Erev Shabbos Kodesh Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777 Inspiration

In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, we read how Moshe tells the Jewish People that they are gathered together to enter into a covenant with HaShem. “If,” Moshe warns them, “there is amongst you someone whose heart is turned away from HaShem to serve other gods, and this person says to himself, ‘everything will be fine with me, because I’ll follow my heart as I see fit.’ “Regarding such a person,” Moshe tells the Jewish People, “HaShem will not forgive him. HaShem will erase his name from under the heaven and HaShem will set him aside for evil from going all the tribes of Israel. When people in subsequent generations inquire as to the destruction of the land, the response will be, ‘because they forsook the covenant of HaShem and they went and served other gods and prostrated themselves to them.’”

Rashi raises the obvious question regarding this narrative. Why does the Torah punish the multitudes for the sinful thoughts of the individuals? How can one person know what’s going on in someone else’s heart? Rashi answers that HaShem will not punish the masses for the thoughts of the individual, as these are concealed matters that Hashem will only punish the individual for. However, regarding revealed sins, it is incumbent upon us to eradicate evil from our midst, and if we don’t meet out justice, then the multitudes will be punished.

Rashi’s answer is perplexing, as it does not seem to answer the question. The difficulty with the narrative is that HaShem punishes the masses for the individual’s sins and Rashi seems to be saying that HaShem will not punish the masses for the individual’s sinful thoughts. Why, then, do the masses receive punishment?

On a simple level we can suggest that there is something missing from the Torah’s description of the individual’s sin, and the Torah is essentially saying that for the thoughts alone the masses will not be punished, but if the thoughts lead to action and the masses are aware of the sinful action, then they will be punished. Nonetheless, this explanation is lacking, because it does not seem fair that one person sins, and even if he worshipped idolatry, he should be the cause for punishing an entire nation. It is true that when Achan took from the spoils of Yericho, the entire nation was punished, but that incident was isolated in that Yehoshua had declared a ban, and a ban is more severe than a regular sin. This being the case, how are we to understand Rashi’s explanation?

In order to understand Rashi’s answer, we must take a broader look at the context of the parasha. It is said (Devarim 29:9) אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְ-הֹ-וָ-ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל, you are standing today, all of you, before HaShem, your G-d; the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers – all the men of Israel. The commentators write that this verse alludes to Rosh HaShanah, when we all stand before HaShem and proclaim Him as our King. The word נִצָּבִים, standing, is indicative of what our status should be. Rashi (Shemos 19:21) writes regarding the Jewish People receiving the Torah that no one was allowed to ascend the Mountain, because if one person separates from the מצב, from the group, then the entire edifice crumbles. On Rosh HaShanah, the entire universe is begging judged. In fact, on Rosh HaShanah night we take various foods to elevate all of creation: the inanimate, the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom. Furthermore, we find that Dasan and Aviram are referred to as נִצָּבִים, because when they separated from the Jewish People, Moshe was concerned that their behavior would be the ruination of the Jewish People. In Egypt they threaten to slander Moshe and Moshe wondered if their slandering was enough of  a reason to prevent the redemption for the entire people. In the Wilderness, when Dasan and Aviram collaborated with Korach, Moshe sought to squelch the fire of dissent because he was concerened that the fabric of society would be destroyed. On Rosh HaShanah we must be conbagznjnt of the fact that every individual is part of a cohesive group. It is not sufficient for one to control his actions. One must even safeguard his thoughts, as any stray thought or deviant act can be the catalyst for destruction. We must approach the Yomim Noraim as one unit, with joy and ecstasy, as HaShem is granting us the opportunity to serve Him, united.

Similarly, Rashi is teaching us that while HaShem will deal with the individual for his concealed sins, when those sins begin to affect the masses, then everyone is responsible, and HaShem will, Heaven forbid, punish everyone for the sins of the individual, as we are all united and responsible for each other.

I read this week on my friend Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz’s blog the following which I feel is a worthwhile lesson for all of us to absorb:

“You know every year I just like to share a thought with you that has been running through my brain during this season. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the incredible diversity of our people. It struck me as I started this week’s Torah portion and read about how all of us our standing before HaShem today. The judges, the elders, the water carriers and wood choppers. I thought about this as I looked out at my daily street cleaner and thought about what a tremendous merit he has, each day with a broom and a trash can he makes HaShem’s country a little bit cleaner. Imagine the tremendous merit he has when he comes up to heaven. How beautiful that is. I wish I could have a piece of that. I don’t mean actually cleaning the streets, of course, but just the merits to have such an incredible opportunity.

Every single person has such a different role in life. It’s so easy to look at somebody else’s life and think I wish I could have that, do that, be that. But there are two things that are important to realize. One, Hashem has created each of us because he wants and even needs each and every one of us to become and excel to the best we can as we are. The world needs, Hashem needs, street cleaners, rabbis, teachers, leaders, doctors, travel agents, clothing salesman, pizza shopkeepers and even lawyers. As we stand before HaShem on Rosh HaShana we need to contemplate our own lives, the things and opportunities we have, we have been given and to ask HaShem for the ability to find an even deeper meaning and all that we need to become the best versions of ourselves that He wants us to.

But even deeper our Sages tell us that we are connected to one another. I may not be a doctor but the next best things is that I have a brother that is one. I may not know how to fix my car or even which way to hold a screwdriver but I have a brother that can, I can’t cook for anything but my closest relative makes heavenly food and a great chulent. If we are able to view each other as our family, as our brothers, as our sisters, as the people that we are all connected with, than the truth is we can share in the merits that each of us has and work together at so that the whole world is one big symphony singing out Hashem’s greatest masterpiece.

The way to feel that connection is by trying to have everyone that you interact with in your prayers. To daven for them, for their needs, for their success, for their greatness to shine as much as your own does. If we can appreciate each other’s greatness and our own and HaShem’s dependency on each of us fulfilling our divine mandate than we will be all connected. HaShem, our King, will be One as we will as well.”

Let us enter into Rosh HaShanah with words of gratitude for everything that HaShem does for us, and to extend that gratitude towards every single Jew, and then HaShem will grant us a year of Gezuent, Nachas, Parnassah, Shalom Bayis and all good things, and the Ultimate Redemption with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Have a Ksiva Vachasima Tova and a Gut Gebentched Yohr, and a FANTASTICALLY UNITED SHABBOS!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777 Inspiration

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

Humility for a Good Judgement


This week is Parashas Nitzavim, which will be followed this coming week by Rosh HaShanah. The general approach to Rosh HaShanah is that it is a day of judgment, when HaShem judges the whole world and decides what will be the outcome for the coming year. It is difficult, however, for a person to feel like he is being judged when he cannot see the Judge and is uncertain of what actions he performed in the past that require judgment. When one commits a felony, he is aware of his crime and he usually has an idea of what is in store for him regarding his punishment. Regarding the Heavenly judgment, however, one has performed so many actions in the past that it is virtually impossible to recall what he did right and what he did wrong. Furthermore, it is impossible for a human to grasp the depth of the Heavenly judgment, as it is said (Tehillim 36:7) mishpatecha tihom rabbah, Your judgments are like the vast deep waters. Additionally, the main theme of the day on Rosh HaShanah is prayer, as we declare HaShem’s kingship and pray for our materialistic needs. How do we reconcile the idea that on the one hand, we are standing in judgment, and on the other hand, we are given the opportunity to pray for our lives and our sustenance?

Rosh HaShanah is Truly the “Head” of the Year

In order to gain insight into the essence of Rosh HaShanah, it is worth examining a Gemara that sheds light on this matter. The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16b) states: Rabbi Yitzchak said: a year that is impoverished in the beginning will be wealthy at the end, as it is said (Devarim 11:12) mereishis hashanah, from the beginning of the year. The word mereishis is written without an aleph, thus the root word is from the word rash, meaning poor. It is said further in that verse viad acaharis, and until the end, and this denotes that there is an end. Rashi and Tosfos explain that the Gemara means to say that when the Jewish People make themselves like poor people on Rosh HaShanah, supplicating before HaShem, HaShem has compassion on them and favors them. One must wonder, however, why the Gemara deemed it necessary to quote a verse that appears to be unrelated to Rosh HaShanah, and derive this idea from the fact that the word for beginning is spelled without the letter aleph. I would like to suggest a novel approach to explain this Gemara. We refer to the upcoming holiday as Rosh HaShanah, which is literally translated as the head of the year. I once heard someone explain that the reason why this day is referred to as the “head” of the year is because the head is the most important organ of the body. Similarly, our future is dependent on Rosh HaShanah. What are we supposed to be thinking about on this most significant day? We are required to declare HaShem as king, and we accomplish this by blowing the shofar. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4) writes that although the mitzvah of shofar is mandated by the Torah, there is also a rationale to blowing the shofar. The sound of the shofar is meant to arouse us from our slumber and to exhort us to repent from our evil ways. Thus, on Rosh HaShanah, we are required to take a second look at ourselves and see how we fit into HaShem’s Master Plan.

