Shabbat B' Shabbato

Chapter Search
Chapter Article Author
Section Search for
Exact phrase
Volume 1565: Ki-Tisa  16 Adar 5775 07/03/2015

Point Of View

Picking a Fight with the Other Nations? /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

"Things were topsy-turvy – the Jews gained control over their enemies" [Esther 9:1].

A Speech Full of Trepidation

I am writing this article before the Prime Minister leaves us to give a speech in the American Congress, in spite of the contrary wishes of the President of the United States. When you read these words, you will already know what took place, and mainly the answer to the question: Did the Prime Minister receive accolades of acclaim or was he strongly criticized? But this time the "game" is much more serious than the simple question of what the attitude of the press will be. Without a doubt, in the existing situation we are witness to a distinct challenge to the President of "the greatest of our friends" and to a dramatic strategic danger.

For the last few weeks I have felt a mild dizziness with respect to this matter, and I feel lucky that nobody has asked my opinion – should the Prime Minister go or not? I want to thank those who organized the large ad in the newspapers signed by Zionist rabbis and blessing the Prime Minster on his way, for not asking for my signature. If they had come to me I do not know what I would have done. On one hand, as a patriot I am expected to support the policies of a rightist government on the international scene. On the other hand, (at the moment that I write this article) we are approaching what might be a deep crisis which could possibly have been avoided – and who knows how far it will go? I will therefore take this opportunity to voice my reservations about the trip, in spite of my national pride. I fear – and I feel – that in this I am expressing the opinion of many people, and that I am acting as a messenger of the public.

Everybody is aware that the timing of the elections is the reason that there is a crisis, and if not for the close proximity of the elections and the speech it would be easy to sweeten the pill of a talk to Congress that is "hanging over the President's head." I therefore have a simple question: What calamity would there be if the Prime Minister's speech would have been postponed to the day after the elections in Israel? Even if a tragedy would take place and the left would win the elections, the Prime Minister would still be in office, and he would maintain the same powers of speaking and persuasion. And in any case, for the first few days after the elections it would still not be clear who will be Prime Minister. The post-election runaround could be postponed for two days to allow the Prime Minister to take a quick trip to the United States. I am not convinced by the claim "in Netanyahu's circles" that the pact with Iran will be signed on the fourth of Nissan (March 24), and that "we must not miss the boat." It seems to me that under the circumstances, because of the disagreement with the President and his advisors, it might be easier to slow the Iranian centrifuges on March 18 than it will be on March 3.

Picking a Fight with other Nations

So much for the rational dizziness about this topic. But I also have an idea at a higher level, based on metaphysical thinking, related to the topic of " Picking a fight with other nations."

This issue became the main point of controversy between the Zionists and the Chareidi sector in the era before the Holocaust and before the establishment of the state of Israel. The ideological Chareidi opposition to Zionism is based on the Midrash (which is not quoted in halacha), that "the Holy One, Blessed be He, made Yisrael take an oath not to revolt against the other nations" [Tanchuma Devarim 4]. In the courtyards of the Satmar Chassidim, this statement from the Agadda was raised up to the theological level of one of the main principles of our faith, and they are willing to fight a war to the bitter end against the establishment of the state, which they see as "a revolt against the nations." This illusionary sect believes that the Holocaust came about as a punishment for the sin of Zionism – the revolt against the nations. They are willing to join forces with Iran against the State of Israel in order to atone for this "sin."

The expression "a revolt against the nations" has been modified somewhat into the similar phrase, "to pick a fight with the other nations." Much of the political opposition of the Yahadut HaTorah party to moves made by the government of Israel is classified as "starting up with the nations." ("Rav Shach showed his pain and cried out again and again from the depths of his heart that we have no part at all in the ideological and nationalistic 'settlements' of this type, which are picking a fight with the other nations." [Yated Neeman, 5770 – 2010]. "We are for peace and against starting up with the other nations." [MK Gafni to the American ambassador, Iyar 5774]. And there are many other similar examples.)

Religious Zionism not only doesn't see anything wrong with challenging the other nations, perhaps the opposite is true. An act of "starting up" (but not when it is done for its own sake) is seen as having an element of taking a strong stand in our own defense, standing tall, a refusal to cave in and to surrender even in the face of hardship and doubt.

Salvation as a Result of Picking a Fight

This approach receives strong support from the events of Purim, which occurs at this time of the year. If we search through the Tanach for an example of picking a fight we will immediately come across the way Mordechai behaved with respect to Haman. "Mordechai sat at the gates of the King... He would not kneel or bow down... Why do you disobey the command of the King... But he would not listen to them... And Haman was filled with anger... And Haman decided to destroy... and he drew lots..." [Esther, Chapter 3]. In the Midrash, the sages drew a sharp picture of Mordechai's challenges to Haman, mainly during the incident of Mordechai's ride on the royal horse. We can conclude that the decree against the Jews in Shushan and the subsequent victory were born as a result of "picking a fight." Can we learn a lesson from this about the best way to act throughout all generations?

