Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Behar-Bechukosai 5775

Behar-Bechukosai 5775

New Stories Behar-Bechukosai 5775

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Behar-Bechukosai 5775

Sustenance, Torah and Shabbos


In the difficult economic times that are currently prevalent, it is worth noting that this week’s parasha provides the solution. It is said (Vayikra 26:3) im bichukosai teileichu, if you will follow My decrees. Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim that interprets this verse to mean, “if you toil in Torah,” then you will receive all the blessings mentioned further on. The Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 35:1) states that it is said (Tehillim 119:59) chishavti derachai vaashivah raglai el eidosecho, I considered my ways and returned my feet to Your testimonies. Dovid HaMelech said, “Master of the world! Every day I calculated where I would go, and my feet brought me of their own accord to the synagogues and study halls.” This is what is meant when it is said “and returned my feet to Your testimonies.”

Running to your sustenance or away from it?

The Pinei Menachem writes that it is said in the name of one of the Mussar giants that he once witnessed a person running. The mussar giant queried the person regarding his destination and the person responded that he was running to attain his livelihood. The Mussar giant asked, “how do you know for certain that the destination which you are running to is where you will find your livelihood? Perhaps your sustenance is right here and your running is distancing you from it.” The Pinei Menachem writes that perhaps this is the meaning of the Medrash that Dovid declared, “Master of the world! Every day I calculated where I would go, and my feet brought me of their own accord to the synagogues and study halls.” A person thinks that he will go after hours to grab more business in another place, when in reality, the opposite is true. One who enters the study hall to engage in Torah study is the one who really attains something.

Torah is primary and earning a livelihood is secondary

Let us understand this idea. HaShem certainly wishes that a person should make a living, and one never knows from which source he will earn his livelihood. How can a person then justify his time studying Torah if at that time he is really required to earn a livelihood? While there are no clear answers to this question, it would appear that even according to the opinion of Rabbi Yishmael (Brachos 35b) that one must study Torah and conduct himself in the ways of the world, ones thoughts should always be on returning to the study hall to engage in Torah study. Regarding Torah study it is said (Yirmiah 33:25) koh amar HaShem im lo brisi yomam valaylah chukos shamayim vaaretz lo samti, thus said HaShem: If My covenant with the night and with the day would not be; had I not set up the laws of heaven and earth. The Gemara (Pesachim 68b) understands that this verse means that if not for the Jewish People engaging in Torah study, the world would not have reason to be in existence. One can certainly admit that one was not created to earn a livelihood. Rather, earning a livelihood is a penalty for Adam HaRishon having sinned, and so that one should not remain idle. Thus, while one is required to earn a livelihood, his thoughts should always be on the true accomplishment in life, which is the study of the Holy Torah.

The Shabbos connection

The Medrash (Tana Divei Eliyahu) states that HaShem tells the Jewish People, “Although you work during the six days of the week, Shabbos should be entirely Torah.” The Zohar states that the six days of the week find their source of blessing in Shabbos. It would behoove all of us to strengthen our Shabbos observance and toil in the study of Torah on Shabbos, and then HaShem will surely provide us with a proper livelihood, which we can use to serve Him even more.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

Some opinions attribute the authorship of this Zemer to the Arizal.

שַׁבָּת וּמוֹעֲדִים, לִשְׁמֹר בְּכָל שָׁנַי, The Shabbos and festivals – to keep through all my years. The Medrash equates the observance of the festivals to the observance of the Shabbos. While Shabbos carries with a more severe penalty for its transgressors, the festivals are equally important to observe because through the festivals we recognize the miracles that HaShem performed for us upon the Exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, the commentators write that the joy of the festivals supersedes the joy that we experience on Shabbos, as the light of the festivals is a glimpse into the primordial light that HaShem concealed for the righteous in the future.

Shabbos Stories

Good Shabbos to the trees

Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: Rav Mordechai Gifter (1916-2001) related an incident involving the Ponovezer Rav (1886-1969). In a Shemittah year, the Ponovezer Rav went over to a tree, kissed the tree and said “Good Shabbos to you.” Just like there is a special day – Shabbos – on which we have to feel special, so too in Eretz Yisroel during the Shemittah year, it is Shabbos for the land.

