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Parashat Tazria Messora


The Ar"i zs"l writes that when one suffers, Heaven forbid, from any sort of crisis and consults a sadik, the sadik can intervene and thus transform the "nega" (affliction) into "oneg" (delight), and the "sarah" (crisis) into "rasah" (that which is pleasing). The Ben Ish Hai zs"l adds that this concept is alluded to in our parashah. Describing the leprous affliction ("sara'at") that has been cured, the Torah writes, "vehinei hafach hanega et eno," "The affliction has changed color." The word used for "color" in his pasuk is "eno," a contraction for "ayin shelo," its color. However, it may also be understood as the letter "ayin." Thus, the pasuk tells us that the "ayin" of the word "nega" should be switched and moved from the back of the word to the beginning, thus forming the word "oneg." The "Zecher Haim" zs"l suggests that this idea is alluded to as well in the poem of the Ar"i, "Azamer Bishvahin," recited by many on Friday night. One line in the poem reads, "Beshavin iturin de'al gabei hamshin," "the seventy crowns on top of the fifty." This may refer to the letter "ayin" - whose numerical value is seventy - placed behind the "nun," whose numerical value is fifty.

This may also serve as a reminder to us that everything the Al-mighty does is, ultimately, for the best: "It is a time of crisis for Yaakov - and from it they shall be saved." The Midrash relates the incident of one whose cow broke its leg and, as the owner went through the trouble to pick it up, he disclosed a hidden treasure in that spot. Here, too, one will at first feel despondent over having been inflicted by sara'at. However, in the end he will discover the "ayin," and then when he looks back he will recognize the "oneg," the delight of divine salvation. The mourning will soon turn into celebration, the melancholy into joy, and the one who has suffered will soon sing songs of praise and thanks to Hashem.


The Midrash in our parashah comments that the affliction of "sara'at" serves as divine punishment for the sin of "lashon hara," inappropriate speech about others. The Midrash then tells the story of Rabbi Yannai who was learning in his home when suddenly he heard the voice of the merchant in the street advertising his merchandise: "Who wants to live? Who desires life?"

His shouting caught the attention of those around him, and soon a considerable audience crowded around. Rabbi Yannai, too, looked out from his window. Turning to the merchant, he said, "Come, come sell me your merchandise!" The merchant looked up at Rabbi Yannai and answered, "The rabbi does not need my merchandise, nor do his friends." "Still," insisted Rabbi Yannai, "show me what it is you're selling." The merchant pulled out from his pocket a Tehillim and turned to the pesukim, "Who is the person who desires life, who loves days in which to see good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking trickery." Rabbi Yannai then exclaimed, "All my life I have been reading this pasuk, and I never knew just how simple it is until this merchant came along and told me!"

Many scholars throughout the ages have written lengthy essays about this Midrash. Why was Rabbi Yannai so taken aback? He had studied this pasuk so many times, and certainly he analyzed it thoroghly. What exactly did he learn from this merchant? What issue suddenly became clear? It would seem that all his life, Rabbi Yannai understood the pasuk in accordance with his own, exalted stature. He understood the "person" in the pasuk as one on a lofty spiritual level, "who desires life" as spiritual life, "who loves days" -filled with sanctity and purity - "in which to see good" - the goodness of the Torah. In short, the pasuk, as initially understood by Rabbi Yannai, speaks of a life similar to the life of the World to Come, a life infused with the Shechinah. A necessary prerequisite to such a life is "Guard your tongue from evil," for one who speaks lashon hara does not merit to behold the Shechinah, "and your lips from speaking trickery," for liars, too, are denied the experience of the Shechinah (Sotah 42).