However, in the end, if our Prime Minister has decided to give his speech in spite of the way it is being received, it is certainly better to have it take place during the month of Adar and not during the month of Av...


A Coin of Fire? - by Rabbi Moshe Shilat, Director of "The Torah of Chabad for Yeshiva Students"

In this week's Torah portion, we learn about the donation of half a Shekel for the Tabernacle. Our sages teach us, "The Holy One, Blessed be He, took out a coin made of fire from underneath His Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe, and He said – Let them give this, it should be like this." [Midrash Tanchuma 9].

What was Moshe's problem? Why was it so hard for him to understand what half a Shekel is? And if it is hard to understand, how was the problem solved when the Holy One, Blessed be He, showed him "a coin of fire?"

The Tosafot explain that Moshe's problem was not about knowing what a coin is, but rather how it could serve as "atonement for the soul – he wondered how a person could give something to atone for the soul." [Chulin 42]. And in response, G-d showed Moshe a coin of fire.

The well-known explanation of this is the following: When a Jew performs a mitzva in a fiery way ("Such is My word, like fire" [Yirmiyahu 23:29], with enthusiasm and a yearning for G-d, then even a small coin can serve as atonement. However, with this explanation we have evidently not yet reached the full depth of the matter.

It's not Money

The Rebbe of Lubavitch explains: air, water, and earth are measured by their volume, their size, or their value. But a flame is not measured by how much space it takes up or by its value. Its existence is purely qualitative, and a small flame can expand without any limit.

When the Holy One, Blessed be He, commanded to give half a Shekel, it might have meant that the mitzva is to contribute the value of half a Shekel, even consisting of some other material, or to give several coins adding up to the correct total. The coin of flame showed that the Holy One, Blessed be He, was not interested in the value of the coin but rather wanted His Will to be fulfilled. The mitzva is, "It should be like this" – give this specific coin of half a Shekel. Fire as such cannot be given physically, but when the coin is given it is necessary to remember that only one thing lies behind it: fire. It is not money, it is a fire.

What then bothered Moshe? He found it hard to understand how money, which is an ultimate physical object, can serve as atonement for the soul, which is spiritual. The response of the Holy One, Blessed be He, with the coin of fire was that the physical act is directly linked to the spiritual root that lies under the Throne of Glory. That is why the value of the coin is small and equal for everybody – a poor man must not give less and a rich man must not give more. The essence of giving is not measured by the functionality of the money like in the mitzva of charity. Whatever the money can be used for does not matter. The giving shows that the atonement for the soul comes from the highest possible place – "fire" – but that it operates within the midst of this world – "money." This is made from the "element" earth, the lowest of the four basic "elements." And that is why the half Shekels were used to make the sockets holding the beams of the Tabernacle, which rested on the ground, at the foundation of the Tabernacle.

Immersion in Fire

There is also another deep issue related to the matter of fire: The Torah tells us with respect to the half Shekel that it is "atonement for the soul" of the one who gives it. The term "atonement for the soul" is different from the usual expression used for atonement. Usually it means purification and removing the impurity of a sin, something that is most often accomplished by offering a sacrifice. Atonement for the soul means redemption of the soul, something akin to replacing the soul with a new reality. As is written, "If he will be judged to be liable for ransom, let him give the redemption of his soul" [Shemot 21:30].

There are two methods used for purification: fire and water. Immersion in water removes ritual impurity and brings us back to the situation before the impurity existed. Immersion in fire, on the other hand, is an act that is aimed at the future and a new beginning. To take a vessel that is ritually impure and to pass it through the fire of a kiln means to make it over again. The sages teach us that the half Shekel is atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, which harmed the essence of the nation of Yisrael and made them liable for a punishment of death, heaven forbid. It is impossible to move back in this situation, and therefore the Holy One, Blessed be He, showed Moshe a coin made of fire – it was necessary for the nation to be reborn and to rise to greater and greater heights. The half Shekel transformed the nation of Yisrael into a new entity, much deeper than it was before the sin took place.

