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Parashat Matot - Mas'ei

Which is Worse?!

For years now, many people in Israel have called for a withdrawal from Lebanon. The demand has accelerated with time, and the Prime Minister earned the adoration of many when he promised to withdraw within the year. "We didn't raise children to die in Lebanon," say the concerned parents. Understandably, parents are very worried about the children's safety. Perhaps a similar movement will be established to lobby for the withdrawal from public schools, which have become centers of rampant violence. True, there is no bombing equipment in the schools, but there are plenty of clubs, boxing-gloves and knives. There is brutality and mini-wars of sorts.

There are plenty of casualties, both physical and spiritual, and even more injuries. When will there come along a group of mothers and shout, "We didn't raise children to die in the classroom!"?

Why do parents who opted against religious education for their dear children have to worry about their offspring and pray that they come home safely? True, violence has never earned a place in the religious school systems and the education along the values and faith of our tradition influences upon and inspires the students. Nevertheless, this does not alleviate our obligation to concern ourselves with the safety of all Jewish children, wherever they are, and our hearts must sympathize with their worried parents. We must pray with compassion for those parents who send their children to school and have no idea what transpires there, and how the children will return home...


Many people make all different types of vows. Some promise a donation when they receive an aliyah to the Torah; some pledge money to charity and the support of Batei Kenesset and Torah educational institutions. Still others find themselves in some sort of crisis, Heaven forbid, and vow to take upon themselves some obligation or make a donation when the trouble passes, but forget about their promise as soon as life returns to normal. They simply forget and don't bother to reflect upon the pledges they had made. These people overlook the severity involved with vows. They don't realize that Shelomoh HaMelech, the wisest of all men, warned us, "Don't let your mouth lead your body to sin; why should Hashem be angered by your voice, and thus bring harm to your endeavors?" Furthermore, Hazal tell us that "on account of the sin of vows, one's children die," Heaven forbid. One who made a pledge must quickly fulfill his promise or go to a rabbi to conduct "hatarat nedarim" (the nullification of his vow).

The Maggid of Duvna zs"l explains the extreme severity of this sin through a parable, as was his wont.

A person once arrived in a certain town without a penny to his name. He decided to approach the police department and ask if they needed another officer. They told him that they have no opening for a policeman but they would definitely be interested in another prison guard. And so, he got to learn a little about the dilapidated conditions in which the inmates spend their time withering away. There was in the prison one wing that was more spacious than the rest, and in it lived one inmate who was fortunate enough to reside in the nicer cell. His hands and legs weren't in chains, and he enjoyed a far more comfortable lifestyle than his comrades in the rest of the prison. The new guard asked this individual why he was privileged to the deluxe accommodations. The man explained that the other prisoners are the pariahs of society, repeated criminals and threats to the general welfare of the community. Therefore, they are retained in suitably miserable cells, commensurate with the severity of their crimes. This inmate, however, was a respectable merchant whose fortune suddenly turned for the worse, and was thus unable to repay his loans. He was therefore imprisoned for a few days until he could come before the judge and formally file for bankruptcy.

"Bankruptcy?" wondered the guard. He had never heard of such a concept.

The merchant explained, "Someone who is unable to pay his debts declares bankruptcy and then receives an exemption from his obligations. After all, they can't just kill somebody for not being able to pay his loans!"

The principle made sense, and led the man to some thinking: what, then, was he doing in his dismal prison? Why was he working such monotonous shifts in this dungeon for minimum wage? He immediately quit the job and made his way to the finest hotel in the area, where he took the most luxurious suite available. He ordered the most expensive delicacies for his room and indulged in all the amenities the hotel had to offer. A few days later, the manager asked him about payment.

"To tell you the truth," said the man, "I have no money." The manager was mortified. Quoting his friend from the prison, the guest continued, "What will they do to me if I can't pay - kill me?"

The manager thus sued his guest, and they stood before the judge. The pauper stood up and said calmly, "I wish to declare bankruptcy!" How simple!

The judge was infuriated and bellowed, "Take this man and give him one hundred lashes. Then send him to jail!"

