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5 Av 5761 - July 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Meah Shearim on Mitzvas Kibbud Ov Vo'em and Educating Children
by Rabbeinu Eliyahu ben Rav Elkana Capsali, a contemporary of the Beis Yosef, and one of the gedolim of his generation.

Published and prepared by HaRav Avrohom Shoshanah, Machon Ofeq

An original manuscript has been published recently for the first time, together with annotations and commentaries, a lengthy introduction about the author and the period in which he lived, an index of sources and a large detailed subject index. The editor is Rav Avrohom Shoshanah and the publisher Machon Ofeq, Yerushalayim 5761. The book consists of two elegant volumes, containing 892 pages.

Rabbenu Eliyahu ben Rav Elkana Capsali, the author of the book Meah Shearim was born around the year 5250 (1490). He was a great and renowned rov in his time, a generation full of gedolim. He was famous as a posek and dayan and an important leader of the Chadian community, which in the era after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal was considered the principal and most influential kehilla of the Greek Islands. Its authority extended over all the communities of the region.

During his career as the head of the community and then as rov and leader, Rav Eliyohu, in an extended period of rabbonus, left his mark not only on his followers in Candia and its surroundings, but also on the farthest islands.

As a rov and leader who was aware of the events in other Jewish communities, Rav Eliyahu Capsali maintained close ties with all the big centers of the Diaspora. In his youth he learned in the yeshiva of Mahari Mintz and was friendly with the gedolim of his generation, amongst them Maharam Padua, Maharam Aleskar, the Radbaz, and the Beis Yosef, with all of whom he exchanged halachic responsa. He wrote on all areas of the Torah and was proficient in Kabalah.

Although Rabbeinu Eliyahu was a giant in his time, his compositions were not printed and they remained hidden amongst manuscripts for hundreds of years. His book Takonos Candia Vezichronoseho was published only sixty years ago, and it gives us some insight into his great activities, regulations and his public agenda in leading the community. Following that, his historical book Seder Eliyahu Zuta was published. This book tells the story of the history of the Turkish kingdom and that of its Jewish population, as well as the annals of the Portuguese and Spanish kingdoms and their Jewish subjects up to the expulsion of Spanish Jewry.

In addition to these two books a manuscript of his work No'am VeChovalim has also been also published in the last few years, in which he responds to Rav Dovid Vital, the son-in-law of Maharadach Mikorfu, who wanted to remove from the rabbinate Rav Binyomin ben Rav Matisyohu Marta the author of the responsa Binyomin Ze'ev. Not only did Rav Eliyahu Capsali disagree with him but he also responded to all his arguments. With the publication of this composition Rav Eliyohu's halachic standing became clear for all to see, as he writes authoritatively in the most difficult halachic topics. He gets to the bottom of each halocho and analyzes each source with outstanding sharpness and proficiency, offering his responses with an all-encompassing clarity.

We have now merited the publication of one of his large halachic compositions, the book Meah Shearim published by Machon Ofeq, which has bestowed upon the public many unknown and hidden manuscripts of the Rishonim and great Acharonim. HaRav Avrohom Shoshanah, the head of the institute, took upon himself the publication of this important book. In addition to commentaries and elucidations to the book he added a lengthy introduction about Rav Eliyohu Capsali, his works, biography, and his great activities for Torah and connections with the gedolim of the Turkish kingdom and the Greek cities, as well as the chachomim of Yerushalayim, Tzfas, and Egypt. The introduction also analyses the content of the book, its characteristics and sources and the author's approach to halocho and aggada. These chapters are extremely interesting and almost constitute a book on their own. Of special note are the various very detailed indexes that have been added to the book, especially the subject index which allows the reader to easily find any of the many and varied subjects the book deals with.

Meah Shearim is a book consisting of one hundred chapters which deals with the mitzvah of kibbud ov vo'eim in halochoh and aggada. Its central theme is the supremacy of this mitzvah and the obligations it entails. This mitzvah is of supreme importance as it stands in the center of the Aseres Hadibros and serves as a kind of model and foundation for the observance of the entire Torah, since a person who is not capable of gratitude to his earthly parents who invested so much effort in bringing him up and bestowed love and good upon him, will not be able to appreciate the good that Hakodosh Boruch Hu does for His Creations and will not be able to serve Him properly.

Until the eightieth chapter the book discusses the mitzvah of kibbud ov vo'em and the many subjects connected to it. The following four chapters are dedicated to the great qualities of this mitzvah and its rewards as well as the obligation to be brisk and careful in its performance. The remaining fifteen chapters deal with a topic related to that of honoring parents: the education of children to Torah and mitzvos, and the acquisition of good middos which the son learns from the father.

