Archive for August 2014

What does dignity have to do with me being a good tipper?

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s  Yochanan Zweig, Yossi Bilus, Chaim Shmuelevitz z’l, Yitzchak Aminov, Dr. Aba Goldman
Rabbi Yitzhak Aminov is, currently, a prominent Rabbi in a Jewish community in Israel. In the late 1960’s he began to travel to New York to fundraise for his Yeshiva. Considering the time constraints, fundraising requires one to frequently leapfrog from one appointment to another. Occasionally, one gets lucky and receives a ride from the donors themselves, yet at times one would need to travel by taxi to their next appointment.
 Rabbi Aminov,  a reserved and well mannered man was puzzled when he was frequently received with anger at the end of the rides by the cab driver. ” I don’t understand it; I would pay the required amount; I would always remain quiet and not ask the driver any questions of why he took this route as opposed to another. Perhaps I didn’t take the money fast enough out of my wallet? Can it be that  New Yorkers flare up quicker then others over trivial things?
One day, it all made sense to me, I was sitting at the counter space at Diamond Dairy, a restaurant in the  diamond district, when I noticed a friend, who was sitting by my side,  leaving some money on the table where then the waitress quickly shuffled it in her patch by her waist side. I asked him why  are you paying the  waitress as well as the cashier? He answered back “that’s a tip”.
 Now I realized why the taxi drivers were so upset, I left them with no tip”
When wealthy Americans brought home the practice of tipping from their European vacations in the late 19th century, their countrymen considered it bribery. State legislatures quickly banned the practice. But restaurateurs, giddy at the prospect ofpassing labor costs directly to customers, eventually convinced Americans to accept tipping. However, the concept of tipping was not accustomed in the Israeli society, apparently, till much later.
  It’s funny but some societies tip before they get their food or for that matter before their even seated. Unfortunately, that is the only way they would receive any   service. However that practice is more considered a bribe then a tip.
“…you shall not send him empty-handed; you shall adorn him with gifts…”(15:13,14)After six years of slavery, the Torah requires that the Jewish slave be set free. Additionally, he should not go out empty-handed. Rather, his master should furnish him with gifts ofsignificant value. What is the rationale behind obligating a person to give a gift? Clearly, this is not his compensation, for the Torah requires that the slave be paid in full up front.

Why is it the accepted practice to tip for certain services, while for others it is not? For example, if a person checks in his luggage curbside, he leaves a tip with the porter. However, if he checks his luggage in at the counter, he does not tip the attendant. Similarly, one tips a barber, but not a cashier. The reason is as follows: When someone does a personal service for us, to a certain extent, he has been demeaned. It is for personal service, therefore, that we tip. The tip is the means by which we restore dignity to the person serving us; it shows our appreciation for what he has done for us.  After all, the porter humiliated himself by picking up our heavy suitcases and shlepping them all over the place. The waiter removed our dirty plates after we ate so nicely.
Why is dignity so important?

