Judging with a sixth sense….can you?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picking up the pieces and seeking comfort

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

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


A change of place can be a change of Mazal

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

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


Zealot? To what extreme

TThis article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Yissachar Frand, Yossi Bilus, Berel Wein, Asher Hurzberg,  Yonnasan Zweig, Lable Lamm

Mets! Yankee! Mets! Yankees! Root, root, root for the home team and if they don’t win it’s a shame. If you’re a diehard fan, your team means everything to you. New York has two professional baseball teams and for the most part the city is divided, rooting for either of the two. Does one remember those “I hate Yankees” chants? How about when as a child you passed by, not just once, but two kids who were discussing how the Mets had a lousy team, and without thinking twice chimed in and interrupted their conversation with a growling sneer defending your beloved Mets. Yes, yes, you were a little Mets zealot weren’t you?

However, getting autographed baseballs, collecting baseball cards, and wearing the cap or team jersey is put aside once childhood ends. It was nice, but now it’s time to move on to more serious stuff. Well, for most of us, that is. The buck stops there. For some though it doesn’t end quite yet. I know a delivery man who works for a jewelry company who is probably 40 or 50 years old and is still wearing his Mets cap and jersey, and if you dare tell him that his team is not good, he’ll stop and argue with you. “What did you say?” He’ll respond with a thick Brooklyn accent, even though he’s born and bred in Queens, with his eyes popping out no less. If you aggravate him a little too much he might even use violence. He is not so different than those Soccer fans in Europe who brawl at the stadiums or bars being the zealot fans that they are. Many have ended up at the hospital with injuries, some serious, and some have died just for being a zealot to the “cause”.

In this week’s parsha we read how Pinchas was enraged with the actions of Zimri ben Salul, who challenged Moshe’s authority by taking a non-Jewish woman into the tent to have an illicit relationship in front of the entire nation. Pinchas was so furious with the audacity of Zimri that after receiving permission from Moshe, he entered the tent and speared the two sinners to death. His brazen act of zealotry was praised by G-d and he was rewarded greatly.

Is being a zealot good or bad? To what extent, if we have the green light, can we practice being a zealot? Where do we draw the line with being a zealot? Why is this act connected to Aharon his grandfather, a man of peace? What peace is there in Pinchas’s act? And interestingly, why is the vov in the word shalom in the parsha split? It is also interesting to note that there is a concept brought down that Eliyahu and Pinchas are deeply connected. In fact, Eliyahu is a reincarnate of Pinchas. Let us see some connections.

There are pluses and minuses in taking on the cause and waiving the kinah-zealot flag. Pinchas’s deed evokes many associations-courage, decisiveness and religious passion are several that come to mind-but peace hardly seems one of them. Pinchas, after all, killed two people. True, what he did was condoned by Torah law, and his doing so saved many lives, but still, one does not usually think of homicide as a peaceful act. Some have the custom to remove metal and steel utensils before we recite bircat hamazone for they are a symbol of weaponry and war and G-d hates bloodshed. Rabbi Yissachar Frand read once a quote which he thought was profound from Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel in the early 1970s. Golda Meir once said that she could forgive the Arabs for killing the Jews, but she could not forgive the Arabs for forcing the Jews to kill Arabs. Killing, even in a justified defensive war, ultimately has an effect on the national soul. King David was denied building the Bet Hamikdash-Temple for he had b
lood on his hands. His son King Shlomo, “a peacetime king” took the mantle.

Pinchas is not an overly popular figure in Jewish life and among his own generation. The people of Israel were angered by his act of violence in killing the head of the tribe of Shimon without giving the matter due judicial process. It is because of this type of murmuring that the Lord Himself, so to speak, blesses Pinchas personally and grants him the gift of priesthood and of peace.

Pinchas and his behavior become the exception and not the rule in Jewish life and tradition. Zealotry is a very difficult characteristic to gauge correctly. And it is noteworthy therefore to emphasize that we do not find any other further act of holy zealotry mentioned in the Torah or approved of by Jewish tradition How much are personal quirks involved in such zealous behavior? Jewish history and society is littered by the victims of religious zealotry who were felled by personal attacks clothed in the guise of religious piety and zealotry.

The zealot often covers his own weaknesses and self-doubt by attacking others. The rationale for Bnei Yisroel’s criticism of Pinchas is based upon what is known as the “reformed smoker syndrome”; very often, the most rabid anti-smoker is a reformed smoker. In an attempt to rid himself of some negative habit or trait, a person may react very negatively to others who exhibit the same trait. This person’s reaction is fueled by the fear that seeing others exhibiting the same negative trait which he once exhibited will rekindle his own connection to it. That is why the people of Israel questioned the motives of Pinchas in killing Zimri. Because of this, it is obvious that only God, so to speak, could save Pinchas from unwarranted criticism and public disapproval. But in doing so, God, again so to speak, warns us of the dangers of zealotry. He will not step in again to rescue the zealot from public and historical disapproval.


There is an interesting comment in the Midrash by the incident of Eliyahu at Mount Carmel (Melachim I Chapter 18). Eliyahu challenged the prophets of Baal to bring down a fire from Heaven to accept their offerings. They were unable to do this. Eliyahu succeeded in bringing down a fire from Heaven to accept his own offering. All the people fell on their faces, prostrated themselves, and declared, “Hashem, He is G-d.” This is the famous proclamation that reverberates throughout our synagogues at the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

The narration in the book of Melachim continues. “Eliyahu said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Let none of them escape!’ So they seized them. Eliyahu took them down to the Kishon Brook and slaughtered them there.” (Melachim 1 18:40) The wicked Queen Izevel heard what Eliyahu did to her prophets and sent a message pledging to do the exact same thing to him that he did to the prophets of Baal.

Eliyahu fled and went into hiding. Eliyahu, with his zealous persona, was not able to tolerate any wrong doing by the Jewish people to the extent that he complained to G-d about them. “I have acted with great zeal for Hashem, G-d of Legions, because the Children of Israel have forsaken Your Covenant; they have razed Your altars and have killed Your prophets by the sword, so that I alone have remained, and they now seek to take my life,” he said. (Pasuk 10)

The Midrash comments that G-d chastised Eliyahu for not talking properly about His people. “Do not say about My People ‘they have not kept Your Covenant!’ Do not talk that way about Jews! You should have said, “They are Your children, descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov.”

Rav Mordechai Katz, of Blessed Memory, interprets the Midrash. In spite of the fact that the acts of zealotry of Pinchas / Eliyahu were noble acts and in spite of the fact that Pinchas received the priesthood for it, the acts were not perfect acts. Pinchas / Eliyahu was too indicting and condemning of the Jewish people.

There was never a more ‘for the sake of Heaven’ zealot in the history of the world than Eliyahu the prophet. He is the paragon of the proper form of zealotry. G-d rewarded him for it. But even that zealot was less than perfect because at the same time that he defended the Honor of G-d, he was too harsh in his attitude toward the Jewish people. The Jews had to be admonished, true, but he was just a little too strong. He should not have said “They have forsaken Your Covenant (Bris).”

