Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5775
Teshuvah is right around the corner
In this week’s parasha, Nitzavim, it is said (Devarim 30:11-14) ki hamitzvah hazos asher anochi mitzavecho hayom lo nifleis hi mimcho vilo richokah hi lo vashamayim hi leimor mi yaaleh lanu hashamaymah viyikacheho lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah vilo meiever layam hi leimor mi yaavar lanu el eiver hayam viyikacheha lanu viyashmieinu osah vinaasenah ki karov eilecho hadavar meod bificha uvilvacho laasoso, for this commandment that I command you today – It is not hidden from you and it is not distant. It is not in heaven, [for you] to say, “Who can send to the heaven for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Nor is it across the sea, [for you] to say, “Who can across to the other side of the sea for us and take it for us, so that we can listen to it and perform it?” Rather, the matter is very near to you – in your mouth and your heart – to perform it. The Ramban understands that these verses refer to the mitzvah of Teshuvah, repentance. Thus, the Torah is informing us that this mitzvah is not beyond our capabilities. Rather, one can perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah in any place and at any time.
Teshuvah should be as simple as repenting
One must wonder why the Torah needs to elaborate on the mitzvah of Teshuvah by stating that the mitzvah is not distant, is not in the heavens and is not on the other side of the sea. Would it not have been sufficient to state that one should repent and that it is simple to do so? Why is it necessary for the Torah to dramatize the difficulties that one may face when attempting to perform the mitzvah of Teshuvah?
A grandfather’s prayers help his grandson return
The story is told that a non-religious man was once walking in Tel-Aviv when he was approached by a religious man who was seeking a tenth man to complete a minyan, a quorum for prayer. The man kept walking, but the religious man ran after him, pestering him to help out until the non-religious man finally acquiesced. Upon entering the shul, the non-religious man watched with fascination as the men recited Ashrei and Kaddish, and then all the men began swaying back and forth while reciting the Shemone Esrei. The man, who had never witnessed such behavior before, was fascinated by what he saw, and eventually became religious. The friends of his non-religious father heard about the son who had returned to the ways of his forefathers and they sought to confirm the incident with the father. The father of the newly religious man confessed that there was more to the story than met the eye. “The truth is,” said the father, “my father was religious back in Europe and had subsequently made his way to Tel-Aviv. I, however, left the path of my father and raised my son in a non-religious atmosphere. The shul where my son entered for the very first time in his life was the very same shul that my father used to pray in. I honestly believe that it was in the merit of my father’s prayers that my son was drawn back there, and that is what allowed him to return to the ways of his grandfather.” (See full story from Rabbi Frand below)
Teshuvah can occur through a miracle
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that from a logical perspective one may find the concept of Teshuvah daunting. Thus, one may never imagine it possible to repent, as the environmental obstacles may indeed appear to be insurmountable. Nonetheless, he should know that HaShem can allow for a miracle to occur, and Teshuvah will literally be right around the corner. HaShem should grant us the opportunity this year to find an easy path to repentance, so that we can serve Him wholeheartedly.
The Shabbos connection
The entire week we struggle with the biggest enemy of all, the Evil Inclination. At times we may feel we are winning the battle, but it is only with the onset of Shabbos that we know for certain the struggle is over. The next week the struggle begins anew. We must then rely on the holiness and purity of Shabbos to provide us with spiritual sustenance. The infusion of Shabbos into the mundane weekday will give us the strength to withstand the machinations of the Evil Inclination. HaShem should allow us to merit overcoming our struggle with the foreign influences that confront us. We should also merit observing the Shabbos properly and meriting a Happy and Healthy New Year.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
Yom Zeh LiYisroel
Some opinions attribute the authorship of this Zemer to the Arizal.
יֶשְׁעֲךָ קִוִּינוּ, יָ-הּ אַדִּיר אַדִּירִים, for Your help have we hoped, O Strongest of the strong. We declare here that HaShem is the strongest of the strong. Normally, when confronted by someone stringer than one’s self, one fs afraid. We, however, know that HaShem is mightier than anyone, and for that reason we can rely on Him to save us from our enemies.
