Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bo 5771

שבת טעם החיים בא תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bo 5771

Constantly singing HaShem’s praises for redeeming us from Egypt

והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך כי ביד חזקה הוציאך ה’ ממצרים, and it shall be a sign for you a sign on your arm and a reminder between your eyes – so that HaShem’s Torah may be in your mouth – for with a  strong hand HaShem removed you from Egypt (Shemos 13:9)

While I normally focus on one aspect of the parasha, this week I feel it is important to focus on the entire parasha and its ramifications for us. It is said that the great Baalei Mussar, ethicists of previous generations, when approaching Parashas Bo, would mimic the actions of the Jewish People leaving Egypt. They would proclaim, “Look, there are Moshe and Aharon, going around informing the Jews of the imminent redemption!” When I heard this many years ago, it sounded incredible, as how many of us actually think about the Redemption from Egypt besides for Pesach? Contemplating this further, I am even more amazed that these Torah giants could actually bring themselves to this level of actualizing the redemption. We have been in exile for almost two thousand years, and yet there are individuals who reenacted the redemption for the sake of reminding themselves what will occur when we experience the Ultimate Redemption. One must ask the obvious question. We know that by the Pesach Seder we are required to ask questions of our children and to delve into the details of the slavery in Egypt and the redemption from Pharaoh and the Egyptians. What significance is there, however, to relate to ourselves the redemption in middle of the year?

In order to understand the significance of constantly reminding ourselves of the redemption from Egypt, let us take a closer look at Parashas Bo and examine the underlying theme of the parasha. First, it is noteworthy that the word בא, using the principle that certain letters are interchangeable, can be read פה, which means mouth. Thus, the Torah is hinting to us that the theme of the parasha and the redemption from Egypt is about using our mouths. The Arizal write that the word פסח is an acrostic for the words פה סח, the mouth speaks. Furthermore, the Zohar states that the דיבור, the power of speech, was in exile in Egypt. All these concepts point to the idea that the Jewish People were required to utilize the power of speech in order to be redeemed. HaShem redeemed the Jewish People from Egypt in the merit of two mitzvos, Korban Pesach and Bris Milah. We have already mentioned that Pesach corresponds to the power of speech. The Sefarim write that the power of speech is associated with שמירת הברית, guarding the Covenant. Thus, these two mitzvos reflect the power of speech that the Jewish People rectified.

How does one rectify the power of speech? The basic manner to perfect ones speech is by not speaking ill of another Jew. Aside from one notable exception (Dasan and Aviram slandering Moshe to Pharaoh), the Jewish People were perfect regarding not slandering their fellow Jews in Egypt. Yet, there is another aspect of speech rectification. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 94a) states that HaShem sought to make King Chizkiah the Moshiach and he sought to make Sancheirev, Chizkiah’s enemy, Gog and Magog. However, the Divine Attribute of Justice protested with the claim that since Chizkiah had not sung songs of gratitude after all the miracles that HaShem had performed for him, it would be an injustice to make Chizkiah Moshiach. HaShem relented and did not bring about the Messianic Era. We see that for merely not singing HaShem’s praises, King Chizkiah forfeited the opportunity to become Moshiach. We can now better understand why the great Baalei Mussar of previous generations felt the need to reenact the redemption from Egypt. The Ramban in this week’s Parasha cites Rabbeinu Chananel who writes that from the time that Moshe prayed for Pharaoh that the locusts should be removed, locusts have not harmed the Egyptians. Regarding this phenomenon it is said (Tehillim 105:2) שיחו בכל נפלאותיו, speak of all His wonders. This verse reflects our obligation to praise HaShem for all of the miracles that He performs for us. The word ארבה, locust, also means to increase, and contained in the word ארבה is the word פה, (by interchanging the letters ב and פ) which means mouth. Thus, through the plague of locust the Torah hints to us that we should use our mouths to sing HaShem’s praises.

It is said (Tehillim 81:11) אנכי ה’ אלקיך המעלך מארץ מצרים הרחב פיך ואמלאהו, I am HaShem, your G-d, Who raised you from the land of Egypt; open wide your mouth and I will fill it. One interpretation of this verse is that HaShem is instructing us that since He redeemed us from Egypt, we have an obligation to sing His praises. Thus, the requirement of thanking HaShem for redeeming us from Egypt is not limited to the Pesach Seder. The Sfas Emes writes that by remembering and relating the story of the exodus from Egypt, we arouse the redemption in every generation. Every moment of our lives we should be engaged in singing His praises for redeeming us in the past. then we will certainly merit the arrival of Moshiach when we will continue to sing His praises for eternity.

Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger

The Lev Simcha (5742) cites a Medrash that states that one only wears Tefillin on Shabbos. This Medrash is puzzling. We know that one is only required to wear Tefillin during the week and one does not wear Tefillin on Shabbos. The Lev Simcha explains that the Medrash is teaching us that Tefillin is referred to as an אות, a sign, and by wearing Tefillin during the week, we arouse the אותות, the letters, that are illuminated on Shabbos. This is because Shabbos itself is an אות, a sign. Furthermore, the Sfas Emes writes that the reason we do not wear Tefillin on Shabbos is because on Shabbos the redemption from Egypt is aroused. Throughout the week, however, the redemption is aroused by performing the mitzvos of the Torah in a physical manner. Nonetheless, the redemption of Shabbos is contingent on the mitzvos performed during the week, as the Gemara states that one who toils before Shabbos will eat on Shabbos. Commensurate with the toil of the week is the reward on Shabbos. Thus, when one dons Tefillin one dons during the week arouses the letters of the Torah through the toil of the Torah’s mitzvos in a physical manner. Through this toil one merits on Shabbos, which itself is an אות, a sign, to the letters of the Torah

Shabbos Stories

The Xmas Tree

Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor told him the following story.

His mother, Mary, had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, 18-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a domestic maid by an observant family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.

Mary knew nothing about Judaism and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary’s first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no Xmas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only a Xmas tree but all kinds of festive decorations to hang on the front of the house.

When the family returned from vacation, they saw the Xmas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with holiday lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.

The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the Xmas tree and lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family’s excitement when they realized that they would not be without a Xmas tree.

After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, “In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did.” Then he took out a $100 bill — a very large sum in the middle of the Depression — and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Xmas trees.

When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, “And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor.”

The shul president’s reaction to Mary’s mistake — sympathy instead of anger — was not because he dreamed that one day her son would the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. (Israel was not yet born.) He acted as he did because it was the right thing to do.

That’s what it means to be a Kiddush HaShem, to sanctify God’s Name. It is a goal to which we can all strive. (

Prophetic Wheel

Everyone was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rabbi of Ilya, who had said he would attend the wedding of Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner’s daughter. He was very late. Finally, Rabbi Chaim told a horse rider to take the back wheel of wagon and ride quickly on the road to Ilya. He would find the rabbi of Ilya on the road between Volozhin and Ilya with a broken back wheel on his wagon. The rider rode out, and that was exactly what he found.

The people began whispering about Rabbi Chaim having prophetic powers. He denied it. “I knew he would be on the way,” he explained, “because he said he’d come. I knew the delay was not due to a broken front wheel because they are relatively easy to fix. So I sent a wheel for the back.”

“But how did you know the delay was due to a broken wheel?” the people asked. “Perhaps his horse died.”

“I sent a rider with a horse, didn’t I?” answered Rabbi Chaim.

The Mezuzah Case

Rabbi Weiner was stopped in the hallway the large apartment complex by an African-American woman. “Rabbi, could you please come up to my apartment to check the mezuzah?”

Thinking he’d heard incorrectly, he asked the woman to repeat her request.

“I know you think it’s strange, considering I’m not Jewish. But my Jewish friends told me if you put one of them mezuzahs on the doorpost, nothing bad can happen to you. They also told me it has to be checked by a rabbi twice in seven years.”

Rabbi Weiner unscrewed the mezuzah case, took it off the wall, and looked inside, but there was no parchment. “Uh, was there something in here when you bought it?”

“Yes, there was. But I couldn’t read the instructions, so I threw them away.”


Flowing Water

King Faoud of Egypt went for a walk in his magnificent royal garden with his queen. Since it was a blistering hot day she announced her intention to bathe in the spring flowing through the garden. The king said no. She did so anyway.

The king now had a dilemma. On the one hand she showed blatant disregard for the king in front of his royal officials, which deserved a big punishment, possibly execution. On the other hand, he didn’t want her to die, but he couldn’t come out and say it. He summoned the leaders of the three major religions in his land and asked them what to do. He wasn’t pleased with the answers given by the Muslim and Christian clerics.

