Parshat Vayakel: Removing The Mask

25 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Mrs. Shira SmilesParshat Vayakhel: Removing the Mask

There is an intriguing juxtaposition in Parshat Ki Tisa and Parshat Vayakel. In Vayakel, Hashem first tells Moshe to command the Jews about the mitzva of Shabbat and he singles out the prohibition of kindling a flame. He then tells the people about the mitzva of building the Mishkan. In contrast, Parshat Ki Tisa, which is a culmination of Parshat Terumah and Tezaveh and the building of the Mishkan, begins with the mitzva of Shabbat. Why the switch and why does the Torah continually connect Shabbat with the Mishkan?


The Siftei Chaim notes that Adam lived a pure existence before the sin of eitz hadaat. Every action he performed, even if it was physical, was entirely sanctified. His only goal was to do the will of Hashem. After the sin, Adam was thrust into a world of confusion. Suddenly he acquired busha (shame), which is a contradiction between what one knows to be correct and his actions. Every action from then on contains a mixture of good and evil, to the extent that man could now never say that his motives were completely altruistic.  Before the sin, Adam’s food did not require preparation. After the sin, producing bread became a long arduous process. This reflects life in microcosm. Life is about working with a mixture of good and evil and extracting the grains of goodness.


On Shabbat we can reach the state of Adam before the sin. All week long we mimic building the Mishkan by taking the physical and elevating it for Hashem. On Shabbat we enter a dimension of Gan Eden where we don’t need to work and can still achieve this same level of spirituality. Shabbat is about rejoicing with the kingship of Hashem. On this day we crown Him as master.  Our sages say that on Shabbat we receive an extra soul, an expansiveness of the heart. We can enjoy physical pleasures and our souls will not despise them because on Shabbat both the physical and spiritual work in tandem. Rav Wolbe notes that this level can be reached with the first kezayit of challa at the meal. If you consume it as if you are eating that first piece of matza at the seder, you can experience a foretaste of The World To Come.


At matan Torah, when the Jews completely nullified themselves before Hashem, they reached the state of Adam before the sin. After chet ha’egel they lost this level again. However, our Sages say that Moshe retained it. The parsha notes that he had a keren or, his face shone and he needed to wear a mask in order to speak to the Jewish people. His face, a reflection of his inner being, embodied a perfect melding of physical and spiritual. On Shabbat we return to this level.

The Netivot Shalom teaches that Shabbat is a propitious time for teshuva. The mask we wear all week long is lifted. We can return to our inner essence. Shabbat is a time to meditate on our true selves. Every Jew can recognize that life is about elevating the physical to the spiritual and about coming closer to Hashem. Our challenge is to take this message into our week and create a Mishkan for Hashem. The models of this were the women in Mitzrayim. They knew how to live Shabbat during the week. The Ibn Ezra writes that they were so committed to Hashem that they donated their mirrors, signifying their preoccupation with physicality, and came to the Ohel Moed to pray and learn.


Rav Kanatovsky notes that the reason for the reversal in the Parshiot is to teach us that we need to buttress the fundamental aspect of Shabbat-connection to Hashem, with action. Shabbat is the focus of Jewish belief. We need to recognize that we are not in control. Our job is to do our part, but ultimately the results are up to Hashem. This is why the Torah singles out fire. Fire symbolizes man’s mastery over the universe. The suspension of this act represents relinquishment of control. Shabbat is about recognizing that there is a larger force behind our everyday actions. Similarly, the word vayakhel means community. We belong to something bigger than ourselves.


The Klei Yakar writes that Ohel Moed reflects the womens’ tents. The greatest accomplishment of a woman is dedicating herself to a greater aspect of self, namely her home and family.  May our efforts to reach these lofty levels bring ourselves, those close to us, and all of Klal Yisrael to true sheleimut.

Help! My Child Hates Reading!

