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Parashat Shelah


The Rhinoceros

The rhinoceros is among the largest mammals. Among the land-animals, it places third in terms of size and weight, after the elephant and hippopotamus. The rhinoceros can approach a weight of close to three tons, the weight of more than thirty-five adult people together. Given its size, the rhinoceros has no reason to fear animals of prey hiding in ambush.

Indeed, the rhinoceros is not afraid of the lion, and even the cheetah does not impress him too much. Although one might have thought that such a large creature would be of a quiet and tranquil nature, nothing is farther from the truth. The rhinoceros is an exceptionally wild animal, and, at times, it can become so enraged that it will pounce on any moving thing that could potentially be conceived as a threat. The reason, scientists believe, is that although the rhinoceros has been granted fully developed senses of smell and hearing, it cannot see very well. The rhinoceros's legs are exceptionally thick, with three hooves protruding from the bottom of each.

Its skin is thick and wrinkled, practically without hair, resembling an article of clothing too big for the one wearing it. From the lower portion of the head, just above the nose, protrude two horns, while some species have only one horn. Interestingly, these horns are constantly growing. It should also be noted that the horns of the rhinoceros are not made from the same material as the horns of other animals. Its horns are a kind of growth in the thick skin, and are composed of a collection of hairs that have hardened.

If we were to ask the rhinoceros after one of its fits of anger, "What are you so angry about?" it would obviously have no response. The rhinoceros has no control over its actions; he cannot determine its nature. It has no choice but to act in accordance with the nature that the Creator instilled within it. The human being, however, the crown jewel of creation, is called upon to take control of his emotions and distance himself from anger.

Hazal comment that whoever gets angry "all types of Gehinnom control over him," and "is considered as having worshipped idols." As Jews, we know that a person is not bound by his nature; he has the capacity to change it. Even one who is generally short-tempered can, if only he wanted to, overcome his anger. A Jew must follow the ways of the Almighty Himself, Who is "patient, with an abundance of kindness."


Father and Son (19)

Flashback: Two brothers - one a pious sadik, and the other a brilliant scholar and authority of halachah - managed the store they inherited from their father until it could no longer support both growing families. The younger brother - the scholar - left to find a position in the rabbinate, and along the way was hosted by a kind innkeeper, whom he blessed that his wife should bear a son. Years later, the son born from this blessing came to the rabbi's town. He was poor, ignorant and ill-mannered. The rabbi had compassion for the boy and hired him to do odd jobs for the court, as he was incapable of learning. One day, the rabbi received a letter from his brother, asking him to return to his hometown with his best student, who will marry the brother's daughter. They left without the ignorant boy, but he swam after the ship after it embarked, and joined the rabbi and his student.

One cannot describe the emotional reunion of the two brothers. The rabbi discovered that his brother had ascended great heights in his service of Hashem, and continued to grow from one level of sanctity to the next, having made great achievements in the purity of his conduct. He told his brother that he planned on inviting him to join him after his fortieth birthday.

Now that he had acquired such vast knowledge in the "revealed" areas of the Torah, the time had come for his brother to teach him the "hidden" areas of the Torah, so that his knowledge will be complete.

As the emotion began to subside, the older brother asked, "Did you bring your best student, so that he can marry my daughter and grow in Torah under my guidance?"

The brother responded, "I have obeyed your wish - I brought with me my most outstanding student."

"Bring him here, and I will take good care of him," answered the righteous brother. And so the Rosh Yeshivah took his student and introduced him to the sadik.

The sadik looked at the boy and said, "This is not my daughter's match."

The Rosh Yeshivah was stunned. "What have you found wrong with him?"

The sadik, though, would not explain. "It is enough for me to tell you that this is not my daughter's match. Did you perhaps bring another boy?"

"No," replied the brother. "You told me to bring only one student."

Suddenly, one of the people present jumped in and remarked jokingly, "You brought Yosselle with you!"

"Who is Yosselle?" asked the sadik.

"An ignorant young man, who I appointed as a gopher for the local Bet Din," answered the Rosh Yeshivah.

"Let me see him," said the sadik. As soon as the ignorant boy was brought before the ssadik, the sadik exclaimed, "This is the groom!"

to be continued...


Rabbi Sa'adyah Ibn Danaan zs"l

The wicked do not repent even as they stand at the door of Gehinnom. Accordingly, Datan and Aviram stood by the door of their tent with their hands fold

ed. Even as the ground split beneath, them smiled scornfully and defiantly. Rabbi Sa'adyah Ibn Danaan zs"l would tell the story in this context of the wicked enemy of the Jews, Muhmad Adridi, who revolted against the king of Morocco and seized the capital city. He oppressed the Jews to the point where he took the flour from their kitchens and the clothing from their backs. Facing starvation, the Jews fled the city to look for some grass in the fields, much to the delight of the wicked rebel, who hoped to take over the people's desolated homes. The Almighty saw the plight of His people and came to their assistance, helping King Mulai Arssid return to the city.

