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Posts Tagged ‘Bnei Yisrael’

The Scholars Of Brodi

Friday, November 30th, 2012

A famous scholars of the beis midrash in the city of Brodi was Rav Avraham Gershon of Kitov. This modest and unassuming man possessed such wondrous qualities of goodness and knowledge that the great Nodah B’Yehudah referred to him, in part, as follows:

“The complete and all encompassing scholar, the hallowed pious one, light of Yisrael, the pillar of the right hand, mighty hand….”

Rav Avraham Gershon was, as were all scholars of Brodi, a strong opponent of the Chassidus the Baal Shem Tov advocated at that time. Ironically, however, it was his sister who became the wife of the Baal Shem Tov. At first this made no difference to Rav Avraham Gershon, but as the days passed and he came to know his brother-in-law intimately, he began to behold the great and noble qualities that made the Baal Shem Tov the leader he was. It was not long after that that Rav Avraham Gershon became one of the staunchest supporters of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings. Indeed, it was he who was sent to Eretz Yisrael to lay the foundation for Chassidus there. The tale of how this came about follows.

Rabi Chaim Ben Atar

In those days Rabi Chaim Ben Atar went up from the Diaspora to Eretz Yisrael. This gaon, known to the wise men of his generation as “similar to an angel of the Lord,” was a man of firm views, who never flattered or bowed to any man. Nevertheless, when it came to the community of Yisrael, he maintained an attitude of respect and awe.

He would always say, “The verse says: ‘These are the words that Moshe spoke.’ All the 40 years that Moshe led Bnei Yisrael in the desert he never spoke harshly to them except for this one verse. Here you should ask the question: ‘Does it not say that Moshe declared: Listen rebels?’ The answer is that Moshe did not say this to the entire community, but rather only to a small group who rebelled against the teachings of the law.”

Patience

Despite his refusal to bow to people, Rabi Chaim was a humble and patient man and forgiving to those who insulted him. It is related that he was involved one time in a case of law. He patiently heard both sides and carefully went over the evidence. Finally, he ruled that the defendant was liable for damages.

When the defendant heard this he flew into a rage and began to insult the rav, even going so far as to impugn his honesty. Rabi Chaim sat quietly, never growing angry or answering the man. Later his students, who were shocked by the affair, asked him in amazement, “Rabi, where is the staunch spirit for which you are so famous?”

“What, in your opinion, should I have done?” he asked

“We feel that this man deserved to have been condemned and driven out of the house and a ban placed on him until he apologized,” the students answered.

Rabi Chaim laughed and replied, “And yet, consider this. The man has been found guilty and his soul is bitter because of it. Nevertheless, the general public will understand this and certainly not suspect me of anything. They fully believe that I have judged the case fairly. What would happen, however, if I placed him under the ban?

“If I did that, if I angrily punished him for insulting me in his time of bitterness, then the people would begin to question my objectivity and my judgment.”

Rav Avraham Gershon Sent To Eretz Yisrael

The great name of Rabi Chaim reached as far as Poland, and the Baal Shem Tov longed to meet him and create with him a center of Torah in Eretz Yisrael. However, certain obstacles arose that prevented the founder of Chassidus from fulfilling his greatest dream. Instead, he turned to his brother-in-law, Rav Avraham Gershon, and asked him to go in his place.

This great scholar was only too willing to comply. His love for Eretz Yisrael was enormous and he left immediately to settle in the city of Hevron. His love for the Holy Land was embodied in the following statement:

Chazal in Gemara Menachos 44a said, ‘One who rents a house in the Diaspora is free from the obligation of affixing a mezuzah for 30 days. Only after that period of time is he obligated. If one, however, rents a house in Eretz Yisrael, he must affix a mezuzah immediately.

The One Chapter Book – Ovadiah

Friday, November 30th, 2012

I always wonder about Jewish names. Some make it and some don’t. Some have mazel and others don’t. Some Biblical personalities’ names are very popular amongst the members of Klal Yisrael and then there are those personalities whose names never seem to be used.

