Archive for September 2014

The rare coin that changed the life of many.

excerpts from a story heard by Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum and Rabbi Yossi Bilus 

How nice and relieved it would probably feel when someone is to receive a large sum of money, sorely needed, from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, to pay some of the bills and then have a little extra for ones personal needs.
   Similar was the path, the structure of the Jewelry business of my lot when I was there. I would struggle for months and then, one day, there was that big sale where then it would put a smile on my face and relieve my anxieties for at least six months.
Such was the case with this struggling individual who was showered by the heavens with one rare coin. This bracha would sustain him and his family for a good couple of years. However, one has to be smart and wait for the right buyer. The person has to receive the maximum amount when an opportunity like such strikes.
It was unthinkable to trust in the banking system and safe deposit boxes were rare in those days. The home, man’s castle, is where he would keep his valuables. However, as  one is familiar there is a downside to keeping expensive assets at home.
The individual decided to keep the expensive coin in the master bedroom closet high up in one of the secret compartments out of the reach of his young  children. However, as we all know the painful lesson a child has a long reach. They go on these explorations and find things in your house that parents didn’t know existed.
One day the man’s five year old boy found the coin and decided to go to the neighborhood makolet (grocery store) and splurge on some of his favorite candy. His mother was curious how he got all those sweets but it wasn’t until his father came home and realized that the closet was tampered with, then he knew where the candy came from.
   The father marched with his five year old down to the makolet and demanded from the store owner that he return the coin. The store owner went into his register and took out the coin presumably that the boy gave. However, that was not the expensive rare coin!!!
The father explained that his son gave the store owner a rare coin and not what the makolet keeper gave back and he must give it back!! By now the argument was being heard from outside the busy street and people were gathering by the store. The store owner reiterated again the boy did not give him the coin. The father said “I want you to swear in front of Bet Din”(Jewish court system). “No problem” said the store owner.
 The owner indeed swore in front of Bet Din and the matter was supposedly resolved. The father struggled for the next few years financially but managed with the minimal amount. The store owner, even though was exonerated by Bet Din, lost a great amount of patronage for they always associated him with taking the coin. Not only did the owner have to close up shop due to the bad reputation of the coin incident, he also had difficulty marrying off his children. Eventually, he was forced to relocate his family to another city.
 Twenty five years later the father now old and debilitated received an envelope with no return address. In it was a rare coin similar to the one the father owned twenty five years ago. In the envelope along with the coin was a note of apology. The letter stated:
 “Twenty five years ago I bumped into your son on the way to the store. Your son was flashing this expensive rare coin and it fell to the ground. The temptation was to great;  I picked up the coin switching  it with a regular similar size coin. My family was in a desperate financial situation and we were down on our luck. I  moved to a different town, sold the coin and with the money eventually got on my feet. I owe you an apology for all the trouble I might have caused. Please, forgive me”.
The question Rabbi Noach Isaac Oelbaum poses is how will the heavens judge the parties who were involved in this story. Obviously, the poor  store owner is the anointed victim. The father, considering the tremendous financial loss he was about to encounter and the disappointment of the potential gains, perhaps might have handled the situation a bit more low key. The person, who actually  switched/stole the coin would, most likely, be judged severely.
   However, there is another party who has  to be judged negatively and that is the patrons of the store and people of the town who had no connection to the case but got involved anyway. They spread negative assumptions about the store owner and for the most part caused him and his family unwarranted grief.
 The lesson to be learned as we enter the threshold of Yom Kippur and we ask forgiveness from our brethren, is not to judge our fellow when we have no authority to do so. We should not get involved in business that doesn’t pertain to us.
 Yom Kippur is a time to ask forgiveness from G-d as well as our fellow brethren. It’s a time that we have to look at our relationships in a very sensitive manner and hold back our unwarranted opinion.



