Our heavenly Sukkah

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yonatan Zweig

A great talmid chacham once said, that if one is sitting in the sukkah and is uncomfortable due to inclement weather, yet pushes aside his discomfort and is glad of the opportunity to perform a mitzvah, he has reached a spiritual height.
“You shall dwell in booths for seven days… so that future generations will know that I caused the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I took them from the land of Egypt”(Vayikra 23:42-43). The Rabbis of the Talmud (Sukkah 11b) debate whether our Sukkot commemorate the actual booths the Jews lived in during their stay in the desert or the anannei hakavod (clouds of glory), that directed and protected the Jewish people during their march to the land of Israel. Both meanings stem from the root סכה- to cover, as both clouds and booths provide shade and covering from the sun. Interestingly enough, the accepted ruling is that our sukkot is a commemoration of the anannei hakavod. Thus, when we dwell in the sukkah, we must keep in mind not so much the flimsy huts we lived in, as the protecting and guiding hand of Hashem.
In the Kiddush we make at home, as well as in the special prayers we add for the holiday during services at the synagogue, the Festival of Sukkot is referred to “the Time of our Joy”. Why is Sukkot considered more a time of joy than Passover or Shavuot? After all, even greater and more significant miracles occurred on those holidays – on Passover we witnessed the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea and on Shavuot we experienced Divine Revelation when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai – yet only Sukkot is called “the Time of our Joy.” Why?
Furthermore, we do not use the dates produced by the palm in the performance of the mitzva, rather the branch of the tree, which is tasteless. All the same, the lulav is referred to by our sages, as having taste. Why is this so?
Citing the Maharil, the Ramah teaches that we should begin building a sukkah as soon as Yom Kippur concludes, thereby moving immediately from the fulfillment of one mitzva to the fulfillment of another. Why must we move immediately to the mitzva of sukkah, rather than charity, Torah study or another mitzva?
The Talmud derives the laws pertaining to the construction of the sukkah from the clouds which arose from the Garden of Eden. What is the connection between the Garden of Eden and the sukkah?
The Talmud relates that when the children of Israel received the Torah on Shavuot, they reached the level of Adam prior to his sin in the Garden of Eden. However, when they committed the sin of the Golden Calf, the children of Israel returned to the level of Adam after he was banished from the Garden, for having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge. On Yom Kippur, Bnei Yisroel received atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf, and they should have gone into Eretz Yisrael, built the Beis Hamikdash, and once again attained that special closeness with G-d. However, instead they committed the sin of the spies, which resulted in the death of that entire generation.
Sukkot represents the time period when, after having received atonement on Yom Kippur, we enter the Garden of Eden, i.e. the sukkah. This is the reason why the construction and decor of the sukkah, as well as the four species which we are commanded to take in it, are made to resemble a garden. Immediately after Yom Kippur we are preoccupied with building the sukkah, displaying our desire to attain an elevated level of closeness with G-d, by joining him in the Garden of Eden.
The Midrash teaches that one of the characteristics of the Garden of Eden, was that the bark of its fruit trees tasted like their fruits. Taking the branch of the palm tree to represent the taste of dates, is reflective of the notion that we are recreating our existence in the Garden of Eden.
At the center of the splendid, Sukkot festivities, was the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah, the celebration of the drawing of the water for the nisuch hamayim, the water libation on the altar, in the Beis Hamikdash. The Talmud draws a vivid picture of the singing and dancing that accompanied this ritual. It even tells of great sages juggling and leaping about like young acrobats. Indeed, the Talmud assures us that “whoever did not witness the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah has never seen true joy in his life.”
But what was so remarkable about the ritual of the drawing of the water? What made it the most powerful stimulus to joy imaginable?
The commentators explain that the Hebrew word for joy, simchah, is related to the word for erasing, machah. Joy is not something that must be generated. It is our natural state. Nevertheless, the pain, sorrows and disappointments of life overlay and obscure our natural joyousness. When we erase these impediments to our happiness, we achieve true joy by default.
Still, why indeed is joy our natural state? Because joy is an expression of a perfect existence, of fulfillment to the highest degree possible. The essence of a person is the immortal soul, the neshamah, our spark of the Divine. When our souls cleave completely to their Source and Creator, we are in a state of perfect existence, and we experience joy. However, when our sins and misdeeds come between our souls and their Divine Source, we feel the anguish of estrangement and our joy is extinguished.
Life takes its toll on us and all of its headaches become magnified, far out of proportion to their true significance. Therefore, in order to achieve true and perfect joy, we must erase the taint from our souls so that they can again cleave perfectly to the Creator. Only then can we achieve fulfillment and the joy that results from it.
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we cleanse and purify our souls. On Sukkot, we are finally capable of cleaving to the Creator and achieving true joy. The water libation symbolized this concept. Water has the property of absolute adaptability. It can assume any shape or form so perfectly, that no gaps are left unfilled. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z’l teaches how important water is. He begins by saying, in order for the world to exist, both liquids and solids are needed. Water’s characteristic is such, that it involves change; it never stays in one place. Solids on the other hand, are the opposite; they remain in an ever stagnant state. If the world would exist with just solids, there would be no movement at all in the world. However, if there were only liquids, although there is the capability of change, it would not be able to hold any shape or form and would exist unstably. Therefore, solids need liquids and liquids needs solids in order for life to exist. In the world we live in, there is constant change, but general identity is still retained. People change physically, spiritually and otherwise, yet remain the same individuals. This is because of the co-existence of solids and liquids. No water is mentioned in regard to death, because water represents change; change is life; change is development; development is fulfilling G-d’s purpose. The ritual of pouring the water over the altar in the Beis Hamikdash, therefore, symbolizes the perfect and absolute attachment which the Jewish people have attained with their Creator, through their prayers and repentance during the High Holidays. And that perfect attachment leads to perfect joy.
There was a stream coming out from Gan Eden and flowing throughout the world. This is the reason the Torah ascribes such importance to mikvah. After a woman immerses herself in purified water, she has the connection with Gan Eden and is therefore more susceptible for child bearing.
The Sukkah holiday is symbolic of Gan Eden and therefore, one can attain a joy during Sukkot, like no other. Interestingly, there is a
reference in the Torah connecting Sukkot and Yaacov. “Yaacov traveled to Sukkot” (33:17). How appropriate is that, considering it was Yaacov who took responsibility to perform both physical and spiritual maintenance of the world. Eisav’s deeds disqualified him and dissolved his potential partnership with Yaacov. By masquerading like Eisav, Yaacov received Eisav’s blessing after his father smelled Gan Eden on Yaacov’s clothing.
The spiritual component of Sukkah is powerful and allows us to achieve a taste of Gan Eden. Perhaps that is the reason I felt such appreciation and believed that the sukkah is the place to be, no matter how cold it is outside. Gan Eden has the right climate control.