Kingship is Aligned with Humility

In order for one to offer himself an objective perspective of his alignment with HaShem’s will, it would be prudent for one to become as close as possible to HaShem. How does one become close to HaShem? Scripture offers us the answer to this dilemma. It is said (Yeshaya 57:15) ki choh amar ram vinisa shimo marom vikadosh eshkon vies daka ushfal ruach lihachayos ruach shefalim ulihachayos leiv nidkaim, for thus said the exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is holy: I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent. The Gemara (Sota 5a) offers a homiletic interpretation to the words es daka. One opinion maintains that the words can be read iti daka, with Me is the humble one, which Rashi explains to mean that HaShem is declaring, “I elevate the humble one until he resides with Me.” The second opinion maintains that the words can be interpreted to mean ani es daka, that HaShem, so to speak, lowers His Presence to the one who is humble. According to both opinions, however, one who is humble is deemed to be with HaShem. Armed with this perspective, we can gain a better understanding into this Day of Judgment. On Rosh HaShanah one must demonstrate true humility. A true king is not one who lords it over his subjects. Rather, the real king is one who acts with humility. HaShem Himself is humble, as depicted in the verse in Yeshaya and in numerous statements in the Gemara and Medrash. HaShem desires that we emulate His ways, and when we act in a humble fashion, then we can be close to HaShem. With this premise we can better understand the verse that states (Tehillim 36:7) tzidkasecho kiharirei kel mishpatecha tihom rabbah adam uviheimah toshia HaShem, Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the deep vast waters; You save both man and beast, O HaShem. The Gemara (Chulin 5b; see Rashi Ibid Tehillim) explains that the verse refers to those who are cunning in knowledge, and yet they still humble themselves like an animal. Perhaps it is for this reason that Scripture juxtaposes the idea of judgment to the idea of humility. If one wishes to gain a glimpse into the ways of HaShem’s judgment, one must humble himself, and then he will be with HaShem. This, then, is the meaning of the Gemara that states that a year that is impoverished in the beginning will be wealthy at the end. When one humbles himself on Rosh HaShanah, he will be with HaShem and one who is with HaShem is guaranteed wealth, as it is said (Mishlei 10:22) bircas HaShem hi taashir, it is the blessing of HaShem that enriches. We can now also understand why the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah cited the verse that states ((Devarim 11:12) eretz asher HaShem Elokecha doreish osah tamid einei HaShem Elokecha bah mereishis hashanah viad acaharis hashanah, a Land that HaShem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of HaShem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end. The Sefarim write that the word eretz, translated as land, can also be interpreted as ratzon, which means will. Thus, we can suggest that the verse is alluding to the idea that we mentioned that HaShem seeks out the one who is humble, i.e., the one who is performing His will. Thus, on Rosh HaShanah, HaShem seeks out those who humble themselves before Him with prayer and repentance, and those people will be guaranteed a wealthy year.

The Shabbos Connection

It is noteworthy that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:1) interprets the verse of bircas HaShem hi taashir to be referring to Shabbos. On Shabbos we rejoice in HaShem’s kingship, and the method of recognizing HaShem as our king is by humbling ourselves before Him. HaShem should allow us to merit this great sense of humility, and then He will shine His glory upon us, and the whole world will know of HaShem’s existence. The entire Jewish People should merit a Ksiva Vachasima Tova and the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

 Shabbos in the Zemiros

Dror Yikra

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 acrostic 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.

הֲדוֹךְ קָמַי אֵל חַי קַנָּא. בְּמוֹג לֵבָב וּבִמְגִנָּה, crush my foes, O jealous G-d, with melting heart and grief. It is noteworthy that the word קָמַי, my foes, equals in gematria the word קַנָּא, jealous, as this alludes to the idea that HaShem is “jealous” because our enemies spurn His will. Furthermore, the words בְּמוֹג לֵבָב וּבִמְגִנָּה, with melting heart and grief, equal in gematria the miluy (letters spelled out) of the name המן (ה”א מ”ם נו”ן), archenemy of the Jewish People, alluding to the idea that all our enemies should suffer a downfall similar to Haman.

 Shabbos Stories

We’ve Been Through It All

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: After World War II, the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yukisiel Halberstam, of blessed memory, a survivor of the concentration camps held a minyan in the Beth Moses Hospital in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Parshas Ki Savo arrived and with it, the section known as the tochacha (admonishment), which is filled with foreboding warnings of doom and destruction, lest the Jewish nation stray from the will of G-d. The verses warn of unimaginable horrors: exile, starvation, rape, robbery, and torture – to name just a few. The custom of Jews world-over is to read the verses of tochacha quietly, so as not to rile up enemies, celestial and otherwise, who may think those calamities a good idea to cast upon the Jewish Nation. It was the portion of Ki Savo, and the Klausenberger Rebbe and his minyan of ravaged survivors were about to read the tochacha and re-live horrors of their recent history through the words of the ancient prophecies. The Torah-reader started the verses of doom in a hushed tone. He began reading them quietly and quickly. Suddenly the Rebbe banged on his lectern. “Hecher!” he shouted. (Yiddish for louder.) The reader looked up from the Torah with a puzzled look on his face. Perhaps he was reading the Torah a bit too low. He raised his voice a notch, and continued in a louder undertone. But the Rebbe was not satisfied. “Louder!” he exclaimed. By now the reader was reading as loudly as his normal recitation, and yet the Rebbe continued to bang on the lectern and exclaim, “HECHER!” The reader could not contain his puzzlement and instead of shouting the portion he stopped and looked to the Rebbe for an explanation. “We no longer have to read these miserable curses quietly,” the Rebbe exclaimed. “There is no curse we have not experienced. There is no affliction we have not suffered! We saw it all. We lived it all. Let us shout with pride to our Father in Heaven that we have already received all the curses! We have survived these curses, and now it is His turn to bring us the blessings and the redemption!” And with that the reader continued reading the tochacha loud and clear as if singing an anthem to his nation’s tenacity. (

Shabbos in Halacha

Wringing and Laundering

 Two melachos that pertain to washing dishes and cleaning spills on Shabbos are סחיטה; wringing, and כיבוס: laundering. Previously we discussed sechita as it applies to extracting juice from fruits. Here we will discuss the halachos of wringing liquid from an absorbent fabric. We will also briefly discuss the laws of laundering as applied to common situations.

  1. Wringing Liquid from a Fabric

 Materials to Which Sechita Applies

 The Torah Prohibition of sechita applies only to truly absorbent fibers, such as wool, cotton, linen, sponge and paper towels, and to fabric made of these absorbent fibers. Non-absorbent materials, such as leather and plastic, are not subject to the melacha de’oraysa (Torah Prohibition).

Nevertheless, miderabbanan (by Rabbinic Decree) one is prohibited from wringing out a fabric woven of non-absorbent fibers, i.e. steel wool, for although the fibers themselves do not absorb liquid, the fabric traps liquid between its fibers.