23 02 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Questions and Answers for Today's Jewish Woman,Part 3


My daughter is a wonderful girl, does fine in school, and helps a lot around the house.  The problem is that she hates reading. She’d rather sit on the couch and do nothing. She loves going shopping, which also concerns me. I try to explain that we only go shopping when there is something specific we need, but she isn’t satisfied. Is this a battle I that I should choose?


Different people like different things. You need to learn to accept your daughter for who she is. If she is not a reader, that’s ok. She is doing well in school, which means she is responsible enough to read when she has to.

Let her be. Your role is not to figure out how to get her to enjoy reading, but rather to find out what speaks to her. Most non-readers enjoy doing rather than focusing on their inner life. Shopping involves interacting with people. There is a lot of movement and excitement.

Your daughter may be more of a people person rather than a book person. See how you can channel her drives in a healthy way. Anything with people will probably make her happy. Find out if there are drama or singing clubs in your area. Summer camp would be marvelous, if you can afford it. When she gets older, you can encourage her to run a day camp for younger kids. If her passion is clothes, see if you can find a designer course for girls her age.

If you don’t see more than shopping on the “I like list,” then go shopping. Once in a while take a trip into town and devote the afternoon to looking around for things with her.  Don’t view it as a waste of time but rather as spending quality time with your daughter. If she sees you making an effort to make her happy, it will make all the difference in fostering a continued positive relationship with her.

Shabbat Scenarios: Sewing Science-Tofer/Koreah Part II

22 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

Sewing Science: Tofer/Korei'a Demonstrations part 3In order to violate the Torah prohibition of Koreah, tearing, one must do so for the sake of Tofer, sewing. This law is derived from the times of the Mishkan. Moths would eat circular holes into the curtains. These holes were hard to mend. They needed to be torn into a kind of line to be sewn up. This is an example of destructive action that is transformed into constructive action. Most poskim agree that tearing for a constructive purpose, although not for the sake of Tofer, is still a Torah prohibition of Koreah.

·Tearing open the sewn-up pocket of a new garment is prohibited on Shabbat.

·According to the Mishna Berura, one may not slit a sealed envelope open on Shabbat.

·Ripping paper towels, garbage bags, or toilet paper from a roll involves not only Tofer, but also Mechatech, cutting to a specific size. The accepted custom is to use pre-cut bags and tissues on Shabbat. In a situation involving human dignity, rabbinic prohibitions are waived. Therefore, tearing toilet paper with a shinui (in an unusual manner), is permissible when there are no other options, as long as it is not torn on the perforated lines.

·Opening food packages in a destructive way (being careful not to tear any printed letters) is permitted on Shabbat.

·Opening the tab on a closed cereal box is both Mechatech and Koreah. The box should be opened at the side or from another area which does not involve ungluing or tearing the perforation. The best solution would be to open it before Shabbat.

·One may not separate the pages of a new book on Shabbat. This involves Koreah in addition to Makeh B’patish.

Mesilat Yesharim- Perishut: Controlling Your Desires

21 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen

The Chovet Halevovot writes in Shaar Haprishut that there is a nishmat chaim, a living breath, within each of us that is a chelek Elokai mi’maal, a part of Hashem from above. Because we are spiritual beings, Hashem wants our minds to prevail over our selfish desires. The mishna in Avot states, “Who is mighty? One who conquers his evil inclination.” Sin starts with taavah (desire). It is not an intellectual decision. Sin begins when a person’s desires control his intellect. Instinct entices us to indulge in the pursuit of materialism. Therefore, a person should attempt to refrain from material pleasures and concentrate on his soul and how to come closer to Hashem. Dovid Hamelech explains that although a person may abstain from physical enjoyment, if in his heart of hearts, he still desires these indulgences, his thoughts may set him on the wrong path.

In Chelkei Haperishut, the Mesilat Yesharim delineates three areas in which a person can practice prishut: hana’ah, dinim, and minhagim.  To abstain from hana’ah means enjoying the minimum pleasures of this world.  If material pursuits such as clothing, food, listening to music, or exercise help a person in his avodat Hashem, then these activities are productive and bring him closer to G-d.

