Parashat Va’etchanan

Shabbat is it simply a day off from work?

שמור‭ ‬את‭ ‬יום‭ ‬השבת‭ ‬‏לקדשו‭- ‬Safeguard the day of Shabbat to sanctify it. (5:12)

This pasuk is unclear. If Shabbat is holy, why do we have to sanctify it? It is already holy. If it is a mitzvah like all mitzvot, one that imbues us with its kedushah, holiness, what role does remembering play in the scheme of shemirat Shabbat, Shabbat observance? Perhaps we may suggest the following: secular society recognizes that Shabbat is designated for the Jewish People as a day of rest. This does not necessarily mean that they view it as a day complete with unusual holiness. The kedushah, holiness, is something that we infuse into the Shabbat. Otherwise, it is nothing more than an off-day, a day to rest from work, even attend services in the local synagogue; but that is the extent of it. How does remembering fit into the equation? Well, there was a time when Shabbat was a critical mitzvah, just like all of the rest. Then along came the secularists who downgraded Shabbat, together with most other mitzvot, to the muck heap of ancient times. Suddenly, we had no recollection of Shabbat. It is a new world, and, sadly, Shabbat does not play an active role in it. Furthermore, even those who remember Shabbat – are they remembering to keep it holy? Are they sanctifying Shabbat, or is it simply a day off from work, a day to catch up on relationships and much needed rest? Rabbi Zakai was a great Tanna who lived to be four hundred years old. When he was queried by his students, Bameh he’erachta yamim, “In what merit were you blessed with such incredible longevity?” he replied, “You should know that I never missed having wine in honor of Shabbat kodesh. One erev Shabbat, my mother noticed that the wine cellar was empty; she sold her head-covering and used the proceeds to purchase a large amount of wine. When she died, she bequeathed to me three hundred barrels of wine.” Rabbi Zakai left three hundred barrels of wine for his children and grandchildren. He attributed his blessing to the pasuk, Likrat Shabbat lechu v’nelcha ki hee mekor habrachah, “Let us go greet the Shabbat, for she is the source of all blessing.” Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, prepared his Shabbat table early on Friday. One of his talmidim, students, questioned him concerning this custom. His response was: “My father-inlaw, the illustrious Ridvaz, was once very ill. At the lowest point of his illness, as he lay between life and death, he turned his head upward and whispered. He concluded his whispering, turned to his wife, and said, “Prepare the Shabbat table. You should know, my wife, that the only thing that can save me is that we prepare the Shabbat very early. I spoke to Hashem and pleaded, ‘Hashem, I wrote a commentary on the entire Yerushalmi. If You will allow me to live, I promise to write a commentary on Talmud Bavli.’ When I saw that this offer did not elicit a positive response, I realised that there was only one merit that would pull me through – Shabbat – hiddur Shabbat, beautifying the Shabbat, is my only chance.” It is the same old cliché: man thinks that he observes Shabbat almost as if he is doing Hashem a favor by taking time off from his busy work week and dedicating one day to Hashem. He forgets that more than he (thinks he) does for Shabbat – Shabbat is doing for him. The Rama, zl, Harav Moshe Isserlis, was an undisputed Gaon. Indeed, the Heavenly Angel that studied Torah with the Bait Yosef instructed him to write his Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, because there was a great Gaon in Poland who was writing such a commentary on the Tur Shulchan Aruch. How did the Rama’s father – who, for all intents and purposes, was a simple, G-d-fearing (although not so simple) Jew – merit to have such an illustrious son born to him? Apparently, the Rama’s father owned a store, which sold silk material. He had a weekly ritual such that, regardless of the workload, he closed his store every Friday afternoon at chatzot, midday, in order to prepare for Shabbat. One Friday, a wealthy customer visited the store fifteen minutes before closing time. He was prepared to purchase a large amount of silk, a purchase which would have rendered the Rama’s father a substantial profit. At precisely twelve o’clock he told the customer that he must close the store. The man could not believe that this Jew was prepared to relinquish the deal of a lifetime due to some medieval religious observance. The customer warned him that, if he closed, he would not return and, thus, the storekeeper would forfeit an incredible profit. Naturally, the Rama’s father was in a quandary concerning what he should do. In the end, he told the customer that he answered to a Higher Power and must close the store. He lost the profit, but gained a son who illuminated the Torah world for generations to come. One more story! Harav Chaim Pinto is a distinguished Torah scholar residing in Ashdod. His father, Rav Moshe Aharon, was a well-known tzaddik, holy and righteous man. Rav Chaim was born on a Friday, with the Brit set for the following Erev Shabbat. Sadly, tragedy struck the Friday of the Brit, when his mother entered the room and noticed that her infant had stopped breathing. She came running to her husband, who calmly instructed her that the Shabbat Queen would soon come to visit, and they were, therefore, forbidden, to weep or grieve. Furthermore, she was to tell no one that their child had died. His wife was a righteous woman in her own right and agreed to remain stoic throughout the Shabbat. They covered the infant with a white sheet and kept the door closed. Shortly before Shabbat, a number of well-wishers visited to convey their blessing of Mazal tov to the new parents. The rabbanit she smiled and thanked them for their good wishes. When they asked to see the child, she replied that presently it was not a good time. Wonder of wonders! Miracle of miracles! Motzoei Shabbat, Rav Aharon told his wife to enter the room where their newborn infant lay covered in a white sheet. “You have been given a gift,” he said to her. “You guarded the Shabbat, making sure that its sanctity was not in any way impugned. Hashem has rewarded you in kind. Now, your simchah, joy, for which you were hoping, will not either be impugned.” She entered the room to see that her child (the future Rav Chaim Pinto) was alive and well. Today, he is the Chief Rabbi of Kiryat Malachi. Once again, we note: when one guards over the Shabbat – the Shabbat watches over him.

