Parshas Shemini and Current Events

April 5th, 2013

It is difficult to OVERSTATE the importance of the laws of Kashrus. It is likewise difficult to UNDERSTATE the great harm done to a Jewish soul by the consumption of forbidden foods. The eating of pig, shellfish, crab, and improperly slaughtered meat definitely takes a toll on the Jewish soul and as a result, our ‘collective’ “Yiddishe neshamas” can be greatly harmed because of the corrosive effects of forbidden foods we consume….

I was told of the following story that was written by Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld.
The story took place in the late 1700s or the early 1800s…..

There were two successful Jewish merchants who lived in Pressburg, the city of the Chasam Sofer. They had their own fleet of boats in which they used to travel the world in pursuit of their import/export business. These merchants were once arrested by Spanish authorities off the coast of Spain with their ship full of merchandise. At that particular point in time, piracy was rampant in the Mediterranean Sea and therefore smuggling and piracy was common. The Jews and their merchandise were detained because of the (false) suspicion that their goods were pirated or smuggled.

They were brought into the port of Barcelona to be held in custody while the investigation proceeded as to whether their cargo was legitimate. They were lucky, however, in that at that time, the Spanish Government had very good relations with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its Emperor, Franz-Yosef. Based on the good diplomatic relations, the Jews were not thrown into jail. They were treated very respectfully while they were being detained. They were assigned to two customs officials, who would take care of them while the investigation proceeded. Each was taken home by one of the customs officials to relax and be served lunch.

There was only one problem. Despite the fact that this story took place between two and three hun dred years after the Inquisition, the Inquisition was still alive and well in Spain. Under terms of the Inquisition, any person in Spain suspected of being Jewish was given the choice of either converting to Catholicism or being burned in the town square. The merchants realized that if their Jewish identities would be revealed, they would face this horrible choice.

Therefore, the Jews disguised themselves so that they would look like Gentiles. As mentioned before, each merchant was assigned to a different customs agent. The customs agent had his servant serve them lunch – consisting of chicken and wine. The customs agent noticed that his guest turned white as a ghost. He then told his guest to follow him to the attic. When they got to the attic he told him, “I know that something is wrong. You turned white as a ghost when my servant brought you your food. You are Jewish, aren’t you?” Before the guest had a chance to answer, the customs agent told him, “So am I.” It just so happened that this customs agent was a descendant of the Marranos, who outwardly converted to avoid expulsion from Spain, but secretly tried to maintain their Jewish identity and Jewish traditions. To prove his point, he closed the door of the attic, pulled up a floor board and took out a shiny and sharp knife used in ritual slaughter (‘chalif’). He told his guest, “The chicken we are about to eat, I personally slaughtered it!” Kosher L’Mehadrin!

The Jewish merchant was flabbergasted at the personal Divine Providence (Hashgocha Pratis) that sent him specifically to this man’s house! He ate his meal, the investigation concluded that there was no problem with their merchandise, and both merchants were released. The Jew met up with his partner and asked him about his experiences. The second Jew was very distraught. He admitted that he had to eat non Kosher meat to preserve his appearance as a non-Jew. He had ruled for himself that this was a matter of life and death and in such situations one is not required to be a martyr to eat only kosher food. The first Jew told his friend, “The same thing happened to me, but I had the unbelievable fortune of being hosted by a secret Jew who was a Shochet, and I was able to eat kosher.”

The man who had to eat the non-Kosher meat was beside himself when he heard this story. “What was my sin, what was my iniquity that caused G-d to lead my partner to a secret observant Jew and I was forced to eat nevilah?” When he got back to Pressburg, he went to his holy Rebbi, the Chasam Sofer and told him the story. “What”, he asked his teacher, “did I do wrong in my life that I was put into a situation that I had to eat non-Kosher?”

The Chasam Sofer responded, “I have a tradition from my teacher, the holy Gaon Rav Nosson Adler, that any person who never put anything in his mouth that had the slightest question of being forbidden, the Almighty guarantees that this person will never come into a situation which would force him to eat something that is prohibited. If you are so careful that you never ever put anything questionable into your mouth the ‘measure for measure’ reward is that the Almighty will see to it that you in fact never have to eat anything prohibited.”

The Chasam Sofer concluded, “It must be that some time in your past, you must have eaten something forbidden or something about which there was at least a doubt that it might be forbidden.” The merchant responded, “Rebbi, it cannot be. It is not true!” The Chasam Sofer insisted: “Think hard.” Finally, the merchant admitted: “There was one incident. When I was first married, my wife made chicken for us. She brought me the chicken after she got it from the slaughterer and showed me a ’shaylah’ [question] she had about the chicken. I was a young newlywed. I was ashamed to tell my wife that I did not know and she should ask the Rabbi. I did have Semicha. I learned the laws of Shechita and of Tereifos. I looked at the chicken. I saw the shaylah. I said ‘kosher.’”