We are told that the prophet Eliyahu attends every circumcision (Bris) of Jewish babies. Part of the ritual is to reserve a chair for Eliyahu. The reason why he must attend every Bris is a decree from G-d. Eliyahu must attend every Bris in order to recognize that he was wrong. Klal Yisrael does keep the Covenant (Bris).

Nothing in religious life is more risk-laden than zeal, and nothing is more compelling than the truth that G-d taught Eliyahu, that G-d is not to be found in the use of force but in the still, small voice that turns the sinner from sin. As for vengeance, that belongs to G-d alone.

Zealotry is such a dangerous trait that even the noble Pinchas / Eliyahu can overdo it, by uttering just a single word that is too strong. This demonstrates how delicate and careful one must be when wielding the sword of zealotry.

We meet Pinchas again later in Jewish history, again at a moment of personal tragedy. He is the High Priest and head of the Sanhedrin at the time of Yiftach, the judge of Israel. Yiftach has made a foolish vow that whatever or whoever comes forth first from his house to greet him upon his return from the successful war that he waged to save Israel from the oppression of Bnei Ammon will be sacrificed to G-d.

The daughter of Yiftach, not knowing of her father’s vow, rushes out of the house to welcome home the returning hero. Eventually Yiftach fulfills his vow and kills her on the altar. This entire horrible story could have been averted.

The rabbis in the Talmud tell us that Yiftach could have had the vow annulled retroactively by appearing before Pinchas and his court and requesting such an annulment. But ego and hubris interfere, even at the cost of the life of one’s own child. Yiftach refused to humble himself – after all, he is the leader of Israel – to appear before Pinchas and ask for the annulment.

Even though Pinchas is aware of the vow, he also refuses to lower himself – after all, he is the High Priest and the head of the Sanhedrin – to travel to Yiftach to affect the annulment. As the Talmud ruefully observes, because of this display of personal pique and ego, an innocent person was killed. Pinchas’s reputation is therefore tarnished by this incident. Perhaps this is another reason that we do not find the zealotry of Pinchas repeated and complimented again in the Torah.

Pinchas gave his name to the parsha in which Moshe asks God to appoint a successor. Rav Menahem Mendel, the Rebbe of Kotzk, asked why Pinchas, hero of the hour, was not appointed instead of Joshua. His answer was that a zealot cannot be a leader. Leadership requires patience, forbearance and respect for due process. The zealots within besieged Jerusalem in the last days of the Second Temple played a significant part in the city’s destruction. They were more intent on fighting one another than the Romans outside the city walls.

Well, zealotry is not all that bad. Mind you, if you will, although we are very cautious of the zealot syndrome as we have so convincingly have tried to convey. However, there is a crucial lesson that we can learn from zealotry. First and foremost, it is the epitome of individuality and creativity. Therefore it’s a fundamental part of growth. We have to stand back and marvel at the magnitude of the accomplishment of Pinchas! All of Israel was at risk! We were hemorrhaging badly. Someone needed to stop the bleeding. The Midrash relates the gravity of the situation and the value of the deed done by Pinchas. However there’s a louder point here. The whole plague was started like a wildfire by one person, and it was extinguished by the heroism of one man. Look at the power invested in the individual!

It may be hard for us to believe this in the abstract but we live it concretely every day! Traffic is backed up for miles. Ambulances and stretchers are rushed to the scene. Lives are ruined and hundreds of thousands are inconvenienced due to the loss of valuable work time, missed appointments and airplane flights. Why? One foolish person was engaged in distracted driving, multitasking, absorbed in texting during the morning commute. Look at the power any individual has to be destructive. About this King Solomon wrote in Kohelet, “One sinner destroys a lot of good!” It’s easy to be destructive. It’s harder to be constructive. It takes months and years to build a house and with one match all is lost. It takes years to develop a trusting relationship and with one word or a single betrayal all can be undone! It’s hard for us to imagine the power of the average individual to affect good like Pinchas did! Rebbe Nachman from Breslov said, “If you believe you have the ability to destroy something then you must also believe that you have the capacity to correct it.”

As is the case every week, we have to find out what we can learn from the holy Torah and apply it to our everyday life. What can we possibly learn from Pinchas / Eliyahu and the foreign concept of being a zealot without getting into trouble?

Rabbi Yossi Bilus mentioned something that would shed some light on how zealousness can be applicable in our lives today. Unfortunately, this occurs all too often in our circles. In his neighborhood in Flatbush, a predominantly Orthodox community, there was one Jewish storeowner whose shop was open on Shabbat. Congregants from the neighboring shuls would pass by after services and the non-observant Jew would be working attending customers. A little while later, though, through persuasions from individuals from the community, the store owner closed his shop on Shabbat.

The baseball fan will stop and argue that his team is the best because he’s a zealot. He is a Mets or Yankees diehard fan. “How can you put down my team?” he would say and feel with his heart. It’s his duty. Perhaps we, as well, being fans of Judaism , have to take the initiative. We should approach, in a pleasant, diplomatic way, and persuade the store owner to do the right thing. If the person is unapproachable or reluctant to close his store on Shabbat, a good barometer that we are a proper zealot would be to feel pained by the incident. After all, we are all in it together. We have to feel bad that his store is open on a holy day, that people are eating non-kosher, driving on Shabbat or even talking in shul, because if not, we’re not good fans of the game called Judaism.

This is where we have to step up to the plate. There is absolutely no need to throw rocks at cars that are driving on Shabbat. But a caring attitude and the ability to approach someone in a pleasant, nice way are vital, and this is the modern day zealot.

Rabbi Asher Hurzberg relates a story about a friend who is now retired and living in Israel. For twenty eight years he was a teacher in the New York public school system. Every week he would invite Jewish kids to his house for Shabbat meals. Through the course of his tenure as teacher he successfully convinced many Jewish public school boys to transfer to Yeshiva. This teacher is a modern day zealot.

Zealotry requires the love of G-d; however, it also requires the knowledge of how to use that love correctly. We New Yorkers often have a nonchalant attitude and we don’t get involved even though many times we should. And if we do get involved we invoke the tool of the zealot in a very brazen and forceful, angry way. This has to be corrected.

How striking! Pinchas’s zealotry outwardly appeared to be the antithesis of shalom. However, G d explicitly attached Pinchas’s name to Aaron, the gentlest and most peace-loving man that Israel knew. Aaron is the “lover of peace and pursuer of peace, one who loves humanity and brings them close to Torah.” G d was attesting to Pinchas’s true character and temperament.

This is symbolized by the unusual way the word “peace,” shalom, is written in the Torah at this juncture. The Mesoratic text (handed down from generation to generation all the way from Sinai) teaches us that the letter vav in this word is split in the middle. It is thus written almost like two yuds placed one on top of the other.

How strange. Why the deviation from the way the letter vav is customarily written, as one unbroken stroke?

The commentaries teach us that the letter vav, which is used as a prefix to mean “and,” implies chibur, connectedness. Vav never stands alone; it is always attached as a prefix to another word.

We mortals stand upright like the letter vav, reflecting our divine mission to connect heaven and earth, becoming the conduit of Hashem’s bountiful goodness on this earth while reflecting His heavenly values in our day-to-day lives. Those values are caring and kindness to the highest level, which is seemingly unreachable for a true zealot, and are hard to achieve. However, the effort is imperative and reaching out can get miraculous results.

