Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Ki Sisa 5775

Ki Sisa 5775

New Stories Ki Sisa 5775

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Ki Sisa 5775

(From the archives)

Shabbos: Listening and doing even if we do not understand


This week’s parasha is Ki Sisa, and we also often read Parashas Parah, where the Torah discusses the laws of one who became impure through corpse tumah is purified by having the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer, sprinkled on him. It is fascinating that according to Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan, the Parah Adumah was used as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. One must wonder why is it that if someone contracts corpse tumah, his purification is an atonement of the sin of the Golden Calf. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand how there can be a reason offered for the use of the Parah Adumah when the Torah explicitly states that Parah Adumah is a chok, which means that its reason is unknown to man.

Listening and then performing a mitzvah that is a chok

What does it mean that a mitzvah is a chok? The simple understanding is that one must perform the mitzvah and not seek to rationalize why he is performing the mitzvah. Thus, one is sprinkled with ashes of the Parah Adumah and he does not understand how ashes purify him from corpse tumah Alternatively, the chok aspect of the Parah Adumah is that it purifies one who is impure and defiles one who is pure. However, there is also a deeper understanding of a chok. One may not understand the reason for a chok, but he listens to the commandment and performs it anyway. Thus, a chok is not merely that one performs the mitzvah without understanding the rationale. Rather, even though there is no rationale, he can listen to the chok and then perform it. While there may be a very fine line between listening and performing, regarding the accepting of the Torah we find a vast difference between the two. The Zohar states that when the Jewish People sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, they forfeited naaseh, we will do, but were told to retain nishmah, we will hear. If one will not do, what is the benefit of hearing?

Parah Adumah rectifies the nishmah

The Pinei Menachem writes that the Zohar states that when the Jewish People sinned by worshipping the Golden Calf, they defiled their ears to the point that they were incapable of hearing words of Torah. This, asks the Pinei Menachem, is difficult to understand, as the Zohar itself states that they had still retained the listening aspect even after the sin. The Pinei Menachem answers this question by saying that although the Jewish People retained the aspect of listening, even this was tainted, and through the mitzvah of Parah, which serves as an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, they can rectify the nishmah aspect like it was prior to the sin.

Listening rectifies the sin of the Golden Calf

We can suggest that this is the meaning of why when one is sprinkled with the ashes of the Parah Adumah, it serves as atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. One who listens to the mitzvah of Parah Adumah and subsequently performs its ritual is demonstrating that he has rectified the hearing that was tainted with the sin of the Golden Calf. We can now understand why Rabbi Moshe HaDarshan offers a reason for the performance of the Parah Adumah, despite the fact that the Medrash states that its performance is a chok. The explanation for this is because the rectification of the sin of the Golden Calf is through listening, and when one listens and performs the mitzvah of Parah Adumah, he has rectified the sin of the Golden Calf.

The Shabbos Connection

The Zohar states that on Shabbos, Moshe Rabbeinu returns the two crowns of naaseh, we will do, and nishmah, we will listen, to the Jewish People. Thus, we can suggest that on Shabbos, not only do we gain back the nishmah, which is the aspect of listening, but we even earn the naaseh, the aspect of “we will do.” In a sense, Shabbos is even higher than Parah Adumah, as Parah Adumah rectifies the nishmah, and on Shabbos both the naaseh and nishmah are rectified. HaShem should allow us to listen to His commandments and perform them, and in the merit of our listening and performance, we should witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days, with the cessation of death and the Resurrection of the Dead.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Gott fun Avraham

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who lived from 1740-1809, recommended that this prayer be recited by men, women and children three times and that the recitation would help ensure success in the upcoming week.

אַז דִי וָואךְ אוּן דֶער חוֹדֶשׁ, אוּן דֶער יָאר זָאל אוּנְז צוּא קוּמֶען… מַאֲמִין צוּ זַיין….וּבִתְחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים, to have faith in… the Resurrection of the Dead. Clearly believing in the Resurrection of the Dead is more than just proclaiming one’s belief. We mention the Resurrection in the second blessing of Shemoneh Esrei and many visit the graves of ancestors and the righteous, evidence to the belief that the dead are still amongst us. Yet, the true belief in the idea of the Resurrection of the Dead is that HaShem can perform the seemingly impossible, which is to bring back to life people who have been dead for thousands of years. This is certainly nothing short of miraculous, as those who are deserving will be resurrected and gain eternal reward.