The power of the voice of the Shofar

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Baruch Doppelt, Yossi Bilus

This year some of us will live, and some…; some will prosper financially, some will struggle; some will have health issues, some will not; some will get married and some will get divorced; some will have children, some will not; some will triumph, some will fail. It’s most difficult to make light and be humorous at this time of the year, considering the responsibility that the heavens weigh upon us. It’s a crucial time and, frankly, we can make a difference. How, one may ask? Regardless of what the outcome will be, we follow the guidance of our religious leaders, they lead us with special prayers and tools to accomplish the optimal results for a good sweet year. These methods have been closely taken from the Torah and from the elder generations which followed. We then incorporate the methods and are proactive during the prayer services whether through singing along, listening or praying silently with the utmost devotion and sincerity.
 One of the main tools and weapons is the shofar. The Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 29:3) teach us that the Shofar is able to accomplish an almost magical task of enticing G-d to stand up from the throne of Strict Justice and move to the throne of Mercy. How is this accomplished?
 Furthermore, the Sages, based on the words of the Prophets, describe the sound of the shofar as a call to repentance. If so, why is the shofar sounded at night at the close of Yom Kippur when there is as yet no need for a new call to repentance? Clearly, the sound of the shofar also signals an outburst of joyous confidence that our Yom Kippur prayers were accepted favorably. But this is in itself puzzling. How does one sound: serve both as a call to repentance and a cry of joy? What is the power of this phenomenon?

  There is yet another powerful method that we rely on, which, happens to be,  a main theme of Rosh Hashana, and that is  recitation of the “Akeidat Yitzchak”. It’s the story of G-d testing the faith of our patriarch – Avraham. He was commanded to sacrifice his dearest son -Yitzchak, which he dutifully attempted. Avraham’s attempt epitomized the highest level of faith by man. As a matter of fact, we sing a poem OKED V’HANEKAD regarding the emotional state of mind of the parents Avraham and Sarah as well as the son, Yitzchak, as he is awaiting to be slaughtered, before the blowing of the shofar. (Singing a poem regarding the subject like this is the best way to get us inspired to connect to G-d)
 Intriguing, though, if one would translate “Akeidat Yitzchak” “the binding of Yitzchak” it doesn’t seem to define the incredible test!!! G-d commanded to slaughter Yitzchak, not bind him. Of course, one has to bind the hands of his prey in order to receive the best result. However, it should have been titled the “slaughter” or “potential slaughter of Yitzchak”. Perhaps the emphasis should have been on the knife. But certainly, many would agree, the emphasis should not be on the binding. It’s anti-climatic!! Why then do we single out the binding?
  If there ever was a dramatic pause in Synagogue, it’s right before the shofar blowing. It’s one of the most crowded times of the year. Everyone is quiet as the congregation anticipates the blowing of the shofar. Interestingly, we read a psalm, “Lamenatzeach b’nai Korach” seven times right before the blowing of the shofar.  Why do we read about Korach’ sons before one of the most important times of the year?
The holy Torah has always taught us if one wants to understand something he has to go to the root. Well, the root of a mankind is Adam, the first man. We will have clarity about the Akeida and shofar after probing into the environment Adam was placed before and after the sin. The Ramban writes, and I paraphrase, “that Adam did according to his nature which was pure good. In essence there was no right and wrong. There was no confusion on what to do. Adam only seeked the truth, G-d. However, after Adam ate from the eitz hada’at – the tree of knowledge, the freedom of choice was placed upon him. Da’at in Hebrew can mean choice.”
Many commentaries find this Ramban a bit difficult. Wasn’t man designed to make decisions from the get go? Isn’t that the essence of man? In deed, the fact that he had an evil inclination on his back his whole life placed him higher than even the angels. After all, if he prevails, he prevails with the heavy load on his shoulder of tough choices to make. No pain – no gain; that’s a tremendous accomplishment. Angels don’t have that choice.
 There is an astonishing Gemara in Tractate Yuma(77) that mentions the angel Gavriel received lashes for disobeying a command from the heavens. How can that be, Angels can’t sin? How is that possible? They’re G-d’s obedient and trusted soldiers. Malach Gavriel rebelled?! WOW!!
 There is a misconception about these extra terrestrial creatures. Angels can’t sin not because they’re programed that way, it’s not the result of that they’re robots, it’s, for the reason that they are so close to G-d – it’s obvious. Similarly, if one asks another to jump into the fire, his reaction will be “I can’t”. He actually can, however, he is smart enough to know the consequences and therefore will not do it.
 Another example, if one will ask another to walk stark naked on Queens Boulevard during morning rush hour.  It’s not that he can’t; he won’t.
 The same is with the angels they’re so close to G-d that they form a binding with G-d. It’s a no-brainer!!  They know better not to sin. That was man’s holy state before the sin. Adam was meant to bind to G-d from the get go.
 Avraham and Yitzchak reached a very high level of belief in G-d to an extent  that it was truly AKEIDAT YITZCHAK, a bind similar to Angelic state.
 As we all know, life is difficult. Living in the high powered New York is truly very demanding. There is so much pressure on us through our daily schedule, it’s hard to think of spiritual matters. Plus, there is our negative side that for whatever reason doesn’t let us accomplish or reach that bind with G-d. So was the case with Korach’s sons. Korach was an evil man who pursued honor at the expense what was the right path. He rebelled and at the end paid the consequences. It was most difficult on his sons who were pressured to follow their father’s ways. Actually, it was both their parents who were instrumental in the evil rebellion. The negative energy was pulling and squeezing  them towards the wrong decision. Going against the grain is tough. However, at the last moments with their backs against the wall, at the buzzer,  before G-d killed the rebels, they stood up and said “No!!! We have to pursue the truth. We cannot let the pressures and pleasures of the negative energy overcome us. We have to change and improve our lives”
 The time before mussaf, when the chazzan  is moments from blowing the shofar, is an opportunity to change the decree. It’s the time to capitalize on the moment because our backs are against the wall similar to Korach’s sons. As we read the Mizmor, we should realize how they persevered and changed their lot at the last moment and therefore binding themselves to G-d similarly to Avraham and Yitzchak.


