Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah-Vizos Habracha-Bereishis 5771

שבת טעם החיים שמיני עצרת-שמחת תורה-וזאת הברכה-בראשית תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah-Vizos Habracha-Bereishis 5771

Simchas Torah and the Waters of Bereishis


והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום ורוח אלקים מרחפת על פני המים, when the earth was astonishingly empty, wit darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters. (Bereishis 1:2)

This week we celebrate two festivals, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, and we read two parshiyos in two days, Vizos Habracha and Bereishis. What is the association between these holidays and these Torah readings? Prior to answering that question, we need to understand why specifically following Sukkos we begin anew the reading of the Torah from Bereishis. It would seem that the correct time to commence the reading of the Torah from Bereishis would have been following the holiday of Shavuos, when we celebrate the receiving of the Torah. Why do we wait until Simchas Torah when we rejoice in the Torah and why do we rejoice for the Torah at the end of Sukkos?

Tashlich is to return to our Source

Tonight I had the merit to open a Sefer and read something about Tashlich, which is performed on Rosh HaShanah. However, here in Oak Park, Michigan, we are hard pressed to locate a fresh source of water within walking distance, so most of us wait until after Rosh HaShanah to perform Tashlich. The Halachic authorities rule that one can recite Tashlich until Hoshanah Rabbah, which is tonight. Thus, it is appropriate that I was reading this idea about Tashlich tonight. Divine Providence allowed for me to gain this insight now and this insight will shed light on Shemini Atzeres, Simchas Torah and the reading of Vizos Habracha immediately followed by the reading of Bereishis. The Sefer Olam Hamachshavah (Toras Hachasidus) writes that the reason we recite Tashlich by the water is because man was created upright, and his sins transform him from his true nature. When one repents from his sins, he returns to his source of purity. The original source of the world is water, as it is said (Bereishis 1:2) viruach Elokim mirachefes al pinei hamayim, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters [This idea will be explained shortly]. It follows, therefore, that one should return to the water, i.e. by performing Tashlich. One who merits can actually feel the “Divine Presence hovering upon the surface of the waters,” and he can draw from there a spirit of holiness and purity.

The beginning and the end of the Torah are lessons in Repentance

Let us understand this concept further. Rashi in the beginning of Bereishis writes that the word Bereishis does not mean in the beginning. The reason the word Bereishis cannot mean beginning is because this would imply that HaShem first created the heavens and the earth. Yet, the Torah explicitly states that the Divine Presence was hovering upon the surface of the waters. This indicates that the water was created first. The last verse in the Torah states (Devarim 34:12) ulichol hayad hachazakah ulichol hamora hagadol asher asah Moshe lieinei kol Yisroel¸ and by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel. Rashi writes that the words lieinei kol Yisroel refer to the incident where the Jewish People had worshipped the Golden Calf and Moshe descended from the Mountain and broke the Luchos, the two tablets, before their eyes. The Medrash (Rashi Shemos 34:1 citing Tanchumah §30) states that Moshe did this so the Jewish People should be judged like an unmarried woman who betrays her fiancé, and not like a married woman who is disloyal to her husband. By breaking the Luchos, Moshe was demonstrating that the Jewish People had not entered into a proper marriage with HaShem, and they could hope to return to HaShem’s good graces. This idea is juxtaposed to the creation of the world in Bereishis, where one of the first creations was water, which symbolizes purity.  Thus, a  Jew is taught at the beginning of the Torah and at the end of the Torah that HaShem always seeks out the repentance of the sinner.

On Sukkos we are judged on water, the original source

We can now understand why we celebrate Simchas Torah at this time of the year. While we received the Torah on Shavuos, we rejoice in the Torah after Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. The High Holidays are about HaShem accepting our repentance and allowing us to return to our original state of purity. Sukkos, the Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 16a) tells us, is when we are judged on the water. In its simple sense this means that we are judged now regarding our water supply for the upcoming year. On a deeper level, however, this means that HaShem scrutinizes our actions to see if we are still maintaining the level of holiness and purity that we achieved on Roah HaShanah and Yom Kippur.

Water itself reflects the idea of Repentance

It is noteworthy that in Psalm 92 Dovid HaMelech writes Mizmor shir liyom HaShabbos, a psalm, a song for the Shabbos day. The Medrash (Medrash Shochar Tov Ibid) states that this verse refers to the repentance of Adam HaRishon. In the next psalm, 93, Dovid HaMelech writes about the rivers and the roars of many waters. Perhaps the waters allude to repentance, as one who repents is returning to his source. Furthermore, the Medrash (See Rashi Vayikra 2:13, based on Medrash Aseres Hadibros §1) states that when HaShem separated the waters of the world, the lower waters cried that they also wished to be close to HaShem. The waters were rewarded that they would be used for the  salt of the sacrifices on the Mizbeiach and for the Nisuch Hamayim, the water libations on Sukkos. Thus, we see how even the waters themselves were promised that they would be able to return to HaShem, similar to the one who repents from his sins.

