Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Bereishis 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bereishis 5776

It Must Have Been Something


This week’s parasha discusses the creation of the world, and most important, the creation of man. The Torah describes the birth of Adam and Chava’s two sons, Kayin and Hevel, and the ensuing battle between them. Their struggle still reverberates amongst their descendants today. People are forever staking out their territory and determining their dominance over their fellow man.

The rejection of Kayin’s sacrifice

The incident began rather innocuously, when Kayin offered a sacrifice to HaShem, albeit an inferior offering, from the flax that he had cultivated. Hevel, however, offered a choice sacrifice, from the first born and the choicest of his sheep. HaShem rejected Kayin’s sacrifice but accepted Hevel’s offering. Kayin was angry that HaShem found favor in Hevel’s offering, and remained angry despite HaShem’s explanation. The narrative abruptly turns to a scene which takes place in the field where Kayin rises and kills Hevel. What happened between the time that the two brothers brought their sacrifices and the ensuing murder?

Various opinions for why Kayin killed Hevel

The Medrash offers numerous points of view as to what occurred between Kayin and Hevel. One opinion offered by the Medrash is that Kayin and Hevel struggled over land ownership. A second opinion maintains that the two brothers were quarreling over who would have the Bais HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, built in their territory. A third opinion posits that Kayin and Hevel disputed the right to marry Chava, Adam’s first wife. This presupposes that Adam had subsequently married a second woman named Chava. The fourth and final opinion cited in the Medrash is that the first Chava had already died and Kayin and Hevel were arguing over who would marry the extra sister that was born to Hevel. What is troubling about the Medrash, however, is that all the opinions appear to ignore the original cause for contention. Kayin was upset because HaShem had rejected his offering and preferred his younger brother’s offering over his. Would this not have been sufficient reason for Kayin to kill Hevel?

Our dispute must certainly be valid

A rabbi once related that when he was first hired by a synagogue, he ambitiously took on the issue that seemed to be the most troubling issue in the community at the time. For many years, two of the wealthiest members of the community were not speaking with one another. Unexpectedly, the rabbi summoned the two adversaries to his office with the intent of getting to the root of their dissention. The rabbi questioned each of them as to what they thought the catalyst had been that led to the long-standing feud. To the rabbi’s surprise, neither man was able to recall the exact point in time when the feud began. However, they both insisted that “such a fight only could have occurred if there had been good reason for it.”

Sadly, people often have fallouts in their relationships because of “something that happened long ago,” but have a hard time explaining why it had such terrible repercussions. While the Torah omitted the actual dispute that occurred between Kayin and Hevel, the rabbis in the Medrash debated the nature of the quarrelling brothers’ discussion. It would seem that the Biblical omission and the sage’s elaboration demonstrate the idea that one can easily become embroiled in a dispute over trivialities. Clearly, something occurred between the brothers that instigated the tension. Nonetheless, they allowed the dispute to escalate to the point where the origin of the debate was irrelevant.

This incident is a lesson in how to maintain harmonious relationships with friends and relatives. While differences and disputes are sometimes inevitable, it is essential to recognize that what unites us is more important than what divides us.

The Shabbos connection

Throughout the week we are engaged in competitive and aggressive pursuits that at times can lead us to harbor feelings of animosity and ill-will towards others. Although we constantly seek peace and tranquility, it is only through the light of Shabbos that we can truly experience the serenity that we are seeking. Through the ideal peace that is reflected in the Holy Shabbos, HaShem should allow us to merit finding favor in His eyes and in the eyes of all of mankind.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

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

חָנֵּנוּ חָנֵּנוּ, שַׂמַּח נַפְשֵׁנוּ, בְּאוֹר וְשִׂמְחָה, שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה, favor us, favor us, gladden our souls with light and gladness, Shabbos of contentment. Hashem favoring us is the prerequisite to all blessings. In Bircas HaMazon we recite the words הַזָּן אֶת הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ. בְּטוּבוֹ בְּחֵן בְּחֶסֶד וּבְרַחֲמִים, Who nourishes the entire world; in His goodness, with grace, with lovingkindness, and with mercy. I once heard that the Chazon Ish said that the idea expressed here is that HaShem nourishes man with grace, i.e. that man can taste the food and not have to be concerned about choking, Heaven forbid, or the like. Similarly, we can suggest that here we are beseeching Hashem first and foremost to favor us, and then He can gladden our souls with light and gladness.

