Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeira 5777


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Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vayeira 5777

Avraham and Eradication of Evil

Introduction

This week’s parashah contains a theme that appears to run throughout the entire parashah. The Torah commences this week with the incident where Avraham has just been circumcised and despite his pain, he invites three strangers to partake in a sumptuous meal. Avraham himself waits on his guests and he is then informed that he and his wife Sarah will be having a child. The guests, who are angels in disguise, then depart to destroy the city of Sodom and its surroundings.

Praying for the wicked people of Sodom

HaShem informs Avraham of the tragic state of affairs in Sodom, and Avraham prays to HaShem to spare the cities in the merit of the righteous. HaShem informs Avraham that there are no righteous people in all the cities and Avraham desists from praying further. The angels then enter Sodom where they are greeted by Lot who invites them into his house. The residents of Sodom are not pleased with this act of hospitality and they attempt to harm the visitors. HaShem causes the citizens of Sodom to become blind and the angels then proceed to escort Lot and his remaining family out of the city. HaShem then destroys Sodom and its environs and Lot escapes with his two daughters. Lot and his daughters then engage in an illicit relationship, and the union bears the two forerunners of the Ammonite and Moabite nations. The Torah then records how Avraham settles in the Philistine city of Gerar and the king of Gerar, Avimelech, abducts Sarah. HaShem then punishes Avimelech and his household by restraining their orifices.

Yishmael is banished and Avraham and Yitzchak are tested by Hashem The Torah then relates how Sarah gave birth to Yitzchak and subsequent to Yitzchak’s birth, Sarah demands that Avraham banish Yishmael and his mother because of Yishmael’s evil ways. Following this incident we learn how Avraham makes a treaty with Avimelech, and then the Torah relates the spellbinding incident where HaShem instructs Avraham to offer his cherished son Yitzchak as a sacrifice. HaShem then sends an angel to repeal this commandment and Avraham slaughters a ram in Yitzchak’s stead.

The negation of evil

The theme that we see running through this parashah is what is referred to as bittul hara, negation of evil. Circumcision is essentially a negation of the Evil Inclination and the materialism represented within. Sodom was the epitome of evil, and Avraham apparently desired, in the words of the Gemara (Brachos 10a), yitamu chataim vilo chotim, let the sins cease but not the sinners. Lot acted in a self-defeating manner, bringing shame upon himself and his future generations. Similarly, Avimelech encountered Avraham and Sarah, righteous people, and HaShem punished him harshly. Yishmael was banished from the home of the righteous, and Avraham and Yitzchak were tested in an unprecedented manner. This test, in a sense, was the expiation of any doubt in their minds that they could have possibly had regarding HaShem’s Oneness and His dominion over the entire world.

The Shabbos connection

In the prayer of kegavna that is recited by Nusach Sefard on Friday night, we recite the words kad ayil Shabbsa ihi isyachadas viisparashas misitra achara vichol dinin misabrin minah, when the Shabbos arrives, she unified herself in Oneness and divests herself of the Other Side, [any trace of evil] all harsh judgments are removed from her. Thus, the purpose of creation is that the Jewish People divest itself of all evil and harsh judgments. It is incumbent upon us to recognize that every moment of our lives is a test to choose between good and evil, and when we are victorious, we merit the holiness and exaltedness of Shabbos. HaShem should allow us to be victorious in this world and to merit a portion in the World to Come, when it will be a day that will be completely a Shabbos and a rest day for eternal life.

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.)

מֵאַיִן תִּמָּצֵא וְהִיא נֶעֱלָמָה. רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יְ-הֹ-ו-ָה,   from the Invisible One it derives, but it is hidden – the source of wisdom is awe of HaShem. Whenever one wishes to describe HaShem’s Wisdom, which is His Holy Torah, one is left without words. The reason for this is because Torah is beyond human understanding. Indeed, the Gemara (Megillah 6b) states יגעתי ומצאתי תאמן, if one says, “I have toiled and I have found,” i.e. I have achieved success in my studies, believe him. The Sfas Emes writes that the Gemara likens Torah study to one who finds a lost object. One can toil in his search for the lost object, but when he finds it, it is like a gift handed to him. Similarly, one can toil in this world in Torah study, but success in one’s studies is a gift from HaShem.

