Archive for September 2016

Judging with a sixth sense….can you?

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Jay Shapiro, Yossi Bilus

YOU BE THE JUDGE: This story occurred in Israel. It makes sense that it happened there, for only a Jewish mind can be so creative:
A man’s home is his castle and when he leaves it, he has to have the proper guards to protect it. After all, a man has to leave his place of residence, at times for an extended period. The word vacation means to vacate ones premises. Man needs to change his environment; he has to press the refresh button from time to time.
One individual did just that; took his family on a long awaited vacation, which they had all been anticipating for a while. Before departing, he went to his trusted neighbor with the keys to the house and asked him to watch the house and not to lend out the key to anyone.
A few days later, the neighbor received a knock on the door. He walked out and saw a truck and two big-muscled men waiting by his neighbor’s door with a new couch. A third person, who seemed to be the spokesman, seemed a bit agitated and impatient, complaining: “No one’s home and we have a busy schedule. If we can’t get in we’re just going to leave it outside”. The neighbor knew if that would happen, the couch would be ruined, as the rainy season was just beginning. He immediately tried to get in touch with the owner, but to no avail. Rationalizing that his friend wouldn’t want to see the couch destroyed, he succumbed to their demands and let them in. He was very careful when they entered and watched them like a hawk. He carefully locked the house after they placed the couch in the living room.
A few hours later there was another knock on the door. It was the same, frustrated delivery man. He said, “we made a mistake and delivered the couch to the wrong person. We need to take it back and deliver it to the right party”. Again, the neighbor opened the door and watched carefully as they carried the couch out of the house.
A few weeks later, back from his vacation, the neighbor frantically knocked on his friend’s door. “My house was ransacked, all my valuables are gone,” he screamed! “Did you allow anyone into our home?” Surprised, to say the least, the house watcher told all about the couch incident. Defending himself, he said it was highly unlikely that anything was taken under his watchful eye. Boy was he wrong! It was learned later, that when the men delivered the couch, they hid someone inside, who stole all the jewelry and valuables, during the several hours that he was in the house, alone. The delivery men came back for him; he was concealed once again inside the couch accompanied with the house fortune.
The question is asked to th e reader, the judge of this case: Was the neighbor negligent or was this an unavoidable mishap? Did he dutifully protect the house? Is it his fault he was conned? He just wanted to help his neighbor and prevent him from losing a brand new couch! Plus, shouldn’t he be judged more leniently, since he was a shomer chinam who watches something for no pay? How literally do you take the owners words: DO NOT LET ANYONE INTO MY HOUSE…… NO MATTER WHAT! Was that mandate violated? There are always exceptions to the rules. Is monetary loss considered a valid exception?
This is the scenario presented to you, the judge. In this week’s parsha, we are introduced to the concept of judges. In our holy scripture, there are many prerequisites for becoming a judge. First and foremost is the importance of being “G-d fearing,” which is a major factor in being successful at that position.
There was a very sad story that occurred after World War Two. A woman came to a big rabbi wanting to marry again and stated that her first husband had perished in the death camps. She showed evidence and brought eye witnesses to her claim. After hearing what the woman presented, the rabbi declared the woman a widow and permitted her to remarry.
Years later, low and behold, the first husband showed up at her door. She, living in America, wife of another husband with a number of children from him, was horrified. Her children were mamzerim!!
She went to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the highest ranking, Jewish judge at the time in the United States, telling her story about how the prominent rabbi gave her permission to remarry. Rabbi Moshe heard her story and when she was finished, he seemed confused, so he asked her to repeat it. She then repeated the story a second time and again the rav seemed a bit confused and asked to repeat a third time.
After the third repetition, astonishingly, the woman broke down crying and confessed she never received approval to marry again. She fabricated much of her meeting with the prominent rabbi who supposedly gave her permission.
Rabbi Moshe’s students asked why he had asked the woman to repeat the story so many times. Rav Moshe said, “it didn’t make sense! This Rabbi is a G-d fearing Jew and would never make a mistake like that. G-d would not let him.”
There is something very deep in Rav Moshe’s statement that “G-d would not allow that.” Since when does G-d interfere with the judgements of rabbis? What about freedom of choice? There is a Psalm that we say every Tuesday morning at the end of the morning prayers (Shacharit). In Psalm #82 it mentions “B’ADAT KEL,” in the Divine assembly. Judges who seek truth and justice are the Devine assembly, because they represent G-d’s justice on earth. As the result of their sincerity, G-d Himself penetrates into their hearts-B’KEREV ELOKIM, in the midst of judges -to assure them of reaching a just verdict” (Ashlich-Artscroll).
G-d goes beyond the usual energy that he infuses in an individual. He assures the case at hand, by getting involved in the decision making by incorporating a sixth sense, into the judge. Another example of G-d’s involvement in judging, occurred after Avraham’s circumcision. The Master of the Universe came to visit Avraham, who in pain, tried to stand up out of KAVOD- respect. G-d, as a reward, said, “you, Avraham, stood up for me, for you felt it was the correct thing to do. When the time comes, as you (your descendants) sit and judge, I’ll stand during the judgment.” In other words, you stand up for whats right and I’ll stand up for what’s right, assuring a correct verdict.
There are many cases where we see this 6th sense occur, where we are helped by the Divine: A complaint came before a rabbi that an individual owed $10,000. Rueben claimed Shimon owed him $10,000 and he had a document to prove it. The document was presented to the Rabbi with Shimon’s signature on the bottom right of the page and written on it, was “I took $10,000 from Rueben with the promise to pay him back.” The document was presented to Shimon who said that indeed, this is my signature, however I never took a loan or wrote such a promise. The Rabbi was suspect of the document and did not believe Rueben. An intuition that something was fishy was his thinking in the case. He asked that Rueben leave the document overnight, so he could review it. As he was examining the document he noticed that it was on an unusual thicker paper. The paper that the document was on had an unusual fine design on it. The Rabbi was thinking about what kind of paper would have a thicker, fine design on it.
As he looked up from his desk and saw the bookcase, the answer hit him: a book. The first page has a thick fine design, and has a spot for the owner to write his name. The rabbi called up Shimon and asked him for a little background of his relationship with Reuben.
Shimon said, “we were once neighbors many years ago.” “Let me ask you Shimon, where do you sign your name on books that you own,” the Rabbi inquired. Shimon’s response was on the bottom right on the first page of the book. The Rabbi then asked if he ever lent a book to Reuben, to which Shimon responded in the affirmative. The Rabbi asked to see all the books he had lent.
One by one, the Rabbi examined the few books that Rueben borrowed and returned from Shimon. Low and behold, one of the books had the first page missing. The Rabbi quickly looked at the back of it and discovered it looked similar to the document paper. The case was solved. In today’s day and age, it’s most difficult to be objective. There were legendary stories, in the time of the Talmud, about big rabbis who disqualified themselves as judges, because they thought they would be biased or not judge with full understanding and peace of mind. But when they did judge, everyone admitted that they received help from the heavens. It wasn’t logical, they said, that they were able to figure out the outcome themselves. Whether one calls this intuition or just plain luck, that sixth sense made it possible to judge. The couch case is one that argument can sway in any direction. Perhaps we just have to sit back and let G-d stand and put the right thoughts into our judges, so that they can make this world a better place.


