Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chukas 5776

Chukas 5776

New Stories Chukas 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Chukas 5776

The Tribe of Levi, A Higher Standard


ויאמר ה’ אל משה ואל אהרן יען לא האמנתם בי להקדישני לעיני בני ישראל לכן לא תביאו את הקבל השה אל הארץ אשר נתתי להם, HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon, “Because you did not believe in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of the Children of Israel, therefore you will not bring this congregation to the Land that I had given them.” (Bamidbar 20:12)

In this week’s parasha we learn about how the Jewish People complained about the lack of water and HaShem instructed Moshe to take his stick and speak to the rock to draw forth water for the people. Moshe instead hit the rock, thus causing a desecration of HaShem’s Name and forfeiting his privilege of entering into Eretz Yisroel. The Ibn Ezra and the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh cite many opinions regarding Moshe’s sin. Some commentators posit that Moshe’s sin was that he became angered with the Jewish People and for this reason HaShem punished him by not granting him entry into Eretz Yisroel. Other commentaries write that Moshe sinned because he disobeyed HaShem’s commandment of speaking to the rock and instead he struck the rock and this was not the correct method for producing water. There are also opinions that maintain that Moshe should only have hit the rock once and not twice. Many of the commentators cite the verse in Tehillim (106:32-33) where it is said vayakitzifu al mei merivah vayeira liMoshe baavuram ki himru es rucho vayivatei bisfasav, they provoked at the Waters of Strife and Moshe suffered because of them, because they acted contrary to His spirit, and He pronounced with His lips, as proof for their opinions. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah) states that matters that Moshe did not explain fully were elaborated on by Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim. What message is Dovid HaMelech conveying to us with these words?

Are Miriam and Aharon different than Moshe?

Surprisingly, most of the commentaries seem to ignore an explicit verse in the Torah that sheds much light on the incident of Moshe deviating from HaShem’s instructions. It is said (Devarim 33:8) uliLevi amar tumecha viurecha liish chasidecha asher nisiso bimassah tiriveihu al mei merivah, of Levi he said: Your Tumim and Your Urim befit Your devout one, whom You tested at Massah, and whom You challenged at the waters of Merivah. Rashi writes something that at first appears to be very puzzling. Citing the Sifri, Rashi writes that HaShem, so to speak, came upon Moshe with a libel. If Moshe uttered the words (Bamidbar 20:10) shimu na hamorim, listen now, O rebels, what did Aharon and Miriam do? The Sifri is perplexing, because it appears to be asking a rhetorical question. The explanation of the question at first glance seems to be as follows: “we understand what Moshe did wrong, and thus was deserving of a punishment, but Aharon and Miriam did not do anything, so why were they also punished?” This, however, is difficult to understand, because in this verse Moshe is blessing the tribe of Levi, so why would he publicly reprimand himself? Furthermore, how can it be that there is a libel against members of the tribe of Levi? Aharon was faulted for his involvement in the fashioning of the Golden Calf, and Miriam sinned by gossiping about Moshe. Why does the Sifri deem Moshe’s act at Mei merivah to be different?

The tribe of Levi is held to a higher standard

In order to gain a better understanding to what occurred at Mei merivah, we need to focus on the uniqueness of the tribe of Levi. The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 5:16) states that Moshe told Pharaoh that every nation has spiritual leaders that guide the nation, and the Jewish People are no different. Pharaoh therefore allowed for one tribe to be exempt from the slavery, and that tribe was the tribe of Levi. Thus, while the entire Jewish People was enslaved to the Egyptians and were bitterly persecuted, the tribe of Levi was free to do as they pleased. When Moshe was on his way to Egypt, he was required to circumcise his son, and his delay almost cost him his life. The reason for Moshe being liable the death penalty was not because he had delayed in the circumcision, as a father is not liable the death penalty for not circumcising his son. Rather, it would appear that Moshe was being held to a higher standard than other Jews, and HaShem deemed his delay to be a desecration of His name, which was only atoned for through death. Similarly, when Aharon abetted the fashioning of the Golden Calf, he may have violated a negative commandment of fashioning an idol, but the consequences could have been more severe, if Moshe had not interceded on his behalf. HaShem wished to punish Aharon by killing all of his sons, and Moshe’s prayers were effective to save two of them from death. Aharon, as a member of the tribe of Levi, was held accountable because his tribe was placed on a pedestal, and he did not conform to the high standard that his tribe exemplified. Similarly, Miriam gossiped about Moshe and was punished. What was it that was so serious about Miriam’s act? The Medrash states that Miriam questioned why Moshe was able to separate from his wife and other prophets were not required to do this. In truth, however, Moshe was from the tribe of Levi, and the tribe of Levi always went beyond the letter of the law. An example of their transcending the normal laws is from the Gemara (Yevamos 72a) that states that while sojourning in the Wilderness, the Jewish People did not circumcise their children because they required the northern wind to blow to heal the wound. HaShem did not allow the northern wind to blow because the wind would have dispersed the Clouds of Glory. The tribe of Levi, however, put their lives at risk by leaving the clouds and circumcising their children. Thus, we see that the tribe of Levi went beyond the letter of the law to fulfill HaShem’s will. Similarly, Moshe separated from his wife so he could always be connected to HaShem. This conduct was in line with the tribe of Levi always beings separated for spiritual pursuits.