 There’s always a better tomorrow

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman writes: A teacher once told me: “Even when I get very upset at a student; even when I’ve had to punish him severely, and inside I’m burning at his lack of derech eretz (manners), I still smile at him and tell him “A gutten tug” before he leaves my classroom. I know tomorrow he’ll be back, and even though today was a total failure, tomorrow is another day, and hopefully a better one. But if he thinks that I’ve given up on him, why should he even bother trying harder tomorrow?”

Rabbi Hoffman writes further: It is told that, as an orphaned boy just past the age of bar-mitzvah, Yisrael Meir Kagan – later known as the Chofetz Chaim – studied in Vilna under a renowned teacher and mentor whose other disciples were four and five years his elder. Yisrael Meir’s great mind, it seems, came to the attention of the city’s powerful Haskalah (“Enlightenment”) movement, which sought to introduce Yeshiva students to the world of secular culture. The maskilim ran a government-sponsored academy in the city, and they greatly desired to lure the young prodigy to join their academy. In his own quiet but determined way, Yisrael Meir resisted all their attempts.

On one occasion, the dean of the academy challenged him: “Do not the Sages state, of those who toil in Torah, ‘You are fortunate, and all is good for you! (Tehillim 128:2)’ – ‘you are fortunate in This World, and all is good for you in the World to Come! (Avos 6:4)’ Now, can you honestly tell me that this is so? So many Torah scholars live in abject poverty and deprivation! Where is the happiness? Where is the fortune?”

“Show me true toil in Torah,” the youth answered with quiet conviction, “and I will show you true happiness and fortune.” [For Love of Torah p. 151-152]

Rabbi Hoffman writes further: There’s another reason why our humble Torah and mitzvos may in fact be very dear in Hashem’s eyes. The Chofetz Chaim used to explain this with a parable: In the early 1900’s, in a large Russian city, a grain merchant complained to the Chofetz Chaim about his difficulty making a living. At the time, there was an abundance of grain, and the Chofetz Chaim was surprised that with such favorable conditions it was hard to be successful.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” the merchant said. “There’s so much grain to be sold that the buyers pick and choose only the highest grade – and that at bargain prices. Plus, they force me to extend them credit, and it takes me forever to see my money. They leave me with all the low-grade produce, which I’m forced to sell for almost nothing to farmers and cattle-raisers for animal feed.”

Many years later, after WW1 had taken its toll, and food and produce were scarce, the Chofetz Chaim again met the merchant. “How’s business?” he asked.

“Rebbe, Baruch HaShem it’s great! There’s a severe shortage of grain on the market. Whenever I have grain to sell, the buyers line-up in anticipation. An ad-hoc auction ensues, and I’m able to sell my produce at a very handsome mark-up. They’re so desperate to buy that they don’t even check the quality – they’re ready to take shipment immediately, sight unseen! And they pay up-front in cash. I make more today on one wagon-load of grain than I did years ago on a month’s worth!”

“Do you hear?” the Chofetz Chaim used to tell people when he would relate this incident. “When there’s abundance, things are cheap and buyers are picky. But when there’s a shortage, prices are high and no one even checks to see how good the merchandise is! In our forefathers’ times – in the times of the Tanaim, Amoraim, Geonim, Rishonim – even the early Acharonim, there was a great abundance of Torah. Their minds were brilliant, and they had tremendous patience and discipline. Back then, only the purest Torah – that learned with a perfect heart and righteous intentions (lishma) – was acceptable.

“But in our times,” he would say, “there’s such a severe shortage of Torah and mitzvos that they’re ‘selling’ at massive premiums – and Hashem hardly even checks the quality of the ‘merchandise!’ ‘Just bring me all your Torah and mitzvos,’ He says. Nowadays, whatever a Yid can do has value we can’t even begin to estimate!”

