Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5776

Vayigash 5776

New Stories Vayigash 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayigash 5776

Always Await the Redemption


In this week’s parashah it is said (Bereishis 47:8-9) vayomer Pharaoh el Yaakov kamah yemei shenei chayecho vayomer Yaakov el Pharaoh yemei shenei migurei sheloshim umeas shanah miat viraim hayu yemei shenei chayai vilo hisigu es yemei shenei chayei avosai bimei migureihem, Pharaoh said to Yaakov, “How many are the days of the years of your life?” Yaakov answered Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my sojourns have been a hundred and thirty years. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns. The dialogue here is troubling, as it is difficult to understand why Yaakov would complain to Pharaoh about his hard life. The Medrash (see Daas Zekanim MiBaalei HaTosafos and Chizkuni to Bereishis 47:8) states that Yaakov was punished for his complaint, and he forfeited thirty-years of his life. Yet, the Heilegeh Ishbitzer writes in Parashas Mikeitz that the only words that Yaakov ever uttered in vain were when he said to his sons (Bereishis 43:6) lamah hareiosem li lihagid laish hayeish lachem av oh ach, “why did you treat me so ill by telling the man that you had another brother?” Other than these words, every word Yaakov uttered had profound meaning. What was Yaakov implying in his apparent complaint to Pharaoh?

To answer this question, we must understand why it was necessary for Yaakov and his sons to descend to Egypt. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes (Bereishis 46:3) that HaShem deemed it necessary for the Jewish People to descend to Egypt so that they would bring out the Holy Sparks that existed in Egypt. Essentially, writes the Ohr HaChaim, this is the function of all the exiles. Thus, we can now understand Yaakov’s complaint to Pharaoh. Yaakov was intimating that he had yet to fulfill the purpose of the exiles, as the majority of his years were few and bad, i.e. unfulfilled regarding the redemption. The Gemara (Pesachim 56a) states that Yaakov desired to reveal the end of days to his children, but HaShem prevented him from doing so. It is evident that Yaakov’s ambition in life was to witness the Ultimate Redemption or at least to make his children aware of the time when the Ultimate Redemption would occur. When Yaakov arrived in Egypt, he knew that that the exile would soon commence. Thus, Yaakov informed Pharaoh that as long as the Ultimate Redemption had not arrived, his days were few and bad. We may not always be aware of the circumstances in our daily lives, but it is incumbent upon us to realize that we are in exile.

The Shabbos Connection

Shabbos, writes the Shem Mishmuel, is a form of redemption. In the Kabbalas Shabbos prayers that we recite Friday night, we invoke the passionate supplication of karvah el nafshi gealah, draw near to my soul-redeem it! We beseech HaShem to redeem us from our long and bitter exile. Although we are at times led to believe that we have everything we need, our souls are aware that we are still in mourning for the Bais HaMikdash, the lack of the Divine Presence in our midst, and all good that we truly seek. Yaakov, who reflects Shabbos, understood that exile is exile. Despite the fact that the Baal HaTurim (Bereishis 47:28) writes that Yaakov’s best years were the seventeen years that he dwelled in Egypt, they were still years of exile. HaShem should give us the strength to observe His Holy Shabbos properly and faithfully, and then He will surely bring us the Ultimate Redemption, with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Tzama Lecho Nafshi

This zemer was composed by the great medieval commentator and poet Avraham Ibn Ezra whose name is found in the acrostic of the verses

אֵ-ל אֶחָד בְּרָאָנִי. וְאָמַר חַי אָנִי. כִּי לֹא יִרְאַנִי. הָאָדָם וָחָי, The one and only G-d created me, and said, ‘I swear as I live, that no man can see me and remain alive.’ The simple interpretation of this verse is that man cannot continue to physically live after seeing G-d. Perhaps, however, we can interpret the verse homiletically. The Gemara (Tamid 32a) states that one who wishes to die should live, i.e. “live it up” in the physical world. Thus, the verse is teaching us that man cannot see G-d if he desires to live, i.e. a materialistic life. Rather, as the Gemara (Ibid) states, one who wish to live should die, i.e. kill himself over the study of Torah and the abstinence from physical pleasures.

