Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayakhel 5776

Vayakhel 5776

New Stories Vayakhel 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayakhel 5776

Returning to the Level of Divine Presence of the Patriarchs on our Tents


This week’s parashah discusses the actual construction of the Mishkan and in some years we also read Parashas HaChodesh, which discusses the Exodus from Egypt. The Ramban writes in his introduction to the Book of Shemos that this Book is called Sefer HaGeulah, the Book of Redemption, because of the Exodus from Egypt. Furthermore, the Jewish People received the Torah and then built the Mishkan, which allowed them to return to the level of the Divine Presence that rested on the tents of their forefathers. What is the meaning of returning to the level of the Divine Presence that rested on the tents of the forefathers?

The Jewish People had a few merits which would allow them to be redeemed from Egypt

One of the most intriguing aspects of the redemption from Egypt and of receiving the Torah was that the Jewish People were not prepared for either of these events. The Arizal writes that had the Jewish People descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity, and had HaShem not delivered the Jewish People at the last moment, they would never have ascended from the depths of impurity. This idea is difficult to understand, as this implies that the Jewish People themselves did not have sufficient merits with which to leave Egypt. Yet, we know that when Moshe asked HaShem in what merit the Jewish People would leave Egypt, HaShem told Moshe that in the merit of receiving the Torah, the Jewish People would leave Egypt. Furthermore, the Medrash (see Bamidbar Rabbah 13:19) states that in the merit of not changing their names, language and clothing, the Jewish People left Egypt. Additionally, the Gemara (Sota 11b) states that in the merit of the righteous women the Jewish People left Egypt. This being the case, how is it possible that the Jewish People almost reached a point of no return and HaShem had to redeem them from Egypt with apparently no merits in their favor?

One must view himself as if he himself was redeemed from Egypt

In order to understand what it means that the Jewish People had almost reached the point of no return, we have to understand another statement that we recite in the Hagadah Shel Pesach. On Pesach night we recite the words that in every generation one must view himself as if he himself had just exited from Egypt. How can one view himself as if he had left Egypt if he never was exiled to Egypt? While we know that our souls were all present at the receiving of the Torah, and it follows that all our souls were in Egypt, we must also understand this recital in a practical sense. Is it possible for a person to experience having left Egypt when he does not feel like he was there in the first place?

Only HaShem can assist a person in overcoming the blandishments of his Evil Inclination

The answer to these questions is that it is well known that the Zohar compares the Egyptian exile to the power that the Evil Inclination has over a person. The Sefarim write that the word Mitzrayim, Egypt, is an acrostic for the words meitzar yam, the border of the Sea. In a deeper sense, however, this means that the Jewish People were surrounded by the sea of impurity which is the fiftieth level of contamination. Thus, besides the physical exile that the Jewish People were forced to endure in Egypt, they were also subject to the blandishments of the Evil Inclination. The same is true for us in our lives. While we may not always be cognitive of this, the fact is that the Evil Inclination is a constant presence in our lives, and it seeks to wreak havoc on our spiritual equilibrium. The Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) states that if not for the fact that HaShem aids a person in his struggles against the Evil Inclination, a person would not be able to overcome the enticement of the Evil Inclination alone. Thus, despite the many merits one may have, it is insufficient in his struggles with the Evil Inclination. Only Hashem can allow a person to be victorious over his Evil Inclination.

The merits of the Jewish People were insufficient for them to be redeemed from Egypt and the clutches of the Evil Inclination

We can now understand why, despite having the merit of certain virtues and the merit of the righteous women, the Jewish People were in need of something that would catapult them out of the clutches of the Evil Inclination. This extra push, so to speak, was the deliverance that HaShem provided for them. This idea also helps us gain a better perspective of what we should be feeling when we contemplate the Egyptian exile and the redemption. We are constantly struggling with the Evil Inclination and it is only HaShem’s compassion that enables us to overcome this struggle.