When Moshe deviated from his calling he was punished

We can now better understand what occurred regarding the Jewish People’s complaint for water and why Moshe was punished so severely. The fact that the Jewish People requested water was not unique, as the Torah records other instances where they asked for water and HaShem provided for them. The uniqueness of this incident was that Miriam had just died, and the Gemara (Taanis 9a) states that it was in her merit that the Jewish People had the water source. When the Jewish People complained about the lack of water, HaShem decided to test Moshe and Aharon to see if they would go beyond the call of duty. Whereas in the past Moshe had used his staff to produce the water, here HaShem desired that he should talk to the rock, thus transcending the laws of nature. Moshe did not fulfill HaShem’s instructions to the letter, and it was for this reason that he was punished by not being granted entry into Eretz Yisroel. In truth there is a pattern to this action and reaction, as we see that when Moshe complained to HaShem that by going to Pharaoh he had only made matters worse for the Jewish People. HaShem informed Moshe that he would see what He did to Pharaoh but he would not witness what HaShem would do to the gentile kings when the Jewish People entered Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, in the Song of the Sea it is said (Shemos 15:16-17) ad yaavor amchah HaShem am zu kanisa tivieimo visitaeimo bihar nachalascho, until Your people passes through, HaShem – until this people You have acquired passes through. You will bring them and implant them…. Rashi writes that in this verse Moshe was prophesying that he would not enter Eretz Yisroel. Why did Moshe mention this prophecy in middle of the Song? The answer to this question is that after describing the Jewish People as the nation that HaShem acquired, Moshe alluded to his own future, as he was required as a member of the tribe of Levi to set the standard for everyone else. By failing to adhere to this standard, Moshe was punished. Thus, in his blessing for the tribe of Levi, Moshe was praising the tribe for their steadfastness in fulfilling HaShem’s will. The subsequent verses testify to the tribe of Levi going beyond the call of duty by punishing the sinners who were involved in worshipping the Golden Calf. The passage further alludes to the battle that the Chashmonaim waged against the Greeks. Similarly, Dovid HaMelech in Tehillim depicts a nation that provoked HaShem at Mei merivah, and Moshe suffered on their account. The words ki himru es rucho, because they acted contrary to his spirit, is interpreted by some of the commentators (see Radak and Ibn Ezra Ibid) to be referring to Moshe. We can therefore suggest that the verse is alluding to the idea that the Jewish People caused Moshe to act contrary to his calling as a member of the tribe of Levi. This deviation resulted in Moshe being punished for his sin.

The praises of Levi allude to the higher standard

We can now understand the words of the Sifri mentioned earlier. The Sifri is not asking a rhetorical question. Rather, the Sifri is noting that Moshe sinned, and the Torah records his punishment. Regarding Aharon and Miriam, however, one would be led to think that their actions did not warrant a severe punishment of not being granted entry into Eretz Yisroel. The Torah therefore continues to describe the praise of the tribe of Levi, thus hinting to the idea that Aharon and Miriam, as members of that tribe, were also held to a higher standard.

 The Shabbos connection

The role of the tribe of Levi is to serve as spiritual guides for the Jewish People, and as the Rambam writes (end of laws of Shemitah and Yovel) every Jew is capable of aspiring to the level of the Levites. Throughout the week we may not be able to rise to these heights, as the burden of earning a livelihood weighs us down and we struggle to transcend the world of physicality. With the arrival of Shabbos, however, we are all given the opportunity to become connected to HaShem and His Torah. The word Levi means to become attached, and HaShem should allow us to attach ourselves to His Torah and to those who study it.

