Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Balak 5776

Balak 5776

New Stories Balak 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Balak 5776

Integral to Creation


In this week’s parashah the Torah records the dialogue that the donkey had with Balaam. It is noteworthy that the Mishna in Avos (5:8) states: asarah devarim nivriu bierev Shabbos bain hashemashos vieilu hein pi haaretz upi habieir pi haason vihakeshes vihaman vihamateh vihashamir hakesav vihamichtav vihaluchos viyeish omrim af hamazikin ukivuraso shel Moshe vieilo shel Avraham Avinu viyeish omrim af tzevas bitzevas asuyah, ten things were created on Shabbos eve, at twilight. They are: The mouth of the earth; the mouth of the well; the mouth of the donkey; the rainbow [which was Noach’s sign that there would be no future floods] the manna; the staff, the shamir worm; the script, the inscription; and the Tablets. Some say also destructive spirits, Moshe’s grave, and the ram of our forefather Avraham. And some say also tongs, which are made with tongs.

Creations Erev Shabbos are associated with Shabbos

One must wonder why these items were specifically created immediately prior to the onset of Shabbos. Perhaps we can suggest that these items are associated with Shabbos in some manner. The mouth of the earth was created to swallow up Korach and his assembly. The Zohar (Korach) states that Korach disputed the concept of Shabbos, so it is fitting that the mouth of the earth be created immediately prior to the onset of Shabbos to swallow up Korach and his assembly in the future. Regarding the mouth of the well, it is noteworthy that the Rema writes (Orach Chaim 299:10) that one should drink water from a well on Motzai Shabbos as the well of Miriam circles on Motzai Shabbos and all the water that is in wells is healed at that time. The mouth of the donkey, as we all know, functioned as a vehicle for putting Balaam in his place. The Halacha (see Mishna Berurah Orach Chaim 307:5) is that one should minimize his speech on Shabbos, so the mouth of the donkey teaches us that one should only speak what is necessary. The rainbow symbolized that HaShem would not destroy the world.

The manna, the staff, the shamir worm, the script, the inscription, and the Tablets are associated with Shabbos

In the prayer of Kegavna recited by those who pray Nusach Sefard, we recite that with the onset of Shabbos, all harsh judgments are removed from her. The manna is clearly associated with Shabbos, as it is said (Bereishis 2:3) Vayivarech Elokim es yom hashevii vayikadeish oso, Hashem blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:2) states that HaShem blessed the seventh day by providing a double portion of manna on Friday, and HaShem sanctified the seventh day by not allowing manna to fall on Shabbos. The staff, which belonged to Moshe, reflected the supremacy of Moshe and his prophecy. The Gemara (Shabbos 88a) states that the Jewish People forfeited the crowns that they received when they accepted the Torah. The Zohar states that Moshe returns the crowns to the Jewish People on Shabbos. The shamir worm was used to hew the stone for the construction of the Bais HaMikdash, as the Torah forbids the use of sword or iron to be used in the construction of the Bais HaMikdash. The reason for this prohibition (see Rashi Shemos 20:22) is because the Bais HaMikdash and the Mizbeiach are symbols of peace and it is improper to use weapons that symbolize war and strife. Similarly, Shabbos is referred to as shalom, peace. The script refers to the form of the Hebrew alphabet and the inscription and the Tablets refer to the inscription on the Luchos, the tablets which had the Ten Commandments inscribed upon them.

Destructive spirits, Moshe’s grave, the ram of our forefather Avraham, and tongs which are made with tongs, are associated with Shabbos

In the Shabbos Shacharis prayers we recite the words yismach Moshe bematnas chelko ki eved neeman karasa lo kelil tiferes birosho nasata lo biamado lifanecho al har Sinai ushnei luchos avanim horid beyado vichasuv bahem shemiras Shabbos vichein kasuv bisorasecho, Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion: that You called him a faithful servant. A crown of splendor You placed on his head when he stood before You on Mount Sinai. He brought down two stone tablets in his hand, on which is inscribed the observance of the Shabbos. So it is written in Your Torah… Destructive spirits alludes to the idea mentioned previously, that with the onset of Shabbos all harsh judgments depart from her. Moshe’s grave alludes to the idea that Moshe passed away on Shabbos (see Tur Orach Chaim 292 and commentators ad loc). The ram of our forefather Avraham alludes to the devotion that Avraham displayed for HaShem, as he was ready to slaughter his only son for the sake of HaShem’s will. This is akin to the statement of the Gemara (Yoma 28b) that Avraham fulfilled the entire Torah before it was given to the Jewish People at Sinai. Regarding tongs which are made with tongs, perhaps we can suggest that this alludes to the idea that everything in creation has a counterpart. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:8) states that every day had a mate except for Shabbos and HaShem told Shabbos that the Jewish People will be its mate.

The Shabbos Connection

HaShem should allow us to merit preparing for Shabbos properly and deriving benefit from all of the wonders that He created for us.

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.

