Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Beha’aloscha 5776

Beha’alsocha 5776

New Stories Beha’alsocha 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Beha’alsocha 5776

Our Enemies Should Be Removed


In this week’s parasha we read the words that we recite every time we take out the Torah from the Ark to read in public. It is said (Bamidbar) vayehi binsoa haaron vayomer Moshe kumah hashem viyafutzu oyvecho viyanusu misanecha mipanecha, when the Ark would journey, Moshe said, “Arise, HaShem, and let your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.” The word kumah is normally translated as arise, but here Rashi offers a novel explanation. Rashi writes that Moshe was instructing HaShem, so to speak, to stop, as the Ark, reflecting the Divine Presence, had travelled three days ahead of the Jewish People. Thus, Moshe was requesting from HaShem that the Ark stop and wait for the camp to catch up. How does this idea connect with Moshe’s request that HaShem disperse the Jewish People’s enemies? Furthermore, the Medrash states that the Ark would level mountains to make the Jews’ travels easier. What enemies was Moshe cornered about in the Wilderness that He felt it necessary to offer a special request that the Ark cause their enemies to disperse?

 A story of a miraculous “curse”

The story is said of a family in Israel where the mother, Mrs. Fixler, would prepare the most delicious simanim, symbolic foods, every year in honor of Rosh Hashanah. One year their two oldest children, Yaakov Dan and Chavah Miriam, a twin boy and girl, travelled to the Ukraine. The girl was involved in Jewish outreach. She had her mother pack one hundred portions of her mouth weathering simanim so she could treat her protégés to an unforgettable culinary experience. Yaakov Dan was travelling to Uman, where thousands of Jews would gather together to pray at the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman from Breslov. Yaakov Dan and Chavah Miriam were already 32 years old and they were still not married. Following them were six other children, who ranged in ages from 30 down to 18, and they were all ready for marriage. Up to this point, however, none of them children had managed to find their bashert, their pre-destined match.

That year, Mrs. Fixler sprained her ankle right before Rosh Hashanah, and her twin daughters took over her role of distributing here delectable simanim to relatives from near and far. The first night of Rosh Hashanah, the elderly grandfather, Reb Chaim Fixler ate with the family. Reb Chaim had become somewhat senile after the passing of his wife, and often he was not even capable of remembering who his family members were. The family began to partake of these special simanim that Mrs. Fixler had prepared, and they would recite the traditional yehi Ratzon sheyistalku soneinu, may it be Your will that our enemies be removed. To everyone’s shock, the old man recited fervent the words yehi Ratzon sheyistalku yeladeinu¸ that our children be removed. Everyone began shouting at him, “Saba, don’t say that you are cursing your own grandchildren.” Mrs. Fixler was particularly distraught, as she had lost her mother at a young age, and she was still sensitive. She burst into tears and her husband had difficulty calming her down. Immediately following Rosh HaShanah, Reb Sholom took his father back to the old-age home. He and his wife then called Chavah Miriam to find out how she had fared in the Ukraine. They were shocked to learn that the simanim that Mrs. Fixler had sent her daughter never arrived. Shortly afterwards Yaakov Dan called in hysterics. “I am calling from the Kiev police station,” he announced. It turned out that he and his friends had thought that they could fly to Germany and from there to Kiev, and then they would be able to obtain visas in Kiev. Instead, they were refused entry to Kiev and the authorities asked them to fly back to Germany. When the men realized that they would not be able to make it to Germany before Yom Tov, they refused to board the plane and they were arrested. The men spent the entire Rosh HaShanah in prison with no Shofar and no minyan, and they subsisted on the candy and snack food that the two children with them had brought on the trip. To their good fortune, a community activist was able to obtain their release after Yom Tov and they continued on to Uman to pray by the gravesite of Reb Nachman from Breslov.

