Parshas Mishpatim - Ignorance of the Law is no Excuse, But it is Reality                                     24 Shvat 5778

02/09/2018 08:35:31 AM

Feb9

One Yom Tov afternoon during lunch, I peered out my window and from the corner of my eye I noticed a parking enforcement vehicle stop by my car. At the time of this event, we had been living in San Diego for only a couple of years. I wondered why the officer was writing me a summons. Quickly, I ran out and assured the officer that I had my Permit B parking sticker. The officer informed me I was being cited for not turning my wheels away from the curb. I was in total shock, and said to her, “I did not know that was a law!” She said, “Did you pass your driver’s test? it’s in the driver’s manual.” Sheepishly, I admitted defeat and said, “O.K., just write the ticket.” She immediately said, “Go ahead and turn them now and I won’t cite you.” I replied, thank you but it’s a holiday and I can’t go into the car.” She then asked me to give her the keys and she’d turn the wheel for me.” Again, I had to tell her, “I can’t do that. Just write the ticket.” She could not believe someone would do such a thing. She tore up the ticket, totally exacerbated.

Parking on public streets and alleys is regulated by the San Diego Municipal Code and the California Vehicle Code. One of the general provisions of law applies to whether there are signs or curb markings present or not. “Wheel cramping is required on all grades over 3% (hills) with or without the presence of signs. Block your wheels diagonally against the curb by turning your wheels into the curb when facing downhill and out to the street when facing uphill.”

The purpose of curbing your car’s wheels is to prevent an accident should the brakes fail. Therefore, if you are headed downhill, turn your front wheels into the curb or toward the side of the road and set the parking brake. Headed uphill, turn your front wheels away from the curb and let your vehicle roll back a few inches. The wheel should gently touch the curb. Then set the parking brake. Headed either uphill or downhill when there is no curb, turn the wheels so the vehicle will roll away from the center of the road if the brakes fail. I thought this was an outdated law given that the brake systems of modern cars are much better and safer today than when the law was instituted. That logic was shattered when I witnessed my neighbor getting a ticket for not curbing his wheels. I questioned the officer and he told me there are instances even today that necessitate the wheels being turned. He told me if a vehicle plows into a parked car, it’s very likely, or at least possible, that the brake could disengage, possibly causing the car to roll into the street. I learned a valuable lesson. Just because Ithink the law should not apply today for reason “X,” it may still be needed for reason “Y” - a probability which I never thought or knew about!

Throughout my teaching and Rabbinic career, I’ve received three basic reactions when discussing certain Mitzvos and our obligations to observe them. The response is either, "The reason no longer applies", “I did not know that” or “That’s ridiculous!” Frequently, the latter reaction is due to a lack of education or belief. It all boils down to more learning of the Torah She’B’Al Peh, the Oral Torah - which compliments and explains the written law. When it comes to Mitzvos, there are two words that describe them: Chukim and Mishpatim. Chukim are the laws that we do not understand; we do not know the reasons which underlie why we observe them. These are commandments that a society creating laws would not come up with. Mishpatim, the namesake of this week’s parsha, are laws that we do understand; we would implement these laws when building a community. There were a few Rishonim* who enumerated the six hundred thirteen commandments from within the fifty-four parshios of the Torah. These Rishonim do not agree on the actual place in the Torah from where each Mitzva is derived or learned. Ramba”m lists Mishpatim tied fourth with the most Mitzvos in any one parsha, while the sefer HaChinuch** lists Mishpatim as the parsha with the fourth most Mitzvos. Some Mitzvos are difficult or challenging to decipher as to whether the Mitzva is a Chok or a Mishpat. Clearly there are certain situations where a Mitzva can beinterpreted to be both between man and man or man and God, depending upon the situation.

In this week’s Parshas Mishpatim we learn of at least one Mitzva that can have multiple meanings and connotations. In Shmos 21:2 the Torah states: “Lo Tihyeh Acharei Rabim L’Raos, V’Lo Ta’Aneh Al Riv Lintos, Acharei Rabim L’Hatos”. “Do not follow the majority to do evil, do not speak up in a trial to pervert justice, a case must be decided based upon the majority.” It is obvious that we should not follow anyone who is doing evil. It is also obvious in cases of law that we decide according to the majority. In questions of Halachik uncertainty, the Rabbi’s derive “to follow the majority” from this concept. For example, if an unidentifiable piece of meat is found in the market where there are ten butcher shops, nine kosher and one non-kosher, the meat is deemed kosher. But if nine out of ten were treif and one kosher the meat can not be eaten.

Reb Elchonon Wasserman ZT”L (1874-1941) writes in his sefer Kovetz HeAros about a famous exchange between Reb Yonason Eybeshutz (1690-1764) and one of the wisest Gentile scholars. The gentile challenged the Rabbi as follows: “It states in your Torah to follow the majority, and your nation is the fewest in number of all the nations of the world. Given this fact, why don’t you and your people follow our beliefs?” Reb Yonason answered, “The rule and law of following the majority is only applicable in areas of doubt; it is not applicable when we are sure of something. In the case of the meat, if the piece of meat was discernible and we knew that it was not kosher, we don’t say it is kosher because nine out of ten stores only sold kosher meat. Rather, in that situation the meat is still not good and not kosher.” So too with the Jewish people and our belief in Hashem. We do not have any doubts as to our belief about Hashem and the Torah and all the principles that go along with these beliefs. Despite the other nations of the world making up the majority of the population, we are sure of what we know; we are sure of our beliefs. Therefore, the majority rule does not apply to us in this situation. The Chasam Sofer adds if there is logic, if there are plausible arguments, then we follow the majority. If the issues discussed can be seen from both sides of the argument, then we follow the majority. However, an issue that is as clear as the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, no matter how many people emphatically state the opposite, we do not follow them. We know Hashem and His Torah is EMES/ truth. This is no question to be discussed in a rational scientific, logical manner.

Many Jews in the world are uneducated, lacking a well-rounded, solid Jewish education. Unfortunately, this leads such a person to join most people who challenge and don’t follow the Torah. It behooves every Jew to thoroughly learn the Torah, to see for himself or herself the absolute truth and follow the minority in the face of the majority. My hope and prayer is for every Jew to become educated in Torah and not to use ignorance as an excuse for not following the Torah and do Mitzvos. Equally important is to keep in mind if we think the reason for the Mitzva no longer applies......think again

 

*Rishonim "the first ones" were the leading rabbis and poskim, who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries during the era before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch "Set Table", a common printed code of Jewish law, 1563 CE and following the Geonim (589-1038 CE). Rabbinic scholars after the Shulkhan Arukhare generally known as acharonim ("the latter ones").

 

**The sixteenth century author Gedalya Ben Yichyeh credited the Sefer ha-Chinuch to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235-c. 1290), a Talmudic scholar and halachist.Others disagree, as the views of the Chinuch contradict opinions held by HaLevi in other works. This has led to the conclusion that the true author to Sefer HaChinuch was a different Reb Aharon Halevi, a student of the Rashba, rather than his colleague. Though there is a debate about who is the true author, it is agreed that the Sefer HaChinuch was written by a father to his son, upon reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah.

 

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Parshas Yisro - Exposing the Covered                16 Shvat 5778

02/01/2018 03:04:51 PM

Feb1

Every morning I try to be as cheerful as possible, saying good morning to people with a smile. Recently, I encountered someone (a regular) and as usual, said, “Good morning,” but didn’t have that pearly white smile on my face. Surprisingly, the person said to me, “No smile today?” To which I quickly replied, “The smile is there; it is just covered by my mouth and lips.”

There was a famous line by Alan Alda, an actor who portrayed an emergency mobile army hospital surgeon during the Korean War. When necessary, the surgeons would work round the clock, sometimes for thirty-six hours straight as the flow of wounded soldiers seemed to never cease. Sometimes there was a lull in the fighting, giving ample time to rest, but once again, after a long shift, they would be inundated with more casualties. One time, being completely exhausted, he lay down to catch some sleep only to be awakened by the corporal who, questioning the exhausted surgeon with, “Why are you sleeping?” replied, “I’m not sleeping, I’m just checking the inside of my eyelids. ”In other words, our eyes are always open, but the lids cover them up!

There is a prayer we recite once a month call “Birkas HaChodesh”, the blessing of the incoming new month. However, the very same term, “Birkas HaChodesh,” is used in the Talmud to designate a very different ritual – a blessing praising God for the new moon, recited outdoors while gazing at the waxing moon at the beginning of the month. This ritual, with which many Jews, even those who attend synagogue services regularly, are unfamiliar, is known as ‘Kiddush Levana’ - an actual rabbinic commandment required by the Talmud. ‘Kiddush Levana’ is loosely translated as sanctification of the moon. The source of Kiddush Levana is in the Talmud, Sanhedrin 42. It is not one the 613 Mitzvot, but it is a Rabbinical Mitzvah that was instituted to help us realize the greatness of Hashem through His wondrous creation. Men are required to recite Kiddush Levana, but because this is a time-bound commandment, women are exempt.

In certain locations weather poses a great challenge with regard to fulfilling this Mitzvah. Nevertheless, to recite the blessing, one must see the moon at night for at least one second. Prior to the time there is at least one if not more than one person in any given Shul throughout the world who goes outside to see if the moon is visible. Invariably, they come back and will either say the “There is a beautiful moon that can be seen,” or “There is no moon. ”Now what do they really intend to say about the moon, that it disappeared? We all know that just because we can’t see the moon does not mean that it is not there. To the contrary, despite the fact that we can’t see the moon we still know it is there, usually just covered by clouds, an integral part of the Jewish camp when they traveled through the desert. Perhaps the first time we are introduced to the cloud was when Moshe literally entered it. A cloud typically obscures something, creates a blur, creates a sense of vagueness, making things unclear. What exactly was the purpose of the cloud that covered Har Sinai?

In this week’s parshas Yisro, the Torah describes the giving of the Torah in great detail. Not only do we read about the actual commandments but the incredible lasting impressions of the awesomeness and excitement through which the commandments were given. The aftermath was just as critical as the events leading up to and including the giving of the Ten Commandments. The Torah states in Shmos 20:18, “VaYaamode Ha’Am MeiRachok, U’Moshe Nigash El HaArafel, Asher Sham Elokim”: “The people kept their distance while Moshe entered the Arafel where the Divine was revealed”. Rashi describes the Arafel as a mist while Hirsch, based upon the Radak, explains it to be a heavy cloud. According to other opinions, namely Rabbeinu Bachya and Meam Loez, it was a ‘glowing light’. The HaKesav V’Hakkabalah called it a ‘blinding light’. On this verse the Mechilta says Moshe went through three partitions to reach God. The three partitions were darkness, a cloud, and the Arafel. The first partition was darkness, this was the outer layer. The cloud was inside of that and the Arafel was within the inside. The verse says Moshe approached the Arafel, an image paralleling the Kohein Gadol entering the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. As Moshe and or the Kohein Gadol entered and went in deeper, the got closer to Hashem he got, a greater light was revealed, both in the Beis HaMikdash and into the Arafel on top of Har Sinai.

The Malbim explains that darkness prevents the light from shining at all. Darkness can completely shut out any light. In the cloud there is a degree of light, but the cloud can create a separation between Moshe and the great light. The cloud gathers all the light and holds it together preventing the access to this light. The Arafel is in an area that spreads the light that was being held back. As Moshe infiltrated the series of partitions, he was able to get closer to Hashem, reaching a level of understanding God more than any other man. With this understanding we see why the verse concludes with the words “Where Hashem was there and revealed.” Moshe reached a level of understanding Hashem’s presence and place in the world because Hashem’s presence fills the world.

We live in a world of darkness because we are not able to access the light. Moshe worked on himself to reach a level where he could gain access to the light and see clearly God’s presence in the world. We must realize the light that provides clarity and reality to the world. The trouble is due to the physical components of the world, darkness blocks out the light. If we are able to get beyond the physical, then we, too, would also enjoy the brightness and truth of the world as Moshe did. We strive on a daily basis to get a glimpse past the cloud that obscures the light in order to see and feel the Shechina - God’s presence. Even if we are unable to reach the level of Moshe, Hashem will nevertheless one day remove the cloud that covers the light. Not only will the Jewish people merit to see this light but other select individuals will be able to see it as well. In particular, we are recognizing the greatness of Yisro who we read about in the beginning of this parsha which describes his acute awareness of God. This is reflected in Avos d’Rebbi Nosson in 35:4 who says, When the Holy One, blessed is He, reveals His Presence, He will reward Yisro and his children well.

We should all be blessed with the strength of removing the darkness and display the light through a good eye, a big smile and seeing through the clouds!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

סנהדרין מב. ובשו"ע או"ח סימן תכו, ושם בערוה"ש סעיפים א-ב, וע"ע מ"ב סימן קו ס"ק ד*

Parshas B'Shalach - You Cannot Lead Where You Do Not Go          9 Shvat 5778

01/25/2018 11:38:49 AM

Jan25

This Dvar Torah is L'Ilui Nishmas in memory of Esther Rochel Bas Nachum, Rose Bogopulsky A"H, on her Yahrzeit 11th of Shvat

One need not look far for inspiration; sometimes it’s right there in front of us. There are some amazing people whom we see every day, but take a moment to just think how amazing they are. We think we need to hear great stories and share incredible moments to be inspired by people and the things they do. Take the time to look around. You man notice a neighbor, a co-worker, or a relative who has done something awesome - and they do it every day. A short example is being so impressed, so awe struck when someone donates a kidney. Lo and behold I have a cousin whose own son gave him a kidney. One might say, “Oh, for a relative this isn’t so impressive; who wouldn’t do that?” Well, let me tell you, from my perspective it’s a very big deal.

Closer to home, I have come to not only respect but rather be impressed by a man who lives in the Shul apartments. Mr. Timothy King, who prefers to be called Tim, is African American (I obtained his permission to write about him) and has been living here for about three years. Whenever I see him, I say hello and we chat for a few minutes, usually about the current sports of the day. Unfortunately, he still smokes and needs to light up off Shul grounds, so I usually catch him in the parking lot either on the way towards the gate or back to his apartment. One day, he was struggling up a tiny incline in the parking lot. I immediately went over and asked him if he needed some help. “No, no,” he said, “I’m o.k. I just need to get a little exercise.” You see, Tim was born with some deformities: no legs, one healthy arm, and the other only a stump. I always see him in his motorized wheelchair, but that day he was using an ordinary wheelchair. He was wheeling and pushing himself with his one healthy arm, but it was a gruesome struggle. I asked him if he needed help being pushed, and if something had happened to his motorized chair. He answered in the negative to both questions. His motorized chair was working, and he did not need help (although he appreciated the offer) because this is the way he is able to exercise. Being very limited in his capacity to exercise, wheeling himself gets his heart pumping and his blood flowing. He needed to push, and it was not easy for him, nor was it easy for me to watch. The sheer determination and resolve to do it on his own was humbling. There is no question the strength of character and mind is what gives him the will to literally push forward. He is always on the move and is driven by his purpose. Tim knows the only way for him to survive is to continue to work hard, to push forward and not allow anything stop him from living.

The challenges, walls, and barriers that Hashem places in front of people are the daily tests we must face and go through in life. The success or failure, more often than not, lies in our determination and resolve to push on and tackle the encounters as they come. This is clearly seen in the Torah as the Jewish people, finally set free by Pharoah, look behind them and see Pharoah’s army chasing them. Staring in front of them is the Sea of Reeds. With no place to go, the Jews question Moshe by saying, “Weren’t there enough graves in Egypt? Why did we need to come here to die? Moshe replies, stating usual, “Don’t worry. God will rescue you today.” And so what did they do? Read on…..

In this week’s Parshas B’Shalach The Torah states in Shmos 14:15: “Vayomer Hashem El Moshe Mah Titzok Eilay, Dabeir El Bnei Yirael V’Yisaoo”. God said to Moshe,”Why are you crying out to Me? Speak to the Israelites and let them start moving.” Apparently, as Moshe lifted his staff in order to split the sea, all the people froze in place except Nachshon Ben Aminadav. The time was now. Already in the water up to his neck at that split second when Moshe was getting ready to split the sea, Nachshon Ben Aminadav continued to move forward as the sea split. What was it that actually made the Yam Suf split? Was it Moshe and his staff or Nachshon’s determination, Emunah, and Bitachon in Hashem that something will happen, allowing him and the people to follow to safety? The Gemorah Sotah 37a tells us that each tribe was unwilling to enter the water first. One tribe said, “I will not be the first to descend into the sea,” while another tribe declared, “I will not be the first to descend.” At that point Nachshon, son of Aminadav, the prince of the tribe of Yehuda, leaped forward, descending first into the sea. The Midrash Rabbah in Bamidbar 13:7 explains, ‘Why was he called Nachshon, because he was the first to go down into the surf (in Hebrew Nachshol) of the Red Sea. Therefore, God told Moshe, “He who sanctified My Name in the sea will be the first to bring his offering in the dedication of the altar.’”

At that precise moment Moshe was praying at length. Hashem then said to Moshe, “My dear ones are drowning in the sea while you linger in prayer with me?” Moshe said before God: “Master of the Universe, but what is it in my power to do?” God responded: “Speak to the children of Israel and let them journey forth.” Reviewing this story, we can ask ourselves: was it the fact that Moshe prayed and lifted up his staff that split the sea, or did it split because the Jews walked through and caused the sea to split? The answer is, it was Nachshon’s initiative to start the process and force Moshe’s hand to daven to Hashem and get the people behind to go in as well. Nachshon was able to lead because he dared to go into a place where men don’t usually go. What was it that gave Nachshon the fortitude to do what he did? It was his Emuna and Bitachon the faith and security in the Almighty that this is the path he must lead on.

It is easy to say I have Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust), but it is something totally different to live and act with complete Emunah and Bitachon, especially when the pressure is on. Having Emunah and Bitachon isn’t something we are just born with; it develops over time by learning and reading about it, by listening to and reading stories of great people who live and breathe entirely through faith and security from God. By doing so we will strengthen ourselves, providing us with the fortitude to take the lead and go places that otherwise we would never go. Let us all learn from Nachshon ben Aminadav and Tim King to take a leading role for the Jewish community and push forward in the continued success of building Beth Jacob Congregation and ultimately the House of Yakov Avinu.

Parshas Bo - The Gantz Mishpacha                        3 Shvat 5778

01/18/2018 10:41:44 PM

Jan18

It was twenty-one years ago this week that BJSD’s new, young rabbi was officially installed as the new Rabbi of the congregation, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in San Diego. Rabbi Berel Wein, along with local city dignitaries attended the beautiful affair. Things that endure over time inevitably go through many changes; this axiom applies particularly to people. Over the years there is always not only turnover, there are changes in the demographics and group dynamics which change as well. The continuity of a Shul/congregation is dependent upon new members, especially young families, to join, thereby keeping the cycle of life going. As simple as this sounds, there are a lot of trying situations involved in order to effectively balance the seasoned members and the new members, the young and the old, and, of course, the different levels of observance.

Before arriving, I was warned of the different groups that existed within the Shul, particularly the tension which existed between the older, more established, long-standing members and the newer, young families. The feelings were so strong that when my wife and I were invited to spend a Shabbos at Beth Jacob to meet the members of the Shul, lead the services, speak, and have my wife give a ladies’ class, we were also expected to attend two melava malkas: one for the “older” members and one for the “younger” member families. After being offered the position and accepting it, one of the first things on my agenda was to rid the shul of this separation. The Torah warns and commands us with a mitzva of “Lo Tisgodedu” - do not make separate groups; figure out a way to be together.

The Parsha of the week of the installation dinner was parshas Bo, and my speech addressed this issue. A brief part of the speech focused on Parshas Bo, specifically when after the eighth plague Pharoah’s officials said to him, ”How long will this man (Moshe) continue to be a menace to us?” Moshe and Aharon were brought back to Pharoah who said to Moshe: ”Go. Serve God your Lord.” “But,” Pharoah additionally inquired, “exactly who will be going?” To which Moshe replied the powerful words found in Shmos 10:9: “Vayomer Moshe, Binar’einu U’VisKeineinu Neilech, B’Vaneinu U’Vivnoseinu B’Tzoneinu U’Vivkareinu Neilech Ki Chag Hashem Lanu.” “Young and old alike will go,” replied Moshe. “We will go with our sons and our daughters, with our sheep and our cattle. It is a festival to God for all of us.”

In dissecting this verse the Ksav Sofer explains the reason Moshe began with the young before the old was because Egypt was considerably more dangerous for youth, more so than for the elderly. Children are very impressionable, and the youth were susceptible to the idolatry of Egypt. The older generation had already been immersed, remembering their Judaism and were therefore not threatened. The Ponovizher Rov, Rav Yosef Kahaneman, explains that the usage of old and young was due to the fact that an individual is an orphan when he doesn’t have parents, but a nation is orphaned when there are no children. Reb Yitzchok from Volozhin says it will be a Chag/holiday for us when we depart from you (Pharoah) and go to our own land. The Netzi”v explains the holiday aspect as follows: It is impossible to celebrate a festival and be happy without sons and daughters, and we need the sheep and cattle for the holiday’s sacrifices and offerings. We need our children and animals to celebrate properly. What kind of joy would we have if our children remained in Mitzrayim? It states later in the Torah “V’Samachta B’Chagecha, Ata, U’Bincha U’Bitcha”: “You will rejoice in your festivals, you, your sons and your daughters.” The Gemara Shabbos 119 recalls the words of the sages: “Yerushalayim was destroyed only because the people diverted the school children living in Yerushalayim from their Torah studies. Rabbi *Yehuda Rosanes (1657-1727) in his sefer Parshas Derachim explains that it was in the merit of the children’s learning that the Shechina - God’s presence - was settled on the Jewish people. As long as the Shechina rests upon the Jews, no nation is able to rule over us. This is what worried Pharoah; if the children were going to learn, he would lose control over the Jewish people. On the other side of the spectrum is the older generation. Without the elders who would there be to teach the children and to be role models for them? Without the older generation how would the young connect to our mesorah? Therefore, it was just as critical to include the older, previous generation.