 We learn how important dignity is from G-d’s  sensitivity to one of the most wicked individuals that ever lived, Bilam.
Balak, the king of Moav, sends a delegation to persuade Bilam to go and curse the Jews. Excited at the opportunity, Bilam, however, consults with G-d, Who tells him not to go. Bilam, though, makes it seem to the delegation that he wasn’t going because it’s beneath his dignity to go with such representation. He wants a  more important and prominent delegation to pry him out of his comfortable settings. Bilam didn’t let anyone know that G-d disapproves of cursing the Jews. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz says: “A carefull reading of the verse shows G-d gave two reasons disassociating himself with Balak’s emissaries .The first, astonishingly, was indeed to protect Bilam’s dignity, while only the second was… not to curse the Jews.
But who is Bilam that G-d has to protect his dignity ? Why protect the dignity of a low-life ? Reb Chaim points out that even the most low and despicable individual is not to be humiliated more than is absolutely nessesary. The stature and importance of Man -created in G-d’s image-is so great that sensitivity has to be applied even to the wicked Bilam . G-d set aside his own honor in order to preserve the dignity of Bilam. The Sages say that Bilam’s donkey was killed so that people shouldn’t say this is the animal that humiliated Bilam. “I CAN’T MOVE BECAUSE THE ANGEL IS IN FRONT OF ME, HELLO !!! EVEN THIS ANIMAL CAN SEE, GET WITH THE PROGRAM, BOSS” the donkey opened his mouth and spoke out to Bilam. What a miracle…A talking donkey!!! Doesn’t it remind you of the talking horse, Mr. Ed? WILBUR !! Hey, talking animals are hard to find. Even if the animal would have remained alive it would have brought a tremendous  sanctification of G-d’s name. People would have pointed to the donkey and proclaimed “G-d wonders and justice”. It would have been living testimony of G-d’s creation and control of the world. However the dignity of man would have suffered severely and therefore the animal had to be put to death. The same principle applies for any person killed for having relations with animals. The Torah says the animal should be put to death as well. What did the poor animal do besides being an uncooperative participant?  People would point out ” this animal and so and so…..”
We had discussed many times the importanceof offering guests chibud kal-light refreshment.  There is a fascinating Rashi in parshat “Va’Yechi” which discusses the importance of greeting a guest with a smile. Seeing the white teeth from a smile is better than offering a tall glass of milk, which is also white. The tip will not be appreciated if it’s given grudgingly and with a frown. Here we see even if no money and refreshment were  presented, just a smile… the soul of the guest is satisfied and dignity is restored..
 I recently asked a neighbor how his son, who became a junior counselor for the first time this past summer faired with tips. Counselors similar to waiters, for the most part, only get compensated for their work through tips. The father took the concept of dignity even to a higher sensitive level. He said, with a disappointed voice, “my son received the full amount of money that was projected, however, no note was put into the envelope stating thank you. It seemed like they just put the money in the envelope because they were obligated”.
  Dr. Goldman brings up a very crucial observation. The most abused people, in terms of dignity, are children. Parents often humiliate kids in front of other parents or their children’s friends.  One should know the humiliation has an everlasting affect on the child. If a parent thinks that a child is just a child and doesn’t have the capability to get truly offended…think again! A parent cannot even receive forgiveness from the child for reason that he is not of age, doesn’t have the power, according to Jewish law to forgive.  The good Doctor gives a common example. After services in Beit Haknesset (shul) on Shabbat, we often speak to our friends, sometimes at length, where our child is pulling us out ofboredom. We, then react in a negative way towards the child. If we were with an adult guest, instead of the child, would we still have a lengthy conversation with our friend?  Here too… the child’s dignity has been marked.
 We even offer dignity to the sotah, the unfaithful wife, who would deserve death, had there been witnesses to her sin. Yet, when there are no witnesses, every attempt is made to have her confess and be saved. She is harassed continuously and moved from place to place in the Temple courtyard, all for the purpose of causing her to confess and be saved from a horrible death.
 One of the major aspects of interpersonal communication according to the Torah is to make people feel good. Whether it be by tipping or just a smile and a good morning, the action restores dignity which is sorely needed by each individual.
 The Torah requires that we give parting gifts to the Jewish slave, since, for six years he has been at our beck and call, giving us the highest level of personal service that one Jew can give another. We are obligated, therefore, to restore his dignity… We hope that dignity is restored within him and the family structure will return when he’s back to the level ofequality status.

The Gaza Tunnels-Hannibal Procedure

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s  Beryl Wien, Yossi Bilus, Dr. Abba Goldman and Mr. David Chodgebecov with excerps from The New York Times


Devarim parshat Eikev, 10-19 ” You should love the convert because you were strangers in Egypt”     ” Jews should learn from the Egyptian experience that G-d does not like the persecution of strangers” RAMBAN

One should know included in the commandment ” love your fellow (Jew) like yourself” is “love the convert” so why is there a special commandment, this week?
 Human nature is such that we might be less inclined  in performing this Mitzvah because the stranger is unlike us. Therefore, the Torah repeats and emphasizes so we don’t diminish the commandment.- Sefer Ha’chinuch.
 It also seems that  if G-d shows such sensitivity in our treatment towards the convert, then the intensity of love one should have to his fellow Jew should be even greater.  We have the means within us to go the extra mile for our brother.
There is a powerful  lesson I’ve learned of loving your fellow Jew in researching this weeks topic that I would like to share. Lets start with excerpts from a very interesting New York Times article published last week titled:


     “Israeli Procedure Reignites Old Debate”


