Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5770

שבת טעם החיים כי תבוא תש”ע

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5770

Blessing is found in matters that are hidden from the eye


ולקחת מראשית כל פרי האדמה אשר תביא מארצך אשר ה’ אלקיך נתן לך ושמת בטנא והלכת אל המקום אשר יבחר ה’ אלקיך לשכן שמו שם, 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 and go to the place that HaShem, your G-d, will choose, to make His Name rest there (Devarim 26:2)

In this week’s parasha the Torah records the curses that the Leviim administered to the Jewish People on Mount Gerizim. Rashi cites the Gemara that states that first the Leviim recited the blessings and then they recited the curses. One must wonder why the Torah only mentions the curses and does not mention the blessings.

The letter samach is absent from the passage of Bikkurim

In order to gain an insight why the Torah omitted the curses it is worth noting an insight of the Baal HaTurim regarding the passage earlier in the parasha that discusses the mitzvah of Bikkurim. When one would examine his filed to see which fruits had ripened. He would tie a string around the fruit and declare that fruit Bikkurim, the first fruits. Later the field owner would bring his first fruits in a basket to Yerushalayim and recite praise to HaShem before the Kohen in the Bais HaMikdash. It is said (Devarim 26:4) vilakach hakohen hatene miyadecha vihincho lifnei mizbach HaShem Elokecho, the Kohen shall take the basket from your hand, and lay it before the Altar of HaShem, your G-d. The Baal HaTurim points out that the word tene, basket, equals 60 in gematria and this alludes to the ruling that one is required to offer one sixtieth of his produce for Bikkurim. For this reason, writes the Baal HaTurim, there is no letter samach in the entire parasha of Bikkurim. This last statement of the Baal HaTurim is difficult to understand, as one would think that if the Torah wanted to allude to the idea of one sixtieth, then the letter samach would be prominent instead of being left out. Why, then, did the Torah omit the letter samach in the parasha of Bikkurim?

Mitzvos should be performed discreetly to ward off evil influences

To answer this question we must examine what the letter samach represents. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 17:6) states that the letter samach first appears as a reference to Satan, i.e. the Evil Inclination. Thus, the letter samach represents evil. Why should a letter in the Hebrew alpha-bet reflect evil? The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 1:10) states that the letter aleph wished for the Torah to start with aleph, and HaShem responded that aleph symbolizes arur, curse, and the letter bais symbolizes blessing. For this reason the Torah begins with the letter beis. To console the letter aleph, HaShem began the Ten Commandments with the word anochi, which starts with the letter aleph. This is difficult to understand. If the Torah could not begin with the letter aleph because it symbolizes curse, why would HaShem begin the Ten Commandments with the letter aleph? The Gerrer Rebbe answers that the Torah has the power to transform a curse into a blessing. Similarly, we can suggest that the letter samach normally reflects evil and danger. It is noteworthy that when one rearranges the letters of the word samach, it spells the word masach, which means a covering. Thus, the Evil Inclination is what causes concealment in this world. When one performs a mitzvah, however, he transforms this concealment and darkness to light. This idea is reflected in the verse that states (Mishlei 6:23) ki ner mitzvah visorah ohr, for a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light. We can now understand why the letter samach is missing in the passage of Bikkurim. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 42a) states that ain bracha sharuy ela bidavar hasamuy min haayin, blessing is only found in something that is concealed from the eye. The word samuy is similar to the word samach. The explanation for this statement is that when one does a good deed in a discreet manner, he is ensuring that the forces of evil cannot defile the good deed. The word Bikkurim is similar to the word bracha, which means blessing. Thus, the mitzvah of Bikkurim is parallel to the first letter of the Torah which is a bais, symbolizing blessing. A mitzvah like Bikkurim, which was brought in a basket, reflects the idea of performing a mitzvah discreetly. (This does not contradict the fanfare that the Mishnah in Bikkurim describes regarding the journey that one made to Yerushalayim to bring the Bikkurim, as it is necessary to inspire others to perform the mitzvos).  For this reason the letter samach does not appear in the passage of Bikkurim, as its absence demonstrates that a mitzvah performed discreetly averts the Evil Eye.

Torah transforms a curse into a blessing

In the same vein we can suggest that the Torah explicitly states the curses but does not mention the blessings, as the blessings are found when they are concealed from the eye. Interestingly enough, the Torah records the blessings that Balaam pronounced on the Jewish People. Nonetheless, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 105b) states that from the blessings of Balaam we learn what was in his heart to curse them. Sadly enough, all the blessings except for one reverted to curses. The only blessing that remained intact was the blessing regarding the study of Torah in the study halls. The reason for this, as mentioned previously, is because the Torah has the power to transform a curse to a blessing, so certainly Torah cannot be transformed into a curse.

The Shabbos connection

Shabbos is the only day of which it is said that HaShem blessed it. While all the days of the week may reflect darkness and concealment, with the arrival of Shabbos all harsh judgments are banished and the Jewish People are enveloped in a great light that descends from HaShem’s treasure house. HaShem should allow us to merit that great light and witness soon the light of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos Stories

The Jewish Dogfight

The skilled pilots flew through the Japanese airspace with tremendous precision and expertise. Dodging the enemy’s anti-aircraft devices, Johnny felt quite lucky to come out of yet another mission alive. He had an unusual knack for survival, quite a handy tool for someone who flew combat missions in World War II.

