Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

New Stories Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

Counting Our Way of Impurity Towards Purity and Holiness


(This essay was written in 5769 when Tazria-Metzora occurred after Pesach)

We have just completed the celebration of the Pesach festival, and we are now in the midst of counting the Omer. In this week’s parshiyos we also encounter other forms of counting. One counting is when a woman after childbirth counts the days of her impurity. A second counting is when a metzora, one who contracts the spiritual disease of tzaraas, counts seven days from when he is cleansed before he is permitted to enter into the Israelite Camp. A third counting is when a woman has a flow and she then counts seven days and she is then purified. The Zohar states that the forty-nine days that we count from the bringing of the Omer are akin to a woman counting her days of impurity. The counting from the Omer then culminates in the festival of Shavuos.

Understanding the counting of the Omer and the mourning period for the students of Rabbi Akiva

One must wonder why it is so important to count the days of the Omer. When one wishes to know when an upcoming festival will occur, he merely has to look at the calendar and determine the correct date of the festival. We do not count the days until Rosh Hashanah and other festival that we celebrate throughout the year. Why, then, must we count from Pesach until Shavuos? Another perplexing idea that requires explanation is why immediately after the joy of the Pesach festival we enter into a mourning period over the twenty-four thousand students of Rabbi Akiva who passed away between Pesach and Shavuos. How are we to comprehend the juxtaposition of this period of joy with this period of mourning?

One must search out the impurities within himself

In order to glean a better understanding of the purpose in our counting, it is worth mentioning a fascinating idea presented by the Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simcha. It is said (Mishlei 2:3-4) im tivaksehna chakasef vichamatmonim tachpisena az tavin yiras HaShem vidaas Elokim timtza, if you seek it as [it were] sliver, if you search for it as [if it were] hidden treasures – then you will understand the fear of HaShem, and discover the knowledge of G-d. The Lev Simcha (Emor) writes that these verses can be interpreted to be alluding to the festivals of the year. Seeking like silver alludes to Pesach, as the word kesef, silver, also connotes desire, and Pesach is a time when HaShem showed His love for the Jewish People. Hidden treasures allude to the days of counting from the Omer, as the word vichamatmonim, can be read mem tes monim, counting forty-nine. The word tachpisena, if you search for it, alludes to Shavuos, as the days of counting the Omer are a preparation for Shavuos. The Lev Simcha goes on to find allusions to Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkos. It is fascinating that the word vichamatmonim alludes to the forty-nine days of counting from the Omer. The first letters of the word are mem and tes, which also form most of the word tamei, translated as impure. Perhaps the lesson contained in this hint is that one should always view himself as being in a state of impurity and that he must strive for purity and holiness. Hashem, in His infinite compassion, redeemed us from the impurities of Egypt, but we still have a long way to go until we are worthy of receiving the Torah. How, then, do we remove these impurities from our midst?

We are required to remove tainted character traits

The Gemara (Yevamos 62b) states that the students of Rabbi Akiva died because they did not treat each other with respect. It would seem from this Gemara that if the students of the great Rabbi Akiva were lacking in this area, then certainly we could use improvement on how we act towards each other. A person who does not respect his fellow man demonstrates an impurity of the soul. Shavuos is reflective of our gathering at Sinai kiish echod bileiv echod, as one man with one heart. It is not enough to merely study Torah. One must internalize the lessons in Torah, and Rabbi Akiva was the one who said viahavta lireiacha kamocha zeh klal gadol baTorah, you shall love your fellow as yourself, this is a great rule in Torah. The word gadol is associated with the tribute of chesed, kindness. It is no wonder that the first attribute that we refer to when counting from the Omer is chesed, and the last attribute is malchus, kingship. The Gemara (Gittin 62a) states that the true kings are the Torah scholars. For one to achieve a level of kingship he must be exemplary in the attribute of chesed. Thus, one must “search” himself during these days to filter out all the impurities within him.

Sefiras HaOmer is when we count towards Shavuos and when we count away from our impurities

We can now understand why we count the days from the Omer, and why we count specifically during the mourning period over the passing of Rabbi Akiva’s students. We are counting towards Shavuos, but even more significantly, we are counting the days until we can finally rid ourselves of the impurities that exist within our character. Thus, we can interpret the word matmonim to mean counting away from the mem and the tes, which spell out the two essential letters of the word tamei, impurity.

