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Volume 1576: Naso  : 12 Sivan 5775 30/05/2015

Point Of View

Post-Tanach /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute

On Chanukah of this year the "Tanach 929" project was launched, led by our colleague, Rabbi Benny Lau, from Jerusalem. The Ministry of Education and other organizations banded together in this initiative, which is based on reading one chapter of the Tanach every day, to finish in 929 days, one day for each of the total number of chapters in the Tanach. The method used is to visit a richly-designed website (or a smartphone app), where the main element is not the study of the daily chapter itself (as is the case in the daily study of the Daf Yomi in the Talmud) but rather the study of segments of commentary, philosophy, analysis, and discussion that accompany each chapter.

From the time that this project appeared on the internet it has been a subject of criticism within the religious Zionist community (and perhaps in other sectors too), at various levels. The criticism is pointed towards content written mainly (or also) by apostates and doubters, and by wise people who measure the Tanach based on their own strange approaches. At times the essays harshly criticize the behavior of the characters in the Tanach, based on human standards of the author, or consist of criticism of the Holy One, Blessed be He, His laws and regulations (the purveyors of this culture call Him "Ha'El," which is not a standard Hebrew name for G-d). Every person with a keyboard available is encouraged to add his or her own post to the site, with his own personal viewpoint. All approaches are accepted, including commentary, literary essays, and any other genre, all with respect to the daily chapter of the Tanach. Evidently there is minimal screening of the posts. The open acceptance of the rule that "Kol dichfin -Whoever is hungry is invited to come and write" (see the Haggada of Pesach) convinced even Michlelet Herzog, the stalwarts of "openness and moderation," to remove their support from this initiative and to propose an alternative in the Hakhel-929 site, where the content is written by believers in Sinai who are authorized to contribute to the project.

A Cat in the Holy Ark

Rabbi Benny Lau published (in the Shabbat Magazine of Makor Rishon for Shavuot) an enthusiastic defense of the initiative, with the title, " To Open the Holy Ark." In a beautiful and organized essay, he describes the historic tension between those who kept the Torah closed and available only to "suitable" students and others who opened it to the broad public and taught the Torah in the markets and in the public realm. He artfully reminds us of Ezra the Scribe, and of the disputes between Shamai and Hillel, and then Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria, about whether to drive a sword into the entrance of the Beit Midrash and filter those who enter or if the doors of the Holy Ark should be opened wide to all those who come to hear. He even adds the Natziv of Volozhin to the list of those who opened the doors wide. And in the spirit of the holiday of the giving of the Torah, Rabbi Lau ends with the well-known quote of the sages, that the Torah was given in the desert as a symbol of a place freely open to everybody.

Well, aside from the literary joy of reading this piece, I felt that my skin crawled, and I was filled with outrageous wonder! How did Rabbi Benny err so strongly in his viewpoint and fall into the trap of his own eloquent rhetoric? How did he make the switch from improper students to teachers who are not worthy, or to "Torah" that is not worthy in itself? All the open approaches that he points at are with respect to those who listen in the town square, even if they are not worthy in themselves. But, Master of the Universe, where did the rabbi find any approval of Torah and teachers who are not worthy? How did he make a switch between receiving the Torah in a place which is "hefker" – ownerless – and handing over the Torah by people who themselves are "mufkarim" – free of any influence of our traditions? Did his fondness for the project which he initiated lead him to distort the "research" truths out of which his essay was weaved? All I can say is that the rabbi's great novel element is to drag the Torah into the era of the "post," to come to the conclusion that "everything goes" – and that even an "outsider" who studied and commented is fit to make his own comments! It seems to me that this new site in fact serves as an arena for competition of a type of sport for opinionated critics of the Tanach. The title of his article, "To Open the Holy Ark," reminds me by association of what the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once said to me: "Nowhere is it explicitly written that one is not allowed to put a cat into the Holy Ark. However, it is just simple logic that it is forbidden!"

What's more, even if we explicitly refuse to test the religious level of those who contribute to the site, and we want to view the contents, with the viewpoint that we should "learn the truth from whoever says it" [from "The Eight Chapters" - the Rambam's introduction to Pirkei Avot] a large part of the discussions on the site are criticisms of the Tanach itself, of the people who appear, and of the One who gave us the Torah. As an exercise, I opened the site to the daily chapter for the day of Shavuot, the holiday of the giving of the Torah. It turns out that this is Chapter 21 of Vayikra, "Emor – Tell the Kohanim." In this passage a large number of limitations are put on the priests in terms of ritual purity, marriage, and prohibitions that prevent any priests with physical blemishes to offer a sacrifice in the Temple.

It is certainly true that the institution of the priesthood and the holiness of the priests are not easy for a person of our generation to grasp. And this is even more apparent in terms of the social element of discrimination against Kohanim who have a handicap. And you can already guess the tone of the ideas that appear on the 929 site. Out of some fifteen articles, a dozen authors (including famous people and some with whom I am not familiar) voice sharp or hinted criticism against the laws of the Torah and eagerly wait for them to be modified and updated. I admit that these are weighty issues, and I do not have a formula to be used to explain them to the common people or to intellectuals with strong opinions. But I do know one thing. What I saw on this sample page (I must admit that perhaps I randomly picked an especially difficult example) certainly corresponds to handing out the Torah in a way that is "hefker," without any limits. This is the complete opposite of what the sage meant when they spoke of " receiving the Torah in a place that is hefker" – which really means, "just as these (fire, water, and the desert) are free for the taking, so the Torah is given to the world for free." [Bamidbar Rabba 1].