Johnny Weissman had spent the last few months stationed near Okinawa, a small island just south of Japan where the United States fought its last battle with the Japanese. In a few months the Americans would drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then on Nagasaki. A few days later the Japanese would finally surrender. In fact, Johnny was in the air a few miles north of Nagasaki flying a completely unrelated mission when the atomic bomb was dropped. He had never seen anything like the mushroom cloud of smoke which billowed over the decimated city.

Johnny would eventually make it home alive and relatively unscathed, having earned the respect of his fellow soldiers in the air force and of his commanding officer, Colonel Randal Holthouse. This was especially rewarding since he had spent the first few months of service trying to ignore snide comments about his religion. He was scorned because he was a Jew. Many of his fellow officers felt that America was fighting a “Jewish war” and saw no reason to risk their lives just to save a few Jews.

But even those who were more sympathetic to the cause, and understood the political ramifications of defeating Hitler and Mussolini, could not hide their disappointment when one of their own would die. The announcement would come crackling over the intercom that someone from the unit had not returned from his mission and was either presumed dead or missing. The pain of losing friends, men who had flown together with you on dangerous missions and who no doubt had saved your life on occasion in some “dogfight,” was intense, and each time another man was lost, that anguish was felt again.

Johnny was respectful to all the officers and avoided confrontations, but one unpleasant exchange changed everything. He had entered into the officers’ mess hall where the men were enjoying a little rest and relaxation after a particularly difficult and costly mission. As Johnny walked in, one of the officers eyed him with contempt. It was not the first time the two had run into each other and Johnny was well aware of the disdain this man felt for Jews. This time the anti-Semitic officer had had one too many drinks and could no longer control himself. “Hey, Weissman, a real shame that Hitler didn’t finish the job against the Jews yet!”

The words cut through Johnny like a searing knife. He turned toward the drunken officer and probably would have hit him had he not been held back by some of the other men. The man hurled all sorts of insults, but Johnny was too smart to respond. Instead he decided that he would talk it over with his commanding officer; perhaps there could be some sort of warning or restraining order issued to prevent behavior like this. He even detailed the complaint on the chance that they would need the particulars to issue any disciplinary action.

The commanding officer, a colonel, was a fatherly figure whose face wore his wrinkles well. His lapel was studded with all types of colorful badges, awards he had received for his bravery and performance in war. He was well known and respected by them as well as by those in other units. A veteran of World War I, he had seen enough bloodshed in his time to know better than to have his own men fighting and bickering. He knew that a quick resolution was necessary so as not to cause any more friction between them.

He listened carefully to Johnny’s complaints and the request to have disciplinary action taken. But while he denied any such requests he did offer Johnny some very useful advice. “Weissman, if you really want to take revenge, then stand up for what you believe in, but channel your anger into positive action for your country and your fellow man.”

After mulling over this suggestion for a few moments, Johnny decided to act on it. He thought back to his school days and tried to remember the most heroic Jewish figure about whom he had been taught. The one who came to mind was King David. Johnny imagined himself and the rest of the Jewish people as David, being persecuted by Hitler, the Goliath. He asked the colonel if there was someone on the ship who knew how to paint. There was! “Then, sir,” Johnny asked, “permission requested for a picture of David with a little slingshot to be painted on my fighter plane.” The colonel looked at Johnny and could not help but suppress a smile.

The next day Johnny’s plane sported a picture of a young lad shooting a slingshot, and above it a Star of David. Wearing a helmet similarly adorned, Johnny flew the very next day. Armed with new confidence, knowing he was protected by G-d, he felt invincible in the air, as he was now carrying the entire Jewish people in his heart. He couldn’t allow himself to be shot down and give the enemies and adversaries of the Almighty and His people satisfaction. He continued to fly, and although many others were killed in battle, much to the chagrin of some of his foes, he continued to survive. Little did he know that he had a lot of help ― and after the war he would discover the secret of his success.

When the war ended Johnny married a nice Jewish girl. One summer, they went to a beach resort for a vacation. As they were walking on the boardwalk, his wife motioned to him that a man was staring at him. He approached the man whose eyes lingered as if he clearly recognized Johnny. “Are you Johnny Weissman, the Jewish guy who served in Okinawa?”

Johnny was shocked. How in the world did this fellow know who he was?

The man was anxious to relay a story. “I want you to know something. You might have wondered what it was that saved you. How was it that so many men in your unit never made it back from their missions and died over the Pacific, but you got home safely? Want to know why? I’ll tell you.”

This stranger had struck a sensitive chord; Johnny had indeed always wondered why he had survived while so many of his comrades had not. How odd that he would find out why standing here on the boardwalk, thousands of miles from Okinawa.

“I was one of a handful of Jewish soldiers on the ship,” the man continued. “We never really wanted to divulge our identity. We knew that many of the officers were not very fond of Jewish soldiers. But once you painted that picture on your plane, we would gather together as you took off. We would then all whisper a silent prayer to G-d, a prayer that you should come back safely from your mission and be able to fly again.”