A smart candidate knows what buttons to push to get the vote

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Akiva Grunblat, Yissachar Frand, Yonnasan Zweig, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Paysach Krohn, Yossi Bilius, Mordechai Kamenetzky, Rabbi Doctor Meir Levin

Moshe’s last hurrah as leader, before he died, was an important war that was vital to the leadership of Israel. We learned in the last couple of parshiot that non-Jewish women of Moav and Midyan succeeded in seducing our Jewish boys to sin. Initiated by Bilaam and Balak, this clever and devious plan resulted in the death of 24,000 Jewish men, by plague, as God’s punishment for being swayed by these women.
Over the course of history, the beautiful shigsa has always been a thorn in our side!! She is the satanic temptress! Our responsibility, difficult throughout the ages, is to resist selling our souls to this Dorian Grey arrangement. It is our job to recognize the gravity of the sin of cohabiting with women outside our faith or engaging in illicit relationships. It is evident how much G-d can be angered when we take that route. This weeks parsha tells the story of revenge, in which G-d orders the Israelites to mobilize an army and attack Midyan. This command raises an obvious question, addressed by Rashi: Midyan? what about Moav? Why weren’t they attacked as well? They were just as much responsible for the incitement! Why were they spared? The up and coming election dilemma of whom to vote for, Clinton or Trump, serves as a wonderful backdrop for the answer to this question. Every politician will do his very best to get you to vote for him. It is rather interesting how they lure voters and seduce them to their respective sides. What is the best tactic? What do we want to hear? Lower taxes? Better national security? If there is one line that surmises their success in winning your trust, THIS IS IT!! It is something which I heard from Rabbi Akiva Grunblatt this past week. “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Bereishit 49:12) The above is part of the blessing that Yaakov gave to his son Yehuda, in preparation of the royal lineage of the Jewish people. Clearly, wine has always been associated with royalty. But what do the color white and milk have to do with Yehuda’s kingly descendants?

The Gemara (Ketuvot 111a) has a fascinating interpretation of this verse; “Better is the one who shows the white of his teeth (i.e. in a smile) to his friend, than the one who gives him milk to drink.” In other words, “white toothed from milk” can be interpreted as, “to be white toothed with a smile is better than to give milk.” This is because one who provides milk to the poor provides a physical gift that sustains the person for a little while. But one who smiles at and comforts the forlorn with encouraging words, provides a listening ear or a pat on the back, gives that person an everlasting feeling of self worth. This lifts his spirits and sustains him more than any physical gift which merely amounts to a temporary respite. This concept is also found in the animal kingdom. The Gemara (Kiddushin 82b) describes what kind of professions certain animals would assume if they had to enter the workforce; the lion would be a porter and a fox would be a merchant etc. While it is easily understandable how the cleverness of a fox would make him a successful merchant, why would a lion, king of all the animals, choose the lowly job of a porter?

The answer lies in the Torah’s view of leadership.
Real leadership is about empowering others to actualize their potential. In other words, leadership isn’t about the majesty of the head position. True leaders take the resources at their disposal to help move others forward. Sometimes, perhaps even often, this means carrying the “baggage” of others so that they can get to where they need to go. Leaders realize that their role is to move the overall mission forward and take responsibility for its execution. A lion becomes a porter because his real desire has nothing to do with his own self-aggrandizement, rather his true leadership role of helping others. Let’s get back to the question of why Moav was not targeted in the battle. Rashi points out that Hashem commanded Moshe to decimate the Midianites and not the Moabites, although they were more instrumental than the Midianites in enticing Bnei Yisroel to sin. The Midrash explains that since Ruth, the great grandmother of King David, was destined to descend from Moav, G-d refrained from destroying them. This answer seems only to create yet another question. If in fact, Moav deserved to be destroyed, why could G-d not have orchestrated a scenario by which the majority of the nation was killed, but Ruth’s existence was assured by the few survivors? The reason is, that since Ruth was the ancestor of the Davidic dynasty, it was crucial that she herself descend from aristocracy and nobility. Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, King of Moav. In order for this to occur, the entire nation of Moav had to be preserved. If the nation had been decimated, Ruth would have stemmed from refugees, making it unlikely for her to be born into a family of nobility.

The benefits gained by Ruth’s stemming from aristocracy are twofold: From the perspective of the Jewish nation, the genetic base of monarchy has already been established through her own personal standing. From a universal perspective, the Moshiach who will stem from the Davidic dynasty will influence and teach all of mankind. The infusion of nonJewish monarchy into the Davidic dynasty will allow for a greater universal impact.
What is this great universal impact introduced through Ruth? The scriptures of Megilat Ruth indicate kindness, “a porter carrying the load” and a caring person. Ruth is the grandmother of the royal Jewish dynasty par excellence. Her mother-in-law Naomi, was a woman who lost everything, including her vast wealth and her family and proceeds to return to her homeland with virtually nothing. She tries to dissuade her non-Jewish daughters-in-law from returning with her, though she cannot convince Ruth. In one of the most poignant moments in our holy scriptures, Ruth injects life into her mother-in-law, Naomi, by telling her I’m with you! ” And Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried; G-d do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

This is the message that Yaakov wanted to instill in the future kings of the Jewish people, through Yehuda, ancestor of King David. They will have the wine of royalty but it must be used with the “white teeth” to empower others.