וְהָשֵׁב אֶת נְוָתִי, בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְהִגָּיוֹן, and replace my Temple with gladness and words of song. Even in exile, Jews celebrate weddings and other events and people are constantly smiling and laughing. Nonetheless, the true joy and happiness will only come when HaShem restores the Bais HaMikdash and we once again merit the Kohanim and Leviim performing the service.

Shabbos Stories

I don’t know why I’m crying

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: On one of the final days of the Six Day War the Israeli troops pierced through enemy fortifications and forged their way through the ancient passageways of Jerusalem. As if Divine gravitational force was pulling them, one group of soldiers dodged the Jordanian bullets and proceeded until there was no reason to continue. They had reached the Kotel HaMaravi, the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism, the site of both the First and Second Temples. The young men, some of whom had yeshiva education, others who came from traditional backgrounds, stood in awe and began to cry in unison. The Kotel had been liberated! One young soldier, who grew up on a totally secular kibbutz in the northern portion of the state gazed at the sight of his comrades crying like children as they stared up at the ancient stones. Suddenly, he too began to wail. One of the religious soldiers, who had engaged in countless debates with him, put his arm around him and asked, “I don’t understand. To us the Kotel means so much. It is our link with the Temple and the holy service. This is the most moving experience of our lives. But why are you crying?” The young soldier looked at his friend, and amidst the tears simply stated, “I am crying because I am not crying.”

I’m “the animals’ butcher”

Rabbi Kamenetzky writes further: A pious and very talented Jewish scholar was placed on trial in a small Polish town outside of Lvov. The charges, brought by a local miscreant, were based on some trumped-up complaint. The young scholar was beloved to his townsfolk as he served in the capacity of the town’s shochet (ritual slaughterer), chazzan (cantor), and cheder rebbe. Thus, many people in town were worried as he appeared before a notoriously anti-Semitic judge. As he presented the charges, the judge mockingly referred to him as Mr. Butcher. In fact, all through the preliminary portion of the kangaroo court, the judge kept referring to the beloved teacher and cantor as a butcher, meat vendor or slaughterer. Finally, the young scholar asked permission to speak. “Your honor,” he began, “before I begin my defense, I’d like to clarify one point. I serve in many capacities in this shtetl. The people at the synagogue know me as the cantor. The children at the school and all of their parents know me as the teacher. It is only the animals that know me as the butcher!”

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. Cardboard Boxes

 One who opens sealed boxes violates the prohibitions of קורע, tearing, and עשיית פתח, forming an opening. One is allowed to tear or cut open the box (without tearing any printed words or pictures) only in a manner which damages the package.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Balak 5776

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New Stories Balak 5776

Elie Wiesel and the Radicalization of a Hassidic Girl

Elie Wiesel took me to Auschwitz and in a certain way, I never came back.

by Yitta Halberstam

If my mother (daughter of the revered Pittsburgher Rebbe) hadn’t made her way to the back of a bus in Florida in 1946 and defiantly plunked herself down in the “colored section” causing a brouhaha of epic proportions; and if my father (great-grandson of the holy Sanzer Rebbe) hadn’t stolen across Europe during the War and boarded a rickety vessel to Palestine, where, immediately upon disembarking he had sought out the nearest Irgun enclave and signed up as a member; if my parents hadn’t been such dissonant outliers to begin with (but still clinging to the Hassidic dress of their forebears), well maybe then I could blame my complete radicalization upon Elie Wiesel.

But the truth is, long before I even knew his name, there were seeds.

Before I read Elie Wiesel at the age of 15 – first “Jews of Silence” and then “Night,” – I was largely unaware of the tremendous suffering of our people. It was still a time when people could not or would not speak. Despite my father’s heart-rending screams during his frequent nightmares, by day a thick silence reigned in our home. “Night” was the first book to actually transport me to Auschwitz, where invisible numbers were tattooed on my arm and permanent scars were branded into my essence in a way that no prior book had ever achieved. When I would close the covers of the other books that I read about the Holocaust, I quickly – and safely – returned to Brooklyn. But Elie Wiesel took me to Auschwitz and left me there, a permanent prisoner of the “kingdom of the night.” In a certain way, I never came back.

Three million Jews were being held captive in the Soviet Union, stripped of all religious rights. Why was no one doing anything about it?

“Jews of Silence” stunned me with its revelations. There were three million Jews held captive in the Soviet Union – stripped of all religious rights? How could it be? How was it possible that no one was doing anything about it? When I asked my principal if I could start a Soviet Jewry club in our high school, he waved me away with a dismissive gesture. “Let the adults take care of this,” he replied. “What could you possibly achieve?”

