New Stories Devarim-Chazon 5776
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Devarim-Chazon 5776
Eicha: A Time to Give, not to Receive
איכה אשא לבדי טרחכם ומשאכם וריבכם, how can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? (Devarim 1:12)
In this week’s parasha it is said (Devarim 1:12) eicha esa livadi tarchachem umasachem virivchem, how can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels? The Medrash (Eicha Rabbah 1:1) notes that there are three instances in Scripture where the word eicha appears. One instance is here in Devarim. The second instance is when Yeshaya (1:21) declares eicha haysah lizonah kiryah nemanah, how the faithful city has become a harlot! The third instance is in the beginning of the Book of Eicha (1:1) which we read on Tisha Ba’Av, where the prophet Yirmiah laments eicha yashvah vadad, alas – she sits in solitude! The Medrash draws a distinction between these three instances of eicha. Moshe witnessed the Jewish People in their glory. Yeshaya knew the Jewish People when they were in a state of rebellion, and Yirmiah observed the people when they were in a state of degradation. This Medrash poses a number of difficulties. First, if Moshe saw the Jewish People in their glory, why did he bemoan the fact that they were contentious and quarrelsome? Second, what is the significance of the word eicha that warrants the Medrash to highlight these three time periods in Jewish history?
The difference between eich and eicha
In order to understand the significance of the word eicha, it is worthwhile to examine the meaning of the word itself. The word eicha is similar to the word eich, with one notable difference. The word eich is in the masculine form, whereas the word eicha appears in the feminine form. The reasons for this difference is beyond the scope of this essay. Nonetheless, the fact that one is in the masculine form and the other is in the feminine form is reflective of a profound insight into the conduct of the Jewish People. When Moshe wondered how he could bear the burden of the Jewish People alone, he was expressing his disappointment in the people’s inability to rise above the pettiness and struggles of one who is always needy. Thus, Moshe was bemoaning the fact that the Jewish People had everything delivered to them on a silver platter, but they could not resist quarrelling with each other and provoking HaShem to anger. Yeshaya, however, saw the Jewish People in a state of rebellion, where they had already fallen from their glory and were wallowing in the gutter. Yirmiah witnessed the Jewish People in their state of degradation, when there was apparently no more hope. Thus, while all three leaders saw the Jewish People in different states of existence, they essentially observed the people when they were on the receiving end and not on the giving end.
Being satisfied with what we have will help us avoid baseless hatred
What message is the Medrash conveying to us? Do we not know that the Jewish People sinned and this brought about the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and the Land? The answer to this question is that we are being taught a powerful lesson in human nature. When HaShem bestows us with wealth and comforts, it behooves us to appreciate what we have and to be satisfied with our lot. While we always look to HaShem as the Source of all blessings, we cannot become weakened like one who is in constant need of fame and riches. Desiring more than what we have only leads to contentiousness and quarrels with one another. The Gemara (Yoma 9b) states explicitly that the second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred, and one of the catalysts for this hatred is desiring more than what we have.
The Shabbos connection
This Shabbos is referred to as Shabbos Chazon, the Shabbos of vision. We are required to gaze inwards and contemplate the luxuries that HaShem has provided us with and to appreciate those comforts. We can then use our possessions to help others in need, thus fulfilling the verse that states (Yeshaya 1:27) Tziyon bimishpat tipadeh vishaveha bitzedakah, Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness. When we realize that we have everything that we need in the physical realm, we will begin to crave higher levels of spirituality. HaShem will then hear our pleas to restore the glory of Yerushalayim to the days of old, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu and the rebuilding of the Third Bais HaMikdash, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
The composer was Dunash ben Librat, the famed medieval grammarian and paytan who lived from 4680-4750 (920990 C.E.). He was born in Baghdad and, except for twenty years in Fez, lived there his entire life. He was a nephew and disciple of Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon and was acquainted with many of the Sages of his time. Rashi and Ibn Ezra quote him extensively. His name appears four times as the acrsostic of the stiches in stanzas 1,2,3, and 6. This zemer is a prayer to HaShem to protect the Jewish People, destroy its tormentors, and bring the Nation peace and redemption.
