Erev Shabbos Kodesh Vayeitzei Inspiration 5776

This week’s Parasha of Vayeitzei has a concurring them of stones. Yaakov takes from the stones of the place where he rests and they fuse into one stone. Subsequent to his dream and HaShem’s promise to him of children and inheriting Eretz Yisroel, Yaakov takes that stone and consecrates it as a mizbeiach. When Yaakov arrives in Charan to find a wife he encounters a well that is covered by a stone. Yaakov questions the shepherds as to why they have not drawn water for the sheep and when Rachel, his future wife, arrives at the well. Yaakov single-handedly roiled off the stone to give the sheep to drink. Then at the end of the parasha we find that after pursing Yaakov and his family, Lavan makes a treaty with Yaakov, and Yaakov takes a stone and raises it as a monument. Yaakov then instructs his sons to gather stones and they made a mound, and Lavan named it Yegar Sahadusa and Yaakov referred to the stone as Gal-ed.

The Mesillas Yesharim writes that the stones that fused into one as Yaakov’s headrest were a reflection of the idea that the Tzaddik elevates everything around him, even the inanimate. The Ramban, citing the Medrash, writes that the stone on the well and the three flocks of sheep next to the well, allude to the Bais HaMikdash and the thrice a year pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. The removal of the stone symbolizes the drawing of Divine Inspiration on the Festivals, and the placement of the stone upon the well alludes to the removal of the Divine Spirit until the subsequent festival.

We can suggest that the stone alludes to father and son relationship, as it is said (Bereishis 49:24) מִשָּׁם רֹעֶה אֶבֶן יִשְׂרָאֵל, from there he shepherded the stone of Israel, and Rashi writes that the word אֶבֶן forms an acrostic for the words אב ובן , father and son, alluding to Yaakov and his sons. According to this explanation we can understand Yaakov taking from twelve stones as a sign of uniting the sons of Yaakov. The sole focus of Yaakov and his wives was to create the Jewish People, and they did not allow any challenge or obstacle to prevent them from their mission. Thus, when Yaakov saw Rachel, he removed the stone in a miraculous fashion, not allowing the building of the Jewish People to be delayed for even a moment. When Lavan sought to destroy Yaakov with his diabolical schemes, Yaakov again raised the stone and called upon his sons to remain strong, even in the face of a treacherous enemy.

HaShem should give us the courage, every day, to ward off our enemies, by remaining strong to our mission, the building and continued unity of the Jewish People.

Have a “ Strong as a Rock” Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeitzei 5776

Vayeitzei 5776

New Stories Vayeitzei 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeitzei 5776

Shabbos and Sustenance


In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yaakov went to the house of Lavan in search of a wife. Lavan subsequently offered to compensate Yaakov for the labor that Yaakov performed and Lavan attempted to trick Yaakov out of his wages. The simple lesson from this incident is that one has to be cunning when engaged in business with someone who is dishonest. However, there is also a deeper meaning to Yaakov’s dealings with Lavan.

The unwarranted hatred of Lavan towards Yaakov

We are accustomed to understanding the episode with Yaakov and Lavan as a case of good guy and bad guy, i.e. Yaakov is the hero and Lavan is the villain. While this may be true on a superficial level, this episode contains within it a profound lesson for all of us. In the Hagadah Shel Pesach we recite the words tzei ulemad mah bakeish Lavan haArami laasos liYaaakov Avinu shePharaoh lo gazar ela al hazecharim viLavan bikeish laakor es hakol, go and learn what Lavan the Aramean planned to do our father Yaakov. For Pharaoh decreed only that the male children should be put to death, but Lavan had planned to uproot all. The Maharal (Gevuros HaShem §54) raises a difficulty with this passage. Why is it that the author of the Hagadah makes no mention of the evil schemes of Esav and only mentions the diabolical plans of Lavan to Yaakov? This is even more difficult in light of the fact that the Torah explicitly states that Esav sought to kill Yaakov whereas there is no mention in the Torah that Lavan sought to eradicate Yaakov and his entire family. The Maharal explains in a lengthy thesis that unlike Esav who hated Yaakov for stealing his blessings, Lavan and Pharaoh both hated Yaakov and the Jewish People without a justifiable reason. The Maharal writes that Yaakov and Lavan were diametrically opposite of each other, and the Sifri even states that Yaakov descended to Aram to destroy Lavan. Ultimately Lavan sought to destroy Yaakov and although he was unsuccessful, the Torah deems it as if he had destroyed him. The Maharal concludes his explanation by writing that the country of Aram, represented by Lavan, did not exist as an entity. The Jewish People, however, are a real existing entity. Thus, it follows that when a non-entity like Lavan is opposed to an entity like Yaakov and the Jewish People, the non-entity will seek to entirely destroy the entity. It was for this reason that Lavan sought to entirely destroy Yaakov and his household.

Yaakov drained Lavan of all his material gains

The Targum Yonasan and the Targum Yerushalmi (Bereishis 31:22) write that Lavan knew that Yaakov and his family fled because the shepherds discovered that there was no water in the well with which to give the animals to drink. It was then that Lavan realized that it was in the merit of Yaakov that for twenty years he had water for himself and for his animals. The Pinei Menachem writes that this means that Yaakov succeeded in taking out all the holy sparks from Lavan and his household, so by fleeing with his wives and children, Yaakov essentially caused that Lavan did not remain with anything.

The Shabbos connection

From the words of the Maharal and the Pinei Menachem we see that our biggest enemies in reality do not amount to anything. This idea can be applied to one’s daily struggle of earning a livelihood. It is very easy for one to delude himself into thinking that it is his efforts or lack thereof that contributes to his success, or, Heaven forbid, failure, in earning a living. In reality, however, there could be nothing further from the truth. The Zohar states that all the blessings that are found during the week have their source in the Holy Shabbos. Thus, the weekday is akin to Lavan, who appears to be a formidable foe but is essentially a non- entity. The weekday is an illusion that allows one to think that his efforts are creating his financial success, but it is really Shabbos that brings one success. The goal of a Jew must be to, so to speak, use the Shabbos to take out all the holy sparks from the weekday. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) and Medrash teach us that Yaakov, more than the other Patriarchs, reflects the ideals of Shabbos. Thus, instead of Lavan tricking Yaakov, it was ultimately Yaakov who tricked Lavan and drained him of any material gains. Similarly, one may delude himself to thinking that his efforts during the week provide for him on Shabbos, when, in truth, it is the Shabbos that sustains him the entire week.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

Some opinions attribute the authorship of this Zemer to the Arizal.

