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28 Teves

HaYoreh Ehs D’var Hashem: At the end of last week’s Parsha, we are taught that the Mitzriyim who feared the word of Hashem (Shemos 9:20) brought their animals in from the field in the wake of the oncoming barad, but in contrast one who did not put his heart to the word of Hashem (ibid., 21) left his animals in the field--and they were destroyed by the barad. The clear contrast provides a real lesson for us in the meaning of Yiras Shamayim--do the words of Hashem make an impact upon us--do we truly take them to heart? How do we perform the daily mitzvos of netilas yodayim, tzitzis, tefillen...mitzvos over which we recite the outstanding words ‘Asher Kideshanu Bemitzvosav’?  An ikar in our daily Yiras Shamayim is to be sam lev--not to be on auto-pilot, by-rote, or  in ‘weekday mode’--but rather to pay special daily attention to the word of Hashem--for it is from this that one’s salvation can come! 




Special Note One:  Today, 28 Teves, is the sixth Yahrzeit of HaRav Shmuel (Refoel Shmuel B’R Aryeh Leib) Berenbaum, Z’tl, who taught by conduct to his students and to the world the unparalleled Chashivus of even the smallest segment of Torah study.  We provide below a few brief samplings of his teachings:


1. A reader advised us that  ”I once heard from HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum, Shlita, that atzlus is the source of all midos ra’os--all bad character traits.”


2.  Every night at Maariv, we recite “Ki Haym Chayeinu”--for the Torah and Mitzvos are our life. HaRav Berenbaum, asked his students to focus closely on these words.  Torah is not “merely” like oxygen or water--rather, as Chazal teach us, it is life itself!!  Oh, how we should value life!!  Hakhel Note:  In his recent Hakhel Shiur, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Shlita emphasized how important ‘those extra two minutes’ are to growth in Torah--when waiting for one’s  spouse who says “I just need another two minutes to get ready”, when reaching ‘the two dots’ a couple of minutes early, when waiting for a late bus or train--the extra review, the extra mishna, the extra Rashi one manages to cover--are not only signs of one’s personal attribution of importance or special dedication to Torah study--but the actual route to true Torah achievement!


3.  In a Sefer that was written by a grandson of HaRav Berenbaum, he writes that his Zeide told him that what he should work on most in contemplating Teshuva is the study of Torah, because with improvement in learning, midos and all else would fall into place.


4.  HaRav Berenbaum brings the Gemara in Megillah (16A) which describes the encounter between Mordechai and Haman when Haman came to put Mordechai on the King’s horse while wearing the royal garments.  Ham’an finds Mordechai teaching Torah to his students, and asks what he is teaching them.  Mordechai responds that he is teaching them about the Korban Omer.  Upon hearing this, Haman responds that the laws regarding the “handful of kometz” that you taught your students have defeated the 10,000 talents of silver that I dedicated to annihilate the Jews.  HaRav Berenbaum points out that this terrible Haman HaRasha, this most horrible of horrible human beings, in spite of his almost unequaled wickedness, still somewhat fathomed the value of a few words of Torah, and understood that only a few words among a few Jews quashed what was something like “all the money in the world” to destroy the Jewish people.  Because he appreciated what a word of Torah was, he was rewarded, Chazal teach, with descendents who converted, became Torah scholars and propagated Torah and its teachings!


5.  HaRav Berenbaum teaches that one should work on the honor due to his Torah study.  He explains that the reason the Torah was given “B’Kolos U’Verokim”--with loud noise and thunder--is to forever instill within us the attitude and approach that one should not learn Torah with his face leaning on his elbow, or slouched over, head back, sefer on lap....you get the picture(s).  Being mekabel to learn with greater respect could be a very significant step to significantly increase the quality of one’s Torah study.


6.  HaRav Berenbaum notes that we all invest time and effort in some way into making a Parnossah--our sustenance in this world.  However, it would be truly unfortunate for one to sacrifice his Parnossah L’Olam Vo’ed--his Parnossah for eternity, in favor of Parnossah for only 100 years or so in this world.  He points to Avraham Avinu’s actions on behalf of the three malochim, the three angels, under the tree.  Chazal teach that in reward for his one-time ostensible Gemilas Chesed to the three angels, his descendents, constituting millions of people, were sustained--nourished and protected--for 40 years in the desert. From this alone, we should appreciate how boundless our actions are.  We must therefore take stock and make sure that the  essence of our daily actions count for eternity--giving ourselves a Parnossah--L’Olam Vo’ed!


Special Note Two:  The Chasam Sofer (brought in Love Your Neighbor) provides a highly meaningful teaching in last week’s Parasha, on the words of Hashem: V’gam Ani Shoma’ati Ehs Naakas Bnai Yisrael--and I also have heard the cries of Bnai Yisrael.  To what does the word also refer?  The Chasam Sofer answers that Hashem listened to the cries of Bnai Yisrael because the suffering brothers had first listened to each others cries and tried to help each other--it was because they listened to each other--that Hashem also listened. They did not say--”I have my own problems... I can’t hear more about this ...What do I need to hear out this nudnik for...”. Rather, in spite of their own personal suffering--they thought about others, cared about others, listened to them, and tried to help in whatever way they could. This, in spite of their closeness in proximity to the Mitzriyim--who were the archetypal ‘fair weather’ friends. As HaRav Ezriel Erlanger, Shlita points out, the “Sheva Paros Yefos Mareh--the seven good looking cows were the seven good years--because the Mitzriyim only looked nicely at each other when all around them was well and good...but when the years of difficulty began--they became Paros Ra’os--everyone looking at each other with harshness and cruelty. It is the true hallmark of Bnai Yisrael to be Gomlei Chesed to each other under any and all circumstances--whenever and wherever they may be.


Hakhel Note: At his recent Hakhel Shiur, Rabbi Zev Smith, Shlita, brought a Midrash which teaches that the gift Hashem sends someone in need (of parnassah or other yeshua) could very well be a miskein--a poor or unfortunate person whom Hashem especially directs towards the person in need, so that when one commiserates with him, shows brotherly love and tries to help--Hashem can also do likewise to him...!



Special Note Three: Over the next several weeks, we will be living through Parshios of Geulah, beginning with the first seven Maakos in last week’s Parsha--by which the Mitzriyim were sorely and severely punished and K’lal Yisrael came out unscathed and glorified.  Accordingly, may we once again suggest that this period is an auspicious one for reciting the Tefillah Al HaGeulah, available by clicking here for the tefillah in Hebrew  and by clicking here for the tefillah in English.   ...Remember, if Moshe Rabbeinu would have had the opportunity to offer that 515th prayer--he would have entered Eretz Yisroel, as well.  It is no wonder, then, that Dovid HaMelech teaches us “Kaveh El Hashem…Vekaveh El Hashem---Hope to Hashem, strengthen yourself…and Hope to Hashem.”  Don’t give up--keep on coming and davening again and again.  There is a light at tunnel’s end--you have to have the drive, nightvision and unrelenting goal to get there.



27 Teves

THE DIFFERENCE: In his recent Hakhel Shiur, Rabbi Zev Smith, Shlita, taught that while one may tell a story to a child to put him to sleep--when one tells a story to an adult--it is to wake him up! Accordingly, when one hears a story he should not only think of how ‘nice’ or ‘moving’ it was--but how it can directly and actually move himself to new, better or improved conduct.




Special Note One: The following essential lessons were presented by Rabbi Yosef Eisen, Shlita, at a recent Shovavim Shiur:


1. A REAL GAUGE: In the Sefer Binyan Adei Ahd, HaRav Yoel Schwartz, Shlita, writes that an important part of one’s judgment on Bein Adam L’Chaveiro issues after 120 years will be how he/she treated his/her spouse--for the private nature of spousal interactions will accurately reflect a person’s middos. Remember--always be thoughtful, always be sensitive…excel at the real test!


2. STAY CALM : HaRav Pam, Z’tl, was approached by a young man who told Rav Pam that although he made it his practice to take care of his bodily needs before davening, he often felt as if he had to take care of his needs further during davening itself. HaRav Pam instructed him as follows: “Go to the bathroom once before davening, and that is all.”  Rav Pam continued: “The Ribbono Shel Olam does not want you to be nervous, He wants you to be calm--put all of the rest of those thoughts out of your mind. Be calm and stay calm--this is how you can give Hashem the most Nachas!”


3. YIFTACH B’DORO: When Chazal taught that Yiftach in his generation was like Shmuel in his generation, they are emphasizing to us that the Rabbanim of each generation are our leaders--and that we should constantly look to them for their advice and their p’sokim. One should realize that when he makes it his practice to ask Shailos, his family members and friends come to learn of the importance of doing so. Moreover, with the p’sak and with the hadracha, comes the bracha of the Talmid Chochom--whether explicitly or implicitly! Hakhel Note: With this yesod, we can well understand why Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, reiterates in Mishlei ( 11:14 and 24:6): “U’Seshuah B’Rov Yoeitz--Yeshuah comes from much counsel!”



Special Note Two:  Rabbi Eli Mansour, Shlita provides us with a powerful understanding of the pain of others, and how significant one’s personal pain is in the eyes of Hashem.  Rabbi Mansour teaches that, as the Torah explicitly states in the Bris Bain HaBesorim, the Galus Mitzrayim was to have lasted 400 years (Bereishis 15:13).  Instead, as the upcoming Parasha teaches us, we were released 190 years early--after 210 years.  Non-coincidentally (as it never is), this number of years directly corresponds to the 190 years that Avrohom and Sara waited collectively before they had Yitzchak (Avrohom was 100 and Sora was 90).  The pain that Avrohom and Sara felt was so significant, Rabbi Mansour explains, that it was able to replace and substitute for the pain of an entire nation for the corresponding number of years.  We must be sensitive to and deeply understand the suffering of someone in the hospital, in bed, or who has suffered any type of setback.  Their pain can be the equivalent of the pain of a nation.  To the one suffering, he should be aware that while no human may be able to fathom his sense of suffering--Hashem is All-Knowing and All-Powerful--and that the pain he is going through may be an important part of the final atonement of our nation.  It is impossible for us to know or fathom the complexities of a moment of a person’s, let alone the world’s, existence, but we can understand that the world is under His loving control, and that we only need to do what we are able.  We can begin by davening to Hashem for ourselves and for others carefully, meaningfully--and effectively!



Special Note Three:  Rabbi Eliyahu Schneider, Shlita brings a meaningful Mashal from the Alter of Navardok in the Alter’s Sefer Madreigas HaOdom:  If 20 people each need a light to get through the forest, and each lights a candle in his hut and makes his way outside, the likelihood is that his candle will be extinguished by a wind (even on a non-windy day) before he makes it significantly through the trees and brush--and he very really may be left alone and in the dark.  On the other hand, if those same 20 individuals pool their candles and light one big torch--not only will the torch lead them through the forest--but any sudden or unexpected wind will actually fan the fire--making it stronger and larger!  Such, the Alter teaches, is the strength of a Tzibbur united.  Alone, one may be unable to accomplish.  However, as a group the individual’s weakness actually becomes a part of the group’s strength.  Consider, for instance, one person being careful in the recitation of Shema.  After a few weeks, he quite likely will need Chizuk in this area again, as he is ‘going it alone’.  However, if the Minyan or the Shul took it upon themselves to strengthen themselves together in this Mitzva--and there was a marked pause before the word Shema was recited in order to incorporate the basic Kavanna to fulfill the Mitzvos involved, and then each word of the first Pasuk, for instance, was recited slowly-- imagine the outward impact on the tzibbur as a whole--and the inner impact of Kabbalas Ohl Malchus Shomayim on the inner recesses of each and every member’s soul.  If you can be the one to help your Tzibbur with a better Shema recitation (or other Mitzva which you feel needs chizuk) --you will be helping yourself--and everyone else--make it through the forest--successfully!



Special Note Four: We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.





I have heard that it is very important to purchase STA”M written in thick letters. Is this true? Is there any problem using a sofer whose letters are thin, but has a nice handwriting?



Not only is it important – it is one of the single most important considerations when purchasing STA”M. And indeed, this is more than good advice – it is cited as a halachah in Shulchan Aruch! Your version of the rule, however, should be modified slightly: The writing does not necessarily have to be thick – just not thin.


There are two reasons for this:


Firstly, as the STA”M ages, the ink fades. The works of the Acharonim are replete with responsa concerning fading letters. More important, though, are the connecting limbs of a letter. Many letters possess full, thick body parts which are connected to each other with thin lines. If these connecting lines are written with very thin strokes, they will quite likely fade sooner or later. Similarly, with regard to tagin (crowns above the letters), if they are made too thin, they will certainly fade quickly. This does not mean that one should ask the sofer to put layer upon layer of ink on the STA”M. Such an action would be risky in the sense that such thick letters can easily crack. Rather, as we stated earlier, the important thing is to ensure that the letters, along with their connecting limbs and tagin, must not be thin.


Secondly, in the same vein, when the writing is thin, wear and tear can easily cause the ink to crack off the klaf.


I have often checked tefillin for people who paid significant prices for the supposed privilege of obtaining tefillin parashiyos from well-known sofrim. Unfortunately, all too often, they became either pasul or b’dieved after only ten or twenty years of use due to faded ink. Sometimes these problems cannot be repaired at all since one small slip of the quill can ruin the entire item.


There is one sofer in Yerushalayim who is a master at these sorts of repairs. He is constantly busy trying to salvage STA”M items which have faded or cracked due to thick klaf or thin writing.


Therefore, no matter how beautiful a sofer’s handwriting may be, if his letters or tagin are especially thin, do not buy the STA”M.


NOTE: As a general rule, the decision about whether or not the kesav is too thin should be made by a professional magiah – not by someone with an untrained eye.




24 Teves

REMINDER ON RICOLA--FROM KEHILAH KASHRUS OF FLATBUSH: Subsequent to a great deal of research by the CRC of Chicago, the following flavors of Ricola Drops have been found to be acceptable for use in our establishments TO THE EXCLUSION OF ALL OTHER RICOLA VARIETIES: Green Tea with Echinacea (sugar free), Honey Herb, Honey Lemon with Echinacea, Lemon Mint (sugar free), Lemon Mint, Lemon Verbena, Menthol (sugar free), Mountain Herb (sugar free), Natural Herb (original).”



MEKOL AHM V’LASHON: Immediately before reciting Kriyas Shema during Shacharis, we affirm: “U’Vanu Vacharta Mekol Ahm V’Lashon--and You have chosen us from every language and tongue.” HaRav Ezriel Erlanger, Shlita, teaches that our addition of the word Lashon here is not simply for purposes of poetry or prose. Rather--it is to emphasize to us that one of the great aspects of our uniqueness is in how we speak and what we speak about. We are a people who demonstrate through our spoken words that our essence is Torah, Tefillah and words of Gemilas Chassodim. If we find that a significant part of our words do not involve one of these great elements of our existence--we must take the time and make the effort to re-evaluate, reconsider--and redirect the use of our speech so that we can proclaim daily with truth and pride--U’Vanu Vacharta Mekol Ahm V’Lashon!




Special Note One: Today is the Yahrzeit of the great HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer (B’ R’ Reuven Dov) Dessler, Z’tl, who has had such a magnificent influence on the teachings of our generation.  As we have done in the past on the Yahrzeit of HaRav Yisroel Salanter (his grandfather), Z’tl, and that of the Alter of Navardok, Z’tl, we provide a spiritual sprinkling of his insights as recorded in the Michtav M’Eliyahu:


1.  The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah and the reward of an avaira is an avaira” (Pirkei Avos 4:2).  This means that one’s greater attachment to a mitzvah through toil exerted results in a much greater mitzvah than the one originally contemplated.  Conversely, the impurity that remains with a person as a result of his effort in performing an avaira constitutes in and of itself the punishment.  In another place, HaRav Dessler adds that if one does not feel that he has to wash his hands after leaving a “dirty place”--it is a sign that he has some shaychus--some attachment--to the uncleanliness that it represents!


2.  From the body, one learns lessons for the soul.  When one exercises a limb, the limb rather than tiring, becomes stronger and stronger.  When one puts effort into the study of Torah or in the performance of a mitzvah even when one is exhausted or spent, he is building spiritual muscles.  These muscles are infinitely greater than mere additional flesh on bone.


3. Chazal teach:  ”Fortunate is the one who comes here (Olam Haba) with his Torah study in hand” (Pesachim 50A).  Chazal are careful with their words.  It is not enough for the Torah to be in his mind--it must be in his “hand”--which symbolizes action, accomplishment and effort in the pursuit of what is right in life.  One’s place in Olam Haba will not be measured by his wisdom or acumen, but by how much he tried.  That is why Chazal teach that “one on the bottom here will be on top there.”


4. Chazal teach:  “One must [chayav] say when will my actions reach the actions of my forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov?”  Chazal use the word “must” very judiciously.  A person must view himself as having the capabilities of reaching true heights and spiritual levels, without despairing about his current state.  Ambition and drive must always uplift a person, no matter what his position.


5.  Meloh Kol Ha’Aretz K’Vodo--Hashem’s glory fills the earth.”  If that is so, how is it that one can ever sin?  The answer is that the entire goal and thrust of the Yetzer Hara is to obstruct one’s clarity of thought and mind, for with true clarity, one’s “choice” or “free-will,” would never be a matter of question--even in our times.


6. The pristine act of tzedaka or chesed is one performed in a situation in which one gives up his own personal benefit so that another will enjoy or gain.


7. “For man was created B’Tzelem Elokim” (Bereishis 1:27)--this means that just as HaKadosh Baruch Hu is King of the World, so, too, man must be ruler over his little World.  This can only occur when the soul and spirit rule over one’s body and physical desire.


8. The true madrega (level) of even a Navi or Ish Elokim is his attainment of truth about himself.


9. There are various ways to battle the Yetzer Hora; one of them is to “burn bridges” to your connections to him.  Another is to push him off with the words “Just this time…” or “Just a little longer” or “Just a little more”.  It is for this reason that Moshe Rabbeinu told Paroh that the Jews were to travel three days in the desert--not to fool Paroh, but to trick their own Yetzer Hora into believing that they would not be leaving the spiritual filth and disgust of Mitzrayim.  Hakhel Note:  In another place, HaRav Dessler writes that the Ikar Kiddush Hashem is ‘bechira tova’--making the proper choice against the Yetzer Hara. 


10. The G’ra writes that a person does not stay in one place spiritually--he either goes up or goes down.  The reason for this, as explained by R’ Yozel, Z’tl, is that there is a spiritual force of gravity, as well.  That is, the same force that prevents him from rising is the one that brings him down.  We only need to look up and climb, and we will have overcome its force.


11. There is a Kabala from Rebbi Yisroel Salanter that even if all of the Gates of Prayer are closed--there is always one still open, and that is the Gate of improving your Ruchniyus--growing spiritually.  One should always face to this Gate with emotion and feeling--for your Prayers will then reach their destination!


Postscript: Rabbi Mordechai Becher, Shlita brings the following ma’aseh from his Rebbi, HaRav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita one of the foremost Ba’alei Mussar in Eretz Yisroel today:  HaRav Shapiro, as a bachur, was apparently constantly in Rav Dessler’s home.  One morning, the young Rav Shapiro had a troubled or puzzled look on his face.  Rav Dessler asked him what was the matter.  He responded--”Rebbe, I don’t recall whether I said Sholom Aleichem to you this morning”.  Rav Dessler looked back at him affectionately and replied: “Sofek Shalom Aleichem LeHachmir--if you are unsure whether you greeted someone or not--you must be ‘stringent’ and be sure to greet him--again-- if need be!”



Special Note Two: We continue with our Erev Shabbos--Halachos of Shabbos Series. Today, we present several important p’sokim from Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 306-307:


1. The Pasuk of ‘Mimtzo Cheftzecha’ prohibits one from going to a place which can be perceived as work-related (such as his field or his business) and reviewing or studying something there. However, if it is not discernible that one is thinking about his work or business affairs and one thinks of pleasant or at least non-disturbing thoughts about work/business related issues, this kind of ‘hirhur b’asakav’ would be permissible. One should, however, keep in mind where his initial business-related thoughts may lead him to: ‘I did not do this’, ‘I should have done that’, ‘I forgot this’, ‘Did I lost money on that?....’ It is important that one remember the words we recite at Shabbos Mincha--how we should experience Shabbos: “Menuchas Shalom V’Shalva V’Hashkeit Vavetach Menucha Sheleimah She’ata Rotzeh Bah--a rest of peace and serenity and tranquility and security, a perfect rest in which Hashem would find favor”  (see SA OC 306, Mishna Berurah seif katan 1, Dirshu Note 38). Hakhel Note: Many wonder what the Mizmor Shir L’Yom HaShabbos has to do with Shabbos itself. Rabbeinu Avrohom Ben HaGra answers that the essential Shir of Shabbos is Tov L’Hodos Lashem. Rabbeinu Avraham explains that the neshama yeseirah which enters us on Shabbos always remains in its pure form and reminds us on Shabbos of all that we have to thank Hashem for. This is vital because during the work week, when one may be burdened with his business affairs and does not experience true Menuchas HaNefesh, his words of thanks may not be fully expressed. On Shabbos, when the light of our additional neshama gifted to us from above shines--what should shine along with it is our shevach to the Borei Olam. Based upon this teaching, we must recognize that ‘allowing’ ourselves to think about our businesses and jobs could really undermine the essence of Shabbos as Rabbeinu Avrohom explains it-- Tov L’Hodos Lashem!


2. A lessor or a lender should not prepare a rental or loan agreement which provides for daily rental rates or daily accrual of interest without first consulting with a Rav as to how to properly understand or structure the transaction--otherwise, the gains for the day of Shabbos would be Sechar Shabbos. For instance, there could be different reasons that hotel charges in a Shabbos setting could be permissible-such as payment being made for the food, for the cleaning of the room, etc. (ibid. Mishna Berurah, seif katan 19; Dirshu Note 13).


3. Doctors and midwives should be paid for the services they perform on Shabbos, and if they refuse, they should be given the money as a gift--so that they do not become discouraged in any way from performing such acts in the future (ibid., seif katan 24, Dirshu Note 21).


4. Although measuring on Shabbos is prohibited, measuring for the sake of a Mitzvah is permitted. Accordingly, if one needs to measure a specific amount of formula needed by an infant with the measurements listed on the baby bottle, the Ohr L’Tzion rules that he could so (ibid., Dirshu Note 31).


5. One is permitted to announce that an object has been lost on Shabbos, even if it is Muktzah and could not be returned on Shabbos itself (SA OC 306: 12).


6. HaRav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, Z’tl, rules that one is permitted to own vending machines which operate on a 24/7 basis, and one does not violate Lifnei Iver--for one need not assume that they will be used on Shabbos. The Maharshag writes that they should not, however, be located on one’s property (SA OC 307, Dirshu Note 16).



Special Note Three: We provide the following points and pointers on this week’s Parsha--Parashas Va’eira:


A. The Makkos are divided over the course of two Parshios--seven in this week’s Parsha, and three in next week’s. Why should they be divided? We look forward to your insights. We would like to suggest that perhaps one reason they have been so divided so that, after experiencing a majority of the Makkos, we have the time to take a step back and appreciate them without getting too used to all of the miracles.  If we keep going straight through all of the Makkos, by the eighth miracle, everything seems ‘old hat’, already to expected, and not as ‘miraculous’.  This indeed is a trap that we can fall into in our everyday lives as well, with all of the daily miraculous events and occurrences around us not being properly appreciated.  It is perhaps for this reason that we are to re-ignite ourselves daily with a lively and joyous Mizmor LeSodah every Shacharis (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 51:9), as well as a meaningful Pesukei DeZimra and Birchos Kriyas Shema-- reacquainting ourselves with the wondrous miracles and thanking Hashem for them anew.


B.  We must remember that each Makka was on the one hand a warning and punishment of the Mitzriyim--and on the other hand an extraordinary salvation for K’lal Yisroel.  Thus, each Makka was really a double Nes.  In our own lives, when we recognize a clear event of Hashgacha Pratis or something that really evidences a private Yeshua or even a personal ‘Nes’, we must recognize that it is not a one-dimensional Hashgacha or Yeshua--but rather that very many people may be affected by it in very many ways.  Thus, when one experiences a ‘Nes’, it would perhaps be more accurate for him not to say “I just experienced a Nes”, but rather “We just experienced Nissim!”


C.  We provide the following important insight from Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, Shlita:  In this week’s Parsha (Shemos 8:15 ), the chartumim exclaimed: “Etzba Elokim He--It is a finger of Hashem!”  We should take a lesson from the chartumim, and understand what even a finger can accomplish.  May we suggest that today you look at one of your fingers and EXCLAIM, “This finger is G-d-made!


D.  There is a stunning teaching from the Chofetz Chaim.  The Chofetz Chaim asks why the tefillos of Moshe Rabbeinu to save the Mitzriim from further pain and misery that had been brought on by the zefardea were immediately listened to by Hashem, and the wicked Egyptians were immediately spared from further suffering--yet when the Mis’onninim--the complainers in the desert--were attacked by fiery snakes (Bamidbar 21:6) and Moshe prayed for them--Hashem did not immediately relieve them.  Instead, Moshe first had to make a pole, place the shape of a fiery serpent shape on top--and the people then had to look at it in order to be healed and live.  This was not the same kind of immediate respite at all.  Why were Moshe Rabbeinu’s tefillos not listened to in the same way as they were in Mitzrayim?  Could anyone be more perverse, more rotten, more deserving then the Mitzriim--and they did not have to suffer for an extra day?!  The Chofetz Chaim explains the difference as follows:  The Mitzriyim were being punished for their cruelty and brutality, and the Bnai Yisroel and the world would concomitantly learn a lesson forever of Hashem’s greatness and power.  On the other hand, the Torah testifies that the complainers “Spoke against Hashem and Moshe, ‘Why did you bring us up from Egypt to die in this wilderness…’”(ibid., Pasuk 5).  As a result of their Lashon Hara, not only was their own personal power of Tefillah damaged because their tool of Tefillah--their mouth--was sullied (can you eat a steak dinner with mud in your mouth?) and debased--but even the power of prayers of others on their behalf (indeed--even that of Moshe Rabbeinu who they spoke against) were weakened and undermined, as well.  What a great lesson of the after-effects of those few “irresistible” words--and how they terribly hurt the person saying them--for they stymie not only the Tefillos of the speaker, but those innocent and clean-mouthed ones, as well, who daven on his behalf!  Imagine, on the other hand, a mouth, prompted by the proper Halachos studied--saved from those inappropriate words and fallen moments--and visualize prayers being lifted to the heavens with additional force--together with those who daven for them for a Shidduch, a Simcha, a Refuah, Parnassah, or any Yeshuah or need they may have.  Let us realize that our speech about others combines with our daily speech to Hashem, and if played properly and wisely with the assistance of others results in a moving symphony which can stir the heavens! Hakhel Note: Remember--U’Vanu Vacharta Mekol Ahm V’Lashon!


