We read in this week's parashah that one who commits
unintentional manslaughter is exiled to a city of refuge until
the Kohen Gadol dies. The gemara says that the mother of the
Kohen Gadol used to send gifts to these people so that they would
not pray that the Kohen Gadol die.
And so what if they do pray--will their prayers have any
effect? The Talmud Bavli explains that the Kohen Gadol is in
danger because he is culpable for each accidental killing. Had
he prayed that no stumbling blocks come before the Jewish people,
perhaps this crime would not have taken place.
This answer demonstrates how great is the power of prayer,
writes R' Meir Bergman shlita. Although a person is responsible
for his deeds, another person's prayer can rescue him from
wrongdoing. Indeed, the Talmud Yerushalmi takes the power of
prayer even further, saying that the murderer's prayer is a
threat to the Kohen Gadol because even a wicked person's prayer
is answered, even when he prays for something which is
How can this be? R' Bergman explains (based on a comment of
Maharsha to Kiddushin 29b) that it is one of the laws of nature
that prayer is answered. No special Divine intervention is
required each time a prayer is uttered; G-d has already built a
rule into the laws of nature that prayers, whatever they may be,
will be answered [in some form].
We learn another lesson from here, adds R' Bergman, i.e., that
a person who has an opportunity to pray for another and fails to
do so is punished for it. (Sha'arei Orah Vol. II)
"He shall not desecrate his word; according to whatever
comes from his mouth he shall do." (30:3)
R' Shaul Broch z"l writes: If a person wants the rebuke that
he gives to be accepted, i.e., if he does not want others to
desecrate his word, then he should do everything that he tells
others to do.
"Nekom nikmat Bnei Yisrael/Take vengeance for Bnei
Yisrael from the Midianites, achar/then you will be
gathered unto your people." (31:2)
R' Chaim Meir Hager (the "Vizhnitzer Rebbe") z"l observed:
Shabbat is a time when one should be especially careful with his
speech, as it is written: "If you proclaim the Shabbat `a
delight,' and you honor it by not discussing the forbidden"
(Yishayah 58:13, paraphrased). Unfortunately, many people use
their free time on Shabbat to cause dissension and speak lashon
hara. Regarding this, Hashem commanded:
"Nekom" / "Avenge" the honor of Shabbat -- alluded to by the
phrase "Nikmat Bnei Yisrael," whose gematria (1193) equals the
gematria of "Shabbat malketah" / "The Sabbath Queen." From whom?
"From the Midianites," i.e., those who bring din / G-d's Judgment
on the Jewish people through their lashon hara-"Din" and "Midian"
share a common root--and from those who tell lies--the gematria
of "Me'et ha'Midyanim" / "From the Midianites" (600) equals the
gematria of "sheker"/ "falsehood."
What will be your reward for doing so? "Achar will be gathered
unto your people." "Achar" has the same gematria (209) as "Bnei,
chayei, umezonei"/ "Children, [long] life, and sustenance."
"Behold! You have risen up in the place of your fathers,
a society of sinful people." (32:14)
Rambam (Shemoneh Perakim ch.4) writes that the sin which caused
Moshe not to enter Eretz Yisrael was not that he struck the rock
(as described in Parashat Chukat) but rather the anger with which
he did so. Why then was he not punished for the anger which he
expressed in the above verse?
R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l explained: Moshe thought
that the tribes of Reuven and Gad did not wish to participate in
conquering Eretz Yisrael. That was indeed worthy of Moshe's
(Quoted in Chiyuchah Shel Torah)
The Three Weeks
R' Gavriel Zinner shlita (well-known posek in Brooklyn, NY)
writes: It is customary among many chassidic rebbes -- including
those of Sanz, Lubavitch, Belz and Shiniva -- to make a siyum (a
celebration upon the completion of a Talmudic tractate) during
the three weeks between Shivah Asar B'Tammuz and Tishah B'Av.
