Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Shelach 5775

Shelach 5775

New Stories Shelach 5775

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shelach 5775

Our mission in this world


In this week’s parasha the Torah records the incident of the Meraglim, the spies that Moshe sent to ascertain if the Jewish People would be capable of conquering Eretz Yisroel. The spies retuned from their forty day journey with a slanderous report, and this report was the catalyst for the Jewish People to die out in the Wilderness. There are many aspects to this episode, but I wish to focus on one subtle point that is the underlying theme of this tragic incident. It is said (Bamidbar13:3) vayishlach osam Moshe al pi HaShem kulam anashim roshei vinei Yisroel heimah, Moshe sent them forth from the Wilderness of Paran at HaShem’s command; they were all distinguished men; heads of the Children of Israel were they. Rashi writes that from the fact that the Torah states that the spies were all distinguished men, we learn that at the time that they were sent on their mission they were righteous. This statement, however, is very difficult to understand, as we see that after a mere forty days they had become traitors to their people and they caused a tragedy for all future generations. This tragedy was manifest in the destruction of both the first and second Bais HaMikdash, which, like the return of the spies, occurred on Tisha Baav. One must wonder, then, how it is possible that the spies commenced their mission as righteous individuals and yet their mission culminated in such treachery.

What is in a name?

In order to understand this transformation in the character of the spies, we must first gain an insight into a number of statements that appear in the Gemara and Medrash. The first statement that requires explanation is that the Gemara (Sota 34b) states that Rabbi Yitzchak said that we have a tradition that the spies were called by their actions and we only have a tradition regarding one of the spies. This spy was Sisur ben Michael, as Sisur means that he demolished (so to speak) the actions of HaShem, and Michael means that he made (so to speak) HaShem weak. Rabbi Yochanan added that we also have a tradition regarding the name Nachbi ben Vafsi, as Nachbi means that he concealed, (so to speak) the words of HaShem, and Vafsi means that he skipped over, so to speak, the character traits of HaShem. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:10) goes even further and states that there are those whose names are nice and their actions are despicable. There are those whose names are despicable and their actions are nice. Then there are those whose names and actions are nice, and there are also those who both their names and their actions are despicable. Regarding the spies, both their names and their actions were despicable. What is the meaning of this Gemara and Medrash? How is it that the names of the spies were despicable and contained negative connotations?

Name and soul are synonymous

Let us understand the significance of a person’s name. It would seem that the word sheim, meaning name, is associated with the word neshamah, soul. Not only are the words closely related because of the word sheim that is contained within the word neshamah, but they are intrinsically associated with each other as it is logical that the essence of the person is his neshama. Thus, when we refer to a person’s name, we are referring to his neshama, which is the unique imprint that HaShem gave him to fulfill his mission in life. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 16:1) states that there is no one more beloved to HaShem than shluchei mitzvah, those who are sent on a mission regarding a mitzvah and they sacrifice themselves to fulfill their mission. The Sfas Emes writes that in this sense every person is a shilach mitzvah, a messenger with a mission in this world. The spies had great neshamos, souls, and their mission was to maintain that high level of spirituality. One must wonder, then, where they went wrong. It would seem from the reading of this episode that the spies failed to see themselves as messengers of HaShem and of the Jewish People. Rather, they transformed their mission to a mission of selfishness, where they chose to see what they felt would be to their benefit and not for the benefit of the rest of the people.

Seeing the land for the good

It is worth noting that specifically regarding this mission Moshe conferred upon Hoshea ben Nun the name Yehoshua. By adding the letter yud to his name, Moshe was demonstrating that Hoshea was charged with a mission of maintaining the purity of his neshama, and furthermore, that he should elevate the mission, as the letter yud reflects righteousness (Likutei Moharan I 34:6). It is also noteworthy that Moshe charged the spies with the mission of seeing the land. It is for this reason that when Moshe repeats the incident of the spies, he said (Devarim 1:23) vayitav bieinay hadavar, the idea was good in my eyes and Rashi (Ibid) writes that we can infer from this that it was good in the eyes of Moshe but not in the eyes of HaShem. How is it possible that Moshe disagreed, Heaven forbid, with the wishes of HaShem? Perhaps the answer to this question is that the Gemara (Nedarim 38a) states that regarding Moshe it is said (Mishlei 22:9) tov ayin hu yivorach, one with a good eye will be blessed. Moshe desired that the spies should see the good in the land, and had they done so, it would have been a reflection of the exalted level of their souls. When they failed to see the good in the land, it became necessary for HaShem to show Moshe himself the land, as it is said (Devarim 34:1) vayareihu HaShem es kol haaretz, HaShem showed him the entire land. The Sforno (Bamidbar 22:41) explains that whereas Balaam had an evil eye, Moshe had a good eye, and he used his good eye to see the good that is contained in Eretz Yisroel. Thus, we see that one has to look into his name and his soul, i.e. his essence, and determine what his mission is in this world. One who lives up to his mission will certainly be deemed a shilach mitzvah.

