Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775

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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775

(From the archives)

Shabbos: Returning to the level of Divine Presence of the Patriarchs on our tents


This week’s parashah discusses the actual construction of the Mishkan and we also read Parashas HaChodesh, which discusses the Exodus from Egypt. The Ramban writes in his introduction to the Book of Shemos that this Book is called Sefer HaGeulah, the Book of Redemption, because of the Exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, the Jewish People received the Torah and then built the Mishkan, which allowed them to return to the level of the Divine Presence that rested on the tents of their forefathers. What is the meaning of returning to the level of the Divine Presence that rested on the tents of the forefathers?

The Jewish People had a few merits which would allow them to be redeemed from Egypt

One of the most intriguing aspects of the redemption from Egypt and of receiving the Torah was that the Jewish People were not prepared for either of these events. The Arizal writes that had the Jewish People descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity, and had HaShem not delivered the Jewish People at the last moment, they would never have ascended from the depths of impurity. This idea is difficult to understand, as this implies that the Jewish People themselves did not have sufficient merits with which to leave Egypt. Yet, we know that when Moshe asked HaShem in what merit the Jewish People would leave Egypt, HaShem told Moshe that in the merit of receiving the Torah, the Jewish People would leave Egypt. Furthermore, the Medrash (see Bamidbar Rabbah 13:19) states that in the merit of not changing their names, language and clothing, the Jewish People left Egypt. Additionally, the Gemara (Sota 11b) states that in the merit of the righteous women the Jewish People left Egypt. This being the case, how is it possible that the Jewish people almost reached a point of no return and HaShem had to redeem them from Egypt with apparently no merits in their favor?

One must view himself as if he himself was redeemed from Egypt

In order to understand what it means that the Jewish People had almost reached the point of no return, we have to understand another statement that we recite in the Hagadah Shel Pesach. On Pesach night we recite the words that in every generation one must view himself as if he himself had just exited from Egypt. How can one view himself as if he had left Egypt if he never was exiled to Egypt? While we know that our souls were all present at the receiving of the Torah, and it follows that all our souls were in Egypt, we must also understand this recital in a practical sense. Is it possible for a person to experience having left Egypt when he does not feel like he was there in the first place?

Only HaShem can assist a person in overcoming the blandishments of his Evil Inclination

The answer to these questions is that it is well known that the Zohar compares the Egyptian exile to the power that the Evil Inclination has over a person. The Sefarim write that the word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is an acrostic for the words meitzar yam, the border of the Sea. In a deeper sense, however, this means that the Jewish People were surrounded by the sea of impurity which is the fiftieth level of contamination. Thus, besides the physical exile that the Jewish People were forced to endure in Egypt, they were also subject to the blandishments of the Evil Inclination. The same is true for us in our lives. While we may not always be cognitive of this, the fact is that the Evil Inclination is a constant presence in our lives, and it seeks to wreak havoc on our spiritual equilibrium. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) states that if not for the fact that HaShem aids a person in his struggles against the Evil Inclination, a person would not be able to overcome the enticement of the Evil Inclination alone. Thus, despite the many merits one may have, it is insufficient in his struggles with the Evil Inclination. Only Hashem can allow a person to be victorious over his Evil Inclination.

The merits of the Jewish People were insufficient for them to be redeemed from Egypt and the clutches of the Evil Inclination

We can now understand why, despite having the merit of certain virtues and the merit of the righteous women, the Jewish People were in need of something that would catapult them out of the clutches of the Evil Inclination. This extra push, so to speak, was the deliverance that HaShem provided for them. This idea also helps us gain a better perspective of what we should be feeling when we contemplate the Egyptian exile and the redemption. We are constantly struggling with the Evil Inclination and it is only HaShem’s compassion that enables us to overcome this struggle.

