Vayidom Aharon

After the simcha of Pesach come the weeks of the Omer. We look forward joyfully to Shevuos but can’t ignore past tragedies – the deaths of Rebbe Akiva’s talmidim, the massacres perpetrated by the Crusaders and others in more recent history. The contrast between the rejoicing of Yom Tov and the mourning of the sefira makes parshas Shemini which is read this year on this first Shabbos after Pesach, particularly appropriate.

It was supposed to be a tremendous simcha. The Mishkan, which represented Hashem’s forgiveness of the Jewish People’s sin of the golden calf and His willingness to allow His Shechina to dwell amongst the Bnei Yisroel, was to be inaugurated. And that’s how the day began. Fire descended from the sky to the mizbe’ach and consumed the korban olah. The people saw, rejoiced and fell on their faces.

But then, tragedy.  Nodov and Avihu, two of Aharon’s sons, offered unauthorized incense and another fire blazed down from Hashem, killing both. “And Moshe said to Aharon. This is what Hashem said, that I shall be sanctified by those close to Me and honoured in front of the people and “Vayidom Aharon” Aharon was silent.” (Vayikra 10:3). No wailing or protesting such harsh judgement, just a silent acceptance of Hashem’s justice.

When the late Rav Betzalel Rakov was told that his beloved youngest son, Nosson Zvi, had drowned in a swimming accident one fateful erev Shabbos about thirty years ago, he immediately stood up and exclaimed Hashem hu Ho’elokim, Hashem hu Ho’elokim seven times before sitting down to find out more details. The deeply ingrained emuna and spontaneous acceptance of Hashem’s will shown by our great leaders is an inspiration for all of us even if, thankfully, we don’t suffer such tragedies ourselves.

But is there something besides acceptance of Hashem’s justice which can help a person at such a horrific moment? Is there an aspect of our emuna which can be an extra source of comfort not only for those who have suffered tragedy but can help to give all of us a new direction in the way we view life?  A new insight into familiar words of Hallel may provide us with just such help.

Dovid Hamelech said, “Lo amus ki echye va’asaper maaseh Koh. (Tehilim 118: ). “I shall not die but live and I shall speak of the deeds of Hashem….zeh hashaar L’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem, Tzadikim will come through it.” What did Dovid Hamelech mean that “he won’t die?” Everybody dies at some point. And which gate was Dovid referring to?

Tomid (32b) relates that Alexander the Great was once sitting by a river and smelt a wonderfully fragrant odour. He thought that it must be the smell of Gan Eden and walked towards its source. He finally reached a gate behind which seemed to be the source of the odour and concluded that this must be the door to Gan Eden itself. He asked to be allowed in. A voice from behind the door said, “Zeh hashaar l’Hashem tzadikim yovo’u vo. This is the gate to Hashem. Only tzaddikim may enter.” Alexander was not a tzaddik and was denied entry. Without going into the deeper meaning of this Gemoro, we see that the gate mentioned in the posuk is understood by Chazal to be the gate to Gan Eden.

With this in mind perhaps we can understand the deeper meaning of Dovid Hamelech’s words. The previous pesukim portray Dovid’s full trust in Hashem. “The nations surround me; with the Name of Hashem I will destroy them.” They increase their attack. “They surround me more and more…like bees….they are so close that they try to push me but Hashem will still help me.” The danger intensifies but Dovid maintains his trust in Hashem. As Chazal say (Brachos 10a) “Even if the sword is on your neck, do not give up hope.”

But does trust in Hashem mean that one will definitely survive?  Sadly not. Many have died through illness and al Kiddush Hashem. Trust in Hashem means that we believe that everything is in Hashem’s hands, not that we will always get the outcome we want. (Chazon Ish: Emuna Vebitachon). What comfort can we cling to in the face of tragedy?  Dovid Hamelech tells us, “I will not die, for I shall live.” Leaving this world is not death. It is not the end. We live on in another, better world. “Zeh hashaar L’Hashem… If we have lived our lives as we should, we, unlike Alexander, will be allowed to enter the gates of Gan Eden. We will live on, enjoying a much greater closeness to Hashem than is possible in this world. And “I will speak of the great deeds of Hashem.” we will continue to praise Hashem as we say three times daily in Ashrei.  “I will bless You every day and praise Your Name for ever.”

Dovid Hamelech said, “Even if I walk in the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil because You are with me. Your rod and your staff will comfort me.” (Tehilim 23: 4) A staff supports but how can a rod, an instrument of punishment, be a source of comfort? Perhaps Dovid is hinting to this same principle. In the valley of the shadow of death – survival is not assured. Whether Hashem helps me and I survive or even if the Divine justice is that I do not survive, I will not fear because “You are with me,” whether in this world or the next.

The Seforno (Devarim 14:1) writes that Jews do not cut their skin or pull their hair out when their loved one dies because, although we miss them, “We are the children of Hashem, we are a holy nation” and those who have left this world will be enjoying rewards greater than any pleasure we could experience in this world.

Like the unborn baby who thinks that his mother’s womb is the whole world and knows nothing of the big wide world outside, some think that our world is the whole world and don’t realise that there is a great world beyond ours. In that world, those who suffered in this world will even praise Hashem for their difficulties because it will be as a result of their maintaining their emuna despite their suffering that they will merit supreme pleasure which will far outweigh the pain they experienced whilst they were alive. Even those kedoshim who have died al Kiddush Hashem will praise Hashem when they receive their tremendous reward in olam haba as is written in the Shemone Esre, “The kedoshim will praise You every day.”

Without a belief in the World to Come, this world can seem unjust; the righteous sometimes suffer, the wicked sometimes prosper. With a belief in the World to Come, our emuna is strong, our incentive to achieve spiritually is enhanced and our acceptance of Hashem’s justice will be complete.

Ho Lachmo Anya

One of the most famous questions on the Hagada is why we invite “all those who are hungry to come in and eat” after our seder has already begun. We also wonder why this invitation follows the statement, “Ha lachma anya, this is the bread of our affliction which our forefathers eat in the Land of Egypt.” Is there any connection between these two sentences that they are placed next to each other? Perhaps we can use a theme which we started a few weeks ago to answer these questions.

Dovid Hamelech has taught us the correct response when, with Hashem’s help, we are victorious against our enemies. “How can I repay Hashem for all His kindness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvations and call out in the name of Hashem. I will bring korbonos to Hashem in front of all the people.” (Tehilim 116). Calling out in the name of Hashem means announcing that Hashem has done this miracle which will bring glory to Hashem and sanctify His name. Bringing korbonos  is another way of publicising Hashem’s  role in the victory over  our enemies which will sanctify His name. Hashem doesn’t want us merely to say “Thank You” but actively bring honour to Him.

The Novi Micha, however, seems to say that the way to show hakoras hatov to Hashem is not the way Dovid Hamelech taught us. He implies that, on the contrary, bringing korbonos is a mistaken approach. “Hashem brought us out of Mitzrayim, redeemed us from the House of bondage. He gave us Moshe, Aharon and Miriam. How shall we show thanks? Shall we approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves in their first year? Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil? Hashem has told us what He wants from us; do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before Him.” (6:1-6). Do we see here a fundamentally different approach between Micha and Dovid? Micha says that practicing justice, love and humility is the way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses. Dovid favoured korbonos.