Are they some Kabalist/Rabbis who take their powers from evil sources?

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Berrel Wien, Eliyahu ben Chaim, Asher Hurzberg, Naftali Gonzvi, Pinchus Winston, Yossi Bilius,  Abba Wagensberg, Nissan Midel and The Nachshoni

What’s the difference between a Kabbalist and a Rabbi? A Kabbalist is in a higher tax bracket.

Do traditional Jews take mysticism with a grain of salt? One prominent Orthodox Jew, when introducing a speaker on the subject of Jewish mysticism, basically said, “It’s nonsense, but it’s Jewish nonsense, and the study of anything Jewish, even nonsense, is worthwhile.”

However in many circles going to a Kabbalist is a way of life. One may have a favorite social drink, favorite sport team and a favorite Kabbalist. Perhaps in our New York circles, the Kabbalist has replaced the psychologist as “the go to guy” for help with every aspect of life’s decisions. It makes a great conversation piece at wedding, “Oh, who’s your Kabbalist? Does he take American Express?”

One has to ask if this is the right path for us Jews to consider. Do Kabbalists actually have special powers? And if they do, where do they get their powers from? Is it possible they can get their energy source from a negative evil side? Can we tap in to their superpowers?

First and foremost, one has to realize that once people begin to complicate their lives by attending a Kabbalist it becomes addicting. The reliance increases for every small item. It could start with a legitimate inquiry and gravitate toward the most trivial, like what color paint my patio should be. People start to think, “No I can’t make that decision, I’m not as worthy as the Kabbalist.” This is an addiction and it starts when man seeks to have an edge in life. However, man, not being G-d, is part of that perfect imperfection and is therefore prone to making mistakes. Man, be it the person seeking help as well as the Kabbalist, can, even innocently at times, end up working against G-d even when, at times, he thinks that he is working with Him. As it has been said, the road to Gehinom is paved with good intentions.

We see how having an edge sometimes could lead to a big fiasco. Korach saw through Ruach HaKodesh that from him is destined leadership. But “the eyes fooled him” (Rashi). He didn’t realize is that it was not him who was destined to be the leader but his descendent Shmuel. He misread the divine prophesy.

Similarly, Achitofel was King David’s teacher and was the smartest man in the world at the time. His advice was as good as gold. He saw in Ruach HaKodesh, again that edge, the he is destined the Kingdom. That motivated him to contrite a plan instigating David’s own son Avshalom to rebel against his father. This became one of the uglier episodes in Jewish History. At the end the coup failed and both Achitofel and Avshalom died. What he too didn’t realize was that it wasn’t he who would be king but his great grandson Shlomo.


In the early part of the 1900’s in Eastern Europe there were documented cases of “DEBUK”- a malevolent wandering spirit that enters and possesses the body of a living person until exorcized. Why was there such a scary phenomenon at this particular period and place? Can one imagine children being possessed by evil spirits? Our Rabbis taught us a concept that when there is a high level of kedusha then there will automatically also be a high level of impurity. In our illustrious Jewish history, this period was known for tremendous amount of Torah learning. The Volozhin as well as the Pressburg Yeshivot were at their heyday and produced some of the greatest Torah scholars that we ever had. But life has to be of equilibrium. When there is a high level of kedusha there will always be an equal amount of evil. The balance must always be.

Today however the generation is substantially weaker compared to yesteryear and it would be highly unlikely that we can produce high levels of great Torah scholars, and equally unlikely to have witches, demons, ghosts or goblins. You are the product of the environment.

Where do magic and extra -terrestrial powers measure on the glucometer of today? Let’s examine the mechanics or at least touch upon one of the many major ways one can elevate himself to superhuman status. In this week’s parsha we encounter one of the more fascinating characters in the Torah, Bilam.

Bilam first appears in our parsha as a human menace, one who with magic or the evil eye by sight or by speech can cause havoc. However we find something interesting that he, by his behavior, is totally dependent on G-d. Although he doesn’t listen very well and transgresses the command against harming Israel, nevertheless he seeks Divine consultation. Strangely, we see a shift later; his devilish image disappears, replaced by that of a prophet who knows the secrets of the future. But we’re not quite finished with him yet. The next episode has him becoming an inciter, who advises corrupting Israel in the pleasures of the flesh. Ultimately, he is killed in battle by the Jews.

In our modern world what can we learn from him? Not the black magic that he inherited from his father (or as some say his grandfather) Lavan. Nor is it the presents Balak received from the gifts that Avraham, our forefather gave to the sons of Ketura, one of his wives. Rav Yirmiya bar Aba taught, “He gave over to them the use of G-d’s name with impurity.” This, Rashi tells us, means that he taught them black magic and demonology. Some Sages teach us that some of the black magic had to do with incense. Avraham received the knowledge of this power from Pharoah as a gift along with his daughter Hagar when he went to Egypt. But today all this is pretty much irrelevant and a waste of time. The Torah is attempting to teach us something. In order to understand a tremendous insight in ourselves and our powers, what we can achieve, we have to examine a few occurrences in our rich past.

We left Egypt in the most thunderous way, with miracles and with the hand of G-d clearly visible. What a way to become a nation. As we know from the Torah and the stories we recite at the seder, we were in a rush (I guess we trace that trait from our ancestors) and didn’t have time to bake the dough. Apparently they didn’t even want to prepare anything for the way, and thus the commentators explain that they had to leave quickly in order to avoid descending to the final level of the Fifty Gates of Impurity. This, of course, is where we encountered Matzot.

However, this does not seem to be correct. Just the opposite! The strength of impurity had been eliminated as a result of the revelation of the Divine Presence, as it says, “For the Children of Israel even a dog will not growl.” (Shemot 11:7). He judged their gods and killed their firstborn. If so, how can it be said that impurity has any control, G-d forbid?

After the redemption had already commenced, from the time the plagues had begun 12 months prior, Evil (Sitra Achra) began to lose power and he continued to do so from that point onward, particularly from the time the actual oppression ended which was on Rosh Hashanah, as it says in Tractate Rosh Hashanah (11a).

In the month of Nissan, and especially on the first night of Pesach, Evil- the S”A was completely beaten and conquered to the point of extinction. If so, how can one say there was concern about the power of the 50th gate of Impurity?

For, G-d, shined His holy light onto the Jewish people, as the author of the Haggadah has written, “The King of Kings was revealed to them.” Therefore, they could not remain in Egypt a moment longer lest the S”A become completely eradicated and free will become eliminated. Egypt was the chief of all the Klipos- negative energy, and if she had been destroyed then so too the S”A and Evil inclination would have been destroyed completely. Free will would no longer have existed, and for this reason they could not delay. Thus, the verse says, “Egypt imposed itself strongly upon the people to hasten to send them out of the land, for they said, ‘We are all dying.'” (Shemot 12:33).

Thus, redemption had not occurred as a result of their own merit, but on the contrary, they had been quite absorbed and drowning in the zuhama and depths of Egyptian impurity. Indeed, only as a result of the merit of covenant with our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov had this been accomplished.

What begs to be asked is in what method did G-d eradicate and weaken Evil, the Yetzer Hara?

