Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5771

שבת טעם החיים שמות תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5771

The Unconquerable Light

ותהר האשה ותלד בן ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא ותצפנהו שלשה ירחים, the woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and she hid him for three months. (Shemos 2:2)

In this week’s parasha the Torah records the birth of the leader of the Jewish People, Moshe. It is said (Shemos 2:2) ותרא אותו כי טוב הוא ותצפנהו שלשה ירחים, she saw that he was good and she hid him for three months. Rashi writes that when the Torah states that Moshe’s mother saw that Moshe was good, this alludes to the light that emanated from Moshe. One must wonder, then, what is the meaning of the continuation of the verse that states that she concealed him for three months? According to the simple explanation, Moshe’s mother was fearful that the Egyptian guards would discover her newborn son and she therefore took precautions to ensure his safety. According to the Medrash, however, was the fact that Moshe was born with this great light a reason for his mother to hide him for three months?

The Shem MiShmuel provides us with a  fascinating insight into the name Moshe. Pharaoh’s astrologers foresaw that the savior of the Jewish People would be punished through water. Why, then, wonders the Shem MiShmuel, did the Nile River not drown Moshe if he was to be punished by water? The Shem MiShmuel writes that the Maharal states that water is matter, and Moshe is the antithesis of matter. In fact, the name Moshe indicates this concept, as Moshe means that he was withdrawn from water. Thus, regular water was not capable of vanquishing Moshe’s greatness. Nonetheless, miracle water, such as the waters of Mei Merivah, where Moshe struck the rock instead of speaking to it, was able to conquer Moshe and bring about his demise.

Based on this explanation of the Shem MiShmuel we can understand why when Moshe’s mother saw the great light that was emanating from Moshe, she concealed him. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:2) states that Moshe’s appearance to the Jewish People was akin to a deer. Just like a deer is seen in the foliage and then is hidden, so too Moshe appeared to the Jewish People and then he was concealed from them. In the simple sense the Medrash is referring to the time when Moshe appeared to the Jewish People and then left to Midian. On a deeper level, however, we can suggest that the word for deer is צבי, and the word צבי in Aramaic means will. Thus, Moshe is likened to a deer as Moshe’s will was completely subjugated to the will of HaShem.

The word צפון means concealed. However, we also find (Yoel 2:20) that the Evil Inclination is referred to as the צפוני. We can suggest that the word ותצפנהו is aדבר והפוכו, a word and its opposite meaning. Moshe was born with a great light, and that light negated the Evil Inclination. The reason the Torah states that Moshe was concealed for three months is because the Torah was given in the third month, Sivan. It is said (Devarim 2:2) רב לכם סב את ההר הזה פנו לכם צפונה, enough of your encircling this mountain; turn yourselves northward. The Medrash (Devarim Rabbah 1:19) states that when one sees Esav preparing to attack, he should hide himself in Torah, which is referred to as צפון. Thus, Moshe’s mother hid him, so to speak, in the Torah, which is the antidote to Esav and the Evil Inclination.

Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger

The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 1:18) states that Moshe saw that the Jewish People were not able to rest because of their difficult slavery. Moshe then requested from Pharaoh that they be given one day a week to rest, and the Jewish People were thus allowed to rest on Shabbos. The Lev Simcha (5743) writes that Shabbos is the portion of Moshe and Moshe’s gift to the Jewish People. This is the explanation of the words that we recite in the Shabbos Shacharis prayer ישמח משה במתנת חלקו, Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion. We then recite the words כי עבד נאמן קראת לו, that You called him a faithful servant. This, writes the Lev Simcha, means that although Moshe gave the Jewish People the Shabbos in Egypt, when he was told to inform the Jewish People regarding Shabbos in Marah, he said (Shemos 16:29)ראו כי ה’ נתן לכם השבת, see that HaShem has given you the Shabbos. Moshe did not take the credit for himself. Rather, Moshe attributed the credit to HaShem. Similarly, we recite further in the Shabbos Shacharis prayer the wordsושני לוחות אבנים הוריד בידו וכתוב בהם שמירת שבת, he brought down two stone tablets in his hand, on which is inscribed the observance of the Shabbos. The Lev Simcha also explains the passage in the Friday night Zemiros where we recite the words זכרו תורת משה במצות שבת גרוסה, remember Moshe’s Torah as its Shabbos precept is expounded. Why does the author of the zemer single out the mitzvah of Shabbos? The Lev Simcha answers that this refers to the fact that even prior to receiving the mitzvah of Shabbos in Marah, Moshe had already proffered the mitzvah of Shabbos to the Jewish People in Egypt.

