Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sara 5770

שבת טעם החיים חיי שרה תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sara 5770

Everything can be perceived as good
Sarah’s lifetime was one hundred twenty years, and seven years; the years of Sarah’s life. (Bereishis 23:1)
Rashi writes that the words the years of Sarah’s life teach us that all of Sarah’s years were deemed to be good. The Medrash cites the verse that states (Tehillim 37:18) yodeia HaShem yimei temimim vinachalasam liolam tihiyeh, HaShem knows the days of the perfect, their inheritance will be forever. This is interpreted to mean that the days of Sarah were complete. Rashi adds that when Sarah was one hundred years old it was as if she was twenty years old. When she was twenty years old, she was free of sin, and when she was hundred she was also free of sin. These statements imply that Sarah led a life of perfection. Further evidence of this idea is expressed in the Medrash Tanchumah where the Medrash expounds on the last chapter of Mishlei. In this chapter Shlomo HaMelech extols the virtues of the woman of valor. The Medrash cites the verse that states (Mishlei 31:12) gimalashu tov vilo ra, she bestows goodness upon him, never evil, The Medrash expounds on the other verses and how they allude to the noble acts of Sarah. Yet, regarding this verse the Medrash does not offer any interpretation regarding Sarah. One must wonder why the Medrash quotes this verse without expounding on it. Furthermore, all the statements of the Medrash and Rashi appear to contradict a different Medrash cited by Rashi. The Torah juxtaposes the binding of Yitzchak at the Akeidah where Avraham nearly slaughtered Yitzchak and the death of Sarah. Rashi cites the Medrash that states that the catalyst of Sarah’s death was that Sara heard that Yitzchak was almost slaughtered and this caused her soul to leave her. One must wonder how it is possible that Sarah is considered to have lived a good life and without sin if her demise was brought about in such an apparently tragic manner.
On the last day of the year we can perceive the entire year as a good year
In order to reconcile these seemingly contradictory Medrashim, it is worth gaining an insight into what it means that all of Sarah’s years were equally good. How can this be possible when we know that for most of her life Sarah was barren, and she underwent many of the tests that Avraham himself had experienced? Perhaps we can suggest an answer to this question based on an idea that Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, shlita, said in the name of Reb Shlomo Kluger. What should one think when reciting the Mincha Shemone Esrei on Erev Rosh Hashanah and he recites the words bareich aleinu es hashanah hazos vies kol minei sivuasah litovah, bless on our behalf this year and all of its types of produce, for goodness. We are almost at Rosh Hashanah, and we are still requesting that HaShem provide us with a year of bounty. What is the meaning of this request? (Incidentally, the Belzer Rebbe answered that yeshuas HaShem kiheref ayin, salvation from HaShem can arrive in the blink of an eye.) Reb Shlomo Kluger explains that although the year is almost completed, we ask HaShem that we should be able to perceive the year as a blessed one. Thus, we are requesting from HaShem that we be allowed to appreciate that He has given us a year of blessing. Perhaps the same idea can be used to explain the life of Sarah. While Sarah certainly endured many hardships in her life, all her years were deemed to be equally good because she was able to appreciate the good that HaShem had bestowed upon her. It is for this reason, then, that the Medrash Tanchumah does not expound on the verse that states that she bestows goodness upon him, never evil. The reason that there is nothing to add to this verse is because Sarah personified the ideal that everything that happens to a person in their lifetime can be perceived as good.
Sarah perceived the near death of Yitzchak as being good
Similarly, we can now better understand the juxtaposition of the Akeidah and Sarah’s death. The revelation that Yitzchak had almost been slaughtered would certainly seem to be tragic to most people. Yet, for Sarah, even this near calamity was perceived as good, and she died in the same manner that she had lived, always appreciating the good HaShem had performed for her.
The Shabbos connection
It is noteworthy that the words sabeinu mituvecha, satiate us from Your goodness, equal in gematria the name Sarah (505). Thus, Sarah reflects the idea that everything HaShem does for us is ultimately for the good and we request from HaShem to satiate us from His goodness. Throughout the week we are sometimes led to believe that things are not going our way and people will often say that they had a bad day or a rough week. When Shabbos arrives, however, all of the difficulties of the week dissipate and we greet the Holy Shabbos with optimism and enthusiasm. HaShem should allow us to lead the life that Sarah lived, which was a life that all her years were good, i.e. perceived as good.
Shabbos Stories
Concern for a widow
This story was originally told by Horav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, and later related by Rabbi Paysach Krohn in “Around the Maggid’s Table.” It was the early twentieth century and a certain Reb Nachum was the baal tefillah, leader of the services, for the Mussaf prayer on the High Holy Days in the shul where Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, was the rav. Obviously a shul which had such a venerable rav was filled to capacity during these special days when prayer is so important and effective. The baal tefillah has an awesome function, one that goes beyond the mere ability to chant the service in a melodious voice. He must inspire the congregation with impassioned service. Needless to say, Reb Nachum lived up to his position.
One year, shortly before Rosh Hashanah, Reb Nachum took ill and suddenly passed away. After mourning a dear friend, the shul’s leadership prepared for the task of filling the void and finding a baal tefillah for the upcoming holidays. When they approached Rav Yosef Chaim, he told them not to be concerned. He would see to it that a worthy replacement would be present in time. The weeks went by quickly, and soon it was a few days before Rosh Hashanah. There was still no baal tefillah in sight. When the members again approached the rav, the answer was the same: Do not worry.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the members were beginning to become nervous, since there still was no baal tefillah. When they once again turned to Rav Yosef Chaim, he assured them that he had the situation in hand and there would be a baal tefillah at the podium for Mussaf.
The next day, there was a sense of anxious expectation in the air. The Shacharis service was completed. The Shofar was blown. It was now “crunch” time. Where was the baal mussaf? All eyes were on Rav Yosef Chaim, as he arose from his seat, walked over to Reb Nachum’s son, and said, “You are to be the baal mussaf. Go up and pray just as your late father did.”
The young man was taken aback. He never imagined himself as the one to fill his father’s shoes. He began to protest, “I cannot. I am not prepared. I did not look over the prayers before Yom Tov.”
Rav Yosef Chaim was not taking no for an answer. In his calm voice, he assured the young man that he could and would be successful in leading the prayers, “Go up there and do your best. You will be fine.”
