Archive for MUSSAR HASKEL/ A Lesson

Am I more loyal to being Jewish or being an American?

” trust of American Jews was never the same after the Jonathan Polard case”
        The question one should ask: Am I more loyal to being Jewish or being an American?  Hey, I know what some of you are thinking. It doesn’t matter Jewish or American, I’m here to make money!! That is my mission here in the land of plenty. This popular notion is more apparent among immigrants than natural born US citizens.  Don’t misunderstand me, those who were born here definitely have that competitive edge. However,  immigrants arrived here hungry and more or less one dimensional. That helped negate the  seductive venues this country has to offer. Nevertheless their children and grandchildren, who are United States born with the American mishaga’as-devonigi,  travel beyond that got-to-make-it mindset and have more of an emotional attachment to the American culture and its philosophies.
       Therefore if you are an American Jew, it can be a very serious question.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations  said he gets complaints all the time from Jews claiming they’ve been denied access to security-sensitive posts because they are Jewish. The trust related to  being that patriotic Joe has been compromised since the Jonathon Pollard case. Jonathan Pollard is an American Jew  who was convicted in criminal court of passing classified information to Israel while working as a civilian intelligence analyst.
       Just recently, the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu ordered two Israeli ministries to withdraw a poll asking expatriate Israelis and American Jews about their loyalties. On Sunday, Netanyahu told the Immigrant Absorption Ministry and the Foreign Ministry to halt distribution of the survey after news reports of its contents were published in the Israeli media.  Seemingly there is pressure on American Jews on both sides to show their alliance.


        We learn a very important lesson from this weeks parsha about our status outside our land, the land of Israel,  that is,  which the Hagaddah expounds on a bit. During the Pesach seder we read:
        And he went down to Egypt” forced by Divine decree. “And he sojourned there” – this teaches that our father Jacob did not go down to Egypt to settle, but only to live there temporarily. Thus it is said, “They said to Pharaoh, We have come to sojourn in the land, for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the hunger is severe in the land of Canaan; and now, please, let your servants dwell in the land of Goshen.”

        We learn that Yaacov came down to Egypt with the intention of  “LAGUR SHAM”- to live there only temporarily – until the famine was over, not to “LEH’HISHTAKEAH- to live there permanently. Yaacov’s children did not intend to tare down houses and build them from scratch  with fancy brick gates.The  patriarch Yaacov’s mind set was , ” we’re only here for a cup of coffee and a quick thought, then we will leave”. We will soon learn this is the proper thought we all must have out side of our homeland.

         As a matter of fact the vital philosophy that Yaacov instilled in his children of being ” guests” saved them from remaining in Egypt and integrating with them. That being said they would never have become a nation and would have lost the Jewish identity forever
        However the RAMBAN asks a very interesting question. If  Yaacov’s intention was to reside on a temporary basis then why did Yosef buy them houses in the land of Goshen which is on the outskirts of Egypt? Why not, just,  rent?!
       Secondly Yaacov sent his son Yehuda with specific instructions to set up study halls and notified  Yosef, to make arrangements  for them to live in the land of Goshen. The simple understanding is that its away from the Egyptians and their culture. This will prevent intermingling. Apparently Yaacov knew there were tremendous benefits in residing , at least temporarily, in Goshen. What was the benefit?

       Thirdly, G-d decreed upon  Avraham’s descendent in his covenant with him (15,13 Bereshit) ” Know with certainty that your offspring’s shall be aliens in a land not their own and they will serve them, and they will oppress them 400 years”. However Yaacov lived 17years in Egypt in peace tranquility. What happened to the oppression?

         Yosef purposely bought houses for them ONLY in the land of Goshen. One reason for this is so that they should not intermingle with the natives. Another reason is that Goshen is in close proximity to Israel. The plan was to be in and out. The last reason for this is that the land of Goshen was given as a gift to Sarah by Pharoah. . Sarah withheld herself from the advances of Pharaoh and thereby elevated herself spiritually.  This was a tremendous test for both, Sarah, as well as Avraham. Sarah’s morality and loyalty was tested.  Also we read in the scriptures that Sarah protected her son Yitzchak from the evil influence of Yishmael. She forced Avraham to remove Yishmael from the household. Goshen was infused with her spirit in which outside influence will not be tolerated. In her merit, the land of Goshen was on a different spiritual plane. When the Mashiach comes, Goshen will be part of ERETZ YISRAEL proper.
        Our ancestors needed to stay in Goshen. There, the curse of oppression did not take place because of the merit of Sarah. Since it was Jewish land therefore the Egyptians honored that. Perhaps if the Jews would have stayed in Goshen, in the user-friendly and protective ghetto, they indeed would have been out in a short period of time. However, the Pasuk says (Shemot1,7) “and the Israelites blossomed and prospered and filled the land”. They began to live outside the ghetto, in the heart of where the Egyptians lived, in the center of town. Jews have a certain “ants in the pants” attitude that they cannot feel at home. “We have to get out and move uptown, we’re the intelegencia”. The only ones who actually stayed behind were from the tribe of Levi who continued to study Torah in Goshen. The tribe of Levi was untouched.

        We see on many occasions  in our Jewish history where we’re down trodden after being persecuted we then migrate to a new country. The Jews, with difficulty, put their lives back together. They slowly rebound. However, when ” they make it”  they get too comfortable; they imitate the host culture, dress, language. In fact they do it better then the non-Jews. We act like Goyim better then the Goyim!!! Jews then try to blend in where, once again, they get persecuted all over again. The cycle continues.
        The Meshech Chochma, Rabbi Meyer Simcha said over a chilling prophecy in the early 1920’s about the Jews in Germany who called Germany “our country”. The popular slogan was “Berlin is our Yerushalayim”. Rabbi Meir Simcha predicted the Holoucaust. How history repeats itself. It happened with the Golden age if Spain, Uzbekistan,  Iran……chas veshalom…don’t say it!!!!

        We have to adopt Yaacov’s Philosophy of ” being guests.” If we feel that way then we will retain our Jewishness, our culture, our sense of self.
       One should be aware, how blessed we are. When we do make the move uptown, to a better neighborhood, we should look for, first and foremost, a good Synagogue of close proximity, a good Yeshiva, a place to learn torah,  (study hall) and a kosher PIZZA PLACE!!

        We should not contemplate “are we an American first or a Jew first”. We have to maintain the attitude of our immigrant parents, who, for 40 years always said “we’re going back to Israel soon”. Although they never did, they subconsciously protected themselves from becoming an American and thereby getting too comfortable and making them susceptible to the dangers of losing their Jewishness.

        The key is to feel that this is not our land. Our land is Israel. We are strangers here and the goal is to eventually return to our homeland. This frame of mind will protect us. How dangerous it is to talk like them, think like them, enjoy the same foods and entertainment they do. If one doesn’t hang on to his Jewishness, what will prevent him from pursuing the attractive Irish girl in the class. One can be an American. We must,  however, act like an immigrant; a perfect stranger.

Have you ever been Bullied?

Advice and insights from Doctor Robert Goldman Psychologist at Yeshiva Chaffetz, Rabbi Isaac Oelbaum, excerpts  from the teachings of Rav Henoch Leibowitz, also excerpts from “The New York Times and The Miami Hearold”

Is intimidation a way of life?  Or perhaps one can say being intimidated is an initiation to life. Does the reader recall being tormented by a classmate, fellow worker, a friend, or I should say an ex-friend? Everybody has had a bully at one point in his life; it’s part of life. If he was spared the bullying throughout childhood years, the tormentor may found him in high school. Perhaps it happened in freshman year of college. How difficult was it, or perhaps still is, to show up to class, or to the office, knowing that this monster will be there, ready to pounce on you, the first opportunity it gets?


We learn a valuable lesson from this week’s parsha from the interaction between the Tormentor, Eisav , his descendant Amalek, and our forefather, Yaakov. But, first let’s examine a bazaar situation that occurred recently.


“For the entire season-and-a-half that he was with the Miami Dolphins, he attempted to befriend the same teammates who subjected him to the abuse, with the hope that doing so would end the harassment.
A puzzling question is asked:
How do you bully a 6-foot-5, 300 pound, ferocious player (starting offensive tackle) in the National Football League?