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As Shabbat Approaches

Suffering from Refraining from Win/Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh Yeshiva, Kerem B'Yavne


"'And let him be atoned for sinning in his soul' [Bamidbar 6:11]. What sin did this man do in his soul? The answer is that he refrained from drinking wine." [Taanit 11a].

What is the attitude of Judaism on hedonism and on abstaining from worldly pleasures? At first glance, from the laws of the "nazir," who refrains from all contact with wine and grapes, it would seem that the Torah views self-mortification in a negative light. Many articles have been written about the negative attitude towards abstaining from pleasure. One example is the continuation of the passage from the Talmud quoted above: "Whoever fasts is called a sinner, and this is a "kal vachomer" - a logical inference - from the laws of nazir."

On the other hand, there are many declarations which praise a man who refrains from indulging in the physical pleasures of the world. However, the sages have also made declarations which show an opposite viewpoint: "Whoever fasts is called holy, and this is a logical inference from the laws of nazir" [Taanit, ibid].

In his book Messilat Yesharim, the Ramchal discusses the paradox in the words of the sages at length and comes to the conclusion that there are types of abstention that we have been commanded to observe and other types which we have been commanded to avoid. In general abstention is a good thing, since it can be dangerous to seek the physical pleasures of this world, and it is therefore good in general for a person to avoid luxuries. However, one is not allowed to refrain from things that are necessary for his wellbeing.

Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook feared that his disciple, Rav Charlap, might want to mimic the actions of his first mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Mechel Shapiro, who was known as an extreme ascetic. When Rav Charlap wrote a book describing the behavior of Rabbi Shapiro, called "Tzvi Latzadik," Rav Kook wrote the following in the introduction: "Therefore we, who have weak constitutions, and are struck by motion and by futile actions – we must yearn to lift ourselves up somewhat from our depths... to be comparable within the limits of our miniscule abilities to the righteous men of the generation. Our first action must be to light up around us the torch of knowledge, constantly to be present in the holy sanctuary of the study of Torah, fear, and holy service... we must make our weak and depressed bodies healthy." [Igrot volume 1, page 78].

We do not have permission to treat our bodies in an arbitrary way. Our bodies belong to the Holy One, Blessed be He, and therefore not only are we not allowed to cause them harm, our task is to make sure that our bodies will be healthy and strong. We must eat the proper foods, get enough rest, and engage in physical activities in order to maintain our physical fitness. Before eating breakfast, Hillel would say, "A righteous man is good to himself" [Mishlei 11:17]. However, at the same time, we must avoid the trait of admiring the body too much, since the body has no intrinsic value of its own.

Many new types of industry have sprung up in the realm of food. The purpose of them all is to entice people. Let us rather remember the true goal – "a healthy soul in a healthy body."

Here is what the Rambam wrote: "One whose appetite is weak should awaken it with spiced food, and one who becomes depressed should improve his mood by listening to music and by walking in the gardens. The intent all this is to make his body healthy." And he ends with, "The final objective in having a healthy body is to gather wisdom."

And the Ramchal writes, "And there is the main principle: A person should stay away from whatever is not necessary for this world. But whatever is necessary for him, for whatever reason, since it is needed, if he separates himself from it, he is a sinner."

 

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A Woman's Angle

Status and Sacrifices /Tirza Frankel

Among many other topics, the Torah portion of Nasso includes a census of the tribe of Levi and a discussion of their responsibilities. In addition, the Holy One, Blessed be He, commands the priests to bless the people with the well-known blessings of the priests. As a child of the modern era, I have asked myself more than once what meaning there is to these separate levels of status which the Holy One, Blessed be He, established in the nation of Yisrael – Kohen, Levi, and Yisrael. The different status levels were meant to last through the generations, and they in fact remain meaningful to one degree or another to this very day.

The definition of each status is clear to us. The priest are the children of Aharon (the Kohen) and the Levites are from the tribe of Levi, who achieved their special status when they were the only people who did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf. This gave them the privilege of replacing those who were originally meant to perform the labors in the Temple – the firstborns of every family in Yisrael. Thus, clearly, the choice of these dynasties by the Almighty was a direct result of the actions and the traits of the people. As time went on, the Kohanim and the Levites were privileged to receive special training about the service in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and the result was that they continued their dynasties with a special status within Jewish society. They fulfilled their roles from the moment they were born (and this included much responsibility and a heavy burden), and the children were raised in a way that was appropriate for their exalted status.

However, when the Temple was destroyed and the service there was replaced by prayers, the Kohanim and the Levites were left without any meaningful tasks to perform except for blessing the Jews. The nation of Yisrael maintained their tribal relationships of the priests and the Levites throughout many generations, evidently as a memory of their past service, and with a hope for redemption and for rebuilding of the Temple.