Understandably, one does not argue with Rav Yosef Chaim. The young man acquiesced and led the service. After Mussaf, a group of the members respectfully approached the rav and questioned his choice for baal tefillah. “After all,” they reminded him, “the Halacha clearly states that a mourner may not lead the congregation in prayer during the High Holy Days.”
Rav Yosef Chaim looked at the group with loving eyes and responded softly, “Do you know who was sitting and praying in the women’s section of the shul? Reb Nochum’s widow. Surely you can imagine the grief and sorrow that she is feeling, especially on the very day that she would have listened to her husband leading the service. Now, imagine the pain she would have felt if just anybody had ascended the podium to lead the service. She would have surely broken apart, and her sorrowful weeping would have been heard and felt by us all.
“In order to minimize her pain, I sent her son up there. The Torah admonishes us a number of times to be sensitive to the needs of a widow. Halacha dictates that if there is no one else available, a mourner may lead the services. I felt that in this case, for the sake of the widow, there was no one else.”
This was the benchmark of a gadol biYisroel, Torah leader. He carried the pain and concerns of all Klal Yisrael - both collectively and individually - on his shoulders.
Anyone can repent
Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zt”l, related the story of a certain rasha, wicked person, a kofer, agnostic, who did everything to denigrate the religion in which he was raised. He became seriously ill to the point that, after consultation with the most distinguished physicians in Koenigsburg, it was determined that his only chance for survival was surgery. Veritably, surgery was not the cure all, nor was it guaranteed, but, without it, the patient had no chance whatsoever.
The problem was that, as aggressive and loud as the person was when it came to demeaning his religion, he was a total opposite concerning himself. He was a coward, meek and insecure. Thus, he refused to have the surgery. If so, the doctors demanded that he leave the hospital. His behavior bordered on suicidal and they were not interested in taking responsibility for his imminent death. Finally, the man relented and agreed to have the surgery.
One can imagine the shock of all those present when the patient, as he was being wheeled into surgery, amidst trembling and trepidation, shrieked, biyadcha afkid ruchi padisa osi HaShem Keil emes, in Your hands I place my spirit, You have redeemed me, HaShem, G-d of truth.
This was followed with a resounding Shema Yisrael. The doctors and family members who observed this sudden changing of heart could not believe what they heard and saw. The emotion, coupled with these verses emanating from the mouth of a hardened agnostic, jarred their senses. Indeed, everybody present was so captivated by the sudden expression of faith that they also were disquieted and filled with a sense of awe and trepidation. The pain and anxiety that this man was undergoing awakened his inner emotions and the Pintele Yid, spark of Jewish faith, within the hidden recesses of his soul burst forth. Rav Elya concluded, “Do not think that any man is lost forever. There is hope for everyone, regardless of his miscreant past. There is a path of teshuvah, return, which anyone can follow. It just depends on what motivates him to begin the journey back home.”
The four questions of the Mah Nishtanah take on new meaning
Nachlas Tzvi cites an incredible story related by the Bendiner Rav zt”l, in his sefer Yechahein Peer. In the city of Nickolsburg, a group of laymen came to the rav, the famous Rav Shmuel Shmelke of Nickolsburg, to tell him that there is a butcher/shochet in the city who constantly slaughters glatt kosher. This was considered to be unusual, given that some animals are naturally prone to have some physical blemishes that would render them not glatt. Rav Shmelke decided that he would go to observe the shochet during one of his sessions and see for himself if the animals were really glatt kosher. After spending a day with the shochet, he was amazed that, indeed, every animal was glatt kosher.
Rav Shmelke summoned the shochet to his home and asked him how it came to be that he had such remarkable good fortune. The shochet responded that every time he went to the market to purchase animals, he would meet a Jew who would point out to him which animals to purchase. “If this is the case, then I must go with you to the market to meet this person,” said Rav Shmelke. They agreed to go a few days before Pesach, since the shochet would be filling a large order for Yom Tov. They met at the market on the appointed day. After being introduced to the man in question, he asked him, "How do you know which animals are glatt kosher?” “Rebbe,” responded the man, “I do not know on my own. Before I go to the market, Eliyahu HaNavi appears to me and points out which animals to use. It seems that those animals are the gilgulim, reincarnated souls, of animals that were destined to be korbanos, sacrifices, in the Bais HaMikdash. These animals must be eaten by Jews on Shabbos and Yom Tov in order for them to achieve their tikun, spiritual correction, and enter the Eternal World.” Obviously, Rav Shmelke was taken aback with the man’s response, particularly his “familiarity” with Eliyahu HaNavi. He turned to the man and asked, “If Eliyahu HaNavi is so close to you, why do you not ask him why Mashiach has not yet come to redeem us from this galus, exile?” “Rebbe,” the man responded, “in just a few days it will be Pesach. I am sure that Eliyahu HaNavi will grace my home during the Seder. I will ask him this question and relay to you his response to you.”
During Chol HaMoed, the Intermediate Days of the Pesach festival, Rav Shmelke traveled to this person to find out what Eliyahu HaNavi had revealed to him. When he came into the man’s home, the person said, “Rebbe, I asked Eliyahu HaNavi your question, and he told me that an illusion to the answer is found in the Mah Nishtanah.” The Four Questions are actually four queries and requests of HaShem regarding the exiles to which we have been subjected. "Why is this night different from all other nights,” means “why is this exile different from the other exiles?” Night has often been used as a metaphor for the darkness of galus. Each question concentrates upon a different exile. The last question centers on the present galus. The answer to why this galus is different, why each of the previous exiles had an end while this one does not seem to have an end in sight, is that during the other nights, exiles, we either sat or reclined, but on this night we only recline. This means that during the other exiles there were people who made Torah study their primary vocation. They studied, relegating their mundane labor to secondary focus. Basically, they would sit and study Torah. During our exile, our attitude towards avodas HaShem, serving the Almighty, is “kulanu mesubim,” totally from “subim.” Subim is the bran of the wheat, the inferior, hard portion of the wheat. This means, that we serve HaShem without our heart and soul. We are cold and distant in our avodas HaShem. Is there any wonder that the galus continues? (reprinted with permission from Shema Yisrael Torah Network. For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Shema Yisrael Classes, send mail to )
The wine must have spilled for a reason

