After two weeks without a mazel tov announcement, we are delighted to wish a hearty Mazel tov to our neighbors and friends Helene and Larry Sher upon the magnificent wedding earlier this week of their beautiful daughter Alex to Jonathan Feld, he of Miami Beach. Mazel tov to Dr. and Mrs. Seymour Feld, and to both extended families. May Alex and Jonathan enjoy many years of blissful marriage.
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
This week, before we get to the parsha – two of them- we will briefly (about two plus pages worth), be looking at a minhag yisroel (custom) the Oisviorfer knew nothing about growing up but which is in full bloom bazman hazeh (in our times). We will be discussing challah but first…
Last week we talked a bit about leap years; when, why and how often they come around. In order to complete all 54 parshas and specifically because we are not in a leap year and also because when yom tov falls on shabbis, we don’t lain the weekly parsha, from time to time, we need to double up a few in order to complete the annual reading of the heylige Toirah by Simchas Toirah before we start all over again. No parsha can be left behind. To accomplish this, we will have the great pleasure this coming shabbis, of reading not only parshas Tazria which is chock full of information about purities, impurities, skin disease, bodily infections, swellings, rashes, boils, skin discoloration; and about a weird fungus that grows in houses and clothing, the role of the Koihen (priest) turned doctor who is charged with diagnosing and also helping to heal the conditions, but also Metzoira which, in even greater detail will teach us about various discharges and other seminal moments, if you chap, bodily fluids, puss, sores, rashes, discoloration, fungus, and more. These are difficult parshas to read and comprehend; a bar mitzvah for your son –even if born bo bayom -you should avoid at all costs. This is our 5th time around these parshas, most of the good humor and chaps have been reduced to previous writings and avada you are urged to check them out at www.oisvorfer.com. We will soon chazir a few, then learn a few new medroshim, ober ershtens………….
We begin with a myseh she-ho-yo, a true story. It so happened that this past shabbis, following the davening avada, the Oisvorfer found himself engaged in several conversations and was one of the very last to leave the sanctuary. Mamish at the door, he stopped to say good shabbis to one of the neshay chayil (women of valor) who told him that…..she, like hundreds of other women in our own community and mistama like thousands of orthodox and some not yet orthodox women, all over the country and world, had baked shlissel challah, a custom as mentioned above, not known to the Oisvorfer growing up but one that has firmly taken root in recent years. She also mentioned that she might not be able to get into her own house. What about using the key? Did she forget the key? Did her husband or one of the kids lock her out? Did the lock break or did she forget the key? None of the above.
Nu, before the rest and most important part of the story, and for those readers that haven’t a clue, let’s first properly introduce shlissel challah, or, literally translated, key challah. Every year, in honor of the first shabbis following Pesach, Jewish women, young and old, mostly orthodox but not necessarily so (it’s not a prerequisite for partaking), and mostly of Ashkenazi descent, have the minhag (custom) of placing a key (usually the key to their own house), inside the dough of a challah being baked for shabbis. And taka last Friday morning, though a painter was scheduled for the kitchen ceiling or maybe because he was scheduled, the eishes chayil was up at the crack of dawn preparing the dough for the annual baking of the ‘shlissel challah’. What the hec is a shlissel challah efsher you’re wondering? Shoin in plain English, a shlissel challah is either a challah baked in the shape of a key or a regularly shaped challah baked with a key inside the challah.
How does one make shlissel challah? It’s quite simple: Take one brass key, add it into the challah dough once formed, bake as directed and shoin. When fully baked, one has shlissel challah. Is that really it? Of course not! As is the case with most if not all Jewish customs, there are differences of opinion on how shlissel challah is made and not everyone agrees that sticking a key mamish into the mix of the challah dough is what’s called for by whoever invented the custom. Shoin! Some dispense with the key and instead bake the challah into the shape of a key as depicted above. Who does what and why? Seemingly, real challah purists to whom a challah is not really a challah unless it looks like a challah, insert the key into the challah dough, while others use challah dough but shape it into a key. According to an internet survey (imamother.com), of 88 shlissel challah bakers, 61% insert the key into the challah mamish,13% baked their challah into the shape of a key, and another 17% do neither. Of course that does not add up to 100% but who cares? Let’s go veyter.
