Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev 5771

שבת טעם החיים וישב תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev 5771

Tranquility in this world?


וישב יעקב בארץ מגורי אביו בארץ כנען, Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan. (Bereishis 37:1)

In this week’s parasha we find the first time that Yaakov seeks to live in tranquility. It is said (Bereishis) vayeishev Yaakov bieretz migurei aviv bieretz Canaan, Yaakov settled in the land of his father’s sojourning, in the land of Canaan. Rash cites the Medrash that states: Yaakov desired to dwell in tranquility and he was confronted with the incident of Yosef. HaShem says, “It is not sufficient the reward that I have designated for the righteous in the World to Come and they still seek to be at peace in this world?” From this point on we find that Yaakov is hoping for peace, which includes the safety and welfare of his children. What is the lesson in this elusive pursuit of peace that Yaakov engaged in?

Yaakov underwent many hardships in his lifetime

Let us examine Yaakov’s earlier life and then we can begin to understand why he was so focused on attaining tranquility. Even before Yaakov was born he was affected by Esav and his nefarious ways. When Rivka would pass by a house of idolatry, Esav sought to escape. The Medrash tells us that after Esav was born he destroyed his mother’s womb. After realizing that Yaakov had received the blessings from Yitzchak, Esav desired to kill Yaakov. Yaakov ran away from Esav, and Esav sent his son Elifaz to kill Yaakov. Upon his arrival in Charan, Yaakov’s uncle Lavan deceived him by offering Leah to Yaakov as a wife despite Yaakov’s preference for Rachel. Lavan then attempted to trick Yaakov out of his rightfully earned wages, and HaShem saved Yaakov from Lavan’s treachery. When Yaakov arrived in the city of Shechem, his daughter Dinah was kidnapped and raped by Shechem. Shimon and Levi then annihilated the city of Shechem, placing Yaakov and his family in danger from the surrounding inhabitants. Shortly afterwards Rachel died in childbirth. We see that Yaakov underwent much suffering in his life and it would appear that his request to live from now on in tranquility would be justified. Yet, HaShem felt that Yaakov must undergo one more trail with his son Yosef, and in Yaakov’s words, this was the worst trial of all. After selling Yosef to the Egyptians, Yosef’s brothers sent Yaakov Yosef’s coat dipped in blood. It is said (Ibid 37:33) vayakira vayomer kesones bini chaya raah achalashu tarof toraf Yosef, he recognized it and he said, “My son’s tunic! A savage beats devoured him! Yosef has surely been torn to bits!” His children attempted to comfort him, but Yaakov refused to comfort himself, and he declared (Ibid verse 35) ki airaid el bini aveil shiolah, “for I will go down to the grave mourning for my son.” Rashi writes that Yaakov alluded to being punished in Gehinnom, as he had a sign from HaShem that if he died before his children died, he would not see Gehinnom. Thus, Yosef’s apparent death was the worst catastrophe that occurred to Yaakov. It is therefore not surprising that after all the suffering he had undergone, Yaakov was hoping that he could attain peace. Why did Hashem not allow Yaakov to attain peace and why was it necessary for Yaakov to be afflicted with Yosef’s kidnapping?

Torah scholars do not have rest in this world or in the next world

Let us define tranquility so that we can understand Yaakov’s quest. Normally when people hear the words peace of mind and tranquility they conjure up images of relaxation, sandy beaches, hotel getaways and other world pleasures. Is it possible to suppose that Yaakov, the choice of the Patriarchs, wished to kick back and enjoy his retirement? This certainly could not have been what Yaakov was seeking. Rather, the Gemara (Brachos 64a) states that Torah scholars do not have rest in this world or in the next world. How is it possible that after all the efforts of a Torah scholar in this world to study HaShem’s Torah diligently that he is deprived of resting in the next world? Can the Gemara mean that he must continue working in the next world, which is described as a day of eternal rest?