This is not the first question that should come to mind in the wake of the hazing story coming out of the  Dolphins’ locker room during the past week (hazing is the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassmentabuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating a person into a group). The proper response is to mourn the absence of civility in the N.F.L. and to demand that Richie Incognito, the player accused of bullying and threatening a teammate, Jonathan Martin, to be exiled from the league.


But in a league defined by its violence, where every player aspires to impose his will on opponents, how does bullying become so intense that a massive football player stands up, leaves the team and simply goes home?


Did Incognito, a veteran with a checkered history and a reputation as a dirty player, do this on his own? Or did he have the help and participation of teammates who went along for the ride?


In Miami, it was apparently a combination of the two.


Judging from their reactions, some of Incognito’s teammates enjoyed watching Martin being used as the butt of jokes.


Incognito has been suspended indefinitely by the Dolphins, accused of crossing a long-established line of rookie hazing to torment Martin. Yet Dolphins cornerback, Will Davis, said to reporters earlier this week of Incognito: “He’s a funny guy. Everybody loves him.”


Wide receiver Mike Wallace was more effusive.


“I love Richie,” he said. “I think he’s a great guy. He’s an intense guy. Everybody knows that. I think he was just being Richie.


“I love playing with Richie. I wish he was here right now.”

As if the N.F.L. didn’t have enough headaches on and off the field between concussions, drug testing, and crime, now the commissioner has to deal with bullying in the locker room.


I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms, from grammar school through high school and college, and things can be raunchy. There is a lot of name-calling.


By the time the players reach the N.F.L., a billion-dollar business played by millionaires, one would hope, they have flushed this out of their systems.


Clearly, that is not the case. Though on teams with great leadership, locker-room tensions don’t usually reach the commissioner’s office. Now that these have, Roger Goodell, must deal with Incognito. A lifetime ban would be too harsh. But a suspension, possibly for the rest of the season, even if the Dolphins were inclined to bring Incognito back, which they do not seem to be, seems fair. That, and a stern message to the players that the days of hazing young players, everything from making rookies pay for dinner to carrying veterans’ bags, are over.


My concern for Martin is how this will mark him for the rest of his career. Many are paying lip service to how terribly he has been treated, but in locker rooms and team offices, and not just in Miami, there may always be whispers that Martin is “soft.”


The N.F.L. is not the Boy Scouts. Professional football is not an ordinary workplace. In a world where most fans make their livings, corporations would look at Incognito’s resumé and run the other way. In the N.F.L., personnel directors might look at Incognito, crude, troubled and violent, but also a former Pro Bowler, and say, “He’s our kind of guy.”


As for Martin, at another time and in a different context, he would be lauded for refusing to be provoked. He obeyed the biblical decree to turn the other cheek, that “if someone hits you on the side of your face, let him hit the other side too.”


It’s a wonderful sentiment. But the N.F.L. has its own bible, and that passage isn’t in it.

It seems like a 300 pound football player is having a difficult time in his working environment. How do we fair in our workplace?


       I asked our good doctor, whom always provides us with his intuitive insights, Dr. Robert Goldman, Psychologist of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, about the subject of bullying. He said “There are people who enjoy making others squirm. They love playing the dictator role; “I’m in command  and you are nothing” “.
       Lets explore the behavior of kids for instance. The nicest children can become the biggest bullies as a result of their insecurities. They want to be leaders at the expense of putting down others. These bullies pick on children that they know can not stand up for themselves; they pick on individuals that have no self confidence. They rally others against the victim feeling good that they were the ones who controlled the momentum, the situation and emotions of others. “Teachers”, he continues, “make a big mistake in telling the victim to come to them when someone bullies them. This in flames the tormentor even more. Although the teachers are in control of the class, they, for the most part, are not present at recess and after school. It leaves the victim hung out to dry”. The doctor continues with a grin “What the victim should do is fight back!! He should punch them in the mouth. When the tormentor see’s that there is opposition; the victim is standing up for themselves; when he sees that there are strong consequences, he’ll say “it doesn’t pay to bully again, at least for this victim.”

       “One of the classic memorable  episodes of the science fiction series Star trek where one of the characters, unknowingly, is able to bring back people from his past. “Be careful what you think” . This someone happened to be his biggest tormentor when he was a youth at the academy.”
       On two occasions in high school, I got into a fight with bullies and they never bothered me again. They were surprised I stood up for myself and one was even more surprised that I hit him in the eye with a right hook. When I responded to his request of “lets fight” with a yes, he was surprised as the room was beginning to get filled to see the fight. Nevertheless fighting should be a last resort, as we will soon learn.

How can you fight back against the non-Jews, especially when some of them are so powerful?

In many cultures we the Jews had our share of anti-Semitism. There is a common misconception that this time we’ll show some muscle. We have our slogan “Never again”. Yada yada yada. However, winning battles against the enemy was not done with our physical strength. The Jew fights back with his intellect; we have to be clever. The good doctor gives an example of  an anti-semite and someone who was more or less neutral, were running for office in a Polish town, many years ago. The Jews saw that they didn’t have enough votes to beat out the anti-Semite so they decided to give money to the anti-Semite. Basically they supported the Jew-hater. After the election the anti-Semite, who happened to win the election, was very supportive of the Jewish cause. What transpired was that the Jews learned from their history, particularly this week’s parsha, and how Yaakov, our forefather, had a 3 step plan – 1) flattery and bribes, 2)prayer and, as a last resort, 3)war. The flattery and bribe worked.
       Amalek, which is Eisav’s decedents, have been known to be our biggest bullies over the course of history. They have always had an intense hatred, manifested by their ferocious cruelty towards us. However, besides the incident in this week’s parsha, where Eisav comes with 400 solders, not with the intent to just bully Yaakov, but to kill him outright, one can say, through their previous dialogue, there was no trace of bullying. As a matter of fact they left each other in peace.
       What, then, transpired that they became public enemy #1?
       In order to understand why Eisav’s descendants turned out to be such monsters, we have to explore one of the dramatic moments in the Torah; the moment when Yosef revealed to his brothers that he was indeed their long lost brother, whom they sold. At the moment of his announcement they felt a terrible sense of embarrassment. What were they embarrassed about?  We assumed because they sold him as a slave. Not quite, the brothers were ashamed of their cruelty that they expressed when he was pleading with them to take him out of the dangerous pit. They heard his cry but showed no mercy. Instead, the brothers sat down and had a meal. At their moment of remorse they were afraid that they would lose their status as G-d representatives. ACHZARUT, cruelty, breeds cruelty. The brothers were concerned how they were desensitized to the situation at hand.
       We each have in our DNA a repertoire of character traits that are ready to sprout up, weather positive or negative. When that particular trait finally emerges, it can mutate and, in time, be a significant part of our personality. Therefore the child who bullies is susceptible to intensifying the character trait of cruelty. This trait can pass down to one’s descendants.
       Eisav’s eternal hate towards his brother manifested itself and intensified in his descendants. When the exhausted and displaced Israelite nation passed through the splitting of the see and into the dessert, Amalek were the first to greet them with an army ready for war. One can see the cruel intensity by the designed timing of there attack.
       We must be aware of the magnitude of the consequences of the bully and the victim. When children are involved in this action, one has to realize that the intimidator is starting his career, while the victim might incur scars for life.
       Mazal is Mazal; some are born with making money and it’s quite easy for them. Others have to resort to extensive, deeply concentrated, tearful prayers in order for Hakadosh Baruch Hu to budge and throw them a bone or two, if they’re lucky!!
       Such was the case of a very poor shoe maker, Shmuel, who’s mazal drastically changed when his long lost cousin died. (I often ask myself, why don’t I have these long lost cousins?) Shmuel inherited his fortune and within days his friends and family began to treat him differently. They offered him a closer seat to the bima in shul, where eventually, he became the president. Shmuel moved to a nicer block and a bigger house. People made sure to say hello to him in the street.
       There is one thing that Shmuel dreamed of more than anything in the world and that is he wanted his daughter to marry the Rabbi’s son. Shmuel began to use many of his contacts and resources to make that dream possible. One day, one of the matchmakers calls Shmuel and tells him that the Rabbi’s family agreed and are interested in his daughter. It seemed Shmuel was more excited than the girl, waiting anxiously after their dates and asking how it went. One day, the daughter comes home excited and said he proposed!!
       At the wedding, Shmuel was gleaming from ear to ear as the chupah started. However, not all the guests were happy for Shmuel. His old shoemaker buddies were jealous. When Shmuel, the kallah’s father, was called to recite one of the sheva brachot, one of his old jealous friends just couldn’t take it anymore. He gets up, takes off his shoe, and screams out “Hey, Shmuel the shoemaker, my shoe tore. Can you fix it?” Everybody in the hall was silent. Shmuel was so embarrassed and humiliated that he fainted. “Quick, someone call Hatzalah!” someone yelled out. Unfortunately, there was nothing anybody could do for poor Shmuel. He had a massive heart attack and died.
       One can say, in the heavens, his jealous friend would be accountable for Shmuel’s death. However, there is someone who is more responsible. That is Shmuel himself. One has to realize Shmuel should not have been embarrassed. G-d gave him the money. If he would have faith in G-d, he would realize G-d runs the world. He should have felt fortunate that G-d transformed him from a poor shoemaker to accumulating nice wealth. It wasn’t he who earned it. Once an individual begins to believe I made the money, the inflated ego sets in and he’s bound to get hurt and humiliated and fail the test.
       Everyone in life is faced with a tormentor. Some of us encounter them at every juncture of our lives. One has to know how to deal with them and realize its not the arrow but the shooter; its not the tormentor but G-d who’s testing us.