In Ahavas Chessed the Chofetz Chaim explains why practicing chessed is so vital. Firstly, he says, we all need it. We may be sick, a mourner, in need of a loan, a baal simcha or on a journey in need of hospitality. And even if we were in none of those situations, eventually we will all need chessed shel emes. Secondly, he says that in the World to Come our source of life and pleasure will be our proximity to Hashem. We cannot be close to Hashem unless we are in some small way like Him. Seeing that He is the ultimate Baal Chessed, if we did not practise chessed during our lifetime, we will have no similarity with Him at all and it will be impossible for us to be nehene miziv HaShechina.

The Siach Yitzchok points out another very important reason for us to do chessed. The first of the sheva berochos  is shehakol boro lichvodo – He created everything to honour Him. What has this to do with a chuppa? Rashi explains (Kesuvos 8a) that when all the guests assemble around a chuppa to be mesame’ach choson vekallo they are following the example of Hashem who was mesame’ach the first choson and kallo. By imitating the actions of Hashem we are giving Him honour as the saying goes, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Hence the brocho, shehakol boro lichvodo.

Hashem is the ultimate Baal Chessed. Even as He is involved with waging war against His enemies, (Hashem Ish milchomo), He is still mercifully providing for the rest of the world, (Hashem Shemo). (Rashi, Shemos 15:3). When we follow in His ways, even at our low level, when, we practice mishpat and chessed, by imitating Hashem, we are giving Him honour. Micha was saying that when we are the recipients of Hashem’s miracles and kindness, we should not merely bring korbonos to publicise those miracles and bring honour that way. “Does Hashem want thousands of rams or tens of thousands of streams of oil?” He wasn’t disagreeing with Dovid Hamelech that we need to “lift up the cup of salvations, call out in the name of Hashem and bring korbonos in His honour.” Micha was just saying that it is not enough. We must also bring honour to Hashem by imitating His ways, trying our best to “practise justice, kindness and walking with humility before Hashem.” In fact both Dovid and Micha are telling us that the correct way to respond to Hashem’s kindnesses to Him is to honour Him. They just give two different ways of honouring Hashem and both are correct.

On Purim we remember the kindnesses of Hashem when He saved us from Homon, Amolek’s descendant. And we show our hakoras hatov both in the way taught to us by Dovid Hamelech –  reading  the megila and publicizing the miracle (kriosa zu halila) – and  in the way of Micha by practicing chessed when we do the mitzvos of mishloach monos and matonos l’ovyonim. In fact we place great emphasis on these two mitzvos on Purim. We try to fulfil the words of the Rambam (Hilchos Megilla 2:17) “There is no greater and more honourable simcha than bringing simcha to the poor, orphans, widows and strangers. Because one who brings simcha to these less blessed members of our community is comparable to the Shechina about Whom it is said, “lehachayos ruach shefolim ulehachayos lev nidkaim.

Our Seuda too will ideally be an embodiment of the two ways of our showing hakoras hatov. We lift up our cup of salvation and drink wine in the honour of the miracle of Purim. And we invite to our tables family, friends and others, as the Rambam instructed us.

We will now extend this theme into Pesach to answer the questions we started with. We begin the story of our exodus from Egypt with Ha lachma Anya, by showing to those round the table a piece of matzo – an example of what our ancestors ate whilst they were slaves in Egypt. By this we are showing the contrast between the very basic, tasteless food which was our sole nourishment then and the delicacies we eat today. We are so thankful to Hashem for having improved our situation so radically. We do not suffice with a mere mention of our former nourishment but, for greater effect, we show the food itself to our families, friends and guests. By doing this we are following the example of Dovid Hamelech and publicizing Hashem’s miracles which He has done for us. We are also following the example of Yanai Hamelech (Kiddushin 66a) who, after conquering sixty towns in the South invited all the Chachomim to a festive meal to publicise the miracle of his victories and to give Him thanks. He served simple vegetables as the first course as an example of the type of simple food the Jews who had participated in building the second Beis Hamikdash were forced to eat because of their poverty. However the food was served on golden tables to show how much Hashem had blessed the people since that time. Yannai’s whole intention was to thank Hashem and sanctify His Name. (Rashi ibid).

In our Hagada we follow this by inviting any guests who might still be in need of a festive meal. This is not intended as a real invitation because we invited people before we said Kiddush which was the correct time to invite people. It was rather a statement showing how we want to honor Hashem by following the path of Micha by going in Hashem’s ways of showing kindness just like He shows us kindness all the time. We are thus continuing the theme of Purim by honoring Hashem both in the way of Dovid Hamelech and also in the way of the prophet Micha. And in this merit we hope that although this year we are still slaves, we hope that next year we will be free. And although this year we are here, we hope that next year we will be in the rebuilt city of Yerusholayim.

Do You Know Hilchos Chol Hamoed?

Chapter One Introduction

1.      Q.  How many days of Chol Hamoed are there in a year?

A.      In Eretz Yisroel there are five days Chol Hamoed Pesach and six days Chol Hamoed Succos. In Chutz Lo’oretz because of the second day of Yom Tov there are four and five days respectively. When Shabbos is one of the days of Chol Hamoed, the halachos of Shabbos apply.

2.      Q. Is there a special greeting for Chol Hamoed?

A.      Yes; Moadim lesimcha or A Gutten Moed and we should use these greetings rather than our normal weekday greeting.[1]

3.      Q. Why did the Torah make these days to be Chol Hamoed?

A.      This is a very good question because if we understand the reason for the days of Chol Hamoed  we won’t waste them. The purpose of Pesach and Succos is to remember the miracles Hashem did for us when He brought us out of Egypt and during the forty years we were travelling through the wilderness. We should be thinking of these miracles and Hashem’s love for us, eating festive seudos, singing Hallel and other praises of Hashem for all the days of these two Yomim Tovim. On the other hand, it is difficult not to do melachos for a whole week. Therefore the Torah made just the first and last days into full Yomim Tovim with the days in between having the status of Chol Hamoed. During Chol Hamoed certain melachos are not allowed whilst others are allowed. Therefore we can continue with the Yom Tov atmosphere but are able to do certain necessary things which cannot wait until after Yom Tov.[2]

4.         Q. Are the prohibitions of Chol Hamoed from the Torah or rabbinic?

A.      Your question implies that if the prohibitions are rabbinic they are somehow less important. This is big mistake because we have to respect rabbinic laws as we respect Torah laws. In fact the Torah itself tells us to listen to rabbinic law. (Devarim 17:11). If you are a rav and want to know how to answer questions of doubt, I will tell you. There are different opinions in the Rishonim. Some say they are from the Torah.[3] Some say they are rabbinic.[4] Some say a melacha which is forbidden because it is not necessary, is forbidden from the Torah but melachos which are forbidden because they involve too much effort or special skills etc are only forbidden rabbinically. [5] The Biur Halacha (530) concludes that in questions of doubt one should not be lenient unless there is a great need.[6]

5.        Q.  All my life I have kept the first and last days of Yom Tov but I have always considered the days in between to be like a weekday with just a longer davening in the morning. Isn’t avoiding melachos on Chol Hamoed midas chasidus, something which extra pious people keep, not regular Jews like me?