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.

חַזֵּק קִרְיָתִי, אֵ-ל אֱ-לֹהִים עֶלְיוֹן, strengthen my City, O exalted G-d. The City that is referred to here is Yerushalayim. Why are we asking HaShem to strengthen the City when for all practical purposes, the City lies in ruins, awaiting to be rebuilt with the Ultimate Redemption? The answer to this question is that it said (Yirmiah 49:25) אֵיךְ לֹא עֻזְּבָה עִיר (תהלה) תְּהִלָּת קִרְיַת מְשׂוֹשִׂי, how was the city of glory not spared, the city of my delight. The word עֻזְּבָה, while normally translated as forsaken, can also mean strengthened (see Rashi Devarim 32:36). Thus, we are beseeching HaShem here to strengthen the City that has been forsaken for so many centuries and rebuild it, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos Stories

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach the Husband

“Although it is customary to ask forgiveness from one who has died,” R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach said at his wife’s funeral, “I shall not do so. Throughout our entire marriage we never offended or hurt one another. We conducted our lives according to the Shulchan Aruch, and I have no reason to ask her forgiveness.”

The following is an example of R’ Auerbach’s exquisite sensitivity towards his wife combined with his exactitude in fulfilling the Shulchan Aruch. R’ Yitzchak Yeruchem Borodiansky told this story in one of the eulogies during the shivah week.

Once, R’ Shlomo Zalman’s sister came to his house to ask about a certain bachur who was suggested as prospective match for her daughter. When she first entered the house, there were a few people waiting to speak to R’ Shlomo Zalman. She waited until they left, and finally she was alone with R’ Shlomo Zalman and his Rebbitzen. She asked him about the bachur, and he answered, “He’s a fine boy.”

When R’ Shlomo Zalman’ sister was about to leave, he asked her if she was planning on visiting their sister in Sharei Chessed before she went home and she answered in the affirmative. Later, when she left the house of their sister, she found R’ Shlomo Zalman waiting outside. He approached her and said, |”Regarding the bachur, you should know that you should only ask about others in privacy.” “But who was there?” she said. “The Rebbitzen was there,” he said, “and she doesn’t need to hear lashon hara.” Then he told her, “Don’t follow through with this shidduch. He’s not for your daughter.”

R’ Shlomo Zalman felt responsible to convey the proper information to his sister, but he was so sensitive to his Rebbitzen’s feelings that he didn’t even want to ask her to leave the room. Instead, he used his precious time to meet his sister in another location, saving his wife from hearing lashon hara and from being insulted! (Source: The Man of Truth and Peace)

A Lawyer Meets His Match

A Rav in England had a friend who was a lawyer, and who knew very little about Yiddishkeit. Once, this lawyer approached the Rav with a very serious dilemma. He was currently defending a non-Jew who had become involved in criminal activities. This man was extremely cunning and deceitful, and the judge who saw right through his lies, decided to prosecute his lawyer as well, since he was a partner to the criminal’s deceit. It is common practice in England that the judges can implicate the lawyers, to ensure that they do not become tainted by their clients’ wrongdoings. This lawyer was in great danger of not only of losing his right to practice his profession, but of also of receiving a heavy punishment and fine. The lawyer was anguished and worried, and at a loss of what to do.

The Rav said to him, “Listen, my friend, the best advice I can give you is to do what all of Klal Yisrael does. Simply daven to the Ribbono shel Olam, and He’ll save you from this tzara.” The lawyer replied, “What! I should ask HaShem? It’s not possible, and I’ll tell you why. Once I already asked for help from Him, and I promised that I wouldn’t ask for anything else.”

The lawyer explained that few years prior, he traveled to Australia for work, and stayed there for six months. While in Australia, his only daughter, who was then seven years old, suddenly became critically ill. After many tests, it was determined that it was cancer, and she began treatment. Unfortunately, she did not respond well, and she grew sicker. One day, which happened to be Shabbos, the doctor told the lawyer that her situation is critical, and she has only a few hours to live.