As I mentioned earlier, my wife and I are entering our twenty-second year at Beth Jacob. According to the CDC, the average age of mothers at the time of the birth of their first child is 26.7 and increasing. Currently, a growing number of women are giving birth throughout their 30s and even early 40s. In population biology and demography, generation time is the average time between two consecutive generations in the lineages of a population. In human populations, generation time typically ranges from 22 to 33 years. We are now witnessing and living through the new upcoming generation, Baruch Hashem! For all intents and purposes, my tenure here is now in the next generation, facing a very different demographic than the previous generation. This is all good news, but not without challenges.

There is an active shift in the leadership and lay leadership of our Shul and community to enable nurturing strong continuity and sustaining of our recent growth. We are so blessed to have young minds at work, people with great talent and commitment to our Shul and future. We are all aware of the influx of new young couples and families within the last few years. Let us all be fully cognizant that this growth is not challenge and obstacle-free. Bringing together new people from all walks of the religious, economic and social life requires patience and fortitude on everyone’s part to allow the melding of the community. It is crucial for the younger generation to reach out to the older members - and also for the older members to actively and warmly reach out to the younger members - making the sincere effort to include each other in activities, meals, and so forth. It is particularly critical for the young members to make an extra effort to reach out and include all of their peers, making EVERYONE at Beth Jacob feel welcome and part of our growing family, Kein Yirbu.

  1. us all continue building Beis Yakov and have in mind L’Chu V’Neilcha: let us walk and go with our young and our old, serving Hashem as one family, eachcontributing our essential and necessary talent to the mix. May we all be Zocheh to have our Beis HaKnesses move to Eretz Yisrael in the time of the rebuilding of the Bayis Shlishi speedily in our day. Amen!

 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

* Rabbi Yehuda Rosanes (1657-1727) was Rabbi of Constantinople. Due to his knowledge of Arabic and Turkish, he was appointed by the government as Chief Rabbi ("hakam bashi") of the Ottoman empire. Rabbi Rosanes took a very active part in condemning
and denouncing the Shabbethaians, and he was one of the signers of an appeal to the German communities to oppose the movement.

Parshas Vaera - Human Connections           25 Teves 5778

01/18/2018 10:38:58 PM

Jan18

This Dvar Torah is sponsored by Rand and Nomie Levin in memory of Rand's father Aryeh Leib Ben Yisrael HaLevi on his Yahrzeit.

Hiking on the Lake Murray six-mile 10k round trip footpath, an array of different kinds of people can be observed doing assorted things. I typically observe at least five different groups or categories of these individuals on this course, including some sub groups as well. The main categories are as follows: Walkers, Bicyclists, Joggers, Animal strollers (people walking their dogs), and people schmoozing while sitting on the occasional benches placed along the path. I believe there is a sociological pattern that can be observed among any one of the five categories mentioned above. Most importantly, a marked degree of comradery exists within each group. Despite the fact we are all strangers to one another, there exists an automatic kinship with others who fall into any of these specific groups.

As mentioned above, the Lake Murray path is not a complete loop but rather a two-way three-mile one way, three-mile return track. Whichever direction you are going, you always see people on the other side of the path walking, jogging, biking in the other direction. I’ve noticed that people who are doing the same type of exercise, be it walking, or riding, acknowledge the person going in the other direction if they are doing the same thing. Take me for example, I give a nod and receive a nod in return from those who are jogging, but not necessarily from those on bicycles. Those who are walking their dogs seem to stop and greet total strangers inquiring about each other’s pets. The bicyclists have their own acknowledgement by raising their hand a bit off the handlebar.

This sort of behavior is not exclusive to exercise; it is found in any place of routine. When I attended high school, I used public transportation. I traveled on the New York City subway system for three years and became accustomed to seeing the same people day after day at the same time, going to the same station and even sitting or standing in the same location in the car itself. It did not take long for me, or, as I observed, others who recognized the friendly face of the stranger whom they saw every day. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and this rule is no different. There are people on the exercise path or who are going to work who just mind their own business and don’t want anything to do with anyone else. They practically hold a sign up that reads, “Do not disturb,” or “Leave me alone”. A final example may take place among the work force at a business or office where common areas are designated for employees to congregate: the coffee cart, the employee lunch room, and the like. We may not be in the same department or have any direct business dealings with the individual, but we do exchange small greetings and chit chat a bit.

On the one hand it is a nice thing to show the friendship and rapport with our colleagues with whom we work or commute. On the other hand, however, as Jews we need to be careful to create guidelines and set limits to our interactions and engagements. No one is above the realm of perfection. We don’t rely on our mitzvos and religious dedication to insure and guarantee that we won’t sin. The influence from the outside world does not only exist, it is very tempting, pervasive and powerful. We need to take precautions to shield ourselves from the influences of the outside world, maintaining awareness of the non-Jewish element which surrounds us and the state of exile we are currently in. Some people may think that I am exaggerating or overreacting to the fears of the influences that threaten our Jewishness and our commitment to a Torah life style. Obviously, I don’t think I’m overdramatizing the situation. We only need to look in the Torah to see how such influences can influence.

In this week’s parsha Vaera the Torah states in Shmos 9:29 “Vayomer Eilav Moshe, K’Tzeisee Es HaIr, Efros Es Kapai El Hashem….”. “Moshe said to him (Pharoah), when I go out of the city I will spread my hands in prayer to God….”. Moshe Rabbeinu tells Pharoah that he can not pray in Egypt, rather he must leave the area. Rashi elaborates, stating: “He had to leave because in the city Moshe could not daven because it was full of idols and idolatry”. What was the fear that Moshe had? Was Moshe afraid that he might end up praying to the idols? Certainly not, rather he was afraid of the influence the idols would have upon him which would have an adverse effect on his Tefilla/prayer. From this episode we clearly see the greatness of Moshe. If Moshe was afraid of the bad influence of Mitzrayim, the idols and the atmosphere around him, then how much more so we need to be concerned about the forces around us in this exile.

The challenge of the outside influences over Judaism is not a new phenomenon; it has existed in all generations. Dovid HaMelech in Tehilim 106:35 says, “When you mix among the nations you learn from their ways”. Rambam in Hilchos Deos 6:1 states: “It is human nature to be influenced by one’s friends, adopting the moral standards of the people around us. Therefore, associate with righteous people and constantly be in the company of Torah scholars in order to learn from their behavior. Stay away from the wicked who walk in darkness so that you will not learn from their deeds”. A person should not fool himself and say, “What do I care about my surroundings and the outside evils? I am not connected to any part of them.” The nature of a person is drawn from what is around him.

The problem is we do live in a foreign, non-Jewish country with a heavy-duty influence surrounding us. What can we do to survive? Should we leave the city every time we need to daven, emulating Moshe? We do greet our co-workers and nod to our neighbors and share some common activities? What can we do to guarantee maintaining our uniqueness and preserve our Yiddishkeit? The Navi Malachi 3:6 says, “God does not change. Outside forces have no influence upon Him; they can’t even touch Him. Hashem is represented by the Torah in this world. It is the Torah that guards God and we must use the Torah as our shelter and protection from the elements attempting to infiltrate our spiritual lives of holiness and purity.

The one and only protection when we go out into the world is the Torah itself. The Torah is the antidote to all the evil forces distracting us away from Hashem. As long as we learn and keep the Torah then the human connections will not influence or steer us away from Hashem. To the contrary, the Torah will bring us closer to Him.

Ah Gut Shabbos
Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shmos - More Employees, Not Less, is the Answer                      18 Teves 5778

01/04/2018 10:40:58 PM

Jan4

I am a firm believer that everyone should have at least one but preferably two hobbies in life. The reason two would be better is that they each work as a kind of diversionary occupational insurance policy: if you get bored of one of them, you always have the other. On the other hand, having too many hobbies leaves you unable to focus on any particular one and never really fulfilling the pleasure of a genuine hobby. Hobbies are largely investments of time and money, usually without any monetary gain involved. They are, without a doubt, beneficial enjoyment upon which there is no price tag.

For those of you who know me, one of my hobbies is playing the stock market. True to my analysis and definition of ‘hobbies,’ I invest money without any monetary gain. One of my investment ‘hobbies’ was General Electric; if I would have sold that stock at the right time, I would have made some money, but then again it would no longer have been my hobby. So, for those of you who follow the market - and GE in particular - understand clearly that thanks to the fact that I still own it, I am definitely fulfilling the ‘hobby’ aspect of this investment. I am a believer in GE and will hold onto it until I see a profit from it, but the turmoil my stomach has endured has been rough through their transition to new leadership. It only made matters worse when I read an article that I completely agree with, and I hope this trend will reverse itself. Here is an excerpt from the article:

An August 31, 2017 article in Fortune Magazine suggests that John Flannery, the incoming CEO of GE, is looking to make “aggressive” job cuts in the next year to reduce spending and increase profits. “We have a plan to take out $2 billion in cost by the end of 2018,” GE spokesperson Jennifer Erickson said. “We’ve said John [Flannery] is reviewing all aspects of the company. He will present to investors in November.”

Cutting costs are always easier than actual innovation. It’s the low-lying fruit a new CEO can pick to make an immediate impact with the board. Long-term, however, it does little for GE stock and GE shareholders. Digitization might be the solution to GE’s woes, but it shouldn’t come at the hands of job losses. Creating jobs is one of the best ways I know to add value to shareholders and GE stock. Companies that are adding jobs are growing. That’s simple economics! Economics is the science that concerns itself with economies - how societies produce goods and services and how those societies consume them. It has influenced world finance at many important junctions throughout history and is a vital part of our everyday lives. The assumptions that guide the study of economics have changed dramatically throughout history with this one exception: adding manpower shows growth. We see this clearly in the transition from Chumash Bereishis to Shemos. Rav Aleksander Yehoshua Levinson, in his sefer K’Ayal Ta’Arog, explains this transition as follows.

Sefer Shmos, the book of Exodus, crystalizes the Jewish people into a nation. The Jews as a family traveled south to Egypt with seventy souls and left 430 years later with hundreds of thousands (approximately three million including older men, women and children). There are three major events or themes we read about in Shmos: the exodus from Egypt, receiving of the Torah, and the building of the Mishkan - the portable sanctuary. Each one of these major components is wrought with trouble and difficulty which are difficult to comprehend. The first scenario occurs when the Jews left Mitzrayim after years of hardship and slavery. They have the audacity to complain and declare in Bamidbar 14:4 “Nitna Rosh V’Nashuva Mitzrayma.” “Let’s appoint a new leader and go back to Egypt.” The second occurs immediately after the Jewish people receive the Torah. They turn to Aharon asking him to make them a Golden calf. To add insult to injury, they declare in Shmos 32:4 “Eileh Elohechaz Yisrael Asher Hotziacha MeiEretz Mitzrayim.” “This is the God of Israel that took us out from the land of Egypt.” The third case takes place when the Jewish people build a Mishkan where the service to Hashem takes form and is clear. Nevertheless, the individual is left wondering about his own personal service and connection to God. The common thread in all three of these events is feeling the loss of personal identity as they grow into a nation. The Jewish people leaving enmasse, receiving the Torah, receiving the laws of our nationality and religion coupled with the mechanism of the Mishkan combine to demonstrate how we serve God as a people on the national level.

In Sefer Bereishis it was all about the individual merits - those of Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaakov, and their wives. It was those personalities and the twelve sons of Yaakov, the Shvatim, that gave character and quality to each individual Jew. In Shmos we see the role of leaders in Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, each of whom instill a sense of looking towards and following our leaders. Leaders are necessary to command and direct large groups of people; smaller groups trailblaze on their own. Moshe and Aharon, in their respective roles, imparted and communicated to all future leaders of the Jewish people how to guide the nation as a group while appreciating everyone’s personal identity. The flip side is for every individual to maintain his/her individuality and unique physical and spiritual make-up while at the same time humble themselves to the Tzibur, the community or congregation. As important as it is for every person to know who they are and where they stand as Yechidim/individuals, it is equally if not more important to recognize their role and service to the Klal, to the general group. Sefer Shmos takes the faith and Emunah of the individual and nurtures it onto the national field.

In order for the Jewish people togrow from a small-time family to a nation of magnitude and force in the world, numbers were required. It was necessary to ‘hire’ more people in order to get the attention from their neighbors in demonstrating the we’re no longer a small family of individuals, but rather we are becoming an emerging company that will lead the world. L’Havdil (to make a separation between the holy and the mundane) Haadosh Baruch Hu the CEO of the Jewish company has the Jewish women giving birth “Paru VaYishritzu” Shisha B’Keres Echad, six children at a time; some Midrashim multiply that by ten! Hashem said we need to turn this little family business of seventy into a major corporation and “hired” hundreds of thousands through the birthing system. This caught the attention of Pharoah, who feared his country would be taken over and therefore systematically tried to reduce them.

Chazal, the Rabbis, teach us “B’Rov Am Hadras Melech” - with a multitude of people it creates a greater honor for the King. It isn’t easy to forego my individuality and my personal interests. It takes a great person to put his personal interests aside for the betterment of the Klal.
 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayigash/Vayechi - A Complete Refuah Sheleimah                    10 Teves 5778

12/28/2017 02:10:44 PM

Dec28

This Dvar Torah should be a zchus for a Refuah Sheleima L’Chol Cholei Yisrael 

‘Tis the season when many people get sick. Over the past few weeks there hasn’t been a household where at least one member was not sick from the usual winter ailments. At that point, it doesn’t take much for the cough, cold, or influenza to sweep through the house and systematically take on every member. Parents have expressed to me that their only hope is that once it made its rounds it will leave and the cycle won’t start again, hitting the family a second time. During these “light” kinds of sicknesses everyone in the family may go through a little inconvenience. Maybe a child sharing a room will have to sleep someplace else to avoid catching something from the sick sibling. Perhaps a parent will have to administer medication, prepare a special diet for the time being, and even take off from work. Generally speaking, the inconveniences and small changes are tolerable and don’t create long-term effects on any one as this is part of the usual sicknesses with which families must contend. We often wish a person a speedy recovery or refuah sheleimah which is loosely translated as have a “complete healing”. Whether it means to quickly get better or to have a complete recovery, the main point is to wish the individual better health. I would like to suggest another definition of refuah sheleimah.  

If I may at this point, speak/write about a very sensitive and critical set of circumstances that Jewish families are facing. Many of societal issues that directly impact the Jewish family crosses over to all segments of the Jewish world, whether chasidish, litvish, yeshivish, modern orthodox, and, I would presume to a degree, even conservative and reform Judaism. I am writing this piece to bring an awareness of how devastating illness can be that it wreaks havoc not only on the patient but on the entire the family as well. I write with trepidation in mentioning the hardships families must endure when a family member is facing a life or death illness R”L (Rachmana Litzlan - may God save us) and or undergoing treatments that will hopefully provide extended life. But an even greater challenge to a family is when one member is challenged with a severe psychological disorder. Mental health issues are not only paralyzing for the patient; they are also debilitating for the other children, parents and even the grandparents. There are some subtle and some non-subtle effects on a family that manifest itself differently to each family member.

Dealing with mental health issues raises stress levels to their limits. When children are stressed out, they may act out in school or fall behind in their work;  their minds are pre-occupied with many crucial, potentially life-altering changes around them. Older children, adults, parents and even grandparents may become more irritable and have less patience for others. These behaviors may be interpreted as obnoxious, but in truth it’s the ancillary effects of the disorder attacking their loved one. Parents and spouses of a child with a mental disorder may have stains on their personal and intimate relationships. Many of the primary and essential important goals and values they’ve built up over the years seem to be shaky at best and crumbling at worst. This is where the Refuah and its co-part  Sheleimah come into play. Refuah/healing must be addressed to the patient. There is no question a complete and full (shaleim) recovery is wished for. But let us not forget that the Sheleimah component is addressed to the relatives of the patient. The idea and concept of Sheleimah is discussed in the past and coming week’s parshiot.

In this week’s Parsha Vayechi we are introduced to illness/sickness for the very first time. The Torah states in Bereishis 48:1 “VaYehi Acharei HaDevarim HaEileh, Vayomer L’Yosef Hinei Avicha Choleh, Vayikach Es Shnei Banav Imo Es Menashe V’Es Ephrayim”. “A short time after this, Joseph was told that his father was sick; Joseph went to his father, taking his two sons Menashe and Ephrayim with him.”  The Midrash Rabbah chapter 65 teaches us from the beginning of Bereishis until now the word Choli/Sick is not mentioned. It was Yaakov Avinu who asked Hashem to bring illness to the world instead of someone just dying. Yaakov had to ask Hashem as a show of mercy to bring illness so that a person could put his affairs in order. Primarily, if a person dies suddenly, he will not be at peace without first having the opportunity to make proper  arrangements among his children. Therefore, if a person has at least a few days prior to dying, he can have Yishuv HaDaas, a settling of his mind surrounding his children. Hashem agreed to Yaakov’s suggestion and declared He would start with Yaakov.  Yaakov was therefore the first one to become sick.

The root of the word Sheleimah is Shin, Lamed, Mem, which spells out shalom  - peace  - or Shaleim - complete. Even though Yaakov was sick and dying, the words wished upon him were Refuah Sheleimah, which could be interpreted as he should die while still being whole and complete. Blessing his children, giving them ultimate direction for life, put Yaakov’s mind at ease, allowing him to leave this world ‘whole’.

In last week’s parshas Vayigash we got a glimpse into the completeness or fullness of the wishes. In Bereishis 45:27 the Torah states: “Vayidabru Eilav Eis Kal Divrei Yosef Asher Diber Aleihem, Vayar Es Ha’Agalos Asher Shalach Yosef Laseis Oso VaTechi Ruach Yaakov Avihem”. “Then the brothers related all the words that Joseph had spoken to them, and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him. The spirit of their father Yaakov was then revived”. Yaakov was emotionally sick over the discord that existed among his sons. Having now heard directly from his sons the entire episode and its conclusion, he felt relieved. Yaakov never fully accepted the notion that Yosef was actually dead. He knew Yosef wasn’t physically dead, but still suffered an emotional death due to being isolated from the rest of the family. For twenty-two years Yaakov felt his family was broken, fractured by the disdain shown by the brothers towards Yosef. With the brothers realizing Yosef’s true intentions, they were able to look back and reconsider their breaking apart the family by selling Yosef. As Yaakov saw the wagons, it reminded him of the last thing he learned with Yosef:  the laws of Eglah Arufa. The Mitzva of Egla Arufa is when a person is found murdered between two cities. God lays the blame on the Rabbis of the closest city because they must have not provided a place to sleep and the man was forced to travel. A ceremony of decapitating a calf, an Eigel was done by a brook of water and a patch of non-tilled land. Without going into the details Yosef sent wagons  (also called agalot ), same word as calf.  This was an additional sign to Yaakov that the sons who sold Yosef held themselves accountable for their actions. The spirit that is now revived within Yaakov is the feeling of Shleimus, having his family whole once again.

We see the importance of the family holding on together and as they struggle with illness and sickness within the family they should also be the recipients of the well-wishers of a Refuah Shelimah to the patient and the entire family. We hope and pray for the Refuah / healing to the ill patient and a Sheleima to the bringing back of wholesomeness to the extended family.                    

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Mikeitz - The Hidden Miracle of Chanukah                                 27 Kislev 5778

12/15/2017 12:32:34 PM

Dec15

I was flabbergasted when shopping for some hot chocolate packets. I picked up the only one brand the store was stocking, and was shocked that it did not have a hechsher (kosher certification) on the label. I thought to myself ‘how dare (what Chutzpah) they not have a kosher endorsement. I mean, c’mon! It’s almost 2018!’ We take for granted how far the kosher food industry has come. The younger generation cannot appreciate the number of kosher products available today throughout the world. There are always going to be some challenges for some who keep Cholov Yisroel, or Pas Yisroel, etc. But on the whole there has never been so much convenience for the Jewish belly.

There are certain signs which indicate that we are living through prosperous times. An example is the number of pets that people own today. Owning a pet in my generation was a luxury, but has become something standard in today’s times. Due to the fact we are living richer lives we can afford the ‘extras’ in life, such as pets. This is true for the non-Jewish world. How much more so for the Jewish and religious Jewish world. A much larger sign of prosperity has blossomed in the last few years in the kosher food industry, particularly in fresh ready-made foods. I am not referring to restaurants, but rather to the number of take-out food establishments both in Eretz Yisrael and in the larger metropolitan cities in the U.S. which house a great proportion of the Jewish people. In my day, the take home food stores had the basics; chicken, kugel, deli and coleslaw. Today, not only can you buy different soups but even the noodles that go into the soup. Twenty-five different kinds of salads are complimented by eighteen different kinds of dips. Huge wine and high-end whiskeys that only increase our appetites for the array of meats and newly-discovered roasts that we never had before. This is all topped off by sushi stations located in all kosher supermarkets, in addition to, of course, baby-sitting available while shopping. All of this, of course, can be delivered to your doorstep with a few clicks from your smart phone. I am not going to even speak about the opulent smorgasbords and lavish weddings that are just a bit over the top. This entire description isn’t to make your mouth water but rather to depict what good fortune this has turned out to be for the Jewish people.

The Torah is very clear that fortune often leads to forgetting about God. These warnings are mentioned in the Shema and later in Devarim when Hashem warns the Jewish people that if you get fat and you forget Hashem, you will be kicked out of the land. In my humble opinion, part of this phenomenon is the desire and striving for Jews to want to be like the other nations of the world. This just about summarizes the entire story of how Chanukah came to be. When many Jews wanted to become like the Assyrian-Greeks, anti-Semitism started to perk its ugly face. The Hebrew term Misyavnim, is taken from the root Yavan, meaning Greek,. The letters of Yvan are Yud, Vav, and Final Nun. Each letter is a little longer than the previous one, indicating the small deviation away from Hashem. It then continues to stretch further and further out of range from where God allows us to be.