Rabbi Nachum, the rabbi of Egypt, was the third advisor that the king consulted. Knowing that an unsatisfactory answer could cost him dearly, he sent a letter to Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin to ask what to say to the king. Rabbi Yehoshua Leib responded that the Talmud says that if one bows to a stream as a form of worship, he doesn’t cause the stream to become forbidden to derive benefit from it, as is the case with other items of idol worship, because the water he bowed to has flowed away. The water now present is different water. Here, too, the water she bathed in was not the water the king had forbidden her to enter ― so in fact she didn’t disobey him.

King Faoud was very pleased with the answer a promoted Rabbi Nachum to a high position.


Kosher Candy

A Jewish man was in a supermarket in Lakewood, New Jersey. He saw a black woman trying to get her young child to put down a candy bar he had picked off the shelf.

“Latrell, you put that down! It’s not kosher!”

Intrigued, the young man decided to investigate. “Excuse me, ma’am, are you Jewish?”


“So why did you say that?”

“Why? I’ll tell you why. ‘Cuz I see all them Jewish mothers saying that to their kids ― and it works, so I decided to try it.”


Blocked Ears

When Rabbi Dovid Luria went on trial in Russia, falsely accused of treason, the death penalty was lurking in the background. When the judges deliberated, they did so in French because no one else in the courtroom understood. Or so they thought. Rabbi Luria did know French, so he put his fingers in his ears to block out their conversation. To listen in without them knowing would be theft, he felt.

The judges demanded an explanation for his strange behavior. When they heard it, they freed him immediately. They said it’s impossible for someone with that level of commitment to truth to be guilty of treason.


Awaiting Execution

Soldiers from the Russian army came to Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik to report that a Jewish soldier, sentenced to death for falling asleep on sentry duty, had requested to speak to a rabbi before he died. The rabbi refused to go, risking a severe punishment by his refusal. A second delegation of soldiers came, and he refused them, too.

A short time later a third delegation arrived and told him he wasn’t needed. The condemned man’s family had appealed to a higher court, and the sentence had been overturned.

When asked about his actions, the rabbi explained he was merely following the directive of Maimonides, who says that if a fellow Jew doesn’t deserve capital punishment, we are forbidden to hand him over for execution even if it puts our lives in danger. “Had I gone, it would have caused his death because they would have executed him as soon as I left. By following Jewish law, I saved his life.”


Mazel Tov!

A famous rabbi was once sitting in a meeting when the door opened and one of the students stuck his head in. “Rabbi!” he exclaimed excitedly. “Great news! Yechiel is engaged!”

“Oh, wonderful! Mazel tov, Mazel tov!” exclaimed the rabbi. “Thank you so much for sharing the good news.”

A few minutes later, another student entered. “Rabbi, did you hear? Yechiel is engaged!”

“Mazel tov! Thank you for that beautiful piece of news,” said the rabbi with a big smile.

A few moments later yet another student popped his head in, and the exchange repeated itself.

One of those present couldn’t contain his curiosity. “Why don’t you just tell them you know already, instead of going through the whole charade over and over?”

“Don’t you see how much joy each one has when he feels he’s the bearer of good news? If I’d say, ‘I heard already,’ the person bringing the news would become completely deflated.”

People wonder what they can do to become better liked. One place to start is by not using the expressions “I know” and “I heard.” Try it. The effect is remarkable.


Predicting the Future

Yankel the Jew was living on the land of Ivan the anti-semite who, in spite of his hatred for Jews, had a deep respect for Yankel’s rare gift of being able to predict the future. He even boasted about it to his friends at the anti-semite club.

“No one can predict the future!” roared Igor, the president of the club. “Bring him to our next meeting and I’ll prove it to you!”

A very apprehensive Yankel came to the meeting.

“Hey, you! Jew! Get up here!” Igor yelled from his seat on the main platform. “I heard you can tell the future. I say no one can tell the future. I’m going to put you to the test by asking you one question. Tell me, Jew, what day are you going to die?”

Igor had a plan. If Yankel would say he was going to die at any point in the future, Igor would tell him he was wrong, pull out a gun, and kill him on the spot. And if he said he was going to die today, Igor would wait till the moment the day was over, tell Yankel he was wrong, and then kill him.

“I’m waiting for your answer, Jew!” Igor bellowed.

“Uh, I’m going to die… on the same day you die,” Yankel said.

Igor hesitated and then decided killing Yankel might not be such a great idea after all. After all, what if he *could* predict the future? (

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bo 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim

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