Sleep and the Next World are the means to attain tranquility

The Sfas Emes writes that Yaakov is in the category of Shabbos, but Yosef is also in the category of Shabbos. Hashem conducts His world through natural means and our mission is to reveal HaShem’s glory through the work of the week. Yaakov desired that he dwell in tranquility in this world, but Hashem determined that Yaakov had to undergo the trial with Yosef in order to merit that peace. We can draw a parallel to this idea from the Gemara we mentioned earlier regarding the fact that the Torah scholars have no rest in this world or in the next world. The explanation of this Gemar is that a Torah scholar always seeks to attain higher levels in his service of HaShem. Nonetheless, in this world one is limited in the level he can reach and he can only attain a higher level in the next world. Reb Tzadok HaKohen from Lublin writes that this is the meaning of the Medrash that states that the Jewish People slept the night before receiving the Torah. The Jewish People could only properly receive the Torah through sleep. Similarly, the Torah scholar can only reach a higher level of service to HaShem after death, in the next world. Yaakov also was required to experience Gehinnom in this world so that he could attain tranquility. Yosef’s kidnapping was in the category of Tosefes Shabbos, adding on to Shabbos, as Yaakov symbolizes Shabbos and Yosef symbolizes Tosefes Shabbos.

The Chanukah Miracle is based on transcending the natural order

Next week we celebrate Chanukah, and the Pinei Yehoshua writes that the miracle of finding one pure flask of olive oil was really unnecessary as we have a rule that tumah hutrah bitzibur, spiritual defilement is not an obstacle regarding communal maters. Thus, the Chashmonaim could have lit the Menorah with oil that had contracted tumah. Nonetheless, writes the Pinei Yehoshua, HaShem allowed the Chashmonaim to find pure oil because they had transcended the natural order and they sacrificed their lives to defeat the Greeks and their seductive ideology. Similar to Yaakov seeking tranquility in this world and attaining that tranquility through the trial with Yosef, the Chashmonaim were only able to attain tranquility by sacrificing their very lives for HaShem and His Torah. It is noteworthy that the word for tranquility is shalvah¸ and contained in this word are the letters lamed and vav, which equal 36 in gematria. This alludes to the throaty six candles that we light on Chanukah. The remaining letters are shin and hey and in mispar katan, digit sum, they equal 8, alluding to the 8 days that we celebrate Chanukah.

The Shabbos connection

The Halacha is that if one only has sufficient oil to light one candle, he must light a candle for Shabbos and not light a Chanukah candle. The reason for this ruling is because the Shabbos candles represent shalom bayis, domestic harmony. We see from this how important it is for one have to tranquility in his life. In the merit of Yaakov and Yosef Hashem should grant us tranquility in our lives, and we should merit the day that will be completely Shabbos and a rest day for eternal life.

Shabbos Stories

Tranquility Base

The world renowned Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir (HaKohen) Kagan (1838-1933), had a rebbe who was not nearly well known as he was. His rebbe was a saintly man from the town of Horodna, Lithuania, named Rabbi Nachum Kaplan (1812-1879). Those who knew him referred to him lovingly as Reb Nachum’ke. The Chafetz Chaim made it a point to observe carefully Reb Nachum’ke’s every action and deed, for he knew that anything that Reb Nachum’ke ever did was done with forethought and good reason.

It happened one night during Chanukah that the Chafetz Chaim was in the home of Reb Nachum’ke. The time for lighting Chanukah candles came and the Chafetz Chaim waited for his rebbe to recite the blessings and light the candles, but Reb Nachum’ke let the time pass and made no move to light the menorah. The Chafetz Chaim was a bit surprised that his rebbe would let the time slip by — but he didn’t dare say anything.

More time elapsed, and still Reb Nachum’ke went about his regular routine without saying anything about the lighting of the Chanukah candles. An hour went by and then another hour, still the menorah was not lit. The Chafetz Chaim simply could not understand his rebbe’s inaction and apparent inattentiveness to this mitzvah.