Even though these levels of status, which today do not entail any active roles, are nothing more than ancient and beautiful reminders of the exalted past of the nation of Yisrael, it is amazing to see how the traditional Jewish culture maintains its awe and respect for pedigree and status. For many years I have had a heavy feeling towards the national religious sector to which I belong, because of its sectorial outlook, for the yearning of so many of its members to be close only to other people who are of the same status, and for the tendency to reject anybody who is different than they are and to treat them as inferiors.

This phenomenon can be felt most strongly in the patterns of registration for school. I have not forgotten various conversations with the parents of friends of my daughters who registered their children in private schools, out of a fear that their daughters might become close to girls who are different from them. And today I cannot ignore people who quietly ask me if I am not "sacrificing" my daughters by sending them to heterogeneous high schools.

People, with worry on their minds, make sure to tell me that my daughters are paying a high price for their parents' ideology. I happen to work in a school which promotes the concept of "heterogeneous by design," with great love. The school has students from every neighborhood in Jerusalem and the surrounding towns, daughters of parents who lecture in the university or who have other academic positions, together with girls whose families are at the lowest socioeconomic level. Not a day goes by when we do not get another student who is smart and blessed with talent, but who was not accepted in any other school for various irrelevant reasons. And I am left with a question – how long can this go on?

Perhaps instead of expressing amazement about the personal sacrifice of parents infused with faith that they can improve the world, we might ask what price our society and Israeli culture in general pay for their prejudicial and tough attitude against other sectors of the population, for unclear criteria that seem to have been created at the time that this country was established. I feel that the demonstration by the Ethiopians against discrimination is merely a symbol of the heavy and difficult price that we are all paying for the exaggerated attention we pay to the issue of social status.

Just as Jewish society at the time of the destruction of the Temple knew how to forget the issue of traditional status and to transform it into a sign of past glory, so it would be fitting for us to do this too. Our reward will be a more righteous and fair society. And we will get to know some very wonderful people who introduce variations which enrich us all with their presence.

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The Light Starts In The East

Look for the Name of G-d in an Electric Scale /Chezi Cohen,
Yeshivat Maaleh Gilboa and Midreshet Ein Hanatziv

Rabbi Shalom Chavashush was one of the most prominent students in Yeshivat Porat Yosef. Later, he taught in Yeshivat Chayei Shalom. As was common among the Sephardi wise men, Rabbi Chavashush made sure to make his living from his own labors, and he had a retail store.

     * * * * * *

At the time, the scale in every store was a mechanical balance, with one arm on each side of a middle rod. On one side an object to be weighed would be placed, and weights would be placed on the other side until a balance was achieved. From the day that Rabbi Shalom received an electric scale in his store, Rabbi Shalom wondered about it, looking at it and checking it, always touching it, as if he was looking for something. The customers asked him: "Rabbi Shalom, what are you looking for?" He replied: "It is written that the parts of a scale are similar to the name of G-d, so that the one who uses it to weigh will remember the verse, 'I have always placed G-d before me' [Tehillim 16:8], and that he will weigh the material and sell honestly and fairly, using a true scale. And now I stand here and ask: Where is the name of G-d on this scale? What is there here to remind us of the need for justice and honesty?

     * * * * * *

The Torah warns us against using dishonest weights in various places. It views dishonesty as an evil abomination, and it promises great rewards to anybody who avoids this (Devarim 25:16). The warning is sealed with the name of G-d. "Have honest scales, honest weights, an honest Aifah, and an honest Hin - I am your G-d" [Vayikra 19:36]. And our sages did indeed find that the scale is a symbol of the name of G-d. Here is how this was explained, by Rabbi Sasson Mordechai: "It is written, 'honest scales, honest weights,' and so on, indicating that the scale is a hint of the name of G-d, as is written, 'I am your G-d,' since G-d's name appears in a hint in the scale. And how can you use it to do evil, heaven forbid?" [Quoted by Ben Ish Chai, Ki Teitzei, year 1, introduction].

The fact that the name of G-d is mentioned together with the scale is a repeated reminder of the demand of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the Torah that the weights must be accurate, and this leads to strict observance of the mitzvot. The fact that a constant reminder is necessary shows us how great a temptation there is to cheat in business and how easy it is to make a mistake while using the scale. The above story involves a technological change, when the mechanical scale was replaced by an electric one. The object to be weighed is placed on a single surface, and the weight appears in lights on the panel of the machine. The change led to much more accurate weighing and improved reliability. Rabbi Shalom Chavashush stands in front of the new machine, looking once again for the name of G-d. He teaches us that the technological advance is not an automatic guarantee of honesty. The fact that the new scale is more precise does not make sure that it will be used in a fair way. To broaden this idea, the technological world is not necessarily better than the previous world in terms of ethical values. It provides a person with better developed tools, but after they appear it is necessary to fill them with spiritual and religious meaning, and to make sure to use them properly. The spiritual challenge is thus not only to use the developing technology but to find how to translate religious language into the new environment – to continue to find the name of G-d in the new scale too.

Perhaps we can also find a deeper meaning in this story.