Being a newlywed, his wife did not trust him. She took the chicken to a Rav. She told the Rav, “My husband has Semicha, he learned the laws of Tereifa, and he says the chicken is Kosher. Is he right about that?” The Rav looked at the chicken and it was not such a simple question, but he did not want to second guess the newlywed husband so he said, “Okay, your husband says it is kosher, you can rely on his opinion.” The merchant told the Chasam Sofer, “I ate that chicken.”

The Chasam Sofer exclaimed, “That is it! You put in your mouth something that had a possibility of being prohibited. That is why you forfeited the guarantee mentioned by Rav Noson Adler. The other merchant must have never put anything with a doubt of prohibition in his mouth. He had the guarantee from the Almighty that he would be protected from ever eating non-kosher food.”

…and related to the news of the week…

Have a Good Shabbos!

Melech ben Chayim


January 26th, 2012


           Prior to the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there were fewer intermediaries in the worldly picture. That’s why it says that God did everything to make Creation by Himself, without Heavenly helpers.  God even personally tended to all of Adam HaRishon’s needs. However, as a result of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge (choosing morality over mortality), we became more physical but spiritually weaker, and incapable of handling such intense Divine light. Therefore, God withdrew somewhat from the scene and the life of man. The world around them had suddenly changed.                         

          Having realized that the world in which they now existed was incomparable and incomplete, and also facing mortality for the first time, Adam and Eve were gently guided into a partnership with God to help the Master of the Universe finish His creation.  How were they to deal with all of these uncertainties that suddenly confronted them in their new finite world and lifespan?  

          Yearning for the comfort and security of a world that had once been created for them and of which they strongly desired to return to, how would they overcome this overwhelming emptiness they felt within themselves? 

          How would they begin to fill this void that had been vacated by an essence to which they were so strongly connected?  They needed a way to express all of these new emotions, a way to cope with the byproducts of life; love, hate, anger, compassion, joy, sorrow, worry, relief, thankfulness and gratitude.                   

          Music… it started with a heartbeat which reverberated inside of them.   A constant reminder of their mortality was the foundation to build on.  An internal bass drum which set a rhythm that reflected either their state of body or their state of mind.   Next the wind, which always brought with it an assortment of notes and tones from nature itself.  Its musical composition made up of a cacophony of sounds that was carried on invisible wings; a musical score effected by the speed and direction from which it came.   Variations on a theme caused by the seasonal changes as well as the materials in this world that it traversed over or through.  Listening to the sounds and rhythms of nature they became composers and were able to transpose their feelings and emotions into melodies. 

          Music…became humankind’s common denominator, an avenue to express, communicate and interpret emotions into a universal language.                                     

          Music…It is the original conception of prayer which in turn was able to fill the void and bridge the gap between the two worlds.  Created not only for their sake, but also for the sake of future generations to utilize and build upon.                                                                                                                                                 

          Music…It’s timeless, it’s provoking, it’s soothing, it can bring out the worst in us or the best in us…it has the ability to make you laugh or cry out and has the capacity to manage all of your emotions more than you realize…it can be heard silently within us and yet without silence you can not hear it at all.  With music comes kavanah- a feeling only our heart can express at that moment.                                       

          Music… it nurtures creativity and inspires thought… standing alone it can be an expression of prayer, but foremost, music adds another dimension for our words of prayer to travel on … which in turn brings us closer to God and a little bit of heaven closer to us.


December 15th, 2011



          There surely is a difference between pleasure, joy, fun, contentment,peace of mind and happiness.         


          Pleasure is satisfaction derived from a diversion which originates outside the self, such as a pleasant trip, food, theatre, or a ballgame.


          Joy is a noisy thing, momentary, rapturous emotion; such as a burst of triumph after good news.  To be sure one may enjoy a ballgame or play because it gives one pleasure.


          Fun comes from engaging in something one does not have to do but likes doing.  Fun evokes laughter.  Fun can be bought in an amusement park.


          Contentment is the quiet satisfaction of one’s needs without annoyance.  One can be content with very little.


          Peace of mind is the calm and glad response of the mature mind to challenges which need to be met and overcome with composure.  It is the confidence without inner conflict.


