Thursday, December 31, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770

שבת טעם החיים ויחי תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770

From Mercy to Justice

ויברך את יוסף ויאמר האלקים אשר התהלכו אשר אבתי לפניו אברהם ויצחק האלקים הרעה אתי מעודי עד היום הזה, he blessed Yosef and he said, “O G-d before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked – G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day (Bereishis 48:15).
In this week’s parasha the Torah records the blessings that Yaakov conferred upon Yosef and his sons. It is said (Bereishis 48:15) HaElokim asher hishalchu avosai lifanav Avraham viYitzchak HaElokim haroeh osi meiodi ad hayom hazeh, O G-d before Whom my forefathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked – G-d Who shepherds me from my inception until this day. It appears from these words of Yaakov that the concept of Elokim, the attribute of Justice, was a dominant presence in his lifetime. What is it that Yaakov was seeking to highlight with these words?
Yaakov wished to be the justified firstborn
In collaboration with my esteemed chavrusa, Howard Greenstein, we discovered an amazing theme that runs through the entire life of Yaakov. Let us take a closer look at the beginning, or even prior to the life of Yaakov. When Rivka gave birth to her twin sons, Yaakov and Esav, it is said (Bereishis 25:26) viacharei chein yatza achiv viyado ochezes baakeiv Esav vayikra shemo Yaakov viYitzchak ben shishim shanah biledes osam, after that his brother emerged with his hand grasping on to the heel of Esav; so he called his name Yaakov; Yitzchak was sixty years old when she bore them. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that Yaakov was justified in grasping onto Esav’s heel. The reason for this is because Yaakov was formed from the first drop and Esav from the second. This is analogous to a funnel with a narrow opening. When one places two stones inside the funnel, the one that enters first will exit last and the one that enters last will exit first. Similarly, Esav who was formed last exited first, and Yaakov who was formed first exited last. Yaakov thus sought to prevent Esav from exiting first, as Yakov desired that in addition to being the first formed, he should be the first born and in this way he would be justified in earning the birthright. The word that Rashi uses for justified is din, which is normally translated as justice. What is the explanation of the Medrash that states that Yaakov sought to be justified as the firstborn?
HaShem had to create the world with justice and mercy
In order to have a better perspective of what Yaakov was seeking, it is worth examining another statement of the Medrash. It is said (Ibid 1:1) Bereishis bara Elokim eis hashamayim vieis haaretz, in the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. Rashi writes that the Torah does not state bara HaShem, as initially HaShem wished to create the world with the Attribute of Justice. However, HaShem saw that the world would not exist with justice alone, so HaShem first instituted the Attribute of Mercy and adjoined mercy with justice. It is for this reason that it is said ( Ibid 2:4) biyom asos HaShem Elokim eretz vishamayim, on the day that HaShem G-d made earth and heaven. This teaches us that the ideal world is a world that stands on justice, but a world of only justice is unsustainable.
Esav really represents the Attribute of Mercy
In a similar vein, Esav was born first, but in reality, Yaakov was to be born first. In order to understand this phenomenon, we must reexamine our understanding of Esav’s role in this world. We are accustomed to viewing Esav and his cohorts as evil, and the ultimate goal is to rid the world of Esav and the evil that he represents. While this concept may be true on the surface, the reality is that Esav represents a true benefit to the Jewish People. To quote the Medrash (cited by Rabbi Eliyahu Munk in World of Prayer) , in the prayer of Shemone Esrei we recite the words hamachazir shechinaso litziyon, Who returns His Divine Presence to Tziyon. The Medrash interprets this to mean that the chazir (pig) Esav, will be the catalyst to return the Jewish People to the Promised Land. Thus, Esav is essentially the symbol of HaShem’s Attribute of Mercy in this world, although its attribute appears to be shrouded in justice. We can understand the creation of the world in the same vein. HaShem wished to create the world only through justice, i.e. in a way that people would always deserve HaShem’s generosity. However, HaShem foresaw that people would not be deserving, so He instituted the Attribute of Mercy so that the world would be sustainable. Thus, mercy is far from the ideal existence.
Yaakov wished to exist on a plane of justice
We find proof to this idea in Yaakov’s declaration to HaShem upon fleeing from Esav. It is said (Ibid 28:21) vishavti vishalom el beis avi vihayah HaShem leElokim, and I return in peace to my father’s house, and HaShem will be a G-d to me. The Sforno writes that Yaakov was saying, “then HaShem, Who is merciful, will be a judge for me if I do not serve Him with all my abilities. Alternatively, Yaakov’s words can be interpreted as follows, “HaShem, Who normally conducts Himself with the Attribute of Mercy, will conduct Himself towards me with the Attribute of Justice. This Attribute of Justice does not refer to punishment and retribution. Rather, it refers to the ideal existence of the world, which HaShem sought to create at the beginning of the world. In this light we can also understand why at birth Yaakov sought to be the firstborn bidin, in justification. Yaakov was seeking that the world should be conducted the way HaShem desired initially.
Yitzchak blessed Yaakov to be deserving of HaShem’s generosity
This idea was also expressed in the blessings that Yitzchak conferred upon Yaakov. It is said (Ibid 27:28) viyiten lecho HaElokim mital hashamayim umishmanei haaretz virov dagan visirosh, and may G-d give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine.. Rashi writes that Yitzchak specifically used the word HaElokim as this word means bidin, according to the rules of justice. If a Jew is deserving, he will receive HaShem’s blessings, and if he is not deserving, he will not receive the blessings. Yitzchak also sought to have HaShem conduct Himself with Yaakov according to the Attribute of Justice. This meant that Yaakov would only be a beneficiary of HaShem’s generosity if he was deserving. In brief, Yaakov sought o lead his life according to a standard of justice, which would translate into him receiving from HaShem’s goodness only if he was worthy.
The Shabbos connection
We can now understand why Yaakov blessed Yosef and his sons by using the word Elokim, thus symbolizing the manner in which HaShem conducted Himself with him. While this is certainly a lofty level to live on, we see that Yaakov constantly sought to live on this exalted spiritual plane. This could be the explanation of the Medrash that Rashi cites in the begriming of Parashas Vayeishev, stating that Yaakov sought to dwell in tranquility. Yaakov wished to lead a life where he would only receive from HaShem’s goodness if he was deserving. We know that Yaakov reflects Shabbos, a time that is without boundaries. On Shabbos we recite verses that describe the culmination of creation, where Elokim finished His labor of the week, and Elokim blessed the seventh day. Shabbos is a day when we are the recipients of HaShem’s goodness, and in order to merit being recipients of that goodness, we must be deserving. The manner in which we can be deserving of HaShem’s goodness is by preparing for the Holy Shabbos and observing it properly. HaShem should allow us to aspire to be beneficiaries of His justice and to bask on Shabbos in His Infinite Light.

Shabbos Stories
Give it up
Many years ago, as the result of a tragic fire that destroyed many of the houses, businesses and public buildings in his city, the Rav hair (Rabbi of the city) was reduced to being a fundraiser – wandering from town to village soliciting funds to help his brethren rebuild their homes, and their lives.
Most of the people he met were touched by the story he told, and gave generously according to their means. Without delay, he would dispatch whatever money he raised back to the elders of the city, who were overseeing the rescue and recovery effort.
The Rav’s pleas were so convincing that he managed to convince even the most miserly of Jews to participate – at least until the day he entered Reb Matis’s jewelry store. If the lavishly furnished shop and top-notch jewelry was any indication, Reb Matis – whose name graced the ornate sign that hung outside – was a man of means. The Rav hoped he could secure a generous donation, but it soon became apparent that that was easier said than done.
Reb Matis interrupted the Rav’s carefully prepared appeal. “Ha-Rav, with all due respect, don’t waste your time. I try my best to do mitzvos, but I’m not in the habit of distributing my hard-earned parnasah to others. I was also a pauper, and I worked like crazy to build up this store. I’m sorry for your townsfolk, and sincerely wish them the best in rebuilding their lives – which I think they can do without my largesse if they try hard enough – but I refuse to act as a crutch for the unfortunate, which teaches them to rely on others rather than resorting to their own ingenuity.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the Rav said. “We’re not talking about beggars who won’t take a job. These peoples’ lives were destroyed – their homes and businesses burned to the ground – how can you be so heartless as to not help them get back on their feet.”
“Oh but I am helping them,” Reb Matis responded coldly. “I’m teaching them one of life’s most valuable lessons: Do for yourself, and rely on no one.” “That’s very ‘noble’ of you,” the Rav said. “Still, according to the Torah there’s a mitzvah to perform deeds of kindness with others. Since I obviously will not coax you into being kind, I will instead turn the tables and do with you a deed of kindness.”
“What exactly do mean,” Reb Matis wondered. “I’m not in need of your philanthropy.”
“Oh but you are,” the Rav said. “You are very sick, and by visiting you I am performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim (visiting the infirm).” “I assure you, HaRav, that I’m as healthy as I am wealthy.”
“Do you then deny the prophecy of Shlomo Ha-Melech (King Solomon), the wisest of all men, who said, ‘There is a terrible sickness I have seen beneath the sun: when a man’s wealth is preserved to his detriment.’ (Koheles/Ecclesiastes 5:12)? You have been granted great wealth, and yet you arrogantly refuse to share it with those less fortunate? I have no doubt whatsoever that your wealth will ultimately be your downfall – if not in this world then in the next, when you will be forced to stand judgment on your heartless apathy.”
“That’s cute,” Reb Matis said. “But if the Rav was looking to do the mitzvah of bikur cholim in earnest, I suspect he would have better spent his time visiting the hospitals, where the truly sick lie, waiting for someone to come and pay attention to them, rather than visiting me and trying to heal me with his poorly-argued rebuke.”
“You’re right,” the Rav said, “but I have a hidden reason why I chose to come here and do the mitzvah of bikur cholim specifically with you. However, I won’t tell you it unless you promise to give me at least a small donation for my cause.”
Matis’s curiosity was piqued. “Ok, you’ve got me – tell me why.”
“Chazal, our Sages, commenting on parsahas Vayechi, say that when Yosef first came to visit his father, Yaakov, he was deathly sick. Once Yosef entered the room, however, he felt an immediate improvement in his condition, and was able to sit up, as it says (48:2), ‘And Yisrael (Yaakov) was strengthened, and he sat up on the bed.’ One who visits the sick, the Sages teach, removes one-sixtieth of his sickness – this is why he suddenly felt stronger. The concept is in fact alluded to in this very verse: The numerical value of the bed (Hebrew: hamitah) is 59 – to teach us that after Yosef’s visit, Yaakov was left with only 59/60th of his illness. So of course I’d much rather visit you – and have the pleasure of removing 1/60th of your ‘sickness.’” (Maaseh Shoshan)
The Midrash (Pesikta Rabasi 25) says that during the times of the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple), there was a man named Navos who had a very beautiful voice. On Yamim Tovim, when everyone gathered in Jerusalem, thousands would gather to hear his prayers. One year, Navos decided he couldn’t be bothered to come, despite the disappointment of his admirers. Shortly afterwards he was killed and his land confiscated (see Melachim/Kings I 21). Paradoxically, had Navos ascended to Jerusalem and fulfilled the mitzvah of pilgrimage, the Midrash says his land would not have been taken, because the Torah promises (Shemos/Exodus 34:24), “No man shall covet your land when you go up to appear before HaShem, your G-d, three times a year.”
Mefarshim explain that Navos’s error was that he thought his melodious voice was his gift – to use or forsake as he pleased – when in fact it’s ‘on loan’ from HaShem to use in ways that increase His honor and bring pleasure and joy to others. Since he misappropriated his ‘property,’ he had his property taken away from him.
The concept of wealth preserved to its owner to his detriment doesn’t only apply to money. Everyone has gifts. A nice voice; a good head; sensitivity; a good cook; organized; physical strength; tirelessness; unflappability; joy… We may not think much of our gifts, and perhaps we shouldn’t let them get to our heads, but if we allow ‘humility’ to prevent us from using our gifts – many or few they may be – to enrich others’ lives, we will be held accountable, on this world or the next.
The word matana, gift, is from the root nasan -– to give. Nasan, both in Hebrew and English, is a palindrome – perhaps hinting that what we’re given must be given back. Have a good Shabbos.
Torah study all day and night
There are those special individuals, however, for whom Torah study is not simply a hobby or even an enjoyable or uplifting experience. It consumes them. Their hearts burn with the fire of the Torah; they invest every waking hour and every drop of their energy and resources in its understanding and analysis. It is said about the Chazon Ish zt"l that one would often find him learning in bed, not because he liked to learn reclining, but because, "just because I don't have enough energy to stay on my feet doesn't mean I can't squeeze out another few drops for the Torah!" He would only sleep when he simply collapsed from exhaustion.
The Netziv (R' Naftali Zvi Berlin zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin) was once told that one of his students was studying Torah for close to twenty hours a day! He called the student in and warned him about the dangers of burn-out and over exertion. "But Rebbe," he said respectfully, "it is said that when you were a Yeshiva bachur you too studied for close to twenty hours a day!"
"Not true!" he implied emphatically. "It is true that I studied for 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for twenty-five years. But twenty hours - never!" (We should merit that, when our time comes, we may have invested at least a few days of our lives with this type of Torah study!) (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5770
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos.
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5770