Shabbos Stories

Woman of Valor

Of the countless Jewish women who have immersed themselves in Torah, Bruriah is the most famous. She lived during the wisdom-rich Talmudic era, surrounded by the influences of her father- the great sage Rabbi Chanina ben Tradion, and by her husband-the great sage Rabbi Meir. Torah was her first love and its words guided every facet of her life. The following true story is frightening and deeply moving.

Bruriah stretched her arms and raised her head from the Torah portion she was studying. As usual on Shabbos afternoons, her husband Rabbi Meir was at the study hall giving his regular lesson, and their two sons were up in their room challenging each other with a knotty Talmudic problem. Bruriah smiled as she listened to her children. She was glad to see her sons’ love of Torah and passion for truth, which had been kindled early on by their parents. She thought back to the previous evening and her husband and children singing “A Woman of Valor” as they did every Friday night. The same verses always made her stop and think: “Her husband’s heart trusts in her… She opens her mouth with wisdom, and a lesson of kindness is on her tongue. Her sons arise and laud her, and her husband praises her.” (Mishlei 31) She often asked herself how well she embodied these words. Surely she had occasionally opened her mouth with wisdom, but had she done so with kindness and compassion? And could her husband truly put his trust in her? Did she think solely of his welfare in his time of need? Was she truly “a woman of valor,” worthy of her family’s praise? Bruriah shivered and returned to her reading. Yet something was wrong. The letters blurred before her eyes and refused to make sense. Lifting her head from the book, she noticed that her sons had suddenly become still. That stillness was more disturbing than any noise could have been. She jumped up and ran to the stairs. The silence pressed in upon her and she could barely breathe. Pulling herself up by the railing, she burst into the upper room. There, she saw her sons still at the table, still clutching their books, their heads dropped lifelessly before them. As she stood in shock, the years seemed to fall away. She was [in flashback], once again a young girl, watching the flames leap before her eyes… Standing near the pit, she could see the kindling quickly catching fire, and there, in the center of the blaze… “Father! Father!” she cried. “What are they doing to you?” She screamed in horror, but her voice was swallowed up by the roar of the Roman crowds surging forward to view the execution. The firewood crackled and tongues of flame licked at her father’s flesh. Bruriah could feel the heat singeing her hair. She gazed at her father’s tortured face. Just a few hours earlier, he had been teaching his disciples from the precious Torah scroll he always kept at his side. It was one of the few that the Romans had not yet confiscated. But suddenly the soldiers had rushed in and seized him, calling the public to witness another execution. In death as in life, Rabbi Chanina ben Tradion was not parted from his beloved Torah, for they had wrapped the scroll around his body. The parchment rapidly caught flame, but his own end was not as quick. To prolong his agony, the executioner had placed wet cloths over his heart. Bruriah gasped for air. “Father!” she cried. “How can I see you like this? Is this the reward for a life of Torah?” Out of the flames, Rabbi Chanina managed to reply: “If I were being burned alone, it would be difficult for me to bear. But now that I am being burned together with the Torah, I am confident that the One Who avenges the disgrace of the Torah will avenge my disgrace as well.” Suddenly a great, thunderous roar was heard overhead. Rabbi Chanina’s eyes grew wide, yet even as his disciples craned their necks skyward, they saw nothing. “Rabbi! What do you see?” they asked. “I see only the parchment consumed; the letters fly up into the air! The flesh is scorched, but the spirit returns home…” Slowly the flames began to recede, and there before Bruriah were her sons, slumped over their books. The same words resounded in her mind: “Is this the reward for a life of Torah?” But the same comfort mingled with her grief. In death as in life, they were not parted from the holy Torah. They had been learning up to the very last moment, and had died amid their books. Their souls had accomplished their mission in this world and had now returned home with all the holiness they had gleaned here. “How foolish we are to rejoice over birth and weep over death,” she remembered learning. “When a child is born, we should weep over the perilous voyage ahead of him. What dangers lurk out there? Will he ever reach safe shores? But when a person dies after a life of righteousness, it is cause for joy. He has ventured down to the depths and escaped with precious spoils.” Bruriah knew that she could only grieve for herself, not for her sons, for they had successfully completed their journey. She gathered up her eldest son and cradled his body in her arms. Gently, she laid him on the bed. Then she lifted up her younger son and placed him beside his brother. She gave each one a parting kiss and spread a sheet over them, securely tucking in the covers as she had so often done on cold, windy nights. Passing by their table, she closed their books. “The letters fly up,” she reminded herself. “Only the parchment is consumed…” Stars were already making their way across the horizon. The Shabbos had ended, and Bruriah knew her husband would be home shortly. Her eyes burned with the sting of unshed tears, but this was not the time to let them flow. Rabbi Meir took his coat off slowly as he entered the room. “Where are the boys?” he asked, looking around. “They have gone to study,” replied Bruriah. “But I just came from the study hall and did not see them.” Bruriah responded by handing him a cup of Havdalah wine. Yet the service did not distract Rabbi Meir from his unanswered question. “Where are the boys?” he repeated. Bruriah seemed unconcerned.