The title of the book, Meah Shearim seems to be a reference to the book's one hundred chapters, but the editor claims, rightly, that this is not the main reason for the name. The manuscript is missing the author's introduction, but the publisher was aided by the end of the book to explain its name. The following is part of the conclusion of the book: "Therefore whoever fulfills [the mitzvah of kibbud ov vo'em] in all its details as we have explained, will merit the next life and will merit to be blessed with one hundred blessings, in the same way that the righteous man, the foundation of the world, Yitzchok Ovinu o"h was blessed because he honored his father and feared him more than any of the righteous in his time, to the extent of allowing himself to be slaughtered and tied so that he would not quiver, all in order to fulfill his father's will."

Here the editor writes: "This is what is written (Bereishis 26,12), `And Yitzchok sowed in that land and found in that year one hundred gates,' and Rashi explains, `each one produced one hundred more than anticipated.' The author holds that this blessing of great abundance is set aside for anyone who is particular about the performance of this mitzvoh. It seems that this is the reason why the author divided the book up into 100 sections and called it Meah Shearim in order to hint at the great blessings, which will be the lot of anyone who is particular about the performance of this mitzvoh.

The author repeats this idea several times throughout the sefer, that anyone who honors his parents will be rewarded by Hakodosh Boruch Hu, will be blessed by Him and be the recipient of His loving kindness (pg.44), and that a person will reap the rewards of this mitzva in this life (pp. 240, 359, 365, 379, 595). He compares mitzvas kibbud ov Vo'em to a tall tree, which protects anyone that seeks refuge in its shade (pp.293, 305). Already at the beginning of the book the author testifies to the following:

"We have seen with our own eyes and our fathers have told us about people who honored their parents properly and treated them kindly. Hashem does not deprive anyone of their just rewards, especially when it comes to a mitzvah of this magnitude. He blessed their storehouses and endeavors and their cattle multiplied manifold. As for people who did not honor their parents properly, we have heard and seen that Hashem hid His face from them, even though they were wealthy and honored, eventually they were destroyed. We have also witnessed that whoever honored their parents properly, their children also honored them properly, and whoever did not honor their parents properly, their children also did not honor them and did not treat them properly, as Chazal told us `Everything has been annulled, but the `measure for measure' principle has not.'"

The author in his book cites all the sources on kibbud ov Vo'em from both halocho and aggada. He has not forgotten one source from the Torah, Mishna, Talmud, Agodas and Midroshim, Tosfos and chiddushim, poskim and commentaries, the Zohar and other kabbalistic literature, as well as incidents from the lives of gedolim. In addition, he writes about some central aspects in the education of children, introducing many other subjects at the same time. For each topic he cites proofs and references from earlier sources, explaining them and drawing halachic conclusions.

He first points out that we should study the stories in Tanach and Chazal about the relationship between sons and fathers and vice versa, and these must teach us the correct approaches to kibbud ov Vo'em (pp.71,117). The author has a special method of investigating and analyzing stories in Tanach about the relationship between sons and fathers, comparing the stories not only for the sake of commentary, but also in order to derive halachic conclusions from them. He adopts the same approach to stories of Chazal.

In addition to Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, Mishna and Tosefta, a plethora of halachic and aggadic Midroshim are cited by the author, including many Midroshim and Rishonim, whose manuscripts were used by the author, and which are unknown today, either because they are lost, or because they are still in manuscript form. The reader will find references from the Zohar in the index, which we do not possess. The author must obviously have used a manuscript of the Zohar, which includes additional sections to those which appear in the published editions of the Zohar. There are also numerous quotations from books of the rishonim on all areas of the Torah, including ones which we hear about for the first time from the author, such as "Sha'arei Teshuva of Rabbeinu Yehuda Hachosid z"l" (pg. 220). In his introduction, the editor writes about Rav Eliyohu Capsali's important library, a large part of which is to be found in the Vatican library nowadays.

Besides the sources from the Torah, the Talmud, Chazal and the Rishonim, the author also writes about the behavior and traditions of rabbonim which are connected to any particular topic. Through these he catches our attention and provides the ideas presented with a practical flavor.

In chapter 84, for example (pp. 383-384), he writes: "When I was in Yeshivas Padua drinking from the wisdom of my Ashkenazi rabbonim, may their Torah be increased and glorified, I saw an important and lofty custom amongst them. This I saw and will recount: every erev Shabbos and erev Yom Tov after ma'ariv the sons go to their fathers and prostate themselves before them, falling upon their knees and kissing their fathers' hands, and their fathers put their hands upon their sons' heads and bless them. This is the custom of the sons for as long as their fathers are alive. Even if the sons are old and have children and grandchildren of their own, so long as their fathers are alive they receive their blessings out of love, and do not refrain from bowing their heads before their fathers like a reed, eagerly receiving their blessing, thus showing that they are subject to their authority and rule-- and from the day that I witnessed this custom, I desired its beauty in my heart and I said that if G-d will be with me, and I will return safely to my father's house, I would adopt this custom myself. And this I did, and when I returned to my country and father's house I adopted this custom for many years, even after my marriage. If Hashem would have given me the privilege of having sons, I would have trained them in this custom, for it is an invaluable tool for the son to acquire the fear of Heaven. As it is, because of my sins or my mazal, I am childless."

