Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bechukosai 5776

Bechukosai 5776

New Stories Bechukosai 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bechukosai 5776

Casualness is not a way of Life for the Jewish People

Introductionואם בזאת לא תשמעו לי והלכתם עמי בקרי, if despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave toward Me with casualness (Vayikra 26:27)

One of the most quoted forewarnings that the Jewish People have received in recent history was the prophetic words of Rabbi Meir Simcha from Devinsk, commonly referred to as the Meshech Chochma (1843-1926). In the parshaha of Bechukosai Reb Meir Simcha writes that if the Jew thinks that Berlin is Jerusalem then a raging storm wind will uproot him by his trunk, a tempest will arise and spread its roaring waves, and swallow, and destroy, and flood forth without pity. Sadly enough, this premonition was realized when we lost, HaShem should save us, six million Jews in what is referred to as the Holocaust. What is unique about this warning is that the Torah itself warns us of devastating consequences if we abandon our service of HaShem and if we treated HaShem’s mitzvos with carelessness. Why is it, then, that it is only the words of Reb Meir Simcha that are so well known whereas the Tochacha, the rebuke that we read in Parashas Bechukosai and in Parashas Ki Savo, seem to be ignored by the general population?

What does it mean to be casual in mitzvah observance?

The Torah describes the errant behavior that results in cataclysmic consequences for the Jewish People as keri, casualness. What is the meaning of this casualness? The conventional explanation for casualness regarding mitzvah observance is that one performs the mitzvos with a lack of fervor and enthusiasm. However, this explanation appears difficult, as one would think that the Jewish People should not have to suffer so terribly if they perform the mitzvos, albeit lackadaisically. Perhaps there is a deeper meaning to the casualness that the Torah is referring to.

Amalek caused the Jewish People to become casual

Regarding the incident where Amalek attacked the Jewish People upon liberation from Egypt, it is said (Devarim 25:17-18) zachor eis asher asah lecho Amalek baderech bitzeischem miMitzrayim asher korcha baderech vayizaneiv bicho kol hanecheshalim acharecho viatah ayeif viyageia viol yarei Elokim, remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt. That he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear G-d. The simple reading here is that the Jewish People were fatigued upon leaving Egypt and Amalek ambushed them. Furthermore, the Torah states that Amalek did not fear G-d, implying that the Jewish People were not at fault for this ill-fated encounter. The Sfas Emes, however, understands the words what Amalek did to you to mean that Amalek caused that the Jewish People became casual and disconnected from HaShem. While our main focus is usually on the evil that Amalek perpetrated, we must also remember how we reacted to their overtures. The Evil Inclination and the nations of the world appear to have a great hold over us, but in truth, we are the ones who are ultimately responsible for our behaviors.

The ambush of Amalek was deliberate to cause us to become casual

It is noteworthy that the Torah uses the word keri, casualness, in describing the deviant behavior of the Jewish People. Similarly, regarding the ambush of Amalek, the Torah uses the word korcha, happened upon you, which also denotes casualness. This seems to be paradoxical, as one does not normally perceive an ambush as casual. Rather, one who ambushes his enemy usually does so in a deliberate manner. The Torah, however, is demonstrating to us that the ultimate goal of Amalek was to cause us to become casual. With this premise we can better understand the premonition of the Meshech Chochma. When the Jewish People are in exile and become acclimated to the gentile society, they become victims to the ambush of Amalek and subsequently they develop a casual attitude towards HaShem and His Torah. To declare that Berlin is Jerusalem is just an outward expression of this casualness.

Today more than ever we need to intensify our Torah study and mitzvah observance

Casualness in mitzvah observance is very subtle, as one can study Torah, pray, and perform mitzvos even in a casual manner and believe that he is fulfilling his requirements. The Torah instructs us that this is not so. In the beginning of Parashas Bechukosai the Torah states that we receive the blessings of HaShem when we toil in Torah study. The study of Torah and all mitzvah performance was never meant to be approached in a casual manner. Only by being diligent and deliberate in our service of HaShem can we hope to defeat the diabolical schemes of Amalek and his cohorts. The words of the Meshech Chochma ring true even today, and even more so, as society continues to unsheathe its weapons of destruction through media and technology. The influences appear to be subtle, but their effects are devastating. Intense Torah study and prayer is what can help us resist the blandishments of Amalek and contemporary society.

