Parashat Vayechi 5768

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20 Dec 2007

Parashat Vayechi 5768

Parashat Vayechi – If you will it, it is not a dream

Question: Once again a sense of dizziness confounds our leaders, who raise the idea of giving up part of our Land, G-d forbid. How should we struggle for our Land?

Answer: If we want to cure an illness it is not enough to focus on its external signs, we must understand its cause. What is the reason for all of this weakness? Fear. Fear of enemies both from within and from without. Fear of all types of problems and difficulties. If this is the case, what is the medicine? Strength and courage. How do we attain strength and courage? From love of the Land of Israel and understanding the value of the Land. When we love and understand, we will be ready for great toil and self-sacrifice, and we will not fear anything. General Yitzchak Sadeh, one of the founders of the Palmach, wrote that a truly courage person is not necessarily someone who abandons his feelings of fear, but an idealistic person who understands the greatness of his mission, and therefore a physically weak person can say, “I am courageous.” The Rebbe of Gur, the author of “Sefat Emet,” explains at the beginning of Parashat Shelach that the Land of Israel is acquired through desire and toil. We are not denying that building the whole length of our Land did not involve great toil, but when there is desire, people are ready for any amount of toil. He writes that the same applies to learning Gemara. We can add that this is also the case with marriage.

We therefore know the solution: To fill the Nation of Israel with the desire for the Land of Israel. This desire certainly exists, because without it, there would be nothing here: No building of the Land, no return to Zion, no establishment of the State and no founding of the army. We should therefore be more precise: We must strengthen the desire of the Nation of Israel for the Land of Israel.

We have already learned this from Yaacov Avinu. Hashem said to him: “The Land upon which you are lying, I will give to you and your descendants” (Bereshit 28:13). This is surprising: This is an extremely small area?! Rashi explains: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, folded up the entire Land of Israel under him. He hinted to him that it would be easily conquered by him like the four amah (six feet) which is the place of a person.” If a person knows that the Land of Israel is his place, it is easy for him to conquer. If a person “lies down” on the Land of Israel, i.e. displays self-sacrifice for it, it is easy for him to conquer. And if “this is the stone upon which he lays his head” (Bereshit 28:18), then it is easy for him to conquer.

Why exactly is the detail of Yaacov Avinu putting the stones there important? Answer: These stones are the stones of the Land of Israel and they were very dear to him. At the end of the Kuzari (5, 27), the Jewish spokesman is asked, when will the Redemption arrive? He answers: “When they yearn for the fundamental yearning, as it says: ‘For Your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her dust”’ (Tehillim 102:14). The love of the stones by the Nation will bring Redemption. The Gemara relates that Rabbi Abba would kiss the stones of Acco and Rabbi Chaim bar Gamda would roll in the dirt of the Land of Israel, as it says: “For Your servants hold her stones dear, and cherish her dust” (Ketubot 112a-b). There is something strange in Rashi’s commentary on this Gemara. He simply copies the verse, without offering an interpretation. I saw an explanation – I believe in the name of the Vilna Gaon – that those Rabbis who kissed the stones and rolled in the dirt did not do so to fulfill the above-mentioned verse, but because they loved the stones and dirt of our Land in the depths of their souls. This is the secret: To strengthen love.

Avraham Avinu was told: “Arise, walk in the Land, its length and its breadth, for I am giving it to you” (Bereshit 13:17). Our Sages explain: “In order that the Land would be easily conquered by his children” (Baba Batra 100a). The love of the journey makes the conquering easy. Yitzchak Avinu was told more: Do not only “Arise, walk in the Land,” but “Dwell in the Land…live in the Land” (Bereshit 26:2-3). And Yaacov Avinu even more so: He laid down on the Land, he clung to the Land. Even if he had only laid down on four amah he would have been able to spring forth and conquer the entire Land, as is written in the commentary “Da’at Zekenim Mi-Ba’alei Ha-Tosafot”: “‘The Land upon which you are lying’ means that I will give you that upon which you lay, and you will spread out in every direction by yourself and conquer all of your surroundings, as is the case with important horsemen. They give them a little land and they conquer all of the surrounding with their courage.”

If we strengthen the love of the Land of Israel, we will then hold on it with self-sacrifice, and even spread out to the west, east, north and south. If you will it, it is not a dream.