The Shabbos Connection

The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:1) states regarding the mitzvah of Parah Adumah that it said (Iyov 14:4) mi yitein tahor mitamei lo echod, who can produce purity from impurity? No one! This is akin to Avraham who came from Terach, Chizkiahu from Achaz, Yoshiyahu from Amon, Mordechai from Shimi, the Jewish People from the gentiles, and the World to Come from this world. The Sfas Emes (Parah 5647) writes that HaShem made it that one attains purity by being tested and forged in the crucible of this world. It was for this reason that the Jewish People had to endure the Egyptian exile and they were submerged in the forty-ninth level of impurity, until they merited being redeemed and becoming pure. This idea is manifest in the Jewish People residing amongst the gentiles, and in the Jewish people sojourning in this world in order to attain their share in the World to Come. Similarly, writes the Sfas Emes, every Shabbos is a commemoration to the exodus from Egypt, and every week we merit being redeemed from the gates of impurity and ascending towards the gates of purity. Based on the words of the Sfas Emes, we can now better understand why building the Mishkan was the culmination of the redemption process. Our Patriarchs lived a life of complete purity, and despite their encounters with foreign ideas and people who were the antithesis of their beliefs, they remained pure at all times. After enduring the Egyptian exile, the Jewish People received the Torah, which is the epitome of priority in this world. To attain that purity HaShem instructed them to build a Mishkan, which would allow them to receive the Divine Presence. Every week, with the arrival of Shabbos, we are returning to that level of Divine Presence upon our tents, as we light candles, eat challah, and bask in the Divine Presence, which are all reminiscent of the level of purity and holiness that our Patriarchs attained. HaShem should allow us to enter the upcoming month of Nissan with great joy and purity, and we should witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Ki Eshmera Shabbos

This zemer was composed by the great medieval commentator and poet Avraham Ibn Ezra whose name is found in the acrostic of the verses. The Zemer focuses on Halachic aspects of the Shabbos observance.

כִּי אֶשְׁמְרָה שַׁבָּת אֵ-ל יִשְׁמְרֵנִי. אוֹת הִיא לְעוֹלְמֵי עַד בֵּינוֹ וּבֵינִי, if I safeguard the Shabbos, G-d will safeguard me, It is a sign forever and ever between Him and me. There is a direct correlation between safeguarding the Shabbos and the fact that the Shabbos is a sign. Regarding ברית מילה, circumcision, we use the term שמירת הברית, a safeguarding of the Covenant, and ברית מילה is also referred to as an אות a sign. Similarly, we “safeguard” the Shabbos which is referred to as an אות, a sign. When we safeguard the Covenant and the Shabbos, we can be assured that HaShem will continue to bestow upon us the two “signs of distinction.”

Shabbos Stories

Not the way you Want it to Happen

A poor man once came to the renowned tzaddik, the Strikover Rebbe, who had a reputation for performing the most wondrous and amazing miracles. The man’s daughter had already been engaged twice, but when her father had been unable to provide the agreed- upon nadon (dowry), the engagements had been broken. Now she had become engaged once again, and her father desperately wanted this marriage to go through.

The Rebbe told him to go home, and buy a lottery ticket – the Ribbono Shel Olam would surely help him. The poor man optimistically returned home, and bought a ticket, but the ticket did not win. Although the father somehow managed to keep the shidduch (engagement) afloat and marry his daughter off, the Strikover Rebbe was so shaken by his “failure” the he refused to accept any more petitioners for his blessings. A Rebbe’s power, he argued, is derived from the dictum of Chazal, our Sages (see Taanis 23a) that HaShem fulfills the will of a tzaddik. Obviously, he was not a tzaddik!

Soon afterwards, Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshischa came to Strikov to visit the Rebbe. He was disturbed that the Rebbe had ceased accepting the hundreds of petitioners who desperately sought his blessings over the apparent failure of one blessing.