Following all these disturbing incidents, the Fixler family was sure that they were in for a troublesome year ahead. Heaven, however, decreed otherwise. Later in the year both Yaakov Dan and Chavah Miriam found their partners in life and went on to establish fine homes. Their grandfather’s supposed “curse” of asking Hashem to “remove our children” was actually transformed into a blessing, as the children were indeed “removed” from their homes and they settled into their own homes, happily married.

Moshe prays for “hidden” miracles

In a similar vein, we are all familiar with the outright miracles that HaShem performs for His beloved nation, vanquishing our enemies in battle. Moshe, however, prayed to HaShem to stop and “let your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.” Moshe was asking HaShem that the Divine Presence should allow that even those enemies who were plotting against the Jewish People, like Balak and Balaam, should not be allowed to bring their diabolical schemes to fruition.

The Shabbos connection

Throughout the week we are forced to confront the forces of evil that threaten us from without and from within. The Evil Inclination and the enemies of the Jews are constantly scheming to bring about our downfall. We pray to HaShem to assist us in our efforts of resisting our foes and we hope that our prayers will be answered. On Shabbos, however, the Zohar teaches us that kol dinin misabrin minah, all harsh judgments are removed from Her, as the luminous light of Shabbos banishes all of our enemies and allows us to bask in the glory of HaShem’s light.

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.

הִנֵּה יוֹם גְּאֻלָּה, יוֹם שַׁבָּת אִם תִּשְׁמֹרוּ, behold! A day of redemption is that Shabbos day if you safeguard it. Perhaps we can suggest that the explanation of this passage is that if we are שומר שבת, i.e. we anticipate the arrival of Shabbos throughout the entire week, then we will merit the long-awaited Redemption.

Shabbos Stories

Healing through a ruse

The young man didn’t know what else to do. He was suffering from a degenerative disease that grew worse with each passing week, and not a single one of the doctors he had gone to could successfully diagnose his illness – let alone find a cure. All was not entirely hopeless, however. In happier and healthier days he had been a talmid (student) of the holy Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin zt”l. As a last resort, he decided he would make the trip to Radin and ask his Rebbe for a blessing.

The young man arrived in Radin totally exhausted from his journey, but his longing to once again gaze upon the holy face of the Chafetz Chaim was stronger than his tiredness. So, as soon as he got off the train, he made his way to his Rebbi’s home.

The Chafetz Chaim remembered the talmid well. His heart ached to see him in such a state, and he wholeheartedly agreed to help – but on one condition. “You must never divulge to anyone,” said the Chafetz Chaim, “what is about to happen.”

The young man, of course, agreed to the terms. The Chafetz Chaim instructed the talmid to travel to the town of a certain little-known rabbi. “Tell him exactly what you told me,” said the Chafetz Chaim. “Ask him for a beracha, which he will surely give you, and with HaShem’s help you will be healed.”

The young man did not have to be told twice. He found lodgings in Radin for the night, and the next morning he rose early and boarded the first train to the town of the mysterious rabbi. By the afternoon, he sat with this rabbi, who listened with great sympathy to his plight. He gave him a heartfelt beracha for a refuah shleima (full recovery), just as the Chafetz Chaim had predicted.

After so much travel, the man needed a good rest. He found simple lodgings in town and slept well that night, but the next morning he found it difficult to get up. He therefore remained at the small inn for another day, and another. The rest began to have a positive effect on him, and after a week he began to feel a little stronger. Slowly, day by day, he could feel his previous strength coming back. After thirty days had passed, his illness had almost completely disappeared. Ten days later, he was in such good health and spirits that it was almost impossible to believe that less than two months before he had been knocking on death’s door.

Years passed; he bore a family of his own. Yet despite the colds and flues that came up, he never once said a word about his miraculous recovery.

Twenty years after his illness, his sister-in-law became ill with a strange disease that baffled the doctors. After hearing the details of her symptoms, he realized she was suffering from the exact same illness that had afflicted him so many years ago. But what could he do? He remembered the instructions of the Chafetz Chaim, and he kept silent.