The Shabbos Connection

The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:1) states regarding the mitzvah of Parah Adumah that it said (Iyov 14:4) mi yitein tahor mitamei lo echod, who can produce purity from impurity? No one! This is akin to Avraham who came from Terach, Chizkiahu from Achaz, Yoshiyahu from Amon, Mordechai from Shimi, the Jewish People from the gentiles, and the World to Come from this world. The Sfas Emes (Parah 5647) writes that HaShem made it that one attains purity by being tested and forged in the crucible of this world. It was for this reason that the Jewish People had to endure the Egyptian exile and they were submerged in the forty-ninth level of impurity, until they merited being redeemed and becoming pure. This idea is manifest in the Jewish People residing amongst the gentiles, and in the Jewish people sojourning in this world in order to attain their share in the World to Come. Similarly, writes the Sfas Emes, every Shabbos is a commemoration to the exodus from Egypt, and every week we merit being redeemed from the gates of impurity and ascending towards the gates of purity. Based on the words of the Sfas Emes, we can now better understand why building the Mishkan was the culmination of the redemption process. Our Patriarchs lived a life of complete purity, and despite their encounters with foreign ideas and people who were the antithesis of their beliefs, they remained pure at all times. After enduring the Egyptian exile, the Jewish People received the Torah, which is the epitome of priority in this world. To attain that purity HaShem instructed them to build a Mishkan, which would allow them to receive the Divine Presence. Every week, with the arrival of Shabbos, we are returning to that level of Divine Presence upon our tents, as we light candles, eat challah, and bask in the Divine Presence, which are all reminiscent of the level of purity and holiness that our Patriarchs attained. HaShem should allow us to enter the upcoming month of Nissan with great joy and purity, and we should witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

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…. וּבִנְבוּאַת משֶׁה רַבֵּינוּ עָלָיו הַשָּׁלוֹם, to have faith in… the prophecy of our teacher, Moshe, peace be upon him. It is said (Shemos 14:31) וַיַּאֲמִינוּ בַּיהוָה וּבְמֹשֶׁה עַבְדּוֹ, and they had faith in HaShem and in Moshe, His servant. The commentators write that when one has faith in HaShem, he will automatically have faith in Moshe and all of the Sages after him. If one wishes to ascertain the level of his faith in HaShem, he can examine how he treats Torah scholars, as one who respects Torah scholars certainly has faith in HaShem, Who instructed us to respect and fear Torah scholars.

 Shabbos Stories

Not the way you want it to happen

A poor man once came to the renowned tzaddik, the Strikover Rebbe, who had a reputation for performing the most wondrous and amazing miracles. The man’s daughter had already been engaged twice, but when her father had been unable to provide the agreed- upon nadon (dowry), the engagements had been broken. Now she had become engaged once again, and her father desperately wanted this marriage to go through.

The Rebbe told him to go home, and buy a lottery ticket – the Ribbono Shel Olam would surely help him. The poor man optimistically returned home, and bought a ticket, but the ticket did not win. Although the father somehow managed to keep the shidduch (engagement) afloat and marry his daughter off, the Strikover Rebbe was so shaken by his “failure” the he refused to accept any more petitioners for his blessings. A Rebbe’s power, he argued, is derived from the dictum of Chazal, our Sages (see Taanis 23a) that Hashem fulfills the will of a tzaddik. Obviously, he was not a tzaddik!

Soon afterwards, Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa came to Strikov to visit the Rebbe. He was disturbed that the Rebbe had ceased accepting the hundreds of petitioners who desperately sought his blessings over the apparent failure of one blessing.

“Strikover Rebbe,” said Reb Simcha Bunim, “tell me: How does one reconcile that which we are taught, ‘Hashem fulfils the will of a tzaddik’ with the passuk in Iyov (Job 9:12), ‘Who can tell Him what to do!?’ The explanation, however, is as follows: Hashem will fulfill the Tzaddik’s will. But even the tzaddik has no right to dictate how Hashem will do it. Your beracha (blessing) was fulfilled. The marriage went off as planned – just not the way you thought it would happen!” The Rebbe saw the wisdom in his words, and resumed accepting Chassidim.

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

One Av Melacha with many unexpected applications in the kitchen is לישה, kneading. Kneading is defined as binding together small particles, i.e. flour, by means of a bonding agent i.e. water, to form one mass. The melacha of kneading also applies to kneading non-food items, such as clay; however, as always, our discussion will center on foods.