שבת טעם החיים ויגש תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5770

Yosef revealing himself to his brothers teaches us to reveal our inner selves

ויאמר יוסף אל אחיו אני יוסף העוד אבי חי ולא יכלו אליו לענות אותו כי נבהלו מפניו, and Yosef said to his brothers, “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him because they were left disconcerted before him. (Bereishis 45:3)
In this week’s parasha the Torah records how after Yosef schemed to have his brothers descend to Egypt, he was no longer able to contain himself and he revealed his identity to them. The brothers registered shock after discovering that the viceroy of Egypt was none other than their own brother whom they had sold down the river. Yosef then consoled his brothers and told them not to worry, as HaShem had orchestrated events so that Yosef would be able to provide food for his family. Regarding Yosef’s revelation, the Medrash states (Bereishis Rabbah 93:10) “woe to us from the Day of Judgment and woe to us from the day of chastisement. Yosef’s brothers could not withstand Yosef’s rebuke, so how can we expect to withstand the chastisement of HaShem, the King of kings?!” What is the Medrash attempting to teach us with this analogy? In the simple sense, the Medrash is informing us that for all those years the brothers were unaware that Yosef was alive. They were certainly not open to the possibility that the brother whom they had sold into slavery had attained a position of viceroy. In a similar vein, we as human beings are for the most part unaware of the effect of our actions that we perform. Thus, when we arrive at the final Day of Judgment, we will be caught off guard as to the gravity of our performance in this world. However, there is a deeper lesson contained in the Medrash, and it was specifically Yosef who had to teach this lesson.
Yosef was freed from jail on Rosh Hashanah
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) states that Yosef was freed from jail on Rosh Hashanah. The Sfas Emes writes that the reason that the Gemara informs us of this event is to teach us that similar to Yosef being freed, i.e. revealed, on Rosh Hashanah, we too reveal our inner selves on Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps we can adapt this idea to understand the Medrash regarding Yosef revealing himself to the brothers. Yosef was demonstrating to the brothers that it is critical that one reveal his inner self as much as he can. The Day of Judgment, as we are led to believe, will show a person all the aspects of his true self. This thought is not merely meant to depress a person. Rather, by contemplating the vast potential that one has, he can yet strive to fulfill the great potential that HaShem has created for him.

The Shabbos connection
Shabbos is referred to as a day when HaShem reveals His kingship. This revelation reflects the idea that on Shabbos we are capable of reaching higher spiritual levels than we attained during the week. One manner of reaching the high levels of spirituality is by expending the effort in preparing for Shabbos. Yosef corresponds to the idea of Tosefes Shabbos, adding on to Shabbos. When one adds on to the Shabbos, i.e. he brings the Shabbos into the weekday, then he is allowing HaShem’s Presence to be felt even in mundane areas. HaShem should allow us to prepare for the Holy Shabbos throughout the week and then we will be able to accept His kingship with all our hearts.
Shabbos Stories
The Chazon Ish is still alive
On a sheirut (shared taxi ride) in Eretz Yisroel a few years after the passing of the Chazon Ish, R' Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz zt"l (1878-1953), two religious people in the back of the cab were talking to each other. "You know, Binei Brak just isn't the same since the Chazon Ish passed away." "Yes," agreed his friend, "we need needs more Torah giants like him."
Listening attentively from his seat in the front was the cab driver, Natan, a non-observant Jew. He was dressed differently from his Orthodox passengers in the back. He wore no kippah, and sported an open khaki shirt over a pair of Bermuda shorts. Natan turned to the fellow sitting on his right. "Did you hear what the men in the back said? They said that the Chazon Ish is gone. They're wrong - they don't know what they're talking about!"
Surprised that the obviously irreligious cab driver would even know who the Chazon Ish was, one of them retorted, "Well, maybe you haven't heard, but the Chazon Ish passed away a few years ago."
"No, you are wrong," said Natan emphatically, "the Chazon Ish is still around - and I can prove it."
By now, all ears were listening to the cantankerous cab driver. Once he had their attention he of course offered to prove he was right. They all agreed to listen, and the cab driver began his story:
"My daughter was going through complicated labor. She had been rushed to the hospital in Tel Aviv, and the doctors had been dealing with her for many hours. She was in agony, yet the doctors seemed helpless, and told me there was nothing they could do.
"At some point an old nurse came over to me and said, 'Why don't you go to the Chazon Ish?'
"'The who?' I asked. 'What is the Chazon Ish?'
"'He is a great rabbi,' the nurse said. 'People go to him for advice, and to pray for them.'
"At my wit's end, I asked her, 'Where does he live?' She told me, 'Just go to Binei Brak. Once you get there, any child in the street will be able to direct you to his home.'
"I got into my cab and raced to Binei Brak. In no time I was at the Chazon Ish's house. It was late at night, but he answered my knock himself. In a quiet and friendly manner he asked how he could help me. I told him about my daughter's difficulties, and how the doctors were unable to help her. He looked at me, smiled, and said, 'You can go back to the hospital - the child was just born.' He shook my hand and wished me mazel tov. My heart leaped with joy, but I could not believe him. I dashed back to the hospital and when I got there, sure enough, the child had already been born, exactly as he said."
In the sheirut all that listened to Natan's tale were spellbound. But Natan was not finished. He went on:
"Two years later my daughter was again expecting a child. Once again she had extreme difficulties in labor. And once again the doctors despaired of a healthy birth. This time I didn't wait for the old nurse. I got into my cab, rushed to Binei Brak, and went to the Chazon Ish. I came to the corner where I thought I remembered he lived, and just to be sure I asked a passer-by, 'Is this the home of the Chazon Ish?' The man looked at me as if I had lost my mind. 'What's the matter with you? Don't you know that the Chazon Ish passed away last year?'
"My heart fell. I felt as if I had lost my best friend. Illogically, I began pleading with this total stranger. 'Please, I came to speak to him; it's an emergency. To whom should I go now?'
"'People go to his kever (grave site) and pray there,' he told me. I queried as to its location, and the man pointed me in the right direction. I ran there at breakneck speed and jumped over a fence to catch some people who might be able to tell me where he was buried. They pointed to a grave that was covered with stones and pebbles. When I saw his name I fell on the grave and began crying uncontrollably. I begged the Chazon Ish to pray for my daughter. 'You saved my daughter once before,' I pleaded, 'please pray for her again.'
"I was there a short time. Suddenly, just as I sit here now, I saw his face with that same smile. I heard him say to me, 'Mazel tov! You can go back to the hospital; the child has been born.' Startled, I got up, ran to my cab, and rushed back to the hospital. When I got there, they told me that my second grandchild had indeed been born. Then the cab driver turned to the man sitting next to him and said, "And these people in the back say the Chazon Ish is gone!" (Adapted from The Maggid Speaks p. 194)
One ruble is worth a thousand
Reb Noach, a disciple of the holy Rebbe of Apta (the "Ohev Yisrael"), had once been a wealthy and successful merchant. Now, as he dejectedly stood before his Rebbe, he was broke. "All I have left," he tearfully told the tzaddik, "is one ruble - the last reminder of my better days. And my daughter has reached marriageable age, yet I have nothing with which to marry her off!"
"Tell me," said the Ohev Yisrael, "how much does a man like you need for a dowry and wedding expenses, so that you can marry-off your daughter respectfully?"
Reb Noach sighed from the depths of his heart. "One thousand rubles, holy Rebbe."
"And how much do you have?" asked the tzaddik
"I already told the Rebbe - I have but one ruble left from all my years of hard work!"
"Fine," said the tzaddik, "it is enough! HaShem’s blessing can rest upon one ruble just as well as a larger amount. Go in peace, and accept the first business offer that comes your way. And remember: Yeshuas HaShem kiheref ayin, HaShem’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye!"
Not long afterwards, as he travelled home, Reb Noach stopped over in an inn to rest his aching feet. Though the food being served made his mouth water, he could hardly spend his last ruble on it, and preferred instead to partake of the stale bread he carried in his sack. Some well-to-do merchants sat next to him enjoying a sumptuous meal. Noticing the raggedly dressed pauper sitting next to them, they decided to amuse themselves. "Tell me, my fellow Jew," one of them said, "you have the appearance of a merchant. Perhaps you would be interested in a business proposition?!"
Startled, Reb Noach suddenly remembered the tzaddik's words. "Yes!" he replied enthusiastically.
"And how much money do you have at your disposal?" they asked. "One ruble!" Reb Noach replied without hesitation.
"One whole ruble!" they mocked. "Let's see what kind of a deal we can strike with a wealthy merchant who possesses one whole ruble. Reb Yid, I am sure," one of the merchants piped-in, "that for one ruble you could do no better than to purchase my share in the World to Come! Do we have a deal - your one ruble for my Olam Ha-Ba?!"
'The first business offer,' Reb Noach reminded himself of his Rebbe's words. "Yes," he responded, "I will do it." Eager to prolong their amusement, the merchants went about arranging the writing of a legal contract, and the deal was done.
The wealthy merchants were still basking in their revelry when the wife of the merchant who had made the sale entered the room. Seeing her husband's face red with laughter, she now wished to know what was going on. Priding himself on his cleverness and wit, he related to her exactly what had happened. By the time he finished his story to the laughter of his peers, however, his face had turned ashen white. He could tell by the deathly serious expression of his wife, and by her blazing eyes, that his idea of fun pleased her not the least. Nor could he do as he please, for his wife was the daughter of a wealthy merchant, and everything he had was ultimately hers.
A tense silence now came over the once-merry group. All at once, the woman began pouring out her wrath at her husband in front of the entire crowd - the empty-headed yokel who could find nothing better to do than to give-away his insignificant portion in Olam Ha-Ba! "You fool!" she cried, "How does a Jew dare to make sport of the most important thing he possesses! Take me to the Rav immediately - I refuse to be married to an imbecile like you who is so disconnected from Yiddishkeit that he does not even have a share in the World to Come!"
Overwhelmed with shame, the merchant realized that his only hope was to buy back his portion. Reb Noach was searched for, found, and brought back to their table. "Hey, Reb Yid," called out one of the merchants, "cute joke you played on our friend! Now give him back his share in the World to Come!"
Noticing the merchant's hysterical wife standing over him, Reb Noach began to grasp what had occurred. Slowly, he spoke up. "Honored gentlemen," he began in a composed voice, "I ask all of you here to bear witness to the fact that the transaction between myself and the merchant was no joke nor prank. Indeed, I have the contract to show for it. That is not to say, however, that for the right price I would not be willing to relinquish my purchase and give him back his share in the World to Come..."
The merchant pleaded with Reb Noach to sell it back to him; he would even pay him fifty rubles - a five-thousand percent profit - if only he would relent. But Reb Noach was adamant - one thousand rubles was his price, not one ruble less. "Understand, honored merchant," said Reb Noach, "that I was once a highly respected and successful merchant. Then one day, the wheel turned, and I lost all my money. This is how I fell into the state in which you now find me. Just recently, when I could not gather a sum sufficient for a dowry for my daughter, and other wedding expenses, I travelled to the holy tzaddik, the Ohev Yisrael, to ask for his advice. It was he who instructed me to accept the first business offer that came my way. It is clear to me that HaShem has guided my steps and brought me here - and that the money for my daughter's wedding lies with you."
The couple could not speak. Tears welled up in the merchant's eyes, although ostensibly he had never before experienced such emotions. Without hesitation, he withdrew a fold of bills from his pocket, and counted out one thousand rubles into the hands of Reb Noach. The merchant took the contract from Reb Noach, and tore it into shreds. "Even without this contract," he said, "it is worth investing a thousand rubles for the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah (providing for a bride)!"
His wife, who had been standing at his side the entire time, glanced at him in amazement. She was prepared to swear that in all his life, this was the first time that such selfless and noble thoughts had ever entered his mind.
"I wish to meet the tzaddik that blessed you," the merchant's wife said to Reb Noach. "Perhaps we too will merit receiving his blessing." Reb Noach could not refuse, and together they made their way back to the Rebbe. The tzaddik received his visitors with a shining countenance; he had already known of the rich merchant's noble deed, and bestowed the couple with many blessings.
Before they left, the merchant's wife turned to the tzaddik and said, "Holy Rebbe, there is one thing I would like to know: Is my husband's portion in Olam Ha-Ba really worth the thousand rubles he paid for it?"
"If the truth be told," he said, "at first, when he sold it, it was not even worth the one ruble he received for it. But now, that he has merited giving one thousand rubles for the mitzvah of hachnassas kallah, its value is so great that it is impossible to estimate!" [Adapted from A Share in the World to Come, Menachem Gerlitz, HaModia Vayechi 5759] (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5770
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a magnificent and illuminating Chanukah
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
For sponsorships please call
To subscribe weekly by email
Please send email to
View Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
and other Divrei Torah on

