Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 14   No. 40

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Pesach ben Ephraim Shimon z"l

Parshas Devarim
(Incorporating Tish'ah be'Av Supplement)

What Did Moshe Do Wrong?

In the middle of discussing the sin of the Spies (1:37), Moshe adds that G-d was angry with him as well, with the result that he too, was prohibited from entering Eretz Yisrael just as Yisrael were.

The Ba'al ha'Turim comments that the last letters of "Ish ba'anoshim ho'eileh" spell 'Moshe', to teach us that Moshe was included in the Divine decree sentencing K'lal Yisrael to die in the Desert. The question is why? What part did Moshe play in the episode of the Spies to warrant such a punishment? Was it perhaps because he agreed to send the spies in the first place, even though G-d did not (see Rashi in Pasuk 3)?


The Ramban explains that, when mentioning his own 'premature' death, he was not referring to the sin of the Meraglim at all. What he meant was that, not only were Yisrael responsible for causing their own demise in the Desert, but on another occasion (by the episode with the rock), they were guilty of causing his as well.


The K'li Yakar offers two explanations to answer the initial question. He refers to his own interpretation of Moshe's sin, which he ascribes to Yisrael's weak faith, in that had their Emunah been stronger, Moshe would not have been taken to task for not performing the miracle that he was supposed to, and that would have restored Yisrael to the level of faith at which they were when they left Egypt and crossed the Yam-Suf.

Moreover, it was actually the incident of the Meraglim that caused the decrease in their level of faith of which we are speaking. This explains why he mentioned Yisrael's lack of faith (in Pasuk 22), and therein lies the connection with the reference to his own punishment, which was the result of that drop in faith.

In his second answer, the K'li Yakar points to the chronological connection between the Meraglim and his own sin. Had the episode with the Meraglim not taken place, he points out, Yisrael would have gone straight into Eretz Yisrael, Miriam would not have died in the Desert, the Well would not have ceased to function, and Moshe would not have sinned. Hence when Yisrael sinned by the Meraglim, they were indirectly responsible for Moshe having to die in the Desert.


The Or ha'Chayim disagrees with the explanation of the Ramban that we cited earlier. After all, he argues, the Torah is in the middle of discussing the Meraglim, which it continues to do after this Pasuk, so why break in the middle of one topic to discuss another?

The K'li Yakar's explanations, which connect Moshe's punishment to the sin of the Meraglim, particularly the first one, are not subject to the Or ha'Chayim's objection.

This is how the Or ha'Chayim solves the problem.

He introduces his explanation with three statements of Chazal, and it is on the combination of all three that his explanation is based.

1. Commenting on the Pasuk in Bamidbar (14:1) "And the people cried on that night" (which 'happened to be' the night of Tish'ah be'Av), they extrapolate that G-d fixed Tish'ah be'Av as a national (annual) day of mourning, when on that very day, both Batei-Mikdash were destroyed.

2. The Gemara in Sotah (9a), states that had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael and built the Beis-Hamikdash, it could never have been destroyed, since, as is well-known, Moshe's Midah was Netzach (eternity), and all of his achievements were permanent (and irreversible).

3. Based on the Pasuk "Mizmor le'Asaf" (instead of 'Kinah le'Asaf'), which then goes on to describe some aspects of the Churban Beis-Hamikdash, the Medrash concludes that the destruction of the Beis-Hamikdash (in lieu of the people) was a great Chesed, something to sing about. Why is that? Because, says the Medrash, G-d poured out His wrath on wood and stones, rather than on His people Yisrael.


It transpires that, had Moshe entered Eretz Yisrael and built the Beis-Hamikdash, then, when Yisrael sinned and needed to be punished, it would not have been possible to take the Beis-Hamikdash as a security (to quote another Chazal) instead of the people, and G-d would have been forced to pour His wrath on them and destroy His beloved nation (Chas ve'Shalom). Were it not for the sin of the Meraglim, says the Or ha'Chayim, there would have been no problem, since the decree to destroy them would never have been instigated. Indeed, it would not have been necessary to punish them, or to take the Beis-Hamikdash in their place. In other words, if they hadn't sinned by the Meraglim, they would have entered Eretz Yisrael on a much higher level, they would not have sinned to the extent that they did, and it would therefore have been unnecessary to punish them so drastically.

