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August 7, 1999 25 Ab 5759

Rosh Hodesh Elul will be celebrated on Thursday & Friday, August 12-13.

Pop Quiz: What 3 crops are specifically listed in the requirement for ma'aser?

by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"Let us go and worship the gods of others that you did not know, you nor your forefathers" (Debarim 13:7)

The Torah tells us about a fellow Jew who is trying to lure us away from Hashem. The Torah warns us not to listen to him. However, the words that this instigator uses teaches us a profound lesson. "Let us serve gods that your fathers never knew," is a hint for us to beware of the old line that "times have changed." The instigator says that nowadays there have been new revelations, things that your fathers, (our Sages), never knew about. You, he says, believe in what you believe only because of what you learned from your fathers. However, he continues, if your fathers knew what we know today they would agree with what I am saying! He might even embellish his arguments with quotations from the Torah itself. He argues that the Sages simply did not know what we know today. However, the loyal Jew knows how to answer and totally reverse the arguments of the antagonist. He answers that the new revelations merely support our strongly held beliefs in Hashem and the Sages. All of the revelations of science only cause us to say, "How wondrous are your deeds, Hashem."

My friends, don't be fooled by that same old line that they have been trying to use since the times of Moshe. As King Solomon said, "There is nothing new under the sun." It is true that science had made tremendous progress recently in many fields. That's fine! Hashem decided to reveal to them their knowledge. What should we do with this new treasure of knowledge? Simple, just bring it all to the true Torah Sages of today and seek their guidance. They are the true messengers of Hashem that we should turn to, in order to know how to proceed. Shabbat Shalom.

By Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"If your brother entices you saying, 'Let us go and serve gods which you have not known." (Debarim 15:7)

The Torah seems to emphasize that these other gods which are forbidden are not known to us. What is the difference or relevance whether the other gods are known or not?

The Hatam Sofer points out something which is especially important in our days. There are always people who will propose ideologies which are considered revolutionary. Each one will make a claim that his way is unique, his way is novel and his way will be the answer to all of man's problems. Even though others tried it and failed, they will say that this is guaranteed success. The Torah predicted this from way back and showed how all these "new gods" are all false, just like the old ones. Just like we see new claims to dieting and other fads which are said to be easy and quick, and yet we know it's impossible to do anything without effort, so too when it comes to Torah. None of the "isms", the non-Torah ideologies have worked in the past and none will work in the future. There is only the true Torah way of life, which involves commitment, effort and perseverance, but ultimately brings with it success, happiness and blessing! Shabbat Shalom.


"That you shall give the blessing on Har Gerizim and the curse on Har Ebal" (Debarim 11:29)

Why was it necessary to confer blessing and curse on two different mountains? Would it not have been just as effective to have used a single mountain for demonstrating both blessing and curse? This same question arises in Parashat Ki Tabo, when the Leviim were told to face Har Gerizim for blessing and to face Har Ebal when they articulated curse. Rav Tzvi Hirsch Mivilna suggests that Hashem teaches us a profound lesson with this distinction between blessing and curse. This separation is made in order to emphasize that the source of blessing must always be distinguished from the source of curse and evil. Evil and curse cannot directly produce blessing. To expose oneself to evil and curse - in the dubious hopes that he will succeed in acquiring his portion in Olam Haba by sanctifying Hashem's Name - is wrong. One who does this risks self-destruction. One should distance himself as far as possible from any encounter with these forces.

This is consistent with the words of the Ramban in Sefer Shemot. The Midrash explains that the Yam Suf split in deference to the coffin of Yosef Hasaddik. When Klal Yisrael came to the sea, Moshe "implored" the sea to "run away" in honor of the "one who ran away." This refers to Yosef who, when tempted by Potifar's wife, ran out of the house, leaving behind his garment that she had grabbed.

What was so exemplary about Yosef's actions that they contributed to such an auspicious reward? The Ramban explains that had Yosef remained with the gentile seductress, he would have risked a confrontation with the yeser hara, evil inclination. This is not the correct manner in which to serve Hashem. One does not engage the yeser hara head on! The proper way to serve Hashem is to "run away" and distance oneself as much as possible from the yeser hara. The ability to restrain oneself totally from an encounter with the evil inclination is a triumph in its own right.

A confrontation with the yeser hara is, for the most part, a "no win" situation. In the course of time, any interaction with the yeser hara leaves a harmful residue on the individual's spiritual character. (Peninim on the Torah)


"You shall surely give to him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for in return for this matter, G-d will bless you" (Debarim 15:10)

The words "and let your heart not feel bad when you give to him" appear unnecessary. It could have just said, "Give to him, for in return for this matter G-d will bless you."

The wheel of fortune once took a turn on an affluent person. Poverty and illness struck him and his family. When he visited a wealthy man in the community and poured out his bitter heart, the wealthy man was greatly moved by his situation and gave him a generous contribution. After the poor man left his home, the wealthy man ran after him, and gave him an additional amount. In amazement, the unfortunate person asked, "You have just given me your generous support, why are you now giving me another donation?"

The wealthy man responded, "One should give sedakah happily and benevolently. After all, the money a person gives is not his own, but something which Hashem entrusted with him. The first time I helped you because your plight affected me emotionally and I felt very bad for you. Thus, in reality the sedakah was not entirely for the sake of the misvah, but to alleviate my pain. Now I am giving you a second gift simply for the misvah of giving sedakah."

The Torah is commending this healthy approach by declaring, "Your giving should not be because of pangs in your heart aroused by the poor man's story. If this is what provoked your giving, then 'naton titen' - give again - and indeed the second gift will be purely for the sake of the misvah and not because your heart grieved. For this exalted way of giving charity, Hashem will bless you in all your work." (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop quiz: Grain, wine and oil.

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