When did this start and why do women stick keys into challas? Givaldige questions; here then a few answers. Why a few? Because, not everyone agrees as to a start date for the custom, nor on why Jewish women in increasing numbers -from tens to efsher a few hundred thousand- around the world and now also including modernishe, chassidim, misnagdim, baalei tshuva, ffbs (frum from birth), ONPs (orthodox non practicing), those considering orthodoxy, those considering a trip to Israel and many others, are baking shlissel challah. Moreover, even Sephardic women have joined the burgeoning shlissel challah revolution. Images of shlissel challah, in some very interesting shapes, are today found and being disseminated on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other popular internet social media outlets. We of course thank the RBSO for allowing the internet to be invented; how else would a beginner know how to shape a challah?
There is a lot more to say about shlissel challah, its origins and different reasons why the custom began and has exploded ober, let’s get back to the story of how shlissel challah affected one women just last shabbis. Nu, there we were exchanging pleasantries when she told me azoy: I baked several shlissel challas two nights ago for myself and a few neighbors and friends. So far so good…ober it wasn’t! In performing this minhag as a purist by putting a key into each challah, she had collected keys from different friends and neighbors. She carefully placed one key into each challah before the baking process. The challahs were beautiful; she is a taka a very good baker! Seemingly, challah bakes better when some brass typically but not always wrapped in aluminum foil is introduced as extra ingredients, ver veyst. Next: she handed out the challahs to various neighbors and friends. And shoin! On shabbis morning, she left the house but was locked out! Seemingly the wrong challah was kept, meaning that some friend or neighbor had her challah and her key. Oy vey! Nu, the good news is that it’s mostly women that are busy with this activity. Had a man been involved zicher he would have been trying his luck at different doors, if you chap.
And to wrap this all up, just last week, the Oisvorfer listened to a shtikel talk by Rabbi Avi Miller, he the rising superstar assistant rabbi at Beth Sholom who gave an excellent overview on the topic and also shared his notes with the Oisvorfer. Here then, with very broad editorial license by the Oisvorfer, the Spark Notes edition of what Rabbi Miller had to say.
Seemingly the practice is not found anywhere in the heylige Toirah, Mishna or Gemora. One of the 613 mitzvois it is not! The minhag seems to have started in the mid 1700’s and we know this because the earliest reference is from Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro who was born in 1726. A second source comes from the Apter Ruv, he known for his preaching of Ahavas Yisroel (loving every fellow Yid). He was born in 1748. Neither of them talks about inserting a key into the challah. There is some mention of shaping the challah into a key or the making of an imprint of a key but no key!
Vus epes a key? Says the Imrei Pinchas azoy: we bake shlissel challah in honor of the shabbis following Pesach because during Pesach the gates to heaven were opened and seemingly stay opened until Pesach Sheyni (second Pesach), a holiday and topic we will cover as it draws closer. It will be here in 10 days. We will not be traveling, selling chometz, eating like chazerim or fighting for lounges on Pesach Sheyni. In any event, the key in the challah or the challah shaped like a key is to remind us that the gates of heaven are taka open and that we should take advantage of the RBSO’s receptivity to our prayers during this time period. In other words: daven better, efsher you will merit a response.
Ober the Apter Ruv cites several other reasons for this minhag, some of which seemingly resonate with the many thousands that bake this special challah. Ershtens….and efsher the most popular of all, it’s maybe a sigula (merit) for parnasa (livelihood). How so ? Ver veyst? Seemingly, we accept that up in heaven, all our needs are compartmentalized, meaning that every one of our needs is found at a different gate or window. The shlissel (key) is inserted so that we can channel the parnasah gate to stay open thereby allowing for less stress as we toil away trying to earn a living. The key is symbolic of this particular gate, the money gate. We are asking through challah dough for the RBSO to keep us in mind with other dough.
