"בורא מאורי האש"
“Who created the lights of fire”

QUESTION: What is the reason for looking at the fingernails?

ANSWER: When Hashem created Adam, his whole body was covered with protecting nails. After he committed the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the nail covering was removed from his body and remained only on the fingertips.

Adam actually sinned on Friday, but in honor of the holy Shabbat he was not punished till after Shabbat. From Friday morning till Motza’ei Shabbat there was light. When it suddenly became dark, Adam took two stones, struck them together, brought forth fire, and recited the blessing borei me’orei ha’eish. He then saw that he remained with nails only on his fingertips. As a remembrance of this, during Havdalah, which marks the end of Shabbat and the start of the weekdays, we look at our fingernails.

(עי' פרקי דר"א פי"ד, ספר המטעמים-ערך שבת-סי' קפ"ט, פרי מגדים בא"א סי' רצ"ח:ה, ושו"ע אדמוה"ז תקכ"ב:ה, וצ"ע שלא כתב כ"ז נמי בהל' שבת סי' שצ"ו:א)

* * *

Since Adam’s sinning and the subsequent punishment of remaining with nails only on the fingertips was caused by the woman, it is the custom of many women not to look at the fingernails when they recite the berachah of borei me’orei ha’eish.

(קצות השלחן סי' צ"ו בבדי השלחן י"ב)

Some also have a custom afterwards to open the hand and look at the back of the nails (Shulchan Aruch Harav 298:6).

The reason for first closing the hand and then opening it is to say that till now the hands were, so to say, tied and unable to do any work due to Shabbat restrictions. Now that it is after Shabbat, the hands are “released” and it is permitted for them to do work.

(שו"ת הר"ם מרוטענבורג ועי' רשימות כ"ק אדמו"ר חוברת קפ"א)

"המבדיל בין קדש לחול"
“Who made a distinction between sacred and profane.”

QUESTION: In the Gemara (Pesachim 113a) Rabbi Yochanan says that there are three who are among those who will inherit the World to Come. One of them is one who recites Havdalah over a cup of wine at the end of Shabbat. The Gemara explains that this means that he leaves over wine [in his cup] from Kiddush for Havdalah. (See Shulchan Aruch Harav 271:22.)

Why is this rewarded so greatly?

ANSWER: In addition to the literal meaning, this can be explained as an allegory. Kiddush introduces the holiness of Shabbat, when one leaves his daily mundane activities and ascends into a day of spiritual exaltation. Havdalah, on the other hand, brings one back to mundane, day-to-day life. Thus, Kiddush is a synonym for moments of spiritual elevation and Havdalah for ordinary day-to-day activities. Hence, the sages are telling us that one who brings some of the spirit of holiness into his daily mundane activities will live so as to earn Olam Haba — the World to Come.

(הדרש והעיון - בראשית)

"ויתן לך האלקים"
“May G‑d give you.”

QUESTION: Why does the prayer recited after Havdalah start with this verse, and why does it say, “haElokim“the G‑d” and not just Elokim — “G‑d”?

ANSWER: The name “Elokim” denotes “din”Hashem in His attribute of justice and severity. According to Kabbalists, however, when a hei is added as a prefix the name represents “rachamim” — “mercy.”

This verse is from the blessings that Yitzchak gave to Yaakov (Bereishit 27:28). Yitzchak’s intent was that even if, G‑d forbid, Yaakov was destined to experience Hashem’s attribute of din, it should be converted and turned into mercy.

Standing on the threshold of the new week, we recite passages of blessing and salvation to beseech Hashem that the coming week be blessed with success in abundant measure. By starting with this verse we allude that even if, G‑d forbid, something unpleasant was destined, His attribute of mercy should prevail and transform everything to our benefit and give us, “Of the dew of the heavens, and of the fatness of the earth.”

(ענף יוסף, מיוסד על ספר התמונה המיוחס לר' ישמעאל כ"ג ולר' נחוניא בן הקנה)

"וידגו לרב בקרב הארץ"
“May they increase abundantly in the midst of the earth.”

QUESTION: Rashi (Bereishit 48:16) says that Yaakov blessed them to multiply as the fish of the ocean. What was his motive in comparing them to fish?

Once the Roman government issued a decree forbidding Torah study. Papus ben Yehudah saw Rabbi Akiva conducting Torah classes and asked him, “Do you not fear punishment by law?” Rabbi Akiva answered with a parable: A fox was strolling along the riverbank and noticed fish swimming swiftly from place to place. He asked, “Why are you running?” They replied, “We are afraid of the net that people set up to catch us.” The fox slyly said, “Perhaps it would be wise to ascend to the shore and live together with me as my parents lived with your parents.” The fish responded, “You speak foolishly; if we are afraid in our native habitat, our fear will be even greater on land, where death will be certain.” Similarly, Torah is our source of life and may save us. Without it we will definitely perish (Berachot 61b).