At one point in history, the leading sages were Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosei the Galilite, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. While discussing what attitude to take towards the Roman government, Rabbi Yehudah suggested a friendly one, Rabbi Yosei expressed no opinion, while Rabbi Shimon spoke very bitterly of the Roman tyrants and advocated every possible defiance. Rabbi Shimon could never forget the terrible sight of his beloved master and teacher, Rabbi Akiva, being tortured to death by the Roman executioners. The sages were not aware that their conversation was overheard by a certain young man, Judah ben Gerim. At one time a disciple of Rabbi Shimon, Judah ben Gerim later turned spy for the Roman authorities. This treacherous man reported the conversation of the sages to the Roman authorities.

Rabbi Shimon fled for his life together with his son Rabbi Elazar. Without telling anyone of their whereabouts, they hid in a cave for thirteen years.

One day after Rabbi Shimon emerged he met Judah ben Gerim, the treacherous spy who had caused him so much trouble. Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, “Is this man still alive?” and soon afterwards Judah ben Gerim died.

Our Sages comment how Rabbi Shimon killed the spy. “Rabbi Shimon gazed at him and he turned into a heap of bones.” With his gaze, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was able to suck out all the kedusha of the individual, like a mosquito sucking blood from a person. Similarly by the redemption, the kedusha was being drained out of Egypt and for this reason the Israelites had to hasten their leave.

According to the Mystiques, our job in this world is to uncover or perhaps increase the sparks of kedusha from elements and people that we encounter. Everything is covered by a shell (klipa). There are times when we can increase the kedusha from under these sparks, but there are also times when we can decrease kedusha; empty it of its holiness. The two examples we used were Egypt and the death of the spy by the gaze of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. In order for evil to exist it needs sparks of kedusha. For this reason all of our most notorious enemies have had in one sense or the other an association with G-d, the Torah or the Jewish people.

Shabtai Tzvi (1648), the false prophet whom we discussed a few weeks ago, began eating prohibited foods claiming he was able to bring out the spark of kedusha from these products even though in essence you can’t. When the Mashiach comes then we all will be able to eradicate those sparks. Apparently Shabtai Tzvi thought he was the Mashiach and gave his stamp of approval to do so. The Sages were suspect of his claim and thought otherwise. We have seen that all of Creation is composed of a mixture of good and evil. Likewise, in every food that a person eats there is a combination of good and evil. Food physically consists of good counterparts, i.e. nutrients, and bad aspects, i.e. waste or indigestible matter. Likewise, spiritually, food contains sparks of holiness, or good components, and husks, or kelipot, which are the gross, bad components that encompass the sparks.

Eating is one of our most common activities. It must be G-d’s Will that we are so involved in eating. There must be an important spiritual purpose to it. If we really can separate good from evil by eating correctly, then this purification has great ramifications upon all levels of reality.


Let’s examine Noah. Noah was an ISH (man) TZADDIK (righteous person) TAMIM (who was completely righteous) (Genesis 6:9). The word ISH is a compliment in its own right, and the additional descriptions heap honor upon honor on Noah. No other personality is described with so many consecutive praises in one verse!

The first verse in the Book of Psalms teaches: “Fortunate is the man (ISH) who has not gone in the counsel of the wicked, and has not stood in the path of sinners, and has not sat in the company of scoffers.” The Midrash Socher Tov, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda, comments that the phrase “Fortunate is the man (ISH)” refers to Noah, since Noah is called ISH, as in our pasuk.

Why is Noah described as “fortunate”? According to the Midrash, Noah was fortunate in that he did not follow the ways of the three categories of people (wicked, sinners, scoffers) cited in Psalms. These three negative categories correspond to the three generations that arose in the world over the course of Noah’s lifetime: the generation of Enosh (Adam’s grandson, who initiated the practice of idolatry), the generation of the Flood (who were immersed in immoral behavior), and the generation of the dispersion (who built the Tower of Babel in order to wage war against G-d). It was Noah’s good fortune that he did not go in the path of any of these three generations.

The Midrash teaches us that Noah spent his entire life surrounded by evil and wickedness, yet he managed to make himself into one of the most righteous people who ever lived. This is a remarkable feat. How is it possible for a person to maintain such a high level of spirituality while surrounded by an environment of depravity and corruption?

A passage from the Talmud will help us resolve this question. Ben Zoma says, “Who is a wise person? One who learns from everyone.” (Avot 4:1). This is a strange statement. It seems reasonable for us to want to learn from righteous people, but what is wise about learning from the wicked?

The Berditchiver Rebbe remarks that righteous people are able to perceive positive qualities in even the most negative situations. From everything they encounter, they learn how to serve G-d better.

For example, if a righteous person were to witness someone passionately engaged in sinning, he would recognize and appreciate the tremendous motivating power of passion. However, instead of taking that power and using it to accomplish negative goals, the righteous person would redirect it for a meaningful purpose. The correct channeling of passion has the potential to change rote, sterile performance of God’s mitzvot into mitzvah observance driven by enthusiasm and fire! (Kedushat Levi, end of Parshat Bereishit.)

Noah epitomized this ability to channel negative forces toward a higher purpose. A hint to this idea is found in his name. The Torah tells us (Genesis 6:8) that Noah found chen (favor) in the eyes of God. The name NOAH (nun-chet), when reversed, spells CHEN (chet-nun)! Noah found favor in the eyes of God by mastering the art of reversal. He had the ability to redirect every energy from a negative goal to a positive one. All powers come from one source, and therefore they are all good; the only question is how they are used. It is written in our holy books, “Who is strong? One who conquers his self.” Our sages define conquering as channeling and redirecting, and that is what Noah did.

This is why a wise person learns from everyone. Instead of being corrupted by his evil generation, Noah used it as an opportunity for spiritual growth. He had the ‘best’ teachers available! All Noah had to do was learn to take their ingenuity, arrogance, passion, jealousy and zeal, and use them in a productive, constructive way to get closer to G-d.

The understanding from the writings of our great Sages is that each one of us has been created in our own unique way and each individual can reach to the highest spiritual superpower level by his own gifts and abilities. There must be a tremendous amount of Torah learning, refinement of character and acts of kindness. The secret is it has to be done measured correctly to our own self. We all can tap in to Kochot-powers that we didn’t know we had. If we hone our abilities we would be shockingly surprised with ourselves. By channeling different aspects of our character traits and shuffling around the different reservoirs of our personality we can master the world. This was Noah’s great ability. He was able to redirect kochot and channel the energy in a positive G-dly light

May we all learn how to transform the power of every energy into positive actions in order to become the best we can possibly be ….. and that can be enormously super!

So in conclusion there is no difference if one, the kabbalist, goes through evil or kosher route, since  all sources  originates from G-d. This is evident from the reliance Bilam  put on the Master of the Universe. What is important to note that we are able to transform a negativity to a positive light. Noach is the prime example of this. The other way around is also true, Furthermore, the kedusha in the world is not on the strength of yesteryear therefore the power of evil is not as strong. Good and evil are always equal.”