Know anyone named Merari? Neither do I. But why should one of the sons of Levi, Gershon, be popular, and another remain ignored? I don’t know. It’s all hashgacha.

But I do have a sense that if not for this week’s haftorah, and the amazing fact that it is an entire sefer of its own in Trei Asar, the book of the Twelve Prophets, though it is a one perek sefer, my sense tells me that the name Ovadiah would not be the semi-popular name in Klal Yisrael that it is now.

Who was Ovadiah? Chazal tell us, as brought in the first Rashi, that Ovadiah was a convert to Judaism from the nation of Edom, the descendants of Esav. Actually, he was not only a righteous convert but a person who reached such as to amazing spiritual heights that he become a navi, a prophet in Klal Yisrael!

Rashi wonders about the phenomenon that is Ovadia. He prophesizes just once in Tanach—in our haftorah. HaKadosh Baruch Hu sent him to deliver a message to the nation of Esav, Edom, that because of their spiritual failure as a nation, manifested by their being a thorn and sword in the side of Bnei Yisrael, Hashem was going to punish them.

This is the basic thrust of our haftorah. Ovadiah is a person who came from a wicked nation and grew up in an evil environment, saw the light and came close to Hashem and Torah. This is the type of person who can go out and lecture his former nation about their failings.

As mentioned, sefer Ovadiah is but one perek.

Question: Why did Chazal give Ovadiah, with his one perek-long nevuah, the status of a complete sefer in Trei Asar? It could easily have been a perek in one of the other sefarim? Why have a one chapter sefer?

This question is reminiscent of another similar phenomenon.

Rav Yosef Karo spends an entire siman, an entire section in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 300) describing the concept of Melava Malka. Now, it could be because of the length of information the mechaber wanted to discuss. But there is only one se’if, one sub-section, and only one sentence in that section! For those of you who do not know, there are many simanim in the Shulchan Aruch which are very long. Sometimes there are 30-40 different se’ifim, sub-sections, all in one siman. The Shulchan Aruch could have easily put the brief halacha of Melava Malka at the end of the siman about Seudat Shilishis. Yet, despite its brevity, Rav Yosef Karo decided to give Melava Malka its very own siman. Why?

Explains Yalkut Gershuni (brought in Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa, Volume 2, Chapter 63), Rav Karo understood that already in his times, people were not careful iin fulfilling the mitzvah of Melava Malka. It was for this reason that he gave the mitzvah its very own siman in the Shulchan Aruch so it would get “prime-time” attention.

The same can be said about the mitzvah of seudas Rosh Chodesh which also has its own siman (419) and is also a very brief one sentence. Whenever the Shulchan Aruch felt that there was a weakening of a particular important mitzvah, he would give that mitzvah its own siman no matter how short it would be.

In B’Mechitzas Rabeinu, brief Torah thoughts and anecdotes from the life of Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky z”tl, (page 127), Rav Yaakov mentioned a sharp statement (derech tzachus) in relation to this. The pasuk says (Melachim 1, 18:21) “Ad masai atem poschim al shtei hase’ifim, for how long will you jump between two ideas.” In that pasuk Eliyhau HaNavi is criticizing Bnei Yisrael, asking how long they will continue to go from Hashem to worshipping the idol Baal. But, Rav Yaakov says, it can also refer to these two se’ifim, the se’if regarding Melava Malka and the se’if of Seudas Rosh Chodesh. How long will you Jews skip over these two mitzvos which the Shulchan Aruch hoped to focus attention on by giving each one its own siman?

Petter Chamor In L.A.

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

More than 1,200 members of the Los Angeles Jewish community gathered recently to witness the observance of the mitzvah of petter chamor. Organized and led by Rabbi Yehuda Lebovics, a Los Angeles mohel, the event was held in the immense outdoor courtyard of Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu.