And that is what Moshe meant when he said that it was on account of the sin of the Meraglim that he was not able to enter Eretz Yisrael.


Perhaps you will ask how all this fits with the sin of the rock, which the Torah specifically presents as the reason for Moshe's having to die in the desert?

The Or ha'Chayim poses this question himself. Granted, he answers, Moshe had the opportunity to make up for the Chilul Hashem caused by the Meraglim, by performing a gigantic Kidush Hashem by talking to the rock. That would have resulted in Yisrael regaining their former level of purity (similar to the K'li Yakar that we cited earlier). And this in turn, would have enabled G-d to rescind the oath that He had made forbidding Moshe to enter the land. Moshe would then have been able to enter the Land and build the Beis-Hamikdash, which would have stood forever. But that does not alter the fact that the initial sin that caused Moshe's punishment, was that of the Meraglim.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

Crumbling Defenses

"And these are the words and Chatzeiros and Di-Zahav" (1:1).

According to Rashi, who interprets Chatzeiros as the episode of Korach, and Di-Zahav as that of the Eigel ha'Zahav, the Sh'nei ha'Me'oros asks why the Torah does not mention them in the chronological order, rather choosing to invert them? To answer the question, he cites the Medrash which in turn, cites Moshe's defense of Yisrael in that G-d had taught the sin of not worshipping other gods (i.e. the second of the Ten Commandments) in the singular, as if it had been meant for him alone. That argument was valid until Korach came along and claimed that "Onochi" (the first Commandment) was said to the whole of Yisrael, and not just to Moshe, completely negating Moshe's defense for the sin of the Eigel retroactively. Indeed, it was only after Korach that Moshe was able to rebuke Yisrael for the sin of the Eigel ha'Zahav. Therefore, the Torah mentions Korach first.


With this explanation, says the P'ninim Yekarim, we can also understand the Medrash, which, commenting on this Pasuk, cites the Pasuk in Tehilim (50:21) "These (Eileh) you have done, and I remained silent; You thought that I was like you and I rebuked you and lay it clearly before your eyes". It is not at all clear what the Medrash wants with this Pasuk, and what connection it has with our Pasuk, he asks.

According to the above explanation however, it is possible to interpret the Pasuk, quoting Hashem, like this: 'When you worshipped the Eigel ha'Zahav (to which 'Eileh' hints, as is well-known), I said nothing (because I accepted Moshe's argument that vindicated you from guilt). But when you compared yourself to Moshe, saying 'I am just like you', then I had to rebuke you ".


Rebuke After Rebuke

"And it was in the fortieth year on the first day of the eleventh month, that Moshe spoke to the B'nei Yisrael" (1:3).

This teaches us, says Rashi, that he made a point of rebuking them close to the date of his death. And he goes on to give four reasons as to why that is the right thing to do; one of them 'so that one should not need to rebuke once and then to rebuke again'.

The Toras Moshe explains that when a person is told off for doing something wrong, his immediate reaction is to justify his actions. This results in the rebuker having to counter his arguments, to prove his self-justifications groundless. And this in turn, only leads to strife. Remaining silent, on the other hand, is not the answer, since that will only cause the sinner to repeat his sins.

The only solution is to delay the rebuke until shortly before one's death, when the sinner will not feel the need to justify his actions, and the one rebuke will suffice to repair the damage.


The Hidden Yeitzer-ha'Ra

"Enough going round this mountain (Har); Now turn to the north (Tzofonoh)" (2:3).

Two of the names of the Yeitzer-ha'Ra are 'Har' and 'Tzefoni'. He is called 'Har', says the Dinever Rebbe, when he entices a man to commit open sins which are as easy to spot as a mountain; whereas the title 'Tzefoni' pertains to those occasions when he hides his intentions, and presents the sins in the form of Mitzvos. Needless to say, the former is far easier to protect oneself against than the latter.

And that, he explains, is what the Torah is hinting at here. 'Enough circumventing the Yeizer-ha'Ra called 'Har'. It's high time to turn one's efforts towards combating the Yeitzer-ha'Ra known as 'Tzefoni'.


