Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini-Parah 5776

Shemini-Parah 5776

New Stories Shemin-Parah 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shemini-Parah 5776

The Death of the Righteous is also a Time of Joy


It is interesting that this week I was unable to locate a previous article regarding Parshas Shemini, aside from last year’s, and I assume that anyone reading this year will say, “he wrote the same thing last year.” We all know that Torah is constantly being refreshed, similar to the creation of the world, and this should allow us to review what we have learned in the past and derive new lessons from the parasha. Parshas Shemini discusses the יום שמיני למילואים, the eighth day of the inauguration of Aharon and his sons to become Kohanim serving in the Mishkan. The Gemara (Zevachim 102a) tells us that Elisheva bas Aminadav, the wife of Aharon HaKohen, had five advantages over other Jewish women on the day that the Mishkan was inaugurated. Her brother-in-law, Moshe, was the leader of the Jewish People, her husband, Aharon, was the Kohen Gadol, her son was the assistant Kohen, her grandson was the Kohen anointed for war, and her brother, Nachshon, was the leader of his tribe. Nonetheless, she was stricken with mourning, as her two sons., Nadav and Avihu, died in their quest to bring Ketores inside the Holy of Holies. How are we to understand this enigma? On the one hand, the Gemara (Megillah 10b) tells us, the day that the Mishkan was inaugurated was as joyous as the day that heaven and earth were created. Yet, this momentous day was marred by tragedy, as two great leaders of the Jewish People, were punished for their zealousness and for a litany of other sins expounded upon in the Medrash. Where, one may ask, is the justice in all this? Could HaShem not have reserved a different day of the year to punish Aharon’s two sons?

The Death of the Righteous is an Atonement for the Generation’s Sins

In order to understand this seeming paradox, it is worth examining another parasha in the Torah, namely, the parasha of Parah Adumah, which we read this week in addition to Parshas Shemini. The Parah Adumah, the Medrash teaches us, is a paradox, as it purifies those who were impure, but simultaneously renders impure those who were pure. Rashi (Bamidbar 20:1) writes, why is the parsha regarding the death of Miriam related next to the parashah of Parah Adumah? The answer is, just like the Parah Adumah atones of sins, so too the death of the righteous atones for our sins. One must wonder why the death of the righteous serves a s atonement for our sins? In fact, the verse seems to indicate the opposite, as it is said (Yeshaya 57:1) כִּי מִפְּנֵי הָרָעָה נֶאֱסַף הַצַּדִּיק, because of the impeding evil the righteous one was gathered in. The answer to this question is that we must understand the role of the righteous. The Sefarim write that the righteous function in this world for our good, as through the righteous we come closer to HaShem. When one offers an animal on the mizbeiach, he is identifying with the offering process. Just as we spill the blood of the animal, one should view it as if his blood is spilled and so on. In the same vein, when a righteous person leaves this world, he is the offering of the generation, and he atones for the sins of the generation.

One Should Be Distressed Over the Deaths of Nadav and Avihu

Nadav and Avihu certainly were guilty, on their level, of committing a sin. Nonetheless, they were deemed to be perfectly righteous, and their deaths served as an atonement for the sin of the Jewish People. It is noteworthy that the Zohar states that one who is distressed or sheds tears over the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, gains atonement for his sins and is guaranteed that his children will not die in his lifetime. Clearly the deaths of Nadav and Avihu served as an atonement for the sins of the Jewish People, not only in that generation but for eternity.

 The Deaths of Nadav and Avihu were also Cause for Joy

We can now better understand why the Gemara states that Elisheva witnessed such great joy on that day, and she was also a victim of Nadav and Avihu’s death. Ultimately, their deaths were also a joyous occasion, as, despite the state of mourning that occurred, their deaths served as an atonement for the Jewish People.