    JERUSALEM – It was one of the bloodiest episodes in the just-paused conflict in Gaza.
Less than 90 minutes into a temporary truce last Friday that was supposed to have ended the fighting, Hamas fighters emerged from a tunnel and ambushed an Israeli unit, killing two soldiers and snatching a third, prompting the Israeli Army to pursue the captors and unleash a barrage of artillery and airstrikes on a heavily populated section of the southern border town of Rafah.
When it was over, 120 Palestinians were dead, along with the captured soldier.
It was one of the rare invocations of the Israeli military’s “Hannibal procedure,” one of its most dreaded and contentious directives, which allows commanders to call in extra troops and air support to use maximum force to recapture a lost soldier. Its most ominous clause states that the mission is to prevent the captors from getting away with their captives, even at the risk of harming or endangering the lives of the captured Israeli soldiers

In last Friday’s episode in Rafah, it appears unlikely that the Hannibal procedure caused the fatal injury of the missing soldier, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was later declared killed in action.
Still, its use has reignited debate about the decades-old directive, which was long kept hidden from the general public by military censorship and is rarely discussed in Israel. Captured Israeli soldiers are a valuable and highly sought prize for Hamas, which held one such soldier, Gilad Shalit, for five years. It ultimately traded him for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of them convicted of deadly attacks against Israelis.
But there is increasing reluctance to continue the practice of trading so many prisoners for captive soldiers, with critics arguing that each lopsided deal only encourages future abductions. Military service is compulsory for almost all young Israelis, making the return of captured soldiers an even more emotionally and politically weighted issue.

Brig. Gen. Michael Edelstein, the commander of the Gaza division, said Thursday in a telephone briefing that most of the casualties in Rafah had occurred in the first hours after Hamas fighters “tried to kidnap our officer and bring him into civilian places.” But he said that the forces had targeted “terror sites,” not civilians.
The Hannibal edict was drawn up by three senior officers in Israel’s northern command in the 1980s after two Israeli soldiers were captured by Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“We understood that when it comes to kidnapping, there should be a very clear order so that ordinary soldiers on the ground should not have to hesitate and make their own assumptions,” said Yaakov Amidror, a retired Israeli general, former national security adviser, and one of the authors of the directive as a colonel in the northern command from 1986 to 1989.
The name Hannibal, recalling the Carthaginian military commander who poisoned himself rather than fall into the hands of the Romans, suggests a shocking act of self-sacrifice. But Mr. Amidror says it was chosen randomly and has no real significance.
“Morally, it’s a big question: What can you do or not do to prevent a kidnapping?” Mr. Amidror said. “The order was that you have to do all you can, including risking – not killing – the soldier.”
If a captive soldier is known to be in a certain vehicle, Mr. Amidror said, it is permissible to fire a tank shell toward the engine of the car. “You for sure risk the life of the soldier, but you don’t intend to kill him,” he said.
Asked whether it was morally acceptable to risk a soldier’s life in this way, Mr. Amidror said: “You know, war is very controversial. Soldiers have to know there are many risks in the battlefield, and this is one of them.”
But for some Israelis, the practice is unacceptable.
“The procedure is morally flawed,” said Emanuel Gross of Haifa University, an expert in military law and a former military judge. “We have no right to risk the life of a soldier only to avoid the payment for his return from captivity.”
Instead, Mr. Gross said, Israel ought to stand more firmly against the inflated demands of the captors.
Still, officials and experts said they could not recall a case in which the Hannibal procedure was activated and a captive soldier was hurt.
When three Israeli soldiers were snatched by Hezbollah along the Lebanese border in 2000, attack helicopters were dispatched with orders to shoot at any vehicle trying to leave a nearby Lebanese village, according to Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist specializing in security affairs who has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, who documented the case in his book “By Any Means Necessary: Israel’s Covert War for Its POWs and MIAs.”
But from the radio talk and testimonies of pilots, Mr. Bergman said in an interview, the order “was not followed, at least not strictly.”
“I think the helicopter pilots were very cautious,” he said.
Mr. Amidror said he had been appointed by the chief of staff to investigate what happened in 2000. “In this case, there was no problem to resolve, because nobody was there to take any action to stop the kidnapping,” he said, adding that the helicopters came in too late and “didn’t identify any relevant target.”
After an investigation, the Israeli authorities pronounced the three soldiers dead in 2001. Their remains were returned to Israel in 2004 as part of a prisoner exchange.
Some of the details of what happened in Rafah remain murky. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, still could not say, a week later, whether the Hamas fighters had included a suicide bomber, or whether Lieutenant Goldin, 23, had been killed in the initial attack.
“We know he was at least wounded,” Colonel Lerner said, based on the evidence later found at and near the scene.
The Hamas attackers dragged Lieutenant Goldin with them back into the tunnel. A few minutes later, a fellow soldier who has been identified only by his first name, as Lieutenant Eitan, secured permission from a senior commander to enter the tunnel in pursuit with two other soldiers.
They were too late. There was no contact or engagement between the soldiers who entered the tunnel and the captors, Colonel Lerner said. But he said some evidence found in the tunnel later helped the military determine that Lieutenant Goldin could not have survived the initial attack. He was declared killed in action by late 
Saturday night.
Reached by telephone 
on Thursday, one of Lieutenant Goldin’s relatives said the family was not ready to answer questions about his death.

