himself in an unclean place, then he puts on the tallit katan without a berachah and later, when he can recite a berachah, he feels the sisit and recites the berachah.]

Wearing the Strings of the Tallit Katan Under One's Clothing

The common practice among the Sefaradim and Middle-Eastern communities is to wear the tallit katan under one's clothing, including both the garment as well as the sisit themselves. This is the view of the Ar"I zs"l and the Kabbalists. Yeshivah students, too, should not deviate from the custom of their parents and grandparents who have practiced this way for many generations. However, those Ashkenazim who have the custom of wearing the sisit outside their clothing may do so, as they have authorities upon whom to rely.

Although, as we said, the tallit katan should be worn specifically under one's clothing, it should preferably not be worn directly on one's body.

Rather, it should be worn on top of another garment but under one's shirt.

Nevertheless, strictly speaking there is room for leniency in this regard.

Interruption and Diversion of Concentration During the Berachah

One who wears several four-cornered garments, even at the same time, must place sisit on all of them. This is indicated by the pasuk that says (Bemidbar 15:38), "They shall make for themselves sisit, on the corners of their GARMENTS." The plural form of "garments" suggests that sisit must be attached to even many garments, so long as they have four corners.

If one has in mind to wear several four-cornered garments and plans on putting them on one right after the other, he recites a berachah over the first one, and this berachah suffices for the subsequent garments, as well.

However, he must ensure that his concentration is not diverted from the misvah until they have all been worn. If his concentration was diverted, he must recite a new berachah.

However, as explained in previous issues, the custom is not to recite a berachah over the tallit katan in the morning, even though it is worn before the tallit gadol. The reason is that the Aharonim are in dispute with regard to the minimum measurement of a garment required to fulfill the misvah, and we never recite a berachah when its obligation is in doubt.

Therefore, rather than reciting a berachah over the tallit katan - which may be too small according to some views - one recites a berachah only on the tallit gadol, and has in mind that this berachah should apply as well to the tallit katan. However, one who did recite the berachah - "al missvat sisit" - over the tallit katan and had in mind that the berachah should apply as well to the tallit gadol to be worn later, has fulfilled his requirement regarding the tallit gadol and does not recite a new berachah when he puts on the tallit gadol. But if, when he recited the berachah over the tallit katan, the person did not have in mind to fulfill his obligation regarding the tallit gadol, and the tallit gadol was not in front of him when he recited the berachah, he must recite a berachah when he puts on the tallit gadol.


What can I tell you, my good friends, sometimes it seems that we live inside some kind of bubble, isolated from what goes on in the general society. I met a Jew from Tel-Aviv, a young modern man, who felt that he can longer have his children educated in the city. He sensed that the trials confronting the youngsters are simply too difficult for them at such a tender age. He therefore decided to move to nearby Benei Berak and rent out his apartment. He put an ad in the paper and received a host of responses. The majority of those who called were young couples living together without having been married. What's frightening is that this is no longer a rare occurrence, something out of the ordinary. What more, these are the products of the present educational system. We cannot but wonder in terror how the precious first-graders of today will look fifteen years from now. Will they have earrings on their tongues and eyebrows, living lives of outright, unrestrained permissiveness?

As a matter of principle, this man decided he would rent his apartment only to an established family. One family that came under consideration was a single-parent unit, a divorcee with her daughter. And so, they signed a contract and the man prepared for his move. He went over the neighbors to inform them of his relocation. He knocked on the door and said, "We are moving, but don't worry - a very nice family is moving in. They have a daughter the same age as your Telli, and they can walk to school together."

Telli studies in a secular public school. After he told the neighbors the good news, he felt it necessary to add, "This is a single-parent family, a mother and her daughter." He expected some kind of response, but he was not prepared for what he heard: "That's now in style," said the neighbor.

"Sixty-five percent of Telli's grade have only one parent."

He was shocked. He was still stunned the next day, when I spoke with him. "Try to figure out what's going on. There are some single-parent families because the parents were never married, others were married and then separated. The institution of the family faces extinction. But have you thought about the children? In another fifteen or so years, these children will be parents. What kind of memories of parenthood will they carry with them? On what kind of foundation will they build their homes? What will their families look like?"

Indeed, this is frightening. Thankfully, this is not how things are in our society, this is not the case in our schools. But if there was a handful of refugees on an island who saw a boat lost at sea and people sinking, is it enough to say, "Thank G-d we are safe!"? At very least, we would try to allow as many people possible to join our island, to save themselves; to save the integrity of the family unit and the ultimate success and happiness of the children as they join the world of Torah, by being registered in Torah educational institutions.


