Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pinchas 5776

Pinchas 5776

New Stories Pinchas 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Pinchas 5776

A Glimpse of Redemption


(This was written in 5768.) The period referred to as Bain Hametzarim, the Three Weeks, is almost upon us, and it is worth our while to reflect on our current situation. This week we heard about the Israeli and terrorist group prisoner swap, where the Israelis received the bodies of two soldiers who were killed al Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying G-d’s Name, while the terrorists received in exchange live murderers with Jewish blood on their hands. Although I normally refrain from using current events and politics as a springboard for insights in the weekly Torah portion, it is noteworthy what the terrorist declared when he reached his safe haven in Lebanon. According to news reports, the terrorist announced, “I return today from Palestine, but believe me, I return to Lebanon only in order to return to Palestine.”

Returning to Eretz Yisroel

Leaving aside the intent of this murderer’s words, let us focus on how this statement can be applied to us. We have been in exile for almost two thousand years. Every day in our prayers we declare that we wish to return to Eretz Yisroel. What does it mean to return to Eretz Yisroel? Are we saying that we wish to live a life completely according to the Torah, or are we merely engaging in some form of nostalgia? Every individual must decide for themselves what returning to Eretz Yisroel means, but there is one thing that we can all agree upon. The idea that we are all still in exile is a fact that no one can dispute. The Gemara (Kesubos 111a) states that the Jewish People are cautioned from ascending to Eretz Yisroel in a forceful manner. Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon every Jew to anticipate the arrival of Moshiach and yearn for the day when we will all return to the Land that HaShem promised to our forefathers. Thus, we should also declare, “we have left Eretz Yisroel to reside in the exile, against our will, but believe me, I am only in the exile in order to return to Eretz Yisroel.”

The Mitzvah of Seeking out the Bais HaMikdash

The Ramban (Parashas Korach) is of the opinion that there is a biblical commandment to seek out the construction of the Bais HaMikdash. Are we seeking to reach the point where we can be confident that the Bais HaMikdash will be rebuilt? Fortunately, we have an opportunity every week to tastes a semblance of the redemption and this occurs on the Holy Day of Shabbos.

The Messianic Era is to Study Torah

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 12:4) writes that the sages and the prophets did not desire the Messianic Era for the purpose of dominating the nations of the world or for the purpose of eating and drinking and being merry. Rather, they desired the Messianic Era so that we should be free from oppression and thus we will be able to study HaShem’s Torah and thereby merit a portion in the World to Come.

The Shabbos Connection

Shabbos is a day when we rest from our labor and toil of the week and we have the opportunity to engage in praying to HaShem and studying His Holy Torah. The Gemara (Shabbos 118b) states that were the Jewish People to observe two Shabbosos properly, they would be redeemed immediately. We have the opportunity, this Shabbos, to observe the Shabbos as an entire nation. If we will all observe the Shabbos properly, we will not need the reminder of the Three Weeks and Tisha Baav to remind us that we are still in exile, longing to return to Eretz Yisroel. May we see today the fulfillment of the verse that states (Yeshaya 52:8) kol tzofayich nasu kol yachdav yiraneinu ki ayin biayin yiru bishuv HaShem Tziyon, the voice of your lookouts, they raise their voice, they sing glad song in unison; with their own eyes they will see that HaShem returns to Tziyon.

 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.

יְשׁוֹרְרוּ שָׁם רְנָנַי, לְוִיַּי וְכֹהֲנַי, וְאָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל י-ְה-ֹוָ-ה, there my singers will exult, my Levites and Priests, and then you shall take pleasure with HaShem. The Sages constantly exhort us to refrain from construction of the Bais HaMikdash on Shabbos. We learn from this that the holiness of the Bais HaMikdash is akin to the holiness of Shabbos. Perhaps this is the message of this passage, that when the Bais HaMikdash is rebuilt, there we will take pleasure with HaShem, similar to what it said regarding Shabbos (Yeshaya 58:14) אָז תִּתְעַנַּג עַל יְ-ה-ו-ָה, then you will delight in HaShem.

Shabbos Stories

The Heilege Rebbe, The Rebbe Reb Meilech from Lizhensk

The Sabba Kaddisha of Radoshitz, in his sefer, Niflaos (vol. 1, pp. 21– 22), recorded an amazing story about the formulation of this “Prayer before Praying.” The story goes like this: When he was a child, the Sabba Kaddisha was once visiting Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. He was conversing with chassidim from the Rebbe’s inner circle in front of the Rebbe’s home when several extremely tall men came and hurried into the house. When they reached the doorway, they had to stoop down to enter since they were so unusually tall.