Hashem recognizes that man lives within a range, and as we stay in that range we will be able to remain close to Hashem. This is symbolized in the Halacha of the placement of the Chanukiyah. One should not place the menorah lower than three tefachim (A tefach is approximately 3-4 inches) and preferably not higher than ten tefachim. Putting the menorah higher is acceptable up until twenty amos, which is approximately forty feet high. The reason it can’t be lower than three tefachim is because it would be considered on the ground - which is a disgrace for the menorah. The height of ten tefachim creates a separate halachik domain. The Rabbis tell us that this is man’s domain, and God typically doesn’t enter that airspace. The Chernobyl Rebbe, in his sefer Meor Eynayim, writes that when it came time to save the Jews during the story of Chanukah, He – God - lowered Himself to be within the ten tefachim. Hashem wanted to be close to His people to bring them back and return. This came about through the shemen/oil which represents wisdom. It is through the light of the Torah that teaches a person how to serve Hashem with knowledge and intellect.

Every year we light the menorah and God hopes that it is through the light that a person will see the light of the Torah which is what the oil represents. As Hashem comes down within the ten tefachim, He becomes more visible; He wants to be close to us. Once Hashem is within the ten tefachim, He then reaches down to straighten the wicks, which represent the straightening out of the Jew, bringing him back to God. It is interesting to note there are a few places in the Torah which reveal that the cure of the punishment comes from itself. Meaning, what was it that lured the Jew away from Hashem? It was the prosperity or the fatness of the land. The word for ‘fat’ is Shamein which is the same root word as Shemen or oil. It is that which drives us away from Hashem and has the same strength to bring us back to Him. It is only a matter of substituting a few vowels and the light produced from the oil which will illuminate the truth for us and help us to understand that we grew fat for nothing. Prosperity by itself is not bad; this major issue is for us to understand that what we do with the wealth and how we behave with this new wealth is critical.

This message is clearly seen in Yosef’s wisdom in planning for the challenging times that lay ahead. There was tremendous blessing in Egypt for a few years which only Yosef, with great intellect, could see, guiding him to provide for the need to save for the bad years to come. He, Yosef, did not misuse and or abuse the blessing of plenty that Egypt provided. Rather, he wisely saved for the lean years. The bracha for all of us this Chanukah is to become wise through the light of the menorah and to get closer to Hashem with the light of Torah and not frivolously going further away through the very same fatness.

Ah Gut Shabbos & Ah Lichtiga Chanukah

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeishev - Who Am I & Who Should I Be?                                                   20 Kislev 5778

12/08/2017 09:11:26 AM

Dec8

A few weeks ago, I was in the check-out line  at Ralphs,  kibitzing with the cashier.  I happen to know most of the older cashiers, having shopped there many years. Many service people wear name tags, and at that moment the cashier at Ralphs was looking for hers. As she was looking, I thought to myself, ‘who’s to know  that these are their real names; maybe they just wear fake names’. She then explained that she was looking for her spare name tag, explaining  that they usually have a few of them. I then said to her, ”Why don’t you just take someone else’s name tag?” (Are the customers going to know the difference?) She then replied, “I don’t want to be anybody else; I want to be me!”

I found her response to be extraordinarily deep on many levels.  In society, and particularly with regard to children, there is an emphasis through Hollywood and sports to become someone whom we are not. Children grow up idolizing others and tend to be harmed by it if they don’t grow out of it by the time they are teenagers. It is critical for parents to encourage their children to be themselves. People do better in life when things are real,  not fake. Living in San Diego in a warm climate creates an environment which  downplays the non-Jewish holidays. I was reminded of this recently while visiting the East Coast, seeing the outlandish displays of lights and holiday paraphernalia strewn over trees, houses, and lawns. These are for the most part intelligent, bright, successful people who year after year continue to live a life and celebrate with things they know are made up and false. To make matters worse, they continue with this façade, transmitting it to their children as if it were true. I wonder when and what the reaction of children is when they realize it is all made up? Perhaps some realize this and re-evaluate religion while others may live their entire lives knowing the truth but living a lie.

Putting religion aside, living a life that we don’t believe in could be very painful and sorrowful. More importantly, this situation also applies to the potential that a person is capable of reaching in life yet chooses not to. If one looks at great, successful, righteous people, we typically reason that they reached their potential because they had it within them to do so, while the wicked villains of history did not. The fact is that every evil leader, tyrant, or wicked ruler had the potential to use their strengths for good but chose not to. We see this with two great leaders from the Torah, specifically two men who really had the same potential: Yaakov and his twin brother Eisav.

It is this in week’s Parsha Vayeishev that we don’t hear about Yakov and Eisav together until the end of Sefer Bereishis. From the time they were conceived, we read about them in every Parsha and now take a break until they are re-united in death. The meeting and parting in last week’s parsha reveals a great deal about the potential personality of Eisav. In Bereishis 33:4 the Torah states: “Vayaratz Eisav Likraso Vayichabkeihu, VaYipole Al Tzavarav VaYishakeihu, VaYivku”. And Esau ran to greet Yakov and he hugged him, and he fell on his neck and he kissed him, and they cried. Most commentators explain the unique dots placed over the word ‘and he kissed him’. Last week I heard Rabbi Asher Brander quoting the Netzi’v (Rav Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin) in his commentary Haamek Davar. The Netzi’v explains the implication of why both Eisav and Yakov cried. The fact that both Eisav and Yakov cried comes to teach us that not only did Eisav have an excitement about meeting with Yakov, but Yakov also had his feelings of love for his brother aroused as well. Not only was Eisav trying to show a love for Yakov, but Yakov cried out of love for his brother Eisav. The love which Yakov cried over was for the physical emotion that he had for his twin brother. More importantly, Yakov cried over an emotional and intellectual reason…. the potential of his brother. There is no question that Yakov and Eisav, despite being twins, had stark differences between them - Yakov sat and learned while Eisav hunted. Yakov used his mind for intellectual pursuits while Eisav chose to use his body for physical pursuits. Yakov used his intellectual capacity to do good, while Eisav used his physical capacity to do evil. Yakov cried because Eisav potentially could have used his physical ability to also do good. Perhaps Eisav himself realized and appreciated Yakov for whom and what he represented but could not live that lifestyle. Rather, he chose to be someone else,  to use his strengths for evil and not for good. He too cries over his own potential,  bemoaning the fact he didn’t develop properly, using his body and not his mind.

The Netzi’v continues, using this as a spring board for all future generations. When the children and offspring of Eisav have a pure, spiritual awakening to recognize the greatness of the Jewish people, then we, the Jewish people, will in turn have strong brotherly feelings toward Eisav, because he is our brother. The great Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi demonstrated this love towards Antoninus (a Roman leader descended from Eisav) as he acknowledged the greatness of Hashem and the Jewish people. Ironically, at the end of Eisav’s life, in a remarkable turn of events, he shows that it is the intellect and knowledge of Hashem and Torah which should have been the way he lived his life. Fast forward to the end of Bereishis in Parshas Vayechi -  after Yakov dies he is brought to the MeAras Hamachpela for burial. Eisav shows up and claims Yakov buried Leah there and used up his spot, therefore the remaining grave should belong to him, Eisav. An argument ensues between Yakov’s children and Eisav, and need for Naphtali (who is swift) to quickly go back to Egypt and retrieve the deed and proof of purchase that Yakov would have the remaining spot. Chushim, the son of Dan, who was deaf, didn’t understand what the confusion was and concluded that Eisav was holding up the burial of his grandfather. At that, Chushim pulled out a sword and cut off Eisav’s head and it rolled into the cave, coming to rest at Yakov’s feet.

Yakov and Eisav re-united, born as twins and buried close to each other, but at the end it was only the intellectual part of Eisav, his head, that showed his regret for living a life of futility and coming to the realization a bit late, but nevertheless showing us where his head wanted to be. That is why Yakov cried over and for him. Let us recognize who we are now and not regret becoming someone else. This illustrates one of the major lessons we take from Chanukah as some Jews became Misyavnim, like the Greeks, not remaining who they were and who they could have grown to become.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayishlach - It's Night & Day                12 Kislev 5778

11/30/2017 09:52:51 AM

Nov30

My grandfather, A”H, came to the United States from Russia in 1911 and soon after fought in WWI for his new country. Both my parents were born in the US. We were instilled with a sense of Hakaras Hatov / gratitude for the freedom and liberty that we enjoyed as Jews living in a guest homeland. As a young boy, I remember each morning pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. In  summer camp we lined up during flag raising and lowering every day.

Many Shuls across America have flags displayed somewhere in or on the property. A few years ago, Beth Jacob purchased a few large American flags to put out on Independence, Memorial, and Veteran’s day. I have one of our workers prominently place the flags along the fence on College Avenue to display our patriotism serving as a sign to the Jews of the community and to the gentile community at large that we are proud Americans living in this country. We put the flags out over the weekend and usually leave them up for a few more days into the week. A few weeks ago, I received a forwarded text from a member from a neighbor of his. The text read as follows: “Hey, tell someone at Beth Jacob that it’s disrespectful to have US flags out on the fence without lighting at night. But I did think it was nice to have them up for the Veteran’s Day weekend.” Sure enough, I checked to see if there is some rule regarding flag display…and…. Of course!  There is flag etiquette! According to the US Flag Code, all American flags should be displayed from sunrise to sunset every day. Lowering the flag at night is an ultimate sign of respect for Old Glory. But, like many rules, there is an exception. You can keep your flag flying for 24-hours so long as it is properly illuminated during all hours of darkness. There is no rhyme or reason provided as to why the flag if flown at night should be illuminated.

Apparently, nighttime, a period of darkness, has some negative vibes. There are many many places in the Talmud which mention the dangers of travelling at night - particularly alone. In this week’s Parsha Vayishlach we read a very short story that mentions the reality of night time. The Torah states in Bereishis 35:8 “VaTamas Devorah Meinekes Rivka VaTikaver MiTachas L’Beit El Tachas HaAlon, Vayikra Shmo Alon Bachus”: “Rebecca’s nurse Deborah died, and she was buried in the valley of Beth El, under the oak. The place was named Weeping Oak”.  Rashi brings down the Midrash Rabba 81:5 which explains that even before Yakov finished mourning for Devorah, his mother Rivka died. This is supported by the explanation a few verses later where it states that God blessed Yakov. The bracha with which Hashem blessed him was Birkas Aveilim, a blessing to comfort mourners as he, Yakov, was informed of his mother’s passing. But why would we mention Devorah’s passing and not say anything when his mother Rivka died? The word ‘Alon’ in Greek means ‘alone’, signifying ‘desolate’ or ‘solitary’.  Rivka was buried in the middle of the night, so that no one should be able to curse her and say: “it was from her womb that the wicked Eisav emerged”. Therefore, the Torah did not even want to announce the passing of Rivka because it may have drawn out negative commentaries.

You may have read something earlier and asked yourself, ‘Why did Yakov mourn for Devorah, the nursemaid of Rivka?’ The Midrash informs us of the identity of Devorah and the significance of the Torah’s mentioning her death. The reason Yakov mourned her (Devorah) was because she was Rivka’s mother. Another noteworthy point on the recording of Devora can be seen in contrast with another death and burial, that of Rochel Immeinu. In Bereishis 35:19,20 the Torah states: “VaTamas Rochel, VaTikaver B’Derech Ephrata, Hee Beit Lechem. VaYatzeiv Yaakov Matzeva Al ‘Vurasa, Hee Matzeves K’Vuras Rochel Ad HaYom”.- “Rachel dies and was buried on the road to Ephrat, now known as Beis Lechem. And Jacob set up a monument over her grave. This is the marker of Rachel’s grave until today.” Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his sefer Kol Ram on Chumash, points out the variance between the deaths of Devorah and Rochel: After mentioning the death of Devorah, the Torah mentions some type of eulogy. With regard to Rochel, however, it mentions the idea of burial. There is no question that Yakov also eulogized Rochel, but the prime importance was the burial. Devorah’s final resting place was named (Alon Bachut) after the eulogy. Rav Moshe explains that there are many great people who pass away who are not well known; their loss is only felt after listening to the eulogy. It is through the Hesped/eulogy that the living are able to get a glimpse or an insight as to who and how great this person (who they didn’t know) was and to begin to appreciate the void which has been left as a result. It is the eulogy that informs us of who this person was. Perhaps that same idea applies here;  we hear very little about Devora but learn about her through her eulogy. The result of the eulogy was the naming of that place ‘Bachut’ which means to cry. It was necessary to cry over her upon hearing all these things that they did not know about her. Night is a time of darkness and the unknown.  It is only with daylight, morning, when things are revealed. We do not know or understand when in darkness. So too, the eulogy sheds light as to who the person was and as a result we can recognize the greatness of Devorah. She was a great woman and an integral extension of Yaakov’s house.

There is no mention of crying at the death of Rochel. Nevertheless, we are sure that people and her family cried over her death;  it was not necessary for the Torah to mention it. Rochel was the Akeres HaBayis, the mainstay of the home. She was one of the four foremothers and the closest to Yakov. Since she is well-known, the Torah need not mention the people crying over her. Therefore, the verse states she was buried immediately, and the place is mentioned so that her children would have a place to go to pray. 

Death, darkness, night and the flag all seem to share some commonality. Just as the eulogy of someone who was in the dark becomes illuminated through speaking of their accomplishments and values, so too the flag at night must be lit up as well. There are a few customs regarding the flag, particularly around death. I see the irony in the selection of this dvar Torah taken from Rav Moshe. Here is a small fascinating tidbit about Reb Moshe Feinstein. On the night of Taanis Esther, 5746 (1986), R’ Moshe was niftar. The levaya on Taanis Esther morning in New York City was like none that New York had never seen; about one hundred and fifty thousand people accompanied R’ Moshe on this step of his final journey. Even the American flag on the East Side was flown at half-mast as the non-Jews’ sign of mourning that the leader of the Jews had died.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Vayeitzay - Who Knows Best?                6 Kislev 5778

11/24/2017 11:06:05 AM

Nov24

The beginning of my Rabbinic career was put on hold due to the fact I could not find a pulpit that suited me and my family. There were a few opportunities but some of the places that wanted me I did not want, and a few places that I wanted did not want me! Because both my wife and I were both raised in New York in predominantly religious neighborhoods, we decided to take teaching positions in a small, out-of-town community which could benefit from what we had to offer.

 We taught Judaic studies from grades three to eight. I taught third grade Chumash, specifically the book of Bereishis. Bereishis, like the other four books of the Torah, have other names, in this case the first book is also known as Sefer Ha’Avos - the Book of the Fathers. We began with Lech L’Cha and discussed the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. I taught them that our forefathers were Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov while our foremothers were Sarah, Rivka, Rochel and Leah. One of my innocent third grade eight-year-old students piped up and asked the following question: ”Why are the patriarchs called the ‘four fathers’ when there are only three of them?” I must have repeated myself a hundred times, but this child refused to accept and understand the difference between the forefathers and the four fathers. Just as he finally gave in, we discussed the matriarchs and then again, he piped up and said, “You see, we call them the foremothers because there are four of them!” At that point I just felt defeated and gave up and said, “Fine. You can call them the threefathers.”

In reality, we don’t usually see the matriarchs referred to as the foremothers. The reason is obvious. Bilhah and Zilpah were the mothers of four of the twelve tribes. The formation of the Jewish people was not limited to the main wives of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yakov but included their maid servants who were given to Yakov by Lavan. In this week’s Parsha Vayeitzay after Rochel realized she could not conceive, the passuk states in Bereishis 30:4: “VaTiten Lo Es Bilhah Shifchasa L’Isha, Vayavo Eileha Yakov”: “She (Rochel) gave him her handmaid Bilhah as a wife, and Jacob came to her.” A few verses later in 30:9 a similar situation occurs with Leah giving Zilpah, her maidservant,  to Yakov as a wife, and she, too, has two children, like Bilhah. Despite the explanation that there were more than four mothers responsible for the creation of the nation, we don’t automatically consider Bilhah and Zilpah as part of the matriarch coalition as evidenced by the sons of Leah considering their children second class.

I would like to share an idea of why we don’t view the total group as the foremothers. At the end of this week’s Parsha, we witness a disparity between Rochel and Leah to their mother-in-law Rivka and great-mother-in-law, Sarah. Sorah felt the situation with Yishmael in the house was not good for her son Yitzchok. She asked her husband Avraham to send Yishmael and his mother away. Avraham is reluctant and only acquiesces to his wife’s request after God tells Avraham in 21:12: ‘Kal Asher Tomar Eilecha Sorah, Shma B’Kolah’: ‘Do everything that Sarah tells you.’ Bottom line -  Arvraham, to listen to your wife! At the end of Parshas Toldos, Rivka advises and urges Yakov to flee until his brother Eisav calms down from wanting to kill him after taking the brachos.  Now, it is no secret that Yitzchok loved both Eisav and Yakov. We don’t hear Yitzchok objecting to Rivka’s sending Yakov away. Apparently, Yitzchok realizes that his wife is correct in assessing the situation, even though it would lead to Yitzchok not seeing his son for twenty-two years. As painful as that reality would become, in hindsight Yitzchok listened to his wife and followed through regarding any decision she made for the family. This was in stark difference when compared to Sorah and Rivka and Rochel and Leah. As the situation between Yakov and his father-in-law, Lavan, continued to sour, Yakov decides it’s time to leave. In Bereishis 31:4-7 it states: “Vayishlach Yaakov VaYikra L’Rachel U’L’Leah. VaYomer Lahen Ro’eh Anochi Es Pnei Avichen Ki Einenu Kitmol Shilshome. V’Ateina Y’Daten, Ki B’Kol Kochi Avaditi Es Avichen. VaAvichen Haseil Bi.” - “Yakov sent word and summoned Rachel and Leah to the field where his flock was.  ‘I saw your father’s face’, he said. ‘He is not acting the same with me as he used to. But the God of my father has been with me. “You know full well that I served your father with all my strength. Your father swindled me and changed his mind about my pay at least ten times.”Why is it necessary for Yakov to continue a diatribe about Lavan, his father-in-law, and how poorly he was treated? The answer is that he had no choice but to go on and explain himself.

Right from the start Yakov tells his wives about how their father has changed. He explained that Yakov is now wicked and an enemy, and that surely, we should flee. His wives remained silent, and therefore Yakov said to them: ‘you know full when and he swindled me,’  but Rochel and Leah did not respond to Yakov’s pleas to leave. They maintained an indifference regarding leaving or staying. Each time Yakov described how Lavan tried to dupe him, he told them about the miracles which occurred, showing how Hashem was there to protect him.. After all these descriptions of offenses and miracles fail and still they don’t take the hint that the family needs to move, Yakov reminds them about his vow that if Hashem protects him, he will leave this land and return to Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara in Nedarim says if a man does not fulfill his vows then the wife of the man dies. Immediately, when they heard about the Neder (vow) found in 31:14 Rochel and Leah answered,  basically acquiescing that would be the time to leave their father’s house and take the family back to Eretz Yisrael.

I would suggest that Rochel and Leah were still under the influence of their father Lavan and could not see what was beneficial for the family. Yakov waited and waited for his wives to act like Sorah and Rivka, taking family matters into their hands, telling to their husband to leave. But this kind of bravery was delayed and stunted while in Lavan’s house. It would only be when they finally leave that they would fill the shoes of Rivka and Sorah. Rashi points out to Yakov that in this place of Lavan’s house he could not have God’s presence;  it will only happen in Eretz Yisrael. If Yakov didn’t have the Shechina, neither did Rochel and Leah.  This is why they didn’t understand the need to leave.    

It is not ‘father knows best’ or ‘mother knows best’, rather it’s the one who has the Shechina resting upon himself or herself who knows best!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Toldos - Get Things Flowing Again      28  MarCheshvan 5778

11/17/2017 12:43:13 PM

Nov17

Parshas Toldos – Get things Flowing Again

What can Google and YouTube possibly have to do with my Keurig machine, toilet bowl, refrigerator water dispenser and my ear canal? What can my coffee machine, refrigerator, toilet and ear canal possibly have in common? The commonalities are the problems and the solutions. Google is notorious as some other search engines to find answers to almost any question we have. When things break or are not working properly I type in a few keys words and like magic a lot of good (and sometimes not so good) information comes up. Very often tutorials and YouTube videos are available to trouble shoot and give a detailed step by step demonstration in how to fix almost any problem.

One day my Keurig coffee machine stopped working and only learned later that the calcium buildup can stop up the tube and flow of water. Last week the water dispenser from my refrigerator went dry. I heard the clicking noise as if it engaged but no water came out. My job in the house is to unclog stuffed toilets with a plunger, but what happens when I’m not home? Finally, you may have heard about my ear wax and how my ear canals were also blocked. Three out of the four items mentioned were fixed and cleared through information I got off a google search. To clear the Keurig machine flow, you must put vinegar in the water container and keep on running cycles through until the calcium breaks down. Apparently, the water line in the fridge froze due to the ice flapper not working properly by not closing and sealing. That resulted in an ice buildup that had the ice laying right on top of the water line causing it to freeze. The diagnosis and remedy were to remove the ice, take a blow dryer and warm the area where the ice buildup was and warm the outside of the water line. Within five minutes the ice started to melt, water started dripping and eventually the water flow was restored. The other day I mentioned the water issue I had to a friend, and they told me how they learned to unclog a stuffed toilet. If you find yourself plunger less squirt generous amounts of dish soap or shampoo into the clogged toilet. ...then add a gallon of very hot (but not boiling) water to the bowl. Wait a few minutes and watch — the water should break up the toilet paper, and the soap should help it slide down the pipe. There are several ways to unplug your ears. I chose the simple method of flushing it out with warm water. As the water softens the wax t breaks up and b tilting your head it eventually falls out. 