When a person uses a mechanical scale, he can see the mechanism by which something is weighed. He sees the balance between the two arms, and he is filled with a feeling of honesty. The Divine command for honesty in commerce is fulfilled in front of his eyes. A digital scale, on the other hand, may well be more precise, but the righteousness is no longer visible to the naked eye. The technological development makes it harder to see and feel the honesty directly, and the spiritual labor requires a heightened awareness. We can expand this to say that the ancient style of balance represents the past, when it was easier to directly sense the name of G-d. In a world of miracles or an era when the mechanisms of the world are not completely understood – it is relatively easy to feel the existence of G-d. On the other hand, modern living blurs the ability to directly feel the existence of G-d, and our view of the Creator has moved more and more into the plane of mental awareness. Technological man has increased his control of nature and reality, such that the Holy One, Blessed be He, has been shunted aside, behind the scenes. The spiritual labor that is needed today is to open the curtain and find Him and His revelations in the modern and advanced world, in spite of the development of man. The complexity of the world has caused some of the religious sector to pull back and to avoid participating in its development. However, the path of Rabbi Shalom Chavashush is to operate in parallel ways: He begins to use a digital scale, while at the same time he makes an effort to continue to find the Master of the Universe in the new technology.

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"The place" in the world

The Struthion Pool and the Aqueduct North of the Temple Mount /Rabbi Yitzchak Levy, Yeshivat Har Etzion

North of the Herodian Temple Mount, two pools from the time of the Second Temple were found. Northeast of the Temple Mount is Bereichat Yisrael, near the Minaret of Israel (Minaret of the Tribes). A bit to the north, south of the Lion's Gate, near the Santa Anna Monastery, the Beit Chisda Pools were found.

Northwest of the Temple Mount there is a hill which overlooks the Mount. This hill, Givat Beit Zeita, slopes down to the south, towards a small channel which separates it from the Temple Mount. On this hill there were fortresses which overlooked the Mount during the time of the Second Temple. The first was Metzudat Habirah, which served as the center of government of the Chashmona'im in the city. The next one was the Antonia Fortress, which was built by Herod in an effort to control the Temple area, especially during the holidays, when many Jewish pilgrims came to the Temple, and the religious and nationalistic feelings of the pilgrims were at a peak.

Near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount but outside of the limits of the Mount there is an ancient water channel and a pool which is called the Struthion Pool.

An Aqueduct Northwest of the Temple Mount

Evidently the aqueduct starts near the Damascus Gate, following the channel of the Valley of Tyropoeon (the Cheese Makers), which starts north of the Damascus Gate and continues to the south, west of the Temple Mount (what is Hagai Street today). From there it goes to the west of the City of David and empties into the Kidron River, south of the City of David.

We may assume that this water channel carried out the rainwater at the upper level of the Tyropoeon, in the direction of the Temple Mount. The aqueduct was first dug out as an open channel, and it was then covered with large and impressive stone tablets. Evidently it was meant to supply water to one of the cisterns on the north of the Temple Mount or to a cistern in the fortress.

With respect to the age of the aqueduct we do not have precise data. The only archeological information that might help date the channel is the fact that it was blocked with the construction of the western wall of the Temple Mount by Herod, which implies that it was from before his time.

There are two possibilities for the date of the aqueduct: either the era of the Chashmona'im or the time of the First Temple. Note that the floor of the channel is straight, but the further north you go the higher it gets, corresponding to the height of the hill. Its form is similar to the southern section of Chezkiyahu's Tunnel, in the south of the City of David.

If this is dated as from the First Temple Era, it has been suggested that it is "the upper channel leading to the path of Field of the Launderers" [Yeshayahu 7:3] (although another suggestion puts this further to the east, near the Beit Chisda Pool). This upper channel is mentioned by Yeshayahu during the days of Achaz and also in the time of Chizkiyahu.

If the aqueduct is from the time of the Chashmona'im, it might be connected to the fortress northwest of the Temple Mount.

The Struthion Pool

It is known that Herod dug a moat north of the Antonia Fortress in order to protect it from the north. This pool is part of the moat that Herod dug. The digging of the moat made the ancient aqueduct unusable.

The word Struthion means a lark, a small bird. Perhaps this is because the pool is small compared to other public pools in Jerusalem. The pool is about 52 by 14 meters. It stored the rainwater to be used for the moat, also storing the water that the aqueduct brought to the moat. The pool was open to the sky, and it can be assumed that its close proximity to the Temple Mount drew a large number of pilgrims to it during the holidays.

In general, we know that "Jerusalem was not divided among the tribes." This means that the pilgrims would stay in the homes of the Jerusalem residents, with the guests inside and the residents on the outside.

An agreed symbol was placed at the entrances of the homes. As long as there was a cloth tied to the entrance, there was still room and more guests could be accommodated. If there was no cloth, then there was no more room in the house. If there was not enough room in the private houses, there were also lodgings set aside for the pilgrims. If these were also full, it can be assumed that the water pools were surrounded by tent camps. This may also have been true for the Struthion Pool.