The Gemara in Shabbat describes how Dovid Hamelech would wake up at night and play the harp. The music would elevate his soul until he reached such lofty levels that he would receive Divine inspiration. The Gemara cites this as a classic example of simcha shel mitzva. Any material enjoyment that leads to a higher level of self-development is good and is achieving its destined purpose.

When one is unsure how to proceed, a person should ask himself, “What will be the result of this action? Will it lead me to perform more mitzvot or will it lead me astray?” 

Prishut b’dinim means being stringent even if halacha does not demand it. This needs to be carefully considered. Sometimes the observance of a chumra may lead to a kulah. In addition, only those at a certain level of kedusha can take upon themselves such extra stringencies.

Prishut minhagim is separating from people who may lead one to sin. This refers to common folk and day-to-day talk which can lead to lashon hara and levity. The Mesilat Yesharim does not advocate hiding from people. On the contrary, Torah is compared to fire. It must be studied in a group. A single match extinguishes itself. Two candles have the potential to burst into flame. Studying Torah together with others is powerful and has lasting influence.

What are ways to acquire perishut? The Mesilat Yesharim notes that one should look at the downside of physical desires. One should realize that pleasures can lead to the destruction of man. The proof is Chava and the sin of the eitz hadaat. The Ramchal first notes that one should not follow after one’s eyes. External appearances might be appealing, but internally there is nothing really there. The eitz hadaat was appealing and prompted her to succumb to sin.

Every sin has a yetzer tov that tells the person of the reward he will receive if he controls himself. The yetzer hara tells him to enjoy life at the moment. A person should accustom himself to think that this world is only an antechamber to the next world. Going to a house of mourning helps one acknowledge the transience of life. Spending time in a place of Torah leads to contemplation of our purpose on this earth. It is so easy to sink into the mores of our times which advocate making life as easy and enjoyable as possible. In reality, this leads a person away from true sheleimut. Taavot of olam hazeh don’t have lasting permanence. The elevation and spiritual growth one attains through perishut is eternal.

Parshat Ki Tisa: Bound to Our Creator

18 02 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Ki Tisa

Parshat Ki Tisa tells the pivotal sin of cheit ha’eigel (the sin of the golden calf), the subsequent breaking of the luchot, and Moshe’s prayer for forgiveness. In his exchange with Hashem, Moshe asks, “Let me see Your glory.” Hashem responds, “You will see My back, but My face you shall not see.” What was the back of Hashem that Moshe was privileged to see? Rashi explains that it was the knot of Hashem’s tefilin.

The Shem Mishmuel explores this puzzling passage. He notes that tefilin refer to thinking. Hashem’s tefilin are an allegory for His thoughts. According to halacha, when a man wears tefilin he must focus entirely on holiness and on the messages contained within the tefilin. Moshe had an incredibly close relationship with Hashem, more than any other human. Therefore, he had a connection to tefilin, which means connection to Hashem in thought.

Our tefilin speak about ahavat Hashem, His oneness, the Torah, and yetziat mitzrayim. They are about Hashem’s greatness and how it impacts upon us. Hashem’s tefilin are a mirror image of our own. They focus on the uniqueness and loftiness of Klal Yisrael, and Hashem’s love and loyalty to us. He created an unbreakable bond between Himself and the Jewish people. This is the knot of tefilin that Hashem showed Moshe.

The knot of tefilin hints that we are bound and knotted to Hashem in an eternal relationship. Hashem is with us in every situation we find ourselves in. Hashem describes himself as “hashochen itam b’toch tumotam, who dwells among the Jews even though they are defiled.” Just as a parent will never abandon his child, Hashem will always remain loyal to us, no matter how far we have strayed. True love is a balance between chesed and din. Sometimes Hashem sends us retribution, as a father who must punish his son. Still he remains our loving father. This is the indestructible knot of Hashem’s tefilin. The Jewish people accepted the Torah unquestioningly, proclaiming the words “Naaseh V’neshma.”  We are absolutely committed to our Creator. In return, we know Hashem will remain eternally loyal to us.