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz -Chanukah 5770

שבת טעם החיים מקץ-חנוכה תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz -Chanukah 5770

Being honest with ourselves

ויאמר אלהם יוסף הוא אשר דברתי אלכם לאמר מרגלים אתם But Yosef said to them, “It is just as I have declared to you: ‘You are spies!’ (Bereishis 42:!4)
In this week’s parasha the Torah records how after Yosef ascended to power, his brothers descended to Egypt because of the famine that was prevalent in the Land of Yosef. When the brothers appeared before Yosef, he accused them of being spies, which they vehemently denied. The brothers responded to Joseph that they had arrived in Egypt to buy food and that they were all sons of one man. They further buttressed their claim of innocence by declaring that they were truthful people and they had never been spies. Yosef rejected their defense, reiterating his claim that they were spies.
Understanding the dialogue between Yosef and his brothers
This dialogue between Yosef and his brothers appears puzzling, as Yosef did not appear to be supporting his claim with any evidence. The brother’s response is equally troubling, as the fact that they claimed to have arrived in Egypt with the purpose of buying food did not necessarily negate the possibility that they were spies. Furthermore, the brother’s declaration that they had never been spies was certainly something that they did not substantiate. What was the meaning of Yosef’s accusation and what was the intention behind the brothers’ rejoinder?
Taking a serious approach to the Torah’s narratives
In Europe, the Jewish women had a practice of reading aloud from the prayer book or from a book that simplified the stories contained in the Torah. It is said that one Shabbos, when a woman was reading aloud regarding the incident of the brothers throwing Joseph into the pit, another woman exclaimed, “Good for him, he deserves it. He knew what they did to him last year. Why did he crawl in again?” This was obviously a joke that circulated in those times, but it demonstrated the sincerity of the women and the manner in which they paid close attention to the Torah narrative.
Honesty through and though
When we read the incident of Yosef and his brothers, we tend to gloss over the dialogues as being mere rhetoric and irrelevant to our own lives. Yet, if we contemplate what the brothers did to Yosef, by selling him to Egypt, and how Joseph reacted, we may find a parallel to our own behaviors. We tend view ourselves as honest people, but Yosef’s accusation of his brothers demonstrates true human nature. The brothers claimed that they were truthful people and that they had never been spies. Yosef, however, informed the brothers that this was precisely their error. While it may have been true that they were all sons of one father, they certainly were lacking in honesty with regard to their interpersonal relations. Proof of this was the fact that they had sold their own brother to a foreign land and had caused their father immense distress.
True sons of one father
We have the opportunity on a daily basis to focus on aiding our fellow brethren, if we are more than just “honest with ourselves.” We must also be honest with the people we interact with, and then we can truly claim to be the sons of one father.
The Shabbos connection
In a similar vein, Shabbos allows us the opportunity to be honest in our interpersonal relationships. The Mishnah in Demai states that even an am haaretz, someone normally suspected of not tithing properly, is believed on Shabbos to say that he has tithed. The reason for this is because he has upon him the fear of Shabbos. Thus, on Shabbos one has the ability to rise above deception and dishonesty and be true to himself and his creator.
Shabbos Stories
The Piercing Shaft of Light
by Tziporah Heller
The village of Charnovska mirrored the Bible’s description of the world’s beginning. Light and darkness were entwined so completely that no period could be called “day” in comparison to another called “night.”
Until this point, the externals of life were highly predictable: cycles of births, deaths, marriages, grinding poverty and tragedies were seemingly engraved in cement. And yet the inner life of the villagers was varied and multifaceted; there were scholars and saints and ordinary people who hid their noble spirit under the blanket of a humble tailor and shoemaker -- a destiny bequeathed from their fathers and rarely questioned by the sons. There were also the living dead, for whom life had no purpose other than to move the body day-by-ponderous-day to the grave.
Then there was Shmulik. From his earliest childhood, the darkness that we all try to conceal, or at least rein in, was in full control of his personality. He was the eternal taker, the perpetual villain in the village's prosaic dramas. Nothing is darker than the secret place in the human heart that wants to experience absolute control. The little tyrant is insatiable. Sometimes the shadow is so profoundly impenetrable that even if a shaft of light would pierce its way through, it might be doomed to invisibility and obscurity.
Then, in 1917, everything changed.
Hope and desperation fueled the Russian revolution. The Jews of even the most obscure towns found themselves newly aware of Socialist fires that burned within their hearts. They swept up entire villages that followed blindly, unaware that these flames would cause a conflagration that had never yet been paralleled. In Charnovska, the young men and women walked a path that led to Stalin’s hell. At the time, they thought that they were moving toward the workers’ paradise. Their elders (and a minority of youth) saw where the path led and grasped onto the mountain of faith by their fingernails.
Shmulik was different from both segments of the village population. He fought with the Whites, the near-fascist opposition. His motivations were practical rather than idealistic. The Whites paid him well for betraying his neighbors. Shmulik informed. Fellow Jews were killed on his word.
The wrong side won, at least from Shmulik’s perspective. At a time when millions of lives were destroyed on suspicion of being “anti-revolutionary,” Shmulik survived. He was tough and ruthless, and his survival was bought at the price of his own conscience.
When Shmulik’s father died, something occurred that was unprecedented in his history. There was a ray of light, a certain spiritual longing that he had never let himself feel. More clearly than anything else he had known, he knew he must say the mourner’s Kaddish.
There were three functioning synagogues in the village. They were soon to be doomed by the Reds as a sort of museum of natural history. But for now, they were still part of the living body of the Jewish community, like limbs awaiting amputation.
The unexpected happened. No matter what Shmulik did, he could not convince the villagers to allow him to say Kaddish. The elderly men who came daily were close enough to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. They had already lost all that any human could take.
There was one other minyan in the village. It did not meet in a synagogue. What members of this minyan feared the most was being left for dead. Shmulik approached the rabbi, who like everyone else in Charnovska knew there was blood on Shmulik’s hands. This rabbi said “Yes.”
The next morning, Shmulik found himself walking the stairs that led to the decrepit shack of the makeshift synagogue. After several days, the rabbi asked Shmulik why he didn’t put on Tefillin, since he was attending synagogue in any case.
“I don’t have Tefillin,” Shmulik replied.
“But I do,” said the rabbi. And, the strange sight of the rabbi handing his Tefillin to the village traitor became the whispered gossip engaging the village for days.
Next, Shmulik learned to read Hebrew. (Yes, the dialogue was: “Why not pray?” “I don’t know how to read.” “I’ll show you.”) And so it went.
In the course of time, Shmulik became unrecognizable as the person he had once been. He married, had children, saw to their education at the risk of his life by sending them to the underground Jewish school. Shmulik had a meaningful present and future.
Yet one problem that remained on file. Shmulik had never allowed himself to look inward at the unspeakable blackness of his past. The door had remained closed, keeping all the monsters at bay. The day came when he finally opened the door and was horrified and sickened at what he saw. That day was the most significant one in his life.
The rabbi sat and told Shmulik all he knew, just as everyone in the village knew it all. Shmulik listened silently. When the litany ended, the rabbi said, “You caused death. Now you must bring forth life.”
They spoke late into the night. When their talk was silenced by weariness, a conclusion had already been reached: Shmulik would build a mikveh, a spiritual bath that is the core of Jewish family purity.
In the midst of the spiritual cemetery that was being erected in the Ukraine, Shmulik undertook to demonstrate his belief in the future of the Jewish people. Every night he went out to the barn behind his house and dug. When he struck water, he knew that the hope he had nurtured was being answered. Tiles were acquired on the black market, and a heating system was devised. The man who had betrayed so many was not betrayed.
The final touch was the construction of a wooden platform upon which he shoveled horse manure. The platform covered the top of the mikveh, hiding it from view. None of the “big brothers” who had become a ubiquitous part of the scene ever felt inclined to investigate the muck.
Charnovska exchanged hands and Shmulik found himself in a concentration camp. His family was gone. But Shmulik’s face shone like a righteous tzaddik.
It is not my Shabbos
The Chafetz Chaim (1838-1933) once organized a campaign against a group of merchants in Radin that began to keep their stores open on Shabbos. He spoke to them privately and he spoke publicly about the issue. Finally, the merchants agreed to keep their stores closed on Shabbos. They only had one request from the Chafetz Chaim. “We expected to be open for Shabbos and on that basis greatly increased our inventory of perishable items. If we close for the next two Saturdays we will take a severe loss. Just let us stay open these two weeks to unload our extra merchandise, and then we will stay closed for Shabbos after that.”
The Chafetz Chaim responded, “I am sorry gentlemen, but it is not my Shabbos.” In other words, I am not the owner of the institution of Shabbos that I have the license to grant you compromise on this issue. Shabbos belongs to G-d. There is no way that I am justified in compromising. (reprinted with permission from
The Chafetz Chaim speaks the language of the heart
Here is a remarkable story that was related at the central hisorerus rally for women, organized by Todaah, and held in Binei Brak on the 65th yahrtzeit of the Chafetz Chaim last Elul.
The main speech at the rally was delivered by the av beis din of Binei Brak’s Zichron Meir neighborhood, and Rosh Yeshiva of today’s Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Binei Brak, HaRav Shmuel Halevi Wosner, who stressed the importance of strengthening our devotion to the chinuch of our children, and sharpening our awareness of the dangers the posed to our generation by the unfit media which poison the souls of our youngsters, and undermine the walls of our pure education.
In his speech, he spoke about the Chafetz Chaim, whose yahrtzeit coincided with the day of the rally. He related that he was studying in the Chachmei Lublin yeshiva in Europe on the day of the petirah of the Chafetz Chaim. When the bitter news reached them, the Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Meir Shapiro, convened the students and with bitter tears eulogized the gadol hador who had gone to his eternal rest.
In his hesped, Maharam Shapiro related that during the final years of the Chafetz Chaim’s life, a decree was passed against the talmudei Torah and chadorim in Poland. A contingent of Rabbanim was sent to the Chafetz Chaim with the request that he head a delegation to the Polish government, for the purpose of annulling the decree. “We told the Chafetz Chaim: ‘On Yom Kippur, the fledgling priests told the Kohen Gadol: ‘Our master, the Kohen Gadol, stand on the floor and lessen the warmth of your feet.’ Our master, the Kohen Gadol, Maran the Chafetz Chaim, stand at the head of the campaign for the honor of HaShem and His Torah.’