The Midrash tells us that during Moshe’s tenure as a shepherd, one of the sheep ran away. He chased the sheep, brought it back to the rest of the flock, and carried it home. G-d looked upon him and said, “A man who cares for his sheep will care for his people.” That act catapulted Moshe to the position we know. Acts that are bold and courageous often personify leadership, character, and commitment. People think that only those gallant and daring acts can lead them to greatness and glory. The Torah tells us that it is not so.

The Torah links Moshe’s selection to Divine leadership with the simple task of shepherding. The qualifications that G-d looks for are not necessarily what we humans would. We often look for honors, accolades, achievements, and accomplishments that are almost superhuman. G-d, on the other hand, cherishes simple shepherding, He loves care and concern for simple Jews. We may come to Him with resumes of brilliance, courage and valor, but He does not need that. He wants consistency, love, compassion, and, perhaps most of all, humble simplicity.

Moshe had those qualities too. It was those qualities of compassion, not the forceful abilities he used in attacking the Egyptian taskmaster, fending off evil shepherds, or rebuking Israel in Devarim, that were chosen to cast Moshe into the light of leadership. We may be bold and courageous, but without compassion for the little things, without the humility to find lost sheep, we may be simply overqualified.

There is a Medrash that tells us “G-d does not elevate a person to greatness until he first tests him with the little things.” What makes the leader is his ability to relate to the common man and to see the mundane needs of regular people.

This is the lesson of Moshe, as well as of Yehoshua, the following leader. Yehoshua’s gift is that he was able to relate to any individual at his level, white color, blue color, Sefaradi, Ashkenazi yalah yalah yalili. A leader has to hear the problems “I have problems with my wife, my children, my business…” This is what the leader gets. If he can’t relate to these types of problems, he can’t be an effective leader.

Over the course of my life I have visited Israel quite often. Even though I was born and bred in the Unites States, as the result of my parents being Israelis and having a rather large mishpacha in the holy land, my visits were a testament to the realistic lifestyle of the people living there, as opposed to witnessing Israel through the eyes of a tourist, staying in a hotel or a dorm room full of Americans.

Although our family was always Shomer Shabbat, at the time, we were more modern and I would go mixed swimming. That is something my family does not do today, as we are more careful with the laws of modesty. My summer days, on one of my visits when I was 16, consisted of grabbing a trendy, large, fresh squeezed fruit drink for breakfast and taking the kav 11 bus with my cousins to the beach of Tel Aviv, Chof Frishman. On a number of occasions on our way back on the crowded, 5:00 bus, returning to my cousins’ residence at Yad Eliyahu, I would witness Israeli soldiers returning from their tour of duty. Interestingly, as they entered the crowded bus with their rifles and heavy gear, the passengers would get quiet, out of awe and respect, and the girls my age that I knew from Chof Frishman would rise and give them their seats. Many of the 16 year olds couldn’t wait to enter the army. It was a sense of pride. A soldier was well respected and would try to enter the most elite squad in the army or air force. Fast forward about eight years until I was learning in a Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. Here too, I had relatives who I would frequently visit. On many occasions on the crowded bus returning from Yeshiva to their residence, I witnessed how the entrance of Yeshiva boys wearing black hats and carrying heavy holy books, would also initiate the respect and awe of the passengers. Almost the same scene unfolded, where the young girls would rise and give up their seats for the Yeshiva students. Many 16 year olds couldn’t wait to enter the big Yeshivot. They would take exams and hope they would get excepted to the best Yeshivas in Israel. Two polar opposites and different cultures, though both deserve the same respect, for both protect our country!! Though the rift between these two cultures can be a bit hostile at times, in the 1970’s when both worlds were defining their marks more clearly and veering off in opposite directions, an unfortunate event happened. We recently marked the 40th anniversary of the raid on Entebbe.. When the shocking news of the hijacking reached Yeshivat Mir, many quite expectedly, were in a somber mood. A massive Yeshiva Tehilim reading was scheduled, preempting all learning. The Yeshiva awaited the great Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, whom we quote many times in our articles, to enter and lead the services. Rav Chaim was up in age and was not a well man. As a matter of fact, two years later he would pass on. As the Yeshiva stood silent after hearing that the Rosh Yeshiva was about to enter, they heard the foot steps of the Rav, slowly climbing up.

Clearly he was not a well man at this juncture. What happened next was a memory stitched in every one’s mind who attended that Tehilim reading. As he entered the study hall, he stopped by the second to last row and started weeping. He then, perhaps because of his illness or out of anguish, sat in the empty chairs that was available and was weeping uncontrollably. Everyone in the Yeshiva had their eyes fixed on Rav Chaim. They heard the echoes of his cry vibrating throughout the study hall. It was only about 3 or 4 minutes but it felt like a lifetime. He then rose and made it to the front of the study hall where he led the Tehilim reading. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, the fiery, no nonsense, Rosh Yeshiva made a statement that day. He showed the Yeshiva world and for that matter the whole world, that every Jew is precious whether he is religious or not religious, soldier or Yeshiva student. We are all G-d’s children and we must all care about each other. Here is a man who showed the pinnacle quality of leadership, caring. This is the number one quality the politicians want to convey. ” I care about you!! Vote for me. And for that reason, Moshe was instructed not to harm Moav even though they were just as guilty as Midyan, for Ruth had to blossom so the Royal Jewish Monarchy could emerge unscathed, with the quality of caring.

The Talmud states [Sanhedrin 8a] that a Judge has to suffer with his congregation, like a nursemaid carries a baby [Bamidbar 11:12]. This is a very apt analogy.

