This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s , Yisschar Frand, Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Akiva Tatz, Paysach Krohn, Yitzchak Aminov, Jay Shapiro, , Yossi Bilus, Yoav Babachanov, Dr. Abba Goldman
Everywhere one turns, they can smell and see, the breathtaking scent and colorful sight of flowers because this time of the year, which corresponds with the holiday of Shavuot, plant life is in full bloom.
We, humans, identify things through association, the start of the Baseball season with the holiday of Pesach, fresh start of a new year – Rosh Hashana, flowers and cheesecakes are part and parcel with the holiday of Shavuot.
Aside from the aesthetic beauty and the extra pounds that one enjoys on this holiday, when one focuses on the spiritual part of Shavuot, there is a glaring and obvious question about this Yom Tov. Why is it called Shavuot?
The word – Shavuot – means “weeks.” It marks the completion of the seven-week counting period between Passover and Shavuot.
The main event of the holiday was commemorating the giving of the Torah which was a far-reaching spiritual event-one that touched the essence of the Jewish soul for all times. Our sages have compared it to a wedding between G-d and the Jewish people. Shavuot also means “oaths,” for on this day G-d swore eternal devotion to us, and we in turn pledged everlasting loyalty to Him.
However, if we had to pick a good name for the holiday of Shavuot, it would seem like there is a much better name for the holiday: Simchat Torah! Why not? We received the Torah on Shavuot. We celebrate that event — Simchat Torah! What could be a more logical name for this holiday? “Torah he chayenu-Torah is our life” Hey!! That’s another good name for the holiday. We received the Torah on that day so isn’t it appropriate to have Torah in the heading?
It seems like one is ordering deli at a Chinese restaurant. The main event should be incorporated in the title and here it’s not.
In addition, the Torah never refers to Shavuot by a particular calendar date as it does with all other holidays. Passover is described as the 15th of Nissan, Sukkot – the 15th of Tishrei, and so on. Yet, Shavuot is mentioned as “seven weeks or 49 days after Passover.” The Torah implies that if theoretically no one would count the seven weeks, Shavuot would not take place that year. Shavuot can only exist when and if the counting preparations have occurred. Why is this so?
Intriguingly, the answer lies in what we, the world, perceive as being sacred, and identifies us the most – our name. “Can’t mess with our name” we cry and point to the privacy laws. How dare they?! The name is our essence! We spent much time in naming a child. The name of something – defines it. What interesting is how Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch compares the Hebrew word for ‘name’ (shem) with the Hebrew word for ‘there’ (sham). A name defines an object. It tells us where it is and of what its essence consists. The name “shem” goes there “sham”; it’s one in the same. We see “shem” is on the move. Where is it going? That depends on its name. Nevertheless it’s in motion till it runs out of gas. Then we die.
We learn: Avraham had ten nisyonot – 10 tests based on his name. The root of nissayon – test is “nasa” – to elevate. Apparently, Avraham
So it seems, man is constantly on the go and that “go” – “sham” is spent on preparation. What is important is that the preparation should be allocated through the guidelines of the Torah. The holiday of Shavuot and the weeks before defines life’s concept. Life is the embodiment of preparation. We learned the famous Midrash: “we are in a corridor waiting to get in to the grand ball room. Remarkably, we learn: one receives credit not just with accomplishments but also the time spent. His preparation counts. The seven weeks preceding Shavuot is part in parcel with the holiday, for it is the essence of life, similarly to a name, where there is a mission. There are challenges daily and man perfects his name every step of the way. Interestingly, when someone is sick, a name is added, perhaps, because he exhausted his name. With a new name added, he now has a reason to live for he has to work on the challenges that the new name brings.
The highly competitive Jewelry business is such that we often, I say “we” for I was once a part of it, have to run from office to office, building to building to receive the merchandise that we need or approach clients to “make the sale”. Manny Polack is one unique individual who allocated his time wisely, leaving not one moment wasted. It took Manny about seven years to finish the entire six volumes of the Mishna. He accomplished that feat by studying the mishnayot while waiting for the elevators between buildings! There is a considerable amount of down time – waiting for elevators. I often dreamed if we can just beam up or down to our destination like they do in the fantasy science fiction show – Star Trek. Manny was able to take advantage and use that wasted time wisely.