Give Me Life

Give Me Life
Rabbi Mordechai Londinski passed away at the age of eighty-nine. It was just like the Chafetz Chaim had promised “you will live a little longer then I am now”. His funeral, though, was delayed for a day for his beloved son Moshe who was in California had to arrive. Usually, the burial has to take place within twenty-four hours. Rabbi Kaminetski gave the unusual HETTER-“permission” to delay.  Rabbi Moshe Londinski arrived and eulogized his father where he revealed this story. He said “besides my father, I and Chafetz Chaim no one knew this story until today” Rav Kaminetski said “it’s with the help of G-d that I made my decision to delay. Now I know why”.
 Rabbi Mordechai Londinski made the extra effort to make the miracle happen, the miracle of life.
One of the major and important prayers we have in which we say three times a day and a fourth on Shabbat, is the Amida (literally means standing). This prayer is also called shemona esray (eighteen brachot). When we say the Amida, we take three steps backward and then three forward, and we pray in silence. The concentration should be so intense that talking is prohibited.
            The Amida is divided into three parts 1) praise 2) request, or in a crude language ‘give me’ 3) acknowledgement. The structure of the prayers is so meticulously precise that one marvels of its construction. It seems like the sages took care of business providing us with the optimal dosage of prayer power so we can be in a better standing with G-d. During the days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah, the days of repentance and Yom Kippur), a number of additions are placed in our prayers. One of which is zachrainu lechaim, (remember us and keep us alive). A very curious question has been asked about this phrase; it seems like it’s in the wrong category; it should be with the ‘”give me’s” which is in category two. Why is it in the category of praise?
              My father z’l always said the five fingers on the hand are all different; each finger is unique; each individual is also unique. Rav Gedalya Schorr compares the world to an orchestra. Each individual with his uniqueness has a part, which no one else can perform, and if he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t play his instrument, and the orchestra is not the same. Therefore, we see that each individual brings his gift to the table and no one else can duplicate it.

When we say ‘Remember us in the book of life’; it’s not a gimmie, because the end of the statement says ‘lema’anach’ (We’re doing it for You. We are bringing our own uniqueness to serve You in whom nobody else can.) Therefore, our contribution is essential; it is part of the existence of the world and we should have it in mind that we’re doing it for G-d.