Shabbos Stories

The Boring Little Speaker

My brother Eli and his wife Nina were making their first bar mitzvah. Anyone who has ever arranged such an occasion can tell you how much planning goes into that milestone.

The bigger hall or the closer one? Do we invite second cousins? What color should we make the invitations? How many guests should we plan on? Where do we find a patient and competent teacher for bar mitzvah lessons?

My brother and sister-in-law made it through all the preparations, and we made it too — we were all there. Our parents, all the sisters and brothers and their families, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, and second cousins, celebrating together with Nina and Eli.

And there was Ari, the bar mitzvah boy, looking so grown-up in his new suit. All the months of practicing paid off — he read the Torah without one mistake.

We were sitting and listening to Ari deliver his bar mitzvah speech. It was longer than the usual speech of a young and inexperienced speaker, and we sat marveling at how well he held the attention of his audience, amazed at his clear and well-organized presentation.

This euphoric state was quickly shattered as one of Eli’s neighbors turned around and whispered to me, “He’s a boring speaker.”

Just like that! Straight to my face! Hard to believe, right? And that’s not all. From the look on his face it even seemed as if he were expecting me to agree with his evaluation of my nephew!

I glared at him. How could a guest make such a callous statement to a family member — even if it were true? We all remember what our first-grade teachers taught us, “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” It’s hard to believe that a normal adult would do something like that.

Do you think I could enjoy the rest of that speech? I was just glad that I was the one who heard it and not anyone else. And mostly I was glad that my brother was spared. Eli was sitting too far away to overhear anything, and besides, he was too busy listening to Ari.

How do you deal with such thoughtlessness? I was thinking when this neighbor turned to me again and said, with the same conviction as before:

“Take it from me. I’ve heard a lot of bar mitzvah boys, and I’m telling you again, this one is a born speaker.”


Off by one syllable. But look how far off those extra two letters took us.

Verbal misunderstandings are so often the reason for dark suspicion, long-lasting grudges, and even nasty feuds. Nonetheless, we continue to trust our ears, rarely questioning their infallibility, even though they fool us time and again.

Of course, we human beings were created to be dependent on our senses, and surely our auditory perception, which helps us acquire essential knowledge about the world around us. At the same time, to help safeguard us against the hazards of miscommunication, the Almighty has warned us to take caution. The precept of judging [every person] favorably teaches us that when our senses bring a denunciatory verdict, we should [cautiously] contest the validity of this testimony.

Nachum, Buy Wheat

Hundreds of cows grazed placidly in the fertile valley nestled between picturesque hills. The scenery was breathtaking, and the gentle breeze blowing through the verdant valley caressed Nachum’s perspiring brow. He looked with dreamy eyes upon the river gurgling through, at the eddies of blue water flowing by, a harbinger of plenty. It had been a blessed year, that year in Rumania; the rains had come down in abundance, the cold was mighty and the chill had improved the quality of the crops.

Yet Nachum was worried, terribly worried. Occasionally he would glance at the cows as if searching for one that might suddenly stumble and fall, dead, upon the ground…

That year an epidemic attacked the cattle of Rumania. It happened after the winter that had promised to bear such abundant fruit. The epidemic struck suddenly and left the cattle breeders helpless. Knowledge of medicine at that time was quite weak — and where more limited than in Rumania? — and, even more so, the study of veterinary medicine was almost non-existent.

