Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Emor 5776

Emor 5776

New Stories Emor 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Emor 5776

Sticking Together


In this week’s parasha, the Torah informs us of the man who was a son of an Egyptian man and a Jewish woman, who blasphemed using the Name of HaShem. This man was sentenced to death by stoning. The Medrash (Toras Kohanim) states that the background of this incident was that this man sought to pitch his tent in the encampment of the tribe of Dan, and he was informed that the encampment was determined by the lineage of one’s father. In this man’s case, he was out of the pale, as his father was an Egyptian. The man then went to Moshe to adjudicate his case and he was found guilty, so he blasphemed by using HaShem’s Name.

The mekallel and the mekosheish were at the same time

What is the lesson that is contained in this incident? There is an interesting statement in the Medrash that at first glance does not appear to have any connection with the incident. The Medrash (Toras Kohanim Vayikra 24:10) states that the incident with the mekallel, i.e. the blasphemer, and the incident regarding the mekosheish, the one who gathered wood on Shabbos, were at the same time. The Baal HaTurim (Ibid) writes that this teaches us that one who desecrates the Shabbos is akin to one who denies the existence of HaShem. It would seem that there is another lesson that can be derived from the fact that the incidents regarding the mekallel and the mekosheish occurred at the same time.

The encampment of the Jewish People in the Wilderness was one of unity

The encampment in the Wilderness was not merely a practical method of settling the Jewish People while they sojourned in the Wilderness. Rather, the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:3) teaches us that at the Giving of the Torah, the Jewish People witnessed the encampment of the angels in heaven and they desired that encampment. Thus, the encampment of the Jewish People in the Wilderness was a matter of holiness and endearment. This was the encampment that the son of the Egyptian wished to become a part of. In addition to the fact that the encampment was determined by the paternal lineage, there was another element to this encampment. The aspect of this encampment that this man failed to appreciate was the fact that the encampment was to be akin to the encampment at Sinai, where the Jewish People encamped as one man with one heart, in unity. The son of the Egyptian, however, demonstrated with his behavior the antithesis of this ideal, as he stirred up controversy in the Wilderness. It was his contentiousness that ultimately led to his punishment by stoning.

The Shabbos connection

Shabbos is a time when the Jewish People, are all united, despite the struggles that we encounter during the week. It is noteworthy that it is said (Shemos 31:16) vishamru vinei Yisroel es haShabbos laasos es haShabbos ledorosam bris olam, the Children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos, to make the Shabbos an eternal covenant for their generations. The Zohar states that the word ledorosam can be read lidirosam, to dwell amongst them. This idea can be interpreted to mean that on Shabbos, we are all required to dwell together in unity. It is for this reason that the incident of the mekallel and the incident of the mekosheish are juxtaposed, to teach us how much one should distance one’s self from strife and quarrel, and instead to seek peace. Shabbos is referred to as shalom, and we should all merit observing Shabbos in unity and tranquility.

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.

אִשָּׁה אֶל אֲחוֹתָהּ לִצְרוֹר, לְגַלּוֹת עַל יוֹם שִׂמְחָתִי, attaching one to the other, causing joy on My day of gladness. The conventional explanation of this passage is that HaShem’s blessings will be so generous that before one finishes enjoying the bounty of one blessing, a new blessing will arrive and ‘attach’ itself to the first. However, we can suggest an alternative explanation. It is said (Vayikra 18:18) וְאִשָּׁה אֶל אֲחֹתָהּ לֹא תִקָּח לִצְרֹר לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָתָהּ עָלֶיהָ בְּחַיֶּיהָ, you shall not take a woman in addition to her sister, to make them rivals, to uncover the nakedness of one upon the other in her lifetime. The Torah offers us a rationale for the prohibition of one to marry two sisters in their lifetimes, as they will agitate each other, and sisters should live in love and harmony. Similarly, Shabbos is a day of peace, so even one who is in a state of mourning cannot mourn publicly, so as to not mar the tranquility of Shabbos. Certainly one should ensure not to cause strife and dissent on the Holy Shabbos.

