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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!

We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.

Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, click on "Click here to respond" or email us at
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Parshas Tazria #1

Kedushah

"When a woman conceives [a child] and gives birth to a [baby] boy, she will be impure for seven days… and on the eighth day, the flesh of [the baby’s] foreskin will be circumcised” (Vayikra 12:2-3).

Shemini, the previous parashah, details the laws of impurity imparted by the carcasses of different types of animals. Tazria then lists the laws of impurity related to the human body, beginning with a new mother after childbirth. Rashi, citing the Midrash, points out that this order follows the sequence of Creation: animals and all other living beings were created before man, who came last.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch writes that this teaches us an important lesson. Man is the crowning glory of Creation, but he too, like the animals, is a physical being and in a sense, even lags behind them; he came last on line, so to speak.

Back and Front

Man’s status, for good and for bad, depends on what he makes of himself. The Midrash explains a passuk describing the creation of man: “Back and front You formed me” (Tehillim 139:5). If man is worthy, he is in “front,” the pinnacle of Creation, with all that came before him only secondary. However, if he is unworthy and sins, he is at the “back,” the very lowest of beings, the last and the least.

A child’s life begins in a state of ritual impurity – at birth, he causes his mother to “be impure for seven days.” His bris milah on the eighth day elevates and sanctifies him, starting him on the path to kedushah (Taam V’Daas, Vayikra 12:2). From then on, it is up to him to move forward on that path by imbuing his life with kedushah.

A Holy Nation

The Jewish people are an Am Kadosh, a holy nation (Devarim 7:6, 14:2, 14:21). What is kedushah, holiness?

Kedushah comes in many forms. One basic definition is not defiling ourselves with forbidden foods (Vayikra 11:43-45). Another is refraining from forbidden relationships (ibid. 19:2, Rashi). Chazal teach that kedushah means avoiding a life of excessive indulgence, even in permitted worldly pleasures (Yevamos 20a). In the Ramban’s famous words, a Jew should not be “a degenerate within the permitted bounds of the Torah” (Vayikra ibid.).

It is up to us to place ourselves “at the forefront” by living a life of kedushah. Otherwise, we are relegated to a “back seat.”

Question for Discussion:

As Jews, every area of our lives should be an expression of our role as Hashem’s holy nation. When did you witness kedushah in the actions of a fellow Jew?

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Responses:

Emanuel Newman, originally from New York, now a law student in Israel: I witnessed an expression of kedushah in the behavior of a frum driver in Israel whose car had broken down. When a car breaks down in New York, the driver typically stands near it, talking – more likely shouting – on his cellphone. He is obviously frustrated and even infuriated, and has zero patience.

What I saw in Israel was dramatically different. This man’s car had broken down, and he was stuck on the side of the road. Rather than fuming, he waited calmly in his car, learning from a sefer. He was able to pull out of this highly stressful situation and use his time wisely, knowing that every minute is precious. To me, this showed kedushah.

Laizer Kornwasser of Teaneck, New Jersey related an amazing experience: My wife and I were taking our four young children on a family trip on the East Coast of the United States. It was the Fourth of July, a legal holiday, and 103 sizzling degrees outside. Our car broke down on a remote highway in the middle of Maryland. With the garages all closed for the holiday, the soonest we could hope to have our car repaired was the following day. We were thankful to find a tow-truck to drop us off at a truck stop, but we were still literally stranded with our kids in the scorching heat, very far from home.

Unbelievably, a frum family “just happened” to drive through the forsaken truck stop. They saw my yarmulke, and pulled over to ask if we needed help. Chasdei Hashem! These total strangers immediately offered to take my wife and four kids to their home in Monsey. I would be able to join them there the next day, after the car was repaired. In the end, we decided together that they would drive us to the nearest airport. We would rent a car there until our own car was repaired, and continue our trip. This family from Monsey drove us to the airport, an extra hour each way for them, to help people they had never met before. Jews are truly a holy people!

Parshas Tazria #2

The Eye of Tzaraas

“The Kohen will see [the nega] after it was washed. And behold, [if] the nega has not changed its appearance, and the nega has not spread, it is impure” (Vayikra 13:55).

The Torah outlines the development and treatment of tzaraas, an ailment which afflicted the transgressors of a number of sins enumerated by Chazal (see Erchin 16a). Tzaraas began with discolored patches on the walls of the victim’s house, progressed to his clothing, and finally, to his own skin (Daas Zekeinim, Vayikra 14:34). The diagnostician who handled the case was not a physician, but a Kohen, and the course of treatment was geared towards arousing the sinner to repent.

