Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Kedoshim 5776

Kedoshim 5776

New Stories Kedoshim 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Kedoshim 5776

Morality Leads to Unity


In this week’s parashah it is said (Vayikra 19:1-2) vayidabeir HaShem el Moshe leimor dabeir el kol adas binei Yisroel viamarta aleihem kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani HaShem Elokeichem, HaShem spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, HaShem, your G-d. Rashi quotes the Medrash (Vayikra Rabbah 24:5) that states: this portion of the Torah was said by Hakhel (in a group) as the majority of the essentials of the Torah are dependant on this portion. One must wonder what the meaning of this statement is. Prior to performing certain mitzvos we recite the following words: “the performance of the mitzvah should be worthy before HaShem as if one has fulfilled it in all its details, implications, and intentions, as well as the six hundred and thirteen commandments that are dependant upon it.” Thus, it appears that all mitzvos are dependant on each other, so what is so unique about this portion of the Torah that it was said in a group?

Performing a Mitzvah Demonstrates Love for a Fellow Jew

To answer this question, we must examine the verse that instructs us to be holy. Rashi, based on the Toras Kohanim, interprets the verse to mean that one must distance himself from immoral relationships, as wherever we find a safeguard from immorality, there we find holiness. The Ramban disagrees and writes that the Torah is instructing us that one should not even engage in permitted activities for the sake of indulging. Rather, one should restrain himself as much as possible and limit himself to what is absolutely necessary in the realm of materialism. Assuming that one can adopt the approach of Rashi and the approach of the Ramban, we can better understand why this portion of the Torah was said in a group. It is said (Vayikra 19:18) lo sikom vilo sitor es binei amecha viahavta lireiacha kamocha ani HaShem, you shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself – I am HaShem. The Toras Kohanim states that Rabbi Akiva said that the words viahavta lireiacha kamocha are a klal gadol baTorah, a great rule in the Torah. It is written that this statement can be interpreted to mean that whenever one is engaged in a mitzvah, somehow that mitzvah incorporates the mitzvah of loving your fellow as yourself.

Engaging in Immoral Behavior Causes One to Remain Alone

It is said (Mishlei 18:1) lisaavah yivakeish nifrad bichol tushia yisgala, one who removes himself to court desire will be exposed in every Torah enclave. Rabbeinu Bachye (Introduction to Parashas Kedoshim) writes that this means that if one is constantly pursuing his desires, he will ultimately find himself to be alone. People will flee from him because of his inappropriate behavior. It would follow, then, that one who refrains from immoral actions and distances himself from indulging in physical pleasures will be embraced by his fellow man. When one performs a mitzvah, he is clearly distancing himself from inappropriate behavior and he is engaged in holy pursuits. Thus, whereas the immoral person remains alone, the holy person is part of the Holy Congregation, i.e. the Jewish People who serve HaShem with fear and love. It is for this reason that when one performs a mitzvah, he is incorporating the mitzvah of viahavta lireiacha kamocha. Now we can understand why the parashah of Kedoshim, which commences with the laws of holiness, was said in a group. The only way to be a part of the Jewish People is by performing mitzvos and attaining a level of holiness.

The Shabbos Connection

Every week HaShem is gracious to us and bestows upon us His Holy Day of Shabbos. Shabbos is a time when we are free from materialism and we can perform mitzvos and involve our families and friends in holiness. HaShem should allow us to all be a part of the Jewish People, and when we are all together as one, we will witness the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Shimru Shabsosai

The composer of this zemer is Shlomo, a name formed by the acrostic of the first four stanzas. Nothing definite is known about him, although some speculate that he was the famous Shlomo ben Yehudah ibn Gabriol. The zemer concentrates on the requirement to honor the Shabbos with culinary delights and closes with the assurance that the observance of the Shabbos will herald the final Redemption.

לֶעָמֵל קִרְאוּ דְרוֹר, וְנָתַתִּי אֶת בִּרְכָתִי, from travail, announce freedom! Then I shall confer My blessing. We beseech HaShem to announce our freedom from the shackles of oppression and exile. Only then will HaShem bestow upon us His blessing. We can suggest an alternative explanation to this passage. The Ibn Ezra (Bereishis 9:13) writes that the word נָתַתִּי can mean “I am giving now.” Thus, we can suggest that here the author of the Zemer is teaching us that even in the state of distress HaShem provides the blessing.

Shabbos Stories

Rav Chaim’s Request for Forgiveness

Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes Acharei Mos is the parasha of the Yom Kippur service. The passuk says, “For on this day, He shall provide atonement for you to cleanse you, from all your sins before HaShem shall you be cleansed” [Vayikra 16:30]. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria (in the last Mishneh of tractate Yoma [8:9]) derives the following lesson from that passuk: Sins between man and G-d Yom Kippur atones for, however Yom Kippur does not atone for sins against one’s fellow man, until he first appeases his fellow man.

