Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Hukat-Balak

Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a has called for everyone to pray and plead on behalf of our brethren in Iran, specifically the prisoners and their families, that the Almighty should redeem them speedily and release them from this crisis.

We know that so long as the voices of Benei Yisrael are heard in the Batei Midrash, the hands of Esav have no power over us (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 3:8). Furthermore, the armies of Sanheriv collapsed on account of the widespread Torah study during the time of Hizkiyahu (Sanhedrin 94), and David HaMelech defeated his enemies in battle when the gates of Yerushalayim were filled with the study of Torah (Yerushalmi, Pei'ah 1:1).

Therefore, let us make an extra effort this Shabbat to pay careful attention to the Torah reading, so that the merit of our learning will benefit our brethren in captivity, that they may soon be released from darkness to light, from captivity to freedom. This is about all we can do on their behalf, but it has the capacity to arouse divine mercy and salvation.

One who is distressed over the crises suffered by Benei Yisrael merits to see their ultimate consolation.


After Aharon's death, the nation turns around to circumvent the country of Edom. Along the way, the people became weary from the difficult travel conditions. As Rashi explains, the people began complaining, "We were so close to entering the land, and now we're turning around and going the other way. This is like our parents who turned around and then spent thirty-eight years until today." Their bitterness led them to complain against the man, and Hashem punished them by sending poisonous snakes against them: "Let the snake, which was punished for slander, come and bring retribution against those who slandered. Let the snake, for whom all tastes taste like dirt, come and bring retribution against those ungrateful for the one thing [i.e. the man] that changes into many different tastes" (Rashi).

It seems, though, that the punishment of the snakes corresponds as well to their inappropriate whining about the difficulties of travel. Not every reversal necessary involves a retreat. The snake progresses along consistently, no matter how crooked or twisted its path of travel might be. The Torah is eternal, and its lessons are pointed at us. The redemption is near, it awaits right "behind the wall." Even if it seems that suddenly the tides have turned in the wrong direction, that the situation is deteriorating, Heaven forbid, we must never despair as our ancestors did in the wilderness. We must not groan about the situation or speak negatively. We must remember that Hashem continues to guide and direct, and, soon enough, the light will break through the darkness.


Next week begins summer vacation here in Israel, followed by the new school year. Once again we will send our children, our most precious possessions, to school.

There is nothing in the world worth more to parents than their children. After all, for our own livelihood we would not have to work so hard, to the point where our strength has been practically depleted. We could live comfortably, easily, reserve more hours for rest and leisure. But we accept this burden gladly, with hope and anticipation for a lot of "nahat" from our children, to earn their love and see them grow and establish themselves, to witness the progress and flowering of our dear offspring. We hope to prepare them adequately for the difficult challenges of life, and we know full well that life is difficult and tiring, and it continues to get more difficult, complex, demanding and even, at times, cruel. The relentless pursuit of higher standards of living exhausts us, and often becomes depressing and overbearing. Those who succeed are ruthless, bitter, harsh and uptight - certainly those who don't succeed!

So, how can we properly prepare our children for all this? There is a story of a mother who brought her only daughter to the huppah, full of tearful emotion and love. Full of hope and prayers for the future, one step before the huppah she turned to her daughter and said, "My dear daughter, what haven't I given you? I provided you with an education, I taught you proper manners and conduct, I purchased your clothing, I fed you, I bought you a furnished apartment, and I even listed you as my only inheritor.

There remains only one thing I need to give you - a bit of luck.

How true it is, we cannot give our children luck. But we can provide them with the capability to deal with the challenges of life, the wherewithal to withstand the many tests they will undoubtedly confront. The true fortification is the acquisition of faith, firm belief that helps to overcome everything and persevere during every challenge. This faith can be established only in Torah educational institutions. Only parents who send their children to religious schools, where the students receive an education based on the values of our faith, can rest assured that their children will have the necessary tools to withstand any challenge in life, and will stand firm and strong through even the most difficult of times.


"Rise, o well, sing to it, the well dug by dignitaries"

The Tosefta (Sukkah 3:3) says: "The well that was with Yisrael in the wilderness resembled a rock filled with holes, like a sieve, fluttering and rising...It rises with them to the mountains and descends with them to the valleys. Wherever Yisrael encamp, the well encamps opposite them on a high place, opposite the door to the Ohel Moed. The Nesi'im of Yisrael come and surround it with their staffs and sing for it: Rise, o well, sing to it, rise o well. The water would then bubble and ascend as a pillar upwards, and each one took his staff, each according to his tribe and family, as it says, 'the well dug by dignitaries.' It, too, then surrounded the entire camp of Israel and irrigated the entire wasteland, as it says, 'it overlooks the entire wasteland.' It then becomes streams, as it says, 'and streams gushed' (Tehillim 78:20) and they sat in boats and came next to each other, as it says, 'it flowed as a stream in the parched land' (Tehillim 105:41)."

