Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Tazria-Metzora 5775

Tazria-Metzora 5775

New Stories Tazria-Metzora 5775

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tazria-Metzora 5775

Counting our way out of impurity towards purity and holiness


We have just completed the celebration of the Pesach festival, and we are now in the midst of counting the Omer. In this week’s parshiyos we also encounter other forms of counting. One counting is when a woman after childbirth counts the days of her impurity. A second counting is when a metzora, one who contracts the spiritual disease of tzaraas, counts seven days from when he is cleansed before he is permitted to enter into the Israelite Camp. A third counting is when a woman has a flow and she then counts seven days and she is then purified. The Zohar states that the forty-nine days that we count from the bringing of the Omer are akin to a woman counting her days of impurity. The counting from the Omer then culminates in the festival of Shavuos.

Understanding the counting of the Omer and the mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva

One must wonder why it is so important to count the days of the Omer. When one wishes to know when an upcoming festival will occur, he merely has to look at the calendar and determine the correct date of the festival. We do not count the days until Rosh Hashanah and other festival that we celebrate throughout the year. Why, then, must we count from Pesach until Shavuos? Another perplexing idea that requires explanation is why immediately after the joy of the Pesach festival we enter into a mourning period over the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva who passed away between Pesach and Shavuos. How are we to comprehend the juxtaposition of this period of joy with this period of mourning?

One must search out the impurities within himself

In order to glean a better understanding of the purpose in our counting, it is worth mentioning a fascinating idea presented by the Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simcha. It is said (Mishlei 2:3-4) im tivaksehna chakasef vichamatmonim tachpisena az tavin yiras HaShem vidaas Elokim timtza, if you seek it as [it were] sliver, if you search for it as [if it were] hidden treasures – then you will understand the fear of HaShem, and discover the knowledge of G-d. The Lev Simcha (Emor) writes that these verses can be interpreted to be alluding to the festivals of the year. Seeking like silver alludes to Pesach, as the word kesef, silver, also connotes desire, and Pesach is a time when HaShem showed His love for the Jewish People. Hidden treasures allude to the days of counting from the Omer, as the word vichamatmonim, can be read mem tes monim, counting forty-nine. The word tachpisena, if you search for it, alludes to Shavuos, as the days of counting the Omer are a preparation for Shavuos. The Lev Simcha goes on to find allusions to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. It is fascinating that the word vichamatmonim alludes to the forty-nine days of counting from the Omer. The first letters of the word are mem and tes, which also form most of the word tamei, translated as impure. Perhaps the lesson contained in this hint is that one should always view himself as being in a state of impurity and that he must strive for purity and holiness. HaShem, in His infinite compassion, redeemed us from the impurities of Egypt, but we still have a long way to go until we are worthy of receiving the Torah. How, then, do we remove these impurities from our midst?

We are required to remove tainted character traits

The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) states that the students of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not treat each other with respect. It would seem from this Gemara that if the students of the great Rabbi Akiva were lacking in this area, then certainly we could use improvement on how we act towards each other. A person who does not respect his fellow man demonstrates an impurity of the soul. Shavuos is reflective of our gathering at Sinai kiish echod bileiv echod, as one man with one heart. It is not enough to merely study Torah. One must internalize the lessons in Torah, and Rabbi Akiva was the one who said viahavta lireiacha kamocha zeh klal gadol baTorah, you shall love your fellow as yourself, this is a great rule in Torah. The word gadol is associated with the tribute of chesed, kindness. It is no wonder that the first attribute that we refer to when counting from the Omer is chesed, and the last attribute is malchus, kingship. The Gemara (Gittin 62a) states that the true kings are the Torah scholars. For one to achieve a level of kingship he must be exemplary in the attribute of chesed. Thus, one must “search” himself during these days to filter out all the impurities within him.

Sefiras HaOmer is when we count towards Shavuos and when we count away from our impurities

We can now understand why we count the days from the Omer, and why we count specifically during the mourning period over the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students. We are counting towards Shavuos, but even more significantly, we are counting the days until we can finally rid ourselves of the impurities that exist within our character. Thus, we can interpret the word matmonim to mean counting away from the mem and the tes, which spell out the two essential letters of the word tamei , impurity.