“Strikover Rebbe,” said Reb Simcha Bunim, “tell me: How does one reconcile that which we are taught, ‘HaShem fulfils the will of a tzaddik’ with the passuk in Iyov (Job 9:12), ‘Who can tell Him what to do!?’ The explanation, however, is as follows: Hashem will fulfill the Tzaddik’s will. But even the tzaddik has no right to dictate how HaShem will do it. Your Bracha (blessing) was fulfilled. The marriage went off as planned – just not the way you thought it would happen!” The Rebbe saw the wisdom in his words, and resumed accepting Chassidim.

Shabbos in Halacha

מוליד – Creating a  new Entity

  1. Practical Applications
  1. Dissolving Frozen Liquids

Liquids may be defrosted at room temperature, but should not be placed in a hot area (i.e. near an oven) to dissolve. However, once partially melted, they may be moved to a hot area to dissolve completely. In cases of necessity, i.e. if needed immediately for guests, liquids may be initially dissolved in a hot area. Crushing or shaking them, however, is forbidden even in cases of necessity, unless immersed in liquid.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayakhel 5776

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New Stories Vayakhel 5776

The Jewish Hero of the Ukrainian Uprising

An exclusive interview with a most unlikely rebel, chasidic freedom fighter Asher Yoseph Cherkassy.

by Isaac Horovitz

This article originally appeared in Ami magazine.

For over two years the media have been reporting on a bloody war going on between Russia and Ukraine. The scenes are often grisly and violent. But amid the thundering tanks and artillery inflicting death on both sides, a surprising figure emerges: a Jewish man, a Lubavitcher chasid, complete with a long beard and twinkling eyes. He is praying Shacharis, enwrapped in tallis and tefillin, and smiles for the camera.

Meet the hero of the Ukrainian insurgents, Reb Asher Yoseph Cherkassky. A photograph of him in his green uniform, waving a Kalashnikov in front of a tank, has become one of the most iconic images in Ukraine today, and a symbol of the seemingly endless war that has already claimed the lives of nearly 10,000 people. Borys Filatov, the governor of the Dnepropetrovsk Oblast region in Eastern Ukraine and one of the country’s most prominent politicians, has called Cherkassy a “symbol and hero of the Ukrainian uprising.” Cherkassy has even been referred to by the media as the “Ukrainian Fidel Castro,” thanks to the visual similarity with the Cuban rebel, most notably their camouflage fatigues and beards. Other common nicknames are “the chasid soldier” and “the rabbi warrior.”

Regardless of the nomenclature, Cherkassy is now one of the most famous men in the country. In Ukraine, it is customary to distribute postcards bearing the likenesses of prominent national personalities for the New Year. This year, among the photos of the usual war heroes was Cherkassky wearing a black suit and a fedora.

A Rebel with a Cause

“Many people ask me why I enlisted,” he tells me in an exclusive interview. “Why would I want to fight alongside the Ukrainian patriots in the war against Russia? But it’s quite simple. When people attack you, when they seek to destroy you and send you fleeing from your home, you have to stand up and fight. You need to protect your children, your home and your friends. It is a civic duty, a personal duty, an obligation to my family.”

When people attack you, when they seek to destroy you and send you fleeing from your home, you have to stand up and fight.

Our interview took place in the office of Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, the Chabad emissary in Dnepropetrovsk, who fully supports Cherkassky. “Yoseph Cherkassky is a dear Jew who is making a kiddush Hashem [sanctifying God’s Name]. Not only is he a great fighter, but he maintains his Jewish observance on the battlefield.”

All the publicity has propelled Cherkassky into local politics. He was recently elected to the Dnepropetrovsk city council, having received widespread support not only from Jews but from many Christians. He is the first chasidic Jew elected to higher office in Ukraine. While he is still an active member of the militia, he does not believe that there is a conflict. “If I ever felt that my military obligations were preventing me from doing my job on the council I would concentrate on the council, because I believe I can be more influential in that role.”

Communist Upbringing

So what brought Cherkassky, an Orthodox father of two, to the battlefront? His story begins farther south, in Crimea.