The holy Rebbe closed the door behind them before the chassidim could catch a glimpse of their faces. They waited outside until the visitors left to see if they could recognize them. Again the chassidim were astonished when the men left. They did so in such a hurry that they could not make out the men’s features and just saw their backs; they left so fast they almost vanished. The chassidim realized that something unusual had just taken place, and they decided to investigate and find out what had occurred. The elder chassidim among them approached the Rebbe and asked him to explain the strange incident.

This is what the Rebbe told them: “When I realized that most people cannot concentrate properly on their prayers anymore due to the awesome burdens of earning a livelihood, and they lack the time and the understanding to concentrate fully, I decided to rewrite the standard formula for the prayers. I would write a new, short and concise version that would be equally understood and grasped by everyone. The holy Members of the Great Assembly, the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah (the original authors of the standard prayers from the time of the Talmud), realized what I intended. They came here to ask me not to change even one prayer from their established formula. I took their counsel and discussed the matter with them. They advised me to establish a prayer to pray before the formal prayer service. This would help anyone who lacks the concentration and proper devotions that are necessary for all formal prayers.” This “prayer before prayers” is the Yehi Ratzon prayer printed in many siddurim in the name of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. [Reprinted from a Free Download from the book “Mipeninei Noam Elimelech” translated and compiled by Tal Moshe Zwecker by permission from Targum Press, Inc.]

There is a story told of the Rebbe’s brother the Rebbe Reb Zisha of Hanipoli. After Rebbe Elimelech passed away he was approached by his brother’s students to be their new leader. Rabbi Zisha declined and explained his reason with a parable. “The possuk in Bereishis 2:10 states “And a river went forth from Eden to water the garden and from there it split into four paths.” The Torah is eternal and alludes to all events above and below for all generations. Eden alludes to our holy master the Baal Shem Tov. The river was his student the holy Mezritcher Maggid. The garden refers to my brother the Rebbe Elimelech. This then is the meaning: a river flows from Eden to water the garden, the Torah flows as water from the Baal Shem Tov by way of the Mezritcher Maggid to the Rebbe Elimelech. From there it separates into four paths: they are 1. The Holy Rebbe the Chozeh or Seer of Lublin. 2. The Holy Rebbe Avodas Yisrael the Koznitzer Maggid. 3. The Holy Rebbe Mendel Rimanover and 4. The Holy Ohev Yisrael the Apta Rav. You need no Rebbe other than them.”

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. Paper and Plastic Bags

 Bags also fall under the prohibitions of tearing and forming an opening, and one may only tear bags in a destructive manner (without tearing any words or pictures.)

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Pinchas 5776

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New Stories Pinchas 5776

The Nazi Doctor Who Saved a Jewish G.I.

Robert Levine was captured by the Nazis. As his life hung in balance, his dog tags revealed that he was Jewish.

by Menucha Chana Levin

Approximately 500,000 Jews served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II. Jewish G.I.s constantly faced the specter of anti-Semitism in the army and they were forced to consider how open they should be about their religion. They had deep emotions about facing an enemy who was methodically capturing and murdering Jews. Jewish G.I.s feared the consequences if caught by the Nazis. Their last name, physical appearance, or the “H” (for Hebrew) on their dog tags could mean being shipped to a concentration camp.

Robert Levine, aged 19, from Bronx, NY, was one of the young Jewish American soldiers who landed in England prior to the Allies’ D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Together with his crew he arrived on the French coast behind the 90th Infantry.

Levine’s first assignment, after stepping off the boat at Utah Beach, was to carry 81mm mortar shells forward to positions shelling the Germans to force a retreat from Hill 122, a German defensive position near the landing zone.

After a fierce battle, the Americans succeeded in forcing the Germans off the hill, but getting back down the other side was a problem.

“The Germans retreated, but they set up traps,” explained Levine. “We got caught at the bottom of the hill, where the Germans were waiting for us. Suddenly a grenade came over and caught me in my leg, above the knee. And I looked up and I saw this German paratrooper. He looked about 10 feet tall, and pointed his submachine gun at me. The kid next to me got up and took off, and the German wheeled around and shot him. I put up my hands and surrendered.”

Levine found himself a Nazi prisoner of war.

Marching with a dozen other American prisoners under the control of German forces, they raised clouds of dust, a target for incoming mortar shells from the American 90th Infantry Division. Ironically these were the same type of shells Levine had carried from Utah Beach. Suddenly one of these ‘friendly fire’ shells exploded. The soldier beside Levine, who absorbed most of the blast’s deadly force, died instantly.