His sister-in-law grew steadily weaker. The man’s wife became distraught. In the back of her mind, she remembered that her husband had once mentioned a miraculous recovery that he had experienced for an illness in his youth. She begged her husband to tell her more – perhaps what had helped him might also cure her sister. But he refused to say a word. His wife, however, continued to plead with him, and in time his defenses crumbled.

After careful consideration, he came to the conclusion that he would tell all. After all, with his sister-in-law hovering between life and death, it was within his rights to reveal the secret. He sat his wife down and told her about the trip he had made so many years ago to the home of the Chafetz Chaim, and subsequently to the city of the mysterious rabbi. He described to her how he began to recuperate from his illness almost immediately after receiving this rabbi’s bracha. His wife found hope in his story; she begged her husband to once again make the journey to the same rabbi.

As they spoke, however, he felt the beginnings of a headache. As the night wore on, the pain intensified. By the end of the week, he realized he was once again in the grips of the same illness that had plagued him twenty years ago. “I must go to Radin while I am still able to travel,” he told his wife, “and seek out the advice of the Chafetz Chaim. He will tell me what to do for myself, as well as for your sister.”

The Chafetz Chaim was already elderly and frail, but he recognized his talmid instantly. His initial pleasure at seeing his former student quickly vanished, though, as he realized what had happened.

“I’m sorry but I can’t help you this time,” the Chafetz Chaim told him. “You see – back then I was still young and strong, and I was able to fast for 40 days on your behalf. But now I’m too frail and old to take that kind of fasting upon myself.” It had all been a ruse – to hide the true source of the man’s salvation. (

The Sefer Binei Yissachar

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov was on his way to visit his Rebbe, the Chozeh (Seer) of Lublin. During the journey he began to wonder from which of the Twelve Tribes he descended.

“Why is it,” he thought to himself, “that as soon as Chanukah nears, I always experience a special spiritual delight? I cannot be descended from the Chashmonaim, for I am not of the priestly family. So where does this special feeling come from?”

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech decided that when he was in Lublin, he would ask his Rebbe. Upon arriving at the Chozeh’s court, before he even managed to say a word, the Chozeh said: “You are descended from the Tribe of Yissachar. As to why you experience what you do on Chanukah, it is because in the time of the Holy Temple you were a member of the Rabbinical Court of the Chashmonaim” for the Tribe of Yissachar traditionally supplied the scholars who manned the Rabbinical Court in Temple times.

That is why Reb Tzvi Elimelech entitled his learned book on the festivals, Binei Yissachar – the Sons of Yissachar. (

Rav Chaim Volozhin – Shas Is Shas

In the time of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, there was a baal habayis who had completed the entire Shas. Rav Chaim would stand up for him when he would enter the room. The talmidim of R’ Chaim felt that it was an affront to his kavod to stand up for a baal habayis. They protested to R’ Chaim, saying that although the baal habayis did learn Shas and spent a lot of time learning, he didn’t know the Shas in depth, so it was not respectful for a great Gaon like himself to stand up for him.

R’ Chaim answered that there are two types of Shas – the Vilna Shas which was a beautiful Shas with a quality print, and another Shas printed in Poland which was of lesser quality with inferior print. Rav Chaim explained that if one had these two Shasim, he wouldn’t say the inferior Shas is not a Shas -he would merely say it was not as beautiful. Similarly, someone who knows Shas is someone who knows Shas, and therefore it’s appropriate to treat him with the proper kavod.

A Photo Shoot with Rav Shmuel Auerbach

My son was turning three years old and it was time for his upsherin. Since I learned occasionally in the Bais Medrash of Rav Shmuel Auerbach’s Yeshiva and saw him once a week, with some nudging from wife I garnered the courage to ask him to do the honors and cut the first snips. When I managed to ask him, he told me that he is not the best barber but if I want I could come to him after Shacharis.