by Rabbi A. L. Scheinbaum

facts of life: take this serious

You Can Always Return

Then Moshe set aside three cities on the bank of the Jordan. (4:41)

 The parsha of the arei miklat, cities of refuge, which Moshe Rabbeinu designated, seems to be misplaced. Up until now, Moshe has been rebuking Klal Yisrael, reminding them of their special relationship with Hashem, and informing them of the consequences of straying from this relationship. Later, in Perek 5, he encourages them to listen to the Torah and to observe its precepts. He then underscores this admonition with a presentation of the Revelation at Har Sinai and repeating the Aseret HaDibrot, Ten Commandments. Nestled in between the earlier rebuke, and later presentation and encouragement to follow the Mitzvot, is the designation of the cities of refuge. Is this really the appropriate place for this parshah?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that this is certainly a fitting place for the parshah detailing the arei miklat. Moshe felt it necessary to rebuke the nation and to exhort them concerning the many Mitzvot they must perform as members of Klal Yisrael. He was also aware that all of this can be quite compelling and even disheartening. While rebuke is an indication that one cares about — and is concerned for — the welfare of the subject of his rebuke, it can also create feelings of despair and hopelessness, “How can I succeed when so many before me have failed?” This depressive feeling could very well have coursed through the minds of those standing there that day. Moshe attempted to lessen their feelings when he talked about Hashem’s love for them. Nonetheless, they were acutely aware that, in the past, these feelings of Divine love did not prevent them from sinning with the Golden Calf and / or to prevent their forefathers from committing a number of other transgressions during their forty year sojourn in the wilderness. Indeed, they had every reason to be concerned. If their predecessors, who had lived in an environment replete with miracles, had sinned, what should they say? They were going to enter a land in which they would have to lead normal lives. How could they possibly manage to maintain a compatible relationship with Hashem amid all of this pressure? They were overwhelmed with despair. This is why Moshe recorded the parshah of arei miklat right in between the rebuke and the presentation of Mitzvot. The city of refuge is a place where the unintentional murderer flees to protect himself from family members of his victim who are out for revenge. Although the death which he caused was accidental, he, nonetheless, had terminated a human being’s life. As such, he has lost his connection to his life force, his right to continued spiritual existence. The arei miklat are administered by the Leviim, whose primary task (other than living in the six arei miklat and forty-two cities designated for the Leviim) was to sing hymns of praise to Hashem in the Bait Hamikdash. They served as the medium for elevating the spiritual inspiration with which the people were imbued when they visited the sanctuary. As such, the Levi is the vehicle through which the Jew comes closer to Hashem and feels more connected with the Almighty. The Levi will help the unintentional murderer renew his bond with Hashem, re-establish his life force, and thus rehabilitate himself from his error. The cities of refuge are the environment which cause hope for the murderer. They are the medium for returning him to normal life. The very existence of the arei miklat imparts a basic truth: you can always return; there is hope for the future. One does not give up. Even one whose life force has been severed as a result of his committing an act of violence, albeit accidently, can return. He, too, has hope. Just as the murderer draws spiritual sustenance and renewed life force by way of the Levi, so, too, may any Jew, under any circumstance, draw renewed enthusiasm and hope from another. This is what Moshe taught the people when he injected the parshah of arei miklat in between the rebuke of the past exhortation concerning the future: one never despairs; one never gives up hope. One always has the opportunity for rehabilitation and renewal.

