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The Giant Cactus
In the deserts in the southwestern United States and in the Mexican Republic grows the saguaro, among the largest cactuses in the world. In this region it reigns without contest, as there it not only stands as the tallest cactus, but the tallest among all plants. No plant can even compete for the small amount of water that falls in the desert. The cactus grows to a height of sixty feet, and its stem's circumference is around four and a half feet. Its shape resembles that of an ordinary tree, with around seventy branches protruding to the sides and weighing around twenty-five tons - the weight of the gray whale. Scientists estimate the giant cactus's age based on its rate of growth. It grows for five hundred years or more at a very slow pace. In years considered "rainy" by desert standards, the cactus adds anywhere from 2 to 2 inches to its height. In a regular year, it grows only a single centimeter; on the average, it grows two centimeters a year (less than an inch. The Creator assigned a very important role to this desert plant. It is one of the major contributors to the stability of the ground of the desert where it grows. Its system of roots spreads over a massive territory of close to ninety feet and accounts for the ground's tight hold on the grains of sand. Thus, during storms the air remains clear from dust around the plant, allowing visibility of around one hundred fifty feet.
Among the qualities of the human being as opposed to animals is that when he sees a given object, he wonders as to who created it, how it was created, how it works, etc. These questions arise as well when hearing about the giant cactus and all the precise details that allow for its growth and remarkable connection with its environment. The thinking human being's intellectual integrity requires him to fully acknowledge the infinite wisdom manifest in this creature, a wisdom that must lead him to exclaim, "How many are the things You have made, Hashem; You have made them all with wisdom."
A Match Made in Heaven (12)
Flashback: Tuvia, the orphan who made a living from his beehives, heard the tearful recitation of Tehillim of Havah Devorah, the orphan girl who suffered abuse at the hands of the innkeepers where she worked. He asked her why she cried and told the story to Rabbi Moshe Yafeh zs"l, the rabbi of the city of Pinsk. The rabbi removed the girl from the custody of the innkeepers and placed her in a kind, wealthy family for a recovery period. He then married her off to Tuvia - the boy who saved her. They lived in his residence in Kobrin, and with her influence Tuvia hired a teacher who taught him Humash, mishnah and Gemara. But Tuvia insisted that the teacher not reveal to anyone his remarkable progress in his studies.
When Rabbi Moshe Yafeh zs"l left Pinsk, Rabbi Naftali Kass, the rabbi of Prague, took his place. He told his replacement of the sadik living in the suburb outside the city, a Jew who brings every month one-tenth of his earnings, and who spends all his spare time learning, to the point where he became an impressive scholar. He was a "sadik nistar," a "hidden sadik," having insisted on keeping his piety and knowledge a secret.
When Tuvia came to the new rabbi to accept his leadership and bring him his charity money, the rabbi said, "Listen, Rabbi Tuvia. "
Tuvia's face turned white. "Please, I beg the rabbi not to make fun of me. "
"A person's will is his right," the rabbi conceded, "so please listen. There is no greater and more exalted form of charity than supporting Torah. With this amount of money you can support the yeshiva of Pinsk; the merit of the learning of all the students will go towards your merit."
"To my merit and the merit of my wife," Tuvia declared. "I made this commitment when we were married."
And so, without anyone knowing, the yeshiva was entirely supported by Tuvia and Havah Devorah. They took this on as a personal challenge, and their support extended far beyond the tithe money. In fact, they had to be very careful not to violate the prohibition against giving more than one-fifth of one's earnings. They concerned themselves with housing, clothing and food for the students, as well as marrying them off.
Rabbi Naftali Kass zs"l served as Rosh Yeshivah and the city's rabbi for twenty-five years, until he was replaced by Rabbi Naftali Hirss of Pozna. Tuvia was then in his sixties, and the new rabbi spoke determinedly with him and his wife.
"This is no longer the time to hide; people must see what you do and learn to do the same. Everyone must know that it is never too late to begin learning, and everyone must know of the value of giving charity in secret and support Torah without fame and glory."
"If I may," Havah Devorah said, "I would add that everyone must know that one cannot be judged based on his appearance. Who knows how many other Tuvias there are?"
Tuvia then said brokenheartedly, "If the rabbi decided that the secret must be revealed, then I will allow him to do so. But I will then be unable to live here; I cannot bear the honor."
