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Parashat Shemot


The redemption of Benei Yisrael began unfolding through the vision of the burning bush. The "seneh," as this bush was called, is the smallest of all bushes, full of thorns and thistles. Specifically this "seneh" was chosen as the site of Hashem's historic revelation to Mosheh, in the spirit of the pasuk "I [Hashem] am with him in crisis." Thus, a critical piece of information was transmitted through this prophetic vision: even if the Jewish people are mired in the forty-nine proverbial "gates of impurity," they can elevate themselves to the level of divine revelation, as transpired during the Egyptian bondage.

On the other hand, however, this vision presents a stern warning, as well: even one who merited a divine revelation should remember that, when all is said and done, he is still but a "seneh," humble and vulnerable, and very easily he can slip and fall, even worship a golden calf! Rabbi Avraham Yafhan zs"l commented that although, as we know, "Even the sinners of Israel are full of missvot like a pomegranate," a person should still realize that he could be "full of missvot like a pomegranate" and nevertheless be considered a "sinner of Israel"! A person can be a "burning bush," ablaze with the fire of Torah study, prayer and fulfillment of missvot, and still, "...but the bush was not being consumed." The thorns are not consumed - they remain where they are. An individual can be "from his shoulders up, taller than the rest of the people," but shorter than them from his shoulders down. It is quite an exalted level when one reaches the stature of "He crouches, lies like a lion," that the "lion" quality has taken over his entire being, down to the lowest levels of existence, until the person has reached the status of "Fire from above, its glory like the lion"! Only a select few reach this level, and everyone must stand guard, fueling the fire and reacting accordingly to the divine revelation, but, at the same time, watching out for the thorns - protecting himself from the clever tactics of the evil inclination!


A story was told by a Holocaust survivor, a woman who escaped Auschwitz-Berkenau after having lived in the shadows of the gas chambers and crematoria. The war was reaching its end, the inmates of the camp could hear the canons fired by the Russian armies, but the Nazis refused to surrender easily. They ordered the survivors on a "death march," during which anyone who tripped or stumbled was shot to death. "The wicked - even as they stand near the entrance of Gehinnom they do not repent." Their defeat was certain, their downfall was imminent. To wherever they could escape, wherever they would meet their end - either way they were determined to bring the remnants of their prisoners with them so that not a single Jew would survive. However, the Russians were faster than the Nazis were. As the opposing army approached within firing range, the woman told, the Nazi general organized the final line-up. Everyone stood silently as the general gave his final speech: "The Fuhrer wanted to eliminate the Jewish nation from the face of the earth," he said. "We started the project, but we were not able to complete the work. But I am not worried, as I know you quite well. Whatever we were unsuccessful to do to you, you will do one to another. This is my consolation!"

"I am afraid," concluded the woman, "that he is right."

Since time in memoriam the Jewish people had been divided into tribes. There have always been different factions, even bitter differences of opinions. But there wasn't hatred, animosity wouldn't break out towards the other, towards the opposing parties. The school of Hillel had many, many debates with the school of Shamai with regard to both halachah as well as philosophical issues. "Even though they disagreed - they dealt with one another with love and fraternity, in fulfillment of what was stated, 'Love truth and peace'" (Yevamot 14b). Each was confident that truth lay in his position and the other was mistaken. Yet, this attitude did not affect their love for, and pursuit of, peace, showing warmth and affection towards the other.

Benei Yisrael realized their redemption from Egypt on account of four merits. One of them was their having refrained from slander (Mechilta, Bo, 28). They wouldn't hurt one another with their tongues. When one Jew threatened Mosheh that he would spread gossip about him, Mosheh cried, "Indeed, the thing has now been known," meaning, now he understood the reason behind the length of the Egyptian exile.

