Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5776

Vayechi 5776

New Stories Vayechi 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayechi 5776

If not with Shabbos, then with Tosefes Shabbos


In this week’s parashah the Torah relates how Yaakov blessed his children. The Torah states regarding the blessing that Yaakov conferred on Reuven (Bereishis 49:3-4) Reuven bechori atah kochi vireishis oni yeser sieis viyeser az pachaz kamayim al tosar ki alisa mishkivei avicha az chilalta yitzui alah, Reuven, you are my firstborn, my strength and my initial vigor, foremost in rank and foremost in power. Water-like impetuosity – you cannot be foremost, because you mounted your father’s bed; then you desecrated Him Who ascended my couch. Rashi, based on the Medrash, teaches us that because Reuven committed an infraction regarding Yaakov’s bed, he forfeited the opportunity that his tribe would be the Kohanim and the kings. What is interesting, however, is that the Torah itself does not state explicitly who replaced Reuven as the firstborn. However, in Divrei Hayamim (I 5:1) it is said uvinei Reuven bechor Yisroel ki hu habechor uvichalelo yitzuei aviv nitnah bechoraso livnei Yosef Ben Yisroel vilo lihisyacheis labechorah ki Yehudah gavar biechov ulinagid mimenu vihabechorah liYosef, the sons of Reuven, the firstborn of Yisroel. (He was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s bed his birthright was given to the sons of Yosef son of Yisroel, although not to receive the hereditary right of the firstborn, for Yehudah prevailed over his brothers, and the ruler was to come from him; but the firstborn’s portion was Yosef’s.) The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 82:11) states that there are two opinions regarding the interpretation of this verse. One opinion maintains that Reuven forfeited the hereditary right of the firstborn, while the second opinion posits that Reuven still maintained the hereditary right of the firstborn. One must wonder, however, what lesson can be derived from this verse and the Medrash. We already know in the Torah that Yaakov gave Yosef two portions in Eretz Yisroel as a sign of being the conferred firstborn.

Understanding the roles of Reuven and Yosef

How do we understand the birthright? Reuven was born first but he was not able to sustain the level of retaining the birthright. The birthright had to be transferred, but who was deserving of earning the birthright? The Torah teaches us that Yosef replaced Reuven as the firstborn, but only with regard to having his two sons, Menasheh and Ephraim, inherit land in Eretz Yisroel. What was the significance of this inheritance?

The significance of two

We are all familiar with the idea that “two is better than one.” While one reflects the idea of unity, two symbolizes blessing and prosperity. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 1:10) states that it was for this reason that the Torah commenced with the letter beis, as the letter beis has a numerical value of two, and this symbolizes abundance and blessing. Yaakov prided Reuven on being his firstborn and his strength and his initial vigor, and these attributes reflected in Yaakov a sense of discipline and control. Had Reuven been worthy, he would have retained that strength and Reuven would have been king and the Kohen. In the words of the Torah, Reuven would have been foremost, i.e. he would have been the source of blessing for the Jewish People, as it is through the king and the Kohanim that HaShem confers His blessings upon the Jewish People. Yet, Reuven forfeited these virtues and the “one” that was to lead to blessing and abundance was lost. Yosef, whose name symbolizes the idea of continuity and abundance, was the natural choice to replace Reuven with regard to being the firstborn. While Yehudah became the king and Levi inherited the Kehunah, Yosef received the hereditary right of the firstborn. What was so special about Yosef that he inherited this blessing?

Yosef was the extension of Yaakov

We see from the Torah and from the Medrash that Yosef was an extension of Yaakov. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:6) comments that whatever occurred to Yaakov occurred in a similar fashion to Yosef. Yaakov was hated by his brother and Yosef was hated by his brothers. They were both circumcised, both their mothers were initially barren, and many other similarities. Thus, while Reuven was biologically the firstborn son, Yosef was the son who Yaakov felt the strongest connection to. Thus, Yaakov transmitted to Yosef all the Torah that he had studied at the academies of Shem and Ever. Furthermore, Yaakov is likened to fire and Yosef is akin to the flame, which is the extension of the fire. It was the flame of the fire which was and will be used to destroy the straw of Esav. Thus, in a sense, Yosef was Yaakov. It is noteworthy that of all the tribes, it is only regarding Yosef that Yaakov uses the term bracha, blessing (Bereishis 49:25-26). Furthermore, the Sforno (Ibid verse 25) writes that whereas the blessings that Yaakov conferred on Menasheh and Ephraim were through an angel, the blessing that Yaakov conferred on Yosef was through HaShem Himself. This idea that Yosef is singled out for blessing and that the blessing is directly from HaShem clearly demonstrates the strong connection between Yaakov and Yosef.