The Shabbos connection

Throughout the week, we struggle with earning a living, living amongst the nations, and numerous other challenges. Yet, when Shabbos arrives, all sadness and evil cease to exist, and in their place is joy and praise to HaShem for all the good that He bestows upon His Beloved Nation. HaShem should allow us to gain atonement for our sins and we should merit the Ultimate Redemption, 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.

רָשַׁם בְּדַת הָאֵל חוֹק אֶל סְגָנָיו בּוֹ לַעֲרוֹךְ לֶחֶם פָּנִים בְּפָנָיו. עַל כֵּן לְהִתְעַנּוֹת בּוֹ עַל פִּי נְבוֹנָיו אָסוּר, לְבַד מִיּוֹם כִּפּוּר עֲוֹנִי. אוֹת הִיא לְעוֹלְמֵי עַד בֵּינוֹ וּבֵינִי. He inscribed in the G-dly law a decree for his priests that on it they prepare Show Bread before Him. Therefore, to fast on it by order of His understanding sages is forbidden; except for the day when my sin is atoned. Twelve loaves were baked every Friday in the Bais HaMikdash, and on Shabbos they were placed on the Shulchan where they would remain all week. These loaves miraculously remained fresh until the next Shabbos, when they were removed and divided among the Kohanim. Thus, the honor of Shabbos was extended into the week, and the Jewish People experienced the Shabbos throughout the entire year.

Shabbos Stories

He has the Handicapped Mind

Rabbi Paysach Krohn loves to tell the beautifully haunting story of the woman who left Rusk Institute with her child who was in a wheelchair. It was a wintry day and the chill that pervaded the young boy’s fragile bones declared its chilling presence with the icy frosting it left on the exposed metal of his wheelchair.

Waiting at the bus stop on the corner of 34th and 2nd Avenue, three large city busses whizzed by, unable to accommodate the mother and the child and his special chair. It was only after a half-hour wait that the mother flagged down a bus and insisted to the driver that he allow them to board.

As the poor woman struggled to lift the wheelchair into the narrowly impatient doors that waited to slam like the jaws of a tiger, the driver shouted at her, “Lady you’ll have to wait for a bus with a lift! I gotta go!”

Immediately a few passengers jumped to her defense! “It’s freezing out there. We will wait!”

Embarrassed into submission, the driver acquiesced. As the mother and child settled in their place on the bus, one said to her, “Your child is not handicapped. It only seems that way. In truth it is the driver that has a handicapped mind!” (

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

One of the Avos Melachos mentioned in the Mishnah is ממחק, scraping. This refers to scarping an animal hide to smooth its surface so that it can be used as parchment.

A toladah (corollary) of this melacha is ממרח: smoothing, which refers to smoothing moldable substances such as שעוה” (bee’s) wax, זפת: tar, and חלב: animal fats. Rubbing or spreading such substances to give them a smooth surface is forbidden mideoraisa (by Torah prohibition), as is smoothing other substances of the same consistency. In addition, the sages prohibited smoothing even substances whose consistency is less thick and firm, if their degree of firmness somewhat resembles that of wax. The primary example of this, given by the Gemara, is extremely thick oil. It is forbidden miderabbanan (by Rabbinic ordinance) to rub or, spread any such dense substance, for in doing so one smooths out its surface.

Fluids which have no density, such as ordinary oil, are not subject to this prohibition; it is permissible to rub or spread such substances on another surface.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Shemini-Parah 5776

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New Stories Shemini-Parah 5776

Henny Machlis’ Secret to Spirituality

Henny personified the real meaning of “love your neighbor as yourself.”

by Sara Yoheved Rigler

Henny Machlis once went to Rav Elyashiv, Israel’s greatest rabbi, with a predicament. She and her husband Rabbi Mordechai Machlis hosted as many as 150 people – university students, backpackers, homeless people, tourists from every country, yeshiva students, widows, mentally ill people, etc. – in their modest Jerusalem apartment for every Shabbos meal, 51 weeks a year. They were also the parents of many children. Some people criticized Henny that it was not fair to her own children to make their private home such a public space.