The power of the shofar!

 The life force within man came when G-d “blew into his nostrils the soul of life and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). This is why the nose, used for breathing and smell, is the organ through which the neshama, soul enters and leaves” (See Rabbeinu Bachya, ibid).  Of the three parts of the soul, the highest, unsullied component is the neshama (as in the Eloykei Neshama prayer: “My G-d, the neshama that You implanted in me is pure”. This soul can never be contaminated. Why not? This is because it has no association to sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Chava defiled four out of their five senses. They heard the serpent’s alluring words, the fruit was “a delight to the eyes”, they touched it by taking from it’s fruit and they tasted it. But the sense of “smell” remained untarnished. Accordingly, this sense denotes inner purity and deep attachment to G-d and the fulfilment of His Will. From this we see the power of the ketoret-the incense that was burned for a sacrifice in the holy Temple. Aharon the priest was able to stop a plague and prevent the nation from dying by performing the incence sacrifice. The reason for its potency is the fact its pure essence of smell – breathing. Today, we don’t realize, the importance of reading of the korbanot before mincha and shacharit.
Furthermore, the  breath of life, free of the artificial manipulations of speech, as well as it not corrupted by evil gossip throughout the year, is the most expressive form of communication. A gasp, a sigh, a scream are more eloquent than pages of prose, because they don’t tell about what is inside us, they actually are what is inside us. Therefore, the voice itself, the exhalation of the breath, is more expressive than the spoken words it transports. When Hashem wanted Abraham to heed the advice of his wife Sarah, He told him to “listen to her voice.” The voice is the key, not the words.The shofar is a tool that is untainted, its prayers comes from the innermost soul, through the breath, the nostrils and therefore has a tremendous impact. It has the power, with its purity, to bind the individual to his maker. It has the power to breakthrough barriers. We say in our prayers that G-d hears the sound of the shofar. This is the KEY to our high holidays prayers. The power of the shofar has the ability to change negative decree to positive and allow us to have a happy sweet new year and be written in the book of life. Amein!