The Shabbos connection

Psalm 92 is where Dovid HaMelech refers to Shabbos and Shabbos is associated with repentance. We are now at the beginning of the year, in what is commonly referred to as Shabbos Bereishis. The literal meaning of this appellation is that we begin reading from Bereishis, the first parasha in the Torah. On a deeper level, however, Shabbos Bereishis is a time to reflect on the creation of the water and how our repentance returns us to our pristine state.

Sukkos Stories

Stories of HaGaon Rav Eliezer Menachem Shach zt”l

Rav Shach zt”l once asked a Rosh Yeshiva a few weeks before the zeman what he was giving his shiur on. “Pesachim,” the Rosh Yeshiva replied.

Rabbi Shach asked if he had started preparing the shiurim.

“Not yet,” the Rosh Yeshiva said, to which Rabbi Shach reacted in utter shock.

“Not started yet?” he exclaimed. “Before I give shiur in Pesachim, I eat Pesachim, I drink Pesachim, I sleep Pesachim! PESACHIM! PESACHIM! PESACHIM!”


Witnesses testify that only a short while after Rabbi Shach would retire for sleep and turn off the lights for the night, he would turn them back on and jump out of bed to look into a sefer. This went on throughout the night.

His wife had once removed the fuses, to insure that he sleep properly. Rabbi Shach was later found studying by the small red light of the water heater.

Every minute of learning was precious. Rabbi Shach had a chavrusa, Rabbi Dovid Zimmerman, who learned with him every morning until Mincha, at 1 p.m. Once the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Elya Svei, came to consult Rabbi Shach on a certain matter. The discussion lasted until 12:45 p.m.

As soon as Rabbi Svei left, Rabbi Shach asked, “Where is Zimmerman?”

Reb Dovid rushed back into the house in wonder: “There are only a few minutes left to Mincha. Is the Rosh Yeshiva certain he wants to sit down and learn?”

Rabbi Shach was emphatic. “A few minutes’ learning is eternity,” he declared.


Once, during a meeting of Europe’s Gedolei Torah and Chassidus, he burst into the room and walked right up to Reb Chaim Ozer and declared with joy, “About the kasha (difficulty) you brought up yesterday, there is a simple answer.”

One of the Admorim (Chassidic rabbis) chastised the impetuous intruder, “Young man, a little derech eretz!”

Realizing what he had done, Rabbi Shach asked everyone for forgiveness, and quickly exited the room.

The Admor of Karlin, who had watched the exchange, asked, “Who was that young man?”

Reb Chaim Ozer answered, “His name is Elazar Menachem Man Shach. To him, relating a teretz was a matter of utmost urgency.”

The Admor of Karlin declared, “I need a Rosh Yeshiva like that!” And so with the guidance of Reb Chaim Ozer, Rabbi Shach became the Karlin Rosh Yeshiva in Luninyetz, White Russia.


Once the Brisker Rav was saying a shiur. He posed a difficult kasha and attempted to find a solution. Rabbi Shach walked into the room. The Rav’s eyes immediately lit up, and he then delivered a brilliant answer. When Rabbi Shach left, the bachurim asked their Rebbe why he didn’t tell them the answer before Rabbi Shach’s entry. The Brisker Rav responded that the teretz was Reb Lazer’s. They looked on in astonishment, as he said, “I want you to know that the kasha is Reb Lazer’s, the teretz is Reb Lazer’s; it is all Reb Lazer’s! When I learn through a sugya, there are times that I think that I have no solution to a difficult question. But then I think how much enjoyment Reb Lazer will have when I am able to offer peshat. So I work harder and harder, until I solve the problem. It’s all Reb Lazer’s.”


Rabbi Shach’s reverence and love for Gedolei Yisroel were legend. His relationship with my Zayde, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, zt”l, was warm and mutual.

In the early 1980s, Reb Yaakov suffered an angina attack and his doctor strongly recommended that he undergo an angiogram, a difficult and sometimes dangerous procedure for a man of his advanced age. My brother Reb Zvi, then a talmid in Ponevezh, resolved to approach the Rosh Yeshiva with a request to pray for Reb Yaakov’s welfare. My brother knew he had to present Rabbi Shach with the names of his grandfather, Yaakov, and of Reb Yaakov’s mother, but he had no clue to her name. Reb Yaakov was over 90 years old at the time and in excellent health. Reb Zvi could not recall a time where he had mentioned our grandfather’s name in the MiShebeirach for the sick, so he searched Binei Brak for people who would know the name of Reb Yaakov’s mother. Finally, a cousin told him that her name was Etka. Armed with the information and an update on my grandfather’s condition, he approached Rabbi Shach.

When he inquired about the welfare of our grandfather, my brother turned white. “That is exactly why I came,” he stammered. Immediately Rabbi Shach’s face filled with consternation. My brother continued, “You see, my grandfather was not feeling well and must undergo a procedure. I came to inform the….” Rabbi Shach jumped up from his chair and exclaimed. “We must be mispallel for Reb Yaakov ben Etka!”