Rav Elyashiv responded to Henny: “I don’t understand this. There are seven days in a week. Six days you give to your family and the seventh day you give to Klal Yisrael (the entire Jewish People). What’s the problem?”

Rabbi Machlis, recounting this episode after his wife’s death at the age of 57 last November, commented, “She mustn’t have listened that well, because she gave Klal Yisrael much more than one day of the week.”

It started as soon as they got married in 1979. Although both Mordechai and Henny were Brooklyn-born, their two most cherished ideals were to make aliyah to Israel and to share Shabbat with the whole world. They planned to leave for Israel three months after their wedding. In the interim, they rented a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. Why two bedrooms? So they could have guests!

Once the Machlises were ensconced in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Maalot Dafna, the guests came to eat – on Shabbos or during the week, then found a listening ear in their young hostess Henny. Many people twice Henny’s age started to call her “Ima” – Mother.

Who were these guests? As Rabbi Machlis would later describe them: “People who were challenged, people who had difficult situations in their married life, people going through divorces, people who had religious struggles, new immigrants, anyone. I invited home poor people I found at the Kotel, or people asking for donations in shuls.”

Someone’s in My Bed

Yocheved, the oldest of the Machlis children, remembers coming home one day and finding a man sleeping in her bed. She said to her mother, “Ima, there’s someone in my bed.”

Henny responded, “Yes, it’s somebody who has no place to live. He’s very tired. He had no food to eat, and he came here this morning and I fed him, and now he’s sleeping. But don’t worry. When he wakes up, he’s going to leave and then we’re going to change your linen.”

Not all of the guests left so fast. Some stayed for weeks; some stayed for months.

Some 20 years ago, a drunk Russian immigrant in his fifties named Sender* showed up for Shabbos. “He was the only person who ever came to this house who could not sit on a chair,” remembers Rabbi Machlis. “He sat on the floor because he was stone drunk and couldn’t balance himself on a chair.”

One day Sender asked to live in the Machlis home. Henny consented if he’d stop drinking.

Sender was homeless. He lived in synagogues. He spoke no Hebrew, only Russian laced with Yiddish. After coming for many Shabboses, one day Sender asked to live in the Machlis home. Henny consented to allow him to live in one of the two basement rooms they had dug out and furnished. Sender refused. He considered himself one of the family and wanted to live on the same floor with the rest of the family.

Henny agreed, with only one condition: He would have to stop drinking. Sender stopped cold turkey. The first night, Sender was shaking so badly that Rabbi Machlis thought he was going to die. Henny, however, insisted she knew what she was doing.

A worried Rabbi Machlis called a local doctor who told him what danger signs to watch for, but Henny indeed knew what she was doing, and successfully managed the whole process. Sender completely stopped drinking.

Then Henny announced, “We have to get him a job.” She called her connections and got him a job. “This guy,” recalls Rabbi Machlis, “went from being a dirty, smelly alcoholic to a respectable, well-groomed man. He bought himself an attaché case, and dressed in a suit. He was so proud of himself. He went every single day to work. He lived here on our couch for many months.”

Love and Attention

An American man named Shimon had a history of mental illness. He used to wear a towel on his head and emitted a very strong stench. Wherever he went, people asked him to leave. Miraculously, in the Machlis home, his odor seemed to fade considerably. Henny let him take showers there and gave him clean clothes to wear. She also gave him the use of all the perfumes and colognes in the house. The Machlises treated Shimon with a dignity that he received nowhere else.

A seriously ill man named Oren spent much time in the closed ward of mental hospitals where Rabbi Machlis regularly visited him. Oren often came for Shabbos at the Machlises. During one Shabbos meal, Oren punched Rabbi Machlis in the chest. Nevertheless, both Rabbi Machlis and Henny always treated him with endless patience and love. Henny spent countless hours listening to him. He had a great sense of humor, and composed his own jokes. Henny would encourage Oren, “Tell me a joke.”