Real Unity


       How many of you remember the famous Coca-Cola commercial of many years ago? “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (in Perfect Harmony)” is a popular song which originated as the jingle “Buy the World a Coke”[1] in the groundbreaking 1971 “Hilltop” television commercial for Coca-Cola. “Buy the World a Coke” portrayed a positive message of hope, unity and love. “Buy the World a Coke” repeated “It’s the real thing” as Coca-Cola’s marketing theme at the time. The commercial touched a lot of hearts…

       It first aired in July 1971, featured a multicultural group of young people lip syncing the song on a hill outside Rome, Italy. The global unity of the singers is emphasized by showing that the bottles of Coke they are holding are labeled in a variety of languages. It became so popular that it was recorded by a number of recording artists and it  became a big hit.
The television ad “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” was released first in Europe, where it garnered only a tepid response. It was then released in the U.S. in July, 1971, and the response was immediate and dramatic. By November of that year, Coca-Cola and its bottlers had received more than a hundred thousand letters about the ad. At that time the demand for the song was so great that many people were calling radio stations and asking them to play the commercial. Clearly, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” had struck a chord deeper than the normal response to the advertisement of a commercial product.
       “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” has had a lasting connection with the viewing public. Advertising surveys consistently identify it as one of the best commercials of all time, and the sheet music continues to sell more than thirty years after the song was written. It had put Coca Cola which was already a head of its class in soft drinks to a astronomical mega giant cash machine
       The Coca Cola commercial expressed worldwide unity. This is an important issue in Judaism. Is the unity expressed in the commercial true unity?
       Every one of us has a connection to the land of Israel. When we do go to the holy land, it’s pretty much a given – a visit to Jerusalem is expected. One feels spiritually uplifted, especially when visiting the KOTEL.
This week, Yaakov, our forefather has the “famous dream”. He camps out in this PLACE. The famous place is where the Temple mount stands, today. Yaakov takes twelve little stones and surrounds them around himself as he’s about to go to sleep. When he gets up the next morning, the twelve stones have become one. According to the Zohar this stone became the foundation where the world stands and it runs deep inside the earth under the Temple mount.
       As we mentioned last week, the most underlying deception throughout the whole of existence is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us! Therefore if one wants to acquire knowledge, Torah knowledge that is, we has to follow certain guidelines. The Torah has many secrets and we have to use certain tools to derive the vital messages that are essential for our survival.
       Our TORAH HAKEDOSHA can be understood on many levels. One level is using “the same word” method. There were evil people in the time of Avraham, who build a tower, so they can climb way up and destroy G-d. Although their intentions were bad, the fact that they were united – they were not destroyed! However, even though G-d loves unity, it was for the wrong reasons and any unity for the wrong reasons doesn’t last!
       The scripture describes the tower in Parshat Noach by stating: ” VE ROSHO BA SHAMAYIM- its head is in the sky”. In this week’s parsha when Yaakov dreams, he dreams of a ladder and its head reaches the sky – VE ROSHO (there’s that word again) MAGIYA SHAMAYMA.
       The Sages learn from it that there are two unities: one ROSHO – for evil and one ROSHO – for G-d. This spot, where the Temple mount is located and where the first and second stood, and where the future third Temple will stand. As long as the Jews are united for the right reasons, the Temple will be built. The twelve stones represent the twelve tribes of Israel united, fused together by one central being, G-d. This place -MAKOM – the temple is a representation of unity and peace. There was never any metal allowed to enter into the Temple because metal represents war. Our Shabbat table in many ways represents an altar that was an important vehicle in the temple. Many communities have the tradition to take the metal knives off the table when the grace after meal is recited. We do this to show a sign of peace, a sign of unity.
       The famous story of Iyov sheds some light on the characters of the Tower of Bavel and true unity.
       We learn that when Iyov (Job) was having all his troubles his so-called friends came to console him. However they began to converse with him. Their mouth was filled with criticism. “This happened because you probably didn’t do this or do that.
       We learn from our Sages one cannot rebuke someone when he’s in pain. For example “You see I told you so”
       Iyov retorted back, your friendships are like those of the generation of the flood. What did he mean by that?
       Apparently they didn’t care for each other . The tower people were company men; they were corporate machines. They were all for the company and they worked well together. When a brick fell by accident they  looked down in regret and said “there goes an important piece”. However when a fellow comrade fell, it meant nothing to them.  The person is not as important as the operation/ project.
       Interestingly when Yitzchak was about to get slaughtered on the altar. The Midrash says there was twelve stones surrounding him, however they didn’t merge. Yitzchak and our forefather Avraham were arguably performing the greatest act of self-sacrifice for the sake of G-d and did not merit that the rocks would merge. Only Yaacov merited such lofty hights . It was Yaacov who was fresh out from the teaching of Torah, who was known for his EMET that enabled him to carry unity.
       The united city doesn’t mean being united with other countries. It’s a place where all the Jews are supposed to be united. The ingredient for a lasting unity is realizing and learning G-ds masterpiece, The Torah. Then, when we are unified we will be allowed to build the Temple and live there in peace! May we see the rebuilding of the Third Temple in our times very soon!

Emet-The Truth

This article was constructed with the help of Rabbis Baruch Dopelt, Mayer Glasser, Yossi Bilus and Dr. Robert Goldman, and excerpts from the writing of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz

One meets a variety of characters throughout one’s lifetime. In this week’s parsha, Toldot, the topic of EMET, truth, is presented. Every time we read this portion, I am reminded of one individual I knew in the jewelry business. He is an energetic fellow who knew how to make a buck, however he would always use this sacred word, EMET, very loosely. Some of the typical expressions he would say are:

” I bought the gem stones at a high price, EMET. I cannot sell you at a lower one; I will lose money!” “Those are the merchandise that my customer is looking for however the price is way too high. EMET. It’s not very competitive.” Or, with a chuckle he would sneer and say  “How can you have purchased it at that amount?  I can get it from others cheaper, EMET. Do you, seriously, want to make the sale?”

“EMET, I will pay you in 30 days ”


Does this guy sound familiar?
Regarding this fellow, we can apply the old expression: It is always good policy to tell the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar, EMET!! 

Interestingly enough, we learn many lessons about the truth from our holy Torah. Here are some points that it would be wise to take notice of:

The Sages say, King Shlomo was the smartest man that ever lived and the most famous incident that everybody always points out is the case with the two prostitutes and the baby:

“16) Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17)One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18) The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
19) “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20) So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21) The next morning, I got up to nurse my son-and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
22) The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
23) The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.'”
24) Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25) He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
26) The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”
But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
27) Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

Perhaps a mother has more mercy for her own child, however……

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz asks “One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out who the mother was in the King Shlomo/prostitute case. What was the clue’s that Shlomo saw that gave it away?”


Shlomo was a master in human nature. There is a concept in the Torah, AVEIRA GORERET AVEIRA, one sin leads to more sins. What typically happens, at times, for the most part, is that one follows the first sins with more severe sins.


