Volume 1571: Acharey-Mot - Kedoshim 6 Iyar 5775 25/04/2015
Point Of View
We Remember, We Bleed, and We are not Silent! /Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
"After the two sons of Aharon died..." [Vayikra 16:1]. "I will be sanctified through my holy ones, and I will be honored in front of the entire nation. And Aharon was silent." [10:3].
"The Secret of Redemption Lies in Remembering"
The past two weeks have been filled with sadness and grief. Last week included theMemorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and for the Victims of Terrorism, and the week before that we marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and its dreadful times. Yom Haatzmaut (the Day of Independence) which we celebrated in the last few days is a direct consequence of the previous sad days, and it gains its great strength from the memories. My feeling is that these memorial days are the high point of our national patriotic feelings. They express our stiff-necked national attitude with strength and pride, together with our eternal cry, "The nation of Yisrael lives!" This in a way is more vital than the celebrations of Yom Haatzmaut with its ceremonial character and its flags and barbeques.
I am writing this article soon after Holocaust Remembrance Day, before Memorial Day and the Day of Independence, and I can still hear in my ears the talk of Holocaust survivors who live amongst us. Their horrifying personal memories bring out amazement, appreciation, and wonder: "How could you return to normal lives, at least in external appearance, after the frightening experiences that you had?" The answer that they all gave was: the eternity of Yisrael - the G-d of Yisrael, and the nation of Yisrael. The individual weaved his or her life from the point of view of the community as a whole, and this was their source of strength and life.
We Remember Together
From this we can move smoothly to the memory of the fallen soldiers, with added emphasis on the victims of terror attacks. Murderous terrorism strikes against us without pause.
For the last few years a very impressive event has taken place in Jerusalem on the eve of Memorial Day, called " We Remember, we Sing, and we Tell." The entire evening is a way of giving an embrace to bereaved families. This event is organized by the organization "Zochrim" (We Remember), headed by Dov Kalmanowitz (the first victim of the First Intifada, now a member of the Jerusalem city council), who recovered from very serious burns and dedicated himself to initiating a national project that enhances the pride of bereaved families and of us all. Thousands of people gather at the Sultan's Pool, outside the walls of Jerusalem, and listen breathless and with tears in their eyes to words, music, and poetry all saluting those who were injured in the battlefields, both those wearing uniforms and in civilian clothing. The unique element of the evening is the tremendous cooperation between IDF injured and victims of terrorism, between nonreligious, religious, and Chareidim (!), between Jews and non-Jews (Druze, Christians), between the fallen and incurable injured ones and those who have made remarkable recoveries.
As I write this article I still have strong memories of last year's event. This edition of Shabbat-B'Shabbato will be published after this year's gathering, which will have taken place in the intervening week, and which I also hope to attend. To our great sorrow, every year new families are added to the legions of the bereaved, with their own stories of national and personal heroism. This year we salute the warriors who participated in Operation Protective Edge, those who sacrificed themselves and were either killed or injured while performing their duties. We also remember the three young men who were kidnapped in Gush Etzion and their amazing families, together with many people who were stabbed in the cities and roads throughout the land, in addition those who were purposely run over, killed or maimed at bus stops, train stations, and hitchhiking stations.
"He who avenges the blood will remember them" [Tehillim 9:13] – This refers to the Holy One, Blessed be He, and we follow in His footsteps. From the depths of our hearts we cry out about the car attack which cut short the life of a young man in his prime, Shalom Yochai Cherki, son of our colleague Rabbi Oury Cherki, also injuring his close friend – and we wish her a speedy recovery. There can be no more eloquent words than the cry of a father at the funeral of his son, a martyr because he was a Jew, whom no other creature can stand up to. (See Bava Batra 10b.)
After Aharon's sons died, we are told, "And Aharon was silent" – as quoted above. This "silence" means that the one who experienced the suffering was quiet, but that those around him are commanded to console him, by trying to calm him down and by crying out to G-d: "Enough!" As our sages taught us, "'And Aharon was silent' – To be quiet means to offer consolation." [Avot D'Rebbe Natan, Chapter 5].
A big sin is perpetrated for the people themselves and for the families by those who have adopted the "modern" practice of a foreign culture of mourning, best described by the verse, "He sits alone and is silent" [Eicha 3:28]. This is not the way of Judaism, which has been blessed with a number of mitzvot related to consolation, including the instructions to the mourners not to lock the door for people who come to offer consolation. And even beyond this, sitting alone in mourning is a missed opportunity. The practice of "shiva" provides an opportunity to remember the good traits of the deceased and to praise him or her as an educational or ethical example, so that "the living can take the matter to heart" [Kohellet 7:2].
