“The Best of Parashat HaShavuah” Articles taken from list subscriptions on the internet, edited, reformatted and
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Moshe Reuven ben Yaakov z”l
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1 - SHABBAT B’SHABBATO (Tzomet)
Extract from SHABBAT-B'SHABBATO, published by the Zomet Institute of Alon Shevut, Israel
STARTING POINT: Three Stories Based on the Claim, "She Is My Sister"
by Rabbi Amnon Bazak
Three different times, we are told that our forefathers were so afraid of danger that they claimed their wives were their sisters. This happened twice to Avraham, in Egypt (Chapter 12) and in Gerar (Chapter 20), and once to Yitzchak, in Gerar (Chapter 26). In looking at the three incidents one can see a developing sequence: The first time the wife is taken away completely, the second time she is taken but the king does not approach her, and the third time she is not taken away. What is the reason for the differences?
The first time this happened, the commentators do not agree about the event. According to the Ramban, "Avraham unintentionally sinned greatly when he brought his wife into the danger of sin because of the fear that he might be killed. He should have maintained his faith in the Almighty." The Radak, on the other hand, agrees with Avraham, who "did not depend on G-d's promise, because he feared that he might not be protected because of the danger that he might sin... The same is true for every righteous man, he should not depend on a miracle in a place of danger." However, even according to the Radak's approach, there is a perplexing expression. While it may be true that "I will be allowed to live because of you" [Bereishit 12:13], why should Avraham also expect that "I will receive good for your sake"? Rashi explains that Avraham expects to receive gifts, as is written in a subsequent verse: "And Avram was treated well because of her, and he obtained sheep, cattle, donkeys, slaves, maids, female donkeys, and camels" [12:16]. This request seems to be problematic, and in fact Avraham later on refuses to take anything from evil people. "Neither a string nor a shoelace, I will not take anything from you. And you will not be able to say, I made Avram rich." [14:23].
The second time that Avraham finds himself in the same situation he no longer expects to obtain any profit. "And Avraham said about his wife Sarah, She is my sister" [20:2]. Perhaps this is the reason that this time G-d interferes, "That is why I did not let you touch her." [20:6]. In this case too Avraham obtains a reward from the king who took his wife, but this time it is not in return for the woman but rather compensation for the distress that Avraham and Sarah had suffered. "Here, I have given 1000 pieces of silver to your brother, let it be a cover for your eyes" [20:16].
With respect to Yitzchak, it seems that a solution to the problem is in sight, since Rivka is not taken after it becomes clear to Avimelech, who looks through the window, she is his wife. What is the cause of the differences between the passages? In the two incidents with Avraham, he declares that the woman is his sister as soon as he enters the new area. Yitzchak, on the other hand, waits until he is asked: "The local people asked about his wife, and he said, she is my sister" [26:7]. Evidently, Yitzchak maintained a normal married life with his wife, and only claimed that she was his sister after he was asked about her. Clearly, this answer appeared to be suspicious, and that is probably the reason that the king investigated carefully before he took the woman for himself.
Thus, there are two contrasting cases. Avraham left Egypt with great wealth that he obtained from Pharaoh in return for Sarah, "And Avram was quite burdened with cattle, silver, and gold" [13:2]. On the other hand, the Torah describes how Yitzchak, who did not receive anything from Avimelech, obtained his wealth: "And Yitzchak planted in that land. And in that year he discovered one hundred gates, and G-d blessed him. And the man became great and continued to prosper, until he was extremely wealthy." [26:12-13].
POINT OF VIEW: Edom and the Modern Metropolis
by Prof. Shalom Rosenberg
In Yaacov's vision of a ladder, angels go up and down. According to Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman, these are the guardian angels of the other nations [Vayikra Rabba 29:2]. Yaacov sees the angels of Babylon, Persia, and Greece climbing up and down, just as their governments rose and fell. When he saw the angel of Edom, which symbolizes Rome, rise, "Yaacov became afraid. He said: Can it be that this one will never fall? And the Almighty replied, 'Do not be afraid, my servant Yaacov' [Yirmiyahu 30:10]. Even if he rises so high that he sits with me, I will cast him down from there." The mighty Roman eagle was calm and confident: "Who will bring me down to the earth?" [Ovadia 1:3]. But Rabbi Shmuel replied with the continuation of the prophesy, "Even if you rise as high as the eagle and if you put your nest among the stars, I will bring you down from there" [1:4]. Rome, the symbol of stability and security, was transformed into a symbol of remarkable collapse and an "incredible" destruction.
