שבת טעם החיים במדבר תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bamidbar 5771
A Reckoning for Torah
אלה הפקודים אשר פקד משה ואהרן ונשיאי ישראל שנים עשר איש איש אחד לבית אבותיו היו, these are the countings that Moshe, Aharon, and the leaders of Israel counted – twelve men, one man for his father’s household, were they. (Bamidbar 1:44)
Redemption and liberation are themes that we focused on when we celebrated Pesach. How much do we contemplate freedom once Pesach has passed and we proceed towards the festival of Shavuos? The Zohar provides us with an enigmatic but powerful statement regarding Shavuos. On Shavuos, the Zohar teaches us, we will leave the exile. How are we to understand this puzzling declaration? Is it possible that we were liberated on Pesach and we have not been released from the exile? While we certainly all recognize that if Pesach ends and Moshiach has not arrived, then we are still in exile, what does it mean that on Shavuos we actually leave the exile?
Recently we celebrated Lag BaOmer, which, amongst other aspects, is the celebration of the passing of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Holy Zohar. It is noteworthy that the letters לג can be rearranged to read גל, which is a wave. One of the distinct features of a wave is that it crests and then descends. Lag BaOmer signifies the height of the forty-nine days that we count towards Shavuos, reflecting the ups and downs of life. While we certainly are constantly ascending in our spiritual goals until we arrive at מלכות שבמלכות, the highest level of the Sefirah, one can only ascend in life by occasionally descending.
The Gemara (Megillah 31b) states that Ezra instituted that we read the curses of the Book of Vayikra prior to Shavuos so that the year and its curses should come to an end. Additionally, we read the curses of the Book of Devarim prior to Rosh HaShanah to signify that the curses of the year should come to an end. The Gemara wonders why Shavuos is referred to as the beginning of the year. The answer to this question, the Gemara states, is that Shavuos is also referred to as Rosh HaShanah, because on Shavuos the fruits of the tree are judged. What does it mean that the fruits of the tree are judged on Shavuos? We know that Tu Bishvat is the Rosh HaShanah for the trees. In what way is Shavuos considered Rosh HaShanah for the fruits of the trees? The answer to this question is that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) states that after a person passes away, his first judgment is regarding Torah study. The idea of this judgment is that when a person has the opportunity to study Torah, he should utilize that time and not waste it on frivolous matters (see Tosfos Ibid). Shavuos is deemed to be a Rosh HaShanah because this is the time of the year when one can increase his Torah study. The long summer afternoons, especially on Shabbos, are conducive to Torah study. The Bach and the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 238) write that from Shavuos until Tisha BaAv one is not required to learn at night, because the nights are short and are designated for sleeping. From Tisha BaAv until Shavuos, however, one should increase his Torah study at night, as the nights then are longer. We see from these statements that Shavuos is a focal point of Torah study. This is akin to a fruit on a tree that requires the right timing to be picked so that one can eat the ripe fruit. It is noteworthy that Tosfos (Megillah 31b Ibid) writes that according to our cycle of Torah reading, the parasha of Bamidbar is also read immediately prior to Shavuos (this year we will also read Parsahas Naso prior to Shavuos). We can understand why we read the curses before Shavuos, as the Gemara states that this signifies the end of the curses for that year. What is the significance of reading Parsahas Bamidbar immediately prior to Shavuos?
Our Sages referred to the Book of Bamidbar as חומש הפקודים, literally translated as the Book of Numbers. The word פקד actually has two definitions. The classic definition is number or remember. Another definition of the word פקד is a lack or deficiency. Perhaps the reason we read the parasha of Bamidbar prior to Shavuos is to reflect the Gemara’s statement that on Shavuos there is a judgment on the fruits of the tree, which alludes to one’s Torah study. Shavuos is a time when one can grasp the opportunity of receiving the Torah and increasing his Torah study, or, Heaven forbid, squander the opportunity and devote his time to less important matters. Essentially, one is either in reminder mode or in deficiency mode.