The mitzva of consolation goes hand in hand with the mitzva of attending a funeral. Since I have raised the subject of mourning, I will take note of an event which has upset me very much since a funeral which took place on the first day of Chol Hamoed Pesach: The command is to "accompany" the deceased and not to push and crush other people. What was the Holy One, Blessed be He, trying to hint at in the terrible tragedy of the deaths of "two sons of Aharon" who were trampled to death "in their close approach" to the coffin of one of the Torah giants of this generation, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Vazner? Only G-d has the answers! It is silly to blame the police or the organizers of the funeral. Only G-d has answers, and we at a loss about what to do...
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As Shabbat Approaches
What will the Other Nations Say? /Rabbi Oury Cherki, Machon Meir, Rabbi of Beit Yehuda Congregation, Jerusalem
G-d leads all of the nations of the world in a universal way. Just as He took His nation out of slavery into freedom, so He brings other nations into the light of the world. "You are for me like the sons of the Kushim, Bnei Yisrael – that is the word of G-d. Did I not bring Yisrael up out of the Land of Egypt, the Pelishtim from Kaftor, and Aram from Kir?" [Amos 9:7]. However, while the history of the other nations comes to an end, the nation of Yisrael has been promised that even if it will be severely punished for its sins it will never cease to exist: "However, I will never destroy the House of Yaacov" [9:8]. This discrimination between Yisrael and the other nations is not a result of apathy towards the fate of the other nations, as can be seen from the definition of the goal of Avraham, our Patriarch: "And all the families of the world will be blessed through you" [Bereishit 12:3]. Just the opposite – the eternal character of Bnei Yisrael serves all of humanity in that the nation of Yisrael provides a memory of all the other cultures of humanity. They continue to exist for all eternity through the impression that they have left in the collective memory of Yisrael, the nation of eternity.
As an example, the living remains of ancient Egypt consist of the mark that this country left in forming the identity of Yisrael. And the nation of Yisrael pays a heavy price for this role of adding one element after another to its character, in order to fill it up against its will – until the fulfillment of the Divine plan of the return to Zion, as is described at the end of this week's Hafatarah (for Kedoshim, according to the custom of Ashkenaz) – [Amos 9:15].
The Haftarah that is read by the Sephardim explains the reason for the Divine interest in keeping the promise of the eternal character of the nation of Yisrael – it is "for My name" [Yechezkel 20:9,14]. The dispersion of Yisrael and their exile is a desecration of G-d's name, and therefore it is necessary to redeem them even if they have not improved their actions.
The main criterion for the advance of history is the sanctification of G-d's name. In his book "Da'at U'Tevunot," the Ramchal explains that this entails a combination of two types of guidance: To reveal the unity of G-d, which is the main principle, and to show the proper behavior of justice.
And this leads us to a moral question: How can it be that with respect to the most significant event in all of history, the redemption, the existence or lack of good deeds has no effect at all? This tension between the inevitability of redemption and arbitrary choices made by man is what makes it necessary for the nation of Yisrael to observe all the mitzvot in detail, in order to avoid creating a dissonance between the need for justice (which appears in the covenant in the Torah portion of Bechukotai) and the values of the path of unification, which insists that G-d is always working to glorify His name, no matter what else is happening. And that is why the Haftarah ends with the adamant demand of the Holy One, Blessed be He: "I am your G-d. Follow My laws and maintain My just actions and perform them, and sanctify my Shabbat and let it be a symbol between Me and you, in order to know that I am your G-d." [Yechezkel 20:19-20].
|May these words be in the blessed memory of Yochai Shalom Sherki HY"D, son of our fellow and writer of this article. (editor) |
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Let Your Wellsprings Burts Forth
"They Approached before G-d and they Died" /Rabbi Moshe Shilat
Director of "The Torah of Chabad for Yeshiva Students"
It can be dangerous to yearn too strongly. It can even lead to death.
The descriptions of the two sons of Aharon who died are positive, denoting being close to G-d! In this week's portion they are described as "when they approached before G-d" [Vayikra 16:1]. And before this, in the portion of Shemini, "I will be sanctified through those close to Me" [10:3]. And Rashi quotes a famous Midrash: "My dear brother Aharon, I knew that the Temple would be sanctified through those close to G-d, but I thought that it would be me or you. Now I see that they were greater than you or me."
We do not know what it means to be Moshe, and we certainly do not know what it means to be greater than he was. The power of the yearning, the desire, and the straining of the soul to reach the Holy of Holies is infinitely greater than any other lust existing in this world. They could not withstand the urge, and they burst into the Holy of Holies. They died as a result of clinging. And therefore Aharon was warned not to enter into the holiest area whenever he felt like it.
The sages compare this to a sick person with high fever, who wants to lie down in a cool place in order to lower his fever. But this will not cure him, it will only make matters worse, and it can even kill him. When there is great heat in the heart, it is important for a person to be very careful and to restrain himself.