The Shabbos connection

The lesson that we can take from the saga of Reuven forfeiting his hereditary right of the firstborn and Yosef receiving it instead is that every week we have the opportunity to be first and foremost. This opportunity arrives with the onset of Shabbos, when Hashem confers upon His beloved people the gift of Shabbos. According to the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:1) Shabbos is the blessing of HaShem that enriches, and one need not add toil with it. Yet, it is possible, unfortunately, for one to squander the holiness of Shabbos if one is not prepared for its aura and its state of holiness. It is for this reason that HaShem gave us the extra opportunity of Tosefes Shabbos, which the Sfas Emes writes is reflected in Yosef. By adding on to Shabbos during the week, one demonstrates that he is doing his best to prepare for the Holy Shabbos. When one prepares properly for Shabbos and extends the Shabbos into the week, he can be assured that he will eat the fruits of his labors on Shabbos.

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

בָּרָא כֹּל בְּחָכְמָה. בְּעֵצָה וּבִמְזִמָּה. מְאֹד נֶעֱלָמָה. מֵעֵינֵי כָּל חָי, He created everything with wisdom, understanding and forethought, how hidden it is from the perception of all the living. This statement is perplexing. On the one hand we declare that HaShem created the world with wisdom, and on the other hand we acknowledge that this wisdom is concealed from man’s comprehension. If we cannot comprehend HaShem’s wisdom, what is then point of declaring that he created the world with wisdom? The answer to this question is that the Kabbalists state that the word חָכְמָה is a contraction of the words כח מה, a power from the unknown. Thus, the essence of HaShem’s wisdom is that it is concealed. HaShem’s wisdom is a part, so to speak of Himself, and in this world man can never comprehend HaShem’s essence.

Shabbos Stories

Talking money and talking Torah

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: The Ponovezer Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahanamen, of blessed memory, was renowned for his efforts in rebuilding Torah from the ashes of the Holocaust. He established the jewel in the crown of the Torah city of Bnei Brak by building the Ponovez Yeshiva and its myriad affiliate institutions. He built a Yeshiva for pre-teens, another for young men, and still a third for married scholars. He built the Batei Avos, a huge housing complex with hundreds of subsidized apartments for needy families. He built schools for orphaned boys and girls in Bnei Brak, Ashdod, and numerous cities across the State of Israel.

Often, he would visit wealthy patrons in the United States, Canada, South Africa, and Europe, and appealed to them to contribute monies for the Ponovezer Institutions.

The story is told, perhaps apocryphally, that one particular donor once confronted him in jest.

“Why is it, Rabbi Kahanamen,” he wondered, “that all the other Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva who visit me never mention money? All they talk about is Torah and mitzvos. But you come here and cut right to the chase. You don’t talk about Torah or mitzvos. Your appeal, however, is, direct and to the point. You come here and say that you need one hundred thousand dollars to finish a girl’s school in Ashdod. Why don’t you also give me a speech about Torah, mitzvos, and Jewish continuity?”

Rabbi Kahanamen did not draw back. He took the man’s hand and looked him in the eye. Then he told him a profound statement. “You know me well. Many fund raisers talk, ‘Torah, Torah, Torah,’ but they mean money, money, money. I talk money, but I mean Torah, Torah, Torah.” (

Shabbos in Halacha

Foods Excluded from This Prohibition

The prohibition against salting does not apply to all foods, but only to those whose quality or texture can be altered by slating. This includes most vegetables, which tend to harden when salted, and beans, which soften when salted. Also included are bitter and pungent foods, whose quality can be improved by salting.

On the other hand, foods in which salt does not effect a real change, but merely adds flavor, are exempt from this prohibition and may be salted in large quantities. This exemption applies to cooked meat, fish and eggs, and similar foods. However, even such foods should not be salted for in advance of eating.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayechi 5776

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New Stories Vayechi 5776

Aish HaTorah Rabbi Murdered in Terrorist Attack

Rabbi Reuven Biermacher loved every Jew and radiated a fervent passion for Torah.

by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

The Aish HaTorah family is overwhelmed with shock and grief over the horrific murder of Rabbi Reuven Biermacher, a beloved rabbi of the Aish HaTorah Spanish program. Rabbi Beirmacher spent the morning teaching Torah to his students and on his way out of the Old City was stabbed multiple times by two Arab terrorists just outside Jaffa Gate.

Rabbi Reuben Biermacher, a father of seven children ranging in ages 2 to 18 was a man full of joy and life. Born in Buenos Aires, Rabbi Biermacher, 45, moved to Israel five years ago.