[From the parashah sheet “Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’a” – Parashat Miketz 5768]

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Text Message Responsa

Ha-Rav answers hundreds of text message questions a week. Some appear in the parashah sheets “Ma’ayanei Ha-Yeshu’ah” and “Olam Ha-Katan.” Here’s a sample:

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Stories of Rabbenu – Our Rabbi: Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah HaKohen Kook

Mourning the Holocaust over and over

Our Rabbi was unable to mention the word “Holocaust” or to talk about the subject without shedding tears. He felt the great lost every time anew, even years after the Holocaust (Yosi Bitan).

Students asked our Rabbi: The Chief Rabbinate of Israel established the 10th of Tevet as a remembrance of the Holocaust to recite Kaddish for the Kedoshim (holy ones) who perished in the Holocaust, but their date of death is unknown. If so, why did the Government of Israel establish the 27th of Nisan as Yom Ha-Shoah? Our Rabbi responded: One should mourn for the Holocaust every day.

A Eulogy for the Telz Yeshiva

A student who was caring for our Rabbi once sat next to his bed while he slept. Our Rabbi woke up in the middle of the night, sat on his bed and began to sob. The student asked him: “Why is Ha-Rav crying?” Our Rabbi answered: “I dreamt about the Telz Yeshiva which was destroyed in the Holocaust.” The student asked: “But Ha-Rav always speaks about the Torah of the Land of Israel…” Our Rabbi sobbed even harder and said: “What do you know? Were you in Telz? Did you see the greatness and power of Torah?!” Our Rabbi cried until he finally asked for a pen and paper, and he wrote a eulogy for the Telz Yeshiva. He then calmed down and went back to sleep (Ha-Rav Eli Horvitz hy”d in Me-Emek Chevron, 2 Elul 5762, p. 94).

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Shut She’eilat Shlomo – Questions of Jewish Law

Being Drafted into Tzahal – Israel Defense Force

A talk given after lunch at the yeshiva –

  1. Pikuach Nefesh – The army protects the lives of millions of Jews; we have many enemies. Saving a life overrides just about every mitzvah in the Torah except the most severe ones.
  2. Conquering the Land – The army safeguards the Land of Israel. There is a mitzvah to conquer the Land and then to hold onto to the Land. At the end of the book “The Kuzari,” the King of Kuzar asks, is the reason you do not make aliyah to Israel is that it is dangerous? The Jewish spokesman answers that it is not dangerous, and even if it were dangerous, it is not more dangerous than an obligatory war which we are also required to fight.
  3. Sanctification of Hashem’s Name – When the Nation of Israel is low, pitiful and oppressed; it is a desecration of Hashem’s Name. When we are strong and settled in our Land it is a sanctification of Hashem’s Name. Rav Nisenbaum – who was a major Zionist – once said: What is sanctification of Hashem’s Name? It is not when it is written on a Jew’s tombstone that he was murdered sanctifying Hashem’s Name.

Some say that the army is no good. It does not protect modesty, it expels Jews, etc… Don’t exaggerate! It is true that there are immodest things which occur, but it is not completely immodest. It is true that it was used to expel Jews, but do not say that it is the “Israel Expulsion Army.” We struggle against these things, but just as a person is judged on the majority of his acts, so is an army. “There is no righteous person in the world who does good and does not sin” (Kohelet 7:20). The army is judged on the majority of its acts. Yes, there are problems, but what do you suggest? No army. If we did not have an army, we would have no immodesty problems – all Jews would be dead. If we did not have an army, there would be no expulsions, because all Jews would be dead. On the whole the army is good, and it is an army of Hashem.

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On Air

Every Tuesday and Thursday night Rav Aviner answers questions of Jewish Law and faith on the radio in Israel. On the Air presents a sample of these answers each week.

**Please note a correction to the answer for ‘Moving a Chanukiyah’ in the On Air portion of Parashat Vayigash**

The remaining oil in the chanukiyah

Sick children and a new house

Child cheating on test

A child who has gone off the path

Statute of limitations on debts

Tzedakah obligation

Forgiving someone who was disrespectful to a Rabbi

The cross of a Chevrolet

A mourner buying a winter jacket

Bringing boss coffee with milk after a meat meal

Seeing the moon through glasses

A Kohen with glasses

Kohen and a convert

Praying over distress

Praying only for Redemption

Chinese Medicine

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Checking Mezuzot After Tragedy

Question: If someone experiences a family tragedy, should he have his mezuzot checked?


