Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bereishis 5777



Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Bereishis 5776

It Must Have Been Something


This week’s parsha discusses the creation of the world, and most important, the creation of man. The Torah describes the birth of Adam and Chava’s two sons, Kayin and Hevel, and the ensuing battle between them. Their struggle still reverberates amongst their descendants today. People are forever staking out their territory and determining their dominance over their fellow man.

The Rejection of Kayin’s Sacrifice

The incident began rather innocuously, when Kayin offered a sacrifice to HaShem, albeit an inferior offering, from the flax that he had cultivated. Hevel, however, offered a choice sacrifice, from the first born and the choicest of his sheep. HaShem rejected Kayin’s sacrifice but accepted Hevel’s offering. Kayin was angry that HaShem found favor in Hevel’s offering, and remained angry despite HaShem’s explanation. The narrative abruptly turns to a scene which takes place in the field where Kayin rises and kills Hevel. What happened between the time that the two brothers brought their sacrifices and the ensuing murder?

Various Opinions for why Kayin killed Hevel

The Midrash offers numerous points of view as to what occurred between Kayin and Hevel. One opinion offered by the Midrash is that Kayin and Hevel struggled over land ownership. A second opinion maintains that the two brothers were quarreling over who would have the Bais HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, built in their territory. A third opinion posits that Kayin and Hevel disputed the right to marry Chava, Adam’s first wife. This presupposes that Adam had subsequently married a second woman named Chava. The fourth and final opinion cited in the Midrash is that the first Chava had already died and Kayin and Hevel were arguing over who would marry the extra sister that was born to Hevel. What is troubling about the Midrash, however, is that all the opinions appear to ignore the original cause for contention. Kayin was upset because HaShem had rejected his offering and preferred his younger brother’s offering over his. Would this not have been sufficient reason for Kayin to kill Hevel?

Our dispute must certainly be valid

A rabbi once related that when he was first hired by a synagogue, he ambitiously took on the issue that seemed to be the most troubling issue in the community at the time. For many years, two of the wealthiest members of the community were not speaking with one another. Unexpectedly, the rabbi summoned the two adversaries to his office with the intent of getting to the root of their dissention. The rabbi questioned each of them as to what they thought the catalyst had been that led to the long-standing feud. To the rabbi’s surprise, neither man could recall the exact point in time when the feud began. However, they both insisted that “such a fight only could have occurred if there had been good reason for it.”

Sadly, people often have fallouts in their relationships because of “something that happened long ago,” but have a hard time explaining why it had such terrible repercussions. While the Torah omitted the actual dispute that occurred between Kayin and Hevel, the rabbis in the Midrash debated the nature of the quarrelling brothers’ discussion. It would seem that the Biblical omission and the sage’s elaboration demonstrate the idea that one can easily become embroiled in a dispute over trivialities. Clearly, something occurred between the brothers that instigated the tension. Nonetheless, they allowed the dispute to escalate to the point where the origin of the debate was irrelevant.

This incident is a lesson in how to maintain harmonious relationships with friends and relatives. While differences and disputes are sometimes inevitable, it is essential to recognize that what unites us is more important than what divides us.

The Shabbos connection

Throughout the week we are engaged in competitive and aggressive pursuits that at times can lead us to harbor feelings of animosity and ill-will towards others. Although we constantly seek peace and tranquility, it is only through the light of Shabbos that we can truly experience the serenity that we are seeking. Through the ideal peace that is reflected in the Holy Shabbos, HaShem should allow us to merit finding favor in His eyes and in the eyes of all of mankind.

Shabbos in the Zemiros

Kel Mistater

This mystical Zemer was composed by Avraham Maimin, whose name with the addition of chazak, is formed by the acrostic. Avraham was a student of Rabbi Moshe Kordevero, a member of the Kabbalistic school of the Arizal, and he lived from 5282-5330 (1522-1570 C.E.)