A version of this article appears in print on August 8, 2014, on page A10

What are the Israeli’s trying to prevent by implementing the Hannibal procedure?
Israel’s euphoria surrounding the release of Gilad Shalit notwithstanding, everyone knows something must change.  Kidnapping has become a standard weapon in the guerilla arsenal, while terrorist demands grow with every prisoner swap.  At celebrations throughout the occupied territories Palestinians greeted freed killers with chants of  “The people want another Shalit!” while Hamas commander Ahmed Jabri declared that kidnappings would continue.  No surprise here – the public likes success. The “revolving door” policy of arresting terrorists just to free them again.

Nevertheless, there is a downside to Hannibal; what tends to happen is similar to “Pinchas the zealot”,  Both, for the most part, can cause one to go against proper human behavior. In the famous passage in the Torah, Pinchas took the spear and killed the two who rebelled against G-d. Today, however, one can not be a true zealot. One, often, sub-conciencly, has ulterior   motives. Just because one thinks he has the love of G-d on his mind doesn’t give him the license and permission to act as he pleases. However, though, that is what tends to happen. When the flag of G-d is raised, with a little too much enthusiasm,  sensetivity to others takes a back seat. Therefore one misapplies  the word zealot.
  Similarly,  the hanibal procedure can stretch out ones ability to pull the trigger unjustly giving him permission to murder.

Rabbi Beryl Wien, noted historian and lecturer comments on the dilemma of captive soldiers:
 “The Israeli army and government has had to deal with this painful problem quite a number of times over the past decades. Its main purpose, in the past, has always been to return the captive home in the best condition possible. Great debate has always accompanied this situation and policy and I am grateful that such terrible decisions are not mine to make. Many have said that the past prices paid were “exorbitant.” Others say that the price was worthwhile and justified. Perhaps only Heaven itself can decide on such impossible Hobbesian choices.
Jewish history is replete with such incidents of hostages and captives. In the thirteenth century, the great rabbi Meir of Rottenburg, was taken hostage by one of the local dukes. Rabbi Meir was one of the great Ashkenazic scholars of the Middle Ages. He was the mentor and teacher of Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel (Rosh) the greatest of the latter Tosafists and one of the basic decisors of halachic law. The duke demanded a great ransom for the release of Rabbi Meir. The Jewish communities of the area, out of their great love and respect for Rabbi Meir and their loyalty and honor to Torah scholars, were prepared to pay this exorbitant ransom. However, Rabbi Meir himself forbade the Jews from so doing, arguing, undoubtedly correctly, that payment of the ransom would only encourage the duke to repeat his evil deed with even Rabbi Meir himself becoming the victim a second time. Under his mentor’s advice, Rabbi Asher fled the German area and took up residence in Toledo in Spain. The duke did not relent on his extortionist demands and eventually Rabbi Meir passed away in the prison of the castle of the duke. The duke then demanded the very same exorbitant ransom for the release of the body of Rabbi Meir for Jewish burial, also a cardinal principle and commandment in Jewish life and law. Again, according to the wishes of Rabbi Meir as he expressed them during his last years of life, the ransom was not paid. The duke held the body for ransom for thirteen years. Eventually, a very wealthy Jew from Mainz came to a settlement with the duke and Rabbi Meir was buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery of Mainz. Next to his grave lies the body of the wealthy Jew who obtained the release of Rabbi Meir’s remains. These two graves in the Jewish cemetery remained a place of Jewish visitation and veneration even until our very day.  The problem of an “exorbitant” price always remained within the Jewish community and apparently remains so until our day. Judaism abhors simplistic answers to very complicated problems and issues. There has never been a simple answer to the question of ransoming Jewish prisoners or hostages. There obviously is no simple answer to this issue today. We can only pray for wisdom, patience, balanced behavior and Godly inspiration to help us arrive at the correct decisions in such matters, if and when, God forbid, they arise.”  The topic of the Hannibal procedure is a hot debate. One can give a legitimate argument for either side.
I went to drop off my shirts at the  cleaners the other day and the owner, David Chodjebekov had the most profound insights  on the topic. David, an Israeli, who served in the Army as well as being a former soccer player, shook his head with a grin as I mentioned the pros and the cons of the topic. He said to me ” how can you give a halachic ruleing? Once your in war everything is different. Every move you make is made on instinct. One doesn’t have time to think of what my superiors expect. Its an emotionally charged moment. ”
 Perhaps that’s the reason the Torah is very delicate when discussing a soldier who captures a beautiful enemy. He desires her and wants to make her his wife. The Torah un-charachtaristicly  permits it however with a number of stipulations. The Torah knows as time passes and he returns home with the intense atmosphere behind him he will act differently seeing her in a different environment.
David asked me ” I know you’re very good friends with my cousins since childhood”. In (a) time of need would you help them?” I said “of course! I have  a great concern for them; I consider them as if they’re my brothers; when they hurt I feel the pain”.
 He said “(a) soldier feels the same but on a more intense level. They eat together, sleep together, laugh, cry together and form a very strong bond over the course of time. They are protecting their country but even more so, protecting each other. They’re prepared to die for their country and for the most part take the bullet for their comrade.” 
  “One should know” he said “One cannot negotiatefor hostages with Arabs. For the most part, if one doesn’t capitalize on this small window of opportunity, by rescuing them then and there, then their as good as dead. We have to try any desperate measure to get them back dead or alive at that very moment. Even retrieving the soldiers bodies, from the Arabs, is a humiliating task”.
 He said” I do not believe one can compare the zealot to the soldier. At this very critical and emotionally charged moment one’s survival instincts are on. When one is in a state of fear there is no evil inclination. Man is sincere in his actions when fear is upon him. The soldier is risking his life  to bring back his friend. Love for your fellow Jew is in the forefront. Its not an issue of  being cruel to your fellow Jew Quite the opposite its loving your fellow Jew like yourself at the highest level. 


