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JULY 25-26, 2003 26 TAMUZ 5763

Rosh Hodesh Ab will be celebrated on Wednesday, July 30. No meat meals are permitted (except for Shabbat) from Wednesday night, July 30 until after Tish'ah B'Ab, Friday August 8.

Pop Quiz: How many cities were set aside for the tribe of Levi?


When the author of the Sefat Emet was a young boy, he stayed up all night to learn Torah, and by the time the morning prayers came, he had dozed for a few minutes and he came a little late to the minyan. His grandfather, who was a great Rebbe and was in charge of bringing him up, began to rebuke him for being late to shul. He said to him, "If this is your attitude now, what will happen when you get on in life; if you want to succeed you can't be lazy, etc."

The young grandson took the rebuke with his head lowered to the ground and didn't try to defend himself. After the grandfather left, the boy's study partner, who had learned with him all night, exclaimed, "Why didn't you defend yourself and tell him that you were up all night and that's why you were late?" The youngster, who succeeded his grandfather and became a big Rebbe himself later on in life, told his friend, "I learned this from the perashah of Matot. When Moshe rebuked the tribes of Gad and Reuben for wanting to inherit the land on the east of the Jordan, he suspected them of wanting to shirk their responsibilities and of not wanting to fight with the rest of the Jewish people. After Moshe finished his speech they answered that they were not intending to abandon the Jewish people, but were planning to fight with their brothers. We see from here that they did not interrupt Moshe while he was rebuking them because when someone points out our faults, especially someone who cares for us, we should listen rather than object and defend ourselves. This way even if we were right this time, we would have learned something for the future."

This is true today as much as back then. Whenever our loved ones or our friends say anything to us, we become defensive and sometimes even take the offense against them. We should realize that every rebuke or criticism can be helpful in our development if we open our minds and hearts and listen! Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"If a man takes a vow to G-d...he shall not desecrate his word" (Bemidbar 30:3)

Our perashah begins with a strong statement regarding keeping our word. When you make a vow or an oath, you must keep your word. Our Sages teach us that this is the case even if a person did not make a formal vow; a person's word must be kept. In today's world, where talk is cheap, our Torah teaches us the correct way. You are only as good as your word.

The verse quoted above has another profound context. The Talmud tells us that before a soul comes into this world, it takes an oath and swears to follow the path of Torah in the world in which it will live, and to become a sadik. With this we shed light on the verse, "If a man takes an oath to G-d," meaning the oath that the person took before birth. He shall not desecrate his word, according to all that his mouth uttered (before he was born) shall he do.

In the times we live in today, it is comforting for us to know that we already chose our path before we came. Now it's only a matter of keeping our word. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


And they traveled from Elim and they encamped by Yam Suf" (Bemidbar 33:10)

Elim hints to the word alimut, which means violence. Yam Suf hints to the word sof, the end. They traveled from the trait of violence. How? By coming to the trait of looking at the end of a person.

Violence induces both actions and words. There is the physical violence of hitting or pushing someone, and there is the verbal violence of shouting at someone or putting him down. Any form of violence not in self-defense is against the principles of the Torah. What is the main cause of violence? Frustration and anger! When you become frustrated or angry, you are likely to lash out at someone. When you remember your true purpose in this world, most things that get other people angry will not affect you very strongly. Also, the more you appreciate life and the more joyous you feel, the less angry you will become. By remembering the end of each person, you will gain a greater appreciation for life. You will value your time and utilize every opportunity for growth. This awareness will keep you far away from any form of violence. (Growth through Torah)


Question: Why do we use two loaves of bread on Shabbat?

Answer: 1) In the desert, the People of Israel received a double portion of manna on Fridays. The two loaves of hallah commemorate this. 2) The Torah commands us regarding Shabbat in two ways: shamor (observe) and zachor (remember). The two loaves commemorate this. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"He must dwell in his city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol" (Bemidbar 35:28)

When B'nei Yisrael conquered the land of Israel, six cities were designated as cities of refuge. It was to one of these cities that a person who killed accidentally would flee to avoid retribution from the victim's family. The accidental killer was required to remain in the city until the death of the Kohen Gadol, after which he was able to leave the city safely.

It would follow that the residents of these cities would be anxious for the Kohen Gadol to die so that they would be able to return to their homes without fear of retribution. The Mishnah (Makot 2:6) teaches that, for this reason, the mothers of the Kohanim Gedolim used to supply the residents of the cities of refuge with food and clothing so that the residents would not pray that the Kohen Gadol should die.

The commentators ask: Why would the fact that they are receiving food and clothing stop the residents from praying for the Kohen Gadol's death? They would surely much rather go back home than stay in the city of refuge and receive the food and clothing! One answer given is that they would not actually stop praying completely, but they wouldn't pray with as much fervor as before. This reduction in their intensity could prevent their prayers from being answered.

This shows the power of prayer with concentration. Even though they would have been praying for a horrible thing to happen - the death of the Kohen Gadol - there was still a concern that their prayer would be answered if their prayers were strong enough. If only we would think about what we are saying and give it our full attention, there is no limit to the blessings Hashem would shower upon us.

Question: How much concentration goes into your daily prayers? Do you understand the words you are saying, or are you merely reciting the words?


This Week's Haftarah: Yirmiyahu 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2

This week's haftarah is the second of the series of three haftarot that are read during the three weeks between the fasts of Shib'ah Asar B'Tamuz and Tish'ah B'ab.

These haftarot speak of Hashem's rebuke and warning of punishment for the nation's sins, a theme which is clearly pertinent during the Three Weeks. In this haftarah, the prophet Yirmiyahu rebukes the people for abandoning Hashem and the Torah, and following other gods. He warns them that if they do not correct their ways, Hashem will bring destruction and exile.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Forty-eight.

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