  1. The Melacha of Kneading
  1. The Scope of the Prohibition

The primary example of the melacha is kneading flour with water to form a dough. Other applications of this prohibition are mixing baby cereal with milk to form a gruel, and mixing eggs or tuna with oil to form egg salad or tuna salad. The prohibition is not limited to kneading, but also prohibits any similar activity that unites small particles into a body. Thus, stirring or beating food particles into one body (with an added liquid) is also forbidden.

Even if the final product will not have as thick a consistency as dough but will be slightly more fluid (like a thick batter), creating the mixture is subject to the prohibition of kneading.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775

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New Stories Vayakhel-Pekudei 5775

Inspiration in the Wilderness

A survival camp helps Jewish boys find their place in the universe.

by Yael Mermelstein        

Shmuel was apprehensive on his first day of camp. He’d never been to sleep-away camp and he wasn’t the type of kid for whom things worked out smoothly. The head counselor, Tani Prero, asked all the boys to stand in a circle and introduce themselves. Shmuel stood, in the middle of the forest with a group of boys he didn’t know, waiting to present himself. He was uncomfortable in the spotlight. His turn finally came.

“My name is Shmuel,” he said. “And I’m stupid.”

Shmuel had been unsuccessful in school which in his teenage mind translated into a lack of success in life. Labeling himself as ‘stupid’ made it easier for him to face the world. That way, nobody would have any expectations of him.

Tani looked at Shmuel. “I believe you about the first half,” he said. “As for the second half, you’ll have to prove that to me.”

At Yagilu, a wilderness camp for Jewish boys, Shmuel demonstrated himself to be anything but stupid.

“I taught the boys how to tie knots using ropes and they’d build things in the trees with the knots,” Tani says. “I remember hearing someone call me, ‘Hey Tani!’ I looked up and there was Shmuel, standing on a log that was 15 feet in the air. I saw him jumping backwards from the tree and before I could register my shock and fear I saw him resting comfortably in a nook of the tree. ‘Hey Tani,’ Shmuel said. ‘Look, I invented a harness.’”

Finding Spirituality in the Great Outdoors

Tani Prero is the son and the grandson of pulpit rabbis, eloquent in their speaking, learned in Torah. But as a teenager, he felt a lack of direction and meaning in his life. He couldn’t figure out how to forge a connection with God the way that his father and his grandfather had. Until he discovered the great outdoors.

“My appreciation of nature opened me up to a whole new level of spirituality. Out in nature, I felt like I was in the presence of holiness. When I’d see people hiking carrying beer cans or talking on cell phones, I almost felt like they were violating a sacred place. There is something very holy about the world that God created.”

One night, Tani went out with a group to set up camp, to gather firewood and water. He had just finished learning The Song of Songs, a holy text written by King Solomon. Two words were on instant replay in his mind: “emtzaacha bachutz” – “I will find you, (God), outside.” Tani took a couple of moments and sat down next to the river, mountainside at his back. The late afternoon sun shone through the trees and a gentle wind blew. He sat and composed a poem, using the words of scriptures, in Hebrew. He hadn’t even known that he could write. The experience of the outdoors, the beauty and the wonder and the harmony helped him to understand his place in the universe in a way he’d never experienced before.

“I knew that I had to combine my passion for learning and teaching Torah with my love of nature and the feeling of connectedness to God that only comes from being in the wilderness. I wanted to help Jewish boys to find their place in the universe, just as I’d found mine – that’s how Yagilu Wilderness was born.”

Inner Brilliance

Shmuel Baron was one of Tani’s first campers. That was more than a decade ago. Tani couldn’t believe that this kid had ever called himself stupid. It was the farthest thing from the truth. In the wilderness, he was absolutely brilliant.

“I taught the boys how to make their own bows and Shmuel finished his in record time,” Tani says. “Then I taught them to make arrows and, again, he was done way before everybody else. So I coached him on how to make arrowheads using rocks as tools to chisel other rocks, a method called flint knapping. I gave him just the basic instructions. Within a relatively short period of time, he’d made five arrowheads that looked like they’d been constructed by experienced Native Americans. They worked perfectly. The kid was brilliant.”

