Erev Shabbos Kodesh Emor Inspiration 5776


It is said (Vayikra 23:!-3) וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-ה-ו-ָֹה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר: {ב} דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם מוֹעֲדֵי יְ-ה-ֹוָ-ה אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֵלֶּה הֵם מוֹעֲדָי: {ג} שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ כָּל מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ שַׁבָּת הִוא לַי-ה-ֹו-ָה בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, and say to them: HaShem’s appointed festivals that you are to designate as holy convocations – these are My appointed festivals. For six days labor may be done, and the seventh day is a day of complete rest, a holy convocation, you shall not do any work; it is a Sabbath for HaShem in all your dwelling places. Rashi is bothered by the fact that the Torah juxtaposes the commandment of observing the Shabbos alongside the laws of the festivals. Rashi writes that the juxtaposition teaches us that if one desecrates the festivals , it is as if he has desecrated the Shabbos, and if one observed the festivals, then he is deemed to have observed the Shabbos This Rashi is puzzling for a few reasons. First, many mitzvos are juxtaposed and we do not say, for example, that one who observes the mitzvah of Orlah is akin to one who observes the mitzvah of not eating over the blood (Ibid 19:23-26). Furthermore, it would seem justified that Shabbos and the festivals are juxtaposed, as they are days of rest and one is required to be engaged in spiritual pursuits on these holy days? What, then, is Rashi coming to teaching us?

The simple explanation of Rashi’s words is that while Shabbos was established by HaShem to be a day of rest every seven days, the festivals were initially ordained by the Sages, as they determined when the New Moon would occur. Thus, one could possibly entertain the idea that the festivals are of a more rabbinic nature, so the Torah needed to tell us that the festivals are on par with the Shabbos. On a deeper level, however, the Gemara (Pesachim 68a ) has a discussion of how one should conduct himself on the festivals. One opinion maintain that one should either be completely engaged in spiritual pursuits or the opposite, immersing one’s self in the physical delights of the festivals. The other opinion, however, posits that one should divide his time, half to HaShem and half for his own pleasure. Shabbos, however, is a day for the soul, and one must utilize the Shabbos primarily for spiritual pursuits. The Sfas Emes writes that this is the meaning of the statement in the Gemara (Shabbos 118a) that one who delights in the Shabbos will be rewarded with a boundless heritage. The Gemara does not say that one should indulge in himself on Shabbos. Rather, one should delight in the Shabbos, i.e. for the sake of Heaven. We can therefore suggest that Rashi is teaching us that the festivals are the same way, in that one should not frivol away the entire festival in physical indulgence. Rather, one should view the festivals as one views the Shabbos, and in this manner one will ensure that the festivals are properly observed.

Have a great Shabbos, which is akin to the festivals!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Emor 5776
Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Emor 5776


Emor 5776

New Stories Emor 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Emor 5776

Sticking Together

Introduction

In this week’s parasha, the Torah informs us of the man who was a son of an Egyptian man and a Jewish woman, who blasphemed using the Name of HaShem. This man was sentenced to death by stoning. The Medrash (Toras Kohanim) states that the background of this incident was that this man sought to pitch his tent in the encampment of the tribe of Dan, and he was informed that the encampment was determined by the lineage of one’s father. In this man’s case, he was out of the pale, as his father was an Egyptian. The man then went to Moshe to adjudicate his case and he was found guilty, so he blasphemed by using HaShem’s Name.

The mekallel and the mekosheish were at the same time

What is the lesson that is contained in this incident? There is an interesting statement in the Medrash that at first glance does not appear to have any connection with the incident. The Medrash (Toras Kohanim Vayikra 24:10) states that the incident with the mekallel, i.e. the blasphemer, and the incident regarding the mekosheish, the one who gathered wood on Shabbos, were at the same time. The Baal HaTurim (Ibid) writes that this teaches us that one who desecrates the Shabbos is akin to one who denies the existence of HaShem. It would seem that there is another lesson that can be derived from the fact that the incidents regarding the mekallel and the mekosheish occurred at the same time.

The encampment of the Jewish People in the Wilderness was one of unity

The encampment in the Wilderness was not merely a practical method of settling the Jewish People while they sojourned in the Wilderness. Rather, the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3) teaches us that at the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish People witnessed the encampment of the angels in heaven and they desired that encampment. Thus, the encampment of the Jewish People in the Wilderness was a matter of holiness and endearment. This was the encampment that the son of the Egyptian wished to become a part of. In addition to the fact that the encampment was determined by the paternal lineage, there was another element to this encampment. The aspect of this encampment that this man failed to appreciate was the fact that the encampment was to be akin to the encampment at Sinai, where the Jewish People encamped as one man with one heart, in unity. The son of the Egyptian, however, demonstrated with his behavior the antithesis of this ideal, as he stirred up controversy in the Wilderness. It was his contentiousness that ultimately led to his punishment by stoning.

The Shabbos connection

Shabbos is a time when the Jewish People, are all united, despite the struggles that we encounter during the week. It is noteworthy that it is said (Shemos 31:16) vishamru vinei Yisroel es haShabbos laasos es haShabbos ledorosam bris olam, the Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. The Zohar states that the word ledorosam can be read lidirosam, to dwell amongst them. This idea can be interpreted to mean that on Shabbos, we are all required to dwell together in unity. It is for this reason that the incident of the mekallel and the incident of the mekosheish are juxtaposed, to teach us how much one should distance one’s self from strife and quarrel, and instead to seek peace. Shabbos is referred to as shalom, and we should all merit observing Shabbos in unity and tranquility.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Shimru Shabsosai

The composer of this zemer is Shlomo, a name formed by the acrostic of the first four stanzas. Nothing definite is known about him, although some speculate that he was the famous Shlomo ben Yehudah ibn Gabriol. The zemer concentrates on the requirement to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights and closes with the assurance that the observance of the Shabbos will herald the final Redemption.

אִשָּׁה אֶל אֲחוֹתָהּ לִצְרוֹר, לְגַלּוֹת עַל יוֹם שִׂמְחָתִי, attaching one to the other, causing joy on My day of gladness. The conventional explanation of this passage is that HaShem’s blessings will be so generous that before one finishes enjoying the bounty of one blessing, a new blessing will arrive and ‘attach’ itself to the first. However, we can suggest an alternative explanation. It is said (Vayikra 18:18) וְאִשָּׁה אֶל אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּיהָ, you shall not take a woman in addition to her sister, to make them rivals, to uncover the nakedness of one upon the other in her lifetime. The Torah offers us a rationale for the prohibition of one to marry two sisters in their lifetimes, as they will agitate each other, and sisters should live in love and harmony. Similarly, Shabbos is a day of peace, so even one who is in a state of mourning cannot mourn publicly, so as to not mar the tranquility of Shabbos. Certainly one should ensure not to cause strife and dissent on the Holy Shabbos.

Shabbos Stories

Mitzvah Vigilante

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: This past Thursday evening I went to be Menachem Avel (in the vernacular pay a shiva call) a friend, Rabbi Zissel Zelman, who was sitting shiva for his father. He is a Chicago native whose father, Rabbi Zelman, grew up in Chicago way before Torah Judaism had flourished there. Reb Zissel related that as a young man, his father would pass the newsstand every Saturday night after shul to pick up a paper. As he did not carry money with him, he had made an arrangement with the vendors to return on Sunday morning to pay the vendor.

Rabbi Zelman was not interested in the sports pages nor was he interested in the headlines. In fact, he was not interested in the paper altogether. Rabbi Zelman bought the paper for his mother. She also was not interested in the sports or the news. She was interested in the dead. Every Saturday night she would comb the paper looking for announcements of tombstone unveilings that were to take place on Sunday at the Jewish Cemeteries. An unveiling is a time when people are charitable, and the elderly Mrs. Zelman would go to the cemeteries and raise funds from the gathered for Yeshivos in Europe in Israel. She would eventually turn the coins into bills and send the money overseas. A plaque hangs today in the Slobodka Yeshiva in Israel commemorating her efforts.

Rabbi Kamenetzky writes further: My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, told me the story of how, as the Rav of Toronto, he was quickly introduced to a new world, far different than the world he was accustomed to as the Rav of the tiny Lithuanian shtetl of Tzitivyan, which he left in 1937. One of his congregants had invited him to a pidyon haben, a special ceremony and feast made when a first-born child reaches thirty days old and his father redeems him from the kohen for five silver shekels (dollars).

Entering the hall, Rav Yaakov was impressed by the beautiful meal prepared in honor of the event. He was reviewing the procedure, and the interaction with the Kohen that would frame the event, when the father of the child introduced Rav Yaakov to his father-in-law, a Mr. Segal. Suddenly, Rav Yaakov realized that there was trouble. If Mr. Segal was a Levite, as the name Segal traditionally denotes (Segan Likohen, an assistant to the Kohen), then there would be no need for a Pidyon Haben. For, if the mother of the child is the daughter of either a Kohen or Levi, then no redemption is necessary.

“Mr. Segal,” asked Rav Yaakov, “are you by any chance a Levi?” “Of course!” beamed the elderly Segal.

Rav Yaakov tried to explain to the father of the child that a pidyon haben was unnecessary, but the father was adamant. He had prepared a great spread, appointed a kohen, and even had the traditional silver tray sprinkled with garlic and sugar cubes, awaiting the baby. He wanted to carry out the ceremony!

It took quite a while for Rav Yaakov to dissuade the man that this was no mitzvah, and to perform the ceremony with a blessing would be not only superfluous, but also irreverent and a transgression.

(In fact, one apocryphal ending has the father complaining, “What do you mean, I don’t have to make a pidyon haben? I made one for my first son and I’m going to make one for this son!”)