E. The following meaningful lesson is excerpted from A Vort From Rav Pam, the masterful work by Rabbi Sholom Smith, Shlita (Artscroll):  “After Egypt was engulfed with swarms of croaking frogs, Pharaoh appealed to Moshe to pray to Hashem that they be removed.  Hashem listened and all the frogs (except those in the river) died, leaving huge piles of foul-smelling reptiles all over the land.  Although the odor was unbearable, Pharaoh saw that there had been a relief and kept making his heart stubborn ( 8:11 ).  The pasuk stresses that once the immediate danger was over, Pharaoh hardened his heart and went back to his old, evil ways of stubbornly refusing to let the Jewish nation leave Egypt.  The Torah underscores Pharaoh’s fickleness, in order to show us all a common fault in human nature:  When a person faces a crisis, an illness, accident, or pending disaster, this awakens in him a need for tefillah, teshuvah, and emotion-filled appeals to Hashem.  But once the crisis ends, or even if the situation merely takes a turn for the better, and he sees the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel,’ the hisorerus (inspiration) often quickly dissipates.  He suddenly doesn’t ‘need’ Hashem as much anymore.  This is exactly what happened to Pharaoh.  As soon as the immediate predicament passed, he hardened his heart and refused to let the Jews leave his country.  There is an essential lesson in this concept.  When a person facing a crisis davens to Hashem, he should continue to pray even when he sees that the yeshuah (salvation) is on the way.  This is clearly seen in Megillas Esther.  When the Jewish people were facing their impending extermination, Esther ordered a three-day fast to appeal to Hashem for mercy.  As the Megillah describes, Haman’s planned request to Achashveirosh for permission to hang Mordechai turned into a disaster.  Instead, he was ordered to parade Mordechai through the streets in a way befitting a man whom the king especially wants to honor (6:11).  After this great setback for Haman and personal triumph for Mordechai, Mordechai returned to the king’s gate ( 6:12 ).  Rashi explains that although Haman’s downfall was now beginning, Mordechai nevertheless returned to his sackcloth and fasting, and continued to beseech Hashem for mercy, pleading for the rescue of K’lal Yisroel.  There are many situations in life when a person going through a difficult situation suddenly sees a turn for the better.  That is not a signal to discontinue one’s hisorerus.  A person must pray until the full yeshuah (salvation) comes--and then express his full-hearted gratitude to the One Above!”



Special Note Four: As today is the Yahrzeit of the Ba’al HaTanya (HaRav Shneur Zalman B’ R’ Boruch, Z’tl). HaRav Shneur Zalman is also known as the Ba’al Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Alter Rebbe. We provide a remarkable story presented in a recent issue of the Me’Oros HaTzaddikim:


There was once a chassid of the Alter Rebbe who was a peddler of goods and made a living traveling from town to town selling his items. One time, the Rebbe asked him questions and after hearing the chassids responses, the Alter Rebbe advised him that he should always carry with him three challahs. The chassid did not understand why the Rebbe would give him such a strange instruction, but the chassid did exactly as the Rebbe instructed, trusting that one day he would understand why he got such advice from the Rebbe. And so it happened, one day that the chassid was traveling before Shabbos and he lost his way. Shabbos was approaching soon so he quickly tried to find a place to stay. He knocked on a house and the owner came out with a friendly smile. They exchanged greetings and the chassid explained to the man that he needed a place to stay for the night. The man invited him in and led him to his room. Now, this man was a non-Jew, and when he opened the door to his room, the chassid realized that there was a friend that was going to be staying with him that night--a huge dog that was almost the size of the chassid himself! He realized that his host was not as friendly as he first appeared to be and quickly turned around to exit. By this time the door was locked, and the non-Jew told him through the door that in this room ‘people go in but do not come out’.  The chassid started to daven to Hashem and said vidui. He then noticed that the dog was just sitting quietly in his corner. The chassid then began to daven Mincha. Still, the dog was quiet. He then davened Kabbalas Shabbos and Maariv. The chassid remembered that he had three challahs with him so he found some water in the room, washed and made kiddush on the bread.  The dog listened to kiddush, so to speak, and afterwards was very excited. The chassid realized that the dog wanted some challah, so he ate a kezayis and gave the dog the rest of the loaf.  Needless to say, the rest of the night he did not sleep, with such a “friend” in the room who would sleep? Morning came and the chassid davened Shacharis and the same scene repeated itself with the challah. After Shabbos the owner of the house opened the door to the room carrying a broom and bucket hoping to clean up the bones of the man. Lo and behold he found the chassid sitting in one corner and the dog in the other. He screamed at the dog, “Get that Jew, eat him!” but the dog wouldn’t move. The chassid then said to the dog “Get that man!” and the dog jumped on the non-Jew, tore him apart and killed him. Then the dog took the Jew by his kappota and dragged him to the forest. There he took him to a place where the chassid found a great treasure, a chest filled with gold coins. The non-Jew acquired it all by killing and stealing it from his former guests. The dog grabbed the Jew again and took him outside the forest near his village. At that point the dog died. The Jew realized where he was and made his way home. Before going home he stopped by the Alter Rebbe to tell him all that had transpired. The Rebbe took him in and told him the following: The dog was a gilgul (reincarnation) of a Jew who did not properly fulfill the mitzvah of eating after making kiddush. His punishment was to be stuck in the body of this dog. When you made kiddush for him this was its rectification. The reason he took you to show the gold coins is because he wanted to repay you for helping him accomplish his tikun so he can go to Gan Eden. The Rebbe told the chassid that he should open a business with the gold coins which the chassid did and became a rich man. Needless to say, the chassid realized why the Rebbe gave him the seemingly strange instruction to carry the three challahs with him at all times….




23 Teves

Special Note One: We provide several essential points made by HaRav Tzvi Meir Zilberberg, Shlita in his recent Shiur (in English) given to Flatbush community. For CD’s of the entire Shiur, please contact 718-252-5274.


1. The Eight-Week Shovavim period that we are now in corresponds to the Parshios in the Torah during which we were upended from a status of tortured and debased, low-class slaves to that of a miraculously-freed people which received the Torah from Hashem Himself and honored to build the Mishkan to ‘house’ Hashem’s Presence in this world. The message of Shovavim is that we can during this especially endowed period do the same--by uprooting and overturning the Yetzer Hara’s presence all about us--and raising ourselves closer and closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu--‘housing’ Hashem’s Presence in our hearts and being in the here and now!


2. It is essential for us to realize that elevating our relationship with Hashem is our purpose and goal in this world. The special gift that we are given to accomplish this goal is Tefillah. As Dovid HaMelech exclaimed and as we repeat to ourselves three times a day (Tehillim 145:18): “Karov Hashem Lechol Kore’av Lechol Asher Yikreu’hu V’Emes--Hashem is close to all who call upon Him--to all who call upon him sincerely.” Indeed, in the Haftarah of Shuva Yisrael read on Shabbos Shuva, the first instruction we are given to accomplish our task of Teshuva is: “Kechu Imachem Devarim V’Shuvu El Hashem” (Hoshei’ah 14:2)--take your words of Tefillah with you in order to return to Hashem!


3. Dovid HaMelech actually describes himself with the words (109:4): “V’ani Tefillah--and I am prayer”--for this is the metziyus, the essence, for which we should all strive.


4. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize the importance of Tefillah prior to hardship or difficulty. Chazal especially emphasize to us that “Le’Olam Yevakeish Adam Rachamim Ahd She’lo…Leolam Yakdim Adam Tefillah L’Tzara---a person should ask for mercy before he gets sick, before any trouble comes.”


5. Hashem has established the world on the basis of: “Hashme’ini Es Koleich--I want to hear your voice calling me to be close.” This is the way the world works--and it is accordingly not a miracle when Hashem listens to our prayers--even though the outside world might consider it miraculous under the circumstances.


6. Hashem listens to Kol Peh--to every single person, for it is the obligation of every single person, no matter who he is, where he is, and what he does to draw closer to Hashem and to recognize that Ein Ohd Milvado--there is no source of anything in the world besides Hashem. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh teaches that in the last generation before Moshiach, the Yetzer Hara will attempt to pummel us into the 50th sha’ar of tumah (as he attempted to do in Mitzrayim) in order for us not to be worthy of being redeemed. The technological advancements of late are to fool a person into believing that he literally has the world at his fingertips, and that he can control or attain anything that he would like or needs within seconds--with nothing to stop him. In fact, when driving away this superficiality, we will recognize that whatever generation we live in, and whatever we in fact possess--we really and truly have nothing without Hashem’s ongoing beneficence. We must realize that we do not take care of ourselves, and should view ourselves as a child who is ‘at his father’s table’. It is for this reason that Chazal teach and that the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 98:5) rules that prior to prayer, a person should contemplate his inabilities and the kindnesses in which Hashem sustains and supports him. The more we recognize this, the more we gain, the more we grow--and the more Hashem will want to shower His blessings upon us!


7. Chazal describe Tefillah as something which is “Berumo Shel Olam--at the height of the world because this is where it places us.” Tefillah is the eitzah shel kol haeitzos--the eitzah over all other Eitzos!


8. In the last year of his life, the Chofetz Chaim, Z’tl, advised HaRav Elchonon Wasserman, Z’tl, that when davening for the final Geulah, one should emphasize asking for Hashem’s Rachamim-“Velirushalyaim Irecha B’Rachamim Tashuv” and “Vesechezenah EIneinu B’Shuvecha L’Tzion B’Rachamim” are two very important points in Tefillah in which we can ask for Hashem’s Rachmanus to speedily bring our redemption.


9. The Navi (Yeshaya 56:7) teaches us: “VeHaviosim El Har Kodshi V’Simachtim B’Veis Tefillasi”--when we achieve the final Geulah, we will reach such a level of closeness to Hashem that we will especially rejoice in the Beis HaMikdash as a house of prayer!


10. One should review these very basic lessons and process them--for by recognizing the significance of Tefillah and applying a high priority to Tefillah on a daily basis, he will change his life and bring it so very much closer to its great spiritual purpose and goal!



Special Note Two:  We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




We have been discussing whether it is more worthwhile to choose a sofer with a beautiful kesav, or a sofer who is a great Yirei Shomayim


The argument for choosing a sofer who is a big Yerei Shomayim:


1)      Many of us grew up with an image of a sofer as an old, bent over, heilige Yid (holy Jew) with a long, white beard streaked with yellow, hunched in a corner somewhere in Meah Shearim writing with all the Kavanos (mystical awareness) of the Arizal.


Unfortunately, the fact is that a good many of today’s sofrim are young, technologically savvy and aware of their surroundings and their environment. Although it is, of course, not possible to know how much Yiras Shomayim a person has, nevertheless, there must be certain standards. Just as we try to use only the most reliable people for the other things in life that are really important to us, we should do no less when purchasing STA"M.


2)      STA”M possess an awesome level of kedushah (holiness). The level of kedushah and the hashpa’ah (effect) on us is very much connected with the spiritual level of the person who wrote them.


I was once in the office of someone considered to be a premier sofer. I don’t remember exactly what the issue was, but a comment was made which got him extremely angry. He was quiet for a moment, perhaps struggling to control himself, and then unleashed a couple of unprintable sentences. I had previously seen laxity on his part in other areas, but this was a whole different level of debasement. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “I don’t care how nicely this fellow writes – I wouldn’t want his mezuzah on my doorpost.” There have been many sofrim throughout the years who may not have had the nicest kesav, and yet Gedolim flocked to them in appreciation of their great Yiras Shomayim.


3)      Another major reason to choose a sofer with a great amount of Yiras Shomayim is that such a person should ask a shailah whenever he has the slightest doubt regarding the kashrus of the STA”M item he is writing. Many times I have been present when Rabbanim were approached with far-fetched shailos from sofrim who were worried that there might be a slight problem with what they had written, and that they should therefore take less than the regular price.


Sofrim who are lacking in Yiras Shomayim will rarely ask a shailah. Instead, they will tell themselves things like, “I’m sure there is an opinion to rely on”; or, “I’m sure it’s no big deal, and there’s nothing to worry about.”


People may not realize that shailos arise even with the best sofrim in the world. Some sofrim have more, some have less, but there is no such thing as a sofer who does not have shailos.


Beware of a sofer who does not have a Rav to whom he asks his shailos – no matter how nice his kesav may be! You would be entering a danger zone!




§         Although it is obviously impossible to be 100% sure that the person selling us a STA"M item is truly a Yerei Shomayim, we are still obligated to do our best to try and find someone who is trustworthy.


§         One should never compromise on the halachic quality of the writing just to buy from a Yerei Shamayim. A lack of aesthetics is one thing, a halachic problem is quite another.


§         When you have a choice between two sofrim whose writing is halachically problem-free, but one is an extraordinary Yerei Shomayim while the other is a “regular Yid,” it would be better to opt for the one whose Yiras Shomayim is extraordinary even though the other’s kesav may be nicer. All the more so, when one sofer is clearly lacking in Yiras Shomayim, then there is no question whatsoever that the wiser choice would be to go with another sofer – even if he has a less beautiful kesav.





22 Teves

TEVES! The Luach Bnai Yaakov points out that the Hebrew letters for Teves--Tes Veis and Tuff are an acronym for Tov Vori Tomid--My Creator is Always Good!



YIRAS SHOMAYIM! Rabbeinu Yonah teaches that the Ikar of Yiras Shomayim is avoiding sefeikos --doubtful activity--in daily life.  Not eating what could be the wrong thing, not saying what could be the wrong thing, not wearing what could be the wrong thing because you are not sure whether you should or not...is a great Kiyum of Yiras Shomayim!



KEEPING THE PEACE: A Rav with approximately 30 years of experience of making peace between people recently related that a person who truly seeks peace but has just had a disagreement should tell himself: “In most cases, I should take the responsibility as to fault--with this in mind, let me think this through again--well!”


Hakhel Note: The Rav then added that a great Talmid Chochom once said: “It looks like a Machlokes is about to start with this group that is against me--I will continue to shower my love upon them--until they have no choice but to love me back!”


Special Note One:  Points and pointers on the Shovavim period we are in:

A.  The Sefer Chovos HaLevavos (Sha’ar HaTeshuva, Chapter 7) writes:  “There is an old saying: No sin is small, if one persists in it.  No sin is great, if one seeks forgiveness for it!”

B.  The Sefer Peleh Yo’etz under the topic Ta’anis writes that any time one reduces a Hana’ah of Olam Hazeh in order to attain Kaparas Avonos--it is called a Ta’anis.  Indeed, he adds that, in his opinion, for those who are weaker or are involved in Meleches Shomayim, it is better to eat just bread than to voluntarily fast--for if one eats bread he fulfills a Mitzvas Asei D’Oraysa of bentsching, as well as several Mitzvos DeRabbanan [including the opportunity to recite Asher Kideshanu BeMitzvosav upon washing one’s hands!].

C.  The Satmar Rebbe, Z’tl, taught that one cannot truly fathom the accomplishment of Teshuvas HaRabbim.  He writes that what can take an individual a very long time to accomplish can be accomplished by the Rabbim--B’Rega--in a minute.  Based on this great Yesod--may we suggest that if at all possible you arrange a Shiur during the Shovavim period so that the Rabbim can benefit--and the unfathomable can be accomplished!



Special Note Two: We remind everyone of the moving words of the Sefer Chovos HaLevavos in the Sha’ar Chesbon HaNefesh (Chapter 3).  The translation below is, once again, substantially excerpted from the outstanding Feldheim English translation Duties of the Heart


“….If his heart and consciousness are oblivious to the prayer’s meaning, Hashem will not accept his prayer, which is only mechanical, a mere movement of the tongue.  Just look at what we say at the conclusion of the Shemone Esrei: “Yiheyu LeRatzon…May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You.”  If a person’s thoughts during Shemone Esrei dwell on some worldly matter, permitted or forbidden, and then he concludes by saying, “May... the meditation of my heart be acceptable before You,” is this not most shameful--to claim to have communed with Hashem in his heart and innermost being--when he was actually distracted?  Then he asks Hashem to accept the prayer and be pleased with it!  He is like one of whom it was said, “...As if they were a people that had acted righteously…as if they desired closeness to Hashem....”  (Yeshayahu 58:2).  Hakhel Note:  Perhaps Yiheyu LeRatzon is placed at the end of our Shemone Esrei--and not at the beginning--in order to serve as our reality check, knowing we will be reciting the Pasuk shortly and making sure that we do so honestly in front of the King of kings!


Hakhel Note: HaRav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita asked HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita what people should be davening for on a general basis over and above one’s individual needs.  HaRav Kanievsky responded--for the Moshiach to come….Let’s do so with sincerity and feeling!



Special Note Three:  In this week’s Parsha, the Pasuk records that initially even the Bnei Yisrael did not listen to Moshe Rabbeinu “Because of shortness of breath and hard work” (Shemos, 6:9).  Hashem then tells Moshe to go to speak to Paroh himself to send Bnei Yisrael from his land.  Moshe responds that “…Bnei Yisrael have not listened to me, so how will Paroh listen to me?...”  Rashi, quoting the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 92:7) writes that this is one of the ten Kal V’Chomer (ipso facto or a priori) arguments in the Torah.


HaRav Eliyahu Lopian, Z’tl, wonders “Why is this a Kal V’Chomer?”--i.e., why is it so that if Bnei Yisrael would not listen to Moshe Rabbeinu, then, ipso facto, neither would Paroh.  After all, the Pasuk explicitly expresses the reason that Bnei Yisrael would not listen to Moshe--because of shortness of breath and hard work.  Paroh certainly did not suffer from these, as he sat comfortably on the throne with everything being performed for him and on his behalf.  While Bnei Yisrael may be unable to listen or accept what Moshe Rabbeinu was saying because of their true predicament, Paroh certainly had the wherewithal, the ability and the understanding to appreciate Moshe Rabbeinu’s message!


We may suggest that the Kal V’Chomer does in fact work.  Moshe Rabbeinu was saying: If Bnei Yisrael--the slave people who were the subject of the good news were to be released and still refused to accept it, then why would Paroh as their master take it to heart?!  Chazal, by teaching us that this really is a Kal V’Chomer, are teaching us that the reason Bnei Yisrael did not listen was not a good one.  For, despite the fact that we can commiserate with their unbelievably difficult plight, they should, in fact, have listened to Hashem and to Moshe Rabbeinu.  So too, Paroh, despite his grand position and iron-clad rulership, should have recognized and understood Moshe Rabbeinu’s message to him as well.  Any excuses would simply be unacceptable, as they would more than pale in significance to following the clear and unequivocal mandate and directive of the Master of the Universe, Hashem and His messenger, Moshe Rabbeinu.


Bringing the Parsha’s lesson home:  If we are true believers--i.e., if we truly believe that all of the events and occurrences that surround us, everything that happens to us in life, all of the big and small events, the pain we may suffer and the pleasures and simchas we experience--are personally directed and “micromanaged” by Hashem--then there are certain attitudes and certain phrases which should have no room in our thought process or our vocabulary.  If Hashem has put you in the situation, no matter how stressful or troubling, then he wants you to act responsibly in that situation in accordance with the Torah and the Poskim, which in some instances may require further elucidation by your Rav or your Posek.


Thus, a feeling or a statement of “I cannot do it”, “I can’t handle this”, “It is too hard”, “It is beyond my capability”, “This situation is impossible for me”--which may come sincerely out of real pain, extreme stress and great frustration, should really in truth be avoided, or overcome.  If one cannot control himself, he must at least realize that his statement should not be taken literally, for his Creator and Maker has determined that this situation or event is needed and/or best for him at this time.  Instead, one should ‘listen to Moshe Rabbeinu’, despite the ‘shortness of breath’, the adverse circumstances--even if they are extremely, extremely, adverse--and dig in and rise to the occasion.


Bnei Yisrael, in their pain and misery, did not listen.  Their failure to hear and accept was for naught.  Ten Makkos and a Splitting of the Sea later, they received the Torah at Har Sinai, which made them an eternal people with an eternal life.  Let us take the lesson from the Parsha, and with unfettered faith and complete belief rise up and through the event, position, circumstance or situation.  In this zechus, in the merit of our pure faith and belief--each person in his own way will be zoche to his own beautiful part and portion in that very unique and special eternal life!




21 Teves

VAYIZAKU!  In last week’s Parsha we learned that Bnai Yisrael cried out from their hard work--and Hashem listened to their plight.  Yet, the Pasuk does not specifically there record that they cried out to Hashem.  How was just crying out from work enough for Hashem to pay heed?  A Rav answered because whenever a member of K’lal Yisrael cries out--Hashem is in his words--”Oh, Hashem please help me!” This is still an awesome prayer!



KE’ILU LO YODA:  Chazal teach that the ‘new’ Paroh that we encounter at the outset of last week’s Parsha really did know who Yosef was--but just acted as if he did not know him. The Ba’alei Mussar point out that the same is true of us when we sin--we act as if we don’t know the consequences of sin--but we really do.  Is it right to act like Paroh?!




Special Note One:  Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, Shlita points out that the waters plagued by the Makos of blood and frogs serves as a stark contrast to the fresh water which pours freely and plentifully out of our faucets when we use them.  With this thought in mind, we obviously will have a greater appreciation of the life-giving water that we are about to drink.  A related thought may be to think about how many billions of people will not be making a bracha on the food or drink that they will be having today--neither before or after they eat--and what a privileged position we are in by recognizing and expressing our true appreciation to the Source of Everything in this World!  Additional Note:  The Pasuk on last week’s Parsha records “VaTal Shavasam El HaElokim Min HaAvodah”--their cries reached Hashem from their work.  We can alternatively interpret Min HaAvodah as from their inability to properly serve Hashem because of their enslaved status.  Today, although we are in Galus, and are now unable to do the ultimate Avodah in the Bais HaMikdash--at the very least we are free enough to serve Hashem--through our properly recited Brachos and Tefillos!



Special Note Two: We are now in the second week of Shovavim--special days of return to Hashem occurring over the first eight weeks of Sefer Shemos--weeks which take us out of the Exile of Mitzrayim (to which our contemporary galus is compared).and lead us to redemption and Kabalas HaTorah VeHaMitzvos. We are at a pivotal point in the year--what path will this year be directed in?  One should contemplate where tangible improvement is necessary, and where that improvement can be effectuated, even if only to a small degree.  To get to your destination, you have to get on the road.  Here are some examples:   Honesty--Avoiding the appearance, taint, and if you will, stench, associated with marginal honesty or dishonesty, and behavior or conduct that your Rav (or someone else you look up to) would not be proud of; Giving up the extra few dollars to make sure that you are on the right side of the law.  Words--watching them in a new and special way, whether in the way brachos are expressed, or the elimination of sharp, rough, gruff or unbecoming words from your vocabulary (no matter how many letters they are)--so much purity or impurity can come out of that small aperture we call the mouth.  It is no wonder, then, that the Hebrew word for mouth is ‘Peh’-- having exactly the same letters and root as ‘Poh’-here---as if to indicate that it all starts and ends here--at the mouth.  In fact, in last week’s Parsha, Moshe Rabbeinu pleads with Hashem--who am I to speak to Paroh, and Hashem immediately reminds him--”Mi Sam Peh LaAdam(Shemos 4:11)--Who makes the mouth of man work--is it not Hashem--you must use it for what you are supposed to, recognizing that it is Hashem Himself who is making it work!.  Yiras Shomayim--think first--is the joke really that necessary, especially in Shul (even in the hallway), or while in the midst of performing a mitzvah.  Other examples of Yiras Shomayim could include: (a) sitting straight in awareness of your Maker’s presence (as we have related in the name of HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita); (b)coming on time to daven (as HaRav Simcha Bunim Cohen, Shlita pointed out at a Hakhel Shiur--what lengths would you go to not to be late to a meeting with HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita--and HaRav Kanievsky also serves Hashem!); and (c) choosing silence for a few moments in honor of your realization that you are in the Creator’s presence (as  per HaRav Avigdor Miller, z’tl).... There are, of course, those other Middos or Mitzvos you know you have to get to (the thoughts, the Kabbalos of just a few months  ago)--this is the time, and this is the place...you need only utilize the G-d given opportunities that lie very much ready and waiting in front of you!



Special Note Three:  The following very meaningful episode is part of the Shomrei Halashon Program, as excerpted from the book Tales of The Tongue by Esther Ehrenreich and Chaya Kahan (Artscroll/Mesorah):  “Gunshots and explosions filed the air.  Inside the shelter, people sat crowded together.  No one dared look outside.  A fierce battle was waging and the Jews of the land were the first to suffer.  HaRav Eliayu Lopian, Z’tl sat among them, immersed in Torah thought.  Suddenly, a man broke his train of thought:  ‘Rebbe!’, he said anxiously, ‘they’re speaking Lashon Hora here!’.  “Really?  We must leave here right away!’   HaRav Eliyahu had less concern for the bombs falling right and left.  For him, the sin of hearing Lashon Hora was far greater than the possibility of being hit by falling explosives.   Hashem guided his steps in the right direction, for shortly afterwards a bomb fell on the shelter....’  Hakhel Note: Lashon Hora , the Chofetz Chaim especially reiterated and reinforced to our generation is reviled by Hashem to such an extent that it can involve up to 31 Torah violations. Let us follow the lead of HaRav Lopian--and in these dangerous times stay as far away as possible from this extremely deleterious and highly pernicious behavior--and from those who seek to endanger others with it.  As the wisest of all men taught:  “Holech es Chachomim Yechkam--walk with the Chachomim to become wise--for “Ro’a Kesilim Yeiroa ....those who stay around those who promulgate evil... (we won’t say more--but will only add that it doesn’t make it better if the promulgator is a close family member, someone who you speak you at work who ‘isn’t frum anyway’ or an old classmate or friend who only calls you up from time to time--it is  still Lashon Hora). 


Hakhel Note One: Chazal teach that we were not kept in Mitzrayim because of gezel, arayos, or shefichus domim--but, as Moshe Rabbeinu concluded “Achein Noda Hadavar”(Shemos 2:14 )--because we spoke negatively of others. At the s’neh, Moshe was reminded of this when the mateh turned into a snake, and then reminded of it again by his hand contracting tzara’as (see Rashi to Shemos 4:3 and 4:6).  Succinctly stated, individuals speaking Lashon Hora kept a nation in servitude and prevented them from receiving the Torah!  How more extreme can the consequences be?! The Chofetz Chaim brings the mashal of the person who bored a hole in the ship under the place in which he was standing. Everyone was aghast and began to scream.  “What’s the problem?”, he retorted--”The hole is only under me--I want to have some fun, but you don’t have to worry....”   The proper speech of each and everyone of us is needed to bring us home--please do your part! K’lal Yisrael needs you!


