Archive for Sensitivity To Others

Qualities We Should All Have and A Leader Most Certainly Have…

        What president, prime minister, rabbi, community leader would you vote for? What qualities should he/she have?
        Let’s look at the weekly parsha, Mikeitz, our current holiday, Chanukah, and this week’s anniversary of a tragic event in order to fully understand what we look for, and should look for, in a leader.
        YOSSEF THE DREAMER….was that his claim to fame? We see he became a leader for interpreting Pharaoh’s dream but what propelled him to be considered a leader?
        This past week we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy, who was the President of the United States at the time.

        A new national poll finds John F. Kennedy is the most popular president of the last half century. The CNN/ORC International survey found 90 percent of all Americans approve of how Kennedy handled his job as president. No other president of the last half century even comes close. However if one looks at his accomplishments during his short tenure as president its mediocre at best. So why was he so popular?

        Granted,, Kennedy’s untimely end may play a part in his popularity. He’s become enshrined as a martyr, particularly in Democratic households. But William McKinley was another popular, energetic president cut down by an assassin’s bullet. He faded from the popular mind in a way JFK has not.

        Kennedy had style but not substance. A poll was taken of the radio listeners and television viewers of his presidential debate with Richard Nixon. The radio listeners of the debate favored Nixon; those who watched on television thought Kennedy won. True, much of the adulation for Kennedy during his life and since, originated in arguably superficial attributes; his youth, personal attractiveness and sophistication and many of us are seduced by those traits. The country was hypnotized by his Hollywood looks and his beautiful young family and he took advantage of the media any chance he got. His press conferences were interesting, compelling and humorous. It seems the thing that gave Kennedy’s such greate success was the thing that his detractors often criticized, his charisma. He had such a feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and the willingness to use it to great ends. But his election at age 43 to succeed the 70-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower represented a generational shift in American leadership that was as much a source of popular excitement as Kennedy’s individual qualities. As he said in his inaugural address, “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace”.

        My mother told me that my father cried the day Kennedy was assassinated and many I spoke to said their parents did the same. However Rabbi Baruch Dopelt quotes his mother ” if I knew then what I know now about the immoral things he did then I would not of had the same sad tears”. At the time Kennedy famously came across as caring about his family and about the nation.

        The brothers sold Yossef and he wound up in Egypt and then, after a period of living in master Potifar’s house as the head butler, ended up in jail. In jail Yossef met two Individuals, the head butler and the head baker.

        The attribute of caring for others was Yossef’s ticket out of jail and eventually lead to his appointment by Pharaoh as Viceroy of the superpower of the world, Egypt. As we read in last week’s parsha (40:7) there were 4 words that Yossef uttered “MADUA PENECHEM RAIM HAYOM?”-why are you so sad today? The caring, sincere concern, which they sensed, of Yosef towards the 2 jailed officers of Pharaoh enabled them to open up to him and eventually disclose their personal dreams.

        We see in this parsha as well, It says (41,56) “VAYISHBOR LE’MITZRAIM”- Joseph opened all the containers of stored food during the famine yearshimself and gave the people. Again we see an act of caring on Yossef’s part.

        Mr. Yehuda Fouzailoff, a prominent founder of the Bukharian community in New York, said one such person who fits that description is his brother-in-law, Mr. Hannan Benyamini. Hannan, as he was lovingly known, was one of the few who was recognized by just his first name, cared very much about his community. “People sensed his sincerity and perhaps this quality was one that made him so successful as a leader. He was then able then to spread different tasks among prominent individuals in the close-knit community”. Mr. Fouzailoff continues “I never saw a leader quite like him. His goal was to bring individuals to synagogue on a weekly basis. Because this was the Jewish thing to do; it worked! Every week after the services there was a Kiddush. The wives came to help; they cut vegetables for Israeli salad which combined well with the Shabbat eggs”. This warm, caring and homey environment eventually grew to a very big gathering on Shabbat and eventually the enormous community it is now.”

