Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Yisro 5771

שבת טעם החיים יתרו תשע”א

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Yisro 5771

Yisro invoked the worthiness of Moshe’s wife and sons to Moshe

ויקח יתרו חתן משה את צפרה אשת משה אחר שלוחיה, Yisro, the father-in-law of Moshe, took Tziporah, the wife of Moshe, after she had been sent away. (Shemos 18:2)

One aspect of this week’s parshaha that is particularly fascinating is the fact that Yisro arrives at the camp of the Jewish People. The Torah describes how Yisro came with Moshe’s wife and her two sons. The Torah then continues by explaining the reasons for the names Moshe gave to his sons. Subsequently the Torah states that Yisro informed Moshe that he and Moshe’s wife and children had arrived. Rashi writes something that at first glance appears puzzling. Rashi writes that Yisro mentioned Moshe’s wife and his children, declaring that Moshe should come out for the sake of Yisro. If Yisro was not worthy, then Moshe should at least greet him in the merit of Moshe’s wife and children. What is difficult to understand is why the Torah chose to spend so much time discussing Moshe’s wife and children, as if this was a central theme to the preparation or aftermath of the Giving of the Torah (there is a debate whether Yisro arrived prior to the Giving of the Torah or afterward). Furthermore, most opinions maintain that Tziporah was no longer even married to Moshe, and the Gemara (Shabbos 87a) states clearly that after the Giving of the Torah, Moshe separated from her. While Tziporah was a full fledged Jew, one must wonder why the Torah refers to her as Moshe’s wife, especially according to the opinion that Yisro arrived after the Giving of the Torah and Moshe had already separated from her.

In order to better understand why the Torah felt it necessary to elaborate on the arrival of Moshe’s wife and children, we need to examine the lifestyle that Yisro had exhibited until his arrival at the Israelite camp. In Parashas Shemos we find that Moshe saved the daughters of Yisro from the shepherds, and Rashi (Ibid 2:16) writes that Yisro was a priest amongst the Midianites, and he distanced himself from idolatry, and he was excommunicated. Yet, we find that the Medrash states that when Moshe married Tziporah, Yisro stipulated that their first son would be delivered to idolaters. This Medrash implies that although Yisro may have distanced himself from idolatry, he was still steeped in its philosophy. However, when Yisro heard that HaShem had wrought amazing miracles for the Jewish People, in Egypt and by the Sea, he acknowledged that HaShem as supreme and all the idols were completely worthless. This idea is reflected in Yisro’s words (Ibid 18:11) עתה ידעתי כי גדול ה’ מכל האלקים כי בדבר אשר זדו עליהם, now I know that HaShem is greater than all the gods for in the very manner in which [the Egyptians] had conspired against them…! Rashi writes that Yisro was saying, “I recognized hashem in the past and now I recognize Him even more.” Yisro was familiar with every idol in the world, as he had worshipped all of them. Clearly, until Yisro arrived at the Israelite camp, he was not fully aware of HaShem’s capabilities. For this reason Yisro brought Tziporah and her two sons, as they had been is close to Moshe and they had not been influenced by Yisro’s attachment to idolatry. For this reason Yisro told Moshe that even if he would not greet Yisro for his sake, as he was not yet a firm believer, he should come out for Tziporah, his wife. According to the opinion that Yisro arrived after the Giving of the Torah, it is possible that Yisro had heard that Moshe had separated from his wife. Yisro was thus concerned that Moshe may have suspected that Tziporah had returned to her father’s ways, and she was somehow tainted with his less than complete faith in HaShem running the world. For this reason Yisro implored Moshe to come out for the sake of their two children, as they would surely have remained faithful to HaShem. Moshe acquiesced to Yisro’s wishes, and he proceeded to tell Yisro about the grandeur of Torah to influence Yisro to become a full fledged Jew. Yisro was so overwhelmed with the miracles that HaShem had wrought for the Jewish People that he immediately circumcised himself and converted to Judaism. HaShem should allow us to become and remain faithful to Him and His Torah.