The Gemara [Yoma 87a] states in the name of Rav Yitzchak: “Whoever angers his friend needs to appease him.” Rav Yitzchak cites as a proof a series of pessukim in Mishlei [6:1-3]: “My son, if you have been a guarantor for your friend, if you have given your handshake for a stranger, you have been trapped by the words of your mouth, snared by the words of your mouth, do this, therefore, my child and be rescued; for you have come into your fellow’s hand. Go humble yourself before him and placate your fellow.”

At first glance, this teaching of the Amora Rav Yitzchak seems very strange. Why do we need his exegesis from the pessukim in Mishlei to teach us the fact that one needs to appease his friend, if we have an explicit passuk from Chumash -– cited by the Tanna Rav Elazar ben Azaria — that teaches us the same thing?

Rav Chaim Soleveitchik explained the novelty of Rav Yitzchak’s teaching to his son, Rav Moshe Soleveitchik, in the course of an incident that happened in Brisk. A certain butcher came to the Beis Din of Rav Chaim Soleveitchik (Rav of Brisk) and Rav Simcha Zelig (Dayan of Brisk) asking them to adjudicate a din Torah involving a sum of 3,000 rubles. Rav Chaim suggested they make a compromise (peshara), but the butcher refused. The Beis Din then heard the case and decided against the butcher. The butcher reacted angrily to this, and started yelling at Rav Chaim, calling him a thief and a murderer.

Rav Chaim answered back: “When you came to this court, I suggested that you compromise with your disputant, but you refused. Since it was you who refused the compromise, it is not my fault that you have now lost 3,000 rubles. It is your own fault.” The butcher yelled even louder at Rav Chaim. Rav Chaim then said, “You disrespectful one, get out of here!”

On Erev Yom Kippur, Rav Chaim told his 3 sons that he must go to the butcher and ask for his forgiveness for the harsh words they exchanged that day in court. The Rav of Brisk accompanied by his 3 sons went to the shul where the butcher davened. Everyone was davening with their tallesim over their heads so it was impossible to tell who was who. Rav Chaim went around from person to person until he finally found the butcher. Rav Chaim then said, “I want to ask your forgiveness for calling you disrespectful and sending you out of my court.” The butcher turned to Rav Chaim -– right before Kol Nidrei — and said, “I do not forgive you. You are a thief and a murderer!”

Rav Chaim responded: “The halacha is that I must ask you three times in front of three people for forgiveness. I have brought my three sons here with me. Will you forgive me?” Again the response was “No!” The exchange was repeated three times and then Rav Chaim said, “I have discharged my duty and am ready to leave.” Before leaving he turned once more to the butcher and said, “You should know that at this point I am no longer obligated to ask for your forgiveness. In fact, you were the one who insulted me in the first place, and I had a right to respond in kind to your insolence. The only reason I came to appease you is because it is meritorious to overlook one’s honor and accept embarrassment rather than cause embarrassment to others. I was not obligated to ask your forgiveness, but I did it anyway, three times in front of three people. I am leaving. Now it is your problem!”

When they left the synagogue, Rav Moshe Soleveitchik asked his father why he went in the first place, when he never did anything wrong and it was the butcher who should have been asking for forgiveness all along.

Rav Chaim explained to his son that this was in fact the novelty in the ruling of Rav Yitzchak in Yoma. The passuk in Acharei Mos cited by Rav Elazar ben Azaria in the Mishneh teaches that if one WRONGS his fellow man, he must ask forgiveness. The pessukim in Mishlei expounded by Rav Yitzchak teach that if one angers his fellow man – even justifiably so – he still needs to try to make peace and ask for forgiveness.

This was not the type of “mechilah request” which would have held back the effectiveness of Rav Chaim’s Teshuvah vis a vis sins between man and G-d. Those are only for sins where you in fact harmed someone or insulted him inappropriately. Rav Yitzchak is saying a stronger teaching: Even when I am 100% right, if I utter harsh words against my fellow man, it is still appropriate for me to beg forgiveness and attempt to restore friendship between us.

