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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 49:14-51:3

AUGUST 17-18, 2012 30 AB 5772

Rosh Hodesh Elul will be celebrated on Shabbat & Sunday, August 18 & 19.


"The blessing that you listen to the commandments of Hashem." (Debarim 11:27)

When the Torah speaks about rewarding us, the Torah merely says "that you listen." However, by the curses, the Torah adds to the words, "If you don't listen," also, "and you stray from the path." Why is this? Because we have a rule: Good thoughts to do a misvah, Hashem counts these thoughts as if the misvah was done. Therefore, when the Torah mentions the blessings we get for the observance of misvot, all we need is to want and desire to do the misvah and it's like it's done. However, when it comes to sins, Hashem doesn't count the bad thoughts to sin as sins. Therefore, the Torah adds, "And you stray from the path," which means actual actions of sin, in order to get a curse.

Because of this explanation, the Maggid of Mezrich (quoted by Hameir) resolves an apparent contradiction in halachah. The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Hayim 104:6) states that if one is in the middle of the Amidah, that person should not answer Kaddish, one should only listen to what the Hazan is saying and it counts like he answered. However, there is a strong question on this. If thoughts are not like the spoken word, what does it help to listen to Kaddish if the thoughts don't count like words? And if listening and thinking are like spoken words, granted it helps as far as answering Kaddish, but it's like talking in the middle of the Amidah which is forbidden!

The answer is beautiful. Hashem counts a good thought as a deed for doing a misvah. Therefore, for the misvah of answering Kaddish the thought counts as an action and it's like answering. But, for a sin Hashem doesn't count the thought like a deed. Talking in the middle of the Amidah is a sin. Therefore, the thought of answering does not count like a deed and it's not considered like he spoke in the middle of the Amidah.

From this little discussion we see how kind Hashem is to us. May He always bring us blessings and hold back the curses. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah

"[If your Hebrew slave] says to you, 'I shall not go out from you' because he loves you and your house because he fares well with you" (Debarim 15:16)

The Gemara teaches that the owner of a Hebrew slave must treat him and view him as an equal in every respect, and he sometimes even has to treat him as a superior! However, the Gemara also teaches that if two Jews are in dire need of water, and only one of them has a jug of water, his own life takes precedence, and he is not obligated to give the water to the other person. Why is this case different than the case of the slave who must be treated at least as an equal, if not better?

A poor man and a rich man can live in harmony with one another, even though the poor man can't satisfy his physical needs like the rich man. Still yet, he does not feel inferior in any way to his friend as a human being. The slave, on the other hand, is always reminded of his bitter status as a mere servant of another man. Therefore the Torah goes out of its way to demand special treatment for him.

There is a very important lesson to be learned from this. We must understand that different people have different sensitivities. We must recognize each person's uniqueness, and treat him in a way that we will not hurt his feelings or make him self-conscious of his station in life. Let's take it upon ourselves now, as we approach the selihot season, to treat our fellow man with the proper respect, and to make amends with those to whom we may have shown disservice to in the past. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka


"See, I present before you today, a blessing and a curse." (Debarim 11:26)

The Ben Ish Hai, offers a practical exposition of this pasuk which is especially relevant to those who are experiencing what they interpret as berachah or kelalah. Life has its challenges - both good and bad. How does one address the issues? How does one confront the challenges? The Ben Ish Hai comments that the answer is in the pasuk: Hayom, "Today." It is all about today. One must acknowledge and absorb that all we really have before us is "today." Do not worry about the future. Do not concern yourself with: What if? What will be? Address the "here" and "now." All we really have is the hayom, "today," which is before us.

This perspective on life is vital. At times, when a person is the recipient of Hashem's beneficence, blessed with wealth, health, mazal and berachah, the yeser hara has a field day. It convinces him that it is all here to stay; he has got it made. He is revered, admired, envied and sought out. The yeser hara wants all of this good fortune to go to his head, so that it can convince him to act foolishly, arrogantly, contemptuously, and to rebel against the Almighty: Prosperity brings about dissolution. People are prone to indulge themselves, satisfying all of their lusts, when they have the wherewithal to carry out their fantasies. This is not a hypothesis. It is a lamentable reality. How does one prevent himself from falling into the challenges that accompany "good fortune"?

Hayom, "Today." Get it through your mind that one is assured only of today. Tomorrow, it might be all gone, or even worse, the person might be gone. How many of the high and mighty fell prey to the economic crisis that reverberates until this very day? Upon encountering the obstacles surreptitiously laid before us by the yeser hara, we should focus on hayom, remembering that we must live wisely today, because we are not assured of a tomorrow.

Likewise, when one is confronted with life's vicissitudes, the pain and misery of illness, financial crisis, issues with children or even parents, one should apply the word hayom as a source of encouragement. Why worry about tomorrow when one knows not what will be today? In the Talmud Sanhedrin 100b, Hazal say, "Do not be distressed by tomorrow's troubles, for you do not know what will occur today. Perhaps by tomorrow one will not be alive, and it turns out he was grieving over a world that was not his." He worried about tomorrow's troubles, when, in fact, he never lived to see that day. It is all about acknowledging hayom. Hashem tells us that Re'eh, "See, I present before you, hayom, today." That is all you have to concern yourself with - today. This concept will serve as a beacon of light to illuminate your lives, both in times of blessing and during periods of curse.