So we got all ready for the big event. We made sure to bring everything we needed for the occasion; scissors, candies, and a camera. When we arrived, Rav Shmuel was learning Chumash with a few talmidim huddled around his shtender. Wrapped in Tallis and Tefillin with his face shining, it looked like a scene from the past. Finally, the group dispersed and one of the talmidim came to tell us that Rav Shmuel was ready for us.

Nervously we approached. I think my boys were more terrified then I was. He wished us Sholom Aleichem and asked my son his name. As I started fumbling with the scissors he asked, “where is the camera”. Of course, the camera! I took it out and he called one of his talmidim to take a picture.

He held up the scissors and took a snip. He then turned to his talmid and asked if the flash went off. His talmid said yes. Rav Shmuel said he didn’t see it and he should take another picture. He then held up the piece of hair that he had snipped off, together with the scissors, as if he was cutting it for the first time, and posed for the camera. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

It may be a fake pose, but it was one of the most genuine and thoughtful displays of kindness that we are fortunate to have hanging on the wall of our home. Our gedolim don’t waste their time with fulfilling mundane requests. They go from the epitome of the world with their torah and Tefillah to the height of chesed with their incredible care for every simple Jewish adult and child alike.

The Divrei Chaim Is Happy Being a “Hedyot” And The Brisker Rav A “Boor”

The Brisker Rav was once in Krenitz and stayed in the home of one of the Talmidei Chachomim of the city. When putting on his Tefillin the Brisker Rav looked in the mirror to make sure his Tefillin were straight. His host became very mad since the great Divrei Chaim was vehemently against people looking in the mirror to check their Tefillin.

Not having the nerve to confront the Brisker directly, his host left the Sefer Divrei Chaim with a bookmark on the relevant teshuvah on the breakfast table, to send the Brisker Rav a not so subtle message.

Upon arriving to breakfast and seeing the Sefer, the Brisker Rav realized the problem and called over his host. He said to him, I see you are a Chosid so I will explain this to you in terms you will understand. One time when it rained on Sukkos everyone left the Sukkah except the Divrei Chaim. They asked him why he won’t leave since the Gemara says that whoever remains in the Sukkah in the rain is a “Hedyot” and is making a mistake. The Divrei Chaim answered, you can call me a Hedyot but I cannot leave my beloved Sukkah.

Similarly explained the Brisker Rav, you can call me a “Boor” (a big Am Haaretz), as the Divrei Chaim calls someone who looks in the mirror to put on Tefillin. However, I will still look in the mirror because all I care about is that I wear my Tefillin in accordance with Halacha. (Peninim U’Parparos Al HaTorah)

Rabbi Akiva Eiger Vies to Be the Caretaker of the Mikva

Rabbi Akiva Eiger the gaon and glory of Klal Yisroel, was Rav for 48 years of his life… and he considered every second of it pure torture. He constantly thought of ways to exit the Rabbinate. When he was already in his advanced years and he was the Rav of Posen and considered the Rav of all of Klal Yisroel, he wrote a letter to his friend in a neighboring town where the caretaker of the Mikva had died.

“In my old age I want to support myself in a permissible manner and not through issur, from my own handiwork and not from taking advantage of the crown of Torah. Therefore, I beg you to persuade the leaders of your Kehilla, on my behalf, to rent to me the town Mikva. I am prepared to leave my Rabbinical post and become the Mikva caretaker in your city… (Sarei HaMei’a 1:261) (

Shabbos in Halacha

Opening Food Packages

 מכה בפטיש – Completing the Formation of a Utensil

Providing the finishing touch to any utensil is an Av Melacha figuratively known as מכה בפטיש, banging [the final] blow] with a hammer. This melacha often applies when unscrewing sealed bottle caps.

Most bottle caps are sealed, so that when unscrewed for the first time, the lower part of the cap breaks off and forms a ring around the bottle neck. Alternatively, the lower part cracks and widens, enabling the cap to be fully removed. Thus, the cap originally serves simply as a seal for the bottle and only when unscrewed and broken becomes a functional cap which can be removed and re-attached. Many Authorities rule that unscrewing the cap for the first time is forbidden under the category of מכה בפטיש, as it serves to complete the formulation of a functional cap.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Beha’alsocha 5776

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New Stories Beha’alsocha 5776

The View from the Mountain

My rendezvous with God at the top of Runyon Canyon before sunrise.

by Devorah Talia Gordon

When my friend asked me to hike Runyon Canyon with her before carpool, I thought she was nuts.