Tell a friend|Print|Close

As Shabbat Approaches

He Who Responded to Eliyahu /Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem

"The whole nation saw, and they fell on their faces and said: Hashem is Elohim! Hashem is Elohim! Hashem is Elohim!" [Melachim I 18:39] – The end of this week's Haftarah. What did the nation mean by this emotion-laden declaration? At first glance it might seem that they were trying to show their decision with respect to the challenge that Eliyahu had given them: "If G-d is Elohim, go after Him, and if it is Baal go after him" [18:21]. However, the fact that the people repeated their declaration twice implies - aside from their great enthusiasm - that they had reached a new depth of understanding after they had made their decision. That is, in addition to their realization that G-d and not Baal is "Elohim," they gained a deeper understanding of the character of G-d's revelation in His world.

What do we mean by this?

From the time that human beings became intelligent, they were challenged by remarkable dichotomy. On one hand they see the world of nature, neutral as it is, which follows immutable laws and has no morality. At the head of the system of nature man senses the existence of the Creator, and he calls this by the trait of "Elohim," which is a name of G-d that shows how He acts through nature.

On the other hand, human beings sense that they have a soul within them and that they have an individual personality, they can choose between good and evil, and they are living creatures who have a free life. Man recognizes the Creator of his soul by the name yud-heh-vav-heh (often represented by the word "Hashem"), which indicates that the Holy One, Blessed be He, is the active force behind moral behavior.

Four approaches have been suggested in order to lessen the tension between the two different ways of seeing G-d. They are the following:

(1) – The method of the idol worshippers. They feel that the entire world is filled with personalities, deities, souls, and spirits. In biblical language we can say that for the pagan world "Everything is Hashem."

(2) – This is the approach of the philosophers, who feel that everything is part of nature. Even our own personalities are nothing but an illusion. The world operates as a huge and apathetic machine. For them, "Everything is Elohim."

(3) - This is the approach of the Jew from Amsterdam (Baruch Spinoza) – that the characteristic of Elohim is the sum total of all the instances of revelation. Even the moral soul is included in the super-system of nature. As far as he is concerned, "Elohim is Hashem."

(4) – The outlook of the prophets, including Eliyahu on Mount Carmel. They revealed to us that "Hashem is Elohim" and not that "Elohim is Hashem." There is an internal unity between nature and the soul, but it does not consist of absolute equality. Rather, morality takes precedence. (See Rabbi Chaim from Volozhin, "Nefesh Hachaim," Part 3, Chapter 9, for an expansion of this concept).

The recognition that the Holy One, Blessed be He, operates in a moral way, that He prefers good over evil, is what made such an impression on the people gathered on Mount Carmel, when they saw that G-d is not interested in cruel rituals where the prophets of Baal "cut themselves as was their custom, with swords and spears, until their blood spurted out over them" [18:28]. They also saw that the Divine flames came down on an altar made of "twelve stones, the same as the number of tribes of the sons of Yaacov" [18:31]. This showed the people the preference of the Torah for morality, which consists of a unity of values and joining the hearts of all the people together.

Tell a friend|Print|Close

The Light Starts In The East

Rabbi Yosef Chaim and the Labor of the Senses /Chezi Cohen,
Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa and Midreshet Ein Hanatziv

Rabbi Yosef Chaim, who is known as the Ben Ish Chai, was one of the greatest men of recent times (1834-1909). He lived in Iraq, but his influence was felt throughout the entire eastern world. His disciples became the main backbone of the Torah scholars of the time (including the Kaf Hachaim and Rabbi Yehuda Fetaya). The following is a story about something that happened when he was a child.

     * * * * * *

One time, as Shabbat was coming to an end, the young boy Yosef Chaim and his sister argued about who would hold the Havdallah candle. Their father, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim, decided that the one who could best explain the sequence of the blessings of Havdallah would be allowed to hold the candle.

Young Yosef immediately jumped up and responded by saying that the blessings were in increasing order of the senses and of the structure of the face.

The first blessing (on wine) is linked to the sense of taste, and in order to feel this it is necessary for the wine to touch the mouth and tongue.

The second blessing (on spices) involves smell, and it requires a fairly close approach between the object and the person but no direct contact.

And this is followed by the third blessing, over the candle, which is connected to the sense of sight. This is broader still, and people can see objects that are very far away from them.

The last blessing is, "He who separates between the holy and the secular, and between Yisrael and other nations," which is related to the mind and to a person's sense of awareness. Using this sense, a person can understand things that are not in front of him, and even objects that do not really exist.

Thus, the sequence of the blessings is to move from the closest physical contact to the most abstract, reaching the limit of understanding objects that do not physically exist (as in the last blessing). The same sequence of moving upwards can be seen graphically in the human face. The first blessing is related to the mouth, the second to the nose which is above it, and third to the eyes above that. And the fourth blessing is related to the mind, which is at the top of the head.

Yosef's father liked his explanation, and he was given the privilege of holding the Havdallah candle.

