Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Shabbos Chol HaMoed-Shemini Atzeres-Vezos Habracha 5777
Moshe Broke the Luchos to Demonstrate that the World Needs the Jewish People
This coming week we will complete the reading of the Torah and celebrate Simchas Torah. We finish the Torah with the reading of Parashas Vizos Habrachah and we commence the new Torah cycle reading with the reading of Parashas Bereishis. The commentators go to great lengths to explain the connection between the last verse in the Torah and the first verse in the Torah. The last verses in the Torah state (Devarim 34:10-12) velo kam navi od biYisroel kiMoshe asher yidao HaShem panim el panim lechol haosos vihamofsim asher shilacho HaShem lassos bieretz Mitzrayim liPharaoh ulechol avadav ulechol artzo ulechol hayad hachazakah ulechol hamora hagadol asher asah Moshe lieieni kol Yisroel, never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moshe, whom HaShem had known face to face, as evidenced by all the signs and wonders that HaShem sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his courtiers and all his land, and by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moshe performed before the eyes of all Israel. Rashi explains that these verses refer to Moshe accepting the Luchos from HaShem and subsequently breaking them upon witnessing the Golden Calf that the Jewish People had created. One must wonder why the Torah lauds Moshe for breaking the Luchos. Moshe was justified in breaking the Luchos, as he expounded a kal vachomer as follows: if the Torah states that one who is an idolater cannot participate in the Korban Pesach, then certainly where the Jewish People worshipped an idol, they cannot accept the entire Torah (Rashi Shemos 32:19). Nonetheless, why is this act deemed to be so praiseworthy?
Why Does the Torah Commence with Bereishis?
Prior to answering this question, let us examine the first verse in the Torah and Rashi’s comments there. It is said (Bereishis 1:1) Bereishis bara Elokim es hashamayim vieis haaretz, in the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth. Rashi poses a famous question. Why did the Torah commence with the story of creation and not with the first mitzvah that the Jewish people received, which was the commandment to sanctify the New Moon? Rashi answers that HaShem wished to demonstrate His power to the nations of the world. Were the nations to claim that the Jewish People stole the Land of Israel, we would be able to respond that HaShem created the world and He gave the Land to those that He felt deserving. The Pinei Menachem, the Gerrer Rebbe, wonders about Rashi’s question. How could Rashi state that the Torah should have commenced with the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon, if there were other mitzvos that preceded this mitzvah, such as the mitzvah of procreation, circumcision and Gid Hanasheh. Furthermore, it was necessary to first write about creation so that we could have a basis for matters of faith such as the mitzvah of Shabbos.
The Jewish People Have the Power to Manipulate Nature
The Pinei Menachem answers that the world was created according to the plan contained within the Torah. HaShem gave the Jewish People the power to manipulate nature and to demonstrate how HaShem is contained within nature. The essence of the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon is that the Jew can take something mundane and declare it holy. Similarly, although Shabbos is a fixed time every week, the Jewish People were given the opportunity to add on to Shabbos with what is known as Tosefes Shabbos, adding on to the Shabbos. In summary, the mitzvah of sanctifying the New Moon reflects the idea that the Jewish People have the power to direct nature and to transform mundane masters into holiness. It was for this reason that Rashi suggested that the Torah should have commenced with this mitzvah. Based on this premise we can better understand why the Torah praises the fact that Moshe broke the Luchos. One explanation of Moshe’s act was that bitulah zehu kiyumah, annulling the Torah, so to speak, is in essence the Torah’s survival. There is, however, a deeper dimension to the act that Moshe performed. Moshe broke the Luchos to demonstrate to future generations that although the Torah is the blueprint of the world, without the Jewish People the Torah does not have a means with which to be sustained. It is for this reason that the last words of the Torah state lieieni kol Yisroel, before the eyes of all Israel. Moshe specifically broke the Luchos before the eyes of the people so that they should know that the Torah was given specifically to the Jewish People, and without the Jewish People observing the Torah, the Torah cannot survive. The power of Torah is so great, and in a sense, the power of the Jewish People is greater.
The Shabbos Connection
As we begin once again to commence the cycle of the Torah reading, let us bear in mind the great power that HaShem has vested in us. We have the ability to observe the Torah and we are given the opportunity every week to sanctify the Shabbos. We can sanctify the Shabbos on Shabbos, and we also have the ability to add to the Shabbos by sanctifying it during the week. The role of a Jew is to elevate the mundane to become holy. HaShem should allow us to observe His Torah faithfully, and in the merit of observing the Torah and the great mitzvah of Shabbos, we should merit the Ultimate Redemption, speedily, in our days.
Shabbos in the Zemiros
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.
