Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Re’eh 5776

Re’eh 5776

New Stories Re’eh 5776

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Re’eh 5776

The Need to be Vigilant Throughout the Month of Elul


The month of Elul is approaching. What is required of us in this month of awe? The Medrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer §46) states that on the first Rosh Chodesh Elul that the Jewish People were in the Wilderness, Moshe blew a Shofar, signifying to the Jewish People that they should be on guard when Moshe ascended upon high. This sounding of the Shofar would ensure that they would not succumb to the temptation of sinning through idolatry as they had a mere few months earlier. This Medrash reflects on the essence of Teshuva, repentance. The Jewish People had committed a grievous sin by worshipping the Golden Calf. Moshe entreated HaShem that He should not destroy the Jewish People and that He should grant them forgiveness. Yet, prior to ascending to Heaven to receive the second Luchos, Moshe still felt it necessary to warn the Jewish People not to sin again. Was Moshe really concerned that after experiencing severe repercussions upon worshipping the Golden Calf, the Jewish People would actually have the audacity to commit the same sin again?

Constant state of repentance

The answer to this question is that although there may not have been a serious concern that the Jewish People would sin again, Moshe sought to demonstrate to the Jewish people that one must always be cognizant of the possible temptations to sin. Teshuva is not merely a once a year obligation. Rather, one must constantly aware that the temptation to sin lurks just around the corner. In a similar vein, it is well known that Rabbeinu Saadia Gaon said that he felt the need to repent daily for his lack of recognition on the previous day of HaShem’s greatness. This form of repentance is also an indication of vigilance, in that one does not rest on his laurels. Rather, he constantly seeks to improve his relationship with HaShem.

The sounding of the Shofar reminds us to be vigilant

The sounding of the Shofar, in addition to arousing us to repentance, is also a signal of vigilance. It is said (Amos 3:6) im yitaka shofar bair viam lo yecheradu, is the shofar ever sounded in a city and the people not tremble? This refers to the initial arousal that one experiences with the sounding of the shofar. Yet, there is another dimension to the sounding of the shofar, and that is the cognizance of being vigilant from the attack of the Evil Inclination. It is said (Bamidbar 10:9) vichi savou milchama biartzichem al hatzar hatzoreir eschem vahareiosem bachatzotzros, when you go to wage war in your Land against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets. In the simple sense, the purpose of these trumpet blasts is to arouse the nation to battle against their enemies. On a deeper level, however, the Torah is teaching us that when one is vulnerable to the enemy, he must be vigilant so that the enemy cannot attack. Perhaps this is why the Torah states al hatzar hatzoreir eschem, against an enemy who oppresses you. It would have been sufficient to state against your enemy, as it is obvious that the enemy oppresses. The reason that the Torah states that the enemy “oppresses” alludes to the Evil Inclination, who is constantly seeking ways to destroy his opponent. When one is vigilant, he will not allow his Evil Inclination to gain a foothold in his territory. Evidence to this idea can be found in the words of the Lev Simcha (Ki Savo) who writes that when the Torah instructs a person regarding building a fence around his roof, it is said (Devarim 22:8) ki sivneh bayis chadash viasisa maakeh ligagecho, if you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof. The words a new house allude to Rosh HaShanah and the words you shall make a fence allude to the month of Elul. Thus, we see that the month of Elul is a time for one to be extra vigilant so that he does not become tempted by sin.

 The Shabbos connection

HaShem, in His infinite kindness, granted His beloved children one day a week, and that is the Holy Shabbos, when we do not have to be concerned for the overtures of the Evil Inclination. On Shabbos we are engaged in spiritual pursuits, and sin should be the last thing that is on the mind of a Jew. HaShem should allow us to enter into the month of Elul with recognition of the seriousness and awe that these days entail, and we should merit repenting completely before HaShem, Who desires our repentance.

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.

דְּרוֹךְ פּוּרָה בְּתוֹךְ בָּצְרָה. וְגַם בָּבֶל אֲשֶׁר גָּבְרָה, tread the press in Bozrah, and also Babylon which overpowered. Why do we focus so much in our literature on the destruction of the nations? Is it not more important to focus on our strengths and triumphs than on the harm that nations of yore sought to inflict on us and on the retribution HaShem will mete out to the nations? The answer to this question is that in the Hagadah Shel Pesach we commence our narrative with how we suffered at the hands of our oppressors, Lavan and Pharaoh in Egypt. This is deemed to be the denigration of the Jewish People, and we conclude with praising HaShem for all that miracles that he wrought for us. We can only appreciate HaShem’s kindness by first mentioning the suffering that we have endured from the nations of the world. When we witness their punishment, we can truly praise HaShem for all the kindness that He has performed for us.