אֵ-ל מִסְתַּתֵּר בְּשַׁפְרִיר חֶבְיוֹן. הַשֵּׂכֶל הַנֶּעֱלָם מִכָּל רַעֲיוֹן, G-d conceals Himself in the beauty of secrecy, the wisdom hidden from all conception. Ultimately, HaShem designed a world where He favors secrecy. Rashi (Shemos 34:3) writes that after the Jewish People sinned with the Golden Calf, HaShem informed Moshe that the second Luchos would be given discreetly, as “there is nothing better than modesty.” Applying the concept of “just like He is (compassionate etc.) so too we should be, we can suggest that just like HaShem conceals Himself, so too we are required to act in a modest fashion.

Shabbos Stories

You should live long

The Torah Temima, zt”l, told the story of a certain elderly man named Reb Binyomin whom he had once met as a child. This Reb Binyomin was of exceedingly old age, and it was well known that he was not particularly cautious about getting chilled or overheated. In other words, he didn’t take the normal precautions that even younger people do to safeguard their health, much less the great care that is normally taken by the elderly. His acquaintances once tried to encourage him to take better care of himself, but to no avail.

Reb Binyomin responded, “Unlike other people, I am not concerned about such matters. People, for good reason, worry that they might get overheated or catch cold and die, but I am confident that the blessing that I was fortunate enough to receive from the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, will ensure me of a very, very long life.

“I was a little boy when the Gaon was still alive, and I used to go to pray in his Beis Medrash. One time, after the prayers, the Gaon paced the floor of the Beis Medrash sunk deeply in his thoughts. On that day, I too was pacing the floor deeply immersed in reciting Tehillim, and without realizing it, the Gaon and I ran right into one another. “I was completely dumbfounded that I had knocked into the holy Gaon, and stood there paralyzed in shock. Little did I realize that the Gaon could not move away from me either – because I was standing on his tzitzis! Eventually, the Gaon saw how confused and terrified I was and he had pity on me. He placed his hand on my shoulder and said lovingly, ‘You should live long, my son, but please…let my tzitzis go.’

“When the matter became known in the Beis Medrash and later in the city, people looked at me as if I was a rare find—a child that had been graced by the attentions and the blessing of the great tzaddik. My parents even made a great celebration that day and distributed charity to the poor!”

Not now and not in the future

While he was the head of the Bais din in Dreznitz (1794-1799), the Chasam Sofer was once passing through Pressburg on his way to Mattersdorf. He stopped in Pressburg to visit with Rabbi Meshulam Igra Tismenitz, who was the chief rabbi in Pressburg. As he approached the city, the Chasam Sofer was in doubt whether he should pronounce the bracha of shechalak michachmaso liyiraiav, blessed is the One Who bestowed from His wisdom on those who fear Him, upon seeing the venerable sage, who was undoubtedly one of the leading Torah luminaries of the generation. The nature of the doubt was that this Halacha of pronouncing this bracha is not cited by Rambam in his Yad Hachazaka. Some claim that the reason for this omission is that we no longer find men of the stature to which the Gemara refers to. On the other hand, the great Rabbi Meshulam Igra was an outstanding Torah sage, and perhaps the bracha was appropriate. As he approached the home of R’ Meshulam, Chasam Sofer decided that he would recite the passage of the Gemara verbatim. “Upon seeing a great sage in Israel, one should say, ‘Blessed are You, HaShem…’,” using HaShem’s name, and as he opened the door he finished off the blessing, “ ‘Who has conferred His knowledge upon them’ .” Then, to settle the mind of R’ Meshulam, who most certainly would be wondering about this pronouncement, Chasam Sofer immediately asked him why Rambam does not rule according to this Gemara. R’ Meshulam explained that Rambam includes in his Yad Hachazaka not only halachos that are practical in our days, but he even brings laws which will once again be practical when Moshiach arrives. This is why Rambam includes laws of Korbanos, etc. However, laws that do not apply now, and will not apply when Moshiach arrives are not included. When Moshiach arrives, we will merit techias hameisim, the resurrection of the dead, when our patriarchs will be with us, together with Moshe and Aharon. The Tannaim and Amoraim, who codified and edited the Mishnah and Gemara, will live in our communities. Rambam omits the bracha said upon seeing a great sage because in our days, we have no men of this stature, and in the days to come there will be so many of them, it will not be practical to say the blessing every day. Therefore, the halacha does not apply now, and it will not apply later, either. This is why this halacha, while it is correct, no longer has any application. (

No Falsehood Here

Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was known for his love and good will toward his fellow Jews always trying to assess the good in people rather than expose the bad.