 The Shabbos connection

Shabbos is the day when we are free from the overtures of the Evil Inclination and the nations of the world. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that had the Jewish People observed the first Shabbos in the Wilderness, no race or nation would have been able to dominate them. Subsequent to their violation of the first Shabbos, Amalek attacked the Jewish People. The Torah and the Gemara could not be clearer with the message of what we need to do to ward off the blandishments of Amalek. HaShem should allow us to observe the Shabbos faithfully, and then we will achieve dominance over the nations of the world, with the speedy arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

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.

מַהֲרוּ אֶת הַמָּנֶה, לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת דְּבַר אֶסְתֵּר, expedite the portion – fulfill Esther’s order. What is the reference to “Esther’s order?” The Gemara (Megillah 13a) states that Esther instituted that each one of her maidservants bear a name corresponding to the days of the week, so in this manner she could know when the holy Shabbos arrives. Thus, we can interpret the word הַמָּנֶה to be read as המונה, the count, i.e. We should be counting with haste the days towards Shabbos. Although we are blessed with a fixed calendar, we must still be cognizant the entire week of the upcoming Shabbos, so that we can properly prepare for this special day.

Shabbos Stories

Have true bitachon

A wealthy businessman once sunk most of his considerable assets into a lumber venture. The lumber was to be transported by floating it down the Dnieper River, an economical but somewhat risky process.

The man came to the Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Berlin zt”l for a beracha (blessing) that all should go well. The Netziv told him to have bitachon (faith) in Hashem, Who will certainly help him.

“Of course I know that I should have bitachon,” the man said. “But what can I do – I am still extremely nervous!”

“You know,” said the Netziv, “now I understand a passage in the Torah that has always bothered me. The Torah says the Jews will ask, ‘How can we keep Shemitah? What will we eat on the seventh year?’ One wonders: Why were they so concerned over the seventh year? Didn’t they prepare for it in the sixth year? They should have been concerned over the eighth year!

“Let us consider, however, to whom the Torah is speaking – instructing them not to worry and to have bitachon. Certainly it is not to the poor, firstly because they are already used to relying on bitachon, and secondly because they own no land. Rather, the Torah must be speaking to the wealthy landowners, who are used to ‘earning their own living,’ and are not connected with bitachon on a regular basis. They can’t believe they can survive without their active participation, without “doing it themselves!” This is why they are already nervous, even for the seventh year.

“Don’t worry,” concluded the Netziv. “Have true bitachon, and all will be well!”

Maybe this is what HaShem is trying to tell you

Rav Noach Weinberg tells a story about a long-haired, “hippie” sort of fellow who walked into his Yeshiva with long hair and the typical accompanying mode of dress. He told Rav Noach, “I don’t need a Yeshiva, because G-d and I are like this (as he showed his fingers twisted together to represent a ‘twosome’)!” Rav Noach asked, “How do you know that you and G-d are like ‘this’?” The student responded that he was riding his bike along a mountain road and a truck came along, veered toward him, forcing him off the cliff with his bike. He saw himself going down the tremendous embankment and visualized that the end was at hand. All of a sudden, he saw a branch hanging out of the mountain. He reached out and hung on, and was saved, walking away without a scratch. “That’s how I know,” he said, “that G-d and I are like ‘this’!” Rav Noach then asked him, “Did you ever think about why the truck knocked you off the cliff? Maybe that is what G-d is trying to tell you.” (

A volcanic ash blessing

A universal crisis, millions of people stranded and billions of dollars lost, as one volcanic eruption in Iceland causes chaos across the European continent. Within all this tumult, one Jew merits a smile of grace from the Creator of the World, and a miraculous series of events begins to unfold.

The story begins with a young yeshiva student, an 18-year-old Jerusalemite, who came down with a fulminate hepatic failure and was mortally ill. The doctors agreed there was no hope for him unless he could receive a liver transplant.

With little hope of receiving a liver transplant in Israel, his family consulted with Rabbi Firer, known for his successful record of medical referrals. The rabbi advised to send the boy immediately to Brussels, the world center of liver transplants. He cautioned, however, that Brussels is known to not transplant non-EU patients under any circumstances, in order to save the scanty supply of livers for Europeans. Nevertheless, it was decided to send him to Brussels anyway, despite the full knowledge of the negligible chance of receiving a liver, and the effort and expenses involved. It was the boy’s last hope.