The Shabbos connection

The Sfas Emes (Mishpatim 5631) writes that the six days of the week are referred to as sheishes yimei melacha, the six days of work, and the word melacha is similar to malach, an angel. Everything in this world has within it life from HaShem and one was sent to this world to perform the will of HaShem, as there are mitzvos contained within every action of man. Nonetheless, the life from HaShem and mitzvah are concealed and one must realize what is contained within every action that he performs. The Sfas Ems writes that on Shabbos everything is revealed, as Shabbos is a semblance of the World to Come. The Zohar states that all illnesses of the body and of the soul are due to excess eating and drinking, whereas on Shabbos ones consumption is all considered to be a mitzvah. Hashem should allow us to fulfill our mission in this world and to merit the day that will be completely Shabbos and rest, for eternity.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

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

לְנֶפֶשׁ מְצֵרָה, תָּסִיר אֲנָחָה, שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה, for  a troubled soul it removes moaning – Shabbos of contentment. We normally associate the weekday with challenges and despair, and the Holy Shabbos with joy and light. Why, one must wonder, is Shabbos deemed to be a respite from trouble? Did not the Nazis yemach shemam and other enemies of the Jewish People alwa1ys choose Shabbos as a day of torment and cruelty? What is the uniqueness of this day that we contrast it with the trials and tribulations of the week? The answer to this question is that in this world there are opposing forces. There is light and darkness, sadness and joy, and so on. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:8) states that the Shabbos complained to HaShem that every day of the week has  a partner except for the seventh day, and HaShem responded that the Jewish People will be the partner of the Jews. This teaches us that Shabbos stands apart from the rest of creation. Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 57b) states that Shabbos is a semblance of the World to Come. For this reason we highlight the contrast of the weekday and Shabbos, as in reality, Shabbos is a world unto itself, which HaShem proffered upon His Beloved Nation as a day of joy and contentment.

Shabbos Stories

All in a day’s work

In the city of Vienna about two-hundred years ago lived a wealthy and famous banker, R’ Shimshon Werthheimer z”l. In the secular world, he was known for his great wealth and uncanny business acumen. Among Jews, he was famous for his love and support of Torah foundations, yeshivos, and generosity towards those less fortunate than him. Everyone knew: Those who knocked on R’ Shimshon’s door would not be turned away empty handed.

A short while after he passed away, the holy Rabbi Chaim of Sanz zt”l gathered his disciples. “Let me tell you,” he began, “what transpired in Heaven when the neshama (soul) of R’ Shimshon arrived, and the time came for him to give his ultimate reckoning:

“‘Let me tell you how I spent my day,’ R’ Shimshon began his testimony before the Heavenly Tribunal. ‘More or less, my days were always the same. I got up early, and went to shul to pray shacharis (morning prayers). After praying, I returned home for breakfast. After breakfast, I had a coffee and cigar as I read the daily newspapers. A banker, after all, must always be well informed. I recited Birkas Ha-mazon (Grace), and went to the bank.

“‘In the late afternoon, I returned home for lunch, and after eating a healthy meal and bentsching, I had a small rest. When I arose, there was invariably a line-up of collectors waiting for me. I gave each one of them my time, and tried to always give as generously as I could.

“‘At this point, it was already time to daven mincha. Between mincha and ma’ariv, I attended a shiur (Torah lesson). After praying ma’ariv, I had yet another shiur before going home to eat supper with my family. After supper I usually relaxed by playing some chess; it helped me overcome some of the day’s stresses.

“‘Before going to bed, of course, I recited the bedtime k’rias Shema, and that, give or take, was my schedule.’

“R’ Shimshon, as we all know, was a righteous man of great integrity, and after bearing witness, he was immediately ushered into Gan Eden among the righteous of Israel.