This woman did not tell the truth and now she is ready to commit murder. Shlomo foresaw that. Rav Chaim rationalized that perhaps the other woman(not the mother) could have had mercy on the child as well. Or perhaps the woman was a good actress and played the sympathy part very well. The fact that the woman agreed to murder the child implicates her; it brings “not telling the truth” to the surface.

The Gemara asks a question on verse 27.  Why did Shlomo say “give the baby to the first mother” as the opening to his verdict? Why didn’t he emphatically proclaim right away that “AHH!! SHE IS HIS MOTHER!” instead?
Why didn’t he commit?
In fact the Sages say the last statement “she is the mother” was not Shlomo’s but a heavenly voice proclaiming that indeed she is the mother.
A valuable lesson is learned about the EMET, truth:
Unless you are 100% sure, one cannot state it as fact. Shlomo, with all his wisdom, was perhaps 99% sure. However, he was not there at the scene. Shlomo was very careful about EMET and all its implications because he knows EMET is a rare commodity. One cannot jump to conclusions. If someone is in a position as a judge, he should answer “I believe it’s like this”, but he cannot state it as fact. King Shlomo was careful with the truth, especially since he was a leader. It’s very different today. If you ever inject the truth into politics, you’ll have no politics.





I know it’s hard remembering childhood but let’s take kids, for instance. Before they learn the art of deception from “seasoned” adults, children simply do not know how to lie. The reason is because they do not live in a contrast universe. For children, everything is perfectly consistent. What you see is what you get. However, once we accept the “fact” that people lie, we become liars ourselves, and then we never turn back.




The most underlying deception throughout the whole of existence is actually G-d deceiving us humans by hiding His presence from us! The rest, as they say, is history. Once matter is disconnected from spirit, and form from function, once we are disconnected from our inner selves, we are living a “lie.” When we do not perceive the force that gives us life, the very purpose of our being, we have the ability to lie to ourselves and to others. When we don’t feel that we are all part of one unit, we are able to hurt ourselves and others.


However there are those that have a natural instinct to gravitate towards truth; they do feel connected to the source; they are gifted. These individual might be spiritual but are they able to function well in society. But, how are they able to live among the deceivers?




Sometimes we see so clearly that G-d has a sense of humor. It’s funny. Many of us are faced with frustrating challenges in life. If one observes in this and last week’s parshiot, one can detect that our forefather Yaakov encounters situations that are totally opposite of his character. One can see clearly that it’s not us but G-d that runs the world!


We learn in Tractate Makot (24:71): “The world stands on eleven important principles” and the Gemara derives this from Psalms (16). One of the principles is “he pursues truth”, referring to Yaakov. He was not accustomed to lie and we see that from the words he uttered to his mother, out of fear, “Maybe father will feel me” and realize “I’m not Eisav”. Yaakov was put in a situation that he had to lie and say “I’m Eisav”. Rivka through divine sensory knew that Yaakov was the one that should receive the blessing. His mother coached him on what to say. “Son, don’t mention G-d when you address you father. Eisav doesn’t do that and we have to be convincing”. Well, guess what? Yaakov uttered G-d’s name when he entered his father’s tent, when asked by his father “How were you able to come here from hunting so fast?” Yaakov replied: “Because G-d arranged it for me”. It seems like he couldn’t stick with the script – too honest!  We see later, Yaakov, this wet behind the ears, honest-to-goodness, Yeshiva boy becomes the son-in-law to the biggest liar, cheater and swindler that ever lived, not to mention he was constantly being lied to.


Rav Eliyahu Dessler has a beautiful explanation on what EMET really is. We were always led to believe that truth is describing events accurately, while SHEKER, falsehood, is exaggeration of the event. Mind you, that is just a simplistic definition. However, we know that sometimes truth is better not to be revealed. For instance, saying negative things about a friend, even though it’s true may not be the best way to go about things.  It has no constructive purpose. That’s Lashon Hara! At times it’s better to alter the truth then to tell it as it is, otherwise people will get hurt. So we see, if the truth will not help, but, on the contrary, hurt, it’s prohibited.


We also see if one lies to help and progress the world, this falsehood eventually turns to EMET. A good example of this is when G-d altered the words of Sarah when addressing Avraham. G-d stated her words to be that “she is too old to bear children” instead of what Sarah actually said which was “My husband is too old”. This was done in order to preserve Shalom Bayit, peace between the husband and wife. We find that altering the truth which eventually brings good is what G-d wants.



Juggling traits


Dr. Robert Goldman, Psycologist at Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim says it’s easier to fight a bad characteristic trait then to set limits on a good trait. Two cases in point are our forefather Avraham and King David. Both had the tremendous characteristic of mercy but, nevertheless had difficulty in sufficiently infusing strictness on some of their children. This was particularly true in regards to Avram’s oldest son Yishmael and David’s children Avshalom and Adoniyahu.


Yaakov had to contain his characteristic trait of pursuing truth in order to receive the bracha. This was a very difficult task. The initiation of Yaakov to the world of deception, which was against his nature, apparently helped him later on in life in dealing with his father-in-law, Lavan.


Our daily prayer, EMET, and its significance


In the morning prayers, Shacharit, we say after Shema, Emet V’Yatziv which starts with the word Emet and then 15 consecutive words beginning with the letter Vuv.  The word Emet itself is Vuv because G-d’s seal is truth and the letter He seals with is Vuv. As we learned in previous newsletters, the number 15 represents completion. The Pesach Seder has 15 steps and King David’s Psalms has 15 shir hashirim. By having EMET, truth, enwrapped with the 15 words which correspond to completion. One is therefore shalem, complete, once all 15 have been stated. Evidence of this concept of completion can also be found in the word EMET, which has 3 letter;  ALEF-the first letter of the alef bet, a TAF-the last letter of the alef bet, and a MEM, in the middle, which is the middle letter of the alef bet. All the letters are symbolic to the whole world which the three letters of EMET come to indicate.


A sinner who was also a robber asked a wise man for advice on how to repent. He felt he could not take on all of the commandments, so he asked the wise man for an easier way. The wise man suggested that he take on one commandment but do it properly. The robber agreed. The wise man said to take upon himself to always tell the truth. After a time, the robber’s resolve weakened, and he set off to rob someone. On the way he met an acquaintance who asked where he was going. Remembering that he took on to always tell the truth, he told him. Then, the same thing happened again. Right away he thought, those two will be witnesses and get me killed! Because of this, he restrained himself and never stole again. (Sanhedrin 92 and the Maharsha)


Truth is complex. We were brought up with a very simplified expression: To tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. However, one has to know when to say it and when to be deceitful for the sake of the truth. When Yaakov met his future wife Rachel, she was puzzled when he drew up a plan to counter attack Lavan, his future father-in-law. He said “when dealing with an untruthful person, one has to be equally deceitful. EMET dictates when to use it.


From the day we lose our innocence, we are desperate to rediscover it. Innocence, childhood, truth, spontaneity, enchantment, seamlessness – these are attributes we adults seek out all our lives. We should continue to seek them, especially truth and innocence, reach for them and work to perfect them so we can complete the EMET of our lives and the world around us.

The Art of Adapting to New Times

Taken from the discourse of Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, also contributing Rabbi Yossi Bilus
There are many lessons one can learn from the famous story of Choni Ha’magal however there is one very important teaching in particular which stands out in connection to this week’s parsha, Chayeh Sarah.
Firstly, what’s the story of Choni?
          We all heard of “Rip Van Winkle”. It’s a fictional tale by the American author Washington Irving published in 1819. I guess one can consider the short story as part of classic American literature. As a matter of fact, there have been many similar stories in history from other countries and cultures. I guess there is something irresistible about taking long naps for an extended period that has the reader curious. However they’re all revised copies of the ancient Jewish story about Choni Ha’magal found in the Talmud (Ta’anit 23A).
          Even popular kids cartoon characters like Fred Flintstone, Mr. Magoo, Bugs Bunny and many others all had their episodes of falling into a lengthy sleep, based on the story of Rip Van Winkle, or more accurately, Choni Ha’magal. That’s how popular the story is. Reading the passage in the Gemara for the first time one can not help but to think of times of youth and having seen a similar script by Hanna Barbara Productions or throughout Loony tunes.

