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Parashat Shemini


The beginning of the parashah recounts the events of the eighth and final day of the "milu'im," the consecration of the mishkan and its preparation for the residence of the Shechinah: "It was on the eighth day, Mosheh called Aharon, his sons, and all the elders of Israel." He called Aharon, as he was chosen as kohen gadol; Aharon's sons were addressed, as well, as they were to serve as kohanim. But why did Mosheh make a point of speaking to the elders, as well? The Midrash answers that this pasuk is one of the places where we find that the Torah "afforded honor to the elders."

Previously, when Mosheh first assumed the task of securing the release of Benei Yisrael from Egypt, he assembled the elders, performed miracles before them, and informed them of the imminent redemption. At Har Sinai, too, the elders were given the special distinction of a special place closer to the mountain during Matan Torah. Now, as well, Mosheh gives them special honor as the mishkan is formally consecrated. Indeed, this is an integral part of our heritage; this is how we were raised and the values by which we were educated - to afford honor to the elders, to respect them and give them precedence. The Torah mandates, "you shall glorify the face of an elder," to stand before them and heed the words of wisdom that they speak. Many people today throw around the expression, "The world belongs to the young." In truth, however, the world belongs to the Almighty Who commanded us to show respect to the elders. The culture of aesthetics and instant gratification is a most shallow one. The culture that respects the elderly is one of content and values, the one that has survived the generations, and to this culture we must belong.


Our parashah presents the foods that we are forbidden to eat. The Kabbalah teaches us that these halachot are not arbitrary; rather, they involve the inner workings of creation. Just as foods eaten in the context of a missvah, such as massah at the seder or Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, belong to the realm of kedushah, so do the forbidden foods belong to the "three layers of impurity." They add force to the powers of impurity in the world and bring those who eat them into this realm. Although we cannot involve ourselves in mystical studies, we do know of a certain great "gadol" who met with a group of activists who worked towards bringing Jews back to their heritage. The group asked him from where they should start, what should be their first concern. He answered that first and foremost they must concern themselves with the sanctity of the Jewish table, ensuring the "kashrut" of the foods eaten. For one who eats non-kosher food associates himself with the realm of impurity, and his heart cannot allow any sanctity to enter, as Hazal say, "Forbidden foods seal off the heart of a person." But if one observes the dietary laws, his heart will be open to sanctity, and, ultimately, his will come closer to Torah and missvot.

Not only are the great scholars aware of this, but the Satan himself knows quite well that the future of his battle lies in the field of "kashrut." Only this will explain the phenomenon of the widespread distribution of non-kosher foods in Israel, the import of all types of sea-food and the emergence of stores selling pork, which nobody in Israel wants and against which laws of have been passed. At the same time as we witness a wave of "teshuvah" and a yearning to return to our ancestral heritage, we find forces who wish to eliminate any traces of sanctity, specifically in the areas of Shabbat and kashrut.

Rabbi Iloan Avidani zs"l of Kurdistan told a story, which he witnessed with his own two eyes, about a certain butcher who took ill and was approaching his final moments. He called the rabbi and confessed that all his life he was feeding people forbidden meat. Even before he completed his confession, he died. As they were about to bury him in the grave, they noticed that the grave was full of mice scurrying back and forth. The people around trembled and scrambled to dig another grave nearby. They dug another grave, but as they were about to lower the deceased they once again saw an enormous assembly of mice. The rabbi instructed to dig yet a third grave, but once again dozens of mice started running about as they brought the body for burial. They tried chasing the mice away, but to no avail. Even when they lowered wood and set it on fire. the mice remained. The rabbi then decided, "This is already the third time; we now have a 'hazakah.' We have no choice but to bury him here." Later, when they came to erect the monument, they saw that the mice had completely devoured the body as well as the bones, sparing nothing.

Hashem always punishes "measure for measure." How did this punishment fit the crime? The Talmud Yerushalmi says that "mice symbolize the wicked."

The reason is that when they discover food they not only satisfy their hunger with the newly found goods, but they call their friends to join them in their theft. Thus, they are not only sinners themselves, but they bring others to sin, as well. Similarly, one who wishes to indulge in forbidden foods, so be it, and he will ultimately have to stand judgment for his sin. But one who takes others with him and feeds them these foods, is comparable to the mice, who not only sin themselves but lure others to participate, as well.