“It just so happens,” continued R’ Chaim, “that another banker, an associate of R’ Shimshon, also passed away that very day. After escorting R’ Shimshon to his exalted spot in Gan Eden, the Heavenly Tribunal once again adjourned.

“Not having been much of a shomer Torah u’mitzvos (Torah-observant Jew), he was quite terrified of having to bear testimony. Hearing R’ Shimshon’s testimony, and the Tribunal’s reaction, though, seems to have calmed his nerves.

“‘I was also a banker,’ he began. ‘In fact, my schedule was in many ways identical to that of my contemporary, R’ Shimshon. I too arose early. I ate breakfast, and read the dailies while savoring a hot coffee and smoking a cigar. I went to the bank, where I worked hard all morning, and returned home in the afternoon for a late lunch and a rest. I usually spent the rest of the afternoon keeping fit with some sports. After supper, I also liked to play a round or two of chess, and then I went to sleep. So you could say that, for perhaps four-fifths of our days, our schedules were identical.’

“Of course,” said R’ Chaim, “it takes no genius to realize that the Heavenly Tribunal did not view the second man’s daily schedule as being worthy of the reward given R’ Shimshon.

“‘Tell me something,’ the soul of the poor man protested, ‘my friend, R’ Shimshon, is he being rewarded for a lifetime of good deeds, or only for the few hours a day he spent studying Torah, praying, and giving charity?’

“‘R’ Shimshon was a righteous man,’ they said, ‘of course he will be rewarded for a lifetime full of righteousness.’

“‘Yet is it not true,’ he persisted, ‘that twenty out of the twenty-four hours of our days were identical? We slept, we ate, and we worked. If he’s being rewarded for all twenty-four, why shouldn’t I get my reward for at least twenty?’

“An original argument, no doubt, yet a foolish one all the same. The Beis- din shel ma’alah had no problem answering him.

“‘Suppose a farmer sells raw wheat at the marketplace,’ they told him. ‘To separate the straw and stones is too difficult, so he sells the wheat by the wagonload, ‘as is.’ Of course, all of this is taken into account when calculating his price, so his buyers know what to expect.’

“‘One day, he is struck by a brilliant idea. He goes around gathering lots and lots of stones and straw, and puts them in big sacks. He takes them to the marketplace, placing them alongside his regular wagonloads of grain. To his shock, no one seems the least bit interested in buying them.

“‘Tell me,’ he asks one of his regular buyers, ‘why is nobody buying any of these bags of straw and stones I prepared—I spent lots of time gathering them?’

“‘But who on earth would pay money for straw and stones?’ he replied. ‘And to boot, you’ve priced them identically to your grain! Who ever heard of such foolishness?’

“‘Yet you do pay me for straw and stones all the time,’ he replied. ‘You know that; there’s not a single wagon load of grain that I sell that doesn’t contain tens of pounds of them. When you pay me by weight, don’t you realize you’re paying me for the straw and stones too?’

“‘Of course I realize that. When I buy grain, I know there is invariably going to be some straw and stones too. I take that into account. I don’t need the chaff, but who ever heard of grain without it? When you buy grain, you’re always going to accept some straw and stones. But without the grain? It’s useless! Please don’t waste my time.’

“’A G-d-fearing Jew,’ they told him, ‘who lived a life of Torah and mitzvos, and used his business not only for his personal well-being, but to support Torah study and aid the poor, is rewarded for his whole day—all twenty-four hours! His work, his leisure time—it’s all part-and-parcel of the life of a dedicated Jew and philanthropist. The chaff, so to speak, joins the grain on the scale of life.

“‘But you lived a life void of Torah, of mitzvos, and of charity. Your days, so to speak, were all chaff and no substance. For what shall we reward you?’” [Ma’yan ha-shavua]

The Chozeh’s clock

as told by Rabbi Michel Twerski Shlita of Milwaukee

When the holy Chozeh of Lublin passed away, all of his Chassidim found themselves in a time of extreme aveilus [mourning]. It seemed to them that there would be no one, nowhere, to whom they could turn, that would replace the giant who had served as their guide and inspiration for so many years. Most grief-stricken of all was his son, R. Yossele Tulchiner, who was in his own right a man of great righteousness, he was himself a tzaddik of great repute, and he could find no consolation. He remained behind in Lublin for many weeks, trying to find someplace where he might comfort himself. At long last, he realized that he needed to move on.