A Little Background
Choni Ha’magal (the circle-maker) was given this nickname due to another incident in his life, in which he pleaded with God to bring rain. He drew a circle around his feet and exclaimed that he was not going to leave the circle until G-d brought rain. It rained! Clearly, Choni was a great scholar.
          The prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:10) promised, “The Lord says, ‘After seventy years for Babylon have been completed, I will remember you, and I will fulfill for you, My favorite, a promise to return you to this place.’ ” The Babylonian exile lasted for seventy years, during which time the Jewish people were living in a foreign land and were subservient to their hosts.
Text 1 – Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 23b

His whole life he pondered the verse, (Psalms 126:1)
 “A song of ascent, when God returns us to Zion, we were like dreamers.”
          Can someone sleep for seventy years?
          One day he (Choni) was walking along the road when he came across a man who was planting a carob tree. He asked him, “These Carob trees, how long does it take them to producefruit?””Seventy years,” replied the man.
          “Are you so certain that you are going to live for another seventy years?”
          “I found this world with carob trees growing in it; in the same way that my
ancestors planted for me, so will I plant for my children.”
          Choni fell asleep, and slept for seventy years. When he woke up he saw a man gathering carobs from the tree. “Are you the man who planted this tree? he (Choni) asked.
“I am his grandson.” “I must have slept for seventy years,” said Choni to himself. He saw that his donkey had given birth to a whole herd of donkeys. Choni went to his house. “Is Choni’s son here?” he asked. “His son is no longer alive, but his grandson is here,” they replied to him. “I am Choni Ha’magal” he told them. They did not believe him.
          He went to the Beit Midrash (study hall) and he heard the Rabbis say, “Things are so clear today, like in the days of Choni Ha’magal, that every question that the Rabbis had, he knew the answer to it.”
           “I am he,” said Choni. The Rabbis did not believe him and they did not respect him even though his knowledge of Torah was great. He said if I don’t have a companion in expressing myself, it’s not worth to live.
          He was weakened and he asked God to have mercy on him, and he died.
There are many questions on this Gemara however let’s focus on Choni’s mental well being throughout the whole episode.
          Choni was transported to the future. He was not recognized but he was remembered, fondly, as a historical figure. Everybody immediately recognized the name Choni and revered it. However, they did not connect nor believe that the man in front of them was in fact Choni. This happened both in his home and in the study hall.
          We see from here that Choni had a past (people knew his name) and he had a future (he had grandchildren and his name lived on in his scholarly teachings), however – he had no present! He could not connect; he could not adapt to the present in which he was placed.
          The adapting mechanism in him did not work and it led to his demise.

          Why didn’t it work?
Many of these aspects are comparisons about life. Perhaps one should put this also on the list:
One can compare life to sitting in a moving vehicle as he sees the places, neighborhoods and people pass him by. He remembers where he began and he knows his destination. The mind registers and adapts to the journey as he gets closer and closer to the end.

          In life, one must learn to adapt to a situation, whether it be work, school, marriage, birth, death, diet, or any relationships with others or one’s self. No matter how harsh living conditions may be, no matter how difficult the environment, no matter how irritating or obnoxious the person, a human being is able to adapt and survive. But, we shall shortly learn from the teaching of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, that there is an important ingredient, which should be infused in the process of adapting, in order for it to be successful.

          I t is this message, which will clarify for us the difference between Abraham’s reaction to G-d’s command to bring his son Yitzchak as a sacrifice, as opposed to that of his wife Sarah. Abraham was eager to fulfill G-d’s command. Sarah, on the other hand, when she heard what had transpired, could not bear the news, and died instantly. How can two great people have reacted so differently to the same event? What makes this question even more puzzling, was that Sarah was on a higher level then her husband in prophecy.

          The answer is that Abraham was made aware in a gradual manner that Yitzchak was to be brought as a sacrifice, thus allowing his feelings and emotions to adapt to the challenge awaiting him. G-d told him ‘Take your son’ then ‘your only son whom you love’. Only then did he inform him that Yitzchak was to be sacrificed. So maybe, if Abraham had been confronted suddenly that it was Yitzchak who was to be sacrificed, he would not have survived. It was the gradual realization of this fact that made it easier for him to digest this. He was therefore able to perform G-d’s command. Such was not the case with Sarah who was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization of what had happened and died from the shock.

          Another example of how delicate and gradual one must be, is G-d’s reaction after Adam sinned by eating from the tree of knowledge. G-d appeared close to Adam and asked ‘Where are you?’ G-d knew where Adam was, but He wanted to confront him in a manner that he would not be startled. The guilt of his sin was overwhelming; any sudden confrontation would have emotionally destroyed Adam.
          Let’s not forget Serach bat Asher, the granddaughter of our father Yaacov, who played the harp singing ‘Yosef (his favorite son who was presumed dead for 22 years) is still alive and living in Egypt’. The overwhelming sudden joy would have been proven too much and might have killed him. Serach presented it in a delicate, clever, gradual way in which Yaacov was able to comprehend without the shocking affect.
          The Gemarah (Sotah13a) states that soon after Yaacov’s death, seventeen years later, when Yaacov’s sons were taking his body to the Cave of Machpela for burial, a confrontation took place between his sons and his evil brother Eisav. Eisav came and protested that the plot of land (Cave of Machpela) belonged to him. A debate ensued and it was decided that one of the brothers would return to Egypt and retrieve the deed to show that Yaacov indeed owned the property.

          A deaf grandson Chushim (son of Naftali) wondered, why the cause of the delay? When they communicated with him, he exclaimed ‘What? Our grandfather will lie in degradation until the deed is brought?’ whereupon he immediately killed Eisav.

          Why was Chushim, a grandson, more concerned about Yaacov’s honor than Yaacov’s own sons? Rav Chaim answers, all the brothers had been slowly drawn into the argument with Eisav, gradually dulling their sensitivity to their father’s shame. Chushim, being deaf, was completely unaware of the situation. When he realized the reason for the delay, he could not contain his anger and killed Eisav.
          At times, yours truly likes to compare the different periods of my life. I was in the front porch of my house, one Sunday afternoon and saw my neighbors and their kids playing with mine. I couldn’t help but to compare the cast of characters in my life now and when I was a child or as a teenager. For the most part, with a few exceptions I’m surrounded with new people. Some are not with us anymore and others are scattered all over the world. If I didn’t have the transitional memories in between the two times of my life, I would feel as if those periods in my life never occurred.
            I once spoke to my cousin in Israel on the phone as I was walking in my current neighborhood in Queens. I had very little contact with this cousin since childhood but for a brief couple of seconds, listening to his voice, I thought I was back in Israel on my summer vacations as a child. The transformation was exhilarating!!

One has to be aware of the delicate nature of man. He has to approach situations gradually. Furthermore, man must be aware and use his most powerful tool, that of speech, properly by delivering news, whether good or bad, gradually. This will allow those listening to be able to hear and giving them a chance to adapt and tolerate what they are being told..

          Even when one gets up in the morning, one needs time before getting out of bed. Even the Sages agree. There was a study taken where the body and mind need about 12 seconds to adapt. It’s funny that the prayer that is said in the morning, MODEH ANI, has 12 words. One second for each word, using the proper concentration, gives the mind and body time to adapt from a state of sleeping and lying down to one of being awake and standing/moving.

          Choni was placed in a situation where he could not adapt. He could not relate to his new surroundings. Perhaps the seventy years lapse was too taxing on his mental state.

          It’s inevitable that we will go through changes in life. People will come in to our lives and others will depart. Change has to be done gradually.
          When King Shaul was informed by the Prophet Shmuel that G-d is removing him from being king, his response to Shmuel was a bit peculiar. He said “Let me address the people one more time as king”. He wanted to digest the verdict of G-d gradually and descend from the position.
          We must deal with change in a delicate way. Granted, adapting is part of life. If we are aware of its pitfalls, allowing ourselves the time and effort to adapt, we will be at a tremendous advantage.

