Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Toldos 5776

Toldos 5776

New Stories Toldos 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Toldos 5776

Shabbos and the Opening of the Wells


In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yitzchak dug wells and the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with the shepherds of Yitzchak regarding the wells. The Ramban (Bereishis 26:20) writes that the Torah relates the episode of the wells that Yitzchak dug to allude to the Bais HaMikdash. The first well was called Esek, strife and struggle, as this alludes to the first Bais HaMikdash that was destroyed by the Babylonians, and the second well was called sitnah, hatred, as this name alludes to the second Bais HaMikdash that was destroyed by the Romans. The third well, however, was called Rechovos, expansion, and this name alludes to the third Bais HaMikdash that HaShem Himself will build and there will not be any quarrel or strife involved in the building of the third Bais HaMikdash.

Drinking water and drawing the Divine Spirit

One must wonder, though, why the Torah chose to hint to the building of the Bais HaMikdash specifically in the section that discusses Yitzchak’s struggles with the Plishtim. Furthermore, regarding the well that Yaakov encounters prior to marrying Rachel, the Ramban (Ibid 29:2) writes based on the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 70:8) that the three flocks of sheep alludes to the three festivals when the Jewish People make the pilgrimage to the Bais HaMikdash. The flocks drinking the water allude to the drawing of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit that was manifested in the Bais HaMikdash. There also we must understand why the Torah chose to allude to the Bais HaMikdash with an apparently mundane episode of sheep drinking water.

The gates are open on Shabbos and one can enter those gates with preparation

It is said (Yechezkel 46:1) ko amar HaShem Elokim shaar hechatzer hapinimis haponeh kadim yihyeh sagur sheishes yimei hamaaseh uvayom haShabbos yipaseiach uvayom hachodesh yipaseiach, thus said the Lord/Elokim: “The gate of the inner courtyard that faces eastward shall be closed during the six days of labor, but on the Shabbos day it shall be opened, and on the day of the New Moon it shall be opened.” The Sfas Emes (Toldos 5643) writes that the Mishna (Avos 5:6) states that the mouth of the well was created on Erev Shabbos. The explanation of this is that Shabbos is the well and HaShem allows a Jew to prepare for Shabbos prior to Shabbos. In this way one can connect the days of the week with Shabbos. Thus, writes the Sfas Emes, according to the manner that one aspires to receive the Shabbos with joy, HaShem will show him the correct path to enter into Shabbos.

Shabbos and Yom Tov are times of extra spirituality

The Sfas Emes (Noach 5647) writes further that Shabbos and Yom Tov are the times when the gates of heaven are opened for an extra infusion of spirituality and it is at these times that one can ascend to greater spiritual heights. We can now understand why the Medrash and the Ramban write that the opening of the wells alludes to the festivals because it was specifically on the festivals that the Jewish People witnessed in the Bais HaMikdash the revelation of HaShem in all His glory. This revelation allowed them to draw from the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit.

The Shabbos connection

We have mentioned that on Shabbos one can actually experience the well of water, which is a metaphor to an in increase in spiritual influence in our lives. One must recognize that Shabbos is a well of fresh water that can literally bring the soul back to life. Throughout the week we are engaged in Torah study and performance of mitzvos. Nonetheless, our study of Torah and performance of mitzvos on Shabbos is akin to a man in a desert who discovers an oasis. He may have been drinking water from his canteen but the oasis is on a different plane. Similarly, Shabbos is on a different level than the rest of the week, and it is the Holy Shabbos that provides the spirituality for the rest of the week. Hashem should allow us to recognize the holiness of Shabbos and to prepare for the Shabbos properly so we can drink from its spiritual waters.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

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

דּוֹדִי צַח וְאָים, תָּבִיא רְוָחָה, שַׁבָּת מְנוּחָה, my Beloved, pure and awesome, bring relief, Shabbos of contentment. As human beings, we are stricken with trials and tribulations, due to our deficiencies. HaShem, however, is pure and awesome, and because of these attributes, only He can bring us relief and contentment.

Shabbos Stories

Kosher for now, Kosher for Eternity

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: This past summer 30,000 Boy Scouts joined together in Virginia for a national Boy Scout Jamboree. Among the myriad groups of scouts who attend this event that occurs every four years are many Jewish Scouts as well. Mike Paretsky, a Vice Chairman of the GNYC Jewish Committee on scouting, was the kosher food liaison to the jamboree. Special food was ordered from O’Fishel caterers of Baltimore, so that the Jewish scouts would be able to nourish their bodies as well. One of the scoutmasters, a Jewish man, caught a glimpse of the kosher offerings. He had never eaten a kosher meal in his life, yet when he saw the special meals, something stirred. He and his troops were being served pork-this and bacon-that for breakfast, lunch and supper, and all of a sudden this man decided he was sick of the monotonous treif stuff. He wanted to eat kosher. Scoutmaster Paretsky gladly let him partake in a meal, but that was not enough for the fellow. The man decided to keep kosher during the entire jamboree!