          And happiness?  Happiness is emotional.  Emerson defined happiness as self-realization; William James once defined it as the agreement of the person’s inner life with the realities of his outer experiences.  True happiness then is the result of normal, healthy growth, the process of becoming oneself, of the natural process of coming to full development.  People are born with different capacities.  Happiness depends on the degree to which we realize our individual capacities and potential.  It is then a process of self-realization. 


          The Hebrew word “Samayach” – to be happy, is related to the Hebrew root “Tzamayach” – to sprout, to develop, to grow.  The Hebrew word “Simcha” implies growth and fulfillment, the release of our powers, our capacities which will yield true happiness.  “The secret of one’s happiness is not doing what one likes – but in liking what one has to do.”  Happiness is the mental state of contentment which often comes from successful adaptation to the world as it really is.  True happiness is from within and does not depend on outward circumstances.


          If one were to list the ten important ingredients of a happy person they might be: Health, Shelter, food, Clothing, Education, A Job (for income or interest), Love, Friendship, Family, A sense of Humor.


          Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product.  Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is to deliberately map out a way of happy living (Nothing happens to us except what happens in our minds).  Unhappiness is an inward not outward thing; it is independent of circumstances.  It is not the circumstances that make people happy.  They make themselves happy in spite of circumstances.


          How much happiness is normal?  Many people are unhappy because they have become wrongly convinced that they ought to be happy all the time.  They have become convinced that to be frustrated, discontented or anxious is an indication that they are abnormal.  They seem to think that it is normal to be happy almost all of the time, without worry or care, with no problems or frustrations.


          Some “unhappiness”, feelings of inadequacy and anxiety are the most normal feelings in the world for everybody, including movie stars, politicians and the wealthy.  It is only by recognizing that these feelings are normal that we can rise above them, overcome them and concentrate our energies and thoughts on positive action.


          The happy life, the useful life is not a gift to be given you.  You are not going to win it as a prize nor buy it in a store.  You and you alone will make your life worth living; you will have to struggle, plan and achieve it alone.  You and you alone can make life worthwhile.  If life becomes unhappy or wasted, it is usually due to what you have done to waste it or make it meaningless.  You get from life only what you put into it. The grand essentials in happy living are: something to do, someone to love and something to hope for.

If Not Now….When?

March 10th, 2006

“IF NOT NOW . . . WHEN?”

In the lifetime of your children?
In your lifetime?
This year?
This day?

Look at Your Hand . . .
You can move it!
…as a caress or a fist; to build up or tear down, to give
or to take.
Always, your hand can make a mistake or correct one.
Or it can do nothing.
So with your heart and your mind, as with your hand. They can serve your need alone …or serve another…or serve no one.
The decision is yours.
This is the wonder, and the challenge, of our lives.
For the harsh fact of our lives is how free we are to do nothing. Or to do the wrong thing: to hurt not only others but ourselves.
Yet the great thing of our lives is how free we are to start again; to find a better path—from whatever wrong turn we or our world may have taken.
We are not caught forever in any error or confusion. The power is ours to move again.

Look at Yourself . . .
For whom has the power to move been given, if not for you, so that you can be responsible for meeting your own needs?
You have every right—indeed the obligation—to do so:
—the right to use your heart, your mind and your hand, to advance your standard of living; to enjoy the bless¬ing which today’s world makes possible.
—the right to seek and earn the respect of those around you; to achieve recognition of your talents and your efforts.
And who but you should strive for a better life for your family, a promising future for your children?

Look at Your Neighbor . . .
Aren’t his children as dear to him as yours are to you?
Isn’t his self-respect as necessary to his as yours is to you?
And if he is denied the freedom and opportunity to serve his own needs, to fulfill his obligations, to enjoy his rights, what happens to you?
For you are your neighbor’s neighbor.
And it is only together that you can possibly achieve the kind of community you want for yourself, for your own family and for the family of man.

Look at the World . . .
Even as we can reach out our hand to give or to take, to build or to tear down, so men everywhere can now easily move their ideas, their values and themselves, to any cor-ner of the earth—to give or to take, to build or to tear down.
Whether as an individual, a family, a community or a nation, we are no longer alone.

We all live in one place.
Thus, there is no longer any such thing as poverty “there.” It is poverty “here.”
There is no such thing as ignorance “there.” It is ignor¬ance “here.”
There is no such thing as oppression “there.” It is op¬pression “here.” Again, this is the wonder and the challenge of our lives.
As we seek wisdom and freedom and sustenance for our¬selves, we can only hope to reach and maintain these goals as we are concerned that others achieve them too . . . creating them together.
For…”If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, when?” (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14)