And so, the rabbi revealed the secret, and the entire community of Pinsk was stunned. Tuvia announced that he was moving, and he took his family to Krakow. The community conducted an emotional farewell celebration, where it was decided that the yeshivah be renamed, "Yeshivat Tuvia ve'Havah Devorah."
Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra waged a bitter battle against the heretics and Karaites, who distorted the text of the Humash and denied the tradition of Hazal that was transmitted from one generation to the next from Sinai. One of the examples of his campaign appears in his commentary to our parashah, on the pasuk, "Should a man's ox gore his friend's ox and it dies. " Hazal interpret the pasuk according to its straightforward reading: a certain person's ox gored the ox of his friend. However, a certain heretic named Ben Zuta explained the phrase, "shor re'ehu" ("his friend's ox") to mean that a certain ox gored his friend the ox. Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra proves that this is incorrect. Just as the statement, "shor ish" means "the ox of a person," so does the term, "shor re'ehu" mean "the ox of his friend," and not "his friend the ox." But the Ibn Ezra felt the need to conclude, "And an ox has no friend - except for Ben Zuta."
Though this sounds like just a joke, it is hard to imagine that the Ibn Ezra would introduce jokes into his commentary. If we look a little deeper, we will reveal that, as with regard to all words of Torah, we can discover an entire world of profundity underlying this comment.
In effect, this reflects the abyss that separates us from the others - from the western culture which has infiltrated our communities.
Whoever believes in the Torah and its outlook, knows that the human being stands as the crown jewel of creation, and the entire creation serves as a battlefield for him, tools in the game that will determine his nature and eternal fate. The animals serve this function, as well.
This is from the perspective of the Torah and faith.
But they see the human being as a type of animal, an outgrowth of the monkey, primitive in many ways, just more developed intellectually. "What is the difference between you and the dog?" Rabbi Akiva asked Turnusropus (Midrash Tanhuma 3). "You eat and drink and it eats and drinks; you propagate and it propagates; you die and it dies." If this is one's outlook, then, indeed, the dog is "man's best friend." If this is one's outlook, then Ben Zuta is indeed the friend of the ox.
If this is one's perspective, then he will seek to prohibit the experimentation of medicines on animals meant to save people's lives, in the spirit of, "Why do you think your blood is redder. " From their perspective, sprays against ants and worms should be banned, perhaps even antibiotics that kill bacteria.
This isn't so terrible. That they have raised the dog to the level of the human being, training dog hairdressers and pedicurists, manufacturing sweaters and fancy dog food - so be it. But this perspective works bilaterally. Those who fight for the rights of animals fight with equal vehemence for euthanasia and the unconditional legality of abortions. If the human being is but a species of gorilla, then there is no end. If there is no purpose to his life, their is no soul in his being, and there is no Gan Eden after life, then why not.
"Blessed is our G-d who has created us for His honor - and has separated us from those who err!"
"You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan"
Rashi writes that this prohibition applies to the mistreatment of all people, but the Torah chose a common example - the mistreatment of the underprivileged. The Hizkuni notes that all the commandments in this parashah are written in the singular form; only this prohibition appears in the plural form ("lo te'anun"). He answers, "Because they all violate it [this prohibition], even those who do not [personally] instigate, for they see their shame and remain silent, without objecting." For this same reason, the Torah presents the punishment for this crime in the plural form - "ve'haragtim etchem."
"You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan"
The Rambam writes (Hilchot De'ot 6:10): "A person must be very careful with regard to widows and orphans, because their souls are humble and their spirits low, even if they have money. Even with regard to the widow of a king and his orphans we are commanded, as it says, 'You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan.'
"How must we treat them? One must speak with them only softly, and treat them only with respect, and may not cause pain to their bodies through work or to their hearts with harsh words, and exercise more care with their money than with one's own money. Whoever instigates against them, angers them, causes them pain, abuses them, or causes them a loss of money violates a prohibition, not to mention one who strikes them or curses them. Although one does not incur the punishment of lashes for this prohibition, his punishment is explicit in the Torah: 'I will be incensed, and I will kill you with the sword.' The One who created the world has made a covenant with them that whenever they cry as a result of crime [perpetrated against them], they are answered, as it says, 'For if he cries out to me, I will surely listen to his cry.'"