“And the Chafetz Chaim, in his venerable old age, headed the delegation to the Polish government. When he appeared before the members of the government, they rose in his honor. The Chafetz Chaim told the Prime Minister that he couldn’t speak Polish, and asked to speak in Yiddish. To this, the Polish Prime Minster replied: ‘Your honor will speak the language of the heart, and I will understand.’
“With heartfelt words, the Chafetz Chaim began: ‘Your honor, the Prime Minster, during the First World War, the Russians who ruled Poland murdered all the Poles who sought independence. One time, they led a group of captives through the town of Radin. The captives were bound in iron chains, and the Russians beat and disgraced them. When I saw this, I entered the beis medrash, opened the aron kodesh, placed my head between the Torah scrolls and prayed: ‘Ribbono Shel Olam, even though they are non-Jews, they are Your creations. Why do they disgrace them so?. HaKadosh Boruch Hu heard my prayers, and Poland received its independence.’
“‘Honorable Prime Minister,’ the Chafetz Chaim continued. ‘I requested that Poland remain Poland, that Poland remain a state. If you don’t annul the decree, Poland will cease to exist.’
“The Polish Prime Minster, who was deeply moved by the words of the Chafetz Chaim, rose and said: ‘Most honorable rabbi, the decree is canceled.’”
This story was related by my mentor, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin, in his hesped over the Chafetz Chaim. At the end of the hesped, Maharam Shapiro described the Chafetz Chaim’s immense greatness in Torah, stressing that he was the Rav of all Israel and that he had strengthened his generation and all generations until the coming of the Moshiach in many issues, among them that of shemiras halashon.
On that occasion, Maharam Shapiro noted that in the generation preceding him, it was the Chasam Sofer one who had fortified our faith, and that at the time of the petirah of the Chasam Sofer, in 5700, the verse, “and the sun shone, and the sun set,” as well as the statement of Chazal that, “the sun of the tzaddik doesn’t set until the sun of another tzaddik. begins to shine,” were fulfilled, because it was then that the sun of the Chafetz Chaim began to glow.
At the close of his stirring words, Rav Wosner emphasized the obligation to strengthen our shemiras halashon, saying that one who guards his tongue and his mouth merits longevity, as it is written: “Who is the man who wants life, loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” (
Refoel’s Story
by Sheila Segal
I sat on the faded wooden bench in the park. It was Shabbos afternoon, and this playground was filled with the happy sounds of children at play. We were visiting my husband's elderly grandparents in Haifa, and I had brought the children to the park to allow Bubby and Zaidy a peaceful Shabbos nap. I waved to a grinning Moishy, and dutifully watched as he slid headfirst down the weather-beaten slide. The other children were flying energetically on the huge black tires that served as swings. I sighed heavily to myself. It had been a difficult Shabbos, trying to harness the exuberant spirits of six lively children in unfamiliar surroundings. Bubby and Zaidy had been so thrilled when we finally agreed to come to them for a Shabbos but I hadn't realized how frail they had become. They loved having the children over, but I saw how much of a strain it was on them.
Absorbed in my thoughts, I barely noticed when a middle-aged woman joined me on the bench. Alongside her was a young boy in a wheelchair. “Good Shabbos,” she greeted me with a pleasant smile. “Are you visiting? I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” Warmed by her friendliness, I introduced myself. “Oh, yes. I know the Kahns. They live on Rechov Regev, don’t they? They’re such a sweet couple.” I nodded, marveling at the closeness of this community. “I’m Rena Levine. I come here almost every nice day. Refoel loves to be out and see other children. This park is one of his favorite spots.” She stroked his thin hand as she spoke. We chatted casually for several minutes, yet my glance kept straying to the delicate boy in the wheelchair. Propped up securely in the chair, his bright brown eyes darted eagerly, drinking in the cheerful romping of the children. Just then, a young boy came up and asked if he could wheel Refoel around. You could see the pleading and excitement in two sets of eyes as they waited for the affirmative nod. It came and the two were off.
For a long moment, Rena gazed thoughtfully at me. “I see that you’re curious about Refoel. If you’ve got some time, I’ll share his story with you.” I agreed, piqued by curiosity and compassion.
“I’ll start from the very beginning, when I first met Refoel.” My eyes opened wide. “First met?” I repeated hesitantly. She nodded briefly, then plunged into her tale. “For a number of years, I was part of a Bikur Cholim organization. Every week I would visit patients in a local hospital. One day I received an urgent phone call. There was a nurses’ strike on, and extra volunteers were needed desperately in the Children’s Ward.
‘’The nurses go off duty at 12 o’clock. Please be there on time to care for the children,’ a crisp voice informed me. I could almost hear the scratch of a pen as she marked off names on her list.
“I arrived several minutes early that day. To my surprise, I discovered that the nurses only went off duty at 4:00. Only afterwards would I realize that this was yet another example of Yad HaShem which I would encounter throughout my relationship with Refoel. A harried nurse requested that I hold a baby who was screaming piteously in the next room. ‘He’s got cerebral palsy and he’s blind,’ I was told matter-of-factly. ‘He’s been abandoned by his natural parents.’ I rocked the little boy gently in my arms, crooning softly to settle him. Feeling how damp his diaper was, I proceeded to change him. If I had arrived after four o’clock, when the nurses had left for the day, he would most certainly have been freshly changed. And I would never have discovered that this tiny Jewish boy had not yet had a bris milah.
“Shocked and upset, I paced the halls, clutching the infant securely in my arms. His big brown eyes followed the lights in the corridor, pausing with grave interest to peer at the pictures in their heavy gilt frames. I stopped in front of a large painting. The baby seemed captivated by the swirls of color, for he gurgled delightedly.
“ ‘This baby can’t be blind,’ I decided. I pounced on the head nurse to share my discovery but she was distracted. ‘Maybe he can see shapes,’ she reluctantly conceded, `but he’s got so many other problems, it hardly makes much difference.’ I bristled angrily at the way this child was being treated. ‘He needs love - a mother’s love.’ I was furious at his mother for simply abandoning him. It wasn’t his fault that he had been born with such severe medical problems.
“I went home that night, determination and despair churning inside me. I would make sure that the four-month-old infant would have a proper bris. Yet where could I find a home for him?
“I found myself becoming obsessed with this baby. Often, after arriving home from visiting him, I would call the Children’s Ward to check on his condition. Was he covered properly? Might he be uncomfortable and fretting? I couldn’t keep him out of my mind. I spent hours on the telephone trying to find a home for him. He couldn’t stay at the hospital indefinitely and the nurses had mentioned a possibility of his being sent soon to an institution, perhaps a Christian one.
“One night, after another fruitless round of phone calls, an incredible thought struck me. Why not keep the baby myself? We would be the perfect family for him! Trembling with emotion, I shared my idea with my husband, who approved wholeheartedly. The following day, I gathered my children around the dining room table and held a family conference about the fate of the infant. My oldest was 17 at the time, the youngest 3. All eight children were perched on our worn chairs, eager to offer an opinion. My husband described the boy’s severe limitations and the difficulties involved in caring for such a child. To my great pride and relief, the children all agreed that we should take him.
“’We’ll help you take care of him, Ima,’ six-year-old Bluma offered. ‘Hurray!’ we’re getting a new baby!’ whooped the twins. Tears coursing down my cheeks, I felt a heavy rock lift from my heart. I knew that we could make a difference to this helpless little boy.
“A fervent blessing from our Rav still ringing in our ears, my husband and I traced our steps to the hospital to claim the baby. While my husband filled out reams of paper and stacks of forms, I paced the halls nervously. After visits to the social worker, doctors, and the head nurse from Pediatrics, the baby was finally released into our custody. His natural parents had refused to sign the necessary papers, so we were only his guardians, not adoptive parents.”
Rena looked at me, having paused in her reminiscences. “That was the easy part,” she said, a faint smile playing on her lips. “Once we brought him home, the hard part began.” I hung avidly on her words, amazed at this courageous woman and her incredible narrative of mesiras nefesh.
“Six weeks after my seeing the baby for the first time, we took him home with us. When he was almost six months, he had a bris milah. We named him Refoel Chaim. The whole neighborhood rejoiced with us. My friends were extremely supportive. Some thought I was crazy, but they still buoyed up my spirits when I struggled. Refoel was miserable when we first brought him home. He cried for hours non-stop. He was very spastic and certainly in some pain. He wasn’t on any medication at that time. Frantic from worry and sheer exhaustion, I would gladly have handed him over to his mother if she had knocked on my door then. Boruch HaShem we survived that ordeal. Refoel is ten years old now and a happy child.” Rena glanced fondly at the youngster who was still being wheeled around the playground, now by a girl, blonde braids swinging impishly. She was chattering rapidly to him, sharing her secrets. The two giggled companionably, secure in their world. Refoel looked at his ‘mother’ to see if she was appreciating how happy he was. As their glances locked, his eyes sparkled. A wide grin revealed his love for this special woman.
“The kids adore him,” Rena commented, her face glowing. She leaned forward and our heads almost touched. “Do you know what my 12-year-old son said yesterday? Someone asked him if he was jealous of all the attention Refoel gets in our home. His answer was simple. ‘What would we have done without Refoel?’”
Rena relaxed; a dreamy look crept into her eyes. “He’s a special neshama. He listens to our davening so carefully. He loves when my husband or one of the boys learn aloud at home. He seems to follow each word they say.”
She paused. “He’s made each of us a better person. My daughter’s teacher called me last week. She sees how Michali is always the first to help children who are left out or defend those teased by the rest of the class. Refoel has given us so much.”
Rena noticed my admiring look and added hastily, “Please don’t get the wrong impression. Some people think I’m such a tzaddekes because I’m taking care of a handicapped child. It’s not like that at all. We consider Refoel our son, even if we haven’t been able to adopt him formally. And for a son, no effort or trouble is too much.”
I sat silently on the bench, mulling over Rena’s last comment. Some child wheeled Refoel back, his cheeks ruddy, his eyes bright. Rena rose and gripped the handles of his wheelchair. “Good Shabbos. It was nice meeting you. Think about all the women you know. I’m sure many of them do acts of chesed that few people are aware of. It’s just that in my situation, it’s more apparent.” She smiled wryly and walked away. In a short while, I was surrounded by a circle of happy faces. “Ima, this is such a fun park. Can we come back again?” Still bemused by my encounter with Rena, I nodded distractedly.
“Who were those people, Ima? Do you know them?” Rachel curiously eyed the retreating form of a woman, navigating a wheelchair in front of her.
“That’s a special lady, with a special son,” I answered quietly, Refoel’s story still echoing softly in my ears.
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Mikeitz-Chanukah 5770
is sponsored in honor of the birth of our son, Simcha Bunim.
Simchos by all of Klal Yisroel, culminating in the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a magnificent and illuminating Chanukah
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770