I may very well have remained a typical, mainstream hassidic girl were it not for this principal’s cavalier response and the searing message of “Night”: that of the trinity that comprised the Holocaust construct – the victim, the victimizer, and the silent spectator – it was the apathetic onlooker who was the most contemptible of all. Silence and indifference as a response to any atrocity was a heinous sin – a message that galvanized my two friends and me to hop a subway to Manhattan and, with beating hearts, wend our way to the offices of The SSSJ (Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry). There, the specter of three long-skirted Bais Yaakov girls was an incongruous sight to be sure (the movement largely attracted more “modern orthodox” types, as well as secular idealists) but we were warmly welcomed.

For us, joining SSSJ was a momentous act; we had stood at a crossroads trembling and taken the path less traveled by (at least for girls of our background). Few of our cohorts in Boro Park participated in demonstrations then; silent diplomacy was considered the better course. But after reading Wiesel, we could not be silent. That would put us in the league of those who had watched babies being torn from their mother’s arms and said nothing; those who witnessed their Jewish neighbors being herded into cattle cars and said nothing; those who observed Jews being beaten, mauled by dogs, shot in cold blood and said nothing. We did not want Elie Wiesel’s blistering indictment, or God’s, or our own.

While my classmates dedicated themselves to visiting the sick, tutoring the disabled, grocery shopping for inbound seniors and myriad other philanthropic acts (no one performs as much chesed – acts of kindness – as ultra-Orthodox Jews), I continued my involvement with Soviet Jewry (never once speaking to the boys as that was strictly forbidden, and continuing to be adhere to halacha stringently).

I became labeled “an activist” (not a compliment). But my parents supported me completely and were proud.

I did not keep my views to myself and soon I became labeled “an activist” (not a compliment). My parents, however, supported me completely, and were proud. I participated in myriad Soviet Jewry rallies which at that time drew throngs, and later on I enlisted in the JDL in its early halcyon years before it turned aggressive. One night, I joined 800 others in sitting down in front of the Soviet Mission (considered a legal offense) and was carted away by a paddy wagon to a police station where I was photographed and fingerprinted (I was 19). When I called my father and told him that I had been arrested, he paused for a heartbeat and then said, “Did they give you something to eat at least?”

The next day, the judge offered to rip up the records of those under 21, if we promised never to participate in these types of protests again. Seven hundred eighty kids stepped forward and made their vows. I was one of 20 who said, “No, we could not promise that.” I guess we had all read Elie Wiesel.

Now that I am a doddering grandmother, I look back upon those years of activism with only pride, no regrets. And being a true wimp at heart, I know that much of my uncharacteristic bold determination to speak up for oppressed Jews and other minorities was galvanized by the power of Elie Wiesel’s unforgettable words. The flame he ignited within me was for many decades strong and resolute; now age has made it more feeble and at the last anti-CNN rally I attended I actually had to bring along a beach chair (I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand so long). The fact that my fire burned for so long was due to the tremendous influence he wielded upon me.

Reading Elie Wiesel made me more religious than ever before. I felt a deep sense of responsibility to the millions who had evaporated into smoke to continue their legacy. How could I allow their apocalyptic suffering to be in vain? Resurrecting the Jewish sparks was the only sane response to the insanity that had robbed us of them. The more I read Elie Wiesel, the deeper I wished to go with my Judaism.

When Rebbetzin Sara Freifeld told me that I was accepted to her seminary in Far Rockaway, I felt I had to come clean to this pure, noble woman. “Rebbetzin Freifeld, maybe you won’t want to accept me once you hear my background?”

“Yes?” she said with a bright smile that never wavered.

“I was a member of the SSSJ and participated in rallies.”

“Yes?” she continued to smile encouragingly, as if I had performed an inconsequential act, when both of us knew how anomalous it was.

“I also joined the JDL in its early years, and was arrested for sitting down in front of the Soviet Mission.” I lowered my head, waiting for the ax to fall.

Instead she stepped forward and gave me a huge embrace. “What a zechut (merit),” she said, “to have such an Ohev Yisroel (lover of Jews) in my class! Please start tomorrow.”

“I must have been allowed to survive for some reason,” Elie Wiesel often told reporters. “What I must do is witness and speak out like no one spoke for us.”

Thank you for giving me the strength to fight my own apathy and for giving me the impetus to leave my comfort zone.

Mr. Wiesel, you were a veritable Jewish Atlas, constantly blowing the shofar for peace and justice, champion of Jewish and non-Jewish causes alike, ever vigilant in heeding the call of the suffering and still, the gentlest of warriors. How deeply you cared, and how much moral weight you carried! There must have been times when you felt so irrevocably alone, but know that some of us were swept up in your tidal wave and you carried us along with you. You endowed an entire generation with the gift of their own authentic voice in the aftermath of an era when no voices were raised. But let me not speak for others, let me speak for myself: I thank you for giving me the strength to fight my own apathy and for giving me the impetus to leave my comfort zone while holding onto my yiddishkeit. You changed my world, as you most assuredly did for countless others.

Mr. Wiesel, I know that there were many lessons you taught your readers, and the urgent need to stand up and speak out was only one them. But for me, this was the quintessence of what I came away with from your books: Own your voice, and never be afraid. (

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