First Portion
* This Parsha reminds me of my great grandfather, and many like him, that when arriving in the land of Israel in the late 1800’s, would kiss the ground and thank G-d for having been privileged to be there. They actually found his and my great-great grandfather’s grave in Har Hazetim recently which was under Arab control. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so with our leader, as we see in the beginning passages. Moshe prays to G-d intensely, to overturn a decree that he shall not enter the Promised land. The Chasam Sofer holds that G-d did indeed listen to Moshe’s prayer. We have a rule under certain circumstances prayer accomplishes half. Moshe prayed, “Let me please pass over and see.” (Devarim 3:25) and the prayers were answered in that G-d told Moshe “see with your eyes, for you will not pass over this Jordan.” G-d answered part of the prayer regarding seeing, but not the part of entering the land. There are many new insights we can derive from these passages; the power of prayer is one. G-d tells Moshe to stop praying for if he prayed a little more, G-d would have to negate on his oath that he will not enter the land. Another crucial point of these passages as the Ibn Ezra relates is that the main purpose here was to endear Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel – to the Jewish people. If the people would be understanding enough to appreciate the land in the way expressed by Moshe’s prayer, they would surely keep the mitzvot (commandments) in order not to be exiled from their land. One question is asked, if he so desired the benefits of the land why is it not mentioned that he became satisfied from its fruits? He could have ordered out. I guess take out wasn’t as popular then like it is here in New York. From here  we see that there is an added benefit besides the physical. The Shelah mentions that the air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise. It is there that one receives the crown of Torah. Perhaps, Abarbenal adds, this is why our Parsha begins and ends with the topic of the land of Israel, with the giving of the Torah in the middle.
* “Do not add nor subtract from my commandments.” Many Sages comment how an extremely important commandment this is. It is self-preservation par excellence. Human nature is such that one gravitates and alters things during the course of time. Although it’s inevitable that modern technology has altered our lives, however the Torah is designed to withstand the changes and many of the core laws are performed as our ancestors did thousands of years ago.
Second Portion
* “There you will serve other G-ds.” Once the new generations will be removed from the revelation at Sinai, then they will be more susceptible to stray. Moshe prophesizes that generations to come will try to gain acceptance from the non-Jews at the expense of our tradition. This happened many times through the course of history. Rabbi Beryl Wien, a famous historian, explains when Jews have no respect to their host countries then assimilation is at a bare minimum. However, if Jews look up to their host countries, whether in education, culture, fashion/style, then assimilation rises. The assimilation is at 60% in the US.
Third Portion
* City of refuge, where if one accidentally kills a fellow Jew, which was designed by Moshe in Reuben’s territory, the town of Betsar. Afterwards, Moshe designed the Town of Ramos in the territory of Gad and Golan, Menashe’s territory on the eastern side of the Jordan.
Fourth Portion
* After the Israelites were receptive to Moshe’s criticism, he then repeated the Ten Commandments. One who is open and eager to learn will advance tremendously. So, Moshe thought it’s a perfect opportunity for the nation to hear. It’s important to note, many who were present did not hear the revelation at Sinai. That generation died over the course of forty years.
* One of the differences of this version and the one in the book of Shemot is in the commandment of Shabbat. There it says Zachor – remember the Shabbat. In this version, it says Shamor – be careful of transgressing the Shabbat. There is both a positive and negative commandment regarding the Shabbat. It’s not enough to just sleep and lounge around in pajamas for 24 hours. One has to enjoy the Shabbat with all its rich traditions. The Shabbat table has to be performed with respect and dignified manner; that is zachor – remembering.
Fifth Portion
* Passing the tradition is crucial in Judaism. It’s a big aveira – sin – to break the chain. The parent/child relationship is important and should be handled with a great deal of responsibility. Education in Judaism is key. Let’s say, though, one didn’t have religious parents whom followed the tradition, or for that matter, if one doesn’t have parents at all to learn from. I know a fine person who grew up without a father and yet had the most amazing Shabbat table one could imagine, week after week. This person will have a tremendous reward after he passes on. Those people have an added test in life. So if they keep the tradition of their ancestors once removed, they will reap tremendous rewards.
Sixth Portion
* After the war, they gathered all the older toddler orphans and they wanted to tell which one is Jewish (boys are easy to tell). How are they able to determine if they’re Jewish?  Answer: scream out to them SHEMA YISRAEL, most likely, if they are Jewish, they’ll answer back: “HASHEM ELOKANU, HASHEM ECHAD.” That is the power of the Shema. It’s the first phrase Jewish parents teach their toddlers.
Seventh Portion
* G-d emphasizes separation from the non-Jews and reiterates the seven nations that are currently living in the land would be bad neighbors and should be removed from the country. Israel should be pure and only marry among themselves is repeated. The Jews are now leaving the secluded comfort zone of the desert and will be faced with new challenges in their homeland.

