שבת טעם החיים שבועות-בהעלותך תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shavuos-Behaaloscha 5771
Determination to Illumination
ויאמר אל נא תעזב אתנו כי על כן ידעת חנתנו במדבר והיית לנו לעינים, he said, “Please do not forsake us, inasmuch as you know our encampments in the Wilderness, and you have been as eyes for us.” (Bamidbar 10:31)
On Shavuos we read the Book of Rus. One reason we read the Book of Rus specifically on Shavuos is because Rus was the ancestor of Dovid HaMelech who died on Shavuos. Another explanation for reading Rus on Shavuos is because Rus performed a great act of kindness for her mother-in-law Naomi, by accompanying her from Moav back to Eretz Yisroel. The Medrash (Lekach Tov) associates Rus with the verse that states (Mishlei 31:26) פיה פתחה בחכמה ותורת חסד על לשונה, she opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. This verse reflects the idea that Torah and acts of lovingkindness are connected. Another reason that is offered for reading Rus on Shavuos is that the Jewish People underwent a conversion process before receiving the Torah and similarly, Rus converted to Judaism.
I would like to suggest another connection between Rus and Shavuos, and this explanation is based on this week’s parasha, Behaaloscha. The Torah states that Moshe observed that his father-in-law, Yisro, was planning on returning to Midian, his homeland, and Moshe cajoled Yisro to remain with the Jewish People. When Yisro demurred, it is said (Bamidbar 10:31) ויאמר אל נא תעזב אתנו כי על כן ידעת חנתנו במדבר והיית לנו לעינים, he said, “Please do not forsake us, inasmuch as you know our encampments in the Wilderness, and you have been as eyes for us.” Rashi writes that one interpretation of the words והיית לנו לעינים, “and you have been as eyes for us,” is that Moshe was telling Yisro that he would illuminate anything that would be concealed from the Jewish People. What was Moshe referring to? What advantage did Yisro have over the Jewish People that he would be able to shed light on matters that were concealed from the nation?
In order to understand what Moshe was telling Yisro, we need only look two verses later where it is said (Ibid verse 33) ויסעו מהר ה’ דרך שלשת ימים וארון ברית ה’ נוסע לפניהם דרך שלשת ימים לתור להם מנוחה, they journeyed from the Mountain of HaShem a three-day distance, and the Ark of the covenant of HaShem journeyed before them a three-day distance to search out for them a resting place. The Gemara (Shabbos 116a and see Rashi and Tosfos Ibid) states that this verse means that the Jewish People were akin to a child who runs away from school. What were the Jewish People running from? The Medrash (Yelamdeinu cited by Tosfos Ibid) states that the Jewish People were fearful that HaShem would instruct them regarding more mitzvos, and for this reason they ran away. Let us contrast this idea with Yisro, who came on his own to join the Jewish People after their liberation from Egypt. The Medrash (Mechilta Yisro) states that one of Yisro’s seven names was יתר, which alludes to the idea that through Yisro a parasha was added on to the Torah. Yisro suggested to Moshe that he appoint judges to assist him in handling the people’s complaints and litigations. Moshe accepted Yisro’s advice and Yisro merited having a parasha added to the Torah. The Gemara (Shabbos Ibid) cites the opinion of Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel who maintains that following the narrative of the Jewish People fleeing the mountain, the Torah places two backwards letters (the letter נ) before and after two verses, to draw a separation between one punishment and another. The first punishment (according to Tosfos Ibid) was that the Jewish People fled from Sinai like a child running away from school, and the second punishment was that the Jewish People complained and some of them died by fire. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel is of the opinion that the parasha of ויהי בנסוע, describing the travel of the Ark in the Wilderness, is out of place. According to the opinion of Rebbi, however, instead of having five books of the Torah, we now have seven, as Rebbi maintains that the parasha of ויהי בנסוע was written in its proper place. Rabbeinu Chananel (Ibid) implies that even Rebbi agrees that the placing of the backwards letters is to separate between one punishment and another (see Maharsha Ibid who maintains that Rebbi and Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagree on this point also). At first glance it may seem odd that the negative actions of the Jewish People was a catalyst for increasing the amount of books contained in the Torah. Upon deeper reflection, however, we can surmise that the Torah is teaching us a valuable lesson. Moshe referred to Yisro as “the eyes of the people.” The eyes often refers to a person’s desires. An example of this idea is when Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Yehudah, sought to marry Yehudah. It is said (Bereishis 38:14) ותשב בפתח עינים, she then sat by the crossroads, and Rashi cites the Medrash that states that Tamar went to the entrance of Avraham, of whom all eyes desired to see him. Yisro desired to come close to HaShem and he was able to surmount all the obstacles that lay in his path. This desire allowed him to merit being the catalyst to having a parshaha in the Torah added on. The Jewish People, however, demonstrated the opposite behavior, and by fleeing from HaShem and His Torah, they added on two parshiyos in the Torah. These additions, however, only served to separate between the two punishments and were not deemed to be a merit for the people.