The Objective is in the Element of "Shuv"
The service of G-d is built up on a basis of "ratzo" and "shuv" – moving forward and returning. A fast run upwards, turning towards G-d with strong yearning, that is the net service of the Divine, followed by landing and a return to reality, this world, and our "animal" souls. The Holy One, Blessed be He, wants us here in this world. We strain to rise up and "get a breath of air," but we return below and are able to refine the murky reality. We must never allow ourselves to get caught at one of the two poles. Running back and forth tortures us but it also gives joy to the soul. That is why we were created – to make a dwelling place for Him down below.
Before we fly upwards, we must prepare the "shuv," the return. This week's Torah portion is busy with the entry of the High Priest into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. This is the highlight of "ratzo." The preparations, the purity, and the cleanliness include removing any vestige of personal desire, and giving ourselves over fully to the Will of G-d, even though the ratzo will be immediately followed by shuv, which is the most important element. The only valid reason for rising up is the subsequent return below to reality.
"The truth is that when one approaches 'before G-d' he must precede this with 'you shall purify yourselves' [Vayikra 16:30] in a clean and pure way. We must internalize in a practical way that the higher we rise up the lower will be our fall afterwards. And ratzo without shuv is death." [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak from Lubavitch].
Therefore the High Priest, when he left the Holy of Holies, prayed mainly for the physical benefits for the nation of Yisrael. He prayed for a year of rain and for the trees in the fields to give their yield, and that no woman should abort the fruits of her womb. This is because the Holy One, Blessed be He, wants us here, in this world.
But the Element of "Ratzo" is a Necessity
With all of the above, during the actual time of ratzo, we must maintain the desire to run! We should not be thinking all the time about returning but rather we must yearn to rise up with all our might. However, the ratzo must aim directly for the Will of G-d, clinging to G-d and to everything He said – whether to rise up or to go down. Even if we would prefer to remain with the joy of tremendous clinging, we still agree, happily, to remove ourselves from it and to return to reality (shuv). That is the essence of the story of Rabbi Akiva, who entered the "Pardess" peacefully and left it in peace. The height of the Pardess is not suitable for everybody. Like Aharon's sons, the other wise men were harmed by the blinding light. But Rabbi Akiva, from the very beginning, entered in peace. He entered with the full knowledge that he would have to leave, that the goal of ratzo is to fulfill the Will of G-d, who wants the element of shuv right after the ratzo.
And when a person returns to reality, it is permitted and even desirable for him to feel in the depths of his heart that "you live against your will." Our internal yearning is to leave everything behind and to enter into the Holy of Holies, if only G-d would allow us to do so. In this way, we will always hold our heads high, above the world, and we will not sink down into it. We will rise up above it, and then we will return to it in order to raise it up together with us
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From the treasury of chassidic stories
A Melody in a Suitcase: Chassidic Souls in a New Land /Zeev Kitsis, Kibbuts Hadati Yeshiva and Bar Ilan University
When I try to imagine the generation of people who built up our land, the generation of my grandparents and yours, I see in my mind's eye a train station, suitcases, passports, and traveling clothes. It is a generation of immigrants. Almost all of them are young people who are familiar with roads. They cross over from one world to the next and they leave where they are, never to return. Their travel tickets are strictly one-way. Their hearts are full of joy, strength, and exalted ideas: "Building up the land... a national home... the earth... Hebrew." However, at the same time, they are immigrants who have willingly left behind their birthplace. Their hearts will always be filled with yearning for a melody, a story that cannot be translated, for the generation of their parents and grandparents, who are lost and far away, even if they still exist in the world.
The pioneers sang many Chassidic songs. This was not merely nostalgia for their faraway homes, it played a much more important role – it held within it a possibility of a link between different generations. There was a hope that the deep elements of the Jewish identity could appear in the new land too, in the midst of such a foreign scene. It was confirmation that we had really reached our destination.
For example, here is how the situation was described by a Chabad Chassid who eventually was chosen to be the President of the State of Israel – Shneiur Zalman Robashov (Shazar). All during his life, Shazar was involved in the contrast between his life as a nonreligious pioneer and the melodies of his Chassidic soul. "The chain still continues," wrote another pioneer, Yaacov Orland, singing the words to a Chassidic tune from his father's home. And Shazar did the same thing. The Chassidic melodies which continued to fill his soul served him as glue which joined the past and the future, showing acceptance of his new and unpaved way of living.