Hakhel Note Two:  To help, we remind you of the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation’s free service--The Shemiras Halashon Shaila Hotline -by which expert Poskim in Shemiras Halashon answer all of your Shailos about Shemiras Halashon--in Shidduchim, Business, family matters--who doesn’t have a Shaila about what should be said or how you should say it?  The Hotline’s number is 718-951-3696, and its regular hours are 9pm to 10:30 pm , and in emergencies at other times, subject to a Rav’s availability.




20 Teves

HASHEM ELOKEINU: A Rav pointed out to us that in Birkas HaMazon--other than in the conclusion of each of the four brachos themselves--wherever Hashem’s Name is mentioned, it is mentioned as Hashem Elokeinu--Hashem our G-d. This demonstrates to us the great level of Hashgacha Pratis that each and every one of us experiences--even down to the particular food that one had just eaten at his meal. Hakhel Note: Oh--how we should rejoice over the Hashgacha Pratis each time we recite Hashem Elokeinu in bentsching!



SHALOM RAV: In Nusach Ashkenaz at Mincha and Ma’ariv, and at Nusach Sefard in Ma’ariv, we begin the last bracha of Shemone Esrei with the words “Shalom Rav”. What does Shalom Rav mean? The Kuntres Avodas HaTefillah writes that when we recite these two short and simple words, we are asking for Shalom HaKollel Harbeh Shelomos--peace that includes many forms of peace…peace from war, peace from jealousy, peace in health of mind and body, peace at home, peace with one’s possessions, and peace from all happenings, instances and occurrences. These two brief words are packed with meaning. With the proper Kavannah…they can bring us a long and powerful way!



FROM GALUS TO GEULAH! In last week’s Parsha, we learn of the horrific plight of Bnei Yisrael at the hands of the Mitzriyim. Yet, by the time we reach the middle of the second aliyah--Moshe Rabbeinu is born! We then proceed for the balance of Parshas Shemos, and will continue in Ve’arah, Bo and Bishalach--with the seeds of and the actual Geulah! This should give us a tremendous feeling of chizuk for the future. Although this Galus has been so difficult and so very long--the Geulah once it comes will vastly overshadow it and continue for a much longer period--actually forever and ever!



THE CLOTHES QUESTION: A popular question relating to Yetziyas Mitzrayim is: If we did not change our clothing and did not wear what the Mitzriyim wore-- this being one of our zechusim for Geulah--why then did we take their finest clothing (semalos) with us when we left? HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, answers that the clothing that we took with us had to changed in some way--and so was in fact symbolic of our not wearing their clothing the way they did! Perhaps we can analogize it in our day to taking those designer names off the shirts, jackets….in preparation for our Geulah!




Special Note One:  Rabbi Yosef Eisen, Shlita relates how HaRav Pam, Z’tl, would constantly relate a great lesson he learned from another Rav regarding Chinuch.  The Pasuk (Shemos 4:3) states that when Moshe Rabbeinu threw down the Mateh, his staff from his hand, it immediately became a snake. Yet, when he picked it up--holding on even only to its tail, it became a staff in his hand.  With this incident, Moshe Rabbeinu, as a teacher of the multitudes, was being taught how to treat all--even the weakest and poorest of his students and disciples.  If you cast them down, they will end up as snakes--by and through your doing.  On the other hand, if you grab hold of them--even to any part of them, they can be rebuilt into the Mateh--and we all know the mateh’s subsequent history.  It is, then, very much up to the teacher, the Rebbi, the Partner-In-Torah, the Ben Torah, to demonstrate an affection and caring to those who can learn from him.  Casting another aside may be justified under the circumstances, and is certainly the easier approach, but it is that grabbing hold of and drawing near, the real concern and the ‘no-let-go and no-give-up’, caring feeling that will ultimately prove successful.  In the mateh’s case, taking hold and holding on literally brought miracles--and in the successful mechanech and Ben Torah’s case, no less is to be expected.  Success will be found in the overriding love, the reaching out in affection, of parent to child, teacher to student, and frum to not-yet-observant.  All you have to do is bring close and keep near, and the rest will be history--that we hope keeps repeating itself!



Special Note Two:  Rabbi Moshe Tuvia, Lieff, Shlita, provided two insights into the phrase in last week’s Parsha “VeHinei Na’ar Boche”--and the child was crying, ostensibly referring to Moshe Rabbeinu after having been discovered by Paroh’s daughter.  First--what was he crying about--after all, wasn’t he about to be saved?!  To this question, HaRav Meir Shapiro, Z’tl, answers that he was crying for the other babies that were not being saved.  In his moment of success and salvation--Moshe was thinking about others.  What a great lesson for us--even if we are well, even if we have a Parnassa, even if matters are otherwise on track--we must still put our heart and soul into our prayers--not only for ourselves for every ounce of continued life comes from Hashem --but to help others as well!  For the second lesson, Rabbi Lieff brought the Midrash and Ba’al HaTurim, which points out that the Na’ar referred to here was actually not the baby Moshe who was too young to be called a ‘Na’ar’, but it was his older brother Aharon--who was crying over the fact that Moshe would be raised in a foreign and alien environment.  Both messages lead to the same result--we must be sure that our Kavannah-filled Tefillos are not only for ourselves, but for others as well.  It is obvious that thinking about the Mitzvah of VeAhavta LeReiacha Kamocha before davening (as the Arizal directs) not only brings Achdus into our Tefillos--but also allows us to bring the plight of others into our minds and hearts as well.  If one has prayed--and realizes that he had prayed for himself and not for others--then let him at the time of this realization daven for others (in specific ways) as well!



Special Note Three: We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




Question: I am willing to spend as much money as necessary to obtain the best STA”M possible. Should I search for a sofer who is a big yerei Shamayim (very God-fearing individual) or one with a very beautiful kesav (handwriting)?


Answer: This is an extremely difficult question to answer. Let us examine the case for both sides in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.


§         The argument for choosing a sofer with a beautiful kesav:


1)      Who are we to judge someone’s level of Yiras Shamayim?


A Rav told me that he was once asked by his father (also a well-known Rav) to buy tefillin parashiyos for him. After some effort, he narrowed it down to two sofrim – one sofer was a bigger Yerei Shamayim while the other had a nicer kesav.


The Rav’s father said immediately, “I’ll take the nicer kesav.” He then proceeded to explain: “How do you know that Sofer A is a bigger yerei Shamayim than Sofer B? This is something that is impossible to really know. However, if Sofer B has a nicer kesav, that is a fact.

2)      Even when buying STA”M from a great yerei Shamayim, you might not be getting what you want.

For instance, certain sofrim who may be considered by many to be true yerei Shamayim sometimes can form their own halachic opinions. Some may not understand that when someone is spending “mehudar” money, they would like to receive a product which is mehudar according to all recognized opinions, not just the sofer’s.

3)      Not every yerei Shamayim is a good sofer.

I was once asked to check the beginning of a Sefer Torah which was in the process of being written by a ‘mekubal’. Unfortunately, the Sefer Torah was a complete disaster! Aside from the kesav, which looked almost childish, there were many halachic problems with the letters as well. The overall appearance was so awful that when part of the Sefer Torah was shown to a particular Rav, he blurted out, “Why, it’s not even fit to dance with on Simchas Torah!”


The way to judge this mekubal favorably is by recognizing that he was very old, and apparently did not realize to what extent his writing, which was once on par with average sofrim, deteriorated.

In any event, these are three reasons why choosing a sofer who is a big yerei Shamayim may not necessarily ensure that you will receive a quality STA”M product.




17 Teves

FROM PRAYING WITH FIRE --RELATING TO GALUS AND GEULAH! Rashi cites a Mechilta that explains the phrase, it was at the end of four hundred and thirty years [that Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim]. The Mechilta tells us that once the preordained end of the exile arrived, Hashem did not delay the Jews from leaving for even the ‘blink of an eye’. But the arrival of the preordained time was not enough by itself to set the redemption in motion, the Ramban explains. It was when “Hashem heard their moaning” that He remembered His covenant. “They were not... redeemed, except for the fact that their prayers were accepted with pity and mercy.” Tefillah, along with repentance, will be the catalyst that sets in motion the Final Redemption as well. The She’arim B’Tefillah (Harav Shimshon Pincus, Z’tl) notes that even if everything is prepared and ready for the Redemption, if the Gates of Tefillah are not opened, nothing will be accomplished. This is the meaning of the pasuk, “With weeping will they come, and with supplications will I lead them.” (Yirmiyahu 31:8) As the Darchai Noam comments, “One must be very careful with his tefillos, certainly in the time when the arrival of Mashiach is at hand…for it is on them--those very tefillos-- that the coming of .Moshiach depends.”


Hakhel Note: More on this below!



PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT:  The Orchos Chaim L’Rosh (120) writes: “Levatel Ritzonecha Bifnei Retzon Acheirim--one should negate his will in favor of the will of others.” We suggest that the more one practices this Middah--the more beloved and loving he will become!




Special Note One: Today is the 209th Yahrzeit of the Maggid of Dubno, HaRav Yaakov b’r’ Zev (Wolf) Kranz, Z’tl, whose legacy of Meshalim to bring lessons of the Torah to us all remains unparalleled to this very day.  Some of the Maggid’s Mesholim have been collected in English in The Maggid of Dubno and His Parables by Dr. Benno Heinemann (Feldheim Publishers).  We present below one of the great Mesholim, excerpted from this meaningful Sefer:


“The Maggid was once collecting funds for a charitable cause, when he met a wealthy man who had the unenviable reputation of being a miser.  In order to induce the man to make even a small donation, the Maggid proceeded to enumerate some of the contributions that he had already received, not from wealthy people but from simple artisans and shopkeepers.  “You know Chayim the blacksmith gave me five thalers, Yossel the shoemaker gave me six....”  The wealthy man interrupted--”I would not call these people charitable--they are poor men, and when they die they will not leave anything worth mentioning.  But I have made my will, and in it I leave much money to the poor after my death.”  The Maggid replied, “Your point is well taken, but let me provide you with an appropriate Moshol:  Do you know the difference between a hen and a pig?  The hen is a small animal, and does not have much to give.  Her eggs are small and light, and may weigh only two ounces each.  Yet, the farmer will coddle her like a baby.  Even if she would leave her coop, walk into her master’s house and track dirt over the newly washed floor --not even a feather on her back would be touched even by the mistress of the house.  Now, the pig is much larger.  It weighs 200 pounds, and of this 25 pounds are pure lard.  You would think it is quite valuable then, would you not?  Yet no one is ever nice to the pig.  If it leaves its sty, it is driven back with a broomstick, and if it dared to enter its master’s house it would get a beating it would not soon forget.  What then is the basis for the difference between the hen and the pig?  The hen may not have much--but what she does give, she gives faithfully each day as long as she lives.  The pig may have much more wealth to offer, but it will give it up only after it is dead.  Now tell me, which of the two is the worthier donor...?!”


With these words of the Maggid (may his teachings be a zechus for his holy neshama, and for us all), we provide the following additional salient reminders about Tzedaka-giving--as excerpted from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch itself (the following translation is based upon the masterful translation of the Kitzur published by Feldheim):


1.  A person should reflect that, at every moment, he asks Hashem for his livelihood.  Just as he requests that Hashem hear his cry, so too should he hear the cry of the poor.


2.  One must at all times realize that he is not reducing his wealth by giving of it to the poor--for after all the money is not his, but rather a trust granted to him in order to carry out the will of the One who entrusted it to him. Tzedaka is the portion which he will ultimately receive for all his labor in this world, as the Pasuk (Yeshaya 58:8) states: ‘Your Tzedaka will proceed before you’.  Tzedaka wards off harsh decrees and prolongs one’s life.  The highest form of giving is to assist a poor Jew maintain his position before he reaches utter poverty. This includes giving him a proper gift in an honorable manner, granting him a loan, involving him in a partnership, or finding him a business or profession which allows him to support himself, and thus not be forced to rely on others.  This is taught by the specific words of the Torah (Leviticus 25:35): “You shall come to his aid - i.e., assist him so that he does not fall.


3.  One should take care to give Tzedaka secretly, hiding one’s gifts to the greatest extent possible. If it is possible to give in a manner where the donor is unaware of the identity of the recipient, and the recipient of the donor, this is very desirable. At the very least, one should not boast of the Tzedaka he gives.  Nevertheless, a person who consecrates an article as charity is permitted to write his name upon it, so that it will serve as a memorial for him, and It is fitting to do so.


4.  In particular, attention should be paid to give Tzedaka to a poor Torah Sage in a manner fitting to his honor.  If he does not want to accept charity, he should be offered merchandise for business dealings.  It should be sold to him at a low price and purchased from him at a high price.  If he is knowledgeable in commerce, he should be lent money to invest in a business.  Chazal (Pesochim 53b) declare, “Whoever supplies a Torah Sage with merchandise merits to sit in the Heavenly Academy ”. 


Hakhel Note:  At the very least, we should give some Tzedaka today L’ilyui Nishmas the Dubno Maggid--whose sage advice we have all heard at one time or more likely many times in the past--and who has provided us with this valuable instruction on Tzedakah which we should never forget!



Special Note Two: We continue with our Erev Shabbos--Halachos of Shabbos Series:


Every Wednesday HaRav Yisroel Dov Webster, Shlita, noted Posek, Dayan Sha’arei Mishpat, and author of The Halachos of Pregnancy and Childbirth, gives a Hakhel Shiur to women in Borough Park attended now by approximately 125 women.   This winter, Rabbi Webster’s Shiurim are on Hilchos Muktzah. Last winter he gave a series of Shiurim on Hilchos Borer, and at the end of the series the women were given a bechina of 100 questions. We have previously provided the answers to the first 62 questions, and we will now continue with the goal of completing all 100 questions. For tapes and CD’s of the Shiur, please call: 718-435-6974.


63. Is one permitted to take out a cake from the freezer in order for it to defrost due to borer?

One is permitted to remove an item from the freezer in order for it to defrost. If the item is mixed together with other items, then there is an issue of borer and all three conditions must be satisfied in order to remove the item. The condition of ‘immediate use’ in this instance would be the time frame that is actually necessary for the item to defrost--and accordingly one certainly could not remove an item to defrost on Friday night for use on Shabbos morning.


64. If one has an apple with a small amount of spoiled area, what should one do in order to remove the spoiled area?

One could either simply eat the good part and leave the spoiled part, or one could cut the spoiled part with some of the good before eating the rest of the apple. A third alternative would be for one to cut the good part off the apple and leave the spoiled part. The key is to think in advance!


65. How does one remove the leaf of a tomato?

The rules of borer apply, and one must satisfy all three conditions. One cannot remove the leaf from the tomato for the leaf is considered as pesoles . Therefore, one must remove the tomato from the leaf.


66. Is one permitted to wash fruit? Why?

Yes. One is permitted to hold the fruit under the water faucet to wash it. However, one is not permitted to soak the fruit in a bowl in order for the dirt to rise, because it is considered as taking pesoles from ochel. Similarly, some poskim are of the opinion that one is permitted to use the basket that came with the fruit or vegetables (e.g. cherry tomatoes that come in a basket) to wash them. Other poskim prohibit one from using the basket, for in their opinion it considered as a vessel of borer, which aids in the borer process.


67. Is one permitted to use a pot cover to pour the soup which he wants out and hold back the bones and vegetables?

No, because he would be using the pot cover as a vessel to perform borer.


68. Is one permitted to use a slotted spoon to take meat or vegetables out of the soup?

There is a dispute among the Poskim if one is permitted to use a slotted spoon. Some Poskim are of the opinion that one is permitted to use a slotted spoon in order to quickly remove food from a pot. However, one may not hold the slotted spoon in order to drain the liquid (e.g. one may not hold the spoon up against the side of the container or pot to drain the liquid). The same would be true with regard to using a fork to remove coleslaw from a container--one may not position the fork in a manner which would drain the juice. Other Poskim are of the opinion that one may absolutely not use a slotted spoon to remove food that contains liquid. However, one would be  permitted to use it to move a totally dry item, i.e., where no liquid would separate from a solid through the spoon.


69. Is one permitted to prepare a fruit platter for one’s children to eat in the park (in a place where there is an eruv)?

HaRav Shmuel Vozner, Shlita (the Shevet HaLevi) permits it.


70. Is one permitted to prepare children’s clothing Friday night in order for the children to get dressed Shabbos morning?

If  the clothing is mixed the rules of borer apply, and one must satisfy all three conditions. In this situation, preparing the clothing is not for immediate use.


71. Is there a problem of borer to take Seforim out of a bookcase?

It depends. If there is light in the room and the Seforim have a name on them, then there is no problem of borer, because each Sefer is discernible by its name. However, if one cannot tell what Sefer it is because the lights are off then there is an issue of borer, and one must satisfy all three conditions. HaRav Moshe Feinstein, Z’tl, suggests that if one is looking for a certain Sefer, one may take out a Sefer and if it is not the Sefer that one is looking for, one should learn from the Sefer and then return it to the Seforim bookcase.


Special Note Three:  We provide the following notes on this week’s Parsha, Parshas Shemos: 

A.  In last week’s Parsha, we find an emphasis on Yosef and his descendents not being subject to Ayin Hara.  In this week’s Parsha, we likewise find that Bnei Yisrael multiply at an absolutely incredible rate--with the Mitzriyim being unable to stop it, either by brutality or sorcery.  What is the secret of success--how can one avoid the, r’l, potentially devastating effects of an Ayin Hora?  HaRav Dessler, Z’tl, in the Michtav Me’i Eliyahu (4: p.6) teaches that if one lives a life of giving, and his days are full of doing for others, then no one will be jealous of him.  It is only when one conducts himself in a manner which could engender jealousy that the Middas Hadin could be aroused against him, and an Ayin Hora result.  A person whose life is centered around Chesed and helping others, as opposed to the “I” and a self centered life, will simply fall under the radar, be “hidden from the eye”, and will enjoy the resulting benefit of an Ayin Hora-free life! 

B.  There is another remarkable lesson from the fact that the Bnei Yisrael were able to multiply to such an extent under the horrifying conditions under which they lived.  That is, you may sincerely and legitimately come to a logical analysis and conclusion about a particular person, circumstance, situation, or event, and quite a different conclusion may (and in so many cases will, in fact) result.  There should have been no way for an oppressed, beaten, and downtrodden people to continue to exist for two hundred years, let alone thrive.  Yet, “the more they were afflicted, the more they increased and spread out in the land.”  Similarly, in last week’s Parsha, after Yaakov Avinu’s Petira, Yosef no longer sat with his brothers to eat their seudos together.  Rashi explains that the brothers “concluded” that Yosef was now showing his true feelings towards them--avoiding them at all costs because of his anger and disdain for them.  The Sifsei Chachamim to Rashi teaches that Yosef’s feelings were really just the opposite.  He did not want to eat a meal together with them, because he felt that as a younger brother it would be inappropriate for him to sit at the head of the table.  On the other hand, it would not be “Kavod HaMalchus,” showing the proper respect for royalty if he simply sat among them, and let his older brothers sit in the more dignified positions.  He therefore determined that it would be best to avoid the issue (the Sifsei Chachomim does not explain why he didn’t explain this to them, but it may be related to halachic concerns relating to mechila, or that he did explain it, and they were concerned about the other reason as well, but we certainly cannot judge).  So, from both last week’s Parsha and this week’s Parsha, we know that “jumping to a conclusion” albeit perfectly logical and justifiable, is absolutely incorrect.  One’s attitude towards another person should not be determined by a one-time look over, a few cursory conversations, or even a few misstatements, insulting remarks, or mistakes.  Very often, conclusions, even if scientific, can be wrong, and one must realize that Hashem runs the world, that there is more than meets the eye, and that if one consciously reframes his initial analysis, determination, or conclusion into a more favorable and positive one--he will ultimately see that this will prove constructive not only in his interpersonal relationships, but for his own personal optimism and happiness, as well.  Now, you may “conclude” that you know all of this--and that it is not you, but the other guy, who jumps to those conclusions.  Nevertheless, we ask that you reconsider this very conclusion--and, one by one, as they happen, catch yourself from jumping to those negative, unwarranted, and simply incorrect conclusions--instead seeing the beauty of Hashem’s Guiding Hand, and the beauty of His Wonderful Creations and His Wonderful world! 

C.  There is an astonishing Pasuk in this week’s Parsha.  The Pasuk states: “But the midwives feared Hashem and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them…” (Shemos 1:17).  How could it be that two women could flagrantly violate and disobey the direct orders of the king of Egypt--the most powerful monarch of his time?!  We could understand if the Pasuk would teach us that they tried saving some babies or that they pleaded with the king--but to wholeheartedly and completely disobey--would surely mean execution in a matter of minutes!  HaRav Matisyahu Salomon, Shlita, explains that the basis, the source of the actions, of Shifra and Puah are revealed by the first part of the Pasuk--”But the midwives feared Hashem…”--it was their fear of Hashem that allowed and caused them to overcome all obstacles.  They obviously had devoted much time and effort in developing such a level of Yiras Shomayim.  HaRav Salomon therefore suggests that a great lesson that we each can learn from the midwives is to spend time studying Sifrei Mussar and absorbing shiurim which helps us develop our Yiras Shomayim.  If, as the Pasuk specifically describes them, “midwives”, can stand up and succeed against the king of the only superpower on earth at that time, we, too, can accomplish much in our own personal environments with the proper thought and study--by taking a set time every day and learning how we in our personal lives can battle--and win against--all those “kings of Egypt”--all the machinations of the Yetzer Hara--around us so often in our daily lives.

D.  “And [Hashem] said: ‘Do not get close to there; remove your shoes from your feet, because the place you are standing on is holy ground.’” (Shemos 3:5).

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh (ibid.) asks a stark question. Moshe Rabbeinu is first commanded not to get closer to the burning bush, and only after that to take his shoes off, for he was on holy ground. Should he not have been commanded first to take off his shoes-as he was already on holy ground-and then, not to get closer to the bush? The Ohr HaChaim responds that with the order of this Pasuk, Hashem reveals His true will-His main concern-is fulfillment of the Mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh-for when violating a Lo Sa’aseh, by taking action, a person actually wounds his soul.  It is for this reason that when the Torah urges us “to be careful” and “to do” in the same Pasuk, the Torah always precedes “shemira” (guarding oneself from violating a negative prohibition) and then follows it with the “asiyah” (doing the positive commandments of Hashem).

Dovid HaMelech (Tehillim 34:15) reinforces this priority by teaching that a person who wants life, who loves days to see good, is the one who is “sur meirah” (turns away from evil), and is “aseh tov” (does good).  Of course, there are 365 negative prohibitions and the 365 days of the solar calendar correspond to them. Perhaps this is to teach us that we are to be on constant guard-on a day in, day out basis-to avoid violating the negative prohibitions.

Perhaps we can also suggest that there was an additional lesson to Moshe Rabbeinu here-that, in fact, he had to be careful wherever he may be-for everywhere he or we go is ‘admas kodesh’ (holy ground). We are on ‘holy ground’ when we consciously refrain from violating Torah prohibitions, including:

Not saying Hashem’s Name in vain (Shemos 20:7) 
Eating something which is questionably kosher (even though it may have some Hebrew writing on it) (Vayikra 11) 
Not holding back wages (Vayikra 19:13 ) 
Not insulting someone else (Vayikra 19:14 ) 
Not to cause another to sin or give him bad advice (Vayikra 19:14 ) 
Delaying to save someone in danger (Vayikra 19:16 ) 
Not to embarrass another (Vayikra 19:17 ) 
Not to cheat with weights and measures (Vayikra 19:35 ) 
Doing something which could result in Chillul Hashem (Vayikra 22:23 ) 
Not to be closed-handed to the poor (Devarim 15:7) 
Refraining from getting involving in returning a lost item (Devarim 22:3)
Allowing ourselves or our children to wear Shatnez (Devarim 22:11 ) 
Delaying fulfillment of a promise you have made (Devarim 23:22 ) 

And all of the other mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh. We have a great opportunity, on a daily basis, to stand on holy ground, as the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh states-when we avoid violating the Mitzvos Lo Sa’aseh we are performing HaKadosh Boruch Hu’s “Ikar Daas and Ratzon”.

Practical Suggestion: Each day for (at least) the next 7 days, take a Mitzvos Lo Saa’seh you feel may need some chizuk in your life and be especially mindful and careful with it, or learn more about a Mitzvos Lo Saa’seh that you are relatively unfamiliar with (see Sefer HaChinuch –in English published by Feldheim Publishers; Sefer HaMitzvos of the Rambam; and Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzur of the Chofetz Chaim for further study).

Remember-you are always on holy ground!

E.  The Ramban writes that the Galus of Mitzrayim was a forerunner of the Galus of Edom.  In thinking about the Galus of Mitzrayim, we realize that the Bnei Yisrael fell into a complacent attitude in Egypt, with some even leaving Goshen, as part of an inappropriate Galus mentality.  We are to learn from our mistakes--especially from the mirror and forerunner of our current Galus--and we should consider how we can avoid the same kinds of traps.  As we have noted in the past and as one small example, we cite the names of the following food products available at the 7-11 food chain across the country--some of which may be ‘kosher’: Big Gulp, Super Big Gulp, Double Gulp--and wonder whether these terms and the large container of single-serving drink are truly fit for a Jewish home or Jewish consumption.  One can think of many other examples, and can share them with us if he would like.  Every year, at the Seder, we review the items that took the Bnei Yisrael out of Golus and into Geulah--Lo Shinu Es Shemam, Es Leshonam, Es Malbusham--we must bring these to life in our times, in order to get out of the mess of our current Golus!

F.  Yosef HaTzaddik gave the Bnei Yisrael the ‘password’ for the Go’el who would come, which was Pakod Yifkod.  Many ask if the ‘password’ was so simple and known by all, how could we rely on the Go’el when he truly came?  HaRav Simcha Soloveitchik, Z’tl (a brother of HaRav Chaim, who lived in America ), explained that Moshe was a Kevad Peh--which meant that it was difficult for him to say the letter Peh.  Accordingly, for Moshe Rabbeinu to say Pakod Yifkod--with two Pehs-- was truly a miraculous feat!

Hakhel Note:  There is a well-known, astounding commentary of the Ramban in this week’s Parsha. The Ramban (Shemos 4:10) writes that the only thing preventing Moshe Rabbeinu from being healed of his speech difficulties was his prayer to Hashem asking for a Refuah Sheleima.  Had he done so, the Ramban writes, he would have been healed forthwith.  In sharp contrast, the Torah records in the Parsha that the Bnai Yisrael were zoche to the Geulah by virtue of “Va’Taal Shavossom El HaElokim”--their Tefillos simply pierced the Heavens. Let us TAKE THE LESSON.  Over the next several weeks, we will be living through Parshios of Geulah, beginning with the first seven Maakos in this week’s Parsha--by which the Mitzriyim were sorely and severely punished and K’lal Yisrael came out unscathed and glorified.  Accordingly, may we suggest that this period is an auspicious one for especially dedicated Tefillos for Geulah.  Remember, if Moshe Rabbeinu would have had the opportunity to offer that 515th prayer--he would have entered Eretz Yisrael, as well.  It is no wonder, then, that Dovid HaMelech teaches us “Kaveh El Hashem…Vekaveh El Hashem---Hope to Hashem, strengthen yourself…and Hope to Hashem.”  Don’t give up--keep on coming and davening again and again.  There is a light at tunnel’s end--you have to have the drive, night vision and unrelenting goal to get there!