There are many different things in life that need to remain free of debris and things that prevent the proper flow of water and air. Situations do occur when the closing or stopping up a pipe is necessary. The city tries its best to repair and fill in all the potholes and repair broken lines. An effective method of ridding a beehive is to fill it with cement and seal it off. Besides nature filling an opening or a hole, another reason something may get clogged or stopped up is due to human negligence and laziness. Such as in the case with the wells that were dug by Avraham’s servants and filled by the Plishtim. This is not just a story but rather a deep insight and meaning into the flow within each and every one of us.

In this week’s Parshas Toldos the Torah states in Bereishis 26:15 “V’Chal HaB’Eiros Asher Chafru Avdei Aviv Bimei Avraham Aviv, Sitmum PlishtimVaY’Malum Aufar”. “They plugged up all the wells that his father’s servants had dug while Avraham was still alive, and they filled them with earth”. Then in 26:18 the verse states “Vayashav Yitzchok Vayachpor Es B’Eiros HaMayim Asher Chafru Bimei Avraham Aviv Vayisatmum Plishtim …” “Yitzchok re-dug the wells that had been dug in the days f his father Avraham, which had been plugged up by the Philistines after Avraham’s death”. The great Chasidic master Reb Avraham from Sachotchov writes in his sefer Shem Mishmuel about the significance of these wells. He quotes the words of the Chovos Halevavos (Duties of the Heart). The verse in Mishlei 20:5 states: “Mayim Amukim Eitzah B’Lev Ish, V’Ish Tevuna Yidlena”. “Counsel is like deep water in the heart of man; and the man of understanding will draw them forth”. The Shem Mishmuel explains the verse as follows: The ‘deep waters’ are there but are covered over and buried in the belly of the ground. ‘The man of understanding’ is the one who comes and removes the cover off the waters and ‘will draw them out’. So too the ‘counsel in the heart of man’ is there, in the heart and brain of every man. The only things necessary to reach the heart and counsel is just remove the material that is covering and blocking man’s ability to go forth and thrive.

Yitzchok is trying to convey this concept to his children Am Yisrael. When Yitzchok told his shepherds and workers to dig up the wells that were covered over by Avimelech’s servants he was sending a clear message. This was the influence and task of Yitzchok for the rest of his life. Yitzchok became the symbol and hint to Klal Yisrael that unnecessary material must be removed to allow a healthy body. Spiritually speaking, the thickness and heaviness of our daily lives should not cover over the good understanding of life. The influences of life and the secular world around us should not weigh in over the understanding of God and His ways of the Torah.

Yitzchok then sent his workers to dig in a valley close by. Lo and behold they discovered a well of fresh living water. A second hint from our forefather Yitzchok is if we get bogged down with something covering over our heart which is the ability to breath the air of Torah, go and find another source to give you strength. The B’er Mayim Chaim was a living well representing the life of the Torah. The Torah is a living document that must be dusted off and cleared from the debris and garbage that the world tries to cover over.

Yitzchok’s battle with Avimelech over the wells is our struggle today. The well springs of Torah are constantly being plugged up by either the outside world or even from within the Jewish world who is influenced b the society we live in. Our battle is the constant uncovering and removing of the trash and dirt that is stopping up the flow of spirituality. With proper maintenance and we can attain a free flowing uninhibited stream of spirituality which in turn will draw forth inspiration to all around.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Chayei Sorah - Huh? What Did You Say?                       21 Cheshvan 5778

11/10/2017 08:32:37 AM

Nov10

Ever hear of Cerumen Impaction? Well, you may not have heard of it even if you have it, because it affects your hearing! This impaction takes place in the ear canal which produces a waxy oil called cerumen, more commonly known as earwax. . When you clean your ears, you can accidentally push the wax deeper, causing a blockage. Wax buildup is a common reason for temporary hearing loss.

Earwax is a yellowish, waxy material that is produced by the sebaceous gland in the ear canal inside the ear. It lubricates, cleans, and protects the lining of the ear canal by repelling water, trapping dirt, and making sure insects, fungi, and bacteria do not get through and harm the eardrum. Earwax consists mainly of shed layers of skin. It’s slightly acidic and has antibacterial properties. Without earwax, the ear canal would become extremely dry, waterlogged, and infected.

As with most things in life, too little or even too much of a good thing can be harmful. I am the one who falls into the category of having too much or too little of something good, in this case it’s too much. An excessive accumulation of earwax, especially when it is impacted, can lead to a blocked ear. I’ve had this condition before and, so I knew immediately when it occurred. I rubbed my ear and before I knew it I felt this subtle change very much like being underwater or inside an airplane. A blocked ear can be painful and can affect hearing. In my case it didn’t hurt, but I had difficulty in hearing. When earwax build-up hardens and blocks the ear canal, it forms a plug, or blockage. An ear that is blocked due to earwax may lead to a host of other issues and conditions (See Below). My discomfort came into play by fidgeting with my ear lobe trying to dislodge the wax. I didn’t want to tell people about it, therefore when I was speaking to someone (particularly during Kiddush) I turned slightly sideways so that my healthy ear was angled directly in front of the speaker. I can only imagine the life of people who have permanent hearing loss and the challenges they must go through.

Through this short ordeal I came to appreciate the difference between two seemingly similar but in actuality, very different words: hearing and listening. Those who have no hearing impairment can sometimes get by just by hearing without actually listening. A person who has to cope with any level of hearing impairment, on the other hand, must listen, focus, intensely, must concentrate fully in order to process what he is struggling to hear. Parenthetically, this idea may be applied to many areas of life. When we ae healthy we can get by without putting in one hundred percent effort, but if we are handicapped in any capacity, much effort needs to be spent to make up for that which we are missing. This notion is clearly evident throughout the Torah, but acutely so in this week’s reading.

In this week’s parsha Chayei Sorah, from 23:6 through 23:16 the words “to hear” or “to listen” are said no less than six times. The word ‘Shma’ is loosely translated as ‘hear,’ as in Shma Yirael - Hear O’ Israel. In this section the word ‘Sh’mauni’, translated as ‘listen,’ is used over and over again by Avraham when speaking to the children of Ches. In Bereishis 23:8 the Torah states: “Vayedaber Itam Laymor, Im Yeish Es Nafshechem Likbor Es Meisi Milfanai, Sh’mauni, Ufigu Li B’Ephron Ben Tzchar”: He (Avraham) spoke to them (Children of Cheis) and said, ‘If you really want to help me bury my dead and [put her out of] my presence, listen to me, and speak up for me, to Ephron, the son of Tzohar”. Avraham is not telling them ‘hear’ what he has to say but rather ‘listen’ to what I have to say. The connotation of the word hear conveys the message that the person being spoken to is only interested in the speaker in order to politely ‘hear’ him out. ”Hearing” another person’s spoken words requires no processing, no genuine input or output. The act of hearing only requires recognition of words at face value. On the other hand, the word ‘listen’ connotes not only hearing but processing, synthesizing the statement as well. Merely hearing someone speak does not have anything to do with understanding; “listening” is active, demanding that the listener pay attention to what is being said. And it leads directly to valuing the active follow-through of the listener to process the speaker’s words. This interpretation is brought out by Rav Yakov Tzvi Mecklenburg in his sefer HaKesav V’Hakabbalah. He uses the Targum Onkelos to understand and appreciate what the word listen means. Targum translates the word ‘Sh’mauni’ as Kabilu Mini - accept it from me. Avraham tells the people to” accept the story from me, believe me”, to “stick up for me against Ephron”. Avraham is asking the people to listen to him and to follow him so that he, Avraham, will acquire the Meoras HaMachpeilah, enabling him to bury Sorah. There is an extra word -‘Loo’ - used as a plea from Avraham, asking a favor from the people to listen to him, to believe him!

The word Shma - to hear- is passive; the word Sh’Mauni – listen - is active. How often it is after a parent speaks to a child, or a teacher to a student or the Rabbi to a congregant that the recipient responds to the speaker ‘I heard you already’ but then the speaker repeats it and says, “You may have heard it, but you are not listening to me.” There ae many things we hear in life, but they don’t penetrate, and we don’t end up listening to important, vital information. When the ear is clogged we hear stuff, but it takes greater effort to listen to the physical sound. We need to clean out our ears, remove the blockage so that when we hear the message we will understand it and listen closely, clearly to what it is saying to us.

 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

*Earache, Ear infection, Itchiness, Ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus,

A feeling of fullness in the ear

Vertigo, which is a sensation of loss of balance

Cough, due to nerve stimulation from the inside of the ear when pressure in the area is increased.

Most hearing-aid faults are believed to be caused by an excessive buildup of earwax.

Parshas Vayera - Larks vs. Owls                         14 Cheshvan 5778

11/03/2017 08:37:24 AM

Nov3

Chances are you already know whether you’re a morning person or a night person (and if you don’t, just ask your significant other). What you might not know is that social scientists use pretty specific—albeit by academic standards, pretty casual—names for these two Chrono types (i.e. circadian rhythm characteristics). “Larks” are up and at it early in the morning, and tend to hit the sack at a respectable evening hour; “owls” are most alert at night and typically turn in long after dark.

For me, the most delightful time of day is from dawn until sunrise. There is a still in the air and quiet permeates the outdoors. I find it to be the calmest time of day when I can think for a few minutes without the interruptions of a busy life. Looking back at life, it wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I could - and did - stay up late at night and get up late morning. As I grow older, I need to go to bed earlier than I used to, but I also rise earlier in the morning than I used to. I used to work late into the night but now find myself unable to concentrate. I find that my mind is sharper in the wee hours of the morning. As a side note I sleep fewer hours through the night than I once did. I am now savoring the last few days of daylight savings time as sunrise is after seven in the morning, providing me with maximum quiet time.

This lovely early morning quietude will be be shortened this Sunday morning when we will all be greeting the return of Pacific Standard Time. All of us will now have to set our clocks back one hour, thereby making use of one more hour of natural daylight. “spring forward, fall back” is one of the little sayings used to remember which way to set our watches. We all set our clocks forward 1 hour in the spring when DST starts and lose one hour, and set our clocks back one hour when DST ends in the fall, regaining that one hour. By the way not every country in the world follows this practice; in the United States most of Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have chosen to stay on one time zone throughout the year.

Have you ever wondered when all this began? It has been over one hundred years since the switch first took place. In 1908, the town of Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada was the first location in the world to implement Day Light Savings time. On April 30, 1916, Germany became the first country in the world to make the switch to DST. While these two places were the first to adopt the concept of turning the clocks forward and backward semi-annually, the idea was actually first proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784! As with most novel ideas, it took an additional 111 years before modern Daylight Savings Time was seriously suggested. In 1895, an entomologist from New Zealand, George Vernon Hudson, proposed a two-hour daylight saving shift, but his proposal was voted down. I’m going to miss that early morning transition from darkness to light, literally from night to day. Although I enjoy that time and am productive, I must admit there are times when I am not as productive as I’d like to be. I attribute this anomaly to the fact that when a person has very little available time to accomplish his goals, he tends to accomplish more than someone who has plenty of time but tends to be less productive. A primary source of this discussion is attributed to and established by Avraham Avinu.

From the end of last week’s parsha Lech Lecha to the end of this week’s parsha Vaera, we read about Avraham getting up early to do Mitzvos. In Bereishis 22:3 the Torah states: “VaYashkeim Avraham BaBoker, VaYachavosh Es Chamoro, VaYikach Es Shnei N’Arav Ito V’Es Yitzchok B’No…”. “And Avraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took his two men (Yishmael and Eliezer) with him, along with his son Isaac”. The Yadvana Rav in his commentary Shaar Bas Rabim asks the following: If the taking of Yitzchok was the primary purpose of this trip, why does it first list the two young lads and then separately state ‘and Yitzchok his son’? Shouldn’t it state, “…and Avraham took Yitzchok and two young boys with him”? The answer is that Avraham calculated his every move and planned it out to so as to achieve the best results. Avraham acted with wisdom by shielding Sarah and Yitzchok, keeping them from becoming alarmed about this trip. If Avraham had asked his wife Sarah to prepare all the necessary provisions of the trip for her son Yitzchok, wouldn’t she have asked where they were going? Wouldn’t she have understood immediately that something was up? For that matter, Yitzchok also would have become suspicious if he were the obvious center of this expedition. Therefore, Avraham told Sarah that he alone needs to travel to a far away distance to serve God. Sarah prepared clothing, food, and other essentials for her husband Avraham and for the two young servants whom he took with him. Yitzchok is not mentioned at all during the preparation. Avraham then asked Yitzchok just before leaving, ‘Perhaps you might want to come along to serve Hashem, also.” Yitzchok responded in the positive and he went along with his father. On the surface it appears that Avraham never intended to take Yitzchok, that it was more of an afterthought. This was done so that Sarah and Yitzchok would not suspect that the plan was to take him from the beginning.

Rav Meklenburg, in his work HaKesav V’Hakabbalah, derives an insight from the Gemara in Pesachim 4a, learning out from the words ‘Vayashkeim Avraham BaBoker’ and Avraham got up early in the morning. The simple understanding of the test was whether he would take his son to slaughter or not. But these words show Avraham’s zeal to perform the Mitzvos. This describes a different angle of the test; it was to see how he approached the Mitzva, how excited he was, and that he was not lazy about it. Avraham went about the process of preparing to perform the Mitzva with joy, as evident from his quickness and readiness to go do it. The ultimate interpretation of ‘getting up early’ was the planning and devising of a strategy as to how to take Yitzchok to the Akeida without him or his mother Sarah knowing about it.

Avraham wasn’t the only person in the world to be tested. One of the reasons he passed his tests was because he found the time of day to contemplate how he was going to deal with the challenges which lay ahead of him. We should savor those quiet moments in the early morning to plan our day and to think about how and what we will do to overcome the tests and challenges of our every day life.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Lech L'Cha - Kosher Cuisine                    6 Cheshvan 5778

10/26/2017 05:23:18 PM

Oct26

This Dvar Torah is L’Ilui Nishmat Mr. Al Adatto, Reb Avraham Ben Yitzchak and Luna Adatto Z”L on his 11th Yahrzeit, the 6th of Cheshvan.

Food is perhaps the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what the culture, people everywhere around the world get together to eat. I can’t speak for other religions or people, but this truism surely applies to Jews. The Jewish menu not only fuels our stomachs, it directly impacts the time of year we eat certain foods and the regions of the world from which our ancestors emigrated. Every week we look forward to eating specific foods that grace our Shabbos table. I think Jews are different than any other religion or people because throughout our history despite our centuries of exile, escaping from one country, seeking refuge in another, each region differing culturally and gastronomically, our adherence to the Mitzvos, whether Ashkenaz or Sephard, remains the same. The fact that Jewish customs and practices bear the histories of these various regions, cultures and languages of our dispersion, reflected clearly in an enormously rich collection of treasured recipes complemented by our ever-expanding taste buds sets up a clear analogy to observance of the Mitzvos. While we all customarily eat the same kinds of foods –wine, challah, meat, fish, and so on - these foods are prepared differently, depending upon the regions of the world from which our ancestors once resided.

The Shabbos table is decked with many foods that have reason to be eaten on Shabbos. The eating of fish and meat is something people try to eat at all three Shabbos meals. Wine is a staple - we make Kiddush for the meals. Usually, people will have a soup on Friday night and a cholent for Shabbos lunch. Culturally, we may be different, but the source of the kinds of foods is traditional. Ashkenazim eat gefilte fish while Sepharadim prefer other kinds of fish such as a spicy salmon. Chicken soup may be a staple for me – it is, by the way, the soup of choice among Ashkenazim - it also happens to be a favorite soup of virtually every region of the world - while others will have soups more reflective of other regions of the world. For example, Jews of Italian origin might enjoy hardy minestrone, descendants of Jews who fled Spain might enjoy a gazpacho in the summer or in the winter a hearty cozido, the Spanish version of cholent, Jews of German descent might, in addition to the traditional chicken soup, also love a potato soup, and so on. As far as cholent or Chamin or cozido goes we all know there are many different recipes and styles of cholent. (We will experience in in two weeks from now during the cholent cook-off contest). Most of the foods we eat on Shabbos have a reason attached to why we eat them. There is, however, only one food item that is directly associated with Mitzva: Challah.

The term ‘Challah’ comes from the Biblical commandment of “hafrashas challah”, which involves separating a piece of dough, and in Temple times was given to a Kohen to bake and eat himself. Now, during post-Temple times, a small piece of the challah dough is burned. We need to burn this little piece into nothingness, so that no non-Kohen will come to eat it. For the past two millennia the word challah referred only to this little piece of dough which was burned. It was only many centuries later that the loaves that were not burned took on the name “challah” amongst Ashkenazi Jews.

Rav Avraham David Wahrman, in his commentary Eishel Avraham on Shulchan Aruch in siman #260, writes that the reason we call the loaves ‘challah’ is to remind us of the mitzva to take off challah. It is noted in the sefer Hilchasa Rabsa L’Shabsa that challahs originally were called ‘burekas’ because when a woman took and separated a piece of ‘challah’ from the dough, she prayed for a blessing through the bread from an angel named ‘burekas’. The reality is that the separation of dough known as hafrashas challah is not exclusive to the dough that we make into the challah we have today. Rather, the mitzva to separate and take off a piece of dough applies to any dough one makes any day, any time, and any place. Nevertheless, the Rabbis encouraged women to specifically bake bread for the Shabbos meals thereby forcing one to fulfill a Mitzva in honor of Shabbos and the Shabbos table.

Although the mitzva of separating a piece of dough applies to both men and women, it nevertheless became a Mitzva associated with women more so than men. One might think the reason is because women do more cooking and baking so it is natural that they would do this mitzva. If I would say this was the reason, I would be attacked for stereotyping roles of women and being politically incorrect. Now, even though there are times that I don’t mind being politically incorrect, this is not a case as such. The Torah itself, with an explanation of Rashi, gives us insight as to how this all began and for whom it was begun. In Bereishis 25:67 the Torah states: “VaYivieha Yitzchok HaOhela Sarah Immo, Vayikach Es Rivka Vatehi Lo L’Isha Vaye’ehaveha, Vayinacheim Yitzchok Acharei Immo”. “And Yitzchok brought Rivka into his mother’s tent, and she became a wife to him, and Yitzchok was comforted after his mother”. Rashi quotes the famous Midrash Rabba 60:16 that miracles occurred in Sarah’s tent which dissipated when she died and returned when Rivka came along and assumed the role of matriarch for the Jewish people. The Midrash describes that as long as Sarah was alive a blessing was sent into her bread; when she died the blessing stopped. As Rivka entered Yitzchok’s life, the blessing in the bread returned. Although the focus in that context is the greatness of Rivka, we need to step back and realize that is was Sarah’s greatness to begin with which brought bracha/blessing to the dough.

Like many great women, roles of leadership and influence are camouflaged within the story, primarily to send a message of tznius/modesty, but that does not mean they didn’t influence or weren’t great in their own way. The greatness of Sarah Immeinu is highlighted in Bereishis 12:5 “Avram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, and all their belongings, as well as the people they had gathered”. On the words ‘V’es Hanefesh Asher Asu B’Charan’ ‘the people they had made or gathered’ Rashi explains it was the souls they had made: Avram converting the men and Sarai converting the women to believe in the one God, Hashem. Sarah is equal to Avraham and an equal partner in their forming the Jewish people. Due to the greatness of Sarah, miraculous things happened to her such as her dough being a source of blessing. A declaration of how great Sarah was is found in the Midrash Rabbah Esther 7:11: Haman’s lottery first picked a day of the month and then he tried to select a month in which it should take place. He went through every month. Each one had a reason he couldn’t do it that month until he reached the last month of Adar. The month of Cheshvan was passed over in the merit of the great Tzadeikes Sarah Immeinu passing away. Perhaps this is another reason the Challah Bake takes place during this month of Cheshvan. All of our dough should be blessed in the merit of Sarah.

Ah Gut Shabbos Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or Amazon

Parshas Noach - Suggestion or Requirement: Please Read to the End              29 Tishrei 5778

10/19/2017 04:28:37 PM

Oct19

Information is either asked for or provided from another. At times, this ‘information’ is called advice. Some people are very careful about giving advice for fear it might come back to them as the blame for something going wrong causing a bad decision to be made. I recall one of my professors in college “advising” us never to give advice, at least in a therapy setting. Yet there are others who thrive on giving advice, especially unsolicited advice. Perhaps they feel it is the way to pay their debt to society by imparting their wisdom to whomever and whenever. If I were to give advice on this subject, I would have to say that not only should a person give good advice when asked, but also to proffer advice when it will, without question, benefit the receiver of this information.

An integral piece of many relationships is sharing information between each other. This is particularly true in a teaching and educational setting. Perhaps the most significant situation of teaching is raising a child. The methods of education vary and change according to the maturity and intelligence of the student. A student in this case may also be a child or anyone to whom we are imparting information. Education is not just about feeding facts and information; meaningful learning allows time for the student to develop critical thinking skills, enabling him to figure out the information by himself. Many high-level educators only lecture and do not allow or make room for self-analyzation. Anyone who has studied Jewish law recognizes different levels of fulfilling a Mitzva, at times applying the basic rule and at other times adding an additional suggestion. I would like to compare those added suggestions as advice, not only as optional but as strongly recommended. There are many examples of this type of suggestions which, in the end, may save a person from error.