נְצוֹר מִצְוַת קְדוֹשֶׁךָ שְׁמוֹר שַׁבָּת קָדְשֶׁךָ, observe the precepts of your Holy One, observe your holy Shabbos. Shabbos is unlike all the other commandments of the Torah, as one can “observe” the other mitzvos but Shabbos the only mitzvah that one can be active in its anticipation. One can anticipate the Shabbos throughout the entire week, by purchasing food that is special for Shabbos and by constantly saying that everything one does is in honor of the Holy Shabbos (one can also prepare for the festivals but one cannot actively prepare the entire week for the mitzvah of Tefillin, Mezuzah etc.).
So Be It!
Reb Yaakov Yosef Katz zt”l (late 1800s; known as the “Toldos”), one of the leading disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, was visiting a certain town when he was approached by an inhabitant of a neighboring village and asked to attend the circumcision of the man’s son on that day. “I will even honor you to be the sandak (godfather),” the villager said. The Toldos agreed, but only on the condition that he could sit in another room and study Torah until all of the preparations had been completed and he would not have to wait idly for the ceremony to begin. The villager agreed. When everything had been prepared and the baby had arrived, the villager went to call Reb Yaakov Yosef. However, when they returned to the place where the bris milah was to be held, the villager was chagrined to discover that one guest had left and there was no longer a minyan. He quickly ran outside and pleaded with the first Jew he saw: “Please come to my son’s bris milah.” The man responded, “Zohl zein azoi,” so be it! “Can I offer you an honor?” the villager inquired. “So be it!” the tenth man responded. To every question he was asked, he answered: “so be it!” After the circumcision, the Toldos asked that this man be brought to him, but the man had vanished. So the Toldos asked in heaven who the man was, and he was told that it was Eliyahu HaNavi, who had been sent to teach the assembled the importance of accepting G-d’s judgment in all circumstances. “So be it!” should be a Jew’s response to everything that he experiences in life. As the Toldos was preparing to leave town, a stranger approached him and asked if he could share the sage’s carriage. “Who are you?” the Toldos asked. “So be it!” the stranger responded (apparently rebuking the sage for not agreeing immediately to share his ride). When the tzaddik Reb Yitzchak Matisyahu Luria zt”l heard this story, he commented: “On each day of Creation, the Torah says, ‘And it was so!’ But why does the Torah say, ‘And it was so!’ at the very end of creation when nothing new had been created?” “That,” answered Rav Luria, was Adam’s statement, accepting that G-d in His Wisdom had created the world exactly as He saw fit. “So be it!” (Quoted in Otzros Tzaddikei Ugeonei Hadoros)
Kick the Ball in the Goal When No One is There!
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Sholom Schwadron had noticed that one of the students at the yeshiva was missing on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday morning he approached him, inquiring to the reason he missed those two days. “I know you for two years. You never missed a day of yeshiva. I am sure that something important is happening. Please tell me what is going on.” The boy did not want to say, but after prodding, the boy finally blurted out. “I would tell, but Rebbe, you just would not understand.” “Try me,” begged Reb Sholom, “I promise I will try my hardest to appreciate what you tell me.” “Here goes,” responded the student, conceding to himself that whatever explanation he would give would surely be incomprehensible to the Rabbi, who had probably had never seen a soccer ball in his life. “I missed yeshiva because I was at the Maccabi Tel Aviv football (soccer) finals. In fact,” the boy added in embarrassment, “I probably won’t be in yeshiva tomorrow as well. It’s the final day of the championship.” Rabbi Schwadron was not at all condescending. Instead, he furrowed his brow in interest. “I am sure that this game of football must be quite exciting. Tell me,” he asked, “How do you play this game of football? What is the object? How do you win?” “Well,” began the student filled with enthusiasm, “there are eleven players, and the object is to kick a ball into the large goal. No one but the goalkeeper can move the ball with his hands or arms!” Rabbi Schwadron’s face brightened! He knew this young boy was a good student and wanted to accommodate him. “Oh! Is that all? So just go there, kick the ball in the goal, and come back to yeshiva!” The boy laughed. “Rebbe, you don’t understand! The opposing team also has eleven men and a goalkeeper, and their job is to stop our team from getting the ball into their goal!” “Tell me,” Rabbi Schwadron whispered. “These other men on the other team. Are they there all day and night?” “Of course not!” laughed the student. “They go home at night!” What was the Rabbi driving at? He wondered. Rabbi Schwadron huddled close and in all earnest continued with his brilliant plan. “Why don’t you sneak into the stadium in the evening and kick the ball into the goal when they are not looking? Then you can win and return to yeshiva!” The boy threw his hands up in frustration. “Oy! Rebbe! You don’t understand. You don’t score if the other team is not trying to stop you! It is no kuntz to kick a ball into an empty net if there is no one trying to stop you!” “Ah!” cried Reb Sholom in absolute victory. “Now think a moment! Listen to what you just said! It is no kuntz to come to the yeshiva when nothing is trying to hold you back! It is when the urge to skip class is there, when the Yetzer Hara is crouching in the goal, that it is most difficult to score. That is when you really score points. Come tomorrow, and you can’t imagine how much that is worth in Hashem’s scorecard!” Needless to say, the boy understood the message and was there the next day the first in class! (www.Torah.org)
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.