G.  The Pasuk teaches that when Moshe Rabbeinu left the king’s palace, he noticed the hard work of the Bnei Yisrael.  As the Pasuk records--VaYa’ar BeSivlosam--he saw their burdens.  The Seforno writes that Moshe Rabbeinu’s initial introduction to this tza’ar of K’lal Yisrael, inspired him to help not because of his royal bearing, or because it was the “right thing to do”--but rather, “Mitzad HaAchvah Hisorer La’azor”--he acted because he felt a brotherhood and kinship to his people.  The rest is more than history--as Moshe Rabbeinu is thereafter found constantly--through the last Pasuk of the Torah!  We must realize that it is important for us to do more than pity others, commiserate with them, or ‘do something good’--we must feel the oneness with our brothersHaRav Simcha Zissel wrote that frequently when people hear that one is recuperating from an illness, they are happy and no longer feel for his pain and suffering.  This is not proper.  As long as your brother still feels even slight pain, one feels for his suffering, just as the person himself feels the pain until he is entirely healed.  We must work on acquiring this sensitivity, as it does not come naturally (Chochom U’Mussar, Volume I, p. 11, as quoted in Love Your Neighbor, by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shlita).

H.  It is interesting to note that the abbreviation that is commonly used for Bnei Yisrael is Bais Nun Yud--which spells Bonai--My [Hashem’s!] children

I.  What do the following acts from the Parsha all have in common?  If one can find the common denominator--he may perhaps have gleaned the Great Lesson of the Parsha!

1.  The Torah especially describes how Bisya bas Paroh saves Moshe from the Nile. 

2.  The Torah especially describes how Miriam waited to see what would happen to Moshe.

3.  The Torah especially describes how Moshe goes out to see the suffering of his people, smites the Mitzri, and is ultimately zoche to the events of the Seneh, and everything afterwards that resulted from it.

4.  The Torah especially describes how Yisro tells his daughters--why did you leave the man alone?  Call him and we will give him a meal.

5.  The Torah especially describes how Aharon will be happy to see Moshe (VeRo’acha Vesomach BeLibo).

What would you say threads these events of the Parsha--as the seeds of Geulah-- together?

We suggest that each one of the above is a singular act by one individual. It is not the act of the many, nor is it the act of one person many, many times over.  Yet, each one of these singular acts by a single individual had great and everlasting ramifications.  Moshe was forever called by the name Moshe--the name given him by Bisya--rather than his original Lashon HaKodesh names of Avigdor, Tov, Tuvia etc.  This was the result of the selflessness and kindness of her act (Shemos Rabbah 1:26).  Miriam waited to see what would happen to Moshe for a few moments--and B’nei Yisrael forever learned what an act of caring meant--for in this zechus millions waited for her for a full week!  Moshe saw--and felt--the suffering, and became the Moshia’an Shel Yisrael.  Yisro called Moshe in--and not only became his father-in-law for eternity--but was zoche to have his descendants sit in the Lishkas HaGozis on the Sanhedrin.  Aharon was happy to see Moshe--despite the fact that Moshe would now be the leader--and was zoche to have the Choshen placed on his heart--as well as the hearts of all of the future Kohanim Gedolim who followed.  The process of Geulah, then, is inextricably the direct and causal result of the individual acts of individuals.  What a lesson for each and every one of us--each and every act--of each and every one of us--really does tangibly and palpably count!  Let us not permit that one act of kindness, that one act of caring, that one conscious aforethought to slip away--to go unexercised, unused or unaccomplished.  Let us realize that we are part of the Geulah process--person by person--and act by act!




16 Teves





As a rule, all woolen items are required to be professionally shatnez tested. Numerous instances of shatnez are currently being found in a variety of woolen items. In one recent finding, a boot was lined with wool and laced with linen laces. The boot is considered shatnez according to the rulings of the Rabbonim of Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez, Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rabbi Meshulam Polatshek.


Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez certifies shatnez laboratories in the tri-state area.

Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez can be reached at 1.877.4.SHATNEZ



FROM A READER: “In the Shul that I daven at, our Rav started a “Good Morning” campaign, and that is ANYONE that we see in the morning Jewish or not, we say “Good Morning”.  Our Rav told us that when someone smiles and warmly “Good Morning!” to another it makes everyone feel so good and the day goes so much better…!”




Special Note One: The following touching lesson from HaRav Shimon Schwab, Z’tl, was published in a recent issue of the Pirchei Weekly, under the title “The Way of a Jew”:


HaRav Schwab was renowned for his integrity in all areas. In monetary matters, he went far beyond the strict requirements of Halacha, and in doing so, sanctified the Name of Hashem.  Once, HaRav Schwab visited his son Rav Myer when the latter was a student at Mesivta Rabbi Chaim Berlin . The two then went to a subway station to travel to Manhattan . Rav Myer spotted a few quarters lying on the ground near the token booth. His father instructed him to give them to the clerk at the token booth. Rav Myer was prepared to obey, but he was somewhat puzzled, for a subway station is considered a public domain and the Halacha clearly allows one to keep an item like money (which has no identifying characteristics) when it is found in such an area. Respectfully, he asked his father for an explanation. HaRav Schwab explained to his son: “Certainly you are correct—from a halachic standpoint, the money is yours. But in our day and age, we have to utilize every opportunity to be Mikadeish Sheim Shomayim and demonstrate what Torah Jews are all about. You hand the money to the man in the booth and I will stick my beard into the window so that he will see who we are!”


Years later, HaRav Schwab visited Rav Myer in Denver , where he serves as Dean of the city’s Bais Yaakov. One day, Rav Myer brought home two of his father’s suits from the cleaners. Upon examining the receipt and counting his change, HaRav Schwab realized that he had mistakenly been charged for only one suit. When R’ Myer checked the figures, he said, “Yes, it’s certainly a mistake. Tomorrow I’ll pass by the store and pay the difference.” “It should not wait for tomorrow,” his father replied. “We should take care of it right now. I will come along.” At the time of his visit to Denver , R’ Schwab was still able to walk, but with difficulty. Nevertheless, he insisted on accompanying his son to contribute his share to this Kiddush Hashem. They arrived at the shopping mall and Rav Myer pulled up right in front of the cleaners so that the proprietor could see his father sitting in the front seat. Rav Myer entered the store, explained what had happened and paid for the suit. The proprietor turned to look out the window and HaRav Schwab smiled and waved at him from the car. The proprietor told Rav Myer, “Rabbi, you didn’t have to make a special trip for this — you could have brought the money in tomorrow!” “I know,” Rav Myer replied, “but to my father, the matter could not wait until tomorrow; it had to be rectified right away.” [Adapted from: More Shabbos Stories with kind permission from Artscroll]


Hakhel Note: Something we can all learn from, something we can all do!



Special Note Two:  We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




We have been discussing the importance of being familiar with the various persons involved with Sta”m (and their qualifications), before the product reaches the consumer.




A socher is an individual who deals in all sorts of STA”M items. He purchases parashiyos of tefillin, mezuzos, megillos, battim, retzuos, and even Sifrei Torah to have available for potential customers.


When buying from a socher, we are, in essence, putting more faith in him than we are in the sofer.


The sofer is a single individual, and if the customer knows and trusts him, that’s where it starts and that’s where it ends.


On the other hand, when purchasing STA”M from a socher, we are also relying on his word that every single one of the (possibly) tens of sofrim, magihim and battim machers from whom he purchases is 100% trustworthy and capable.


The importance of the socher being an expert in Hilchos STA”M cannot be overstated. The unfortunate reality is that many sochrim are not at all well-versed in these halachos. The fact that the socher may have learned Hilchos STA”M once or twice in the distant past, does not qualify him as an expert.


A Socher who is not well-versed in Hilchos STA”M can simply not provide a personal opinion as to the Kashrus status or mehudar status of a STA”M item. He may mean that the kesav (handwriting) is nice. This has absolutely nothing to do with the level of Kashrus of the item.


Moreover, a socher who is not well-versed in Hilchos STA”M cannot possibly know how to protect himself from buying and selling sub-par items. Consequently, his entire business career can be one of unwittingly selling b’dieved items (kosher only by relying on lenient opinions) as mehudar. And neither he nor the consumer will ever know!


There is, unfortunately, a third category: sochrim who are simply dishonest.


A case in point:


I was once standing on line in a Judaica store. In front of me was a young newlywed looking to purchase mezuzos for his new home.


I overheard the chosson ask the prices of the various mezuzos, which turned out to be $35, $55, $75 and $99. He then asked the gentleman behind the counter why there was such a large price differential, and if the lower-end prices indicated lesser halachic levels.


The response was immediate: “Oh no, all the mezuzos are fine halachically. The only difference between them is the beauty of the handwriting.”


Glancing over the shoulder of the naive customer, I observed the mezuzos in question, and realized that this was simply not true. The $35 mezuzos were at best b’dieved, and the $55 mezuzos were not much better. Only the $75 mezuzos were clearly l’chatchilah – at least in terms of the handwriting.


After the young man left the store, I asked the salesman how he could possibly have said such a thing to a customer – clearly the cheaper mezuzos were b’dieved! After a few moments of hemming and hawing, he looked at me sheepishly and said, “Look, between me and you, of course the cheaper mezuzos are b’dieved, but what can I do, Rabbi _______ (the store owner) told me on my first day at work, ‘In this store, we don’t use the word b’dieved.’”


It is a tremendous nisayon (test) for a socher to tell a customer that a mezuzah is b’dieved, knowing that the customer may then go to a different socher who will sell him an identical mezuzah saying that it is l’chatchilah, or even mehudar.


Before purchasing an expensive appliance, the responsible consumer will first check the ratings and speak with people who have purchased this brand in the past to see if they are satisfied. Certainly, when purchasing a car, no normal person would walk into the showroom and simply tell the salesman, “Let me have a medium-priced car.” Obviously, the vast majority of people do their homework – and rightfully so.


Everyone also understands that it is worth paying more money for a better quality product. There is no greater respect for Hashem’s mitzvos than when buying or furnishing  a home and spending good money to purchase quality--then to surely take the time and effort and to spend the money necessary--to glorify that home with the highest quality of mezuzos possible.


If we are particular to buy only top-quality material possessions – which are here today and gone tomorrow – how much more so should we be particular when it comes to Hashem’s mitzvos, which are so preciously everlasting and eternal!


Remember--purchasing STA”M requires a great deal of caution, concern--and care! You can do it!



15 Teves

RECORDING AVAILABLE:  Hakhel was sent a 36 minute audio shiur from Rabbi Yitzchok Sorotzkin, Shlita, on kedusahas Bais Hakeneses and Tefillah.  The shiur is available by clicking here.



SAGE ADVICE: HaRav Yisroel Belsky, Shlita recalls that HaRav Moshe Feinstein, Z’tl, had once come to Yeshiva Torah Vodaas to speak to the Bnei HaYeshiva.  He advised them to have special Kavannah when reciting the Brachos of Refaeinu and Boreich Aleinu, for it is “easier” to have Kavannah when making requests of Hashem in spiritual matters, than it is when making requests in physical or more mundane matters.  One simply believes that he need only take a pill, undergo a particular therapy which will help heal him, or make him feel better.  Similarly, one can very readily conclude that his wise business decisions, or the right contacts he has made, are the source of his financial success or livelihood.  True Emunah is also overcoming these barriers--those that one may himself put in the way to his proper belief and expected relationship with Hashem.


Hakhel Note:  Perhaps when reciting these Brachos, one can have special Kavannah that “I am a Ma’amin, I am a Ma’amin!” Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to have this in mind when your Emunah is challenged throughout the day by what you hear--or what you think!




THE DEFINITION!  Rabbi Mordechai Becher, Shlita related the definition of “forgiveness of others” he had heard from Rabbi Y.Y. Rubenstein, Shlita:  “It is the understanding that the past cannot be changed, and that one must move on.”  Something to think about, the next time you are wronged.



As we leave Sefer Bereishis, and the lessons of the Avos....:


A.  “And the days of Yisroel drew near to die; and he called his son Yosef, and said to him:  If now I have found favor in your eyes, please…deal with me kindly and truly….” (Beraishis 47:29)


Based upon this Pasuk, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Shlita, in Love Your Neighbor (p. 125) brings the following story:


When Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin was seven years old, there was a severe famine in Lithuania . Poor people wandered from village to village in search of food.  Many of them flocked to the home of Rav Moshe’s mother, who readily cooked and baked for them.  Once a very large number of the poor came to her home and she had to cook for them in shifts.  When some individuals grew impatient and insulted her, she began to cry, since she felt that she was doing her utmost for them.  Her young son, the future Rabbi of Kobrin, said to her, “Why should their insults trouble you?  Don’t their insults help you perform the mitzvah with sincerity? If they had praised you, your merit would be less, since you might be doing the kindness to gain their praise, rather than to fulfill the Almighty’s command.” (Ohr Yeshorim, p. 50 footnote).


Based upon this extremely important concept, the principle of true and pure kindness, Rabbi Pliskin writes that one should not view many of his otherwise necessary daily tasks as a mere drudgery.   In the context of a housewife, for instance, Rabbi Pliskin quoting HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, Z’tl, writes, “If a housewife had the opportunity to perform the same tasks [i.e., tasks performed on behalf of small children] for, let’s say, the Chofetz Chaim, she would certainly be happy to do them.  It is no less a chesed for one’s own children.”


Each and every one of us, rather than having to perform a Chesed Shel Emes only at, r’l , a levaya, should attempt to perform pure acts of kindness with those incapable of paying you back, or not knowledgeable enough to pay you back, or in some cases, aware or courteous enough to even say thank you.  Providing behind the scenes, unappreciated chesed is the hallmark of the people of Israel.  Do the billions of people in the world today, for instance, know or appreciate that they are in existence only because of Torah and our study?  Indeed, with this thought in mind when learning, your study too becomes a Chesed Shel Emes!


B. Relating to the concept of Brochos in last week’s Parsha, we add the following two points:


1.    Prior to giving a Brocha, try to feel a greater closeness to the person.  Yaakov Avinu, for instance, first brought Menashe and Ephraim close to him, and kissed them and hugged them (Bereishis 48:10).  This may constitute an important component of the sincerity, depth and potency of the Brocha


2.   Having made this point, there is really no requirement that Brochos be made directly to human beings.  It is well known, for example, that the Alter of Slobodka once passed by the home of a Talmid Chacham and blessed the home and everyone in it.  We can analogize a bit:  When an ambulance speeds by, or even when you hear the ambulance siren, you can daven/give a Brocha that the person, whoever he or she may be, has a Refuah Shelaima.  Or, in another vein, when seeing the bakery line out the door on Erev Shabbos, you can silently bless everyone on the line to have an enjoyable Shabbos.  While at first all of this may appear a bit naïve, childish, or “overly frum”, it really only indicates that you are a thinking person with (or trying to develop) Ahavas HaBriyos and Ahavas Yisroel--love for Hashem’s creations and love for fellow Jews.  In fact, the Baalei Mussar denounce the term “frumkeit” as relating to observance and practice out of rote, rather than with feeling and freshness.


Concluding Note: The Navi (Yirmiyahu 9:22, 23) exclaims:  “Thus says Hashem:  Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, nor the strong man boast of his strength, nor the rich man boast of his riches; but, let him that boasts exalt in this, that he understands and knows Me, for I am Hashem Who practices kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth, for in these things I delight, says Hashem.”


In short, in whatever situation we find ourselves, Hashem tells us--what do we think that He would do in the same situation?  The man who “understands and knows Me” is the man in whom Hashem delights.  Who does more Chesed than Hashem and who gives more Brachos than Hashem?  These are, of course, only two examples, but they are important steps along the way to being Hashem’s delight!



14 Teves

THE IMPORTANCE OF LIMUD ZECHUS! The Chofetz Chaim brings from the Zohar Chadash that in Shomayim Eliyahu HaNavi swore to Hashem that he would always be Melamed Zechus on K’lal Yisrael. Indeed, when a member of K’lal Yisrael does a meritorious act, Eliyahu reports it, and makes sure that it is properly recorded in the Heavenly seforim. Likewise, Gideon was given the ability to fight against Midyan because he defended K’lal Yisrael, and was actually commanded to do battle Bechocha Zeh--with this strength--the strength of his being Melamed Zechus on K’lal Yisrael! We know what a great victory it was!


Hakhel Note: Here is an important exercise: Three times a day (morning, afternoon and evening), be Melamed Zechus on someone or some group. Perhaps as a kviyus, one can do so before beginning to daven!




Special Note One:  R’ Tzadok (in the Sefer Pri Tzaddik) refers to the end of Sefer Bereishis as the “Tashlum Binyan Yisrael.--the completion of the necessary building blocks for K’lal Yisrael.”  With this in mind, we provide a concluding lesson from the Avos: Chazal teach that Yaakov Avinu’s bowing down at the head of his bed teaches that the Shechina is on top of the head of a sick person--as Yaakov was bowing down to the Shechina. HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, Z’tl, explains that a sick or vulnerable person feels his weakness and truly realizes that he is dependent upon Hashem’s support and sustenance.  Because the weak person feels wholly reliant on Hashem, Hashem in turn comes closer and closer to him as well.  This is truly a lesson for all--the more dependent one is on Hashem, the more one supplicates with true feeling and asks and pleads from Hashem, the more Hashem will be close to him.  Dovid HaMelech succinctly expresses this tenet in Tehillim with the words “Karov Hashem Lechol Korav Lechol Asher Yikrauhu Ve'Emes--Hashem is close to all who call upon Him--to all who call upon Him sincerely” (Tehillim 145: 18, Artscroll Translation).   In fact, this Pasuk and its theme is so important to our daily existence that we are reminded of it every time we recite Ashrei--three times daily!



Special Note Two:  With the onset of Parshas Shemos, we have begun the special Teshuva- endowed period of Shovavim.  Indeed, the Luach Dovor B’Ito finds a special allusion to this period in the first Pasuk of the Parsha--the last letters of “Mitzraima Ais Yaakov Ish U'baiso”... spell Teshuva!  The Luach adds that the Arizal (in Sha'ar Ruach Hakodesh) requires that one give Tzedaka every day of Shovavim as the Pasuk expressly states (Doniel 4:24) “Vechata'ach Bitzedaka F'ruk...--redeem your sins through acts of tzedaka and your iniquities through kindness to the poor.”  A special dedication to daily tzedaka during this period would most certainly indicate the seriousness in which you view the requirements--and the opportunities-- of this incomparable period!


Hakhel Note:  The Shela Hakadosh points out that we see the value of each and every day in one's Avodas Hashem from the words of Paroh who demands  “Kallu Ma'seichem Devar Yom Beyomo--complete your work--the daily amount each day.”  Everyone can give excuses--but it is an uphill battle to get them accepted--and, after all, it is your life that is in question--and your life that is important.  The daily tzedaka, the daily Pasuk (Pesukim) of Yiras Shamayim, the daily attempt or drive for Teshuva--especially in these auspicious days--will certainly move us very well towards our life's goal and our life's purpose.  Who is it all up to--you only have to look in--to make the wonderful discovery!



Special Note Three:  From an outstanding audio-visual presentation given by Rabbi Maimon Elbaz, Shlita--The Wonders of Birchos HaShachar:


A.  The Rema concludes Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim with the words of the Pasuk “V’Tov Lev Mishteh Tomid.”  HaRav Avigdor Miller, Z’tl, explains that if someone appreciates the little things in life--then he will always be happy--he will always be at a party!


B.  One should ask others to answer Amein to his brachos as, in addition to adding finality to the bracha--they also display their personal Emunah in Hashem.  Thus, there is a great double benefit!  Rabbi Elbaz related that HaRav Eliyahu Lopian, Z’tl, once recited an Asher Yatzar on a train amongst several people, so that they would answer Amein-- not at all being ‘embarrassed’ to do so.  Shortly thereafter, the train came to an abrupt halt--someone had placed a bomb on the tracks!  HaRav Lopian advised those that had answered Amein--that they had saved the train and everyone on it!


C.  The bracha of Asher Yatzar describes so many of the remarkable functions of our body.  Could you ever picture a pair of ripped pants mending themselves--time and time again?!


D.  When we recite the bracha of Elokai Neshama there is truly another bracha within it--that of Shelo Asani Beheimah--that I have not been made an animal, for animals have no souls.  The relationship between the guf and the neshama can be likened to a burning candle--the guf is the wax of the candle, while the neshama is the fire that is burning.  The wax is necessary for the candle to burn--but ultimately what we really need is the light--and the radiance--of the candle! (In the name of Rabbi Fishel Schachter, Shlita)


E.  The Chofetz Chaim teaches that one should be sure to recite Birchos HaTorah B’Simcha--with joy.  When reciting the words V’Ha’arev Nah, one should take the words literally--asking Hashem that he be given the gift of tasting the sweetness of Torah.  Rabbi Elbaz heard one popular Maggid Shiur remark that when he recited V’Ha’arev Nah--he davened to Hashem that people enjoy his Shiurim!


F.  The first of the ordered Birchos HaShachar is Asher Nasan LaSechvi Vinah.  Some say that this refers not necessarily to our own intelligence--but to the intelligence given to the rooster.  Why is this the first bracha--why are we thanking Hashem for this?  HaRav Shmuel Rozovsky, Z’tl, suggests that just as a rooster is excited when he begins to sense daybreak--so too, should we be excited with the opportunities of the coming day!


G.  When reciting the next bracha of Shelo Asani Goy, one should spend a moment realizing that less than 1% of the world is Jewish, and of that how many Jews are….  We should also consider that we are the Bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, V’Yaakov, inheritors of the great middos, and all that means.  Rabbi Elbaz related that in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas they collected sports cards and Pokemon cards and had Torah cards replace them.  On Lag Ba’omer they took the sports and Pokemon cards and used them to light a bonfire!  Rabbi Elbaz added that HaRav Yisroel Belsky, Shlita, ruled that one should not wear a sports shirt with the name of a player on the back--after all, one thanks Hashem daily that he is not like him--so why should he make himself like him?! 


H.  Regarding the bracha of Pokeiach Ivrim, Rabbi Elbaz discussed the marvels of the human eye.  On the other hand, he noted that HaRav Mattisyahu Salomon, Shlita, explains that the reason we close our eyes at the outset of Shema is because a real eved has to know when to close his eyes as well! 


I.  The bracha of Malbish Arumim teaches us how we have to treat clothes with respect.  Indeed, HaRav Mordechai Schwab, Z’tl, would go through a procedure before he threw out any items of ruined clothing in order to demonstrate his appreciation for them.  A person could think about how embarrassed he would be if he went to the mikvah in the river, and his clothes were no longer there when he was about to come out!  We cannot--and should not--take anything for granted!


J.  The bracha of Matir Asurim should bring to light not only that Hashem frees prisoners such as Gilad Shalit, but also that we are able to get out of bed (hopefully unassisted), and that we are able to actually physically walk, and free to travel to places without restraint. 


K.  The bracha of Rokah Ha’aretz Al HaMayim reminds us what the world would look like if r’l tsunamis or Superstorms like Sandy were common place.  (The Luach Davar B’Ito brings that on this day--14 Teves--nine years ago a tsunami killed approximately 250,000 people in Asia).  We accordingly thank Hashem for being able to put our feet on hard and firm ground--while at the same time knowing that the precious water that we need is close by. 


L.  With the brachos of Ozer Yisrael B'Gevurah and Oter Yisrael B'Sifarah, we highlight that the strength of Yisrael is a special strength to fight the Yetzer Hara and the trials and tribulations of Galus--and that the coverings that both men and women put on their heads are not merely pieces of cloth--but are exquisite crowns of glory! 


For the entire Shiur…we urge you to bring Rabbi Elbaz to your neighborhood. You may contact him at nycmohel@gmail.com




13 Teves  

QUESTION: Does one answer Amen if he hears someone, at the beginning of Birkos Kriyas Shema in the morning, recite the words “Baruch Atta HashemOseh Shalom U'Vorei Es HaKol”--is this not the end of the first part of the bracha (as it is typically set off by itself in large letters in siddurim)--or don’t we say that after all it is just one long bracha that ends at Yotzer HaMe'oros?


ANSWER FROM A POSEK: The bracha certainly ends after Yotzer HaMe'oros, and therefore one should not answer amen after “Oseh Shalom U'Vorei Es HaKol”. I wish to comment on a common misunderstanding about the brachos before and after Kriyas Shema. Women and girls who do not have enough time to say Birkos Kriyas Shema often say Shema and then Shemone Esrei. Before starting Shemone Esrei, they stand up at Tehillos Le'Keil Elyon (as it states in the siddur) and recite their tefillah from that point until Go'al Yisrael, and then begin Shemone Esrei. This is a b'racha levatala. A woman who wishes to say the words of Go'al Yisrael before Shemone Esrei, may only do so if she says the entire bracha after Shema that begins with the word  Emes V’Yatziv. This is an extremely common misconception and would be a huge mitzvah and zikui harabbim to spread the word!



NOW OR LATER?  In the Orchos Chaim L’Rosh (75), the Rosh teaches: “Ahl Tomar Ahl Shum Mitzvah E’eseh Osah L’Machar Shemah Lo Tipaneh La’asos--do not say about any Mitzvah I will do it tomorrow--lest you be unable to perform the Mitzvah the next day.” The key to remember is that every single Mitzvah is eternity-and one should not put off any Mitzvah no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ it is perceived to be--for one does not put off the possibility to attain everlasting greatness!



GEVUROS HASHEM:  The extreme cold, strong winds and snow in the North, and the warmth of summer in the South, should especially alert us to Gevuros Hashem ranging from the scathing hot to the frostbiting cold.  Not only do these extremes both occur--but do so simultaneously in different not-so-far-away points of the globe.  Moreover, the cold and heat affects each person differently--not so much based upon his corporeal homeostatic mechanism as on his personal Hashgacha Pratis.  This is certainly a time of year for us to especially appreciate and emphasize the second bracha of Shimone Esrei--Gevuros Hashem.  Especially as we exclaim 'Mi Chamocha  Ba'al Gevuros U'Mi Domeh Loch' we should picture and perhaps even feel one of the Gevuros of Hashem that we recently experienced!