Ultimately, Rav Yaakov, convinced the man to transform the celebration into a party commemorating his child’s 30th day entered in good health, an important milestone with many halachic ramifications. (www.Torah.org)

Shabbos in Halacha

Correction from last week

 Thank you to an astute reader who pointed out a typo:

It should have read: All thick non-food substances i.e. wax, soap, cream are subject to the melacha of smoothing, and may not be rubbed, or spread on another surface. [Bars of soap may not be used.]

_________________________________

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. Practical Applications

 Soaps

 It is forbidden to use a bar of soap on Shabbos. Liquid soaps may be used; however, to abide by a stricter opinion, one should add water to the soap so that it is very fluid. [There is special ‘Shabbos soap’ available, which is intentionally made very liquid.]

 Ointments

 It is forbidden to spread any ointment, salve or cream over a part of the body, or to spread it on a cloth which will be applied afterward. However, one may dab ointment on several spots close together, and cover it with a cloth or a diaper, allowing it to spread by itself.

This procedure must be followed when diapering a baby. In cases of a severe diaper rash, a competent Halachic authority should be consulted.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Emor 5776

Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה                 ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

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Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

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New Stories Emor 5776

A Day in the Life of a Prison Chaplain

For 30 years, Rabbi Moshe Frank has dedicated his life to helping Jewish maximum security prisoners.

by Bayla Sheva Brenner

I had never been to a prison before. Yet, here I was, traveling to the edge of the Catskills to visit the Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison. I came to observe Rabbi Moshe Frank at work as a prison chaplain. You could say I was a little nervous.

Rabbi Frank has been doing the job he loves for close to 30 years. “I’m not a big believer in the correctional system,” he tells me. “Recidivism is high. They have to revisit how they could do this better.” Nonetheless, he does what he can to help the Jewish prisoners rebuild their lives, from “the inside.”

Built at the end of the nineteenth century, the prison resembles a medieval fortress, with stone castle-like steeples and a pyramid roof. Its 900 occupants committed serious crimes – murder, assault, grand theft and other felonies. Their sentences number ten, twenty, thirty years. Some are here for life.

We enter an enclosed vestibule with steel doors and barred windows and are buzzed into the reception area. Rabbi Frank greets a stocky woman with closely cropped blonde hair standing behind a high counter, munching on an apple. “The inmates are just about done with ‘count,’ rabbi,” she says. (Inmates are counted three times daily.)

“I’ll need your ID,” she says, looking at me. She instructs me to walk through the metal detector and begins rummaging through my pocketbook. My cell phone and MP3 player are placed in a steel locker.

She stamps my hand – my ticket to the visiting area. I walk into the room and notice a few inmates, fortunate enough to have visiting family and friends, sitting with their guests at small tables. All eyes are on the rabbi and me as we pass through visiting room A to B, a more private area.

Rabbi Frank’s regulars are already there, standing at attention, waiting for us. He smiles at them. “You’re dressed so nicely – white shirts and all,” he says, impressed.

A total of 46 inmates at Eastern were listed as Jewish, though not all are Jews according to Jewish law. Only a handful of them identified themselves as Jewish when they were incarcerated; the others opted for an official “change of religion” during their imprisonment.

Rabbi Frank holds prayer services and Torah classes at the prison chapel on Sundays and Tuesdays. His prayer service is interactive; he stops at various points to discuss what the words mean. “They love it; it grabs them,” he says. “They have such a thirst. I show them that every word has a unique nuance.”

On Tuesdays Rabbi Frank teaches Bible, Talmud and about the holidays. He also reserves time for private counseling. Inmates discuss their painful estrangement from their wives and children. He does what he can to facilitate contact. Sometimes he’s successful.

Do they leave in a better place than when they came in? Yes, if they utilize their time.

“I hope to teach them basic values – menschlichkeit. Some of them come in when they’re 25 and leave at 40. Do they leave in a better place than when they came in? Yes, if they utilize their time.”

Rabbi Frank’s classes offer a window into the world of Jewish thought and faith. “We have something to look forward to,” says an inmate named Chanan, “hearing about God and what He expects of us.” An average of five to ten inmates participate in the learning sessions.

The rabbi offers them a link to life on the outside. “I share what goes on in the community, the shul, with my own family,” says Rabbi Frank. “They hunger to be part of all of it in absentia.”

We settle down to speak and I ask the handful of men to share their stories.

In 2004, Chanan was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Thus far, he’s served ten – seven-and-a-half years at Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border, two years at Rikers Island in Queens and, at the time of our interview, one year and three weeks at Eastern. His good behavior cut his sentence down to 17 years.

Prior to his incarceration, Chanan, a gifted musician, played the saxophone, clarinet, trombone, bass and flute. To makes ends meet, he did accounting work by day and played saxophone in a band at night. Many of his gigs were at clubs and Catskill hotels. Eventually, the hedonistic club scene got to him, leading to a serious alcohol and drug addiction. He began attending AA meetings, where he found solace, sobriety and God. “I kept hearing all this talk about a ‘Higher Power,’” says Chanan. “I wanted to find my Jewish one.” Despite his efforts to reconstruct his life, at 46, a tragic confrontation put him behind bars.

With his long salt-and-pepper beard, yarmulke and gentle self-effacing manner, Chanan – who loves learning Torah – defies the image of a convict doing hard time. He studied more than 150 Jewish books in the past year, including Talmud as well as works on personal development and Jewish law. Now 56, he actually sees incarceration as “the greatest thing” that could have happened to him. “When I got arrested . . . I accepted it as if God was saying, ‘You want to spend 20 years with me? Okay.’

“I know Hashem is running the show and everything He does is good. If it weren’t for Hashem, the rabbi’s encouragement and Judaism, I would have given up a long time ago.”

Chanan pushes himself to grow in his Judaism.

Determined to use his time in prison constructively, Chanan pushes himself to grow in his Judaism. “If I have any hope of being an integral part of the community, I have to have something to offer.”

He devours books on Judaism and over the years, he’s amassed an impressive library, and has contacted writers in Israel, England, Canada and America, among other countries. “I’m the post office’s best customer,” he says.

Whenever Chanan encounters a Hebrew word he is unfamiliar with, he consults with Ran, a fellow inmate originally from Israel. In his mid-thirties, Ran was sentenced in 2005 to 18 years.

Both inmates speak of their love and respect for Rabbi Frank. “We can talk to him about anything,” says Ran. “Religion, food, something that’s bothering us. Look at us, talking and laughing right now; who would believe we’re in jail? But inside we have a lot of issues to deal with. I have a son I can’t see . . . . It’s very hard.

“Ordinarily, I have no patience for religious material,” says Ran. “But the rabbi explains it in a clear way. He doesn’t push us.” Even while downplaying his growth in Judaism, Ran admits that he observed every fast this past year.

Ran’s parents divorced when he was young. A troubled youth, he was kicked out of yeshivah and wound up living on the streets. He moved to the United States in the mid-1990s and began to build a life. He got married, had a job, even started keeping kosher again and going to shul. Unfortunately, he stumbled. In prison almost nine years, he accepts his punishment. “If you do something wrong, even if it’s by mistake, you have to pay for it,” says Ran. “I have family and friends who support me. When I get out, I can build a life again.” After his arrest, he dropped whatever advances he had made in his Jewish growth. However, nine months after his incarceration, he began retracing his steps. “I’ve been up and down in my life. I try to keep moving up. I get up in the morning. I pray three times a day. Baruch Hashem, I keep going. I still have a lot of work to do.”

Rabbi Frank never reads the inmates’ criminal case histories. “There’s no reason for me to know about their pasts. I don’t think it would benefit my relationship with them. It might color my feelings toward them. This way, I can treat them as my equals.”

A native of Brooklyn, Rabbi Frank, who earned a master’s degree from Yeshiva University in classical Jewish history, began his prison visits in 1985 as the assistant to Rabbi Herman Eisner, the then-rabbi of Ezrath Israel in Ellenville, New York. When Rabbi Eisner, a concentration camp survivor who had led the congregation since 1949, retired in 1988, Rabbi Frank took over as rav of the shul. Although he left the position in 2011, he continues his chaplaincy work at both Eastern and Ulster Correctional Facility, a medium-security facility in the area.

The relationships he forges with the inmates last long after they leave prison and reenter society.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Rabbi Frank forms deep bonds with some of the Jewish prisoners. The relationships he forges with the inmates last long after they leave prison and reenter society. Some continue to call and write to him; the rabbi invites them to his family celebrations and they invite him to theirs.

“Being more observant makes me feel better,” says Ran. “When I read Tehillim, I’m in a different world. I didn’t used to read it on the outside, only when I was in ‘the box’ [24-hour period of solitary confinement]. Because of the rabbi, I made Kiddush for the first time in my cell this past Friday. I tried to do a treaty transfer [the transferring of a prisoner from the country in which he was convicted of a crime to his home country], to do the rest of my prison time in Israel. It was denied and I got down. I try not to break in jail. It’s very easy to get broken here.”

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2014. (www.aish.com)

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Kedoshim Inspiration 5776


קדשים תהיו, be holy. Rashi says this means to refrain from immoral relationships. Ramban says this means to take it even further, by sanctifying one’s self even with what is permitted. So how does this mean holy? Let’s take a look at what it says regarding holiness for one who is not born yet. It is said (Yirmiah 1:5) בְּטֶרֶם אֶצָּרְךָ בַבֶּטֶן יְדַעְתִּיךָ וּבְטֶרֶם תֵּצֵא מֵרֶחֶם הִקְדַּשְׁתִּיךָ נָבִיא לַגּוֹיִם נְתַתִּיךָ, before I formed you in the belly I knew you, and before you left the womb I sanctified you; I established you as a prophet unto the nations. So we see that even someone who has not yet entered the world can be a קדוש, holy. What, then, is this mitzvah of “be holy?”