Eliyahu Hanavi said (Eliyahu Rabbah 13): "Blessed is the Al-mighty Who repays reward to those who love and fear Him, the way of the land in this world while the principal remains for the World to Come. As reward for the jug of water with which the angels [who visited Avraham] washed their feet, the Al-mighty provided Benei Yistrael with a well for the entire forty years in the desert.

"How did this happen? When Yisrael performed the will of the Al-mighty, the well would get up and walk and flow from the place where Yisrael were encamped. And when Yisrael did not perform the will of the Al-mighty, it would be delayed one hours, two, three, four, five - until small children [who never sinned] and Torah scholars would go out and say, 'Rise, o well' - in the merit of Avraham, Yis'hak and Yaakov; 'Rise, o well' - in the merit of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. Then it would go and flow from tribe of Yehudah to the tribe of Yissachar, as it says, 'the well dug by dignitaries.' At that moment there was great joy for Yisrael, from the oldest to the youngest."

Just think about how much Hashem rewarded Avraham 's descendants, seven and eight generations later. For forty years, water flowed and provided the needs for hundreds of thousands, as reward for just a single pitcher of water. All this constituted just the "fruits reaped in this world." Imagine how great is the principal reward, which remains to be paid in the World to Come, for the one who actually performs the misvah himself! As Hazal state (Sanhedrin 100a), a person gives a handful to a pauper in this world, and the Al-mighty gives him a handful [of the Creator himself] in the World to Come!

"How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael"

The Alshich zs"l explains that Bilam here prophesies about the spiritual influence produced by the mishkan and the Bet Hamikdash. "How good are your tents, Yaakov" refers to the mishkan in the wilderness and the one in Shiloh; "your dwelling places, Yisrael" refers to the two Batei Mikdash.

As we know, the divine spirit extends from the heavens to the site of the Mikdash. Therefore, the pasuk continues, "like streams that stretch" - the stream of kedushah extended to the mishkan, as it traveled, "like gardens on a river." However, once the Bet Hamikdash was built, the divine spirit affected it directly: "like aloes planted by Hashem, like cedars beside the water." But what about nowadays, when we don't have a Bet Hamikdash? "Their boughs drip with water" - and water always refers to Torah. In other words, in the merit of the Torah that "drips" from one person to another, "and its seed has abundant water" - the education of our children according to the foundations of Torah, we merit the infusion of the Shechinah into our midst.

"How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael"

Rabbeinu Behayei zs"l explains this pasuk in accordance with Kabbalah. "Ohalecha" - your tents - refers to light, as it states in Iyov (29:3), "When His lamp shone over my head..." ("B'HILO nero..."). "Tovu" (good) refers to the "hatavat haMenorah," the responsibility of the kohen to clean the lamps of the Menorah each day. Thus, "Mah tovu ohalecha" means, "How clean is your light, Yaakov." Since Yaakov was the complete person, with no blemish, pure and unalloyed, therefore, "your dwelling places, Yisrael" - Benei Yisrael merited the presence of the Shechinah in their residences, for we continually benefit from the merit of our patriarchs.

"How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael"

The Hid"a zs"l cites in this context the comment of Hazal that women earn their portion in the World to Come by encouraging their husbands to study Torah in the evenings, and thus they receive their portion in the Torah as full partners. Now the term "Beit Yaakov" (in Parashat Yitro) refers to the women. Thus, explains the Hid"a zs"l, "How good are your tents, Yaakov" may be understood as, how great is the portion of the women who sit in the tents, when "your dwelling places, Yisrael" - when Benei Yisrael occupy the seats in the Bet Midrash studying Torah.

"How good are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael"

Rabbenu Yossef Haim zs"l, the Ben Ish Hai, comments that the opening word of the pasuk - "Mah," signifies humility, as Moshe and Aharon say, "What are we?" ["Va'anahnu mah?"] (Shemot 16:7). Thus, the pasuk implies that the most effective way to turn one's home into a pleasant, peaceful abode is to practice humility, that no one member of the family should raise himself over any other. What is the best way to bring the Shechinah into family life? Modesty, through which Hashem brings His Shechinah to reside among the couple of their family.


