שבת טעם החיים נשא תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Naso 5771
A little bit goes a long way
ישא ה’ פניו אליך וישם לך שלום, May HaShem lift His countenance to you. (Bamidbar 6:26)
In this week’s parasha the Torah discuses numerous topics, continuing the counting of the Tribe of Levi and the laws regarding sending out of the camp people in various states of spiritual impurity. Sandwiched in between the topic of Nazir, Sota and the dedication of the Mishkan is the instruction to Aharon and his sons to bless the Jewish People. These blessings, on the one hand, appear to be all encompassing. HaShem should bless us and keep us, illuminate us and favor us, and he should raise his countenance towards us and bestow peace upon us. What more could we ask for? If HaShem is on our side, we are truly blessed. On the other hand, however, it is difficult to understand how the mere fact that the Kohanim bless the nation is an automatic guarantee that we will be deserving of such profound blessings. Is it sufficient to merely stand in front of the Kohanim when they proffer their blessings on the people and expect to receive infinite rewards? Furthermore, the Gemara cites many instances where one merely has to recite a certain verse or perform a certain good deed and he is guaranteed a portion in the World to Come. How can it be, for instance, that one recites the verse פותח את ידיך, three times a day and is guaranteed a share in the World to Come (Brachos 4b)? Is this recital all that one is required to accomplish to earn an eternal reward?
In order to gain a better understanding of how one who performs an action so infinitesimal can earn an infinite reward, we must examine the words of a perplexing Medrash. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7) raises a contradiction in verses. One verse (Devarim 10:17) states אשר לא ישא פנים, [G-d] Who does not show favor, whereas another verse (Bamidbar 6:26) states ישא ה’ פניו אליך, May HaShem lift His countenance to you. The Medrash answers that when we do HaShem’s will, He favors us, and if we do not do His will, He does not favor us. The Sfas Emes asks, if we are doing HaShem’s will, what is the need to favor us? The Sfas Emes answers that HaShem does not need to favor anyone, as He is the מלך הכבוד, the King of Glory. Rather, when a person has an inspiration within, HaShem will assist him and favor him. One cannot rectify his actions without HaShem’s help. One must open an opening that is the eye of a needle, and then HaShem will open for the person an opening as wide as the Sanctuary. When a Jew performs HaShem’s will, HaShem will favor him and enable the person to complete his service of HaShem. In summary, the little bit that one does is sufficient for HaShem to favor him, and as the Gemara (Kiddushin 40a) states, מחשבה טובה הקב”ה מצרפה למעשה, HaShem connects one’s good thought to an action.
Based on the words of the Sfas Emes we can now understand the function of ברכת כהנים, the Priestly Blessings. When we stand before the Kohanim to receive their blessings, we are demonstrating an interest in improving our lives and HaShem will then send us His infinite blessings. With this idea in mind we can now understand a Mishna in Avos (1:15). The Mishna states: שמאי אומר עשה תורתך קבע אמר מעט ועשה הרבה והוי מקבל את כל האדם בסבר פנים יפות, Shammai says: Make your Torah study a fixed practice; say little and do much; and receive everyone with a cheerful face. We can understand the connection between making Torah study a fixed practice and saying little and doing much. One who says little and does much will certainly spend most of his time engaged in Torah study. What is the association, however, between these two precepts and receiving everyone with a cheerful face? The answer to this question is that when we say we will do something, HaShem takes that declaration and allows it to become an action. This, as the Sfas Emes writes, is HaShem’s manner of beingנושא פנים, favoring us. We are required to emulate HaShem’s ways, and just as HaShem favors us with a cheerful countenance, so to speak, so too we are required to receive every human being with a cheerful countenance. HaShem should allow us to continue to do our part in striving for greater heights in His service and He will allow all our declarations and thoughts to be transformed into great actions.
Shabbos in Action
A reader writes: It’s nice to bench licht five minutes earlier than the regular licht benching time as a zechus for someone who needs a yeshuah.
Please submit your suggestions to email@example.com and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
The Beloved Matzah
At a dinner in 1995 commemorating the 50th year since the liberation of Jews from the Nazi death camps, Yosef Friedenson told a moving a personal story that lent a historical perspective to the trials and tribulations that Jews have undergone throughout their nearly 2,000 years in the Diaspora.