Shabbos Stories

You should live long

The Torah Temima, zt”l, told the story of a certain elderly man named Reb Binyomin whom he had once met as a child. This Reb Binyomin was of exceedingly old age, and it was well known that he was not particularly cautious about getting chilled or overheated. In other words, he didn’t take the normal precautions that even younger people do to safeguard their health, much less the great care that is normally taken by the elderly. His acquaintances once tried to encourage him to take better care of himself, but to no avail.

Reb Binyomin responded, “Unlike other people, I am not concerned about such matters. People, for good reason, worry that they might get overheated or catch cold and die, but I am confident that the blessing that I was fortunate enough to receive from the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, will ensure me of a very, very long life.

“I was a little boy when the Gaon was still alive, and I used to go to pray in his Beis Medrash. One time, after the prayers, the Gaon paced the floor of the Beis Medrash sunk deeply in his thoughts. On that day, I too was pacing the floor deeply immersed in reciting Tehillim, and without realizing it, the Gaon and I ran right into one another. “I was completely dumbfounded that I had knocked into the holy Gaon, and stood there paralyzed in shock. Little did I realize that the Gaon could not move away from me either – because I was standing on his tzitzis! Eventually, the Gaon saw how confused and terrified I was and he had pity on me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said lovingly, ‘You should live long, my son, but please…let my tzitzis go.’

“When the matter became known in the Beis Medrash and later in the city, people looked at me as if I was a rare find—a child that had been graced by the attentions and the blessing of the great tzaddik. My parents even made a great celebration that day and distributed charity to the poor!”

Not now and not in the future

While he was the head of the Bais din in Dreznitz (1794-1799), the Chasam Sofer was once passing through Pressburg on his way to Mattersdorf. He stopped in Pressburg to visit with Rabbi Meshulam Igra Tismenitz, who was the chief rabbi in Pressburg. As he approached the city, the Chasam Sofer was in doubt whether he should pronounce the bracha of shechalak michachmaso liyiraiav, blessed is the One Who bestowed from His wisdom on those who fear Him, upon seeing the venerable sage, who was undoubtedly one of the leading Torah luminaries of the generation. The nature of the doubt was that this Halacha of pronouncing this bracha is not cited by Rambam in his Yad Hachazaka. Some claim that the reason for this omission is that we no longer find men of the stature to which the Gemara refers to. On the other hand, the great Rabbi Meshulam Igra was an outstanding Torah sage, and perhaps the bracha was appropriate. As he approached the home of R’ Meshulam, Chasam Sofer decided that he would recite the passage of the Gemara verbatim. “Upon seeing a great sage in Israel, one should say, ‘Blessed are You, HaShem…’” using HaShem’s name, and as he opened the door he finished off the blessing, “‘who has conferred His knowledge upon them’.” Then, to settle the mind of R’ Meshulam, who most certainly would be wondering about this pronouncement, Chasam Sofer immediately asked him why Rambam does not rule according to this Gemara. R’ Meshulam explained that Rambam includes in his Yad Hachazaka not only halachos that are practical in our days, but he even brings laws which will once again be practical when Moshiach arrives. This is why Rambam includes laws of Korbanos, etc. However, laws that do not apply now, and will not apply when Moshiach arrives are not included. When Moshiach arrives, we will merit techias hameisim, the resurrection of the dead, when our patriarchs will be with us, together with Moshe and Aharon. The Tannaim and Amoraim, who codified and edited the Mishnah and Gemara, will live in our communities. Rambam omits the bracha said upon seeing a great sage because in our days, we have no men of this stature, and in the days to come there will be so many of them, it will not be practical to say the blessing every day. Therefore, the halacha does not apply now, and it will not apply later, either. This is why this halacha, while it is correct, no longer has any application. (

No falsehood here

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was known for his love and good will toward his fellow Jews always trying to assess the good in people rather than expose the bad.