Why was Moshe the first to understand this irrevocable connection? When he descended with the luchot and saw that the Jews had sinned with the egel, he broke the tablets. His reasoned that if the Jewish nation were destined to be decimated, he wanted to die with them. Because of his incredible loyalty and self-sacrifice for his people, Hashem revealed to him the secret of the kesher shel tefilin. This message of faith has kept us alive as a nation throughout our long exile. This ray of hope will bring us to the final redemption.

Shabbat Scenarios: Sewing Situations – Tofer

16 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

The Prohibition of Tofer/ Sewing: Tofer Demonstrations

·The Mishna Berura notes that inserting a safety pin once into a garment is permitted, but making two “stitches,” i.e. sticking the pin into the cloth twice, is prohibited. This is based on the Korban Netanel who rules that a pin has the same halachic status as thread. Rav Moshe differs and maintains that a safety pin is not much different than a button and is permitted, if it will be temporary and is clearly noticeable.

·Brooches are normally inserted once and are therefore permitted according to both opinions.

·Gluing or sticking two pieces of paper together is similar in effect to sewing. Therefore, it is prohibited on Shabbos in the category of sewing.

·Diapers with adhesive tape should be opened before Shabbat. Taping the diaper onto a baby is permitted, as it is meant to be temporary. You should be careful when removing a soiled diaper not to close the tabs around the diaper, since they will remain that way permanently in the garbage. Diapers with velcro tabs are permitted because velcro achieves its stickiness by hooking, not by gluing. Today, most diapers are manufactured with a combination of velcro and adhesive tabs. Therefore, l’chatchila, one should be careful to open them before Shabbat and not re-stick the tabs when disposing.

·Stickers and Post-It notes should not be used on Shabbat.

·Magnets do not pose a problem of tofer, but may be a violation of kotev, writing.

·Suction cups have a medium of permanence and may be a violation of boneh, fixing something to a structure.

·Tightening or loosening the waistline belt of a skirt or pants is permitted.

Parshat Tetzaveh: Losing The Self

10 02 2011

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Parshat Tetzavah: Losing the Self

In Parshat Tetzaveh, Hashem tells Moshe to command the Jewish people, “Ve’yikchu eilecha shemen zayit zach, They shall bring for you pure olive oil.” This is in contrast to Hashem’s previous command in Parshat Teruma, where He says, “Ve’yikchu li teruma.” They shall bring an offering for me.” Why is there a distinction between the general command for donations to the Mishkan, for me, and the specific request for oil, which was brought for you?

The Shem Mishmuel explains based on a mishna in Avot. The mishna says there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. The fourth crown, a good name, overweighs them all. Why does the mishna note that there are three crowns when there are really four? Furthermore, if a good name means good deeds as the Bartenura explains, shouldn’t it be included in the crown of Torah? The midrash says that the crown of kingship corresponds to the Shulchan, which represents wealth, stability, and power. The Aron, which contained the luchot, signifies the crown of Torah. The Mizbeiach Hazahav corresponds to the crown of priesthood, and the Menora corresponds to the crown of good deeds. If the Menora was above all, why did it not have a crown-like ridge as part of its construction, as the other vessels did?

A crown symbolizes rulership and power. The Torah doesn’t encourage exercising control over others. Most people are slaves to their own passions. The Torah ideal is to be a king over your own spirit and desires. The crown of Torah, its laws and wisdom, give us the ability to rule over ourselves. The crown of priesthood, sublimates the kohen’s personal ambitions to serve Hashem.  The crown of kingship is given to the one who subdues his own personal interests for the good of his people. Indeed, the Jewish king is called the heart of the nation because his heart is not his own. It belongs instead to his nation.

The Shem MiShmuel discusses the idea of yesh and ayin. The three crowns of self-control use the yesh, the self, to attain goodness. The shem tov is ayin, losing oneself in Hashem’s vastness. Valued above the good performed for a person’s own goodness, the good performed solely for Hashem’s sake. This is the good beyond good.