Rav Ovadia and the American Jews

Excerpts from the shiurim of Rabbi’s Isaac Oelbaum, Baruch Dopelt
also contributing Rafi Sharbat and Rafi Fouzailoff


Rav Ovadya Yosef, one of the greatest Rabbis of this generation, passed away last week. The impact of his legacy was evident by the attendance at his funeral which was the largest in the history of the State of Israel. An unprecedented 800,000 people witnessed it. I guess it would be an understatement to say that he was pretty popular in Israel, but what about here, in the United States. Was he popular here? Did his teachings and influence impact your life? The answer is no. He was not as influential on our daily lives as he was there. But, do not fear. That is ok. We don’t need that influence. Now, you may be saying to yourself “Rabbi, do you realize what you are saying?!? Of course we need the leadership of this Rav and all of the greatest Tzaddikim who have lived, and continue to live, until now, Ad Yimei Hamashiach – until the days of Moshiach.” And you would be correct in stating that we need to have them but let me explain.
There is an important lesson which can be derived from the neighboring parshiot of Lech-Lecha and, our parsha of this week, Vayera which will shed some light on the legacy of Rav Ovadya. Even more important, we can see the implications of a very important lesson which we should apply to our everyday lifestyle.

Rav Ovadia was a former chief Rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader and founder of the Orthodox Shas party that has an authoritative voice in the Israeli government. What earned him respect, though, was his photogenic memory and was a universally accepted renown Torah scholar. His knowledge was so profound that no one was able to challenge his ruling. Rav Ovadia was not just an encyclopedia of knowledge but he was able to use his creativity and apply halachic rulings where no other Rabbi would dare to go.
A couple of stories to illustrate this point:


1)The Rav had just become the chief Rabbi when Brigadier General, Rabbi Mordechai Piron informed him that there were 1,000 married Jewish soldiers MIA. Rav Ovadia Yosef spearheaded this effort, creating a Beit Din, or religious court, that would meet twice a week. They worked tirelessly to find some basis of proof to free those 1,000 women. Referring to his two-volume book on religious rules, “Responsa: Yabia Omer,” where he dedicated many chapters to the Agunah problem, he treated each case with special importance. Working with the Beit Din of Agunot affairs, he went around seeking testimony and researching evidence on a topic that is heavily complicated within Jewish tradition. By the end of his work, the newswire JTA reported in April of 1976, “there was no longer a single case of Agunah.” Some cases of agunot he worked on did not require so much labor, such as collecting testimony from fellow soldiers. In other cases, Rav Ovadia ruled on evidence which could seem slightly far-reaching; researching dental records, doctor records, even discovered jewelry from the battlefield. In one case, a soldier was found wearing a wedding band with a wedding date inscribed, and his wife had a matching ring. The Beit Din sifted through various marriage registrars and once proving she was married on that date, they concluded the body found was her deceased husband, and permitted her to remarry.

Allowing these women to simply remarry once they assumed their husbands were dead was not so easily determinable. Rabbis feared that those pronounced dead who were actually alive might return home in a few years to heartbreak, if their wives were, indeed, remarried.

Around ten years ago the Rabbi suffered his first heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Surgery was required immediately however the Rabbi pleaded to postpone the surgery for three hours and be taken home. He later revealed his reasoning. While at home, he was in the middle of writing his responsa for an aguna and, due to the heart attack, he could not finnish it. “I might not come out alive from this surgery and then what will be of this poor woman? She will be stuck for the rest of her life unable to remarry. I had to finish the responsa before the surgery.”


2)In an unprecedented halachic ruling Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has allowed a woman pregnant by artificial insemination to marry a man who is not the father of the developing child. The 44-year old religious woman decided to get pregnant through a sperm bank because she feared she would not be able to conceive if she waited any longer. However, immediately after her insemination, she met a 50-year-old widower and the two quickly decided to wed, after the latter accepted responsibility for the child. The couple immediately ran into trouble. According to the Jewish halacha, a pregnant woman is not allowed to marry any man who is not the father for 24 months after the birth. The ruling preserves the unborn child’s rights. Rabbis explain that if the woman becomes pregnant again within the two years that follow the birth, the mother may stop producing milk for the baby. The couple appealed to the local rabbinate, but was forbidden to marry. They then turned to Rav Ovadia Yosef, who ruled that the mother may use milk substitutes to feed her child if she conceives again in the coming years.

Attorney Zuriel Bublil, who helped the couple with their appeal, was pleased with the result. “This is an unprecedented ruling that will help women coming to the end of their fertility,” he said. “Rabbi Yosef dealt with halachic reality with great courage, in a matter that many feared to allow or even discuss. The couple wanted to bring the child into the world after they were already married, and their time was almost up.” This woman and her fiancé were married according to Jewish law.


A number of other breakthrough rulings were declaring recognitions of the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews and in more recent years , ordering the Shas party to vote in favor of a law recognizing brain death as death for legal purpose.


The ability to retract one’s position and admitting an error in judgement shows a tremendous amount of self-confidence. Such was the case in supporting Prime Minister Rabin’s risky Oslo adventure by issuing a ruling that the sanctity of life overrules the slogan of “not giving up an inch”, a decision he retracted when the accords led to the first intifada.


Rabbi Ovadia had a thirst for Torah that is an example to all of us. One morning he woke up in a blaze and ran towards the sink to wash his hands and reciting the birch at ha’Torah – the blessing of studying Torah.


Interestingly, in this bracha, we use the expression TZE’EHTZA’EH TZEHTZA’EHNU – may our offspring and our offspring’s offspring (study the Torah). However the Sages use an unusual terminology for offspring. Why tze’etza’enu and not the usual term, ZERAH? Rabbi Ovadia rushed after reciting the blessing of the Torah to look at a responsa of the commentary, Rivash. His children, seeing the Rav’s enthusiasm were curious for an explanation as to where the urgency came from to look the up commentary so abruptly. He replied that the night before he was toiling to understand two seemingly contradicting statements by the Rivash that seemed unresolvable. He said that in his sleep, the Rivash appeared to him in a dream and stated that he had indeed misunderstood his intentions. There is no contradiction in the two statements. It is all clarified in another source that the Rivash had written. “Upon waking up, I went to check the source he mentioned and indeed it was there.”



Let’s go back to our reference from the beginning of our newsletter of the parshiyot. One of the most important events in the Torah occurred in this week’s parsha. G-d tells Abraham to go and slaughter his beloved son Yitzchak. Although he didn’t actually go through with it, his intentions were to do so until the very last moment, when an Angel stopped him. It was an enormous test of trust in G-d, which Avraham passed.

What’s astonishing is the unchallenged acceptance of all this by Yitzchak! His enthusiasm throughout the incident was something to take note of. He didn’t think for even a second “Has my father gone mad?!”. How could Yitzchak have been so compliant?
We also observe the utmost respect, from the dialogue, that father and son had for each other.

It all seems so strange. Here is Avraham passing such an enormous test. However, if one will observe in chapter 15, verses 3 and 4, he seemed like he didn’t believe G-d, when He told him he was going to have children. G-d then reinforced him in a peculiar way saying that his trusted servant Eliezer will not inherit him but his son will, the one that will “come out of your stomach”. The sages bring up the we are all familiar with human physiology and know what gender babies come from. The meticulous Torah seems to be hinting something,


Avraham surely believed in G-d’s ability to give him children. However Avraham was afraid of what influence, what impact, could he possibly have on a son at such an advanced age? He was 90 years old!


G-d answered him stating that he will have his own biological children and it will come from HIS STOMACH.


We learn from a verse in Yishaya (59;21) that there is a strong connection between TZE’EHTZA’EH and the word next to it, MEAYIM (stomach).


The stomach is where feeling comes from. Did you ever here the expressions “I’m sick to my stomach” or “I have butterflies in my stomach “?


G-d was telling Avraham, “Your son will inherit you, MEAYIM, from the stomach. With all your enthusiasm and strong feeling, sincerity and strong spiritual sense, your son will inherit you. You Avraham will be the blueprint where the love and spirituality will come from. Your the model mold.”


Did you ever wonder why, in the most important prayer we have, the Amida, we recite G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Yaacov. Then we say concluding the first blessing MAGEN AVRAHAM-protect Avraham?


Why not protect the other forefathers?


Because Avraham is where the spiritual feelings come from. He is the source. Therefore we have to protect that precious hunger, the love of G-d. We ask G-d to protect the spiritual enthusiasm.


That is the reason Yitzchak was so compliant. The guarantee by G-d through the verse, stating MI’MEI’ECHA, came to fruition. We see that every Jew HAS IT!!! He therefore doesn’t really need a leader. Although it helps, it’s unnecessary. It’s built in all of us. We just have to find the right channels to make it sprout. Avraham was guaranteed by G-d.