Rabbi Lebovics explained the mitzvah of petter chamor, which dates back to the time of yetzias Mitzrayim. As a reward for helping Bnei Yisrael carry their belongings out of Egypt, the donkey is rewarded with a mitzvah of its own; it is the only non-kosher animal whose firstborn is considered to be sacred.

Redeeming a firstborn donkey is first mentioned in Shemos 13:13. A Jew must take his firstborn donkey to a kohen and offer a lamb to the kohen as a redemption, or ransom. One of the basic ideas behind petter chamor is to show hakaras hatov by recognizing the roles that donkeys played during yetzias Mitzrayim. Most kohanim have never performed this ceremony during their lives, and most rabbanim have never had the opportunity to participate in this mitzvah.

Barry Weiss recited the berachah of “…al mitzvas petter chamor” and Rabbi Doron Jacobius, representing the Kornwasser and Hager families, recited the berachah of “…shehechiyanu.” Heshy Jacobs was the honored kohen who accepted the seh for the petter chamor. He then formally acknowledged acceptance of the lamb.

Singing and dancing followed the ceremony. As one person said: “I just had to come. Participating in such a rare mitzvah inspired me, and I’m sure many others, to come.”

The Stories Of Rabba Bar Bar Chana

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

(Editor’s Note: The famous allegoric stories of Rabba Bar Bar Chana and other of our Gedolim are enveloped in clouds of figurative speech. Undoubtedly, the great and eminent Rabba was trying to picture Israel’s trials during the long and bitter exile. The ship of Israel had sailed many a time over terribly stormy oceans and in many instances suffered shipwreck. On the other hand, Bnei Yisrael enjoyed the light of freedom in many countries. But that proved still more disastrous to them because the nation was either almost swallowed up by the fish (nations) wherein it made its abode, or at the end it drank the bitter cup of inquisition, significant in the overturn of the fish mentioned in Rabba’s proverbs.

In the following parables, Rabba pictures Bnei Yisrael’s exiled life. He could not have dared to speak openly on account of the strict censorship of the Roman government. He therefore chose the figurative manner in order to give vent to his pent-up feelings, escaping, at the same time, the shrewd eyes of the government.

The allegoric contents of these stories are ingenious. Many of our gaonim, such as the Maharsha, offer various interpretations. Take the story of when he was on a boat and saw an island. He settled on the island and lit a fire. The island turned out to be a fish, which reacted very fiercely to the fire. Had the ship not been so near, he would have drowned.

The Maharsha explains that Bnei Yisrael’s ship, traveling in the ocean of exile, reached a new land and the people thought they had finally reached salvation. They intermixed with the natives and then, lo and behold, the country (the fish) throws them over and they are driven out. Were it not for their heritage, their Torah, they would have become extinct. The reader is invited to test his intelligence and to fathom the deeper and hidden meaning of these stories, which appear in the Talmud in Baba Basra 73.)

The Tremendous Waves

Rabba Bar Bar Chana related the following, “Sailors told me that once they were threatened with gigantic waves that could have sunk their ships. These waves appeared with a ray of whitish light at their crest and when they struck it with clubs engraved with the words ‘I will be what I will be, L-rd G-d, King of Hosts, Amen, Amen, Selah,’ the waves subsided.”

Rabba Bar Bar Chana continued, “The sailors related to me that the distance between one wave and the other was 300 parasangs (a Persian mile, about 4,000 yards) and the height of each wave lifted them so high that they saw the resting place of the smallest star. There was a flash as it shot 40 arrows of iron. If it had lifted them any higher they would have been burned by its heat.

“They also heard the following conversation between two waves, ‘My friend,’ one wave called to the other, ‘have you left anything in the world that you didn’t wash away and flood? I will go and destroy it.’ The other replied, ‘Go and see the power of the Master by whose command I must not pass the sand of the shore even as much as the breadth of a thread. It is this sand line that separates the sea from the land and yet I could not step over it.’