The pool is cut into two halves by a wall. The southern section of the pool is at the end of the Caves of the Western Wall, administered by the Wall Heritage Foundation, while the northern section of the pool is in the area of the Monastery of the Sisters of Zion. In 1867 Warren visited the aqueduct in the Monastery, and he rode a raft to the southern end of the channel. He described what he saw in great detail. When Warren came to the aqueduct the nuns feared that somebody might use it to enter the monastery from the section of the aqueduct that went through their area. And therefore they built the wall that divides the pool into two sections.

In the siege before the destruction of the Second Temple, part of the moat was filled when the battery for the siege was built by the Fifth Legion, which then used it to capture the Antonia Fortress.

When Aelia Capitolina was established in the year 135 C.E., the emperor Hadrian built a market at the site where the moat had been. At the entrance to the market there was a magnificent gate part of which remains to this day as the "Ecce Homo" Arch in the Via Dolorosa. In order to build the market over the pool, Hadrian put a roof over the length of the pool, building two arches that supported the market that was on top of them.

It is very exciting that when we get to the channel we might be standing where Achaz and Chizkiyahu's messengers might have stood, in the channel of the upper pool. And when we stand near the pool we are near the place where the pilgrims sat during the Second Temple Era, using the pool for drinking, washing, and possibly for ritual purification.

When we stand on the floor over the pool we are at the place where Rabbi Akiva and his students walked. Remember that Rabbi Akiva saw a fox coming out of the site of the Holy of Holies, and when the others began to weep he laughed. Because of his great faith he was sure that just as the prophecy of Micha had taken place – "Because of you Zion will be plowed into a field and Jerusalem will become rubble, and the Temple Mount will be like piles in the forest" [3:12] – so would the prophecy of Zecharia come true – "Old men and women will again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, every man leaning on his staff because of his age. And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls who will play in its streets." [8:4-5].

Happy are we that in G-d's great kindness the prophecy of Zecharia is being fulfilled in our generation

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Halacha From The Source

Can we Use the Blessings of the Priests to Bless our Children? /The Center for Teaching and Halacha, Directed by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon

In this week's Torah portion we read the blessings of the Kohanim. Many people have a custom of reciting this blessing to their children on Friday night before the Kiddush. The blessing begins with, "Let G-d make you like Efraim and Menasheh" [Bereishit 48:20] (or, for a girl, "Let G-d make you like Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, and Leah"), and then continues with the priestly blessing: "Let G-d bless you and watch over you..." [Bamidbar 6:24]. This custom was established a few hundred years ago by the masters of Kabbalah, explaining that Shabbat is a time of special abundance, and it is a good idea to take advantage of this and pass the abundance on to the younger generation. (See the Ravitz Siddur, 150:7.)

In addition to ideas based on the Kabbalah, this custom can be explained by a very simple reason. Among other things, the goal of Shabbat is to unite the family and to enhance the love and friendship among the family members. During the week everybody is busy with his or her own pursuits and problems. In addition to the exalted ideas on which Shabbat is based (in memory of the Creation and the redemption from Egypt), it also gives the family members an opportunity to meet and to strengthen the family ties. Blessing the children is an expression of the special love between parents and their children, and it is especially fitting to show this love on Shabbat.

Recitation of the Blessings by One who is not a Kohen

However, using these verses to bless the children seems to raise a halachic problem. It is written in the Talmud that a non-Kohen who lifts up his hands and recites the blessing is in violation of a positive mitzva (Ketuvot 24b). Rashi explains that the source for this is the verse about the blessings of the Kohanim: "This is how you shall bless Bnei Yisrael" [Bamidbar 6:23] – you should bless but strangers should not. If this is so, how can we have a custom of blessing our children using these blessings? Doesn't this violate a positive command?

This difficulty is not only related to our custom with the children, it is a broader issue. In the Talmud Rabbi Yossi says that even though he is not a Kohen, if his colleagues tell him to rise up to recite the blessings of the Kohanim he does so (Shabbat 118b). How can this be?

Later commentators worked hard to solve this dilemma, suggesting limits to the prohibition of non-Kohanim to recite the blessings.

(1) The RAMA explains that the prohibition is valid only when the stranger goes up to the place of the blessing by himself, but if he goes together with others who are Kohanim he can recite the blessing together with them, but he is not allowed to make a blessing for his observance of the mitzva (Darchei Moshe Orach Chaim 128:1).

(2) Magen Avraham writes that Tosafot disagree with the opinion of Rashi, and they feel that the Talmud in Ketuvot is not referring to the specific question of the blessings of the Kohanim but rather to the prohibition of reciting an unnecessary blessing in general (ibid, 1). Thus, a stranger who goes up to recite the blessings but does not make a blessing for the mitzva has not violated any prohibition.

(3) The author of Hafla'ah suggested a very novel explanation (Ketuvot 24b, commenting on Rashi). He says that the prohibition is not related to the blessings themselves but to the fact that the man himself does not receive the blessings of the Kohanim as they recite them (since he is not standing opposite them – see Sotta 38a). This is true because just as the Kohanim have been commanded to bless Bnei Yisrael, so Yisrael have been commanded to accept the blessings. The Hafla'ah says that this means that just the opposite of the RAMA's opinion is correct – When there are other Kohanim a stranger who rises up with them is not blessed, and he has violated a positive mitzva (and this is the case of the passage in the Talmud in Ketuvot). But when the stranger rises up alone he is not missing any blessing from a true Kohen (and the blessing would not have been recited without him in any case), and he has not violated any mitzva. (Evidently this is the basis of what Rabbi Yossi said.)