The Shabbos connection

Every week we have the ability to count the days of the week until we arrive at Shabbos. The weekday certainly has its share of impurities, both from the outside world and within us. Nonetheless, by preparing properly for the Holy Shabbos, we can always anticipate that we will arrive at Shabbos in a state of purity, when all harsh judgments depart and we can bask in the Kingship of HaShem. Hashem should allow us to count these days and they should culminate in joy, brotherhood, and a true purification of our hearts.

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.

וְסִיַּעְתָּא דִשְׁמַיָּא לָנוּ וּלְכָל יִשְׂרָאֵל, אָמֵן, and help from Heaven, for us and for all of Israel, Amen! There are many verse that refer to HaShem “looking down,” so to speak, on humanity. Here we ask for assistance from Heaven. It is said (Tehillim 115:16) הַשָּׁמַיִם שָׁמַיִם לַיהוָה וְהָאָרֶץ נָתַן לִבְנֵי אָדָם, as for the heavens, the heavens are HaShem’s; but the earth He has given to mankind.  The Kotzker Rebbe interpreted this to mean that the heavens are to HaShem and the earth He gave to mankind to make into heaven, i.e. to transform materialism into spirituality. Here too we can suggest that we ask for help from heaven to transform our earthly needs and desires into spiritual matters, for us and the entire Jewish People.

Shabbos Stories

Transferring the Disease

The Shpoler Zeide (Rebbe Aryeh Leib, the Grandfather of Shpola) had a servant named Chelovno who told this story:

He once saw a man with a terrible skin disease that covered him from head to foot enter the Rebbe’s room with a petition-note. This man stayed with the Rebbe for a while and when he left, Chelovno said he saw that he was normal, without a trace of the skin disease!

After this, Chelovno brought a cup of coffee in for the Rebbe and was astonished to see that the Rebbe’s whole body was covered with the skin disease! “What happened here?’ yelled Chelovno. “Why did the Rebbe do this?”

The Rebbe, however, did not respond.

Later, Chelovno went in again and saw that the disease had completely disappeared from the Rebbe’s body, and asked the Rebbe to tell him what this was all about.

The Rebbe said, “When that man first came to me, I didn’t have any way to cure him. So I had to take the disease on myself; and he was healed. Afterward, I pleaded before God, blessed be He, ‘What have I done that I should be afflicted with this skin disease?’ Then, they healed me too!” (MiBeer Hatzaddikim, vol. 2, p. 45)

Who’s the Handicapped One Here?

Rabbi Mordechai Kaamenetzky writes: Rabbi Paysach Krohn loves to tell the beautifully haunting story of the woman who left Rusk Institute with her child who was in a wheelchair. It was a wintry day and the chill that pervaded the young boy’s fragile bones declared its chilling presence with the icy frosting it left on the exposed metal of his wheelchair.

Waiting at the bus stop on the corner of 34th and 2nd Avenue, three large city busses whizzed by, unable to accommodate the mother and the child and his special chair. It was only after a half-hour wait that the mother flagged down a bus and insisted to the driver that he allow them to board.

As the poor woman struggled to lift the wheelchair into the narrowly impatient doors that waited to slam like the jaws of a tiger, the driver shouted at her, “Lady you’ll have to wait for a bus with a lift! I gotta go!”

Immediately a few passengers jumped to her defense! “It’s freezing out there. We will wait!”

Embarrassed into submission, the driver acquiesced. As the mother and child settled in their place on the bus, one said to her, “Your child is not handicapped. It only seems that way. In truth it is the driver that has a handicapped mind!” (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. The Kneading Process

 B. The Two Categories of Mixtures

 As stated above, kneading is forbidden whether the final mixture is thick, like dough, or slightly less thick, like batter. However, only thick mixtures will be in the category of the melacha deoraysa (Torah Prohibition) of kneading, loose mixtures are prohibited miderabanan (rabbinic Decree). There are many halachic differences between these categories of mixtures, and we will therefore define each category.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Tazria-Metzora 5775

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New Stories Tazria-Metzora 5775

A Tale of Two Heroes

Personal glimpses of young men who gave their all for Israel.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler and Yisrael Rohn Rigler        

Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for its fallen soldiers (to be observed this Wednesday, April 22), is an immensely personal day of loss for all Israelis. We mourn our sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, and neighbors. A tiny country, the 6,000 soldiers Israel lost in 1948’s War of Independence was 1% of the total population, equivalent to the United States losing 1.4 million soldiers that year.