Daring us to take the next step-Shema Yisrael

Teachings of Rabbi Yissachar Frand, contributing Esther Matmon, Dr. Joseph Blum.

When my father’s last chemotherapy / hormone contraption did not work, I turned to the doctors and asked “What’s next?”. They answered me: ” It’s time to pray; there’s nothing more we can do”. In other words the doctors are saying “we are not in control anymore; now, its up to G-d”. Well, I got news for you, they were never in control. G-d pulls the strings. Although, we have to do our effort, that’s important. However, at the end of the day, all matters are in G-d’s hands, from the inception of life to the very last breath.

 There was an interesting story I heard from my wife I would like to share:

 Three Israeli friends went to visit someone. The host places in front of his guests watermelon, as a CHIBUD KAL-light refreshments and informs them “I have to attend, briefly, to something important, in the next room. Please make a bracha and help yourselves”. One should always show hospitality by presenting chibud kal-light refreshments when guests enter your house. The three guests, who were not very knowledgeable in Jewish religious matters, were puzzled on what to say. “What bracha do we recite for watermelon?” one asked the other. “I think its BOREH PRI HA’ETZ” one said. “No, I think its “BOREH PRI HA’ADAMA” said the other.  The third person said confidently “Oh, I know, it’s SHAHAKOL NIYA B’DVARO and I’ll tell you why”. He eagerly wanted to tell his story. “When I was in the war in Gaza in 2008, I was operating a tank in combat with a team of two others.  We were firing at the enemy however missing our targets. As a result they were making advances on us. It was getting quite scary. “Why are we missing our targets”, we asked each other, alarmingly?! One of us desperately said” I think we have to make a bracha before we fire”; anxiously, we allagreed, “Yes, but what bracha? Oh, I know, when I was a little boy, my grandfather used to give me candy and say “Here, get the candy, make a bracha SHEHAKOL NIYA B’DVARO! Yeah, yeah lets try it!! So when we spotted our target we started to shout BARUCH ATA HASHEM ELOKANU MELECH HAOLAM SHEHAKOL NIYA BIDVARO!!!!————–BOOOOM!!!. What do you know, it hit the target!!  Lets try it again…. BARUCH ATA HASHEM ELOKANU MELECH HAOLAM……..BOOOM!!!!… Once again, It hit the target  Again!!!…and again.  We, then, were able to successfully reach home and accomplish our mission.