A learned Talmid Chacham once remarked to me, “Who can imagine the sechar (reward) for those who choose to dedicate their lives to Torah study in our times, when there’s so much out there to distract and divert, and when true dedication and commitment are such rare qualities.” Our mitzvos may indeed pale in comparison to the deeds of earlier generations, but when there’s a shortage in the market, and we’ve got the merchandise, we’d be fools not to maximize our leverage and “sell” whatever we possibly can. (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

2. The Kneading Process

B.  The Two Categories of Mixtures

 Watery Mixtures

Mixing solid particles with so much liquid that will result in a watery mixture, which has no body at all, is not deemed to be kneading and is permitted. For this reason, one would be permitted to prepare chocolate milk or baby formula.

Nevertheless, one must be careful to mix the powder with a lot of liquid at once. Mixing it gradually with small amounts of liquid will initially result in the formation of a paste, which is prohibited.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Behar-Bechukosai 5775

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New Stories Behar-Bechukosai 5775

The Hidden Jews of Montana?

Sarah McConnell and the indestructible power of the Jewish spark.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler  

Sarah McConnell was born in Missoula, Montana, in 1972. Her father’s family, proud descendants of the Ulster Scots, were avid genealogists. They traced their family tree back to the Revolutionary War and a Lieutenant McConnell, who fought under General George Washington. With her sterling credentials, Sarah was accepted into the select Daughters of the American Revolution.

Her mother’s family was much harder to trace. Sophie, the great-great-grandmother who had come to Montana in the early 1900s, was from Europe, but throughout her life she refused to divulge her maiden name or where she had come from. Moreover, she had cut off all contact with her European relatives. Immigrating to America at the age of 20, on the boat Sophie married a man named Kasinov.

As Sarah wonders, “They never shared anything about their journey in terms of how they got to Montana or how they got out of Europe. I don’t know the ports they left from, who their family was, or any details. I have always found that strange, because in the other branches of my family, we have a ton of oral history passed down through generations. People love to talk about it.”

“No one in my family is going to marry a Jew.”

When Sarah’s mother Janet was in university, what Sarah calls, “the one Jewish man in Montana” courted her. When he asked Janet’s father for her hand in marriage, however, Sarah’s grandfather flatly refused, declaring, “No one in my family is going to marry a Jew.”

When he was 83 years old, Sarah presented him with evidence that he himself had likely married a Jew.

Unlike almost all of their neighbors, Sarah’s grandmother Lucy and great-grandmother Anna did not belong to any church. When Anna was on her deathbed, someone tried to convince her to accept Yoshke. Her adamant response was: “I will NEVER accept Yoshke!”

“You’re a Jew”

Sarah has dark, curly hair and what many would call a “Jewish nose.” Nevertheless, it’s hard to account for the repeated, uncanny instances of people labeling her a Jew.

Sarah’s husband and two sons

Sarah’s father, Dr. Robert McConnell, PhD, is an academic, so the family moved several times as she was growing up. She spent her high school years in Indiana, in a town founded by German immigrants. Fellow students made fun of her, calling her “a Jew.” Recalls Sarah, “The students in the high school I attended were extremely anti-Semitic. I cannot tell you how I was bullied every day because they believed I was a Jew.”

When Sarah was a freshman in high school, she had a Jewish drama teacher who cast Sarah as one of the lead roles in the Holocaust play, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. When Sarah questioned why she had been given the part, her teacher replied, “I feel like you’re of my people.”

At the age of 21, Sarah went to France. Several French Algerian Muslim girls sought her out in order to improve their English. One of her Muslim friends took Sarah’s picture, and showed it to her brother. The next day she told Sarah, “My brother says you’re Jewish. He doesn’t like Jewish people.” Sarah felt maligned by her friend’s comment, but reassured her that her physical appearance must have come from an Italian great-great grandmother on her father’s side. Although her Italian relatives were actually very fair, Sarah could think of no other explanation.

After getting her Master’s Degree at University of York in England, Sarah moved to Seattle, Washington, and got a job in information technology.

She became engaged to a man named Edward. Although Sarah was always kind to Ed’s mother, she hated Sarah, accusing her of being Jewish. Eventually, Ed’s mother forced him to break the engagement.