Remember, that was just one Jew prepared to speak evil against another. Today, tragically, slander is conducted on a much larger scale - one community lashes out against another. The hatred is expressed not with one small sentence, but through the mass media, in the form of an ongoing onslaught against the character of an entire group. This hatred is spread with no basis in reality or logical consistency, and its entire purpose is to intensify the feelings of resentment and spite. The budget allocated for the yeshivot is but a minute percentage of the amount of money poured into musical productions and plays portraying a soldier kicking a pregnant Arab woman. The budget given for the settlements is a small drop compared to the debts of the kibbutzim which are now being erased. The exemption for army service granted to the yeshivah students - both those suitable and not suitable - applies to a quarter of the number of secular Jews in Israel who evade the draft. Once again, one who wants to present arguments in one direction or another - this is his prerogative, and he should do so. But why are these deliberations conducted with such venomous hatred and spite, to strip the "haredim" of their vivacity, to prevent the establishment of Torah educational institutions, to protest against kindergartens for commiting the "severe crime" of having the children recite "modeh ani" and learn "shema yisrael"? Who taught Jewish children in Israel to tear their Tanachs apart and throw them to the ground, to take down mezuzot and burn them, to break into an aron kodesh and desecrate the Torah scrolls, Heaven forbid? Who educated the arm which waves the sign, "Trample all religious Jews!"?

It is frightening how these two worlds stand one opposite the other. On the one hand stands the community which draws no distinction between the religious and secular Jew, who helps every Jew - and every person - no matter who he is. Organizations such as Yad Eliezer, Yad Sarah, Yehudah Yaaleh, Ezrah L'marpei, and the thousands of charitable institutions which are run, almost all of them, for some reason, by haredim. On the other side lies the system which educates their students to hate blindly, to delegitimize and demonize to the point where they advocate witholding social security, (as if the haredim don't pay taxes) and hanging them on the electric poles (yes, this suggestion actually appeared in a respectable Israeli newspaper), and referring to them as cancer (also in a respectable newspaper). A cancer cell, as we know, is cut off the body. Was that enemy of the Jewish people was not correct in his assertion?

Where did this hatred come from, from what poisonous well does this animosity draw its waters? Why does not a day go by on which some religious Jew is not hungrily devoured on the radio or television? Why - and this pains us so much to write - why do some Jews fill the place of our enemies throughout the generations, with such resounding success? And why - and this is perhaps the most powerful question - haven't they learned from the consequences of what our enemies have done to us?


Nobody knows what causes a group of whales to commit suicide, to leave the confines of the water and go to the shore to die.

Nobody knows what causes a nation to commit suicide.

On the one hand, our state runs an inflated system of "shelihim" who leave Israel and go abroad to encourage "aliyah" - many of whom end up staying abroad or justify their salaries by encouraging gentiles to come on aliyah. The government is prepared to spend an enormous fortune so that a seventy-year-old will move to Israel without understanding the language, or turn a beloved musician into a street-cleaner or move him to unemployment in order to properly absorb him into the country.

And yet, when an Israeli woman is pregnant with another potential Israeli citizen - who would speak Hebrew from day one, who would be raised in the country and ultimately make his contribution, an Israeli citizen being presented to the nation on a silver platter - not only does the state refrain from lending a helping hand, from assisting and encouraging the expectant mother, but, to the contrary, they incite - and there really is no other word for it - expectant mothers to terminate their pregnancies. Bruriah will never forget the social worker who convinced her by saying, "You don't need any more children; the two that you have are enough." And Bruriah, a healthy woman, not even a poor woman - and who doesn't suffer from some sort of economic hardship? - almost agreed to undergo an abortion. She was already in the hospital, and if she hadn't met a volunteer from the "Efrat" organization she would not have been privileged to the birth of her third child!

"The Jewish nation has decreased over the last few years in a most frightening fashion," wrote the Rishon Lessiyon, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a. Not long ago, "Demographic experts predict that the world Jewish population will decrease by about two million by the year 2000, Heaven forbid. How disturbing it is that despite this frightful prognosis, about forty-thousand artificial abortions are carried out in Israel each year, the overwhelming the majority of which are unnecessary but performed for social or economic reasons. These abortions compare against approximately seventy-thousand births. Because of this, tens of thousands of Jewish children are never privileged to enter the world."

How startling it is - more than a third of the pregnancies in Israel end in abortion, more than a third of the nation is being destroyed. We have all learned about the tragic Holocaust which eliminated a third of the world's Jews. We all wonder how nothing was done to prevent that calamity. What are we doing to prevent this Holocaust?

It should be emphasized, the national perspective is universal. From the perspective of halachah, this constitutes murder; from a humanistic perspective, this is an atrocity - the fetus feels and senses the pain and suffers terribly. >From a medical perspective, this is corruption. Emotionally, this is traumatic.