Before he left, he went to see if he might collect some of his father’s belongings, so that when he returned home he would have some physical mementos with which to comfort himself. He threw a number of articles into a bag – amongst which was a wall clock. It was kind of a cumbersome thing, but it was something that reminded him of the room in which his father, the Chozeh, had learned, davened and received his Chassidim.

So he set out along the way, to return home to Tulchin. We must remember that R. Yosef, not unlike other tzaddikim of his time, was essentially destitute and penniless. And so he was very much dependent upon the goodwill of whoever happened to be traveling – that they might give him a lift in their horse-drawn wagon. Finally, someone pitied him, and as it turned out – as the Gemara says, “poverty follows the poor.” This fellow who gave him a ride, had an open carriage. A number of hours into the trip, it began to pour – it was a deluge! They were soon soaked to the bone, and a cool breeze began to chill them.

He knew that unless he found some haven, that he would catch the death of a cold. And so, he ran for the first shelter that he could find. He finally found an inn – the innkeeper was very hospitable and took him in, built a warm fire, offered him a warm drink, and something with which to cover himself in his discomfort. He spent the night there. The next day, the rain continued and he spent another day and night there.

Finally, the weather cleared, and he was able to set out again. It came time to negotiate with the innkeeper for his shelter and food. When presented with the bill, of course, R. Yossele had no money. So he turned to him and said, “Look, I have nothing. But I do have some of the mementos, the things that belonged to my illustrious father. Perhaps there is something here that would be of value to you.”

The innkeeper was no Chassid, and none of these things meant anything to him. So he searched through the bag. Finally, his eyes set on this clock. “This is really not worth it,” he said, “but it’s the only thing you have that even approaches in value, so I’ll take the clock.” Reluctantly but nonetheless gratefully, he surrendered the clock. R. Yossele left and continued on his way.

Many, many years passed. One of the Chozeh’s esteemed Chassidim, who was now a leader of a Chassidic community in his own right, [known as] the Saba Kadisha of Radoshitz, Rebbe Yissachar Ber, was traveling with his Chassidim. As they were traveling, they sought a place to spend the night, and they found this particular inn. The innkeeper was again very hospitable and gave the Rebbe his finest room.

The Chassidim did the best they could with the little bit of room that was left. Night fell, and everyone went to sleep. The proprietor of the inn went to bed. He heard sounds coming from the Rebbe’s room. At first he ignored them, but they became increasingly disturbing. The Rebbe was clearly marching around his room. Soon the marching turned into a dance. He could hear the Rebbe singing to himself and dancing.

At first, he thought it would soon end. Ten minutes. Half an hour. An hour. Throughout the night, the Rebbe danced. Finally, early in the morning, the innkeeper knocked on the door and said, “Rebbe, all night you’ve been awake dancing – I heard you! What’s happening?”

The Rebbe said, “I, too, would like to know what’s happening. Please tell me – where did you get this clock – the one in my room?”

The innkeeper replied, “There was once a traveler who couldn’t pay his bill. And he said that his father was a great Rabbi; I don’t remember the name. But some objects belong to him, and I claimed the clock in payment.”

The Radoshitzer said, “What did this traveler look like?”

The innkeeper described him. The Radoshitzer called his Chassidim. “It’s clear to me that R. Yossele must have traveled this way after his father’s petirah [passing]. And when he couldn’t pay his bill, he gave up the clock. I remember the clock well. When I used to go in to the Rebbe, the Chozeh, I would see that clock on the wall. I knew that this clock had to be the Rebbe’s!”

“What gave it away?” asked the Chassidim.

The Rebbe replied, “Every clock in the world, when it ticks, it’s depressing. Every tick signifies another second of life gone, spent, never again to be claimed. That’s how most of us deal with time.

“But the Rebbe had a command and appreciation for time; that every moment to him was a moment closer to the Geulah Shileima, to bias Moshiach Tzidkienu [the complete Redemption and coming of the righteous Messiah]. His clock did not tick with sadness or sorrow; it was not a mournful tick. It was positive – full of hope, not a tick of despair. The tick-tock of the Rebbe’s clock was one that marched towards the Geulah Shileima.

“When I came, I wanted to sleep – I was tired! But that clock – it kept me constantly moving towards the Geulah. How can you sleep when you have a clock that reminds you every moment that we are a moment closer to the Geulah Shileima? So I danced all night!”