We have these children
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Berel Wein relates the story of Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog’s visit to Chicago, Illinois following World War II. The entire Torah-revering community gathered at the airport. All the day schools and Yeshivos sent their students to greet the Rabbi, and many prominent lay leaders left their businesses to join as well.
Rabbi Herzog, his distinguished frame, unbent from the enduring pain of the plight of his brothers and sisters, in Europe and Palestine, walked upstanding and tall down the silver airplane steps, his silver tipped cane in one hand, his head majestically adorned with his signature top hat. He was led to a podium from which he delivered a lecture on a complicated portion of the Talmud.
When he finished, his face immediately lost its radiance, and became somber and staid.
“I come not from Jerusalem,” he told the assembled, “I come from Rome. I have just met with Pope Pious.
During the terrible war, many children were sheltered in monasteries across Europe. The kind Christians saved them from the Nazis. I asked him to release those children, back to their heritage. Let them be raised as Jews.” Suddenly, to the shock of the children and the awe of the adults, the Rabbi began to cry.
“The Pope did not acquiesce. He said that once a child is baptized, he can never be returned.”
Rabbi Herzog trembled as he continued to sob uncontrollably. He looked at the assembled children.
“My dear children,” he wailed, “We lost them! Then his demeanor changed, as a ray of hope sparkled from his eyes. “We lost them,” he repeated, “but,” he continued, as he locked his eyes at the young faces, who stared directly at his teary eyes, “WE HAVE YOU! WE HAVE YOU!”
A Grandfather’s prayers
Rabbi Frand writes: There was a non-religious Jew in Tel Aviv, who had absolutely no interest in anything related to Judaism. Outreach workers who met this fellow would try to have some kind of effect on him, all to no avail. One day he was walking down a street in Tel Aviv. He passed a shul and there was a Jew standing outside the shul yelling “Mincha! Mincha!” The fellow continued walking. The Jew ran after him and explained that they needed a tenth man for the minyan. He replied, “I’m not interested.” But the Jew was persistent… “Perhaps he had Yahrtzeit…” He kept begging and begging, until finally against his better judgment, the non-religious fellow allowed himself to be pulled into the synagogue for the afternoon prayer service.
As painful as this is for us to think about, unfortunately, there are many Jews in Eretz Yisroel who have never witnessed, let alone, participated in a minyan – never even witnessed other people praying. There are unfortunately people in Eretz Yisroel who do not know what “Shema Yisroel” is all about.
The fellow sat in shul watching people say Ashrei, say Kaddish, and then everyone stood up to daven Shemone Esrei. Those raised in observant families have seen this all our lives, and think that it is no big deal to see people standing, “shuckling” (rocking back and forth), quietly reciting the standing prayer. But the first time a person sees that in his life, it can be an amazing sight.
[I similarly heard after the Siyum HaShas, the ceremony upon completion of study of the Talmud — which, for the tens of thousands studying a page per day according to the “Daf Yomi” cycle, was a public gathering held in multiple locations — that the part of the event that made the biggest impression on the non-Jewish ushers at Madison Square Garden was the silence of the tens of thousands of people during the silent Shemone Esrei of Maariv. Everyone was seemingly in a different world. It was an amazing sight even for the Jews who were there, how much more so for the non-Jews who were seeing this for the first time.]
This Israeli was taken aback by what he saw during those 15 minutes of observing Mincha in the Tel Aviv shul. He left the synagogue immediately after Mincha, but he decided that he would have to look into the matter further. He went back to the Kiruv workers from Lev Leachim who had pestered him before. To make a long story short, he became interested in Judaism and became a Baal Teshuvah. When the friends of his non-religious father heard that the son became a Baal Teshuvah, they started asking the father what happened. They heard rumors that he was invited to daven one Mincha and from that he overturned his life. They wanted a confirmation of this incredible story.