קוֹל רִנָּה וִישׁוּעָה, לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הַשְׁמִיעָה, the sound of glad song and salvation make heard to Israel. People normally sing when they are in good spirits. It is said (Tehillim 126:2) אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה, then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song. We see that in addition to asking HaShem to redeem us from our long exile, we also beseech Him to gladden us with song, a true sign of our high spirits.

Shabbos Stories

A Few Kind Words

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: I recently heard a wonderful story about someone I know dearly: A prominent Chassidic Rebbe was not feeling all that well so his doctor recommended that he go for a comprehensive cardio-vascular examination including a stress test, echo-cardiogram and a slew of other tests would be beneficial. He recommended a prominent cardiologist, Dr. Paul Fegil (not his real name), who headed the cardiology department of a large medical center in Manhattan.

Waiting for the doctor to arrive, the Rebbe felt very uncomfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings. He barely responded to the nurse’s questions pertaining to his medical health and history. The nurse was frustrated as the Rebbe almost refused to discuss his symptoms. It got worse. When the nurse began attaching electrodes to all parts of his chest, he began to sweat. He became so nervous that the monitors and other meters connected to the wires began to pulsate wildly.

The nurse was astounded by the very erratic movements on the heart monitor. Never having seen lines jump off the monitor like that, the nurse quickly ran out of the examining room to summon the esteemed cardiologist immediately. Meanwhile, the Rebbe was still sweating profusely as his heart was pounding wildly.

All of a sudden the door opened and in walked Dr. Fegil. He was a distinguished looking man with graying hair a warm smile and a small leather yarmulke on his head. He stood at the opening, and exclaimed to the Rebbe. “Sholom Aleichem! Rebbe! HaKol B’seder? Is everything OK?” Hearing those familiar words, the Rebbe became startled. He picked up his head and saw the doctor. He could not believe it Dr. Paul Fegil was one of his own! Almost magically, the bells and whistles that were muddling the monitor suddenly stopped. Immediately all the readings showed a sign of a very normal heart beat! Minutes later the Rebbe told the nurse every one of his maladies and his entire medical history as well!

Dr. Fegil looked at the nurse and laughed. “Sometimes a few haimishe words can fix more problems than open-heart surgery!” (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Vegetable Salad

One is permitted to mix a vegetable salad using oil, vinegar or mayonnaise, as long as the pieces are large enough that they are recognized individually, and are not perceived as one body.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeitzei 5776

Sponsorships $180.00

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

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To subscribe weekly by email, please email View Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim and other Divrei Torah on

New Stories Vayeitzei 5776

Alone in Lenox Hill

In my grandmother’s room, it was as silent as death.

by Yael Zoldan M.A.

It was getting close to Shabbos when my grandfather left. With a whispered goodbye he went off to shul and left me alone with my grandmother sleeping a heavy, drugged sleep, in the mechanized bed on the oncology ward of Lenox Hill Hospital. Fifteen years old and alone with the woman who was my grandmother of course, but still not quite; yellowed and weakened, shedding hairs in her sleep.

The room was grim, devoid of breath or sunlight. Fluorescent overhead lights buzzed incessantly, setting my teeth on edge. The air smelled of ammonia and burnt soup and sickness. I breathed as shallowly as I could. The high opaque windows were painted shut; they never opened. Outside the door, rubber-soled footsteps thudded dully and food carts squeaked without deference along the shiny corridor. Somewhere I heard the grating voice of the floor nurse and the beep of machinery. But in here it was as silent as death.

I was alone! I felt it in a breathless terror….

I was alone! I felt it in a breathless terror, like birds flapping angry wings against my chest, wanting to get out. I wanted to get out. When I had agreed to this arrangement, my grandfather was here with his deep, rumbling voice, my grandmother was awake and smiling and I was foolishly confident. Now, I pitied myself. I didn’t know what to do, how to do, how to be the caretaker to this one who had once taken care of me.

I leaned against the windowsill, my shoulders rounded for protection. I shouldn’t be here! My thoughts were a panicky moan in my head. I didn’t know, didn’t know, didn’t know! I can’t do this! I don’t want to do this! And then sharp as a slap on a screaming child’s cheek, the voice in my head snapped, “Enough!” That voice was so sure and so commanding that I stopped.

In the sudden silence, a thought entered my mind. “He left because it’s Shabbos.” Because it’s Shabbos, I thought again. The word itself was like a balm, a spreading, soothing calm. I took comfort in that word, in its safe, familiar peace. Shabbos. I knew how to do that.

Behind my eyes, I saw the picture of Shabbos in my grandmother’s home, the table neatly laid, the candles burning steadily. From her kitchen came the yeasty warmth of challah rising, the cinnamon smell of compote. I breathed deeply for the first time and straightened my shoulders. If I could give her nothing else, I could give her this.

Calm now, and filled with purpose, I carried my overnight bag into the small cold bathroom and changed into a dark green dress, drop-waisted with pink roses. With my hair pulled back from my face I could see my new gold earrings. My mother said they were called “Love Knots” and I reminded myself that she loved me. Then, I carefully put on my very first lipstick, “Sugared Grapefruit”, an almost non-existent shade of pink. I leaned back, pleased with my image in the mirror. Now I looked like Shabbos.

Stepping out I surveyed the silent, sterile room. My grandmother still slept on the rumpled bed sheets, “Property of Lenox Hill” stamped in blue ink. In my mind, I could hear her husky voice, “We do what we must do, Yael.” The bedside table glared at me, cheap wood veneer on a metal stand. I ignored it and cleared the clutter of pills and packets off its top. Then I strode to the metal closet at the room’s end and took out a pillow case. Once, twice, I waved it in the air, snapping it out of its creases. With sure, quick hands I pulled the pillow case over the tray and suddenly, we had a white table. It was as it should be.

Even here, deep in the valley of the shadow, Shabbos had found me and brought me peace.

A yellow plastic bag lay crumpled on the slick linoleum floor. Inside sat a thick piece of sponge cake left for us by the kind-hearted Bikur Cholim volunteers. I thought of her ivory cake stand and the silver pie server. Then I transferred the crumbling cake onto a Styrofoam plate. With a flimsy plastic knife, I cut it into twelve cubes in a circular flower pattern on the plate. Settling the plate on the table, I added a pink carnation from a wilting bouquet on the windowsill. I filled the green plastic pitcher with tap water and stepped back to admire my handiwork.