Shabbos Stories

Parshas Vayechi: Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin Curses the Hospital

The famous Maggid of Yerushalayim Rav Bentzion Yadler retold the story of a group of Askanim who came to Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin to tell him that they purchased a plot of land to build a hospital outside of the old city of Yerushalayim near Shaar Shechem. Rav Yehoshua Leib said to them, “Yehi Ratzon Shelo Tishreh Shechinah Aleha,” it should be Hashem’s will that the Shechinah will not reside there. The group was baffled. Why would Rav Yehoshua Leib curse their holy venture? Then they realized the slyly disguised bracha in Rav Yehoshua Leib’s words. The passuk says (Vayechi 47:31) that after Yosef swore to bury Yaakov in Eretz Yisroel, Yaakov turned to the head of the bed and bowed. Rashi explains that from here the Gemara (Shabbos 12b) learns that the Shechinah rests above the head of a sick person’s bed. Rav Yehoshua Leib gave them a bracha that their hospital should not have many sick people in it and all of Am Yisroel should be blessed with good health! (Gilyon Pninim Al HaParsha)

Rav Zemele Volozhin Follows the Doctors Orders

Rav Zemele Volozhin the beloved talmid of the Vilna Gaon and the brother of Rav Chaim Volozhin once went with another Rov to the house of a very poor person. The host was in middle of eating and begged them to sit down and join him. Rav Zemele knew that the host did not have enough food for them so he refused claiming the doctor told him he cannot eat.

When they left the Rov that accompanied him, asked him if it is true that he is sick. He said no he is not. “Then how could you lie? What happened to Midvar Sheker Tirchok?” He answered that the great doctor, the Rambam wrote that it is assur to eat from a meal where there is not enough food for the host. He indeed was just following the doctor’s orders. (

Shabbos in Halacha

Cutting Food

Until now we discussed the melacha of tochen, grinding, under which it is prohibited to cut food into very small pieces. We will now discuss other restrictions that apply to cutting food.


The restriction against cutting apart figures applies only if the figures are made of frosting or another substance which is added to the cake. Figures that are baked into the fiber of the cake itself may be cut or broken apart, even before eating the cake. The same holds true for an entire cake or biscuit that is baked in the shape of a letter or figure.


Food may be cut into large pieces of precise size and shape, using either a knife or a specialized utensil. However, it is forbidden to cut food into meaningful shapes, i.e. letters, numbers, distinct figures.

It is forbidden to cut apart words or figures formed by the frosting of a cake, or words stamped onto a fruit; however, one may cut between the letters. It is permissible to bite into letters or figures. Figures baked in the fiber of a cake may be cut apart even before eating.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim Ki Sisa 5775

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New Stories Ki Sisa 5775

Tongue Untied

How my son overcame his debilitating stutter and became an inspirational speaker.

by Judy Yormark Mernick        

Over the last 10 years, my 28-year-old son has taught on numerous Jewish educational programs in the US, Canada, Central Europe, Israel and Australia. He received an International MBA, worked at Deloitte as a Strategy Consultant and consulted senior-level executives on their presentations skills. Currently, he works at a unique start-up, mentors entrepreneurs at a technology accelerator, and lives with his wife and children in Israel.

Yes, indeed, I am a “proud Jewish mother.” But there is much more to my son, Moshe, than the above.

Anyone who has known Moshe since he was a child knows that for him, speaking, whether one-on-one or in front of 500 people, is a big deal. Moshe stutters. It began when he was about three years old, at which point we were told to ignore it, as most children who begin stuttering before the age of five stop on their own; it is merely a stage of speech development.