The father confessed that there was more to the story than the single Mincha. The father admitted that his own father, the boy’s grandfather, was a religious European Jew. His father came to Tel Aviv many years earlier, but he -– the son of this European Jew -– left the fold and raised his son totally without religion, until the son now returned.
The grandfather always used to daven in a specific shul in Tel Aviv. It was the very shul that was lacking the minyan for Mincha the day his grandson passed by and was pulled in to be the tenth man.
The father said that he firmly believed that it was the prayers of his own father who called his grandson back, and those prayers were answered. (www.Torah.org)
Saved by the dead
The son of the Rizhiner Rebbe, R’ Avraham Yaacov of Sadigora, once told this story. One Erev Shabbos the Baal Shem Tov appeared in a town unexpectedly. Declining invitations from all the locals, the Baal Shem Tov elected to remain alone in the Shul after Shabbos evening davening. The wonder of the residents turned to alarm when they saw the Baal Shem Tov’s fervent Tefillah and Tehillim continue the whole night long. The townsfolk assumed that something was surely the matter. In the morning, however, the Baal Shem Tov appeared relaxed and joyful, and he accepted the invitation of one of the locals for the morning Shabbos meal.
Naturally, all of the townspeople crowded into the house of the host to see the Holy Baal Shem Tov. As they were sitting at the table, a local peasant came around looking for a drink of vodka. The people were about to drive the peasant away when the Baal Shem Tov called out that he should be brought in, and provided with a generous glass of vodka. The Baal Shem Tov then proceeded to ask the peasant to tell what he had seen in the mansion of the Poritz (wealthy Polish estate owner) the previous night. The peasant’s tongue, loosened by the vodka, related that the Poritz believed that he had been cheated in a business deal by a Jewish merchant. The Poritz therefore decided to assemble his peasants and arm them with knives and hatchets, telling them to be on the ready to avenge themselves on the Jews at his command. The peasants would then be able to liberate their stolen riches from the Jews.
“The whole night we waited for the command,” the peasant related. “The Poritz, however, had closeted himself in his office with an unexpected visitor, an old friend that he hadn’t seen for forty years! Finally, the Poritz emerged and instructed us all to go home. The Poritz then declared that the Jews were upright and honest people and nobody should dare lay a hand on them. We all went home and that’s the whole story!”
“This old friend,” explained the Sadigorer Rebbe, “had been dead for decades. The Baal Shem Tov had dragged him from the grave to influence his friend the Poritz.”
The Sadigorer Rebbe then concluded his tale with a question. “I always wondered why the Baal Shem Tov had to travel all the way to that town for Shabbos to avert the decree. Could the Baal Shem Tov have not just as well have remained in his hometown of Medzibuz?”
“Now,” said the Rebbe, I understand the motives of the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov said to himself, ‘if I can succeed in saving the town, fine…but if not, then I will perish together with them’!”
Shabbos in Halacha
לישה – Kneading
- Improving Upon an Existing Mixture
- Adding Liquid to a Mixture
The melacha of kneading has been defined as binding together loose particles to form one mass. Causing a completed mixture to become more loose and liquid is, then, the opposite of kneading and is permitted. Thus, one may add liquids to a mixture and stir in the normal manner.
However, this holds true only of the original mixture had already been completely kneaded. If some of the particles had not been properly mixed, adding liquids will cause these particles to blend with the mixture. This would qualify as an act of kneading, which would be permitted only with the proper shinuim enumerated above.
To illustrate: One may add milk to a bowl of thick cereal. However, if some dry cereal has not yet blended with the rest, one must employ a shinui in pouring and in stirring. If the cereal is a thick mixture, and will remain thick even with the added liquid, one may not mix in the loose particles except in cases of necessity.
Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Nitzavim 5775
Have a Wonderful Shabbos and a Ksiva Vachasima Tova!