Rus was determined to join the Jewish People. Naomi attempted to dissuade her, but it was to no avail. Similar to Yisro, Rus persevered because of her great desire to attach herself to holiness. Rus succeeded in converting to Judaism and she merited a great descendant, Dovid HaMelech. It is for this reason, then, that we read the Book of Rus on Shavuos, the day when we celebrate the giving of the Torah. We are demonstrating that we are capable of surmounting all obstacles that prevent us from studying Torah.
There is a long time custom for men to stay up on Shavuos night, and this clearly demonstrates our desire to come closer to HaShem and His Torah. The Magen Avraham writes that we stay up studying to serve as a rectification for the Jewish People not being awake to receive the Torah. We can suggest further that we stay awake to rectify the act of the Jewish People fleeing the Mountain. By demonstrating our desire to study HaShem’s Torah, even in the wee hours of the morning, we are adding parshiyos to the Torah in a positive manner, similar to Yisro and Rus. HaShem should grant us the opportunity to study His Torah with intensity and that we merit the day when the entire world will know HaShem.
Shabbos in Action
Shavuos is when we received the Torah. The Gemara (Shabbos 86b) states that all opinions agree that we received the Torah on Shabbos. This information should inspire us to utilize the Shabbos properly for Torah study.
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.
Good deed For Eternity
Watching the waves froth against the shore and ripple back out to sea, Shmuel and his young wife stood at the dock. They had come a full two hours early.
They drew closer to each other, walking the length of the magnificent vessel, talking nonstop about their upcoming voyage. All the money-gifts from their wedding, as well as all the money the young man had saved for the last few years, were invested in this trip. A fabulous voyage to a new life in a new country. All around them, happiness filled the air.
The cruise liner’s interior consisted of three levels: various degrees of luxury. Tiffany lamps at tasteful intervals, walls lined in high quality tapestries and an Olympic-sized swimming pool were only a few of the numerous creature comforts on board. A broad staircase with elaborately designed gold handrails led to the stateroom. Turkish baths separated with latticed wooden partitions were located not far from the a la carte restaurant — the tables draped in perfect white tablecloths and surrounded by plush gold-colored chairs.
The couple went into the terminal. Faigy, the lovely young bride, thought about the separation from her family and friends in Romania, and her eyes began to tear. It was the most difficult thing she had ever done. All the relatives from both sides had lavished an abundance of hugs, loving advice, as well as kosher food packages on them. Those hugs would have to last her for a very long time — perhaps forever…
The British seacraft weighed 46,000 tons gross. This was the colossal craft’s maiden voyage. The seas were completely smooth on this chilly spring day. Two thousand and two hundred passengers had already boarded.
Shmuel and Faigy passed through all of the customs and passport controls. Singles, couples and whole families began to go out and board the ship, but Shmuel and Faigy lingered in the bustling area for a few extra minutes, mesmerized by the amazing numbers of people saying their farewells with raw emotions revealed on their faces.
Tears, smiles and laughter were plentiful. A little girl licking an enormous lollypop held onto her father’s hand tightly while his free hand twirled his long handlebar moustache somewhat nervously. A short teenager walked through the crowd, hawking his wares of pastries and drinks displayed in a box hanging from his shoulders by a stout rope.
Suddenly, Shmuel noticed a commotion by the passport control. From afar, he saw a fellow Jew attempting to argue with the officer on duty. Shmuel pushed his way through the throngs to see if he could be of help. It was a lad of no more than fourteen. Shmuel asked what the problem was and quickly realized that of the three languages his landsman knew, English was not one of them.