Many may argue and challenge the notion about giving advice even when such advice yields benefit beyond doubt. Nevertheless, I recently reviewed a law that affects us all three times a day for the next month or so as we recite the Amida. On Shmini Ateres - the day after Sukkos - we began reciting ‘Mashiv HaRuach U’morid HaGeshem”. In Jewish law it takes a number repetitious activities to accustom oneself to the new, additional language. Therefore, Rav Yosef Karo in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 114:9 discusses a situation that for the first thirty days if a person is in doubt as to whether or not he said the new change, the Amida must be repeated. But, according to Rav Yosef Karo, if on Shmini Atzeres, a person chooses torepeat that section, including the new change, ninety times in a row then even during the first thirty days if ever in doubt he is able to rely on the fact that it was said correctly. The Chofetz Chaim in the Mishna Brura #41 quotes the Chasam Sofer who stated that it is best to recite this phrase one hundred and one times, but if it was said only ninety times it is still effective, otherwise we would be going against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. I always viewed this law as an optional suggestion, but I now realize that perhaps the Shulchan Aruch is not merely ‘suggesting’ but rather urging us to practice this advice so as to avoid repeating the shmoneh esrei when in doubt.

I think we could see a similar idea of some advice being given but taken as an obligation! In this week’s parsha Noach we read about the destruction of the world and how Noach and family were the lone survivors. In Bereishis 6:14 the Torah states: “Asei L’cha Teivas Atzei Gofer, Kinim Ta’aseh Es HaTeiva, V’Chafarta Osa MiBayis UMichutz BaKofer”. “Make yourself an Ark of cypress wood, divide the ark into compartments and caulk the inside and outside with pitch”.

In my humble opinion the wording or directing of Hashem to Noach is merely a recommendation or a suggestion. There is no direct command that Noach should build an ark. Hashem is offering Noach some good advice: if you want to live, you should build something that can weather the storm. Hashem even offers the dimensions of the structure necessary for survival. We all know from childhood learning that this story ends well for Noach. But why? If we look ahead to the end of the chapter, Bereishis 6:22 states “Vaya’as Noach, K’chol Asher Tziva Oso Elokim, Kein Asa”. “And Noach did everything that God commanded him, he did”.

Noach took that advice, something that Hashem recommended but by no means forced Noach to do. Noach recognized the prompting of Hashem towards himself and would use it not only to save his own family but to create a scene whereby people would ask why he was building this huge vessel. Noah would tell these people about the impending doom, hoping that people would take Noach seriously and change their ways and be spared. Hopefully, these the people of the world would have taken Noach seriously and changed their ways so as to be spared. Noach took the counsel of Hashem and considered it as a commandment, not just as a ‘good thing’. The Panim Yafos expounds on this idea that Hashem said to Noach ‘Make for yourself’. When the Torah uses the word ‘L’cha’ - for you - it means for your benefit. Hashem says to Noach, if you build the Teivah it will be for your benefit, but the decision was to be totally up to Noah to decide. Later we read Noach built it and the Torah reiterates the words ‘Kein Asah,’ as if not only for his benefit but more so because he performed it as a command.

There are times when we want people to take our proposal seriously and to follow it rather than, just discarding it politely. Whether it be our employees or workers, we want them to follow the suggestion and not merely take it as a simplistic suggestion such as, “this is the way I would do it if I were you.” The point is to understand that this is the way it should be done. Raising children is a constant educational process. Sometimes we need to be very direct, and, particularly with regard to younger children, order them to do something. At other times we offer a hint, a trace, or sign to enable them to focus and make the right choice without explicit instructions from us It is not an easy task, but with carefully-worded statements we can lead the child to realize this is something good for him; he and I will do it as if my parents were commanding me to do it.

Rabbis at times give answers that are not concrete as to a yes or no. Rather, on occasion the Rabbi will sound a bit vague in answering a question. The answer is often embedded in intentional vagueness which helps the questioner to grasp and accept the direction the Rabbi was leading him to understand. The trained teacher/pupil, parent/child, Rabbi/congregant will recognize the signs of when to consider the advice as a mere suggestion and take it or leave it, or truly give the advice to grab and fulfill a command as Noach did.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech - Sensitivity of Life          23 Elul 5777 

09/14/2017 01:03:33 PM

Sep14

These last few weeks gave us close-up opportunities to witness the hand of God as well as the hand of man. The natural disasters of a severe 8.1 earthquake, the strongest to hit Mexico in a century, occurred while the hurricanes Harvey and Irma caused massive devastation which have affected the lives of millions of people in Houston, Texas and the state of Florida. Millions of Americans watched as violent winds and tumultuous rains tore apart the homes and lives of thousands of people. In the wake of these disasters, thousands of other people arrived, many travelling at their own expense from all parts of the United States, to help the hurricane victims, providing physical, emotional, spiritual and financial assistance. The outpouring of concern reached levels that saw Jews from San Diego fly to Houston, helping to bring some semblance of normalcy back into their lives. It was encouraging to see major Orthodox umbrella organizations come together, uniting and coordinating efforts on behalf of our fellow Jews. Unfortunately, at times it takes such awful disasters to bring out the best in us. Correspondingly, we occasionally lack perspective in the midst of such chaos and trauma, unwittingly saying things that may be misconstrued.

Such an occurrence took place when I happened to meet someone who lives in Florida but was in San Diego during the hurricane. In an attempt to offer him comfort during this tough time, I said, “there could be worse places to be than San Diego.” I meant only to say that he was fortunate to be in San Diego and not in the middle of a hurricane. As he passed me by he replied, “Who knows if I will even have a house to go back to; I may have lost everything.” Even though I was trying to extend comfort to him, my timing was off. Riding out the hurricane while being here in San Diego could not possibly assuage his fears. I thought about this for a few days and wanted to apologize for the incident. I waited to call at an appropriate time, when lo and behold I saw the person and seized the opportunity to ask if I could speak with him. I reviewed my feelings, pointing out how my good intentions went sour. Being the fine gentleman that he is, he immediately dismissed the entire situation and said that he did not take it that way at all. He described the extensive damage that his property sustained and related to me the stories of people who did not heed the warnings of the authorities. In most cases, reported deaths were the result of people who disregarded safety protocol and instructions. But as he got up to leave, he turned to me and said, “At least we are safe and alive.” Right then and there it hit me that during the time the hurricane was tearing across the area where his home was located, he also didn’t appreciate life because he was thinking of the monetary loss the devastation was causing. It was only later, when reality sank in, that he was able to understand and articulate that there is nothing more precious than life itself.

  1. is underscored and highlighted when speaking of death. Typically, we lament more over a person who passes away in the prime of life or when very young. This is in contrast to speaking of someone who has passed away at a ripe old age. For an individual who lived a full life we tend to describe how the person led a full life, outlived their peers, and is no longer suffering. In the case of someone who really lived a long time we may be inclined to remark, “Well, no one lives forever,” giving recognition and acceptance that it was that person’s time to go. This does not make it any easier for the grieving family, but there is some consolation on the human and physical level. Not so the case when we view life from a spiritual perspective. Regardless of the quality of life a person may live, it is, nevertheless, life! Life is to be treasured. The importance of any kind of life is underscored in the Torah.

In the second of the two sedras we read from Parshas Vayeilech of Moshe’s impending death. The Torah states in Devarim 31:14: “Vayomer Hashem el Moshe: Hein Karvu Yamecha LaMus……”. “God said to Moshe, ‘The time is coming for you to die’….”. The Medrash Chayei Moshe brought forth in the Yalkut Shimon states how difficult it was for Moshe to part from this world. Moshe pleaded with Hashem that if he could not enter the land, could Hashem at least keep him in this world; could he at least not cause him to die. Moshe said: “Master of the universe, if I can’t go into Israel, at least let me be like the animals that just graze in the field, just eating grass and vegetation, drinking a little water, but have the chance to see the world. Hashem said to Moshe: ”Rav Lach!” - “Enough! Do not speak!” Moshe asks Hashem to just leave him in this world. He asks if he could just be like a bird that flies to the four corners of the world, picking up some food here and there and at night returns to its nest. He requests of Hashem, “Let my soul be like one of them - either an animal or a bird.” Again Hashem said “Enough!” We learn from Moshe how important life is in THIS world, even if only to remain as a bird or an animal. Every living creature serves a purpose in life.

Life in this world is so precious for every one of us - much more so than the life of an animal. The Vilna Gaon cried when he felt he was dying. The people around him asked, “Why are you crying? You lived such a perfect, complete life.” The Gaon answered, “In this world, with a small coin it is possible to buy and merit many mitzvos, such as tzitzis. This is equal to all the commandments.” We learn in Pirkei Avos 4:17:‘One moment of Torah and good deeds in this world is better than the entire world to come.’ Even though at the end of the Amidah on the High Holidays it states that we would have been better off had we not been created, but now that we are here we need to deal with life. Nevertheless, we should realize that when Hashem created us it was to fulfill the purpose and goal of man. We should keep in mind that this refers to every single human being. How much more so this applies to the creation of a Jew and to those who choose to be Jewish. We have a greater purpose in life to fulfill. We must fulfill the will of God.

As the year 5777 winds down, we contemplate our participation in this world and the life we’ve been living. Was this a year that lived up to the expectations I set for myself last Rosh Hashana? This is not an exercise in guilt looking back through the rearview mirror. Rather, take time to look ahead to a potential year of life focused on accomplishing anything we set our minds to attain. Don’t ask, “Did I take advantage of life, or did life take advantage of me?” Rather ask yourself, “How will I take advantage of the precious commodity called ‘life” How will I show the purpose of life and its meaning?” Life is precious and fragile; it is worth more than anything in the world. We should all be blessed with a year and a life full of Chaim, as Moshe lived his life to its maximum until one hundred twenty years. Amen!

Parshas Ki Savo - The Curse & Blessing of the Jew             16 Elul 5777

09/07/2017 05:40:03 PM

Sep7

As many of you know, I grew up in Borough Park, which is a section in Brooklyn New York. Boro Park (as it is spelled today) is a very different place than it was when I was growing up. My family was the first Jews on our block. We were surrounded by fair and usually nice Italians. While my block was safe, that was not the case of all of the blocks near our home. At the time we moved in, private houses were owned by the Italians and the apartment buildings housed the Puerto Rican population. The one common thing the Italians shared with the Puerto Ricans was that they all disliked the Jews.

I vividly remember having to cross the street on more than one occasion to avoid a direct encounter with the ‘Goyim’ or ‘Shkutzim’, as we would often refer to them. Jogging my memory, I recall being chased a few times or at least running away after the goyim attempted to chase me or deceive me into thinking they were coming after me. Baruch Hashem, I don’t recall ever getting into an actual fist fight or getting hurt. Nevertheless, something that did happen on a regular basis was getting cursed at and being called a ‘Dirty Jew’. Forty-five years ago the language used even by the Goyim did not use expletives when cursing me out. Language was a lot cleaner; vulgarity was rarely used back then. Truth be told, it did not affect me one way or another Vis a Vis the Jew component, other than I was afraid. I was not particularly insulted and nor did I comprehend the message they were trying to send me.

Fast forward fifteen years. I remember my Rebbi telling me how he would walk wearing his tallis on Shabbos morning, hearing insults and curses from the drive-by ‘Goyim’. I asked him, “So what did you do?” He replied: “I stood up taller and realized that I have something special that they don’t have.” Jews, throughout the ages have reacted in sharply different ways to such situations, some running for cover when being cursed, others feeling unique and special, straightening up and keeping their heads high. Since those incidents, life has been relatively quiet with regard to outright anti-Semitism. Most of the time such outbursts and threats have been stifled, with only an occasional slur or slipping out of the mouths of angry protagonists.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how I get stopped by people asking me if I am Jewish/ Rabbi etc. That is enough to get me nervous about what may follow. Just last week I experienced a different kind of scare and surprise. As I was walking back from the bank, a sketchy -looking person yelled out to me, “Hey! Are you Jewish?” After I nodded in the positive he blurted out, “I am also Jewish!” I wondered at how quickly my initial sensation of fear switched to feeling delighted. I inwardly wondered whether this overt change occurred over time. Hashem did tell Avraham Avinu in Bereishis 12:3 “That I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you, I will curse”. Perhaps, the gentiles realize it’s not so bad to bless the Jews; as a result they, too, might be blessed. Then again, this vignette is only a small sample of a long history whereby the liking and disliking of the Jews has come full circle many times.

In this week’s Parsha Ki Savo we read about the blessings and curses that were instructed by Moshe. In Devarim 27:15 a series of eleven generic curses, followed later in 28:15 by a description of horrific calamities which will befall the Jewish people if they stray. Many of those predictions came true and terrible things happened. On the surface and to the average person who only can see a piece of history, this appears to be bad. We are not to judge whether something was good or bad if our convictions support the notion that whatever happens is for the best. To reiterate, “the best” may not be how I may view a given situation from a myopic view. When taken globally or historically, it may turn out to be for the best. There is a comment in last week’s Torah portion that highlights this concept. In Devarim 23:6 the Torah states: “V’Lo Avah Hashem Elokecha Lishmoa El Bilaam, Vayahafoch Hashem Elokecha L’Cha Es Haklala Livracha, Ki Aheivcha Hashem Elokecha”. “Of course, God did not consent to listen to Bilaam, and God your Lord transformed the curse into a blessing for you, since God your Lord loves you”.

The Kli Yakar writes: “But God altered the curse to a blessing”. This requires explanation and understanding. How is it possible to say that the curse itself would be a blessing? Even though the blessings came from the place of curses, meaning from the substance of the words that Bilaam wanted to use in order to curse the Jewish people. How can one say the curse turned into a blessing? It is also interesting to note that the Torah mentions that only one, a single curse, was changed to a blessing. This does not refer to all the attempted curses of Bilaam, only this one. To paraphrase the Kli Yakar, the curse was the proclamation by Bilaam that the Jews would not possess any synagogues and their kingdom would not continue, and so forth. Now it is known that Hashem does not violate or change the natural array of life concerning the merits of the Jewish people except in a place where there is no other way to turn the face of the array for good. Therefore, in all the other curses of Bilaam, God needed to encroach upon that collection of curses in every way possible. However, concerning the assertion that they would not retain any Synagogues and study halls, Hashem did not want to disrupt the curse if there was a way to bring it out as a blessing. As Rashi commented: “Mishkinosecha Yisrael/your dwelling places, oh Israel” and connecting it to Eicha 4:11: “God has accomplished His fury….and He has kindled a fire in Zion,” referencing the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. That was certainly a great favor that Hashem, with His fury, would destroy the trees and stones but we would be rescued as a people and not destroyed. So, when it says Hashem turned the denunciation of Bilaam into a blessing, it indicates that the text itself which was “they would not possess synagogues” was reversed to a blessing. That they would possess no synagogues, yet the souls would be rescued and the Jewish people were spared. What Bilaam meant to state: Your goodness is that they are your dwelling places. These dwelling places are used as an exchange so that the Jewish people could be rescued and not annihilated.

There is more than meets the eyes, mouths and ears when it comes to damaging or negative speech. We should only merit the blessings of life, and if the curses and insults are hurled at us we should recognize and believe that somehow, in some way, it will all turn out to be a Bracha for Am Yisrael. Amen!

Ah Gut Shabbos Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Ki Tetzei - Feeling At Home                   9 Elul 5777

09/01/2017 08:49:21 AM

Sep1

Next week, the official summer vacation season comes to an end on Labor Day. Here in San Diego, and particularly at Beth Jacob, it has been a busy summer with the influx of tourists and extended family guests and friends. The Grill, our summer restaurant, was a perfect complement to the minyanim we offer at our Shul from morning to night. I, along others on our staff, have frequently remarked about how the tourists we’ve all been privileged to greet and make comfortable openly spoke of the warm welcome received and the positive experiences they had here at our Shul. Many underscored their remarks by adding that this isn’t the case at other Shul’s they’ve visited.

I can certainly attest to having visited and prayed at many different Shuls throughout my life. As a pulpit Rabbi, I have become acutely aware that I feel comfortable and made to feel like a member of minyanim in some places while in other places left alone, feeling like a stranger and outsider. When I visited my parents, I davened at a local shul in Arnona. I do not want to speak disparagingly about the members or about the Shul because it did offer me a place to daven that was close by. Nevertheless, over the few years that I’ve shown up only two men greeted and befriended me. I was always made to feel welcome but never made to feel comfortable. To the opposite extreme I found the most welcoming and warm minyan in the last place you would imagine! There is a little congregation at the Vasikin (early morning) minyan at the Kotel. There are many different minyanim at the Kotel throughout the day, including the very first minyan, known as Vasikin. This group is comprised of Chasidim/Chareidim. It is organized by a fellow who runs the minyan and coordinates the logistics, timing, and the welcome to any and all people. As I arrived each morning, he ran to get me and others who came with me chairs and a shtender (lectern). At the end of davening, they serve shnaps and cake if there is a yahrzeit or sponsor. The atmosphere is completely friendly and reminds me of our Shul. Its welcome and warmth connected me to home.

When a person travels for business or even pleasure there is a sense of nervousness and fear of being out of his/her element and familiar surroundings. In my mind, I thought I learned that a traveler is considered like a poor person. I could not find the source for it, but the rationale is consistent as a traveler doesn’t have his own place to sleep, a place to establish his own meals; he can feel desperate. I will take poetic license and leap from a traveler considered being poor and connect it to the Gemara in Nedarim 64ab “Arba’a Chashuvim K’Meis: Ani, Metzora, Suma, U’Mi She’ein Lo Banim”. There are four categories of individuals who are considered dead:one who is poor, is a leper, is blind, or is childless”. Since a poor person is considered dead, then the traveler who is considered poor would share the notion of being considered like dead. Therefore, helping a traveler is as if I saved his life. Now this may be a stretch of the imagination, but to a stranger and or a traveler it gives strength and security knowing they are welcome.

If you think that being hospitable is just a nice thing to do, you are wrong! In the context I provided, being hospitable and making people feel comfortable and secure is a Mitzva of returning their lost sense of being. The traveler is at a loss; perhaps he can’t articulate or describe the exact item that is lost but that sense returns when greeted and treated as a local rather than as a stranger. Today’s typical tourist with credit cards, cash and points may not feel truly lost. Nevertheless, there are many Jews who lose their spiritual way and land in San Diego, our fair city, where we welcome these ‘lost’ souls and slowly get returned by our community. This ‘Mitzva’ is indirectly described in the Torah. Its depth of meaning can be gleaned from one of the Mitzvos in this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Parsha Ki Tetzei the Torah states in Devaim 22:1 “Lo Tir’eh Es Shor Achicha Oh Es Seyo Nidachim V’Hisalamta Meihem, Hasheiv T’Sheeveim L’Achicha”. If you see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray, you must not ignore them. You must return them to your brother”. The Torah then expands in 22:3 to other lost items as well. “V’chein Taaseh LaChamoro, V’chein Taaseh L’Simlaso, V’Chein Taaseh L’Chol Aveidas Achicha Asher Tovad Mimenu Um’Tzasa, Lo Suchal L’Hisaleim”. “You must do the same to a donkey, an article of clothing, or anything else that your brother loses. You find it; you must not ignore it”. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh teaches that the ox of your brother refers to people who are compared to the animals but are nonetheless holy! We must return them to their brother, meaning to their homes, we must make them feel comfortable so that they can serve Hashem properly. This verse speaks to the righteous Jews who are commanded not to turn away from those who were pushed aside, but rather return and bring that sense of security and warmth of home back to them. The saintly Chofetz Chaim Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan in his sefer *Chomas Hadas writes that if the Torah went out of its way to show the value of animals in returning them when lost - which is of monetary value - how much more so the need to show mercy upon every Jewish soul who has strayed from the path of the Torah. *Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz writes in his sefer Madreigas Ha’Adam that the lost objects of your brother include the loss of his physical body to health issues, both physical and emotional. Finally, Rabbeinu Bachya teaches us that when the Torah says ‘do the same for your brother’s donkey’ which is even a non-kosher animal! It continues by emphasizing that we must return a lost garment that isn’t even a living creature, and concludes that this also applies to all lost items of your brother. Not only is it speaking of returning physical objects but also to doing anything to help a fellow Jew in need. That may be to remove any potential damage or to move your brother away from anything dangerous, including making him feel at ease and at home. This all is categorized under the Mitzva of V’Ahavta L’Rei’acha KaMocha: Love your neighbor as yourself.

For the past week, we have been witness to the destruction and devastation which hit Houston, Texas by Hurricane Harvey. An incredible number of different things have been lost and need to be ‘found’ - in this case to be replaced. This week we must fulfill at least three Mitzvos mentioned here. The Mitzvos of returning to our brethren that which they have lost, the negative precept of not turning away and the MItzva of showing love towards our fellow Jews. I am confident that if we send messages, e-mails, money and words of encouragement, the Almighty will see to it the need to speed up the process of everyone feeling at home once again.

Ah Gut Shabbos Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or click here or on amazon.com

*Chomas Hadas - 1 Volume, published in 1905. On the importance of a man to study Torah, and encourage others to learn. as well as the need to create groups in every city wherein a man could acquire Torah.

*Rabbi Yoseif Yoizel Horowitz was the Alter of Novardhok (1848-1920). He was the founder of the Novardhok Mussar Yeshivah Network and author of Madreigas HaAdam

 

Parshas Shoftim - My Civic Duty & The Jewish Court                 3 Elul 5777

08/24/2017 10:40:46 PM

Aug24

There are many events, experiences, and “happenings” which occur regularly throughout our lives. As I grow older, I feel that these things are approaching sooner and quicker. For example, let’s take the holiday season. Each year, as the Chaggim approach, we tend to gasp and say, “I can’t believe it’s here already!” There are similar examples in the secular calendar, and, in addition, year-to-year renewals such as registration, membership renewals, and so forth. For me, one of these annual tasks is being summoned for jury duty. When I tell people I have jury duty they are surprised and ask, “Aren’t you able to get out of it?” “Can’t a Rabbi  get out jury duty?” There are some people who don’t question me but let me know that they never go to jury duty; they simply choose not to show up.