שבת טעם החיים וישב-חנוכה תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770

The flax and the straw

וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען אלה תולדות יעקב יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה היה רועה את אחיו בצאן והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני זלפה נשי אביו ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם, Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan. These are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, but he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports about them to their father.
Rashi offers a fascinating insight to explain the juxtaposition of the end of last week’s parasha and the beginning of this week’s parasha. There is a parable where a person has camels laden with flax. The blacksmith wonders where all the flax can be stored. A clever person responded to the blacksmith that one spark from the smithy’s hammer will consume all of the flax. Similarly, at the end of last week’s parasha the Torah records the chiefs of Esav. Figuratively, Yaakov observed all these chiefs and wondered how it would be possible to conquer them. For this reason this week’s parasha begins with the verse these are the chronicles of Yaakov: Yosef. It is written (Ovadiah 1:18) vihayah veis Yaakov eish uveis Yosef lehavah uveis Esav likash, the house of Yaakov will be fire, the house of Yosef a flame, and the house of Esav for straw. A spark will go forth from Yosef that will consume all of Esav’s chiefs. What is the significance of this parable? Would it not have been sufficient for Rashi to state that Yosef is the one whose descendants will destroy Esav? Furthermore, this idea is reflected in a verse that states (Ibid verse 21) vialu moshiim bihar Tziyon lishpot es har Esav vihayasa laHaShem hamleucha, and saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the Mountain of Esav, and the kingdom will be HaShem’s. One of the commentators writes that the word saviors, in the plurals sense, refers to Moshiach ben Yosef and Moshiach ben Dovid. Thus, one must wonder why Rashi needed to draw on the metaphor of the flax and the spark of fire.
The struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav foreshadowed the struggle of the Greeks against the Jewish People
In order to gain insight into the words of Rashi, it is worthwhile to examine the time of the year when this week’s parasha occurs. The festival of Chanukah always occurs between the parshiyos of Vayeishev and Mikeitz. It is noteworthy that the gematria of the word Vayeishev is 318 and the gematria of the word Mikeitz is 230. When one subtracts 230 from 318, the result is 88, the gematria of the word Chanukah (89). Furthermore, the festival of Chanukah is always preceded by Parashas Vayishlach, so in a sense, we must study the parasha of Vayishlach as a preparation for Chanukah. One of the highlights of Parashas Vayishlach is the episode where Yaakov encounters the angel of Esav and battles with him. It is said ((Bereishis 32:25) vayivaseir Yaakov livado vayeiavek ish imo ad alos hashachar; vayar ki lo yochol lo vayiga bikaf yireicho vateika kaf yerech Yaakov biheiavko imo, Yaakov was left alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he perceived that he could not overcome him, he struck the socket of his hip; so Yaakov’s hip-socket was dislocated as he wrestled with him. Rashi (Verse 25) writes that the reason that Yaakov was left alone was because he had gone back for pachim ketanim, small jars. The commentators write that this alludes to the miracle of Chanukah, when the Chashmonaim searched the Bais HaMikdash and discovered a flask of oil that was sealed with a seal of the Kohen Gadol. The next verse states that Yaakov remained alone. Rabbeinu Bachye writes that the word livado can also be read likado, for his flask. One explanation of this cryptic statement is that Yaakov returned for “his flask,” i.e. the Chashmonaim searched for and found a flask of oil. It is noteworthy that the word livad equals 36 in gematria, and that corresponds to the amount of lights that we kindle on Chanukah (excluding the Shamash). The word vayeiavek is literally translated as “and he wrestled.” However, the root of the word is avak, similar to the word avukah, which means a flame. Thus, the struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav foreshadowed the struggle that would occur in the future between the Greek-Rome ideologies and the Jewish People.
The confluence of Roman and Greek culture is alluded to in the Torah
A hint to the association between Esav and Yavan, the forerunner of Greece, can be found in the blessing that Yitzchak conferred on Esav. It is said (Ibid 27:39) vayaan Yitzchak aviv vayomer eilav hinei mishmanei haaretz yihiyeh moshavecho umital hashamayim meial, so Yitzchak his father answered, and said to him: “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. Rashi writes that the fatness of the earth refers to Italia shel Yavan, an area in Southern Italy (see ArtScroll Chumash with Rashi for further explanation). Thus, it is clear that Esav inherited the geographical land of Greece, and it is well known that Roman culture was influenced by Greek culture. (A further hint to this idea can be found at the end of Parashas Vayishlach where the Torah records the Chiefs of Esav. It is said (Ibid 36:43) aluf Magdiel aluf Aram, the chief of Magdiel and the chief of Iram. Rashi writes that Magdiel is Rome. The word Magdiel equals 88 in gematria, the same as the word Chanukah (89).
Yosef, ‘to add,’ is symbolic of the Chanukah lighting
Now that we see the association between Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece, we can better understand why Rashi chose the metaphor of the flax and the spark of fire from the blacksmith. When one peruses the Mishnah, there is only one explicit reference to the lighting of candles on Chanukah. This is found in a Mishnah at the end of the sixth chapter of Bava Kama (6:6), where the Mishnah discusses a case in which flax carried by a camel catches fire from Chanukah candles placed in front of a store. This Mishnah, similar to Rashi in the beginning of Parsha Vayeishev, also hints to an important component of the Chanukah miracle, which is the association between Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece. The confluence of the two nation’s cultures is ultimately consumed by the flame of the fire, and this is one of the underlying messages of the Chanukah miracle. The fire is reflected in Yaakov, and the flame is symbolized by Yosef. It is ultimately Yosef who will be the one that destroys the Esav-Rome and Yavan-Greece influence on the Jewish People. While Esav and Yavan symbolized materialism and physical gratification, Yosef, referred to as Yosef HaTzaddik, reflected abstinence and Shemiras HaBris, the Guardian of the Covenant, i.e. circumcision. Yosef is associated with the attribute of Yesod, Foundation, which reflects the resistance of one who is tempted by immoral sin. It is noteworthy that every night of Chanukah we add a candle to our lighting, and the name Yosef means to add. We are not merely making our house a warmer place to reside in. Rather, we are demonstrating that we understand our life mission as one of constantly ascending in matters of holiness and purity. This is the message of the Chanukah candles and the victory of the Chashmonaim over the Greeks and their culture.
The Shabbos connection
In a similar vein, a Jewish woman lights candles on Friday afternoon, and the flames continue to burn throughout Shabbos evening. Yaakov reflects the fire of Shabbos, whereas Yosef reflects Tosefes Shabbos, the add-on time to Shabbos. HaShem should allow us to merit the lighting of the Menorah in the Bais HaMikdash, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos Stories

Rav Yaakov Neiman Zt”l Teaches Us The Tools Of The Trade
“Ein Davar HaOmed Lifnei HaRatzon.” There is nothing that stands in the way of one’s will. Many Gedolim testified to their weak mental capabilities in their youth. Yet their sheer desire turned them into Gedolei Yisroel. Burning desire as a yardstick for success is illustrated in the following story.
There was a boy who came from a family that was not very Torah oriented, and lived in a non-religious community in Eretz Yisroel. Despite his less than stellar Torah education, the boy had a great desire to learn Torah and when it came time to go to a post high school Yeshiva, war broke out in his home over his decision. Reluctantly his mother traveled with him to the famous yeshiva Ohr Yisroel in Petach Tikva.
The Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yaakov Neiman Zt”l tested the boy and then came out to report to his mother that the boy lacked the background and the tools to be successful in their Yeshiva. The Yeshiva was not equipped to train young men on his level. He suggested another Yeshiva that he thought would be more appropriate.