Anyone who knew him felt his total passion for learning Torah and connecting Jews to the depth and beauty of their Jewish heritage. His genuine love for every Jew and excitement for Jewish learning penetrated young disengaged students.

On the morning that he was murdered, Rabbi Biermacher was teaching a group of 16-year-old boys from Panama in the beit medrash, a group known to be very difficult to reach and get their attention. He was teaching them a piece from the Talmud when their madrich came by and told the rabbi to stop and give the students a break.

“No! We don’t want a break. This is the best class of the day!” the students said. Rabbi Biermacher’s passion for Torah naturally exuded forth, creating an exhilarating experience that spoke to a group of apathetic 16-year-old boys.

The funeral was very late at night. After a number of heart-rending eulogies in Telzestone, where the Beirmacher family lives, many people went to the Har Menuchos cemetery to escort the rabbi on his final journey. It was 2 AM and Yehoshua Lewin, a faculty member of the Aish HaTorah Spanish program, was surprised to see an 18-year-old South American student who had left the program over six months ago at the funeral.

This was a student who was not in Rabbi Biermacher’s class during the time he was at Aish.

The student explained what he was doing there standing by his graveside at 2 in the morning. He said he had no connection with the rabbi, except for one incident. He was in the dining room eating lunch, complaining about the food. Rabb Biermacher overheard his comment and took him out to buy him a falafel. “I didn’t even know this rabbi, yet he took me out and bought me lunch! And while I was eating he told me I shouldn’t be so picky about food. A man like that – how could I not come to his funeral?”

Rabbi Biermacher made a strong, personal connection with every student because he genuinely loved and cared for them. The Aish HaTorah family, the entire Jewish people, cry out in pain over this unimaginable loss. We grieve with Biermacher family. In response to this tragedy, let us strengthen our commitment to Rabbi Biermacher’s mission to strive to be the greatest Jew you can be and to share the light of Torah with the entire Jewish nation. Consider taking on a specific additional mitzvah for the next 30 days during Sheloshim. May the Almighty save us from more sorrow.

Readers can send their condolences to the family in the comment section below.

You can help the Biermacher family. Please click here to give much-needed support.

Grieving the Loss of a Family Member

By Yissca Schiff, a daughter of an Aish HaTorah Rabbi

Having taught his students at Aish HaTorah this morning, Rabbi Reuven Biermacher was making his way out of the Old City when his journey was cut short. He was murdered in cold blood by two Arab terrorists.

He had just completed the ultimate mitzvah, sharing his love of God, Torah and Judaism to his students. As an Aish Rabbi, the goal is bring Jews from all backgrounds closer to their heritage. The mission statement by which he lived until the very end.

My father is a rabbi at Aish UK so I have an inkling about what Rabbi Biermacher believed with every fiber of his being. I’ve never heard of him until today, but I do know that he lived and breathed Truth. He had a burning passion to spread the light of Torah, and help awaken and ignite that spark that rests in every single Jew. I have no doubt that when he woke up this morning his thoughts were those of determination and perseverance, focus and resolution. I am sure that his wife and seven beautiful children were waiting for their dear father to come home this afternoon and for him to tell them how he had changed the world today; how he had asked a student how he was doing, how his mother was back home, and how that genuine care had touched and moved his student more than ever before. And I am sure that his wife and children will now treasure all those late afternoons when father used to return home.

When he used to return home. That change into past tense is a real tough one. It stares at you right in the face. There’s no avoiding the hard, cold facts: that an Arab terrorist attacked three human beings, two of whom will never have the chance to tell their families how much they loved them. How could a human being look another in the eye and end his life for no reason? Oh wait, there is a reason – Rabbi Biermacher committed the outrage of being a Jew. How gut wrenching is it that someone could devote his life to God and to living in His ways, that someone could want to teach others how to be moral and upright.

Rabbi Biermacher being a Jew is not a piece of background information. It was his essence. Therefore he is my brother. My cousin. My teacher. Now I am grieving the loss of a family member. I am grieving the loss of a valued member of Klal Yisrael. I am grieving the loss of a vital player in the Aish family. Think of how many souls he has prevented from assimilating, how many links in the chain that could have been broken now remain intact, ensuring the perpetuity of the eternal bond that is Am Yisrael, the Jewish people.

Rabbi Biermacher, your students, their future children, grandchildren and greats, literally owe you their everything – because you have given them everything. Without you, your students may not have decided to have Jewish children, and they would be so much poorer.

Now, alas, we are without you, and there is a gaping chasm in our hearts. We will honor your name, of blessed memory. We will honor you through continuing your mission.

You can help the Biermacher family. Please click here to give much-needed support. (

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