Once on the Fast of Tisha BaAv he saw a Jew eating in a non-kosher restaurant. He tapped lightly on the window of the establishment and summoned the man outside.

“Perhaps you forgot that today is a fast day?” Rav Levi Yitzchak queried.

“No, Rebbe,” the man replied.

“Then perhaps you did not realize that this restaurant in not kosher.”

“No, Rebbe, I know it is a treife (non-kosher) eatery.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak softly placed his hands on the man’s shoulders and looked heavenward. “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe,” he exclaimed. “Look at how wonderful your children are. They may be eating on a fast day. In a non-kosher restaurant to boot. Yet they refuse to emit a falsehood from their lips!” (

In the merit of Tzedakah

This story of how Rav Yosef Sharshover zt”l, a son of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, was spared from murder at the hands of a band of thieves, was related by one of the talmidim of the Volozhin yeshiva:

“While I was in the Volozhin yeshiva, I heard a story from the godol hador, which took place in the year following the death of the great gaon Rav Chaim zt”l, of Volozhin. Besides his son the gaon Rav Yitzchak zt”l, Rav Chaim had a son named Rav Yosef, who lived in the town of Sharshov, in the Horodno province. (See the introduction to Nefesh HaChaim, where Rav Itzele quotes a chiddush in his brother’s name.)

“When the gaon Rav Chaim died, his son Rav Yosef came to divide his possessions, from which he received one thousand silver rubles and some seforim and other items. When he had to return home, he hired a wagon driver from Volozhin to take him. While they were travelling, the driver lost his way and they were soon wandering away from the main route.

“Friday afternoon arrived and the two travelers wondered where they might spend the approaching Shabbos. They saw a man coming towards them and asked him if he knew where there might be a Jew living in the vicinity, with whom they could stay. The man replied, “I will go and show you where a Jew lives.” Off the three of them went, until they arrived at a Jewish home. Rav Yosef asked the Jew whether he and the wagon driver could stay there over Shabbos, to which the householder responded, ‘Why not?! Aren’t we all Jews?’ So they stayed.

“The following afternoon, Rav Yosef prayed minchah, ate the third meal and lay down on his bed to rest, for it was the summer. His father Rav Chaim came to him in a dream and told him, ‘My dear son, you are in great danger, for there are people who want to kill you and take your money. If you can run away, do so.’ When Rav Yosef saw his father in the dream, he awoke and arose from the bed. He waited a little, until it was almost nightfall and he told the driver, ‘Go quickly and harness the wagon and we’ll leave this place because it’s dangerous. There are murderers here who intend to kill us.’”

“When the driver went to harness the wagon, an armed thief came over to him and told him, ‘Come with me to the room, because you’re not going anywhere. You will die here,’ and he closed the wagon driver inside with him. Rav Yosef was sitting in his room and he saw that three armed men had come in. He realized what was happening – they had come to kill him.

He went to stand in the corner of the room and started to say vidui. As he prayed he said, ‘My father, my father, Rav Chaim zt”l, I ask you, may your merit and the merit of the Torah protect me, for I have fallen into the hands of murderers who want to kill me.’ So he called, bitterly and broken-heartedly, and he wept profusely.

“When the house owner approached the room and heard him calling, ‘My father, Rav Chaim!!’ he said to him, ‘Whose son are you? Tell me!’

“He replied, ‘I am the son of the gaon Rav Chaim zt”l, from Yeshivas Volozhin!’

The murderer said, ‘Who says you are telling the truth. Maybe you’re lying?’

“Rav Yosef replied, ‘Come over here and I’ll show you proof aplenty, for it’s been four weeks since my father zt”l, died.’ The man came inside and Rav Yosef showed him his father’s manuscripts, seforim and other objects, until he saw that he was telling the truth and that he really was Rav Chaim’s son.