Rome is the symbol of a modern metropolis, so sure of its strength. This is the subject of the third legend of Rabba Bar Bar Channa, which describes what he saw on the walls of the city of Mechoza, in Babylon. "I myself saw Hormiz, son of Lilit, running on the top of wall of Mechoza. A rider was chasing him from below but he could not catch him. Once, two mules tied together ran on two bridges over the Rugnag River, and Hormiz jumped from one to the other, back and forth. He held two glasses of wine in his hands, and he poured wine from one hand to the other and back, but not even one drop was spilled. And this was a day when the skies opened up and the waters welled up from the depths! The story reached the house of the king, and Hormiz was killed." [Bava Batra 73a].
Hormiz is a prominent demon, he is the son of Lilit. The question of the existence of demons is beyond the scope of this article. Rather, we will try to understand the story as it was told, with the aid of comments by Rabbi A.Y. Kook. He points out that the city of Mechoza was not chosen at random. This was a city of rich and honorable men, people who were "involved with their merchandise" [Gittin 6a, and see Rashi]. The sages were not happy with the inhabitants of Mechoza. Rava called the best of the people of Mechoza "sons of Gehenom" [Rosh Hashana 17a].
For me, Mechoza represents the modern metropolis. What guides its way? There is no doubt of the answer: the desire for wealth and property. The demon Hormiz entices the people of Mechoza to seek wealth for its own sake, to amass such great fortunes that they have no meaning for the people, who can never spend such huge sums. The guiding principle of Hormiz is economics, and he describes financial negotiations as an exciting circus that comes to town even on a day of storms and crisis, a day when "the skies opened up and the waters welled up from the depths." The demon jumps between the two mules on the distant bridges, while pouring wine from one to the other. I can well imagine that even if the two bridges had been further apart, the effect of globalization would have contributed to the success of the demon. The wine was transferred, but look at the amazing event: "Not even one drop was spilled." In fact, the drops of wine should have spilled, since they represent charity, acts of social aid that were erased by the actions of the demon. However, the paradoxical and clever demon sometimes does spill some wine! During the economic crisis of 1929, when the world economy collapsed, our demon would even spill coffee into the sea, in order to make sure that the price would stay stable.
And now we can begin to understand the beginning of Rabba's story. When Hormiz ran on the wall, a fast rider chased him at the bottom of the wall but he could not catch him. The walls represent security, and the rider represents the guards of the city - the forces of law and justice, and the police. The police horseman cannot catch the demon. Crime takes control of society, which puts its trust in the wall but does not understand that the demon is dancing on top of it. The power of the metropolis is an example of "the support provided by a splintered rod" [Yeshayahu 36:6]. The rod may appear whole from the outside but it is really rotten inside. Yeshayahu uses the rod as a parable of the status of weak people who are ultimately the reason for the collapse of society from within. The prophet predicts that an ideal king will appear, "My slave, whom I will support, my chosen one, whom I desire... He will not break the splintered rod" [42:1,3]. As Rashi notes, "He will not steal from the paupers and he will not harm the poor and the weak." The slave of G-d will eventually prevail over the demon, but for the time being the demon dances in the streets. There are people dying from starvation and a lack of work, newly poor people are collecting charity in the markets, the sick and the old sleep outside. Children will grow up in streets full of crime, neighborhoods will be surrounded by fences and guards. However, the guards will not be able to reach the demon, even if they do not succumb to corruption.
It is usually assumed that the demons live in the ruins, but Hormiz lives in the city itself. If we were able to truly open our eyes, we would see that the city is devastated and splintered from within. The demonic authorities killed Hormiz because he dared to hint at their antics in the big city, in the new city of Rome/Edom. Only if we understand this will we be saved.
