Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

New Stories Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

Only HaShem can Truly Comfort us


This week is referred to as Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of Consolation. One must wonder where the consolation is. We just finished mourning the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and our long and bitter exile, and now we are accepting consolation? How can we understand this apparent paradox? Let us take a closer look at destruction and exile and then we can begin to better understand comfort and consolation. When one witnesses destruction and devastation, what is the initial reaction? Certainly one feels that if he has reached this point, there is no hope left for him. Yet, it is obvious that such thinking is not rational, because if something was truly destroyed, there would really be no point in mourning its loss. We are accustomed to mourning and grieving as if there is no return, but those who acknowledge the truth of this transient world know that nothing is ever really lost, and one cannot mourn something forever. One is commanded to mourn and grieve over the loss of a loved one, but as the Ramban writes in Toras HaAdam, we all know that it has been decreed that every man who enters this world must die. This being the case, why do we cry when someone passes away? The Ramban offers us a brilliant insight into the purpose of creation. If Adam HaRishon, the first man, had not sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad, he would have lived for eternity. Once HaShem decreed that man had to die, we cry for the lost potential of every person.

Only HaShem can Truly Comfort us

Let us apply this idea to the mourning that we experience for the Bais HaMikdash and the exile. When we sit down on the floor on Tisha Ba’Av and mourn for our loss, we are in essence mourning for the lost potential of the Jewish People. We lament the fact that we cannot experience closeness to HaShem, offer sacrifices to Him, and be in a constant state of awareness that HaShem controls everything in the world. How can we be consoled in this state of mourning? We must draw a parallel to the person who is in mourning for a loved one. The one closest to him has just passed on and immediately people come and console him. Do we deem this sort of consolation to be odd? We know that not only is this behavior acceptable, it is actually required by the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish Code of Law. Similarly, after lamenting our current state of affairs in the exile, we are required to be comforted. Who, however, can comfort us? Scripture itself provides the answer to this question. It is said (Eicha 2:13) mah aideich mah adameh loch habas Yerushalayim mah ashveh loch vanachmeich besulas bas Tziyon ki gadol kayam shivreich mi yirpah loch, with what shall I bear witness for you? To what can I compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what can I liken you that I may comfort you, O maiden daughter of Zion? Your ruin is as vast as the sea. The Medrash (Eicha Rabbah 2:17) states: The One Who will in the future heal the ruin of the sea will heal you. Thus, the words “who can heal you?” refers to Hashem. The Only One Who can truly offer us consolation is HaShem.

The Shabbos Connection

In Bircas HaMazon on Shabbos we recite the words uvirtzoncha haniach lanu HaShem Elokeinu shelo sihay tzarah yagon vanacha beyom menuchaseinu, may it be Your will, HaShem, our G-d, that there be no distress, grief, or lament on this day of our contentment. One may wonder how it is possible that there should not be distress and grief on Shabbos if we are still in exile and we still mourn the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash. The answer to this question can be found in the next passage, where we recite the words vihareinu HaShem Elokeinu binechemas Tziyon irecho uvivinyan Yerushalayim ir kadshecho ki atah baal hayeshuos uvaal hanechamos, and show us, HaShem, our G-d, the consolation of Zion, Your city, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, City of Your holiness, for You are the Master of salvations and Master of consolations. Thus, we see that HaShem is the Only One Who can truly console us, and this fact warrants our request that we not experience any distress or grief on the Holy Shabbos. With this thought in mind we can better understand why we refer to this Shabbos as Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of Consolation, because Shabbos is beyond exile and destruction, and in the merit of Shabbos observance we will witness the Ultimate Redemption, speedily, in our days.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Dror Yikra

The composer was Dunash ben Librat, the famed medieval grammarian and paytan who lived from 4680-4750 (920990 C.E.). He was born in Baghdad and, except for twenty years in Fez, lived there his entire life. He was a nephew and disciple of Rabbeinu Saadiah Gaon and was acquainted with many of the Sages of his time. Rashi and Ibn Ezra quote him extensively. His name appears four times as the acrostic of the stiches in stanzas 1,2,3, and 6. This zemer is a prayer to HaShem to protect the Jewish People, destroy its tormentors, and bring the Nation peace and redemption.

דְּרוֹשׁ נָוִי וְאוּלַמִּי. וְאוֹת יֶשַׁע עֲשֵׂה עִמִּי, seek my Temple and my hall, and show me a sign of salvation. This passage appears to be puzzling. Is it not the other way around, that we beseech HaShem for a sign of salvation which will culminate in the rebuilding of the Bais HaMikdash? The answer to this question is that here we are focusing on the goal, which is that we have the Bais HaMikdash which is a site of דרישה, seeking out HaShem, as it is said (Devarim 12:5) לְשִׁכְנוֹ תִדְרְשׁוּ וּבָאתָ שָּׁמָּה, there shall you seek out His presence and come there. For this reason, we first request that HaShem seek out the Bais HaMikdash, and in that manner we will witness our salvation through prayer and the offering of sacrifices.