G-d demands to care for your fellow Jew at any price

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar frand, Rachamim Shaulov, Rabbi Dovid Hoffman, Yossi Bilius, Asher Hurzberg and Boaz Davidoff

The first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av, culminating with the fast of Tisha b’Av, observed on the date when both Holy Temples were destroyed, are the blackest days on the Jewish calendar. These are days of national mourning, when we contemplate the nearly 2,000-yearlong galut, the physical and spiritual displacement of our nation.
Though festivities are inappropriate for these days, there is one avenue of joy that is permitted -joy associated with serving G-d, the joy of a mitzvah. In fact, the celebration of certain mitzvot overrides the sorrowful nature of the time, and calls for a seudat mitzvah-a celebratory mitzvah meal- during which the mourning practices of these days are relaxed.
One such joyous occasion is the participation in a siyum- the completion of a tractate of the Talmud-which is both a mitzvah as well as an academic feat worthy of celebration. What makes a celebration complete, of course, is the appearance of special foods. Therefore, at these siyum gatherings of at least ten men, the nine days prohibitions of eating meat and drinking wine are lifted.
I shouldn’t have to tell you what happens when wine and meat are easy access at a party. A friend of mine boasted that he attended a siyum masechet almost every night of the nine days, something which came across as a bit odd. I suspected, that between his being a big party goer and his neighborhood’s known excess at kiddushes, weddings, and bar mitzvot, these siyumim were scheduled out of sheer effort to party. A sham you might say; an excuse to eat pastrami and garlic hotdogs or steaks. As if to declare, “hey we can do eat meat during the nine days within the confines of Halacha-HA- HA! We after all, have a rebellious nature, don’t we? We were able beat the system!! We were able to eat what we wanted and not violate any laws. We’re smart and clever Jews.”
There is, however, a deeply rooted reason for having such festive occasions during the nine days and it makes perfectly logical sense.
Eliezer finished a masechet and a special cake was made for the occasion, he’s celebrating with a cake and a great meal with his buddies
There is a Gemara in tractate Shabbat that mentions Abaya – one of the prominent figures of the Talmud- would pay for the celebration of his friend’s completion of a tractate and invite the entire rabbinical body, making a public display of an otherwise private event.
There is actually a Chassidic tradition to participate in siyumim during each of these nine days!! The question is why? Why do some celebrate deliberately? Isn’t doing so slighting the mourning period? Isn’t it insulting the ones who perished on during this time? Isn’t that putting salt on the wound experienced by our ancestors? One must realize the ramifications of this dark period. Tisha B’Av is brutal! Don’t people realize it’s Tisha B’Av!
Our Talmudic Sages teach that the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam – baseless hatred between fellow Jews. Typically, this is taken to mean that the Jews of that time, seemingly much like Jews of every time, were not fond of each other. There’s nothing fancy about it. They simply hated each other and perpetuated an anti-collective environment and as a result, the Temple was destroyed. We did not deserve a Temple if we couldn’t even get along. In a practical sense, how could we expect to work together in the Temple if we hated each other? Even in a halachic sense, how could a priest achieve atonement for another person if he didn’t even care if that other person was forgiven? Caring for one another is a prerequisite to service in the Temple. To be sure, this is a valuable and important lesson: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I heard a fascinating story from Rabbi Rachamim Shaulov quoting Rabbi Yissachar Frand, which I think properly directs the barometer towards where we should be in our relations to our brethren. This story happened recently, only a few summers ago. There was a Chasidic couple who, initially, were not able to have children. However, after a time, the Master of the Universe, in His eternal kindness, blessed the couple with twins.
During the grueling New York summer, many Chassidim escape to the country, though husbands return to the city on Sunday nights for the workweek. (Hey, money has to come from somewhere!) While the wives and children run around between the grass and the trees all summer, the husbands only taste the country heaven on Shabbat. This couple was one of many to engage in this practice.
Sometime during the early part of one such week, the mother and her eighteen month old twins attended a rather large and crowded cafeteria in the country Bais Yaacov (girls school), upstate. Washing for hamotzie at the side of the room, she wasn’t able to carry both twins and left one briefly unattended at the table. Unfortunately and to her horror, when she returned the baby was gone. Her eyes stretched wide open looking, first in her vicinity and then searching up and down the rows of the cafeteria, but the child was nowhere to be found. She let out a panicked scream, asking if anyone had seen her baby. The people nearest her, began looking around, but after a few minutes, returned to their lives. In a desperate attempt, the mother picked up the other twin and screamed “has anybody seen a child that looks like this one!!”. After a brief silence, the noise volume in the room went back to where it was before the announcement. The mother left the cafeteria in a state of hysteria, screaming and crying as she walked through the parking lot holding the one baby. A girl approached her and asked with concern, what had happened. The mother explained, whereupon the girl assured her that they would find the missing baby. She then called a number of her classmates and assigned them each an area to search for the missing child. One was assigned one to the gym, one to the administrative offices, one to the classrooms, and one to the bathrooms. Unfortunately, after half an hour of searching to no avail, the girls came back empty handed.
The girl who organized the search told the mother that she would return to the school and search herself, at which point she disappeared for some time. The mothers eyes was fixated on the entrance of the school, where the girl had entered to find her child. Low and behold, twenty minutes later, the mother saw the organizer come out of the building and in her hands, safe and sound, was the missing child!!
The mother, crying tears of joy, hugged her child and thanked the organizer profusely. The girl said that she found the baby in one of the classrooms. “Wait a minute,” the girl that was assigned to search the classrooms wondered out loud. “I was in that classroom and I did not see the child?” The organizer replied, “I looked under each and every desk”. Astonished at her dedication, the mother asked why she was so particularly driven and concerned.
