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A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of Honoring One's Rabbi and Torah Scholars
The Torah states (Vayikra 19:32), "You shall rise before the aged, and you shall honor the face of the elderly; you shall fear your G-d, I am Hashem." Hazal (Kiddushin 32b) derive from here the obligation to rise before the elderly - seventy years old and older - even if he is a simple man and not a Torah scholar. Since this constitutes a Torah obligation, one must stand before an elderly person even if he is in doubt as to whether he has reached his seventieth year. Hazal interpreted the second clause in the pasuk, "and you shall honor the face of the elderly" as referring not to the elderly but rather to a Torah scholar. If one's rabbi enters the room he must stand so long as he sees him until he sits in his place. By "one's rabbi" we mean the rabbi from whom one has studied practical laws and halachot, and from whom one received the majority of his knowledge. This does not refer to a rabbi who taught him "derashot" or "pilpul" (theoretical Talmud study). One need not stand in the presence of another Torah scholar unless he comes within four cubits of him. Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogochover Gaon, writes that the Torah obligation to stand before a scholar refers only to one who has received the semichah conferred from one rabbi to the next since Moshe Rabbenu, which does not exist nowadays. Therefore, standing before a scholar nowadays is required only miderabbanan (by force of rabbinic enactment). The Rishonim, however, clearly imply otherwise, that standing before any scholar is obligated by the Torah.
A student may not issue of ruling of halachah in the presence of his rabbi, and whoever does so is liable for the death penalty (Eruvin 63a). This applies, however, only to his main rabbi, as we described earlier. One may issue a ruling in the presence of one's rabbi from whom he has learned only a number of things. This prohibition applies only to rulings that involve some "hiddush," some novel idea, that is not explicitly found in the Shulhan Aruch.
A gadol hador (leading rabbinic authority of the generation) has the status of everyone's main rabbi for purposes of all halachot. Thus, for example, the Gemara records that the prophet Shemuel, when he was a child, violated this prohibition by issuing a ruling in the presence of the kohen gadol, Eli.
In our parashah, the Torah reveals the names of the man from Benei Yisrael and the woman from Midyan who sinned. He was the nasi (tribal leader) of the tribe of Shimon, and she was the daughter of the king of the Midyan. The Gemara tells that when Zimri first approached her, she said to him, "I am a princess, and my father instructed me to consent only to the great one among Israel!" He said to her, "Indeed, I am the head of tribe. And who, in your view, is the great one among Israel? Moshe? There is no comparison: he comes from the tribe of Levi, the third of the tribes, whereas I am the leader of the tribe of Shimon - the second of the tribes."
As we know, she consented. Is it really so easy to fool somebody? Apparently not. The Gemara there says that the woman is named "Kozbi" because "kizbah be'aviha" - she betrayed her father. He ordered her to consent only to the greatest among them, and she consented to just a tribal leader. But actually, both her and her father knew the truth, as we most certainly know. And this truth must be constantly reinforced.
"The greatest among Israel" is not determined by any assessment other than one factor: greatness in Torah and avodat Hashem - the greatness of Moshe. If there is a tribal leader, the leader of a more populous tribe, and even if he is as old as Zimri (see Maharsha, ibid.) - then regardless of how great his capabilities and public merits are, the greatest in the generation is the "Moshe Rabbenu" of that generation - and no one else!
"Pinhas the son of Elazar the son of Aharon the kohen has withdrawn My wrath from upon Benei Yisrael, by displaying among them his zealousness for Me, and I did not destroy Benei Yisrael in My anger." The Gemara (Sanhedrin 82b; see also Targum Yonatan) explains that after Pinhas stabbed the two sinners with a dagger, he cast them to the ground and said before the Al-mighty, "Master of the world - on account of these, twenty-four thousand from among Yisrael will perish?" His words were accepted, and the plague came to an end.
It appears from the Gemara that the plague broke out only as a result of Zimri's sin. If not for Pinhas, Hashem's anger would have descended upon the entire nation, and they would have, G-d forbid, been destroyed. Why would this happen, if most of the nation wasn't involved in sin, and not even a quarter of the nation was involved (see Ramban)? Why would they all be destroyed on account of Zimri's sin - "Will one person sin, and He will be angry with the entire nation"?
Furthermore, the pasuk implies that there were those from every tribe who sinned: "Moshe said to the judges of Yisrael: each kill his men, those who have become attached to Ba'al Pe'or." And Moshe, at the end of his life, refrains from blessing the tribe of Shimon, as a result of the incident of Pe'or. Why was he angry at the entire tribe for the conduct of a single individual?