נְעִים שִׁמְכֶם וְלֹא יֻשְׁבַּת. שְׁבוּ נוּחוּ בְּיוֹם שַׁבָּת, pleasant will be your reputation, never to cease. Rest and be content on the Shabbos day. It is said (Yeshaya 58:14) אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל יְ-ה-ו-ָה וְהִרְכַּבְתִּיךָ עַל (במותי) בָּמֳתֵי אָרֶץ וְהַאֲכַלְתִּיךָ נַחֲלַת יַעֲקֹב אָבִיךָ כִּי פִּי יְ-ה-וָ-ה דִּבֵּר, then you will delight in HaShem, and I will mount you astride the heights of the world; I will provide you the heritage of your forefather Yaakov, for the mouth of HaShem has spoken. The Gemara (Shabbos 118a) interprets this verse to mean that one who delights in the Shabbos will receive a boundless heritage. Unlike Avraham and Yitzchak who received from HaShem a limited heritage, Yaakov received a boundless heritage, as regarding Yaakov it is said (Bereishis 14:28) וּפָרַצְתָּ יָמָּה וָקֵדְמָה וְצָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה, you shall spread out powerfully westward, eastward, northward and southward. Perhaps we can suggest that in this passage we declare that one who rests on Shabbos will be נְעִים שִׁמְכֶם, literally translated as “your name will be pleasant.” The name of the Jewish People is יִשְׂרָאֵל, the name that HaShem conferred upon Yaakov, and Yaakov is the one whose reputation spreads far and wide, without limitations.
I’m Eating on Tisha Ba’Av and That’s the Truth!
The Talmud records that the Jewish people went into exile 2,000 years ago because they lacked love one for another. The road of return, therefore, is paved with gentle caring and compassion for each other.
I know that it is Tisha Ba’Av today and I am eating anyway
One of the outstanding mitzvos is “Love of others,” love for another person. The Baal Shem Tov said that inasmuch as God is abstract and in tangible, it may be difficult to develop love for Him. The royal road love to God, said the Baal Shem Tov, is Love of others. Many righteous people excelled in love of others. Perhaps most prominent in Chassidic folklore is Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who was constantly interceding with God on behalf of His people.
For example, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak once encountered a man who was eating on Tisha Ba’Av. “My child,” he said, “you must have forgotten that day is Tisha Ba’Av.”
“No, I know it is Tisha Ba’Av,” the man replied.
“Ah, then you have been instructed by your doctor that you may not fast because of poor health.”
“I am perfectly healthy,” the man said.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak raised his eyes toward heaven. “Master of the universe,” he said. “I have given this man two opportunities to exonerate himself for eating on Tisha Ba’Av, but he is so dedicated to truth that he rejected my offer, even at the risk of incriminating himself…”
Better to be bitten by insects now
The “Tzaddik of Stitchin” would welcome wayfarers into his home and provide them with a place to sleep, even if they were dressed in tattered clothes and covered with the dust of the road. When it was pointed out to him that they might be carrying insects that would infest his bedclothes, the tzaddik said, “The Talmud states that the dead body actually feels the pain of being worm eaten. At that time I will not be able to do anything to the insects that will be irritating me. Is it not better that I take the risk of being bitten by insects in this world, where I can at least brush the insects away, and hope that by merit of the mitzvah of hosting guests, I will be spared the misery after death?”
The Ten Thousand Fund
It started one afternoon when the Rottenbaum family sat down to lunch and they heard a tremendous crash of something heavy falling. They ran to the window, looked out onto the garden below them, and heard a rough voice call from above: “Don’t stick your heads out the window or you’ll be sorry!”