Finally, deep into the night, there was a knock at the door. The Chafetz Chaim ran and opened it; it was Reb Nachum’ke’s wife. Almost immediately after she came in, Reb Nachum’ke began his introductory prayers, recited the appropriate blessings and then lit the Chanukah menorah.

The Chafetz Chaim felt that there had to be a lesson here and so once the flames were flickering, he respectfully asked his rebbe to explain to him why he had let so much time elapse before finally lighting his menorah. Reb Nachum’ke explained patiently to his beloved student. “The Talmud (Shabbos 23b) poses a question: What is the law if a man has money to use for only one candle on the Friday night of Chanukah? Should he spend it on a Shabbos candle and fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Shabbos candles? Or rather spend the money on a candle for his Chanukah menorah and thereby fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah candle-lighting?”

Reb Nachum’ke continued. “The Talmud states unequivocally that one is obligated to spend the money for a Shabbos candle, the reason being that the Shabbos candle, aside from the mitzvah involved, adds to shalom bayis (peace and tranquility of the home). Thus a candle that fosters shalom bayis takes precedence even over the mitzvah of lighting a Chanukah candle.” (See also Codes of Jewish Law – OC 678:1)

“I have no doubt,” continued Reb Nachum’ke, “that had my wife come home and realized that I did not wait for her with the Chanukah candles, she would unquestionably have been distraught. There would have been tension, and perhaps even anger on her part that I didn’t show her the courtesy to wait until she returned. Thus I delayed and delayed until she came home.”

“You see,” added R’ Nachum’ke, “the Talmud itself used Chanukah candles as a focal point to emphasize the importance of marital harmony. Should I then have taken these same Chanukah candles and through them caused a lack of shalom bayis? I had no choice but to let the ideal time for candle lighting pass, and wait until later to kindle them at a time that was still consistent with Jewish law.

When Rabbi Sholom Schwadron retells this story he adds an interesting insight. “Shalom bayis in this instance also meant that Reb Nachum’ke didn’t complain to his wife — when she finally arrived — that her lateness had caused him to wait so long to perform a mitzvah. He understood that to complain would have fostered ill will as well and minimized shalom bayis.”

Chanukah: Light in the Darkness

It was evident that within Reb Yitzchak’l there was an inner illumination, a burning flame of indomitable faith, that not all the hells of the Holocaust would quench, either in Skarszysko or afterward in Schlieben — not as long as he lived. And from the glow of his faith came a radiance that he could bestow on the men among whom he lived. In his actions, in his alertness and alacrity to keep the mitzvahs of the Torah, in his readiness to hallow the Divine name before all and everyone, there was always an extraordinary inner strength, a steady, steeled, open defiance of the tyrants who wanted to trample into the ground not only the body but also the spirit of the Jew — not only the specifically moral strength of the Jew but even his resoluteness, his capacity for stubborn determination.

In everything the Rebbe did in those sorely difficult days, he went clearly in direct opposition to the satanic wishes and intentions of the Nazis. It was a battle he fought against them and their edicts — a private battle — a war of holiness that he waged with absolute persistence and unflagging consistency. And every action he took, he did as something simply self-evident:

What was there to wonder at if a Jew like him put on Tefillin (phylacteries) every day in a concentration camp; if he prayed; if he spared neither effort nor energy to keep both the regular, daily mitzvahs and the special ones that had to be observed at certain set times of the year? Why should it be a source of amazement if a man like him, or other devout, believing Jews, felt a powerful longing to pray together on Rosh Hashanah and hear the sound of the shofar; if their spirit yearned to keep the mitzvah of Sukkah when the festival of Sukkos came? Why should anyone be surprised if he saw to it that Chanukah candles were lit at the proper time, or that matzahs were baked for Pesach–and so on? In all this, was there unusual, extraordinary bravery?

It was clear that Reb Yitzchak’l did not think so.