In 2015 a local news station in San Diego ran a story with the headline  “Can You Really Go to Jail If You Ignore Your Summons for Jury Duty?” The reporters learned that thousands of San Diegans are breaking the law and getting away with it by ignoring their civic duty to serve as jurors. Many of the people interviewed agreed that not serving when called up for jury duty is unfair to those who honor their civic duty by serving on a jury when summoned to do so.   One juror, Janette Hall, when interviewed by a reporter during her lunch break at the San Diego County Courthouse stated, "I think they ought to be penalized for not showing up, because if I didn't show up, I'd be penalized.”
Hall and other jurors told reporters that jury duty is a hassle because they must miss work, fight traffic, and then fight boredom waiting in the jury lounge, but they do it because it's what all of us are supposed to do. Cindi Bartelli told reporters that many of her friends look for excuses to skip their turn in the jury box. She doesn't blame them, but she doesn't follow their example, either. "If you were on trial, I suppose you'd want to have a jury of your peers, so I just think it's the right thing to do," she added. The news team contacted San Diego County's Jury Commissioner for the numbers. Michael Roddy said the county sends out 820,000 jury summons each year. About 28 percent, or 230,000, fail to fulfill  their civic duty. Those who ignore the jury summons continue with their lives without facing any penalties.

But… aren’t I breaking the law by skipping jury duty? The simple answer is yes. The jury summons has these words printed in bold type: "FAILURE TO APPEAR WITHOUT EXCUSE OR POSTPONEMENT IS PUNISHABLE BY CONTEMPT AND/OR FINE PURSUANT TO THE CODE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE, SECTION 209." There is a threat of punishment if the court chooses to follow through. The reason this doesn’t happen is because there are almost always enough people available to serve as jurors in San Diego County. In addition, it's expensive and time-consuming to go after jury duty scofflaws. Some other California counties are enforcing the law. In Los Angeles County the Superior Court has had to resort to penalizing people who fail to show up for jury duty because of low juror turnout.

We should keep in mind that of the seven laws of Noach, six are negative and one is positive. The one positive mitzvah is to set up a system of courts and laws. In fact, this organized court system forms a basic tenet of the world’s existence. Without law and order chaos would reign; we would not be able to focus our attention and energy on serving Hashem. Therefore, as an extension of the laws and courts the jury system is part of that same mitzva. Jews are obligated to serve when called upon to act in the best way possible.  

There are a few interesting points of note. Most of the potential jurors who showed up for jury duty with me were people ranging from middle age to senior citizens. There is a considerable amount of down time from the instruction period until being called. I found it interesting to observe how people filled the time while waiting. The majority were on their phones playing games. A few were using their laptops and tablets, perhaps doing some work. Strangely enough, some people were actually reading books;  one lady was reading something, but it wasn’t a book…. I think it was called a newspaper!

Jury officials want us to serve and – presumably - to be on time, but there is a serious shortage of parking at the court house. I had to park a few blocks away, hoping I wouldn’t get towed or ticketed. The system needs to be rectified to make it more amenable and pleasant for those who could be convinced to serve. There is a cafeteria in the courthouse and there are some vending machines in the jury lounge where the jurors congregate. Here, too, is another example of creating an atmosphere that encourages citizens to want to participate in the legal system. Unfortunately, the coffee and hot chocolate machine was out of order, and the snack machines needed to be refilled. Just because there is little or no enforcement of the code does not minimize my obligation and privilege as a citizen of this country. Despite the many obstacles that I described while attempting to fulfill my civic duty, I should nevertheless participate. Am I obligated to do so? In my humble opinion I would say flatly, “Yes, I am obligated.” Furthermore, I believe that we are all obligated. There is support and a sign leaning to this conclusion from this week’s Torah portion, Parsha Shoftim. The Torah states in Devarim 16:18 “ Shoftim V’Shotrim Titen L’cha B’Chal Sh’Arecha, Asher Hashem Elokecha Nsen L’Cha Lishvatecha, V’Shaftu Es Ha’Am Mishpat Tzedek”: “Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that God your Lord is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people.” The Iturei Torah has a beautiful twist on these words. The judges and officers are meant L’cha, for you. A person who judges himself will always see the other person’s righteousness. When the passuk says, ”Appoint a judge for yourself” it is telling us to look inward and judge ourselves before judging others. When I judge myself, I can’t and won’t be as critical to others. I will not complain to God about what others are doing after I look clearly at myself and what I am doing.  A person who only sees the sins and faults of another person is clearly not able to see his own faults. 

There is a natural tendency to judge others without knowing their circumstances. Since we inevitably judge others, we must judge ourselves first. I cannot decide not to show up for my own judgment. I can’t skip my day in court when I am the subject being examined. I cannot make up any excuse not to show up. I have a duty to myself and to others. As we begin the month of Elul, the process of self-introspection is a key element in approaching the Almighty before the Yamim Noraim. Let’s begin the process with ourselves. Consciously look for ways to improve ourselves first before judging how others should improve. Hopefully, we will come to only judge ourselves, and in that merit Hashem will judge us favorably this coming Rosh Hashana.

  Ah Gut Shabbos       Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky          

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or click here 

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=bogopulsky or bit.ly/torahwisdom

Parshas R'Ay - San Diego - America's Finest Jewish City           26 Av 5777

08/17/2017 10:50:21 PM

Aug17

San Diego is a destination city for business and pleasure throughout the year. This is not only true for the general population, but for Jews alike. Although we have Jewish tourists all year long, there are a few specific times when there is a greater influx of particularly observant Jews. We are currently in the busiest and largest invasion of Orthodox and (what the non-Jewish world identifies as) ultra-orthodox Jews to our city. I can only speak of the vacationers who frequent Beth Jacob, but I would speculate that the other Shuls in town are experiencing the same numbers of visitors.

Jews of all religious stripes come to visit San Diego throughout the year, and I want to address the feelings of Jews from the entire spectrum, particularly from the ‘Chareidi” or right-wing camp. As a disclaimer, I - Chas V’shalom/Heaven forbid - am not being critical of any of our visitors from any area, I’m just bringing out an observation. Here is a sampling of some of the questions that I receive on a regular basis: After providing the time for Shacharis, the questioning visitors will typically then ask, “What time is the latest minyan?” When it comes to food, you know those handy places to eat outside of our homes, our visitors will ask, “Where is the pizza shop?” “The dairy restaurant?” ”How about the meat restaurant?” And, here’s the real topper: “Which gas station sells cholent on Thursday nights?” When it comes to education they ask, “Are there schools and yeshivos here?”” Is there a Kollel in San Diego”? The most general question is, “What do people do here?” (Translation: like for Jewish fun?) After I inform them in the negative on most of their initial questions, there is typically a follow-up that applies to all the inquiries, mainly… “How do you survive here?!”

There is another group of older tourists who have been to other vacation destinations and aren’t as sheltered as the group I previously described. They aren’t taken aback by what may one refer to as a small amount of “Jewish materialism” such as kosher eateries, bakeries, and such. What really amazes them is that people actually live here and raise observant families. This second group knows that there are Jews who reside outside of the large, concentrated cities where most Jews seem to live. Nevertheless, they are still surprised to see religious, genuinely observant Jews living here in San Diego! Personally, I don’t know what and or why they think this way, but they do. They also ask questions which are similar to those asked by the first group, only they don’t respond in disbelief, but with genuine surprise.

The short answer to these questioning and frequently flabbergasted tourists is we do not only survive, we thrive here! It is true we may not have many places to go out to eat or have round-the-clock minyanim with cholent available 24/7. But those amenities are not what make a Jewish community. I generalize about the San Diego Jewish community, but my focus of explanation relates specifically to the Beth Jacob family. We strive to be a fairly homogenous group of Jews who come together from different places. In a larger city, there would be a natural tendency for a group to break away when they attain a critical mass. Like a large family, the children tend to branch out, exploring different areas of interest. So, too, the Jews of our community treat each other as brothers and sisters despite differences in personal areas of expertise. Everyone teaches and speaks about tolerance, but there are those who not only preach but do. We may not be reaching out to the extended Jewish population, but everyone is welcomed warmly when they enter our house. It’s the challenges that make us bond together, strengthening each other spiritually; we depend upon each other as fellow Jews and children of Hashem.

My last remark to the guests and tourists is they should not be surprised with my answer, because this is exactly what Hashem recommends from us in this week’s parsha Parshas R’Ay. The Torah states in Devarim 14:1 “Banim Atem LaHashem Elokeichem, Lo Tisgodedu V’Lo Tasimu Karcha Bein Eineichem L’Meis.” “You are children of God your Lord. Do not cut or mutilate yourselves and do not make a bald patch in the middle of your head as a sign of mourning.” The simple understanding of ‘Lo Tisgodedu’ - do not cut yourself - clearly refers to the prohibition of excess mourning and acting as the non-Jews do when addressing death and mourning. Practically and metaphorically speaking in today’s day and age is the idea of not making yourself into groups that are different from each other. A real practical application is about one minyan which holds by different practices. That is the easy way to separate. For example, having separate minyanim for those who wear tefillin on chol hamoed versus those who do not. The greatest challenge is when Jews from different socio-economic backgrounds come together, or when the rich and poor attend the same functions all year round. The spiritual challenge is maintaining a community with different Hashkafos or philosophical outlooks on Judaism and focusing on different aspects of Jewish life. This is the true beauty of a smaller Jewish community, which, perhaps because of its size gets to be a unique example of how the Jewish people are intended to be. The opposite of ‘not making groups’ is respecting people who are different and keeping them together.

The Midrash on the words ‘do not band together’ teaches us that when we don’t stand apart from each other, the first part of the verse “We are children to Hashem” comes to light. The comparison comes from Korach. The Midrash states that we are not to group ourselves together and end up arguing and separating from each other. By doing so we will create a plague among us in the same way Korach separated himself from the rest of the Jewish people. He created a cut between himself and Moshe. The irony of the Midrash using the word ‘Korcha’ making a bald spot is that the name of Korach himself lies inside this word! Rebbi Shimon Ben Yochai takes these words to a higher level by looking at the next passuk. Here Hashem calls us ‘Banim’ – children. To Hashem His Banim, His children, are incredibly endearing. Immediately after this line, once we’ve reached this level, we are now referred to as an ‘Am Kadosh’ - a Holy people. Once we earned the relationship of being a child of Hashem, we then become holy, concluding with the declaration, “U’B’Cha Bachar Hashem” – “And to you did Hashem choose. The route for the Jewish people to acquire the title of the Chosen Nation can only come when we live respectfully together, side by side, despite all our differences. Here at Beth Jacob we strive to become the Chosen by working together to accept each other for who we are. This does not mean everyone must agree with everyone else; we must respect and honor our differences, focusing on building a Torah-observant community. This is our core belief. Our Beth Jacob community should see itself as a role model for other smaller Jewish communities and ultimately for the larger communities as well. We know we will have succeeded when the tourists and visitors no longer see us as hardy pioneers somehow living in the wilderness without the trappings larger communities view as essential but rather see our community as the gold standard, living up to commitment of V’Ahavta L’Rieacha Kamocha.

 

Parshas Eikev - Aging: Physical or Psychological?             18 Av 5777

08/10/2017 06:12:55 PM

Aug10

Beth Jacob Congregation the center of your Jewish life is replete with davening, learning for all ages, fun and educational activities for children, meaningful life and community-wide comings and goings for all. One of the great activities is the Melava Malka (aka men’s basketball) on Saturday nights. From time to time I participate with two goals in mind: the first is for the exercise and the second is for the comradery with the younger members of the Shul. Every so often I choose not to play, primarily to give the guys a break from me and let someone else dominate. Recently, perhaps because more people are around during the summer, many more people have been showing up so the amount of playing time drops. Since I go to exercise, I tend to exercise at home or, the best yet, take a walk/jog with my wife.

Last Motzai Shabbos I /we went for our jog and the unexpected and astonishing happened to me. I couldn’t believe it but I tripped and fell hard onto the pavement. I was momentarily quite shaken, feeling really upset and taken aback at the same time. I regained my composure (despite my wife asking a hundred times if I was ok) and clinically assessed the damage. Baruch Hashem, the immediate diagnosis resulted in addressing some bruises and large scratches; some heavy-duty aching appeared a few days later. As I back on my feet, working to regain my dignity,my wife told me to take it easy, suggesting that perhaps we should go straight home. She said there is nothing to prove or to show off to someone as we were alone. I, on the other hand, wanted to continue walking, or better yet even jog, demonstrating that nothing had really happened. Something, however, really did happen.

I mentioned earlier that I was upset that I had tripped and fallen. . I analyzed the situation and asked myself why I was upset, and, more importantly, why did I feel the need to continue? Thinking about how I may have tripped over my laces or perhaps just made a misstep are all excuses or reasons why I or anyone else might fall. But I was upset because I thought to myself ‘these kinds of things don’t happen to me!’ I am not a clumsy person and I don’t lose my balance; I’m usually very careful – even cautious. I think the underlying reason I was upset was that I felt vulnerable because of my age. This realization hit me hard, both emotionally and psychologically. I physically wanted to ignore my weakness as it is no secret that neither I nor anyone else is as young as we once were. In my mind, I always feel half my age, but as time goes on, the gap between how I feel and my real age is narrowing. Every morning I see my once-black beard now almost completely white, but this has been a gradual change, occurring slowly over time. I, along with everyone around me, has grown used to this gentle sign of aging, not really identifying the white beard with aging. The aches and the pains and the slow recovery from a fall, however, is an awakening to my current reality. But, the Derech Hashem, the way God wants us to live our lives, is to get up and try to carry on - just as we did when we were younger - with a sense of zeal and excitement.

If we analyze which limbs of our body show their age, I believe it would be our legs and feet. As we grow older we just slow down. Slowing down only limits us physically, not mentally. Nevertheless, we continue to use terminology such asI’m going to run or walk or jog or sprint. We don’t necessarily use these terms literally; they’re typically used as figures of speech. The verbs we choose to use which refer to physical movement also have us going somewhere mentally or following an idea or philosophy.

  1. week’s parsha is replete with words describing to go, or to follow, using different parts of the foot. In this week’s Parsha Eikev Moshe is giving us direction as we ‘walk’. In Devarim 11:22 the Torah states: “Ki Im ShamorTishmirun Es Kal HaMitzva Hazos Asher Anochi Mitzaveh Eschem LaAsosa, L’Ahava Es Hashem Elokeichem LaLeches B’chal D’rachav U’l’Davka Bo”. “If you carefully safeguard and keep this entire mandate that I prescribe to you today, and if you love God, walk in all His ways, and cling to Him, then God will drive out all these nations before you”. It also mentions in Bereishis that we were created in the image of God and therefore we are supposed to emulate Him. A famous idea is said over in the name of Reb Itzele of Volozhin (son of Reb Chaim) on this verse. Rashi states that since Hashem is compassionate, we should show compassion. God is a God of loving kindness, so we, too, should display loving kindness. If this is the pattern, why don’t we say that since God is a jealous God, we should also be jealous? The Yerushalmi answers that God can rule over jealousy, but jealousy does not rule over Him. It is impossible for a person to be blessed with the ability to rule over jealousy; therefore we need to work on ourselves not to be jealous. A simple but effective measure against becoming jealous of someone is not lingering around and watching, looking and observing what others have. Rather get up and keep the freshness of who we are and continue a path without slowing down. Psychologically and emotionally we must not look around. We must stay focused on what is in front of us and push on.

This outlook connects to the opening words of the parsha. From the very first words of the parsha “V’Haya Eikev (heel) Tishma’un”: If only you listen to these laws life will be wonderful. The sages teach us the word ‘V’Haya’ is used as a message of joy and simcha. If we follow the laws and don’t step on the mitzvos with our heels (a play on the work Eikev), good things will eventually come in the end of days. However, this will not come to us easily, but rather it will come with great difficulties and hardships. The word ‘Eikev’ (on the heel of) is imbedded in the word ‘Ikvesa D’Meshicha’ (Mashiach at the threshold) and we might get stepped on, kicked about; we might undergo tests and bitter struggles. We will be kicked down to the floor, and as long as we continue to listen ‘Tishmaun’ to the laws and follow the Mitzvos then we will truly have simcha and joy.

Falling when we are aging or being pushed down in our youth come with the same results and a need for similar resolve. We must pick ourselves up and continue through the tests and tribulations on a personal and national level. We must persevere and continue the path, the road of doing the things we know are the key to bringing about Moshiach. We might have some bruises from the long exile, but as we personally age, and also as we age as a nation, we call out Am Yisrael Chai, the Jewish people live on despite the rest of the world with the resolve of who we are and from where we have come.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas VaEschanan - The Land of Israel.....Our Inheritance!!!                11 Av 5777

08/03/2017 01:41:14 PM

Aug3

As Jews around the world began the transition from Tish’a B’Av to Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of consolation, I began to think about what ‘grade’ or score God gave us regarding this most recent day of mourning. What, I wondered, are the metrics that Hashem uses to determine whether we convinced Him that we are truly worthy of return, worthy of bringing about the salvation? Did we just cry about the destruction of Jewry throughout the centuries around the world? Was our focus deeply intent enough on praying for the Beis HaMikdash to be rebuilt or crying with the Teshuva/repentance that we will try harder to watch how we speak? I think they are all valid points that Hashem uses to calculate our score, but I would like to add one more: Did we focus with intensity; did we truly crave for our return to Eretz Yisrael? Putting aside the modern-day word of ‘Zionism’ as a measure, do we continue to work on our Ahavas Eretz Yisrael, our true love of the land? I’m not sure if I would qualify to be a Zionist because as of now I don’t live in Israel. Nevertheless, I am proud to believe and declare with a full heart that Eretz Yisrael is the land that all Jews should aspire to live in. I believe fervently that ultimately, in the time of Moshiach, Eretz Yisroel – our land of Israel - will be the central place for Jews to live.

A day or two before Tisha B’Av I was shocked and taken aback reading an article from a well-known, outspoken Jew expressing his opinion that Jewish communities should be strengthened. I try not to criticize people in a forum like this, and I also want to be careful in my critique of his message. He clearly writes how Israel is central to the Jewish people, but on the other hand Europe should not become desolate of Jews. He writes to the contrary how Jews should be proud of their Judaism and be able to freely express their Jewish identity publicly. The following is a direct quote from the author: “I count the State of Israel as the great love of my life and I have taken immense pride seeing my children serve in its military. Israel is the eternal homeland of the Jewish People. But Jews also have a universal mission. It warms my heart to see the continued success of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Shudrich, rebuilding Jewish life where six million Jews were murdered, and I was moved to my core to see the enormous new synagogue in Munich where 80 years ago Hitler came to power, run by Rabbi Shmuel Brodman. No reader of this column should wish to see Europe become a continent empty of Jews”.

I understand the need for Jewish outreach, positively affecting our fellow Jews who live in the diaspora – as well as in Eretz Yisroel. I understand and accept that it’s extremely important for us to have a strong presence within communities throughout the free world, to build our educational and religious infrastructure. I don’t, however, see the need to rebuild communities which were the scene of horrific destruction, to “rebuild Jewish life where six million” of our people were brutally exterminated. The Navi Yeshayahu spoke about the Jews being an ‘Or Lagola’ by living a good and upright life in the land of Israel - showing the world how a people – a unified nation - in our land are supposed to act. Yes, we should set the example by living lives of chessed, emunah (belief), and positive contribution – wherever we reside, but the concept of Light unto the Nations does not mean showing the nations of the world how to live through viewing the way Jews happen to live among gentiles in the diaspora. It is our job to give that light to the world simply because that is who we are supposed to be and displaying it from with our land Eretz Yisrael.

I was particularly disturbed to read this article at the same time we were preparing ourselves for Tisha B’Av - the fast day commemorating the exile from the land in which we ought to want to live. Perhaps the timing of this week’s parsha VaEschanan in proximity to this calamity comes to remind us of the land we are not only supposed to want but a land to which we are intimately connected; a land which in we are entitled to live and flourish.

In this week’s Parsha VaEschanan the Torah states in Devarim 4:1: “V’Ata Yisrael Shma El HaChukim V’El HaMishpatim Asher Anochi Melamed Eschem LaAsos, L’Maan Tichyu Uvasem Virishtem Es HaAretz, Asher Hashem Elokei Avoseichem Nosein Lachem” - “Now, Israel, listen to the rules and laws that I am teaching you to do, so that you will remain alive and come to occupy and inherit the land that God, Lord of your fathers, is giving you.” Rav Moshe Lotar explains that there is only one way the Jews would be able to enter into the land and to hold on to it for the length of days. The method is to listen and to adhere to our laws. The verse specifically uses the word ‘now’ indicating to us that it is only now after Moshe’s prayers did not help him, that he was punished because he sinned by hitting the rock instead of speaking to it. Because Moshe sinned by hitting the rock rather than speaking to it, Moshe lost the Zchus - merit to enter the land, and, as a byproduct, extend the days of his life.

The second half of the passuk is predicated on the first half: “In order to live and come to inherit the land and to hold onto it, one needs to listen to the laws and statutes that I teach you here today.” There are many references to the lack of holiness in the exile and the increased amount of impurity outside Eretz Yisrael. We know that living in Eretz Yisrael gives us the opportunity to fulfill more of the mitzvos than our brethren can fulfill outside the land. The Midrash HaGadol points out regarding this verse the fact that God is teaching us. The Midrash asks: “What is God teaching?” while not taken literally, it nevertheless teaches us that whoever is involved, whoever toils in Torah, will merit for himself a share in the World to Come. With the learning of the Torah we will merit the inheritance and therefore the occupation of our land.