“You mean, like, at sunrise?”

She shrugged. “It’s gorgeous. And quiet. Just try it,” she said. “You’ll see what I mean. I’ll pick you up at 5:50.”

It had been years since I’d been to Runyon, a local hike with a steep climb and majestic views of LA. I’d come on Sunday mornings when I was single. I’d hike up the steep stairs and practically jog back down, along with the dozens of other walkers with their dogs, enjoying the always-beautiful LA weather.

Now, things were a bit different. I had a husband, a brood of kids, and a whole lot of responsibilities.

But my friend said we should leave it all behind, just for a bit, and hike up the mountain. After just one morning, I was hooked.

Our Ascent

We start out well before the morning crowd. Here and there a hiker appears out of the semi-dark; we exchange good mornings with the elderly Russian lady, hands clasped behind her back, making her steady ascent.

Our muscles slowly warm up, just as our conversation proceeds gradually – first about the best place to buy paper goods, the ‘shows’ our second-grade girls insist on making every Sunday, a new supper recipe. As we ascend, the city falls into the backdrop. The silhouetted buildings look like nothing more than flimsy construction paper formations taped up on a burnt orange wall.

Then our talk shifts to loftier matters, like our aging parents, belief in ourselves after we’ve gotten angry with our kids again, the challenges of raising teens. We talk about our personal and professional goals. As good friends, we give each other encouragement and some advice, but mostly empathy.

At the top of the mountain, we pause at the same spot to stretch. We gaze at the sparkling city lights and the lightening, soft blue sky, so clear that we can see all the way from downtown LA to the Pacific Ocean. The remaining stars still twinkle and even the moon glows, yet the new day beckons. I remember learning that God named each and every star in the universe (and there are billions!) and that each has a specific purpose.

So too, with me, I think. He is looking out for me at every moment, and each of my struggles is meaningful, even if I can’t understand how. Because “down the mountain,” in the nitty-gritty details of life, it’s hard to get perspective. It’s easy to be anxious and worried.

But in these sunrise moments, I feel just the tiniest bit of what I imagine God might experience all the time.

At every moment, God sees the whole picture of every single thing in the universe. He has the Ultimate Perspective. When I attempt to look at the world with God’s perspective, I can’t be so worried. My concerns – even the ones that keep me up at night – fade in the face of the vastness of God’s Reality. His reality is that there is a plan and purpose for everything. He sees why things need to happen, and how those things will, in the end, be good. And even now, in actuality, are good.

Even for little me.

Reluctantly, we take slow steps away from the view and start back down the mountain. But my steps are lighter now, my breath comes easier. The people heading up are fully sunlit, chatting as dogs scamper by their feet.

It’s not until late morning that I hear the news: Runyon Canyon is closing for four months. They need to fix the old water pipes and will need to repave the canyon. At first, the news doesn’t faze me. But as the day goes on, reality hits me.

The closing of the canyon will take away something much more than my exercise. There’s no other hike nearby that parallels Runyon’s steep climb and vast perspective. And the perspective Runyon gives me.

For the next few months, I will need to find the ‘view from the mountain’ elsewhere.

I don’t have to look far. Right when I open my prayer book, I read Adon Olam, which means “Master of the World.” The first formal prayer Jews say each morning describes God’s omnipotence, but is also about His very personal relationship with each of His creations. As we say in the prayer, “He is my God.” (Rav Schwab on Prayer, p.4-5).

I can connect to God through the pages of my prayer book, or while driving carpool, just as much as I can experience Him on top of the mountain.

It’s all perspective. And a good pair of hiking shoes doesn’t hurt. (

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