The organizer responded with moist eyes, “Because I’m Leiby Kletzky sister. I know what it’s like to lose a loved one.”
(On July 11, 2011, Leiby Kletzky, a Hasidic Jewish boy, was kidnapped as he walked home from his school’s day camp in the mainly Hasidic neighborhood of Boro Park, Brooklyn in New York City. Kletzky’s disappearance sparked an all-out search by New York City police and a block-byblock search by as many as 5,000 Orthodox Jewish volunteers. Leiby Kltzky was found to have been abducted and murdered.)
Does our predicament have to be such, before we can act in that manner? Do we Chas V’shalom, need to endear pain similar to Leiby kletzky’s sister, in order to experience real concern for others?!. Might one say that Kletzky’s sister performed above the norm and that is too high a standard for the rest of us? Absolutely not!! A baby might have died if not for Leiby’s sister’s dedication! The proper response is to raise our level of caring for our fellows. Jews have always set the standard for behaving like menches. Our actions should always be well thought through and we should always strive for the highest levels of compassion and kindness.
I came across a story that really defines the type of excellence we should have in our caring for our fellow Jews. I found this story to be quite moving and that it gave me something to strive for in my associations with my brethren.
Wars are brutal and World Wars are all the more devastating. When World War I broke out, many Jews were drafted to fight on the battle fields for the countries in which they resided and as one could imagine, there were many Jewish fatalities. When the great Tchortcover Rav, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, arrived in Vienna after being displaced from his home, he immediately began working to ease the plight of Jews who had left everything behind, to save themselves and their families. He was also very involved in persuading Jews who had lost the way of Jewish tradition and Torah values to return to the fold. He insisted that he was available to assist anyone and everyone. He’d say, “this is what I learned from my holy fathers, who took care of and worried about those who had fallen by the wayside.” One of his concerns, was saving Jewish boys from bing drafted into the army. Besides for the dangers that always come with battle, they were persecuted by their non-Jewish, fellow soldiers. It was a no win situation.
His efforts soon caught the attention of the authorities, who were not pleased. In order to confirm their suspicions, they dressed up one of their officers as a Jew and sent him as a spy, to the Rebbe. The official portrayed an anguished Jew, crying and telling the Rebbe that he had only one son who had been called to perform his army service. He begged the Rebbe to have pity on him and help his son evade the army.
R’ Yisroel listened to the man’s story and, when he had finished, asked the man to repeat the story. The man again told over the whole affair, crying bitter tears for his son. When he had finished, the Tchortkover Rebbe asked him to tell over the whole story, yet again. When the man finished for the third time, the Rebbe said sternly, “Don’t you know that you have to obey the laws of the country? It is forbidden to evade army service! We live here and we have to be proper citizens of our host country”. The man left without another word.
A few days later, a high-ranking officer came to thank the Rebbe for encouraging people to do their army service. They had heard rumors that he was helping people avoid the army, but they were pleased to note that these were not true. The Chasidim were convinced that it was only through a miracle – ruach hakodesh, perhaps – that the Rebbe had known that the crying man was a disguised officer. The Tchortkover sought to dispel this “miracle” and explained how he had suspected the truth.
“Normally, when a Jew tells me his personal sorrows,” the Rebbe said, “I am able to feel a portion of his pain and suffering deep inside me. Yet, when this man told me his story, his tears did not affect me at all. At first I thought it was my fault, that perhaps I was not capable of feeling this man’s suffering. I decided, therefore, to ask him to tell me about his problem again. Perhaps I would then feel part of his pain. I still, however, did not feel touched by his story and I also felt that this man himself was not properly upset by his own problem. I asked him to repeat it a third time and then I noticed that it was indeed as I had suspected. The man was not really upset and that was the reason that I had not been able to feel his pain. I therefore knew that his story was not true and that he was lying.”
When one acts with chessed- kindness- his sensitivities toward others become immeasurable, to the extent that he can actually feel not just another’s pain, but his joy as well. The concept of one nation with one soul has never been portrayed more profoundly, than in this story. We of the Jewish nation, are one unit and we are connected to each other, like parts of a single body.
Returning to my party going friend and his boasts of attending so many siyumim and consuming so much meat and wine, that he made our ancestors in the desert look like amateurs. Could the food and wine seriously have been that good? I honestly don’t think so. We are living, thank Gd, in a country where food is “easy access”. Ask any immigrant and they’ll tell you that there is no comparing their country of origin to America. We are blessed in this country, bli ein hara. It is true that my friend likes to eat, we have that in common, and perhaps that is why he’s my friend, but I think there is a deeper reason for his attending so many siyum masechet parties. He, like me, enjoys the companionship. I inherited that trait from my father. I always picture my father z’l, when he was in his forties with a shot glass of konyak, raising it to his friends at our Shabbat table and saying Lechaim. It brought camaraderie, it brought unity, it built relationships and it forced people to get closer and care about each other. A siyum is the anthisisis of the anti-social environment about which, we mourn.
No matter how much we may dislike each other, we must be aware of the consequences, for Gd hates disunity with a passion. We look at our history and see the destruction of the Temple as a result of this problem. Even the corrupt and idolatrous generation of King Achav, was spared, because they were unified.
If someone doesn’t suit our fancy, instead of pushing him aside we should try to reach out to him. Perhaps we can go the extra mile for him to make him better. Perhaps we can go the extra mile in all forms of chessed and caring. Perhaps, if we do this, there will be no more mourning on Tisha B’ Av. Perhaps we can build a better world and be a part of the ultimate festive meal, with plenty of meat and wine, when the Mashiach arrives!