"You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan"
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l writes on this pasuk - "You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan; if you mistreat him, then if he cries out to me, I will surely listen to his cry" - that the Torah here gives the reason why the mistreatment of orphans and widows is more severe than that of other people. The Torah does this by employing double expressions in this pasuk - "im aneh te'aneh oto, ve'hayah im sa'ok yiss'ak elai. " The pain suffered by the widows and orphans is double that experienced by others when they are mistreated. When anyone else is mistreated, they experience distress only as a result of the abuse itself. But the widows and orphans say, "If my husband/father were alive, he would help me and I would not be abused in this way." Thus, the oppression reminds them of their previous calamity - the loss of their loved one. Hashem thus listens to both cries of the widows and orphans, and therefore mistreating the widows and orphans is particularly severe.
"You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan"
In the work, "Aruhat Tamid" (Parashat Sav) a frightening story is told in the name of Rabbi Shelomoh Primo zs"l. Once the authorities levied a heavy tax on the residents of Yerushalayim; all the protests and pleas were for naught. There was a certain, wicked man who came up with a terribly corrupt plan: the community leaders would take money from the orphans and widows to pay the tax in order that they starve and cry out to Hashem. As the pasuk guarantees that Hashem will hear their cries, the decree will then be annulled!
The community leaders followed this advice and the widows and orphans were left starving. They cried to Hashem to avenge their oppressors, and a terrible plague ravaged through the community, claiming many victims, Heaven forbid!
Rabbi Yis'hak Abarbanel zs"l
Among the laws presented in our parashah is the requirement to observe the halachot of kashrut (22:30). We find a story relevant to this topic in the work, "Shulhan Gavoha" by Rav Yossef Molcho zs"l (Yoreh De'ah 63), a story involving Rav Don Yisshak Abarbanel zs"l, who served as finance minister for the king of Spain.
Once the king wanted to eat together with his finance minister. The rabbi said, "I would be honored to invite the king to my home, but I cannot eat at his table."
"We will prepare kosher food," the king said.
"The food is still forbidden," the rabbi replied, "if it is cooked in your utensils."
"They will bring the meat from your home," the king suggested.
The rabbi responded, "Meat that is taken out of our supervision is forbidden, as we are afraid it may have been switched."
"Fine," said the king. "The meat will be brought from your home and your servant will supervise the transport until it reaches the table."
The minister then agreed. The king instructed that a round, rotating table standing on one leg be prepared. He also ordered that the portion of meat prepared for him be identical to the rabbi's portion. The Jewish servant brought the rabbi's portion, and the rabbi himself never took his eyes off it. Suddenly, the king cried, "Look at that bird outside!"
The rabbi looked up, and the king quickly turned the table with his foot, such that his portion ended up by the minister's seat. The rabbi had gone to look for the bird, and then returned his glance to the table.
"Let us continue with the meal," said the king.
"No thank you," replied the rabbi, "I already ate enough."
The king was surprised. "But you barely tasted anything!" He then added in a scolding tone, "Look how much trouble we went through for you - we brought food from your home, and now you're not even eating?"
The rabbi apologized: "What can I do? I looked away for a moment to obey the king's request to look at the bird."
The king said, "Fortunate are you, and great is your Torah, which saved you from eating forbidden food!"
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a
"Kiddush B'makom Se'udah"
Changing Locations in Between Kiddush and the Meal (continued)
3. If one originally had in mind to recite kiddush in one room and eat in a different room, or to recite kiddush in one house and eat in a different house, or to recite kiddush in the house and eat in the yard, and the place where he recites kiddush cannot be seen at all from the area where the meal is conducted, then one should not change locations. If he does, his kiddush is nevertheless valid; similarly, in extenuating circumstances one may conduct himself in this manner.
4. If one did not have in mind during kiddush to change locations and then decides to move from one corner of the room to another - he should not do so except under extenuating circumstances. If he acted in this manner, his kiddush is nevertheless valid.
5. If one did not have in mind during kiddush to change places and then decided to move from one room in the house to another room, or from one house to another house nearby, or from the house to the yard, and the place where kiddush is recited can be seen from the place where the meal is conducted - one should not do so except under extenuating circumstances. If one did so, he has fulfilled his obligation of kiddush, so long as he can see his original location, or even part of his original location.