        This caring quality is evident throughout our Torah especially as a prelude to leadership. Both Moshe and David spent time as shepherds in order to fine tune their character for caring. The ingredient for caring comes from humility. One has to be subservient to his people; they come first.

        How many times did Moshe attempt to sacrifice himself for the sake of the Jewish people? David didn’t care about his honor by dancing for the sake of G-d. There were those who didn’t think it was dignified. Nevertheless, G-d was honored by David’s devotion.

       It says that Yossef was cold to his brothers when they greeted him. Although they did not recognize him, he recognized them. Later on though it said Yossef could not hold back the tears and disclosed to them who he was.

        What soften Yossef from his cold feeling towards his brothers? What changed his attitude towards them?

        A very important growing experience, among the brothers, occurred in this week’s parsha. Lets examine the verses.

        Yaacov was hesitant to send Benyamin, his youngest son and the son of his most beloved wife Rachel, to Egypt. The viceroy, Yossef, who’s real identity was not yet disclosed to Yaacov and his sons, offered a proposition. If Yaacov’s family would like to purchase food, the youngest brother had to travel with the other brothers down to Egypt. This did not sit very well with Yaacov, considering that Benyamin’s older bother from the same mother, was already lost in Egypt. It wasn’t until Yehuda’s guarantee that if he does not return Benyamin unharmed then he will lose his share in OLAM HABA-the next world, that Yaacov acquiesced to their request.

         For thousands of years ever since then, the tribe of Yehuda would act as a protector for the tribe of Benyamin. As a matter of fact, this is the reason that their tribes are adjacent to each other in their respective territories in Yerushalayim. Most Jews today are from these two neighboring tribes.

When Yossef saw how Yehuda, who was from a different mother, cared for and protected his little brother Benyamin; how he was willing to give up his life both in this world and his olam habah, he realized they have grown , matured and learned to care deeply for each other. He thought now I forgive them. Now is the time to reunite.

I heard a beautiful story at the eulogy for Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt this past week.

It was right before the first scud missile attack where the mad man, Saadam Hussain was threatening to launch these weapons into Israel. One of the congregants of Rabbi Grunblatt synagogue, the Queens Jewish Center, called with a concern. Apparently his son was learning in a Yeshiva in Israel for the year. The father wanted to know how soon can he bring him home back to the states before the rocket attack starts in the following week. Rabbi Grunblatt said “I thought you were going to ask me how long should he stay, perhaps another year!!. He will be fine there.”

Well the following Sunday, when the evil monster Hussain promised to launch the attack, the parents of this boy were glued to the TV set watching CNN coverage and there was a knock on the door. It was Rabbi Grunblatt. He wanted to sit with the parents and see the coverage with them.

As one knows their history, Israel was able to intercept the majority of the scuds. Miraculously we had not one fatality throughout the whole ordeal.

Rabbi Grunblatt apparently thought their child was in no danger from the scud attack. This is exactly what the Greeks wanted to accomplish in the Chanukkah story. They wanted us to abandon our spirituality. They wanted to take away the Torah that we learn. Torah is what makes us Jewish. We are not prepared to do that. We would not let them succeed.

The good Rabbi also showed humanity; he showed he cared and he showed what any good leader should do.

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.

The Greatest Scheme



          Trying to make a buck was difficult in Israel, back in the mid/late seventies. Nevertheless, there were those who had very good mazal. For some, however, making a small profit wasn’t enough; they had their eyes on the “gold” and their ambition knew no boundaries. Such was the case of a young entrepreneur who conceived of the scheme of a life time. He wanted to import Italian shoes for ladies to Israel. There was, however, one major obstacle: the Israeli government had imposed very high tariffs. The government wanted Israel’s shoe industry to grow and therefor imposed pricey tariffs, thereby discouraging foreign imports.