The Complete Man

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of  Rabbi’s  Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Asher Hurzberg, Jay Shapiro, Yossi Bilus, Meir Levin, Dr. Abba Goldman

There is a story of two brothers who grew up in the slums of New York, in a neighborhood where all young men join gangs. As they rise in status within the gang, they realize the dangers and the essential immorality of their lifestyles. They see all their friends wind up either dead or in jail. Both brothers, against all odds slip through the cracks, taking advantage of opportunities and escaping their neighborhood. They give up their old life.

One brother makes a clean break, signs up with the Army. After finishing his term of enlistment, moves to a farm. He never returns to the old neighborhood, concerned that he’d be sucked back into his previous life. He puts up an imaginary fence, a protection, that he does not even think of the past. He severs his relations with his former friends, his parents, schoolmates, upbringing, and memories. One may say his move was necessary and commendable. He deemed it vital, a must, for he knows his weakness and is fearful that he may be susceptible to the life of crime and violence. He took upon a life similar to that of a witness within a protection program. However he really didn’t have to do that. The fear propelled him to act that way.

The other brother chooses differently. He never forgets the past. He, inspired by his new conviction, goes back to the old neighborhood as an addiction counselor, feeling for his old friends or the people like them. He builds a social service organization. He uses his intimate knowledge of criminal culture and its distribution networks and patterns of association to preach a gospel of communal renewal. He turns the sordid past into an inspiring future – for it was his past that enabled him now to accomplish all this. He did not give up his past. He demonstrates a love for his friends of yesterday and campaigns comradery amongst them, he makes it the basis and foundation for new gains.

Which brother was correct in his path of life? One might think it’s a silly question, however if one gives it some thought it is quite complex. Is it the brother who guided his life through fear or the brother who went in the way of love? Is his fear properly channeled? Is this what children have to feel for their parents?

In this week’s parsha we read about the Kohanim and how they blessed the nation. There is one word in the blessing that stands out, B’AHAVA- with love. They have to bless the nation, with raised hands, with the feeling of love towards their brethren. Interestingly YAD (hand) times two equals to twenty eight, which is also equal to KOACH – strength. When one shows love towards his fellow man, that unity brings strength.

Although AHAVA is a beautiful trait to have, there is a major component missing from it to present the “complete man”. We see this clearly by our forefather Avraham who is described early in the Torah as an “OHEV HASHEM”, one who loves G-d. He is also famously known for is his love of his fellow man. Evidence of this love is his generous hospitality which he and his wife displayed.

However, Avraham was instructed to perform the toughest commandment of his life to slaughter his son Yitzchak. To prepare mentally for this Avraham had to change. AHAVA was not enough and not appropriate for this difficult task, he had to focus his thought pattern through fear and the highest component of fear is awe. In the end, Avraham did not have to sacrifice his son, and this act is known famously as the Akedat Yitzchak. After the test was complete, G-d said “Now I know that you’re G-d fearing”, implying that he has been elevated and transformed into being the “complete man”.

We’ve just concluded the holiday where we received the Torah. There is a question we must ponder for the pasuk (18:17-19) seemingly is referring to two mountains: Mount Sinai and another mountain. Furthermore the scripture writes “Z’MAN TORAHTAINU”- “the time where we received our Torah”. However, Am Yisrael didn’t possess the Torah yet. It was still G-d’s Torah. It should haves said “Z’MAN TORAHTO”- “we are acquiring “his Torah””. Also one must take note on Pesach we read the ever so popular DAYENU. One of the DAYENU’s is “If you just brought us to Mount Sinai and you didn’t give us the Torah -that would’ve been enough”. Hey! We schlepped all the way to the dessert for what? To eat Pavlov?! What are we standing here for!!

Here is the answer: We already acquired a Torah (Toratainu), the Torah of Awe, the Torah of Fear. By meriting to stand on Mount Sinai we graduated with the honor of being “YIRAT SHAMAYIM – Fear of the Heavens”. That is a big accomplishment!! The second anonymous mountain is Har Hamoria. The root of the word Moria is YIRA-fear. Mount Sinai was the Mountain of the love of Torah.

Ever wonder why they ask the question “Does he have Yirat shamayim – fear of the heavens?” Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say “Yirat Hashem”?

The reason is that the Shamayim froze out of awe when G-d Commanded it. This is how we should act. The Shamayim is the quintessential act of fear. Dr. Goldman qualifies fear as not necessarily being afraid, but an Awe fear. One should be in awe of G-d.

You see, all repentance is motivated by something. Let us examine the fear factor from the story of Yonah and whale. Yonah was asked to go to Nineveh and make them aware of the importance to repent. The repentance of the sailors was caused by fear. The details of the narrative make this fact quite clear; in addition, the episode of the sailors’ repentance that parallels that of Nineveh, is explicit, “And the men feared the L-rd greatly and they offered sacrifices to the L-rd and made vows.” (1, 16)

The repentance of Nineveh, however, unlike that of the sailors is characterized as arising out of belief, “The men of Nineveh believed in G- d, they called a fast and put on sack, from the youngest to the oldest”(3,5). The psychological link between fear and belief is highlighted in “The people feared the L-rd and they believed in the L-rd and Moses, his servant.” (JPS commentary to Yonah 3,5 from Exodus 14,31)

There is a view that conveys that this is considered unstable. Fear may be a great uplifter and motivator, but often it does not last. This kind of repentance may be followed by the long, hard work of self- examination and progressive inner change, or, it may eventuate in angry rebellion and return to the old lifestyle. Not surprisingly, most of the book of Exodus is an account of the frequent backsliding of the Children of Israel, despite the fact that they feared and believed. This kind of repentance demands a walling of major aspects of one’s personality and forced impoverishment of the self. It is better than nothing, but it is far from ideal. The Rabbis called it Repentance through Fear.

The sailors and men of Nineveh embody this kind of repentance, an abrupt change of course but not necessarily change of heart, before the power of G-d. At the same time Sefer Yonah stays invariably focused on another kind of repentance – that of the prophet Yonah. This man, Yonah, is not afraid of G-d; he will not be bowed by His power and might. Yet, on the other hand, his heart is open to learning from events and circumstances that befall him. Needless to say, he does not preach repentance to Nineveh, for he does not accept the very concept of repentance. His confidence in this rigid morality is shaken by G-d’s tolerance of his own rebellion and by His Mercy by sending him a miraculous salvation within the belly of the fish. So he succumbs and goes to Nineveh. But he is not yet fully convinced. Yonah must yet undergo more revelations and again experience G-d’s personal kindness to him. Eventually he learns, and what he learns never leaves him. This kind of repentance is as solid as a rock and our Sages referred to it as Repentance through Love. Love here means noble motivations as opposed to fear for one’s survival and terror of punishment.

But one needs a balance.

Rabbi Jay Shapiro, one of my mentors, quotes Rav Eliyahu Lapian’s parable and explanation on the contradiction. Once, there was a king that was very popular and loved by all. He had an important meeting cross-country and the optimal form of transportation was the royal train. It was a three-day trip, with planned designated stops all throughout the country. Towards the end of his route to the meeting, the royal train pulls into this town. It seemed like the townspeople were hungrily ready for his arrival. Banners were hanging on the rafters of the train station with the words ‘WE LOVE YOU KING’, the band was playing his favorite song during a presentation by the second grade choir of the town’s prestigious school; the clowns were juggling; the hot dog stand was full.

