This week, in addition to Parashat Tetzaveh, we read Parashat
Zachor, in which we are commanded (Devarim 25:19), "You shall
eradicate the memory of Amalek," the nation that launched an
unprovoked attack upon Bnei Yisrael immediately after the Exodus.
Elsewhere (in the Torah reading for Purim - Shmot 17:14), we read, "I
[Hashem] will surely eradicate the memory of Amalek." If Hashem is
our partner in this endeavor, asks R' Nachum Mordechai Friedman z"l
(the Chortkover Rebbe), why has it proven so difficult throughout
Jewish history to defeat Amalek and nations like it?
He explains: Our task and Hashem's task are different ones. Hashem
protects us from the physical Amalek, while it is our responsibility
to battle the Amalek, i.e., the evil, within each of us. Moreover,
Hashem's ability to destroy the physical Amaleks of the world is
dependent upon our destroying our own Amaleks. This is the meaning of
the Gemara (Chullin 139a) which states: "Where is Haman alluded to in
the Torah? In the verse (Bereishit 3:11), `Hamin ha'etz' / `From the
tree from which I commanded that you not eat, did you eat?'" When Adam
committed the first sin in history, he made possible the existence of
Haman and Amalek. (Haman was a descendant of Amalek.)
In truth, however, the difficulties of the exile make it hard for us
to battle our personal Amaleks. [Ed. Note: This dvar Torah was said by
the Chortkover Rebbe in Vienna, Austria in 1935.] We must therefore
look to the verse (Devarim 25:19), "And it will come to pass when
Hashem will let you rest from all your enemies around you, [then] you
shall eradicate the memory of Amalek." (Doresh Tov)
"Now you shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you
pure, chopped oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp
The Gemara teaches: "Pure, pressed oil is required for the menorah,
but it is not required for the menachot / meal offering. Thus, the
first oil that comes from the olives is set aside for the menorah, and
the second oil is to be used for the menachot."
R' Yitzchak Karo z"l (1458-approx. 1520) observes: Usually, one uses
his best oil for cooking, and his inferior oil for lighting. Here, we
give the best entirely to G-d (in the menorah), and use the second-
best for ourselves (in the menachot, which are partially consumed by
R' Karo also notes: The word "chopped" ("kaf-tav-yud-tav") alludes
to the first two Temples, the first of which stood for 410 ("tav-yud")
years, and the second for 420 ("tav-kaf") years. Both of these
Temples were "chopped," i.e., destroyed. The third Temple, however,
will stand forever - "to kindle the lamp continually."
"These are the vestments that they shall make: a Breastplate, and
Ephod . . ." (28:4)
Rashi writes: "The Ephod - I have not learned what this is, nor have
I found in the Talmud a description of its construction. However, my
heart tells me that it is tied in back and is as wide as a person's
back, like the aprons that noblewomen wear when they ride horses."
What does Rashi mean by, "My heart tells me"? R' Pinchas Menachem
Alter z"l (the Gerrer Rebbe; died 1996) suggests: Undoubtedly, Rashi
was very careful to observe the law (Bemidbar 15:39), "You shall not
stray after you heart and after your eyes." He used to guard his eyes
not to see anything inappropriate, and he certainly did not look at
women unnecessarily. Yet, he once noticed a French noblewoman riding
her horse, and he was troubled; why had G-d caused him to see such a
thing? When it was time to write his commentary on this week's
parashah, he understood. "My heart tells me," he concluded, that the
reason he had noticed that particular woman was so that he could
interpret the verses properly.
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
"The work of a stone engraver, pituchei chotam / like the
engravings of a signet." (28:11)
Rashi explains that the first half of this pasuk refers to the work
of a craftsman, an expert at working with stones. However, R' Yisrael
Taub z"l (1849-1920; the first Modzhitzer Rebbe) observes that Rashi
made a subtle change in quoting the verse. Specifically, the pasuk
refers to "stone" in the singular, while Rashi speaks of "stones" in
the plural. Why?
R' Taub explains that Rashi was hinting at a subtle lesson in the
verse. The words "pituchei chotam," besides meaning, "like the
engravings of a signet," also can mean, "opening what is sealed." We
find that the Torah is called "Stone," as in the Tablets of Stone
("luchot even"). The Yetzer Hara / Evil Inclination also is called a
"stone," as in "a heart of stone" ("lev even"). Rashi is telling us
that one must be an expert craftsman, a master stoneworker, to work on
these two stones.
Specifically, the master artisan is someone who understands how and
when to open what is closed, and how to close that which is open.