Yaakov was instructing his children to always remember that just as a fish cannot live without water, so a Jew cannot exist without Torah; and he blessed them to “swim like a fish” in the “Yam Hatalmud” — the ocean of Torah study.

(בהיות הבקר - ר' שאול בראך ז"ל אב"ד קאשוי)

* * *

Alternatively, the life of a fish depends in a large measure on its vitality and ability to swim upstream. If it permits itself to be swept along by the current it will be in danger. It is only because the Creator has endowed the fish with the precious instinct of self-preservation, whereby it is able to swim upstream against the forces of the billowing waves, that it can survive.

Yaakov blessed his children to be capable and willing to swim upstream and resist the temptation of running with the herd and swimming with the tide.

(הרב דוב ארי' ז"ל בערזאן)

"והנכם היום ככוכבי השמים"
“And you are today as the stars in the sky”

QUESTION: In what ways are the Jewish people like stars?

ANSWER: The stars twinkle in the high heavens. By their light, even one who walks in the darkness of night will not blunder. Every Jew, man or woman, possesses enough moral and spiritual light to influence friends and acquaintances and bring them out of the “darkness” into the “light.”

(היום יום, ה' חשון)

* * *

When one stands on the ground and looks up to the sky, the stars appear to be minute specks. In reality the stars are larger than the earth. As we approach them we can begin to appreciate their size and beauty.

The same is true of a Jew. Although, he may superficially appear to be insignificant, as one becomes closer and gets to know more about him, one can perceive the great and beautiful “pintele Yid (spark of Judaism) within him.


"יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים"
“Make you so many more as you are now a thousand times.”

QUESTION: How big did Moshe bless the Jewish people to become?

ANSWER: If Moshe had said, “G‑d make you so many more as you areelef pa’am — one thousand times,” it would have meant that the population of six hundred thousand should be multiplied by one thousand, making the Jews nation of six hundred million.

Moshe’s berachah was much greater: By saying“elef pe’amim” he meant that their number should be doubled one thousand times. In other words, starting with six hundred thousand, after the first “adding to you as you are now” they will be one million two hundred thousand, then when this is doubled, they will be two million four hundred thousand, then four million eight hundred thousand, etc. Thus, as this is repeated one thousand times, the population will very quickly reach an astronomical figure.

(בינה לעתים, ועי' מד"ר דברים א:י"ג)

* * *

It is related that the king of Persia was very impressed with the person who created the game of chess and offered to grant him any wish. The man said to the king, “There are 64 squares on the chess board. I would be satisfied if you would put a grain of wheat in the first square and double it in the next, and so forth.” The king laughed about this meager request, but soon realized that he would not have enough wheat in his country to fill the request. In the second square there would be two grains, in the third square there would be four. In the tenth square there would be 512, in the twenty-first there would be over a million, and in the thirty-first there would be over a billion.

(מעינה של תורה)

"יוסף עליכם ככם אלף פעמים ויברך אתכם כאשר דבר לכם"
“Make you so many more as you are now a thousand times, and bless you as He promised you.”

QUESTION: Rashi (Devarim 1:11) writes that the Jewish people complained to Moshe, asking why he had set a limit to his blessing. Moshe responded, “The blessing of one-thousand times is mine, but may He bless you infinitely as He promised you.”

Why did Moshe specify one-thousand times in his blessing?

ANSWER: The name “Moshe” (משה) has the numerical value of three-hundred and forty-five, which is also the numerical value of א-ל ש-ד-י — “A-mighty G‑d.” When the letters of these two words are spelled out in full — אלף, למד, שין, דלת, יוד — the numerical value, counting the entire statement as one (known in Gematria as “im hakollel”) is one-thousand.

When the Jewish people complained that Moshe set a limitation on their blessing, he responded “Zeh-hu misheli” — “The one-thousand that I am giving you is absolutely all that I possess. I am giving you everything that is included in my name, and may Hashem bless you according to His Divine powers.”


"ברוך אתה בעיר"
“Blessed shall you be in the city.”

QUESTION: In the Gemara (Bava Metzia 107a) Rav says that this blessing means that one’s house should be close to the shul.

Are all those who don’t live close to the shul really lacking this blessing?

ANSWER: There are many people whose Torah observance is limited to the confines of the shul. In shul they conduct themselves very piously and are very friendly and congenial with all the people. Moreover, they insist that everything in shulbe strictly in accordance with halachah.

However, these same people’s conduct at home leaves much to be desired. At times their kashrut standards are not the highest, their Shabbat observance needs improvement, and in general the atmosphere prevailing in the home is not permeated with Torah and mitzvot.

Rav is teaching that when a person’s home is “close” (in spiritual proximity) to the shul, i.e. he conducts himself so that the holy atmosphere of the shul is also present in the home, he is indeed blessed.

