Get More Enthusiasm for Your Judaism!
שבת טעם החיים נשא תש"ע
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Naso 5770
Restrain for yourself but give to others
איש על דגלו באתת לבית אבתם יחנו דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם איש או אשה כי יפלא לנדר
נדר נזיר להזיר לה', speak to
the Children of Israel and say to them: A man or woman who shall dissociate
himself by taking a Nazarite vow of abstinence. (Bamidbar 6:2)
In this week’s Parasha the Torah instructs us regarding the phenomena of a Nazir,
one who takes a vow to abstain from wine. While the rules regarding what a Nazir
can or cannot do are straightforward, the Talmud’s perspective of the virtue of
a Nazir is not so clear. One opinion in the Gemara (Taanis 11a) maintains that
a Nazir is deemed to be a sinner, whereas a dissenting opinion posits that the
Nazir is referred to as a Kadosh, a holy person. Which opinion is
The Belzer Rebbe asks for cake and coffee
Rabbi Aharon from Belz (1880-1957) led an ascetic life, subsisting on the bare
minimum of food and drink and preoccupying himself with Torah study and intense
prayer. As a child, the Rebbe of Belz was attended to a by a man who pleaded
and cajoled with the future Rebbe to partake in some form of nourishment. Much
to the attendant’s dismay, however, Aharon refused his overtures. One day,
however, little Aharon summoned the attendant and requested a large piece of
cake and a hot cup of coffee. “Remember,” Aharon exhorted the attendant, “the
coffee must be steaming hot.” The attendant was overjoyed, and he hastened to
perform the bidding of the future Rebbe. When Aharon received the cake and hot
coffee, he promptly turned to a man in the synagogue and proffered upon him the
delicacies. The attendant expressed his surprise, and Aharon responded
accordingly. “This morning, upon exiting the ritual bath, I overheard this man
sighing, ‘if only right now I could have a delicious piece of cake and a hot
steaming cup of coffee.’ How can one hear the entreaty of a Jew and ignore it?
I immediately decided that this Jew should experience a happy moment in life, and
for that reason I requested that you prepare for him the cake and hot coffee.”
The Nazir is deemed to be a sinner and a holy person
A Nazir is a person who felt it necessary to abstain from the pleasures of this
world, and he therefore makes a vow that he will not partake in the drinking of
wine. The Hebrew word for a sinner is chotei, which means a lack. While
the Nazir himself may force himself to be lacking in physical indulgences,
there is no reason for him to abstain from helping others feel better about
themselves. Thus, a Nazir is simultaneously referred to as a Kadosh, a
holy person, because holiness is more than abstaining from materialism and
leading an ascetic life. Indeed, Rashi writes that that the portion in the
Torah referred to as Kedoshim, the command to be holy, was said by Moshe when
all of the Jewish People were gathered together. One can only achieve true
holiness when he is cognizant of another person’s needs.
We have just celebrated the festival of Shavuos when we commemorated the receiving
of the Torah. Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of the classic Halachic work
Aruch Hashulchan (1829-1908) writes that the festival of Shavuos is referred to
in the Torah as Atzeres, restraint, because the Jewish People were instructed
to abstain from physical indulgence prior to receiving the Torah. Nonetheless,
the Gemara (Pesachim 68b) states explicitly that all authorities agree that on
Shavuos we are required to partake in the consumption of food delicacies, as
this was the day when we received the Torah. The Jewish People stood at Sinai,
united in their acceptance of HaShem’s kingship and the receiving of the Torah.
It is fitting that while abstaining from physical indulgences they were
simultaneously united with their fellow Jews. The lesson of the Nazir and of
receiving the Torah is to strive for a higher spiritual life but to always
remember our fellow Jews who are wishing for that piece of cake and very hot
cup of coffee.
The Shabbos connection
Shabbos is a time when we are required to channel our desires and our will to the service of HaShem. Nonetheless, Shabbos is also an opportunity for us to
allow others partake in the physical delights of food and drink and family time
that can all be channeled to the service of HaShem. While it is important for
an individual to restrain himself from overindulging in materialism, one should
always be on the lookout to help others meet their physical needs.