“They went somewhere. They may be back any moment,” she said as she poured him a bowl of hot soup. When he had finished, Bruriah sat beside him. “Before the Shabbos, a man left some valuables in my trust,” she said. “He asked me to guard them until he returned. He has now come back and asked for his belongings. Must I return them?” Rabbi Meir stared at her in astonishment. This was not the kind of question he expected to hear from his scholarly wife. “My dear,” he replied at once, “when one guards a deposit, [of course he is] obliged to return it to its rightful owner!” Bruriah nodded silently and led her husband upstairs. She brought him near the bed and lifted the sheet. There lay their two sons, without a breath of life. “My sons! My sons!” Rabbi Meir cried out. Falling into a chair, he sobbed until it seemed his frail body would burst. “My teachers! My teachers!” he wept. “You were my sons in the eyes of the world, but in my eyes you were also my teachers, enlightening me with your Torah!” “Rabbi,” Bruriah whispered, “did you not say that we are obliged to return valuables whenever the rightful owner claims them? Our children were never our own possessions. They were only left with us for safekeeping. G-d gave them, and now G-d has taken them back.” Rabbi Meir’s sobs began to subside. He looked over at his wife and understood that they had been chosen as the guardians of two precious souls during their short stay on earth. And he knew that they had been proper caretakers, for not only had their sons departed without blemish, they had even attained their unique portions of truth. Surely their souls had returned with the fire of Torah burning brightly within them. Bruriah had comforted her husband. She had not indulged in her own sorrow until she had prepared him for his loss. In her great wisdom, she had helped him let go of the precious sons who were no longer in his possession. Rabbi Meir knew that he could always trust in Bruriah. In his grief, he praised her. And he was certain that in the world of truth, their sons were rising up to laud her as well.

Shabbos in Halacha


Regarding most vegetables, salting is also included in the prohibition of marinating. For this reason, it is prohibited to salt vegetables (other than those excluded below) except according to the following guidelines (Note: there is another opinion that posits that salting foods is prohibited because it is comparable to the Av Melacha מעבד, tanning hides. Since salting can change the quality and texture of a food, it is similar to the melacha of tanning, in which salt or a similar chemical is used to improve the texture of the hides.)

  1. One is allowed to salt one single piece of food at a time, if it will be eaten immediately. One may also dip food into slat, one piece at a time, immediately before eating.
  2. One is allowed to salt a large amount of food, i.e. more than one piece, only if oil, or some similar liquid, is poured on the food, so that the sharpness of the salt is weakened. One may add this liquid either before the salting or immediately afterward, but preferably before. For example, when salting a vegetable salad, one should add a liquid, i.e. oil or salad dressing to the salad, either after the salting or preferably beforehand.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayigash 5776

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New Stories Vayigash 5776

Let Go of the Mouse

An antidote for control freaks.

by Sara Yoheved Rigler     

Obeying Microsoft’s recommendations can lead to catastrophe. That’s what happened to me when I innocently clicked on “Yes” in the window that recommended condensing my emails in order to save space on my hard disk. Some 20 minutes later, the job was done – and my last month and a half of emails had disappeared.