Shabbos Stories

Mitzvah Vigilante

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: This past Thursday evening I went to be Menachem Avel (in the vernacular pay a shiva call) a friend, Rabbi Zissel Zelman, who was sitting shiva for his father. He is a Chicago native whose father, Rabbi Zelman, grew up in Chicago way before Torah Judaism had flourished there. Reb Zissel related that as a young man, his father would pass the newsstand every Saturday night after shul to pick up a paper. As he did not carry money with him, he had made an arrangement with the vendors to return on Sunday morning to pay the vendor.

Rabbi Zelman was not interested in the sports pages nor was he interested in the headlines. In fact, he was not interested in the paper altogether. Rabbi Zelman bought the paper for his mother. She also was not interested in the sports or the news. She was interested in the dead. Every Saturday night she would comb the paper looking for announcements of tombstone unveilings that were to take place on Sunday at the Jewish Cemeteries. An unveiling is a time when people are charitable, and the elderly Mrs. Zelman would go to the cemeteries and raise funds from the gathered for Yeshivos in Europe in Israel. She would eventually turn the coins into bills and send the money overseas. A plaque hangs today in the Slobodka Yeshiva in Israel commemorating her efforts.

Rabbi Kamenetzky writes further: My grandfather, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky, of blessed memory, told me the story of how, as the Rav of Toronto, he was quickly introduced to a new world, far different than the world he was accustomed to as the Rav of the tiny Lithuanian shtetl of Tzitivyan, which he left in 1937. One of his congregants had invited him to a pidyon haben, a special ceremony and feast made when a first-born child reaches thirty days old and his father redeems him from the kohen for five silver shekels (dollars).

Entering the hall, Rav Yaakov was impressed by the beautiful meal prepared in honor of the event. He was reviewing the procedure, and the interaction with the Kohen that would frame the event, when the father of the child introduced Rav Yaakov to his father-in-law, a Mr. Segal. Suddenly, Rav Yaakov realized that there was trouble. If Mr. Segal was a Levite, as the name Segal traditionally denotes (Segan Likohen, an assistant to the Kohen), then there would be no need for a Pidyon Haben. For, if the mother of the child is the daughter of either a Kohen or Levi, then no redemption is necessary.

“Mr. Segal,” asked Rav Yaakov, “are you by any chance a Levi?” “Of course!” beamed the elderly Segal.

Rav Yaakov tried to explain to the father of the child that a pidyon haben was unnecessary, but the father was adamant. He had prepared a great spread, appointed a kohen, and even had the traditional silver tray sprinkled with garlic and sugar cubes, awaiting the baby. He wanted to carry out the ceremony!

It took quite a while for Rav Yaakov to dissuade the man that this was no mitzvah, and to perform the ceremony with a blessing would be not only superfluous, but also irreverent and a transgression.

(In fact, one apocryphal ending has the father complaining, “What do you mean, I don’t have to make a pidyon haben? I made one for my first son and I’m going to make one for this son!”)

Ultimately, Rav Yaakov, convinced the man to transform the celebration into a party commemorating his child’s 30th day entered in good health, an important milestone with many halachic ramifications. (

Shabbos in Halacha

Correction from last week

 Thank you to an astute reader who pointed out a typo:

It should have read: 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.]


ממרח – Smoothing

  1. Practical Applications


 It is forbidden to use a bar of soap on Shabbos. Liquid soaps may be used; however, to abide by a stricter opinion, one should add water to the soap so that it is very fluid. [There is special ‘Shabbos soap’ available, which is intentionally made very liquid.]


 It is forbidden to spread any ointment, salve or cream over a part of the body, or to spread it on a cloth which will be applied afterward. However, one may dab ointment on several spots close together, and cover it with a cloth or a diaper, allowing it to spread by itself.