Bait Aaron Basic Shabbat Stories That will ignite your Neshama

Irreversible Damage

A miraculous true story demonstrates the power of prayer and reminds us never to give up hope.

The results of the CT scans and MRIs were conclusive and irrefutable: Raquel, a 31-year-old wife and mother of two lying in a coma had irreversible brain damage due to prolonged oxygen deprivation. According to scientific studies, in a case like this it would be next to impossible for a person to awake from their coma.

Weeks earlier, Raquel and her husband were vacationing in Florida when she woke up in the middle of the night saying that she didn’t feel well. She collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. But it was too late; Raquel’s body completely shut down. Every organ in her body was failing and she was put on life support.

Raquel’s husband called her parents in New York, telling them to come right away. Just before takeoff the doctor called them. “You need to get here as fast as possible. The situation is dire.”

Hours later, the entire family and close friends came together on a conference call to recite Psalms while doctors desperately worked to save Raquel’s life. During the intense prayer session Raquel coded, but doctors managed to get her heartbeat back, and her situation slowly stabilized.

During the first few weeks in the hospital, her organs began to regain their function and she was able to breathe on her own, but Raquel remained in a deep coma.

During this entire time Jews around the world sprang into action, storming the Heavens with their prayers and taking on additional mitzvot and acts of kindness for the merit of Raquel, Chaya Raizel bas Dina. The family was particularly supported by the Ohel Sara Amen group, a group of women in the Five Towns who come together every day to pray and learn Torah with an emphasis on truly integrating one’s belief in God in their day-to-day life.

Although there was much sadness and despair, Raquel’s mother focused on her deep faith and trust in the Almighty. She wrote to a small group of women, “In the end it is all good. If it’s not good, it’s not the end yet! Please keep davening and learning for my daughter, and remember that G-d loves our children even more than we do. G-d’s mercy is even greater than ours. We don’t have to understand everything. We just have to give it over to G-d and let Him carry us through. May we hear good news soon.”

By the fourth week the family was able to transfer Raquel back to New York. The family, holding onto any threads of hope, received the results of the CT scan and MRI that was confirmed by a seasoned expert that Raquel had suffered massive, irreversible brain damage. The vibrant girl they all loved was no more.

The news plunged the family into grief. They gathered around their beloved daughter, wife and sister, and cried together. It is basically unheard of for someone in this condition to recover.