Special Note One:  Further to the previous note, in last week’s Parsha, we find perhaps the shortest Pasuk in the Torah--Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem…for Your salvation do I long Hashem (Bereishis 49:18).  As we have noted in the past, HaRav Shimshon Pincus, Z’tl, brings that the Brisker Rav could often be found reciting this Pasuk, and HaRav Pincus suggests that this was possibly so because it is a Mitzvah Min HaTorah to daven to Hashem when one finds himself in a time of tza’ar.  It may have been that the Brisker Rav felt a tza’ar, and accordingly used the words of this Pasuk as his basis for davening be’eis tzara to Hashem.  There is another usage of the Pasuk Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem, as brought by the Mishna Berurah (Orach Chaim 230: seif katan 7).  There, the Mishna Berurah writes that when one sneezes, his friend should give him the bracha of “ossusa” (the equivalent of “You should be healthy”), which is perhaps replaced by some today with the phrase “gezuntheit” or “labriut”.  After one receives the bracha of ossusa, the Mishna Berurah continues, he should respond to the well-wisher with the words “baruch tiheyeh”, and then recite the Pasuk for himself of Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem.  By then reciting the Pasuk, one is davening to Hashem that just as He saved him while sneezing, so too, should He save him in the future (Dirshu Edition of the Mishna Berurah, in the name of the Rivevos Ephraim).  Hakhel Note:  When we realize that Hashem is the Source of all Yeshuos--we can ask Him for more! Reminder Note:  Now that in the Northern Hemisphere it may be a time when we r’l hear more sneezing around us than during the rest of the year, we once again provide the Tefillos to be recited before going to a doctor and before taking medicine, by clicking here.


Special Note Two:  We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




We have been discussing the importance of being familiar with the various important persons involved with Sta”m (and their qualifications), before the product reaches the consumer.




Much like the Sofer, the Battim Macher must be expert in many important halachic issues. He, too, may be confronted with a tremendous nisayon (test) of whether or not to cover up an error that the customer would never know about on his own.


For instance, the halachah is that the Battim must be perfectly square. Since the Battim are made from animal hides, it can be very difficult to shape them to be perfectly square, and often there are assorted cracks and crevices in the Bayis. The Battim Macher is then faced with a nisayon:  He can invest a significant amount of time into naturally shaping the Bayis into a square (through pulling, poking, sanding, and a variety of other methods known to Battim Machers). Or, he can simply add a bit of glue, flatten it out and paint over it. No one would ever know that these beautiful, square Battim are pasul.


If you are now thinking to yourself: “Oh, come on! I can’t believe anyone would do that!” – think again. Unfortunately, this is a problem which has been uncovered many times.


A Rav who is a world-renowned expert in the halachos of Battim told me about a certain highly-regarded Battim Macher whose Battim were occasionally brought to him with shailos. After a number of pasul Battim had been discovered, the Rav went to the home of the Battim Macher, and firmly requested to see his Battim-making process.


Only after numerous visits were made and enormous pressure was placed on the “Battim Macher,” was it uncovered that this individual had never actually made a Bayis in his entire life! He merely purchased Battim from various sources, and sold them as “his” Battim – without taking the appropriate precautions to ensure their Kashrus.


On the other hand, many Battim Machers are extremely ehrlich, and will handle their tests and temptations in the proper way. Let's take, for example, a situation where there is a hole in the Bayis that would make it pasul. Now, if the hole is on the outside of the Bayis, it is highly visible. However, when the hole is between the individual compartments, the consumer would obviously never know of its existence once the Battim have been pressed together.


A scrupulous Battim Macher will fill the Battim with alcohol to see if it will leak through a tiny hole which he may not have noticed. By using alcohol rather than water, the Battim Macher is able to identify even very small holes. This is because alcohol will drip through holes too small for water to drip through and dries more quickly.


I once found myself in the workshop of a particular Battim Macher, and spotted some Battim off in the corner. In response to my query, he informed me that these Battim had holes, and then proceeded to point them out to me.


I can assure you that had he not pointed them out, those holes would have never been discovered!




10 Teves

In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov told Yosef that he was giving him one additional portion that he took from the Emori “BeCharbi U’Vekashti”.  The Gemara (Baba Basra 123A) asks, “Could Yaakov Avinu have really taken this portion with his sword and bow?”  After all, Dovid HaMelech teaches us all in Tehillim (44:7) “For I do not trust in my bow, nor does my sword save me”?  The Gemara therefore concludes that the word “BeCharbi--my sword” refers to his prayer and “U’Vekashti--my bow” refers to his supplication.   The Meshech Chochmah (Bereishis 48:22) reconciles the plain meaning of the words “my sword and my bow” with the Gemara’s explanation of “my prayer and my supplication” as follows:  In fact, Yaakov Avinu did go to war with a sword and bow, in much the same way as Avraham Avinu went to war with Eliezer his servant against the four superpowers of his time.  They each made all of the efforts they could make as human beings, and placed all else--and most importantly the outcome--in Hashem’s hands with their Tefillos.


The Chazon Ish further crystallizes the point.  He writes (Kovetz Igros Chazon Ish 3:62) that we must always remember that we are powerless to accomplish anything.  Our actions, really our efforts, arouse Heavenly mercy to fulfill our intentions.  The Chazon Ish continues that, in fact, the one who davens and intensely supplicates to be saved, accomplishes more than the one who puts in the effort.  Hakhel Note:  With this thought in mind, we can perhaps further understand the Pasuk relating to Yaakov’s bracha:  Sikeil Es Yadav--he  made his hands smart (see Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel there).  We cannot really win wars with our weaponry, our hands and our skill.  It must be with our minds, properly directed to our Father in Heaven.  We were always known for our Sechel--we suggest that the Pasuk reveals to us what the Sechel we are to be known for really means!



Special Note One: Points and pointers on Asara B’Teves:


A.  The Chasam Sofer taught that every year on Asara B’Teves there is a Din on whether to restore the Beis HaMikdash to us during that year.  Also, it is brought down from the Avudraham that although fasting is Assur on Shabbos, even if Asara B’Teves would fall on Shabbos we would fast.  The explanation for this may be based upon this teaching of the Chasam Sofer--fasting for the past is Assur--but fasting on Asara B’Teves is for the future to give us back the Beis HaMikdash


B.   Chazal teach that “Agra De’Taanisa Tzidkasa--in order to empower one’s fasting, he should give charity”.  One should be sure to at least give to Tzedaka the cost of the food for the meals that he did not eat (because of the fast). If you need a quick and important recommendation--Yad Eliezer at yadeliezer.org.  Don’t let the mitzvah slip away!


C.  The Sefer Pele Yoetz writes that one should not become angry on a fast day, as this is one of the day’s great nisyonos.  When one is hungry, he operates under greater strain, with less patience and forbearance.  If one feels that he may have become overly upset or intolerant, perhaps he can take another day in which he is especially careful to be fully tolerant and in control, Zecher LeAsara BeTeves!


D. As the physical fast is not a very long one, and is accompanied by Shabbos preparations, may we also add that to enhance the quality of the Ta’anis and the Teshuvah that goes along with it, one especially reserve one hour or so today for a Ta’anis Dibbur--in which one dedicates his speech only to words of Torah, Tefillah and Kedushah.



Special Note Two:  We had received the following beautiful answer to relating to the nexus between Teves as the tenth month--and Shevet Dan as the tenth tribe traveling in the desert:  “I’m looking at the Mefarshim on Yaakov Avinu’s brachah for Shevet Dan (in this week’s parshah), and it seems that Shevet Dan teaches us a lesson about how to view our own strength and our reliance on Hashem.  Yaakov Avinu first compares Dan to a snake, and then concludes the bracha with the exclamation “Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem!”  The Kli Yakar writes that just as a snake has power only with its mouth (its bite), so too, the koach of Dan is with its mouth.  Yaakov Avinu even specifically calls Dan a ‘shififon’, which Rashi translates as a snake that hisses.  Rashi also writes on “Hanoshaich ikvei sus” (that bites a horse’s heels) that Yaakov compares Dan to a snake who can bite a horse’s heels and cause its rider to fall backwards off of a horse, even though the snake never touched the rider.  Shimshon did something similar when he simply davened to Hashem and then Hashem made the roof collapse and kill the Plishtim.  Yaakov then looks into the future and sees Shimshon’s strength, and calls out “Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem!” According to the Daas Zekainim, this was Yaakov’s way of expressing his realization that even though Shimshon appeared to be so tremendously strong, all strength comes only from Hashem!  Perhaps these messages are particularly applicable to us during the month of Teves, when it is cold outside, the winter is setting in, and we have no yamim tovim to cheer us up.  We feel so vulnerable, unable to control the weather patterns, and we realize that all of our own strengths are just an illusion.  There is only One Power who can help us, if we use the koach of our mouth to daven to Him - Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem!”


Additional Note:  Rebbi Tzadok HaKohein beautifully explains that both Shevet Dan and Shevet Yehudah are referred to as “Gur Aryeh” in the Torah (see Bereishis 49:9 and Devarim 33:22).  Furthermore, the leaders in charge of building the Mishkan were Betzalel from Shevet Yehuda and Ahaliyav from Shevet Dan; Rebbi Tzadok brings from the Midrash Tanchuma that this was the case in the Bais Hamikdash as well.  In the Midbar, Shevet Dan traveling at the end--is connected to Shevet Yehudah which traveled first and which represented Malchus because this symbolizes our existence--connecting the top to the bottom, the end to the beginning.  In fact, he explains this is what is meant by Chazal (Ta’anis 31A) who teach that in the future Hashem will make an ‘igul’, a circle for the Tzaddikim--for in a circle the end and the beginning are connected as one.  It is for this reason that Yaakov Avinu recited the words “Lishuasecha Kivisi Hashem” over Dan--for the end will be, the Moshiach can come when a low point has been reached which can join to the high point --so that we come full circle!



Special Note Three: We continue with our Erev Shabbos--Halachos of Shabbos Series:


A. We continue with our Erev Shabbos Halachos of Shabbos Series:  In this week’s Parsha, we learn of the power of Dibbur in the brachos of Yaakov Avinu to his children and grandchildren.  We can understand then that the Ma’aseh Beraishis is described in terms of speech as well--VaYomer--and as the Mishna in Avos teaches--BaAsara Ma’amaros Nivra HaOlam.  In fact, there is a Siman in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 307) entitled “Dinei Shabbos HaTeluyim BeDibbur”--as there are very important guidelines as to VeDabber Davar--what we should speak about on Shabbos and how we should speak about it.  We provide below just a few reminders relating to these pervasive Halachos, as excerpted from the Dirshu edition footnotes to this Siman in Shulchan Aruch:


1.  A Reminder! We should be especially careful to talk Torah on Shabbos--for the Ben Ish Chai writes in the name of Mekubalim that learning Torah on Shabbos is 1,000 times as great as it is on a weekday!


2.  Just as it is assur to ask an akum to do an actual melacha on your behalf--it is assur to ask him to do even an Uvda Dechol.  Furthermore, just as inappropriate gesturing is treated like speech and considered Lashon Hora--so too is gesturing to an akum to do a melacha or Uvda Dechol on Shabbos also prohibited.


3.  Another Reminder! One should not tell his friend how much he paid for an item (i.e., he has already purchased it)--if his friend is in the market for the same item--for his friend is in need of this Dibbur Chol.


4.  Although one may not generally borrow from another Jew on Shabbos because the lender may come to write down the loan he has made, HaRav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, Z’tl rules that it would be permissible to borrow from an akum--for even if the akum will write down the loan, he is doing so for himself--and not for the Jew, and thus his writing is permitted.


5.  The Shelah HaKadosh writes that one should not say Good Morning to a person on Shabbos--but rather Shabbos Tava--Good Shabbos--and by doing so he will fulfill the Mitzvah of Zachor Es Yom HaShabbos LeKadsho! In fact, the Bi’ur Halacha brings in the name of Rebbi Akiva Eiger, Z’tl that one may actually fulfill his ikar chiyuv of Kiddush on Leil Shabbos by expressing the meaningful words of Shabsa Tava!


B. Every Wednesday HaRav Yisroel Dov Webster, Shlita, noted Posek, Dayan Sha’arei Mishpat, and author of The Halachos of Pregnancy and Childbirth, gives a Hakhel Shiur to women in Borough Park attended now by approximately 125 women.   This winter, Rabbi Webster’s Shiurim are on Hilchos Muktzah. Last winter he gave a series of Shiurim on Hilchos Borer, and at the end of the series the women were given a bechina of 100 questions. We have previously provided the answers to the first 59 questions, and we will now continue with the goal of completing all 100 questions. For tapes and CD’s of the Shiur, please call: 718-435-6974.


60. If one would want to know if there a mixture, how can one define if it is two items or one?

If the two items are different by either name, taste or function, they may be classified as a mixture.


61. If one has two of the same style skirts but in different sizes, is it considered as two different items or the same item?

It is considered as two different items even if both sizes fit the individual, for they are intended to be two different sizes and thus serve two different functions.


62. If one has large toys mixed together is there a problem of borer to separate them?

It depends. If one is on top of the other, they should be viewed as mixed. However, if they are next to each other--then because of their large size, it is not considered as mixture and there would be no issue of borer.



Special Note Four:  Points and pointers on the last Parsha of Chumash Bereishis, Parshas Vayechi:


A.  The Parsha begins with the words Vayechi Yaakov BiEretz Mitzrayim--Yaakov lived in Egypt.  This teaches us that no matter where we are, and no matter what our situation, Hashem has given us the breath of life and we too must act with a Chiyus--with motivation, inspiration and enthusiasm! 


B. We received an important insight from a reader relating to Yaakov’s bowing at the head of the bed in Yosef’s presence, which we paraphrase as follows:  The very act of bowing was a sign of special respect to Yosef, although Yosef was only Yaakov’s son, and although the entire episode between Yosef and his brothers over so many years had caused Yaakov so much distress.  An important lesson to be learned is that each and every member of one’s family must be shown proper respect and honor, notwithstanding their age, position in life, attitude, and even trouble that they may have indeed caused you.  Familiarity and your day-to-day existence with them is insufficient cause to deny someone the respect due to him as a person and as someone whom Hashem has especially chosen and specifically designated to be closely related to you.  Chazal (Avos 4:1) teach “Aizehu Mechubad HaMechabeid Es HaBriyos--who is honored--one who honors Hashem’s creatures”--as the Pasuk states “Ki Mechabdai Achabeid...for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who scorn Me shall be degraded” (Shmuel I, 2:30 ).  If one is duty bound to honor all creatures, he must certainly show proper respect to the people Hashem wants him to interrelate with, learn from and teach to on a day-to-day-to-day basis.


C. When Yaakov saw some of the progeny that would come out of Menashe and Ephraim, he exclaimed “Mi Eileh--who are these people?!”  After Yosef clarified that they were his legitimate children, Yaakov gave Menashe and Ephraim their Brachos.  At first glance, this may be difficult to understand--if people of the likes of Yeravam and Yei’hu are to descend from Ephraim and Menashe--what difference would it make that their ancestors were initially of good stock?  Why should Yaakov give the bracha?!  We may suggest that this teaches us the sheer potency and potential of a bracha.  Although the future seemed to indicate that there was much negativity that would arise--Yaakov still felt that the bracha could still help to attenuate and ameliorate the acts of the Reshaim--and that the progeny would ultimately be worthwhile.  We must understand that the Koach of our Brachos to another is beyond our comprehension (especially as we have noted in the past, if they come from Hakaras HaTov for what someone has done for you).  Ultimately good will win out and the brachos that we give can help speed the process.  Additional Note:  It is reported that the Brisker Rav, Z’tl, was upset that many people were davening for the Russians to win in World War I; instead, he insisted that people daven for the Yeshuas Hashem.  Who knows, he lamented, whether the Communists stayed in power in Russia after the war because of all of the Tefillos on behalf of the Russians at the time?!


D. In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov Avinu gives Yosef the reason behind his switching hands in blessing Menashe and Ephraim:  ‘...but his younger brother shall be greater than him’.  HaRav Avigdor Miller, Z’tl provides the following incisive insight here:  “This is another instance of the surprises that Hashem caused in history.  Kayin and Hevel left no posterity, for only the seed of the younger Shais survived.  Yefes was older, but Shem was chosen.  Yishmael was older, but Yitzchak was chosen.  Esav was the first-born, but Yaakov gained the birthright and the blessings.  Reuven was the first-born, but the Bechorah was given to Yosef.  Menashe was the first-born, but Ephraim was given the superiority.  Rochel was the best-loved; but Leah’s son, Levi, gained for his posterity the privilege of nearness to Hashem--Moshe, Aharon and the Kohanim came from the Levi; and it was Leah’s son Yehudah who was the progenitor of Dovid and his seed.  Indeed, the entire nation of the Jews today are the Yehudim and are accordingly labeled descendants of Leah.  Dovid, the youngest son of Yishai, was chosen by Hashem after all the older brothers were rejected.  These are not mere coincidences, but are Hashem’s plan of demonstrating by unexpected turns that man’s history is not a result of material causes but the hand of Hashem.”


E.  HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Z’tl, was asked how the bracha given to boys on Leil Shabbos, at a bris, and at other occasions is Yesimcha Elokim KeEphraim VeCheMenashe--after all isn’t that only a part of a Pasuk in this week’s Parsha and we have no right to break up Pesukim like this.  HaRav Kamenetsky sagaciously responded:  “It cannot be an aveira, as the Torah itself teaches “Becha Yevareich Yisroel Leimor Yesimcha Elokim KeEphraim VeCheMenashe”--this is the way we are to bless our children.


Additional Note:  Many ask why the Bracha of “Yesimcha Elokim K’ephraim U’CheMenashe” is so fundamental that it overshadows all other Brachos.  One classic explanation is based upon the relative response of Yosef and Menashe to Yaakov Avinu’s switching of his hands, so that Ephraim was blessed with the right hand and Menashe with the left.  Yosef’s response was shock and dismay--while Menashe’s (who was really the affected party) response was silence and acceptance!  Menashe’s brotherly love was coupled with a refined relinquishment of any notion of jealously. Their joint and unified bracha was one of love, of recognizing each other’s roles, and of not being jealous of the other.  Yosef’s descendants were given the mission of teaching our people that although we are different, we are one and we can love and respect each other.  Indeed, Yaakov told Yosef that any future children that he had would become part of Ephraim and Menashe’s families, of their ultimate message, and would not need or have any independent nachalah.  The Pasuk (Yecheskel 48:32).teaches that in the future there will be a gate for each one of the Shevatim to exit Yerushalayim, and “Shevet Yosef” will only have one gate--we may suggest that this is because at that time we will have all learned the lesson that Yaakov Avinu set out to teach us--Yesimcha Elokim Ke’Ephraim VeChimenashe!


F. Rashi (Bereishis 49:3) teaches us that Reuven, as the bechor, was destined for greatness--for him and his descendents to inherit the Kehuna and the Malchus of K’lal Yisrael. What prevented it all? The Torah describes it in two words--’Pachaz Kamayim’--the too-quick, unthinking, angry response that he displayed. Oh, how we must take the lesson, when we realize we are about to exhibit just the same kind of response in our home, in a store, or in a work place. If it is Pachaz Kamayim--we know it is wrong, and we know its r’l devastating results…


G.  Many think that Yaakov Avinu was upset with Shimon and Levi and that, accordingly, he gave them no clearly expressed bracha.  We, however, note that Yaakov’s first words to them are Shimon and Levi Achim--Shimon and Levi you are brothers.  The feeling of and acting as, brother is in and of itself an outstanding blessing. Hakhel Note:  The following was once provided to us by a reader:  A Rav related to HaRav Yaakov Kamenetsky, Z’tl, how his family gets together for a Yahrzeit, after each has learned a Perek or so of Mishnayos, and they make a Siyum together.  HaRav Kamenetsky responded “I don’t know if that is called a Siyum, but it is certainly an outstanding Zechus when the family gets together!”


H. In his bracha to Naftali, Yaakov Avinu describes this Shevet as “HaNossein Imrei Shafer--who delivers beautiful sayings” (Bereishis 49:22). The Targum explains what these beautiful sayings are--Modan U’Mevarechin--they thank and bless Hashem for the beautiful fruits within their territory. How wonderful! Each and every one of us is capable of Imrei Shafer--beautiful sayings--through the meaningful and heartfelt brachos that we make!


I.  After Yaakov’s Petirah at the end of the Parsha, the brothers asked Yosef to forgive them for what they had done.  Yosef advises them that it was obviously part of a Divine Plan, but does not actually express the words “Machul Lachem--I forgive you” to them. 


In order to emphasize the extreme importance of expressing Mechila, we once again provide the following Shailah that was asked to HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, and his striking response (Sefer Derech Sicha II; p.67).


Shaila:  “There was a girl in seminary who was suffering from an emotional disorder, whose classmates further upset her.  Her disorder declined to the point where she was institutionalized.  Her classmates wanted to visit her to ask for Mechila.  Could they do so?  Would the Mechila be effective?”


Teshuvah:  “One cannot ask for Mechila in this state.  There is not Eitzah here other than to Daven that she become well so that they can ask Mechila of a mentally competent person, or r’l they must ask Mechila at her Kever if she passes away before them, for after death one can turn to the Neshama and the Neshama will forgive.  Going to visit her in the hospital is a good thing--but it is not Mechilah. 


HaRav Kanievsky continues by bringing the Rabbeinu Bechayaya (end of Vayechi) who writes that the reason the Asara Harugei Malchus were punished was because Yosef did not expressly state that he forgave his brothers.  It must be that the reason that they did not go to his Kever to ask for Mechila is because they did not realize that one must obtain express Mechila until they saw that they had been punished. 


A great lesson we can learn from this is that rather than being hard hearted and obstinate, even when one is absolutely right and the other person was definitely and admittedly wrong, one should be ‘pliable as a reed’ and expressly state (at least upon sincere request) that “I am Mochel B’Lev Shaleim.”  One should most definitely endeavor not to be the source of someone else’s punishment, of another’s suffering.




9 Teves

V’LIRUSHALAYIM IRECHA!  Beginning tonight, Asara B’Teves, we should most definitely bli neder increase our Kavannah in the bracha of V’Lirushalayim Irecha recited in each Shemone Esrei of Asara B’Teves!





A REAL AREA OF CONCERN! When a tailor adds fabric to any garment, there is a real concern that the garment may become Shatnez.


When tailoring entails fabric being added, the tailored garment is required to be verified free of Shatnez by a Shatnez expert.

A recent example of such an incident: A woolen suit was given in to lengthen the sleeves, to a tailor in Lakewood, New Jersey. The tailor added to each sleeve a piece of linen, thereby making the suit Shatnez!!! It was found by the Lakewood Shatnez Laboratory

The same incident occurred recently in Flatbush with a woolen coat. It was found by the Flatbush Shatnez Laboratory.

Note: Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez certifies Shatnez laboratories in the tri-state area. Please call 1-877-4-SHATNEZ for all your Shatnez questions. Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez can also provide you with a comprehensive list of garments requiring testing. Vaad L’Mishmeres Shatnez Rabbinical board consists of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, Shlita and Rabbi Meshulam Polatshek, Shlita.




Special Note One:  Today is the ninth day of Teves, which connects the eighth day of Teves (the tragic day upon which the Torah was translated into Greek, the Septuagint, which is marked as a Ta’anis Tzadikim) to the national fast day of Asara B’Teves.  Today is also the yahrzeit of Ezra HaSofer (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 580: Mishna Berura, seif katan 13), and is also a Ta’anis Tzadikim. 


 As a zechus for Ezra HaSofer, one can review the Takanos that Ezra instituted, as described in Bava Kamma 82A.  Let us face the facts--these three days--the 8th, 9th and 10th, are connected for good reason. We should take a moment to contemplate the connection between them and grow from the experience.



Special Note Two:  As we draw closer to Asara B'Teves, the order of the day is Teshuva.  We list below three brief and practical suggestions which we have provided in the past, to help ourselves along the right path:


A.  From Rabbi Shlomo Pearl, Shlita:  Chazal teach that one earns Olam Haba through the proper recitation of Ashrei three times a day.  This is no small or trite statement. One should recite Ashrei just a bit slower--by devoting just 30 additional seconds to the recitation of your Ashrei-- the Greatness of Hashem and His Beneficence can be revealed in a markedly more meaningful and praiseworthy way. A beautiful kabbalah and goal--with Olam Haba at the end of it all!


B.  What if you are not sure whether a Chillul Hashem will result from the action that you are about to undertake.  Let us say...walking on someone else's grass, beating a light, saying 'what you feel', not being especially careful or circumspect in the supermarket or store.... A Chillul Hashem may or may not result.  The Sefer Sha'arei Teshuva (Sha'ar Daled), and the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuva (end of Chapter One) both record the severity of  the sin of Chillul Hashem--as reflected in the form of punishment necessary to expunge its effects upon the sinner.  May we suggest that one, bli neder, commit to not take the action or say the words that he realizes could result in Chillul Hashem--even if he is not sure at all that they really will.  By taking a step back from Sofek Chillul Hashem, one demonstrates his aversion to Chillul Hashem, and a level of Yiras Shomayim to which we should all aspire.


C.  The Chasida, or the ‘Kind One’, is remarkably the name of a treife bird.  Many of us have heard as the explanation for this anomaly that although the bird does kindness--it is only with her friends and not with strangers or those that it does not know.  We may, however, suggest another explanation.  The Chasida is treife because she does kindness with her neighbors--after all, she is known to all as the Chasida--but does not do Chesed with her own family, as she will win no special appellation in this regard.  This provides a great lesson to us.  We can  improve ourselves from 'treife' to kosher by making the additional effort to do ‘unsung Chesed’--helping to clean up around the house in some additional way than before, doing something for a family member before being asked, taking the time out to think about and give a parent, sibling, spouse or child a thoughtful or creative idea geared just for them.  Ahavas Chinam doesn't have to take place on the streets, in Shul or in the workplace--it can show its constant special presence-- beautifully housed--in your very own home.  Yehi Ratzon that in this zechus, we will be zoche to the end of the effects of Asara B'Teves--as we come back to the House of All--the Beis HaMikdash, speedily and in our days--may we make it happen!



Special Note Three:  The actual fasting begins at Alos HaShachar tomorrow morning.  In many areas, Alos HaShachar will occur relatively late (in the New York area, for example, the fast begins in the 5:40-6:00 AM area, please check with your local shul or other listing for an exact time).  Accordingly, some may want to arise early to have a bite to eat or drink.  We provide two cautionary notes:


1.  In order eat or drink upon awakening, one must first make an express ‘tenai’, a condition, before going to sleep that he intends to arise before Alos HaShachar and eat and drink then before day; and


2. The amount of food that a man may eat within one-half hour of Alos HaShachar may be limited--consult your Rav or Posek for details.



Special Note Four:  We continue an exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




We have been discussing the importance of being familiar with the various personalities involved with Sta”m (and their qualifications), before the product reaches the consumer.