This, Rav Chaim, said is the meaning of the Shulchan Aruch when it states that on Erev Yom Kippur, every person needs to ask for forgiveness from his fellow man. This halacha is difficult –- if I wronged someone, why should I wait until Erev Yom Kippur to make amends? The answer is that this law is not speaking about a case where I’ve wronged someone. Nevertheless, on Erev Yom Kippur there is a special obligation to make peace even when, strictly speaking, no amends are called for. (

Shabbos in Halacha

ממרח – Smoothing

  1. To What Does this Prohibition Apply?
  1. Foods


All thick non-food substances i.e. wax, soap, cream are subject to the melacha of smoothing, and may not be rubbed, or spread on another surface. [Bars of soap may not be used. Liquid soap may be used; however, it is preferable to add water to the soap so that it is extremely fluid. Ointments may not be spread on the body.] Food items are exempt from this prohibition. However, it is praiseworthy to avoid intentionally smoothing out the surface of any thick food substance.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Kedoshim 5776

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New Stories Kedoshim 5776

In India, with the Lost Tribe of Ephraim

We transcended barriers through the power of music and prayer.

by Rabbi Keith Flaks

This Passover my wife and I went to Southern India to visit the “lost tribe of Ephraim.”

This clan of about 150 claims to be descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. They practice Jewish traditions, celebrate most of the holidays, and have started to observe many mitzvot, often in their unique style.

For example, in their tradition, on Erev Pesach they actually slaughter a goat and put the blood on their doorposts! They were shocked to discover that the Jewish world doesn’t do that. In general they were thrilled to learn more about how “mainstream Judaism” is being practiced in the rest of the world. Many dream of a day when they could move to the holy land of Israel.

While my wife and I came to help lead a Passover Seder, we ended up learning tons from our Indian experience. Here were a few lessons and highlights.

  1. The Power of Music

About 10 minutes after our arrival at the South Indian village in Chebrolu, I realized we had a problem. They don’t speak English! Okay, so we had a translator and a few spoke English, but in general, how were we supposed to share the depth of our Torah traditions when they can’t understand us?

The answer: through the magic of music.

Music breaks down all barriers. So during the Seder, during kabbalat Shabbat, before during and after classes, we made sure to sing and dance…a lot.

One night, after a long class with the villagers, four youthful Indian friends escorted us back to the hotel. (After five nights of bucket showers in 120 degree weather and “natural” bathrooms, we had decided to splurge on an Indian hotel for the last few nights of our stay.)

Our late night voyage was sweet, the weather was cooler, and the roads were slightly less chaotic. Our translator wasn’t there so we sat silently together in the car.

Then one Indian boy, with a big smile on his face, asked “Rav Keith… you know ‘Shabcheey’”? Of course I did. And suddenly the Indian roads, with temples, churches and mosques on all sides, were filled with six souls singing every Jewish song we could think! We sang, Am Yisroel Chai, Kol Haolam Kulo and Hatikvah at the top of our lungs. My wife and I were in shock, but they knew every word. It truly was a night we will never forget!

  1. Prayer from the Heart

After each night of Q and A, we would fulfill the mitzvah of counting the Omer with the group. I had explained to them the pertinent details on how to carry out this mitzvah, including an explanation of some of its spiritual significance.

After counting the Omer, I felt that we were missing something. I wasn’t ready to end the class. I decided to have three minutes of silent, meditative prayer. As most of the Telugi could not read Hebrew, formal texts were hard for them to grasp, but personal prayer…that was something that these people truly excelled at!

After two minutes of prayer, I sneakily opened my eyes to see how everyone was doing. My eyes filled with were in tears. Perhaps they were praying for a job, or for their sister to find a suitable marriage match, or maybe they were praying to one day come to Jerusalem, but whatever it was, they were all completely immersed in such sincere, intense prayer that put me to shame.

  1. The Power of Thanks

In Hebrew, India is called “Hodu”. Hodu means to thank. At first, I was convinced that the meaning of this was: “India has truly made me thankful and appreciative that I don’t live in India!”

For example: Thank God, I have a normal shower that doesn’t consist of a bucket of lukewarm water!

Thank God, I can walk across the street in Jerusalem without almost being run over by a motorbike, a beggar or a cow!

Thank God, I have enough money to afford basic medical needs, like asthma containers.

Thank God, I don’t have to live in a place so hot that one is forced to hibernate from 10am to 5 pm, and thank God I’m not stuck working in those conditions just to eke out 5 dollars a day, to support my family.

I truly felt blessed and thankful that I have been born into such a life of luxury.

And yet, as our Indian journey continued, my wife and I realized that there may be a totally different way of understanding why India is called Hodu. Ironically these people actually walked around and gave thanks far more than their richer, Westernized counterparts. Virtually everyone in India has a religion. And virtually everyone makes a time for prayer and thankfulness in their lives. Ironically, the ones who seem to have the most to be thankful for are the ones who are most negligent of this basic obligation.

So India has come to symbolize the land of thankfulness, as it reminds me of my obligation, of the privilege to say thanks…even when life is tough.

So thank you God for giving me the amazing privilege of learning from these “Telugu Jews.” And thank you to the “Telugu Jews” for hosting me and my wife and providing us with such an unforgettable experience. (

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