“Then the murderer began calling everyone and he told them, ‘Sit around the table for a trial. We’ll judge whether we can kill him or not.’ They did as they were told and sat down straight away and he told them the story of what had happened to him.

“ ‘When I killed an entire family, nine people in all, in the Minsk region, I was imprisoned in Minsk. When I was being taken to Vilna to be interrogated by the investigator, I happened to be in the Volozhin jail on erev Pesach. When Rav Chaim zt”l, heard that a Jew was in the prison he went to the governor and asked that the imprisoned Jew be permitted to come to him for the two sedorim.

“‘The superintendent suddenly came to me and said, “Get up, with the chain” – that was attached to my feet and hands – “for the local rabbi wants you to be with him for two nights.”

“ ‘When I came to his house, he had the appearance of a heavenly angel and the members of the yeshiva were sitting around the table for the seder which was laid out, while I was tied with iron chains like a thief. The gaon said to me, “Sit down for the seder,” and I sat down in mortal fear. This actually happened to me!

“‘Can we, my sons and brothers, a man like this, who was not ashamed to sit at the same table with me, can we kill his son? Where is our fairness? Where is our justice? I put this to you, and you give a fair verdict!’

“Their chief spoke out and said, ‘According to our laws and our own sense of fair play, we cannot do anything!’

“When they heard this verdict from their leader — that he would not be sentenced to death — the man took Rav Yosef, with his money and the wagon driver and blindfolded them so that they shouldn’t see which way the road was and he put them onto the main route. This is what I heard.”

 Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications

Egg Salad (with Oil)

An egg salad in which oil is used as the binder should, preferably, be prepared before Shabbos. If this is not possible, or in a case of necessity, one may make it on Shabbos by adding together the ingredients in reverse order, and mixing with crisscross strokes (or bare handed).

[Note: In some areas it is common for people to make egg salad on Shabbos without any shinui. Although some Poskim justify this practice, it is best to avoid doing so.]

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Bereishis 5776

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New Stories Bereishis 5776

The Murder of a Hero

In trying to save a life, Rabbi Nehemia Lavi paid with his life.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, 41, was celebrating the Third Meal of Shabbat with his wife and seven children in their rooftop sukkah above their Jerusalem Old City apartment. Rabbi Lavi related a teaching of the Vilna Gaon that there are two mitzvot that a man can fulfill with his whole body: Living in the Land of Israel and sitting in a sukkah. (Women, who are commanded to immerse in a mikvah, have three whole-body mitzvot.) He remarked to his family that they are, at that moment, fulfilling both these mitzvot. Suddenly they heard a woman screaming. Rabbi Lavi, an officer in the I.D.F. Reserves, grabbed his gun and ran downstairs to save her. As Israel’s Chief Rabbi would say at Nehemia Lavi’s funeral, he thus was fulfilling a third mitzvah with his whole body.

The Arab terrorist, who had already murdered 22-year-old Aaron Benitah and seriously wounded his young wife Odel, killed Rabbi Lavi by repeatedly stabbing him in the chest and neck. Then he took the rabbi’s gun and shot the Benitahs’ toddler in the leg. Odel, with a knife in her shoulder, managed to run to an Israeli police outpost fifty meters away before losing consciousness. The police shot and killed the terrorist.

Nehemia Lavi was a lover of Jerusalem’s walled Old City. Although he grew up in Beit El, a town 33 kilometers outside Jerusalem, Nehemia moved to the Old City 23 years ago, as a yeshiva student at Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim. He became an educator. He taught young men at the yeshiva and children at the Moriah Talmud Torah in the Jewish Quarter.

He was also a lover of the Land of Israel. He took a tour guide course and became a certified guide, not because he was seeking another vocation, but just because he wanted to learn everything about the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Lavi had zeal to serve. As a combat soldier in the I.D.F. and then the Reserves, he was regularly called up for reserve duty. Disappointed that after turning 40 he would no longer be called up, he took a chaplain’s training course so that he could continue to serve in the Reserves as an officer. He finished the course just 2 weeks ago.

