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MAY 21-22, 2004 2 SIVAN 5764

Pop Quiz: At what age were the Levi'im trained to serve in the bet Hamikdash?


The Talmud relates a fascinating episode. When Moshe went up to the heavens to receive the Torah, the heavenly angels didn't want to let the Torah go down to earth. Moshe was afraid to tackle the angels but Hashem told him to answer them. Moshe then told the angels, "Why do you want the Torah? Did you go out of Egypt? Do you have parents to honor? Do you steal, murder, etc.?" At that point they agreed with Moshe and let the Torah come down to the Jewish people and even gave Moshe "gifts." The question is obvious. What was the angels' point and how did Moshe convince them otherwise?

The Rabbis tell us that of course the angels knew they could not fulfill the Torah. However, they wanted to be the ones to decide the laws of the Torah. If ever there is a controversy or a question, the Heavenly Academy should be the decider. Moshe told them, you have to be involved and obligated in order to decide the laws of the Torah. The Torah is not just a subject to voice our opinions on; it is a way of life. If we live a life of Torah and study thoroughly, we have the ability to expound upon it and indeed even be one of the deciders of the Torah. All of our great scholars were indeed permeated with Torah through and through and were able to decide the halachah. It's amazing that although no one would ever contradict a brain surgeon as to his field of expertise, many people venture an opinion in halachah without even studying the subject. Let us recommit ourselves this Shabuot holiday to study, to learn, to understand and indeed to live a life of Torah. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"Hashem spoke to Moshe in the Wilderness of Sinai" (Bemidbar 1:1)

Our Sages teach us that the perashah of Bemidbar is always read on the Shabbat before Shabuot. One reason is that the holiday of Shabuot is a celebration of the great event of Hashem giving the Torah to Israel. In order for a person to be worthy and able to receive the Torah one must have the attribute of humility. So we read "Bamidbar," which means "the wilderness," just prior to receiving the Torah to teach us the concept that a person cannot accept and understand the Torah unless the person makes himself into a wilderness. He should feel humble like the wilderness which is barren. As a matter of fact, the pure study of Torah for the sake of Heaven produces in a man the characteristic of humility, as it says in the beginning of the last chapter of Pirkei Abot "umalbashto anavah, the Torah clothes the scholar with humility."

I would like to relate a story told by R' Mordechai Kaminetzky about R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l. R' Auerbach was one of Israel's leading halachic authorities. His genius was clearly equaled by his great humility. Once R' Auerbach's nephew wrote his uncle a letter asking him a number of halachic questions. The Rabbi responded to each of the questions and then closed his response with these words: "It is very not nice of you to write all these titles to me, especially on the envelope." The nephew later asked his uncle to explain why it was "very not nice." The Rabbi explained, "Do you think it matters or interests the mailman if I am a Rav or a Gaon or any other exaggerations you wrote? The poor man sweats in the summer, gets drenched in the winter, and if that isn't enough, you have to complicate his job by making him struggle with all these acronyms and fancy titles to decipher whom the letter is for. It is inexcusable robbery of someone's time. It is strictly forbidden to write all of this on the envelope. All that should be written is the name, period."

Who would ever have thought of the pain of the mailman? Only one who is so humble that he thinks not of himself but only of others. How did R' Auerbach acquire such a sensitivity? From the pure study of Torah, that clothed him with humility. On this holiday of Shabuot, may we all receive anew our holy Torah with a feeling of humility and love of Hashem. Shabbat Shalom. Tizku Leshanim Rabot. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"And with you shall be one man from each tribe, each man should be the head of his family" (Bemidbar 1:4)

A simple and boorish person who came from distinguished lineage was arguing with a wise scholar who came from a very plain family. The coarse ignoramus boasted about his illustrious ancestors. "I am a scion of great people. Your ancestors are nothing compared to mine," he arrogantly said. The scholar wanted to put him in his place and said to him, "True, you come from a long line of great people. But unfortunately the line ends with you. My family tree begins with me."

This, said Rabbi Moshe Chaifetz, author of Melechet Machshevet, is the idea of our verse. Each man should be the head of his family's lineage. He should be an elevated person in his own right and his descendants should be proud to consider him their ancestor. Rather than boasting about one's prominent lineage, one should focus on making oneself into an elevated person. (Growth through Torah)


Question: What is the connection of Psalm 111, Hallelukah Odeh Hashem Bechol Lebab (which is recited in Minhah of Shabbat) to Shabbat?

Answer: This Psalm contains the phrase, "He made a remembrance of His wonders." This refers, according to Rashi, to Shabbat and holidays, in which we remember our sojourn in Egypt. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Moshe counted [the Levi'im] according to the word of Hashem as he was commanded." (Bemidbar 3:16)

When Moshe was commanded to count the tribe of Levi, he was hesitant, because he did not feel it was proper for him to go into their tents to count their children. Hashem responded that he should stand by the door of each tent, and a voice would come out telling him how many were in the tent. If Moshe would be relying on Hashem to reveal to him the number of people in each tent, why did he need to go to each tent? Why didn't Hashem just tell him how many Levi'im there were?

Every person has a mission to serve Hashem to the best of his ability. Sometimes certain misvot may seem too difficult to fulfill. Hashem is teaching that we only need to do as much as we are capable of doing, and then Hashem will help us to finish the job. We should never refrain from attempting to fulfill a misvah claiming that's too difficult. If we make a sincere effort, we will find that we are able to achieve far more than we ever dreamed possible.

Question: Do you find that once you start doing a misvah, it gets easier as you go along? Is there a misvah that you've been hesitant about because you felt it might be too hard to achieve?


This Week's Haftarah: Hoshea 2:1-22.