The flowers, the cake, my beautiful dress, the lovely white table, the gold in my ears. If I squinted hard, it all blurred slightly and looked just right. Like home, like before. I breathed deeply and felt the place inside me where Shabbos had finally come.

Then I leaned back against the windowsill and felt a small hot tear slide down my cheek. And as I traced its path with my finger, I realized that I was crying tears of gratitude. Because even here, deep in the valley of the shadow, Shabbos had found me and brought me peace.

From the mechanized bed came a sound, like a sigh, and I turned as she opened her beautiful sapphire eyes. I saw her focus on the tray, on the flower, and finally, her gaze fell on me.

“Good Shabbos, Babbi,” I said, shyly, proudly.

“Good Shabbos, Yaely,” she answered softly. And those words, and that look, were my reward. (

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Toldos Inspiration 5776

Why did Yitzchak love Esav? Didn’t Yitzchak know that Esav was wicked, worshipped idols, murdered, denied HaShem’s existence and more? What’s going on here? Do you ask yourself this question every Parashas Toldos?

Ok, here’s the answer. Yitzchak didn’t love Esav at all. Yitzchak knew that Esav was wicked. However, Yitzchak loved Esav’s good deeds, especially when Esav honored  his father. The Medrash states that the essential offspring of the righteous are his good deeds. Esav may have been a rebellious child, but he had one virtue, which is the way he honored his father. The Gemara (Megillah 6a) states that Yitzchak desired that HaShem favor Esav, but when HaShem informed Yitzchak that Esav’s descendants (the Romans) would destroy the Bais HaMikdash, Yitzchak withdrew his vote. Yitzchak was in favor of HaShem favoring Esav for his good deeds, but destroying the Bais HaMidkash was too much for him.

This love of good deeds teaches us how we should pursue Torah study and Mitzvah observance at least as much as Esav did. Furthermore, we should ensure that in addition to performing good deeds we are, unlike Esav, intrinsically righteous and good people.

Have a Shabbos filled with Goodness and Good Deeds.

Rabbi Adler

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Toldos 5776

Toldos 5776

New Stories Toldos 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Toldos 5776

Shabbos and the Opening of the Wells


In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yitzchak dug wells and the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with the shepherds of Yitzchak regarding the wells. The Ramban (Bereishis 26:20) writes that the Torah relates the episode of the wells that Yitzchak dug to allude to the Bais HaMikdash. The first well was called Esek, strife and struggle, as this alludes to the first Bais HaMikdash that was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the second well was called sitnah, hatred, as this name alludes to the second Bais HaMikdash that was destroyed by the Romans. The third well, however, was called Rechovos, expansion, and this name alludes to the third Bais HaMikdash that HaShem Himself will build and there will not be any quarrel or strife involved in the building of the third Bais HaMikdash.

Drinking water and drawing the Divine Spirit

One must wonder, though, why the Torah chose to hint to the building of the Bais HaMikdash specifically in the section that discusses Yitzchak’s struggles with the Plishtim. Furthermore, regarding the well that Yaakov encounters prior to marrying Rachel, the Ramban (Ibid 29:2) writes based on the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 70:8) that the three flocks of sheep alludes to the three festivals when the Jewish People make the pilgrimage to the Bais HaMikdash. The flocks drinking the water allude to the drawing of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit that was manifested in the Bais HaMikdash. There also we must understand why the Torah chose to allude to the Bais HaMikdash with an apparently mundane episode of sheep drinking water.

The gates are open on Shabbos and one can enter those gates with preparation

It is said (Yechezkel 46:1) ko amar HaShem Elokim shaar hechatzer hapinimis haponeh kadim yihyeh sagur sheishes yimei hamaaseh uvayom haShabbos yipaseiach uvayom hachodesh yipaseiach, thus said the Lord/Elokim: “The gate of the inner courtyard that faces eastward shall be closed during the six days of labor, but on the Shabbos day it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened.” The Sfas Emes (Toldos 5643) writes that the Mishna (Avos 5:6) states that the mouth of the well was created on Erev Shabbos. The explanation of this is that Shabbos is the well and HaShem allows a Jew to prepare for Shabbos prior to Shabbos. In this way one can connect the days of the week with Shabbos. Thus, writes the Sfas Emes, according to the manner that one aspires to receive the Shabbos with joy, HaShem will show him the correct path to enter into Shabbos.

Shabbos and Yom Tov are times of extra spirituality

The Sfas Emes (Noach 5647) writes further that Shabbos and Yom Tov are the times when the gates of heaven are opened for an extra infusion of spirituality and it is at these times that one can ascend to greater spiritual heights. We can now understand why the Medrash and the Ramban write that the opening of the wells alludes to the festivals because it was specifically on the festivals that the Jewish People witnessed in the Bais HaMikdash the revelation of HaShem in all His glory. This revelation allowed them to draw from the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.

The Shabbos connection

We have mentioned that on Shabbos one can actually experience the well of water, which is a metaphor to an in increase in spiritual influence in our lives. One must recognize that Shabbos is a well of fresh water that can literally bring the soul back to life. Throughout the week we are engaged in Torah study and performance of mitzvos. Nonetheless, our study of Torah and performance of mitzvos on Shabbos is akin to a man in a desert who discovers an oasis. He may have been drinking water from his canteen but the oasis is on a different plane. Similarly, Shabbos is on a different level than the rest of the week, and it is the Holy Shabbos that provides the spirituality for the rest of the week. Hashem should allow us to recognize the holiness of Shabbos and to prepare for the Shabbos properly so we can drink from its spiritual waters.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

Some opinions attribute the authorship of this Zemer to the Arizal.

דּוֹדִי צַח וְאָים, תָּבִיא רְוָחָה, שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה, my Beloved, pure and awesome, bring relief, Shabbos of contentment. As human beings, we are stricken with trials and tribulations, due to our deficiencies. HaShem, however, is pure and awesome, and because of these attributes, only He can bring us relief and contentment.

Shabbos Stories

Kosher for now, Kosher for Eternity

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: This past summer 30,000 Boy Scouts joined together in Virginia for a national Boy Scout Jamboree. Among the myriad groups of scouts who attend this event that occurs every four years are many Jewish Scouts as well. Mike Paretsky, a Vice Chairman of the GNYC Jewish Committee on scouting, was the kosher food liaison to the jamboree. Special food was ordered from O’Fishel caterers of Baltimore, so that the Jewish scouts would be able to nourish their bodies as well. One of the scoutmasters, a Jewish man, caught a glimpse of the kosher offerings. He had never eaten a kosher meal in his life, yet when he saw the special meals, something stirred. He and his troops were being served pork-this and bacon-that for breakfast, lunch and supper, and all of a sudden this man decided he was sick of the monotonous treif stuff. He wanted to eat kosher. Scoutmaster Paretsky gladly let him partake in a meal, but that was not enough for the fellow. The man decided to keep kosher during the entire jamboree!