SERMON OF THE WEEK: Yaacov Also Had "Hands of Esav"
by Mrs. Batya Tevetchnik, Principal
As opposed to the usual concept that the firstborn in a family is destined to be the leader, there are many cases in our sources when the person who was born first did not lead the family. One example appears in this week's Torah portion, in the struggle between Yaacov, "a complete man, a dweller of tents," and Esav, "a man of the field" [Bereishit 25:27].
According to the Midrash, Yitzchak, who was bound on the altar and almost became a sacrifice because of his father's exalted ideas, saw in a vision the many sacrifices of his offspring in subsequent generations. Yitzchak saw the burning flames and the sharpened knives, and he thought to himself: If continuing the Jewish dynasty will be so costly, perhaps the leadership should be transferred to the stronger of the two sons, to Esav. With his great strength and his military expertise he will not allow the people to be harmed.
Rivka saw the situation differently. "And she went to consult with G-d" [25:22]. A concept cannot be defended with the use of a bow and arrow or with a sword. Ideas must be defended by contrasting ideas, with spiritual courage, based on content and spiritual power. Yitzchak sends Esav to use his sword and his bow. Rivka, on the other hand, sent Yaacov to get two goat kids, something that is reminiscent of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, when he takes two goats that are the same height and appearance and chooses by lots, one dedicated to G-d and the other to Azazel.
Every Jew can choose his own path, whether dedicated to G-d or not. The way to G-d is through sacrifice, while the way to the evil of Azazel at first seems to lead to a bright life, but in the end it is a path of failure and destruction. In the end, G-d's forces will be victorious.
Once Yitzchak saw when necessary Yaacov was also capable of working with "Esav's hands" [27:22], he blessed him with "the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth" [27:28]. When Esav heard that the blessing given to Yaacov included a physical dimension, he was very angry. He had understood that the physical aspects would remain for him! Yitzchak makes a compromise and gives both sons spiritual and physical blessings, but he reverses the order. To this very day, the sequence is what differentiates between the two brothers. The children of Esav can only touch on the spiritual aspects. When their physical situation is strong and they have wealth, they are able to make achievements in wisdom and science. The children of Yaacov, on the other hand, begin with "the dew of heaven," the spiritual and conceptual aspects, and only afterwards will obtain something from "the fat of the earth." Reversing the sequence can lead to destroying their path. Maintaining the correct sequence of Yitzchak's blessing is the only way to guarantee that a Jew will accomplish his ultimate mission. Success in life depends on making the right choice from the beginning.
THE WAYS OF THE FATHERS: Chapter 2 Mishna 13
by Rabbi Yehuda Shaviv
"Rabbi Shimon said: Be careful with reciting the Shema and with praying. When you pray, do not consider the prayers as rote but as asking for mercy and a request from the Almighty, as is written, 'For He is merciful, patient and kind, and He changes His mind about evil [Yoel 2:13]. And do not judge yourself to be evil."
Rabbi Shimon, who is described as being fearful of sin, begins his advice with the subject of accepting the yoke of heaven, specifically the Shema. He then adds prayer in general, with a demand that a person must take care with both items. However, his second saying is relevant only for prayer, not to recite it by rote. What about Shema? Perhaps routine recitation is not a fault for the Shema. This would explain why the Torah established specific times for reciting the Shema, when lying down and when rising. This is different from prayer, which is "mercy and a request from the Almighty," and which is therefore appropriate whenever a person feels a need for it (this is true in spite of the fact that the sages established set times for prayer). The Shema, on the other hand, is something which a person reads to himself ("One must hear it in his own ears" [Mishna Berachot 2:3]). Since this entails accepting the authority of G-d, it should indeed be organized and recited at regular intervals.
In this case, Rabbi Shimon - as opposed to the general practice in Avot - brings a proof text to strengthen his words. Evidently, the purpose of this verse is to strengthen the belief and the understanding that prayer has the power to change things. That is why Yoel's prophecy is that G-d is "merciful, patient and kind, and He changes His mind about evil." It is therefore important to spread our requests for mercy before G-d, so that He will indeed "change his mind" about the punishment that He wanted to give. Finally, if we can believe that in some way prayers have an effect on the Almighty, a man must also believe that he himself can change. This leads to the last item, "do not judge yourself to be evil." A person should not consider himself to be evil without any hope of changing.