This procedure must be followed when diapering a baby. In cases of a severe diaper rash, a competent Halachic authority should be consulted.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Emor 5776

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New Stories Emor 5776

A Day in the Life of a Prison Chaplain

For 30 years, Rabbi Moshe Frank has dedicated his life to helping Jewish maximum security prisoners.

by Bayla Sheva Brenner

I had never been to a prison before. Yet, here I was, traveling to the edge of the Catskills to visit the Eastern Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison. I came to observe Rabbi Moshe Frank at work as a prison chaplain. You could say I was a little nervous.

Rabbi Frank has been doing the job he loves for close to 30 years. “I’m not a big believer in the correctional system,” he tells me. “Recidivism is high. They have to revisit how they could do this better.” Nonetheless, he does what he can to help the Jewish prisoners rebuild their lives, from “the inside.”

Built at the end of the nineteenth century, the prison resembles a medieval fortress, with stone castle-like steeples and a pyramid roof. Its 900 occupants committed serious crimes – murder, assault, grand theft and other felonies. Their sentences number ten, twenty, thirty years. Some are here for life.

We enter an enclosed vestibule with steel doors and barred windows and are buzzed into the reception area. Rabbi Frank greets a stocky woman with closely cropped blonde hair standing behind a high counter, munching on an apple. “The inmates are just about done with ‘count,’ rabbi,” she says. (Inmates are counted three times daily.)

“I’ll need your ID,” she says, looking at me. She instructs me to walk through the metal detector and begins rummaging through my pocketbook. My cell phone and MP3 player are placed in a steel locker.

She stamps my hand – my ticket to the visiting area. I walk into the room and notice a few inmates, fortunate enough to have visiting family and friends, sitting with their guests at small tables. All eyes are on the rabbi and me as we pass through visiting room A to B, a more private area.

Rabbi Frank’s regulars are already there, standing at attention, waiting for us. He smiles at them. “You’re dressed so nicely – white shirts and all,” he says, impressed.

A total of 46 inmates at Eastern were listed as Jewish, though not all are Jews according to Jewish law. Only a handful of them identified themselves as Jewish when they were incarcerated; the others opted for an official “change of religion” during their imprisonment.

Rabbi Frank holds prayer services and Torah classes at the prison chapel on Sundays and Tuesdays. His prayer service is interactive; he stops at various points to discuss what the words mean. “They love it; it grabs them,” he says. “They have such a thirst. I show them that every word has a unique nuance.”

On Tuesdays Rabbi Frank teaches Bible, Talmud and about the holidays. He also reserves time for private counseling. Inmates discuss their painful estrangement from their wives and children. He does what he can to facilitate contact. Sometimes he’s successful.

Do they leave in a better place than when they came in? Yes, if they utilize their time.

“I hope to teach them basic values – menschlichkeit. Some of them come in when they’re 25 and leave at 40. Do they leave in a better place than when they came in? Yes, if they utilize their time.”

Rabbi Frank’s classes offer a window into the world of Jewish thought and faith. “We have something to look forward to,” says an inmate named Chanan, “hearing about God and what He expects of us.” An average of five to ten inmates participate in the learning sessions.

The rabbi offers them a link to life on the outside. “I share what goes on in the community, the shul, with my own family,” says Rabbi Frank. “They hunger to be part of all of it in absentia.”

We settle down to speak and I ask the handful of men to share their stories.

In 2004, Chanan was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Thus far, he’s served ten – seven-and-a-half years at Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border, two years at Rikers Island in Queens and, at the time of our interview, one year and three weeks at Eastern. His good behavior cut his sentence down to 17 years.

Prior to his incarceration, Chanan, a gifted musician, played the saxophone, clarinet, trombone, bass and flute. To makes ends meet, he did accounting work by day and played saxophone in a band at night. Many of his gigs were at clubs and Catskill hotels. Eventually, the hedonistic club scene got to him, leading to a serious alcohol and drug addiction. He began attending AA meetings, where he found solace, sobriety and God. “I kept hearing all this talk about a ‘Higher Power,’” says Chanan. “I wanted to find my Jewish one.” Despite his efforts to reconstruct his life, at 46, a tragic confrontation put him behind bars.