Mr. Paretsky agreed to accommodate the neophyte kosherphile, but a skeptic approached him. “Mike,” he said, “why are you wasting your kosher food on this fellow? He is not going to eat kosher after this is over, and he observes absolutely nothing! Why waste the food on him?”

Mike answered with an amazing story of the Chofetz Chaim. When Russian soldiers entered the town of Radin, Jewish townsfolk prepared kosher meals for the Jewish soldiers in the Czar’s army. Soon their acts of charity seemed to fly in their face as they saw the soldiers devour the food and then stand on line to receive the forbidden Russian rations. When they complained to the Chofetz Chaim and threatened to stop preparing kosher food, he reflected with an insight that must be passed on to generations.

“Every mitzvah that a Jew does, every good deed and every bit of kosher that he eats is not a fleeting act. It is an eternity. No matter what precedes or ensues, we must cherish each proper action of a Jew.” (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Thickening or Loosening a Previously Mixed Cereal

We have discussed this previously.

  1. Baby Formula and Powdered Milk

Mixtures that are completely fluid are not subject to the melacha of kneading. However, some powders that do not dissolve freely are prepared in stages: A small quantity of water is first used to form a paste, then more water is added to liquefy the mixture. This paste may be prepared only in a case of necessity, i.e. for a bay, when none other is available, and with the proper shinuim.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Toldos 5776

Sponsorships $180.00

Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

For sponsorships please call 248-506-0363

To subscribe weekly by email, please email View Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim and other Divrei Torah on

New Stories Toldos 5776

Happiness Hall of Fame author awarded for radiating the power of joy.

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons      

The Happiness Hall of Fame boasts among its inductees Deepak Chopra, Muhammad Ali, and a pantheon of authors, sports stars and inventors.

Plus one rabbi: Zelig Pliskin of Aish HaTorah.

How did an observant Jew from Baltimore become a leading expert on joy?

“Classical Jewish sources speak extensively about happiness,” says Rabbi Pliskin, “starting with the Torah itself which instructs us to ‘rejoice in all the goodness that God has given you’ (Deut. 26:11).”

When Pliskin was 12 years old, quarterback Johnny Unitas led his hometown Baltimore Colts to an overtime win in the NFL Championship Game. “That was a huge thrill at the time and connected me with the power of joy.”

He realized, however, that it was a superficial joy. One year later, the famous Ponevitcher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, attended Pliskin’s Bar Mitzvah in Baltimore. Rabbi Kahaneman had built numerous schools in his native Lithuania – which were all destroyed in World War Two. “Despite the hardships he endured,” Pliskin recalls, “his entire being radiated with overflowing love and joy. I remember the way he hugged my father, and this became my lifelong role model.”

Joy releases spurts of positive chemicals in the brain.

Pliskin applied himself diligently to the task of mastering happiness. “Happiness is a skill that can be learned,” he says. “Maimonides wrote nine centuries ago that the way to develop any positive trait is to practice doing that trait over and over again. When it comes to happiness, the more a person does positive acts of kindness, the more joy becomes part of our nature.”

Pliskin cites research that joy sparks the production of four “pleasure chemicals”: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins. “When you speak and act joyfully, you get spurts of those positive chemicals in the brain,” he says.

Pliskin discovered that with mental discipline, he can frequently access positive states. “I assign code names to my most positive and meaningful experiences – then can access that joyful state anytime, anywhere.” (His groundbreaking work on “collecting states” was featured in the NLP journal, “Anchor Point.”)

Happy Career

Rabbi Pliskin’s happiness career began in earnest in 1974, when Rabbi Weinberg started Aish HaTorah with the motto: “We’ll teach you how to be happy.” Rabbi Pliskin became one of Aish’s first teachers.

A few years later, he compiled his best “joy tools” in a practical guide, Gateway to Happiness. The book became a classic for those seeking to increase their level of happiness, peace of mind and self-esteem – while decreasing negative emotions such as sadness, anger, worry, and anxiety.

Lionel Ketchian, founder of the Happiness Club with over 100 branches worldwide (including one that Rabbi Pliskin leads in Jerusalem), calls Gateway to Happiness “the most comprehensive book on happiness I’ve ever read.”

What is Rabbi Pliskin’s number one tool for living in a constant state of joy?

Act happy and you’ll feel happy!

“Happiness is a choice,” he says, citing the adage of 18th century Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto: External movements arouse inner feelings. “Even if you don’t feel happy, act happy,” says Rabbi Pliskin. “You’ll begin to feel happy!”

He explains: “The secret is an 8-word mantra. Joyful thoughts. Joyful feelings. Joyful words. Joyful actions. By repeating these words enthusiastically, 10 times a day for 5 seconds, you can constantly upgrade your attitude and become a master of happiness.”

“Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz taught that we always have something to be joyful about,” he says. “If a person’s glass object would fall and break, and at that moment they receive the news of having won the lottery, would they be upset about the glass breaking? Of course not. So too, the joy of being alive should override anything we may find to complain about.”

“Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I smile and wave to the mirror. It always smiles and waves back to me!”

Rabbi Pliskin’s distinguished career includes lectures around the globe, the popular “Daily Lift” series on, and dozens of books on topics of self-improvement.

Though not one to be wowed by honors, Rabbi Pliskin sees the Happiness Hall of Fame “as good publicity to positively impact people’s lives,” and acknowledges that the award “would make my mother proud.”

Pliskin is being inducted in November 2015 with a distinguished group that includes three-time Super Bowl champion Bubba Paris. “We could form a happiness team and call it Bubba and Zeidy,” he jokes.

In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Rabbi Pliskin delineates “Nine Habits of Happiness,” culled from decades of joyful living. Watch it below:

The Priest Uncovering Hidden Atrocities of the Holocaust

Father Patrick Desbois has dedicated his life to unearthing unmarked Jewish mass graves in Eastern Europe.

by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

“Were you here during the war?

For fifteen years, Father Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest from Paris, has combed countless villages throughout Eastern Europe, asking that question of elderly residents. With his unassuming manner and clerical garb, people gladly open up him; many even invite him home for meals.