The primary source for waiting until a Jewish boy is three years old to cut his hair is found in this week’s parasha regarding the mitzvah of ערלה. The Torah requires that when we plant fruit trees in Eretz Yisroel, we are prohibited from eating them for three years. In the fourth year one brings these fruits to Yerushalayim and there he can redeem them and eat them. Similarly, we allow the hair of a Jewish boy to grow until he is three years old and then we cut the hair, which is symbolic of praising HaShem. It is noteworthy that the Medrash Tanchuma states as follows:

This portion is referring to a child, who for three years cannot speak (apparently that was the norm in those times) in the fourth year the father consecrates him to the study of Torah. Praise in the fourth year is to HaShem, and in the fifth year he begins to study Torah, as we know that a five year old boy begins to study Scripture. The Rambam writes that there is a mitzvah to converse in לשון הקדש, the Holy Tongue. The word פה, mouth, equals in gematria the word מילה, circumcision. This teaches us that the way one speaks reflects his conduct in that area of morality. When the Torah commands us to be holy, it is not sufficing with the injunction to refrain from immoral relationships. Rather, one must speak in the “Holy Tongue,” which the Rambam explains to mean not using coarse language. It is noteworthy that the word קדשים forms an acrostic for the words שישמור מערוה, ידבר דיבורים קדושים, one should refrain from immorality, and speak holy words. Furthermore, regarding the mitzvah of ערלה it is said (Vayikra 19:24) וּבַשָּׁנָה הָרְבִיעִת יִהְיֶה כָּל פִּרְיוֹ קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים לַ-י-ה-וָֹ-ה, in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be sanctified to laud HaShem. The words קֹדֶשׁ הִלּוּלִים forms an acrostic for the words התחיל לדבר, מקדישו לתורה, ואז ידבר דיבורים של קדש, when the child begins to speak, the father consecrates him to Torah, and then he should speak words of holiness.

HaShem should allow us to guard our speech and only converse in holy maters, and to safeguard our hearts and minds from foreign influences, and we should merit the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Have a HOLY and PURE SPEECH Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Kedoshim 5776

Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה                 ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

Sponsorships $180.00

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

For sponsorships please call 248-506-0363

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Kedoshim 5776


Kedoshim 5776

New Stories Kedoshim 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Kedoshim 5776

Morality Leads to Unity

Introduction

In this week’s parashah it is said (Vayikra 19:1-2) vayidabeir HaShem el Moshe leimor dabeir el kol adas binei Yisroel viamarta aleihem kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani HaShem Elokeichem, HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, HaShem, your G-d. Rashi quotes the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) that states: this portion of the Torah was said by Hakhel (in a group) as the majority of the essentials of the Torah are dependant on this portion. One must wonder what the meaning of this statement is. Prior to performing certain mitzvos we recite the following words: “the performance of the mitzvah should be worthy before HaShem as if one has fulfilled it in all its details, implications, and intentions, as well as the six hundred and thirteen commandments that are dependant upon it.” Thus, it appears that all mitzvos are dependant on each other, so what is so unique about this portion of the Torah that it was said in a group?

Performing a Mitzvah Demonstrates Love for a Fellow Jew

To answer this question, we must examine the verse that instructs us to be holy. Rashi, based on the Toras Kohanim, interprets the verse to mean that one must distance himself from immoral relationships, as wherever we find a safeguard from immorality, there we find holiness. The Ramban disagrees and writes that the Torah is instructing us that one should not even engage in permitted activities for the sake of indulging. Rather, one should restrain himself as much as possible and limit himself to what is absolutely necessary in the realm of materialism. Assuming that one can adopt the approach of Rashi and the approach of the Ramban, we can better understand why this portion of the Torah was said in a group. It is said (Vayikra 19:18) lo sikom vilo sitor es binei amecha viahavta lireiacha kamocha ani HaShem, you shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself – I am HaShem. The Toras Kohanim states that Rabbi Akiva said that the words viahavta lireiacha kamocha are a klal gadol baTorah, a great rule in the Torah. It is written that this statement can be interpreted to mean that whenever one is engaged in a mitzvah, somehow that mitzvah incorporates the mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself.

Engaging in Immoral Behavior Causes One to Remain Alone

It is said (Mishlei 18:1) lisaavah yivakeish nifrad bichol tushia yisgala, one who removes himself to court desire will be exposed in every Torah enclave. Rabbeinu Bachye (Introduction to Parashas Kedoshim) writes that this means that if one is constantly pursuing his desires, he will ultimately find himself to be alone. People will flee from him because of his inappropriate behavior. It would follow, then, that one who refrains from immoral actions and distances himself from indulging in physical pleasures will be embraced by his fellow man. When one performs a mitzvah, he is clearly distancing himself from inappropriate behavior and he is engaged in holy pursuits. Thus, whereas the immoral person remains alone, the holy person is part of the Holy Congregation, i.e. the Jewish People who serve HaShem with fear and love. It is for this reason that when one performs a mitzvah, he is incorporating the mitzvah of viahavta lireiacha kamocha. Now we can understand why the parashah of Kedoshim, which commences with the laws of holiness, was said in a group. The only way to be a part of the Jewish People is by performing mitzvos and attaining a level of holiness.

The Shabbos Connection

Every week HaShem is gracious to us and bestows upon us His Holy Day of Shabbos. Shabbos is a time when we are free from materialism and we can perform mitzvos and involve our families and friends in holiness. HaShem should allow us to all be a part of the Jewish People, and when we are all together as one, we will witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Shimru Shabsosai

The composer of this zemer is Shlomo, a name formed by the acrostic of the first four stanzas. Nothing definite is known about him, although some speculate that he was the famous Shlomo ben Yehudah ibn Gabriol. The zemer concentrates on the requirement to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights and closes with the assurance that the observance of the Shabbos will herald the final Redemption.

לֶעָמֵל קִרְאוּ דְרוֹר, וְנָתַתִּי אֶת בִּרְכָתִי, from travail, announce freedom! Then I shall confer My blessing. We beseech HaShem to announce our freedom from the shackles of oppression and exile. Only then will HaShem bestow upon us His blessing. We can suggest an alternative explanation to this passage. The Ibn Ezra (Bereishis 9:13) writes that the word נָתַתִּי can mean “I am giving now.” Thus, we can suggest that here the author of the Zemer is teaching us that even in the state of distress HaShem provides the blessing.

Shabbos Stories

Rav Chaim’s Request for Forgiveness

Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes Acharei Mos is the parasha of the Yom Kippur service. The passuk says, “For on this day, He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you, from all your sins before HaShem shall you be cleansed” [Vayikra 16:30]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria (in the last Mishneh of tractate Yoma [8:9]) derives the following lesson from that passuk: Sins between man and G-d Yom Kippur atones for, however Yom Kippur does not atone for sins against one’s fellow man, until he first appeases his fellow man.

The Gemara [Yoma 87a] states in the name of Rav Yitzchak: “Whoever angers his friend needs to appease him.” Rav Yitzchak cites as a proof a series of pessukim in Mishlei [6:1-3]: “My son, if you have been a guarantor for your friend, if you have given your handshake for a stranger, you have been trapped by the words of your mouth, snared by the words of your mouth, do this, therefore, my child and be rescued; for you have come into your fellow’s hand. Go humble yourself before him and placate your fellow.”

At first glance, this teaching of the Amora Rav Yitzchak seems very strange. Why do we need his exegesis from the pessukim in Mishlei to teach us the fact that one needs to appease his friend, if we have an explicit passuk from Chumash -– cited by the Tanna Rav Elazar ben Azaria — that teaches us the same thing?

Rav Chaim Soleveitchik explained the novelty of Rav Yitzchak’s teaching to his son, Rav Moshe Soleveitchik, in the course of an incident that happened in Brisk. A certain butcher came to the Beis Din of Rav Chaim Soleveitchik (Rav of Brisk) and Rav Simcha Zelig (Dayan of Brisk) asking them to adjudicate a din Torah involving a sum of 3,000 rubles. Rav Chaim suggested they make a compromise (peshara), but the butcher refused. The Beis Din then heard the case and decided against the butcher. The butcher reacted angrily to this, and started yelling at Rav Chaim, calling him a thief and a murderer.

Rav Chaim answered back: “When you came to this court, I suggested that you compromise with your disputant, but you refused. Since it was you who refused the compromise, it is not my fault that you have now lost 3,000 rubles. It is your own fault.” The butcher yelled even louder at Rav Chaim. Rav Chaim then said, “You disrespectful one, get out of here!”

On Erev Yom Kippur, Rav Chaim told his 3 sons that he must go to the butcher and ask for his forgiveness for the harsh words they exchanged that day in court. The Rav of Brisk accompanied by his 3 sons went to the shul where the butcher davened. Everyone was davening with their tallesim over their heads so it was impossible to tell who was who. Rav Chaim went around from person to person until he finally found the butcher. Rav Chaim then said, “I want to ask your forgiveness for calling you disrespectful and sending you out of my court.” The butcher turned to Rav Chaim -– right before Kol Nidrei — and said, “I do not forgive you. You are a thief and a murderer!”

Rav Chaim responded: “The halacha is that I must ask you three times in front of three people for forgiveness. I have brought my three sons here with me. Will you forgive me?” Again the response was “No!” The exchange was repeated three times and then Rav Chaim said, “I have discharged my duty and am ready to leave.” Before leaving he turned once more to the butcher and said, “You should know that at this point I am no longer obligated to ask for your forgiveness. In fact, you were the one who insulted me in the first place, and I had a right to respond in kind to your insolence. The only reason I came to appease you is because it is meritorious to overlook one’s honor and accept embarrassment rather than cause embarrassment to others. I was not obligated to ask your forgiveness, but I did it anyway, three times in front of three people. I am leaving. Now it is your problem!”