Not only has nothing been done to stop this phenomenon, but efforts are being undertaken to increase its dimensions. Instead of asking how the family can be assisted, how its problems can be resolved, the social workers encourage expectant mothers to end their pregnancies. When the "Efrat" organization was established in order to help, instead of receiving at least the amount of money invested in the "shelihim" abroad, it was granted no government support. When the organization prepared a pamphlet, not to force anything on anyone, but merely to inform women of the ramifications of such a drastic step and how it could affect them physically and emotionally with no possibility of retracting the decision, the "right of the people to know" suddenly disappeared. The media jumped all over this "religious coercion," when in reality this is not religious nor is it coercion. The Minister of Health quickly guaranteed that the materials would immediately be banned, and it would be forbidden for a woman, a mother, to learn what awaits her throughout this process. Does anyone understand what is happening here? Under a national government, with a media which represents the freedom of expression?

Does anyone know why the whales commit suicide?


The Octopus

Many people tend to think of the octopus as a monstrous, blood-sucking creature who hides in ambush waiting for its unsuspecting victims in the depths of the sea, to grab them with its many legs, to choke them and eat them. It is worthwhile, then, to clear the reputation of the octopus from its popular, negative association. The octopus is actually quite timid; it does not start up with human beings or attack them. In fact, when a human threatens the octopus, it cowardly runs away, while spewing a black liquid similar to ink which creates around it a layer of smoke which conceals it from those who wish it harm. In order to increase its speed, from an opening near its head it secretes a strong stream of water which pushes the octopus even faster, in the opposite direction from the thrust of the stream of water. Another contributing factor to the octopus' ability to escape harm is its capability of changing its color with amazing speed to camouflage itself in its environment. Its true, original color is red. There are about one hundred and forty different types of octopuses, all bearing a similar appearance. The eight arms appear to grow from the head, and it seems to have no body other than its head and arms. The arms, whose length ranges from 6 centimeters to 5 meters, work with remarkable efficiency. They assist the octopus not only to catch its prey but also to walk along the floor of the sea. Furthermore, the arms help the octopus swim, acting like oars as it makes its way through the water. Similarly, the octopus searches for and senses that which is around it with its arms, as they move in every which direction with amazing flexibility. Along each arm on the side facing the mouth are found two parallel rows of about three hundred suction cups which serve as excellent fingers, as well as facilitating the senses of the octopus, as they contain a large number of mechanical and chemical cells. The octopus' arms can grow back with lightning speed. Often, during the course of battle with a foe, the octopus will lose part of an arm. In a matter of just a few weeks, the missing part of the arm grows back and resembles identically the original arm. The scientists stand in awe of this most intriguing creature and marvel at the sophisticated system of its multi-purpose arms, wishing they could construct a robot who could work with the same efficiency as the arms of the octopus. True, man has always proven its superiority over the other creatures as the crown jewel of creation by galvanizing the forces of nature and harnessing them for his comfort and interests. However, we must always remember that all the remarkable advancement in science simply reveal that which was latent in nature from the six days of creation, waiting for mankind "discover" them after centuries of hard work and research. This is what King Shelomoh meant when he declared, "There is nothing new under the sun."


Measure for Measure (23)

Flashback: A year had passed since it was decreed upon the rich miser, who had caused the death of a righteous pauper, to dress up as an impoverished beggar, refusing to accept anything from anyone except his own family. His family humiliated him and when he persisted they gave him stale scraps of food to eat. His odd behavior earned him a reputation as being mentally unstable, and his family used him as a jester to help deal with the sorrow of their missing father. They made him sing and dance and they would play with him before they would finally feed him some food. The time for the punishment had now passed, and he was permitted to return him as normal.

The rich man wondered, how can he return home without startling his family? If he would simply appear at the doorstep, their soul might depart from the shock and euphoria of seeing him so suddenly. He therefore headed towards a distant city and, with the money he had collected from donors, he had his wild, overgrown hair cut and groomed. He went to the bathouse and emerged as a totally different person. Once again, he was a well-respected, dignified and wealthy citizen, dressed honorably in luxurious clothing, carrying a linen bundle in his hand, a bundle which produced a most offensive odor. He brought the clothing to the launderer who said, "Sir, I would not use these clothes to mop the floors. Throw them away and forget about them!" But his instructions were clear: "They are a valuable souvenir. Please wash them well, and I will pay you generously." He found several golden coins in the pockets of his new/old clothing, and with this money he rented a room in an inn and enjoyed some delicious, wholesome food. Gradually, his cheeks filled out and his face regained its color. Only his gray hair told the story of the difficult year which had just passed.