Precious Years

Precious Years
The Chafetz Chaim – Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, (1839-1933), was one of the greatest Rabbis in our illustrious Jewish history. His books, commentary on Jewish law (Mishna Brurah) as well as his books where his profound words and emphasis on lashon hara (guard your tongue) have been unprecedented and has changed many lives.
The Chafetz Chaim was quite revered in his time and when he fell extremely ill at the age of eighty-eight in the year 1929 there was an outcry and concern for his wellbeing. Tehilim was recited throughout the Jewish world. After all, he was considered one of the prominent Rabbis of the generation and well needed for his teachings and advice to the Jewish populous.
 There was one young man Mordechai who was particularly taken by the Chafetz Chaim’s illness. He was the son of the prominent Rosh Yeshiva – Moshe Londinsky and for a brief period was one of the Chafetz Chaim’s personal secretaries. One night, at the study hall, being in a somber state, he decided to recite the entire Tehilim  for the z’chut of the refuah shelema of his Rav. As the dawn hour was approaching, he got up from his seat, after finishing Tehilim, and went up to the eichal – Aron Hakodesh to put in his own personal prayer. As he grabbed the parochet (the velvety cover curtain) and brought it close to his eyes, he cried out to G-d “the world needs the Chafetz Chaim!!” “I’m a young student that will probably not come close to the greatness of such a holy man. As a matter of fact,”, He said, “I’m willing to give up 5 years of my life so that the Chafetz Chaim can live. He’ll probably be more productive in those five years than I will be my entire life”. This is how deeply the young man felt. Throughout the day the young man thought of the proclamation he had presented to G-d and still felt strongly about it.
 The news traveled fast that the Chafetz Chaim was miraculously getting better and chances of him making a full recovery was great. Sometime later the Chafetz Chaim now at full strength met Mordechai Londensky.” I thank G-d that the Rebbi is feeling better” Mordechai said. The Chafetz Chaim looked him in the eyes and said “I know what you did for me Mordechai and I want to thank you for the five years”. Mordechai was floored. He hadn’t told anyone about his conversation with G-d. The Chafetz Chaim then proclaimed.  “I am giving you a blessing that you will live a little longer then I am right now” … Five years later the Chafetz Chaim past away.