The man jumped up in protest. "Where is the justice here? Just one week ago I met a man who filed for bankruptcy. He spent a few days in a comfortable cell and was then released, just like that, free of all his debts!"

The judge reprimanded him, "There is no comparison here, kind sir. He is an upright merchant whose business fell through and lost a lot of money.

This is the way things work in this world, and it could happen to anybody.

He cannot be punished; he suffered enough by losing his business. But you - who forced you to quit your job and take a room in a hotel, to take advantage of its owner and indulge in the extravagances of the hotel? If you knew you wouldn't be able to pay, you should have stayed out in the streets and beg for money!"

Similarly, one who transgresses one of the missvot in the Torah can make the excuse that the yesser hara led him astray. He is just a human being, and therefore prone to making mistakes and slipping. This claim can arouse mercy from the Heavens and grant him compassion and forgiveness. But when a person initiates an obligation through a pledge, accepting upon himself a responsibility that he knows he cannot carry out, he will be punished harshly. Who compelled him to bring himself to this obligation?

Now let us take this concept one step further. If a person walks on his way to work and confronts an inappropriate sight, the "perissut" so prevalent on the streets - and bear in mind that every inappropriate sight leaves its impression upon the viewer - he can say to the Almighty, "Master of the World, it is not my fault, I was on the way to make a living.

Please forgive me and save me from the influence of what I just saw." Hashem is not out to punish His creatures, and will pardon and forgive. But if one decides to go out on a leisurely trip, out of his own initiative, not compelled by any external obligations or responsibilities, he simply walks around in the streets, strolls in the parks and heads for the beach - how can he justify the inevitable impression of what he will see, what can he say to defend himself?


Parashat Mas'ei opens with a list of the forty-two stops made by Benei Yisrael as they traversed the wilderness, from the time they left Egypt through their final stop before entering Eress Yisrael. Why do we need to know all this? Why was this written in the eternal Torah, such that a Sefer Torah missing even a single letter of this section is considered invalid?

Needless to say, this portion contains within it secrets of the Torah, and the forty-two trips in the wilderness correspond to the Divine Name of forty-two letters, alluded to in the prayer, "Ana B'ko'ah." As we do not get involved in the hidden areas of the Torah, we will focus instead on the simple meaning of the text, as Hazal teach us, "ein mikra yossei midei peshuto" - the straightforward meaning of the text always bears significance, notwithstanding the many hidden interpretations contained therein. The Rambam writes in "Moreh Nevuchim" that in many different ways and places the Torah demonstrates its authenticity. Mosheh told the people in the Name of Hashem, "You know the truth of the Torah, for you experienced it all firsthand. But in generations to come, someone may get up and question the truth of these words. Therefore, I am recounting the places where we encamped, one by one, so that the archaeologists can come and find the relevant artifacts." These relics would show that six hundred thousand people, plus the same number of women, elderly and youth, plus the "erev rav" (who joined Benei Yisrael upon their departure from Egypt) - amounting to some three million people - encamped far away from any settled area, in undeveloped and infertile land, without water, and lived this way over the course of forty years. How could this have happened? Only because bread rained down for them each morning from the heavens, providing supernatural, daily sustenance - each day for about fourteen and a half thousand days.

Each Friday, twice as much came down, and on Shabbat no food came down at all. Amazing! A well also accompanied them throughout their sojourn, providing plenty of water for all three million people and their animals.

Ask the people working for the Israeli water company how much water is needed for so many people - about half the population of the State of Israel! And their destination was clear - to enter Eress Yisrael and conquer the land. And who did they drive away? Skilled warriors, including thirty-one powerful kings. The inhabitants never even thought of going to war against the intruders, because they already heard of what happened to Pharaoh and his army, the plagues in Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea.

They knew of the Clouds of Glory hovering over the people to protect them, and they simply had no morale with which to fight. They stayed in their cities behind the walls, which miraculously came crashing down.

The pasuk says, "I am Hashem; I have not changed." The Almighty never changes, God forbid. He is all-powerful and answers those who call for him.

Nothing is beyond His capabilities, and for Him nature and miracles are one and the same. If we could internalize this notion, if we implant it within our hearts, we will then very soon merit salvation, and like the days of the Exodus from Egypt He will show us miracles!