After the sofer writes the STA”M item, the accepted practice is for him to have it checked by at least one magiah before selling it. The job of the magiah is to carefully check every single letter and tag (crown) to ascertain whether they are indeed kosher without any shailos (halachic questions).


Did you know that every mezuzah (the shortest STA”M text) has 713 letters and more than 300 tagin?! If even a single part of a single letter is written improperly, or if a tag is not attached to the letter upon which it was written, the kashrus of the entire mezuzah (or Sefer Torah!) is in serious jeopardy. It is therefore absolutely essential to have the STA”M checked by a reliable magiah (this is maikkar hadin according to poskei zmaneinu). and highly advisable to have it checked by even two or three magihim (this would be classified as a hiddur). The reason for this is because every magiah has his own strengths and weaknesses, and the fact is that different magihim often identify different types of problems. Obviously, the magiah must be a person who can be relied upon to check each letter and tag slowly and carefully.


Other than ehrlichkeit, there are two essential requirements in choosing a magiah.


1. Halachic Knowledge

A magiah is not just a sofer. In order to be certified by Mishmeres STA”M or the Badatz Eidah Ha’chareidis in Yerushalayim (the two largest certifying bodies), a sofer must demonstrate that he knows all the halachos pertaining to writing kosher STA”M.

The magiah, on the other hand, is required to know quite a bit more than the sofer. He must be able to identify certain problems in the sofer’s writing that the sofer himself might not even be aware of.

It is therefore imperative that the magiah’s halachic knowledge be on an extremely high level so that he can distinguish between a letter which is problematic – requiring a shailah to be asked – and a letter of inferior beauty which presents no halachic issue.


2. A “Good Eye”

A magiah can be the biggest talmid chacham in the world, but if he lacks a “good eye” for observing problems, he cannot be an effective magiah. Many Rabbanim who are tremendous experts in Hilchos STA”M would readily admit that they would not be good magihim. Although they can determine the halachah on any of the hundreds of shailos brought to them on a weekly basis, they would not necessarily have noticed the shailah in the first place.


To summarize, a magiah must have three qualifications: 1. ehrlichkeit and reliability; 2. halachic expertise; 3. a good eye.


A magiah who just checks a few words here and there, and pronounces the STA”M kosher on that basis, is not properly serving the public.


Therefore, when purchasing STA”M, it is imperative that the consumer ask if the item was checked by a certified magiah, just as one must ask if the sofer is certified. It is worth asking as well whether it was checked by one or two magihim. If the answer is one, it is usually worthwhile investing in a second check, as mentioned above. In the alternative, one can contact Vaad Mishmeres Stam at 718-438-4980, and ask for the name of a magiah or magihim in his area.



8 Teves

Special Note One:  Today is the eighth day of Teves, the tragic day upon which the Torah was translated into Greek, the Septuagint, which is marked as a Ta’anis Tzadikim.  For further detail on the tragedy of the Septuagint, we refer you to the Sefer HaToda’ah, translated into English as The Book of Our Heritage (Feldheim), by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Z’tl. 


Tomorrow, the ninth day of Teves is actually also a Ta’anis Tzadikim, for it is the Yahrtzeit of Ezra HaSofer (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 580, Mishna Berurah, Seif Katan 13).  As a zechus for Ezra Hasofer, one can review the Takanos that Ezra instituted, as described in Bava Kamma 82A. 


These two days are then followed by a third Ta’anis, Asara B’Teves, which is observed by all.

The Chasam Sofer in a Drasha that he gave on the eighth day of Teves (approximately 200 years ago) suggests that after the 70-day period of mourning in Egypt ended for Yaakov Avinu, the Bnei Yisroel traveled to Eretz Canaan and eventually buried Yaakov Avinu--on Asara B’Teves.  The date of Eisav’s death is then--yes, Asara B’Teves as well. 


There is much to learn from the Chasam Sofer’s conclusion in our observance of Asara B’Teves.  After all, Ma’aseh Avos Siman L’Bonim--that which occurred to our forefathers is a sign for future generations.  Firstly, Chazal teach us that “Yaakov Avinu Lo Mais.”  That is, even though it may appear to us that Yaakov passed away, in fact, he lives on--most certainly so in spirit.  We, too, having experienced the devastating blow of the events of Asara B’Teves more than 2,500 years ago have not rolled over and died as scores of other nations have in the meantime.  Moreover, what ultimately happened on Asara B’Teves was the death of Eisav.  This, the Chasam Sofer writes, is symbolic of Asara B’Teves in the end being turned from a date of sadness to a day of “Sasson V’Simcha”--joy and happiness. 


The missing link to bring us to what Asara B’Teves is supposed to be is Teshuva.  We all know that this is the shortest fast of the year, so it should be the easiest.  That is a gift in and of itself.  However long or short the fast is, in order to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by Teshuva.  We must do something.  We must make a move to revitalize Yaakov, and to once and for all, put Eisav away. 


One suggestion may be to take out Kabbalos list, or other Rosh Hashana/ Yom Kippur reminders.  We especially note that Asara B’Teves is also our next ‘Asiri Lakodesh’--the  next tenth day in a series of ten day periods since Yom Kippur-- an especially auspicious day for personal improvement!  


One final, but important comment: Rashi explains that when Yosef and Binyamin fell on each other’s necks in last week’s Parsha (Bereishis 45:14), it was to symbolize the destruction of the two Batei Mikdash, and the Mishkan of Shilo, which were located in their respective territories in Eretz Yisroel.  The Avnei Nezer explains that the “necks” symbolize the Bais HaMikdash and the Mishkan, because just as the neck connects the head (which is the resting place of the soul) to the rest of the body, so, too, does the Bais HaMikdash (and the Mishkan) fully and finally connect our physical lives to our spiritual existence.  When we yearn for the Bais HaMikdash, we are yearning to connect our corporeal life to the highest spiritual plane it can achieve.  By making a brocha (the spiritual) over food (the physical) properly, we demonstrate that we are sincerely preparing--and waiting--for the day when we truly can connect our bodies to our souls in the most absolute and outstanding way that we can!



Special Note Two:  An Annual Reminder: Chazal (Medrash Tanchuma, Vayikra 9) teach that it was already fitting for the Bais HaMikdash to be destroyed on Asara B’Teves, but Hashem, in His incredible mercy, pushed things off to the summer, so that we would not have to be exiled in the cold.  We should take this as an important lesson and be especially considerate and helpful to those who are standing outside at your door, walking when you are driving, or even those who are suffering from colds and cold weather-related illnesses.  When you make sure that your family and friends are properly dressed, have soft tissues and the like, you are likewise demonstrating a middah of rachmanus, of special mercy and care, which warms those around you.


Along these lines, Chazal (Rosh Hashana 18A) teach us that, according to one opinion, Naval was granted an additional ten days of life because of the ten meals he fed to guests--Dovid’s men.  Doing the easy math, this means that Naval “bought” a day of life for each meal he served a guest.  Oh, how we should treasure the opportunities of doing a simple and seemingly short-term kindness to someone else, for it results in nothing short of life itself.


Interestingly, the last Pasuk we read in Kriyas Shema concludes with the phrase “Ani Hashem Elokeichem--I am the L-rd your G-d”, mentioned twice--once at the beginning of the Pasuk, and once at its conclusion.  Rashi there (Bamidbar 15:41), obviously troubled by the seeming repetition, concludes that it is to teach us that Hashem is faithful to punish those who do evil--and faithful to award those who do good.  As we leave Kriyas Shema (which provides us with a strong daily dose of the basic tenets of our faith) every day and notice the dual recitation of Ani Hashem Elokeichem, it should remind, and spur, us to “buy” life with our proper middos and conduct.



Special Note Three:  To some, fasting on Asara B’Teves may be perplexing for, after all, the Golus Bavel lasted only 70 years, and many great events occurred after Nebuchadnezzar’s initial siege of Yerushalayim--including Purim, Chanukah, the Nevuos of Chagai, Zecharya and Malachi, and the Bayis Sheni, which stood for 420 years. 


Yet, we know that the fast of Asara B’Teves is so stringent that even it if occurs on Erev Shabbos as it does this year--unlike all of the other fasts--we fast the entire day until Shabbos begins.  For the initial siege was, in fact, the horrifying beginning to the end of the most glorified time in our history to date--The First Beis Hamikdash with all of its open miracles--the Shechina’s palpable presence, the Aron with the Luchos, and literally hundreds of thousands (!) who had reached the level of nevuah (Megillah 14A).  With the enemy surrounding the city, the downfall of this singularly unique period began. 


As we look in the Torah, we find that very bad endings have to start somewhere, and that it is the terrible beginning that we need to control and avoid.  Perhaps the greatest example of this is one of the Aseres Hadibros.  The last of the Aseres Hadibros warns us “Lo Sachmod/Lo Sisaveh” (see Shmos 20:14; Devorim 5:18)-Do not covet/Do not desire.  The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 359:10,11,12) explains that desiring leads to coveting which leads to stealing--so that from the initial prohibited desire, three negative prohibitions can be violated.  It is telling that the Aseres Hadibros does not contain the prohibition to steal property--which is the last step in the process--but rather it contains the prohibition to desire and to covet which are the initial steps leading to the horrible end result.  The Torah teaches that it is the beginning of the process where your action is required--for the end may be too late. 


Similarly, the parsha of Arayos (Vayikra 18:6, read on Yom Kippur at Mincha) begins with “Lo Sikrivu L’Galus Ervah”-Do not get close to forbidden relationships which Chazal teach refers to prohibiting initial touching and thoughts.  Likewise, the Torah goes out of its way when prohibiting Loshon Hara to say “Lo Selech Rochil B’Amecha” (Vayikra 19:16)-Do not even begin walking in order to speak Loshon Hara, for this will lead to downfall. 


Of course, the flip side is also true.  It is known that the Vilna Gaon, prior to undertaking a mitzvah, would state, “Hareini Oseh K’mo She’tzivani Hashem B’Soroso-I am about to do what Hashem commanded in His Torah”.  See Haggadah of the G’ra. 


So, it is really the planning, or at least the forethought, which sets the tone and the standard for what is about to happen and what you are going to do.  Will it be up with Yaakov’s ladder--or down like the dominoes? 


Practical Suggestion:  In the last bracha of Birchas Hashachar, have kavana when reciting “V’lo Lidei Nisayon” to ask for Hashem’s help not to come to the first step of a situation in which you can falter--and if you see such a situation coming, think “THIS IS THE BEGINNING-I must avoid or circumvent it.” 


In the z’chus of our starting from the beginning, we can reverse the infamous, and literally world-shattering events, that began on Asara B’Teves, and we can start anew with “She’Yiboneh Bais Hamikdosh Bimheira V’Yameinu.”



7 Teves

NEW OPPORTUNITY --THINK HASHEM! Very short-thought provoking message, to help us think of Hashem.  To subscribe email: ThinkHashem@gmail.com


Hakhel Note: Yesterday’s THINK HASHEM Thought of the Day: Exile is when hope is enveloped in darkness. Hashem promised us, that though Jews would be exiled from their land, they would NOT be exiled from their Hashem--Hashem is always with us.



THAT EXTRA LEVEL OF PATIENCE!  HaRav Moshe Cordevero, Z’tl, in the Sefer Tomer Devorah writes that the first two Middos of Hashem--described in the Pesukim of Mi Keil Kamocha (Michah 7:18-20, poignantly recited at Tashlich) both relate to the Middah of Savlanus--of the patience that Hashem has with us.  HaRav Cordevero explains that not only does Hashem bear our iniquities without displaying intolerance, anger or insult (allowing us to continuously move our limbs during the moment of sin itself!)--but also allows the mashchisim--the destructive creatures created by the sin to continue to exist.  As the Tomer Devorah writes: “The strict letter of the law would justify that Hashem state-- ‘I do not nourish destructive creatures! Go to him who made you, and derive your sustenance from him!’ It is thus with tremendous tolerance that Hashem conducts this world. From this, man must learn to what extent he, too, should be tolerant and bear the yoke of his fellow and his evil, even though his transgressions are of such magnitude that the evil remains. He should tolerate one who sinned against him until the sinner mends his ways or the sin disappears of its own accord....”   Hakhel Note: We can all put this into real practice--EMULATING HASHEM’S MIDDOS!




Special Note One:  The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 219) lists the situations over which one recites the special bracha of HaGomel LeChayavim Tovos Shegemalani Kol Tov.  The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 9) then brings a difference of opinion as to other circumstances in which the bracha of HaGomel should be recited.  There is a related issue in today’s times as to whether one recites this bracha after having taken a flight internationally, even domestically, or perhaps not to recite the bracha in either circumstance.  We remind everyone that the Dirshu Edition of the Mishna Berurah (ibid. 1) brings from HaRav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach, Z’tl, that in situations where one is unsure whether he should recite the bracha he should gather together ten people to listen to him recite the last of the Birchos HaShachar which ends with the words:  “Baruch Atta Hashem HaGomel Chassodim Tovim LeAmo Yisrael.”  Hakhel Note:  As we have noted in the past, every day--without any specific reason, we are graced with the opportunity to recite this Bracha of Gomel Chassodim Tovim, we should appreciate its great importance and meaning.  With it we can in a unique sense ‘bentsch Gomel ’--each and every day!  Oh, how it behooves us to have Kavannah in this bracha for everything that happened the day before, everything that has happened until that point in the morning and everything that will hopefully happen for the remainder of the successful day. 



Special Note Two:  The Chofetz Chaim makes the following powerful points in the all-encompassing Sefer Shemiras HaLashon:


1.  When a person looks at his friend, he can see a physical being--human, mortal, frail and insignificant.  All the more so will he take this view if the person has done something negative (especially if that negativity was addressed towards him).  Hashem, however, knows better--for He knows that the root of the Nishmas Yisrael is Gadol VeNorah Ad Me’od.  Indeed, the Zohar writes several times that the source of the Nishmas Yisrael is LeMa’alah BeMakom Norah Ad Me’od.  It is for this reason that Hashem views our importance and loves us--Ad LiMe’od as well! 


2.  When a person judges his friend below, he stands in judgment above as well--so that with one’s very words he decides his own case in Shomayim--the place that counts. 


3.  A person must not only judge his friend favorably--but must use all of his kochos, all of his strength to do so.  One must picture himself as the object of judgment--and as people suspect him of this or accuse him of that--he should imagine how he would deflect and reject their words with this reason, that rationale, these grounds and those explanations. 


4.  Ultimately, [as the Sefer Mesilas Yesharim writes], our goal is to give Nachas Ruach to Hashem.  A father never wants his child to be looked down upon, degraded, shamed or disgraced.  Hashem is much more than a loving father--He loves us beyond human love.  We must follow suit to the greatest extent possible--with each and every one of His children!



Special Note Three:  From a reader:  “What is the source of the Minhag of eating latkes on Chanukah?  If it is that we need to eat something with oil in it--why not simply eat French fries from your local pizza store?  I have heard that the word “lat” in Yiddish means patch, and that the reason we eat latkes on Chanukah is to symbolize that the breaches made by the Yevanim in the Bais HaMikdash were only temporarily patched.  Some even refer to “sufganiot” as “latkes” as well, very likely for the same reason.  The latkes teach that although we were able to mend the breach--Chanukah was not the complete Yeshua.  Based upon this, I understand much better what you brought in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov that the reason Chanukah does not have its own Mesechta is because the Mesechta of Chanukah will not be over until Moshiach comes and completes that Tahara of the Bais Hamikdash!”  Hakhel Note:  This is an excellent thought.  With this, we can understand the difference in the endings of Al HaNissim on Purim and on Chanukah.  On Purim, we end Al HaNissim with finality: “VeSalu Osso VeEs Banav Al HaEitz”--Haman and his sons were hanged, and the lives of Bnei Yisroel were now able to be saved.  With respect to Chanukah, however, the wars in fact continued for many years afterwards, and therefore Chazal instituted the days of Chanukah the next year, as the Al HaNissim concludes, as days which were “LeHodos U’LeHallel LeShimcha HaGadol.  This is an allusion to the Geulah as an ongoing process based upon our relationship with and closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu!  Thus, although we are now several days past Chanukah, we can continue to strive for the ultimate goal of Chanukah--which is the Geulah Shleimah and the final Bais HaMikdash BeKedusha U’Veteharah!



Special Note Four:  How can we accomplish this final and everlasting step?  Let us take a closer look at the time period we are in for enlightening guidance.  As we approach the last Parsha of Sefer Bereishis, we encounter Asara BeTeves in its path.  There is a clear common denominator between the two, as they both are the beginnings of a dreary and dreadful Galus period.  However, with that awareness comes the understanding that the Galus is a temporary one--and the faster we change and correct our ways--the faster we return to normalcy--and an elevated relationship with HaKadosh Baruch Hu and with others.  Yaakov Avinu thus gives us the brachos in this week’s Parsha, which are at a minimum the realization that we are--and can do--much better.  Likewise, the stringencies of Tisha B’Av are not observed on Asara BeTeves even though it is the beginning of the series of calamities that led to our exile--because that exile is eminently rectifiable--if we make the right choices.  Most certainly, this week is a week to emphasize Teshuva and especially Teshuva BeChol Yom (especially our Kabbala sheets and review of recent Yetzer Hora tactics)--for there is a glowing light at the end of this reprehensible tunnel--what we have to do is not stand here dumbfounded--but once and for all make the final and oh so-needed push towards that end!




6 Teves

MI K’AMCHA YISRAEL--AN INDIVIDUAL GEMACH!  See www.furniture gemach.com--oh what each one of us can accomplish! 



MI K’AMCHA YISRAEL ON A BROADER LEVEL! To experience an incredible Kiddush Hashem one need only call our community’s International Chesed Helpline at 718-705-5000.  Through telephone prompting, it contains a wealth of Chesed information for around the world!”



“WHAT DID HE SAY ABOUT ME?”  Whenever one is asked this question or hears these words, he must know or advise others to proceed with an extraordinary level of caution and forbearance--for the potential danger, ruination and amplification of serious aveiros are beyond the immediate comprehension of the moment.  Help yourself, and help others!


Hakhel Note: A new Shemiras HaLashon Shiur for men has just begun in the heart of Flatbush at Congregation S’fard, 1575 Coney Island Avenue (between Avenues L & M). The schedule is Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 12:00-12:45PM. The Maggid Shiur is Rabbi Hillel Litwack, Shlita, noted posek in the area of Shemiras HaLashon.



DON ’T EMBARRASS YOURSELF! The Rosh in the Orchos Chaim L’Rosh (109) teaches: Ahl Ta’as BeSaiser Mah She’tisbayeish Begalui Ve’ahl Tomar Mi Ro’eini--do not do in private that which you would be embarrassed to do openly and do not say ‘who sees me?’”


Hakhel Note: As a practical matter we can apply this to our daily activities in which we may be a bit lax, because we perceive ourselves as being more ‘alone’. For instance, at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table--how do we eat and drink--consider the grace, the dignity, the respect in which one would eat or drink when in the presence of a dignified individual--and certainly in the presence of HaKadosh Baruch Hu Himself?!



THE 30-SECOND PEACE PROCESS: The bracha of Sim Shalom, even if recited paying attention to the words and in a deliberate manner will take no longer than 30 seconds to recite. Yet, it requests peace from the Source of All Peace--what greater chance for success can there be than that?! In these turbulent times for the family, community and for the world, let us focus on peace--and we can have a good part in bringing it--in only seconds a day! Focus--it will be worth it!




Special Note One:  There is one other lesson we must mention before we take leave of the recent momentous eight days. Chanukah is replete with beautiful menorahs, beautiful oil, Mehadrin and Mehadrin-Min HaMehadrin--Hiddur Mitzvah at its finest.  Hiddur Mitzvah--one’s beautification of his mitzvah-- is based upon a Pasuk that we read daily--”Zeh Kaili VeAnvaihu--This is my G-d and I will glorify Him” (Shemos 15:2).  The Chayei Odom (68: 5) in discussing Hiddur Mitzvah writes that one should make his Mitzvah as beautiful as possible--befitting the royal privilege that he is engaging in.  In fact, the Chayei Odom adds that some rule that if one has even already purchased an object used to perform a mitzvah (such as a Sefer Torah, Talis, Esrog, Sukkah), and then finds another one which is nicer, it is a mitzvah to actually go to the length of exchanging that which was already purchased and paying more for the more beautiful object. If one pays more than one-third more, the Chayei Odom concludes, ‘Yosifu Lo LaOlam Haba’--those additional funds become very significant indeed for they buy unique eternal reward!  HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita rules that Hiddur Mitzvah has the same halacha as the Mitzvah itself--and, accordingly, to the extent that one interrupts his Torah study to perform a mitzvah (i.e., it is a Mitzvah SheBeGufo, or there is no one else that can perform it and it has to be done now), he would also interrupt his Torah study for the Hiddur Mitzvah aspect of it as well.  With this principle, we can understand why Talmidei Chachomim spend so much time choosing esrogim and the like.  Perhaps we too can take the lesson--and stay within the beautiful Mehadrin mode of life.  When there is a special level of caring, dignity and glory attributed to a Mitzvah, not in an ostentatious way, but in a manner which is dedicated purely to the Kavod and Chibuv HaMitzvah, it most certainly has an effect on its performance-- and on those who view its performance.  Practical Application:  Choose a new Mitzvah which you will personally beautify over the winter.  It does not necessarily have to involve money, for extra time or effort to make sure that something really looks, smells, tastes, sounds or feels more beautiful--beautifies the Mitzvah--and you as well!



Special Note Two:  The first word of last week’s Parsha is “Vayigash”--and Yehudah drew near, or approached.  Last week, we saw how important this concept is in preparing for Tefillah.  Drawing near to someone is always an important approach (pun intended) for conciliation and reconciliation.  Every time one keeps his distance (sitting at the other end of the table, or standing at a distant point in the room), or communicates essential messages only by telephone or electronically (when they can be done in person), he is missing an essential opportunity to successfully mend or create an important relationship or bond.  One should remember that we are all created in the Tzelem Elokim and the more one draws close to another person--the more he feels the Tzelem Elokim of the other person--and can demonstrate his own Tzelem Elokim to the other person as well!



Special Note Three: We begin a new exciting Monday/Thursday series on the practical aspects of Sta”m, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, Shlita, author of Inside Sta”m--An Insider Reveals The Answers To All The Questions You Should Ask When Purchasing Or Maintaining Tefillin, Mezuzos, Megillos, Sifrei Torah And Nevi’im.


For a fuller treatment of all topics to be discussed, we urge you to purchase the Sefer, which provides practical and meaningful information and ideas.




Question: How important is it for the consumer to know the qualifications of the individuals involved in the production of his STA”M item? (I.e. Can he simply rely on their chezkas kashrus?)


Answer: It is critical that the consumer properly investigate the credentials of the seller and all those involved in the production process. (Sometimes the sofer is the seller, other times a broker, or middleman is the seller.) Although in many instances we like to rely on (and are allowed to rely on) a chezkas kashrus, when it comes to purchasing STA”M, the poskim clearly state that one may not do so. Rather he must have a positive source of knowledge attesting that the seller is indeed expert in the halachos of the product he is selling.


In coming parts we will try to briefly identify some of the people involved in various stages of production of STA”M as well as some of the challenges they may face.




The Talmud records a revealing warning that R’ Yishmael gave R’ Meir when he learned that R’ Meir was a practicing sofer: “My son, be careful in your work, for your work is Heavenly work, and if you omit even one letter or add even one extra letter, the result is the destruction of the entire world.”


Most people do not realize the degree of trust we place in the sofer when we purchase STA”M from him. There are a tremendous number of halachos involved in writing STA”M – possibly hundreds. It is absolutely essential to use only STA”M which was written by a sofer who has a valid certification from a recognized certifying body. These certificates are valid for a limited period, and must be renewed from time to time. Therefore, a sofer must review the relevant halachos regularly. A sofer who does not review regularly, will almost inevitably produce STA”M that is not mehudar (acceptable as kosher according to all recognized opinions).


Yet there is another, perhaps more important qualification – the sofer’s yiras shamayim and ehrlichkeit (honesty and trustworthiness).


The following story will illustrate how this is so:


A sofer I know well has written hundreds of mezuzos, ten of pairs of tefillin and about five Sifrei Torah. Yet I know that he has never been tested on the halachos and has no certification.


I once met him and the opportunity presented itself for me to ask him why he has been writing for so long without a te’uda. “Oh”, he replied, “I’ve thought about it a few times, but the test is just too hard!”


So here we have someone who because he doesn’t know the halachos well enough cannot receive certification, yet continues writing anyway. Does such an individual have the requisite yiras shamayim? This is a difficult question. This should certainly be contrasted with other sofrim I know who run and ask a shaila anytime the slightest shadow of a doubt arises in the STA”M they are in the process of writing.


One final point regarding sofrim is the importance of concentration. Unfortunately, there are sofrim who feel it necessary to listen to music, shiurim (Torah lectures), or even the radio, while writing. Since this negatively affects the sofer’s concentration, a number of leading poskim have strongly condemned this practice, going so far as to say that if a sofer is unable to write without listening to music or shiurim, he would be best off finding another profession.




3 Teves



1. At the end of HaNeiros Halalu we recite words in which we thank and praise Hashem--Al Nisecha VeAl Niflaosecha VeAl Yeshuasecha.  What is the difference between these three important acknowledgments--Nisecha, Niflaosecha and Yeshuasecha?! 


2. What are the last words about Chanukah that we recited yesterday at Mincha--perhaps this is the parting message that we should take with us. In practical furtherance of this message, we provide the following two helpful hints:


A. In Modim, when reciting the words Ve’Al Kulam, realize that Kulam is a broad, general term (in Chazal’s language, a ribui)--intending to include more than what was previously stated. Accordingly, one can think about something else that he should thank Hashem for not previously thought of until that point.


B. The last words of the bracha of Modim are: “U’Lecha Na’eh L’Hodos--and to You it is nice to give thanks.” When reciting these words--appreciate how pleasant it is to thank Hashem!



QUESTION OF THE DAY :  HaRav Tzadok HaKohen teaches that the month of Teves is a very special one--for as the tenth month of the year it symbolizes Shevet Dan which was tenth Shevet to travel information in the desert.  What was so unique about Shevet Dan?



READ THE LABEL! The Shatnez Lab of Flatbush showed us a sweater that was brought into the lab, its contents read:  “wool and linen”(!). There is certainly no fraudulent advertising here--the consumer simply failed to read the label. Perhaps in every language in the world there is an equivalent of “Let the consumer beware!”--we most certainly must be guided by this most basic of principles.