A deal is a deal

We begin the Shabbat services with the statement “LEH CHU NEH RANENA L’HASHEM” let us all sing to G-d, here Adam is in the taking charge role which fits him well as he leads the world in praises and songs to G-d. The plain explanation is that only he, a human, had the gift to do so. There was no other creature capable to lead the world like a human.
However, there is more to it. Adam personally, was tremendously gifted in the area of praise, song. It’s no coincidence that there was one other who dominates the Shabbat prayers with his praises and song, King David. Well, there is also a link between the two, or perhaps I should say a transaction that occurred that will bond them forever.
Adam was shown the soul of King David and the fact that he was destined to live only 3 hours. Adam was very grieved at this loss of potential. He inquired whether he was allowed to bequeath some of his own years to David. The Almighty answered that Adam was destined to live for 1000 years, but that he would be allowed to give up some of those years to David. Adam then bequeathed 70 years to David, so that Adam lived for 930 years and David lived for 70 years.
As we all know in the business world the more one thinks of a deal that he made, that he signed, sealed and delivered, that he signed mazal u’bracha on, the more he second guesses the transaction. The Sages teach that when Adam was about to turn 930 years old, he regretted his earlier generosity and wanted to back out of the deal. G-d urged Adam to keep his word.
The Rokeach cites an even more startling version of this Medrash: When Adam originally agreed to give over 70 years of his life to the future King David, he signed a document to that effect. The document was “co-signed”, so to speak, by the Master of the Universe and by the Angel Matat. In the Rokeach’s version of the Medrash, when Adam turned 930, he tried to deny that he ever made such an agreement. At that point, the Almighty pulled out the document proving that he had made the deal!
The Medrash in Tehilim cites in this vein, that King David’s comment in Tehilim [146:3]: “Do not trust nobles nor sons of man (ben Adam), for he holds no salvation”, refers back to Adam’s attempt to retract his gift of the 70 years.
In our world of business if someone negates on a business deal he is looked down on. He actually, to some extent, black listed in the industry. Honoring a transaction is one of the basic laws in business. I once bought an expensive ruby my first year in the Colored Stone business. My Father was shocked that I bought such an expensive stone; he was even more shocked at the lousy choice I made. He ordered me to bring back the dealer and negate the transaction. It was one of my most humiliating experiences in the industry. It is something that had never happened again. My father explained to the dealer that “he’s young and inexperienced”, which I apparently was, and luckily he accepted and took back the stone. However, he never did business with me again. I learned, from then on, to be real sure before I utter the word “deal-mazal!!” and to be an expert in the merchandise I buy.
One of the methods a businessman conducts himself is using the shock system. He says in a stern voice:  “I’m buying this product at this price and that’s my last offer, take it or leave it!! Make a decision quickly or I’m leaving now, there is another place I saw a similar product; is it yes or no?!!” One businessman used the shock treatment a bit too much and it cost him dearly. On a colored stone buying trip in Bangkok, Thailand one individual took the stones in his left hand and stuck it out the open window and threatened if you don’t agree on this price and not say “mazal” I’m throwing the stones out the window. They agreed, and the transaction took place. The natives, the Thai people are a very honorable people and would never negate on a transaction that they shook hands on; however, they don’t like to be threatened, so when he left their building, there in the courtyard, they broke the very arm he threatened to throw the stones with.
Astonishingly, Adam was not rebuked by G-d for trying to turn back on the deal. As a matter of fact, incredibly, he was praised. How can that be?
The book Mayanei haChaim by Rav Chaim Zaitchik makes an interesting observation.
This desire to retract, in this particular special situation, does not stem from evil or shortcomings on Adam’s part. On the contrary, it stemmed from his greatness and his understanding of the value of life…….How is it possible, one may ask?
In order to understand why G-d not only did not punish Adam for wanting, having chutzpah to negate on the deal, but praised him, we must explore why G-d chose for the first man the name “Adam.”
The most popular reason why man is called Adam is because man comes from the ADAMA – the ground. However, there are other various names that Adam is called by; some are ISH, ENOSH and GEVAR. Why it is that ADAM was the name chosen to represent man? We just finished a month long of holidays and the one underlying theme throughout the month – or I should say two months – is TESHUVA – repentance. During this period, we pound our hearts and we recite the thirteen attributes of G-d. As we said in our High Holidays issue, G-d guarantees us that if nothing else works, that if no other method of prayer is accepted, the thirteen attributes will go through. What is it about this particular prayer that has that kind of ability? The philosophy behind the recitation is we have to strive to be like G-d, and by reciting His attributes, we affirm our commitment to work on ourselves to have just the right measurement of kindness, mercifulness, temperament, etc. This is the reason why ADAM, the name, represents man the best. We learn in the Prophets – Nevi’im – ADAMEH LE ELYON – we shall be similar to G-d. This is man’s mission in life. So our goal is to be like G-d, ADAMEH.
Now, the question of why G-d praised Adam and called him a tsaddik even though he wanted to negate the deal is becoming more clear.
The Ibn Ezra asks why we must honor the elderly by rising before them. The Ibn Ezra answers that people who are elderly have learned to appreciate the value of life. They deserve honor for that recognition. For appreciation is a fundamental feature in the Jewish philosophy.  A person acts differently, thinks differently, and has a different perspective on life when he is in his fifties and sixties than when he is in his twenties and thirties. He is a different type of person. We need to honor that perspective and attitude by rising before such people.
When Adam was “born,” and was told he had 1000 years in front of him, it was tantamount to someone coming to a millionaire and asking for $1000 donation. The millionaire is prepared to flippantly give over the 1000 dollars. It means very little to him. But if this same millionaire loses all his money he will be greatly aggravated over the fact that he gave away 1000 dollars.
At the end of his life, Adam was like the millionaire who lost his money. The 1000 years that he once had in front of him were now behind him. He had a different perspective on life now. It is because of that perspective that we rise up before the elderly. It is because of that perspective that we say “Precious in the Eyes of G-d is (the time of) death for his righteous.”
Rav Chaim Zaitchik interprets that Adam — as with all Tzadikim — cherished life so much that as he was approaching death he could not bear to forgo the opportunity he had to accomplish more with those extra years. The potential to live and be like G-d is a burning desire in all of us, and it’s awakened only through age and life’s experiences. There is so much that a righteous person, one who appreciates life can do with even one more year, with even one more month, with even a single day. Life is so precious that when he realized that his time was up, he became so distraught and irrational that he forgot his promise or was willing to retract the promise (depending of the varying versions quoted above).
 Interestingly, King David had fallen victim to the same desire to live. Towards the end of his life, he knew that he is destined to die on Shabbat. David also knew that if one learns Torah, the Angel of Death cannot harm him.  He then devised a plan, when his seventieth year was approaching, he would learn constantly without stop from when the Shabbat begins till it ends twenty-five hours later where then he will be safe.
One Shabbat he hears noise from his garden and after ignoring it for a while, succumbs to his curiosity. Those few minutes where he looked outside was all the Angel of Death needed. For those minutes of non Torah learning he was able to take David’s life.
Subconsciously, we want to be perfect. The Jewish philosophy is all about emulating G-d. G-d rested on the seventh day, for this reason we rest. We conduct kindness because G-d does kindness with us. Patience is a virtue because G-d is patient.  Perfection is the goal. Unfortunately, that goal is rarely reached.  Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in the book Messilat Yesharim writes that Ninety-five percent of people when asked before they leave this world, if they fulfilled their life dreams, did they accomplish what they set for in life said “no”. We don’t realize how much life means till later in life.  That appreciation is special and G-d loves it.
 Interestingly, this episode accomplished several things.  David received seventy years and Adam elevated his status to a tsaddik.