     * * * * * *

At first glance, abstract understanding and spiritual awareness are the upper limit of human ability. This capability allows us to understand concepts that are difficult to quantify and even infinite spaces. They are therefore an expression of a close approach to Divine infinity. However, in the end, the explanation is used by young Yosef in order to compete with his sister over the right to hold the Havdallah candle – and this is clearly a physical and tangible objective. Thus, the story illustrates the tension between the tangible and the abstract in the human soul in general and in serving G-d in particular. It would seem that together with an understanding that abstract thinking is at the highest level, a person still feels a need to hold a candle – that is, to take hold of a mitzva in a physical sense, to feel holiness with his or her five senses.

This story can also help us to better understand the ceremony of moving from Shabbat to a weekday. The moments of the end of Shabbat include a feeling of sadness. The advance in the spiritual dimension which is typical of Shabbat is about to be replaced by six days of physical activity. The ceremony of Havdallah teaches us the proper association between the spirit and physical objects. It is true that the peak of the week is to focus on the spiritual and the abstract, but in the end this must lead to a very strong influence on physical life. Every week we move from the tangible to the abstract, from weekday to holiness, but in the end we always return to physical reality. We can add to the words of the Ben Ish Chai that we delay drinking the wine until after the last blessing of "He who separates" because at the end of the process, when we reach the highest and most abstract stage, we must then return to the coarsest of the five senses and sanctify it by drinking wine.

The attempt to link all of the strengths and senses of a person to his spiritual labor is a central theme in the outlook of the Ben Ish Chai. The service of G-d depends on that ability of a person to use his inclinations and his body in a holy way. Instead of having doubts about the five senses and the inclinations, this approach links all of the spiritual forces in the service of G-d. Indeed, quite often the Ben Ish Chai told people to perform their duties while making use of the senses, based on the understanding that with the help of the proper level of awareness they can serve as a positive and even vital factor in the service of G-d.

Tell a friend|Print|Close

A family named "Yisraeli"

"Princess" Comes Back /Rabbi Yikhat Rozen
Director of the Or Etzion Institute – Publishing Torah Books of Quality

Yehuda's Story

"Meow!" the cat said, and it rubbed against my leg. I jumped aside quickly, but the cat wasn't even startled. Of course, there was no reason to be surprised. After all it was only "Princess."

Mr. and Mrs. Shaufenhauer are an elderly couple who live in our building, opposite our apartment. And Princess is a cat which they love very much. They take care of her and spoil her all they can. Princess is quite fat, very clean and well groomed. You will never find her rummaging around in the garbage for food. She will always have a plate ready for her at home filled high with special food which Tova Shaufenhauer cooks especially for her.

Quite often Mrs. Shaufenhauer takes Princess out for a walk. She leads the cat with a golden strap, and the cat always wears a smart bowtie.

My mother, as a good neighbor, sometimes invites Tova for a cup of tea and a little chat. The talk is always about cats and their care. One time I stood close by and listened. It went something like this: "Listen to this. I read in the magazine 'Cats' that according to new research the food that I used to make for my dear Princess is not the best for a cat her age. I was really shocked. So now I have started working on a new menu. It is a combination of Nile perch with milk, with finely chopped vegetables and a touch of butter with an exotic flavor. What can I tell you? It takes me hours of hard work..."

And Imma reacted with surprise. "You spend hours making food for a cat?"

"You bet!" Tova answered proudly. "But when I see my Princess so excited that she literally pounces on the food... What can I say? It makes it all worthwhile!"

Tova coughed, and Imma gently tried to change the subject, so she asked about Tova's dress. "Oh, it's nothing, really. Everything is fine with me. But you remind me – tomorrow I have an appointment at the vet for Princess! Of course we are very careful to see him at regular intervals..."

And so the conversation continued, but I was getting bored, so I left.

A few days ago the Shaufenhauers told us that they were going on a trip for two weeks, to visit relatives abroad. Imma asked politely, "Will you be taking Princess with you?"

"No, we can't do that. She would not enjoy a flight. But don't worry, we checked and there is a perfect solution! In Tel Aviv there is a special hotel for cats. It's called the Cat Castle. Anybody can bring their cat to the hotel with detailed instruction on how to care for it, and they promise to treat her very well – just like at home!"

Tova sounded very enthusiastic. She went on: "The cats have a dedicated trainer! And they have a professional staff, with a lot of experience with animals. And there are guards all around the grounds! And the main thing is that they have good and loving hearts! It is really quite expensive, but what does that matter?"

After I saw Princess climbing up our stairs and then rubbing my leg, I remembered that conversation. There was Princess standing next to the Shaufenhauer apartment, scratching on the door. I looked at Princess again, and I realized that she looked very different from all the other times I had seen her! She was very thin, had wounds all over her body, the band with the bowtie was torn. She was wailing in a weak voice, and in fact she looked pretty miserable.