“I grew up in the small town of Feodosia in the Crimean Peninsula, on the Black Sea,” he says. “It’s a little port city with a small but historic Jewish community that is actually one of the oldest in Ukraine.”

Feodosia was founded as a Greek colony during the ancient Hellenistic period. A synagogue that was built there over 1,000 years ago survived up until the Holocaust. After Russia conquered Crimea from the Turks, Jews flocked to the coastal town and established a thriving community that numbered around 3,000 by the late 19th century. The community prospered until the Nazis occupied the city, rounding up the Jews and killing most of them. After World War II, some local Jews returned. The Cherkassky family was one of those that worked to rebuild their community.

“I received a Communist education, not a religious one. For many years I didn’t know what Judaism was or how to observe the mitzvot or holidays,” he tells me. Cherkassky, who is tall and sturdy, worked as a laborer doing renovations. In the 1990s he served in the Russian Army. “I was in the army for several years. I learned how to fight and how to operate weapons. That was also the time when the Russian Army was fighting in Chechnya. I learned a lot.” Today, he uses the knowledge he learned from the Russians…against the Russians. Familiar with the Russian Army’s strengths and weaknesses, he takes advantage of that knowledge.

After discovering the power of prayer I made a commitment to increase my observance.

It was during those years that Cherkassky discovered Judaism and belief in God. “My father, with whom I was very close, was seriously ill. He was admitted to the hospital, but the treatments didn’t help him. The disease progressed and the doctors gave up. It was then that I realized that no one could help us except for the One Above; everything depends on Him. I went to the synagogue and learned how to pray. I asked God to heal my father. After discovering the power of prayer I made a commitment to increase my observance and to uphold the Torah and Jewish law. I began studying Judaism in depth and started to keep Shabbos and kosher and accepted all of the mitzvot. Eventually, after being sick for a very long time, my father passed away, and he was given a Jewish burial. He has now gone to the Next World, but in his merit I have continued to grow stronger.”

After living elsewhere for a time Cherkassky returned to Feodosia, got married and had two children. He became a leader of the small local Jewish community. Then, around two years ago, riots broke out in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, and pro-Western rebels took control of the government. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, who had supported Russian President Vladimir Putin, was removed from power. Yanukovych fled to Donetsk, a pro-Russian stronghold in the far eastern region of Ukraine, and everyone thought the crisis was over; Ukraine would move politically closer to the West. But Putin had other plans. “Now we have to start working on the return of Crimea to Russia,” he declared at the time.

Russian Coup

Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, saw mass demonstrations – widely believed to have been orchestrated by Putin; Russian flags could be seen flying from government buildings – against the new regime. Protesters gathered in front of the local parliament, demanding to break away from Ukraine. Then unidentified soldiers took over the municipal buildings and the parliament voted to establish a new pro-Russian government. While all military operations were kept secret and Moscow insisted that only local forces were involved in the uprising, it was clear that Russian troops were on the ground. The Kremlin later admitted that Moscow was in fact was behind the coup. The Russian Army then took control of Crimea, ignoring international protest against the occupation.

“Vladimir Putin acted like Hitler in his conquest of Europe,” Cherkassky says angrily. “He conquered country after country, piece by piece, under all kinds of pretexts that he was supposedly invading those countries by their own invitation. Putin did the same thing, claiming to have invaded Crimea at the request of the local Russian population. Then he used Russian separatists to try and take control of parts of Eastern Ukraine.”

Unwilling to live under Russian rule, which had now spread to Feodosia, Cherkassky decided to flee to Dnepropetrovsk, the largest city in Eastern Ukraine. It is also the country’s industrial center and home to tens of thousands of Jews. The community supports a Jewish school, Ohr Avner Levi-Yitzhak, and a girls’ seminary, Beit Chana, which educates girls from all over Ukraine. A large 150-year-old synagogue in the city center, Shoshanat Hazahav, was appropriated and nationalized under the Communists and used as a theater, but was later returned. An enormous new complex, the biggest Jewish community center in the world, has just been built adjacent to it, donated by the president of the local community. “We have everything a Jew could possibly want,” he tells me. “Kosher restaurants and bakeries, a mikvah, a guest house, educational facilities – even a Jewish museum. I feel very much at home here. The Jewish community is very warm.” Cherkassky is now studying law and hopes to become a lawyer.