The guards, disgusted by the tyranny of the rebel and his followers, opened the gates for the king, and the rebel was captured alive. The king ordered that the rebel be publicly hung and stabbed, and that all the inhabitants come observe his death, thus discouraging any subsequent revolutions. Rabbi Sa'adyah continued, "Look how arrogant that wicked man Adridi was.

Even as he hung on the tree and the pole was thrust into his stomach, he still said to those around him, 'I was always higher than you, and even now, at my death, as I hang on the tree - I am still higher than you.'"

There is no wonder, then, why Datan, Aviram and Korah acted as they did.

To the contrary, we stand in awe of Korah's sons, whose hearts were stirred at the final moment and were moved to repentance. They merited a special place and Gehinnom and were saved from bitter retribution.


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 Ssissit

The Procedure for Wrapping the Tallit

The misvah of sisit applies to any four-cornered garment worn in a manner similar to how people generally wearing their garments. As such, there is no requirement, strictly speaking, to wrap oneself in the tallit with the "Ishmaelite wrapping," i.e., wrapping the tallit over the head.

Nevertheless, the custom has evolved throughout the Jewish people to wrap this way when reciting the berachah over the tallit.

Thus, the proper procedure for wrapping is as follows: immediately after reciting the berachah of "lehitatef besisit," one should wrap the tallit around his head, with the four corners of the tallit falling by his face, two to the right and two to the left. He then should take the right side, and throw it over his left shoulder. (One should stay that way for the amount of time necessary to walk four cubits.) He should then take the left side and throw it over his right shoulder, so that now all four corner are situated on his back. He should stay that way for the amount of time necessary to walk four cubits (about two seconds). He should then lower the tallit over his body, so that two corners of the tallit lie in front, and two in back. In this way, the individual is now completely surrounded by, and enveloped in, missvot.

Some have the custom that immediately following the berachah they wrap their heads and bodies in the tallit, and then they lift the tallit to their shoulders. Finally, they take the right side and throw it over their left shoulder. Those who are accustomed this way need not change their practice, as they have authorities on whom to rely. This is the practice of the Ashkenazim as well as some Sephardic communities.

One should ensure that while wrapping the tallit it does not cover the entire face and eyes. Rather, the wrapping should be over the head and around the neck and chin, under the mouth. Those who cover their faces and eyes while wrapping the tallit are following an erroneous practice, and they should change their custom and follow one the above procedures.

Still others don't wrap the tallit at all, and simply leave the tallit folded around their necks throughout the entire tefilah. (This practice is especially common among those who wear a silk tallit.) Those who wear the tallit this way do not fulfill the misvah of sisit, and their berachah is thus a "berachah levatalah." They should be taught to correct their practice in accordance with halachah.

After concluding the wrapping, some have the custom to recite the pesukim of Tehillim 36:8-11. They must ensure not to recite these pesukim before the recitation of Birkat haTorah.

Those who have the custom of wrapping the tallit around their heads and bodies may recite these pesukim during the wrapping, while the entire body is wrapped in the tallit. However, those who first wrap the tallit only around the head should not recite these pesukim until they have completed the entire procedure and the tallit rests on their entire bodies, so as not to make an interruption. However, if one did recite these pesukim before lowering the tallit over his entire body, he does not need to recite a new berachah, since he did begin the performance of the misvah before reciting the pesukim.


The end of this week's parashah presents the parashah of sisit, which we read each morning and evening. The Hafess Hayyim zs"l derives a critical lesson from this section, one which demands our thought and attention. The Torah requires that we affix ssissit to the corners of our garments in order that we remember the misvot at all times: "...and you shall not stray after your hearts and eyes." Hazal explain (Berachot 12b) that "after your hearts" refers to heresy, whereas "your eyes" refers to licentious thoughts.

About these thoughts the pasuk then testifies, "that you stray after."

Meaning, the Torah refers here even to those who have already filled their minds with heretical ideas and whose eyes and thoughts have indulged in promiscuous material. The Torah then adds, "In order that you remember to perform all My misvot, and you shall be holy to your God." Even from this young man the Torah demands that he not only abandon his inappropriate ways, and not only that he perform the misvot, but that he reach the highest peaks of kedushah, sanctity. The Torah testifies to the fact, and the Almighty demands, that he lift himself from the abyss of iniquity to the highest levels. Indeed, there is no such thing as desperation - if he only desires it, anything is possible!

Each individual must tell himself - the Almighty believes in me; I must therefore believe in myself and gather strength to raise myself to the highest peaks.


Many people wonder about the future and ask themselves what will be. Our rabbis have taught us that all answers can be found in the Torah, and that we must study the weekly Torah portion. This week's parashah is less then encouraging, as it tells the tragic story of the spies. However, even this story can illuminate and offer hope. Many have asked, why were the spies punished so severely? After all, they reported the truth: "It is a land flowing with milk and honey, and here is its fruit. However, the nation dwelling there is strong, and the fortified cities are very large." It's all true! The Ramban writes, "In this regard they spoke the truth, and responded in accordance with that which they were commanded...For they were supposed to report the truth to those who sent them, as this is what they were commanded." The entire sin lay in a single word - "efes," "however."