Shabbos Stories

Rav Aharon Kotler’s Father the Fur Merchant

HaGaon Rav Aharon Kotler told over a story about his father’s mesirus nefesh for Torah. His father was a fur merchant in Lita. At a certain period, his business dwindled, and it reached a point where his family was lacking food to sustain themselves.

Every day after Shacharis, his father would learn for two hours, and was mapkid on this learning period his entire life. One day, a wealthy merchant knocked on the door of the Kotler family, and informed them that he would like to buy a sizable amount of furs. However, it was the set learning time of Rav Kotler. His wife knocked on the door of his room, once, twice, and three times, and urged her husband to utilize this opportunity for his business.

Rav Kotler answered from behind the door, “Go tell him that if he’s willing to wait until I finish my learning, good! If not – he should go in peace. A person’s mezonos is set from Rosh HaShanah until Rosh HaShanah. If it was decreed that I will sell the merchandise, I’ll find a buyer!”

Rav Aharon concluded his story, “My father’s wondrous mesiras nefesh for Torah instilled in us the emunah peshutah, ‘When you learn Torah, you never lose out!’ All of my mesiras nefesh for Torah – I acquired from him!” (Tuvcha Yabiyu) (www.Revach.net)

True humility

Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: Rabbi Dovid Koppleman tells the story of Rabbi Abish, the Rav of Frankfurt who was known for his extraordinary humility. In addition, he would often raise funds for the needy families of his city. Once he heard that a wealthy man was on business in town and went to the man’s hotel suite to ask him for a donation. The tycoon was arrogant and assumed that the Rav was a poor shnorrer, and after a few moments drove him out of his room. A few minutes later the man went to leave his suite and looked for his silver cane. Noticing it was gone, he immediately suspected that Reb Abish took it during his brief visit.

Quickly, the man bolted toward the lobby of the hotel where he accosted Reb Abish. “Thief,” the man shouted while pushing the Rav, “give me back my cane!” Reb Abish calmly pleaded. “I did not steal your cane. Please do not accuse me! Please believe me. I did not steal your cane!”

The man was adamant in his arrogance and began to beat the Rav while onlookers recoiled in horror. Reb Abish, despite the pain, remained steadfast in his humble demeanor. “Please believe me. I did not steal your cane!” Finally, the man realized he was getting nowhere and left Reb Abish in disgust.

That Saturday was Shabbos Shuva. The entire community, including the wealthy visitor, packed Frankfurt’s main synagogue for the traditional Shabbos Shuva Speech. Horror gripped the visitor as a familiar looking figure rose to the podium and mesmerized the vast audience with an eloquent oration. It was the very shnorrer he had accosted in the hotel! As soon as the speech ended, the man pushed his way toward the podium and in a tearful voice tried to attract the Rabbi’s attention. He was about to plead forgiveness for his terrible behavior when Reb Abish noticed the man.

In all sincerity Reb Abish began to softly plead with him. “I beg of you! Please do not hit me. I truly did not steal your cane.” (www.Torah.org)

Shabbos in Halacha

Wringing and Laundering

 כיבוס – Laundering

 The melacha of כיבוס forbids all methods of laundering, including those that can be done without the assistance of water, such as ניעור מעפר, dusting [a garment], and הסרת הכתם, removing a stain [by brushing]. However, we will focus only on cleaning with water, for this method of laundering is most relevant to cleaning the table after a meal.

Shabbos Ta’am HaChaim: Vayeira 5777

Is sponsored לזכר נשמת האשה החשובה מרת חיה אסתר בת ר’ משה צבי הלוי אוקוליקא ע”ה     ת.נ.צ.ב.ה.and as a zechus לרפואה שלימה חיה דינה חביבה בת שושנה בתוך שאר חולי ישראל.