Shabbos Stories

Washing His Hands Saved His Life

Another mosquito to swat at! Would he have any ears left a month from now? Wondered Robert Burns. He never had enjoyed hot weather, even in Bayside, New York. And, he had to admit, his hometown couldn’t compete in this league. In all his young years he had never felt sweat and humidity like what he was currently feeling. From where he was squatting he was able to see only the thicket of trees and a glimpse of the sky. The clouds were sweeping in front of the full moon, temporarily blocking its beams. It didn’t matter; Viet Nam’s jungle wasn’t much to look at anyway, and you couldn’t spot the enemy by day or night until they opened fire. The real question just now was, should he do the traditional Jewish hand-washing or not? There was a stream about 800 feet away; he could get water there. Then again, the Vietcong weren’t far away either. Crawling even that far could cost him his life. As Robert weighed the options, he swatted another mosquito from his ear and wondered how he had ended up in such a bizarre situation. Until shortly before being drafted he had heard neither of Viet Nam nor of “netilat yadayim,” the traditional Jewish hand-washing. He thought back to Bayside and childhood. He had attended public school, and three times a week went for “Hebrew instruction.” The main purpose was simply to learn enough Hebrew to read his “half-Torah,” which he eventually learned from a venerable and rather friendly tape recorder… Graduation from Hebrew School followed his Bar Mitzvah and marked his abandonment of what little Judaism he had ever known. He never set foot in a synagogue again until his grandfather passed away. Then his father, by no means a religious man, suddenly started going to minyan every day. When Robby questioned his father about his sudden resurgence of interest in religion, his father replied, “I’m saying Kaddish for my father. His soul won’t get rest unless I say Kaddish every day for him.” Robert figured that his father would abandon this ritual after a week or two. To his astonishment he was mistaken. His father took the responsibility quite seriously, and made sure to go to synagogue every day, even if it conflicted with a football game on TV. A few times Robert accompanied his father; he sometimes slept late, and he was impressed that his father took on such consistency for 11 months.

In the fall of 1965 Robert left for college in Oneonta, New York. The student protests against American involvement in Viet Nam drew little interest from him. The summer following his graduation Robert was hit with another misfortune: his father’s sudden heart attack. Robert rushed from his job in the rope factory to the hospital. He could barely recognize his father with the tubes and wires all around him — he felt as though he was gazing at an octopus ensnared in a fisherman’s net. Looking down at his father, Robert knew the condition was serious. Resolutely he took a seat at his father’s right. “Dad. I’m here. Can you hear me?” Mustering the little strength left in his body, Mr. Burns responded in barely audible tones, “Bobby. Thank G-d you’re here.” The strain of talking seemed too much for him. Yet like so many times before, he persevered: “I want you to make one promise to me. You’re my only son. Say Kaddish for me if I don’t make it this time.” Through his tears, Robert said he hoped the occasion wouldn’t arise for many years to come. But he knew he could not refuse the request, and finally choked out, “I promise.” His father seemed suddenly at peace, and closed his eyes in easy sleep. Robert sat at his father’s bedside for about half an hour, watching the heartbeat on the monitors. The nurse entered: “I’m sorry, but visitor’s hours are over now.” Robert left Pine Meadow Hospital and returned to the rope factory. Unfortunately, his Kaddish duty took effect only a few days later. Robert felt the loss, and also remembered the promise he had made. Just as his father had, following the seven-day mourning period (shiva) he went to synagogue to say Kaddish. He found that the only synagogue in his neighborhood which had daily services was the local Orthodox synagogue, Ahavas Torah.