The antithesis of allocating
The Torah quotes an interesting dialogue between Yaakov and the Angel of Eisav, whom he fought with. The Angel asked to be released because it was morning and he had to go back to heaven. Yaakov responded that he would not release the Angel until he gave Yaakov a blessing. The Angel asked Yaakov what his name was and, when Yaakov answered, then told him that he would no longer be known as Yaakov, he would from here on be called Yisrael. Then Yaakov turned the tables, and asked the Angel what his name was. The Angel responded, “Why are you asking me what my name is?”
This is a very strange dialogue, to say the least. The Angel’s response was not “I do not need to tell you my name” or “I am not allowed to tell you my name.” Nor was it “I do not have a name.” The Angel merely turned the tables and asked Yaakov, “How will you benefit from knowing my name?”
Why does Yaakov want to know his name? And what does the Guardian Angel of Eisav mean when he says “Why are you asking my name?”
Rashi alludes to these questions. Rashi explains the Angel’s response as “we Angels have no set names — our names are dependent on the current mission for which we are being sent.”
This answer, however, does not fully suffice. The Angel in question DID have a definite mission. He must have had a name associated with that mission. We in fact know who he was. He was Sama-el, the archangel of Eisav. We continue to deal with him up until this very day. He has one function — he is the instigator against the Jewish people. He is the embodiment of the Satan. He has one task in which he has been engaged in throughout the millennia. So why did he refuse to reveal his name to Yaakov? What did he mean when he asked, “Why are you asking my name?”
Yaakov told the Angel “We have had a battle and I know that this will be an ongoing battle. Explain your essence to me. What are you all about? Let me know your “name” – Yaakov was looking for the key to pass on to his children and grandchildren throughout the generations — information regarding how to deal with the archangel of Eisav in this ongoing struggle. “Tell me the nature of our fight,” Yaakov asked. By disclosing his name, Yaakov would be able to learn the essence of the angel. What would make him tic?
The Angel’s answer to this question was “it does not help to know my name, because I am not just one thing that you will have to conquer.” The Angel alluded to the fact that throughout the generations he would be changing. Sometimes, he would be Hellenism. Sometimes, he would be Socialism. Sometimes, he would be Communism. All the tests and all the philosophies and all the battles that we have had to fight throughout the generations are embodied in this one Angel. He could, in fact, not define his essence for Yaakov because the nature of his essence (which represents our struggle with Eisav) keeps changing. Sometimes, it pushes us from one direction; sometimes it pushes us from the opposite direction. It is always a different fight.
There is a dispute in the Talmud [Chullin 91a] whether the Angel appeared to Yaakov like an idolater or like a Torah scholar. Which is it? A Torah scholar looks a lot different than an idolater! What did he look like?
The answer is that he could be both. There is no one definition and there is no one battle plan. We can never say that we have conquered the archangel of Eisav because he can always rear his ugly head in a totally different manifestation in the future.
This is the archangel of Eisav. “It does not help for me to tell you my name. There is no battle plan. I cannot tell you this is who I am because I am ever changing.”
Perhaps, he did not disclose the name for he knew Yaakov would indeed discover his true essence and prevent him from infiltrating the Jewish nation. Eisav’s Angel, no matter how complex can be defined because every name, its essence, has a destination.
Many years ago, I read an interesting article regarding Governor John Connolly’s wife – Nellie, who was one of the passengers in the car where President John F Kennedy was assassinated. Kennedy instilled a vibrant fresh energy in the American people. He inspired the nation to become doers not takers.
“We were all in our 40’s,” she recalled of the events leading to the assassination “We didn’t think the world owed us a living. We thought we owed the world, and we were ready to charge.”
We, Jews, have the Torah that is G-d’s gift to us and through its guidance we’ll be able to use our valuable gift of taking charge and go through, not just the seven weeks of preparation, but also life’s challenges, making use of our wonderful name properly.