Being with him in Skarszysko the whole time, his two daughters once asked him: His “bizarre” actions in observance of his faith were no longer private matters, carried out discreetly, away from the eyes of the hostile strangers who ruled their lives. By now they were common knowledge. Was it not possible that he was thus incurring danger for himself? Were his bold actions of faith not likely to bring down upon him, one day, some sudden calamity?

Quietly, calmly, he answered them in perfect candor: “I know what mortal danger is all about. I know that where it will imperil a person’s life, the Torah forbids him to keep any of the mitzvahs, except for a very few. But I am also aware of the limits. I know how far I can go. Don’t worry: I won’t put myself in danger, and I won’t endanger others.”

And at the same time this tzaddik (righteous man) of Radoshitz wanted no one in the camp to see him as a superior figure, living on some special higher plane above all the others, and certainly not a leader seeking to impose his will or his authority on others. In that location, at that time, under those conditions, any such relationship to the other inmates was unthinkable.

It was an attitude that he put into words: Every Jew in the camp, he used to say, was suffering only, solely, because he was a Jew, because he was a member of the people of God. And this fact alone, by itself, was enough to make them equal in the sight of the Creator. It was no small matter — he would explain to the people close to him, who clung to him — to suffer, to be afflicted and tormented for being a Jew. And he would talk in the same vein to people who lacked the physical and spiritual stamina to withstand the trials and ordeals, and gave way on matters of Jewish faith and law.

They were all brothers now, he would say, sharing a common misfortune. And therefore they all had a duty to help one another. Everyone had to do what he could for his neighbor, so that he should not break down. And he would talk of this with his daughters as well, telling them that a relationship of mutuality among Jews, a sincere readiness to bond together and share help, was something of a unique characteristic of this people, and it was an important way of refusing to surrender to the ambition of the Germans to shatter the bonds of unity among their suffering captives, their sense of responsibility and care for one another.

People who were with him and survived the Holocaust could never forget how he spoke to them in this vein. They were to remember always the beacon of light that his words were in the infernal darkness — light which radiated outward from the profound faith that illuminated his being.

Thus, as he lived his life among them, he was able to drive off some of the shadows of hell that ever surged around them.


The winter was at its height in Skarszysko when Chanukah came. Nothing had been planned, nothing said or discussed. Of themselves people came into the Rebbe’s barrack, one after another, and went to his corner. Each one knew why he and the others had come: They wanted to be there when the Rebbe lit the first Chanukah candle.

The scene was the same as at all the other occasions when they gathered there: People stood grouped near his wooden pallet, near the poor, meager bed on which he sat, and they waited. Silence reigned. A bit further off, on the other side of the bed, stood his two daughters.

How well the two remembered the joy that had filled their home in Piotrkov when their father used to light the first Chanukah candle in his study, as devoted followers surrounded him on all sides. Back went their minds into the past, on a track of clear memory. They saw the house again, suffused with light, suffused with happiness. All had been in such a heightened, happy mood there. Just as the two were standing here, watching and waiting, so there they had stood in a corner near the door, at the end of the room, never taking their eyes off their father’s shining face as he made his steady, careful preparations for the candle-lighting — preparations which had always seemed to go on and on, while he seemed so altogether out of this world, divested of physical, earthly existence, wholly unaware of his surroundings.

Suddenly their father’s voice pulled them out of the past with a wrench. The sounds rose from his comer, through the people crowded together there to watch, as he chanted the benedictions.

First he declared the Almighty blessed for hallowing His people with His mitzvahs, commanding them “to kindle the light of Chanukah.” Then came the blessing to the Almighty “who wrought miracles for our forefathers in those days [of old] at this time [of the year].” A snowstorm was raging outside. The gale almost shook the barrack on its foundations. People watching held their breath, intent on fulfilling their obligation to light Chanukah candles through the agency of the Rebbe–till a groan escaped somewhere, opening the way for another and yet another, out of Jewish hearts under unremitting Nazi duress.