The images were horrifying: animals dying by the thousands, with no way to stop the epidemic. None of Nachum’s colleagues knew what to do. In the course of a few days, many became paupers, losing everything they owned. And then came Nachum’s turn: He stood in the valley, hopeless, listening to the lowing of his beloved animals, his heart breaking. Here and there one of the cows would suddenly raise its neck upwards, give a terrible bleat of agony, and collapse onto the earth. The passing week had already left hundreds such corpses, and every moment he cast fearful glances at the herd. Whose turn would be next?

“No! I can’t let this situation go on.” A decision began to crystallize in his heart. “I began the week with 700 cows and I’ve only 400 left. If I stand here with my arms folded I’ll lose everything and starve.”

Nachum was a devout chassid, and it had been many years since he’d ever done anything without consulting the rebbe — how much more so when faced with such disaster.

There was nothing to do but travel to Shtefenesht, to the rebbe.

He boarded a train and left.

Nachum reached Shtefenesht before Shabbos, too late to see the rebbe. Nevertheless he tried his luck with the dedicated assistant. “Please, help me! My animals are dying,” he begged.

The assistant agreed to go in and ask the rebbe if Nachum could enter, in light of his terrible problem. To his surprise, the rebbe replied with a definite, and uncharacteristic, negative answer.

“Just to say hello?” the assistant ventured, but again the response was no.

Nachum spent his Shabbos in Shteftnesht, wondering how many of his cows were dying at that very moment.

Shabbos passed, and it was time for the traditional third meal. A group of chassidim sat in the darkened shul and sang with the rebbe.

The rebbe sang the words “nidachim kovetz” (Gatherer of outcasts).

Nachum was sitting quite far away, with 40 or perhaps 50 Chassidim between him and the Rebbe at the long table. It was hard for him to make out the rebbe’s voice.

He made a strong effort to hear, concentrating on every word.

The Rebbe said, “Nidachim kovetz.”

“What was that?” Nachum said in astonishment. “He’s talking to me!”

For he had heard the words “nidachim kovetz” as the Yiddish, “Nachum, koif vetz,” — Nachum, buy wheat.

It was a clear, unambiguous instruction, a command that could not be ignored. The rebbe had answered him, though he hadn’t even asked the question.

What had the rebbe said? It was simple: “Nachum, sell your flock before all your cows die, and with the money you get, buy wheat.”

In other words, the rebbe had commanded him to change his occupation and become a dealer in wheat.

But — one might ask — Nachum hadn’t managed to even ask the rebbe his question. How could the rebbe know what Nachum the cattle dealer wanted of him? How could he answer a question that had not been asked?

Another problem: The cattle dealer hadn’t the faintest idea of how to buy or sell wheat. But that is the power, the beauty, of pure faith. You don’t ask questions; you just do it!

Nachum traveled home immediately after Shabbos, without mentioning a word of his dire situation to the rebbe. That week he sold the remaining cows, and with the money, bought several tons of fine wheat. And thus Nachum, in the space of a day, changed from being a cattle dealer to being a seller of wheat.

Fortune once again beamed. Within a short while Nachum had become a rich man.

In his satisfaction he again traveled to the rebbe to thank him, telling him the whole story.

The rebbe said, “You must know that when you came to me before Shabbos I put you off, because I had no answer for you. I saw that devastating poverty had been decreed upon you — may we all be saved from it — and I couldn’t do a thing for you.

“But you,” the rebbe concluded, “with your honest belief, heard things that I never said, and in the merit of this simple belief you opened a new channel of prosperity and abundance that hadn’t existed before. It was your own power that saved you, not mine! When you must be saved, even an error in hearing can help. Salvation can come from anywhere!” (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemos 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim

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