TORAH, SOCIETY, AND GOVERNMENT: "From this Very Red Material"
by Rabbi Uri Dasberg
We can consider ourselves to be quite advanced, in view of various anthropologic studies, which show that the criterion of an advanced society is the diversity of colors. The most primitive people recognize only black and white, and as we move to higher levels, we find more and more words to define every color. We Jews are concerned with red (see the title of this article, from Bereishit 25:30), in next week's portion we are involved in brown (with respect to the sheep tended by Yaacov). Yellow is mentioned in relation to the affliction of a "nega," a blemish, and the color "techelet" is mentioned with respect to Tzitzit.
We purposely did not mention the color green, since what the sages called "green" is today called "tzivoni," meaning "colored." For example, the RAMA wrote, "What is called 'blue' is included in the category of green" [Yoreh Dei'ah 188:1]. The Tosefta compares the strongest green and the strongest red, asking: "What is the greenest of the green?" The answer given by Sumchus was, "like the tail of a peacock." In fact, a peacock has 365 different colors, with all possible colors, except red (Tanchuma, Tazriya).
Some people claim that "adom," red, is related to "dam," meaning blood. However, blood can also be green, and according to Akavia Ben Mahallalel a green secretion can be classified as ritual impurity (Mishna, Nida). In principle, "yarok" is any color that is not red, and this led the Maharam of Rotenberg to write in response to a question, "All the colors blue, yellow, and green are included in the color 'yarok', green." We wonder if this is relevant for all the "blue-bloods" among our readers!
Brown is a color that is unique. We can see this from the name of the color. In Hebrew, all the other major colors have the same pattern of vowel sounds in their names: adom (red), katom (orange), tzahov (yellow), etc. Only "chum," brown, does not fit this pattern. It is not one of the basic colors (red, blue and green). From a visual point of view, it is a "tricky" color: when one looks at a background that is all brown, it seems to be orange in color. The color brown can only be defined in terms of other colors. Rabbi Yaacov Emden defines the color brown as follows: "It is not related to red but rather to black... Brown is not a shade of black... but in its darkest shade it has a property of faded black" [Responsa "She'eilat Yaavetz 1:44]. The way that brown is perceived by the human eye is unique, and for a more detailed explanation an appropriate technical manual should be consulted.
Reference: Dr. Nadav Shinrav, "Techumin," volume 23, pages 509-514
THE LAND OF OUR BIRTH: "For G-d Has Let Us Expand"
by Penina Weinreb
In 1890, the "Menucha V'Nachala" organization in Poland established the town of Rechovot, in the belief that "Now G-d has let us expand, and we will be fruitful in the land" [Bereishit 26:22]. Thus, they hoped that they would no longer need the generosity of Baron Rothschild to survive. At the entrance to the city is a site named "Givat HaKibbutzim," which was used as a base to prepare people who were about to establish new settlements. There you will find the "Eilon Institute," where under the very watchful eyes of the British a large arms cache was established, together with an underground plant manufacturing bullets and weapons which were later used in the War of Independence.
After returning to the main road, we can visit the Weizmann Institute. Here the visitor can see a multimedia display about the research performed in the institute. The historical exhibition describes the vision of the first President of Israel, Dr. Chaim Weizmann, in the areas of public policy and science. The physics exhibition contains fascinating and amusing displays of the physics research in the institute. On the grounds it is possible to see Dr. Weizmann's house, which was built in 1937. There, the visitor can view the film, "A king without a kingdom," about the life and activities of the owner of the house. And don't miss the Kloor Science Park, with interactive displays that will give you a chance to feel and learn about various natural phenomena. You can't miss the "Sun Tower," ask for details. Finally, in the "Scientific Pathway," it is possible to join a virtual tour based on short video clips and oral explanations.
The Visitor's Center is open Sunday to Thursday from 09:00 to 16:00. The phone number for coordinating visits in advance is 08-9344499. There is an entrance fee to the center.