  So you see, if the bracha works on destroying our enemy surely it will work on the watermelon.”

  There are two very important insights one can derive from the incidences above. The first, we see many times, whether in our history or from our own personal experiences, our Jewish nature is such that we tend to gravitate to G-d at certain times. Extreme positive or negative occurrences, in these cases, the moment of gloom and despair, automatically,  is set to autopilot. The soldiers at their time of desperation reached out to their Creator.

 I’m not sure if its medical protocol where the doctor addresses the patient’s family by saying “now it’s in G-d’s hands” when he doesn’t have the answers. Perhaps doctors are reaching out to G-d, out of frustration, proclaiming “You run the show…tell me what to do!!”

   Secondly, curiously,if by any chance, the blast would not have hit the target, would the soldier have maintained their faith in G-d?  Well, I’m not sure. Perhaps, seeking G-d at those intense moments is just a temporary first reaction.   Who knows, perhaps the next step, if they have continued to miss their target, would have been to scream out “Simon says” before firing and, maybe then, if successful, the soldier/guest, would have suggested to recite that instead of shahakol for the watermelon.

 So in other words, perhaps, it’s a temporary leap of faith where if it doesn’t go your way they tend to go to a different direction.

Interestingly, whenever a Jew experiences danger or triumph, he turns to G-d and the one phrase that personifies the connection,  is the SHEMA. In this week’s parsha we read the famous powerful catch phrase that all Jews know SHEMA YISRAEL HASHEM ELOKANU HASHEM ECHAD. This phrase is the embodiment of faith.   Despite the plurality of our universe, the Shema stresses that all the forces in nature (denoted by the name Elokim or Elokeinu) emanate from a single, Source (Hashem) – “Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad”. He is the Indivisible One. And accordingly, the Jewish people seek to become one with Him.

  Shema is essential to Jewish belief because this is the basis for Acceptance of G-d’s Absolute Sovereignty that forms the foundation for all divine service by the Children of Israel. The universe was fashioned solely for kavod Hashem, the glorification of G-d (Avot 6:11). It acts as a constant reminder for the Jew to always involve G-d in all his endeavors. The Children of Israel are dedicated to spreading the Name of G-d in the world – even at pain of death such as Rabbi Akiva’s heroic Shema just before the Romans murdered him (See Talmud, Brochos 61b), as well as the example we used in our previous newsletters of Rabbi Fiefer. Rabbi Fiefer was a high school Rabbi in my Yeshiva, YHSQ. His wife and daughter were taken away before his eyes and later killed by the Nazis. He also, said the Shema when presumably was about to die.

  Intriguingly, one has to wonder why we cover our eyes when saying this important prayer. There are many beautiful explanations which, some, we actually mentioned.  Recently, though, I heard something riveting by Rabbi Yissachar Frand which is worth sharing.

  When Yaakov, our forefather, met his beloved son, Yosef, after 22 years, when he thought he was dead, Yosef emotionally embraced him while Yaacov was so grateful to G-d that he covered his hand on his eyes and recited the Shema.

  A little time before their famous emotional reunion as Yaakov was about to make his journey to Egypt, G-d appeared to him and told him: “I am the G-d – G-d of your father. Have no fear of descending to Egypt, for I shall establish you as a great nation there. I shall descend with you to Egypt, and I shall also surely bring you up; and Yoseph shall place his hand on your eyes.” [Bereshis 46:3-4]. Regarding the words “and Yosef shall place his hand on your eyes” the Zohar comments: “This is what the secret of Krias Shma is all about.”

 In order to fully understand the Zohar, Rabbi Frand brings a vital but mystifying passage in the Torah.