Frequently I would travel to Israel in the 1980’s-90’s and feeling the pulse of the Sepharadim there I can emphatically say that Rabbi Ovadia’s popularity was indescribable. He was their Rabbi. He was their leader. He was their pride and joy. My own cousins were caught up in the Rabbi Ovadia frenzy. The sepharadim, for many years, never had a Torah giant that would compare to the Ashkenazi greats. Rav Ovadia was able to be their equal. He was able to spar with them, head-to-head, and stand his ground. He was convinced that the Sefardi menorah needed not take a back seat to anybody. He kick-started a spiritual and cultural awakening among a significant number of Israelis in his pursuit to “restore the crown of the divine attributes to its ancient completeness”. The Sepharadim in Israel were able to hold their head up high and be proud.


However it was different in the United States. The enthusiasm towards the great Rabbi was no way near the excitement in Israel. It was not even close. Not many American Sefaradim were able to relate to Rav Yosef. It was a different mentality; the Israeli’s told it like it is, which he did on many occasions. The Americans, though, were more reserved in their demeanor and did not appreciate that. There was and is a major difference between the Israeli and American Sefaradim due to the lack of having a leader.


In the early 90’s I was a guest at a friend who happened to be a Lubavitch Chassid. At the Shabbat table, his wife said, with pride, “The world doesn’t understand us because we have, and follow, a leader.” I felt uncomfortable because I couldn’t comprehend the experience, what a leader, or following a group for that matter, was like. I guess one can call my kind a free bird. Having a leader has a tremendous advantage. He can guide you in many aspects of life. With his enthusiasm, a momentum among his followers can be built, and spirituality can be enhanced among the group in entirety.


Baruch Dayan Ha’emet. We lost a great tzaddik. However we have a gaurantee……We’re Avraham’s descendants. If we protect it, pray to Hashem to protect it, inside of ourselves, we can build that spiritual world for ourselves and the world and people around us. LET’S DO IT!!! SHABBAT SHALOM!

Making Limitations is Essential

Excerpts from the shiurim of Rabbi’s Isaac Oelbaum, Baruch Dopelt and Dr. Robert Goldman
also excerpts taken from the book by Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler “Michtav Eliyahu”

          I was invited to a yartzheit dinner the other night and, Baruch Hashem, they had a lot of food. America is beautifull!! However, those days of feasting without thinking are unfortunately behind me. Today there are limitations on what yours truly can eat. Yes, yes. We don’t have to indulge. There is something called will power. We have to be strong and not give in to temptation. WE CAN DO IT!! Nevertheless, even with all the RA RA RA pep talk and the encouraging pat on the back, it felt like a war zone at the yartzheit dinner table. It seems, at times one is walking on the mine field; the chicken dish is mixed with french fries. If one is on a low carb diet, he has to separate the two. Besides the fact that its fried food. BUT WAIT!! HOW CAN YOU EAT THE CHICKEN WITHOUT THE FRIES (CHIPS! KARTOSHKA)?! That’s like separating Abbot and Costello. However, ya gotta do it. But wait, there’s more. There is the sour-salted tomatoes….which is bad for high blood pressure. And when we finally reach the end, at about 10:00 o’clock, the crowning devil-in-disguise, the famous rice-meat-carrot dish, makes an appearence. Nutritionist will tell you ” can’t eat carbs after 8-9:00 o’clock”. It’s terribly tempting for someone who is diabetic. One can only eat fruit. With all those distractions, who can concentrate on the speeches…let alone ask, “did someone die?”. Its apparent, one has to draw the line and set limitations or else he’ll be the star of the next yartzheit dinner.
          In this week’s Torah portion, we read about, arguably, the most famous man that ever lived, Abraham. The Sages describe our forefather as a charismatic, towering figure who was always ready to lend a helping hand. The hospitality he provided was second to none. His Shabbat table was always filled with guests. Although he was a loner in his monotheistic beliefs, he had backbone and was not afraid to share and spread the word of G-d. By the end of his life he had everything – children, wealth and a good name. Smart, intelligent, cynical individuals like ourselves know reward doesn’t come easy….So how did he do it?
          G-d says, in verse 29 chapter 28 in parshat Vayeira, that He loves Abraham. One has to ask what did He love about him? Perhaps His love was the result that Avraham passed all the tests, including the biggy of attempting to sacrifice his son Yitzchak as commanded by G-d. Maybe it was his chessed (kindness) to other people.
          We, as diligent followers of the Torah as well as opportunists, have to be sensitive enough to discover clues in the Torah that will help us in life. In this case when G-d says that He loves Abraham, we have to emulate those deeds that led G-d to proclaim this strong positive feeling. Perhaps He will love us as well and shower us with goodness both in this world and the next, AMEN!! Hey! Let’s spread the wealth. We have to sieze the opportunity!!
         Rashi (one of the major commentaries of the Torah) explaining the verse above, says that Avraham was able to pass down to his children, especially his son and heir-apparent Yitchak, and many of his students, the message of G-d. This is something that Noach was unable to accomplish to the full extent.
        How was Avraham able to spread the word?
        Rashi expands on the word “Veh-Shamru”-if you watch. Avraham was able to master that. He was able to set limits. This was an important virtue in Avraham and an important principle to apply in life.
        Let’s give a number of examples throughout Avrahams life on how he was able to skillfully use this power of setting limits and drawing the line, (AD KAN).
        Avraham had a nephew Lot, who needed guidance. Of course Abraham was there to give a helping hand. Mr. kindness. The helping hand, though, was serviced for many years. In fact, Lot was the third wheel behind Avraham and his wife Sarah. Avraham was faced with a dilemma. Should he break off ties with Lot? Rav dessler indicates that G-d didn’t speak to Avraham until he pried himself away from his nephew. Apparently his association with Lot was the reason for G-d’s disassociation. Lot was preventing Avraham from reaching a higher spiritual level.
          However Abraham had, without a doubt, a tremendous positive influence on Lot as we will see in parshat Vayeira.
          Therefore he was faced with a difficult decision:
1) to keep his association with Lot at the expense of his own growth…. or 2) leave him cold turkey and live up to his potential.
        Avraham made the decision to leave.
        Another example is at the end of this weeks parsha which introduces us to the concept of brit milah – circumcision. One may ask why was it introduced to Avraham? Why not introduce it at Mount Sinai, many years later, like all the other commandments? Why wasn’t introduced to his son Yitzchak? We can start fresh when he reached eight days old.
To get a clearer picture of why Avraham was chosen to be the representative of this commandment we have to explore deeper into the trait of kindness, the trait that Avraham embodied. The Zohar says the “giving” trait found in cheesed-kindness, if taken to an extreme, would inevitably cause one to succumb to illicit relations. Anyone with that super kindness trait is susceptible. As of matter of fact, Yishmael, Avrahams other son, inherited that trait from his father but was not able to control it.
The Sages say Avraham was shalom (perfect/full/complete.) He perfected all his traits except this one. As one naturally realizes, concentration can be most difficult. By commanding Avraham to perform Brit Milah it now made him perfect. Limitation was set on this organ. There is a certain segula, or spiritual merit, found with the ceremony of brit milan, where one’s understanding of Jewish wisdom is increased. Everytime Avraham looked at his circumcision he would realize the limitation on the trait of chessed. It was not only a sign, a covenant with G-d, but a deterent. This courageous act led to having his one true heir, Yitzchak.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

  Why was the rainbow chosen as a symbol of peace between G-d and mankind?
          G-d said, “When I brought the flood, my bow was drawn against man.” The rainbow resembles a reverse bow, signifying that there shall be no more arrows from heaven sent to destroy humanity.
G-d commanded Noach- P’ru u’rivu – be fruitful and multiply. However, Noach was discouraged after leaving the ark and seeing the devastation. The rainbow is a reassurance along with a statement in the Shema that “you and your children will live long on the land that I swore to your fathers.” You will live long without another flood.
In the time of King Chizkiyahu and of the Men Of The Great Assembly (which includes Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai), the Jews reached a very high level of spirituality and righteousness. (In Chizkiyahu’s time, even little children were well-versed in complicated halachic matters.) These two generations did not need the reassurance of the rainbow or the covenant which it represented, since their great merits protected them.
It is a custom in Israel and in some neighborhoods in the New York area that the children carry bows on Lag Ba’omer. The reason is to commemorate Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in whose generation, no rainbow was seen. (Note that in Hebrew the words “bow” and “rainbow” are the same – KESHET.) The positive message is that we should strive for perfection. In many communities, the Zohar is read on a person’s yartzeit. The portion in the Zohar which we read describes the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. It describes him passing away SHALEM whole. SHALEM and SHALOM – peace are from the same root. We pray that the deceased passed away fulfilled his whole being and peace. It’s the antithesis of the generation of the flood, where there was no peace.
It is forbidden to stare at the rainbow because G-d’s presence is in it. However, it is proper to glance at it and recite the blessing, reminding ourselves of the promise that G-d will not to bring destruction despite our sins. 