The Gemara says that when Moshe ordered that the sinners be punished, "the tribe of Shimon went to Zimri the son Salu (the tribal leader) and they said to him, 'They are issuing death sentences, and you sit here silently?' What did he do? He stood and assembled twenty-four thousand among Yisrael [the ones who ultimately died] and he went to Kozbi, the daughter of Sur… and he brought her to Moshe. He said to him, 'Son of Amram - she is forbidden or permissible? If you say forbidden, then who allowed you to marry the daughter of Yitro?'" What an absurd comparison to draw! Siporah, Moshe's wife, converted. She was among those who received the Torah, and she had married Moshe in full compliance with halachah. How can anyone compare this with an extra-marital affair with a gentile woman who worships idols? The answer is that when one's inclinations have overcome him, his logic become skewed. Twenty-four thousand people heeded the ludicrous argument, and Zimri brought Kozbi with him into the tent.
And so Hashem's anger was aroused, and twenty-four thousand people died. The entire nation was almost destroyed. Committing a sin is one thing; but however severe and terrible it is, it cannot compare with arrogantly proclaiming one's innocence and insisting that he does nothing wrong.
Let us look at Hashem's reproof of Am Yisrael conveyed through the prophet Yirmiyahu: "Moreover, on your garments is found the blood of the innocent poor" (Yirmiyahu 2:34). Now the Rambam tells us that the sin of murder is punishable with the most severe punishments. Yirmiyahu conitnues, "You did not catch them breaking in" - they were murdered publicly, in full view. But why does Hashem bring punishment? "Lo, I will bring you to judgment for saying, 'I have not sinned.'" They are punished for turning the sin into something entirely permissible.
The Gemara tells that despite the loss of all restraint among the nations, despite their having plummeted to the lowest, most frightening moral depths, they nevertheless preserved several measures. For example, even the cannibals would not sell human flesh in butcher shops. They understood that animal-like behavior cannot be institutionalized; abominable relationships cannot be formalized through the institution of marriage, it cannot receive any legal stamp of approval.
The Hafess Haim zs"l was once asked by a journalist, "Tell us rabbi, who is a Jew?" He presented a powerful definition: "A Jew is someone who knows that a Jew must observe 613 misvot, even if he occasionally stumbles and commits sins." But one who denies our very obligation towards misvot follows the example of Zimri, and this is the worst of all. He thereby arouses divine anger, Heaven forbid, and we cannot even imagine the consequences.
So much blood is being spilled, our cup of despair is overflowed. We do not have access to Hashem's calculations, but the eternal pesukim cry out to us: "Hashem will not spare their youths, nor show compassion to their orphans and widows; for all are impious and wicked" (Yeshayahu 9:16). "Wicked" refers to the sin itself, while "impious" denotes the audacity of viewing wrong as right. This kindles Hashem's wrath.
Forcing us to accept fictitious conversions or participate in legislation violating halachah - this amounts to viewing that which is forbidden as permissible.
We must realize that abortion is murder, and physician-assisted suicide is murder, and no law will ever change that. Those involved in such practices will be held accountable, but those who grant these activities a legal stamp of approval arouse terrible prosecution against us in the Heavenly tribunal. In order to silence this prosecution, we must voice our objection and preserve the integrity of halachah.
"Let Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh, appoint a man over the community"
The Ar"i Hakadosh zs"l cites the comment of the Gemara (Berachot 55a) that the Al-mighty Himself declares the appointment of good leaders, as it says, "See that I have singled out the name of Bessalel." Moshe thus asked Hashem, "lemor," to declare, "yifkod Hashem" - the appointment of the qualified leader.
"Let Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh, appoint a man over the community"
Rabbenu Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l explains "Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh" to mean that He understands the souls of all people and knows who among them is worthy of leading the nation. Rashi zs"l explained the term "the G-d of spirits" as a reference to Moshe's special petition to Hashem: "Master of the world, the mind of each individual is revealed and known to You; appoint for them a leader who will tolerate every individual according to his mind." It appears that the Hizkuni zs"l had this interpretation in mind, as well, when in his commentary to this pasuk he associates it with the pasuk in Yehezkel (1:12), "they go to where the spirit is," which has been explained in reference to personal will and wishes. Here, too, then, Moshe requests that the leader will satisfy the personal wishes of all individuals.
"Let Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh, appoint a man over the community"
The Or Hahaim Hakadosh zs"l explains that normally, no two people agree on everything and share all their views. But members of the same tribe, for example, will find a broader common denominator than they would with members of other tribes. Moshe therefore ordered the appointment of a Sanhedrin over each tribe: "You shall appoint judges and law enforcers in all your gates that Hashem your G-d gives, for your tribes." Moshe Rabbenu was unique in that, as Hazal say (Tikkunei Hazohar 69), he was the source of all the souls of the generation of the wilderness. He therefore requested, "Let Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh, appoint" someone who knows the natures of all the souls throughout the nation, "a man over the community" - the community in its entirety - "that he will agree to what they say, and they will agree to what he says to them."