Only articles which neither absorb nor trap liquid are exempt from sechita. This applies to items like a nylon bottle brush, whose bristles are widely spaced and do not trap water. There are also synthetic scouring pads whose fibers are widely spaced and do not trap water.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

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New Stories Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

A World Interrupted

A 14-year-old boy’s terrifying first days of World War II.

by Rabbi Simcha Shafran

Rabbi Simcha Shafran, whose memoir “Fire, Ice, Air” was recently published, spent most of the years of World War II in Siberia, where he was banished along with a small group of fellow yeshiva boys and their teacher, Rabbi Leib Nekritz, of blessed memory. The following is excerpted from Rabbi Shafran’s book, and recounts events that took place in Poland shortly after the Nazi invasion of that country. I was supposed to travel to Bialystok in the fall of 1939, to attend the higher-level Novardhok Yeshiva there, and I had returned home to see my parents before going off to that place of higher Jewish learning. On September 1, 1939, however, my plans, like so many people’s, were interrupted by the Second World War. The Nazis invaded Poland and we were told to expect bombing. I remember how, that Friday afternoon, people taped over their windows so that any glass that broke wouldn’t shatter and hit those inside the houses. We listened to a radio until the Sabbath arrived.

Early the next morning, a neighbor knocked loudly on the door and told us breathlessly that the Germans had crossed the border and were not far from our town, and that we had to run away. The assumption was that Polish forces would soon destroy the bridge over the Narev, to prevent the Germans from advancing so quickly. If we were to stay ahead of the Germans ourselves, we had to cross the bridge first.

So, although travel outside of a city or town is not usually permitted on the Sabbath, the rabbi of the town rendered his decision that we were all in mortal danger and that it was thus not just permitted but required of us to flee.

As we lived near the river, we walked along its banks toward the bridge. We were told that in the event that a German airplane might drop a gas bomb on us we should run to the river, wet cloths and put them over our mouths and noses. At one point a plane did appear overhead. There was some panic but nothing fell from the sky.

Throngs of people were already at the bridge when we arrived there, but we all managed to cross over to the other side. We walked to Govrov, a nearby town with a Jewish community.

Soon enough we found ourselves surrounded by German soldiers.

My parents, and all the new refugees, were frightened, with no idea what the future would bring. We were taken in by the locals in Govrov and remained there until the next Thursday. That was when we heard cannon fire from the direction from which we had come. Although Polish soldiers had remained on the Ruzhan side of the bridge, it was clear that they had not successfully stymied the Germans, and that the Nazis were advancing.

That night, several families, ours among them, set off again, and walked through the night. I took my tefillin, which were in a bag that closed with a drawstring, and hung them on my belt, to make sure that, whatever happened to me, they would be there.

We walked through fields, rather than on the roads, so that we would not be discovered. But we were; soon enough we found ourselves surrounded by German soldiers.

Although we were clearly Jews, the soldiers, perhaps relieved by the ease of their invasion, acted in a friendly manner, and even offered us a colt that had just been born to one of their mares.

There was no point in trying to travel further. It was clear that the Germans had easily occupied the entire area, and the soldiers did not seem interested in harming us. So we headed back to Govrov. We were hungry and thirsty, and on the way we drew and drank water from a muddy well – using rags and handkerchiefs to strain the water somewhat. There is a Yiddish blessing that wishes that “you not be tested by something one can get used to.” It means to say that a person, if he is forced to, can get used to almost anything. Who among us ever before imagined drinking muddy water?

We arrived back in Govrov late Friday afternoon.

Any sense of security we may have felt, though, was shattered soon enough. My family and I were lying on the floor of a local Jew’s house when we heard angry banging on the door and the gruff, loud words “Raus Jude! Raus Jude!” – “Jew, out!”

These visitors were not simple German soldiers, but member of the SS, the Schutzstaffel – the Nazi military organization that operated separately from the regular German army. SS members swore allegiance to Hitler, and they hated Jews.

The SS men chased us from the houses, prodding us with bayonets.

The SS men chased us from the houses, prodding us with bayonets to raise our hands and join the town’s other Jews – several hundred people – in the middle of the town’s market area. As we walked, hands raised, the Nazis photographed us.

Some of the Germans approached the men among us who had beards and cut them off, either entirely or purposely leaving an odd angle of beard, just to humiliate the victims. One man had a beautiful, long beard. When he saw what the Germans were doing, he took a towel he had with him and tied it around his beard, in the hope that our tormentors might not see so enticing a target. But of course, they went right over to him, removed the towel and shaved off what to him and us was a physical symbol of experience, wisdom and holiness. He wept uncontrollably.

We stood there and the smell of smoke in our nostrils became more intense with each minute. It didn’t take long to realize that the town’s homes had been set aflame. Later we heard that a German soldier had been discovered killed nearby and that the SS men had assumed that the culprits were Jews.

Eventually the non-Jews were permitted to go out into the countryside, along with their cows and goats. We Jews were ordered into the synagogue.

My mother’s sister’s husband, Chaim Gelchinsky, seized the opportunity to try to escape by joining the group of non-Jews. But one of them pointed him out to an SS man and said, simply, “Jew.” Without a second’s hesitation, the German raised his pistol and shot my uncle dead. Several other Jews were killed at that time as well.

In the synagogue, we sat terrified. Some of the people had been wounded. One elderly woman had a gaping bullet wound in her stomach. To this day I have never been able to wipe that image from my memory.

The doors were locked and SS men stood outside to ensure that no one managed to escape – in order to roast us alive.

A German entered and began to remove young people, saying that they were being conscripted to work. When they came to my brother Fischel, my parents begged them to leave him with us. Fischel’s hand was slightly deformed and they pointed it out to the Germans, who then left him alone.

It wasn’t long, though, before my parents were wailing in regret for that ploy. It had become clear that all of us remaining in the synagogue were being confined there – the doors were locked and SS men stood outside to ensure that no one managed to escape – in order to roast us alive. The town had been set afire, and the Nazis clearly intended to let the flames reach the synagogue. Houses nearby were already wildly burning. “Why hadn’t we let Fischel go?” my parents cried bitterly. “At least he could have escaped this fate!”

The scene was a blizzard of shouting and wailing and, above all, praying. Psalms and lamentations and entreaties blended together, a cacophony of wrenched hearts. Everyone realized what was in store and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that any of us could possibly do.

Elijah’s Strangest Costume

The smell of smoke grew even stronger, as did the cries of the hundreds of Jews packed in the synagogue awaiting a terrible death. And then a miracle occurred.

How else to explain what happened? Those in the synagogue who were standing near the doorway and windows saw a German motorcycle come to a halt in front of the building. A German officer – apparently of high rank – dismounted from the machine and began to speak with the SS men guarding our intended crematorium. The officer grew agitated and barked some orders at the other Nazis. After a few minutes, the doors to the synagogue were suddenly opened and, in disbelief at our good fortune, we all staggered out.

The officer, apparently, had heard the terrible din from within the building and had stopped to see what was happening. Presumably the SS men told him that the Jews had killed one of their men. What made the officer order them to release us we did not know and never will. Some of us suspected he was not a German at all, but Elijah the prophet, who, in Jewish tradition, often appears in disguise.

We were ordered across a nearby brook and some of the soldiers even carried elderly people who could not easily cross through the shallow water on their own. We were told to sit on the grass and to go no further. And so there we sat, all through the Sabbath, watching as the synagogue in which we had been imprisoned mere hours earlier was claimed by the flames and, along with all the Torah-scrolls and holy books of both Ruzhan and Govrov, burned to the ground. During the night that followed, some men ventured forth to bury the dead of previous days, my uncle among them. In Judaism, a body is not to be left unburied for long if there is any way of returning it to the earth.

That night was the first night of Selichos, the special entreaties for forgiveness of sins that are recited before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The gift was a goodbye present; nothing else was left of the town.

It was cold, with autumn unmistakably in the air, and we, the live Jews, huddled together through the night, shivering from both the chill and the unknown.

When morning came, though, there was not a soldier to be seen. All the Nazis had left. We went back into the town. There we found a bizarre blessing amid the destruction: Several pear trees, laden with fruit, stood like sad, silent witnesses to all that had happened to the town. The fruit on the branches had been baked by the flames. We picked and ate the pears, a delicious, unexpected delicacy – a dessert unattached to any meal. But the gift was a goodbye present; nothing else was left of the town. And so we moved on.

“Fire, Ice, Air” is available at select Jewish bookstores. If your local bookstore doesn’t have it in stock, please ask the proprietor to contact to place an order. (

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Ki Savo Inspiration 5776

In this week’s parasha, Ki Savo, we find a very interesting pattern when the Torah discusses the bringing of Bikkurim, one’s first harvested fruits. The Torah describes numerous actions that one performs in the offering of Bikkurim. It shall be when you enter the Land that HaShem, your G-d, gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it, that you shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and you shall put it in a basket etc. Why does the Torah emphasize every step of the process of bringing Bikkurim?