Sticks and Snakes

          Rabbi Oelbaum asks a question about a very famous but peculiar incident between G-d and Moshe (the greatest leader in Jewish history) in their earliest meeting:
          Why did G-d ask Moshe to throw down his stick? It turned into a snake. Then He asked him to grab it by its tail, where then it turned back into a stick. What the purpose of all that? What a way to introduce yourself!
Was He training Moshe to do magic tricks? Shame there were no rabbits and a top hat around.
          This was the same stick that Adam had in the garden of Eden. The stick was passed down through the generations. Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov all possessed it. Yaccov brought it down to Egypt who later on gave it to his son Yosef. After Yosef died, the Egyptians ransacked Yosef’s house and it ended up in in Pharoh’s palace where it made its way mysteriously to the possession of Yitro (Pharoh’s adviser). It was stuck in the ground, unattainable, in Yitro’s property until Moshe came and pulled it out. In order to understand the answer fully lets bring this example:
King Solomon, the smartest man that ever lived
          Shlomo wanted to understand where the demons get their power. Through his intelligence and ingenuity he managed to capture the head demon, Ashmadai, who said “Let go of me and I’ll reveal to you my secret”. Shlomo did just that but Ashmadai proved to be too clever for the smartest man who ever lived and turned the tables on Shlomo. He over powered the king and threw him half way across the world. Demons’ powers are based on imagination. Ashmadai assumed the role, the identity of king Shlomo. When Shlomo informed people his identity they laughed. “You? The king? Ha! You’re just some homeless begger”. No one believed him. The Sages describe Shlomo’s uphill battle back to the throne. First he was “sholet al maklo”- he had control of his stick. He took small steps and slowly began to take control of his life.
          When G-d approached Moshe he wanted to teach him an important lesson in life. “You, Moshe have a stick in your hand, a holy stick, one that has been passed down for generations. If you let go of the stick; if you lose control, then the stick, the holiness, the tradition, the Torah, your essence, will turn into a snake. The snake is the embodiment of evil; it’s the ultimate negative force. However, if you hold on, if you grab control of your life, you can turn a bad situation into something positive.”
         We started a new year and G-d willing we should all have a happy and sweet year. We have to remember, though, life can be tough.

          Tragedy can affect our behavior, our ability to function, and our overall sense of well-being. The intensity and ways we express our reactions will vary depending on our personal experience, general mental health, other stress factors in our lives, our coping style, our ability to self-monitor our emotional state, and our support network. Perhaps if we know who’s pulling the strings, if we understand we are not fully in control of our vehicle, then we will be able to cope with life.

Noach’s Ark

          ‘And Noach was five hundred years old when he gave birth to Shem. Cham and Yafet’ (Berashit 5:32) Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz quotes Rashi (main commentary on the Bible) in the Medrash (book explaining the Bible) and asks a question “Why did Noach have kids so late?” The average age in that time period to have children was at one hundred. Did he have infertility problems? Why did G-d hold back?
          G-d said, if Noach’s children will turn out bad then they will drown like the rest of mankind, and if they’ll be righteous then they will burden their father by building more ships. For this reason, G-d waited five hundred years for Noach to have children, preventing Shem, Cham, and Yafet from confronting that scenario.
          Rav Chaim asks a very obvious question on this Medrash. It’s understandable a degenerate society can corrupt and influence. Therefore, one would not want his child to associate or ‘be around’ them. So out of protection to minimize the damage, G-d delayed the arrival of the children. However, if the children were able to be strong in their belief in G-d and persevere, why would that be a burden to build more ships? On the contrary, every father dreams and wants his child to follow in his footsteps at any cost. He should be happy that his sons want to build more ships and follow G-d’s command. Furthermore, we learn later on by Abraham how painful it was for him not to have children. So is it worth it to put someone in anguish by preventing him not to have kids just because not to burden him of building more ships?
          Rav Chaim introduces us to a concept in the Torah with the help of these two examples. Elisha the prophet was Eliyahu’s student (the famous Eliyahu Hanavi who was given the power by G-d to revive the dead.) Rav Chaim points out something astonishing in which Elisha instructed Gichazi, his assistant, to take the prophet’s stick and give life to someone.
         Apparently, one can transfer power to an inanimate object, and furthermore a second party can do the task.
          We find Chana, the prophetess, sewed a coat for her little boy, Shmuel, which he wore all his life. He did not separate from this coat till the day of his death at old age. The sages say that the coat grew with him. What was so special about the coat?
          It was essential for Shmuel the Prophet to wear this coat because it enhanced his spiritual state to great heights. Chana, his mother, who had tremendous love for G-d and the nation of Israel, sewed the coat and put her heart and soul into every stitch. These strong feelings were transferred to Shmuel by wearing the coat and enabled him to have such tremendous dedication to G-d that the scripture equates the Prophet Shmuel to Moshe and Aharon, the leaders who led us out of Egypt.
          Furthermore, astonishingly, we find in the Torah (Shemot 20:23) that the altar in the temple should only be built by stone and not metal (steel) because the latter connotes weaponry. This is quite the opposite of what the Temple stands for – peace, tranquility and kindness. The altar is meant to increase one’s life and not the opposite, which metal (swords, knives) represents. When we were fortunate to have the altar in the Temple, we could use it to atone for our sins. Today the Shabbat table replaces that symbol where the kindness (inviting guests) and love (that we show to our family) atones for our sins. For this reason there are some communities that remove all utensils before one recites the bircat hamazone – grace after meal
But the question is asked, that if swords don’t kill, people do, why is the inanimate object implicated as well?
          Rav Chaim seems to be implying that it goes beyond the concept of ‘association’. There are negative and positive forces that we create which penetrate the object. It is interesting to note that ‘the hot hand’ is definitely applicable today. Many years ago when I began my career in the colored stone business, my father took me on a buying trip to Bangkok, Thailand. I noticed my father buying rubies from a particular vendor even though he was more expensive than the guy down the block. I asked, “Hey Pop, why are you buying from him? He’s more expensive.” He answered, “I have a bracha with this vendor even though he’s at a higher price, I will sell it, whereas the other vendor, even though it’s a great deal, I’ll have a hard time moving it.”
          Getting back to Noach, the scripture mentions ‘Noach found favor in G-d’s eyes’; that he, and only he was to be the redeemer. Although his sons might have been tzadikim in their own right, it was Noach who had the power. It was he who had to toil and work for 120 years. All his efforts will penetrate the ark and make it the vehicle to the new frontier. Rav Chaim teaches us that the concept of influencing materials in this world is not just on a physical level but on a spiritual one as well. This gives credence to the idea of a “magic wand”!!!!
          The Torah hints through the scriptures that man had such an influence on nature during Noach’s time that the animals behaved in a degenerate way like humans. The animals were cross breeding with other animals similarly like man decadent lifestyle. For this reason the animals had to be destroyed along with mankind.

          Why man has such an influence on the world?

          G-d created the animals in one instant. In contrast mans creation was a process.
          Why the difference between the creation of the two?
          The first hour G-d thought about creating man; the second hour he asked the angels their opinion. We learn even though one thinks he’s the greatest, he should always ask advice. The third hour G-d gathered dirt from the four corners of the earth. The fourth hour He gathered all the materials together; The 5th hour He created the body; the 6th created a golem, a walking body; on the 7th, man was able to speak – He instilled a neshama-soul.
          The way G-d created man is the way man can manipulate and influence on the world. He can take an object, a chair, a table, or an animal, and gradually elevate it to spiritual heights. We see this concept performed daily by reciting a bracha on a certain food. The piece of food is then elevated by the recitation.
          The Zohar says we are movers and shakers; we are constantly increasing and decreasing spirituality around us. Unfortunatly the opposite holds true as well. We have the power to infuse the world with kedusha, and Tumah (evil) as well.