Once on the Fast of Tisha BaAv he saw a Jew eating in a non-kosher restaurant. He tapped lightly on the window of the establishment and summoned the man outside.

“Perhaps you forgot that today is a fast day?” Rav Levi Yitzchak queried.

“No, Rebbe,” the man replied.

“Then perhaps you did not realize that this restaurant in not kosher.”

“No, Rebbe, I know it is a treife (non-kosher) eatery.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak softly placed his hands on the man’s shoulders and looked heavenward. “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe,” he exclaimed. “Look at how wonderful your children are. They may be eating on a fast day. In a non-kosher restaurant to boot. Yet they refuse to emit a falsehood from their lips!” (

In the merit of Tzedakah

This story of how Rav Yosef Sharshover zt”l, a son of Rav Chaim of Volozhin, was spared from murder at the hands of a band of thieves, was related by one of the talmidim of the Volozhin yeshiva:

“While I was in the Volozhin yeshiva, I heard a story from the gadol hador, which took place in the year following the death of the great gaon Rav Chaim zt”l, of Volozhin. Besides his son the gaon Rav Yitzchak zt”l, Rav Chaim had a son named Rav Yosef, who lived in the town of Sharshov, in the Horodno province. (See the introduction to Nefesh HaChaim, where Rav Itzele quotes a chiddush in his brother’s name.)

“When the gaon Rav Chaim died, his son Rav Yosef came to divide his possessions, from which he received one thousand silver rubles and some seforim and other items. When he had to return home, he hired a wagon driver from Volozhin to take him. While they were travelling, the driver lost his way and they were soon wandering away from the main route.

“Friday afternoon arrived and the two travelers wondered where they might spend the approaching Shabbos. They saw a man coming towards them and asked him if he knew where there might be a Jew living in the vicinity, with whom they could stay. The man replied, “I will go and show you where a Jew lives.” Off the three of them went, until they arrived at a Jewish home. Rav Yosef asked the Jew whether he and the wagon driver could stay there over Shabbos, to which the householder responded, ‘Why not?! Aren’t we all Jews?’ So they stayed.

“The following afternoon, Rav Yosef prayed minchah, ate the third meal and lay down on his bed to rest, for it was the summer. His father Rav Chaim came to him in a dream and told him, ‘My dear son, you are in great danger, for there are people who want to kill you and take your money. If you can run away, do so.’ When Rav Yosef saw his father in the dream, he awoke and arose from the bed. He waited a little, until it was almost nightfall and he told the driver, ‘Go quickly and harness the wagon and we’ll leave this place because it’s dangerous. There are murderers here who intend to kill us.’”

“When the driver went to harness the wagon, an armed thief came over to him and told him, ‘Come with me to the room, because you’re not going anywhere. You will die here,’ and he closed the wagon driver inside with him. Rav Yosef was sitting in his room and he saw that three armed men had come in. He realized what was happening – they had come to kill him.

He went to stand in the corner of the room and started to say vidui. As he prayed he said, ‘My father, my father, Rav Chaim zt”l, I ask you, may your merit and the merit of the Torah protect me, for I have fallen into the hands of murderers who want to kill me.’ So he called, bitterly and broken-heartedly, and he wept profusely.

“When the house owner approached the room and heard him calling, ‘My father, Rav Chaim!!’ he said to him, ‘Whose son are you? Tell me!’

“He replied, ‘I am the son of the gaon Rav Chaim zt”l, from Yeshivas Volozhin!’

The murderer said, ‘Who says you are telling the truth. Maybe you’re lying?’

“Rav Yosef replied, ‘Come over here and I’ll show you proof aplenty, for it’s been four weeks since my father zt”l, died.’ The man came inside and Rav Yosef showed him his father’s manuscripts, seforim and other objects, until he saw that he was telling the truth and that he really was Rav Chaim’s son.