They closed the window and in front of their very noses saw a metal trellis fall heavily to the ground. They recognized it as one of the porch trellises of the Gutman family who lived on the floor above them. Eli Rottenbaum explained excitedly, “Srulie Gutman told me at school that his family are starting to enlarge their apartment. Today the workers came, and from now on they’re sleeping in another apartment.” True, the Gutmans were seen leaving with their suitcases, but they did not say to where or for how long.
Another trellis fell heavily to the ground, on the beautiful garden the Rottenbaums had so lovingly cultivated. Then the thud of heavy equipment shook the entire building, and ear-splitting drilling made everyone cover their ears. The roof shook, and the acrid smell of dust soon filled the air. The apartment building contained only a few families, and the neighbors had always gotten along well. But Mrs. Rottenbaum felt that some part of her neighborly feeling was being torn to bits, together with the clotheslines that were lying on the ground under the weight of the trellises.
“They’re building, they’re building!” exulted the children. But the parents furrowed their brows. The Gutmans had nine children and lived in cramped quarters; it was wonderful that they were finally enlarging their narrow living space. Everyone knew that both Mr. and Mrs. Gutman worked long hours and that making a livelihood was not easy for them. But still, couldn’t they have given advance warning to their neighbors? “If we had known, we could have asked them to tell the workers to take the trellises down safely and put them near the garbage bins… we could have come to an agreement about a break in the work during afternoon rest hours…
The Rottenbaums had no midday rest, neither that day nor the next. Mr. Binyamin Rottenbaum, a teacher, really needed his afternoon rest, as his teaching hours continued late into the evening. He went upstairs and tried to talk to the workmen, but encountered total obduracy on their part… Two more days passed, two very difficult days: construction work lasted from 11 A.M. until 6 P.M., and already their decorative living-room window had cracked deeply and shattered. “Who knows how much the Gutman construction is going to cost us!” someone muttered.
That night, Binyamin Rottenbaum ran into Yankele Gutman. Yankele poured out his heart: he had made the decision to start construction at the last minute because he’d found a contractor who gave him a really good price, but the catch was that they’d have to begin immediately or the price would go up. That’s why they’d left in such a rush and didn’t have the chance to talk to their neighbors. He’d signed a contract with a shrewd contractor who promised to complete the work as soon as possible, maximum three months.
“Friends told me,” said Yankele, “that the contractor is liable to take advantage of the fact that I don’t have certification and all the proper papers yet, by taking on inexperienced workers, since I won’t be able to lodge a complaint against him. But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.”
Going smoothly! Maybe for the Gutmans, but certainly not for the Rottenbaums. Binyamin bit his lip, but Yankele continued with his list of woes, mainly money problems. He looked terribly haggard and troubled, and Binyamin felt sorry for him. A few days later when the two ran into each other, Binyamin did try to talk to his neighbor and explain how the unbearable noise and dirt were affecting the other tenants. He even told him that the work was slovenly, negligent and careless ― in short, much worse than the norm. But Yankele’s eyes were darting from side to side; it was clear that the man was distracted and in over his head. He told Binyamin he’d see what he could do.
This same scenario repeated itself a few more times, and Binyamin became resigned to the fact that Yankele did not seem able to deal with the situation. “That’s the way it is,” Binyamin understood. “Yankele is wrapped up in his own troubles and money issues with his contractor, and just can’t seem to deal with this.”
One evening, Binyamin was called to the neighbor who lived upstairs… “We have to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” said the upstairs neighbor grimly. “We have to declare war against the chutzpah going on under our very noses. Yes, I gave Gutman the go-ahead to build, but not like this! I saw your shattered window, and I’ve also had some breakage. We have to file a lawsuit before this gets even more out of hand.”