My brother could not contain himself. “Rebbe,” he began meekly. “The last twelve hours I have been trying to find out my great-grandmother’s name. Now I see that the Rosh Yeshiva knows her name. How is that?”

Rabbi Shach explained. “Years ago, your grandfather visited Eretz Yisroel. After meeting him, I asked him for his mother’s name. I could not imagine the Jewish world without a healthy Reb Yaakov, and there is not a single day that goes by that I do not say a special prayer for his well-being!”


One of the more famous stories of reverence for Rabbi Shach surpasses issues of simple advice.

During the Gulf War, some talmidim approached Rabbi Shach to ask whether they should adhere to the directives of the government and use gas masks in Binei Brak. Rabbi Shach thought for a moment, and said that it would be the right thing to do.

Later, they met Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky who said that he felt it was not necessary. When told that his opinion seemed to contradict that of Rabbi Shach, Reb Chaim smiled. “I know something that Rabbi Shach does not know. I know that we have the zechus of Reb Lazer Shach here in Binei Brak. I am sure that as long as he is here, nothing will happen to our city!”


A European Jew who had acquired unusual wealth and had been an exceptionally generous baal Tzedakah, suffered tremendous losses toward the end of his life, and became depressed. The man, who hailed from a Chassidic background, was respectful of all Gedolei Torah, and so his children took him to see Rabbi Shach for chizuk.

The man began to tell his life story. In the course of the conversation, the man told Rabbi Shach that his family were Chassidim of a particular Rebbistive.

“Oy!” cried Rabbi Shach. “That Chassidus has a beautiful niggun that I’ve always admired!”

He named the tune and implored the man to sing it with him. Rabbi Shach asked the children to join in, and together they all began to sing. A few moments later, Rabbi Shach stood up and exclaimed again: “This niggun is not done justice with just singing! It needs a rekida (dance),” and together – the 90-year-old man and his European guests – danced around the rickety table in Rabbi Shach’s tiny home. They continued to do so until a huge smile broke out across the poor visitor’s face. He allowed the realization to sink in that his travails were only a fleeting moment in this temporal world. (

Kayin Felt He Lost the First Competition in the History of Mankind

Rabbi Yissachar Frand says: In the story of Kayin and Hevel, Hashem accepted the offering brought by Hevel the Shepherd, but rejected the offering brought by Kayin the farmer. The Torah says that Kayin was very bothered by this and his expression showed his discontentment. At this point, Hashem speaks to Kayin and asks: “Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen?” [Bereishis 4:6]

Should it not have been obvious why Kayin was annoyed and why his face showed disappointment? After all, his offering was rejected! No one likes to be rejected, especially not by the Almighty!

We can obtain insight into this question from the following true story:

Someone came into the Beis Din [Court] of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. The person was a shochet who had slaughtered an animal and had a question as to whether the animal was kosher or not. The judge examined the animal and ruled ‘Treife!’ (not Kosher!) In those days, it was not like today where arrangements are made with non-Kosher meat producers to accept the animals that are not fit for the Kosher trade. In those days, hearing that an animal one just slaughtered was ‘treife’ was a real financial setback. But, the shochet took the news stoically. He walked out of the Court without uttering a peep.

Several months later, the same Jew had a ‘Din Torah’ [monetary dispute] with another person. The dispute was over a non-substantial amount of money. Certainly, the sum involved was far less than the loss he sustained when the Court ruled that his animal was ‘treife’. The judge listened to the arguments of both parties and again he ruled against this same person. The shochet heard the ruling and he ‘lost it’. He began cursing the judge. He began cursing Rav Chaim. He became abusive and stormed out of the Court.

Those observers who remembered that several months earlier this person had lost a much greater amount without reacting in the slightest, could not figure out why he was so upset on this occasion. Rav Chaim explained the difference to them: “It was not the amount of money that upset him, it was the fact that now he lost and someone else won.” In the previous case, it was not him against the cow. It was a ritual ‘shaylah’ –- is the cow kosher or treife? There was no ‘winner’ vs. ‘loser’ in that ‘shaylah’. However, in the second case, Rav Chaim said, there was a winner and a loser. The fact that the other fellow won is what bothered him. That is what he could not accept.

This, Rav Chaim went on, explains the nature of G-d’s question to Kayin: “Kayin, your offering was rejected and Hevel’s offering was accepted. But, G-d asked him, ‘Why has your countenance fallen?’ Are you angry that your offering was rejected? Or, are you angry because your offering was rejected while your brother’s offering was accepted?”

“If you are upset because I have not accepted your offering, you indeed have something to be upset about. But if what is bothering you is that ‘Hevel won’ –- the first game in the history of mankind — that is a very inappropriate reaction.”

This is what Rav Chaim told the Beis Din. It was not the money. It was the fact that there was a winner and a loser and people cannot stand to lose. (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah-Vizos Habracha-Bereishis 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos, and a Good Yom Tov

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

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