"Aharon raised his hands to the nation and blessed them"

Rabbi Yaakov Baal Haturim zs"l comments that Aharon offered the people three blessings, corresponding to the three sacrifices offered on that day. The first, which corresponds to the sin-offering, was "May Hashem bless you and protect you," meaning, protect you from sin, as the pasuk states, "The footsteps of His pious He guards." The second - "May Hashem shine His face upon you and grace you," corresponds to the burnt-offering, "olah," as the pasuk states, "As you go up ['ba'alotecha,' related to the word 'olah'] to be seen by My face," and the third - "May Hashem raise His face towards you and give you peace" - corresponds to the peace-offering ("shelamim").

"Aharon raised his hands to the nation and blessed them" "Yadav" ("his hands") in this pasuk is written without the letter "vav." Rabbenu Behaye zs"l explains based on Kabbalah, that Aharon lifted his right hand higher than his left hand, thereby elevating the Attribute of Kindness over the Attribute of Justice, thus further adding to the blessing. Similarly, as the people battled against Amalek, Mosheh lifted his hands: "It was when Mosheh lifted his hands, Yisrael would be victorious...and his hands became faith." There, too, Mosheh lifted both his right hand higher than the left, thereby allowing the forces of kindness to overpower the power of the left.

"Aharon raised his hands to the nation and blessed them"

The pasuk then continues, "and he came down from doing the sin-offering." The "Michlal Yofi" notes that apparently Aharon blessed the people while still standing upon the altar, from where he could see them all. This alludes to the fact that blessings emanate from above, from the sacred service. Therefore, when the people would turn their eyes upwards and devote their hearts to their Father in heaven, they would be blessed.

"Moshe demanded [the she-goat of the sin-offering], but behold, it was burnt" "Demanded" in this pasuk appears here in the form of a double expression: "darosh darash." The Hid"a zs"l writes that tradition dictates that the first word -"darosh" - should be written in the Torah scroll at the end of the line, and the second word - "darash" - should be written at the beginning of the following line. He then writes that he found written in an ancient work that this alludes to the expansive quality of Torah, its limitless breadth and magnitude. One who thinks that he was "doresh" (studied) the Torah until the "end of the line," must be reminded that he has hardly studied even the "beginning of the line." Thus, the pasuk continues, the sacrifice was "burnt" - "soraf." The word "soraf" may be understood as standing for the words "shishim ribo panim laTorah," that there are 600,000 different ways of understanding the concepts of the Torah - who can master them all?


Rabbi Hayyim Sinvani zs"l

One of the students of Rabbi Hayyim Sinvani zs"l would often sing the praises of his great mentor to his friend, who was himself a very capable young scholar. The latter became interested in meeting Rabbi Hayyim, and a meeting was arranged. When he came before Rabbi Hayyim, the ssadik looked at him and said, "When you say in the Shemoneh Esreih the prayer for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, do not say too many supplications for the redemption. It is enough that you sincerely hope in the deepest recesses of your heart for the coming of the Moshiah."

The young student was amazed, as this practice of his was always kept between him and Hashem - he had never told anyone! Who revealed this to the ssadik, and why should he not conduct himself this way if he truly yearns to see the unfolding of the redemption and the subsequent revelation of the Divine Glory?

As he stood there wondering, the ssadik continued to speak: "You should know, that the Almighty longs for the redemption far more than we do. The redemption is dependent upon the purification of the souls and the disclosing of the hidden sparks of kedushah in the world. These processes occur throughout the generations as people perform missvot. Slowly but surely, the building is being completed until the great moment when our eyes will behold the Glory of the King, the palace will stand erect and the Creator will shed His spirit throughout humanity. But if we work for the coming of the redemption before its proper time, then the process of purification will take place in the form of horrible suffering, as the Or Hahayyim zs"l writes in his comments to the pasuk "he washes in garment in wine" (in Parashat Vayehi). Certainly you do not want to pray for that! We are therefore warned not to push the redemption prematurely, as Rashi explains (Ketubot 111) that we should not recite too many prayers for the redemption. Rather, we should increase our Torah study and performance of missvot and involve ourselves in repentance and good deeds. In this way, we will merit to see the return of Hashem to Zion with mercy."


A Series of Halachot According to 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

The sources and explanations behind these halachot will appear, please God, in expanded form in a major work soon to be published.