When they left the synagogue, Rav Moshe Soleveitchik asked his father why he went in the first place, when he never did anything wrong and it was the butcher who should have been asking for forgiveness all along.

Rav Chaim explained to his son that this was in fact the novelty in the ruling of Rav Yitzchak in Yoma. The passuk in Acharei Mos cited by Rav Elazar ben Azaria in the Mishneh teaches that if one WRONGS his fellow man, he must ask forgiveness. The pessukim in Mishlei expounded by Rav Yitzchak teach that if one angers his fellow man – even justifiably so – he still needs to try to make peace and ask for forgiveness.

This was not the type of “mechilah request” which would have held back the effectiveness of Rav Chaim’s Teshuvah vis a vis sins between man and G-d. Those are only for sins where you in fact harmed someone or insulted him inappropriately. Rav Yitzchak is saying a stronger teaching: Even when I am 100% right, if I utter harsh words against my fellow man, it is still appropriate for me to beg forgiveness and attempt to restore friendship between us.

This, Rav Chaim, said is the meaning of the Shulchan Aruch when it states that on Erev Yom Kippur, every person needs to ask for forgiveness from his fellow man. This halacha is difficult –- if I wronged someone, why should I wait until Erev Yom Kippur to make amends? The answer is that this law is not speaking about a case where I’ve wronged someone. Nevertheless, on Erev Yom Kippur there is a special obligation to make peace even when, strictly speaking, no amends are called for. (www.Torah.org)

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. To What Does this Prohibition Apply?
  1. Foods

Summary

All thick non-food substances i.e. wax, soap, cream are subject to the melacha of smoothing, and may not be rubbed, or spread on another surface. [Bars of soap may not be used. Liquid soap may be used; however, it is preferable to add water to the soap so that it is extremely fluid. Ointments may not be spread on the body.] Food items are exempt from this prohibition. However, it is praiseworthy to avoid intentionally smoothing out the surface of any thick food substance.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Kedoshim 5776

Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה                 ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

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New Stories Kedoshim 5776

In India, with the Lost Tribe of Ephraim

We transcended barriers through the power of music and prayer.

by Rabbi Keith Flaks

This Passover my wife and I went to Southern India to visit the “lost tribe of Ephraim.”

This clan of about 150 claims to be descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. They practice Jewish traditions, celebrate most of the holidays, and have started to observe many mitzvot, often in their unique style.

For example, in their tradition, on Erev Pesach they actually slaughter a goat and put the blood on their doorposts! They were shocked to discover that the Jewish world doesn’t do that. In general they were thrilled to learn more about how “mainstream Judaism” is being practiced in the rest of the world. Many dream of a day when they could move to the holy land of Israel.

While my wife and I came to help lead a Passover Seder, we ended up learning tons from our Indian experience. Here were a few lessons and highlights.

  1. The Power of Music

About 10 minutes after our arrival at the South Indian village in Chebrolu, I realized we had a problem. They don’t speak English! Okay, so we had a translator and a few spoke English, but in general, how were we supposed to share the depth of our Torah traditions when they can’t understand us?

The answer: through the magic of music.

Music breaks down all barriers. So during the Seder, during kabbalat Shabbat, before during and after classes, we made sure to sing and dance…a lot.

One night, after a long class with the villagers, four youthful Indian friends escorted us back to the hotel. (After five nights of bucket showers in 120 degree weather and “natural” bathrooms, we had decided to splurge on an Indian hotel for the last few nights of our stay.)

Our late night voyage was sweet, the weather was cooler, and the roads were slightly less chaotic. Our translator wasn’t there so we sat silently together in the car.

Then one Indian boy, with a big smile on his face, asked “Rav Keith… you know ‘Shabcheey’”? Of course I did. And suddenly the Indian roads, with temples, churches and mosques on all sides, were filled with six souls singing every Jewish song we could think! We sang, Am Yisroel Chai, Kol Haolam Kulo and Hatikvah at the top of our lungs. My wife and I were in shock, but they knew every word. It truly was a night we will never forget!

  1. Prayer from the Heart

After each night of Q and A, we would fulfill the mitzvah of counting the Omer with the group. I had explained to them the pertinent details on how to carry out this mitzvah, including an explanation of some of its spiritual significance.

After counting the Omer, I felt that we were missing something. I wasn’t ready to end the class. I decided to have three minutes of silent, meditative prayer. As most of the Telugi could not read Hebrew, formal texts were hard for them to grasp, but personal prayer…that was something that these people truly excelled at!

After two minutes of prayer, I sneakily opened my eyes to see how everyone was doing. My eyes filled with were in tears. Perhaps they were praying for a job, or for their sister to find a suitable marriage match, or maybe they were praying to one day come to Jerusalem, but whatever it was, they were all completely immersed in such sincere, intense prayer that put me to shame.

  1. The Power of Thanks

In Hebrew, India is called “Hodu”. Hodu means to thank. At first, I was convinced that the meaning of this was: “India has truly made me thankful and appreciative that I don’t live in India!”

For example: Thank God, I have a normal shower that doesn’t consist of a bucket of lukewarm water!

Thank God, I can walk across the street in Jerusalem without almost being run over by a motorbike, a beggar or a cow!

Thank God, I have enough money to afford basic medical needs, like asthma containers.

Thank God, I don’t have to live in a place so hot that one is forced to hibernate from 10am to 5 pm, and thank God I’m not stuck working in those conditions just to eke out 5 dollars a day, to support my family.

I truly felt blessed and thankful that I have been born into such a life of luxury.

And yet, as our Indian journey continued, my wife and I realized that there may be a totally different way of understanding why India is called Hodu. Ironically these people actually walked around and gave thanks far more than their richer, Westernized counterparts. Virtually everyone in India has a religion. And virtually everyone makes a time for prayer and thankfulness in their lives. Ironically, the ones who seem to have the most to be thankful for are the ones who are most negligent of this basic obligation.

So India has come to symbolize the land of thankfulness, as it reminds me of my obligation, of the privilege to say thanks…even when life is tough.

So thank you God for giving me the amazing privilege of learning from these “Telugu Jews.” And thank you to the “Telugu Jews” for hosting me and my wife and providing us with such an unforgettable experience. (www.aish.com)

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Acharei-Mos Inspiration 5776


So I keep thinking about the students of Rabbi Akiva who died during the Sefira period, and I again wonder what it is that they did that caused this tragedy. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) merely states that they didn’t respect each other, but this is a very vague and general criticism of their behavior. The Maharsha (Ibid) learns that they didn’t respect each other regarding Torah study. The punishment, however, doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Although they were obviously held to a very high standard, their death seems to be disproportionate to the crime. It would also seem that their behavior was not just a onetime offense, but rather was an ongoing epidemic. What, then, catalyzed this catastrophic decree on 24,000 of the most-prized students of Rabbi Akiva?

When we look at Parashas Acharei Mos, we see that the Torah mentions again the death of Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aharon, who entered without permission into the Kodesh HaKodoshim, the Holy of Holies. The Torah states that the sons was that they offered a strange fire, and also that they entered in a state of intoxication. The Medrash, however, goes further and enumerates other misdemeanors that they committed, such as not marrying, not having children, rendering halachic decision before Moshe their teacher and not taking counsel from one another. This last explanation requires understanding. Why did this inaction on their part cause their deaths?

To answer this question, we must understand the importance of taking counsel. Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 11:14) בְּאֵין תַּחְבֻּלוֹת יִפָּל עָם וּתְשׁוּעָה בְּרֹב יוֹעֵץ , without strategies a nation will fall, but salvation [lies] in much counsel. This pithy statement reveals our nations’ rise and fall. When people are willing to submit themselves to others who are older and wiser, then the nation can build and grow on the foundations of our forefathers. It is said (Tehillim 2:2) יִתְיַצְּבוּ מַלְכֵי אֶרֶץ וְרוֹזְנִים נוֹסְדוּ יָחַד עַל יְהוָה וְעַל מְשִׁיחוֹ, the kings of the earth take their stand and the princes conspire secretly, against HaShem and against His anointed. The Radak writes that the word נוֹסְדוּ, translated as conspire, is derived from the word יסוד, which means foundation. Taking counsel for an action, writes the Radak is like providing a foundation for  a building. When one takes counsel with other, he can be assured of success. As the saying goes, “if there is no foundation, there is no building.” When Nadav and Avihu decided to go it alone, they forfeited the guarantee of success that would have accompanied them on their mission. Similarly, when the students of Rabbi Akiva failed to take counsel with their colleagues on various matters, they caused the foundations to weaken and this led to their untimely deaths.

Throughout the Sefira period we invoke the seven Sefiros ofחסד, גבורה  etc, each Sefira corresponding to different  character trait that man possesses. As we slowly work our way up to מלכות, kingship, we recognize the need for a יסוד a foundation, upon which the kingship will rest. To crown our fellow man and ultimately to crown HaShem, we need to have a strong foundation. We need to act kindly towards each other, strengthen each other, blend in with each other, recognize the eternity of a fellow Jew and glorify each other. Then we can reach the foundation of our heritage which is the prelude to kingship.

HaShem should grant us the wisdom to take counsel from each other and take counsel from His Holy Torah, and then we will merit joy and celebration, with the arrival of Moshiach, Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Have a STRONG COUNSEL Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Acharei-Mos 5776
Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.

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Have a wonderful Shabbos !
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
For sponsorships please call 248-506-0363
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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Acharei-Mos 5776


Acharei-Mos 5776

New Stories Acharei-Mos 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Acharei-Mos 5776 

Thoughts About Pesach After Pesach

Introduction

(This piece was written in a year prior to Pesach but is applicable now also)

Distance yourself from the actions of the Egyptians and take the sheep of mitzvah

כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו ובחקתיהם לא תלכו, do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. (Vayikra 18:3)

As we approach Pesach, our minds are focused on the last minute preparations of these holy days and the rituals that we will perform by the Seder and the rest of the Pesach festival. Prior to Pesach is a day referred to Shabbos HaGadol, which has much significance yet is not celebrated in a physical manner. What is Shabbos HaGadol, how does it relate to the reading of this week’s parasha, Acharei Mos, and how does it connect to Pesach?