1. Repenting for what you are not doing well

Someone who experienced a family tragedy suggested that perhaps he should repent and check his mezuzot. Absolutely, mezuzot should be checked even without a tragedy. Tefillin also need to be checked. The Halacha discusses how often they should be checked even without a tragedy, and if there is a tragedy they should be checked all the more so. Mezuzot should be checked, and Tefillin should be checked. And if he speaks lashon hara (evil speech), he needs to check it. If he watches television, he needs to check that. Everything needs to be checked. What does “everything” mean? If he knows that his mezuzot are not kosher, he needs to check them; but if he knows that he has a different transgression, he needs to check that. This means that a person does not have to save himself from a transgression which he does not have and ignore a transgression that he does have. The Gemara in Shabbat (32b) does in fact say that for the transgression of mezuzah people die, as it in written in the Torah, “And you shall write them on the door posts of your house” and it is followed by “in order to prolong your days and the days of your children” (Devarim 11:20-21). They die for this transgression. It is written. But many other reasons why people die are also mentioned there: Niddah (having relations with a menstruant woman), challah (not separating part of dough to give to cohanim), failing to light Shabbat candles, one who refers to the holy ark (aron ha-kodesh) as a closet (aron), one who refers to a shul (beit knesset) as a house of gathering (beit am), for violating vows, for the sin of theft, for the sin of dispute and many other things in a long list. It is not only mezuzot. One needs to check all sorts of things. The Rambam writes in the Laws of Fasts (1:3) that if something bad occurs, one should not say that it was happenstance. This is cruel. If something bad occurs, one must repent. “For what?” Someone asked me. “For what are you telling me to repent?” For what you are not doing well. There is no standard repentance. A person must repent for what he is not doing well, and only he knows what this is. If he did not check the mezuzot, he needs to check them. The Gemara in Yoma says that the mezuzah must be checked twice in seven years (Yoma 11a and brought in the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 291:1). There are those who say, however, that with the weather – hot, cold, moisture – one is required to check them more often. We see that mezuzot are ruined, but there is no obligation to specifically check a mezuzah if a tragedy occurs as we see in the Gemara. It is possible that this is an easy thing to do. If it were written that tragedies occur because of disputes and we must stop arguing, it is a lot of work to stop arguing. To stop stealing – what would be? Checking a mezuzah is relatively easy and inexpensive. Perhaps this is why people act this way. There is, however, no connection. A person must repent for what he is not doing well and only he knows what this is.

2. The Prohibition of Sorcery

Even without a tragedy we need to repent. Every day we need to repent (see Pirkei Avot 2:10). If a tragedy occurs, it awakens a person. Why did his occur right now and not beforehand? “Yesterday, just yesterday, I began to learn in a seminary and my uncle was killed in a traffic accident.” Is this a sign that you should not study there? You see that this occurred at the same time. Perhaps it is not a happenstance? No, there is no connection. I do not understand the meaning of coinciding events. Deciphering coinciding events can also reach the Torah prohibition of sorcery. What is sorcery? “A fox passed on my right, a cat passed on my left, I am not leaving the house.” “Something came out of my mouth. Ah, it is a sign” (see Sanhedrin 65b-66a). One cannot live life based on such occurrences. Perhaps you will bring an example from Eliezer, Avraham’s servant, who was searching for a wife for Yitzchak: “The young women who says…this is the one” (Bereshit 24:14). Someone said that Eliezer transgressed the prohibition of sorcery. G-d forbid! These are not simply words, she needed traits to follow them. He was not indulging in sorcery, but defining a specific type of behavior, establishing a sign and saying that he would act based on it. There are times, however, that it is sorcery if a person behaves in a certain way based on something not connected to a matter.