“Don’t panic,” I told myself. “They must be in there somewhere.” But as the specter of dozens of red-flagged emails that direly needed replies began to haunt me, I became increasingly agitated. A frantic 45 seconds later, I called Microsoft Israel’s technical support.

Yaniv was reassuring. “Don’t worry,” he calmed me. “They’re in the Recycle Bin on your desktop.” Lo and behold, they were! But how to get them back into my Outlook Express?

“Well, it’s a little complicated,” Yaniv said. “I don’t think you’ll be able to do it on your own. Are you willing to share control of your computer with me until we solve the problem?”

A person drowning in cyberspace will agree to anything. “Yes, Yes!” I promised.

The first thing he had me do was download the program, “Microsoft Easy Assist.” Then a window appeared asking if I was willing to share control of my computer with a Microsoft technical support assistant. “Yes,” I clicked emphatically.

A small blue box appeared in the lower right hand corner of my screen. It asked the same question again. Apparently relinquishing control is not so easy for some people. “It’s okay, Yaniv,” I told him on the phone. “I trust you.” I clicked, “Yes,” and the little blue box switched messages. Now it assured me that at any time I wanted to withdraw control from the technical support assistant, all I had to do was click the appropriate box. “Why would I want to do that?” I wondered. “He’s helping me do what I could never do by myself. I guess some people really have control issues.”

“Okay, are you ready?” Yaniv asked.


“Now let go of the mouse.”

“Excuse me?”

“Let go of the mouse. I’m going to control your mouse.”

Let go of my mouse? I sat there with my hand frozen on my trusty mouse.

“If you want me to restore your emails,” Yaniv explained patiently, “You have to let me control your mouse.”

I let go.

Like some preternatural Ouija board, my pointer started to move by itself. I was doing nothing. He was doing everything.

Then, like some preternatural Ouija board, my pointer started to move by itself. With my hands tightly folded on my lap and my eyes wide, I saw the pointer moving rapidly and clicking. Every move was accompanied by Yaniv’s first-person plural declarations, “Now, we’ll click here. Now we’ll open up this window. Now we’ll right click on this.” It was a royal “we.” I was doing nothing. He was doing everything.

Ten minutes later the phantom emails were sitting pertly back in my Outlook Express. Yaniv told me to click on the little blue box withdrawing permission for him to control my computer. I did so reluctantly. Obviously, he knew how to run my computer better than I did.


While some of us are worse control freaks than others, all of us resist relinquishing control of our lives to God. We human beings have been in competition with the Almighty ever since Adam and Eve were seduced into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by the enticement: “You will become like gods.”

What’s wrong with wanting to control your own life rather than letting God be God?

First of all, thinking that you are in ultimate control of everything that happens to you, which is the same as thinking that you are God, is crazier than thinking that you’re Napoleon. This delusion bumps up against reality every time that you get stuck in an unexpected traffic jam, or your flight is delayed three hours (causing you to miss your connection), or you get sick on a day when you simply can’t afford to miss work.

The best damage control is to realize that you are not in control, like the sign that hung in my bedroom three decades ago: “LET GO AND LET GOD.” If you don’t surrender control, you will still be sitting on the runway as the hours tick by, but your blood pressure will be catapulting to dangerous levels and you may find yourself shouting at the stewardess or making vain threats never to fly that airline again, even though it’s the only one that flies to Xanpliwey.

The day after my Microsoft lesson in letting go, I found myself in an unpalatable position. I had agreed to deliver a welcome basket to an important family arriving in Israel to study Judaism. My assignment was to take a taxi to the neighborhood where they would be staying and to visit with them for fifteen minutes to make them feel comfortable. They were due to arrive on a Friday afternoon. On Thursday I carefully shopped for the perfect assortment of fruit, salads, sushi, chocolates, plus junk food for the children. Then I found the ideal basket. With meticulous care, I arranged each item in the basket.