Anyway, what was she doing here? Her owners were away, she was supposed to be at the Cat Castle, wasn't she? I ran and called Imma to see how forlorn Princess appeared. Imma understood right away what had happened.

"I guess this pampered cat didn't want to stay at the C-a-t  C-a-s-t-l-e," she said, saying the name of the "hotel" very slowly. "It looks like she managed to escape from there, and remarkably found her way back home."

"She came all the way from Tel Aviv to Kiryat Ashlim? That's very far! And how did she know the way here?" I was amazed.

"Yes, you're right. But there have been many cases where animals have been able to find their way home. They have a natural sense, and it looks like her strong desire overcame any difficulties."

I looked at how wretched the cat seemed to be, skinny and injured, and I asked, "And is that why she looks so awful?"

And now I saw what a righteous woman my Imma is! I know that she doesn't like to have anything to do with animals, but she didn't hesitate for a moment. She put a pot on the stove and she made the dish that she remembered Tova describing in the conversation in our house. Imma put in fish, milk, a bit of butter and a few more ingredients, and she left it to cook. Then she took Princess, washed her off in the bathtub, and put iodine on her wounds.

Imma didn't have a phone number for the Shaufenhauers on their trip, so she just kept on taking care of Princess until they came home. Even though she never said anything to me about it, I know that she thought our neighbors went too far in the way they cared for their cat. But now I saw how Imma showed her respect for our neighbors – and for their cat – just as was suitable for them, and not the way she felt inside.

If only you could have seen how happy Mr. and Mrs. Shaufenhauer were when they came home, you would understand how kind and righteous Imma

Tell a friend|Print|Close

Responsa For Our Times

"Thirty Days before Pesach" /Rabbi Re'eim Hacohen
Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel

Question: We are familiar with the rule that "the laws of Pesach are studied starting thirty days before the holiday." What are the parameters of this halacha?


Two Decrees

A dispute is brought in a Baraita in the Talmud:

"The halachot of Pesach are asked about and discussed for thirty days before Pesach. Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel says, it is for two weeks." [Pesachim 6a].

The Talmud tries to clarify the reasons for the different opinions, and it suggests sources from the Torah. These are passages where Moshe teaches the laws of Pesach to the nation – Bamidbar 9:5-6 and Shemot 12:2.

On the other hand, in another place we are taught that the rule is to ask about and discuss the matter on the day of the holiday itself:

"Moshe decreed for Yisrael that they should ask about and discuss the topics of the day – the laws of Pesach on Pesach, the laws of Shavuot and Shavuot, the laws of Succot on Succot." [Megillah 43a].

The simplest way to solve the apparent contradiction is to say that there were two different decrees. The reference in Megillah is related to the laws of reading the Torah, and on holidays this is linked to the special sanctity of each day and to the need to discuss the holiday. The second decree, without specific dates, means that the laws of Pesach should be discussed before the holiday so that people will be prepared in advance.

For Scholars or for Everybody

In terms of the above reasoning, both decrees are meant for individuals. In the Talmud Yerushalmi, on the other hand, the decree to study the laws of a holiday on the day itself is seen as an obligation for everybody, while the requirement to study before the holiday is meant for the scholars in the community house of learning: "The laws of Pesach are discussed on Pesach, the laws of Shavuot on Shavuot, and the laws of Succot on Succot. In the community house of study, the holiday is discussed for thirty days, and Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel says it is for two weeks."

The community house is the place of the scholars, and they must become familiar with the laws earlier than the other people in order to be able to answer questions. A similar approach appears in the writings of several early commentators (RAN, Rashba, Meiri). They also add the words of the Tosefta (Sanhedrin 7:7) about the need to be ready to reply to "one who asks in a proper way." They explain that this means to be ready to answer questions about relevant halachot. If indeed the emphasis on early study is because of questions from the public, this might explain the text in the RIF, which is "questions are asked about halachot," without any mention of Midrash. A similar approach appears in "Or Chadash" (Pesachim) and Turei Even (Megillah), who note that Moshe's decree took place thirty days before Pesach Sheini, in response to questions by people who were ritually impure.

The Unique Status of the Decree about Pesach

The TUR takes another viewpoint (429), and he writes that the decree of thirty days to prepare is only for the case of Pesach, since this holiday marks the beginning of the time when leftover Maaser must be destroyed. For the other holidays, the obligation is to study the relevant halachot only on the day itself.