However, it never occurred to Rabbi Yannai that the pasuk may also refer to a commoner, who works day and night for a living. He assumed that the perspective of the common people is too shallow and simple. Give them their bread, wine and entertainment, and that is "life" for them, these are the "days in which to see good." They don't look for wonder-drugs, for magical potions to solve all their problems. They are too preoccupied. But then he recognized his mistake. He saw how everyone crowded around the merchant once he announced that he was selling a life-preserving wonder-drug. Rabbi Yannai realized at that moment that the pasuk in Tehillim spoke to each and every one of us. If you are willing to try special potions and the merchant's guarantee, why don't you just take the wonder-drug of the Al-mighty Himself? Why not fill the eternal prescription, prescribed by Hashem Himself?

"All my life I have been reading this pasuk, and I never knew just how simple it is..."

Now, in Israel, the same act is repeating itself once again. Different candidates are getting up on stage to offer their merchandise to their audiences, the masses blindly willing to buy. One announces that within a year the troops will return from Lebanon. How they will pull out, with an agreement or without an agreement? Will the enemy soon follow into our territory, thus endangering the lives of thousands of our people? Another announces his guarantee of peace. How will he accomplish this, when all it takes is one suicide bomber to ruin everything? One says that he's okay, he's somewhere in the middle. Still another insists that he won't give up on a thing, as if he can take on the entire world. Even Quadaffi - not to make any comparison - gave into the pressures of the embargo. But this candidate is confident that he will stand tough. Indeed, that merchant in the Midrash is correct: Jews, if you want the proper remedy for the situation, why surround people who cannot guarantee their merchandise, who sell that which is not theirs to sell? Turn to the source, to the eternal promise of the Torah: "If you walk in My ways...I will give your rains in their proper time...I will make peace in the land...and you will dwell securely in your land."

If one truly wants to improve the current situation, then he must realize that each Torah class, each Torah organization that opens, each Torah educational system, mikveh and Bet Kenesset brings added blessing and success. These measures will yield great reward, securing a promising future of blessing and prosperity.


"On the eighth day, his foreskin shall be circumcised"

The Midrash, commenting on this pasuk, cites another pasuk from Kohellet (11:2), and interprets it accordingly: "Give a portion to seven" - referring to the seven days of the week, "and also to eight" - the eight days before a "berit", "for you do not know what evil will befall the earth." What does the Midrash mean? Hacham Avraham Ben Azaryah zs"l, rabbi of Carmenshaah, Persia, told the story of a certain Jewish doctor who left Judaism together with his family.

The rabbi once asked him why he decided to abandon the faith of his forefathers and cut himself off from the eternal life of the World to Come.

The physician answered that he once read that when Yonah was cast into the sea and swallowed by a fish, the fish asked him, "How unfortunate it is for you that it was I who swallowed you!" "Why?" Yonah asked. "Because," answered the fish, "today it is my turn to stand before the Leviathan so it can eat me." "Do not worry," responded Yonah. "As soon as it sees that I am circumcised, it will not want to eat me, and thus you, too, will be saved!" Indeed, this is what happened. The doctor then continued, "When I read this story, I thought, what nonsense! Fish do not speak, and why in the world would the Leviathan be intimidated by a circumcision? I decided that there is no point to this, and I left the religion." The rabbi answered, "You fool! Just because you were unable to understand the meaning and message behind this parable you left the fountain and life, and brought your entire family with you in your sacrifice of both worlds! Let me explain to you a little bit of what this Midrash is saying, and you will see the great wisdom of our Sages. The world was created in seven days.

Circumcision occurs on the eighth day. The Sages have explained that seven thus represents nature, whereas the number eight symbolizes that which lies beyond nature. The ability of parents to have their young, week-old child circumcised testifies to their preparedness to sacrifice everything for the sake of G-d and His misvot. This power enables us to overcome our natural drives and thereby merit a portion in the World to Come. Now the Leviathan is the largest creature in all of creation. Even the largest, most powerful man is but a tiny seed in comparison with the Leviathan. Yet, as soon as the largest creature confronts the circumcision, he retreats. When he sees the circumcision he beholds the power to overcome and overpower nature, a capability granted to man alone.