The goal, the ultimate purpose of the Jewish people is to learn Torah, to observe and fulfill the Mitzvos. This alone will gain us access to Eretz Yisroel, permitting us to fulfill more mitzvos. Once we are successful at that, we can then be Or Lagoyim - a light unto the nations from our home land, not by living amongst the gentiles. The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains this verse from the viewpoint of Moshe warning us, the Jewish People, to listen to what Hashem tells us to do, unlike Moshe himself who sinned by hitting the rock. As a result, Moshe was not permitted entrance into Eretz Yisrael. Moshe encouraged and warned the Jews not to sin and suffer his fate. On the contrary Moshe did everything in his power to arrange Klal Yisrael to enter, settle and inherit the land that was promised to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Moshe tried to get them into Eretz Yisrael as quickly as possible and to settle the land for he knew this was our homeland and we would flourish in our land rather than flounder in the diaspora.

If we can’t make Aliyah right now, let us appreciate the need to settle in Eretz Yisrael. It is our mission, of course, to build up our local communities, but it should also be our yearning and hope to support and to love Eretz Yisrael so that one day we will be privileged to settle the land of our inheritance.

Ah Gut Shabbos       Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or Amazon

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Parshas Devarim - Chizuk/Inspiration                   5 Av 5777

07/27/2017 10:36:39 PM

Jul27

Last Shabbos, upon concluding Sefer Bamidbar, we all called out the words ‘Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik!’-  ‘Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened!’ On all levels, the Jewish people continuously look to strengthen themselves in Judaism and in our connection to Hashem. Chizuk,  getting strength, comes to everybody in different forms. Sometimes we anxiously seek  out strength; at other times, it just comes to us. Unfortunately, last Shabbos I missed Rav Lopiansky, a leader of the Jewish people who gave chizuk to those who attended lectures, classes, shiurim and one-on-one meetings. I, with  those who attend the lectures and classes of our guest speakers, usually gain immensely.

Despite missing the Chizuk of a Gadol, I did receive a different kind of inspiration by spending Shabbos with a group of over one hundred Gedolim (great people) in Marshall, Indiana. Camp Nageela Midwest has two sessions, each three weeks long, one for boys and one for girls, none of whom are religious or observant.  For three solid weeks boys ranging in age from eleven to seventeen attended  an all-boys orthodox camp. While there was encouragement to put on Tefillin or  to attend davening, there was no pressure to do so or to do anything religious per se. There are some rules that must be upheld, however, including no turning on lights on Shabbos and attending at least some of the “learning programs” such as schmoozing with a counselor. The full three weeks area screen-free environment: no cell phones, no iPads or any other electronic devices. There is no question that the kids “missed” their devices, but without their devices and campers of the opposite gender, they are able to have a great, natural time and grow spiritually. Without the pressure of having to be someone who they really are not, without needing to impress girls, every camper is given the opportunity to markedly gain from what was being offered. I was only there for Shabbos, which is the highlight of the week. The excitement began Friday afternoon with ‘Shnitz Blitz’, a pre-Shabbos snack of poppers, hot wings and potato kugel. As Shabbos approached, everyone gathered for pre-Shabbos ruach.  Their joyous dancing and singing lead into a spirited kabbolas Shabbos which crescendo into wildly enthusiastic singing and dancing. Campers wearing shorts, t-shirts and flip flops, the majority without kippot, grasped each other’s hands as they danced in circles welcoming Shabbos. They may have not fully appreciated or understood Shabbos, but the aura of joy which enveloped  them, melting into their souls, was tangible and awesome to behold. The night was rounded out with a rocking Seudah which culminating with an oneg (which I spoke at). Shabbos day was chilled (not the weather) with optional davening which many chose to attend. The meals, accompanied by wonderful games served as a constant reminder of their Jewish identity and the pride that comes with it. Shabbos culminated with ebbing at Shalosh Seudos. Slow songs were sung as  everyone walked and sang to an inspiring Havdala ceremony.  I was overwhelmed by emotion and could not hold back  my tears as I watched every one of  the staff, counselors and campers  enveloped by the massive energy that Shabbos brought to these hungry and willing Nashamos.

 The retention rate continues to climb as greater numbers of  boys return for a full, religious experience year after year. Although not observant, they accept davening and a deepening understanding of mitzvos now as a way of life. We heard from boys who try to maintain some of what they do in camp the rest of the year. The underlying success stems from an authentic, non-watered-down version of Judaism, it is not giving in to what the rest of the world does, but rather experiencing the real thing. Shabbos is Shabbos, and there is commitment not only from the campers but obviously from the parents who send their children to the camp.   There is no reason why we need to offer anything less than a complete Shabbos experience and a life full of Torah and Mitzvos without compromise. Surely there are Heterim/leniences that are necessary, but Halacha is maintained one hundred percent. Surely there is no watering down of the actual Torah and Mitzvos that is taught and the philosophy of Torah with which guidance is given.

Along similar lines there is a tendency among many of us today to “go easy” on the rebuke and sugar coat the matter. Instead of telling it the way it is or should be, we become soft. The process of giving rebuke/Mussar is always very delicate. We must know to whom we are speaking  and how to apply the right touch. This is not to say that a good, harsh and sometimes hurtful mussar isn’t necessary - even though such mussar may not be politically correct! Mussar, when directed to “the choir” needs to be clear and, when necessary, “sugar-free”. 

Sefer Devarim begins with Moshe Rabbeinu rebuking the Jewish people for all the sins and rebellious acts carried out during their forty-year journey from Egypt to Israel. Despite the fact that Moshe disguised the Mussar by being a little indirect, only mentioning the locations of the sins, he did not hold back his fiery and direct rebuke. Rabbeinu Bachya brings a Midrash Yelamdeinu on the first words “El Kal Yisrael” in Devarim 1:1. The focus on ‘Yisrael’ was that Moshe’s voice was only heard by Klal Yisroel as it reached up to twelve Mil which was the length of the camp. Only the Jews heard Moshe’s voice;  the other nations did not. (No need to hang our dirty laundry in public.) On the other hand when Bilaam the wicked blessed the Jews, his voice could be heard from one end of the world to the other.

The Midrash states: “Mochiach Adam Acharei Chein Yimtza MiMachalik Lashon”: Moshe is the rebuke while the Jewish people are the rebuke. Ater the rebuke Hashem finds favor in the eyes of the Jewish people because this rebuke ultimately brings us closer to Him. This is supported by a verse in Shmos 33: “Ki Matzasa Chein B’Einai”: “Because you have found favor in my eye, God says.” Contrary to Moshe is Bilaam, who, with his smooth-talking tongue gave sweet blessings to the Jews, who loved hearing all of his compliments and good wishes. Unfortunately, those words were used as a ploy to make the Jews feel comfortable in order to catch them off-guard. Bilaam’s blessings were used to make the Jews feel haughty, leading them astray in sinning with the daughters of Moav. Twenty-four thousand people died in Shittim. Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei 27:6 “Wounds of a lover are faithful, whereas kisses of an enemy are burdensome.”

We must keep in mind that while giving too harsh of a rebuke to someone who is not yet on a high level is not only unwise, it is wrong,  So, too, giving mussar/rebuke that is too light will also be ineffective. The more the Jews sinned, the more Moshe rebuked them to return and to be desired by Hashem. Perhaps during these nine days as we near Tisha B’Av, we should take the time to reevaluate our approach once in a while. I know this is definitely not politically correct in the Jewish world of today, but then again Moshe wasn’t running for Mr. Popular either. Once in a while let’s call a spade a spade, and maybe a different kind of approach will bring deeper, more meaningful results.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Matos/Masei - What Did You Say?           26 Tammuz 5777

07/19/2017 03:47:25 PM

Jul19

When I was in Yeshiva, I had a car which was nice-looking on the outside but was very temperamental on the inside. Each day, before turning on the ignition, I spoke gently to the car and said, “Please start, pretty please start,” and when it actually did decide to start, I didn’t say Baruch Hashem but rather “Attaboy,” giving some encouragement as if it were my horse. There are many forms of communication used by humans, animals, and perhaps even other living life forms. There is one type of communication, however, that brings a human being closer to Godliness - the ability to speak. Typically, we humans use our gift of speech to communicate with each other. There are times, however, when a person is overheard speaking to himself or even to an inanimate object.

It wasn’t all that long ago those hands-free devices, particularly headsets, came on the scene. When these devices first came out, it was both comical and amazing to see someone walking down the street or wandering through the grocery aisles apparently talking to himself. Frequently, we had to tell ourselves that the person wasn’t actually talking to himself; he was talking to someone on his cell phone. We have now grown accustomed to this imagery, but there are still situations where I will ask my wife, “What did you say?” I thought that my - hearing was beginning to go, but my wife typically replies, “Nothing. I am talking to myself.” At least in that situation it it’s easy to assume she is talking to me. There is another phenomenon that I notice many of us doing: many of us have a tendency to talk to ‘things’.

Take my computer, for example. It is aging, and every time I turn it on I need to give it encouragement pep talk. My computer usually cooperates when I encourage it by saying, “Come on! Turn on. You can do it. Just a little more effort.” After reading a newspaper, I find myself saying, “Goodbye paper,” as in I’m done with you and never want or need to see you again. I even caught someone kissing his smartphone, telling it that it is great. This acceptance of our automated devices which are programmed to “listen” to our questions and return instantaneous responses has now morphed into practically having a conversation with an app. There are also frustrating moments when inanimate objects get in our way or don’t permit us to do things we really need to do. When our phones, tablets, or laptops refuse to cooperate, we tend to threaten the offending device exclaiming, “I’m going to kill you!” (referring of course, to the computer). Somehow, we have become comfortable talking to these inanimate machines as if they were living creatures. What are the ramifications of our speech when we speak to ourselves out loud or express our feelings of happiness or frustration to a machine? The fine line of distinction lies in the intent of our words. Would we really smash a non-functioning computer? Would the computer care? Of course not! On the other hand, In Jewish law and thought, all speech – open or spoken only to ourselves – must be taken seriously. A person is held accountable for his or her words and statements. When faced with a grave illness or assumed certain death a person may emotionally say, “God was good to me, so I’m going to give such and such an amount of tzdakkah,” but then miraculously and thankfully that person recovers. Is that individual obligated to still give that tzdakkah? Absolutely. A commitment was made! The Talmud has many discussions regarding changing a statement or making declarations regarding an individual preparing to die who then recovers. Which statement is to be believed and upheld? These and many other forms of ambiguous speech are carefully examined to determine the impact of a person’s speech. One such ambiguous form of speech comes in the form of a “Neder” - a vow or promise. A full tractate of the Talmud, Mesechta Nedarim, is dedicated to this usage of speech and what the implications and ramifications are. One of the sources in the Torah on vows and pledges is found in the first of the two parshios we read this week.

In this week’s parshios of Matos /Masei, the Torah opens with the laws of vows. The Torah states in Bamidbar 30:3: “Ish Ki Yidor Neder LaHashem, O Hishava Shvua Lesor Isar Al Nofsho Lo Yacheil Dvaro, K’Chol HaYotzei MiPiv Yaaseh”: “If a man vows to God, or makes an oath which obligates himself, he must not break his word. He must do all that he expressed verbally.” Immediately, we take note of the negative ‘Do not break a word,’ followed by a positive ‘Do all that was expressed.’ There is a Mitzvas Asei (positive command) and a Lo SaAsei (negative command) associated with the same idea. Rav Yoel Schwartz, in his sefer Davar B’Ito, explains the mitzva to fulfill vows and oaths as a very serious matter. The world shook when God said, “Do not take my name in vain.” Words are to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, there are times when a person has regret for making a vow or just saying he will do such and such. Even though there is recourse that if he realizes later on that this was not what he wanted he can go to one sage or three ordinary individuals to annul the statement, vow, promise or custom that he was doing. However, someone who fulfills his word and does not annul it is praised.

There is a story about Rebbi Yehoshua Ben Levi related in gemara Kesuvos 77b. When R. Yehoshua ben Levi was about to die, the Satan (angel of death) was told to accede to his desires. The Satan appeared to him. R. Yehoshua ben Levi asked to see where his place will be in Gan Eden. The Satan consented. R. Yehoshua ben Levi asked for the Satan's knife, lest it scare him on the way; he gave it to him. When they got there, the Satan lifted him up and showed him his place in Gan Eden. R. Yehoshua ben Levi jumped to the other side, held onto his garment, and swore that he would not leave. God said, “If he ever annulled an oath, he will go back to the world. If not, not, he will stay in Gan Eiden. (He had, in fact, never annulled a vow.) At that point, the Satan asked him to return his knife. R. Yehoshua ben Levi refused. A voice from Heaven declared he must return it for it is needed for the world. (R. Yehoshua ben Levi returned it.)

Another case in point of how critical it is to follow through on our words is in Bava Metzia 49a. Rav Kahana received partial payment for flax and then the price went up. Rav said you must give flax according to the money you received. The agreement to sell the rest is mere words. One who retracts is not considered unfaithful. Rav says one who retracts from an oral agreement is not considered unfaithful; while Reb Yochanan says he is considered unfaithful.

The highest level of keeping one’s word is found in Makkos 24a, whereby a person should live up to the character of Rav Safra. Rav Safra spoke the truth from his heart. He once had an object for sale. While he was reciting the Shema, a buyer offered a price that Rav Safra found acceptable. However, the buyer thought that Rav Safra rejected the offer, because he received no answer from Rav Safra. In truth, however, Rav Safra could not answer because he was in the middle of Keri'as Shema. The buyer increased the offer. After he completed his prayers, Rav Safra refused the buyer's second offer and insisted upon accepting the first offer, which he had already accepted in his mind.

The Sfas Emes, Reb Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, explains the words “Do not desecrate your word” as follows: “Whoever does not desecrate his word, then everything that comes out of his mouth he will do. Hashem then listens and hears his prayers on the level of a Tzadik who declares and God fulfills.

If we keep to our word and back up what we say, Hashem will listen and fulfill our words. If we don’t desecrate our words, if we stand by our words, Hashem will lift us up and carry our words and commitment to fruition. Many of us say we are going to do something. It is our obligation to follow through with our commitment through even though it may be difficult to do so. If we put forth the effort, Hashem will make it all work out for us.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Pinchas - Brain Overload or Pure Negligence?          20 Tammuz 5777

07/13/2017 10:29:51 AM

Jul13

Accidents occur for a host of different reasons and circumstances. Some accidents are lethal and have tragic outcomes which, at times could be avoided, but at other times are unavoidable.

Whenever I travel, I try to keep up with my personal learning and a few chavrusos (study partners), even over the phone or via Skype. If I go to a remote, non-Jewish area, I make sure to bring the seforim/books that I will need. On a recent visit to Lakewood, I did not feel the need to shlep a certain sefer because I was sure I would find a copy of it in one of the dozens of batei midrashim in Lakewood. Lo and behold I found the sefer in the Shul where I daven regularly. I found the gabbai and asked permission to take the sefer home, explaining that I would return it later that afternoon. He said, “I’m sorry, but we do not allow any books to leave the Shul.”  At first I was shocked, thinking to myself, “Does he think I’m not going to bring it back? I was only going to be using it for a few hours.”  He went on to explain how many books and seforim are missing because people borrow them but don’t bring them back. I came to realize that no one had the intention of ‘stealing’ the books and seforim; they either just forgot about them or misplaced them. Everyone, myself included, intends to return borrowed seforim, and of course would want to return that which he borrowed.  Sometimes, however, our good intentions are not followed through.  

As we are now in the throes of summer, a time of vacations, relaxation, enjoying our children, but also a time fraught with potentially serious accidents and even tragedy, I feel the need to address a dangerous issue we ALL need to more aware of and more diligent with regard to avoiding  unnecessary tragedy: the leaving and or forgetting of an infant/ toddler in a heated, sealed car.  It can happen to anyone - anytime,  anyplace, anywhere. We sometimes read or hear about such avoidable tragedies, and we question how the parent could do such a thing, usually accusing the parent or guardian of utter negligence. We should never pass judgment on anyone - ever, but especially in these types of horrible cases where I am sure the parent was devastated beyond belief. Moreover, it’s wise to keep silent and not express opinions, speaking out, instead about how to avoid such a tragic occurrence in the future.

In 1990, Congress designated the 1990s the “Decade of the Brain.”  Throughout the ensuing decades, cognitive scientists and neuroscientists have greatly advanced our understanding of the brain.  The Human Connectome Project, a five-year study, was launched in 2009 to analyze the anatomical and functional connections of parts of the human brain.  In 2013 the BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neuroethologies) Initiative was launched as a public/private collaboration to advance brain research. With all of this ongoing focus on learning about the complexities of the human brain, what can we do to control our brains from causing us to make terrible mistakes and errors in judgment?  What can we do to avoid having children suffocate while trapped in cars?  How do we stop such tragedies?

“The first step,” explains neuroscientist Dr. David Diamond, “is to accept that human memory is faulty and that loving and attentive parents can unintentionally leave their children in cars.” Many parents and caregivers are just coming to understand that fateful memory lapse, not negligence, is the overwhelming cause of such tragedies. “We all like to believe that we are in control,” says Dov Brafman, CEO of Sharkk. “But the fact is, our brains don’t always do what our hearts wish they did.” Brafman, with  Sharkk Technologies, is developing a safety measure through car seats that will alert a parent or caregiver that a child has been left in the car. I think if we come to terms with this idea - that the brain - that human memory - is faulty, we will also begin to understand and perhaps gain insight into some of the questionable parts of Torah and Halacha.

A perfect example of this is found in between last week’s Parshas Balak and this week’s Parsha of Pinchas. At the end of Parshas Balak in chapter 25, the Torah relates how Bilaam’s advice of causing the Jews to sin through immorality worked and as a result led to twenty-four thousand people dying in a plague. The climax of the scene in Shittim was in Bamidbar 25:6 “V’Hinei Ish MiBnei Yisrael Bah, Vayakreiv El Echav Es HaMidyanis L’Eynei Moshe U’L’Einei Kal Adas Bnei Yisrael, V;Heima Bochim Pesach Ohel Moed” : “The judges were still weeping [in indecision] at the Communion Tent entrance, when an Israelite brought forth a Midianite woman to his brethren before the eyes of Moshe and the Israelite community”. Pinchas, the son of Elazar and grandson of Aharon HaKohen, saw this, ( everyone else saw it as well, but froze) rose up from the middle of the assemblage, and took a spear in his hand,  and speared the man and the woman to death. The woman in question was Kazbi Bas Tzur, the daughter of the king of Midian.  Her immoral behavior is not surprising. On the other hand, the man who sinned was none other than Zimri Ben Salu , the head of the tribe of Shimon. The Gemara in Sanhedrin identifies him with Shlumiel Ben Tzuri-Shadai. How is it possible that Zimri committed such a major sin in public? Furthermore, how is it possible that neither Moshe nor any of the Elders did anything about it? Why did it take a Pinchas to right this wrong?

It is interesting to note that the story is divided between the end of Balak and the beginning of Pinchas addressing the act of putting down the rebellion and ceasing of the plague in Balak and the reward and acknowledgment to Pinchas later. In the beginning of Pinchas, God spoke to Moshe saying that “Pinchas was the one who zealously took up My cause.”  Pinchas was called a ‘Kanai’ (zealot, fanatic, jealous) for standing up for Hashem and protecting His name. The answer suggested is that we needed a little time to digest his [Pinchas’] actions. The Talmud Yerushalmi in Sanhedrin 10:2 states that Pinchas did not act according to the will of the sages, and in fact they tried to excommunicate him. Being a zealot requires taking great risk because it can only be done for the sake of God one-hundred percent. Nothing less. There cannot be a shred of self-cause, saying the action is in the name of God. Therefore, the action was said earlier and the reward occurred later, demonstrating the need to investigate the intentions of Pinchas and the purity of his fanaticism.  

As far as Pinchas being the only one to jump up and act, this was because he remembered the halacha/law about what should be done under these circumstances. Everyone else simply forgot and did not remember what to do. This was a simple disconnect from what was taking place in front of them and the action that needed to be taken. As far as Moshe was concerned, he did not forget; he was waiting to see if someone would rise up to the occasion. As the Rabbis taught, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man”. Moshe was simply waiting to see who and when but not if someone would act.

We see clearly from this episode that the complexity of the human brain, including our ability – and, at times, the inability to recall, retain, or apply information (our memory) can challenge the core of who we are. Let us figure out a way to become like Pinchas - to remember what to do when the need arises in our personal lives and in our service and devotion to protect Hashem’s honor.

Ah Gut Shabbos       Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Balak - Number '3' the Swing Vote       13 Tammuz 5777

07/07/2017 09:20:33 AM

Jul7

         This Dvar Torah should merit a Refuah Shelima             for Gershon Avraham Ben Devorah Bryna

In previous messages I’ve written about the significance of numbers within Jewish lore. Whether mystical or practical, certain numbers come up time and time again. Specific numbers often recur in Torah literature or sometimes connect to events and people. Without going into a discussion of the ‘other’ numbers, I would like to focus on the number three. Visually, the number three is unique; folded down, it becomes the shape of zero, when it’s flipped it over, and it remains a three. The third point is amongst the 10 Most Popular Digits in The New Prime, Number #3 ranked at the top – placing first: Three — 1,745,603 occurrences! It’s clear that the number three is very popular*.

We know in Jewish law that the number three, or the performance of doing something three times, creates a chazaka - a strength to the matter. But besides the chazaka element, we come across three partners involved in different areas of life: tzedakah, a baby and lashon hora. When an individual comes to collect on behalf of an organization, a Torah institution, or even for an individual or family, there are three people affected by the act: the solicitor, the giver and the recipients of the gift. We are taught that there are three partners in creating a child: the mother, the father, and God. Some participation is required from all three to be successful. The third example is when lashon hora is spoken, there are three people being afflicted: the speaker, the listener, and the person about whom the bad words were spoken. It is interesting to note that in all three instances if one of the three is missing, it will hamper that which is desired. Particularly with regard to lashon hora, if the listener refuses to hear it, the speaker will stop talking about the person because he has no audience to tell it to.