Shabbos with the Sfas Emes and the Rebbes of Ger

It is said (Shemos 20:8) זכור את יום השבת לקדשו ששת ימים תעבד ועשית כל מלאכתך ויום השביעי שבת לה’ אלקיך לא תעשה כל מלאכה אתה ובנך ובתך עבדך ואמתך ובהמתך וגרך אשר בשעריך, remember the Shabbos day to sanctify it, Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work; but the seventh day is Shabbos to HaShem; your G-d; you shall not do any work – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, your animal, and your covert within your gates. Rashi writes that once Shabbos arrives, one should deem it as if all his work has been completed, and he should not contemplate it any further. The Ohr Hachaim writes that this is a blessing that within six days one can finish his work and not be required to work on Shabbos. The Sfas Emes writes that this blessing is brought about by the fact that one views his work as having been completed and he does not give it any further thought. In this manner one is negating his will to HaShem’s will. Thus, by remembering the Shabbos during the week, one will increase blessing in his handiwork. The Sfas Emes explains that certainly during the week one must engage in physical toil and labor. Nonetheless, ones desires must be towards Shabbos. One should view physical work as a physical burden, and he should certainly be prepared to nullify his handiwork and deem his work to be completed. If Hashem wished that man should not work, he would not even contemplate working. By remembering this ideal he will find the blessing of Shabbos in his handiwork. This, writes the Sfas Emes, is the meaning of the Gemara (Brachos 20b) that states that whoever is incorporated in שמירה, safeguarding the Shabbos, is included in זכירה, remembering the Shabbos. Safeguarding the Shabbos alludes to desiring the Shabbos. When one  desires the Shabbos he is considered to have remembered the Shabbos.

Shabbos Stories

Centrality of the Shema

Jews say two especially important prayers every day: the Shema and the Amidah. We fulfill the biblical commandment (mitzvah) to say the Shema every morning and evening when we say its first verse, “Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The rabbis, however, required us to add three additional paragraphs, drawn from the books of Deuteronomy and Numbers. Besides our reciting the Shema daily, we also say it before going to sleep, over a baby boy the night before his ritual circumcision (brit milah), and before we die.

The commandments to which the Shema refers – Tefillin (leather boxes containing parchments that are put on a man’s head and arm), mezuzah (a parchment with Torah verses that we put on our doorposts), Tzitzis (fringes that are put on a four-cornered garment), and remembering the Exodus from Egypt – are also part of our daily lives.

Thus, the Shema literally accompanies us from cradle to grave. The Minchas Chinuch explains why the Shema and its mitzvos (commandments) “surround” us: People tend to be drawn to materialism and give in to their lusts by following foolish, worldly pleasures. We need constant reminders that we are part of God’s Cabinet and have responsibilities to Him. Without these reminders, we can’t keep focused on what God put us here to do. His lovingkindness determined that we should say the Shema twice a day to help us stay on track spiritually.

The general purpose of any mitzvah is to preserve and heighten our spiritual wholesomeness and to attach us to God. Saying the Shema reminds us that our thoughts, speech, and actions affect the entire universe. That, in turn, encourages us to live with ongoing devotion and fervor in our service to the Almighty.

The Shema also refocuses us at least twice a day so that we are not derailed by constant exposure to forces that negate our spirituality. The Shema can help us regain our spiritual bearings and infuse us with tremendous spiritual energy only if we appreciate and concentrate on what we are saying.


Holocaust Memories

During World War Two, countless Jewish parents gave their precious children to Christian neighbors and orphanages in the hope that the latter would provide safe havens for them. The parents expected that they, or their relatives, would take these children back if they survived the war. The few parents who did not perish in the Holocaust, and were able to reclaim their children, often faced another horror. While the parents had summoned the strength to survive the slave labor and death camps, or had hidden out for years, those who took their children were busy teaching them the ways of other religions.

[Additionally,] many Jewish children who were taken in by orphanages, convents and the like, had no parents or close relatives left after the Holocaust. When rabbis or distant relatives finally tracked down many of these children, the priests and nuns who had been their caretakers insisted that no children from Jewish homes were in their institutions. Thus, countless Jewish children were not only stripped of their entire families, they were also stripped of their souls.

In May, 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver from the United States and Dayan Grunfeld from England were sent as chaplains to liberate some of the death camps. While there, they were told that many Jewish children had been placed in a monastery in Alsace-Lorraine. The rabbis went there to reclaim them.

When they approached the priest in charge, they asked that the Jewish children be released into the rabbis’ care. “I’m sorry,” the priest responded, “but there is no way of knowing which children here came from Jewish families. You must have documentation if you wish me to do what you ask.”

Of course, the kind of documentation that the priest wanted was unobtainable at the end of the war. The rabbis asked to see the list of names of children who were in the monastery. As the rabbis read the list, they pointed to those that belonged to Jewish children. “I’m sorry,” the priest insisted, “but the names that you pointed to could be either Jewish or Gentile. Miller is a German name, and Markovich is a Russian name, and Swersky is a Polish name. You can’t prove that these are Jewish children. If you can’t prove which children are Jewish, and do it very quickly, you will have to leave.”

One of the rabbis had a brilliant idea. “We’d like to come back again this evening when you are putting the children to sleep.”

The priest reluctantly agreed.

That evening the rabbis came to the dormitory, where row upon row of little beds were arranged. The children, many of whom had been in the monastery since the war started in 1939, were going to sleep. The rabbis walked through the aisles of beds, calling out, “Shema Yisrael – Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One!” One by one, children burst into tears and shrieked, “Mommy!” “Maman!” “Momma!” “Mamushka!” in each of their native tongues.