Shoin, when money is in play and all it takes is the baking of some shlissel challah, it’s no wonder that the popularity of this custom increases yearly. In general, women either bake alone or get together for a group bakeoff with the common belief and hope that baking shlissel challah will bring many brochos (blessings) into their houses and specifically, the blessing of an improved livelihood. Sounds like a decent plan. Ober in recent years, the Oisvorfer has received email at different times of the year and from different people getting together to bake challah as a segula (merit) on behalf of a sick person. They believe and maybe they are correct, ver veyst, that the collective prayers recited by the many woman baking in unison, can also open another gate, the gate of healing. Why not? When it comes to illness, no stone should be left unturned and every gate needs to opened, especially the gates of mercy. On the other hand, is it acceptable to rely on die-cut brass (key) as an intermediary between us and the RBSO? Or, should we just daven nicely and ask the RBSO for help? On the other hand, is it any worse than going to a rebbe or a mikubal or some other voodoo and asking for him to intervene? Ver veyst? On the other hand, can it hurt? The bottom line: as long as one is careful not to bite into the key and especially careful not to open the wrong door of a neighbor’s house, if you chap, vus ken es shattin (how can it be harmful)?
Ober what happens if you are not a challah baker? Should you lose out on this auspicious time to ask for an easier parnasah? And there’s good news to report: the kosher bakeries have gotten into the act and have finally found a way to fight back against weaker challah sales during the first week following Pesach due to the many veyber who are busy baking shlissel challah. Bakeries last week were offering shlissel challah for sale? Efsher it’s a master key, ver veyst?
Ober not all Yiddin have accepted this minhag and some even argue that baking shlissel challah is rooted in non-Jewish origins. They suggest that the custom of baking of a key inside a challah or bread has its foundation in Christian, and possibly even earlier, pagan culture, oy vey. In Christianity, baked goods associated with keys are commonly called ‘Easter breads,’ Some rabbis rail against this minhag on those grounds ober the emes is azoy: given that their protestations might adversely affect one’s pocketbook, their cries are falling mostly on deaf ears. The shlissel challah movement is alive and well. It continues to grow and is seemingly here to stay.
Shoin, here we are on page four, let’s say a few words about the parshas. As mentioned above, Tazria starts us off with a discussion about purity and impurity, including the impurity that comes with childbirth. Is childbirth dirty? We will discuss that below. It and parshas Metzora are also about skin disease and bodily infections; about swellings, rashes, boils and skin discoloration. And about a weird fungus that grows in houses and clothing. Finally, they are about the role of the koihen (priest) in diagnosing and healing these conditions. In both Tazria and Metzoira, the koihen is elevated to doctor status. Though untrained in the diagnostic or healing of any other any other physical malady, he’s the Toirah declared expert on tzora’as. It’s the koihen acting as the doctor that carefully checks, attends to and makes diagnoses. It’s the koihen that makes the decision to isolate the afflicted from the community and it’s also the same koihen’s job to put the afflicted through a series of rituals finally allowing for the person to rejoin his/her community.
The good news: none of these laws pertaining to the treatment of tzora’as exist today. More good news: there is no tzora’as as described in the heylige Toirah in today’s times. That being the case, why are we still learning these parshas? Because the RBSO dedicated kimat two entire parshas of His heylige Toirah to theses afflictions and their treatment. Mistama He wants us to have some basic background and who better than the Oisvorfer to shed some light and color?
Let’s quickly review one or more tidbits previously covered. Back in 2011, we discussed these few impactful words from Tazria where Moishe taught the Yiddin about reproduction. Says the heylige Toirah azoy “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be unclean for seven days; as [in] the days of her menstrual flow, she shall be unclean.”