This tone did not suit Binyamin at all, and he cut the conversation short. Later that night, he opted to walk home from his nephew’s wedding instead of taking the bus so that he could think. War? Confrontation? What kinds of words were those? He, Binyamin Rottenbaum the teacher, was he going to get involved in such shady business? All his life he had avoided gossip and slander, conflict and strife. Among his wide circle of friends and acquaintances, there was not even one that he “didn’t talk to.” When one of his children came home with a story of anyone being criticized for doing such-and-such, he would firmly cut off the discussion by saying, “We don’t discuss such things in the Rottenbaum household…”
But, still: the racket every day, the shattered window, rest hours, drilling, rudeness. Wasn’t there a limit?
But how could he continue to tell his children, “We don’t discuss such things in the Rottenbaum household,” if the Rottenbaum household was full of resentment and anger? Furthermore, what kind of relationship would they have with the neighbors once construction was finished and the Gutmans returned? Binyamin was not naive. He knew full well what transpired in many apartment buildings after someone started renovating and there were problems ― grievances before rabbinical courts, evacuation orders, neighbors who did not speak to one another. Even if the work continued for months, Binyamin reasoned, with the drilling and dust and whatnot, there would be many more years afterward when they would need to live in peace and harmony with the neighbors. Was it worth spoiling all that?
After all the years of working on their character traits, now they were being put to the test. It’s no problem getting along with others when things are pleasant. It’s only under difficult circumstances that we are really tested, and this is precisely when we must restrain ourselves, understand the other person’s actions, and maintain our inner balance. As Binyamin neared home and the end of his walk, he arrived at his decision.
Later, Binyamin sat down with his wife and discussed everything with her. “But what about the monetary damage? Only ten days have gone by, and look how much this has already cost us,” she said.
Binyamin had already anticipated his wife’s question, and had prepared an answer. “We will take it out of the ‘ten thousand’,” he said.
After Binyamin’s father passed away, they had received an inheritance of ten thousand dollars. Binyamin decided immediately to put the money away; they would need it in a few years for the bar mitzvah of their twin boys, and then for their daughter’s wedding. His monthly salary was not enough for serious savings, and the inheritance would provide the seed money…
As time went on, the Rottenbaums were able to add several thousand dollars more to their savings, but it always retained its original code name: the “ten thousand.” This was a subconscious source of peace of mind, as whenever the Rottenbaums talked about future expenses, they knew that the “ten thousand” would help them out…
And so the Rottenbaum parents talked to their older children and explained their course of action: to maintain their silence, keep the peace, and never let the Gutmans know how much they suffered. They would cover all the damage with their savings, and that was that. Binyamin took out a plastic bag with some earplugs. “These are available any time you need some peace and quiet; or if you really need to, you can go to Grandma’s house to do your homework. And the garden? When this is over, we’ll take from the “ten thousand” to buy new flowers.”
And so it was. Binyamin made it clear to his upstairs neighbor that he would not take part in any actions against the Gutmans, and explained his rationale. Time passed. The Rottenbaum’s solar water heater was ruined by the construction work and needed to be replaced; a careless worker bashed in their front door with his machinery and that too needed to be replaced. There were some very difficult moments, such as the “spritz” episode. One Friday, the workers sprayed the outside of the building with white “spritz” ― spackle material ― right through the Rottenbaums’ open window! It took the entire family hours of work on Shabbat eve to scrub the stuff off the furniture. “If worst comes to worst,” Binyamin reassured his wife, “we’ll pay someone to remove it professionally. After all, we have the means to cover the expense.”
Four thousand dollars. Yes, four thousand dollars of the money that had been set aside for bar mitzvahs and weddings was spent to cover the damages caused to the Rottenbaum family by Gutman’s construction work.
And they never let on to the Gutmans. “Of course, Mrs. Gutman, it was no problem at all with the construction work. We look forward to your return as our dear neighbors when it’s all over. And after it was all over ― thank God! ― the Rottenbaums organized a welcome-home celebration for the Gutmans, with cakes, signs, hugs and kisses.
After the construction was completed, the four thousand dollars that Mr. Rottenbaum had spent was returned to him in amazing ways so that, in effect, he never “lost” that money. That, too, is a wonderful story, but it is really “beside the point.”