The answer to this question is that the theme of Bikkurim is הכרת הטוב, expressing gratitude for everything that HaShem bestows upon us. When we demonstrate our gratitude to HaShem, we must not just offer a sweeping thank you and move on. Rather, as we say in the Haggadah Shel Pesach, we begin with our disgrace and progress to praise. This process teaches us that we must be grateful to HaShem for every aspect of His wondrous gifts. One who sees with his eyes is not merely grateful that he can see. Rather, he is grateful for all the numerous components of the eye that allow one to see with perfect vision. The same is true for every part of the body and for every faculty that HaShem  gives us. Gratitude is not limited to the results, but to the details along the way. Every morning we enumerate or praise of HaShem by thanking Him for granting us wisdom, distinction from the nations, setting us on the right path, allowing us to walk upright, opening our eyes, etc. When we have this sense of gratitude, we can even look at the horrific curses mentioned in this week’s parasha with a new perspective. We can began to see how even tragedy and catastrophe is really for our good. HaShem should allow us to merit what the Gemara (Megillah 31b) states regarding the reading of Ki Savo before Rosh HaShanah תכלה שנה וקללותיה תחל שנה וברכותיה, let this year and its curses end, and let the new year and its blessings begin.


Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Ki Savo 5776
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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5776



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5776

Shabbos is Truly a Day of Joy


The commentators grapple with the idea that Shabbos is a day of happiness, as we recite in Shemone Esrei yismichu vimalchuscha shomrei Shabbos vikorei oneg, they shall rejoice in Your Kingship – those who observe the Shabbos and call it a delight. Yet, throughout Jewish history, the Jewish People have suffered greatly and the day of Shabbos was not an exception. In this week’s parashah, the Torah discusses the consequences that will befall the Jewish People if they do not adhere to the Torah. It is said (Devarim 28:47) tachas asher lo avadata es HaShem Elokecha bisimcha uvituv leivav meirov kol, because you did not serve HaShem, your G-d, amid gladness and goodness of heart, when everything was abundant. The Gerrer Rebbe, the Bais Yisroel, writes that the Gemara (Chulin 101b) states that Shabbos is kivia vikyama, permanent and stationary. This alludes to the idea that despite the fact that the Bais HaMikdash has been destroyed, the power of Shabbos remains in a permanent state for the Jewish People. The Sfas Emes writes that the destruction was a result of the Jewish People not serving HaShem out of joy. It then follows that when the Jewish People are in exile and lacking abundance, and still they serve HaShem with joy, they will merit the Ultimate Redemption. The Bais Yisroel continues by saying that although it is said (Devarim 28:65) uvagoyim haheim lo sargia, and among those nations you will not be tranquil, this refers to the weekday. On Shabbos, however, the Jewish People will find peace. This idea, however, still requires further explanation. Have we not seen that even on Shabbos the Jewish People have suffered? During the Holocaust, Jews were at times tortured on Shabbos even more than they were tortured during the week. How, then, can we always be instructed to be joyful on the Holy Day of Shabbos? Perhaps the answer to this question can be found in our understanding of joy and redemption. While it is certainly easier to be at rest and full of joy when we are not persecuted by our enemies, there is a concept of inner joy that exists even at times of persecution and suffering. The Sefarim (Degel Machanei Ephraim quoting Tikkunim) write that although we read the tochacha, the rebuke that is found in this week’s parasha, as curses, concealed within the curses are blessings. The Bais Yisroel writes that one can overcome the curses by cleaving to HaShem. This, he writes, is reflected in Shabbos, as Shabbos is a blessing, and a curse cannot become attached to a blessing. It is noteworthy that the end of last week’s parasha discusses the commandment to eradicate Amalek, the nation who attacked us without warning when we left Egypt. The beginning of this week’s parasha discusses the commandment of bringing Bikkurim, the first fruits, to the Bais HaMikdash. When one brings Bikkurim, he opens his declaration of gratitude with the words (26:5) arami oveid avi, an Aramean tried to destroy my forefather. Thus, at a time of heightened jubilation, we invoke the painful memory of destruction and exile.

The Shabbos Connection

This is parallel to the idea that is reflected in Shabbos, where we demonstrate that despite the apparent curses that surround us, we are truly ensconced in blessing, and the curse will never be associated with the blessing. Thus, the idea that we must be joyful on Shabbos is not just a fantasy, but a reality. Shabbos is a day of joy, and HaShem should allow us to merit the ultimate joy, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Dror Yikra

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 acrostic of the stitches 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.

וְלַמַּזְהִיר וְלַנִּזְהָר. שְׁלוֹמִים תֵּן כְּמֵי נָהָר, to the exhorters and the scrupulous, give peace as flowing as a river’s waters. When the entire Jewish world will observe Shabbos, the world will be at peace. Indeed, the Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that had the Jewish People only observed the first Shabbos in the Wilderness, no race or nation could have assailed them. Hashem should allow us to all observe Shabbos properly and bring everlasting peace to the world.  It is noteworthy that the words זהו וְלַמַּזְהִיר וְלַנִּזְהָר equals in gematria the word תרי”ג, alluding to the idea that one who observes the Shabbos is akin to having observed the entire Torah.

Shabbos Stories

All the Healing is in my Wife’s Merit

At the turn of the 19th century, before the First World War, there were still great rebbes that could heal; there was the Kerestirer Rebbe, Reb Yeshaya. He did not place his hands on a person or speak – but if you ate food in his house, you went away healed. When his wife Sarah died, the Rebbe wept terribly and would not be consoled. He told the Chasidim, “You probably thought that people who ate in my house were healed because of me. That’s not true. It was because of my holy wife, Sarah. Now that she’s gone I can tell you. Listen to this story of what happened. ‘In our younger days we were desperately poor. If we ate one meal a week we would have food to eat on Shabbos, but we wouldn’t be able to have any guests. So we fasted from Shabbos to Shabbos. Then we had enough food for ourselves and for some guests. One week, my holy wife was cooking on Friday for Shabbos, when a drunkard knocked on the door and was invited in. He was reeking of alcohol but he said to my wife, ‘I’m starving, do you have anything to eat?’ We had not eaten that whole week, but who knows how long he had been without food, and when someone says they’re starving, how can you not feed them? So my wife gave him from the food she had prepared for Shabbos. After finishing what she gave him, however, he asked, ‘Is there more?’ Each time he ate whatever was put before him and asked for more, until she said, ‘There’s not a crumb left.’ She gave him everything she had prepared for our Shabbos meals. She gave him everything gently and respectfully, because she was doing a great mitzvah and good deed. She didn’t judge him by how he looked or for his crude behavior, for who knows what troubles he had suffered? “Then this drunkard did something unusual. He asked, ‘Can I speak to your husband?’ My wife came to my room and told me about his request and, when I agreed, my wife sent him to me. When he came in, he no longer smelled and he didn’t appear drunk. In fact, his face was glowing, and I realized at once that this was Elijah the Prophet. He said to me, ‘I only came here to bless your wife. Her kindness has made a great impression in heaven. But we wanted to give her a final test to see if she was worthy of the great blessing we have in store for her. She passed the test.’ “What was the great blessing? It was the blessing of healing.” And that,” said the Rebbe, “was why the food my holy wife served healed whoever ate it.” [Mai Ber Yeshayahu, pp. 43-44.]

When Rebbe Yeshaya of Kerestirer was on his deathbed and close to his final hours, he called over one of his intimates and whispered, “In a little while there will be a ‘funeral’ here and many people will be coming from far away. So please put a very big pot on the stove and boil a lot of potatoes, and then cook them with a lot of chicken fat, because I want all those Jews to have some tasty food after their long trip.” [Reshumim Bishimcha, p. 360]

Shabbos in Halacha

Wringing and Laundering

 Two melachos that pertain to washing dishes and cleaning spills on Shabbos are סחיטה; wringing, and כיבוס: laundering. Previously we discussed sechita as it applies to extracting juice from fruits. Here we will discuss the halachos of wringing liquid from an absorbent fabric. We will also briefly discuss the laws of laundering as applied to common situations.