Listening to the conversation from the side, the boy burst out crying. Surprised, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to him and asked him why he was crying. He told the Rosh Yeshiva how hard he fought to convince his mother to let him come for an interview. Now that he was rejected, there was no guarantee that he would be able to convince his parents to let him take a test at the next Yeshiva.
Immediately the Rosh Yeshiva turned to the mother and told her that her son was accepted to the Yeshiva. The mother then asked a bit perturbed, but I thought your Yeshiva is not capable of properly teaching my son? The Rosh Yeshiva answered that he rejected him before he burst out into tears because his knowledge base was lacking. However the greatest tool for success in learning in heartfelt desire. Desire can make up for any deficiency and he will no doubt see great success from his learning.
Whether we are teenagers or middle age men or even seniors who have never seen success in learning, it is not too late. Yes, we may not be brilliant, nor do we have many tools, but desire is possible at any age and it will take us to wherever we want to go. It is HaShem’s Torah and he gives it to those who really want it.
Mazel Tov to Kaiser Wilhelm! - Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg
Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg was a talmid of Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the author of the renowned HaKesav ViHakabala on Chumash. He was the Rav of Königsberg in Germany and apparently fearless as the following story suggests.
The Rav, Rav Yaakov Tzvi was invited to officiate at the wedding of a girl from a liberal home. The girl refused to follow the requirements necessary for a Bas Yisroel to prepare for her wedding. Because of this Rav Yaakov Tzvi refused to officiate at the wedding. However, with pressure from the government, Rav Yaakov Tzvi was forced to do so and he finally relented.
Rav Yaakov Tzvi stood under the Chupah and said to the Choson for him to repeat to the Kallah the standard language of kedushin, “Harei at mikudeshes li” you are married to me. Then he continued and instead of saying, “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel,” Rav Yaakov Tzvi said, “Kidas Kaiser Wilhelm the Great!” An uproar ensued as the befuddled Mechutanim demanded that he explain why he did not say “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel.” He calmly explained that this wedding was not “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel” since according to Toras Moshe a kallah must prepare herself in the Jewish way. This wedding and his presence was purely on the say so of the Kaiser so he made sure to use the correct and appropriate words attributing the wedding vows to whom they in fact belonged.
Rav Yaakov Tzvi held his position and refused to budge. Without any other options the wedding was cancelled and held at a later date after the girl made all the proper preparations... and Rav Yaakov Tzvi proudly officiated the Chasuna “Kidas Moshe ViYisroel.” Yehi Zichro Boruch! (Reprinted with permission from
What about a back-up plan?
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: I would like to share an incident that I heard in the name of Reb Chatzkel Besser. He personally heard this story from the Sadegerer Rebbe in Tel Aviv.
So much of life is being in the right place at the right time or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Sadegerer Rebbe had to be in Vienna on Shabbos Parashas Zachor, March 12, 1938. That was a very inopportune Shabbos to be in Vienna. On that Friday the brown shirted Nazis marched into Vienna and ransacked Jewish homes. Subsequently, the Nazis invaded Vienna and that was the beginning of the end for Viennese Jewry.
[Ironically, the famous Reichman Family was also in Vienna in 1938. That Shabbos was supposed to be the Bar Mitzvah of the eldest brother Edward Reichman. Unfortunately - or at least what they thought was unfortunate at the time – Mrs. Reichman’s father who still lived in Hungary (in Beled) had a stroke. They wanted very much that the grandfather should be at the Bar Mitzvah, but he was in no condition to travel to Vienna. So the week before the Bar Mitzvah the Reichman family with three of their children left Vienna to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah in Hungary. Samuel Reichman (the father) never stepped foot in Vienna again. That is how he was able to make it out of Europe. He fortuitously happened to be in Hungary.]
The Sadegerer Rebbe had no such luck. The brown shirted Nazis zeroed in on every prominent Jew they could find. They grabbed Jews out of cabs out of shuls, out of every place they could find them. They captured the Sadegerer Rebbe. This is the background to the story I want to tell. I will relate what happened to him very soon.
Years later, Reb Chatzkel Besser visited Tel Aviv. Early one morning, he was walking into the shteibel of the Sadegerer Rebbe. He noticed the Jewish street cleaner sweeping the street and the sidewalk on the block of the shteibel. When the street cleaner reached the sidewalk immediately in front of the shteibel, he stopped sweeping, walked past the shul, and then resumed his cleaning operation on the next block.
Reb Chatzkel Besser sensed anti-religious discrimination here and went over to the street cleaner and objected. “What’s wrong with this piece of sidewalk?” The street cleaner responded “HaRebbe lo noten reshus” (The Rebbe does not allow me to sweep there.) Reb Chatzkel Besser did not believe him and repeated his question to which the street cleaner repeated the same answer.
He thought the street cleaner was making up the story or just being lazy. He went into the Rebbe and asked him directly “Why won’t the street cleaner sweep in front of your shteibel?” The Rebbe put him off and did not give him a straight answer. This was Friday morning. He kept badgering the Rebbe Friday night, Shabbos morning, Shabbos afternoon: “What does it mean ‘HaRebbe lo noten reshus’?”
At the end of Shabbos the Rebbe explained the true story to his guest. When he was in Vienna that Shabbos in March 1938 the Nazis took him and dressed him up in one of the uniforms of the street cleaners of Vienna and they gave him a tiny little broom. They placed him by the steps of the Vienna Opera House and ordered him to clean every step.
Of course, this was a humiliating experience for the Rebbe. He was wearing one of those little street cleaner’s caps and essentially holding a tooth brush, cleaning the massive steps of the Vienna landmark. He related that at that moment he made a “deal” with the Ribbono shel Olam. He said, “Master of the Universe, if You help me escape from here I promise You I will sweep the streets of Eretz Yisrael.”
He made it out and he kept his promise. When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael and set up a shteibel there, he accepted upon himself that he would not let anyone sweep outside his shteibel – he would do it himself. Every day, he would sweep the sidewalk in front of his shul because of the deal he made with the Almighty, in the tradition of Yaakov Avinu.
Speech Lessons
Rabbi Abraham Twersky writes: One Shabbos, the Chafetz Chaim lodged at an inn, and the innkeeper, not knowing his identity, seated him at a table with several other guests who were horse traders. At every meal, the conversation was about horses. After Shabbos, someone informed the innkeeper of the identity of this guest. The innkeeper apologized to the Chafetz Chaim for having exposed him to such unrefined company. The Chafetz Chaim, “To the contrary, I was very pleased to sit with them. You see, they spoke only about horses, not about people!”
Rabbi Yosef Kahanamen, related that the Chafetz Chaim once sent for him and said, “I have just sold a number of my books and I have some money. Some people who ask me to lend them money are completely untrustworthy, and never repay a loan. One is not obligated to lend money to dishonest people. However, I cannot tell them that I do not have any money, because that is a lie. Therefore, I want to give you all my money as a legally-binding gift, so when I say that I do not have any money, I will not be lying.”
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein was a close friend and admirer of Rabbi Yitzchak Sher. When the latter died, it was assumed that Rabbi Levenstein would eulogize him, but to everyone's astonishment, he refused. He later explained, “Just recently I lost a dear grandchild. I felt that in my eulogy I might be overcome with the grief over my grandchild, and I might cry. The audience would think that I am crying because of the death of Rabbi Sher, and I would be guilty of giving a false impression.”[Reprinted with permission from]
Kiddush HaShem with an X-mas tree
Rabbi Frand closed with a story he heard from Rabbi Abish Brodt about a reception in honor of Rabbi Wein in Detroit which included many important people including the Editor of the Detroit Free Press. The Editor had a history of being very pro-Israel and he asked for (and received) an opportunity to address the gathering.
The Editor told the following story - when his mother came to this country from Ireland in the 1920s, she took a job as a housekeeper for a Jewish family who happened to live next door to a shul. She knew that the family was going out of town and would not be returning until December 23rd. She was concerned that getting back this late, they would not be able to get a “proper tree.” She felt bad for them as they had always taken such care of her, so she went out and bought a tree and trimmed it with green and red lights and tinsel and put it in the front of the house.

The family came home and saw the tree and had two possible ways of dealing with the situation. Either they could demand that the tree be removed immediately, or they could deal with it much more sensitively. The head of the family chose the second approach - telling the woman that her act had been an incredibly thoughtful one which should be rewarded. He told her that he was going to give her a bigger bonus because of her actions and gave her a $50 bill (quite sizable for the 1920’s). He then told her that unfortunately, there is no tree in our religion and that they could not keep it in their home, but still her act had been very thoughtful and they were touched.
The Editor related that his mother always spoke warmly about the Jews and the Tree and how respectfully they had treated her. He felt that this had influenced his view of Jews and continued to have an impact so many years later. (From the internet)

It’s Not Exactly So
Reb Yakov Yosef of Polonoye, the Baal Shem Tov’s famous student, was an extremely serious, intense and very exacting person. He once became so upset, that he stopped corresponding with his friend R. Mendel Horodoker. (Some say with the Besht).
Once as Reb Yakov Yosef travelled by coach, he saw a Jew trudging along the road, and invited him up to ride on the wagon. But instead of sitting down on the regular seat, the guest preferred to squat on a small box. In response to Reb Yakov Yosef’s amazement, the Jew replied: “We say three times a day: “Ashrei Haam shekacha Lo: (Tehillim 144:15). Fortunate is the person who is happy with whatever he has.” (Editor’s note: the correct translation is: praiseworthy is the people for whom this is so).
Reb Yaakov Yosef soon received a letter from Reb Mendel: ‘Since you stopped communicating with me, I had to send you my message through Eliyahu HaNavi.’ (
The Vanished Flame
Despite the Chassid’s shocking physical state, his eyes sparkled with joy.
It was the first night of Chanukah. Outside a snowstorm raged, but inside it was tranquil and warm. The Rebbe, Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuz, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, stood in front of the menorah, surrounded by a crowd of his Chassidim. He recited the blessings with great devotion, lit the single candle, placed the shammash (“servant candle”) in its designated place, and began to sing HaNairos Halalu. His face radiated holiness and joy; the awed Chassidim stared intently at him.
The flame of the candle was burning strongly. Rebbe and Chassidim sat nearby and sang Maoz Tzur and other Chanukah songs. All of a sudden, the candle began to flicker and leap wildly, even though there wasn’t the slightest breeze in the house. It was as if it were dancing. Or struggling. And then, it disappeared!
It didn’t blow out - there was no smoke, it just was not there anymore. It was as if it flew off somewhere else. The Rebbe himself seemed lost in thought. His attendant went over to re-light the wick, but the Rebbe waved him off.
He motioned to the Chassidim to continue singing. Several times, between tunes, the Rebbe spoke words of Torah. The evening passed delightfully, and the Chassidim present had all but forgotten the disappearing Chanukah candle.
It was nearly midnight when the harsh sound of carriage wheels grating on the snow and ice exploded the tranquility. The door burst open and in came a Chassid who hailed from a distant village. His appearance was shocking. His clothes were ripped and filthy, and his face was puffy and bleeding. And yet, in stark contrast to his physical state, his eyes were sparkling and his features shone with joy.
He sat down at the table, and with all eyes upon him, began to speak excitedly. “This isn’t the first time I came to Mezhibuz by the forest route, and I know the way very well. But there was a terrible snow storm this week, which greatly slowed my advance. I began to worry that I wouldn’t get here in time to be with the Rebbe for the first night of Chanukah. The thought disturbed me so much, I decided not to wait out the storm, but to plod ahead and travel day and night, in the hope that I could reach my destination on time.
“That was a foolish idea, I must admit, but I didn’t realize that until too late. Last night, I ran into a gang of bandits, who were quite pleased to encounter me. They figured if I was out in this weather, at night, alone, I must be a wealthy merchant whose business could not brook delay. They demanded that I surrender to them all of my money.
“I tried to explain, I pleaded with them, but they absolutely refused to believe I had no money. They seized the reins of my horses and leapt on my wagon. They sat themselves on either side of me to keep me under close surveillance, and then drove me and my wagon off to meet their chief to decide my fate.
“While they waited for their chief to arrive, they questioned and cross-examined me in great detail, searched me and the wagon, and beat me, trying to elicit the secret of where I had hidden my money. I had nothing to tell them except the truth, and that they weren’t prepared to accept.
“After hours of this torture, they bound me and threw me, injured and exhausted, into a dark cellar. I was bleeding from the wounds they inflicted, and my whole body ached in pain. I lay there until the evening, when the gang leader came to speak with me.
“I tried to the best of my ability to describe to him the great joy of being in the Rebbe’s presence, and how it was so important to me to get to the Rebbe by the start of the holiday that it was worth it to endanger myself by traveling at night.
“It seems that my words made an impression in him, or else he was persuaded by my adamancy even under torture. But whichever it was, thank G-d he released me from the handcuffs, saying:
“ ‘I sense that your faith in G-d is strong and your longing to be with your Rebbe is genuine and intense. Now we shall see if this is the truth. I am going to let you go, but you should know that the way is extremely dangerous. Even the most rugged people never venture into the heart of the forest alone, only in groups, and especially not in a storm and at night. You can leave and try your luck. And I am telling you, if you get through the forest and the other terrible conditions safely, unharmed by the ferocious wild beasts or anything else, then I will break up my gang and reform my ways.
“ ‘If you actually reach the outskirts of the city, then throw your handkerchief into the ditch next to the road, behind the signpost there. One of my men will be waiting, and that is how I will know that you made it.’
“I then became terrified all over again. The hardships I had already endured were seared into my soul, and now even more frightening nightmares awaited me. But when I thought about how wonderful it is to be with the Rebbe at the menorah lighting, I shook off all my apprehensions and resolved not to delay another moment. My horse and carriage were returned to me and I set off on my way.
“There was total darkness all around. I could hear the cries of the forest animals, and they sounded close. I feared that I was surrounded by a pack of vicious wolves.
“I crouched down over my horse’s neck and spurred him on. He refused to move in the pitch blackness. I lashed him. He didn’t budge.
“I had no idea what to do. At that moment, a small light flickered in front of the carriage. The horse stepped eagerly towards it. The light advanced. The horse followed. All along the way, the wild animals fled from us, as if the tiny dancing flame was driving them away.
“We followed that flame all the way here. I kept my end of the bargain and threw my handkerchief at the designated place. Who knows? Perhaps those cruel bandits will change their ways, all in the merit of that little light.”
It was only then that the Chassidim noticed that the Rebbe’s Chanukah light had returned. There it was, burning in the elaborate menorah, its flame strong and pure as if it had just been lit.
Biographical note: Rabbi Baruch was born in 1753 in Mezhibuz, the town from which his illustrious grandfather, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, led the Chassidic Movement which he founded. Rabbi Baruch was the son of the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter, Adel, and her husband, Rabbi Yechiel Ashkenazi. He was one of the pre-eminent rebbes in the generation of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch and had thousands of Chassidim.
(Translated and retold by Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles from Sichat HaShavuah #53. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder and educational coordinator of ASCENT OF SAFED, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent Website.)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev-Chanukah 5770
is sponsored by my dear friend Rabbi Dovid Neiman from Chicago in honor of the birth of our son this week.
Shalom Zachar Im Yirtzeh HaShem at our house Friday night 26100 Marlowe Place in Oak Park.
Simchos by all of Klal Yisroel, culminating in the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos and a magnificent and illuminating Chanukah
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5770