Lag BaOmer is also the time when the students of Rabbi Akiva stopped dying. The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) states that the reason for their death was because they did not show respect to each other. The Maharsha explains that the Gemara states אין כבוד אלא תורה, true glory is Torah. This means that the students of Rabbi Akiva did not respect their colleagues regarding their Torah study. Here too we see that one can be either in reminder mode, utilizing his Torah knowledge for the right reasons, or in deficiency mode, exploiting the Torah for personal gain and to harm someone else. Lag BaOmer and Shavuos are clearly times when we must make a reckoning of our Torah study and our conduct to each other. Returning to the original question regarding the Zohar’s statement that on Shavuos we will leave the exile, we can approach this statement with a better understanding of our obligations. HaShem can liberate us from the Egyptian slavery, but accepting the Torah, studying Torah properly, and acting according to the Torah’s precepts, are matters that we have to perform ourselves. It is said (Shemos 3:12) ויאמר כי אהיה עמך וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלקים על ההר הזה, and He said, “For I shall be with you – and this is your sign that I have sent you: When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain.” HaShem was informing Moshe that He will take the Jewish People out from Egypt, but they will have to “do the work” and accept and study the Torah. When we do what we need to do, HaShem will certainly have compassion on us and redeem us from the exile. With HaShem’s help we should merit that on this Shavuos we should accept the Torah, study the Torah, act in accordance with the Torah, and merit the Ultimate Redemption, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in Action
A reader writes: I try to use the Siddur Vilna and it has inspiring sentences about being mekabel the neshama yeseira. these sentences are found from Kabbalas Shabbos throughout the Shabbos davening. about how we should have in mind to accept upon ourselves Tosefes neshama yeseira.
also I like to try to focus on spending a minute before licht benching to thank Hashem that he made me a frum Jew with a holy neshama and I daven to use myself totally in the service of Hashem.
Please submit your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
Thy Brother’s Blood
What inspired a few individuals to act differently during the Holocaust than the vast majority of Jews in the free world? What motivated this politically and financially insignificant segment of world Jewry and its network in different parts of the world, to battle the Jewish Establishment and indifferent Allied governments alike?
The following true story was told by a witness to the event, Mr. Leo Schick.
It was the fall of 1938. Rabbi Dr. Solomon Schonfeld was a young rabbi of 26 who had taken over his late father’s positions as rabbi of a small congregation and principal of a small day school – the first in England. News of the persecution of Jews in Germany and Austria began to filter in, especially the day after the terrible pogrom of Kristallnacht of November 9-10, 1938.
Sitting in his modest office, Dr. Schonfeld could not settle down to his daily work. A sensitive man, he understood the full impact of the tragedy. He had thought that such things could only happen in the Middle Ages, not in our own age of progress. Here he sat, safe in his cozy room, while his fellow Jews on the other side of the Channel languished in concentration camps. What could he do to help them? He had no money. His father had never been money-minded. Whatever he had managed to save from his own modest salary he usually gave away when confronted with an emergency among his congregants. So the only thing left was compassion for his brethren, but this was clearly not enough.
PUSHING THROUGH THE PLAN
Dr. Schonfeld’s thoughts were interrupted by the sharp ring of the telephone. It was a Mr. Julius Steinfeld calling from Vienna. Dr. Schonfeld had talked to this man several times in Austria. Steinfeld, a courageous communal leader in Vienna, had been doing his utmost for his brethren in Austria without regard for his own safety. Briefly and carefully, so as not to run afoul of the censors, who he was sure were listening in on the telephone conversation, Mr. Steinfeld now told Dr. Schonfeld of hundreds of children whose parents had been arrested or killed in the pogrom and who were now left on their own. Could Dr. Schonfeld help them? His voice choked with emotion, Dr. Schonfeld told him he would try.
A council of members of Dr. Schonfeld’s congregation was hastily summoned to grapple with the problem. The congregants decided to raise enough money to bring over to England 10 children for a start. Dr. Schonfeld left the meeting in a depressed mood. They didn’t understand, these good people, that it would take weeks, even months to raise the large amount necessary to care adequately for the children. Meanwhile, hunger, sickness and the threat of further pogroms would take a heavy toll. Ten children indeed!
Something much more drastic had to be done. But Rabbi Schonfeld at first did not dare spell out his plans. He was afraid he would be put into a strait-jacket. He knew his congregation; they were a well-fed, well-housed community. The troubles on the [European] Continent still seemed very far away. Bombs and war appeared highly unlikely. Perhaps the people of the congregation were a little too complacent.
After a sleepless night, mulling everything over again and again, Dr. Schonfeld went to the British Home Office.
There, his gleaming eyes and a winning smile gained ready access to one important official. Dr. Schonfeld told the official what had happened in Austria. This, of course, was no news to that gentleman. He, too, had read the newspapers. Then Dr. Schonfeld unfolded the details as he saw them, and reported what Mr. Steinfeld had told him on the telephone. The official muttered that he was very sorry but there was nothing he could do to help.