The distraught father decided immediately to find a shul. Despite his ignorance of Yiddishkeit, he remembered that when he became Bar Mitzvah, his father took him to shul. He searched for a shul, and eventually found one, which was unlocked. It was the middle of the day, and the shul was empty. He burst out crying and continued crying without a stop for two hours. Amidst his tears he said, “HaShem, I need to ask You something, and I promise You that I’ll never ask for anything else. I ask of You that my beloved daughter remain alive.” Eventually, the lawyer felt a sense of relief, and returned to the hospital.

He was greeted at the hospital with miraculous news – his daughter had opened her eyes. She began improving little by little, and eventually fully recovered. In fact, her new X-rays showed no sign of a cancerous growth at all, and even the doctors admitted that it was a complete miracle.

The lawyer finished speaking, “So, didn’t you hear that I promised HaShem never to ask for anything else? How can I break my promise?”

The Rav said, “Your promise is not valid! HaShem is not a person. You can continue to request whatever you need from Him.”

The lawyer followed his advice, and was declared innocent. (Shaal Avicha Veyegadcha) (

 Shabbos in Halacha

Opening Food Packages

 II Practical Applications

As we mentioned previously, it is preferable that one opens all containers and packages prior to Shabbos. The following procedures should be followed in the event that one inadvertently did not open the container prior to Shabbos.

  1. Bottle Caps

 One is permitted to remove on Shabbos a bottle cap which lifts off or screws off without breaking. However, one is forbidden from opening a bottle cap that will break when unscrewed, as this violates the prohibition of מכה בפטיש, completing the formulation of a utensil. One who needs to open such a container should first puncture the cap (without cutting any printed words). One may then unscrew the punctured cap as it is no longer fit for use and cannot be deemed a ‘complete utensil.’

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Chukas 5776

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New Stories Chukas 5776

A Story Stressing the Reward for Meticulous Kashrus Observance

Rabbi Yissachar Frand writes: The pasuk at the conclusion of the section of forbidden foods listed at the end of the parsha says: “For I am Hashem Who brings you up from the land of Egypt to be a G-d unto you; you shall be holy for I am holy.” [Vayikra 11:45] Rashi cites the teaching of the House of Rav Yishmael that the pasuk means to say, had I not brought Israel out of Egypt for any reason other than that they do not make themselves impure through eating of the forbidden foods as do the other nations, it would have been sufficient cause for them to have been redeemed.

It is difficult to OVERSTATE the importance of the laws of Kashrus. It is likewise difficult to UNDERSTATE the great harm done to a Jewish soul by the consumption of forbidden foods. I once heard Rabbi Berel Wein quote a statistic published by the Jewish National Fund that today 80% of their money comes from only 10% of the Jewish population. Despite the fact that Jews have a reputation for being generous, that may have been the case 40, 50, 60, or 80 years ago. Today, the eating of pig, shellfish, crab, and improperly slaughtered meat that the Jewish people have been consuming over the past 50 years has taken a toll on the Jewish soul. The “Yiddishe neshama” is not what it used to be because of the corrosive effect of forbidden food entities.

That having been said, I read the following story that was written by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, a disciple of the Kesav Sofer. The Kesav Sofer, in turn, was the son of the Chasam Sofer who told this story in the name of his teacher, Rav Nosson Adler. The story took place in the late 1700s or the early 1800s.

There were two successful Jewish merchants who lived in Pressburg, the city of the Chasam Sofer. They had their own fleet of boats in which they used to travel the world in pursuit of their import/export business. These merchants were once arrested by Spanish authorities off the coast of Spain with their ship full of merchandise. At that particular point in time, piracy was rampant in the Mediterranean Sea and therefore smuggling and piracy was common. The Jews and their merchandise were detained because of the (false) suspicion that their goods were pirated or smuggled.

They were brought into the port of Barcelona to be held in custody while the investigation proceeded as to whether their cargo was legitimate. They were lucky, however, in that at that time, the Spanish Government had very good relations with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its Emperor, Franz-Yosef. Based on the good diplomatic relations, the Jews were not thrown into jail. They were treated very respectfully while they were being detained. They were assigned to two customs officials, who would take care of them while the investigation proceeded. Each was taken home by one of the customs officials to relax and be served lunch.

There was only one problem. Despite the fact that this story took place between two and three hundred years after the Inquisition, the Inquisition was still alive and well in Spain. Under terms of the Inquisition, any person in Spain suspected of being Jewish was given the choice of either converting to Catholicism or being burned in the town square. The merchants realized that if their Jewish identities would be revealed, they would face this horrible choice.