A.      Unfortunately many people think the same way as you about chol hamoed. The reasons for this are possibly historical because a few decades ago avoiding work on Shabbos and Yom Tov was enough of a challenge. Therefore to work only on Chol Hamoed was regarded as a great achievement. Other reasons are possibly because often we may work if not working would cause us a loss (davar aved )and the loss of one’s job or losing customers in business is a davad aved. Therefore people began to treat the days of chol hamoed as regular days. However “where there is a will there is often a way” and as people have become more knowledgable and have realized that it is not correct to treat chol hamoed as a weekday, more and more people cut down or completely avoid working and what they thought at first couldn’t be avoided, can sometimes indeed be avoided, especially if they are self- employed. Sometimes, children inherited businesses from their father who felt that the business needed to stay open to remain solvent. But now the business is well established and won’t suffer from being closed for the whole week of Yom Tov. So now, perhaps, is the time to re-examine our chol hamoed with a view to improving our observance of it. Indeed, this is one of the purposes of this sefer. So read on and try to keep chol hamoed as the Torah intended. Remember, “According to the effort is the reward.” (Pirkei Avos).

6.      Q. I like Chol Hamoed because my Mum and Dad take us on outings. Are you saying that going on outings is not really keeping Chol Hamoed properly?

A.      Obviously children need a variety of activities to enable them to enjoy Yom Tov and Chol Hamoed. Going out as a family is a good way of strengthening the family relationships, which is very important. However parents should still consider how the atmosphere of the Yom Tov can be maintained. In Eretz Yisroel a family can visit the Kosel together, visit places where events of Tanach took place or just to see the beauty of Eretz Yisroel. In Chutz Lo’oretz a family can also go beautiful places where they can admire the beauties of Hashem’s creation. Sometimes communities or groups of schools come together for activities which are kosher and educational. Having said this, outings don’t have to take up the whole time. There can still be time for a Avos Ubanim (Banos?) session before going out or an enjoyable festive brunch. One day perhaps Dad and the boys can prepare a nice Chol Hamoed seuda giving Mum and the girls a well earned rest! Also an unrushed Chol Hamoed davening should be a vital part of each day, not to be squeezed out because we’re “too busy.” From what we have said, it is clear that visiting non-Jewish playgrounds with loud secular music and immodestly dressed boys and girls and adults is not an appropriate way of spending the very special days of Chol Hamoed and of fulfilling Simchas Yom Tov.

7.       Q. Could you give me a brief overview of which melachos are permitted on Chol Hamoed .

A.      There are four main categories of melachos which are permitted. A. Those which are necessary for preparation of food or other personal needs. B. Those which are necessary for something we need during the rest of Yom Tov. C. Those which, if we wouldn’t do them, we would suffer a loss. D. Those which a worker who is severely short of food may do. Each of these categories has sub-categories and details which we need to study together over the next few chapters in order to have everything clear.

8.      Q. Do you mean that anything that doesn’t fall into these categories is not allowed?

A.      There is a dispute amongst the Poskim whether a melacha which does not involve any effort like turning on an electric light if there is no need or carrying something unnecessary in one’s pocket in the street where there is no eiruv is allowed on Chol Hamoed. I would say that someone who has been treating Chol Hamoed as more or less a weekday up until now, should improve his observance to avoiding doing those melachos which are clearly not allowed, in the meantime.[7] However somebody who has been keeping the halachos carefully and wants to raise his standards should avoid anything which is not allowed on Shabbos unless there is a halachic reason to be lenient.[8] Certain rabbinic prohibitions certainly do not apply on Chol Hamoed  e.g. not going outside the techum,[9] muktza[10] and the halachos restricting us from speaking about business matters etc[11]

9.       Q. Are the halachos of not asking a non-Jew the same as for Shabbos?

A   In principle yes but there are occasional differences, sometimes more lenient,[12] sometimes stricter. [13] If it is for the purpose of a mitzvah to be done during Yom Tov we may ask a non-Jew.[14] If a non-Jew does a melacha for us we may benefit from it immediately.[15] Before Yom Tov we are allowed to give work to a non-Jew as long as we don’t ask him to work specifically on Chol Hamoed. This is permitted even if the work is eventually done over Chol Hamoed, as long as we are paying him for the complete job and not by the hour and as long as it is a movable item. For instance we can hand in clothes to a dry cleaner before Yom Tov without telling him to have it ready by a certain day.[16] If the clothes are needed for Yom Tov we may go to the dry cleaners on Chol Hamoed to pick them up.[17]

10.  Q. As far as I knew, we don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed so I was quite shocked when some visitors to our shul were wearing tefilin. Is there an argument about tefilin on Chol Hamoed?

A.      Indeed there is and no-one is right or wrong. It’s a machlokes rishonim hundreds of years old.

Ideally those who do wear tefilin should daven together and those who don’t should daven in a different place together. In practice[18] there are many places where some wear tefilin and some don’t and people understand that there are two customs and everyone should just keep his own custom.[19] Of those who put on tefilin, some do not say a bracha on the tefilin because of the doubt and some say before they put them on, “If I should be putting tefilin on, I am putting them on to do the mitzva, if not, I do not intend to do the mitzvah.[20]

11.  Q. I heard that in Eretz Yisroel they don’t put tefilin on on Chol Hamoed. Is that so?

A.      Yes, that is the universal custom, so somebody who is just visting Eretz Yisroel who normally puts tefilin on on Chol Hamoed should not wear tefilin in shul but should put them on later in private.[21]

12.       Q. That’s great. The contract for our new house has come through and the date is in the middle of Chol Hamoed. Moving into a new big house will really give us simchas Yom Tov

A.      Not so quick. Generally speaking, we are not allowed to move home on Chol Hamoed. Chazal deemed such a major operation as incompatible with the purpose of these important days.[22]

13.       Q.  Are there no exceptions?

A.      If you are presently renting and now you are acquiring your own home could be one exception[23], moving to a different apartment within one building could be another, moving from a shared apartment to a private one another[24] and where not moving would cause a financial loss[25] yet another but as these situations are not as black and white as they used to be, a shaala should be asked.[26]

[1] Piskei Rav Eliashev 86

[2] Chazal say about Chol Hamoed, “They forbad melachos on Chol Hamoed in order that we should eat, drink, rejoice and learn Torah.” (Yerushami Moed Katan Chapter 2 Halacha 3). “The intention of Hashem when He gave us the Festivals was in order for us to cling to fearing Him, loving Him and learning His Torah.” (Mishna Berura 530:2 in the name of the Kolbo). “Those who keep the Festivals as required are is if they are partners with Hashem in the creation of the world.” (Pesikta Shemos 34:18). “Those who show disrespect the Festivals, it is as if they have served idols.” (Pesachim 118a)

[3] Rif, Rashi, Rashbam and others.

[4] Rambam (Hilchos Yom Tov 7:1), Rosh, Mordechai and others.

[5] Ramban, Rashba, Ritva

[6] I know personally of a case of somebody who refused to work on Chol Hamoed and he lost his job. However shortly afterwards he was offered another job with much better pay and conditions.

[7] He has certain authorities to rely on such the Aruch Hashulchan 545:12 and others. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was also reported to be lenient.

[8] The Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that since people are generally too lenient about Hilchos Chol Hamoed , the Poskim should be strict on this point. Chut Shoni 530:1 is also strict and says that one should be careful not to telephone a friend on Chol Hamoed unless there is a Yom Tov need. Even according to this stricter opinion there is room to be more lenient in certain cases like eini miskavein, melacha she’eina tzricha legufa etc.