Generations before scientific journals and other at-home experimentation techniques put forth various theories on gender selection, the heylige Gemora (Nidda 31a) summed it all up in but a few words. “If the woman gives seed first, she gives birth to a male; if the man gives seed first, she gives birth to a female.” Shoin, now you chap why we taka have so many more girls than boys and of course a shidduch crisis on our hands. Men are giferliche chazerim. Were they to exercise a shtikel control, and allow for their partners to seed first, if you chap, avada we’d have a few more boys. Case closed; we don’t argue with the heylige Gemora. Shoin, while you’re paying attention, lets’ chazir posik Vov (6) which says azoy: “And when the days of her purification have been completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring a sheep in its first year as a burnt offering, and a young dove or a turtle dove as a sin offering, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, to the Tent of Meeting, to the koihain.”
You hear this chiddish (breakthrough) Raboyseyee? Seemingly, having a baby is epes a shtikel sin. Es farshteytzich (understood) that having sex and then a baby with anyone else but one’s husband could be a sin ober what crime did the mother commit in having a baby with her own husband? Didn’t the RBSO command Odom and Noiach, each (twice), to be fruitful and multiply? He did! Why should a mother be declared unclean for fulfilling this great mitzvah? And why must she offer a Korban Chatos (sin offering)?
Ober said the heylige Tanna Reb Shimon bar Yochai (Nidda 31a) in response to a kasha posed by his talmidim, azoy: When she kneels in labor, she swears impetuously that she will have no intercourse with her husband. The heylige Toirah therefore ordained that she should bring a sin offering [to atone for her false oath.] Ober judging from many the Oisvorfer has spoken to on this topic, it would appear that the women did not swear falsely; grada, she meant it, mamish! Horaya (as proof positive), it’s avada known that the more children one has with his eishes chayil, the less sex they will have on an ongoing basis (forever). We can therefore kler (posit) that when she made that oath, she really meant it. Why would a person who spoke the emes be required to bring a korban to atone for a sin? Ober, veyst zich ois (it appears) that a korban chatos is taka in order but not because of the physical process of giving birth, Instead, she is required to bring the korban to atone for her ill-advised thoughts of not servicing her husband properly (and often), following childbirth. Shoin, guilty as charged!
In Parshas Metzoira, we learned all about loshon horo. We also learned about emissions and discharges. We previously covered these topics. Though many of you are mistama discharge and emission experts, it won’t kill you to read them again. On the other hand, if you continue discharging and emitting, if you chap, you could be in serious trouble. Shoin; back to loshoin horo. Does the heylige Toirah mention loshoin horo? Not! Ober our rabbis, grasping at straws in trying to curtail excess loshoin horoh, connected the entire tzora’as gisheft to loshoin horo and suggest that one who speaks loshoin horo will become afflicted with tzoras’as (leprosy). This person is called a Metzroia. Tora’as is manifested by white and or red patches on the skin, and bodily inflammations and distortions. Tzora’as can appear anywhere on the person’s body, including the house and or clothing. Whatever and wherever: if one has it, one needs to be purified. As well, the house and the kleider (clothing) he wore. Ober how does one recover from the affliction? Antibiotics efsher?
Says the medrish azoy: a person gets tzora’as by speaking loishoin horah (ill) of others. Simple enough and who can’t relate? Moreover, this explanation seems to be the prevailing and accepted pshat. Ober shtlet zich di shaylo (the question arises), if that’s taka emes, why aren’t all the Yiddin walking around with tzora’as? Doesn’t everyone one or kimat everyone, speak loshoin horo? They do! Sadly, mistama you can count on one or two fingers the number of people you encountered in your lifetime that didn’t engage, -avada some more than others- in loshoin horah? Said Reb Yoichanan in the name of Rev Yoiseph ben Zimra: One who bears evil tales will be visited with the plague of tzora’as. And said Resh Lokish: What is the meaning of the verse, “This shall be the law of the metzoira” (possik #1 of the parsha)? It means: This shall be the law for him who is motzi-shem-ra (play on words): one who gives a bad name through slander. Our sages avada bring various proof texts, including references to our great leaders Miriam and Moishe to show how even she was afflicted after speaking ill of others (her own brother).