"Let Hashem, the G-d of spirits over all flesh, appoint a man over the community"
The Alshich Hakadosh zs"l also takes this approach, explaining that if the root of the leader's soul is itself on a high level, like that of Moshe Rabbenu, then all the lower souls can be subsumed within it and submitted to it. But if he is not the highest among them, how could he lead those higher than him? Moshe Rabbenu therefore requested that the Al-mighty appoint a "man over the community" - someone the root of whose soul is greater than all the rest, such that the can lead them.
The Abarbanel zs"l explained Moshe's request as follows: You, the G-d of spirits, who knows the inner workings of people, what occurs inside their souls, appoint a man who will be over the community, a leader and legislator. He should not be just a sheep in their presence, but rather a strong, accomplished leader who will govern them with authority.
Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan zs"l
Rabbi Amram Ben Diwan zs"l was born in Yerushalayim around two hundred and sixty years ago and was considered among the greatest students of the "Neveh Shalom" yeshivah of Kabbalists. He moved to Hevron and was among the leading sadikim of the city. When famine threatened the community, he was sent to the cities of Morocco on an emergency fundraising mission. He returned after three years with a respectable sum of money, with which he saved the community from their crisis.
Seven years later, his son, Rabbi Haim, took ill. In order to pray on his son's behalf at the grave of the patriarchs, Rabbi Amram violated the decree issued by the Moslems forbidding the Jews access to Me'arat Hamachpelah. When they learned that he had violated the edict, they sought to kill him, compelling him to flee Hevron with his son. Again he made his way towards Morocco, where he founded a renowned yeshivah in the city of Makens, where the rabbis and scholars of the city would study. He very much wanted to embark on another fundraising trip on behalf of the city of Hevron, but the highways had become too dangerous to travel as a result of the rebellious forces that had organized. When things quieted seven years later, Rabbi Amram decided to undertake his mission. His host, Rabbi Zichri Mesas zs"l of Makens, joined him. Upon their arrival in the city of Fez, his escort took ill, forcing Rabbi Amram to stay there for a year to tend to the patient, who ultimately died and was buried there in Fez. Rabbi Amram delivered a stirring eulogy.
Rabbi Amram decided to continue on his trip to collect money on behalf of the settlement in Hevron and then return to Eress Yisrael. He headed towards the town of Tzafru, visiting all the villages along the way, strengthening the communities with inspirational talks of yirat Shamayim and collecting funds for the Jews of Hevron. He took ill in the village of Asgin. When his illness intensified, he sent for the Hevra Kadisha. They asked him where he wished to be buried, and he replied, "In the entrance to your cemetery, there is a large olive tree. Bury me underneath the tree, and place a simple stone on my grave." He died on Tisha Be'av, 5542, and his day of remembrance is observed on the fifteenth of Av, the seventh day after his death. May his merit, which we need so very desperately, protect us!
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
Warming Food on Shabbat (continued)
Pouring Boiling Water on Food
In light of what we have seen, if one's food intended for Shabbat lunch has dried, and he fears that it may burn, he may not pour boiling water into it, even if both the kettle of boiling water and the pot of food are on a covered fire or electric hot plate. Instead, the pot of food should be taken off the fire in order that it not burn. Before the meal on Shabbat day, it may be returned to the covered fire or electric hot plate to be warmed.
Warming Dry Food on Shabbat
One may warm dry food on Shabbat, even if it is cold, as long as the following conditions are met. First, the food must have been fully cooked. If a dish contains meat and vegetables, and the vegetables have been fully cooked but the meat hasn't, then one may not warm it on Shabbat. Secondly, the fire must be covered with metal. One may also place it on an electric hot plate designated for Shabbat. One may place a metal plate or "blech" on the fire on Shabbat in order to place on it warm food. One need not cover the dials of the gas; only the fire itself needs to be covered. Among the Ashkenazim, however, some are stringent and do not warm cold, dry food on a covered flame or electric hot plate. The reason is that since the food is dry, the concern arises that the food will become roasted, and the Ashkenazim follow the view that on Shabbat one may not roast food that had been previously cooked. It would seem, however, that even according to this practice one may place the food on the covered fire or hot plate to be warmed just enough that it's not completely cold.