Broken-hearted, Sarah moved to a different town in Washington and searched for a new job. A female recruiter picked up Sarah’s resume and asked her out for coffee. She told Sarah that she herself was Jewish and added, “You look like the women in Israel. Are you Jewish?”

I always felt a kinship to the Jewish People.

Sarah responded, “Thank you. That’s a wonderful compliment because I always felt a kinship to the Jewish People.”

Some time afterward, Sarah set up her profile on a dating website. She used very specific search criteria to be matched, including the word “Christian,” but no good matches came up. One day, gripped by a strong feeling, she deleted the word “Christian” and replaced it with “Jewish.” The very first profile that came up, along with 100% matching criteria, was of a Russian Jew named Vladislav.

Vladislav was doing his second year of medical residency in Olympia, Washington. Both Sarah and Vlad were 29 years old. As soon as they met in person, they felt an immediate affinity.

Vlad’s parents, although nonobservant, were adamant that he should marry only a Jew. Early on in their dating, the subject of her not being Jewish came up. Vlad would call Sarah his “Yenta.” She would reply, “Well, I don’t think that’s the case.”

He would answer with conviction, “I really feel like you are Jewish.”

She would respond, “That sounds like wishful thinking.”

Although trained as a scientist, Vlad would insist, “I don’t think so. I really do feel that you are Jewish.”

Succumbing to parental pressure, Vlad broke up with Sarah five times. The irony: One prospective mother-in-law rejected Sarah because she thought she was Jewish, and another rejected her because she thought she wasn’t.

Finally, they eloped to Idaho in 2003.

The Spain Connection

A few years later, Sarah became involved again in researching her family tree. She had her father’s side in perfect detail, but her matrilineal line was still a mystery. “I was frustrated,” she recalls, “that there was nothing on my matrilineal line back in Europe.”

Sarah decided to do a DNA test on her matrilineal line. The results that came back shocked her. Her DNA put her in a cohort of almost 100 people, all of them Jews, and most of them Sephardic Jews. (Sephardic Jews are descended from Jews who chose to leave Spain in 1492 rather than convert to Christianity.)

Sarah phoned the DNA company and asked them if there was a mistake. They explained to her their strict testing protocols and their high rate of accuracy. There was no mistake, they assured her.

When Sarah informed her mother of what she had discovered, Janet responded, “Are you sure?” Sarah repeated the DNA company’s assurances. Her mother was silent for a few moments, and then said simply, “It makes sense.” Janet admitted that she had always wondered if their roots were Jewish.

The DNA results spurred Sarah to do a genealogical search of her matrilineal line. She discovered, through Ellis Island records, that her great-great grandmother, who had emigrated from Europe and had refused to divulge her maiden name, was named “Sophie Schaub.”

Sarah then researched the name “Schaub” on a Jewish genealogy database, and found “Schaub” on a registry of Jews in Spain in the late 1400s. From two directions, DNA testing and genealogy, the trail led back to the same place: the Jews of Spain.

“We come from a long line of rabbis who would rather die by the sword than convert.”

According to Jewish law, DNA testing does not determine one’s Jewishness. While Sarah’s status as a Jew has yet to be determined by rabbinical authorities, she believes she has discovered an “unbroken matrilineal line” reaching from 15th century Spain to 20th century Montana. Sarah, her husband, and two sons celebrate the Jewish holidays and are in the process of choosing a synagogue. Her journey continues.

She has made contact with many of the people who share her DNA profile. One such woman in France told her: “We come from a long line of rabbis who would rather die by the sword than convert.”

Is it possible that a spark of Jewish soul survived for five centuries, from the Spanish heroes who sacrificed everything rather than submit to the Church, through Sophie Schaub, who deliberately buried her Jewishness, yet whose daughter Anna, unaware of her heritage, on her deathbed proclaimed, “I will NEVER accept Yoshke,” to a modern Midwesterner whose Jewish spark, flickering after generations of assimilation and intermarriage, still radiated a light that so many saw? (






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