The Kol Aryeh cites his great teacher the Chasam Sofer (who lived 1762- 1839 in Hungary), who explains the Almighty’s answer to Moshe’s request “Show me, please, your glory” [Shmos 33:18]. This incident occurred when Moshe was on Mount Sinai meeting with G-d to receive the Torah on behalf of the Jewish people. Based on the Gemara [Brachos 7a], Moshe was thereby asking the profound and age-old question: “Why are there righteous people who suffer and wicked people who prosper?” The Almighty retorts back: ” You will see My back, but My face may not be seen.” [Shmot 33:21-23]. The Chasam Sofer explains the idea of seeing G-d from the back but not from the front allegorically. “My face may not be seen” means “understanding things while they are happening”. Man is incapable – from his perspective – of understanding the idea of the righteous suffering and the wicked prospering.Only if man “stands with G-d” and can see all of history from beginning to end will he have the ability to understand things in context and appreciate that everything is in fact for the best. “My back” means in retrospect – from the rear. The belief that G-d always does what is good, is essentially what we say when we recite the Shma Yisrael. Hear O Israel, the L-rd (Hashem) our G-d (Elo- keinu), the L-rd (Hashem) is One. We are familiar with the idea that the word Elokeinu (our Elo-kim) is the Name of G-d that represents His attribute of Judgment. The name Hashem  (Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay) is the Name that represents His attribute of Mercy. The interpretation of the declaration of Shma Yisrael is the following: “Understand O Israel the Name Hashem (Yud-Kay-Vov-Kay) representing mercy and compassion is identical with the Name – Elokeinu – our G-d of Justice; it is all One. He sometimes appears Merciful and sometimes as a Strict Judge, but we must believe that ultimately it all emerges from the name Hashem – the Name associated with Mercy. The Talmud states [Berachos 13b] that when Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi recited  the  Shma Yisrael, he would cover his eyes. Based on this passage, the Tur in Shulchan Aruch rules – and this is the universal practice – that every Jew should cover his eyes when reciting Krias Shma. Why do we do this? Because sometimes, when we try to say Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad [the L-rd our G- d the L-rd is One], attesting to our belief that the attribute of Mercy and the attribute of Justice are all the same, there are too many troubles right before our eyes to allow us to truly believe this testimony. It becomes difficult for us to say that everything is for the good. Therefore, we cover our eyes so that, symbolically at least, we do not see all the troubles.

The Kol Aryeh states if we want an example of this concept – that everything that the Almighty does – regardless of appearances – is truly all for the good, we can find it in the life of the righteous Yosef. His life personifies this belief. He was hated by his brothers, thrown into a pit, sold as a slave, defamed and framed by his master’s wife, and put into a dungeon where he languished for 12 years. What was he thinking through all of this?

However, eventually, because he was in this dungeon in Egypt, he became known to Pharaoh, he became the second in command in Egypt, he sustained all of Egypt, and eventually saved his brothers and family from starvatio n. In the end, Yosef saw how all that happened to him indeed was for the best.

Therefore, G-d told Yaakov not to fear as you downgrade to Egypt. Although Yaakov perceived prophetically that this would be the beginning of a long and bitter exile, G-d reassured him by saying, “Yosef will place his hands over your eyes.” In other words, G-d was reminding Yaakov of all that happened to Yosef and that despite the trauma and troubles, all had worked out for the best in the end. Yosef personified the idea that apparent troubles can foreshadow great and positive outcomes.

“Yosef will cover your eyes.” The Zohar states – “this is the secret of Shma Yisrael.”

Now we understand the Zohar. The secret of Krias Shma is the unification of Hashem [G-d of Mercy] with Elokeinu [our G-d of Judgment]. This is sometimes hard to perceive unless we cover our eyes. Yosef (and all that happened to him in his life) should be our metaphorical model for covering our eyes and allowing ourselves to be convinced of the truth of this declaration of unification of G-d’s attributes.

  The soldier/guest reached out to G-d in a moment of despair, like we all do, because that is what the pure soul of a Jew gravitates to. However the next step is most critical in reaching true and powerful faith. This is personified by the Shema Yisrael, where we learn everything we experience is for the good. However, we’re human and at times it’s hard to comprehend the negative. The soldiers in the tank reciting the bracha of shahakol are alive, however, there have been soldiers that have perished in this year’s war in Gaza. How painful it is for their families. Let us cover our eyes and say Shma and perhaps G-d will answer our prayers. Perhaps the attribute of mercy will stand out and Jews around the world will not see more anguish, Amein!