The physician heard the rabbi's wisdom, and admitted his having made a grave mistake.


Rabbi Yihyeh Umisi zs"l

Rabbi Yihyeh Umisi zs"l was the leader of the community of Rada, Yemen. He worked tirelessly to appease the local governor who never seemed satisfied.

Once he had to travel to the capital city and appointed someone to take his place in his absence. Soon after Rabbi Yihyeh's departure, the governor decided he wanted a chicken, so he sent the order to the interim leader of the Jewish community to fulfill his request. As he brought the chicken to the governor, the rabbi's substitute, in his innocence, presented the governor with a bill. The governor's face turned red with anger. He paid the bill in full, but as soon as the Jewish leader came home, the police knocked at his door. The governor had suddenly "discovered" that the Jewish community owed an enormous sum of money to the government, and the leader was personally responsible for the payment. The man explained that he was just a substitute and he therefore knew nothing about the community's dues.

But his pleas were to no avail, and he was imprisoned and sentenced to torture. Fortunately, Rabbi Yihyeh unexpectedly returned and quickly heard about what had happened. He hurried to the governor who presented the rabbi his complaint: "Do you believe the nerve of this man - he demanded a payment! From me!!"

"Of course," said Rabbi Yihyeh, "I asked him to do so."

The governor couldn't believe his ears. "You!? You??"

"Yes," confirmed Rabbi Yihyeh. "Let me explain why. Only the two of us really know what kind of a relationship we have. He is just a stranger. I didn't want him to know that you take gifts, especially from the Jews. I therefore asked him to ask you for the money, with the understanding that I would return to you every last penny."

The governor was satisfied with the rabbi's response and agreed to free the Jewish inmate. Rabbi Yihyeh would conclude his story with a sigh: "What can I say? We have to know the right way to give them poison, too..."


The Alshich zs"l cites the Midrash which views the "sara'at" of the home as symbolic of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash: "In a house of the land of your residence" - referring to the Bet Hamikdash; "and the one who owns the house shall come" - meaning, the Al-mighty; "and will tell the kohen" - referring to the prophet Yirmiyahu, who was a kohen; "like an affliction I have seen in the house" - symbolizing Hashem's anger (see Yehezkel 8) that led to the ultimate destruction of the house.

The Alshich adds that in fact our parashah contains allusions also to the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash and Jewish history until the ultimate redemption: "The kohen shall instruct" - referring to Yirmiyahu, the prophet of the destruction; "that they shall empty the house" - from idolatry; "before the kohen comes to see the house" - referring to Hashem, Who is compared to a kohen (Sanhedrin 39a). Before the destruction He comes down, as it were, to observe and judge, as we find before the scattering of the builders of the tower of Bavel - "Hashem came down to see the city and tower that the people had built." If the people do not clear out the house from their idolatry, then "everything in the house will be defiled," Heaven forbid. Because the people failed to obey the warning of the prophet and did not remove their idols, Hashem comes, as it were - "And the kohen sees the affliction in the walls of the house" - thereby arousing the Attribute of Justice: "depressed...deep reds." "The kohen shall leave the house" - the Shechinah leaves and abandons the sacred abode. Indeed, as Nevuchadnessar destroyed the Bet Hamikdash, a Heavenly voice declared, "You burnt a house that was already burnt, you destroyed a Temple that was already destroyed."

Meaning, the Bet Hamikdash had already been devoid of the Shechinah, and, as such, there was really nothing left for the Babylonian king to destroy. "The kohen qurantines the house" - meaning, Hashem gives the house over to the hands of the enemy, Heaven forbid; "seven days" - representing the seventy years of the first exile, in Babylonia; "The kohen shall return on the seventh day" - when the people returned after seventy years in exile, the Shechinah returned to the Bet Hamikdash. However, the Greeks soon took control of the sacred house - "and behold, the affliction spread in the walls of the house." "The kohen instructs" - referring once again to Hashem; "that they shall remove the stones on which there is the affliction" - the Hasmoneans waged war against the Greeks and defeated them; "and they shall cast them [the stones] outside the city" - the Hasmoneans drove the Greeks from the Land of Israel; "and the house shall be plastered on the inside, all around" - referring to the dedication of the Bet Hamikdash during the time of the Hasmoneans; "and they shall take other stones" - referring to the renewed construction of the altar completed by the Hasmoneans.