The Deserted Woman of Jerusalem (3)

Taken From the Book, "HaSaraf MiBrisk" - The Life of Maharil Diskin zs"l

Flashback: The son of one of the members of the minyan of Maharil Diskin, the "Saraf" of Brisk, who spent the end of his life in Yerushalayim, reached his bar-missvah. When his father brought him to receive a berachah from the Saraf, the Saraf told him to take off his tefillin, because they were "pasul" (invalid).

The father was shocked. The tefillin are pasul? Impossible! They were prepared by Rabbi Mosheh Shamat, one of the most prominent students of the rabbi. It was safely assumed that the parshiyot were written at the highest possible standard, and that no question regarding the kashrut could be raised whatsoever! He undoubtedly checked them after he completed writing them, and found them kasher at the highest level! The "batim" (boxes), too, must certainly have been kasher, for the one who made them - Baruch Mordechai - took a lot of money for his work.

As if in a dream, he took his son to the house of Rabbi Mosheh the Scribe, carrying with him the new silk bag. Through the material he felt the fold of the straps around the batim. They entered the house and found Rabbi Mosheh in the middle of his sacred work of preparing tefillin. He saw them and right away motioned to them to sit down; he could not talk while writing a Sefer Torah. With intense concentration he wrote one letter after another, dipping the pen from time to time into the quell, gently saturating the pen with ink, glaring intently at the parashah opened before him and reciting out loud each letter before writing it on the new parchment.

After a long hour, the writing was completed. Rabbi Mosheh cleaned off the pen and warmly turned to the bar-missvah boy: "You get a 'mazal-tov'!" He then blessed the father, "May you have the privilege of raising him to Torah, a wedding canopy, and good deeds. You should have a lot of 'nahat'!

How can I help you?"

With obvious discomfort, the father presented the bag of tefillin. "The rabbi said...that the tefillin...are not kasher..."

All color left the scribe's face. He quietly took the bag and took out the batim. He undid the wrapping of the straps and removed the covers. He then took a knife from his table and began opening the threads around the bayit.

After the box was opened, Rabbi Mosheh removed the parshiyot from their tiny compartments in the bayit.

Only instead of parshiyot, there were scraps from stalks of corn... The tension in the room could have been cut with a knife. Three white faces stood gaping and stared blankly at the yellowish strips. Rabbi Mosheh put on his hat and said, "Come with me. We are going to Baruch Mordechai, the one who sells the batim... to be continued...


"We will cross over as pioneers"

Rabbenu Behayei zs"l notes that the word used here for "we" is "nahnu," a shortened version of the more common term, "anahnu." Why did they say "nahnu" without the "alef" in the beginning of the word? He explains that the people of Gad and Reuven were exceptional warriors, and they indicated as such by telling Mosheh that they will fight as "pioneers," in the front lines. Therefore, to guard themselves from arrogance, they humbled themselves by dropping the "alef" and saying "nahnu," an expression that connotes humility and modesty. This is the explanation along the straightforward meaning of the text.

However, we also have a tradition that this pasuk had to begin with the letter "nun," and that is why the "alef" was dropped. In this sense this pasuk resembles the pasuk in Eichah 3, where Yirmiyahu states, "NAHNU pashana umarinu..." There, the pasuk had to begin with the letter "nun" because of the poetic, alphabetized scheme employed in that perek. (The first three pesukim of that perek begin with "alef," the next three with "bet," and so on.) Here, the pasuk must begin with a "nun" because this is one of the eleven pesukim in Tanach that begin and end with the letter "nun." Therefore, the word "nahnu" is used instead of the more standard "anahnu."

The sacred "Shem Hameforash" may be derived from these eleven pesukim, from thirteen letters. One who recites these pesukim with the Name that is derived therefrom will not fear at all, for Hashem prevents the need for fear. These pesukim are printed in some siddurim in the service for Mossa'ei Shabbat.