Similarly to the TUR, Beit Yosef shows three different approaches that limit the rule of thirty days to Pesach alone. First, he notes that Pesach is a holiday with a very large number of preparations and with many laws that are relevant for them, and it is therefore important to start studying them early:

"The laws of Pesach must be presented to the nation thirty days before the holiday so that the people will have enough time to busy themselves with grinding the wheat and baking the matza, and with purifying the vessels and destroying the chametz."

This is especially important because if something was not done before Pesach it can often not be done properly within the holiday.

In the second approach, Beit Yosef notes that because of the great efforts involved in the holiday of Pesach, there is not enough time available to study all that is necessary on the holiday itself or in the evening before, while this is not necessary on Shavuot or on Succot.

"In addition, the demands related to the laws of Succah and Lulav are not so great, and it is sufficient to get involved with them on the eve of the holiday, and therefore there is no reason to start studying them earlier."

In his view, it is enough to begin studying the laws of Succot only a few days before the holiday, and on Shavuot there are no special laws to study. The Beit Yosef explains that on the holiday itself people should be involved in the reasons for the celebration and the laws of what is permitted and prohibited during a holiday. And this is the same for all the holidays.

"When it is written that one is involved in the laws of Pesach on Pesach and the laws of Shavuot on Shavuot, this means to discuss the reasons for celebrating the specific holiday and also to review the things that are permitted or prohibited on a holiday."

A third approach limits the rule of thirty days to matters pertaining to the Pesach Sacrifice, which has many laws stemming from the sacrifice itself and the need to check for blemishes.

"This is because of the sacrifice, in order to check for blemishes... So that there will be time for everybody to take their sacrifices which have been checked for blemishes. And now, even though because of our sins we no longer have the Pesach Sacrifice, since at the time it was decided that the matter should be discussed for thirty days, the decree does not move from its stated position."

This last approach implies that during the thirty days before Pesach it is necessary to study the halachot of the sacrifice, and this is indeed what we do in our community in Otniel. We should note that there is an intrinsic value to studying the halachot, both in view of our anticipation that they will become relevant and because of the principle that "we can substitute for the bulls with our lips" [Hoshaya 14:3], a theme which the Chafetz Chaim expanded further.

The Shulchan Aruch mentions the law of thirty days only for Pesach, and Magen Avraham extends this to the other holidays too. The Rambam brings Moshe's decree in the laws of prayer (Hilchot Tefilla 13:8). He saw it as part of the laws of Torah study, which is expressed in the Torah reading, and he does not bring the decree of thirty days before Pesach.


The proper behavior is to start from the time of Purim to study the Pesach Sacrifice and at the same time to study the relevant practical laws. In addition, at every holiday there is an obligation to ask about and to discuss the laws of the day, as part of Moshe's decrees with respect to Torah study.


Tell a friend|Print|Close

Nature and the Torah portion

Chelbena/Dr. Moshe Raanan, Herzog College and the Jerusalem College for Women

The word "chelbena" appears as one of the ingredients of the incense in a Baraita in Keritot (6a) and in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:5): "The making of the incense – Tzori, tziporen, chelbena, and levonah, each in the amount of seventy measures." We recite this Baraita before the beginning of the morning prayers and at the end, and in many communities it is also recited before the Mincha prayers. Many concerted efforts have been made trying to identify the components of the incense, but most of them are still best characterized by an open question.

Representing the Sinners of Yisrael

In this article I will present the alternative identifications for chelbena, which as opposed to the pleasant odor of most of the components has a sharp smell, and which gives off a bad odor when it is burned: "Every fast day which does not include sinners of Yisrael is not a proper fast day. After all, chelbena has a bad smell and the Torah listed it as a component of the incense." [Keritot 6b]. Rashi comments on the Torah as follows: "Chelbena – a spice that has a bad odor, which is called galbena. The verse lists it as one of the components of the incense, to teach us that we must be careful to gather in the sinners of Yisrael on our fast days and in our meetings for prayer." [Shemot 30:34].

The spiritual message about including the chelbena gives two hints as to its identity. Thus, it is a spice with an unpleasant odor which has the ability to enhance the odors of the other spices. The RAN discusses this in the first of his sermons: "This is the matter that is hinted at by the chelbena, which is a component of the incense. While its odor when taken alone is unpleasant, it has the power to awaken and enhance the quality of the other spices and awaken their spicy essence."

As opposed to Rashi and others who identify chelbena as "gelbena," which we will discuss below, Rav Saadia Gaon, the Rambam, and others consider it to be "mai'ah." The Rambam writes, "Chelbena is like a black honey, with a difficult smell. It is the sap of trees which grow in cities of Greece. Here are the names of the spices in Arabic: balsan, atzpar tiv, and mai'ah..." [Hilchot Kelei Mikdash 2:4]. Balsan is persimmon, while atzpar is the Eugenia plant.