"And should the affliction return and blossom in the house" - when the Sadducees took power, mutual hatred surfaced and the sins became great; "then the kohen shall come" - Hashem once again comes to destroy, as Hazal comment that forty years prior to the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash, the walls of the Mikdash would open by themselves, as if inviting the enemy. "And he shall take apart the home" - Heaven forbid; "its stones and wood" - symbolizing the sacred utensils of the Bet Hamikdash that Titus took with him back to Rome; "and take them outside the city" - in the humiliating victory march conducted by the Roman armies.

"And should the kohen come and see that, behold, the affliction has not spread in the house" - when the Al-mighty sees that the heresy has come to an end, and mutual hatred no longer abounds, then "the kohen shall purify the house" - He will bring down for us a pure Bet Hamikdash, overflowing with spirituality and sanctity. When will this occur? "That the affliction has been cured" - when the sin and curse of mutual hatred has been cured, when the affliction of sin has disappeared. For Yisrael can be redeemed only through the process of redemption.


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 Daat

Chapter 5: The Laws of Concentration When Reciting Berachot

When one recites the name of Hashem - A-D-N-Y - he should concentrate on the meaning of this Name as it is pronounced, that the Al-mighty is the Master over everything. ("A-D-N-Y" comes from the expression "adnut," dominion and control.) He must also concentrate on the meaning of the Name as it is written - "H-V-Y-H - that Hashem always was, is and will be. (This word comes from the Hebrew verb of being.) When one recites the Name "Elokim," he must concentrate on the G-d's limitless power. One must concentrate on these ideas each time he recites G-d's Name in a berachah and the first pasuk of Shema. However, strictly speaking, one needs not have this concentration during the other recitations of G-d's Name in tefilah. One should preferably concentrate on all this before he begins reciting G-d's Name.

According to the Kabbalists, one must concentrate on other ideas, as well, while reciting G-d's Name. He should picture in his mind the Name of "H-V-Y-H," and in the final letter "heh" he should picture the Name "A-D-N-Y." (These images have been printed in a lot of the recently published Siddurim for the Sefaradim.) One should also concentrate on the combination of the two Names of "H-V-Y-H" and "A-D-N-Y": "Y-A-H-D-N-H-Y."

Preferably, when reciting the Name of "H-V-Y-H" one should also concentrate on the spelled-out Name with the vowels. That is, one should think of the "sheva" under the "yud," the "holam" over the "heh" and a "kammass" under the "vav," like the vowel sounds in the word "le'olam." (This punctuation, too, appears in many Siddurim published for the Sefaradim.)

However, when one recites the Name of A-D-N-Y when it is written that way, not Y-H-V-H, then he should he only concentrate on G-d's quality of Master over all creation.

When reciting the Name of G-d, one should be careful to recite it with the proper punctuation and vowel sounds. That is, one should recite the Name with a "hataf-patah" under the "alef," so the sound is a combination of the "patah" and "sheva." The "dalet" should be pronounced with a "holam" over it (and the "dalet" itself has no "dagesh"). Unfortunately, many hurry through the recitation of Hashem's Name and mistakenly recite the "dalet" as if there were a "sheva," "hirik" or "shuruk."