In the Muslim Quarter

Some twenty years ago, Nehemia and his wife Netta moved into Beit Witenberg on HaGai Street in the Muslim Quarter. This large complex had been purchased by Rabbi Moshe Witenberg, a wealthy Eastern European Jew, in the 1880s. Rabbi Witenberg used part of the building to construct a magnificent Chabad synagogue with an extensive library, rented out twenty apartments, and used much of the building for his charitable institutions. Rabbi Witenberg died childless in 1899, after insuring with the Turkish authorities that the property would be consecrated as a charitable foundation and remain in Jewish hands. In 1920, Arab rioters attacked the Witenberg complex, burned down the synagogue, including its many Torah scrolls and priceless Chabad manuscripts, and looted and destroyed the apartments.

Although the original residents were afraid to return to Beit Witenberg after it was reconstructed, Jewish immigrants from Hungary moved in. They stayed there until driven out by the Arab riots of 1929, in which 133 Jews in the so-called “Muslim Quarter” were murdered. (An official census conducted by the British Mandate government in 1922 had found that the majority of residents of the “Muslim Quarter” were Jews.) In the wake of the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936, the “Muslim Quarter,” including its many Jewish-owned properties, became Judenrein.

After Israeli forces liberated the Old City from Jordanian rule in the Six Day War of 1967, Jews slowly returned to the Jewish Quarter. Reclaiming Jewish properties in the Muslim Quarter, however, was much harder. It took many years of legal action, much money, and the dedicated efforts of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim to return scores of properties to Jewish hands. Finally, in 1987, a mezuzah was once again affixed to the entrance of the Witenberg complex.

Despite the danger of living in the Muslim Quarter, Nehemia Lavi and his family moved into Beit Witenberg on Hagai Street twenty years ago. His apartment there was both a home and a statement that Jews would not be intimidated by Arab violence from reclaiming their ancestral homeland or even this one, small, holy part of it.

The Number 18 Bus

Nehemia Lavi understood that courage, like fear, is contagious. The act that best reveals his bravery took place in 1996. At 6:30 in the morning of February 25, Jerusalem’s #18 bus was filled with people on their way to work. A suicide bomber boarded the bus and blew himself up, killing 26 people. Exactly one week later, at the same hour on the same #18 bus route, another suicide bomber blew up the bus, killing 19 people. Exactly one week after that, at the same hour, knowing how scared the driver and passengers would be, 22-year-old Nehemia Lavi, carrying a large Israeli flag, got on the #18 bus at the beginning of its route. With encouraging words and the blue-and-white flag of the Jewish nation, Nehemia instilled courage into the driver and passengers. He rode the bus until its last stop and then back the whole route in the other direction. It was a statement: We Jews will not submit to fear.

Courage, like fear, is contagious. At Nehemia Lavi’s funeral this past Sunday, they announced that after the conclusion of the Simchat Torah holiday, “Second Hakafot,” dancing with the Torah as on Simchat Torah, but with the rousing accompaniment of a band, would take place on Hagai Street in the Muslim Quarter, at the very place where Nehemia Lavi and Aaron Banito Bennet had been murdered. The square has been renamed, “Nehemia and Aaron Square.”

Hundreds of Jews poured to the site. As the band played, Am Yisrael Chai (“The Jewish Nation Lives”), on the cobblestones recently cleansed of Jewish blood, hundreds of Jews danced with Torah scrolls in their hands and courage in their hearts.

The following day, rabbis started holding Torah classes at Nehemia and Aaron Square. Member of Knesset Mutty Yogez moved his official office to the Square. And the youths whose classmates from the Lavi family are now fatherless are sitting there on Haggai Street learning Torah and singing songs of Jewish faith and fortitude.

All of these are a statement: We Jews will not submit to fear.

Our brother Nehemia, this is the courage you taught all of us by your brave example. Your courage is contagious. (

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