  1. Wringing Liquid from a Fabric
  1. The Prohibitions

 One is prohibited from squeezing out liquid from a fabric in which it was absorbed. Depending on the person’s intentions, this can fall under two Torah prohibitions: If one wrings out a fabric in order to salvage the liquid, i.e. for washing, he violates the melacha of סחיטה: wringing; if one wrings out a fabric in order to cleanse the fabric, he violates the melacha of כיבוס: laundering.  There is a significant conceptual difference between these two types of wringing. In the first case one accomplishes the acquisition of a liquid; this is similar to extracting juice from a fruit. In the second case, one improves the quality of the fabric by expelling liquid; this is a completely different accomplishment.

If one performs wringing with neither of these intentions, it is still prohibited by Rabbinic Decree. Thus, even if the liquid will go to waste and the fabric will not be cleansed, one is prohibited from squeezing out any liquid.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Ki Savo 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 Ki Savo 5776

A Survivor of Iraqi Horror

Elisha Cohen’s family was the victim of unimaginable terror under Saddam Hussein. But he survived to tell the world.

by Yossi Krausz

“It’s very important for people to know what happened to my parents – what happened to my mother, what happened to my brothers and my sisters. No one heard their voice.”

Elisha Cohen speaks clearly and confidently when discussing the history of his family in Iraq, but there are moments when you can hear the emotion permeate his voice. Some of those are when he discusses the tragedies and vicious persecution that they faced under the Baath party and Saddam Hussein, and some of those are when he talks about his faith in the face of events almost too terrible to contemplate.

Elisha was imprisoned at a young age and forced to endure the murder of much of his family.

Imprisoned at a young age and then forced to endure the murder of much of his family, Elisha, known as Marvin in English, survived and escaped, eventually making his way to his present home in Perth, Australia. In his book My Salvation, which was transcribed by Andrew Blitz and published in 2014, and in speeches he’s given in Australia, he has continued to make people aware of the fate of the Iraqi Jews who remained in the country until the later years of the twentieth century.

A Turbulent History

Iraq’s Jewish history dates back to events recorded in Tanach; Nevuchadnezzar’s exile of the Jews to Babel established a community that would exist for thousands of years. The periods of the Amoraim and Geonim were golden ones in Babel, the area of modern-day Iraq, for the Jews. But even as the centers of Jewish life moved elsewhere and the rise of Islam created hardship and suffering for Jews, there was a strong Jewish presence in Iraq. That would all change in the twentieth century.

The early years of that century were relatively good for the Jews, particularly under the British Mandate during the 1920s. In fact, the first finance minister and one of the architects of the modern state of Iraq, Sassoon Eskell, was an Iraqi Jew.

During the 1930s, Iraqi Jews were subjected to increasing persecution. Nazi propaganda had made its way to Iraq from Europe, partially promoted by the Mufti of Jerusalem, an associate of Hitler.

During World War II, attacks on Jews intensified. Rashid Ali, who had become the prime minister of Iraq for the second time in 1940, worked on an alliance with the Nazis, hoping that they could help drive the British out of the country. He eventually initiated the Anglo-Iraqi War, a series of battles during 1941 that ended with a British victory and Rashid Ali fleeing the country. Immediately after his defeat, his followers carried out a pogrom in Baghdad against the Jews. Known as the Farhud, the riots killed close to 200 Jews, though some estimates put the numbers higher.

The Farhud was not the end of major Jewish life in Iraq, though some would later look back at it as the beginning of the end. But in the late 1940s, the numbers of Jews in the country remained in the hundreds of thousands.

The period after the establishment of the state of Israel saw an increased level of violence against Jews, and accusations of Zionism led to public executions. From 1948 until 1950, Iraq refused to allow the Jews to emigrate, claiming that they would increase Israel’s strength. But in March of 1950, Iraq reversed the decree and Jews began leaving the country in a mass exodus. Around 120,000 to 130,000 left in an Israeli campaign known as Operation Ezra and Nechemia, over a period of a few years, with the possessions of many of the Jews confiscated by the Iraqi government.

Elisha told me that there were more Iraqi Jews left in the country than official statistics showed, in some cases because they had thought they were going to be able to leave and weren’t able to. Many were able to get papers as Christians, rather than Jews, though they kept in contact with the Jewish community. Official numbers showed only several hundred Jews in Iraq during the late twentieth century, but Elisha stated that he believed there were as many as 20,000 living under assumed identities as Christians and other ethnicities.

And while for most Iraqi Jews the end of their time in the country had come, for a small minority, like Elisha Cohen’s family, Iraq would remain their home.

Family Ties

Elisha’s family was, as were many Iraqis, both rooted in the country and cosmopolitan at the same time. Though both of his paternal grandparents were born in Iraq, they met in Germany in the 1920s, where many Iraqi Jews traveled to for business. His maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who had entered Iraq after the war, where he married Elisha’s maternal grandmother in Baghdad.

Elisha’s mother also traveled for a time to Europe, where she studied in France to be an ophthalmologist. “My experiences have left me with some difficulty in remembering our childhood,” Elisha writes. “I have vivid recollections of the last time I saw my brothers and sisters, however my memories of how we grew up together have since been disturbed.”

Elisha and his seven siblings grew up in a large house in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq. He had three older brothers, a twin brother, then two younger sisters with a younger brother in between them. Only the two oldest brothers attended school; the rest of the children were taught at home, as Jews were not anymore allowed to attend Iraqi schools.

Elisha’s sister was given to his aunt who was living under an assumed identity as a Christian.

Elisha and his twin were born in 1974. The Baath Party had taken control of the government in the 1960s, and Saddam Hussein had already taken much of control of the party and the government by the time of Elisha’s birth; he would officially take control in 1979.

Elisha recounts that the dangers in being Jewish at the time were so great that when his youngest sister was born, she was given to his mother’s sister, who was living, like many other Jews, under an assumed identity as a Christian.

Elisha’s family was fairly well-off; his grandfather and father were all in the international gold and jewelry trade and owned real estate, as well. Unfortunately, that would not spare the family from grief.

Lost Childhood

The government grew gradually more hostile to his family. Real estate belonging to his father was confiscated in 1978; jewelry stores were taken in 1983. “They did it slowly just to humiliate my father,” Elisha said

Soon they had confiscated the passports of Elisha’s parents. Saddam Hussein’s government tightly controlled the movements of all Iraqis, especially out of the country, but the confiscation made clear that the government had decided that the Cohens would not be allowed out.

“My parents wanted to leave but could not. The government didn’t want you, but they didn’t let you go,” Elisha told me.

The church took possession of Elisha, forcibly baptized him, and kept him there for a year before his father could secure his release.

Elisha had an early traumatic experience. When he was eight years old, in an emergency, his father had asked a non-Jewish neighbor to watch Elisha. Out of fear from the authorities, the neighbor took Elisha to the safest place they could think of: a local church. But the church took possession of Elisha, forcibly baptized him, and kept him there for a year before his father could secure his release.

But the next year was hardly better. Elisha’s father now had started keeping Elisha with him while he worked, and one day, Iraqi soldiers arrived at the office and took them both away. Even before the Osirak reactor had been bombed by Israel in 1981, the Iraqis had accused Iraqi Jews of being spies for Israel. Afterward, it was practically a given.

Torture was systematical and ubiquitous under Saddam Hussein. The government’s totalitarianism promoted informing; disloyalty to the regime was punished by detention and horrendous torture. Everything from acid baths to the burning of limbs was employed on prisoners. One of his sons had his own private torture chamber for his own enjoyment.

The BBC’s correspondent for Iraq at the time, John Sweeney, described some of the torture victims he’d seen and the fear that such behavior had created: “I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks.”

Elisha’s father was not spared – and neither was the young boy.

“They started to beat [my father] in prison,” Elisha writes, “and after he refused to confess the crime of spying, they also started to beat him in front of me. I was both shocked and scared. My father did not want to show himself as weak in my presence, so he held his head up and refused to show emotion. He told me afterward not to be scared, to remember that King David would sing and cry out to God when in times of trouble.”

The two of them would be held in prison together for four or five years.

Elisha describes the privation they suffered in captivity, his father softening the hard bread they were given to eat in water, and then passing it to him. Both of them were tortured, with everything from beatings to electrocutions. “I didn’t do anything in prison, just accepted the fact that I had to suffer,” Elisha writes.