“Then the murderer began calling everyone and he told them, ‘Sit around the table for a trial. We’ll judge whether we can kill him or not.’ They did as they were told and sat down straight away and he told them the story of what had happened to him.

“ ‘When I killed an entire family, nine people in all, in the Minsk region, I was imprisoned in Minsk. When I was being taken to Vilna to be interrogated by the investigator, I happened to be in the Volozhin jail on erev Pesach. When Rav Chaim zt”l, heard that a Jew was in the prison he went to the governor and asked that the imprisoned Jew be permitted to come to him for the two sedorim.

“ ‘The superintendent suddenly came to me and said, “Get up, with the chain” – that was attached to my feet and hands – “for the local rabbi wants you to be with him for two nights.”

“‘When I came to his house, he had the appearance of a heavenly angel and the members of the yeshiva were sitting around the table for the seder which was laid out, while I was tied with iron chains like a thief. The gaon said to me, “Sit down for the seder,” and I sat down in mortal fear. This actually happened to me!

“ ‘Can we, my sons and brothers, a man like this, who was not ashamed to sit at the same table with me, can we kill his son? Where is our fairness? Where is our justice? I put this to you, and you give a fair verdict!’

“Their chief spoke out and said, ‘According to our laws and our own sense of fair play, we cannot do anything!’

“When they heard this verdict from their leader — that he would not be sentenced to death — the man took Rav Yosef, with his money and the wagon driver and blindfolded them so that they shouldn’t see which way the road was and he put them onto the main route. This is what I heard.”

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

Wiping Up Dirty or Colored Liquids

If a dirty liquid spills, one may blot the spill with any garment (but not with a sponge or mop). In this case it is unlikely that one would wring the garment out afterward (since it cannot be cleansed by wringing); therefore the decree against saturating does not apply. This is also true for sticky or smelly liquids.

The prohibition of saturating (to garments) will also not apply to colored liquids. However, due to the prohibition of צובע, dyeing, it is best to avoid saturating a towel or garment with a colored liquid. Preferably, such spills should be blotted with rags or paper towels, for in these, color has no significance. If none are available, a towel (or garment) may be used.


Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Bereishis 5777

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New Stories Bereishis 5777

My Special Education

I was a dedicated special ed teacher, but I was relieved they weren’t my children. But God has a good sense of humor…

by Rea Bochner

I fell into teaching by accident. After graduating from college with a degree in Film, I spent six months in Hollywood and realized I liked my soul too much to sell it out to celluloid. So I packed up and headed back to the East Coast to figure out Plan B. As I was only qualified to make movies and wait tables, I would have to go back to school if I didn’t want to starve. My mother was a teacher and had a couple of ins for me at the local university. So there I went, where I majored in special education.

This career path, though guided less by passion and more by paycheck, turned out to be a life-changing one. It opened me up to a world I never expected. There I found people of superhuman compassion and character and ideas that challenged the way I viewed the world. I worked with children who both inspired and infuriated me, families who amazed and perplexed me.

One family in particular made a significant impact on me. In Israel, I formed a close relationship with one of my teachers, Rebbetzin Tavin. She had a megawatt smile and personality to match. She was warm, accessible and real. One Shabbos, I went to her home for dinner and I was amazed by what I found there.

Despite the fact that Rebbetzin Tavin had a large number of children in a relatively small apartment, there was a palpable sense of peace in her home. All of her children were gracious, happy and polite. They readily helped their mother serve and warmly spoke with all the guests. But the most amazing thing about these children was the love and care they gave to their special needs brother, Binyomin Dovid.

In the light of their love, Binyomin Dovid was given the freedom to shine.

At five years old, Binyomin Dovid was a light-haired angel with a smile as bright as his mother’s and an exuberance that was contagious. Binyomin Dovid also had Down syndrome. Having worked with many families of children with special needs, I was accustomed to seeing resentment and sometimes even verbal or physical abuse between siblings, usually due to jealousy, shame or embarrassment. But there was not a trace of it in Rebbetzin Tavin’s home. Older siblings carried him, younger siblings played with him. It was clear that everyone in that family adored Binyomin Dovid and were proud to have him as a part of their family.