Here is how Shazar described his departure from his grandfather, a Chassid, on his way to Eretz Yisrael:
* * * * * *
My Grandfather gave me one last departing present, a precious gift that he shared with me in the last few moments before the wagon started to move... He said to me:
"My son, you know the tune of the Elderly Rebbe very well. Let me tell you what I heard as a young man from the elders of the Chassidim in the house of the Rebbe about the unique traits of this melody. It can happen that a person tries to remember a melody with which he is very familiar, but the tune – as it were – ignores him, and he cannot get it into his head, no matter how hard he tries. And there are other irritating melodies which get stuck into a person's head and will not stop running through his mind even when he is not interested in them and they give him no pleasure at all. Both cases are clear testimony that the melody, no matter how worthy it is in itself, is not linked to the root of the person's soul – the man is one thing and the tune is another. However, it can happen that a tune is readily available to a man whenever he calls for it, and he enjoys it every time it comes to him. This is a sign that the melody belongs to him, and that the root of his soul stems from the same source as the root of the tune itself."
Then he added, "Now, I want you to know that we have a tradition that the melody of the Elderly Rebbe stems from the root of the soul of every Chassid who is a member of Chabad – the man, his children, and all of his offspring for all generations to come. Any if it ever happens that a Chassid or the son of a Chassid is upright and wants to remember this holy melody but cannot find it, while he searches for it in all the paths of his memory but to no avail – he must take this as a sign that his life has taken a confused path, and he must look at his deeds and start to repent. The fact that this tune is forgotten from the heart is not a vain act, for it is a criterion to guide our ways. My son, remember this..."
Many stormy days have gone by since then, but I can still see the image of my grandfather standing at high noon of a summer day in Tammuz, in the middle of the road, with a blessing of parting coming from his lips and his damp eyes shining while they remained pointed towards the wagon that moved further and further away, on its way to fulfilling his dreams, together with all the dreams of his nation and his grandson. This clear and dedicated image will brighten my heart for as long it can continue to be a beacon of light. And his wonderful message rings true to me to this very day. Any time, whenever I feel hesitation well up during my life and I am confused and bewildered, I suddenly want to remember the melody of the Elder Rebbe and the good and beneficial tune immediately comes to me. And then my confusion leaves me and I become filled with internal faith, as a sign that I am on the right path. And I continue on my path with confidence that all will be well with me.
[Gutman, "Otzar Agaddot Chassidim," Jerusalem, 5728].
* * * * * *
The grandfather's gift is the greatest of all, he teaches his grandson to guard over the ancient melody which will help him guide his way. Only if the tune remains, even if it is hidden very close to the surface – as is so well described in the words of the grandfather – does Shazar feel that he is "on the right path." The Chassidic melody, together with the Chassidic tale, helps to return the hearts of the descendants to be in tune with those of their ancestors. As was true of the pioneers, the scenery in front of our eyes is new and different. But the ancient notes allow them and us to forge our paths in the new land.
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A family named "Yisraeli"
City of Dreams /Rabbi Yikhat Rozen
Director of the Or Etzion Institute – Publishing Torah Books of Quality
One day I didn't have anybody to play with. My brothers were all busy with other things, and I wasn't in the mood to visit any of my friends. So I decided that it was a good opportunity to play a game of "Dream City."
I went into my room and I closed the door, hoping nobody would disturb me.
The first thing I did was to take out a box of my old blocks. I had not touched them for years. Now I built a huge structure in the middle of the room. This would be city hall. Next to it I built a very large synagogue out of two big boxes, and on top I arranged several marker pens in the shape of a Star of David. Then I made a city square around these two buildings by arranging dominoes around them in a circle. I also used the dominoes to make a few roads that ran from the town square to the four walls of my room. Of course I didn't have enough dominoes for the job, but I added long pieces of Lego, which are also good for making roads.
I enjoyed my work very much, and I added more and more streets, until the whole room was covered with a dense network of roads and streets. By now I had to walk very carefully around the room to make sure that I would not move the dominoes and the Lego and destroy the roads.
Now I went to my toy chest and pulled out every kind of box that I could find. The Duplo (sort of like Lego but with larger pieces) was good for the houses. I decided that one piece would be a single house, and here and there I put some pieces on top of each other, to make an apartment building. And I added some jigsaw puzzle pieces here and there, to make courtyards and some parks.
Round pieces from checkers sets became people. I put a few of them inside the houses, some of them were in the courtyards, and I left quite a few of them on the streets.
And then I saw the synagogue and decided that there must be some people praying there. I counted ten chess pieces, including a big white king (the chazzan), and I put them in the box that served as a synagogue.
My imagination was just getting started, and I kept on adding more and more items. A large Lego board became a grassy area where some children (pieces from Ladders and Ropes) were playing soccer (the ball was a marble). A doll plate became a swimming pool where some people were swimming (small pieces from a jigsaw puzzle). In the supermarket (made out of a box from a game), there were piles of Monopoly money and a stock of items to sell which I gathered from all my other games.
I completely lost track of the time, and I didn't notice that it was getting dark. Only when I saw that there were almost no toys left in my toy chest did I take a short break, to stand up and enjoy my beautiful work.