"I really don't want to cause you any hardship, Mr. G. I like you very much. But my daughter is getting married soon, and I need the apartment for her," my landlord announced one day.
"Oy vey," I sighed. "We're going to have to move again." This was the fourth time
in ten years that we had received news like this. Those of you who own your
homes probably don't remember how much moving is such an awful pain in the
neck. Packing and unpacking are only minor parts of the difficulty. The hardest
part is finding new schools for the kids, and helping them adjust to their new
surroundings every time.
This time, we decided that we would try to find an apartment in the same neighborhood in which we had
been living for the past three years. That would at least resolve the
But to do that, we had to compromise on our standards, because the only apartment available in the
area was a tiny one on the top floor of an old walk-up building. But what won't
parents do for their kids?
And so, we packed our belongings and moved. This time, we were offered a five-year lease, with the
possibility of an extension. Wow! Five years without having to worry about
After unpacking, we acquainted ourselves with the neighbors, with the building's maintenance
committee, and then with "the old man." During the first few weeks after
our move, we didn't know that he existed. His door was always closed, and no
one seemed to enter or leave his apartment. In the beginning, we thought that
no one lived there. But one day, Mr. Simon, the head of the building's
maintenance committee, asked if I could do him a favor and collect the dues
from the old man who lived opposite us.
I was startled. "Do you mean that I've been living here for three weeks without knowing that I have a next-door neighbor?" I asked.
"He's an old man who lives alone," Mr. Simon said. "He doesn't mingle with the neighbors."
That evening, I knocked on the old man's door. When he opened it, a horrible stench assailed me.
"Shalom," I politely said. "I live across the hall."
"Shalom," he replied feebly. "What do you want?"
"The maintenance committee asked me to collect your dues. I was told that you owe them money for four months."
"Just a moment," he replied. Then he trudged inside in order to search for the
money. While I was waiting, I peeked into the apartment. The floor was filthy
and the house was dark and stuffy. The old man returned to the door and
apologized: "I haven't been to the bank for a long time and have only part
of the sum I owe. I'll bring you the rest in a few days. Good night."
That week, I didn't see anyone opening his door nor did I see anyone on the staircase, except for
members of my own family. I also didn't hear a peep from the old man's house.
"I guess he goes out in the morning when we're not home," my wife
ventured. Then she asked, "How does he lug his groceries and vegetables up
those stairs? You told me that he can barely walk."
"Who says that he's alive? Has anyone seen him recently? Mr. Simon said that the man has no relatives," I grimly replied.
"Perhaps he's sick and needs help," my wife stammered.
Everything that occurred from then on should be credited to my wife. She insisted that I knock
on the old man's door that very moment and ask how he felt. Then she put a
plate of freshly baked cookies in my hand and sent me on my way. I knocked on
his door and heard him shuffling about. The same old man answered, but this
time he looked even more ragged. I apologized for disturbing him and offered
him the cookies. At first he hesitated to take the plate and said that he still
had no money, but would try and pay the following week.
When I returned to my apartment, my wife said: "The fact that he has no money for the
maintenance committee can mean one of two things: either he really has no
money, or he can't go down to the bank to withdraw it. If he has no money, then
he probably has nothing to eat. If he can't go down to the bank, that means
that it's hard for him to walk. But if he can't go downstairs, who brings him
his groceries? How does he live?"
I understood her point. She was hinting that our neighbor needed help.
That evening, I knocked on his door again, another plate of cookies in my hand. "Can I come in?" I asked.
"If you wish," he stammered.
What can I say? I had never seen such a mess in my life. Everything was old, dirty, and run-down. He
showed me into his living room and apologized that he couldn't offer me a cup
of coffee, because he had no milk. "That's okay," I said. "We
have extra milk. How do you like your coffee?"
"Warm," he blandly replied.
"I'll be back in a jiffy," I said, and I returned home to my apartment. I told my wife that
she was right, and that he had no milk, and probably nothing else either. She
prepared a thermos of hot coffee and gave me a few disposable cups.
I went back to his apartment and, pouring him a steaming cup of coffee, said, "My wife hopes this will do until the morning."
His eyes lit up. "Thank you. I'll buy some milk tomorrow."
"I go to the store every day," I said. "It's not hard for me to bring a few more items upstairs. Can I buy something for you?