Life is fragile, handle with care!

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar Frand, Akiva Grunblat, Baruch Dopelt Dr Abba Goldman
There are pluses and minuses to being multicultural. The minus is one never  really has the feeling of any one culture being “home”.  We understand the joke, but don’t appreciate the humor as much as they do.  However, the plus is one gets a taste of an enormous amount of knowledge having being exposed to the diversity of the world and knowledge is a power.
    I recently was in a major car accident and  a famous wise expression kept haunting me throughout the ordeal.
The   Bukharian Jews frequently use an expression in a regretful connotation when reflecting on one who passed on; it’s two words “haifi odam”; its either said, just is or “haif” with a person who is no longer in this world attached to it.  An example,”Haifi Joe” would be the correct way it’s used.
It’s a loaded two words, deep in meaning and probably needs a couple of paragraphs to explain. Nevertheless an attempt will done as condensed and as clear as possible:
   What a pity on an individual life; what a pity on the essence of a person. How short life is and we are robbed of enjoying the particular individual. He/she left before we could enjoy them more. How vulnerable a human is; here today and gone tomorrow.  Only he was able to do it a certain way and he is not replaceable.  Life is too short!
   The “HAIFI ODAM” expression came into full bloom on two experiences in my life. When my father past away, my father-in-law, who was very close to his mother, appeased me by saying “Haifi onim” sadly. “The human being doesn’t have the worth as we seemingly think. They’re gone before we appreciate them”. The second experience of “haifi odam” is my recent accident experience.
   A few Saturday nights ago I made Havdalah (prayer that separates the Shabbat from weekdays) where then I was on my way, as I usually do every motzai Shabbat, to visit my elderly mother. I had some laughs with my kids and off I went.  Seven minutes later I awaken after loosing consciousness,  on the street next to my car, where I just had an accident, awaiting an ambulance. Funny, how one moment my family and I are enjoying each others company and moments later it can be an unfamiliar script. I remember thinking as I was regaining consciousness, looking up and seeing the accident scene, saying  “Oh, no, this bad dream is continuing. I did not make it to my mother.” There is a certain reassurance of the concept of habit and the accident had diverted my life from my usual routine.


   We can learn a valuable lesson from this week’s parsha to what we discussed above.
   This parsha contains the mitzvah of Bikkurim (offering one’s first fruits in Jerusalem) and the mitzvah of reading the associated Parshas Bikkurim (First-Fruit Reading). In Parshat Bikkurim, a person offers praise to the Almighty, expressing gratitude for the many kindnesses He has bestowed upon the Jewish people in general and on this farmer in particular. In expressing this gratitude, the person testifies that he not only appreciates what he has received now, but he appreciates the whole process by which he has arrived to that point in time. In Parshas Bikkurim, we trace the whole history of the Jewish people from the earliest Patriarchic era to our present day. In detailing the suffering we experienced in Egypt, the narrative includes the following declaration: “The Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us, and placed hard work upon us.” [Devarim 26:6].

Rabbi Yissachar Frand mentions that the commentary the Alshich is bothered by a statement of the Sages. One of the three fundamental commandments in our holy Torah is the Mitzvah of Bikkurim. He remarks that Bikkurim would not seem to be in anyone’s list of the “top 3 mitzvot” and yet here this Midrash states that the world was created for the sake of this mitzvah! What is the meaning of this Midrash?