Rav Michel Twerski adds: This clock of the Holy Chozeh represents something that we learned about, something which has the capacity to do two opposite things: the Parah Adumah [the red heifer], which defiles the pure, and purifies the defiled. For all of us, life presents many opportunities. For some of us, they turn into problems. We look at them – another problem, another nail into our hide, another difficulty, barrier, obstacle; another cause for sorrow, sadness; another area to drain us of our energy. And because we take that attitude, it cripples us; it turns into a shackle which won’t release us.

On the other hand, there are people who have very much the same kinds of challenges and tests. To them, they are opportunities, doors, gates – into bigger and better things – developing new strengths, insights; commanding new perspectives, and ways for us to be able to rise above the things that challenge our way in life. The same test – trial – tribulation; but attitude makes all the difference.

For some of us, those tests are the “tick in the clock,” which is a tick of despair, a sound of life wasted. For others, it brings us closer to our own Geulah, to redeeming all of the potential and all of the resources in ourselves. Something else to bring out the kochos hanefesh [soul powers] that we have. It is one move closer to our own personal Geulah, and ultimately, through us, a contribution to the Geulah Shileima.

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Permitted Methods of  Kneading

 1. שינוי בסדר – A Shinui in the Order of Combining Ingredients

 When a liquid is is used to bind food particles, bonding commences as soon as the ingredients are poured together; the ingredients must therefore be poured into the bowl in an irregular manner. The only acceptable shinui for pouring is to reverse the process in which the ingredients are commonly added to each other. For a mixture in which the common practice, i.e. the practice of most people is to add the solid particles to the bowl first, i.e. baby cereal, and then add the liquid, i.e. milk, one must do the opposite and add the liquid to the bowl first. With mixtures in which the liquid is commonly added first, the solids must be placed in the bowl before the liquid. [One who is unsure of the common practice may reverse the instructions printed on the food package.]

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Shelach 5775

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New Stories Shelach 5775

First Class Jew

Suddenly my flight was upgraded, and I began to view the world differently.

by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman     

I was recently bumped up to first class on an overseas flight to Israel. El Al had oversold the coach section, and I was one of the fortunate few to be given complimentary seats upstairs. I am not certain that it is worth the extra thousand dollars normally charged for this pleasure, but I must admit that I loved it. The ambience was luxurious, the service gracious, the seat wide and comfortable. But something strange happened to me when I entered that first class compartment.

I confess that before very long I sensed within me the beginnings of an attitude towards those unfortunates in coach that was quite unbecoming: a blend of pride, hauteur, and what can only be described as something akin to condescension towards those huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

In the time it takes to climb nine steps I had forgotten my origins.

It was at first a deliciously wicked feeling, but soon enough I was troubled by it. Parvenu that you are, I scolded myself. Shameless arriviste. One short flight of stairs on a plane have you climbed, and look to what level you have sunk. By what alchemy have you suddenly been transmogrified into an aristocrat, and they into riffraff? Had it not been for the sheer accident of your being at the right point in the line, you too would be down there rubbing shoulders with screaming children, irritated parents, and harassed flight attendants. Countless times have you preached about the sin of forgetting our origins, and how the Torah constantly reminds us to remember where we came from. But in the time it takes to climb nine short steps you have forgotten your origins.

But as quickly as the twinges of guilt settled upon me, just as quickly did they dissipate. Pampered by the luxury, I let myself melt into the hedonistic ambience of eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we arrive in Israel.

It’s All Relative

Now and then I wondered about the great unwashed who were sitting downstairs. Was it noisy there, were the tourists already standing and chatting loudly in the aisles, had the attendants by now become impatient, had the saran-wrapped meals and the plastic cutlery been served, were the aisles already impassable and the rest rooms all occupied?

Thus enclosed in a cocoon of self-satisfaction, I dozed off in my soft leather chair. It had enough leg room and tilted back deeply enough for me to fall into the semi-somnolent airline state that resembles actual sleep.

And then I dreamed a dream. In the dream an old question was posed to me: If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Without hesitation, I answered firmly: Yes. A sound is a sound independent of its listeners. The existence of a sound is not dependent on who hears it.

A second question was posed to me: If you are in the first class compartment of a plane, and there are no passengers at all in the coach section, are you still in first class?

If there is no second class, there can be no first class.

Now this was a more complex question. If there is no second class, there can be no first class. First class-ness itself depends on second class-ness. So if no one at all is in the coach section, by what definition is my section first class?