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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New Stories Nitzavim 5775
The Silent Shofar and the Smith’s Assistant
By Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin
The synagogue in Radomsk, Poland, was packed. It was Rosh Hashanah, and thousands of chassidim had traveled from far and near to spend the holy day in the presence of Reb Shlomo, the Rebbe of Radomsk. It was a special experience not to be missed, as the Rebbe would often lead the prayers, interspersing them with original melodies he himself composed.
When it came time for the shofar-blowing, the learned and pious chassid who’d been carefully selected for the task stepped up onto the raised platform in the center of the sanctuary. He’d been preparing for the entire month of Elul, carefully practicing the shofar blasts and learning the deep Kabbalistic meditations that accompany them. With his tallit draped over his head, he recited the blessings with obvious concentration.
Then he took the ram’s horn to his lips, ready to blow. Yet, try as he might, not a sound issued from the horn. He tried turning it this way and that, but he could not coax even the faintest peep from the shofar.
After many long minutes, to the dismay of the erstwhile shofar-blower, a younger man was called up to take his place. He picked up the shofar, and with almost no effort he produced the prescribed series of sharp blasts.
Following the prayer services, Rabbi Shlomo called over the unsuccessful—and crestfallen—shofar-blower and told him the following story:
There was once a nation that coronated a new, beloved king. In order to express their great admiration and devotion for their monarch, they decided to commission a new crown for him, the likes of which had never been seen before.
An extensive search began for the largest, clearest and most beautiful gems to adorn a crown of pure gold. Finally, a fine assortment of gleaming stones was amassed. Yet no craftsman was willing to set them into the crown. Knowing that each gem was precious and unique, the craftsmen were afraid that they’d damage them or otherwise not do justice to their unparalleled beauty.
Finally, one goldsmith accepted the job and asked for a month to work on the crown. For weeks he contemplated the gems and the crown, thinking of the best way to bring them together into a most stunning masterpiece. But he was too scared to actually attach them.
Two days before he was due to deliver the crown, he picked it up with a pounding heart. With trembling hands, he prepared himself to set the precious stones as he’d planned, but he was so nervous that he actually dropped the crown.
Realizing that he wouldn’t be able to complete the job, he called his assistant, a simple but capable boy, into his workshop. Showing him the crown and the stones, he told the young fellow what needed to be done. While he stood outside—afraid to look—the assistant deftly followed his master’s instructions, and the crown was completed.
Caught in the Act
By Yerachmiel Tilles
It happened in Berditchev. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, during the repetition of the Shacharit prayer. In the shul of the great tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.
The Rebbe himself was leading the service. His sweet yet powerful voice permeated the shul, stirring the soul-strings of all present and churning their emotions. Each person felt as if he was standing at that moment before the Throne of Glory Tears streamed down many faces. Everyone was inspired to pray with much more greatly focused intensity than usual, from the depths of their hearts.
Just before Kedushah, when he started to intone the prayer that begins with the words “L’E-l orech din”—“To G‑d who conducts judgment,” the tzaddik’s voice quivered. A current pulsed through the room. Every heart pounded as the holiness and seriousness of the occasion seemed to be climaxing. Each person felt as if he was standing at that moment before the Throne of Glory, and the Judge of the World was measuring and weighing his deeds of the past year as His gaze penetrated every heart and secret thought. The Rosh Hashanah judgment was about to emerge!
When he came to the words of one of the final couplets, “l’koneh avadav badin”—“Who acquires his servants through judgment,” R. Levi Yitzchak’s voice cut off. He stood as if frozen in his place. His face turned white as a sheet. His eyes bulged. As his tallit began to slip off his head, it seemed as if his soul had flown off to higher realms.
All eyes riveted upon the Rebbe. Everyone shook in fear. What will be, what will be?
The veteran chassidim, however, realized that something special must be happening, even if they couldn’t perceive it. With great joy he called out confidently, “Who acquires his servants through judgment!” They concentrated on thoughts of teshuvah, of regret for the past and good resolve for the future.