Mr. Paretsky agreed to accommodate the neophyte kosherphile, but a skeptic approached him. “Mike,” he said, “why are you wasting your kosher food on this fellow? He is not going to eat kosher after this is over, and he observes absolutely nothing! Why waste the food on him?”

Mike answered with an amazing story of the Chofetz Chaim. When Russian soldiers entered the town of Radin, Jewish townsfolk prepared kosher meals for the Jewish soldiers in the Czar’s army. Soon their acts of charity seemed to fly in their face as they saw the soldiers devour the food and then stand on line to receive the forbidden Russian rations. When they complained to the Chofetz Chaim and threatened to stop preparing kosher food, he reflected with an insight that must be passed on to generations.

“Every mitzvah that a Jew does, every good deed and every bit of kosher that he eats is not a fleeting act. It is an eternity. No matter what precedes or ensues, we must cherish each proper action of a Jew.” (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Thickening or Loosening a Previously Mixed Cereal

We have discussed this previously.

  1. Baby Formula and Powdered Milk

Mixtures that are completely fluid are not subject to the melacha of kneading. However, some powders that do not dissolve freely are prepared in stages: A small quantity of water is first used to form a paste, then more water is added to liquefy the mixture. This paste may be prepared only in a case of necessity, i.e. for a bay, when none other is available, and with the proper shinuim.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Toldos 5776

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New Stories Toldos 5776

Happiness Hall of Fame author awarded for radiating the power of joy.

by Rabbi Shraga Simmons      

The Happiness Hall of Fame boasts among its inductees Deepak Chopra, Muhammad Ali, and a pantheon of authors, sports stars and inventors.

Plus one rabbi: Zelig Pliskin of Aish HaTorah.

How did an observant Jew from Baltimore become a leading expert on joy?

“Classical Jewish sources speak extensively about happiness,” says Rabbi Pliskin, “starting with the Torah itself which instructs us to ‘rejoice in all the goodness that God has given you’ (Deut. 26:11).”

When Pliskin was 12 years old, quarterback Johnny Unitas led his hometown Baltimore Colts to an overtime win in the NFL Championship Game. “That was a huge thrill at the time and connected me with the power of joy.”

He realized, however, that it was a superficial joy. One year later, the famous Ponevitcher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahaneman, attended Pliskin’s Bar Mitzvah in Baltimore. Rabbi Kahaneman had built numerous schools in his native Lithuania – which were all destroyed in World War Two. “Despite the hardships he endured,” Pliskin recalls, “his entire being radiated with overflowing love and joy. I remember the way he hugged my father, and this became my lifelong role model.”

Joy releases spurts of positive chemicals in the brain.

Pliskin applied himself diligently to the task of mastering happiness. “Happiness is a skill that can be learned,” he says. “Maimonides wrote nine centuries ago that the way to develop any positive trait is to practice doing that trait over and over again. When it comes to happiness, the more a person does positive acts of kindness, the more joy becomes part of our nature.”

Pliskin cites research that joy sparks the production of four “pleasure chemicals”: Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin and Endorphins. “When you speak and act joyfully, you get spurts of those positive chemicals in the brain,” he says.

Pliskin discovered that with mental discipline, he can frequently access positive states. “I assign code names to my most positive and meaningful experiences – then can access that joyful state anytime, anywhere.” (His groundbreaking work on “collecting states” was featured in the NLP journal, “Anchor Point.”)

Happy Career

Rabbi Pliskin’s happiness career began in earnest in 1974, when Rabbi Weinberg started Aish HaTorah with the motto: “We’ll teach you how to be happy.” Rabbi Pliskin became one of Aish’s first teachers.

A few years later, he compiled his best “joy tools” in a practical guide, Gateway to Happiness. The book became a classic for those seeking to increase their level of happiness, peace of mind and self-esteem – while decreasing negative emotions such as sadness, anger, worry, and anxiety.

Lionel Ketchian, founder of the Happiness Club with over 100 branches worldwide (including one that Rabbi Pliskin leads in Jerusalem), calls Gateway to Happiness “the most comprehensive book on happiness I’ve ever read.”

What is Rabbi Pliskin’s number one tool for living in a constant state of joy?

Act happy and you’ll feel happy!

“Happiness is a choice,” he says, citing the adage of 18th century Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lutzatto: External movements arouse inner feelings. “Even if you don’t feel happy, act happy,” says Rabbi Pliskin. “You’ll begin to feel happy!”

He explains: “The secret is an 8-word mantra. Joyful thoughts. Joyful feelings. Joyful words. Joyful actions. By repeating these words enthusiastically, 10 times a day for 5 seconds, you can constantly upgrade your attitude and become a master of happiness.”

“Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz taught that we always have something to be joyful about,” he says. “If a person’s glass object would fall and break, and at that moment they receive the news of having won the lottery, would they be upset about the glass breaking? Of course not. So too, the joy of being alive should override anything we may find to complain about.”

“Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I smile and wave to the mirror. It always smiles and waves back to me!”

Rabbi Pliskin’s distinguished career includes lectures around the globe, the popular “Daily Lift” series on, and dozens of books on topics of self-improvement.

Though not one to be wowed by honors, Rabbi Pliskin sees the Happiness Hall of Fame “as good publicity to positively impact people’s lives,” and acknowledges that the award “would make my mother proud.”

Pliskin is being inducted in November 2015 with a distinguished group that includes three-time Super Bowl champion Bubba Paris. “We could form a happiness team and call it Bubba and Zeidy,” he jokes.

In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Rabbi Pliskin delineates “Nine Habits of Happiness,” culled from decades of joyful living. Watch it below:

The Priest Uncovering Hidden Atrocities of the Holocaust

Father Patrick Desbois has dedicated his life to unearthing unmarked Jewish mass graves in Eastern Europe.

by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

“Were you here during the war?

For fifteen years, Father Patrick Desbois, a Catholic priest from Paris, has combed countless villages throughout Eastern Europe, asking that question of elderly residents. With his unassuming manner and clerical garb, people gladly open up him; many even invite him home for meals.

But these are no idle chats. When he finds people who lived in the village during World War II, Father Desbois then asks: were you here when the Jews were killed?

Far from recoiling at his questions, many witnesses seem almost glad to finally talk about those days when they witnessed their town’s Jews murdered en masse. In over one hundred research trips, yielding 4,485 videotaped testimonies, Father Desbois has uncovered 1,744 hitherto unknown, unmarked execution sites and mass graves. His work has revised estimates of the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust upward by up to half a million victims.

Father Desbois has uncovered 1,744 hitherto unknown, unmarked execution sites and mass graves.

Father Desbois’ interest in his work began as a young man. Growing up on his family’s farm in the Burgundy region of France, he was surrounded by secrets of the Holocaust – though he didn’t know it. His mother told him only recently that during the Second World War, their family sheltered dozens of Resistance members on their farm. A family cousin was killed in a concentration camp for her Resistance activities.

The biggest secret of all came from Father Desbois’ beloved grandfather Cornelius. The two were very close, but there was one episode in his life that his grandfather never talked about: his years imprisoned in a POW camp near the Ukrainian town of Rawa-Ruska during the war. He would only say “for us it was bad, for others it was worse.” As he grew up, Father Desbois realized his grandfather was referring to the town’s approximately 15,000 Jews.

Young Patrick developed an interest in Jews and Judaism. He studied Hebrew and visited Israel. Once he became a priest, he worked for the Catholic Church as a liaison to the Jewish community in Paris. He was offered the chance to visit Rawa-Ruska in 2002. He longed to see where his grandfather was held and was also interested in learning more about the fate of the town’s Jews. The visit enraged him and changed the direction of his life.

Meeting the town’s mayor, Father Desbois asked, “Mr. Mayor, where were all the Jews from the village buried?” Over a decade later, his anger and frustration with the official’s uncaring response is still palpable. “The mayor turned to stare at me and then, with an absent air, said ‘We didn’t know anything about that’.”

As he spoke with local officials, Father Desbois realized “everyone seemed to be ignorant of – or eager to hide – the very existence of the ten thousand Jews who had been shot in this little town back in 1942.” Father Desbois was shocked. “Ten thousand people shot cannot go unnoticed. I come from a small village and I know that if one person had been shot there, everyone would remember it – imagine ten thousand!”

A new mayor was elected and Father Desbois returned, asking again about the fate of Rawa-Ruska’s many Jewish citizens. As he recounted in a 2012 interview, the new mayor led him into a forest where about 50 elderly villagers were gathered in a semicircle. “You are standing on the graves of the last 1,500 Jews of Rawa-Ruska,” the mayor told him.

The Villagers Share Their Stories

One by one, the elderly locals stepped forward and shared their memories of the war. Children or teenagers at the time, many of them helped the Nazis round up truckload after truckload of Jews and bring them to this clearing. They told him how they helped guard the Jews to prevent any escapes as the Jews were forced to dig pits. They served the German soldiers food and brought them a gramophone so they could listen to music. They watched as the Germans shot the Jews, dumping their bodies into the pits. One woman told Father Desbois that her job had been to pick tree branches and use them to cover the dead bodies so the next group of Jews wouldn’t see. She was 14 at the time. When the last of the Jews had been shot, they had filled in the pits with earth.