"We will cross over as pioneers"

The Alshich zs"l notes that the word "nahnu" (the term used here for "we") appears four times in Tanach. Yosef's brothers told him (whom they thought was the Egyptian viceroy), "We are all the sons of one man, we are"; Mosheh humbly said to the people about himself and Aharon, "What are we?"; in our pasuk, the people of Reuven and Gad promise, "We will cross over as pioneers"; and Yirmiyahu writes in Eichah, "We have sinned and rebelled."

In all these instances, the word "nahnu' is used instead of the standard "anahnu."

The relationship between them might relate to the tendency some people have to think that they can commit aveirot and rely on the merit of the forefathers. One may be tempted to think, "We are all the sons of one man" - we had a great forefather who was righteous and pure. Therefore, even though "what are we?" - meaning, even though I am nothing by myself and have no merits to my name, the merit of the patriarchs will help me. But this is wrong: "We have sinned and rebelled - you have not forgiven"! Therefore, "We will cross over as pioneers" - we must head out for battle against our yesser hara, and we will defeat it; we will increase our Torah study and performance of missvot, and in this way merit eternal life out of our own merits, without relying on those of our saintly patriarchs.

"We will cross over as pioneers"

The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l writes that he saw it written that the letter "alef," the numerical value of which is one, alludes to the Creator, the single God in the universe. Since the people of Gad and Reuven declared that they will go out to war, without making mention of the divine assistance required, the "alef" was dropped from the word "anahnu" ("we") and the pasuk writes instead, "nahnu."

Elsewhere (in his "Remazim") he comments that earlier, the people of Gad and Reuven had said, "We will go ready-armed," employing the word "hushim" (armed), which has the same letters as "Moshiah." This alludes to the fact that they will be exiled with the Ten Lost Tribes and will not return until the onset of the messianic era. Similarly, they said to Mosheh, "We will not return to our homes," using the word "nashuv" ("we will return"), which has the same numerical value as the word "Moshiah." Unbeknownst to them, they prophesied that they will return to Eress Yisrael only during the time of Moshiah.


Rabbi Yossef Ganasiah zs"l

Rabbi Yossef Ganasiah zs"l was the rabbi of the community of Constantine, Algeria, where he also served as head of the rabbinical court as well as the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Ess Hayyim. His influence spread throughout the Jewish communities in Algeria and beyond as a result of his prolific writing. When the French language and culture took hold of the region, Rabbi Yossef, who was fluent in French and familiar with its culture from the time he spent in the French army , dedicated himself to the preservation of the Jewish-Arabic language, which was the central ingredient of the tradition of western Jewry. From that point on, he hardly stopped writing, and his literary produce was simply remarkable. He published around one hundred and thirty works, virtually all of which were written in the Jewish-Arabic tongue that he wished to preserve. He translated the entire Mishnah , the Rambam's Yad HaHazakah and the writings of the Ri"f. He also translated the Aggadot Ein Yaakov and several works of mussar, such as Rabbeinu Yonah's Iggeret HaTeshuvah and Mesilat Yesharim. His other translation works include history books such as Josephus, works of religious poetry and liturgy and works of Kabbalah. He made a point of always wearing the traditional rabbinical garb, claiming that one's external appearance influences his internal being. He feared that French dress and language would allow for the infusion of the foreign culture and the abandonment of religion associated with it. Through his powerful oratory skills, he blocked the infiltration of foreign culture and preserved the faith and missvah observance. He would interpret the pasuk, "And I am ignorant, and do not know, I was like animal with You," as meaning that if I don't know Torah, then I am ignorant. But if I am ignorant "with You," meaning, if I cast doubt upon the existence of the Creator, then I am considered an animal.

At a very late age he fulfilled his dream of moving to Eress Yisrael together with his wife. He was greeted with reverence by his community in Dimona, where he lived until his death on 8 Tammuz, 5722, and where he is buried. 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

Proper Intention During the Missvah of Sisit

Strictly speaking, one is not obligated to check his sisit before each time he put it on, as one does not need to be concerned that the strings may have ripped. The reason is that we may rely on the "hazakah" that they have not ripped since the last time they were checked. However, checking them before the berachah constitutes an added measure of piety, so long as one has time to perform this check.

Therefore, if one fears that by checking his sisit he might miss the public prayer, or will have to skip a section in tefilah in order to pray together with the ssibur, he should not check the strings at all, even as a measure of piety.