In Moshe’s case, however, it got worse. As he got older, he often was unable to complete a sentence without getting stuck. Even saying his own name was a challenge. Phone calls were extremely difficult for him; he bore the embarrassment of being hung up on when he was unable to identify himself to the person at the other end of the line, who would think it was a prank call. Moshe was talented, bright and athletic; but to him, it was all worthless because he couldn’t talk.

Moshe was teased for his stutter on many occasions, which increased his reluctance to talk. He became angry and resolved to work harder and harder with his speech therapist to help himself overcome his challenge.

When he spoke at his Bar Mitzvah, after tens of hours of intense speech therapy, his therapist and I sat together and cried tears of joy and pride. He spoke so fluently that a relative came to me afterward and commented that he was anxious about the speech for Moshe’s sake, but then he realized that it must have been another of my children who struggled with a stutter because Moshe was flawless!

At 15, Moshe went to Israel to finish high school. He was searching; searching for answers, and more importantly, searching for inner peace. He met mentors and teachers who didn’t see a stutterer; they saw a teenager looking for acceptance and meaning.

Years went by and Moshe came to a place of acceptance. He realized that he was not a stutterer, but he is a person who stutters. Once he accepted that and put it out there, he began to stutter less. It is not uncommon for him to include the fact that he stutters when introducing himself, just to ease his own level of tension.

Since then, Moshe has been sent to Europe and Australia to run youth programs. He is a dynamic speaker who captures the attention of any audience. He is a gifted teacher whose students truly enjoy his classes. His stutter is not gone; and there are times when it is more pronounced than others, but the fact that Moshe accepts it makes him infinitely more fluent and comfortable with his audience – whether it is five men in a Talmud class, 50 synagogue-goers, or 500 teenagers.

I believe that Moshe’s stutter has not only not held him back, but his struggle with it has propelled him to heights he would not have dreamed possible.

As a parent of a stutterer, I offer the following suggestions to make to those in the same position:

Encourage your child / student / relative / friend to talk. Let him know that it is what he says, not how he says it, that is important;

Enlist the help of a speech therapist. If the first professional you try isn’t a good match, find another when he is ready and willing to work at it, the methods will help. They will not cure him, per se, but practicing will help him gain the confidence to express himself.

Meet with the speech therapist to find out how you, his parents, and his teachers can further help him.

Pray. Pray that the speech impediment does not hinder your child, but that it serves to propel him to even greater heights and accomplishments.

We would not tell a person with crooked teeth not to smile; we would not tell a person who limps to limit his walking. Encourage your child to talk. Let him know there is value to everything he has to say, no matter how difficult it may be for him to get the words out.

Click here to see my son’s crowdfunding campaign for his new book. (

The Converted Child

On today’s daf we find that one may immerse a non-Jewish child and convert him even if he is too young to accept the yoke of mitzvos since this is to his benefit. In the case of the Schwartzbaums, the act of bringing the ultimate benefit to their adopted child resulted in their gaining the ultimate benefit for themselves.

Dr. Schwartzbaum’s work as a sociologist took him and his wife to China for sabbatical study. In what their daughter Devorah has described as “the hand of G-d” in her story, one May morning, while waiting for his train, Dr. Schwartzbaum heard the sound of a baby’s cries. After spotting a small red parcel, he moved closer to investigate. Wrapped in a red silk jacket was a baby girl, with a note attached to her. The Schwartzbaums chose to do battle with the Chinese bureaucracy so that they could adopt her as their own and take her with them back to the United States. Later, they both realized that in order to really make their new daughter their own, they couldn’t just deprive her of her original identify without offering a substitute in its stead. It seemed clear that they would have to convert her to Judaism. Since they were both essentially unaffiliated, both Dr. and Mrs. Schwartzbaum underwent a gradual transformation regarding Judaism and their commitment to its principles. After a process of experimentation with other “denominations,” the couple finally approached an Orthodox rabbi, who made the baby’s conversion contingent on their commitment to three mitzvos: Shabbos, kashrus, and the laws family purity. Over the course of a number of years, the Schwartzbaums became fully observant and eventually made aliyah. (


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