Refraining from Following the Actions and Traditions of the Gentiles, Baking Matzos, and Slaughtering the Egyptian god

Before we explain the significance of Shabbos HaGadol, it is noteworthy that in Parashas Acharei Mos there is a subtle reference to our redemption from Egypt. It is said (Vayikra 18:3) כמעשה ארץ מצרים אשר ישבתם בה לא תעשו וכמעשה ארץ כנען אשר אני מביא אתכם שמה לא תעשו ובחקתיהם לא תלכו, do not perform the practice of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled; and do not perform the practice of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions. The word כמעשה contains the letters כמע, which equal in gematria 130, and the letters שה, which means sheep. The Gemara (Eruvin 18b) states that when Adam Harishon separated from his wife for 130 years, he was producing spirits and demons. The Arizal writes that when one sweats in the process of baking matzos for Pesach, he atones for this sin of Adam. The Medrash states that the Egyptians served the constellation of the שה, the sheep, and for this reason HaShem instructed the Jewish People to take a sheep for the mitzvah of Korban Pesach. Taking the sheep would negate the Jewish People’s previous worship to the Egyptian god of sheep. The question here is, how do all these seemingly esoteric ideas relate to our service of HaShem in observing the Pesach?

How can we celebrate Freedom on Pesach when we are still deemed to be slaves?

The fundamental concept regarding Pesach is that HaShem has liberated us from slavery. Let us understand how this works. On Shavuos we celebrate the receiving of the Torah and the essence of the day is to study Torah. On Sukkos we dwell in booths to commemorate the fact that HaShem took us out of Egypt and placed us in the Clouds of Glory during our sojourn in the Wilderness. On Pesach, however, we recline at the Seder and eat matzah and drink wine, all symbols of freedom. Yet, to quote the Gemara (Megillah 14a), we are still slaves of Achashverosh, so how can we declare that we are emancipated when we are for all practical purposes shackled in exile and servitude?

Resisting Arrogance and Immorality Is the Catalyst to Freedom and Mitzvah Performance

In order to better understand the festival of Pesach, we must first understand the power of Shabbos. The Sfas Emes writes that on Shabbos one negates and destroys any thoughts of arrogance and pride in one’s self. In truth, Pesach specifically is referred to as Shabbos, because prior to Pesach we remove the chametz from our midst, and chametz symbolizes the Evil Inclination. Thus, the first step one must take to freedom is to remove arrogance and pride, and the Gemara (Sota 4b) states that one who is arrogant is akin to an idolater. For this reason the Torah in this week’s parasha instructs us to desist from acting like the Egyptians. Although this appears to be merely another negative commandment, this prohibition is parallel to what it is said (Ibid 12:21) משכו וקחו לכם צאן משפחותיכם ושחטו הפסח, draw forth or buy for yourselves one of the flock for your families. The Medrash interprets this verse as follows: draw your hands away from idolatry and take for yourselves a sheep for mitzvah. Once a person withdraws from idolatry, i.e. arrogance, he can begin to perform the mitzvos properly. The first mitzvah that we perform by the Seder is קדש, which literally means to recite קידוש, but can be interpreted to mean sanctify one’s self. One sanctifies himself and his household by not engaging in immoral thoughts and by not dressing in an immodest fashion. The Medrash (Pesikta Zuta Shemos 6:6) states that one of the three catalysts for the redemption was that the Jewish People did not change their clothing. In addition to dressing in Jewish fashion, they also were modest in their dress. When one distances himself from “the practices of the land of Egypt,” he can begin to take the sheep of mitzvah. This is also the explanation for the statement of the Arizal regarding matzah baking atoning for the sin of Adam HaRishon. When one is toiling in a mitzvah, he is far removed from any immoral thoughts and deeds, and is certainly worthy of atonement.

Tying the sheep to the Bed Reflected Subservience to HaShem

This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos HaGadol, and the word גדול, great, is associated with the word גדיל, which means a twisted thread. When the Jewish People in Egypt took the sheep to offer the Korban Pesach, they were demonstrating that they had distanced themselves from the actions of the Egyptians and they were prepared to connect to HaShem and His service. For this reason the Medrash states that the Jewish People tied the sheep to the foot of their beds. They certainly had more convenient locations to house sheep. Tying the sheep to their beds reflected their desire to harness their desires and will to HaShem’s will.

Our first requirement is to remove from within ourselves and from our households any immoral thoughts and material that is preventing us from serving HaShem properly. Once we have desisted from arrogance, immorality and any act that is akin to idolatry, we can take the sheep of mitzvah and serve HaShem wholeheartedly. HaShem should grant us that this Pesach we merit true freedom, and that He redeem us from this long and bitter exile, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

The Shabbos Connection

This Shabbos we can practice patience and compassion in light of all the preparations for Pesach that our household members have been engaged in. It is a time to appreciate our wives and children who have worked hard to prepare our houses for Pesach.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Shimru Shabsosai

The composer of this zemer is Shlomo, a name formed by the acrostic of the first four stanzas. Nothing definite is known about him, although some speculate that he was the famous Shlomo ben Yehudah ibn Gabriol. The zemer concentrates on the requirement to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights and closes with the assurance that the observance of the Shabbos will herald the final Redemption.

וּלְווּ עָלַי בָּנַי וְעִדְנוּ מַעֲדָנַּי, שַׁבָּת הַיּוֹם לַי-הֹ-וָ-ה, borrow on My account, My children, and enjoy My Pleasures. This passage is based on the Gemara (Beitzah 15b) that sates, “HaShem says, borrow on My account, My children, and recite the Kiddush of the day. I will repay. Why does Hashem want Jews to borrow for Shabbos expenditures? Is Shabbos not HaShem’s gift to us? Did one ever hear of one borrowing to receive a gift? The answer to this question is that the Gemara (Kiddushin 7a) states that if a woman gives money to a woman to marry her, and the man is a distinguished personage, then the transaction is valid, as she is marrying him through the benefit that he receives is his accepting her gift. HaShem offers us His beautiful bride, the Shabbos Queen. If we express our desire to “marry” the Shabbos Queen, then we must obtain the money that is necessary for the marriage, and HaShem demonstrates His satisfaction with us by repaying us for our expenses.

Shabbos Stories

Saved from the Army

A man owned a printing press in Jerusalem. Once a year, he was called upon for reserve military duty in the Israeli Defense Forces. He never tried to avoid his service when called upon. His army job was that of watchman, which allowed him to spend many hours learning Torah.

Then came the day when he found a notice in his mailbox: reserve duty for three weeks. The service would fall out in the month of Nissan. Making a rapid calculation, the man realized that he would be gone from home on the night of the Passover Seder, as well as all the remaining days of the holiday. At the prospect, a shadow fell across his face.

The notice arrived on a Friday. “I haven’t had such a Friday in a long time,” he thought. His spirits plummeted sharply.

That night, he ate his Shabbat meal, sunk in gloomy thought. He pictured his family’s Seder table, minus his presence. Who would be there to answer his sons’ Four Questions? And what would he himself eat during all the days of Passover?

Friday evenings usually found the printer in the Zichron Moshe Shul, listening to Rabbi Sholom Schwadron speak. On this gray night, however, he decided to diverge from his custom and take a walk instead. After a long stroll in the company of his melancholy thoughts, he found his legs carrying him, as though by habit, to the shul. He hesitated at the door, then went in.

Zichron Moshe has a book-lined foyer at the entrance, from which one enters the main sanctuary of the shul. The printer stood in this foyer, listening to Rabbi Sholom’s clear voice roll out to reach his ears:

“I just remembered a story,” Rabbi Sholom was saying, “and when that happens, you already know what we must do. The story has nothing to do with our topic, but…” Rabbi Sholom embarked on his tale:

In the early 20th century, when yeshiva students would visit the saintly Chafetz Chaim to discuss the problem of the Polish military draft, he would return a variety of answers. There is a wealth of stories concerning these amazing responses, and the divine guidance that often prompted them. If the Chafetz Chaim placed a copy of the book “Machaneh Yisrael” (regarding the laws of Jewish military behavior) in the student’s hand, then he knew nothing would avail him; he would be drafted.

But if the Chafetz Chaim’s response was to say, “Whoever accepts the burden of Torah is released from the burden of the government and livelihood,” then the young man knew he must not spare any exertion in Torah — and his freedom from the draft would be assured.

“Whoever accepts the burden of Torah!” Rabbi Sholom’s voice rang out. “Whoever accepts that burden — whatever happens!” He continued to relate two examples of men who undertook the burden of Torah and were spared the draft. When he was finished, he asked where they had been up to before he began his story, and resumed the thread of his original topic.

“My heart was pounding very hard,” the printer told us much later. “My whole body was covered with a cold sweat. I had never before felt such a personal divine intervention. Rabbi Sholom remembered the story at the very instant that my feet crossed the shul’s threshold, and everything he said was directed at my own difficult situation. As he returned to the original subject of his talk, I saw that it really had no bearing at all on ‘whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah.’ In other words, the thing had not come about through natural means, one topic leading naturally into the next.

“But apart from any considerations of divine intervention, I was greatly encouraged by what Rabbi Sholom had said. I decided at once to add an hour of Torah learning to my regular schedule — one extra hour every day. I didn’t wait for Sunday, or even for Shabbat morning. Immediately after the lecture ended, I went into the study hall and learned for an hour. I believed with a powerful faith in the words of our Sages, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah …’ All my worry fell away. “On Sunday, I told my partner at the printing press that I had some news for him, and a request. The news was that I had received a draft notice for the month of Nissan. And the request was that we close up shop an hour early each day, so that I would be able to use it for the study of Torah.”