IN THE CHEMED RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS: Torah for Its Own Sake
by the Center for Religious Education in
The kindergarten supervisors of the Chemed religious sector recently attended a seminar with the national supervisor, Mrs. Sarah Teumim, gathering together for a day of Torah study for its own sake. Mr. Motty Sammet, Chairman of the Teacher's Union in Jerusalem, was the host of the gathering, and he opened the seminar with greetings and words of Torah. The study was dedicated in memory of the children of kindergarten teachers who were murdered on the eve of Rosh Hashana in the town of Negohot. Ayal Yeberboim was the son of Shoshana Yeberboim, from Rechovot, and the baby Shaked Avraham was the daughter of Shira Avraham, from Telem, in the Chevron hills, and also the granddaughter of Vardit Har-Lavan from Kefar Haroeh.
Rabbi Chen Chalamish, of the "El Ami" organization, spoke about the power of words and emphasized the need to ask questions about halachic matters. Dr. Nissim Elyakim, assistant chairman of the Chemed Authority in the Ministry of Education, discussed the ideal educational leadership as it appears in Jewish sources. This is the character of the ideal educator that every teacher should strive to emulate. Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzky explained the central role of kindergarten teachers in shaping the character of a child, keeping in mind the value of respect for the parents.
As part of the seminar, the supervisors ate food prepared by the economics majors of the "Neurim" religious school for special education, in Jerusalem, led by Mrs. Esther Binun, who is in charge of the program.
"Everybody who studies Torah for its own sake brings the redemption closer." [Sanhedrin 9a].
TALES OF ERETZ YISRAEL: "And Yitzchak Prayed"
by Eliyahu Misgav
In 1348 there was a terrible tragedy in Europe. According to some estimates, the Black Plague which took place that year led to the deaths of about one-third of the population of Europe! Complete communities disappeared from the face of the earth, many roads became completely desolate. And, as usual, who should be blamed but the Jews?
According to legend, the body of a man was found, a few days after he had died, thrown into one of the wells. This led to very rapid spreading of the germs throughout Europe. And one of the deadliest sicknesses known to man was distributed wide and far. It is interesting to note that until a few years ago it had been assumed that this illness has disappeared from the world, but the evil Communist forces of the Soviet Union developed the germs of the plague for use in biological warfare.
To return to Europe, it is evidently true that the Jews suffered less from the Plague than the other nations. There are those who give the credit for this to the Jewish practices of purity and cleanliness and to the fact that because of various halachic restrictions contact between the Jews and the Gentiles was restricted. In any case, the result was that a new wave of anti-Semitism swept through Europe, and this led to a small movement of immigrants to Eretz Yisrael. (The Black Plague is even mentioned by the Tosafot. This is seen in a section of the Tosafot in the tractate of Taanit, implying that this commentary was written at a relatively late date.)
In 1350, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi and his students came to Eretz Yisrael and established a new yeshiva. A few years before this, Rabbi Halevi had founded a yeshiva in the city or Heidelberg, Germany, dedicated to the secrets of mysticism. The students came from all over the Rhine Valley to study Kabbala, with the objective of preparing themselves for the approaching redemption. Quite often in times of persecution the feeling of redemption is awakened. Some people feel that this is a psychological reaction, while others give credit to a genuine atmosphere of redemption that appears in the world. The group called itself "Assirei Hatikva," those dedicated to hope.
One of the students was known as the "Assir Tikvah Avraham Halevi." He settled in Jerusalem, and among other activities he translated books. Evidently, he was the first Ashkenazi learned man who translated from Arabic to Hebrew. He translated the book "Tzioni," which is full of exalted words of Kabbala and deep secrets. The original author, Menachem Ben Meir Tzion, claimed that the contents of the book were revealed to him by pious men while studying at Mount Zion.
The group that came to Eretz Yisrael developed some practices that were typical of later settlements in the land, continuing for many generations. For example, the people were supported by charity from abroad. In the record books of many different communities in Europe we find collections for the benefit of "Assirei Tikvah."
About ten years after he arrived in the land, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi, who founded the organization, returned to Germany.
(Source: Shlomo Shevo, Eretz Yisrael, an autobiography)