Upon arriving in the inn he composed a letter to his family. He wrote that his business responsibilities forced him to travel from one region to another with little notice and no time to inform anyone. He understands that they were worried about him, and he requests their forgiveness. He was now on the way home and he will inform them when he approaches the city. Needless to say, the news created quite a stir. His family was overjoyed and celebrated emotionally. In the city, too, the news aroused great interest which led people to forget the strange disappearance of the peculiar peasant.

A month later, after the period of relaxation of calm, he sent a message that on the following Monday he was to arrive home safely. The house was prepared and decorated elaborately for his return. Everyone dressed themselves in their Shabbat clothes, lit candles, and waited anxiously for the return of the head of the household, who had been missing for over a year and was assumed dead. The hours passed by and, ultimately, the sounds of the children's joy and laughter was heard...

to be continued...


"I will please turn and see this great sight"

What did Moshe mean, "I will please turn"? The "Ssuf Devash" zs"l explains that Moshe worked as a shepherd for Yitro, but nowhere is it written that he worked for a salary. Nevertheless, he cared for the sheep responsibly, and they were kept together, in one place, in the wilderness, where there no other people. No danger could befall the sheep there in the desert. Suddenly, Moshe beholds a frightening sight, a bush that burns which nobody could have set on fire. This bush - dry and full of thorns - was not consumed by the fire. Moshe wanted to get to the bottom of this most intriguing vision, and the Midrash writes that he walked only four cubits towards the bush. Nevertheless, Moshe said, "I will please turn," as he was hesitant to take even this brief glance which perhaps constituted an abandoning of his responsibility towards the sheep. May we all learn this lesson of dedication and devotion to one's work!

"I will please turn and see this great sight"

What did Moshe mean, "I will please turn"? Rabbenu Behaye zs"l explains that here the Torah alludes to the process of one's spiritual growth. We cannot possibly imagine Moshe's level prior to this encounter, but clearly this incident marks a new chapter of prophecy, which culminated in Moshe's becoming the father of all prophets. One who wishes to grow and develop must do so gradually, as every jump runs the serious risk of falling afterwards. Therefore, the development begins with "I will please turn," approaching closer, and only afterwards does one merit to hear the angel's voice. Then comes the ultimate level, of hearing the voice of the Almighty directly. This may be compared to one who leaves a dark room towards bright light who runs the risk of blindness unless he exposes his eyes to the sun gradually. Our ultimate redemption, too, will unfold step-by-step so we can be ready for the final stage. Fortunate are those who work and wait for this redemption!

"I will please turn and see this great sight"

What did Moshe mean, "I will please turn"? The Alshich zs"l explains that Moshe knew that before him stands a wondrous sight - a dry bush full of thorns was set ablaze but was nevertheless not consumed. Furthermore, a furious flame of fire raged in the upper part of the bush, but yet it could not take control of the bush at all. Rather, it surrounded the upper branches, never reaching the heart of the bush itself.

Moshe thus understood that this vision must serve as some symbol. He realized that in order to successfully decipher the riddle he must concentrate all his intellectual efforts intensely. This is why he said, "I will please turn," meaning, turning his attention away from all outside distractions, concentrating exclusively on the phenomenon in question. Indeed, Moshe did understand the message behind the burning bush: the fire symbolized the raging flames of the impurity of Egypt. The bush signifies Benei Yisrael. In the lower part of the bush, meaning, the wicked among the people, a little of the fire was able to burn, but "it was not consumed," the fire could not destroy the Jewish centerpiece. And in the upper level of the bush - the fire could not even touch!!


Rabbi Yossef Ohayon zs"l

Just recently, the works "Likkutei Avkat Rochel" and "Imrei Yosef," by Rabbi Yosef Ohayon zs"l, were published. Rabbi Yosef was one of the great scholars and judges in Itzrar and Tiznit, Morocco.