The Little Red Headed Girl

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hurzberg, Mr. Boaz Davidoff
Everyone on the planet, at one point in his or her life, has had a crush, whether in grade school, high school or for that matter, even old school.  When Cupid shoots his arrow, we’re sitting ducks and those arrows sting at any age and time.  Unfortunately, this experience can be quite debilitating, as can any consuming obsession.
I was taken aback by an article I read, about the waste of precious time and energy which infatuation can cost a person and how this topic played a key role in one of my favorite childhood cartoons. Perhaps this is why so many found it easy to identify with the main character and his experiences.
Peanuts was a syndicated, American comic strip, written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz, which ran from October 2, 1950, to February 13, 2000. It was also made into cartoon TV specials, which earned high ratings. This strip is the most popular and influential in the history of comic strips, with 17,897 strips published in all, making it “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being”.
The premise focuses entirely on a miniature society of young children, with no shown adult characters. The main character, Charlie Brown, is meek, nervous and lacking in self-confidence. He is unable to fly a kite, win a baseball game, or kick a football.
One of the ongoing themes, is Charlie Brown’s infatuation with Little Red-Haired girl. Interestingly, Charles Schultz was inspired in this, by his personal experiences in real life.
A former co-worker, Donna Mae Wold (born Donna Mae Johnson January 3, 1929 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, died August 8, 2016 in Richfield, Minnesota), was Schulz’s inspiration for the character. A 1947 high school graduate, Johnson was working in the accounting department of Art Instruction Inc., a correspondence school where Schulz also worked. Johnson and Schulz eventually became romantically involved and dated for three years, but in 1950 when Schulz proposed to her, she turned him down, saying she was already engaged. Schulz was devastated, but he and Donna remained friends for the rest of his life. Schulz said of the relationship, “I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss, than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much. A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is. Last summer, day after day, I called the Little Red-Haired Girl. And night after night, I wondered whether I would ever actually get to talk with her.”
Last July, Michael Cavna of the Washington Post, finally spoke with Ms. Wold, who was warm, humble and endearing, as well as reassuring that she had built a fulfilling and rewarding life. More than six decades ago, she had chosen her longtime firefighter husband over Charles M. Schulz. Schulz, the world-famous Peanuts creator, turned his heartache into art, with his scarlet-haired character.
“Oh, we dated for about two years,” Ms. Wold told me of her relationship with “Sparky” Schulz after they met at a Minneapolis instructional art school; both he and Allan Wold proposed marriage. “I loved him. I guess I chose Al because I knew all Al’s friends, who became my friends. I didn’t really know Sparky’s friends.”
“But it was a long time ago,” added Wold, speaking by phone from the Minneapolis area, where she had lived her full life, traveling and camping and adventuring (she loved the Grand Tetons) and becoming a mother to four and a foster mother to scores more.
Allan and Donna Wold married in 1950, the same year that Peanuts debuted.Schulz would introduce his mysterious, Donna inspired character to Peanuts readers on Nov. 12, 1963, as Charlie Brown said dreamily, “I’d sure like to eat lunch with that little red-haired girl.”
“She’s the object of his affection,” Jean Schulz, Sparky’s widow, told me last year. “We can’t [really] know her. … There’s this mystique and this fantasy.”
Ms. Wold lived in the shadow of that silhouette for more than a quarter-century, acknowledging her role of inspiration in 1989, upon the release of the Schulz biography, Good Grief. “It got her out in the spotlight just a little, not too much,” Allan Wold told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
Donna Mae Johnson Wold died Aug. 9 of heart failure and complications from diabetes, the Star Tribune reported over the weekend. She was 87.She is survived by her husband; her daughters Sally Wold, Peggy Baumtrog and Susan Trulen; a sister, Margaret Olson; seven grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.”I’ve had a good life,” Ms. Wold told me last summer. “A very happy life.”
We live in a world in which it’s inevitable that we’ll have disappoint-ments. It is interesting to observe how the lives of Schultz and Wold took different paths. Did Schultz ever get over his love interest? We can often ask the same questions of ourselves. If we were able to overcome our feelings, how much pain staking time did we waste obsessing over them? How many different life decisions have we made, as the result of the emotional scars we were left with? It is sad to see poor, old Charlie Brown, dreaming his childhood away on that girl. The sweaty palms and practicing pickup lines in front of a mirror, are all too familiar. Wake up Charlie Brown!!!  We are all susceptible to plunge into those emotions, which can deter us from meeting someone else or prevent us from doing our work, advancing in our studies or building relationships. Of course, obsessions and their resulting negative effects, can arise over any area in life and are not limited to love interests.