Chapter 5: The Laws of Concentration While Reciting Berachot

When one recites a berachah, he must concentrate on the meaning of the words that he articulates. For example, one who recites a berachah over food should concentrate on the fact that he is blessing the Almighty Who, in His infinite mercy, provided him food to enjoy. Similarly, when reciting a berachah over the performance of a missvah, one should think of the fact that he is blessing the Almighty Who in His mercy commanded us to perform missvot. One should not articulate the words without thinking about their meaning. Because of the people's negligence in this regard, Hashem was angry at them and sent the prophet Yeshayahu to criticize their behavior: "Because of the fact that this nation has approached, with its mouth and lips it honors Me, but its heart is distant from Me. Their fear of Me has become the routine conduct of man" (Yeshayahu 29:13). In other words, Hashem told Yeshayahu that the people's performance of missvot was exclusively external, as merely keeping the traditions of their forefathers.

They come to pray the prayers only to keep the tradition, but with no thought or concentration whatsoever. One should accustom himself to pray out loud, as doing so helps generate more concentration. One must also be careful to properly articulate the words of the berachah being recited. He must ensure not to skip a single word, and recite them as carefully as if he were counting his money. Unlike many people who recite berachot quickly and, doing so, they swallow letters and thus there is no significance to the berachah as it was recited, one should articulate the berachah slowly and make sure to pronounce each letter. One should think how careful he would be speaking to a human monarch. How much more care must be taken when speaking to the King of kings!!

One may not be involved in any activity whatsoever - no matter how light - as he recites the berachah. About one who does so the pasuk states, "you walk with me as by happenstance" (Vayikra 26:21). This is especially critical while reciting the Shemoneh Esreih, Shema or Birkat Hamazon.

Regarding the pasuk, "This is My Name forever, this is My Reference for all generations" (Shemot 3:15), Hazal write (Pesahim 50) that Hashem here instructs that His Name is to be articulated in a different manner from which it is written. It is written as "Y-H-V-H," but is recited as "A-D-N-Y." The Mishnah in Sanhedrin (90a) cites the comment of Abba Shaul that one who articulates the written Name of God has no share in the World to Come. Furthermore, the Gemara in Masechet Avodah Zarah (18a) records that Rabbi Hanina Ben Tradyon died a painful death because he would articulate the written Name of God. His wife was punished, as well, for not discouraging this practice. This prohibition applies whether one articulates the Name as one word or if he simply spells it out, reciting the names of all four letters in sequence.

Therefore, one who recites the "leshem yihud" before performing a missvah must be careful not to actually articulate the four letters of the Divine Name. Rather, he should say "yud KEIH vav KEIH," substituting "KEIH" for the letter "HEIH." Alternatively, he may add the word "ot" (letter) before saying each letter, thus ensuring that he does not say the four letters one right after another. This practice should be followed also when the Divine Name is mentioned during the prayer, "Patah Eliyahu." [There is no obligation to recite the "leshem yihud" prior to the performance of a missvah, and it suffices to merely concentrate on the fact that a missvah is about to be performed. It is a measure of piety, though, to recite the "leshem yihud" before performing a missvah.]


Vines and Grapes

The grapevine is unique, different from all other trees. This uniqueness is expressed by the fact that the tree has a special name - the vine, and is not merely called the "grape tree." The dried fruits of the vine are raisins and the liquid extracted from its fruit is wine. There are thousands of different species of vines. Most of them are good only for the production of wine, some are good only for the grapes, and others are good only for the manufacture of raisins. Dozens of other species are suitable for all these purposes. The vine is the greatest of all agricultural activities, both in terms of the surface covered - they often stretch for hundreds of millions of acres - and in terms of the international production of, and interest in, the fruits of the vine. The vine blossoms during springtime, and the young buds are arranged in clusters. Before blossoming, they are covered with a green covering which sheds later on. The juicy grapes contain four kernels, and their color depends upon the specific type.

The vine is among the most ancient of civilization's agricultural enterprises. Already Noah planted a vineyard upon his exit from the ark. Today, too, vines grow wildly, but the grapes from which wine is produced come from vines specifically planted and treated for the purpose of wine. This vine is enlarged by planting shoots in the ground, where they take root and grow new branches. How is wine produced from grapes? This is quite an ancient project, which has become the subject of modern innovation. The basic concepts, however, have remained the same since antiquity. The grapes are squeezed into large presses. The spores of the grapes develop in the juice and cause fermentation, as a result of which the sugar in the grapes turns into alcohol and carbon-dioxide. After the fermentation process, the wine quiets down and eventually becomes clear and ready for drinking. The more it sits and ages, the better its taste. This is one of the reasons why Torah scholars are compared to the vine. The more a Jew learns Torah, the more wisdom he acquires and his knowledge is expanded.

The prophet Hoshea exclaims in the name of Hashem, "Like grapes in the desert I found Yisrael!" What is better in the scorching, dry desert than luscious grapes? This is how precious Benei Yisrael are before the Almighty!

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