When the tensions began between Russia and Ukraine in Crimea, they were felt in Dnepropetrovsk as well. “We share a long common border with Russia and have a sizeable ethnic Russian minority. Some cities with large Russian populations like Donetsk and Luhansk have even declared themselves members of a non-existent republic called Novorossiya, or New Russia. The separatists were supported by the Russian Army, and there were periods of fighting with the Ukrainian forces. Thanks to the massive Russian assistance, the separatists have succeeded in taking control of Donetsk and Luhansk, and threaten to continue on to Dnepropetrovsk.”

Very often the non-Jewish soldiers ask me to give them blessing before we into battle.

The Ukrainians were alarmed. Many, including Cherkassky, believed that Putin would use the same strategy again, instigating pro-Russian riots demanding independence from Ukraine and then sending in his army to annex another region.

Around the same time, the new governor of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast started recruiting volunteers to support the Ukrainian armed forces. Cherkassky decided to use his military knowledge and join the regiment. “I was not the only Jew who joined,” he says. “There were a lot of others, including an Israeli soldier who previously served in the Golani Brigade. But I am definitely the only chasidic soldier,” he adds with a smile. “I was welcomed with opened arms when I volunteered. Instead of hostility, they appreciate my being here. Very often the non-Jewish soldiers ask me to give them blessing before we into battle.”

A Jew in the Army

How do you keep kosher and Shabbos at the front?

“I cannot expect the army to provide kosher food just for me, so I bring some provisions from home. I also eat fruits and vegetables. For Shabbos I try to do as little as possible, and consult with my rav. But if there’s a battle on Shabbos, what can you do? You’re saving lives. The enemy doesn’t take into account that I keep Shabbos. The most painful experience for me as a combatant was having to engage in a battle that took place on Rosh Hashanah.”

Cherkassky has participated in several major clashes and has often found himself in danger, particularly after Russian separatists occupied Donetsk. The Ukrainian government controlled only the local airport, which they turned into a stronghold of sorts. Then the Russian separatist forces laid siege to the airfield. The Russian Army tried to take over the strategic location and shelled the Ukrainian positions. Cherkassky was injured by an exploding shell; some of his friends were killed. While Cherkassky recovered from injury, his hearing was impaired. “War is dangerous. I’ve had to bentch gomel [the Thanksgiving blessing] many times.” The Ukrainians were able to hold their positions and a ceasefire was signed. Once calm was restored in the area, Cherkassky returned home and to his studies.

But in January 2015 the ceasefire collapsed and the fighting resumed full-force. The Russians shelled a Ukrainian military checkpoint. A bus was hit and ten passengers were killed. Fighting around the Donetsk airport resumed, and this time the pro-Russian forces used enormous firepower to defeat the Ukrainians. Cherkassky’s unit had to retreat and the airfield fell into Russian hands. The Russians continued to advance and marched westward towards Dnepropetrovsk, recruiting numerous sympathetic volunteers and staging bloody battles along the way. After several months of fighting without tangible results another ceasefire was signed, in Minsk, Belarus. According to the agreement, a 50-kilometer demilitarized buffer zone was to be established between the Russian and Ukrainian forces. Negotiations on holding local elections to establish a temporary administration in the Russian-dominated areas, in accordance with Ukrainian law, were also supposed to commence. Then fighting broke out around Debaltseve, east of Donetsk, and was pulverized by the Russians, and the Ukrainians had no choice but to withdraw. Till today, the hostilities continue sporadically, with each side blaming the other when negotiations or ceasefires break down. Ukraine is basically doing what it can to keep the Russians from making any more inroads.