But these are no idle chats. When he finds people who lived in the village during World War II, Father Desbois then asks: were you here when the Jews were killed?

Far from recoiling at his questions, many witnesses seem almost glad to finally talk about those days when they witnessed their town’s Jews murdered en masse. In over one hundred research trips, yielding 4,485 videotaped testimonies, Father Desbois has uncovered 1,744 hitherto unknown, unmarked execution sites and mass graves. His work has revised estimates of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust upward by up to half a million victims.

Father Desbois has uncovered 1,744 hitherto unknown, unmarked execution sites and mass graves.

Father Desbois’ interest in his work began as a young man. Growing up on his family’s farm in the Burgundy region of France, he was surrounded by secrets of the Holocaust – though he didn’t know it. His mother told him only recently that during the Second World War, their family sheltered dozens of Resistance members on their farm. A family cousin was killed in a concentration camp for her Resistance activities.

The biggest secret of all came from Father Desbois’ beloved grandfather Cornelius. The two were very close, but there was one episode in his life that his grandfather never talked about: his years imprisoned in a POW camp near the Ukrainian town of Rawa-Ruska during the war. He would only say “for us it was bad, for others it was worse.” As he grew up, Father Desbois realized his grandfather was referring to the town’s approximately 15,000 Jews.

Young Patrick developed an interest in Jews and Judaism. He studied Hebrew and visited Israel. Once he became a priest, he worked for the Catholic Church as a liaison to the Jewish community in Paris. He was offered the chance to visit Rawa-Ruska in 2002. He longed to see where his grandfather was held and was also interested in learning more about the fate of the town’s Jews. The visit enraged him and changed the direction of his life.

Meeting the town’s mayor, Father Desbois asked, “Mr. Mayor, where were all the Jews from the village buried?” Over a decade later, his anger and frustration with the official’s uncaring response is still palpable. “The mayor turned to stare at me and then, with an absent air, said ‘We didn’t know anything about that’.”

As he spoke with local officials, Father Desbois realized “everyone seemed to be ignorant of – or eager to hide – the very existence of the ten thousand Jews who had been shot in this little town back in 1942.” Father Desbois was shocked. “Ten thousand people shot cannot go unnoticed. I come from a small village and I know that if one person had been shot there, everyone would remember it – imagine ten thousand!”

A new mayor was elected and Father Desbois returned, asking again about the fate of Rawa-Ruska’s many Jewish citizens. As he recounted in a 2012 interview, the new mayor led him into a forest where about 50 elderly villagers were gathered in a semicircle. “You are standing on the graves of the last 1,500 Jews of Rawa-Ruska,” the mayor told him.

The Villagers Share Their Stories

One by one, the elderly locals stepped forward and shared their memories of the war. Children or teenagers at the time, many of them helped the Nazis round up truckload after truckload of Jews and bring them to this clearing. They told him how they helped guard the Jews to prevent any escapes as the Jews were forced to dig pits. They served the German soldiers food and brought them a gramophone so they could listen to music. They watched as the Germans shot the Jews, dumping their bodies into the pits. One woman told Father Desbois that her job had been to pick tree branches and use them to cover the dead bodies so the next group of Jews wouldn’t see. She was 14 at the time. When the last of the Jews had been shot, they had filled in the pits with earth.

Father Desbois was the first outsider the villagers had told this to. Many asked him, “Why are you coming so late? We have been waiting for you.” In 2004, Father Desbois established Yahad-in-Unum. Yahad in Hebrew means together and Unum is one in Latin. Funded by mainly by a Holocaust Foundation in France and the Catholic Church, it’s the only body dedicated to gathering testimony like this and documenting the location of the untold number of Jewish mass graves in Eastern Europe.

The Einsatzgruppen shot dead over 1.5 million Jews following the strict rule: one Jew, one bullet.

The task is daunting. While millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust were murdered in death camps such as Auschwitz, millions more were shot in Eastern Europe after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 where the task of murdering Europe’s Jews fell to mobile execution units called Einsatzgruppen. Unlike the deadly gas used in many death camps, the Einsatzgruppen used bullets. Jews were typically told to gather in a place because they were going to be transported to Palestine. Instead they were shot and their bodies buried in unmarked mass graves.

In order to save money, Nazi killing squads in the Soviet Union operated according to a strict rule: one Jew, one bullet. Father Desbois calls these murders of over 1.5 million Jews the “Holocaust of Bullets”.

It was also, until recently, largely secret. Not only were the mass graves unmarked, towards the end of World War II, another Nazi division – the Sonderaktion 1005 – was charged with erasing evidence of earlier atrocities, often exhuming some of the bodies in mass graves and burning them.

A Race against Time

“I am running against time,” Father Desbois said in 2009. “We have a maximum of six or seven years if we take into account the age of the witnesses because they are so old. Sometimes you arrive in the village and are told ‘I’m sorry, Father, but Madame Anna died just one month ago and she was the last witness. And now nobody knows any more.’ So I see time is short and we need to achieve our goal as quickly as possible, which is why we must multiply our energy.”

Today, Father Desbois continues his work among the very last witnesses to these atrocities. Travelling with a team including translators, photographers, videographers and ballistics experts, he laboriously tracks down and documents every story. Many of these are chilling. (Note: the details that follow may be disturbing to read.)

One woman described her “job” after a massacre of Jews in her village: to walk across the fallen corpses to flatten them before another group of Jews was shot.

Jan, from Poland described seeing the site of a mass grave: “We could see the blood bubbling.”

Anna, from Ukraine, remembered “They were screaming, the children were crying. When the pit was full they filled it with (a) little earth. For three days the ground moved. Some were still alive.

Gheorghe, an elderly man in Moldova, took Father Desbois to a ravine near his village and described what happened: “The Jews were facing the ditch, so they were shooting them in the back of their heads or their backs to fall into the ditch. They were shooting them as if they were dogs.”

Another woman described seeing her Jewish friend in line to be shot – and how her friend comforted her, saying “Don’t cry, don’t cry—we are going to Palestine.”

One man named Dimitri was 16 when he watched Nazi’s kill his area’s Jews. Nazis and locals worked together, shooting groups of 20 Jews at a time. The killing went on for two weeks, he described. In all, over 18,000 were shot.

At times, witnesses recall the names of the murdered Jews. 80 year old Anatoly was able to remember: Brick, Gorovich, Shurman, and Folst. Without his interview, those names would be forgotten.

Others recalled how German soldiers drummed on empty buckets to drown out the screams of their victims.