Archive for May 2015
This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Moshe Mayer Weiss, Yisschar Frand, Berel Wein , Noach Isaac Oelbaum Yossi Bilus, Dr. Abba Goldman
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss mentions in his book “Meaningful life” that the angel of death is called DUMAH which is spelled in hebrew “daled” -“vav”- “mem” “hei”. It seems kind of odd; why do we have to know his name? Are there any gains of us knowing his name? Will it prevent him from killing us if we utter his name? I once knew someone who never forgot the first name of the person he was introduced to. It felt good that someone remembers your name after only having to spend a few minutes with you. It feels like I made an impression on him; it makes one feel important. Perhaps, the angel of death will have a warm feeling that you remembered his name and have second thoughts of going through with his job.
I felt sad, one day, when I discovered that one of the employees at a Jewelry store where I did business, occasionally, got retired. The other worker asked me “why are you so sad?” I said: “he made me feel good and youthful because in the twenty years of doing business with you guys, he always called me a kid”. The worker laughed and said “he called everyone a kid whom he didn’t know their name”.
We can actually ward off death, at least some of us and the clue is found in this week’s parsha. However, in order to fully understand the antidote – it would be wise to familiarize ourselves with a famous story that’s been circulating in different variations throughout our Jewish history.
There was a Big Rabbi, presumably the Ba’al Shem Tov, however, that might be disputed, and who wanted to know who he will sit next to in Gan Eden (Heaven). G-d granted his wish by presenting the fellow’s name and town where he resides (Facebook did not exist then) where then the Rabbi made his journey via train to the location.
The Rabbi received negative vibes as he was inquiring the where-bouts of this individual. People were surprised that the Rabbi wanted to meet such an individual. After, finally, meeting with his Gan Eden partner, a butcher, he was taken a back how little they had in common. To add insult to injury – the tall fat man would, not only, not interrupt his meal when seeing the Rabbi, but would accelerate his eating with vigor. As a matter of fact, besides work the butcher would spend the majority of his time eating.
The Rabbi asked the obvious question, “Why do you eat so much?” The butcher responded, “let me tell you a little story, Rabbi”.
One day, when I was a little boy, the biggest nightmare which every Jewish child dreads came true. There was a pogrom and our house was singled out. They took all our possessions and lit it on fire in the middle of the street. Then they took my father, who happened to be a tiny skinny man and, effortlessly, threw him into the fire where he was consumed rather quickly. The “pigs” laughed and boasted how easy it was to kill a Jew.
With tears I vowed that day, if a pogrom ever happens again to my family, I will make sure that it will not be easy to kill this Jew!! They will have to earn it! This is the reason why I eat so much.
The Rabbi realized that every bite of food that this butcher chewed – he was making a conscious effort to enhance the name of G-d and HIS ambassadors – the Jewish people. The Rabbi understood the closeness and devotion to G-d that the butcher etched himself transforming the physical act of eating and all its pleasures to a spiritual realm. G-d is not just in the Synagogue or the study hall; it’s also in all our endeavors. The butcher was a master in accomplishing that feat and therefore merited a seat next to the Rabbi.
There is an astonishing insight into having a meal among friends which was conveyed by Rabbi I. N. Oelbaum. We all know that it’s important when sitting among 2 or more men, a d’var Torah-insights into Torah should be recited. The Chatam Sofer adds that the Mishna where this concept is found is only talking about regular people; therefore they have to say a d’var Torah. However, those that are sensitive and are well versed in Torah matters are exempt because the act of eating itself is as if a sacrifice has been presented on the Altar (the table where we eat is the substitute today for the Altar). A well versed Torah scholar doesn’t have to do anything extra. He is living the “Sacrifice experience” which was performed then. Furthermore, he is trained to appreciate the food and all the pleasures that go with it, which enters the mouth.
Parshat Emor contains the Parsha of the Festivals and amongst the Festivals listed is Yom Kippur, about which it is written: “It is a day of complete rest for you and you shall afflict yourselves; on the ninth of the month in the evening – from evening to evening – shall you rest on your rest day.” [Vayikra 23:32] Yom Kippur is on the Tenth of Tishrei and yet the pasuk specifies “on the ninth of the month in the evening”.