“A guy named Mike and me – we both went flying. My leg was really damaged, and Mike was killed. To this day, I believe he took the bullet for me, he died so I could live,” Levine maintains. Of the dozen American POWs captured that day, he was the only survivor.

With his leg injured far more seriously this time, Levine’s chances of survival appeared precarious at best. His salvation was to come in the unlikely guise of a dark-haired German doctor named Dr. Edgar Woll.

Levine recalled finding himself on the ‘operating table’ in a German field hospital – the kitchen table in a French farmhouse. The military doctor looked at him and told him in accented English, “For you, the war is over.” Then the doctor noticed his dog tags and asked in German, “What is ‘H’?”

The H for ‘Hebrew’ identified me as Jewish. I had just turned 19 and I thought that was the end.

At that time all GIs wore stamped metal tags on chains around their necks, containing identifying information including their religion: C for Catholic, P for Protestant or H for Hebrew.

“I knew the H for ‘Hebrew’ identified me as Jewish,” Levine said. “I had just turned 19, and I thought that was the end for me. I said to myself – and I can still hear myself saying it – ‘There goes my 20th birthday.’ I really did not think I would make it.”

Levine was probably too petrified to say anything at that point. He thought his life was over. The doctor must have suspected what the H stood for.

Yet on that summer day in July, 1944, Levine awoke from the operation. He discovered that although his leg was gone, he was still alive. Emerging from the anesthesia, his relief at being alive was greater than the loss of his lower right leg.

Dr. Woll’s surgery saved the Jewish soldier’s life. The compassionate doctor also removed Levine’s incriminating dog tags, insuring his Nazi captors would not kill the young GI because he was a Jew.

“He took the dog tags knowing full well that I would have got in trouble somewhere down the line,” recounted Levine. “I believe he saved me.”

Inside his shirt pocket he found a note written by Dr. Woll in German on the reverse side of a Nazi propaganda card with quotations from Adolf Hitler. Though Levine could not read a word of German, he kept the card for months. Then he was rescued by Allied troops and a ship took him home to the United States. When Levine had the note translated, he discovered why the doctor had chosen amputation, including details of the post-surgical treatment: “Crushed right foot. Fracture of lower leg. Foreign body in upper right leg’s tissue. Opening of the ankle joint. Amputation at place of fracture. Bandage with sulfa. Vaccinated against gas gangrene.”

The removal of his dog tags likely saved Levine from being sent to an infamous camp for Jewish POWs where 350 American soldiers were worked to death.

The removal of his dog tags likely saved Levine from being sent to an infamous camp for Jewish POWs where 350 American soldiers were worked to death. Levine’s wife Edith believes her husband would have died if not for Dr. Woll’s exceptional act of kindness towards an injured enemy soldier.

Upon his return home, Levine became a businessman and owned several fast-food restaurants. He led a full life as a husband, father and grandfather. Yet he could not forget the sympathetic German doctor who had inexplicably saved his life, though he never had the chance to thank him or see him again.

It took Robert Levin nearly 40 years to track down Doctor Woll but the mystery started to unravel during an emotional visit back to Normandy Beach in 1981. There, through a network of connections implemented by the curator of the Utah Beach Museum, Levine was able to meet Dr. Woll’s family in Saarbrucken, Germany.

Although Dr. Woll had died of cancer in 1954, his widow and their three children were deeply moved that the veteran, after all these years, was willing to travel to Germany to acknowledge the doctor’s humane treatment.

“The family wanted to meet this American Jewish soldier. It was an amazing connection,” said Levine.

Bob and Edith Levine, who have two daughters of their own, spent the weekend with the doctor’s family. They presented Mrs. Woll with her late husband’s old handwritten note.

There was a Saturday night party, with a few drinks and a few toasts. One of the German guests raised a glass and turned to Levine. “Bob,” he declared, “without you, we’d all be saying Heil Hitler. You lost your leg, others lost their lives, but now we can say what we think.”

The Levines returned the hospitality. When the Wolls’ granddaughter attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, she stayed at the home of the New Jersey couple.

A second Woll granddaughter was a frequent dinner guest while her husband studied for a law degree at NYU.

The Levines received a family portrait from the Wolls when the doctor’s wife turned 100. The Woll great-granddaughters went home with souvenir T-shirts after a recent U.S. visit.

“They became our extended family,” Levine said. “It’s special. How many guys came out of the war with this kind of connection?”

At a time of unspeakable brutality, the life of one young Jewish soldier had been saved by one Nazi doctor with a compassionate heart. (

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