Now came the third benediction, declaring the Almighty blessed “that He has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time.” The little flame flickered as the Rebbe lit the candle, and took to swaying here and there, swooping down, quivering, writhing, till it began to give a fairly steady light. He sat down on his pallet, and all leaned forward and closed their eyes to concentrate and pay attention.

His words of Torah were linked to the miracle of Chanukah. In that phenomenon of Jewish history the Rebbe found a clear message that the enemies of the Jews would never be able to put out the light of God which has accompanied this people in all times, through all the generations: For the Divine Presence, went into exile with its human children, and would stay with them through thick and thin, through good and evil, until the final redemption.

From time to time someone cast a glance at the door of the barrack, that was not locked. Somewhere in the heart loomed the fear that an unwelcome guest might suddenly thrust in his nose–a German, or a Jewish security man. Of such a problem, however, Reb Yitzchak’l remained totally unaware. He went on about the triumph of the Hasmoneans over the dominion of wickedness, the victory of good over evil, the ultimate vanquishment of Satan and all his minions, that had to emerge, that had to become manifest.

In the years afterward people remembered how they stood there pressed together, packed in, leaning close, as if to form a human fortress wall that had to contain the words of the Rebbe and prevent them at all costs from escaping outside, from reaching ears that must never hear them. For these words were balm for the people pressed close about the Rebbe, a healing salve on their open, running sores of misery.


A good while later they emerged from the barrack one by one, the men who had been with the Rebbe from the beginning of the evening, and dispersed to their own lodgings. Only Reb Yitzchak’l and his neighbors remained, fellow lodgers in his barrack who lay down now on their own pallets to find some rest from their hours of backbreaking toil.

The Rebbe remained alone before the flickering flame. After a bit, he began humming softly some old nigun that he had been accustomed to sing in his study back home, after lighting the Chanukah candles. The electric light in the barrack went out, but the candle in the corner where he sat went on burning. Its small light spread through the darkness, climbed to the upper levels of the wooden pallets, to bring the glow to eyes that would not close, to souls that could not sleep. So tired were their bodies that sleep would not come. Or perhaps it was a helpless nostalgia that kept them awake –memories upon memories of Chanukah evenings in their homes, with their families, with mother and father — in the years that had been and would never return… (

Absolute Faith

HaGaon Rav Chaim Volozhin (Nefesh Hachaim III:12-13) cites the Gemara in Chullin Daf 7b which teaches that if a person internalizes the Pasuk: “Hashem, He is G-d, there is nothing else beside Him (Devarim 4:35) he will be protected from harmful forces. When one accepts HaShem’s absolute sovereignty he places himself fully under His protective wing. Although nature contains many destructive elements, the man of faith understands that they are but marionettes in the hands of the Creator.

The Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik was a descendant of Rav Chaim of Volozhin — the author of the Nefesh Hachaim. He testified how the statement of faith recorded in the Nefesh Hachaim literally served as a guide through his life. When he was a young man, “Reb Velvel” – as the Brisker Rav was fondly known — was commanded to appear before the Russian draft board to be inducted in the Czar’s army. This fate was tantamount to both a spiritual and physical death sentence. As the date of his appearance neared, his father, Rav Chaim Brisker, instructed him to concentrate on the above passage from the Nefesh Hachaim. To Reb Velvel’s great relief, his meeting with the draft board came, and he was exempted from the draft.
Later, when the Germans occupied Poland at the beginning of World War Two, Rev Velvel fled from Warsaw to Vilna. The roads were filled with German troops, and Nazis were everywhere. The danger was awesome. Yet, Reb Velvel traveled along undaunted, for he never stopped reviewing the pledge of the Nefesh Hachaim. “If you always think of Hashem. He will always think of you and protect you from all harm.”
Just once, Reb Velvel was distracted and his mind wondered onto another thought. Immediately, as if from nowhere an armed Nazi approached him threateningly. In a flash, Reb Velvel collected his thoughts and focused on the Nefesh Hachaim and the Nazi moved on. (Rabbotainu p 170) (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeishev 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim

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