          These Italian shoes were beautiful and very stylish. It was a sure bet and he anticipated making lots of money. The demand for these name brand shoes would be astronomical. So he devised a plan. What was it? 500 “right” shoes were to be sent to the port of Haifa and 500 left shoes were to be sent to the port of Netanya with the intention of not claiming them. After the 60 day period, they automatically get placed for auction as unclaimed merchandise. He then would be the only one “crazy” enough to claim them. WHO WOULD CLAIM 500 RIGHT SHOES?!!
          A few days later, he would claim the left shoes from the other port. His workers would then match them up and….WALLA…HE HAD ITALIAN SHOES AT A INCREDIBLE PRICE. The entrepreneur figured out how to avoid the high tariff.
          His scheme continued uninterrupted for a number of years. However, human weakness is inevitable. He began to be careless and brag about how he beat the system. As time passed, his story reached the wrong ears… and the incident prompted the government to act. A new system was implemented where all imports would be reported into a central system where they would check, compare, and examine all packages and claims. He eventually was caught.
          Although his scheme was not illegal, it wasn’t morally correct.
          During the 6 week period between the holidays of Pesach and Shevuot, we read Pirkai Avot with the goal of refining one’s character. The idea is to make one sensitive to his fellow man and his needs. This is also the reason why we count the Omer. Loving one’s friend is a prerequisite for receiving the Torah.
          Our sages teach us in Parshat Bereshit that on the first day G-d created the trees and all the minerals. When iron was created, though, the trees trembled in fear, anticipating that they would be cut down by it. G-d said to them “don’t worry, the iron ax which has a wooden handle, would never harm you if all the trees are united. Since if you all are united, the wooden handle would not participate and go against its own”.
          When the Israelites received the Torah, there was tremendous camaraderie and love among them. This is the frame of mind one should be in, approaching Matan Torah-the receiving of the Torah.

Dignity – An Important Part of Life





The most complex character in the whole Torah is Bilam. He was unique in that he was one of few gentile prophets; that within itself is a tremendous feat, yet at the same time he was the slimiest low life that walked the face of the earth. Bilam was a money-hungry, egotistical pervert who had relations with his donkey and was also involved with making prostitution more prominent. An all around guy,don’t you think ?

Balak, the king of Moav, sends a delegation to persuade Bilam to go and curse the Jews. Excited at the opportunity, Bilam however consults with G-d,who tells him not to go. Bilam, though, makes it seem to the delegation that he wasn’t going because it’s beneath his dignity to go with such representation. He wants a  more important and prominent delegation to pry him out of his comfortable settings. Bilam didn’t let on that G-d disapproves of cursing the Jews. Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz says a carefull reading of the verse shows G-d gave two reasons disassociating himself with Balaks emissaries .The first, astonishingly, was indeed to protect Bilams dignity while only the second was not to curse the Jews.

But who is Bilam that G-d has to protect his dignity ? Why protect the dignity of a low-life ? Reb Chaim points out that even the most low and despicable individual is not to be humiliated more than is absolutely nessesary. The stature and importance of Man -created in G-d’s image-is so great that sensitivity has to be applied even to the wicked Bilam . G-d set aside his own honor in order to perserve the dignity of Bilam. The Sages say that Bilam’s donkey was killed so that people shouldn’t say this is the animal that humiliated Bilam. “I CAN’T MOVE BECAUSE THE ANGEL IS IN FRONT OF ME, HELLO !!! EVEN THIS ANIMAL CAN SEE, GET WITH THE PROGRAM, BOSS” the donkey opened his mouth and spoke out to Bilam. What a miracle…A talking donkey!! Doesn’t it remind you of the talking horse, Mr. Ed? WILBUR !! Hey, talking animals are hard to find. Even if the animal would have remained alive it would have brought a tremendous  santification of G-d’s name. People would have pointed to the donkey and proclaimed G-d wonders and justice. It would have been living testimony of G-d’s creation and control of the world. However the dignity of man would have suffered severely and therefore the animal had to be put to death. The same principle applies for any person killed for having relations with animals. The Torah says the animal should be put to death as well. What did the poor animal do besides being a uncooperative participant?  People would point out ” this animal and so and so…..”