    Secondly, once again the topic of Yetziat Mitzraim – the exodus of Egypt is brought up. It seams like on almost every corner of Jewish holy scripture the Torah mentions the Exodus from Egypt. Even the first of the Ten Commandments where it says “I am Your G-d” it continues “Who took you out from Egypt”. Why does that incident stand out in all that is associated with belief in G-d?  Secondly, it seems there is an association to the mitzvah of bikkurim. What is it?
Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt quotes the Rambam’s question of how in the good old days did pangenetic worship start. Idle worship was very popular in biblical times. He answers: it actually started very innocently. They actually believed in G-d, however, they wanted to honor the second in command. What first was a tribute to, for example, the stars, later evolved into being the main focus of worship. They were under the impression that they weren’t worthy of going direct to G-d, so they settled. Who am I to bother the King. It’s a lack of respect to bypass the officers. This is how the second fiddle, the go between, transformed to the primary.
     The essential directive of Yetziat Mitzraim – exodus from Egypt was as G-d explicitly decrees “I will take you out” – not an angel! This is a clear message against paganism. It’s a direct attack toward the trend of the world. There is a direct relationship between G-d and an individual Jew. It’s personal, it’s a relationship.
We are about to enter the Judgment month and as one is aware: Rosh Hashana we emphasize and refer to G-d as King. However, we also express that he is Our Father – AVINU MALKEINU! This is the personal relationship we have with HIM and it’s a very special one!
     Rabbi Grunblat gives a parable. Jews have the kind characteristic of helping each other. One wealthy man committed himself to help a particular down and out individual.  They agreed every Monday, at 8:00am, the needy man will come and the wealthy man will give him a check for $2,000; this will be sufficient to sustain him for the week. After the initial Monday when he received the first installment the down and out man showed up, on Tuesday knocking at the door. “I just want to remind you  to fulfill your promise next Monday”. The rich man said “no problem, it’s ok, I remember our agreement”. The next day the poor man came again knocking on the door and reminding the rich man again.              The wealthy man surprised at the man’s appearance again, reiterated, “don’t worry, you’ll have it Monday. There is no need to remind me again”. Sure enough, though, the poor man came again the next day.
    We pray three times a day and for the most part have the same request. Why do we repeat the same thing?  If we pray once a week, I’m sure, G-d’s not going to forget. In fact, G-d should probably be annoyed at the constant repetitiveness, don’t you think?
   No, absolutely not!!! It’s personal; G-d wants the communication to constantly be there. It’s an intimacy we share with Our Maker. The personal relationship is important!  There is more opportunity for appreciation!
Let’s get back to the mitzvah of Bikkurim.
The Alshich answers that the mitzvah of Bikkurim contains within it something that is fundamental to being a human being — the obligation for people to express their gratitude and hakarat haTov- acknowledgement of gratitude. HaKarat haTov is so basic and primary that the whole world’s creation was actualized just for this mitzvah, which teaches us and trains us in the attribute of gratitude.
The Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer [Chapter 7] writes, “There is nothing harder for the Almighty to live with (as it were) than an ungrateful person. The reason Adam was exiled from the Garden of Eden was due to his ingratitude. His sin was not merely eating from the Tree of Knowledge (Etz HaDaas). For that sin alone, perhaps he could have remained in Gan Eden. The straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak, was the fact that in response to G-d’s question ‘why he ate from the Etz HaDaat’, Adam said, “The woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” As Rashi points out, Adam was being ungrateful. G-d presented him Chava as a gift and Adam complained that she caused him to sin.
Appreciation of G-d and the people around us who are created in G-d’s image is essential part of life.  However, we take those relationships for granted. Though, at times it’s not done intentionally. We tend to get busy with our own lives and focus on specific things therefore neglecting loved ones and old friends. Only after the individual passes on, do we regret not spending more time or being nicer to them.
There was a mutual friend from the neighborhood, Forest Hills, David Kagan, who had abruptly passed away a number of years ago at age 45.  His death shocked us all. A few weeks later I received a call from our mutual friend, Ronny Alibayof, who expressed interest in having a mini reunion. He told me “Kagan and I wanted to get

together for a long time  but never had the chance. I don’t want that to h

appen to us. Let’s enjoy each other’s company while we can, considering the uncertainty of tomorrow.”

We have to cherish our relationships and value them whether it be between us and G-d or with our loved ones. One never knows, one can be laughing and enjoying loved ones and seven minutes later things can change.