[9] Mishna Berura 543:4

[10] Darchei Moshe 544:2

[11] Mishna Berura 543:8***

[12] Rather than paying a Jew to do a permitted melacha, it is preferable to pay a non-Jew. (Mishna Berura 542:5)

[13][13] A non-Jew may do work for a Jew berkablonus (where he is paid for the job, not by hour) on Shabbos and Yom Tov outside the techum because he will not be seen by Jews who are not allowed to go outside the techum (unless they made an eiruv techumim). However on Chol Hamoed when we are allowed to go outside the techum people might suspect that he is being paid by the hour. Shulchan Aruch O.C 543:2.

[14] Mishna Berura  543:1

[15] Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa 68:38

[16] Shulchan Aruch 543:2

[17] Ibid 534:3

[18] Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe 5:34.6) writes that in communities with a large number of shuls with different customs and people on a weekday or Chol Hamoed often just go the nearest minyan, it is accepted that all who come follow their own custom concerning Tefilin.

[19] See Daas Torah 31

[20] Not saying the bracha and making this statement, “If I…” is what Mishna Berura (31:8) says should be done.

[21] Piskei Rav Eliashev 87 Igros Moshe (ibid) adds that a person in this situation should say the shema wearing his tefilin.

[22] Shulchan Aruch O.C.535:1

[23]Ibid :2

[24] Shaar Hatziun 535:5

[25] Ibid

[26] Aruch Hashulchan 335:4.   Be’er Moshe 7:28 writes that unless not moving would cause a heavy financial loss, moving nowadays is such a major operation that it is unbefitting for Chol Hamoed.


In the middle of Pesach cleaning we sometimes pause for a quick lunch. That lunch might be ‘wraps’. What is ‘wraps and what brocho do we make on it?

Wraps is a type of sandwich but whereas the traditional sandwich has two layers of bread with a filling in between, wraps is one piece of dough which wraps round the filling. It also tends to be a very thin dough. Is wraps hamotzie or mezonos? Let’s look into it.

In Gemoro Brochos (42a) we read that Rav Huna ate three cakes and did not say Bircas Hamozon. Rav Nachman said to him that even though these cakes were pas habo bekisnin, since he was eating them as a meal, he should have said bircas hamozon.

We already see that even though the food is pas habo bekisnin, if it constitutes a meal, it requires hamotzi and birchas hamozon. If not, we say mezonos and al hamichyo.

What is the definition of pas habo bekisnin?

The Shulchan Aruch (168:7) brings three opinions.

  1. Bread which is baked with a filling of honey or sugar, nuts and spices.
  2. Bread which is made from a dough which contained enough honey, oil or spices to affect the taste.
  3. A dry, thin cracker.

The Ramo comments on the second opinion: “Some say that it is still considered bread unless there is so much of these extra ingredients that they are almost the main ingredient.” The Mishna Berura says that the Ramo’s comment applies to the first opinion as well and that for bread with a filling to be considered pas habo bekisnin there must be enough honey, sugar etc. to have a very strong effect on the taste. The Shaarei Tziun brings the Taz that even the Shulchan Aruch holds this first opinion. Since there are three opinions, what does one do in practice?

The Shulchan Aruch says as we are not sure, we are lenient and if we have eaten food of any of these three types we treat it as pas habo bekisnin and say al hamichyo.

Let us now consider the following question: We have learned about different examples of pas habo bekisnin,as brought down in the Shulchan Aruch. Does this mean that these are pas habo bekisnin and every other type of pas is hamotzi? Or are the types mentioned just examples, but any other type of pas which is also not normally used to base a meal on (either in Chazal’s generation or later) will also have the halocho of pas habo bekisnin?

 The sefer Mekor Habrocho of Dayan Krauszshlita brings two opinions.

  1. The Emek Habrocho who says that we only look at the examples of pas habo bekisnin which were given by Chazal. Any other type of bread, even though it might fulfil the same function as pas habo bekisnin did in the days of Chazal, requires hamotzi and bircas hamozon.
  2. The Nesivos Hamishpot who says that if the usual custom is not to base a meal on this type of pas it will have the halocho of pas habo bekisnin.

The Aruch haShulchan also seems to hold this opinion. In 168:24 he writes that eier kichlech which are made with eggs and water are clearly not normal pas. Later he writes: “Our Sages only said that we should say hamotzi and bircas hamozon on bread that most people base a meal on. They were referring to dough baked in the normal way. If there is any change which causes most people not to base a meal on it, there is no obligation to say hamotzi and bircas hamozon…”

Now this would help for items which are clearly meant as a snack like eier kichlech and for bridge rolls which are intended for a kabolas ponim rather than a meal.. Can it be applied to a wraps? Do people eat wraps as a meal or as a snack? .

There is another factor with wraps which we have not mentioned so far. The Shulchan Aruch mentions another type of dough, nalsilka which is baked in a pan with vegetable leaves and because it is watery and thin, one says mezonos rather than hamotzie. The Shulchan Aruch mentions yet another type of thin dough called trisa and on this dough the Shulchan Aruch holds that we say only mezonos even if one is kovea seuda on it. Can we compare wraps to these types of dough? Rav Eliashev was once shown some wraps and he said that it was like trisa which, as we just said, does not require hamotzie even if we base a meal on it.

According to this reported psak of Rav Eliashev, the brocho on wraps will be mezonos even if we base a meal on it. However it is difficult to be sure that all wraps are made with such thin dough.

In conclusion. If we are eating wraps as a snack, if it is made with enough fruit juice which gives a strong taste to the dough, (which I’m told is the case in Gateshead), we certainly say mezonos. If we are basing a meal on such a wraps meaning that we fill it with a generous amount of filling and this is our lunch or supper, many poskim hold that one should say hamotzie like other pas habo bekisnin. If it is not made with fruit juice, there are opinions which allow us to say mezonos. However it would appear to be the case that many poskim hold that it is usual to base a meal on wraps and therefore the brocho should be hamotzie especially if we are indeed basing a meal on it. However according to Rav Eliashev the brocho on thin wraps will always be mezonos. Because of the doubt, we should take some ordinary bread and make hamotzie on that, have in mind the wraps and then bench as usual. However this only works if we are happy to have the bread but if we really don’t want the bread and we are only trying to solve the question of the correct brocho on wraps, it is questionable if this is a solution. My personal solution is for the kashrus authorities to tell the bakers under their supervision to make their wraps with thicker dough and without fruit juice and then they will be hamotzie without a question.

If you find all this too complicated, you could stick to the traditional sandwich.  And after that, it’s back to pesach cleaning!

Ashreinu Ma Tov Chelkeinu …..

Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha; the time of simcha has arrived and we are supposed to increase our simcha from the beginning of Adar. In case we are searching for help in this important mitzvah, the Beis Yosef (Siman 45) is a good place to start.