All were waiting to see His Majesty the King; the enthusiastic noise was getting more intense. After fifteen minutes, a guard emerges and made an announcement: “The King loves you all, but he’s had a long day and he’s trying to get some sleep; he has a major conference tomorrow and he would appreciate some quiet.” After the guard returned back to the train the crowd continued the noise. “WE LOVE YOU KING!” they proclaimed as they showed more of their intense love. The band played louder; the juggler added another ball; more hotdogs and Marino’s ices were added.

A little while later, a guard emerged from the train, this time slightly agitated and a bit more firm, “We ask you nicely, the King has a very important meeting tomorrow and needs his sleep. Please refrain from noise.” The guard disappeared back into the train, presumably satisfied that his words made an impression. But that did not stop the crowd; they had anticipated this day for a while and were eager to show their love and affection to the king. They continued making noise.

Ten minutes later six guards appeared on the high platform next to the locomotive, carrying rifles. The head guard spoke up: “Whoever makes another sound will be shot!”

As a result of these frightening words, you could’ve heard a pin drop among the three thousand well-wishers.

Rav Lapian asks, “Do they still love their king? The answer is yes, but now they fear him as well as love him. If there would be no fear, the important mission would not have been accomplished properly, even though the right intentions were at heart.”

In order for us to function as proper Jews and to adhere to his laws correctly, progressively and efficiently, one has to incorporate a little fear as well as the love that one dearly possesses for Him, or else there will be total chaos. A person may eat pig and say “I appreciate the food G d has giving me.” There is an expression, which is used frequently “I love G d in my heart and I’ll show it my way.” This is inappropriate; there are rules and they have to be followed. For example, if one violates Shabbat he will pay the consequences. Logically, it of course makes sense to have law and order, or religion will be a free for all.

The same can be said with parents who treat their children like best friends where the children call them by their first name. This is love without the awe. Fear or awe can be debilitating to such an extent where children do not confide in their parent.

There are some difficulty with the two brother’s approach to life. It’s very commendable that the one brother went back however he is susceptible – both him and his family to influence. The other brother has deprived others of his valuable experience. This goes against Ahava which the Kohanim convey in their bracha. One has to balance love and fear in order to be the complete man.

Machloket-Kamiot and a dangerous game of l’shem Shamayim

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Berel Wein, Uri Sklaar, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Dovid Rosenfeld, Nissan Mendel

A television still from Russian NTV channel shows State Duma deputies Vasily Shandybin (L) and Alexander Fedulov fight during the State Duma lower house of parliament session in Moscow, February 7, 2003. The tussle started when independent deputy Fedulov made a rude statement about Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, and Shandybin, a Communist too, rallied to his party leader’s defense.
“MACHLOKET – strife.” Can we avoid it? One is prone to fall into a MACHLOKET-strife at least once in their life. Just once? Ha!! That’s a joke. Unfortunately, for those of us who do not live in caves but have to deal with people – and all too often with family members – the topic of “machloket” is all too relevant. Some exercise the concept daily: for some, fighting and bickering is a necessity, a way of life. It fuels their engines. Without arguing they cannot survive, life is boring otherwise. Regrettably, there are those who are professionals at making people hate them as a result of their argumentative nature, and with some others, MACHLOKET follows them where ever they go, like a tail.

Human nature is such that wherever there is a public gathering and people congregate regularly, at one point or another there will be some strife. No one is immune. Walla! The Bet Hakneset- Synagogue is a prime target. Occasionally there are problems even in the house of worship. ‘I didn’t get an Aliya, that Gabai!’ ‘He’s sitting in my seat!’ ‘He outbid me knowing I have a yortziet!’ These are all are shul complaints. Ironically, we go to shul to rid ourselves of our sins and end up making more.

Machloket can be found anywhere. I know of neighbors who didn’t speak for years because one snuck out and read the delivered newspaper before the subscriber and didn’t put back the paper back correctly in the bag….can you imagine!

Arguments per se are not “wrong” or groundless. There is nothing wrong with having disagreements with another human being – and airing them. People will always have differences; there will always be what to argue about. Yet their debates can be for the sake of Heaven.

L’shem shamayim!! (For the sake of the Heavens.) “I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for G-d and therefore I have a license to embarrass-hurt-insult-ruin people’s lives.”

Let’s keep in mind the prototype MACHLOKET which is found in this week’s parsha and involves Korach, the cousin of our leader Moshe. Korach accused Moshe of many things and disguised his intentions through “I’m doing it L’shem shamayim!!”

It would be interesting to explore a very dark time in Jewish history which would add an understanding to perhaps prevent us from falling into the trap and following the tempting route of being argumentative.

There was a famous Machloket which stemmed from, yes, a different Machloket and just went too far, with lasting horrible repercussions which we still feel 3-400 years later. Let’s give a little background.

We are the chosen people, the chosen talented suffering people. Being persecuted for so many years we have always yearned for the redemption, especially when times are tough.

When one mentions Mashiach the usual response by many is the rolling of the eyes. The coming of the Mashiach has been for the most part lip service in most communities. Many responds by saying, “First become a good Jew before worrying about the arrival of Mashiach.” Why do we turn the other way at every mention of the Mashiach? One reason for the cold attitude towards the Mashiach is because of the fiasco that happened many years ago which has left a black eye in Jewish communities till this very day. It was 1648, and by many accounts of Jewish authorities of the times, it was considered “a messianic year.” In today’s times, every year someone proclaims is a messianic year. There was a slick, charismatic, and brilliant figure by the name of Shabtai Tzvi. He was a great communicator, a teacher with a photographic memory who got Smicha at age 20. He learned Kabbalah which helped give him overall a very mystical appearance. Shabtai Tzvi proclaimed that he was born on Tisha B’ Av, which is one of the signs of bei
ng the real deal. He would fast during the week, whip himself, isolate himself for long periods of times, and immerse himself in ritual baths 30 times a day; a real character, a James Dean type. Tzvi convinced everybody that he was pious.

Some Rabbis were concerned. Apparently, he was a manic depressive, flight of moods, just an over-all strange kook. At the age of 22, he was married twice and divorced twice with no Get. The Rabbinical authorities warned him of ex-communication which made him even more popular.

Wherever he went he had a following, telling people fables of fighting with wild dogs and wolves with his bare hands. In every part of our history, people, desperate for a savior, are susceptible to finding a miracle worker. People want to believe what they want to believe.

On one of his visits to Yerushalayim he met Nathan of Gaza, a public relations genius, who made Tzvi into an international star. Within one year, people started to believe that he was the Mashiach. He affected world economies. The Jews began to sell their property all over the world for the pilgrimage to Israel. The Jews stopped working and even bullied their long time non-Jewish tormentors. Because of years of persecution, they were desperate for the Mashiach, a hero.

At some point, Shabtai Tzvi went too far. He raised eyebrows by marrying a 12 year-old girl, eating non-kosher and making a Bracha on it. The ultimate push-over-the-edge moment was when he was unable to control himself in mimicking and ridiculing the Sultan. One day, he came dressed with a costume similar to the Sultan’s uniform. The Sultan arrested him, brought him to the highest court and made him deny he was the Mashiach. The Sultan gave him a choice to convert, which he accepted. The non-Jewish world laughed at the Jews; persecution increased. Furthermore, war against kabbalah study increased. The faith in the establishment eroded.

