Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeitzei 5776

Vayeitzei 5776

New Stories Vayeitzei 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeitzei 5776

Shabbos and Sustenance


In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yaakov went to the house of Lavan in search of a wife. Lavan subsequently offered to compensate Yaakov for the labor that Yaakov performed and Lavan attempted to trick Yaakov out of his wages. The simple lesson from this incident is that one has to be cunning when engaged in business with someone who is dishonest. However, there is also a deeper meaning to Yaakov’s dealings with Lavan.

The unwarranted hatred of Lavan towards Yaakov

We are accustomed to understanding the episode with Yaakov and Lavan as a case of good guy and bad guy, i.e. Yaakov is the hero and Lavan is the villain. While this may be true on a superficial level, this episode contains within it a profound lesson for all of us. In the Hagadah Shel Pesach we recite the words tzei ulemad mah bakeish Lavan haArami laasos liYaaakov Avinu shePharaoh lo gazar ela al hazecharim viLavan bikeish laakor es hakol, go and learn what Lavan the Aramean planned to do our father Yaakov. For Pharaoh decreed only that the male children should be put to death, but Lavan had planned to uproot all. The Maharal (Gevuros HaShem §54) raises a difficulty with this passage. Why is it that the author of the Hagadah makes no mention of the evil schemes of Esav and only mentions the diabolical plans of Lavan to Yaakov? This is even more difficult in light of the fact that the Torah explicitly states that Esav sought to kill Yaakov whereas there is no mention in the Torah that Lavan sought to eradicate Yaakov and his entire family. The Maharal explains in a lengthy thesis that unlike Esav who hated Yaakov for stealing his blessings, Lavan and Pharaoh both hated Yaakov and the Jewish People without a justifiable reason. The Maharal writes that Yaakov and Lavan were diametrically opposite of each other, and the Sifri even states that Yaakov descended to Aram to destroy Lavan. Ultimately Lavan sought to destroy Yaakov and although he was unsuccessful, the Torah deems it as if he had destroyed him. The Maharal concludes his explanation by writing that the country of Aram, represented by Lavan, did not exist as an entity. The Jewish People, however, are a real existing entity. Thus, it follows that when a non-entity like Lavan is opposed to an entity like Yaakov and the Jewish People, the non-entity will seek to entirely destroy the entity. It was for this reason that Lavan sought to entirely destroy Yaakov and his household.

Yaakov drained Lavan of all his material gains

The Targum Yonasan and the Targum Yerushalmi (Bereishis 31:22) write that Lavan knew that Yaakov and his family fled because the shepherds discovered that there was no water in the well with which to give the animals to drink. It was then that Lavan realized that it was in the merit of Yaakov that for twenty years he had water for himself and for his animals. The Pinei Menachem writes that this means that Yaakov succeeded in taking out all the holy sparks from Lavan and his household, so by fleeing with his wives and children, Yaakov essentially caused that Lavan did not remain with anything.

The Shabbos connection

From the words of the Maharal and the Pinei Menachem we see that our biggest enemies in reality do not amount to anything. This idea can be applied to one’s daily struggle of earning a livelihood. It is very easy for one to delude himself into thinking that it is his efforts or lack thereof that contributes to his success, or, Heaven forbid, failure, in earning a living. In reality, however, there could be nothing further from the truth. The Zohar states that all the blessings that are found during the week have their source in the Holy Shabbos. Thus, the weekday is akin to Lavan, who appears to be a formidable foe but is essentially a non- entity. The weekday is an illusion that allows one to think that his efforts are creating his financial success, but it is really Shabbos that brings one success. The goal of a Jew must be to, so to speak, use the Shabbos to take out all the holy sparks from the weekday. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) and Medrash teach us that Yaakov, more than the other Patriarchs, reflects the ideals of Shabbos. Thus, instead of Lavan tricking Yaakov, it was ultimately Yaakov who tricked Lavan and drained him of any material gains. Similarly, one may delude himself to thinking that his efforts during the week provide for him on Shabbos, when, in truth, it is the Shabbos that sustains him the entire week.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Yom Zeh LiYisroel

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

קוֹל רִנָּה וִישׁוּעָה, לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הַשְׁמִיעָה, the sound of glad song and salvation make heard to Israel. People normally sing when they are in good spirits. It is said (Tehillim 126:2) אָז יִמָּלֵא שְׂחוֹק פִּינוּ וּלְשׁוֹנֵנוּ רִנָּה, then our mouth will be filled with laughter and our tongue with glad song. We see that in addition to asking HaShem to redeem us from our long exile, we also beseech Him to gladden us with song, a true sign of our high spirits.

Shabbos Stories

A Few Kind Words

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: I recently heard a wonderful story about someone I know dearly: A prominent Chassidic Rebbe was not feeling all that well so his doctor recommended that he go for a comprehensive cardio-vascular examination including a stress test, echo-cardiogram and a slew of other tests would be beneficial. He recommended a prominent cardiologist, Dr. Paul Fegil (not his real name), who headed the cardiology department of a large medical center in Manhattan.

Waiting for the doctor to arrive, the Rebbe felt very uncomfortable in the unfamiliar surroundings. He barely responded to the nurse’s questions pertaining to his medical health and history. The nurse was frustrated as the Rebbe almost refused to discuss his symptoms. It got worse. When the nurse began attaching electrodes to all parts of his chest, he began to sweat. He became so nervous that the monitors and other meters connected to the wires began to pulsate wildly.

The nurse was astounded by the very erratic movements on the heart monitor. Never having seen lines jump off the monitor like that, the nurse quickly ran out of the examining room to summon the esteemed cardiologist immediately. Meanwhile, the Rebbe was still sweating profusely as his heart was pounding wildly.