Now, I said to myself, the time has come to start playing! Now I could start driving the cars from place to place, move people around so that they could shop in the supermarket, or go swimming, or to simply walk around the city. I would have the latecomers rush to school, I would let the elderly enjoy sitting on a bench in the park.
And then suddenly I heard Imma's voice. "Natanel! Where are you?"
"I am in my room, Imma," I said quietly, hoping she wasn't going to call me away from my game.
Imma opened the door, and my dream evaporated in an instant.
"Natanel, what is going on here? Why have you dumped your whole closet onto the floor?"
"What do you mean?" I said. "I didn't dump anything. Can't you see that I am playing? Actually, until now I was getting the room ready. And now I want to start playing!"
Imma sounded shocked. "Now?! Do you have any idea what time it is??"
"Actually, no. What time is it?"
"It's late at night! We are all in the middle of supper! I called you again and again, but you were so busy with this ... game ... that you didn't even hear me!" I could see that Imma was getting angry.
"Okay, I apologize. But so what? Do you mean that I can't play at all? So why did I get all of this ready?" And I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks.
"I am sorry, darling, but it's too late now. What can we do? Everything has to be put back in place, and you have to eat and go to bed."
She said, put everything back in its place!
Only then did I see the huge mess that I had made. All the pieces of the different games were strewn all over the room, every piece in a different place. The boxes themselves were part of the buildings, and many of the pieces had rolled under the beds...
Put everything back in order? What a nightmare that would be!!
At least Imma and my good brothers volunteered to help me, and it took us only about half an hour to put everything back in its proper place.
My beautiful "Dream City" disappeared like the dream that it was, before I had a chance to really enjoy it and play with the different areas in it. But the truth is that I really enjoyed the time that I spent on the project! The planning, the creativity, and the dream – what an experience I had!
I guess dreams can be wonderful even if in the end you wake up and they are over...
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Responsa For Our Times
Customs of Mourning during the Omer in Modern Times /Rabbi Re'eim Hacohen
Rosh Yeshiva and Chief Rabbi, Otniel
(NOTE: In view of the behavior of Torah scholars in the recent elections, I feel that it is necessary to reprint the responsa which was published a year ago in this bulletin. Let us hope and pray that we will be able to increase the peace in the world and enhance the unqualified love.)
Question: Hasn't the time come to revoke the customs of mourning during the time of the Omer? After all, in principle these should be joyous times.
Answer: In his commentary on the Torah, the Ramban writes the following:
"He counted out forty-nine days, exactly seven weeks, and the eighth day was then sanctified, as the eighth day of the holiday (Succot). And the days between them that are counted can be compared to chol hamoed – intermediate days – between the first and eighth days of the holiday. This is the day of the giving of the Torah, when G-d showed them His great flame and they heard his words coming from the flames. And that is why in every place our sages call Shavuot by the name 'Atzeret' – the end of a holiday – because it is like the eighth day of Succot which is described here." [Ramban, on Vayikra 23:36].
This seems to lend support to the above question: Why do we continue to observe customs of mourning during the time of the Omer?
The Source of the Custom
In the literature of the sages there is no mention of mourning during the time of the Omer. However, we are taught in the Talmud:
"Rabbi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of students, from Gevat to Antiparus, and they all died in one time period because they did not show respect for each other, and the world was desolate." [Yevamot 64b].
In reaction to this event, a custom was instituted not to perform weddings between Pesach and Shavuot. It first appears in the writings of the Geonim, and it is quoted in the TUR and the Shulchan Aruch (493). The TUR notes that in some places there is also a custom not to take a haircut. The source for this is brought in Beit Yosef: "This was declared by Rabbi Y. Even-Shoshan in a sermon on the first day of Pesach, and it is the accepted custom among us." This custom is quoted as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch.
In my humble opinion, the time of the Omer is not a time of mourning that can be compared to the twelve months of mourning for a parent, but rather a time like chol hamoed, with some added customs related to mourning. This is not the same as the customs of mourning during the Three Weeks (between the seventeenth of Tammuz and the ninth of Av). The difference between the two time periods is that the rabbis write that during the Three Weeks we should not recite the "Shehecheyanu" blessing because it is a period of mourning, while during the time of the Omer there is no doubt that the blessing can be recited, since it is a time equivalent to chol hamoed.
The Range of Application of the Custom
As we have seen, the basis of the mourning is a custom. The Rambam writes that a custom that was initiated by the main Beit Din (the Sanhedrin) and was accepted throughout all of Yisrael can only be cancelled by another Beit Din that is greater in wisdom and in numbers than the first one. In our case the custom was not originated by the Sanhedrin, but the law does have the authority of having been disseminated throughout the nation. The entire nation of Yisrael has indeed accepted upon itself to observe customs of mourning during the time of the Omer, and no existing Beit Din has the power to revoke this custom.