Rabba Bar Bar Chana went on, “I saw an antelope, one-day-old, that was as big as Mount Rabor, which measures four parasangs. The length of its neck was three parasangs and the resting place of its head was one parasang and a half.

“I saw a frog the size of the Fort of Hagronia (a fortified town in Babylon) that contained 60 houses. A snake came along and swallowed the frog and then a large raven came and swallowed the snake. The raven then ascended the tree and perched on one of its limbs. Imagine the strength of that tree.”

Rabbi Papa ben Samuel said, “Had I not been there I would not have believed it,” and added, “Once, while we were traveling on board a ship I saw a gigantic fish in whose gills I saw a parasite, the mudeater worm. It entered and killed the fish. Thereupon the sea cast up the fish and threw it upon the shore. Sixty towns were destroyed thereby and 60 coast towns consumed its flesh and 60 other coast towns salted the flesh that was left for future use. From one of its eyeballs 300 kegs of oil were filled. On returning there after 12 months, I saw its bones being sawed into boards as to restore the streets that were destroyed by it.”

The Fascinating Life of Our First Matriarch

Friday, November 9th, 2012

From the moment she is introduced as Avraham’s young bride (Bereshit 11: 29,30,31) till her death in this week’s Torah portion appropriately titled Chayei Sarah — The Life of Sarah , the fascinating image of our first matriarch is the subject of many intriguing Midrashic commentaries.

The verse (Bereshit 11:29) that introduces Sarah also introduces Yiskah, the daughter of Haran, giving rise to a Rabbinic interpretation, which identifies Yiskah with Sarah. Sarah was also called Yiskah, Chazal say, because everyone who beheld her “would gaze” (yiskeh) at her beauty (Megillah 14a), an extraordinary gift that she retained till the end of her days (Bereshit Rabba 40:4). According to another Rabbinic commentary, Sarah was so beautiful that all other people “were like monkeys” by comparison (Bava Basra 58a), while another Midrash claims that even Avishag the Shunamite, the archetype of Biblical beauty, never “achieved even half of Sarah’s charm” (Sanhedrin 39b). In a summation of her life Chazal further elaborate on the theme of 127 -year-old Sarah’s physical and spiritual beauty and assure us that she was as pure at the age of one hundred as a seven-year-old and as beautiful as a twenty-year old.

Sarah’s identity with Yiskah based on the root “sacho”(see), has prompted an additional interpretation by Chazal that besides beauty, Sarah possessed the gift of prophetic “vision” which enabled her to “see” by means of the Holy Spirit (Megillah. 14a).

As a matter-of-fact, Sarah’s visionary gifts surpassed even those of Avraham (Shemot Rabba 1:1), and it was for this reason that Avraham was admonished:

Our Sages teach that the Almighty heard Sarah’s prayer for deliverance from Pharaoh’s clutches, and sent an angel to whip the Egyptian king at her command when her extraordinary beauty caused her abduction to the latter’s palace (Bereshit Rabba 41:2). It was on this occasion that, intimidated by Divine punishment on her account, Pharaoh presented to Sarah the land of Goshen as her personal possession and his daughter Hagar as her handmaid (Bereshit Rabba 45). This is how it came about that Bnei Yisrael dwelt in Goshen during their sojourn in Egypt; it was their inheritance through our Matriarch Sarah.

Our Matriarch Sarah’s original name was Sarai, and it was only later with the assumption of their divine mission that the letter “h” from the Divine Name was added. Avram became Avraham and Sarai became Sarah. From Midrashic literature we learn that Sarai meant “a princess to her own people,” but when her name was changed to Sarah, she became a “princess to all mankind” (Bereshit Rabba 47:1). In this capacity she shared Avraham’s mission to spread the faith in one G-d – while Avraham converted the men, Sarah converted the women.