From Midbar Kedeimos
Words of Peace

"And I sent messengers from Midbar Kedeimos to Sichon, King of Cheshbon words of peace, saying " (2:26).


Midbar Kedeimos, explains the Rosh, means simply a location that used to be a desert - before Hashem produced water on behalf of Yisrael from the rock. From that time on however, it became an area that was teeming with water-springs.


And the reason that Moshe offered Sichon peace terms, the Rosh explains, was due to the fact that the majority of his territory was captured from Amon and Mo'av. He did not do so with Og, because most of Og's territory was that of the Refa'im, which was considered part of the Cana'ani nations, and it was forbidden to make peace with the Cana'anim.


Alternatively, he adds, "mi'Midbar Kedeimos" means that Moshe learned from 'Kadmono shel Olam' (G-d, who preceded the world), that one always opens the proceedings with an offer of peace terms, even when it is not really relevant. G-d ought really to have killed the Egyptians at the outset, and to have taken Yisrael out of Egypt. But He didn't. He first ordered Moshe and Aharon to appear before Paroh with an option of accepting His peace terms. And in similar fashion, at Har Sinai, when Hashem gave Yisrael the Torah, He knew full-well that Eisav and Yishmael were not interested in receiving it, yet He first offered it to them nonetheless.

So Moshe took his cue from Hashem, and sent Sichon an offer of peace. Perhaps, according to this explanation, the Rosh will agree with those who explain that Moshe had every intention of sending Og the same offer of peace as he sent to Sichon, only Og attacked before he had a chance to do so, as others explain.

According to Chazal, says the Rosh, there were actually two letters, one of peace from Moshe, and one of war from Klal Yisrael. What this means is that he sent them one letter, opening with peace-terms in his own name and concluding with the threat of war in the name of Yisrael.


That is the Land of the Refa'im!

"And the rest of the land of Gil'ad and all of the Bashan, the kingdom of Og that is what is called the land of the Refa'im" (3:13).

That, the Rosh explains, is the land of the Refa'im that G-d promised to Avraham. Not the territory belonging to Mo'av, nor the territory belonging to Amon, both of which were nicknamed "Eretz Refa'im' (because the former inhabitants had matched the giants in strength). The Moabites however, referred to the former as 'Eimim', whilst the Amonites referred to the latter as 'Zamzumin' (see above, Pasuk 10 &11, 19 & 20). In fact, neither of them were the Refa'im that G-d promised to Avraham.


(Please note that virtually everything the Rosh says, also appears in the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos)

* * *


"These are the matters of rebuke that Moshe spoke to Yisrael. He gathered them to him whilst they were encamped on the other side of the Yarden, and said to them 'Was the Torah not given to you in the Desert at Har Sinai, and explained to you at the Plains of Mo'av? Many miracles and wonders Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu performed with you, from the time that you crossed the Yam-Suf, when He made for you paths, one for each tribe; yet you strayed from His commands and you angered Him in Paran, following the words of the Spies, and you spoke lies about Him. You grumbled about the Mon (white in colour) that He sent down from the Heaven, and you asked for meat in Chatzeiros. He would have destroyed you, were it not for the merits of your righteous forefathers, the Mishkan, the Aron and the Holy Vessels, which you overlaid with pure gold, and which atoned for the sin of the Golden Calf" (1:1).


"Hashem your G-d spoke with us at Chorev (and not I of my own accord) saying 'You have been here long enough, and have derived much benefit (from this place) until now; you received the Torah, you built the Mishkan together with its vessels, and you elected leaders over yourselves; yet you consider it a bad thing to stay here any longer' " (1:6).


"Turn and go to Arad and to Churma, and ascend the Mountain of the Emori, and all the inhabitants of Amon and Mo'av and Gavla in the plains and the forests, the mountains and lowlands and the south, and by the seashore, Ashkelon and Kisrin, the land of the Cana'anim up to Kaldohi (Lasha) and the Levanon, the place of the Mountains of the Beis-Hamikdash up to the Great River, the River Euphrates" (1:7).


"See, I have handed over before you the inhabitants of the land, you do not need to pick up weapons. Go and inherit the land, and appoint people who will distribute it, just as I promised your forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, to give to them and to their children after them" (1:8).