Similarly, we find G-d protecting the dignity of Korach and his entourage, who were killed for their rebellion. Rav Chaim explains the reason why Eliezer and not Aharon was instructed to gather Korach’s pans was because Aharon had been Korach’s primary opponent. Korach was entirly wrong and provoked the entire fight. Yet the disgrace and shame of having your primary opponent gather the spoils was unwarranted.
The lesson we learn here is that there’s a certain demeanor and respect one has to not only show others but himself as well. Humans are precious. It might be a good Idea to google life in the sixties in New York where everyone was dressed in a suit and tie and would address individuals as Mr and Mrs or Sir and Madam. Sounds funny, however immigrants, who came from a different culture, found the cordial aproach to be a breath of fresh air and felt important. We must not forget we have to act as we look (not like John Hamm and Mad Men portraying life in the 1960’s).

Crime of Humanity





We are now, unfortunately, in the midst of the three weeks. During this period, we mourn the loss of our Temples approximately two thousand years ago. Rabbi Jay Shapiro of WITS Institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, says in this time we mourn humanity. He quotes a Ramban on the topic of Yosef and his brothers. The brothers were jealous of Yosef; when they were finally alone with him in the field, the idea sprouted in their heads to kill him. This suggestion was shot down by the older brother Reuben as it was too extreme of an act. So instead, one of the brothers suggested to throw him into a pit leaving him for dead. Apparently, they realized it might not be a good idea, where then it was decided to sell him instead. “Why should we have the blood of our brother on our hands?”
After many years, G-d created a famine which led them down to Egypt. The brothers faced the viceroy of Egypt, not knowing it was their long lost brother, and requested food for their families. The brothers were bothered at the trouble they were encountering. They spoke among themselves concluding that the reason G-d was punishing them was because they ignored Yosef’s pleas and cries as they threw him into the pit. He was begging them to get him out; however they disregarded him and enjoyed a meal among themselves.
So the Ramban asks, this is the one action they’re worried about? This is what you regret? What about wanting to kill him? What about selling him as a slave and ruining his life? What about the devastation they caused to their father? Why was it this particular incident that they felt they were in the wrong?
The brothers were intelligent, so the fact they picked this incident perhaps bring to light a concern of this action. They viewed it as cruel. The other incidences, though it was wrong, could be construed as impulsive, a crime of passion. Perhaps they might have had less control of the situation. However, cruelty, which they believed they displayed while they were eating and drinking, while their brother was pleading for his life, was inexcusable.


The first Temple was destroyed because of idol worshiping, murder, and sexual misconduct. These are considered serious stuff. However, it seems like after a number of years, G-d permitted the Temple to be rebuilt. Although horrible and hideous, nevertheless, it was the influence of the surroundings that propelled them to stoop that low. The second Temple, though, was destroyed for baseless hatred. It has been a very long time since, and G-d has not forgiven us.


Cruelty is an advanced state of hatred. It’s found in our inner personality. We have to address and curb this flaw in us because it could lead to devastating results. Some of which may not be forgiven by G-d.


Avoiding Another Tragedy




The new generation didn’t understand their elders; sounds familiar doesn’t it? The young were sick and tired of Rome, the occupiers, lording over them. The new blood developed a backbone; the cast of characters consisted of hotheads, Mafioso, zealots, and a few Rabbis. But in hindsight, it was very dangerous to be Mr. Macho Maccabee; it was the wrong time.  Hillel, the great sage, warned the Jews to keep a low profile and let sleeping dogs lie. However, the Jews were divided into bitter rival factions and the friction between them was heard all the way in Rome. Each group portrayed the other as disloyal to the Roman Empire. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Kamtza-Bar-Kamtza story. One of them received an invitation mistakenly meant for the other. So he came to the party thinking the host wants to reconcile their differences. When he arrived, the host was shocked to see him and ordered his butlers to kick him out. Trying to reason with the host was futile; he even offered to pay for half the party as long as he wouldn’t embarrass him so people shouldn’t see him being thrown out. The Rabbis attending, unfortunately, didn’t intervene. This was a tremendous mistake and a lesson to be learned, to save your fellow from uncomfortable situations.  After being embarrassed by being kicked out, he went to the Roman authorities the next day with a vicious scream, where disloyalty was very apparent, against the Empire. The Romans had enough and the war began. Do we fight them or do we lay low? Every faction had their opinion – who was right? A bitter divide was apparent in the midst of our people.