“Another day, we built sandcastles at the beach, just for fun. Most of the boys worked together in groups of three, or five or 10. They built amazing moats and bridges and tunnels. Although Shmuel generally worked well with other boys, I saw he was working by himself, making a giant pile of sand, which wasn’t at all what I’d expected of him. But there he was, making the pile larger and larger. When I came back later, there was Shmuel, sitting next to – not a mound of sand, but a giant sea turtle that looked like it had emerged from the lake he sat near. It had a shell and claws and you could even see its eyeballs. I’ll never forget that.”

As the summer progressed, Tani and Shmuel forged a special relationship. One day, Shmuel revealed to Tani another layer to his lack of confidence in his own abilities.

“In camp every boy has a turn to lead the prayer services at least once during the summer,” Shmuel says. “I didn’t know what to do because I could barely read. I was so embarrassed. I was petrified my turn would come and everyone would figure out how horrible my reading was. ”

Tani decided to let him slip quietly under the radar instead of leading prayer services like the other boys. But on the last night of camp, Tani gave him an opening.

“I knew how much he’d grown over the summer,” Tani said. “I asked out loud if there’s anyone who wants to volunteer to lead the evening services. Shmuel jumped up and said, ‘I’ll do it!’”

When Shmuel began the first word, Tani saw that he hadn’t been exaggerating about his difficulty with reading. He tried his best, fumbling through the words, getting some right and others not so right. Instead of taking the usual 10 or 15 minutes, the evening services took 25 minutes. But his friends were supportive. Instead of getting fidgety, they sat silently, listening and waiting patiently for him to get to the end.

“The moment he finished, the entire camp burst out cheering and clapping,” Tani says. “Then they started singing and dancing for Shmuel. Shmuel was beaming and crying out of happiness right along with everyone else.”

Today, Shmuel is the 25-year-old vice president of development for a Web design company. He still remembers camp as an amazing and transformative experience and keeps in touch with some of his friends from camp.

“It was a really great adventure,” Shmuel says. “I just had the most positive feeling there. It changed me.”

“He never did prove the second half of his statement from that first day of camp,” Tani says. “Not by a long shot.”

For more information about Yagilu, please contact 847.773.7606 or

Tani Prero has a master’s-degree level certification degree from The Kibbutz College in Tel Aviv in wilderness survival training, an MA in education from Loyola University of Chicago and Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshiva University. He has taught at a number of schools catering to adolescent boys including Bnei Chayil and Shaarei Arazim. Yagilu Wilderness is a shomer Shabbat wilderness survival camp for boys ages 12-18, run under the auspices of Camp Morasha. References to Yagilu in this article include its predecessor camp. (

Setting Fixed Times for Torah Study

The previous Rebbe of Toldos Aharon, zt”l, once delivered such strong words of chizuk to inspire men to devote special times to learn that his words were posted publicly so that their impact could spread to other communities besides his own. The chizuk wasn’t actually expressed in a speech—it had been the Rebbe’s response to a question asked by one of his own Chassidim. The questioner had asked, “A lot of people work and learn a little but are still not using their free time productively. Can the Rebbe please tell us how we might be able to stimulate them to be koveiah ittim l’Torah, to dedicate set times for Torah study?” The Rebbe responded, “The concept of kevi’as ittim is a very deep one indeed. Even if one has a set hour of learning, and the Hafla’ah writes that although this might only represent a small portion of the day, we still hold that kavuah k’mechatzeh al mechatzeh, that when something is fixed, it assumes a far greater significance than the actual quantity of time would normally indicate. We learn this principle from Kesuvos 15; if nine stores sell kosher meat and one sells non-kosher meat in a particular area, and one bought from one of the stores and doesn’t know which, the meat is forbidden. Even though the rule of thumb is that we follow the majority, since the kosher and the non-kosher were all sold in an established and fixed place, the makom kavuah enjoyed by the non-kosher store grants it an added degree of importance. This makes it as if half the stores in the area are selling non-kosher meat, which means that we have to assume that the purchase had a 50/50 chance of not being kosher in retrospect. So too, if one learns even an hour a day on a fixed basis it is as if fully half his day was occupied in holy matters!”

The Vilna Gaon, zt”l, said: “We find that the word koveia also can refer to stealing… This is because very often one must literally steal the time to learn from a busy day!” (




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