The silence shrouding these events contrasts sharply with the public knowledge that these massacres were happening at the time. As well as documenting the massacres and mass graves, Father Desbois says he wants to show that the murder of Jews was publicly known, even celebrated. “On the evening of the killing they would organize a party for the shooters,” he explains. There was food, drink, music, dancing and women.” These parties travelled with the death units, as they moved from village to village. “They were running when they heard when they were killing Jews, to see, to try to catch a coin, to check out your clothes, to take a picture. They wanted to be there.”

As he methodically moves from village to village, Father Desbois leaves little trace behind. He has brought rabbis to the sites of mass graves he’s discovered in order to sanctify them as Jewish cemeteries – but due to fears of looting, he does not mark or otherwise identify the graves at the site. Embraced by Jews around the world, Father Desbois also faces enemies. He keeps the location of his home in Paris secret and has received threats because of his work.

In his race against time, Father Desbois explains what helps motivate him in the face of almost unthinkable horror. “I try to think really concretely of these people not as a millions or just mathematics,” he has explained. Instead, he focuses on the concrete: “I am looking for the tombs of Isaac, Rebecca and Dora,” he says.

“You cannot leave Europe with thousands of unknown unmarked graves,” Father Desbois explains, “or we deny all our values. We cannot build a safe Europe and a modern world and ask people to keep silent. Otherwise we justify the next genocide. It is the ultimate victory to Hitler if we don’t bury the victims.”

Father Desbois recounts his story in his book, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of One and a Half Million Jews by Father Patrick Desbois (







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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Chaye Sara Inspiration 5776

Parashas Chaye Sara has a theme of זריזות, alacrity. Eliezer arrives in Charan the same day  that he left, and Rivka rushed to the well to give Eliezer and his camels to drink. Eliezer insists to Rivka’s family that they not cause him delay as HaShem has shown him success on his journey. One may ask, what’s the rush? Rivka was merely three years old at the time, and she would not be fit for pregnancy until she was thirteen years old. Was it that critical for everything to occur with such an urgency?

The answer to this  question can be found in last week’s parasha where we learn that after Avimelech returned Sara to Avraham, the ministering angels protested to HaShem that Sara had to give birth to Yitzchak immediately, so that the liberation of the Jewish People from Egypt would not be delayed even for a moment. We see from this that all world events, even the marriage of Yitzchak to Rivka, are predicated on our redemption. All for our suffering and certainly all of our joyous occasions are one step closer to brining Moshiach. Who are we to stand in the way of this long-anticipated event?

HaShem should allow us to do everything within our power to bring the redemption, and as the Lev Simcha from Gur said, “if the Redemption must come בעתה, in its pre-determined time, than HaShem should be מחיש the בעתה, hasten the pre-determined time.”

Have an Alacritous Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Chaye Sara 5776

Chaye Sara 5776

New Stories Chaye Sara 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chaye Sara 5776

Friday Night Angels


In this week’s parashah we find a fascinating idea contained in the episode where Eliezer embarks on a mission to find a wife for his master, Avraham’s son Yitzchak. Upon arriving at the home of Lavan, the father of Rivka, it is said (Bereishis 24:31) vayomer bo beruch HaShem lamah saamod bachutz vianochi pinisi habayis umakom lagemalim, He said, “Come, O blessed of HaShem! Why should you stand outside when I have cleared the house, and place for the camels?” The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 60:7) states that when Lavan told Eliezer, “come, O blessed of Hashem,” Eliezer departed from the status of being cursed and became blessed. Eliezer merited this promotion to being blessed because he had served Avraham faithfully.

The blessing of the wicked

What is amazing about this idea is that Lavan, who was a very wicked man, was the vehicle for such a great blessing. Yet, we should not be surprised by this, as later on in history, we find that Balaam, the archenemy of the Jewish People, sought to curse the Jewish People. HaShem did not let Balaam curse the Jewish People. Rather, HaShem coerced Balaam to bless the Jewish People. What is so phenomenal about this is that according to the Gemara and the Medrash, Balaam was either a son of Lavan or, according to some opinions, Balaam was Lavan himself. Thus, we see that the wicked are deprived of cursing the righteous and are required to bless them. The bad angel transforms to being a good angel to bless Yaakov Furthermore, the Shelah (Vayishlach Torah Ohr) writes that the angel of Esav was disguised in a physical form so that he could battle with Yaakov. When Yaakov was victorious over the angel, the bad side of the angel was covered over and he was transformed into a good angel. Once he was transformed to being good he was forced to answer Amen and bless Yaakov and concede the blessings that Yitzchak had proffered on Yaakov.

Why the wicked must bless the Jewish People

The Gemara (Shabbos 119b) states that two angels, one good and one bad, escort a person home on Friday night. When the person arrives home and finds his lamp burning, the table set and his bed made, the good angel declares, “may it be HaShem’s will that it should be this way the next Shabbos as well.” The bad angel is then forced to answer “Amen” against his will. The Ohr HaChaim (Bamidbar 23:24) and Rabbeinu Bachye (Ibid verse 10) write that Balaam was akin to the bad angel, and thus Balaam was forced to bless the Jewish People against his will. Thus, the idea that the wicked must bless us is not merely an anomaly. Rather, the blessing of the wicked is a function of our existence.

The Shabbos connection

Why is it that specifically on Friday night the good angel and the bad angel escort us home and determine whether we are deserving of blessing or, Heaven forbid, the opposite? It would appear that the reason for this is because the entire week we struggle with foreign influences and the forces of evil. It is well known that prior to one’s death the Evil Inclination makes one last powerful attempt to discourage a Jew from believing in HaShem. Similarly, with the onset of Shabbos the forces of evil make one last attempt to dissuade a Jew from testifying through Shabbos that HaShem created the world in six days. When the bad angel sees that the Jew has prepared properly for Shabbos, he has no choice but to concede defeat and then the Jew is given the opportunity to delight in the Holy Shabbos. HaShem should allow us to be cognizant of this weekly struggle and to do our utmost in preparing for Shabbos. When we prepare properly for Shabbos, HaShem will certainly allow the good angel to be victorious and this will facilitate our proper observance of Shabbos every week.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

Some opinions attribute the authorship of this Zemer to the Arizal.

שְׁמר נָא אוֹתָנוּ, בְּיוֹם זֶה וּבְכָל יוֹם, please remember us on this day and every day. Shabbos is the source of all blessing, so it follows that when HaShem remembers us on Shabbos, He will remember us every day of the week.