Robert’s Hebrew was like the buried vessels of the Holy Temple: existing somewhere, but not visible. Rabbi Jacobs immediately took a liking to the young man who struggled so hard with his Kaddish, and seemed so intent on keeping his father’s last wishes. During services the young man seemed lost, only catching himself when it came time for Kaddish. He even needed signals from Rabbi Jacobs to know when to start; the rabbi willingly gave them. “I hope it all went smoothly today,” said the rabbi. He was in his early forties, with streaks of gray in his light brown beard, which reached below his neck collar. It occurred to Robert that he didn’t even know what the Kaddish meant. Looking his elder companion in the eye, he asked what would be the first of many inquiries. “Can I ask you something?” “Certainly,” replied the Rabbi. “What does this prayer mean? I mean, why do we say anything for the dead?” “You asked a very good question. Kaddish represents your commitment to Judaism. By saying the Kaddish you connect with the Jewish people, and announce publicly your commitment to keep the 613 mitzvot. For the recently departed there can be no greater merit in Heaven.” “613 mitzvot? I didn’t know they had a number. Uh, I also didn’t realize there are so many.” “There are many more than just 613, the number only represents the main ones. You know, we could talk more later. Why don’t you come to the class that I’m giving tonight in Chumash?” “Chumash? What’s that?” asked Robert. “Bible.” Robert froze. He was starting to get interested, but that term, “Bible,” brought images to his mind of a televangelist begging his audience to send him money and repent their sins, in that order. He shrugged his shoulders, and mumbled “I’ll try to make it.”

Tuesday night came and went, but Robert never showed up for the class. Eventually Robert got to know Rabbi Jacobs well enough to know that he wasn’t a fanatic. It helped him get over his apprehension to discover that the term “Bible” is hardly ever used among Jews. He first attended a few of the rabbi’s classes, then began accepting Shabbat invitations. This was the year Uncle Sam began drafting by birth date, and Robert’s date, May 7th, was number 35. The top 196 birth dates meant almost guaranteed conscription. The expected notice arrived shortly thereafter, ordering him to report for a physical. Far from wanting to flee the inevitable, Robert was proud to serve the USA. He felt that the country could use a dose of patriotism. Shortly following his 11 months of Kaddish, Robert knocked on Rabbi Jacobs’ door. “Rabbi, I just came to say goodbye. It looks like they’ll be shipping me to South Carolina soon for basic training. It’s going to be real hard for me to keep any of the 613 mitzvot. So tell me, Rabbi — pick one for me. Which one of the mitzvot should I keep no matter what?” The rabbi thought for a while. Who could answer such a question? Too difficult an assignment would end in failure. Shabbat? Kashrut? Tefillin? Robert clearly wasn’t ready to tackle these. Suddenly the Rabbi’s face lit up. “Robert, I have just the right one. Make sure you do “netilat yadayim,” the traditional hand-washing every time you eat bread — even if you don’t say the blessings over the food, even if you don’t say the Grace after Meals, and even if the bread is not kosher.” “Netilat yadayim?” “Yes. It’s a mitzvah that won’t put undue pressure on you, since nobody will think twice about your washing your hands before eating. Keep that one mitzvah as well as you can, and remember, any mitzvah will protect you even in the direst circumstances. Best of luck to you, and write me when you get the chance.”

During basic training, and even when he was shipped out to the base in Viet Nam, Robert had little difficulty in performing this mitzvah. Nobody noticed anything strange about his desire to wash his hands before eating bread. But finally, about six months after being stationed in the jungles of Southeast Asia, the first real difficulty developed. The platoon was sent for a late-night raid on the fringes of the enemy lines. It wasn’t long before the shooting began, and it soon developed into a full-scale battle. A few of his comrades had dropped and the remainder of the unit was trapped behind enemy lines. After a few hours’ lapse in the fighting, some of the soldiers recalled their hunger. In fact, they hadn’t eaten for the major part of the day. They began to take out their combat rations of oranges, sardines, and bread. Robby was about to join a few of his colleagues when he remembered “netilat yadayim.” He quickly and quietly broke from the camp, his destination a small stream he had seen about 800 feet away. It didn’t matter that this excursion was insanely dangerous; no argument could convince Robert to abandon it. He had promised the rabbi, and it was in memory of his father, too. That was that. He slipped, silent and alone, toward the stream. Traversing the ground like a snake slithering through the forest, Robert quickly reached his destination. He poured water over his hands, delighted that even in this combat situation he was able to keep his mitzvah.

It was just after he finished pouring the cup of water over his other hand when he heard the gunfire. Rapid-fire machine guns, piercing the stillness of the jungle in a long barrage of thunderous noise. For what seemed to him hours, Robert remained hidden in the grass, long after the last sounds of the bullets had faded. Mustering up his strength, he slowly slithered back to his unit to find not one of them alive.