RECEIVED FROM A READER: Rabbi Yaakov and Devorah Cohen, of Houston, TX, have a 6-year old son, Refael Elisha (Refael Elisha Meir ben Devorah) battling brain cancer and they are running out of options and time (measured in days and weeks). One option they are trying to get on the table is called Antineoplaston Therapy, administered in a clinic in Houston. This therapy was previously allowed by the FDA before that approval was rescinded last year, pending further clinical trials.  We are petitioning the FDA to grant a compassionate use exemption and I need the help of every one of my contacts to spread the word.  If we reach 100,000 signatures, the White House will respond to the petition (concurrently, we have many other friends reaching out to senators, congressmen, and other influential people to try to get this exemption approved). The petition is at the White House page by clicking here.  I humbly ask for you to take just a few minutes to sign this petition and pass it along to your friends and co-workers. It could make all the difference in the world for this family. If you would like to donate to help the Cohen family cover their medical costs, please visit this webpage by clicking here.




Special Note One: We continue with our Erev Shabbos--Halachos of Shabbos Series:


A. Reminder! It is forbidden to fast past Chatzos on Shabbos--even if one is otherwise learning.  Hakhel Note:  We must be especially careful about this in the winter when Chatzos is early--well before 12 noon in the New York area, for example.  One should be sure to make Kiddush prior to that time and be motzi all those of his family or guests who have not heard Kiddush yet as well--so that they can all eat or drink something prior to Chatzos.


B. Every Wednesday HaRav Yisroel Dov Webster, Shlita, noted Posek, Dayan Sha’arei Mishpat, and author of The Halachos of Pregnancy and Childbirth, gives a Hakhel Shiur to women in Borough Park attended now by approximately 125 women.   This winter, Rabbi Webster’s Shiurim are on Hilchos Muktzah. Last winter he gave a series of Shiurim on Hilchos Borer, and at the end of the series the women were given a bechina of 100 questions. We have previously provided the answers to the first 53 questions, and we will now continue with the goal of completing all 100 questions. For tapes and CD’s of the Shiur, please call: 718-435-6974.


54. My cup of orange juice has pulp in it, may I strain it?

It depends. Most people do not mind if there is pulp in the juice, so for them  it would be permitted to strain the juice (but not, of course, with a strainer, which is a kli hameyuchad l’borer). However, if a person never wants pulp, then the pulp is considered as pesoles and therefore one is prohibited to strain the juice.


55. Is there any problem for me to clear the table because of borer?

Yes, there are some problems of borer that must be addressed when cleaning off the table.


A) Soda Bottles-If soda bottles are very close to each other, one must take those bottles that have soda in them from the ones that are empty.


B) Silverware-One may not sort clean silverware that is mixed with dirty silverware in order to place it back into the silverware drawer.


C) Dishes-One cannot separate dirty dishes into different sizes in order to stack them into the sink.


D) Leftover Food- If one has food that is mixed together on a plate, one may not separate the different foods in order to store them. Similarly, if one has mixed fruit on a platter or mixed fruit in a fruit bowl one cannot separate them in order to store them.


56. If one has a bowl with mixed fruit, is there any way to separate them in order to put them away?

Yes, one can scatter the fruit over the counter, so that the fruits separate from each other and become ‘unmixed’ as a result.


57. After the meal may one stack the dishes in a dishwasher?

Yes, one is permitted to put the dishes that is in one’s hand into its place. Once the dishes are placed into the dishwasher, they cannot be moved in order to make room for more dishes.


58. If one has a case of different flavored sodas and wants a certain flavor, is there a problem of borer to take the flavor that he wants?

As the rules of borer apply to flavors, one must satisfy all three conditions. Therefore, one should take the flavor that he wants (ochel) from the other flavors (pesoles), for immediate use.


59. Is there a problem of borer by taking items out of the refrigerator or freezer?

It depends. Items that are large and discernible to the eye are not a problem of borer. However, those items that are small and mixed, e.g. mixed flavors of yogurt may be a problem if one cannot see the flavor. Also, if one has items that are the same size, e.g. tin pans in the freezer containing various foods, then unless the pans are labeled there is a problem of borer for one cannot readily discern what is inside them. The rules of borer would thus apply, and one must satisfy all three conditions.



Special Note Two:  Chanukah is now a very important part of our recent past and an eternal part of our fiber and being. As we have referenced over the past two weeks, Tefillah is  such an important part of Chanukah's lesson:  We can continue to demonstrate the effect of Chanukah upon us.


Here is a practical idea as to how you can truly further this goal of Improved Tefillah--Improved Life.  The book Praying With Fire began a brand new cycle on 1 Teves--just two days ago.  Thousands upon thousands have literally become inspired to daven better (“with fire”) by this classic work, using the Five-Minute a Day Lessons in the book.  This is a great new opportunity to start improving your Tefillah.  It is important to note that there are about 150 simanim (chapters) in Shulchan Aruch relating to Tefillah, which is approximately the same number of chapters relating to all of Hilchos Shabbos, including the laws of Eruvin on Shabbos.


As we have noted in the past, HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, Shlita, rules as follows (Orchos Yosher, p. 100):


“It is an absolute obligation to be proficient in the laws of prayer, since a person who approaches the King, and does not know how to behave, will certainly be expelled [from the palace] by the King.  All those who are careless about this, will eventually be held accountable, and there is no doubt that the study of these laws takes precedence over all other studies, since they apply three times a day.”  [Translation from the original Hebrew provided by Guidelines, p. 14 (Targum Press, 2004).] 


These powerful words of HaRav Kanievsky, Shlita, one of the great poskim of our generation, should be carefully considered.  We urge those who have not already done so, to begin the new cycle of Praying With Fire over the next three-month period.  Your personal growth in Tefillah--and in your relationship with Hashem--will be extremely tangible.



Special Note Three:  After the Chanukah milestone, we look to about six weeks of Winter until Tu B’Shvat arrives and the first indications of blossoming flowers and fruits arrive in Eretz Yisroel.  The thought of Winter (for those who live in the Northern Hemisphere) may make one feel chilled (even the word “Kar” sounds a bit frosty), but we, as Ma’aminim Bnei Ma’aminim, must realize that it is an opportunity for special, and, in fact, necessary growth--as this is the situation and circumstance in which Hashem in His Omniscient Wisdom has placed us.


So, we are faced with surroundings of leafless trees, long nights, cold days, bone-drenching rains, and for some of us a little or a lot of ice, sleet and snow.  Can we succeed at all in this environment?  No doubt that we can succeed--and thrive.


We would first like to provide a suggestion that has proven to be successful in the past-- take the next 40 days in a row and, at least one time a day, make the brocha of SheHakol Niheyeh Bidevaro and the brocha of Borei Nefashos preferably from a Siddur, and with the special warm feeling that Hashem loves you with an unbounding love and wants to shower bracha of all kind upon you.


We would also like to provide a second thought based upon the teachings of HaRav Meir Schuck, Shlita, the Temesvar Rav.  HaRav Schuck brings the words of Rebbi Shimon (Avos 2:18): “Be meticulous in reading the Shema and in prayer; when you pray, do not make your prayer a set routine but rather [beg for] compassion and supplicate before the Omnipresent....”  HaRav Schuck notes that, at first glance, this Mishna does not appear to belong in Mesechta Avos, which teaches us pious behavior, and not required conduct.  After all, are not the proper recitation of Shema and Shemone Esrei absolute Halachic requirements?  Indeed, there are literally scores of chapters in Shulchan Aruch relating to the Laws of Kriyas Shema and Shemone Esrei!  HaRav Schuck, therefore, concludes that Rebbi Shimon wants us to understand that even when reciting Kriyas Shema and Tefillah properly--with no talking, no interruptions, starting on time, properly enunciating the words and reciting them loud enough to hear them, etc., there is still another important dimension of which we must continuously remind ourselves.  That is, each Kriyas Shema, each Shemone Esrei, is very literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, for it will never recur.  Yes, you have recited Kriyas Shema and Shemone Esrei thousands and thousands of times, but are you truly taking the opportunity to be “zahir”--careful to recognize and appreciate--that this particular Shema and Shemone Esrei in front of you is a one-time opportunity and that it should not get lost among all those thousands of occasions that you have had until today, and B’Ezras Hashem, the tens of thousands that you will have in the future?  One should not simply “be Yotzei” his “obligation” by routine.  Instead, one should avoid the negative habit, the dry rote, the repetitive redundancy by taking a moment out before each Shema and Shemone Esrei to appreciate--and treasure--the truly monumental opportunity.  As one peeks out the window, and things may seem to look cold and bleary, day in and day out, as the pattern of Winter appears to be almost nothing but darkness, we should break out and recognize the new, fresh, stand-alone opportunities of the day--Two Shema affirmations and Three Shemone Esrei private encounters with the Almighty.  If we can work on this until Tu B’Shvat, we will have brought spring into our winter!



Special Note Four:  The Shelah HaKadosh also makes the following important notes in this week’s Parsha, as excerpted from the Sefer Mussarei Shelah HaKadosh


A.  Yaakov taught his descendents for all times a crucial lesson when he sent Yehuda ahead to establish a Yeshiva, a spiritual footing in Goshen.  Whenever one is to begin a new undertaking or start a new phase or project, he should begin by first providing for a Heavenly or spiritual need.  For instance, when moving into a new apartment or home, one should first consider the location and approach to Torah and Tefillah in the new home. 


B.  Yosef did not lay claim to the “Admas HaKohannim”--the property of the Egyptian priests, which he could have easily done in exchange for the live-giving food that he was giving them, and as he had in fact done with the rest of the Egyptians.  He did not treat them in this way in recognition of the Tova that they had done to him when the wife of Potifera brought her case against Yosef in front of the priests.  They realized he was telling the truth and so they saved his life (see Targum Yonasan Ben Uziel to Bereishis 39:20 and 47:22).  Yosef demonstrated his HaKoras HaTov to them in a grand manner.  The lesson is there for us all to see!



Special Note Five:  We provide the following points and pointers on the Parsha: 


A. HaRav Moshe Wolfson, Shlita teaches that "Vayigash Eilav--Yehudah"---if one really wants to come close to Hashem, it is with Yehudah--with admission to Hashem that all comes from Him--and with the great thanks this awareness engenders.  Hakhel Note:  As we have noted in the past, What is the very first , and therefore ostensibly the primary, item that we thank Hashem for in Modim every day?  Is it for our lives, our souls, the daily nissim....  No, it is actually "She'Atta Hu Hashem Elokainu VaiLokai Avosainu--we thank You for being our Hashem our G-d, and the G-d of our fathers". Hashem, You could have distanced Yourself from us.  We could have lived our lives without Your Hashgacha Pratis as most of the world does. We could have not known You. Instead, You have given us the opportunity to be close to You at all times--Torah, Tefillah, the Mitzvos--to do what is right, to lead meaningful lives, to have ruchniyus as our goal.  Thanks to You, we lead lives in a world of gashmius which can lead us to live for eternity!.  With this awareness, with this knowledge, shouldn't we anxiously await each and every opportunity to recite Shemone Esrei--each and every opportunity to recite Modim!!


A.  The Sefer Talelei Oros on this week’s Parsha presents an outstanding teaching from HaRav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita.  HaRav Shteinman brings the Sefer Rokeach who writes that the reason we take three steps forward before commencing Shemone Esrei is because the word “Vayigash” --and he approached--appears three times in Tanach:  First, “Vayigash Avrohom” (Bereishis18:23)--when Avrohom approached Hashem to plead for the people of Sodom;  Second, our Parsha—“Vayigash Eilav Yehudah”--when Yehudah approached Yosef to appeal for Binyomin; and Third, “Vayigash Eliyahu” (Melochim I 18:21)--when Eliyahu approached the people at Har HaCarmel--intending to bring them back to the service of Hashem.


HaRav Shteinman writes that this Sefer Rokeach requires explanation.  Yes, Yehudah approached Yosef, and Eliyahu drew close to the people, because when you want to engage another human being, you approach him, you come close to him.  Does one, however, come “close” to Hashem by taking three steps forward?  Hashem is everywhere--including immediately in front of you--even without taking three steps forward!  What does one accomplish at all by taking three steps in front of him?  There is, in fact, a great lesson here.  When one wants to draw close to Hashem in prayer, he must do something to show that he wants to draw close--that he is not standing in the same place as a moment ago and simply opening his mouth.  While one may not be drawing physically closer to Hashem, by deliberately taking measured steps forward, he demonstrates that is not staying in the same position and condition that he was in a few moments ago before this opportunity of personal tefillah.  Indeed, the pasuk immediately preceding Vayigash Avrohom states that Avrohom Avinu was already “Omaid Lifnei Hashem--standing before Hashem” (attaining nevuah at the time)--yet before he could begin his entreaty on behalf of the people of Sodom, he still had to be Vayigash, he still had to take some action to indicate that he was about to begin a very special and privileged encounter-direct prayer before Hashem Himself!


Important Note: The Sefer Tefillah KeHilchasa (12:21) writes that one should recite the introductory Pasuk to Shemone Esrei--“Hashem Sefasi Tiftach (Tehillim 51:17)--Hashem open my lips…” only after having taken these three important steps forward.  One should be in his changed state--in his different place--prior to asking Hashem that in this Shemone Esrei He assist him by opening his mouth in prayer.


So, when taking those three steps forward prior to each Shemone Esrei--we must make sure that it is not only our feet that are moving--but our entire mind and being together!


B.  The  following important insight on this week's Parsha  is provided by HaRav Avigdor Miller, Z’tl, in his Sefer In the Beginning:  Yehudah initiated his dialogue with Yosef the Ruler by asserting “Ki Kamocha KePharoh--for [to me] you are the same as Pharoh.”  We must take the lesson from Yehudah’s brilliant words.  Men in authority do not welcome obstinacy or argumentation because their authority is thereby impugned.  It is therefore highly advisable to preface any show of opposition [and any request] by a generous acknowledgement of that person’s authority.


C.  HaRav Yaakov Meisels, Shlita, powerfully shows from Yosef how far one should go to avoid humiliating, embarrassing, hurting or paining another:


1.  When Yosef revealed his identity to his brothers, he first ordered all of the Mitzriim out of the room so that his brothers would not feel the shame and embarrassment upon his disclosure.  Can one imagine the great risk literally of life that he had placed himself in?!  He had left himself alone in the room with his brothers, who had previously intended to take his life for Halachic reasons--and he had no knowledge or basis for determining that they had changed their Halachic Ruling!  The Midrash Tanchuma teaches, in fact, that Yosef had determined--better that I be killed than that my brothers be embarrassed before the Mitzriim.


Moreover, we must remember that Yosef had gone through the entire episode with his brothers because he understood that his dreams had to be realized, not for personal purposes, but for K’lal Yisrael--and ultimately world history.  He had gone through such torment in Mitzrayim physically and spiritually awaiting fruition of the dreams, and was so close to their fulfillment (and to once again seeing his father which he so longed for in its own right), but made the decision that none of this--even fulfillment of the dreams for the world--was worth it--and he was going to very literally risk his life with the good possibility that his brothers (who could have taken on all of Mitzrayim) would kill him--all of this so that his brothers would be saved the pain and embarrassment before the Mitzriim who were in the palace at that moment.


2.  When Yosef revealed his identity, and he saw that his brothers were so ashamed, he put aside all of his years of disgrace, disgust and exile, being away from his father, his home and environment, and instead immediately tried to mollify them with words of appeasement--so that they should not even feel hurt before him.  He told them that they had not done wrong...as through their actions the future of K’lal Yisrael would be assured.  He kissed them--and even told them not to argue among themselves over this on the way home!  Hakhel Note:  We may add to Rabbi Meisels’ incredible observation the thoughts of the Ba’alei Mussar on this point.  The Ba’alei Mussar write that from Yosef we learn that one must be Mai’tiv to those who are Mai’rah to him.  We note that Yosef is referred to as Yosef HaTzaddik, not Yosef HaChassid--which teaches us that we must follow this path which is not one of piety, but one of Tzedek--what is just and right.  Take the bold step--next time someone does something to you which was hurtful, try an act of goodness or kindness in return!


3.  Rabbi Meisels concludes as follows--certainly incorporating the thoughts of the Ba’alei Mussar as well.  “How far must we distance ourselves from shaming another, from the hurt or disgrace they may feel, from the opportunity for even “justified” revenge, from making someone the subject of a cute joke, from making him feel foolish, childish, silly, ignorant or wrong.  Situations arise all the time, at home, at work, while driving, at the checkout counter.  We are faced with daily challenges where we can use that one line, that one opportunity, that one time that you can (finally) teach someone a real lesson.  In truth, these are all opportunities of life--not to demonstrate your mastery, superiority, prowess, verbal skills, wit or wisdom--but to show that you, too, can treat your brothers with the notion of concern and kindliness, with the compassion, with the sensitivity and caring, that Yosef did his!”


Special Note Six: Chanukah and the Parsha: What word in this week’s Parsha is spelled by the letters on the dreidel (see Bereishis 46:29)?  What does this teach you about how we can succeed against the other nations of the world--until Moshiach’s arrival?  Can we find one act in our daily life in which we can fulfill the dreidel’s teaching each and every day?!




2 Teves

FROM A READER:  “...what would the world be like, if we sat paralyzed by cold and darkness? That darkness is reminiscent of the darkness of ignorance, the cold of disconnection from Hashem and Torah….On Chanukah, we can think of the joy of the power of Torah to bring true illumination and wisdom!”




Special Note One:  Points and pointers on Zos Chanukah: 


A.  Zos Chanukah, is the last day of our celebration of “Chanu-Kah”--our resting from war on the 25th day of Kislev.  While other nations may celebrate victories in war, we celebrate our rest from the war--the result of the victory--which is for us to return to our Avodas Hashem.


B.  The Sefer Taamei Dinim U’Minhagim brings that Zos Chanukah is the last Day of Judgment from the Din that began on Rosh Hashana more than three months ago (the gematria of Matisyahu is the same as that of Rosh Hashana--861).  Hashem is a very gracious Father and allows us tremendous opportunities to return to Him--as alluded to in the Pasuk BeZos Yechupar Avon Yaakov (Yeshaya 23:9).  We should spend some time contemplating how we can complete this process of judgment on a positive note--how we, too, can celebrate this period in which we rejoice in the result of the victory--with a renewed Avodas Hashem.  Some introspection and renewed commitment is certainly within the order of the day.


C.  The following greater detail is excerpted from the unique and powerful English Sefer The Book of Our Heritage, by Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov, Z’tl (Feldheim Publishers):  The last day of Chanukah is referred to as Zos Chanukah [literally, This is Chanukah”] because the Torah portion read on this day concludes with the phrase, Zos Chanukas Ha-Mizbe’ach (Bamidbar 7:88) This is the dedication of the altar.”  Chazal interpreted this Pasuk allegorically:  Zos Chanukah-this [the Eighth Day] is the essence of Chanukah.  The number eight alludes to eternity, to those things which transcend nature and which are not constrained by time.  The number seven alludes to that which is time bound e.g., the seven days of the week--while eight alludes to that which is no longer bound by time.  The Eighth Day of Chanukah parallels the Chag of Shemini Atzeres which follows the seven days of the Chag HaSukkos.  Just as Shemini Atzeres contains the essence of all of the festivals that precede it--the atonement aspect of the Days of Awe and the joyous aspect of Sukkos--so too does this last day of Chanukah contain all of the aspects of happiness, salvation, praise, and thanksgiving of the previous days.  The Torah commands us to observe three festivals:  Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos.  Parallel to these three festivals which are specifically mentioned in the written Torah, Chazal were given the ability--as the masters of the orally transmitted Torah--to create three festivals.  These three festivals are reflections of the clear light of the written Torah which illuminates them, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun.  When Bnei Yisrael accepted the three festivals which were given to them by Hashem, their observance of these festivals formed an impression upon them which allowed for the establishment of other festivals which are illuminated by the light of the original ones.  Thus the light of Chanukah is a reflection of the light of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres--the period of our rejoicing.”  Sukkos commemorates Bnei Yisrael’s having faithfully followed Hashem into a wilderness, entering under the shelter of His faith. She found her joy in Him, extending the time of rejoicing for still another day on Shemini Atzeres.  This ‘light’ formed an impression on her soul, and therefore, even when she faced tormentors who sought to sink her into darkness and to separate her from her Father in Heaven, she had the merit to be able to leave the dark and bask in the light, to once again dwell in the shelter of His faith without interference.  Moreover, she was given a new light, the light of Chanukah, the essence of whose rejoicing is manifested in cleaving to Torah and its mitzvos.  The light of Purim, in turn, is a reflection of the light of Shavuos --the ‘time of the giving of the Torah.’  Bnei Yisrael declared:  We shall do and we shall hear (Shemos 24:7) when standing at the foot of Har Sinai.  She established a covenant with Hashem, a covenant that was renewed in every generation, a covenant which formed an impression on her soul.  Even when she was subjugated to a hard” king who set out to annihilate all the Jews, she reaffirmed her acceptance of the original covenant of “we shall do and we shall hear”.  Moreover, she was given a new light, the light of Purim, the essence of whose rejoicing is the establishment of a new covenant pledging her loving willingness to keep that which she had already received.  At the time of our final Geulah--may it come speedily in our days--a new light shall shine upon Bnei Yisrael, a reflection of the light of the redemption of Pesach--our third new festival!  It shall shine in the merit of the fact that she did not despair of being redeemed, because she expected it daily and because she retained the joy of that first redemption even in the darkest hours of her exile.  Regarding this future day, our Nevi’im taught (Micha 7:15):  As in the days when you left the land of Egypt I shall show you wonders, and (Yirmiyahu 16:115):  Therefore behold, days are coming, says Hashem, and it will no longer be said, as Hashem lives, who has taken the Bnei Yisrael up out of Egypt.  But rather, as Hashem lives, Who has taken the Bnei Yisrael up out of the land of the north and from all of the lands in which He dispersed them.  And I shall return them to their Land which I gave to their fathers.


Chazal said: Even if all the other festivals will be annulled, the festivals of Purim and Chanukah will not be annulled.  To what can this be compared?  To one who was given money to invest in a business. He did so and earned great profit.  Even if later they should come and take back that which they give him, what he profited on his own will not be taken from him.  The same is true of the festivals which the Torah ordained.  They were given in grace to Israel, who lacked the merit to earn them on their own.  As for Purim and Chanukah, however, they earned them through their own deeds-- through their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the purity of their faith on Chanukah, and through their having voluntarily accepted the covenant of the Torah on Purim.  This merit was further enhanced by virtue of the fact that they accomplished all these things despite being in a state of oppression and enslavement.


Because Chanukah and Purim were achieved by Israel through the merit of her own deeds, the sanctity of these festivals is equally experienced by all Jews wherever they live.  The later Sages explained that this is the reason that these festivals-- as opposed to those ordained by the Torah--are not celebrated for an extra day outside the Land of Israel.  In addition to the doubt as to the correct day on which the festival is to be observed, another reason has been suggested for celebrating an extra day outside the Land of Israel.  When we are in the Diaspora, we lack the spiritual strength to absorb the sanctity of the festival in one day alone.  In the Land of Israel, the sanctity of the land assists us in absorbing the holiness of the festival.  Chanukah and Purim,  however, are festivals which the Jews earned with their own merit.  Their sanctity is thus closer to Israel ’s inner soul and we therefore find it easier to bask in their glow - even outside the Land of Israel- and thus do not require an extra day!”


Hakhel Note:  What outstanding and beautiful thoughts.  The Book of Our Heritage is filled with these thoughts, and of course we highly recommend purchasing this Sefer and studying its wonderful words.  



 Special Note Two:  From A Reader:  “The Sefer Nissim V'Niflaos, makes the point that the time of year between Chanukah and Purim entails an emphasis on communal Achdus--in contrast to the beginning of the year where the emphasis is on Teshuvah that usually involves personal introspection.  The initial Teshuvah period ends on Zos Chanukah, and simultaneously we expand our focus beyond ourselves to begin preparing for the nation's birth on Pesach, and Matan Torah on Shavuos, both of which have Achdus as prerequisites.


On Chanukah the focus is on the Bayis, as we begin at home to repair any rifts in the family.  [Hakhel Note:  Readers please take note of this Chanukah Avodah!]  Then, on Purim the effort gets expanded to the community at large, where the Mitzvos of Seudah, Mishloach Manos and Matanos Le'evyonim create a social ingathering that brings together all K’lal Yisrael.


On Chanukah, the Mitzvah of Neiros is directed to the Bayis, and we also have family Seudos as part of the Simcha of the festival.  Amazingly, the Brachos (including She'assah Nissim) are also directed to the family unit, which is the only time of the year that they are not directed to individuals.  Thus, if someone forgot to make a Shehechiyanu the first night, he is to recite it when he lights on the next night.  But, if he was Yotzeh the first night through someone else in the Bayis, he is exempt from Shehechiyanu thereafter, even though he was not present when the Bracha was made and didn't say Amen.  This is unlike any other Bracha where one cannot be Yotzeh unless one actually heard the Bracha being recited.


So She'Assah Nissim which is only recited on Chanukah and Purim appropriately has thirteen words (the gematria of ‘Echad’) because this time of year emphasizes Achdus, as we join together in recognizing our life’s purposes and goals--which will bring Yeshua and Geulah as well--as it did for us on Chanukah and Purim!”


Hakhel Note:  Chanukah, then, is a time of selflessness--a time of bonding with Hashem, and those around us--let us make the most of this last precious day!




1 Teves

THE 44 QUESTIONS!  Last Erev Shabbos we provided 44 Questions and Answers relating to Chanukah for you, your family and friends.  If you have not completed them--there is still 1 1/2 days left!



QUESTION OF THE MORNING:  How is it possible to have five aliyos on Rosh Chodesh Teves?



QUESTION OF THE AFTERNOON: Why does the powerful prayer of Ahl HaNissim--which thanks Hashem for all He has done for us--not have Hashem’s name in it?!



QUESTION OF THE EVENING:  What does the last phrase of Maoz Tzur mean--”Dechei Admon B’Tzel Tzalmon Hakeim Lanu Ro’eh Shivah?”



TONIGHT! At Ma’ariv, in Chutz La’aretz we begin asking for Tal U’Matar. What is compared to both Tal and Matar--and what do you think the double entendre means?!



LOOK AT THE NEIROS!  Next week, if one would light the Menorah in the same place and at the same time, the light of the Neiros would simply not be the same.  We suggest that just as Rebbi advised Antoninus that Shabbos food does not taste the same because on Shabbos it has the ‘Shabbos spice’ in it--so too is the Ruchniyus that one can imbibe from the Neiros Chanukah on Chanukah incomparable to the light of the other 346 days of the year. Look, study and grow--tonight!