They exchanged a few sentences:
“My parents sailed to America last November,” Yossi, the young boy, explained. “They’ve been saving money to send for me. Meanwhile, I’ve been living with an elderly uncle, working and saving money as well.”
He bowed his head sadly and paused for a moment. “My uncle passed away last week. The shiva ended yesterday and I have nowhere to be. I desperately want to sail on this ship and be reunited with my parents as soon as I can. But I don’t know if it is possible…”
He sniffed. Shmuel handed him a handkerchief, then turned to the official and explained the situation. He did not notice how empty the huge hall had suddenly become.
Faigy stood quietly by. Over the roar of the engines, the tooting of the ship’s horns and the booming of loudspeakers, she could barely make out the announcement of imminent departure, demanding all passengers to board the ship immediately.
“Shmuel,” she said hesitantly, “we must get on the ship now. Can’t you hear the whistle? I think it’s the last one.”
“One minute, please. We want Yossi to come with us, don’t we?” Shmuel turned, looked at Faigy and said, “We can’t leave him stranded here, can we? He is all alone and has nowhere to go!”
Yossi looked up at Shmuel, tremendous gratitude sweeping across his face, but Shmuel didn’t notice. He had already turned his attention back to the customs officer and was trying to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation.
Faigy shifted uneasily but remained quiet. The large room had almost completely emptied by now. A brisk sea breeze whistled through the air.
A final blast of the ship’s horn. Outside the building, the vessel raised anchor and began to churn out to sea. Hands held high waved goodbye, on shore and at sea. Shouts and noise. Soon a soft quiet settled over those remaining on dock as the ship drifted further and further out to sea.
“You can argue from today till tomorrow, sir, but this passport is not in order. It is not valid and this gentleman will have to take care of it at the embassy.” The customs officer was red-faced by now. He removed his spectacles, which were steamed up with perspiration and frustration, turned his back on them all, and went off to a side room, slamming the door behind him with finality.
When the threesome went out through the wide entrance of the now totally empty building, they were met with the sight of a ship dwindling into the horizon, seemingly tiny. They knew how huge it really was. All the well-wishers had already gone and the ground consisted of a few stragglers, a lot of litter and two cleaning men. Faigy burst into tears.
“All of our dreams! All the excitement. We’ve lost it all!”
Shmuel looked her in the eye with firmness and determination. “Faigy, we were helping a fellow Jew in distress. Everything that God does is good and you must never forget that. We’ll go help our new friend get a proper passport and find out what other ships are available. We don’t need to travel with frills. Mitzvot [and good deeds] are the only ornaments we need.”
Faigy looked at her brave young husband through tear-soaked lashes. Pride swelled in her heart. She straightened herself up and wiped her eyes. She was so blessed to have a husband like Shmuel!
The next day, from their hotel room, the young couple heard the news screamed throughout the city and round the world.
Fredrick Fleet was in the crow’s nest as lookout that night and was the first to sight the iceberg shortly after 11:30. He quickly rang the crow’s nest bell three times and telephoned the wheelhouse to warn them of the deadly obstacles, but the ship was speeding too quickly to turn and smashed into the iceberg. Water began pouring into the vessel amongst screams and hysteria.
Jack Philips operated the ship’s wireless radio. He sat at his station sending out the international distress signal. He stayed at his post, issuing the call for help, until the end. He died that night, Sunday, April 14, 1912, one of the 1,500 people who perished. Seven hundred and five, mostly women and children, survived the freezing North Atlantic Ocean in life rafts to tell the tale when they reached the Carpathia and safety.
The luxury liner, which sank within three hours of breaking in two, was the Titanic.
The young couple were my maternal grandparents, who later moved to Canada to raise five beautiful children, of which my mother was the third.
Thanks to my grandfather’s desire to help a fellow Jew, and his faith in God, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are able to follow in his footsteps, seeing the goodness and kindness within every situation and knowing what is truly important.
A person’s actions can greatly affect others, both for the good and the bad. That’s why we must act with utmost sensitivity and care. The following two stories (from “Moreshet Avot”) tell of great rabbis who exemplified this trait of being precise in their actions toward others.