The "nun" should be recited with a "kammass." The custom of the Sefaradim is to pronounce the "kammass" similar to a "patah," the only difference being that the "kammass" is a slightly longer vowel. Those proficient in Hebrew grammar know to differentiate between them, and everyone should make an effort to learn this difference, so at least when reciting the Name of God one pronounces the "kammass" properly. The Ashkenazim pronounce the "kammass" somewhat similar to the "holam." A Sefaradi who wishes to change his family custom and pronounce the "kammass" like the Ashkenazim for tefilah and berachot may not to so; he must adhere to his family custom.

The "yud" at the end of Hashem's Name must be pronounced in a way so that it can be recognized, even though there is no vowel attached to it. The stress on Hashem's Name should be placed on the final syllable, not on the first or second. Hazanim who sing melodies while leading the services must be especially careful not to place the stress on the wrong syllable in order to accommodate the melody.

One should concentrate on the word "amen" when answering to a berachah.

The proper concentration depends upon the type of recitation. The first category we will discuss are the blessings of praise and thanks to the Al-mighty, namely, birchot hashahar, "baruch she'amar" and "yishtabah," the first three berachot of Shemoneh Esrei and the berachah of "modim," as well as the second berachah of birkat hamazon. When responding "amen" to these berachot, one should have in mind, "What has been said is true, and I believe it."


Life in the Desert

The word "desert" is generally considered synonymous with desolation and emptiness; it generally implies a barren wasteland where nothing grows.

And, indeed, a desert is a large area without water and, consequently, without vegetation. Human beings are generally unable to live under such conditions, and the hot sand covers everything. However, one should not think that a desert is devoid of living organisms. There are several creatures that are naturally capable of adapting to the conditions of desert life and surviving. Although several years can pass without a single drop of rain in a desert, on occasion a storm cloud will suddenly appear and produce rain.

These precious drops of rain are quickly absorbed into the ground, and in a matter of a day or two -- certainly no longer than a week -- the desert ground turns green from the various types of vegetation that emerge. These plants grow very rapidly but soon dry out. The seeds then wait in between the grains of sand, waiting for the next rains to come. Among the plants suited for survival in the desert is the well-known cactus which, through its long roots, absorbs moisture and stores it in its thick leaves.

Another interesting plant is nicknamed "the desert well" and also excels in its ability to store water. If one would cut a crevice into the skin of this plant it would immediately fill with water. It is told of a man who was unaware of this phenomenon and died of thirst in the desert. Little did he know that around him lay dozens of large plants filled with water.

The most famous animal suited for desert life is, of course, the camel. A camel can drink in one sitting enough water to last a week or more. A certain type of frog found in the Australian desert fills itself with water with the help of a special container that the Al-mighty implanted in its stomach. When it fills with water, the container resembles a balloon.

For us Jews, the desert has earned special significance - the Torah was given to us in the desert of Sinai. The Al-mighty did not wait until Benei Yisrael entered the Land if Israel before giving us the Torah, lest we think that misvot are relevant only in the Holy Land. As we know, the applicability of Torah transcends time and place. We must study Torah and perform misvot at all times and in every place - even in a desert.


a continuing saga
(parts ten AND eleven)

Flashback: Two brothers supported their families by managing the store they inherited from their father, until their families grew too large. The younger son - a Torah scholar - thus set out with his family to find a position in the rabbinate, but could not find one. Their wanderings brought them to an inn hosted by a generous man who treated them for a few days free of charge. Just before their departure, the brother asked the host how he could bless him, and the host replied that the only thing he lacked and yearned for in the world is to have a son, for he was childless. The brother confidently gave over the blessing, and went on his way. He found an honorable position as a rabbi in a distant town, and respectfully led the community, and a year passed by.