(מגד ירחים)

"ברוך אתה בעיר ברוך אתה בשדה"
“Blessed shall you be in the city and blessed shall you be in the field.”

QUESTION: Why doesn’t it simply state “You shall be blessed everywhere”?

ANSWER: The patriarch Yitzchak had two sons, Yaakov and Eisav. Eisav was a skilled hunter and is described in the Torah as “ish sadeh” — “a man of the field.” On the other hand, Yaakov was a Torah scholar and is described as “yosheiv ohalim” — “a dweller in tents” — which means that he was an urbanite, a city dweller (Bereishit 25:27).

Originally, Yitzchak wanted to bless Eisav, but Yaakov managed to obtain the blessing instead. In response to his heart-rendering plea, Eisav was also blessed.

The Torah promises that for listening to Hashem and observing His commandments one will merit all the blessings: both those of “ba’ir” which were given to Yaakov — the city dweller — as well as those of “basadeh” — given to Eisav — the man of the field.

(שער בת רבים)

"ברוך טנאך ומשארתך. ברוך פרי בטנך"
“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-bowl. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb.”

QUESTION: In the Torah (Devarim 28:4-5), “Blessed be tanacha” — “your fruit basket” — i.e. property, is preceded by, “Blessed be pri bitnecha” — “fruit of your womb” — i.e. children. Why in the prayer recited Motza’ei Shabbat is the order reversed?

ANSWER: Prior to the “tochachah” — “admonition” — which recounts the calamities that would, G‑d forbid, occur for violating Torah, the Jews were told of the blessings that will occur for observing it. There the blessing of “pri bitnecha” is mentioned before the blessing of “tanacha,” and in the curses (28:17-18) the order is reversed: “tanacha” is mentioned first and “pri bitnecha” follows after.

In some communities it is customary to include in the prayer of “Veyitein Lecha” passages which emphasize the transformation of distress to relief, such as, “You have changed for me my lament into dancing” (Psalms 30:12), and “Hashem your G‑d transformed for you the curses [of Bilaam] to a blessing” (Devarim 23:6).

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi did not include these verses in his Nusach Ari Siddur. Nevertheless, to allude the concept of transforming evil to good, the verses of “Blessed shall be your basket... Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb,” are stated in this order so that they will be in exactly the opposite order relative to the curses concerning of these items in the Torah.

(שער הכולל)

"שלום שלום לרחוק ולקרוב אמר ה'"
“Peace, peace to the far and the near.”

QUESTION: Since Hashem first extends greetings to the one who was “far” and repented and afterwards to the one who was “near” all along, the Gemara (Berachot 34b) derives that, “Makom sheba’alei teshuvah omdim tzadikim gemurim einam omdin” — “In the place where the penitents stand, the completely righteous do not stand.” Why are the penitents greater?

ANSWER: The penitent soul, having been infinitely removed from Hashem, now thirsts for Hashem even more than the soul of the righteous. This religious experience is unknown to the perfect tzaddik who never sinned, and who consequently has never experienced the remorse and yearning of a repentant soul.

(לקוטי אמרים — תניא פ"ז)

* * *

Alternatively, the Rambam (Dei’ot 1:4) says that a person should avoid going to extremes and always conduct himself in the way which is in “the middle of the road.” For instance, one should not be exceedingly extravagant or excessively stingy. One should also not be very arrogant and conceited or totally removed from worldly matters and extremely self effacing. An exception to this rule involves a person who was conducting a misguided lifestyle and who was an extremist in his behavior. To correct himself, he should go to the opposite extreme and eventually work his way back to the middle path.

Thus, while the tzaddik always conducts himself in the middle path, the ba’al teshuvah who is mending his ways and was once extremely on the “left,” now has to go over extremely to the “right” (ibid 2:2). Hence, “In the place where the ba’al teshuvah stands” — extremely to the right — “the tzaddik cannot stand” — since he always has to be in the path which is in the middle.

(אור יקרות)

"ה' יברך את עמו בשלום"
“Hashem will bless His people with peace.”

QUESTION: At the beginning of Shabbat, the prayers start with “shalom” (Shalom Aleichem) and the final word of the prayers for the conclusion of Shabbat is “shalom.” Why the emphasis on “shalom”?

ANSWER: Peace is the most important thing in the world and the greatest blessing for a home. Hashem promised that for observing Torah, He will supply us with our material needs. Furthermore, in a passage describing the rewards for mitzvah observance, He concludes, “I will provide peace” (Vayikra 26:6). Our sages (Torat Kohanim, Rashi ibid.) derived from this that even if a person has food and drink, if there is no peace he has nothing! “Hashalom shakul keneged hakol” — “Peace is considered the equivalent of everything.”

(עי' בסוף ברהמ"ז עם פירושו של ר' נתן ז"ל שפירא)