Rabbi Don Yis'hak Abarbanel zs"l

Rabbi Don Yis'hak Abarbanel was the treasurer for the government of Portugal. As he writes, "I lived securely in my home, a house and wealth that was the inheritance of my fathers, a house full of the blessings of Hashem in the lavish city of Lisbon." He was the financial advisor of King Alfonso, and the general counsel for the king's officers. Then, when the king's son was crowned, it was discovered that the officers planned on giving him over to the king of Spain. The plot was foiled, and the viceroy was killed and the others escaped, leaving behind their property, which the king promptly confiscated. The king suspected Rav Don Yis'hak, as well, that he participated in the plot, as the confidant of the officers, a suspicion that had no basis whatsoever. The king called for Rav Don Yis'hak, and on his way to the palace he was warned that the king wanted to kill him. He thus escaped to Castilla, Spain. Infuriated, the king confiscated all his property. Rav Don Yis'hak found consolation in the in-depth study of Tanach. His students encouraged him to publish his studies. And so, today we are privileged to have his brilliant writings in our bookshelves.

Soon thereafter, the Jews of Spain faced the painful decision of converting out of the faith or being exiled without any possessions. Some failed this difficult test and became Morranos, observing the misvot in hiding. When they were caught, they were burnt at the stake. The majority, however, took their walking sticks and were exiled to Morocco, Turkey or Israel. Rav Don Yis'hak's students asked him, where is this awful decree alluded to in the Torah, the cruel persecution in the name of the crucifix? He answered that the allusion is found in Parashat Balak, in the prophecy of Bilam: "O, who can survive when he places God?" The reference here is to that individual who made himself into a god, and many Jews felt that they could save their lives by joining his religion. In truth, however, "Who can survive when he placed god." They put themselves at the mercy of the Inquisition, the awful nightmares and tortures of the wicked regime.


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

The Procedure of Wrapping the Tallit

One may not embroider a pasuk from the parashah of sisit or the berachah for the tallit neither on the atarah of the tallit nor anywhere else on the tallit. Since the tallit has the status of a misvah object, as opposed to a "tashmish kedushah," an object of kedushah, it may, strictly speaking, be brought into the bathroom. We therefore must be concerned lest these pesukim or berachot be put to shame by being brought into the bathroom. If, however, one already did embroider a pasuk or berachah in his tallit, many authorities rule leniently, that he may keep the embroidery on the tallit. However, he must ensure not to sit on the part of the tallit that has these pesukim or berachot, and to treat the tallit as a "tashmish kedushah." If the tallit wears out, it must not be thrown away but rather buried. In any event, one who is stringent in this regard and removes the embroidery is deserving of blessing.

The berachah recited over the tallit gadol is: "Baruch Atah Hashem EM"H akb"v l'hitatef b'sisit." One must be careful to recite "BE'sisit," with the vowel "sheva" under the letter "bet," and not "Basisit," with a "hataf" vowel under the "bet." If, however, one did say, "Basisit," he has fulfilled his obligation and does not need to recite a new berachah.

One who does not know how to recite a berachah can fulfill his obligation of reciting the berachah by listening to the berachah of another and answering "amen." Even if he did not answer amen, he has still fulfilled the requirement of the berachah so long as both he, the listener, and the one reciting the berachah had intention that the berachah should count towards the listener's obligation. Optimally, however, one must answer amen. (It should be noted that one must answer amen anytime he hears a berachah, even if he is not fulfilling any obligation by listening to the berachah.)

One can fulfill his obligation of the berachah by listening to someone else's recitation even if the one reciting the berachah is not currently putting on his tallit and had already recited the berachah earlier when he put on his tallit. The reason is that we have a principle that one can fulfill the obligation of another to recite a birkat hamisvah even if he himself had already fulfilled his obligation. (The listener should be extra careful to answer amen, for some authorities maintain that in such a situation one does not fulfill his requirement if he does not answer amen.) Even one who does know how to recite a berachah by himself has fulfilled his obligation "bedi'eved," if he heard the berachah from another who had already recited the berachah previously.

If two or more people are using the same tallit, some authorities hold that they can either each recite their own berachah, or have only one recite the berachah as the others fulfill their obligation by listening. One opinion, however, maintains that they do not recite a berachah at all. Although the halachah follows the first opinion, nevertheless it is preferable that at the time of the recitation of the berachah only the one reciting the berachah should wrap himself in the tallit, and only thereafter the others should wrap.

Some say that the same berachah - "l'hitatef besisit" - is recited on the tallit katan, as well. Others, however, maintain that one should recite "al misvat sisit." The custom has evolved, however, not to recite any berachah on the tallit katan when putting it on in the morning, and to instead have in mind that the berachah over the tallit gadol will fulfill the requirement for the tallit katan, as well. [One should preferably explicate verbally that the berachah over the tallit gadol will fulfill his requirement for the tallit katan.] The reason for this custom is that many tallitot ketanot are smaller than the required measurement for a berachah, and we never recite a berachah when its requirement is in doubt.