Perhaps we must focus on another word of this pasuk, Anochi, "I," Hashem, as the underlying source of reassurance and inspiration.

In the course of life, one invariably experiences berachah and kelalah. The doses and frequencies vary, but no one escapes kelalah, and everyone, in one way or another, encounters berachah. We often forget the Source of these Heavenly communiqués. Everything has its purpose. Everything has its reason. They all come to us from Anochi - I/Hashem. If we remember the Source of the berachah, it is much easier to deal with the challenges it engenders. When we acknowledge that the kelalah is Hashem's way of sending us a message, it becomes much more palatable. Re'eh Anochi - remember the Source! (Peninim on the Torah)


The laws of kosher food are presented to the Jewish people by Moshe Rabenu in his final days of leadership to highlight their importance to the holy status of our people. Throughout the generations Jews have observed these complex laws to insure that all that they ingest is in accordance with the commandments of our Torah.

In today's world of mass produced packaged foodstuffs and processed products that require preservatives and extra ingredients to extend their shelf life, supervisory agencies have become the buzz with the kosher consumer. The question is: with so many competing organizations with such a wide range of standards, who do you trust before partaking of a product? Restaurants also pose the problem as to who is reliable and who is not trustworthy. Many places "look" kosher, while others claim to be and some present an assortment of customers who look observant. Who do you trust?

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was one of the giants of European Jewry 150 years ago. One time he entered a shul in a town where he was not known. A man in the shul approached him and revealed that he was having guests and requested that Rav Yisrael do the shehitah - the complex ritual slaughtering required to make the chickens he wanted to serve kosher. The Rabbi asked that the would-be host wait until the next day before he would respond.

The next day - before the man could ask for his decision - Rav Yisrael asked the man: "Could you lend me 50,000 rubles?"

"50,000 rubles," the man screeched in response. "I hardly know you. How do I know I could trust you for such a large loan?"

"You don't know me? You seem to know me well enough to trust my skill at slaughtering your chickens. You, therefore, certainly should trust me with your money", was the wise man's quick rebuttal.

The nature of people is to accept doubt and proceed into dangerous territory when the matter in question is in the realm of the spiritual. On the other hand, most people are very cautious when faced with a potential loss of material capital. This is really the reverse of how we should be. The Kabbalah teaches that all unkosher foods that are ingested besides being forbidden attach an impure spirit to the one who ingested the unkosher item. This harmful consequence takes place whether the food is eaten intentionally or in error, knowingly or not. Every person has a responsibility to himself or herself to guard the purity of the holy soul Hashem has implanted within the body. Sometimes the protection of oneself is just a matter of "Whom do you trust?" (Rabbi R. Beyda)


In the Sixties, impatient youth adopted the slogan, "We want the world and we want it now!" Even today, some people go through life grabbing with gusto. They want instant gratification and give little consideration to decisions, whether major or minor. They feel that if they don't grab, they will miss out on life's great opportunities. Impulse buying becomes a way of life not only for trinkets, gadgets, and snacks, but also for major life decisions such as a choice of jobs, schools, friends - even husband or wife.

The opposite of a "now" person is a "never" person. Business deals, as well as social and spiritual choices, do require consideration, but they also cannot be put off forever. Insecurity leads to indecision. Bottom line: fear of making an occasional bad choice causes the "never" person to lose out on all the right things. When a decision has to be made, don't grab. But don't freeze, either. Think! Weigh the possibilities, consider the future, and make an enthusiastic decision. It may only take a minute, but it will raise your lifetime batting average to superstar levels. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)


Every day, the gadol hador, preeminent leader of Torah Jewry in Pre-World War II Europe, Horav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski, zt"l, would walk home after his shiur, lecture, accompanied by his students. One day, while walking home, a teenager approached Rav Chaim Ozer. In a stammering voice, he asked directions to an address that was some distance away from where they were at that time. Surprisingly, the gadol hador accompanied the young man. It was a cold, frigid day with a howling wind blowing in their faces, but if Rav Chaim Ozer was walking, the students accompanied him.

Finally, they reached the destination, and now they had to turn around and walk to Rav Chaim Ozer's home. The students began to think to themselves with faint bitterness. Rav Chaim Ozer was not a young man, and every minute of his time was valuable. Why did he waste forty-five minutes walking in the bitter cold, when he could easily have given the boy directions? What is the worst that would have happened? He would have had to ask someone else. Nu. What is so bad about that? Finally, one of the older students conveyed what was bothering them to Rav Chaim Ozer.

The Rav looked at his students and explained the following: "You must have noticed that the boy had a serious stuttering problem. He has difficulty speaking, and he was clearly embarrassed to ask the one question that he did ask. Had I simply given him directions to the street that he sought, he would have been forced to stop a number of times to ask again to confirm the directions. This would mean more contact with people, more stuttering, more humiliation. I would not allow a young Jewish child to be so humiliated. Not if I could help him. This is why I walked him to the house that he sought" The venerable gadol hador taught his students a most valuable lesson: the importance of being sensitive to the needs of our Jewish brethren. (Peninim on the Torah)

* * * * *

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

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