After being a prisoner and slave labor in numerous camps, Yosef, age 20, was transported to a steel factory labor camp in Poland in 1943, where armaments were made for the German war effort. The brutality of the German officers was unspeakable. Adults and children alike suffered pain and death at the hands of barbarians who roared, “No Jew will escape us, not even a child!”
At this particular camp, however, there was one German factory chief, Bruno Papeh, who was kind to Jews whenever he could be. He would provide them with extra rations of food, and was a bit more tolerant when the prisoners failed to complete their labor assignments on time.
While Yosef was at the camp, Akiva Goldstoof, a 40-year-old Jew from Krakow, was brought to the camp. The two became close friends. Despite the difficult circumstances, they exchanged Torah thoughts and encouraged each other in faith and belief.
A few weeks before Passover, Akiva called Yosef to the side and said, “I think we should ask Papeh if he would allow us to bake matzah for the holiday.”
“You must be mad,” replied Yosef. “Papeh has been kind to us in certain circumstances, but he will never allow us such a luxury!”
“I am older than you,” said Akiva. “Listen to me; I believe he will be receptive.”
After some intense debate, Yosef agreed to go with Akiva to ask the factory chief for permission to bake matzahs.
When Papeh heard their request, he was incredulous. “Don’t you have any other worries? Is this all that is on your minds?” he asked in disbelief.
“Yes,” replied Yosef. “This is what we are concerned about, and it would mean a great deal to us if you granted permission.”
Papeh thought about it for a moment and then said, “All right. If you have the flour, go ahead. Just talk to the Polish workers who are in charge of the ovens and tell them I gave the consent.”
“But we don’t have any flour,” Yosef said quietly, embarrassed at being granted his wish and not having the means to fulfill it.
At that same time, a Polish factory worker was seeking a furlough from Papeh, who controlled the work schedule. Papeh knew that the Polish workers could get prize commodities from the local villagers and then bring them into the labor camp. Papeh was no saint. He would allow himself to be bribed.
“I’ll tell you what,” Papeh said, turning to the Polish worker. “You get me a kilo of butter and a kilo of flour, and you can have the time off that you want.”
The Polish worker agreed, and within a day Yosef and Akiva were called into Papeh’s office, where he clandestinely gave them the flour for the matzahs. The two thanked him profusely, but secretly they worried that he could — and with his Nazi temper, would — rescind his permission at any moment.
Several women, including Yosef’s wife Gittel, kneaded the dough and baked the matzahs in the large melting ovens that had a temperature of 2,000 degrees. There was an air of controlled ecstasy in the barrack as the matzahs emerged from the ovens, ready for those who wanted them.
On the first morning of Passover, Papeh walked into the factory and suddenly became furious. As always, at 10 a.m., baskets containing slices of bread were passed around the factory and every worker would take a meager slice. Each slice was accounted for, and no one would dare take more than his share. But instead of taking them, many prisoners left the bread in the doorway.
Papeh looked around at the people eating matzah and realized they had purposely declined the bread. In a violent, bloodcurdling voice he suddenly yelled, “Your God has forsaken you, and you are still loyal to Him?!”
Papeh scanned the room and then roared, “Friedenson! Eat your bread or you will die!”
Everyone froze. The fury they had feared had suddenly exploded, and at the worst time. None of the people moved as they waited to see what he would do. Papeh walked directly over to Akiva and yelled, “Has your God not forsaken you?!”
Akiva, standing erect and ready to accept the worst, replied softly but with certainty, “Not totally and not forever.”
Papeh was taken aback by the answer. He could not comprehend such conviction. He knew well the suffering and torment of the Jews. “Not totally?” he demanded, raising his voice.
“You let us bake matzahs, didn’t you?” Akiva replied.
In the midst of pain, there was a glimmer of consolation. In the hours of night, the dawn of eventually appeared. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Naso 5771
is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Joel Moses of Oak Park, MI in loving memory of Mordechai Aharon ben Yechiel, Sharon Moses’ father, and Bayla bas Avrohom, a friend of the family.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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