My father told me not to be afraid of death… they could kill my body, but they couldn’t take away my soul or my faith.

But he also describes the faith that his father instilled in him. “He taught me to keep my faith under any situation. He wanted me to be strong. We had no choice. Even though I was only a child, I had to be tough and understand the danger that surrounded me.”

He mentions further: “I used to ask my father what would happen if they would kill us. I wanted to know what happened to people after they died, and my father told me not to be afraid of death. He told me that they could kill my body, but they could not take away my soul or my faith. My father told me that these people could harm my body, but not my mind. This is given to us by God and taken from us only by God.”

Bar Mitzvah and Unimaginable Terror

Elisha is uncertain why, but one day his father and he were handcuffed and driven away from prison. They thought that they were likely being taken to be killed, but instead, they were dropped off at the side of the road, with nothing in their hands but once again free.

They cautiously made their way back home, only approaching the house under cover of dark. “We could hear the locks of the door opening. It was my elder brother Naftali, and he could not believe we were back. All my brothers came out, and then my mother stepped forward and immediately started to cry.”

Elisha’s youngest brother had been born shortly after he and his father had been imprisoned. It was the first time they had seen him. The two of them had not been allowed any visits from their family for the entire duration of their imprisonment.

They were still wary from the years in prison, but Elisha’s father began plans for a bar mitzvah for the twins; Elisha had already turned 13 in prison.

Public celebrations were dangerous, so they snuck out of the city; Elisha’s father did not tell them where they were going. They traveled to a solitary house in a remote field; inside the house, they entered a trapdoor to reach a secret underground room. Soon, a number of men showed up, including a chacham (rabbi), who gave everyone an arachina, or kippah. Then a man brought forward a sefer Torah.

This was the first time the boys had been in a synagogue. As they celebrated inside, several men from the group would stand guard outside, armed and looking for any sign of danger.

That special day was soon followed by some of the most horrific ones.

That special day – ”the best day of my life” – was soon followed by some of the most horrific ones.

As an openly Jewish family that had some wealth, the Cohens were obvious targets for a regime that regularly brutalized Jews.

In 1988, Elisha’s oldest brother Naftali was working in their father’s office on the day of Purim with a Christian man when soldiers entered. They handcuffed the Christian to a chair, then proceeded to tie up Naftali and viciously mutilate and kill him. The Christian was released with the instruction to tell Elisha’s father what had happened, and then the men took Naftali’s remains, bundled them in a bag, and threw them in the Cohens’ garden.

“My father found the bag in the garden first. He instinctively knew that it was the body of my brother because he hadn’t come home from work.”

Elisha’s father took him to bury Naftali outside the city, and then they returned and told his mother what had happened.

At that point, Elisha’s father resolved to try to leave the country, but he was unable to. Contacts that he had made in European countries and to whom he had sent money for safekeeping did not answer his pleas.

And then tragedy struck, again and again and again. Elisha’s next two oldest brothers were murdered, one shot on the road by Iraqi police and the other arrested while trying to buy food, then mutilated and stabbed to death like the oldest brother; his remains were shoved in their garage, wrapped in an Israeli flag. Both of these brothers were buried in their garden.

“In February 1990, the authorities came and arrested my father. They took him to prison and he was killed there in the same month. The authorities came to the house one day and knocked on the door,” Elisha writes. They were there to tell him that his father was dead; all of his body that they would give him was his eyes.

“I looked at them and knew I had to say the right thing, otherwise they would arrest me and the remaining members of the household, so all I said to them was ‘Thank you.’” Elisha buried what they had given him in the garden, next to the graves of his two brothers.

Elisha decided that he needed to get his family out of there. He took his twin brother north to a Christian family that had been close to his grandfather and left him there. Then he returned to Mosul and took his younger brother and sister (one sister was already in hiding with his aunt) to a local Catholic family and left them there. But his mother refused to leave the house.

“About five hours later into the evening, I heard a noise outside in the street.” When Elisha went to an upstairs window, he saw that a number of government cars had surrounded the house. “Someone rang the front door bell, but I did not open the door. All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and realized that one of the cars had slammed into our garage door.”

The Iraqi agents broke into the house, grabbed Elisha’s mother, and pulled her out to the street, where they tied her behind a car and dragged her in the street. After they were done, they brought her back to Elisha.

“She was alive but barely conscious. They untied my handcuffs and I took my mother in my arms for a few minutes and said to her, ‘I am sorry I couldn’t help you but I am here with you now.’”

A few minutes later, she died, in her son’s arms.

 Prison and Escape

Elisha was taken to prison once more, where he was beaten and questioned. When he gave them no information about other Jews, they sent him to the prison northwest of Mosul known as Badush, where he was put in a cell with a Christian pastor.

Days in prison were spent in backbreaking work, usually in a quarry. Food was barely edible. And the torture and interrogations continued. Elisha describes his reaction to a water torture: “I felt like my head was going to explode. My body would feel very cold and I thought I was losing my mind. It felt like every drop weighed 100 kilos. I screamed from the pain; it was driving me insane. I just screamed and screamed.”

Elisha endured further terrible tortures. But one day they stopped. An officer who had tormented him mercilessly and had threatened him with worse was killed in a car accident, and the next officer assigned to him saw it as a fulfillment of something that Elisha had said during the torture sessions. Instead of inflicting pain on Elisha, he would make it sound like he was, and Elisha would scream, and instead nothing would happen.

“I thanked God for hearing me and saving me from more torture.”

A prison escape engineered by an Iraqi tribe angry with the government ended with all the prisoners who had escaped being recaptured and re-imprisoned. But several months later, the pastor who shared the cell with Elisha arranged that he be rescued from the prison, by bribing guards and arranging for them to bring him out of the prison and release him into the custody of others who were being paid by the pastor.

Elisha’s first attempt to escape the country almost ended in disaster. While attempting to cross into Turkey – which was the only country that was a feasible transit to Europe – from Iraq with a group of smugglers, Elisha was washed downstream, so that he ended up in Syria. It took him several months, as well as a period of internment in a refugee camp, before he was able to make it back into Iraq to once again attempt crossing the border into Turkey.

There and back again

Life as a refugee was not easy, Elisha found. His travels – undertaken with fake passports, subterfuge, and other survival techniques he improvised or learned from others – took him from Turkey to Hungary to Vienna, Austria, where he found sanctuary with a Christian couple and Chabad rabbi Dov Gruzman. Along the way he had altercations with Muslim refugees, escaped from a Hungarian refugee camp, and evaded border police on a cross-European train.

But despite all of this, Elisha soon began thinking about how he could get back into Iraq, to rescue his siblings. He was looking for a country that he could receive papers in that would allow him better legal coverage for travel in and out of Iraq.

After an abortive attempt in Germany, Elisha decided to try Australia. He flew to the continent using a fake passport, then destroyed it enroute and declared that he had no passport and had come directly from Iraq.

With the help of the Jewish community, including contacts given to him by Rabbi Gruzman, Elisha was allowed to stay in a detention area in Pert, where there was a Jewish community. Elisha was eventually granted residency in Australia.

But even though he had found some stability, Elisha was unwilling to remain there while he still had hope of rescuing his relatives. He applied for Australian travel documentation, which would allow him to travel to Europe and back even though he did not have an Australian passport.

His plan was, to put it mildly, audacious. He would travel back to Europe, back into Turkey, and slip back into Iraq, where he would find his twin brother and send him back with the identification, since they looked the same.

As it was, almost all of the plan went off as he hoped. He even was able to find a family that had been helping his brother, who was hiding in a cave in the mountains, near the burial place of the Prophet Nachum.

But he received devastating new, as he waited for his brother to come down from the mountains. The couple asked a shepherd to go up into the mountains to find Elisha’s brother.

The shepherd found my brother lifeless at the foot of a cave.

“He found my brother lifeless at the foot of a cave,” Elisha writes. He had been suffering from a heart condition, which may have been the cause of his death.

The shepherd brought the body back to town and buried it, though Elisha writes that he was unable to visit the grave because the area was under surveillance and it was too dangerous for him.