The Gemara [Yoma 81a] asks a simple question: “Do we fast on the ninth? Behold: we fast on the tenth!” One of the lessons the Talmud derives is that “whoever eats (i.e. — feasts) on the Eve of Yom Kippur, Scripture renders it as if he fasted on both the ninth and the tenth”.
This Chassidic story of the Rabbi and the butcher enlightens us in understanding the Talmudic analysis regarding “eating” on the ninth of Tishrei. When one eats for the sake of Heaven on the Ninth of Tishrei – so that he will be fortified and better be able to fulfill the mitzvah of not eating on the Tenth of Tishrei – then it is considered as that day too he fulfills a mitzvah equivalent to fasting!!
As a matter of fact, there is a custom where one has a formal meal a day before Yom Kippur called the “teshuva” – repentance meal. At the table – the discussion evolves around repentance.
There are many who utter the words “L’shem kavod Shabbat-for the purpose of enhancing the Shabbat” before eating. We see how there is an entirely different dimension to eating.
We can eat for the sake of Heaven. We can drink for the sake of Heaven. We can exercise for the sake of Heaven. We can turn almost anything into a mitzvah. It does not require an iota more of an effort. It just depends on what a person is thinking. That is why the butcher in the story with the Baal Shem Tov was going to merit an honorable place in the world to come.
One of the cardinal principles of Judaism is gratitude – the necessity and ability to say thank you. Someone who is kafuy tova – unappreciative of what he or she has and ungrateful to the extreme – is deemed to be a sinner, if not in deed certainly in attitude. The Talmud in its inimitable fashion states that a living person should always refrain from complaint – it is sufficient that one is still alive for gratitude to be present and expressed.
Jews begin their day with two words – modeh ani – I acknowledge and thank You God for having given me the gift of life once more as I awake to the new day. A general attitude of gratitude and thanks makes living life easier and simpler, even in the face of obstacles, problems and severe difficulties. The person who is able to appreciate and thank others is more optimistic. That person will always see the glass as being half full. There will be greater appreciation for what one has and less jealousy and angst over what one does not have.
In our competitive, materialistic, market driven society, there seems to be little room for expressions of gratitude. But the Torah and all of Jewish tradition and its value system demand that we be grateful and thankful, not only in attitude but in our words and deeds as well. The importance of this concept is something that should be inculcated within our children and grandchildren from the time of their earliest ages. One of the earliest phrases or words that a child should learn is “thank you.”
Those who find it difficult to say thank you to other human beings for their help will also find it difficult to say thank You to G-d for the gift of life and all that accompanies that gift. We become accustomed to gifts and kindnesses extended to us and take them for granted. Only when they are no longer there do we begin to appreciate their value and importance. The wise person will learn to say thank you while those gifts, persons and situations are still present among us.
Rabbi Frand points out that the Hebrew word for “admitting” and the Hebrew word for “giving thanks” are one and the same — Hoda’ah. In Hebrew, we say, “I am Modeh that I owe you” (I admit) and we also say, “Modeh Ani lefanecha” (I give thanks before You).
There is a blessing in the Shmoneh Esrei called the Blessing of thanksgiving. The blessing begins with the words “Modim anachnu lach”. Rabbi Frand says that the literal translation of these words is not “we thank You”; rather the literal translation is “we admit to You”.
The reason why these two words are identical in Hebrew is because a person’s ability to give thanks is based on his ability to admit that he is incomplete. If a person gives thanks to someone, it indicates that he is incomplete — he needed the favors and kindness of someone else. This is why it is sometimes so difficult for us to say “thank you” — because it is so difficult for us to admit that we were in need. The greater the gifts that we receive from someone, the more difficult it is to say “thank you”, because a greater gift indicates our greater need.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss mentions that the angel of death is called DUMAH which is spelled in hebrew “daled” -“vav”- “mem” “hei”. When rearranged these letters also spell MODEH to give thanks.