Till today, the ripple effects of Shabtai Tzvi are felt. The cold attitude towards Moshiach is a protection as a result from the enormous pain this false prophet brought upon our nation.

The Shabtai Tzvi fiasco would not go away and it took an ugly turn fifty years later. There was a disagreement between two great distinguished Torah scholars, Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz (1690-1764) who was elected Rabbi of the Hamburg community and Rabbi Yaacov Emden (1697-1776). Rabbi Yonnatan’s friends in Altona and Hamburg appointed him as chief rabbi of the three united communities AHU (Altona, Hamburg and Wansbeck).
In the very first year of Rabbi Yonnatan’s taking up his position, there was a sudden rise in the number of deaths in childbirth. Having the reputation of a saintly kabbalist and miracle worker, many Jews turned to their rabbi for help. One of the ways to counteract the danger, which had often been practiced among kabbalists and miracle men, was to write special amulets (kameot). Rabbi Yonnatan wrote a number of them to be worn by expectant mothers, as he used to do earlier in Metz. An amulet which was supposed to have been written by Rabbi Yonnatan was brought to the attention of Rabbi Yaacov Emden, an outstanding Talmudist and kabbalist in Altona. The latter deciphered the mystical writing and found in it a hidden invocation to Shabbatai Tzvi. Rabbi Emden accused Rabbi Eybeschutz of being a follower of Shabbatai Tzvi. The leaders of the community rushed to the defense of their rabbi. They proclaimed a boycott of Rabbi Emden’s synagogue and ordered Rabbi Emden to leave town within six months. In the meantime the controversy spread to other cities in Germany and Poland, as some of the most celebrated rabbis took part in support of one or the other of the two sides in the controversy. Rabbi Emden saw himself compelled to leave Altona, and he secretly went to his brother-in-law Rabbi Arye Leib, Rabbi of the Ashkenazic community in Amsterdam. From there be continued his fight, writing to the Council of Rabbis of the Four Lands meeting in Constantine, and pressed his charges.

What happens often when two great figures argue is that their followers come to misunderstandings, resulting in tragic consequences. When great Rabbis argue they keep it L’shem Shamayim. They have their boundaries and they know which buttons to push and which not. The great Rabbis are well aware of the honor of their fellow friend, colleague and even foe. Does one recall how much respect and courtesy Moshe had for Pharaoh? Even though they don’t see eye to eye, men of great Torah knowledge are professionals in dealing with the dignity of the other. It’s amazing when scholars argue in the Yeshiva setting how there are no personal jabs. Nobody is shooting below the belt. The Talmud is full of arguments. One could only imagine how dry the Talmud would be in the absence of controversy-argument and debate are its very lifeblood. Argumentativeness is a quality with which it seems we have collectively as a nation been blessed (?), as the old cliché goes, “Two Jews – three opinions!” Furthermore, one never notices that one Rav demeans another in all the volumes of Shas.

However, often the case is that their followers are not quite so proficient in delicate argumentative interpersonal communication.

One such student of Rabbi Emden went over the boundaries. He went too far and got carried away by embarrassing, in public, Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz. A Rabbi represents Torah and G-d. Insulting the Rav is as if one insults the Holy Books. Therefore, the Rav, depending on the circumstances, has to defend himself for he is defending the Torah.

It says in Pirkey Avot that if one ever is cursed by a Talmid Chacham it will sting like a scorpion’s bite. Rabbi Yonnatan retorted back, “May you never see a peaceful day in your life.” And so it was, the Rabbi’s words came true. The student never quite had a peaceful day since. He was constantly on the move, never sleeping in one bed more than two or three nights. Anyone who travels knows how grueling it can be on the body and how mentally exhausting it is. He was the wondering Jew; a Jew without an address.
Security personnel protect the Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Volodymyr Liytvyn, with umbrellas during a fight at a parliamentary sitting in Kiev, April 27, 2010. Ukraine’s parliament erupted into chaos as it ratified a bitterly controversial deal with Russia extending the lease of a key naval base.
Once he spent a few days in a particular town and he sat in on a shiur. The Rabbi, who was an important talmid chacham, was asked by the student traveler a question on the topic during the discourse. The Rav did not answer him. A little while later he asked the Rav a second question and the Rav ignored him again. After the shiur the student traveler approached the Rabbi and asked, “Why didn’t you answer me?” The Rav responded, “I sensed by the words of your question a certain disrespect towards the Torah and Torah scholars. This could be detrimental and cause you great distress, and I sense it has.” The traveler then told the Rav about his plight, and the Rav said, “If there is anyone that you insulted or hurt you must go and ask forgiveness of that person or your punishment will not cease.” Immediately he made plans to go to the town where Rabbi Yonnatan Eybeschutz resides.

Upon his arrival the student immediately made his way up the stairs of Rabbi Yonnatan’s house, only to find the family sitting shiva as the Rabbi had passed away the day before. The traveler was in tears – for the rest of his life he will have to endure this curse hovering over him.

I believe it’s a powerful lesson for us all, considering that we tend to get caught up in the arguments of the great Rabbis of our generation, taking sides as if it’s a baseball game, rooting for the Mets and hating the Yankees. We have no business putting down another Rabbi and getting involved in their arguments. Understanding the depth of the Torah concepts and their parameters is in the great Rabbis jurisdiction, not ours. We do not know the behind the scenes of their disagreement and it not fair for their sake, for our sake, and for our children’s sake to stick our two cents in. Doing so can bring upon ourselves TZAROT. Let’s not play with fire.

L’shem shamayim arguments have to be objective to the highest degree and it’s not so simple to attain that level. Korach’s proclamation that he was “l’shem shamayim” was not correct for he had personal ulterior motives and gains. The flag-of-principle rarely displays its true colors. More often than not, it’s really just an ‘alien’ flag in camouflage. How careful must one be, when raising one’s flag-of-principle, to be sure that the winds blowing are winds of truth and justice, and not winds of contention, self- gratification, and triumph.

We all go through transitions in life

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

Here we go again! “Why have you brought the congregation to this wilderness to die there, we and our animals? And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? This is not a place of seed or fig tree or grapevine or pomegranate tree; and there is no water to drink.” (Bamidbar 20:4-5) Yada, yada, yada. Sound familiar? The complaints are repetitive. Seemingly, it’s the same script but different place in the wilderness. Don’t these Jews ever learn their lesson? A bunch of complainers, that’s what they are. Zero tolerance and no patience, that’s the way they come across!! What happened to the miracles they saw? What happened to these great people, weren’t they were labeled, “The Generation of Knowledge?” These guys were supposed to be the greatest ever!