Shabbos in Halacha

הכנה – Preparing for a Weekday

One is prohibited on Shabbos to engage in any post-Shabbos preparation. This prohibition, referred to as הכנה, preparing, was instituted by the sages because it is a זלזול בכבוד השבת, a disparagement to the honor of Shabbos – to utilize this Holy Day in preparation for a weekday. Thus, one cannot perform in preparation for Mo’tzai Shabbos even seemingly ordinary activities that do not involve melacha and are perfectly permissible when performed for the purpose of Shabbos.Mot

As an example, one is prohibited on Shabbos from preparing foods or setting the table for a Melave Malka. Similarly, when Yom Tov falls on Mo’tzai Shabbos, one is prohibited from preparing for the evening Seudah until Shabbos ends.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Re’eh 5776

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New Stories Re’eh 5776

Adapted from a lecture by Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski.

And you shall remember the entire way on which the Lord, your God, led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live. (Devarim 8:2-3)

These pessukim elicit a very deep-seated question, that of human suffering. Hashem afflicted us and let us go hungry. Hunger is a very painful experience. To say the least, it is not pleasant. It is agony. Why does Hashem inflict pain and suffering? Is that the only way for Him to achieve whatever plan He has in store for us?

I have to admit; this question is unanswerable. There are many wonderful Sefarim written giving many interesting discussions, and all sorts of logical sounding answers. But I’m not satisfied with them. So ultimately the question remains unanswered.

However, we should not leave this in question form. We should not ask, why. We don’t ask why because there is no answer.

During the lifetime of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, there were no new anti-Semitic government decrees. But after his passing, these decrees renewed. One of the talmidim thought, “The Talmud says that tzaddikim in their passing are even greater and more powerful than in their lifetimes. So if the Rebbe could avert these horrible decrees in his lifetime, why isn’t he doing so now? He is so much closer to Hashem in Heaven. Then the Maggid appeared to him in a dream. “When I was alive and I saw one of these decrees approaching, and I saw how bad it would be, I prayed to Hashem to avert it. But from my vantage point up here, I can now see the ultimate good that is going to come out of this. And seeing the ultimate good that is going to come out of it, I have no right; I do not have the power to annul it. But you my dear talmid, you live in the earthly world. You see it as bad. You pray to Hashem to annul it. I cannot do it.”

So there is a perspective of truth where it is so far beyond our means to understand so that even the most painful things somehow serve a purpose, a purpose that is not for us to understand.

There was a great tzaddik Rav Shimon of Yaruslov, who lived to a ripe old age into his 90’s. And he told his disciples, “You know why I have lived so long? There are people that when bad things happen they ask Hashem, ‘Why did You allow this to happen?’ Hashem answers them, ‘You want to know the answer why? Come up here and I’ll tell you.” Reb Shimon said, “I’ve never asked why, so they don’t call me up there to tell me.”

I want to share a little story with you. Like any normal human being, I have good days, and I have lousy days. One summer day I was standing in front of my home in Pittsburgh watering the lawn, and it turned out that it was a very lousy day. I was in a bad, bad mood. Then a car drove by and two men jumped out. It turned out they were former patients of mine who had graduated treatment (for alcoholism). So they jumped out of the car and ran over to me and shouted, “Hey. How yeh doin’ Doc?”

I said to them, “You know, under normal circumstances one would answer such a question politely with, ‘I’m fine!’ But I’ve made it my principle that I do not lie to people on the Recovery Program. I expect them to be honest with me, so I don’t lie to them. You asked me how I feel. Lousy. It’s a bad day.”

“Oh. Oh. Doc, you should come to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting.” I said, “No thank you.”

8 PM that evening the doorbell rings and these 2 jokers are there. “We’re here to take you to a meeting Doc.”

I didn’t want to turn them down, so I went to the meeting with them. Still feeling very depressed.

In my mazal it happened to be a Gratitude meeting. At an AA Gratitude Meeting everyone gets up and says, “I’ve been sober for 6 years, and my life has been so much better etc. etc. And everything is so great.” So one person after another gets up to give his shpiel why he’s so happy how their lives turned out. This was not what I needed to hear.

Finally, the last guy gets up and he says, “I’ve been sober for 4 years. And I wish I could tell you that they’ve been good. But my company downsized and I lost my job and I couldn’t find another one. I fell behind on my mortgage payments, so they foreclosed on my house. And my wife divorced me and she took the custody of the kids. And last week the finance company repossessed my car. But I can’t believe that G-d brought me all this way, only to walk out on me now.” And then I knew why I was at that meeting. That’s why I was here.