Unique Days for Peace
As far as I can tell, even if the Temple would exist today we would not revoke the customs that indicate mourning. In fact, if this custom would not be in effect now, I would recommend reinstating it.
The two editions of the Talmud, the Babylonian and the Yerushalmi, disagree about whether the Pesach Sacrifice is a public or a private one. In the Yerushalmi Talmud, Hillel is quoted saying that it is a public sacrifice, while the Babylonian Talmud rules that it is a private sacrifice (Yoma 51a). From an objective point of view, both opinions are the true words of the living G-d. The Pesach Sacrifice represents the birth of the nation of Yisrael in Egypt as part of their release from bondage. It therefore has the characteristics of both a public and a private sacrifice, just as it is true that every person is unique and at the same time also shares many traits with all other people. Therefore, every individual person is required to bring a sacrifice, but he must do so as part of an organized group, which is a "tiny" representation of an entire family. On Shavuot, the sacrifices that are brought are "Public Shelamim Sacrifices." A Shelamim is usually a private sacrifice, and it is considered "Kodashim Kalim" – a "light" sacrifice. This is the only case when a Shelamim is brought by a community (which in this case is considered the equivalent of an individual person). Because of the character of the community, in this case the Shelamim Sacrifice is raised up to the higher spiritual level of "Kodshei Kodashim" – the holiest type of sacrifice.
The link between the unity of the community and the holiday of Shavuot is connected to the giving of the Torah, which could only take place through a feeling of unity. As the Midrash says, "All the people were the same, as with a single heart" [Mechilta, Yitro, 1), or as Rashi wrote, "As one man, with one heart." The Zohar writes that the Shechina can only be revealed in a place of perfection.
The Importance of the Custom of Mourning in Modern Times
The tragic deaths of Rabbi Akiva's students between Pesach and Shavuot were due to the fact that they damaged the trait of unity and did not show proper respect for each other. And that is why this event occurred specifically at a time which is meant to be used for preparation for the fiftieth day, the day of greatest unity among the People. According to Avot D'Rebbe Natan (25) and the Talmud (Sanhedrin 68a), the murder of the "Ten Martyrs" among the rabbis (with Rabbi Akiva as their leader) was a punishment for the banning of Rabbi Eliezer.
To our great sorrow, today there is a very great need to repair the lack of unity among the different groups who study Torah and in the various Batei Midrash. The sin of Rabbi Akiva's students is a current threat today, when the Torah scholars do not work to increase the peace and harmony between different groups. To our sorrow, the world of the Torah, with its great diversity, must use the opportunity of these days to repent. The customs of mourning are not just an expression of sorrow for past events, they are an attempt to mourn for today's Torah world, where the people still do not show proper respect for each other.
We end with the words of the Talmud and the hope that we can learn to be like the wise men of Eretz Yisrael:
"'And I took two sticks, I called one Noam – pleasantness – and I called the other Chovlim – controversy.' [Zecharia 11:7]. Noam refers to the scholars in Eretz Yisrael, who are pleasant to each other in halacha. Chovlim are the scholars of Babylon, who fight each
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Nature and the Torah portion
Boxwood/Dr. Moshe Raanan, Herzog College and the Jerusalem College for Women
"Let Aharon place two lots on the goats – one lot for G-d and the other lot for Azazel" [Vayikra 16:8].
The Mishna describes the process of choosing lots in greater detail:
"He went to the east of the Sanctuary, north of the Altar, his deputy on his right and the head of a priestly family on his left, to where there were two goats waiting. And there was a box there with two lots made of boxwood. Later Ben Gamla made them from gold, for which he was given praise." [Yoma 3:5].
In the Talmud we are taught that other types of wood could also be used. "The lots can be made of anything. Shouldn't this be obvious? We might not think so, as appears in a Baraita: Since we see that the Tzitz, which has the name of G-d on it, must be made of gold, we might think that this is also true of the lots. But when the verse repeats the word 'lots' twice, it adds other materials, such as olive wood, wood from nuts, and 'eshkeroa' (boxwood)." [Yoma 37a].
In this article below we will try to determine the exact definition of eshkeroa and see why it was the preferred material for making the lots.
Two Species of the Same Genus
Boxwood (Buxus) is a genus which includes about seventy different species of trees and bushes. There are two species which grow in our area. The long-leaf boxwood (Buxux longifolia) is a large tree which grows in the mountains of Lebanon, the mountains of Amanah, the mountains of Antakya, and northern Anatolia. The European boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is an evergreen bush which grows in the Pontic Mountains in Asia minor, in northern Greece and Italy, and in western Europe.
Y. Felix feels that the name eshkeroa which appears in our sources refers mainly to the evergreen boxwood, perhaps because some remains of this wood have been found in vessels which were brought from abroad. Others disagree and feel that the main species was the long-leaf boxwood, which is common in areas close to Eretz Yisrael, and not the evergreen, which does not grow in the Near East.