They saw all the beautiful things he was, instead of despairing over the things he wasn’t. They recognized they opportunity they were given to raise such a special soul, and encouraged every member of their family to do the same. In the light of their love, Binyomin Dovid was given the freedom to shine.

Red Flags

I returned to America and continued on in my career. I cared very much about the children I worked with, but at the end of the day, I sent them home to their parents and went about my business. Because they weren’t my children, it never became truly personal. Deep down, I was relieved that raising a special needs child was not my full-time job, though I would never have admitted that to anyone.

Everything changed some years later, when my son’s teacher sat me down to express some concerns she had. She’d noticed some “red flags” she thought we should have checked out, which we did. We learned that while very intelligent, my son also had some significant issues that would require therapy if he was to be successful in school, and in life.

The prospect of something being “wrong” with my child went through me like a shockwave.

The prospect of something being “wrong” with my child went through me like a shockwave. How could my child have a problem? Even more, how could I not have known? Everything I’d learned about in school, all the diagnostic jargon, came to life before my eyes: OT, sensory integration, motor planning, socialization, processing. I had seen it all in countless children, but for the first time, it was real to me, because the kid they were talking about was mine.

I felt like I’d failed. If I’d only done this, if I hadn’t let him eat that, if we exposed him to this, if we gave him more of that. The what-ifs ran like a news ticker in the back of my head, tormenting me with the thought that my son’s disability was all my fault.

Around this time, someone very close to me told me about her daughter who was struggling terribly with an eating disorder. After years of sending her to treatment centers and therapies, nothing seemed to be working. The bingeing and purging continued, her connection to Judaism and spirituality had evaporated and it seemed this girl was bent on self-destructing. Her hope depleted, this mother asked me, “What did I do? What didn’t I do? Why do I have to go through this?”

My answer, I promise you, was not my own. It was as if I was a puppet and a Ventriloquist was speaking for me. And this is what He said: “Imagine if she’d had a different mother; someone else might have thrown her out on the street. She could have been dead by now, God forbid. With you as her mother, she always has a safe place to come home to, and maybe one day, recover. Maybe it’s God’s kindness that she got you as her mother. Maybe this has nothing to do with you at all, and everything to do with her.”

This mother was calmed, cheered and contented by what I’d said. She thanked me profusely and told me that my words had given her true peace.

A few weeks later, I called her to talk about my son’s diagnosis and therapy action plan. She offered pointers on how to best work the system and then listened intently as I told her how I felt: that maybe, somehow, this was because I wasn’t a good enough mother.

I heard her smile from the other side of the phone. “Maybe this has nothing to do with you at all, and everything to do with him.”

Those words somehow worked like magic. The fear and guilt disappeared. I suppose that message was a gift to both of us.

God’s Department & Mine

I remembered a midrash I had heard once about souls that are waiting up in heaven to be born. They look down into the world and choose the two people they want to be their parents. They know that those parents will be able to provide them with exactly what they need here on earth. This means that, though imperfect people, we are perfectly matched with our children to help them grow into whom they’re meant to be.

Our job is to embrace their unique mission with a full heart and to teach them to do the same.

As I thought of this story, I realized that every child has special needs. They all need to be loved in their own way, taught in their own way, and make sense of the world around them in their own way. We, their parents, are there as their guides and helpers, to provide them with support, love and unconditional acceptance, to see them as they are, to embrace their unique mission with a full heart and to teach them to do the same. Our job is incredibly simple, and also the most challenging one in the world.

As the parent of a “special needs child,” I’ve had to chuck my expectations of my child and of myself. My son is a gift from God that I have the great responsibility of watching over during his sojourn on Earth. Who he is supposed to become is

God’s department, not mine. All I can do is love him as best I can. Of course I make mistakes. But instead of beating myself up about it, I remember that this kid picked me; maybe my “mistakes” are just what he needs to help him – and me – to grow. (

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