"How can I alone carry the burden of your heresy, the evil that you silently accuse me of and how you perform acts of theft, when you produce one Sela in order to claim two" (1:12).

* "And I commanded your judges at that time a system of judgement, whereby one litigant should not be allowed to say all his words, whilst the other is cut short, and whereby once you have heard their words, you do not have permission to withdraw from the case, and whereby you must judge a Din of truth, and one of compromise and peace between a man and his brother ." (1:16).


"But you did not want to go up, because you believed the words of the ten wicked men, and you rebelled against the word of Hashem" (1:26).

* * *

(Part 2)

(based on the Kol Agados Yisrael & Otzar Ishei ha'T'nach)

Galus Yehoyachin

And so Nevuchadnetzar exiled Yehoyachin, together with ten thousand strong men, and seven thousand troops, not to speak of the Sanhedrin and a thousand of the greatest Torah-scholars, to Bavel.

Yehoyachin himself was promptly incarcerated. This grieved the Sanhedrin immensely, since he was the last survivor of the royal family of David Hamelech, which, G-d had sworn, would never terminate, and it now looked as if the light of ben David was about to become extinguished. So they approached the royal governess with a request to do something to ensure that Yehoyachin's life was not endangered. Her mercy aroused, she pleaded with Queen Shemiromos to have mercy on the unfortunate king. The Queen in turn, feeling sorry for Yehoyachin, pleaded with Nevuchadnetzar to take pity on the young king and to spare his life. When Shemiromos saw that the king had accepted her request, she had Yehoyachin's wife brought to the prison so that they could live together. There, she bore him two sons, She'elti'el (who later became the father of Zerubavel, alias Nechemyah, the first leader of the exiles who returned to Yerushalayim) and Asir.

Chazal tell us that initially, it had been decreed that Yehoyachin would die without children. Whilst he was in jail however, he kept the laws of Taharas ha'Mishpachah, something that he had not done when he lived in Yerushalayim. And as a result, G-d rescinded His decree, and forgave him for his sins.



After sending Yehoyachin into exile, Nevuchadnetzar crowned Matanyah (his uncle) in his place.

Matanyah found favour with Nevuchadnetzar, who ordered his servants to allow him entry into his palace at any time. It was on one such occasion that Tzidkiyahu entered the king's private chamber, and found the mighty King of Bavel holding a live hare, from which he was tearing chunks and eating them.

Nevuchadnetzar was extremely embarrassed at having being caught, and he made Tzidkyahu swear that he would not divulge what he had seen to anyone. To drive home the severity of the oath, he changed his name to Tzidkiyahu , as a warning that G-d would be Matzdik on him the Din (give him his just desert), should he abrogate it.

But he reneged on his word. After releasing his oath through a Chacham, he described the above scenario to the five kings whom Nevuchadnetzar had placed under his jurisdiction (the kings of Edom, Mo'av, Amon, Tzur and Tzidon). It was they who informed Nevuchadnetzar that Tzidkiyahu had broken his word. And it was that information that turned Nevuchadnetzar against Tzidkiyahu.

As a result, he attacked Yerushalayim and laid siege to it.


A different Medrash gives the following version of Tzidkiyahu's oath:

When Nevuchadnetzar came to send the first set of exiles to Bavel, together with Yehoyachin, he took pity on the people. He asked them whether there were any descendents of Yoshiyahu still alive, and they pointed out Matanyah, Yoshiyahu's son (Yehoyachin's uncle).

So he crowned him king of Yerushalayim, asking him to swear that he would remain loyal to him. Matanyah agreed to swear by his holy Neshamah, but Nevuchadnetzar insisted that he swear by the Torah that was given on Sinai. What did he then do? He brought a Seifer-Torah and placed it on Matanyah's knees. Then he made him take an oath that he would not rebel against him, changing his name to Tzidkiyahu , because, he said, G-d would be Matzdik on him the Din (give him his just desert), should he break his oath.

Nevuchadnetzar had barely left the gates of Yerushalayim, before Tzidkiyahu broke his oath and rebelled.