He is discussing the section in Birkas Hashachar which says, “A person should always fear Hashem both in private and in public.” What chiddush do these words contain? We know that the test of yiras shomayim is when a person is beyond the gaze of others. How does he conduct himself when he is alone? One explanation which the Beis Yosef gives is that this statement refers to a time when it was forbidden for the Jews to say the Shema. The only possible way to say the Shema was to find somewhere very private and secretly say this basic expression of our emuna. In other words, when we can say the Shema in public, we should do so, as normal, but in a time of a gezeira when it is forbidden to say the Shema we should at least try to say it in private. Simply contrasting such a situation when it was forbidden to say the Shema with our experience with shuls packed full of mispallelim calling out krias shema, davening Shemone Esrei, singing Kabolas Shabbos without any interference is a source of great simcha.

Gittin (16b) tells us about a discussion on an intricate halocho in hilchos Gittin at the home of Rabba bar bar Channa who was ill at the time. Suddenly one of the chaveirim (a group who forbade the use of fire on certain days of the year) entered Rabba bar bar Channa’s  home and took away his candle, leaving them in the dark. Rabba bar bar Channa was so disturbed by this that he called out to Hashem, “Either in your shade or the shade of the Romans.” The Gemara explains that even though Hashem had exiled the Jews to Persia because it was ‘impossible’ to survive under the Bnei Eisav  (Romans), this was before these chaveirim arrived in Persia. After they arrived, it would have been easier under the Bnei Eisav. Thinking about this, when we can learn in light and in comfort in our Botei Medrash  or in our homes is another thought which should give us much simcha.

And we all know about Elisha Ba’al Kenofayim (Shabbos 130a) who lived at a time of a gezeira that if anyone wore Tefilin on his head, his brain will be removed from his head. Not to be deterred, a Jew called Elisha wore his Tefilin as normal, When a Roman soldier saw him, Elisha ran away, with the soldier in hot pursuit. Elisha removed his Tefilin and held them in his hand. The soldier caught up with him and demanded to know what was in his hand. Elisha opened his hand to reveal a dove’s wings (kanfei yona) into which the Tefilin had miraculously been transformed. That is why he was henceforth called Elisha Baal Kenofayim. We should think of this as we put on our beautiful Tefilin, some of us Rebbeinu Tam Tefilin as well, without any fear of arrest. Another source of simcha if we would think about it. These are just a few examples.

This explanation of the Beis Yosef, that the paragraph “le’olom yehei odom” was written at a time when we were not allowed to do mitzvos might explain why the sentence continues with the mitzvos of modeh al ho’emes (acknowledging the truth) and dover emes bilvovo (speaking the truth in our heart). Both are mitzvos we can do in the recesses of our hearts undetected by those who made this cruel  gezeira.

The siddur goes on to contrast our insignificant physical and mental strength compared with the greatness of Hashem. Avol anachnu amcho bnei brisecho…our comfort is, however, that we are the people who have a covenant with Hashem and we are the descendants of our holy forefathers Avrohom,Yitzchok and Yaakov, whom Hashem loved and swore an eventual great future for their descendants. Most people are not their descendants and have not inherited the love and fear for Hashem which we have. Their lives consist, for the most part, of a nonstop chase after the pleasures of this world, wealth and power, which they can never achieve to their satisfaction. We know about Koheles’ warning that all is vanity and the pursuit of physical pleasures, divorced from Torah and Mitzvos, is an exercise in futility.

Lefichoch.. Therefore we have to thank You and praise You and bless You and to sanctify Your name. We should feel a surge of simcha at our good fortune to be heirs to such a spiritual treasure, to know what the purpose of life is, to appreciate what real values are and to have been given the keys to achieving inner happiness, to say nothing of the spiritual pleasures which await us in the next world.

Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu… How happy we are that our neshomo is a chelek eloka mima’al, a part of the Ribono Shel Olom Himself, that Hashem has guided us to choose a spiritual life (uvocharto bechaim) (Eitz Yosef) and that He gave us the heilige Torah as our inheritance, (moreshet lekehilat Yaakov).  Ashreinu she’anachnu mashkimim umaarivim v’omrim pamayim be’ahavo. How happy we are that we are not living at a time of gezeira, that we are not restricted in the mitzvos we keep and nobody is stopping us from declaring in the morning and evening with pride, love and enthusiasm, Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echod.

Gateway to Proper Behaviour

“These are the judgments which you shall put in front of them. When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall work for six years and in the seventh year he shall go out free.” Many commentators ask why the laws of a Hebrew slave should be the very first subject discussed in Parshas Mishpatim, the first parsha after the giving of the Torah in Parshas Yisro. Wouldn’t learning what happens if they become slaves again be the last thing the Jews would have been interested in immediately after being freed from slavery themselves? We can imagine the Jews saying, “Don’t talk to us about slavery, we’ve just come out” to Moshe Rabeinu. Clearly Hashem had a good reason to begin Parshas Mishpatim with this subject.

Iyov is known as a righteous man. Tanach describes him as wholesome and upright; he feared Hashem and shunned evil. In Chapter 29 he describes his own righteousness. “I would rescue a pauper from his wailing and an orphan who had no-one to help him … I would bring joyous song to a widow’s heart. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the destitute.” And in Chapter 31 he says, “If my steps ever veered from the proper way or if my heart ever went after my eyes or anything ever clung to my hand.” Iyov claimed that had he been guilty of sin, he would have accepted his tribulations. Apparently he never did anything wrong, so where is justice?

These words of praise are mind-boggling if we think of Gemara Sotah (11a). “Before Pharaoh began enslaving the Jews he consulted three of his advisors. Bilaam encouraged him, Iyov was silent and Yisro fled.” Bilaam harosho encouraged him because he hated the Jews and tried later, more than once, to destroy them. Yisro fled because he could not countenance even being part of such injustice. Iyov was silent, apparently not wanting to support Pharaoh but also not willing to speak out against Pharaoh’s cruel plan to enslave the Jews. If he had spoken against Pharaoh or fled like Yisro, Pharaoh would have been left with one supporter out of three. With Iyov sitting on silently, he could perhaps claim that a majority of his advisors did not oppose his plans. Pharaoh went on to afflict the Jews with back-breaking slavery and to throw the Jewish boys into the river. Is this Iyov, Pharaohs advisor, the same person who claimed to be “eyes to the blind, feet to the lame and father to the destitute?” If he was such a tzaddik why didn’t he oppose Pharaoh or run away like Yisro? The Gemara indeed concludes that “Bilaam who encouraged Pharaoh was killed, Iyov who was silent was punished with yesurin and Yisro who ran away, he was blessed that his grandchildren sat later in the Sanhedrin”. But what was Iyov thinking when he claimed to be righteous? And how could the posuk say he was wholesome, upright and feared Hashem.

Imagine you are walking behind another Jew and you see money fall from his pocket. A few moments later he puts his hand in his pocket, realizes that his money is missing and you hear him say, “Oy veh for the money I have lost!” You know exactly where that money is. Do you have to tell him where his money is or can you rejoice in your sudden windfall and keep the money yourself?

Your Jewish domestic help puts your best china dishes in the sink — (not everybody has a dishwasher!) — rather too enthusiastically and your best set of eight fleishige plates has just become a set of five. You estimate that it will cost you £100 to replace it. You know this girl is an orphan and has barely enough money to live. Will you charge her for the damage? At the end of the day she comes to you for her wages as normal. Will you pay her or explain politely that since she has caused such damage, much more than the amount she normally earns, you are under no obligation to pay her?

