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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 54:11-55:5

AUGUST 22-23, 2014 27 AB 5774


"Any [fish] that has fins and scales you may eat." (Debarim 14:9)

The Gemara (Kidushin 29a) teaches us that a father is obligated to teach his son many things. Among them is to teach him Torah and one opinion says he must teach him to swim. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt"l questions why swimming? If we are afraid that he might drown, there is also the possibility that he might be hurt on dry land by thieves and murderers, so why don't we also teach him the art of self-defense and how to use a sword? If we want the boy to be in good physical shape, why choose only swimming? How about other forms of exercise?

Rav Elyashiv explains that if a tree falls into the river, it will float and not sink to the depths of the river. However, we cannot say that the log can swim. Swimming means that the swimmer could go in any direction he pleases, but the log could only go in the direction of the current. The definition of a swimmer is that he can swim against the current and the waves. The destiny of a Jew is that he will be swimming on the water amongst the gentile nations. He cannot allow himself to rely on the waves to travel because then he will end up in a place that they want him to be. The Jew must be able to say that he wishes to go to the place he wants to go and his own feet will take him there.

This is what the Gemara means that the father must teach the son to swim against the current and not to be afraid of the noise of the mighty rushing waters. He should learn how to control his situation.

The Midrash compares us to fish, "and may they reproduce abundantly like fish within the land" (Beresheet 48:18). The fish have two kosher signs, fins and scales. The fins are the sign of the ability to swim, to overcome the place and times of society. This is done by the father teaching his son Torah. The other kosher sign is the scales. The scales protect the fish like armor. This is the Torah and observance of misvot that protect and save him. 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


"I don't know if I can take this much longer," Elkanah complained. "It seems as if every time I try to attend a class, I have a conflicting appointment at work. If I plan to learn in the morning before I leave the synagogue, a buyer will call and request an early-morning appointment. If I plan to get home early and attend an evening class, someone will undoubtedly request a late-day or evening meeting, and I'm forced to cancel my study plans."

"You probably never considered why Hashem gave the Torah to His People on a mountain," Zevulun replied.

"I certainly did!" Elkanah objected. "Hashem chose Mount Sinai, a low mountain, to teach us that in order to learn His Holy Book, we must first acquire the trait of humility."

"If that is the only reason," his friend answered softly, "then He should have given the Torah on a plain or even in a valley. Hashem wanted to teach that growth in spirituality is not a smooth road. We must expect difficulties; there will always be mountains in the way."

The modern world we live in is one of convenience. We yearn for things to be instant and simple. We have easy-open cans, cruise-control driving, and wireless voice-controlled dialing. Marketing specialists always tout the simplicity and ease-of-use of their clients' products. They know all too well that everyone wants things to be uncomplicated and undemanding.

Yet people who train for sports will tell you that pushing beyond the limits of our capabilities is what raises the bar; what was difficult in the past becomes easier to achieve in the future. That is the way Hashem has planned our spiritual growth, as well. We must expect hurdles, and we must leap over them. There are no smooth roads and no easy rides over the path to success. Be prepared for difficulties, and you will be more suited to overcome them. (One Minute With Yourself - Rabbi Raymond Beyda)

* * * * *

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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