Special Note One:  Thoughts on Rosh Chodesh Teves: 


A.  Today, Rosh Chodesh Teves is the Rosh HaKedusha. The Nesi’im for today and the last day of Chanukah are Efrayim and Menashe.  Chazal (Bereishis Rabba 73:7) teach that Eisav will fall into the hands of the children of Rachel--Menashe and Efrayim!  The reason for this is that Yosef represents Gevurah DeKedusha, which is exactly what will defeat Amalek.  With this ultimate victory, Ohr and Kedusha will be Mosif VeHoleich--will grow and grow forever!  (From the Sefer Machsheves Tzaddik)


B.  As we all know, the Greeks attacked Shabbos, Bris Milah and Rosh Chodesh as the classic examples of Torah Judaism.  As we light the Menorah this evening, having passed through the sanctity of Rosh Chodesh, we should increase our appreciation of the Mitzvah in tonight’s Hadlakas HaNeiros.  To gain a greater and deeper feeling and appreciation of the neiros of Chanukah, we present below a selection from the Sefer Kav HaYashar, as so recently beautifully translated by Rabbi Avrohom Davis, Shlita (Metsudah, 2007,Volume 2, p.455-456):


“…In commemoration of this miracle the Jews of every generation must observe the festival of Chanukah for eight days during which they must also kindle lights.  These lights have the status of mitzvah lights.  In many places we find that such lights are very precious in the eyes of Hashem.  Thus it states, ‘BaUrim Kabdu Hashem--honor Hashem with lights’ (Yeshayahu 24:15).


“Any lamp that is lit for the sake of a mitzvah has wondrous and immeasurable sanctity.  If we merited Ruach HaKodesh, we would recite the blessings over them and immediately attain understanding and insight into the future by means of their kindling--for a mitzvah light causes an outpouring of prophecy completely analogous to that of a prophet prophesying by the command of Hashem!”


C.  Although Chanukah appears to be ebbing away--do not get down! The Taz writes from the Rambam in Hilchos Chanukah, it appears that the days of Chanukah are “Yemei Simcha”.  In fact, the Seder HaYom specifically writes:  “On the days of Chanukah, one should not be down or sad.  Rather, one should express Sasson and Simcha for all of the good that Hashem did for us during these days, and on the day of Rosh Chodesh Teves--Yosif Simcha Al Simchaso--one should add Simcha on top of the Simcha that he is already experiencing!”



 Special Note Two:  Before reciting Hallel on the eighth day of Chanukah, let us take the following moving words of the Ben Ish Chai to heart:  VeYizaher BeHallel Shel Chanukah…--one should be very careful when reciting Hallel on Chanukah--for on Pesach we say Hallel Shalem for only one day (two days in Chutz La’aretz)--and on Chanukah we say Hallel Shalem for all eight days).  Therefore, one should recite Hallel on Chanukah BeKavannah U’VeSimcha Rabba!


Hakhel Note: A reader pointed out to us that the first four letters of Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis, which we have been reciting over Chanukah, form the word Simcha!



Special Note Three:   We provide the following essential Chanukah lessons and insights from HaRav Shimshon Pincus, Z’tl, excerpted from the Sefer Sichos Moreinu:


1. We can learn from the Nissim of Chanukah that if one acts with all of his willpower, he can chase away all of the Choshech--all of the darkness and blight. Choshech takes on various forms in this world. HaRav Pincus teaches that in his opinion the Choshech of a person viewing himself and his life as a ‘katan’--insignificant and minor--is perhaps the greatest Choshech of all, because he believes that he will not be able to reach higher levels in life. The Chashmonaim demonstrated to us all that a small band of ‘chalashim and mu’atim’--a few unequipped foot soldiers could defeat the mightiest ‘tank battalions’ of the day. This is because they opted to start driving away the Choshech on their own--and so Hashem took care of the rest for them. This is the how and the why for a ‘small’ light that should have lasted one night (or less) to actually last for eight nights. We too should recognize that with the proper attitude and effort we can and will exceed our expectations, and defy any so-called natural order! We must always remember that Chanukah remained a Yom Tov for a reason--even though the Chashmonaim dynasty of kings failed. Additional Note: HaRav Pincus brings the famous story of the nursing home owner who succeeded in making an elderly secular Jewish woman religious so that he would not have to feed her unkosher food, as she had been continuously requesting. When asked how he had succeeded--after all, hadn’t she spent eighty plus years in an unreligious environment--the nursing home owner responded: Did I have a choice?! When one feels the responsibility and acts upon it--he will succeed!


2. The Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 4:12 )writes that “Mitzvas Ner Chanukah Mitzvah Chaviva Hi Ad Me’od--the Mitzvah of Chanukah lights is extraordinarily precious.” By using the unique word Chaviva, as opposed to Gedola--great, the Rambam is emphasizing to us that Chavivus is an important lesson of Chanukah. We have to take the special feeling we get from the Neiros, the warmth and the feeling of love and closeness to Hashem and take it with us beyond these initial Eight Days. Indeed, the source of the word ‘Chanukah’ is chinuch--because it is a much needed opportunity for us of Hischadshus--renewal of zeal and effort --which is so vital in our battle against Mitzvas Anashim Melumadah--mitzvos performed out of rote and habit and because it was what you did yesterday. In fact, Hashem creates night once every day so that the next morning one ‘gets up’ to a new day with freshness. Chanukah is a lengthier period for us to inculcate newly inspired Torah and Tefillah into our lives.  


3.  Who really had the true beauty? Chazal teach that ten measures of beauty came into the world, and Yerushalayim took nine out of the ten, with the rest of the world having beauty dispersed around. The beauty of Yavan was and is illusory. Beauty only has meaning and significance if it is ‘Yishkon BeOholei Shem’-if it is used for the purposes of Ruchniyus and spirituality, and not as an end in itself.


4. At first blush, Yavan appears strangely similar to us. Both of our ancestors jointly clothed Noach out of honor and respect for who he was. The Menorah is a symbol of the Jew, and the symbol of the Greeks is the olive, whose oil was used to light the Menorah and which is mesugal for chochma .The Greeks were known to the world as scholars as well--in philosophy and other disciplines. Even the word Yavan has the same root letters as the word Yonah-- which symbolizes K’lal Yisroel. Moreover, their beauty is supposed to find its place in our ‘ohalim’, in our tents. In sum, we appear to be a true pair--brothers lehavdil--with the Greeks. In reality, however, this is our greatest danger. The Greek influence of Haskalah and secularism is a more dangerous enemy because it is the silent one. Take Aristotle for example. His students once found him fulfilling his animalistic desires in a horrible way, and he brushed them aside with the answer that ‘it was not Aristotle’ that had done it. We, on the other hand, even when not actively involved in chochma--such as when putting on our shoes or when in the lavatory--are still consciously and actively governed by Hashem’s sets of laws--we are who we are everywhere. Moreover, we recognize Hashem’s Hand as the source of all of our success and daven to Hashem for everything that we are and can be. About 100 years ago, a great Talmid Chacham’s granddaughter ran away from home to university in Europe .She met her grandfather and said to him: “Why do you sit in the darkness--go out into the world and see the great light!” He responded:” My granddaughter, you see these planes that fly now--well, they will eventually get to the moon, they will eventually make bombs that can destroy the whole world. We make people--we are the true light.


5. Why do we celebrate the Nes of Chanukah which was for only eight days--while there were other seemingly greater Nissim that occurred in the Bais HaMikdash daily--and did so for hundreds of years--for instance, the Ner Ma’aravi in the Menorah itself stayed lit and unextinguished for years and not only days?! It must be that with the Nes of Chanukah Hashem is talking to us--showing us that we must learn its lessons--to see the niflaos and yeshuos and how the darkness itself is the source from where the Yeshua arises. All events, natural and unnatural, ‘nissim nistarim and nissim geluyim’ all merge into one--Hashem’s Will. Let us take this lesson with us--daily--for the rest of our lives!




30 Kislev

FROM THE GARDEN OF GRATITUDE : The son who comes before his father in tears inspires his father’s mercy and receives whatever it is that he requests. Yet the son who is constantly praising his father and thanking him joyfully inspires his father’s attribute of love. Consequently, the father will always give to such a son generously. Crying may arouse the attribute of mercy and result in receiving the specific thing for one is crying. At the same time, joy and thankfulness arouse love and desire, attributes much more powerful than mercy. Joy and gratitude invoke Divine abundance!  Hakhel Note:  HaRav Yitzchok Isbee, Z’tl, notes that in Al HaNisim we refer to Matisyahu as “Matisyahu ben Yochanan”, although we refer to Mordechai and Esther in the Al HaNisim of Purim without referring to either of their fathers’ names. To understand why, HaRav Isbee explains (based upon a teaching of Rav Tzadok HaKohen) that we must study the name “Matisyahu Ben Yochanan”. “Matisyahu” means gift from Hashem and “Yochanan” likewise means gift from Hashem. Chazal, as the authors of Al HaNisim, are obviously teaching us that a great lesson of Chanukah is to recognize that all we have are gifts from Hashem. In fact, the Mishna Berurah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 682, seif katan 1) writes that the proper nusach of Al HaNisim is “V’Al HaNisim”, which means “ AND all of the miracles.…” In other words, we are only extending the gratitude we give to Hashem daily by applying it to the miracles of Chanukah, as well. We cannot, therefore, overemphasize what a great lesson it would be to take the “Thank you Hashem” with us and into our constant daily parlance after Chanukah.



QUESTION OF DAY :  How many times is the root word ‘Hallel’ mentioned in the full Hallel that we are reciting--such as in the words ‘Halelu’, ‘Halelukah’, etc.?


Hakhel Note: The Meam Loez (Tehillim, Chapter 113) writes the following essential note regarding Hallel (which consists of Tehillim Chapters 113-118):


“The Hallel encompasses all the redemptions and everything that happens to the Jewish people in all generations. It also includes the glorification of Hashem’s name.  In the Hallel, we praise Hashem both for the times of our ascent and for the times of descent.  For we well know that everything happens under His Supervision.  This is the meaning of the figurative words near the beginning of Hallel--’MiMizrach Shemesh--from the rising of the Sun--to its setting is the Name of Hashem praised’ (ibid 113:3).  Hallel [and everything within it] extends from the time of our Exodus from Egypt until the end of all the generations.”


The Rambam (Hilchos Chanukah 3:5) writes that the full Hallel is to be recited “b’chol yom v’yom--on each and every day” of Chanukah.  This is, of course, codified in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 683:1).  The Mishna Berurah there explains that the reason full Hallel is to be recited “on each and every day” is because a new miracle occurred daily with every lighting of the Menorah. This also explains the prevalent custom of first lighting the new Ner Chanukah every night, and only thereafter lighting the neiros that have previously been lit on earlier nights.  Based upon this Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, it would be most appropriate to find something new and moving in the Hallel each and every day of Chanukah in order to properly celebrate the nes that day!




Special Note One:  From A Reader:  “Chanukah spans two months--Kislev and Teves,  the Sefer Avodas P’nim (a choshuve Slonimer Chossid) writes that the two Nissim of Chanuka were a manifestation of the Kochos of the particular Shevet represented by these two months.  The first month of Kislev in which the Neis of the victory of the Milchomoh occurred is the month of Shevet Gad (using the count of starting with Reuvein in Nissan). The brachos of Shevet Gad as we see from both Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu were for military prowess. Thus Chanukah begins in Kislev.  However, it continues into Teves which is a manifestation of the Kochos of Shevet Asher.  Again as we see from both Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu, the Brachos of Shevet Asher were for Shemen Zayis...the rest is history for us to learn from!”



Special Note Two: We excerpt the following beautiful points from the Sefer Machsheves Tzaddik, a compilation of the teachings of Rebbi Tzadok HaKohein on Chanukah:


1. When we recite “VeAl Nisecha SheBechol Yom Imanu” in Modim, we are referring to the fact that Hashem’s help is a Nes for us daily. If we were left alone to our own Bechira, the Yetzer Hara’s fresh daily attacks would overwhelm us. Hashem’s daily miracle with us is the Divine Assistance in not leaving us over to the Yetzer’s hands. Hakhel Note: We should have this Kavannah when reciting these words--daily!


2. The reason that we read the Parsha of the Nesi’im on Chanukah is because their Korbanos were brought in the Mishkan--a portable place which moved through the desert in Chutz La’Aretz. This is the ultimate symbol for each person to make a “Chanukas HaBayis” within himself--rededicating his heart to life’s purpose--wherever he may be!


3. The Menorah is a K’li, a utensil which serves to hold important oil within it. Each member of K’lal Yisrael must take the lesson that he too can serve as a Menorah--to bring and inculcate the Hashpa’ah, the influence, of our oil--the Torah within him, and serve as a light to all of those around him. Just as we own a Menorah, we can be Hashem’s Menorah!


Additional Note: Rebbi Tzadok adds that the gold of the Menorah is a symbol of Yiras Shomayim--and that our Torah (which, once again, the oil symbolizes) is lit up best by us when we have Yiras Shomayim. We may add that many of us today have silver Menorahs. Perhaps with this we symbolize that our Kesef, our money, is dedicated to the study of Torah as well!



Special Note Three: The following insights are excerpted from the Sefer Leket Reshimos on Chanukah, from the teachings of HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel, Z’tl, the original Mashgiach of Lakewood:


1.  In all generations, Hashem provides us with events to arouse us.  Prior to the Chanukah wars, we were being humiliated in relative silence by the Hellenists. Mattisyahu was aroused when he saw a pig being brought on the Mizbe’ach--he could no longer remain silent, he took action, and the rest is history.  We too must allow our hearts to be aroused--and Chanukah is a time for the arousal to be ‘chal’--to be felt deeply and acted upon. 


2.  Rebbi Yeruchem from Mir taught that one can be of the wisest and most righteous of people--but if he is not fighter he will fall even in basic areas.  We see from the nations around us that man’s nature is to fight, but their wars are often misplaced.  Even when one country does not battle another, they compete against each other in sports--and tens of thousands of spectators go to see (and even pay for) how one side can hurt and defeat another.  Man is truly intended to be a fighter, but it is against his Yetzer Hara and that which is wrong against which he must exert his efforts. 


Additional Note:  The difference, HaRav Nosson explains, between Tamar and the wife of Potifar was that Tamar would not give up to the last--and was ready to be burned with her children for the sake of what was right.  The wife of Potifar, on the other hand, fell and gave up when she encountered difficulty.  The wife of Potifar is recorded for all time as a liar and cheater.  Tamar is recorded for posterity as the mother of Moshiach.


3. Rebbi Yeruchem also taught that should always remember the moments of light.  If it was light before--it can be light again.  One should yearn and pray to re-achieve those times of light. 


4.  The Alter of Kelm taught that at Hadlakas Neiros one should be Misbonen in Gevuras Hashem and Chasdei Hashem.  This, he taught, is the Avodah of Hadlakas Haneiros.


Additional Note: Chazal teach that “Ner Le’Echad Ner Le’Meah--the light of a Ner can benefit a hundred people in the same way as it helps only one person. We may suggest another lesson from this Ma’amar Chazal as well: One hundred different people can see the same light--and it will be the same light--but its meaning, profundity and experience will be different with each individual. As we gaze upon the Neiros Chanukah, let us be sure to study and reflect upon the Gevuros Hashem and Chasdei Hashem that have brought our people to this point starting with the Avos, and the personal Nissim VeNiflaos in our own lives that have brought us to this point as well. We may not be making a Shehechiyanu when lighting, but we certainly can be feeling it!    


5.  The definition of Mesiras Nefesh is not one’s intent to be burned “Al Kiddush Hashem”. Rather, its definition is to go against one’s will and one’s nature.  Mattisyahu was undoubtedly a peaceful person, and like all of those around him was not interested in fighting at all.  He overcame his own nature and brought his sons to his level of Mesiras Nefesh as well.  The victories and miracles that ensued then became “peshutim”--for the Makkabim acted against Tevah, so the Tevah itself changed.  It was Mattisyahu who started it all--and that is why we begin with “Bimei Mattisyahu….”  We too should place special emphasis in these days on breaking our desires, bad habit and nature--for these days are Mesugal for change.  In turn, we too can be zoche to changes on our behalf which are “SheLo KiDerech HaTevah” as well!



Special Note Four:  In V’Al HaNissim, we have been reciting the words “U’LeAmecha Yisrael Asisa Teshua Gedola U’furkan KeHayom Hazeh…--and for Your people you worked a great victory and salvation as this day.”  What does “KeHayom Hazeh--as this day” really mean?  What is the day that we are referring to?


The Sefer Baruch She’Amar (written by the Torah Temimah) suggests it means to express that although we experienced great salvation then, it was not an eternal one, and that is yet to come--for just as day gets light (as it did at the time of the Chashmonaim), and then turns dark, so too will it get to be light once again--and it is that daylight (this time an eternal one) that we once again await.


The Sefer Rinas Chaim by HaRav Chaim Friedlander, Z’tl, brings three additional possibilities.  First, “day” indicates clarity--the yeshua we experienced then was a clear and unambiguous one.  Second, in the name of the Eitz Yosef, HaRav Friedlander writes that “every year during these days the Nes is once again revealed, and Hashem infuses these days with yeshua and pidyon---the days which started then as days of salvation continue on to this very day to be especially mesugal to nissim ve’yeshua.”  This means, then, that we can put our finger on these days in our very times--they are now as they were then!  Third, the purpose of tzaros and I’YH the yeshuos from them are for us to return to Hashem, to do Teshuva.  The yeshua is not an end--but a means to get closer to Hashem.  So, every year when we arouse our feelings for these times through Hadlakas Neiros, Hoda’ah and Hallel, we strengthen our bond with Hashem--which means we accomplish the same goals as were accomplished then by the Chashmonaim--so there was not only a “teshua gedola” back then--but also “kehayom hazeh”--on this very day--in our very own Chanukah celebration as well!  How Great--How Wonderful-- if we properly bring Chanukah into our lives--the effect upon the Chashmonaim is actually mirrored in us!




29 Kislev

SEE THE LIGHTS! Rabbi Moshe Goldberger, Shlita writes the following: “If someone did you 10 favors, would it suffice to only thank him for only 1 or 2 of them?  On Chanukah we need to wake up and see the lights to thank Hashem and appreciate the countless favors He is always performing for us!” 





1. Why did Paroh have two different dreams, both of which meant the same thing--why did he simply not have the same dream twice--if the purpose of the repetition was indicate the immediacy of it?


2. Why did Paroh need to wake up between the two dreams?


3. Paroh dreamt that when the seven emaciated cows ate the seven plump cows, one could not tell, as they remained emaciated. However, when the seven damaged ears of grain ate the seven healthy ears of grain, the Torah does not record whether or not one could tell. Why did the nature of the dream change in this respect?


4. We know that the Ma’aseh with Eliezer and Rivka is repeated in detail in order to teach us: “Yafeh Sichasan Shel Avdei Avos… how important the Ma’asim of even the servants of our Avos are to us.” However, why does the Torah need to repeat Paroh’s dreams in detail when he relates them to Yosef for an interpretation--could not the Torah just have stated: “And he told Yosef the dreams”.


5. After accusing the Achei Yosef of being spies, Yosef first tells them that he will keep nine of them with him in Mitzrayim--and will allow one to go back to bring Binyomin. He then keeps them incarcerated for three days--and almost completely reverses his decision--keeping only one of the brothers--and sending back the nine. Why--what happened?


Hakhel Note: Your responses are most welcome.






1. Our battle with Yavan is referred to as Galus Yavan--why is it referred to as Galus if the Beis Hamikdash was still standing?!


2. What does the word Chashmonaim mean--to whom does it specifically refer?


3. In Ahl HaNissim we refer to Kohanecha HaKedoshim. All Kohanim are Kedoshim--what does the adjective of Kedoshim add?


4. How many times is the Bais Aharon (from whom the Chashmonaim came) mentioned in Hallel?  Why do you think this is so?  [No, it is not eight.]  


Hakhel Note One:  Once again, your responses are most welcome.


Hakhel Note Two:  Your insights or discoveries in Al HaNissim and Hallel--the Lehodos U’LeHallel of Chanukah--are very much welcome!




Special Note One: When one lights a candle, it is used as a source of light and especially used to search for something.  In fact, Chazal at the outset of Mesechta Pesachim utilize the Pasuk “Achapes Es Yerushalayim B’Neiros--I will search Yerushalayim with candles” to teach that one uses candles for bedikas chometz.  This being so, what does one search for with the neiros Chanukah?  The Sefer Zerah Kodesh suggests that it is Yiras Shamayim that one can find in the Neiros!



Special Note Two:  It is fascinating to note that when Megillas Ta’anis (Chapter 9-Kislev) describes Chanukah, it teaches as follows:  “Why was Chanukah established for eight days--after all, the dedication of the Mishkan was for only seven days (Aharon and his sons could not leave the Ohel Mo’ed for seven days), and the dedication of the First Bais HaMikdash was seven days (followed by seven days of Sukkos).  So, why here was Chanukah established for not seven, but eight days?  The Megillas Ta’anis answers that the Chashmonaim, upon retaking the Bais HaMikdash, had to rebuild and replaster the Mizbe’ach and prepare new utensils, new K’li Shareis, for it--and the Chashmonaim were involved with it for eight days.  In addition to providing another answer to the Bais Yosef’s question, this answer shows how our celebration of the rededicated Mizbe’ach is an important part of the Chag, and why we recite Kepitel 30--Mizmor Shir Chanukas HaBayis--after davening and after Hadlakas Neiros during Chanukah.  If one reviews Megilas Antiochus, he will note that to the Greeks offering a chazir to their avoda zara on the altar that they had built in the Bais HaMikdash was especially important to them--but in the end it is our service to Hashem on the Mizbe’ach--the true G-d served on the true altar--that prevailed then and will prevail again.  It is always good to be on the side that ultimately wins--all you have to do is deserve it.  Chanukah is a time of rededicating ourselves to Hashem’s service--coming to Shul on time, davening with Kavannah, thanking Hashem and really meaning it, and realizing that five Kohanim can beat the Greek Army, elephants and all--through Hashem’s “Rachamecha Harabim”--through Hashem’s unrivaled, incomparable and incredible Great Mercy, which we should always believe in, and we should always beseech. 



Special Note Three:  The following points and pointers are excerpted from the Sefer Pardes Chanukah by Rabbi Avrohom Rosenwasser, Shlita:


A.  The Gematria of Nes Chanukah is the same as Tzedaka.  The equation speaks for itself--we must give on Chanukah!  Hakhel Note:  This is a reminder for our above reminder!


B.  The Magen Avrohom rules that if one has enough oil for himself for all eight days in a Mehadrin manner, but his friend does not have any oil at all, it is better for one to light only one candle each night and fulfill the Ikar Mitzvah--and give the additional oil to one’s friend, so that he can also be Yotzei the Mitzvah. 


Hakhel Note:  Although we went to war, we always seek to increase true brotherhood among ourselves--this is our Hiddur Mitzvah!


C.  If one attends a Chanukah party in which there are people in attendance who did not light, could he make a bracha lighting a Menorah at the party--intending to be Motzi them?  After all, isn’t there Pirsumei Nissa in the lighting?  HaRav Wosner, Shlita, rules that although we do light in a Shul with a Bracha, it is because in Shul there are three elements to the lighting--Hiddur Mitzvah, Pirsumei Nissa and Zecher LeMikdash.  A Shul represents a great Zecher LeMikdash.  For instance, the custom is to light along the southern wall of the Shul, just as the Menorah was lit in the southern part of the Heichal. Accordingly, our Minhag has been to light with a bracha in Shul.  We cannot extend the Minhag on our own to other areas.


D.  The Chozeh of Lublin was once given a k’vitel that was sent to him by a Moser Jew who caused much tzaros to his brethren.  The Chozeh looked at the k’vitel and exclaimed:  “This person is shining in the upper worlds!”  The Chassidim standing around were astonished and the Chozeh’s son, Rav Yosef asked him how this could be the case.  The Chozeh responded:  “When I read the k’vitel, this Moser had just lit Chanukah licht and his performance of the Mitzvah lit up the upper worlds for him.”


Hakhel Note:  Let us remember that when we light in the world below--we are also lighting in the Worlds above!



Special Note Four: Many of us may be familiar with the famous question of the P’nei Yehoshua--if the Halacha is that “tuma hutra b’tzibur”--impure objects are permitted to be used by the tzibur--then what was the problem using all of the oil rendered impure by the Greeks?  The Menorah had to be lit for all of K’lal Yisroel and, accordingly, the impure oil was perfectly permissible for use by the tzibur.  In a word, the miracle of the oil was simply not necessary--according to Halacha!  There is a beautiful answer to this question given by HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz, Z’tl.  HaRav Shmuelevitz asks why we place such a great emphasis on the miracle of finding the oil--even over and above the previously unimaginable victories in the wars against the Greeks themselves.  After all, it is much easier to find an item one would not expect to find-- than for a handful of chaloshim--people who were physically weak to defeat the mightiest army in the world!  Furthermore, with the finding of the small jug of oil, a miracle happened for only an additional seven days.  Yet, because of the successful wars, the Jewish people retained the Bais HaMikdash for more than 200 years--and their fulfillment of the Torah was saved forever.


To answer this question, HaRav Shmuelevitz notes that the Torah goes out of its way to teach us that when Yosef was brought down to Egypt by the merchants, they were carrying all kinds of fine-smelling spices, rather than the malodorous items that they usually carried (See Bereishis 37:25, and Rashi there).  At first glance, it is difficult to understand why what they were carrying mattered at all.  Yosef is at the nadir of his life.  A few days ago, he had been learning Torah with his father, the Gadol HaDor, and now he was surrounded by idol worshippers who are going to sell him into slavery in a morally bereft country.  In a time of darkness such as this, would it make any difference at all what the odors were around him?


The answer is a most definitive “Yes!”  The sweet smell of the spices and fragrances were intended to be a sign to Yosef that even in his darkest hour Hashem was with him, and that he was not lost or forgotten.  Yosef now understood that there was purpose and plan to what was going on around him.  Every miracle, large or small, indicates a “Haoras Panim”--a light from Hashem which shines upon the person and reminds him that he is at all times in Hashem’s embrace.


So too here, the miracle of finding a jug of pure oil does, in fact, pale in significance to the miracles that took place during the incredible wars, and the glorious result for the Torah and the Jewish people.  Nonetheless, we celebrate the small jug because it demonstrates Hashem’s “Haoras Panim”--His singular love, His unique care, His special concern for us as His children at all times and in all circumstances.


A parent who does not appreciate his child will only provide him with the absolute essentials that he really needs.  On the other hand, a parent who truly loves his child will go beyond what the child absolutely requires, and will go overboard and indulge the child.  If the miracle of Chanukah had only been to give the “mighty into the hands of the weak” or the “many into the hands of the few,” this would have exemplified Hashem providing for our absolute needs only, for He had assured our forefathers that we would continue to exist as a Torah people, and His word must be kept.  But the miracle of Chanukah went well beyond that--it reached to the jug of oil.  It is this Haoras Panim that we celebrate--that Hashem’s affection for us is so great that it extended to that little jug.


Yes, tuma may be hutra b’tzibur--but His love for us goes so much beyond that, and we can and should reciprocate this feeling!


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