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Have a Wonderful Shabbos!

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New Stories Vayeira 5777

God, Stay Where I Can See You

Shattered and made whole. Learning to trust God with everything.

by Lori Samlin Miller

A decade ago, I began a journey toward Jewish observance together with my husband. I embraced performing mitzvahs and keeping Shabbat. I loved the holidays, and began to see through what I previously thought were random events, God’s loving hand in my life.

But all that changed when my husband became ill. Suddenly, God’s management skills came into question. How could this random, awful thing happen to my husband? I much preferred the God I had come to feel was directing my life and orchestrating events that made sense and showed us His love for us. How could I feel God’s kindness now?

My mind split into two screens. Showing in Theater One: Numbness. I was overwhelmed, paralyzed with disbelief, unable to process, accept or absorb the severity of this new reality, let alone confront the necessary steps we had to undergo to determine the choices we now faced. How could my husband – a kind, caring, selfless physician and surgeon who’d devoted his life to caring for his patients – be so sick himself?

Playing on Screen Two: Business. Putting my emotions aside, there were practical decision to be made – lining up appointments, selecting doctors, comforting our loved ones while reassigning his patients to other doctors and grappling with the insurance company’s endless red tape.

Over the next few days, we gathered blessings from rabbis and opinions from specialists. Our journey through a maze of challenges, confusion, and fear was just beginning.

I did a lot of praying, choking back tears most times, gushing at others, finding myself frequently at God’s doorstep to petition for His mercy and healing because I didn’t know where else to turn. I felt such despair. God really cares about us, I told myself repeatedly, as I threw myself harder into my prayers. I quietly gave God my whole package.

Amongst my many fears and the confusion I expressed only to God was the puzzling fact that my husband was young and strong. He’d never smoked or drank. How could this diagnosis of throat cancer be true?

Not only did the illness seem terrifying, the recommended surgery to affect the best prognosis, a total laryngectomy (the removal of the larynx and breathing is done through an opening in the neck) is so radical and extreme. How would we learn to accept and adjust to what this new reality would bring? It wasn’t fair and I at times I felt a distance between God and me.

The next few days were a blur as we chose surgeon, hospital, and course of treatment. My battle with the insurance company began to heat up. I stopped often to pray that God would be with us every step of this journey. I experienced panic and terror when I lapsed into thinking I had to make everything work out, forgetting that God was in charge and onboard to orchestrate the best doctors, hospitals, outcomes, healing and recovery possible. I doubt I could have survived without believing that, no matter how muddled my thinking and my emotions often were.

What a journey. After each surgery, I was euphoric, full of gratitude, awed by my husband’s courage and determination. I felt God’s mercy and appreciated the skillful medical specialists He worked through. God really loves us, He really cares about us, I thought repeatedly. When the euphoria wore off, we were left to confront so many difficult adjustments in the aftermath of disease and surgical devastation. I wondered, do I really trust God? If so, why did the intense emotional pain and confusion sporadically reappear? Why did my emotions torque from one end of the spectrum to another like a kite on a windy day?

I prayed incessantly as I made my case for mercy and healing, wondering if I was being heard, yet painfully aware I had no place else to go. I’ve always been squeamish, with a deeply rooted fear and discomfort in hospitals and medical settings, yet I remained firmly planted by my husband’s side. Slowly, the shock of what happened was replaced by greater awareness of God’s presence all around us in the form of kind nurses who exhibited great compassion and care; in volunteers who bought me books and tea; and especially in my husband’s humble acceptance and appreciation of everything being done to help him. I tried to string together the minutes that were devoid of worry or fear.

What does it really mean to be a practicing, believing Jew? Would I succeed in forging a relationship with Him? Until we went through this life changing experience, I never understood how important and necessary it was for me to be able to spill out the entire contents of my mind and heart and give all my anger, disappointment, unhappiness, worry and fear to God. I held nothing back. Allowing myself to be totally vulnerable and real with God saved me exploding in rage and turning away completely and losing my faith.