The next Shabbos as I was reciting Nishmas I read, You redeemed us from Egypt, O Lord our G-d, and You released us from the house of bondage; during famine You fed us, and You sustained us in plenty; from the sword You rescued us, from pestilence You saved us, and from sore and lasting diseases You delivered us. Until now Your tender mercies have helped us, and Your loving kindnesses have not left us: You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever.

I had been saying that prayer for over 55 years and I never heard that before. I never had understood what I was saying. You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever. G-d brought me all this way, He will not walk out on me now.

We say in Shemone Esrei, ועל נסיך שבכל יום עמנו. We thank G-d for the miracles that He does for us every day. What miracles? I don’t have Manna falling down from Heaven every day. I don’t see the lakes and oceans splitting every day. I don’t see the Clouds of Glory around me every day. I don’t see any miracles. But that’s because we don’t appreciate the miracles we have. As the Talmud states, the beneficiary of a miracle does not realize that he is experiencing a miracle.

We get up in the morning and we say the brachos. We say them, but I don’t know if we think them.

“We thank you Hashem for giving sight to the blind.” Can anyone tell me why protoplasm should have vision? What gives us the power to see? Protoplasm can’t see. Protoplasm can’t speak. Protoplasm can’t hear. If only I would realize the myriad of miracles that are taking place every day, which means that G d is sustaining me every moment.

And if G-d has sustained me all this time with so many miracles, He’s not going to walk out on me now!

That was a very powerful lesson that I had. I get powerful lessons by going to AA meetings.

One time I was stuck in Manhattan. I don’t like getting stuck in Manhattan. I think Manhattan was a mistake. But it was one of those days that things were not going well for me. I just felt terrible. Then I thought, maybe if I went to an AA meeting I’d get a little lift. So I called the central office, and I found out that this was lunch time and there were 3 meetings within 3 blocks of where I was in Manhattan scheduled for lunch time. So I walked into one of the meetings.

A young woman was speaking and I’ve heard that story a hundred thousand times. When she was young she started using alcohol, then she started with marijuana and other drugs, and her lifestyle deteriorated, etc. etc. And she fell into terrible ways. And then when she was 26 or 27 years old somebody brought her into the recovery program. And now she’s sober and things are good and getting better.

That story didn’t do anything for me, I’ve heard that a thousand times.

Then she said, “Before I leave, I have to tell you one more thing. I’m a football fan. And the NY Jets, that’s my team. I will never miss a NY Jets football game. Well, one weekend I had to be out of town, but I didn’t want to miss the game. So I asked my girlfriend to record the game on her VCR. When I came back I went to pick up the tape. As she handed me the VCR she told me, ‘Oh. By the way. The Jets won.’

“OK. So I got home and I put in the tape and started watching, and OY! The Jets are getting mauled! They’re playing horrible. By half time they’re 20 points behind. Under other circumstances I would have been a nervous wreck. I would have been pacing the floor, I would have been hitting the fridge. This time I sat there perfectly calm. I knew they were going to win.”

She said, “Ever since I came into this program, and I turned over my life to the will of G-d, I know it’s going to turn out alright. Sometimes I’m 20 points behind at half time. But I know it’s going to turn out alright.”

This is a lesson that applies to all of us. How many times are we stuck in a situation where nothing seems to be going well. It is then that we should apply that rule. If we turn our lives over to G-d. we know that it’s going to turn out alright. I’m in good hands. He’s not going to walk out on me now. Somehow or other. How? I don’t know. I don’t understand. But somehow or other, the end is going to be good.

And so when things happen that are unpleasant, when adversity happens, the bracha that is made is to praise G-d for being a true judge. We don’t agree with His judgment. But we understand that His judgment is true.

Moshe Rabbeinu davened fervently 515 consecutive prayers to be allowed to go into the Land if Yisroel. That was his one lifetime wish and Hashem refused it to him. And Moshe in his last words said הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט. “He is the rock, whose work is perfect, all of His ways are justice.” There is no way that we can understand His justice. And this is where emunah comes in: in something that we cannot understand. And it gives us the strength to know that because G-d has kept us alive until this day, and He is responsible for our being here, then He is not going to walk out on us now. וְאַל תִּטְּשֵׁנוּ י-ְה-ֹו-ָה א-לֹהֵינוּ לָנֶצַח. He is with us in our moments of anguish. He is not going to walk out on us now. (

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