Three wealthy Jews supplied grains to the brethren in the walled city of Jerusalem that would have lasted for twenty years. One of the bravado groups insisted that the whole nation fight even though there were sufficient numbers that were against such action. They forced their hand by destroying all the grain. “Ah ha, now you have to fight.” We, unfortunately know the disastrous result.


Not getting along and hatred was obviously the main reason of the destruction of the temple. I would like to bring out  another valuable lesson from this tragic time.


A good number of years ago, a kashrut organization in collaboration with a mashgiach was certifying a restaurant kosher. The Mashgiach had various stores and restaurants under him. The Mashgiach, though, was a cocky guy;  he had the “I know how to perform my job. I’m the best in the business,” attitude. The head of the kashrut organization was a no-nonsense, impatient, short-fused type. Both, though, were very sincere law-abiding religious pious Jews. The Mashgiach’s job was to report weekly to the kashrut organization. Although it’s a formal tedious procedure, however, the by-the-books kashrut chief expected it. However, the mashgiach didn’t follow the kashrut protocol and guidelines. The head of the kashrut organization would call him periodically for reports, but the Mashgiach didn’t comply. He didn’t even bother to relay the message, “I’m handling the situation, you’re in good hands. You have to assume I’m in the control booth; it’ll be okay”. The head chief was livid that the report was not on his desk or on his answering machine. “There must be something wrong. He’s either hiding something or not doing his job,” proclaimed the chief. He then removed the kashrut certificate from the restaurant claiming non-compliant; something was fishy.


Is there anything wrong with their behavior? Should he have filled out the silly report once a week?  “Yes!” Should the kashrut chairman have a little bit more tolerance? “Yes.”  All this is emet. However, there is another important factor and that is to realize and be aware of the ramification of their actions.  The innocent store owner lost his certification, lost clientele after bouncing around from one fly by night hashgacha to another, and eventually lost his business.


Perhaps this is what the Jews in the Temple times were also guilty of. They didn’t foresee what their actions will bring; what the ramifications of their decisions would be. Was anybody thinking what would happen if they lost the war? What justification do they have to destroy the grain? This would have tired out the enemy for they would have to wait a very long time outside the fortress.


Seeing beyond the surface is vital for everyday life. When your wife or husband does or says something to hurt you, first, one should ask themselves “Did I do something to trigger her reaction?” If your kids starts to fight with each other or have a temper tantrum, the possibility exists maybe they’re hungry. One cannot react right away. If someone talks bad about you, one has to think first and ask is it a good idea to retaliate? What would be the ramifications if I do? Think of all the considerations before you react. One must think of the bigger picture of what might happen; what it would cause. We should try to see the other side. If we are able to see the consequences, we will avoid a lot of headaches in our lives and the lives of others.


Around the Shabbat Table- Parshat Shelach

 by Rabbi Gedalia Fogel – Pre 1A – Yeshiva Ketana of Queens


Hi! This is Rebbe speaking:

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shelach, Moshe Rabbeinu sent 12 spies to check out the land of Eretz Yisrael. They saw giants and came back to the Jewish nation with the following report. “We were like grasshoppers and they saw us like that too.” The Medrash asks, “How did they know what the giants thought of them? Maybe Hashem made them see the spies as angels? Moshe Rabbeinu had told the spies to be strong and not to be scared. There sin was that they did not trust in Hashem. They were only worried about what others thought of them.

Many of us, at times, are worried about what others think of us; sometimes to the extent that we refrain from doing the right thing. We must always remember that when we do the right thing Hashem is on our side.