Besides her gifts of beauty, prophecy, wisdom and leadership, Chazal attribute to Sarah great spiritual and material blessings. “As long as Sarah lived,” Bereshit Rabba reveals, “there was a light burning from one Shabbat eve to the next; and there was a blessing in the dough; and a cloud was hovering over the tent. And when she died – they ceased.” (Idem.). And yet, Sarah’s greatest merit was Avraham’s heeding her admonishment and his decision based on her advice — removing from his household Yishmael and with him, Yishmael’s deleterious influence.

I believe this was perhaps the most important achievement in the life of Sarah and her most far-reaching historical move.

The Last Day Of Sukkos

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

The Gemara in Megillah 31a says that on the last day of Sukkos the Torah reading is the parshah of Vezos Haberachah and the maftir is Vaya’amod Shlomo (Melachim 1:8). The Rishonim are bothered by the following question: the Mishnah in Megillah says that Moshe Rabbeinu instituted what portion of the Torah should be read on each of the Yamim Tovim. Each portion relates to that particular Yom Tov. What then is the connection between Vezos Haberachah and the last day of Sukkos?

One cannot answer that it is because we are scheduled to read that parshah in our weekly reading of the Torah, because on Yom Tov we never continue from that reading. Also, the Mishnah states that the reading for each Yom Tov was instituted by Moshe Rabbeinu and must relate to that Yom Tov.

The Ran, on the page of the Rif  (Megillah 11a), says that it is because this is the last of the Yamim Tovim and therefore we finish the Torah cycle on that day.

The Sefer Hamanhig writes in the section of Simchas Torah that on the last day of Sukkos we read the parshah of Vezos Haberachah because Shlomo Hamelech would bless Bnei Yisrael on the eighth day of Sukkos. Therefore we read Vezos Haberachah on that day, which is the parshah in which Moshe Rabbeinu blessed all of Bnei Yisrael as well.

The Gemara in Sukkah 48a says that Shemini Atzeres is a separate Yom Tov from Sukkos regarding six things. One of them is berachah. Rashi quotes a Tosefta that explains that berachah refers to the blessing of the king, for as it says: “On the eighth day he [Shlomo Hamelech] sent the people off and they blessed the king.” Earlier in that perek the Navi tells us that Shlomo Hamelech blessed the nation on that day before the nation would bless the king.

The sefer, Harirai Kedem, explains that the Gemara in Zevachim 102a says that Moshe Rabbeinu had the status of a king. Similarly Rashi in Shavuos 15a (d”h vechain ta’asu) also says that Moshe Rabbeinu was a king. The Even Ezra and the Ramban, on the pasuk in Vezos Haberachah, “vayehi vishurun melech…” explain that the melech in the pasuk is referring to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Now we can understand the answer of the Sefer Hamanhig. Since Shemini Atzeres is a separate Yom Tov regarding the fact that the king would bless the nation, we read the parshah in the Torah that discusses the blessing of the king – namely Moshe Rabbeinu, who was a melech.

The fact that the haftarah that we read on Shemini Atzeres is the parshah whereby Shlomo Hamelech blesses the nation and the nation blesses him is testament that the reason why we read Vezos Haberachah is because it discusses Moshe Rabbeinu’s blessing of Bnei Yisrael. And as we know, the haftarah always follows the general theme of the Torah portion that was read.

It was the custom of many people in Lita and Russia to go to the rav’s house after davening to bless him and to receive his blessing. The source for this custom is that our rabbanim are considered to be kings, as Chazal tell us: “man malki rabbanan.”

There is one other point that I would like to mention regarding the reading of Vezos Haberachah. When the chassan Torah is called up, the gabbai says, “amod, amod, amod….” Why is amod said three times?