“What do you call the birds at the Kotel? Birds of pray.”

Henny would laugh uproariously.

“Not all people need food, but all people need love and attention and someone to listen to them.”

“Henny had a very high tolerance level,” remarks Rabbi Machlis. “She had a lot of things going on in her life, but Oren could be here for hours talking to her, and she always made him feel important and loved. Not all people need food, but all people need love – love and attention and someone to listen to them.”

A well-dressed Australian man named Herbert used to come all the time to the Machlis Shabbos meals. He would sleep there on Friday nights, and stayed over even on Saturday nights. One time Herbert came on a Friday afternoon, and the house was a wreck. The Machlises were, as usual, expecting 300 guests for the Shabbos meals, and no one in the family had had time to clean up. Herbert asked, “Can I spend Shabbat?”

Henny answered, “Of course.”

Then he asked, “Is there anything I can do?”

“You really want to help?”

“Yes, I’ll do anything.” Henny handed him a broom and asked him to sweep.

That night at the Shabbos meal, Herbert got up and said: “These people are so disgusting. I came to the house, so tired, so broken. And what did they do? They handed me a broom! And I had to sweep their floors! That’s the way you treat a guest?”

Incredulous at this story, I asked Rabbi Machlis for an explanation. Like a Nobel prize winner explaining the rudiments of chesed to an amateur, he patiently expounded, “People who are in need very often are not in a position to offer assistance. Even if they offer, their need is so great that they really can’t give. And they are coming to a place where they are pampered. They don’t want to take on responsibility. They need to be taken care of. And people who are very troubled and very much in need don’t necessarily look that way, don’t necessarily dress that way. If you saw him on the street, you’d never know how deep his need is.”

The Height of Spirituality

Rabbi Avraham Willig, Henny’s son-in-law, declared after her passing, “Rabbanit Henny Machlis understood that the height of spirituality is asking someone if they ate breakfast or feeding someone dinner.” He went on to tell this story:

One night, a man showed up at the house and said, “I want very hot soup.” Henny, already sick, wasn’t in the kitchen. One of her daughters said, “Uh, sorry, there is no very hot soup here.”

He demanded, “So what should I eat?”

She said, “I don’t know. Why don’t you help yourself to the fridge?” Of course, this in itself is a level of giving that would boggle the minds of most of us.

Henny, however, heard this from her bedroom in the back of the house. She ran into the kitchen and whispered to her daughter, “What are you doing? Who knows when’s the last time this person ate?” She then addressed the man, “Come, sit down. I’ll get you very hot soup.”

Henny looked at problematic people and saw their inner potential.

How did she do it? Henny Machlis was able to look at people who were so broken and even hostile, and see the Divine image in them. As her widower explains, “She was a visionary. She looked beyond what was immediately visible. She looked at problematic people and she would see who they could be, the next step. Before plastic surgery, the doctors show people what they’ll look like after the surgery. Henny had that kind of mind. She could see the potential underneath it all.”

As one of her daughters recalled during the Shiva:

We would say, “Ima, this smelly guy is a creep.” She wouldn’t even hear the word. She’d say, “You don’t know what he went through in his life.” And she’d tell us, “This man, he was put in an orphanage when he was five years old. And his parents died. And he’s an orphan, and if you knew what he went through in his life….” She had this amazing compassion for every single person she met. She truly believed that every person is a tzelem Elokim (created in the image of God). She loved every person.”

We are used to reading stories of great people who lived in distant times in distant lands. Henny Machlis was a 21th century, Brooklyn-born Jew. If any of us had told her, “Henny, I could never achieve even a fraction of the spiritual greatness you achieved,” she would have been the first one to assure us: “You’re not seeing your own tremendous, holy Divine potential.” (

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