The Crying Waters

It's no exaggeration to say that water is among the most important elements on Earth. Just as it would be impossible to live without air, so would life not exist without water. The only difference between them is the amount of time. Whereas one cannot live more than a few seconds without air, one can go without water for a few days. Although people can live for an extended period of time without food, they can not go too long without water. The reason is that water contains certain minerals that are critical for the body's functioning. The more minerals contained in a given quantity of water, the "harder" the water. Thus, water that appears "soft" usually is not as fortified with minerals.

Why does a person feel thirsty at times, and why does the body need so much water? The answer is simple. The human body is filled two-thirds with water. If 20% of the body's water is lost, an actual danger to life arises.

Blood, too, is composed mainly of water. Therefore, the Almighty created the body in such a way that when it lacks water, the individual feels thirsty, signaling his need for more water. In this way, the person drinks enough to supply the body with its necessary quantity of water to function properly. In the food one eats there is a significant amount of water. An average person ingests a ton of water over the course of a year, including that which he drinks and the water received from food. Water helps the body manage the various materials inside it, so that it can properly dispose of waste. Water serves another critical function, as well, and that is the maintenance of proper body temperature. For example, when the body begins to warm up, the person begins to release water in the form of sweat, thus cooling the body. In this sense, the body's system resembles a car radiator, which one fills with water so as to cool off the engine inside.

If one forgets to add water to the radiator, the engine can become too hot and burn completely. Similarly, though not to make any comparison between the human body and a car, the body cools itself down through sweat, tiny drops of water.

"Hazal said [in Beresheet Rabbah] that the reason water is called 'crying water' because Hashem split the water: half went up to the heavens, and the other half remained down below, under the land. The water that remained down below cry in anguish over not having merited to come closer to the living God in the upper half" (Or Hahaim). If the inanimate water yearns so desperately to approach the Creator, to the point where the pasuk refers to water as "crying," how much more so must the human being, the crown jewel of creation, and even more so the sacred nation, Am Yisrael!


The Deserted Woman of Jerusalem (1)

(A story from the book, "The 'Seraf' of Brisk")

A story about the life of the saintly Maharil Diskin zs"l

This story is the story of Mereishah, the daughter of Rabbi Tuvia of Slossk, a teach in "Ess Hayyim." She was married to a young man named Baruch Mordechai. After just a few years, he already bore the responsibility of supporting three children, but he could not find a sufficient livelihood. He tried different jobs, but nothing seemed to work for him. He eventually learned the art of making the "batim" [boxes] for tefillin, and with great difficulty he managed to earn a living.

As is well-known, Maharil Diskin, the "Seraf" (literally, serpent, the title given to Maharil Diskin because of his genius and remarkably sharp mind) of Brisk, would pray by himself, in the inner chamber in his home.

He prayed with intense concentration and focus, to the point that his wife feared for his life. She asked the young boy Moshe Beloi, who was twelve years old, to wait in the room during the rabbi's prayers and see that he does not lose his life from his intense "devekut" with Hashem.

The Seraf would pray alone in his room as his students prayed in a minyan in the outer room. During the Torah reading, he would stand at the door of his room and listen with awe and reverence. During birkat kohanim, he would come out into the main room to stand before the kohanim and receive the sacred blessing. Afterwards, he would return to the inner chamber.

Once, the son of the one of the regular participants in the minyan reached his Bar Misvah. His father promised him as a Bar Misvah present that he would pray in the minyan of the Seraf and receive a blessing from him after the tefilah.

As the Seraf left his room that morning for birkat kohanim, he threw a glance over at the boy, and then, after the conclusion of the berachah, he returned to his room. The tefilah finished, everyone removed their tefilin, folded their tallitot, and blessed father and son, "mazal tov." They all left the room and the two were left by themselves, anxiously waiting for the Seraf.

A long hour passed in intense anticipation, and eventually the figure of the sadik appeared in the doorway to his room. He signaled with his finger that the two should come to him. As they reverently made their way forward, the Seraf signaled that they should enter his chamber. In the middle stood a chair, at the side was a narrow table, and on the table lay a folded tallit and tefillin.

"Come, my son," he said. "Put on the tefillin," referring to his own tefillin, the tefillin of the sadik!

Nobody had ever had such a privilege! And the boy had only just begun to put on tefillin!

"His tefillin are 'passul,'" explained the sadik...

to be continued.

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