The Gemara in Berachos 34a says that when someone is asked to daven for the amud he should refuse the first request, then act unsure on the second request, and finally accept the third time he is asked. However, regarding an aliyah to the Torah, the Gemara in Berachos 55a says that if one is called to the Torah and refuses the aliyah, his life is shortened. The difference between the two is simple. Davening for the amud is an honor, whereby it is not proper to ascend immediately without first refusing. Receiving an aliyah, on the other hand, is a mitzvah – and one may not refuse to perform it.

Based on this the sefer, Harirai Kedem, suggests that the aliyah of chassan Torah has both of these components: it is an honor and it is an aliyah to the Torah that cannot be refused. Therefore we call up the oleh three times so that he is not put in the position of having to refuse the first two times (since we’ve already called him up three times). At the same time it is not improper for him to ascend immediately since he was already called three times.

Parshat Nitzavim

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Colin Powell, despite reaching the pinnacle of power, has never forgotten his simple roots in the Bronx. This proud connection to his past manifests itself in many ways, ranging from his work ethic to his love of hotdogs. It also manifests itself in his appreciation of what the “regular guy” brings to the table in every organization. All too often people focus on the leaders and big players who are on everybody’s radar. But in a certain sense, it is the people in the trenches—the ones nobody knows—who are the real heroes; the people who really drive society forward.

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to articulate a vision and sense of purpose for the organization. This includes ensuring that every member of the organization understands the vision, buys into the vision, and appreciates his personal role in actualizing the vision. To illustrate this point Powell relates an interesting anecdote in his new book, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership (2012). He was once watching a documentary about the Empire State Building. Most of the documentary focused on the building’s history, architecture and construction. But towards the end the camera showed a large room filled with hundreds of filled and tied black garbage bags. Deep beneath the powerful offices, majestic lobbies and observation deck was the trash room. Although it was obvious what the room’s function was and what the jobs of the men working there were the narrator nonetheless asked one of the workers, “What’s your job?” The man looked back, smiled and said, “Our job is to make sure that tomorrow morning when people from all over the world come to this wonderful building, it shines, it is clean, and it looks great” (p.24). Powell explains that this man got it. He was not merely a custodian. He was a key cast member of the Empire State Building.

I always wonder when I read stories like this if the writer truly believes what he’s writing or is just writing what he thinks sounds good. However, in this particular case Divine providence provided me an answer. The week before I read this book I had visited a private school in Manhattan to discuss curriculum issues. Amid our discussion the headmaster related that his daughter worked for the State Department; she had been initially hired by Colin Powell who was then secretary of state. Though she was a Democrat and Powell a republican there were a number of things that convinced her to take the job; what clinched it however, was this: at the conclusion of the interview, Powell showed her around the Department of State. Entering a hallway, they encountered one of the custodians cleaning the floor. Powell stopped, and addressing him by name asked how he was doing and how his wife’s doctor’s visit had gone. The man responded in kind. She saw how Powell genuinely cared about this person and viewed him as a valued player in the State Department. The headmaster told me that his daughter decided right there that Powell was the kind of person she wanted to work with.

The necessity for leaders to articulate a clear vision, explain it to the masses and inspire them to believe that they all have a role in its realization is underscored by the Torah at the beginning of this week’s Parsha. The Torah describes (29:9-11) how all of Bnei Yisrael were assembled in front of G-d to make a covenant with Him. The assemblage included the chieftains, constables, children, women, and converts – the full strata of Israelite society, from its leadership to its physical laborers. Nobody was excluded. The commentators discuss the Torah’s careful delineation of all the different categories of people present that day.

The Alshich comments that the Torah wanted to emphasize that in truth it is impossible to determine who is more important than whom. While it may seem evident to our earthly senses that person A is more distinguished and honorable than person B, the Heavenly perspective might be very different. The person who seems honorable to us might in fact have played a less significant role in the progress of history than the person who seems simpler. When Moshe assembled all of Bnei Yisrael that day as one group, people realized that they would each be accorded equal respect and attention.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-nitzavim/2012/09/13/

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