Shabbos Stories

I received this story from a reader who heard it at the Parenting Expo hosted by Priority 1. Dr. Pelcovitz related the following incident:

Dr. Pelcovitz is familiar with an older Chassidic woman who is a widow with many children. This woman educates her children to perform various acts of kindness

It happened one day that the family of this widow heard of a blind woman who had moved into the building across the street. This blind woman was over sixty years old and had no family or friends to look after her. The widow struck up a relationship with the blind woman and one day the widow told her nine year old daughter, who was on the shy side, that her project is to read aloud to the blind woman twice a week.

The child did as her mother instructed her, and after a few months of the blind woman and the girl getting acquainted, the blind woman told the girl, “I want you to know that in two years I will be able to see!”

The girl was taken aback by this statement. “What do you mean?” she asked the blind woman.

“Well,” responded the blind woman, “I have been blind since birth, but the doctors informed me that my blindness was correctable. Unfortunately, until recently I could not afford the surgery. Soon, however, I will turn sixty five years old and I will collect Social Security, and then I will be able to save enough money to have the surgery performed.”

The girl did not respond to the woman’s declaration and she did not even mention the conversation to her mother.

The next day, this little shy girl who usually mumbled more than she talked, went from class to class mumbling, “I am collecting for a blind woman who requires surgery.”

The following day the girl returned to the blind woman and she announced, “Mrs. Schwartz, Mrs. Schwartz, I have the money!”

The girl then proceeded to take the blind woman to a religious ophthalmologist whose practice was around the corner. “I have eighty-three dollars for this blind woman who requires surgery so that she can see!” the girl exclaimed to the doctor. The doctor took the crumpled up envelope and smiled as he counted the eighty-three single dollar bills which he then placed in his pocket.

The doctor then proceeded to examine the woman and upon completing the examination, he looked at her and proclaimed, “Mrs. Schwartz, there is no reason for you to remain blind. I can take care of your condition.”

The doctor then scheduled Mrs. Schwartz for surgery and for the subsequent rehab which would allow her to learn how to see. The surgery was a success and Mrs. Schwartz regained her eyesight.

After some time, Mrs. Schwartz returned to her apartment. When Mrs. Schwartz went to the shy little girl’s mother to thank her for what her daughter had done, the widow was shocked, as the daughter had not disclosed her generous deed.

The girl’s mother was overjoyed at the good news, but she also felt that she had a debt to pay the doctor. The widow went to the doctor’s office and waited to see him. When the doctor let her in, the widow said, “I cannot thank you enough for what you did for this blind woman. How often does it happen that someone can help restore another person’s eyesight? I promise you that I will pay you back for this kindness that you have performed. It may take me ten or fifteen years, but I promise you that I will pay you back.”

The doctor smiled at the widow and said, “Please do not be concerned.” The doctor then reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled up envelope that contained the eighty-three dollar bills inside. “Whenever I am having a tough day,” the doctor said, “I reach into this pocket and I feel those eighty-three dollar bills and that restores my faith in people. That is all I need.”

Rav Meir Shapiro’s Mother Cries, “Meirel, Meirel”

The Gaon Rav Meir Shapiro, zt”l, the Rav of Lublin, once told a childhood story about his mother. “When I was a boy, my family was forced to move several times from house to house. We also moved from city to city. The constant moving did not disturb my mother’s equilibrium; only one thing would bother her – my bittul Torah!” “On one occasion, as we were again preparing to move, my mother had an idea. She contacted the melamed of the town to which we were moving, and arranged that he would meet me by the gate of the city. He would then be able to learn with me immediately when we arrived at the town.” “When we finally reached our destination, we searched and searched, but the melamed was not there. My mother sat down next to the wagon and cried for a long time. I tried to calm her down by saying, ‘Mommy, Mommy, why are you crying, I’ll learn tomorrow!’” “My mother answered, ‘Meirel, Meirel, You don’t yet know how to appreciate the meaning of bittul Torah of one day!” (Chaim Sheyeish Bahem) (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Thickening or Loosening a Previously Mixed Cereal

We have discussed this previously.

  1. Adult Cereals

The melacha of kneading does not apply to ordinary breakfast cereals, i.e. cornflakes, Rice Krispies, Cheerios that do not bond when mixed with milk. (When crushed, however, these cereals do bond and are subject to the prohibition of kneading).

Bran cereals, oatmeal, farina and similar cereals that bond together are subject to the melacha of kneading.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Chaye Sara 5776

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New Stories Chaye Sara 5776

The Rabid Anti-Semite who became a Proud Jew

Co-founder of Hungary’s far-right, anti-Semitic party discovers he’s Jewish, forcing him to rethink his life and reconnect to his roots.

by Moira Schneider

How does one react on discovering at the age of 30 that one is Jewish? And how much more shattering would that revelation be if one is a raving anti-Semite?

For Csanád Szegedi, it was “the most traumatic and probably the worst day of my life.”

The guest speaker at Aish Hatorah South Africa’s gala dinner held in Johannesburg last week, Szegedi related how, as a 20-year-old university student in 2003, he had co-founded the far-right, anti-Semitic Jobbik Party; created concomitantly was a paramilitary organization, Hungarian Guards, which struck terror into the hearts of minorities, making him the embodiment of Hungarian Jewry’s worst fears.

By 2012 Jobbik had grown to be the second largest political party in Hungary. It was at this time that a political rival claimed to have documentary proof that Szegedi was in fact Jewish.

“To clarify the rumour, I sat down with my maternal grandmother to ascertain whether this was true,” he recalled through his colleague and translator Jonathan Megyeri. “My grandmother, who had survived Auschwitz and had a number tattooed on her arm, admitted she was once Jewish, but she had closed that chapter after the Shoah and was not Jewish anymore.

“She said my maternal grandfather was also Jewish and had worked in a forced labour camp during World War 11.”

There was no escaping the shocking truth: Csanád Szegedi was a Jew.

His inner turmoil was compounded by the fact that his appearance did not gel with his internalized image of Jews. “I cannot be Jewish,” he thought to himself. “I don’t have a big enough nose, a hunchback and two bags of money under my arms!”

Szegedi, who had never encountered a Jewish individual, decided he had to meet a “real Jew”, specifically from the religious community. “But I did not have many rabbi friends,” he notes in something of an understatement.

So he googled “Budapest rabbi” and found one who worked in outreach. At first the rabbi thought he was joking. “He suspected it was candid camera,” Szegedi remembers.

“He gave me an appointment and I went to see him. I thought he was going to throw me out. Much worse – he told me I should sit down and learn!”