The Shabbos connection

Every week we have the ability to count the days of the week until we arrive at Shabbos. The weekday certainly has its share of impurities, both from the outside world and within us. Nonetheless, by preparing properly for the Holy Shabbos, we can always anticipate that we will arrive at Shabbos in a state of purity, when all harsh judgments depart and we can bask in the Kingship of HaShem. Hashem should allow us to count these days and they should culminate in joy, brotherhood, and a true purification of our hearts.

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.

הוּא יוֹם מְכֻבָּד הוּא יוֹם תַּעֲנוּגִים לֶחֶם וְיַיִן טוֹב בָּשָׂר וְדָגִים הַמִתְאַבְּלִים בּוֹ אָחוֹר נְסוֹגִים כִּי יוֹם שְׂמָחוֹת הוּא וּתְשַׂמְחֵנִי, it is an honored day; it is a day of pleasures: bread and goodly wine, meat and fish. Those who mourn – on it they must withdraw, for it is a day of joys and it will gladden me. There have been many incidents throughout history of Jews who have suffered tragedy immediately prior to or on Shabbos, and yet these Jews resisted the strong temptation to cry and mourn, which is forbidden on Shabbos. It is almost as if the joy of Shabbos itself does not allow mourning to enter into its domain. Certainly, then, when one has a clear mind devoid of tragedies and mishaps, it is incumbent one to partake in the joy and delight of Shabbos and not succumb to tears and sadness.

Shabbos Stories

The Shpoler Zeide (Rebbe Aryeh Leib, the Grandfather of Shpola) had a servant named Chelovno who told this story:

He once saw a man with a terrible skin disease that covered him from head to foot enter the Rebbe’s room with a petition-note. This man stayed with the Rebbe for a while and when he left, Chelovno said he saw that he was normal, without a trace of the skin disease!

After this, Chelovno brought a cup of coffee in for the Rebbe and was astonished to see that the Rebbe’s whole body was covered with the skin disease! “What happened here?’ yelled Chelovno. “Why did the Rebbe do this?”

The Rebbe, however, did not respond.

Later, Chelovno went in again and saw that the disease had completely disappeared from the Rebbe’s body, and asked the Rebbe to tell him what this was all about.

The Rebbe said, “When that man first came to me, I didn’t have any way to cure him. So I had to take the disease on myself; and he was healed. Afterward, I pleaded before God, blessed be He, ‘What have I done that I should be afflicted with this skin disease?’ Then, they healed me too!” (MiBeer Hatzaddikim, vol. 2, p. 45)

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. To What Does this Prohibition Apply                                                                A.Non-Foods

The prohibition of smoothing applies chiefly to non-foods, such as the items mentioned above (wax, tar and fats), in addition to such commonly used items as soap, ointment, cream and similar substances.

The use of solid bars of soap is forbidden under the melacha of smoothing. [In addition, using bars of soap may be prohibited under מוליד: dissolving a liquid, and ממחק, scraping.]

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

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New Stories Tazria-HaChodesh 5776

I Hit a Deer

How one insane night yanked me out of the rut I was in.

by Noah Dinerstein

I hit a deer. Last week I was driving to my house in Utica, NY (yes, that’s different from Ithaca) in the middle of the night and I nailed a deer. I was flying down backroads and this giant brown monster leapt out of the bushes and I caught him in a 65 mph midair collision.

He soared through the dark, jumped up and sprinted back to the woods. My dad’s Venza took it like a champ. The damage was more like the fender bender spectrum and less the totaled condition, and I was completely fine besides the minute of mourning I did for my four-legged friend who I figured was on his way to the Next World.

I called my dad reluctantly at 3 AM, starting the conversation with, “No one is hurt!” He told me to take it slow. And that’s what I did….

Until 15 minutes later I hit another deer! A second deer!! 15 minutes later!!

This one I saw from half a mile away and I said to myself, I’m not gonna hit this one. He was crossing the road and was safely on the other side while I was approaching at a safer but fluent speed, until his final seconds when he decided he would like to get in on the suicide party and positioned himself right in front of my car, leaving me zero time for my brain to process anything but “Noooooooo!! Not aga–“ BAM! Two deer dead.

This time everything just caved in, shattering the headlights and giving the inside of the car some new access to the outside world.

I called my dad again. “Hi dad…. umm… uhhh… I hit another deer!”