Shabbos Stories

Studying Torah and reviewing one’s studies

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman writes: In his preface to Peas Shulchan, R’ Yisrael Shklover writes of his master and teacher, the Gaon of Vilna, “He reviewed all of Talmud Bavli every month. His toil in the study of the holy Torah defies description. He would review each chapter and masechta (tractate) hundreds, and even thousands of times. Out of immense love for the holy Torah, he once spent a long winter night reviewing over and over a single Mishna in Seder Taharos.” (Quoted in For Love of Torah p. 76)

Sefer Toldos HaAdam (by R’ Yechezkel Feivel of Vilna, Dyhrenfurth 1801) writes: R’ Leib, son of R’ Ber of Vilna, related to me: Once his father R’ Ber watched as the tzaddik R’ Zalman (of Volozhin, brother of R’ Chaim) paced back and forth in a room, as was his way, studying and reviewing a Torah thought with wondrous desire and powerful love, in a clear sweet voice that was music to one’s ear. The soul of the listener was aroused to love of Hashem and a desire for wisdom and spiritual guidance. He reviewed the thought once, twice, three times, fifty times, one hundred times… until one lost count! All this was with a joyous heart and boundless love, which mere words cannot describe.

R’ Ber observed in silent wonder. In his heart, he thought, “Torah, Torah, how great is the love in ‘’ Zalman’s heart for you! It is a consuming fire!” He then grabbed hold of R’ Zalman and said, “My brother, whose soul and flesh is part of me, by the love that exists between us, I demand you tell me how many times you reviewed this matter!”

When R’ Zalman saw the way that R’ Ber was imploring him to reveal the absolute truth, he told him, “In truth, I have reviewed the matter two-hundred and fifty times.” [Ibid]

It was not a light matter, as far as R’ Zalman was concerned, to review his studies four or five hundred times. He would remind himself of Chazal’s allegory (Eiruvin 54b), “Just as a hunter who captures birds, if he breaks their wings [so that they will not fly away], then they are secure with him. If not, they will fly away from him… [so too a student must review his studies as soon as he learns them, or else he will forget them].” He used to say that this allegory can arouse one’s soul from its laziness in reviewing one’s studies. [Ibid]

Sefer Menuchah U-Kedushah writes: “I have heard that the Gaon of Vilna would submit a prospective disciple to the following test (to determine if his soul had been sufficiently purified to taste the sweetness of the Torah): He would instruct him to review a given matter many times. If the more he reviewed, the more its love grew in his heart, inspiring him to continue to review without interruption – with this he found favor in the Gaon’s eyes to be accepted as his disciple.” [Ibid]

This Friday is the fifteenth of Av. Chazal say (Taanis 31a), “From now on (from the 15th of Av through the winter) he who increases (his hours of Torah study as the nights grow longer) adds (days to his life). But he who does not increase (the hours of his Torah study) decreases (the days of his life).” As our hours for Torah study increase, we must be sure to set aside ample time for proper chazarah/review.

Meriting giving charity

Rabbi Hoffman writes further: The holy Rebbe, R’ Zisha of Anipoli zt”l would, as a young man, study Torah for hours and days on end without ever breaking for a meal. Only when he felt so weakened by his fasting that he could no longer learn, would he allow himself to ask one of the local baalei batim to be so gracious as to give him a meal. At some stage, R’ Zisha came to feel that asking someone for a meal was in some small way a breech in his faith, and that if he truly believed Hashem takes care of all his needs, then Hashem knows when he needs to eat, and could take care of him without his needing to ask for it. He decided that he would no longer ask anyone for a meal, but would rely that when the need arose, someone surely would offer him on their own accord. For a time this is exactly what transpired: Whenever R’ Zisha felt extreme pangs of hunger, someone would inevitably offer him a meal.

After a few months, however, a problem arose. There was no one around that in the Almighty’s eyes deserved to perform such a holy and exceptional mitzvah as to sustain the very life of a great and holy tzaddik! You don’t just give away such mitzvos for nothing. Lacking the right “agent,” Hashem implanted two spigots within the tzaddik’s mouth; from one he would suckle milk, and from the other honey. Thus he was sustained for three full months, until someone (evidently a very worthy individual) came up to him, threw him a few coins, and said, “Zisha, take these – you look like you need a good meal!” This unbelievable story was related by R’ Zisha himself to R’ Avraham Mordechai of Pintshov zt”l, and recorded by his son-in-law R’ Yitzchak Isaac of Kamarna zt”l in his Heichal Beracha.

Equally fascinating is the lesson R’ Yitzchak Isaac derives from the story. Imagine, he says, that given the choice, Hashem would “rather” perform an extraordinary miracle, than to allow someone the merit of performing an exceptional mitzvah he doesn’t deserve! Although there were many Jews through whom the Almighty could easily have sustained R’ Zisha, He chose to take care of the matters Himself, until such a time as someone truly worthy of this great mitzvah arose.