Then, for the first time, Dr. Schonfeld revealed his plan. He said he wanted to bring 300 Jewish children from Vienna to London and care for them personally. The British official was stunned. How could one rabbi provide for so many children, to house, feed and clothe them?
Dr. Schonfeld told him he had neighbors who would be willing to help; he personally would guarantee with whatever assets he himself possessed that the children would not become burdens to the British government. All that was necessary was that the children should be given permission to come to England.
The British official sized up his petitioner with growing admiration. A young man, not yet 30 years old, with a pure soul, a good heart, and a tremendous will to help others. Could he send this man away? Would he ever be able to sleep peacefully again if he said “No” now? Thinking of his own children, his own home, he would have been ready to give his approval. But his duties as an official of the British Government forced him to hold back. “Tell me, Rabbi, where will you put the children to sleep the first night they are here?” he asked.
Dr. Schonfeld fell silent, but suddenly he had an inspiration. “I have two schools of which I am principal. I will empty the school buildings. I will house the children there,” he replied.
“I want to see for myself where there is room for 300 children in your school,” said the man behind the desk.
A MATTER OF SPACE
The rabbi and the British government official went out together, hailed a taxi and drove off to North London. Before the eyes of the startled pupils, the two men measured the length and width of each classroom. They began to figure in terms of so many children and so many square feet. It would have been barely enough, but there was one large room which could not be used. It had to be left clear as a dining room for the students. Forty children would still be without shelter.
“Well,” said the official, “in view of the circumstances, I can give you passports for only 260 children.”
But the official had not reckoned with Rabbi Schonfeld. “I own the house in which I live,” the rabbi said, “I will empty that out, too, in order to make room for the children.”
Back Dr. Schonfeld went, the government official in tow, to his private home. Again, the yardstick came out. Defeated by the overwhelming humanity of this man, the official diffidently asked Dr. Schonfeld where he himself would sleep. Dr. Schonfeld took him upstairs to a tiny room in the attic filled with bric-a-brac. “I can sleep here,” he said.
The official had tears in his eyes as he shook the rabbi’s hand and asked him to submit the names of the children to whom he should issue the permits to enter England.
Immediately, in the presence of the official, Rabbi Schonfeld telephoned the leaders of Vienna’s Jewish community. He asked them to draw up a list of names and admonished them to see to it that the children on this list would be ready to travel as soon as possible. Two days later he was back at the Home Office with all the data about the children. A passport official began to prepare the individual papers. He was only halfway through when it was closing time at the office. He told Dr. Schonfeld to come back the next day; he would finish the remaining passports then.
But on being reminded of the joy which these papers would bring to 300 families in Europe, this kind man disregarded closing time and worked on the papers until midnight. Then he helped Dr. Schonfeld pack the papers and carry them to the post office to speed them on their way to Austria.
HOUSING THREE HUNDRED
Now that the first step had been taken, the real worries began. On an urgent call from Dr. Schonfeld early in the morning, his friends assembled at his home. He told them what he had done and asked them to help him.
A search for beds began. The local Boy Scout troop had a sufficient number of beds and blankets at their summer camp. They were only too willing to lend them for such a purpose. Several trucks were sent out to the scout camp to bring these, plus many dishes and large pots and pans which were necessary to cook for the refugees. Meanwhile, a cable reported that the children had left Vienna.
Then disaster struck. A blizzard, the heaviest in eight years, blanketed London and the schools were snow-bound. But this did not deter Dr. Schonfeld. Together with a group of youngsters he went out with shovels to clear the way for the trucks that would bring the refugee children.
This accomplished, the school and his own home ready for the children, he hurried to the port of Harwich to greet his 300 new charges.
What he saw moved him deeply. Here were ragged, starved, frightened youngsters, the remains of once-proud families. He shepherded them into the hired trucks to bring them to their new shelters. Neighbors were waiting there. Everyone was willing and ready to help feed and wash the children and put them to bed on this, their first night in their new country.
The rabbi was close to exhaustion, but he stayed on duty until all the children had been settled. Only after that did he go home for his first good night’s sleep in a week. Entering his house, he heard a little six-year-old refugee girl crying for her mother. He took the child in his arms, talked to her about her new country and promised to bring her mommy to join her soon. Then Dr. Schonfeld went up to his attic chamber for a well-earned rest. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bamidbar 5771
is sponsored by Mr. Phil Tewel in loving memory of his dear father Chaim Reuven Tewel ob”m, niftar 24 Iyar
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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