End of an Era

On the 25th Adar, 3364, Nevuchadnetzar died and was buried, and on the 26th, his son and successor E'vil Merodach, removed his bones from his grave and dragged them round the city, to demonstrate the abolition of his wicked decrees. And on the twenty-seventh, he (E'vil Merodach) freed Yehoyachin from jail (thirty-seven years after his arrival in Bavel) and fed him at his table. Tzidkiyahu too, was set free (twenty-six years after his incarceration), but he died very shortly afterwards.

* * *

Tish'ah Be'Av Supplement

This section is sponsored
in honour of the birthday of
Rephael Yehuda ben R' Binyomin Mordechai n"y


(Adapted from Yirmiyahu, Chapter 37/38)

During the Babylonians' final siege of Yerushalayim, the besieging army retreated, because they heard that the Egyptians were on their way to assist the Jews. This was in fact true. An Egyptian army was indeed on its way to attack them. The men of Yerushalayim, who believed that the siege had been lifted, were elated. But Yirmiyahu warned them that the respite would be short-lived and that the Babylonians would soon return. He informed them that even if they would succeed in defeating them, they (the Babylonians) for their part, would succeed in setting fire to the city.

As Yirmiyahu had predicted, the Egyptian army never arrived, and after a brief respite, the Babylonains returned. The Medrash relates how G-d performed a miracle, and as the ships transported the Egyptian army across the Yam-Suf, they saw bones floating on the surface, reminding them of the drowning of their ancestors at the hand of the very people they were on their way to save. So they turned back.


It was during that brief respite, that Yirmiyahu attempted to leave Yerushalayim to attend to personal matters (whilst the siege was in progress, he had Davened incessantly that Yerushalayim not fall into the hands of the Babylonians). Knowing that he was under surveillance, he tried to hide among the crowd of people that was streaming through the city gates. However, as he reached the gate of Binyamin, the guard recognized him and arrested him. He charged him with attempting to surrender to the Babylonians, and led him before the leaders of the city, who beat him and placed him in jail (a private house that they had converted into a prison). Once there, he was immediately moved to 'the Pit', the innermost section of the prison, where the conditions were particularly severe.

After Yirmiyahu had spent a long time in 'the Pit', Tzidkiyahu ha'Melech secretly sent for him and asked him whether he had received word from G-d. Indeed he had, he replied, and he informed him that he (Tzidkiyahu) would be handed over to the King of Bavel. He berated the King for his role in having him jailed, in spite of his having done nothing to deserve a jail-sentence, and requested that he be moved from his current prison, where the harsh conditions would cause his death. Tzidkiyahu responded by having him transferred to a regular jail known as 'Chatzar ha'Matarah', where the conditions were better. He also arranged for him to receive a loaf of bread each day fresh from the baker's market, an arrangement that continued until no more bread was available in the whole of Yerushalayim.


Even from jail, Yirmiyah continued to announce his prophesies to the people. He warned them that those who remained in the doomed city would die either by the sword, by famine or by pestilence, and that it was only those who surrendered to the Babylonians who would survive; and he told them once again, that Yerushalayim would fall into the hands of the Babylonians. The leaders demanded that the King order Yirmiyah's execution, describing him as a traitor who disheartened the soldiers and who weakened their resolve to fight. He was not interested in the wellbeing of Yerushalayim, they claimed, only in its destruction. Tzidkiyahu, powerless to stand up to these influential men, granted them permission to do with Yirmiyahu as they saw fit. Without more ado, they took Yirmiyahu and by means of ropes, they lowered him into a deep pit that was situated in the Chatzar ha'Matarah, a pit that contained not water, but mud, into which the Tzadik slowly began to sink.


Meanwhile, Eved Melech (alias Baruch ben Neri'ah, Yirmiyahu's disciple and successor) Kushi (with reference to Tzidkiyahu ha'Melech, who 'was as unique in his righteousness as a Kushi is unique in the colour of his skin'), a servant in the royal palace, got wind of what was happening to the Navi. He immediately approached Tzidkiyahu and pleaded with him to do something about the Tzadik's situation, He was destined to starve to death anyway (seeing as there was no bread available in the entire city), he pointed out, and these evil men were merely attempting to hasten his death.