Father Desbois was the first outsider the villagers had told this to. Many asked him, “Why are you coming so late? We have been waiting for you.” In 2004, Father Desbois established Yahad-in-Unum. Yahad in Hebrew means together and Unum is one in Latin. Funded by mainly by a Holocaust Foundation in France and the Catholic Church, it’s the only body dedicated to gathering testimony like this and documenting the location of the untold number of Jewish mass graves in Eastern Europe.

The Einsatzgruppen shot dead over 1.5 million Jews following the strict rule: one Jew, one bullet.

The task is daunting. While millions of Jews who died in the Holocaust were murdered in death camps such as Auschwitz, millions more were shot in Eastern Europe after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 where the task of murdering Europe’s Jews fell to mobile execution units called Einsatzgruppen. Unlike the deadly gas used in many death camps, the Einsatzgruppen used bullets. Jews were typically told to gather in a place because they were going to be transported to Palestine. Instead they were shot and their bodies buried in unmarked mass graves.

In order to save money, Nazi killing squads in the Soviet Union operated according to a strict rule: one Jew, one bullet. Father Desbois calls these murders of over 1.5 million Jews the “Holocaust of Bullets”.

It was also, until recently, largely secret. Not only were the mass graves unmarked, towards the end of World War II, another Nazi division – the Sonderaktion 1005 – was charged with erasing evidence of earlier atrocities, often exhuming some of the bodies in mass graves and burning them.

A Race against Time

“I am running against time,” Father Desbois said in 2009. “We have a maximum of six or seven years if we take into account the age of the witnesses because they are so old. Sometimes you arrive in the village and are told ‘I’m sorry, Father, but Madame Anna died just one month ago and she was the last witness. And now nobody knows any more.’ So I see time is short and we need to achieve our goal as quickly as possible, which is why we must multiply our energy.”

Today, Father Desbois continues his work among the very last witnesses to these atrocities. Travelling with a team including translators, photographers, videographers and ballistics experts, he laboriously tracks down and documents every story. Many of these are chilling. (Note: the details that follow may be disturbing to read.)

One woman described her “job” after a massacre of Jews in her village: to walk across the fallen corpses to flatten them before another group of Jews was shot.

Jan, from Poland described seeing the site of a mass grave: “We could see the blood bubbling.”

Anna, from Ukraine, remembered “They were screaming, the children were crying. When the pit was full they filled it with (a) little earth. For three days the ground moved. Some were still alive.

Gheorghe, an elderly man in Moldova, took Father Desbois to a ravine near his village and described what happened: “The Jews were facing the ditch, so they were shooting them in the back of their heads or their backs to fall into the ditch. They were shooting them as if they were dogs.”

Another woman described seeing her Jewish friend in line to be shot – and how her friend comforted her, saying “Don’t cry, don’t cry—we are going to Palestine.”

One man named Dimitri was 16 when he watched Nazi’s kill his area’s Jews. Nazis and locals worked together, shooting groups of 20 Jews at a time. The killing went on for two weeks, he described. In all, over 18,000 were shot.

At times, witnesses recall the names of the murdered Jews. 80 year old Anatoly was able to remember: Brick, Gorovich, Shurman, and Folst. Without his interview, those names would be forgotten.

Others recalled how German soldiers drummed on empty buckets to drown out the screams of their victims.

The silence shrouding these events contrasts sharply with the public knowledge that these massacres were happening at the time. As well as documenting the massacres and mass graves, Father Desbois says he wants to show that the murder of Jews was publicly known, even celebrated. “On the evening of the killing they would organize a party for the shooters,” he explains. There was food, drink, music, dancing and women.” These parties travelled with the death units, as they moved from village to village. “They were running when they heard when they were killing Jews, to see, to try to catch a coin, to check out your clothes, to take a picture. They wanted to be there.”

As he methodically moves from village to village, Father Desbois leaves little trace behind. He has brought rabbis to the sites of mass graves he’s discovered in order to sanctify them as Jewish cemeteries – but due to fears of looting, he does not mark or otherwise identify the graves at the site. Embraced by Jews around the world, Father Desbois also faces enemies. He keeps the location of his home in Paris secret and has received threats because of his work.

In his race against time, Father Desbois explains what helps motivate him in the face of almost unthinkable horror. “I try to think really concretely of these people not as a millions or just mathematics,” he has explained. Instead, he focuses on the concrete: “I am looking for the tombs of Isaac, Rebecca and Dora,” he says.

“You cannot leave Europe with thousands of unknown unmarked graves,” Father Desbois explains, “or we deny all our values. We cannot build a safe Europe and a modern world and ask people to keep silent. Otherwise we justify the next genocide. It is the ultimate victory to Hitler if we don’t bury the victims.”

Father Desbois recounts his story in his book, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth behind the Murder of One and a Half Million Jews by Father Patrick Desbois (







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