Elisha managed to return to Turkey and then fly back to Australia, where he began to make a life for himself, eventually finding work as an auto mechanic

He attempted to help his youngest sister, who had been hiding as a Christian, escape Iraq, as well, by attempting to arrange funds for her to hire a smuggler to get her across the border to Jordan. But he learned, after losing contact with her for a month, that she had been caught by Jordanian border guards and turned back, where she was assumedly killed by Iraqi soldiers. Her children would eventually leave Iraq in the 2000s, and Elisha was able to meet them in Europe in 2010.

There are still relatives that Elisha is working on getting out of Iraq, but he is unable to discuss the cases due to his concerns about their safety.

Shocking Events

That these horrifying events, reminiscent of the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, happened just a few years ago is shocking – as is the fact that the world doesn’t know more about them. Elisha noted that Israel is often berated for its treatment of Muslim terrorists without any remembrance of what Muslim countries have done to the Jews, and what such terrorists are capable of.

In January 2012, Elisha traveled to Israel for the first time. One experience he had, which he admits was questionable according to Jewish law, was ascending the Temple Mount. Because he looks Middle Eastern and is a native Arab speaker, he was able to enter the Dome of the Rock without any problems. And he returned there on a trip in 2013. Elisha sees his presence there as a defeat of his enemies, the enemies of the Jewish people.

Elisha’s story is incredible; the fact that he survived his travails is amazing. But perhaps even more amazing is that his faith in God survived, as well.

I asked Elisha whether his experiences have left him adversely affected. He told me the opposite was true.

“Actually, my past makes me stronger every day. You have to know if I was not Jewish I would not have survived.”

He told me that he sees his survival as having been in the hands of God. “I was in His hands wherever I went. If you look at my book, it was not me escaping; it was me going from one trouble to another trouble. But God always sent me someone to help. There always was someone there. It was like I felt I was in His hands.”

Reprinted with permission from Ami Magazine (

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Ki Seitzei Inspiration 5776

This week’s parasha discusses the laws of שילוח הקן, one who comes across a bird’s nest and is required by the Torah to send away the mother bird and keep the eggs or chicks. The Torah promises that one who performs this mitzvah will have long life. The Gemara, however, offers us a different perspective on this reward of long life. The Gemara (Chullin 142a) records an incident where a man sent his son to perform the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away, and upon completing the mitzvah, the boy died. The Gemara wonders how, according to the Torah, this boy received a reward for long life? The question is two-fold, as the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents also warrants that one receive long life. In this incident, the boy was deserving of a long life for performing two mitzvos, and yet he was cut off in his prime. The Gemara therefore posits that the reward refers to long life in the next world.

This is all fine, but there is a difficulty to this resolution from the Mishna (Peah 1:1) that states clearly that one who honors his parents will eat from the fruits of the mitzvah in this world and will retain the principle reward in the World to Come. Given this statement, it would seem that the boy should have at least been allowed to live out his life in this world. How, then, was his life cut short despite the performance of mitzvos that ensure one a reward of long life?

To answer this question it is worth referring back to the end of last week’s parasha, Shoftim, where the Torah discusses the laws of עגלה ערופה. The Torah states that if a man is found dead between two cities and it is not known who killed him, then the elders of the city closest to the corpse must bring a calf and kill it in an uncultivated patch of land. The Medrash states that the reason for this is because the murdered individual was not given the chance to bear fruit, so his death is to be atoned for by a calf that did not bear offspring, on a patch of land that did not bear fruit. This Medrash is difficult to understand, as perhaps the murdered man had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, and he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Sifsei Chachamim explains that we are not referring here to biological children. Rather, we are referring to the opportunity to perform mitzvos which the murdered person can no longer do. Similarly, we can explain the Mishna in Peah as referring to one who is rewarded for the mitzvah of honoring one’s parents by being given the opportunity to perform more mitzvos.

With this understanding we can now gain a better insight into why the Gemara in Chullin states that the boy whose life was cut short after performing the two mitzvos of sending the mother away and honoring his father did not receive long life in this world. Long life is truly in the next world, but the boy was at least able to enjoy the fruits of his labor, which was the fact that he merited performing the mitzvos while he was still alive.

HaShem should grant us the opportunity to perform mitzvos and receive the reward of performing more mitzvos in our lifetime. HaShem should grant us long life and long days that we will utilize to study His Torah and perform His holy mitzvos.

Have a REWARDING and FRUITFUL Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Ki Seitzei 5776

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Seitzei 5776



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Seitzei 5776

Salvation Through Modesty


In this week’s parashah the Torah discusses the laws of going out to battle. One of the laws of battle is that the Jewish People retain a state of sanctity in the camp. It is said (Devarim 23:10) ki seitzei machaneh al oyvecho vinishmarta mikol davar ra, when a camp goes out against your enemies, you shall guard against anything evil. Further on it is said (Ibid verse 15) ki HaShem Elokecha mishaleich bikerev machanecho lihatzilcho vilaseis oyvecho lifaenecho vihayah machanecho kadosh vilo yireh vicho ervas davar vishav meiacharecho, for HaShem, your G-d, walks in the midst of your camp to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you; so your camp shall be holy, so that he will not see a shameful thing among you and turn away from behind you. The Torah is telling us that the key to salvation is through modesty. When the Jewish People act in a modest fashion, their camp is deemed to be holy and HaShem allows His Presence to reside amongst them. This idea is reflected in the following teaching from the Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simcha. It is said (Ibid 24:15) biyomo sitein sicharo, on that day shall you pay his hire. The first letters of the words biyomo sitein sicharo spell out the word Shabbos. The Lev Simcha writes that it is said (Ibid 21:10) ki seitzei lamilchama al oyvecho unsano HaShem Elokecha biyadecha vishavisa shivyo, when you will go out to war against your enemies, and HaShem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hand, and you will capture his captivity. The Lev Simcha cites a Medrash that interprets the verse as follows: ki seitzei lamilchama al oyvecho refers to the days of the week, and unsano HaShem Elokecha biyadecha refers to Shabbos. The Lev Simcha writes that this is the meaning of the verse that states biyomo sitein sicharo, on that day shall you pay his hire. On the day of HaShem, which is Shabbos, as that is when HaShem rested, you shall pay his hire, i.e. HaShem will give you a reward. Based on the words of the Lev Simcha we can interpret the verses said regarding being modest when going out to battle in the same manner. When one goes out to battle, he is warring with the Evil Inclination, who tempts a person with desires that he is not accustomed to when at home. Nonetheless, when one acts in a modest fashion, he captures his captivity, i.e. he subdues the Evil Inclination. The weekday is the battle ground with the Evil Inclination. When a Jew battles his Evil Inclination during the week and succeeds in overwhelming the Evil Inclination, then vishavisa shivyo, he will earn the reward of Shabbos.

The Shabbos Connection

It is noteworthy that in the word vishavisa is the word Shabbos. Hashem should allow us to serve him in a modest fashion, and make our camps holy, and then we will merit the holiness of Shabbos and the day that will be completely Shabbos and rest day for eternal life.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Dror Yikra

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 acrostic 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.

אֱ-לֹהִים תֵּן בְּמִדְבָּר הַר. הֲדַס שִׁטָּה בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר, O G-d let bloom on the desert-like mountain, myrtle, acacia, cypress and box tree. The commentators offer various interpretations of these words, from the simple meaning to the esoteric. It is noteworthy that the first letters of the words הֲדַס שִׁטָּה בְּרוֹשׁ תִּדְהָר spell out the word השבת, alluding to the idea that on Shabbos one experiences all the pleasures of this world.