Picking up the pieces and seeking comfort

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Baruch Dopelt, Berrel Wein, Yossi Bilius, Asher Hurzberg Tzvi Teitlebaum

The morning sunshine brings with it hope; the presence of a friend can really perk up one’s mood; clarity is a tremendous comfort. If not for these life moments jolting us with positive energy, we might otherwise drown with our sorrows and wither away in our troubles. We need to be comforted, for that is our nature. More so, we have to be proficient in the art of comforting grief, pain, disappointment and loss, for these are all part of every human being’s story. We cannot escape them. It is remarkable how little attention most people pay to the necessity of dealing with misfortune and achieving comfort and consolation. We actively engage in attempts to avoid problems and pain – and correctly so – but deep within our being, we also know that no person escapes tasting the bitter cup, that life always brings with it.
This week’s parsha begins the seven week period of consolation and condolence that bridges the time space between Tisha b’Av and Rosh Hashana. In order to properly prepare for the oncoming year and its challenges, one must first be comforted by the vision of better times ahead and the belief in his ability to somehow overcome those challenges. Healing occurs when he believes that there is a better future ahead. Parashat VaEtchanan always has an upbeat feel to it, since it always falls on Shabbat Nachamu- “Sabbath of Comfort”- taking its name from that week’s haftarah of Isaiah40:1-26, which speaks of comforting the Jewish people about their suffering. Many Jews feel liberated; there are parties, getaway weekends and an all-around joyous time. This however, seems a bit strange, for have we really gotten over our national plight? Judaism considers the comforting of others to be an obligatory commandment – a mitzva. The Talmud points out that God Himself, so to speak, came to comfort Yitzchak after the death of his father, Avraham. Thus our tradition of imitating our Creator, so to speak, naturally encompasses this process of comforting others. When, chas v’shalom, a loved one passes away, we customarily mourn for a twelvemonth mourning period, because to a large extent time heals. G-d gave human beings the gift of forgetfulness. After a while, the sting of loss is not as sharp. G-d allowed one year for the mourner to receive comfort, but at that point it is expected that he pick up his life’s pieces, lick his wounds and move on, tough as it may be. This is apparently not so with our holy temple. We’ve been mourning for it for two thousand years!! Why are we celebrating comfort if we are still in mourning year after year? If for some reason we are comforted, then why do we continue the cycle?
Paysach Krohn tells a touching story that sheds some light on our questions. In the summer of 2000, 16-year-old Mordechai Kaler volunteered to help in the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md. One of his responsibilities was to invite residents to attend the daily services (minyan) in the synagogue on the first floor. Some agreed and others refused, but even those who declined did so pleasantly.
There was one man on the second floor, however, who was an exception. He acted nastily and even cursed another volunteer when he was asked to join the minyan. The volunteer was taken aback by the man’s tirade, so Mordechai undertook the challenge of speaking to the angry gentleman.
Mordechai found the man sitting in a wheelchair in a lounge filled with residents of the home. After introducing himself, Mordechai said softly but firmly, “if you don’t wish to join the services we respect that, but why do you curse the volunteer? He is here to help and he was just doing his job.”
“Young man,” the elderly gentleman said sternly, “wheel me to my room. I want to tell you a story.”
When they were alone in the room, the old man told his story of horror, pain and sadness. He came from a prominent religious family in Poland and when he was 12 years old, he and his family were taken to a Nazi concentration camp. They were all killed except for him and his father.
In their barracks there was a man who had smuggled in a tefillin shel rosh, the leather black box containing biblical passages worn on the head during morning prayers. Every day, the men in the barracks would try to seize an opportunity to put on the religious gear, even for a moment, when there were no Nazi S.S. guards nearby. The men knew that they weren’t properly fulfilling the religious duty, as they were missing the hand portion of the tefillin, but their love for doing the Creator’s commands compelled them to do whatever they could.
The man continued, “but for my father that wasn’t enough. My bar mitzvah was coming up and he wanted that at least on that day, I wear a complete set of tefillin. He had heard that in a barracks down the road, a man who had been killed had possessed a complete pair.
“On the morning of my bar mitzvah, my father, at great risk, went out early to the other barracks to get the tefillin. I was waiting by the window with trepidation. In the distance I could see him rushing to get back. As he came closer I could see that he was carrying something cupped in his hands.
“As he got to the barracks, a Nazi stepped out from behind a tree and shot and killed him right before my eyes! When the Nazi left I ran out and took the pouch of tefillin that lay on the ground next to my father’s body and managed to hide it.”
The old man peered angrily at Mordechai and said vehemently, “How can anyone pray to a G-d Who would kill a boy’s father right in front of him? I can’t!”
The man pointed to the dresser against the wall and said, “open the top drawer.”
In the drawer Mordechai saw an old black tefillin pouch, crusted from many years of not being used. “Bring me the pouch, “the man ordered. Mordechai complied.
The man opened it and took out an old pair of tefillin. “This is what my father was carrying on that fateful day. I keep it to show people what my father died for, these dirty black boxes and straps. These were the last things I got from my father.”
Mordechai was stunned. He had no words – no comfort to give. He could only pity the poor man who had lived his life in anger, bitterness and sadness. “I’m sorry,” he finally stammered softly, “I didn’t realize.” Mordechai left the room resolved never to come back to the man again. When he came home that evening, he couldn’t eat or sleep.
He returned to the home the next day, but avoided the old man’s room. A few days later, as Mordechai was helping the men who had come to the synagogue, one of the elderly wanted to recite the prayer said on the anniversary of a death, which requires a quorum of ten.
“I have yahrzeit today and I need to say Kaddish,” the elderly man beseeched. “We only have nine men here today. Do you think you could find a tenth?”
Mordechai had already made his rounds that morning and had been refused by many of the residents. They were either too tired, disinterested or half asleep. The only one he hadn’t approached was the old man on the second floor.
Reluctantly and hesitantly, Mordechai went upstairs. He knew the old man would scold him, but he still had to make an effort. He knocked on the door gently and announced himself.
“It’s you again?” the old man asked.
“I’m so sorry to trouble you,” Mordechai said softly, “but there’s a man in synagogue who needs to say Kaddish today. We need you for a minyan. Would you mind coming just this one time?”