The first Gerrer Rebbe (the "Chiddushei Ha'rim") offered the
following reason for this custom: The Bet Hamikdash was destroyed
due to sinat chinam / senseless hatred. At a siyum, we correct
this sin by rejoicing together wholeheartedly over one person's
accomplishment. R' Chaim Elazar Shapira z"l (the "Munkatcher
Rebbe") observes in his work Sha'ar Yissachar that this type of
shared joy is precisely what the yetzer hara least wants to see
among us. Indeed, one of the names of the yetzer hara - Sama'el
- may be seen as an acronym for the phrase: "Siyum Masechet Ain
La'asot" / "Do not make a siyum."
R' Zinner continues: Rashi writes (in his commentary to Sukkah
55a) that chapter 94 of Tehilim was sung in the Bet Hamikdash
during the Simchat Bet Ha'shoaivah on Sukkot because that psalm
alludes to our ancestors' faith in G-d. It was that faith which
enabled them to rejoice in the Temple despite their oppression at
the hands of the Persians, Greeks and Romans. [For most of the
Second Temple Era, the Jews did not enjoy complete political
independence but rather were dominated by one of those empires.]
Making a siyum during the Three Weeks similarly demonstrates our
faith that G-d will redeem us from our present exile. Moreover,
this faith actually hastens the redemption, particularly because,
as the 16th century work Yam Shel Shlomo observes, Hashem has no
greater joy in this world than when Jews study Torah.
R' Zinner adds: The special importance of Torah study during
the period of the Three Weeks, and its ability to hasten the
redemption, is alluded to in the book of Eichah itself, as
explained in the work Yismach Moshe (by R' Moshe Teitelbaum z"l;
died 1840). The verse (Eichah 2:19) says, "Arise! Cry out at
night in the beginnings of the watches." This verse refers to
the obligation to study Torah at night. ["The watches" refers to
the night, which is divided into watches.] But why is this verse
necessary? asks the Yismach Moshe. Are we not already commanded
to study Torah day and night?
He explains: Night is a time that is associated with G-d's
Justice. In the days of the Bet Hamikdash, the service of
burning the fats and innards, which took place at night, softened
G-d's Judgment. When there is no Temple, says Megillat Eichah,
then extra Torah study at night is called for in order to take
the place of the Temple service.
R' Shmuel Yaffe Ashkenazi z"l
R' Ashkenazi was born in Turkey in approximately 1525, but his
name indicates that he was of Ashkenazic descent. Some believe
that he was a cousin of R' Mordechai Yaffe (author of the
Levushim) and of another R' Shmuel Yaffe, the father of R' Yoel
Sirkes (the "Bach").
R' Ashkenzai's teachers were the sages Mahari ben Lev, R'
Shmuel Saba, and R' Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the poem Lecha
Dodi). In 1564, R' Ashkenazi was appointed rabbi of one of the
neighborhoods of Costa (now Istanbul). Together with other
rabbis of Costa, R' Ashkenazi signed a number of decrees meant to
strengthen observance of the prohibition on lending with
interest. It appears that he also headed a yeshiva.
R' Ashkenazi wrote many halachic responsa. Although his own
collection of the letters - entitled Bet Din Yafeh - has been
lost, many of his responsa have been printed in other
collections. He also wrote other halachic works. However, by
far his greatest fame rests on his monumental commentaries on
various Midrashim, in particular Yefeh Toar on Midrash Rabbah.
He also wrote Yefeh Anaf on Midrash Rabbah to the Five Megillot,
Yefeh Nof on the Midrash to Sefer Shmuel and other works.
R' Ashkenazi died on 19 Elul 5355 (1595). (Source: Gedolei
Midrash Shmuel (29:3) states that the final redemption cannot
be brought about through Zechut Avot / the Merit of our
Patriarchs, but only through the merit of Torah study. R'
Ashkenazi asks: Do we not learn in Midrash Shocher Tov (Ch. 106)
that the final redemption will be brought about by five factors -
one of which is Zechut Avot?! Moreover, why does Midrash Shocher
Tov not list the merit of Torah study as one of the factors that
can bring the redemption?
R' Ashkenazi answers: The redemption can come at two times -
either at the predetermined End of Days or at an earlier time, if
we merit. It is clear from the context of the Midrash Shocher
Tov that it is referring to the factors that will ensure that the
redemption does take place eventually, i.e, not later than the
predetermined time. On the other hand, the Midrash Shmuel is
teaching that Torah study can hasten the redemption. (Yefei Nof)