Johnny listened in stunned silence. Now he knew. It had nothing to do with his flying skills or his ability to maneuver his fighter plane.

Rather, he was alive because of a small group of Jewish men and a little whisper of a prayer.

A Ukrainian Family Tradition

[The story is true; only the name has been changed:]

Leibel Schwartz of Monsey, New York is proud of his lineage ― a tenth generation descendant of the holy Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), founder of the chassidic movement. Leibel had always appreciated the great tzaddik’s role in shaping Jewish life today, but after Leibel’s trip to Eastern Europe, his appreciation multiplied tenfold.

Leibel joined a group of Jews who were traveling to Poland, Romania and the Ukraine to visit the gravesites of holy sages and Torah communities from past generations.

Since Leibel had a few additional sites on his itinerary, he hired a private driver to transport him across the Polish-Ukrainian border…

The steady motion of the car, coupled with the early morning start, did not make Leibel a very alert passenger. But when a police officer flagged down the car from the side of the road, Leibel was startled into wakefulness.

The officer peered in through the passenger-side window. “You’re not wearing your seat belt, sir!” he accused Leibel.

He can’t find anything else wrong, Leibel thought to himself, so he picks on this trivial misdemeanor.

But Leibel didn’t express his thoughts. Instead, he obeyed without complaint when the officer ordered him out of the car and into the building that stood at the side of the road. The building was obviously not a police station, more like a home, but Leibel, a visitor in a foreign country, thought nothing of it.

The officer sat Leibel down at a table and began firing questions at him. “Where are you from?” he demanded.

“I’m from New York, America,” Leibel answered, unfazed.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to visit the graves of the sages.”

“Where are you heading?”

“I am going to Vishnitz.”

Leibel answered question after question about his origin, his family in America, and his business.

Suddenly, the officer pulled his gun out of its holster and laid it on the table in front of him. Leibel looked at the officer, surprised, but continued to respond coolly.

The officer became fed up with the calm behavior of the man in his custody. He picked up the gun and pointed it directly at Leibel’s forehead. Now Leibel was shaking. This was no policeman! This man was a crook!

“You want money?” Leibel offered, his voice trembling in fear.

“Now you’re beginning to understand,” the impostor said menacingly.

The tears were running down Leibel’s cheeks as he withdrew several thousand dollars from his wallet. “Take it. I don’t want to die. I have twelve beautiful children at home.”

But the man held the gun steady, still aimed at Leibel’s forehead. “I can’t let you go now. You’ll go straight to the police!”

“I won’t go to the police!” Leibel pleaded. “I have no idea who you are. You have nothing to fear!”

The thief was unmoved. He tightened his grip on the gun.

Leibel was terrified. How could he appease this man? “Listen, in my car I have two gold Rolex watches. They’re worth over 40,000 dollars apiece. Take them! Just let me go!”

The thief relaxed a bit. With his free arm, he motioned toward the door. “Go outside and get them.”

Without a word to the driver, who had been waiting patiently all this time, a trembling Leibel retrieved the watches from his valise and returned directly to the house.

“Here.” Leibel thrust the valuable merchandise at his oppressor. The thief examined them carefully, finally nodding his approval. “You see you can trust me. Now please let me go!”

“After you’ve given me such expensive goods, you’ll surely go to the police,” the evil man snarled.

“Please! I won’t turn you in. Send a car to follow me. Just let me live!”

Leibel had said all that he could to the man. This was surely his last day in this world.

The man abruptly stood up and walked out of the room. Leibel seized the opportunity to recite viduy, [the traditional prayer a Jew says before he dies].

The man came back into the room and watched Leibel for a moment. “Where are you going from here?” he barked.

“To Medzeboz.”

“But you told me before you were going to Vishnitz!” the thief accused him.

“I was, but you’ve held me up. I don’t have time to go to Vishnitz. Now I would go directly to Medzeboz to visit the grave of my grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov.” As the words left Leibel’s mouth, he wondered why he had bothered mentioning it.

The man gave a short laugh. “How can he be your grandfather? He died hundreds of years ago!”

Leibel was taken aback. How did this lawless man know who the Baal Shem Tov was?

“I mean to say that he’s my great-great-great-great-grandfather. I’m a tenth-generation descendant.”

“Are you really?” The man eyed him suspiciously.

Leibel nodded.

Then the unbelievable happened. Lowering his gaze, the man returned the gun to his holster and picked up the stolen money and merchandise from the table. “We have a family tradition never to disturb a descendant of the Sage of Medzeboz. Here is your money. Take it and go.”

Leibel did not waste a second. Grabbing the money and the watches, he ran outside and jumped back into the car.

“What happened?” the driver asked.

“It’s a long story,” Leibel gasped. “Just drive. Let’s get out of here as fast as we can!”

Leibel finally calmed down, giving thanks to God for his miraculous rescue. His harrowing escape from the hands of the cruel thief was clear testimony to how the merit of the Baal Shem Tov still protects even in this generation. (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Savo 5770

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

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