Galbanum – chelbena - is a viscous sap with an unpleasant odor, which is produced by various ferula plants that are common in Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey. The main species of galbanum are Ferula gummosa and Ferula rubricaulis, which grows plentifully on the slopes of mountains in its areas of dispersion. The chelbena is secreted at the base of the leaves and the root of the plant as translucent lumps, or sometimes as separate drops of a light-brown, yellowish, or greenish-yellow color. It has a bitter taste and a strong scent similar to turpentine, with a hint of the scent of musk. The yield of sap can be enhanced by making cuts in the roots of the plant. Before the drops of the sap solidify they have a milky-white color, which might be the source of the name chelbena. The meaning of the Latin name galbanum is milk or a milky and white color.

The chelbena was a famous spice in the ancient world, and it had a number of similar names. In Aramaic and Syrian it was called chelbanita, in Arabic it is chalaban, and in Iraq it is called chalbani. The name went from the Semite languages to Greek, where it is called "chalbane," and galbanum in Roman. It was used as a medicine and is often mentioned in the literature of Greece and Rome. Dioscoridus wrote: "Chelbena is produced from the sap of a plant which grows in Syria. The highest-quality type is similar to levonah – it is clean and oily, it is not woody and does not contain any seeds from the plant. It can be faked using rubber, sap, and groats. It can be used for heat and for contractions, and it can be used as both an internal and an external medicine." Pliny wrote, "In the Amnus Mountains in Syria chelbena grows, which is also called stagonitis, named after the bush on which it grows. It can be used as a medicine. Its price is three dinars for a pound (454 grams)." [Nat. Hist. xxiv, 13].

As noted above, in ancient times the plant grew in Syria too but today the Amnus Mountains are part of Turkey, and the plant is therefore not found in Syria. Galbanum is still used as a medicine in modern times, but its use is declining. It is also used at times as a component of various perfumes, and this is considered the source of the "family" of perfume with a "green" scent (a name for perfume whose scent is reminiscent of green leaves).


As noted above, some researchers identify chelbena as "mai'ah," which is a viscous sap of a brown color that is produced from the oriental sweetgum (Liquidambar orientalis). This tree grows close to streams and flooded areas in the eastern Mediterranean (southwestern Turkey, the islands Rhodes and Cypress, and northern Syria). The tree is deciduous and reaches a height of 6-10 meters. Its leaves are similar to the shape of a hand. The sap can be produced by several methods: (1) By cutting into the internal bark and gathering the sap. (2) Extraction from pieces of the bark by applying pressure. (3) Cooking the internal shell until the sap comes out and then letting it settle to the bottom of the vessel. The sap and the oil that is distilled from it is mainly used in conventional medicine. The problem with this identification is that the odor of the sap is sweet and pleasant, and it therefore does not correspond to the description in the Talmud about the bad odor of the chelbena.

Tell a friend|Print|Close

Holy & Secular

The Truth will Win /Rabbi Amichai Gordin
Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School

When I was young there were almost no religious singers in Israeli culture. There was one pair, "Tzemed Rai'im," but they were merely the exception that proved the rule. When I was young, the playlist of Israeli culture didn't include religious songs at all. Israeli culture was absolutely secular.

Today things are different. Today there are many singers who are strongly linked to Torah and to Judaism. Today, the public realm of Israeli society includes many religious songs. These songs can lift up the soul of the one who hears them, higher and higher. One example that illustrates the dramatic transformation is the Banai family. There is a huge gap between the secular branch which founded this very talented family (Yossi, Gavri, and others) and the generation which followed them (Ehud, Meir, and Evyatar).

Artists are able to anticipate spiritual processes and even to lead them. In the seventies and the eighties of the last century, significant segments of Israeli society moved over from a nationalistic approach which viewed nationalism and Eretz Yisrael as a central value to a humanistic approach which places great importance on individual rights (even if they must supersede national values). In that case too, the first ones to voice such opinions were singers ("The Queen of the Bathtub," and others).

The large number of artists who are moving in the direction of Judaism and Torah are a spearhead for Israeli society as a whole. More and more we hear of significant sections of the general society who are searching for Jewish significance. Israeli society is thirsty for Israeli and Jewish values, and for a closer link to the Creator.

     * * * * * *

Our mentor, Rabbi Amital, often noted that two places where the Israeli public is almost completely united with the Torah world involve items about which there is no religious legislation – circumcision and Yom Kippur.

Years ago a Dutch research group came to Israel on the eve of Yom Kippur, in order to study the effects of air pollution. They came here because the only place in the world where motor vehicles are not operated for an entire day is Israel. On Yom Kippur the cloud of pollution and smoke that surrounds us all year round dissipates.