Though I kept stumbling and hitting my reset button, I was trusting Him to take care of us even when we didn’t like what He was dishing, when we thought it was unfair, horrible, uncomfortable and incomprehensible. It was all true, but I came to understand that nothing I felt or expressed pushed God further away; paradoxically it only bought us closer. My honest expressions made my faith in Him stronger as I learned there was nothing I could ever say or do that would sever our relationship as long as I kept Him close and trusted in Him.

My husband’s encouraging prognosis and slow progress became palpable, exciting. Fear, worry, and doubt no longer eclipsed my gratitude and recognition of God’s hand working to heal my husband, keep our family afloat, and fuel the hospital’s competent and caring staff as we eased into our next steps. No longer was I questioning why God would allow such an evil thing to occur, but was instead clinging to Him for help to guide and direct us. I realized it had been vital for me to question God and express my anger and outrage to Him because it meant I no longer felt resentful about the challenges and pain our family endured. That was the process through which my anger, resentment and disappointment were removed, leaving a stronger relationship in their place, based on my ability to be honest with God about how I felt, and what I needed from Him.

We entered the next phase of our journey – looking forward to our new life and the next set of challenges, and the skills to grow and maximize the opportunities that God was now showing us.

I’m a Special Education teacher, a detail my husband credited God with having inserted into the equation to encourage our resilience to accept our new reality and recognize our potential. By learning to accept what we perceived as different, we slowly learned to show ourselves love, tolerance, and acceptance that emulate the way God loves us.

Not being able to speak is a challenging disability. We were told that after his throat healed, my husband could opt to learn a new way to speak, but before his discharge from the hospital, he received a mechanical device called an electrolarynx. Eager to talk rather than write, the speech pathologist asked what he wanted to say to me. I stood by his side, breathless and excited.

Fascinated, I watched him study the apparatus, place it against his throat and turn to face me. With a twinkle in his eye he didn’t hesitate to say exactly what was on his mind. “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.”

That was it. I laughed so hard until the tears splashed over my eyelids and down my cheeks. I laughed so much it hurt to keep laughing, but felt too good to stop. I thought I’d forgotten how to laugh and it made me feel so alive.

We were encouraged by other people we connected with online who’d had the same surgery. After our radiation treatments were complete, a wonderful speech therapist taught us esophageal speech. As a result of my husband’s incredible determination, it is somewhat mind boggling that he learned an entirely new and different way to speak and is well understood.

Forced to retire as one of our region’s most beloved surgeons, he devotes himself to learning Torah. I am grateful for my husband’s kind demeanor and humility. Despite having gone through so much, he recognizes God as having orchestrated things perfectly. His simple faith is both stunning and inspiring.

I started volunteering at an inner-city hospital, deriving such joy at distracting and momentarily cheering up patients stuck there. While visiting as many patients as possible each week, in my efforts to give others what we most needed when we were in their place, I feel I am acknowledging and attempting to repay my debt of gratitude at the miraculous care my husband received and the healing God granted him.

It’s not that I like being back in the hospital every week; actually, I despise it. But then how else could I be there to offer others what we needed most: distraction and a moment of lightness and joy at a time when it may be the last thing you’d expect, but possibly the thing you need most. With a small flower glued to my nose, I step far outside of my comfort zone each week along with my fellow hospital clowns, performing red foam nose transplants; making children smile, encouraging anxious family and friends in the waiting rooms, distracting terrified babies with bubbles and our special light-up thumbs.

I can’t believe I get to do this work. It keeps me focused not on how low and lonely a person can be when things seem dark and stormy, but how high you can soar if you let God lift you up. I have no shame that I doubted God’s plan, and I no longer wonder if feeling angry and questioning God meant I didn’t really trust Him. I know now that in reality, my personal dialogue with God removed the distance and the interruptions I experienced in our relationship. Dislodging those thoughts brought me closer to Him. (www.aish.com)

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