A week passed, then two. One morning, the man’s partner walked in with his own startling announcement. “Rabbi Yaakov, I’ve also received a notice for reserve duty in the month of Nissan!”

The army rule is that two business partners do not have to serve at the same time. In such a case, one of them is released from duty. “The two of us took all our papers and went down to the army office,” the printer relates. “A few days later, the letter came: I was released! I would be home for Passover with my family. Unfortunately, to my distress, my partner was still required to serve his time.

“I was grateful to the Almighty for helping me, in a natural way, to be free of my army duty. But it soon became clear that we had not yet come to the end of this marvelous episode. My letter of release was only the first stage in the story.

“On the day my partner left for his reserve duty, I parted painfully from him. None knew better than I what he must be feeling at such a time.”

The next morning, the printer walked to his printing shop as usual, and placed his key in the lock. To his surprise, the door wasn’t locked! Slowly he twisted the knob and opened the door, then stepped instead, hesitant and afraid. A few steps into the room, he saw something amazing. There was his partner, working busily away!

“Shalom aleichem! Good morning!” the man greeted his partner, in open astonishment.

“What happened? Have you gone AWOL?” the printer asked.

The partner smiled. “I arrived at the base yesterday,” he said, “and an hour later, they sent me right back home! The supervisor came over and told me, ‘There’s been a mistake — some sort of misunderstanding. Your draft notice was for two months from now, and was sent to your address by accident.’ I was dumbfounded. Such a thing had never happened to me before. But the supervisor apologized and sent me respectfully home, saying, ‘Sorry about this mistake. You are released!’”

When he had finished telling his story, the partner stood up and cried out emotionally, “We have just seen, with our own eyes, the amazing results of following the words of the Sages, ‘Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah is exempt from burdens.’ In order for you to be released from your duty, I received a draft notice by mistake.”

The printer himself adds a final note to this story. “When we took financial inventory several months later, it turned out that, from the time we began closing up shop an hour early each day, our income had increased greatly.” Raising his voice with great feeling, he concludes, “Whoever takes upon himself the burden of Torah…!”

The Seder Guest

Time, it’s been said, is often like a sharp gust of wind that can move you and turn you with its invisible force, and then disappear as quickly as it came. But time, it seems to me, is also like a river, flowing from one end of eternity to the other, winding through ages and places in unstoppable regularity. And while one current passes by and is soon beyond our grasp, the river of time stays right where it is, and you can step right up to its banks any time you feel like it, just by closing your eyes and dipping in. Right about now, every spring before Passover, I smile with sweet mystery at my Seder with Reb Pinchas.

I was a junior in college back in 1975, part of that mixed-up generation that had soured on the idealism of the sixties but hadn’t yet caught the Yuppie Fever of the eighties. I was going to school in northern Pennsylvania, changing majors as fast as best friends, undergoing that rite of passage known as “finding yourself.”

When spring vacation approached, I thought about going home, like I usually did, but eventually decided against it. My folks were going to Palm Springs, I had plenty of work to catch up on, and I kind of liked the way Pennsylvania changed its seasons right before your eyes. So I opted to spend the break at school, and I looked for some part-time work to pass the time. I noticed an interesting ad on the campus bulletin exchange, “Jewish student wanted for spring work,” and I gave them a call.

It turned out I was applying for work at a matzah factory. Now, about all I knew concerning matzah was that you eat it on Passover, that it tastes only slightly better than the box it comes in, and that cream cheese and jelly is the best way to disguise it. But they told me I didn’t have to know a whole lot in order to get the job, and I soon found out why.

They put me to work cleaning the dough out of the huge vats where it was kneaded and prepared for baking, making sure that every last particle of flour was removed before the vats were scoured. This plant was like one giant bakery, where time was of the essence.

There were three main areas of the factory. First, there was a mixing room, where the matzah ingredients were blended together by large kneading machines, quickly turning the flour and water into a doughy consistency that would produce the flat, unleavened bread.

Then there was the cutting room, where the dough was taken automatically to be cut and shaped into squares, flattened and then perforated with dozens of tiny holes that would spread the heat evenly and quickly during baking.

Finally, conveyer belts brought the sections of dough through large ovens, where intense heat baked them as they passed through, emerging as the finished product: matzah, the bread of affliction, “poor bread,” the key reminiscence of the Exodus from Egypt. They were grouped eight together, sealed in cellophane, and boxed and labeled as soon as they cooled.

I marveled at the efficiency of it all. I had always pictured matzah-making as a painstakingly slow and involved process, performed by hand by elderly scholars in long, black coats. This factory was completely automated, a mass of whirring machines that combined age-old ritual law with the modern need to supply thousands of homes with fresh matzah for Passover. While much matzah was still made by hand, I was told, the majority of Jews in America ate machine-baked matzah, which was both cheaper and more plentiful than the personally-baked product.

The foreman, one Paul Thom (I never did figure out if he was Jewish or not, but he sure knew his matzah) explained to me that the most crucial aspect of the production was time. He cautioned that the whole baking process could not exceed eighteen minutes, because after that time the dough starts to leaven and is impermissible for Passover. The entire line had to be completed before the eighteen minutes, and, like clockwork, the machines automatically shut down before the deadline. A series of staccato bells would sound, the kneaders would stop kneading, the mixers would stop mixing, the rollers would stop rolling, the ovens would shut down and cool off. The workers had a ten-minute break, while I and a few other hardy workers got down to business.

We climbed into the vats, and scraped every last piece of dough out. We cleaned the hooks, and the trays, and even the conveyer belts. We had only seven minutes to do it, because there was a two-minute steam cleaning that preceded each new cycle. Between our scouring and the steam, not even an infinitesimal particle of dough remained that might have become chametz, that forbidden leaven that was our principal enemy…

I worked hard for those two weeks of vacation, as Passover approached. I had never been very religious, but it felt good being part of something Jewish, knowing that in hundreds of homes in the days ahead, other Jews would be depending on my work to eat these unusual flat breads. I thought about writing up the whole thing for my student paper, a kind of culture-clash piece about how religion keeps up with modern times.

As the day of Passover drew close, the activity at the factory intensified. We were told that, for the first time, there was a chance that the Soviet Union might allow matzah to be brought into the country. Ten thousand pounds of matzah were being prepared nationally, and we were given an allotment of a thousand pounds to contribute. We worked almost around the clock, and when we tired, one of the Rabbis would smile and say, “You’ll rest when the ship sails!”

Even the eve of Passover was no exception. We were asked to work as long as possible, with various people leaving throughout the day, depending upon where they lived and their travel time home. I told the foreman that because I lived close by, and had no family to prepare for, I could stay until closing, just a couple hours before the sun set. I volunteered to actually shut down the plant, and lock everything up for the holiday.

As the day progressed, the skies became progressively darker, and a Pennsylvania storm began to move in. This prompted many of the workers to leave even earlier, not wishing to be caught in the rain. When the Rabbis announced that this would be the last run, I was one of only a handful of employees left. I said goodbye and good holiday to my co-workers, and set about to clean the last few vats. “Don’t forget to close the lights,” said Mr. Thom. “The doors will automatically lock behind you.”

There was a strange silence when everyone had left. The huge machines had come to a rest, their reward of sorts for the holidays, after all their hard work in preparation. The lightning outside seemed to silhouette the vastness of the place, created by men but powered by a desire to fulfill an ancient, Divine decree. The sound of the rain on the skylights told me that darkness would be upon me faster than I had anticipated.

I quickly closed all the lights, made sure that every machine had been shut down, and grabbed my coat. But as I made my way for the door, there was a tremendous clap of thunder, and a stunning bolt of lightning lit up the room. Suddenly I heard a crash, almost like a tree falling over my head, and the whole factory seemed to shake for just a second.

Determined now to get back to the relative safety of my dorm room, I rushed to the door and pushed on the exit bar. Nothing happened. The lock remained frozen in place. I pushed again, and still no response. And then it dawned on me; all the doors were electrically locked, automatically operated! I flipped the light switch by the door; the darkness remained. The storm had knocked out all the power in the plant, including the power to open the doors.

I spent a few frantic, futile minutes trying other doors, looking for low, open windows, searching for an escape. There was none. Even the phones had been rendered useless. As I pondered my situation, trapped alone in the factory with several hundred remaining boxes of matzahs, I could only think of that novel I was assigned to read, ‘No Way Out.’

About two hours into my ordeal, I heard a strange tapping noise coming from somewhere in the plant. At first I was just slightly terrified, imagining that certain reptilian creatures were now asserting their hours of supremacy, and challenging my intrusion on their time. But as the tap, tap, tapping continued, and as my frustration grew, I decided to look for the source of the noise. A hero, I knew, was someone too tired or cold to care much about the risks.

It was now pitch dark in the plant, except for the flashes of lightning which illuminated the place at regular intervals. With each brilliant burst of light, I proceeded to make my way slowly toward the source of the noise. As I got closer, I perceived that it was coming from somewhere above me, perhaps from the storage rooms near the roof. I had only been back there once, and then by elevator, but I remembered seeing a staircase at the very rear of the plant. I gingerly felt my way there, totally unprepared for what I would find.

As I climbed the stairs, holding on to the rail for dear life, I no longer heard the tapping sound. Now, however, I heard a low, humming noise, almost an imperceptible singsong. When I reached the top of the landing, afraid to go on but even more scared to back down those stairs (I counted 112), I saw a dim light coming from beneath one of the rooms at the end of the hall. I gathered up my courage and pushed open the door.