שבת טעם החיים וישלח תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5770

Wisdom is creation

ויענו בני יעקב את שכם ואת חמור אביו במרמה וידברו אשר טמא את דינה אחתם, Yaakov’s sons answered Schechem and his father cleverly and they spoke (because he had defiled their sister Dinah). (Bereishis 34: 13)
In this week’s parasha the Torah records how Shechem, the son of Chamor the Chivite, kidnapped Dena, the daughter of Yaakov, and violated her. The sons of Yaakov heard about this violation and they were incensed. The Torah then records how Shimon and Levi, the two sons of Yaakov, slaughtered the entire city of Shechem and released Dena from captivity. It is noteworthy that in the response to Shechem and his father, the Torah states that the sons of Yaakov answered “cleverly.” Rashi cites the Targum who renders the word bimirmah, normally translated as deceitfully, to mean bichochma, with wisdom. One must wonder why the Torah did not merely use the word bichochma if the meaning of bimirmah is with wisdom. This question is also relevant regarding the episode where Yaakov received the blessings from Yitzchak, and Esav felt like he was cheated. It is said (Bereishis 27:35) vayomer ba achicha bimirmah vayikach birchasecha, but he said, “Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.” Rashi there also cites the Targum who renders the word bimirmah as bichochma, with wisdom. As we mentioned previously, it needs to be understood why the Torah did not merely use the word bichochma.
Different names for a midwife
To understand why the Torah uses the word bimirmah, literally translated as deceitfully, when it means bichochma, with wisdom, we must analyze what chochma means and how the word is used in other contexts. We find that the Torah refers to a midwife as a miyaledes, i.e. one who helps a woman give birth, or a chayah, literally translated as a wild animal. The Gemara, however, refers to a midwife as a chachama, a wise woman. What is the meaning of this? In order to understand this, let us examine other instances where the word chochma is used. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 29b) states that the blowing of a shofar on Rosh Hashanah is not a melachah, an act of labor. Rather, shofar blowing is a chochma, an act of wisdom. What is the explanation of this Gemara?
Shofar blowing is a declaration that we are a part of HaShem’s essence
It is said (Shemos 1:15) vayomer melech Mitzrayim lamiyaldos haivrios asher sheim haachas Shifra visheim hasheinis Puah, the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of the first was Shifrah and the name of the second was Puah. The Baal HaTurim writes that the word shifra appears twice in Scripture. One instance is in this verse, and the second is a verse that states (Iyov 26:13) birucho shamayim shifrah, by His breath the heavens were spread. The Baal HaTurim writes that if a child is born and appears lifeless, the midwife will take a cylinder and place it on the child’s stomach and blow into the cylinder and this will restore life into the child. It would appear from the Baal HaTurim that this would also be the definition for the word Shofar. The Zohar states that man dinafach midilei nafach, one who breathes is breathing from Him, i.e. HaShem,. Similarly, when we blow Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we are, so to speak, blowing from HaShem Himself. This premise can help us answer a difficulty that is raised regarding the Gemara that explains the function of the Shofar. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 16a) states that on Rosh Hashanah we recite verses of malchuyos, kingship, zichronos, remembrances, and Shofros, the blowing of a Shofar. We recite verses of malchuyos so that we should proclaim HaShem as our king. We recite verses of zichronos so that HaShem will remember us for the good. This is performed with the Shofar. The difficulty with this Gemara is that the Medrash (Mechilta Yisro) states that when the Jewish People requested from HaShem that He give them mitzvos to perform, HaShem responded that first they must accept HaShem’s kingship. How, then, can the Gemara state that we accept HaShem’s kingship by blowing Shofar, if Shofar itself is a mitzvah? Would it not be proper to first accept HaShem as king and then perform His mitzvah of blowing Shofar? The answer to this question is that the essence of blowing Shofar is a declaration of HaShem’s kingship, as our blowing Shofar is a declaration that we are a part of HaShem. This is the greatest reflection of our declaration of HaShem’s kingship.
Shofar blowing is the creation of life
We can now understand why the Gemara states that Shofar blowing is not a melachah, an act of labor. Rather, Shofar blowing is a chochma, a wisdom. This is because essentially the blowing of Shofar is symbolic of birth itself, when HaShem, Who is the Source of all wisdom, breathes life into us. In a similar vein, the function of the midwife is to revive the lifeless child. It is for this reason that the midwife is referred to in the Gemara as a chachama, a wise woman. (A midwife is also called a chachama, a wise woman, because she has the ability to foretell what will happen in the future, and the Gemara (Tamid 32a) states eizehu chacham haroeh es hanolad, who is wise? One who can see what will happen in the future.)
The world was created with wisdom
We see that chochma reflects the idea of creation itself. It is no wonder, then, that when the Torah states (Bereishis 1:1) Bereishis bara Elokim, in the beginning of G-d’s creating, the Targum Yerushalmi translates these words as bichochma bara HaShem, with wisdom HaShem created. This idea is also reflected in the verse that states (Mishlei 3:19) HaShem bichochma yasad aretz, HaShem founded the earth with wisdom. With this understanding of the concept of chochma we can now gain insight into why the Torah states that Yaakov came with mirmah to receive the blessings from Yitzchak and why Yaakov’s sons spoke with mirmah to Shechem and his father. However, one more introduction is necessary to explain this word usage.
The Binding of Yitzchak was in a sense an act of creation
HaShem instructed Avraham to bring his son Yitzchak up as an offering. Subsequent to HaShem’s command to Avraham not to slaughter his son, Avraham discovered a ram in the thicket and he offered the ram in place of Yitzchak. The commentators write that had Avraham slaughtered Yitzchak, he would have essentially destroyed the Jewish People. With this thought in mind, we can now understand why Avraham chose to slaughter a ram and it is specifically the Shofar of the ram that we blow on Rosh Hashanah. Avraham was demonstrating that had he slaughtered Yitzchak, the world would have come to an end. Now that Yitzchak was saved, the world, in a sense, was recreated. It is noteworthy that according to most opinions, the Akeidah, the Binding of Yitzchak, occurred on Rosh Hashanah. Thus, on Rosh Hashanah we blow the Shofar, which is an extension of HaShem Himself, and in the words of the Medrash, we become like new people on this day.
The blessings that Yaakov received and the punishment meted out to the city of Shechem were acts of wisdom, i.e. creation of the Jewish People
This idea of creation is also reflected in the blessings that Yitzchak conferred upon Yaakov. Yitzchak was initially prepared to confer the blessings on Esav. Through the tactics of Rivka, Yaakov was able to receive the blessings. It is not always apparent from world events that Yaakov received the blessings, as the gentiles seem to be well endowed. Can we imagine what would have happened had Esav actually received all the blessings? To state it succinctly, this would have been the end of the Jewish People. Thus, Yaakov was forced to come with mirmah, which is translated as bichochma, with cleverness, to ensure the continuity of the Jewish People. Similarly, after Shechem kidnapped and violated Dena, it is said (Bereishis 34:7) uvinei Yaakov bau min hasadeh kishamam vayisyatzevu haanashim vayichar lahem meod ki nevalah asah viYisroel lishkav es bas Yaakov vichein lo yeiaseh, Yaakov’s sons arrived from the field, when they heard; the men were distressed, and were fired deeply with indignation, for he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with a daughter of Yaakov – such a thing may not be done. In the eyes of Yaakov’s sons, the violation of their sister was more than just an immoral act. By its very nature it was an outrage and an abomination for the Jewish People. In other words, the Jewish People could not continue in this manner, and something had to happen to rectify this situation. Yaakov’s sons therefore spoke bimirmah, cleverly, to Shechem and his father, as they were set on recreating the Jewish People by meting out justice to the perpetrator and those who supported him.
To summarize, the concept of chochma is to go beyond a mere physical act. The definition of chochma by the Kabbalists is koach mah, a power from unknown. Chochma transcends this physical world, and that is the reason that the word chochma takes on the very essence of creation.
The Shabbos connection
Continuing the theme that Shofar blowing is not a melachah but a chochma, we can better understand why the Torah instructs us not to perform any melachah, an act of labor, on the Holy Shabbos. The Shabbos transcends all physicality, as the Zohar refers to Shabbos as yoma dinishmasa, the Day of the Soul. Thus, we should approach the Holy Shabbos with an understanding that there is much wisdom contained in this day. HaShem should allow us to ascend the spiritual ladder on Shabbos and “create” worlds and perpetuate the existence of His Chosen Nation.
Shabbos Stories
So be it!
Shlomo Katz writes: Reb Yaakov Yosef Katz zt”l (late 1800s; known as the “Toldos”), one of the leading disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, was visited a certain town when he was approached by an inhabitant of a neighboring village and asked to attend the circumcision of the man’s son on that day. “I will even honor you to be the sandak / godfather,” the villager said.
The Toldos agreed, but only on the condition that he could sit in another room and study Torah until all of the preparations had been completed and he would not have to wait idly for the ceremony to begin. The villager agreed.
When everything had been prepared and the baby had arrived, the villager went to call Reb Yaakov Yosef. However, when they returned to the place where the bris milah was to be held, the villager was chagrined to discover that one guest had left and there was no longer a minyan. He quickly ran outside and pleaded with the first Jew he saw: “Please come to my son’s bris milah.”
The man responded, “Zohl zein azoi” / “So be it!” “Can I offer you an honor?” the villager inquired. “So be it!” the tenth man responded. To every question he was asked, he answered: “So be it!”
After the circumcision, the Toldos asked that this man be brought to him, but the man had vanished. So the Toldos asked in heaven who the man was, and he was told that it was Eliyahu Hanavi, who had been sent to teach the assembled the importance of accepting G-d’s judgment in all circumstances. “So be it!” should be a Jew’s response to everything that he experiences in life.
As the Toldos was preparing to leave town, a stranger approached him and asked if he could share the sage’s carriage. “Who are you?” the Toldos asked. “So be it!” the stranger responded (apparently rebuking the sage for not agreeing immediately to share his ride).
When the tzaddik Reb Yitzchak Matisyahu Luria zt”l heard this story, he commented: On each day of Creation, the Torah says, “And it was so!” But why does the Torah say, “And it was so!” at the very end of creation when nothing new had been created? That, answered Reb Luria, was Adam’s statement, accepting that G-d in His Wisdom had created the world exactly as He saw fit. “So be it!” (Quoted in Otzros Tzaddikei Ugeonei Hadoros)
What about a back-up plan?
Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: At approximately the turn of the century, the Russian government wanted to impose a rule that Russian subjects would have to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. The alternative was that the Yeshiva would be shut down.
[I am not trying to draw any parallels to today. We are not talking about the pros or cons of secular education; I am merely trying to bring out a point. We cannot compare Russia circa 1900 to the United States circa 2000.]
The Netziv was faced with the question: “Do I permit Russian subjects to be taught in the Volozhiner Yeshiva, or do I close the Yeshiva?” In order to understand the significance of that decision, we must remember that there were no other Yeshivos. Closing the Volozhiner Yeshiva did not mean that the students would switch to others. Volozhin, with its 400 students, was the only Yeshiva in Russia.
The Netziv’s dilemma was: should he allow Russian subjects to be taught for a couple of hours a day, or should he close the Yeshiva. What did the Netziv do? The Netziv closed the Yeshiva! But – “what’s going to be?” The Netziv responded, “That is G-d’s issue. It is His Torah. He knows He wants it learned. It is His problem.” The Netziv had to do what was right, despite the ramifications.
So the Netziv closed the Yeshiva. At the time when the Netziv made his decision, he did not know what the result would be. In actuality, as a result of closing Volozhin, many other Yeshivos were started across Russia, Poland and beyond. Closing the Yeshiva in Volozhin caused Torah to be spread. The entire Yeshiva movement today can be traced back to that one Yeshiva in Volozhin! But the Netziv did not know what the outcome would be. He did not know “what’s going to be,” and he did not care. He only knew what was right. This was the approach of Avraham Avinu, and this was the approach of Gedolei Yisroel.
I would like to tell over an incident which I recently heard from Rav Pam, shlita (and again I am not trying to bring any parallels to today). Reb Chaim Soloveitchik had a son named Rav Velvel Soloveitchik, who later became the famous Brisker Rav in Eretz Yisroel.
A relative of Reb Chaim once came to him and suggested that Rav Velvel learn the Russian language. The relative said, “Today, to be a Rabbi, one has to know how to speak Russian. It is time for Rav Velvel to learn Russian.” To which Reb Chaim responded “So, he won’t be a Rabbi.”
The man persisted, “Well, to be a businessman, it is certainly necessary to know Russian.” Reb Chaim responded, “So, he won’t be a businessman.”
So the man said, “Even to be a Rosh Yeshiva today, one must know Russian - to speak to the students and to the parents.” Reb Chaim responded, “So, he won’t be a Rosh Yeshiva.”
Finally the man inquired “If he won’t be a Rav and he won’t be a businessman and he won’t be a Rosh Yeshiva, what will be with him?” Reb Chaim answered, “He will be a poor man who knows Shas by heart!”
In other words, “What is going to be? I don’t know what is going to be. But I know that I do not want my son Velvel learning Russian.”
Again, no parallels to today. But the lesson to be learned is that one must do what he feels is right, is in accordance with the Torah, and “let the chips fall where they may.” The consequences are G-d’s business.
Are we “on the list?”
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman writes: The holy Rebbe, Reb Ber of Radoshitz zt”l was one of the great disciples of the Maggid of Koznitz zt”l. He later became a leader in his own right. During his years in Koznitz, there was a friend, R’ Hersh, with whom he was especially close. It was thus with great pleasure that many years later, R’ Hersh suddenly arrived in Radoshitz for an unexpected visit. After catching up on times passed, R’ Hersh got to the point: “Baruch HaShem, my oldest daughter is engaged to be married. However, I have not the means to pay for her wedding, let alone cover her dowry. The holy Rebbe, the Maggid, has given me a letter; he asks anyone who can to help me.”
R’ Ber couldn’t help noticing the tear glistening in his friend’s eye. It saddened him to see R’ Hersh, a man of great distinction, brought to wandering from town to town asking for handouts. Yet what was he to do? R’ Ber himself subsisted on a minimal budget.
“My dear friend, were it that I had any spare money, I would not withhold from you my last coin. Alas, I have not even one coin to give you. Furthermore, everyone here knows me and my situation—I deserve no great honor, and am not given any. If I were to go around collecting for you, they would give me small change at best. I feel it is best that you collect yourself; your manner bears witness to your great stature. There is a wealthy man in Radoshitz, and I pray he will give you generously…”
R’ Hersh hid his disappointment. “Okay, thanks all the same. I guess your name doesn’t appear on the list! Peace to you.” And with that he left.
“My name doesn’t appear on the list?” R’ Ber wondered. “What list? What did he mean?” He tried to get his friend’s comment out of his mind, but his thoughts kept returning to it. He put on his coat, and started running after R’ Hersh. He caught up with him a few minutes later.
“R’ Hersh - stop! I must ask you: What list were you talking about?”
“Oh,” he said, “when I approached the holy Maggid, and he gave me my letter, I said, ‘Rebbe, I’ve never done this before - I don’t know how to ask people for money!’ The Rebbe told me, ‘R’ Hersh, don’t worry. Each town you arrive in, someone will approach you and help you collect. You will not have to beg for yourself.’ ‘But why would someone want to suffer the shame of begging on my behalf - who am I to deserve such treatment?’ I asked. ‘Don’t worry,’ the Maggid told me. ‘HaShem has a list. On His list it’s already written down exactly who will help you in each town. All you have to do is go…’
“When I came to Radoshitz, I thought to myself, ‘Whose name could be on HaShem’s list?’ I could think of no-one here more worthy than you, so I was sure you were on the list. That’s why I came to you. When you weren’t able to help me, I figured you weren’t on HaShem’s list. Perhaps that wealthy man you told me about, maybe he’s the one…”
R’ Ber was obviously affected by his words. “Tell me - how much do you need?”
“Four hundred gulden.”
“Come, let’s see what happens.” R’ Ber took his letter and began walking through the marketplace. Seeing a familiar face, he approached a merchant and, showing him the letter, he asked if he could help his friend. “R’ Ber, you’ve arrived at a most opportune moment. I just completed a very profitable deal - today I made 4,000 gulden. Take 400 gulden - it’s my tithe!”
R’ Ber was taken aback. After thanking the merchant, he sat down on a bench with his friend. His eyes filled with tears. “I guess I was on HaShem’s list after all - but I almost lost my chance!”
Setting things in motion
Rabbi Hoffman writes further: The holy Bais Yosef, Rabbi Yosef Cairo of Tzefas, author of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), once invested many hours in order to understand an extremely difficult Mishnah he was studying. A certain question plagued him, and try as he might, he could not come up with an answer. It was only after working for an extended period of time that an answer was revealed to him, and he came to understand the Mishnah’s true peshat. His joy knew no bounds. I rejoice with Your words like one who has come across a great treasure! (Tehillim/Psalms 119:162)
Later that day, he went to Bais Medrash to learn. To his amusement, a pair of young boys sitting at his table just happened to be studying the same Mishnah. “I don’t understand,” said one bachur to the other, and proceeded to pose the exact question that had bothered Rabbi Cairo. After giving it but a moment's thought, his friend said he thought he understood, and went on to explain the Mishnah using the same logic the Bais Yosef had toiled so long to grasp.
Rabbi Yosef was crestfallen. Was he so distant from the light of the Torah that he had to extend great effort to figure out what a young boy had come up with in a matter of minutes? It is known that the Bais Yosef had a maggid (an angel) that, on occasion, would teach him Torah (indeed, he even wrote a sefer, Maggid Meisharim, chronicling his conversations with his maggid). “Do not let this bother you,” the maggid told him. “Let me explain what happened. The light of the Torah is very great and ethereal. To bring such great light down to the realm of the physical is no mean feat. Thus, for you to grasp the true understanding of the Mishnah required tremendous effort. Once, however, you succeeded in explaining the Mishnah, you infused the world with a new and holy light, which was subsequently ‘available’ for others to perceive with far greater ease. This is why what came so difficultly for you, was a matter of relative ease for those boys.” [Reprinted with permission from]
Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz - Violating A DiRabbanan Means Death: The penalty for violating any Mitzvah DiRabbanan is death.
Yet by Mitzvos min HaTorah few and far between carry the death penalty. How could it be that a decree made by mere flesh and blood be punished more severely than then going against the will of the Melech Malchei HaMilachim? This is the question that a ruler in Vienna asked Rav Yehonasan Eibshitz.