In last week’s parsha (18:20), Yisro told Moshe Rabeinu, “And you should tell them the statutes and laws and you shall tell them the way they should go in and the deeds that they shall do.” Bobo Metzia (30b) interprets the last words of the posuk, “the deeds that they shall do,” as referring to going lifnim mishras hadin, beyond the strict halocho. In the cases we mentioned, the strict halacho allows us to keep the money ourselves, charge the orphan the full damages and certainly withhold her wages. However, lifnim mishuras hadin, Bobo Metzia (83a) says that it is correct not to charge damages and even to pay the wages as usual, although this could depend on the circumstances of the case. Rebbe Yochanon said that Yerushola’im was destroyed because the people followed the strict halocho and didn’t go lifnim mishuras hadin.(Bobo Metziah 30b).

Iyov may have been someone who shunned evil and feared Hashem in the sense that he was careful to do what he was strictly required to do, but he did not go beyond the letter of the law. When Pharaoh asked his opinion, he may have seen that Pharaoh was determined to begin his plan of slavery and disagreeing with him wouldn’t have changed anything. According to the strict moral requirements of his situation, he could sit there in silence. He was an oness, unable to do what should normally have been done in those circumstances.

Yisro, however, went lifnim mishuras hadin, as he later taught Moshe Rabeinu. To sit there and not protest was not an option for him. To argue was useless. But, at least, he could run away. Let no-one even think that he agreed with Pharaoh.

The parsha begins with the laws of a Hebrew slave. We would have thought that if we have a slave, we can treat him like a slave but the Torah later (Vayikra 25:39) tells us that this is explicitly forbidden. The halocho forbids us to tell him to him to do unnecessary work as well as telling him to work until we come back without indicating when this will be which is psychologically difficult.  Further, Kiddushin 22a says that the slave should not have an inferior bed to his master nor be given inferior food. Even a Canaanite slave for whom these halochos are more lenient, should be treated well by his master. “Mimidas chasidus we should treat our (Canaanite) slaves with mercy, feed them generously, speak to them respectfully and listen to any complaint they may have.” (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 267:17).

What better way could there be to begin parshas Mishpatim? It is not just the laws of slaves. It is a gateway to proper behaviour; not always insisting on our rights; going beyond the strict halocho; showing mercy, generosity and respect to everyone. This is the way Yerushola’im will be rebuilt and this is how to receive Hashem’s blessings, for us and our families.

The Deal of all Time

President Trump has recently been talking about his “deal of the century,” in connection with Israel and the Arabs. Parshas Yisro contains the “deal of all time,” arranged by Hashem and affecting the Jews and the rest of mankind. The Heavens and Earth were waiting nervously. A deal means their continued existence. No deal meant a return to nothingness. The stakes could not have been higher.

Shemos 19:6 tells us: “And now, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, you will be a treasured nation out of all the nations for the whole world is Mine.” In exchange for a commitment to keep the words of the Torah, the Jewish People would become Hashem’s treasured nation. But what were the ramifications of this new status and what would be their precise role in the new world order?

When Moshe Rabeinu ascended Har Sinai, Hashem’s first words to him were, “Don’t they say sholom where you come from?” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “Does a servant say sholom to his Master?” Hashem said, “You should have helped Me.” Moshe Rabeinu responded, “May the strength of Hashem be increased.”(Shabbos 89a).  This borders on the humorous. The exchange between the Creator of the world and mankind’s representative at the beginning of a unique event which was to map out the future of the universe centered on how we should greet one another. It is important but this is the world-shattering topic appropriate for the day the Heavens and Earth have been waiting for, for three thousand years? And what did Hashem mean that He needs our help?

Shabbos 119b tells us that when we say Vayechulu on Friday night we become partners with Hashem in the creation of the World. A partner with Hashem? He needs us to partner Him? What does this mean?

The Bnei Yisosschor’s posuk for Shevat is homer yemirenu vehoyo hu – If a man wants to exchange the sanctity of an animal for another animal, the sanctity of the first animal remains. Does the fact the parshas Yisro is always read in Shevat help explain why this posuk was chosen?

When Hashem first spoke to Moshe Rabeinu at the burning bush, he told him, “So shall you say to Pharaoh. This is what Hashem said, My son, My firstborn son Israel.” What did Hashem mean that Israel is Hashem’s son? If He meant that He created us physically, He created every person and indeed every animal, every plant and the whole of creation. In this sense we are all the children of Hashem. Why should just the Jews be called Hashem’s children?

 The sefer Derech Hashem tells us that after the aveira of Odom Horishon and his subsequent teshuva, Hashem hoped that mankind as a whole would honour Hashem in their actions and thus, Hashem’s purpose in creating the world would be fulfilled.  There was no plan to have a treasured nation. Hashem waited ten generations but the people were corrupt and wicked. He brought the flood but there was no significant improvement, the next ten generations were equally wicked, but this time there was one notable exception —  Avrohom, the son of Terach. He was not only righteous in himself but he had the ability to influence his descendants. Now Hashem decided that a new stage in world history should begin. Avrohom’s family and descendants would be the Hashem’s flagbearers in the world. Their mission was to influence the rest of humanity. (Ramban in Devarim 32:26 and Seforno in Shemos 19:6) From their devotion to Hashem, their publicising His miracles, and their example in leading lives of moral rectitude, the nations of the world would also learn to believe in Hashem, even if they only accepted seven basic mitzvos. In a sense this was Hashem’s back-up plan to bring the world to its fulfilment.

If we proclaim our belief that Hashem created the world by saying Vayachulu, we become partners with Hashem in bringing the world to its fulfilment. He asks us to help Him bring the world to its fulfilment by sanctifying His Name amongst the nations of the world. Only when the whole of mankind is ready to serve Him will we have done our job.

Being a partner with Hashem is an awesome responsibility but it also brings us tremendous blessings. Firstly, because of the vital role we play in bringing the world to its fulfilment, we will receive a huge reward in the world to come. Secondly, Hashem takes special care of us in this world. We are His partners and partners do everything to help each other. Even if we sometimes slip, according to the Ramban (ibid), He shows us great patience and mercy. He “has to.” We are already in plan B. There is no plan C; only a return to nothingness. We learn in Kiddushin (36a) that however much we fall from the required standards, we are still referred to as Hashem’s children. Not in the physical sense, as we explained earlier, but because we are building a world of honour for Hashem. We have a joint mission.

 We are indeed Hashem’s “firstborn son.” We are Hashem’s chariot. We are Hashem’s flagbearers. Out of all the nations, we devote ourselves to increasing Hashem’s honour in the world. He will not exchange us for another nation as the Bnei Yisosschor implied. Hashem was not just telling Moshe Rabbeinu merely to greet people when you meet them, important though that is. He was telling him the reason for the universe’s existence and our national mission. If the Jews don’t take on this mission, it will mean a return to nothingness. If we don’t ‘help’ Hashem, there is simply no point in the universe continuing to exist.

To be Hashem’s treasured nation does not just mean being chosen for Hashem’s special protection. It is a lifelong commitment to be loyal to Hashem’s Torah in all circumstances and to sanctify His Name amongst all the nations. Indeed, the deal of all time.

Our Personal Yetzias Mitzrayim

“And the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled and the attitude of Pharaoh and his advisers towards the Jewish People changed and they said, “What did we do that we sent away the Jews from being our slaves?” (Beshalach 14:5).