The King responded by ordering him to take thirty men to help him rescue Yirmiyahu ha'Navi from the pit. This they did with the help of ropes, which they used initially to lower down to him worn out clothes, which he was to place under his armpits, to bear the brunt of the ropes which they then lowered to him to pull him to safety.

Yirmiyah remained imprisoned in the Chatzar ha'Matarah until the day Yerushalayim was captured.

* * *


(Adapted from the Torah Temimah)

"And there is no-one to assist her" (1:7).

Like people say - 'When the ox falls, the Shochtim are waiting'. 'When the ox falls, sharpen the knife!'


"Yerushalayim was guilty of sinning" (1:8).

And the nations of the world aren't guilty of sinning? It's just that, even when they are, nothing happens; but when Yisrael sin, they are made to pay for their sins!"


"All those who honoured her before, now treated her with disdain" (1:8).

When the enemy entered the Heichal, they saw the two Keruvim (the Cherubs) locked in an embrace. They took them to the market-place and said 'What, Yisrael whose blessing is a blessing and whose curse is a curse, indulge in such pastimes?' Immediately, they looked down on them with utter contempt.


"Her Tum'ah is on her hem" (1:9).

A certain Tzedoki said to R. Chanina 'Now you are all Tamei (and the Shechinah will no longer rest with you)'. 'Go and see', R. Chanina replied, 'what is written (in Acharei-Mos) "I am Hashem, who dwells with them even when they are Tamei" '.


"The enemy stretched out their hands against all its most precious objects" (12:10).

When the enemy entered the Heichal, says the Medrash, all the other nations went for the silver and gold that was stored in that area. But not Amon and Mo'av, who turned to the Seifer-Torah, which forbids an Amoni and a Mo'ovi to marry into the Jewish nation. So they took it and burned it.


"All its people are moaning, they seek bread" (1:11).

With regard to the destruction of the first Beis-Hamikdash, the Navi Yirmiyahu writes "On the ninth of the month the famine in the city became critical, and there was no bread for the people of the land" implying that bread was available for the B'nei Yehudah. But at the time of the destruction of the second Beis-Hamikdash, the Pasuk records that 'All its people were seeking bread".


"See Hashem that I have become a glutton" (ibid.).

The Medrash however, translates it as despicable, and it cites a case of two prostitutes who entered into a quarrel. To insult her friend, one of them told the other that her face resembled that of a woman from Yehudah. When not long afterwards, they made up, the latter informed the former that she was willing to forgive her for whatever she had done, except for the greatest insult of all - that she had embarrassed her by comparing her face to that of a Judean woman.

* * *


(Adapted from Seider Kinos ha'Mevu'oros)

The Son of Do'eg ben Yosef

When Do'eg ben Yosef died, he left behind a son, whose mother would weigh him annually, and give his weight in gold as a gift to the Beis-Hamikdash Treasury.

When the noose tightened around Yerushalayim, and the famine finally became unbearable, she slaughtered him and ate him (Eichah 2:20).


When a Starving Man Smells Roasting Meat

When the enemy roasted meat on the grass in the open field outside the walls of Yerushalayim, and the pungent smell entered the nostrils of the people inside who were swollen from starvation, it was more than they could bear. Their stomachs simply split open and they died a horrible death, more disgusting even than those who were killed by the sword (4:9).


Buying their Own Produce

It happened once that the enemy robbed the people of their bread, their wine, their oil and their water. Later they returned and sold it back to them. That was when they wailed "Our water we drank for payment; our wood came to us for a price" (5:4).


Taking the Place of Oxen

The Babylonians placed heavy millstones on the shoulders of the young men to tire them out, because they frequented brothels.

Others explain that they tied the beam around their neck in place of oxen and forced them to grind the corn.


Avraham Laments

The Medrash relates how at the time of the Churban, Avraham appeared before Hashem weeping, tearing out the hair of his beard and on his head, and beating himself on his face, tearing his garments and with ashes on his head. He proceeded to walk in the Beis-Hamikdash and began to lament and so did Yitzchak, and so did Ya'akov.


Better Life than Death

Even though the survivors saw the corpses lying un-buried in the streets, says Rashi in Yirmiyah, they preferred to die rather than continue to live the miserable sort of life that they currently were.

* * *

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