In Israel’s short and embattled history, 23,169 soldiers have been killed in active military duty. Sixty-six of them fell last summer in Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s effort to stop the rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. Here are glimpses into the lives of just two of them.

Benaya Sarel

The grandson of a Holocaust survivor, 26-year-old Benaya Sarel was engaged to marry Gali Nir on August 20, 2014, at Naot Kedumim, a nature reserve in central Israel. The invitations had already gone out when wedding preparations were interrupted by Operation Protective Edge. Benaya, who was a major in an elite infantry unit, was called up to fight the Hamas terrorists inside Gaza.

Benaya had been in Gaza before as a commander, during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. In an interview afterwards, he declared, “I always made sure to be in the front and to be the first to enter a building, so that if anyone would die, it would be me.”

During that campaign, in the thick of battle, Benaya called out, “Whoever is willing to give up his life, come with me now.” All his soldiers followed him.

During Operation Protective Edge last summer, Benaya was wounded by shrapnel. He tried removing the shrapnel himself. He even sent his family a Whatsapp photo of himself trying to take out the shrapnel. He called it, “selfie surgery.”

Benaya ended up being taken to Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. There he was told that he had to undergo surgery. He refused, and demanded that they postpone the surgery until the war was over so he could return to his troops.

When his parents heard that he was in the hospital, they wanted to come visit. Benaya refused to let them, because he didn’t let the soldiers under his command have visitors. His mother protested, “But no one will know.” Benaya replied, “But I’ll know.”

The doctors sewed up his wounds with the shrapnel still inside, and Benaya returned to Gaza to be with his soldiers.

Benaya was close to his family. Every day he and his mother would enjoy a “virtual cup of coffee” together. His mother in Kiryat Arba would turn on her coffee machine and Benaya, wherever he was stationed, would pour himself a cup of coffee, and they would talk on their cellphones as they sipped. One Friday last August, he called his mother at 8:38 AM. He spoke quietly, and said that there was going to be a ceasefire.

His mother asked, “Then why are you inside [Gaza]?”

He replied, “I have something to finish up. Turn on the machine; we’ll be drinking coffee soon.” He added: “Mom, you’re a 10.”

That was his final statement. At 9:10, he was killed in action. It was August 1, twenty days before the wedding that never took place.

Shai Kushner

Shai Kushner spent his last year of high school trying to convince his father to permit him to join a combat unit. As his father’s only child (his parents were divorced and his mother also had a daughter), the law in Israel required that an only child could not serve in a combat unit without the written permission of his parent.

Shai’s father Michael resisted. He himself had served in the same elite combat unit his son wanted to join. He knew the danger. But after a year of his beloved son’s pleading, Michael relented and signed.

Shai’s friend Yavgeny would later write:

Shai lived his life at a very fast pace, and therefore he didn’t get involved with the petty problems and worries of the average teenager. He always galloped forward, and impressed everyone who knew him. Even though Shai was involved in many projects, he knew how to allocate his time to each person – his parents, his half-sister, and his close friends. What I learned from him is what I call the “Shai way” – to gallop forward and to pass every test and challenge. [Translated from the website Walla!, Mishpachot Hallelei Tzuk Eitan Kotvot, Oct. 3, 2014]

Shai’s great love was music. He picked up a guitar for the first time at the age of twelve. It became his greatest source of joy.

He was twenty years old and had served in the IDF for two years when Operation Protective Edge broke out. Shai’s unit was sent into Gaza.

On July 30, Michael Kushner wrote this letter to his son:


I miss you very much. I live with the feeling that I haven’t seen you for years. Not a moment goes by that I’m not thinking of you – day and night.

I’m trying to imagine how you and your friends are dealing with this not simple situation, how you’re reacting to this situation that you were cast into, you and all the rest of the young people who have been given this hard task.

With every day that passes Protective Edge is turning from a “campaign” to a war, with all the horrible meaning of that word. But I know and believe that you and your friends are strong and determined, and full of motivation to complete the difficult task that has been assigned to you.

You are in our hearts and in our souls. Protect yourselves.

Your loving father who misses you,


Michael Kushner sent the letter to his son’s cellphone, but Shai was fighting deep inside Gaza, where soldiers (except officers) were not permitted to take their cellphones. The following day Shai was killed. Most likely, he never received his father’s letter.

Yom HaZikaron, this Wednesday, is the day to remember Shai and Benaya, and the thousands like them who gave their lives for Jews to live in their ancestral homeland.


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