The old man looked up at Mordechai and said, “If I come this time, then you’ll leave me alone?” Mordechai wasn’t expecting that response. “Yes,” he said in a whisper, “I won’t bother you again.”
To this day, Mordechai doesn’t know why he said what he did next. It could have infuriated the old man. But for some reason Mordechai blurted out, “would you like to bring your tefillin?”
Mordechai braced himself for a bitter retort – but instead the man said again, “if I bring them, will you leave me alone? “yes,” Mordechai said, “I will leave you alone.”
“All right,” the man replied, “then wheel me downstairs and make sure that I’m in the back of the synagogue, so I can get out first.”
Mordechai wheeled the old man to the synagogue and brought him to the back. “May I help you?” Mordechai asked as he took the tefillin out of the pouch. The gentleman put out his left hand. Mordechai helped him put on his tefillin and left the synagogue to do other work.
After the services, Mordechai returned to find the synagogue empty – except for the old man. He was still wearing his tefillin and tears were running down his cheeks. “Shall I get a doctor or a nurse?” Mordechai asked.
The man didn’t answer. Instead he was staring down at the straps of the tefillin wrapped on his left arm, caressing them with his right hand and repeating over and over, “Tatte, Tatte [Father, Father], it feels so right.”
The old man then looked up at Mordechai and said, “for the last half hour I’ve felt so connected to my Tatte. I feel as though he has come back to me.”
Mordechai took the man back to his room and as he was about to leave, the old man said, “please come back for me tomorrow.”
And so every morning Mordechai would go to the second floor and the old man would be waiting for him at the elevator holding his tefillin. Mordechai would wheel him into the synagogue where he would sit in the back wearing his tefillin, holding a siddur (prayer book), absorbed in his thoughts.
One morning Mordechai got off the elevator on the second floor, but the man wasn’t there. He hurried to his room, but his bed was empty. Instinctively he became afraid. He ran to the nurses ‘station and asked where the gentleman was – and they told him.
He had been rushed to the hospital the previous afternoon and late in the day he had a stroke and died.
A few days later, Mordechai was given an award by the Jewish home for his work as a volunteer. After the ceremonies a woman approached him and thanked him for all he had done for her. Mordechai had no recollection of this woman. “Excuse me,” he asked, “do I know you?”
“I am the daughter of that man you helped,” she said softly. “He was my father and you did so much for him. You made his last days so comfortable. When he was in the hospital he called me frantically and asked me to bring him his tefillin. He wanted to pray one more time with them. I helped him with his tefillin in the hospital and then he had his stroke. He died wearing them. “This story portrays the contradictory feelings that arise in people. This old man both loved and hated his tefillen, because they were all he had from his father and yet they were responsible for his father’s death.
There is a famous and unusual incident in our Torah pertaining to mourning. When the brothers misled their father Yaakov by telling him that his favorite son Yosef was dead, Yaakov mourned for him continually. He wore sack cloth for twenty-two years until he was informed that Yosef was in fact, alive. Why did he mourn well beyond the customary one year? We are told that the gift of shichicha-forgetfulness did not go into effect. Yaakov’s pain was as clear and as sharp twenty-two years later as it had been on the day he was told of Yosef’s death. Because Yosef was not actually dead, G-d did not implement the usual forgetfulness. In a similar vein, because we have not achieved our ultimate redemption, we still mourn. Unlike a dead relative whom we have lost forever, we will, one day, return from exile. Just as Yaakov’s mourning for the still living Yosef couldn’t be forgotten, neither can we forget the Temple.
Going in a different direction, the Gemara makes an odd statement, that the children of Israel will find comfort through Yishaya the Prophet, though there doesn’t seem to be much comfort in Isaiah. The entire book talks about negativity and rebuke. Where is the comfort? The answer is that when Yishaya was speaking to G-d and acknowledged the children of Israel’s sins, G-d retorted “how dare you speak negatively about my people”. Moreover, G-d punished Yishaya for his statement and Yishaya was killed in battle. The fact that G-d defended us was a tremendous vote of confidence; it’s was a sign of incredible attachment to us. HE is still on our side. HE is still defending His people. He’s saying I’m with you through thick or thin, even though you messed up!! HE’S the protector. This is the greatest comfort our Jewish people can have!!Between these two ideas, we find the answer to our questions. Just as the old man from Paysach Krohn’s story felt both love and hate towards one pair of tefillen, so do we feel both positive and negative about our plight. On the one hand, we are still in galut, without our Temple. On the other hand, we have Hashem’s infinite assurance and support, so we know we will make it to the other side. This idea is expressed in this week’s parsha, when it says “atem hadveikim ba Shem Elokeichem-you who are attached to the Lord your G-d.” The commentaries say that no matter how much a Jew sins, he still is attached to his G-d. He will always possess a yearning for closeness with Him. This stands in contrast to the curse given to the snake: “Your food will be the dust of the earth.” What kind of curse is that? Dust is everywhere; it’s free!! The answer is, that because we have a hard time with our parnasa, it is evident that G-d desires us to get close to Him, as it is specifically in difficult situations that we tend to gravitate towards G-d. The snake gets his food for free and has no need to pray. In essence G-d turned his back on the snake and said, no need to call on Me and no need for Me to call on you. The mood of this almost final portion of the Torah is one of seeming contradictions -sadness on one hand and soaring optimism on the other. Moshe’s sadness is evident in his disappointment about not being able to enter the Land of Israel. His optimism is abundantly evident in his statements regarding the eventual survival and triumph of the Jewish people and the reconciliation of G-d and Israel at the end of days. My Mother, may she live and be well until 120 and have a refuah shelema, has a neighbor who is not religious at all. He was very much a proponent of the physical world and its pleasures. Quite elderly, he still manages to work out and work in his garden. The only time I ever saw him in shul was at my father’s funeral. A number of months ago, he came over to me with a somber look and asked me to pray for his daughter who was diagnosed with a bad machala. He said that for the first time in his life, he prayed to G-d. Astonishingly, he said he had to recollect memories of his kindergarten teacher and the prayers she taught her class. Comfort comes in various ways, but one has to know that it is deeply rooted in attachment to the Master of the universe. When we believe that our ultimate bond is with Him, we will find the optimal comfort.