Even regarding those opinions that require checking one's strings each time he puts on the tallit, some claim that this stringency applies only to a garment that requires sisit on the level of a Torah obligation. Garments requiring sisit only at the rabbinical level, such as garments made of cotton, silk and the like, do not require that the sisit be checked prior to being worn, even according to the stringent view.

With regard to the stringent view to check the sisit, there is a dispute as to which part of the strings must be checked. Some maintain that one checks the string from the hole on the corner of the garment until the knot.

Others, however, argue that one needs not check the part of the string that lies on the garment, since strings are generally not torn in that area.

Others hold that one checks also the area of the folds, as well as the part beyond the knot. The one who is stringent in this regard is deserving of blessing. Some opinions maintain that the stringent view to check the sisit before being worn applies as well to the tallit katan worn under one's clothing.

Even though a "berachah levatalah" (wasted berachah) will not have been recited even should the strings tear and become "pasul" (since no berachah is recited on the tallit katan, as explained in previous issues), nevertheless if strings have been torn then the individual will now be wearing a four-cornered garment without sisit. Others, however, argue that only the tallit gadol, over which one recites a blessing, needs to be checked, because the stringency of checking the sisit evolved out of the specific concern of a berachah levatalah. Therefore, the tallit katan, over which no berachah is recited, does need to be checked. Once again, one who is stringent in this regard and checks the sisit of his tallit katan, as well, is deserving of blessing.

If one who is stringent and checks his sisit is called to the Torah before he had the opportunity to check his sisit, and he cannot take out the time to finish checking because it would cause an inappropriate delay to the service ("tirha dessibura"), he does need to check his sisit. He may continue wearing his tallit even after the Torah reading, without checking the strings.

If one checks his sisit after removing his tallit before placing it in his bag, there is no need whatsoever, even as a measure of piety, to check the sisit again before the next time he wears his tallit. One who is generally stringent about checking his sisit should do so even on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Preferably, he should check them before Shabbat or Yom Tov and then place the tallit in its bag, so that he does not need to check them on Shabbat or Yom Tov itself.


The Iris

Have you ever heard of the iris? Even if you haven't heard of it, you most definitely have seen it. This flower includes eight species of which appear in Israel in all their glory. If you're wondering about the strange name of this flower, it is derived from the Greek term for "rainbow." This name was given to the iris because of its large flowers that resemble the beautiful variation of colors in a rainbow. Researchers have noticed a most intriguing phenomenon with regard to this flower. Thousands of bees make this iris their lodging for the night. Why are the bees attracted to this flower? There are several reasons. Firstly, several species of the iris produce a special aroma that attracts bees. Secondly, even more fascinating, bees are cold-blooded creatures. At night, they fall into a deep sleep that resembles the hibernation of some mammals. Their body temperature drops to that of their surroundings. In order to fly again in the morning, they must shake up their wings, a process that wastes a lot of energy. Apparently, the area inside the iris provides a warm environment for the bees. Scientists believe that the iris absorbs the heat from the sun over the course of the day, thus providing a warm "hotel room" for the bees. The body temperature of the bees in the iris begins to rise earlier in the morning, allowing them to get out earlier to search for nectar.

And the earlier a bee gets to work, the more nectar it can collect. It seems that the bees prefer the black flowers, whose color attracts heat. The bees thus pollinate these flowers more than other irises.

This symbiotic relationship between the iris and the bees involves the mutual benefit received. The flower is pollinated and the bees have a warm place to sleep. Indeed, this symbiosis constitutes one of the most remarkable features of creation. In the human world, this phenomenon is called "hesed," kindness. For us Jews, hesed is an ingrained characteristic dating back to Avraham Avinu, who was considered the pillar of hesed.

Hazal taught us a critical lesson about hesed: "More than what the giver does for the beggar, the beggar does for the giver." In other words, there exists a bilateral give-and-take between the beneficiary and the benefactor.

That is, the giver was given the opportunity to perform kindness as a result of the beggar. And, as a result of his charity, the giver merits the fulfillment of a misvah, is elevated and purifies his personality. In this way, he comes closer to the Al-mighty.

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