Does Ukraine, with its small army, stand a chance against one of the largest and most powerful armies in the world, which is also providing weapons to the separatists?

“Jews do not ask such questions. We know that the main thing isn’t numbers but the power and the passion in our hearts. When the Maccabees rose up against the Greeks they were only a few, but they were able to beat them because they had faith. How many times has Israel had to fight for its survival against all odds? I’m obviously not comparing it to the situation in Ukraine but it’s the same principle. It’s not only about numbers.

“I remember fighting in Chechnya. Chechnya is a small country; it cannot be compared to Russia. But despite its much smaller army they were able to put up a good fight against the Russians and were very brave. The fighting went on for years. Both sides suffered many losses, but the Russians could not prevail. So yes, despite the might and sophistication of the Russian Army, a small determined power can hold out.”

Anti-Semitism and the Ukraine

Have you personally experienced any anti-Semitism? I ask.

“Yes, I’ve encountered occasional harassment, but not at the front. Anti-Semitism doesn’t exist when we are all fighting against the common Russian enemy. I am a citizen of Ukraine and wish to continue living in a democratic Ukraine. The governments in Kiev and Crimea have always defended the Jews, and the claims of anti-Semitism are just propaganda.”

There are claims that the movement is fueled by neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism which Cherkassy insists it isn’t true.

It should be noted that the Ukrainian national movement has deep anti-Semitic roots. It is estimated that Bogdan Chmelnistzky, the Cossack leader, killed an estimated 100,000 Jews and decimated hundreds of communities; a later version in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Simon Petliura, was responsible for the murder of thousands more. And let’s not forget the Ukrainian collaboration with Nazis during the Holocaust. Nationalist leader Stepan Bandera was known to have killed thousands of Jews, including the Admor of Bobov, hy”d, in Lvov. And while even today there are claims that the movement is fueled by neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism, Cherkassy insists it isn’t true.

“These arguments linking the Ukrainian nationalist movement to Nazism are the fruit of Russian propaganda. They have no relation to reality. Yes, there are elements of anti-Semitism in the ranks, but the movement is not anti-Semitic. There are many Jewish Ukrainian patriots, and we are welcomed. On the contrary, it is Russia that has been traditionally anti-Semitic. For years they preached anti-Semitism and disseminated The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is the worst anti-Semitic document ever published. They carried out pogroms persecuted the Jewish relentlessly.

“Unfortunately the phenomenon of anti-Semitism exists in Ukraine as it does everywhere else. Fighting against it part of what I am doing. When non-Jews see a Jew like me sharing their distress and their difficulties, it shows them that Jews are also loyal to their country and are willing to lend a hand. The fact that so many people congratulate me and thank me shows that you can dispel anti-Semitic notions. I was elected to the city council with a lot of support from non-Jews, and by being in a prominent position, I can also help encourage efforts to eradicate anti-Jewish sentiment.

“Have we forgotten who made the pact with Adolf Hitler that started World War II? Russia! Hitler and Stalin agreed to the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. You cannot erase history. We must never forget what the nations of the world have done to us. But the fact is that today, the Ukrainian national movement isn’t anti-Semitic, and I have never encountered any anti-Semitism during my service to my country.

“And don’t forget that it was Russia, and before that the Soviet Union, that traditionally supported the Arabs and provided weapons to those countries that sought to destroy Israel. Even today Putin continues to support Iran, which calls for Israel’s destruction. He supports Hezbollah, which has killed many Jews not only in Israel but in Argentina and elsewhere. He supports the dictator in Syria, Bashar al-Assad. By contrast, Ukraine is a friend of Israel in the international arena.”

Does he believe that Israel should support Ukraine in the war against the Russians?

“Yes. The entire free world should support Ukraine. Putin is the Hitler of our century. He is acting like a true despot, and if not we do wake up and stop him he will only get worse. The Western world must throw its support behind the democratic forces in Ukraine in the fight against Russia’s attempt to expand its occupation. (

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