The powerful, opening remark of our slichot, which we began reciting a month before Rosh Hashana, is BEN ADAM MAH LECHA NIRDAM- Son of Man why are you sleeping!! This phrase is designed to make us aware of our state of mind. The expression refers to a story from our Jewish history, where sailors approached the sleeping Yonah, when their ship was in dire straits. “We need your prayers; pray to your G-d, for we will all drown,” they said to him.  This statement is a wakeup call to us, as well. We too, have to wake up, smell the coffee and repent. We have been sleeping and letting life slip away. It’s about time to look for G-d before it is too late.
This lesson applies to every aspect of life, for in order to serve G-d properly- the reason why we are here- we cannot let anything deter us from being the best we can be. We cannot let anything debilitate us from doing our precious work, which can be done exclusively by us. If we get caught up in obsessions, we lose out on precious time; we lose out on true happiness; we lose out on life.
We learn an incredible lesson from the Torah’s perspective of matchmaking. I believe these words of wisdom alone, can enhance our quality of life, immeasurably.
Rabbi Yossi Bilus attended a lecture by Rav Pam, on Chayeh Sarah. Rabbi Bilus remembers a powerful lesson from that lecture, that made a lasting imprint on his life.
Often times, people date hoping to find their partner in life.  People frequently think they’ve graduated from “hoping to find,” to “it’s happening, I’ve found my match.” They already find themselves thinking about how many kids they are going to have and where they are going to live. And then a short time later, the other party walks away disinterested, leaving the partner devastated and doomed. There are those who never get over the hurt.
Avraham, our forefather instructed his trusted servant, Eliezer to find a wife for his son, Yitzchak. When Eliezer reached the well of the city where Avraham told him to go, he saw Rivka approaching. She did him tremendous kindness, giving him and his camels water. Eliezer was so sure he had found Yitzchak’s mate, that he showered her with jewelry. The mission seemed to be accomplished. But when Eliezer met Rivka’s family, he said something peculiar. “And now if you want to do kindness and are interested – tell me if not I will turn to the right or left”. In other words, if you’re interested, great, if not I will look elsewhere. Even after giving Rivka all of that jewelry, Eliezer was prepared to break off the process. We learn from here, that If it’s not working out, it’s not what G-d wants and no matter how perfect it seemed, we have to move on!!
My mother would always say to me when I was dating, “every pot has a cover”. Those were reassuring words. However, in order to feel that reassurance, we have to be at peace with ourselves. We have to have the right frame of mind, to make the great, big step. We also have to let go of the ghosts in our heads, of what it would have been like if the other party would have stayed. That was the past; we must look forward.
This is why we recite AL CHET SHEH CHATANU LECHA B’TIMTUM LEV-On the sins that we are committed through confusion of the heart.
Since when are we chastised for being confused? Isn’t that a little harsh? Many of us are confused. For goodness sake, we live in New York city!! with neon lights flashing all around us. Do we have to be chastised for that?
Rabbi Oelbaum says the answer lies in the Ten Commandment. The two tablets are shaped almost like a heart.
When we received the first tablets, the words were engraved in them symbolizing that everything found in the Ten Commandments is etched in each of our hearts. Our emotions are vital to our survival. The heart is pivotal in directing ourselves in the right direction. Therefore, it has to have clarity to the highest degree. It is for this reason the Torah was infused directly into our hearts.
However, after the sin of the golden calf, the passive, automatic connection to G-d was no longer. The heart entered a confused state as a result of our blunder. We had to start being more aggressive. We had to work to incorporate the Ten Commandments into our hearts ourselves, in order to see clearly and eradicate the confusion. In order to move forward, the Torah gives us guidance, so we shouldn’t fall off track into obsessing and time wasting.
When we don’t take that step of incorporating the Ten Commandment into our lives, our hearts remain confused and we are responsible for not taking the initiative.
For this reason, Eliezer, Avraham trusted servant was prepared to break away so easily. He ruled over his emotions and didn’t allow them to rule over him.
Good grief, Charlie Brown wake up!! Wake up and smell the coffee!! Good grief, we should wake up in time…. Be’ezrat Hashem.