We laugh at Pharaoh. What kind of diminutive idiot was he? Just a few days before he had got up in the middle of the night and searched desperately for Moshe Rabeinu to tell him to leave with all the people and animals. Even though he had said earlier, “Who is Hashem that I should listen to His voice?” after makas habechoros he decided that he could not stand against the power of Hashem and freed the Jews unconditionally.

Yet a few days later he changed his mind again. His chopping and changing, his promising and reneging on his promise, his admitting he was a rosho then continuing in his obstinate ways had been going on for months. A person with sechel comes to a decision and keeps to it. He was clearly unbalanced and totally unreliable and that is how we remember him. Is there anything we can learn from such an idiot? Surely not; but read on.

In the Hagada we read, “Reb Yehuda used a mnemonic to list the ten makos: Detzach Adash B’Achab.” He divided the ten makos into three sections. The plagues of blood, frogs and lice. The plagues of wild animals, pestilence and boils and the plagues of hail, locusts, darkness and the killing of the firstborn. The Malbim explains that the first group of plagues prove that Hashem exists. Pharaoh said that the first two plagues were the result of black magic and only after the third plague did he admit that it was “the finger of Hashem.” The second group show that He involves Himself in this world, making sure that only the Egyptians suffer and not the Jews. The third group of plagues prove that there is no power to challenge Hashem who is the Master of everything.

The Rambam writes, “It is a mitzvah of the Torah to cry out and blow trumpets whenever a community suffers a tragedy. This is part of the way of teshuva because when we cry out, we all realise that the tragedy has happened because of our sinful deeds. But if people say that that what has happened was just ‘natural,’ or a ‘coincidence,’ this is the way of cruelty and causes people to continue in their sinful deeds. (Hilchos Taanis 1:1-3)

In another place he writes, “What is complete teshuva? This is when a person is in the same circumstances as before and has the possibility of sinning and has an equally strong yetzer horah but does not sin. This is complete teshuva. If a person does teshuva in his old age and has no possibility of repeating his sin, he is still called a baal teshuva. What is teshuva? If a person stops doing his sin and decides never to do it again and he regrets having sinned and the One who knows secrets can testify about him that he will not do this sin again. (Hilchos Teshuva 2:1-2).

Kiddushin (33a) brings the view of Reb Issi ben Yehuda which is the accepted halacha that we have to stand up for an elderly person, even if he is unlearned. Rebbe Yochonon used to stand up for elderly people even if they were not Jewish. He explained that any elderly person has undoubtedly experienced many crises during their lifetime and had seen many miracles. (Rashi).

Hashem is the ultimate Baal Chessed. He wants us to earn our place in the World to Come through successfully confronting our challenges in this world. And He wants us to grow through our experiences in this world. As He did in Mitzrayim, He sends many signs of His existence, of His involvement in even the mundane matters of this world and of His unmatched power. This is all for our good. However we may not always respond in the right way. Like Pharaoh, we can dismiss events as magic, luck or coincidence until we accept that what happened was truly the “finger of Hashem.” When events happen in our family, neighbourhood or community, we can fail to realise that Hashem is sending us a message. Contrary to the clear words of the Rambam, we may be tempted to carry on with our normal lives, failing to take advantage of the potential for spiritual growth that Hashem is offering us. When we see how much He helps us extricate ourselves from various crises and are aroused to thank Hashem for His many miracles, the danger is that this arousal may be short lived. We can make promises but, like Pharaoh, a few days later, we can forget them.

Finally we can fall into the “death trap”. If we have certain yetzer horas that we find difficult to overcome, we can fool ourselves into thinking that all will be well in the end. We intend to say the vidui sincerely before passing away, doing teshuva for everything. After all, didn’t the Rambam say that teshuva in old age is still teshuva, even if it is not the best teshuva. However there is a problem with this plan; the Rambam says that even if a person cannot prove his teshuva is sincere, because he has no opportunity to do that sin again, the teshuva in his heart must be strong enough that the “One who knows secrets can testify that he would not sin again.” Let’s say a person, facing death, finally realizes the folly of his actions and regrets having done them but then unexpectedly recovers and goes back to his old ways. Obviously his teshuva was not sincere. Pharaoh too, facing death during Makas Bechoros went through the motions of complete teshuva and sent out all the Jews, but a few days later, when the danger had passed, he was back to his old antics. His teshuva was not on the Rambam’s level one or level two.

Yes, we can learn from Pharaoh, not to be like him. Not to spiritually zigzag, not to promise and not keep our promises and not to claim that miracles are really just a lucky coincidence. But, on the contrary, we should take advantage of every event in our lives to grow in emuna, to become more and more certain that Hashem exists, that He involves Himself in even the mundane matters of this world and that there is no power besides Hashem. Then we will have completed our own personal yetzias Mitzrayim.

A Reservoir of Merits

“And it was on that day Hashem brought out all the hosts of the Children of Israel from the Land of Egypt.” (Shemos 12:51). In the parsha we read that following our long exile in Mitzrayim, Hashem finally brought us out. We have a mitzva to remember this unique miracle every day. However the Hagodo goes further and tells us that a person is obliged to see himself as if he himself just left Mitzrayim, no matter where he is living. This extra obligation is widely regarded as being extremely difficult to fulfil. (Women sometimes find it easier than men!) The intensity of the slavery, the continuous back-breaking work, the cruelty of Pharaoh’s decrees are so foreign to those of us who, fortunately, have always lived in peaceful societies, that we cannot appreciate that feeling of joy which the Jews must have felt when they were freed from the slavery of Mitzrayim. Is this mitzva then not relevant to us or is there some way we can have a connection to it?

The Mesilas Yeshorim (Chapter One) discusses our purpose in this world, which is to earn our portion in the next world. Were we to enter the World to Come without living through the challenges of this world, we would not feel so happy. It would be like living off charity. We will feel much happier if we earn our reward by having our loyalty to Hashem tested and successfully standing up to those tests. These tests, says the Mesilas Yeshorim, come constantly. We are often faced with difficult situations such as illness, poverty or exile during which our faith in Hashem may be challenged. At other times we may be tested by excellent health and wealth. Then the challenge is to believe that our success is solely due to Hashem and not to our business acumen or the skill of our doctor.

It is clear from the Mesilas Yesharim that every day brings different challenges. However each challenge is also to an opportunity to be used for our eternal good and shouldn’t be wasted. How can we utilise a moment when we have just escaped from a major or minor difficulty? Obviously we must thank Hashem profusely. But perhaps we can also use this moment to claim part of the mitzva we mentioned, feeling as if we have just come out of Mitzrayim. True, our suffering was not as great that of a slave in Mitzrayim but we can share some of his exhilaration on being freed. We can use even recovery from a relatively minor illness or crisis to feel part of this mitzvah.

But what about during the difficulty itself? How can we best utilise that time? The Mesilas Yesharim mentioned maintaining our faith in Hashem, so beautifully exemplified by Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin very recently. How else can we best use time of suffering, even for less serious challenges than R’ Sholom had to face?