This haftarah begins with the prophet Hoshea saying that the nation of Israel shall be as plentiful as the sand of the sea. This follows the theme of our perashah which enumerates the numbers of each tribe of B'nei Yisrael.

"How many Yosefs are there in the market place?" (Pesahim 68b)

The Gemara relates that on Shabuot Rabbi Yosef would make a festive meal and proclaim, "If not for this day on which we received the Torah, how many Yosefs are there in the market place?"

If not for Torah, all the Sages wold have been ordinary folk. Why specifically did Rabbi Yosef celebrate and not any other Sages of the Talmud?

On Shabuot, Moshe received the first set of tablets. When he came down with them from heaven on the seventeenth of Tamuz and witnessed the Jews worshipping the golden calf, he threw down the tablets and they were shattered to pieces. After beseeching Hashem to forgive the Jewish people, Moshe came down again from heaven on Yom Kippur with the second tablets. Superficially, one may wonder, "Since it was the second set that lasted, why isn't the period of the giving of the Torah celebrated on Yom Kippur instead of Shabuot?"

Since Shabuot is celebrated as the time of the giving of the first tablets, it can be derived that though they were broken they were also holy and precious. In fact, Rabbi Yosef says that both sets of tablets were holy and that they were placed together in the Ark. The Gemara warns about properly respecting an aged Torah scholar who has forgotten his learning, noting by way of analogy that the complete tablets and the broken tablets were placed together in the Ark.

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Yosef once became very ill and forgot his learning, which was a severe blow to his self-image. Therefore, it was Rabbi Yosef who said, "Were it not for this day (Shabuot), when the first tablets were given and later broken (from which it can be derived that even a Sage who has forgotten his Torah study still deserves honor), in my current condition I would be like one of the many Yosefs who are in the market place. Thus, I particularly have good reason to celebrate. (Vedibarta Bam)


Why is it customary to eat a dairy meal on Shabuot?

1) In Shir Hashirim (4:11) King Shelomo writes that Hashem says to the Jewish people, "The sweetness [of Torah] drops from your lips; like honey and milk it lies under your tongue." Since the Torah is compared to milk, we eat a dairy meal on Shabuot, when the Torah was given.

Honey is made by the bee, which is a forbidden creature, and milk is a by-product of blood (see Berachot 6b). Thus, both milk and honey originate from a source which is tameh - contaminated - and after the product is developed it is tahor - halachically clean for human consumption.

Torah is compared to milk and honey because of its power to elevate and purify even one who has fallen into a state of spiritual contamination. Alternatively, the comparison of Torah to milk teaches that just as milk keeps best in earthenware and spoils quickly in silver or gold utensils, likewise Torah remains with the humble and despises the conceited and arrogant.

2) Moshe was born on the 7th of Adar. Three months later, his mother put him in a basket and placed him among the reeds at the bank of the river. Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, found him and he refused to drink the milk of any of the Egyptian women. Consequently, she was forced to hire Yochebed (Moshe's mother) to raise him. This incident took place on the 6th of Sivan, the day when years later the Torah was given (Sotah 12b). Since he was miraculously reunited with his mother on the 6th of Sivan through milk, a dairy meal is eaten of Shabuot.

3) The Hebrew word for milk is "halab" and it has the numerical value of 40. Eating a dairy meal recalls the 40 days Moshe was up in Heaven to receive the Torah.

4) On Shabuot, when the Torah was given, the Jews learned the laws of shehitah, slaughtering, and kashrut for the first time. Since the Torah was given on Shabbat they were unable to slaughter any animals on that day, and their vessels needed to be koshered. Any meat they may have had from before, even if slaughtered, was not usable because no one was a bar zevichah - a proper ritual slaughterer - when the animal was killed.

Thus, immediately after receiving the Torah, they did not have kosher meat or utensils available, and their only alternative was eating dairy.

5) A hint in the Torah for eating a dairy meal on Shabuot can be found in the pasuk "Bring your first fruits [Bikkurim] to the house of G-d; you shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk (Shemot 23:19). The festival of Shabuot is also known as the "festival of Bikkurim (Bemidbar 28:26), being the preferred time for bringing Bikkurim. Thus, the Torah reminds us that when we bring the Bikkurim on Shabuot, we should be very careful while cooking for yom tob not to mix any meat together with milk. (Vedibarta Bam)


"For wherever you go I will go" (Ruth 1:16)

According to halachah (Shulhan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 268:2) a prospective convert is informed of some severe and some easy Torah laws. Therefore, the Midrash Rabbah (2:22) says that Naomi told Ruth, "It is not the custom of daughters of Israel to go to the theaters," to which she responded, "For wherever you go I will go." Why did Naomi particularly select this halachah?

The Torah teaches the way of life for the Jew. It prescribes the conduct for the time before one is born till after one dies. Unfortunately, there are those who observe some of the traditions they find pleasant and enjoyable, but are not ready to commit themselves entirely to the ways of Torah. For instance, some will eat a lavish meal on Friday night, but not observe Shabbat according to halachah. Some will eat latkes on Hanukah and blintzes on Shabuot, but fail to light the menorah or otherwise fall short of accepting the Torah in its entirety. Some come to synagogue to hear the beautiful voice of the hazzan, but not to actually pray to Hashem or listen to the Torah reading.

Naomi, in preparing Ruth for her conversion, was conveying a basic principle about Judaism: Torah and misvot should not be viewed as a theatrical performance, and one should not accept only what is pleasant or intriguing. It is a way of life which at all times and under all circumstances demands full dedication.

Ruth, fully comprehending her mother-in-law's message, responded, "For wherever you go I will go." (Vedibarta Bam)

Answer to Pop Quiz: From 25 years old until 30 years old.

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