Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

Humility for a Good Judgement


This week is Parashas Nitzavim, which will be followed this coming week by Rosh HaShanah. The general approach to Rosh HaShanah is that it is a day of judgment, when HaShem judges the whole world and decides what will be the outcome for the coming year. It is difficult, however, for a person to feel like he is being judged when he cannot see the Judge and is uncertain of what actions he performed in the past that require judgment. When one commits a felony, he is aware of his crime and he usually has an idea of what is in store for him regarding his punishment. Regarding the Heavenly judgment, however, one has performed so many actions in the past that it is virtually impossible to recall what he did right and what he did wrong. Furthermore, it is impossible for a human to grasp the depth of the Heavenly judgment, as it is said (Tehillim 36:7) mishpatecha tihom rabbah, Your judgments are like the vast deep waters. Additionally, the main theme of the day on Rosh HaShanah is prayer, as we declare HaShem’s kingship and pray for our materialistic needs. How do we reconcile the idea that on the one hand, we are standing in judgment, and on the other hand, we are given the opportunity to pray for our lives and our sustenance?

Rosh HaShanah is Truly the “Head” of the Year

In order to gain insight into the essence of Rosh HaShanah, it is worth examining a Gemara that sheds light on this matter. The Gemara (Rosh HaShanah 16b) states: Rabbi Yitzchak said: a year that is impoverished in the beginning will be wealthy at the end, as it is said (Devarim 11:12) mereishis hashanah, from the beginning of the year. The word mereishis is written without an aleph, thus the root word is from the word rash, meaning poor. It is said further in that verse viad acaharis, and until the end, and this denotes that there is an end. Rashi and Tosfos explain that the Gemara means to say that when the Jewish People make themselves like poor people on Rosh HaShanah, supplicating before HaShem, HaShem has compassion on them and favors them. One must wonder, however, why the Gemara deemed it necessary to quote a verse that appears to be unrelated to Rosh HaShanah, and derive this idea from the fact that the word for beginning is spelled without the letter aleph. I would like to suggest a novel approach to explain this Gemara. We refer to the upcoming holiday as Rosh HaShanah, which is literally translated as the head of the year. I once heard someone explain that the reason why this day is referred to as the “head” of the year is because the head is the most important organ of the body. Similarly, our future is dependent on Rosh HaShanah. What are we supposed to be thinking about on this most significant day? We are required to declare HaShem as king, and we accomplish this by blowing the shofar. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:4) writes that although the mitzvah of shofar is mandated by the Torah, there is also a rationale to blowing the shofar. The sound of the shofar is meant to arouse us from our slumber and to exhort us to repent from our evil ways. Thus, on Rosh HaShanah, we are required to take a second look at ourselves and see how we fit into HaShem’s Master Plan.

Kingship is Aligned with Humility

In order for one to offer himself an objective perspective of his alignment with HaShem’s will, it would be prudent for one to become as close as possible to HaShem. How does one become close to HaShem? Scripture offers us the answer to this dilemma. It is said (Yeshaya 57:15) ki choh amar ram vinisa shimo marom vikadosh eshkon vies daka ushfal ruach lihachayos ruach shefalim ulihachayos leiv nidkaim, for thus said the exalted and uplifted One, Who abides forever and Whose Name is holy: I abide in exaltedness and holiness, but I am with the despondent and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the despondent. The Gemara (Sota 5a) offers a homiletic interpretation to the words es daka. One opinion maintains that the words can be read iti daka, with Me is the humble one, which Rashi explains to mean that HaShem is declaring, “I elevate the humble one until he resides with Me.” The second opinion maintains that the words can be interpreted to mean ani es daka, that HaShem, so to speak, lowers His Presence to the one who is humble. According to both opinions, however, one who is humble is deemed to be with HaShem. Armed with this perspective, we can gain a better understanding into this Day of Judgment. On Rosh HaShanah one must demonstrate true humility. A true king is not one who lords it over his subjects. Rather, the real king is one who acts with humility. HaShem Himself is humble, as depicted in the verse in Yeshaya and in numerous statements in the Gemara and Medrash. HaShem desires that we emulate His ways, and when we act in a humble fashion, then we can be close to HaShem. With this premise we can better understand the verse that states (Tehillim 36:7) tzidkasecho kiharirei kel mishpatecha tihom rabbah adam uviheimah toshia HaShem, Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the deep vast waters; You save both man and beast, O HaShem. The Gemara (Chulin 5b; see Rashi Ibid Tehillim) explains that the verse refers to those who are cunning in knowledge, and yet they still humble themselves like an animal. Perhaps it is for this reason that Scripture juxtaposes the idea of judgment to the idea of humility. If one wishes to gain a glimpse into the ways of HaShem’s judgment, one must humble himself, and then he will be with HaShem. This, then, is the meaning of the Gemara that states that a year that is impoverished in the beginning will be wealthy at the end. When one humbles himself on Rosh HaShanah, he will be with HaShem and one who is with HaShem is guaranteed wealth, as it is said (Mishlei 10:22) bircas HaShem hi taashir, it is the blessing of HaShem that enriches. We can now also understand why the Gemara in Rosh HaShanah cited the verse that states ((Devarim 11:12) eretz asher HaShem Elokecha doreish osah tamid einei HaShem Elokecha bah mereishis hashanah viad acaharis hashanah, a Land that HaShem, your G-d, seeks out; the eyes of HaShem, your G-d, are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to year’s end. The Sefarim write that the word eretz, translated as land, can also be interpreted as ratzon, which means will. Thus, we can suggest that the verse is alluding to the idea that we mentioned that HaShem seeks out the one who is humble, i.e., the one who is performing His will. Thus, on Rosh HaShanah, HaShem seeks out those who humble themselves before Him with prayer and repentance, and those people will be guaranteed a wealthy year.