On Friday at noon, I started phoning the two cell numbers I had been given. They were not turned on. With mounting dismay, as the onset of Shabbat drew nearer and nearer, I kept dialing the numbers, to no avail. My teenage son suggested that I just go and drop off the basket, whether or not they were there, but I responded that the whole point was for me to visit with them. My daughter suggested that maybe they had arrived early in the morning and had turned off their cell phones because they were now sleeping, so I should just go and ring their doorbell. That would be even worse, I pointed out. I’m supposed to make a favorable impression and instead I should annoy them by waking them up?

At 4 o’clock their phones were still turned off. Finally, in desperation, I called a taxi and went. As I sat in the cab in a state of heightened anxiety – What if they’re not there? What if I wake them up? – I suddenly heard Yaniv’s voice: “Let go of the mouse.”

I had done everything I could do, and now I was no longer in control.

With a jolt I realized: I had done everything I could do, and now I was no longer in control. God runs the world. It will be the way He wants it. I let go of the mouse, and relaxed.

When I got to the address, I found the landlord watering the garden. I asked for the family who was supposed to be staying upstairs. He informed me that their flight had been rerouted, and they would be arriving in Jerusalem only minutes before Shabbat. He let me into the apartment to drop off my basket and refrigerate the sushi and salads. I left my card with a message of greeting, resolving to call them after Shabbat. And that was that. It didn’t work out the way I had planned; it worked out the way God had planned. And who knows which scenario was ultimately better? By letting go of the mouse, I returned home relaxed and content, instead of frustrated and vexed.


The second reason to let God be God is that He does a better job of it than we would. Just as relinquishing control of the mouse to Yaniv had yielded a better result than my trying to solve the problem, sometimes we are afforded a glimpse of how God is more qualified than we are to run the world.

Jerusalem resident Hedy Kleiman was visiting her father in Toronto for two weeks. Her father had been chronically ill with kidney disease for eight years. With both of his children living in Israel, he had been well taken care of by his wife. Since her mother’s death nine months before, however, Hedy had flown to Toronto twice to help her father. This time she found him weaker than before, but stable.

On Tuesday night she was scheduled to fly home to Israel. At noon on Tuesday the phone rang. It was El Al calling for Hedy. “How did you get my number in Toronto?” Hedy asked, perplexed. The El Al clerk said she had called Hedy’s number in Jerusalem, and her son had supplied the Toronto number. El Al was calling to ask Hedy to agree to be bumped from her flight that night. In exchange, El Al would give her a reservation for Thursday night plus a free ticket Tel Aviv-Toronto.

Hedy was nonplussed. She had five children at home to take care of, as well as a job that had already given her more than her share of vacation time. On the other hand, she thought, a free ticket would enable her to return to Toronto for her mother’s yahrzeit in April. And why, she wondered uneasily, had El Al selected her, out of hundreds of passengers, to be bumped?

“First of all,” responded Hedy, “I can’t fly Thursday night. The plane would land on Friday too close to Shabbat. What about Saturday night?”

“Saturday night is solidly booked. The best we can do is give you a reservation for Sunday night.”

“I can’t decide without speaking to my husband and my boss at work,” Hedy waffled, “I’ll call you back.”

“No, we’ll call you back,” the El Al clerk insisted. “How many minutes do you need?”

“Ten,” Hedy answered. She couldn’t reach her husband (who told her later that he would have advised against it), but her boss okayed the extra days. When the El Al clerk called back with uncharacteristic promptness, Hedy agreed to be bumped and fly on Sunday night instead.

Late Saturday night, Hedy’s father suddenly felt sick and asked her to call an ambulance. By Sunday morning, he had lost consciousness. Hedy recited “Shema Yisrael” and the traditional “Vidui” [confession] for him. At 11:30 Sunday morning, he died. Thanks to her celestial travel agent, his beloved daughter was at his side. (

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