Uses in Art
The slow growth of the boxwood leads to the development of wood that is homogeneous, dense, and hard (evidently the hardest wood that grows in Europe). In ancient times, these species were in great demand for making vessels, furniture, and etchings. They were also desirable because of their fine grain and their light color. The trees were not good for construction because they were not tall enough to make long beams, and they are only about 15-20 cm in diameter.
Pliny wrote as follows: "Among the trees the buxus is first because of its wood which is smooth, hard, and of a light hue." There is archeological evidence for the use of boxwood for making furniture in the "burnt room" in area G of the City of David. Under a pile of rubble there were, among other remains, broken pieces of wood that were part of the back of a chair that was decorated with patterns of palm leaves. Since the boxwood did not grow in the land, it was assumed that the chair was imported from Syria, which showed that the owners were very wealthy. Today boxwood is still used for artwork, especially for sculpture and carving, similar to the way ivory is used. It is also used in the manufacture of musical instruments.
Lighting a Fire
At first the lots in the Temple were made from boxwood because of its beauty and because it was a prestigious material. Later, Ben Gamla donated lots made of gold, which were even more prestigious. The wood was in demand and it was therefore valuable, such that objects made from it were considered special. An example of the great value of this type of wood can be found in the Talmud:
"Shmuel said: If a person feels cold after a blood-letting, a flame should be lit for him, even in the season of Tammuz. For Shmuel they burned an expensive chair, and for Rav Yehuda they burned a table." [Shabbat 129a].
Rashi comments: "'An expensive chair' – There was no wood available for a fire on the day of the blood-letting, and he commanded them to break a chair to get wood for the fire. 'A table' – It was a kind of cedar tree, and Rabeinu Halevi says it was 'buis'."
According to the Talmud, there is a danger of suffering from cold after blood-letting, and to counteract this one is permitted to light a fire on Shabbat, even during the summer. As a way of showing how important it is to light a fire, the Talmud tells us that for Shmuel furniture made of expensive wood was broken apart for this need. Rashi writes that the table was made of "cedar" and quotes Rabeinu Halevi that it was buis, which is the word for boxwood in ancient French. It is possible that there is no contradiction between the two explanations, since eshkeroa appears as one of the ten species of cedar in the list given by Rav (Bava Batra 80b).
The Ritva notes how strong the boxwood is: "'[The verse] adds other materials, such as olive wood, wood from nuts, and boxwood' – This is not a restrictive list, it means that everything can be used, even wood. And the rabbis have said that this is the best way to perform the mitzva, because it is strong and beautiful." [Yoma 37a].
These types of wood are also listed as species from which one can make a ruler used for smoothing out the material at the top of a container used for measuring, to make sure that the measure is accurate at the time of a sale. "The rabbis have taught: The ruler should not be made of pumpkin since this is light or of metal because it is heavy. Rather it is made of olive wood, wood from nuts, from sycamore, and from eshberoa." [Bava Batra 89b]. As opposed to the lots, where the physical properties of the wood are not important, aside from the beauty of the wood, the ruler must be made from wood that is hard and stable. And boxwood is indeed excellent for these specific qualities.
One interesting use of the boxwood was to make combs for removing lice. Two combs from the first century C.E. that were surely used for this purpose were found in the Qumran Caves. Evidently the hard wood was eminently suitable for making combs with fine teeth that could be used to treat a tangled mass of hair.
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Holy & Secular
Pirkei Avot in Memory of Shlomit /Rabbi Amichai Gordin
Yeshivat Har Etzion and Shaalvim High School
The following is quoted from a letter which I received.
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I am not sure exactly how to write this - a terrible tragedy has happened to us. My wife Shlomit had a heart attack at the end of Rosh Hashanah, in the middle of Friday night. After she remained unconscious for several days, she was declared dead. She was only 29 years old.
Shlomit did not have any chronic sickness, or anything like that. All at once, as Rosh Hashanah ended, we were the victims of a terrible decree that we do not understand. Shlomit left behind our children, twins who were half a year old.
A few weeks ago Shlomit's family and I started a very special project in her memory. This is a short and interesting study sheet on the subject of Pirkei Avot which will be sent out through e-mail.
The idea started as an initiative of study with the participation of the family and Shlomit's friends. Within a very short time many other people joined in and began to distribute the source sheet widely. Since we prepare the sheets every week anyway, we have decided to send it to anybody who is interested in this project. With G-d's help, we have grown tremendously, and today more than 6,000 copies of the commentary are sent out every week.
People from many different groups have signed up for this study (religious, nonreligious, young, and old). Many of those who subscribed did not know Shlomit or the family, but they want to take part in this project. This is very fitting for Shlomit. She was very successful in joining together with other people and in being well-liked by people from different backgrounds than her own.