The Shabbos Connection

It is noteworthy that the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 11:1) interprets the verse of bircas HaShem hi taashir to be referring to Shabbos. On Shabbos we rejoice in HaShem’s kingship, and the method of recognizing HaShem as our king is by humbling ourselves before Him. HaShem should allow us to merit this great sense of humility, and then He will shine His glory upon us, and the whole world will know of HaShem’s existence. The entire Jewish People should merit a Ksiva Vachasima Tova and the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkienu, 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.

הֲדוֹךְ קָמַי אֵל חַי קַנָּא. בְּמוֹג לֵבָב וּבִמְגִנָּה, crush my foes, O jealous G-d, with melting heart and grief. It is noteworthy that the word קָמַי, my foes, equals in gematria the word קַנָּא, jealous, as this alludes to the idea that HaShem is “jealous” because our enemies spurn His will. Furthermore, the words בְּמוֹג לֵבָב וּבִמְגִנָּה, with melting heart and grief, equal in gematria the miluy (letters spelled out) of the name המן (ה”א מ”ם נו”ן), archenemy of the Jewish People, alluding to the idea that all our enemies should suffer a downfall similar to Haman.

 Shabbos Stories

We’ve Been Through It All

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: After World War II, the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rabbi Yukisiel Halberstam, of blessed memory, a survivor of the concentration camps held a minyan in the Beth Moses Hospital in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Parshas Ki Savo arrived and with it, the section known as the tochacha (admonishment), which is filled with foreboding warnings of doom and destruction, lest the Jewish nation stray from the will of G-d. The verses warn of unimaginable horrors: exile, starvation, rape, robbery, and torture – to name just a few. The custom of Jews world-over is to read the verses of tochacha quietly, so as not to rile up enemies, celestial and otherwise, who may think those calamities a good idea to cast upon the Jewish Nation. It was the portion of Ki Savo, and the Klausenberger Rebbe and his minyan of ravaged survivors were about to read the tochacha and re-live horrors of their recent history through the words of the ancient prophecies. The Torah-reader started the verses of doom in a hushed tone. He began reading them quietly and quickly. Suddenly the Rebbe banged on his lectern. “Hecher!” he shouted. (Yiddish for louder.) The reader looked up from the Torah with a puzzled look on his face. Perhaps he was reading the Torah a bit too low. He raised his voice a notch, and continued in a louder undertone. But the Rebbe was not satisfied. “Louder!” he exclaimed. By now the reader was reading as loudly as his normal recitation, and yet the Rebbe continued to bang on the lectern and exclaim, “HECHER!” The reader could not contain his puzzlement and instead of shouting the portion he stopped and looked to the Rebbe for an explanation. “We no longer have to read these miserable curses quietly,” the Rebbe exclaimed. “There is no curse we have not experienced. There is no affliction we have not suffered! We saw it all. We lived it all. Let us shout with pride to our Father in Heaven that we have already received all the curses! We have survived these curses, and now it is His turn to bring us the blessings and the redemption!” And with that the reader continued reading the tochacha loud and clear as if singing an anthem to his nation’s tenacity. (

Shabbos in Halacha

Wringing and Laundering

 Two melachos that pertain to washing dishes and cleaning spills on Shabbos are סחיטה; wringing, and כיבוס: laundering. Previously we discussed sechita as it applies to extracting juice from fruits. Here we will discuss the halachos of wringing liquid from an absorbent fabric. We will also briefly discuss the laws of laundering as applied to common situations.