All of a sudden the door opened and in walked Dr. Fegil. He was a distinguished looking man with graying hair a warm smile and a small leather yarmulke on his head. He stood at the opening, and exclaimed to the Rebbe. “Sholom Aleichem! Rebbe! HaKol B’seder? Is everything OK?” Hearing those familiar words, the Rebbe became startled. He picked up his head and saw the doctor. He could not believe it Dr. Paul Fegil was one of his own! Almost magically, the bells and whistles that were muddling the monitor suddenly stopped. Immediately all the readings showed a sign of a very normal heart beat! Minutes later the Rebbe told the nurse every one of his maladies and his entire medical history as well!

Dr. Fegil looked at the nurse and laughed. “Sometimes a few haimishe words can fix more problems than open-heart surgery!” (

Shabbos in Halacha

לישה – Kneading

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Vegetable Salad

One is permitted to mix a vegetable salad using oil, vinegar or mayonnaise, as long as the pieces are large enough that they are recognized individually, and are not perceived as one body.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeitzei 5776

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New Stories Vayeitzei 5776

Alone in Lenox Hill

In my grandmother’s room, it was as silent as death.

by Yael Zoldan M.A.

It was getting close to Shabbos when my grandfather left. With a whispered goodbye he went off to shul and left me alone with my grandmother sleeping a heavy, drugged sleep, in the mechanized bed on the oncology ward of Lenox Hill Hospital. Fifteen years old and alone with the woman who was my grandmother of course, but still not quite; yellowed and weakened, shedding hairs in her sleep.

The room was grim, devoid of breath or sunlight. Fluorescent overhead lights buzzed incessantly, setting my teeth on edge. The air smelled of ammonia and burnt soup and sickness. I breathed as shallowly as I could. The high opaque windows were painted shut; they never opened. Outside the door, rubber-soled footsteps thudded dully and food carts squeaked without deference along the shiny corridor. Somewhere I heard the grating voice of the floor nurse and the beep of machinery. But in here it was as silent as death.

I was alone! I felt it in a breathless terror….

I was alone! I felt it in a breathless terror, like birds flapping angry wings against my chest, wanting to get out. I wanted to get out. When I had agreed to this arrangement, my grandfather was here with his deep, rumbling voice, my grandmother was awake and smiling and I was foolishly confident. Now, I pitied myself. I didn’t know what to do, how to do, how to be the caretaker to this one who had once taken care of me.

I leaned against the windowsill, my shoulders rounded for protection. I shouldn’t be here! My thoughts were a panicky moan in my head. I didn’t know, didn’t know, didn’t know! I can’t do this! I don’t want to do this! And then sharp as a slap on a screaming child’s cheek, the voice in my head snapped, “Enough!” That voice was so sure and so commanding that I stopped.

In the sudden silence, a thought entered my mind. “He left because it’s Shabbos.” Because it’s Shabbos, I thought again. The word itself was like a balm, a spreading, soothing calm. I took comfort in that word, in its safe, familiar peace. Shabbos. I knew how to do that.

Behind my eyes, I saw the picture of Shabbos in my grandmother’s home, the table neatly laid, the candles burning steadily. From her kitchen came the yeasty warmth of challah rising, the cinnamon smell of compote. I breathed deeply for the first time and straightened my shoulders. If I could give her nothing else, I could give her this.

Calm now, and filled with purpose, I carried my overnight bag into the small cold bathroom and changed into a dark green dress, drop-waisted with pink roses. With my hair pulled back from my face I could see my new gold earrings. My mother said they were called “Love Knots” and I reminded myself that she loved me. Then, I carefully put on my very first lipstick, “Sugared Grapefruit”, an almost non-existent shade of pink. I leaned back, pleased with my image in the mirror. Now I looked like Shabbos.

Stepping out I surveyed the silent, sterile room. My grandmother still slept on the rumpled bed sheets, “Property of Lenox Hill” stamped in blue ink. In my mind, I could hear her husky voice, “We do what we must do, Yael.” The bedside table glared at me, cheap wood veneer on a metal stand. I ignored it and cleared the clutter of pills and packets off its top. Then I strode to the metal closet at the room’s end and took out a pillow case. Once, twice, I waved it in the air, snapping it out of its creases. With sure, quick hands I pulled the pillow case over the tray and suddenly, we had a white table. It was as it should be.

Even here, deep in the valley of the shadow, Shabbos had found me and brought me peace.

A yellow plastic bag lay crumpled on the slick linoleum floor. Inside sat a thick piece of sponge cake left for us by the kind-hearted Bikur Cholim volunteers. I thought of her ivory cake stand and the silver pie server. Then I transferred the crumbling cake onto a Styrofoam plate. With a flimsy plastic knife, I cut it into twelve cubes in a circular flower pattern on the plate. Settling the plate on the table, I added a pink carnation from a wilting bouquet on the windowsill. I filled the green plastic pitcher with tap water and stepped back to admire my handiwork.

The flowers, the cake, my beautiful dress, the lovely white table, the gold in my ears. If I squinted hard, it all blurred slightly and looked just right. Like home, like before. I breathed deeply and felt the place inside me where Shabbos had finally come.

Then I leaned back against the windowsill and felt a small hot tear slide down my cheek. And as I traced its path with my finger, I realized that I was crying tears of gratitude. Because even here, deep in the valley of the shadow, Shabbos had found me and brought me peace.

From the mechanized bed came a sound, like a sigh, and I turned as she opened her beautiful sapphire eyes. I saw her focus on the tray, on the flower, and finally, her gaze fell on me.

“Good Shabbos, Babbi,” I said, shyly, proudly.

“Good Shabbos, Yaely,” she answered softly. And those words, and that look, were my reward. (

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