Says Rashi: the RBSO mamish abhors loshoin horo and that the signs of tzara’as for someone speaking loshoin horo (evil speech) appeared immediately ober (but) in other cases where tzara’as might be found, it appeared gradually so as to give one a chance to do teshuva (repent). Ober could it be the case that since all Yiddin spoke loshoin horo and all were immediately hit with tzora’as that they all looked the same? And to one another, they all looked normal? Ver veyst? And says the medrish azoy: Every word that has ever comes out of our mouths is taped up in himmel (Heaven) and will be replayed for us one day. Yikes! Being taped is never good!
And says the heylige Gemora (Erachin 15b-16a): Because of seven things the plague of tzara’as is incurred: slander, bloodshed, false oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy. Most of you are guilty of at least two of these on a regular basis, perhaps more. And according to this Gemora, wouldn’t you expect a great majority of the Yiddin to be afflicted with some form of the machla (disease)?
Ober says the Baal Haturim: Tzara’as has nothing to do with loishon hora (thank the RBSO) and that afflictions came upon the Yiddin for the chayt ho’eygel (sin of the golden calf). Seemingly, the Yiddin paid a huge price for this debacle. He also says that the RBSO gave the Yiddin tzora’as as a punishment going back to the temptation of the nochosh (snake) -and according to some- his success in chapping Chava, if you chap. And….because of the entire Odom, Chava and snake debacle, women became infected with discharges, and the snake with tzara’as. That was zicher the first recorded case where the snake was up to no-good; not much has changed since.
In any event, if a person has an outbreak of tzora’as anywhere, he must immediately call his local koihen as they he is the responsible party charged with the identification, purification and the recovery process of the metzoira. Only he can diagnose, identify the disease, cause the carrier to be expelled from his house and even his community. Did the koihen get paid or , accept insurance, ver veyst. Did he waive the co-pay? It stands to reason that some money did change hands since only he could atone for and purify the patient.
We close with a thought from the Sefas Emes who used a play on words to find a spiritual message in Tazria and Metzoira. The Hebrew word for skin is “oir”. It is spelled with the letter ayin. The word “oir” also means light, but this word begins with the aleph. Said the Sefas Emes so gishmak azoy: we began as beings with garments of light. Odom and Chava (Eve) were clothed in garments of light until they ate from the eytz Hoda’as (tree of knowledge of good and evil). The RBSO expelled them and clothed them in garments of skin. We still wear these two garments. Our spiritual self is our garment of light, and it is covered by our corporeal self, covered by skin. We let our spiritual-self shine through only in moments. The more spiritual balance we have in our lives, the more our radiance shines through. And it shines through our pores. Ober when we are stressed and unbalanced, or, if we find oursleves struggling, we close off this light. Our pores close, causing a state of tzara-as. In ancient times Aharoin and his sons, and then later other koihanim, would diagnose this and help those in need, to purify. Ober in our times, it’s up to us to discover our spiritual core, and how to bring this light out into the world. To let our light shine through. And how do we open up the pores to let our spiritual selves through? Says the Oisvorfer azoy: we can efsher open our pores through less loshoin horo, acts of loving kindness and maybe through being more welcoming to those that have temporarily been expelled from their own homes or even community for whatever reason. We can reach out to those that are down on their luck; be it from a failed venture, marriage or any other of a plethora of life’s stressors. Like the koihen in the old days, we can help them purify and start anew.
A gitten shabbis
The Oisvorfer Ruv