  1. Wringing Liquid from a Fabric

 Materials to Which Sechita Applies

 The Torah Prohibition of sechita applies only to truly absorbent fibers, such as wool, cotton, linen, sponge and paper towels, and to fabric made of these absorbent fibers. Non-absorbent materials, such as leather and plastic, are not subject to the melacha de’oraysa (Torah Prohibition).

Nevertheless, miderabbanan (by Rabbinic Decree) one is prohibited from wringing out a fabric woven of non-absorbent fibers, i.e. steel wool, for although the fibers themselves do not absorb liquid, the fabric traps liquid between its fibers.

Only articles which neither absorb nor trap liquid are exempt from sechita. This applies to items like a nylon bottle brush, whose bristles are widely spaced and do not trap water. There are also synthetic scouring pads whose fibers are widely spaced and do not trap water.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

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New Stories Nitzavim 5776-Rosh HaShanah 5777

A World Interrupted

A 14-year-old boy’s terrifying first days of World War II.

by Rabbi Simcha Shafran

Rabbi Simcha Shafran, whose memoir “Fire, Ice, Air” was recently published, spent most of the years of World War II in Siberia, where he was banished along with a small group of fellow yeshiva boys and their teacher, Rabbi Leib Nekritz, of blessed memory. The following is excerpted from Rabbi Shafran’s book, and recounts events that took place in Poland shortly after the Nazi invasion of that country. I was supposed to travel to Bialystok in the fall of 1939, to attend the higher-level Novardhok Yeshiva there, and I had returned home to see my parents before going off to that place of higher Jewish learning. On September 1, 1939, however, my plans, like so many people’s, were interrupted by the Second World War. The Nazis invaded Poland and we were told to expect bombing. I remember how, that Friday afternoon, people taped over their windows so that any glass that broke wouldn’t shatter and hit those inside the houses. We listened to a radio until the Sabbath arrived.

Early the next morning, a neighbor knocked loudly on the door and told us breathlessly that the Germans had crossed the border and were not far from our town, and that we had to run away. The assumption was that Polish forces would soon destroy the bridge over the Narev, to prevent the Germans from advancing so quickly. If we were to stay ahead of the Germans ourselves, we had to cross the bridge first.

So, although travel outside of a city or town is not usually permitted on the Sabbath, the rabbi of the town rendered his decision that we were all in mortal danger and that it was thus not just permitted but required of us to flee.

As we lived near the river, we walked along its banks toward the bridge. We were told that in the event that a German airplane might drop a gas bomb on us we should run to the river, wet cloths and put them over our mouths and noses. At one point a plane did appear overhead. There was some panic but nothing fell from the sky.

Throngs of people were already at the bridge when we arrived there, but we all managed to cross over to the other side. We walked to Govrov, a nearby town with a Jewish community.

Soon enough we found ourselves surrounded by German soldiers.

My parents, and all the new refugees, were frightened, with no idea what the future would bring. We were taken in by the locals in Govrov and remained there until the next Thursday. That was when we heard cannon fire from the direction from which we had come. Although Polish soldiers had remained on the Ruzhan side of the bridge, it was clear that they had not successfully stymied the Germans, and that the Nazis were advancing.

That night, several families, ours among them, set off again, and walked through the night. I took my tefillin, which were in a bag that closed with a drawstring, and hung them on my belt, to make sure that, whatever happened to me, they would be there.

We walked through fields, rather than on the roads, so that we would not be discovered. But we were; soon enough we found ourselves surrounded by German soldiers.

Although we were clearly Jews, the soldiers, perhaps relieved by the ease of their invasion, acted in a friendly manner, and even offered us a colt that had just been born to one of their mares.

There was no point in trying to travel further. It was clear that the Germans had easily occupied the entire area, and the soldiers did not seem interested in harming us. So we headed back to Govrov. We were hungry and thirsty, and on the way we drew and drank water from a muddy well – using rags and handkerchiefs to strain the water somewhat. There is a Yiddish blessing that wishes that “you not be tested by something one can get used to.” It means to say that a person, if he is forced to, can get used to almost anything. Who among us ever before imagined drinking muddy water?

We arrived back in Govrov late Friday afternoon.

Any sense of security we may have felt, though, was shattered soon enough. My family and I were lying on the floor of a local Jew’s house when we heard angry banging on the door and the gruff, loud words “Raus Jude! Raus Jude!” – “Jew, out!”

These visitors were not simple German soldiers, but member of the SS, the Schutzstaffel – the Nazi military organization that operated separately from the regular German army. SS members swore allegiance to Hitler, and they hated Jews.

The SS men chased us from the houses, prodding us with bayonets.