- Activities Affected by These Prohibitions
Wiping up Spills
To avoid sechita, it is best not to wipe up a large spill, but only to blot the spill with a rag or with paper towels. Due to the decree against saturating, it is forbidden to use a sponge mop or a garment to absorb a spill since one might afterward wring these articles out. However, one may use a towel because nowadays, with the advent of washing machines, most people do not bother to wring out wet towels. This, though, depends on social and economic conditions and may vary from place to place.
Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Shabbos Chol HaMoed-Shemini Atzeres-Vezos Habracha 5777
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Have a Wonderful Shabbos and a Gut Yom Tov!
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New Stories Shabbos Chol Hamoed-Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah 5777
Dancing with the Torah
A true Simchat Torah story.
by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein
He came by my house every six months or so, for a modest contribution to support the immigrant village he helped build in Israel to absorb new arrivals from Russia. His excited, high pitched voice and happy, dancing eyes belied the deep furrows in his brow which were painfully etched by decades of punishment at the hands of the communist authorities for the terrible crime of being an observant Jew in the Soviet Union during the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s.
It became a ritual. I’d ask the diminutive rabbi if he’d like a bite to eat. He would always counter in his Russian accented Yiddish, “Perhaps, just a glass tea.” My wife would serve him a steaming cup of dark orange brew along with a generous slice of home-made cake, both of which seemed to help straighten his sagging shoulders just a bit. Trudging door to door for small donations, it had certainly been awhile since his last square meal.
He looked up at me and smiled broadly. “Did you know there was such a thing as a Cantonist Shul?”
I remembered stories I heard as a child which described some of the darkest, but most heroic days in Jewish history.
They would be kidnapped from their parents’ home, tortured repeatedly until they either accepted Christianity or died of their wounds.
The Cantonists were Jews who from 1825-1840 were forcibly conscripted into the Russian Czar’s army from as early as the age of 10, and obligated to serve for 25 years. The authorities saw it as a corrective, forced assimilation of stubborn Jews into Russian society. They would be kidnapped from their parents’ home, tortured repeatedly until they either accepted Christianity or died of their wounds.
They were starved, beaten and lashed, often with whips fashioned from their own confiscated tefillin. In their malnourished states, the open wounds on their chests and backs would turn septic and many boys, who had heroically resisted renouncing their Judaism for months, would either perish or cave in and consent to the show baptism. The Czar would have only reliable Christian Russians defending the motherland.
To avoid this horrific fate, some parents actually had their sons’ limbs amputated in the forests at the hands of local blacksmiths, and their sons — no longer able bodied — would avoid conscription. Many other children tragically committed suicide rather than convert.
Some 40,000 young Jewish boys were forced into Czar Nicholas’ army, and very few emerged alive as practicing Jews.
Even the brave few survivors who secretly maintained their faith and managed to return to their families 25 years later, by and large found themselves shunned as traitors to Judaism.
“The Cantonists actually did have a shul of their own,” the rabbi continued. “After all, they had nowhere else to go.”
“My grandfather told me that he once attended the Cantonist Shul on Simchat Torah. The Cantonists could dance like Cossacks. They were huge, strong men, and the heavy Torah scrolls would seem like toothpicks in their arms. They effortlessly danced on for hours on end. Although they were looked down upon by other Jews, and they were not very learned and really couldn’t observe the Torah properly, they were nonetheless able to rejoice in their Judaism and celebrate the Torah. It was truly amazing.”
He paused long enough to dip a sugar cube into the still hot tea cup, placed the cube in his mouth and swallowed another long swig of the tea.
“Then for the final hakafah (circuit around the synagogue’s central lectern), the Cantonists, as if on cue, suddenly removed their shirts in unison! With the Torahs held tightly to their bare skin which was covered with the ugliest welts and scars you ever saw, they danced around even more energetically. Their smiles were now giving way to streams of tears as they looked out into the crowd of assembled Jews, as if to say, ‘You may have studied and observed this Torah, but we gave our bodies and our lives for it. The Torah is at least as much ours as it is yours!'”
As he put the tea cup down, he couldn’t hide the tremor in his hand which caused a rattled meeting of cup to saucer.
Wiping away a tear with his napkin, he said, “In democratic America it is so easy. Yet so many say, ‘It’s so hard.’ Go figure.” (www.aish.com)