“I know, I know. I hit another one!”

At this point I’m certain he thought I had experienced with shrooms and was actually rolling around in the front yard. “Wow… they must be really out tonight,” he said. “Just drive 30 mph the rest of the way home.”

I drove slow. I refused to slay any more deer that late Saturday night.

He was calm. Insurance would cover it. I drove slow. I refused to slay any more deer that late Saturday night.

When the tow truck came at 10AM after I had slept for a solid three hours I started to wonder what God was trying to tell me. As a believer in a Creator of the universe, I believe that everything happens for a specific reason and nothing is random. One deer would only make the most thoughtful, spiritual among us ask questions about the bigger picture, but two?! Two murders in one drive begs for some explanation. The only conclusion I could draw was that there was an over population of mammals in Oneida county and I was simply a hit man who was unaware he’d been contracted. And then, as I lay down to take a nap that afternoon, I interpreted the message to mean something else: WAKE UP

After spending two years in Israel reconnecting with my heritage and getting some clarity about life, I came back home and slowly entered a rut.

It was a message I needed to hear. After spending two years in Israel learning Torah and reconnecting with my heritage, really working on myself and getting some clarity about life, I came back home and slowly entered a rut. I’ve been going through the motions, developing a routine that consisted of a lot of sleep, a lot of stress, a lot of headaches, a lot of meds and a lot of lying to myself. Instead of growing spiritually, I was becoming aimless, losing that spark that ignited a journey only a few years earlier.

During this time, I was asked to give speeches to different groups of young Jewish students and wealthy potential donors about my life and how and why I chose to change everything and become an observant Jew. There was a time that I was living true to every single word I said. I was happy to inspire students to live a life full of meaning that emphasizes real knowledge about what we’re doing as people and Jews and truly choosing it instead of just, in the name of tradition, doing what our parents did. But recently I realized, looking at the eager faces searching for purpose, I was a hypocrite.

I had stopped living purposefully. On the surface I was doing most of the things I believed in, like being patient, keeping Shabbos, keeping kosher, being kind to people, but it felt rote. I wasn’t connected to its purpose and meaning. I discovered that I had become everything I ran away from; my life became a monotone routine: wake up, coffee, work, gym, sleep, wake up, coffee…. I didn’t like it.

I have earned, maybe even just by being born, to live an awesome, purposeful life.

Not liking what I’m doing should have been enough to change it but we all know that the gap between the head and the heart can be too wide sometimes. So beyond not liking it I realized that I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve to live a monotonous life. I don’t deserve to not enjoy myself in the greatest of ways. I don’t deserve to not be optimistic, think positively in the darker moments, and to not wake up with a desire for greatness. I have earned, maybe even just by being born, to live an awesome, purposeful life.

I think one of the leading causes of sadness and depression may be that we don’t think we deserve greatness. When we taste it we get nervous and think this must be for someone else. That is a grave mistake. I am not just using the word “grave” as an expression but I actually mean that could kill us. Physically we’ll survive but with no courage or confidence left who would want to?

Our existence is actually a victory worth celebrating every single day. Out of 100 million souls, yours was put on this earth! You made it. Mazel tov! Now what?

I am back in Israel, learning Torah and I am taking my life back.

Within a week of my clarity that I was not living up to my true potential and actualizing my greatness I got on a plane. That was yesterday. I am back in Israel, learning Torah and I am taking my life back. I will spend my days here completely immersed in Torah study, working on myself and learning, through 3000 years of tradition, how to simply live my 1-in-100-million life to the fullest.

This message is a common one but I never listened to it until now and I hope you do not make the same mistake I did. If something in your life needs to change and you know it, please CHANGE IT. If you’re reading a book that got great reviews but you are not enjoying it, STOP READING IT. If your job is making you a bitter human being, or your boss is unreasonable, or you’ve always wanted to pursue something else and can do so in a responsible way, LEAVE IT! If you loved shul as a kid and have lost all ties with your faith and regret it, GO BACK TO IT! And if you know (only if you know) that observing Torah mitzvot and keeping Shabbos is the obligation and privilege of a Jewish person, then KEEP IT.

It’s not as hard as we make it out to be. I can say this only because I have done it. And also because I have parents and family and friends that, thank God, care about me. Life is way too short to spend it being unhappy. We all deserve a great life! Let’s wake up and live the life that we truly want to live. (

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