(4) The BACH gives another explanation (128). He feels that there is a prohibition only if the non-Kohen spreads out his hands and recites the blessings, but if he recites the passage without spreading out his hands no violation has taken place. This is similar to what is brought by the Torah Temima in the name of the GRA:

"I heard from a trustworthy person that the GRA of Vilna blessed Rabbi Yechezkel Landau from Vilna (the "Noda B'Yehuda") during his wedding. He put one hand on the head of Rabbi Yechezkel while he recited the blessing. When he was asked why he did this, the GRA replied that the only ones who are allowed to bless using both hands are the Kohanim in the Temple." [Torah Temima Bamidbar 6,131].

Thus, the GRA made sure to bless covering the head of the recipient with only one hand but not two.

(5) Another explanation appears in the book Magen Giborim (128:2) and in Responsa Oneg Yom Tov (15). According to this opinion, the prohibition is valid only when the non-Kohen has the intention of fulfilling the mitzva of the blessings of the Kohanim, but if there is no specific intention of fulfilling the mitzva no prohibition is involved. Biur Halacha explains (128:1) that since the sages established that the blessings of the Kohanim should be recited as part of the prayers, it may be that whoever recites them outside of the prayers is considered as explicitly having no desire to perform a mitzva – and that this is permitted by everybody.

Accepting the Custom

In view of the considerations brought above, we can accept the custom of blessing the children, since in this case it is not performed as part of the prayers and is not performed in order to fulfill the mitzva of the blessings of the Kohanim. It is also possible to be lenient in view of some of the other explanations given above. No unnecessary blessing for a mitzva is recited (answer 2), the explicit holy name of G-d is not said (answer 3), and no blessing recited by a Kohen is being missed (answer 4). In view of what we saw about the GRA, one might consider being stringent and putting only one hand on the head of the child and not two, but if we follow the other considerations above this is not really necessary (this corresponds to the ruling in Responsa Yechaveh Daat 5:14).

Note: Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein observed this custom in an original and unique way. Instead of blessing the children before the Friday night meal, he would bless every child before he or she went to bed. In this way the blessing became a personal and private experience for each and every child.

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What Is That Phrase?

"A Full Spoon" and Missing Letters in Writing /Yaacov Etzion

As we know, the Torah portion this week repeats the dedication sacrifices brought by the twelve heads of the tribes twelve times. One of the verses that is repeated has very special significance for most of the verses in the Torah: "Kaf achat - One ladle worth ten pieces of gold, filled with incense" [Bamidbar 7:14]. What makes this verse unique is not what it contains but rather what is missing – This is one of the very few verses in the Torah which does not contain either the letter "vav" or the letter "yud."

It is traditional for most pages in the Torah to start with the letter vav, except for five specific pages. Actually this is true not only of the pages but also of the verses. More than 70% of the verses in the Torah begin with the letter vav. (Often this is what is called "the vav of reversal," which interchanges past and future tense). The other 30% of the verses which do not begin with a vav almost invariably contain a vav within the verse. And the letter yud is also very common, and very few verses do not have any yud in them at all.

In general, the style of spelling in the Torah is not at all consistent. On the fourth day of Creation, G-d commands "Let there be orbs in the heavens" [Berishit 1:14], and he repeats the command, "they will be orbs in the heavens" [1:15]. In the first verse the word "me'orot" – orbs – is written without a vav at all, while a vav appears twice in the word orbs in the second verse. The word "toldot" – a life history – is written in four different ways, with one or two appearances of a vav in different places in the word. The same is true for the letter yud. The word "nessi'im," tribal leaders, is written in a single verse of this week's Torah portion in two different ways. "And the leaders brought the dedication on the day that the Tabernacle was anointed, and the leaders brought their sacrifice before the Altar" [Bamidbar 7:10]. Each time there is one yud, and it appears in a different place in the word. (In next week's Torah portion the word is printed in two other ways, once with a yud appearing twice and once without any yud at all.)

Commentators and the authors of the Midrash use these differences as sources for many insights, but those who strive to understand the straightforward meaning of the verses only see these as variations without any special meaning. Here, for example, is what Avraham Ibn Ezra writes in his commentary on the Ten Commandments:

"As I have written in the past, the verses are sometimes written in a long way and sometimes in a short way. There are times when a letter is added or removed, and all of these appearances are the same... The vav, which can be seen in the way the mouth is opened, is not required when a person speaks... Why then, should we try to find a special reason for the appearance of a letter which is never expressed, such as the letter vav in the word "le'olam," and to explain why the vav appears or not."

In addition to the verse quoted above, "kaf achat," there are only ten more verses in the entire Tanach which have neither a vav nor a yud. The experts in the traditions of writing in the Tanach have developed a code with hints at the twenty two verses in all that have neither a vav nor a yud, starting with "Lo tiktal" – do not murder (since the prohibition of murder in the Ten Commandments is one of these verses).