How can that be?
To understand why our beloved ancestors behaved the way they did and to perhaps even bring total clarity, we have to take note of a fundamental approach to, of all things, death.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz teaches us an interesting observation on what happens the seconds, the moments of death, or perhaps I should say during the transition between life and death, when one is on the threshold of leaving this world. Rabbi Tatz observes that when a person is on the verge of death, he experiences a moment of nothingness. It’s a blank screen which results in being uncomfortable, vulnerable, alone, scared, unsure. After all, he’s in limbo. At this precious moment Satan works his clever deceptive ways one last time. He thrust a great wave of deceptive falsehood in a last ditch effort for the individual to deny. As the individual feels the dark nothingness, Satan approaches and says, “Look, there is nothing here – there is no Gan Eden, there is no reward. It was all a sham. The Torah and the Rabbis fooled you, it’s one big hoax. There is no such thing as a G-d!!” At that very moment if he accepts those words for what it’s worth, Rabbi Tatz says, he will lose it all!! Such is this moment of transition, of confusion, where Satan tries to take advantage of you and seal your fate, forever!

Incidentally, for this reason one has to bury a loved one immediately. The confusion and trauma of the transition period causes the deceased tremendous hardship and great discomfort. Due to the anguish that the soul is experiencing it is highly recommended that the surrounding loved ones say Shema Yisrael as the soul is leaving the body. This helps ease the transition and reaffirm his commitment to G-d.
The game of life can be difficult at times. One of the more challenging aspects of being in this world is dealing with death, and in this week’s parsha Miriam, the beloved sister of Moshe and Aharon, passed on. We clearly see the impact she had, for in her merit the Jews were privileged to drink water in the desert. (Often, it’s not till one passes away do we appreciate what good they did or what they contributed to society and how much influence they had on us.)

Rabbi Yissachar Frand quotes Rav Simcha Zissel from his book Sam Derech who asks a very interesting question. According to the Ramban, the incident of Korach challenging our leaders Moshe and Aharon occurred right after the incident of the Spies. This means that all the events in Parshat Shlach and Korach occurred in the second year after the Exodus. However, Parshat Chukat occurred in the 40th year after the Exodus, approximately 38 years later. They were now on the threshold of entry into the Land of Israel.

All the troubles and complaints up until now occurred in the first 18 months in the desert. However, the incident at Mei Meriva, the “we want water” complaint in Parshat Chukat occurred in year 40. Rav Simcha Zissel asks, “What happened in between?” Rav Simcha Zissel answers that we see from the Mishna in Avot and the Gemara in Erachin that for the 38 intervening years they were perfect. How do we know this? The Mishna (Avot 5:4) lists ten specific “challenges” that our forefathers tested G-d with in the Wilderness and quotes a pasuk as the source text for this number, “And they tested Me for these ten times.” (Bamdibar 14:22) The Gemera in Erachin (15a) spells out what these ten challenges were: two by Yam Suf, two involving the mann, two with the quail, two with water (one in Refidim and one in Mei Meriva), one with the Golden Calf, and one in Wilderness of Paran (the Spies). These all happened in the first year and a half, with the exception of Mei Meriva-“the water incident,” which happened at the very end. Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this that in the intervening 38 years, there were no challenges, no complaints, and the Jewish people behaved perfectly!

Furthermore, during those years they were schlepping baggage on a moment’s notice with children in tow, directed by the cloud of glory. To not complain one iota is very commendable! This constitutes an immeasurable trust in G-d.

This is very much in line with our concept of “The Generation of Knowledge” (Dor Deah), the people who consumed only mann, lived within the confines of the Clouds of Glory, and learned Torah for 38 years from Moshe Rabbeinu. They did not need to worry about clothes, food, or a job. They could devote their entire lives to spiritual growth. They could make the following proclamation: “We have not done anything wrong in the last 38 years!”

If so, Rav Simcha Zissel wonders, what then happened in the first two years and in year 40 that caused Klal Yisrael to “act out” and challenge the Almighty time and again during those periods? It seems out of character compared to the 38 goodie goodie years.

What propelled them to switch from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde?
Rav Simcha Zissel offers a very important insight into human nature, something that is very important for us to know vis a vis ourselves and vis a vis our children. The first two years and the final year were times of transition. Klal Yisrael was going from one stage into the next. They left Egypt, where they were slaves, and shortly thereafter they became a Divine Nation. The journey from the 49th level of impurity to receiving the Torah was a year of tremendous spiritual upheaval and transition in their lives. And now, on the verge of entering Eretz Yisroel, they also face a traumatic transition. They were about to go from an existence of eating mann and drinking water that flowed from a rock to a normal existence, having to plant, hoe, and plow, and to make business deals and take care of their families. Again they faced transition.

When a person is in a period of transition he is not serene. When a nation goes through sudden change, they do not have peace of mind and are not at peace with themselves. This lack of calmness makes people vulnerable to making poor decisions and silly mistakes. Without serenity, people cannot make informed decisions.
The lesson Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this is that one must be extremely careful whenever entering a new situation in life, even if the change is a good change, like becoming newly married or new parents. All these phases represent major transitions in one’s life. They are wonderful transitions but the transitions can still easily cause upheaval in a person’s life. When things are changing and coming at a person from all directions, he lacks “yishuv ha’daat” [peace of mind] and in such situations, he must be particularly careful.

Perhaps one can justify the popular term “no pain, no gain” since “transition” is what elevates one in life. But Satan knows he’s being threatened and he puts his best foot forward. Throughout our Torah we see exactly this pattern of sabotaging the transition phase. When Noach came out from the Arc to start a new life in a new world, he got drunk from the grapes which led to negative consequences. When Eisav returned from Avraham’s funeral, if he even attended he committed five immeasurable sins. This was a major transition for him, as he idolized his grandfather Avraham and now he’s gone. The inauguration of the Tabernacle, a milestone, was marred by the death of Aharon’s two sons Nadav and Avihu.
As we know, it was King David who laid the blueprints for the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). However, it was under King Solomon’s leadership that it was built. King Solomon was married to the daughter of Pharaoh, one of his many wives, and on the day of the inauguration of the long-awaited Temple, she caused him to oversleep. The entire nation was waiting for their King on this momentous occasion to come and lead the ceremony, not knowing that he was out of commission. Apparently, his mother, Batsheva, had a grasp on what was taking place. She had a sixth sense that mothers possess which led to her uneasy feeling. Mothers have a certain intuition about their children. (If I sneeze, my mother, who happens to be on the other side of town, will call me up and demand that I put on my sweater.)

So Batsheva storms the King’s bedroom with the heel of her shoe in hand. She hits her son, King Solomon, scolding him, “What are you doing? Get up! The people are waiting!”

Satan is trying to spoil the fun. He doesn’t want the transition to go smoothly for he knows that transition in life is a form of elevation.

Everything has a reason. It was time for the passing of Miriam which propelled the end of the miracle waters that sustained the Israelites. In essence G-d was preparing the Jews to enter the Promised Land. It was designed that way, for them to start fetching water and food for themselves. However they still had a small weakness in their trust in G-d, and they felt that they were not ready to proceed to this next stage, of living outside the direct confines and support of G-d. This lack of trust was magnified by entering into the transition phase of their next mission in life.
One has to be careful when something positive or negative occurs in their lives, for that is a transition phase and we are vulnerable to error. Furthermore, even a vacation or a drive to the country can cause a slight confusion. There are those who are not the same people when they go on vacation or business trips. Perhaps for this reason one has to recite a special prayer, Tefilat HaDerech-the journey prayer.

One has to reaffirm his commitment to G-d and, most importantly, to himself.