Therefore, the Jews disguised themselves so that they would look like Gentiles. As mentioned before, each merchant was assigned to a different customs agent. The customs agent had his servant serve them lunch – consisting of chicken and wine. The customs agent noticed that his guest turned white as a ghost. He then told his guest to follow him to the attic. When they got to the attic he told him, “I know that something is wrong. You turned white as a ghost when my servant brought you your food. You are Jewish, aren’t you?” Before the guest had a chance to answer, the customs agent told him, “So am I.” It just so happened that this customs agent was a descendant of the Marranos, who outwardly converted to avoid expulsion from Spain, but secretly tried to maintain their Jewish identity and Jewish traditions. To prove his point, he closed the door of the attic, pulled up a floor board and took out a shiny and sharp knife used in ritual slaughter (‘chalif’). He told his guest, “The chicken we are about to eat, I personally slaughtered it!” Kosher L’Mehadrin!

The Jewish merchant was flabbergasted at the personal Divine Providence (Hashgocha Pratis) that sent him specifically to this man’s house! He ate his meal, the investigation concluded that there was no problem with their merchandise, and both merchants were released. The Jew met up with his partner and asked him about his experiences. The second Jew was very distraught. He admitted that he had to eat non-Kosher meat to preserve his appearance as a non-Jew. He had ruled for himself that this was a matter of life and death and in such situations one is not required to be a martyr to eat only kosher food. The first Jew told his friend, “The same thing happened to me, but I had the unbelievable fortune of being hosted by a secret Jew who was a Shochet, and I was able to eat kosher.”

The man who had to eat the non-Kosher meat was beside himself when he heard this story. “What was my sin, what was my iniquity that caused G-d to lead my partner to a secret observant Jew and I was forced to eat nevilah?” When he got back to Pressburg, he went to his holy Rebbi, the Chasam Sofer and told him the story. “What”, he asked his teacher, “did I do wrong in my life that I was put into a situation that I had to eat non-Kosher?”

The Chasam Sofer responded, “I have a tradition from my teacher, the holy Gaon Rav Nosson Adler, that any person who never put anything in his mouth that had the slightest question of being forbidden, the Almighty guarantees that this person will never come into a situation which would force him to eat something that is prohibited. If you are so careful that you never ever put anything questionable into your mouth the ‘measure for measure’ reward is that the Almighty will see to it that you in fact never have to eat anything prohibited.”

The Chasam Sofer concluded, “It must be that some time in your past, you must have eaten something forbidden or something about which there was at least a doubt that it might be forbidden.” The merchant responded, “Rebbi, it cannot be. It is not true!” The Chasam Sofer insisted: “Think hard.” Finally, the merchant admitted: “There was one incident. When I was first married, my wife made chicken for us. She brought me the chicken after she got it from the slaughterer and showed me a ‘shaylah’

she had about the chicken. I was a young newlywed. I was ashamed to tell my wife that I did not know and she should ask the Rabbi. I did have Semicha. I learned the laws of Shechita and of Tereifos. I looked at the chicken. I saw the shaylah. I said ‘kosher.’”

Being a newlywed, his wife did not trust him. She took the chicken to a Rav. She told the Rav, “My husband has Semicha, he learned the laws of Tereifa, and he says the chicken is Kosher. Is he right about that?” The Rav looked at the chicken and it was not such a simple question, but he did not want to second guess the newlywed husband so he said, “Okay, your husband says it is kosher, you can rely on his opinion.” The merchant told the Chasam Sofer, “I ate that chicken.”

The Chasam Sofer exclaimed, “That is it! You put in your mouth something that had a possibility of being prohibited. That is why you forfeited the guarantee mentioned by Rav Noson Adler. The other merchant must have never put anything with a doubt of prohibition in his mouth. He had the guarantee from the Almighty that he would be protected from ever eating non-kosher food.”

I tell this story in the context of the entire shiur we said earlier this evening (regarding the question of “bugs” in the water supply in New York City). It is not for us to decide whether the water is Kosher or Treife. There are already great poskim who have expressed their opinions on the matter. But this is just an example of how careful we must be regarding putting something non-kosher into our mouths. Meticulous care in this matter yields fulfillment of the promise of the Almighty that we will never come to put something forbidden into our mouths. (

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