One should not do things only to impress others. We learn this from Yaakov Avinu. Yaakov told his sons to go down to Mitzrayim and purchase wheat. But they still had wheat. Why did they have to go to buy more? There was a hunger and Yaakov did not want to show off what he had while others did not. Yaakov did not want the Goyim to be jealous of his food supply, so he did not show that he had any.

Another place that we learn this is in Parshat Devarim. It says that Hashem told the Jews to go “Tzafon” literally meaning “North”. But the Kli Yakar says in his commentary that the word “Tzafon” can also mean “Hidden”. One must hide their wealth. They should not flaunt their riches. A Jew must always be aware not to incite the Goyim. Eisav is still upset with Yaakov that he took away his blessing from Yitzchak their father. Eisav’s descendants get angered and jealous when they see the Jews flaunt their wealth.

The Gerrer Rebbe was walking by a beautiful, palatial house under construction. They were building new front steps. The Rebbe started giving the owner instructions on how the bricks should go, what color they should be, how wide, etc. To which the man answered, “These are my steps. I will do it the way I want.” The Rebbe responded jokingly, “You are making fancy steps for those that pass your house. So in essence you are building them to impress me. Therefore I would like to tell you just how I like it so that I will enjoy it each time I pass.”  The Rebbe was trying to teach a lesson. One should not do things just to impress others.

Yeravam Ben Nevat did Avodat Zorah, worshiped idols and he incited others to do Avodat Zorah. It is a grave sin to worship idols, but is much worse to encourage others to sin too. Hashem told Yeravam, “Do Teshuva and your terrible sin will be erased. Then you will merit walking with Me and David Hamelech in Gan Eden.” Yeravam then asked, “Who will walk first David Hamelech or me?” To which Hashem responded “David Hamelech”. Yeravam’s pride did not allow him to do Teshuva, for he knew that in the end David Hamelech would still walk ahead of him.

There are amazing stories about those that went out of their way to stay low key and not to show off to others.

Some have a custom to say a D’var Torah when they are the Baal Simcha. This particular week, both Raphael and Pinchas were making a wedding. It was Shabbat and they gave a Kiddush in Shul. Raphael stood up and said a nice D’var Torah. Pinchas did not say anything, although he had prepared a speech. Only at the meal did Pinchas say the speech he had prepared. His family asked him, “Why didn’t you say your D’var Torah at the Kiddush as is your custom? You prepared an outstanding commentary.” Pinchas answered, “Raphael spoke before me. His D’var Torah was nice. But I was afraid that my D’var Torah was better than his and if I speak after him, no one would be appreciate his D’var Torah.

Shlomo was an extremely wealthy man. He was marrying off his daughter. All anticipated a glamorous wedding. But Shlomo took a smaller hall. It was a beautiful wedding but not the biggest talk of the town. Shlomo did not want to show off his wealth, so he took the money that he saved by lowering the cost of his daughter’s wedding and quietly, without fanfare, paid for a wedding of an orphan that got married that same night.


Everyone gathered into the synagogue to hear the speeches of two Torah scholars. The first, Reb Yankel got up to speak. He took out his notes and delivered a beautiful, insightful speech. Then the second, Reb Naftali stepped up to the podium. He too took out a paper and delivered a remarkable speech. Mordechai had heard Reb Naftali speak many times before and he never had any papers in front of him. When Reb Naftali went to rest, Mordechai checked Reb Naftali’s jacket pocket. Sure enough the paper he took out was empty. Reb Naftali did not want others to comment on the fact that he could say a speech by heart, while Reb Yankel needed to look into his notes.

One should make an effort to do what’s right and not to care about what others think. We must not look to impress those around us.

What have we learned today?


What was the sin of the spies?

They did not trust in Hashem. They were worried and scared about what the giants thought of them.


What lesson can we learn? 

One should make sure to do what’s right and trust that Hashem will be on his side. One need not go out of his way to impress others. One should not flaunt his wealth and his capabilities.