  1. coming Tuesday is the fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz, beginning the “Three Weeks”. It is known as the weeks of trouble between the day the walls of Yerushalayim were breached leading up to Tish’a B’Av: the day both Batei Mikdashim Temples were destroyed. We know that on the ninth of Av both the first and the second Temples were destroyed, but the walls Jerusalem were breached on the 17th of Tammuz only during the time preceding the destruction of the second Temple. During the first Temple the walls were breached on the 9th of Tammuz. Nevertheless, the Rabbis saw fit to only mourn the breaching of the walls of Yerushalayim before the destruction of the second Temple, combining both tragedies into one day. There could be many reasons offered, but at the end this decision kept it to the number three, as in the three weeks.

In this week’s parsha there are two interrelated stories that share something happening three times. Balak, king of Moav, summons Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet, to curse the Jewish people. (Please read the portion if you aren’t familiar with the story). As Bilaam travels to Moav to try to fulfill the request of Balak, his famous donkey stops on the path because it sees an angel of God in the middle of the road. The donkey tries to go around the angel but pinches Bilaam’s legs against the brush. As it states in Bamidbar 22:28 “Vayiftach Hashem Es Pi Ha’Ason, Vatomer L’Bilaam Meh Asisi L’cha Ki Hikisani Zeh Shalosh Regalim”. To set the donkey straight, Bilaam strikes his donkey none other than (you guessed it) three times, at which time the donkey speaks, questioning his master why he was hitting him these three ‘Regalim’ like legs or walking three times. Finally, upon Bilaam’s arrival, he and Balak set out to curse the Jews. Seven altars were erected and sacrifices were offered. Bilaam wandered off meditating and then tried to curse the Jewish people. Fortunately, just as Hashem had told Bilaam when he acquiesced to his request to go, Hashem said, “You may only say the things I tell you to say.” Hence, a blessing and not a curse emerged from Bilaam’s lips. This experiment was attempted (once again) three times, and each time the results were the same if not greater and better for Am Yisrael. As bad as the curses were meant to be, the Brachos that were given were great in their own way. As it states in Bamidbar 24:10: “Vayichar Af Balak El Bilaam Vayispoke Es Kapav, Vayomer Balak El Bilaam Lakov Oiyvai Krasicha V’Hineh Berachta Bareich Zeh Shalosh P’amim”. “Furious at Bilaam, Balak struck his hands together stating, ‘I brought you to curse my enemies, but you blessed them these three times.”

Even though both references mention three times, one pertaining to hitting the donkey and the other regarding Bilaam blessing the Jews three times, the ‘re’ is a slight nuance in the Hebrew. The first time it uses the ‘regalim’ and the second ‘p’amim’. Both are loosely translated as times, but Rashi points out the specific and intentional wording by the hitting. Rashi’s famous comment on the word ‘regalim’ is a hint that the donkey said to Bilaam “the nation that will eventually perform the mitzva of Aliyah L’Regel and celebrate the festivals three times a year cannot be harmed by you trying to curse them.” The Sifsei Chachamim asks, ‘why was this mitzva chosen to defend the Jews more so than any other Mitzva?” He answers that this Mitzva fits and is a little more unique than other mitzvos. Later in Devarim at the end of parshas R’ay, the Torah states in 16:16: “Three times a year all your males shall thus be seen in the presence of God your Lord in the place that He will choose.” The passuk states that the men will be seen by Hashem. It is not only because the Jews are going to celebrate and fulfill the mitzvos of the Shalosh Regalim of Pesach, Sukkos, and Shavuos. It is that Hashem will have the opportunity to see His children visiting him, and therefore the donkey exclaims, “How can your curses work on a people that God wants to see!” It will be impossible to annihilate and destroy the Jews because Hashem wants and needs us to be around. Therefore, this hint was offered as the connector between hitting the donkey three times and Bilaam blessing the Jews three times.

  1. three participating elements are represented in the Parsha’s cases. Regarding Bilaam, it his him, his donkey, and the desire to curse the Jews. The second scenario is Bilaam, Balak and the desire to curse the Jews. The significance of three is both the odd number and the third part which sways the vote to either side. Let us find the opportunity to be the positive third side – the influence for something positive and the nay say when we voice our opposition to something that is wrong. If we have Hashem on our side, then the other sides will follow suit.

 

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

 

* There's a new prime number on the block and everyone is itching to get to know it. Even though the text file came in at a whopping 25 megabytes, the number of instances was counted in the newest identified Prime. Coming in at a mighty 17,425,170 digits, it wasn't an easy task. Still, the most popular number will surprise you. [As for methodology, numbers were loaded into 10 different browser tabs, and then Control+F'd each digit to get a count of how many times it occurred.]

 

Parshas Chukas - Taking the Kaddish Challenge         6 Tammuz 5777

06/30/2017 11:45:32 AM

Jun30

’It’s been almost four months since my mother (Hareini Kaporas Mishkava) passed away. Up until this point I have been primarily davening and leading the services (as a mourner for a parent does) in San Diego at Beth Jacob. There were a few instances when I was in Los Angeles, and with the help of some of the locals, was able to secure ‘The Amud’, loosely explained as the podium from where the chazzan leads. Putting aside the rotation of leading davening when there are multiple mourners in Shul, and/or to a man observing the Yahrzeit of a parent (who then leads), I have been able to lead the davening. I even went to the effort of davening at the local Yeshiva high school and the Menahel went above and beyond getting a minyan together after school on Friday! I know one or two people who made a diary of the year they needed to say Kaddish. They recorded all the different places and types of congregations or minyanim where they davened.

I already anticipated the difficulty that awaited me in planning how to daven with a minyan to say kaddish and, more importantly, to lead the services as much as I could. There is no doubt in my mind that if a person puts forth a reasonable amount of effort, Hashem creates opportunities and arranges for things to work out. So, on this recent trip, I flew out on the red-eye after Maariv in San Diego and was able to catch a late Shacharis in New York. Even though New York has many different places to daven, one still needs to map out the locations, times, and if the ‘Amud’ is available, meaning that no one else has a greater or higher-level obligation than  I. One other point is that a mourner wanting to lead the davening needs to flexible. The nusach may not be his own; for example, I needed to daven nusach Sefard in one place and even don a gartel in another, as that is the custom of that place. Another instance was finding and leading a Vasikin minyan in order to catch an early flight. The most giving and trying situation for me was the pressure to daven maariv as quickly as possible at Yankee stadium during the seventh-inning stretch in front of the kosher food stand. I have a greater sense of appreciation for someone who is able and willing to run the gauntlet of the various customs and myriad of people associated with daily minyan.

I believe everyone reading this knows that speaking during Kedusha is forbidden and most, if not everyone, would never talk during that time. I’m not as certain if people know that in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 57 the Mishna Brurah equates kaddish to kedusha, indicating that it is forbidden to speak during kedusha. Perhaps the highlight (if I can call it that) of reciting kaddish came about this past Shabbos. I did not know at the outset how many people would be reciting kaddish besides me. With a Shul of well over three hundred men, I could not anticipate that I would be the only one. The room fell silent. I began to recite kaddish and realized the only voice I heard was my own. At that point in kaddish, when the congregation responded ‘Yehei Shmei Rabba’ in full force I had a sense that my mother’s neshama was warmed and elated by the fervor and intensity of that kaddish. To be clear Kaddish is not a prayer of sadness; it is, rather, strictly a praise of Hashem, through which elevation and comfort is brought to the soul.  The entire tzibur was involved and concentrated on their response as if they were mourning as well, resulting in the fulfillment of kaddish. At that moment, I felt a transcendence of my own personal mourning to a piece of the Jewish people.

 There are a few references to mourning in the Torah. There are two individuals for whom the Jewish people should mourn in similar ways. Nevertheless, as they passed away the mourning time was the same but the number of people who were involved in one’s mourning was far greater than the other. In this week’s parsha Chukas, we read of the passing of Aharon HaKohain. In Bamidbar 20:29“Vayir’u Kal HaEida Ki Gava Aharon, VaYivku Es Aharon Shloshim Yom Kol Beis Yisrael”: “The whole congregation saw that Aharon had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aharon for thirty days”. Yet, in Devarim 34:8 the Torah states: “Vayivku Bnei Yisrael Es Moshe….” “And the sons of Israel wept for Moshe in the plains of Moav for thirty days…..”  The difference between Aharon and Moshe is the detail of who cried and mourned for them. With regard to Moshe, the mourning was limited to Bnei Yisrael, but in the case of Aharon, it says Kol Beis Yisrael. Rashi, quoting an Avos D’Rebbi Nasson 12 explains that is was both the men and women -  the entire Jewish people mourned for Aharon while only the men mourned for Moshe. Rashi, in Chukas, explains that since Aharon was a lover and a pursuer of peace between men, if a couple were in a quarrel, Aharon was the first known marriage counselor as he brought husbands and wives back together. Rashi explains that when Moshe died, the Torah only mentions the men and not the women. The lack of ‘all ‘of the Jewish people mourning was limited due to the description of the men crying and not the women.

The Eben Ezra points out the slight change and nuance between B’Nei Yisrael mourning for Moshe and Kol Beis Yisrael mourning for Aharon as a sign of Kavod/honor to Moshe. If the Torah would have used the identical language as used for Aharon, it would have been an embarrassment to Moshe. The slight nuance in language creates a different appearance and not a clear understanding of the difference between the two. This indication is, Heaven Forbid to take away from the glory of Moshe, to preserve Moshe’s honor and greatness; if not we might have thought that only some people mourned and not everyone. The distinction lays in the different roles that Moshe and Aharon played in the lives of B’Nei Ysrael. Neither of their roles was greater than the other, but they affected different people in different ways.

I internalize the kaddish and response to be directly linked to the way my mother affected different people in different ways throughout her life. We should all seek out ways in life to affect the lives of others in a positive way. Let us all use the opportunity of responding to a kaddish, or if we are the instigator of creating the response to kaddish, to use it in a manner to do something positive and to remember the souls being elevated while praising Hashem.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s new book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him or Amazon

Parshas Korach - The Spiritual Diet    29 Sivan 5777

06/23/2017 11:22:46 AM

Jun23

Does the word "diet" immediately make you think of an unpleasant weight-loss regimen? If it did, you are probably not alone. For example, consider the use of the term "diet" in marketing food products—it usually describes foods low in calories, such as diet soda.

But there is another meaning of this word. Diet can also refer to the food and drink a person consumes daily and the mental and physical circumstances connected to eating. Nutrition involves more than simply eating a “good” diet—it is about nourishment on every level. It involves relationships with family, friends, nature (the environment), our bodies, our community, and the world.

There is a cute but serious story of a horse and its owner. The owner had a great relationship with his horse; the horse was trustworthy, faithful, hard-working, dependable, strong, everything and anything an owner would want from their animal. In return, the owner provided three well balanced meals a day with plenty of snacks in between and as much to drink as it pleased. One day the owner thought to himself that the horse was eating very well, working hard but was costing him a fortune to feed his horse. He decided to experiment and cut the rations of the horse in half! Lo and behold the horse still produced. Seeing the horse still working hard he went ahead and cut his daily intake again by fifty-percent. Despite eating about a quarter of what he used to eat he still produced but not as much. The owner was encouraged as he was saving money and still getting the horse to work. This scenario repeated itself until the horse was eating next to nothing. One morning the horse is not outside roaming around but was found dead in the stable. To which the owner remarked “I can’t believe he died on me, I almost had him working for no food at all!

Revisiting the diet competitions of late, there are other diets that people go through but not necessarily related to food. In the definition I mentioned earlier, diet is about nourishment on every level including the spirit. Some people consume an incredible number of spiritual calories and are gaining a tremendous amount of ruchniyus through their davening, learning and performance of good deeds. Others maintain a very steady intake of spiritual calories not necessarily gaining or losing any spiritual weight. Unfortunately, there is another diet that people are trying and that is that of the horse’s owner, trying to figure out how little they can eat or spiritually do and still maintain their same level of religious observance. As people fool themselves into thinking they can cut corners and do as little as possible, the obvious result will be a dead horse that was once healthy, strong and vibrant. 

This week’s parshas Korach is overshadowed by the episode of Korach challenging Moshe. At the end of the Parsha we read about the Matnas Kehuna, the Priestly gifts. In Bamidbar 18:19 the Torah states: “Kol Trumos Haadashim Asher Yarimu B’Nei Yisrael La’Hashem, Nasati L’Cha Ul’Vanecha V’Livnosecha Itcha L’Chok Olam Bris Melach Olam Hee Lifnei Hashem, L’cha Ul’Zaracha Itach”. “I have thus given you, together with your sons and daughters, as an eternal portion, the elevated gifts from the sacred offerings that the Israelites present to God. For you and your descendants, this is a covenant that shall be preserved (with salt) forever before God”. *Rav Yisrael Eliyahu Yehoshua Trunk (1821-1893) explains the significance of salt being a part of a covenant. Salt is very strong that it burns through that which it is applied to. Even though it is used as a preservative and it will sustain something, nevertheless there is an investment and a partial loss to that which it burns through. The Hebrew phrase of ‘Yatzah Hefsedo Bischaro’ loosely understood as the loss is made up in the gain demonstrates the benefit outweighs its loss. Even though it loses some of its own property the entire value gains as it maintains a great more that otherwise would have been lost. ‘Teruma’, Pledges, and sanctifying things to holy and noble causes work the same way. Even though the giver is losing something as he gives it away, ultimately that giving will preserve all that remains. Now that he parts with his money he will secure the remaining wealth that he has. Chaza”l explained this in a similar verse in Bamidbar 5:10 “any man who gives to a Kohein, to him it will be”. Meaning if you give what you are supposed to give a Kohein, you will keep the rest that is yours, which will be a lot of money. The gemara in Kesuvos 66 states that salt and money both take away but in the end, preserve and increase that which you have.

Medrash Lekach Tov Bamidbar 18:10 on the words “Kodesh Yihyeh Lach” “it shall be holy to you” seems to be superfluous. The indication is that everything that is given to Hashem through the Kohein will be holy is obvious. The Medrash answers that you might think only things that are worthy of eating are holy? Comes along the Torah and instructs us that even items that are not fit for consumption such as the bones and sinews are holy and must be treated with respect and not discarded. Every part of the human being is holy, including mind, body and soul.

Today’s generation (millennial’s) governs itself on productivity and keeping busy. There’s a tendency to feel a ‘wasting of time’ by doing something that does not relate to them or has ability to impact them. The error in judgement is recognizing that it may be that which one feels they lack is THE investment that will come to protect what they have and improve for the future. Every component of davening, learning, performance of mitzvos is holy and is an integral part of the entire process. The investment of what might seem to be time ill invested in something may be the key to the rest of the situation. Time and patience is required in building our spiritual essence. Our spiritual DNA needs to be nourished with the full number of calories and not trying to shed some of it to the bare minimum.

The lesson of the twenty-four Priestly Gifts teaches us that every part of everything that is holy has a purpose and a need. Even those items that appear to be useless and superfluous has meaning and purpose. We think we can cut down on some of the spiritual things in our life and still maintain a complete and full working Jewish life. This is not the case, if we start to chip away and cut corners our neshamos begin a silent starvation diet. The antidote to the spiritual diet is to load up with the sweets and fats of the Torah and crave a closeness to God. 

*Born in Plotsk, he received most of his teaching from his father, who was niftar when the boy was just 11. As a teenager, he spent 3 months with the Kotzker Rebbe, who’s direction he followed for the remainder of his life. When he was twenty, Rav Yisrael Eliyahu Yehoshua founded a yeshivah and served as rav in Shrensk for seven years. Later in Vorka, his fame as a posek grew. In 1860, he moved to Kutna, which lies near Gustenin and Zichlin. The first record of Jews in Kutna is a document from 1513, in which King Zigmund of Poland grants a year’s moratorium to the gentile debtors of three Kutna Jews – Moshe, Shlomo and Liebke. Rav Yisrael Eliyahu Yehoshua published several sefarim, including Yeshuas Yisrael, on Choshen Mishpat, Yeshuos Malko, and Yavin Daas. His only son, Rav Moshe Pinchas, succeeded him as Rav in Kutno. The demise of the Kutna kehillah came when the Nazis finished liquidating its remaining Jews on March 26, 1942.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Parshas Shlach - Espionage, I Spy      22 Sivan 5777

06/23/2017 11:22:34 AM

Jun23

The practice of spying or of using spies, is typically conducted by government agencies employed to gather intelligence on domestic activities, as well as on friendly and unfriendly governments. People should keep in mind that the spy business is usually a two-way street, meaning just as one individual is attempting to gather information on someone, that individual may be also gathering information on the first individual simultaneously. If you are old enough to remember the original television show (or the reruns) called “Get Smart,” you may recall the names of the two spy organizations: ‘Control’ and ‘Chaos’. The show comically depicted the political climate of its time during the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union. These two ‘spy’ organizations were constantly spying on each other. This holds true in the real world as well. There are currently 17 intelligence agencies in the U.S., all of which fall under the umbrella of the Department of Defense.

Whenever I go out into the world, whether it is to go shopping, ball playing in public, a sporting event, or some type of recreational activity, I always bring my “spy glasses” with me. Call me neurotic or paranoid, but whenever I enter a restaurant or any unfamiliar room, I always sit facing the entrance because I hate having my back to the door. In a sense, I spy out those who enter, simultaneously surveying my surroundings, helping me to feel safe in the new, unknown environment. Whether this is truly effective or not, I hope never to find out. Realistically, I am not only looking at everyone else, but I’m aware that everyone else is also looking at me - most probably all for the same reasons. Putting aside a strange room and seating scenario, I face a constant eyeing from people who question whether I am Jewish and whether I am also a Rabbi.

Most times when I am out and about, I try avoiding the questioning eye about religion. Typically, people try to lure me into conversation by speaking in a bland, non-threatening tone. Once engaged (either because I have a few extra minutes on hand, feeling up for a good fight, or simply caught off guard), I get peppered with questions about Judaism. Most often I’m asked the the obvious questions about my Yarmulka and Tzitzis. These questioners even openly wonder if I always wear a suit and tie! Some cashiers will ask if a special holiday or even guess that a special holiday is coming up, looking at the quantity and assortment of typical Jewish foods. The range of questions knows no bounds, covering topics dealing with Israel, Zionism, the Talmud, Jewish law and even the location of the synagogue. The worst is when a questioner innocently begins speaking of Judaism and then turns the question i into a nasty diatribe ridiculing Judaism and Jews, finally espousing his religion upon me. Recently, I was stopped and asked the usual question, “Are you a Rabbi?” I quickly ran through a mental analysis of my time, patience and desire regarding whether to answer in the affirmative or not. The quick, instant evaluation led me to say, “Yes, I am a Rabbi.” I then took a deep breath waiting for the next question or statement to roll out about me and my religion. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a confrontation that I never had before. Now knowing that I was a Rabbi, this individual calmly asked me, “Rabbi, please teach me something.” I was completely caught off guard but regained my composure and calmly quoted the famous verse from Vayikra: regarding loving your neighbor as yourself. When a spy is caught by another spy, he must always be prepared in advance with answers that he intends to divulge to the other side.

It was such a refreshing encounter from anybody, let alone a non-Jew. For the record, most of, actually many of the interactions I encounter regarding the topic of learning with Jews is typically, ‘Why do we need to do this or that and why can’t we do this or that.’ Rare is the time someone approaches me with a request of “Rabbi, please teach me something.” This was a refreshing look at how other people take things. I felt this person’s sincerity and desire to learn. This, Heaven Forbid, does not discount most Jews asking me questions of why and what because most often they are coming from a good place. When the gentleman asked the question, I started to think of another angle of why his question was different. The answer falls in with the names of the spy agencies of ‘Get Smart’. The good spies were called ‘Control’; the bad spies were called ‘Chaos’. These names represent the core principle of Judaism: the Torah was given to us to control our lives while Yetzer Hora was created to challenge the Torah and create chaos.

It is interesting to note that both types are referred to as spies; though there is certainly a much harder word for the latter in the official papers. Surely enough, we tend to sympathize with the first conventionally noble group and may even want to join their lines. In fact, in this week’s Torah portion Shlach, we find Moshe sending out twelve “equal spies” yet most commentaries see them after the fact as ten bad spies and two good spies on their return. Most Meforshim give a bad rap to the ten spies. But there are some who find merit in their words and actions. One such person is the Tzvi Yisrael (I could not find the author of this sefer or if this is indeed the author’s name) commenting on the opening verse in the parsha. In Bamidbar 13:2 Moshe sends out one spy per tribe, describing the worthiness of each man. The purpose and benefit of sending spies was to create the impression that it was a challenge to conquer the land, but it was solely due to God that we could capture the land. If spies were NOT sent, the concern would be that future generations might say that “the inhabitants of Canaan were weak and the Jews - our ancestors - conquered the land through natural means”. Therefore, perhaps even Hashem would acquiesce to the request of B’Nei Yisrael in sending spies, thereby justifying this concern. The spies would come back and be on record that the inhabitants were giants, they were strong, etc. and despite all that they were able to conquer the land because of Hashem. The hint to this lies in the words in the passuk “Asher Ani Nosein L’Bnei Yisrael”: “That which I (Hashem) gave to the Children of Israel.”

The good spies look out for ways to protect the Torah and its ability to control our Yetzer Hora and push our Yetzer Tov - to encourage a life of happiness and joy. The evil spies, who create chaos, look for ways to disrupt the design of the Torah, its mitzvos, and the ways to adhere to it. We are all spies and messengers. For the most part, Orthodox Judaism works for the spy agency known as ‘Control’, although sometimes we forget and become spies for ‘Chaos’ in our Hashkafa, our philosophical outlook in life. It’s so easy to create chaos and is always difficult to control, but that is our challenge in life, Hatzlacha to everyone seeking out questions to learn!!!

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Tue, February 20 2018 5 Adar 5778