Human Dignity – part 2

Dedicated to Michal Alibayof, who led us with her heart.
She showed us how to be brave and the healing power of friendship.She taught us how to tie a scarf, and to tie it onto our neighbors- forming an unbreakable bond that we will never let go of. She was
and set the bar for generations to come … all under the age of 40.

A very close friend, Ronny Alibayof, unfortunately lost his wife a number of years ago.  This past Wendsday evening, the 21st of September, he celebrated her life with a very moving event. The program commenced with his daughter, Samantha introducing an awareness of tremendous importance. She called everyone’s attention to 5 Under Forty, an organization founded by Jennifer Finklestien, but inspired by Michal Alibayof.
“I was introduced to Michal Alibayof who, 3 years earlier at age 32, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I will never forget the moment I saw Michal for the first time. She was young, beautiful, healthy-looking – but mostly I was awestruck by her positive energy. It was at that exact moment; I could believe that I might recover. She assured me I would get my life back. As I remember it, it was a surreal and powerful encounter.
Michal and I developed a unique bond – and it is this bond which serves as the model for the 5 Under 40 Foundation. Michal shared her courage and her optimism with me; she literally took me by the hand and changed my life – simply by helping me believe I would live my life. We chartered every course together – the tricks to curb the side effects from chemotherapy, to beauty regimens to the physical and emotional toll of breast cancer.
With profound sadness, Michal passed away on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012. I was fortunate enough to visit her in Tel Aviv in November 2011, as she had moved back home in 2009. She is the first young woman I have ever known who died of breast cancer.
I am now 10-years cancer free; during this time, I have felt the impact of my breast cancer diagnosis in many ways, large and small. I elected 5 years ago to undergo a prophylactic contralateral mastectomy. I have availed myself of many physical and psychological benefits. Most especially, I founded the 5 Under 40 Foundation in honor of the best friend I ever had.”
After speaking to Michal’s husband, Ronny and another friend in attendance, Rafi Fouzailoff, I was flabbergasted by the enormous effort Michal made to preserve her dignity. Michal reiterated to her friend Jenifer, “you cannot give up on who you are. You have to continue to look your best no matter what.” Michal purchased the best wigs because of the effects of the chemotherapy and still maintained her appearance to the highest caliber.  Ronny said “she would not allow me to look at her without the wig or head covering”. Michal kept her human dignity. A quality which we said earlier, is what God expects of us. Michal is an inspiration for us, not to succumb to depression and to live life to the fullest, until the very last moment