They wronged by saying, "Everything is good, except..." There is no "except"! Were they to have stopped after the report itself, they would have executed their mission perfectly. But once they gave their analysis, and appended to the report their own interpretation and assessment, they overstepped their bounds. Why? For Hashem is all-powerful, and He can easily overpower the mighty nations of Canaan: "And I destroyed from them the Emori, whose height is like that of cedars, and who are strong as oaks. I destroyed its fruit from above and its roots from down below" (Amos 2:9).

This is our lesson from this parashah. We all see what is going on, but only the omniscient God Himself knows the inner significance of that which transpires, and everything He does is for the best. Rabbenu Nissim's "Sippur Hamaasiyot" tells the story of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi who fasted and prayed for days that Eliyahu the prophet would appear to him. Eventually, the prophet came to see him, and asked Rabbi Yehoshua what he wishes. Rabbi Yehoshua answered that he desires to accompany the prophet to see what he does in the world and thus learn of his great wisdom.

Eliyahu answered, "You will not be able to tolerate that which you will see, and you will constantly bother me by questioning everything I do." Rabbi Yehoshua therefore promised that he will not ask anything and agreed that the moment he asks Eliyahu about something he did, they will part ways.

They walked together and arrived at the home of an impoverished man, who received his livelihood from his scrawny cow. As they approached the house, the couple saw them from the window and immediately stood up and came to greet them. They graciously invited the men and treated them to milk and cheese, produced by the cow. The hosted them for the night and wished them a fond farewell the next morning. As they left, Eliyahu prayed that the cow should die. They had walked but a small distance when they heard the wailing of the couple over the loss of the cow. Rabbi Yehoshua was stunned and embittered. Is there no better reward for this hospitable peasant then the untimely death of his cow? He asked Eliyahu, "My master, why did you kill this nice man's cow?" The prophet responded, "Remember our condition. If you want to part ways now, I will tell you." Rabbi Yehoshua kept quiet and they continued walking.

They walked the entire day, and just before nightfall they reached the home of a wealthy man. The man ignored them and offered them nothing. Only after they pleaded with him did he agree to let them stay for the night, in his courtyard, among the bricks being used for the renovation of his house, to replace a flimsy wall with a more sturdy one. They slept there hungry and thirsty, and in the morning Eliyahu prayed that the flimsy wall will become sturdy, and its cracks will disappear. Before they left, Eliyahu turned to the man and asked, "Why do you spend all this money for nothing? Look - the wall is sturdy and firm!" The man looked and saw that, indeed, the wall was in tact, and the two guests continued along their way.

Rabbi Yehoshua could not control himself, and he spoke up. "Rebbe, I see a topsy-turvy world! The poor couple went out of their way to host us, and they were punished by losing their single source of livelihood. Meanwhile, this wealthy miser gave us nothing and was rewarded with a new wall!" Eliyahu answered, "If you are willing to separate at this point, I will answer you. It had been decreed that this poor woman would die, leaving her husband a widower. I therefore prayed on their behalf that the decree be improved, and the cow therefore died instead. The woman will now have to embark on a business enterprise, and she will be very successful. As for this miser, I knew that he would find an enormous treasure were he to take down that wall. I therefore prayed that the wall remain in tact, so that he would not discover the gold and silver."

Indeed, we can only see what lies in front of us; but the true significance lies well beyond the scope of our vision. We place our trust in the Almighty, for everything He does is for the best, and, soon enough, the hidden good will be revealed.


"They shall place on the sisit of the corner a string of blue dye"

During the time of the Bet Hamikdash, it was known how to produce the "techelet" dye for the sisit. Although in exile we have lost the tradition, the halachah is that the missvah of ssissit can still be fulfilled even without techelet (Menahot 84a), through the white strings that we wear.

The Ar"i zs"l (Sha'ar HaKavanot, Derushei HaSsissit 4) has expanded on why the techelet was hidden during exile according to the Kabbalistic tradition. The Rem"a MiPano zs"l explains this fact on the simple level. The white ssissit strings represent the Attribute of Kindness, and the dark techelet symbolizes the attribute of power and heavenly protection. These two divine attributes are aroused by our performance of missvot.

However, during the time of exile we find ourselves in danger and thus in need of further protection. The techelet was therefore hidden. Since there is the principle, "One who wanted to perform a missvah but was unable to [due to circumstances beyond his control], he is considered as having performed it," without the techelet, the Almighty Himself protects us!

"It shall be for you as sisit"

The Alshich zs"l notes the apparent redundancy: "They shall make for themselves shall be for you as ssissit." He also raises another difficulty in the pasuk, that it begins in third person and concludes in second person.

He explains that the beginning of the pasuk presents the command, and therefore writes in third person, as many missvot are written. However, the people may come to ask, we performed the missvah, we affixed the ssissit to our garments and looked at them. Yet, we have not been awakened to remember and perform all the missvot. Where is power of sisit that was promised?

Hashem then responds, in second person, do you think that this power is effectuated automatically? "It shall be for you as sisit." Meaning, it works only if you make the effort to remember. This may be compared to one who ties a string around his finger so that he remembers to do something very important. If he looks at the string, he will remember. However, if he just happens to tie a string around his finger, it won't remind him of anything!

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