Once in a Yovel
A wealthy wood merchant once came to Rav Chaim of Volozhin for advice, explaining that all his wealth was in danger of being lost. He had sent a huge ship laden with wood to a foreign country, but the authorities were not allowing the wood to enter the country. In fact, they were threatening to sink the ship if it didn’t leave the border of the country.
Rav Chaim reassured the man, “Don’t worry, you’ll see. The salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye!”
On that day, the price of wood rose dramatically, and later that day, the authorities finally allowed the merchant’s ship to enter the country.
The wealthy man returned to Rav Chaim, beaming with happiness. He said, “Rebbi, today I experienced hashgachas pratis! If the authorities hadn’t delayed me, I would have received the original price for the wood. The delay actually turned out to be beneficial; I ended up earning significantly more money because of it.”
Rav Chaim sighed, “This is the difference between a rich man and a poor man. The poor man sees the hashgachas pratis of HaKadosh Boruch Hu every day. The rich man sees hashgacha only once every few years.” (Ukarasa LaShabbos Oneg)
Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer’s Sad Goodbye
R’ Shneur Kotler, the Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, escaped Europe and managed to survived the Holocaust after experiencing great miracles. Eventually, he arrived in Eretz Yisrael, joining his grandfather R’ Isser Zalman Meltzer with whom he shared a very close relationship. Once he was in Eretz Yisrael, news reached him that his kallah who he was engaged to before the war was still alive. However, she was unable to join him in Eretz Yisrael so R’ Shneur made plans to travel to her to finally get married.
On the day of his departure R’ Shneur went to his grandfather’s house to part from him. R’ Isser Zalman expressed his great joy on his grandson’s upcoming marriage and began accompanying him down the stairs. Surprisingly, after descending only two steps from his second floor apartment he turned around and went home. Everybody present was shocked and puzzled by his behavior. Was this a fitting way for R’ Isser Zalman to part from his dear grandson who he would probably never see again?
One of his students dared to ask him why he had not accompanied his grandson all the way down the stairs. R’ Isser Zalman said, “As I was walking down the steps, I saw a vision of the thousands of Yidden who did not merit living long enough to marry. I returned home to join in their pain.” (Source: Stories My Grandfather Told Me) (www.Revach.net)
Shabbos in Halacha
Opening Food Packages
II Practical Applications
As we mentioned previously, it is preferable that one opens all containers and packages prior to Shabbos. The following procedures should be followed in the event that one inadvertently did not open the container prior to Shabbos.
One can only tear paper or a plastic wrapper in such a manner that it is spoiled. One must also ensure not to tear through any printed letters or pictures.
One may remove in the normal manner protective plastic seals that cover the lid of a container i.e. yogurt containers and wine bottles. Nonetheless, one must be careful not to tear through any printed letters or pictures.
Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Devarim-Chazon 5776
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Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
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New Stories Devarim-Chazon 5776
The Funeral Director
When the unbearable becomes the norm.
by Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
Last Thursday, I was informed of the death of a woman who I did not know. She was relatively young, only 64 years old. She left behind three sons and grandchildren.
It was a steamy, stifling, hot and humid day; the temperature was hovering over ninety degrees. The funeral was held in Far Rockaway. I drove from New Jersey to New York to officiate at the funeral of a woman I never knew.
At the conclusion of the funeral, I asked the funeral director, who was Jewish and was also driving the hearse containing the deceased, if he (as they usually do) has a knife for the kriah (ripping of the garments). He handed me the knife, and I helped the mourners with the kriah and returned the knife to the funeral director.
We continued to the cemetery in Elmont, New York for the burial. When we arrived at the cemetery we proceeded to carry the coffin to the grave, and we commenced the burial. Everyone took turns with the shovels and we all assisted each other in the burial.