 Shabbos Stories

The Trivialities of This World

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: One of the most poignant episodes in the fascinating life of the Ger Tzedek of Vilna, Avraham ben Avraham, came in the last moments of his life. Avraham ben Avraham was born as Count Potocki, and converted after taking an interest to Judaism while studying in the University of Paris. He eventually returned to Vilna the ranks of the perushim, those who separated themselves for a life of total Torah immersion. His family had conducted a massive search for him and when he was found he was turned over to the inquisitorial board of the church that could not persuade him to forego Judaism. He was sentenced to the auto-de- fי death by fire. An old friend of the Count from the days before his conversion was the one who was appointed to light the bonfire. As the pyre was being formed and the flames about to be set, the man approached the ger. Fearful of the terrible crime he was about to perpetrate, he asked the holy convert, “When you come to heaven are you going to ask your G-d to enact Heavenly retribution against me?” Ignoring the commotion that surrounded him, Avraham ben Avraham smiled. “Let me tell you a story,” he began. “When I was a young child, my father gave me a beautiful toy soldier which I cherished. One day you came to play with me and because your soldier was nowhere as nice as mine. You were obviously jealous. So when you thought I was not looking, you broke my soldier. I was enraged, and I swore to take revenge. “Of course when I grew older, the whole incident was a joke to me. I realized that compared to all the accomplishments I had in my life and the wealth I was to inherit, the silly soldier meant nothing to me! It never again crossed my mind.” The ger tzedek emitted a slight laugh. “I am about to enter the world of Olam HaBah. In my religion, one who sanctifies his life for the sake of Judaism is considered the greatest of all the righteous. Believe me, when I receive my awaited award, your fate will be as irrelevant to me as the fate of my toy soldier! Do not fear. I will not have the need or even desire to think of taking revenge for your inane acts of this petty world.”

Rules can be Broken

Rabbi Kamenetzky writes further: A brilliant young student entered the portals of Yeshiva Torah Voda’ath in the 1940s. Hailing from a distinguished rabbinic family which instilled within him a creative mind, he questioned some of the arcane dormitory rules and restrictions that were imposed with boys of less character in mind. But rules, said the dormitory counselor, are rules and he wanted to have the young student temporarily expelled until he would agree to conform. An expulsion of that sort would have left the young man (who lived out of town) no alternative but to leave the Yeshiva. They brought the matter before the Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky. “True,” he said, “rules are rules, but I owe this young man something.” The dorm counselor looked stunned. “In the 1800s this boy’s great-grandfather helped establish the kollel (fellowship program for married Torah scholars) at which I would study some decades later. I owe his family a debt of gratitude. If the rules disallow his stay in the dormitory, then he will sleep in my home.” (

Shabbos in Halacha

הכנה – Preparing for a Weekday


Limitations to the Prohibition


  1. Preparing Without Extra Effort

 Under the prohibition of preparing, one is prohibited from performing even a minute act of preparation for Motz’ai Shabbos. If, however, one is able to prepare something for Motz’ai Shabbos without expending any extra effort at all, then one is permitted to do so.

For example, one is prohibited to freeze an item to preserve it for a later date as this is an act of preparing. However, one would be permitted to put any food item in the freezer when cleaning up after a meal. Since the food must be stored somewhere, there is nothing wrong with ‘storing it’ in the freezer. One is prohibited from taking an item from a different storage area i.e. a refrigerator and moving it to the freezer, as this is a direct act of preparing.

Washing dishes

 One is prohibited from washing dishes which one no longer needs for Shabbos, because by washing the dishes one prepares them for post-Shabbos use. This subject will be discussed at length later.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Ki Seitzei 5776

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New Stories Ki Seitzei 5776

Steven Hill’s Chosen Mission

The actor, who recently passed away, heard that voice that said to him: “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

by Yaakov Levine

The Jewish people recently lost one of its most famous in-the-spotlight observant members, the television actor Steven Hill. Hill is best known for playing Manhattan District Attorney Adam Schiff on the NBC show “Law & Order” for 10 years.

Born in Seattle as Solomon (Shlomo) Krakovsky, Hill did not grow up observant. He served in the Navy before directing his life towards becoming an actor. He earned a stellar reputation in New York, where he was compared to his contemporary Marlon Brando as one of America’s finest up-and-coming actors.

As his career began taking off, he started having questions about his identity and role in the “big picture.” Playing Sigmund Freud in a hit Broadway show, a rewrite occurred in which an angry patient startlingly accuses him, “You are a Jew!” Night after night, Hill would receive this allegation – “You are a Jew!” – until it finally became a wake-up call that spurred him to explore his Jewish identity.

He became increasingly disillusioned with the less-glamourous elements in show business and seeking fame for its own sake. Hill began investigating Judaism and decided to start observing some of the mitzvot including Shabbos. He eventually connected with the Skverer Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky in 1962.

His big break came with a starring role in “Mission: Impossible.” Hill was cast as the team’s leader, Dan Briggs. His agent told the studio that Hill was Sabbath-observant and would not be available to work on Shabbos. The studio agreed but underestimated the implications of his commitment. The show was a hit. However, Hill was known to leave the set mid-filming on Friday afternoons, which left the studios scrambling to compensate. They had to patch up stories to explain why this core character had limited screen time. To compensate, other actors would play Briggs in a disguise, which became a standard motif of the show.

He would occasionally go around the studio to round up ten Jewish men, famously recruiting young William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy from the neighboring “Star Trek” set to join his minyan.

After one season, the studio decided to let Hill go, replacing him with Peter Graves. In 1966, Hill was offered top billing in a Steve McQueen military film called “The Sand Pebbles” but he would have to compromise his Shabbos observance. He was finally reaching his goals of fame and success as an actor but chose to forfeit the opportunity in favor of keeping Shabbos. Hill refused to allow anything to come before his relationship to God.

At this point, he took a decade-long hiatus from acting to focus on family and spiritual growth. When he returned to his creative passion, he said he actually enjoyed it more because he was observant. With his shift in priorities, being an actor was no longer his identity and life’s purpose.

Dustin Hoffman, who appeared with Hill in 1991’s ‘“Billy Bathgate,” once told him, “Steve, we don’t know what to do with our lives…but you know!”

All souls are sent down to this world with a specific mission. Everyone has the ability to find it, no matter their life circumstances. This requires choosing true connection to ourselves, others and God by way of our thoughts, speech and actions.

Steven (Shlomo) Hill heard that voice that said to him: “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it…” the classic catchphrase that was at the start of every “Mission: Impossible” episode. He knew that life’s ultimate mission was not impossible and he bravely chose to accept it, rising to its challenges. May we all merit to live up to our mission the way Steven Hill did. (

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Erev Shabbos Kodesh Shoftim Inspiration 5776

In this week’s parasha the Torah discusses the mitzvah of appointing a king when the Jewish People enter Eretz Yisroel. In the Book of Shmuel we learn that that the Jewish People request from Shmuel a king and Shmuel is upset with their request. HaShem informs Shmuel that it is not Shmuel who the nation is despising but they are in reality despising HaShem. The Rishonim wonder why the Torah gave a mitzvah to appoint a king if HaShem does not desire that the nation have a king? There are various solutions offered to this question, and perhaps we can suggest an answer in line with the theme of Rosh HaShanah. On Rosh HaShanah our mission is to proclaim HaShem as our king, and this is accomplished through the Day of Judgement. Yet, in our Rosh HaShanah prayers we invoke the words of Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim 143:2) who beseeched HaShem: וְאַל תָּבוֹא בְמִשְׁפָּט אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי לֹא יִצְדַּק לְפָנֶיךָ כָל חָי, and do not enter into strict judgement with Your servant, for no living creature would be vindicated before You. One must wonder why if the focus of the day is judgment do we ask HaShem not to judge us?

In a simple sense we can say that although we know it is a day of judgment, we feel inadequate with our actions to be judged. Alternatively, we can propose that what is happening on Rosh HaShanah is in contrast  to the Jewish People asking for a king. On Rosh HaShanah we understand our charge to proclaim HaShem as King, and this is accomplished through judgment. The NEED is for us to have judgment, but we WANT mercy. When the Jewish People requested from Shmuel a king, their WANT was a king to be like all the other nations, but their NEED was to have solely HaShem as their king. Indeed, the Medrash states that when HaShem hears our Shofar blasts on Rosh HaShanah, His compassion, so to speak, is aroused, and He moves from the Seat of Justice to the Seat of Compassion. It is noteworthy that the first letters of the words  וְאַל תָּבוֹא בְמִשְׁפָּט אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ כִּי לֹא יִצְדַּק לְפָנֶיךָ כָל חָי equal in gematria the words זה שופר, as through our request not to be judged harshly and through the Shofar blasts HaShem transforms His attribute of Justice to Mercy.

HaShem should allow us to be vindicated in judgment and to accept His kingship upon ourselves.

Have a MERCIFUL and KINGLY Shabbos!

Rabbi Adler

Erev Shabbos Kodesh Inspiration Shoftim 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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