The SS men chased us from the houses, prodding us with bayonets to raise our hands and join the town’s other Jews – several hundred people – in the middle of the town’s market area. As we walked, hands raised, the Nazis photographed us.

Some of the Germans approached the men among us who had beards and cut them off, either entirely or purposely leaving an odd angle of beard, just to humiliate the victims. One man had a beautiful, long beard. When he saw what the Germans were doing, he took a towel he had with him and tied it around his beard, in the hope that our tormentors might not see so enticing a target. But of course, they went right over to him, removed the towel and shaved off what to him and us was a physical symbol of experience, wisdom and holiness. He wept uncontrollably.

We stood there and the smell of smoke in our nostrils became more intense with each minute. It didn’t take long to realize that the town’s homes had been set aflame. Later we heard that a German soldier had been discovered killed nearby and that the SS men had assumed that the culprits were Jews.

Eventually the non-Jews were permitted to go out into the countryside, along with their cows and goats. We Jews were ordered into the synagogue.

My mother’s sister’s husband, Chaim Gelchinsky, seized the opportunity to try to escape by joining the group of non-Jews. But one of them pointed him out to an SS man and said, simply, “Jew.” Without a second’s hesitation, the German raised his pistol and shot my uncle dead. Several other Jews were killed at that time as well.

In the synagogue, we sat terrified. Some of the people had been wounded. One elderly woman had a gaping bullet wound in her stomach. To this day I have never been able to wipe that image from my memory.

The doors were locked and SS men stood outside to ensure that no one managed to escape – in order to roast us alive.

A German entered and began to remove young people, saying that they were being conscripted to work. When they came to my brother Fischel, my parents begged them to leave him with us. Fischel’s hand was slightly deformed and they pointed it out to the Germans, who then left him alone.

It wasn’t long, though, before my parents were wailing in regret for that ploy. It had become clear that all of us remaining in the synagogue were being confined there – the doors were locked and SS men stood outside to ensure that no one managed to escape – in order to roast us alive. The town had been set afire, and the Nazis clearly intended to let the flames reach the synagogue. Houses nearby were already wildly burning. “Why hadn’t we let Fischel go?” my parents cried bitterly. “At least he could have escaped this fate!”

The scene was a blizzard of shouting and wailing and, above all, praying. Psalms and lamentations and entreaties blended together, a cacophony of wrenched hearts. Everyone realized what was in store and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that any of us could possibly do.

Elijah’s Strangest Costume

The smell of smoke grew even stronger, as did the cries of the hundreds of Jews packed in the synagogue awaiting a terrible death. And then a miracle occurred.

How else to explain what happened? Those in the synagogue who were standing near the doorway and windows saw a German motorcycle come to a halt in front of the building. A German officer – apparently of high rank – dismounted from the machine and began to speak with the SS men guarding our intended crematorium. The officer grew agitated and barked some orders at the other Nazis. After a few minutes, the doors to the synagogue were suddenly opened and, in disbelief at our good fortune, we all staggered out.

The officer, apparently, had heard the terrible din from within the building and had stopped to see what was happening. Presumably the SS men told him that the Jews had killed one of their men. What made the officer order them to release us we did not know and never will. Some of us suspected he was not a German at all, but Elijah the prophet, who, in Jewish tradition, often appears in disguise.

We were ordered across a nearby brook and some of the soldiers even carried elderly people who could not easily cross through the shallow water on their own. We were told to sit on the grass and to go no further. And so there we sat, all through the Sabbath, watching as the synagogue in which we had been imprisoned mere hours earlier was claimed by the flames and, along with all the Torah-scrolls and holy books of both Ruzhan and Govrov, burned to the ground. During the night that followed, some men ventured forth to bury the dead of previous days, my uncle among them. In Judaism, a body is not to be left unburied for long if there is any way of returning it to the earth.

That night was the first night of Selichos, the special entreaties for forgiveness of sins that are recited before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The gift was a goodbye present; nothing else was left of the town.

It was cold, with autumn unmistakably in the air, and we, the live Jews, huddled together through the night, shivering from both the chill and the unknown.

When morning came, though, there was not a soldier to be seen. All the Nazis had left. We went back into the town. There we found a bizarre blessing amid the destruction: Several pear trees, laden with fruit, stood like sad, silent witnesses to all that had happened to the town. The fruit on the branches had been baked by the flames. We picked and ate the pears, a delicious, unexpected delicacy – a dessert unattached to any meal. But the gift was a goodbye present; nothing else was left of the town. And so we moved on.

“Fire, Ice, Air” is available at select Jewish bookstores. If your local bookstore doesn’t have it in stock, please ask the proprietor to contact to place an order. (

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