Human Dignity – Rosh Hashana

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus

It’s in our character to search for an advantage in life; perhaps it is in our genes; perhaps it’s because of how we were raised. Making the optimal choice is thought of wherever we go and whatever we do, because we want the best for ourselves and our children. Our people like to ask a lot of questions to give us an edge in the world. We tend to make fun of ourselves; we tend to put our culture down; “I don’t want to move there, too many Jews”; “we are all Jewish mama’s boys.” These are all famous Jewish put down jokes delivered by none other than Jews, themselves. However, deep down, we know that our people are blessed. In every criterion in life, if we put our mind to it we’re number one. We Jews are a highly competitive nation that has achieved leaps and bounds in every aspect of life.  That frame of mind is ever so important in this most crucial time of the year, when we are judged for our past deeds and potential future. Squeezing the most from our prayers and behavior during the Yamim noraim-days of awe, so G-d may place us in the book of life, is our primary goal.
 The sages ask: what is the best way to approach G-d to receive a sweet, good verdict for the upcoming year? The sages, in their scrutinizing manner, asked a very powerful and obvious question. I’m sure the reader thought of it as well. Why does Rosh Hashanah [the Day of Judgment] comes before Yom Kippur [the Day of Atonement]? Logically, it would seem to make more sense – and certainly be to our advantage – for the day of mercy, when we are forgiven for our sins to precede the day in which we are judged for those sins.  If we are to get the edge on a favorable decree, that is how it ought to be.
Once again, I found incredible, uplifting words of wisdom from Rabbi Yissachar Frand, quoting Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995). To appreciate his answer, we must first analyze the second chapter of Yehoshua (which we read as the Haftorah for Parshat Shlach).
After spending forty years in the desert and after our great leader Moshe passed on, we were led by Yehoshua, Moshe’s right hand man, who would lead us into the Promised Land.
As the first order in achieving this goal, Yehoshua sent out spies to reconnoiter the land.  Jericho was the first city to be in invaded in the land of Canaan. Yehoshua’s intention was to find out the mood and pulse of the enemy. For this reason, the spies had to travel through an interesting place, to say the least, Rachav’s house. Since travelers from all parts of the land passed through her inn, she was continually aware of the country’s mood. Why was her inn so popular? Well, it wasn’t her inn that was popular; it was she.
There are commentaries who identify Rachav as an innkeeper, basing the word Zonah on the word Mazon (food). However, as the Gemarah implies, the simple reading of the pasukim [verses] is that Rachav was a woman of ill repute – the normal meaning of the word Zonah comes from the word Zenut – (sexual immorality). Interestingly and astonishingly, our assurance and security in entering the holy land of Israel, was on the merit and expertise of a prostitute!
The Gemarah (Megila 14, zevachim 117) says Rachav was one of four of the most beautiful women who ever lived. She was so beautiful she could make an impotent man able to function. She had a uniqueness as to how to make a man perform and she did it through her intelligence, by which she was able to transform herself and act like whomever her client imagined her to be. She was a psychologist par excellence. With those tools, no man could resist her advances. Rachav was a prostitute and the best in the business. In fact, the word Rachav means “to spread,” meaning she would say yes to everybody weather king or commoner. She would sleep with any guest that would travel to her inn.
Rachav provided the spies with the information that they wanted to hear. “I know that G-d has given you the Land, and that your terror has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the Land have melted because of you…” Because of her profession she knew the minds and thoughts of the people, for there was not a prince or ruler in the area, who did not come by and use her services.  She had served as a harlot since she was ten years old. This was her profession throughout the forty years when the Jews were wandering in the wilderness. Therefore, her report that the whole country was in mortal fear was measured with the highest importance, by the Jewish leaders.
At that point of time, at the age of fifty, Rachav repented and actually converted to Judaism. She confessed to G-d that during her years of sin, she made use of three devices to secretly bring customers into and out of her residence: The rope, the window, and the wall. Therefore, she now used these same three items to help the spies escape from her dwelling and from being noticed by the Canaanites, thereby saving their lives. She asked that she be forgiven for her inappropriate use of these devices by virtue of the fact that she now risked her life and used them for a praiseworthy reason. Such is the simple reading of the Gemara in Zevachim.
Rabbi Schwab is not satisfied with this interpretation and asks what is meant by her using the rope, window and wall for people to sin? She ran a house of ill repute for forty years. Everyone must have known exactly what was going on in that house. There was no reason to have a secret entrance by way of the window and rope. After 40 years, who were these princes and kings trying to fool? What were they trying to hide by climbing up the wall and entering through the window? Everyone knew Rachav the harlot and the nature of her business.
Rav Schwab interprets the Gemara differently. The Gemara is teaching us one of the secrets of Repentance. What finally inspired Rachav to repent? Rachav was inspired to repent through the realization that after 40 years in business, there were still people who were embarrassed to walk into her front door! There were still people who would be so ashamed that they would only enter by way of the rope, the wall, and the window. The fact was that after all these years, there were still people who had a modicum of dignity and embarrassment. They possessed some suppressed degree of sensitivity and morality, that at least prevented them from committing sin in a blatant fashion. Despite the fact that the society was immersed in immorality, there were still individuals who at least had a sense of guilt, some remnant intuition of possessing “Tzelem Elokim” [Divine Image]. Teshuvah can only begin under such circumstances.
Teshuvah can only begin if I do not give up on myself. If I believe that I am totally worthless, then I cannot begin to think about repentance. However, when I realize that somewhere deep down inside, there is still the dignity of man, there is still something holy, then I can use that feeling and begin the trek down the road to repentance. This is what Rachav meant when she referred to the rope, the window, and the wall.
The Mishneh states “Don’t be wicked in your own eyes” [Avot 2:13]. This is why Rosh HaShanah must precede Yom Kippur. In order for a person to begin the process of Teshuvah, he must first realize that he is somebody of value. He must take note: I am a son of Israel. I have a King in Heaven. I am a servant of the King. Yes, I may not have been a very good servant, but at least I can say that I am His servant.
The realization that there is a King and that I am His servant, and therefore that I have self-worth, is a prerequisite for the process of repentance. If we would start the Ten Days of Repentance merely with confession – merely with a recitation of all the sins that we committed, we would overwhelm ourselves with our worthlessness and we would not be in a position to repent.
For this reason, one of the busiest times of the year for buying suits and expensive cloths is right before Rosh Hashana. We dress like kings and queens, princes and princesses, for we are what we wear. We feel uplifted when we wear nice cloths and eat the best foods.
That is how we notch up our human dignity; that is how we build our self-esteem.
On Rosh HaShanah, we never say the words “Al Chet” (upon the sins…) or “Ashamnu” (we are guilty). We leave the sins out of it, for the meanwhile. On this day, a person must think about who he is, his vast potential and his goal in life. From such a perspective, repentance may flow forward.
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) suggested a beautiful Chassidishe insight on this past week’s portion: “If your dispersed shall be at the ends of Heaven, from there the L-rd your G-d will gather you and take you.” [Devorim 30:4] The Baal Shem Tov comments that we would have expected the pasuk [verse] to read: “If your dispersed shall be at the ends of the Earth.” However, the pasuk says “…at the ends of the Heaven”. The Baal Shem Tov teaches the same lesson that we mentioned above. The only time a person can be gathered back to G-d, is if “Heavenliness” is still present within the person. If a person feels that he still has a Heavenly attachment – despite the fact that he may have sullied himself with the pleasures of Earth, then from there, G-d can gather him back.
It is astonishing. Here we have the most powerful woman that ever lived, having looks, brains, personality, education, class, money, power, charm, and grace. She can get any man she wants and she’s in her prime. There are not many women like her; a master in giving and receiving pleasure. However, she gives up on that life for a life of being a Jewish mama!! She felt it would be more fulfilling, playing the role of building a Jewish home and raising children with her husband. It would be more real and satisfying as a woman. Many famous prophets came out of the union of Yehoshua and Rachav, most notable, Yirmiyahu.
Rachav was a harlot for 40 years, but she eventually married Yehoshua bin Nun, the greatest man of his generation. It all began with her contemplation of the wall, the rope, and the window and her recognition that man – for all of his shortcomings – still possesses holiness. That must be the beginning of the path to Teshuvah.