3. Isn’t a Mezuzah for Protection?

Some people ask, isn’t a mezuzah for protection? We see in the Gemara in Shabbat (31-32) that there are two columns of many, many things, along with the mezuzah, which are for protection. Perhaps they are referring to the Gemara in Avodah Zarah (11a), where Onkelos, the nephew of Titus, converted to Judaism. The king sent soldiers to bring him back to idol worship and he converted every soldier. He sent other soldiers and he said, “Do not listen to him.” “We are taking you, but not listening to you.” Onkelos said, “One moment, wait,” and he put his hand on the mezuzah. He said to them, “The way of the world is that a king of flesh and blood sits inside and his servants guard him outside, but the Holy One, Blessed be He, His servants are inside and He guards them outside.” He spoke and converted them. Thus, this is a proof that the mezuzah is for protection. The Rambam (Hilchot Mezuzah 5:4) says, you perform mitzvot to protect yourself? You are affixing a mezuzah for this purpose? You affix a mezuzah to service Hashem, not in order to protect yourself. The Kesef Mishnah, says, however, that this is difficult to understand based on what Onkelos the Convert said. This is not a difficulty. This is only what he said to the Roman soldiers and not the real reason. He then quotes another Gemara in Menachot (33b), which was not stated to the Roman soldiers, that one must place the mezuzah on the handbreadth closest to the public domain. Rav Huna explains that this is the way that it will protect. The mezuzah absolutely protects, but we do not perform the mitzvah of mezuzah in order that it will protect us.

4. All Mitzvot Protect

All mitzvot protect, but we do not perform them for this purpose. The Rambam writes (ibid.) that there are people who add the names of angels and righteous people into the mezuzah. They think that if the mezuzah usually protects than this is a “mezuzah-plus” with all of these additions. The Rambam says that, first of all, one who does this is an idiot who loses the mitzvah because it is forbidden to write things on the mezuzah. It is permissible to write things on the back of the mezuzah, “Shaddai” and “Kuzo Bemuchsaz Kuzo” is written. This is the back, but it is forbidden to write things on the front of the mezuzah. He is an idiot because he loses fulfilling the mitzvah, but he also loses the World-to-Come. You take something which is service of Hashem and you transform it into an instrument for yourself to get benefit in this world. One needs to take all of his possessions, all of his strength, all of his health, all of his money, all of his abilities and service Hashem. You have turned everything upside down. It is not that you service Hashem, but Hashem services you! The World-to-Come is therefore taken from you.

5. The Reason for the Mezuzah

The Rambam then writes that the purpose of the mitzvah of mezuzah, which is written in it, is the love of Hashem and the unity of Hashem. If he fulfills the mitzvah of mezuzah for protection he enjoys the vanity of this world and forgets the essence. He forgets the love of Hashem and the unity of Hashem. Every time he passes, he sees and he is reminded (Menachot 43a and Rambam, Hilchot Mezuzah 6:13): One who has tefillin on his head and arm, tzitzit on his clothes and a mezuzah on his door is ensured that he will not sin since he has many reminders. The tefillin reminds him, the tzitzit reminds him and the mezuzah reminds him. When you see the mezuzah you remember the Master of the Universe. You are reminded of the Master of the Universe, the Rambam says, and you will not sin. This is the protection. This is the angel. You do not need to write the angels inside, “For His angels will escort you to guard you in all of your paths” (Tehillim 91:11), to guard you so that there will be awe of Hashem and love of Hashem. This is the protection that guards you, not the vanities of the world.

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Family Matters – Ha-Rav writes weekly for the parsha sheet “Rosh Yehudi” on family relationships

To be objective

When a person marries he becomes objective. This means that he becomes capable of seeing things from the point of view of his spouse. A young child is not capable of being objective. He is egotistic and sees himself as the center of the world.

Story #1: “Why are you crying?” “Because my brother has two candies and he won’t give me one.” “But they are his.” “So what? He could give me one.” Next day: “Why are you crying now?” “I have two candies and my brother wants one.” “So give him one!” “It’s mine, why should I give him?”

Story #2: “Do you have any brothers?” “Yes, two.” “And do your brothers have brothers?” “Yes, one!” He is not anyone’s brother. He alone is the center of the world.

Story #3: His father is angry. He thinks it’s because of him. His father is happy – same thing.

From the age of approximately ten years old, a child begins to develop the ability to see things in an objective manner; i.e., from the perspective of someone else. This trains him for marriage. It is not an easy labor to become objective, but it is necessary for marriage as well as being pleasant and exalting.

Special thank you to Fred Casden for editing the Ateret Yerushalayim Parshah Sheet

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Ha-Rav Shlomo Aviner is Rosh Yeshiva of Ateret Yerushalayim. All material translated by Rabbi Mordechai Friedfertig. For more Torah:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.