Upon arrival, the young student had no choice but to add his name to the long waiting list for a liver transplant. In the meantime, he tried to maintain his yeshiva-studies schedule despite the illness, consciously aware that it could take weeks, months, and even years till he will be able to be given a new liver. Many patients were on the waiting list, and his name was somewhere on the bottom. And should his turn finally arrive, the liver must completely match his blood type and other medical criteria. If it is not a perfect match, he will need to continue waiting…for a miracle.

However, “Many thoughts in a man’s heart; nevertheless, the plan of G-d shall prevail,” and it seems G-d had a different plan for this young Jew. In the month of Iyar, whose letters stand for the words “ani Hashem rofecha” – “I, G-d, am your healer” — the Almighty’s loyal servants produced avalanches of hot ash, rock and gas in Iceland, causing Europe to completely shut down its skies and create a no-fly zone. No one could leave and no one could enter during this self-imposed embargo.

Meanwhile, throughout this time, a religious boy from Jerusalem continued to sit in a yeshiva in the capital of Belgium, diligently learning Torah.

In the midst of the closure, a person died in the famous Brussels, a person who had agreed to donate his liver to anyone that might need it. Astonishingly, this liver was a perfect match in every parameter for the young yeshiva student.

The health authorities of Belgium began contacting the names on liver transplant waiting list in order, but ‘unfortunately,’ not even one patient was able to fly into Belgium for a desperately needed healthy-liver transplant, as a result of the after-effects of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

As they advanced further on the waiting list, they reached the student from Israel. Nevertheless, they did not offer the liver to the boy because of his lack of citizenship.

The clock ticked closer and closer to the deadline for the amount of time in which the liver would still be viable for transplanting. The precious healthy liver must not be wasted and would have to be swiftly used to replace a diseased liver. But no one was able to arrive in Belgium for the transplant except the young Yerushalmi.

So, thanks to clear Divine Intervention, the dedicated young yeshiva student received the liver and is now recovering from surgery.

The enormity of this miracle became even clearer after the successful liver transplant. The doctors said that the young yeshiva student’s liver was very deteriorated and diseased, and in a matter of days his liver would have stopped functioning completely. The doctors unanimously believe that if this young man had to continue waiting for the liver transplant, he would have been long dead.

The names of the patient (the hospital and the doctors) cannot be released, because of the increasingly strict laws about patient privacy. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery, and long and healthy years.

A Miracle in Meiron

This story occurred on the 7th of Adar, the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, which fell on a Shabbos that year. Two students from one of the Lubavitcher yeshivas in Israel decided to go to Meiron in order to spend the Shabbos near the resting place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

It was a clear and chilly Friday. The two students came to Meiron a few hours before the beginning of Shabbos and began making preparations; they found a place to sleep and arranged their personal belongings. Then they went for a long walk in the Meiron Mountains. They enjoyed the majestic serenity over these mountains of the Galilee. The clear fresh air and the knowledge that they were walking on the same paths used by the holy ancestors of the Jewish people gave them a feeling of being spiritually uplifted.

They lost all concept of time, and only when they heard the faint sound of the Shabbos siren in the village of Meiron, heralding the arrival of Queen Shabbos, did they realize that they had to return to their hostel immediately before the entrance of Shabbos.

In ten minutes’ time the Shabbos candles were to be lit and they were still so far away. How would they have time to have a shower, change clothes and prepare themselves for Shabbos?

They immediately began to run as fast as they could on the road leading to their place of lodging. However, it was too far away and they understood that they had little chance of getting there on time.

While running, one of the boys pointed at a small path, winding its way to the top of the mountain.

“Look”, he said to his friend, “we have already walked on that path. It is a short-cut that will bring us straight to the hostel.”

His friend immediately agreed, and instead of running on the road, they turned onto the small path that was winding its way between the bushes on the mountain. They ran as fast as they could, but they soon came to an abrupt stop, unable to continue.

An enormous black dog stood there blocking their way, and there was no sign that it would allow them to pass. The boys had no time for persuasion and turned to the right side of the path in order to pass the dog and continue on their way. However, the dog also moved to their right and did not allow them to pass. Then they tried to pass him on the left but the same thing happened: he blocked their way again.