The priest had succeeded in teaching these precious Jewish souls about the Trinity, the New Testament, and the Christian savior. Each child knew how to say Mass. But the priest did not succeed in erasing these children’s memories of their Jewish mothers ÷ now murdered – putting them to bed every night with the Shema on their lips. (thanks to Miriam Swerdlov for the story

Whispers from another World

A once prosperous merchant who had lost his entire fortune came to Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta with the request that he intercede in heaven on his behalf, and advise him as well what to do: He had a daughter of marriageable age, and hardly a penny left to his name. The rabbi asked him how much he needed and how much he had, and he answered that he needed 1,000 rubles for the wedding, and in his pocket he had exactly one ruble.

“Go in peace,” said the rabbi, “And take up of the first offer of a transaction that comes your way. And may God make you prosper!”

A strange instruction, indeed: business without capital? But after this first thought, the man relied on his faith in the words of the rabbi and set out on his way.

He arrived at an inn which he found was frequented by dealers in gems. He approached the table around which a group of them were crowded, and examined the diamonds that were set out on it.

“What are you looking at here?” Asked one of the dealers. “Are you perhaps interested in buying one of these diamonds?”

“I am,” replied the man.

“And how much money do you have, if I may ask?” said the dealer.

“One ruble,” was the reply.

The whole group burst out in uproarious laughter.

The dealer continued boldly: “Listen here! I’ve got a deal for you that needs only one ruble. Buy my share in the World to Come!”

“I am agreeable,” said the new arrival, “on condition that you confirm the sale in writing it, and sign it according to law.”

The gem dealer agreed, and egged on by the derisive laughter of his friends, he wrote out and signed a contract of sale, which he duly handed over to the purchaser in exchange for his last ruble.

Having nothing more to do in the company of these people, the traveler found himself a quiet corner, took out of his pack the volume of Talmud he always carried with him, and was soon deep in thought.

While they were still chuckling with scorn at the hapless fool who had just paid out his last ruble for a commodity that did not yet exist, in walked the wife of that gem dealer. As it happened, most of his gems in fact belonged to her; in fact, his whole wealth had come to him through an estate which she had inherited. She asked what they were snickering about, and they told her.

Incensed, she turned upon her husband: “Just in case you did have a share in the next world coming to you, did you have to go and sell it, and remain naked like some heathen? I’m not going to live with a pagan like you! Come along with me to the rabbi and let’s arrange our divorce!”

He stammered out an attempt at an excuse: He had only meant the whole thing to be a joke, and so on. His wife remained unconvinced; she was not going to be the wife of a pagan who had no share in the World to Come!

Her husband begged one of the employees of the inn to search around urgently for the new arrival.

When he joined the distraught couple, the gem dealer addressed him as follows: “Listen here. I’m sure you realize, don’t you, that everything that passed between us was one big joke. Here, take your ruble back, and return me the contract, okay?”

“Not at all,” said the traveler. “Business is business. I certainly had no joke in mind!”

“If so,” said the gem dealer, “I’ll let you make a profit of a few rubles on the deal, and you can sell me back again what you bought from me.”

“The profit I demand,” said the traveler, “is 1,000 rubles.”

“Are you out of your mind?” shouted the dealer, red with rage. “For some miserable little piece of paper that I gave you, you’re demanding such a fortune?”

At this point his wife chimed in decisively: “Even if he demands 5,000 rubles you must ransom your share in the World to Come.”

The dealer quietly offered the stranger 100 rubles, but he refused.

“I would like you to know,” he said, “that I am not the impractical fool you and your friends take me for. I too was once a businessman, except that I lost my fortune, and it was the rabbi of Apta who advised me to accept the first offer of a transaction that presented itself — because I need 1,000 rubles with which to marry off my daughter. And I am not going to forgo one solitary kopek out of that 1,000 rubles!”

Two hundred, 300 — each successive offer received the same answer: not a kopek less than 1,000 rubles. Words were never going to make any impression on a man as stubborn as this, and in the end the gem dealer had no option but to give him that whole sum in exchange for his bill of sale.

His wife now turned to the stranger: she would very much like to see the rabbi of Apta.

“My pleasure,” he said. “Allow me to direct you to him.”

When they arrived, the woman said to the rabbi: “I am of course pleased that through my agency such good fortune should come the way of that poor fellow. But I have one question for you, rabbi. Is my husband’s share in the World to Come in fact worth 1,000 rubles?”

“At the time of the first sale,” replied the rabbi, “when he sold his share in the World to Come for the price of one ruble, his share in it was not worth even that one ruble. But at the time of the second sale, when he bought back his share in the World to Come for 1,000 rubles and helped marry off the daughter of a poor man, his share in that world became worth far, far more than 1,000 rubles. No money can measure its worth.” (





Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Yisro 5771

Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos

Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim

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