None of this would have happened if the Knesset had passed a law prohibiting all traffic on Yom Kippur. None of this would have happened if the country had passed a law encouraging circumcision. There is no need for a course in guided imagination in order to imagine the long lines of busses which the Meretz Party would have organized to crisscross the country on Yom Kippur, and the activity in the press that would voice strong opposition to the "pagan" ritual of circumcision.

The fact that the power of the people is much greater than the power of the law can also be seen in opposite circumstances. When the law demands that the halacha be obeyed but Israeli culture resists, culture has the upper hand. Not very many people are aware of this, but until the end of the eighties there was a law on the books of Israel that set a prison sentence of ten years for homosexual acts. The clause was eliminated in 1988 when all of the religious parties were members of the coalition (Agudat Yisrael, Shas, and Mafdal). Not one Chareidi MK felt that elimination of this law would cause harm to the image of the State of Israel. Everybody realized that a law that was completely disassociated from reality has no value.

We must stop getting excited by every sliver of a law and have greater faith in the people. Our nation is getting closer to the values of Judaism. Our nation is thirsty for Judaism.

     * * * * * *

I do not belittle the importance of establishing laws. Laws fashion reality and influence how it appears. However, even though we should not belittle the value of laws, we must also never exaggerate their importance. After all, laws are merely resources. What is written in the law books is much less important than what the Jews do in practice.

We must have more faith in our nation. There are laws which directly impact on the Torah and the halacha (for example, the conversion law, kashrut laws, and of course the very important clause that the Bayit Yehudi added to the draft law stating that the country views Torah study as a positive value), and it goes without saying that these matters must be treated with great care. But other laws, which are concerned with the character of public or private realms, must be settled in partnership with Israeli society as a whole. We should prefer a minimal Shabbat law that is accepted by a broad consensus to a broad Shabbat law that is forced on the public by coalition considerations.

Let me be perfectly clear. We will never renounce even the slightest aspect of our solid basis of faith. Our Torah is everlasting and it does not depend on passing fashion. We will not give up, we understand our position in the overall scheme which makes up broad Israeli society. We will not interfere with our great nation in its effort to find by itself, without coercion, its own path to the world of Judaism and Torah.

We are at peace with the fact that there are no laws in our land that forbid idol worship or adultery. We can live comfortably with laws that allow nonreligious people to do things that are forbidden in our eyes. We must preserve our strength for battles that are important – for laws that have a significant impact on society.


Tell a friend|Print|Close

The Table Of kings

The Search for Gold /Bar-on Dasberg

In each article in this series we deal with some aspect of a single chapter of the book of Melachim.

(Melachim I 10)

Can it really be that the Queen of Sheba leaves her kingdom for a journey of hundreds of kilometers just in order to test King Shlomo?? Can it be that she gives him gifts worth a huge amount only because he succeeded in solving her riddle?? Well, perhaps she had an ulterior motive.

In the previous chapter we were told about Chiram, the King of Tzor, who received permission from Shlomo to develop a commercial route between Tzor and the Gulf of Eilat. From the port, the sailors of Tzor were able to reach the gold in Africa and to use it for their commerce. Chiram paid Shlomo with very valuable gifts: "A hundred and twenty talents of gold... almog trees... no such almog trees had ever been brought before... and precious stones." These gifts were remarkably similar to the gifts that the Queen of Sheba brought in this week's chapter: "A hundred and twenty talents of gold... spices... no such spices had ever been brought before... and precious stones..."

The similarity of the two gifts suggests that this matter was a commercial competition. The Queen of Sheba realized the economic danger of Chiram in his attempt to break her monopoly on African gold, and she proposed an alternate deal to Shlomo, equal in value to Chiram's offer.

Today, just as in the past, even though we have less natural resources than other places, our land provides more important resources: A central location and Jewish ingenuity.

Tell a friend|Print|Close

Riddle of the Week

Ki Tissa/Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

The same word appears three times in one verse.
Twice it has the same meaning, and one time it means something else.
Twice the word has no "dagesh" and once it does.
What is the word?

Answers to last week's riddle - The riddle was: The description of those who perform the labor also fits one who continues after finishing the Torah.

- Those who made the priestly garments were filled with a spirit of wisdom – "ruach chochma." As is written, "And you shall speak to every one wise in the heart whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and let them make the garments for Aharon, to sanctify him to be a priest for me" [Shemot 28:3].
- Yehoshua Bin Nun, who continued in Moshe's role, was also filled with the spirit of wisdom: "Yehoshua Ben Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moshe had placed his hands on him..."

Tell a friend|Print|Close

Total Items:9
Jump to page content