I almost fainted with surprise, and no little relief, to be greeted by an elderly man with a broad smile on his face. “Come in,” he bellowed, with the faintest tinge of an elusive accent. “What a marvelous wonder to find you here!”

By the light of two long candles burning on the table, I beheld an incredible scene. Here was a man, dressed in a flowing white robe, sitting cross-legged upon a pillow. In front of him was a low, oriental-style table, set as if for a banquet. A medley of delicious smells rushed at me, reminding me of how hungry I was, and my appetite moved right in, pushing the fear away completely.

“Who are you?” I asked sheepishly, glad to have a human, any human to talk to.

“My name is Pinchas, young man,” he said, “but my friends ― and I think you’ll be one ― call me Reb Pinchas. I was just about to begin my Passover Seder, and I would be honored if you would join me. Like a lot of things,” and now he winked with a grin, “it goes better with two.”

“But who are you? What are you doing here? I’ve never seen you. Do you work here? Does the foreman know…?”

“Relax, son. Mr. Thom knows all about me. You see, I used to be the foreman here, a long time ago, before they decided to make the matzahs by machine. Then, it was all hand-crafted, a real art, and I was the supervisor. But when they automated the place, I became kind of obsolete, and had to retire. But they gave me this place to live, as a kind of good deed to an old man who had served the company well. Now, since I’m the one with seniority here, I want you to be my guest. Tell me about yourself.”

I told him my name, and how I had come to be stuck in the factory ― he smiled at the wonders of automation ― and how I had followed the tapping noise.

“Oh, that was just me, chopping walnuts for the charoses, the mortar-like food that we eat at the Seder. I’ve got to do all my preparation myself, you know, from the soup to the grinding of the horseradish root to the mixing of the salt water. But I’ll tell you what. Let’s try some of your machine matzah tonight, if you can find your way back to retrieve some.”

Borrowing one of the candles, I retraced my steps and took a couple boxes of matzah. I was fairly overwhelmed by the whole scene, but, on the whole, it seemed better than spending what could be a couple of days alone in the dark. I knew that the foreman would return in two days, when the first days of the holiday were over, but that could be an eternity without food and companionship.

When I returned, I saw that the old man had set a place for me at his table. I sat down next to a large pillow, relaxed, and we began to talk.

“Have you been to many Seders?” asked Reb Pinchas.

“Oh, I’ve been to a lot, but mostly they were just eat-fests, huge banquets of great food with a few vague prayers and blessings thrown in for good measure.”

The old man smiled. “This may be a new experience for you, then.”

And we proceeded to talk about, well, to talk about life, for a very long time. Reb Pinchas asked me about freedom, and what it means to me. I told him it means independence, and making my own decisions. He agreed with that, but he pointed out that true freedom is based on law and routine, moving from anarchy to established patterns of behavior in a civilized setting.

“I’ll bet America has more laws than any other country around,” he said, “and yet look how free a place this is. Laws don’t stifle freedom, they protect it.”

“Judaism isn’t so different, either. Why, some people look at the Torah and all its commandments and feel suppressed, when they should really feel liberated. After all, it was the Ten Commandments that freed the whole world from lawlessness and injustice. It brought seder, order, to civilization.”

A lot of what he had to say made sense. We talked a lot about the matzah, and how the rabbis debated whether or not it stood for slavery (the bread of affliction) or was a symbol of freedom to lean back and eat in luxury. “Matzah is like life,” Reb Pinchas said, “it all depends upon your perspective, as to whether it’s a blessing or a burden. The minute you start taking it for granted, you may as well be under the taskmaster’s whip again.”

He asked me what my goals and future plans were, but, like most college students, I didn’t have too clear an answer.

“You know, son,” he said, between bites of the unleavened bread, “when we say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’ we aren’t only speaking in the geographical sense. Every person has to have a dream, an ultimate Jerusalem where they hope to end up. You have to plot your life’s journey as soon as you can, set a course and follow it. Like matzah, as you well know, if you wait too long it begins to leaven and is no longer suitable or fulfilling. The clocks are running, and none of us can afford to waste precious minutes.”

I enjoyed reading from the Haggadah that Reb Pinchas gave me. I could still sing the Four Questions ― that much I had retained ― and I ended up doing most of the narration. We stopped all along the way to ask questions of each other and discuss. I think that’s how you really get to know someone, by asking them questions.

“You know, it’s a mitzvah to ask questions at the Seder,” Reb Pinchas said. “Most years, I have to ask myself the questions, and that sounds pretty senile. So I’m beholden to you for sharing this night with me and letting us really ask the questions.”

I remember so vividly discussing the four sons. “Some people think this is about four separate people,” said Reb Pinchas, “but I say it’s about four sides of the same person. After all, at different times in our life, we’re wise, or rebellious, uninformed, even apathetic. But as long as we know we have the capacity to be wise, that’s half the battle in getting there.”

There was a lot of that upbeat philosophy at the table. I remarked that the mix of symbols at the Seder, the bitterness of the horseradish and the sweetness of the wine, seemed to show that life contains all the elements of emotion, from deep depression and the feeling of being trapped to unbridled song and the sensory satisfaction of spring. It was just a question of making some kind of seder, order, of it all.

“There’s that chacham in you!” smiled my friend. “You’re talking like a scholar now!”

Even the matzah tasted good that night. Most of all, though, the taste that remains with me still is the wine. From a dusty, round bottle, we poured cup after cup of the delicious grape wine. I poured for him, and he for me, and I know I’ve never tasted anything so sweet and satisfying before. “Been brewing this since Egypt,” Reb Pinchas said with a twinkle in his eyes, and it must have been the wine that made those songs sound so on key and pleasant, even from my lips.

After talking long into the night, and eating and drinking our fill, we awoke barely in time to begin preparing for the second Seder. “I insist you stay,” my new friend urged. “We haven’t quite finished explaining all the mysteries of the universe yet!”

And so for two nights and two days, in the upper room of a dark factory, we lit up our little world with a friendship and a sharing that taught me more than any professor has, or will. I not only learned about a heritage I hardly knew I had, but I learned that I fit in, that I wasn’t an outsider, but a valuable, real player in this game of life, Jewish life. When I put on Reb Pinchas’s white robe the second night ― he said it was my turn to be the leader ― I really felt royal, as a leader should. I never knew ― until then ― that I had it in me.

“For about four thousand years you’ve had it in you,” said Reb Pinchas. “It just took a little wine and song to get it out!”

The wine was something out of this world. I fell asleep clutching a bottle of it in my hand, and I must have slept the better part of a day, because I awakened to the sound of voices downstairs. Rushing to the lower level, I saw Mr. Thom, who realized only once he saw me that I had been locked inside for the last forty-eight hours.

“I’ve heard of devotion to work,” said the foreman, “but this is beyond the call of duty. You must be famished, scared!”

“Not really,” I explained. You see, I found the old man upstairs. We had two wonderful Seders together. He taught me a lot about Passover, and about myself. All in all, I’d say it changed my life!”

Mr. Thom had a confused look on his face, but smiled when he saw the bottle of wine in my hand. “You must have been drinking one l’chaim too many,” he said. “I don’t know what old man you’re talking about.”

He seemed to be totally unaware of Reb Pinchas, and his association with the company, so I insisted he come upstairs and meet him for himself. But when I threw open the door to our little banquet hall, the room was completely transformed. No table or pillows or Reb Pinchas remained. Only boxes of matzah supplies, and machine parts, piled in a corner of the room. I looked at the boxes, searching in vain for a trace of the Seder, and I looked at Mr. Thom, who, after all, I hoped would re-hire me next spring.

I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and said, “You’re right; it must have been the wine.” And then I remembered the wine, still in my hand, and I smiled a knowing smile that none in the world could have erased.

The years have passed since that fateful Passover. Now, I conduct my own Seder with my own children gathered around the table. They ask good questions, those little chachamim, the kind my wife and I are hard-pressed to answer. But every time we’re just about stumped, I pour the tiniest bit of Reb Pinchas’s wine into our cups and, somehow, we seem to find all the right answers. (www.innernet.org.il)

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. To What Does this Prohibition Apply?
  1. Foods

The Poskim debate whether the melacha of smoothing applies to food items. The Rema rules that one may follow the lenient view that exempts food from this prohibition, but nevertheless המחמיר תבוא עליו ברכה, one who is strict shall be blessed; i.e. it is praiseworthy to follow the stringent view that includes food in the prohibition. Thus, it is praiseworthy to avoid smoothing out any thick food substance.

However, this stringency applies only where one wants the food to appear smooth for decorative purposes, such as icing a cake or smoothing out an egg salad. In a case where one intends merely to spread the food substance over a large area, but does not care whether the surface appears smooth i.e. spreading butter on bread, there is no basis for stringency. Accordingly, one is allowed to spread any firm food substance, i. e. butter, jam, cheese, egg or tuna salad on a slice of bread, so long as one does not care to make the surface appear smooth.

NOTE: Non-foods, which are certainly subject to the melacha of smoothing, may not be spread or rubbed over an area even if one does not intentionally smooth out their surface.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Acharei-Mos 5776

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New Stories Acharei-Mos 5776

Parents Just Don’t Understand

They were there for every first that mattered in my life. Except for one: my first steps onto the path of Judaism.

by Noah Dinerstein

I took my first step when I was 10 months old. My dad was there, either holding me up or a video camera.

At six years old, he put his hands on mine as I gripped the handle bars, and guided me up and down the street for hours until he finally let go and I rode that Huffy on my own.

A few years later I was still small enough to sit on his lap while he was driving but big enough that he trusted me to shift when he dramatically announced “Second!” VROOM “Third!” Awesome.

Sixth grade was Friday night skating where he tied up my skates for me and embarrassingly lead me out to the ice where all the Kelly Capowskis could see. “Dadddd!” I begged. “I can do it.” I couldn’t….but…y’know.