 

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The Clear Vision Of Rav Kook

Bamidbar/Rabbi Chagai Londin,
Hesder Yeshiva in Sdeirot and Machon Meir

Last week we began to read the Book of Bamidbar. Let us take the opportunity to look at the characteristics of this book, which the Maharal of Prague surprisingly calls, the "Book of Leadership." He feels that leadership is a trait that is prominently seen in this book.

Why is this a fitting description of Bamidbar?

We can see that this book is characterized by four main subjects:

(1) Orderliness and a methodical approach – The book of Bamidbar is deeply involved in the way the camp of Yisrael is organized: the day-to-day structure of the camp, the sequence of travel, the banners of the tribes, and focused descriptions of the tasks involved in taking the Tabernacle apart, in carrying it from place to place, and in putting it back together. The sacrifices brought by the leaders of the nation are described in this week's portion.

(2) Coping with unusual circumstances – This book contains descriptions of failures and problematic events which take place during the movement in the desert: the sin of the scouts, the sin of Korach and his followers, the yearning for specific foods in Kivrot Hataavah, the vows of a nazir (an ascetic), sotta (infidelity by a wife), relations with the daughters of Midyan, and more.

(3) On the move – The vast majority of the travels of Bnei Yisrael in the desert appear in this book. While at the end of the book of Vayikra the nation of Yisrael is still camped at the foot of Mount Sinai, in Bamidbar the nation "gets a move on" and "plows through" the desert back and forth in dozens of separate journeys.

(4) The desert – The site where all of this takes place is a very harsh regime: an area that is a desert, desolate and far from any civilized companionship. And this is where the Holy One, Blessed be He, decides to form His nation and to lead them for the beginning of their long journey.

The approach of the Marahal is that true leadership must include all of the above traits. Anybody wanting to enhance his or her leadership qualities – whether for himself alone or together with others – must be orderly, keeping in mind a clear and well-defined goal which does not change in response to social fashions and public opinion polls. One who wants to lead cannot develop a "sterile" mode of action, he must be able to cope with problems that arise along the way. The main goal of good leadership is to move forward and not to get stuck in one place. And, most important, true leadership takes place in "a desert," within the framework of cultural desolation. The Torah was given in the desert because that is the place where a person is able to direct his gaze inwards and to be linked to G-d.

Only after a person takes charge of his life and is able to cross a desert can he begin to participate in the book of Devarim and prepare to enter the Holy Land.

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Straight Talk

The Smart Way to Use a Smartphone /Yoni Lavie
Manager, "Chaverim Makshivim" Website

Who would have believed just a few short years ago that such a small device would begin to have such a great impact on our lives?

 

Who could have imagined that grammar school children would demand from their parents that they "must" have such a device because "everybody in the class has one" and that they remain "the last unfortunate kids who don't yet have one"?

 

Who would have thought that grownups would become so attached to the device that they would be checking mail or WhatsApp every few minutes, and that they would feel an emotion of mourning if the phone would be lost, almost as if a bosom pal had passed away?

 

Who would have thought that so many people who otherwise appear normative and intelligent would obsessively hold a weird rod in their hands with a telephone at the end so that they could smile at it all the time in a silly and ingratiating way?

 

A revolution has taken place here in the last three years, and evidently we didn't notice it passing us by. Is there any possibility that we will wake up and catch the train before it leaves us behind at the station? Is there any possibility of using this device in a productive and balanced way, without becoming addicted to it?

 

A Contract with a Child

 

I recently came across an interesting technique that was used by the mother of an eleven-year-old boy. She came to the conclusion that she simply did not have the strength to stand up to her son's pressure to buy a smartphone, but that if she were forced to surrender at least it would be on "her own terms." She had her little offspring sign a contract that had the following clauses.

 

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(1) The phone belongs to us. We bought it, we pay for its use. It is only in your hands as a loan.

(2) We must know your passwords at all times.

(3) Never say, write, or send on the phone anything that you would not say face to face to the recipient. Put some internal censorship to work.

(4) Never say, write, or send on the phone anything that you don't want other people to know or to quote. Remember that any information that you pass along on the phone can be copied an infinite number of times.

(5) Never use this technology in order to hurt somebody, to insult somebody, to lie, or to mislead other people. Don't ever take part in multiple-participant conversations where any of these actions is taking place.

(6) You can approve friendship on social networks only for people that you know in person.

(7) Never give anybody on a network your full name, your telephone number, or your address.

(8) The phone will not go to sleep with you in your room. You will put it aside every night at 20:30, when you plug it into the charger in the living room. The only thing that will sleep in the same room as you do is your brother. The technology of which he is made allows you to play with him without any danger of radiation.

(9) The phone will not join you at meals, while you are riding in a car, during our mutual recreation, and in social events. It is simply not invited to join.

(10) Always put the phone away when you are talking to another person. You are a cultured and well-mannered boy. Don't let the phone change that.

(11) There is no need to answer right away. That goes for WhatsApp, for facebook, and most of the time for the telephone too. You are eleven years old, not the head doctor of an emergency room.