About a year later, early one morning, everyone was very shocked and excited to hear by word of mouth that a midwife was summoned to the home of the prominent and well-respected innkeeper. Due to his well standings throughout the community, his plight was pretty well known and his burden of being childless slightly weighed on the shoulders of many. So when the news that a new baby boy was born pierced the early morning air, it raised a lot of spirits. People were very excited for him and his wife, and felt that they were a part of his happiness. Of course, the most happy of all, was the innkeeper and his wife. There are no words to describe the delight they both experienced, and they made a public feast to properly celebrate the arrival of this unexpected newest family member. To this feast they invited anyone and everyone that they could think of, and among the guests were a multitude of poor from many neighboring villages, and they too joined the festivities, and ate to their heart's content. Soon, the excitement wore off, and life returned to normal in the innkeeper's town, and they were left alone to tend to and bring up this bundle of joy. Or so they thought. After just a little while, even though the child was still at a young age, they realized that this child was not heading in the right direction. Each year of the boy's life was more frightening than the previous. From the tender age of 9 he started hanging out around a moderately rowdy group of older boys - the bums of the city. He followed their habits exactly; he learned how to smoke, he started being disrespectful to the older citizens of the town and the sages, and he started using foul language. All of this did not go unnoticed by his parents. In fact, they realized right away, when the rebbi at the yeshiva told them that their son barely showed up. The spoke to him. They tried to bribe him. They walked him up to the doorstep of the yeshiva and made believe they were waiting, and watching through the back window, but no matter what they tried, the next day the rebbi would sadly report that their son had somehow sneaked out behind his back.

The innkeeper - not a young man at all - tried threatening him. But the young boy shamelessly mocked and ridiculed his father in a terrifying display of disobedience. Not only would he scream and shout back at the innkeeper, but he would actually clench his fists and strike him. And each day was worse than the day before. And now he found new and more fun contemporaries - a band of villains who were adept at thievery, and taught him the ropes till he was a excellent thief. One can't even imagine the pain and sorrow the innkeeper and his wife felt from all these experiences.

Each day was torture, as they sat and waited for the news to roll in about what scrape their son got himself into that day. The suffering and anguish was just too much for the innkeepers wife, and the day-in-day-out schedule of waiting for disasters finally wore her down, and she fell deathly sick.

As she was lying on her deathbed, the innkeeper was unable to keep both misfortunes in his head simultaneously. He hovered over her bed day and night, and his problematic son was temporarily forgotten. But pretty soon she died.

During the week of shivah, the son was rarely seen, as he stopped by only when he hadn't stolen anything to eat. But when he did stop by, anyone present couldn't help but to notice the blaze of anger, but mostly pain and despair in the innkeeper's blood-shot eyes. He now could only think about what his son had caused, what his son had become, and what misfortunes the future would bring. The thoughts overwhelmed him too, and exactly one month after his wife's death, he too returned his soul to his maker.

The old innkeeper had earned great honor during his lifetime, and upon his passing people everywhere showed their great appreciation for who he was.

A good family adopted the orphan and tried, unsuccessfully, to teach the boy to recite the mourner's kaddish. His mind simply could not catch on.

Whenever they would try to teach him some prayer or berachah, they would quickly give up. They tried to have him sit in class with the other children, but he would quickly and noisily leave the Bet Midrash, insisting that it was just not the place for him. He would walk around aimlessly, and soon earned a reputation for being a walking disaster. The family finally gave up, so they gave him over to a group of poor people who had come through the town, so that the boy would accompany them on their journey, help them and serve them, so that eventually he will learn to live civilly.

The boy was overjoyed at the idea, as now he could live without rules of dress or behavior. Nobody would make him wear shoes or normal clothing. He could grow his hair and fingernails as long as he wanted and no one would care. Nobody would comment about his foul language or inappropriate eating habits. He would just wander from town to town, city to city, he would see new places, beautiful landscapes, here today gone tomorrow, not bound to anybody or anything. He has no obligations, no rules to follow. He can act like an animal in the jungle, as he desires without restraint.

And so, he joined the caravan of poor people. He went around collecting small portions of food for the group and served them with dedication like one of them. He ate gluttonously, he would stick his hands anywhere he could, and this is the way he spent his months and years, until they eventually reached the town whose rabbi, that same Torah scholar who stayed in his father's inn, was responsible for his birth...

to be continued

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