When Rebbe Shmuel of Dorag was young and lived in the town of Komoda, it happened once on Shabbos night that he was standing holding a cup of wine about to recite Kiddush, when the cup fell from his hand and the wine spilled. He poured another cup of wine, and again it fell from his hand. This happened, a third time too.

Seeing this, he said to the Rebbitzen that certainly something must have happened in the town, some unfortunate incident, and they should investigate to see what is going on.

The two of them went outside onto the street and began walking until they reached the end of the town, where they heard loud crying and moaning from one of the houses.

When they entered the house they found the father, who was ill with a high fever, lying in bed, utterly exhausted and weak. His son too was in the same condition, and the mother was lying in an adjacent room, undergoing birth pangs, but with no one to help her.

Immediately, the Rabbi and Rebbitzen went to bring firewood to heat the house [although it was Shabbos, this was a matter of saving life and allowed]. They gave the family a little bit to eat, then returned home and brought back all the Sabbath foods they had prepared for themselves. And they fed and took care of the family until they were able to stand and take care of themselves.

Only then did they return home to make Kiddush on the wine. (MiBeer HaTzaddikim, Chodshei Tishrei - Teves, p. 182)

Like Speaking to a Friend

The Rizhiner Rebbe said that he had never encountered another book like the Beer Mayim Chaim [The Well of Living Waters] that is written in the style of a person talking to his friend.

The reason was that Rebbe Chaim of Chernovitz used to go to the synagogue every Thursday night, open the Holy Ark, and speak words of inspiration and mussar. And there would be no one there except the scribe who recorded everything he heard. (MiBeer HaTzaddikim, vol. 2)

Boy Prodigy
When he was a boy of seven, Rebbe Shalom of Kaminka traveled to Lublin. Being a child prodigy in Torah, he visited the great misnagid gaon called the Iron Head, and spent three hours with him in Talmudic discourse. (For a seven year old boy to spend three hours discussing Torah with a great gaon is remarkable!)

Afterward, he visited the great Chasidic master, the holy Seer of Lublin. The Seer said to him, “Little boy, do you study Chumash? What is the parasha this week?”

He answered, “Parsahas Kedoshim.”

The rebbe said, “It says: ‘Be holy, for I the Lord your G-d am holy!’”

The boy’s face paled and he became weak. They had to take him to the inn where he was staying and put him to bed. He fell asleep and woke up many hours later.

In his old age, he said to his friend, the Imrei Noam, “Meirl, how can I explain what happened to me? When he spoke to me, my kishkes turned over and my bones began to shake!” (Adapted from MiBeer HaTzaddikim, vol. 2, p. 202)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sara 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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