(12) During school hours, the phone will remain in your bag, except when you call us.

(13) Know that your smartphone is addictive. This is a scientific fact. You will need the force of your willpower to resist becoming addicted to it. Always remember: 98% of your need to have the phone with you stems from a fear that you will miss something, but 98% of the time nothing interesting or important is happening. Until yesterday you did not have a phone. You enjoyed your life, didn't you? You didn't miss anything, did you?

(14) Develop a habit of leaving the phone home now and then.

(15) Don't take pictures of everything all the time. Your experiences are saved in your memory forever. They will remain in your phone memory only until you lose the phone.

(16) It is your responsibility to use the technology in your hand in a way that will help you develop and expand your horizons. When you play such games as "Candy Crush" or "Temple Run" you are not developing or expanding yourself. You know exactly what we mean...

(17) Always answer immediately when your father or I call you. Always.

(18) Always trust your judgement more than you trust any machine. Even if something is written in Google, even if Waze says so, even if you saw it on facebook – no technology is more advanced than your brain, and no telephone is smarter than your heart. And this will always be true.

 

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Giving him the Keys in his Hand

 

Some of the points above can be discussed further, just as some of them should also be adopted by adults. In any case, the basic assumption behind the whole idea cannot be stressed enough: The use of a smartphone requires suitable preparation and constant follow-up. No parent with even a minimum feeling of responsibility would give his sixteen-year-old child the keys of his Mazda 6, no matter how much pressure the child puts on, how much he begs, or what he threatens to do. However, far too many parents give much younger children a device with much greater power merely because they do not have the strength to stand up against his or her demands. It is true that the economic cost of these devices is getting less and less all the time, but their spiritual and social cost is steadily on the rise.

 

In addition to the above principles, we can add three notes:

 

(1) The device and the age – The question of the age at which a child can be given a telephone and what type of phone to get is critical. The parents must discuss this in a calm manner, without feeling any pressure, and they must reach an agreed policy that they will both stand by.

 

(2) Give a personal example – Beyond any possible contracts and speeches, there will be a message that is passed on through experience. How do we as adults use our phones? Can we put them down and leave them alone for family times? Do we show that we can make a choice about whether to answer every time the phone rings, or is there an immutable pattern every time there is a call? When we are with our children are we really "with them" or do we constantly steal a glance at the phone?

 

Don't try to fool yourself. Whatever the children see us do is much stronger than anything we say to them.

 

(3) Tools for protection – Just in case you are not aware of the facts: Today there are good apps for controlling the time spent surfing and for filtering out undesirable content, even on cellphones. They cannot replace good education, but we do not have the privilege to give up on them. And this is not only true for the children.

 

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Items From "In The Tents Of Shem"

Life-Forming Events /Dov Rozen,
(Summarized by Yisrael Rosenberg)

There are times when a name perpetuates foundational events in the life of a person or of a nation.

One day, while the chemist Yitzchak Pelet was running an experiment in his laboratory in the Hebrew University, an explosion took place that left him blind.

"In 1968 it seemed that there was no hope he would ever see again. Yitzchak decided to try his luck in the United States... 'Everybody helped us – El Al, the consulate, Bituach Leumi, and the Jewish doctor who operated for free... The operation was a success, and it became a classic case in medical education. I came back home with perfect vision, and with a son – Lior.'" (Lior is from the root Or, meaning light.) [Yamim V'Leilot December 1977].

In the summer of 1976, the entire world held its breath when it heard the fantastic story of the rescue in Entebbe of the hostages who had been kidnapped.

Four years later the following story appeared.

"There is a Jew who lives in Canada by the name of Louie Meizel. He is a big fan of the IDF and specifically of Yonatan Netanyahu, who was killed in Operation Entebbe. Recently he came to Israel, bringing with him a Jewish boy of 19 who returned to Judaism as a result of a talk with General Dan Shomron, the commander of the operation... The boy, Christopher, didn't know that he was Jewish, and he regularly attended church as a non-Jew. Only later in life did he learn from his neighbors that he was a Jew... In the university he met Dan Shomron, who had come there to study. He was impressed by his meeting with Shomron and started to look into his own roots. Louie Meizel recently came to Israel to participate in a memorial service for Yonatan Netanyahu, and he brought Christopher with him. While he was here Christopher celebrated his Bar Mitzva, and he decided to take on a Jewish name – Yoni Netanyahu." [Hatzofeh Tammuz 5740].

 

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Riddle of the Week

Nasso/Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"

What she says twice after a curse
We say once at the end of a blessing.
What is it?

Answer to last week's riddle – It was: I am the father of the next tribe. And a "son" with "my father" but with the beginning removed is also the name of the original tribe (switching aleph and ayin).

The answer:
- Avidan Ben Gid'oni was the tribal leader of Binyamin. He can be viewed as "the father" (avi) of Dan, which is the next tribe in the sequence at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar (Bamidbar 1:11-12).
- Avidan's father is Gid'oni. But the name that Rachel gave her son Binyamin was "Ben Oni." Remove the beginning of this name, "ben," and you are left with "oni" (replacing the "ayin" of oni by an "aleph").

 

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