"If it's not hard for you," he said, "please bring me a container of milk and two rolls."
"That's all?" I asked in surprise. "I can bring you more."
"Okay," he replied. "Then bring me a container of yogurt too, and charge it to me."
We chatted a bit, and he told me that he had once lived in Tel Aviv, before moving to our
neighborhood. "At that time, the third floor didn't bother me," he
said. Then, with a bitter smile, he added, "I didn't think that I would
ever grow old and that three flights would one day be hard for me to
We spoke for a few more minutes and I said that we were renting our apartment and were happy that he
was our neighbor. "My wife is an orphan and my parents live in France. I
hope you'll be a surrogate grandfather (Zaidy) for my kids," I said,
promising to bring the children for a visit.
The next morning, I went to the grocery store and took rolls, milk, and yogurt for the old man.
When I asked the grocer to charge the items to the old man's account, he said:
"He hasn't paid his bill for a long time, and I can't give him any more
"No problem," I said. "Charge it to me." I paid for the old man's groceries for a long time, while he was certain that the grocer was charging him...
From the day I bought those first items for him at the grocery, I made it a habit to visit him. In
the afternoons, I would bring him light lunches. At first he was embarrassed,
but I told him that my wife loved to cook. Every evening, I came just for a
chat, bringing coffee and cookies with me.
A month later, he asked me to withdraw his recent pension payments from the bank, since he hadn't left
his house for a number of months. Actually, he had very little money in his
account, because his charges for utilities had been deducted directly from his
pension income, which wasn't very large. When I brought him the money, he told
me to pay his grocery bill, not knowing that I had been doing that all along.
Believing that he had paid his debts, he was so pleased that he sent me down to
buy a chocolate bar for the kids.
Every Friday afternoon my wife would tidy up his house. When he protested, she said, "You're our
Zaidy, and we love you." When she saw his bed, she was shocked. Without
much ado, she lugged in the brand-new bed we had bought for our children, and
told him that we had no room for it.
The old man was happy with the bed, and we bought the kids a cheaper one.
Within a few months, I knew all about him. He was a childless Holocaust survivor who had refused to
accept indemnities from the Germans and had earned his living by working at odd
jobs. His wife had died many years earlier, and he had lived alone since then.
Of course, he was too feeble to clean his apartment, and that was why it was in
such a state.
Five years passed, and we signed another five-year lease. Actually, before the first lease was up, my
wife and I considered moving to a larger apartment and taking the old man with
us. But in the end we rejected that idea, since elderly people don't like
The kids had begun to call him Zaidy, and he really was like a grandfather to them. He would test them in their school work and also liked to tell them stories.
One morning, he didn't wake up. He hadn't suffered from any particular illness and died without pain. We all wept at his small funeral and were sincerely bereaved.
We locked his apartment and had no idea what would happen to it. At the end of the shivah week, we
visited his grave. A few weeks later, we erected a tombstone over it, promising
that we would name either a child or a grandchild after him.
The next day, someone called us and asked if he could meet with me privately. He arrived at our house that evening and introduced himself as our late neighbor's lawyer.
"Fifteen years ago," the lawyer explained, "he asked me to help him prepare a will.
He said that he had no relatives and wanted to bequeath his apartment, the only
asset he owned, to an institution. I prepared a will. Before leaving he said:
'No one knows what tomorrow will bring. How will you know if I am still
"I said that I would call him once a week, and that if there was no answer I would check the apartment to see what had happened.
"For many years, I called him every Sunday. Two years ago, he called me and asked me to come over
with two witnesses. I arrived at his apartment with two of my clerks and he
changed his will. When I called him last Sunday, there was no answer, and so I
came by to pay him a visit. The grocer told me that he had passed away, and I
knew that I had to read the will in your presence."
I didn't understand why he had to read it in our presence, but after the reading of the will everything
became clear. Our elderly neighbor ― our Zaidy ― had bequeathed his only asset,
his apartment, to us.
We sold the old man's apartment, took a mortgage, and bought a larger apartment in the very same neighborhood.
We never expected any reward for the simple kindness we did. However, the Master Accountant sees, records, and reckons. (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Naso 5770
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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