With his long salt-and-pepper beard, yarmulke and gentle self-effacing manner, Chanan – who loves learning Torah – defies the image of a convict doing hard time. He studied more than 150 Jewish books in the past year, including Talmud as well as works on personal development and Jewish law. Now 56, he actually sees incarceration as “the greatest thing” that could have happened to him. “When I got arrested . . . I accepted it as if God was saying, ‘You want to spend 20 years with me? Okay.’

“I know Hashem is running the show and everything He does is good. If it weren’t for Hashem, the rabbi’s encouragement and Judaism, I would have given up a long time ago.”

Chanan pushes himself to grow in his Judaism.

Determined to use his time in prison constructively, Chanan pushes himself to grow in his Judaism. “If I have any hope of being an integral part of the community, I have to have something to offer.”

He devours books on Judaism and over the years, he’s amassed an impressive library, and has contacted writers in Israel, England, Canada and America, among other countries. “I’m the post office’s best customer,” he says.

Whenever Chanan encounters a Hebrew word he is unfamiliar with, he consults with Ran, a fellow inmate originally from Israel. In his mid-thirties, Ran was sentenced in 2005 to 18 years.

Both inmates speak of their love and respect for Rabbi Frank. “We can talk to him about anything,” says Ran. “Religion, food, something that’s bothering us. Look at us, talking and laughing right now; who would believe we’re in jail? But inside we have a lot of issues to deal with. I have a son I can’t see . . . . It’s very hard.

“Ordinarily, I have no patience for religious material,” says Ran. “But the rabbi explains it in a clear way. He doesn’t push us.” Even while downplaying his growth in Judaism, Ran admits that he observed every fast this past year.

Ran’s parents divorced when he was young. A troubled youth, he was kicked out of yeshivah and wound up living on the streets. He moved to the United States in the mid-1990s and began to build a life. He got married, had a job, even started keeping kosher again and going to shul. Unfortunately, he stumbled. In prison almost nine years, he accepts his punishment. “If you do something wrong, even if it’s by mistake, you have to pay for it,” says Ran. “I have family and friends who support me. When I get out, I can build a life again.” After his arrest, he dropped whatever advances he had made in his Jewish growth. However, nine months after his incarceration, he began retracing his steps. “I’ve been up and down in my life. I try to keep moving up. I get up in the morning. I pray three times a day. Baruch Hashem, I keep going. I still have a lot of work to do.”

Rabbi Frank never reads the inmates’ criminal case histories. “There’s no reason for me to know about their pasts. I don’t think it would benefit my relationship with them. It might color my feelings toward them. This way, I can treat them as my equals.”

A native of Brooklyn, Rabbi Frank, who earned a master’s degree from Yeshiva University in classical Jewish history, began his prison visits in 1985 as the assistant to Rabbi Herman Eisner, the then-rabbi of Ezrath Israel in Ellenville, New York. When Rabbi Eisner, a concentration camp survivor who had led the congregation since 1949, retired in 1988, Rabbi Frank took over as rav of the shul. Although he left the position in 2011, he continues his chaplaincy work at both Eastern and Ulster Correctional Facility, a medium-security facility in the area.

The relationships he forges with the inmates last long after they leave prison and reenter society.

Soft-spoken and unassuming, Rabbi Frank forms deep bonds with some of the Jewish prisoners. The relationships he forges with the inmates last long after they leave prison and reenter society. Some continue to call and write to him; the rabbi invites them to his family celebrations and they invite him to theirs.

“Being more observant makes me feel better,” says Ran. “When I read Tehillim, I’m in a different world. I didn’t used to read it on the outside, only when I was in ‘the box’ [24-hour period of solitary confinement]. Because of the rabbi, I made Kiddush for the first time in my cell this past Friday. I tried to do a treaty transfer [the transferring of a prisoner from the country in which he was convicted of a crime to his home country], to do the rest of my prison time in Israel. It was denied and I got down. I try not to break in jail. It’s very easy to get broken here.”

This article was featured in Jewish Action Fall 2014. (

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