The day was stifling hot and most of the men removed their jackets. Their brows were filled with sweat and their pants became dirtied as the hot dust swirled all around. The sons and the sisters of the deceased were overcome with grief.
All of us were exhausted and spent. We were drained both emotionally and physically.
We all felt the heat of the sun and the pain and grief of the mourners. It was an emotionally laden experience.
The funeral came to a conclusion and we all proceeded back to our cars. As I sat down in my car I felt drained and weary from the events of the day.
Every funeral is filled with grief and pain. However, perhaps because of the heat and because of the relative young age of the deceased, I was very tired and wasted.
All of the sudden, I looked up and saw the funeral director standing over me by my car window. He asked, “Did you give me back my knife? It is the only one I have and I cannot find it.” I felt terrible at the thought of not returning his knife and began to search my pockets. I said to the fellow, “I cannot find the knife, I am so sorry. I will replace it for you.”
About ten minutes later, after everyone had returned to their cars and we were about to exit the cemetery, I realized that I better get the address of the funeral director to send him a new knife. I approached his car and said, “I am really sorry for losing your knife.” He looked at me and said in what appeared to me to be in complete seriousness, “Don’t worry, I have a whole list of things about you which I have a problem with!”
I was stunned and taken aback.
I had just met this man about two hours ago. Our interactions seemed to me to be limited to my borrowing his knife. Was there something I had said or done during the funeral which had offended him? My mind was racing in its attempt to figure out what I could have possibly done to offend this man who now has a list of things about me which he has a problem with.
I looked at him and said with total supplication, “I am so sorry, please tell what I have done to offend you?”
His face broke into a broad smile as he said, “Oh, I am just kidding around with you. You have done nothing to offend me and don’t worry, I found my knife – you did give it back to me. I like to joke around with people. By the way here is my card and I am licensed in New Jersey as well.”
I smiled meekly, took his card and returned to my car. As I sat down, I realized I was shaking.
“What’s wrong with this picture?” I asked myself.
We have just completed burying a 64-year-old mother of three. This was not a time to laugh.
We have just completed burying a 64-year-old mother of three. It’s about 100 degrees outside. We are all exhausted and our clothes and shoes are filled with the dust of the earth after burying a Jewish mother and this man informs me that he likes to joke around with people!
I also like to joke around. However, as King Solomon teaches: “[There is…] A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing” (Ecclesiastes, 3:4). This was not a time to laugh!
Thinking about this on the drive home, I realized that because this man is always involved in death and burial he has become hardened and no longer is touched by the tragedy of death. To him it is a regular part of his life.
Death has become the norm in his life.
As I drove on, I thought of the fact that we are now in the midst of the Three Weeks (and now the Nine Days), the time of national mourning for the Beis HaMikdash, the holy Temple of Jerusalem.
How do I find it possible to joke around today? How can I crack a smile and a laugh when I am supposed to be in the midst of mourning for the destruction of both Temples? Am I not exhibiting the exact same callous and cavalier behavior which I found so distasteful in the funeral director? How can I smile and kid around when at this time of the year, thousands and thousands of Jews were being killed and ultimately the Beis HaMikdash would be destroyed?
Have I become as casual and cavalier in my reactions to death as the funeral director?
The more I thought about it, the less smug I felt about myself and the less scornful of the funeral director. I started feeling more and more ashamed of myself for my lack of feeling for this time of the year.
Have I become unmoved because of the fact that I have lived every day of my life without a Beis HaMikdash? Is my skin no longer responsive to the pain of the nation?
As I drove, I felt sadder and sadder; not so much for the nation but rather, for myself. I was saddened by the realization that the destruction had become routine in my life; something standard and unexceptional and – most troubling – almost natural.
As the realization hit home, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway and I cried.
I cried not for the Beis HaMikdash, and not for the destruction of Jerusalem. I cried for me, and for the realization that I too had become a funeral director.
Excerpted from Rabbi Eisenman’s new book, For Everything a Time. (www.aish.com)