The sacred scholar ensured that his Torah study was his predominant occupation while his work as a merchant would remain only his ancillary preoccupation. Upon his return from the market he would immediately sink into his studies, like a thirsty person who suddenly comes upon a spring of cool, refreshing drinking water in the desert. His power of concentration in his studies was remarkable, to the point where he would be unaware of his surroundings. There were even incidents where expensive objects were stolen from his home without the sadik noticing the entrance or exit of the thief. His proficiency in Torah acquired him a great reputation and many students gathered around him to anxiously drink his words. They arranged a system by which different students would receive Torah from his mouth in all areas of Torah, in both the revealed and hidden. His house became a true haven for Torah scholars, and he would involve himself in Torah study even as he left his house to the market, rejoicing in every moment to hear words of Torah. Fifty years ago, he published his work "Avkat Rochel," a commentary on the Midrashim of Hazal, every word of which may be likened to flames of fire. This is the only one among his many works which was published. We know from his introduction to that work that his files were replete with manuscripts, including a work on the Shulhan Aruch which was lost, as well as a comprehensive work on the Siddur.

The "Od Yossef Hai" foundation, which was founded in his memory and for the elevation of his soul, together with his great-grandson, Rabbi Yaakov Kohen shlit"a, was privileged to publish the sacred work, a copy of the Humash of the highest quality, arranged according to the parshiyot of the Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim, together with sources and indexes to assist those who learn the work. The lips of the great sadik shall thus continue spewing forth his words of Torah and thus serve to bring merit to those who eternalize his memory and study his Torah and to all of Am Yisrael, for salvation and comfort.


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

The halachot with an elaboration of their sources and explanations will appear, please God, in a major work soon to be published.

Chapter 4: Washing One's Hands in the Morning

(Continued from last week)

The Blessing of "Al Netilat Yadayim"

One must recite blessing of "al netilat yadayim" after washing his hands in the morning. Optimally, the blessing should be recited prior to drying one's hands. Nevertheless, the berachah may recited afterwards if it had not been recited prior to drying. Similarly, if one cannot recite the berachah before drying, for example, if the room in which he is located is unclean and thus unsuitable for the recitation of a berachah, he may recite the berachah after drying his hands. Even one who recites the berachah in the Bet Kenesset for this reason has authorities on whom to rely.

Nevertheless, one should try to recite the berachah as close to the drying as possible. (This applies only to the washing of the hands in the morning. Regarding washing one's hands before eating, one should not recite the berachah after drying his hands if he had not done so beforehand, as we never recite blessings whose obligation is in question.)

One who cannot wash both hands in the morning or before eating, such as one who has a cast or bandage on one hand and he cannot get it wet, or one who has only one hand, recites "al netilat yadayim" nonetheless, both in the morning and prior to eating.

Washing One's Face and Rinsing One's Mouth

The Berayta in Masechet Shabbat (50) says that one should wash his face, hands and feet each day for his Creator, as the pasuk states, "Everything Hashem has done for His sake" (Mishlei 16:4). According to the Rambam (Hilchot Tefilah 4:3), this means that in the morning before praying one must wash his face, hands and feet. Nevetheless, it would seem that according to the actual halachah one does not need to wash his feet each morning. It is advisable to wash one's face in the morning after washing his hands, before shaharit. One should also rinse his mouth after washing.

The Blessing of "Asher Yassar" in the Morning

According to the custom of the Sefaradim and the Middle-Eastern communities, one who does not perform his bodily functions in the morning does not recite "asher yassar" at all. Some Ashkenazim have the custom that in the morning, when one wakes up, he recites "asher yassar" together with "al netilat yadayim" whether or not he actually performed his bodily functions. After waking up, however, such as one who simply washes his hands before praying, one does not recite "asher yassar" unless he performs his bodily functions.

Even according to the practice of the Ashkenazim, one should perform his boldily functions in the morning in order to be able to recite "asher yassar" according to all opinions and thus avoid a situation of doubt. Similarly, the Sefaradim and Edot Hamizrah, who do not recite "asher yassar" in the morning unless they had performed their functions, should try to perform their bodily functions in the morning so as to avoid a situation of doubt and recite the berachah according to all views.

The Water and Utensil Used for Washing

One should preferably be stringent with regard to all matters when washing his hands in the morning as he would when washing before eating. Namely, he should use a utensil without holes, the water should be of a quantity of a "revi'it," the water should be clean that its color has not been distorted and no work was done with it, and the water should be poured through the effort of a person, etc. In fact, according to the Zohar and several rishonim, without these requirements one has not fulfilled the requirement of washing his hands in the morning.

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