When a nega (a discolored patch indicating the presence of tzaraas) appeared on a piece of fabric or leather, the Kohen would examine it and instruct the owner about how to proceed, including keeping the article in quarantine for seven days. If the Kohen saw that the nega had spread at the end of the seven days, it had to be burned. If it had not spread, the article was laundered, and quarantined for a second set of seven days. If the nega remained unchanged after the secondset of seven days, it was impure, and had to be burned.

New Perspectives

One of the sins which caused tzaraas was tzarus ayin, literally a “narrow” or begrudging eye. Tzarus ayin describes a stingy, self-centered individual. As Rashi (Erchin 16a) writes, “he begrudges others, and does not benefit his neighbors by lending them his utensils.” In Pirkei Avos, this particular trait is the first which differentiates the disciples of Bilam from those of Avraham Avinu: “[One who has] a good eye and a humble spirit and a modest soul is among the disciples of our Forefather Avraham. And [one who has] a bad eye and a haughty spirit and a covetous soul is among the disciples of Bilam the wicked” (Avos 5:19). Bilam’s “bad eye” is cause enough for tzaraas.

The Chiddushei HaRim derives an insight into the nature of tzaraas from the wording of our passuk: “If the appearance (ayin) of the nega has not changed… it is impure.” The word ayin literally means “eye.” On a simple level, this refers to the outer appearance of the nega, which has remained the same.

The Chiddushei HaRim explains it also as a reference to the “ayin,” the perspective or figurative “eye” of the individual afflicted with tzaraas. The nega has not changed his outlook at all – he still retains the same tzarus ayin he suffered from before the affliction and quarantine.

The Hebrew word nega alludes to this concept. Nega is spelled nun-ayin-gimel (נגע). Switching the position of the letter ayin changes the word to oneg, pleasure, spelled ayin-nun-gimel (ענג). If the victim of tzaraas can effect a switch in his personal ayin, so to speak, overcoming his tendency to tzarus ayin, his nega will be transformed to oneg (see Sefas Emes, Metzorah 5654).

The placement of the ayin makes all the difference. If a “good eye,” represented by the letter ayin, comes first, the misery of nega is transformed into the pleasure of oneg.

The Taker and the Givers

The “good eye” of the disciples of Avraham Avinu means searching for the positive in every situation. An incident in the life of Rav Eliezer Silver (1881-1968), the famed Torah giant who was the long-time rav of Cincinnati, Ohio, highlights this principle.

Rav Silver, a founder of the Vaad Hatzalah,visited the DP camps after the Second World War. One Jewish survivor was a man named Simon Wiesenthal, who would later earn international fame as a Nazi hunter. Mr. Wiesenthal avoided Rav Silver’s makeshift synagogue; an experience in the concentration camp had left him hostile to the idea of prayer. An inmate had smuggled in a prayer book, and Mr. Wiesenthal admired his courage and dedication… until he discovered that he was renting out fifteen minutes with the siddur to other inmates, in exchange for a quarter of their day’s rations. For the starving prisoners, this price was exorbitant, but many would still line up every day for those precious few minutes with the siddur. Ironically, the owner of the siddur died before his emaciated customers – his shrunken system could not handle the large quantities of camp soup he ate at their expense.

Simon Wiesenthal related that Rav Silver sought him out: “That night, Rabbi Silver came to see me. He was a small man who wore an American Army uniform without insignia. He had a small white beard, and his bright eyes shone with great kindness. He must have been at least seventy-five, but his mind was sharp and his voice was youthful. He put his hand on my shoulder.

“‘They tell me you’re angry with G-d,’ he said in Yiddish, and he smiled at me.

“I said, ‘Not with G-d, but with one of His servants,’ and told him what had happened.

“He kept smiling. ‘And that’s all you have to tell me?’

“‘Isn’t that enough, Rabbi?’ I asked.

Rav Silver told Mr. Wiesenthal something that would turn around his perspective on this painful story. “‘Du Dummer (you silly man),’ he said. ‘You look only at the man who took something. Why don’t you look instead at those who gave something?’” Yes, it was true that this one man had been a taker – he had exploited his campmates’ longing to pray for his own advantage. But this was only one side of the coin. On the flip side were all those other Jews, who had given up their last few ounces of food for the opportunity to pray. Why focus on the selfishness of one, and not on the dedication of many?

Mr. Wiesenthal concluded, “He touched me with his outstretched palm and left. I went to the services the next day. Ever since, I have tried to remember that there are two sides to every problem.”

Simon Wiesenthal had learned a lesson, taught in a few simple words by a gadol b’Yisrael, about viewing others with a “good eye.”

Question for Discussion:

How can we be more positive, and look for the good in others?

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