In situations of great need, such as for a baby or sick patient, one may warm dry food even if it has yet to be fully cooked, just enough so that it is not cold, on a covered fire or on an electric hot plate designated for Shabbat. The food must be at least half-cooked in order to follow this leniency. In these situations, one must ensure to remove the food from the fire or hot plate before it reaches the point of "yad soledet bo" (at which one's hand would immediately recoil on contact).
"Shenayim Mikra Ve'ehad Targum"
The final letters of the pasuk, "It shall be on the sixth day, they shall prepare that which they bring" (in reference to the mann) spell the word "Torah." This alludes to the fact that one must prepare the week's Torah reading on Friday in order that he could read it in the Bet Kenesset. The pasuk continues, "and it will be double" - an allusion to the halachah of "shenayim mikra," that one should read the parashah twice. The word "et" in the clause, "et asher yavi'u" ("that which they bring") spells, "ehad targum," a reference to the requirement to read the parashah once with translation.
The Memory of an Elephant
For good reason people will often compliment their friends for having "a memory like an elephant." An elephant has a phenomenal memory, as has been verified by research. Several years ago, two African elephants were sent to England, and five years later they were returned home. The special team of experts tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the elephants to leave their containers. No one could even approach them, until they arrived at the place of the man who had cared for them five years earlier. The elephants immediately remembered him, approached him, and lovingly smothered his face with their trunks. The man then brought them to their designated location and they complied without protest. Among the cameramen who came to film a newborn elephant was a photographer with whom the male elephant had become angry previously. The elephant drew its long trunk and grabbed the photo equipment off the cameraman's shoulder. Years later, whenever the photographer approached the area of these elephants, that elephant would stand on its hind legs as if to remind the man who's in charge there.
When we describe someone with a phenomenal memory, we say that he has "the memory of an elephant." When we wish to point out someone's lack of sensitivity, we say that he has "the skin of an elephant." Similarly, we attribute to someone with sharp vision the statement, "eagle eyes" and slow people are described as, "slow as a turtle." On the opposite end - "swift as an eagle, fast as a deer." And so on. We can attribute qualities of animals to humans due to the partial commonality shared by human beings and animals - the physical aspects of eating, drinking, vision, etc. Nevertheless, it will always remain impossible to compare man's spiritual side with any other living creature, for herein lies the fundamental distinction between man and beast. Man's distinction lies in the fact that he possesses a soul, which sets him apart from all other creatures. Undoubtedly, the soul was not implanted within the human being for him to live an average life, a purely physical life, to live simply without harming others. For even the elephant lives up to this definition. One must rather involve himself in that which will be preserved for him for the future, which will bring him to eternal life: words of Torah, about which it is said, "for they are our days and the length of our days."
"One Who Walks Innocently Walks Securely" (4)
Flashback: The body of a Christian boy was discovered on the Jewish street. The local priests incited the local populace, and the gentiles besieged the Jewish neighborhood, prepared to riot. But the police, under municipal order, protected the Jews, because the governor had trusted the promise of the rabbi, Rabbi Shemuel Halevi, that the blood libel is entirely false. The chief of police was then ordered to do whatever it took to find the culprit. The only piece of evidence was the knife used to commit the murder. The detectives searched house to house until eventually they found the owner of the knife.
The heavy wooded door to the governor's office was opened by a distinguished looking official, who loudly announced: "The chief of police."
The governor recalled that he had ordered the chief of police not to return without the murderer. He lifted his head to see who entered the room. The chief of police came in first wearing a smile of triumph. After him was shoved the Jewish rabbi, with a thick beard, his hands tied in chains.
The governor rose from his chair in shock. "You… you?" He rested his hands on the table and leaned forward, his eyes shooting lightening bolts and his lips trembling: "You tricked me. You gave me false promises. But, as you see, the truth eventually comes out. The blood libel has now been proven true. The Jews need our blood in order to mix with their masot. This is a religious ritual in which the rabbis take part. The priests are correct, but I never even imagined that the rabbis are the ones who kill the Christian with their own hands. Tell me, my revered rabbi, how, how are you able to thrust a dagger into the heart of a young boy?"
The rabbi remained silent.
"You are silent, which amounts to a confession. I upheld the first part of my promise, protecting the Jewish neighborhood from the rioters. But now, that the murderer has been found, the time has come for the second part of my promise. I myself will stand in front of the rioters, and not one Jew from the entire city will remain alive."
Again, the rabbi remained silent.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" thundered the voice of the furious governor. "Speak!"
"Ah," the rabbi suddenly muttered, as if waking from a dream, "I hope you are right."
The governor's mouth opened wide form astonishment. "You, you hope that I am correct?!"