Now we can understand more clearly why it’s important to eat on the ninth day proceeding Yom Kippur. If we are MODEH-thankful, if we are conscious and have the right intention, if we appreciate what goes into our mouth and what goes out of it, then we will ward off the angel of death, not just with our prayers the following day, but with pastrami sandwich the day before!!
This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Mayer Glazer, Yisschar Frand, Baruch Dopelt, Jay Shapiro, Uri Sklaar, Yossi Bilus, Dr. Abba Goldman
Hey, Jews are smart! Did you know that? In fact throughout the course of an ordinary day we practice brain exercises by negotiating contemplating issues with, out of all people, ourselves. For example, any child will think twice about eating meat, no matter how appetizing it is, for he knows he can’t have dairy for the next six hours. So the calculations start. He says “If I eat the hot dog now, will I be clear and free to eat the Carvel ice-cream when it comes my way later tonight? Perhaps if I consume the frank quickly and not waste time and maybe the ice cream which I will be receiving will be delayed by traffic, I could, then, conceivably pull off eating both. Or maybe, perhaps, I shouldn’t take the chance”. “Or perhaps I can sandwich bag the hot dog then I can eat it later after the ice cream”
These are the negotiations that any red blooded observant Jew has to go through daily. Granted, it’s a challenge but we are committed……aren’t we?
Baker Bob was one of the finest bakers in the Catskills. Not knowingly, one individual arrived at an event where Baker Bob’s desserts were on display; however, he had a meat for lunch. Anybody who knows anything about baking knows that the best deserts and chocolates are made with butter and milk. It’s very hard to resist Baker Bob’s cakes and pastries. After a half an hour the individual too succumbed to the cakes, even though the time allowed to eat dairy did not arrive, rationalizing, “although my ancestry custom is to wait six hours, I will adopt the German Jews custom of waiting three hours”. As time passed on, he began to be more lax eating dairy right after meat justifying his actions even more, saying “it’s not so bad…at least I’m not eating the two together”. This is a frequent problem among many, where one thing leads to another and the individual degenerates. We have to explore why this is so? Where and how did he develop his brazen authority to feel he’s capable to make such decisions?
Our people like to exercise, often, the ability to “rationalize”. It’s what we do best. The Jewish cup (brains) is one of the finest in the business; we are not robots; we are known to be thinking machines. Does this precious Jew have the power of decision making? What tends to happen is him saying, “perhaps I’m not so careful about keeping milk and meat laws but I’m careful in other areas; nobody’s perfect”.
Let’s explore the ability to rationalize and how we can use it to our benefit. One has to realize that at times it can backfire and we can get in trouble. The first time we learn of someone rationalizing was the first woman, Eve.
“And she saw that the tree was good”(2:6 Bereshit) It seems like Eve rationalized the tree was good to eat, even though she was told otherwise.
In the second of this week’s parshiot, Bechokotai, G-d threatens us (26:14) “if you do not listen to Me and do not do all of these commandments”…then……Hey! There are very un-pleasant curses written as a result of not keeping them. One has to ask why G-d is so rigid. So I don’t observe all, however, I keep most.
Furthermore, when do we exercise our famous gift of brainpower? It seems like the Torah is limiting our “say power” by demanding that we observe all the commandments or else.
In a few weeks we will celebrate the receiving of the Torah. If one examines the whole courtship of us, the Jews, receiving the Torah there is one important expression that we, our ancestors uttered that elevated and separated us above the other nations. When approached by G-d, we answered “NA’ASEH V’NISHMA”-“we will DO, then we will hear”. It was a tremendous act of faith on our part, it was what HE wanted to hear, where then G-d rewarded us with His Torah. We did not say “what is in it”? It was for the very reason why we uttered the words “NA’ASEH V’NISHMA” we were chosen. However, by picking and choosing what commandments to keep and how to keep it, we are violating that breach of trust which G-d put so much faith in us to be labeled the “chosen ones.” We are violating the statement that made us famous.
By picking and choosing what commandments we feel have to be observed, we are creating our own mandate. It’s not G-d’s Torah, it seems like it’s the individual’s own contraption. Is it our morality or is it G-d’s morality? Is it our laws of Shabbat we are observing or is it G-ds. If it is G-d’s, then we have to abide by his rules.