The Chovos Halevovos gives several explanations of the mitzvah of loving Hashem bechol levovcho, uvechol nafshecho, uvechol meodecho. One is that we are obliged to love Hashem even if we have no money, no possessions and almost no life. Even if a person is suffering the tribulations of Iyov, he still has to love Hashem. But how likely is it that we will have a chance to fulfil this mitzvah? And even if we did, are on a high enough madreiga to fulfil it? It seems to be hardly relevant for us. But if we continue the theme we began earlier, it can indeed be relevant. Yes, the extreme situation as faced by Iyov is, hopefully, unlikely but we are often lacking something. We are often in some pain, physical or emotional. At any moment of challenge, before the healing or salvation has come, we can think to ourselves and even say out loud, “Despite this pain, despite not having what I would dearly like, I still love You, Hashem. You have given me life. You have given us Torah and Mitzvos. You have given us the World to Come. I still have more than enough reasons to love You.” This way we can also have a connection to one of the loftiest mitzvos, loving Hashem with all our heart, albeit on our very limited madreiga.

But now let’s move on to our most joyful moments which have pearls of opportunity hidden in them if we take advantage. Obviously these simchadik moments should be used to feel full of thanks to Hashem for His kindnesses. Yaakov said the Shema at the very moment he was being embraced by Yosef to use that moment of great simcha to express his love of Hashem. There is, however, another way we can respond to moments of simcha to earn eternal reward, if we think about it.

In the Shemone Esrei we say “ki lishuosecho kivinu kol hayom – We have hoped for your salvation the whole day.” Who amongst us actually hopes for the geula the whole day? To justify our saying this, perhaps we could suggest that our lives are divided into three aspects; when things are going badly, when things are going well and other times. When things are going badly, it is easy to yearn for the geula. When things are going well, and even very well as at a chupa, we break a glass to remind us that however great our simcha, it cannot be complete until Yerushalayim is rebuilt, with the Beis Hamikdash. So even during these happy times we still are yearning for geula. And if we are well, we have a parnoso and there are no crises, that is also a good situation to be in and we can also think that however good things are, they would be even better were we to merit the geula. So during all the different times of our life, we yearn for the geula and we can say lishuosecho kivinu kol hayom with sincerity.

Now we have a way to utilise our moments of simcha and even our everyday moments when we are not suffering, for our eternal benefit; by thinking that however good things are, how much better it would be, were we to merit the geula. Thus we can have the merit of the mitzva of “yearning for salvation” and be able to answer the question we will all be asked in the next world, “Did you yearn for the salvation?” And we can do this in any situation in which we find ourselves.

Life is full of opportunities; moments when we can create a connection to certain mitzvos which ordinarily are beyond us. It is up to us to grasp every opportunity and every moment to create a reservoir of merits for our future.

Shabbos – Our Spiritual Pit-Stop

At the beginning of Parshas Vayeitzei we read:  “ And Yaakov went out of Beer Sheva and he went to Choron.(Bereishis 28:10) Rashi asks why we need this posuk. We already know that Yaakov was coming from Beer Sheva and was going to Choron.

There are a number of answers.  One of them pertains to far more than this particular journey of Yaakov Ovinu. It is an answer which the Pirkei Ovos says is so important that we have to remember it constantly, throughout our lives. We always have to know where we have come from and where we are going to.

Where do we come from? Every Jew is a ‘ chelek eloka mimaal’. Within us we have a spark of Hashem. Our neshomos come from the holiest and purest source. As we say in our daily Brachos, “The soul that You gave me is pure. ”And when you have something so valuable, you treasure it, you make sure it remains pure.

And if we think, “Sure, our neshomo came from a holy place but now we live in this world and our neshama is bound to lose its purity.” —t hen we have to remember the next part. Where we are going to? We will all eventually go back to Shomayim. And Hashem will ask us, “How is the neshama I gave you. Is it still pure and holy?” If we remember this, we won’t let our neshama be sullied. We don’t want to be shamed by having to show Hashem that the beautiful neshomo tehora He gave us, is now impure.

The trouble is that we forget. We look at our neighbor. Compared to him or her I’m not bad. We so easily ignore our final destination. This World is so overpowering. We want to be successful in this world and sometimes a little lie, a little loshon hora would make life easier. We like to be popular and we are tempted to be one of the boys just once, just twice, just three times…How can we remember our destination and keep our neshomos untainted?

To preserve the wholesomeness of our neshamos we have Shabbos every week. True, the World is a spiritual quagmire. It’s easy to slip and fall. But Shabbos reminds us. Shabbos brings us back. And if our neshomo is not quite so clean, Shabbos is the great cleanser. It’s our spiritual pit-stop for us to re-assess, refuel our neshama and get back on track. If during the week, we veered from the narrow path, Shabbos stretches out her hands to help us back. Not with harsh words but with love and warmth.

We just have to say and hear “Lechu neranana” and we want to come back home. When we say shiru l’Hashem shir chadash we want to join in the singing. When we sing Lecho Dodi and we feel and enjoy that closeness to Hashem that we have missed for the last six days. And when we turn round and sing “Bo’i veshalom ateres baala, …toch emunei am segula,” we’re proud and happy to be part of that Am Segula, Hashem’s treasured nation. We say “Never will I go away again. Never will I leave the daled amos shel halocho. Never will I distance myself from the mechitzo of Hashem.” And if, despite all these beautiful intentions, I do slip again, next week Shabbos will again embrace me and bring me back.

Shabbos is me’ein olam habo. But not just in the usual understanding that we are removed on Shabbos from all material distractions and can concentrate on ruchnius like olam habo. It is also in the sense that we expereience the Shechina just as we will in olam habo (Reb Shimshon Pinchas).Yet there is a difference. In the real olam habo we have to present our neshomo for judgement. There are no more chances. On Shabbos, although we meet the Shechina, we have another chance. If we can be inspired to try to grow from now on, our journey through olam hazeh can still be successful. Shabbos is our weekly opportunity to get back on track, to make sure we are going in the right direction. And just in case we have temporarily forgotten, Shabbos will remind us about our true destination – where we are going to and in front of whom will we have to give din vecheshbon.

The parsha says more about Yaakov’s journey:“And he came to the place and stayed there ovenight because the sun had set. He took some stones and put them under his head and lay down for the night. He had a dream and behold there was a ladder standing on the ground and the top reached to the heavens. And behold, the angels of G-d were going up and down on it. And Hashem was standing at the top.”

If we think about it, Yaakov Ovinu’s journey is similar to the journey we travel in our own lives. We also have our dreams — what we want to achieve; how we see our future, materially, spiritually. Sometimes the malochim who represent us go up and everything we touch turns to gold. At other times our malochim go down –we have our failures, our disappointments. But as in Yaakov’s dream, Hashem is at the top of the ladder to help us, support us and when necessary to comfort us. As the pasuk continues…“And He said, I am Hashem, the G-d of your father Avraham and your father Yitzchak…I am with you and will look after you. I will guard you and will not forsake until I have fulfilled what I said to you.”

And when each of arrives at our destination, after 120 years, we will appreciate that everything which happened to us was for the best. The successes and the failures, the happy times and the disappointing times, peaceful times and times of war were all according to Hashem’s precise plan.

“And Yaakov woke up from his sleep and he said, surely G-d is in this place and I didn’t know.”

We will realise that even when we could not see Hashem, He was with us all the time.

We have to remember where we came from — the highest levels of sanctity and purity. Where we are going to– back to Hashem’s loving embrace. We should use Shabbos as our weekly inspiration to maintain the purity of our neshomos and to strengthen our emuna and our bitachon. Then when we come to our appointment with Hashem, He will congratulate us on a job well done and welcome us Home.