"Yes. You said that in the end the truth always comes out. I hope that the truth is ultimately determined, and the true murderer is discovered. Then everything will be proven, that there is not a drop of truth to the blood libel."
The governor sat down on his chair. "You are a stiff-necked people. I thought your silence meant your confession, but now I hear a denial. Why were you silent when I accused you with murder?"
A slight smile curled on the rabbi's lips. "Is there a Bible here?"
"A Bible," echoed the governor. "Here, he is about to change my office into a study hall." He then turned to the rabbi. "Yes, we have a Bible." He opened a drawer and removed a thick book - a Bible translated into German.
"Please turn to the first book, chapter twenty." The governor opened to that chapter and read about Avimelech's abduction of Sarah, who had disguised as Avraham's sister. Hashem appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to return her. The governor looked up from the Bible and asked, "Okay, what are you trying to prove?"
The rabbi replied, "See, Avimelech accused Avraham and became angry with him. At that point, Avraham said nothing. Only when he asked Avraham what he had to say for himself did Avraham speak."
"You are intelligent people," acknowledged the governor. "We'll see what you will tell the judge. Send him to jail until the trial."
To be continued
ZEALOUSNESS AND TOLERANCE
The pasuk states, "Survey the course you take, and all your ways will prosper" (Mishlei 4:26). Allow me to tell a true story. A Jew acquired land and planned to build a house. He went to the engineer and received all the permits he needed. As he did not have all that much money, he decided to try cutting down his expenses. He would be the contractor and supervisor. We will not go into all the details, but if he would have written a book about his experience with this house, the profits would have been enough for him to build a new villa. But even with his inexperience, he was stunned when a worker erected walls without using a leveler.
"What's going on?" the man asked.
"It's okay," the worker replied. "I work based on how I see it." Don't ask as to the rest of the story; it was interesting.
Why do I mention this here? Every person digs a furrow for himself, he paves a path which he will follow. But is it straight or crooked? Does it ascend or descend? How can he know? King Shelomoh already wrote, "Each man's path is straight in his eyes." There is only one way to know: use a leveler. "Survey the course you take." Our leveler is the Torah: whatever it blesses is blessed, and whatever it curses is cursed.
There is a familiar, magical word in our vocabulary, a positive concept like no other: tolerance. The next stage that flows from there is pluralism, an acceptable variety of ideas. But like every concept and outlook, we must test it against our "leveler," the Torah, and assess whether it is proper or rejected, acceptable or unacceptable. The answer is complex and emerges from two different places in our parashah. Moshe Rabbenu and Elazar Hakohen are commanded to count Benei Yisrael according to their families. Each tribe has its own, unique character, and each family has its own direction. For the sake of variety, each group must preserve its singularity and uniqueness. Nevertheless, the parashah states that the tribes were permitted to marry into each other. No one tribe negates the outlook or unique quality of any other. To the contrary, "Just as their faces are not alike, so are their viewpoints not alike." And just as no one would ever think to "fix" the appearance of his friend so that it resembles his own, so must he respect his friend's view even if it does not correspond to his. All this we learn from our parashah. But in the beginning of the parashah, we read of Hashem's praise of zealousness. Pinhas receives eternal priesthood for having zealously avenged Hashem's honor. What happened to tolerance?
The answer is obvious. Tolerance is necessary in order for us to live together in our shared home. Unless we respect each other with mutual tolerance, fighting and dissension will prevail and destroy everything. But if one of the residents will try to set the house on fire, the others must absolutely drive him away.
When we realize that all of Am Yisrael are responsible one for another, and that "if a person commits one sin woe unto him, for he has turned the scales for himself and the entire world towards a guilty verdict," arousing divine wrath, and the plague has broken out, then that same concern for the welfare of the nation as a whole which warrants tolerance now demands an uprising. Zealousness of this type builds rather than destroys.
Hashem therefore grants Pinhas "My covenant of peace." The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means "shelemut," completeness, balance, perfectly coordinated and harmonious activity. Hand and foot, head and heart, the spleen and kidneys, they all live together peacefully and tolerantly, each one pleased with the singularity of the other. But when poison enters the body, it must be expelled. Sin is poison. Its expulsion allows for the coordinated functioning, the completion. "Behold, I give him My covenant of peace." Pinhas earns eternal priesthood, the privilege of serving as the nation's messenger to achieve atonement on their behalf. Every transgression disrupts the balance and the perfection, as David Hamelech wrote: "There is no peace in my bones because of my sins." And atonement restores this balance and harmony.
Let us learn to carefully level our paths through the outlook of the Torah and assess our actions based only on it.
Luna Bat Miriam and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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