The students knew that Shabbos was to start within the next few minutes and decided to pass the dog, come what may. They decided to try and pass him quickly but to their horror the huge dog stood up on its hind legs and opened its mouth in such a frightening way that they ran straight back to the main road leading to Meiron, convinced that they had no other choice.

In the middle of the difficult and strenuous run they noticed a woman standing at the bus stop. Next to her, on the ground, there were two big suitcases. When the boys reached her, she said very excitedly, “It is so good that you came. Please could you help me carry my suitcases to the hostel? Afterwards I shall tell you about a miracle that does not occur every day.”

The boys took the cases on their backs without asking any questions and ran as fast as they could to the hostel.

They participated in the Shabbos prayers with devotion and joy of heart. Despite the long run they felt an inner peace and were happy that they had come to Meiron for Shabbos. It would have been better if they had made more proper preparations for Shabbos, but on the other hand they had performed a great mitzvah by helping the woman with her suitcases. She had arrived at the hostel in time to light the Shabbos candles.

The following day they met the woman whom they had assisted. She asked them to be seated and began to relate her story:

“For a long time I wished to go to the holy site of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in order to pray there. When the 7th of Adar approached, I decided to go to Meiron.

“I packed whatever I needed for the weekend in two suitcases. They were too heavy for me to carry all the way from the bus stop to the lodging in Meiron, but I was sure that somebody would be willing to help me. I arrived at Meiron an hour and a half before Shabbos, but to my great surprise I was the only one who got off the bus as this stop.

“I stood on the road, waiting for somebody to come. As time went by, I began to be more and more worried. When I heard the Shabbos siren, I realized that my chances of arriving there on time were very slim. Where would I spend my Shabbos?

“I started to pray to G-d and ask for help. I cried and begged. I brought Shabbos candles with me in my suitcase, but I did not bring any matches. During all my life I have been very conscientious about lighting the Shabbos candles – and now, near the resting place of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, I was to lose this dear mitzvah? I beseeched G-d for help to perform this commandment.

“Suddenly I saw how both of you came running on the road in my direction. I was so happy. Within a few moments you would reach the bus stop and you would certainly be willing to help me with my suitcases.

‘To my great dismay, I saw that suddenly you turned onto a side path and began to go up the mountain. I prayed to G-d that he should perform a miracle. You were so very close to the spot where I was waiting.

“I prayed to G-d that he should send an angel from above who would make you turn into my direction — and suddenly I saw that huge black dog standing in your way!

“You can surely understand how anxious I was when I saw how you tried to pass the dog! I prayed fervently to G-d that you should be unable to walk around him — and at that very moment he stood up on his hind legs to his full size. I then saw how you returned to the main road until you reached the place where I was waiting!

“I am sure that because of my strong wish to light the Shabbos candles – not for my sake but for the sake of G-d – I had the privilege to see how my prayers were fulfilled in such a wondrous way!”(

Rav Mendele MiRimanov Saves the Shul

A contingent of government officials came to Rimanov to search the city for a suitable storage warehouse for the army’s food and supplies. After combing the city, the only place they came up with was the local Shul. When the heads of the Kehila heard, they ran to Rav Mendele of Rimanov to ask him what to do.

One person jumped up and said that as soon as the officials find out that the roof leaks and all their supplies will be ruined, they will not use our Shul as a storehouse. Everyone agreed and seemed satisfied with the plan. However, Rav Mendele, with his great Yiras Shamayim, heard this and said that they are sorely mistaken. In fact, it is because of the leaky roof that this Gezeira befell them. If we don’t take care of our Shul and are Mizalzel in its honor allowing the roof to leak, what do you expect of the non-Jews? Go fix the roof right away and everything will be okay.

They did as they were commanded and never heard from the officials again. (

Shabbos in Halacha

Opening Food Packages

 There are four separate prohibitions related to opening sealed containers on Shabbos, and almost every type of packaging used today is subject to at least one of these prohibitions. For this reason it is preferable that one open all food containers, i.e. bottles, cans, milk cartons, bags etc. prior to Shabbos.