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The letter by Uriel touched my heart very deeply. I was curious, and I took a look at the sample materials which he sent. The commentary is diversified, short, and accurate, and it is accompanied by pictures from nature (taken during outings by Shlomit and Ariel), which are relevant to the source in the Mishna.
The general framework of the study consists of a picture that is connected to the Mishna, a short explanation of the simple meaning of the text, and an idea for further study in depth. To find the site where the material appears or to sign up for the mail, once a week (in Hebrew), do a Google search for the term "Pirkei Avot Shlomit" (or click here).
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Here is a sample commentary on the second Mishna of Pirkei Avot:
Shimon the Righteous was from the last of the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah. He used to say, the world stands on three things: on Torah, on holy service, and on kind deeds.
The three main elements for which man was created in the world are: the study of Torah, the mitzvot between man and G-d (the holy service), and mitzvot between man and man (kind deeds).
Shimon the Righteous, who was a student of Ezra the Scribe and who served as the High Priest for forty years, led the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael during tempestuous times. As a result of the conquest of the land by Alexander the Great, the government in the land was no longer an independent Jewish authority, and strong influences of Greek culture began to be felt in the land. In addition, at that time, the era of the end of the Anshei Knesset Hagedola, the phenomenon of prophecy within Yisrael came to an end.
Shimon found himself living between two worlds – the old world of the Temple and prophecy and the new world based on the wisdom of Greece. He tries to transfer the foundations of the old world into the framework of the new world. In reaction to the three major changes in the world – the end of prophecy, a government that is no longer autonomous, and the advent of the Greek culture and Greek wisdom – he insists that there are three strong foundations. As is written in the Mishna, the world "stands" on three elements – it stands and remains stable!
Let us look at the commentary of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsh on this Mishna. He explains that Torah refers to the knowledge of the wisdom of G-d and the Will of G-d. Service of G-d means to perform the Will of G-d. And kind deeds means to do good for other people. It is easy to see how Torah and service of G-d help to counteract the bad influence of the wisdom and the culture of Greece and help to protect us from the loss of prophecy. But why does Shimon also mention kind deeds in this context?
The answer is that the three elements that Shimon brings must be viewed as a single entity which encompasses all of a human life. They fashion the entire world of a human being. With Torah a person realizes his own potential, he or she sets his own outlook on the path of truth. With holy service, a person establishes a relationship to heaven and fulfills the Will of G-d. And kind deeds accomplish the same goal for contact with other people.
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsh adds more on the subject of the importance of kind deeds: "Without kindness a person lacks the first and most important symbol of the image of G-d. Instead of mimicking G-d and providing support and blessings for the world around him, one who is not involved in good deeds hardens his heart and is egotistic."
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To my dear Ariel: Thank you very much for what you have done.
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The Table Of kings
The Lion, the Donkey, and the Man of G-d/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 13)
Of all the stories involving the division of the nation into two Kingdoms, one appears to be very strange: this is the story of the Man of G-d from Yehuda, who comes to admonish Yeravam. The man of G-d is not allowed to eat in Beit El. A prophet from Beit El tricks him into eating, and therefore the Man of G-d is punished by being killed by a lion, while his donkey stands nearby unharmed. What does all this mean?
Perhaps we can understand the meaning of the story based on the way it is framed. Yeravam wants to offer a sacrifice, to "feed" the altar in Beit El. The Man of G-d warns him that a sacrifice to G-d can only be brought in Jerusalem. When the Man of G-d from Yehuda eats in Beit El, it is the equivalent of offering a sacrifice to G-d outside of Jerusalem. The end of the chapter is that "Yeravam did not return from his evil way," and the historic opportunity to change the events was missed.
A lion is a symbol of Yehuda ("Yehuda is a lion cub" [Bereishit 49:9]), the donkey represents Basha, King of Yisrael ("Yissachar is a donkey of burdens" [49:14]. The Man of G-d is a symbol of faith in G-d. At this point in time, "faith" has died even in the Kingdom of Yehuda. The Kingdom of Yisrael stands off to one side, and faith is buried deep in the ground. However, the grave of the Man of G-d will be rediscovered in the time of Yoshiyahu (Melachim II 23:17), and a renewal
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Riddle of the Week
Acharei-Kedoshim/Yoav Shlossberg, Director of "Quiz and Experience"
Both are equal with respect to washing clothing and bathing,
For suffering and labor,
And for laws given without any explanation and an abomination.
What are these two?
Answers for last week, Tazriya-Metzora. The riddle was: We are five consecutive words in Hebrew which appear six times in seven verses.
The phrase is, "Let him wash himself in water, and he will be become pure by the evening." This appears six times in Chapter 15 of Vayikra: verses 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, and 11. (It does not appear in verse 9.)
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