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Posted on April 26, 2004 (5764) By Shlomo Katz | Series: | Level:

Parshiot Tetzaveh & Zachor

The Amalek Within Us

Hamaayan / The Torah Spring
Volume XVIII, No. 20
13 Adar 5764
March 6, 2004

Sponsored by
Alan and Paula Goldman,
on the yahrzeit of Sam W. Goldman a”h

Mrs. Charlotte Weill and family
on the first yahrzeit of Rabbi Avigdor Weill a”h

Ann & Vic Jacobson and family,
on the yahrzeit of Mr. Sally Buchbinder
(Shmuel ben Pinchas a”h)

Today’s Learning:
Parah 10:1-2
O.C. 170:18-20
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Chullin 43
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Ketubot 30

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 continually.” (27:20)

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 man).

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.”

(Toldot Yitzchak)

“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.

(Divrei Yisrael)

“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 truth.”

Copyright © 2004 by Shlomo Katz and

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