Our sages say that olives are a bitter fruit and make one forget Torah. However, after they are pressed to a pulp and lose their identity, they transform into olive oil, highly prized for its outstanding qualities. This represents bitul hayesh, self nullification with the goal of producing something transcendental beyond the self.

We can now understand why Hashem first says “ve’yikchu li.” Hashem is saying, I will approve your actions in the yesh state. Hashem tells the Jews to use their powers of self to build the Mishkan. However, He then says, “Ve’yikchu eleicha.”  Eilecha refers to Moshe, who was the paragon of self- nullification. This is the shem tov, the shemen zayit, which is above the three crowns.

At some point, we must ascend to a higher level of bitul hayesh, of coming to the realization that we exist only as an extension of Hashem’s infinite all-encompassing being.

‘Rebbetzin Heller reassures, gives advice, heals guilt trips and far more’

9 02 2011

We recently received this wonderful comment from one of our members:

I’ve just registered with a few days ago and have gained sooooo much already!

I’ve laughed and cried at Rebbetzin Heller’s Question and Answer shiurim. Many of the questions reflect feelings that I have and have felt guilty about or wondered about frequently. Rebbetzin Heller is beautifully equipped to answer these questions and does so with such clarity and confidence; she reassures, gives advice, heals guilt trips and far more.

I am so grateful for this wonderful site. May Hashem reward all involved and may the classes help many many more people!

With much appreciation,

Esti Shindler

See for yourself what Esti find so inspiring about Rebbetzin Heller’s Q&A class:

Shabbat Scenarios: The Prohibition of Tofer-Sewing

8 02 2011

Based on a shiur by Rabbi Shimon Isaacson

The Prohibition of Tofer/ Sewing: Tofer Demonstrations

The Torah prohibition of Tofer involves binding two items together in a permanent way. The classic example is sewing two stitches and then making a final knot to hold the stitches in place.


·      Opening and closing a button, zipper, or Velcro tab is    permitted because it is not a permanent binding.

·      Pulling a loose thread tighter on a button is prohibited.

·      Stapling and taping may not be done on Shabbat.

·      Most authorities rule that human stitches fall under the prohibition of tofer. In life threatening situations, however, it is permitted.

·      There is a disagreement among the poskim whether one may pull the tabs off a band-aid on Shabbat. Rav Shlomo Z. Auerbach rules that it is permitted because it was not meant to stay there permanently. Sticking the band-aid on a wound is a temporary act and may be done if it will be taken off within 24 hours. If it will stay for more than that time, there are poskim who rule leniently and permit it. When one takes off the band-aid, one should open it and not slip it off like a ring. In addition, one should avoid pulling a band-aid off skin where hair grows to avoid tearing hair on Shabbat.

When is it ok to give in to someone else?

2 02 2011

Excerpted from Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller’s Question and Answer series on

Question and Answers for Today's Jewish Woman, Part 6

Can you explain the proper boundaries of being a vatran (giving in)?

Vatranut begins by seeing the other person as an extension of yourself. Parents instinctively do this with their children. You have to learn to bring more people into your picture. Being a shmatta means resentfully giving in when there are other possibilities. I would call this intentional martyrdom, which is what people choose because they enjoy making others feel guilty and beholden. People with low self-esteem tend to give in, because they can’t bring themselves to suffer even momentary disapproval from another person.

There is a huge difference when there are other alternatives and when you are giving in because of unhealthy reason. Martyrdom isn’t good for anyone. The boundaries of vatranut have to do with halachic priorities. A mitzva comes before other obligations. Something only you can do comes before something other people can do. For example, only you as your children’s mother can put your kids to bed in a way that will make them feel loved and cared for. If someone consistently asks you to drive them somewhere at that hour, you have to learn to say no.

A definable mitzva cannot be forfeited at the risk of doing an aveira. For instance, if right before Shabbat a friend requests a favor that might cause you to violate Shabbat, you are obligated to decline. Obviously, real emergencies and saving lives take precedence over almost everything else.

Learn to use your good judgment and common sense. Giving in is laudable, but never at the expense of neglecting your priorities.