He was there for every first that ever mattered in my life, except one: My first steps onto the path of Judaism.

He taught me how to drive stick in the biggest parking lot in town at 15. At 16 he trained me for my driving test that I passed. And 18 he helped me pack and walked me to my dorm, hugged me in the parking lot squeezing as tight as I did the handlebars, and we cried.

He was there for every first that ever mattered in my life.

Every first except one: My first steps onto the path of Judaism.

You don’t need the details. Every story is different while being exactly the same: Grew up non-religious, met a charismatic Rabbi, went to Israel, got inspired, ate warm, fluffy challah, went to a lot of insightful classes, questioned everything ever, quit my job, went to yeshiva and (POOF!) yarmulke! (Well it may look like POOF! to the onlooker, but it’s a step-by-step journey for the Ba’al Teshuvah.)

The difference, though, in each and every Ba’al Teshuvahs story is the parents: Supportive or not. Guess what I got.

Neither my dad or mom were there for my first dive into the Orthodox Jew pool simply because they didn’t want to be. To them, it was a phase, like Pogs. When I came back from my Israel trip I talked about the trip. Whoa did I talk about the trip. I couldn’t stop. “Mom did you know about all the laws of kosher? And Passover? We’ve never cleaned the house before! Whoa SHABBOS!!! We should do Shabbos!….like this week! Why not??? On Friday nights we eat dinner anyways…all we have to do is turn off the TV and phone and music and it’s actually pretty sweet and feels great. Shavuot! I never learned about Shavuot in Hebrew school! We studied Gemara all night – wait! – I didn’t tell you about Gemara. It’s like Jewwy law school! Dad you would love it. I feel smarter! blah blah blah Jewish Jewish blah blah Jewish.”

At first, sitting at the kitchen counter, my mom’s face was one of pride and astonishment. I will never forget that she called her best friend Lisa and put the phone on speaker. “C’mon,” my mom said to me. “Say all those things about what you learned on your trip again!” Of course she was excited. She was always upset that my brother Zack and I would choose basketball over bar-mitzvah practice. Or the epic fight we had (which she won) over should I go to my Hebrew school “confirmation” or to my school dance. So, yeah, she was pumped. She showed me off.

My dad too. Until…..Well…Until I started actually doing it.

There was a breaking point. Two years since that homecoming. Two years of working in Boston and being a pretty successful young hotelier. And two years of slow learning, Shabbat meals from time to time, flexing my “Kosher-style” muscle. None of my Jewish stuff was in your face. My feet were planted in two worlds. I could party on a Friday night if I wanted. McDonalds was still cool (I’ll order the chicken sandwich). Learning the weekly Torah portion versus tennis? C’mon. So my parents still found ways to deny the tropical storm headed towards the east coast.

Until it was upgraded to a hurricane. Hurricane Tzitzit.

When your first time ever to start wearing tzitzit (a 4-cornered garment with long fringes) in your 20s, you stuff them into your pants like canned tuna, string cheese, and Doritos after zombies have just broken through the window and are wailing and waddling towards you “Walking Dead” style. You don’t want them to fall out and be caught. That sunny day in spring it took one string (cheese pun not intentional) to break loose and then so did all hell. One little string showed it’s measly, skinny, white face out of the back of my Levi’s and we were off. It was as if our family was in a competitive breath holding competition for two years and someone came along and smacked them all on the back at the same time.

That tzitzit string was the final straw. Things were said. Some not nice. Some rather loud. It was brought to a climactic movie-worthy halt when I exclaimed with a shaking, stuttering, yelp, “I’ve decided! I’m going to yeshiva!”

Silence. Crying. Silence. Explaining. Crying. Silence.

My parents later told me that during their four-hour drive home from Boston they did not exchange a word.

We entered a tough world of never saying enough and always saying too much.

They tried to talk me out of it, but I went anyway. They wrote love letters to the rabbis about brainwashing (what else?), they called me, and I called them and we talked but not really.

We entered a tough world of never saying enough and always saying too much. Never knowing when to swing or take a pitch. Never hitting or folding. Never giving in or giving up. Stalemate.

The Story Radically Changes

This is not about any of that though. It is about how everything changed. Some things simply through the passing of time and some things on the day I got engaged to my wonderful wife.

This note is about how my parents were at my orthodox wedding. How my mom planned half of the wedding with my wife’s mom. How they met this young, beautiful, authentic girl who came from a family of bearded rabbis and they loved her. And her family.

It’s about how my mom planned half of the wedding with my wife’s mom.

It’s about my dad’s pitch perfect wedding speech and when he looked me in the eye this past Friday evening and said he was thankful to me for bringing Shabbat into the house he built.

This is about my Reform father taking pride in taping up the refrigerator lights before Shabbos so I wouldn’t come to accidentally break rules he didn’t even abide by.

It’s about my mom calling one of the rabbis she had previously questioned (more like interrogated) but was now calling to explain exactly what it would take to make kosher an entire kitchen in a town that hadn’t seen a kosher kitchen since Nana’s time. And learning about checking labels at every grocery store to find some Hebrew words so they can just give their baby boy some kosher balsamic vinegar dressing that he loves so darn much!

It’s about how my parents go to the Chabad house that opened in their town, on their own volition! My mom offers to get the Rebbetzin’s sheital (wig) styled! Sheital!

How my dad learns new concepts from the rabbi and calls me to discuss. How the most prominent moment my brother and I ever shared was when he took a day off of work to accompany me to a 12-hour Jewish meditation seminar and hashtag emotional things went down!

This is really about how instead of thinking of all the ways my lifestyle limits our relationship, they adapted to make sure it expanded our relationship. This is about the letter I found in my dressing room at the wedding hall where my mom, pen probably shaking in hand, dug deep down into the most delicate place of her heart and confessed that I was always destined for this life and she couldn’t be more proud.

No, my father wasn’t there for my first steps to my return to our beautiful, rich heritage, but he was there for my most important. He walked me to my bride. We were circled by trumpets, cheering and singing, my best friends from high school pretending to mouth the words and my yeshiva brothers screaming “Od Yeshama” at the top of their lungs.

My father was there for my most important step. He walked me to my bride.

When the sea of bodies parted, I can only describe it as a laser beam of Divine connection to Aliza, my wife, eliciting the most powerful and spiritual experience of my life. I broke down. My father put his arm around mine and picked me up, giddy and overflowing with joy for his son. He taught me how to walk all over again.

I never wanted to hurt my parents. I feel sad that I put them in so much pain. I know they feel sadness too when they realize it wasn’t the easiest road for me. But now there is peace. My wife and I are establishing a Jewish home. My parents and I have never been closer, and my mom tells me that she can’t wait until we host them at our table for Shabbat. (www.aish.com)

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Shevii Shel Pesach 5776


Shevii Shel Pesach is one of those Yomim Tovim that defies description. Essentially, this day is merely another day of Pesach, where we recite Kiddush, eat meat and drink wine, and recite Hallel and Mussaf. What distinguishes this day from the rest of Pesach?

The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 20:5) states that HaShem orchestrated Krias Yam Suf, the splitting of the Sea, so that the Jews should not forget that HaShem is their savior and they should cry out to him. I wonder, though, how this was justified? The Jewish People were deathly afraid of the Egyptians pursuing them, so could there not have been a less stressful method of reminding them that they must pray to HaShem?

The answer to this question is that the Egyptian exile was symbolized in the word רְדוּ, descend, which Yaakov instructed his sons when there was a hunger in the Land of Canaan. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 91:2) states that the gematria of the word רְדוּ is 210, reflecting the amount of the years that the Jewish People sojourned in Egypt. The implication of this Medrash is that the Jews had to descend to Egypt, and apparently the descent continued until the splitting of the Sea. While the Jewish People were certainly on “the ascent,” i.e. they ascended from the depravity of the Egyptian society, they still were required to descend further. This descent, however, was not one of lowering themselves spiritually. On the contrary, HaShem instructed the Jewish People to travel into the Sea and trust in HaShem that He would save them.

It is noteworthy that when describing the splitting of the Sea, Dovid HaMelech states (Tehillim 114:4) הֶהָרִים רָקְדוּ כְאֵילִים גְּבָעוֹת כִּבְנֵי צֹאן, the mountains danced like young rams, the hills like young sheep. The word רָקְדוּ contains the word רְדוּ and the letter ק. This hints to the idea that the descent into Egypt and the “descent” into the Sea was for the purpose of praising HaShem. The Gemara (Menachos 43b) requires that one recite 100 blessings a day, and this is reflected in the letter ק, which equals in gematria 100. Additionally, it is said (Verse 7) מִלִּפְנֵי אָדוֹן חוּלִי אָרֶץ מִלִּפְנֵי אֱ-לוֹהַּ יַעֲקֹב, from before the Master, Who created the earth, from before the G-d of Yaakov. The first letters of these words equal in gematria 100, also reflecting the praise to HaShem.

Thus, although on the surface the Jewish People had good reason to be frightened, HaShem was actually giving them an opportunity to praise Him further. As Dovid HaMelech states (Tehillim 130:1) מִמַּעֲמַקִּים קְרָאתִיךָ יְ-הֹ-וָ-ה, from the depths I called out to You, HaShem. It is fascinating that the word מִמַּעֲמַקִּים contains the word עמק, which equals in gematria 210, and the word יָּם, which means sea, alluding to the idea that it was specifically from the depths of the 210 years of Egyptian exile and from descending into the Sea that the Jews cried out to HaShem. It is specifically when a person feels “down and out” that he has the greatest opportunity to praise HaShem and thank Him for all the miracles that He performs for him.

We should merit this Shevii Shel Pesach to ascend from our slumber of the exile and witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.,

Have a Sea Splitting and Ascending Yom Tov and Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Shevii Shel Pesach 5776

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