And yet, the same level of luxury obtains in first class whether or not there are people sitting in coach. Like the tree that falls in the forest, first class-ness is its own entity: it is a state unto itself, independent of anything else, unrelated to other sections.

Or is it? One of the items the airlines sell with their first class tickets is the unsavory little pleasure of knowing that there are passengers on the same plane who are not in first class — who are sitting in a separate, curtained-off compartment behind you or beneath you in a place euphemistically called “coach,” in a section more crowded that yours, in seats narrower than yours, receiving service less frequent than you, attended by stewardesses more harried than yours, eating on table trays not covered by linen tablecloths like yours, and — if you don’t observe kashrut — eating food that is much less varied than yours.

But if the coach section is empty, that means that all the passengers are in first class. If everyone is in first class, that means that the first class passenger is being deprived of his unsavory first class pleasure. First implies a second. (See Rashi to Genesis 1:5) After all, as the incisive old adage puts it, it is not what we have that gives us pleasure; it the knowledge that our neighbor lacks what we have that gives us true pleasure.

The High Road

So bemused, I spent the next few hours in semi-sleep. Soon enough the questions dissolved in the steady hum of the engines, the quiet in the compartment, the whispering attendants, the dim lights, the thick blankets, the oversized pillows. Coach class, first class — why all this Talmudic hair-splitting? I was, for a change, having a comfortable trip to Israel, period.

The sun came up, and with it, breakfast. Entree, juice, eggs, warm bagels, lox, cream cheese, cereal, coffee, Danish, chocolate, milk — an endless array of goodies. I stretched, yawned, washed, davened, and sat down to enjoy the feast.

But the night-time question hung in the air. In the dawn’s early light it occurred to me that a truly pious Jew would not have had a difficult time answering it. Says the Talmud, “Do not look down at anyone.” And Nachmanides in his famous letter warns about humility and the evils of haughtiness and pride:

“… Humility is the finest quality among all the fine qualities Know, my son, that he whose heart is arrogant toward other beings is in fact a rebel against God’s kingdom, for he is utilizing God’s garments to glorify himself — for it is written (Psalms 93:1): “God reigns, he is robed in pride….”

Nachmanides goes on to demonstrate that in whatever man would be proud — be it his wealth, his glory, his wisdom — he is foolish and sinful, for all these things are God’s alone.

Beyond this, the Torah itself (Deut. 17:20) warns a king not to multiply chariots or sessions “so that his heart not be lifted up among his brethren.” A king — who has authority and majesty — is warned against the pride which is his due; how much more so ordinary people.

Only two more luxurious hours remained before landing, and I would not allow vexing reveries to disturb my tranquility. Not for me these trivial exercises in pettiness. Thus purified and cleansed, I awaited our arrival in the Holy Land.

And yet…. what if no one was in fact down there in coach?

I was only curious. It had nothing to do with my being upstairs; I was simply wondering. Could there be such a thing as a coach compartment without any passengers at all? An entirely empty coach cabin: that would be something to see. Just theoretically, of course.

Danish and Coffee

I don’t recall exactly what happened next — was I dreaming again or not? — but I found myself arising from my chair, walking to the cabin exit, and descending the circular stairwell. Nine steps. Once on the lower level I turned towards the back of the plane, parted the curtain and peered inside. Before me were unruly children, impatient flight attendants, a long line before the restrooms, papers and refuse on the floor, mothers diapering babies, 200 passengers pressed closely together.

It is much easier for a religious Jew to be in first class than to be a first class religious Jew.

I slid back the curtain, climbed back up the stairwell, entered the first class compartment, and sank into my seat. The compartment was tranquil, and the attendant plied me with more Danish and asked me how I would like my coffee.

But my mind was elsewhere. Dream or not, I knew that Nachmanides would never have experienced the tiny surge of reassurance that coursed through me as I beheld the multitude overflowing the coach sections.

It was then that I became aware of four unvarnished facts of life:

  1. For ordinary people who have not attained Nachmanides’ heights, first class does require a second class.
  2. The “lifted heart” warning of the Torah is directed not only to a king who is tempted daily by pride, but is directed at every human being; for anything — even a seat that is three inches wider with leg room four inches longer — can generate an attitude of “lifted heart.”
  3. The frail human heart not only needs someone to look up to, but also someone to look down at.
  4. It is much easier for a religious Jew to be in first class than to be first class religious Jew.

from The Shul Without a Clock ( (


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