A change of place can be a change of Mazal

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Eliyahu Ben Chaim, Bentzion Shaffer, Naftali Gonzfried, Yossi Bilius, Pinchas Lieser

Many of us want to succeed in the land of opportunity. This was especially the case for our beloved parents, who came to this country with a dollar and a dream. America the beautiful, where money grows on trees, that is, if one can discover the secret of which trees
I know someone who climbed the ladder of success. The panicle of his achievement was a move to the suburbs, into a huge house and affluent neighborhood. Ahh, G-d showered him with the American dream, “Shechiyanu v’kiyimanu v’higianu l’zeman hazeh! Look at us we made it!!” was his and his family’s proclamation
However, life took a different turn when they moved into the new house. Sometime later, the husband lost his job. Marital problems resurfaced, issues that seemed to be resolved when they moved in to their previous home, ten years earlier. One bad thing after another occurred. Medical problems were discovered in a few of the children. It was as if the house was haunted. The situation was downright frustrating. They contemplated moving back, but descending a rung on the ladder of social status is not an easy thing to do, plus they had already sold their previous home
The previous house had brought lots of mazal. Children were born there. Marital bliss, growing business and prominence in the community were all part of daily life at the old address. A rav suggested throwing a special meal in the new house, with much divrai Torah and plenty of brochot to be recited. “Shower the house with spirituality, that will knock out the evil spirits,” he said. Someone advised painting the inside walls, because the walls were obviously tainted with the bad luck of the previous owner. There were those who felt the former residents must have cursed the property
In today’s day and age, where we are sophisticated and educated,s where information is on the tip of our fingers within seconds, can people actually believe in haunted houses? Can people seriously think that moving to a new neighborhood could change their’s fortune?
In this week’s parsha, Moshe continues addressing the Israelites just before he passes away and they cross the Jordan River to enter the land of Israel. Moses commands the Israelites to proclaim certain blessings and curses on Mount Grizzim and Mount Ebal, once they reach the land of Israel. Moshe informs them that they can be the recipients of either blessings or curses — blessings if they obey G-d’s commandments, and curses if they do not. According to one interpretation, the location of these mountains is placed outside of Shechem. What is the significance of that city, to the land of Israel initiation ceremony of blessings and curses? Every word in the Hebrew language is not just a label, but the essence of its subject. The word Shechem means segment or portion. Another interpretation understands it as shoulder. These descriptions apply both to Shechem the person and Shechem the place. In essence, these two definitions amount to the same understanding. Each person in Shechem wanted his own portion in life to be significant and not just part of a larger entity. In other words, they each wanted to shoulder the load alone, like a ball hogging basketball star. Shechem was a place that influenced its dwellers and those who traveled through it, to experience a heightened sense of importance and worthiness
This trait heralds tremendous power and may be the greatest or worst of all attributes. On the one hand, such an individual is exhorted by Chazzal “the whole world was created just for him.” The feeling of personal worth in this context is extremely valuable in the mitzvah system, especially for those newly entering Torah and mitzvoth!! The down side is, however, that a person who misuses this characteristic can become completely self-oriented; he feels he must stand up for his principles whatever the cost. His arrogance takes him completely beyond any rebuke or correction
The same can be said of a unified group, or for that matter, a nation. Shechem’s influence permeated throughout his nation, providing feelings of self confidence. Those types of emotion would be useful to the Israelites in their new land, which is why the ceremony was took to take place in Shechem. This is in accordance with the principle, that every location possesses its own unique qualities and each affects us in its own way
My father z’l had a hobby, gardening, which he shared with me. I can vouch that the soil outside my childhood, Rego Park home, is different than that of our second home in Forest Hills and our current home, Kew Gardens Hills. As a matter of fact, the seven nations who inhabited the land of Israel at the time, were able to differentiate between types of soil by tasting it
This idea is found quite often in the Torah. One of the arch enemies of the Jews, Bilam, had tremendous power and wisdom, which he utilized in his quest to destroy the Jews. When he failed to pinpoint the exact moment of G-d’s anger coinciding, at which it would be conducive to administer his terrible curse, he decided to implement plan B, which was to have the women of Moav and Miyan seduce Jewish men. The narrative mentions that this incident occurred in Shitim.
Rabenu Bachai asks why it matters where the event took place? What significance does Shitim bring to the table? As far as we’re concerned, it could have been in Missouri. Why does the Torah specify that it occurred in Shitim? Rabainu Bachai explains that Shitim was pivotal in these events, because that area spawns immorality. He writes that in Shitim, there was a stream of water that caused people to act in the most promiscuous way, when drunken from. This stream fed Sedom and that is why the people there were so depraved. The Torah mentions Shitim to let us know that it was specifically in that location, that the Jews fell to such low levels. There was a negative energy and they were susceptible to sexual misconduct
One should always ask himself about the type of neighborhood, in which he resides. Does it emit positive or negative spiritual vibes? Ever wonder why Yonah the Prophet escaped to the sea? He did not want to prophesy and relay to the people of Nineveh that they had to repent, because their repentance would throw the non pertinent Jews in a negative light. He foresaw that the Jews would not listen to the Prophets and were far removed from attempting to come back to G-d
Water has interesting spiritual properties. The Gemara in Tractate Chulin states any animal found on dry land has an opposite at sea. If such and such a land animal is kosher, its counterpart at sea is not kosher and vise versa. An example that the Gemara uses is the kosher cow, whose counterpart, the seal, is not kosher. By placing himself on a ship at sea, Yonah rendered himself Tameh-impure and incapable of receiving any spiritual prophetic revelation. He therefore thought that he relinquished his responsibilities in delivering the message to Nineveh
Apparently, that wasn’t so, as G-d designed a plan where a whale swallowed him alive and spit him up back to dry land in his proper place
I believe if we are to mention places and their significance. If we are to talk about the power and influence of a certain land, soil, it would be inevitable to explore what the Torah and the Sages call “The Place”
There is a famous question about the wording of G-d’s command to Avraham, Lech Lecha – go from your land, the land of your father, your homeland. It is one of the big ten tests which G-d posed to him. To uproot oneself from a familiar setting is no easy task. The Kli Yakar asks, Lech Lecha literally means go to you; grammatically, that does not make sense. However, the Kli Yakar says we should take it literately, meaning “go to yourself.” God was to lead Avraham to a place which is today the Western Wall. Why is this area is called “the place”? This is a crucial soil for mankind, for this place is where the souls of every Human being are created. The command is saying to go to this place to find yourself, because that is where you will learn to understand the essence of man. Many if not all, feel a strong sense of spirituality at the Kotel
We are taught in our holy books, that man is powerful and can manipulate the world. Life is a giant playground and everything in it is a tool which man can use to improve his standing and better the world around him. He can take any object, food or place and sanctify it
Nevertheless, just as like man can influence his environment, his environment can influence him
Our history is our teacher. We are labeled the “wandering Jew,” because if we are not able to change our lot whether it be via prayer or Torah learning, we can pick up and leave. A fresh start can bring new mazal
Thus, the exodus from Egypt is called just that. The Egyptians thought they would recapture us when they saw us heading towards the sea. We were a kosher people, and they understood that the water would make us impure. To their surprise, the water did not make us impure, rather the sea split and we passed through on dry land
Har Eival was barren, while its neighbor Har Grisim was furtile. It’s amazing how, in the facility of one neighborhood, one makom can be a source of blessing and another of curse.