When it comes to Torah, the artisan is to open the closed hearts, as
we pray every day in the U'va Le'tzion prayer, "He [G-d] will open our
hearts with His Torah." On the other hand, the master stoneworker
also needs to close what should not be open. For example, he must
close his eyes from seeing improper sights. The Yetzer Hara is hard
at work trying to drag us down into the depths of sin and despair.
One's heart should be open, full of Torah thoughts and feelings, but
the Yetzer Hara makes his best efforts to close it up, turning it into
a heart of stone. The Yetzer Hara also tries to open what should be
closed, attempting to attract man to sights that he should not see.
"A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate on
the hem of the robe all around. It must be on Aharon in order tom
minister. Its sound shall be heard when he enters the Sanctuary
and when he leaves, so that he not die." (28:34-35)
The Talmud Yerushalmi relates: "The sage Shmuel used to count little
chickens during prayer / davening. The sage Rabbi Bun ben Chiya used
to count the beams of the house during davening." Why did they do
that? Certainly they were not so distracted as to be looking at
chickens or beams!
R' Yissachar Dov Rokeach z"l (the Belzer Rebbe; died 1927)
explained: It is related that the Rebbe R' Elimelech (great chassidic
leader; died 1787) used to hold a watch in his hand during the Shabbat
mussaf (known as "Kedushat Ketter" in the Sephardic liturgy which
chassidim follow). R' Elimelech said that he felt so uplifted during
that particular prayer that he was afraid his soul would leave him.
Therefore, he held a reminder of this temporal world in his hand in
order to bring him back to earth.
If a relatively contemporary sage (R' Elimelech) prayed thus,
certainly the sages of old did, explained the Belzer Rebbe. That is
why Shmuel counted chickens in the middle of davening and Rabbi Bun
counted the beams of the house. They needed to do so in order to
remain attached to this world.
In this light we can understand the purpose of the bells attached to
the Kohen Gadol's robe. If the sages of the Talmud could lose their
connections to this world during moments of spiritual ascent,
certainly Aharon was at such risk also when he entered the Holy of
Holies. Therefore, "Its sound shall be heard when he enters the
Sanctuary and when he leaves, so that he not die." The sound of the
bells brought him back to earth.
(Quoted in Otzrotaihem Shel Tzaddikim)
Letters from Our Sages
This Shabbat, congregations throughout the world will read Parashat
Zachor, recalling Amalek's attack on Bnei Yisrael shortly after the
Exodus. In accordance with the late 19th century ruling of the
Mishnah Berurah (685:18), many Ashkenazic congregations will read the
last verse of Parashat Zachor twice. As the Mishnah Berurah explains:
Know that some say that the word "zchr" should be pronounced "zaicher"
with the vowel called a "tzairai" and some say that it should be
pronounced "zecher" with the vowel called a "segol."
Therefore, it is correct to read it twice.
The Mishnah Berurah does not cite a source for the two opinions, but
some have suggested that the source is the following letter by R'
Chaim of Volozhin (1749-1821). R' Chaim was a leading student of R'
Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, and the following letter was written by R'
Chaim to the publisher of Ma'aseh Rav, a collection of testimonies
about the Vilna Gaon's personal customs.
"Life and Peace to my beloved friend:
"I have received your pleasing words that sought my advice whether
to print the practices of our great and holy teacher, his soul is in
Eden, so that they will not be forgotten. Certainly, it is fitting to
print them. . .
"Regarding your question whether the practices described are
accurate, of some, I know nothing. The ones of which I am aware are
described accurately except that you wrote [that the Vilna Gaon said
in Kedushah] `u-shi-va-cheh-cha' with a `yud' and a `segol.' It is
true that that is what the pious rabbi, R' Menachem Mendel, may his
light shine, printed in the commentary on Shulchan Aruch, but those
who heard it thus are mistaken. I paid attention, and I heard from
the holy mouth [of the Vilna Gaon], `u-shi-va-chi-cha' without a
`yud,' and vowelized with a `chataf patach.'
"As for what you wrote to say in Parashat Zachor, `zecher,' I heard
from the holy mouth of the Vilna Gaon that he read it `zaicher.' I do
not know whether those who claim to have heard otherwise are mistaken
or whether he changed his mind in his old age. Please try to find out
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
Text archives from 1990 through the present may be retrieved from http://www.acoast.com/~sehc/hamaayan/.
Hamaayan needs your support! Please consider sponsoring Hamaayan in honor of a happy occasion or in memory of a loved one. Did you know that the low cost of sponsorship - only $18 - has not changed in seventeen years? Donations to HaMaayan are tax-deductible.