With his wife, Szegedi was invited to synagogue where “I held the book upside down.” The enmity and hatred he encountered there was so great that the rabbi had to call a meeting, where Szegedi faced some aggressive questioning from the community.

“Despite all this, I thought I have no other way to choose but to walk the Jewish way.” He has since become kosher and Sabbath observant.

During his interrogation by the community, an old man had asked him “very softly” when he was going to be circumcised, something he refers to as “not my favourite part of Judaism.” A year later, after the procedure “which I never thought I’d undergo,” Szegedi received his first “aliyah” on Yom Kippur.

“It was the first time I had the opportunity to be called by my Jewish name,” he relates. “The old man came up to me and said: ‘I pardon you now.’”

In the light of these developments, have his mother and grandmother embraced their Judaism? “I have had long conversations with both,” he says, “and I must admit that neither was particularly happy with the outcome of events.

“My grandmother worked so hard for the past 50 years to try to assimilate and it seems she failed in the end. My mother is simply afraid of embracing her Jewish roots.”

While his grandmother passed away a year ago, Szegedi’s mother, who had no knowledge of Judaism, has accompanied him to synagogue on a few occasions and he has taken her on a visit to Israel.

The 33-year-old now says he is “not too proud” of the fact that he was second in command of the proto-Fascist party and for three-and-a-half years has been “extremely busy” attempting to atone for his past.

Amidst much emotional upheaval, the main issue engaging his mind was how to make up for “all the bad deeds” in his previous life. The Av Beth Din in Budapest suggested he go around to schools, college campuses and universities explaining the dangers of anti-Semitism, as well as address Jewish communities, all of which he has been doing for the past 18 months.

But has he done anything to eradicate anti-Semitism amongst the people he used to lead? The question is whether it is worthwhile to engage in conversation with someone who is anti-Semitic, especially where political interests are concerned, he retorts, seemingly sidestepping the issue.

Since Jobbik is the most popular party for those under 30, there is “something wrong with the education system if all the youngsters could be attracted to this type of nonsense.”

He is, however, not shirking his personal responsibility. “I am far from being satisfied that my lecturing does the job,” he concedes. “I try to do everything I can through my story to get my ideals out in public.”

To this end, Szegedi is writing a book and a documentary film is in the pipeline. “My story will get to more people and I could have more influence than I have,” he says.

While he has endured threats from his former party, these are “mainly over. I received many e-mails. Some people in the party are very aggressive, but this never led to any real danger.”

“What makes someone anti-Semitic?” he ponders, voicing the eternal question. “I had never met a Jewish person in my life.”

The only thing to do to fight anti-Semitism is to do more to be Jewish, be proud and definitely do not hide it.

Indeed, how then did he pick up on these ideas? Szegedi attributes this to having grown up amongst young people who were “very nationalistic.” In addition, “anti-Semitic literature became available in the 1990s and I did a lot of reading,” he says, fingering the explosion of the Internet. “You must be careful what young people access,” he warns.

“Anti-Semitism cannot be rational – it stems from frustration and depression. I did not meet the kind of monsters portrayed in anti-Semitic circles,” he says of his integration into the Budapest Jewish community.

“The only thing to do to fight anti-Semitism is to do more to be Jewish, be proud and definitely do not hide it,” he concludes.

While Szegedi’s wife is not Jewish “yet,” she has embraced his change in direction, describing it as a “new path we can only walk together.” Previously, she had been neutral to “a little bit positive” towards Jews, he explains.

“I firmly believe you cannot run a Jewish home without the support of the woman,” he states. “While I had my doubts along the way, she was always supportive and pushed me in the right direction.

“She put magnets on the fridge with the different blessings for food. She’s the one that dresses my kids up for Shabbos,” he says, referring to their two sons aged four and seven years. “We started this path together and I thank her very much.”

As for coping with the Hebrew prayers, Szegedi says although the language is logical, it is “not easy for the European mind. I could probably count on the fingers of one hand, the number of times my rabbi was happy with me!”

Sharing the “main message” of his life, Szegedi states: “Some of you may not consider yourselves observant, but I doubt that any of you went further away from God than I did.

“God has proven to me that he is not particularly looking for vengeance, but he’s also very (quick) to pardon.”

As to his three core reasons it is worthwhile being Jewish, he says: “You are Jewish anyway, so you might as well enjoy it! From a spiritual point of view, we belong to a nation that God watches over personally.

“Most importantly, we’re part of a family that, thanks to organizations like Aish HaTorah, welcomes back every lost member. Thank you, my South African family, for welcoming me.” (

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Vayera Inspiration 5776

There’s a statement that it used to be, back in Europe, the first Schmooze of the Zman (semester) was about Gehinnom, commonly referred to as Hell. Nowadays, however, we all think we’ve been there and back already.

What is Gehinnom exactly, and how can we relate to such an esoteric concept?

In this week’s parasha we learn about Avraham entreating HaShem to save the city of Sodom and its environs, despite the Torah’s testimony that these cities were depraved, immoral, decadent and just about any other pejorative one could use. So the question is, then, why did Avraham see a need to attempt saving these wicked people? Was this just another act of kindness on Avraham’s part, or is there something deeper going on here?

The Yalkut Reuveni in the beginning of Parashas Vaera cites the Medrash Osios D’Rabbi Akiva that states that even Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov must descend to Gehinnom. On the surface this Medrash is perplexing, as we don’t normally view our Patriarchs as deserving of such a severe punishment for their minuscule misdemeanors. Yet, reading about Avraham’s entreaties on behalf of  Sodom offers us a new perspective on this Medrash. Many Sefarim discuss the idea of the righteous ones descending into Gehinnom with the desire to save the wicked from eternal shame. The Medrash states that Dovid HaMelech, upon hearing of his traitorous son Avshalom’s untimely death, cried out בני בני eight times, and this was the catalyst for Avshalom to ascend from the depth of Gehinnom and merit a portion in the World to Come.

Similarly, we can suggest that Avraham also sought to descend into “Gehinnom,” i.e. Sodom, and save the wicked. Avraham, unlike most of humanity, constantly viewed himself as starting over, so what appears to us as major tests were just a part of his daily living. Praying for the wicked, leaving his household, saving his errant nephew, preparing to sacrifice his son, were all deemed to be strenuous tests for the average person, but Avraham passed them all with flying colors.

HaShem should let us merit having a semblance of Avraham’s fortitude and tenacity in serving Him, faithfully, all of our days.

Have a Successful Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

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