Raquel’s mother was steadfast in her abiding faith, grateful that her daughter was at least breathing on her own, and mindful of the incredible power of prayer to heal. Seven weeks after Raquel’s collapse, as she laid in a coma, the mother wrote, “I have spent much time contemplating this new reality. I do not know G-d’s will for us at this time but I trust that whatever it is it will be for our ultimate good and that it comes from a place of pure love.

“No, it does not feel like love and it does not feel good, but I overcome both of these feelings knowing that I do not have to understand G-d’s ways to totally trust that G-d wants what is good for me and my family. Trust in G-d is also acquired by learning gratitude. Focusing on the myriad blessings in my life and seeing each blessing as a personal expression of G-d’s love for me has helped me to trust Him. He has shown me so much kindness in so many ways that I have to trust that this challenge will prove ultimately to be an act of great kindness for us as well.”

Raquel’s husband and mother sat at her side day in and day out. The women of the Ohel Sara Amen group arranged for Rabbi Paysach Krohn to take them to the gravesites of great rabbis who are laid to rest in the New York area, where they would pour their hearts out in prayer, beseeching G-d to grant Chaya Raizel bas Dina a complete healing. Raquel’s mother joined the group of 48 women as they went to the grave of Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, Rabbi Avraham Pam and Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz as well as other Torah luminaries.

After finishing their prayers at one of the gravesites, Raquel’s mother’s phone rang and she saw it was her husband calling. She quickly picked up the phone.

 “I want you to talk to someone,” her husband said.

“Hello Ma….”

She froze in her tracks. “Is this Raquel?”


“Raquel, how are you!”

“Good, boruch Hashem.”

Raquel’s mother started shrieking. “Raquel is up! Raquel is up! She is talking!!”

Her husband got back on the phone and she asked him, “Is this for real?”

 “Thirty doctors and nurses are in the room right now to witness this miracle. They can’t believe it. This is for real.”

“Put her back on,” she said as she put the phone on speaker. “Raquel say hello to all the ladies who are davening for you.”


The women, in total astonishment, immediately recited mizmor l’todahand the Nishmat prayer thanking God for His unfathomable kindness. Everyone was stunned by the incredible display of the potency of prayer they had just witnessed.

We [have just observed] Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av that commemorates the destruction of the Temple and the horrific exile and persecutions the Jewish people have experienced throughout history. Today we are living in times of darkness and confusion, witnessing the alarming rise of anti-Semitism around the globe, the onslaught of assimilation, and brutal terrorism by enemies who want to wipe out the Jewish people. It is easy to despair.

But our Sages teach, Yeshuat Hashem k’heref ayin – G-d’s salvation and deliverance is like a blink of an eye Despite the bleakness of the situation and the darkness that feels completely irreversible, it can all change instantly. The Almighty can do anything; it is up to us to fervently ask and to remember that He loves us.

By Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Parsha Summary 

First/second aliyot:  Moshe beseeched Hashem to enter the Land. However, he seemingly blamed the nation when his request was turned down. Moshe explained the foundation of our divine mission, which will be recognized by the other nations. Moshe stressed allegiance to Hashem and the consequences to ourselves and our children if we do not keep the law.

third/fourth Aliyot: Moshe designated the Cities of Refuge, and reviewed the entire experience of Revelation.

fourth/fifth/sixth Aliyot: Moshe stressed the reaction of the nation after giving of the Torah, and forewarned them not deviate from the Torah, either to the right or the to the left. The first paragraph of Shema is recorded. (6:10-15) Moshe warned the people about the dangers of prosperity, and directed them to keep the commandments and remember the Exodus. Moshe forewarned them about the dangers of assimilation and told them to always remember that they are the Chosen People.

simcha corner

David was speaking to his brother Jacob the night before David was set to pack up his family and drive off to Jacob’s home in the country for the week.

Jacob: You all set for the trip tomorrow? Do you need directions to our new place?

David: No, I’m all set. I have the address, a GPS, and a GPS override.Jacob: What’s a GPS override?

David: My wife.