6. If one did not have in mind during kiddush to change places and then decided to move from one room to another room, or from one house to another house, or from the house to the yard, and the place where he recites kiddush cannot be seen from the location of the meal, then one has not fulfilled his requirement of kiddush, and must repeat kiddush.
What Qualifies as a "Meal"?
If after kiddush one eats a "kezayit" of bread or cake in that location, he has fulfilled the requirement of "kiddush be'makom se'udah" (reciting kiddush in the place where one eats). He may then recite a berachah aharonah and then go eat a full meal in a different location. (If he only ate cake with kiddush, he must eat a full meal in order to fulfill the misvah of eating three bread-based meals on Shabbat.)
Some have the practice of allowing even the consumption of fruits to qualify for this requirement if the one reciting kiddush drinks a full revi'it of the kiddush wine. Thus, in some places, when there is a hatan or other celebration in the Bet Kenesset, someone recites a kiddush on behalf of the congregation after mussaf, and he drinks a full revi'it from the cup. Then the congregation eats fruit and pastries. They then go home, recite kiddush and conduct their meal. One should not object to this practice, as there are authorities on whom to rely. (Some authorities maintain that the drinking of a revi'it by the one who recites kiddush works as well for those who fulfilled their obligation of kiddush through his recitation, that their kiddush, too, is considered as having occurred in the place of the meal. Additionally, some authorities allow eating before kiddush on Shabbat morning, and some authorities maintain that the consumption of fruit qualifies as a "meal" with respect to this halachah. Thus, combining all these rulings, as well as other considerations, we may allow for the practice described.)
If we were asked to give an example of the Torah's misvot, we would immediately start considering misvot such as Shabbat, tefilah, or tefillin. If we were asked to name the most important misvot, we would think of Yom Kippur, Pesah, marital laws, or kashrut and the like. Last week, we read in the Torah of Am Yisrael's preparation for the sublime experience of Matan Torah, we learned of the "sheloshet yemei hagbalah" - the three days prior to the Revelation, the great fire and smoke that rose like from a furnace, the lightening, shofar blast, Hashem's sound ushering forth from the mountain. We look forward to hearing the laws that He would command. And so, this week we read of the rights of the servant and maid, the laws of damages and watchmen, the prohibition against oppressing the foreigner, orphan or widow, and against cursing people and corrupting justice. We learn the laws governing interpersonal relationships, which, at first glance, do not seem to characterize Judaism in particular.
We do not read of sisit, tefillin, mezuzah, Shabbat or Yamim Tovim. Why?
Perhaps the answer lies in a story told by Rav Yis'hak Yaakov Ruderman zs"l, the Rosh Yeshivah of Baltimore, author of the work, "Mi'Bet Levi." He had ranked among the outstanding students of the yeshivah of Slobodka. One day he encountered a difficult, intricate problem in the section of Gemara he was studying. He consulted with his fellow experts among the student body - Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky, but they could not provide the answer. He then decided to bring the difficulty to the great gaon, Rabbi Leib of Vilkomir.
Rabbi Leib was among the elder members of that esteemed generation, the father-in-law of the Rav of Ponivitzh zs"l. He served for many years as the rabbi of the city of Vilkomir and in his elderly years he retired from the rabbinate and moved to Kovna to engage in Torah study unencumbered. Slobodka was a suburb of Kovna, and Rabbi Yis'hak Yaakov Ruderman crossed the bridge over the river and went to Reb Leib's home to ask his help in resolving the difficulty.
Rabbi Leib heard the question, took out his Gemara, delved into the sugya, and saw that indeed the question was a good one. He considered different approaches and rejected every one. When all was said and done, the question remained. He accompanied his young guest outside and warned him to be careful as he walked in the dark.
Rabbi Yis'hak Yaakov arrived safely in the home where he stayed, exhausted from a full day of intensive study and the long walk. He recited the bedtime shema and fell asleep.
When he awoke, the sun had already risen. He opened his eyes and saw before him Rabbi Leib, the 86-year-old sage, who stood patiently by the student's bed looking at him.
Rabbi Yis'hak Yaakov quickly washed his hands three times in alternating fashion from the wash cup by his bed and frantically asked, "What is the rabbi doing here?"