The sefer contains many incidents connected with rabbonim as well as other public figures.

Rabbeinu Eliyohu is also not averse to denouncing negative trends of his period. In this context we may refer to Chapter 87. In this long chapter, which mainly talks about the essence and nature of yiras Shomayim, the author also discusses at length the spiritual image of the real chacham, whose whole life and behavior serves as a model for the public. The author states that the real chacham for whom one stands up is someone who is known for his good deeds, because the Torah only commanded us to stand up for a chacham since wisdom leads to action. At that point he goes into a lengthy halachic discussion about a talmid chochom who commits transgressions. He concludes with a criticism of hollow rabbinic titles.

The reader may gauge how many halachic chiddushim the book contains by casting a brief glance at the subject index. Many other general issues are discussed, with a treatment of both their halachic and their mussar aspects, as well as principles from the Talmud and poskim.

We shall mention a chiddush which recurs several times in the book, and which it seems that people do not pay enough attention to. The author's opinion is that apart from leaving one's parents in order to learn Torah, a son may only leave his parents and move to another place if he receives their permission to do so (pp. 71, 272), for it is wrong for a son to depart from his father's and mother's house without their knowledge (page 221), for one of the aspects of honoring parents is that the son will always be in the vicinity of his parents to be able to ask them about their needs and fulfill their wishes (page 383). Even when he does leave them and moves to another place in a situation where this is permitted, he must always inquire after their well being, for an integral part of the mitzvah is that a son should not part from his parents' company, leaving them alone, particularly when they are elderly and bereft of their strength (pp. 72-75).

Rav Eliyohu is of the opinion that the son is obligated to honor his parents even when this involves danger. This idea recurs several times throughout the book (pp. 74, 76, 86, 89, 112). Since this is a chidush, the editor has dedicated a special supplementary section to clarifying this topic.

Despite the author's lengthy exposition of the details of the mitzvah of kibbud ov vo'eim which incorporates all areas of Torah, and although we may comfortably assert that he has not neglected any aspect of this mitzvah, he informs us that he has not exhausted the topic, since this mitzvah is limitless and his work is only to be considered as a description of "general principles," based on which the student can make his own comparisons and analogies. He writes the following (pg. 71):

"Everyone must contemplate all the material and stories in the Tanach and in Chazal about the relationship between children and parents, and draw their own conclusions to honor his parents and fear them, and fulfill their needs at each particular time and place. Let him always be particular in using every opportunity to see to their requirements down to the finest details. I open my hand with the assistance of the One Who opens His hand and satisfies every living being with favor, to show the students and all the nations and princes the details of this awesome mitzvah by citing direct sources and by way of deduction. This way any person with intellect will be in a position to make his own deductions, `That the wise man may hear, and increase in learning, and the man of understanding may attain wise counsels.'"

We should point out that the style of the book is of unequaled beauty and clarity. Rav Eliyohu had a poetic soul, and his language is characterized by lyrical and rich expressions. The following quotation in praise of mitzvas kibbud ov vo'eim may serve as an example of his unique style:

"I would say that because of its importance the mitzvah of honoring a parent may be compared to a great tree pleasant to behold and a delight for the eyes, eagerly enjoyed by onlookers, with an aqueduct running underneath it, providing it with water and cultivating it until it grows and grows, eventually reaching the very heavens. Its shade is pleasant and its fruit sweet. It has superior leaves and beautiful branches, as well as a magnificent treetop containing the choicest fruit. In due course its roots and branches spread out until the earth is filled with them. All passersby, both young men and maidens, old men and children, princes and judges of the world, sit underneath it, enjoying its shade, beauty and goodness. The tree protects them from the sun and the rain. Sometimes they partake of the fruit, eating to their hearts' content and delighting in them. It is the same with anybody who finds shelter under the aegis of his father's and mother's house. Protecting them and invigorating them, serving as their shield and protective wall, an iron pillar -- and a refuge -- from the rain (pg.293).

In a similar vein, we may state about Meah Shearim that it is "pleasant to behold and a delight for the eyes, eagerly enjoyed by onlookers." All who enter its orchard will delight in its all-encompassing beauty, which covers both halochos and agodos, stories and customs, incidents and rebukes.

The publication of this wonderful work sheds tremendous light on a topic to which earlier gedolim only dedicated some isolated chapters. There can be no doubt that the discovery of this manuscript fulfills a need in our generation for strengthening the link between children and parents and the generational chain as a whole. We can only hope that with Hashem's help Machon Ofeq, and its head, Rav Avrohom Shoshanah, will continue to provide the Torah- learning public with pearls from the Rishonim, and we wish them much success in the continuation of the great project, which they have taken upon themselves with such painstaking efforts of putting out the works of the Rishonim with accuracy and beauty, together with eye- opening annotations. May they be blessed with a hundred blessings.


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