In the upcoming weeks we will outline the relevant prohibitions and the procedures that one should follow in case one inadvertently left a container unopened until the onset of Shabbos.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Bechukosai 5776

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New Stories Bechukosai 5776

Land Lessons

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes:

This week we read the tochacha, the admonitions and prescient warnings of disasters that will befall our people almost as a natural reaction to our misdeeds. The frequent use of the words tachas, meaning instead of, remind us of the quid pro quo that was meant to help us understand the meaning of Heavenly retribution. Had we heeded the lessons and understood the message of Heavenly admonition, then perhaps the Jewish nation would have been exiled only once.

G-d does not exact retribution. He teaches. He gives us difficult tests for us to endure and hopefully grow from. Each punishment is a calculated lesson, something we can learn from.

It was not always to be the case. A seventy year-exile in Babylonia made us no wiser, and ultimately we were back, if not by our own choice, then by our misdoings, to an enduring exile less than half a millennium later.

And despite brief respites, physical and spiritual, we still are scattered in the Diaspora. Perhaps it is worth looking at one tit-for tat reprisal, mentioned this week, that ought serve as a lesson for us all.

In the portion of Behar, read last week, the Jewish people were commanded to let the land lie fallow every seventh year. They didn’t. As a result they were exiled, and then the Torah tells us: “I will scatter you among the nations; I will unsheathe the sword after you; your land will be desolate, and your cities will be a ruin. Then the land will be appeased for its sabbaticals during all the years of its desolation, while you are in the land of your foes; then the land will rest, and it will appease for its sabbaticals. All the years of its desolation it will rest, whatever it did not rest during your sabbaticals when you dwelled upon her.” (Leviticus 26:33-35)

The Talmud in Shabbos (33a) tells us that Hashem’s goal — that the land shall rest — will ultimately be accomplished. If the people do not let the land rest while they inhabit it, then it will rest in their absence. The calculation is frighteningly precise. There were seventy Sabbaticals that Israel had dishonored before and during the period of the First Temple. As the Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years, the land was compensated for the “rest” of which had never been observed.

But the question is obvious. Does land need rest? Does land get tired? The reason for Shmitah is not for the land but rather for us to rest from the mundane world of toil and physicality, and to leave our existence in the hands of the Almighty while we bask in His commands and study His laws. Why then does the land lying fallow in the desolation of our enemies help it or us? How is the message of Shmitah taught that way?

In his book about the 20th Century, Peter Jennings tells the story of Tom Sgovio. Tom was born in 1916 to immigrant parents who were enamored with the visions of Marx and Engels, and the equality they espoused would come under Communist rule. As a youngster Tom was active in the Communist movement, joining rallies and protests, even getting arrested for various pro-Communist activities.

Following the glowing reports of liberals like George Bernard Shaw, he brushed off the lurid descriptions of life under Stalin by Hearst and the American press and yearned for the Lenin’s Utopia.

Disheartened at the state of poverty of this nation in the 1930s, he was convinced by Stalin’s propaganda machine that in the Soviet Union life would be blissful. In fact, he was going to receive a free education in the Art Institute of Moscow, something no impoverished American had a chance to have in this country. To his friends he boasted about the wonderful education that would be provided, free of charge, by Mother Russia.

Upon his arrival, he was whisked to a hotel designated for political immigrants, and life was difficult yet bearable. But in the ensuing few years, he drifted out of his “suggested” confines to see the bitter poverty, and the drunken squalor of the peasants who allegedly were enjoying life to the fullest.

Contrasting that to the luxury of the ruling class, he began to complain. His timing could not have been worse. Within weeks, a hand tapped him on the shoulder and he was under arrest, a victim of Stalin’s purges. Days later he was transported to Siberia to spend the next four years languishing in one of Stalin’s forced labor camps. But his biggest conciliation came when a fellow prisoner told him that though the means were unfortunate, he realized his objectives. “You came here for an education? Well you’re getting one! You graduated the Academy of the Gulag. And you learned more about human nature than you’ll ever learn at Oxford or Cambridge. Here you learned why communism will never work! Because you won’t change human nature!”

People disobey Shmitah. They feel that they know who controls the future themselves. Shmitah is there to tell us that the land is not in our hands, and it is not in our control. We are to remind ourselves of that by following the dictates of Hashem and realizing Who really is in control. But unfortunately we did not. We thought we had it all figured, out and we can do as we pleased. And so we were sent into exile. And the land lay fallow for the amount of years that we illegally worked it. We received an education. It was not the way it was intended. We could have learned it by understanding the truth of creation and control. Unfortunately, we learned it in the gulag. (

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