"Waiting for you to wake up," the elderly rabbi replied pleasantly. "After you left, I continued pondering the issue you raised and arrived at a solution. I have an answer to your question. I immediately came here, asked where your residence is situated, and here I am. When you recite birkat ha'Torah, I will tell you the answer."
Rabbi Yis'hak Yaakov shuddered. "The rabbi certainly has been waiting for hours; why did he not wake me?"
The old rabbi replied, "What are you thinking; this is 'gezel shenah' - theft of sleep. I would have thus performed a misvah through the violation of a sin!"
In effect, we have here the thrust of Judaism in one brief anecdote: serving Hashem while ensuring to treat others properly. We thus received two tablets, the first containing the misvot between man and G-d, and the other presenting the misvot between man and his fellow. The other nations do not know this secret. They don't understand that preserving the rights of others constitutes a misvah, that one must serve the Creator and perform acts of kindness. Torah sanctifies a person's mundane life, such that even the physical becomes sacred. Gentiles may offer only the "olah," the sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar; only the Jews offer the shelamim, regarding which even the consumption of the sacrificial meat constitutes a misvah (Zevahim 116a). The Al-mighty therefore chose to teach us monetary and damage laws, the rights of servants, the proper treatment of orphans, widows and strangers, immediately following Matan Torah, in order that we implant this understanding within our hearts: complete avodat Hashem must combine both tablets - the laws governing one's relationship to Hashem, and those regarding one's conduct towards others.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of "Kevod Shabbat" and "Oneg Shabbat"
The prophet Yeshayahu declares, "If you turn back your foot from the Shabbat, from pursuing your affairs on My holy day; if you call Shabbat 'delight,' Hashem's holy day 'honored'; and if you honor it and not go your ways nor look to your affairs nor strike bargains - then you will delight in Hashem, and I will set you astride the heights of the earth, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father, Yaakov - for the mouth of Hashem has spoken" (Yeshayahu 58:13-14). The Yereim (99) writes that this misvah, to engage in delights on Shabbat, is a "halachah le'Moshe mi'Sinai" (a tradition transmitted orally to Moshe at Sinai) until Yeshayahu associated a pasuk with this halachah. Meaning, since a prophet is not permitted to introduce new halachot, Yeshayahu could not have himself introduced this misvah. It must have originated from Sinai, and Yeshayahu merely mentions it in a pasuk.
Several passages in the Gemara imply that one must ensure to have special foods prepared for Shabbat. Treats should be given to children on Shabbat for the same reason. When indulging in food, drink and other delights on Shabbat, one must have in mind to fulfill the obligation of "oneg Shabbat."
One may not run on Shabbat except when going to a misvah-related matter, such as to the Bet Kenesset or Bet Midrash. One should run to the Bet Kenesset or Bet Midrash out of genuine zeal and enthusiasm for the misvah - and not because he stayed at home until it was late and now must run.
Hazal also teach us (Shabbat 113a) that one may not occupy himself in, or speak about, weekday-related matters on Shabbat. For example, one may not look into his properties to figure out what must get done the following day. Issues involving misvot, however, such as allocating charity, supervising communal affairs or arranging matches for singles, are permitted.
Some communities have the custom of selling misvot such as opening the aron, lifting the Sefer Torah and aliyot, on Shabbat. This practice should not be objected to, as Hazal permit calculations for misvah-related matters on Shabbat.
A sheli'ah ssibur on Shabbat or Yom Tov may receive payment for his services, since it is a misvah-related service. Indeed, this is the common practice that has been accepted without objection. The same applies to Torah scholars who lecture on Shabbat, the one who blows shofar on Rosh Hashanah, and kashrut supervisors in hotels; they may all receive payment for their work on Shabbat.
One may not ask a gentile to perform a forbidden activity on Shabbat or Yom Tov on behalf of a Jew. One may not even ask the gentile before Shabbat to perform the given activity on Shabbat. Even if the given activity is necessary for an issue concerning a misvah, one may not ask a gentile to perform the activity unless it involves only a rabbinic prohibition. For example, one may ask a gentile to climb a tree on Rosh Hashanah to retrieve a shofar that was caught on top of the tree.
If a newborn must be circumcised on Shabbat and there is no eruv in the neighborhood, one may have a gentile carry the baby to the Bet Kenesset for the milah.
Yaakob Ben Sanyer and Senyar Bat Mazal
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