Many are mistaken to think that if it’s not logical, if it doesn’t make sense, then one is not obligated to perform it. This mindset goes against the main principle of “NA’ASEH VENISHMA” which got us on the map!! This is what made us an attractive commodity in G-d’s eyes.
A story is told of a college student who made a commitment to start keeping Shabbat. Exited, he had a Shabbat meal by an observant family nearby his dorm room. He got an unpleasant surprise, after the meal, as he entered his dorm room. His roommate, who had left town for the weekend, forgot to close the lights which were glaring bright throughout the entire room. G-d doesn’t waste any time in testing people. His first Shabbat was a painful and tiring experience; however, he mentioned it made him stronger. Besides the commitment he had to G-d and His commandments, he learned to be disciplined. This is an incident that- if successfully passed – separates the men from the boys.
An interesting question arises so when and how can we rationalize our actions? When can we use a little “brain power”?
Let’s return to the first woman, Eve. She saw it was good, rationalizing, to eat from the tree. The problem at hand, it was without authority. We have to ask what argument the snake presented to enhance the tree’s attractiveness persuading Eve to go against her husband, Adam’s command. The snake said “if you eat from the tree you will have tremendous knowledge like G-d”. Acquiring G-d’s knowledge had such an appeal that Eve would circumvent and jeopardized not only her residency in Gan Eden, but her entire existence?!!
What, then, is G-d’s knowledge that is so appealing? The Torah. The Zohar says that the Torah was created first and the world follows the Torah’s cue. When we pray to G-d, we are talking to HIM. When we learn his Torah, HE is talking to us. One, who learns, adjusts his thinking to the Torah. That is tremendous!! He becomes, not only closer to G-d, but speaking through HIM. He, who learns, becomes a changed man, a superior man! However, the learning of G-d’s work must be consistent; a regular connection is required. One of the main questions they will ask after one departs this world “did you learn Torah daily”.
However, when one stops learning the Torah on a consistent basis, he, then, does not grow with G-d and therefore, locks in to what makes sense to himself, therefore, stumping his growth. He makes up his own self style following his internal compass. He develops an arrogant attitude of “whatever feels right is right”. He rationalizes that it’s okay to eat milk soon after meat.
If one wants assurance that the curses above will not take effect, he has to have complete faith that all the commandments are important to keep. To be able to succeed in the mitzvot that G-d designed, one has to make time to learn His masterpiece, the Torah, and apply it to everyday life.
Sometimes we forget the meaning of a world without Torah. A world without Torah is just a matter of the thickness of the veneer. It is literally a situation of “each man is prepared to swallow up his fellow man” [Pirkei Avos 3:2]. The line between a human being and a wild animal – without the guiding moral force of Torah – is indeed very thin.
On Shavuot, which we are anticipating in a few weeks, we read the story of Ruth and Orpah. Ruth and Orpah were sisters, daughters of Eglon King of Moab. They were from royalty. They had to choose between going back to a strange land with a woman, Niomi, who was an old widow without a possession in the world or returning to their father’s palace. Who really made the rational decision?
Rabbi Frand learns out that if we look at the situation with a cold calculating eye, Orpah clearly was the one who made the logical decision. Ruth made an irrational decision. Why follow Naomi? It does not add up.
Ruth realized the difference between a life with Torah and a life without Torah. When the dilemma was put into those stark terms, Ruth had a relatively easy decision. Life without Torah is not worth living. This is the essence of Shavuot.
Its not a coincidence that we learn that Ruth grandson, King David danced uncontrollably with tremendous happiness and vigor in front of the Torah. How can a king not have his controlled demeanor? That behavior might not be fitting for a king; or perhaps it does!! King David was ecstatic because he knew, like his Grandmother, how Torah can transform man to a much elevated status. He knew that it is the true “brain power” where it is permissible to rationalize, as long as its studied daily. He knew having faith in G-d, proclaiming NA’ASEH V’NISHMA and doing all of G-d’s commandments is the ticket to a better life.