The Deserted Woman of Jerusalem

A Story From the Work, "The Seraf of Brisk" - The Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l

Flashback: Mahari"l Diskin, known as the "Seraf of Brisk," spent the end of his life in Jerusalem, and was blessed with ru'ah hakodesh. Once when a bar-misvah boy came to receive the rabbi's blessing, he told the boy to take of his tefillin because they were pasul. The boy's father took the boy to Rabbi Moshe Shohet, the sofer who prepared the tefillin, who discovered, much to his horror, that the beautiful parshiyot that he prepared for the tefillin were replaced with leaves from corn-stalks. He took the father to see Baruch Mordechai, the one who made the batim (tefillin-boxes.).

The next hour was a most difficult one for all of them. It was an hour of wonder and anger, cries and outrage. It was a period marked by wails and tears, and pleading for forgiveness. Baruch Mordechai was utterly broken, emotionally. Choking in tears, he told of how the financial difficulties and the pressure of feeding his large family overcame him, and he committed a whole series of sins. He replaced the beautiful parshiyot with cubes of corn stalks and pieces of rags, Heaven forbid, and he sold the parshioyot for full price. Not only did he steal and mislead, but he led his customers to sin, by causing them to wear improper tefillin and recite a "berachah levatalah."

"I will return everything!" he pleaded, "to the very last penny, I will return it all!"

Shocked and aghast, they the two men left and walked out quietly. The word spread quickly throughout the community: anyone who purchased tefillin-boxes from Baruch Mordechai should check their tefillin immediately.

Many sighs of anguish were heard that day in Jerusalem. The sofrim will busy at work as many corn stalks were found in people's tefillin. A group of angry customers gathered around the house of the fraudulent artisan and expressed their harsh resentment over what was done. They demanded their money, they demanded compensation and demanded a fine. People gathered and released their frustration in each other's ears. However, the subject of their conversation disappeared from his home, as if swallowed by the ground.

A few strong men left the gathering and went to Jaffa Gate to see if they can catch him and seize him before he left the city. But investigations reported that a man resembling his description had already rented a wagon and left Jerusalem. His wife, Mereishah, became an "agunah," a deserted woman. She now lived a life of a widow. The embarrassment, which had accumulated so heavily in the beginning, gradually subsided. More recent troubles diverted her attention from the earlier shame. Financial hardship came crashing down on her and her family like a stone wall, as her children asked for food but there was none. She opened a flimsy stand in the vegetable market but was pushed from one place to the next. She managed to sell a little bit to compassionate wives and with great difficulty was able to feed her small children, albeit under difficult conditions of poverty.

Several years of loneliness, poverty and hunger passed. The profits from the small vegetable stand, together with some money from charity, barely sufficed. The time eventually came when the wound was opened once again...

to be continued...


Creatures Living Between the Grains of Sand

People who walk along the sand at the beach on a hot summer day certainly have no idea that they are stepping on tiny creatures hiding in between the grains of sand. The truth is, that within the grains of sand along the beach exists a whole world of its own. Here lives a wide and impressive range of small creatures. In any given handful of moist sand, many small creatures no larger than .1 mm live in hiding and crawl between the grains.

In order to collect these creatures, one needs a net whose holes are much smaller than even the holes of a flour-sifter. These millions of creatures found at the beach don't stop moving for a moment. They crawl and slither, move back and forth, and even swim. Among these fascinating creatures is the nematode. Through a microscope, the nematode looks like a worm that bends in between its two ends. It's covered with small thorns that help it stick itself between the grains of sand. It's color is generally clear, but after it eats it changes to either green or gold. Another creature in the grains of sand looks like a cylinder with arms protruding therefrom.

Behind the arms is a head crowned with six bones that look like tiny thorns.

When this creature, called the kinorhintz, wants to move, the head and arms thrust out and it begins to move in a rowing-like fashion. This motion enables it to climb on top of a grain of sand, which, for a creature its size, is like a skyscraper. Has anyone heard of the turbellarian? These creatures are far more dangerous than the first ones. In their mouth lies hidden a tiny pitcher that can thrust forward and catch any creature it wishes to become its dinner. Many years of research have found that these tiny creatures serve a most critical function, as the "sanitation workers" of the beach. They feed off of bacteria, fungus and other harmful materials that each day wash up on shore. Thus, they are responsible for keeping the beach sanitary.

So, as it turns out, even a microscopic creature serves an important role in serving man. How much more so does man, then, play a critical role in the world. Every Jew must therefore ask himself why he was created, and what is his role in the world. He must search, investigate and seek out his Jewish roots and figure out what Hashem demands of him each day. In this way, he will realize the ultimate purpose - the fulfillment of his job in creation.

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,

provided that this notice is included intact.

Jerusalem, Israel