A few more seconds went by. Then, the color returned to the tzaddik’s face. It was as if he had been restored to life. His face shone. With great joy he called out confidently, “L’koneh avadav badin”—“Who acquires his servants through judgment.”
After the prayers, at the holiday meal, one of the elder chassidim mustered his courage and directly queried the Rebbe, “What happened during Shacharit? Did you see something in the upper worlds?”
Not one present ever forgot the Rebbe’s extraordinary reply.
“I saw the Accuser carrying a huge sack on his back. Right away I felt uneasy. I realized that it was full of the sins of the Jews that he had managed to accumulate over the course of the year.
“I went over and peeked in to see what he had. Let me tell you, there was a full assortment: some nasty lashon hara talk, stinginess, baseless hatred, wasted time that could have been used for Torah study, and so forth and so on ad nauseam. Big ones, little ones—the sack was bulging, and the Accuser was gleefully galloping toward the Throne. As I took each particular sin and considered it in the light of these thoughts, it melted in my hand and disappeared as if it had never been!
“‘Oy!’ I thought to myself. ‘What can I possibly do?’ I couldn’t come up with any plan. My spirits sank.
“Suddenly the Accuser stopped short. His sharp eyes had detected a Jew committing a sin on Rosh Hashanah itself. He dropped the sack and jumped off to pick up this juicy new item to top off his collection.
“As he disappeared from sight, I decided to look in his sack again to get a closer look at what he had. I went over and started examining the different transgressions. I quickly saw that the Jews who had done these things weren’t really so guilty. The bitter harshness of the exile, their bleak poverty, the oppressive negative influence of the dominant cultures in which they lived, and other extenuating circumstances, all combined to coarsen the Children of Israel and seriously weaken their Jewish identity and commitment, until finally they were mired in the filth and unable to resist temptation. Those poor Jews! What could be expected of them? And anyway, what could these puny errors weigh against the callous murder, immorality and theft in which the host nations were sunk?
“As I took each particular sin and considered it in the light of these thoughts, it melted in my hand and disappeared as if it had never been! The pile shriveled and shrank, and soon was all gone.
“Just then, the Accuser returned. When his glance took in the empty sack, he shrieked grievously, ‘Thieves! Ganavim! They stole all my Jewish sins that I worked so hard to amass.’
“Then he spotted me. He recognized right away that it must be me that would do something like this to him. He flew over and grabbed me by my beard!
“Now, you should realize that when it comes to knowing Torah, the Accuser is no slouch! He demanded that I pay him back for what I stole, and not only that, but that I was obligated to pay him double. When I answered him that I didn’t have anything to pay him with, he quoted the verse, ‘If the thief can’t pay back, he is sold into slavery.’ . . . only by serving Him can we escape the clutches of the Accuser
“With that, the Accuser seized me firmly and dragged me off to sell me. The first angel we encountered, though, adamantly refused to buy me. A Jewish slave? No way! It is too much responsibility. He’d be obligated to feed me and provide for my other needs, and at the same time have to worry about getting caught in false accusations and other problems. ‘He who acquires a Jewish slave acquires a master for himself,’ he quoted. ‘Even if he were free, I wouldn’t take him,’ he finished.
“So the Accuser offered me to the next angel we came upon, and to a third and to a fourth. No one wanted to buy me. No one was interested at all.
“Deciding it was hopeless, the Accuser took hold of me again and pulled me right up to the Throne of Glory, and set forth his case before the Almighty Himself! When he finished, a voice was heard. ‘“I have made you and I shall carry; I shall sustain and I shall deliver.” I will buy him from you, O Accuser.’
“The Accuser stood slack-jawed. All his complaints were silenced.
“At this point I revived, as you saw for yourselves. And now you know the explanation of ‘Who acquires His servants through judgment’: we are all servants of the Almighty, and only by serving Him can we escape the clutches of the Accuser. So let’s do it!” concluded the tzaddik dramatically. “And in the merit of doing so, surely we will be inscribed and sealed for good.”