Having made this point, R’ Yitzchak Isaac beseeches the wealthy and magnanimous Jews of his time to realize that simply having money – and even giving generously to charity – is not enough. He encourages them to “get up early in the mornings, say Tehillim, examine their deeds, and implore the Almighty” to lead them on a path of charity and righteousness, that they may indeed merit giving generously and wholeheartedly, and that their money finds its way to worthy and virtuous recipients. (

Shabbos in Halacha

קושר ומתיר, – Tying and Untying Knots

 Tying and untying knots are forbidden under the Avos Melachos of קושר, tying, and מתיר, untying. The halachos of tying and untying involve many details, including what is deemed a knot and differences between permanent and temporary knots. Such a discussion is beyond the scope of this work; we will merely point out several common applications of these prohibitions in the modern kitchen.

Tying Knots

When one stores food in a plastic bag or when filling a garbage bag, one is forbidden to gather the top of the bag and tie it onto itself in a single knot. One is permitted to gather two parts of a bag and tie them to each other in a single knot, but not in a double knot. One is also forbidden to tie something with a single knot that has a bow on top. [Although one is permitted to tie shoes with a single knot and bow, one is prohibited from tying bags in such a manner. One is allowed to use a plastic twist-tie on Shabbos to securely close a bag.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

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New Stories Vaeschanan-Nachamu 5776

God Winking

Showing up to the imperfect unpredictable mess of life.

by Ilana Rubenstein

There’s a saying “Man plans and God laughs”. I don’t agree. I think it’s more “Man plans and God winks,” only sometimes the wink feels a bit more like an eye twitch. The way your lid flutters when you’re overtired. So it makes it a little harder to see the wink. I had one of those moments last week.

It really started months ago when we began to plan our annual family trip to the cottage. And by family I mean me and my daughter, who would be visiting my sisters, brother-in-law and nieces. As a shared custody co-parent, my planning is a bit on steroids. The timing needs to fit with many people’s needs, wants and agreements. And not only that, there’s a lot of pressure to “make it count”. One of the ways I’ve been able to swallow the (unexpected) reality of days on and days off, is vowing to “make every moment count”. If there were going to be times I wasn’t going to be there, then I wasn’t going to miss a second when I could be present. There was even a day I turned to God and said, “Okay, mission accepted: no parenting opportunity will be missed on my watch”.

Right. So, like, no pressure.

So the summer vacation stakes were high. As in, this was going to be the cottage week of the summer. Pinterest would be put to shame with the crafting we had in store. Menus were mapped out. If planning is the way we try to guarantee success, I was on my A-game. You can see where this is going.

The morning of our departure my daughter complained of a “slightly sore throat”. No big deal. This is the stuff of almost every other week over the past 10 years of her life. It’s rarely strep. Besides, we had a plan. I checked out walk-in clinics in the cottage area (parental due diligence done) and set out with a car packed to the roof.

Here comes the wink. Picture it, the first night, 2 AM: “Mommy, I don’t feel well, my head hurts.”

I limp half asleep to find the Tylenol. No fever. Just in pain. “Mommy, I can’t sleep.”

It was the truth. She couldn’t and didn’t. Therefore, neither did I. And so cottage dreams and perfectly-planned moments instantly dissolve. To every “Mommy” uttered, an internal dialogue went something like this: “Really? Now? Of all weeks? All days? Come on!”

The next few days were spent shuttling between the beach, the pharmacy and confirming that it was viral. No quick fix. We’ve all heard the “plenty of rest and fluids” prescription (aka “Mom, you’ve just got to ride this out with your kid”). Sigh.  So the only thing for me to do was be there. Show up.

This wasn’t about me deciding how to make the most of the moment. It was about the moment making the most of me.

In all the chaos of cottage plans gone south, the only plans we had consisted of my daughter’s basic fluid-rest-and-get-to-bed-needs for the next couple of hours. All the energy we expend to “make it count” is never really the job. This wasn’t about me deciding how to make the most of the moment. It was about the moment making the most of me. It is no small privilege to be present. We spend so much time worrying–thinking–analyzing our kids, our parenting, that we forget to simply be. Sometimes it’s not about saying the right thing or finding the proper approach, it’s simply about being the one who is there.

I’m not backing down from my “make-it-count-commitment”. Somewhere between giving birth and signing that separation agreement, I made that promise. But maybe part of it is also to let go so we can simply be. With ourselves. With our kids. With God. The endless stream of shoulds and coulds, the tally of plans and try-to-get-it-right agendas can be blinding. When we are busy remembering the “10 tips” of the day, it’s hard to see the winks. When we try so hard to get it right, we get one thing wrong: it’s not about getting it right. Or planning. It’s about showing up with all the imperfect unpredictable mess of life.

And that includes missed moments, unexpected sore throats, and certainly hard-to-swallow life events. This is not unique to shared-custody parenting. We all have realities we try to manage; challenges we attempt to contain. And, yet, when we plan, well, things rarely go as we expect. And if we are willing to show up, we will see God winking. (

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