He answered with a Mashal. He said to the ruler as follows: You are an important minister and very close to the king. If you were to tell me now to get out of here and I didn't listen, you would have the right to beat me and even imprison me. But if you were to take a spear and kill me on the spot, you would need to answer to a very angry King because my infraction is not so severe that I warrant death. On the other hand if I walk outside and one of the soldiers on guard were to scream for me to get away thinking I was a threat, if I would not listen he would kill me with a single bullet and be correct in doing so. He would even be honored for his deed.
The reason for this is that because he is so low, he needs the authority and backing to be able to do his job. If every drunkard were to disobey him and laugh in his face, his job would be worthless. However an important minister needs no such backing and any punishment he gives out must be in line with the severity of the crime.

The Medrash says that HaShem asked Chochma what to do with a sinner and it said Reshaim must be treated badly. The Neviim said kill him. The Torah said let him bring a Korban, and HaShem said let him do teshuvah.
The Chachomim make rules to safeguard the Torah. If they are violated, even though they are manmade and don't go against the Torah itself, the violator must be killed. Only HaShem can pardon because it does not detract from His Kavod or His power, the slightest bit.
The Kotzker Rebbe Was In No Rush To Send Reb Leibele Eiger Back Home

Rav Leibele Eiger the grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger married and lived by his father-in-law’s home learning day and night. He became part of the Shul of the Chozeh of Lublin, where he became friendly with a group of young men who traveled to Kotzk and persuaded Rav Leibele to join them. The Kotzker Rebbe was very happy with this cherished new talmid and told the Chidushei HaRim that he would walk 400 parsa to find a talmid like this.
When his father-in-law found out that his new son-in-law was in Kotzk, he came to retrieve him but Rav Leibele didn't want to go, instead he wanted to stay and bask in the Kedusha of Kotzk. His father-in-law went to the Rebbe to complain. He asked the Rebbe, “is this right? The passuk says in Ki Seitzei (24:5), “naki yihiyeh libaischa shana achas,” a newlywed should be free for his home one year.”
The Rebbe replied, “had I believed that he is so free in your house like he is here in Kotzk, I would have commanded him to go back home!” (Iturei Torah)
The Alter Of Novhardok - A Good Steak Changes Everything"
“Ki hashochad yiaver einei chachomim,” because bribery blinds the eyes of the wise (Shoftim 16:19). Chazal warn us that the smallest favor can blind the smartest and greatest tzaddik in his judgment of a fellow Jew even if he is in no way corrupt.

Rav Moshe Shternbuch brings the following story with the Alter of Novhardok whose deep understanding of the human psyche unmasked a person slandering his friend. A person once came to the Alter of Novhardok and told him that the Shochet in town is not a Yiras Shamayim and his Shechita should be pasul. The Alter explained to him that since his testimony does not reach the bar to remove the Shochet from his position, the Shochet can remain. However there is a rule of “shavya anafshei kichaticha diisura,” meaning that since in the witnesses own words the Shochet is pasul, he may not eat from his shechita, although the general public may continue to do so. Suddenly the person started backtracking saying that he never meant to say that he was pasul, only to check into his behavior and/or to search for a better shochet etc., etc.
From here said the Alter we learn that when a person wants to be a Kanai he is prepared to destroy another Jew, but not his next meal. When his food is at stake the truth suddenly appears otherwise. [Reprinted with permission from]
It is almost one!

Countless times, Rebbe Moshe Mordechai Biderman of Lelov-Jerusalem was seen to look at his watch close to one o’clock and exclaim, “It’s almost one!” No one knew what this was about.

But finally they discovered its meaning. Once, the Rebbe looked at his watch and cried out, “Oy! In a little while it’ll be one!” Then suddenly he trembled and called out, “In a little while God will be king over all the earth; in that day God will be one and His name will be one!” (Moshe Ish HaElokim, vol.1, p.153) [Daily Maggid from Rabbi Yitzchak Buxbaum]

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayishlach 5770
Is sponsored liRefuah Shleima Refoel Chaim Simcha ben Devorah Aliza bisoch shaar cholei Yisroel
I will be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon at Bais Haknesses HaGra 14561 Lincoln in Oak Park, half an hour before Mincha.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
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