Archive for Rabbi Avi Matmon

Our heavenly Sukkah

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

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

Give Me Life

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

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

Precious Years

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

A deal is a deal

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

The Little Red Headed Girl

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

Human Dignity – part 2

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

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

Human Dignity – Rosh Hashana

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

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

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!