STORY #1 I – FORGIVE YOU
Rabbi Chaim of Brisk related the following story about his father, Rabbi Yosef Dov, author of the Beis HaLevi:
I was once sitting with Father in the Slutzk yeshiva, studying the daily Talmud lesson. It was a hot summer day, so Father took off his hat and jacket. While engrossed in our studies, one of the town butchers suddenly entered the study hall and started screaming and shaming Father. Among other insults, he accused Father of judging unfairly, for Father had judged him and another butcher the previous day. This butcher claimed that even though he was innocent, he had been found guilty because the other butcher had bribed Father.
When Father heard what the butcher was accusing him of, he put on his hat and jacket, stood up and quietly looked down at the ground. The butcher saw that Father was standing shamefaced and embarrassed, so he continued with his tirade. He cursed all the rabbis and called Father a dishonest person. He even lifted his hand and threatened to hit Father. All this time, Father controlled himself and bore his shame in silence.
As the butcher began to leave the study hall he continued mouthing curses and insults against Father, but Father did not try to justify himself or scold him. Instead, he went after him saying, “I forgive you, I forgive you. No one is held accountable for his suffering.”
The following day, this butcher was leading some bulls that he had bought. Suddenly, one of them became wild, attacked the butcher and killed him. This incident shook Father up and he became dejected. He told me a few times, “I am afraid that I caused his death because of my animosity.”
I replied, “But Father, you forgave him yesterday.”
He questioned me, “When? How do you know?”
I answered him, “I heard with my own ears, as the butcher began to leave the study hall, you walked after him and told him several times, ‘I forgive you’.”
Father began to interrogate me to ascertain that I had actually heard him forgiving the butcher, and that I wasn’t making it up just to calm him. Only after I assured him that I had heard him forgiving the butcher and pointed to the exact place he had stood when he forgave him, was he convinced that he had actually forgiven him and he became somewhat consoled.
Father was still pained and dejected over the incident. He went to the butcher’s funeral, cried bitterly upon his grave and took it upon himself to say Kaddish for eleven months and learn Mishnayos (Talmudic portions) daily to uplift the butcher’s soul. Furthermore, every year on this butcher’s yahrtzeit, he would fast and learn Torah to uplift his soul. On that day, he would practice the same customs that he would observe on his own father’s yahrtzeit.
STORY #2 – THE MISSING BOOK
Shmuel Dovid Warshavchik, a student of Rabbi Boruch Ber Levovitz, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenitz, related the following story, which demonstrates fear of Heaven. During the First World War, Rabbi Baruch moved from city to city, and at times he was even in danger of losing his life. After the war, he returned to Vilna.
A few years later, his students saw that a tremendous fear came upon him and his whole being was trembling. When they asked him what had happened and what he was so worried about, Rabbi Baruch Ber told them the following story:
“Today I found amongst my holy books, one with the sign of the shul of Kramentzuk. This city lies on the other side of the border of Russia, and after the war it is not possible to reach it.”
Rabbi Baruch Ber was there during his wanderings. It seems that the book was with his own books when he was in that shul, and without realizing it, he must have taken it with him.
Rabbi Baruch Ber continued: “As we continued on our travels during the war, we arrived in the city of Minsk, and there I joined a rabbinical court of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz, in order to organize a Get (divorce). Now, there is an opinion that if the judges are not honest, this can affect the legitimacy of the Get. Now that I realize that I have sinned in stealing the book, therefore, the Get is not valid and the woman is still married. This is a terrible situation!”
His students tried to convince him that according to Jewish law he was not considered a thief, and also that this sin did not disqualify a man from being a judge for a Get. But Rabbi Baruch Ber, with his pure fear of Heaven, was not convinced.
Suddenly he remembered that on the way from Kramentzuk to Minsk, a band of marauders had suddenly attacked him and he was one step away from death. He remembered the Viduy (confession) that he’d confessed in those moments — in that confession he had repented of all his deeds. Since he had repented in truth, and the changed borders of the lands made it impossible for him to return the book to Russia, he was cleared from the category of an evildoer and consequently the Get was valid. Only after Rabbi Baruch Ber remembered that Viduy did he relax. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Behaaloscha 5771
Have a good Yom Tov and a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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